Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

From the back cover:
It’s not every day that you come across a naked man on the side of the road. That’s why cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse doesn’t just drive on by. Turns out the poor thing hasn’t a clue who he is, but Sookie does. It’s Eric the vampire—but now he’s a kinder, gentler Eric. And a scared Eric, because whoever took his memory now wants his life. Sookie’s investigation into who and why leads straight into a dangerous battle among witches, vampires, and werewolves. But a greater danger could be to Sookie’s heart—because this version of Eric is very difficult to resist…

I think I’d been lulled into a false sense of “hey, this series isn’t that smutty” by the previous book, Club Dead, in which Sookie’s vampire beau Bill is missing and in which the closest thing to a sex scene is Eric’s… enthusiasm when Sookie drinks his blood at one point. But now that Sookie and Bill are good and broken up (yay!), she is free to pursue other opportunities, which manifest in the form of an amnesic Eric who has been cursed by a witch for spurning her advances as well as for owning a profitable nightclub she’d like to take over. He ends up hiding at Sookie’s place while he’s not himself and though she resists his charms for a while, she eventually goes “to hell with thinking” and then we get way too much detail about what they get up to together.

Anyways, aside from the “Sookie hooks up with Eric” plot, there are two main things going on: the big bad coven of witches is attempting to take over various supernaturally owned businesses and eventually the vampires and werewolves ally together to take them out. Sookie gets involved in the attack and it’s not a pleasant experience. Secondly, Sookie’s brother has been abducted and she spends most of the book thinking that his disappearance is somehow connected to the witches. Of the two, I preferred the Jason storyline, as it has far greater potential for interesting complications down the road. The witches were rather dull, really.

I seem to like the endings of these books more than what comes before, and that’s no exception here. I like where Sookie and Eric are at the end of the volume, I like Bill’s menacing return (I actually went “ohhhhh shit”), and I like the ultimate fate of Debbie Pelt. This last possibly frees Sookie to hook up with Alcide the hunky werewolf next, and while part of me cringes at the idea of this series becoming something akin to the works of Laurell K. Hamilton, the other part appreciates that Harris doesn’t keep her heroine tied down with notions of true love.

And really, that’s about all I have to say about Dead to the World. It was fluffy and pleasantly diverting. I’ll keep reading more. I’ll keep going “ooh” at certain things and “ew” at others. I still haven’t summoned the fortitude to give the TV adaptation another shot, but that might be only a matter of time.

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

From the back cover:
There’s only one vampire Sookie Stackhouse is involved with (at least voluntarily) and that’s Bill. But recently he’s been a little distant—in another state, distant. His sinister and sexy boss Eric has an idea where to find him. Next thing Sookie knows, she is off to Jackson, Mississippi to mingle with the under-underworld at Club Dead. It’s a dangerous little haunt where the elitist vampire society can go to chill out and suck down some type O. But when Sookie finally finds Bill—caught in an act of serious betrayal—she’s not sure whether to save him… or sharpen some stakes.

It’s been more than a year since I promised “Club Dead, coming soon!” at the end of my review of Living Dead in Dallas. I didn’t forget the pledge; it just took me that long to be in the mood for another round of salacious vampire shenanigans. But what better time to revisit the series than Halloween Week? This one was such an improvement over the last, however, that I’m going to make a sincere effort to get caught up on the series.

Part of what makes Club Dead interesting is that there is so little Bill and when there is Bill, he’s wronging Sookie in ways that culminate with her disinviting him from her home. As the book begins, he is working on a top-secret assignment for “the queen of Louisiana” (there’s a lot of detail about the vampire hierarchy in this book) and tells Sookie he’s heading to Seattle to work on it. This turns out to be a lie, as she learns later that Bill is being held captive in Jackson and that he was preparing to pension her off and return to his vampire love, Lorena.

Despite the betrayal, Sookie agrees to help Eric (Bill’s superior, in a manner of speaking) find Bill and is matched up with a brawny werewolf named Alcide Herveaux, who can introduce her to the supernatural element in Jackson. Alcide’s got baggage of his own, so in addition to treading lightly around “the king of Mississippi” and the werewolves the king has hired to search for Bill’s girlfriend (thankfully, he never got her name), they’ve also got to avoid Alcide’s crazy ex, Debbie Pelt.

All of this is fairly entertaining—even if a large amount of the plot is contingent upon guys finding Sookie extremely hawt and wanting to boff her—but it did seem randomly strung-together at times. For example, after Bill is rescued the gang must next prevent the crucifixion of “Bubba” (Elvis in vamp form) and foil a convenience store robbery. I really liked the ending, though, and once again find myself hoping that Sookie will not forgive Bill’s transgressions, now weightier than ever before. Sure, it’s a little ridiculous how many guys are hot for her, but her steamy encounters with both Alcide and Eric are more fun to read than detailed sex scenes starring Bill. (The fact that Eric gets fleshed out a great deal is one of the best aspects of the book, actually.) Plus, Sookie’s reaction to these tempting guys is pretty amusing. “I was not pleased with my moral fiber!”

I find that I haven’t much to say about the book beyond this. It’s diverting and amusing and has even rekindled my curiosity about True Blood. It’s not fair to compare something like this against oh, say, Price and Prejudice, but for this particular genre, it exceeds expectations.

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris: B-

From the back cover:
Cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse is on a streak of bad luck. First, her coworker is murdered and no one seems to care. Then she’s face-to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it).

Point is, they saved her life. So when one of the blood-suckers asks for a favor, she complies. And soon, Sookie’s in Dallas using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved. There’s just one condition: the vampires must promise to behave—and let the humans go unharmed. Easier said than done. All it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly…

The narrative of Living Dead in Dallas is constructed in a plot-within-a-plot sort of way, but neither the murder of Sookie’s vibrantly gay coworker, Lafayette, nor the fight against an anti-vampire cult is actually the most interesting aspect of the book.

The story begins when Lafayette’s body is found dumped in the car of a local cop. Suspicion falls on the attendees of a mysterious sex party he’d been bragging about attending, but before anything much can happen with the case, Sookie and Bill head off to Dallas to do a job for Eric, the head vamp of their region, which involves Sookie using her telepathic abilities to question humans who might have knowledge about a missing vampire named Farrell. She’s not too thrilled about it, but she did agree to perform such jobs for Eric on the condition that the humans involved come to no harm, and so she complies, however sulkily.

Really, there is not much by way of investigation here. Instead, they realize pretty quickly that a cult called The Fellowship of the Sun has nabbed the vamp and then Sookie and another human go undercover to learn the cult plans to have him “meet the dawn” in a public execution. Of course, Sookie is spotted for a snoop immediately and is imprisoned and nearly raped before she, and later Farrell, gets rescued. For something so full of action, it’s actually pretty dull.

However, it does lead to one of the most awesome scenes in the series so far when Bill breaks a promise to Sookie and kills one of the cultists who shot up the vampires’ celebration party. Her immediate reaction is great and I loved that she returned home and didn’t talk to him for three weeks. Unfortunately, the potential of this insurmountable obstacle in their relationship—Bill sometimes can’t help eating people!—is squandered, with the two of them reconciling with a bout of raunchy sex and a few words about how it’s his nature and she’s going to try to get used to it. Sigh. Color me disappointed.

After the missing vamp stuff is resolved, the story returns to the case of Lafayette. I’m a little fuzzy as to what actually happened first here—did the town residents launch their own sex club, which then attracted the attention of Callisto, the frenzy-provoking maenad, or was it her proximity that inspired them in the first place?—but it all leads to the second-best revelation of the book, which is that some of Bill’s descendants are alive and well in Bon Temps and that he is actually grateful for the opportunity to be able to assist them in some way. He might be a creature of the night, but as she puts it, the good in him is real.

Club Dead, coming soon!

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris: B-

From the back cover:
Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn’t get out much. Not because she’s not pretty. She is. It’s just that, well, Sookie has this sort of “disability.” She can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too datable. Then along comes Bill. He’s tall, dark, handsome—and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life…

But Bill has a disability of his own: he’s a vampire with a bad reputation. But he is an interesting addition to the town, and Sookie can’t help but listen to what everyone else thinks about Bill… especially since she’s starting to fall for the buff bloodsucker. But when a string of murders hits town—along with a gang of truly nasty vampires looking for Bill—Sookie wonders if having an undead boyfriend is such a bright idea.

And when one of her coworkers is killed, Sookie realizes that Bill and his friends may have some special plans for a woman who can read minds…

I’ve had the first few books in the Southern Vampire series for a long time, but ever since acquiring them I’ve had doubts about whether I’d actually like them. My doubts appeared justified when an attempt to watch an episode of True Blood, the HBO series based on the novels, ended in about five minutes. Still, I can usually tolerate “blood and boobies” (description credit to Felicia Day) better in print than on screen, so I thought I’d give the books a shot.

As most probably know by now, this is the story of Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in small-town Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie is telepathic, which has made dating difficult, but when she meets vampire Bill Compton and cannot read his thoughts, she’s intrigued. Eventually they become a couple, but as Sookie learns more about Bill’s world she realizes that most vampires are quite unpleasant and that the hierarchy in their society means that Bill’s “superior,” Eric, can command her attendance as he chooses and there’s nothing Bill can do to prevent it.

Their relationship struggles play out against a rural backdrop that’s presently plagued by a string of murders for which Bill and Sookie’s brother, Jason, are individually suspected. This mystery fades into the background at times, but its resolution was a genuine surprise to me, though in retrospect it really shouldn’t have been. There is a good deal of sex once Sookie and Bill get together, but it stops short of being so explicit that it offends my prudish sensibilities.

As a Southerner, I can tell this book was written by “one of us.” Although I live in a fairly urban city, we’re surrounded by rural counties where the residents of Bon Temps would fit right in. I don’t live a life like these characters do, but I bet that some of my coworkers do.

Sookie herself strikes me as quite Southern in that she’s somewhat apathetic about her lack of education and go-nowhere job and extremely tolerant of some of Bill’s peculiar behavior. She’s got flaws—the adjectives vain, naïve, petulant, and complacent all describe her at one point or another—but she’s also got common sense and is resourceful in emergencies. Bill, so far, is kind of dull. The most interesting thing about him is that he became a vampire in the Civil War era, and so must try to get over some old-fashioned notions about women.

Ultimately, my feelings for this series are similar to those for the Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series by Julie Kenner: there are things that bug me, and they’re not the greatest books on the planet, but I am still strongly compelled to keep reading them. Maybe one day I’ll even give True Blood another try.