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Recent Reading - More Charlaine Harris - Mo's Journal
November 8th, 2009
09:13 am

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Recent Reading - More Charlaine Harris
I talked in this post about reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels - the Charlaine Harris books on which the TV series True Blood is based. I'm nearly done - finishing up the eighth (of nine) books now. And I still feel, as I said in that post, that they get better with each book. In fact, I think someone starting them might do well to jump in with the second or third. She does a good job of giving you enough information that you can read them without having read the previous novels in the series, without recapping so much that she bores old readers.

One thing I find very fun - and I think other fanfic people will, too - is that she borrows from all sorts of sources for situation, plot and character. She pulls from popular culture, classics, supernatural legends and melds it all together into a frothy vampiric Louisiana concoction. One large subplot is lifted intact from Dumas, for example. Of course that meant that I (and anyone who had read The Three Musketeers) knew how it would come out, but I found that just made it more fun.

Another thing Harris does well is to avoid the major pitfall of mystery novels of the Amateur Detective variety. I find with that genre the problem is that most people never come across one murder to solve, so it's hard to swallow when someone can't go to the store without stumbling over a dead body. The reader starts wondering why no one around this person thinks it strange that anywhere s/he goes people get murdered. Some authors solve the problem by having the main character become so good at solving mysteries that people seek him or her out when there's a murder the police can't solve. Others have the character go professional. Some just ignore the problem and hope the reader won't notice.

The problem is intensified with a small town setting, where several murders in a row would likely be noticed as unusual. But Harris deals with it well, both by the supernatural element (vampires live violent "lives" and so do the other supernatural creatures she introduces) and by varying the setting. Although the first book takes place solely in the small town in which Sookie lives, later books move to Dallas and New Orleans.

All told, I'm quite enjoying the books and think they make fun, escapist reading. The characters are witty and the dialogue (and Sookie's internal thoughts shared with the reader) are often LOL funny. The plots are clever (if often borrowed) and the characters become more real with each book.

There's another series of books by the same author that I think are also quite good, in a different way. These are the Harper Connelly mysteries. They have a supernatural element, but are much more tied to the real world.

Harper Connelly is a young women with a special power: she can detect the presence of dead people. She feels an emanation from corpses and can tell family or authorities where to look for a missing person (provided the person is actually dead). In the presence of a corpse she can also tell a little bit about the person - name, age, gender, how they died. She and her step-brother Tolliver go all over the country providing this service for a fee. Families and police departments are initially skeptical, but since she's always right they're often won over.

Harper and Tolliver are great characters, multi-layered and with a well fleshed out history. I've read three of the books so far and the mysteries themselves have all been predictable, but I didn't mind because I found the characters and plots compelling. The tone is much darker than the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the writing is better. I'm looking forward to getting the rest from the library.

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From:executrix
Date:November 8th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
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I always felt that unhappily married people would invite Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple for the weekend, to improve the chances that someone would bump off their unwanted spouse.
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From:mofic
Date:November 9th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
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LOL!
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From:candrawest
Date:December 25th, 2009 12:04 pm (UTC)

Charlaine Harris

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Based in your earlier post, I started reading the Sookie Stackhouse books. Based on reading the first of them, I started reading the rest of her books. The whole "why do you seem to find a dead body wherever you go?" thing is not dealt with nearly so well in the other series she's written. Personally, given how often Lily Bard (the Shakespeare books) and Aurora Teagarden (her series doesn't really have a neat nickname) find dead bodies, I can guarantee I would be rapidly leaving any area they were in and very likely moving out of state as well.

I love the "Grave" books, though I was less than impressed with the major interpersonal plot development in "Ice Cold Grave". Since finishing it a week or so ago I'm more lenient, but it was still kind of bleagh. I can't wait to read "Grave Secret" based on the blurb I have read for it. I'm trying to decide if I like Harper and Tolliver well enough to buy the series.

My one major gripe about the Sookie Stackhouse books is how often she apologises for her vocabulary. I nearly threw "Club Dead" across the room after Sookie (yet again) explained knowing a word because of her lame "word of the day" calendar. The word in question this time: ironic. I hate that Charlaine Harris seems to think that just because Sookie is a waitress, she must be barely conversant. More often than not the words that Sookie uses are quite common, and no one needs an explanation for her knowing them. Also, the editors of her calendar must be bloody prescient because Sookie always seems to learn a word the very same day that her life provides her with a reason to use the word. And on a related note, I get the whole "Sookie can't do classrooms" thing, but if she's going to whinge that much about her education, what's stopping her from doing correspondence courses? I don't know if I can cope with the rest of the series if Charlaine Harris continues bashing us over the head with the whole "Sookie may be uneducated, but she's not stupid" idea. I got it the first time it was mentioned.

I also find it funny how it seems like all of her heroines are petite, extremely good looking, and very well endowed. Shes more than welcome to write her characters that way, but I personally don't need a comment on the subject in every book.

Hadn't really intended to turn this comment into a mini-rant, I just kind of got caught up in the pleasure of being able to vent to someone who has also read at least some of the same books. I really appreciate the recommendation of both the books and the series "True Blood". Jo is the envy of all the kids at school because I let her watch True Blood with me.
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From:mofic
Date:December 25th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Charlaine Harris

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I don't mind the rant at all. My pet peeve with Charlaine Harris is how you have to get detailed descriptions of every outfit her female characters wear. I think that and making them all so attractive is part of the romance novel tradition she seems to follow.

The Sookie-may-be-uneducated-but-isn't-stupid meme doesn't bother me particularly. Sookie's got a big chip on her shoulder over people assuming a blonde barmaid with no college education is stupid, so it makes sense to me that - since the novels are told first person - it's a theme that would recur often. You have a good point about correspondence courses or online education. She does show her as reading a lot. One thing I don't think I've mentioned that I quite like about the Harris books is that her characters spend a lot of time at the library!

I like the "Grave" books best, and I quite liked that she finished the series so definitively in the last one. I mean, part of me was disappointed because I would have liked more of them, but I really admired how she set up a bunch of questions in the first one (beyond the questions in the specific mystery) and then answered them in the following books. It's not a neat ending and not a "happily ever after" one but it has a real sense of completion, which I find unusual and admirable in a mystery series.

I read a couple of the Aurora Teagarden ones and found them okay, but nothing that made me want to read more. I haven't tried the Lily Bard ones.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. Oh and I hope you're having a merry Christmas.

Edited at 2009-12-25 02:34 pm (UTC)
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From:candrawest
Date:December 25th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Charlaine Harris

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I suspected from the blurb for the fourth book that it might be the end of the series. I haven't read it yet, but given that Cameron turns up, it seemed like a pretty sure call that it was over.

I have just recently been able to enjoy the benefits of a public library again, so have been reading virtually everything by authors I know I can tolerate. I transferred to my local supermarket so my transit time is greatly reduced and I work just across the courtyard from the library now, so it's much easier to get in there.

As far as the looks of her heroines, it's the comments on their bust size that drive me crazy. I do not know a single person who mentions their chest as often as the characters in her books. Or maybe I just had bad luck and caught a couple of books with more frequent than normal mentions at the same time.

It's Sookie's reading that makes the mention of the word of the day calendars grate so much to me. She reads a lot, she has plenty of reason to know the words without having apparently psychic calendar editors. It just comes across a bit as though she's expecting us to be unfamiliar with the words too. That bugs me
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