Sunday, August 28, 2011

Someone in the House

Someone in the House, by Barbara Michaels

It was definitely better than The Other Side of the Dark (by the same author), but still... I always seem to find this kind of novel to be anticlimactic.  The building up of the creepy, mysterious atmosphere is great, but very rarely-- never?-- is it wrapped up in a truly satisfying way.  Maybe that's not even possible with this kind of story.  Certainly it's no easy task.

Observations and Reactions:
  • Maybe it was unavoidable in this particular novel (read it to find out why ;o)), but the frequent mention of characters' religious beliefs and political leanings was distracting.  Mention it in passing, ok.  Bring it up repeatedly and you make it more difficult for me to sympathize with some of those characters. 
  • This author uses the word "mendaciously" more than anyone else I've ever read.  Also, of the two gothic novels / thrillers of hers I've read so far, both bring up the subject of "Manichaeism".  ...Which strikes me as odd. 
  • The mention of Agatha Christie and "Literature with a capital 'L'"-- I can relate, but the (later) dig about how Anne had "been known, on occasion, to sink as low as Agatha Christie"... Hm.  I assume this was tongue-in-cheek, considering the type of books that "Barbara Michaels" (pen name) herself writes. 
  • Roger and Aunt Bea (yes, there's an Aunt Bea)-- Their relationship struck me as a bit too instantaneous to be realistic.  I was also going to write about my doubts of the ease of this romance between a Christian lady and a (mildly but perpetually cursing) atheist... but then I read further.  
  • What a coincidence that Roger just happens to  have weird photographic equipment (and friends with more to loan) and a knowledge of / interest in "psychic phenomenon".  This bunch in general seems to be very well educated in a variety of off-beat subjects. 
  • All the quoting!  Sheesh.  Yes, two of the main characters are English majors / teachers, but still. A bit heavy handed with the quotations.  
  • The reference to "M. R. James, who wrote some of the most gruesome ghost stories in the English language", has piqued my interest. 
  • It's hard to care about Anne's relationship with Joe, right from the beginning on through to the end.
  • The creepiest and best parts of the book come relatively early.  They would be Bea's and Anne's first experiences of the paranormal.  After that, there were occasional "moments", but nothing nearly that eerie, in my opinion. 
  • The ending felt a bit rushed and (as I said before) unsatisfying.  It was better than the almost laughable ending of The Dark on the Other Side, but could've been better.
Before I read another Barbara Michaels, I think I'll consult some online reviews and find one of her most popular.   So far, my method of choice has led me to two of her weaker novels.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dead in the Family

Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris
(Book #10 in the Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire series)

Hm.  Well, I knew before starting these last two or three novels in the (still on-going) series that they'd received lower ratings than the earlier books, so I can't say I'm surprised to find this one lacking.  It suffers from the same shortcomings as earlier installments, but it's also just less interesting and engaging than those were.  Since this is part of a series, I can deal with it being a weak "chapter" in the story-- but if this were a stand-alone novel, it would be unacceptable.  At least the title is appropriate, as the theme of family pops up repeatedly (and not just in Sookie's storyline). 

Warning: Spoilers to follow! 

So, here is a list of random observations and reactions:
  • Is it just me, or is this series getting too bogged down in "supe" politics / delineation of hierarchies?  Yawn.  I get enough politics from the real world, thanks.  Don't want it cropping up in my escapist fiction, too.  The history lesson about vampire territories was pointless.
  • The two vampire assassins (or whatever they were) waiting by the side of the interstate (or whatever it was)?  Weird.  It seemed even weirder when Pam decided to just stop by the side of the road to fight them.  That whole episode felt odd and unnecessary.  
  • Sookie's immediate recognition of Alexei Romanov as a member of the last Russian royal family struck me as unrealistic.  I know we're reminded from time to time that she loves to read, is no dummy, blah blah blah, but... I'm skeptical.  (Her intelligence and book-smarts usually seem to pop up at only the most convenient times.  Isn't that always the way it works in books?)
  • On a related note, Sookie's ability to kill big, bad vampires (and other supernatural creatures) is stunning.  I don't see why she ever worries about them.  ;o)  Ok, I guess you don't want the heroine to always be in need of rescue.  A little taking care of herself is good... but it needs to be believable.  (In a novel full of vampires, werewolves, shape shifters, fairies, and more.  Yeah, believability is key.)
  • Alcide & the other Weres were irritating and boring, as usual.  I don't like the werewolves in this series, and as for Alcide, it seems the only time he ever contacts Sookie is when he needs her to do him a favor.  Why can't she just say no?  
  • Personally, I was fine with what's-his-name's (oh, right, Quinn's) continued absence.  He can just stay gone, as far as I'm concerned.  
  • Bill.  I started to like / feel sorry for Bill in this installation... but the family Bible episode seemed fairly pointless... (I did like the bit about the recipe for the chocolate cake, though.)  I guess the deathbed visit got Sookie thinking about her mortality and Bill's continued sickness, so maybe it did have a point.  ~shrug~  I thought the sudden revelation of Bill's wife's doppelganger-- Judith-- was, well, very abrupt.  I'll be curious to see whether she hangs around for long. 
  • One thing I really dislike about this series is how it treats age.  (It's something I find especially surprising, considering that Ms. Harris herself is no spring chicken.)  It just feels like there's a very limited range of age (in the series) during which a character can be considered attractive, interesting, and unique-- and once you're past that age, you're a stereotype.  (Or if not, it's something along the lines of, "Though she had just celebrated her 37th birthday *gasp*, she managed to keep a trim figure.  When she smiled, she shed a decade and was almost pretty.  She had of course had four children by the time she was thirty, because no-one past that age could ever possibly hope to have children.  She might as well just pick out her casket and park her butt in the rocker to await death."  Um... Maybe I got a little carried away, back there.  Cut it off after the first two sentences for something a smidgen closer to truth.)  It almost seems that once you've hit thirty (again, in this series), you're no longer "young" by any stretch of the imagination, and 35 is the end of your prime (so enjoy it while it lasts!).  Then again, maybe I'm just being overly sensitive, since I'm over the age of thirty. (g)  We get testier with age, right?  (I don't know how anyone's going to stand me by the time I'm forty...)
  • The fairy spell was broken with a kiss?  Seriously?  (On a related note, the portal to Fairy Land can please stay sealed.  Two of them still hanging around is more than enough.)  
  • Speaking of the fairies... the fact that Claudine's bequeathal turns out to be a large sum of money was such a shocker.  Come on, who didn't see that coming?  It was obvious right from the start, but the way Sookie kept thinking about it (in passing, of course) in that "a little extra cushion from crushing poverty", humble way... It was painfully obvious that it was going to be more than a couple thousand dollars.  Actually, by the time we finally learn the exact sum, it's almost a let-down!  (g)  "Aw, shoot.  A measly $150,000?  Is that all?  I expected more..."  (That wouldn't work, though.  We can't have Sookie too wealthy, because then she won't be able to worry about / comment on her precarious financial situation.)
  • The nature of the previous "relationship" between Erik and Ocella is just... ew.  Gross.  I don't like thinking about the hero (or one of multiple heroes?) of a romantic novel having had that kind of... experience.  It's a turn-off, Ms. Harris.  Seriously, please stop mentioning it. 
  • At this point, I've kind of given up on having long, sustained, compelling conversations between the romantic leads.  I recognize that there will be minimal chit-chat before things get physical.  Well, fine, but in this book, I think there was precious little talk between them at all, beyond political, problem-solving (or more often, not solving, just problem-dwelling-upon, problem-wallowing) topics.  And all too often, Sookie seemed to be thinking, "I need to talk to so-and-so about such-and-such, but now's not the time."  Agh!  Girl, just open your mouth and speak!  There is no good time for half the stuff you need to talk about.  ...Ahem. ;o)
...And all that said, I'm still planning to continue reading the series.  Don't start these books expecting great writing or tight plotting.  They're an odd conglomerate of mystery, comedy, fantasy, romance, and soap opera-- but that mix was entertaining in the earlier entries in the series, and I hope that the ones to come will improve.  Even if the rest turn out to be inferior (like this one was), I'm curious enough about "what happens next" to keep reading.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Dark on the Other Side

The Dark on the Other Side, by Barbara Michaels

Ever since I learned that Elizabeth Peters also wrote (writes?) books under another pen-name (Barbara Michaels)-- and that they're gothic novels / mysteries-- I've been wanting to read one or two.  Looks like my first choice was a poor one, though.  I knew before I'd gotten far into the book that it hadn't received (many) glowing reviews on Amazon, but I wanted to stick with it, and so I did.

  • The story draggs in spots.  
  • The heroine feels a little odd and unsympathetic... She acts like a spoiled brat part of the time (earlier in the novel), then she's too perfect later on.  (The too-perfect aspect is likely a common result of the reader having to see her through her new lover-boy's eyes all of the time.  Yuck.) 
  • The ending "crisis scene" falls disappointingly flat. 
  • There's no clear resolution to the main question of the novel.  You have to decide for yourself whether or not everything in the novel has a (relatively) normal, logical explanation. Now, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.  I knew from the reviews I peeked at that there would be no solid answers, but I still can't quite bring myself to say, "Yeah, bold move, making the reader decide!"  I am a lazy reader (today, at least).  I would have preferred answers.

  • You want a creepy atmosphere in a gothic novel, and this delivers the aura of gloom and doom.  Up until near the end, it reminded me a lot of eerie movies from the late 60's and early 70's-- Rosemary's Baby and the like.  However, not many really scary/unsettling things happen "before the reader's eyes", so to speak.  Most of them are related by a character long after they've taken place.  Still, there's atmosphere.
  • Um... I'm having trouble coming up with more positives, but it really wasn't that bad... I guess I can say I liked Galen.  (He was probably the most interesting character in the novel.)
  • The villain was also (creepily) intriguing (though that diminishes somewhat over the course of the novel). 

Overall, I give it a solid rating of "Meh".  ;o)  It could have been better, but I'll give Barbara Michaels another try, one of these days.