Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

From Bookslut --

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn --

By Beth Harrington --
July 2009 --

In 2007, Gillian Flynn released her debut novel Sharp Objects which was nominated for an Edgar Award. I did not read Sharp Objects, but I intend to now in hopes that it is anywhere nearly as compelling as her sophomore effort. It is hard to imagine a novel that so agilely balances the suspense of a mystery whodunit with the interior complexity of a psychological narrative as Dark Places.

In 1985, Libby Day's fifteen year-old brother was charged with murdering their mother and two sisters in a rural Kansas farm town as part of a satanic ritual -- subtly reminiscent of the West Memphis Three case. Only seven years-old, Libby managed to escape and served as a witness for the prosecution at her brother's trial, clinching his guilty verdict. At the age of thirty-one, she is not exactly thriving a quarter-century after the killings. She lives alone in a rented bungalow in a neighborhood that is mostly populated with senior citizens. She does not work, surviving on a bank account of donations submitted in the aftermath of her family's murders. She cites a host of tics and idiosyncrasies that control the space where memories of her mother, sisters, and even her brother have decayed. When she receives word that her assets are nearly gone, Libby agrees to be a guest at the Kill Club -- a fan group for people obsessed with the trivia of popular murders -- for a fee.

What starts out as an attempt to solicit money and assuage any doubts about her brother's guilt, transforms into a quest to discover what really did happen on that fateful night and why. Chapters alternate between the present narrated by Libby and the past on the day leading up to the murders, revealing a chain of events in which no detail is inconsequential and no person lacks an ulterior sensibility. Patty Day is a haggard mother of four, determined not to let her family's farm go bankrupt even as she struggles to make ends meet for her children. Runner Day is Patty's deadbeat ex-husband, showing up at the farm whenever he pleases to beg favors from the family he should be supporting. Ben Day emerges as a complicated loner, angry yet sensitive, struggling with all of the urges and confusion that make adolescence so unpleasant. In the current time, Libby's once-idle days are spent chasing leads that send her all over the Midwest from highway strip joints to a Missouri suburb where she meets the only family member born after the murders.

While some readers may find the answer to the whodunit mystery -- with its collision of cataclysmic events and their unintended consequences -- less satisfying than the emergence of a sole, responsible villain, the book's conclusion as a whole more than compensates. What makes the ending so rich is that Libby's redemption -- if it can be called that -- is so subtly evoked. Libby does not fall in love, she does not have a child, and it is not entirely clear how she get by now that she has unraveled the tragedy of her past. She has merely acquired a small belief that goodness exists, a hard-earned willingness to reach out to others. Saved is not the word to describe Libby Day at the end of Dark Places but rather, salvaged, and in Gillian Flynn's skilled hands, that is enough.

Evanovich's latest sticks to script but sparkles (Janet Evanovich)

From The Tampa Tribune --

Evanovich's latest sticks to script but sparkles --

July 5, 2009 --

"Finger Lickin' Fifteen," by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's Press, $27.95)

If Stephanie Plum lived in the real world, she would be pushing 45 - an age at which the effects of doughnuts and Tastykakes, not to mention the romantic dithering, would be far less attractive.

The demands of realism might also require the hapless bounty hunter heroine of Janet Evanovich's bestselling series of comic mysteries to find a career for which she is better qualified, or at least less likely to blow up so many cars. She would stop mooching dinner from her parents and find an apartment that invites fewer break-ins.

But who wants to read a book like that?

Fans who have expressed disappointment in the past few installments of the numerically titled franchise (the most recent, "Finger Lickin' Fifteen," hit bookstores June 23) would do well to remember that when they complain about the formulaic nature of the stories or the fact that Stephanie never decides between her smoldering Alpha male love interests. This is a series in which seasons pass, but Stephanie Plum is always 30; birthday cake is eaten with abandon, but jeans still (mostly) fit; and a pair of hot, infinitely patient men are perpetually available for sexually charged banter, lifesaving and sometimes more.

If that doesn't sound better than reality, you probably don't need to read these books.

In "Finger Lickin' Fifteen," Stephanie's longtime sidekick, Lula, the plus-size ex-hooker, witnesses the murder of famous TV chef Stanley Chipotle, who was in town for a barbecue cook-off. Along with pistol-packin' Grandma Mazur, Lula enters the contest so they can find the killers and score the million-dollar reward, with predictably messy results. At the same time, Stephanie is moonlighting for Ranger (aka Love Interest No. 2) after a series of break-ins threatens his security business. Her currently off-again cop boyfriend, Joe Morelli, is also on hand, doing his best to get Stephanie out of trouble and back in his bed.

Throw in bungling bad guys, neighborhood eccentrics and wacko bail jumpers and you have the usual Evanovich summer read - a twisted soft serve that is often laugh-out-loud funny.

The recipe is familiar, but the ingredients (slapstick action, screwball characterizations and razor-sharp one-liners) haven't lost their sparkle. "Fifteen" is less steamy than its predecessors, and the ending is abrupt enough to feel anticlimactic, but the prolific author compensates with other kinds of pyrotechnics.

Is it worth paying full price for a few hours of light entertainment? That depends how long the waiting list is at your library. If you do pick up "Finger Lickin' Fifteen," think of it as a work of science fiction about a planet called Trenton, New Jersey, where time stands still, Ranger and Joe will always vie for Stephanie's affections and Butterscotch Krimpets are capable of sustaining human life.

The Interview: Author Janet Evanovich - Evanovich Inc.

From TorontoThe Globe and Mail --

The Interview: Author Janet Evanovich - Evanovich Inc. --

By Sarah Hampson --
June 28, 2009 --

"Oh, I had a little work done,” confesses Janet Evanovich.

“You know, gravity is not kind… I had no relationship with the person in the mirror. I didn't know who she was. I had a total face lift, and it was fabulous,” she exclaims, as though describing a great vacation. “They take your skin and they staple it to the back of your head. It's great”

The 66-year-old author of the best-selling Stephanie Plum adventure romances – the latest, Finger Lickin' Fifteen , hit bookshelves last week – is as accessible as her work. Just as her writing barrels along from one scene to the next using straightforward language, so does Ms. Evanovich.

One minute she's on the subject of her refreshed face, the next she's discussing how she hired a personal chef, whose food has helped her drop 10 pounds since January, and after that, she's explaining the brand of the Evanovich Inc. enterprise, which she runs with the help of her two adult children, her son-in-law, and her husband of 45 years.

(In addition to family members, she employs a staff of 10.)

“I made a choice that I was not going to be a pretentious writer,” she responds without hesitation when asked how she deals with the perception that she is a mass-market, low-brow novelist. “I work real hard so the reader doesn't have to. I don't want them to have to look up words. And there are no flashbacks. This is a linear novel.”

Stephanie Plum was born out of Ms. Evanovich's frustration as a romance writer and her worries as a cash-strapped mother of two. A graduate of art school, she wrote romance novels for Bantam Loveswept, among others, under the pen name Steffie Hall for five years, starting in 1987. She was paid $2,000 for the first one – a huge sum, she thought – and by the time she had written her 12th, which was to be her last, she was earning $7,000 a book. “Some years I wrote four books. It depended on how bad I needed money,” she says, explaining that when her children were small, she would often stand in line at the supermarket “sweating and adding everything up on the bill, and half the time I had to take an item off.”

Despite her success, she was dissatisfied creatively. “I was sort of kicked out,” she says. “It was getting more and more difficult.… I wanted to go into romantic adventure, which is what I am doing now, but I couldn't sell it.”

She studied mystery writers, from Sue Grafton to Tom Clancy, and figured out a hole in the market she could fill. “I wanted to take what I liked from the romantic genre – the sexual tension and positive characters and the humour – and move that into the mystery structure. … Sue [Grafton] and others brought the female detective to the front of the stage but they were still pretty hard-boiled, and my lady was soft-boiled. She is a girly girl. She is a Jersey girl.” Stephanie is actually a composite, Ms. Evanovich says, of herself (she grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of a factory worker and a housewife) and people she knows.

“I became very deliberate. What I realized halfway through writing romance is that you start out intuitive, and you make all these choices mostly based on yourself and what you like and what talent you have, and … if you want to have any quality control over your product, you have to stop being intuitive and start being more of an analyst.”

She describes the attributes of her brand with bullet-point clarity. Write in the first person because it's fast and more immediate. “A lot of narrative gets tedious.” Be funny. Make it a “positive read.” Don't make readers cry. Don't try to solve world problems. “[Steven] Spielberg presents us with the dark side. [But] that's not my job. That's Spielberg's job. I am on the other side. My job is to remind the world that there are small heroes all over the place.”

The first book in the Stephanie Plum series, One for the Money , hit the jackpot in 1997. She was paid her usual $7,000 as an advance, but soon got a call from Hollywood with an offer of $1-million for the film rights. (A movie version has yet to be made.) “We were living in this little brick house in northern Virginia. We had no money. We had two kids who had gone through two very expensive post-secondary schools. It had been a hard winter. The shingles from my roof were on the front yard, and we had no hope of getting a new roof.”

The family leapt on the opportunity to build a business. Her husband, a mathematician who was working for the U.S. Navy at the time, quit his job to help his wife, who set about her novel-writing, pressing out words like widgets. She rose at 5 in the morning to work seven days a week until 6 at night. (She still keeps the same hours. “I actually put in two whole days every day,” she says. They moved to New Hampshire, where life was less hectic, paid off their children's student loans, and gave them the opportunity to work on their mother's brand. Their daughter, a graduate of Brooks Institute, an arts school in California, works on the website. Their son, who attended Dartmouth College, came on board as financial officer and later became her agent.

Three years ago, the entire family moved to Naples, Fla., where they all live within five minutes of each other.

As the chief word-maker, Ms. Evanovich is acutely aware of her responsibility. When she swapped roles with her husband, she suddenly became aware of “the pressure that he had to provide.” She also had an identity crisis. “I knew who I was as a housewife, and I had no idea who I was as a professional.”

But she adapted quickly. While her husband has taken up golf and tennis in the last few years, she has no intention to retire. Not even to play golf with her husband?

“My world is better,” she says, snapping the words like gum. “Why would I want to waste my time playing golf? I can get up in the morning and be in this whole other world. I love my life.”

And that includes the money.

Early on in her million-dollar success, she had a revelation that removed any doubt about her motives. With a $200,000 multi-book contract and the film money socked away, she consulted a psychiatrist about how to reconcile her private, shy self with the public figure her fame required. “Well, you know, is it worth the money?” asked the shrink. “And I was, like, ‘Lady, you have no idea,'” Ms. Evanovich recalls. “I then knew that yes, it is worth the money.”

She leans forward with her youthful, clear face, bright red hair and blindingly white, veneered teeth.

“I have been with money and without, and it's better with.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Perfect summer reading - Janet Evanovich

From --

Perfect summer reading - Janet Evanovich --

By Lauren Walter --
June 29, 2009 --

With “One For the Money,” in 1994, Janet Evanovich introduced the world to fledgling bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum. It was a murder mystery with a new edge – funny, irreverent, and featuring a bumbling but loveable heroine. Fifteen years and fifteen volumes later, you can still pick up a Stephanie Plum mystery and relax for a few hours in a world wehre the most important question is who’s getting the donuts. You won’t find realism, graphic gore, and hardcore action, but for the many thousands of devoted fans, that’s a plus. You’ll get the literary equivalent of a Big Mac – it may not be good for you, but it’s tasty and addictive. The formula works and Evanovich delivers full throttle every time.

Plum and her colleagues live and work in a suburb of Trenton, fondly referred to as the ‘burg. Most of her books are set within the ‘burg’s borders; everyone and everything they need is set right within reach. The important things are all within a couple of blocks, Vincent Plum’s Bail Bonds, Pino’s Pizza, Cluck in a Bucket, Stivio’s Funeral Home and Tasty Pastry.

Some backstory: When Stephanie was laid off from her job as a lingerie buyer, and divorced from her cheating husband, lawyer Dickie Orr, she blackmailed her cousin Vinnie for a job as a bounty hunter. In “One for the Money,” Plum was given the task of tracking down Joe Morelli, a molten-chocolate eyed police officer accused of murder. Of course, Plum and Morelli had a history that included a tryst behind the counter of Tasty Pastry when they were both teenagers. Several years later, she ran Morelli over with her car. Readers take great interest in the ‘on and off’ relationship between Joe and Stephanie. On an interesting note, it’s Plum who has the commitment issues, not detective Morelli, a nice twist on relationships.

A good part of the charm of Evanovich’s work is in the colorful characters who surround Stephanie Plum. Her parents are featured frequently, as Friday night requires dining at their home (hopefully with a pineapple upside down cake for dessert). Her mother is often exasperated by Stephanie’s job and her mother, Grandma Mazur’s antics. The eccentric, large living Grandma Mazur invariably brings a sense of amusement to the reader. There are few things more amusing than envisioning a seventy plus year old woman decked out to sing with a rock band (in Twelve Sharp), attempting to get her driver’s license (Hot Six), and invariably tries to peak under the lid of the coffins at Stivia’s funeral parlor.

Even better, Stephanie’s primary sidekick Lula, a plus sized, fast food loving, former ‘ho, current file clerk/junior bounty hunter at the bail bond office provides chuckle after chuckle. The descriptions of Lula’s outfits, which invariably involve animal print spandex three sizes too small often as she scarfs down buckets of fried chicken, are memorable. Her attempts to diet are insanely funny, especially the ‘all the meat you can eat’ diet that resulted in a dog attack featured in “To the Nines.”

As befits a heroine, Stephanie has not one, but two love interests: Joe Morelli, the cop who she’s loved in various capacities since childhood and Ranger, a top of the line bounty hunter and business owner with a perfect body and a limited vocabulary. Both men are prime beefcake and over the course of the series, find themselves competing for her attention.

In each adventure, Evanovich takes the reader on a laugh filled trip through the ‘burg as Stephanie chases FTAs and investigates murder and mystery. Her foibles are always amusing, to the reader and to her men. You can expect cars to explode, food to fly, and Stephanie to intuit the solution. And let's not forget plenty of doughnuts and birthday cake.

If you are looking for light summer reading, I highly recommend picking up a copy of an Evanovich book. This is perfect, by the pool reading. It won’t increase your brain cells, up your IQ, or give you talking points for the next book group meeting. But it will make you smile and give you a great couple of hours of escape.

I’ll be reviewing Evanovich’s latest, “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” later this week. So check back!

On the fast food book scale, this rates a 5 (the equivalent of a double order of Cluck in the Bucket

Grave Sight etiquette (Charlaine Harris)

From --

Grave Sight etiquette --

June 29, 2009 --
By Jaclyn Owens --

Death hangs around every corner, lurking in the shadows and the hearts of the wicked, but for Harper Connelly, death hovers over grave sites for her to see. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris encompasses the elements of every classic novel—mysteries, murders, the ability to see the ghosts over corpses. A lightning strike left Harper with the ability to see the dead, and from this she gained a business (helping families find loved ones) and a severe fear of thunder storms. Along with her step-brother, the duet works to solve cases of murder and missing persons, and during a particularly aggressive investigation, scarcely escape danger themselves.

While upholding many literary conventions, including having an abnormal main character, this book holds an interesting aspect of showing blatant flaws, weaknesses, and pure human qualities in the main characters—a breath of fresh air from the normal super brain mystery solver.

This book would be ideal for older teens even to the middle aged and beyond, though would not be recommended for those under the age of eighteen as there is some slightly graphic content. Overall, the plot is interesting and light despite the constant element of death, and it is a must read for those who enjoy a supernatural air to their murder mysteries.

Dallas, Lieutenant Eve: A real woman's hero (J.D. Robb)

From --

Dallas, Lieutenant Eve: A real woman's hero --

June 29, 2009 --
By Julie Allen --

Few authors of woman's action-adventure fiction are able to create female heroes as likable and tough as Nora Roberts' Lieutenant Eve Dallas, lead character in her "in Death" series of futuristic detective novels. Robert's writes her "in Death" series under the pseudonym of J.D. Robb, giving her books that old-school feeling like her books were written by a cranky former cop with a few too many stories left to tell.

Detective Dallas is a New York Detective in the year 2050 or so, when society has gone completely techno and junk food is available only through the black market. Her government now pays stay-at-home parents a salary, prostitution is regulated by the government and cars can drive on autopilot. Many parts of Dallas' world sound perfect but even in her futuristic new York utopia there is still no shortage of crime.

Dallas works out of homicide and has made a name for herself in the still male-dominated world of police work through her tough, non-nonsense Dirty Harry style of crime fighting. No matter how rough she must get to track her suspect, she manages to keep her investigation on the right side of the law, never risking a conviction.

Traditional feminists may sneer at Dallas' masculine habits, dress and attitude. Women have been fighting for years to get equal treatment with men but resent feeling as though they must take on masculine habits just to keep up. But Robb's heroine, while one of the boys, has a feminine side that creeps out from time to time. Dallas is every bit the bad-ass modern heroine the contemporary action-adventure fans demand. She wields her high tech weapons with fierce flair, can hold her own in a hand-to-hand fight and run down her opponents like a linebacker. But she can be caring, sensible and brilliant all at the same time.

Robb's Eve Dallas will appeal largely to female readers, but there are plenty of strong male characters, car chases and explosions to hook anyone's inner action hero. Robb has created, in Eve Dallas, a character with a careful blend of old-fashioned femininity, Die-Hard style ass-kicking and cunning smarts that fights until she wins. With over 25 "in Death" books to her credit, local Maryland girl Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has created a lasting character that, thankfully, is showing no signs of retiring any time soon.

Robert's books are available at any local bookstore or at your favorite online bookseller. Check out the mystery section to find J.D. Robb's "in Death" series.

More laughs, less drama in new Janet Evanovich book

From Canada CTV --

More laughs, less drama in new Janet Evanovich book --

By: Constance Droganes --
June 28, 2009 --

There's a lot that bestselling author Janet Evanovich can tell you about her fans, particularly when it comes to her famous heroine Stephanie Plum.

"They're very divided and extremely vocal, especially about the men in Stephanie's life," the 66-year-old American author says with a laugh.

"One camp loves Morelli and the on-off relationship he shares with Stephanie. Others root for Ranger, the more dangerous of the two men. Some just want Stephanie to stay single," she smiles. "Lucky for me these characters have registered so deeply with my readers"

Indeed they have.

Go on to any blog devoted to Evanovich and you'll find tons of impassioned, opinionated, loyal entries from fans who talk about her characters like they're close friends.

That quality has defined Evanovich's Plum series ever since it launched in 1994.

Her first book, "One for the Money," was credited with creating a new romantic-adventure hybrid in the publishing business.

The debut book was named a New York Times notable book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1994 and a USAToday Best Bet.

"One for the Money" also scored a $1-million deal with Columbia TriStar, which purchased the rights to the book.

Inspired by Robert De Niro and the movie "Midnight Run," Evanovich's bounty hunter heroine came equipped with plenty of quirky twists to captivate readers.

Stephanie packs a gun. She loves lingerie. She lives for junk food, especially peanut butter sandwiches slathered with chips, pickles or any other kind of artery-clogging, waist-widening crap she can gobble up.

"I've written 15 books now and all along I've felt that Stephanie was the kind of woman real people understood," Evanovich told during her press stop for her latest Plum entry, "Finger Lickin' Fifteen."

"Sure she gets into trouble. Yes, she has a more outrageous life than the average person. But at her very core Stephanie's just like you. When she's out on some big adventure or dealing with a rocky romance you're right there with her, rooting for her all the way," says Evanovich.

Gal pals take on serious crime

In "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" Stephanie and her boisterous office gal pals set out to solve a crime, which begins with the loudmouth, chicken-loving Lula seeing a man get decapitated.

From Stephanie's barbecue-cooking granny (who longs to have a sexy agent code name like "Hot Vagina") to the dangerous Ranger and exasperating Morelli, Evanovich works it from start to finish, giving Plum fans a fun, breezy new read.

"I learned a lot doing the promos for this book," says Evanovich, who launched her career in her 30s but saw no real success until she hit 43.

Working under a pseudonym for a romance fiction company, Evanovich learned her craft in those early years, perfecting her dialogue so that Stephanie's short, snappy zingers fly at you faster than she can run in heels.

"My mother was so embarrassed when I started," says Evanovich. "Those first romance books I wrote usually had four big sex scenes. I got pretty good at describing what went on," she says with a laugh.

Yet when Evanovich hit the New York Times bestseller list, the Jersey author and wife of a machinist had the last laugh.

"I cried when that happened because I clawed my way onto that list. It was tangible proof to my family and all those people that helped me that I had made it," she says.

Since then, Evanovich has churned out a Plum book each year. Some have been critical hits. Others not so much.

With no plans of slowing down or disappointing her fans, Evanovich says she can promise readers one thing in the future. More laughs.

"Before people used to tell me they loved the action in these books. Now they tell me it's the humour in these books that makes their day," says Evanovich.

"It may not sound like much. But we live in very tough times right now. If I can help people take their mind off their troubles I'll be happy."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Evanovich is back with new Plum novel (Janet Evanovich)

From South Carolina Upstate Today --

Book Review: Evanovich is back with new Plum novel --

By Carol Deegan --
June 25, 2009 --

(AP) — "Finger Lickin' Fifteen." (St. Martin's Press, 308 pages, $27.95): The barbecue sauce hits the ceiling in "Finger Lickin' Fifteen," Janet Evanovich's new Stephanie Plum novel.

One reason why fans hunger for the next installment in the Plum series is the familiarity with the characters, setting and comedic mayhem that Evanovich provides in each story. But as funny as "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" is — and it is funny — nothing much changes in Stephanie's life, and it may be time for her to move on.

Her latest misadventure begins when Lula, her plus-size friend and co-worker at Vincent Plum Bail Bonds (Vinnie is Stephanie's cousin) in Trenton, N.J., witnesses celebrity chef Stanley Chipolte's decapitation by meat cleaver.

Chipolte is famous for his barbecue sauce, and the company that he was representing in a national cook-off being held in Gooser Park is offering a $1 million reward.

Lula figures Chipolte was whacked by a jealous competitor, so she enters the contest to get the inside track. Problem is, she has to create her own sauce, and Lula lacks basic cooking skills. After a fiery grilling mishap — a half-dead maple tree at the back of the yard "went up like Vesuvius" — Lula moves the operation to Stephanie's kitchen. She cranks up the heat on a pressure cooker and kapow! the lid blows off the pot, sending barbecue sauce everywhere. (Cleanup in aisle one!)

There are other complications: That handsome, mysterious man in black, Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, needs Stephanie's help in a case involving his security firm. (It may be an inside job, so he doesn't trust his own men.)

That irritates her on-again, off-again boyfriend — plainclothes cop Joe Morelli — because Ranger is always trying to make a move on Stephanie. Joe and Stephanie have broken up, due to an argument about peanut butter, but Morelli is still jealous.

As usual, things don't go smoothly for Stephanie. Her car becomes a fireball, and she's menaced by some guys in one of Trenton's seedier neighborhoods (it's gun-toting Grandma Mazur to the rescue). She also finds herself coated in various substances, including paint and flour. "I honestly don't know how you manage to do this," Ranger says. "It boggles the mind." She even agrees to wear a hot dog-and-bun costume for the barbecue contest.

Read "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" for the laughs, not the plot. And let's hope Stephanie's next adventure will be a little less predictable.

Review: Janet Evanovich uses familiar recipe for latest Stephanie Plum adventure

From The Canadian Press --

Review: Janet Evanovich uses familiar recipe for latest Stephanie Plum adventure --

By Carol Deegan --
June 23, 2009 --

"Finger Lickin' Fifteen"

Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's Press)

The barbecue sauce hits the ceiling in "Finger Lickin' Fifteen," Janet Evanovich's new Stephanie Plum novel.

One reason why fans hunger for the next instalment in the Plum series is the familiarity with the characters, setting and comedic mayhem that Evanovich provides in each story. But as funny as "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" is - and it is funny - nothing much changes in Stephanie's life, and it may be time for her to move on.

Her latest misadventure begins when Lula, her plus-size friend and co-worker at Vincent Plum Bail Bonds (Vinnie is Stephanie's cousin) in Trenton, N.J., witnesses celebrity chef Stanley Chipolte's decapitation by meat cleaver.

Chipolte is famous for his barbecue sauce, and the company that he was representing in a national cook-off being held in Gooser Park is offering a $1 million reward.

Lula figures Chipolte was whacked by a jealous competitor, so she enters the contest to get the inside track. Problem is, she has to create her own sauce, and Lula lacks basic cooking skills. After a fiery grilling mishap - a half-dead maple tree at the back of the yard "went up like Vesuvius" - Lula moves the operation to Stephanie's kitchen. She cranks up the heat on a pressure cooker and kapow! the lid blows off the pot, sending barbecue sauce everywhere. (Cleanup in aisle one!)

There are other complications: That handsome, mysterious man in black, Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, needs Stephanie's help in a case involving his security firm. (It may be an inside job, so he doesn't trust his own men.)

That irritates her on-again, off-again boyfriend - plainclothes cop Joe Morelli - because Ranger is always trying to make a move on Stephanie. Joe and Stephanie have broken up, due to an argument about peanut butter, but Morelli is still jealous.

As usual, things don't go smoothly for Stephanie. Her car becomes a fireball, and she's menaced by some guys in one of Trenton's seedier neighbourhoods (it's gun-toting Grandma Mazur to the rescue). She also finds herself coated in various substances, including paint and flour. "I honestly don't know how you manage to do this," Ranger says. "It boggles the mind." She even agrees to wear a hot dog-and-bun costume for the barbecue contest.

Read "Finger Lickin' Fifteen" for the laughs, not the plot. And let's hope Stephanie's next adventure will be a little less predictable.

Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

“Finger Lickin’” not as tasty (Janet Evanovich)

From The Oklahoman --

“Finger Lickin’” not as tasty --
Fiction: 15th novel in Stephanie Plum series entertains but fails to satisfy

By Brandy McDonnell --
June 21, 2009 --

Fans smacking their lips in anticipation of the new Stephanie Plum adventure will savor the familiar flavor but not the past-the-expiration-date aftertaste of Janet Evanovich’s “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” (St. Martin’s Press, $27.95).

For better or worse, Evanovich is still cooking from the same recipe she used for the previous 14 installments. Despite her growing experience, Stephanie still blunders through her job as a bounty hunter, though lately her foibles seem more Murphy’s Law and less sheer ineptitude. Her cars keep exploding, she still attracts kooky characters, and she can never quite commit to a romance, though she chose long ago which of the series’ two alpha males was for her.

Still, “Finger Lickin’ Fifteen,” out Tuesday, offers a breezy summer read with just enough wackiness and mystery to keep fans entertained. Thankfully, there’s no sign of Stephanie’s grating sister, who nearly chased me away from the series a few books back.

Instead, “Fifteen” focuses on Stephanie’s colorful sidekick Lula, a former prostitute turned lazy file clerk who often rides shotgun for our heroine. When Lula witnesses the murder of TV food star Stanley Chipotle, she becomes the target of the killers, who soon prove dangerously inexpert. To his dismay, Stephanie’s cop ex-boyfriend Joe Morelli catches the case.

Lula wants to snare the murderers herself and collect the big reward. With the help of Stephanie’s quirky Grandma Mazur and a cross-dressing fireman, she enters the barbecue contest Chipotle was in town promoting in the hope of smoking out the killers.

For Stephanie’s part, her mentor/ex-lover Ranger recruits her to help solve a series of burglaries to clients of his Rangeman Security, inside jobs that have him distrusting his staff of toughs. As usual, the story heats up when Stephanie and Ranger work together.

Evanovich doesn’t use the food TV premise to its full potential. The madcap antics and zany characterizations are fun, but she’s used most of them before in previous books. The author seems unwilling to give her best-selling series the real shakeup it needs.

“Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” can’t compare to the tantalizing first six Plum novels, making the new book a tasty but not truly satisfying reading experience.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Murder Well Done (Janet Evanovich)

From The New York Times --

Murder Well Done --

Published: June 19, 2009 --

Don’t kid yourself — going to sleep is a scary business. Which is why children are comforted by hearing the same stories over and over at bedtime. Certain kinds of mysteries have a similar effect on grown-ups, delivering familiar themes and ritualistic procedures that promise a safe haven in a world of darkness. Which is why rational adults who can’t bear to open their 401(k) statements will rush out to buy FINGER LICKIN’ FIFTEEN (St. Martin’s, $27.95), the “new” Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich. Whatever bad news might be coming, the madcap heroine in these comic farces won’t be delivering it.

Life is always hectic in the blue-collar Trenton neighborhood where the disaster-prone Stephanie works as an enforcement agent in her cousin Vinny’s bail bond firm. This time, a lunatic known as Marco the Maniac takes a meat cleaver to a celebrity chef bound for the big barbecue cook-off to be held at Gooser Park. Eye on the reward, Stephanie’s obstreperous fat friend, Lula, decides to enter the cook-off, which she reckons will attract the killer. In a plot complication that’s no more plausible but reinforces the sexual dynamic between Stephanie and the men in her life, she’s hired by the dangerously attractive Ranger (“a man of mysterious talents”) to investigate the humiliating break-ins that have tarnished the reputation of his fancy security firm.

Like Little Annie Fanny in the vintage Playboy cartoon, Stephanie tends to shed articles of clothing as she becomes splattered with paint or doused with barbecue sauce during the course of her duties. Since fire often figures prominently in Stephanie’s misadventures, you can also count on a few cars and one or more rooms of her apartment going up in flames. Of course, the most spectacular conflagration is reserved for the barbecue.

But even as these catastrophic events are unfolding, the author allows her heroine to keep in touch with the supportive people and familiar places that represent home base. Rest assured, there are disorderly dinners at her family’s home and a rowdy wake attended by Grandma Mazur at Stiva’s Funeral Home, along with the usual high jinks from the colorful crooks and perverts Stephanie encounters on the job. It’s not all mechanical nuts and bolts, either. Evanovich writes with flair in an absurdist vein that her imitators can only envy. (“The bacon diet is unhealthy,” Stephanie solemnly advises Lula. “You had packs of dogs chasing you down the street when you were on the bacon diet.”) And while Evanovich may go overboard on the comic mayhem, she does it only so the kids are sent off to sleep smiling.

10 Questions for Janet Evanovich

From Time Magazine --

10 Questions for Janet Evanovich --

Dennis Kleiman --
June 22, 2009 --

This is the 15th novel in the Stephanie Plum series. Have you ever felt that the quality of your stories was declining? Dodie Stephens, OCALA, FLA.

I don't feel that the quality of the stories is declining. I think that some books are more successful than others to certain readers. People who read my books for the humor, they're going to love one book. People who read my books for the mystery, they might not like that book quite as much.

There is so much talk about a Stephanie Plum movie. Do you have an explanation of why it has taken so many years and if it will ever be made? Kimberly Johnson, FAIRFAX, VA.

My fans would love to see a movie, and I would love to see a movie. It just hasn't worked out so far. I think they love the characters, for one thing. Everybody wants to see what these two hot guys look like, Ranger and Joe Morelli.

Is it sinful to lust after a fictional character? Margaret Smith FOLSOM, CALIF.

Not in my world. If you want to lust after my characters, hey, I'm all in favor of it.

What made you want to write, and how did you get started? Linda Olsen ROSWELL, N.M.

I wasn't always a writer. When I went to college and majored in fine arts, I was a painter. Then I was a stay-at-home mom. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I liked telling stories, and I decided that I would try writing. Ten years later, I finally got a book published. It was hard. I had no skills. I knew nothing about the business of getting published. So I had to keep working at it.

Do you have a set routine you follow daily in writing books? Mary Gehin BELLEVILLE, WIS.

I'm at my computer at 5:30 to 6 o'clock, and I spend a full day at that. Then around 1 o'clock, I have lunch. I get a little exercise. Then in the afternoon, I'm a businessperson. I think of myself as a professional. I get up in the morning and I go to work just like anybody else.

Have you ever felt inclined to use your success to bring awareness to a certain issue? Tash Nordstrand AUCKLAND

I think it's appropriate for some authors. I don't think it's appropriate for me. I look at myself as an entertainer. You know my books are going to end well, you know you're going to love some of these people, you know I'm never going to kill a cat--and you can count on the fact that I'm not going to put my political agenda in your face. That just is not what I do.

Why do you let readers title your books? That sort of seems like letting strangers name your children. Walden Henning, INDIANAPOLIS

Yeah, like wearing somebody else's underpants--not quite comfortable. I actually really suck at naming books, so lots of years ago, readers were sending in their ideas for titles, and what we realized is that they were smarter than us. So we thought, Hey, go for it. So now we have a contest every year.

Will the Kindle and other e-book readers help or hurt the book industry? Taylor Zaborney MIDDLETOWN, N.J.

I think that the e-book is here to stay. I think it's fabulous. Can you imagine kids? No more backpacks full of heavy books. But what happens when I go on book tour if all we have are e-books? What do I sign? Body parts?

Are you planning on ending the series anytime soon? Tracy Simpson NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y.

No. You know, I wake up some days and think Stephanie should go off into the sunset with Joe Morelli and have babies, and then I wake up the next day, and I'm like, Oh, no, she's gotta go with Ranger. I don't see myself ending it anytime soon, just because I'm having a lot of fun with it.

If you could do anything else with your life, what would it be? Jennifer Frieouf BRAMAN, OKLA.

I'd be a bar singer. And I'd wear a really low-cut red sequined dress. Maybe I'd want to sit on a piano. I'm stopped by the fact that I can't sing, but, you know, aside from that.

Book Review: Brit detective returns (Anne Perry)

From Oklahoma NewsOK --

Book Review: Brit detective returns - LONDON DOCKS OFFER EXCITING LOCALE FOR CRIME NOVEL SET IN 1860s --

May 17, 2009 --

John Harrington --

After almost three years, author Anne Perry brings back William Monk in "Execution Dock” (Ballantine Books, $26). Monk is now the commander of the Thames River Police. The time is 1864, and the Thames is teeming with ships and merchant trade from around the world.

But there are other types of action that are dark and evil. One of the chief problems is Jericho Phillips, who operates a floating brothel dealing primarily with young boys he holds as virtual slaves.

Monk captures Phillips and charges him with murdering one of his boys. Unfortunately, the case falls apart, and Phillips is acquitted. Monk and his river police are disgraced, but Monk and his wife, Hester, are determined to find out who and what is behind Phillips’ acquittal.

With wonderful, believable characters and details that make you a part of the London dockside, Perry has written another fine book.

Monday, July 6, 2009

BOOKS: A transplant, spoof and darkness (Anne Perry)

From The Washington Times --

BOOKS: A transplant, spoof and darkness --

May 31, 2009 --

By Muriel Dobbin --

...Anne Perry is an author who specializes in writing about the tribulations of detectives who are obliged to investigate the dark doings that lie beyond the lavish and elaborate social lives of London's Victorian aristocracy and she does a well researched job of it. Execution Dock (Ballantine, $26, 320 pages) is an especially gruesome investigation of sadism, pornography and pedophilia led by superintendent William Monk of the Thames River police that leads him into the highest levels of the English judiciary. Ms. Perry has a knack for character and her Scuff, a tough little bandit of a river orphan, almost runs off with the book.

Monk and his wife, Hester, as always, are morally impeccable and high-minded almost to the point of exasperation, and it is usually a relief to find in Ms. Perry's cast of characters someone who doesn't live up to his or her shining reputation. She has unquestionably mastered her territory and her topic and established herself as a chronicler of a social dark side made more horrifying by its hypocrisy.

Summer reading: Feeds your soul, sparks a laugh, or maybe tears (Lisa Lutz)

From Chicago Daily Herald --

Summer reading: Feeds your soul, sparks a laugh, or maybe tears --

June 7, 2009 --

By Sarah Long --

Just the words "summer reading" take me to a relaxing other world where I am warm and comfortable with hours of unstructured time, mine for the taking. In today's world, such escape is becoming increasingly elusive. But I urge you to fit in some summer reading that feeds your soul or at least gives you a laugh, an escape or a view of another world.

The book I have most enjoyed recently is "The Spellman Files: A Novel" by Lisa Lutz. The Spellmans are a family of private investigators: father, mother, son, and two daughters. The book is written in the voice of Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, age 28, who is quite the wit. Being the middle child, Izzy has issues with her older brother, who has actually escaped the family business to become a successful attorney. He is perfect in every way - looks, manners, brains, etc. - and eschews the other family members' penchant for investigating everything, especially each other. You might say he aspires to be normal and middle class. Izzy feels protective of her younger sister, Rae, age 14. But Rae is a force to contend with because of her proclivity for "recreational tailing" or following people just for kicks. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and best of all, it's the first of four with another one on the way early in 2010. If you liked, "Harriet the Spy" as a kid, you'll love Izzy Spellman...

Torn between two vampires: a book review of 'Dead and Gone' by Charlaine Harris

From Kansas City Literature Examiner --

Torn between two vampires: a book review of 'Dead and Gone' by Charlaine Harris --

June 2, 2009 --

By Lisa Westerfield --

‘Dead and Gone’ is the 9th book in the Charlaine Harris series known as the ‘Sookie Stackhouse Novels.’ Most people know Sookie and her vampires from the HBO show, ‘True Blood’ which is a brand name of the synthetic blood that has allowed the vampires to, as Harris describes, “come out of the coffin.” Of course all of it is an allegory about the acceptance of all people despite their differences…even those that need to suck blood (I don’t recall if Harris has ever referred to her vamps as hemoglobin challenged).
Harris has lucked upon a winning combination with Sookie and all of her supernatural suitors which not only include two hunky vampires but in the past a werewolf, a werepanther, a weretiger, and a shape shifter who also doubles as her boss. Sookie herself can read the minds of others and until the vampires revealed themselves as real, she always thought of her telepathic ability as an affliction – one until the last book, ‘From Dead to Worse,’ she didn’t realize she had inherited from her grandfather who was half fairy. If you aren’t familiar with the book or television series all of the above sounds like gibberish but Harris has been able to weave all of it into a very likeable tale which since ‘True Blood’ debuted has shot her into the ranks of Anne Rice, J. K. Rowling and Stephen King and into direct comparison/competition with Stephenie Meyer and her ‘Twilight’ series. In fact it is rather difficult to judge ‘Dead and Gone’ on its own accord without taking into consideration that it is really just a chapter in a larger tale along with which Harris has shown sparks of inspiration as well as inconsistency with the span of certain characters and at some points sloppy writing.

Although the Sookie series was probably fairly well known within vampire fandom it has really exploded in the sense of recent pop culture. In early autumn of 2008 when ‘True Blood’ premiered on HBO the ratings steadily climbed and it became the most successful HBO series since ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘The Sopranos’ which apparently was not anticipated by the book publishers who were pushing other Harris mysteries and were appeared to be blindsided by the sudden demand of the Stackhouse books. Of course now they have rectified the situation and one can spot paperback versions of the Stackhouse novels at any store that sells books, along with a big display featuring the hardcover version of ‘Dead and Gone.’

As far as ‘Dead and Gone’ goes, I don’t know if I would recommend the book if a reader hasn’t read previous books in the sequence, I would however recommend the series. Despite the before mentioned flaws, the books have made for lively reading and Stackhouse, her family, and friends have provided diverting plots. I think Harris has done a fine job in building Sookie’s world with each new book and ‘Dead and Gone’ is a better effort than some of the other books when it comes to staying true to elements presented in earlier stories. With the popularity of the books and television series, this endeavor of Harris’s seemed to have a direction as if Harris knows eventually in what course she wants to take the series whereas in previous books I thought she might be writing down the first thing that popped into her mind. I wonder if I was the only fan annoyed by the ‘Word of the Day’ calendar references?

Overall, I had fun reading ‘Dead and Gone’ and would highly recommend the series for anyone who likes the fantasy romance genre. Oh, and no, if you are already a fan, I’m not even going to hint if Sookie chooses Eric over Bill…over that sparkly vampire that Robert Pattinson played in that movie, you know which one I mean so don’t pretend you don’t.

Janet Evanovich Plans Graphic Novel

From New York Times --

Janet Evanovich Plans Graphic Novel --


May 26, 2009 --

Janet Evanovich, the best-selling author behind the series of books about the New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, is entering the world of comic books. She, along with her daughter Alex, will be working on a graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics, based on Ms. Evanovich’s “Metro Girl” and “Motor Mouth” books about a racecar driver named Sam Hooker and a Nascar mechanic named Alexandra Barnaby. “We’re comic book fans; we’re huge Nascar fans,” Ms. Evanovich said in a telephone interview. “It allows me to feed my Nascar addiction and comic book addiction all at the same time.” The book is expected to come out next year. Another writer who made the jump from novels to comics, Brad Meltzer, will be moving into nonfiction with “Heroes for My Son,” a collection of stories about the Wright Brothers, Jim Henson and others. The book, to be published by HarperStudio, is scheduled for release in June 2010, in time for Father’s Day.

Author hits jackpot with vampire series (Charlaine Harris)

From The Providence Journal --

Author hits jackpot with vampire series --

May 26, 2009 --


MAGNOLIA, Ark. Charlaine Harris was sitting in the small dining nook of her suburban cedar-and-stone home one recent afternoon when she took the call from her editor in New York. After she hung up, she yanked both fists down and let out a triumphant, “Yes!”

Harris, the author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire mystery romance novels, had just heard that the latest book in the series, Dead and Gone, would make its debut on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list in the No. 1 spot. It was a first for Harris, who has published 26 novels in nearly three decades and sold the original book in the Sookie series, Dead Until Dark, for just $5,000 nine years ago.

When her husband, Harold Schulz, arrived home from work later, he stepped into Harris’ office in a converted mother-in-law apartment next to the house. “No. 1, huh?” he calmly noted with a smile.

But with their daughter Julia’s high school graduation looming, he wanted to know whether all six acres of the lawn on their property had been mowed, and when certain family members would be arriving.

It was the kind of juggle that might be familiar to Sookie, the telepathic human barmaid who narrates the novels and lives in the fictional small town of Bon Temps, La., amid an ever-expanding cast of vampires, shape-shifters, fairies and witches.

The formula of small-town life regularly disrupted by the supernatural world — and some mind-blowing sex with vampires — has propelled Harris through nine Sookie novels. For her latest three-book contract, of which Dead and Gone is the second, Harris was paid a seven-figure advance.

The books have also spawned True Blood, the HBO adaptation created by Alan Ball, the maestro of Six Feet Under. The first season of the series, which roughly followed Dead Until Dark, concluded last fall as the cable network’s most popular show since The Sopranos and Sex and the City. The new season, based on the second novel in the series, Living Dead in Dallas, begins on June 14.

This heady brew of success has allowed Harris, 57, some luxuries: earlier this year she hired her longtime best friend as her personal assistant. She bought a diamond ring. And this year, because of Julia’s graduation, she could afford the ultimate indulgence: She refused to go on a book tour.

“It was just a huge relief that I finally hit on the right character and the right publisher,” said Harris, who had previously written two mystery series that never quite took off. Or, as she put it more succinctly, with a cackle that evoked a paranormal creature: “I had this real neener-neener-neener moment.”

Born and raised in Tunica, Miss., the daughter of a schoolteacher and a homemaker turned librarian, Harris, an avid reader of mysteries, always wanted to be an author. She published two stand-alone mysteries in the early 1980s, and a few years later began the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, featuring a Southern librarian turned amateur sleuth. Despite promising reviews, sales were modest.

In the mid-1990s she plunged into a more violent and sexually explicit story line about Lily Bard, a cleaning woman who investigates murders. Harris believed she had hit her stride, but sales did not meet her expectations.

So she decided to try something new. She had always wanted to write about vampires. From the outset, she wanted to set the story in the prosaic trailer-park and strip-mall landscape of northern Louisiana, to distinguish it from the gothic opulence of Anne Rice’s New Orleans.

Nominally a murder mystery, Dead Until Dark was filled with inventive details, like the synthetic blood that allows vampires to live openly among humans, and a vampire bar called Fangtasia, where humans who like to have sex with the undead hang out.

Despite her track record, it took two years to find a home for Sookie. Although writers like Laurell K. Hamilton had staked a niche in the paranormal genre, it was not the booming category that Stephenie Meyer has made it today.

Finally, Ace Books, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Penguin Group USA, bought the manuscript in 2000. “The voice is terrific,” said Ginjer Buchanan, editor in chief of Ace. “And I liked the setting. I think it’s an interesting and different milieu, and she portrays it in a way that’s fresh and understandable, but not stereotypical.”

Driving last week along a tree-lined country road dotted by an occasional horse farm or a row of abandoned chicken coops, Harris said it was how she imagined the road to Sookie’s house. Ideas for characters come from all over the place.

“Every trip to Wal-Mart is an inspiration,” she said. But don’t try to find a model for Merlotte’s, the bar and restaurant where Sookie works. Magnolia, in southern Arkansas near the Louisiana border, is the seat of a dry county.

Harris gave Sookie the power to read the most unpleasant thoughts of others as a way of reflecting on the veneer of courtesy that permeates small-town Southern living.

“I think that must be the worst thing, not to have that buffer zone between how people really think and feel and how they present themselves to you,” Harris said. “That’s one of the reasons I love living here, because people are so polite.” For Sookie, consorting with vampires comes as a relief because she cannot actually read their thoughts.

Harris works most mornings in her office, a cozy room with a lumpy purple loveseat and a shelf of knickknacks sent by fans. Like many a commercial writer, Harris wishes the literary establishment would pay more attention. “I think there is a place for what I do,” she said. “And I think it’s honorable.”

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sookie Stackhouse proves she's not Dead and Gone (Charlaine Harris)

From The Houston Chronicle --

Sookie Stackhouse proves she's not Dead and Gone --


May 15, 2009 --

For Sookie Stackhouse fans, it’s been a long year. Sure, September brought our Southern-fried heroine to the small screen in HBO’s True Blood. But even with the unexpected twists of the show, that plot was a little 2001 for anybody who’s been devouring Charlaine Harris’ book series since its inception.

A year after the last installment of the Southern Vampire Series, book number nine, Dead and Gone, hit bookstores this month. June 14, HBO turns on season two of True Blood with a set of characters that may turn out to be even more of a departure from Harris’s creation.

Luckily, Dead and Gone deposits book readers in familiar territory.

The plot takes up where we left our telepathic barmaid: In a world of supernatural creatures that mingle among the regular Wal-Mart shoppers of Bon Temps, the north Louisiana town where Sookie lives.

The witches are still camped out in Sookie’s house, the fairies remain mysterious, and the hunky vampires can’t seem to keep their fangs off her.

As Dead and Gone opens, werewolves have decided to follow the vampires’ lead and announce their presence to the human world. Alternative lifestyles, it seems, cannot bear to stay underground when there are supernatural reality TV shows to develop.

“Coming out” creates some trouble in Bon Temps, and the regular world seems interested in Sookie’s special talents. All this free-to-be-you-and-me attitude leaves only the fairies to wreak havoc under the radar.

Sookie must uncover the threats, beat back the danger and find love, perhaps in all the wrong places.

Of course, that is why we come back to the series year after year: To root for Sookie. She’s the oddball who lurks in us all.

To the regular world she is chubby, weird and underemployed. In Harris’ fantasy world, Sookie is an irresistible princess. And as Sookie and every modern princess with a head on her shoulders knows, only she can get the job done right, friends and family disappoint as often as they deliver, and sometimes the prince turns out to be a frog.

Or a vampire.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Not 'DEAD' YET (Charlaine Harris)

From Tulsa World --

Not 'DEAD' YET --

May 10, 2009 --

By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer --

Harris continues to find new fictional life in her paranormal series.

Within the first 60 pages of the latest Sookie Stackhouse release, shape-shifters make their existence known, a person is shot, another crucified, federal investigators show up and the resident telepath/barmaid finds she may have unwittingly married a vampire.

And that's just a warm-up in this ninth addition to the series by Arkansas-based writer Charlaine Harris.

"Dead and Gone" takes a delightful step up from the last installment, with the main character maturing and finding peace and possibly love in her sometimes violent and unfair world.

The author gets back to basics by keeping the story in sleepy Bon Temps, La., and focusing mostly on characters introduced in earlier novels.

As with Harris' previous books, Sookie reads the thoughts of others as she gets wrapped up in solving a mystery while trying to unwrap her tangled life, which has included vampires and were-animals among her suitors.

The series is the basis for HBO's "True Blood," which has taken some liberties in the portrayal of characters and story lines. Harris writes her books to be read in sequence. She does a fine job of including enough background to jog the memory of the Sookie Stackhouse faithful, but to truly understand and appreciate the developments, a reader needs to dive into the past titles.

Harris is a master at taking several paranormal worlds and plunging them into our reality with humor. Sookie hasn't lost her wit, as when she ponders whether fairy parents told their fairy children human stories at bedtime.

The dialogue is sharp and realistic, and action is swift, especially considering most of "Dead and Gone" takes place in one day.

The outing of the shape-shifters adds a fun dimension full of possibilities. As with "The Great Revelation" of vampires years earlier, Harris uses this as a mechanism for examining prejudices and the limits of societal acceptance.

Harris gives more insight into the character of vampire sheriff Eric and addresses Sookie's questionable family lineage and details of her parents' deaths.

Sookie says goodbye to some she has grown to love and care about, closing a chapter on what could have become an outlandish plot line. The sadness and even trauma she experiences is somewhat offset by the calm she finds within herself and the loyalty of a sweetly rekindled old flame and longtime friends.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse is Back in 'Dead and Gone' (Charlaine Harris)

From The Canadian Press --

Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse is Back in 'Dead and Gone' --

Sookie Stackhouse has returned for another bloody adventure. "Dead and Gone" is the ninth novel about the telepathic waitress from fictional Bon Temps, La., and her dealings with the supernatural world of vampires, wereanimals (they're not just wolves), shape shifters, witches, demons and fairies.

In the latest tale, wereanimals and shape shifters, known as the "two-natured," have joined vampires in "coming out" to the human race. It starts with a woman turning into werewolf on the evening news.

The subsequent backlash could have made a good story line but author Charlaine Harris doesn't go there. The only consequence is told in a third-person account by Sookie's boss, Sam Merlotte, whose mother, also a shape shifter, is shot by her husband. Lesson learned: If you're planning to tell your spouse that you're a little different, hide the weapons first.

Instead, Harris focuses on the fairy world and the struggles of Sookie's great-grandfather, Niall Brigant, within his fairy kingdom. He's a powerful prince who shows up occasionally and mostly puts Sookie at risk. A war is brewing between Niall and his nephew, and Sookie becomes a target. But Harris hides this mysterious world from the reader, which makes for an even more convoluted narrative.

Some colourful characters from previous Harris vampire books get scant mention in "Dead and Gone," leaving you to wonder, "Where did they go?" An unexpected visit from Sookie's former weretiger lover amounts to only a few words. Another former lover happens along and a fight ensues. Then, both men "up and went." What was the point?

The constant theme in these Southern vampire novels is Sookie's aptitude for self-preservation. Armed with water pistols filled with lemon juice, and a gardening tool, she manages to battle her more powerful fairy enemies. But she does not escape unharmed. After drinking vampire blood, which is highly restorative, she recovers to fight another day.

For those who haven't read the previous Sookie Stackhouse novels, "Dead and Gone" is not the place to start. Your best bet would be to pick up, "Dead Until Dark," the first novel in the series and the basis of HBO's surprise hit series, "True Blood," produced by "Six Feet Under," creator Alan Ball.

While Ball dedicates more time to the development of secondary characters, Harris keeps her books focused on Sookie's perspective. The problem, though, is that you don't get to know the other characters well enough to care about them.