February 9, 2011
An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly #3)
First published in: 2007
This edition: Berkley Prime Crime 2008
Genre: crime, supernatural
Cover illustration by David Hollenback; design by Judith Lagerman
In a nutshell?
When I finished the second book in the Harper Connelly series, I was convinced of its worth, and made sure I had books 3 and 4 available to me before the end of 2010. In December, I read the third, most interesting book in the series: AN ICE COLD GRAVE.
AN ICE COLD GRAVE brings Harper – who has the unusual ability to find dead bodies ever since she was struck by lightning – and her step-brother-slash-manager to Doraville, North-Carolina – which our sleuth quickly realizes is the scene of a horrible set of crimes. Contacted to find the body of one missing teenaged boy, Harper instead finds a group of them, buried in the ground, covered by a thick layer of snow. These boys were subjected to unspeakable violence and abuse prior to their horrid murders. Harper, who's generally used to this kind of thing, is deeply affected by the case, and just wants to get away from Doraville as soon as possible. Away from the inevitable media frenzy, away from the dreadful knowledge of what has happened to these boys.
The third instalment is the most intense one for multiple reasons, the first obviously being the crimes committed. Harris describes a case so horrible (teen-aged boys tortured, raped and murdered), you can't help but flip page after page to find out if, and how, the killer is caught. It's a suspenseful plot, and Harris makes sure you're affected (e.g. horrified) by it as much as Harper is, and thus as a reader very driven to see the person responsible for these crimes caught. Reading about AN ICE COLD GRAVE's case is very much like watching an episode of Criminal Minds – and as that show is one of my favorites, this comparison is a good thing, in my opinion. But that also could mean that AN ICE COLD GRAVE's case and its details could be too much for some of you readers. I guess it just depends on what you're used to in movies, tv and other media, and how much you can bear to have put into images, in your mind.
The book is generally more graphic, in its descriptions of both violence and sex, than other books in the series or maybe even in the genre. I wasn't, as evident from the former paragraph, particularly bothered by the graphic descriptions of violence in AN ICE COLD GRAVE; I believe it makes the book stronger than its predecessors.
However, I do feel the sexual descriptions are a bit too blunt and thus awkward as a result. I cringed a lot, basically, because the sex scenes are so directly written, it's almost (secondhand-embarrassingly) amateur. There's no sensuality in these scenes, there's no real eroticism; Harris just describes what's being… performed instead of what the people involved feel. Harris mentions often how very "pleasing" it all is, but it just… BLEGH. It's just not good. It's not erotic to just spell out what's being done to whom and how and which areas of the body were involved. Charlaine's writing is hardly pornographic (pssssh, no, it's just a bit of sex here and there), but comparisons to porn do come to mind (sorry Charlaine…) because things are "demonstrated" rather than truly erotic – much like the sex scenes in this book. Not that I watch porn. Not that there's anything wrong with watching porn, but I prefer not to, not do I like reading anything which reminds me of porn.
…ANYWAY. Enough about porn already, Karin. (Geez.) AWKWARD.
The Harper Connelly series is already darker and less upbeat in atmosphere than a lot of other series (or the Sookie Stackhouse novels); AN ICE COLD GRAVE takes the cake, though, being the darkest one in the series so far. The setting of a wintery cold Doraville only adds to the haunting mood of the book.
Another reason why AN ICE COLD GRAVE is the most captivating installment yet, is that it focuses the most out of any of the series' books on Harper's relationship with Tolliver, a relationship which changes significantly in this installment. Harris succeeds in making them even more likable; Harper especially seems more vulnerable, open and even happy in this book. She's much more accessible to the reader now and we want her to find closure, happiness.
While the case in ICE COLD GRAVE can carry the book just fine on its own, it is nice to see Manfred and Xylda Bernardo again, although it is obvious that Manfred (who never backs away from an opportunity to flirt with Harper) is brought back as a device to get Harper and (a very jealous) Tolliver closer together. Nonetheless, it is pleasant to have some more familiar faces around; it takes away a little from the "case-by-case", procedural feel this series does have.
Out of the three books in the series, so far AN ICE COLD GRAVE is the easiest to get into and the hardest to put down. Darker, edgier and more personal, this is the best installment of the Harper Connelly series yet.
In a nutshell
- Darker, edgier – most atmospheric of the series
- Reader becomes very invested in solving the case; most entertaining of the series
- More personal; Harper and Tolliver are shaped characters now, more open, accessible
- Other familiar characters return
- Most gruesome case yet; though I liked this, I can imagine you might find it too violent, too graphic
- Sex scenes too descriptive and thus awkward to read; they are not sensual or erotic.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.
December 9, 2010
Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2)
First published in: 2006
This edition: Berkley Prime Crime Mass Market (Penguin), 2007
Genre: mystery, crime, series
Cover design by Judith Lagerman; cover art by David Hollenbach
(Sorry 'bout the slightly creepy photos I'm taking for this series.)
Once I got all my ducks in a row regarding GRAVE SIGHT, the first part of the series by Charlaine Harris featuring Harper Connelly, I pretty much immediately started reading the second book: GRAVE SURPRISE, which I hoped would impress me a lot more than its predecessor.
GRAVE SURPRISE brings Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang to Memphis: a college professor in occult studies is daring Harper to demonstrate her skills to his entire class by bringing her to an ancient cemetary. Harper's skills? Well, how about connecting with and locating the dead and being able, upon being with a dead body, to see their final moments and thus cause of death. Yeah, that's something. Sounds unbelievable.
But Professor Nunley and his class are all in for a shock: not only does Harper prove her worth, she also finds a body. Not too odd in a cemetery, one would say – except this body is relatively new. Also, the remains are found in someone else's grave… and most likely belong to abduction victim Tabitha Morgenstern, the very eleven year-old girl Harper was hired to (but failed to) locate a year and a half ago.
A tense situation arises, as one would expect when a child is the victim of gruesome murder – but it gets all the worse when another body is located, in the same grave where Tabitha's remains were found.
The story sounded good before I started it, and it turns out that it is: GRAVE SURPRISE has definitely made me more enthusiastic about the Harper Connelly series.
The first thing I noticed about GRAVE SURPRISE is that it's thicker: there are more pages, the text is more densely printed. With more pages in this case also comes more detail; GRAVE SURPRISE allows for more information, more room for plot development.
My main complaint with the first novel GRAVE SIGHT was that it seemed to be searching, still – a typical introduction novel, still not fully planned out and developed. GRAVE SURPRISE helps the series find its footing: the reader finds themselves settling into Harper's story.
This is mostly attributed to the reader getting to know Harper better; I found as I was flipping pages that she's really starting to grow on me. Whereas I first took her to be a little cold, and very cynical, I'm warming up to Harper. And actually find myself caring about her and Tolliver, curious what happens to them next. It took a while for me to get there (with Sookie Stackhouse, I felt instantly drawn to her as a reader – she's just so charming!) but I'm there. It helps that Harper shares more personal feelings, insecurities included; she's not cold, instead she's just rather weary and careful. She's tired. Harris definitely paints a better picture of her heroine; I feel Harris has better control over her characters and the series in general now, with the second novel.
Whereas I commented in my review of the first book that I wouldn't like a relationship between Harper and Tolliver to develop because that's the obvious direction to head into (and I like unpredictability), after finishing GRAVE SURPRISE I can't help but change my mind. Harper and Tolliver are so well developed by this point that the reader can't deny their history, their mutual regard / understanding and their desires for the future (to buy a house together, have a home life).
The more you read about these two, the more you realize that they didn't so much become step brother and sister when their parents married one and other: instead their relationship was one of partnership, as they basically became their younger siblings' surrogate parents. They tried to make a home for them. This bond between them remains. A relationship, at first obvious, now seems like the next (and last) logical step. I hope Harris continues to explore this.
Ha. See how my opinion just went and did a complete 180? That's what development and character building can do. I love it that Harris has worked out her characters further and thus managed to change my opinion around quite a bit on some themes of this series. Heck, she changed my opinion about the series in general. I'm glad. I'm relieved.
I thought at first more supporting characters would be good, but I take that back: it wouldn't be a bad thing to have more characters in this series, but it's not necessary. Harper and Tolliver do carry the story just fine on their own. I'd almost much rather get to know the duo (and their family) much better. (Nonetheless, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of a few of the very colorful characters that were introduced in GRAVE SURPRISE, yet: Xylda Bernardo, a bona fide psychic, and her grandson Manfred. I would welcome this.)
I hope the subsequent novels will also dig deeper into the mystery of Harper's sister's (Cameron) disappearance. There was more information and back story about her disappearance in GRAVE SURPRISE; Cameron's disappearance definitely serves as a "main mystery" for the entire series, while allowing an individual mystery for each separate installment. This set-up works, especially because Harris is a pretty good mystery writer. While I could hazard a guess at the who in 'whodunit', I was never sure how it all would unravel. It's not too obvious, but it's cleanly written and developed enough to make sense when you do find out what happened, and why. It clicks.
If there's one thing that bothers me a lot, it's when I notice an editor is being sloppy. An error in grammar here and there isn't the end of the world. But literal repeats?
"We've found, by trial and error, that sugar really helps me…" (page 25) followed by "'Come on, you have to have some sugar', he said. He was right. We'd found that out, by trial and error." (page 131).
See? Unnecessary. This sometimes happened in GRAVE SIGHT as well, but I attributed that to it being a first book; I was willing to overlook it. But when I see it happen more consistently within a series, well, that just irritates me a little.
Ah, I know I'm just being nitpicky. It's how I roll at times. Forgive me.
Anyway, to wrap it up: I kind of figured I would need to give the series a chance by at least reading the second book, and I'm glad I did. Part of my insistence to continue on to book two was because of my faith in Harris as an imaginative author; the other part was that GRAVE SIGHT's concept was good, but something was lacking. I hoped to find that something in GRAVE SURPRISE, and I have. Not only is my opinion more clearly formed, it is also a lot more favorable. I see tons more potential in the Harper Connelly series and its main characters.
I'm at that point you know a series is good: when you finish a book in the series and feel regret at not having the next book handy so you can continue the series immediately. Ah.
I'll be ordering both books 3 (AN ICE COLD GRAVE) and 4 (GRAVE SECRET) before the year is over.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.
November 30, 2010
Grave Sight: Harper Connelly #1
First published in: 2005
This edition: Berkley Publishing Group, 2005
Genre: mystery, supernatural
Cover art by David Hollenbach
Cover design by Judith Lagerman
After finishing the tenth Sookie Stackhouse novel by Charlaine Harris, I felt a little empty: I'd have to wait almost another year for the eleventh book to come out. I love Charlaine's imagination and how she shares it with us through books. When I heard the news that another one of Charlaine's series is in the progress of being adapted for television, I got curious: the Harper Connelly series is about a young woman with the ability to connect to the dead ever since she herself had been struck by lightning. Harper can find bodies as well as see a deceased's last moments, thus being helpful in providing the departed and their loved ones with closure.
Hey, that sounds good to me.
Harper's first story takes her and her step-brother (and assistant of sorts) Tolliver to Sarne, a small town in the Ozark mountain region in Arkansas, where a young girl has gone missing after the suspected suicide of her boyfriend. Harper quickly senses the girl is dead as well, the apparent victim of a murder-suicide. But that's not all she senses: Sarne's got a lot of skeletons in its closet, secrets painstakingly hidden. Dealing with an increasingly hostile environment, Harper and Tolliver are itching to just pack up and leave the townspeople of Sarne to their own drama, but when another woman is found dead, Harper understands that Sarne's secrets are slowly unraveling… and that someone would rather kill than let it all come to light.
Yes, it sounds so good. But while Grave Sight is an easy and enjoyable read, and quite thrilling at times, it didn't seem like Charlaine's best effort.
It's easy for me to go on and compare this series to the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and to criticize Harper Connelly based on the fact that the series isn't like Sookie Stackhouse. It's not, it's very different. But I find that to be a good thing: if I wanted more of the same, I'd just re-read the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I picked up a different series, because I wanted something different. If you're expecting a series much like Sookie Stackhouse, you'll be disappointed.
The Harper Connelly series is more realistic: human crime is the theme, with flawed humans committing human crimes on other humans. There are no vampires, werewolves or other supes in this series. Harper Connelly is a young woman in our very own world, but with a twist: she does have a supernatural ability. That touch makes the Harper series special enough to be interesting to readers like me, who appreciate a bit of fantasy every now and then, something quirky. Especially if it's written by Charlaine Harris.
Grave Sight is narrated by Harper herself, which I usually like because the reader would get a better idea of the main character this way; however, Harper is pretty distant – I could even go so far as to say she's cold. The narration seems quite stinted and cynical because of this. I must be reasonable about this, of course: how would you feel if you're hit by lightning and can sense the dead all around you, non-stop?
It would harden anyone. I think Harper has to be detached from the world in order to stand living in it in this condition. So while it hurts the narration somewhat in my opinion, I do think it's more realistic to have Harper be like this. It does make her more interesting in ways. Harper's not, shall I say, an open book.
With cynicism comes a darker outlook on things: the Harper series is moody. The books are still a breeze to get through, but its themes are more on the serious side as opposed to exciting and fun. It's a crime novel, first.
Family is also an important theme: Harper's family is dysfunctional to say the least. Tolliver is the only person she trusts. The relationship between Harper and her step-brother seems a bit awkward: the reader senses that more might be developing here than brotherly and sisterly love. It should be noted that they're not related by blood, and that they only became each other's step-siblings when in puberty (they didn't grow up together in that sense), but I do think some people might find it inappropriate. I personally have no problem with it because of the aforementioned circumstances, but I'd rather not see anything more develop between Harper and Tolliver because that would be predictable at this point, and I like unpredictability.
I'd like to see Harper develop and trust more people than just her step-brother. Harper's very dependent on him, and it's that which I do find disturbing. She seems like a strong woman, yet she isn't. Harper does get close to someone else in this book, but not in the way I prefer. I understand that Harper needs to get her some every once in a while, but I was talking more on an emotional level rather than a sexual one.
Basically, it might be good to have more regular characters in the series instead of just Harper and Tolliver.
Would I recommend the series?
Not at the moment, but I strongly feel this is because haven't really been able to form a proper opinion yet, because the series is not developed yet. Grave Sight is a typical first novel-in-a-series: a lot of introduction, with room in the future to get to know the lead characters more. For instance, there's the back story of Harper's missing sister, which is clearly crucial to Harper's personality and how she's grown into the woman she is today, but this back story has only been mentioned somewhat, and remains a big mystery. And there's more material, more possibility.
I am willing to give the series a go, so I've already gotten my hands on Grave Surprise (the second book), and I hope to be able to give a better idea then.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.