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R&R 127 | House of Night 1: Marked

It's been ages; I've been busy with lots of other stuff and couldn't find the time for this project. I haven't even finished a book in the entire month of June. Seriously, that's how busy I've been. And I'll continue to be busy, but I have found a way to clear some time to continue the project, hopefully more regularly from here on out. Thanks for sticking with me during my 'neglectful' absence.

P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Marked (House of Night #1)
First published in: 2007
This edition: Atom Books, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-905654-31-4
Genre/keywords: young adult, vampires, supernatural
Pages: 306
Cover photography: Getty images; design by Cara E. Petrus

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It's just regular day at school for most Oklahoman teenagers. But not for Zoey Redbird. Zoey just got Marked. Which means Zoey is destined to be a vampire, and to attend the House of Night school. A challenge of a non-life time.

MARKED, the first book in THE HOUSE OF NIGHT series, has a bit of an abrupt opening; it starts with Zoey being "Marked" immediately. Granted, the book never drags on and doesn't get boring, but everything happens way too fast. I would've appreciated a better intro, as this is part one of a series, the perfect opportunity to introduce your series' back story properly, a back story I would have been interested in, as this is an atypical vampire lore story. Oh, sorry. It's 'vampyre' here. Sigh.

Using the archaic "vampyre" in such a modern book bothers me in the same way the use of the term "magick" does. I was doing a shoulder shake laugh when I read what the vampire who marked Zoey said (as he marked her): "Night had chosen thee! Thy death will be thy birth!" (etc. etc.) I found myself wondering, while only on page 4 of this book, whether I would regret this read. For an atypical vampire story, it's pretty cheesy at times.

My main problem with book, however, is the protagonist-slash-narrator. I'm not so much bothered by theMary Sue-ness of her. You know, the main character, female, unaware of own attractiveness, every boy drools at sight of her… Oh. And she's Very Speshul. At this point, with a lot of YA literature it's what you choose in a main character by choosing to pick up this type of series in the first place. By choosing the series, you choose the cliche.

I didn't choose Zoey's judgmental voice though. This book is obviously geared towards teenagers (so I wouldn't recommend it to adults), but at the same time Zoey's comments about Goths and emos and "Okies" and "girly-gays" can be very off-putting for these teens, those who would be interested in reading the HOUSE OF NIGHT series. They could very well find themselves judged by Zoey and thus the authors! Alienating a large portion of your audience isn't the best move to make. I was also bothered by Zoey's recurrent shallow remarks regarding the (only!) "unattractive" fellow fledgling with his carrot hair. I'm so tired of (us) gingers being singled out this way.

The book has its preachy moments, as well. At some point in the book there's a whole "drugs are bad mmmmkay?" speech and while I appreciate the message that the authors hope to send, e.g. don't drink and don't do drugs, a book about bloodsucking vamps is not the right forum. Zoey's judgmental voice already gets on one's nerves enough without the holier-than-thou attitude. Oh and a girl is a "slut" simply for making out with a boy (geeeez), yet the authors have no problem inserting a blowjob scene into the text early on and referring to it constantly in subsequent chapters. If you're going down the goody-goody road, be consistent and don't use sex to sell your story.

All of the above – combined with Zoey's speshulness – makes Zoey sound arrogant and unsympathetic. The authors, too.

Zoey's stance on language is also inconsistent: it's "hell" this and "hell" that, but she cannot bring herself to say "shit" or "crap" when referring to horse excrement. No. It's horse "poopie". Yes. Not even poo, but pooPIE. And women have boobies. It's like a three year-old is telling the story sometimes.
The worst has to be the humor, though, often used at unwelcome times. A prime example can be found during a rather pivotal / serious scene where Zoey is having an outer body experience after an injury to her head, and sees her body from above:

"And I/she didn't look good. I/she was all pale and her lips were blue. Hey! White face, blue lips and red blood! Am I patriotic or what?"
– p.42

I actually snorted and shook my head when I read this, because I couldn't really believe these authors for thinking this was funny or that teens are seriously like this. And to think one of the authors of the mother-daughter duo IS a teen. And how proud they are of sounding so teenaged-like (it's in their preface).

While a lot of YA-series are perfectly suitable for adult readers, I wouldn't recommend The House of Night to adults. It's over-the-top teenaged. Nothing resonates with me, nothing.
The series is also not for some religious people. The SOOKIE STACKHOUSE novels by Charlaine Harris also have a fanatic anti-vampire church, but Harris allows for plenty of grey areas. Sookie, for example, is a Christian girl and pro-vamp. THE HOUSE OF NIGHT: Pagan good, church bad.

What I did like about the series is the original aspects:
– The vampires worship the Goddess Nyx; it's vampirism meets wicca, paganism
– The way you become a vampire is not the traditional 'by being bitten'. I always appreciate a fresh take.
– Like the SOOKIE novels, vamps are out in the open.
– And it's about baby vamps going to a vampire school, although I think this is also being done in the VAMPIRE ACADEMY series by Richelle Mead, though I haven't yet read any of those books.

I also liked that plenty happened to keep a reader interested, though I will still say everything happens too fast (especially in that Zoey's too powerful, too soon).
Ah, it's suitable light reading; I acquired a bunch of light reads for the summer (backyard reads, equivalent of beach reads, but as I'm beach less…) and MARKED was one of them. Loud neighbors, bring it on. Is this a good series? Not really, I don't feel. But I've read worse.

(I may try the second book, but I'm not entirely sure yet.)

R&R 125 | The Hunger Games

This review took a while. The weather has been amazing here the past few weeks and I've been enjoying it 🙂

Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games trilogy, #1)
Dutch: N/A
First published in: 2008
This edition: Scholastic, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-439-02352-8
Genre: post-apolcalyptic, dystopian
Pages: 374
Cover design by Elizabeth N. Parisi / Phil Falco; illustration by Tim O'Brien

R&R 125 | The Hunger Games

In a nutshell?

Yes. I am very late to the party. But at least I made it. Much like our protagonist Katniss Everdeen, one cannot escape THE HUNGER GAMES.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins is a gripping trilogy set in a future where today's North-America is no more; the Capitol rules the 12 districts of Panem, and to punish them all for defying the Capitol once in an uprising (so violent, the thirteenth district was eradicated) every year the Capitol organizes The Hunger Games, a nightmarish Survivor type scenario set in an arena, where no one gets kicked off the island exactly, rather is murdered by another contestant, a "Tribute". All this to remind the 12 remaining districts that the Capitol reigns supreme.

I can see why these books are so widely read. Their subject is unusual. But what makes THE HUNGER GAMES actually defiant of convention, is that these Tributes, these 24 people chosen to fight one another to the death until only one of them remains, are between the ages of 12 and 18. Children, one boy and one girl per district, forced to kill or be killed. The whole thing is televised, a twisted Truman Show for the Capitol's pleasure… while it is required viewing for the 12 districts, forced to watch their children survive by killing one and other in an arena, for entertainment.

THE HUNGER GAMES's first book of the same title introduces us to Katniss, 16 years old, from the poverty stricken Seam in District 12. She spends her days hunting the forest (illegally) to take care of her mother and younger sister, Prim. Thankfully, she's good with bow and arrows, finding regular game to trade or bring home to the table. 'Thankfully', she knows how to be hungry, how to survive.
'Thankfully', because on the day of the Reaping, the unexpected happens: Katniss, in taking the place of Prim, becomes one of the two Tributes for the 12th district.

Nothing about this one is politically correct. It's a wake-up call unlike anything else. That is its appeal. Collins is very daring.1
THE HUNGER GAMES is very, very violent, but Collins does a good job showing, not telling. She doesn't describe in endless detail what happens to the kids. It's not all gore and muck.

A lot of THE HUNGER GAMES actually deals with solidarity and conscience. What matters are those precious tender moments (Rue's song). Rebellion, caring for others, sacrifice – in life or death situations. THE HUNGER GAMES is about senselessness, and it's a hard read, but it's not without hope. The book is really is about survival and strength.

Another major strength of THE HUNGER GAMES is how well the dystopian world is developed. I loved Katniss' descriptions of District 12 and life there (The Hob, hunting with Gale, her mother's medicine). What I found to be equally alluring is how the Capitol's people look: magenta hair, turquoise skin, golden tattoos all over. A great dichotomy: the Districts bleak, poor, colorless; the Capitol a colorful and greedy extravaganza.

Panem and its districts are more than sufficiently detailed to make a convincing impact on the reader. I could picture it all only too well, and while it's a scary thought, it's a necessary one. Humans, we're bent on self-destruction. I sometimes worry about the world 100 years from now. Naturally this book is a criticism of how we conduct ourselves. A possible outcome. Dystopias are by definition harsh, but this one is the cruelest I've ever read about. THE HUNGER GAMES affects the reader tremendously due to the glimpse Collins offers us. A glimpse into something horrible, something self-created.
(A lot of this is my interpretation of it; the book is geared towards a younger audience, and thus doesn't get philosophical, doesn't criticize as obviously or as directly.)

THE HUNGER GAMES also criticizes the media, in a sense. The Games, televised as they are, is an utter media circus: Gladiators of the future. Kids are being sent to their death, but they're going (out) in style: Katniss has a team of stylists, and there's all kinds of prepping for interviews and what not. This irritated me at times, but then I realized, of course, that it's supposed to irritate me.

Naturally, there is a love triangle between Katniss and two boys, one of whom is in the Games with Katniss. I found this to be a little bit unnecessary personally. The reader instantly senses which one it's going to be.
Furthermore, Katniss and Peeta, the male district 12 Tribute, engage in a faux relationship as a tactic for the games. I'll probably be in the minority here when I say that this whole set-up is utterly ridiculous. (I'll use one of my favorite words: cringeworthy.) Collins went too far with their "made up love affair", and it took away from the real moments, which were there but which were tainted. Everything became forced, except perhaps Peeta's feelings. I was convinced of their genuineness throughout. But it wasn't quite enough.

Katniss and Peeta as a couple (real or fake) underwhelmed me, but as individual characters they are very strong, especially Katniss. Her voice is very collected as she describes the horrors she and others endure. Katniss has to be one of the most admirable young female heroines that we've had in fiction for a while. I do wish she'd been more emotional at times – any reaction to the situation – but she's trying to be brave and hold it together, and I can accept that. Katniss really takes you with her into that arena. The use of the present tense is most effective in that sense, and well played by Collins. It only increases the build-up of tension; you want to know what happens next, all the time.

Needless to say, I could not for the life of me stop reading this. I started, stayed up until well after 2AM, which is when my eyelids protested heavily against my adamant reading session. I picked it up immediately the next day, and didn't stop until I was done. This book completely swallowed me up, that's how enthralled I was. I instantly regretted not having the other two books in the trilogy handy. I of course ordered them straight away, then. Good thing too, because while THE HUNGER GAMES does have somewhat of an ending, it's obviously part 1 of a bigger story. So if you're going to read THE HUNGER GAMES, you might as well get the box set. Trust me on this. It doesn't much matter if the other books are better or worse. You don't want to be left hanging.

In a nutshell

Pros:
– Daring; children killing each other
– Has meaning: critiques our need for self-destruction and power
– Well detailed; a world and future created very clearly. Loved this especially
– Strong characters, especially the narrator
– Readable for teens, adults as well
– Excellent pacing. Can't put it down.

Cons:
– Romance is forced
– Wouldn't say this Scholastic book is suitable for really young kids

NOTES:
1. After I read the whole trilogy, I learned about a novel called BATTLE ROYALE, which covers a lot of similar ground. Very similar. BATTLE ROYALE was written in '99, prior to THE HUNGER GAMES, and Collins has been accused of ripping off BATTLE ROYALE. But I don't know the facts. I won't jump to conclusions. I haven't read BATTLE ROYALE. I've read THE HUNGER GAMES, and I've never read anything like it. And that is how I will review this series.

DISCUSSSSSS:
THE HUNGER GAMES is being adapted into a movie. Of course. It will star Jennifer Lawrence (WINTER'S BONE) as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson (THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT) as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale. I personally was rooting for Lyndsy Fonseca (for Katniss) and Hunter Parrish (WEEDS; for Peeta), but think Lawrence can pull it off and I'm willing to give Hutcherson the benefit of the doubt after seeing him in THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT.
Thoughts? Opinions?

R&R 122 | An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly #3)

Charlaine Harris
An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly #3)
Dutch: N/A
First published in: 2007
This edition: Berkley Prime Crime 2008
ISBN: 978-0-425-22424-3
Genre: crime, supernatural
Pages: 280
Cover illustration by David Hollenback; design by Judith Lagerman

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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

Pros:
– 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

Cons:
– 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.

R&R 107 | Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story

It's been a while since I've updated, but I've got a good excuse: wisdom teeth extraction recovery. I'm still healing but all's going well, and I felt like picking up the blog again. Have been doing lots of reading the past week, let's add some reviewing to that, starting with a very fun book by Christopher Moore!

Christopher Moore
Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story
(first in a series)
First published in: 1995
This edition: Simon and Schuster, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5849-1
Genre: humor, vampires
Pages: 290
Cover design & illustration by William Staehle

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You know, I'd just finished two Sookie Stackhouse novels back to back when I started reading BLOODSUCKING FIENDS. It took me a while to get into, probably because I wasn't sure I felt like reading another vampire story. Don't get me wrong, I love anything supernatural, and I think vampires are my most favorite sub-category. But if you've been following my project and blog for a while, you also know that I love variety in books.

Nonetheless, I was too curious. Christopher Moore is irresistible to me (yes you are, big guy), and I was curious about his take on vampire fiction. And BLOODSUCKING FIENDS had me giggling from the start. I was helpless against one-liners such as, "He won't last longer 'n a fart on a hot skillet". Moore knows just how to woo a reader. My resistance to yet another vampire book also didn't last much longer than said fart on said hot skillet.

Moore's vampire is a feisty redhead (instant relatability) named Jody, a baby vamp, who struggles to get used to her new undead status. Mentor-less, she's kind of on her own: from dealing with cravings to super hearing to PMS, she's alone in this one. It would be easier if she could walk in daylight, but alas, the sun's effects on Jody more closely resemble that of skin frying than skin sparkling. Unfortunately, the world doesn't really cater to those who roam about in the wee hours of the night. What's a lone vamp to do? Oh! Find a human minion to take care of her bizniz, that's what.

Jody quickly finds a willing one in the form of C. Thomas Flood (or: Tommy), a guy a couple years Jody's junior who falls for the persistent redhead immediately. So what if she's a little quirky? Love is in the air, mutual, and things seem to be going well, until Jody meets her maker. Her vampire maker, that is. And this fellah is looking to cause some trouble for the two lovebirds.

Often I wonder if Moore is on crack (fish people, a giant horny lizard, shall I go on?) when he writes his books, but I love it that he puts his wild imagination into words and shares the crazy. He's unconventional and makes his own rules.
BLOODSUCKING FIENDS tones it down a little, but you know what, I really liked that. Vampire spoofing is entertaining and insane enough; Moore wisely decided that it had enough comedic value. One of the most memorable moments: Jody goes to a vampire support group – she being the only real one, the rest just vampire groupies, wannabees. I thought it was hilarious. Sometimes less is Moore.

BLOODSUCKING FIENDS, which is the first in a series (YOU SUCK and BITE ME follow), is still a delicious kind of nuts though, so if you like Moore for the crazy, FIENDS won't disappoint. I decided very early on that I would continue reading the sequels, a good sign for a "pilot" novel.

The humor combined with vampire lore reminds me a lot of the humor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though the latter of course also dealt with issues such as impossible love, sacrifice, the death of a parent (among many more losses), the apocalypse. Moore definitely keeps it strictly campy and fun, providing giggles and pleasant reading throughout.

The story's setting is A+; San Francisco, which Moore also used for a backdrop in A DIRTY JOB. Speaking of A DIRTY JOB, a familiar character joins the cast of BLOODSUCKING FIENDS: The Emperor (plus canine entourage) – a welcome addition. When I watch TV shows, I'm such a sucker for cross-overs. I love it when fandoms hook up and make beautiful babies together. The same goes for books. Moore's characters regularly step out of their own books to visit others, which I see as a little treat for fans of his books.

What bothered me is that there were some errors in editing; an example is the mention of a nightclub, one moment its name is 753, the other time it's 754. Which is it? But you know, that's all I have to complain about. A little bit of messy editing.

I'd say that this book is a very good one to start with if you're new to Christopher Moore. It's definitely one of my favorites of his already, and I really can't wait to see what else he comes up with, vampire-wise.