BOOK REVIEW: Dead Until Dark – by Charlaine Harris

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Title: Dead Until Dark
(Sookie Stackhouse #1)
Author: Charlaine Harris
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Romance
First published: May 1st 2001
Finished reading: March 24th 2016
Pages: 326
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“The world seemed a bad and terrible place, all its denizens suspect, and I the lamb wandering through the valley of death with a bell around my neck.”

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After a few disappointing reads, I was looking for something to bring me back on track. I decided to play it safe and pick up one of the titles on my guilty pleasure list: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. Although I normally don’t really care for vampire stories, this series has turned out to be an exception. I loved the True Blood TV series and this first book is definitely just as entertaining! I normally don’t like watching the movie or series before reading the book, because I want to create my own version of the characters as described in the story. In the case of the Sookie Stackhouse series, I’m finding that the actors chosen for the different characters fit their roles perfectly, so I don’t really mind. Sookie, Bill, Sam, Jason, Eric… While I was reading this book I actually had a lot of True Blood flashbacks. Dead Until Dark is fast-paced, entertaining and just what I needed to fight my beginning reading slump. It might not be the perfect read and the sexy romance scenes aren’t really my thing, but as it normally goes with guilty pleasure reads, I don’t really care. On to the second book it is!

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Sookie Stackhouse works as a waitress in  Bon Temps, Lousiana. Nothing really exciting seems to be going on in the small town, up until the day a vampire shows up at the bar. Suddenly Sookie isn’t the only person that doesn’t fit in… Sookie isn’t quiet and keeps to herself because she is shy or doesn’t feel pretty; somehow she can read the minds of everyone around her. And being able to read someones darkest and dirtiest thoughts doesn’t really help starting many friendships or dating guys… But somehow, Bill seems different. Not only is he a vampire, but Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. And even though she knows she isn’t supposed to date a vampire, the thought of being able to be close to him without hearing disturbing thoughts sounds too good to be true. But Bill might be more dangerous than Sookie thinks…

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I think I already read another book of the Sookie Stackhouse series a few years ago (way before starting this blog), but I don’t remember which one. I’m glad I finally decided to pick up this first book though, because it made me remember how much I loved the TV series. Dead Until Dark belongs to a genre I normally don’t enjoy much, especially when it comes to sexy romance and vampires. Still, somehow this book is an exception. I like the characters, the pace is fast and the overall story is entertaining. I will be looking forward to read more of this series soon!

BOOK REVIEW: Tucker Peak – by Archer Mayor

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Title: Tucker Peak
(Joe Gunther Series #12)
Author: Archer Mayor
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: 2001
Finished reading: January ? 2015
Pages: 352
Rating 3

“Cat’s out of the bag. You nail this bastard or I’ll make you sorry you didn’t.”

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Tucker Peak is one of those crime paperbacks that you buy cheap and later forget all about… The consequence that this one has been on my TBR shelf for way too long. I haven’t read the first eleven books in the series and to be honest I don’t think I will. This novel by Archer Mayor is not bad, but it doesn’t manage to stand out from the many crime/detective/police novels out there. The pace is a bit slow for my liking and I couldn’t really connect to the characters. Part of the problem with the characters could be because of the fact that I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I personally don’t think so. The different crimes mostly happening in the small ski town in Vermont reach the limit of credibility as well as the undercover investigation itself. I mean, they had an awful lot of luck discovering what they did… But I guess that applies to a lot of detective series. In short, it is an ok read with quite some action involved even though it reads slow. But in the end it does the job.

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Joe Gunther is now member of the newly-formed Vermont Bureau Of Investigation, and is called to assist in the investigation of a series of burglaries in Tucker Peak. It is a small ski town in Vermont that has been having problems competing with better ski resorts out there, and they can’t afford any more trouble. The management is trying to improve the facilities to survive, but the local environmental group is against those plans and tries to sabbotage their work. If the news about the burglaries leaks out, tourists might stop coming at all… Joe and his collegue Sammie decide to go undercover to find the thief, and soon find out there is a lot more going on than a simple case of condo burglaries. Drug-dealing, sabotage, murder… The VBI agents soon have their hands full.

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Like I said, there is nothing that makes Tucker Peak stand out from other crime novels. I’ve heard this is not the best one out of the bunch of Joe Gunther novels (25!) out there, but I don’t think I will be trying out the other titles any time soon… Unless I get my hands on another cheap copy and I’m in the mood for a dose of crime. The setting in Vermont is interesting though and the prose ok, although a bit slow. I guess it will work fine as a vacation read.

BOOK REVIEW: One Day – by David Nicholls

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Title: One Day
Author: David Nicholls
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
First published: September 1st 2001
Finished reading: October 23rd 2014
Pages: 437
Rating 3,5

“You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle.”

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I have to start with saying that with One Day being a contemporary/romance fiction novel, it’s not a book that I can enjoy easily. But since this novel by David Nicholls was originally a gift, I decided to read it anyway. I’m glad I decided to finally pick up my copy of One Day, as it definitely went far beyond my inicial expectations. The story is about Emma and Dexter who we follow during the span of twenty years. They meet for the first time on the night of their graduation, and develop a complicated relationship afterwards. Nicholls takes us to the July 15th of each year after that to see what happens to both of them on each anniversary. Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY. Although the characters weren’t exactly to my liking, I did enjoy reading about the changes in perspective and friendship during the years, and Nicholls was able to put in some pretty big plot twists. Recommended to those who enjoy contemporary romance…

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When Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation, they form quite a remarkable pair: they are the living proof that opposites sometimes attract, especially when there is alcohol involved. Dexter seems to be the typical superficial pretty boy, but does the unthinkable and doesn’t flee Emma’s place in the morning. It’s not the romantic relationship Emma longs for, but it is the start of a friendship that will last for a long time.

We see Dexter rise to fame when he first starts travelling around the world and later becomes a TV presenter. The events that mark the first few years of Emma’s life are definitely not as glamorous. Instead of chasing her dreams of becoming a professional writer, she ends up working in a fast food restaurant. And while Emma is quite the feminist and forever alone, Dexter changes his girlfriends faster than his underwear. When his drug and alcohol abuse goes too far, even Emma cannot stand him anymore. He messed up with his job and girlfriend, and is forced to accept he is no longer ‘IT’. Emma is seeing a co-worker named Ian, and slowly takes over control of her life. She becomes a teacher, and keeps trying to fulfill her dream of becoming a writer. When Emma realizes she is stuck in a dead relationship, she flees to Paris. And Dexter is freshly devorced with a daughter, desperate to see Emma and tell her how he really feels… But is he too late?

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I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, so I’ve left out quite a big chunk of the story in my summary. What I can say is that I enjoyed the various plot twists, and that the idea of following two people during all those years is without doubt interesting. Although I didn’t like the characters, I did enjoy reading about their development. It’s an interesting novel and recommended if you don’t mind a cliche situation or two. A nice contemporary romance read!

BOOK REVIEW: Atonement – by Ian McEwan

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Title: Atonement
Author: Ian McEwan
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII, Romance
First published: 2001
Finished reading: June 22nd 2014
Pages: 351
Rating 4,5

“He thought about telling them of his own single, haunting detail. But he didn’t want to add to the horror, and nor did he want to give life to the image while it remained at a distance, held there by wine and companionship.”

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Wow. I knew already this book was probably going to be good after various people recommending it to me, and I must say Ian McEwan didn’t disappoint at all with his novel. Atonement is devided into three parts, and each part has its own identity, appropriate action and writing style. The first part is in a way a bit slow, but it is beautifully written and it’s content necessary to understand the actions of the main characters during the second part. The second part is all about the second world war and its consequences, while the last part is about feelings of guilt and looking back on events of the past. All together those three parts form a recipe for a great book and one of my favorites this year. The only thing that refrained me of giving the full five stars is the slowness of the first part of the book, even though I still quite enjoyed it.

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The story starts when we meet a thirteen year old girl Briony Tallis, an aspiring writer and blessed/cursed with a rich imagination. She lives comfortably with her family somewhere in the English countryside, and spends most days living in her own fantasy world. Then one evening everything changes as she accused having witnessed Robbie Turner, the son of a servant, attacking her niece Lola in the garden. The same young man that succesfully tried to seduce her sister Cecilia was now led away to prison because of her lie. A lie she only had told in order to protect her sister… Briony had believed Robbie was molesting her sister, but they were actually falling in love; a love that would last even when Robbie was sent to prison.

In the second part we follow Robbie, who was released from prison to become a soldier during the Second World War. He was sent to France in 1939, but the mission failed and he was forced to retreat to Dunkirk. We follow him on a agonizing journey back to Dunkirk, where he thinks he will find his safety. We also learn that the love still exists between him and Cecilia, and her letters are what is keeping him alive. She was asking him to come back, and he couldn’t disappoint her…

We then get introduced to a young aspiring nurse, who turns out to be Briony. She followed the steps of her big sister and is training to be a nurse at a hospital, mostly out of penance. Briony is having trouble living with what she did; the mayor consequences of one little lie… Although she knows they would never forgive her, she does her best to try and set things right. But it turns out it might be a little late for that. The story then ends with a seventy-seven year old Briony, who is looking back on life, her mistakes and the impossibility of making things right before she dies…

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The three parts of Atonement are connected by the events of one tragic evening in 1935, intertwining their life stories as we follow the main characters in their struggle with the consequences of those events. While the first part is a bit slow, the other parts definitely make up for it and turn this book into one of my favorite reads so far this year.

BOOK REVIEW: American Gods – by Neil Gaiman

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Title: American Gods
(American Gods Series #1)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction, Mythology, Science Fiction
First Published: June 19th 2001
Finished reading: May 26th 2014
Pages: 592
Rating 4,5

“There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.”

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I actually finished this book two days ago, but with the flue eating my brains during the last few days it’s hard to get any words on paper. But I’m going to give it a try… American Gods was recommended to me some time ago, and I’m always glad to find new authors and titles I haven’t heard of previously. And I must say I’m pleasantly surprised with the writing skills of Neil Gaiman. He’s able to both create a fantasy world you get sucked into and still giving us actual facts about different religions, cultures and myths without slowing down the story. Gaiman tries to explain that ‘nobody is really American, or at least not originally’, and that there is no limit to the amount of old and new Gods roaming the vast lands of America. Although he makes it clear through the words of the main character Shadow that it’s a ‘bad land for Gods‘… The story might get confusing sometimes, since it switches between the adventures of a man called Shadow and the stories of the different Gods and cultures that exist in America. But American Gods still is highly enjoyable.

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We start following Shadow when he is about to be released from prison. Instead of going back home to his wife Laura, he is told she died in a car crash together with his good friend (who she was having an affair with). A mysterious man called Wednesday then offers a job to him he cannot refuse, and soon he learns that Wednesday is a whole lot more than just mysterious. He is actually an ancient God called Odin the All-Father. He is on a mission to recrute old Gods for an epic battle between the old and new Gods of the internet and everything wired, and asks Shadow to help him.

They then start a road trip where they encounter all kinds of ancient cultures, myths and Gods from different places around the world people brought with them when they settled down in America. Shadow is forced to start believing, since a lot of strange things seem to happen as he is following Wednesday. His dead wife doesn’t cease to show up various times throughout the story for example, still quite dead and taking up the role as his protector various times. The new gods try to win Shadow to their side, sometimes with brute force. Shadow remains loyal to Wednesday though until the end. Even when he starts seeing the whole truth…

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I know it’s a kinda crappy summary of such a complicated book, but I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot. There are a lot of events that change the story and will change the way you read the book, and I don’t want to spoil the fun. The best advice I can give is to just pick up your own copy of American Gods and start reading. If you ask me, it is definitely worth it. It’s an interesting story, well written and you can probably describe it both as a fantasy story and a informative way of learning about the different religions, cultures and myths that exist in throughout America. Definitely recommended!

Life Of Pi – by Yann Martel

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Title: Life Of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
First published: September 11th 2001
Finished reading: June 18th 2013
Pages: 319

The book is divided into two parts: before and after the sinking of the Japonese cargo ship. We follow Piscine, or Pi, through his childhood where his dad’s zoo and the exploring of three important religions play a key part. This first part is a bit slow, but essential in understanding the spirituality of Pi. After the cargo ship sinks, only one lifeboat remains with the only survivors being Pi, a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan and a bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Soon enough only Richard Parker and Pi remain, and the boy survives against all odds his many days on the lifeboat. He survives many challenges and manages to train Richard Parker, all with the help of his own spirituality. A story you want to be true, but deep inside you know it isn’t. The end shows it all; suddenly you can see the symbolism used by Yann Martel throughout the book. And it’s up to you what to believe… Imagine a tiger on a lifeboat, or see the ugly truth? I think I prefer to keep on dreaming.