Tag Archives: Charlaine Harris

A Little Bit of Magic: The Swan Gondola, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, and Midnight Crossroad

10 Sep

Sometimes you might wish you had a little more magic in your life, but as these novels show magic doesn’t always make your life easier, but the supernatural always make it a lot more interesting.

The Swan Gondola
by Timothy Schaffert

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The Swan Gondola is a tragic love story set at the fictional 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.  This fair is based on the actual historic Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition, but there are many dark fanciful elements that give the book a storybook quality.  Ferret, a magician and ventriloquist, has a dummy that can do everything from talk via a tiny record player in his head to light a cigarette. In his Author’s Note, Schaffert mentions that he was inspired by the Wizard of Oz, who in L. Frank Baum’s story was from Nebraska and was a ventriloquist’s apprentice.  Although not a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, The Swan Gondola takes a great deal of inspiration from the novel and fans of Baum’s series will enjoy finding the references to the Oz stories throughout. At times I found myself exasperated by Ferret’s, foolish lovesick behavior, but this may be partially that even when flawed the main characters are charismatic and leave the reader rooting for them and hoping for their success.  The novel ended very differently than I had expected, but still in a way that is satisfying. The last section includes elements of spiritualism which was historically influential in turn of the century America, but adds another element of the fantastic.  Overall The Swan Gondola charmed me and I will probably seek out some of Schaffert’s other works to read in the future.  If you are interested in reading the Oz series that inspired it checkout our previous blog post on Oz.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magicby Emily Croy Barker

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The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic sounded like it would be a fun supernatural chicklit book, but it was much darker in tone and more complex than I expected.  Barker’s first novel revolves around Nora, a floundering grad student from NJ, who accidentally wanders into another realm and learns that not only is magic real, but she also has a talent for it.  My favorite part of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is the beginning where Nora has been enchanted by fairies and the ominous feeling and disorientation that the reader feels beneath the beautiful exterior of the fairy realm.  Fans of Deborah Harkness’s books should enjoy this book, however, it is much more swords and sorcery and less urban fantasy.  I enjoyed the way Barker uses things like poetry and algebra as forms of magic in the story.  As a poet I loved the way she worked in quotes from different famous poems such as William Carlos William’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”.  I would have liked to see more of Nora in our world to get a better feel for her as character in that environment; hopefully Barker’s next book will focus on that more.  Be warned the conclusion of the novel is definitely open ended and clearly is meant to lure you into reading the second in the planned trilogy, which has not yet been published.

Midnight Crossroadby Charlaine Harris

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In Charlaine Harris’s latest urban fantasy infused mystery, Midnight Crossroad residents include a talented witch with her very own cat familiar, a vampire, a psychic, and other mysterious characters.  This is the first in Harris’ new series which is set in the Midnight, Texas.  We are first introduced to the character of Manfred Bernardo who was a secondary character in her Harper Connelly series.  Although much of the novel focuses on him, several other characters including Fiji, the witch, and Bobo, the pawn shop owner are also a major focus (if I had one complaint about the series it was the ridiculous nicknames of all the characters).  The quirky dark town itself also truly feels like character.  Unlike with her Sookie Stackhouse series, where it felt like vampires and shape shifters are everywhere, in this series the small town of Midnight (with its single traffic light) seems particularly unique.  It reminded me a bit in this of my favorite podcast, the wonderful quirky Nightvale where the unexpected is the expected.  I found the novel to be a quick read with moments of humor interspersed with the darkness.  The story seems to also be making a statement about the monsters of myth such as vampires and witches versus the monsters of our real world like racists and sociopaths and where the evil truly lies.  I had begun to become disappointed in some of Harris’s later Sookie novels, but I’m looking forward to reading the next in the Midnight, Texas series.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

Two Ever Afters: Charlaine Harris’s Dead Ever After and Kim Harrison’s Ever After

8 Jun

dead ever afterI began reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels a few years before the HBO series started.  Since I enjoy urban fantasy and had fallen in love with Louisiana on a visit to New Orleans I found a lot to like about the series with its Cajun setting populated with vampires, fairies, and werewolves.  I quickly read through the first few novels and the continued along as the years passed.  I was pleased with the HBO adaptation, True Blood, which blends in many of the details and the mood of the original work with enough changes that it adds some novelty; keeping one particular beloved character alive especially endeared it to me.  Unfortunately over the last few novels I have felt slightly less interested in the story.  The characters have seemed less likeable and as the level of gloom over the storylines increased, my enjoyment decreased.  I wasn’t ready to bail on them yet the way I had with Anne Rice’s Vampire series around the time that Pandora came out, but I was pleased when I learned that Dead Ever After would be the last book in the series.  I had hopes that this novel as a planned conclusion might bring back some of the magic from the earlier books in the series.

The book itself playfully pokes at the readers’ expectations with the cover and end pages decorated with images of Sookie’s romantic interests a werewolf, weretigger, shapeshifter, and a vampire.  This of course leads to the problem that any series with a love triangle or in this case a love hexagon has that it will never satisfy all the readers with its ending.  I didn’t find the end result surprising or unexpected, although I had been rooting for the redemption of her first love, the vampire Bill, who barely was featured in the book.  The book does feature appearances of many of the friends and foe that have surrounded Sookie throughout the series, but I would have liked more satisfying conclusions and growth for many of the characters.  Although in life people often do not get a happy ending, it is a shame in a series populated with fairies that so many characters instead seem to be settling in the end.

For those disappointed in the ending there is always True Blood, which could choose an entirely different love for Sookie in the finale.  Also coming out around Halloween will be After Dead: What Came Next in the World of Sookie Stackhouse, an encyclopedic epilogue where Harris discusses the lives of the Bontemps residents following the last novel, which may deliver some surprises.  I would say for readers who have not yet sampled the series to check out the first few novels, which are a well written pleasure for a nice summer beach read, but if you too begin at some point to feel disenfranchised just borrow After Dead from the library when it comes out and skip ahead to the end.

Kim Harrison’s Ever After & The Hollow Series

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Fans of the Sookie Stackhouse novels should enjoy Kim Harrison’s Hollow series.  The Sookie novels are set in present day America (though it was not meant to take place at a set time until post Katrina when Harris incorporated the hurricane into the work and gave it a more fixed timeline).  The Hollow novels also take place in modern America, but several decades after vampires and other supernatural creatures came out of the coffin to borrow a True Blood phrase.  In their case it was not due to a blood substitute becoming available, but instead due to human society being thrown into turmoil due to a mass pandemic brought on by genetically modified tomato plants, which caused the unaffected witches, vampires, and pixies to step forward to save civilization (throughout the series there are jokes about humans now being terrified of ketchup and pizza sauce).  Rachel Morgan is a young witch who uses her magic in trying to solve and prevent crimes.  Her partners are a pixie and a living vampire.  One of my favorite characters in the novels is Al, a wisecracking demon who becomes a foil for Rachel throughout the series.  The setting in Cincinnati gives the books more of a gritty urban feel.

Ever After is the most recent in Kim Harrison’s Hollow series.  Although the title may lead you to believe that this is the last in the series, there are actually two more books planned for 2014 and 2015 before Harrison gives her characters their final “ever after”.  Although at first the novel started off a bit slowly and could have been edited down about a hundred pages, on the whole it was filled with action, which propelled it on to what could have been a satisfying ending to the series, but left enough room for further character exploration that I’m looking forward to the next two novels.  In this series the dark places that the characters are taken to emotionally works well.  I like that several characters that had been painted as villains early on have gradually been redeemed.  I was reminded of how much the characters have grown and developed when reading recently a graphic novel prequel Blood Work that Harrison wrote about the early partnership between Ivy, a vampire, and Rachel. The novels are best read in order so though Ever After is definitely among my favorites in the series; I would recommend starting at the beginning.  If the early Sookie novels are a great beach read, this series is best read with a flashlight on a stormy summer night when the power has gone out.  So think about stopping in to the library for one on the next rainy day.

– Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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