Category Archives: paranormal romance

Definitely Dead and All Together Dead: Sookie Stackhouse Novels

Charlaine Harris, 2006, 2007
Books 6 and 7 in a series of 10

Genre: I have seen these books filed under science fiction in bookstores, but they are definitely more a mixture of romance and mystery. And more romance than anything. In terms of romance subgenres—maybe contemporary paranormal romance is best. The major plot elements center around whichever macho hunk Sookie is dating or fantasizing about, whether it is vampire Bill, vampire Eric, werewolf Alcide, or weretiger Quinn. Sexual chemistry blossoms, traditional dating rituals begin (dinner, dancing), passionate kissing ensues, and one traditional sex scene is the eventual reward. In the meantime, Sookie becomes more enmeshed in the culture and politics of the supernatural world and generally her spunk and telepathic insights save the day for humans and supes alike.

Historical events: These two books were written pre-Katrina and post-Katrina, respectively, and the hurricane figures its way into both, since Sophie Ann, the teen vamp queen of Louisiana, has her headquarters in New Orleans. I like to see what writers choose to do when a historical event occurs while their series is in full swing. Here, Harris simply folds it into her plot—an evacuee witch lives with Sookie for a while, Sophie Ann gets a lot of sympathy for the damage to her mansion, and Alabama’s vampires are all but decimated by the storm.

Text to TV: I keep thinking about the decisions Alan Ball had to make when adapting this series for television. For an HBO show with an ensemble cast, he had to beef up a bunch of the characters that are flat in the books and give them backstories and pieces of the plot. Though Sookie’s brother Jason, the local cops, Sophie-Ann, and Russell stay pretty much the same from page to screen, Sam, Tara, and Lafayette are fully developed. On the supernatural side, Lorena and Jessica hold our attention and gain our sympathy. Even Arlene and Terry feel fully formed, whereas they are just blips in the books. I love that these folks get more play on TV; I am often tuning in just to see what’s happening with Lafayette (my favorite), Sam, and the Jessica/Hoyt love story. And I adore Terry’s vulnerability as a shell shocked Vietnam vet. A strong ensemble of characters makes the show feel more like a community coming to terms with its supernatural citizens, which I much prefer to the Sookie-centeredness of the books.

I can’t believe it, but: this series is growing on me. I keep going back to the library for more, and I even read these two in Large Print because it was the only format available. The books are entertaining, and I am even beginning to like  Sookie’s mainstream, working class flavor. In the books, this comes out more clearly than on television–she buys her clothes and lingerie at Walmart, religiously uses a Word-A-Day calendar, and goes on a date to see The Producers. Her lack of sophistication is actually kind of endearing, though I tend to prefer the sleek, hard-assed Sookie of the HBO show. (Pam, vampire Eric’s “child,” also prefers pastel twin sets in the series). I also appreciate that there are lots of LGBT (well, LGB) minor characters in the book, since vampires aren’t so picky about the gender of their sexual partners. Harris has created an appealing southern supernatural world.

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Dead to the World: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel

Charlaine Harris, 2004, 291 pgs.
Book 4 in a series of 10

Well, I finally gave it a try. I am an avid “True Blood” fan (the HBO series based on these books, now in its third season), so I wanted to see how the books and the TV show go together. I opted for the 4th book in the series because I didn’t want to start at the start.

An overall enjoyable book, and a very fast read. Most of the regular characters are here—especially vampire Eric, who, in this book, has lost his memory because of a witch’s curse, and happens to stay in Sookie’s house, where they have lots of sex. These sections are straight up romance novel, and I did not enjoy the hokey “romantic” prose (“If there were an international butt competition, Eric would win, hands down” and “I wish I could save orgasms in a jar”). The prose in general is completely gee-whiz—“my eyes watered, as they so often did when I thought of Bill—Weeping Willa, that was me.”—which makes Sookie of the books much less sophisticated and desirable than the Sookie on TV. Also, Fangtasia, the vampire bar, is in a strip mall next to a Toys ‘R Us, and at one point, Sookie and her werewolf friend Alcide have coffee in an Applebees.

Crystal Norris, the werepanther from “inbred” Hotshot that Jason is falling for in season three of True Blood, is in this book. Kenya, the black female cop, is dating a white man named Jason—not in the TV series. But Lafayette is nowhere to be found—I have heard he is killed off early in the books, which is a crying shame, because he is one of my all-time favorite characters on TV. Also, Tara seems to be white in the book, and prissily fashion-conscious. What??

Conclusion? Alan Ball does a much better job with this series’ characters and setting—it is definitely “inspired by” the books, rather than grafted from them. His sets are darker, starker, sexier. His dialogue is much more adult. Sookie has dropped her homey witticisms but one of her spunk or intelligence. He has make Tara and Lafayette much more prominent characters, and much more bad-ass. If I could not have visualized the actors from the HBO series while reading this, I would not have stuck with the reading.