Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris9780441019335

publication date: 2001
pages: 312
ISBN: 978-0-441-01933-5

Dead Until Dark was the first book of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which were the basis for the HBO show True Blood. I haven’t seen True Blood, so I don’t know how close the show reproduced the book. Dead Until Dark introduced Sookie Stackhouse, a dotty, Louisiana waitress who had a few secrets tucked away. First, she could read minds and second, she wanted to meet a vampire. Lucky for Sookie, the world created by Harris in Dead Until Dark conveniently included vampires – a subset of humans who had recently come out from the collective coffin a few years before we met Sookie at Merlotte’s bar.

The book was a mashup of genres: mystery, romance, fantasy, gothic, humor. Unfortunately, Harris didn’t represent any given genre very competently, although the combination did create a generally compelling story. It was a quick read, and I was intrigued enough, although I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.

The book was supposed to be quirky and funny. Sometimes that worked, like when Harris named the fictional local gas station the “Grabbit Kwik.” Often, it did not work, as in this description of a person whose mind Sookie was attempting to read:

I couldn’t hear his thoughts as clearly as I could other people’s. I’d had waves of impressions of how he was feeling, but not thoughts. More like wearing a mood ring than getting a fax.

The book was also supposed to be sexy. The sexiness, which was often odd and blunt, surprisingly worked for me. One of the first things that a vampire said to Sookie, after she surrounded her neck and arms with anti-vampire metal chains because she didn’t trust him not to bite her, was:

“But there’s a juicy artery in your groin,” he said after a pause to regroup, his voice as slithery as a snake on a slide.

Although reading Dead Until Dark was usually painless and uncomplicated, the book left much to be desired. The dialogue was pretty bad. There was this scene, where a character was trying to convince Sookie that she wouldn’t be able to read his mind:

[He said, “Would that be] relaxing to you?”
“Oh, yes.” I meant it from my heart.
“Can you hear me, Sookie?”
“I don’t want to try!” I said hastily. . . . “I’ll have to quit if I read your mind, Sam! I like you, I like it here.”

Also, the action was often confusing and underwhelming. And, although Harris peppered the book with some passages that reminded the reader that the book was set in the South, generally, Harris’s lack of effective description seemed like a waste of the rich Southern setting.

Although the book wasn’t terrible, it didn’t intrigue me enough to induce me to read the other books in the series or to watch the TV show.

3/6: more good than bad

other reviews:

Russ Allbery’s reviews
Pretty Little Memoirs

Minutes Before Sunset

I want to give you all a heads up that the novel for this book review, Minutes Before Sunset, was given to me by the author, who approached me to review it. Although I had not heard of Shannon A. Thompson, or the book, before she emailed me, my opinions expressed here are not colored by how I received the book. Also, after the review is an interview I conducted with Thompson. I hope you enjoy!

Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson

publication date: 2013
pages: 247
ISBN: 9780615788128

When I was introduced to Minutes Before Sunset, I was also introduced to the nomenclature that described its genre: paranormal romance. I had never heard that term before, but I had already enjoyed numerous books from that genre, the most famous of which are probably Twilight and The Mortal Instruments.

Minutes Before Sunset is a wonderful addition to the genre, as it has all the trappings of the category. It is filled with imaginative characters, teen angst, teen romance, an intriguing plot, and parents who just don’t understand. The book begins with Eric, who has lived his whole life as a Shade, a soldier of the Dark. Eric is destined for greatness among the Dark, but at what cost? Later, we meet Jess, an ordinary human girl who wants to discover her past.

The plot description sounds vague, but that’s because I don’t want to give anything away. The plot was such a fun part of the book and so was Thompson’s presentation of it. Thompson had a wonderful grasp of what I call the “knowledge trickle.” The knowledge trickle is the pacing, frequency, and tone in which an author reveals any plot or character secrets. Minutes Before Sunset had an excellent knowledge trickle. I was always intrigued, although never confused, by the plot, and there was continually something just around the corner that I wanted to know.

I also enjoyed Thompson’s characters. They were full of teenage spirit and curiosity, without being too precocious or angst-ridden. Also, the dialogue was vivid and well-formed; just clever enough to be interesting, but not so clever as to be heavy-handed or unrealistic. Jess, especially, had some great lines. One of the most well-crafted elements of the book, however, was the narrators. The book started from Eric’s point-of-view, which was aptly written by Thompson. The point-of-view periodically shifted to Jess, however. Sometimes shifting narrators can be gimmicky or pointless, but not with Minutes Before Sunset. The voices were distinct enough that I never got confused and the changing viewpoints gave me insights into the characters. Also, I love love love when authors show you the same scene through two different characters’ eyes, and Thompson did that a few times.

The book was not perfect, however; Thompson’s writing was sometimes unpolished. Her word choice was occasionally puzzling. Additionally, I was confused by some scenes, because I didn’t understand their significance. Finally, the fluidity and pacing of the book was often disjointed.

That said, if you like this genre, you should give this book a read.

4/6: worth reading

Readers reviewed this book on goodreads

And, as promised, here is the interview:

The Book Babblette:  Please, Shannon, introduce yourself!

Shannon A. Thompson:  Well, my name is Shannon A. Thompson, and I first realized I wanted to seriously pursue publication after my mother’s sudden death when I was 11.  Five years later, I was published at 16, and I haven’t stopped since.  I now have two novels, a short story, and poetry published, and my next novel releases March 27.

BB:  Was your mother an author?

ST:  She always wanted to be one, but she never pursued publication.  She was a writer, and she taught me how to write after I fell in love with reading.

BB:  Do you think you picked up any writing habits you may have from her?

ST:  Definitely!  She originally encouraged me to write in order to cope with my night terrors and nightmares, so most of my novels are based on my dreams at some point.  She’s a huge influence in my writing life.

BB:  Wow night terrors!  Do you still get those?

ST:  Actually, I do.  I never really grew out of them.  I sleepwalk and other things as well.  But generally only when I move or I’m under high amounts of stress.  I’ve learned to deal with it though, so it doesn’t bother me anymore.  In fact, I rather enjoy the inspiration I receive afterward.

BB:  I actually get night terrors sometimes.  I love that you turn them in to a positive.  You mentioned your dreams influence your writing, what are some other influences?

ST:  Yeah, [night terrors] can definitely be scary, especially if you don’t take precautions.  I had to have wraps around my bunk bed in college (I slept on the bottom.)  The wraps prevented me from hitting my head in my sleep.

I believe I am inspired by everything around me.  I love photography, so that’s probably my second main inspiration.  Psychology is another big one.  Meeting and talking with new people is also a great way to challenge myself to understand more types of people, cultures, and situations that I can interpret into my writing while also learning more about life.

BB:  Do you read a lot of psychology books or take courses?

ST:  I was originally a double major of English and Psychology, but I ultimately decided English was my path.  I read a lot of medical journals for recent studies that have been done.  I find people fascinating.

BB:  People are fascinating!  I think a Psychology influence reveals itself in Minutes Before Sunset.  And, of course, dreams play a prominent role.

ST:  Yes, they do.  I am excited for book 2 — Seconds Before Sunrise — because I was able to incorporate some of the exact dreams that I had into the storyline through Jessica’s eyes.  I wrote about one here: My Dreams: Seconds Before Sunrise on Goodreads & Extras.

BB:  What was your favorite chapter or scene to write in Minutes Before Sunset?

ST:  My favorite scene to write in Minutes Before Sunset was the bat scene, which is on pages 206-207.  Although many reasons made me love this scene, the ultimate deciding factor was that the scene is based on a real life moment I had during the time in my life that I was writing these novels.  You can read more details about it here:

BB:  That scene was certainly vivid.  It doesn’t surprise me that it was based on real life.

How did you choose the genre for Minutes Before Sunset?

ST:  I wrote it without worrying about the genre, but I think the story itself chose the genre.  Although it’s a paranormal romance, many would call it an urban fantasy, but I think the romance factor is what defined that in the end.  In terms of young-adult, the themes were important.  Coming-of-age is as relevant as finding an identity, and I feel like young-adult books often revolve around that since young adults are trying to find themselves.

BB:  I hadn’t thought of it as an “urban fantasy” book before.  I like that — it fits the book very well.  Will Seconds Before Sunrise contain similar themes?

ST:  Yes.  The entire trilogy revolves around three major themes: dark vs. light, fate vs. choice, and identity.  However, each novel in the trilogy has a focused plot.  The first novel is about the Dark, the second is about being a human, and the third exposes the Light.

BB:  Who are some actors you could imagine playing your characters in this series?

ST:  If any of my novels became a movie, I would hope for an open casting call.  I would want to give new faces a chance.

BB:  I kind of imagine a young River Phoenix playing Eric!  What are some things you like to do when you’re not writing?

ST:  I could see that!  I love reading and journaling, but I also enjoy traveling when I can.  If I get a new camera, I want to dive back into photography.  And I also love spending time with my family, including my cat, Bogart.

BB:  Is the cat named after Humphrey?

ST:  Yes!  Humphrey Bogart is my favorite actor.  I have all of his movies, but Casablanca is my favorite, soon followed by Sabrina.

BB:  Those are both great movies.  African Queen is in my top ten all-time.  Those are all the questions I have, is there anything you would like to add?

ST:  I have a website where I keep everyone up-to-date on my publishing news, but I also share my writing, editing, and publishing tips.  I love to connect.

BB:  Thanks very much, Shannon.