Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Grave Secret
Charlaine Harris

This is a series that falls more into the “mystery” genre (and that’s where it’s shelved), but there are paranormal overtones. Harper Connelly, the protagonist was struck by lightening as a child and after that, she’s been able to sense the dead – at least when she’s in close proximity to their bodies. She can also tell how someone died. With her step-brother Tolliver Lang, Harper has used her ability as a unique way to earn money – finding bodies and identifying the cause of death for her clients.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Grave Secret here

I’ve been reading this series for a while now, and at four books, I think it may be done, at least for the foreseeable future. Grave Secret came out in September 2009, and there hasn’t been news of another book yet. Here are my reviews for the first three books in this series:

Book 1: Grave Sight https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Grave Surprise https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: An Ice Cold Grave https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg

The Premise: Harper and Tolliver decided to visit their younger sisters Mariella and Gracie who live with their aunt and uncle in Dallas. Along the way to Dallas, they take a job identifying what killed the grandfather and patriarch of the wealthy Joyce family, and Harper discovers some things that the Joyce’s are not happy to hear. Then Tolliver and Harper discover that Tolliver’s father Matthew was recently released from prison and is trying to renew ties with his children. Then someone begins shooting at Harper and Tolliver. Somehow all of this is connected and their past is involved. Memories and questions about the abduction of Harper’s older sister Cameron resurface.

******* Minor spoilers for earlier books from this point on ********

My Thoughts: Like the other books in this series, Harper and Tolliver are presented as not really sleuths, but people who keep getting targeted by people with something to hide or found out news they didn’t want to hear.  In this book, someone keeps shooting at them. Something happens which forces them to stay in the area, and to stay alive, they have to re-examine the past few days and find out who wants to kill them. I think that this is sort of a standard Harper Connelly mystery, with a bunch of deaths before we find out what is really going on. It’s a little unsatisfying that so many people die before the bad guys are caught, but this seems to be how it goes in these books.

I’ve commented on this before: I find Harper to be a hard character sometimes. The book is told from her point of view, and how she sees people feels colored by lenses that first look for what’s wrong in others. I don’t think this is an obvious thing, but when you read half a book and meet several characters you notice that Harper isn’t one who tends to like someone at first sight and what she says about people is often unflattering. I think this is something I can only take in small doses, but, this is all part of her character. Harper’s mom and Tolliver’s dad were drug addicts and dragged their children from a regular family life to one of despair and poverty. In this book when Matthew Lang, Tolliver’s father shows up, the dark childhood that Harper experienced was rehashed, and I could see why Harper took a jaded view of people. It was pretty bad. I think Harper and Tolliver have the appropriate, healthy response to their father. I wouldn’t forgive or trust him either. On the other hand, we also get to see more of the rest of Harper’s family and Harper learns to appreciate her Aunt and Uncle, who adopted her sisters, but Harper has always had a little friction with, as well as their other siblings. There seemed to be a better understanding all around by the time the book was done.

In the meantime, their sister Cameron’s abduction is brought up again. That mystery is one brought up from the very beginning of the series, and Harper has mentioned details of the day Cameron disappeared in other books. This story does get wrapped up here, which is why I think that this is probably the final book of the series. There’s also a resolution here in terms of Harper’s relationship with her family, and in terms of her relationship with Tolliver. I still maintain that I feel uneasy about their relationship. I know that they’re not blood related. They’re only step-siblings. I think it bothers me because Harper keeps calling him her brother. Not step-brother. Brother. She introduces him as such, even after they become lovers, and then reminds herself she has to stop thinking of him as her brother. Ew? I’m also not exactly sure how long they lived together as siblings. I’d feel better if it wasn’t long, but we’re not really reminded. It feels like the author is deliberately pushing the ick-boundaries on purpose by doing these things. The reaction of other characters who find out about them feels like a backhanded way of telling the reader not to judge, but I find it hard when the narrative seems to intentionally push my buttons.

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I feel satisfied by the way the long-running story arc of Cameron’s abduction and of Harper and Tolliver’s relationship were dealt with in this book, but on the other, I wasn’t as satisfied by the other mystery. It felt sort of overly-complicated and forced to fit with the Cameron storyline with some senseless killings thrown in. The mystery didn’t feel as strong as the previous books -and the big reveal felt rushed and convenient. I also felt like I was being emotionally played with in terms of the ick factor in the main relationship, which bothered me.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – positive review
Angieville – positive review (Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings”)
Ellz reads – similar comments to mine about the mystery here but satisfied by how the series ended
jmc_bookrelated – “phoned in”. A C- grade
lindseyfrankin “3-3/5 stars for a solid end to a good mystery series”
Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and reviews – not really a review but a commentary that I found aligned with some of my complaints

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Must Love Hellhounds by Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews and Meljean Brook

Must Love Hellhounds
Ilona Andrews

I preordered this one because this anthology of four paranormal stories featuring hellhounds has a couple authors I like in it.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

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1) Magic Mourns by Ilona Andrews: This is the third story in the anthology but I read it first. 🙂

The Premise: This is a story set in the same world as the Kate Daniel series, but this time the first person narrator is Kate’s best friend, Andrea.  Andrea is filling in for Kate one day, when a call comes in about a member of the Atlanta Pack being chased after by a giant, three-headed hound. Andrea goes out to help and is dismayed to find Raphael, a were-hyena is the Pack member in trouble. Raphael has been pursuing Andrea for a while but Andrea is afraid he’s only interested in her for her novelty, not for herself.

Excerpt of Magic Mourns

My Thoughts: It’s probably better to have read the Kate Daniels series before reading this short story because much of the back story on Andrea’s origins and her relationship with Raphael is in those books, but that’s also reiterated in this story, so it’s not hard to understand what’s going on. I thought Andrea’s personality was similar to Kate’s (independent woman, hiding something, and doesn’t trust easily), but her voice was different enough from Kate’s (more wry humor I think) to make the story interesting. I enjoyed reading this one, because the pacing was just right to me, with a good balance of urban fantasy action and romance. I could savor it slowly. The reader already knows what will happen between Andrea and Raphael, especially if you’ve been following the Kate Daniels series, but it’s satisfying anyway. I also liked how well the story intersects with the Kate Daniels series and reveals a couple of things for people paying attention, but you don’t have to have read that series to follow this story (and there are no spoilers).

Overall: I’m a big fan of Ilona Andrews so no surprise: I liked this story a lot. A must read for Kate Daniel’s fans.

P.S. Is anyone else noticing some re-occurring themes in Andrews stories? Like the protection of children? Not that this is a complaint, I just find it interesting.

********

2) The Britlingens Go to Hell by Charlaine Harris: This is the first story in Must Love Hellhounds, and by one of the two headlining authors (the other is Nalini Singh).

The Premise: Batanya and Clovache are both part of the Britlingen Collective, highly trained bodyguards for hire, who are assigned an unusual client. Crick wants Batanya and Clovache to protect him in Hell while he retrieves an item that he’d been hired to steal but he was caught the first time he was there.

My Thoughts: It’s a quirky, odd tale and not quite what I was expecting from Charlaine Harris. It takes some time to figure out who the Britlingens are and they use a combination of high tech and magic for their jobs, and hell is a bizarre place with a mixture of mythical creatures in it. Their client and others they run into are oddball people, and the whole tale uses a rather cheerful, matter of fact tone no matter what is happening. An example of bizarre is that someone has 2 penises. TWO PENISES!! It’s half-funny and half-I-don’t-know-what.

Overall:
I’m not sure if this will appeal to everyone depending on their sense of humor or level of tolerance for the off-beat. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t love it either. So I suppose it was in the “OK” to “good” range for me.

********

3) Angels’ Judgment by Nalini Singh: Set in the same world as Singh’s Angel series, this story centers on vampire hunter Sara Haziz.

The Premise: Sara Haziz’s job is to bring back runaway vampires to their angel masters. Her latest retrieval is of a vampire whose head was almost cut off. Word is that a rogue hunter who has killed other vampires this way is responsible, and Deacon, the Slayer, is brought in.

Excerpt of Angel’s Judgment

My Thoughts: This was a straightforward whodunit with two ass-kicking characters and romance between them. The world building was interesting, and I didn’t have any problems following what was going on even though I haven’t read any of the novels set in this world yet. I couldn’t tell where this novella fit in the timeline of the Angels’ series though. At first I thought it was after Angel’s Blood, the first book, and was concerned that I was being spoiled, but then later on it sounded like Elena, Sara’s best friend and the heroine of the series, hadn’t met an archangel yet, so maybe this novella is supposed to happen before the series starts. The biggest issue I had with this was the repeated references to the sexual attraction of the two main characters, which made the romance very physical and not mental enough for me. Deacon bluntly tells Sara he wants to take her to bed within a very short time of knowing her and they pretty much sleep together while on a job together.  In the middle of their investigation when Sara is going to be the next hunter Guild Director? I also found it silly that Deacon was so big that he couldn’t fit into Sara’s car and had to follow on his motorcycle. Other than my inability to suspend disbelief at these things (and I think I’m in the minority from what I’ve seen), the story itself was relatively enjoyable.

Overall: Not bad but the romance was too predictable and physical for my tastes, but I think it would appeal to those who like a little steam in their stories.

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4) Blind Spot by Meljean Brook: This one is another story linked to a series I haven’t read, which is the Guardian series.

The Premise: Maggie is the equivalent of a butler for a very wealthy and powerful family, and her boss happens to be a vampire. When Maggie’s employer’s niece, Katherine, is kidnapped in New York, Katherine’s brother, Goeffrey Blake goes to get her, but he runs into some trouble and Maggie is sent over. Maggie and Geoff must work together (along with the family’s hellhound, Sir Pup) to find his sister.

Excerpt of Blind Spot

My Thoughts: I haven’t read the Guardian series, but I have read another novella set in this world in the Wild Thing anthology. I remember liking the worldbuilding in that story, but this one is even better. I think this author has grown, and I’m impressed! I felt like I was seeing Geoff and Maggie get to know one another and that although they each had an interest in each other they were aware that finding Katherine was more important. The attraction is shown more subtly, like their mutual curiosity for each other, and in gestures, like Maggie’s quick looks everywhere but pauses on Geoff’s mouth and hands. Meanwhile, Geoff’s thoughts reveal that he has known and thought about Maggie far before they ever met, which pulled me in because I wanted to know why and how that happened. The fantasy elements, such as Sir Pup the shape-shifting hellhound, and interesting abilities (really cool but I don’t want to spoil you), were unique and fascinating but also help along the story. I adored Sir Pup, the half-scary chaperone and  comic relief.

Overall: Really enjoyable blend of the fantastic and romantic. I liked this more than I expected to: it ties with the Ilona Andrews novella as my favorite in this anthology.

Other reviews:
The Good, The Bad, and The Unread – I think I consistently have a very different opinion from this reviewer, just like now, but we agreed on the Meljean Brook story. She’s also misinterpreted Andrea and Raphael’s relationship prior to when the novella takes place, IMHO.
Literary Escapism – I’m somewhat in line with her thoughts, but probably liked the Singh story less than she did.
Smexy Books – Same as above.
Shaymless Aymless at Babbling about Books and More – also in line with LE and Smexy books

Best of 2008 and New Year’s Resolution for 2009

A lot of people are posting a year end post for 2008. It's nice to see people looking back at the books they read for the year and picking out their favorite reads, and it's interesting to see what they picked. I thought it would be a good thing to try myself because with it recorded, I can look back in later years and see what my tastes were like.

Out of a total of 77 books read this year, very few got into my best list, but book ratings are highly subjective.  I just went with my gut and rated them according to how I felt about the book as soon as I finished reading them. These lists are compiled from ratings I put down in my private notes.

All the links to my reviews here are to my Livejournal.

The Books that Blew Me Away  – These books are those I gave top marks to when I first read them. It's a very hard list to get onto because I have to feel like I'm falling in love and cannot be parted from the book for it to get on this list. Only three got on it this year.

Books that Came Close to Blowing Me Away – These came very close to getting top marks from me. This is a personal thing, but the books above I would put down and then obssessively think about when I could pick them up again. The books below, I didn't feel as consumed by the book, but still felt really impressed by them.

  • Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready (my review)
  • Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (I need to review this when I have the book in my hands)
  • The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald (review coming soon)

Books I Really Liked/ Keepers. These each had several moments where I loved the book and overall I think these are books that deserve to be loved and read by others, but for some reason or other these didn't get into the top 7. I still consider these keepers, and all these authors are pretty much autobuys/ must read backlist authors. There are 19 of these books this year (Linnea Sinclair's name comes up a lot here, I was reading her backlist in 2008):

  • The Down Home Zombie Blues by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Exit Strategy (Nadia Stafford, Bk 1) by Kelley Armstrong (my review)
  • Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas (my review)
  • Grimspace by Ann Aguirre (my review)
  • An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Urban Shaman by C. E. Murphy (my review)
  • Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre (my review)
  • Cry Wolf (Alpha and Omega, Bk 1) by Patricia Briggs (my review)
  • Easy Freedom by Liz Berry (my review)
  • Jinx by Jennifer Estep (my review)
  • Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair (my review)
  • Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair (my review pt 1, pt 2)
  • The Good Neighbors by Holly Black (my review)
  • The Nanny by Melissa Nathan (my review)
  • Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, Bk 1) by Charlaine Harris (my review)
  • Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (my review)
  • Burndive by Karin Lowachee (my review)
  • An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly, Bk 3) by Charlaine Harris (my review)
  • The Decoy Princess and Princess at Sea by Dawn Cook (my review)

 

And for my New Year's Resolution – it's the same resolution as last year , to read 100 books.

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 - 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – let's get it back up to 100!!

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An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

A quick review because I'm spending time with the family this week and they keep interrupting my blogging!!

Charlaine Harris continues the adventures of Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang in the third book of the series, set in Doraville, North Carolina. Harper has been hired to find the bodies of missing teen-aged boys – she soon does – eight young men buried in the same driveway next to an abandoned shack. All Harper wants to do is leave Doraville after this horrific job, but as usual, circumstances prevent it.

Despite this series being shelved in mystery, I think of it as being paranormal mystery because of Harper's ability to find the dead and identify how they died. There are also other reoccurring characters with some psychic ability that sometimes cross Harper's path. I always find these abilities fascinating within the story.

Overall: Every time I read one of these Harper Connelly mysteries, I expect a certain level of writing that will just let me kick back and enjoy – I always end up reading the book really quickly, not wanting to stop. So it wasn't a surprise that I liked this book. I think it's my favorite in the series so far. In the earlier books, especially book 1, I felt annoyed with the way people treated Harper because of her job, like she was a charlatan. It was a relief that in Doraville, Harper is treated much better so I wasn't annoyed by the other characters passing judgement on her. The mystery of who the killer was also kept me guessing, and there was enough of an element of danger to keep me absorbed, turning pages quickly to see what happens next. There's also enough of a cast of small town characters that Harper and Tolliver meet and a couple of old friends that stop by to help out to keep things interesting and the story moving along nicely. The weather also feels timely because as Harper dealt with an ice storm in An Ice Cold Grave, I was living through freezing rain and iced over roads in New York.

But be warned, this book goes to a weird place with Harper's personal life. I'm sure if you've read book 2 you'll have guessed what I'm talking about. Well, even though I expected this book to go there, I was still reeling when I read it. I'm still not quite comfortable either, but I guess I'll get used to it. Anyone else read this? What did you think? Am I right or what? Book 4 should be interesting – I'm still looking forward to reading it.

My past reviews:

Grave Sight (book 1)

Grave Surprise (book 2)

 

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Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

After reading Grave Sight last week, I was curious enough about the second book, Grave Surprise that I picked it up this week.

This story continues the life of Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang, this time in Memphis to demonstrate Harper's talents to a Bingham College class. The professor Clyde Nunly fully expects to expose Harper as a big fraud, but when she keeps accurately describing the deaths of people buried at the cemetery within campus, his smirk leaves his face. He really doesn't believe it when another surprise occurs - Harper discovers one grave with two bodies – the original and the body of an eleven year old girl who Harper once tried but failed to find. Soon Harper and Tolliver are again embroiled in a murder mystery, and because the victim was such a young girl, this time Harper really wants to find out who did it.

Overall: It's been a while since I've read something that falls more on the mystery side of things, so I enjoyed reading this. It kept my interest and I read it fairly quickly. I also enjoyed this better than the first book because I was feeling a little less annoyed at some of the other characters involved. There was less of a small minded small town vibe and while people still gave Harper a hard time over her talent, Harper and Tolliver managed to give as much as they got, even getting some apologies in the process. Which made me feel better. I also felt that if you read this book before book 1, you'd be OK, Harris went over Harper and Tolliver's pasts again in this book, so you wouldn't be missing anything. Meanwhile, there was some progress in Harper and Tolliver's relationship with their little sisters and something else which I guessed was coming from the first book. Besides that their characters stayed fairly consistent to what they were like in book 1 – Harper really intriuges me.. again, that half vulnerable, half hard thing. Anyway, if you liked book one, I'd recommend this one.

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Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight is the first in the Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris.

After being hit by lightening at an early age Harper has a talent at locating a dead body if the general area is known. She can also tell how they died. This doesn't make her very much liked by both sceptics (who think she preys on the weak) and by those who hire her (because they don't always like the truth that comes out).

In Grave Sight Harper and her step-brother Tolliver Lang get involved in a murder mystery in the southern town of Sarne. What starts off as a normal case – finding the body of missing, presumed dead wild-child Teenie Hopkins (whose boyfriend's body was found six months ago), becomes increasingly dangerous as more deaths occur. The people of Sarne immediately begin to blame Harper for all their troubles, and Harper is forced by the police to stay in the area. At that point, Harper feels compelled to investigate what is going on.

Overall: New spin on murder mysteries and worth a read. The murderer was someone I guessed at but it wasn't that obvious I think. The writing was absorbing – no troubles where I wanted to put the book down and go do something else, and interesting main characters. Really it's Harper's unusual talent and her life with it, that makes the book so interesting. I couldn't really pinpoint the genre here, it seems to cross a couple of them. There also seems to be a mystery in Harper's past (the abduction of her sister Cameron) which I hope gets more exposure in later books.

Harper was an intriguing character. Sometimes she seems very hard because of her upbringing in a broken home (her mother was a drug addict, as was Tolliver's dad), but also sometimes very vulnerable (with her great fear of lightening, and ailments caused by the lightening strike). She is also very reliant on her step-brother, and their relationship was really strange to read. I have a brother so their relationship didn't seem quite brother/sister, and staying together when they were in their twenties, working together, spending that much time together without their own separate lives - kind of weirded me out. I suspect that their relationship is going to become something more, if I'm reading the subtext right. I am not sure how to feel about that. I have a brother so… eck, I don't know.

The other thing I spent a lot of time thinking about with this book was how almost everyone in Sarne treated Harper and Tolliver badly. It seemed like this small-town, small-minded cliche, and I felt bothered by it. I had a hard time believing that so many people (including the police and city officials) could be so suspicious and rude, and I felt like it gives southerner's a bad name. The whole situation gave me a bad taste, and I was aggravated by the attitudes throughout the book.

Other than those two big issues I had, I did enjoy this book.

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