Midnight Crossroad, Charlaine Harris

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know about my love of all things Harris. I’ve read every series she’s written as fast as she could write them, and when each of them ended, I experienced the kind of sadness unique to multi-book story arcs. (There’s a different sadness that comes with reading a great standalone book, or a trilogy – it’s not a question of greater or lesser – it’s just different.)

Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to books with seemingly unending adventures though (Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, even back to the Berenstain Bears). Something inside of me felt this overwhelming joy at the idea of sinking down into a book with characters I knew and loved well. A friend once said it was just like me to extend my introversion to having a hard time meeting new fictional characters, and I think she was right. When it comes to novels especially, I am most drawn to both characters and authors I already know and love. That being so, this past May was a banner month. I got the latest book in the Dresden Files and the first book in a new series by Harris.

Now, first books are obviously not as exciting as sequels, at least for me (I suspect Harris was ready to start writing new characters with thirteen Sookie Stackhouse novels under her belt), but the transition was eased by the inclusion of a minor character from her Shakespeare series. I have to admit, when I realized who he was (some time before the connection was explicitly made), I mentally made the switch from “well, I suppose I can learn to love this new series” to “ooh continuity is the best – more please!”

I think what had also made me hesitate before that point was that Harris has decided to write at least this first book from the point of view of multiple characters. While that’s not uncommon, it is a different approach than she’s used in the past, and one of the biggest downsides of it is that it takes a lot longer to get to know those characters and establish trust in them as narrators. Having just finished writing a book where we had ten different characters telling the story, I have been on the receiving end of plenty of opinions about the technique, and it’s clear that I’m not the only person who has mixed feelings about it. I still remember when I started reading George RR Martin’s books over a decade ago; it took me three tries to get into A Game of Thrones because there were just so many people clamoring to be heard, and I still haven’t gotten around to reading A Dance of Dragons because I’m bitter about how he split the characters up in the fourth and fifth books. (Yes, I do realize it’s ridiculous to hold a grudge when the fifth book has been out for about three years, but I had roughly six years between those two books to really work myself into a snit, and I suspect it will take about that long before I’ve completely let it go. And no, before you ask, I don’t watch the show – his story was devastating enough the first time. No need to relive that pain in high def.)

I like to make one of the characters in any given book the friend I rely on, and it’s much easier to do that in books with only one narrator. The person I love best isn’t always in that primary role, but I know there will be a certain consistency in my interpretation of the characters when I’m not bouncing from one head into another. I don’t know that it bothers me all that much for an author to use multiple povs in most books, but it threw me for a loop this time because I wasn’t expecting it. I had to adjust to Harris’ new style in addition to setting, story, and characters, and I’m not too proud to admit it helped to have one familiar face in the crowd. That being said, I love that she went quite dark at the end of this first volume, and I’m glad as an author she’s generally consistent about getting a book out every year so I have something to look forward to next spring.


For more about Charlaine Harris, head over here.

A Skeleton in the Family, Leigh Perry

When my mother was visiting a few weeks ago, she brought a novel she’d picked up at Boskone, a cozy mystery that was perfect for reading under the nap blanket she had made me last Christmas. (Yes, I have a nap blanket. What can I say? I appreciates naps and all things nap-adjacent.) It’s been grey almost every day for far too long now without the rain we really need, and while I love wet weather, I’m much less fond of the general air of gloominess that has settled over us here.

The perfect remedy for such weather, and for the air of melancholy that descends on our entire household after too many days without sunshine, is a book like Perry’s. It’s sweet, funny, and has a hint of the supernatural without going all sparkly vampire on me. Not that I mind vampires, sparkly or otherwise; I’m in favor of all manner of monster being converted into friend, ally, and when appropriate, love interest. (Of course, in this case, her “monster” is a skeleton, and I was the one falling in love with him.) Perry’s book, in fact, hit a couple of sweet spots for me, including a protagonist who’s a single mother with a realistic(ally good) relationship with her adolescent daughter, several relationships between said protagonist and men that weren’t romantic, a quirky friendship between a woman and her supernaturally reanimated skeleton buddy, and a sisterly dynamic that was both tense and loving  (in other words, completely believable).

After I finished the book, I was thinking about all of these characters, and about how hopeful I was that Perry would write another book about them, and I realized the reason I’m drawn to series’ like The Dresden Files or Sookie Stackhouse is my obsession with lovable characters. Even in my own writing, I’m never nearly as interested in the plot as I am the motivation behind a character’s actions, or the connections people build when put under pressure. That isn’t to say a well thought-out plot is a waste – not at all – but it’s less important to me than the people who are driving the story.

When it comes down to it, I will always come back to an author who writes characters who have been altered by the Velveteen Rabbit affect – the people on the page who have been lugged around and played with until they spring up, animated by the love of those who have created them. Those are characters I can engage with, who I can think about long after I’ve put a book away on the shelf. As a reader, it’s important to me to find stories that are motivated by the people in them rather than books that could almost be myth – an important story, but with any number of people substituted in on a whim with the same results.

This isn’t true for everyone, and I’m glad of that. I would hate to walk into a library and know that every single book on the shelf was exactly what I think I want. It wouldn’t allow for any growth as a critical reader or as a person. It’s wonderful to find a great read totally outside of what I already love, of course, but there will also always be a place in my heart for novels that fit into my heart from the first few pages. Those are the books that get me through long winters, and sleepless nights, and sunny afternoons by the shore. Authors like Perry will always be the ones I search for on a whim in little bookstores because I know I’ll find comfort in their stories and friends in the characters they write. They will be good company no matter the season, and that is not a gift to be taken lightly.

For more about Leigh Perry, head over here.