Posted by: Sarah | May 20, 2011

Review of Marked by Bitten Twice

The lovely cover of Marked

Marked is a novel that I believe is related to the previously reviewed A Blood Moon, but features different characters.  This novel focuses on shapeshifters instead of vampires and demons, with feline and canine varieties.  There are shapeshifters which are monstrous werewolf types (as in, similar to wolves somewhat, but definitely other), some that sound like they turn into actual wolves, but these are not the main stars of the book for the most part.  The main characters mostly come from the feline shapeshifter faction, including ones who turn into cape lions, a variety of lion thought extinct, as well as panthers, cheetahs, and jaguarondi (which I will assume is usually shortened to jaguar).  There are also psychic and magical powers in this book, but not quite as overwhelmingly strong as in the previous work.  We are introduced to a new paranormal organization, the Knights of the Templar (also referred to as Templars in this book).  The main characters are involved in this organization in one way or another.

Xan is the King of the Cats, the main male character, and a member of the Knights of the Templar Council.  He is turns into a cape lion.  Catherine is the administrative assistant to another council member (they both happen to be human), and the two of them fall in love at first sight.  Literally first sight.  There’s no written build up to any of the romantic relationships in this novel, of which there are 4-5, if you count the prologue where-in the former King of the Cats and Xan’s father, Xor, has a relationship with Ova, Xan and his sisters’ biological mother.  There may also be a relationship between Xor and Sharizar, the Queen of the Cats (her title seems less important, although I’m not sure why).  Ari and Ova (Xan’s sisters) also have romantic relationships of their own.  Even if the romantic relationships are just there, I do really like the characters who are paired up for the most part.  I can understand why they would pick each other (except for why Catherine would be Xan’s pick, really) and agree with them.  I have a feeling that Catherine is more important than we are told in this book and it makes me wonder if she’ll appear in others.  I kept waiting for even just cameo appearances from the characters in A Blood Moon, especially Lina or Alexander, but they never showed up, so maybe a future book will pull these two groups of people together for a plot-line of larger scope.  The relationship between Xan and Catherine seems to be the main focus of the book, so that would make this book closer to the paranormal romance genre, but most of the book’s body is more similar to urban fantasy because of the action.  The overarching conflict is most likely linked to Catherine herself, although it is never explained why.  There are a lot of things that are left unexplained, and some unresolved.

I enjoyed reading the book and I liked the characters even if I don’t always understand their motives or what’s going on.  I feel like the major plot-line is relatively simple, but the branching pathways the other conflicts and storylines took fleshed it out some.  I would have liked more world building, as well as more plot development along some of those branches.

So to summarize: Pros:

1.  Characters I like.  Xan’s female relatives are all strong women – Ari, Ova Sr. (mother), Ova Jr. (daughter), and Sharizar are all powerful in their own ways, personality wise, physically wise, mental capacity wise, etc..  Donna, Catherine’s friend, also seems like a strong woman.  I also like Lucca, even if he and Xan do not always see eye to eye.  I also like that people have pretty strong personalities that come through in the writing.

2.  Interesting world I like.

3.  Bitten Twice’s descriptive prose.  I like the way she describes things, especially in the prologue of this book.  Her descriptions of the setting (when present) are very imaginable.  She uses lots of adjectives that combine to make a lovely picture.  I just wish she wrote more descriptive passages; some chapters in the book are much more dialogue and action, and need a little more description to balance them out.

Cons:

1.  As I started to go into before, I’d like more descriptive prose.  I’d also like more world building and more development into the whys of things.  I get a little confused as the lines between the different types of paranormals as well.  The lines between Lucca’s wolves and the werewolves who were working for the demon were not really revealed to the reader.

2.  The ending seems cut off.  We don’t know the motives as to why any of the attacks happened.  We don’t know for sure what the bad guys wanted, if the good guys actually found it, or if the bad guys won’t try again at a later date.

3.  There’s some really weird sex scenes in the beginning of the book.  I still don’t know if Ova Sr.  was one of the cats or one of the people, because there were mentions of tails, and being turned (as if she could be turned into a cat shapeshifter), and yet she’s referred to as of the people or human.  Also, doesn’t “Ova” mean “egg?”  If it does, that’s some symbolism and foreshadowing right there in the name.  There was also a time when Xor spoke about one of his “marked females” (aka mates) being left with the humans (referring to Ova Sr. and the group of people she lived with), so I was still confused.  I almost decided not to finish the book because I was weirded out by the sex scene there because it seemed pretty close to bestiality.  I’m glad I finished it, but it was a close call.

I think my cons can be converged into a single complaint:  the book needs more in the way of editing and revising.  There are still errors in grammar, punctuation, and some places with awkward word choice or phrasing, but this book is an improvement from the first.  The cons I listed above are mainly storyline things that may have been better fleshed out while in doing more work in the revising process.  This book is also self published as far as I know, so that’s a lot of work for one person, or a very small group of people to do.  The format of the book is very nice though, with a table of contents that actually sends you to the chapter you click!

You can find out more information about Bitten Twice and her works at the following websites:  Bitten Twice’s World, as well as Bitten Twice’s profiles and pages on Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The lovely author, Bitten Twice

Posted by: Sarah | May 13, 2011

Hayao Miyazaki Films

I’ve recently found myself craving the experience of watching Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films.  I first saw a Studio Ghibli film probably about 2-3 years ago at most, during a special month long celebration of his films being shown during the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network.  A month of Miyazaki introduced me to Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and possibly Howl’s Moving Castle and Laputa: Castle in the SkyPrincess Mononoke was popular among one of my social groups in high school, but I’d never watched it, and I remember hearing about how Spirited Away won awards even in the United States.  Yet, for some reason, I resisted watching these marvelous movies, or was unable to find them, until recent years.  Besides the aforementioned, I have also seen and loved Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Ponyo.  Miyazaki’s films feature heroes of both the male and female variety, as well as children, teens, and adults.  They are mostly family friendly from what I have seen, and yet tell tales adults can enjoy even without children.  The films may be set in fantasy realms, or alternate historical versions of this world, but they still tell engaging stories.  I can’t say enough good things about these films.  I know at first I was not overly impressed with Miyazaki’s animation style as a kid (I remember seeing commercials for Kiki’s Delivery Service) but I have since come to appreciate the smoothness of the hand-drawn animation, the wealth of facial expressions, the intricacy of the textures of the landscapes and technologies portrayed.

My favorite of these would have to be either Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Laputa: Castle in the SkyNausicaa is the story of a princess of a small country and how she saves her people, and maybe even the world.  The story delves into the problems of pollution and the effects it can have on the world economy and politics, as well as how nature might evolve in order to deal with such pollution itself.  Miyazaki’s films, while meant to be entertainment, also contain messages both subtle and readily apparent.  Both Nausicaa and Laputa explore the nature of power and its relationships to corruption and responsibility.  The films never get bogged down in the message but use it as a tool of story telling.

Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and Kiki’s Delivery Service may all be considered coming of age type stories, as well as showcases for the power of friendship and family.  Yes, I understand that sounds pretty cheesy, but it’s true.    Howl’s Moving Castle is inspired by the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.  The book tells a deeper story than the film, as much probably had to be cut.  The film still tells a wonderful story, even if some of the details are changed, glossed over, or outright removed.  I would recommend both the film and the book, but I’m not sure which I would say you should see/read first.  As for Princess Mononoke, this is one film that’s probably not as family friendly as the rest – there are some violent and/or scary scenes, but all in all, the movie is great.  Pollution and expected societal roles seem to be favorite topics of Miyazaki’s in his films.  Because he does include these topics, there’s a certain amount of realism involved in these works despite the fact that they are animated works and usually include things that are not real.

I would recommend all of these films, and I plan to one day read the manga versions as well (at the very least, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind has a comic version).

I’m going to try a new format for my reviews since some of my previous reviews wandered into the realm of rants.  I will list three good things and three bad things about the item being reviewed.  If I cannot think of that many I will say so outright.

A little explanation before the actual review:  This is not a young adult novel.  It is a cross between a dictionary and a fictional ethnography in some ways.  The format of the book is a series of definitions, cultural explanations, and lists of rules of behavior spanning from A to Z.  There are some small personal stories included throughout from the point of view of Amy Mah, Vampire – the narrator/author of this “journal.”

Amy May's Fangs Rule

Pros (the good) in no particular order:

1.  There are many cute and/or funny things within this book.  The character/author’s voice can be quite funny at times, especially when discussing the side characters – Amy’s boyfriend Max, and his sister Ice, who also happens to be her best friend.  I would have liked to see more about this.  While I don’t really like the following expectations, they’re funny:  Female vampires are expected to wear semi-transparent nighties while out hunting while guys are supposed to wear like the more stereotyped vampire outfits of suits and cloaks.  This does induce some laughs because Amy rebels against the spirit of the rule while still following it.  She MAY wear her filmy nightgown, but she’s going to wear other clothes underneath it.

2.  The vampires in this book are not the usual undead monster.  The “alpha” and “beta” vampires are an entirely different species from humans and are not undead at all.  Alpha vampires are supposedly the top tier vampires in terms of power, while the betas are basically all the rest of the species.  The vampires people tend to think of are still present they are just not the only type.  The undead vampires are actually ones that were created by the alpha and beta vampires from humans.  I like it when authors reinterpret traditional fairy tales, folklore, or urban myths.  The vampires of the highest castes in this work are more like animals than humans in many ways – very strong sense of smell, ability to detect pheromones and actually realize it, excellent night vision, a type of hive mentality, fertility cycles in the form of going into heat, etc.  I’m not fond of the whole going into heat idea, but there are some pluses:  it’s not usually used with vampires so it’s creative in that way and girls don’t have to worry about pregnancy except while in heat (so sexuality is not as punished in females as it is in many cultures all over the world in reality).

3.  The illustrations in this are mostly wonderful manga-style* pieces.  Several are even printed in color, which is not something I see in most illustrated works of prose.  The print quality of the illustrations is very nice, and most of it is pretty well-detailed.  Amy Mah is the author of the book, but is not the illustrator; Heby Sim is.

*Manga = Japanese comics.  I have noticed that there are several art styles among Japanese comics that I have not seen in Western comics, so I and others have considered the use of these art styles in non-Japanese comics to be “manga-style.”  Many of these styles are characterized by oversized eyes, small noses and small mouths, as well as hair that is drawn as curved spikes (for males usually).

Cons (the bad) in no particular order:

1.  Even though Vampires are monsters, in many young adult works they are given redeeming characteristics or are portrayed as sympathetic characters.  That is only slightly so in this work.  Amy Mah is a vampire who is rebellious against patriarchal society and overly controlling parents, similar to other (normal) teenagers.  At the same time, she is seemingly ok with and/or even approving of at least two methods of genocide, murder, slavery, and perhaps rape.  “Inferior” vampires are not allowed to have children or are even killed off to prevent their “inferior” genetic material for re-entering the gene pool.  That’s genocide, considering inferiority is in the eye of the beholder, and not something truly concrete and this kind of behavior is not acceptable in any way.  Vampires in this culture that Amy Mah describes do not have to kill to get enough blood to sustain themselves, but many choose to.  Amy includes herself in that number.  In many young adult vampire stories, the main character is at least trying not to kill people.  Slavery – the made vampires are considered inferior and are used as slaves.  The females are turned into eternal maids and are seemingly used as sexual outlets for the male vampires – which is where the rape concern comes in.  At one point in the book, Amy says something to the effect that unwanted sexual advances should be aimed not at the alpha and beta females but at the maids.  She says the male might lose some body parts if he made unwanted sexual advances to females of her type of vampire, but that’s what the maids were for.   This either is saying that the maids are always open to sexual advances or that their preferences do not matter.  Even though at times Amy states things that sound like she loves her own personal undead maid, there are times when it’s entirely too apparent that she feels she is above her and superior to her in every way.

2.  There really needs to be more personal stories and situations included.  The most interesting part of this work were the stories about Amy’s family, her boyfriend Max, and her best friend Ice – only problem with that is that there were very, very, few of them.  There were strikingly few stories about Max and Ice (who happen to be siblings).  No stories of Amy getting into trouble with them or how she met them, etc.

3.  Also, Amy was not always part of this vampire “nest.”   She was raised in a human family, and that is never really explained.  She seems entirely uninfluenced by her time with her human family (which is what she calls them, yet she does not seem to care about them or about humans in general).  She says she was “rescued” from her human family, yet never explains why she was with humans in the first place, or how the vampires found her.  My problem here is the lack of information and development in this aspect of the story, which considering this is almost directly responsible for her need to write the guide, is extremely overlooked.  She also states that she started writing the guide in her journal when she was still living with her human family, but how did she know enough about other vampires to write about them if she wasn’t in a nest?

Manga-style Author Portrait

For the first 3/4ths or so of the book I did enjoy reading it, although I had to force myself to overlook certain things that I have mentioned before – until I just couldn’t and had to take a break in reading it.  There are some other details that are heavily covered in the book that some teenagers may be uncomfortable with but which are sometimes funny (I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable with them, but that’s because I started reading romance books when I was 13 and so I quickly stopped blushing while reading about sex).  The artwork was the best part of the book for me, and I looked forward to seeing the next illustration.

You can find more information about Amy Mah and Fangs Rule at this Facebook Page, the book website, and at Amy Mah’s Blog.

Posted by: Sarah | February 9, 2011

Genre Boundaries

How do you decide what genre a book falls into?  When I first started reading Urban Fantasy books, one of my first series that I read, if not the first one, was Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series.  This book series had magical creatures, crazy fight scenes, crime and mystery plots, romantic elements (then later just about outright porn), and aspects you’d be more likely to find in a horror book, including blood, guts, and unidentifiable gore.  Hamilton wrote about a strong independent female character in the beginning of the series, so I guess you could also maybe call it feminist fiction (at that time anyway). So, if you were to categorize the first several books in the series, you could use any of those genres, or the more all-encompassing “urban fantasy,” since the series is set in almost exclusively urban settings and definitely contains fantastic elements.  The later books in the series, including the last 2-3 I read, and many I didn’t read, would have a much different (and smaller) set of genres to choose from.  Before I quit reading this author’s books, I felt like the mystery and crime elements were almost completely dropped from the series, as were the horror elements.  The series became a soap box for the author to ram her sex scenes down people’s throats and to make her character more and more powerful.  I guess she felt like she was being “edgy,” but I can’t say I felt uncomfortable or like I was being pushed beyond my comfort zone or understanding by her later works.  I’d categorize the first 9 or so Anita Blake books as Urban Fantasy with the following ones as Erotica just because of the extremely high sexual content (even though I personally didn’t find those books “erotic” some people did, and probably still do – and most of the other genre elements have been dropped).  There’s really little to no romance left, at least as of the last books I read, because Anita just gives it up on the first day she knows the person, and she doesn’t even particularly like all of her partners.  Much of the page count is dedicated to such encounters, therefore there are very few genre titles I feel would really be accurate, besides erotica.

I have read posts by people who claim that what many people call urban fantasy is not fantasy at all because of their own hatred of certain series, stand alone books, or authors.  Some of those posts named Hamilton’s book series (among others) as part of the reason they didn’t like urban fantasy.  Some readers believe all novels with werewolves,  vampires, or other beings more traditionally thought of as monsters should be considered horror, or a non-fantasy genre, such as “urban fiction.”  I’m not going to argue that urban fantasy shouldn’t be considered urban fiction as well, because that would be silly.  Fiction is one of two main mega-genres (making up new terms is fun, isn’t it?) – fiction and non-fiction.  Of course urban fiction would contain urban fantasy within itself, but also contain many non-fantastical urban sub-genres.  Urban romance, urban action, urban science fiction perhaps?  Arguments have been made that the fantasy genre should only contain stories of dragons, elves, heroes on epic quests to save the world, and such other similar stories.  I consider those just plain “fantasy” myself, but I have seen the term “high fantasy” or “epic fantasy” also used.  Part of the problem with saying an urban fantasy novel isn’t a fantasy lies within the “heroes on epic quests to save the world” bit – many urban fantasy novels do indeed have world-threatening (or at least city-threatening) villains or disasters which must be stopped or the world is done for and all hope is lost.  Several urban fantasy novels also have dragons and/or elves.

I have to say that urban fantasy, to me anyway, is a mixture of an urban setting and a high occurrence of magic and/or a high population of magical, supernatural, or unnatural elements and beings.    One of my current favorite urban fantasy series is The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger.  This is not your typical urban fantasy because it is not set in contemporary times, unlike almost all of the other series and stand alone novels I have read within this genre.  Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series is set in an alternate history wherein werewolves and vampires are very real and have a very tenuous peace, and takes place during Queen Victoria’s reign.  There are alternate sciences and political machinations.  The world this series is set in has a very steampunk quality to it that I really enjoy, and the main character is incredibly intelligent.  This series is much different from many of the more “mainstream” urban fantasy novels, but I think it is still a great example of the range of stories that can be told within the genre.

I do consider paranormal romance as different from urban fantasy, although the two genres tend to be similar.  Paranormal romance novels are ones in which the romance is the main plotline and the paranormal aspect is of secondary importance.  With urban fantasy, the urban is secondary to the fantastical aspects. This has been so with many of the urban fantasy novels I have read where the main concerns deal with defeating or capturing the bad guy and saving the day.

Posted by: Sarah | January 31, 2011

Review of A Blood Moon by Bittentwice

A Blood Moon is book #1 in the Macedo Ink series.  Warning, some spoilers ahead.

A Blood Moon by Bittentwice

I really liked many things about this book.  I liked having a different vision of vampires and demons – although I am a bit unclear about some things.  The lines between vampires, demons, and weres (since we have werelions and werewolves, I will just say weres) seem to be blurred.  Are vampires and weres types of demons?  There was much more focus on vampires originally, which expanded to include demons (which also drink blood).  Weres are barely touched upon in this book, apart from one of the characters’  parentage and her own abilities – we never meet any other weres mentioned as far as I can remember.  I liked that the side characters are given important roles in the story and aren’t treated by the main character as if they cannot think or do anything for themselves.

I liked the romance storylines of the side characters much more than the main three though.  I don’t like one of the main characters at all, and the romantic relationship storyline there is complicated – the main characters Alex/Xander/Alexander/Alejandro, Jack/Jacqui, and Lina/Catalina are all entangled in a love triangle.  Alex tells Jack he loves her, and then sleeps with Lina.  Jack doesn’t want to share, and Lina is seemingly ok with it even if she doesn’t like the other woman (mainly because the other woman doesn’t like her).  Since both women aren’t ok with sharing their man, I have issues with this type of relationship, because I consider it cheating.  I also don’t like that Jack was messing around with another man (Ed) and then later seems to think she’s choosing a third man (Miguel/Michael) over Alex even though they’ve not had any encounters where romantic interest was even implied.  For Jack to consider Miguel a love interest was just out of nowhere and it felt like she was messing with Ed just to mess with a guy besides Alex.  I liked Sam/Samantha and Max’s scenes much better because these two are sweet and caring without juggling extra lovers behind the other lovers’ backs.  These scenes were funny and showed how their lives could intersect and intertwine.  Their relationship did escalate pretty quickly, considering Max was such a shy guy, but I still really liked this storyline.

Another side character I liked was Jesus (uses the Spanish pronunciation) the hell hound.  I thought he was delightfully creepy, yet still cute.  That is all I want to spoil about this character.

The mystery/action elements of the book are mainly well done.   Although some of the magical powers involved in the action scenes, such as psychic blood drinking, sound overpowered. As does the ability to read a creature’s mind while killing it, which is employed by multiple characters in different ways.  There are a lot of gory scenes, which I enjoyed reading.  I also enjoyed the world building involved in the politics and environments of heaven and hell.  We see more of hell in this book, so I hope this aspect of world building is expanded in future books and/or stories.  I liked the political maneuvers and fights between different vampires and demons and there are conflicts that built up throughout the novel.  There is also a major development with Jack that actually completely took me by surprise, which doesn’t happen very often at all.  Major thumbs up for this storyline, even if I don’t like Jack.  I think if I went into too much detail about it, it would completely ruin it.

The major issue I had with this book was the romantic entanglements between the main characters – there were times some scenes seemed out of character as compared to earlier scenes.  I think I read some news about the next novel set in this world and that it focuses on some were characters, but I can’t find the information now.  If there is a novel set in this world that focuses on were characters and were politics/world building, then that will cover the other issue I had.

I’ve never read an eBook before, so I don’t know the general quality level of spelling, grammar, and punctuation correctness, but I really hope future books are more polished than this one.  I liked the story and most of the characters, but the number of errors and left out words bothers me.  I don’t care if the book is written for a child, a young adult, or an adult audience, I want correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation as well as correct language.  I have seen issues with these aspects of writing in many physically published works as well, so I know it’s not an eBook exclusive problem.  I believe this book is self published, so maybe the author didn’t have an editor to help out, although sometimes even with a team of editors a work can be published with many errors.  That’s all I’m going to say, since I already ranted about this issue in a previous post.

The Author

I would recommend this book to fans of the genre, especially if you like gory scenes.  You can find more information about Bittentwice (which I have also seen written as Bitten2ice) and A Blood Moon, as well as her upcoming novel, Marked, on her website:  Bittentwice’s World as well as the following links :  Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Good Reads.

Posted by: Sarah | January 27, 2011

Question on the Quality of Writing in General

I’ve come to notice more and more books are being published with more and more errors in spelling and grammar, as well as inconsistencies in the storyline.  I have always noticed these sorts of errors, and in some cases they can cause me to dislike a book or to contribute to no longer reading an author.  Do most people no longer want their books to come as polished as can be?  Or am I just picky?  I hate reading a book that is literally three and four errors per sentence.  I hate reading a book where the language is overly repetitive, and it’s not even being used as a way to emphasize or contribute to the style.  Some of the published works I have read in the past few years would not have made it past my fourth grade teacher.  She would have given them back to the authors and told them to fix their grammar and spelling and then given pointers on what to work on writing style wise.  As a student, I had to make sure my writing was close to error free, especially when polishing pieces for my writing portfolios.  Why is it that published authors are no longer held to this standard?  Is the era of texting and informal internet communications ruining the writing ability of our literary circles, or is it just laziness and the pushing of publishers to generate as many works as possible?

It’s not just the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and repetitive language issues I’m seeing, it’s also badly developed characters in stories, or missing plotlines.  I have read authors on the best seller lists whose last books literally had no overarching plotlines but still had 500 pages of crap – all of it the same scene or set of scenes, written in slightly different ways.  Sometimes it’s not even re-written, but copied and pasted directly from a previously published book!

Other issues I’ve seen are a lack of descriptive prose, where the author uses dialogue to attempt to tell the story.  If you have a person talking to someone in the same room, they shouldn’t have to tell them what they are doing as they are doing it in many different scenarios.  This lack of descriptive prose really hurts world-building in addition to making the listening or non-acting characters look like they need to have everything explained to them as if they were stupid.

When I read a book, I want it to have the best possible writing and development as possible.  If the story is not to my liking, that’s one thing, but if you can’t or didn’t even try to write the book well, that’s another.  If you didn’t get someone else to help you revise and edit your book, that can be yet another can of worms.  As the author, you should know what you mean to say, and your mind might insert things that are missing or change things that are wrong to what is correct – even if you don’t physically change what is written to reflect what is correct.  Questions should end in question marks, dialogue should be between quotation marks, or if you mark your dialogue in another way, it should be consistently marked!  I do not want to be stuck trying to figure out if something is being said or not because you left out quotation marks or left out half of the pair.  If you have more than two people participating in the same dialogue, you should label who says what at least some of the time, because if you don’t, it can be confusing.

Posted by: Sarah | January 19, 2011

Review of Katrina: The Beginning, by Elizabeth Loraine

This is another book I was given an opportunity to review.  I will not always be writing reviews of books I was sent by promoters or publishers, I plan to do some posts on books I’ve picked up over the years.  Anyway, the review begins.

Katrina:  The Beginning is a young adult historical vampire novel written and perhaps self-published by Elizabeth Loraine.  I would also categorize it as a young adult romance, because there certainly is a lot of “screen” time dedicated to the development of romances between the main female characters and several different male characters.  As a whole, I enjoyed reading this novel, but I do recognize there were a lot of issues that needed improvement.  The world building was lacking, as there were times when I couldn’t tell what time period I was in, and the country could have been any European country at times.  The novel is supposedly set in Europe (Germany and Austria perhaps?) during the colonization of the Americas, but we are never told just how much colonization has occurred, beyond the establishment of certain cities and the fact that tomatoes have been brought back to Europe.  The author never states that this is supposed to be an alternate universe that is similar to our own, so I am assuming that it is an alternate history where vampires are real.  The storyline and characters were likeable over all, but there were some problems that were repeated throughout the novel.  A very general problem is that there was a lack of urgency in many of the earlier “action” scenes, and there was no real suspense throughout most of the novel.  It would be like seeing that your house was on fire, saying “Help, fire,” and walking over to get a bucket and fill it with water as if you had all the time in the world.  The way many of the conflicts are resolved almost immediately left the book with a lot less suspense and excitement than it could have had, and that problem exists throughout most of the book.

Beware, spoilers ahead.

Our main character is Katrina Von Dracek, a young vampire noblewoman who is about to turn 18 years of age.  Early on, it is unclear as to what kind of special training (as compared to a normal human noblewoman) she has had as a vampire noblewoman, but that becomes more and more important as the story progresses.  She has had training in combat and in using her own special power, her ability to “see” things near and far through the use of her extraordinarily sensitive hearing and sense of smell.  At the beginning of the story, it sounds like all born vampires (as opposed to made vampires, aka “fledglings,” which are characterized as weaker and sometimes animalistic) have one special ability in addition to added strength, speed, and sensitivity of senses.  We find out later that Katrina is special because she has more than one power, although the author never comes out and says that she in particular is supposed to be extra special.  She is held over and above other characters repeatedly, even though she is supposed to be on a similar level to them, or should not be the leader when there are other, more experienced, vampires and Watchers around.

The story is also told from Katrina’s point of view and as such, we should be introduced to things as she is (which does not always happen, as she sometimes knows things about characters that are just then being introduced to the reader).  There is ONE scene told in the point of view of someone else and it does not really add anything to the story but a bit of confusion right out of the gate since there are no other scenes like that.

The story begins very shortly before a journey to meet with other vampire clans and nobility, including the daughters and sons of some of her father’s peers.  Katrina is shown as friendly, brave, and resourceful, but at times unbelievably perfect.  She’s always right in her assumptions and theories, and she’s too strong as a fighter in most cases to make some of the fight scenes even believable.  For example, she gets disarmed by a single untrained fledgling vampire, but can defeat 6 highly trained elite (born) vampire guards in full-speed combat in another scene?  It’s just not consistent, especially since it is not due to extra training resulting in improvement of her skills, since she regularly skips training in favor of hunting or trysts with one of her romantic interests.

Rosa (Rosalinda), El (Eleanor), Letta (Arletta), and Kate (Katherine, Katrina’s long lost twin sister) sound like they are meant to be equal members of the group with Katrina, but she is still definitely the leader and consistently considered better.  She has had more training than all of them, as their families seem to have really done them a disservice in that area, but none of them seems to bring their own special knowledge to the group.  Even Kate, as someone from a very distinctly different background, has not studied the other races that are barely mentioned in the book, nor the ways in which to safe guard against their powers – Katrina has to ask their Mother.  Katrina’s new found friends at least have powers unlike her own, except for Kate whose powers are very similar to her own (as repeated very often in the book, they are “mirror” twins, not identical).  These girls were completely unaware of their own magical abilities, and their combat skills had not been honed to the degree Katrina’s were.  Katrina basically does everything, and tells the other girls what to do.  They’re a lot more passive than I would have liked, considering how much stronger the book would be if they were all strong, independent, characters.  Kate especially seems to be a weak copy of her sister (oh, but flipped, because they aren’t identical).  The girls’ main purpose seems to be to act as sidekicks to Katrina’s superhero, as well as her posse of gossipy girly girls.  It is nice to see young women who are strong having fun, but it can get a bit annoying when they stick to the same topics all the time, and show little growth in how their minds work and how their interests have broadened.  Yes, by the end of this novel the girls have grown, but because their roles are so overshadowed by Katrina and her romantic interests (which I will discuss in a moment), the book suffers.

As for Katrina’s aforementioned romantic interests, Quinn and Damien, one is a human and one of her Watchers (basically specially trained guards for the vampiric nobility) and the other is a fellow vampire noble.  Much of the story is focused on these two young men and their relationship with Katrina, and some of it is done very well for a young adult novel and some of it is not.  What is done well is the sexual tension between the characters, but what is not done well outnumbers that in issues if not page count.  What I mean is that many of the passages dedicated to developing the relationships between these characters involve making out or gazing into each others’ eyes, and other such romantic behavior.  The bad part is that the relationship with Quinn goes from 0 to 60 mph in the space of a page or two;  he goes from being her guard and friend, someone she grew up with, to the love of her life.  She discovers this in that short amount of time; before that it seemed they had an entirely platonic relationship.  She states repeatedly that it’s forbidden for her to have a relationship with him but leaves the explanation of why until much later in the book, and even then it’s not well explained.  The relationship with Damien is also started as a somewhat abrupt thing, because she barely knows him and has no reason to trust him, considering the circumstances in which she has known him up to that time.  There is a large part of the book where she seems to be juggling her two boyfriends, seeing them both and not wanting to give either up for the other.  This is not fair to either guy, and they are both not happy with this arrangement, showing jealousy as well as hurt feelings at times.  I do not like characters who cheat on their significant others, emotionally, physically or both.  This is an example of both, and it really hurt Katrina’s character appeal for me.  At times, I actually hated her for this behavior, along with the fact that she continually abandoned her newly regained mother and newly discovered sister (she thought her mom was dead and didn’t know about her sister at all!) as well as her friends, which she claims to consider as sisters, in favor of going to flirt with her boyfriends.  There are also times when it seems like she is entirely over Quinn and is only in love with Damien, then later she goes back to being in love with him again.  It is very wishy-washy to me, and I can’t tell if it’s just supposed to be showing how a young hormone-ridden vampiress would act or if the author couldn’t decide what she was doing.  The other young vampire noblewomen do not do this type of man-juggling, they all either stick with one man or do not get too involved with anyone, preferring to stick to simple flirtations.

In terms of the story, at least when Katrina isn’t off romancing her boys, there are a lot of uncomplicated conflicts that are resolved very quickly and tidily.  A lot of things are just too convenient, and it goes back to that fact that Katrina is always right.  She doesn’t seem to have to do a lot of thinking, research, or work in figuring things out, she just knows.  This problem is even further added to with the development of her powers, which takes up another large part of the storyline.  And she has a lot of powers that just pop up over the course of the story, which just make things way too easy.  If I wanted to read a series about an overpowered, super perfect, too popular person, who never has to struggle with anything, I’d go back to reading the Anita Blake series.  Very late in the book, there are some conflicts that develop that are (thankfully) not resolved within a few pages, and these are the only places in the book where we have any true suspense or lasting conflict.  These conflicts are setting up the next book, and so we end on a cliffhanger (I hate cliffhangers, very few authors can do them well without making it seem like the book was chopped off).  The conflicts are really still not that suspenseful, due to the sheer amount of power all the girls have, and the “convenience” that they can strengthen each others’ powers through being together and concentrating.  It’s an annoying deux ex machina because of the reason that is given for this kind of power sharing/influencing – all the girls were born within days of each other, and since they were born under the same sign, they can do what they do.  Does this apply to all people with the same sign, or just Katrina’s group?  If so, it wouldn’t be so rare, unless it has to be within the same year of birth as well.  I can’t decide if this is a characterization problem or a world building problem.

There are also issues with secrecy in the novel.  The vampire race is supposed to be a secret from all the humans that do not work for them, but there are times when Katrina and whoever is with her at the time do inhuman things right in front of humans, and yet they seem totally unaware of the potential to unmask what they are or at least the fact that they aren’t human.  In this world, apparently vampires can run so fast they can cover hundreds of miles in mere seconds at full speed.  If this is so, then even half-speed vampires would still be inhumanly fast and fighting in half speed would not mask that they aren’t human.  This also brings to mind questions about the need for horses, as well as how any human could ever actually hurt them.  I guess the horses are for pleasure and camouflage, but that still doesn’t explain how any human could kill a vampire (vampire hunters are called Volator in this world).

The following is a world-building problem:  the introduction of a way to feed the need for blood without having to hunt or to drink blood from humans; crimson, a mixture of blood with something that supposedly multiplies blood, while keeping it fresh indefinitely.  Considering this is available, there seems like there would be no need for normal fresh blood from humans or animals, especially since later this crimson is said as giving a longer lasting energy than blood from any hunt.  If this crimson is so much better than hunting or drinking blood from humans, why is it that they do not completely give up hunting in favor of drinking nothing but crimson?  Is the additive rare or expensive to make?  It would seem not, considering the sheer amount of crimson consumed by the many characters in the novel, so the continued need to feed from humans and animals is not explained.  If the author said they continued to hunt because they wanted to, or felt the need to keep up that set of skills and instincts, that would be at least some kind of explanation.  There is very little interaction with humans who aren’t in-the-know about vampires throughout most of the book, so really only bad vampires feed on humans, except for in cases of emergency where Watchers donate blood to a starving or almost comatose vampire.

As much as this book has problems, there was a lot of promise.  I believe this book was self-published, as there was no mention of a publisher in the copyright page.   There was also no mention of any editors or any other such staff, so I have to wonder if the author had any help writing the book in terms of editing or revising.  There are a number of technical aspects that could have been improved, along with the story and characterization elements I’ve gone over above.  If the author also made the cover, it feels like it’s an attempt to capitalize on the similar-looking Twilight series covers.  I mention Twilight here not just because the book cover looks like it’s trying to copy off of the widely read series’s covers in color scheme and dramatic lighting, but because the story itself has borrowed elements from it.  At least no one sparkles and the main character is at least special in some way (although she’s TOO special, argh).  Basically, the author needed to have at least one more run through editing and revising the book herself, but she truly would have benefited from having another person do the same.  It’s harder to find positive things to discuss than negative, so with this book as is, I have to give it an average rating of 2.5 stars out of 5.

I looked up Elizabeth Loraine’s website, and there is a link to buy this book and the next two in the series from Createspace and Amazon.  If you have a Kindle, or the Kindle app, you can get this book for $2.99 on Amazon.  The other books in the series are more pricy, going up to $8.99 for the newest book.  On Createspace, the first three books are all available for $14.99.  You may wonder why I’m going over pricing on a review of the book.  The reasoning behind that is because pricing does help people decide whether or not to buy books.  I liked this book to a point, even with all the problems, but I’m not sure if I want to continue with the series or not.  The promise of what the characters and story could be is almost as much of a draw to continue reading the series as an actual well-written and well-developed book would have been.  I have fallen prey to that kind of thinking before, and found myself burned by how the following books were even worse than the first one I didn’t fully enjoy, but occasionally this kind of promise is fulfilled in the sequels.  The Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton (an adult series, not young adult) was one of the series where I felt I was burned by the promise of what it could have been, and honestly, I can’t think of a book series where the first book was the worst at this time.  I’m drawing a blank.  I might have to get back to you on that.

You can find more information about Katrina:  The Beginning, as well as the author, Elizabeth Loraine, and her other novels at her website http://www.royalbloodchronicles.com/.

Posted by: Sarah | January 9, 2011

Review of The Vampire Sonnets

I was recently sent information about an opportunity to review The Vampire Sonnets by David Nelson Bradsher and this is what I thought about the “verse drama.”  Beware, spoilers ahead.  Some spoilers anyway.

I’ve honestly been burned out on the vampire sub-genre of fiction, and I thought that a vampire story written in a new way would help reawaken my love for it.  If the tale had been well constructed, with characters I could in any way like, that would have been true.  What I found in The Vampire Sonnets was a story full of clichés and characters that flopped back and forth between one thing and another. The characters were also hard to like because many of them were very alike and less developed than I would have liked, especially considering the not-so-subtle use of the names of famous British poets.  For example, William Shakespeare is one of the vampires, as is Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Other possible vampire poets include Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, and George Herbert.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of Tristan Grey, a newly turned vampire, although there are some sonnets that seem to be written from the point of view of other characters.  Tristan is characterized throughout the verse drama as being inhuman and then human again (in his mentality), loving his so-called “brothers,”  who are the vampires his new vampire mistress/queen turned before him, and then hating them for being unrepentant monsters.  I understand that because the author is writing this story in the form of several sonnets (which, in total, span less than 100 pages) that he will be somewhat constrained in the construction of his world and characters.  That is no excuse, however, for having inconsistent characterizations.

Starting off with the main character Tristan; he is the worst offender of the crime of “wishy-washy” mentality.  Some sonnets, he is without a conscience, a vampire willing and able to kill those he feeds upon.  Then in one sonnet, he decides he’s going to stop feeding all together, after having killed a prostitute.  There is no indication as to why this particular woman was the catalyst to his change of heart, or that he had just killed to many people to continue “living” as he was.  It’s very abrupt, and makes later passages seem to be even more out-of-place, if this is to be taken as truth.  Later in the verse drama, he is angered over human beings who are hunting vampires and who have captured one of his “brothers,” Samuel.  Tristan thinks of nothing but anger, hatred, and death to the humans because they have dared to capture one of his beloved brothers.  This is in spite of the fact that there really seems to be no reason for him to even like any of the other vampires, especially since they seemed hostile or indifferent to his being added to their number, except that the author decrees that it be so.  It’s a case of telling the audience that he loves his brothers-in-undeath instead of showing why he should and why he has come to feel as we are told he does. Even later than this, Tristan and a dear friend of his from before becoming a vampire meet and he feels very little of the old sentiment at that time.  Then near the end of the verse drama, they’re back to being best buds, at least in Tristan’s eyes.  It is just inconsistently done, especially considering how it could have been made believable if there were more sonnets to flesh out the storyline and characters.

All of the poet-vampires are underdeveloped as characters, making me think that Bradsher bit off more than he could chew.  They are all very similar, with only small snippets of personality, aside from William.  He is still a pretty “cardboard” character, and seems to have lost almost all of what made him special as a human.  The vampire mistress/queen of this “coven” is Nina, who is about as psycho as they come.  She, like Tristan, flies to both ends of the characterization spectrum.  This could actually be accepted though, as the parts where she claims to love her vampire creations, including Tristan, could possibly be showing a mask she uses to manipulate others.  There’s also some inconsistency with her appearance; at times she is as beautiful and seductive as a siren, and somewhat characterized as such, while at others she is envisioned as a crone, with wrathful red eyes and entombed in a body in varying states of decay.  This is again, a part that could be accepted as good characterization if there had been any kind of explanation of vampire powers indicating that she could hide what she truly looked like under some kind of glamor.  Besides having enhanced speed, strength and healing capabilities, the vampires are not attributed any “powers.”

SPOILERS AHEAD, BEWARE

The characters were the biggest problem I had with this work.  I didn’t like the story in part because I didn’t care enough about any of the characters to care what they did, if they died, or whether or not they found their magically reincarnated love from their past life, who, oddly enough, cannot be turned into a vampire.  Yes, I said it, and it’s true:  Tristan’s love from his mortal life is back, and without a vengeance, as she… dies again.  Cliché time:  Tristan’s mortal beloved is somehow able to “cure” him of some of his vampire-ness because he can stand the sun – sometimes.  Then the evil vampiress who transformed him kills her, even though there’s no mention of how she found out about Maggie/Mary.  It just happened one night, by “the author says so” magic.  I already didn’t like the story, as it didn’t seem to be really building in any way, and then this particular storyline threw it over a bridge.

In terms of writing, outside of the story and the characters, the sonnets are mostly well done in terms of technicality.  There was one sonnet which had a mistake that disqualified it as a sonnet – a word left out is really important in poetry, especially when it is distinct from other types of poetry through specific requirements in rhyme and meter.  There were some issues I had with some of the words picked; “vampire” was replaced with words I don’t consider synonymous, such as “demon,” “incubus,” “succubus,” and “siren.”  There may be certain similarities among these fictional creatures, but I do not consider them the same thing.  I also had issue with the word “coven” as I consider that to mean a group of witches, although it is apparently a sometimes valid term for a group of vampires.  I’d never heard it used this way until this verse drama, so I looked it up. A few sources listed it as correct, while others listed the correct term as “clan,” “flock,” or even “pack,” which I feel pertains more to werewolves.  The reason the terminology bothers me is because this is a story told in poetry, and it is a very short book of work.  Every single word is going to count more than in a normal novel length work.  Every word is important to the imagery that the audience will create in their minds when reading this, and having a term that seems incorrect can completely burst your bubble of creativity.

Honestly, I think if I elaborated any more on why I didn’t like this work, I might make a bully of myself, if I haven’t succeeded already in that regard.

Edit:  Although I didn’t like this particular work, you might.  Here is a link for further information:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=47383438565

And we also have pictures of the cover and the author:

Secondary Edit:  I left out certain details and discussions on certain characters so as to not be entirely spoiler-ish.

Posted by: Sarah | January 9, 2011

Hello world!

This is my very first blog post ever.  I’m going to be writing about all sorts of things, mainly books and other story media.

Categories