Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber



Vampire Kisses
Ellen Schreiber

Genre: YA Urban FantasyParanormal Romance
Paperback: 253 Pages
Publication: July 26, 2005 (originally 2003)
by HarperTrophy



In her small town, dubbed "Dullsville," sixteen-year-old Raven — a vampire-crazed goth-girl — is an outcast. But not for long... The intriguing and rumored-to-be haunted mansion on top of Benson Hill has stood vacant and boarded-up for years. That is, until its mysteriously strange new occupants move in. Who are these creepy people — especially the handsome, dark, and elusive Alexander Sterling? Or rather, what are they? Could the town prattle actually ring true? Are they vampires? Raven, who secretly covets a vampire kiss, both at the risk of her own mortality and Alexander's loving trust, is dying to uncover the truth. 

Review

I was in high school when the Twilight craze was at its strongest, and I was a fan at first. But around the time the movie came out my junior year, I decided that I needed to look for some new vampires, preferably some that didn't sparkle. I actually read most of this series in high school, but I thought it would be good to revisit it and see if it holds up as well for an adult as it did for a teenage girl.

Schreiber's writing is fresh and light, definitely easy enough for a tween to follow. I did find a few inconsistencies in timing and details, but these were probably minor enough that wouldn't really bother younger readers. There is a bit of angst thrown in for teens to relate to, but it's not done in a heavy-handed way. There's plenty of humor, and seeing a Goth girl get the best of preppy boys made for some good laughs, whether you're a Goth or not.

Personally, I love and hate Raven at the same time. I love her because she is spunky and sassy, stands up for herself and what she believes in, and cares for her best friend and family even though they don't agree with or share her lifestyle choices. I hate her because her sassiness sometimes borders on making her look like a brat and at times her tastes seem a little... extreme in keeping with cliches, if you will. Something I think people should keep in mind (and that I wish I had known a few years ago) before reading this book is that Ellen Schreiber was a comedian before becoming a writer. Raven is a parody of Goths, what with wearing black lipstick every day, obsessing over vampires, and automatically hating any article of clothing that isn't black. As a Goth myself, I frequently found myself rolling my eyes or giggling at her, as I still embrace some of those cliches at my age.

Most of the other characters were bland, and this was really disappointing. We get quite a bit on how Raven's parents were hippies when they first met, but there isn't really any description about how they came to become more conservative. As soon as Raven's little brother Billy was born, their parents trade in the lava lamps and seventies paraphernalia for Tiffany lamps and business suits. Lack of braces and glasses aside, Billy is a stereotypical computer nerd and annoying little brother. Raven's best friend Becky is a shy and mousy farm girl, mostly acting as Raven's shadow. The antagonist, popular jock Trevor Mitchell, had the potential to be interesting, but that promise fell short, since we are never told why he constantly picks on Raven. Since this is the first book in the series, there will hopefully be some more development on these characters later on.

This book features probably the best teenage vampire I've read about, and we don't see him as much as I would like. We do run into Alexander once or twice in the first half of the book, but he doesn't actually do anything. When he does start to get more screen time, we can see that he really seems like an average, somewhat sheltered guy. He's definitely the opposite of the cool and confident Trevor. He's sweet and kind and very polite, and is later revealed to be something of a romantic. Even though we don't get to spend a lot of time with him, what we do get is enjoyable.

Film critic Leonard Maltin once called Jaws a "miracle" movie, because everything that could've gone wrong went wrong. The same could be said for this book, but in terms of coincidences. It seemed that every piece of evidence that could prove Alexander to be a vampire had some sort of explanation. It actually got to the point where I was expecting him to turn out to just be a normal boy, but then came the reveal in the last few chapters, which felt a lot like the twist ending of a Goosebumps book. I'm also not sure what to make of the ending. It's a good thing that this isn't a standalone book because, by the end, the story feels like it still has something to say. The last chapter practically sets you up for the sequel and leaves you wondering what will happen.

This book isn't horrible, but it isn't stellar either. Lack of character depth and overuse of stereotypes aside, this was a pretty fun read. Despite being something of a caricature, Raven is a likable enough protagonist, and Alexander as a love interest is intriguing and sweet. The mystery and reveal could've been handled better, but there were quite a few moments that provided great laughs throughout the book. This is definitely a teen and tween friendly read, and this book is definitely better than that other series we've come to make so much fun of.

Rating: 3 stars


Series
  1. Vampire Kisses
  2. Kissing Coffins
  3. Vampireville
  4. Dance With a Vampire
  5. The Coffin Club
  6. Royal Blood
  7. Love Bites
  8. Cryptic Cravings
  9. Immortal Hearts

Similar Books
  • Vampire Crush by AM Robinson
  • Got Fangs? by Katie Maxwell
  • Pulse by Kailin Gow
Content
  • Kissing
  • Biting
  • Some physical confrontation

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: Needful Things by Stephen King



Needful Things
Stephen King

Genre: Horror
Hardcover: 690 Pages
Publication: October 1991
by Viking



Leland Gaunt opens a new shop in Castle Rock called Needful Things. Anyone who enters his store finds the object of his or her lifelong dreams and desires: a prized baseball card, a healing amulet. In addition to a token payment, Gaunt requests that each person perform a little "deed," usually a seemingly innocent prank played on someone else from town. These practical jokes cascade out of control and soon the entire town is doing battle with itself. Only Sheriff Alan Pangborn suspects that Gaunt is behind the population's increasingly violent behavior.


Review

I'll start by saying this: you don't want to rush through this book. There's a lot going on in Needful Things, and you will definitely want to take your time with it. I had to learn the hard way, hence why this review took me a little longer than usual. That being said, let's move on.

I'm always happy to be reading Stephen King, and Needful Things was another delight. I loved the references to other King works, and while I had to look up a few, there were some that were familiar to me. Characters from Cujo and The Dead Zone came up in passing, as did Shawshank Prison. (I also couldn't help but picture Ace Merrill from "The Body" in Different Seasons as looking like Keifer Sutherland, who played him in the movie adaptation of said novella.) Protagonist Alan and his girlfriend Polly were great characters, both revealed to be people struggling with painful personal losses. How they come to cope with these not only shows how strong their relationship is, but also helps in defeating the antagonist.

As I said in my review of Something Wicked This Way Comes, every great horror story needs a great antagonist, and Mr. Gaunt is a devilishly good antagonist. Call it the wave of nineties nostalgia that's hit me lately, but he came across as an evil version of Sardo from Are You Afraid of the Dark? (for those of you not familiar with the show, it was a horror anthology series for kids that ran for a while in the nineties. Think like Goosebumps, only darker and creepier.). But whereas Sardo sold magical objects without actually knowing they were magical, Mr. Gaunt uses dark magic to trick his customers into buying his wares. Like Mr. Dark from Something Wicked This Way Comes, Mr. Gaunt is scary because we know very little about him. The things we do learn only enhance the image of him as a boogeyman.

The pacing held very well throughout this novel. There was plenty of intrigue when Needful Things and Mr. Gaunt are first introduced; even though customers leak into the store literally one at a time, their reactions to whatever they buy really makes you wonder about the nature of the shop. But once the first few hints concerning the unusual nature of Needful Things arose, everything quickened. The narrative is separated into the three parts, and the third act was literally where all hell broke loose. There was murder and mayhem going on left and right, and the final confrontation had me racing through the pages because of how insane it was.

As much as I loved the concept of the curio shop that turns out to be sinister, I really loved the way Mr. Gaunt set up the whole town to turn against itself. This book had a seriously similar vibe to the famous Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." I'm a huge TZ fan, and this book just kept making me think that the sort of events that would've unfolded in the episode were more than fulfilled here. If the episode shows just how dangerous paranoia and panic can be, this book shows just what happens when those two things are allowed to spiral out of control.

The biggest problem I had with this book was that it felt too overstuffed. It wasn't so much a problem of there being a lot of characters so much that it seemed like there were too many parts to the big plot Mr. Gaunt set into motion to wreak havoc in Castle Rock. It got hard after a while to remember not just who was "pulling a prank" on whom, but also what they bought and why they went for that specific item. There was also another subplot about the members of two churches getting into a squabble, but that felt kind of tacked on because it didn't really have anything directly to do with Needful Things nor with Mr. Gaunt.

I thought the ending to this book was really unsettling. We get the reveal about Mr. Gaunt, which should probably be obvious to some after seeing the effects his wares have on the people who buy them, but it was still pretty creepy. The end of the actual narrative came to an uneasy conclusion in my mind, the sort where the characters end up in the least worst possible outcome. The lesser of two evils, if that makes sense, since what becomes of Mr. Gaunt isn't one hundred percent clear. The epilogue hints that the story isn't exactly over, and it's that uncertainty that makes the ending so successful.

Again, this is *not* a book you want to try speeding through. Because of the web of manipulation speared on by Mr. Gaunt and how complicated it is, one can get tangled up in it very easily, no pun intended. That being said, the way Mr. Gaunt's plot to turn everyone in Castle Rock against each other worked well, and our protagonists were fairly likable and clever enough to catch on to the strangeness of the events going on around them. Great suspense and intrigue and a few good scares made this a really good read.

Rating: 4 stars


Series
  • N/A

Similar Books
  • The Monsters are Due on Maple Street by Rod Serling and Mark Kneece
  • In the Dark by Richard Laymon
Content
  • Strong language
  • Some sex
  • Graphic violence
  • Graphic depictions of murder
  • Drug use

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice



Interview with the Vampire
Anne Rice

Genre: Gothic Horror
Paperback: 342 Pages
Publication: September 13, 1991 (originally April 12, 1976)
by Ballantine Books



This is the story of Louis, as told in his own words, of his journey through mortal and immortal life. Louis recounts how he became a vampire at the hands of the radiant and sinister Lestat and how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life. His story ebbs and flows through the streets of New Orleans, defining crucial moments such as his discovery of the exquisite lost young child Claudia, wanting not to hurt but to comfort her with the last breaths of humanity he has inside. Yet, he makes Claudia a vampire, trapping her womanly passion, will, and intelligence inside the body of a small child. Louis remembers Claudia's struggle to understand herself and the hatred they both have for Lestat that sends them halfway across the world to seek others of their kind. But they find that finding others like themselves provides no easy answers and in fact presents dangers they scarcely imagined.


Review

So, I know I've mentioned this before, but for anyone new to my reviews, I'll say it again: I absolutely LOVE vampires. I'd heard of Anne Rice when I was in high school, but I didn't actually get to read her until college, when an absolutely awesome professor of mine included Pandora (from the New Tales of the Vampires) on our required reading list my freshman year. I decided to start from the beginning and picked this book up for the first time a few months after that. Since the series was picked up again with the release of Prince Lestat a little less than two weeks ago, I figured it was time to revisit this book and remember why I had enjoyed it so much.

I love Anne Rice's style of writing. While it's not as complex or lush as that of Poppy Z. Brite and Neil Gaiman, it has some complexity to it but also a simplicity that makes it easy to follow. I can actually believe that the words are coming from Louis, and this enhances his characterization as a refined, articulate gentleman who was made into a vampire and has lived for centuries. The descriptions of all the places visited by the vampires were beautifully rendered, though there were a few places where I would've liked to spend more time, in particular towards the end of the novel.

This is a book  whose antagonist just screams for attention. Lestat is one of those rare villains whom I love to hate. He comes across as seductive and magnetic, especially because of his physical appearance, and you are as mesmerized by him as Louis is. As the story progresses and you get to see more of his character, you start to wonder why you found him so fascinating in the beginning. He is so mean towards Louis and definitely lives up to his nickname of the Brat Prince. But then come the last few pages of the novel, and he is portrayed in a somewhat sympathetic light. I have to admit that I actually felt a little bad for him and wanted to know what became of him after Louis left.

Since I was in high school when the romantic teen vampire trend hit the hardest, I was more than happy to see these vampires. Not only were they incredibly beautiful, but I really believed that they were dangerous, especially when reading about their kills. Though we're not given a lot on their mythos and what we do get is kind of vague, there is enough to figure out that they share some traits with classic vampires (no exposure to sunlight, only around at night, sleeping in a coffin, etc.). I also loved how Rice portrayed individual differences among vampires, even among the three we spend the most time with. This really helped to make them seem more human, despite being supernatural creatures.

My one complaint about this book would probably be the pacing. While there are parts where the action and dialogue flow really well, almost beautifully, there are some sections that can get a bit tedious and drawn out. It could be due to the fact that the book lives up to its title; it's an interview, Louis recounting the events of his immortal life as he remembers them. It would probably be natural for there to be moments where the story lulls but these felt to me like they were dragging more than necessary.

However, this stretching out of moments could also have been a ploy for characterization, since Louis is shown to be really contemplative. The nature of the vampires can raise some really interesting topics for discussion, in particular the price of immortality. This is probably what Louis thinks about the most and, though I've seen this happen with a few characters from other stories, his case is different because of what he has to do in order to maintain that immortality. I also really liked how the kid interviewing Louis gets a firsthand demonstration of what vampires have to do and how nicely it sets you up for the sequel.

Of course, I also have to throw in a good word for the film adaptation. While some scenes were cut or swapped out for something else and I'm not entirely sure what they were thinking with some of the casting choices (as much as I love Antonio Banderas, I don't see him as Armand), the rest of it was pretty good in my book. Kirsten Dunst was fabulous as Claudia, and I ended up liking Tom Cruise's Lestat better than I thought I would. Not to mention the fact that Brad Pitt made for an incredibly gorgeous vampire. It's more mellow and has more humorous moments than the book, so you might want to take that into consideration before checking it out.

Pick this one up. Even if you're not as crazy about vampires as I am, there are a lot of things people can appreciate, from the writing to the questions of immortality and how it can affect someone. Lengthy and dragging sections aside, the characters are incredibly memorable, the action is great, and the writing is fantastic. This book is a staple of vampire literature for a reason.

Rating: 4 stars


Series
  1. Interview with the Vampire
  2. The Vampire Lestat
  3. The Queen of the Damned
  4. The Tale of the Body Thief
  5. Memnoch the Devil
  6. The Vampire Armand
  7. Merrick
  8. Blood and Gold
  9. Blackwood Farm
  10. Blood Canticle
  11. Prince Lestat
Similar Books
  • Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
  • Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman
  • Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins
Content
  • Violence
  • Kissing
  • Nudity
  • Scenes with intense erotic undertones
  • Mentions of arousal
  • Some gore
  • Some graphic depictions of murder

Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury



The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury

Genre: FantasySupernatural
Paperback: 145 Pages
Publication: September 7, 1999 (originally 1972)
by Yearling



Eight costumed boys running to meet their friend Pipkin at the haunted house outside town encounter instead the huge and cadaverous Mr. Moundshroud. As Pipkin scrambles to join them, he is swept away by a dark Something, and Moundshroud leads the boys on the tail of a kite through time and space to search the past for their friend and the meaning of Halloween. 

Review

Happy Halloween, readers! When I saw that my review for this week would fall on the best day of the year, there was no other thought on my mind. I HAD to read this book; the occasion was JUST right for it. Not to mention the fact that I also started the month with another Bradbury review, so it only made sense to close it with one.

I loved Bradbury's prose in this book. Since it's for a younger audience than the last book of his I read, the words were somewhat simpler, certainly easy enough for a kid but still at a level to where an adult can read the book. The descriptions were fantastic, especially of Mr. Moundshroud and his varying appearances, as well as the Halloween Tree itself. All of the places the boys travel to and the sights they see were very well painted and easy to picture. The fact that the boys travel through space and time to see how Halloween traditions got their starts was really great, especially because they went to places that tied in with the costumes they were wearing. The sequences where the boys see the traditions in motion were incredibly well done also and could make for interesting discussion, especially with kids, about how Halloween is celebrated in different cultures.

Of the characters, I really liked Mr. Moundshroud. For any Are You Afraid of the Dark? fans reading this, he kind of reminded me of Sardo, the owner of the magic shop who sold magical objects to the protagonists of the stories. Moundshroud serves as a guide to the boys on their journey and changes his appearance according to where they end up, which I really liked. He's not an antagonist, but there is a secret revealed about him towards the end that really makes sense when you think about it.

While this may not be much of a problem for younger readers, I had a little trouble keeping track of the characters. The number of them wasn't so much the issue as was the lack of real characterization. It also got confusing about halfway through the book when the narrative started to call the boys by their names; before that, they were called by the costumes they wore (beggar, mummy, ghost, etc.). I also would've liked a little more on the friendship among the nine boys, especially on the main eight's relationship with Pipkin. We're told that he's pretty the best friend these kids could ask for, but I wanted more justification for those feelings.

Like the last Bradbury book I reviewed, there was an interesting message lying under the events of this story. Here, we get the question of just how much you would do for a friend, in particular a friend who is very dear to you. Though the boys are only eleven or twelve years old, they make a decision that would even be difficult for a group of adults to make. I think their ability to do this so easily also serves as a comment on their innocence; since they're such young boys, they don't know about the craziness that can come about with grudges and petty arguments. Since these are things they don't seem to be familiar with, they don't hesitate to pay the price for Pipkin's safe return.

Overall, this is definitely a book I would recommend for kids or for anyone with that childlike sense of imagination and wonder. The adventure the characters go on is great fun to follow along, and the underlying thought behind the story is touching, but not in a cheesy way. And it all takes place on the best night of all, Halloween! Seriously, check this book out. Again, happy Halloween, readers! Have fun and stay spooky.

Rating: 4.5 stars


Series
  • N/A

Similar Books
  • Gods of the Nowhere by James Tipper
  • The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs
Content
  • Some scary imagery

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: The Crow: Quoth the Crow by David Bischoff



The Crow: Quoth the Crow
David Bischoff

Genre: Urban FantasyHorror
Paperback: 277 Pages
Publication: January 1998
by HarperPrism



William Blessing is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. Like Poe, he is a writer of dark fantasy. And like Poe, he has powerful enemies. One of them pretends to be a friend, even as he plots to murder William and steal his wife. Blessing's only hope is to learn the truth about his "friend" before -- But this is the realm of the Crow, where the grave is the doorway to the truth. William must walk through it to discover Poe's final secret. Then, and only then, with the help of a dark-winged "Raven," can he return to feed on the human carrion who raped his wife and slaughtered his soul. 

Review

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this in another review, but I'll go ahead and say it again: I am a HUGE fan of The Crow. Any cult film enthusiast is probably familiar with this film, but for those of you who haven't seen this wonderful piece of cinema, do yourself a favor and watch it. I first saw the movie when I was twelve and instantly loved it, so you can probably imagine how much I shrieked with glee when I found out that there was a whole Crow franchise, including novels. I'd already read one of these novels before picking this one up a while back, so I was more than excited for this book.

For those of you who are new to the Crow universe, the basic gist of the original and all its spinoffs is this: a person unjustly killed is resurrected by an unknown force, given a crow as a guide, and has to go out and set the wrong things right, usually getting revenge on those who killed them. In this particular instance, we get Dr. William Blessing, a Poe scholar and collector, who is brutally murdered in a botched plan that has gone horribly awry.

This novel confused me in the first few chapters but I later realized why I was so thrown off. In previous Crow stories I've read and seen, the whole thing starts when the person (referred to as the Crow with a capital C) is brought back to life by the bird and figures out that they're back and why, with memories of the past being thrown in during flashbacks. Though the prologue takes place during the revenge part of the plot, the first half of this novel sets up the unfortunate circumstances for Dr. Blessing that lead to his being brought back to life as a Crow. Maybe it's because I'm so used to the standard formula, but I struggled a little with reading the first half of this novel.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about some of the characters. I don't have a problem with Dr. Blessing and his wife Amy as characters; they're fairly well developed, and we're given good details on their relationship. I also have to give the author bonus points for the Poe reference in their relationship (Amy is essentially a child bride, as was Poe's own wife, Virginia). However, when it comes to the antagonists, I have very mixed feelings. They're actually somewhat smart and come up with plans that sound like they could work, but I feel like we're not given enough information on them. Two didn't really feel like antagonists so much as they did just random accomplices who really didn't realize what they were getting themselves into. I seriously thought that one of them was suffering from some sort of delusion, but because this was never confirmed, the doubt remained. I'm not sure if that makes him a stronger antagonist or a scarier one, but he was still a genuinely creepy character either way.

This book did something that no other Crow story I've read has done besides the original: it gave the bird itself a personality. In James O'Barr's original comic, the crow makes appearances throughout the book, usually chastising the protagonist for getting caught up in his feelings and forgetting about his mission. In the films and the other books I've read, the bird is just a familiar, the one who silently guides the resurrected Crow and helps them in tracking down their enemies. Here, the bird appears from the beginning and is even described as having a Brooklyn accent, which gave me a good laugh. It talks to Blessing, presumably telepathically, and its "voice" comes across as very wisecracking, but in a funny way and not annoying.

As you can probably guess by the title, there are a lot of Poe references throughout this book. Every chapter started with a quote from famous Poe works such as "The Black Cat," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Raven," among several others. Morbid as it may sound, I loved the fact that Blessing takes inspiration from Poe stories when he gets revenge, quoting the stories when taking out each of his assailants and their accomplices. The ways in which he kills them got some graphic descriptions, but the way he ties the deaths in with Poe was just really clever, so I feel like that aspect of the revenge plot deserves some praise.

Going off of that, I liked how the Poe theme was tied into the mythos of the Crow universe. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to find that Blessing was the Crow in this book, mostly because, at forty-seven years old, he is the oldest character I've encountered to have taken on the role. This isn't a bad thing, and it was a nice personal touch on the part of the author. Each Crow varies slightly from author to author, and I thought it was interesting that the author of this book chose not to give Blessing the iconic Crow makeup (which has also been incarnated in masks or facial scarring). I also have to give big kudos on Blessing's strengths and weaknesses as the Crow, particularly in how he starts to decompose if he drifts away from his mission and how his thirst for revenge and love for his wife can heal him.

And then there was the ending. My Goth, that ending. Like in the beginning of the book, the first few pages of the epilogue felt a little off, but then the last pages brought everything together and made for a grimly satisfying ending. It tied up some minor details that were mentioned in passing with two chapters that initially felt really out of place with the rest of the narrative, bringing them together with the rest of the story really well. This ending had a strong Tales From the Crypt feel to it, and I just loved it.

This book gave me a great and very pleasant surprise. The beginning was a little slow and kind of clunky for my liking, but once the revenge plot was set into motion, it really picked up the pace of the narrative. There were some decent characters, and all of the Poe references were great. The plot was relatively solid, and the ending was probably the best thing overall of the novel. If you want a good revenge story with some great references to classic literature, this is the book for you.

Rating: 4.5 stars


Series

  1. The Crow: Quoth the Crow
  2. The Crow: The Lazarus Heart
  3. The Crow: Clash By Night
  4. The Crow: Temple of Night
  5. The Crow: Wicked Prayer
  6. The Crow: Hellbound

Similar Books
  • The Crow: Wild Justice by Jerry Prosser and Charlie Adlard
Content
  • Some language
  • Some drug references
  • Strong violence
  • Implied and attempted rape
  • Graphic depictions of murder
  • Implied cannibalism

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite



Drawing Blood
Poppy Z. Brite

Genre: LGBQTHorror
Paperback: 403 Pages
Publication: October 1994
by Dell



Robert McGee is a man living under a dark cloud. Acclaimed cartoonist of the underground comic book Birdland, he has moved his family from Texas to New Orleans and finally to Missing Mile, North Carolina. But Robert is unable to escape the drinking and the violence that have become as natural to him as breathing. Soon after he and his family settle into a decrepit farmhouse, Robert kills his wife, his younger son, and then himself. Only his five-year-old son, Trevor, is left alive. 
Twenty years later Trevor McGee, also a cartoonist, returns to Missing Mile to the house in which his family once lived. He has been running from the truth for years, and finally realizes he must face his demons. He fears that what happened to his father will happen to him. But if it does, Trevor thinks, at least I won't have anyone to kill. Then he befriends Zachary Bosch, a computer hacker from New Orleans running from the law. In the house, which Trevor calls Birdland, they must confront much more than bad memories. For the house itself carries its own dark force, which threatens to envelop Trevor in the past and destroy him.


Review

After falling in love with his short stories my freshman year of college, I knew that I had to have more Poppy Z. Brite on my bookshelves. I'd actually seen this book at my local used bookstore a few times before deciding to actually buy it. Even though the title threw me for a bit of a loop, the book didn't disappoint at all.

Brite never ceases to amaze with his attention to detail, in particular to settings. The places we visit in New Orleans come across as exotic and fascinating, ranging from a shady strip club to the French Market, the latter of which contained the most beautiful description of produce I've ever read and made me crave some sugar cane. Brite's hardcore fans will immediately recognize the kudzu and small-town feel of Missing Mile, and it was great to explore more parts of the small town. Even if this is your first time rolling into the town, there are plenty of details given for you to remember it in the future, and some of these even expand knowledge of the town for those who have read Brite before.

Once again, we follow four characters (for the most part) in alternating chapters; besides Trevor and Zach, we see bar owner Kinsey Hummingbird and Zach's best friend, stripper Eddy Sung. Even though Brite's Steve and Ghost are my favorite duo to read about, I really loved Zach and Trevor. They serve as great complements to each other and stand incredibly well individually. Kinsey, a character previously introduced in the novel Lost Souls, gets a considerably bigger role in this book and is one of my favorite secondary characters in the Brite universe. Sassy and the only woman for most of the story, Eddy is a strong female character; her relationship with Zach was portrayed as strong and showed how much mutual respect and caring there was between them, though more in a platonic light.

When it comes to horror stories, I'm usually not a big fan of haunted house stories and tend to be more of a creature-feature girl. That being said, I genuinely liked the atmosphere of the house on Violin Road. Since we see the events leading up to the McGee murder-suicide, there is no denying what will become of the house. The things that happen when Trevor and Zach live there are way beyond anything you would see in one of the Paranormal Activity movies, including terrifying hallucinations that regularly made them question their sanity. As I once heard said about haunted house stories, the question on all our minds is "Why don't the characters leave?". The answer is pretty straightforward in this book: they have nowhere else to go. Trevor wants to know why his father let him live, and Zach is on the run. These two really have no other place they can go but the house on Violin Road.

What I really loved about this book was how it raised questions that could lead to some really interesting discussions. Little events sprinkled throughout the novel make you wonder about the nature of relationships, not just between romantic partners but also between friends and family members. One of my favorite moments that poses such a question is when Trevor thinks he can count Zach and Kinsey as his family because of what they have done for him. The purpose of life, what things are worth their risk, and how much a person can mean to you are some of the other big themes brought up in the story, and how they manage to come up in a story such as this honestly amazes me (in a good way, of course).

Since I've been a Brite fan for a few years now, I had a lot of fun spotting all of the references to some of his other works. The ever-popular Steve and Ghost are mentioned a few times; we are told that they have gone on tour after a gig they played in New York (which is the basis of the short story "How To Get Ahead in New York," printed in the collection Wormwood, which those of you curious enough can check out here). Kinsey and his bar, the Sacred Yew, were already familiar from Lost Souls, as were Terry Buckett, his best friend R.J. Miller, and Terry's record store, the Whirling Disc. Fun fact: Brite's original title for this book was Birdland, but the publishers told him to change it because of the references to places and characters mentioned in Lost Souls (you can check out my review on it here). I think Birdland made more sense as a title but I'll give the publishers points for wanting to tie the books together. You don't have to read one to get the other but doing so lets you in on more of the references.

This is one of the few of Poppy Brite's stories that actually has a somewhat happy ending. The tale of Trevor and Zach came to what I thought was a good close, but they happened to pop up in another short story titled "Vine of the Soul" (printed in the collection Are You Loathsome Tonight?, which you can check out here). It takes place seven years after the events of Drawing Blood, and they seem to still be as happy in the short story as they come to be in the novel.

There's no other way for me to put it: this book was a real pleasure to read (or re-read, in my case). Brite's writing is always a welcome sight for me, and these characters were fun to meet and, in some cases, reconnect with. The relationships between characters were rendered really well, and the romance that develops has a good end. The scares were great, but ultimately the questions the book makes you ponder are even better.

Rating: 5 stars


Series
  • N/A

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Content
  • Strong language
  • Graphic violence
  • Sex
  • Frequent drug references
  • Disturbing imagery