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Book Review: Dark Days of The Supernatural – ‘Cryptic Cravings’ By Ellen Schreiber

Book Review: Dark Days of The Supernatural – ‘Cryptic Cravings’ By Ellen Schreiber

Cryptic Cravings is the eighth novel of the Vampires Kisses series by New York Times bestselling author Ellen Schreiber. It is also part of HarperTeen’s summer Dark Days of the Supernatural series, giving young minds and adults alike the paranormal romance and dark mystery they crave.

Raven Madison’s “morbidly monotonous” town of Dullsville has finally become the epicenter of excitement with the addition of her vampire boyfriend, Alexander Sterling, aka secret vampire-in-residence. Although concerned about when, or if, he will induct her into eternal vampire-hood, Raven is blissful as his mortal girlfriend. Her excitement is taken to the next level when the star-crossed lovers happen upon a group of vampires making residence in the town’s rundown old mill

Her bliss is mixed with woe when she learns the group of bloodsuckers not only includes friends of Alexander but also former-foe Jagger and his equally adversarial twin Luna. Jagger’s secret plans for a new club, the Crypt, in Dullsville are discovered by Raven and Alexander. With a checkered past, can Jagger be trusted to open a mortal-friendly dance club or does he have other plans?

Raven is torn between wanting a dance club in her boring town, a club that will meet her macabre desires, while also wanting to keep Alexander’s existence a secret and the town mortals safe. Her torment is further complicated by Alexander’s friend Sebastian and his fiery romantic relationship with Luna. Will Alexander ever give Raven the bite she craves?

I am familiar with Schreiber, having reviewed “Once In A Full Moon” earlier this year. I was drawn to the interesting werewolf love saga hidden within the pages of ho-hum storytelling. With that in mind, as well as her status as a New York Times bestselling author, I figure she has a significant fan base so there must be something to the Vampire Kisses series to keep readers coming back for more.

“Cryptic Cravings” begins with Raven admitting “Dullsville” was “no longer dull” because she’s madly in love with Alexander and witnessed a vampire bite for the first time in her “vampire-obsessed existence.” It took me a page or two to realize Raven wasn’t being sarcastic, her town really is named Dullsville. The town she wishes she lived in, several towns away, is Hipsterville. Schreiber should describe the towns, especially what makes them boring and hip, instead of simply calling them Dullsville and Hipsterville. Please, I can figure it out when you describe boring and hip aspects of the towns. I understand it’s meant to be humorous but I found it distracting.

Also, Raven’s been obsessed with vampires her entire life, yet, as I learn later on, has a normal family? How did this happen? Perhaps it was explained in a previous novel, since there are seven books filled with information about Raven, but instead of Wednesday Addams from “The Addams Family” I don’t see how Raven could be named Raven and be obsessed with vampires since birth (as she admits) with mom, dad and nerdy brother nuclear family unit. Also, she’s been living according to her own rules since she was born, which makes no sense and is a cliched phrase.

Obviously I’m over-analzying and should read on, enjoy the lighthearted fluff and relax, a la authors like Janet Evanovich or a theatrical romantic comedy.

So, I read on. I thought, perhaps this book would appeal to the goth/outsider crowd but then realized it’s somewhat demeaning. Insulting in its use of cliche after cliche and fumbling writing.
Trying to stay positive, I thought maybe as a teen I’d like to read this and went back and forth over this thought until I figured not so much.

Reading this story reminded me of when something trivial happens yet makes you crack. Maybe someone cuts you off in traffic or makes an offhand comment about your bad hair day. Whatever it is, it’s the cherry on top of countless things building up over time. With “Cryptic Cravings” I underlined and circled flaw after flaw, cliche after cliche, inconsistent and unlikely happenings and inconsistent characters to the point it became too much, taking it past the level of light, silly reading to ridiculousness.

Raven has pale skin, black fingernail polish, combat boots, lavender lipstick and uses corpse white cover-up. Fine. That’s information needed to develop a picture of her character. However, Schreiber took this to the next level, using terms such as a “morbidly monotonous town,” the smokestacks on the building resembling “grave markers,” Jagger driving a hearse and Scarlet a white Beetle painted to look like a skull, Raven listening to music by The Skeletons … there are morbid and wickedly cool outfits, wicked nail polish, morbid matchmaking, a haunting dance club … OK. I get it. She likes death and vampires. Stop suffocating me.

Other terms seemed out of place, like the use of soda jerk, as well as overly cutesy descriptions, including head-over-Doc-Martens, her house of Hello Kitty cards falling down, and blowing the coffin-lid off the secret identity of her vampire boyfriend. Overkill.

I get fluff. I love fluff. It’s fun, lighthearted and easy-to-read for teens and also for adults, who want to escape from serious adult-land for pages at a time. I understand. However, many things in “Cryptic Cravings” are absurd.

Raven and Alexander are peeking in on Jagger and Sebastian at night, trying to find out their plans, and Raven’s foot slips. The jig is up and the vampires hear but, luckily, a pigeon was walking along the window ledge so Alexander tosses a twig near the bird and it, in turn, is startled and flies away. Nocturnal pigeons in the country. Interesting.

Also, everything happens so fast. Raven goes back to investigate the club the next to day to see what’s been accomplished (in one night) and sneaks into a room filled with the vampires sleeping in coffins. When reaching Jagger’s coffin she hears the faint sounds of breathing? Breathing? Do they breathe? Schreiber used all the vampire cliches — turning into bats, nocturnal vision, sleeping in coffins, hanging out in cemeteries, inability to see their reflections or show up on film — but they breathe? They also seem to chew gum and drink strawberry shakes as shown by Luna, and Alexander and Jagger can flush red with anger. Hmm. Luckily Raven finds blueprints for the club so her secret mission wasn’t in vain. How convenient. She takes part of the sketching because Jagger “wouldn’t notice if one was missing.” Um, yeah he would.
More absurdness includes Raven’s friend Becky taking pictures of the vampires, who keep not turning up in the photos, but no one seems to show major concern when she whips out her camera, except for a few isolated times.

Also, Raven uses a flashlight on another secret fact-finding mission even though she’s with Alexander, who can see in the dark. Her flashlight must not work too well since she still manages to hit her head, which bleeds and fills the room with an intoxicating scent for the vampires they are trying to hide from.
Other absurdity includes Alexander parking his car a “safe distance” from the mill, so safe it never is seen by people or vampires driving by the abandoned building in a town known for wildfire gossip, must be some hiding spot! Alexander has an alter ego, Phoenix, which is basically him in a costume, yet no one knows. Must be some costume.

Also, Alexander and Raven know Jagger has a secret room to his club and they can’t get access. They confront him and he turns on “headbanging music” and they “all danced for a few hours.” What? New way to win arguments with my husband or friends, just turn on Megadeth mid-argument.

Also, I found Raven’s character confusing, especially how she went back and forth between obsessively wanting the dance club for the town but being concerned for Jagger’s secret plans, the safety of the mortals in the area and the safety of Alexander’s secret as a vampire. The dance club wins, which doesn’t make much sense.

The story is set in a cliche goth vs. prep town. Raven and her vampire friends look macabre, as is expressed through Schreiber’s dark-adjective heavy prose, and everyone else is cliche prep, going to the country club and described as Prada-bees wearing paisley and athletic boys who are secretly attracted to goth girls. Only Becky and her boyfriend seem to be between the black and white extremes, somewhat. Even Jagger, with his jagged and edgy white hair, mismatched eyes and “Possess” tattoo is mesmerizing to Raven. A cliche girl in a cliche world.

Also, the word nefarious was used more than 10 times (maybe 15 or 20 considering I lost count) in the 211 page easy-to-read book. It reminded me of Vizzini in “The Princess Bride” with his overuse of the word inconceivable. When used among a sea of simple terms, nefarious stands out. When used in excess, it becomes ridiculous. Another overused word is cryptic. Cryptic cravings, cryptic cage, cryptic of all clubs, cryptic clique, cryptic endeavor? In the words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Some of the cliches that stand out include: “It was as if he had touched my soul” (Alexander can touch and, also, see into her soul), “Adventure ran through my blood just as much as oxygen did,” and “His soulful eyes stared into mine and I kissed him with all my love.”

I know. I’m dissecting a book meant to be lighthearted. I should take Schreiber’s series for what it is, fluffy, silly, fun reading. The crop circles part was creative, as well as the underlying story. Also, Schreiber’s a bestselling author with a significant fan-base.

However, there is lighthearted reading and then there are books that make no sense, whether you are a young reader or an adult looking for fun supernatural romance. “Cryptic Cravings” is absurd. For all the Ellen Schreiber fans, keep reading, keep enjoying her books because absurd or not, reading is fun because it’s an escape from reality, an escape into another world.

To learn more about the summer supernatural series, visit www.harperteen.com/feature/darkdays/summer/

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Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Amy Plum’s ‘Die For Me’

Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Amy Plum’s ‘Die For Me’

“Die For Me” is the debut book by author Amy Plum and part of HarperTeen’s summer Dark Days of the Supernatural series. The story follows 16-year-old Kate Mercier who is uplifted from New York to leave her past, including memories of her recently deceased parents, behind for a new life with her grandparents in Paris. Although she has her sister, Georgia, for support, she finds the loss unbearable, spending most days indoors until getting the nerve to leave the dark shadows of her bedroom and sit alone in cafes, losing herself in classic literature while her sibling takes on a different therapy treatment, attempting to forget the loss by frequenting various Paris nightclubs.

One day, while lost in Edith Wharton’s “In The Age of Innocence,” Kate catches a young man watching her and an instant spark ignites. He is breathtaking, with longish black hair, olive skin and sea blue eyes complete with thick black lashes. Swoon-worthy. Kate soon learns his name is Vincent and the dance of romance begins, a romance not only hindered by Kate’s fear of loving and losing again but also Vincent’s mysterious, supernatural fate as a revenant — an undead being whose condition forces him to sacrifice his life for others forevermore. The drama is further complicated with a centuries-old battle between good and evil.

Should Kate risk everything for love?

The opening of the story, with Kate clinging to the past when her parents were still alive, creates a character forcing sympathy. Her parents died a week before Christmas and she describes herself as being too “shell-shocked” to put up a fight when her older sister decides the two of them will uproot to Paris. So sad. So instantly I like her, at least feel sorry for her, and form a bond. You can’t dislike a character whose parents just died! My bond deepened pages later upon learning she wears a size 10 shoe … as a fellow victim of larger feet, I couldn’t help but smile.

The reader is soon introduced to Vincent and his description, when Kate first locks eyes on him, is detailed enough to give an idea but leaves the reader open to imagination with terms like “young and beautiful” and “strikingly handsome.”

Although the book is criticized for Kate falling quickly in love with Vincent, I wasn’t so put out by it because, to me, it’s typical of teenage emotions. Kate’s first dates with Vincent are awkward, she spends countless hours thinking of him but is not sure of her feelings. She’s impulsive, rational and emotional. Typical teenage girl behavior if you ask me, especially when Vincent buys a beautiful necklace for a friend with Kate’s help. She quickly becomes jealous, figuring Vincent has a gorgeous girlfriend to match his gorgeousness. When Kate learns about the supernatural qualities of Vincent’s existence, her response is authentic. She doesn’t jump headfirst into the Twilight Zone but ponders various solutions to the dark magic before her eyes.

I also enjoyed the setting. As you read Kate and Vincent’s love story, you also get a view at the loveliness of Paris as they visit restaurants, museums, cafes and other sites. As a small-town American, everything seems more interesting when it’s taking place in Europe.

Although it may seem slow at the beginning and rushed at the end, I enjoyed the buildup to learn more about Vincent and his supernatural fate. Kate doesn’t know what’s going on and neither do I. The plot continues to thicken and become curiouser and curiouser, as I sit back and enjoy the ride … this is because when Kate happens upon some chance information about Vincent’s secret early in the book, it seemed too easy for a coincidence. I found myself thinking, well … maybe it’s fate and she was supposed to find it or maybe the author is just lazy. That’s when I decided reading is about fun and I’m going to go with it and this book, enjoy it for what it is — a fun, summer read. With most books it takes many pages to get into the story, get used to the author’s quirks, and finally get in the groove.

Although a fun read, the book also has negative aspects.

“Die For Me” reeked of the Twilight series with Kate’s introverted personality, unusual teenage sophistication and scholarly love for classic literature. Also stinking of Twilight-ness is her choice between a normal life and love, the quick path into obsessive, lost-without-each-other longing, Vincent’s impossible beauty and strength and his coven of revenants, their attempt at staying away from each other makes them both depressed and mentally unwell, Vincent is old fashioned and respectful towards the “main event.” Hmm … only thing missing was Kate wanting to become a revenant. Looks like Amy Plum should have also thanked Stephanie Meyer for inspiration in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book. However, don’t all books come from an author’s inspiration from other works?

A side note: In her Acknowledgements, as well as jokingly referenced in the story, Plum refers to the revenants as zombies and her book as a zombie love story. Huh. Zombies creep me out so I haven’t sat through many zombie films but, thanks to a fascination by the main man in my life, I am well versed in zombie.

Yes, the most celebrated zombie in literature and film is a dead person reanimated, not simply the Voodoo legend of a hypnotized person. These zombies are typically flesh-eating and are brought back to life after a pandemic disease.

So, revenants were once alive, died, and brought back to life with no real explanation. OK. Also, zombies serve the dead and revenants serve whoever brought them back to life by feeling a deep need to save people from death so, perhaps, that’s similar. However, that’s where the comparison ends.

Zombies are without consciousness and self-awareness. They respond to stimuli, i.e. brains, but definitely aren’t as human-like as the revenants, which resemble some sort of angel, being brought back to life to serve God. Revenants are gorgeous, strong and athletic, eat regular food and are mentally their former selves.

Another negative aspect is the story is ripe with cliches, including Kate feeling she knew Vincent as they gazed upon each other for the first time and “the world around” them froze when their “eyes first met.”

However, for all the cliches and ridiculous metaphors — especially the barf-worthy kind like “the warmth inside me transformed into a flow of lava” — Plum made up for these literary no-nos with the deep, insightful turmoil Kate undergoes, including her comment to Vincent, “If I were to end up loving you, I couldn’t live like that. In constant agony. Knowing that you were going to be resurrected, or whatever it is that you do afterward, wouldn’t be enough to make up for having to live through your death time and time again. You can’t ask me to do it. I can’t do it.” This, in addition to her inner turmoil (“And now I felt myself perched at the rim of the same black abyss I had finally managed to crawl out of a few months earlier. I felt the overwhelming temptation to lean forward, just an inch, and let myself fall headlong into its comforting darkness. The thought of letting my mind leave my body behind was tempting. I wouldn’t even need to be around to clean up the mess.”) helped me forget about the cliches and occasional cheesiness and focus on the best part of this story, Kate’s struggle with loss and love.

So, if you are looking for a fun summer book, read “Die For Me” by Amy Plum. Check out www.harperteen.com/feature/darkdays/summer to keep your summer reading supernatural!

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Movie Review: D.J. Caruso’s ‘I Am Number Four’ On Blu-Ray

Movie Review: D.J. Caruso’s ‘I Am Number Four’ On Blu-Ray

“I Am Number Four” was released Feb. 18, 2011 in the U.S. and I’m reviewing it now. I know. Days late, dollars short. However, I was so disappointed with this film I felt a need to share my grief with all those who read the book, all those who enjoyed the story so much. Maybe you’ve seen the movie and were disappointed. Maybe you haven’t seen it yet. My advice, read the book and skip the film. I am thankful I didn’t waste a ton of dough seeing it in theatres.

So, I read the book last year and wrote a review, which was published Aug. 10, 2010 on www.iconvsicon.com. I summarized the book as:

In “I Am Number Four: Book One of the Lorien Legacies,” nine infant humanoid aliens and their guardians, the Loriens, travel to Earth after their planet is ravaged by the Mogadorians, a violent species. After reaching Earth, the Loriens discover that the Mogadorians are on their trail, planning to annihilate them, and eventually humans, in order to plunder Earth’s resources.

The Lorien guardians keep the children hidden and help them develop their superhuman powers, also known as Legacies (what’s an alien without superhuman powers?) so that they can one day defeat the Mogadorians and go back to their home planet. Each child is assigned a number and, because of a charm cast when leaving Lorien, the children can only be killed in order of their numbers provided that they keep away from one another.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of John Smith, also known as Number Four. Upon discovering that Number Three has been killed, John and his guardian, Henri, move to Paradise, Ohio. Although John usually keeps to himself and has no friends since he is always on the run, he soon finds himself infatuated with a fellow student for the first time (Sarah, the cliché former cheerleader and former girlfriend of the football star). John also makes his first friend (Sam, the cliché nerd who wears NASA T-shirts daily).

I understand some changes will be made to this story in order to mold it into a film. Some things from the book, pieces to the ultimate puzzle, might not translate onscreen and with only so much running time (109 minutes), some things may be left out. You want a good return at the box office, especially with all the special affects “I Am Number Four” producer Michael Bay is known for. OK. I get it.

But, really? Really? So many important parts of the book were left out, so many! A story, whether it’s told by way of movie, TV show or book, has glue binding key chunks of the plot together. The glue gives context to the chunks of the story.

The problem with the movie version of “I Am Number Four” is, to save time, they took out a lot of the glue. There was no context for why the aliens were on Earth, they glossed over the part about their planet being destroyed by Mogadorians, who were hungry for natural resources, which some may say is a metaphor for what may happen to Earth if we keep eating up oil, polluting, etc. like it’s going out of style. They decided to gloss over it because, to them, it wasn’t important.

There was a pivotal part of the story where John (played by Alex Pettyfer in the film) is developing his powers, which they glossed over to almost not including at all. Yeah, he’s in school and finds out the hard way he has supernatural powers but that was all the movie decided was important. In the book, he works with Henri (played by Timothy Olyphant, my super secret crush since the days of “Go”) to become stronger and learn to harness his powers. It’s a difficult process. His powers, in the book, are confusing and hard to control because they evolve. He’s coming of age, as an alien. It takes time for him to become powerful enough to even fathom taking on the Mogadorians. During this development in the book, John is able to open the mysterious box Henri has kept under wraps. Although part of the film on the small scale, John’s opening of the box is not included. The box is essentially a legacy that was left to him by his parents and grandparents, a history of his people, his family and his race. It also included an explanation of the history between the Loriens and Mogadorians and why his planet died and his people had to leave. I guess they decided this wasn’t important and, to save time, they could just insert bits and pieces along the way.

Alex Pettyfer … I believe you are of age so I, as an older woman, am allowed to say this. You are gorgeous. An absolutely gorgeous hunk, which, as a former model, makes sense. Good for you. Way to go. However, in the role of John, you are not suitable. John wasn’t supposed to be some beefcake. You are a physical heartthrob and it makes no sense for you to be a loner at your previous school — which also wasn’t good enough for the people behind the film, instead, making him to be Mr. Popular with the hottie-in-a-bikini ready to go the distance. When the captain of the football team, Mark (played by Skinny McGee Jake Abel), (who happens to be the former boyfriend of John’s love interest, Sarah [played by Dianna Agron of “Glee” fame who was perfectly cast] who hasn’t gotten over their breakup yet) taunts John and gets in his face, it is comical. Pettyfer is simply too beefy and it’s ridiculous to think he couldn’t beat the crap out of his taunters, especially Mark. When he starts becoming powerful, harnessing his powers, it should be shocking but it’s not since he’s already ripped!

Also, the end of the book is rushed, Mark isn’t a part of the action but yet, at the end, there he is shaking hands with John, all buddy-buddy. And what about Pittacus Lore? He was mentioned at the end for, what, a second? His significant role in the book series was reduced to a mere second in the film.

I’m going to stop while I’m behind because, obviously, I could go on and on and on to ad nauseum. I’m going to do what I did halfway through the film and come to terms with the fact this isn’t like the book and will more than likely continue on its trail of not being like the book. More things will be glossed over or completely absent, so I should deal with that or turn it off.

So, I took what enjoyment I could from the typical Michael Bay film, i.e. sexy women (Dianna Agron and dark hottie Teresa Palmer), explosions, fighting and all out Bay-hem!

I’m ranting, which equals anger, so, I will end my rant with the one item angering me most. This book fell in my lap as a review from HarperTeen. As in, please review this book most likely unknown to you. I read it and loved it! It was exciting and fun, feeding my interests in science fiction and romance. Bravo HarperTeen and authors James Frey and Jobie Hughes.

I would hate for someone to watch the film first before reading the book. Please, the book is awesome and it’s the first in a serious of six books! Don’t believe the hype! Don’t let the movie turn you off to the Lorien Legacies. I would hate for someone to watch the movie first and hate it. Or, even if they loved it, it’s simply not true enough to the book. In the movie credits I would have preferred “loosely based” on the novel, emphasis on the loose! — Kate Vendetta

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Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Aprilynne Pike’s ‘Illusions’

Book Review: Dark Days of the Supernatural – Aprilynne Pike’s ‘Illusions’

“Illusions” is the third book in the Wing series by New York Times bestselling author Aprilynne Pike and part of HarperTeen’s summer Dark Days of the Supernatural series. Released May 3, 2011, the story follows Laurel Sewell, a faerie attempting to return to a normal life among humans in Crescent City, Calif. with her human boyfriend, David, and human parents after time away in Avalon, aka faerie-land.

The book opens with Laurel’s first day of 12th grade, as life becomes not-so-normal again with the return of her guardian/former love interest, faerie Tamani, who is posing as a transfer student from Scotland. Tamani returns to protect Laurel from trolls, an enemy of faeries, who came to Crescent City to torture Laurel for access into Avalon, where they will wreak havoc of epic proportions. Well, this is speculation since, although evidence of trolls was found, i.e. footprints and bloody animal corpses, the usual tracking serums and traps are not working. A new magic is afoot.

Further complicating the dire situation is Yuki, an unknown type of faerie posing as a Japanese exchange student under the watchful eye of troll hunter Klea. Tamani and Laurel aren’t sure if Yuki and Klea are working for good or evil so they must secretly learn more.

With the addition of a love triangle between Tamani, Laurel and David — reminiscent of Jacob, Edward and Bella in “Twilight” — this story is full of faerie lore, menacing trolls and big life decisions involving true love and choosing between two worlds.

I’ve never read “Wings” or “Spells” so by page 21 I put the book down and turned to Google searching some background because I was beyond lost. I recommend starting at the beginning of the series because Laurel’s plight gets confusing without the background — especially since Laurel, David, Tamini and Laurel’s best friend Chelsea are well developed returning characters — and the storyline is interesting and fun. It’s a welcome change from typical teen supernatural stories featuring vampires, werewolves and angels with ancient folklore, magic, trolls and faeries.

Even though I didn’t have the whole picture without the background provided in previous novels, the story is fun and intriguing. I looked forwarded to reading on and digging deeper into who is after Laurel, whether Yuki and Klea are bad news, why the faerie magic doesn’t work, and if Laurel was going to choose Tamani or David. I found myself wishing I’d read the previous novels so I would fully understand the drama. It was like Pike was speaking in a different language, a language I wasn’t fully fluent in but one I understood enough to get by. The faerie heirachy alone is enough to confuse.

Although I prefer a sparkly vampire with a dark side, aka Edward Cullen, for my fantasies, Tamani brings a romantic edge that even got my ole cynical self saying, “wow.” The story is void of any adult sexual situations, making it appropriate for teens of all ages.

At times I found some of it not entirely believable in regards to the main characters’ responses to drama with trolls and Yuki and Klea’s plans, but then again I don’t know what teeanger-me would have done in this situation. Tamani is guarding Laurel from danger with the help of other trained faeries so he’s doing his job and, since they didn’t have a full picture of the trolls, Yuki and Klea’s plans, they couldn’t do much because their magic wouldn’t work… obviously this book has me interested enough to defend the characters so it did its job.

My favorite part of the story is the tension and doubt Laurel expresses as she attempts to choose between David and Tamani — I won’t spoil it, let’s just say Laurel doesn’t run away with the idea of happily ever after forever. She struggles with her feelings, which is so authentic, feelings of love as well as wondering whether she wants to return to Avalon or go to college among humans. Life isn’t easy – faerie or not!

So, for teens looking for a unique supernatural series for fun summer reading (or adults needing a quick escape) check out Aprilynne Pike’s Wings series by HarperTeen as well as other books in the Dark Days of the Supernatural series. When I think summer, I think summer reading!
Check out www.harperteen.com/feature/darkdays/summer — Kate Vendetta

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