Four Vampire Books Read This Weekend: Vamped by Lucienne Diver, How to Be a Vampire by Amy Gray, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey, and Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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It was so delicious to not be traveling this weekend and really take the donut off my reading bat.  I attacked "the pile" (actually it's a row of books on my kitchen desk that winks at me when I go in there multiple times a day) and decided I'd focus on all the yummy new books that Cynthia Leitich Smith sent us after I won her fabulous October giveaway.

First up was Lucienne Diver's Vamped, and I think from the cover it's  obvious why I chose it.  Isn't it fabulous?  I think that the cover also does a good job indicating what's inside - Gina, our trusty protagonist, is a former mean girl fashionista who wakes up in her coffin and quickly figures out that her recent make-out session with chess club geek turned suddenly superhunk, Bobby, involved a little more nipping than usually experienced in seven minutes in heaven.  Her annoying neanderthal boyfriend, Chaz (hello, is that a name that just screams "dump me"?) gets them into a car accident with his road rage and she "dies".  Bobby is waiting patiently for Gina as she claws her way out of her coffin (and ruins her manicure) to explain what's happened and she quickly realizes that she just may be, for once in her life, truly in love with someone.

But all is not easy for our young and undead lovers.  Bobby is very coveted and not just by young women impressed by his six pack.  He and Gina are quickly captured by Mellisande, a vampire that makes Gina's high school reign look like a Mother Theresa leper public service announcement.  Mellisande wants Bobby who it turns out has tremendous mental powers now that he is undead (it's always the chess guys, isn't it?).  Gina finds herself in a dungeon with a bunch of other kids that supposedly succumbed to the "why not drink and drive" mentality or other "accidents" and realizes that "Smelly Melli," her pet name for Mellisande, is raising a vampire army to overthrow the council and that Bobby and the rest of the young vampires are pawns in her bid for power.  Can she use her bitchiness for good and save not only the boy she loves, but everyone else?

Diver is a literary agent (check out her blog for a great window into the controversies and discussion in this interesting area of publishing) who has published a few stories and books under another name as well.  She has a great sense of humor and Vamped, written from Gina's point of view, has a breezy style that falls in with her "mean girl with a heart of gold" theme.  The plot moves, let me warn you, and there were times that I felt a little headachey keeping up with everything that was going on.  I wish there was a little less action and more character development of Gina and Bobby - I wanted a little more backstory and definitely more romantic moments between them since the few that existed really sizzled.  There is a sequel, Revamped, coming in 2010 so I'll definitely read that and see if it satisfies the couple of itches she left. 

Next up was Amy Gray's How to Be a Vampire which totally won my "favorite cover" award from the crop Cynthia sent us.  This is a scary image, and you get really creeped out (in the best possible way) with the iridescent eyes that glitter when you move the book and feel the two puncture holes of the neck bite.  This book is exactly what it bills - a how-to guide - and the layout and imagery are fantastic.  I think the best comparison is if a DK book and Cosmopolitan magazine had a vampire baby, this book would be it! You can take quizzes on your vampire style, get advice on how to shop for a coven you might want to belong to, or polish your vampire etiquette.  The great part is that anyone who has read plenty of vampire novels (ahem) will see the references to different authors - Stephenie Meyer, Richelle Mead, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, Christopher Moore, Anne Rice, and Bram Stoker (as well as others).  Gray does a terrific job directing readers to not only the ouevres of these popular authors but also lists graphic novels and movies and series that readers might enjoy.  I'm going to use this volume for a little collection development work and I'm sure it's going to get picked up again and again in my library.

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey was a total dark horse (no pun on the title intended).  I was so sucked into this book that midway through I got really irritated at how it had been marketed - everything I had read or seen depicted it as a fluffy "girl meets vampire and discovers she's one, too and gets a funny book to guide her!" plot and it was anything but.  Jessica Packwood knows her anthropologist parents adopted her from Romania when her parents died in some weird cult coup but she's startled when a good-looking but bizarre guy shows up at her rural Pennsylvania bus stop and calls her by her real name (which is Antanasia Dragomir - side note: are there only four vampire surnames?  The same ones crop up again and again.  I think authors need to raid a Romanian phone book and think outside the box).  It turns out that the hottie making a BIG impression in her high school is none other than Lucius Vladescu, the heir to the other most powerful vampire clan (besides the Dragomirs) and the vampire to whom she was betrothed as an infant in order to end centuries of vampire/human bloodshed as the families battled one another for power.

Yikes.  Jessica is a kid with a pretty analytical bent who mucks out stalls in her family's boarding stable and tries to stay out of the way of school bullies Faith Crosse and Frank Dormand.  She's worried about her weight, loves being a mathlete and is nervous about her upcoming 4-H jumping competition.  She definitely does NOT believe in vampires and is shocked when her hippie, vegan parents tell her not only do they exist (because that's who they were studying when they adopted Jessica) but that she is one.  Anyone who is a fan of Mr. Darcy (hands up!) will see the appeal of Lucius - he's arrogant, incredibly good-looking, smart, talented, and has a sophisticated European guy aura that makes Jessica's other love interest, Jake the wrestler (don't go there, Jess) look like a muppet.  Lucius gets nowhere with Jessica, who fights her very real attraction to him as much as the knowledge she's a vampire, and just as she begins to come to terms with everything swirling around her, Lucius backs off right when she wants him to get closer.

I was extremely impressed with Fantaskey's ability to not only write such two incredible characters but to seamlessly weave in plenty of vampire history and the tension behind the power struggle between the families.  Lucius' and Jessica's attraction and love for each other are powerfully described and our growing empathy for their situations has readers (or me at least) sniffling over the tough spot these two find themselves in.  I adored her use of the epistolary device of Lucius writing home to his uncle to explain his thought process and the evolution of his feelings - it was spot on and helped develop his voice in the novel extremely well.  My only criticism is the last couple of chapters had a lot going on and seemed pretty brief to me.  I wanted them to go on for much, much longer!  For anyone else with the same feelings, Fantaskey has written an online follow-up story to satisfy us and keep us from turning up on her lawn with pitchforks and burning torches.

Last, but definitely not least, is Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith.  A prequel to Tantalize, I was impressed by how different this book was to Tantalize - sometimes you like an author but their narrative voice is very similar between books (and that's okay) but Smith has the ability to really embody her characters and I'm appreciative.  Eternal is told from the two main characters in it - Miranda, a sweet, slightly shy high school student and Zachary, her guardian angel who has watched over her from birth.  Alternating chapters between their perspectives works great here and we quickly discover Miranda's giving nature and the fact that Zachary is in love with her.  When Miranda agrees reluctantly to accompany her best friend, Lucy, to meet a sketchy movie store clerk in the local Dallas cemetery we know nothing good is going to happen, right?  And our instincts are right on the money, as usual.  Lucy manages to escape, Miranda is bitten by the Dracul, essentially the president of the nasty vampire corps of the Midwest, and Zachary, in his attempt to save Miranda, reveals himself to her (wings, light and all) which is a gigantic no-no in the angel world resulting in his immediate demotion to human being and number one person on the archangel s-list.  Miranda meantime wakes up a princess (the Dracul makes her his daughter) and finds herself a celebrity with parties and clothes galore.  The bad news?  She's drinking the blood of runaways and prisoners in her "daddy's" Chicago mansion as her conscience appears to have gone AWOL.

This book takes place before Tantalize, which offers a reality in which humans accept the existence of vampires and werepeople (don't call them "shifters" unless you want to be a bigot, fyi) but aren't huge fans.  Media outlets, magazines, spas, you name it, all are all available to the tuned-in vampire and while there are plenty of people buying extra garlic, several also seem to be willing to do anything in order to get eternal life.  Zachary and Miranda must discover if they can each do what they need to in order to restore order and save Miranda, but the question is, can they?

I adored this book - the writing, the plot, the setting, you name it - and cannot wait for the next book, Blessed which will, according to Smith, bring the casts of the two books together.  Go, Cynthia!  P.S. - the angel theme in this book is going to foreshadow several upcoming reviews of books featuring this new supernatural character.  Are angels the new vampires for 2009/2010?