August 23, 2007


Vampire Kisses 3: Vampireville. By Ellen Schreiber. HarperTeen. $5.99.

Vampire Kisses 4: Dance with a Vampire. By Ellen Schreiber. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $15.99.

The Midnight Library, Volume VI: Shut Your Mouth. By Damien Graves. Scholastic. $5.99.

      Teens and vampires go together like…well, like teens and slashers, and teens and zombies, and teens and other horror characters. This is especially true in the movies – all those Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street films and their imitators – but it’s the case in books as well. Ellen Schreiber’s Vampireville series fits the teen sort-of-horror genre well. It’s not nearly as bloody as the horror flicks, having a stronger emphasis on romance and family issues. But there are plenty of adventures here, and a fair amount of suspense.

      The third entry in the series, Vampireville, was published last year and is now available in paperback. Its focus is on the relationship between Raven of the mortal world and Alexander of the Underworld. Just as in teen-oriented books without vampires, this one has rivalries and troubles galore: Alexander’s enemy, Jagger, keeps showing up, along with his sister, Luna. Everything takes place in a town that Raven calls Dullsville (but that really should be called Vampireville, see?), with the main plot being Raven and Alexander’s search for Jagger and Luna’s home base, to try to stop them from doing nefarious things. “‘This isn’t a contest,’” says Raven when confronting Luna. “‘These are people, not prizes.’ Her blue eyes turned red. She stepped so close to me, I could smell her Cotton Candy lip gloss. ‘I want you to back off!’ she said in my face. ‘I want you to back off!’ I said in her face.” That’s a fair sample of what passes for style here.

      There’s more of the same in the brand-new fourth series entry, Dance with a Vampire. The dance of the title is prom, which Raven is looking forward to attending with Alexander. But Raven has family problems: her brother, Billy, has made friends with Valentine Maxwell, younger brother of Jagger and Luna, and that spells trouble. Equally troubling, Valentine seems to know more than he possibly could about Raven’s private thoughts. It’s hard to be sure how seriously Schreiber intends readers ages 12 and up to take what she writes. For example, when Raven gets disappointing news from Alexander, she says, “It hit me like a closing coffin lid.” And when she affirms her feelings, she says, “My gentle vampire wanted to protect me from the underworld, but gradually, through our time together, he felt comfortable enough to share portions of it with me – the Mansion, the amulets, his coffin.” This is a book in which coffin-shaped skateboards and crispy French fries appear within a few paragraphs of each other. Best to take all this with a grain of salt, or drop of blood, and just have fun reading it.

      Scholastic’s Midnight Library is aimed at younger readers – preteens – and is certainly intended to chill, but the frights are mostly on the mild side. In the sixth volume of three-per-book formulaic stories, Shut Your Mouth, the “Damien Graves” pseudonym is assumed by Sally Jones and Allan Frewin Jones. Their title story is about a candy store that sells certain special candies with alarming powers – powers that four friends learn about the hard way when they steal a box. “Good Luck, Bad Luck” is the title of a mysterious board game that seems to have just a little too much influence on real life – and that won’t let people stop playing it. And “Ghost in the Machine” is a messily plotted story of a new car, a GPS system that works by itself, a lightning strike, and electricity that attacks people – all mixed together without even an attempt at explanation. The characters in these tales are interchangeable and featureless – they exist simply to be the ones to whom bad things happen. The Midnight Library series is as silly as it is scary, but preteens looking for quick and occasionally frightening stories will enjoy this latest installment.

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