January 20, 2011


Once in a Full Moon. By Ellen Schreiber. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $16.99.

Vampire Crush. By A.M. Robinson. HarperTeen. $8.99.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group. By Catherine Jinks. Graphia. $8.99.

     There’s still plenty of fodder for paranormal fans out there. Plenty of secrets, too, even if readers acquainted with this thrice-familiar territory will guess them long before the characters in the books do. Both Once in a Full Moon and Vampire Crush try to build tension by indicating that there are dark doings about, dark secrets to be uncovered, dark deeds to be done or, possibly, avoided. But exactly 0% of readers will likely be surprised when it turns out that 17-year-old Celeste’s love in Once in a Full Moon is a werewolf, and 16-year-old Sophie’s in Vampire Crush is, well, a vampire. Ellen Schreiber has apparently decided to branch out beyond the vampiric into the werewolfian, having enjoyed some success with her Vampire Kisses series. Her new sequence starts with Celeste, who is popular but doesn’t quite fit in with the “in” crowd, meeting wrong-side-of-the-tracks Brandon, who saves her from a wolf pack at the expense of an injury of his own, then kisses her under a full moon that brings with it magic beyond the usual lunacy of young love. Schreiber handles this very familiar scenario, or set of scenarios, with professional skill and stylistic aplomb, even if she brings nothing new to the whole boy-as-werewolf concept. There are the usual secrets kept for many generations, the usual “right” guy (Celeste’s previous boyfriend, Nash) and “wrong” one (Brandon), the usual unnerving visit to a psychic, the usual – well, pretty much everything in Once in a Full Moon is the usual stuff. But of course that is a big part of the book’s attraction for its intended readership (ages 12 and up): no real surprises, just otherworldly romance. “I gazed outside. I could see the moon hanging in the cloudless blue sky. It looked lonely, staring back at me. I wondered if it thought the same of me.” Schreiber does not make even an attempt at style here, and really does not need to. Her book is well paced, satisfyingly romantic and unashamed in embracing all the conventions of its genre.

     Vampire Crush is for the same age group and is much the same in plot and characterization (or lack thereof). New student? Yep – new students, plural, actually. And the re-entry into Sophie’s life of a boy from her childhood, James, now all (or mostly) grown up and very attractive indeed. Secrets and mysteries? Got ‘em. Not that everything runs smoothly in A.M. Robinson’s book (which is her first novel), any more than in Schreiber’s. In fact, Robinson gives her first-person narrator a touch of humor that Schreiber’s lacks: “When it comes to anything involving a ball or special shoes, I’m not very athletic, but once upon a time I attended a weekly karate class with the same fervor as a nun attending Mass. It was three years before my sensei told Marcie that he was afraid I was there for the wrong reasons. I believe the word ‘bloodthirsty’ was used. Right before the phrase ‘I think you should get her checked out.’” Of course, Sophie will soon learn what “bloodthirsty” really means, but not before she gets to produce some really inane dialogue: “I didn’t know they were vampires – I just thought they were part of some sort of weird cult thing.” You’d think that the fact that one of them is named Vlad would be a tipoff – although who knows what to think in a book in which one of the vampires steals Sophie’s father’s Wall Street Journal? It is the glints of humor, not the plot points, that make Vampire Crush enjoyable to read, even if they are not the main reason fans of paranormal romance will pick the book up.

     It is, however, the reason people will pick up Catherine Jinks’ The Reformed Vampire Support Group, which requires familiarity with vampire legends and their modern incarnations precisely so Jinks can play games with them. The whole book is a game: instead of being hugely powerful, shadowy figures of menace, the vampires here are fearful addicts (addicted, of course, to blood), members of a support group that 15-year-old Nina has been stuck in for 51 years and counting. The group’s aim is reform: vampires must overcome their evil urges and be productive, or at least non-bloodthirsty, members of society. What a yawner. Tuesday nights (support-group meeting nights, that is) would be a total waste if Nina didn’t have vampire punk rocker Dave in her group. Still, things are dull, dull, dull – until a member of the group turns up dead, as in really dead, as in turned-to-ashes dead. Why? Whodunit? There’s Jinks’ plot: Nina, Dave and the other vampires need to find out what happened and why there is suddenly a threat to the boringly “normal” vampires. The search quickly brings Nina into contact with a werewolf, and what a werewolf: “Reuben was gorgeous. It’s a mystery to me how that mangy, skulking, ill-formed beast from the pit could have turned into such a beautiful boy. …[But] Reuben was still the most stunning guy I’d ever seen.” But Reuben has a story – although the attempted humanizing elements of Jinks’ book are its weakest part: “Until the age of fourteen, he’d led a very disorderly life. His mother should never have had children. Of the seven sons she bore (to three different men), one is now dead, one’s in jail, one’s a drug dealer, and one has mental health problems.” Werewolves turn out to be rare – born, not made, in this particular novel – and this one is protected; and by a priest, no less. So the investigation ends up involving Nina, Dave, Reuben and Father Ramon, and it leads to some really nasty humans, and to vampire remarks like this one: “‘Violence begets violence. …It’s the last resort of any rational human being. You should understand, Reuben, that as vampires we’ve spent most of our lives battling against the violent compulsions borne [sic] of our diseased instincts.’” Yeah, right. Eventually, mystery solved, the vampires go back to living quietly among us, and Nina feels better about herself and vampires in general, so all ends satisfactorily, if perhaps not really happily. The ending is, in fact, a bit of a letdown, but The Reformed Vampire Support Group has enough other things going for it to make it an unusual and decidedly non-formulaic entry in the paranormal genre.

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