Friday, June 20, 2008

Dance With a Vampire (book) by Ellen Schreiber

Young goth-girl Raven has a lot going on in her life right now. In addition to getting ready for her very first prom (Raven's school is so small all grades are allowed to attend), she and her vampire boyfriend, Alexander, must track down Valentine, the younger sibling of the two vampires she and Alexander drove out of Dullsville in the previous book. Unfortunately, Valentine has befriended Billy, Raven's younger brother, and Raven is terrified that Valentine's plan is to get back at her and Alexander by hurting her family. Not only that, but Valentine knows one of Raven's biggest secrets, the one thing that could be most damaging for her and Alexander's relationship: as much as she has always insisted she wants to become a vampire and be with Alexander, she is actually very conflicted about the thought of turning into one.

This is the fourth book in Schreiber's Vampire Kisses Series, and I think it's the best yet. I didn't much like the previous book, Vampireville, because I felt it relied too much on convenient coincidences and the stupidity of the adults around Raven. Also, as an avid reader of romance novels, I've found the romance in this series to be lacking - Raven loves gushing over Alexander, but Schreiber rarely takes the time to give her readers scenes that show them getting to know each other or doing romantic things. If there are any such scenes, Schreiber usually skims over them quickly. Although I think there's still a lot of room for improvement, many of these issues were not as much of a problem in this latest book. Raven's parents and teachers still had a habit of falling for Raven's lies, but her investigations managed to stay within the realm of what's believable for a girl her age. Raven actually did a little thinking about her relationship with Alexander that wasn't all sparkles and roses - her realization that she might not actually want to become a vampire put her through a bit of an emotional wringer, since she now had to worry about whether or not Alexander would still want to be with her if he knew the truth (despite the fact that he's repeatedly said that he doesn't want her to become a vampire). Also, there were a few nicely romantic scenes that Schreiber, for once, chose to actually show us, rather than summarize later on. I particularly liked the bit where Alexander shows Raven the surprise he put in her locker. It's very sweet and fits his character.

Raven's brother, Billy, gets a bit more developed in this book, and the result is pretty sweet. In an earlier book, Billy made it clear that he wanted Raven to respect him more and not call him Nerd Boy. In this book, Schreiber continues this storyline with little details that show how much he respects Raven's opinion of him. She also shows this aspect of Billy by having him befriend and defend a boy who's much like Raven. For that alone, I liked Valentine more than I liked Jagger or Luna - Valentine actually served a larger purpose than just being a new vampiric bad guy (besides which, he didn't turn out to be as bad as Alexander and Raven feared).

I have a feeling that in a future book Raven is going to have to deal more actively with her outcast status. Although she's good at befriending others, if they'll just give her a chance and take a little time to get to know her, there are also indications that her world is getting a little shaken up. For instance, her friend Becky is becoming more and more like one of the popular girls, and the secrets Raven must keep about Alexander (that he's a vampire and everything that goes with that) mean that there's very little she can actually confide to her friend, something that allows them to drift further apart. This, with Raven's realization that she doesn't want to fully become part of Alexander's world, means that Raven's becoming more and more isolated. I also have a feeling that future books might have to deal more with Raven's somewhat ambiguous relationship with Trevor, one of Dullsville High's jocks. In some books more than others, Raven and Trevor have had varying degrees of flirtation, and there are hints, even in this book, that Raven might be more attracted to him than she'd like to admit. I can see Alexander forcing the issue more in later books.

Overall, Dance With a Vampire renewed my affection for this series, and I'm looking forward to the next book. I still wish that Schreiber would do a better job with the romantic aspects of the series, but she's come a long way from the unsatisfying scenes in her earlier books. Raven's over-the-top silly mental love notes to Halloween imagery (she has a habit of invoking spiders, bats, and dark or creepy things during some of her descriptions) has been toned down a little for this book, although that sort of thing is still present.

Finally, I'd like to add that I loved Raven's goth version of a prom dress - it sounded gorgeous, and it thankfully didn't reference some sort of trademarked character or band in order to reassure readers of its goth-iness.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Daughters of Darkness (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the second book in Smith's Night World Series - the first book gives readers a little more information about the world and includes an appearance of one of the main characters in this book, but it should still be easy enough to follow along with the second if you haven't read the first. Mary-Lynette and her brother Mark are curious about the new girls who've moved to their town. They see something that lead them to believe the girls might've killed someone. Things get even more complicated when Ash, a relative of the girls, comes to town. The three new girls are actually vampires and fugitives from the Night World, and Ash is determined to bring them back. Unfortunately, Ash and Mary-Lynette turn out to be soulmates (very forbidden in the Night World), and there's also still a murderer to deal with in town. Despite the fact that this series was never concluded, I love it and this book in particular. Readers who enjoyed Dance With a Vampire's romantic aspects and vampires might like this book. As in Dance With a Vampire, Mary-Lynette, Ash, and others must hunt down and stop someone who is a danger to the residents of their small town. Mary-Lynette, like Raven, must decide how she feels about becoming a vampire for her boyfriend. The romantic aspects are stronger in this book than in Dance With a Vampire, and people aren't just in danger, they're being killed, so this book might be better for slightly older readers than Dance With a Vampire, but, no matter their age, reluctant readers will appreciate that this book, like Schreiber's, is short.
  • Got Fangs? (book) by Katie Maxwell - This is the first book in Maxwell's Goth Series. Fran is tagging along with her mother, who's part of a Goth faire traveling in Europe. Fran has the ability to read people with her touch, but she hates her ability and feels like a freak because of it. A young man shows up and tells her that he's a vampire and she's his Beloved, the only person who can lift his curse. Although Benedikt is sexy, Fran's a bit resistant. Readers who enjoyed the vampires, romance, mystery, and action in Dance With a Vampire might like this book.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Pretty, blond, cheerleader-material Buffy moves to a new school and discovers that she, as the Slayer, must forget any chance she might have at becoming a normal, popular girl and fight demons, vampires, and other supernatural horrors in order to keep the oblivious residents of Sunnydale safe. Like Raven, Buffy eventually finds herself with a brooding, socially awkward, romantic vampire boyfriend. Readers who enjoyed Raven's investigations, her outsider status, the vampires, and the cluelessness of everyone in Dullsville might like this TV series. Readers who'd rather try another book should look into some of the many books based on this series - I don't, at the moment, have a particular book to recommend.
  • The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - When Sunako finally gathered up the courage to tell the boy she liked how she felt about him, he crushed her by telling her that he doesn't like ugly people. Ever since then, Sunako has surrounded herself with dark and scary things and stopped putting any effort into how she looks. She watches bloody horror movies, she's ghostly pale and dresses in dark clothing, and her room is filled with skulls, coffins, and other gruesome things. She lives alone in her aunt's house, which, unfortunately for her, is invaded by four beautiful guys who were promised free rent by her aunt if they could only turn Sunako into a lady. Readers who like the way Raven dresses and her obsession with dark things may like this series. Also, there are many light-hearted, sweet, and funny moments throughout this series, as well as hints of romance (which will have to stay hints until Sunako gets over her fear of romance, dating, and love).

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