Review: The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

The Silver Kiss Book Cover The Silver Kiss
Annette Curtis Klause

Zoe is wary when, in the dead of night, the beautiful yet frightening Simon comes to her house. Simon seems to understand the pain of loneliness and death and Zoe's brooding thoughts of her dying mother.

Simon is one of the undead, a vampire, seeking revenge for the gruesome death of his mother three hundred years before. Does Simon dare ask Zoe to help free him from this lifeless chase and its insufferable loneliness?

Review:

Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t write off The Silver Kiss as a paranormal romance. The cover and synopsis make this book seem like a vampire love story, and while there’s nothing wrong with such novels – I personally am a big Twilight fan – this isn’t an accurate reflection of what The Silver Kiss is about. There is desire between Simon and Zoe, and vampires do play a huge part in this book, but this story is NOT about a vampire and human falling in love.

In a way, The Silver Kiss reminds me a lot of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls in that it uses supernatural beings as a lens to examine death, grief, and loss. Zoe, the protagonist, is a 16-year-old whose mother is dying of cancer. Zoe’s best friend doesn’t know how to deal with Zoe’s grief, and her father is forever at the hospital, leaving Zoe to provide for her own needs, both practical and emotional. On the rare occasions when Zoe is permitted to visit her mother it’s only for a short time, and she’s limited to exchanging pleasantries and small talk, unable to confide in her mother for fear of upsetting her. In short, at a time when Zoe desperately needs someone to lean on, she is left completely alone.

When walking in the park one night, Zoe stumbles upon Simon, a vampire who has spent the past several centuries lonely and adrift. Although he flees from the park before they can speak, Simon can’t help but be entranced by Zoe’s misery. Her aura of desolation and fear is like a beacon, calling to him like nothing else has for centuries. Simon is just as isolated as Zoe, albeit in a different way. Everyone he’s ever loved is dead and gone, and he’s cut off from the living, doomed to forever wander the earth alone:

“Like a shadow he could only live on the edge of people’s lives, never touched or touching except to bring a cold shiver like a cloud over the sun, like a shroud over the corpse. The only time he touched, it was death, yet that was the only thing that proved he existed at all.”

Simon is clearly not human, clearly other, and – as he himself laments – unnatural:

“‘I am at odds with nature […] and the whole natural world tries to remind me of this. The sun burns me; and when I cross running water, I can feel it trying to heave me off the face of the earth. It makes me sick to my stomach.’”

Zoe’s despair makes her the first kindred spirit Simon’s come upon in ages, and he soon becomes obsessed with her. He begins following her, watching her, and at one point even marks his territory by urinating near her house:

“He went to her helplessly, drawn by her fear. He couldn’t help but touch her to taste it.”

This sounds a little creepy…because it is. After 300 years of existence, Simon is so far from the human being he used to be that he doesn’t recognize his behavior as disturbing. He’s a provocative character, chilling while also beguiling, haunting yet poetic, savage as well as vulnerable. The fact that Simon is so unbalanced fits with the theme of this book: the inevitability of death. Simon has cheated death for centuries, but at great cost to his sanity. The irony of eternal life is that such an existence isn’t actually life at all.

Simon’s circumstance is compelling in juxtaposition with Zoe’s, who must find a way to come to terms with her mother’s illness and inevitable death. The relationship between Simon and Zoe is wonderfully allegorical, and this makes it a little easier to accept some of the strangeness of their interactions. For example, one of the things that originally bothered me for much of The Silver Kiss was how easily Zoe’s initial fear and skepticism towards Simon were overridden. Her mother’s dying, her life is falling apart, yet she starts keeping company with a deadly, unhinged 300-year-old vampire? It struck me as a little crazy. Once I reached the end of the book, though, I saw that Zoe and Simon’s situation was symbolic. Because of my appreciation for the message that was being conveyed through this symbol, I was able to overlook some of the blips in the delivery. Klause’s elegant writing style helped with this as well – I luxuriated in every word:

You could rush into your death unknowing, inviting, enjoying the ecstasy of it, burned up in bright light like a moth.”

“Motionless, yet taut with energy, he was like a dancer a breath before movement.”

Even if you’re not typically a fan of vampire novels, I strongly suggest you give The Silver Kiss a chance. It’s got so many layers of hidden meaning, gorgeous prose, and an ending that is powerful, moving, and right. I loved it, and I suspect that you will too.

Review: Ember by Bettie Sharpe

Ember Book Cover Ember
Bettie Sharpe

Everyone loves Prince Charming. They have to - he's cursed. Every man must respect him. Every woman must desire him. One look, and all is lost.

Ember would rather carve out a piece of her soul than be enslaved by passions not her own. She turns to the dark arts to save her heart and becomes the one woman in the kingdom able to resist the Prince's Charm.

Poor girl. If Ember had spent less time studying magic and more time studying human nature, she might have guessed that a man who gets everything and everyone he wants will come to want the one woman he cannot have.

Review:

This is one of those rare times you’ll see me posting a review of an adult novel, and one of the even rarer times when that adult novel is erotica. It’s not a genre that I’m usually into – the sex has a tendency to overtake actual characterization and plotting – but in this case I was willing to make an exception. Why? Because Ember is a retelling of Cinderella.

Dos Equis Gif: "I don't always read erotica, but when I do, it's fairy tale erotica."

If frequent, graphic sex scenes make you uncomfortable, then Ember won’t be your cup of tea, fairy tale retelling not withstanding. If you’re ok with mature hanky panky, though, it’s definitely worth a read.

Ember differs from other Cinderella stories in that the Cinderella character – Ember, obviously – is a witch, and her stepsisters are prostitutes. Most importantly to the plot, her prince is cursed as a result of a name day “gift” from a fairy:

“May he be charming. May every eye find perfection in his face and form. May every man respect him and every woman desire him. May all who meet him love him and long to please him.”

This curse might sound more like a blessing, but think about the implications. People have no choice but to adore Prince Adrien. His presence is compelling, and the mere image of his face stamped on a coin is enough to send women into a frenzy of lust. He can have anything – and anyone – he wants, and none can deny him.

“With magic and wisdom to aid him, he could have been the greatest king in the history of our little kingdom. Instead, he was a selfish, dangerous man with a voice none could refuse.”

Ember’s mother always warned her to stay far away from the cursed prince, but one day she catches a glimpse of him during a procession and becomes infatuated. The pull of his curse is unusually strong for Ember, affecting her even more than it affects Adrien’s other subjects, and her obsession becomes so severe that she resorts to dark magic – namely, sacrificing one of her fingers – to weaken the prince’s hold over her.

Though the spell can’t completely counteract the prince’s curse, it does ease it enough to allow Ember to go about her life with a modicum of peace….at least until the prince tracks her down, determined to find the one woman who resisted his charms rather than succumbing to them.

I love that Bettie Sharpe takes the quintessential components of Cinderella and turns them on their head. Ember is no innocent young maiden with a sweet voice and humble spirit; she’s a witch, a fact she likes to flaunt. Many in her village fear her, and for good reason. She can control fire, kills neighbor’s pets for revenge, and performs bloody spells and sacrifices. She isn’t shy about getting down and dirty with the local men in a stable or a random doorway, and there are some very sexy scenes that are going to leave you fanning yourself and dabbing sweat from your cleavage.

I also like that Ember’s relationship with her stepmother and stepsisters defies convention. Instead of becoming enemies, the four women establish a rapport…and a business. Ember does serve them and become the cinder-covered girl of fairy tale legend, but it’s her choice to do so as it allows her to better fly below Adrien’s radar.

Something else I appreciate about Ember is that I don’t necessarily have to like all of the characters to be invested in their story. Ember is so blunt and no-nonsense that it’s tough to get close to her, and there are times she can be spiteful and almost cold. Likewise, Prince Adrien is a self-seeking man-whore; much of his time in the story is spent lounging around naked and erect. Still, they’re both so interesting and multi-faceted – and the sex scenes are so hot – that I couldn’t put the book down until I got to the end. Which, by the way, makes sense for the book and is the perfect compromise between a fairy tale ending and one that’s realistic.

If Ember sounds like something you might be interested in, I encourage you to take a trip to Bettie Sharpe’s website, where she’s posted the story for free. (Note: You may need to scroll down to reach the content – on my computer, I see several rows of weird “Warning” text at the top of the page before the actual story begins.) If you do read this book, let me know what you think in the comments section. I’m curious to see whether it will appeal to other fairy tale fans, especially ones like me who don’t normally read erotica.

 

Review: Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast

Audacious Book Cover Audacious
Gabrielle Prendergast

Wrong hair. Wrong body. Wrong clothes. Wrong attitude.

Nothing is simple for Ella. Not family. Not friends. Not school. And especially not romance. Ella can’t do anything right, except draw. But even her art is wrong – and more dangerous than she could have imagined.

Review:

Audacious literally has me pulling at my hair in frustration right now. I’ve written and rewritten this review half a dozen times, and I still can’t get my thoughts organized. There was a lot about this book that I liked, but in the end it left me feeling dissatisfied, and I’m having trouble articulating why.

The novel begins with our protagonist, Raphaelle, moving to a new town for her father’s job. Raphaelle decides to use the move to start fresh: she will no longer be the girl who shows up at a black-and-white formal in a hot-pink dress or draws pictures of a “naked and well endowed” Christ on the board at her Catholic school. Instead, she decides to reinvent herself as “Ella,” a nice, normal girl who doesn’t spit in the face of convention just to watch people squirm.

In spite of this resolution, Ella just can’t stifle her provocateur nature. When her art teacher asks her to submit a piece in the school art show, Raphaelle reemerges to create a work of art so daring it sets off a chain reaction of consequences, including criminal charges and expulsion from the school.

Amidst the fallout from the art show, Raphaelle must also navigate her relationship with her quasi-boyfriend Samir. Raphaelle is a vehement atheist, and Samir is Muslim. As you can guess, this causes all sorts of tension, which I found to be the most compelling aspect of the story.

So far, this probably sounds pretty good. At the very least, it doesn’t sound bad, right? So what’s with the hair pulling and frustration I mentioned in the beginning of this review?

The closest I can come to an explanation is that Raphaelle pisses me off. She’s too set in her ways, too focused on shocking people and putting up walls between herself and others. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for people who do or say things for no other reason than to cause an uproar. Controversy for the sake of something you believe in or are passionate about is courageous; controversy just to stir the proverbial pot is childish and stupid.

Raphaelle uses being a misfit as an excuse to keep from getting close to people, and when she does develop a relationship with someone, she refuses to give an inch in anything. There is a fine line between being true to yourself and being too proud to compromise, and Raphaelle crosses that line. I felt like she was trying to sabotage her own happiness, making stupid decisions in a sadistic effort to root all of the good out of her life. This was especially true of the ending, which I absolutely HATED. I don’t want to share any spoilers, but I will say that the ending is a large part of why I didn’t like this book as much as I could have. It was unnecessary and pointless and sums up everything I didn’t like about Raphaelle.

As frustrated as Audacious made me, though, I would still recommend it. It has interesting themes – censorship, family tragedy, faith and religion – and it would be a shame to miss out on them simply because the heroine is flawed.

There’s also the bonus that Prendergast wrote Audacious in verse. There are times when the rhymes sound a bit corny or contrived, but there are also sections that are lyrical and insightful. My favorite is a stanza that talks about Raphaelle’s infant brother, who lived for only three minutes after his birth, and the effect that the baby’s death had on the family:

“Darling Gabriel,
Whose only task on earth
Was to break my mother’s heart.
It took him his whole life.”

I also liked this verse:

“Strong as time and
Tenacious as space but
If love is never to be tested
Or challenged then it is worth
Nothing.”

In the end, I’m glad I read Audacious, even if it did leave me angry and dissatisfied. If you’re a fan of writers like Ellen Hopkins, and if you can accept a less-than-happy ending, Audacious might be a book for you.

Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Something Like Normal Book Cover Something Like Normal
Trish Doller

When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. 

Review:

Something Like Normal is the story of Travis Stephenson, a 19-year-old Marine home on leave after spending a year in Afghanistan. He should be relieved to be home, and yet he can’t help but wish he were anywhere else. His mother smothers him with her good intentions, his father views him as a disappointment, and his previous friendships feel stilted and awkward. All Travis wants is for life to go back to normal, a wish that seems impossible.

Travis is dealing with all sorts of issues, from flashbacks and PTSD to the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. He’s struggling to cope with the grief of losing his best friend and to figure out why his fellow Marines, whom he’s known for only a year, feel more like family than the people who raised him. Although he can be an ass at times, it’s impossible not to sympathize with him, and I found him to be a very real, very relatable protagonist.

I really admire how Doller manages to make Travis’ story moving and sad without stepping into the territory of sappy and overdramatic. The themes of family, war, and loss are dealt with seriously, but at no point in time do the events of the book cross over to the theatrical or seem like difficulties are being blown out of proportion simply to add tension to the plot.

An example of this is a point in the book where Travis describes the experience of returning to civilian life as feeling “like you’re a glass that’s filled to the top. Then you have to face everything back home and the glass overflows.” This statement, so simple and understated, beautifully conveys how overwhelming the transition is for a soldier and does so much more effectively than some long monologue about sadness and hardship.

Another strength of Something Like Normal is the authentic feel of the sections that focus on Travis’ experience in Afghanistan. It’s the little details that do it, like a description of Travis’ hands, full of “calluses, ruptured blisters, and scars from cuts that took too long to heal because my hands were always dirty,” or how Afghan sand, “the consistency of powder,” permeates everything and always makes the “first spit” brown when the soldiers brush their teeth. It’s the friendships that develop among the guys in the platoon, the jokes they tell, their nicknames and the stories of how they got them. Doller made me forget that I was reading a book, made me feel that I was actually a part of their world.

Between the emotional punch this book packs and the fact that it feels more real than many other novels out there, I was very pleased with Something Like Normal. I definitely recommend it, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Doller’s work.