Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
March 2009

Title: Thanks for the Memories
Author: Cecelia Ahern
Publisher: Harper
EAN: 9780061706233

I first experienced Cecilia Ahern on audio, with abridged (and incredibly well-performed) versions of If You Could See me Now and There's No Place Like Here. I read her debut novel P.S. I Love You in hardcover (I still have to recover from the book before I see the movie). And while I adore Ahern's concepts and characters and style, her endings always felt off to me. My brain just has a tough time rationalizing tales of lighthearted magical realism with such unrequited, unresolved endings. Then again, I wasn't born on a magical green island and raised with Guinness and "Danny Boy," so I left it at that. And then along came Thanks for the Memories.

This time, the tragedy happens right at the beginning. Joyce Conway has a terrible accident at home, so terrible that it causes her to miscarry her baby and spend several days in the hospital. On the other side of the city, visiting historical architecture professor Justin Hitchcock attempts to impress a female colleague by donating blood. And where does that blood end up? You guessed it! Only Ahern kicks it up a notch: when Joyce wakes from her surgery, she can suddenly speak several languages, knows more about architecture than most people forget in a lifetime, and is having flashes of dreams and memories from a life that is not her own.

You know how this story is going to end. There's only one way for it to end. And -- thank you, Cecelia -- we do not use the last page of the novel to sop up the tears we're shedding into our pint while the chorus belts an Irish pub song. You're not allowed to be disappointed when things turn out the way you expect them to. Especially when that ending is positive. What you have to remember in this case is another of Ireland's great tenets: the point of the journey is not the destination.

Joyce's life changes from that mundane moment to a whirlwind of ridiculous adventure, as she chases the clues back to their source. From Viking tours to the London Ballet, Thanks for the Memories is almost 400 pages of just a whole lot of fun. And in true Ahern style, the characters who move these adventures along are so enchanting and endearing you'll be wishing you could invite them to your family reunion. I absolutely fell in love with Joyce's dad, a high-spirited man who has never left Ireland in his life, consistently calls Joyce by her dead mother's name, and has an incredible, unyielding passion for "Antiques Roadshow."

In a world of turmoil, it's a blessing to find these happy outlets of escape. Be content in knowing that you will find Thanks for the Memories and enjoyable from beginning to end. I look forward to the day this one sees a silver screen release -- I won't hesitate to buy my ticket and be invigorated once more. We all need a transfusion of new blood now and again.

Title: The Reformed Vampire Support Group
Author: Catherine Jinks
Publisher: Harcourt
EAN: 9780152066093

Speaking of blood . . .

In this day and age, with the massive glut of vampire books popping the seams of your local brick & mortar, the first thing every reader must do upon opening a paranormally-spun novel is to get his/her bearings. Where are these vampires and when? How are they crated? Are they good or evil? What kills them? What keeps them happy? What are their feelings toward werewolves? (There are always werewolves.) I used to love all this paranormal hoo-ha, but lately I've found myself bored by page 100 or so. (I gave up on Twilight halfway through.) I realize "there are no new ideas," but there are certainly other books, and there is only so much time in the day.

Despite my newly-adopted vampire apathy, the cover of Catherine Jinks' new title drew me closer. Heath McKenzie's dark, Goreyesque figures huddled together above the words The Reformed Vampire Support Group. Good title. It made me want to learn more. Good titles have a tendency to do that. The second thing it had going for it was its obvious YA-approved market, meaning that there wouldn't be an overwhelming gore and/or sex element to distract from gaping holes in the plot. The third thing was the author herself: Catherine Jinks is an Australian author, and this book is set in Australia. Contemporary vampires braving the Australian outback? That was somewhere my mind hadn't been before.

Our heroine -- if one can call her that -- is Nina Harrison, who is fifteen years old . . . and has been for the last thirty years. She lives in her mother's basement and writes a popular novel series starring Zadia Bloodstone, a vampire with all the slick and sexy grace we've all come to expect from our vampire novels, and which bears no resemblance whatsoever to what being a vampire is really like. Vampires in Jinks's world live a life of constant illness: headaches, vomiting, panic attacks, bleeding from the eyes, breakfasting on guinea pigs -- certainly not the glamorous life we picture on the silver screen, as Nina is quick to point out. But the Reformed Vampire Support Group -- led by human priest Father Ramon -- has each other, so there is always someone to turn to when times get tough and things get strange.

Only now it seems that there is a slayer in town intent on picking them off. Nina and her fellow reformed vampires must screw their courage to the sticking place. They have to turn the tables, hook up with a werewolf (a genetic throwback seventh son), solve the mystery, and hunt down this murderer before he strikes. As miserable as it is, being a vampire isn't the same as being dead forever.

There are quite a few members of the Reformed Vampire Support Group. As a result, there is a lot happening in this book . . . and a lot of dialogue, as the cast of thousands discuss what's going on. I found myself at times wishing the characters would just stop arguing and get on with it; undoubtedly the same thought that was going through their own minds at the time. The action does snowball all the way to the end, culminating on a final chapter which squeezes into it enough epilogical information to fill a sequel. I did enjoy Jinks's approach at the very end, with a blurring of the wall between fiction and fact so that the reader is forced to pause and wonder if her slightly-more-plausible version of vampires are real.

I enjoyed The Reformed Vampire Support Group -- it was an exceptionally quick read -- but I have to say, it didn't wow me. I wasn't disappointed, just unmoved. Perhaps there were simply too may characters for me to get emotionally invested in any of them. Perhaps the characters' own feelings didn't dig in deep enough. Perhaps it's just that aforementioned vampire apathy as a result of vampire book after vampire book. Perhaps my bar is just set so high now that it takes a trained circus performer to impress me.

Or perhaps I am a vampire, and I know what the truth really is.

Read more by Alethea Kontis


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