Review of “The Vampire Gift Book 1: Wards of Night” by E. M. Knight

cover imageOverview

Title: The Vampire Gift: Wards of Night
Series: Vampire Gift, bk 1.
Author: E. M. Night
Published: Edwards Publishing (April 20, 2016)
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 408 pages
Age: 13 +


One minute Eleira is preparing for an ordinary night of studying in the library at Stanford, the next she is waking up a prisoner of three beautiful vampire brothers and their powerful mother, the vampire queen.

She quickly learns that (a) vampires are real and (b) the vampires need her for her blood (but not in the way you think). Also, the vampires live in “The Haven,” a place of perpetual night removed from the outside world.

As she struggles to come to grips with this strange new reality, and with her growing attraction to one vampire in particular, one thing becomes clear: her life on “the Outside” is over, and there’s no going back.

My thoughts

I’m not really a devoted fan of vampire stories, although I do admit I enjoy them occasionally. However, I did not choose this book on the basis of its vampire storyline. I chose it because it was available to read for free with Amazon Prime, and because the cover looked interesting. Being aware that titles available to read for free are generally not award winner quality, I adjusted my expectations accordingly. In the end I have mixed impression of this book. I think that young paranormal romance aficionados would enjoy it, but that those who have read widely in the genre will find it lacking. Those with no interest in vampire / teen girl interactions should probably steer clear.

On the positive side:

  • The writing is overall consistent and free of errors.
  • The cast of characters is sufficiently varied, yet appropriately confined for the scope of the book (there aren’t dozens of characters to keep track of).
  • The pace is quick and even – good for keeping the reader’s attention.
  • The writing does a good job of “showing” and not “telling.” If there is exposition, it is generally delivered through some device like a flashback or conversation.

On the negative side:

  • The writing feels juvenile or amatuerish at times.
  • The dialog can seem clunky and awkward, with occasionally cringe-worthy badness.
  • The characters are somewhat two dimensional.
    The female lead has no agency for 99 percent of the story.

This is, of course, book one of a series, and the ending seemed promising. I think the author has a lot of potential, and I would definitely explore more of her/his works in the future.

My Rating

Overall: C
Story: C
Characters: C
Originality: C+
Cover art: A-
Final verdict: If you love teen vampire-action-romance, go for it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

Originally published on by me.


Skin Trade by George R. R. Martin (Review)


“Skin Trade” is a graphic novel adapted from a short story by George R. R. Martin.

Willie Flambeaux is an asthmatic repo man, a nice guy, and also a werewolf. When a friend of his is killed and appears to have been mangled by an animal, Willie asks another friend, P. I. Randi Wade, for help. Randi’s father was a policeman, and died under similar mysterious circumstances. Together, Randi and Willie seek answers and search for the killer, and in the process uncover dangerous secrets.


At 104 pages long, Skin Trade is brief enough to read in one sitting yet long enough to tell a detailed and complete story. The reader is dropped into the tale in media res. The action is well under way, and the world and characters come into being fully formed.

The characters are complex, and the story pays respect to the old folklore staples (silver bullets, etc) while still achieving a high level of originality.

The art, by the ironically named Mike Wolfer, is top quality. It captures the gothic / noir atmosphere of the setting and brings the action to life with bold lines and violent color.

I would place this graphic novel in the same category as Stephen King’s “Silver Bullet,” and the classically campy “Howling” films.

I enjoyed reading this graphic novel, although I would not place it in my list of all time favorites. It was entertaining, but not particularly exceptional.

It took a while to become acquainted with the characters and the setting, and felt a bit like watching a mid-season episode of an established TV series – you can kind of catch on and get a sense of who’s who and what’s what, but you don’t have the same invested understanding as someone who has watched the show from the beginning. For a short, stand-alone story this can be a drawback, especially for readers who are not already inclined to like the story based on its author or subject.


I would recommend this title to fans of werewolf stories (especially the aforementioned “Silver Bullet” and “The Howling”), and to fans of horror graphic literature.

Contains nudity and graphic violence.

My Rating

  • Story: 3/5
  • Art: 4/5


  • Title: Skin Trade
  • Author: George R. R. Martin; Daniel Abraham
  • Artist: Mike Wolfer
  • Publisher: Avatar Press, July 2014
  • Length: 104 pages
  • Description: 6.5 x 0.4 x 9.9 inches; color illustrations



February Reading Recap

It’s already March 4! I fell behind on my blogging last month; however, I did stick to my reading goal (exciting stuff, I know).

My February selections were:

  • Fiction – Human Acts by Han Kang
  • Nonfiction – Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene
  • Book from the Past – The Story of My Boyhood and Youth – by John Muir
  • Other Format or Genre – Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery – M. C. Beaton

Brief Reviews:

Image result for human acts han kangHuman Acts by South Korean author Han Kang is a novel of the Gwangju Uprising (Wikipedia).  In 1980, South Korean troops clashed with civilians protesting the government of Chun Doo-hwan. Although exact figures are disputed, some estimates put the death toll over 600, while over 3,500 were injured in the violence. Many of the casualties were young university students.

The novel is told through the perspectives of multiple characters who witnessed or took part in the uprising. Some chapters are written in the second person, which I found interesting. The tone of the writing is deceptively quiet in contrast to the violence of the content. I found myself wishing the title was Inhuman Acts, but maybe that’s the point, as the following quote from the book illustrates. In this scene, one of the witnesses is being interviewed by a professor for a book:

I heard a story about one of the Korean army platoons that fought in Vietnam. How they forced the women, children, and elderly of one particular village into the main hall, and then burned it to the ground. Some of those who came to slaughter us did so with the memory of those previous times, when committing such actions in wartime had won them a handsome reward. It happened in Gwangju just as it did on Jeju Island, in Kwantung and Nanjing, in Bosnia, and all across the American continent when it was still known as the New World, with such a uniform brutality it’s as though it is imprinted in our genetic code.

I never let myself forget that every single person I meet is a member of this human race. And that includes you, professor, listening to this testimony. As it includes myself.” – Han Kang, Human Acts, page 97.

This was the first book I’ve read by a Korean author, and I enjoyed the experience of learning a little bit about South Korea’s history, a topic on which I’m largely ignorant. I spent some time on Wikipedia researching the events portrayed in the book, and that helped alot with giving the story context and helping me understand it better. (I received a copy of this book from in exchange for an honest review).

Image result for midnight in siberiaMidnight In Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia is David Greene’s account of a trip he took on the Trans-Siberian express from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. Not knowing much about Russia beyond what I read in the news and books, or see in films and games, it was interesting to get a closer perspective on the lives of everyday people across this vast and intriguing country. The author is a host of NPR’s Morning Edition, of which I am a frequent listener, and so it perhaps natural that the book had a journalistic tone and style. The book was interesting, although I did skim over some parts. It did not inspire me to travel to Russia.

Image result for john muirThe Story of My Boyhood and Youth is John Muir’s account of his early years growing up on his Scottish immigrant family’s Wisconsin farm, and was my favorite book this month. It’s relatively short (about 140 pages), and full of Muir’s beautiful prose and descriptions. After finishing it, I was astonished to discover that no major motion picture has yet been adapted from this story – it seems like it is ready-made for the big screen. Some of the highlights include the many formidable tasks his father expected him to complete on the farm, such as digging a 90 foot well through sandstone by hand with a chisel and hammer, and the many wonderful contraptions Muir invented, such as a clock that could light a fire in the stove. Muir’s deep passion for learning and for nature, and his empathy with living creatures is endearing and inspiring. I would recommend Muir’s writings to anyone who enjoys nature, but you do have to adapt to the somewhat old-timey language and slow pace. Reading a bit of it aloud in a slow, meditative way can help you get a feel for the language. If you do, you will enjoy Muir’s quiet humor, descriptive prowess, and charming storytelling.


February OGoF Pick and Review: “Death of a Maid” by M. C. Beaton

This month’s Other Genre or Format* pick is Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton.

In answer to the question “What are you reading now?” the chances that I would answer “a cosy mystery” are extremely low. That said, I do believe the genre is unfairly reviled by those who view it as the sole purview of elderly women with too many cats and a passion for yarn craft.

A basic definition of the “cosy mystery” is a mystery story that takes place within a closed environment (a house, a train, a small village, etc), features little or no graphic content (sex or violence), and is tidily resolved in the end. The works of Agatha Christie epitomize the genre.

Image result for hamish macbeth death of a maidM. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series follows the crime-solving exploits of the titular hero, a policeman in a small village in the highlands of Scotland. It features a strong cast of characters and many charms, including the lead character’s unfortunate last name, his strange pets, and the Scottish highland scenery.

In Death of a Maid, Hamish must solve the murder of a cleaning woman who may have also been a blackmailer.

Beaton’s writing is unpretentious and flows seamlessly. The story has a solid three-part structure (beginning, middle, end) but is not boring or predictable. Definitely recommended to fans of the mystery genres, or anyone in search of a relaxing and entertaining read.

Why I chose this book: I listened to the audio version of this book, and to be honest I chose it simply because it was available and I wanted something undemanding to listen to during my commute home from work. I did not regret my choice.

* To expand my reading horizons, I try to read one book each month from a genre or format I don’t usually read.

January Reading Recap

At the beginning of the month, I set my 2017 reading goal as reading one nonfiction and one fiction book each month. Since this turned out not to be very challenging, I decided to add two more goals – reading one book that was written before I was born (BIWB) and one book of a different genre or form each month. This month I selected The Plague by Albert Camus as the BIWB book, and a book of poetry – Notes on the Assemblage by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera for the “other form” category.

Here’s what I read this month:

  • Nonfiction –
    •  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2016)
    • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2011)
    • Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil Jr. (2016)
  • Fiction –
    • The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert (2016)
  • BIWB –
    • The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
  • Other form / other genre
    • Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera (2016)

Favorite book:  The Plague by Camus. It reminded me of why I loved literature as a teenager and young adult, and why, when I give myself the chance, I still do. Perhaps fortuitously, Camus’s book is mentioned in The Gene. This excerpt captures what I liked about both books quite well:

We need a manifesto – or at least a hitchhiker’s guide – for the post-genomic world. Historian Tony Judt once told me that Albert Camus’s novel The Plague was about the plague in the same sense as King Lear is about a king named Lear. In The Plague, a biological cataclysm becomes the testing ground for our fallibilities, desires and ambitions. You cannot read The Plague except as a thinly disguised allegory of human nature. The genome is also the testing ground of our fallibilities and desires, although reading it does not require understanding allegories and metaphors. What we read and write into our genome is our fallibilities, desires, and ambitions. It is human nature. — Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History




The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert [book review]


Summary: Morgan Fletcher is a disfigured recluse living on an isolated country estate with only his housekeeper, Engel, as company.

One day, mysterious children begin to appear at the house. Where they come from and why they are coming is unknown.

Morgan and Engel take the children in and give them a home (as though this is the usual and expected thing to do when strange children appear at one’s door).

Morgan finds the children to be both a source of great happiness and of horror. As he gradually unravels the tangled threads of the children’s purpose and its connection to him, he comes to understand something about his own past and purpose in the world as well.

Thoughts: The Children’s Home is a brief, deceptively simple story featuring elements of surrealism, magical realism, mystery, and horror.

The tone and style suggest what the result might be of a collaborative effort between A. A. Milne and Stephen King, combining the quiet charm of the former with the abrupt violence and insidious unease of the latter.

The plot is vague, and much is left up to the imagination of the reader (i.e. not explained or made clear). I didn’t find the story very enjoyable or interesting, but I did find it worthy of some thought.

I would describe the arc of the story as unsatisfying, like glimpsing a form in mist. Many things are hinted at or suggested, but never made certain. The ending leaves the reader largely in the dark, still groping for explanations. It seems as though the characters discover or learn something, but the reader is never let in on the secret. This provokes the reader to wonder if she’s wasted her time, or if she simply missed something, or if she needs to think about the story differently.

The book never truly becomes anything, which may be the main source of frustration. Rather like someone trying to write a story based on a vague dream, and having filled in the gaps in the background and setting, and peopled it with a cast of characters, still finds it to be little more than an idiosyncratic curiosity – a creation with no point or significance outside itself. Which some might argue is a definition of art.

Conclusion: I would recommend this curious novella only if one’s tastes run to the odd and vague, and the presence of creepy children in a story is viewed as an unqualified asset.

Book Details:

  • Title: The Children’s Home
  • Author: Charles Lambert
  • Date published: January 5, 2016
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • My source: Public library


Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil Jr. [Book Review]

Zika: The Emerging Epidemic tells the story of the mosquito-borne virus from its emergence in Africa to the current health crisis in the South and CenImage result for zika book mcneiltral Americas. It is a compact, fast-paced, journalistic book, and it does an excellent job of covering multiple facets of its subject both thoroughly and concisely. The average reader will  find it interesting and readable.

I enjoyed how the author weaved his experiences as a journalist covering Zika (the back copy says he covers “plagues and pestilences for the New York Times“) into the story of the virus’ emergence, the discovery of the link between the virus and brain damage in fetuses, and the reactions of the public, governments, and health agencies of different countries. The relation of his phone and email conversations with various contacts in the scientific and public health communities gave the story a dramatic element, which it hardly needed but which helped lend momentum to the narrative.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Zika virus, or who is interested in viruses and the natural history of disease.

Book details:

  • Title: Zika: The emerging epidemic
  • Author: Donald G. McNeil, Jr.
  • Date published: June 28, 2016
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Format: Paperback, 208 pages
  • My Source: Public Library