Book Reviews

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders

Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders is the first book in the Daughters of Shadow and Blood series as well as Mr. Saunders’ debut book. The novel is a complicated story crisscrossing not only time periods but also countries as well to tell the tale of Yasamin, a former lover or “bride” of Dracula. The story bounces between Berlin in late 1999 and parts of Eastern Europe from 1599 to 1601. The main characters are Adam Mire, an American history professor who is an expert on Dracula and believes he is a real figure. He’s on the hunt for Yasamin Ashrafi who had a long relationship with the famed Dracula yet they parted ways some years ago for unclear reasons. Adam and Yasamin’s paths intersect as both are looking for Dracula’s missing medallion. Adam tracks Yasamin down, thinking she must have it or know its whereabouts; however, she’s just as curious to know its location.

The book is a cat and mouse game on multiple levels. The game is not just between Adam and Yasamin but the people who have brought them together. Adam is chased by several different organizations who want him dead for obtaining information that will lead him to Yasamin and Dracula’s medallion. Another example of the cat and mouse theme is Yasamin’s flashbacks. Slowly the reader gets her story of how she started out as the mouse but later becomes the cat, helping Dracula manipulate events throughout Eastern Europe.

The story is mostly told through flashbacks and letters, a nod to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In fact there are many nods to Stoker’s Dracula and the original manuscript is treated as being more of a historical text rather than as a piece of fiction. It is also implied that Yasamin is probably one of Dracula’s brides or temptresses as portrayed in Bram Stoker’s novel.

I found myself more fascinated more by Yasamin’s story then Adam’s because hers carried the historical aspects of the novel. I also found her background and circumstances more interesting. Her transformation didn’t feel forced, unexpected, or rushed which I think is what a lot of authors would have done. I also liked Yasamin because she’s threatening in a quiet way and very rarely it seems does she resort to the tricks of mind control and using her sexuality readers often associate with vampires. Overall I thought she was the more complete character.

Adam is just sort of there for me. He’s lost loved ones due to his search although that seems to be more of a minor issue and doesn’t stop him. I wished Adam’s background and stakes had been developed more because it would have added more to him for me as the reader. I think the fling he has with a mysterious woman who saves from him from getting killed the first time was forced.

I appreciate reading a book centered on vampires to feel more like what traditional vampire novels read like. These are traditional vampires so nobody sparkles, walks around during the day (although they may be awake during the day), and garlic, silver, and crosses will affect them. I also appreciate it being set in the parts of the world where the legends first bubbled up and a cast that is non-American and even non-Christian as one of the groups after Dracula’s medallion to destroy it is a Muslim organization.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Even though it was a fast read, it was a bit difficult at times to keep track of the various timelines and locales.  I think it would have been nice for the novel to have had less side characters. It was sometimes confusing as to which secret group was after Adam and what their beef was with him as I think that detracted from getting to know Adam more. I also would have liked to have spent more time in the past especially since I’m personally not as familiar with those. It felt like as soon as I was starting to get immersed in the past, the chapter would end and I would be forward to 1999.

On a scale of 1 to 5 pencils, I’d give Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin 3 pencils out of 5 and would definitely be interested in reading the next book.


Weekly Musing: Remake, Reboot, Remix, Re-whatever

Over the last decade plus, there’s been an explosion of remakes and reboots. Sometimes the remake/reboot is a way of updating an older TV show or movie. Sometimes it’s a case of a successful franchise being rebooted probably just so the studio can make more money. Mostly it is at the movie theater where we see these but TV is starting to pick up the torch. In the 2015 – 2016 TV season there will be a limited run of The X-Files and Heroes Reborn will pop up on the schedule. There’s also been a smattering of bringing back shows for a limited run like 24 but by and large, TV has been safe from this remake/reboot fetish.

One of the biggest reasons why remakes/reboots are popular is there is built-in brand recognition. This is coupled with nostalgia you can see why remakes and reboots are big business. Look at how many TV shows and movies from the ’70s and ’80s have already been released or in the works. No matter how truly god awful these things are, still Hollywood makes them because studios make back the stupidly ridiculous amounts of money they spent. But the problem with using nostalgia as a business model is that most people view the past through rose-colored glasses.

This isn’t to say that no reboots/remakes should ever happen. Some have been incredibly well-written and well-received both on the small and big screen. 21 Jump Street was hilarious although it only vaguely resembled the TV show. The Batman franchise on both the small screen and big screen has been wildly success. And the granddaddy of them all, M*A*S*H is probably more well-known as a TV show first then as a movie even though the movie came out in 1970 based on a book that had come out 2 years prior.

So, just for fun, what shows would I like to see come back? Keep in mind this list is purely for fun as there is a huge part of me that would truly shudder if anyone actually decided these were a good idea. And yes, my list is based purely on nostalgia.

Punky Brewster: Oh, yes, this should come back. Although if this were updated, Punky would probably be from a different country, it wouldn’t be an elderly man as her adopted father, the dog would be some messed up breed like a Goldendoodle, and Punky’s awesome bed would disappear. The show would probably be ruined by bring in a love interest for Punky’s adoptive parent and then more focus would be on that rather than the relationship between Punky and her adopted parent.

Out of This World: I think I’m probably the only person from my generation who watched this show. It was quirky, odd, and science fiction which I didn’t realize at the time. Evie, the show’s man character, was part human, part alien and could freeze time. Who wouldn’t want that ability? Given how popular extra-ordinary people are this is one show that maybe could come back. Naturally I think the tone would change from gentle, family-friendly to dark, gritty, and Evie would suffer from way more angst due to dad never appearing here on Earth. Also, Evie would probably be written to kick ass and fight crime instead of just being sorta normal. On second thought, maybe this shouldn’t be remade.

Daria: This is one show I truly, desperately wished would come back. Daria Morgendorffer’s biting and highly accurate social commentary is much needed. I’d love to see her as a grown-up, though not necessarily with children of her own, can’t see her as a mother. Instead of being jaded by her fellow teenagers, she would be jaded by her fellow co-workers and neighbors. I also think Daria’s take on gender roles would be refreshing and rational rather than the emotional Social Justice Warrior crap that currently populates the internet.

I can’t honestly think of any other shows it would be fun to “what if” they were remade. By and large I prefer original ideas or quality book adaptions to just digging up what worked in the past. I guess when millions of dollars are on the line, it’s better to go with the safe bet even at the risk of fatiguing audiences.



Weekly Musing: Take a Look at This

Book covers are a big deal. It’s what we, the reader, see first and if it’s attractive enough, prompts us to pick up the book. In addition to the basics like the author and title, we spend a lot of our time looking at the cover art.  After all it’s supposed to tell us what kind of book is in our hands. Is it an adventure novel with a ship tossed about in a violent storm? Is it a bodice-ripper with half naked people in awkward positions? Is it a YA book with an emotional teen on the cover? So much information is conveyed just by looking at the book cover, if anything, more than the blurb does.  At least nowadays with everyone having the attention span of a gnat.

With this in mind, I began thinking what personally draws my eye to a book. To be honest, I can’t recall what the covers of my favorite books look like because well, books go through cover changes. When I examine the covers in my own library, I notice what I appreciate most are simple covers. For example, I love these covers for my editions of the Outlander series, Pillars of the Earth, and A Song of Ice and Fire because it’s just a solid color background with an item meant to represent something about the novel’s world. Understated perfect for such sweeping epics. No need to clutter up the front with noise.

And I don’t think this pared down approach to book cover design is strictly for epics, I’m noticing it a bit more on some sci-fi books. The Humans by Matt Haig has an oddly wonderful cover. A human nose against a white background. Intriguing, what in the world is this about? It’s only when you read the book does the cover make a lot of sense. Or Lock In by John Scalzi. Again, very simple design with what appear to be white and red plastic figures. Why are some of them red? Only by reading the book does that cover make a lot more sense.

That’s the brilliance of a well-designed book cover. Don’t crowd it with lots of images or colors. Focus on one thing for the reader’s mind to linger over long enough to grab them. Of course publishing is a business which means they have marketing departments who do their homework analyzing what sells, what doesn’t, what is trendy, etc. when designing a cover. Each genre has it tropes and there are even gender biases in place to supposedly help us readers. Yet when covers stray from the expectation, I think that energizes a reader and cast the net out to a wider audience.

This is something to keep in the back of my mind as I hope to move forward in my writing career. When I get to point where I have a book(s) published, I’d like to see the covers of my book have the simplicity I admire. I don’t want them to fit into the trendy tropes of the time, why should I? If a book is to be hugely successful, its cover should strive to appeal to the general public rather than a specific group.

Simplicity in cover book art also creates this notion of timelessness. How many books have we picked up at a book store or yard sale or at the library with covers from previous decades? Nine times out of ten they look cheesy and dated. Admittedly some have some wonderful artwork and style a niche group appreciates today. However, most look so bad you may stay away from it as a reader. Shallow as it may sound, we humans are a visual bunch and we do judge a book by its cover so let’s keep it simple.