Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Review: Eighth Grade Bites, by Heather Brewer

Eighth Grade Bites
(The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Book 1)
Heather Brewer
Trade Paperback, 182 pages
Speak, March 13, 2008
Humor, Paranormal Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: Vlad has to keep his vampire urges under control while dealing with the pressures of middle school. Thirteen-year-old Vladimir Tod really hates junior high. Bullies harass him, the principal is dogging him, and the girl he likes prefers his best friend. Oh, and Vlad has a secret: His mother was human, but his father was a vampire. With no idea of the extent of his powers, Vlad struggles daily with his blood cravings and his enlarged fangs. When a substitute teacher begins to question him a little too closely, Vlad worries that his cover is about to be blown. But then he faces a much bigger problem: He's being hunted by a vampire killer.

Can a vampire novel actually be FUNNY? Isn't that an oxymoron? Well, I've read quite a few vamp novels by now, and no, this is not an oxymoron! However, I had not read any of the books in this series, although it's been around for some time now. The first book was released in 2008. Somehow, though, I just hadn't gotten around to it. Then one day, a co-worker, who knows how much I enjoy paranormal fiction (especially if there's some humor involved), gave me a nudge. So I picked up this book, wondering whether it would be all that good. After all, it did look more like a middle-grade read, and I rarely, if ever read this genre. 

Boy, was I surprised! This novel turned out to be a hugely enjoyable one! The characters were absolutely wonderful, and the setting and action just perfect, keeping me turning pages. Since it's a short novel, I was able to finish it in several hours. That made this usually slow reader VERY happy!

Most wonderful of all was the main series character, Vladimir Tod. Vlad is just like any other thirteen-year-old boy, except for the fact that he was actually born a vampire; well, a half-vampire, really, since his mother was human. And, as the novel unfolds, the reader discovers that being born with vampire powers and a raging desire for blood can really put a cramp in your style, if you're trying to impress the opposite sex (who are unaware that you have these unnatural qualities, but still).

Amid the usual middle school shenanigans and crushes typical of any human boy, Vlad must also deal with his big secret, which he's terrified will one day be discovered. He's frequently bullied by two of his classmates, and is generally considered an outcast. He lives on bagged blood that his guardian, Aunt Nelly, provides for him from the local hospital. As a nurse, she's able to sneak out the bags. She also feeds him very rare steaks.

Vlad has a very close friend, Henry, who knows his secret, and with whom he also shares his thoughts on hot girls and other topics of world-shaking relevance to teen boys. Henry is a great and faithful friend, too. He not only sticks by Vlad in times of trouble, but also tries to help him out in the girl department, and, in general, is Vlad's one tie to humanity, aside from, of course, Aunt Nelly, who is a vivacious young woman who truly loves and cares for Vlad.

The novel is laced with humor, but there are some dark events, as well. One thing that shadows Vlad's existence is the memory of his parents, whose deep love for each other actually doomed them to a mysterious death. Vlad has still not gotten over this event, which took place about two years ago. 

All things considered, though, Vlad's life is pretty much normal, until a rather strange substitute teacher arrives in school to take over Vlad's English class, as the regular teacher has very mysteriously disappeared. This teacher's name is Mr. Otis Otis (yup, TWO first names!), and the most noticeable thing about him, aside from his weird name, is his purple top hat....

This character is the catalyst for the adventures to follow. In the process, the reader finds out about the land of the vampires, which actually coexists with the human world, as well as the fact that there are very strict rules in place regarding the big taboo: revealing the existence of this vampire world to humans. 

The book begins at a somewhat slow pace, as we get into Vlad's world, his thoughts and anxieties, and everything seems pretty much normal. This did not put me off at all, though. And I found Vlad's and Henry's activities very funny, at times. They sometimes like to pull pranks, as is usual with boys that age. However, I was a bit upset at them for scaring free candy out of some little boys at the beginning of the book. Still, I thought that Vlad and Henry's comments and thoughts were pretty funny. 

Here are some quotes from the book:

"Vlad shrugged and adjusted the cape around his shoulders. 'I'm a creature of the night, for God's sake. And she wants me home by eleven? Why doesn't she just follow me to the party and kiss me good-bye?'

'Hey, don't knock it. If it weren't for Nelly, you'd never get kissed.'

Vlad slowed his steps. 'Like you've got room to talk.'

Henry shrugged. 'I've kissed plenty of girls.'

'I'm not talking about your mom, dork.' (page 9)


"Girls like Meredith Brookstone didn't date boys like Vladimir Tod. 

Besides, the hickeys would be a nightmare." (page 15)


"Whoever had decided that school should start so early in the morning and last all day long needed to be hunted down and forced to watch hours of educational television without the aid of caffeine." (page 32)


The quotes above are typical of the humor laced throughout the story. In fact, they make me wish this series were to be made into a movie. Plenty of adults would be reminded of their own middle school days, while kids in this age bracket would laugh -- or maybe make fun of -- Vlad and Henry's silly dialogues and observations.  

As I mentioned above, the unexpected arrival of Mr. Otis brings a subtle but very noticeable change to the school, as well as Vlad's world. This teacher is obviously a rather eccentric person, but a very creative one, as well. His classroom assignments are quirky, interesting, and, oddly enough, sometimes too focused on Vlad....

This teacher's personality strongly reminded me of one of Harry Potter's teachers -- the totally ridiculous Gilderoy Lockhart. However, this guy Otis has a seriousness about him that makes it obvious that his odd clothes and classroom antics are a cover for something that actually frightens Vlad. Is this man out to uncover Vlad's secret? If so, for what purpose?

This book was not what I was expecting at all. From this point on, a sudden conspiracy is discovered, which Vlad and Henry make sure to investigate. So the intrepid duo plunge in, and then there are twists and turns galore! Surprises abound, as well, and it seems that Vlad is much more special than he had ever realized. 

I highly recommend this book to all lovers of vampire fiction with a nice combination of humor and drama. This is the type of vampire novel I really enjoy -- no "Dracula types" involved! (Well, at least not the good guys, and the bad ones do get what they deserve.) 

This novel will appeal to fans of series such as The Twilight Saga, by Stephenie Meyer, Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead, and The Night World series, as well as The Vampire Diaries, both by L.J. Smith. And, oh yes, it will also appeal to readers of another even funnier teen vamp novel -- Vampire Crush, by A.M. Robinson. (If interested, you can check out my reviews of all of these books, on my "Book Reviews" page.)

What a GREAT, funny reading start to my 2018 Halloween season!


Heather Brewer is the pseudonym of Zac Brewer. Zac is the NYT bestselling author of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, as well as The Slayer Chronicles series, Soulbound, The Cemetery Boys, "The Blood Between Us", and more short stories than he can recall.

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