Tuesday, March 18, 2014

WISCONSIN VAMP by Scott Burtness (Review)

Book description on Amazon
Herb Knudsen, a mediocre line cook and even worse bowler, is making a mess of being a vampire. He just wants to crack some beers with Dallas and Stanley, not get fired again, and maybe, just maybe, get a date with Lois, the prettiest waitress in Trappersville. Reasonable enough desires, if it weren’t for the fangs. 

He’s a little confused about how he got vamped. It certainly wasn’t like the movies. When his Maker finally does appear, he decides Herb isn’t worth the effort and leaves him to figure out this vampire stuff on his own. With no one to guide him, Herb fumbles into his newfound abilities, courting disaster with each bumbling step. Sure, there are some perks. The local stripper wants him, he can do this whammy mind-control thing, and he is getting a lot better at bowling. But he’s tired of living in Dallas’s shadow, and “Midwestern nice” is hard to pull off when you’re a bloodthirsty monster. Now the bodies are piling up and Dallas is growing suspicious. As the rivalry escalates between Herb and his best friend, Lois’s life hangs in the balance. Soon, keeping his dark secret becomes the least of Herb's concerns. 

A beer and blood-soaked story about self-discovery, friendship and love, Wisconsin Vamp is as far from the usual vampire fare as Trappersville is from Transylvania. Booze, billiards, bake sales, babes, blood, bowling, bar fights, and karaoke. Who would’ve thought that being undead would make life so exciting?

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars
Wisconsin Vamp is a humorous underdog story about what happens when your average Joe - or in this case, Herb - becomes a vampire. While it's mostly lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, it also has a dash of drama and romance to round it out.

I found a lot to like in this book. The first thing that caught my attention - on the first page, in fact - were some well-turned phrases. Second, although sometimes the characters were the epitome of cliche, by the end I empathized with and even felt I understood, to an extent, Herb, Stanley, Dallas and Lois. They became more 3D than their cliched counterparts. Third, I thought the pacing was excellent, and the twists and turns were unpredictable yet believable.

But the most amazing thing to me was the similarity between what vampirism does for Herb and what it does for my own character, Lilly. No, this is not just a shameless and ill-timed plug of my own book. I'm serious here. One of the points I'm trying to make in the Lilly Frank series is that becoming a vampire frees Lilly from many of the physical and social constraints that keep her numbed to herself and to life. Similarly, when Herb becomes a vampire, he begins, in some ways, to finally, truly live. His senses are heightened. He notices details about people and places more. He begins to gain confidence and be less afraid, and he therefore takes more risks. And it's only after Herb's vampirism is well-established that we begin to get to know Lois more because until that point Herb could barely look at or talk to her. As a human he saw her only as a shiny object to admire but never touch, the angel on the pedestal, but as a vampire, because he has less of his crippling self-doubt to contend with, he begins to relate to her more as a person, to see that in addition to beautiful, usually cheerful and relatively intelligent, she is also fallible (and yet still worthy of his affection).

One aspect of the book that I feel torn about is the ending. While I give it kudos for catching me off-guard - something that doesn't happen to me very often - one of the reasons it caught me off-guard was because it seemed contrary to the metaphor of the book. Or at least what I thought was the metaphor.

**Spoiler alert: skip to next paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers.**
Herb begins to truly live only to die and be damned to hell? He finally stands up to Dallas and is rewarded with a stake through his heart? He finds the beauty in life and continues to try very hard to be a good person - never killing anyone on purpose and in fact saving two lives - only to be sentenced to an eternity of torment? Not fair. Not fair at all. My only consolation is in hoping that the last book in this series involves all the monsters we will come to know and love meeting up in hell and forming some kind of army. Some sort of group retribution for the shitty hand dealt to them. Hmph.
**Spoiler alert over.**

I also thought that some of the flashbacks maybe went on a bit long. For example, the part about last year's bowling tournament and this year's jerseys was probably my least-favorite part of the book, if only because I would've been satisfied with a lot less on that subject. That said, it's a hard thing to successfully walk the thin line between context and TMI, and Burtness does it well for most of the book.

The only last little thing that bugged me was that I was distracted by the copy editing errors. I'm so sorry to keep bringing this up in reviews, but it's one of the things I notice. I'm just made that way. **PSA: Dear indie authors, please have someone who is really good at it copy edit your book. It doesn't have to be a professional editor. It doesn't have to cost you money. Friends, family members, and teachers are all resources. There is just no reason on earth why you can't take that little step that will mean so much to so many of us. Thank you.**

In summary, this was a book I enjoyed and recommend for lovers of comedy as well as those who want a fresh take on the vampire genre. I eagerly await the next Monsters in the Midwest book.

And now, if you haven't read it already, you should now go check out the guest post Scott Burtness wrote for this blog back in February, "Sympathy for the Devil."

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