Archive for January, 2011

Caitlin: The Love Trilogy: Loving (#1)
January 30, 2011

God, that’s a long title for a book.

It does sound fancy though dosen’t it? And this book is nothing if not fancy!

On the surface, Caitlin Ryan is your standard issue Poor Little Rich Girl. She’s raven haired, beautiful and unapologetically bitchy and cruel.  Despite being worshiped by not just the students of Highgate Academy – the super-fancy boarding school that she attends – but pretty much the world in general, Caitlin is sad and lonely. She’s vaguely an orphan and lives with her Mean Old Grandma, Regina Ryan. Regina owns a coal mine, and is terribly wealthy and cold-hearted. Despite being old, she’s a super-modern liberated woman who is too busy being rich to  tolerate her granddaughter so she has sent her to a nearby boarding school.

Regina’s only interest in Caitlin is as something she can parade in front of mining industry people, to further her Mean Old Mining agenda. Its a little weird how much the mining industry is discussed in this book, considering that most of the characters don’t even receive physical descriptions. As I recall, the later books actually delve into the mortality behind treatment of mine workers and the environmental impact of strip mining.

Seriously.

We are supposed to hate Mean Old Grandma, but its hard.  Highgate Academy is freaking awesome. This may be where my Boarding School obsession began. Set in the rolling hills of Virginia, there are stables and riding paths and the dining hall is like the fanciest country club ever!  It features mahogany paneling and crystal chandeliers and everything! Caitlin’s dorm room is even awesomer than the rest of the school because her Mean Old Grandma tricked it out with mahogany bookshelves, a stereo and custom made drapes.

I also don’t see how we can feel sorry for Caitlin – she is living the teenage dream. She’s the richest rich girl ever and lives a life blissfully free from meddling parents or financial limitations. She has her own horses and when not at fancy-fancy Highgate Academy, she lives right around the corner at her grandmother’s resort-like palatial estate – Ryan Acres.  That’s right, a house with a name! (This is something I discovered with Gone With The Wind, and I have never really let go of. If I could get away with naming my house, I would TOTALLY do it!)

Plus she has RAVEN HAIR and sparkly blue eyes and is driven around in a sick Bentley by a chauffeur named Rollins.

I think we are supposed to be learning a lesson about how money dosen’t buy love, but I’m not learning shit because life is pretty awesome for Caitlin. When she wants to attract the attention of a boy at school, she just invites a dozen of her closest friends back to Ryan Acres for a fabulous weekend riding horses and lounging in luxury.

When Caitlin hears an awesome idea for a school fundraiser, she blatantly steals it. The girl she steals it from is named Tenny, and she dosen’t even bother to protest. That’s right, her name is Tenny. What is Tenny short for? Tennis? Tennessee? We will never know.

But, its not just any idea that Caitlin is stealing. Tenny has suggested that they sell tickets to a boys beauty pageant, where the boys dress in drag. Clearly, Caitlin cannot allow a girl named Tenny to take credit for an idea of that caliber. And even though you might think that a drag show starring wealthy teen-aged soccer players might be in questionable taste – everyone loves the idea initially.

When the boys have a moment to consider the ramifications of prancing around on stage in drag, they protest weakly, and Caitlin brilliantly twists the idea so that boys can also dress in costumes like napoleon and superman. Um, ok…. Whatever. This pageant is all window dressing for the real story here: the insane and dysfunctional love story of Caitlin and Jed Michaels.

Jed is a really hot cowboy from Montana with wavy hair and a hot body. Caitlin thinks its revolutionary that  Jed wears cowboy clothes. Its just so edgy! Also, his pants are tight. Jed is is new to Highgate, and Caitlin is immediately smitten. They bond over horseback riding and dysfunctional families.

Jed, however, has taken an interest in a scholarship girl named Diana. Caitlin is understandably horrified that Jed would take an interest in a poor person, who doesn’t even ride horses! Diana is from a trashy family and has to babysit for a teacher to afford to stay at the fancy school.

Despite Caitlin’s almost magical powers of manipulation, she is unable to distract Jed from Diana. Until, through a confusing series of events, Caitlin’s negligence results in the kid Diana babysits getting poisoned, and Diana is blamed.  Diana drops of out school and disappears.

Caitlin’s Mean Old Grandma forgets her birthday and dosen’t show up to watch the cross-dressing costume pageant. In addition, she feels really guilty for her part in the accidental poisoning  – oh that somehow leads to the kid being paralyzed, which really dosen’t make much sense, but whatever. Distraught, Caitlin dramatically rides her horse off in the rain, crying about how everywhere she goes, misery and death follow. She realizes that the reason Mean Old Grandma avoids her birthday is that Caitlin’s mother died giving birth to her, and even her birthday is shrouded in darkness and death.

Being emo and riding horses in the rain leads to Caitlin contracting pneumonia, and having to stay in bed at Ryan Acres for weeks, wishing she had died. Its totally melodramatic and dark and I know I loved it when I read this book back in the day.

The whole pneumonia/kid poisoning episode TOTALLY CHANGES Caitlin, and when she returns to school she has become an old lady who hates parties and just wants to sit in the corner. Well, this was the best move ever because Jed LOVES girls that sit in corners and he immediately wants to get all up on her.

With Diana gone, Jed – who apparently has a fetish for sad girls – falls for Caitlin.

Jed tells Caitlin that he never really loved Diana. He realizes now that he was just into her because she was quiet and sad and reminded him of his sister. He also tells Caitlin he didn’t like her initially because he thought she was shallow, manipulative and flirtatious, which reminded him of his mother. But, now that Caitlin is sad and broody he’s totally into her. Um. Is it just me, or does Jed have a thing for his sister???

Oh who cares if its creepy, because the love of Jed Michaels changes Caitlin into a totally different person who is happy and nice and actually cares about other people. You see, all Caitlin needed to be human was the love of a sexy cowboy in tight corduroy jeans.

Only one thing mars the perfection that is the icky love of Jed Michaels,  and that is the teeny tiny secret that it was really Caitlin who caused the accident that paralyzed the kid and drove Diana back to the trailer park. Caitlin decides that she cannot keep the secret any longer and writes Jed a letter confessing her part in the accident. But, she just can’t bring herself to give him the letter, because she fears that he will stop loving her and obviously the world will end. So she does what anyone would do. She hides the letter in a book of love poems that she places upon the mahogany bookshelf in her dorm room.

You guys don’t think that someone is going find that letter in The Love Trilogy #2 – Love Lost, do you???

Let’s talk cover art. I was pretty sad when my copy of this book arrived from amazon, as did not feature the epic painting you see above. Instead, I received a version so bizarre that I can’t even find it on the internet. Apparently these books were re-issued in the early 90s and they decided to use a cover model. She kind of looks like Jamie Gertz and its wearing leather gloves and holding a riding crop. Its awful.

Finally, the best part about reading 1980s era YA is the awesome outfits. Caitlin wears such fashionable items as a pink and magenta taffeta dress, an indigo jumpsuit and a black leather pants suit. Oh if only these books came with pictures!

Up next: Love Lost.

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Caitlin: A Trilogy of Trilogies
January 30, 2011

Man, I love a trilogy.

Francine Pascal loves trilogies too. Perhaps more than even I, because in the late 80s she decided that one trilogy was not enough to contain a heroine as bitchy and dark as that beautiful demoness Caitlin Ryan.

Of course, as with that magnum opus Sweet Valley High, Francine dosen’t love these books enough to write them herself. That lowly task falls to ghostwriters, but its Francine’s name emblazoned across the cover.

Obviously, I loved Sweet Valley High back in the day. I was an active fan and sought the books out at the library and bookstores as they were published, and it seemed for a while like new books would come out at least once a month. I don’t remember when I first saw the Caitlin Series, but I imagine that it was advertised in the backs of SVH books. I loved these book covers. The drawings of Caitlin Ryan’s raven hair, pale skin and blue eyes captivated and inspired  me in my burgeoning interest in black hair dye.

Francine was in rare form when she conceived Caitlin’s tale. A regular old “series” wasn’t epic enough to contain this sweeping tale of 80s fashion, horses and the mining industry. It was a story suited only for a trilogy – but still too vast for just ONE trilogy. No.

Only a Trilogy of Trilogies can do this legend justice.

The Love Trilogy: Loving, Love Lost, True Love

The Promise Trilogy: Tender Promises, Promises Broken, A New Promise

The Forever Trilogy: Dreams of Forever, Forever & Always, Together Forever

I read and loved them all. Perhaps more than even SVH, because they were dark. Caitlin wasn’t just rich, beautiful and cruel – she was self destructive, sociopathic and lonely.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to dig around at garage sales to locate these fabulous books. Through the wonder of technology that even super-rich Caitlin didn’t have access to back in the day (i.e. Amazon.com), over the next few weeks I plan to read them and report back. It is my gift to you, Interwebs. You are welcome.

Matched By Ally Condie
January 2, 2011

Everyone keeps saying that angels are the Next Big Thing (NBT) in YA fiction.

I seriously hope not, because angels are lame.

One day, I will tell you about Fallen, which is the only angel book I’ve been able to stomach so far. It was lame, but featured the prettiest book cover ever, so I’m still kind of a fan.

Anyway, I don’t think angels are the NBT, partly because all the YA angels I’ve encountered seem to be vampires with wings, which is stupid. The NBT has to be something different from the Last Big Thing, or else its just Twilight 2: Electric Boogaloo.

After reading Matched, I feel that its time to close the polls: Dystopia is the NBT. Go home angels.

Apparently inspired by The Hunger Games (which is beyond awesome), it seems like everyone is writing a book about how much the future sucks.

Matched is one of those books.

It is the story of Cassia Reyes, a 17 year old girl living in a futuristic society – conveniently called The Society – that has eradicated disease, eliminated hunger and appears devoid of crime and all around messiness. Being a bit of a control freak  myself, I didn’t initially find the Society all that objectionable. What’s wrong with a little scheduling, people?

Unfortunately, the Society has achieved its perfection by mandating genetically ordained arranged marriages, and controlling every aspect of each citizen’s life with a combination of  propaganda, pharmaceuticals and fear. Oh and destroying all but the “top 100” poems, songs and paintings of the extinct civilization that preceded it. An extinct civilization that is unmistakeably ours.

This book could have been called Freedom, if that title wasn’t already taken, as much of the story concerns Cassia longing for the freedom to choose her own boyfriend, eat pie for breakfast, listen to her own music, keep her own secrets and write her own poems. She longs for the freedom to be her own person, and not the person predicted by the science and experience of authority.

My inner 15 year old loves this book as it is a perfect metaphor for adolescent angst. Where Cassia loves and respects her parents, its the government controlling and destroying her chosen life, for every other teenager, its their parents harshing their mellow.

Cassia begins the story as an obedient goody-goody who doesn’t even think rebellious thoughts. But the government-scheduled death of her grandfather (Heads up Tea Partiers!) and a subversive love triangle tend to change a girl. Before too long, she’s smuggling banned Dylan Thomas poems and kissing a mysterious boy named Ky.

I am always happy to see contemporary YA authors reference classic poetry and literature, because it encourages Kids These Days to seek out the authors and poets and artists referenced. This is probably because today’s Best Selling YA author, is yesterday’s high school English teacher, and that’s probably not a coincidence.

Oh and the cover art – sublime. I love when a book cover references the story, and this one looks beautiful and means something.

Firelight By Sophie Jordan
January 2, 2011

I started hearing about this book several months ago when it was included in lists of YA novels considered to be “The Next Twilight”.

I feel I must disclose something right off the bat: I love the Twilight Saga. I love it with so much sincerity and intensity I don’t even feel embarrassed about it, even though I realize that I probably should. However, my love for those books is not because I prefer my heroines infuriating and my vampires sparkly. Its because they were my first.

I don’t mean, of course, that they were the first YA books I ever read. But they were, however, the first  YA books of my adult life. The experience of reading them seemed to have flipped a switch inside of me, that I am unwilling and unable to flip back.  Before reading those books, I had almost convinced myself that having reaching my early 30s, I was an adult and I read magazines and internet articles. Occasionally, I read a novel like “The Lovely Bones” or “She’s Come Undone”. Primarily, something Oprah selected and affixed her big O sticker to the front of. I did not read books about teen-aged vampires. But as it turns out, I love books about teenagers – almost exclusively these days, and if the teenagers are immortal or have magical powers, then all the better.

We might not all be proud of our first loves, but we still love them.

So I love Twilight, despite its flaws, and its unattractive metamorphosis into a global juggernaut. I love Twilight because of and in spite of all of all that. Some people are Diabetic or Hypertensive.  I’m Twilight. Its who I am. Its my condition.  Deal with it.

So, like a drug addict, when people say something is “The Next Twilight”, I pay attention.  I still don’t  know if it was the function of a publishing promotional machine, or if there was actual buzz about Firelight, but well before it was released, even Little Old Me knew it was the Next Big Thing.

Even so, I was really surprised at how much I liked this book, and not just because it was kind of like Extreme Twilight Makeover: Dragon Edition.

Firelight is the story of Jacinda, a teen-aged shape-shifting dragon who is new at school because she is on the run from her dragon tribe and its ancient rituals of forced marriage and physical mutilation. Of course, while at high school she meets a superhot dragon slayer named Will, and they promptly fall into my favorite brand of YA love.

Stalker-love!

Patented by Edward Cullen, Stalker-love is where the characters are instantly and completely enthralled with each other, and engage in generally inappropriate and illegal activities designed to express to each other that they care. They tend to break into each others houses, steal personal items and perform surveillance on each other. When they catch each other sulking around, nobody is horrified or worried. There’s no talk of setting “healthy boundaries”  or “restraining orders”. Instead, everybody’s flattered and lovestruck – including me. Its totally unrealistic, and sends a terrible message to Those Kids Today about appropriate relationship conduct. Unfortunately, its very romantic and exciting, and its really easy for naive readers like myself to get sucked in.

Something in Will literally ignites the dragon inside of Jacinda, and whenever they are together she almost can’t stop herself from transforming and breathing fire all over him and burning his face off. But, if mysterious dragon-slayer Will and his family realize that Jacinda is a dragon in disguise, they may kill her and threaten her tribe.

Many aspects of this story remind me of Twilight – the new girl in school meets a beautiful but dangerous boy with whom she immediately discovers an instant chemistry. However, in Firelight, it is the girl who wants to kiss the boy, but worries she might kill him.

Jacinda is a much more respectable female protagonist than Twilight’s oft-despised Bella Swan, in that she isn’t always fainting or falling down or gazing mutely at her dangerously beautiful boyfriend. Instead, Jacinda is a fire-breathing dragon who can fly. So suck on that, Bella Swan.

These parallels strike me more as a homage to Twilight, than an attempt to imitate it. I find that a lot of Post-Twilight YA novels seem to make a point of differentiating themselves  from The Saga, while refusing to acknowledge it.  Firelight, on the other hand, seems to intentionally acknowledge the Twilight archetype, before slyly turning it on its head.

You know how you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover? Yeah, well, I do it all the time. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a beautiful book cover.  Cover design is an embarrassingly important factor in my feelings about a book. So its an added bonus that the cover of my edition of Firelight is very pretty and the girl on the cover has hair that is the most beautiful shade of red. I kept holding the book up to my face to see how the color would look on me. Oh and the cool dragon eyes don’t hurt either.