Richelle Mead and The Circle of Life: Bloodlines and Succubus Revealed
September 6, 2011

If Richelle Mead published her grocery lists, I would buy them and read them and love them.  I would seek out the international editions and marvel at the beautiful cover art. I feel sure that they would contain clever commentary and sarcastic statements and eventually break my heart and make me cry…

Thankfully, Richelle publishes actual books. Entire series, in fact.

Just as life is filled with beginnings and endings – each bitter and sweet in its own way – in the last two weeks Richelle has published a book which starts a new series – Bloodlines – and a book to end a series – Succubus Revealed.

Oh yeah, and she had a baby too. Not a bad month, even for a Book Goddess!

The Bloodlines series is a spin-off of the greatest YA Paranormal series in the history of the world (yeah, I said it) – Vampire Academy. VA is a lesson in not judging a book series by its embarrassing cover art, but also not allowing Oneself to be turned off or confused by fancy words like “Strigoi” and Moroi” and thinking that One will not not like this book filled with unfamiliar words and bound by a cover which features a terrible red-toned picture of a model who looks like a 1990s Angelina Jolie – and not in a good way. However, once One has moved beyond One’s prejudices and misgivings, One will fall in love with rebellious, ass-kicking Rose Hathaway and her friends and classmates at St. Vladimir’s Academy. One may even find Oneself crying inconsolably in the middle of the night while breathlessly reading certain volumes in the six book series.

Bloodlines features characters from the VA universe, but focuses on Sydney Sage – a teenaged human girl who is part of a secret society sworn to protect the human race from the knowledge and influence of vampires. Sydney has been assigned to protect a vampire princess – Jill Dragomir – from an assassination which – if successful – could throw the vampire world into a turmoil so great that it could not be hidden from the human world.

Thankfully, said protecting takes place at a human boarding school in California, and features everyone’s favorite scorned bad-boy vampire – Adrian Ivashkov – in all his hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking, sarcastically sexy glory.

While many of the characters are familiar to fans of VA, there are new characters and places to learn about – so Bloodlines is light on the heart-breaking and nail-biting usually associated with a Richelle Mead novel. Its cool, though. I am already imagining the places on my heart Richelle is aiming for, and how it will hurt so good and I will cry so hard and curse the long months between books.

Succubus Revealed is the final volume in Richelle’s super-adult series about reluctant Seattle succubus, Georgina Kincaid. When I say “super-adult” I mean that every book features at least one very sexually explicit chapter. If you don’t like that sort of thing, steer clear – or just skip that chapter, because these books are so good I would hate for the prudes of the world to miss out on Georgina’s adventures in Heaven, Hell and cocktails.

Georgina is an immortal shapeshifter who sold her soul to Hell, in exchange for the husband she betrayed forgetting she ever existed. She has spent the centuries an employee of the bureaucracy of Hell, where she is assigned to use sex to steal the energy and corrupt the souls of mortal men. In her current incarnation, Georgina manages a cool bookstore in Seattle and while Hell would prefer that she seek out pure souls to corrupt, she prefers to corrupt only the already corrupted.

For a girl who makes her living screwing strangers, she’s surprisingly funny and likeable. Her friends – human, damned and otherwise –  are equally engaging and interesting. Its hard to hate a girl who introduced me to both the vodka gimlet and the white chocolate mocha.

Succubus Revealed wraps up the frustrating and star-crossed romance between Georgina and mortal author Seth Mortensen. The troubled relationship between Georgina and Seth is the heart of this series, but as with VA, secondary characters like Carter – an angel with a taste for liquor – and Jerome – the Arch Demon of Seattle who is a dead ringer for John Cusack, fill out a cast of characters I could read about forever.

I wish I could continue to read about Georgina as she balances the demands of managing a bookstore and being a good girlfriend with stealing the the lifeforce of random nefarious men all while saving Seattle from villains of both the human and hellish variety. But, alas…it was not to be.

One of the things that makes a Richelle Mead series so satisfying is that Richelle always has a plan. She has an actual plot outline and story arc for all of her series. It dosen’t sound revolutionary, but I can name several popular authors (cough, cough, Charlaine Harris, cough, cough, Maggie Steifvater) who are not effectively employing this method. I can’t say I blame an author for writing a standalone novel, or short series with no grander plan than getting published. But then said novel or short series is published, and finds success and entreaties for a sequel – or sequels – arrive, and what’s a working author to do? Just come up with something. It usually turns out alright, people like me buy the books and generally like them OK.

But its frustrating as a reader to feel like not only are you not sure what happens next – neither is the author.

This dosen’t happen in a Richelle Mead series. Stories have an arc, things happen in one book that acquire significance in later books. Fancy concepts like foreshadowing are utilized. Characters die – or don’t die – with deliberation and meaning. Storylines are resolved – or aren’t – and reignite later. And sadly – when its over, its over.

And its over for Georgina Kincaid. I’m sad, but satisfied that Georgina’s story ends the way that Richelle always intended it to. But at the same time, Sydney Sage’s story is brand new. There are terrible and beautiful things that will surely befall her in the next five books. I will worry about Sydney and Jill and Adrian for months while I wait for the next book to come out, which I will then read in record time, and start worrying all over again.

Its the circle of life, darlings. And I love it.

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The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins
May 6, 2011

I am totally serious when I tell you that this is one of the best book series in the history of the world.

If you haven’t heard of it, you are living under a very secluded rock, and your internet access is probably pretty patchy, so I thank you for using your meager bandwidth to read my blog. If you are among the living and have heard of it – but not made the leap into reading it – you are feeling worried and hesitant right now. You don’t like “hunger” and you care less for “games”. Perhaps you tend more toward “eating” and “praying” and “loving”  Trust me, I totally feel you. I had similar concerns and I assure you they were completely unfounded.

It should be noted that my beloved friend Vampire Susan read this book before me, and had it not been for her enthusiastic endorsement, I can’t say that I would have read it. The Hunger Games has taught me many things, but first and foremost I learned to trust Vampire Susan when she gets a little teary and scarily insistent about a book.

In addition to the the strident Vampire Susan endorsement, it should not surprise you to learn that I was also attracted to this series because it was being called “The Next Twilight“.

While the writing is orders of magnitude better than The Twilight Saga, it shares a similarly addictive quality and is literally screaming for a film adaption (which is well underway).

From the first page of The Hunger Games, I was obsessed and enchanted on a scale equal to that of Twilight, however it was immediately clear that this was not Twilight. Instead of love triangles and supernatural creatures,  it is a dark and violent tale that centers on a sadistic, fight-to-the-death reality television show for children, charmingly called The Hunger Games. Its like Survivor for teenagers, except that participation is compulsory and no one is voted off the island – they are murdered by the other contestants.

The story is set in the nation of Panem, which is located in a vaguely futuristic North America rendered not quite unrecognizable by the ravages of global climate change and society shattering revolution. Panem is comprised of 12 Districts, each teetering uniquely on the cruel and ragged edge of poverty. The citizens of each district are allowed to exist only as cogs in a machine of conspicuous consumption driven by the fleeting and violent appetite of the wealthy, privileged citizens of The Capitol. While Panem is resolutely not America, it is quietly haunted by a familiar American echo. Places and names whisper to the reader that Panem may have once been America, and that America could one day become Panem.

Like Twilight, The Hunger Games is written from the perspective of a dark haired teenage girl, but make no mistake – Katniss Everdeen is no Bella Swan. While Bella takes 3.5 books becomes a bit of a badass, Katniss doesn’t have the luxury of time and the love of a beautiful vampire to coax her into heroism. After losing her father to a mine accident and her mother to paralyzing grief, 12 year old Katniss stepped into the role of parent and provider for her sweet little sister Primrose. So, several years later when Prim turns 12 and is selected as a contestant in the The Hunger Games – where she will surely die – Katniss does not hesitate to take her place.

Nobody’s damsel in distress, Katniss is a hunter and a warrior – strong, savvy and smart.  She’s an imperfect heroine whose greatest weaknesses may be her pitch-perfect teenage girl insecurities and her insistence on sacrificing herself for the people she loves.

While there are frequent moments of humor, intrigue and romance, this is undeniably a story about the futility of war and its profound and destructive impact upon children. While it is an exceptional work of escapist, adventure-focused fiction, it is also a timely meditation on class stratification, the media’s glorification of violence and the inherent corruption of power.

Did I mention that this is a Young Adult book?

The brilliant Suzanne Collins does not pander to her young audience. Where other authors may have tried to sugarcoat this story of children forced to kill children, she does not condescend or flinch from the horrors of war and sad finality of death. While it is set in a world consumed by tragedy and hopelessness, it is also a testament to to the bonds of friendship, family and shared humanity. The Hunger Games is more than just a message – it is a sad and beautiful story of patriotism and revolution, betrayal and loyalty, and the transformative power of both love and hate.

It is not for the faint of heart, but never disappoints. Please read it.

Bloodsucking Fiends – By Christopher Moore
April 14, 2011

Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends is a funny and twisted vampire romance from an earlier age of vampire stories, where all the references to pop culture vampires are centered on Anne Rice and Lestat de Lioncourt, instead of Stephenie Meyer and Edward Cullen.

As you know, I possess an inscrutable and unknowable love for THAT vampire series – The  Twilight Saga. However, let it not be forgotten that back in the day I was equally psychotic and irrational about Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. My 1990’s-era copy of The Vampire Lestat featured so many of my favorite passages outlined in fading yellow highlighter that even I had to admit I would have been better served to highlight the passages I did not find profound and beautiful and revolutionary. Growing up in the suburbs of San Francisco, no book entranced and enchanted my teenage soul like The Vampire Lestat. (Except maybe The Stand by Stephen King).

Beset as I am by my love for the most famous vampire series of this century, I am not unfamiliar with the pop psychology analysis of the current vampire craze, which seems to be a bit over-reaching in its suggestion that our predilection for “vegetarian vampires” is emblematic of post-Cold War anxieties and the twin specters of American consumerism and rising globalism…or whatever.

I honestly don’t know what it is about the condition of our economy and society that creates an almost universal interest in vampires.  Nor do I know what it says about us that our post-modern vampires eschew the classical view of humans as a food supply, and instead they want to screw us and love us and buy us fancy cars and houses. (Ok, maybe it does suggest we are a tad materialistic.)

Back in the day, however, the popular interest in vampires seemed more blatantly reflective of a collective consciousness haunted by fear and blood and death in the dark shape of the of the exploding AIDS epidemic.

While Bloodsucking Fiends is set in 1990s San Francisco, a city inside the dark heart of a horrifying real-life pandemic, it is mostly a hilarious and charming tale of a magical city populated by quirky and clever outsiders  – where homelessness, mental illness – and yes – terminal illness play clever and amusing supporting roles.

Originally published in the mid-nineties, Bloodsucking Fiends follows twenty-something  insurance adjuster Jody who wakes up one evening under a dumpster, suddenly immortal with thousands of dollars in cash stuffed in her blouse. Once she realizes that she is a vampire, her biggest regret is that she never shed that stubborn 5 pounds, and is now doomed to carry it forever.  Jody is addicted to bad relationships and needs an apartment and a new human boyfriend to help her manage her new nocturnal and supernatural life. She happens upon aspiring writer Tommy Flood, who is naive and kind-hearted and girl crazy. Their unlikely love story unfolds against a backdrop of murder and mayhem colored by a slacker sensibility that is uniquely 1990s.

Two brilliantly-titled sequels have followed Bloodsucking FiendsBite Me and You Suck, respectively.  I can’t wait to read them and find out how the new millennium and a new vampire craze are treating Jody and Tommy, et al.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness
March 20, 2011

Are you guys surprised to hear that this book has been called “Twilight for Adults”?

I know, I know, it seems like all it takes to get me to read a book is to call it “the new Twilight” or “Twilight for grown-ups”. I’m easy like that. But, I seriously didn’t know that people were comparing this book to Twilight until I had already started reading it. Of course, after hearing the comparison, I was hyper-vigilant for Twilight references. I have to say, the comparing was exhausting and eventually boring and at a certain point, I just abandoned it and just read the story.

While I see why people compare the books, but I don’t know that I would have made the comparison on my own. Every book with a vampire isn’t Twilight you guys, and I kind of wish that people would stop comparing every vampire book with Twilight. (When I say “people”, I obviously don’t include myself and I will continue to compare things to Twilight as I see fit. So there. 😛 )

A Discovery of Witches is the story of Diana Bishop, a scholar of alchemical literature who falls in love with a vampire. Unlike Twilight, that is the least complicated part of the story. It’s really about secret books and secret societies and secret powers.

For a girl who has been reading YA books almost exclusively for years now, it was also really long. I kind of liked that despite reading almost every day, it still took me weeks to read this book. Usually, I get obsessed with a book, and read it all in a few days, and then its over and I’m sad. In this case, I was obsessed, but it was really long and I really couldn’t just read it in a day.

I heard through the book grapevine that my dear friend Vampire Susan read this book and commented that it was very science-y and she had to skip some parts. I love Vampire Susan, and totally understand how the science could be boring, but I secretly love science, so I kind of liked the science stuff. It was also very history-ish, and I am not as good at history, so I felt like maybe there were history jokes being made and I didn’t get them. Also, I read the About The Author part on the back of the book and found out that author – Deborah E. Harkness –  is a professor of history, and I honestly felt a little intimidated.  However, she is also really into wine so I felt like she couldn’t be too scary.

I was actually quite swept away by the romance and intrigue and science and history of the story. One evening,  I missed part of Jersey Shore because I was so captivated. I don’t know what else I could tell you that would communicate how good this book is.

Please be forewarned that this book is intended to be the first of a series, scheduled to continue in 2012. While its clear when you reach the end of the book that it will continue, it isn’t a terrible cliffhanger. That being said, I am really interested in finding out what happens next and will surely read the sequel as soon as its released.

As you guys know, I am OBSESSED with book covers. Little do you know, I am also really into book titles. The cover of this book is just words and symbols, but the spine contains a pretty picture of Oxford. However, I don’t really like the title of the book, and feel like it should have been called Spellbound. Read the book and tell me if you agree!