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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If I Stay – By Gayle Foreman
June 14, 2011

As you have probably surmised, I love YA. I love it because as a virtual grown-up, its always an escape for me. I gave up on “serious fiction” a long time ago. I made the decision that I didn’t want reading to be a chore, I wanted it to be an escape. I wanted it to be fun. I live a real life, with real problems and I don’t really want to read stories about real life.

This book is real life, and in this case it hit particularly close to home for me.

This book was pretty serious. It is the story of a girl named Mia who takes a drive with her parents and younger brother one winter morning. The drive ends in an accident which takes the lives of her parents and brother – leaving Mia gravely injured and trapped in a limbo of sorts. Like a ghost, she wanders the hallways of the hospital where her body lies comatose, reflecting on her life and trying to decide whether to try to live her now-shattered life….or to give up the fight and die.

Pretty heavy, right?

It is very heavy, yet still enjoyable to read. Mia’s life is simple and beautiful. She has no superpowers, there are no vampires or shapeshifters making things interesting. It is simply the story of a 17 year old girl – the child of mellowing punk rock parents. Despite her punk roots, Mia has become a talented classical cellist and has applied to Julliard.  Her life is filled with the usual drama and moderate angst that are the hallmarks of teenage life. Her boyfriend Adam is a talented musician in a local band on the rise, he fits almost perfectly into her quirky musical family – but in the days before the accident Mia had begun to fret that they would grow apart when high school drew to a close.  Before the accident, it wasn’t quite clear to Mia that her life was filled with such possibility and love.

Her reflections on her life paint a portrait of a family both unconventional and extraordinary and make the choice that Mia makes  all the more heartbreaking. She watches as her family and friends implore her to stay, but whisper quietly that they will forgive her if she cannot bear the weight of the tragedy.

I won’t tell you what Mia chooses, but I will say this: As I read this book I was quietly annoyed that the author recently published a sequel, Where She Went. I love a series, but I also appreciate a good stand alone story.  I hate to see perfect single volume tale ruined after the fact by the desire for sequel sales. I prepared myself to use this story as an example of an unnecessary sequel and rant and rave about greed and how series are ruining YA, etc etc etc.

But, when I finished the story, I realized I was dying to know Where She Went. So, I will continue to read Mia’s story.

Just not yet. As I was reading this book, friends of mine lost a young family member to a tragic car accident. I had only met this young woman a few times, but she was sweet and kind and her family loved her dearly. She was a real young girl, who lived and laughed and danced and loved – and in a moment she was gone.  There was no time for her to choose to stay or not. Her shattered family stays behind – grappling with the unimaginable – and comforted only by the dark reality that she did not suffer.

And that’s more than enough real life for me right now.

Paranormalcy By Kiersten White
June 12, 2011

This was the first book I read on my brand new Kindle, so its kind of special.

I love my beautiful book machine, but I miss cover art. And this book has lovely cover art, so who knows if I would have loved it more or less if I read it the old fashioned way.

Paranormacy is the story of Evie, a 16 year-old  government employee who loves pop culture, is enamored by teen culture – specifically high school –  and hunts paranormal creatures. So, yes, its pretty much the story of my life. Except that I only act 16, but in reality I am actually a few years older. Yeah. Who needs reality anyway, right?

Also, you say Evie I think Out of This WorldWho else is with me?

Anyway, back to this Evie.

Hers is a glamorless life. Allegedly human, she is able to see past all supernatural glamor – and is thusly very valuable to the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA), where she works as a paranormal tracker and trapper. An orphan, she is cared for by the agency and assigned to a woman named Raquel, who is kind of like a cross between her foster mother and boss. Given that Evie lives this very unconventional but sheltered life, never attending high school, never knowing anyone her age, she wants nothing more than to be a normal teenaged girl. Her only knowledge of teenaged life comes from watching TV shows – her favorite is a teen soap called Easton Heights. (In my mind this is a reference to this 90s show that somehow never caught on, despite featuring a rocking hit song sung by a pre-90210 Jamie Walters.)

Oh and she loves anything pink and sparkly. Ok. So, no one is perfect.

Evie is kind of exploited by her employer/ward for her special skills. She is kept in what amounts to a institutionally gilded cage – where she has an apartment of sorts and is home schooled and she is only allowed out into the world to capture paranormal creatures. A little bit brainwashed, she believes she is doing the right thing – protecting the world from vampires, werewolves and the like. But is she?

When she captures a boy her own age named Lend (lamest name ever), Evie begins to question who and what she is, and if she is really using her talents for good.

This book is completely devoid of profanity. Before you get too disappointed, the author devised a clever way to keep her heroine swearing without rousing the ire of any boring censors. Evie’s best friend is a foul-mouthed mermaid who can only speak via a computer translator which translates every dirty word as “bleep”, a pseudonym that Evie adopts uttering such immortal lines as “What the bleep am I?” and “Oh, bleep.”

It might say more about my unending affection for Richelle Mead’s Succubus series than this series itself when I say that this kind of reminded me of a YA version of Mead’s Succubus books. It has a bit of a derivative feel but, I enjoyed it all the same.

According to The Oracle known as Amazon.com, Paranormalcy will eventually become a trilogy.  The next installment – Supernaturally – is due in July 2011.

Can I just say, as much as I despise the terrible heat and sunshiney-ness of summer, this one is shaping up to be quite good for books – both YA and otherwise. In addition to the final book in Wolves of Mercy Falls series, this summer also brings the sequel to Once a Witch, the first book in the aforementioned Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy spin-off series Bloodlines as well as the final book in the super-adult Succubus series – Succubus Revealed.

Here’s to staying indoors all summer long!

Old People Hate YA
June 5, 2011

So, apparently the Wall Street Journal has discovered Young Adult fiction…. and they HATE it.

Whew!

For a moment I was worried that YA had jumped the shark, and even old people were into it now.

I guess old people were tired of complaining about loud music and computers, so they decided to take a trip to the YA section at Barnes and Noble, and they were shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at what they found. The Wall Street Journal – that bastion of youth-focused culture and edginess – felt it was its duty to warn the world of the horror lurking in school libraries and bookshelves all across America.  You can read the article here.

The crux of WSJ’s complaint is the same complaint that old people have had about young people since time immemorial. Why can’t you kids like good music/movies/books/clothes like they had back in my day?

The author – someone named Meghan Cox Gurdon – essentially argues that YA books these days are all about cutting and raping and incest. Letting kids read about such things normalizes them and makes kids more likely to cut and rape and incest. Or something.

Back in her day YA books were dark too, but they were dark in a more modest and appropriate way. Books used to only allude to drugs and sex and violence, and never came right out and used the F-word! The F-word! Can you imagine? Grandma Gurdon seems to think that kids should just pipe down about their issues, because if other kids find out about problems they might get problems too!

She even drags the beloved Judy Blume into her awful argument, insisting that if Publishers Weekly says that Lauren Myracle is “this generation’s Judy Blume” that the writers bear comparison. They don’t, and not just because Lauren Myracle’s writing is nowhere near the caliber of Judy Blume, but also because Judy Blume is this generation’s Judy Blume. Judy Blume is timeless. Lauren Myracle is meh.

Grandma Gurdon even pretends to be cool and relevant by suggesting a few appropriate selections for “Young Men” and “Young Women”. The best part about the suggested reading isn’t just that she thinks boys and girls would never like the same books, but also that 6 books are suggested for boys, but only 5 for girls. Because boys are better readers, right? Or perhaps girls shouldn’t be reading books anyway, they should be learning about more relevant things like housekeeping? Also, of the 11 books suggested – only 7 were published in this century.

The irony of suggesting that kids- but only the boys – read Farenheit 451 while at the same time suggesting that some books are dangerous seems to escape Grandma too.

Oh and the comments on the article are like the Circus of Your Elders. One commenter – whose user name is her husband’s name, but is adorably modern enough to sign her actual name – realizes that the reason that her YA novel has been rejected 12 times is that all the kids want to read about is bestiality, self-mutilation and gore. I think its probably more likely that her novel remains unpublished because she is clearly out of touch with what is popular in her chosen genre.

At the end of the day, it really dosen’t matter what the oldsters at the WSJ think about the state of YA literature. I’m pretty sure that the first time most teenagers heard about the WSJ was when this article started trending on Twitter today. All of this is pretty reassuring to this adult fan of YA literature. If the Generation Gap can survive global warming and the Baby Boom, maybe there’s hope for humanity after all.

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.

Once A Witch – By Carolyn MacCullough
March 31, 2011

So, this book is basically a YA version of  A Discovery of Witches. And that’s totally cool. If you don’t want to read a really long book for grown-ups right now, but you still want to read about witches and blood feuds and secret books and time travel and big rambling houses in upstate New York – this is the book for you!

Once A Witch is the story of Tasmin, a snarky cigarette smoking teenager born into a family of powerful witches. Unfortunately, Tasmin seems to have failed to manifest a magical Talent as expected, and is the proverbial black sheep of her family. Overshadowed by a beautiful and Talented sister, Tasmin feels like she dosen’t belong in her own family.  So in an attempt to escape the disappointed and piteous gazes of her magically inclined family, she attends a boarding school for humans in New York City.

While home from school for the summer, Tasmin reconnects with childhood friend-that’s-a-boy, Gabriel – who has grown into a hot musician who can time travel. She also falls into the magical trap of a scary-yet-sexy NYU professor and places the existence of her entire family in jeopardy.

This book features several things that I ADORE in a YA book:

1) Gorgeous cover art!

2) Boarding School!!

3) Supernatural shenanigans

4) Teenage drinking and smoking presented in a non-judgmental manner

The sequel to this story – Always a Witch -will be available August and I will surely continue to follow Tasmin’s tale of late blooming magical powers. You should too!

Caitlin – The Love Trilogy – #2 – Love Lost
February 11, 2011

Obviously, you should read my review of The Love Trilogy #1  Loving before you go any further.

When last we met our heroine, the RAVEN HAIRED Caitlin Ryan, she was blissfully in love with cleft-chinned cowboy Jed Michaels, but burdened with the guilty secret of her unintentional role in The Accident.

The Accident is a huge part of Loving and I probably should have explained it in more detail earlier, but it is so convoluted and ridiculous that I was hoping it would go away.  But no, The Accident is here to stay. Apparently, it cannot be contained by only one book! So, I will do my best to explain it to you, but please know in advance,  it is not going to make any sense. Because it actually doesn’t. Just go with it!

Here goes: Caitlin Ryan, RAVEN HAIRED rich bitch extraordinaire falls in love at first sight with Jed Michaels. Caitlin throws herself at Jed, but he isn’t interested because he thinks Caitlin is a bitch and Jed’s mother is a bitch and he just doesn’t like bitches.  Besides he’s already dating a scholarship girl named Diana. Jed is really into Diana, because she’s really poor and helpless and fragile and totally reminds him of his sister and apparently he’s into that kind of thing.   Meanwhile, Caitlin is producing a drag show at school – for charity of course – and needed a shovel for a prop. She uses this as a pretext to lurk over to the dean’s house – where Diana is babysitting – to see if Jed and Diana are making out or studying or something.  When Caitlin arrives at the house, Diana is inside answering the phone and the dean’s 6-year-old son Ian is contentedly playing in the yard by himself. Jed is nowhere to be found. No one sees Caitlin as she sneaks into the backyard and unlocks the shed to take a shovel. She’s in such a hurry to leave that she forgets to lock the shed. As soon as Caitlin is out of sight, Ian immediately wanders over to the shed, goes inside and eats a bunch of pesticides. He wanders back out and then falls down, hits his head and slips into a coma. Eventually, he wakes up, but he’s mysteriously paralyzed from the waist down.

Everyone blames The Accident on Diana, because she wasn’t watching Ian and must have left the shed unlocked. Even thought Diana knows she locked the shed, she also knows no one else could have left it unlocked. But, no one knows that Caitlin was there, and of course Caitlin doesn’t confess. Confessing is for poor people! Diana feels extremely guilty about The Accident and drops out of school and breaks up with Jed and disappears.  Caitlin also feels really bad for her role in The Accident, and also for letting Diana take the fall, but not bad enough to keep her from scooping up Jed and making him her own.

When we rejoin this saga, Caitlin and Jed have been desperately and beautifully in love for months now.  The only thing that mars their perfect coupling is the secret of Caitlin’s role in The Accident.

Jed’s love has TOTALLY changed Caitlin! Nowadays, she spends her afternoons helping poor, paralyzed Ian learn to walk again. She tells herself that if she can help Ian walk again it will balance out her culpability. She’s like a miracle worker!  Ian loves her, his family loves her and even the professional medical staff is impressed by Caitlin’s almost supernatural healing abilities. Its like she was born to tend to sick people! Like it is in her genes or something (hint, hint)!

When she isn’t making miracles, Caitlin is kinda obsessed with the fate of Diana.  She asks around about her and eventually finds out that Diana is anorexic now and has been hospitalized. For some reason, everyone calls it “anorectic”, which is an official word but I don’t think it applies in this case. (Clearly, A LOT of medical research has gone into The Trilogies).  One of the best/worst parts of this epic tale is the misinformation about anorexia. Of course, Caitlin knows that this anorexia was caused by the guilt Diana feels about The Accident, and The Accident was really Caitlin’s fault and therefore Caitlin caused Diana’s anorexia! Of course she did! Because that’s totally how anorexia works! (It isn’t.)

Jed Michaels: Creepy Cleft-Chinned Cowboy

Remember how Caitlin wrote Jed a letter confessing her role in The Accident, but decided not to give it to him and instead hid the letter in book? Remember how that seemed like a bad idea? It totally was, because Jed finds the letter and he is PISSED. He actually wants to kill Caitlin, but decides that maybe he will just rape her instead. Seriously.

Thankfully, he decides at the last minute that while Caitlin deserved to be raped, he just couldn’t do it, so he just goes back to Montana for the summer.

Confused and hurt, Caitlin knows that she can’t live without Jed so she decides she needs to do something to prove to Jed how sorry she is for lying about The Accident. I mean, a girl can’t just give up on a guy just because he tries to rape her, right?

Its pretty obvious what Caitlin needs to do to make things right. She immediately tracks down Diana at the Eating Disorder Hospital and – using a fake name and wearing a disguise – she signs up as a volunteer.

This is not just any disguise, you guys.

It isn’t like she just puts on glasses with a fake nose and mustache attached and calls it good. No, this is a serious disguise. Caitlin slicks her hair back, uses makeup to make herself pale and tired looking, gets some frumpy clothes, puts on a pair of glasses and – presto-chango! – she is unrecognizable!

Having basically morphed into someone else, Caitlin becomes a volunteer at the hospital, passing out magazines and books to the patients.  When she finds Diana catatonic and refusing to eat, she requests that the hospital allow her to try to help the girl. Obviously, they agree.  How could they not? Who wouldn’t allow a random teenager unfettered access to a severely mentally ill patient?

So, armed with a couple of library books on anorexia and a little elbow grease,  Caitlin cures Diana of anorexia!

Initially, Caitlin’s treatment plan of  holding Diana’s hand and whispering generic encouragement in her ear doesn’t work. In desperation, she whispers to Diana that the accident wasn’t her fault and that someone else had left the shed unlocked. Obviously, this totally does the trick and Diana wakes up and starts eating again.

All of the doctors and  hospital staff are thrilled and impressed by Caitlin. She’s like The Anorexia Whisperer!

At first, Diana doesn’t recognize Caitlin. How could she? Caitlin does have her hair in a bun and is wearing glasses. She thinks that Caitlin is just a random traveling miracle worker named “Karen Martin”. But, as Caitlin’s anorexia treatments continue, Diana starts to think that she recognizes Caitlin’s voice. Unsure of herself, Diana invites Laurence, another Highgate Student who knows both girls to help her decide if “Karen Martin” is really Caitlin Ryan. Laurence, who must have x-ray vision or something to see through Caitlin’s brilliant disguise, immediately recognizes her.

But, instead of immediately confronting “Karen”, Laurence and Diana just play along with the charade. Well, that’s probably easier. It might be awkward to point out that Caitlin is wearing a disguise and pretending to be a different person while performing amateur eating disorder treatments.

Meanwhile, Diana’s doctor – the handsome, dark-haired Dr. Westlake – also recognizes Caitlin. After taking to Diana, who tells him that “Karen Martin” = Caitlin Ryan, Dr. Westlake realizes that Caitlin is the daughter of a girl who he had loved and lost 17 years ago – a girl named Laura Ryan (DUN DUN DUN!). Dr Westlake remembers meeting Regina Ryan (AKA Mean Old Grandma) back in the day and decides to pay her a visit to talk about her amazing granddaughter, The Anorexia Whisperer.

Mean Old Grandma remembers Dr. Westlake and immediately announces that he is Caitlin’s father.

Of course he is.

Apparently Dr. Westlake and Laura had fallen in love in college, but Mean Old Grandma didn’t approve, and forbid them to be together. Before she could tear Laura away from the then-struggling medical student, Laura got knocked up. Mean Old Grandma forced Laura to leave without out even saying goodbye to her love, and Dr. Westlake never heard from them again.  Laura died giving birth to Caitlin and Mean Old Grandma became her guardian. For convenience’s sake, Mean Old Grandma lied to Caitlin and told her that her father intentionally abandoned her. But in truth, Dr. Westlake didn’t even know she existed.

Now, Dr. Westlake is all excited to tell Miracle Worker Caitlin Ryan that he’s her father.

But, instead of being happy, Caitlin is furious. She thinks Dr. Westlake is lying and that he did abandon her and she hates him. Mean Old Grandma would never lie to her! (BTW, she TOTALLY would.)

But, now that her cover is blown by her super-sleuting secret father, Caitlin has to confess to Diana who she really is and the real reason that she is there at the hospital. In disguise. Curing anorexia. AWKWARD!

Love Lost circa 1991

But, Diana isn’t mad at Caitlin at all!  She forgives Caitlin for her role in The Accident and they become really good friends. At the end of the summer, Diana leaves the hospital and moves away, but she and Caitlin vow to be BFFs. Oh and Caitlin starts dating Diana’s friend Laurence, but she just can’t forget about Jed. How could she? Yes, he’s a douchebag with an Oedipus complex, but he does have a cleft chin and rides horses so Caitlin can’t just let a guy like that go!

What will happen when Caitlin and Jed return to Highgate Academy in the fall? Stay tuned for True Love.

Awesome Outfit: Violet Ball gown with a scooped neck and puffed sleeves ending at a row of buttons at the wrist

Cover Art: The original cover of this book (featured at the top of this post) is one of the best of the series. The 1990s reissue of the series to your left is also amazing in its awfulness.

Sunset High – #1 – Getting Experienced
February 2, 2011

As you can see from the image to your left, this is yet another YA nostalgia read. One day, I will read another modern book – I swear! – but its going to be difficult. What with the Trilogy of Trilogies and my latest muse, Sunset High.

Perhaps I’m just dizzy from the low expectations set by my previous read – Loving – but I seriously think these books are freaking awesome.

Oh. Is that doubt I’m sensing?

Before we go any further, I think you should know something: Joan Collins makes a cameo appearance in this book.

That’s correct. JOAN F*CKING COLLINS. Of Dynasty and general 80s fabulousness!

She has actual lines and interacts with Nadia Laurence – Sunset High’s resident Poor Little Rich Girl.

Now, I know that Caitlin Ryan is RAVEN HAIRED and lives part time in a house with a name (Ryan Acres).  I haven’t finished the trilogies, but I’m pretty damn sure that JOAN F*CKING COLLINS dosen’t appear even once.

Nadia Laurence is a bitch of epic proportions, as well as super-rich and neglected by a busy parental figure.  But instead of organizing a drag show/costume contest like Caitlin Ryan – she attends the Academy Awards and hangs out with  JOAN F*CKING COLLINS.

So right off the bat, Nadia kicks Caitlin’s ass.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Our heroine, Kristin Sullivan, and her family have just moved to Beverly Hills from Minnesota. So she’s kind of like a non-bitchy, twin-less  Brenda Walsh!  Kristin is athletic, fun and freckle-faced. She’s one of those unpretentiously pretty girls, who dosen’t even know she’s pretty. I know, right? Gag.

But, its hard to hate Kristin because she’s really nice and has a normal relationship with her parents and the world in general. While she has episodes of self doubt, she has an actual personality and dosen’t even seem to despise herself. How refreshing!

At her old school, Kristin was a fearlessly popular cheerleader, who had a million friends and everybody loved her. In Beverly Hills, she’s just a boring old farm girl. Its like a totally different world in the 90210. For one, there’s no cheerleading! WTF?  At Sunset High, no one give a shit about sports, but there is a media class where the students make elaborate music videos. Kristin’s dancing skills make a great addition to the music video being produced by dark haired, blue eyed Grady Larkin. Grady clearly loves Kristin on sight and she feels tingly whenever he’s near.

Kristin also befriends Monica Miller, a 16 year old washed up child star trying to rekindle her career, without much success. As a child, Monica was on a show called The Twain Family, which seems similar to Little House On The Prairie.  But she hasn’t worked in years, despite auditioning religiously. Also, Monica has a mullet, wears pink overalls and high heels and rides a motor scooter. But that’s not weird or anything.

OMG. Camp Beverly Hills. Its like a drug flashback, right?

Things are going great with Grady and Kristin. They go on the cutest date EVER to a movie screening. Kristin is feeling insecure about being so Minnesota in Beverly Hills, so she buys a weird ass outfit from the store Camp Beverly Hills. It involves a scarf wrapped around her shoulders and it makes it hard to use her arms. Perfect date outfit, right? Kristin tries acting aloof and cool, and Grady is clearly confused by her insane outfit and attitude change. The date is soooooo awkward, until they stop at a batting cage and Kristin ditches the scarf and hikes up her skirt and they have a great time hitting balls for hours. (Not like that, Pervs!)

BUT, one night after drinking a beer Kristin almost goes too far with Grady and things get weird between them. (Teenage drinking! Bonus Points!) Oh, also – according to Grady, all Beverly Hills parents let their teenagers drink beer. So, Beverly Hills is officially teenage heaven!

Meanwhile, Nadia’s insecure attention is divided between attending the Academy Awards and trying to star in Grady’s music video.

Nadia’s dad is a famous movie producer whose movie The Last Stranger has been nominated for Best Picture. Nadia ‘s parents aren’t getting along so Nadia gets to be his date for the Oscars. This is very cool and Nadia buys a lovely white gown from Giorgio of Beverly Hills and is understandably really excited.

Please keep in mind that Nadia is also batshit crazy. She’s a bit of a pathological liar who is waaaaaay too into going on a date with her dad. She is apparently afflicted with both OCD and such dramatically low self worth that every weekend she uses her personalized stationary to score and graph the popularity of all the girls at school. Sadly, Nadia always comes up short. That’s pretty much low self esteem personified, isn’t it? She invented the scoring system and she assigns the scores, but she loses every week.

None of this matters, because while at the Academy Awards, Nadia and her father encounter JOAN F*CKING COLLINS. Miss Collins recalls a movie she made with Nadia’s father and calls Nadia “a stunner” before wandering off. Other famous actors of the 80s are spotted at the awards, like Cher and Ryan O’Neal and Sally Field, but they are not cool enough to have actual lines.

Chilling with JOAN F*CKING COLLINS and (**Spoiler Alert!**) watching her dad win an Oscar isn’t good enough for our stunning little sociopath. At the awards, Nadia is seated next to fictional movie star Scott Sawyer. She manages to spin this brief interaction into a whole fake relationship and tells everyone at school that they totally hooked up and are in love and he’s gonna be her date to the school dance.

At the same time, Nadia is positively sick with jealousy every time she sees Kristin.  So, in an attempt to destroy her perceived competition, she capitalizes on the awkwardness between Kristin and Grady and convinces Kristin that Grady is cheating on her.

But then, Kristin finds out that Nadia invented her romance with Scott Sawyer and she calls her out on it. Nadia begs Kristin not to tell anyone about her ridiculous lie . In a rookie move, Nadia tries to gain Kristin’s loyalty by admitting that Grady wasn’t cheating on her. But, Kristin wasn’t going to tell anyone about Nadia’s psychotic lies anyway. Kristin gets back together with Grady and everything turns out just lovely.

What random celebrity shout-outs and confusing fashion choices await us in Sunset High Book # 2 – A Chance to Make It? Stay tuned and find out!

Awesome outfits:

  • Form fitting khaki jumpsuit
  • Aforementioned pink overalls/high heels/mullet
  • Huge blouse, giant belt, fringed scarf wrapped weirdly around shoulders topped off with pink bobby socks and high heeled pumps

Cover Art:

I don’t have to say anything, do I? Just look at it.

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.