Saturday, April 5, 2008

Twilight series

By Stephanie Meyer

I resisted this series for a long time. I'd seen it around, it kept popping up when I was doing my young adult fiction class, but it hadn't really been recommended to me by anyone I knew, so I didn't bother with it. The third book in the series, Eclipse, came out recently, so I kept seeing it promoted in book stores.

Finally, I gave in. What is it that all these teenagers are finding so interesting? I admit that I gave in shortly after re-reading Sunshine and found myself craving more vampire fiction. Haha.

Yes, these are more vampire books. This series is, however, much more in the romance genre than the horror genre (which isn't to say that there aren't scary parts, however).

Basically, the story involves shy, awkward Bella moving in with her father, Charlie, in Forks, Washington when her mother remarries. She is surprisingly popular at her new high school, and makes friends, and is pursued by boys, none of which were things that happened at her last school in Phoenix, Arizona. One boy in particular, Edward, is particularly attractive to her, but he tries to remain aloof from her. Finally though, he gives in, even though every moment they spend together puts her in danger, since he's a vampire. He's a vegetarian vampire -- he doesn't eat humans -- but her particularly alluring scent tempts him to lose control. Also, of course, there's more danger you can get into when you associate with vampires.

I can completely see why these books are so popular, especially among teens. The emotions of young love are so well described and so intense that I found myself quite wrapped up in Edward and Bella's blooming relationship. I also found myself frustrated that they never even so much as take off their shirts; it's all very proper. They have heated and passionate kisses... and that's it. *sigh*

I eagerly devoured the following two books in the series: New Moon and Eclipse. In New Moon, Bella finds herself without Edward for some time, causing her to be a complete wreck. In Eclipse, she is in a bit of a love triangle and gets into a big hubbub with other vampires and some werewolves. Throughout these books, she continues her blind devotion to Edward and her desire to be turned into a vampire as well.

While I really enjoyed reading them, I'm left with a bit of a sour aftertaste. They are a little like literary junk food. The first book draws on ideas from Genesis in the Bible, the whole knowledge of good and evil thing. The second book steals not too subtly from Romeo and Juliet, the third from Wuthering Heights. Not only are the allusions not-too-subtle, but Bella is actually reading Romeo and Juliet, and Wuthering Heights at the beginning of each novel. When the fourth book comes out, I'll just check out what Bella is reading as the story opens, and I'll know how it turns out. Considering the lack of actual sex so far in the novels, hopefully she'll be reading a Playboy magazine or something. Just get it over with already! Sheesh!

This brings me to my main concern about this book. I'm suspicious that the values of the author lean to saving your soul by avoiding pre-marital sex, and mindless devotion to your husband. Indeed, Meyer did attend Brigham Young University, which is where many young Mormons go to college. While there's nothing wrong with promoting your beliefs, I am worried that all this abstinence-only stuff is getting out of hand. According to how things work out in the Twilight series (so far) it's fine for you to be so in love that you practically die when your love goes away, just as long as you don't actually ever have sex. I don't know; I guess all the tension of not having sex does help the book out. Without that tension they would probably lose a lot of the teenage fans. I'm not sure that loads of teenagers getting married at 18 just so they can finally have sex is really the best thing though.

I'll end this luke-warm review by admitting that I am eagerly awaiting the fourth book, due out in August, and the movie of the first book, due out in December. Even though it does pain me a bit to admit it. (Hey, it's better than when my generation was devouring Flowers in the Attic.)


by Robin McKinley, published by Berkley Books in October 2003, 389 pages

I've been meaning to review this one for quite some time now. I first read this book in early 2007, shortly after taking the class Book Lust with Nancy Pearl. (You may have heard of Nancy, she does book recommendations for NPR, and has her own action figure! Her superpower is that if you talk to her for a minute or so, she will be able to recommend the perfect book for you to read. It's really quite eerie.) For her class, we had to read at least one book from each fiction genre. I mentioned that I hadn't read one for horror yet, and she recommended this book, Sunshine.

Her recommendation was excellent. Sunshine has a perfect blend of magic, vampires, strange other things that are creepy, some nice sensual bits, and a good coming of age story (one of my weaknesses, and why I'm drawn to young adult fiction in general) for my tastes.

It's told in first person by Sunshine, a young woman who does the baking for Charlie's Bakery, who is living as simple a life as people can anymore, after the Voodoo wars that decimated the population and made certain areas of the cities unlivable. Charlie, her stepfather, has created a family around the people who work and frequent his bakery, and they all get along well, gather for movie nights every Friday, and generally get by.

Sunshine gets a little bored and cramped by all this one day, and goes for a walk by herself. She goes to the lake, which is a little too close to a Bad Area, and gets abducted by a gang of vampires. They leave her in a deserted house to tempt their enemy, a very strong and powerful vampire who they have managed to capture and chain up in the house.

An uncertain truce develops between them, and this drags Sunshine into the middle of a vampire war. She learns that vampires have gotten closer to taking over the world than any human had yet feared, and maybe by joining forces with her new vampire friend she can help to prevent it. Along the way, she also begins to discover she has some secrets of her own that might just come in handy.

This is definitely a horror book; there is plenty of gore, destruction, and scrapes with death here. There's also a bit of graphic sexuality that was actually a bit shocking (I think I've been reading too many young adult books). Plenty of vampires and other demons to keep any Buffy fan happy. In fact, there were more than a few things that reminded me of Buffy.

Something that I really appreciated was the author's ability to blend normalcy with the supernatural. One moment Sunshine is in her bakery, making cinnamon rolls "as big as your head", something she is famous for at Charlie's. The next page, she's chained up next to a vampire, dripping with blood. When Sunshine is next at home, she spends several pages (or chapters? I can't remember) trying to forget what happened and pretending everything is normal again. That resolute desire to have everything back to normal just by pretending is something I'm sure we've all felt at some point. We can even get away with it sometimes. That dread of a buried experience builds up the tension and horror in a very effective way, is maybe even scarier than being attacked by a vampire.

I don't think I've given away too much, even with this lengthy of a review. I highly recommend this book, if you are up for the horror bits. I liked it so much, I re-read it with the year, and proceeded to read everything else I could find by this author. None of her other novels come close to this one, in my opinion.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

By Sloane Crosley
A review of a review

I can't tell if I want to read this or not. From the review I just read, I'm vaguely irritated, but also compelled, by the book. I half wonder if it is the review itself that annoyed me, or the idea of this book. Let me share my observations. (The following quotes come from the article "I Was Told There'd Be Cake": Savvy, funny musings of a 20-something By Haley Edwards; Special to The Seattle Times, published 4/4/08)

First there's this tidbit. The reviewer says that the book is funny, but she's not sure why. "Maybe it's because Crosley, a 20-something New York City girl, is just like us. She grew up in a middle-class, middle-income family in the plain vanilla suburbs." Yeah, just like you, maybe. Does this mean that the rest of us won't think it's funny?

On the other hand, how can I resist inside jokes that I actually get? "In one essay, Crosley writes that a certain girl 'looked cooler than Jem and her Holograms.'" And... "Crosley masterfully re-creates the Millennial generation's coltish obsession with the computer game 'Oregon Trail.'... Crosley would name one of her characters after her algebra teacher, who she 'loathed,' she writes. 'Then I would intentionally lose the game, starving her or fording a river with her when I knew she was weak ... Eventually a message would pop up in the middle of the screen, framed in a neat box: Mrs. Ross has died of dysentery. This filled me with glee.'"

(side note: "Millennial generation's coltish obsession"? Huh? Sure, I was obsessed with My Little Ponies. The obsession with "Oregon Trail" is surely more cultish than coltish. Ok, I'll stop being snarky.)

So you can see my dilemma. I may have to read this book, just to see if it's the book or the review that bothered me.