This is a familiar story.  But is it more than another take on the formula?  Is it infinite?  Is the parapseudo formula infinite...or should I say immortal?   It's like how many Pokemon can you make before they're just derivations of themselves?  This novel raises so many questions--none of them important.

A girl from the Pacific Northwest (not Bella) meets an immortal boy (not Edward) when she moves to a new place (not Forks) into a house with a relative she hasn't spent much time with (not Charlie).  There's a woman (not Victoria) out to get the girl, who drowns herself in sweatshirts.

  • Locale.  It's exciting to read about my hood.  Laguna Beach.  Disneyland.  (No mention of Stanton or Garden Grove.  Maybe in a sequel?)  Setting the story in the OC allows for insight into some of the unique and horrifying aspects of Southern California living--something that could play up the abstract reality of a parapseudo.  The area has some of the most expensive real estate in the country parked right next to ghettos with some of the oldest gangs in California.  Unfortunately, the author doesn't work too much with the potential; still, I liked visualizing something more paranormal than the freakish OC giant boob jobs and orange-skinned cheekbones that I see every day.
  • Interesting back story.  I can't really go into it without ruining the story, so I'll only say that it's somewhat like Angel and Buffy.  If Angel and Buffy have sex, Angel turns evil again.  Remember?  It's sort of like that...in a way.  I like the concept, but there's really no reason to wait until so late in the story to tell us.  Fake suspense is bad suspense.
  • Easy to read.  Writing's not horrible, pace moves along, enough tension to make things interesting.
  • Almost sex.  There's a scene of sexual tension in a little Laguna Beach cove/cave that can safely titillate girls of all ages.  Of course there is a giant reason why they can never have sex without their universe imploding (Angle/Buffy thing), so don't expect too much if you're looking for something pseudo-dirty. 
  • Weak females...once again.  Nothing new here, so nothing new to say.
  • Weird mistakes.  They make me wonder about the author's credibility.  Example:  Sid Vicious was NOT the lead singer of the Sex Pistols as the author has written.
  • Names.  A girl named Ever?  WTF?  The dark love interest named Damen?  That's like calling him Mr. Heart.  I'm not saying that every story has to have a Mary or Beth or Lisa.  But let's keep in mind how ridiculous it is when celebrities name their children stuff like Apple or Pilot Inspektor.  One of the reasons I haven't enjoyed reading fantasy in the past is I get annoyed with the arbitrary Ys and apostrophes.  Who the hell can say Byll'forn or Fha'urel-yspe in their minds for 300+ pages?  Not me.  A character BEING intriguing is much better than a character being NAMED uniquely.
  • The ghostly sister.  What is her role?  Why does Ever depend on her so much?  Why doesn't she cause more trouble, add to the tension?  She could've added dimension to Ever's struggle with her past.  Instead, she just takes on the role of being the annoying little sister--only see-through.
  • Ever thinking she's to blame for her family's death.  I understand that dealing with grief can really wreck a person's rationality, and I acknowledge that we all try to find answers to the questions left behind when a loved one dies.  But since the author doesn't clue us in on any of the possible confusion of the deaths until almost the end, we can't really share in Ever's grief, which makes her more static than I'd like.
  • Damen.  Another guy who acts like a jerk because he's trying to protect the girl.  Another guy who makes the girl feel like shit because he has to preserve their love.  Another guy who can't help putting the girl in danger by hanging around and then rescuing her from his own selfishness.
Bottom line--not the greatest, not the worst.  I recently picked up the second in the series, but I'm in no rush to read it.  Strangely, even though the writing in The House of Night novels is atrocious, I'm (semi)anxiously awaiting their arrival from Amazon.  I'm not sure, really, what's missing from Evermore--or maybe I do, but I've written about it in other posts so many times that I've worked it out of my mind.

When will I find the perfect parapseudo?  Is it out there?  Or will I have to write it myself?


Two "Adult" Parapseudos

I've sprinkled in two novels from the Fantasy Romance section of the library as I wait for a massive Amazon.com shipment of young adult parapseudos.  In a strange way, reading these made me appreciate stuff like The House of Night series.  Odd.

First foray:  The Devil Inside, by Jenna Black

I was excited to read this story because it had a cool premise.  Humans live alongside demons.  There are legal and illegal possessions.  Humans can offer themselves as hosts for legally registered demons, and then together host and demon use their skills for stuff like firefighting.  Then there are the illegal demons.  They possess unwilling hosts, and they do nasty stuff, like engage in orgies of S & M.  The protagonist is a sexy exorcist--a legitimate contract job--and she's got the reputation of being an ass-kicking top dog.

Fun story.

And then there's the sex.  More like SeXXX.  Some would use the term "erotica."  I would describe it as "Penthouse Forum" a la goth.  Lots of thrusting and words like "pre-cum."  I suppose this is what the online ladies are talking about when they say, "This is one steamy novel!"

Second foray:  Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison

Again, an okay story.  One side of Cincinnati is a regular old suburbia.  The other side of the river is where the monsters live.  Some time in the past, some sort of virus got into tomatoes and something or other started killing off people.  But not all people...or were they people?  Then the two factions of life--the humans and the everything else--found that they had to live together, or the human race would die out.  There are two law enforcement factions at war, and our protagonist is a member of the freaky one.  She's a witch.  Other freakies include vampires, pixies, faeries, and were-things (I say "were-things" because there are were-foxes and stuff).  Anyway, the protag has a hit out on her for most of the thing, so there's a lot of action.

But not a lot of sex.

At all.

Actually, there isn't even a kiss.  Not one.

It's like the opposite of the first adult parapseudo I read.  Not that there isn't some flirtation--if you want to call being hypnotized by a vampire whose tongue flicks out a couple times flirtation--but that's about all.  There is some promise of kink, but the closest it gets is a shape-shifting demon turning into a freaky talking dog creature who scratches at her underwear, trying to see if rape is her biggest fear.  Turns out it isn't--being bitten lesbionically by her sexy vamp roommate is.

As I finished Dead Witch Walking, I reminisced about the tummy-tickling teen groping of the young adult parapseudos.  I know what you get now.  It's a pretty good representation, I'd guess, of the typical young adult reader's sex life--although I don't know if I'd call a 14-year-old girl "young adult."  (Barnes & Noble may have it right, labeling the section "Teen Supernatural Romance," as that includes 13-year-olds.)  It's all about the anticipation and the almost in young adult.  There's something moving behind that zipper, but we won't ever get to really experience it unbound.  The girls feel "burning" between their legs, but never from flesh-to-flesh friction; rather, it's from an intense desire of the sensually mysterious--something that, obviously, the whole paranormal aspect of the romance genre is a metaphor for.

So, with my tail between my legs, I return to the teen stuff, looking forward to the in-between.



Thirst 1 & 2 follow the lead of The Vampire Diaries in cramming multiple novels into one package.  This is wonderful.  It's cheaper and you don't have to wait to read the next one.  These two series can both do it because they were published in the early 1990s.  Also, they're relatively short.  Can you imagine a collection of all the Twilight novels?  It'd be bigger than my plethora of Shakespeare's collected works volumes.

Thirst number one includes three novels:  The Last Vampire, Black Blood, and Red Dice.  They're the first parapseudos I've read by a male author, and they're remarkably different on a couple fronts.  I'm not yet willing to say that all male-written teen vamp novels will be the same.  I'll have to read more before I get all feministy. 

First main difference:  the romance.  It's not really there.  None of the squishy stuff like the previous novels I've read.  It's all about love.  Eternal love.  Caring love.  Undying love.  The kissing is bland, if present at all.  The sex scenes are only hinted at.  Bummer!

Second main difference:  the gory fights.  These are definitely action-packed, detailed, and frequent.  They play out well with the whole noirish feel of the plot.

  • Refreshing.  I was really tiring of the same old story.  The author combined vampire stuff with a little Lawrence Sanders-style detective/spy stuff.
  • Finally an actual Badass Female.  Sita/Alisa/Lara doesn't make daily decisions based on her whirlwind teen emotions.  Maybe that's because she's spent 5000 years as a teenager?  Her angst would've been buried with King Tut.  She does break up with God for a few guys, but it's not something she's torn about really.  She makes a decision, and then lives with it.  
  • Historical references.  I loved this aspect.  Sita is one of the original vamps, created in ancient India by a god-human hybrid.  We meet a few Indian deities, and we find out that Sita's met a host of famous people over the 50 centuries:  Socrates, Da Vinci, Stoker, etc. 
  • Quick read.  Not that I don't love to languish in a great novel, but a quick-moving plot is always best.  The author doesn't waste time summarizing past events or re-describing everything and everyone.  Always a forward, purposeful momentum.
  • Writing.  Pike's adept at imagery, metaphor, detail, dialogue.  
  • Humor.  Sita's funny.  Sometimes she means to be, and other times her ancient personality is hilarious.  I love it when she says stuff like "I can easily fly an Army helicopter. I have mastered every invention humans have ever created."
  • Love time line.  She falls in love within days.  Maybe that's okay for a 5000-year-old teen, but how is it possible for a contemporary American teenage boy?  Sita doesn't even do any vampy hypno work on him.  
  • General time line.  In a couple months, she falls in love, wipes out all Los Angeles vamps, blows up a mansion, kills about 50 LAPD and FBI agents, creates a ruckus labeled "terrorism" for its epic scale, infiltrates Area 51, and nukes the Nevada desert.
  • Absence of contractions.  Okay.  With Sita, I get it.  She's been around before English was a language.  In fact, I like it in her.  However, I don't like it in the other characters.  Why would an Oregon teen fail to contract?  What modern teen says, "I do not understand"?  Also, there could be a little more consistency.  Sita contracts in thought, but not in speech.
  • God stuff.  It's a little interesting, but I have a hard time swallowing the whole "I want to be in the grace of God" stuff.  Praying, loving a deity, talking to others about God--is this a vampire's mandate?  Apparently.
I like this series despite some of the cheesy stuff.  It doesn't massage my professor muscle like the Gemma Doyle (A great and Terrible Beauty) or Clary Fray (The Mortal Instruments) novels, but it's good, entertaining writing.  I'll definitely get the second collection.  I read somewhere that there's a new one coming out after many, many years.  Looks like Pike's cashing in on the new parapseudo craze.  Smart guy.  I wonder how Sita will change.

I can see this as a movie--and one that could appeal to several demographics, not just the curious teen girls.  If they did it right, even people like my dad--who loves "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"--would be interested. 

In fact, I brought this book to my dad.  We'll see if he reads it.


House of Night, pt. 1

I have to break up this series for a couple of reasons.

1.  There are 8 books in the series. 

2.  I've only read 5, and I really have the itch to write about it.

3.  I don't want to pay for the hardcovers, so I'm taking an intermission.

So in this section, I'll write about the first 5:  Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, and Hunted.  The titles are kind of cheesy, and they are too easy.  I like more compelling titles.

The premise is yet another take on the vampire.  In this world, vampirism is a genetic mutation that takes hold of some teenagers.  They become "fledglings" and are sent to a vampire finishing school of sorts.  There they learn about vampire sociology, archery, and blow jobs.  Yes.  Giving head.  (Both of these terms are used frequently enough to make it strange.)  Over the course of the 4-year education a fledgling receives, he or she may die a horrible death--turning to bloody slush from the inside out.  On the other hand, he or she may spontaneously burst into a beautiful full vampire--or "vamp," as they're called in the novel.

  • The new take above is interesting.
  • Sexual stuff borders on teen-porn.  I put this as a merit because I look forward to reading about the soft moans and the flicking tongues.  I admit it. 
  • Aphrodite.  She's hilariously cunty, and out of all of the characters, she's the most dynamic.  Five novels in, and I find myself becoming afraid that she'll be killed off in subsequent installments.
  • Spiritual/religious stuff.  There's a ton of Cherokee magic, Christian craziness, Catholic reverence, and pagan ritual.  I like the idea that Nyx (goddess of vampires) is also Mary (Jesus's mom).  I'd compliment the authors on creating a fascinating convergence of spiritual systems...but that'd be going too far.  These novels aren't sophisticated enough for that.  Still, I appreciate the attempt.
  • Relatively page-turny.  I've made it through 5 with only minor revulsions.  (Sort of.)
  • Penetration.  "Making love," it's called.  Perhaps this is a phrase that preteens don't recognize?  Would "hooking up" make more sense to them?
  • Matriarchal society (superficially).  Again, I appreciate the attempt, and that's why this is in the Merits, not the Absolutely Awful.  The women are placed in positions of power--they govern, take consorts, make/change policy, receive worship.  The authors have tapped into some feminist tenets--but some of what some readers would consider "strong women" are actually more like Cristina Aguilera-style feminists to me.  They still define themselves through their relationships with men, they rely on their bodies/sexuality to manipulate situations, they depend on men for protection, and they let cattiness get in the way of real development.
  • Stereotypes that are truly offensive.  Seriously.  The authors (it's a mom-daughter team) have a thing about male homosexuality.  I bet they're the kind of people who say, "I have gay friends, and they know when I use 'fag' that I'm doing it from a place of understanding."  PUHLEEZE.  There are two male characters who squeal, decorate, pirouette, and dress fashionably.  Straight characters are described in terms of their relationship to homosexual stereotypes--and ambiguously.  A character was described as like Leo DiCaprio without the "latent homosexuality."  Huh?  The two black characters speak in what was once called Ebonics.  "I be watchin' you, white boy."  I'm not even kidding. They gyrate and say, "Mmm hmm."  Again, I kid you not.  I could write an entire entry on this...
  • Secondary characters are more interesting than the protagonist.  That's a big problem.
  • Plot summaries from novel to novel.  It's annoying to read pages of summary about what I'd just read.  I hate books that give me a reason to skip pages.  
  • Rituals.  They call it "casting a circle."  Every time they do it--and that's several times each novel--they go through the entire damn thing.  All the chants.  Over and over.  All the physical sensations that go with the chants.  Over and over.  Saying hello to the elements.  Over and over.  Saying goodbye to the elements.  Over and over.  Yet another reason to skip pages. 
  • The writing.  It's just bad.  I'm sorry to be a mean reviewer--I hate it when reviewers are jerks because they like to hear themselves write--but this is one of those situations that calls for brutal honesty.  The writing is worse than Twilight.  (Yet, like Twilight and it's brood, these novels mysteriously keep you reading.  How do these women do that?!)
  • Zoey's boyfriends.  Why does she have to constantly balance three or four at once?  They all play different roles as the novels progress--human blood donor/consort, vampy kinda-mate, older devirginizer, honor-bound protector...etc.  But she's always whining about what boy's forefront in her mind.
I don't know what it is that keeps me reading these novels.  Truly.  But I do keep reading, so there must be something going on.  I hate the bigoted bullshit, but somehow that is canceled out.  Maybe something in the plot?  Maybe Zoey's boyfriend troubles?  Maybe the implications of church evils?  I don't know.  Maybe by the end of the series I'll know.

But do these series ever end?


I'd seen this novel at Target before I actually bought it and settled in.  Initially, I didn't get it because it seemed gimmicky, which I'll describe later.  It's a woof story--a woof love story.  And I like it.

There's this underlying sweetness that unfurls early, but it's not syrupy, and (thankfully) it doesn't last.  It diminishes, like a real relationship.  The couple isn't perfect.  The story isn't, either.  That makes it interesting and different from the lip-focused, eye-obsessed goop that sludges up most of the parapseudos.

  • Penetration.  Actual doing-it.  With a condom!  We don't get to read about the hip grinds and sloshy noises (as we do in some of the "adult" parapseudos I've recently read), but it happens.  The author treats it naturally: the couple is nervous and awkward afterward, and they question their decision.  Loved it!
  • Omniscience works.  In a shorter novel, limiting omniscience to the protag is usually the safe route.  Shiver doesn't do that.  We get an equal glimpse into Grace's and Sam's minds.  It's not distracting, however, and I don't find myself asking the lame question:  Whose story is it?  The story belongs to both of them.
  • The gimmick.  This should really be a part of the previous comment, but since it's unique (kinda).  Not to give too much away, but...the woof doesn't stay woofy in the warmth.  Each chapter starts with a temperature, which adds to the tension.  As the season gets colder, will Sam be able to remain a human, or will Grace have to sleep with a dirty canine?
  • No crazy werewoof hooey.  They're more like just woofs--not John Landis human-eaters. 
  • Tension.  There's a definite sense of foreboding throughout because we're privy to a possible ending that the characters work to avoid.  I'm not gonna spoil it, but just know that my mother cried.  
  • Genuine emotion.  I buy the romance.  It's not overbearing, yet it's still appropriately titillating.  And the feeling that the romance is doomed makes it even better.  Who doesn't like to read a story where one character's dying or leaving or from an incompatible alternate universe?  
  • Girl vs. Boy sexuality.  I'm getting really frustrated with the whole Sally wants it/Johnny must keep it safe thing.  What teenage boy in "love" would sleep stiffly at the edge of the bed to avoid the touch of the obviously horny girl next to him?  It's easier to believe in werewoofs than it is to believe in male moral chastity.  Sorry.  
  • Parenting issues.  I don't like the author's characterization of Grace's parents.  They've basically abandoned her, which makes her co-habitation with Sam way too easy.  However, I'd rather have absent parents than Sam's insanely murderous, overly religious parents.  The author's characterization of Sam's parents is so much more effective; I wish she'd have gifted Grace's parents with an equally compelling quirk.
  • The Jack subplot.  Although I really, really like the bitchy sister, Isabel, I don't really care much about Jack, and I feel like he's stuck in there as a weak means for some extra conflict/complications.  
  • The easy/weird fix that leads to an easy ending.  The science seems off a little.  Then again, I'm an English prof.: what the hell do I know?  And the very end:  chop off the last scene and put it at the beginning of the next installment.  I wish authors would do this more often.
  • The white she-woof.  Not enough evil here.  She's out there peeing on the deck and scratching at the window--potentially scary stuff.  No real follow-through, though.  Bummer.  I wanted a righteous standoff!  Two bitches, some blood, and a reluctant victor.   
What struck me from the beginning is that the whole werewoof issue is really in the background.  It's not a story about a girl who falls in love with a monster.  It's about a mysterious love that has developed between two outsiders over a lifetime, and it is about a relationship that is at risk of falling prey to incompatible natures.  It doesn't dwell on the paranormal aspect as others do.  It doesn't rely on the supernatural junk to pull it through.  It's actually a pretty simple story--one that I'm looking forward to continuing when the next novel goes to paperback.


Gemma Doyle Trilogy

Libba Bray, author of this series and of Going Bovine, has really accomplished something:  she made me like a Victorian gothic.  Poe, yes.  Wuthering Heights, no.  Bray created something in between, added a sexy Indian guy, played with sexuality, and sold me on her strange mish-mash of reality.

I actually enjoyed being in the estrogen-exclusive world that dominates most of the series.  It made the sexual tensions more palpable, and I got to relive some of the cattiness of high school--only I got to close the book and escape.

The two main settings work and play off each other well:  a finishing school outside London and an alternate reality called the realms.  The finishing school is what you'd expect: impending, castle-like, run by a bird-faced crone, cold, filled with young bitches.  The realms are like some Willy Wonka candyland filled with mythical creatures.  At school, Gemma is an outcast.  In the realms, she's the savior.  Easy formula for some serious character growth.

Even though each of the novels is worthy of its own discussion, I'm once again going to chunk them together in one post.  You're talking about a couple thousand pages of prose--breaking them up would take me forever.

  • Titles.  A Great and Terrible Beauty is one of the coolest titles ever.  Rebel Angels, the second novel, didn't really do it for me.  It was actually kind of embarrassing to buy, so I did the barcode trick.  The Sweet Far Thing redeems.
  • Voice.  The author knows her stuff.  Authentic first person from the P.O.V. of a young girl struggling in Victorian England.  She's got the syntax and vernacular down; it's like reading Jane Austen, only enjoyable.  
  • Consistent characters.  Gemma's a solid heroine.  She's a human teen who has to deal not only with her sexual awakening and with mean popular girls, but also with massive responsibilities hoisted on her one after the other.  Her development is natural and you care about her.  (More than I can say about 80% of the characters I'm writing about here.)  The evil characters are evil.  The bitches she befriends remain bitchy.  That being said, there are some serious characterization surprises, but they work because they're consistent with what you'd expect.
  • Relevance.  Rich with discourse on class, sexuality, race, gender, fantasy, virginity, silence, natural law, mythology...and, as my students would say, "much more."  I'd argue that this series is a great way to get young women to learn about Victorian culture and the development of the female class over the last hundred-plus years.
  • Decay!  There is this wonderful, slow sense of decay that spans the three novels.  Everything from the scenery to the characters to the Victorian morality corrodes.  It was really central to my enjoyment of the plot.
  • Gemma's intestinal fortitude.  She caves in a little too much for me, especially when it comes to her whiny friends and their demands.  She also has the idea that she owes her friends something.  Kind of like Catholic guilt, only not quite as soul raping.
  • Gemma + Kartik.  They spend too much time angry with each other and not enough time banging around in the bushes.  There are these deliciously almost-dirty scenes with moans and brief nipple tweaks, but they're rare.  Instead, Gemma's either mad at Kartik, or Kartik is mad at Gemma.
  • Keeping the gay issue buried until the end.  I would've loved to see that develop more overtly--still hidden, given the Victorian junk, but played up.  It could've been an opportunity to explore lesbianism within an age defined by its sexual repression.  Oh well.
Of all the paranormals I've read so far, this one is definitely the most mature.  It can definitely appeal to a multi-generational readership, and even those who don't like cheesy romances/paranormal teen sludge could take something meaningful away from plowing through the couple thousand pages. 

On a side note, I visited the author's website (www.libbabray.com) and decided that she's amazing.  She's not some stuffy Pride and Prejudice worshipper.  She's funky.  I want to hang out with her and share high school stories.  After tooling around her website, I was that much more impressed that she captured the Victorian sensibility so well.

I'll read everything she writes--including cease and desist letters.


The Forest of Hands and Teeth

No vampires or woofs here.  Just zombies...and a whole lot of frustration.  The characters are frustrated, and I was frustrated while I read it.  I don't think the connection there is intentional.  In Naked Lunch, for example, W. S. Burroughs creates a master-slave relationship between the text and the readers that parallels the kink of the story.  This novel doesn't have that sort of authorial forethought.

Frankly, with such a provocative title, I expected something more.  I read this after Hunger Games, which may have ruined me for post-apocalyptic teen fiction...but this novel is weak enough to suck next to Twilight even.  In all areas.

My first big question:  WTF is this novel really about?  It doesn't have any moving themes, and that means it has little cultural value.  That may sound smug, but I don't mean it to be.  There are really horrible novels that have cultural value, and, therefore, worth reading.  Naked Lunch, again--not the greatest story in the world, not the most engaging characters, not the most rewarding themes...but still worth it.  Still somehow important culturally.

  • Great title.  Seriously.  
  • Some potentially interesting entanglements, romantic and plotwise.
  • Some compelling scenery.
  • The characters.  Completely flat, one-dimensional, static--whatever literary term you want to use to say they are not appealing and do not make you want to care about them.  The main character is flighty and whiny.  She has a connection with a foreign zombie girl--but that connection does nothing to further any character.  The men are bland and malleable, uninteresting.  No one develops enough to deal with the main conflict (the elusive main conflict) head on.
  • Plot.  Why are there zombies?  Who is the red shirt zombie girl?  Where is she from?  Who put up the giant fences?  Why did the nuns rise to power?  What happens to the zombies when there are no people left to chase/eat?  These are just some of the plot questions I struggled with during and immediately following.
  • Female roles.  They're not worth anything if not chosen by a man.  But they nuns rule everyone.  They must be meek and obedient.  But the main character can lead...a little.  She's pathetic enough that no one chooses her for marriage, yet when she has the chance to be with the man she's always loved, she gets tired of him.  The red shirt zombie girl is the key to something, but we never find out what that is.  Wishy-washy ladies yet again.  
Reading this novel was like reading my students' end-of-the-semester English 100 papers.  There was so much promise, obvious knowledge of writing convention, but no follow-through, no pay-off.  I was disappointed because the potential peeked out here and there--like when students write a really killer thesis statement, but the support doesn't defend the idea.  (What a lame analogy.  I should've done something with a circus or popcorn or something.  Oh well.  I fall prey to my own criticism.  Karma.)

I wanted the chain link fence to fall.  I wanted everyone to die except the main character.  I wanted the title to really mean something.

I hear they're making a movie.  Maybe it'll be one of those rare instances in which the film is better than the literature.  I'll probably see it.

The Mortal Instruments

Ms. Cassandra Clare's trilogy encouraged me that the paranormal teen romance might have some readability after all.  She's been accused of purple prose, but following Meyer's plastic prose (have I coined something?!), her writing was a sweet reward.

I have to say, though, that it was really hard for me to buy the first novel of the series.  There's a bare-breasted teen boy on the cover.  I felt like a perv.  Luckily, the barcode's on the back, so I just slid it at the clerk front cover down.

The trilogy's subtitled as City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass.  I got the Glass reference, kind of got the Ashes, but have to go back to figure out the Bones.  Sometimes it takes me a while.  It's an urban fantasy with (apparently) touches of steampunk.  Steampunk is a word that I'm still not 100% sure of.  Sort of like emo.

City of Bones
Clarissa's kinda funky, and her best friend, Simon, is kind of not.  They're at a goth club one night--funny descriptions of gothical dancing--when Clary sees some murderous mayhem.  She meets some kids called Shadowhunters, some kind of Nephilim warriors whose charge is to protect the humans from demons and Downworlders--nasty creatures like werewoofs, vampires, and faeries.  After watching a demon fold in on itself and poof away, Clary meets Jace.  Sexy egotist Jace.  Kick ass Jace who taunts her and calls her "little girl."  What ensues is a lot of demon blood (ichor), weird weapons, sexual tension, betrayal, and strange names.

City of Ashes
Clary and Simon are deeply involved with the whole Shadowhunter world.  Clary's discovered that she's one of them, Simon's a special vamp, Jace is half-evil, and the human world is still constantly at risk.  Very exciting stuff throughout.  Clary and Jace's relationship is deliciously strained.  It's like "The Scarecrow and Mrs. King": you want them to get together, but if they do, there'll be no point to reading on.  We begin to sense Clary's unique among Shadowhunters, and the mystery behind various lineages unfolds well.  The subplots (more below) are relevant and woven cleverly.

City of Glass
This is where all the craziness happens.  It's war on so many fronts--between demons and Shadowhunters, between families, between lovers, between realities.  I don't usually go for action-packed stuff (though I've had to get used to it with this new genre), but the so-called purple prose adds a lush dimension that transcends blood and ichor.  There's a sexy new dark horse character--the guy on the cover--who proves to be everything the reader figures he'll be.  The novel ends with fireworks. Literally.  But what they're truly celebrating is up for debate.

  • Relevance.  The urban backdrop provides the author a perfect playground for themes of socioeconomic disparity, race relations, gender defining, sexual exploration, identity, alternate realities, modern family, initiation...very rich.
  • Characters.  I actually like them--even the evil and bitchy.  I found myself afraid that certain secondary characters would die or be unsuccessful in their quests.  I enjoyed watching Clary suffer and overcome, though she might've been a little more forthcoming with her feelings.  (I tire of the whole "silent girl" scenario.)  Jace is wonderful.  I love his ego, his downfalls, his Phoenix-like identity.  Alec (and older bisexual lover, Brooklyn High Warlock Magnus Bane) = awesome way to explore teen struggles with homosexuality.  Isabelle = excellent sex-positive young woman whose untimely emotional revelations fit plot demands.  Luke = nice mix of father-figure and rebellious heart.  What does that mean?  Don't really know.
  • The Clary-Jace controversy.  Are they brother and sister?  Why, yes, apparently.  Does that stop them from throbbing their groins in each others' general direction?  No.  Do they fantasize about sleeping with each other?  Constantly.  Do they give in?  Read it and see.  I loved that part. 
  • I wanted more about the Nephilim.  It seems to play such a big part with the conclusion of the major action that I'd have liked a bigger development throughout the first two.
  • The stele.  One of the most important parts of a Shadowhunter's powers.  It's a conical metal wand thing that they use to carve tattoo-like marks all over the damn place.  Huh?  Three books later, I still don't really know how to pronounce it, and I don't know its history or limits.  
  • Hollywoodish ending.  The fireworks.
The author has written a prequel called Clockwork Angel, which starts a trilogy called The Infernal Devices.  I haven't read it because it's always sold out, but it goes to paperback this month, so hopefully I'll snag a copy.  I also read in an interview that there are going to be three more The Mortal Instruments books.

Six more books?  Cripes.

The author has said that the ideal way to read them is in the order of publication.  It's apparently going to zigzag between the two series.  She's also said, however, that you can read them separately.

That sounds like math.

As testament to my actually liking these novels:  a few days after finishing the trilogy--despite having a pile of other paranormal teen romances to attack--I started re-reading City of Bones again.  I've liked gaining perspective and recognizing foreshadowing and events/dialogue that seemed insignificant before.  In the past, I've reserved re-reading for works to teach in class:  1984, The Great Gatsby, Being There, Raymond Carver short stories, and the like.  While I wouldn't rank The Mortal Instruments as canonical, they certainly kicked the shit out of Twilight.


New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn

Although each of these novels deserves its own post, I've decided to chunk them together because I'd rather move on to other series I've encountered.

So Bella continues to bite her tongue whenever she wants to express herself, Edward and Jacob fight over who is the better abusive boyfriend, insignificant people die, and the Cullen wealth solves everything.  Or something like that...

Being in Jacob's wolfy mind is fun, and Bella begins to develop as a person.  Then Edward's back, and the misery continues--in Italy.  As soon as the novel shifts continents and the Volturi are introduced, the story goes nuts.  It's no longer small-town-America-with-a-twist.  It's now Anne Rice, Jr.  Opening up Bella's world in this way doesn't work for me, especially since everything gets wrapped up so easily.

Victoria and the Volturi are not the main enemies here.  The real enemy is the Vagina.  Again, Edward must fight Bella off.  Bella must retain her ticket to heaven at all costs.  Marriage is the only fix.  No vaginal penetration must take place until they say their I-Dos.

No thanks.

The most disappointing parts for me:  1) Alice should've died; 2) Bella's final power is LAME; and, 3) the baby elicits no emotion or awe from me. 

The best parts:  1) Edward destroys pillows and bites chunks of the headboard while (finally) deflowering Bella (though she has little/no memory of it!) and 2) vampire eyes have venom.

My big question, though, as I mentioned before, remains:  How did Edward impregnate Bella if 1) vamps' blood doesn't circulate (which wouldn't allow erections) and 2) vamps have no other bodily fluids than eye venom, which Edward explicitly explains (so how could there be seminal fluids)?  The author addresses these questions on her website, but that's not good enough for me.  You can't fill plot holes after the fact.

Regardless, I can see why these books sold so well.  They maintain the romance formula that has existed since the beginning of time.  Too bad they didn't play with the convention, though, so that they could've transcended the genre.  At their worst, they're moralistic rip offs of The Vampire Diaries (more on that later).  At best, they've been the springboard for other, more capable authors to join a massively popular and steadily growing sector of literature.


Since this novel was my primer, I had few expectations.  My high school friend Dawn had devoured Anne Rice novels in the 80s, and I'd once read a first page.  I hated the style and refused to read further.  When I opened Twilight on that first afternoon, I was only hoping it was a step up.  Little girls liked it.  My mother liked it.  It couldn't be that hard to get through.

True enough.  It was easy to read and the plot was interesting.  Or maybe it was just familiar, which translated into interesting.  Whatever the case, I wrapped it up quickly and was ready to engage in some serious discourse about the merits and horrors of what I'd read.

  • Easy to read
  • Page-turning enough
  • Moderately interesting characters
  • Bella.  She actually appreciates being abused.  In her twisted mind, Edward's complete control of her life is an outward sign of love--so much so that she's ready to give up her life to be with him for eternity.  What could be better than having someone tell you what to do and whom you can/cannot hang out with until the end of time?  (If her father had been changed, too, her dream could've been complete: she could make him dinner and clean up his house forever!)
  • Edward.  See above.
  • Creationism.  There is a dialogue between Bella and Edward during which Edward scoffs at the idea of godless evolution.  I guess he doesn't consider transforming from human to vampire without divine intervention an evolutionary act? 
  • Chastity.  This is where my mother and I really get into it.  She thinks that Twilight provides young girls with the message that a wonderful boy can love a girl purely, without putting sexual pressure on her.  I say HOOEY.  What could've been a sex-positive, teachable situation turned into propaganda.  It could've played up the rewards of sexual intimacy, helping to educate a generation of girls who've been convinced that fellatio is part of making out.  It could've helped alleviate the guilt of expressing desire--something totally natural.  But, no.  Instead, it tells girls that they must remain totally still when a boy approaches them, or else that boy may lose control and take from them all of their self-worth--indeed, they may be giving away their very souls.
  • No one close to Bella dies.  Great coming-of-age books include massive loss.  This one doesn't.  Bella doesn't experience enough to grow as a character, which means that I don't grow as her champion.
  • Descriptions of Edward.  How many times do I have to read about his smoldering eyes?  His perfect jaw?  His miraculous hair?  The worst:  the sweetness of his breath.  She really smelled his breath a lot.  I'd almost rather smell his pits.
Overall, Twilight scared and shocked me.  It made me angry, and I didn't understand what all the kids were raving about.  It's not like stellar writing saved it.  As I wrote in another small piece somewhere else, it must have been the author's reliance on romance formula's affect on naive readers.  Bitchy, I know. 

Still, I had to finish the story, so the next day, I rented New Moon and hunkered down.

How It All Began

For a few years, my young tutoring students had been telling me stories of hiding under their covers at 2:00 a.m. with flashlights, reading Twilight secretly.  Sometimes their mothers would ask me if it were an appropriate series for young girls--4th to 6th grade or so.  I could only go on rumor.

The girls would tell me things like, "I skip the inappropriate parts," or, "Some of the stuff is awkward."  I figured this meant that there was some romance, some descriptions that made them tingle in their nether regions, like Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" did when I was prepubescent.

So in November of 2010, I had to find out for myself.  I'd seen Twilight one late night on Shotime, and I'd gone to watch Eclipse in the theater to avoid a dinner with the mother-in-law, so I had an idea of the running plot and characters.  This was long after New Moon was out, and I wasn't really sure that I needed to see it.  Regardless, as we who love to read know, film and word are often disparate; therefore, in order to really get into the psyche of the Twilight lover, I had to read the books.

What blossomed--or spewed--from my opening of a beaten borrowed copy of Twilight is what now drives this blog, many of my jokes in class, and perhaps even some graduate research.  So with a Sunday snoring husband next to me on the couch, and a six-year-old PokePark player in front of me, I begin...