Friday, December 18, 2009

The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion (Book 4)
L.J. Smith

rating: 6 out of 10 "books"

*** WARNING: Contains Spoilers!!! ***
As Book 3, “The Fury,” ends with the deaths of both Katherine (who faked her own death so many centuries ago in hopes of bringing Stefan and Damon together) and Elena. When the brothers and Elena discover that Katherine has been behind all the recent awful happenings in Fell’s Church, it is Elena that manages to kill Katherine by pushing her into sunlight (while being held captive alongside with Stefan and Damon), and in the process dies herself after being exposed to too much sunlight. “The Fury” ends with the departure of Stefan and Damon.

“Dark Reunion,” the fourth and final book in the original “Vampire Diaries” series, begins six months after the horrible events occurred in book 3. This story is told from Bonnie’s point of view, which is somewhat refreshing. Just when Bonnie thinks things are returning to a somewhat normal state, she begins to have dreams involving Elena. At first she overlooks them, thinking they are just dreams. But after taking into account her ancestry (she is a descendent of the ancient Druids), Bonnie begins to wonder if these dreams are Elena somehow trying to reach her. When Caroline throws a birthday party for Meredith, the girls (including Vickie Bennett and Sue Carson), use a Ouija board to try to contact Elena. They do in fact contact her, but Elena does not have good news for them. Another evil being is out to get Fell’s Church and Bonnie must contact someone to help them. Things get interrupted however, and Sue Carson ends up dead after the electricity goes out and something comes after the girls.

The only person Bonnie can imagine being able to help Elena is Stefan. After a few more dreams, Bonnie has all the ingredients to summon Stefan; and Matt, Meredith, and she call upon Stefan and Damon from Italy. The boys arrive, and they begin investigating. The group grows suspicious of bully Tyler Smallwood, who seems to know an awful lot about the events at Caroline’s house for having not been there that night. Bonnie helps Stefan reconnect with Elena through her psychic abilities and in the process Stefan learns who the evil is behind all horrible events occurring. Stefan begins researching the history of Fell’s Church after coming up with a hypothesis as to what may be going on.

The end of the story leads up to a very dramatic climax with Stefan, Damon, Bonnie and the rest of the gang attempting to fight the evil in Fell’s Church. This was probably the most emotional part of the series for me. The end really doesn’t make any sense as to what happens, but then again, the whole series is very unrealistic with the whole vampires, psychic powers, etc. All in all, I was satisfied with the ending so that’s all that matters. It definitely still left me wanting more, which is why I am glad there is a follow up series entitled, “The Return.” I definitely think the “Vampire Diaries” series is worth reading. It’s only four books, and each can be read in a day if desired. The general storyboard is pretty repetitive (Strange things happening  the gang needing to figure them out  the gang figuring them out  suspenseful cliff-hanger), which gets kind of annoying but isn’t super noticeable whilst reading. My advice, if you like stories involving vampires, teen drama, and suspense, then I suggest you give this series a try!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Vampire Diaries: The Fury (Book 3)
L.J. Smith

rating: 7 out of 10 "books"

*** WARNING: Contains Spoilers!!! ***

At the end of “The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle,” Elena is being chased by some sort of “Power” that causes her to accidentally drive Matt’s vehicle into the river while trying to escape over water (one thing vampires cannot cross over). The book ends with Elena drowning and waking up as a vampire. If you remember the events of the second book, Elena not only exchanged blood with Stefan but also with Damon. Because so much vampire blood was in her system at the time of the crash, instead of dying Elena became a vampire herself. It is also somewhat coincidental, if not ironic, that this double exchange is very similar to the events that occurred between Damon and Stefan centuries ago when both brothers linked themselves with Katherine. Elena of course, is almost an exact replica of Katherine and the two could be mistaken as twins, except for the minor detail that Katherine would be over 500 years older than Elena had she not taken her own life to stop the feud between Stefan and Damon over her.

The third book in the series, “The Fury,” is about Elena trying to come to terms with what has happened to her, as well as her trying to get a grasp on her new powers. The beginning of the story was somewhat confusing: Stefan and Damon are fighting and Elena comes to Damon’s rescue, saying she loves him, and pretty much trying to kill Stefan. It’s not specifically mentioned, but the author implies that Damon is essentially Elena’s “creator” since he gave Elena more of his blood than Stefan in their exchanges with her. I was confused for awhile, especially since Damon denies having anything to do with what happened to Elena. It is only after Elena reads one of her old diaries that she remembers who she really loves and who she used to be. There’s a passage in “The Fury,” about her diary that I think really sums up Elena’s character. This passage is as follows: her diary, “was the story of a girl who’d felt lost in her own hometown, in her own family. Who’d been looking for…something, something she could never quite reach…” I think it’s a really well written transition into Elena’s current state and how she feels about being a vampire. Later in the story, Elena reflects on this and the diary entry and thinks, “I was searching for something, for some place to belong. But this isn’t it. This new life isn’t it. I’m afraid of what I’ll become if I do start to belong here.”

Like any of the books in this series, nothing in Fell’s Church can remain calm for long. Strange things are happening again, and it’s not just with regards to Elena. At a memorial service for Elena, the town’s dogs show up outside the church and start attacking the townspeople. Elena is suspicious of the new man in town, Alaric Saltzman, as well as the ever mysterious, Damon who, although repeatedly denies being involved, doesn’t appear all too innocent. Elena is set on finding the true culprit in order to save the town and avenge her death. But what she finds is nothing she could have ever imagined…

I really enjoyed this book, much more so than any of the others in the series. This is probably the most stripped down we’ve seen Elena in the whole series. Completely gone is that “Queen of the school” type attitude, and replacing it is the desire just to be normal again. The quote “you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone,” totally applies to this story. It was kind of sad seeing Elena reading her old diary and realizing not only how lost she was in her life, but also how completely desperate she is in her death. She didn’t ask for what happened to her. She didn’t want to die. Her life was taken from her and she has no idea why, or who did the taking. In this way, “The Fury,” somewhat reminds me of “The Lovely Bones,” with the main characters looking back on their lives from the other side, and having to see their family and friends going through the grief brought with their deaths. Of course, the major difference between the two is that Elena is still physically present in Fell’s Church, and not just looking on in the afterlife. But the feel of the two stories felt very similar to me.

My final thought is that if you are interested in reading only one of the books in this series, this is the one to go with. However, in order to understand many of the events that occur, in other words, to get the background details, I’d recommend you read them all! Stay tuned for my review of the final story in the original “Vampire Diaries” series entitled “Dark Reunion.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle (Book 2)
L.J. Smith

rating: 5 out of 10 "books"

The second book in the “Vampire Diaries” series, “The Struggle,” picks up right where the first book, “The Awakening,” left off. Elena discovers that Damon is in fact in town, and with this realization comes the news that Stefan is missing. Elena is convinced that Damon is responsible and with the help of Bonnie’s visions, the group is able to find him, practically near death. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Elena is up to the challenge. She volunteers to give Stefan some of her blood to help him recover faster. Stefan who, to steal a word from the “Twilight” series, is a “vegetarian,” who only drinks animal blood, refuses to take Elena’s, but is ultimately convinced when Bonnie goes to bring her sister, a nurse, to examine Stefan.

Other strange things are happening in Fell’s Church that doesn’t make Elena and Stefan’s situation much easier either. For one, Elena’s diary is missing and passages from it are turning up posted around the school. That it’s embarrassing is one thing, but even worse, is the fact that Elena wrote a lot about Stefan that reveals who he truly is in said diary. Even stranger, is the way Vikki Bennett is acting after having been attacked in “The Awakening.” A near striptease and multiple other events have Elena and Stefan worried about her. It also doesn’t help that the new history teacher in town, Alaric Saltzman, seems to be snooping around.

Elena, Bonnie, and Meredith figure “frenemy,” Caroline Forbes and Stefan-hater, Tyler Smallwood are at the center of the missing diary dilemma. After concocting a plan to sneak into Caroline’s house to retrieve the important journal goes awry, Elena finds herself in debt to Damon for saving her from being discovered by Caroline and her family. She makes a secret deal with him and in the end, having just exchanged blood with Stefan, also exchanges blood with Damon. The story ends in another cliff hanger where Elena, while waiting for Stefan one night, feels something, some Power, is after her. As she tries to get away in Matt’s car, devastating events occur that leads into the third book, “The Fury.”

Although this story really didn’t seem to have much action or purpose to it in the scheme of the series, it actually does. The little things in this book build up to the events that occur in the third and fourth books. The thing I like about this series is that the books are easy reads, and it’s not a huge commitment, as there are only four books to the original series. I’ve heard people talk about reading a story only to find out it’s part one of a twenty part series or something and then they feel like they have to stick it out and read all twenty, even if they are no good. I have to admit, “The Vampire Diaries,” is pretty good. It’s got enough to keep the reader interested, and the books always end on that dreaded but effective marketing “cliff hanger.” I can honestly say I’m addicted.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pride And Prejudice And Zombies
By Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

rating: 2 out of 10 "books"

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes the classic Jane Austen story and attempts to transform it into a witty modern day zombie action story. Unfortunately, the outcome felt more smug to me than innovative. Although I had never read the original Pride and Prejudice and must confess it’s been months if not years since I’ve seen the film version, I was still interested to see how this “Quick Classic” Jane Austen fan-fiction would play out.

I learned that the majority of the original text had been preserved and thus left me wondering if some of the events listed in the book had actually occurred in the original, but the existence of zombies and ninjas tipped me off to the obvious additions of some situations in P&P & Zombies. The story follows the Bennets, a family of seven who are no different than any other of their low birth, except for the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s five daughters are skilled in the “deadly arts.” For more than 50 years, England has been overrun by zombies, and in desperate times desperate measures must be taken. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters had been trained in the deadly arts of combat at a very young age, and even sent to China to master the art of zombie killing. From the Bennet sisters’ training in their dojo, to the existence of ninjas in England to protect the affluent Lady Catherine de Bourgh, much of the story seems different from the original.

But of course where would this update to the classic be without the drama and gossip of the original? There are still all the balls, excitement over officers in town, obsession with marriage, proper etiquette, and who could forget Mr. Darcy?! As Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, falls in love with the newly arrived Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth has the chance to meet and despise Bingley’s friend, Mr. Darcy. But events unfold and the two gentlemen return to London, much to the heartbreak of Jane, who was very much in love with Bingley. Elizabeth travels often; to see her dear friend and recently “plague stricken” Charlotte Lucas who has married Elizabeth’s cousin, Mr. Collins; to visit with and travel with her aunt and uncle, etc. But it seems she can never go too far without running into the proud and arrogant Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth is almost no better in attitude and spirit than Mr. Darcy however. She proclaims that, “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every zombie confirms my belief that God has abandoned us as punishment for the evils of people.” She would much rather serve her King killing zombies as the “bride of death,” than entertain the idea of finding a proper husband. At the mention of her accompanying her aunt and uncle on an outdoor summer trip she replies, “What are young men to rocks and mountains?!” She is so set on hating Mr. Darcy, that she hardly has time to see any of his positive attributes. It is only when a series of events occur that Elizabeth begins to see the true side of Mr. Darcy, and against her wildest dreams, falls deeply in love with him.

When they are not fighting zombies, this whole book is about marriage (who is thinking of marrying whom, who is suitable to marry whom, who will make a good match, etc.), and gossip. Throughout the whole story people are gossiping behind each other’s backs instead of facing the matter head on. But then again, maybe this was the custom of the time, and besides, what else was there really to do back then? I just got really angry at Mrs. Bennet’s behavior. She was such an annoying character, obsessed with marrying off her daughter’s to big money. Elizabeth’s embarrassment for her family’s obsession with money and silly behavior was perfectly justifiable. Her mother went from hating a gentleman; to praising him when she found out he was to marry one of her daughters. Elizabeth’s youngest sister Lydia was no different. I could not stand this character and the way she behaved throughout the story. Elizabeth fantasized about chopping off her sister’s head, and I would not have minded if this had actually come to happen. What happened with her and the officer Wickham in the end of the story was the only thing that satisfied me with regards to that stupid girl.

There were some funny moments in the book that made the story somewhat enjoyable. One such moment occurred when Charlotte, who had been “stricken,” (bitten by a zombie), and was undergoing the transformation into a zombie herself, can only think about how delicious people’s brains would taste. When considering the proficiency of Mr. Darcy’s mind, “her thoughts would turn to the subject of chewing on his salty, cauliflower-like brain.” Elizabeth’s aunt also had some funny commentary to add to the story by commented on Mr. Darcy, stating that, “there is something of dignity in the way his trousers cling to those most English parts of him,” and after a visit to Pemberly and an encounter with Darcy, some chuckle-able moments ensue as Elizabeth remembers she has Darcy’s gun and ammo. Offering them to him, she says, “Your balls, Mr. Darcy?” As he reaches out and closes her hand around his bullets, he offers, “They belong to you, Miss Bennet.” But these laughable moments were hardly enough to make the book worth reading. Although the cover states that “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” makes the classic more enjoyable and less boring to read, I think it’s worth it to read it in its original form. Sure, the language may be a little daunting to read, but at least this way, you can honestly say you’ve read a classic Jane Austen story. My advice: save your money, and buy the original version for practically nothing, or borrow it from your library. Don’t waste your time on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

*** UPDATE 12/15/09: It seems this book can be added to the book-turned-movies category as I've just learned that Natalie Portman has just signed on to play the Elizabeth Bennet character in a movie version of this story. Oh dear.... ***

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening (Book 1)
L.J. Smith

rating: 5 out of 10 "books"

As a culture, it seems like we’ve made that cycle back to vampire obsession in no time. Of course, it feels like once a decade we revert back to vampire-mania. From the “Lost Boys” of the eighties to the vampire slayers of the nineties (I’m talking about that little ditty adapted from that movie you might remember, “Buffy” something or other), it is no wonder “Twilight” crazes and anything relating to the sexy undead is at a peak for the two-thousands. It almost makes me wonder if these “recycles” have anything to do with economy or politics. It certainly feels like the bloodsuckers come out during hard times. But upon looking into it, there is no truth to the matter: at least in the case of literature and film. I cannot claim the same being true of everyday life.

With the premiere of a new show on the CW network, I settled in to get my own take on “The Vampire Diaries.” Although I was at first unaffected and apathetic as to whether I saw another episode or not, I eventually became obsessed with this show. Having read the “Twilight” series before any of the films came out, I decided to check out the book form of “Vampire Diaries.”

First off, it must be mentioned that L.J. Smith’s teen vampire romance came out first in 1991, fourteen years before Bella Swan would fall in love with Edward Cullen, let alone be capable of such feelings towards the opposite sex. I have to say this because I don’t think L.J. Smith gets enough credit for paving the way for what would become the biggest tween/teen/adult woman craze of the 21st century. I get a little huffy when people think the CW show is ripping off the “Twilight” Saga. But, that’s for another time.

“The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening,” is the first book of the original four part series. We are introduced to Elena Gilbert the “queen of the school,” who has boys longing for her and girls wanting to be her. She is so caught up in her looks and popularity, that she can hardly believe it when the mysterious new boy in town hardly gives her the time of day. This incredulity only makes her more determined to conquer him. The “new boy,” Stefan Salvatore, has a secret: he is a vampire. Settling in Fell’s Church, Virginia, Stefan is determined to live the normal life he was meant to live over one hundred years ago and forget all about his all time love, Katherine, who killed herself as a result of brotherly quarrel over her. But Stefan’s best efforts at laying low amongst the humans are not made easy when the tiny town starts experiencing strange attacks as soon as he arrives in town. Events, that leads Stefan to believe that his older brother Damon may be in town. Even harder than dealing with the escalating suspicion from the townsfolk however, is his ability to hold off Elena’s attempts at seducing him.

Of course, love conquers all, and Elena and Stefan fall in love. By the end of the book Elena also begins to grow up and lose her vain, immature ways. She could care less about being school queen, much to the delight of Elena’s “frenemy,” Caroline Forbes. As the end of the story approaches we learn that Damon is in fact in town, and he’s got some business to attend to.

This book is definitely different from the television show. The most obvious difference is Elena’s appearance: blond hair/blue eyes. From her description and Caroline Forbes', it’s almost as if the two characters were switched appearance-wise anyways, for the show. Another big difference is the back story of the Salvatore brothers. Hailing from Renaissance Italy in the story, the brothers claim Mystic Falls, Virginia as their birthplace on the show, and have just now returned to said town (where the show takes place), after many years. The story line is still very much the same though: Elena’s parents died in a car crash and now Elena lives in her parent’s house with her Aunt Judith. However, Elena’s brother on the TV show, Jeremy, doesn’t exist in the books. Instead, Elena has a baby sister named Margaret. Other characters from the show are in the story, but in different ways. Elena’s ex-boyfriend Matt is the same old character, although I’d say he is way more compassionate and bent on helping Elena any way he can in this book than he is in the TV version. Vikki Bennet is not his sister however, although she is in the story in quite a different way. The same can be said of characters from the book missing from the TV show. For example, in the story Elena has a friend, Meredith, who I do not believe is anywhere mentioned in the CW version.

All in all, I enjoyed the first book and was glad to have a basis from which to judge the CW show. I plan to finish out the series and hopefully continue onto the sequel series, “The Vampire Diaries: The Return.” I still feel like there is a lot more to mention, but hopefully I will get to that in my review of the next book. I know this review has already gotten much too long!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Goth Girl Rising
Barry Lyga

rating: 7.5 out of 10 "books"

The end of “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl,” saw Goth Girl aka Kyra sent away after Fanboy alerted her father to some worrisome activity. Well, Kyra is back after missing the end of the school year, the summer, and the beginning of the new school year at her Maryland high school. After six months with no email from Fanboy, Kyra is a little upset but ready to make up with Fanboy. When she returns to school, she is surprised to find that much has changed since she’s been gone. Fanboy is popular! By publishing his graphic novel as a serial through the school newspaper, Fanboy has suddenly become the newest member of the high school upper class. Feeling abandoned, Goth Girl cooks up a plan to ruin his life.

Whereas “The Astonishing Adventures...” was from Fanboy’s point of view, “Goth Girl Rising” provides us with an opportunity to finally see into Kyra’s head. We never really got the back story of Goth Girl in Lyga’s first novel and I personally wanted to know the deal as to why Kyra was always so pissed off. This story was much heavier than the first as we come to find out that much of Kyra’s attitudes towards things stem from the death of her mother and the unhealthy way she dealt with it, as well as the grudge she continues to feel towards her father, whom she feels was the main cause of her mother’s death. It may be hard to imagine when reading the story, but Goth Girl was not always the bitter, angry, dark clothes wearing sixteen year old. Much of this story is about Kyra trying to find herself and feel comfortable in her own body. We see one display of this as Kyra takes much care to cover up and disguise her figure.

I got angry at both Goth Girl and Fanboy alike at times. I got angry at how Kyra reacted in many of the situations, especially at the fact that she was always so defensive and unable to see things right in front of her. She may have seemed confident in “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl,” but in reality Goth Girl seems to suffer from self-esteem issues like any teen. She gets hurt by a lot of the things Fanboy does, and instead of facing them head and confronting him about them, she plots to continually destroy his life. Then again, it’s easy to sit back and yell at the way Kyra acts, but in reality, this is how many teenage girls act. Minus the destruction part of course. Fanboy on the other hand, seems to act more like your typical sex obsessed teenage boy in this novel. But it must be mentioned that we are viewing the story from Kyra’s point of view so it is to be expected at least a little. I still got pretty fired up with some of the stuff he did. This coming especially after reading Goth Girl’s thoughts and explanations of how boys just want girls for their looks and bodies, and how Goth Girl purposely covers herself up to ensure this objectification will not happen to her.

I really enjoyed this book and am glad Barry Lyga decided to write a sequel to Fanboy and Goth Girl. It was a nice way to finish off the story of Donnie and Kyra, even if you had to wait until the very end of the story to see anything happen between the two.