I Wish I’d Never Discovered This Series (AKA Happy 100th Book Burglar Blog)

Vampire Academy‘I wish I’d never discovered this series of books’ is not the phrase with which I expected to open my 100th blog. Yes, 100th. I can scarcely believe it either. Where has all the time (and typing) gone?! Anyway, that’s the opening I’m going with, because I’ve discovered the all-consuming, sleep-depriving, social-event-cancel-worthy young adult fiction Vampire Academy series.

Please, don’t roll your eyes or click away. I was like that too until I cracked the spine of the first book (handily also called Vampire Academy, with the subsequent books taking different titles and having ‘a Vampire Academy novel’ as the subtitle). I figured that vampires had kind of been done to death (no pun intended) and, Twilight excepted, am also not overly interested in them. Some of you would say that, Twilight included, you’re not overly interested in them.

Sure, Stephenie Meyers’ series isn’t going to win any ‘best writing’ awards (unless you count some sort of dubious, razzy-style ones that pillory cliché-laden, guffaw-worthy clunkers), but there’s something incredibly compelling and addictive about the books.

I will actually admit that I didn’t think I’d find a vampire-themed series that I enjoyed as much as them. Then my friend Nat gifted me the first book in Richelle Mead’s series. I’ll even admit that that first book sat on my bookshelf for nigh on six months until a week ago when, following on my from I-need-a-break-from-human-trafficking-books blog, I plucked it from the pile of 50-ish to-be-read books. And I haven’t slept or stopped read since.

FrostbiteOh. My. Goodness. Vampire Academy is kind of what Twilight would be if a talented writer composed them (or a good editor whipped out the clichés and clunkers that make us chortle). The Vampire Academy series diverges from the traditional vampires v humans storyline and focuses instead on three types of vampires: Moroi, who are magic-wielding, royal vampires who live off humans who willing give up their blood in exchange for the endorphins a vampire bite offers; Dhampirs, who are half vampire, half human, and whose job it is to protect the Moroi; and Strigoi, the bad-guy, un-dead vampires who are created through all manner of evil means and who think nothing of killing Moroi, Dhampirs, or humans.

The books’ protagonist is Dhampir Rosemarie Hathaway, who’s training to be a guardian for her best friend and Moroi princess, Lissa. They share a psychic bond (of course) and a nose for trouble, with the two ending up in various challenging situations—some of their own making, some of the bad guys’ who are after them.

Which is where spunk and Strigoi-slaying guardian-god Dimitri enters the fray, tasked with bringing Rose up to speed on her training and, in the process, into line. He’s an Edward-like character, but much less wooden and much more three-dimensional. He’s also a fair bit older and is technically Rose’s teacher, which complicates things, and Mead propels him, Rose, Lissa, and their cast of friends through some tightly-woven, well-executed plot twists. Oh, and did I mention that the books are refreshingly full of sassy one-liners (seriously, I wish I could come up with those) and don’t come over all, well, moral and subtly (some would argue unsubtly) Mormon?

Shadow KissI’m not normally a YA reader, nor a vampire-fiction one and consider myself no expert in this area. I will also concede that I’ve been so embarrassed at the veritably juvenile nature of the covers and titles that I’ve nearly done myself an injury trying to read them while concealing the cover from others’ eyes on public transport (Where’s an adult Harry Potter cover when you need one?).

Still, this series has been so extraordinary I not only haven’t slept, I’ve bought every single book in the series and am obsessively working my way through them at the rate of about one book every two days. This is wreaking havoc with my ability to sleep and function normally—if I owe you an email, I’m sorry, but you won’t be seeing one until I’ve made it all the way through. I also apologise to those of you who saw me sitting reading in my car until the last possible minute instead of coming in to socialise before playing netball—I can loan you the books after I’ve finished them if you’d like and then you’ll understand.

So, happy 100th blog (and thanks a bunch for reading all this time). I’m hopping back offline to finish the series and suspect I’ll only return once I’m mourning having done so. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that’ll be the not-so-happy theme of my 101st blog…

The Book Burglar’s Time Machine

White TeethFittingly given my earlier blog post about prioritising reading over such important things as, oh, study and deadlines, I found myself quite seriously discussing the merits of time machines today.

Specifically, how I’d make use of one.

Admittedly, time machines don’t yet exist outside of science fiction, but one can never be too prepared for how one would use them if and when they do eventuate. Me? I’d obviously use a time machine to fit in more reading time. Hours and hours and hours of luxurious reading time.

My time machine would need both a comfy chair I could curl up in as well as a bed I could lie down in to read. The bed would double as, well, a bed, to enable me to indulge in my other favourite pastime—sleeping—between reading stretches, as I’m thinking that a nap taken in a time machine would mean no loss of actual, long-term reading time.

One friend suggested that a time machine could be used for literary tourism, enabling one to travel back to literally peer over a writer’s shoulder as they’re penning their great work. Of course, this led to the idea of suggesting improvements to texts or even, much to my amusement, the idea of preventing certain books from seeing the light of publishing day altogether.

They suggested this of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight quadrilogy, which they hate but I love. But I can see their point—I’d simply apply it to the likes of anything by the precocious Zadie Smith or Jodi Picoult, whose books blur into mediocre repetition.

There’s also the fast-forward function of time machines, which would allow us to find out what’s big ahead of time and then return to the present to get the snobbish jump and read said book ‘before it was cool’. Such fast forwarding would also allow us to forego the current agonising over the future of book formats, know that the world isn’t going to end and that books will continue in some handy format, and let us just get on with the pleasure of reading.

Sadly, though, until time machines make it of the book page and into the real world, I’m going to have to prioritise which books I read as well as master the fine art of speed reading.

We Can Eat Too Much Sugar

The Girl With The Dragon TattooCall it airport fiction, call it mass market fiction, or call it trash, the reading equivalent of quick-fix, craving-inducing simple carbohydrates are something we all secretly or not-so-secretly love. You know the ones. The Dan Brown bestsellers and the books that need not be named by the Mormon mom turned author that have tweens and adults alike aflutter.

But before you pooh pooh such ‘lowbrow’ reading matter that’s the literary likeness of riding the sugar high, please consider that, as with simple carbohydrates, which have been blamed for all manner of societal and waist-measurement evils, such reading matter not only has its place in our reading diet, it can do us some good.

We can eat too much sugar, but we can never consume too many books. Any reading is good reading, be it reading the sides of cereal boxes, determining epic fails on signs (those are a whole other blog in themselves), conquering such tomes as Ulysses, or devouring page-turners such as Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Because we all know what happens with simple carbohydrates. We eat them. We eat them fast. They make us high and happy. Then they’re burnt up by our bodies (ok, or stored, but let’s not go there) and leave us hungering for more.

It’s the hungering for more is where the door opens for us to consume some more substantial books and to continue to expand our reading tastes. Seriously. Why do we always make each other feel as though our reading habits must be something like a cross between eating only wholemeal and raw health foods (which are fine, but never as tasty) and taking medicine?

Hands up who did further research into the Illuminati and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper off the back of Dan Brown’s breakout bestseller? Hands up who ventured into unfamiliar reading territory to explore vampires and werewolves courtesy of Twilight? And hands up who is, like me, now firmly entrenched in Team Edward, although almost willing to have a foot in both camps based purely on the extraordinariness of Taylor Lautner’s abdominal muscles that were flexed at every available opportunity in the film adaptation of New Moon?

We’ve all been on crazy, carbohydrate-free diets and we know that they make us unhappy. We also know they end in a massive carbohydrate binge. The question is why we can’t use carbohydrates as part of—or a door to opening ourselves up to—a balanced literary diet? Because here’s the thing. I finally read the first book in the mass market series that has arguably stepped up to fill the post-Brown, post-Meyer void: Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

I found it less than ordinary. And that’s actually a good thing.

The book (and indeed the Millennium trilogy) has been a runaway bestseller, with relative non-readers around the world picking it up, enjoying it, and recommending it to others. The funny thing is, the book is slow. Interminably slow. I’m a voracious reader and I struggled with the first 300-odd pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I mean, sheesh, for a journalist who would have spent his life abiding by the inverted pyramid—or the rule that all the important information must be up front to draw readers in—Larsson completely inverted the inverted pyramid.

I think I could have skipped the first half of the book and been no worse off for it. I skimmed half the details about the Vanger family, which Larsson made far too large, with the various members blurring into similarity meh-ness. And the Lisbeth Salander character, the girl who sports the title’s tattoo, was unnecessarily (and boringly) difficult (I actually groaned when she stormed off for being complimented on having a photographic memory, then returned to the house when she was invited back in a pointless, irrelevant scene designed to demonstrate her different-ness). She’s a pale, caricatured character when you compare her with a strong, troubled, but interesting female such as Lucy Farinelli from Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series.

Yet in spite of these flaws, people—and, in my experience, most surprisingly non-readers—are enjoying The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and recommending it to others. Which is an excellent. If they are prepared to read through the 300-odd pages that should have been cut and put up with characters that either don’t enhance the narrative or that simply don’t quite work, they’re prepared to take a step up from simple carbohydrates to some more complex ones.

Indeed, rather than pooh poohing people’s enjoyment of white bread-like reads, we should be celebrating and encouraging their starting-somewhere simple carbohydrate-book diet.