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Archive for the ‘Zombiepocalypse’ Category

MY CAR, INT, DAY. I AM TAKING DAUGHTER AND DAUGHTER’S BEST FRIEND TO THE CINEMA.

DAUGHTER: I love horror films. But I hardly ever get to watch them.

ME: (listens quietly, safe in the smug knowledge that daughter has never actually seen a horror film)

BEST FRIEND: This might sound babyish, but horror films give me nightmares.

ME: That’s not babyish at all, pet. Lots of people feel like that.

Samara from The Ring

BEST FRIEND: What, even grown-ups?

ME: Yep, even grown-ups.

DAUGHTER: I saw a horror film once and it gave me nightmares.

suspicious cat

ME: (first tinge of unease)

DAUGHTER: My Uncle showed it to me.

ME: (experiencing that curious state where you both know for sure this would never happen, and simultaneously have the faintest nagging feeling that it just possibly might have)

DAUGHTER: It gave me nightmares for weeks.

ME: (mentally reviewing contents of my brother’s extremely extensive horror collection)

Creep Movie Poster

Session_nine

Zombi 2

DAUGHTER: It was about this boy who kept dying, over and over again. It was awful.

ME: Oh, right – ! No, that wasn’t a horror movie; it was a public information film.

DAUGHTER AND BEST FRIEND (incredulous): A public information film?

ME: Yes. They were on the BBC and everything, during children’s programmes and so on. They were meant to scare us into not doing stupid things. They used to make us watch them at school sometimes.

Apaches

(Appalled silence in the back of the car)

ME: Now I come to say that out loud, it sounds quite bad.

(more silence)

DAUGHTER: No wonder Uncle Ian is the way he is.

man in straitjacket

ME: Yeah, that sounds about right actually.

(ENDS)

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So, just by way of background:

My daughter thought it would be fun to make some lovely edible Christmassy holly leaves and berries.

We couldn’t find any coloured icing in the shop, but that was okay. They had white icing and food colouring.

We decided to do the berries first.

“What’s the best way to do this?” I asked. “Shall we try painting the berries once you’ve made them? Or shall we try and mix food-colouring with the icing to make it red all the way through?”

We decided we’d try and make the icing red all the way through.

Here’s how well that went:

Zombiepocalypse icing

Here’s a closer view:

Zombiepocalypse icing 2

And one final shot, just to really enjoy the full effect:

Zombiepocalypse icing 3

Merry Christmas!

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After a six-week period where my entire life seemed to be taken over by “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it feels very, very good to be writing about a book I loved. “The Passage” is the kind of book where you’re torn between galloping through it at a breakneck pace because you can’t wait to find out what happens next, and going slowly so you can savour the writing.

Oh, and which also features the Immortal Undead. Always a huge plus-point. Can you tell how much I loved this book yet? I hope so.

Plot summary. The first third of the book takes place in near-future America. A single mother struggles raise her daughter Amy alone before finally abandoning her in the care of a convent of nuns. Meanwhile, Professor Jonas Lear takes a military-sponsored field-trip to a South American jungle to find and bring back a mysterious virus which he believes will allow mankind to live for hundreds of years – possibly by turning them into vampires. Finally, Wolgast and Doyle are FBI agents charged with the extraction and smuggling of Death Row prisoners – plus Amy – to a secret Government facility where they can be infected with the jungle virus to see what happens.

Unsurprisingly, giving a Vampire virus to a bunch of Death-Row murderers doesn’t go well. They mutate into weird bloodthirsty monsters, they escape, they start infecting everyone else, the whole world goes to Hell in a handcart. But Amy – the last trial subject to be injected with the virus, and the only one who has remained reasonably close to human – is smuggled out of the facility by Wolgast, and hidden away in an old summer-camp to try and ride out the Apocalypse.

I’d actually prefer the Abandoned version to the other kind.

The second part of the book is set ninety-three years later and follows the fortunes of a small, isolated colony of humans. As the descendants of a few lucky original survivors of the Apocalypse, they’re leading a moderately satisfying existence behind a huge wall and a bank of super-bright lights that keep the vampires away at night. But after ninety-odd years of service, their equipment’s beginning to wear out and the technology needed to repair it no longer exists. When Amy’s path crosses theirs, they form a desperate plan to try and save their colony from certain collapse.

While the book is billed as a Vampire novel, it’s worth saying at once that this book is far more like a Zombie story than it is like a Vampire one. If you want a story in which pale-faced old-world aristocrats play at high politics and do terrible decadent things in a carefully-orchestrated bid for power, this is not the book for you. But if you (like me) have room in your heart for both “True Blood” and “The Walking Dead”, then you’ll probably love it, because in a sea of mediocrity, this is a Zombie story that really stands out.

After several decades of Hollywood Zombie movies, the tropes of the Zombiepocalypse story are so well-rehearsed that directors have resorted to glomming two genres together and seeing what happens (Zombiepocalypse / Gangster mash-up, and it’s French!! Zombiepocalypse / Nazi mash-up, and it’s Swedish!). For the record, I’ve seen both of these movies, and they’re both kind of fun; there’s just not much mileage in pretending they’re actually any good. In contrast, what impressed me most about “The Passage” wasn’t the new elements it brought to the story (being honest, there aren’t any) but how well the story was told.

This Zombie has now automatically lost the argument.

Telling a good Zombiepocalypse story requires you to avoid a massive number of elephant-traps. The first and most basic one, But Why Would You Do Such A Thing, is the problem of why a bunch of seemingly sensible and well-intentioned people would set out to do something so utterly, pointlessly risky and dangerous (“Hey, look, a deadly virus! Let’s store some in a glass test-tube and then smash it!”) that it rapidly leads to the destruction of all mankind. The classic answers to this are Because They’re Just Evil, M’kay, and Because They Think They Might Save Mankind – usually with the not-very-subtle subtexts of Everyone In Government Is Evil, and Everyone In Government Is Stupid.

Cronin goes for the well-intentioned-but-stupid solution, which isn’t unusual. What is unusual, though, is how well he constructs it. In most Zombie stories, everyone’s just desperate to break out the leather coats and the chainsaws and get on with the schlock. This means the initial trigger-event is often confined to one clearly insane power-crazed scientist dropping a fragile glass test-tube in a lab with hard floors and no containment facilities. In “The Passage”, Cronin carefully documents the multitude of great-sounding ideas, conflicting agendas, morally dubious decisions, ill-founded optimism, small errors and inevitable technical failures that collectively add up to disaster. Cronin’s Zombiepocalypse requires a nationwide effort to get started, and it’s much scarier, because you can see how it might happen.

“I have total confidence that repeatedly blasting my Iredeemably Evil Cell-culture with Immortal Growmatic Power-Rays will end well for the human race.”

The next big elephant-trap, The Special One, is doubly tricky to pull off because Cronin’s Special One is a little girl with superpowers. I’ve written before about how inexplicably awful most writers are at female super-powered characters. Add in the challenges of convincingly writing a child, and suddenly you’re balancing on a piece of cheesewire suspended over a fiery pit filled with fire-resistant alligators and slightly out-of-control metaphors. With bare feet.

And yet somehow, Amy isn’t excruciating. In fact, she’s rather delightful. This is achieved partly by keeping her quiet. Amy hardly ever speaks to anyone, which avoids the need for the amusing misunderstandings and naive questions that set my teeth on edge about Daniel Torrance and Carol Anne Freeling. It also helps that most of the time, the adults around her are a lot more focused on not dying than they are on understanding the intricate intricacies of this intricate child’s intricate and utterly enthralling mind (Danny Torrance again, sorry. I do love “The Shining” really).

But mainly, it’s just because she’s…likeable. Not cute. Not adorable. Not winsome. Just…likeable. If I absolutely had to take someone else’s kid to a Theme Park for the day, I can imagine Amy being sort of good company. And when she’s seemingly the last character standing from the first third of the book, I don’t hate her for making it out when so many good people have been killed off.

Would not be welcome on theoretical trip to Theme Park.

Which leads nicely into the first elephant-trap Cronin doesn’t entirely dodge: the Body-Count Conundrum. In the Apocalypse instalment of a Zombie story, there’s really only two ways to go – Everyone Dies, or Lone Survivor. Amy’s status as Lone Survivor is mentioned in the first line of the book, so it’s not a surprise that she’s the one who makes it out. What I was surprised by, though, was just how very upset I was when everyone else was killed off. After several hundred pages of heavy emotional investment, it was simply awful when, a third of the way in, I realised all the adult characters were dead, and I was going to have to get to know a whole new lot of people in order to get to the end of the book.

I was expecting some of them to die, of course. But imagine if George RR Martin killed off all the Starks, all the Lannisters, all the Targaryens and the whole of the Night Watch about a third of the way into “Game of Thrones” and then started again on another continent with a whole new set of characters. Would that be fun? Even the brilliant segue of the evacuation sequence wasn’t quite enough to console me.

Like this, only you consider every single person lying there to be a close friend.

But then we have the First Colony story, which is so great that I cheered up and fell back in love with the narrative. Lying in wait for any unwary visitor to a second-generation survival colony is the excruciating Tomorrow-morrow-land Error, where the survivors are portrayed as cheerful simpletons who have no idea of the gravity of their situation, and whose bare remnants of understanding about the outside world are more of a hindrance than a help. The first time I saw children referred to as “Littles”, I admit my toes kind of curled up just a little bit. After that, I was kind of on the fence for a while. Just because there hadn’t been an annoying camp-fire reminiscence about the magic people with their special flying machines who were coming to save them one day and fix everything so just hang tight and don’t worry, it’ll all be all right folks, so far, didn’t mean there wasn’t going to be one any minute now.

Then I got to this beautiful passage:

The day-to-day. That was the term they used. Thinking neither of a past that was too much a story of loss and death, nor of a future that might never happen. Ninety-four souls under the lights, living in the day-to-day. (p292)

This is the exact moment in the book when I decided to get over my huge upset over Wolgast’s death (sorry to spoil, but that’s what happens) and enjoy the rest of the story. Unjustified optimism as a deliberate, intelligent choice. And really, isn’t this how we all live? Until we’re forced to, do any of us ever contemplate the fact of our own mortality? That’s how you avoid the Tomorrow-morrow-land Error.

And this is how you don’t.

Cronin’s already batting way, way above the average for Elephant-Trap Dodging, so I’m not going to complain about the two remaining ones he doesn’t quite manage to avoid: the Dance With The Devil, and Here Comes The Military. On their journey through the Apocalyptic wasteland, the Colonists encounter a parallel group of survivors, who seem weirdly interested in pregnancy, and weirdly short on boys. If your first thought is “Sacrificial Breeding Programme”, you can have a large gold star, and if your next thought is “Which The Outraged Colonists Will Now Destroy”, you can have two. If I was on a mission to save some paper and make this book a bit shorter, this is the section I’d delete. Maybe it’s got a bigger role to play in the sequel and I’ll be recanting later, I don’t know. But in a huge cast of well-written, well-rounded characters, the Site B people stand out as a bit clumsy and one-dimensional.

The book ends with the traditional hook-up with some army guys, the discovery of the Big Bad Apocalyptic Super-Weapon, and the final showdown with the Vampires in which Amy’s superpowers are revealed. It’s possibly a measure of how very well-written the rest of the book is, and how absorbing the stories of its characters, that I was actually a bit bored by this part. Vampires, hive-minds, still some humanity remaining inside, blah blah blah, explosion. The good guys win. Hoorah. Now can we please get back to the people stuff.

I get why this is in here, I really do. Movie-makers have conditioned us to expect the traditional Everything-Explodes turbo-charged ending, and Cronin does the very best job any writer can at re-creating this in prose. It’s just that – you know – it’s not a surprise. The only tension comes from wondering who’s going to get maimed and how badly, and whether Amy’s superpower will be Re-awakening Humanity, Horde Control, or both. And after hundreds of pages of sustained Brilliance, I was officially too spoilt and jaded to properly enjoy scenes which were merely Pretty Good.

Meh.

So, what happens next? Well, we already know there are going to be at least two sequels. The opening line of the book is “Before she became the Girl…who lived a thousand years”, which clearly suggests a sweeping-epic sort of timeframe. I can see I may well have to bid a regretful farewell to the colonists on the grounds of either Vampires or the normal aging process, and get to know a whole bunch of new people – who may also then die of Vampires or old age. Possibly I’ll have to do this several times over. I’m also sort of thinking “Dune”, and “Star Wars”, and “Clan of the Cave Bear“, and wondering if the next two books can possibly live up to the first one.

But the honest truth is, they could probably afford to be only half as good as the first one and they’d still be brilliant. I’ve pre-ordered “The Twelve” for my Kindle and damn, I’m looking forward to it.

“The Passage” is available from Amazon at £5.19 for the paperback or £4.99 for your Kindle.

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In Which We Learn The Paramount Importance Of Sharing Nicely

Honestly, you’ve got to love the contemptuous way Teen fiction treats the police. Chapter thirteen opens with the world’s least convincing attempt to seal off a crime scene and contain all potential suspects / witnesses found at said scene until they can be properly processed. Admittedly, everything I know about the logistics of sealing off a crime scene comes from getting drunk with a friend who happens to be a copper, and watching “Police, Camera, Action” a lot. But I seriously doubt that it’s actually possible for a key witness to a murder to escape from the clutches of the Law by the cunning means of just walking right out of there without anyone challenging her:

“Matt, I need to go and wash my hands. Bonnie got blood on me. Wait here; I’ll be back.”

He started to say something in protest, but she was already moving away. She held up her stained hands in explanation as she reached the door of the girls’ locker room, and the teacher who was now standing there let her through. Once in the locker room, however, she kept on going, right out the far door and into the darkened school. And from there, out into the night.

Meanwhile, Stefan has reached the mysterious conclusion that he must somehow be responsible for the public eating of Mr Tanner, and thus wins my award for Biggest Ever-Lovin’ Idiot Of The Entire Canon Of Vampire Literature:

How else did you explain what had happened? He had felt the weakness, the spinning, swirling confusion; and then darkness had taken him. When he’d awakened it was to hear Matt saying that another human being had been pillaged, assaulted. Robbed this time not only of his blood, but of his life. How did you explain that unless he, Stefan, were the killer?

…but first…he was thirsty. His veins burned like a network of hot, dry wires. He needed to feed…soon…now.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, Mr Salvatore, but a mere thirty pages ago, were you not slurping away at the jugular of a deer? And did you not explicitly state that – having drained off a quantity small enough that this deer could still get up and run away afterwards – you’d had enough? Thus clearly establishing that the burning in your network of hot, dry wires could be effectively slaked with, oh, let’s say, a pint or so?

So what the holy guacamole makes you think you recently fell asleep and absent-mindedly ate an entire person when a maximum of half an hour has passed and you’re absolutely starving hungry?????!!!!!!!

Also, I object to your use of the word “Zuccone” as a curse-word.

Meanwhile, Elena (still wearing the world’s most terrifying frock) is tearing through the streets of Smallville, heading for Stefan’s place, which has apparently been trashed. Personally I’d take that as evidence that Stefan’s been burgled, or maybe just mislaid his cuff-links and been running late; but Elena decides this proves he must have killed Mr Tanner, because in Elena’s world there’s basically no difference between trashing your room in a fit of inexplicable rage / lost-cufflink panic, and killing someone who once annoyed you in class.

But despite this, she still wants to see him. Even though she is convinced he killed her history teacher. By cutting his throat. For no adequately explainable reason. Why? WHY? Is it too much to ask for our heroine to model a little bit of emotionally intelligent behaviour? Just once?

And then she climbs out through the trap-door and onto the roof, and catches Stefan eating a dove.

Appropriate responses to finding your boyfriend standing on the roof of his house eating a dove
1. Run away
2. Calmly explain that this is a step too far and your relationship is over, then run away
3. Point over his shoulder, yell “Ohmygod! Shark!” and take advantage of his momentary confusion to run away
4. Think, “Ah, well, I’ve eaten beef carpaccio before, and at least the dove’s free-range” and ask for a bite

Inappropriate responses to finding your boyfriend standing on the roof of a house eating a dove
1. Flounce around in your silly frock until you fall off the roof, and hope he’s fast enough to catch you

So yeah; he eats doves, he’s fast enough to catch you, and he hasn’t got a heartbeat, which you never noticed despite all that necking in the woods because you have the observational skills of a watermelon. Basically, your boyfriend’s a vampire. But it’s not like that comes with any significant downsides these days, is it? He’s super-strong, super-fast, super-gorgeous and is a super-car-owner. He eats animals, but hell, so do you, and the ones you eat have to be dead first. He even has a speshul bit of tat on a string round his neck that means he can go out in daylight, so you can still make him go shopping for place-mats on Saturday afternoons!

Oh wait; hang on; we’re about to get to the fatal flaw. He has a brother with sharing issues.

Back we go to fifteenth-century Florence, where Elena’s Vampirical Euro-doppelganger Katherine has a decision to make. Is she going to spend all eternity hanging out with Stefan, or with Damon? And this is where I start to realise that Katherine could potentially be by far my favourite person in the whole novel, because she picks my answer, which is to spend it with both of ’em.

In case you were wondering, this is how come both the Salvatore brothers seem to have ended up in the ranks of the Immortal Undead. Right after that disturbingly Oedipal scene where she turned Stefan into a vampire, she hopped out of his bed and into Damon’s.

Two in one night? You go, girl! A vamp in every sense of the word.

So now nobody has to make any difficult choices, and nobody has to go home empty-handed, and everyone can live with everyone they love and raise bunnies on a farm or something, for ever and ever and ever…except that Damon hates Stefan, and Damon doesn’t want to share.

Okay, for us mere mortals, with one life to live and less than a hundred years to live it in, possessive jealousy over someone we love is a perfectly rational response. But I’ll say it again, boys; you have the whole of eternity to fill. If you can’t stand the sight of each other, work out a rota system! In your day / week / century off, you can go off and explore the world or something, right? Hell, maybe you’ll even get lucky after the first five hundred years or so and meet Elizabeth’s absolute dead ringer living in a small town in Mid-West America, and you’ll both go batshit crazy over her as well, and she won’t be able to choose between the two of you either, but she won’t have to because Eternity goes on for ever, and all four of you can unlive happily ever after in a shiny, happy foursome. Just an idea.

Alternatively, Damon could just pitch a huge tantrum and declare that he’s not sharing with Stefan because Stefan has cooties, and somehow this could bring about the death of Katherine, in a manner that probably absolves both Stefan and Damon of any real wrong-doing, because otherwise we might have to think badly of one of them, and that would be, like, a major buzz-kill. Of course, Stefan insists it’s his fault; but Stefan thinks he might have eaten an entire person and still had room for a dove afterwards, so I’m not taking any notice of what Stefan thinks.

So, yeah; now we have to wait and see what kind of answer L J Smith can deliver where Stefan is justified in all this self-loathing, but where Stefan is mysteriously not to blame after all (see above). I hope this happens soon. I’m thirteen chapters into this bloody book and I feel like I’ve been doing this for ever.

And I still want to know about the Lemon Tree. [Note from the future: yesss!]

If you and a friend clubbed together and went to Amazon, you could jointly own a share of The Vampire Diaries for less than £2 each. Remember, it’s good to share.

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At Last, Some Action!

So, yeah; Elena and the ice-blue Renaissance gown she cleaned out her college fund for. On the one hand, I have a secret (and fairly stupid) belief that the world would be much more fun for everyone if we all dressed up a little more, and wore stuff just because it makes us happy, rather than because it’s all that appropriate for the occasion. (One day, for example, I am totally doing the school run in a ball-gown.) On the other hand, in my experience, boys – even undead ones – are almost never impressed when their girlfriends turn up to a date wearing what is essentially a wedding-dress.

This can only end badly for everyone.

So please, LJ Smith, don’t let me down here. I’m asking as nicely as I possibly can. I want to see Elena make an utter fool of herself. I want to see the cleaning-out of college funds and the purchase of scary Shotgun-Wedding outfits with the money denounced for the travesty of normal behaviour it truly is. I want my OMGWTFWWJD moment of horror from Stefan when Elena opens that front door, and I want it now, damn it, now!!!!!

He was staring at her in wonder, yes. But it was not the wondering joy she’d seen in his eyes that first night in his room. This was closer to shock.

Oh, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!

Ahem. Getting right back on with the snarkiness here. Unsurprisingly, Elena is the only person at the Hallowe’en Ball who’s chosen to come dressed for her own wedding, so she’s now surrounded by people dressed as zombies, corpses, werewolves, witches, hunchbacks, etc. (Incidentally, when did fancy-dress costumes imitating people with serious physical disabilities get the stamp of approval? And did it happen to homeless people at the same time? Just, you know, PUTTING THAT OUT THERE.)

Fortunately, no-one has time to mock Elena’s ludicrously out-of-step appearance, because Mr Tanner the History teacher is refusing to play nice and be a co-operative blood-stained corpse for the Druidical sacrifice at Stonehenge, on the grounds of historical inaccuracy. But it’s all okay, because Stefan does some of that weird Vampire / Jedi hoodoo thing on him, and within minutes, he’s happily lying down on the altar so Bonnie can make yucky with the strawberry sauce.

You know, if I was a vampire with a complex about what a monster I was, I think I’d be redressing the Karmic balance by, oh, I don’t know, hanging out at the UN Climate Change conference or something, and quietly facilitating the latest critical negotiations on how we’re all not going to fry the world and everything in it. Or maybe I’d drop by the next round of Israel / Palestine discussions. But then, I think this kind of thing is pretty damn cool, so what the hell would I know?

Is it just me, or is that the Doctor on the right of the picture?

Then there’s a bit of Mean Girls stuff where Elena tries to make friends with Caroline (for a refresher on who Caroline is, click here). And Caroline basically tells Elena they will be enemies until the end of time. And that means Elena is a better person than Caroline. Or possibly that Caroline is a more honest person than Elena. Your pick.

And then they wander around and look at some stuff and they walk into the Stonehenge room to admire Mr Tanner who’s being an alarmingly convincing corpse, and ohnoes, Mr Tanner is dead…

At this point, Tyler – the rapist from Chapter Seven who has inexplicably been allowed back onto school premises – takes charge of the important task of identifying the killer:

“It’s not hard to guess who it is,” said Tyler. “Someone who hated Tanner and was always getting into arguments with him. Someone who was arguing with him earlier tonight…Someone who has a history of violence. Someone who, for all we know, is a psychopath who came to Fell’s Church just to kill.”

I’ve been looking at this passage for quite some time, and I can’t decide if I think this is a ridiculous leap of non-logic, or a fairly rational response to Stefan’s presence. After all, he is a vampire, and while everyone in town seems strangely blind to this, it’s possible that on some level they’re aware of it. I just think I’d like to see a little bit less pointing of the fingers and reaching for the pitchforks, and a little bit more calling of the cops and fetching of the responsible adults.

But you know what’s guaranteed to distract me from whatever point I was making, in the manner of a cat whose owner has just bought a laser-pointer? Bromance.

Please, thought Elena, gazing into those blue eyes, willing him to understand. Oh please, Matt, only you can save him. Even if you don’t believe, try to trust…please…

Since their brilliant scheme for saving Stefan consists of “Telling Stefan everyone’s looking for him because they think he murdered Mr Tanner”, I’m not quite clear why it has to be Matt who does the saving, rather than Elena. But, you know, it’s still kind of sweet, if you like that kind of thing, and I do most definitely like that kind of thing. After all, if you had the choice between a girl who come to Hallowe’en in a wedding-dress, and a nice uncomplicated guy who you can talk to about football and stuff, who would you pick?

“Matt.” The dark green eyes were dark and burning, and Matt found he could not look away from them. “Is Elena safe? Good. Then take care of her. Please.”

Awww.

If you’d like to know more about homoerotic subtexts in Vampire fiction, you may enjoy “Kiss Me With Those Red Lips” by Christopher Craft. Or, if you just want to read more about Matt and Stefan, you want to head on over to FanFiction.net and have a little browse around their Vampire Diaries section. I’m blogging about reading the original, so I can assure you I’m not about to judge.

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Trouble In Paradise

So, when we last saw Elena, she was flouncing around the school after dark, making some sort of corpse-based decoration with her friends and being accosted by a dude with black eyes and a mocking manner who managed to make her forget Stefan’s existence. And I thought that once you’d had your over-reacting lust-at-first-sight moment and done the rape-rescue thing it was automatically true love 4 eva! But no; apparently even though they are, like, totally destined for each other and have been for at least the last four hundred years or so, Elena and Stefan still have a few issues they need to work on.

Like the fact that literally the only thing Elena likes about Stefan is that he likes her, for example:

Once she asked him if he missed Italy, if he was sorry he’d come here…”How could I be sorry, when you are here?” he said, and kissed her in a way that put all questions out of her mind. In that moment, Elena knew what it was like to be completely happy. She’d felt his joy, too, and when he had pulled back she had seen that his face was alight, as if the sun shone through it.

The good times were like that. But he had kissed her less and less frequently of late.

Leaving aside the question of what Stefan would look like if his face actually was alight,

Like I was actually going to let that one go

isn’t it a little bit creepy and narcissistic that Elena only really enjoys Stefan’s company when he’s draped all over her, nudging her with his vampire-y erection (oh, you just know that’s what “felt his joy” actually means), telling her how wonderful life is when she’s in the world, and generally validating her status as the Teen Queen of Smalltown High School? And as soon as they start doing other stuff that doesn’t involve Stefan flouncing around the woods talking about how wonderful Elena is while prodding at her thigh with his Marvellous Marble Rolling-pin, she gets cross and frustrated?


There was never enough time to be with Stefan, and that was frustrating, but even more frustrating was Stefan himself. She could sense his passion for her, but she could also sense that he was fighting it, still refusing to be completely alone with her.

Is Elena really up to the rigours of an actual relationship, I wonder? One where instead of obsessively focusing on each other all the time, you go out and have fun together by focusing on a third thing, like maybe a nice meal or a cinema or a bowling alley or something? Or perhaps she might be happier with a mirror, and one of these. Just a thought.

Did I mention that link is NSFW?

Anyway. Bonnie’s parents are out of town, so Elena and Meredith are sleeping over. For a minute, Yangtze the dog gets out and is menaced by a crow and that crow is totally Damon in disguise and Damon was totally that guy at the school, and that means he has got to be a vampire, and OMG, will there actually be some actual on-screen gore in this book about creatures that survive by draining the blood of other creatures? No; they get the dog back inside again and put on their pyjamas and talk about what they’re going to wear for the Hallowe’en party. And this makes me sad. But I am about to get over this, and you’re about to see why:

“Mine’s easy,” said Bonnie. “I’m going to be a Druid priestess, and I only need a garland of oak leaves in my hair and some white robes. Mary and I can sew it in one night.”

“I think I’ll be a witch,” said Meredith thoughtfully. “All that takes is a long black dress. How about you, Elena?”

Elena smiled. “Well, it was supposed to be a secret, but…Aunt Judith let me go to a dressmaker. I found a picture of a Renaissance gown in one of the books we used for my oral report, and we’re having it copied. It’s Venetian silk, ice-blue, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

A custom-made…Venetian silk…ice blue…Renaissance gown. That you have cleaned out your college fund to pay for. Genius.

And just in case you think I’m making it up about the college fund –

“It sounds beautiful,” Bonnie said. “And expensive.”

“I’m using my own money from my parents’ trust. I just hope Stefan likes it. It’s a surprise for him, and…well, I just hope he likes it.”

Utter, utter genius. I did actually laugh out loud at this, which is a dangerous occupation when you’ve had two children.

"What do you mean, we're only going to Pizza Express?"

At this point, friends who are even moderately sane, thoughtful and concerned with your welfare would probably stage an intervention. However, since Bonnie and Meredith are the two girls who nearly didn’t go to Elena’s rescue when they were certain she was about to be raped, the chances of this are small.

Things Bonnie and Meredith ought to be saying to Elena at this point
1. You are way over-invested in Stefan
2. If you wear that costume to the ball, everyone is going to laugh at you
3. “Everyone” in this instance may well actually include Stefan
4. Who, by the way, you are way over-invested in
5. I mean, what makes you think he even wants to see you in an ice-blue Renaissance-style gown made out of Venetian silk, in any context whatsoever?
6. But most especially at a Hallowe’en party where we made a pretend corpse out of balloons, magic and string, and all your friends are throwing on any old shit they happened to have around the house
7. Renaissance Italian ballgowns have nothing whatsoever to do with the modern conception of Hallowe’en
8. So you’re going to look ridiculous
9. Again – you are way over-invested in Stefan
10. Did we mention makes no sense whatsoever to clean out your college fund to pay for a Hallowe’en costume?

Things Bonnie and Meredith actually say to Elena at this point
1. We think Stefan should go dressed as Dracula to the Hallowe’en ball.

Although they fail yet again to notice that this is because he looks, dresses and acts exactly like a vampire and therefore might have something to do with the clear and obvious act of vampirism we all happened across the other night.

By all reasonable measures, this chapter ought to have reached its peak of magnificence already, but it hasn’t. Something even better is coming our way. For reasons I’m a bit unclear on, Elena decides she is going to read aloud from her diary. For reasons I’m even less clear on, Meredith and Bonnie don’t actually fall about laughing as she does so (although it’s always possible we don’t get to see this because Elena isn’t looking at them, being entirely absorbed in the sheer beauty of the prose she has produced). Finally, she shares with us what is possibly the stupidest ever opinion anyone has ever had about relationships, anywhere in the world, at all, ever:

“If I knew we were going to break up eventually, I suppose I’d just want to get it over with. And if I knew it was going to turn out all right in the end, I wouldn’t mind anything that happens now. But just going day after day without being sure is awful.”

Seriously, Elena, just get cats instead. You'll be happier.

And then they have a Dumb Supper or a Moronic Dinner Party or something to find out who Elena’s going to marry and the man who is also the crow and is also Stefan’s brother and is also the weird dude from the school shows up and some sexual tension happens and the stupid yappy dog dies, possibly of sheer disgust at the events it’s been forced to witness (yesss!) and Elena is confused and where the hell is Stefan, anyway?

Oh, right, he’s off in the forest somewhere, draining a deer and doing some suffering in case one day he loses the run of himself and accidentally eats Elena.

Less angst, but more rabies. It's a tough call.

Now, here’s the thing. Although I only buy free-range meat, there’s no getting away from the fact that, for me to eat animals, they have to be dead first. On the other hand, this deer that Stefan’s been nomming on gets to walk away with its life. And – while I’m sure it wouldn’t class being tapped for a couple of pints by a passing vampire as a life-enhancing experience – it seems pretty chilled about it.

So where the hell does Stefan get off with all this oh-I’m-such-a-monster-I’m-not-worthy shit? How is it that he somehow feels the human race has the moral high ground over vampires?

Also, singular lack of insight into his own biological processes:

The blood lust…was a mystery to him even now. Although he had lived with it every day for centuries, he still did not understand it. As a living human, he would no doubt have been disgusted, sickened, by the thought of drinking the rich warm stuff directly from a breathing body.

Stefan Salvatore, scholar and Renaissance man, is utterly mystified by the clearly unnatural process of getting hungry and wanting to eat food. Outstanding.

My cats understand Getting Hungry. And they have brains the size of walnuts and think I control the weather.

Finally, we get Stefan’s Vampire-superpowers origin story; and actually, this does explain rather a lot about our poor, fucked-up Mr Salvatore. One hot night in Venice, Elizabeth creeps into Stefan’s bed. He thinks she’s there to shag his brains out, which is a perfectly reasonable conclusion; but no, she says, they’re going to do something else. (Incidentally, is this the Vampire equivalent of We don’t have to do anything, we can just lie here and not touch? Just a thought.) She strokes his throat for a while while he lies there trembling with desire and waiting for her to take charge. And that part’s okay, really; a bit purple and flowery and perfect-orgasm-without-any-stickiness-or-worrying-if-you-look-fat, but hey, we’ll go with it.

Then, having sucked him dry (har har har), it’s time for Stefan to have a go:

Sometime later…he found himself in her arms. She was cradling him there like a mother holding an infant child, guiding his mouth to rest on the bare flesh just above the low neck of her night shift. There was a tiny wound there, a cut showing dark against the pale skin. He felt no fear or hesitation, and when she stroked his hair encouragingly, he began to suck.

I have one word for you, Mr Salvatore, and the word is, “Bitty”.

Run, Elena. Run for the hills.

Extensive online research confirms that you could buy one thousand eight hundred and fifty nine copies of The Vampire Diaries from Amazon for the cost of a single ice-blue Venetian silk Renaissance-style gown. I advise you not to rush into either decision.

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I’m So Ashamed Of It, But Must Admit…

Oh, Elena. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love the way you sit in your Trigonometry lesson, artlessly pouring forth the secrets of your heart into you diary. I love the way you decide not to press charges against Tyler for sexually assaulting you, because that wouldn’t be romantic or feminine or anything, so apparently we’re just going to sweep that one under the carpet. (Okay, just to be clear – I don’t love that at all. In fact, I find that depressing beyond words.) I love how you appear to have skipped every meal anyone has offered you in the last few days, and I love how this is presented as evidence of your ineffable female delicacy. Most of all, I love your naive and icky assumption that adults find watching you and Stefan lick each other in public even the slightest bit arousing:

“…he was right, not to go up to each other in a public hallway, not unless we want to give the secretaries a thrill.”

Kissing was not invented until 1989. TRUFAX

And it’s not just the secretaries who are in danger of spontaneous combustion from their mere proximity to two horny teens who really, really want to have sex with each other:

“When we’re with each other I can feel how he feels, and I know how much he wants me, how much he cares. There’s an almost desperate hunger inside him when he kisses me, as if he wants to pull the soul right out of my body. Like a black hole that

Well, a little break there because Ms Halpern caught me. She even started to read what I’d written out loud, but then I think the subject matter steamed her glasses up and she stopped.”

Yes, Elena, I’m sure Ms Halpern was completely turned on by the thought that when Stefan kisses you it feels like he’s sucking the soul right out of your body. Or maybe she was disturbed by your revelation that you were assaulted by Tyler, but won’t be pressing charges, and none of the adults around you seem to have a problem with that. Perhaps she was concerned that both you and Stefan seem to have an incipient eating disorder. It could even be that she stopped because she couldn’t keep going without crying with laughter.

Or maybe she stopped from compassion, because frankly you sound like a lunatic, and even the very meanest teacher might think that gratuitous mockery of her students, in public and in full view of their classmates, is a bit much.

Anyway, Elena, let’s talk about some more things I love about you. I love your naked gloating over the knowledge that you totes have Stefan and Caroline totes doesn’t have Stefan and that means you win, like, for reals. (No, seriously, I do sort of love that. It’s not a very worthy emotion, but I can relate to it. It makes you seem real and human. I prefer you gloating over your hot boyfriend who prefers you to your mortal enemy, to you flouncing around the place skipping meals. Also, I do know you don’t come from California. There’s just something about you that compels me to break out my Inner Valley Girl.) I love that Stefan is doing everything he can to tell you that HE NEVER EATS FOOD AND YET STILL HE DOESN’T DIE, and yet the word “Vampire” remains about as far from your consciousness as the word “Feminist”, because you are besotted with the concept of being worthy of him.

And I love that you and your friends are on the committee for the creation of a Haunted House school fundraiser, and you actually have serious conversations about where you’re going to put the Bloody Corpse.

Happy Hallowe'en!

So, here you are, alone in the school, after hours and after dark. Specifically, you have locked yourselves in the school, because somehow you’ve decided that the chances of a random passing murderer trying to get in are far greater than the chances of there being a fire and you needing to get out, and you’re talking about the best way to present the illusion of someone you all know having been savagely hacked to death, for the purposes of raising money. And, as you and your friends try to find the non-existent sweet-spot which will allow your portrayal of said Bloody Corpse to be both realistic, and tasteful, the lights go out.

Sensible courses of action when all the lights go out
1. Wait a minute and see if they come back on
2. If they stay off, everyone evacuate the building and then call maintenance
3. If you have any suspicion that you are in danger, close the door to the room you’re in and use your cell-phone to call the police

Stupid courses of action when all the lights go out
1. Two of you go off to look for the maintenance man, leaving one of you behind, in the dark, by themselves, even though two people you know have been randomly attacked in the last week and everyone has a feeling that something’s wrong.
2. The one who’s left behind suddenly realises she’s being watched by a predatory-looking stranger.
3. But he’s good-looking, so that’s somehow okay.

Elena, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to love you for not freaking out and completely losing your shit at this point. Unfortunately, I am very much of the opinion that sometimes, freaking out and completely losing your shit is entirely the best course of action. Also, I think we’ve discussed before that there is no inherent contradiction between a man being well-dressed and really good-looking, and a man being a sexual predator. So instead, I think I’m going to love you for completely missing the point of the next couple of minutes of your life:

“What am I doing? She thought in shock. I was about to let him kiss me. A total stranger, someone I met a few minutes ago.

But that wasn’t the worst thing. For those few minutes, something unbelievably had happened. For those few minutes, she had forgotten Stefan.”

Ohnoes! In the excitement of meeting a second man you fancy, you actually forgot about the existence of the first man you fancy, who you’ve been absolutely crazy about for at least…at least three weeks or so…and who you decided was the love of your life within about…oh, about forty seconds…of laying eyes on him.

Some might take this to mean that Stefan might not, actually, be all that and a bag of chips. But not you. In the teeth of the evidence, you’re sticking to your stubborn belief that we all get just one soulmate, and Stefan is yours.

Elena Gilbert, I really, truly think I love you. You’re stupid and self-absorbed and you worry about the strangest things at the strangest times. But you do at least entertain me along the way.

Stay fickle.

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Some Problems Are Just Inherently Really Solvable

It’s always good fun, laughing at other people’s wildly purple prose. This may be why, despite the rather irritating teenage swooning we have to sit through, I do really sort of like this chapter. It opens with Stefan having his own personal Road-to-Damascus moment with the realisation that – despite them both being hot and blonde and aloof and other important stuff – Elena is not actually the identical same person as his lost love Katherine. The traditional way to reach this conclusion would be to realise they were born five hundred years apart on different continents, but Stefan – in a way which I find strangely endearing – has to deduce it from the available evidence:

Ways in which Elena is different to Katherine (other than being born five hundred years apart on different continents)

1. Her hair is slightly lighter
2. Her eyebrows and lashes are darker
3. She’s a handspan taller
4. She moves “with greater freedom”
5. Her eyes are not wide with childlike wonder (srsly? Katherine looked like that all the time?)
6. In fact, sometimes they narrow with determination or challenge
7. (my personal favourite – and I’m quoting here) “Whereas Katherine had been a white kitten, Elena was a snow-white tigress.”

Of course, a white tiger is actually black and white, since the depigmentation only affects the orange parts of the coat. But at least he’s not mentally comparing the love of his life to a furious kitten, unlike some other perpetually-teenaged white marble Vampire Gods you run into these days. And anyway, I don’t care, because it looks like we’re about to get some back story! Slow dissolve to…

…fifteenth-century Florence, where to ensure an authentic sense of Olde Worlde-ness, no-one uses contractions and we all pretend to be British for a bit. Stefan and Damon are locked in a dreary triangle of lurve over the beautiful yet indecisive Katherine, who apparently fancies both Stefan and Damon, and can’t make up her mind. Also, she’s a vampire, so whoever gets to live with her for ever has to “give up the life of sunlight” (why? WHY? Forgive me for pointing this out, but I see a whole lot of Stefan walking around in the sunlight) and also become a vampire.

And she can only choose one of them. Ohnoes.

Like this, only with teenagers

Here’s why this is a complete non-problem. Katherine likes both Stefan and Damon. Damon and Stefan both like Katherine. Eternity is a long, looooong time to commit to anything. However much we wish it wasn’t so, the brutal fact is that at least half of us lack the commitment to get through the first twenty years. So just set up home all three of you together, for God’s sakes! Honestly, you’ll have a great time.

But for now, we’re back in the twenty-first century, where Stefan is doing some more mooning about over what Elena is like:

“Elena, warm as sunlight, soft as morning, but with a core of steel that could not be broken. She was like fire burning in ice, like the keen edge of a silver dagger.”

This is what Google Images thought I was looking for when I cut-and-pasted that description. I swear this is absolutely true.

And then, because this is a Vampire Romance, we have to have the obligatory angsting about how He’s An Unworthy Beast Who Isn’t Fit To Lick The Instep Of Her Bejewelled Sandals:

“But did he have the right to love her? His very feeling for her put her in danger. What if the next time the need took him Elena was the nearest living human, the nearest vessel filled with warm, renewing blood?”

Again, since we know perfectly well Stefan can live quite happily on rabbits, this is a complete non-problem. All he needs to do – literally, the only requirement here – is to make sure he’s eaten before he gets too friendly with Elena. You know how diabetics carry little packets of sugar? You know how men with PE issues are encouraged to give themselves a hand-shandy before the main event? You how we all know not to go shopping when we’re hungry? THAT.

And while we’re on the subject – what the heck is up with all that “She will never have to give up the sunlight because of me” rubbish? Because, um, the first time we saw you, Mr Salvatore, you were standing in the sunlight. So for the second time I ask you – what’s that all about, then?

And he wasn't even sparkling

Enough of this. Back in Elena’s house, we’re all indulging in a little bit more victim-blaming, with Elena’s friends all agreeing with her that nearly getting raped was an entirely suitable outcome for her heinous crime of daring to leave the dance early. If it looks like I’m not giving this the attention it deserves, I’ve written extensively about this topic here, and here. So let’s just shut our eyes and walk past this like it’s that poor homeless guy at the bus-station who’s always drunk, which conveniently excuses us from giving him any money, and get to The Plot, which is unfolding quite nicely.

Defying my predictions, Vickie Probert is still in the book. Seriously, she gets lines and everything! Admittedly the lines are “No!” and “No! No!”, but, you know, the thought’s there. When the gang all wander in to see Vickie, she’s lying in bed, getting some rest, and with suspiciously cold hands. Vickie sees Elena, has some sort of massive conniption (maybe Elena still smells of Stefan or something, I don’t know) and everyone leaves hastily, with no-one seeming to notice that she’s short several pints of blood and has bite marks on her neck, what the – ?

Okay, I know, I know; trope of the genre.

Shutting up now, Sir.

In the final scene of the book, Stefan and Elena share another quasi-orgasmic kiss:

“…Stefan’s eyes were too dilated for even this dim light…he looked dazed, and his mouth – that mouth! – was swollen.”

Note to any teenage girls reading: THIS NEVER HAPPENS. Kissing is awesome, but it doesn’t get you off. M’kay?

And because all well-adjusted couples go through each other’s stuff on a regular basis, Elena then waits until Stefan is out of the room before rummaging enthusiastically through his underwear drawer and discovering that he’s been secretly hoarding her hair-ribbon.

Awww.

Five problems we can solve for the £5-ish it would cost to buy The Vampire Diaries:

1. Donate to a mosquito-net project and help protect children from malaria
2. Donate to a water-aid project and help bring clean water to a community
3. Donate to a homeless charity and help people get through a crisis
4. Sponsor a guide dog and help make life a bit easier for someone with visual impairments
5. Donate to a breast cancer research charity and help find better treatments to help more women beat breast cancer

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I Swear I Will Finish This Even If It Kills Me And Brings About The Ending Of The Known Universe

Apparently, Tuesday is officially the most depressing day of the week. It’s too far from last weekend for us to still be happily reminiscing about the fun we had. It’s too far from next weekend for us to start getting excited about it. And there’s still more of the working week left to go than we’ve already got through. Also, if you’re the type who prefers the weekend to pass in a haze of Ecstasy, Tuesday is the day when you can expect the consequent endorphin deficit to really kick in and make you wish you’d never been born.

But hey, it’s not all bad, because we’ve got Chapter Eight of The Vampire Diaries to look forward to! And – after the disgraceful rape-apologist antics of last time – things are actually starting to look up. Maybe I might get to like Stefan and Elena after all!

Okay, I’m making that up. This book is still terrible. But Chapter Eight does have the odd moment which gives me hope. [Note from the future: why do I do this to myself, damn it?]

Elena’s in Stefan’s bathroom, mopping herself up and feeling angry. No, not with Tyler, the man who tried to rape her, because that would, you know, make sense and everything. She’s angry with Stefan, because he saved her from Tyler and didn’t curse anyone out while he did so and still has a wall around him, which is now apparently about the size and shape of the Great Wall of China.

Incidentally, Stefan’s Wall is rapidly becoming more annoying than Bella’s gigantic chest-hole.

If you're looking for a fun way to spend your evening, try googling "chest-hole" without the filters on.

Elena then decides she’s going to be annoying. To achieve this, she goes through some of Stefan’s stuff which he left lying around on his sideboard, and which consists of a dagger, an agate cup, a device which she describes as “a golden sphere with some sort of dial set into it” (over here we like to call that a Watch, but maybe it’s a Stateside thang) and some gold Florentines. I quite like this, because it’s an undeniable truth that when men get home, they all immediately turn out the contents of their pocket onto the nearest flat surface, then wander off again.

Also, it suggests that Stefan is still pointlessly carrying around the coinage of his youth, in the hopeless belief that somewhere, somehow, they will once again become negotiable currency. Bless.

By the way, wouldn’t it utterly suck to be perpetually eighteen? I don’t know about you, but when I was eighteen, I was an idiot. For me, those first few heady years of adulthood were just one long, glorious train-wreck of crappy relationship choices, excruciating moments of social ineptness and poor wardrobe decisions. Admittedly my body was in better shape, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make on the altar of experience.

For example, imagine never accumulating the life-experiences that allow you to see this and cry with laughter.

Anyway, onwards. To make up for the contents-of-a-perpetually-teenaged-Vampire’s-pockets moment of brilliance, we get a stupid conversation between Stefan and Elena. Demonstrating that even girls who remind relatives’ boyfriends of Helen of Troy are capable of having no insight at all into human psychology, Elena makes a big list of all the things she doesn’t like about Stefan, and splurges it out in one gigantic rant.

Things Elena Doesn’t Like About Stefan
1. He saved her without asking her permission first
2. He was in the graveyard without having an adequate explanation
3. He acts as if Elena is some kind of leper
4. She tried to be friendly to him (is that what we’re calling it these days? That strange I-shall-not-rest-until-he-is-mine performance in the graveyard?) and he threw it back in her face
5. He’s snubbed her in public “time after time” (incidental note to any young people reading: do not do this if you want the person in question to be speaking to you afterwards. Nothing annoys people more than being told they’ve done something bad repeatedly)
6. He’s humiliated her at school (I sort of love the implication that humiliating her in other places would have been better in some way)
7. He is only speaking to her because he just saved her life
8. He doesn’t want to be anywhere near her
9. He’s built a wall (again with the walls!)
10. He doesn’t trust anyone
11. He has had the barefaced bloody cheek to apparently fancy Caroline Forbes instead

Considering what just happened, this seems a little harsh.

A good conversation to have at this point
Elena: Thanks for saving me. That was very kind of you. Could you please call the police?
Stefan: I already have, and will be more than happy to be a witness.

In real life, this extensive listing of Stefan’s faults would pretty much guarantee they will never have a relationship. In Vampire World, this leads to Stefan kissing her, and the wall come tumbling down.

I'm hoping this means we never have to hear about Stefan's Wall ever, ever again.

And you know what? We now actually get some plot. Hooray! Unlike “Twilight”, where everything happens in the last fifty pages or so, in this book we’re actually seeing some stuff happening that isn’t just two drippy virgins flouncing around in a meadow and counting each other’s eyelashes. Meredith, Bonnie and Matt’s grudging rescue mission may not have got there in time to drag Tyler off Elena, but they do get to rescue someone called Vicky Bennett, who (in true Hollywood tradition) is glassy-eyed, dirty-faced, inarticulate and in her underwear. Apparently she was attacked by something with eyes while she was making out with Dick, and it was all around them and had eyes, and they couldn’t run, and it had eyes, and it was the same thing that got the tramp under the bridge, and it had eyes.

In a rare but welcome moment of sensible thinking, Meredith insists they take Vicky to a doctor, and since she’s the Vampire-book equivalent of the red-shirt Security Officer on “Star Trek”, that’s probably the last we’ll be seeing of Vicky Bennett.

I want this shirt so much it hurts.

Back in Casa Salvatore, Elena and Stefan are kissing, and I am getting angry again. Here’s a sample from this page-long unrealistic-expectations-fest:

She felt the tender pressure of his lips on hers, and she could hardly bear the sweetness of it. Yes, she thought. Sensation rippled through her like waves on a clear, still pond. She was drowning in it, both the joy she sensed in Stefan and the delicious answering surge in herself.

See, I can still remember my first kiss. It was very nice, and the boy I was kissing was likewise very nice, and I still have a sneaking fondness for the particular cheap aftershave he was wearing at the time. However – and I don’t think we were alone in this – neither of us actually had an orgasm, which is clearly what’s being described here.

And okay, most descriptions of sex and sexual relationships in novels are pretty unrealistic; but isn’t this taking it a little too far? Is it fair to teach impressionable teenage girls that if a boy doesn’t actually get them off with the mere touch of his lips on hers, he’s clearly not the one for them?

Or maybe that long-ago boy and I were just doing it all wrong.

I was actually looking for a some suggestively-shaped lemons, but when I googled "Rude Lemons" and this young lady popped up, I decided she was much better.

But, since it’s nice to end on a positive, I am going to say again that at least this book has a proper plot. When Stefan and Elena wander back in a dreamy, post-coital fashion to Elena’s place, they find everyone else waiting for them, eager to discuss the freaky shit that went down in the graveyard earlier. Admittedly, everyone’s suffering from that strange blindness to the existence of Vampires that exists in all modern Vampire novels; but that’s okay, they’ll get there in the end.

Who could it be? Who’s behind the mysterious deaths / attacks / tramp-drainings? Stefan clearly knows more than he’s letting on, and I am betting it has something to do with that spooky lecherous crow from the first chapter, and that it’s going to be his brother or something [note from the future; yup], but Elena doesn’t care. Stefan kissed her, and everything’s fine, and they’re going to get married in a pretty white church with Meredith and Bonnie for bridesmaids, and go off to California and farm lemons for all eternity.


Reading this book is bad for my soul. I can feel it. What should I be reading instead? Leave me your recommendations as a comment and I promise I’ll read and review them. It doesn’t have to be YA (although YA is good) – just pick a book whose existence you think I ought to be aware of. Over to you…

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In Which Everyone Gets Angry About The Wrong Things

I’m starting to wonder if the problem here is that I’m way, waaay too old for this shit. I mean, rationally, of course I’m too old for it, since this is a Young Adult book, and I’m about two decades past young-adulthood. But maybe it’s deeper than just the cynicism of age: maybe the modern age operates to an entirely new set of morals and social codes, and all the stuff I tend to assume is part of the shared human experience doesn’t really matter any more.

Like Chapter Seven of this book, for example.

If you’ve been paying the kind of attention I know I can expect from my wonderful, discerning readers, you’ll remember that C6 saw Elena flouncing out of Prom on the arm of charmless meathead Tyler Smallwood (incidentally, I really, really want his name to be a pun). So naturally, C7 opens with Bonnie, Meredith and Matt deciding what they ought to do about this. How this goes down exposes all kinds of uncomfortable truths about the universe these guys inhabit:


“She went with Tyler Smallwood,” said Meredith. “Matt, are you sure you didn’t hear where they were going?”

Matt shook his head. “I’d say she deserves whatever happens – but it’s my fault too, in a way,” he said bleakly. “I guess we ought to go after her.”

“Leave the dance?” Bonnie said.

Now, let’s be clear. This being a YA Vampire book, I’m in absolutely no doubt that Elena is about to be nearly raped by Tyler [note from the future: sometimes, I’d actually quite like it if my faith wasn’t justified], because thanks to Edward and his Volvo, this is what always happens in YA Vampire books. This entire particular convention is, in and of itself, disturbing beyond words.

But this little exchange is possibly even worse.

Firstly, Meredith clearly knows Tyler Smallwood has form for sexual aggression. No-one asks her to clarify what she’s just suggested, so let’s assume this means this is common knowledge. So why the actual FUCK is he still walking around in the world? Of course, we all know why, and I’ve written about it more seriously here. But if the support of the legal system is too much to hope for (and clearly, it is) is it too much to ask that the people who commit these acts experience some form of social approbium? Specifically, does he have to be welcomed to the Prom?

Letting this man into your party not legal obligation, human race finally realises

And then, Matt steps up to the plate. “I’d say she deserves whatever happens.”

I’d say she deserves whatever happens.

Matt’s supposed to be a nice guy; Mr Average who doesn’t get the girl, but can be counted on in a crisis. I’d say, says Mr Nice Guy, that this girl I’m supposed to be in love with deserves sexual molestation, administered by the Kangaroo Court of Mr Tyler Smallwood, for the crime of liking a boy who isn’t me, and flirting with some other boys who are also not me. Is this really how young nice guys think these days? “I suppose we’d better go after her,” he grudgingly adds. Yes, Matt, I too suppose that you’d better make some sort of effort to save Elena from the known sexual predator in your midst, because that might allow you to make some small recompense to women everywhere for allowing the thought of “She deserves it” to cross your mind. Why don’t you get right on with that, then?

Oh, right; because Bonnie doesn’t want to leave the dance.

Dear God.

Let’s leave this sorry group of individuals and head over to the cemetery, where Elena’s ignoring every instinct in her which is telling her to run away. Tyler proves his meathead credentials by attempting to throw a rock at the moon (srsly), then invites her to “flick my Bic” before desecrating a grave or two. This all combines to make Elena “uneasy”. As Gavin de Becker brilliantly explains in his justly famous book The Gift Of Fear, ignoring genuine fear signals is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Sadly, this is a mistake hundreds of us make every hour, so it’s not fair to tear into Elena for doing the same. Also, what happens to her next is not her fault; it’s Tyler’s fault, and although society says he’ll probably get away with it, he absolutely shouldn’t.

So, after everyone’s fooled around in the cemetery and drawn on the tombstones a bit, Tyler charmlessly detaches his victim from everyone else and takes her off into the bushes to tear the clothes off her. Elena fights back a bit, Tyler’s winning, Stefan does a bit of angsting about how the last time he went to the cemetery he accidentally ate a passing tramp, and then he finally goes charging in to the rescue.

Incidentally, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is much better than “The Vampire Diaries” in every possible way.

Now let’s look at what Stefan says to Tyler while he takes him apart:

“When I first met you, I knew you hadn’t learned any manners,” said Stefan… “But I had no idea that your character was quite so under-developed…a gentleman doesn’t force his company on anyone…he doesn’t insult a woman…and above all, he does not hurt her.”

So on the plus side, Stefan is at least approximating some variety of righteous anger at Tyler’s criminal behaviour. On the very big minus side – the opposite of “gentleman” is not “rapist”.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of “gentleman” is as follows:

“The term gentleman (from Latin gentilis, belonging to a race or gens, and man, cognate with the French word gentilhomme, the Spanish gentilhombre, the Italian gentil uomo or gentiluomo and the Portuguese gentil-homem), in its original and strict signification, denoted a well-educated man of good family and distinction, analogous to the Latin generosus (its invariable translation in English-Latin documents).”

So basically, “gentleman” means you had rich parents, went to school, had some good conversation and knew which fork to use for the fish course. These are mostly good things, or at least things which are not automatically bad. However, when putting together the typical profile of a rapist, “is unable to correctly identify a soup spoon” does not traditionally appear.

This is because rape is not an act of bad manners. Rape is a crime.

Why this matters is because learning how to correctly judge which men are likely to harm us is something of huge importance to all women, everywhere. As we all know, it’s already difficult enough. During our lifetimes, one in five of us will make the wrong call, and be temporarily fooled by one of these wolves in sheep’s clothing. Suggesting that nice, good-looking men with impeccable table manners can’t possibly have malign intentions towards women is stupid and dangerous.

Tyler is a mannerless pig, who thinks that offering a cigarette lighter to Elena and inviting her to “flick my Bic” is a masterpiece of witty sexual badinage. Tyler is also, as subsequent events prove, a rapist. But Fact A does not cause, equate to or in any other way enable us to spot Fact B. It’s perfectly possible to scratch your belly in a restaurant and still understand in the very heart of your being that rape is wrong. It’s perfectly possible to be able to correctly interpret a wine-list and still be a rapist.

I’m glad that Stefan rescues Elena. I’d have preferred a story where Elena gets herself out of trouble by her own efforts, or even a story where Elena listens to what her own best and wisest self is telling her, and runs like hell out of that cemetery before Tyler gets anywhere near her; but I’ll settle for Stefan saving her, in the approved Vampire manner. But if I do nothing else with what was meant to be a light-hearted deconstruction of an entertainingly bad piece of fiction, I’d like to point this out these few simple facts. In this chapter, we see a man tell two women that their friend deserves to be raped, and they don’t challenge him on it. In this chapter, we see a woman who would rather stay at a dance than help protect her best friend from rape, and she never seems to be ashamed. And in this chapter, we see a man seriously suggest that Not Committing Rape is the sole preserve of the gentleman, who was trained from birth in the ways of civilised behaviour.

Here are some alternative things you could do with the £4.66 it would cost you to buy The Vampire Diaries from Amazon:
1. Buy two copies of The Gift Of Fear, by Gavin de Becker – one for you, and one for a good friend.
2. Buy a copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which is a much better read all round.
3. Make a donation to your local Women’s Aid organisation.

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