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Warning: This Is NOT How Boys Work

I was originally planning to get The Vampire Diaries out of the way in one gigantic, OMGwhyamIevendoingthis gulp. Then I got started, and realised my review was getting so enormously long that I was going to have to it in chunks. Okay, I thought. Five chapters at a time. That’s do-able.

Then I got to Chapter Six, and it all got a little out of hand.

There are so many books I’ve read recently that I adored, and can’t wait to tell you about at great length. I don’t want the “Reviews” strand of my blog to turn into a massive exercise in snarkiness. But I hate leaving projects unfinished, and damn it, pulling The Vampire Diaries to pieces is just so much fun to do! So maybe there’s maybe room for just a little bit of snarkiness. Just once a week or so, in among the other stuff.

Maybe I should pick a specific day for it. Undead Tuesdays, or something…

Anyway, what I’m saying is; I think we’re going to have to go to a post per chapter to get through it all. Sorry about that. There will be other stuff as well. But once you’ve heard the siren call of the Immortal Undead, there’s no way back for any of us.

Chapter Six
We open on Elena, writing in her diary, speculating about that guy who had his blood drained out of him the other week (I do love that strange blindness all inhabitants of Vampire fiction are required to practice in order to avoid noticing that they’re, like, surrounded by vampires and stuff) and completely losing her shit over Stefan. Apparently this one time, in History class, he was totally staring at her – sitting sideways in his chair to do it and everything! – and oh, Dear Diary, do you think this means he might be interested in me? Seriously, if I didn’t hate Elena so much I might actually feel sorry for her.

Ah, you know what? I kind of feel sorry for her anyway. It’s hard not to pity someone who regards sending herself red roses from a made-up Frenchman as 1) normal 2) worthwhile or 3) ensuring that “my social position’s secure”.

On the other hand – waaaay over-invested in Stefan. He is, apparently, unlike any other boy she’s ever known. Okay, on the one hand, he is a soul-less member of the Immortal Undead, so on some level he probably is unlike any other boy she’s ever known. On the other hand, her evidence for Stefan being unlike any other boy seem a little thin:

Reasons Why Stefan Is Unlike Any Other Boy Elena Has Ever Known

1. He is on the football team. Clearly a freak, then.
2. He doesn’t hang around much with any of the guys apart from Matt. Or, as I would like to phrase it, “since arriving in town precisely twenty-two days ago, has already made one good friend.”
3. He doesn’t hang around with any of the girls either. Yes, every teenage boy I ever knew simply loved to spend hours of his day talking to girls about girl stuff and – oh wait, hang on a minute.
4. He doesn’t go to the cafeteria.
5. He doesn’t go to the coffee shop. Better call the FBI, Flopsy, I think we’ve got a live one on our hands.

...and the appeal of the Haemovore lifestyle is instantly clear.

Elena finishes with the following delightful thought: “How can I ever get him somewhere he can’t get away from me?”

Just for a minute, let’s imagine a boy expressing this sentiment. JUST SAYING.

Next up, we’re back at Fell’s Church High School for the Matt and Elena show, in which we get to enjoy what is surely the world’s least unlikely conversation between a man and a woman, anywhere, at all, ever [note from the future: actually, I think I called this one a little early]. Elena belatedly realises that her I-was-shagging-a-Frenchman scheme may possibly have upset the guy who was at the time her actual flesh-and-blood boyfriend just a little tiny bit, and apologises to him. From this, Matt instantly divines that Mr Red Roses was made up, and furthermore, that he was only made up because Elena was so upset about Stefan not liking her after she’d known about his existence for a whole thirty-eight minutes.

I can just about buy that Matt realised Elena had invented Monsieur l’Oignon for some strange, dysfunctional purpose of her own. But how he got from “She’s inventing all kinds of shit” to “because that noob didn’t want to count her eyelashes by the lockers” is beyond me. Maybe boys in Fell’s Church have some weird genetic mutation that makes them all ludicrously intuitive.

Or maybe – just maybe – the boys in this book are nothing at all like boys in real life. Your pick.

Anyway. It turns out we’re only just beginning to see the sublime heights of sensitive insight that Matt the Lapdog is capable of. According to Matt, Stefan seems to have put up this, like, wall around him? A wall that, like, no-one can get through? And Matt doesn’t think he’ll ever let anyone through the wall? Which is totes a shame and stuff? Because, like, behind that wall, he thinks that Stefan is, like, really really miserable? (To be fair to Smith, Matt doesn’t actually say any of this in a Valley-girl voice. But that’s how I heard it in my head.)

Find me one teenage boy who has ever given more than about five seconds’ thought to the emotional state of another boy. Just one. JUST ONE. Find me just one, send me the evidence and I’ll sell a God-damned kidney and give the proceeds to the charity of your choice.

Just so we're clear: Manga drawings do not count.

One thing I will say for Elena; she likes to have a plan. Unlike Bella, who mostly just mopes around the place waiting for stuff to happen to her, Elena takes control of her destiny. Her latest foolproof scheme is that Matt will now help her, Elena, to get behind the wall? That wall that Stefan’s living behind? Because that would be, like, a really good thing to do and stuff? (Sorry, still not actually written in Valley-girl, but I just can’t help it.)

Unfortunately for Matt, this plan involves Matt being responsible for taking Stefan to the Homecoming Prom.

Here’s why this would never happen. With a few courageous and admirable exceptions, teenage boys – even the ones who are actually, irrefutably gay – are paranoid about looking gay. This shouldn’t be true. I hope that one day it will cease to be true. But right now, it is true.

Knowing this fact, even as we despise it – is Matt going to ask Stefan to the prom?

The Internet now officially contains all things imaginable to the mind of man.

How This Conversation Should Actually Have Gone

Elena (distraught): Matt…I’m sorry!
Matt: About two-timing me with that French dude? So you should be!
Elena: I made him up.

[PAUSE]

Matt: Um…sorry, what?
Elena: Because I wanted Stefan to be interested in me.
Matt: You sent yourself red roses to make some dude you met three weeks ago want to date you? Are you for real?
Elena: He’s not like any guy I’ve ever known. Do you ever get the feeling that he’s put up this wall around him?
Matt [BACKING AWAY]: What? What wall? What the fuck are you talking about?
Elena: Please will you bring him with you to the Homecoming dance so I can try and get my freak on with him?
Matt: Never, ever speak to me again as long as I live.

But hey, this is Vampire fiction, folks! And in Vampire fiction, boys – the Undead ones, the Were-ones and even just the plain old ordinary ones – are as sensitive as all get out, and simply love running around after girls who have dumped them, then retrospectively cheated on them with a made-up Frenchman.

Maybe it’s best if I just walk away from this line of thought. In the next scene, it’s Prom Night, and Elena is being made beautiful by her minions, who clearly have nothing better to do with their evening than groom the Alpha Female. Somehow, whenever I read a scene like this, I always think of chimpanzees, so that’s how I’m picturing this scene: a nice, pretty chimpanzee girl in an ice-violet frock. Being groomed makes me feel all happy and relaxed, but Elena is mostly being grim, miserable and determined. In fact, she actually describes herself as (and I’m quoting here) “a very young soldier being sent to the front lines”.

Okay. This is YA fiction, and Young Adults are, by definition, young. This means they’re allowed to be immature, self-absorbed and melodramatic in all the wrong places. But the spoilt and beautiful Homecoming Queen comparing herself to “a very young soldier being sent to the front lines”, in a world where very young soldiers are actually being sent to the front lines?

Words fail me.

Oh, of course Elena’s the Homecoming Queen! Was there ever any doubt? And of course, this means she can have absolutely anything she wants, including a relationship with a boy who has basically no interest in her, because those are totally the rules when you’re Queen. Bonnie and Meredith said it, so it must be true. So, that’s nice. Then they go downstairs, and Elena’s aunt’s boyfriend Robert gives Elena a long and creepy stare, then announces that he has just realised that Elena is a form of Helen, as in Helen of Troy, and that’s who Elena reminds him of.

Compliments You Can Expect To Get From Your Aunt’s Boyfriend On Prom Night

1. “You look nice”
2. “That’s a nice frock”
3. “Those are nice flowers”
4. “That’s a nice thing you’ve got in your hair”
5. “I’m sure you’re going to have a very nice evening”

Compliments You Will Never Be Given By Your Aunt’s Boyfriend On Prom Night

1. Anything involving laboured allusions to doomed heroines from antiquity

Inexplicably, Stefan has accepted Matt’s shy invitation to Prom Night, and has come wearing his best cashmere sweater, and a wondrous black blazer, which is subtly different and more elegant to any other blazer ever worn by human boy before. Ms Meyer’s lawyers will please note the care with which Stefan has avoided the colour beige.

And then, the moment! Stefan asks Elena to dance! Because people tend to notice shit like two people standing deadly still and staring at each other for hours without moving, I’m assuming the amount of time this occupies in the narrative is about as long as you’d expect; i.e., a maximum of seven or eight seconds. However, it’s possibly the busiest seven or eight seconds of Elena’s life to date.

Things Elena Realises In The Time It Takes Stefan To Ask Her To Dance

1. she’s beautiful
2. She’s playing with either
a) fire or
b) something she doesn’t understand (I’m going to be generous and presume she’s capable of understanding Fire)
3. An instinct older than civilisation is prompting her to run
4. Surprisingly, this same instinct is also telling her to not run
5. This the most intense moment she’s ever experienced with a boy
6. Stefan’s eyes are green like oak-leaves in the summer
7. Stefan is having a good time
8. Stefan is somehow also not having a good time
9. Stefan looks as if he’s in pain (I sympathise)
10. Stefan’s eyes are going black with desire
11. Stefan is thinking about kissing her
12. Stefan is hypnotised by her beauty

Damn, this girl is good at realising and noticing! I’m exhausted just reading about it.

It’s probably a good thing for the emotional energy of everyone involved that at this point, Evil Caroline (remember her?) turns up and claims Stefan for her very, very own. Clearly, this breaks Elena’s heart, because obviously every word Caroline says is totes true and isn’t in any way designed to upset Elena and make her feel bad, because srsly, who would do that? – and, and, and –

Okay, I need to get over myself, because this is is just a trope of the genre, isn’t it? The 1739 Standardisation Of Romantic Tropes Act clearly states that in any ambiguous situation, all romantic heroes and heroines are required by law to look at the possible options, find the absolute worst explanation available for what they’ve just witnessed, and believe that one. As is traditional, Elena decides heal her shattered heart by dancing with every other boy who isn’t fast enough to run away from her, and then going off to the cemetery with some meathead called Tyler.

Ohhh, I can feel a rape-rescue scenario coming up here. [Note from the future: damn, I’m good.]

Best line of the chapter: “You only want everybody and everything revolving around Elena Gilbert.” Matt, for this brief but deadly moment of clarity, I salute you.

If you absolutely must, you can buy The Vampire Diaries from Amazon, here. But why would you want to do that? Instead, why not buy The Atheist’s Daughter, by the fabulous husband-and-wife team Renee Harrell? You can read my review here, and you might also like to swing by Renee Harrell’s blog at MarsNeedsWriters.com.

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Come back Bella and Edward, I didn’t mean any of it

If you get my Facebook feed, you’ll know I’ve spent about forty thousand million billion years snarking about all of the forty thousand million billion things that are wrong with Twilight. On the recommendation of a friend – who clearly felt I needed my Tortured Teen Undead Romance horizons expanding – I have finally got around to reading The Vampire Diaries. I am aware that I’m getting round to this long, long after everyone else and yes, I know there’s a TV series that I also should have watched (but haven’t). But what can I tell you? Sometimes I am very, very slow on the uptake and don’t listen well to what my friends tell me.

My friends tell me I do this a lot. I can't see it myself.

So. I was told to read The Vampire Diaries because it is, apparently, much better than Twilight. (I’ll refrain from describing in too much detail the vast oceans of space and time that lie between the two points of “Better than Twilight” and “objectively any good”). And I’m happy to admit that The Vampire Diaries does solve many of the flaws of Twilight. The human heroine Elena Gilbert is much tougher and more assertive than Bella Swann. The vampire hero Stefan isn’t an insane, controlling control-freak who spends every night counting Elena’s eyelashes while she’s asleep. The plot actually begins at the beginning, rather than showing up when the book’s eighty per cent in. The supporting characters are distinguishable from each other (I can even remember their names without looking). There is no Vampire baseball.

Clearly the word “However” is going to be used soon, but let’s save that for now and do the plot summary. Fragile beautiful girl living in small town lays eyes on pale, muscled, strangely alluring guy with hot car and is instantly smitten. Alluring guy is aggressively rude to fragile beautiful girl, but still rescues her from sexually threatening situations. Once this has happened they are legally obliged to be In Lurve, and yet she senses he is holding something back. He eventually confesses that he is a Vampire. There is a Bad Vampire, who probably twirls his moustachios in the mirror and will inevitably be the subject of a whole lot of oh-Elena-if-only fan fiction. Some people die. There is a prom.

Kristen experiences an unwelcome moment of clarity.

Of course, everyone on the planet who owns a pen, a brain-cell and a copy of Twilight has entertained the notion that they could do much, much better. And in the interests of fairness, I have to say that from a technical standpoint, The Vampire Diaries is, indeed much, much better. I really wanted to like this book, and I tried very hard indeed to do so. I’m sorry to say that I failed.

But, because I’m just that dedicated, I read it anyway. And kept chapter-by-chapter notes, which I will be posting up in batches. Here’s everything you need to know about the first five chapters. Enjoy!

And remember, I do these things so you don’t have to.

Chapter One – we meet our heroine, Elena Gilbert. Elena’s been in France for the summer, in circumstances which are supposed to be mysterious, but I bet it’s because her parents are dead. [Note from the future; yep.] She keeps an annoyingly emo diary, filled with thoughts of Sad Things and Culture, to show that she is a cut above those brainless airhead girls she is forced to associate with. So, that’s nice. Like Bella, she is pale and flawless and beautiful (but blonde. Because Bella’s cornered the market on Brunette). Unlike Bella, she clearly knows it. This makes her less Sue-ish, but more irritating.

On the way to school, a crow gives Elena the once-over. Okay, I’m sure this is supposed to be a surprise, but that crow is clearly a Bad Vampire in disguise. [Note from the future; it was.] Finally, we meet our hero Stefan. When we first see him, he’s draining a rabbit and doing some self-loathing.

Best line of the chapter; “Elena Gilbert, cool and blonde and slender, the fashion trendsetter, the high school senior, the girl every boy wanted and every girl wanted to be.” Kill this woman now, please.

Chapter Two – we are introduced to Elena’s two slavish minions. No, sorry, I mean best friends. Meredith is tall, dark, cerebral and clearly has sex on a regular basis. Jolly good for her. Bonnie is diminutive, ditsy, psychic, has red hair, and thinks that if she perms it, she will look taller. Okay, that’s…that’s not so good.

On the other hand, at least I can tell them apart, right? Maybe this will be better than Twilight after all?

How Bella sees the world.

Next we meet Caroline, who is Elena’s rival for, well, for everything really, and they indulge in some Mean-Girls-style dialogue. As a woman in my thirties, I find this annoying. On the other hand, this is also much better than Bella, who is oblivious to such petty rivalry and would instead be in the library right about now, having gawky thoughts about Romeo and Juliet.

Bonnie reads Elena’s palm, and brilliantly divines that she will soon meet a dark, handsome, not very tall stranger. And then, OMG, a Porsche 911 Turbo pulls up at the school and out gets Stefan, and the entire school creams itself. Just in case Ms Meyer’s lawyers are reading, Stefan is wearing sunglasses, so we can’t see if his eyes are topaz or not. Oh, and when Stefan and Elena are in the same class, it’s History not Biology, she smells like violets not freesias, and they don’t have to look at amoebas. He can still read minds, though.

It doesn't count as copyright infringement if you're being snarky.

Elena and Caroline decide that they will now compete for Stefan. (His opinions and preferences don’t really seem to figure in this plan, so let’s hope he doesn’t secretly prefer ditsy redheads with bad perms.) Elena muses for a while about all the boys she has dated and how empty they leave her feeling and how she is still searching for something, she doesn’t know what, but… something…and decides she will now dump her boyfriend Matt, because she loves him like a brother and he doesn’t satisfy that yearning she has that she can’t put a name to…

Seriously, are modern teenagers this unaware of their bodies? That’s a really depressing thought.

For the record, Matt is not giving any signs of being a werewolf yet, but there’s plenty of time. [Note from the future; as of the end of the first book, Matt is still not a werewolf.]

Then Stefan puts a nasty teacher in his place, making his own small contribution to the ongoing erosion of professional respect for educators everywhere. On the basis of 1) how he looks and 2) how much he knows about the history of the European Renaissance, Elena solemnly declares that He Will Be Hers, Oh Yes, He Will Be Hers.

Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God. I’m trying. I want to like it. I do. But seriously now – isn’t this all a little bit crappy?

Best line of the chapter; “Do you see that jacket? That’s Italian, as in Roma.” Because teenagers everywhere can unerringly spot Italian tailoring at a hundred paces. TRUFAX.

Chapter Three – opens with a brief, angst-ridden insight into the tortured yet fascinating mind of Stefan. We’re in Renaissance Italy, meeting Stefan’s family. Stefan’s brother is called Damon – an unusual choice for fifteenth-century Europe – and he is totally going to be that crow from C1. [Note from the future; he totally was.]

Also authentic Italian Renaissance.

Damon and Stefan are both In Lurve with a girl who is Elena’s Renaissance doppelganger, which will clearly end badly and set them up for an un-lifetime of deadly sibling rivalry. Stefan, I have only had to put up with your company for twenty-seven pages, and already I want to kill you. Let’s hope Elena doesn’t feel the same…

…oh, she doesn’t feel the same! Well, that’s a relief. Here she is giving Matt the kiss-off, and here is Matt making it achingly clear that he will now resign himself to being her little lap-dog for the rest of time. Great. Now I also hate Elena and Matt. Doesn’t anyone have any decency or self-respect around here?

No, clearly not. Elena is now ruthlessly bullying Bonnie and Meredith into keeping Stefan away from Caroline, presumably on the basis that possession is nine-tenths of the law. The path is now clear for Elena to make a fool of herself, which she duly does. Her cunning plan is to pretend that she’s been assigned by the Welcoming Committee to show him around, a plan clearly worthy of Machiavelli. Unfortunately, our actual Renaissance Man is unimpressed by this plan, and rudely storms out of the room. Possibly blocking up his nostrils to keep himself from being overcome by her delicious freesia-scented goodness. I mean violets! Violet-scented goodness. Violets smell completely different to freesias. Cancel the lawsuit.

If Edward had worn one of these on the wedding-night, "Breaking Dawn" would have been better in a great many ways, I think.

Best line of the chapter: “He had hoped to find peace here, but that was impossible. He would never be accepted, he could never rest. Because he was evil. He could not change what he was.” Indeed.

Chapter Four – Elena has what I can only describe as a completely bizarre over-reaction to Stefan not instantly wanting to rip her knickers off in the classroom when she made her alluring offer to show him how to open his locker and where the toilets are. She only laid eyes on Stefan about five hours ago, and already she’s heartbroken that he hasn’t fallen In Lurve with her. Sorry, but occasionally even Bella had the self-awareness to remind herself not to obsess over a very rude boy who she only met a week ago. (Occasionally.) She goes home early and mopes, then her Aunt and little sister get home and she runs out the back door and takes herself off to the graveyard. And there in the graveyard are her parents, oh yes. Didn’t see that one coming.

For some reason, Bonnie and Meredith then show up and beg her to share the secrets of her heart. Oh yes, please, please let’s hear the secrets of Elena’s heart! In a further break with Mary-Sue tradition, Elena actually does share the secrets of her heart, and makes her two friends swear a blood-oath that they will not try and steal Stefan and will totally try and help her get Stefan and none of them will rest until she has got Stefan and nothing in the whole world ever has been as important as Elena getting Stefan and I swear on the graves of Elena’s parents which they are all sitting on while they do this, I am truly not making this up.

NB Stefan has now been in town for about ten hours.

"And if he doesn't marry me within the week, I am going to kill everyone I know."

Back in the graveyard, Bonnie has a psychic moment. Some sinister shit happens. Everyone screams and runs. A homeless guy living under a bridge is the victim of something which we are supposed to believe is Stefan, but probably isn’t. I’m going with Damon. [Note from the future; it was both of ’em. Huh.] In L J Smith’s defence, this does at least mean the plot is progressing at the same pace as the swooning.

Best line of the chapter; “I swear to keep this a secret and do anything Elena asks about Stefan.” A minion in need…

Chapter Five – and let’s have some more angsty I’m-such-a-monster self-hatred from Stefan, shall we? Because really, it’s been what, a whole chapter since we last did that? Stefan has been out for dinner, and this has reminded him of kissing Elena’s doppelganger Elizabeth, which has reminded him of Elena’s violet-scented goodness, which is messing with his mind, and possibly some other part of his anatomy too. We meet his landlady, whose name, amusingly, is Mrs Flowers.

Mrs Flowers' blood smelled of dustbins and fox-vomit

There’s some more filler on Stefan and Elizabeth, but it’s dull, so I skipped through it. She’s a vampire, by the way. Oh, and I want to slap her. Stefan has a nightmare, proving that he does sleep and is therefore so totally not Edward with a slightly less beige wardrobe, and wakes up shouting.

To prove how their Lurve is so true even though they have only exchanged about twenty words, all of them rude, Elena wakes up thinking someone is shouting. I guess we’d better start looking for hats for the wedding, then. Slightly more usefully, Elena now has an even more Machiavellian plan to bag Stefan, which will totally work because it is brilliant. Apparently. I’m hoping it involves a tranquilliser dart and a giant net.

Damn it, there is no tranquilliser dart or giant net. Elena’s new plan is to spread the rumour that Stefan is “a narc” (which I thought was a seller of narcotics, but turns out to be an undercover policeman), which will keep Caroline away from him (Why? How? Is Caroline some sort of juvenile delinquent?) and also to pretend that she has a French boyfriend, called Jean-Claude. Let’s all just contemplate this piece of magnificence for a moment.

Then we go to Bonnie’s house and meet an annoying yappy dog called Yangtze, who I sincerely hope will be dead by the end of the book [Note from the future: yessss!] and Bonnie’s sister, who is a nurse and looks tired and tells them about some homeless guy who was bitten by a vampire under the bridge near the graveyard. Well, she doesn’t actually use the word “vampire”, but that’s because people in vampire stories are always strangely blind to the overwhelming evidence. Full marks for having a plot, L J, but I still hate every single one of your characters.

Best line of the chapter; “The glimmer of white behind a lemon tree. The feel of a sword in his hand; Guiseppe’s voice shouting from far away. The lemon tree. He must not go behind the lemon tree.” Yeah, I have nightmares about lemon trees all the time too.

———————————————————————————————-

That’s all for now, folks! Five more chapters of obsession, self-loathing and lemon-trees coming up soon.


Just in case there’s any doubt – I’m not recommending you buy “The Vampire Diaries”. Also, you probably have a copy already, right? Because I am astoundingly late to this party. However, if you absolutely must, it’s available on Amazon for £4.26.

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Here’s a lovely piece of Point Of Sale that really adds value to the lives of today’s young adults:

“The best reading for teens”. That’s quite a bold claim, but, okay, we’ll go with it.

Ready for the payoff?

Let’s all just contemplate the significance of that for a minute, shall we?

“The best reading for teens is a genre that posits sexual relationships as a physically dangerous transaction between impossibly powerful male predators and passive, helpless female prey. In this genre, sexual fulfilment is entirely within the gift of the male, to be awarded or withheld entirely as he sees fit; and the great physical beauty of the protagonists is the sole, entire basis for any romantic relationship.

As the poster-child for this genre, we will pick the series where a delusional and possibly even mentally-ill heroine is stalked by a moody control-freak who climbs in through her window every night to count her eyelashes while she sleeps. Furthermore, we won’t even pick the good one of the series, where there is at least some narrative drive and a semblance of romantic entanglement. Instead, we’ll pick the one where the heroine gets married at eighteen instead of going to college, the hero gives the heroine a C-section with his teeth and the second male lead falls in love with a pre-verbal toddler.

Definitely the best reading for teens. Yeah.”

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