Sorry, it's hard not to discuss anything vampire-related without comparing it to "Twilight." Even the star of the CW's upcoming "The Vampire Diaries," Ian Somerhalder, admits they probably owe the show's green light to the popularity of those other vamps. But I think it's a little tedious to fuel the fires of yet another rivalry by saying why L.J. Smith's novels — the first four of which were published in 1991-1992; the most recent, "The Return: Nightfall," came out this February — are better or worse than Stephenie Meyer's creations.
So, for this week's Book Report, here are five reasons why both Twilighters and Twi-haters will enjoy "The Vampire Diaries." (Check back here later for my review of the CW's new show, and don't forget to share your own reviews in the comments section below.)
1) Elena Gilbert kicks ass. The 17-year-old headstrong, popular, blue-eyed blonde is introspective enough to keep the titular diary, but she doesn't waste any time moping about her crush on the school's new Italian import, Stefan. And when he seems determined to ignore her skillful flirting, she makes her friends swear (in blood) that they'll help her conquer him. You almost hate her for being so perfect, but then you remember that a) her parents just died, and b) once Stefan does give in to her, she's willing to become ostracized by the whole town when they suspect him of murder. Like Bella, she's self-sacrificing and brave. Unlike Bella, she knows her own worth, and she's got a team of close friends who do, too. Speaking of which ...
2) Elena's friends often surpass Elena in their awesomeness. Psychic Druid descendant Bonnie can be slightly whiny, but she's often able to save the day with her channeling powers. Meredith is so darn practical and protective, she even makes vampires quake in fear of her. And Elena's sweet ex-boyfriend Matt is always ready and willing to help, like an overgrown, heartbroken puppy.
3) "Good" vampire Stefan has a whole lot in common with Edward Cullen. He's from a more romantic time and place (Florence during the Renaissance), dreamy (piercing green eyes and "a mouth to keep you awake at night"), wants to live a normal life among humans (he's even sworn off indulging in human blood) and snaps a tree in two to prove to Elena that he can hurt her. And he's moral to a (rather frustrating) fault, so ...
4) You can totally see why Elena's also drawn to his dangerous brother, Damon. He doesn't pander to her "delicate" nature and wants to show her a good time, away from the weak, insipid small-town humans that surround her. OK, so he threatens to suck her baby sister's blood and won't lift a finger to prove his own brother's innocence, but nobody's perfect. And you get the feeling that deep down, he's a softy, too.
5) The town of Fell's Church, Virginia, has some seriously scary, evil magic going down. A little vampire sibling rivalry starts to look pretty trivial compare to the other threats to Elena and her friends, and the more danger they face, the harder it is to put these books down.
"Vampire Diaries" does have its faults, though. Sometimes there's so much action, it's difficult to figure out what exactly is going on. And shifting to the other characters' perspectives is usually interesting, but when everyone's motivations are completely spelled out, it sometimes has the unintended effect of distancing you from all of them. While I vastly prefer Smith's writing style to Meyer's, she doesn't reach that same level of emotional immediacy that sends "Twilight" readers plunging into unhealthy obsession. And maybe that's a good thing. Still, I can't wait for her next installment, "Shadow Souls," due out in late 2009.
Next week's Book Report assignment has absolutely nothing to do with vampires: Alex Flinn's "Beastly," which is currently being made into a movie starring Vanessa Hudgens.
Have you read "Vampire Diaries" yet? If so, what did you think?