Book: Remembrance, a Mediator Novel

"Remembrance"

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva). But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child, to ghosts of a very different kind–including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself–Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night. Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later, but what happens when ghosts from her past–including one she found nearly impossible to resist–strike first?

The Mediator series was one of the things I really enjoyed reading back in high school and college; mostly because of the heroine who wasn’t always heroic and the supernatural element that, for the most part, wasn’t very complicated.

When I found out that Meg Cabot was following up the Princess Diaries wrap-up Royal Wedding with a new Mediator book, I was ecstatic. And then I started reading the book.

I guess I should learn the lesson of managing expectations. Again.

The Mediator series, for the first four books, were very short novels aimed at Young Adults. At the time, when you say a book is intended for the teen audience, it wasn’t very long. But, I’m guessing, when Harry Potter‘s length increased alongside its popularity, and people didn’t mind; the publishers must have realized that they didn’t need to limit the number of pages of a young adult novel. A good story will have teens reading, no matter the length of a book. So when the last two Mediator books came out in 2004 and 2005, the book was no longer restricted by a small number of pages.

Both Haunted and Twilight flourished with the additional pages. Meg Cabot was able to flesh out her characters more, and made Susannah Simon’s world more immersive. Which is why, when I picked up Remembrance, I was excited to crack open the book immediately. It follows the thickness of the last two Mediator books, and the synopsis at the back promised a great adventure.

A third into the novel though, I was asking myself–Why wasn’t anything happening? In the decade that passed, has Meg Cabot lost hold of Susannah Simon’s voice? Where are her friends? Why is she so hung up on just Jesse and herself when she was able to juggle having a social life on top of school and being a mediator before?

Things started picking up when Susannah finally moved on from being self-centered to start dealing with her ghost situation. From that point on, Remembrance started to read and feel like the old Mediator novels. Which brings me to ask:

Did the Mediator novels work in the past because Meg Cabot was restricted to a certain number of pages? Were they structurally sound and well-paced because the author wasn’t allowed to ramble on and on for fear of running out of pages to tell her story?

Maybe.

But what about Haunted and Twilight? Were they flukes? Or has Meg Cabot gotten used to writing her protagonists one way? As very talkative and very self-centered? Then again, the remaining two-thirds of Remembrance is good, and very reminiscent of Mediator books past. So was the first third just an example of an editor failing to reign in the writer’s meandering thoughts?

At the end of the day, I did still enjoy the book. And I still would like to see more of Susannah Simon, her stepbrothers, and the rest of her ghost-hunting crew. But, here’s to hoping that when a next time does arrive, we won’t be subjected again to a rambling first act that fails to actually subtracts from the protagonist’s likability.

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Book: Royal Wedding, a Princess Diaries Novel

"Royal Wedding"

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity: living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend, Michael, managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course, Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.

But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: her grandmother has leaked “fake” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Can Mia prove to everyone–especially herself–that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

I picked this book up because this is the end of the Princess Diaries story that I sort-of grew up with. Which makes it embarrassing for me to admit now that I, apparently, only read the first three books of the series. The rest of my Princess Diaries knowledge comes from the Disney adaptation that the series of novels actually make fun of.

Fortunately, Meg Cabot has always this knack of drawing you into the action even without prior knowledge of what has happened before. Her characters, Mia more than the others, have a very distinct sense of the now that you can’t help but be caught up in what is happening rather than what has happened before. That’s why it’s easy to pick up where the last book left off. Doubly easy, I think, because Cabot offers a little refresher at the start, seeing as it has been years since she last wrote a Princess Diaries book. Maybe she was reminding herself of what had happened as well.

Cabot weaves in a child-like maturity into Mia in this final installment of her series. A reflection of her journey, and that of the readers who grew up reading her books. Out of Cabot’s characters, it’s always been Mia who spoke clearly to the Tumblr generation. My generation. And it’s satisfying to see, to read, that Mia hasn’t changed who she is. Yes, she’s older. Yes, she’s more responsible. But she’s still the same Mia. She didn’t suddenly turn into a Kate Middleton or someone along the likes of. And that makes me, and I’m guessing a few other readers, feel better, because it makes Mia more like a real person.

It makes Mia continue to reflect who we are as a generation. The ones who are working our asses off to better ourselves, to do better for our community–and not always succeeding. Mia is an inspiration. That even fictional princesses don’t get to sail smoothly into the horizon. Although, and I don’t know if this requires a spoiler alert, we all know she’s going to get her happily-ever-after sooner or later.

Royal Wedding, much like the other books in the Princess Diaries series, is a book that makes you feel good about yourself. Finishing this book, all I could think of after was that we need more books like this again. Books that will tell a new generation of readers that it’s okay to fail–so long as you pick yourself up and do better next time. That you should never give up. And that while you maybe the star of your own story, you shouldn’t forget that your supporting characters are the main characters of their own stories too.

I don’t know if that makes as much sense to you as it does to me. But that’s the best I can do.

Most Princess Diaries fans would’ve already read this book. If you’re new to the series, you might want to pick up the first couple of books before diving into this one. If you’re not a fan… Well, there’s nothing here that will change your mind.

Book: Zombies versus Unicorns

"Zombies versus Unicorns"

Which is better, the zombie or the unicorn?

Some of today’s finest writers have chosen their side, creating dazzling stories about both creatures. Are you Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

This took me forever to finish. Forever and a day. And I am totally going for the dramatics here, but the fact remains that–I am neither Team Zombie nor Team Unicorn, if these are the stories to argue for their cases.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of them have really interesting premises, some of them have a good handle at story telling. In the case of Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvilla, it’s a mix of both. But none of the stories really stand out. I mean, save for Bougainvilla, but after that story, I couldn’t find another one that interested me enough to have me keep reading.

I especially loathed the unicorn stories. Save for Meg Cabot’s Princess Prettypants which was a very fast read, but offered nothing in terms of brilliance; and Kathleen Duey’s The Third Virgin which was pretty bleak, the rest felt…ordinary, uninteresting, and a chore to read. I fell asleep a lot of times while reading the unicorn stories, save for the two I mentioned.

Not that I’m saying the zombie stories are any better. Well, they are–but only a little. I already singled out Bougainvilla as the best of the lot, but Scott Westerfield’s Inoculata was interesting too. Cassandra Clare’s Cold Hands deserve credit for being different, but I thought the story itself was extremely lacking. Libba Bray’s Prom Night stands out as the worst of the bunch.

I don’t believe in regrets–but I sure wish I trusted my first instinct when it came to this anthology. I put off buying (and reading this) for a year. I should’ve stuck with that decision. This book is definitely not for me.

As I always say though, I am but one voice and people should make up their own minds. I’ve thrown my two cents into the bin, let’s see what other people have said:
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