Bookclub #3: The Night of the Solstice by LJ Smith

Like many of you, I’m an admitted LJ Smith fan. My formative years were spent reading ragged and dog-eared copies of the books, The Secret Circle, Vampire Diaries, and The Forbidden Game. I always assumed I was from some long lost branch of some long lost witch family straight out of the Night World. BTW I’m not.

Well, recently it was discovered that I never read LJ Smith’s first two books, Night of the Solstice and Sword of Valor. The ever quick witted Rebecca from Crunchings and Munchings review blog was fast to tweet, “@iloveyafiction never read them either! I’m totes thinking 1 of these for book club. You in?” Yes, friends, I am so in.

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Secret Vampire by LJ Smith: An Homage to My Lost Youth

Secret Vampire by LJ Smith

Publisher: Archway; First Thus edition (June 1, 1996)

Format: OMG it’s paper, people!

Show of hands for anyone out there who actually knew about LJ Smith before The Vampire Diaries and its particular brand of smutty, skinny girl TV melodrama brought her into mainstream culture. Anyone? If your hand is raised, send me an email because we gotta be friends, uh, like right now. And don’t worry: I do indeed love TVD tv show but for reasons wholly other than the fact that it is somewhat loosely based on the books. Anyway…not to toot my own uber-cool horn, but I have been obsessed with her since I was 13. That’s right: 13! I devoured her books one after the other and was devastated when each trilogy drew to a close. Enter Night World! Her 10 book series about a secret, magical underworld was beyond what I could handle. I mean for the angsty viola playing, hair dyed version of me who sported oversized Dr Martens and plaid hospital pants, it was just too cool.  And yes, I really was that ridiculous.

Plot: On the first day of summer vacation, Poppy Montgomery discovers  that she has a rare, terminal cancer and no hopes of beating it.  She along with her parents, twin brother, and best friend James, are devastated and each one deals with the crisis in his own way.  Poppy wishes that James, the boy she has been in love with for forever, would finally tell her that he reciprocates her feelings but when he does, he tacks on a little secret: he’s a lamia, or born vampire, who can choose when he stops aging and needs human blood to survive.  Vampires, along with all those other fantastical beings like witches, werewolves, and shape shifters, exist in a secret world called the Night World that humans do not know about. In fact there are only two laws in the Night Worlds: do not tell humans about the Night World and do not fall in love with a human.  James has ulterior motives for telling Poppy his secrets and he convinces her that the only way for her to survive is to allow him to turn her into a vampire too.  Once she’s turned, Poppy and James must brave the Night World Elders who claim that no made vampires be allowed to survive and in doing so, realize that their love is strong enough to survive anything.

Review: Somebody get me a fire extinguisher cause this book is HOT! And not in the sexy and slightly twisted way you’re thinking: oh no, it is so well written, evenly paced, and tight that I want to smother it in kisses and thank god it was written before LJ Smith’s extended writing hiatus because everything written since her comeback just isn’t the same.  Don’t get me wrong though, her main characters are  definitely smokin’ and that’s part of the charm of her work.  All the characters are lucky enough to have both superhuman abilities and extreme good looks. It’s just not fair.  But the thing is, LJ Smith writes such likeable characters that you just can’t seem to find it ridiculous that everyone is attractive and blessed with abilities humans can’t hold a candle to.  I mean, normally when I get my hands on a book like this, all the beautiful people just make me roll my eyes.  Chances are if they’re too beautiful to be real, then the book is going to take a nose dive pretty quickly. But Poppy and James are two gorgeous people who just work on the page.  For a vampire, James is not pretentious or all grabby-needy about the blood.  No, he seems like a pretty normal guy who happens to need blood on a daily basis.  It’s such a breath of fresh air to read a story like this where the main characters aren’t simultaneously repelled and drawn to one another by overly appealing blood and the bond they share seems real.  Their love story is full of subtlety and nuance.  Let’s face it, a lot of authors just aren’t able to convey this, usually beating dead horses over and over again in an effort to prove a point about how unusually beautiful, clever, witty, unique, or otherworldly a character is.  LJ Smith delicately rides the balance between camp and unique, giving readers a great love story that is neither heavy handed or banal.  And if I sound like some sort of love-sick LJ Smith fan girl…I don’t care! I totally am and I’m fine with it!

Based on the following criteria:

How much did I like the heroine: 9. Poppy is such a  spunky female lead.  She’s naturally gutted by the diagnosis of her cancer but never lets it dull her optimism.  Even when she’s desperately in need of James’ help, she never devolves into being needy. Too often lately we get books about girls who need saving and in doing so, become clingy, whiny, obnoxious, ungrateful, or mean spirited. Poppy does none of these things.  Instead she maintains her joyful demeanor and naivete. Plus she knew James had a deep, dark secret but never in a million years expected it to be the fact that he’s a vampire. Points to her for not immediately assuming the boy is super human!

How much did I like the love interest: 10. Ah, James. You sound so dreamy and well…helpful. Who doesn’t want a bf who is not only gorgeous but also willing to do what’s necessary to get the job done? You give up life as you know it in order to live on the run with the vampire girlfriend you made.  It’s so romantic and noble that if I were Poppy, I would definitely have given you more than that chaste kiss we see.  I’m just sayin’.

How believable is the plot: 9. I know, I know: how believable can it be, a secret underground world of paranormal beings intent on either dominating or co-existing peacefully with humans. You’d think if this world existed, at least some rumors of it would have made it over to the human side. Regardless, it’s well written and the mythology is believably sketched out for us.  Yes, the likelihood of its existence is called into question, but really, who cares?! It’s a fun read and you really feel a part of it by book’s end.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. LJ Smith is a phenomenal writer. I’ll reiterate this whenever her writing skills are called into question. Everything is subtle and not over done. The dialogue is not trite and it has an easy flow that a lot of YA dialogue lacks.  Her sentences aren’t complex but it’s their very terseness which makes for good reading.  Wasn’t it Hemingway who was constantly trying to pare away as much as he could from his writing in order to get to the very meat of his sentiment? Well, let’s just say that LJ Smith has got that down pat.

How much did I want to keep reading: 10! Luckily this a 10 book series or I would be furious…Ellen may love the standalones but I enjoy reading books about the same world with characters that drift in and out at random.  It’s fantastic and you feel like you’re rediscovering old friends and their whereabouts when you see the same characters crop up long after their stories have finished.

Final Score: 10/10. Great story telling, fun story, great love interest, spunky heroine. What’s not to love here?!

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