The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

What happened in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957? Right, the Little Rock Nine. Now, how many people know what happened during the 1958-59 school year? (Unless you’re from Little Rock, a student of twentieth century American history, or just pay a lot of attention to the news at the time) Don’t worry, I didn’t either.

Just to be absolutely clear, The Lions of Little Rock is a novel through and through; while Levine did weave in a great many facts about what happened the academic year after the Little Rock high school was forced to integrate, the primary characters themselves are entirely fictional. The community’s reaction, however, is reasonably accurate, as were the actions of the Little Rock school board and city government, along with the Arkansas state government.

The Lions of Little Rock begins in the summer of 1958, just before school is set to begin. Marlee (named for Marlene Dietrich) is about to enter seventh grade; she loves math, despite the general consensus at the time that girls can’t do math or science…and she doesn’t talk. Well, not much anyway, and then only to people with whom she’s comfortable. Hardly anyone at school! Seventh grade means starting at a new school, which means breaking in a new set of teachers (and a few classmates) to the idea that she doesn’t want to talk. Until she meets Lisa.

Lisa is bold, outspoken and intelligent, capable of putting down even the school’s Resident Mean Girl, who regards herself as Marlee’s only friend, with a trenchant phrase. Lisa and Marlee become fast friends, although Marlee’s perplexed that Lisa never invites her over to visit. The two work together on a history project during which process Lisa works on Marlee’s reluctance to speak in public, on the theory that if she doesn’t speak, everyone else will assume that Lisa did all the work; they practice in the Little Rock zoo, rehearsing various parts of their project in front of various animals, though the lions are Marlee’s favorite. Partway through the fall term, Lisa disappears; the official story is that she’s ill, but the rumor that she’s actually black, enrolled in a white school1 under false pretences, quickly proves true.

The two girls remain friends, and continue to sneak off to various places—the quarry, the zoo—where they can meet unnoticed by their parents, who’ve forbidden the relationship to continue. These meetings are few and far between; even Lisa warms up only slowly to Marlee’s overtures, as she cannot believe that Marlee would be any different from all the other whitegirls, so snide about the Negroes2 that they cannot even comprehend using a brush that a Negro had used for fear of contracting lice. Perplexed as to how to proceed but unwilling to give up on the first friendship of her own choosing, Marlee turns to the family’s black maid, Betty Jean, though even there, Betty Jean makes the same suggestion as Lisa’s and Marlee’s parents: drop the friendship, it cannot work. Alas.

Things improve somewhat after Marlee tries to thwart the bombing of Lisa’s family. Their house is still badly damaged by the two sticks of dynamite she had to leave behind in the bomber’s trunk, but this at least reveals the bomber’s identity when she speaks up, and produces the evidence of her snapped-off letter opener blade in his trunk, where she was trapped. The book ends on a rueful note: things are going to get better eventually, but the children of this generation shouldn’t hold their breath for anything in the immediate future.

Overall, this reminded me of Anna Jean Mayhew’s The Dry Grass of August in its acknowledgement that the process of truly integrating our society is a long and rocky one, and the author permits no sugar coating of dewy-eyed innocence on the part of the whites about the true nature of the situation. There is a certain degree of “out of the mouths of babes”, although even Marlee acknowledges that this is the way the world wags, at least in 1958 in Little Rock. There’s a touching scene in the black movie theater, when Marlee arrives unbeknownst to Lisa; it is only when her family’s (black) maid speaks up for Marlee that she is allowed to remain.

1at this point, it was only the high school which was integrated, though only nominally and even that was something of a moot point, as the School Board had chosen to close it rather than comply with the Federal order to integrate.
2the term used at the time! not mine.

Dr. Siri Paiboun by Colin Cotterill

The initial disclaimer: ‘Dr. Siri Paiboun’ is actually the name of the mystery series’ protagonist, not the title of any of the mysteries.

Dr. Paiboun has been roped into serving as Laos’ only coroner after the wars ended in the mid-1970s, and he isn’t happy about it. He’s seventy-two, and he was looking forward to a quiet receding into a retirement of calm contemplation and very little action at all. No such luck.

Instead, he gets to deal with being the only coroner in a nation with little technology (even for the mid-seventies) much less things like a reliable constant power grid, and a non-corrupt political structure. The politicians who govern the coroner’s office have no medical training and very little in the way of intelligence or education. This is not forensics or autopsy technique that would be recognized by any European or North American coroner’s office of the time; no Kay Scarpetta, Paiboun hasn’t even a scale designed to weigh the bodies, or a bone saw. Given the local climate, they’re lucky to have refrigerated storage for the bodies. He has one nurse, Dtui, and one assistant, a Mr. Geung, who though he has Down’s Syndrome does serve the coroner’s office well, given that his prodigious memory retains all that Paiboun’s predecessor did prior to swimming the Mekhong with an inner tube some months before Paiboun’s appointment at the beginning of the series.

If there’s such a thing as a cozy police procedural series, this is it, although I’m sure there are many who’d niggle that definition! I’m using it in the sense of a series with a protagonist who is not a detective or affiliated with the established law enforcement government agency which investigates suspicious deaths—your choice of official here. (local police force, FBI, immigration, whatever) In fairness, a government coroner is far closer to ‘connected with established law enforcement’ than most of the cozies out there. Strictly speaking, the ‘Siri Paiboun’ series is closer to a police procedural than a cozy, as the protagonist is an official government agent affiliated with law enforcement, and the story lines themselves do involved criminal forensics.

On the plus side, for me, Cotterill’s picked someone who would quite plausibly encounter dead bodies which became that way under mysterious or suspicious circumstances: the national coroner. The minus? Cotterill isn’t actually a member of one of the groups indigenous to the region…in fairness, that may or may not be an issue, but I know some people get ruffled about cultural appropriation. In that case, I would make the polite request “Suggest a mystery author who does so belong AND who writes in a language I can read.”

Overall, I liked the series well enough to come back and voluntarily read a second—not the case for many mysteries I’ve read in the last couple of years. There are flaws, of course, but I’d chalk those up to The Coroner’s Lunch being the first in the series. I read two in the series, the first (The Coroner’s Lunch) and the eighth (Slash and Burn), and both revolved largely about life in a war-torn nation, piecing life together and trying to feel your way forward in a job that no one else has and a career that the protagonist expected would be over by now.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Lynnie, the “Beautiful Girl” of the title, is developmentally disabled; her parents institutionalized her when she was a young child at the State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded. Although she remembers a fair bit about her home life with her biological family, her mental limitations prevent her from truly understanding the concepts of “forever” and “since I was a little child”; there is really only now, today and the nebulous passage of the seasons.

Homan, Lynnie’s friend and supporter, is not only profoundly deaf but….drumroll, please…black. In 1968, that last alone would suffice to keep the two apart to the best of society’s capabilities. The fact that the institution in which they’re both “living” strongly discourages contact between “residents” of opposite genders doesn’t help. (Contact between the residents and the staff, well, that’s another matter.)

Martha is a retired schoolteacher, now widowed after a marriage of decades and an equally long career. She and her husband Earl had one child, which died, though Martha found some solace and fulfillment in the children who came and went through her classroom over all those years. Fortunately, she has remained in contact with many of her previous students…

…which stands her in good stead when Homan and Lynnie’s flight land them, and Lynnie’s baby, on her doorstep one dark and stormy night. Officials from the school show up close on the trio’s heels, but reclaim only Lynnie; Homan has already fled, and they do not know that Lynnie’s given birth. Martha is left with a newborn infant, knowing nothing of its parents or the circumstances under which they fled; being a good and honorable (and lonely) woman, she acknowledges Lynnie’s unspoken request and cares for the child as if it were genuinely her own flesh and blood. She calls upon her old students for assistance. One has become a hotelkeeper and allows Martha to stay with his family as they fix their newly purchased facility. Another is an artist with a summer home on Cape Cod, in which Martha stays one winter. And so on.

I’ll leave out the intervening thirty years except to mention that yes: it does have a more or less happy ending—I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to read The Story of Beautiful Girl for themselves—I’ll just add that I’m glad there were exposes of the institutions in which these people lived, not to mention legislation that encouraged communities to incorporate the people in them out into the community. Not only is it the more humane thing to do—who doesn’t want to be a self-supporting, independent person to the best of their abilities?—but it’s also cheaper. Tax-paying citizens rather than a tax burden is the way to go.

Keep in mind that the novel is as much about the daughter, left with the retired schoolteacher, as it is about the “Beautiful Girl” of the title, Lynnie, and her best friend, Homan. The author’s choice to skip between the three primary characters’ viewpoints fragmented the story a bit, and her additional decision to skip several years between chapters left gaps in the sequence of events. Overall, though, it’s a powerful argument for mainstreaming people such as Lynnie to the best of their abilities, rather than warehousing them or more life-threatening forms of abandonment.

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Jean Patrick Nkuba is a gifted runner, talented enough to aspire to the Olympics. Unfortunately, this is the late 1980s and early 1990s in Rwanda, and Nkuba is Tutsi1.

With that achievement, he would be able to drag himself out of the morass that is his country and the prejudice the majority population, in control of the government and politics, have used to quash his people. Raised by a father who held firmly to a belief in equality, the child Nkuba is not prepared for the overt hatred of Hutu for Tutsi he encounters after his father’s death. As he grows, his running improves with the training he receives from his coach. He must, however, make compromises with his background and beliefs in order to achieve the freedom of movement necessary to compete in races throughout Rwanda and in neighboring countries, chiefly among them a false identity card listing him as a Hutu. A thread running through the book, not surprisingly, is Nkuba’s struggle with whether he should be clear about his Tutsi heritage in the face of a government which cannot decide whether he should be held up as an example of how open-minded it is about minorities or squash all the groups which it does not wish to allow.

Further complicating matters is Nkuba’s love for a girl whose father is one of the country’s Hutu activists; their relationship deepens and they become lovers. As the Hutu attacks on the Tutsi rise and the country, Nkuba’s dreams of making the Olympics fade. Alas, his beloved Bea is caught in an attack which he believes her dead and he emigrates to the United States, where he continues his college education. Some years later, he discovers that Bea survived, and returned to Rwanda to track her down; they meet, and although he discovers that Bea has their daughter, he returns to the country which he believes will provide him the opportunity he wants rather than remain in the home that he loves with the family and people who’ve supported him.

Running the Rift is worth reading and I’m glad there are such books available; it strikes me as a thoroughly sympathetic novel about what it must have been like for the Tutsi through the 1990s in Rwanda, and it’s well written and researched. I recommend it for Americans, especially those who aren’t familiar with recent Rwandan history, as it includes a fair bit of social commentary woven into the text: the international response to the upheaval in Rwanda was to pull their own nationals out of the country.

Please do not regard this as a criticism of the book; I include it just as a note for any readers who have issues with possible cultural appropriation: the author is a white American2, though (and this is NOT damning with faint praise), she is herself a long distance runner, which I’d bet allowed her to better describe Nkuba’s training. Rather, this is why Americans might want to read Running the Rift; it brings up some uncomfortable points about why the United States didn’t do more to intervene in Rwanda.

1For people who didn’t pay attention, Rwanda went through what I’m going to briefly and euphemistically call a devastating genocide in the early to mid-1990s; during this, the Hutu majority, which at the time held political power, killed a significant portion of the Tutsi minority.
2same goes for Nancy Farmer’s book, A Girl Named Disaster: good book by a knowledgeable and sympathetic author, which I liked, but I wonder what the locals might have to say for themselves.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Every weekend, Evelyn Couch and her husband go to visit his mother in the nursing home; Evelyn and Mrs. Couch dislike one another, so Evelyn is almost relieved one day when she falls into the clasp of an eager storyteller, lonely for an audience. Ninny Threadgoode, having outlived all those who knew her to visit her now, is glad to have someone to chat with, and the two women grow closer over the next few months. Ninny (short for Virginia) tells Evelyn stories of the town of Whistle Stop, Georgia, where she grew up with the Threadgoode family after they took her in1, and Evelyn brings in food for Ninny, at first only store-bought sweets but as the relationship and her own self-confidence strengthen, she moves on to home-made barbecue and at last the eponymous ‘fried green tomatoes’.

Ninny’s tales of “then” center on the town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, and the Threadgoode family which took her in when young and needing a home, and more specifically their wayward daughter, Idgie. Idgie was always tempestuous and wild, but after her beloved brother, Buddy, was killed by a train, she (forgive the pun) went completely off the rails. It wasn’t until the demurely lady-like church school teacher Ruth came to town for the summer that Idgie proved willing to return to a more domesticated life. Despite Idgie’s pleading, Ruth fled home to her home and fiance as she wanted only to be ‘normal’. In the end, the husband proves no better than an abuser, and upon Ruth’s mother’s death, Ruth herself determines to flee if her friends in Whistle Stop will help her…and they do.

I’ll stop here, just in case anyone hasn’t read the book yet; I will add that both the “then” and the “now” stories have bittersweet middles and ends…and add that the “now” endings in the book and the movie diverge considerably.

Having slept on it, I confess that I now rather appreciate the fact that Flagg never says, in as many words, that Idgie and Ruth are a lesbian couple, though the relationship is quite clear to anyone capable of reading between the lines. When I first read the book, I was more than slightly disappointed: Idgie is described merely as “an irrepressible tomboy”, and Ruth the demurely docile, obediently religious girl who flees this person so desperately and wholeheartedly in love with her because she cannot face the fact that she reciprocates that love. I’d guess that’s due to a couple of issues. Not least, I’d bet that when Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was written, it wasn’t quite so acceptable to come out (figuratively speaking) in mainstream literature. Secondly, I’d ask readers to consider the audience that I think Flagg was aiming at: the chick-lit readers. This is no edgy Rita Mae Brown novel or Florence King memoir; I doubt it was a cutting-edge sexual orientation novel at the time, and it’s less so now.

I don’t think that’s really the point of the book, however; I’d say rather that the novel is about love and acceptance, overcoming prejudice and recognizing one another as worthy of love. Idgie’s father gives her seed money to start a restaurant when Ruth returns and proves to be pregnant, so that she may help support her growing family. No recrimination. No analysis. No cross-examination. This is a comfort read (at least if you’re a white female of the late twentieth century.)

Not surprisingly, given the book’s setting, place and time, racial relations are a part of the book, though I’d suggest that this is more for the melanin-challenged potential readers than otherwise. The KKK makes an appearance, when Idgie attracts attention for feeding African-americans out the back door of the restaurant. (No mention that she also feeds the hoboes.)

The structure of the novel is a bit skittery, alternating between Evelyn’s ‘now’ and Ninny’s ‘then’ fairly evenly, but the ‘then’ components jump around a bit. Readers do need to keep an at least moderately sharp eye on the times of the past anecdotes, though Flagg has them fairly clearly labeled.

What to read next? If you didn’t care for the race issues in Flagg’s book, but did like the relationships between women, try The Color Purple. If you liked the general tone and setting of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, but don’t want anything terribly avant-garde, try Cold Sassy Tree, as they were written and popular about the same time as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and touch on some of the same themes. Just brace yourself if you’ve seen the movie versions of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe or The Color Purple; the books are considerably different from the movies (and vice versa, of course). The Lemon Jelly Cake might be another option; though the writing style’s changed a bit in the decades intervening between the books, the two strike me as similar.

1Ninny married one of the Threadgoode boys later; she was not formally adopted, just as Ruth was not

The Terror by Dan Simmons

Arctic and Antarctic exploration isn’t exactly a walk in the park even today, with all our modern equipment, from motor oil designed to continue lubrication in below-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures to nutritionally complete, long-lasting foodstuffs. However, at least those modern explorers and scientists know that, should they be lost in the frozen wastelands of the Polar Regions, their remains will be located and returned to surviving (and mourning!) family members. This was not always so in the Golden Age of Exploration…and that’s at the heart of Dan Simmons’ The Terror.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin departed England in search of the Northwest Passage, a theory propounded by geographers and scientists of the day to the effect that there was a navigable passage up and over the top of what is now Canada1, and a geographic phenomenon most earnestly sought by the economic forces of the day for a variety of reasons2. No one from this expedition was ever seen again in their homeland. Their last confirmed position was near Beechy Island, though they almost certainly made it to King William’s (Is)Land.

In theory, Franklin and his backers did everything right. The commander of the expedition and the two men captaining the ships had considerable years of experience in polar exploration between them, not to mention maritime skills gained through a lifetime. The ships used, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, had been taken down to the Antarctic by James Ross a few years previously, and had in the interim been reinforced with iron sheathing and cross-grained wood planking to resist crushing in the pack ice, outfitted with steam engines and rudders that could be retracted into iron-sheathed protective wells to avoid being themselves being crushed in the shifting ice. The expedition brought three years’ worth of canned, dried and salted provisions for what was intended to be no more than a two year long expedition, not to mention each ship had a library of over 1,000 volumes with which it was presumed the crew could amuse themselves during the inevitable periods of being trapped in the ice.

Only of course it didn’t work out, and we’ll never be quite sure why. There are a few plausible real-world issues that contributed to the loss of both ships and all the men. All the problems that plagued previous expeditions worried at the heels of this one: inadequately equipped for a hostile climate, inadequate clothing, inadequate nutrition, inadequate transport, and so on. In this particular expedition’s case, however, their food and water supplies were almost certainly (and quite literally) stacked against them; not only were the supplies of drinking water piped through lead conduits, the canned food had been prepared in haste by a supplier himself inadequately prepared to provide such a large order, and the modern guess is that as a result, the cans were not only poorly sealed (with lead welding, yet), they were also contaminated with silent botulism.

Dan Simmons has put forth a theory of his own: a supernatural creature, inexplicable and unstoppable, that is prowling around the ships in the dark. All the crews of the two ships know is that it is vengeful and is somehow related to the mutely tongueless Inuit woman they found on the ice, with a similarly voiceless older Inuit man. As that second winter, the first off King William Sound, progresses, the creature encroaches further, the ice presses closer and the darkness is increasingly oppressive….and I’ll stop there. Gotta leave some suspense for anyone who hasn’t read this book but intends to.

The short version of my take on the novel is that Simmons could have left out the supernatural/religious element entirely, and it wouldn’t have adversely or even appreciably affected the novel3. Aren’t prowling polar bears enough? I don’t mind supernatural elements inserted into what would be otherwise a prosaically mundane work, if it’s done well and is made a critical component of the new work; I loved Simmons’ Drood. Even the suggestion that some of the crew members might have joined up with the local Inuit is not entirely implausible. It wouldn’t take much of a leap for the cleverer and more open-minded crew members to realize “Hey, if we make nice with this group of people that is not only surviving but thriving where we are dying, maybe we too will survive?”

That said, I’d still heartily recommend the novel to anyone interested in reading a well-written description of what it might have been like on that doomed expedition. Just skip the bits about the phantom whatever-it-is. Having read non-fiction about the Arctic (and Antarctic) exploration over the years, not least Fergus Fleming’s Barrow’s Boys and Ninety Degrees North, Simmons did get the historical part right, so far as I can tell. Even today, we have no real idea what precisely happened to Franklin’s expedition, though I believe modern scientists have found some traces of the Erebus and the Terror, but now as then, the basic assumption is “missing, presumed dead”.

1In fairness, there is a sea route twiddling through the islands scattered north of continental Canada. In the main, however, it is not navigable by anything larger than an umiak for more than about thirty seconds during a heat wave in August.
2While there was a certain element of the “Because it’s there.” drive that motivated all those European expeditions up Everest, seeking a trade route more convenient that slogging all the way down around Tierra del Fuego served as a more pragmatic reason. Of course, the Panama and Suez canals have obviated much of that…
3It’s not Simmons’ fault that I can’t help wondering why the British Navy kept giving their ships names like Erebus, Hecla, Fury and Terror. You’re going to the polar regions for Pete’s sake. Wouldn’t names like Tranquility or Tahiti been more cheering?

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

For those who’ve somehow missed four books, five movies and quite a lot of hoopla—perhaps you’re living under the rock next door to the rock where all the people who missed Harry Potter have congregated—here’s the plot summary: Bella Swan is moving from the greater Phoenix area up to Fork, a bitty little town on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Her parents are divorced, and her mother is now remarried to a minor-league baseball player who’s considering shifting over to a team in Florida; it therefore makes sense for Bella to live with her father in Washington until things settle down for/with her mother.

Needless to say, moving from a large city in Arizona to a small town in rural Washington comes as something of a shock to our protagonist. Issues range from the continually dampish weather to the public library being so small. The fact that the high school has fewer students in its entirety than her own grade in the Phoenix high school is particularly worrisome…until she sees the hypnotically beautiful Cullens. Graceful and gorgeous as models, the five kids draw attention to themselves merely by breathing.

Other students warn her that they’re standoffish, and indeed Edward seems actively repulsed by her initially to the point of trying to switch out of the science lab class they have together. Until he flip-flops and begins following her intently. Unable to resist, Bella is sucked into his sphere of influence irretrievably, despite warnings from the Native American kid, Jacob, whose father has warned him about the dangerous Cullens.

In the course of this book, we find out many things about the vampires’ society; they’re physically superhuman, they sparkle in daylight, they never sleep, and more specifically, the Cullen coven is a bit unusual in that they refuse to drink human blood. Instead, they make do with animals. Their refusal to hunt humans makes them something of an outcast group among their own kinds, but being moral beings, they take the high road and remain isolated. Oh, and Bella smells absolutely amazing to Edward; to him, she has the One Perfect Scent Source of which all vampires dream. This means that she is destined to become his soul mate and life partner…at least for the short span allotted humans relative to vampires. She cannot bear aging faster than the One True Love of Her Life. He lusts for her scent. Therefore she concludes that he must make her One Of Them.

…and we’re set up for another three books.

As a budding editor, I spotted more than a few factual errors, of varying degrees of (un)factuality.
     1) Travel times mentioned in the book perplex me. Bella mentions a four-hour flight from Phoenix to Seattle; in my experience, it’s four hours between Chicago and Seattle by air, and Phoenix to Seattle is more like three hours, according to American Airlines. Later in the book, Bella is surprised that the Cullens manage to drive from Forks to Phoenix in less that 24 hours. Well, if you’re a normal human being, sure: of course it will take three days to drive that distance, what with pit stops and eating and sleeping and what have you. If, however, you’re a speed freak supernatural being who doesn’t need to eat or sleep or pee, Seattle to Phoenix overnight is perfectly doable.
     2) The Cullens have moved to this part of Washington because it’s raining or cloudy all year ’round. Possibly, but only if the Olympic Peninsula has drastically different weather patterns from the rest of Western Washington and northern Oregon. The general weather pattern is, as I recall, permacloud for most of the winter and much drier weather during the summer.
     3) There are typos of the sort that a human can catch but a computer won’t; there are a lot of homonyms that are real words, but not the one the author intended (‘naval’ piercing, e.g.). In this case, in order to limit the word count, the one I’m going to mention is moat/mote. The first one is a channel dug around a castle as a protective measure. The second is a minuscule fleck. Those little specks you see dancing around in rays of sunshine? They’re the latter.

…and so on.

Additionally as an adult who reads a lot, I can spot several developmental editing issues, such as the flat characterization and lack of backstory suggested herein. I have to wonder a bit about Meyer’s presentation of the vampires; she’s not the first to suggest that they can go out in daylight, but remains a bit foggy on the details of why vampires aren’t entirely nice to be around. Instead, her vampires come out being more superhuman than frighteningly supernatural, with no real drawbacks.

Others have touched on Edward’s possible pedophilic behavior—he may look seventeen but he’s actually over ninety, and unless vampires are frozen mentally and psychologically at the age they were when “changed” in addition to physically, he’s considerably older than she. I’d add to that the fact that at even half Edward’s putative age, the idea of returning to high school is a repellent one to me. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back! In fairness to Meyer, I don’t remember any other authors mentioning practicalities that she leaves out: wouldn’t the kids need transcripts and immunization records from their previous “school”? how do you explain to the DMV that you look 28 but were born in 1640? and for that matter, how about Social Security numbers?

…and so on.

What to read next? If Twilight was just right (and I know there are a lot of people who think so!), try Maggie Stievater’s books in the “Shiver” sequence, especially if you’re a ‘Team Jacob’ kind of girl. For those who want something from the adult section, Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches (and its sequel) might be a good place to start; they’re similar in many regards, though Harkness’ book is a bit more complex, being intended for adults. If you still like vampires after reading this (or any of the books in the series) but find the language a bit simplistic and the characterization flat, try Anne Rice’s “Vampire” books”. Another possibility, if you find these too SRZ, are S.P. Somtow’s The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter (a stand-alone) and his Timmy Valentine books.

As for the Team Edward/Team Jacob split, frankly I’m neither. I’m Team Constantine.

Reviews:
I love vampires