Veronica Mars Book Review: Mostly Perfect, Marshmallows

Be warned: This review contains mild spoilers for the movie and, obviously, for this book. No big reveals here, but be warned that if you aren’t caught up to the movie, you’ll be spoiled on a few counts.

18209454By now, I’m betting you know what they say about Veronica Mars. She’s a marshmallow, and now a grown-up one, at that.

I’ve been a VMars fan for a few years now, having watched the whole show twice now and seeing the movie on opening weekend. Knowing this book was coming was just the cherry on top of what has so far been a spectacular sundae. I disclose this so that you know this is a review from a fan, so I won’t be saying much about its accessibility to non-fans but rather more about its place in canon. For what it’s worth, though, this book puts forth a strong effort into recapping the final events of the movie (so, obviously, spoilers galore in the first chapter) but introducing everyone in a way that says, “You should probably know who this is if you’re reading this book, but if you don’t, here’s who they are in relation to Veronica.”

Post-NYC Veronica has moved home to not only care for a recovering Keith Mars, but to effectively take over Mars Investigations in the meantime. As it turns out, running a private investigation company while paying a techy assistant (Mac, obviously) and yourself a living wage is harder than Veronica expected. I mean, there was a reason she always worked for her dad in high school, right?

That all changes when one of the most powerful women in town hires Veronica to discreetly figure out what happened to a college woman who vanished during Spring Break season. As Sheriff Dan Lamb (still in office, somehow) dismisses the case, assuming she’ll just show up on her own, another girl disappears and Veronica doubles down to solve the case before Lamb can. As always, Veronica loops in her friends to help her figure out exactly what’s happening and who’s really behind these disappearances. Additionally, there’s an element of crime families, as always, which seems to be Rob Thomas’s kryptonite. That said, it’s nice to see that the advantages a book gives were really taken here, as far as expanded plot and world-building.

I really liked this book. I read the whole book in one evening, as it turns out. I reserve reading time exclusively for my commute (which still means I read for about 90 minutes every day), but for this, I broke my rule. I needed to know what happened and I needed to be able to have my own reactions in my own time and space. If anyone does a storytelling punch to the gut with gusto, it’s Rob Thomas. This was no letdown, filled with the twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the cases Veronica gets involved with. On the whole, I think this book was a grand success, and I’m excited to see that the Neptune world is getting a little bigger with every development.

However, there were some noticeable plot developments (or absence of) that really threw me for a loop. Remember how at the end of the movie Logan was being deployed for a few months? Well, the thing about Logan being gone is that he effectively doesn’t exist in Veronica’s life. Or, well, he does, but she doesn’t have to deal with the problems that have always plagued their relationship while he’s away. They Skype a couple of times in the book, which I guess gets him into the movie sequel, but honestly, it felt like a major cop-out that Veronica basically is in a relationship with her romanticized version of Logan. We know that Logan has grown up, and I assume that the military has really shaped him as a person, but he and Veronica haven’t spoken in almost a decade—and as we all know, people do change from ages twenty to thirty. As much as the relationship was built up in the movie, it really fell to the wayside in the book. And honestly, I wasn’t expecting a lot of love story in the book, but I was hoping that Veronica and Logan would have to deal with the challenges of what true love means and how to function in an adult version of a relationship that previously has not gone as well as anyone hoped.

I don’t want to spoil anyone for anything else, so I’ll leave out what I consider to be one of the biggest surprise returns of the book, but know that we haven’t seen the last of everyone you might have thought was long gone.

At times, I felt like the book relied a little too much on tropes like the popular idea of college spring break more than it should have, but as this is a first book, it makes sense that it wouldn’t be as finely tuned as an episode of the show, or the movie. Sometimes a character we love would say something that felt not quite right or in character. But when in a visual medium you have actors and their interpretations to bulk up your script, in a book you only have yourself and the words you’ve put down.

Though at times I felt like it could have been stronger, I feel really good about this book. It’s smart, quippy, and keeps you guessing until the end, with Veronica putting two and two together at the last minute, as always. Everyone comes back to play in this one, and it’s worth every penny. This is a really strong first effort, and I think the next one will only be better. Buy this one so there can be a next one.

As far as for how this book fits into canon, I find it to be a really interesting quandary. It’s clearly a direct follow-up to the movie, but I suspect that if there’s a film sequel, it won’t match up with the book exactly. The audience is never exactly the same, and beyond the stark absence of Logan, it deals almost not at all with the current corruption in the Sheriff’s office. These are two main plot points of the first movie, and I doubt they’d let it go for a sequel. However, the main mystery of the book would be a nice plot for a movie, and honestly would probably be more of what non-fans are looking for, given that it has a mystery that doesn’t circle around characters from the TV show. As always, the Veronica Mars team is breaking new ground in storytelling, and while I think they’ll have a challenge reconciling it all, I suspect they’re more than up to it.

On sale TODAY, 3/25/14, from your favorite local retailer–buy it now! PS If you’re interested, Kristen Bell recorded the audio book, so give that a listen, too.

What I read in November: Mini Review

nov13 read

Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger (5/5)

Confession: I started reading this in February in Barnes and Noble when I had an hour to kill in Union Square, and I’ve been meaning to pick it up again since. As it turns out, I did and finished it in a few days. I’m a huge Gail Carriger fan (can’t say enough about her Parasol Protectorate series) and naturally fell in love with this book immediately. It’s a fun, witty start to a series in the same vein and universe as the Protectorate, and the two smartly go hand-in-hand at several turns. You don’t have to have read the adult series to get the YA, which I think is the point, but they overlap in a few great ways and I’d recommend reading both if you’re a fan. Neither is really too far a stretch from the other—one is about society steampunk finishing school and the other is about society steampunk life, so there isn’t too sharp a difference. Either way, if you think you might like this even a little bit, read it—you will.

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell (3/5)

This is a good book. It’s an interesting book. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. I just didn’t like it as much as most people seem to, and it took me nearly the whole month to read. I read Unfamiliar Fishes, her new book about the US annexation of Hawai’I, a few months ago and loved it, and to be honest, I was really disappointed that I didn’t like this one half as much. I don’t have much love for US history, so that might be part of it, but on the whole, this one just wasn’t for me. It’s fun and a good book, so I’d recommend it—I’m not sure why it didn’t work for me, but I seem to be the exception rather than the norm. Anyway, I can’t say I didn’t come out of this book knowing a lot more about presidential assassinations, so that’s a great thing to say about it.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman (4/5)

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, especially after devouring the Netflix series along with everyone else this summer, and it really didn’t disappoint. Obviously, it’s non-fiction and much less drama-filled than a TV series (though it’s easy to see where they found their inspiration), but as someone who really doesn’t know much about women’s prisons in the US, I found it fascinating. To be honest, I have never given much thought to the prison system in the US because it doesn’t directly affect me, but I have been thinking about it a lot in the weeks since I finished this. I’d probably give it a 5/5 if the last quarter of the book were longer, since it talks about Piper’s transfer to Chicago to testify in a major court case as part of her plea bargain. Here, she witnesses the horrific prison transport system and many other worse prisons, and this was what held my attention the most. Kerman acknowledges her experience and how it’s different from so many women of color who go through the system, but I found it fascinating all the same. If you liked the Netflix series or think this sounds interesting, you’ll probably like this quick non-fiction read.

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater (2/5)

Not much to say about this first book in a series except that I probably won’t read the others. It falls into the supernatural romance YA genre, which is something I generally steer clear of, but I’d heard great things about Stiefvater so I gave it a shot. It’s pretty standard and there weren’t any real surprises, so if this is your jam, go to town. It just wasn’t mine. I’ve heard good things about her other series, though, so I would like to give that a shot since it was the premise rather than the writing that turned me off of this one.

The Circle, Dave Eggers (3.5/5)

I’ll admit that I bought into the hype of this one, especially at work—and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Yes, it suffers terribly from assumed male author lionization and one of the big twists at the end I thought was obvious from the second it was introduced early on, but overall I really did enjoy this book. There are a lot of things Eggers didn’t quite get right, as I’m sure you’ve read online, but the one thing I think he did nail was the sense of being lost that Mae feels throughout the book. It’s true that he missed some of the finer points of social media, but he put Mae perfectly in the right situation and with the right reactions and relationships. The overarching theme that putting our lives online will destroy us was too heavy-handed, shockingly (or not), but what Eggers needed to get right, he did, and I read this book happily and over the course of one weekend. I haven’t read any other Eggers, nor do I feel inclined to, but I liked the Internet-themed premise of this one, and if that draws you in, you might like this one.

Allegiant, Veronica Roth (2/5)

The ending to this trilogy left me disappointed, if I’m completely honest (which I guess I am here, with a two-star rating). Divergent was fantastic, but it has always felt like the rush with which the other two came out really hurt the series. It’s a very typical YA action trilogy, in that the first book is the individual, the second book is the individual discovering the breakdown of the system, and the third book is the individual destroying and triumphing over the system. It can be done well, but I don’t think this was it, and it’s too bad. This last book was full of lukewarm sweeping generalizations that undermined an otherwise powerful message, and while with the religious undertones it was always going to end the way it did, I really felt like Roth hadn’t quite found the right plot. There is a way to make this ending work, and this wasn’t it. I want to recommend reading Divergent, since it is the strongest of the three, but leave it up to you whether you want to read the other two.

What did you read in November? Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with my books and updates.

DELIRIUM: Taking the Trope and Turning it Over

When I finished Lauren Oliver’s DELIRIUM trilogy this weekend, at first I was upset that it ended without any sort of personal resolution for Lena (not to mention that since I read it on my Kindle, it dropped off at 90% to do a preview for her other novel, and I was not quite expecting that to be the end). While I walked a few blocks home, I was thinking about the end of REQUIEM and how disappointed I was that it was the end.

It seems that it should be pretty clear that this post contains severe spoilers for the books, but here’s your warning just in case.

And then, suddenly, I realized that this was the ending I would have written, and this is the ending I should want for a YA novel and series. As you know if you’ve read the series, the final book ends with Lena overlooking the triumphant destruction of the “cured” society, with Valids and Invalids breaking down the walls to the Wilds, and she has just told Alex she still loves him and she’s watching Julian and her mostly-absent mother breaking down the wall.

Since a lot of YA novels struggle to overcome the love triangle as the crux of the trilogy–and it seemed like this was headed for the same fate–I was fully expecting Lena to have made her decision by the end of the book. However, she doesn’t–not really, anyway. She knows that she loves both Alex and Julian, and that her future is going to involve some sort of hard decision regarding them. But! The crux of the trilogy is the fact that all of her work, everything she’s done since she escaped Portland, has all been worth it and that they have triumphed over the present regime. Thrillingly, too, Lena knows herself inside and out, and knows that even though she is emotionally a bit confused, everything will be okay. I did expect that would be a part of the end of the series, but honestly, I expected the love triangle to take priority position, and I am so glad I was so wrong.

However, the love triangle is not totally irrelevant, and in fact, this series turned it on its head and made it the vehicle for Lena’s personal growth. Many times the love triangle arises to give conflict and an adolescent edge to what could go one way or another as far as novel classification goes. It’s becoming a pretty standard trope in YA, for better or worse, but DELIRIUM just absolutely kills it with making the romance less about series conflict and more about coming of age in the time of revolution.

It’s not often you get a series that transcends the more basic tropes of YA. I mean, even The Hunger Games couldn’t escape the inevitable Gale v Peeta situation, and it’s pretty inarguably one of the most successful YA series in recent history. And honestly, I’m not against the love triangle as a trope. Romantic confusion is a major part of being a teenager and becoming an adult, and it’s quite aptly dealt with in many books. A lot of times, though, the series can lose its focus and become less about the narrator’s personal growth in the face of major conflict (usually initiated as the Special Snowflake in the Storm of Revolution, but that’s not for now) and more about which crush he or she will choose.

Also, let’s talk about Alex. For the first book, he was great. I don’t usually cry in books, but I came pretty close when they made their big escape attempt and we thought he was dead. I mean, I’ve watched enough TV to know that if you don’t see a confirmed body, they’re probably not really dead.

But that point aside, it made me sad for Lena when we thought he was dead. Of course, though, when he showed back up and was terrible, I immediately threw him a whole lot of side-eye and completely dismissed him as a love interest for her. For one, Julian is fantastic, and for two, in the first book, he’s meant to be this guide for her, and when he comes back, he’s so immature he can’t handle the fact that Lena obviously thought he was dead and moved on (like a normal person!). He’s actually upset she isn’t still pining away over his dead body, and for that, he punishes her relentlessly in every way possible, until he breaks down from this nobility complex and admits he still loves her. I mean, it’s pretty textbook, and it’s pretty ridiculous.

That said, I’ve been there, and maybe the reason I’m reacting so strongly is that I’ve had multiple teenage boyfriends act like they were doing me a favor by breaking up with me because they weren’t good enough for me. And then, as predicted, everything was terrible. But maybe that’s part of growing up, too, and although I think there was a better way to go about it, maybe it means that Lena is made a stronger character. For a girl who had never experienced any romantic emotion, she definitely needed to go through the whole cycle of life/death/rebirth re love. I don’t think Alex needed to be as terrible as he was, but it was definitely an interesting and necessary exploration of quintessential adolescence.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Hana’s involvement in the series. When Lena escaped to the Wilds in the first book, I assumed that was the end of Hana, and I couldn’t have been more delighted to know otherwise. To have this mirror image of the two of them both experiencing love and emotion for the first time, having come from exactly the same place but splitting in their new experiences and not knowing what is and isn’t normal–it absolutely broke my heart and I loved it. It would have been a real missed opportunity to not introduce a character for whom the cure hadn’t worked, and for it not to be Hana, and when I realized what was happening it felt like some of my dreams were coming true for this series.

Anyway, I don’t want it to come across that I hate love triangles–or that I absolutely love them–but I do think that DELIRIUM is a book that requires the catalysts brought on by the most likely form of the love triangle. The book is about the revolution, but the revolution is about emotion and freedom and how the two are absolutely intertwined. And even though it’s about the revolution, it’s also about the individual–really, the individuals–affected by the tumultuous landscape of the time, and created with such a deft hand that I loved every single thing about it.

Your thoughts on DELIRIUM? I know I’m quite a bit behind with this discussion, but I felt like it was one that needed to be had. If you haven’t read this series and you love YA, you’re in for a real treat. But if you haven’t read this series and you read this review, I’m bummed that you’re spoiled for it. Regardless, read it.

Other books I’d recommend:

  • Seraphina – Rachel Hartman
  • Into the Flames – Jessie Sanders
  • Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta (series)
  • Cinder – Marissa Meyer (series)

As always, add me on Goodreads and see what I’m reading these days!