Forever Princess by Meg Cabot: C+

From the front flap:
It’s Mia’s senior year, and things seem great. She aced her senior project, got accepted to her dream college(s), and has her birthday gala coming up… not to mention prom, graduation, and Genovia’s first-ever elections.

What’s not to love about her life? Well…
* Her senior project? It’s a romance novel she secretly wrote, and no one wants to publish it.
* Prince Phillipe’s campaign in the Genovian elections isn’t going well, thanks to her totally loathsome cousin René, who decided to run against him.
* Her boyfriend, J.P., is so sweet and seemingly perfect. But is he the one?
* And her first love, Michael, is back from Japan… and back in her life.

With Genovia’s and her own future hanging in the balance, Mia’s got some decisions to make. Which college? Which guy? How can she choose? Especially when what she decides might determine not just the next four years, but… forever!

Nearly two years have passed since the events of Princess Mia, and now it’s just a week until graduation. Mia has spent the intervening time working on a steamy romance novel for her senior project, but has lied to her friends, telling them it’s about Genovian olive oil processing. She’s also lied about various other things, as well, including hiding the fact that she got accepted into quite a few prestigious colleges.

I found the first half of the book to be very annoying, as Mia’s constant justifications of why she can’t just come out and tell people things are quite frustrating. She says stuff like, “I course I couldn’t tell Tina the truth—that my senior project is not a history of Genovian olive oil processing but in reality a romance novel, because it has sex scenes, and she’ll wonder how I researched them.” Both K and I were confused as to why this was a problem, since Tina is a big romance novel fan. My theory was that Mia thought Tina would realize she had broken their “let’s lose our virginity on prom night” deal and had already had sex with J.P., thus providing insights for her novel. It turns out, though, that the big mystery of how she researched them is… by reading copious amounts of romance novels. She and J.P. have evidently not gotten beyond first base in two years of dating. (!)

The second half is a bit better, though. Michael returns and J.P. finally shows his true colors. Both Mia and Lilly have grown up, too, so are able to patch things up. Does Mia realize how much she is to blame for all that went wrong, like I’d hoped? Not really, but she does at least have a decent conversation with Michael about how she screwed everything up. Mostly, her failings are attributed to her immaturity at the time rather than to any lingering personality issues, like chronic indecision.

I also like that she’s very responsible about sex and subsequently firm in her convictions that she could say no if she wasn’t ready. I just wish she weren’t prone to declaring “I suck!” when being equally firm and reasonable about the nature of the publishing contract for her romance novel (the excerpts of which are laughably bad, by the way). She’s well within her rights to want the book to be considered on its own merits, but still feels bad for refusing a lucrative offer J.P. wrangles purely on the basis of her celebrity status.

Anyway, the ending is satisfying, with various important conversations finally transpiring and loose ends wrapped up. It even gets a little amusing: my favorite line is, “Hey, quit sniffing me a minute.” Ultimately, however, my primary emotion is relief that I can now go a very long time without reading anything by Meg Cabot.

Princess Mia by Meg Cabot: B

From the back cover:
It’s so typical: Mia can’t even attend a performance of Beauty and the Beast with her best friend’s boyfriend without it ending up in the New York Post. And that’s the last thing she needs after her dramatic breakup with Michael.

But that’s the life of a princess. And to make matters worse, Mia’s been asked to deliver a speech for the Domina Rei women’s society—and she has absolutely no idea what to say! Still, being down is no reason for her parents to force her to see a therapist. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, Mia discovers the long-hidden diary of a teen princess and stumbles upon revelations that will make everything else seem like a walk in the park.

My first inclination is to complain that “nothing much really happens in this book,” but that’s really not true. A good deal happens, but it’s just mostly inner stuff. Mia is still reeling from her breakup with Michael, and stupidly agrees with his suggestion to be just friends, rather than voicing any objections to this plan. She spends a week in bed, and eventually begins parent-mandated therapy sessions that ultimately help her realize that she’s waiting for other people to solve her problems for her. This leads to some good things and some bad things.

I’ve long wondered why on earth Mia likes Lily, when Lily often engages in really crappy behavior. In Princess Mia, Lily is giving Mia the silent treatment for various angsty reasons, and I was happy that this prompts Mia to wonder whether she even wants Lily’s friendship back. Mia’s not portrayed as entirely in the right, though, as Lily’s complaints about Mia aren’t invalid. Mia may not have intended to do various things that hurt Lily, but that doesn’t stop the fact that they happened anyway because of her wishy-washyness. I like that their relationship is not mended by the end of the book, and hope that, in the next and final installment, Mia will realize how she is actually at fault in some measure.

I also liked that, when Mia receives a love confession from J.P., she responds by saying that she needs to take some time to figure out who she is without Michael before she starts going out with someone else. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long, and by the end of the book, maybe a day or two after her stated need for time, she is seeing him as acceptable “moving on” material and snogging him in a freak September snow flurry. It’s not that I think teen romance needs to last FOREVER AND EVER OMG, but J.P. is just so boring. I can’t imagine that anyone reading this series really wants her to end up with him and not Michael.

While seeing growth from Mia is nice, she’s also incredibly annoying sometimes, like when a week of missing school results in heaps of make-up work and she whines a lot about how unfair it is. She also continues to be oblivious to obvious things, like J.P.’s feelings and the fact that Boris has been in communication with Michael. I guess I just didn’t find her very likable this volume, even though she definitely made progress.

Cabot’s writing style also continues to be annoying. Here’s an example:
1. Mia goes on a shopping trip with two popular girls from her school, Lana and Trisha.
2. Then she goes to hang out with Tina fewer than ten pages later.
3. Mia does not tell Tina about the outing “You know, with Lana and Trisha.”

Um, yes, I do happen to recall that! It was fewer than ten pages ago! I am not a moron. I seriously think Cabot has a word count that she’s contractually obligated to meet, so she just sticks those kinds of needless reiterations in as padding.

Princess Mia is not bad, and I appreciated the emphasis on inner growth. The challenge ahead for Forever Princess is an interesting one—it should be atypical and feature Mia realizing that she is responsible for allowing certain things to happen but be typical and satisfying by having her back with Michael at the end (or, at least, not dating the dull J.P.). At least, that’s what I want to see.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot: D

From the back cover:
Heather wells rocks!

Or, at least, she did. That was before she left the pop-idol life behind after she gained a dress size or two—and lost a boyfriend, a recording contract, and her life savings. Now that the glamour and glory days of endless mall appearances are in the past, Heather’s perfectly happy with her new size 12 shape and her new job as an assistant dorm director at one of New York’s top colleges. That is, until the dead body of a female student from Heather’s residence hall is discovered at the bottom of an elevator shaft.

The cops and the college president are ready to chalk the death off as an accident, the result of reckless youthful mischief. But Heather knows teenage girls… and girls do not elevator surf. Yet no one wants to listen even when more students start turning up dead in equally ordinary and subtly sinister ways. So Heather makes the decision to take on yet another new career: as spunky girl detective!

But her new job comes with few benefits, no cheering crowds, and lots of liabilities, some of them potentially fatal. And nothing ticks off a killer more than a portly ex-pop star who’s sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong…

Um, blurb writers? Portly means fat.

I’ve read a lot by Meg Cabot, so I wasn’t expecting greatness, but this book is downright bad. Heather is incredibly annoying and distressingly immature for a 28-year-old. She’s planning to enter college and is considering a pre-med major. Why? Does she have a genuine interest in medicine? Does she feel it’s her calling to help people? Nope. It’s just because she thinks the guy she fancies prefers professional women. And she makes comments like (paraphrased) “What 18-year-old girl wouldn’t be so flattered by a cute older dude’s attentions that she’d be willing to boff him on very little acquaintance?”

Let’s pause here so you can envision the steam pouring from my ears.

Her “investigation” is pretty excruciating. Much of it is based on assumptions, like “girls who like Ziggy would not elevator surf” and some of the conclusions reached are unsupported or nonsensical. All too frequently, the mystery (such as it is—I guessed the culprit very early on) takes a backseat to Heather’s unwelcome and uninteresting romantic shenanigans. She can’t even manage to search a dead girl’s room properly without being distracted by a dude’s butt.

I could go on, but I really just want to put this whole thing behind me. As my husband punningly put it, “This book was read, and then it blew.” I urge all to steer clear of this one.

Pants on Fire by Meg Cabot: B

From the back cover:
Katie Ellison is not a liar. It’s just that telling the truth is so… tricky. She knows she shouldn’t be making out with a drama club hottie behind her football-player boyfriend’s back. She should probably admit that she can’t stand eating quahogs (clams), especially since she’s running for Quahog Princess in her hometown’s annual Quahog Festival. And it would be a relief to finally tell someone what really happened the night “Tommy Sullivan” was spray-painted on the new wall outside the gymnasium—in neon orange, which still hasn’t been sandblasted off. After all, everyone knows that’s what drove Tommy out of town four years ago.

But now Tommy Sullivan has come back. Katie is sure he’s out for revenge, and she’ll do anything to hang on to her perfect (if slightly dishonest) existence. Even if it means telling more lies than ever. Even if, now that Tommy’s around, she’s actually—no lie—having the time of her life.

From the book description, it sounded like this book would be very annoying, but it actually wasn’t bad. Oh sure, Katie could be irksome, but she was at least distinctly different from the rest of Cabot’s heroines. And yeah, the plot was totally predictable, but it was satisfying in a romantic comedy kind of way.

There was more of the “re-explaining” that has bugged me in Cabot’s other books. In this case, it was where the circumstances of the awfulness of Tommy’s return were reiterated. Yes, he ticked off some people in a highschool-football-crazy town by exposing some jocks for cheating on their SATs. Yes, they lost their scholarships. Yes, Katie is now dating the younger brother of one of said jocks, who is still angry about the whole thing. I got all that the first time it was revealed and (gasp!) made all the necessary connections without having to be led through it on a string. I’m quite sure most teens can manage the same.

Also, like most Cabot heroines I’ve thus far encountered, Katie had a hobby that she was serious about pursuing. I think I need to make a list.

Princess Diaries — Mia is into writing.
All-American Girl — Sam is into art.
Pants on Fire — Katie is into photography.

Suze from the Mediator series didn’t have a hobby that I remember, but she had a sort of job/destiny thing, so I guess that qualifies. Their friends are usually into something specific, too. It’s kind of a character shortcut in many cases (this one’s a cheerleader, no need to establish more about her), but it’s better than girls with no aspirations, at least.

Anyway, I shouldn’t be surprised that Cabot books are formulaic and occasionally padded with needless rehashing: it’d be difficult to crank them out at her current pace if she had to come up with something entirely new each time. It was still a fun read and I’m sure I’ll be back for more Cabot when the need for fluff resurfaces.

Twilight by Meg Cabot: B

From the back cover:
Suze Simon finds it difficult to come across as an average teenager when she’s constantly visited by ghosts. Suze is a mediator, you see. And her boyfriend Jesse is, well, a ghost himself—from the 19th century!

Fellow mediator Paul Slater has figured out how to travel through time and alter Jesse’s future so he and Suze will never meet, leaving Suze in a conundrum. Does she let Paul succeed so Jesse lives an ordinary life in his own time period, leaving Suze with no memory of him? Or does she stop Paul and force Jesse to be a ghost forever? And all the while, Suze must cope with the perils of a normal teenage life.

This book was really ticking me off until the last hundred pages, but at least it ended the way it should have.

The problems:
1) Suze had never been more annoying. I swear I actually yelled at the audiobook when she was dallying in calling an ambulance at one point. She was also very slow to grasp the ramifications of stuff that’s happening.

2) Bits of the plot were super obvious. Fellow mediator Paul needed an artifact from the past to travel there. (Me: Gee, that random mention of a belt buckle found in Suze’s attic a few chapters ago totally makes sense now! La la la, wait for the story to catch up with my surmise.) Also, by the halfway point, I had completely guessed how the happy ending would be occurring.

3) Re-explaining. Two characters would be having a phone conversation, and something would be pointed out to Suze and she’d realize that it was true. And then she had to explain again why what has just been said was really true.

The good:
Pretty much anything Jesse, particularly seeing him in the past. The ending, though predictable and a little too convenient, was still satisfying.

Ultimately, I don’t really think the series lived up to the potential it showed originally. If Cabot could’ve resisted making Suze incredibly dense at pivotal moments, it would’ve gone a long way toward making this a truly stellar series. Still, even with its flaws, it is recommended.

Haunted by Meg Cabot: B

From the back cover:
Suze is used to trouble, but this time she’s in deep: Ghostly Jesse has her heart, but Paul Slater, a real flesh-and-blood guy, is warm for her form. And mediator Paul knows how to send Jesse to the Great Beyond. For good.

Paul claims he won’t do anything to Jesse as long as Suze will go out with him. Fearing she’ll lose Jesse forever, Suze agrees. But even if Suze can get Jesse to admit his true feelings for her, what kind of future can she have with a guy who’s already dead?

Haunted was a bit of a disappointment after the previous installment, Darkest Hour, was so good. Not a lot happens, really. Paul shows up at Suze’s school and throws her into turmoil. Suze is convinced that Jesse does not return her feelings. Then Jesse beats Paul up. That’s kind of the whole plot. Well, and Suze learns she might actually be something called a Shifter instead of a Mediator, which comes with more dangerous powers.

Suze is pretty annoying in this book. At any one point there are three or four things she’s not telling anyone, she goes to the house of a boy she dislikes and distrusts and ends up smooching him, and she also is able to convince herself that Jesse hates her, which is obviously untrue. I rolled my eyes at her fairly regularly.

The blurb on the back of the book is also wrong. Suze agrees to let Paul teach her the Shifter skills he knows after extracting a promise from him that he’ll leave Jesse alone. There really isn’t any coerced dating going on, though they’ll obviously have to spend some time together.

Despite not being thrilled with this particular installment, I still must know how the story ends. One volume to go!

Darkest Hour by Meg Cabot: A

From the back cover:
Sixteen-year-old Susannah Simon acts as a middleman between ghosts and the real world. As a mediator, she helps the spirits move on into their next life, whatever that might be. Even though she tried not to, Suze has fallen head over heels for a 19th-century ghost, an extreme hottie named Jesse.

Most ghosts try not to antagonize a mediator when they want their help. So when Suze wakes up to a knife at her throat, she is scared and stunned to be facing such a disturbing dilemma. Should she find the secret to Jesse’s murder and lose him forever, or concede to the demands of his ex-fiancee’s ghost and condemn Jesse to spending eternity in her bedroom?

Darkest Hour is the best of The Mediator books so far for the simple reason that finally there is a plot that affects Suze personally. I never really believed that Jesse would be lost forever, but it gave a focus and a drive to the story that previous installments haven’t really had.

There were some Buffy parallels that I liked: Suze is forced to consider a lot of the things Buffy did regarding her relationship with Angel, like what sort of future could she and Jesse possibly have together? Later, events have made her numb, so hurt she can feel nothing but anger anymore. We’ve seen Buffy in this state a couple of times.

Not that the book wasn’t without flaws. The ghostly villains, Diego and Maria, were kind of lame. And if they’re new ghosts, then where have they been all this time? There was also another continuity error, this one having to do with the location of Suze’s bedroom. Shadowland makes a point of specifying that the windows in her room open onto the roof of the front porch. Yet somehow, in this book she manages to fall from said porch into a hole being dug in the backyard.

Darkest Hour also has the best ending of the series so far, including an intriguing mystery about another possible Mediator that was left in cliffhangery status. More like this, please!

Princess on the Brink by Meg Cabot: B+

From the back cover:
At last, Mia is a junior. An upperclassperson. Free of her responsibilities as student body president. So why is it that everything is going so terribly wrong? What is she doing in Intro to Creative Writing? When she has made it through Algebra and Geometry, why must she be faced with Precalculus? And for the love of all that is Genovian, why has Lilly nominated her for school prez again? All this is nothing compared to the news Michael springs on her, however. On top of all the mathematical strife, her beloved boyfriend is leaving for Japan for a year. Precalc has nothing on preparing for the worst separation ever!

Turns out there is one way she might convince Michael to stay. But will she? Or won’t she? No matter what, Mia seems headed for disaster.

Mia and Michael had to deal with a very interesting issue that I haven’t previously seen addressed in YA fiction: What happens when you find out that someone you’ve assumed shares the same beliefs as you actually doesn’t? Can you be understanding or will you be judgmental?

Neither Michael nor Mia manages to handle this well. Mia freaks when she learns Michael has given the “precious gift” of his virginity to a girl he didn’t love, and Michael fails to understand why this bothers her so much. This results in Mia breaking up with him, even though she doesn’t want to.

Although often stupid or misguided, Mia’s actions and reactions are believable from a sixteen-year-old girl, and I was at least capable of empathizing with her a lot of the time. Michael is finally revealed to have some “typical boy” characteristics, which makes him a lot more realistic. Sex is discussed responsibly and with a variety of viewpoints.

Instead of wrapping up tidily as I expected, things with Michael are unresolved by the novel’s end. I wish Cabot would’ve passed on Mia’s “accidental” smooch of J. P., however, as it just adds unnecessary angst and complication to what is already an important moment in Mia and Michael’s relationship. The resulting fallout with Lilly and Mia’s incredible stupidity in taking J.P. up on what is clearly a date makes for a very irritating ending.

Valentine Princess by Meg Cabot: B

From the inside flap:
Valentine’s Day means flowers, chocolates, and all-out romance.

That is, it usually means those things. But when you’re Princess Mia, nothing happens the way it’s supposed to. For one thing, Grandmere seems determined to prove that boy (or Michael, as he is commonly known) isn’t the right one for the crown princess of Genovia. And Mia isn’t having much luck proving otherwise, since Michael has a history of being decidedly against any kind of exploitative commercialization (Valentine’s Day, as it is commonly known).

Boris can declare his love openly to Lilly, and even Kenny comes through with a paltry Whitman’s Sampler. So why can’t Michael give in to Cupid and tell Mia he loves her—preferably with something wrapped in red or pink and accompanied by roses—in time to prove he’s Mia’s true prince?

Well, with a book this short and frivolous, one doesn’t have very high expectations. Suffice it to say that I wasn’t disappointed by this little book but neither was I blown away.

Good stuff: It made me giggle a few times and marks the first time I have ever seen the word ‘snerk’ appear in print.

Not so good stuff: This takes place in the past (Mia found an old journal), so it’s supposed to be amusing when Grandmere’s astrology buddy predicts unlikely celebrity couples that Mia scoffs at (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes), but it isn’t.

Random stuff: I had to look up a slang term that I was unfamiliar with (“blow-out,” a type of hairdo). It made me feel kinda old. There’s also confusion about the numbering of this book in the series. Cabot’s site calls it 7.75, but the series listing in the front of the book calls it 4.25. Based on the material within, and all the stuff that’s supposed to foreshadow what ultimately happens, I think reading it after book 7 would make the most sense.

Reunion by Meg Cabot: B+

From the back cover:
Suze Simon, a teenaged mediator who guides ghosts to the afterlife, is having a great time with her best friend Gina from New York. That is until four ghosts, the “RLS Angels,” show up looking for revenge. The angry spirits died in a car accident and they blame Michael Meducci, a nerdy boy with a crush on Suze.

Suze starts spending time with Michael to protect him. After all, she’s one of the few people who can see the ghosts. And Michael isn’t too bad—under those glasses he is even somewhat of a hottie. But there’s something strange about the accident that took the Angels’ lives. Is it possible they are rightfully seeking revenge on Michael? Could he be their killer?

This was definitely an improvement over Ninth Key. And, interestingly, Suze seems to’ve remembered that boy who asked her out in Shadowland. Maybe somebody else busted Cabot over that error.

The plot in Reunion is pretty similar to the first book, though it wasn’t bad. The most irksome thing was the unrealistic portrayal of popular kids. I just really have a hard time believing that they would really say some of the stuff said here.

In the positive category, Suze’s character also seems back on track, as she is less focused on boys and more on being snarky and protecting a classmate from vengeful ghosts. There were a few moments when she put herself in the path of danger and was a bit reckless/ruthless, and while these actions were pretty dumb, they also played up her resemblance to Veronica Mars, which was pretty much missing in the last book.