The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

I decided to re-read the Twilight Saga again (I've lost count on how many times I have read this series...I think this might have been the 10th time??) as the final movie installment arrives in theaters in just a few short weeks. I often get asked why I re-read some books over and over, especially when there are so many other books out there to read. Some books just feel like coming home. They are like your favorite sweater, your favorite coffee mug, your favorite spot on the couch. Some books are just a part of your soul. While I would not put this series in the category of books that have had a profound effect on how I view the world, it is certainly a series that has become a favorite escape of mine. Every time I read the series I find myself lost in the magical world of Forks, caught up in the lives of the characters, and completely oblivious to reality (even if it is only for a few hours at a time), which is really all I ever ask of a good book.

For those of you who are not familiar with series, the first book of the series, Twilight, is about Bella Swan, your average teenager, who exiles herself to Forks, Washington to live with her father after her mother remarries. Forks is a small town in Washington known for its almost constant cloud cover and rain. It is in Forks that Bella meets the Cullens, most notably Edward Cullen, a family that is clearly more than average. Bella and Edward find themselves drawn to each other, despite Edward's attempts to stay away, and Bella soon discovers the Cullens' dark secret - they are vampires. This realization draws Bella into a world that she never knew existed, bringing with it the joy of first love and dire consequences.

I originally came across this series in 2008 when the movie was released. Prior to seeing the trailers for the movie I had never heard of Edward Cullen or Bella Swan, and I had no idea who Stephenie Meyer was. I remember seeing the trailers for the movie and have to admit, despite my love of vampires, my interested was not piqued. It was a friend who suggested that I pick up the series. She couldn't believe, being the vampire lover I was, that I had not seen the movie, or read the book. She had read the books and was a huge fan of the series, and she proceeded to tell me about the books and insisted that I go home and give them a chance. It was her description of the characters and the story that finally turned me onto the series. I went home and sat down on my computer, and used one of my Amazon.com gift cards (a fabulous gift for any book lover by the way) to order the entire series.

While I waited for the books to arrive, I just happened to be bored one Sunday afternoon and decided to head to the theaters to see the movie. It was towards the end of the movie's run in theaters - it was only showing on one screen and there were only like 3 showings to choose from. I have to admit, that while I didn't hate the movie, it certainly wasn't a cinematic masterpiece. I should stop and point out that I rarely enjoy a movie adaptation of a book as much as I love the book, and Twilight was no exception. I left the theater loving the idea of the story and praying that the books turned out to be less of a disappointment. When Twilight finally arrived at my house, I pulled it out of the box and instantly started reading. Once I began to read, I couldn't stop! I loved the story and loved Stephenie Meyer's writing style. I was instantly transported into the Twilight world and didn't want to leave. I actually read the entire series that weekend.

To think that I almost missed out entirely! I do not think that had I only seen the movie that I would have taken the time to read the books. As usual, the books are far better than the movies. In fact, I don't think one can really fully appreciate the movies without having read the books. I have seen all of the Twilight movies and I know that I would not have the same connection to them without reading the books. There are so many little things that make these characters so special that do not come across on the big screen.

For me, Edward is really what draws me to Twilight. He is the epitome of what I love in a vampire - a vampire with a soul, trying desperately to overcome his nature and be better, not realizing that he already is better for even trying. He is the perfect fantasy vampire, even though the vampire lore in this series is somewhat "softer" than other series that I have read. As with most vampire stories, there is the element of transformative love that I am a complete sucker for. I do have to say that I am not a fan of Bella in this series. While Edward is certainly a literary crush for me, Bella does not rank amongst the best female literary characters for me. I could not see myself being friends with Bella like I would be with say Elizabeth Bennett. I often find Bella obnoxious and too whiny. I am fervently hoping that Stephenie Meyer will one day finish Midnight Sun, as I would much rather read the story through the perspective of Edward than Bella.

The series continues with New Moon. Bella's world is shattered after her ill-fated 18th birthday party where a papercut results in Jasper trying to kill her. Edward, who already questions the safety of his presence in Bella's life, decides to remove himself from Bella's life in an attempt to give her the human life he thinks she deserves. Bella is devastated and turns to her friend Jacob Black for comfort. As Bella and Jacob's relationship gets more and more complicated, Bella discovers that Jacob has a secret of his own - he's a werewolf. Nevertheless, Bella finds herself no safer after Edward's departure as Victoria has returned to seek revenge against Bella for James' death. A series of misunderstandings leads to Bella racing to Italy to save Edward and brings her face to face with the Volturi  an ancient group of vampires tasked with keeping the existence of vampires a secret from humans.

As an ardent member of Team Edward, New Moon is my least favorite book out of the series. This stems only from the fact that Edward is absent for half of the book, and has nothing to do with the writing or characters. When I read New Moon I often find myself counting the pages until his return. The first time I read the book, I was utterly dismayed at Edward's departure and became irrationally angry with Stephenie Meyer. I continued reading it only because I knew that the story could not end this way. Bella could not end up with Jacob. I even had thoughts of writing a strongly worded letter to Stephenie if Edward did not reappear...

Don't get me wrong, I like Jacob, and I could easily see how Bella (or anyone for that matter) could easily fall for him. He is a warm, caring character - a perfect match for Bella. However, when compared to Edward and Bella's love, there's just no contest for me. Edward and Bella belong together. For me, New Moon was just one more step to reaffirming the inevitable - that Edward and Bella belonged together. I feel like it had to play out like this to dispel any thoughts of another possibility for Bella, to serve as yet another confirmation of the truth.

In Eclipse, Bella faces a series of new challenges. The Cullens, including Edward, are back and Bella must deal with the complications this creates with her Quileute friends and werewolves. Some new menace is ravaging Seattle and it appears to be the work of a newborn army. Who is behind the army and what their purpose is remains a mystery, but the Cullens, fearing an intervention from the Volturi, find themselves preparing to intercede.

I always found the cover art for the Twilight books interesting, and Eclipse might be my favorite one. According to Stephenie Meyer, the red ribbon symbolizes Bella's final struggle - choosing between Edward and Jacob, mortality and immortality. The threads of her life were unraveled in New Moon, and now she must choose to break the final thread - holding her to life before - or breaking the final thread and embarking on a new life altogether.

Eclipse is a close second behind Twilight as my favorite book in the series - and it is probably my favorite movie out the films. I love the action! I'm always slightly annoyed to have to re-live Bella's struggle with choosing between Edward and Jacob, because for me, her decision had already been made. This just seems like beating a dead horse, but again, I can understand why it is necessary. How the inevitability of their relationship would force all other options to be eliminated before they could truly be together forever.

The series concludes with Breaking Dawn. Bella, having made her final choice, and Edward marry and embark on their new life together, never imagining that their lives are about to take a turn that neither of them could imagine. When Bella becomes pregnant, she finds herself again fighting for her life and the life of her baby. The birth of Bella's daughter finally results in the long awaited transformation of Bella into an immortal, and also brings with it immeasurable joy and the possibility of impending doom which could result in the destruction of the Cullens once and for all.

Out of all the books in the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn is the one that I have the most conflicting emotions about. As the culmination of the series, I had high expectations for it. For me, Breaking Dawn is the greatest departure from reality. It requires a greater "leap" into the world of fantasy than the other books in the series. I felt like even though the previous three books are fiction, they still had elements that grounded them in reality. However, most of that goes out the proverbial window in Breaking Dawn. There are several elements of the story that require one to turn off the rational part of your brain and simply accept them as fact - such  as the fact that Edward, an undead vampire, having the ability to create  live offspring - in order for the story to work.

You have to be willing to make that jump with Stephenie if you are going to accept and appreciate Breaking Dawn. I have to admit that the first time I read Breaking Dawn, during the marathon weekend when I read the whole series, the departure from reality didn't bother me so much because I was already so lost in the world of Twilight. However, after subsequent readings, I found myself questioning the story more, and it started to ruin it for me...until I turned off the rational part of my brain.

For those of you who have not read this series, but have seen the movies, remember you should never judge a book by its movie. While I enjoy the Twilight movies and they certainly have improved as the fan base and budgets have increased, they are still nowhere near as good as the books. As per usual, the movies take artistic licenses to ramp up the action and keep movie audiences entertained. Some of these changes I liked, others not so much. I still much prefer the version my imagination creates in my head as I read the novels. If you like Young Adult Fiction and vampires, give this series a chance if you haven't already. 

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