Visiting London & thinking about the Infernal Devices

I’ve become somewhat of a TV/book tourist in the years since I started writing with Jen as Liv Spencer, and my own books as Calhoun. New York for Gossip Girl. Covington “Mystic Falls” Georgia for The Vampire Diaries. Iceland for Game of Thrones. (Just kidding on that last one — though admittedly the thought of casually running into Jon Snow did cross my mind….)

I was in London this past week for the London Book Fair — a big to-do where publishers from all around the world convene, show off their upcoming books, chat them up and try to sell them into other territories and languages. It’s very cool to see all the various things people are doing, in the book dept, around the world, and to meet with like-minded folks from halfway across the world. It’s also cool to be walking through the stands at Earls Court and see some Shadowhunters. The movie edition of City of Bones got some nice play at the S&S booth, but it was this poster that stunned me when I walked around the corner and suddenly had the Sight:


(Sorry — didn’t realize how soft the focus was on this until I pulled it off my iPhone. Seems like my Sight is not so crystal clear after all!)

After the fair, I tooled around with my darling friend who’s lived in LDN for the past 10 years, and she took me to the oldest bookshop in London. The bookshop where a certain young Shadowhunter once upon a time bought a copy of A Tale of Two Cities for one Tessa Gray.


Hatchards Piccadilly is a big big store with beautiful staircases up and down, now operated by Waterstones and all fancy like with its By Appointment to Various Royal Persons, operating since 1797. I went up to the Dickens section and picked up a copy of Two Cities, but already owning two copies of it myself I didn’t entirely recreate the Will Herondale moment. Instead I opted for a stunning copy of Dante’s Inferno. So as to be well-read and ready to talk circles of hell and their various temperatures during a daring rescue by a Shadowhunter.

Dante frontDante back

And the full haul of books from my trip. Not too many this time!

And the full haul of books from my trip. Not too many this time!

So many moments from the Infernal Devices to be reminded of while walking around Central London — prime among them having a good look at Blackfriars Bridge and imagining Jem and Tessa on it.

It was perfect timing too: Jen and I are just finishing up the proofread on Navigating the Shadow World, it hits stores and e-shelves on July 1st, and we’re working away on a special free e-book companion reader to the book — more on that soon! — and Clockwork Princess was still fresh in mind. Very cool to walk the streets the Enclave crew would’ve over a century ago. Literary tourism is the best!




In Defense of Taylor Swift

I spend a lot of time defending Taylor Swift, not that I think she needs it. In fact, it seems absurd to me, but perhaps once more, for the record, let me address a few issues that seem to plague our girl.

First, she is not anti-feminist. While she may have been hesitant to embrace the term in interviews (and she is not alone in that), and her songs may deal with fairly conventional roles and relationships, she remains an excellent female role model. I don’t mean because she’s “a good girl” resisting a Lohan trajectory, I mean because she has had a truly tremendous career of which she’s always remained totally in control. She started chasing a record deal at age 11, knocking on doors of Nashville’s Music Row. When she was 13, she walked out of a development deal with RCA when they wanted to shelve her for a while. She had other plans. When she was 14, Sony picked her up, their youngest songwriting hire. She took a chance on then-fledgling label Big Machine at 15 because they would give her the control she wanted most of all: she was going to write and perform her own material — period. And she’s done that ever since. And it’s not only her songwriting she controls, the woman is the head of an empire: she is involved in everything from tour design, to packaging, to product endorsements and partnerships. She is the sparkly embodiment of creative control.  Everything must be true to her vision and her image. What makes this more remarkable is that she did this in an industry that would normally take a 14-year-old girl and package and exploit her. If Taylor Swift is going to be “packaged” it will be by Taylor Swift herself. Now that she’s famous and powerful, she still finds ways to manipulate greater, seemingly uncontrollable forces like celebrity gossip, as Elizabeth Perie points out in the Huffington Post.

Though even the Swift One can only control so much, and it’s distressing to watch the media make her out to be a desperate, love-crazed man chaser. But that’s not her — that’s what we project onto her. That’s the character we want her to be for our own amusement. Is a successful, powerful young woman dating different men so distressing somehow that we have to belittle her in this way? In the April Vanity Fair cover story (which, annoyingly, has a headline that puts “her men” and “her moods” above “her music”), Taylor wisely noted, “For a female to write about her feelings, and then be portrayed as some clingy, insane, desperate girlfriend in need of making you marry her and have kids with her, I think that’s taking something that potentially should be celebrated—a woman writing about her feelings in a confessional way—that’s taking it and turning it and twisting it into something that is frankly a little sexist.”

And how about those confessional lyrics? For some would say that even if she isn’t anti-feminist, her lyrics are. And to answer that I send you to Erin Riley, who argues that Taylor’s lyrics are being oversimplified. The only song she doesn’t account for, unfortunately, is “Better Than Revenge,” which even I would admit slips into slut-shaming. That said, she was 18 or 19 when she wrote that album. And what teenager — and what human, really — doesn’t make mistakes? And it’s with slips like this that we know we’re getting the true Taylor, even if sometimes it’s not as tidy as we’d like.

Sometimes it’s the content of the songs I have to defend. People often say she only writes love songs. This is, it must first be clarified, an exaggeration. She does write mostly about love, but she does sometimes write about other things: growing up and family (“Never Grow Up,” “The Best Day,” “Fifteen”), the risks of stardom (“Innocent,” “The Lucky One”), self-image (“Tied Together with a Smile,” “Mean”), not fitting in (“A Place in This World,” “The Outside”), losing a child (“Ronan”)  and good ol’ celebratory anthems (“Change,” “Long Live”). She has won Grammy Awards for two songs decidedly not about love: “Mean” and “Safe and Sound.” But sure, she does write mostly about love. You may have noticed that so do a lot of artists. Love is an endless font of inspiration, something that changes as we grow older, as we discover new variegation in a colour we thought we knew well (the many shades of red, you might say). Because not all the songs are about being in love: they’re about crushes, fleeting love, enduring love, heartbreak, betrayal, moving on …

Further, Taylor writes a love song well. She’s one of our premier pop philosophers, and her particular articulations of heartbreak have won her a trophy room full of awards and have her matching sales records set by the Beatles (they sang about love a lot too, you may recall — using the word love 613 times, according to this highly reputable Buzzfeed article). Anyway, my point is if you want a really good loaf of bread, you go to the bakery, not to the supermarket. Go to the specialist. And while she may not be great at love (or at least not lucky in it), she is great at writing about it. Not just because her songs are catchy, fun to belt out in your car, but because her lyrics are deceptively simple. I’m always thrilled to hear Taylor sing about new things, but if she writes love-heavy albums for the rest of her career, so be it. Our canon of modern love songs will be better for it.

Yes, her sweetness is a sugar rush, but I think for the most part it’s genuine. Straight from the hands-making-a-heart, you might say. She is powerful, she is savvy, she is authentic. If I had a daughter, I’d encourage her to listen to Taylor. And Lady Gaga. And Beyonce. And Ani Difranco. And Joni Mitchell. The point is, Taylor is a valuable and necessary part of an ongoing dialogue by women in music and about women in music. She is the sparkly dresses (or retro fifties chic) to Lady Gaga’s meat dress. And we need that. She doesn’t have to be the full picture, and she can’t be and shouldn’t be. But she’s an important part of that picture, and I hope she continues to be a part of it for a long time.

Pretty Little Liars Season 3B So Far…

Crissy here! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged on Pretty Little Liars, but that does not mean I have not been loving season 3B so far. Some highlights and questions…(with spoilers up to and including “Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Inferno”!)


  • The whole Byron mystery freaked me right out of town. The relationship between Aria and her pops has been such a huge part of the show since the beginning, and the revelation that he saw Ali the night she died was sooooo creepy and felt like such a betrayal. Especially after they finally reconnected! Even though it was great and creepy, the Meredith Is the Crazy One wrap-up was a little unsatisfying, and frankly I still do not entirely trust Byron.
  • Because on PLL, can you really ever trust anyone? Not Toby… I’m glad it didn’t take too too long for Spencer to find out about him, and it is gutting (and totally realistic) to see how destroyed she is by his betrayal. Even if in the end there’s some altruistic reason that he’s on the A Team (and trying to run over Lucas and terrorizing Emily and Paige and Hanna…), I don’t think I could forgive a guy who put me through that.
  • Oh Spencer. She thinks school is pointless! Spencer Hastings! When she tore up that picture of herself — so symbolic! ::tears:: I’m glad she hired the private eye to find A’s lair, rather than going to see Toby (ya, I thought she was texting him…). But not telling the girls that Toby is on the A-Team? Not cool. That just puts your best friends in serious serious danger.
  • Where is Melissa? Meredith’s AWOL in Mystic Falls, and Melissa’s AWOL in Rosewood. I need some Torrey DeVitto onscreen in one of my favorite crazy fictional small towns!
  • Who is Ali’s baby daddy? Is it Wilden? Was she really pregnant? Was she so desperate for money from Byron because she needed money for an abortion?
  • When will we meet the Mysterious Lady in Red who’s pulling the strings of the A-Team? Soon please! And more CeCe. I love her. (Is CeCe the Lady in Red? I’m hoping for a bookish twist instead…)

Is it Tuesday yet??


Exciting News! Taylor Swift: The Platinum Edition

Over two years ago, we wrote Taylor Swift: Every Day Is a Fairytale, a biography of the sparkly superstar who was just gearing up to release Speak Now at the time. She was a big deal then, and she’s an even bigger deal now. The fearless songwriter just won’t quit. She just released her fourth studio album, Red, and in case you didn’t know, she’s sold approximately a bajillion copies. She’s showing more range and more courage than ever, not to mention she’s sporting some fierce red lipstick.

T-Swizzle is on fire, and we figured we needed to update our book to reflect all of Taylor’s most recent developments, in and out of the studio. So we’re happy to announce that in June, we’ll be releasing Taylor Swift: The Platinum Edition. We’re working away at decoding lyrics, analyzing videos, and writing about Swifty’s last two years in the fast lane.

Basically we’re listening to Taylor Swift all. the. time. And it’s pretty magical.

If you are so inclined, the Platinum Edition is already available for pre-order at,, & Barnes and Noble.

love, love, love

13 Favorite Things about Pretty Little Liars 3.13, “This Is a Dark Ride”

Happy Halloweeeeen! What better way to celebrate this candy-and-costumes holiday than re-living our favorite parts of last week’s Pretty Little Liars Halloween extravaganza — “This Is a Dark Ride.”

13. The spookified opening credit sequence — loved it last season, and love it this year. PLL tradition!

12. Spencer’s hair. These gifs pretty much say it all. Epic. Even when being blown every which way on that windy, windy train. Troian’s hair is always impressive, but she was flawless in this episode.

11. Creepy blonde ghost girl!! What was the deal with poor little cold tortured ghost child? Was she really there? Or has Ashley gone crazy and somehow just imagined the very same little girl we saw in last season’s Halloween episode in Ali’s creepy story about the twin sisters who fought over their dolls? Are we going down a twin path, PLL?

10. Nothing scarier than creepy masks and this episode had, like, every variety of creepy. Pick your poison! The zombie-baby-doll returned, plus Caleb’s phantom-type mask — also worn by his handsy imposter! — and the masked creeper who drugged Aria and Mona’s freaky homemade mask and that shiny mannequin mask. Make the nightmares end!

9. The flashbacks to the night Ali died! Instead of just giving us a fun but fluffy Halloween episode, we got serious clues. Can we trust what Garrett told Spencer to be true? How scary/awesome was the field hockey stick moment with Ali making Garrett fake her death? Twist!

8. The body bag in the ice. Did not see that coming. And poor Jason.

7. The awkwardness of watching Toby dance to Adam Lambert. Really liked overthinking this moment: like, Toby is all on the A Team and plotting dastardly plans and stuff, but OMG it’s Adam Lambert, better make the floor burn!

6. The twisted allegation that Byron Montgomery was somehow involved in Ali’s death. Ew. And also, yuck. But maybe…? There was certainly a weirdness about Ali’s obsession with Byron’s affair — especially when you consider the whole trash-Byron’s-office thing. Was Ali keeping more secrets about Byron than Aria knew?

5. Mona’s singing the teddybear picnic song. That childhood favorite will never be the same. If there was an award for simultaneously being the creepiest and prettiest singer, Janel Parrish would win. Her asylum-Mona portrayal is perfection.

4. The train! Just totally the perfect setting for the episode. They’re trapped with A; it’s such a classic murder-mystery thing (hello, Agatha Christie!) and a Hitchcock thing; and it’s got that retro allure. If only trains were guaranteed to be A-free . . .

3. Paige beating up A. Last we saw Paige she was the victim needing rescue, so it was satisfying to see her turn the tables. Is it dangerous that Emily’s told her all about A? Answer: of course. it’s A.

2. Ashley’s outfit and how she was just owning it. She’s dating a pastor; she’s a grown-up; she’s spending the night at home handing out candy to the under-10 set — and she’s dressed as a sexy nurse. And looks amazing.

1. Aria in the crate. With Garrett’s corpse. Terrifying. As if that wasn’t enough, girlfriend has to saw the tape off her wrists using a surely rusty nail. Get a tetanus shot, Aria! And post-traumatic stress counselling!

Least favorite part of the episode? Remembering how much Pretty Little Liars is so totally enthralling and then having to wait til the winter for new episodes.