Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead “Here at the Academy, past and present warred with each other”
Two years ago, Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir and Rosemarie “Rose” Hathaway ran away from St. Vladimir's Academy, where Moroi (living vampires) and dhampir (their guardians) are trained, after an “incident”. But now that they were forceably returned, Lissa and Rose have to maneuver the political climate at St. Vladimir's and deal with the strange happenings that are once again following them.

I Liked:
At first glance, the story appears to be Harry Potter and Vampires. And while, in some ways, that description isn't inaccurate, it does miss a few points.
Our viewpoint character is Rosemarie “Rose”, Lissa's guardian. Rose is a unique protagonist. On one hand, she is a strong protector of Lissa, doing almost anything (including starting fights) to stand up for her friend. On the other hand, Rose is very sleazy, throwing herself at guys, drinking, breaking rules, and the like. I rather liked Rose; she starts the book very “juvenile” but by the end, she realizes the seriousness of her job as guardian and begins to realizes the sacrifices she must make and doesn't hesitate to make them (not getting drunk, not trying on clothes and leaving Lissa's side, etc.). What made Rose really interesting to me was when she would “slip” into Lissa's mind and experience what Lissa was doing.
Vasilisa “Lissa” is our second protagonist. She is pretty spineless, kind, and friendly, grateful for Rose standing up for her, but also eager to return the favor. She makes a great counterpart to Rose and much of what happens in the story is her learning about her powers (which is interesting that it wasn't our point of view character, Rose).
While most of the other characters somewhat faded into the background, we do have two boys stand out: Dimitri, Rose's trainer, and Christian, a boy interested in Lissa. Dimitri kinda follows the stereotypical “hot trainer that the protagonist has a thing for”. But I really didn't mind, he had an interesting story and didn't fall all over Rose within two minutes of meeting her. Christian, likewise, is somewhat stereotypical because he's a “bad boy”, but I really did like his backstory. His parents were Strigoi and were eventually killed. That was very interesting and made Christian stand out to me.
The story focuses on the politics and ladder climbing in the school itself. This sounds sort of boring, and in some ways it is, but I think it was also very realistic. You have a bunch of these royal kids under one roof; of course, they are going to jockey each other to get top-dog status. Lissa and Rose have to maneuver this system and try not to get swallowed by it—while also having to deal with the dead animals that Lissa finds. Talk about stress—not only your typical school pressure, not only the dead animals you find, but also everyone gossiping about what's going on to you!
Richelle Mead was a decent writer. She wrote clearly and humorously. I particularly appreciate the small parts of humor, which in a few places made me laugh out loud.

I Didn't Like:
As you might be able to tell, Richelle Mead employs a lot of the standard issue writing tropes. Bad boy with a dark past who gentles up. A guardian who has the hots for his trainee. A manipulative, vengeful queen biatch out to get our protagonists. A girl who seems invisible but pulls out at the end. Foreshadowing. Red herrings. It's not bad, but it was put together in a very typical way.
The ending was disjointed. I literally was reading and was like, “oh, it's the end!” and then saw I still had 15 pages left! I just wished that it had ended where it felt “good” instead of stretching out for no other reason than to have Rose end up in the clinic again.
The conclusion was too neat, too tidy. Rose wraps up all the “loose ends” and leaves a few openings for new books. I understand why that was done, but I can't stand conclusions that have to take each character and sum up “What happened next”.
There is a LOT of flashbacks or Rose going into Lissa's head. I don't mind some flashbacks, but Rose would be talking, stop to have a flashback, and then go back to the conversation, after the 5 pages of flashback. And this was done several times. While Rose going into Lissa's head wasn't as bad (Rose was almost always not talking with someone while doing that), it still happened with enough frequency and at the most convenient times (not, say, when Lissa was eating, going to the bathroom or making out) that it lost its appeal. Plus, it was obviously a method for Mead to fill us in on what was happening to Lissa, to give our protagonist the whole story.

Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:
Strong for a young adult novel. Da** and he**, with some wh*rek and a few f-bombs.
Lissa has had sex. Rose enjoys making out. Also, dhampirs often engage in illicit affairs with Moroi in order to propogate.
Lissa and Rose discover several dead animals. Rose is tossed around a few times in guardian training and in the final battle. Someone is stabbed and dies.

Vampire Academy was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I really liked our snappy protagonist, Rose. She was independent, free-thinking, brave, and devoted to Lissa. The vampires were cool and interesting, as were the powers they could wield. On the other hand, the characters besides our main two were bland, the story moved slowly, and the story relied heavily on writing cliches. I think I will eventually check out “Frostbite”, as the characters were pretty interesting and there seems to be some interesting hints dropped at what is to come. 3.5 stars rounded to 4.