Monthly Archives: October 2010

you know you love me.

last night, my young adult literature class engaged in a very interesting debate on popular literature for young’ns.  basically, there’s an argument that liberries shouldn’t include pop culture books in their collections, like the illustrious (and racy!) gossip girl series.  some liberrians (most likely those who own tweed suits and horn-rimmed specs and loud SHHHHHing voices) dub books like these as  “literary twinkies”… soft, gooey, and in possession of no substance whatsoever.

obvi, plenty o’ liberrians do NOT agree with this argument, myself included.  and yes, i’ll rely on the patented “as long as they’re reading” theory.  honestly, i grew up reading some seriously #$%^ty things… AND I LOVED THEM.  and the love of those books helped me cultivate my love of readin’… there is no way i would be the lady i am today without the help of the baby sitters club super specials (the cruise ship one, esp!  although the cali one was also fab).  who are we (as liberrians or parents or just plain peeps) to judge what others should and shouldn’t read (within reason), just because they are kids?

on a less liberry-centered note,  i was a loyal follower of gossip girl on the CW for years (til the show became soooo ridic that i had to quit it), but i’d never read a gossip girl book until last week.  and, twinkie or not, this book was GREAT FUN (and not nearly as skanky as everyone says)!  and speaking of great fun, let me introduce you to something else equally light and airy and equally amazing:

Godbersen, A. The luxe. New York: HarperCollins.

OMG, everyone—it’s Gossip Girl, circa 1899!  The Luxe tells the story of Elizabeth and Diana Holland, two sisters who reign at the pinnacle of New York society just before the turn of the 20th century.  However, the fortunes of the Holland family have taken a turn for the worse, and in order to save the family name and score some cash, Elizabeth is pushed into a loveless engagement with notorious and scrumptious cad Henry Schoonmaker.  Of course, Elizabeth carries a torch for another (family carriage driver Will), and Henry entertains the affections of many other admirers, including Elizabeth’s conniving BFF Penelope Hayes, and the precocious and darkly beautiful Diana, so clearly much drama is on the docket.

The Luxe’s similarities to Gossip Girl are obvious—not only are they both produced by Alloy Entertainment, but they both take readers on delicious thrill rides through the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite.  However, The Luxe is not merely the same old plot dressed in flouncy finery—it’s also an entertainingly soapy and fun novel, punctuated with interesting period detail.  Each chapter begins with an account from the Manhattan society pages, a tip from 19th century etiquette, or a message exchanged between two characters, which simultaneously propel the plot and to provide historical context.  I enjoyed Godbersen’s storytelling hook of opening the story with Elizabeth’s funeral, and then rewinding the plot by several weeks to explain the events that led up to her death.  Even though the big reveal is telegraphed from the very beginning, Godbersen’s plot was nevertheless complex and detailed enough to entertain me.  Most importantly, I found all of the main characters to be well-constructed and multi-dimensional, and even the calculating Penelope earned my sympathy at times—especially when, upon finding out about Elizabeth’s engagement to Henry Schoonmaker, she voms in a flower pot!  Talk about a faux pas.

Advertisements

this one goes out to all the ladies.

well, not really.  but sort of.  bear with me while i explain.  my good lady friends nandi and little K and i met early this morning for a crisp and sunny run that featured one terrible hill and some delicious coffee at the end, and now i am on cloud eleven (better than cloud nine).  these are the days when it feels great to exercise!  i have renewed hope in fitness, which is something that i’ve really needed after a semi-disheartening half marathon about a month ago.  (picture it: applefest 2010.  93-degree heat.  uphill from miles nine on.  suffice to say, a summer’s worth of hard training yielded less than i’d hoped.  waaah.)  SO!  all this to say that today is the first day i’ve felt good about running in a VERY long time.

and therefore, in the name of the happiness that healthiness can sometimes bring, here she is– my girl cat locke.

Brande, R. (2009). Fat cat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Cat Locke is a quick-witted high school junior with a penchant for science—and candy bars.  But when Cat becomes her own guinea pig for a research project, she makes some serious lifestyle changes, giving up cars, phones, TV, computers, and processed foods in her determination to win the science fair and exact revenge on her greatest rival, Matt McKinney.  Cat’s experiment yields impressive results, as she sheds some unwanted pounds and comes to terms with the issues of boys and body image.

As someone who grapples with the daily challenges of leading a healthy lifestyle (and loves a good makeover story), Fat Cat was right up my alley.  But you don’t have to be interested in nutrition to enjoy this book.  Fat Cat is written in the conversational first-person voice of Cat, a person you’d want to know and be friends with, and her story unfolds with a natural ease.  Information about health, exercise, and vegetarianism emerges in the text, but I didn’t think it sounded pedagogical; Cat follows a path of self-improvement and, in the process, builds her self-esteem (and, as a bonus, attracts the attention of several different guys).  Fat Cat seems to be geared toward a younger YA audience, as Cat innocently (and almost naively) experiences many “firsts” during the course of the story, including her first date, kiss, and boyfriend.  Throughout the story, Brande alludes to an incident that had occurred between Cat and Matt several years prior, but when the mystery is finally revealed, it seems simplistic and anticlimactic.  Because this situation was one of the defining moments in Cat’s teenaged life, its relative innocuousness strikes me as both disappointing and puzzling.  On the whole, though, this book succeeds with a strong and likable main character and a light and fun, yet informative plot.

 

disturbia.

as a kid, my most favoritest author ever was robert cormier.  perhaps you’ve heard of him, or at least remember his books: i am the cheese (omg, totally convinced me that my family was in the witness protection program), fade (yowsa), the chocolate war (prolly the least worrisome of the bunch, but still completely mind-bending– and banned in many places), and we all fall down (saaaaadness.  creepiness.).

my mom absolutely hated my penchant for these freaky deeky books, and often hid them from me.  or maybe she just talked smack about them…  i tend to editorialize my memories.  but anyhoo, i could never figure out her extreme anti-cormier feelings, and i’ve always remembered these books as being pretty great.

and so when we were asked to read ten YA books of various genres for my YA literature class, naturally i decided i’d mix in an old skool thriller.  obvi, i immediately thought of mr. cormier’s after the first death.  and wow.  i must have been a pretty bad @$$ kid (omg, that is so laughably UNTRUE, but like i said, i tend to editorialize), because i lost some serious sleep over this plot last week at age 30.  i guess i sort of understand mommy root’s feelings now, although i still a member of team cormier for sure.

Cormier, R. (1979). After the first death. New York: Pantheon Books.

In this story of a bus hijacking by a group of freedom-fighting terrorists, nothing goes exactly as planned: teenaged hijacker Miro’s first assignment is to kill the busdriver (but that doesn’t happen when the busdriver turns out to be seventeen-year-old Kate, subbing for her sick uncle), the children on the bus are given drugged chocolates so that they stay quiet (but then one dies from a drug overdose), and General Mark Marchand sends his son Ben to the hijackers as a messenger in what he thinks is a sound plan to fool them (but the General doesn’t consider the emotional toll that this experience will exact on teenaged Ben).  Yikes.

Told from a variety of viewpoints, including the first-person narratives of both Ben and his father, and the third-person depiction of the bus hijacking (with a special focus on hijacker Miro and busdriver Kate), Robert Cormier’s After the First Death is an innovative and disturbing thriller.  The book’s teen characters are especially strong, and I found myself drawn to Miro despite his monstrous deeds, because Cormier is able to explain his strangely innocent mindset so effectively.  Kate and Ben are equally well-written, and their violent ends are painful to digest.  And the terrorist Artkin is one scary bad guy, as each of his deeds seem worse than the last, and his brutal rendering contrasts well with Miro’s innocence.  As a teen, I really liked this book, and I liked it as an adult, too, except for one thing: I don’t understand how General Marchand possibly could have sent his own son to a bus of terrorists as a messenger.  This does not compute for me.  Cormier attempts to explain this (in my opinion) unforgivable action by detailing the General’s intense patriotism and willingness to do anything for his country, but, as an adult, I just can’t buy that explanation.  That said, this is a haunting and uncompromising portrayal of terrorism that still shines in our post-9/11 world.

also, in a semi-related piece of amazingness: did you know that robert cormier gave a buttload of money to the public liberry in leominster, ma to build a teen room?  they call it the bob.  pretty fabulous!

mock! YEAH! ing! YEAH! jay! YEAH!

if you know me at all, you know this:

i effing love the hunger games.  

i do!  these books are as wonderful to me as a giant cupcake full of dancing ponies and lattes and saturday mornings.  i don’t care how many times i have read these three books (plenty), i will always sit down and re-read and re-imagine and re-fall in wonder with katniss and peeta and (sigh) finnick and, of course, the arena itself.  

and so, ladies and gentlemen.  my big big big review day has finally arrived!  

(also, obvi spoiler alert.  if you haven’t read the first two books of the trilogy, you prolly don’t want to read this review.)

 Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

“My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead?  I should be dead.”  So continues the story of Katniss, champion of the Hunger Games and the face a revolution.  In this third book (that I lined up at the bookstore to buy at 6:54 a.m. on the day of its release) of the Hunger Games trilogy, wars rage on many fronts: Katniss fights to maintain her sanity and to protect the people that she loves, including Prim, Gale, and Peeta, and the country of Panem fights a physical war and a war of propaganda.  And what’s worst is that no one, not even Katniss’s beloved Peeta, can be trusted.

A Hunger Games devotee, I had high hopes for the final installment of this trilogy.  And there were a lot of things to love about this book: I applaud Collins’s portrayal of Katniss as a shattered and traumatized victim of the violence and abuse that she has undergone at the hands of the Capitol.  It was shocking, compelling, and completely unique to witness these devastating effects on a character who has, until now, been painted as brutal in her will to survive.  (The vision of Katniss and the equally shell-shocked Finnick tying knots to tame their demons is particularly disturbing in its realism.)  Collins’s willingness to explore the shades of gray between the ideas of “good” and “bad” departs from the idealistic, moralistic, and didactic identities that fantasies often embody.  However much Mockingjay soars with its heartbreaking portrayal of Katniss, though, it falls equally flat in its uninspired renderings of Gale and Prim.  Gale is barely believable—and certainly not likable—in his one-dimensional militancy, and Prim’s few conversations with Katniss seem forced and don’t reveal anything compelling about her character.  These failings are especially frustrating because they clash with the masterful job that Collins has done of breathing life into the fantastic ideas of the Hunger Games and the Mockingjay itself.  Upon finishing Mockingjay, one of my friends mused, “Basically, Katniss gets the guy.  But ONLY the guy.”   By forcing us to confront this sad truth, Collins asks us to consider if, in the end, it was all worth it.  And there is no easy answer to that question.

science!

i never really saw myself as much of a sci fi kind of gal.  okay, i straight up hated it.  but then i got really into LOST.  and then i started to really enjoy dystopian fantasy books like the hunger games and his dark materials trilogies.  and then i thought MAYBE I LIKE THIS KIND OF THING AFTER ALL.

then  i read m.t. anderson’s feed.  and i realized that nope.   i was right in the first place– sci fi totes gross to me.  however, i will award this book two (possibly three) points for a 110% kick@$$ first line:

“we went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

and with that, i bring you feed.

Feed, By M.T. Anderson

In M.T. Anderson’s Feed, teenaged Titus and his friends, like 73% of Americans, have microchips implanted into their brains that tell them everything they need to know: what to buy, what to watch, and where to go.  When Titus and friends take a (sucky) trip to the moon, two game-changers occur: they meet a young girl named Violet and their feeds are hacked and damaged.  After they travel back to Earth and begin a relationship, Titus realizes just how different Violet is, as she actually tries to fight the feed. 

Written in an invented slang that calls to mind Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Anderson’s satiristic Feed is a perplexing and depressing outlook on the consequences of technology.  Anderson’s characters are both flat and confusing: I couldn’t figure out what made self-absorbed Titus appeal to the educated and aware Violet, and I found Violet’s concerns to be overwrought and unbelievable at times.  The plot also seemed to stall for me, especially as the unlikely relationship developed between Titus and Violet.  However, as Farah Mendlesohn points out, “emotional relationships … are irrelevant [in science fiction]… the issues lie with the physics rather than with people.”  In its vivid answer to the “what if” question, perhaps Feed proves that it is an authentic piece of science fiction that doesn’t need to focus on the pieces of the story that I have been been trained to appreciate.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

vampires!

okay.  i am pretty sure that the whole vampire craze is pretty much dunzo.  i mean, true blood is still fantastic, and i keep meaning to get around to all those sookie stackhouse novels, and i guess breaking dawn the movie (the mere thought of which makes my head go pffffft in ways both good and bad) is set to come out sometime soon.  and edward’s hair is still glorious:

but i’m still content to say that vampers are not as hot of a topic as they were last year.  which is good, because although i still love them, i am getting kind of sick of them.  here’s a reason why:

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening, by LJ Smith

Elena Gilbert is the girl every boy wants and every girl wants to be—until meets Stefan, a mysterious new student at Robert E. Lee High School who will not give her the time of day.  What Elena doesn’t know is that Stefan is hiding some deep secrets about his identity: in reality, he is a 500-year-old vampire, and he is deeply attracted to her.  As Elena continues her quest to win Stefan, mysterious violent occurrences begin to plague the town, and when Stefan finally gives in to his feelings for Elena, dangerous and sexy Damon arrives on the scene, determined to have her for his own.

The first in a series of four novels, The Awakening ends on a cliffhanger and potential for a deadly love triangle.  Originally written in the early 1990s, this series was re-released in 2007 after the great success of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series.  The Vampire Diaries presents the same vampire formula, but with a self-centered and aloof female lead with whom few can identify.  The only character who stirs any interest is Bonnie, Elena’s clairvoyant friend, who seems to have a strong link to the supernatural world.   The diary entries that sprinkle the text seem gimmicky, and don’t really provide the reader with much more of a glimpse into Elena’s psyche than the third person narration does.  Smith’s diary entries and flashbacks call to mind a watered-down version of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.  As a strong supporter of most things vampire (the Blue Bloods series is my personal choice for teen vampire fare), I am confident in my belief that The Vampire Diaries, with its contrived plot and flat characters, does not provide readers with the excitement and titillation that we’ve come to expect from this genre.

three final things:

  • no, i’ve never seen the vampire diaries tv show.
  • i am not sure i ever will.
  • yes, i did just say the word “titillation.”

 

lintzy in the liberry.

so here i am at the arlington public liberry on the prettiest day of the fall.  i enjoy indulging my self-pity, although it’s actually not too bad– there are positives, like my bucket-sized venti latte, my elastic pants, and the pretty window that overlooks a fanciful garden below.  but there is also an elderly man with a pretty nasty case of post-nasal drip up here in my secret space on the second floor whose sneezes and grunts are comically loud… grooooooossssssssssss!

but.  that’s not what i am here to talk about.  today, friends, i would like to present to you another book, which you may or may not find interesting.  here we goooooooo:

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Bored and unpopular Miles Halter is going to seek, as poet Francois Rabelais puts it, the Great Perhaps.  How?  By going to boarding school!  Culver Creek Boarding School provides rail-thin Miles with all that he’d hoped: a new nickname (Pudge), a new social life (helmed by his roommate Chip, aka the Colonel), and a new object of his affections, the enigmatic, gorgeous, and self-destructive Alaska Young.  As the school year progresses, Miles learns how to drink, smoke, plot elaborate pranks, and feel like he belongs.  He also falls deeply in love with Alaska, and his life becomes saturated with the excitement and unpredictability of the Great Perhaps.  But then THE thing happens, and Alaska is gone, and there is nothing that guilt-ridden Miles, the Colonel, or anyone else can do to ever bring her back.

Looking for Alaska is divided into two sections: “Before” and “After,” which are then split into smaller sections that almost resemble journal entries (“eighty-four days before” and “twenty-seven days after”).  This unique structure places central importance on the defining moment of the book, and creates a feeling that is similar to a lit fuse—as the number of days tick down, the reader’s anxiety creeps up, until the book explodes. The character of Alaska is powerfully drawn—her haunted past, her wit, her beauty, her mood swings all draw the reader in, and when she’s gone, the pain is sharp.  Readers will also identify with the realistic portrayals of the book’s other characters, most notably Miles and the Colonel, who share a banter that is both humorous and utterly believable.  What I liked the most about Green’s Looking for Alaska was its ability to stir my own emotion and nostalgia in a way that only a few books can—I can feel Miles’ loss, I can smell Alaska’s vanilla and cigarette smell, and I long for the Great Perhaps of what could have been, if only she’d stayed.