Monday, May 30, 2011

Beauty Queens

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant are supposed to be on a beach, preparing for the big day where one of them would get the crown. Instead, their plane crash landed onto a seemingly deserted island. Most of their possessions were lost and they have no way to keep up their beauty. At first, they decide to keep practicing their pageant routines, but after a while, survival is more important. As time goes on, the practiced, fake facade of each girl falls, revealing someone imperfect, but real. Little do they know that on hidden parts of the island nefarious government dealings are happening and the girls are considered an inconvenience to be terminated. Can the girls be resourceful enough to not only survive the dangers of the island, but their own government?

The descriptions I've read for Beauty Queens have all been misleading. I was expecting Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale rolled into one with pageant queens. So I expected them all to hunting and killing each other, which sounded awesome. This does not happen at all. The actual book is much better than that, so don't let the descriptions fool you. Beauty Queens is not only a dypstopian novel, but also a satire. Other novels have attempted to do this, but this is one of the few that have succeeded being both.

The dystopian world is not too much different from our's and the problems with our society are exaggerated to laughable proportions. I haven't laughed at a book this much in a long time. Through humor and exceptional writing, Bray exposed the stupidity and unattainability of the beauty standard, the way pop culture is used as propaganda for this beauty standard and assumptions about women, and the corruption of big corporations. The different sections of the novel really helped organize it and better expose these issues. In between the story The commercials were completely over the top and ridiculous in their attempts to shame women and impose social norms. The exaggeration is hilarious, but through the humor, the reader sees that commercials actually do those things through much more subtle ways. The media continues to perpetuate ideas about what women should be like and it isn't really how real women are.

This novel features a large cast of characters, most of them teenage girls. I thought it would be difficult to keep track of so many, but they all have defining characteristics and their own chance to shine. It was surprisingly easy to remember all of them. At first, the girls keep up their beauty queen facades, but as time goes by, their true selves start to shine through. They realize that they don't have to be the ideal woman: hairless, skinny, uninterested in sex yet must have a man to validate her life, and unintelligent. They have the right to assert their opinions, question their sexuality, be intelligent, decide what they want to do with their lives, enjoy sex and food, and above all, they are free to be themselves. Each of the girls has her own set of insecurities and fears, but together, they work to overcome them and embrace themselves, regardless of the view society has of them. You might think that beauty queens are fragile, meek, plastic creatures, but they are just young girls figuring things out like the rest of us. These characters are all surprisingly relatable, even though at the outset of the novel, I didn't think I had anything in common with them. When the girls shed their plastic exteriors, I argue that anybody can relate to them.

Beauty Queens was an unexpected and wonderful adventure. It has just about everything: evil corporations, beauty queens, pirates, a plane crash, and a deserted island full of possibilities. This is easily one of the best young adult novels I have ever read and I would recommend this to everyone.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Demon's Lexicon

Nick and his older brother Alan don't lead a typical life after their father died. Instead of concentrating on school or sports, these boys have to slay warlocks and their demon minions coming after a powerful charm in their crazed mother's possession or die. After each attack, they have to hastily relocate only to be found again. In their current home, they thought the vicious cycle stopped and their enemies had lost them. They were wrong. After a demon attack in their kitchen, a boy from their school approaches them with 2 demon marks on him, which leads to certain death. Alan takes one of the marks so they can both be saved, but the group must kill warlocks that commanded the demons to attack them in order to remove the marks. Now, Nick and Alan must hunt one of the most powerful warlock's circle and avoid being killed in the process.

Before I read this book, I had met Sarah Rees Brennan several times. She's a delightful person with a boisterous personality and hilarious sense of humor. I was afraid that I wouldn't like the way she writes or her characters because I really like her as a person. My fears were completely unfounded because The Demon's Lexicon is easily one of the most unique young adult novels I've read in the past couple years. I put in the ranks of Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement and Holly Black's Curse Workers series. My favorite part of this novel is Nick. He is much different than any other protagonist I've ever read. Anger and detachment are his typical states of mind. He might be hard for some to relate to, but he won me over with his sarcastic tone and bad boy charm. I think Alan is meant to be the brother to relate better to, but I didn't like him at all. He was a skilled liar and incredibly manipulative of everyone around him. Even though Nick is less warm and fuzzy, at least he's honest and doesn't try to lie to make people feel better.

The plot and the action in the story were amazing. The sword fights were awesome and exciting, while there was still romance and secrets. The story is full of mystery and intrigue, which I love. I figured out the big secret about midway through the book, but I had fun going through the adventure and doubting if I predicted the ending (which I had). Once I got to the middle of the book, I did not want to put it down. I was disappointed that I had to pause for sleep, but I was up again the next day aching to finish. I love that feeling and it's a rare book that makes me feel that way. I loved the ending and I can't wait to read the second and third books in the series.

The Demon's Lexicon has just about everything: sword fighting, romance, demons, warlocks, and above all, secrets. I highly recommend this book to those not afraid of a good adventure. I also recommend going out to meet Sarah Rees Brennan if at all possible. She's an awesome, hilarious woman this is guaranteed to make whatever event she's at special.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Red Glove

Cassel Sharpe recently discovered that he is a rare type of curse worker that has the power of transformation. Of course, he needs to keep this from other people because he would be a powerful asset to however can get control of him. After his brother is murdered by a woman only identifying by her red gloves, the Feds come after him demanding information. The two opposing factions Mob are also after him for his power. Whichever side controls him will destroy the other. On top of all this, Lila, the girl Cassel loves, is turned back into a human from being a cat. His mother thought it was a nice present to make her feel like she loved him, so he is resolved to stay away from her until the magic wears off. Can Cassel avoid being owned by the Feds and the Mob and still be with the girl he loves without the enchantment?

The first Curse Workers novel is the best urban fantasy I have ever read. The gritty reality of the underground crime world and the fantastical curse worker magic together make a wonderful and unexpected novel. This one is steeped in the same world, but focuses on slightly different aspects. The Mob is still a central part, but the law is a new focus. The Feds are shown to be almost as corrupt and horrible as organized crime. Cassel is more bullied, coerced, and threatened by law enforcers than by the Mob. Even though they want to solve crimes and put deserving people behind bars, harassing and intimidating a teenage boy is a horrible way to accomplish the task. There is also a scene where Cassel and Lila are involved in a protest where everyone takes off their gloves. This is forbidden because touching is they way the curse workers influence people with their magic. It was a beautiful, shocking moment that took a lot of trust. Then the moment was interrupted by police violence and brutality. These scenes provided a larger view of the world that revealed the corruption that is rampant not only in the Mob, but also the police force.

The other amazing thing about this novel is the characters. Cassel is a boy raised in a crime family that struggles to be a good person. He is incredibly clever and solves his problems in the most unexpected ways. I sympathize with Cassel and fiercely want things to turn out well for him. Black writes clearly and convincingly in his voice. Lila is another character that is intriguing, but she's very mysterious. She was raised by the head of a faction of the Mob and spent many years as a cat. She is fiery and unpredictable with a mysterious past. To get a better view of her personality, I would recommend reading Lila Zacharov in 13 Pieces, which is a series of vignettes taking place at different times in Lila's life presented in a random order. I really like this experimental series of short stories and would love to read a book narrated by Lila.

Red Glove's only shortcoming is being not as good as White Cat by a very small margin. I think it's the symptom of being the second book in a series. I still highly recommend this crime adventure and mystery. I can't wait for the next book and I really hope the series extends past a trilogy.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, May 23, 2011

Witches of East End

Freya, Ingrid, and their mother, Joanna Beauchamp, have all tried to live uneventful lives and try to to draw attention to themselves. They are all powerful witches who are forbidden to use magic by decree of the witches' council. Freya can create potions for love or heartache. Ingrid can see the future and weave knots to cure practically anything. Joanna can resurrect the dead and heal injuries. It has been so long since the ruling that the women decide to stop hiding their true selves and start practicing magic again. Freya mixes potions in the bar where she works to help her customers. Ingrid gives remedies to local women at the library on her lunch break. Joanna saves a man from death. When people start disappearing and being subject to violent attacks, the people of the town turn on the Beauchamp women and accuse them of these horrific acts. Can Freya, Ingrid, and Joanna find who the real culprit is before they relive the witch burnings of the past?

I haven't read anything else by Melissa de la Cruz, so I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading this. I really couldn't be happier with this book. The language is fluid and really sucks the reader in. The pages and time passing by are barely noticeable because I was so absorbed with the story and the characters. The beginning is fairly slow, but I don't mind this at all. The world is fully realized. The lyrical language made the beautiful setting easy to visualize. I enjoyed really getting to know the characters before the plot really took off. The three women are all strong in their own different ways and practice their own brand of magic. Freya is the most extroverted and is a big focus of the book. She is led primarily by her emotions. Her impulsive nature is shown especially when she is the first one to break the rules barring their magic use. However, Ingrid has a more quiet confidence that grows throughout the book as she regains a part of her life that she thought was lost forever. Joanna is also much more quiet, but I view her power being the greatest and most difficult to perform. These women are engaging and act as the driving force of the novel. Even though these ladies have lived for centuries, the language and their lives are entirely modern and fresh.

The only criticism I have is the ending. After everything is resolved, the conflict for the next book is already introduced. It seems really out of the blue and much different than the beautiful descriptions and slow exposition of the beginning of the novel. It really felt like an afterthought and would have been better off in the next book.

I really loved this book and I want to read the Blue Bloods series now. This novel had just the right amount of romance, mystery, magic, and mythology. I would highly recommend this to urban fantasy fans.

My rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Internet Awesomeness 7

My school is officially over until the fall!!! YAY!!! I have a lot of books to review, but right now, I'm just going to share some awesome/funny videos with you.

1) There's a really stupid "Don't Say Gay" bill that passed in Tennessee forbidding teachers from talking about homosexuality in classrooms. Because of the language of the bill, they have also inadvertently forbid discussion on reproductive disorders, anything that would lead to sterility, or abstinence. I guess it's not as bad as Florida banning sex on accident. Anyway, George Takei has a delightful way to get around saying gay: say Takei! It's disgusting to me that something like this could be passed in today's society.

2) Literary heroines would have escaped their terrible fate if they had a Sassy Gay Friend. Hilarity ensues.

3) GOOD put together this awesome montage of famous kisses throughout cinema history and included some informative information on the history and biology behind kissing. And it ends with saying Armageddon was a good movie, which is debatable.

4) This video made me die and really helped me be less stressed during finals. It's Star Wars dubbed in French and subtitled with quotes from Jean-Paul Sartre.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


In a world where people over 18 can no longer conceive children, it's the best thing in the world to be 16 and pregnant. It's practically a teenager's obligation to have children to keep the population up and give or sell their children away to older couples that can't have any of their own. Melody and Harmony are twins separated at birth and adopted by two very different families. They have different views of things. Melody's mentality coincides with much of society's: she's committed to renting out her womb to a couple for a small fortune and may possibly do this until she can no longer have children. Her twin Harmony is just the opposite. She comes from a cultish religious society called Goodside where the parents choose the children's spouses and they are expected to become parents. Harmony is horrified at society's penchant for premarital sex and the encouragement to give or sell your baby away. She visits Melody in an effort to save her and bring her back to the religious community. She isn't really prepared for greater society and gets more than she bargained for.

Bumped is a combination of satire and dystopia that isn't really balanced and doesn't work well. I didn't find it all that funny. I was more disturbed by the exaggerated oversexualization of teenage girls and society's unconcern for their true physical or mental wellbeing. I understand that the novel is a parody of our tendency to glorify teen pregnancy with shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, but I just don't feel that it isn't as pervasive as the author wants us to think. If you watch those shows, the teen mom's lives are never easy and often times pretty miserable. Teen pregnancy is actually on the decline now. The slang wasn't hard to understand. I was expecting something in the league of the Nadsat slang of A Clockwork Orange, where I literally had no clue what was being talked about in the entire first chapter of the work. I was also really annoyed at most of the characters. Melody was super fake and mean to most of the people in her life. Harmony was also fake and spent most of the book blindly following the religion that discouraged her from asking questions or having independent thought. It was a frustrating read for me because both girls are from an oppressive society and both go a very long while without realizing it.

The strength of this book is the disturbing factor. Hearing young kids sing about sex in pretty crude language is just plain creepy. I think the most disturbing moment is a little 10 year old girl at the hospital about to have a baby. That is not right in so many ways. The girl didn't understand the gravity of the situation and it would obviously be detrimental to her physical and mental health for her to have her baby. She didn't have any choice in the situation, was probably raped, and her parents are totally ok with it. It just makes me feel dirty. This scene will stay with me for a very long time.

The state of the characters at the end of the book give me hope for the next installment. It does end abruptly, but I think I will pick up the next book. I hope Harmony and Melody keep growing and become more aware of their situations.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Internet Awesomeness 6

1) More 8in8! I finally got the player to work, so here it is if you're interested in listening to any of their songs. All are awesome, but my favorite is Because the Origami.

They donated over $22,000 to the Berkeley City Music Network in the first 2 weeks that their album has been out. Yay! And they now have their own website. AND their songs have spawned other forms of art, such as fan videos and drawings. Here are two of my favorite videos.

Awesome stuff! I love when art spawns more art. :)

2) This video is NSFW (not safe for work), so don't blame me if it gets you in trouble. It's nominated for a Hugo Award, specifically for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. It's Rachel Bloom singing Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury. The song is cute, catchy, and portrays an amorous and exaggerated love for both the author and his literature. Rachel has loved Ray Bradbury's work since she was a child. She says "The No. 1 thing I am earnestly attracted to his intelligence. Writers are thus the pinnacle of intelligence. While actors are great and awesome, writers literally create new worlds from scratch. What is sexier than that? Personally, I don’t know why every person out there isn’t dating a writer." She posted the homage on his last birthday and even met him and watched the video with him since then. I dare you not to smile at this hilarious, sexy pop sci-fi song.

3) The last video for this week features President Barack Obama mercilessly mocking Donald Trump. He is surprisingly funny and makes Fox and the rest of the birthers look ridiculous. He even pokes fun at himself. This speech is only second to Stephen Colbert's speech in 2006 (part 1 and part 2 if you want to laugh hysterically).

I probably won't be posting too much over the next 2 weeks because school is almost over. One more week and then finals! Eek!