Friday, May 27, 2011

Review for Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

From bestselling, Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray, the story of a plane of beauty pageant contestants that crashes on a desert island.

Teen beauty queens. A "Lost"-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to emall. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the plots from Drop Dead Gorgeous, Austin Powers, Mean Girls, Lost, and Lord of the Flies. Whip until nice and fluffy. Stir in equal parts Bollywood, Boy Bands, Pirates, An Evil Corporation, Crappy Parenting, Reality TV, Miss Teen USA pageants, and commercials aimed at teens. Next add 4 cups Teenage Sexuality (all types), 2 cups Feminism, 1/2 cup Identity Issues, 1/2 cup Self-Esteem Issues, 16-Teenage Beauty Queens (all types. Just make sure one is much more intelligent then the others), a handful of henchmen, a handful of open-minded hot guys with British accents, one hot eco-"terrorist", one crazy-go-nuts dictator, copious amounts of satire, and 1-20 oz. bag of Sarah Palin. Stir until well blended. Batter will be slightly lumpy. Pour into cupcake pans (cuz cupcakes are all the rage, yo!) Bake for: 35 minutes. Let cool.

Frosting: Mix equal parts Sunshine, Love, World Peace, Sparkle Ponies, Sequined Dresses, Cute Shoes, Makeup, GRRRRRRRRRL POWER! a handful of sand, one Lesbian makeout session, and one Sex Tape. Whip until creamy.

Frost cupcakes then sprinkle with way too many unnecessary footnotes. Top each cupcake with a maraschino cherry that has been laced with an organic hallucinogen.

Take those cupcakes and dumb them down. Dumb them down again. A little more...

One more time...


Okay, there you have it: the recipe for Libba Bray's Beauty Queens (in cupcake form). Enjoy!

2.5 stars. Real review to be posted after the weekend.


I spent the weekend thinking about what I would say in this review, how I would explain my beef with this book. I want to make it clear, I don't hate Beauty Queens, nor do I like it.

It was okay, overall. I mean, sure, it did have it's moments. Not that Beauty Queens caused me to laugh out loud--because it didn't, especially not after the novelty of the "helpful" footnotes and commercial parodies wore off. They were fun for the first few chapters, then they became an irritation.

Also, I don't particularly care for Libba Bray's brand of satire. At times it was so overdone it only inspired sighs of frustration, eye-rolling and thoughts of, "that would have been funny if" or "that could have been more powerful if" from me. I felt as though I was watching one of those really bad (read: not funny) movie parodies, like Dance Flick, or Epic Movie.

Yes, at times Beauty Queens is that much of a punishment, and then some.

But that's not the worst part. My major problem has to do with the fact that Bray's story had a great foundation. I mean, just read this:

“I’ve been thinking about that book about the boys who crash on an island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.

“Lord of the Flies. What about it?”

You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls?”


“Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.

Sure, it's all a little contrived, but still it's a great jumping off point. Instead of doing anything worthwhile with it, Bray took that idea and made it into a Very Special Episode of The Facts of Life, except way more condescending and a ba-zillion times more preachier--it's not like the main message Bray is pummeling her audience with is new. Girlfriend is preaching to the choir the entire time. And at no point does this book challenge one to think. Beauty Queens thinks for you, because thinking is hard, y'all.

You wanna sell me on something? Give me a chance to think for myself. Show me both sides of the argument. Present me with questions that don't necessarily have an easy answer. Let me draw my own conclusions. Don't incessantly beat me upside my head with your answers, your way of thinking. See, when that happens I tend to lose interest in what you have to say--even if I happen to agree with you--because you clearly think you're superior, that I'm not intelligent enough to come to the right (read: your) conclusion. Do. Not. Like.

And don't even think of telling me that some teenage girls need a book to do their thinking for them, that they need to be force fed the messages contained within Beauty Queens because their parents, their peers, the media has damaged them, tricked them into thinking otherwise. Even if that is the case with some teenage girls, I fail to see how shoving a message down their collective throats--be it negative or positive--is the way to go about building up self esteem, or fixing identity issues.

Moving on...

I don't fault Libba Bray for wanting to make this book funny, because Beauty Queens would have bombed royally had it taken itself too seriously. But like I said earlier, she took the satire, the tongue-in-cheekiness, way too far. Beauty Queens is obnoxious. Beauty Queens is that know-it-all girl that you sort of want to punch in the face because she isn't as clever as she thinks she is; someone ought to bring her down a few notches.

Anyway, because of Bray's lack of control every character has been reduced to a cardboard cut-out of a stereotype. Beauty Queens has two really stupid blondes from the south, a really slutty girl from the midwest, a super sexually repressed girl from the upper-midwest, two minorities, a crazy pageant-head from Texas, A stereotypical lesbian, and a girl who is hearing impaired. Even Ms New Hampshire, whom, might I add, is this story's Marysue, is feminist to a fault, goes around feeling superior to the other girls on the island because she's "enlightened" and they're just a bunch of stupid fools.

There were a few others who had even less going for them. Ms New Mexico, for example, had a tray table embedded in her skull. That was her only defining quality throughout the entire book. I kid you not. *headdesk*

The only character that I found interesting, that had any sort of depth, was Ms Rhode Island. (view spoiler) She's the only character I truly liked; seemed to have her crap together. She's probably the only reason anyone should read this book. Really. The rest of the ladies? Were really irritating and irrational and totally rubbed me the wrong way--go figure.

You know how every chick flick has at least one painfully ridiculous cringe-worthy scene? The sort of scene that makes you wonder how stupid Hollywood thinks women are. The sort of scene that makes you vow to never see another chick flick again, like that random musical number with synchronized dance moves in My Best Friend's Wedding. Or the 'Bend and Snap' scene from Legally Blonde. Or the entire length of the movie Mama Mia? Yeah, this book has that. It ENDS with one of those scenes.

Read this book or not. It's totally up to you. I didn't like it, clearly, but I'm not pleased with a lot of books these days.

P.S. Why is it books meant to inspire and empower women to be proud of who we are, to stop aiming for an an unattainable level of perfection in the looks/weight/personality department, always have MCs that fall in love with men who are perfect in every way? Like, especially their bodies are super beautiful, and the MC can't shut up about how physically beautiful her love interest is. How come female MCs don't fall in love with guys who have great personalities but are lacking in the looks department? Why can't it just be about a meeting of minds? Why do looks ALWAYS play a part in books written for a female audience? Especially when we go around telling ourselves that looks shouldn't matter, to anyone (especially men). Isn't that more then a little hypocritical?

Oh, yeah, I forgot. No one wants to read about ugly people falling in love. At least one of them (*cough* the guy *cough*) has to be super hot.

P.P.S. I'll have you know, starting when I was 12 years old, my parents sent me to a girls camp in Colorado--five summers in a row. No electricity. No cabins. No toilets or showers or mirrors. No boys. Just a bunch of girls forced to sleep in tents with a bunch of other girls their same age. Wanna guess what THAT was like? Hell on earth. Friggin' WWIII broke out every single year! I hated it. Adolescent girls are mean. Like, ridiculously mean, especially when civilization isn't present. You think Lord of the Flies is insane? Take those boys and replace them with teen girls and you'll have a massacre on your hands. At the very least there would be a few violent cat fights. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

This is what I learned from reading Rot & Ruin:

1. Zombies iz people too. So they should be treated with respect, yo. (more about this later)

2. Books containing zombies can be really irritating and boring.

You see, I didn't know this was a possibility. I mean, it's zombies we're talking about here. How could zombies be boring? Turns out all you need to do is add a lame teenage romance and BAM! What really matters (ZOMBIES!) gets shoved onto the backburner in favor of the not-so-important (love story??? Who invited that guy? Alright, I'm out!).

It needs to be said: if I wanted a romance novel I'd waste my time reading the likes of Nicholas Sparks. And that would never happen. Ever. Besides, I picked up a zombie book because I wanted to read a zombie story. Horror, Violence, Decapitations--oh my!

Maberry's story has these things, but not enough to hold my interest. Most of the time we're being preached to by Tom Imura, Benny's older brother. See Tom Imura is a zombie slayer for hire. One of the best. You'd think a katana-wielding slayer extraordinaire would liven things up a bit. But no. No, he doesn't. He just waxes philosophical about how zombies are people too.

The treating-zombies-with-respect-by-not-killing-them-unless-you-have-to thing? Ruined this book. Basically the argument defending this school of thought goes a little like this:

Tom Imura: Pretend you're at a loved one's funeral and suddenly someone you don't know shows up and like defecates on your loved one's corpse. Wouldn't that anger you? Wouldn't that be disrespectful to your loved one and everyone who ever cared about them?

Me: HECK YEAH! Let me at that disgusting jerk!

Tom Imura: These zombies are other people's loved ones.

Me: I totally agree. So sad. :(
Go on.

Tom Imura: Okay, so when you go around decapitating random zombies who are in no way bothering you you're pretty much doing the same thing as that filthy stranger that took a massive dump on your love one's corpse.


Tom Imura: So basically you should just leave all those walking corpses--you know, the ones that totally want to eat your face and make you a zombie--alone. Because if you don't that's the same is defecating on a dead body. Or something.

Me: *laughing hysterically* er...what??? I fail to see the connection. Your analogy is shoddy at best.

Tom Imura: No really, think about it. Zombies have feelings too, as do their loved ones who may or may not be alive after the zombie apocalypse happens. Just leave all those innocent flesh-eating zombies alone, k. Promise? Unless, of course, a family member of a specific zombie hires you to hunt down said zombie for the sole purpose of decapitating them.

Me: If a zombie apocalypse happens I'm going to decapitate EVERY ZOMBIE I SEE. Wanna know why? Because I'm thoughtful. See, if I'm ever unfortunate enough to become a zombie I hope someone would be thoughtful enough to decapitate me and burn my remains to ash. As far as I'm concerned it would be incredibly disrespectful to do otherwise.

I certainly don't want to walk the earth for an indefinite amount of time, rotting away and eating other people. What if I end up being one of those naked zombies? No one wants to be a naked zombie. I'd rather be dead dead then be a naked zombie, or a zombie of any sort for that matter.

Also? Zombies carry disease. A freaking plague. Why wouldn't I want to stop that from spreading?

I have zero desire to finish Rot & Ruin despite the fact I've got only 25 pages to go. Like I said earlier, there is a laaaaaame teenage romance that pretty much hijacks the plot. I probably would just bite the bullet and finish the book if I hadn't had to force myself to get this far. So no, I can't do it Cap'n.

Jonathan Maberry is totally going be among the first to die when zombies attack. Mark my words.  Two stars.