Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gossip Girl: Only in Your Dreams by Cecily von Ziegesar

I'm afraid that my time with the Gossip Girl series has come to an end with the 9th installment of the books. We follow our favorite over-privileged kids to summer break. Jenny Humphrey is in Europe on an art tour with her mom. She will be heading off to boarding school in the Fall. We do not hear any of her exploits in the book, except a GG post that she was spotted dancing on a table, which is neither here nor there.

Blair goes to England in hopes of spending some quality time with Lord Marcus. He is far too preoccupied with his cousin Camilla. Blair gets so fed up that she leaves England and returns home. Unfortunately, after all the money she racks up, including 10,000 pounds for a wedding dress and a pricey ticket to New York, Blair's mother makes her get a job.

Blair gets hired by designer Bailey Winter to do costumes for Breakfast at Fred's, the movie she and Serena auditioned for in the last book. She switches her fantasies from Audrey Hepburn movie star to behind-the-scenes fashionista. Later on, she moves yet again, this time into the Breakfast at Tiffany's apartment with Serena. Blair starts a new romance with downstairs neighbor and lawyer Jason, though she shows signs of missing Nate. We never get to find out what the deal was with Lord Marcus, whether Camilla was his kissing cousin or if he really had a fiancee or secret wife.

Serena is playing the Audrey role in Breakfast at Fred's. She sucks at acting and becomes frustrated that she wasn't instantly perfect at something. After they become roomies, Blair schools Serena in the fine art of Audrey Hepburn. Other than that, Serena lusts after co-star Thaddeus Smith, who is obviously gay.

Nate is doing manual labor on his coach's beach house, which was the only way the school would let him graduate after stealing coach's performance enhancing drugs. He meets a townie named Tawny. They talk, he brings her to the movie's wrap party so that everyone can mention how tacky she looks. Then she goes off to do things with Chuck Bass, things we never want to know. Nate also misses Blair some more.

Vanessa gets kicked out by her rock star sister and moves in with boyfriend Dan. She is doing filmography for Breakfast at Fred's but gets fired on her first day. The director disagreed with her style, namely focusing on ice melting in a glass instead of people talking. Then she gets a job as a nanny for the brothers of Blair's stalker and likely future sister-in-law.

Dan's storyline is my favorite out of all of them because Dan is the worst. He is working at a stupid indie bookstore where the sellers are purposely rude, because they're just that cool. He meets a blonde girl, Bree, who is looking to read Siddhartha, then one thing leads to another and they are doing naked yoga. Naked yoga is not a euphemism, by the way. Dan is hiding his fitness exploits with Bree from Vanessa, while also pretending he does something other than smoke and write awful poetry around Bree. Dan eventually breaks it off with both girls, but his creepy hippy father invites Vanessa to move in, so that situation isn't changing anytime soon.

And, just so I don't have to think up a closing paragraph, here's an example of Dan Humphrey's poetry, which was good enough to be published in the New Yorker:

Pure love. Pure lust. Trust trust.
Buddha was no Jesus.
Neither am I.
I'm just a guy.

Okay, it's not the entire poem. It still sucks, though. Dan Humphrey is, again, the worst .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Insatiable by Meg Cabot

I was surprised to enjoy Insatiable, Meg Cabot's newest adult fiction venture. The good kind of surprised, like a birthday party, not the bad kind of surprised like mass genocide. I have actually read several of her books and pretty much hated them all. I keep trying her writing because it feels like I might like it, but alas, I am not fond of typical chick lit. Insatiable, it turns out, is not typical chick lit.

The story starts with dead women have been found in New York. They are all of Eastern European descent. All the bodies have been drained of blood. Nobody can identify any of the women. These murders attract attention from the Prince of vampires and from the Palatine Guard, a group employed by the Vatican to destroy evil creatures. They both travel to the city to put a stop to the killing.

In the main story, Meena Harper is living a fairly average life (For a chick lit character). She writes for a soap opera called "Insatiable" and lives with her unemployed brother Jonathan and a chow-Pomeranian mix dog named Jack Bauer (After the "24" character). The ordinary girl has an extraordinary secret: she can see how people will die. She warns people of what she sees, but still considers the ability to be a curse. It doesn't make her very popular. Her high school nickname was the "You're Gonna Die" girl.

One night, she is walking Jack Bauer when she encounters a man. The man saves her from a savage bat attack. She cannot see his future. They meet again later at her neighbor's party. He turns out to be Lucien Antonescu, prince and professor. She falls for him and he falls for her, and they get together for some ooey-gooey good old-fashioned baby-making, except without the baby. Too bad that Lucien is the Prince of Darkness, the son of Vlad the Impaler and ruler of all vampires.

Meena, not a big fan of vampires in the first place, has recently become overloaded with bloodsuckers. She loses a promotion to her rival, the witchy Shoshona. Shoshona is proposing a vampire storyline to compete with the top-performing soap, "Lust." Meena doesn't just hate them because they cost her the head writer job. She considers vampires to be misogynistic. They tell women over and over how much they want to kill them and the women swoon because of all the restraint. Honestly, she has a point there. Finding out that her new boyfriend is a vampire is more than one person can take.

Fighting on the other side is Alaric Wulf. Alaric works for the Palatine Guard. He hates vampires because of what they did to his partner, Martin. Vampires ripped half his face off. He has also seen what vampires do to the people that they supposedly love, using them as living drink bars before moving on to someone with more blood and maybe coming back after the victims recover. Vampires use their hypnotic powers to make victims think that they are in love. Alaric thinks that is the true attraction between Meena and Lucien. It actually makes their romance a little creepy because you cannot be completely sure if it's two-sided love or just hypnotized victim lust and lustee.

It comes down to an all-out vampire war for the throne. Of course, I'm not going to give away the ending to the book. At least there's plenty of gore and violence to balance out the schmoopy love-making scenes. This was definitely a fun book to read, perfect for summer trips or the beach. There are traces of Twilight for grown-ups, but Twilight doesn't come close to this. Insatiable has vampires setting up private equity firms to seize control of the media and promote anti-aging products and services. Insatiable has a vampire hunter who loves luxury hotels and Betty and Veronica comic books. In my opinion, this makes Insatiable vastly superior to Twilight in every way imaginable.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

The Sisters Grimm tells the story of almost 12-year-old Sabrina and her 7-year-old sister Daphne. Ever since their parents went missing, the girls have been bounced around the foster care system. At the beginning of the book, they are being taken to stay with a woman claiming to be their grandmother. The only problem is that Grandma Grimm died before either girl was born. Or at least that was what their parents said...

In actuality, Sabrina and Daphne's parents lied to protect them. The Grimms, related to the brothers Grimm of fairy-tale fame, are charged with keeping order in the town of Ferryport Landing. Fairy-tale creatures, or "Everafters" as they prefer to call themselves, came to America to escape opression. Soon, humans began to converge and the everafters lashed out, fearing the same opression. Wilhelm Grimm had a witch cast a spell keeping all the everafters in Ferryport Landing as long as a member of the Grimm family still resides in the city, a spell that will endure until the last Grimm dies.

Because of this spell, the Grimms aren't exactly the most popular family in town. Grandma Relda Grimm, however, takes it upon herself to investigate strange fairy-tale encounters. Someone planted a beanstalk, a giant climbed down and smooshed a farmhouse. Mayor Charming (As in PRINCE) tries to dissuade the Grimms from getting involved, making him the prime suspect. They form a theory that Charming lured the giant down to destroy the farmhouse because he is trying to buy up property and rebuild his former kingdom. After their grandmother and her friend Mr. Canis are taken by the giant, Daphne and Sabrina, plus Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream have to work to save her. They enlist the help of Jack the giant killer, now employed at a Big & Tall clothing store. Still, though, even though it seems they have the answers, everything is not as they think it is.

As I mentioned before, I like fairy-tales and retellings of fairy-tales. Thise series seemed like it might be fun. I definitely enjoyed the appearances of characters from stories and books, like Beauty and the Beast arguing at the Mayor's Ball and the three little pigs serving as police officers. There were some fairly poignant moments, such as Sabrina's little breakdown. She admits that she is afraid her grandmother will abandon her like her parents did. Sabrina was difficult to like at the beginning of the book, but I understand that she had good reason to be suspicious of the adults in her life after all she had been through. Daphne was adorable throughout the book. I'm not sure if I will continue the series, and if I do, it probably won't be until after Cannonball Read is over. This was still a pretty good book for children.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gossip Girl: Nothing Can Keep Us Together by Cecily von Ziegesar

In the eighth installment of Gossip Girl, the senior kids are all preparing to graduate from high school. After the shakedown of the last book, Blair and Nate have broken up. Serena and Nate are now together because they want to protect Blair's feelings. If they had just hooked up in the last book, then Blair would be humiliated. Therefore, Serena and Nate pretend to be in a relationship.

Blair actually has a lot on her hands. In the last book, she found out that she made it into Yale right before she discovered S and N together. She decides to move out of Vanessa's apartment and into the Yale Club. There she meets Lord Marcus. I was excited because Lord Marcus was actually in the "Gossip Girl" show and he turned out to be having relations with his stepmother. So we'll see how that turns out.

Other than that, Blair ends up giving the graduation speech as she wanted after Serena drops out of the running. Unfortunately, Serena steals the show some more by landing the lead in a remake of Breakfast at Tiffany's called Breakfast at Fred's. If that wasn't bad enough, she shows up late for graduation in the same Oscar de la Renta suit as Blair and has the nerve to look better than her!

Moving on to my favorite storyline ever, Nate cannot stop crying. Seriously, the boy just cries and cries. He later takes his coach's Viagra and I really wish that was a plot in the television show because it was the stupidest thing ever.

Vanessa started a relationship with Blair's stepbrother Aaron in the last book. Now she is hooking up with both Aaron and ex Dan. It goes like that for a while, then she breaks up with Aaron. Dan takes it as a sign that they are in love forever, so changes his graduation speech to some really dumb stuff about love and taking the road less traveled. Like a true Humphrey, he cannot just say that cliched stuff and he actually defers admission to college, the idiot.

Finally, Little Jenny Humphrey and her very big boobs visit several boarding schools. In the end, she makes some portraits of her family by smearing wine and coffee on a canvas. Surprisingly, she gets into a school with a good arts program. Off she goes to start her own spin-off series.

And, that's how yet another Gossip Girl book went. These books are seriously trashy and I cannot imagine wanting an actual stupid and hormonal teenager to read this stuff. Yet, it's all very addicting. I was going to read the box set I got on clearance and then maybe the last book because I wanted to find out who Gossip Girl actually turned out to be. Alas, I heard that her identity is never revealed, so I will just finish up with #9, Only In Your Dreams and be done with the series.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cum Laude by Cecily von Ziegesar

(Side note: When I tried to do an image search under "Cum Laude," the search engine warns for adult content, which makes me want to say, "Really?" I think that particular expression is on the banned list, so instead I will say, "Is that affirmative?!?")

College is supposed to be a time of self-discovery. At Dexter College, the school's (original) motto is inveni te ipsum, "Find yourself." We are introduced to a motley crew of five college students as they encounter each other as roommates and on the orientation camping trip. Shipley and Eliza, Tom and Nick are roommates, they end up being grouped together for the trip, they steal a van and wind up at Adam's doorstep.

Shipley is attending Dexter just to upset her parents. Her brother Patrick attended Dexter and subsequently dropped out and dropped off the face of the earth. Shipley is pretty and blonde. Pretty much anyone male is in love with her. She took up smoking and chewing gum just because her parents don't smoke or chew gum. I think she's kind of an idiot and her name is dumb.

Eliza is the counter-culture feminist. She dresses mostly in black and hates Shipley. Poor Eliza throws herself at a guy and can't snag him because he is "saving himself for Shipley." Eliza actually becomes friends with Shipley and I thought their friendship was kind of adorable.

Tom is buff and rich and snobby. Of course, he immediately hooks up with Shipley. Later, he recruits the college's Grateful Dead cover band to take him on a trip into the world of drugs. We're talking a week-long ecstasy bender followed by a night of ether huffing, all so he could paint a deconstructed picture of naked Shipley with a Macy's bag on her head.

Nick is a stoner. He loves Shipley even though she doesn't see him at all. As mentioned, he spurns Eliza because he is holding out for the blonde boy magnet. One wants to quote Heath Ledger (God rest him) in 10 Things I Hate About You: "What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?" Nick has this whole zen thing and idolized a nature freak he went to boarding school with, and he builds a yurt (It's a tent-type thing) on the school grounds, partially because of the nature thing and partially so he doesn't have to see Tom and Shipley hooking up.

Finally, Adam got a full scholarship to Dexter but wasn't able to get a dorm. He doesn't participate in the college experience as much as the rest of the group. Adam falls in love with...hmmm, can we guess? Anyways, he thinks that his love is the twuest wuv of all and that she will eventually leave Tom and get with him. Shipley actually always thinks about Adam and getting with Adam and scenarios where Adam and Tom fight over her, and that kind of makes me hate Shipley. If you like Adam so damn much, then break up with Tom and get with Adam! You can't have both, no matter how blonde and pretty you may be.

There are two non-student characters that come into play. First is Adam's adopted sister, Tragedy. Tragedy is apparently the ethnic Jenny Humphrey because every time she is mentioned, so is her tall and well-developed body. I immediately worried that the story would end with Adam and Tragedy getting together, but thankfully that never happened. Tragedy cheers Adam on and livens him up a bit. Her voice even plays in his head trying to get him to loosen up.

Remember Shipley's brother, Patrick? He actually never left Dexter. Patrick is homeless and scrounges for food in dumpsters. When he spots Shipley's Mercedes, which had once been his, Patrick starts to take it out for joy rides. It's easy because their family has a habit of leaving car keys on the right front tire (Who does that?!?). Patrick ends up making friends with Tragedy, who tries to help him whenever she can.

Honestly, when I was reading the big dramatic moment near the ending, I was nearly in tears of sad times. Thinking about it, though, it's actually really funny. It involves a raccoon coat and a shotgun. I thought this book would be Gossip Girl in college. I was getting a little nervous because of all the scandal, sex, and other juicy tidbits. Gossip Girl makes these kids look like a convent. There are minor scandals and several instances of sex, but it's all a bit lackluster. I like more dirt.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

I like comedy. I like Wes Anderson and "30 Rock," and I like to think that I have a decent sense of humor for someone from Ohio. Don't judge me based on the fact that my parents love Larry the Cable Guy and other humiliating things, a trait which I am praying is not genetic. Sometimes, I think that I take my sense of humor too personally. When I go out with a group of friends to see a movie, I am worried about how they perceive me based on when I laugh and which jokes I laugh at. I want to show that I really get a joke, you know? I get that joke wa-a-ay more than you ever could hope to because I'm wittier and smarter than you.

Basically, I am highstrung and paranoid until I eventually calm down and go with it.

That brings me to I Know I Am, But What Are You?. This is an autobiography from Samantha Bee, Most Senior Correspondent on "The Daily Show." It's broken up into several essays. I love that in my autobiographies.

At first, I didn't think the book was particularly funny. I was worried that there was something wrong with me. What if I no longer have a sense of humor? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the tales of Bee's childhood. I came close to laughing out loud, but never quite reached an audible chuckle, giggle, or guffaw.

As I read, though, the book got better and better. By the time I reached the chapter where Bee's cat tried to get it on with her head, I was cringing and laughing at the same time. There was quite a lot of cringing involved, as well as a lot more laughing. I really don't have a problem with any of the essays, all of which are at least mildly amusing, several of which are downright hilarious.

I Know I Am But What Are You? explores everything from the awkwardness of May-December romances, which result in couples thinking that your mother is your lesbian lover, to Bee's ability to attract strange penises. I love reading about people's lives. Yet, they are often boring. Anyone who can put a funny spin on working at a frame store is a hero in my book.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri

Oh, kids these days, with their Justin Bieber, roller skatey shoes, and deals with the Devil.

I remember a dream I had when I was about six years old. I was walking down the street and minding my own business when I was suddenly accosted by Satan himself. He summoned me to a balcony, apparently just to scare me. Then I woke up. That was one of my most vivid dreams as a child, the other being a Care Bear that allowed me to fly, but that is irrelevant to the book in discussion.

Another Faust is the story of Nicola Vileroy and her young wards. They are all very gifted children who she adopted when they were babies. At least, that is the story everyone outside of the family knows. The truth is that she came to them when they were all 10-years-old and made a bargain. She would give them what they wanted, and in exchange, she would have their souls.

Victoria is pretty much the most horrible person imaginable. We find out that her father gave her to Nicola, and no one can really blame him for that. She is ruthless and power-hungry. Her gift is "cheating," reading minds. As she bargains more, she gains an army of insects to do her bidding and spy on everyone at all times. Valentin is a charismatic ladies man. He can turn back time over and over with the use of a pocket watch.

Belle has low self esteem. She gave up her soul to be pretty. In addition to being pretty, she is cursed with a really bad smell that keeps everyone away. In order to get Belle, though, Nicola had to take her twin sister Bice. Bice did not want to bargain, so they had to alter her mind so she doesn't remember any other life. Bice has the power to hide, hiding in time and staying still for long enough lengths to learn countless languages.

Another child, Christian, also had to have his memories removed. Christian had been living on the streets of Ireland with his father, forced to steal just to eat. He has the power to steal, and when he touches someone, he can steal their smile or hand-eye coordination.

The kids are all moving to New York to start at the Marlowe School. Victoria has her eye on the Marlowe Prize, and immediately sets to work annihilating her opponent Lucy. Belle is assigned to get close to Thomas, and starts to fall for him in spite of herself. Valentin toys with his fellow students regardless of consequences because of the safety net he has in his gift. Bice just avoids everyone more and more.

The name of the school (Marlowe) and the childrens' last name (Faust) are obviously references to the original Faust story. It was a fairly clean-cut good vs. evil story. Victoria and Vileroy were easy to hate, Bice and Christian were likable. Belle and Valentin, however, were somewhere in the middle. It's difficult to completely like them, but they weren't totally evil.

Getting back to the dream I had, let me just say that I have an overactive imagination. Thinking about how generally disappointed I am with my life right now, I remembered that long-ago dream. What if it really wasn't a dream and Beezlebub had been bargaining for my soul long ago? What would I ask for if the Devil were willing to bargain today? As a good Catholic girl, the Devil makes me incredibly uncomfortable, even in the hypothetical sense.

The entire concept of bargaining with the Devil reminds me of all those Health and Psychology classes I took in high school. Along the lines of smoking and drinking, bargaining is a contingency trap. You get the immediate gratification of your reward, and you don't have to pay a price for an unforseeable amount of time. Still, in the end, you end up having to pay.