Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book 5 of '11 Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Dust Jacket Description:

"The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again."

Characters: Anyone who has known me long enough will know that I love Libba Bray. But even I was a bit weary of the premise of Beauty Queens. Especially after reading the prologue and realizing it was third person, past tense, a medium Libba has only used in short stories. Starting the book, I immediately realized that it possessed brilliant social commentary. But I was afraid Libba would leave the beauty queens as two dimensional caricatures to make a point about society and the human condition.

Why did I ever doubt Libba for a second? Because Bray manages to pack more of a narrative punch into this borderline campy premise by creating realistic characters. In fact, I was amazed by how many issues Libba's characters' possessed, yet none of them seemed unrealistic or a vain attempt to relate to an audience the author knows nothing of. Each girl grew layers at a reasonable speed, revealing secrets to which everyone can relate. They evolved into real people who's problems struck to the core, even at times where the book was so outrageous that I knew only Libba Bray's brain could construct this.

The antagonists - while seemingly ridiculous - are so blatantly reminiscent of political and societal platforms and campaigns that they became haunting in their likeness to reality.

Libba creates another cast of varied, strong, hilarious and true characters in this story. I don't know how she does it, but she did it again. 5 flowers.

Writing: Libba utilizes a novel structure similar to the TV show Lost, where she delves into each beauty queen's life individually and equally. This is why the narrative thrives and Libba maintains her well woven story so well. The prose isn't as fluid and wordy as it usually is, but Libba does occasionally go back to her roots in depictions of the island. The dialogue is as real and hilarious as ever. Everything is spot on. 5 flowers.

Plot: It wasn't until about the third of the way through the book that I realized how Libba was forming the plot. It's hilarious, superbly crafted and incredibly enjoyable. Some parts may be predictable, but they were still compelling and fun. Libba made me think hard once again about issues like women's rights, authoritative power, sexuality and plenty of other things. Don't come into this book thinking it's either wholly fluffy or completely serious. Libba strikes the balance between the two perfectly. 5 flowers.

End: Did it surprise me? Not really. Did it tie the book together beautifully and make me grin? Absolutely. 5 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description: How can you not love a description that uses the term 'non exfoliated darkness' and mentioned sexy pirates? Honestly. 5 flowers.

Cover: I'm still a bit iffy over the girl on the cover, but I love the arsenal of lip gloss and the Beauty Queens sash. 4 flowers.

Overall: Beauty Queens has an aura entirely different from either The Gemma Doyle Trilogy or Going Bovine. I love Libba even more than usual for her ability to always recreate herself while maintaining rock solid writing ability. Please, go out and read this. It's a fun book that makes you really think.

If you loved Going Bovine and enjoy reading about women's issues, give this one a go. I suspect you'll love it. 5 flowers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book 4 of '11 A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

Dust Jacket Description:

"In a fragile world on the brink of World War II, lovely young Englishwoman Ellen Carr takes a job as a housemother at an unorthodox boarding school in Vienna that specializes in music, drama, and dance. Ellen simply wants to cook beautiful food in the homeland of her surrogate grandmother, who had enchanted her with stories of growing up in the countryside of Austria.

What she finds when she reaches the Hallendorf School in Vienna is a world that is magically unconventional — and completely out of control. The children are delightful, but wild; the teachers are beleaguered and at their wits’ end; and the buildings are a shambles. In short, the whole place is in desperate need of Ellen’s attention.

Ellen seems to have been born to nurture all of Hallendorf; soon everyone from Leon the lonely young musical prodigy to harassed headmaster Mr. Bennet to Marek the mysterious groundsman depends on Ellen for–well, everything. And in providing them with whatever they need, especially Marek, for whom she develops a special attachment, Ellen is happier than she’s ever been.

But what happens when the meance of Hitler’s reign reaches the idyllic world of the Hallendorf School gives this romantic, intelligent tale a combination of charm and power that only the very best storytellers can achieve."

Characters: I love Eva Ibbotson so much because of her ability to make her protagonists three dimensional heroines instead of the flat subservient girls they could be. Ellen is no exception. I was thrilled with her strong sense of self and her stubborn, motherly sensibility. Ibbotson proves that feminism has absolutely nothing against being feminine. However, at certain parts it does seem like perhaps Ellen is too much of a saint. If not so much because of her own actions but because of people's response to them. It would have been nicer if Ellen had some more transparent faults, just as Marek had. Nonetheless, Ellen is a fabulous young woman and I'm glad to see that Ibbotson is still writing about the same kind of heroines.

Marek is also another superb love interest. He's extremely masculine and has huge amounts of integrity. He's compelling as a character but also has his faults. Ellen and he have an obvious chemistry. He's just as much as a protagonist to this book as Ellen is, and they are both strong enough characters to carry the book through. He certainly wasn't perfect. He made a lot of mistakes. Regardless, I still loved his capacity to work hard and keep his word. He's probably my favourite love interest out of all of Ibbotson's.

As for the rest of the characters, Ibbotson brings the same kind of quirky charm I expect from her. The children were delightful, as well as all the characters in both Marek and Ellen's world. Sometimes it was hard for me to gather the age of Leon and Sophie. I wish it had been earlier stated that they're in their mid teens. All of the side characters are brilliant and cheering, even if it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the teachers at Hallendorf.

The characters might not be always fleshed out, but they're fun, quirky, clever and charming. They're perfect for the kind of read I anticipate from Ibbotson. 4 and a half flowers.

Writing: Ibbotson has a beautiful, direct way of putting words together. The setting she provides for this novel is gorgeous. Her dialogue is realistic. The only qualm I'd have is that it's often difficult to follow Ibbotson's stories at the beginning of the book due to different cultures or geographic locations. It becomes easier soon after. Her writing style is old fashioned and gorgeous. It fits her genre perfectly. 4 and a half flowers.

Plot: The pacing was spot on. I was wondering how the book was going to evolve and the direction it went delighted me. Each plot element was woven through the main conflict skillfully. It was a lot of fun following the story and dealing with the conflict both Marek and Ellen were feeling from different sides. 4 and a half flowers.

End: This is the very first time Ibbotson has broken my heart. Then repaired it. Then broke it again. Then repaired it. I actually adore the last couple of paragraphs. It was such a perfect ending. 5 flowers.

Dust Jacket Description: I had another cover and description for my edition of this book. I like this description more. It's clearer. I don't like how they address how Ellen feels for Marek, though. As if he's dependent on her or he's bossing her around. 4 flowers.

Cover: I haven't liked any of the covers I've seen for this book. If the flower is supposed to be the Rosenkurl, it's a pretty, relevant cover. The girl is similar to how I imagine Ellen. It still doesn't hit the mark for me. I do think it will appeal to other people, though. 3 and a half flowers.

Overall: I've been under so much stress lately that I was in desperate need of an intelligent romance with a heavy amount of historical ambiance. A Song for Summer gave me that and then some. 4 and a half flowers.