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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Airhead Trilogy by Meg Cabot

Today I pay tribute to one of the founding queens of chick lit, the one and only Meg Cabot. Aspiring writers can only dream of having her level of success. How she manages to churn out such radical books in almost no time at all astounds me. So here's a feature on just one of her many series. The Airhead trilogy has 3 volumes, Airhead, Being Nikki, and Runaway. Here's a longer summary, but bare with me, because I'm reviewing 3 books here, not just one.

Emerson (Em) Watts is your typical high school misfit. She's never been very pretty, her sister laughs at her if she even attempts to put on eyeliner. She has one friend, Christopher, the guy she's played video games with and has secretly liked for forever. Too bad he doesn't seem to acknowledge that she's a girl.

But all that's about to change. One day Em is forced to take her little sister Frida to the grand opening of the new Stark Megastore in SoHo. But while she's there, a bizarre accident happens to her and teen supermodel Nikki Howard, the face of Stark.

When Em wakes up in her hospital bed weeks later, she discovers that she is literally not herself anymore. Supposedly, both she and Nikki died in the accident, but the scientists at the Stark Institute for Neurology have put her brain into Nikki's head. Suddenly, Em is inside the body of the hottest girl in the world.

The company Stark, which has been sweeping the globe with it's Wal-Mart style empire, forces Em to pick up where Nikki left off. She may be a genius on the inside, but on the outside, the world sees her as the same supermodel. She inherits Nikki's career, money, designer clothes, apartment, friends, and fame. Suddenly she has everything she could ever want...except safety.

The company she works for, Stark is out for something, but what? Em learns that she's constantly being watched, and suddenly nowhere is safe. The secrets of Stark begin to unravel, but the more she learns, the more danger she puts herself in. Deadly danger.

As great as chick lit is for us bored females to indulge ourselves in, Meg Cabot adds a sci-fi element as well, which I love. Brain transplants are a recurring theme in the trilogy. She puts in mystery as well, what exactly is the evil empire of Stark trying to accomplish? And of course, being Meg Cabot, she puts in romance. Em may be in love with Christopher, but Nikki Howard throws herself at every guy she sees. This creates some...dilemmas. It bugged me how Em kept kissing like, three different guys, and the whole time she blamed it on Nikki's lustful body. Right. But by the last book, things calm down.

Em's observations of Nikki's supermodel lifestyle and the people who inhabit it are usually witty and humorous. She's truly a fish out of water by the 1st book. By the 2nd one, things get more serious. Em/Nikki is in grave danger, and she teams up with Christopher to try and unravel the secrets of Stark. By book 3, the stakes have never been higher. People are dying, her parents are severely disappointed about things Em can't control, Christopher has turned into some crazed super villain trying to take the company down, and yet she still has to walk in the Stark Angel Fashion show.

The series progressed well, and Cabot's plot is clever and well-written. They were gripping books, though at some points things got a little dull. But things always got exciting again.

Mysterious, romantic, and somewhat creepy, this is a trilogy to check out.
4/5 stars

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Girl Who Was On Fire (edited) by Leah Wilson

Anyone who knows me is well aware of just how obsessed I am with The Hunger Games series.

I have read each book in the trilogy multiple times, check the fan sites daily, have gotten into seriously heated debates on Team Peeta vs. Team Gale, have had dreams about is all true, as much as I hate to admit it. What? They are my favorite-est books in the whole wide world! (No exaggeration.) So naturally I devour everything having to do with it, and that included getting this book, which contains a bunch of essays numerous authors wrote concerning several topics found in the books.

If you are scratching your head right now, wondering, what in blazes is the Hunger Games, I suggest you call a real estate agent so they can assist you in moving out of that rock you've been living under. (Sorry, bad joke.) But these books are hot, and will only continue to grow more popular, with the movie coming out next year. And it's already set to take over as the top movie franchise now that Harry Potter is well, an archive, and once the world sheds its increasingly annoying Twilight obsession. So do yourself a favor and read these amazing books, and at least in a year or so when the movie is huge you can say you were a fan even before the films exploded.

But let's get down to it. The purpose of this collection of essays was to get fans of the series thinking, to expand their thoughts and ideas, and to explore the many concepts found in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Here are the essays:

Sarah Rees Brennan on what makes this series so appealing and good. Jennifer Lyn Barnes on understanding the character that is Katniss Everdeen. Mary Borsellino on how the concept of love played a huge part in the story. Elizabeth M. Rees on the fact that we cannot trust anything or anyone in these books. Lili Wilkinson on the power of surveillance in the Hunger Games. Ned Vizzini and Carrie Ryan on the roles media and reality TV have in the books. Cara Lockwood on the monster-esque creatures and science found in the story. Terri Clark on the crucial role of fashion and appearance in the series. Blythe Woolston on the mental problems the characters face. Sarah Darer Littman on the politics of Mockingjay. Adrienne Kress on the element of decadence in Panem. Bree Despain on community in the face of tyranny.

I found a lot of these extremely well done. There was a good variety of ground covered. Some essays were very light and humorous, others were rather serious. All of these writers had their own unique view points on the philosophy of this thought-provoking series. Even though I felt that some of them were a little long and/or dull at some points, it felt good to read what people who have pondered the Hunger Games inside and out had to say. Each reflection comes from the writer's point of expertise. Political journalist Sarah Darer Littman's essay was one I enjoyed, it talked about the political attitudes of the characters and examined them well. Cara Lockwood's essay about how the science fiction-like creatures in the books was one that was also well done. And of course, Terri Clark and her write-up on style and fashion was also a blast to read. The ones that discuss how the reality TV obsession that both we in the world today and the citizens of Panem share were good too. Essays that talked about the heavier topics are contained in the book as well, and most of these were enjoyably insightful.

Since The Girl Who Was On Fire is not a novel containing a story, there isn't too much to reflect on here within this review blog, so I can't exactly rate it with stars like I usually do in my regular The Bottom Line segment. All I can say is that if you like the series and want to read about what some of today's accomplished writers have to say about it, then go out and pick up a copy.

A good collection of essays on one fantastic series.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

This book is a true music-lovers read. Overflowing with album and song recommendations, any lover of classic sound will eat it up, but any fan of YA lit should like it as well. It's a book you can really rock out to, literally, since it had killer song suggestions. Here's a summary:

It's summertime in Berkeley, California, and 16-year-old Allie is spending it exactly how she wants to: working at Bob & Bob Records on Telegraph Avenue. It's the perfect job for her, since she gets to spend her day surrounded by the thing she loves most in the world: vinyl records. And she's devoted to preserving vinyl music from being killed off by 21st century ways like iPods and online downloading. So she decides to start a blog devoted to classic music and takes on her new online alias: The Vinyl Princess. After all, she can't be the only one out there who prefers LPs to iPod nanos, right?

But big changes are headed her way. Her separated parents are both trying to make new lives for themselves. Her mom's trying to get back in the dating game, and her dad is trying to start a family with a way-younger woman. Her best friend Kit is still obsessing over her ex who cheated on her, and often it's up to Allie to console her. A mysterious yet attractive stranger has caught her eye, a guy who Allie can't help but daydream about. And a string of robberies is shaking Telegraph Avenue, and who knows if Bob & Bob Records will be next? One thing is for sure: it will be a summer like no other.

I will say, I really liked it. Allie is a cool, street smart kid who really knows her music, and it's fun watching her blog become more and more popular. She serves as narrator for the story, and had a refreshingly real voice. I got a sense of her world right away, her and her mom's clutter-filled house made a great setting. Her BFF Kit kind of annoyed me though, because she spends the entire story dwelling on the one guy who did her wrong, though she gets over him, eventually. Her dad was kind of a let down too, they don't have the best relationship ever since he moved in with that twenty-something.

And then there was that mysterious guy who dominated Allie's thoughts, which was a let down because there was another totally nice, LP-obsessed guy right in front of her. I thought it was sweet how he eventually won her over with a mix CD. (The dork beats the bad boy, yes!)

And as a blogger myself, I liked reading about how her blog expanded. The Vinyl Princess' rise to fame really rocked.

The whole Telegraph Avenue robbery thing was kind of obnoxious, since it was so easy figuring out which characters were the thieves. But whatever, it added some action to the tale.

I also mentioned earlier how music lovers will enjoy the novel since Allie describes her favorite music passionately. I might go and look up some of songs she said were great, because hey, I'm always up for new music.

A totally cool novel about the ultimate music insider. Good story, good soundtrack.
4/5 stars

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Magnolia League by Kate Crouch

I was all set to give this book the worst rating I have ever given a novel on this blog, when I got the common sense to check and make sure there wasn't a sequel before I vented my anger via the web.

There is a sequel, thank goodness. Or at least, there's going to be. Otherwise I would have thrown my copy of The Magnolia League against the wall in anguish because the ending was so terrible, it explained nothing. But fortunately, there is no need for this, so the yellow paint on my wall will remain unchipped.

Now that I know that this was only the first book in what could be a series, I can focus on other praise and complaints. I almost stopped reading this book after chapter 1, basically because it opened up with the main character complaining to you about how much she hates sweet tea, and then about a page later, you learn that she's smoking pot. Yeah, not the best way to start a story. But here's what it's really about:

Sixteen year old Alexandria (Alex) Lee is forced to leave her home, an organic farm commune in California, after her mother dies in a tragic car accident. She moves in with her grandmother, who resides in Savannah, Georgia. Sadly for this chunky, dreadlock-dawning hippie, Alex's grandmother is the leader of the town's most prestigious debutante society, the Magnolia League. And the wealthy woman expects Alex to swap her Birkenstocks for Prada heels and give up her boho ways and adapt to the high-class social lifestyle of the women in the Magnolia League. Alex's grandmother lets two young Magnolia girls, the freakishly pretty and privileged Madison and Hayes assist her transformation.

But Alex will soon discover that the Magnolia League is no ordinary stuffy debutante society. It's members have attained their wealth, youth, beauty, and social status by black magic concocted by local hoodoo family the Buzzards. The Magnolia's pay for the spells that put them on top of the social ladder. Before she realizes it, Alex finds herself entangled in the mysterious and magical Magnolia League, but she's about to find out that all the endless glamour comes with a dangerous and deadly price.

I mentioned before that I almost stopped reading, because I found the opening very poorly done. We meet a bitter, pot-smoking Alex and her snuffy grandmother, and then the next chapter is about the strange Magnolia League having a meeting. But I kept pushing on, and it did get better once Alex's past is exposed and we meet Madison and Hayes, who work on her makeover. And peppered in with all the drama going on in Alex's life are hints that the town of Savannah and the Magnolia League aren't quite normal, and that there is something paranormal going on within both. It was interesting learning about the Buzzard family, and how they use old African hoodoo rituals as a family business, selling their spells. I enjoyed Alex's voice narrating the story, and I enjoyed her reactions to the snotty ways of the South, which I doubt was portrayed accurately in this book.

One thing I found annoying was how while some chapters were narrated by Alex, others were narrated by some unknown person when there were scenes where Alex wasn't present. It left me wondering why the author chose to do this. I also disliked the plot, because at some points it seemed to be going nowhere, and then it would pick up again. The part where Alex runs away back to her home in California, only to return back to Savannah, came across to me as an obnoxious plot twist. And I will say again that if there wasn't a sequel coming out, I would say that the conclusion was worse than Lois Lowrey's The Giver, it explained nothing! I felt like the end was very rushed, and too many things happened in the final chapters, and in addition to the black magic, we learn that spirits of the dead are also part of this world, which I thought was pretty weird, and I sadly didn't fully understand it. I also hated how Alex smoked pot, and how doing weed is portrayed without consequences in this book.

On the side of praise, I think the author certainly did her homework when looking up hoodoo rituals and botany. Reading about the bizarre spells is tons of fun, I'm not sure if they are legitimate rituals or not, but if not, Crouch was certainly creative making them up. And the elements of food, fashion, romance, and parties make it lots of fun. All this falls a bit flat though with the sad ending. But once you got into it, it's a gripping story.

Alluring, and both parts fun and tragic, this is a book that draws you in.
3/5 stars