Thursday, June 23, 2011

"In Search of Mockingbird," by Loretta Ellsworth

Took me just a few hours to read the entire book, which is a sweet story about a girl trying to feel close to the mother she never knew. The day before her 16th birthday, Erin's father announces his engagement to a woman he's been dating. To soften the blow, he hands over Erin's mother's diary from when she was 16. This only serves to upset her more since her father never talks about his late wife and all Erin has had is her mother's beloved and well-read copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

When she reads in the diary that her mother once wrote to author Harper Lee, Erin decides she needs to meet Lee herself. She sneaks out of the house and takes a Greyhound bus to the reclusive author's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

This road-trip story of a teen girl finding her way in the world was cute and would be a good book for young readers. However, I think the dangers of running away from home and interacting with strangers was really glossed over. The setting is 1986 in Minnesota, so I'm sure it's meant to show that it was more of an innocent time. Still ...

Not a terribly thought-provoking or engaging book, but it was cute.

3.5 stars

"Beauty Queens," by Libba Bray

I've given up on Libba Bray. Maybe I should consider her Gemma Doyle trilogy a beautiful exception to an otherwise clunker of a catalog. This book and her "Going Bovine" were absolutely terrible. And yet, she had a really great story in the "Zombies Vs. Unicorn" anthology. So what is going on, Ms. Bray?

I thought the premise of this book was fun and interesting: a plane bearing 50 Teen Dream beauty pageant queens and their TV crew crashes on an island. The surviving girls have to fend for themselves. What's not to like with this idea? Plenty of room for character growth, plot twists, and so on.

Instead, "Beauty Queens" tries so hard to be funny that it's painfully UNfunny. Every page has at least one footnote to "hilariously" explain the reference to some beauty product, reality TV show, celebrity, etc. The girls are hideously vapid, completely unfazed by the deaths of their fellow passengers, more worried about how they'll shave their legs than how they'll survive the jungle.

Except Bray wants to show that underneath all that, the girls are very intelligent, feeling, suffering from labels society has placed on them. The middle of the book was actually quite good (the only reason I gave the book the two stars), delving into the lives of each teen queen. These sections were written tenderly, each girl's personal story shared with respect and without the cheesy product placements or like, the, you know, like, speech impediments.

Despite their ballgown upbringing, we're expected to accept that they knew how to build huts, filter rainwater, dig an irrigation system and know which jungle goods were okay to eat.

Bray wants the reader to take her characters seriously, but *she* didn't take them seriously. The middle, like I said, was rather lovely. There's no reason that the entire book couldn't have had that tone and still use subtle humor. Instead of making fun of the teens, we could have been rooting them on. However, I had to cheer myself on just to finish the book.

2 stars

"Allison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie Novel," by Madeleine Roux

There's no warning for Allison Hewitt when The Infected crash through the window of her bookstore. In seconds, customers are dead, then reanimating and coming for her. She and a few co-workers manage to lock themselves inside the breakroom--just a reinforced steel door separating them from flesh-eating zombies.

What's a girl to do in the midst of the apocalypse? Why, start a blog, of course!

Allison has found a mysterious, wireless internet connection called SNet, and she writes down everything that happens in the days, weeks, months ahead. Friends are made and lost, love complicates survival, and the living are outnumbered by the dead.

This was a great look at what it means to be on the brink of extinction and how it can either bring out the best or the worst in people. I wasn't sure in the first few pages if it was going to be worth continuing as it just didn't pull me in immediately. I'm glad I stuck with it, though; it was intense, action-packed, humorous, and thought-provoking. No, I wouldn't have made all the same choices that Allison made, but she was likeable, smart, funny, brave, and genuine.

Interesting note: Author Madeleine Roux began this novel as an experimental fiction blog, and it quickly spread in popularity online. Also, she's from Wisconsin. How could I not love her? Can't wait for her next book, out in 2012, "Sadie Walker is Stranded."

5 stars

"Bossypants," by Tina Fey

Let me just say one thing first: I loved Tina Fey long before "30 Rock."

I love funny women, and my favorite sketches from SNL have featured Tina, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler.

But reading Tina's memoir really awakened for me the sense that there are people out there who think women aren't funny. Which, honestly, is just coconuts. The behind-the-scenes look at her making it as an improv actor, a comedy writer and a sitcom actor/boss was a real eye-opener. Acerbic wit combined with an awkward honesty made for laugh-out-loud reading.

I kind of want to transcribe here all of the hilarious parts that made me spit on myself, but I'm pretty sure that would be copyright infringement. And, also, you'd have no reason to go get the book yourself. One excerpt has already made the rounds, "The Mother's Prayer for its Daughter," so I'll share just my favorite part from that:

"And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it."

Seriously, what the hell are you waiting for? Go get this book!

5 stars

"Immoral," by Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is a hell of a writer. The setting, Duluth, Minn., is such an important factor in the book that it's like one of the main characters. The reader can almost feel the bite of the fierce wind blowing off of Lake Superior, can see that hill littered with old houses battered by harsh northern winters.

Another thing Freeman does well is he creates back stories for characters even if we only see that character for one chapter. I loved how he just fills in these blanks and really fleshes out moments that can be as beautiful as they are disgusting.

Detective Jonathan Stride and partner Maggie Bei search for a missing teenage girl, the second to disappear in about 15 months. With the press and public hounding them, they seem to catch the bad guy despite producing any bodies. But not all is as it seems. In fact, just when we think the story has wrapped, we get a flash forward of three years, when everything has changed. Truths are revealed as lies; what was thought to be lies were truths. And the repercussions are great.

I have read one of Freeman's books that is actually fourth in the series before I read this, the first of the series. I had absolutely no problem reading them out of order, and at a recent signing, Freeman encouraged readers to enjoy them in any order. I will most definitely be reaching for the next Stride book.

5 stars