Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Favorites!

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

DJ Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, is not having the greatest summer of her life. She is pretty much running her dairy farm full of cows named after football players alone. She has an English class to make up. Her family is its own brand of strange: her younger brother is borderline mute, her dad has a bum leg so stays in the kitchen and cooks, and her two older college football playing brothers haven’t spoken to the rest of the fam in months. And on top of it all, she gets roped into helping train Brian Nelson - the arch-rival high school football quarterback.

I really truly adore this book. I have been listening to it on my iPod, courtesy of the audio cds from the library, and I remembered just how delightful DJ is. She’s definitely not your ordinary Mary Sue characterization; she has this fresh voice with plenty of simple musings about her own quirks, her family and life in general. Her insecurities with being “built like a draft horse,” having a wacktacular family that doesn’t communicate, not being super smart or popular, and Brian being way out of her league, are all legitimate and relatable worries. She has a slew of admirable traits that I find to be less common in YA “heroines”. She works hard without complaining, she’s humble and quick to forgive, listens more than she speaks, and puts effort into improving her relationships. And of course, you have to give the girl kudos for the gusto it takes to try out for the football team.

I also love that Brian Nelson is so flawed and simultaneously so endearing. He provides a good balance to DJ. He brings out a fun side of her, and teaches her how to talk to solve problems all Oprah Winfrey style, as she would say.

Categorically I’m not sure where to put this. YA, obviously, but a chick book? A jock book? Jick? Chock? I think guys might like it, since it’s not really romantical and DJ’s not uber girly, but certainly not all dudes.

This, along with the two follow-ups The Off Season and Front and Center, is one of my favorite YA series that I’ll continue to read throughout the years. It’s a pleasure to watch DJ gain emotional depth and perspective as she gets older. It’s certainly a coming-of-age book, but not in a Serious And Heavy way. Also, there’s a lot of football in it. Maybe not a selling point for some, but I was eating it up.

Two thumbs way, way up.

Book source: My bookshelf.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Elizabeth Bennet is one of 5 semi-poor pretty sisters who excels at witty verbal lashings, hating Mr. Darcy, and vanquishing the undead. She has painfully obnoxious relatives, most particularly her mother, who has all sorts of truly delightful lines like this:

"I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in- and I am sure my dinners are good enough for her, since she is an unmarried woman of seven-and-twenty, and as such should expect little more than a crust of bread washed down with a cup of loneliness."

The idea is original and funny. England is overrun by the strange plague, Darcy is known for the amount of the undead he has slain, as is Lady Catherine who is considered the most deadly woman in England. The Bennet girls were trained in China in the Deadly Arts, and so they are both the local beauties AND accomplished zombie slayers.

Ever since I saw Shaun of the Dead I have had a secret love of zombie stories. And since, like many a book-loving female, I also love Jane Austen stories it seemed only natural that I would love the blending of the two . . . but I didn’t.

Here is the problem (one of a few), I think: this Quirky Classic spin was written by a man (obviously), and Jane Austen was a woman, obviously, and Seth Grahame-Smith just doesn’t love Lizzy the way Austen did. And while I’m all over the Bennet girls slaying the manky misfortunates on their walk to Meryton, talking of officers and the latest fashions whilst gutting and beheading, I DID NOT like Elizabeth’s constant debate in her mind of whether or not to decapitate just about everyone involved in her life. And I know you’ll say that the whole premise is ridiculous anyway, but some parts were just too out there. The ninjas, the proposal-turned-fight scene, the sexual innuendos. Stupider than necessary. Also, it just didn’t draw me in and make me beg for more, you know?

It was, however, bizarrely entertaining and there were some great one-liners. I hear that Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer are better. Really though, this quirky genre has become old. Enough already. 3 out of 5 stars.

"Miss Bennet, I am quite aware of your superior talent for cutting down the Lord's forsaken flock. I merely mean to spare your gown.' Thank you,' said Elizabeth, composing herself, 'but I should rather my gown be soiled than my honor."

Book source: the local library.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Alex, beautiful and brilliant and totally Bad A, is trapped in his own Gangland and going nowhere fast. Brittany is flawless and rich, but on the first day of senior year is paired with Alex in chem class to work on a project together. Amidst Spanglish and plenty of Misunderstandings, worlds collide when these two realize that perhaps they were MFEO.

**Probable Spoilers to Follow**
Perhaps I'm wrong, though it's a rarity, but I think I'm one of fifteen people on the planet who didn't really like this book. In so many ways it was All The Reasons YA Can Be Ridiculous. I'll tell you what though: That cover - it makes me want a Latino Lover of my own.

Brittany Beauty Queen has a crappy home life, her boyfriend only wants her hot bod, and she never lets anyone get to know the real Brittany. So she's something of a tortured soul, but no one knows it. Alejandro is protecting his family by thug life-ing it with the Latino Bloods, has a major Bad Attitude and secretly wants more out of life. He calls her chica and mamacita a lot, she does a lot of stomping and hair flipping around him to show her annoyance. It's all very angsty.

Then, as if that's not enough original characterizations to blow your mind, enter High School Science Class. Honestly, why did I never use Biology/Chemistry work as my secret weapon when I was a teenager? I think because I never did the, I Hated You When I Was Forced To Be Your Lab Partner But Then I Realized You Were My One True Love thing that I probably missed my shot at happiness in this life.

There's plenty of missumptions, stereotypes, swearing, sexual tension and forbidden love affairs. Generally these are all things I love and try to utilize in my everyday life, but it just felt so forced and trite in this story. While I liked the characters okay by the end, they were cookie-cutters stereotypes of any teen movie blended with no real plot and an anti-climactic fight scene. I think the author was going for a Romeo & Juliet theme, sans the Shakespearean poetry and tragic ending.

Consensus: 2.5 stars out of 5 for my excessive eye-rolling, an overused storyline and heavy situations treated too lightly. But a nice pool read if you have a sexy chicano lifeguard nearby.

Book source: A friend.