Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review #13: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

I've been a fan of the Fug Girls since 2004, my freshman year of high school. Their blog ( is one of the few that I read on a daily basis, and have done so for the past seven years. So, when I found out they were coming out with a book, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. The wait at the library took about two months, but I finally got it yesterday, and I was not disappointed.

Spoiled is the perfect summer read: light, fluffy, funny and smart--and did I mention it's another example of excellent YA lit? It's the story of sixteen-year-old Molly Dix, who, after her mother's death, leaves Indiana to go live in Hollywood with her long-lost movie star father Brick Berlin, and his daughter, Brooke, who is the same age. Unfortunately, Brick is largely absent and Brooke doesn't want any competition for his attention. So while Molly must get used to the luxurious lifestyle of LA's finest, she must also deal with a constant onslaught of attacks from her new sister, who's doing her best to send Molly back to Indiana. She also struggles to maintain her relationship with her long-time boyfriend while fighting feelings for the one normal boy at her new prep school.

The Fug Girls have mastered the art of funny, clever writing on their blog, and Spoiled is an extension of their awesome style. They're good at satirizing celeb culture without being too vicious, and maintain a good level between over-the-top fluff and sweet, real emotions. Molly is a perfect representation of the girl next door caught up in a fantasy land, and she's relatable and real, if a bit too naive. Morgan and Cox create a memorable cast of secondary players as well, including Brick, who has some laugh-out-loud moments, and Molly's crazy classmates, such as a girl named Arugula.

This is a truly entertaining book, although if you're looking for something meaty and deep, this isn't it. It's just pure fun in the form of a very, very quick read (I finished it in about five hours, but I'm a fast reader). It's the perfect summer book--and if you're not already a fan of the Fug Girls, you will be once you've finished it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review #12: The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

The Fifth Woman is part of a Swedish mystery series by Henning Mankell. My mom recommended it as a good summer beach read, so I decided to give it a try. I love the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson, and was hoping that this book would give me some of that dark Scandinavian thriller I was looking for. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations.

It starts out strong: an old man is found dead in a pit in the field behind his house, impaled on sharpened bamboo sticks. Detective Kurt Wallander takes the case, which turns out to be the first in a string of mysteriously brutal murders. Obviously, since this is a mystery, that's about all I can reveal of the plot without giving away too much.

I was really disappointed that the scary and intriguing beginning began to falter and ultimately fail towards the middle. The murderer is really obvious--telegraphed very early on, without any red herrings to divert the reader's attention. Also, the narrative really begins to lag halfway through, and by the last 50 pages I was so annoyed by the slow pace and stupidity of the detectives that I almost jumped ahead to the last page to find out if my suspicions (developed within the first 50 pages) were correct. (They were).

There was also a really strong undercurrent of sexism and homophobia that kept appearing throughout the story, which bothered me and distracted me from the story. For example, while examining a picture of three men, the detective states that one of them must be a homosexual because of the way he's leaning against a tree. Later, the same detective determines that a car witnessed speeding away by an onlooker couldn't have been driven by a woman, because women don't rev their engines. Okay...

So, I probably wouldn't recommend this book. The beginning is entertaining but the narrative doesn't keep up its momentum, which makes it difficult to finish. I'm going to look around for other (better) Swedish crime fiction, of which I understand there is a lot, to get my Larsson-style fix.

Reviews #10-11: Charmed Thirds and Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

So I decided to review these together since they're part of the same series, and unlike most of the other books in the series, these two occur within the same very short time frame.

I read the first two Jessica Darling novels when I was in high school, before the third was published, and must have gotten discouraged by the long request period at the library for the third or simply forgotten about them by the time the next one came out. I came across the third and fourth books while browsing the library for beach reads, and, remembering how much I had enjoyed the first two, decided to give them a try.

And I am SO disappointed I didn't read them sooner! The series' main character and narrator, Jess Darling, is snarky and smart and funny--basically my ideal protagonist. Charmed Thirds picks up several months after book #2 ends (the first two were about her junior and senior years of high school) as she navigates her freshman year at Columbia. She is struggling to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend, Marcus, who goes to school in California, as well as her friendship with Hope, the best friend whose move to Tennessee sparked the series. This book moves really fast, and covers all four years of college, but it never feels rushed or confusing. I think this is mainly because the book's written in the style of a diary, interspersed with emails and letters between Jess and various friends. Fourth Comings starts immediately after Charmed Thirds ends, and this one spans only a week, during which Jess must choose whether or not to accept Marcus' marriage proposal. This book was much quieter and sweeter than the first three, as the whole thing is written to Marcus.

The plotlines of McCafferty's books aren't terribly innovative, but the world she has created is incredibly rich and three-dimensional. Her characters are so believable, and all of them are nuanced and multi-layered, which is hard to accomplish. The best thing about this series, though, is Jess herself. McCafferty has created a real person, someone that you begin to feel like you know, someone you want to be friends with. I found myself getting sad when I remembered that Jess wasn't real, because I came to love her so much. Jess is flawed and has as many (if not more) bad qualities as good, but this makes her just about the most realistic YA protagonist I've ever come across.

The Jess Darling series is honest and raw and sad while still being laugh-out-loud funny--McCafferty captures the beauty of growing up without delving into cliché or sentimentality. She also crosses the boundary between YA Fiction and "grown up" writing very well--I often found myself forgetting that this was supposed to be a YA book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.