Sunday, March 29, 2009

Snarklet: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Marisha Pessl

Pessl apparently wanted to show off her education with this exceedingly erudite first novel. Unfortunately, she must have napped all the way through her writing classes, since she does not seem to have noted that when one is writing a mystery, one does not spend the first 200 pages dillydallying with introduction...or citing one's sources - real or imagined - in parenthetical asides. And pop quizzes at the end of the book? Sooooo passé.

Despite my dog's heroic efforts to save me from the horror of Pessl's exceedingly long-winded and tragically hip prose, I slogged on to the end and finally - after a month of monotonous struggle - finished reading the thing. I really shouldn't have bothered. Pessl's writing is affected, pretentious, and vain, and none of her characters are even remotely likable. They are rich, brilliant, and disaffected nearly to the point of nihilism. Yawn. Bret Easton Ellis did it better in Less Than Zero, and with much less verbosity.

Like Ellis' first novel, Pessl's freshman opus has also been optioned. I find that mind-boggling in the extreme, but it does support my theory that most film execs have the mentality of rabid ducks. I wish the producers luck.

And a much better screenwriter than Pessl is a novelist.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bras & Broomsticks

Sarah Mlynowski

Scale of 1-10:
Pros: Mlynowski's sentences do not suck, and she does a decent job of setting scene and showing her characters to the reader.
Cons: Mlynowski actually plagiarizes Spiderman (yes, the comic book superhero) and gives us a main character who is not only shallow, self-absorbed, immature, and stupid, but arrogant about it. As well, the implausible device of a high school "fashion show" in which everything has to be choreographed and danced a la the Corny Collins Show drove me up the wall, not to mention the incredibly predictable outcome.

Synopsis: 14-year-old Rachel wants 4 things out of life: popularity, fashion, hot guys, and boobs, and she isn't much concerned with earning them. So when she finds out her younger sister is a witch, she immediately begins scheming to use it to her advantage. Despite repeated and very stern warnings from the girls' mother (who naturally used to be a witch but decided to forgo her powers years ago), Rachel convinces her little sister Miri to put a spell on her so that she can dance and be in the fashion show her high school puts on every year. A more lame device does not exist in the entire annals of teen fiction, but that's what we're stuck with, so here we go. And on a personal note, I would like to say that a) I am very tired of books written in the first person, and b) I will never again purchase any book whose cover proclaims it "Screamingly funny," courtesy of Kirkus Reviews. Those Kirkus folks obviously have painfully low standards and a vastly differing definition of "funny" than the one I use.

My take: OMG, how did the totally awesome sparkly green suede shoes my mom told me I could not have end up on my feet? I thought I wore my crappy Docs to school today - how weird is that? You know what, I don't care; I wanted these shoes more than life itself - or maybe big boobs - and now they're mine! If I gave much thought as to why, that'd stress out the few brain cells I have that have not yet atrophied from non-use, so nevermind. This is my 2nd best friend, Tammy. She uses scuba diving hand gestures for everything, which is totally not weird and does not make her a social outcast in high school, at all. I'll just borrow Tammy's phone to thank my mom for buying me the shoes even though she said I couldn't have them, and we couldn't afford them, and even though I can't remember actually putting them on at any point in the day today, and Tammy has never seen them before in her life. To any normal teen, that might send up a red flag, but you know what? I totally deserve to have these shoes, so I don't care.

Oh, man, my mom says I have to come home right now, so I won't get to go have pizza with all the cool kids. One of them invited a friend who invited a friend who invited a friend who invited Tammy, so we're in! Only I can't go, because my stupid mother said I have to come home. My very, very best friend, Jewel - the one I call Bee-Bee, for Best Buddy, which totally isn't annoying to read at all - is one of the cool kids now, but she totally blew me off when she became one, and we never hang out anymore. This was totally my chance to use Tammy to get close to Jewel - and all the other cool kids, of course, of which there are many, many superhot guys, one of whom I deludedly tell myself is going to take me to Spring Fling this year. So as you can see, I really need to go have pizza and pretend I'm a cool kid too. Too bad my mom is so unreasonable.

So like, I get home, and it turns out my little sister Miri is a witch, and she magicked up the shoes for me. Awesome. My mom is a witch too, which totally sucks, because all this time she's been making me study and stuff, I could have had excellent grades, clear skin, trendy and expensive clothing, fabulous hair, and boobs. I really want all of those (except for the grades part, really, because what's the point of that?), so I'm really mad that not only does she expect me to get all of them the old-fashioned way, but she forbade Miri from getting them for me either. Something about how "with great power comes great responsibility," the laws of the universe, and rule of three or something, blah blah blah. Doesn't she realize that only losers do things the old-fashioned way? Jeez! I am so mistreated. You know what? I'll con Miri into doing them for me, anyway. She totally owes me on accounta I'm such a wonderful, caring big sister. I'll guilt her into doing it for me. And while we're at it, we'll break up my dad and his new fiance, whom we both hate. What good is magic, if you can't totally use it for personal gain? Consequences, schmonsequences. Who does my mother think she is?

So, cool: I got Miri to cast a spell on me, and now I can dance! Yay! She refused to do a boob spell, but I'll get her to do one later. Look at all that junk in my trunk! Watch it jiggle and move and shimmy and shake! I can moonwalk! I can dip and vogue, and I don't even have to practice or try or anything! I rule! I tried out for the fashion show my school puts on every year, and I won a place! Now Jewel will have to pay attention to me again and stop calling that other girl in the fashion show her Bee-Bee. I'm her Bee-Bee, darn it, not that cow who actually has to practice dancing. Shuh. Oo, and boys are talking to me! Hot, cute, popular boys! It's the Spring Fling for me, baybee! All I have to do is break up my dad's wedding, which should be pretty easy, now that I've convinced Miri we should do it. Or rather, she should do it, since she's the one with the power, and I'm way too busy with all my new, popular friends and dance rehearsals to bother helping. I know I promised, but what I want is more important, and anyway, I have a dance to cajole an invite to, and pizza to eat with the cool kids. My little sister likes books and learning and working hard, so it's not like she has any right to expect me to help her with it, no matter what I promised her I'd do. And ugh, why is stupid Tammy bothering me all the time? She actually thinks I'm going to hang out with her and her other stupid loser friends instead of practicing my hot dance moves all the time. And okay, I know she's my friend and all, but you know, she's pretty goofy, and her hair is really lame, and she can't dance, and neither can any of the other girls I used to call my friends back before I got cool, so it's really embarrassing that they expect me to slum and hang out with them. I mean seriously, how would that look to Jewel and the rest of my cool posse? I just can't do it. I'm sorry, but it just does not befit my new status as Dancing Queen. Plus, I'm having guy issues, because Raf, the guy who is supposed to ask me to Spring Fling, just isn't paying the kind of attention to me that he should. I mean seriously, doesn't he get how hot I am and that I have moves? What is wrong with him? And my dad is just not cooperating with Miri's spells. He's supposed to fall out of love with his wife-to-be and fall back in love with my mom, but it totally isn't working, and if he gets married the weekend of Spring Fling, it is totally going to crimp my style. I can't be in two places at once, and my school dance is waaay more important than any stupid wedding. Where are his priorities, for crying out loud?

Okay. So my dad is finally in love with the right woman and blowing off my stepmother-to-be. Raf finally asked me to the dance, and the fashion show is in less than a week. Of course, Tammy figured out that I'm a beyotch and hates my guts. It kinda sucks, but I got bigger fish to fry, so while it sort of upsets me that she doesn't think I'm totally awesome, I don't have a lot of time to think about it. Miri's mad too, because I've been blowing her off and not keeping any of my promises to her, but you know, whatever. I have a dance to plan, my father's wedding to destroy, and a stepmother-to-be to frame for it. Wait. That's The Princess Bride. But you know what I mean. Life is too good to worry about the little people.

Oh noes! My mom found out about the magic and undid all of it! I can't dance! I have zits! My father called off his wedding, but Mom knows it's because we put a spell on him to love her, so she took that off too, and now my father is getting married the day I have Spring Fling. How inconsiderate. But I can't think about that now, because I have to get to the Fashion Show and shake my booty on the catwalk. I'm kinda nervous about doing it without the magic, but whatever. I can't back out because the girl who planned it said she'd kill me. I've been practicing for forever, so I'm sure it'll be totally cool and nothing embarrassing or awful will happen, right? Right!

Well, that plan took a dive. I very predictably destroyed the entire fashion show. Literally. Like, the set, the dresses, the catwalk, everyone. I even caused the girl leading us all to break a leg or something. I mean, I humiliated the heck out of everybody, not just myself. Didn't see that coming from the moment I got cast, did you? So now all the cool kids totally hate me, Raf probably doesn't want to speak to me ever again, let alone dance with me, and Jewel turned her back on me when I needed her to tell me everything is going to be okay. It's the worst day of my whole life. And my mom guilted me into fixing the mess with my dad, so now I have to re-plan the wedding Miri managed to destroy. Which means I'm totally going to miss Spring Fling, so I may as well get my dad back together with my stepmother-to-be and get the wedding back on. Which Miri and I do, and even though my new stepmother was a real snot nearly the whole book, it turns out she's really nice and just wants us to like her, and Tammy totally forgave me and came to the wedding anyway, so even though I'm not a witch and everything went wrong when I tried to manipulate the world to my will, all's well that ends well. Which is good, because it turns out there's the tiniest chance Raf might actually still like me, and there are more books in this series, which means that I totally have at least 3 more books (to date) in which to finally learn that self-centered manipulation does not fly (or that there's more to life than looking good, having big boobs and great hair, and hanging with the in-crowd), so why bother to learn it now? Oh, Miri...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cross My Heart & Hope to Spy

Ally Carter

Loved it. Adorable read. Carter is knockin' it outta the park with her Gallagher Girls series, and I can't wait for the next one, Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover. Stay tuned for the full squee. :)

Currently Reading: The Poison Apples

Lily Archer

Solid so far.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Currently Reading: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Marisha Pessl

OMG, YAWN. It's not a good sign when your dog destroys the book you're reading and you feel a sense of relief about it. The last time my dog chewed up a book I was reading, it was John Grisham's The Client, and I felt exactly the same way, like, "Oh, thank GOD, I don't have to waste anymore of my life wading through that DRECK." And back then, I was only 7 pages away from the ending. I'm currently on page 156 of Pessl's 514 page first opus - in hardcover - and I could kiss my dog for risking his digestive track to save me from the horror. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite as thorough as he could have been, and the damned thing is still readable. As I am a glutton for literary punishment, that means I must keep reading. But I don't know how much longer I can last. I've already reached the skip-mass-portions-of-text angry reading phase, and generally when that happens, there has to be something about the text to motivate me - an oft-repeated word or gimmick I can distract myself by counting its number of occurrences, for example. Unfortunately, Pessl isn't annoying in that way. I could count constructs in pretention, but the universe doesn't provide a number that goes that high, so I'll just have to keep pushing through the jungle of holy-crap-does-this-stink-or-what until I can't take anymore.

See you then.