Friday, August 25, 2006

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

I began reading Melissa de la Cruz's earlier book, Fresh Off the Boat, last year and quite honestly couldn't finish it because I felt the writing was so poor. When I first saw Blue Bloods, I was really excited - I love vampire books, and the idea that the blue bloods of New York society might actually be vampires, descended from the Mayflower's passengers, sounded really promising. It sounded a little reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld's Peeps, which I loved. However, when I saw who wrote it , I was prepared to be diappointed. In fact, I thought about not reading it at all.
But I did, and I'm glad I did. The writing was still bad, but the story was good enough that I had to finish it. It was disappointing - I can't help but wonder what the story could have been in the hands of a better writer. Some things, like the vampires' life cycles, aren't explained very well, and most disturbing to me was de la Cruz's tampering with history. In her version, Captain Myles Standish became governor of Plymouth in 1622 for 31 consecutive one-year terms. William Bradford was actually Plymouth's governor beginning in 1621, and remained governor for over 30 years. De la Cruz also has Standish leading party of male Mayflower vampires to look for their fellow creatures at Roanoke in December 1620; the colony of Roanoke had been found abandoned as early as 1590. The Pilgrim settlers would have known of it's demise and had no need to undertake such an expedition 30 years later.
Adjusting history to fit a story is one thing, but not including a note explaining the alterations is much worse, in my opinion. De la Cruz, in her very. very brief note on the text, mentions the "true story" of Roanoke's disappearance in 1590, but does not point out that she altered the date or explain why she did so. She doesn't take responsibility for her misrepresentation of history, and young readers may take her altered version as fact.
Still, the story itself is actually good and is an interesting take on the typical vampire legends. De la Cruz's blue blooded vampires were cast out of Heaven, forced to live as immortals on earth, reincarnation every 100 years and carrying centuries of memories with them. New York high society is run by vampires, and the blood of the student body of the exclusive Duquesne School runs very blue. Schuyler, Bliss and several others are about to to discover their heritage; a new generation of vampires is coming of age (again), but their immortality is threatened by a predator from their past.
This one will definitely appeal to teens, and most won't share my complaints, I'm sure. However, there are definietly better vampire books out there - steer the kids toward Twilight by Stephenier Meyer or The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause instead.

What I'm Reading: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life
On My Bookshelf: Spacer and Rat; Nothing But the Truth

Hazing Meri Sugarman by A. Apostolina

Cindy Bixby just wants some friends. She dreams of being popular, but she knows that's a lot to ask for - she'll settle for friends. But leaving for college changes things, and Cindy actually gets into Alpha Beta Delta, one of the most exclusive sororities on campus. Suddenly, she's not just popular - she's a member of the most powerful organization at RU, and the sorority's president, Meri Sugarman, has taken a special interest in her. After Meri makes her over, Cindy's turning heads all over town - but when she turns the head of Meri's ex, she's in big trouble. Meri won't take second place to anyone, and Meri is one enemy Cindy will wish she didn't have.
For a slightly more mature audience (older characters, some sex, drugs & drinking), Hazing Meri Sugarman is an off-the-wall look at life in a sorority. This one is so over-the-top that I stayed up past midnight to finish it - I had to see how Cindy could possibly get the best of Meri!

What I'm Reading: Blue Bloods
On My Bookshelf: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life; Spacer and Rat

On the Head of a Pin by Mary Beth Miller

I was a little reluctant to read this one because it sounded like such a dark book. Five teens gathered in a cabin after a party - three drunk boys downstairs, one boy and one girl upstairs. And one gun. The time is terrible - the gun goes off, and the girl is dead.
On the Head of a Pin is the story of the aftermath. The shooting is covered up, the unconscious boyfriend drugged and forced to forget what he knows. When the crime is discovered, it will destroy the lives of each of the boys in very different ways.
I was right - this one is dark, and haunting. Michael, the confused and lost boyfriend, is the most touching character, and one who stayed with me even after finishing the book. The writing isn't as strong as it should be - Miller stumbles in a few scenes - but Michael's character is true and helps carry the book through the rough patches.
I booktalked this one to freshmen this morning and got great responses from several freshmen boys.

What I'm Reading: Hazing Meri Sugarman
On My Bookshelf: Blue Bloods, etc.

Honus & Me by Dan Gutman

As a huge baseball fan, I couldn't pass up the Baseball Card Adventure series when I came upon it at the bookstore last week. It's the story of Joe Stoshack, a boy who loves baseball but isn't very good at playing it. While cleaning out a neighbor's attic, he finds a baseball card - a T-206 Honus Wagner, the most valuable baseball card in the world. But Joe soon find the card is special for more than it's monetary value; he can use the card to travel through time. After Honus Wagner shows up in Joe's bedroom, Joe travels back in time with Honus where he gets to watch the 1909 World Series and get some tips from the man many feel was the greatest ball player of all time.
This is a great book for young boys who are sports fans; I have a cousin who would probably love it. The writing isn't fabulous, but the story is so much fun I read it anyway, and I plan to read the others in the series. I can't wait to hear about Joe's adventures with Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Shoeless Joe and Satchel Page.

What I'm Reading: On the Head of a Pin by Mary Beth Miller
On My Bookshelf: Hazing Meri Sugarman; Blue Bloods; A Brief Chapter in the Impossible Life

Monday, August 21, 2006


Gregory Maguire’s twisted novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is set to become a modern classic thanks to the musical based on the story. Building on the one dimensional characters made famous by L. Frank Baum’s original novel and the classic movie The Wizard of Oz, Maguire develops the Land of Oz into a place of political intrigue and complicated alliances. Characters like Glinda the Good Witch, Dorothy, the Wizard and, of course, the Wicked Witch of the West are seen as complete characters with vital roles to play in the history of Oz.
Wicked is the story of Elphaba, a mysterious changeling child born with green skin and a natural aversion to water. An outcast even within her own family, Elphie begins to find her place as a young woman at Shiz University. Her friendships with Animals, Munchkins and her roommate Glinda are cut short by tragedy, however, and Elphie leaves the university and her circle of friends to go underground. Increasingly concerned with correcting the wrongs she sees in Ozian society, Elphaba is caught up in events that will eventually steal her passion and leave her a shell of her former self.
Flipping the familiar story on it’s head, Wicked presents a completely unfamiliar Oz, an Oz where Animals can be exterminated, political alliances forged by magic and trickery, and where the ultimate villain, the Wicked Witch of the West, can be a sympathetic heroine with a fine sense of honor and a true love of justice.

Maguire, Gregory. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the
West. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

What I'm Reading: Honus & Me by Dan Gutman; The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman
On My Bookshelf: An assortment of children's books, including Summerland by Michael Chabon; Victory by Susan Cooper; Hoot by Carl Hiaasen & The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I read most of Dracula in college for an awesome class in Gothic literature, but it was near the end of the semester and I wasn't able to finish it. Since it's been several years, I decided to go ahead and reread this one as part of my League project, especially since Mina Harker is such an important character in the League books. In the movie, Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) is the "leader" of the group, but in the GNs, it is Mina who takes the lead.
This alone is fascinating, after reading Dracula. The (male) heroes of Dracula - Van Helsing, Mina's husband Jonathan, Dr Seward, Lord Godalming and Quincey Morris - are incredibly intent on protecting Mina from danger, even after she has become Dracula's victim. Although she proves early on in the hunt that she is smart and brave, and perhaps better than any of them at deduction and planning, she is shut out of the hunt because she is a woman.
In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, however, Mina is not just the leader; she is a strong, liberated woman who is divorced from her (weaker) husband. Alan Moore takes a character who is forced into a particular role due to the gender constraints of her time and liberates her for the 20th century.
So many other things about Dracula have already been said - the prototypical vampire novel that established vampire legend. Dracula also included the veiled eroticism that so often underlies vampire stories (although Dracula is not a "sexy" vampire). Dracula's attacks on Mina and Lucy Westenra are more like seductions, and Jonathan Harker's reaction to his wife's succumbing to the vampire is reminiscent of a man whose wife has been raped or seduced by another man. It's also worth note that Dracula seems to prefer female victims - the three vampires who try to seduce Harker while he is in Dracula's castle, Mina, and Lucy are all young, attractive women.
As a horror story, I think Dracula has lost much of its punch when compared to the works of Stephen King et all. But it is a mesmerizing story, beautifully crafted through letters, journal entries, newspaper articles and other documents (interesting that two of the greatest horror novels of the 19th century - Frankenstein and Dracula - are both told through letters, journals, interviews, etc. instead of through a traditional narrative. Is this testimony format and attempt to make them seem more real?). This is one of those books that everyone should read for the cultural literacy factor if nothing else- the movie versions of Dracula are so far from the original story (although Bram Stoker's Dracula, the one with Gary Oldman released in 1992, is fairly close to the original story), and Dracula is such a popular cultural figure, that I think everyone should experience the original story.
For another great book about Dracula, check out The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004.

What I'm Reading: The Night My Sister Went Missing by Carol Plum-Ucci (Advanced Reading Copy)
On My Bookshelf: Wicked; In Cold Blood

The Wright 3

Check out my comments on Chasing Vermeer for my general thoughts on these stories. The Wright 3 is a sequel to Chasing Vermeer, and I think I liked it even better. This story is also an "art" mystery, although in this case the work of art in question is the Robie House, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright located in Hyde Part, the neighborhood where the characters live. The book contains some great info on FLW and his work (it inspired me to go track down a couple of books on his work & the Prairie style of architecture) as well as the codes, puzzles and mysteries employed in the first book. I'm looking forward to more books from Blue Balliett.

Balliett, Blue. The Wright 3. New York: Scholastic, 2006.

What I'm Reading: Dracula
On My Bookshelf: Still the same!


I love To Kill a Mockingbird, and I was facinated to learn that, until now, there has never been a full-length biography written about the author, Harper Lee. Just released in May, Charles Shields's work is a facinating look at the life of the author of one of the classics of the 20th century.
For more, read my review in The Hub.

Shields, Charles. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Hold & Co, 2006.

What I'm Reading: Dracula (to continue the League project)
On My Bookshelf: The Night My Sister Went Missing by Carol Plum-Ucci (an ARC for review); Wicked by Gregory Maguire (we're going to see the musical next month) and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Harper Lee was his research assistant).

King Solomon's Mines

I'm finally getting started on my League of Extraordinary Gentlemen project, and it seemed logical to start with the character I knew the least about.
H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quartermain books were incredibly popular in the late Victorian era. At this height of British imperialism, Quartermain's character - an adventurous elephant hunter - would have been an exotic but familiar figure to most Englishmen. Haggard first wrote his books for boys (as he states in his introduction), but they were popular with a large audience of both sexes.
King Solomon's Mines is the most famous Quartermain story, the tale of an adventure into the African wilds in search of King Solomon's goldmines. As I read the book, I found myself thinking how predictable it was, comparing it often in my mind to movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Mummy. What made the book so interesting is that it is the prototype for this sort of adventure story - adventure seekers like Indiana Jones have their roots in Allan Quartermain and his adventures. When Haggard wrote the Quartermain books, this sort of adventure was new and innovative. He was so successful that hundreds of other stories like his have been written - so many that the tenants of the story have become common knowledge to most readers:
1. A group sets off on a dangerous adventure that promises the possibility of treasure, although the group usually has other (non-monetary) motivations as well.
2. The group reaches the destination after a series of adventures only to face a seemingly overwhelming threat.
3. Through luck, cunning and some surprise occurrences, the group overcomes the threat, usually resulting in some humanitarian results (righting past wrongs, helping the helpless, etc.)
4. As a reward, the group receives help finding their treasure, but to take possession, they must face more obstacles
5. The heroes overcome obstacles and take possession of their treasure, but usually this is at some cost - either loss of life, or partial loss of treasure
6. The heroes return home, where few know of their adventures and life continues as usual.
Such is the story of Allan Quartermain. Despite the predictability of the story (which was forgivable, under the circumstances), I found myself drawn in by the story and anxious to finish the adventure. I can certainly see this one holding some appeal for reluctant readers - especially the boys Haggard wrote it for - but the language is, of course, a little dated & a bit flowery. However, I don't think the language is so off-putting that it makes the book unappealing. Rather, it is reminiscent of classics like Treasure Island - the story overcomes the language and draws in the reader.

The Peabody Sisters

This is another great American authors book that I reviewed for The Hub. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time, but I've had trouble getting my hands on it - the library's copy was always checked out. It's out in paperback now, so I just bought my own copy.