One-Minute Book Reviews

March 2, 2012

Libba Bray’s Comic Novel for Teenagers, ‘Beauty Queens’

Filed under: Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:08 pm
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Miss Teen Dream contestants try to keep their spirits up after their plane goes down in a finalist for a 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize 

Beauty Queens. By Libba Bray. Scholastic, 396 pp., $18.95. Ages 12 & up.

By Janice Harayda

Thirteen beauty queens stumble into literal and metaphorical quicksand after their plane crashes on a tropical island in this madcap feminist farce with AK-47s and eyelash curlers. With fish and coconuts to sustain them, the Miss Teen Dream contestants don’t waste time weeping for their dead chaperones, who might have enforced the morals-clauses in their contracts. They keep hoping for a rescue and practicing their dance steps for the pageant, led by the crown-obsessed Miss Texas, until they discover that their island holds secret agents with high-tech offices hidden in a volcano who may work for their corporate sponsor.

As they try to outwit the men with walkie-talkies, the contestants have time to explore their varied sexual identities – straight, gay, transgender or uncertain – with the frankness of Miss Illinois, who dislikes having to declare an orientation like a major: “I am straight with a minor in gay.” Their tale sags in its last third under the weight and predictability of the wrap-ups of all the subplots — each involving a character who sees that she must be true herself, no matter what her unenlightened parents or friends think — and a deus ex machina in the form of a ship full of TV-show pirates.

But Libba Bray satirizes worthy targets along the way, including corporate greed, identity politics, and sexual double standards. And the contestants’ stories coalesce into a tidy theme expressed by Miss Nebraska. “Maybe girls’ need an island to find themselves,” she says. “Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching so they can be who they really are.”

Best line: “My platform is Identifying Misogyny in American Culture.” From the “Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page” about Adina Greenberg, Miss New Hampshire, a high school journalist who entered the contest hoping to expose how it promotes “the objectification of women.”

Worst line: “Taylor had heard enough. She emerged from the jungle like a Kurtzian goddess.” In these lines, Bray is writing from the point of view of Taylor Hawkins, Miss Texas, a pageant obsessive who shows little evidence of having read anything but I’m Perfect and You Can Be, Too, a self-help manual by a Miss Teen Dream winner who resembles a Southern-fried Sara Palin. It’s hard to believe she would see herself in terms of a character in Heart of Darkness.

Published: May 2011

Furthermore: Beauty Queens is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the young-adult literature category. Some critics have called Beauty Queens a “satire,” and it does satirize contemporary follies, but its intentionally over-the-top aspects give it more in common with farce. The novel is the fifth by bestselling author Libba Bray, who lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Learn more about Beauty Queens or buy a copy from an independent bookstore in the author’s city.

Janice Harayda has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews recently was ranked one of the top 40 book blogs by Technorati and top 40 book-review blogs by Alexa Internet. It was named one of the top blogs in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the sidebar to the right of this review.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
http://www.janiceharayda.com

March 16, 2010

Fake Book News #8 — Lindsay Lohan Sues Amazon

Filed under: Fake Book News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:05 am
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Lindsay Lohan sues Amazon for selling bio of dead NYC Mayor John Lindsay, saying people associate “Lindsay” with her. http://bit.ly/LinSUIT

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

February 26, 2010

Fake Book News #7 — Study Shows Books Are ‘Better Than a Placebo’

Filed under: Fake Book News,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:40 pm
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Harvard Medical School study shows books are “better than a placebo” at easing stress.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

February 14, 2010

Fake Book News #6 — Amazon.com Offers Low APR Financing on Coffee-Table Books

Filed under: Fake Book News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:28 pm
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Amazon, hoping to lure back alienated customers, offers low APR financing to qualified buyers of coffee-table books.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up, 140-character news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

February 12, 2010

Fake Book News #5 — Malcolm Gladwell Honored by New Chia Authors Line

Filed under: Fake Book News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:27 pm
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Chia says success of Chia Shrek and Chia SpongeBob inspired its new Chia Authors line: Series begins with Chia Malcolm.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

February 11, 2010

Fake Book News # 4 — FDA Says Americans Consume Too Many Books With Metallic Covers

Filed under: Fake Book News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:32 pm
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FDA says Americans consume too many books with metallic covers: Urges pregnant women to “limit or avoid” Dan Brown novels.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

February 10, 2010

Fake Book News #3 — World Bank Seeks Bailout From James Patterson

Filed under: Fake Book News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:54 pm
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World Bank, running out of money, seeks $800 billion bailout from James Patterson.

Fake Book News posts on One-Minute Book Reviews satirize American literary culture, including the publishing industry. They consist of some of the most popular of the made-up news items that appear on Janice Harayda’s FakeBookNews page on Twitter. To read all the tweets in the series, please follow FakeBookNews (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

May 25, 2009

‘Death Takes a Holiday’ – A Play Asks, ‘What If for Three Days Nobody Died?

Filed under: Classics,Plays — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:07 pm
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Broadway came before Brad.

In the play that inspired Meet Joe Black, Death learns the power of love

Death Takes a Holiday: A Comedy in Three Acts. By Alberto Casella. Rewritten for the American Stage by Walter Ferris. Samuel French, 151 pp., $7.50, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Like Blithe Spirit, Death Takes a Holiday is one of those supernatural comedies of the 1930s and 1940s that lifted spirits lowered by the Depression and World War II. Whether the play would have the same effect in the age of swine flu and Afghanistan, I have no idea (though the producers of Meet Joe Black, a 1998 adaptation that starred Brad Pitt, apparently thought it would provide a welcome diversion from the Clinton sex scandals).

But in some ways Death Takes a Holiday has lost little of its appeal since it opened on Broadway two months after the stock market crash of 1929. Weary of “always being misunderstood,” Death suspends his activities for three days and takes on a human form to find out why people fear him. He conducts his experiment by dropping in on the castle of an Italian duke and, after gaining the nobleman’s consent, passing himself off to its residents as the visiting Prince Sirki. The project goes awry when Death falls in love and sees the flaw in his gambit.

“I gave myself life, not knowing the force that is in life, nor the force that is in love,” he laments.

Death’s ardor is returned by a young woman who must decide, as the end of his stay nears, whether love is stronger than death. And if answer seems obvious, Alberto Casella invests it with more suspense and interest than you might expect. Unlike Blithe Spirit, Death Takes a Holiday isn’t mainly about glorious repartee – it has heart and a seriousness of purpose. It is the unusual play about death that is funny and entertaining but doesn’t trivialize its subject and has an ageless message.

Early on, the as-yet-undisguised Death explains to Duke Lambert why he must don the garb of a prince:

“I’ve found that very few mortals can bear to face life as it really is. It seems to them stark and forbidding, like the outlines of my face, until Illusion softens it with her rosy lamp.”

Death has clearly learned a lesson that eluded the many of the leaders of companies that lately have ranged from Enron to AIG – that the real, however frightening, has a beauty that illusion can’t match.

Best line: Quoted above: “few mortals can bear to face life as it really is.”

Worst line: Major Whitread, a soldier in a medal-covered uniform Foreign Legion uniform, tells Death/Prince Sirki (also called “Shadow”): “I’ve been awfully anxious to meet you, sir.” The line isn’t bad but suggests one of the contrivances of the play: A legionnaire turns up, seemingly out-of-the-blue, to offer the perspective of someone who has seen death at close range.

Published: 1924 (first Italian production), 1929 (first Broadway production).

Furthermore: Death Takes a Holiday is available from the Samuel French online store. The Broadway play inspired a 1934 movie with the same title and the remake Meet Joe Black, which I haven’t seen.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 23, 2009

Prairie Home Companion’s ‘Pretty Good Joke Book’

Filed under: Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:49 am
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A sequel to "Pretty Good Jokes."

“Hard to believe that he beat out a million other sperm.”
- From the Pretty Good Joke Book

On the Saturday children’s reviews on this site, I’ve said that joke books can make wonderful gifts for children, especially for 5-to-9-year-olds. But joke books can also be good gifts for adults.

One that might appeal to many families is the Pretty Good Joke Book (Highbridge, 2000), introduced by Garrison Keillor, which collects hundreds of the jokes told on the “Joke Show” segment of Prairie Home Companion and has had a variety of sequels and editions, including one on CD. All entries were wholesome enough for National Public Radio. (Even the “adults-only” and “totally tasteless” sections look like monuments to good taste next to the workof comedians like Denis Leary and Jim Norton.) The jokes fall into 30 categories, including bar, insult, lawyer, religion, musician, yo’mama and Iowa and Minnesota jokes. And though some trade on the sex-role or other stereotypes found on any drugstore greeting-card rack, it’s hard to fault those that anyone might have occasion to use, such as: “Hard to believe that he beat out a million other sperm.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

December 10, 2008

What’s the Difference Between Wit and Humor? (Quote of the Day / Ambrose Bierce via Drew Gilpin Faust)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:56 pm
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Critics often distinguish between “wit” and “humor” in analyzing comic novels and other literary forms intended to amuse. What’s the difference? Drew Gilpin Faust writes of the American journalist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce in her recent This Republic of Suffering, a 2008 National Book Award finalist www.nationalbook.org/nba2008.html:

“Ambrose Bierce styled himself a wit, not a humorist, emphasizing the sardonic and cutting intent of his newspaper columns and stories. ‘Humor is tolerant, tender … its ridicule caresses. Wit stabs, begs pardon — and turns the weapon in the wound.’”

Gilpin Faust cites Roy Morris Jr.’s Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company (Oxford University Press, 1995) as the source for Bierce’s quote.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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