CeeCee’s Audiobook of the Month: Lair of Dreams

I’ll start off by stating that Libba Bray is one of my most favorite YA authors. She knows how to spin an adventurous tale filled with young, angsty love and complex characters. Most impressive is her ability to weave dozens of characters into multiple storylines that seamlessly merge together when everything comes to a head. So much is packed into this 600-page tome, but yet I managed to keep it all straight throughout the wild ride of dream-walking diviners, evil eugenicists, dancing Folly girls and underground ghosts.

It took me a while to recall all the players from the first installment, but the author expertly injected brief recaps without bogging down the story. One thing I do remember is that Evie, is positutely obnoxious! She’s a self-serving, unapologetic party girl who loves being the center of attention. Essentially she’s a 1920s Kardashian. There’s a sad backstory involving absentee parents and a dead brother, but I’m not pulling out the world’s smallest violin just yet.

But who cares about Evie (aka Evil) when we can journey with so many other fabulous characters with fascinating abilities? There’s a pretty lengthy cast of diviners to follow–and they are all gravitating toward one place: A creepy underground subway station rife with malevolent ghosts. There’s a number of villains lurking within the waking and dream worlds including a shadow man in a top hat, a veiled woman and cult leaders. Plus there’s Evie, who violates the girl code. But I suppose she’s one of the good guys.

Of all the characters, my favorite is Ling, a half-Chinese girl who walks through dreams. A newcomer to the series, she’s not acquainted with Evie and her Scooby Doo gang of friends. But with her diviner powers, she finds her way into the fold when she meets Henry (one of the gang) in a dream. Together, they explore a strange dreamworld as they pursue their individual quests. It gets complicated, so I’ll leave it at that. But I will say that their unlikely friendship is the best part of this book. Neither of them fit into mainstream society, a relatable struggle for readers young and old.

Then there’s Theta, a very secondary character who deserves her own standalone novel. This multi-talented, wise-cracking Follies dancer is a force to be reckoned with. A survivor of a psychopathic husband, Theta’s a self-made woman who’s willing to sing and dance her way to the top. I admire her loyalty to Evie and Henry, even when though they leave her in the dark throughout most of the book. Rude much!

Despite Evie’s obnoxious gin-riddled antics, I must admit that I was sucked into her budding relationship with Sam, a pick-pocketing con artist with a soft spot for fame-hungry women. When she fakes an engagement with Sam to build her star power, their ruse turns into radio show candy. The brainless masses are hooked and soon the two con artists become the toast of the town at lavish red carpet events. But as they say, what goes up must come down. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching the train wreck unfold.

I could tell you what happens next, but you’ll have to read the book instead. Better yet, get the audiobook because the narrator is positutely jake! I should warn you that it does get rather creepy when the gang wanders into the ghosts’ subterranean lair! This book is much darker than the first, which makes me wonder about the third installment. This will be a tough act to follow up, but I have faith in Miss Bray because she always delivers.

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Beauty Pageants, the Media and Corporate Greed

541919_3911362915034_469792480_n121This post started off as a book review for Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens…but then I ended up going into a tirade about our society’s disturbing obsession with beauty and weight loss.  Read on if you’d like to join me as I shake my crusty old lady cane at the downward spiral of pop culture in our country!

First off, I must tip my hat to Libba Bray for taking a satirical jab at the media—and how our society is still so accepting of archaic, patriarchal customs like beauty pageants. How these things are still accepted in modern times is beyond me. Now dog shows, I totally support. There’s nothing wrong with judging dogs based on good looks and obedience. But women? Call me crazy, but does it seem fundamentally wrong to anoint an “All-American” woman based almost entirely on how well she can sashay down a runway in sequined evening gown and skimpy swimwear?

In Beauty Queens, the author does a bang-up job showing how the teen castaways 9464733were programed by the media (and their equally brainless stage moms) to strive for nothing more than to become the next “Teen Dream.” They were taught to only worry their pretty little heads about being the most beautiful, thinnest shining star at the pageant. I loved watching them evolve from starry-eyed “Teen Dreamers” to survivalist renegades. The longer they were removed from their self-obsessed worlds, the more they were able to see themselves for who they truly were.

Even though this book is about as deep as Wiley Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon, it will get you thinking about everything that’s wrong with the media and corporate greed. I hope it will help teens realize that there’s more to life than what they see on in the mirror.

Admittedly, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life nitpicking my appearance, but now I’m starting to let all that crap go. My first step is to put up my blinders in the checkout aisle. Those magazines that promise us women folk that we can lose 20 pounds in one month can be oh so very tantalizing. Especially when your eyes flit to another magazine cover shaming a slew of celebrities in unflattering bikinis with cellulite dimples on their legs. And right next to that tabloid is a cover of US Weekly depicting “scary skinny” celebs. Too fat! Too skinny! Lose Half Your Body Weight in One Month! Good God, there’s no escaping these anxiety-provoking messages!

Funny how magazines like The Atlantic or The Economist aren’t ripe for the picking at the checkout stands. It’s sad to think that people are more prone to impulse buying a magazine about weight loss and burned-out celebs instead of something more substantial that will challenge their views about the world outside an ULTA store.  

And how come we don’t see these weight-obsessed magazines marketed toward men? It’s 2014, people! Women have come a long way, but the media still wants to keep us trapped in the 1950s mindset. Statistics show that more women are getting college degrees than men. They’re running board rooms, bringing home the bacon and frying it in the pan! They’re running for governor and filibustering for women’s rights (thank you, Wendy Davis!), so should we still be worrying about being pretty to find and keep a man? I think not.  

So kudos to you, Libba Bray, for giving this issue some much-needed attention—and in a very entertaining way no less! Ya Ya Sistas!