October is Beauty Queens, Bullies, Chocolate, and Apples

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Here in New Zealand Halloween has been and gone. We’re finishing up leftover candy, and the kids are arguing over who has to take down all our Halloween window decorations… which were only put up yesterday afternoon in rather a big hurry. Worth the effort though. Despite inclement weather we had about a dozen groups of super-cute little witches and wizards and vampires and fairies knocking on our door, and oohing and aahing over our decorating efforts. There were even a couple of intrepid ninjas, who, being a bit older than the others, were far too “cool” to gasp at our spider webs, ghosts and bats.  But age is no barrier when it comes to wrapped candy and mini candy bars :)

So far as reading goes, nothing in the way of Halloween-appropriate horror, I’m afraid. Hey, I’m a big chicken: bwark!

Stand-outs for me this month were:

beauty queens cover1. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. It’s hard to describe the allure of this book to someone who’s not a fan of choke-on-laughter and snort-out-loud satire. And if you’re not a fan, then you should probably avoid this book: consider yourselves duly warned! A bunch of teen beauty pageant contestants crash-land on an island… and decide that rather than shelter, water and food, their main priority is to keep practicing their talent routines until they’re rescued. Add in some very very large snakes (of the swallow-you-whole variety), a top-secret military base, a sponsor with one helluva agenda and the morals of pond-scum, a conniving pageant director who makes Candice Bergen’s Miss Congeniality character look like Mary Poppins, a flamboyant military dictator with a crush on aforementioned conniving pageant director, and a whole heap of irony/snark, and that sums up the plot. Kind of!

Here’s an excerpt from Beauty Queens:

“Oh my God,” Adina muttered. She knew she should do something here; she just couldn’t remember what. The Corporation’s Miss Teen Dream plane had been flying them to Paradise Cove for the Forty-first Annual Miss Teen Dream Pageant. They were to film some fun-in-the-sun promotional pieces, ride the waterslides, and practice their performance numbers. They had all just arrived in Florida the night before, and that morning, at ten A.M., fifty beaming girls in outfits adorned with something emblematic of their states had boarded the plane. Adina had wanted to put New Hampshire’s famous poet Robert Frost on her outfit, but her mother and Alan had said there were no poets among the judges, and now her dress had an image of the White Mountains that ranged disastrously across her 36DDs. She’d sat on the plane, her arms folded over her chest, hating that she’d been talked into wearing it. Then came the bang and the smoke, the screams, the falling, the exit doors opening, the sensation of tumbling through the air and landing in a mound of warm sand. How many had made it out? What had happened to the pilots, the chaperones, the Corporation film crew? Where were they now?

A voice with a strong twang rang out. “All right, Miss Teen Dreamers! Yoo-hoo! Over here! I’m wigglin’ my fingers for y’all’s attention! Could y’all come on over here, please?”

The waving goddess stood outlined by the smoking metal wing as if she were a model in a showroom of plane wreckage. She was tall and tanned, her long blond hair framing her gorgeous face in messy waves. Her teeth were dazzlingly white. Across the midriff of her dress was a sheer mesh inset of a Lone Star Flag. The girls wandered over, drawn to the command her beauty bestowed.

“Y’all come on down and gather round, horseshoe formation — thank you. Some of y’all can fill in here in front where there are gaps.”

The girls did as they were told, happy that someone had taken the reins.

“Hi. I’m Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, and I’m Miss Teen Dream Texas, the state where dreams are bigger and better — nothing against y’all’s states. I’m a senior at George Walker Bush High School and I hope to pursue a career as a motivational speaker.”

There was polite, automatic applause. A dazed girl beside Adina said, “I want to pursue a career in the exciting world of weight-management broadcast journalism. And help kids not have cancer and stuff.”

Miss Texas spoke again: “Okay, Miss Teen Dreamers, I know we’re all real flustered and everything. But we’re alive. And I think before anything else we need to pray to the one we love.”

A girl raised her hand. “J. T. Woodland?”

“I’m talkin’ about my personal copilot, Jesus Christ.”

“Someone should tell her personal copilot that His landings suck,” Miss Michigan muttered. She was a lithe redhead with the pantherlike carriage of a professional athlete.

“Dear Jesus,” Taylor started. The girls bowed their heads, except for Adina.

“Don’t you want to pray?” Mary Lou whispered.

“I’m Jewish. Not big on the Jesus.”

“Oh. I didn’t know they had any Jewish people in New Hampshire. You should make that one of your Fun Facts About Me!”

Adina opened her mouth but couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Ahem. Dear Jesus,” Taylor intoned more fervently. “We just want to thank you for gettin’ us here safe —”

There was a loud, gurgling groan. Somebody shouted, “Oh my gosh! Miss Delaware just died!”

“— for gettin’ some of us here safe,” Taylor continued. “And we pray that, as we are fine, upstandin’, law-abidin’ girls who represent the best of the best, you will protect us from harm and keep us safe until we are rescued and can tell our story to People magazine. Amen.”

A clever and painfully funny read — I loved it! But then, you all know by now I have a warped sense of humor, right? Could totally see this book being made into a TV series.

until it hurts to stop cover2. Next up is Until It Hurts To Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard. This is a heart-wrenching but hope-filled contemporary YA centering around a teen girl’s experiences with bullying. The bully who made her life a living hell might be gone but her legacy remains, coloring all of Maggie’s expectations, relationships, the way she interacts, the way she views herself. She never lets her guard down, never stops expecting people to turn on her.

This book isn’t about the bullying. It’s about the aftermath, the long-lasting effects of being a victim. It’s about realizing that what people say about you isn’t who you are. And it’s about learning a terrifically hard lesson; that while you’re still stuck in the past, living the nightmare, others around you–even those who bullied you–have moved on.

The author is open about the fact that she’s been bullied and even to this day it affects her deeply. She mentioned in a blog post that she’s frequently praised for how authentic and real her characters sound in her stories, and commented she believes this skill is directly attributed to her past experiences with bullying. She learned to listen hard whenever someone spoke to her, to read between the lines and analyze every word and nuance of tone and expression and gesture. For her it was a protective measure; shoring up her defenses while she waited for that person to turn on her. And this “skill” fed directly into her writing.

I highly recommend Until It Hurts To Stop. It resonated deeply with me, and also with DD — likely for reasons that I won’t go into here. Here’s a link to a three-part series of blog posts Ms Hubbard wrote about why she wrote this book: Bullying: The Problem That Never Seems To Go Away Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3. These posts make thought-provoking reading.

3. What else? Ah yes. The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan. As I commented on my Facebook Author page, who couldn’t love a Regency heroine who deliberately insults everyone and makes a point of dressing appallingly, yet has such dignity and determination? Jane is one of my favorite Regency heroines. Any historical romance by Courtney Milan is pretty much an auto-buy for me.

4. The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand. What is it about the Amour et Chocolat series that makes it so compelling? This addition to the series features Jaime, another intriguing and complex Corey family heroine. And as for the hero, of The Chocolate Touch, Dominique Richard… ooooh la la!  I’ll have to re-read them all to make sure (which will be a singular pleasure indeed!) but this one might be my favorite book in the series so far. I especially loved the by-play between Dom and the characters from previous books in the series — a delicious treat to revisit those characters and find out what they’re up to.

5. The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs. Again stealing from my Facebook page: not usually something I’d pick up based on the back-cover copy but I’m so glad I grabbed it from my TBR pile! A mystery, some fascinating interwoven history, a wonderful romance and an exquisite setting, with the added bonus of some gorgeous recipes, too. A lovely and hugely satisfying read on many levels :) I’m passing this on to my “foodie” mother-in-law who usually reads literary fiction. I think it’ll be a winner on many levels. But it’ll only be a loaner; as this is a book I want on my keeper shelf I’ll be needing it back asap :)

Here’s my full October reading list:

  • Blood of Eden by Tami Dane
  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
  • Raintree: Inferno by Linda Howard
  • Haunted on Bourbon Street by Deanna Chase**
  • The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox**
  • Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner**
  • Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft by Mindy Klasky**
  • My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin
  • How to Date a Werewolf by Rose Pressey**
  • Until It Hurts To Stop by Jennifer R. Hubbard
  • The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand
  • Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
  • Easy Bake Coven by Liz Schulte**
  • Natural Law by Joey W. Hill
  • The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
  • Reboot by Amy Tintera
  • Stalk Me by Jillian Dodd
  • The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
  • Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn
  • Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • Onyx by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • Opal by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • Feyland by Anthea Sharp
  • The Bane by Keary Taylor

**From the Six Times a Charm eBook anthology

Happy Reading!

:-)

M

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