Review: On Grace

Recap: Grace May is both dreading and greatly looking forward to her 40th birthday. The idea of turning 40 is overwhelming for any women in this day and age, but she has a plan. Now that her sons are both going to elementary school full-time, she plans to go back to work part-time. She also wants to get back in shape and make time to reconnect with her husband, Darren, who’s seemed somewhat distant recently.

But then she learns the reason Darren has been distant; he reveals to Grace that he cheated on her a few months back, just once with a waitress on a business trip. Then Grace’s plan for a new job falls apart, and major life-changing news comes down about her best friend, Cameron. In a matter of weeks, Grace’s plan and vision of turning 40 is slipping through her fingers. Everything is falling apart at once. And her inherent need to be perfect isn’t making things any easier. Can she handle it all and persevere? Can she do it if it means changing the kind of person she is and changing her attitude? Is 39-going-on-40 too late in life to make that change?

Analysis: Susie Schnall’s On Grace reveals the spinning mind of a modern-day 40-year-old woman and how difficult it is to balance all of the important things in her life: marriage, children, work, and friends. And for Grace, it’s all about “doing it with grace.” Taken from a first-person point of view, the reader sees the inner workings of Grace’s neurotic mind, and as neurotic as it is, it is completely and utterly relatable. Reading On Grace, I felt so much better about myself, knowing that there are other women whose minds spin and run wild in the way that mine does at times. I think it’s safe to say it’s a woman thing, and Susie Schnall does a nice job of portraying that.

When everything falls apart in Grace’s life, weeks pass in the novel, proving that cleaning up the mess is no easy or time-efficient task. In an odd twist, however, the future of Grace and Darren’s marriage lies in the hands of Darren. That was my one issue with the book; in a book about women and how strong they must be, ultimately the final and most important decision made at the end of the novel is still made by a man. Ultimately, the future of their marriage was dependent on him. But in the end, Grace did have a happy 40th birthday, despite the unexpected, negative turns she had to take to get there.

MVP: Grace’s best friend, Cameron. As much as Grace has to deal with, Cameron has even more. She is easily the strongest woman in the novel, not only putting on a brave face and handling things matter-of-factly, but doing it with a positive attitude and outlook — something that everyone needs, especially in the most difficult of times.

Get On Grace in paperback for $13.50.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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‘Never Let Me Go’ Author Pens First Novel in 10 Years

ishiguroAuthor Kazuo Ishiguro is best known for his 2005 dystopian novel Never Let Me Go, which became a movie starring Carey Mulligan in 2010. But he hasn’t written a novel since then….until now.

According to The New York Times, Kazuo Ishiguro is publishing his first novel in 10 years with British publisher Faber & Faber. Entitled The Buried Giant, the novel is expected to be released next year. The publisher won’t say much about it other than it deals with “lost memories, love, revenge and war.”

Since 2005, the only other work Ishiguro has published was a 2009 collection of novellas, called Nocturnes.

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YA Version of ‘Unbroken’ To Be Published

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 9.28.33 PMHow fitting that the week I post a review of the bestselling nonfiction novel Unbroken, there’s new about the book!

According to Entertainment WeeklyUnbroken‘s bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand has written a young adult version of the book. This adds to the publicity Hillenbrand and Unbroken are already receiving this year, thanks to the Angelina Jolie-directed, Coen brothers-written film version, set to be released on Christmas Day 2014.

In a statement, Hillenbrand explained, “At the urging of librarians, teachers, and parents, I’ve created this edition specifically for younger readers. I’m delighted to bring Louie’s inspiring, exhilarating story to a new generation.”

The YA nonfiction novel is due to be released on Veterans Day, November 11, 2014.

 

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Review: Unbroken

Recap: Louis Zamperini has always and only wanted to do two things — cause a bit of mischief and run. After getting over a childhood bout of mischief, he stuck with running, and by 1936, he ran in his first Olympics, coming in 12th place in the world. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but Zamperini knew he could do better, so he set his sights on the 1940 Olympics. But those Olympic Games never came. World War II came instead, and suddenly the world-famous runner Louis Zamperini was thrust into serving his country.

The story of Louie Zamperini is a true one, and Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken, a compelling work of nonfiction. Unbroken tells the story of the runner turned Air Force aviator whose bomber crashed in the ocean and forced Zamperini to live on open water for 47 days, only to be captured by the enemy and live in several POW camps across Japan. But none of this could break Louie, who not only survived, but is still living a long and happy life to this day.

AnalysisUnbroken is such a breathtakingly incredible story, it’s hard to believe it really happened. Author Laura Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini’s life and the war with such great detail, it feels like we’re there. Never had I fully understood how WWII affected that generation, how it created such American disdain for the Japanese as well as the Germans, until reading this book. Yes, I know that sounds silly, but it’s true.

Hillenbrand takes you there with a certain matter-of-factness in her tone. The book, told from the point of view of Louie, doesn’t express a lot of personal emotion, but the facts and information alone and the bits and pieces of letters and journal entries included in the book help the reader understand what everyone was feeling without them expressing it bluntly themselves. Hillenbrand also informs the reader about Louie’s family members and friends, the people back home in America, and how they were coping with all that was going on.

The book doesn’t end with a heroic climax in which Zamperini arrives back home and all is right in the world. Instead, it keeps going, detailing Zamperini’s quest to become a runner again and his post-war alcohol abuse. We even learn what happened to “the Monster,” the man in one of the POW camps who consistently tortured Zamperini.  Unbroken is real, horrifying, graphic, and inspiring.

Louis Zamperini’s story isn’t that unique. Millions fought, got hurt, captured, killed, or came home in WWII. But Louis Zamperini’s story, told in this way, forces us to realize how much pain and suffering each of those men and women dealt with and makes us thankful for all they did.

MVP: Do I even have to say it? Louie Zamperini, of course. The pain and tragedy he dealt with are unbearable to even think about it, let alone face head on. But he did. And the best part? He made it out okay.

Get Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption in paperback for $15.20.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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Show vs. Book: Orange Is The New Black

When offered an opportunity to do something fun and exciting, it’s hard to imagine what the consequences may be. That’s what got Piper Kerman caught up in an international drug cartel. Fresh out of college, unsure of what she wanted, and ready for an adventure, Piper starts dating a girl involved in drug trafficking. Suddenly, Piper is traveling the world with her lover and ultimately passes along money for her girlfriend. Aware this is not the life she wants, Piper leaves her girlfriend and the world of the international drug trade to get back to a life of normalcy.

But not too long after she arrives back home, Piper learns the drug cartel has unraveled, and she’s one of the many people the feds charge. When Piper finally goes to prison, she’s engaged to Larry, working and living a comfortable life in New York City.

Piper’s is a story many of us are now familiar with, thanks to the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, which shows Piper’s experience behind bars, as well as the backstories of the other women in prison with her. The show is based on Piper’s memoir of the same name, but after having read the memoir, I realized how much the series dramatized Piper’s life.

First off, the show glosses over the fact that Piper was in and out of court for 11 years, while anxiously awaiting her sentence, not knowing how much time she’d have to serve or where she’d be serving it. In some respects, those 11 years of uncertainty are just as sufferable as her 15 months in prison.

In the show, Piper learns within days that the ex-girlfriend druglord who gave her name to police is in prison with her. But in real life, Piper and her ex-girlfriend weren’t in federal prison together at all. Piper doesn’t see her ex until she’s already been in prison for a year and is then transferred to another jail, waiting to testify in a trial. When they meet, they make amends somewhat, but the romance has long since fizzled out and that spark is never fired back up again. Of course the Netflix series would spice things up, but it’s quite far from the truth of what really happened to Piper in prison.

However the anecdotes are the same — Piper’s insistence on running outside, the inmate who’s in love with Piper, the woman who pees on the floor, women having relationships with correctional officers and each other, the missing screwdriver, the going away parties, the yoga instructor, Red. And Larry did write a piece about Piper in The New York Times, but it didn’t mention her being in jail; it just talked about why it took him seven years to propose to her. The memoir also included anecdotes that I imagined and hoped would play out onscreen in the upcoming season of the show.

Having watched the Netflix series first, the memoir made me feel somewhat better about Piper’s life. I was happy to know she didn’t get involved with her ex again and that her fellow inmates weren’t actually homicidal maniacs. But that doesn’t make her experience any less awful. Orange Is The New Black remains a story about life in federal prison, and as much as I enjoyed both the memoir and the series, I would never enjoy spending a year behind bars like Piper did.

Get Orange Is the New Black in paperback for $8.97.

Or on your Kindle for $5.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Divergent

divergentContributed by Alison Kurtzman

One choice can transform you.

Divergent tells the story of Beatrice “Tris” Prior, a sixteen-year-old living in post-apocalyptic Chicago. In this reality, from birth until the age of sixteen, children live with their parents in one of five factions, including Amity – the peaceful; Candor – the honest; Erudite – the knowledgeable; Dauntless – the brave; and Abnegation – the selfless.  Both the story and book begin with Tris expressing trepidation about her upcoming Tris’ simulation test, which will decide what faction she belongs to. Tris is placed in Abnegation,with her parents and brother, Caleb, but feels that she is not selfless enough to belong.

Despite her concerns, she arrives at her test and drinks the serum, which brings her into mental scenarios to help place her. Tris wakes up expecting a result that will calm her, but instead is told the test didn’t work on her. She’s Divergent, meaning her mind works differently from others, and that she is in danger. Jeanne, the Erudite leader, is leading a hunt to get rid of all Divergents. In order to help her, her tester manually enters an Abnegation test result, and warns Tris to choose carefully at the choosing ceremony.

Tris chooses to join Dauntless, leaving behind her parents, and brother, who chooses Erudite. In Dauntless, Tris meets Four, the handsome, recruit trainer and a mutual crush develops quickly. Tris becomes friends with three other Dauntless transfers: Christina, Will, and Al, while making enemies with Peter, Molly, and Drew, the other transfers. With the help of Four, Tris must navigate the grueling Dauntless initiation, all while keeping her secret. When Jeanne finds out about Tris’ divergence, she’s forced into a fight to save herself and her loved ones.

The film version of Divergent was well-done. It stayed fairly close to the book’s plot and didn’t change too much. However, I believe they made a few deadly errors. Firstly, Tris’ relationship with her family was not fleshed out as much as it should have been. Her loyalty to her family and regret for leaving isn’t well explained in the movie, and I think that lessens the importance of a major plot point.

Additionally, while it is explained that Peter, Tris’ initiate rival, is mean and threatens her, he is much more evil in the book. There is an important moment in which Peter physically attacks one of the other initiates, forcing him to drop out of initiation due to his injury. This section was not in the film, and needed to be. While it is gruesome, it establishes Peter’s personality and loyalty – something very important both in the end, and, even more importantly, in the next two books.

While there were not many major plot changes in the film, I think the changes that were made, were poor decisions. It may have helped the film’s flow,  but it will impact the audience’s understanding and feelings for the characters and plot in the next two parts of the Divergent series. My recommendation would be see the movie, but read the series as well, so you get the full story.

Get Divergent in paperback for $5.49.

Or on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Bryan Cranston To Pen ‘Breaking Bad’ Memoir

Spoiler alert: Walter White is not dead. Actor Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad fame, is planning to put his creative energy into another medium: writing.

According to The New York Timeshe’s penning a memoir, which will cover the six years he spent shooting the hit show Breaking Bad. In a statement, Cranston said he plans to “tell the stories of my life and reveal the secrets and lies that I lived with for six years shooting ‘Breaking Bad’.”

Scriber, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is publishing the book. It’s due to come out in Fall 2015.

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