Author Archives: Lara Bryn

Movie vs. Book: Wonder

Auggie Pullman is a wonder. The fact that he’s made it to his tenth birthday is a wonder. The fact that he agrees to go school starting in fifth grade is a wonder. That’s because Auggie was born with a number of different medical conditions, resulting in severe deformities in his face. Countless surgeries have helped improve the way he hears, sees, eats and looks, but his face still looks unlike most other 10-year-olds. Until now, he’s been homeschooled by his mom, and he is brilliant. But ultimately his parents decide it’s time to acclimate him to other kids his age, so they enroll him in private school.

The transition is anything but easy. The children claim he has “The Plague” and avoid touching him. They compare him to movie characters who have had their faces badly burned in fires. He is bullied and frankly, psychologically tormented. But because of an orientation that introduces him to a few kids, he finds a friend in Jack Will. Jack Will and a girl named Summer become his two friends in a sea of bullies, until he overhears something one day that makes him think it’s all been a lie.

The book varies in narrators, going back and forth between Auggie, Auggie’s older sister Via, Jack Will, Summer and several others. Each of them are going through a tough time, mostly because of the drama that comes with being close to Auggie. But they love him despite it all. That loves forces them to stand up for him to everyone else.

Wonder is a beautiful young adult novel about friendship, love, kindness, and character over looks, and the movie follows the story closely bringing along with it the emotional impact that book left on my heart. Yes, both the book and movie are tearjerkers. And yes, as per usual, the movie eliminates some things. It cuts out one of Via’s friends entirely. It also decreases the number of narrators (the book has a few sections narrated by some tertiary characters as well) and removes the book’s epilogue. But none of these changes affect the story in any way or the intention behind any of the characters and their actions.

While reading the book, I wondered (see what I did there??) how the movie would pull it off. After all, the book revolves around mostly 10-year-old boys and girls. Would casting agents be able to find as many young actors as was needed for this story? But they did! Jacob Tremblay plays the perfect Auggie and with Julie Roberts and Owen Wilson playing his parents, there’s a good balance of emotion and humor.

It’s also fair to say both the book and movie should not be read and seen by just children or young adults, but by adults too. After all, we could also use a good lesson in how wondrous kindness can be.

Get Wonder in hardcover for $10.19. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Julie and Julia

Recap: As her 30th birthday becomes frighteningly close, Julie Powell realizes she’s unhappy with her life. She has a wonderful husband who she’s been with since high school, but her job leaves her unfulfilled, she and her husband live in a tiny apartment and she has a condition which will likely make it extremely difficult to have children. Doctors continue to push her to have children before turning 30 since that would be her best chance for success, but she’s not ready for kids yet. Her dissatisfaction with her life leads to a fairly irrational decision. She likes to cook, so she will cook….the entire first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julie Child.

She gives herself a one-year deadline, which sounds feasible until you realize that’s 524 recipes she has to cook in 365 days, and most of them are obscenely difficult and…well…French. They include killing, cutting and cooking lobster, boning ducks and hours and hours of stewing in ovens and stovetops. The challenge is beyond difficult. She has no choice but to employ the help of her husband to buy groceries and meat. She invites friends over to enjoy the food. She keeps a blog which suddenly has readers she feels she must entertain and please. The media picks up on her blog, and Julie’s Julie/Julia Project blows up across the nation. All this happens as her friends deal with the trials and tribulations of love and lust and while Julie’s own marriage takes a backseat to her goal.

Each chapter is also interspersed with bits and pieces about the life and love of Julie Child. Her loves — like Julie — are both cooking and her husband. Much like Julia Child learning to cook at age 37, Julie is also on a search to find herself and does after quite a bit of time and hard work.

Analysis: The movie Julie and Julia is a decent adaptation of the book, cutting back and forth between Julie (Amy Adams) and Julia (Meryl Streep) as they find themselves through food. The movie includes much more of Julia Child’s story as she works to publish her first cookbook. (Right from the start, the movie acknowledges it’s sharing the stories of two different books : Julie Powell’s Julie and Juliand Julia Child’s My Life in France.) Because the movie has more Julia, it therefore has less Julie than in the book. Her fertility issues are not mentioned in the movie, nor are the side characters (Julie’s friends) and their crazy love lives. Those cuts help to make the movie a little more upbeat and uplifting and better parallel the journey of both Julie and Julia.

The best parts about both the movie and memoir are how funny they are — Meryl Streep portrays Julia Child impeccably, and Amy Adams is great at bringing Julie’s frustration, rage, determination and humor to life. Both also end in a more moving way than you might expect, but the movie’s end pales in comparison to the book’s final pages. Powell’s powerful writing about Julia Child’s death and what she ultimately learned through this journey moved me to tears and made clear that this challenge was about much more than just cooking and writing about it; it’s about the journey we all find ourselves on, and sometimes you just need to force yourself to take the first step.

Get Julie and Julia in paperback now for just $3.35.

Or get it on your Kindle for $7.99.

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‘Pretty Little Liars’ Author To Debut First Adult Fiction Novel

the-elizas-9781501162770_hrShe’s already published dozens of books, had them adapted for television and became a huge bestseller, but now Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game author Sara Shepard is set to release her first adult fiction novel.

According to Entertainment Weekly, The Elizas is about a debut novelist (sound familiar?) named Eliza who claims she was pushed when she was found at the bottom of a hotel pool. Her family assumes it was just another failed suicide attempt. In an effort to prove them wrong, Eliza begins to investigate her own death and find that her life and character’s life are intertwining. Memory loss from the accident doesn’t help either.

Creepy, huh? Shepard knows a thing or two about creepy thrillers.

The Elizas is set to be released on April 17th. EW has an exclusive available excerpt now.

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Review: Damned Good

51cm3a39uul-_sx311_bo1204203200_Recap: The Rookie has one goal and one goal only: to be the best at poker. He studies. He practices. He takes good care of himself. He sleeps. He eats right. He wants to crush the best of the best at their own game. He does it until he doesn’t. This poker novella follows the Rookie and his friend the Kid as he takes down other players and finally crumbles in a massive loss.

Analysis: But the story is about much more than just poker. It becomes clear through layered writing and metaphors that the Rookie is using his poker to find himself, to perfect himself as not just a player but as a person. That’s all well and good until he ultimately crashes, which lends himself to feeling like a failure in every respect.

The writing of Damned Good is pretty damned good itself. With flowery details, the words give off an almost sonic poetic vibe, as though you can hear the novella being read to you. While it does incorporate a good amount of poker jargon, it’s remains easy to follow even for those unfamiliar with the game.

The fact of the matter is the book is relatable to anyone who’s been through something intense, dramatic and shift-causing.

MVP: The Rookie. As much as he’s able to keep it together is as much as he’s unable to do so. The Rookie is all of us at our core — hard on ourselves and striving for the best.

Get Damned Good now for free on Amazon

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Review: In the Studio with Michael Jackson

81goiajvzasRecap: He’s a Grammy Award winner. He’s worked with Quincy Jones. And you’ve probably never heard of it. Bruce Swedien is an audio engineer who’s worked in the music business for almost 60 years, and he was the primary sound engineer on Michael Jackson’s records from 1978 to 2001. When I found this book inside a more arts-oriented local bookstore, I thought Oh my God, I MUST read this. As a big Michael Jackson fan, I knew I would appreciate it. And appreciate it, I did. From the anecdotes about the star (they recorded him on a dance floor so MJ could dance while singing and the sound of his feet would remain on the record to make it feel more “Michael) to the photos (handwritten thank you notes and editing suggestions from the icon himself!), this book is chock full of fun information that would entertain any Michael Jackson fan.

The second half of the book focuses more closely on audio engineering and therefore would likely be most appreciated by those who work in that field. For anyone else — myself included — it was too technical for me to understand and not explained well enough in layman’s terms. That’s not to say the book got worse as I continued to read it, but it certainly became more textbook-like in its approach.

Anaylsis: As I already mentioned, I loved the little anecdotes about Michael Jackson and everything that went into making his big albums, including “Thriller.” I made it a point to listen to the tracks as I read the sections of the book that discussed them in detail. It heightened my awareness of the layering and production of the music and proved how complex and highly-skilled Michael Jackson and his team really were.

The book, however, was terribly written. It didn’t seem as though it was ever formally edited. There were grammatical errors as well as whole sections copied and pasted directly — appearing word for word in several different parts of the book. It was clear that Swedien wrote most of it himself, which is fine, but he is certainly more geared to audio engineering than writing. Parts of it were hard to get through for these reasons and because of the engineering jargon used that was above my head and never fully or well explained.

Get In the Studio with Michael Jackson in paperback for $16.97. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $19.99.

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Review: The Bookworm

51mmaglqrll-_sx329_bo1204203200_Recap: She’s lovingly called “The Bookworm” by her friends, but Lara Klimt is more than just a nerdy bookworm. She’s a Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion who suddenly finds herself attempting to solve a mystery that landed in her lap — a mystery dating back to the 1940’s during the rise of Adolf Hitler. She must listen to six recordings from a then-famous actor and playwright who — unbeknownst to her and…well…most people — was secretly a British agent reporting to Winston Churchill. All this coincides with her being asked to interview the U.S. President live on Russian television.

If something smells funky, it most likely is. Lara works to unravel the mystery of these tapes, trying to figure out how it connects to today while also trying to keep her distance from the man who sought her out for the Presidential interview.

AnalysisThe Bookworm packs a punch similar to that of a Dan Brown novel. Similarly it uses a quasi-historical fiction plot mixed with thriller that sees our heroine attempt to solve a mystery by using her mind more than her actions. Combine that with the back-and-forth between the 1940’s and present day and The Bookworm has all ingredients in the recipe for my favorite kind of books. It held up until the last third of the book. Maybe it was my own personal lack of knowledge of Britain’s role in WWII or maybe it was the abundance of foreign character names, but eventually I got some of the storylines crossed and was confused as to the intent of some of the characters.

The end seemed to wrap up rather quickly and the reconciliation between Lara and her ex seemed far-fetched, especially after the novel made it clear from the beginning that he was never kind to her. I would have preferred to hear more from the WWII-era tapes to better understand how everything came together.

MVP: Lara. Her brilliance still shines throughout the novel — albeit maybe not in the romance department. Even when she seems unsure of how to crack the historical case, she realizes what she needs to do to achieve a breakthrough. Her mind is steady and her bookworminess pays off.

Get The Bookworm  in hardcover for $17.07. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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‘Fire and Fury’ Forces More Print, Causes Confusion

methode2ftimes2fprod2fweb2fbin2ff3b86ff8-f2d7-11e7-a480-969f697997eaAfter portions of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, detailing life inside President Trump’s White House were made public, publishers moved up the release down of the book. Now according to The Guardianit’s sold out practically everywhere. Sales have gone through the roof in stores, online, in ebook format and audiobook format to the point where publishers have ordered an extra million copies to be printed.

None of this is a surprise really, considering it includes not-so-subtle President Trump bashing. But what may be a surprise is how much sales of Fire and Fury are impacting other books…that include Fire and Fury in the title.

According to NewsweekFire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945 is seeing a spike in sales. So is Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia. While some of these authors assume that people have simply confused their books for Michael Wolff’s, some admit these titles popped up online as suggested books based on their purchase of Wolff’s Fire and Fury.

Either way, the authors are grateful, with one even explaining “I’m gratified that more people will read a book about the horrors of war, what it does to human bodies and the difficulty of even the most well-intentioned leaders (which Trump certainly is not) in maintaining their moral commitments in wartime. With a dangerous, unstable and deranged demagogue controlling the greatest armed forces the world has ever seen, I can think of no better time to reflect on these issues.”

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