Category Archives: Reviews

Book reviews, including recaps, analysis, and MVP, my pick for favorite character.

‘X-Files Origins’ YA Books Due in January

If you’re a lover of The X-Files and the recent reboot wasn’t enough for you, there’s no need to worry. According to Entertainment Weekly, just after the new year, a pair of young adult fiction novels will be released detailing Mulder and Scully as teenagers in the late 1970s.

The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate and The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos are set to be released on January 3rd and tell the stories of how events in Mulder’s and Scully’s lives led to the professions they entered.

Honestly, I don’t know that adults will be rushing to the bookstore to pick up copies of these books unless it’s for their children. This is clearly the authors’ and publishers’ attempt at trying to pull a younger audience into The X-Files fandom. If successful, it would certainly give young kids something to talk about with their parents. But that’s if it succeeds.

Entertainment Weekly has several excerpts from the new books. 

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Movie vs. Book: The Girl On the Train

Rachel cannot move on from her former life with her ex-husband, Tom. She drinks. She rides the train past his home and stares. She is so depressed that she not only stares at her old house with her former husband and his new wife, Anna, but she also stares at the house a few doors down — the one where a seemingly happy couple lives and reminds her how awful her life has become.

So when Rachel learns that the woman who lives there, Megan, has gone missing, she becomes shocked and then later, obsessed. She cannot understand what would cause Megan to run or someone to do something to her. But soon, Megan’s body is found, and it is announced that she was pregnant when she was killed. Rachel cannot move on from this story and quickly inserts herself into the world of Megan and her husband.

What starts as a story about sad women turns into a thriller and murder mystery. It’s one of hte best in recent years. In fact, it was famously referred to as “the next Gone Girl” when the book was first released last year. That explains why it didn’t take very long to be made into a movie — and with an outstanding cast at that.

Luckily, just like the “Gone Girl” movie, the movie version of “The Girl On the Train” lives up to the book. It follows the book to a tee, even down to the rotating narrators of Rachel, Megan and Anna. Title screens appear throughout the movie to explain whose perspective we’re about to see and during what time it’s happening, just like the start of each new chapter in the book.

The movie of course leaves out a few things including  Rachel sleeping with someone involved in the investigation (probably because it’s too intertwined and mildly disgusting) and Anna’s obsession with being a mistress (also off-putting in the novel). But the movie felt a bit long as it was, and including those plot points that weren’t entirely vital to the story would have only made the movie longer.

For all my worry that Emily Blunt was “too pretty” to play the frumpy, alcoholic Rachel who’s let herself go, Blunt’s acting was exceptional. It’s a role unlike any other she’s played, and it hooks the audience in her character’s first drunken scene. Justin Thoreaux, too, is excellent in his maniacal role, and the movie includes just the right about of suspense and sexiness.

Get The Girl On the Train in paperback for $9.60.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It’s a book I loved so much that I not only read it, I also listened to it to re-read it in preparation for the release of the movie version. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a YA novel that doesn’t read as particularly YA — a story about a boy who, grappling with the death of his grandfather, takes a trip to the small town in the UK where his grandpa grew up, only to find that his grandfather lived in a special home with a magical nanny and peculiar children who all have their own special power or gift. The boy goes on to battle the evil creatures who set out to attack these peculiars, especially after learning that not only was his grandfather a peculiar, but so is he. The fantastical setup of the novel is something that stimulates the mind and fills it with magical imagery and hope that good and weird will prevail over evil.

The movie version of Miss Peregrine starts off the same way but by the end, it takes the story so far off course, it’s practically out of reach. The movie speeds up much of the exposition of the novel, quickly getting to the boy taking his trip overseas. Likewise, not much time is really focused on the home, Miss Peregrine or the peculiars. It feels like the movie is more or less going through the motions, speeding up the story to squeeze it all in.

There are a few odd changes that don’t seem to serve a purpose. For instance, the powers of two of the peculiars are switched. The way the boy enters the world of the peculiars is also a little different from the way it happens in the book. He’s also told outright why certain things are happening, rather than him putting two and two together and figuring it out himself like he does in the book. As these changes happened, they stood out to me. But in retrospect, they are nothing compared to the end of the movie.

In the novel, Miss Peregrine is taken captive by the evil Wight named Barron, but in the movie she more or less turns herself in as a way to sacrifice herself for the children. The novel ends on this cliffhanger as the boy decides to stay with the peculiars, fight Barron and help save Miss Peregrine.

But the movie keeps going for probably another half an hour of additional plot that never existed in the book. I have not yet read Miss Peregrine’s sequel, Hollow City, so I’m not sure what, if any, of the end of the movie may come from that book, but the end of the movie includes a crazy fight scene between the peculiars and Wights, all happening in public with cotton candy and carnivals techno music pumping in the background. The scene feels like it’s jumped in from a different movie. Not only this, but everything — yes, everything — is solved at the end. No cliffhanger. Nowhere to go from here.

There’s little to no room for a movie sequel. Maybe the producers never planned to make one, so they packed it all into this one movie. But as someone who’s only read Miss Peregrine and plans to read the sequels that follow it, it was completely disheartening to see the entire story wrapped up in a tiny bow. The magic of the book is lost in the movie, and there’s nothing peculiar about that. It happens. But it doesn’t make it any less sad.

Get Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in paperback for $7.20.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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Review: The Tenth Circle

circle-500Recap: Trixie Stone’s life and that of her parents turn upside down when she comes home from a party, telling them her boyfriend, Jason, just raped her. Trixie’s father, Daniel, reverts back to the days before he was married, bursting with anger, ready to rage. Trixie’s mother, Laura, is full of guilt, wondering if this ever would have happened had she not had a recent affair with one of the TA’s from the college-level literature course she teaches.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, Jason, an all-star hockey player and student, is found dead days later, after seemingly jumping from a bridge in town. But it soon turns into a murder case, and since the whole town knows about the alleged rape, they are quick to blame Trixie. The question of whether Trixie’s assault was actually rape is replaced by the question of who killed Jason? And unfortunately, the Stones don’t come across as being particularly reliable sources of information.

Analysis: Jodi Picoult is very Jodi Picoult with this novel, weaving the stories back and forth between the perspectives of Trixie, Daniel, Laura, Jason and the detective working the case. Interestingly, she also uses illustrations to show a different interpretation of what’s happening.

The novel is heavily influenced by the symbolism and story of Dante’s Inferno. It’s Laura’s favorite book to teach, and it just so happens to be what she’s teaching when her life starts to fall apart. Together, all the characters seems to be stirring around in their own form of Hell. Daniel is an comic strip writer and illustrator, so he uses his wife’s love of with Inferno to create a comic strip named The Tenth Circle. There are only nine circles of Hell, but Daniel’s personal Hell runs deeper, so he adds a layer. His comic strip winds up being semi-autobiographical and centers on a middle-aged man who must fight his way through ten circles of Hell to save his daughter. Those images are used throughout the book as a metaphorical story within the story.

I love the way Picoult intertwined all these other subplots with the comic strip. I also loved that The Tenth Circle (the novel, not the comic strip) takes place during the winter in cold settings, emphasizing a contrast with Hell.

The problem with the book is its ending. It’s fairly anti-climatic and predictable with one very obvious line foreshadowing the answer to the “whodunit” in the murder case. It also ends, more or less, with the climax and no resolution. During the middle section of the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. After all that build, the ending felt disappointing for a story otherwise so well told.

MVP: Daniel. He must face his past to save his future, and while the metaphors and symbolism are heavy and obvious, they work. He does what he must to save his family, and while he has a dark side, he keeps it in check.

Get The Tenth Circle in paperback now for $11.68.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

Get The Hopefuls in hardcover for $17.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99. 

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

harry-potter-cursed-child-poster**Spoiler Alert: This review does contain spoilers about the latest edition and all books included in the Harry Potter series.

Contributed by: Sam Sloan, friend and high school English teacher

1. First of all, the obvious, what did you think? How did the feel of the play compare to the Harry Potter novels?

Having only read each Harry Potter novel once, reading the play gave me flashbacks of sitting down with the fifth novel. I had swallowed up the first four novels in late middle/early high school. I have a clear memory of taking the fifth one from my sister’s bedroom and giddily running off to my room to start it, excited to be reunited with old friends and to see how life would be after the horrors of the Triwizard Cup.

When I read the play, I felt my old friends had, like me, had gotten older but maybe not any wiser. They had some of the same problems with adulting that I have– despite having saved the world, Harry still struggles with doing what’s right and facing his past and adolescent children who struggle beneath the shadow his celebrity casts upon them. (I haven’t saved the world, but isn’t that the secret dream of any high school English teacher?)

Unlike the novels, the play forced me to stop and actually imagine a stage upon which this action would take place. Reading the novels allowed me to totally immerse myself in a make-believe world of dragons and Quidditch. This was a little different, as I had to imagine what this would look like on a Muggle stage.

2. What was it like reading Harry Potter in play format? How did the format affect or not affect the story?

Personally, I like reading plays because the stage directions are more than just adverbs that describe how a character should deliver a certain line. A narrator that is actively a part of the play gives the audience information about why something is happening, and the stage directions provide a reader with insight and background information that the reader might not necessarily receive through the delivery of lines. When the reader gets to read this, it helps to better create those characters on that stage in their minds.

3. Did you have a favorite new character?

Scorpius Malfoy. He’s self-aware: he knows the rumors about him, but he also knows that his parents didn’t want to raise him the way Lucius raised Draco. His mother is a tender character, who obviously enhanced his sensitivity and ability to tune out gossip. His innocence and desire for a friend melted my icy Slytherin heart. And he also validated my love for Slytherins. Scorpius is so the opposite of his father when Draco was a child and is such a good contrast to the moody, resentful Albus.

His crush on Rose and his desire to make sure that he and Albus didn’t create a Rose-less world was heart-warming. It’s nice to see that Draco and Astoria Malfoy raised their son to be the opposite of Draco or his horrible little friends. Not all Slytherins are jerks, and Scorpius proves that.

4. What was different from the books? (You mentioned some changes with the magic itself and also the inclusion — or lack thereof — of certain characters.) Did you like these changes? Was there a reason you think they were made?

Being that I only read the books once, a lot of the magic rules were foggy in my mind. I remember that Hermione had a time-turner in the third book to help with her class load, but I didn’t remember the parameters of using a time-turner. I did a quick Google search to refresh my memory (big shout out to the Harry Potter Wiki page).

Whether or not the “rules” of some of the magic were followed to a T is hard for me to say, but the magic served its purpose for the means of a play.

One thing that irked me was that Neville was frequently spoken about between the characters but didn’t make an appearance. Thanks to the time-turning, Harry’s dreams, and the talking paintings of the magic world, the reader was reacquainted with Snape, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and Cedric, but not Neville.

Neville spent his whole childhood being put down by his peers and even his own grandmother, but he played a crucial role in Voldemort’s defeat. He easily could’ve been included. Disappointing, to say the least, because I consider him as heroic as Harry, Hermione, and Ron. It was as if he were still being picked on.

Also surprisingly left out was Luna Lovegood. The big difference between her omission and Neville’s is that she was not even mentioned by other characters in passing. She was good enough for Harry and Ginny to name theirdaughter after her, but not good enough to include in the play? Hmph.

harry-potter-cursed-child-poster

It was nice to have an additional story, but it wasn’t necessary. I really did like the way the series ended. Good triumphed over evil. For the first time in his life Harry Potter was as close to normal as he could ever be. Ron and Hermione wound up together (despite me not being able to understand how the lovable Ron tolerated her know-it- all, sometimes obnoxious attitude). Draco Malfoy learned the difference between doing what’s right and doing what’s popular. I like that ending!

But like I said, it was like visiting old friends. I liked being able to hear Snape’s voice in my head again. I felt a crushing sadness when Harry spoke to the painting of Dumbledore about being a father. It was wonderful to be in that world again. But I didn’t need to be. The novels can stand the test of time through their themes of friendship, generosity, and tolerance; the play emphasizes and reminds the reader of those themes, but Potter fans likely haven’t forgotten them.

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Review: Meet the Regulars

hqdefaultRecap: More so than any other city in the United States, New York City is the one that best represents the “melting pot” that is America. Each of the city’s five boroughs has its own personality, while still being diverse. But likely the borough that has changed the most in recent years is Brooklyn. Brooklyn has gentrified. What used to be a predominantly older-skewed borough now appeals to younger people. Where rent used to remain low, it now skyrockets. Things are changing in Brooklyn. But many of the people who have always live there don’t plan on leaving, and the people who move in don’t want to either.

Meet the Regulars explores all of these people — young, old, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, tattooed, clean-cut, artists and corporate workers. The book profiles random people — including some celebrities, actors, comedians and radio hosts you may know —  who live in, work in or just simply frequent Brooklyn and the many restaurants, shops, salons, yoga studios, clubs, bars, and even bowling alleys where they are regulars.

Each of these interviews is taken from an interview series on the New York magazine partner blog Bedford + Bowery. But the book is made cohesive with intermittent essays from the author about the changing face of Brooklyn, the gentrification within the borough and the technology-driven force of millennials.

AnalysisMeet the Regulars is the perfect portrayal of everything Brooklyn and New York City represent: diversity — diversity in its people, diversity in its culture, diversity in its businesses. The book reads more like a coffee table book, since it includes many photos of its interview subjects and the places where they’re “regulars.” By including brief interviews with the people, it’s easy to fly through.

And while you might think this book is all about the cool places in  Brooklyn — and okay, it kind of is — it also uses these places to tell the stories of Brooklyn. Inevitably, when people start talking about the borough and the changes they’ve seen there, they then start talking about the history of the borough. I know more about Brooklyn and its people now than I ever did before, and I’ve spent a good amount of time in Brooklyn.

Meet the Regulars serves as a coffee table book, a social studies book, a compilation of profiles and in some sense, a compilation of reviews. Thanks to the awesome map and index in the back, there are a lot of new places in Brooklyn I want to visit. And a lot more people I want to meet.

Get Meet the Regulars now in hardcover for $13.85. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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