Tag Archives: adult

Review: Best Day Ever

bestday_narrowRecap: Paul Strom has the best day ever planned for him and his wife, Mia. He’s planned a weekend away at their lake house with a special dinner and surprised the night they arrive. The kids are at home with a babysitter. The weather is perfect. But then Paul takes a phone call. They arrive too late to their favorite bakery to get the snack Mia’s so badly craving. Mia finds out Paul never left money for the babysitter. When they arrive to the lake house, Mia immediately greets their good-looking single neighbor who helped with her garden last summer. At the grocery store, Paul’s credit card is declined. Slowly but surely, the “best day ever” is slipping out of Paul’s grasp, and he is panicking. Slowly but surely, we, the readers, are realizing something’s going on with Paul.

In his anger, he begins reflecting on other aspects of his life, including his mistress, Gretchen, his dead parents for whom he doesn’t seem to care, the fact that he actually lost his job after he was reported to HR for harassing a woman in the office. Paul’s crazy shifts in mood and temper have been apparent to the reader from page one. Mia puts up with it, but it’s still unclear why this is the best day ever when Paul and Mia so clearly hate each other. What does Paul have planned? And at this point, we must begin to wonder whether Mia will make it out alive?

Analysis: A gripping story of love, hate and betrayal, Best Day Ever feels like a new version of Gone Girl with a different kind of twist. The format used is storytelling at its best. Where we usually read “man attempts to kill wife” stories from the victim’s perspective, Best Day Ever flips it, instead telling the entire story from Paul’s point of view. That decision allows the reader to understand how scary Paul is without knowing whether or not the victim realizes it. It’s that uncertainty that adds another layer of terror to the story. The question is not “what’s he going to do?” but rather “is she going to be able to stop it?” We don’t get any insight into her thoughts, feelings, or plans until the book’s epilogue.

It sounds like an obvious way to switch up the format, but considering how infrequently we see this perspective, it’s really not that obvious. Where in other books, an unlikable narrator makes you want to quit, here the book is still a page-turner despite the narrator becoming vehemently more and more unlikable as the book goes on.

MVP: Mia. Without spoiling the end, we inevitably learn that Mia is a strong, smart, caring and loving woman who is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it in the most dire of situations.

Get Best Day Ever in paperback for $15.99. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: That Crazy Perfect Someday

that252520crazy252520perfect252520someday252520coverRecap: The year is 2024. Self-driving cars are the norm. Surfing is an Olympic sport. And Mafuri Long is hoping to win the gold medal in the sport against her arch nemesis Kimberly Masters. But in the middle of her surf game and focus are her father and his ongoing mental health problems, the loss of her mother still eating at her all these years later and her best friend getting married and being MIA.

At her best friend’s wedding, she befriends her little brother Nixon — who she’s not interested in romantically, but who “gets her” as a person. She continues riding waves so well, her coach is assured she’ll likely win gold at the upcoming Paris Olympics. Her dad swears he’ll behave himself while she practices for the last few weeks before the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

But suddenly her world implodes when Kimberly Masters starts a rumor that Mafuri is doping, and in her time back home in the States to deal with her legal battle, something completely unforeseeable ruins her shot at the 2024 Olympics. Her dreams are crushed, and so is Mafuri. All that she’s been working for has been for naught. Now it’s time to find out what she really wants, besides surfing. And suddenly, her world changes again.

Analysis: Author Michael Mazza takes what could be an obviously predictable story and instead turns it on its head. Not reading much about the book before actually reading it, I just assumed this would be the story of a girl accomplishing all her dreams. But it’s not. And it’s even better because of it.

So many obstacles are thrown Mafuri’s way — from the quasi-absurd to  what I imagine would be the norm seven years from now. (Speaking of which, Mazza does an awesome job of creatively portraying what things might be like by 2024 with his depiction of self-driving cars, drones, and updated cell phone and medical technology.)

Mafuri is completely broken down two-thirds of the way into the novel. But breaking her down only helps to build her back up, and while I enjoyed the surfing storyline, she ultimately became empowered when her surfing dreams were crushed and she found a new dream and goal to work toward.  In the end, That Crazy Perfect Someday is really a story about family. The ending doesn’t answer all questions but leaves you with the feeling that everything’s going to be okay, and after seeing what she’s gone through, okay is more than enough.

MVP: Mafuri. She is a badass who knows her worth, knows her power, makes her own decisions and bounces back from anything. Things aren’t easy, and she knows it. She gets down on herself and her world like anyone else. But eventually she keeps on going, and her resilience is inspiring.

Get That Crazy Perfect Someday in paperback for $11.55. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.97.

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Review: When the Future Comes Too Soon

51locs0rbnl-_sy346_Recap: World War II is taking over the talk, minds and happenings of British Malaya, and the people there are starting to fear for their lives. Young mother Mei Foong realizes things are heating up once Malaya is bombed. As the war worsens and the family must temporarily flee their home for safety, Mei Foong gets to know several other families from her town, including a man named Chew Hock San, who makes her feel things she’s never felt before. But Mei Foong is also married with four children and a fifth on the way. Her relationship with her husband is not ideal. She provides children and a wealthy status for him, and he provides financially for her, but the chemistry has dwindled over the years.

Mei Foong and her family are able to return home, but soon after that, the Japanese take over. People are getting killed, the prices of good skyrocket and Mei Foong’s husband becomes sick. He must go to a hospital far away where he can get the care he needs, but while he’s gone, Chew Hock San starts popping up yet again, offering to help Mei Foong with whatever she needs. The mixture of her fear of the war, her sick husband, her desire for Chew Hock San and her love for her children push Mei Foong to the limit in a time of desperation.

Analysis: As a person who loves World War II novels, I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a war story I’d never heard before; it wasn’t about the Holocaust or Jewish people being persecuted. To read about another persecuted group’s experience, the Malayans, and the evil they faced was eye-opening. More interestingly, Mei Foong’s family wasn’t directly impacted by the war in terms of being killed or tortured. In fact, in many respects, her family was one of the lucky ones — and yet, the war still so badly severed her family and relationships with others. It’s proof that WWII did more than just kill people; it caused an astronomical amount of stress that affected people in unexpected ways. Fresh perspective on something that happens 75 years ago isn’t easy to do, but it’s done here.

MVP: Mei Foong. For a wife who at first is so submissive, Mei Foong ultimately stands up in the only way she can. Because of this decision, her life does not go the way she wanted or planned, but her strength and stubbornness in her decision is undeniable and awe-inspiring.

Get The Future Comes Too Soon in paperback for $10.25.

Or get it for free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Review: Can’t Buy Forever

51rhw10ql4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Recap: Odessa is a young girl living in a boarding house run by a widowed aunt. She has lived there for years after her father died and has made a life for herself there and gotten to know the others who live there as well. It’s a house full of miners, and though they’re all older, young Odessa falls for Nicholas. Dessa and Nicholas seem destined to be together, but one of the boys at school wants Dessa for himself. This age-old tale of two men fighting over a beautiful girl starts off reasonably enough but quickly enters dangerous territory, consisting of kidnapping, fighting and abandonment. Dessa is left in despair. Nicholas saves her. The two get married the night of Dessa’s prom.

But somewhere along the way, the truth comes out about Nicholas: he’s not actually just your average man. He’s an immortal gypsy. About halfway to two-thirds of the way into the book, the story takes a sci-fi turn and flees into the depths of a cross-country chase, several lifetimes lived by Nicholas and his family members and those who Dessa has known for most of her life also being connected to Nicholas’s gypsy family in some way.

Analysis: I was on board with the story for the first act. The romance between Nicholas and Dessa was satisfying and lovely. The two needed each other, and I liked it. But the sci-fi/fantasy aspects of the story seemed to come out of left field. It certainly took the book in a different direction, but a weird one, and as the deep details about Nicholas and his family continued to come, the story became more and more confusing. It was hard for me to follow, and by the end I wasn’t entirely sure that Nicholas was even Nicholas anymore. I powered through the book since it was short, but by the end, it lost all the greatness of the first half.

MVP: Dessa. Her character is taken on a journey — albeit a crazy, hard-to-follow, roller coaster of a journey, but a journey nonetheless. She offered the sweetness and innocence that the book needed to try and make the story work.

You can buy Can’t Buy Forever in paperback now for $2.97.

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Review: All the Best People

30687885Recap: There are secrets abound between four women of three different generations in a small town in Vermont. It’s 1972, and Carole is a mother to twin sons and a daughter and wife to an auto shop owner. But suddenly her days are filled with more people than just those who she lives with; she starts hearing voices, hallucinating, wondering if she’s becoming “crazy,” just like her mother was.

The book flashes back and forth between Carole, her “crazy” mother Solange, her sister Janine, and her daughter Alison. We learn how and why Solange went “crazy,” why the relationship between Carole and her sister Janine is so complicated, and why Alison is struggling to grow up in a world full of women who seem as though they haven’t quite figured things out yet.

Alison doesn’t fit in at school and instead spends time crushing on her teacher. Aunt Janine is also crushing on the same teacher, as she works to find a new husband after hers died. Carole, meanwhile, is dealing with the voices, visiting her mother, wondering if she’s suffering from the same disease. All the Best People delves into the complexity of women, their relationships with men and each other and the constant struggle they endure between heart and mind. As the story continues, secrets are revealed to the reader and ultimately each other that help explain why they are the way they are and what that means for their future.

Analysis: It’s hard to write a true “recap” of a book like this because the plot of the novel comes from these four women living their everyday lives, truggling together, yet separately. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman or maybe it’s because I have trouble keeping my attention on one storyline at all times, but books formatted like All the Best People always work for me. It always helps to get in the minds of each of the main characters. Each character in this novel is so complicated, especially Carole. The way author Sonja Yoerg writes Carole’s chapters as she gets sicker and sicker is great; the writing parallels the symptoms of the character’s disease and helps us to better understand what she’s going through.

MVP: Carole and Alison. I’ve already explained why Carole is great, but Alison is brilliant. She’s completely aware of and in tune with everything going on in the world around her, no matter how young and “naive” she is. She’s the child in this story, but it’s clear in many ways she’s smarter than the adults around her.

Get All the Best People now in paperback for $8.82. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Once Bitten”

The latest installment of the Big Little Lies limited series picks up with Amabella now being bitten by one of her classmates. Once again, Renata blames the bullying on Jane’s son Ziggy, adding more stress to Jane’s life. She’s already tangled up in visiting the man who assaulted her years ago after Madeline and Celeste find him online and learn that he lives and works nearby. In this episode, we see a different side of Jane starting to come out as she takes her gun to target practice and smokes weed while she drives to her assailant. It was a trip she had planned to make with Madeline and Celeste but instead she goes it alone. We only get a glimpse into her meeting with him but never learn how it ends or if she confronts him. Instead, we just get an image of her screaming and banging the horn in her car, speeding home and getting pulled over by the cops.

Meanwhile, Madeline is having her own car troubles when she gets into a crash with her co-worker and director at the theater, Joseph. He picks up her and takes her “for a drive” to discuss their relationship. The discussion erupts when they crash in the parking lot. Joseph injuries seem serious, but he winds up coming out of it okay, and it becomes clear that the crash more or less shocked the relationship right out of them as they recede by their families for the love and support they need.

Love and support are two things Celeste certainly isn’t getting at home as she continues to navigate her murky and abusive relationship with her husband Perry. Here, again, we see her going to therapy without him. It’s probably for the best, since she finally comes clean –after some serious pushing from her therapist — just how physically abusive and harmful Perry can be.

Again, I loved this episode and how they’re slowly building the tension to the explosion that I expect the final episode will be. However, NOTHING that happens in this episode — with the exception of Celeste’s trip to the therapist — happens in the book! Because this tawdry relationship between Madeline and Joseph doesn’t exist in the book, there’s never a car crash in the novel either. And because Madeline and Celeste never tell Jane they found her assailant in the book, Jane never goes to visit him. If the show was going to add so much story to fill the time of seven episodes, why didn’t it just stick to the book and shorten the series to six episodes instead of seven? But again, the story is still well done, the acting great, and the editing –especially the audio editing int his episode– is incredible.

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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “When Push Comes to Shove”

The murder is still a mystery but the motivations between characters continue to build in the latest installment of Big Little Lies. Once again, the children’s teacher notices some tension between Ziggy and Amabella, encouraging Jane to take her son to a child psychologist. The psychologist determines he doesn’t have the characteristics of a bully and in fact may be getting bullied at school.

Meanwhile  Jane is starting to feel a release and a new interest in men after revealing (in the last episode) that she was raped by a man named Saxton Banks. Madeline looks up Saxton Banks online and shows a photo of him to both Jane and Celeste — a big shift from the book. In the book, Madeline and Celeste keep their knowledge of Saxton Banks to themselves without bringing it up to Jane.

Meanwhile both Celeste and Madeline and working to conquer and succumb to their troubled marriages. Celeste visits her therapist again — this time, alone — and Madeline cheats on her husband with her co-worker at the theater! Soon after, we learn that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened between them.

I have to say, having Madeline cheat on Ed is a HUGE change from the book and one of which I am NOT a fan. Madeline’s character in the book is nutty and intense, but still likable and having her make a decision like this is the very opposite from likable, especially when Ed is …pretty good. Now it makes sense why the show has put such an emphasis on this whole “Avenue Q” storyline; it was all to build to the tryst and relationship between Madeline and the director of the show. Madeline’s work is mentioned many times in the novel but is not a focal point by any means, and we certainly never learn the names of her co-workers through it. That said, I have to admit I love the following scene in which Madeline very openly tells Celeste what happened and Celeste just laughs and laughs (probably because Celeste doesn’t have the ability to be as open with Madeline, and her secrets are so much darker that Madeline’s little makeout session seems trivial to Celeste).

I’ve noticed that in these past entries, I’ve pointed out a lot of changes the show has made from the book. While I’m not a fan of shows and movies changing adaptations from the story we already know and love, I still love this limited series version of Big Little Lies. Reese Witherspoon’s acting in it is some of the best we’ve seen from her. The show has also done an excellent job at making Celeste and Jane as complicated as they are in the book, which can sometimes be hard to do onscreen when we don’t get to read their thoughts like we can in the book. The editing on the show and all of its random flashbacks and quick shots are incredible and add little pops of knowledge and feeling in a way a book simply can’t.

 

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