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Movie vs. Book: Crazy Rich Asians

crazy rich asiansRachel Chu is nervous. She’s about to go to Singapore for the first time with her boyfriend Nick, but this is not just some vacation. They’re visiting for his best friend’s wedding, and it will be the first time she’s meeting Nick’s family. Rachel takes some time to decide, but ultimately determines it would be a fun way to spend her summer off from teaching economics at NYU.

What she doesn’t realize is how nervous she really should be. As it turns out, Nick comes from one of the wealthiest families in Asia. He keeps this information on the down low so as not to be treated differently, but from the moment she hops the plane with him, she begins to understand his very rich reality and quickly comes to realize she may not be accepted by his family or friends.

Yes, Rachel is Chinese. But she is American-born Chinese (ABC), and to his traditional mother, ABC is essentially unacceptable. This pit-in-the-stomach, all-out sinking feeling is excellently portrayed in the movie version of Crazy Rich Asians based on the 2013 bestselling novel. The movie beautifully emphasizes all the best parts of the novel: the romance between Rachel and Nick, the drama between Rachel and Nick’s mother Eleanor, and the glitz and glamour of Singapore and the crazy rich Asians who live there.

The movie follows the book fairly closely except for the ending. The movie adds a scene in which Nick’s family and Rachel make dumplings together, offering an opportunity for Rachel and Eleanor to get to know each other better. The building of their relationship is effectively trashed when only minutes later, Eleanor tells Rachel she will “never be enough.” This scene adds a layer of indiscreet, purposeful anger between Rachel and Eleanor, which then gives Rachel a reason to show Eleanor who’s boss. This is a significant and positive change from the novel. Where Rachel remains mostly timid in the book, this scene in the movie pushes Rachel to fight for the alpha female role, positioning herself strongly against Eleanor so that she stands up for herself in a way we don’t get to witness in the book.

It then leads to a different and happier ending between Rachel and Nick and a more concretely positive relationship between Rachel and Eleanor.

As it aimed to be one of, if not the most successful rom-com in years, Crazy Rich Asians had no choice but to tidy up some of the open-endedness of the book. But the plot choices made at the end of the novel were made to set up the next book in the trilogy (China Rich Girlfriend), and that is lost in the movie. (That includes much of the storyline about Astrid, Nick’s beautiful cousin.) This matters now because the movie sequel has already been confirmed, thanks to the wild success of the first movie.

Crazy Rich Asians is everything a girl could possibly want in a romantic comedy: romance! scandal! makeover montages! a big, beautiful wedding! But it’s possible — nay, definite — that the novel has more depth to offer.

Get Crazy Rich Asians in paperback for $9.60.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: 10% Happier

10 happierRecap: When ABC News anchor and correspondent Dan Harris was in his 30’s, he had his first on-air implosion: a panic attack on national television in the middle of a report. Did he handle it well? Of course. Like a pro. But it was clearly something had happened. It was only after that that he finally started seeing a therapist and learned his increasingly frequent panic attacks were a result of his cocaine addiction, a habit he picked up while covering the war in the Middle East.

TV reporting is no joke, folks. Harris knew he needed to make some massive changes. In this part memoir, part self-help book, Harris brilliantly and beautifully documents his long, dubious path out of his own darkness and into a space that’s at least 10% brighter. Harris tells the story of his downfall and his unexpected spiritual journey that led him to meditation. A skeptic, as many journalists are, Harris needed to understand meditation from all angles before he truly jumped in. In time, he has become a huge proponent of the practice. Being more mindful, he says, has helped him become a more relaxed, focused, less stressed, more loving person.

Analysis: This book had come highly recommended for years. But it wasn’t until about a year-and-a-half ago that I stumbled upon meditation itself. In sifting through and trying various meditation apps, the one I happened to like best was the 10% Happier app. Its guided meditations were the easiest to understand. They cut through the BS and gave it to me straight. They made me understand the purpose, point, goals and benefits of meditation. I was not surprised to learn that it was connected to the 10% Happier book, just surprised to realize the book had developed into the world of podcasting and apps. The more Dan Harris talked about his experience with meditation in the app and podcast, the more I knew I had to read the book.

Basically — everyone was right; this is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in the last year (and I have read a LOT). Harris’s story of ups and down in his personal and professional life were of course very relatable to me since I, too, am a TV reporter. But more than that, it’s his self-doubt, self-loathing and temper I related to most. I often shouted while I was reading this “He’s me! I’m the female version of Dan Harris!” I feel grateful that he did so much of the meditation and Buddhist homework for me, talking to various teachers and getting a plethora of insights.

It was hard to put this book down. Having written his second book, Harris often says he hoped that his first book (this one, 10% Happier) would make the case for meditation and was surprised to find that for most of his readers, it didn’t. I, however, found that it did. His spiritual awakening is inspiring and something I think we all could use a lot of these days. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a reporter professionally so his writing is obviously fabulous — leaving little tease-worthy bread crumbs at the end of each chapter. I find myself going back to his book frequently, reminding myself of some of his methods so that I, too, can become 10% happier. Because every little bit counts. And isn’t that what it’s all about on this journey to betterment?

Get 10% Happier now in paperback for $13.25. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Review: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

nphRecap: You may recognize him as Doogie Howser. Or that other weird doctor, Dr. Horrible. To you, he may be Barney Stinson. Or a very angry Hedwig. Or he may just be the high guy from Harold and Kumar. Either way, Neil Patrick Harris has made quite the imprint on Hollywood in the past 25 years he’s been in the business. Like many other stars, he uses his celebrity here to write his own memoir, but NPH is far too cool to just run your everyday, run-of-the-mill celebrity memoir. After all, he loves magic. So he makes his memoir a little more magical by writing it in the form of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books of yesteryear. Finish a chapter, and choose between options like this: “If you need a drink to calm down, turn to page 45. If you need to wake your brain back up, turn to page 150. To continue your stage career, willkommen/bienvenue/welcomeim/au/to page 130. To attempt to relaunch your movie career, turn to page 124.”

Some chapters are silly absurdist fake short stories he’s written about his life. Some are recipes for his favorites food and cocktails. Some are magic tricks. But most are real stories from his life, including his time as a child star, the years when he was “washed up” in his twenties, his various stints in theater, his comeback into movies and television, his coming out of the closet both personally and publicly and the process he and his husband went through to have their children.

NPH has led every kind of life you can feature in an autobiography, so he gives us, the reader, the choice to read whichever one we like.

Analysis: The truth is I didn’t follow the choose your own adventure format and just read straight through the book. I think most people do — considering NPH wrote in an extra page in the book that no chapter urges you to turn to; clearly he knew people would find it because they’re lazy like me and just reading straight through. That said, the book is enjoyable either way. It zigs and zags through his life — some of it in order, some out of order. Some of the absurdist fake story chapters had me rolling my eyes thinking ‘why did I even bother to read these two pages?’ But the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

The struggles he’s faced in his career, in figuring out his sexuality and in having a family are as real as they get. NPH may appear to have it all, but it took him a long time and a lot of strife to get there. The sections about his children moved me to tears. He keeps his sense of humor throughout every page of the book, even if it’s in just the directions at the end of a chapter. His Barney Stinson silliness wreaks havoc on the book in the best way possible. This was by far the most creatively written memoir I’ve ever read and easily one of the most enjoyable, fun, and deeply moving.

Get Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography in hardcover for just $4.29.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

IMG_4277.jpgRecap:  Enzo is prepared to die. He believes in reincarnation and believes that in his next life, he will come back as a human. For now, he’s stuck as a dog. Enzo is the teller, the narrator of this story, but it’s not really his story to tell. He tells the story of his owner, Denny, an amateur race car driving living in Seattle — a special man with whom he has a special relationship; after all, he is the man’s best friend.

Enzo begins to feel shafted when Denny meets and starts to date Eve. Their relationship is intense and fast-moving, and Enzo is unsure about whether or not to trust her. But over time, they grow on each other. Ultimately, Eve and Denny have a child together. Eve starts to see Enzo as the protector of the family, a joy for little Zoe to have around the home. This leads to a level of trust between Eve and Enzo that not even Eve and Denny match; when Eve begins to get sick, Enzo senses it and because he’s a dog, there’s little he can do to help.

What follows sends shockwaves through it all. All this happens while Denny’s racing career starts to move into high gear. Enzo the dog witnesses the story of ultimate love so he can be there as support and learn what humanity is really all about.

Analysis: After years of being told “OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU HAVEN’T READ THAT YET,” I finally did and I must admit it was much different than I had expected but I loved it all the same. The novel had much more of a plot — and a dark one at that — which I hadn’t expected. Frankly, I anticipated a simple “man and dog love each other” story, but Art of Racing is much more than that.

There are few things I love more than a title that can picked apart seemingly letter by letter and analyzed in a million ways. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one such title. There’s the literal analysis: it’s a story about a race car driving who — living in Seattle — really is quite good at racing in the rain, a skill that allows him to do well in competition no matter the weather. But the deeper meaning is that there is an art, a skill to dealing with the horrific things life throws us. Denny faces it all here: love, loss, betrayal, failure, contempt. From Denny, Enzo learns the literal art of car racing in the rain; Denny talks to Enzo about racing all the time. But from Enzo, Denny learns the figurative art of racing in the rain: what’s important, who matters and who doesn’t. That lesson allows him to succeed in spite of tragedy. The lessons and skills about race car driving offered in this novel are paralleled to real life lessons in a thread throughout the entire book, not just its title.

MVP: Enzo, obviously. He is wiser than we humans expect dogs to be. For everything we’ll ever know as humans, there are two things we won’t: what happens when we die and what dogs are thinking. Enzo offers us both and teaches us more about life than we think we know too.

Get The Art of Racing in the Rain in paperback for $9.25. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.74. 

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Review: One More Time

carolburnettRecap: Carol Burnett is one of the truly great comedic icons and badass females of her generation and of our time. I was first introduced to her as Miss Hannigan from the original movie version of “Annie,” one of my favorite movies to watch growing up. She was perfect as Miss Hannigan — a villain who was more pathetic than evil, who was hilarious in her awkward gawkiness and who I was glad to see have a happy ending because you knew she wasn’t really a bad person at heart, just a desperate one. Having finally gotten around to reading her memoir from the 1980’s, I’ve come to learn that Carol Burnett was really not that different from the character she played in “Annie.”

She grew up under pretty horrible circumstances, though she didn’t realize as much until she was older. Her parents divorced at a young age and she lived with her grandma since her mother couldn’t properly take care of herself, let alone another person. When her grandmother and she finally moved to Hollywood from Texas, where her parents were already living separately, Carol started to standout as the tall, funny girl with the imaginative mind. When her illegitimate half-sister was born, she took her under her wing as though she were her own. She cared for her while focusing on her schoolwork and a potential career in journalism.

But as we all well know, things changed, and one taste on the stage had her itching to act forever. Her drive, devotion and ambition led her to UCLA and acting troups across California. A performance, a nice man and a lot of luck helped her earn enough money to go to New York and embark on the career she always wanted. But even that wasn’t as easy as she dreamed.

Analysis: Carol Burnett is a living, breathing rags-to-riches story. Yes, some of her story involved some extremely generous business men who were able to help her financially or give her references. But Burnett defined making her own luck. If not for her whipping personality, spunk and obvious natural talent and work ethic, she wouldn’t have had guts to ask for help or to keep in touch with the right people who would help her along the way.

It was amazing to read about her childhood and realize the hardship she had to overcome. Lots of “mommy issues” and lots of “daddy issues” could have been enough to break anyone. Not Carol. The entertainment industry itself is enough to break people. Not Carol. Her positivity and determination are to be admired, let alone her comedic chops. While she often talks about her many fears, it’s obvious that she’s also fearless.

Her story is more unbelievable than I could have imagined, and her writing exquisite. That’s not always the case with “celebrity” memoirs. But the truth is she was always a storyteller of some kind — acting out scenes, telling stories. Writing is another way to do that, and she’s obviously very good at it. (It’s no surprise she initially wanted to be a journalist — she has the chops.)

The updated version of her memoir, which I eventually read after accidentally leaving my first copy on a plane (whoops!) was even better because of the epilogue it includes at the end. The epilogue was added years later and tells the story of some of the additional tragedy she dealt with in her adult life. While sad, it’s an important section of the book that makes a point of showing no matter how successful you are, no matter how hard you’ve worked or where you’ve come from, we’re all people and we’re all going to have hard time to work through. Like Carol, we’ve got no choice but to keep going. One more time.

Get One More Time in paperback now for $14.53.

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Review: How to Love the Empty Air

two books.jpgRecap: Like many women, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz has a special relationship with her mother. Her mother is a her best friend, her support system, and her biggest fan. So when her mom passes away, it throws her into an unexpected spiral. She is overwhelmed with grief, and when you are a writer, there’s nowhere to channel that grief but the page.

So tells the story of Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s collection of poetry, weaving us through the close bond she has with her mother, the death of her mother and the grieving process, all as she herself gets married. It’s a time in her life that includes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, resulting in some altogether beautiful poetry and imagery — though much of it is sad.

Analysis: I’m not one to typically read poetry, nor do I consider myself necessarily good at analyzing, interpreting or understanding it. But because the poetry was about a woman who lost her mother around the time she got married, I knew I’d be able to relate. I lost my dad shortly after getting married. So much of her poetry so deeply resonated with me. It moved me to tears. It brought me chills. I was able to relate in every aspect of her mother’s illness, her mother’s passing, the months she spent mourning the loss, the comfort of her husband. But it wasn’t just that.

I was also able to connect with her professional ambition and desire to do good work and succeed. One of her poems brought me to tears when I read part of it to my husband:

“New York City, I want to return to you a better woman,/a better writer. Return to you so clean, you won’t even/recognize me, so glorious, you’ll dim your lights, so damn/grown that maybe, just maybe, I can look you in the eye.”

It’s a feeling most any woman can relate to — the need to succeed, to prove yourself, to better yourself, to shine.

It also helped that the poetry  Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz writes is free-form. Much of it feels less like poetry and more like storytelling. The book overall tells a complete story even though it’s several dozen poems. I was so impressed, and the book so changed my thoughts on poetry that I now want to reach much more of it, particularly O’Keefe Aptowicz’s works.

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Review: Cujo

cujo.jpgRecap: It’s been five years since a serial killer was on the loose in a small town in Maine, but that doesn’t mean the serial killings are over.  When a massive St. Bernard chases a small animal and becomes rabid, no one is safe. The problem is no one knows the pain he’s feeling. No one know he’s sick. So his owner, Joe, lets him roam around the property. Joe’s son and wife, Brett and Charity, leave town to visit her sister. By the time Donna and her four-year-old son, Tad, go to Joe’s house to have her car repaired, Cujo has already killed several people including Joe.

Donna notices he’s rabid right away; by this point, he’s become more sick and his red eyes and foaming mouth prove as much to her.  She has no choice but to stay in her car with her son but the car is in such disrepair, it won’t start. The July heat doesn’t allow them the fresh air they need, and they have no access to food or water other than what they’ve packed. Because it’s 1980, Donna has no cell phone and no way to get help.

As she waits for a postman to come, for the police to come, anything, her husband Vic is away on business, trying to save his company and contemplating how to save his marriage after he learns Donna had cheated on him. Ultimately, no matter how much he wants to, Vic can’t quit Donna and when his calls go unanswered, he calls for help only to find the devastation Cujo has left behind.

Analysis: For my first Stephen King novel (I know, I know, it’s crazy), this was phenomenal. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the character depth and development he offered throughout the novel. It’s much more than just a “horror novel,” which is what I was expecting. Cujo is a monster, but he’s a completely plausible monster and King interestingly takes us inside the rabid dog’s mind as well as Donna’s heat delirious mind, and Vic’s marriage obsessed head as well as many others.

This level of character depth and plot thickening allows for a slow build until Donna and Cujo are left no choice but to face off. For days as I read the last pages of the book, I found myself repeatedly muttering “Please don’t let Donna die.” King made me care. It’s the stuff real horror novels are made of.

MVP: Vic. While Donna’s a badass, it takes her a while to get there. Vic instinctively and instantly knows something is wrong and uses his intelligence and logic to break open what’s going on and attempt to make a rescue.

Get Cujo in paper for $14.56.

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.99.

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