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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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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Living the Dream”

The backlash against Renata’s daughter not inviting Ziggy to her birthday party continues in this third episode of the Big Little Lies limited series. Finally, an episode where things really get moving. We see and hear less from the other parents in the school as part of the investigation and instead delve deeper into the lives of our main characters: Madeline, Celeste, Jane …and Renata? (Renata is an important character in the novel, but certainly is not central to the story; however it appears the creators of the series are trying to make her more of a central character here. Maybe that’s just what happens when you have someone as good as Laura Dern playing the role.)

This episode takes us through Renata’s daughter, Amabella’s, birthday party. Because everyone in class was invited except Ziggy, Madeline arranges for Ziggy and several other kids and moms to instead go to “Disney On Ice” in lieu of the birthday party, stirring up all kinds of mom drama.

Meanwhile, Ziggy accidentally leaves the class hippo behind at “Disney On Ice,” sending his mother, Jane, into a spiral over what the moms will say about her. Jane then reveals to Madeline her big secret: that Ziggy’s father is a man she met in a bar who assaulted her. Madeline’s older daughter decides to move out of the house and in with her father because of the stress she feels in her mother’s home. Celeste and her abusive husband see a counselor together.

This episode takes big steps in moving the story forward. The veil is starting to lift on the darkness of Jane and Ziggy, as well as Celeste and her husband. The episode also somewhat redeems Madeline, making her more likable than in the second episode by showcasing how much she genuinely cares for others.

But there are a couple of striking changes between this episode and what happens in the book. Jane’s assault is described much more vividly in the novel. Jane explains to Madeline that the man who assaulted her also verbally assaulted her, calling her fat and ugly. The fact that he called her that is vital to understand Jane as a person. Her lack of confidence in her body and herself all stem from that singular moment. With those verbal details left out of the series, we’re led to believe the assault was strictly physical when, in fact, it was also emotional, and emotional scars also last a lifetime.

The episode also takes a big jump when we see Celeste and her husband go to couples therapy. Though initially timid, they eventually open up a lot about their abusive relationship in a way that’s so dissimilar from the book, I was shocked. It seems as though the series to trying to humanize her husband? But why? He’s horrible. Celeste’s storyline in the book is so great because we get to watch her become stronger and stronger. By going to therapy with her husband and initially lying about the details of their marriage, she comes across more weak than strong. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of this plot is played out in the series knowing that it added this twist.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2016

booksIt’s the end of the year, so you know what that means. It’s time for my top book picks of 2016! As always, this is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a list of my favorite books that came out this year. This is a list of my favorite books I read this year, regardless of what year they came out. (And as always, for those of you who want to read a list of the best books that came out this year, I recommend the New York Times’ Notable Books of 2016 list.) That said, there are probably more “new” books on this list than in years past and several books by some of my favorite authors. It’s also worth noting that I struggled picking between my #1 and #2 choices, as they’re both equally fantastic. It’s also the first year my list has included a play! (Any guesses which mega bestseller that might be?) As always, below my top picks list is a list of ALL the books I read this year — a year I happened to slack. Don’t judge me! Read on for some great book suggestions to follow you into 2017, which will hopefully be another great year of books!

10. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Oprah Winfrey picked this read as an Oprah’s Book Club book back in 2005 as a nonfiction memoir about addiction and getting clean, and instead it became controversial after it was determined that the author embellished much of what he had written, but it’s still a gripping read. I believed the narrator’s struggle and enjoyed it with the mindset that it was fiction or “enhanced” nonfiction. Buy it now.

9. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by Kim BarkerIn this actual memoir, Kim Barker delves into the world of journalism in the Middle East. The book feels more like a compilation of vignettes of her experiences that include everything from getting interviews with Middle Eastern warlords to partying hard with other foreign correspondents in a very real depiction. Buy it now.

8. Meet the Regulars by Joshua D. FischerAlso a compilation book, this one profiles random New Yorkers and the bars/coffee shops/restaurants/hangouts they frequent. It works for NYC-lovers who may just be looking for foodie recommendations, but it also works as a subtle study on people, why they like what they like and why they do what they do. Buy it now.

7. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack ThorneIt was not the greatest of the Harry Potter stories; in fact, I found it fairly repetitive and cyclicle from the original novels, but it holds its own and is just plain nice to once again connect with the characters we know and love — and their offspring. Buy it now.

6. The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay. A little bit Water for Elephants and a little bit Little Women, this new historical fiction novel (one of my favorite genres) explores a family of strong women performing as a traveling tumbling act as a means to an end during the early 1900s. It debuted at exactly the right time – a year in which strong females became a focal point. Buy it now.

5. The Tenth Circle by Jodi PicoultThough the ending wasn’t my favorite, I read this story about a rape victim and the death of her alleged rapist on vacation and couldn’t put it down. Its parallels with Dante’s Inferno add another layer of interest making this a page turner in true Jodi Picoult fashion. Buy it now.

4. The Hopefuls by Jennifer CloseIn an election year, this book about how demanding, exhausting, scandalous and ridiculous a political campaign can be was a perfect fit. The novel follows two young couples as one husband runs for political office, and the other husband — who can’t quite hack it as a politician — runs his “friend’s” campaign instead. Buy it now.

3.  Me Before You by Jojo MoyesA young woman is hired to care for a paraplegic who wants nothing more than to end his life. While controversial, the book is also insanely romantic and delves into paralysis in a way other mainstream books haven’t seemed to conquer. In the end, it’s a book about finding yourself and deciding what you want from life. Buy it now.

2. Year of Yes by Shonda RhimesThis memoir/self-help book is everything you could want from both a memoir AND a self-help book. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder creator/producer/writer Shonda Rhimes writes about her behind-the-scenes experiences working on these shows and the benefits she reaps as a show creator, but also details her hesitance and how forcing herself to say “yes” to everything changed her life. Truly inspiring. Buy it now.

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two sisters separate in France during WWII, where the Holocaust is gaining momentum. One sister cares for her family, while the other works to save as many people as she can. But the story’s back-and-forth persepective between the sisters as well as the time jump between WWII and modern-day U.S. — where only one sister has survived — makes the saga breathtaking, tear-inducing, and monumentally profound. Buy it now.

A Million Little Pieces – James Frey

Revenge Wears Prada – Lauren Weisberger

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Kim Barker

Allegiant – Veronica Roth

Baggage – S.G. Redling

Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow

The Tumbling Turner Sisters – Juliette Fay

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Sunsets of Tulum -Raymond Avery Bartlett

The Tenth Circle – Jodi Picoult

Meet the Regulars – Joshua D. Fischer

The Hopefuls – Jennifer Close

The End of the Age of Innocence – Alan Price

All the Summer Girls – Meg Donohue

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Losing It – Emma Rathbone

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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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Lara’s Top Picks of 2015

booksIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. For my blog. It’s that time where I post my personal “Best Of” list for 2015. And as I’ve done in years past, this is a list of the ten best books I personally read this year — NOT a list of books that were published this year. (For that, check out the New York Times.) Most of the books on my list are at least a few years old, and it just took me until now to get around to reading them. Anyway, keep reading for a pretty great list of books, and scroll to the bottom for the complete list of the 25 books I read this year.

10. Insurgent by Veronica Roth. A follow-up to the bestselling young adult Divergent series, Insurgent follows Tris and Four as they aim to take down the leader of a government gone wrong. While Divergent is mostly exposition and setup for the rest of the YA series, Insurgent is almost all action and continues to put Tris at the forefront of strong feminist characters. Buy it now.

9. Armada by Ernest Cline. A high schooler and video game junkie’s dreams and worst fears come true when he learns the video game he’s been playing is actually training for a real world alien battle he must help fight. The follow-up to Cline’s bestseller Ready Player One is not as innovative or good as Player, but it incorporates the pop culture references, adventure and heart that made his debut novel so special. Buy it now.

8. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. A small town in the UK is turned upside down with a dark chain of events when an untimely death leads to an opening on the town’s parish council. This was the first adult novel Rowling wrote after her Harry Potter series came ended, and while some felt it was too dark and twisty, I felt it was perfect. That darkness Rowling writes with is what made her later Potter novels so great and what makes the events of this one so unexpected.Buy it now.

7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The death of Theo’s mother leads him to a strange world: the underworld of art, as he carries around a mysterious piece of art throughout all the highs and lows of his hard, inconsistent life. The Goldfinch is LONG, yes, but it’s beautifully written and tells an intriguing story of an intriguing boy and life. It won a Pulitzer Prize for a reason.Buy it now.

6. A Letter to My Mom by Lisa Erspamer. A collection of essays and anecdotes about mothers come together in this cute book that will make you laugh, smile and cry hysterically. It was a book that made me think of my mom, thank my mom and know exactly what I’m giving her next Mother’s Day. Buy it now.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir. Man goes to Mars; man gets stuck on Mars; NASA spends years effecting bringing him home, while he figures out a way to survive on his own. It’s an amazing story, which seems totally plausible — if someone as smart and amazing as Mark Watney were to ever get stuck up there. This bestseller-turned-book is not only powerful and intense, it’s also funny, funny, funny and incredibly enjoyable. Buy it now.

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Alternating narrators connects the stories of the drunken, depressed woman who rides the train, her ex and the couple whose house she passes everyday on the train. Dubbed “the next Gone Girl,” The Girl on the Train is a suspenseful murder mystery and thriller that keeps you turning pages in a classic whodunit story with a modern twist. Buy it now.

3. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe. Rob Lowe narrates the story of his rise to fame on this audiobook memoir with stories of celebrity and scandal, work and success. Stories is great because it offers exactly what one wants from a celebrity memoir — behind-the-scenes secrets and details of some of his greatest films and TV shows and details of his scandals of the 1980s. Buy it now.

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. When Jacob goes to Wales to research more about this late grandfather, he learns that he and his grandpa share no only a special, sci-fi, fantastical connection, but also a whole other secret world. It’s a YA novel that feels more adult, and is filled with excitement, wonder, heart and bravery — the first in a series of Miss Peregrine books, the rest of which I can’t wait to read. Buy it now.

1.  Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger. A behind-the-scenes look at the real-life 1988 Permian Pantheers football team from Odessa, Texas, this is the book that started the FNL sensation. This nonfiction story is even more heart-wrenching and despairing than the story lines on the show, but it’s the detailed, beautifully written prose by Buzz Bissinger that makes this version exceptional. Buy it now.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I’m Glad I Did – Cynthia Weil

Amazon Burning – Victoria Griffith

Insurgent – Veronica Roth

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

At the Water’s Edge – Sara Gruen

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution – Kit Brennan

Unorthodox – Deborah Feldman

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

A Letter to My Mom – Lisa Erspamer

Then Again – Diane Keaton

The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult

Paper Towns – John Green

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe

Bond Girl – Erin Duffy

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Inconceivable! – Tegan Wren

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream – H.G. Bissinger

Armada – Ernest Cline

Walking Distance – David Hlavsa

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‘Ready Player One’ Author Signs New Book Deal

If you’re a fan of Ready Player One, listen up because bestselling author Ernest Cline is coming out with yet another book. (And if you haven’t yet read Ready Player One, you really need to put it on your “To Read” list ASAP.)

According to Entertainment WeeklyReady Player One author Ernest Cline just signed a seven-figure deal to publish his third book with Crown Publishing. His second book, Armada, just came out this summer (and yes, I already have a copy. I just haven’t started reading it yet). The third is still untitled, and those involved won’t release any more information other than to say it’ll remain in the sci-fi genre.

So far, film rights were sold for both Ready Player One and Armada, but not yet for the highly under wraps third novel.

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Lost Dr. Seuss Books To Be Released Soon

It’s been more than 20  years since the famed children’s author died, but Dr. Seuss’s (real name: Theodor Geisel) wife and friend will be releasing some of his recently discovered lost manuscripts as soon as this summer.

According to The Wall Street Journalthe author’s wife and former secretary found the manuscripts in Geisel’s office, complete with some black-and-white illustrations, in 2013. The first release will be What Pet Should I Get, due out on July 28th. The book includes characters from Seuss’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

At least another two books are expected, but publishers have not announced dates or titles.

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