Tag Archives: books

Review: The Lost Family

lost familyRecap: The years during WWII were no easy feat for Peter Rashkin and his family. In New York in 1965, he has opened his own restaurant, named after his wife who was killed in the Holocaust along with their twin daughters. Peter finds comfort in food, but he also uses it as a mechanism to keep his wife alive; she, too, was a cook. It’s in his restaurant — a place more home to him than his apartment — that he meets June Bouquet, a beautiful starving model. He is astonished by her beauty and surprised to find that he feels more strongly toward her than any of the other women he’s dated in the years since his wife was murdered.

The story then jumps to New Jersey in 1975, where we follow June, who’s left the modeling industry to be Peter’s housewife and mother to their daughter Elsbeth. The whirlwind romance that brought Peter and June together is fizzling out, leaving June to seek out love and attention elsewhere. She longs for her career of yesteryear and chases after the experiences and emotions she felt ten years earlier.

Finally the story takes us to New York and New Jersey in 1985, when Elsbeth is now a teenager, becoming a woman and searching for her truth. As her parents’ relationship has worsened, so has her relationship with food. Her father constantly uses her as a guinea pig to try out new recipes, but her mother still picks at her food like she did during her modeling years. Elsbeth’s strange introductions to food lead to her own battle with her body.

Analysis: Not having initially realized the structure of this book — the ten-year time jumps and changing points of view — I initially found it a little jarring and definitely surprising. I got so lost in Peter’s story, I wasn’t ready to leave it. But once I understood this was going to be the book’s format, I absolutely loved it. Switching between the decades and characters simultaneously allowed for powerful and engaging generational and societal commentary.

I was also surprised to find that a book I wholly expected to be about the Holocaust — and much of it was — was really a story about a family and their relationship to food. Each person in this book has a completely different view about what foods means to them emotionally and physically, allowing food to serve as a metaphor for each of the characters’ relationships to each other.

The title The Lost Family can be interpreted in so many ways. It refers to Peter’s first family who he lost in the war. But it also refers to his new family, who loses themselves in their own drama. But the journey to them finding themselves makes it all worth it.

MVP: Peter. When he attempts a second shot at life with a new family, he doesn’t put in enough effort to strengthen their bond. But the difference between him and June is that he loves his daughter so deeply that she has the power to make him realize what’s missing and what he needs to do to find himself. His journey is sad and long, but uplifting in the end.

Get The Lost Family in paperback for $16.99. 

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Movie vs. Book: A Simple Favor

simple favorThe entire time I read Darcey Bell’s page-turner of a noir novel A Simple Favor, all I could think was “this is VERY Gone Girl.” And that’s not a bad thing. Were some of the plotlines a bit predictable? Yes. But the French noir tone of the book, the rotating narrators and the big twists every 50 pages or so kept me on my toes.

A Simple Favor tells the story of a widowed mother, Stephanie who meets a beautiful bombshell of a working mother named Emily. Their sons are friends at school, and they spend time together while the boys have playdates. Shortly after their friendship blossoms, Emily goes missing. Her husband Sean is the initial suspect, but has an alibi. So Stephanie spends the following weeks searching for Emily, blogging about her disappearance and requesting help from other mothers, caring for Emily’s son and eventually falling in love with Emily’s husband. She moves in on Emily’s life.

But then the boys start telling Stephanie they see Emily at school, and suddenly Stephanie is receiving phone calls from her. Emily is very much alive. Disappearing and faking her own death to earn life insurance money, Emily doesn’t really care about Stephanie or Sean. She’s a woman on a mission and she’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that and find a better life for her and her son. Screw the husband. And screw Stephanie.

All this is pretty well-followed in the first half of the movie version. Blake Lively is the PERFECT Emily — so exquisitely beautiful, fashionable, direct, and confident. Anna Kendrick is the perfect Stephanie: kind of slutty and inherently dumb. But all the twists in the second half of the movie are a significant departure from the book. In the movie, more people are murdered. In the movie, a completely different person “wins” in the end.

The changes made for the movie deeply villainize Emily’s character, making her inherently evil, whereas in the book, Emily has a soft side. There are certain people in her life who she cares for deeply. Her character in the book is a lot more complicated, which makes her so deliciously fun to follow along. It’s easy to get down with her badassery and be swept away by her charm. The changes made for the movie also empower Stephanie’s character. She is emboldened and stands up for herself in the cat and mouse game she plays with Emily. In the book, she starts as the mouse and remains the mouse.

My guess is the changes made for the movie were meant to indulge the audience: the less complicated the characters, the easier it is to root for one over the other. And the movie does a good job of still being deliciously fun (even though the ending goes a little off the rails in its absurdity).

I prefer the book and its darkness, its open-ended finish, its complicated grey-area characters. But that said, watching Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively spar with each other is never a bad way to spend two hours.

Get A Simple Favor in paperback for $11.22.

Or on your Kindle for $10.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Review: You Are A Badass

badassI had recently started a new job, hit the one year anniversary of my father’s death and was about to turn 30. There were so many things running through my mind, so much doubt, so much negative self-speak, so much worry about the future, reflecting on the past and wondering if I was meeting my proper potential in the present. It was the perfect time to finally read the highly recommended You Are A Badass. And I’m so glad I did.

Author Jen Sincero uses this self-help guide to not only get to realize your self-worth and gain confidence, but as an instructional aide explaining why we are the way we are. She explains that “faking it til we make it” just won’t work. If your subconscious doesn’t truly believe what you’re telling yourself to believe, then it will never come. So in order to achieve your dreams, gain confidence and find your inner badass, you have to start from the inside out. She gives both concrete active doable examples and more philosophical abstract ways to think about things to get you to love yourself, figure out what your dreams are, work toward them without self-doubt and realize your awesome potential. Meditation, time management, gratitude, offering kindness to others, pushing away fear — all of these are very doable things once we decide we’re going to do it.

But my biggest takeaway from the book (by far) is the concept that what you put out in the world will bounce back to you. If you are negative all the time, you’re only going to experience negative things. But if you are positive and put those positive vibes out there, believe you’re going to have good days and accomplish your goals, then you will. The universe will hear you.

Does all this sound hokey? Sure. It probably does. But the fact is Sincero believes so strongly in these ideas and is so passionate about them throughout this book, that it’s hard not to hop on board and believe it.

Shortly after I read this book, my husband and I were shopping and stopped in an art gallery. I saw a painting that I thought was really pretty, so I told my husband “look how beautiful that one is.” Then I heard a man behind me say “you just made my day. I’m the artist.” He then went on to show us some of his other work that was displayed in the gallery. To be nice, my husband and I started looking through the pieces and unexpectedly stumbled across the perfect painting and gift for my newborn niece. The artist then offered to sign the back of the piece for us and wrote a very sweet note for my niece. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t put the positive vibes out there and complimented this man’s work (without even knowing he was in the gallery), he wouldn’t have shown us his other work, we wouldn’t have found the piece, he wouldn’t have signed it and my niece wouldn’t be getting a beautiful gift out of it.

You Are A Badass is not just any self-help book. It is a perspective-shifting book. It has reshaped the way I view the world and my attitude. Whenever I find myself in a low place, this will be the book I turn to.

Get You Are A Badass in paperback now for $9.59.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Review: The Gene Guillotine

gene guillotineRecap: Kate Preskenis’s world revolves around her mother. Diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease, Kate’s mom struggles through family events, battles daily routines and loses herself from moment to moment. It’s enough to encourage Kate to adapt her life around staying home or close to home to care for her mother. Even though she has a lot of siblings, she wants to be there. It’s Kate who rubs her mom’s feet, who finds their own language to speak.

So it comes as a complete shock when, roughly two years into the diagnosis, Kate’s father dies of a sudden heart attack. But Kate and her siblings begin to wonder how much of a shock it really is. After all, he too had struggled with his wife’s diagnosis. He took on the burden — albeit willingly and happily — of his new role as “caregiver.” Now that role is left to Kate and her brothers and sisters. Together, they must take turns and make plans for their mother who’s getting progressively worse.

As Kate’s mom’s condition worsens, so does Kate’s emotional well-being. Caring for a sick mother is not easy for anyone, especially someone as young as Kate. She wants to be there for her mom and easily drops everything, including other relationships, to do it. But this is not where Kate’s story ends. This is only part one. Part two is the debate over whether she should be genetically tested for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Analysis: In her heartbreaking and honest memoir, Kate Preskenis tells the modern-day version of what Alzheimer’s has become: a haunting disease that so often affects the family members of the patient more than the patient. The disease is all the more bolstered in its chilling effects by the fact that science now enables people to be genetically tested for it. It’s a battle that anyone who has or had a loved one with Alzheimer’s can relate to.

I, myself, lost my father to the disease last year. I’d been lent this book years ago and had never had the guts to read it until now. Even now, I slogged through it; I found the content so relatable, it became hard to read. I was impressed by how closely Preskenis documented her experience. It was obvious that many of her journal entries were likely adapted for the book. She also relied on a tape recorder for conversations with doctors so they could be properly transcribed.

The book ends on a heavy note. She details the process of being genetically tested and debates whether or not to learn the results, and we are also left wondering. Of course, I can’t blame her for grappling with the decision. It’s something I think about every day and have — at this point — opted not to be tested for the disease. As there is currently no cure, there’s not much I or anyone could do about the results. But I do wish the ending offered some semblance of hope for the future of her, her family and the disease. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, we could all use a little hope.

You can buy The Gene Guillotine now in paperback for $14.95.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews