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Review: Emma

IMG_3381Recap: In this classic British romance novel, Emma is one of the most popular and well-liked bachelorettes in her community, but no matter how hard she tries, she is completely oblivious to the true wants and needs of the people around her. If you’ve seen the movie Clueless, it may or may not surprise you to know it’s loosely based on this Jane Austen novel from 1815. Emma is the “Cher” character — or rather, “Cher” is the Emma character — focused so much on matchmaking her friends that she misreads signals for her own opportunities at love — or misses them altogether. In the first half of the novel, she is intent on fixing up her new and lower class friend Harriet (“Tai” in Clueless if you’re still following along with the comparison) with her friend Mr. Elton. But every signal that she believes proves Mr. Elton likes Harriet is a sign he actually loves Emma. The result? Both Mr. Elton and Harriet are crushed.

This ripple effect continues throughout the novel as she encourages Harriet to refuse a proposal from a lower-class man, finds herself with feelings for a man who’s secretly already engaged to another woman in town and then tries to set Harriet up with a man who she ultimately realizes she, herself, actually has feelings for.

The gist: Emma is a hot mess. Movie producer Amy Heckerling had it right; she really is clueless. But it’s hard not to root for her anyhow. She is not the greatest friend, but she does try, and as a 21-year-old, can we really blame her for misreading signals from men? Weren’t we all doing that at that age?

Analysis: The truth is I bought this book at a used book sale years ago and never read it because it’s roughly 450 pages and 200-year-old British literature. Very intimidating. But once I started it, I found that it was incredibly easy to follow — much easier than some other classic literature I’ve read. Essentially, it’s a teenage rom com set in 1800’s Britain! It’s quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the Miss Bates character who can’t seem to stop talking. We all have someone like that in our lives.

Aside from the obvious romantic themes and tropes (falling for the one who’s been there all along, etc. etc.), Emma also speaks to much larger themes that still resonate today, including social and economic status as well as gender roles. I never realized how much of Clueless thereby also deals with these themes; it clearly does, but obviously not to the level and depth of Austen’s literature. Emma herself is a strong feminist, refusing to marry for most of the novel. It is more important for her to care for her ill father than to find a man to support her. She also makes her matchmaking decisions based on status, swaying Harriet away from the “poor man” and toward the more upstanding “rich man.” (This can be interpreted negatively in that she is focusing on who can better provide for her friend or positively, in that she doesn’t care for the class system at all and sees no problem in her friend dating outside her class.)

It’s an interesting look at much how much and how little has changed in the 200+ years since Emma was first published.

MVP: Mr. Knightley. As yet another love interest in this complex romance novel and brother of Emma’s brother-in-law, he is the only one who — though bitter and defiant at times — is frank and says what he means. When it comes to Mr. Knightley, there are rarely ulterior motives. He knows what he wants from the beginning and bides his time until he gets it, but never fakes feelings like many of the other characters in this novel.

Get Emma now on your Kindle for $8.00

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Amy Schumer the Next Comedienne To Pen Memoir

In the growing list of female comedians who already have or plan to pen memoirs or books of essays — Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Anna Kendrick — we now have another to add to the list: Amy Schumer.

Who’s surprised? Not me! She’s had a fantastic year, and now Entertainment Weekly is reporting her book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, sold for between $8-10 million. Apparently her book was shopped to publishers all over Manhattan, but Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Book finally put in the highest bid.

No word on when the book is set to be published, but I think it’s safe to say it’s bound to be a bestseller!

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Review: Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution

Recap: Lola Montez is on the run, and where to next? It’s the mid-1800s, and Montez is not one to settle. So when she is dared to seduce a king, she moves to Bavaria to try her hand at seducing King Ludwig I. That’s where she becomes one of the most famous mistresses in European history. Does this sound familiar? It might. That’s because it’s all based on the true story of the real Lola Montez, an actress, dancer, and mistress from the 19th century.

It’s her relationship with King Ludwig that results in backlash from the public. But Lola and her crazy self is too oblivious to notice the continental shakeup she’s had a part in starting. As she hooks the king, she continues to have sexual relationships with other men. Meanwhile, her daughter is cared for by her own mother — the fact that she’s the mother is kept secret from the both the little girl and anyone else Lola knows. Right decision or not, it’s enough to give Lola a reason to keep going.

Analysis: It’s hard for me to put into words what I didn’t like about this book. All I can say is there was a lot. It was twisty, and with no knowledge of the real Lola Montez, I didn’t know where the story was going. Her character comes off not so much cosmopolitan as she is casually slutty. The book is obviously meant to be comedic; we’re meant to laugh at her obliviousness and her ability to command attention and power without necessarily meaning to. But instead, I found it annoying. She came off as silly and dumb to me, making it difficult for me to connect with her and her story. The most interesting part was the relationship she had with her daughter — the daughter who doesn’t know Lola is actually her mom. But the reader only gets small glimpses into that relationship.

The book is also hard to read as a stand alone. It’s the third book in a series about Lola Montez, the Whip Smart series, and though it was teased as a novel I’d be able to read without having read the previous novels, it didn’t feel that way. It referenced things that happened in the earlier books fairly often. Eventually I was able to figure it out, but it made it hard for me to sympathize with Lola and what she had already been through.

MVP: Lola Montez. Despite how many issues I had with the book, she was nothing if not a spicy character with lots of personality! I couldn’t help but laugh at her casual looseness and aloofness.

Get Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution in paperback for $14.60.

Or get it on your Kindle for $5.39.

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Review: The Stupidest Angel

Recap: Just in time for Christmas, an angel wants to grant a wish to a child. And that wish comes just in time, since a little boy from Pine Grove, California recently witnessed “Santa Claus” get killed in a cemetery. What better timing than now, so the boy can ask the angel to revive Santa from the dead? All of this happens while the townspeople in Pine Grove are getting ready for their annual Christmas party at the local church, near the cemetery.

Really, what could go wrong? Except everything goes wrong, when the boy’s wish is granted and not only does Santa come back from the dead — so do many other bodies buried in the cemetery. And to top it all off, they come back as brain-eating zombies.

Analysis: If you’re in the mood for a light, silly book, this is the book for you. With Christmas around the corner, it might be just the right time to read it. The book is funny, and it’s completely off its rocker. Some people might be into that. I am not. I had a rough time reading this book, and in fact, almost gave up finishing it entirely. But because it was for a book club, I kept on reading.

There were some funny jokes, but all of the characters were pretty warped, generally obsessed with sex, drugs or things that are just plain weird. The plot itself is psychotically silly and very focused on death in a comical, twisted way.

I’ve read that author Christopher Moore used several of his characters from his previous novels in this one, so maybe had I read some of his other books, I would have enjoyed this one more. If you already know you’re into Christopher Moore novels and his style, then I imagine The Stupidest Angel would be right up your alley. But it’s sarcastic, dark humor was too ridiculous for me to wrap my head around. I mean, read my recap again — and you be the judge.

Get The Stupidest Angel in hardcover for $13.59.

Or on your Kindle for $7.99.

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Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Recap: First, we’re given a report card. Then, a letter. Next, some emails. A little dialogue mixed in. And suddenly, we’re piecing together a puzzle full of characters coming at the reader from a wide variety of sources. This is the organized chaos in which author Maria Semple tells the story of architect-turned-stay at home mom Bernadette Fox, her Microsoft whiz genius husband Elgin Branch, and their bright, ahead-of-her-years daughter Bee.

The report card is Bee’s. The letter was sent home to Bee’s parents by her established private school. The emails are between Bernadette Fox and her virtual personal assistant who lives in India and earns less than one dollar per hour. Yes, there’s something not quite right here.

So begins the story of Bernadette Fox, a woman who appears to have a serious case of neurosis, social anxiety, and a general fear of life — a woman who, initially, seems a little wacky. But as we learn more about her and her architectural experience, her award-winning work, we come to understand that maybe she’s a little unstable. Or maybe the instability is first, then the wackiness. The point is, it doesn’t matter.

This is a seemingly dark, but actually comical story about a woman who plans to take her family on a trip to Antarctica, until her husband confronts her about the information she’s been giving to her virtual assistant (a person who is so close to stealing everything from her that the FBI gets involved). Suddenly she escapes and is nowhere to be found, while Elgin and Bee attempt to deal with a number of other problems. So the question is, where’d you go, Bernadette?

Analysis: Again, the point is, it doesn’t matter. Where Bernadette went is probably the least important part of the book. It’s the funny, distracted telling of the story and the background of each character that hold far more significance. The scatterbrained format of the novel — a mixture of emails, letters, notes — helps move the book along in a fun way, and mirrors the scatterbrained mind that belongs to Bernadette.

The last few sections of the novel become a more straightforward narrative, told by Bee. She fills in the blanks for the reader and  gives us a glimpse into how she feels about everything that’s happened to her and her family. Ultimately, the book is more about the relationship between a mother and her daughter, between a mother and her family, than it is about anything else. That, and maybe the laughter to be had along the journey. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a mystery story that I never wanted to solve — because unraveling it all was just so much fun.

MVP: Bernadette. Though seemingly unstable, she is easily the strongest and most resourceful character in the book. Her oddities only make her fun to read and laugh about — and that’s never a bad thing.

Get Where’d You Go, Bernadette in paperback for $9.14.

Or get it on your Kindle for $8.59.

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Three Memoirs Coming from Three Big Stars in 2014

It seems like every year, more and more celebrities pen memoirs. Some of them we care about. A lot of them we don’t. But 2014 seems like it might be a good year for celebrity books! Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, comedian Martin Short, and Glee actress Lea Michele are all working on books to be released next year.

According to The New York Times, Robin Roberts’ book will be a memoir detailing her struggles with cancer and recent bout with a rare blood disorder. Of course, it will also include the life lessons she’s learned along the way, much of which is owed to her successful career in the TV industry. Published by Grand Central Publishing, the as-yet untitled book has an April 2014 release date.

According to The New York Times, Martin Short is also penning a memoir due to be released next Fall. His book will include details about his career in show business (including Saturday Night Live and The Three Amigos) as well as his 30-year marriage, which ended in 2010 when his wife passed away. Harper is publishing the  funnyman’s book, which is not yet titled.

And last but not least, Glee actress and Broadway starlet Lea Michele is penning a book, Brunette Ambition, due out next Spring. According to Entertainment Weekly, her book, published by Harmony Books, is not all memoir. It will be “part memoir, part how-to, and part style-guide.” It will tell the story of her rise to fame and include fitness tips, exclusive photos, and “career insights.”

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Amy Poehler to Pen Memoir

Celebrities seem to constantly be publishing memoirs these days, don’t they? But few of them have us as excited as this one: a memoir by SNL and Parks and Recreation star and comedienne Amy Poehler.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Poehler has a deal with It Books to release her first book sometime in 2014. It Books is an imprint of HarperCollins. Not much is known about what the book will include, but I’m sure if it’s anything like Tina Fey’s Bossypants, it will sell like crazy.

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