Tag Archives: drama

Review: The Tenth Circle

circle-500Recap: Trixie Stone’s life and that of her parents turn upside down when she comes home from a party, telling them her boyfriend, Jason, just raped her. Trixie’s father, Daniel, reverts back to the days before he was married, bursting with anger, ready to rage. Trixie’s mother, Laura, is full of guilt, wondering if this ever would have happened had she not had a recent affair with one of the TA’s from the college-level literature course she teaches.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, Jason, an all-star hockey player and student, is found dead days later, after seemingly jumping from a bridge in town. But it soon turns into a murder case, and since the whole town knows about the alleged rape, they are quick to blame Trixie. The question of whether Trixie’s assault was actually rape is replaced by the question of who killed Jason? And unfortunately, the Stones don’t come across as being particularly reliable sources of information.

Analysis: Jodi Picoult is very Jodi Picoult with this novel, weaving the stories back and forth between the perspectives of Trixie, Daniel, Laura, Jason and the detective working the case. Interestingly, she also uses illustrations to show a different interpretation of what’s happening.

The novel is heavily influenced by the symbolism and story of Dante’s Inferno. It’s Laura’s favorite book to teach, and it just so happens to be what she’s teaching when her life starts to fall apart. Together, all the characters seems to be stirring around in their own form of Hell. Daniel is an comic strip writer and illustrator, so he uses his wife’s love of with Inferno to create a comic strip named The Tenth Circle. There are only nine circles of Hell, but Daniel’s personal Hell runs deeper, so he adds a layer. His comic strip winds up being semi-autobiographical and centers on a middle-aged man who must fight his way through ten circles of Hell to save his daughter. Those images are used throughout the book as a metaphorical story within the story.

I love the way Picoult intertwined all these other subplots with the comic strip. I also loved that The Tenth Circle (the novel, not the comic strip) takes place during the winter in cold settings, emphasizing a contrast with Hell.

The problem with the book is its ending. It’s fairly anti-climatic and predictable with one very obvious line foreshadowing the answer to the “whodunit” in the murder case. It also ends, more or less, with the climax and no resolution. During the middle section of the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. After all that build, the ending felt disappointing for a story otherwise so well told.

MVP: Daniel. He must face his past to save his future, and while the metaphors and symbolism are heavy and obvious, they work. He does what he must to save his family, and while he has a dark side, he keeps it in check.

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Review: The Hopefuls

28007954Recap: It’s one thing to move to Washington, D.C. to support your husband’s work. It’s another to then move to Texas for a year to support him as he runs a campaign for his frenemy. But that’s exactly what Beth does in this scandalous political novel. Beth has always known of Matt’s dream to run for office. But it still comes as a surprise when, after years of living in New York together, he becomes serious about moving to D.C. She follows suit, but hates her new city — too full of pomp, circumstance and pompous politicians and their wives. Not to mention, it’s closer to his family in Maryland, including her mother-in-law with whom she does not get along.

But in due time, Matt and Beth become friends with Jimmy and Asheleigh. Matt and Jimmy work together, and Asheleigh is epitomizes everything a politician’s wife should be. Despite their being complete opposites, Beth and Asheleigh become inseparable, as do Matt and Jimmy. But Jimmy always seems to be one step ahead of Matt in his career, and soon Matt’s friendship also becomes partially built on envy.

After several of Matt’s job prospects fall through, Jimmy asks him to run his campaign for a position available in his and Asheleigh’s home state of Texas. So they all move there, with Beth and Matt taking the Dillons up on their offer to live in their house. One can only imagine the stress, the exhaustion and the changes that develop after months of campaigning. Matt spends little time with Beth. Asheleigh seems distant. Jimmy is aggravated with everyone. But as some relationships sour, others start to bloom anew — and therein lies even more problems than the ones that have to do with politics.

Analysis: Just in time for the 2016 election, The Hopefuls dives into the inner-workings of D.C. politics in the most delectable way. It includes the honest political hard work of The West Wing, the simmering desire of Scandal, and questions about these couples’ pairings a la House of Cards. What makes this a standout is that it’s not about the President, but about some low-level White House employees, trying to make it big. As inundated as pop culture is with political drama — both real and not — we’ve yet to see a story about a person at the start of their political career and not at the peak.

Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dressescover equally the political aspects of the story and their effects on relationships. I love that the story is written from the perspective of Beth, both because she’s a woman in this world and because she’s completely uninterested in the universe of politics. Usually in this kind of story, the women are vicious and want to be a part of the political landscape as much as their significant others. It was a refreshing new angle on what could have been a redundant tale.

The Hopefuls felt like it could have been a sequel to Girls in White Dresses, focusing on one of the characters from that novel. Close’s writing here feels a little more mature, subtle (in a good, smart way) and relevant. The ending here is a little sad, a little lost, but in D.C.’s world of young hopefuls, I imagine there is plenty of sad and lost to go around.

MVP: Beth. Yes, she’s the protagonist and no, she doesn’t always make the best choices, nor does she seem particularly motivated. But she puts up with a lot, and at the end of the day, she’s still the most likable of all the heinous — yet amusing! — characters in this book.

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Movie vs. Book: Me Before You

me before youWhen Louisa Clark loses her job as a waitress, she is struggling to figure out what to do next. Her family relies on her and the money she brings in to support them, especially since her father’s been out of work. She goes through a ton of crazy jobs before finally landing a six-month deal as a caregiver for a paraplegic man named Will. Will is a bitter, condescending man who was paralyzed from the neck down in a crash two years earlier. Prior to that, he was an active, adventurous, wealthy man who had want for nothing. Within a few days, Louisa learns she’s mostly been hired to cheer Will up — a seemingly impossible task.

After several months and finally making some headway in terms of cheering up Will, Louisa learns there’s a reason she’s only been signed to a six-month contract. Will doesn’t think his life is worth living, and she makes it her mission to prove otherwise — to show him how he can live a fulfilled life despite his disability. Louisa has a boyfriend, but they eventually break up as her feelings for Will become stronger. But will her plans for travel and deep love for Will be enough to convince him to stay alive?

Me Before You is a beautiful romance novel that also deals with the issues of the disabled, doctor-assisted suicide and learning to live life to the fullest. While Louisa is busy trying to show Will how grand life he can be, he’s the one to actually do that for her — the story turning around on itself. It’s a truly moving book, and the movie is just as emotional and effective.

Sam Claflin as Will and Emilia Clarke as Louisa have ridiculous on-screen chemistry, and while Emilia Clarke’s acting at the beginning of the movie includes some serious over-acting, she grows on you as the movie continues. In the movie, her character is also more perky, quirky and silly than she is the book. Having read the book before seeing the movie, I initially found that kind of personality off-putting, but that, also, grew on me. I realized that where the book could sometimes be incredibly dark, the movie lightened things up a bit. The movie also does a good job of excluding the some of the other darker undertones that both weren’t necessary and didn’t really seem to fit in with the novel anyway — like Louisa’s dark past and the secrets held between Will’s parents. The movie also ends the relationship between Louisa and her boyfriend a little earlier — something for which I was grateful, considering her boyfriend is horrible.

The movie Me Before You is certainly this year’s version of The Fault in Our Stars, and luckily for viewers and readers both the book and movie live up to the romantic, tear-inducing story we all need every once in a while.

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Show vs. Book: Ragtime

America at the start of the 20th century was a crazy time that involved a fair amount of ragtime music, vaudeville and racism — lots and lots of racism. All that is portrayed in the story of Ragtime, which follows the collision of an upper class family from New Rochelle, a family of immigrants and a family of lower class African-Americans.

Side stories along the way detail the atrocities and everyday happenings the nation faced at the time, including the murder trial of Evelyn Nesbitt’s husband, the richness and oddities of JP Morgan and Henry Ford and the up-and-coming magic of Harry Houdini.

But the story truly takes off when Mother — the mother of the upper class family — finds an African American baby in her yard and takes it in. Soon, the child’s mother, Sarah, follows and stays in Mother’s home with her family until she can handle taking care of her baby. While staying with the family, Sarah’s ex-lover, Coalhouse, visits everyday in an attempt to win Sarah back and spend time with his son. Coalhouse is a well-known African-American, ragtime pianist whose car is then trashed and vandalized by the city’s firefighters. It’s enough for Coalhouse to completely erupt and damage the lives and relationships around him until his world spirals and crumbles, leaving all other nearby players to pick up the pieces.

There are too many characters and subplots in the book to detail here, but suffice to say the musical does a wonderful job of zeroing in on the most important and exciting parts of the story and bringing them to life. The novel’s beginning is bogged down by the story of Evelyn Nesbitt, which becomes irrelevant by the end. The novel also includes a lot of details about Morgan, Ford and Houdini. While interesting and helpful in setting the tone of the time, they also don’t do much to move the story along. The musical smartly cuts a lot of this and instead focuses on the Coalhouse storyline, which is the most heartbreaking and also the most socially-conscious.

Because of the visual aspect of the show — the sets, the silhouettes — the story’s symbolism also becomes much more apparent than in the book. The musical, for instance, makes a clear distinction between the immigrants, the upper class white people and the lower class black people. The silhouettes, which are only mentioned in the book as an art form, are used throughout the show and acknowledge the show’s theme: that color and race should not be the most important thing about a person.

Ragtime, the novel, was enjoyable, until I saw the show and saw how much more focused it was in its storytelling — and the incredible music didn’t hurt either.

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Review: The Nightingale

515p3orn1kl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recap: Viann and Isabelle are two sisters at different points in their lives, who are both dealing with the same struggle: surviving in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Just because they’re not Jewish doesn’t make things any easier. Viann and her daughter are forced to house a Nazi while Viann’s husband fights in the war. While she prays daily for her husband, she also must continue teaching students at school and being the primary support for her Jewish best friend and neighbor. She carries on with her duties while watching her hometown fall apart and witnessing death and destruction.

While Viann tries to get through each day, Isabelle decides she must do something and joins rebel group. She moves back to France to live with her father, with whom she has a tumultuous relationship. After months of passing notes between other rebels, she takes up an even greater cause: saving injured foreign soldiers by leading them through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.

The story goes back and forth between WWII and a time 50 years later, when one of the sisters considers returning to France for the first time since the war.

Analysis: As much as I love books, it takes a lot for one to make me cry, and The Nightingale had been sobbing, but not in a depressing way like My Sister’s Keeper, and not in a unnecessarily depressing way like One Day. The ending of The Nightingale was simply so perfect, so beautiful that it brought tears of joy to my eyes in the best way. These sisters suffered through so much and made so many sacrifices. Their lives didn’t go the way they wanted or expected them to, but the way they lived them was worth it in the end. Without giving away too much, it was just beautiful.

The mystery of which sister was telling the story 50 years later kept me turning pages as much as their own individual stories. Even the less interesting sections about Viann cooking dinner were still fascinating because of the greater issues going on around her.

I also loved that this was a Holocaust fiction novel about two non-Jews. It makes it obvious that even for the groups that weren’t targeted, there was still so much pain and anguish, and that’s not something we hear about too often when reflecting on Europe during WWII.

MVP: Isabelle. She received the least amount of love. Her family constantly pushed her away. She never received the support she needed or deserved. And yet, she showed more love, gave more support and exhibited more strength than any of the characters in the novel. She made life possible for so many people, and that cannot be ignored.

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Review: The Storyteller

Recap: Sage Singer is perfectly content with her sad, lonely life. Well, “perfectly content” may not have been the right phrase to use. That said, she’s comfortable, working overnights at a bakery, keeping distant from her sisters since their parents died, and sleeping with a man who has a wife and family. But everything changes with Sage meets Josef Weber. He’s not a new love interest. He’s a 90-year-old retiree who lives in her small Rhode Island town and lets Sage in on a secret. He tells her he’s a former Nazi and wants Sage, a Jewish girl, to kill him and end his guilty suffering.

In typical Jodi Picoult controversial-story-content fashion, Sage must decide what to do — whether to assist suicide this reformed Nazi or whether to let him continue his suffering until he eventually dies. As she struggles with the decision, she reaches out to the Department of Justice. Leo is the agent set on helping her uncover Josef’s secrets and prosecute him. In order to do that, she needs the help of a Holocaust survivor. Luckily, Sage’s grandmother, Minka, is such a woman. Minka shares her horrific story in the hopes that it will be enough to convict Josef for all his wrongdoings. But along with the detail-oriented investigation and research lies another issue — time. Will Sage, her grandmother and Leo be able to pull this all together before Josef dies of regular old age?

Analysis: Jodi Picoult does it again — choosing a controversial issue about which to write and finding a way to develop emotionally complex characters. She sticks to the same format as her other books, switching between narrators each chapter. I like that format. It works for her books because it allows the reader to better understand the different sides of each controversial topic. But in The Storyteller, things became muddled in the middle.

The grandmother’s section about her experience in the Holocaust was long and gruesome. It was powerful, and maybe that’s why she chose not to have another character break up the section. But It was so emotionally difficult for me to get through, it would have been nice to have had another characters’ thoughts interspersed there.

The novel was so great, the story so powerful, the pain so excruciating, and then there was the ending. The end was a bit of a shock, but not enough to leave me breathless. It was not as satisfying as it could have been. After all Picoult did to build those characters, all I could do at the end was shrug. And that was disappointing.

MVP: Sage is a mess at the start of the novel. But by the end, she gets it together in the most unlikely of ways. She proves her strength, finds her undiscovered confidence and voice, and she finally does something. Her growth was wonderful to follow.

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Review: At the Water’s Edge

Recap: The world takes Maddie Hyde by storm when, in 1945, her husband Ellis and his best friend, Hank, whisk her away to Scotland to search for the Loch Ness Monster. It sounds silly, but the search is very real for Hank and especially Ellis, whose father tried and failed to find it himself, thereby making a national fool of himself. Now Ellis is set on redeeming his father and proving his worth by finding the monster himself.

But as the three leave their socialite home of Philadelphia for a shabby inn/restaurant in Scotland, they realize their lives can’t be any more different from those who live by the sea. Day in and day out, Hank and Ellis spend their time looking for the loch and getting good and drunk. This leaves Maddie to her own devices at the inn, where she eventually befriends the staff. The longer Ellis is gone, the drunker he gets, and the more abusive he acts toward Maddie — both emotionally and verbally. Maddie soon notices many of her prescription pills are missing, and she’s correct in assuming Ellis is taking them. The time spent in Scotland opens Maddie’s eyes to the man her husband truly is and makes her wonder where her life is going from here — her own internal war as WWII rages on in Europe and as her husband struggles to find the Loch Ness Monster and his own worthiness.

AnalysisAt the Water’s Edge is ripe with metaphors in a beautiful, if not mildly overstated, way. Initially, the search for the Loch Ness Monster comes across as silly — surprising at the very least, especially coming from bestselling Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen. But as the story continues, the existence of the loch becomes less important.  It becomes clear that the monster is a metaphor for all of the other monsters in Maddie’s life — Hitler, her husband, her lack of family support. In the end, when she confronts all these monsters simultaneously, it happens — where else? — at the water’s edge. Yet another metaphor for her imminent rebirth and fresh start, of which she is entirely deserving.

While the metaphors are well-devised, so is the structure of the novel, which starts off with a brief scene that takes place three years before the start of Maddie’s story. When those two story lines eventually converge, it’s done in a way that made me say “Ohhhhhhh” out loud. It takes some time, but it all starts to come together, and the book picks up momentum from there. It’s hard to tell where Gruen is going with the novel, but that uncertainty is refreshing, as is the ending of the novel. Maddie’s empowering development is similar to that which Gruen writes about in Water for Elephants, and this book is likely to have the same success.

MVP: Maddie. She grew up feeling so undeserving of anything, but as it turns out, she is the most deserving of good things. It’s just a matter of pushing herself to realize that. When she does, she blossoms, and that self-discovery is exciting to experience.

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