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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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Movie vs. Book: A Wrinkle In Time

The classic fantasy children’s novel tells the story of a young girl Meg, who is transported to another planet by three other-worldly women (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which). The mission: to locate her father who has gone missing in a space-traveling mishap. Along for the ride are her younger “special” brother (Charles Wallace) who is brilliant and a boy from school (Calvin) who — unbeknownst to her — is interested in her, her intelligence and her friendship.

It’s an empowering female story about love, trust and taking a leap of faith. For that reason, it has been read by boys and girls everywhere since it was first published in 1962. To see it on the big screen with such a phenomenal cast as Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid and Chris Pine was exciting to say the very least.

The movie takes the novel a step further by not only having a female lead this story, but by making her mixed race, forcing more than just a gender-oriented discussion. The character of Mrs. Who, who in the novel only speaks by quoting famous philosophers and successful people, is also updated in the movie as she quotes more modern artists, including Outkast and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Because the book is so fantastical, the movie has to hold up to it; it relies on a lot of CG in these make-believe planets. Good or bad, cheesy or not, the CG is beautiful. It’s simply a pretty movie to watch, which works considering how pretty the story is when we first read it.

But there are some major changes that really take away from the original story. In the novel, Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace are each given a piece of advice from the three Mrs. when they are forced to complete the journey on their own. Calvin is told his best talent is communication and he should use it when the moment calls for it. When the trio finds themselves in a moment where the evil spirit IT is trying to hypnotize them with monotonous chanting, Calvin gets out of the trap by shouting back at IT in phrasing that doesn’t rhyme or sound rhythmic in any way. It allows him to keep from being hypnotized, and then Meg follows suit. This section is eliminated from the movie altogether. By cutting this scene, the movie ultimately gives Calvin no real purpose. He just seems to be a character along for the ride. Without those few key moments, he’s essentially worthless.

In the book when Meg finally finds her father, he is trapped in a glass tube. Getting him out from there becomes a entirely new challenge. But in the movie, when she finds him, he’s just roaming around in a multi-colored hallway, and they are able to embrace and easily move on with the story.

As the story goes, Charles Wallace has become brainwashed by IT. Meg’s father suggests leaving the planet without Charles Wallace. The mere suggestion leaves Meg so aghast that her father would ever consider leaving his son behind. It leaves the reader aghast too. I remember thinking what a horrible father! But then Meg, Calvin and Meg’s father “tesser” — or transport — to another planet. Meg becomes really sick. She’s comforted and nursed back to health by a mysterious, mystical creature who she names Aunt Beast. During this time, she and her father resolve their issues and the Mrs. come back and tell Meg that she must be the one to  save Charles Wallace since she has the closest relationship with him. This ENTIRE section is removed from the movie. It is crushing to have this section cut and damages the storytelling of the movie. First of all, Aunt Beast is a beloved character. To have her eliminated is just sad. Secondly, this part of the book allows Meg — and  us, the readers — to make peace with Meg’s father over his suggestion to leave Charles Wallace behind. This resolution doesn’t really happen in the movie until the very end, at which point it feels like a rushed, forced afterthought.

It’s no surprise to me that the movie version of A Wrinkle in Time has gotten bad reviews, and that the movie will likely bomb at the box office. Personally, I thought there was some great acting and a few key moments filled with emotion. I also still think it’s an important movie for right now — seeing a biracial female lead us on this journey. But it doesn’t finish with the full scope of emotion, positivity, strength, empowerment, fantasy and storytelling that the book is known for.

Get A Wrinkle in Time in paperback for $5.65. 

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Movie vs. Book: Call Me By Your Name

One of my favorite lines from the movie Love Actually” is when the red-headed boy Sam tells his father (stepfather?) that he’s in love with a girl. His father’s response is “I’m a little relieved.” When the boy asks why, he explains he thought whatever the boy was about to tell him would be worse, to which Sam replies “Worse than the total agony of being in love?”

The total agony of being in love is the premise of Call Me By Your Name, which tells the story of a 17-year-old boy who falls in love with another man — a student his father has taken in for research help for their summer abroad in Italy. Enter Oliver, a stunning, charming man who seems so sure of himself, but whom young Elio can’t read. All he knows is he is attracted to Oliver — desperately, hopelessly attracted. Here comes Agony Part One. Over the course of their weeks together, both Elio and Oliver have relationships with girls, but they ultimately keep finding themselves more interested in each other. One night together results in a completely new breathtaking, sensual, deeply loving relationship — one which will knowingly end at the of the summer but affect them forever. (Agony Part Two.)

Typically when I write my movie vs. book reviews, I’ve read the book in preparation for the movie, then see the movie and compare. But in this case, I saw the movie first and fell so madly in love with it, I needed more. So I read the book, which I also fell madly in love with and watched the movie again.

The story resonated with me so deeply, reminding me of my first relationships and flings that, similarly to Elio and Oliver, have had a lasting impact on me. Man man, woman woman, man woman — all that is really irrelevant here. What’s understandable for everyone is the experience, exploration, and desire.

The novel Call Me By Your Name received so many literary awards when it was published in 2007, and it is truly beautifully written with sections full of lovestruck anxiety that wreak of teenager as well as insightful sections about love and life. It is refreshing then, that James Ivory who adapted the screenplay for the movie, kept so much of the book true to the movie down to the dialogue. If the writing is beautiful, why change it? Thankfully Ivory saw, understood and respected that. Thankfully actor Timothee Chalamet (who plays Elio), Armie Hammer (who plays Oliver) and Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays Elio’s father) also do a beautiful job of translating exact lines from the novel into moving action on screen.

That said, there are a few major changes. The movie eliminates one character altogether — a little girl who lived next door to Elio in the book and becomes good friends with Oliver over the summer. She plays a part in getting the two of them together in the behind-their-backs conversations she has with each of them. In the movie, her scenes of dialogue are instead just given to Elio’s mother. The book is also set entirely in memory; it’s from Elio’s point of view and told 20 years after his summer with Oliver. He then writes about several other times he’s met with and seen Oliver in the 20 years since that summer. Instead the movie ends with a phone call six months after the summer (leaving open the option to a possible Call Me By Your Name sequel, which has been widely discussed by the director and actors). The movie also cuts a big party scene from the end of the summer when Elio and Oliver go away together for a few days, an opportunity to show Elio getting excited for his future.

The famous peach scene (which I won’t get into here — but it is full of exquisite metaphor) is possibly more graphic in the novel. And really, everything is a little more graphic in the novel — from Elio and Oliver’s explicit sex scenes and language to Elio’s painstaking agony (See? There’s that word again…) over Oliver.

But overall, it is a beautiful adaptation. I could re-watch and re-read Call Me By Your Name over and over again, if for no other reason than to remember how great love is and how it leaves you no choice but to remember everything.

Get Call Me By Your Name in paperback now for $9.69.

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Review: Lord of the Flies

lordofthefliesbookcoverRecap: The age-old story of a group of people abandoned and trapped on a deserted island basically originated in the 1954 classic novel The Lord of the Flies. A plane crashes on an island, leaving just a group of young boys to fend for themselves without grownups. Their first goal is to be saved. But as time passes, their new goal is to survive, and it proves more difficult than they imagined. After just one day, one of the boys goes missing and is never seen or heard from again. Ralph declares himself the “chief” of the group from the start, using a conch shell as his loudspeaker to call meetings to order and to organize plans, rules and work groups. Piggy, though annoying, becomes his much more logical and intelligent sidekick — or thorn in his side as the case may be. And then there’s Jack, who initially competes with Piggy for Ralph’s attention and then later competes with Ralph for his title.

As time goes on, tensions rise. Ralph is trying to convince the group to bathe every day, go to the bathroom in designated areas and most importantly keep a fire going at the top of the mountain in the hopes a ship will someday see smoke and save the boys. Jack directs his focus in another way: hunting. He becomes obsessed with hunting for pigs. Savagery becomes a source of power for Jack, and most of the other boys follow suite.

AnalysisLord of the Flies is one of the best novels of all time for a reason and remains just as powerful a read for an adult as it is for the teenagers who typically read the book in school. The struggle between order and savagery proves to be the innate struggle in any society, including our own no matter how “modern” we may think we are. That also makes the book particularly relevant now in the United States, a country divided much like the boys on the island are.

Perhaps some of the best parts of the novel come from its symbolism and foreshadowing. As time passes, the conch pales in the sun, which is a clear sign of the conch and the order it represents losing power. The boys are also constantly talking about the desire to hunt pigs, while one of the characters’ names is Piggy. If that’s not a sign of what’s going to happen to him, I don’t know what is. The “flies” in the title represent death, like the flies that typically surround dead bodies. The many “light” references included in the book are obvious signs of the “heaven” that comes after death and/or the heaven that the island appears to be initially, but so clearly is not. The list goes on and on.

There is so much to unpack, interpret and analyze. There’s so much that can be compared to other great classic novels (my personal favorite is the line the “green lights of nausea,” which immediately reminded me of the “green light” in The Great Gatsby). Ultimately The Lord of the Flies remains a great novel because of the one simple and terrifyingly haunting truth it proves: there is darkness in all of us, and when things are as bad as bad gets, we can’t stop it from coming out.

MVP: Piggy. Even Piggy “breaks bad” to an extent, but it’s much less severe than most of the other boys. His intelligence could have saved the boys very early, but his lack of confidence stops him from doing so. His story is a sad, pathetic tragedy, but a fascinating one.

Get The Lord of the Flies now in paperback for $11.48. 

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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.

Get At the Water’s Edge in hardcover for $20.72.

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Book Cover Revealed for Harper Lee’s New Book

It wasn’t too long ago that word got out that the bestselling author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, would be releasing a “new” book. “New” is relative as Harper Lee actually wrote Go Set a Watchman years ago. But with its expected arrival on July 14th, HarperCollins has now released the book jacket for the novel, printed exclusively by People

The cover is rather similar to the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a prequel to Lee’s latest venture.

With HarperCollins already planning to print 2 million copies of Harper Lee’s latest novel, the publishing company is expecting Go Set a Watchman to be a huge hit.

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Review: The Goldfinch

Recap: When a young boy loses his mother in a terroristic attack inside a New York City museum, it’s hard to picture where the plot will go. But then that boy, Theo, steals a painting, the famous “Goldfinch” painting, and runs off. His chance meeting with an old man after the attack encourages him to get in touch with the old man’s business partner, Hobie, and niece, who was also at the museum during the explosion. The story takes us through the next 15 years of the boy’s life, all spent with his infamously stolen painting as he continues to struggle with the loss of his mother. Along the way, Theo meets and makes new friends. Theo and the painting start their journey together in New York, living with his friend Andy, then a brief, but impactful stint in Las Vegas, where he befriends Boris, back to New York and finally one last life-altering trip. But as Theo works to put his life back together and prove to his dead mother and himself that he’s fine on his own, one question remains: what will he do with the painting? If he returns it, he faces jail time for theft. If he keeps it, he remains involved in the one of the biggest art heists in history — accidental or not.

Analysis: It’s hard to imagine that anyone could have written a 700+ page book about a painting of a bird, but it happens, and dare I say, I’m glad it did. “The Goldfinch” painting is a very obvious symbol and metaphor for Theo. Like the bird in the painting, Theo is chained down, unable to free himself from the painting or the guilt suffered from death of his mother. With both intact, it’s impossible for Theo to move on. The journey he takes to reach that moment of freedom is long and dark, but worth it for the payoff. Theo works so hard to be like his mother — intelligent and kind, but without her there, he becomes more like his father, full of lies and cheating. His life becomes a horrible cycle of bad things happening to him followed by bad choices he makes. The Goldfinch is full of metaphors, besides “The Goldfinch” itself. For instance, Theo comes to love refurbishing antique furniture, but author Donna Tarttl makes it a point to include that he most enjoys taking pieces apart and putting them back together again — the one thing he wishes he could do with his life but can’t. Theo is sad. “The Goldfinch” is sad. And The Goldfinch is sad. But in following Theo’s long, harsh story, we — along with Theo — learn what’s important in life and that it’s possible to overcome the things one doesn’t expect to have to overcome.

MVP: Hobie. One of the few completely likable characters in the novel, Hobie means well and does well. He is the only living person always there for Theo in exactly the way he needs, and in the moment when Theo acknowledges that he’s lied to and taken advantage of Hobie, my heart broke for him. Get The Goldfinch in hardcover for $18. Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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