Tag Archives: novel

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

IMG_4277.jpgRecap:  Enzo is prepared to die. He believes in reincarnation and believes that in his next life, he will come back as a human. For now, he’s stuck as a dog. Enzo is the teller, the narrator of this story, but it’s not really his story to tell. He tells the story of his owner, Denny, an amateur race car driving living in Seattle — a special man with whom he has a special relationship; after all, he is the man’s best friend.

Enzo begins to feel shafted when Denny meets and starts to date Eve. Their relationship is intense and fast-moving, and Enzo is unsure about whether or not to trust her. But over time, they grow on each other. Ultimately, Eve and Denny have a child together. Eve starts to see Enzo as the protector of the family, a joy for little Zoe to have around the home. This leads to a level of trust between Eve and Enzo that not even Eve and Denny match; when Eve begins to get sick, Enzo senses it and because he’s a dog, there’s little he can do to help.

What follows sends shockwaves through it all. All this happens while Denny’s racing career starts to move into high gear. Enzo the dog witnesses the story of ultimate love so he can be there as support and learn what humanity is really all about.

Analysis: After years of being told “OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU HAVEN’T READ THAT YET,” I finally did and I must admit it was much different than I had expected but I loved it all the same. The novel had much more of a plot — and a dark one at that — which I hadn’t expected. Frankly, I anticipated a simple “man and dog love each other” story, but Art of Racing is much more than that.

There are few things I love more than a title that can picked apart seemingly letter by letter and analyzed in a million ways. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one such title. There’s the literal analysis: it’s a story about a race car driving who — living in Seattle — really is quite good at racing in the rain, a skill that allows him to do well in competition no matter the weather. But the deeper meaning is that there is an art, a skill to dealing with the horrific things life throws us. Denny faces it all here: love, loss, betrayal, failure, contempt. From Denny, Enzo learns the literal art of car racing in the rain; Denny talks to Enzo about racing all the time. But from Enzo, Denny learns the figurative art of racing in the rain: what’s important, who matters and who doesn’t. That lesson allows him to succeed in spite of tragedy. The lessons and skills about race car driving offered in this novel are paralleled to real life lessons in a thread throughout the entire book, not just its title.

MVP: Enzo, obviously. He is wiser than we humans expect dogs to be. For everything we’ll ever know as humans, there are two things we won’t: what happens when we die and what dogs are thinking. Enzo offers us both and teaches us more about life than we think we know too.

Get The Art of Racing in the Rain in paperback for $9.25. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.74. 

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Review: Strangers

strangersRecap: In the epistolary novel that takes place in the late 1980’s, a man named Adrian and woman named Harri write to each other about a brief night of lovemaking they once had and how that affects them and doesn’t affect now 15 years later. For Adrian, it was a memorable night in the ocean with a beautiful woman. For Harri, it was a one-night-stand that served as nothing but a way to get back at her boyfriend with whom she was fighting. More than a decade has passed, but when they run into each other in the airport, it’s all Adrian needs to feel empowered to reach out to Harri and start a real relationship.

But what is this relationship? Are they friends? Lovers? The title may be Strangers, and once it begins, it may feel that way, but as time goes on, “strangers” doesn’t feel quite like the right word.

Their letters to each other are often aggressive — aggressively honest. They talk about their kids and stepkids, their spouses, what makes them happy and what doesn’t. They talk about their past and their future, their regrets and dreams, their childhood and death. Will they meet again? The story seems to build to that in several moments until major twists throw the story off course and take it in a new, dark direction.

Analysis: When I first started reading this story and realized that these pen pal letters stemmed from a chance run-in in the airport from a former one-night-stand, all I could think was who’s crazy enough to do this? And Adrian is a little nuts, but the way his relationship with Harri develops over the course of these months of writing letters is beautiful. They begin to form so much love between, even while there’s still so much angst. They are both wounded. Because misery loves company, those wounds bring them closer. After a while, is it fair to call them strangers? Maybe not. But in the end, everyone is a stranger who’s not him or herself.

I think this may have been the only epistolary novel I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t sure how it would work. But it was extremely compelling with so much depth in their stream of consciousness writing.

MVP: Harri. Though her letters were to Adrian were often mean, it was clear that she really did have feelings for him. More importantly, she was very self-assured and knew what she liked and didn’t like. She had been through a lot, and despite some serious anxiety and depression, she was strong.

Get Strangers on your Kindle for $7.99. 

Or get it in paperback for $22.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Ready Player One

readyplayerone

 

 

Contributed by Harrison Cole

The year is 2045. Due to climate change, misuse of resources, and an ineffective government, the Earth has become an energy-deficient wasteland. The only respite from this decaying world is the OASIS, an online virtual universe. It originally started as a game, but it’s grown to be much more—the OASIS is where you read the news, watch TV, conduct business, attend school, and hang out with friends. After the creator of the OASIS died, he left his entire fortune and controlling stake in the simulation up for grabs with a contest: the first avatar to find his “Easter Egg” hidden in the OASIS wins it all.

The novel is a gripping story that follows high school senior Wade Watts on his quest to find the Egg. I was obsessed from page one and have been preaching the gospel on this one ever since. It’s an easy read that’s got something for almost everyone: it’s fast-paced, full of 80s pop culture references—many of which I wasn’t familiar with before (how great is DEVO?!)—it has a cringe-worthy teen romance, and best of all, it transports you into the vast, exciting digital world of the OASIS with its endless possibilities. Check out Lara’s book review for more. Read the book. READ IT.

The movie is terrible. Spielberg and co. changed quite a bit from the book, but I actually didn’t mind that. I did mind the internal inconsistencies, the references to the book without any context, and the lack of meaningful interaction or development between characters. If you’ll forgive me a minor spoiler, I’ll give you an example of the movie’s sloppiness: at one point there was a reference to “clearing the first gate.” This is a concept unique to the book, and it felt like that line was an artifact from an earlier draft of the script. Also, the movie never explained the reason for the title: when a user logs in, before gaining access to the simulation, the text “READY PLAYER ONE” flashes in front of her. I thought that was an odd omission from the movie since there’s a point-of-view shot when Wade first dons his goggles. I’ve got plenty more but the rest would ruin it for sure, and just because I hated it, that doesn’t mean you will too. But you probably will.

The movie did have some redeeming qualities: the effects were well done, TJ Miller was hilarious, and there were tons of enjoyable pop culture references. Despite only including one song that was referenced in the book, the soundtrack definitely captured the feel of the story. I also dug the scenes depicting what people look like in real life while engaged in the simulation. Funny stuff.

But it wasn’t enough to redeem the movie. Bottom line: wait for streaming. Or better yet, wait until someone develops an OASIS-like simulation and watch it there.

Get Ready Player One in paperback for $8.79.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Soul Witness

51lsnw9ki8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Recap: It’s Black Friday in New York City and another terrorist attack has killed and hurt many. Then the State Capitol of Pennsylvania blows up. Many, many more are killed and hurt. Then a Russian plane headed for New York crashes in northern New Jersey. The number of terrorist attacks has increased. More people are dying and authorities still have no answers. Investigations are started, but seemingly never finished. No terrorists are charged or tried.

But then one of the investigators makes an astonishing discovery. Photos from each of these attacks, as well as the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City and the London bombings from 2007, have one thing in common: the same man’s face. They each show the same man looking as smoke, fire, and chaos ensues. He is never caught in the act with a gun, bomb, or other weapon. He never appears malicious. He just appears to be staring, watching it all happen. Finally at the most recent attack, he is taken into custody, but he will not speak. Authorities don’t even have a way of identifying him.

Ultimately the case moves to trial. Lawyers are determined to crucify the man, assuming that he had something to do with each and every one of the biggest terror attacks in recent history. But even his defense attorneys are unsure what will happen when he demands to take the stand. Who is this man? And how will all this play out?

Analysis: Though Soul Witness was published several years ago now, its story carries through in relevance and relatability since terrorism in real life, just as in the novel, only seems to get more severe and heartbreaking as time goes on. Whether it’s a terror attack or a person who unleashes in a public space in a mass shooting, we, as Americans, are all too familiar with these stories. While the Black Friday attack, Pennsylvania State Capitol attack and plane crash are all fictional plot points in Witness, they feel all too real. Foreshadowing makes it clear this creepy man is not necessarily going to give lawyers and investigators what they want, but author Bill Costopolous does a great job of building suspense as we, like the characters in the book, also wonder how this will all play out.

As a reporter who lives and works in Pennsylvania’s Capital City of Harrisburg, I also couldn’t help but be entertained by the local references woven throughout the novel. (The trial takes place in Harrisburg, PA a few blocks away from the Capitol building.) With his law background, Costopolous is the perfect writer for a story like this — making the case and trial all too believable.

MVP: The No Named Man. His testimony is unexpected and absurd, and yet exactly what you’d hope for in a twisty quick read like this.

Get Soul Witness now in paperback for $19.99.

Or get it on your Kindle for just $3.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Wonder

Auggie Pullman is a wonder. The fact that he’s made it to his tenth birthday is a wonder. The fact that he agrees to go school starting in fifth grade is a wonder. That’s because Auggie was born with a number of different medical conditions, resulting in severe deformities in his face. Countless surgeries have helped improve the way he hears, sees, eats and looks, but his face still looks unlike most other 10-year-olds. Until now, he’s been homeschooled by his mom, and he is brilliant. But ultimately his parents decide it’s time to acclimate him to other kids his age, so they enroll him in private school.

The transition is anything but easy. The children claim he has “The Plague” and avoid touching him. They compare him to movie characters who have had their faces badly burned in fires. He is bullied and frankly, psychologically tormented. But because of an orientation that introduces him to a few kids, he finds a friend in Jack Will. Jack Will and a girl named Summer become his two friends in a sea of bullies, until he overhears something one day that makes him think it’s all been a lie.

The book varies in narrators, going back and forth between Auggie, Auggie’s older sister Via, Jack Will, Summer and several others. Each of them are going through a tough time, mostly because of the drama that comes with being close to Auggie. But they love him despite it all. That loves forces them to stand up for him to everyone else.

Wonder is a beautiful young adult novel about friendship, love, kindness, and character over looks, and the movie follows the story closely bringing along with it the emotional impact that book left on my heart. Yes, both the book and movie are tearjerkers. And yes, as per usual, the movie eliminates some things. It cuts out one of Via’s friends entirely. It also decreases the number of narrators (the book has a few sections narrated by some tertiary characters as well) and removes the book’s epilogue. But none of these changes affect the story in any way or the intention behind any of the characters and their actions.

While reading the book, I wondered (see what I did there??) how the movie would pull it off. After all, the book revolves around mostly 10-year-old boys and girls. Would casting agents be able to find as many young actors as was needed for this story? But they did! Jacob Tremblay plays the perfect Auggie and with Julie Roberts and Owen Wilson playing his parents, there’s a good balance of emotion and humor.

It’s also fair to say both the book and movie should not be read and seen by just children or young adults, but by adults too. After all, we could also use a good lesson in how wondrous kindness can be.

Get Wonder in hardcover for $10.19. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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‘Pretty Little Liars’ Author To Debut First Adult Fiction Novel

the-elizas-9781501162770_hrShe’s already published dozens of books, had them adapted for television and became a huge bestseller, but now Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game author Sara Shepard is set to release her first adult fiction novel.

According to Entertainment Weekly, The Elizas is about a debut novelist (sound familiar?) named Eliza who claims she was pushed when she was found at the bottom of a hotel pool. Her family assumes it was just another failed suicide attempt. In an effort to prove them wrong, Eliza begins to investigate her own death and find that her life and character’s life are intertwining. Memory loss from the accident doesn’t help either.

Creepy, huh? Shepard knows a thing or two about creepy thrillers.

The Elizas is set to be released on April 17th. EW has an exclusive available excerpt now.

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Show vs. Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone down in history as one of the most feminist novels of all time, earning the author several literary awards in the 1980’s when it was first published. But its debut this summer as a streaming series on Hulu has made the story shockingly relative in Trump’s America. Its themes about a male-dominated misogynist society are eye-opening as every other week it seems more Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s are coming out of the woodwork.

The book tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who, in a dystopian future, has been forced to serve a family as little more than a mechanism for reproduction after widespread sterility has caused the world population to drop. Essentially raped monthly in the hopes of becoming pregnant, Offred does all she can to not only stay alive but stay sane as she wonders whatever happened to her husband and daughter. The story takes us through flashbacks of her former life as she works to find a way out of this chilling world.

Haunting is the best way to describe Offred’s tale, and that is upheld in the television series. Everything from its cold lighting and cinematography to the many close-ups of Offred’s (Elizabeth Moss’s) face as she is raped, locked in her room, or given opportunities to leave her Commander’s home exemplify the bitterness of this lonely, foreign world.

Turning the 300+ page novel into ten episodes of television allows for more detail and more story, and that’s exactly what the series offers. We learn Offred’s name “from before,” which is a detail never revealed in the novel. We learn exactly what happens to some of Offred’s other handmaid friends, including Ofglen, which — because the book is written strictly from Offred’s perspective is — is also not part of the book. The series also added meetings the Offred’s Commander has with Mexican government officials about adopting the same policies to boost reproduction. There is also an entire episode that shows us where Offred’s husband from her “former life” is now and how he got there.

Where I’m normally upset with how much liberty a show or film takes with a novel, it feels okay here. Maybe it’s because the detail given in the novel is so sparse, it’s simply a given that story would have to be added. Maybe it’s because the show matches the book so well in tone that all feels right with this adaptation. Or maybe it’s because the show is just so well executed with its writing, directing and acting. Whatever the case, the show does an excellent job of using the book as a jumping off point, season one ending exactly where the novel does. The rest of the series moving forward will now be entirely new, unread story and I’m okay with that, as I’m sure Margaret Atwood would be as well.

Get The Handmaid’s Tale in paperback now for $9.99.

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