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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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Review: Best Day Ever

bestday_narrowRecap: Paul Strom has the best day ever planned for him and his wife, Mia. He’s planned a weekend away at their lake house with a special dinner and surprised the night they arrive. The kids are at home with a babysitter. The weather is perfect. But then Paul takes a phone call. They arrive too late to their favorite bakery to get the snack Mia’s so badly craving. Mia finds out Paul never left money for the babysitter. When they arrive to the lake house, Mia immediately greets their good-looking single neighbor who helped with her garden last summer. At the grocery store, Paul’s credit card is declined. Slowly but surely, the “best day ever” is slipping out of Paul’s grasp, and he is panicking. Slowly but surely, we, the readers, are realizing something’s going on with Paul.

In his anger, he begins reflecting on other aspects of his life, including his mistress, Gretchen, his dead parents for whom he doesn’t seem to care, the fact that he actually lost his job after he was reported to HR for harassing a woman in the office. Paul’s crazy shifts in mood and temper have been apparent to the reader from page one. Mia puts up with it, but it’s still unclear why this is the best day ever when Paul and Mia so clearly hate each other. What does Paul have planned? And at this point, we must begin to wonder whether Mia will make it out alive?

Analysis: A gripping story of love, hate and betrayal, Best Day Ever feels like a new version of Gone Girl with a different kind of twist. The format used is storytelling at its best. Where we usually read “man attempts to kill wife” stories from the victim’s perspective, Best Day Ever flips it, instead telling the entire story from Paul’s point of view. That decision allows the reader to understand how scary Paul is without knowing whether or not the victim realizes it. It’s that uncertainty that adds another layer of terror to the story. The question is not “what’s he going to do?” but rather “is she going to be able to stop it?” We don’t get any insight into her thoughts, feelings, or plans until the book’s epilogue.

It sounds like an obvious way to switch up the format, but considering how infrequently we see this perspective, it’s really not that obvious. Where in other books, an unlikable narrator makes you want to quit, here the book is still a page-turner despite the narrator becoming vehemently more and more unlikable as the book goes on.

MVP: Mia. Without spoiling the end, we inevitably learn that Mia is a strong, smart, caring and loving woman who is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it in the most dire of situations.

Get Best Day Ever in paperback for $15.99. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: That Crazy Perfect Someday

that252520crazy252520perfect252520someday252520coverRecap: The year is 2024. Self-driving cars are the norm. Surfing is an Olympic sport. And Mafuri Long is hoping to win the gold medal in the sport against her arch nemesis Kimberly Masters. But in the middle of her surf game and focus are her father and his ongoing mental health problems, the loss of her mother still eating at her all these years later and her best friend getting married and being MIA.

At her best friend’s wedding, she befriends her little brother Nixon — who she’s not interested in romantically, but who “gets her” as a person. She continues riding waves so well, her coach is assured she’ll likely win gold at the upcoming Paris Olympics. Her dad swears he’ll behave himself while she practices for the last few weeks before the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

But suddenly her world implodes when Kimberly Masters starts a rumor that Mafuri is doping, and in her time back home in the States to deal with her legal battle, something completely unforeseeable ruins her shot at the 2024 Olympics. Her dreams are crushed, and so is Mafuri. All that she’s been working for has been for naught. Now it’s time to find out what she really wants, besides surfing. And suddenly, her world changes again.

Analysis: Author Michael Mazza takes what could be an obviously predictable story and instead turns it on its head. Not reading much about the book before actually reading it, I just assumed this would be the story of a girl accomplishing all her dreams. But it’s not. And it’s even better because of it.

So many obstacles are thrown Mafuri’s way — from the quasi-absurd to  what I imagine would be the norm seven years from now. (Speaking of which, Mazza does an awesome job of creatively portraying what things might be like by 2024 with his depiction of self-driving cars, drones, and updated cell phone and medical technology.)

Mafuri is completely broken down two-thirds of the way into the novel. But breaking her down only helps to build her back up, and while I enjoyed the surfing storyline, she ultimately became empowered when her surfing dreams were crushed and she found a new dream and goal to work toward.  In the end, That Crazy Perfect Someday is really a story about family. The ending doesn’t answer all questions but leaves you with the feeling that everything’s going to be okay, and after seeing what she’s gone through, okay is more than enough.

MVP: Mafuri. She is a badass who knows her worth, knows her power, makes her own decisions and bounces back from anything. Things aren’t easy, and she knows it. She gets down on herself and her world like anyone else. But eventually she keeps on going, and her resilience is inspiring.

Get That Crazy Perfect Someday in paperback for $11.55. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $10.97.

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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. 

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Walk Into Silence

517dhybyiol-_sx332_bo1204203200_Recap: When Detective Jo Larson moves from Dallas to a small town nearby, she expects she’ll be able to avoid major crime. But she soon learns that’s not necessarily how things work — not when it comes to hate, jealousy and betrayal. Patrick Dielman shows up at her office one day, explaining that his wife has gone missing, but clues in their conversation make it apparent to Jo that Patrick may have been a pretty controlling husband. There’s a good chance, she thinks, that he may have something to do with her disappearance. As she digs deeper into the missing woman, Jenny, she also learns that it’s a week shy of the three-year anniversary of the death of her young son — a death that affected her so deeply, she and her first husband divorced.

That’s when Jo finds Jenny’s body. At that point, Patrick is still a person of interest, but she and her partner also begin to consider that this could have been a suicide. Jenny was depressed about the death of her son and a near-anniversary would make a suicide likely.

So was it a suicide? Was it Jenny’s husband? What about her ex-husband? His new wife? Or Jenny’s odd neighbor who seems to have more than just a crush on Jenny’s late husband? There’s a lot to investigate and not much evidence to go off of. What’s worse is Jo learns Jenny was abused growing up — something to which Jo can relate. Suddenly, this case is hitting closer to home that Jo would like it to.

Analysis: In many respects Walk Into Silence follows many formulas for detective and crime novels. After all, the killer is not the most obvious suspect, and the detective herself is troubled in some way (actually, in this case a lot of ways). Both of these are common tropes in this style of book. The mystery was compelling initially, and the random pages of Jenny’s journal, which are included in the novel, gave the reader great omniscient background knowledge of Jenny. But the mystery seemed to lose steam as the novel continued. It became pretty clear who was likely involved in Jenny’s death earlier than I expected; it took a while before it was actually solved by Jo.

That said, Jo was an extremely compelling character. She got a lot of setup: her abusive childhood, her sick mother, her boyfriend, Adam, who left his wife to be with Jo. I liked that her story and background was so similar to that of the victim in her case. It made the case more difficult for her to solve in that it brought up a lot of other emotions.

MVP: Jo. I recognize that this is meant to be the first in a series of detective novels with Jo as the central character, and I would absolutely be willing to follow her just to see her developed even more.

Get Walk Into Silence in paperback for $6.99.

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