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Show vs. Book: 1984

19841984 on Broadway: We are Big Brother

by Samantha Holle

It was a humid, sweltering day in September, and the clocks were striking three. It was time for the Sunday matinee of 1984.

In case you evaded reading it in high school, 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, an average Joe living in a not-so-average world: after tremendous world-wide territorial battles, Earth has been split into three superstates that are perpetually at one another’s throats. Winston lives in Oceania (what used to be London) and works at a government agency called the Ministry of Truth. His job is to literally rewrite history: when a person has been “unpersoned” — erased from society for going against the government — it is Winston’s job to go back into the files of history and remove any mention of this person’s name. The goal is to keep up the idea that Big Brother, the entity which governs and controls everything in Oceania, is never wrong, is never defied, and always comes up victorious.

But when we meet Winston, he is growing tired of this life. He has seen proof in his work that people who were labeled “government enemies” were not where they were said to be nor were they doing the illegal acts for which they were vaporized. Winston hates Big Brother and the society that lives for war, destruction, and the beating down of the human spirit.

Then he meets Julia, a coworker who, on the outside, doesn’t seem to be Winston’s type: She is a diligent worker at the MiniTruth (as the Ministry of Truth is called in the new vernacular, Newspeak). She screams the loudest and with the most vigor during the Two Minutes Hate, a daily event in which everyone watches a televised murder of an enemy of the state by government officials. It comes as a complete surprise to Winston when Julia quietly reveals that she, too, hates Big Brother and wants to defy the government by feeling love and experiencing freedom.

But there are no secrets in Oceania. Television screens can watch you as you watch them. Neighbors listen at keyholes for any sounds of dissent. People throw one another to the wolves to save themselves. And Winston and Julia soon find themselves biting off far more than they can chew when they get involved in the underground resistance movement called The Brotherhood. Their relationship — and their secret opinions of Big Brother — become more than an act of rebellion. Soon they have to decide which is preferable: a difficult life of defiance and secrecy, or an easy life of love for only Big Brother.

The novel has recently gained popularity, and it’s not hard to see why: Phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts” pervade our conversations. People communicate via screen more frequently than they communicate in person, and the concept of handheld devices monitoring one’s actions and locations is now a definitive reality. There is little room for intelligent conversation between people of differing opinions, as the ability to argue without screaming has almost entirely disappeared. In these times, it seems every day has a little bit of a Two-Minutes Hate.

It is a dark thought: are we living in the world Orwell imagined almost 70 years ago?

That is the question that Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan pose to their audiences through their stage adaptation of the novel. The two brought Orwell’s 1948 publication to life  in 2013 in the UK; the play was brought to the Big Apple for previews this past May. Just a little over a month later, it began to make serious headlines because people began to fall ill as they watched, especially during the extreme torture scenes at the end.

As an English teacher who has read the novel twice, I went into the play fully aware of this. How bad could it be if I already know that what I’m going to see is disturbing?

The answer to that question: no number of articles about the play or my understanding of the book could’ve prepared me for it. I left the theater uneasy, nauseous, and dizzy. It wasn’t the strobe lights and sound effects, or the fake blood, or the electrocution scene, or the revelation about what really happens when a dissenter is brought into room 101. It was the way some things hit close to home: the bastardization of the English language in order to reduce meaning (and thus kill meaningful conversation), the discomfort between people of varying opinions, the confusion of trying to balance what one feels is right and what everyone else is doing. Yes, 1984 takes place in a dystopian future, but there are present day elements. The lines between the fictional content and our reality blur.

Content and nausea aside, what made this play stand out from any I’d seen previously was the incorporation of media. The production utilizes overhead projectors and hand-held video cameras to capture action that the audience cannot see from their seats: Winston’s diary entries are projected onto a screen above his head as he writes; Julia and Winston’s secret trysts are recorded off stage in a secret room and played on this same screen. This allows the audience to feel like Big Brother in that we have access to people’s privacy, but it also creates sympathy for those being watched.

Ultimately, the novel comes to life in disturbing vividness on Broadway. There is no better indicator of this play’s construction of confusion than the opening scene: Winston is writing in his diary, questioning if the year is actually 1984 or if that’s just what he’s been told. He is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a group who are discussing “the book” and that the act of writing it is, in and of itself, a small act of rebellion. The group explains that without the book, we’d have no way of knowing how bad the past really was and how to avoid these mistakes in the future. It is, at first, unclear about whether or not they are talking about Winston’s diary. Later, the audience comes to understand that this group was the resistance, and they were discussing the book of Emmanuel Goldstein, public enemy number one of Big Brother and leader of the Brotherhood.

However, is it such a stretch to imagine that they might have been talking about Orwell’s book?

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Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Serious Mothering”

 

The tension between mommies and daddies builds in this second episode of the limited serious version of Big Little Lies, as we get deeper insight into Madeline’s marriage and Celeste’s. We see fewer flashes of police activity alluding to the horrible incident that eventually happens and instead more flashes of graphic and violent sex, as well as the now-recurring images of Jane running down the beach in a blue dress.

Another incident in school happens in this second episode, with the girls daring Jane’s son, Ziggy, and Regina’s daughter, Amabella, to kiss. Though it’s hard to say since we never actually see it. Instead, we only witness the buildup to and aftermath of the “kiss,” much in the same way the show refers to the murder that makes up the main plot of this story.

The kiss that the children are “pushed” to do in class is not part of the book, Big Little Lies. It seems the writers have added this incident as a device to further build tension between all the parents of the children involved. The writers divide the couples even further when, in the episode, Celeste and Madeline attend the same yoga class as Madeline’s ex-husband Nathan and his new wife, Bonnie. Then we learn that Bonnie has helped Madeline and Nathan’s teenage daughter to get birth control pills, pushing Madeline to hate Bonnie even more — and rightfully so! As a stepmom, she absolutely does not have the right to help the teen get birth control when her birth mother is still an active part of her life. This is yet another plot point added to the series that is not part of the book. Yet another thing the series adds in this episode is Madeline’s ex-husband and current husband meeting up for a little “chat,” which quickly turns into a heated exchange.

All of this is an attempt to show the motivations each adult has for one another and adds to the suspense of who’s been murdered and who’s the murderer. All that’s well and good, but it also strays from the book and, in my opinion, just further drags out the story that’s already full of suspense and intrigue. These added scenes and scenarios also make Madeline far less likeable from the way she comes across in the book. Yes, she’s a little nutty in the book, but we still like her.

The show does a good job, however, of foreshadowing some of the big moments to come, including the introduction of Harry Hippo — yes, he actually matters in this story! — and finally we see how abusive Celeste and her husband’s relationship really is. However, her openness about it with Madeline at the bar is a complete 180 from the book.

So far, the show continues to keep in line with basic plot points, and while I see why it’s adding what it’s adding, I don’t know how necessary it really is.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2016

booksIt’s the end of the year, so you know what that means. It’s time for my top book picks of 2016! As always, this is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a list of my favorite books that came out this year. This is a list of my favorite books I read this year, regardless of what year they came out. (And as always, for those of you who want to read a list of the best books that came out this year, I recommend the New York Times’ Notable Books of 2016 list.) That said, there are probably more “new” books on this list than in years past and several books by some of my favorite authors. It’s also worth noting that I struggled picking between my #1 and #2 choices, as they’re both equally fantastic. It’s also the first year my list has included a play! (Any guesses which mega bestseller that might be?) As always, below my top picks list is a list of ALL the books I read this year — a year I happened to slack. Don’t judge me! Read on for some great book suggestions to follow you into 2017, which will hopefully be another great year of books!

10. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Oprah Winfrey picked this read as an Oprah’s Book Club book back in 2005 as a nonfiction memoir about addiction and getting clean, and instead it became controversial after it was determined that the author embellished much of what he had written, but it’s still a gripping read. I believed the narrator’s struggle and enjoyed it with the mindset that it was fiction or “enhanced” nonfiction. Buy it now.

9. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by Kim BarkerIn this actual memoir, Kim Barker delves into the world of journalism in the Middle East. The book feels more like a compilation of vignettes of her experiences that include everything from getting interviews with Middle Eastern warlords to partying hard with other foreign correspondents in a very real depiction. Buy it now.

8. Meet the Regulars by Joshua D. FischerAlso a compilation book, this one profiles random New Yorkers and the bars/coffee shops/restaurants/hangouts they frequent. It works for NYC-lovers who may just be looking for foodie recommendations, but it also works as a subtle study on people, why they like what they like and why they do what they do. Buy it now.

7. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack ThorneIt was not the greatest of the Harry Potter stories; in fact, I found it fairly repetitive and cyclicle from the original novels, but it holds its own and is just plain nice to once again connect with the characters we know and love — and their offspring. Buy it now.

6. The Tumbling Turner Sisters by Juliette Fay. A little bit Water for Elephants and a little bit Little Women, this new historical fiction novel (one of my favorite genres) explores a family of strong women performing as a traveling tumbling act as a means to an end during the early 1900s. It debuted at exactly the right time – a year in which strong females became a focal point. Buy it now.

5. The Tenth Circle by Jodi PicoultThough the ending wasn’t my favorite, I read this story about a rape victim and the death of her alleged rapist on vacation and couldn’t put it down. Its parallels with Dante’s Inferno add another layer of interest making this a page turner in true Jodi Picoult fashion. Buy it now.

4. The Hopefuls by Jennifer CloseIn an election year, this book about how demanding, exhausting, scandalous and ridiculous a political campaign can be was a perfect fit. The novel follows two young couples as one husband runs for political office, and the other husband — who can’t quite hack it as a politician — runs his “friend’s” campaign instead. Buy it now.

3.  Me Before You by Jojo MoyesA young woman is hired to care for a paraplegic who wants nothing more than to end his life. While controversial, the book is also insanely romantic and delves into paralysis in a way other mainstream books haven’t seemed to conquer. In the end, it’s a book about finding yourself and deciding what you want from life. Buy it now.

2. Year of Yes by Shonda RhimesThis memoir/self-help book is everything you could want from both a memoir AND a self-help book. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder creator/producer/writer Shonda Rhimes writes about her behind-the-scenes experiences working on these shows and the benefits she reaps as a show creator, but also details her hesitance and how forcing herself to say “yes” to everything changed her life. Truly inspiring. Buy it now.

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two sisters separate in France during WWII, where the Holocaust is gaining momentum. One sister cares for her family, while the other works to save as many people as she can. But the story’s back-and-forth persepective between the sisters as well as the time jump between WWII and modern-day U.S. — where only one sister has survived — makes the saga breathtaking, tear-inducing, and monumentally profound. Buy it now.

A Million Little Pieces – James Frey

Revenge Wears Prada – Lauren Weisberger

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Kim Barker

Allegiant – Veronica Roth

Baggage – S.G. Redling

Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow

The Tumbling Turner Sisters – Juliette Fay

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Sunsets of Tulum -Raymond Avery Bartlett

The Tenth Circle – Jodi Picoult

Meet the Regulars – Joshua D. Fischer

The Hopefuls – Jennifer Close

The End of the Age of Innocence – Alan Price

All the Summer Girls – Meg Donohue

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Losing It – Emma Rathbone

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Movie vs. Book: Unbroken

The life of Louie Zamperini is an incredible one. He’s a man who seemed to live nine lives before finally dying at the age of 97 just last year — mere months before the movie about his life came out. Unbroken, the movie, is based on the bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a look at the amazing life and courage of Zamperini, who not only ran in the Olympics as a young man, but then went on to fight in WWII, have his plane crash in the ocean, survive on a raft for 47 days only to be captured and tortured for the next two years in a Japanese POW camp.

The book tells the story of his life in extraordinary detail — including passages about his friends in the war, about the duck with whom he becomes friends, and about the evil Japanese soldier, nicknamed “The Bird,” who focuses much of his energy of torturing Louie. While the Angelina Jolie-directed movie exudes the right tone and properly tells the general story of his life, it does leave out some memorable moments and important details from the book, and certain things feel watered down.

For instance, there are two other men on the raft with Zamperini after his plane is shot down — one of whom, in the book, eventually gives up on trying to stay alive and subsequently dies. But that is not portrayed well in the movie. In fact, the person who saw it with me asked how he died. He found it hard to follow what caused his death, and I had to explain that ultimately he gave up and his body gave out. The same goes for the portrayal of Louie’s arch nemesis, “The Bird.” While it’s clear that he’s evil, it wasn’t inherently clear in the movie that “The Bird” specifically had it out for Zamperini.

The movie also leaves out the duck — a detail that takes on more significance when the duck is brutally killed in the book.  As it turns out, that was a specific choice made by Jolie, according to Entertainment Weekly. And what’s worse — the movie leaves out the entire last section of the book, which delves into Zamperini’s struggle with PTSD and alcoholism after returning home to the war — an element which only added to the laundry list of things the man had been through and survived, an element that makes him only appear greater.

Of course, the movie would have been far too long with that section. And of course, Louie Zamperini would have been proud of and happy with the movie no matter what. Could it have used some work? Certainly. But the feeling of hope and optimism along with the sense that if the human spirit can overcome anything and everything is still there at the end of the movie, and that’s arguably the best and most important thing to take away from both the book and Louie Zamperini’s life.

Get Unbroken in paperback for $9.60.

Or get it on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Review: The Killing Code

Recap: When a scientist commits suicide, Detective Alan Beach isn’t completely surprised to be called in to investigate. He knows there must be something more to this than just your typical suicide. Soon after, a U.S. Congressman is killed, as well as two other men in the crossfire. But when Detective Beach realizes surveillance video from both shootings reveals the same, small man in the background, it becomes clear that the shootings are inexplicably linked.

So begins Detective Beach’s investigation into the “Killing Code,” and he’s on his own. He has no partner and little help thanks to a dark past that has many of his coworkers more inclined to tease him than befriend him. Beach single-handedly discovers that a group of scientists is concocting a drug that assassins are using to kill. But who’s behind it all? And who can he trust? As more and more characters are revealed throughout the investigation and more lives lost, Beach knows he’s onto something, but what? And will he be the next victim?

Analysis: Like many crime/thriller novels of this kind, The Killing Code is a fast-paced story about an intricate murder case. And like many crime/thriller novels, the main character, Detective Beach, winds up being the one with the biggest target on his back by the end. But it’s Beach’s backstory that sets this story apart from the other novels of its kind (think Dan Brown books). His story is  not revealed until later in the story, but we know it’s complicated because of the way author Craig Hurren describes his sudden move from the Boston Police Department to the Columbus Police Department and his relationship with the other detectives on his force. Not to mention, the story behind his late wife. All of this helps the reader sympathize with Beach. It makes the reader root for Beach to solve the crime even more.

One problem here, however, is there didn’t seem to be a major twist in the plot. Beach steadily peels back layer after layer of the case and keeps on track throughout. I had my suspicions when his love interest, Holly, and friend and agent Jake Riley entered the story. I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not I could trust either character. They seemed like the perfectly positioned characters to trick Beach or backstab him. I kept waiting and waiting for something shocking to happen; for one of or both of them to reveal some ulterior identity or motive. But it never happened.

That’s not to say that the book wasn’t fun and didn’t have exciting twists and turns, but I can’t think of any one mind blowing moment, and in a novel like this, that was a bit of a letdown.

MVP: Jake Riley. He’s a skilled man, who helps Detective Beach for all the right reasons. It becomes clear in the end that Beach wouldn’t have been able to solve the case if it weren’t for Jake.

Get The Killing Code in paperback for $10.79.

Or get it on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Amazon Buys Social Media Book Site Goodreads

If people read books and then post reviews online — and don’t have their own blog, like this one! — there’s generally two places they’ll post them: Amazon and Goodreads. But now, the two are becoming one.

According to Salon, Amazon has bought the social media book site Goodreads. For more than a year, the site has used Amazon Product Advertising API for book data. Ever since then, Amazon has had somewhat of a grip on Goodreads, forbidding Goodreads to use that data in its mobile app. But now Amazon has tightened the reigns.

The terms of the deal were not made public. But people in the book industry are comparing this to Hitler and the Nazi invasion of Poland, which doesn’t bode well for Goodreads, authors, or its users.

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Amazon Deleting Book Reviews from Other Authors

Just a few months ago, I told you about an author who was caught writing fake reviews on Amazon. His posts were taken down after it turned out that his reviews of other authors’ books were negative, while reviews of his own books were positive. As it turns out, he’s not the only one whose posts are being removed from Amazon.

According to L.A. Times, Amazon is now taking down any reviews writers post for other authors’ books. This was the explanation from Amazon sent to one writer via email:

We have removed your review from Karma Backlash. We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.

While some believe that removing the posts won’t harm the authors — after all, there are plenty of other people who continue to post reviews — many authors believe it’s unfair. After all, many of them don’t gain any kind of financial benefit to posting reviews for their friends or colleagues. Not to mention, many of these authors receive advance copies of their colleagues’ books to review. Since their reviews are posted before a book is even released to the public, their reviews can be particularly helpful to the average reader.

Personally, I think it’s ridiculous that authors wouldn’t be allowed to post reviews of other authors’ books. I understand that giving others public acknowledgment and publicity could lead to more success for them, but it still doesn’t seem fair not to be able to share an opinion, whether you write for a living or not.

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