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Friday, January 25, 2013

Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

This book takes place in the not too distant future where the government has been privatized and people (even children) take on the last name of their employer/school. Yes, it is satire. Yes it deals with with globalization and marketing craziness... such as Nike hiring a hit man to kill the first person to buy their new shoes as a way of making the shoes desirable... but thankfully it goes beyond the shtick and tells the story of the people living in this semi dystopian world; namely single mom and government agent Jennifer Government and struggling villain turned hero Hack Nike.

I loved it.

Witty, sharp, poignant, and short this book has everything you want in a speculative fiction novel; compelling unforgettable characters, dark humor coupled with sobering realities, and a perfect ending.

One of those books that will stay with you and inspire rereading long after completion, this book is not to be missed.

I highly recommend it!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Perks of Being a Wallflower: Movie

I wrote a review for Perks of Being a Wallflower in which I gushed about it... because really, it is a very well written book.

And then I saw the movie... as one does when one likes the book and has a major crush on the actress in the movie adaptation.


Adaptations are always hard because if you loved the book you are bound to find something you hate about the movie even if that something is that no one looks the way you had imagined.

(I had it easy, my copy of the book was released after the movie was in the works so everyone looked exactly they way I had pictured them.)

A wise woman once said that comparing books to movies is like comparing fresh apples to apple pie. They are both apple in taste, but one has gone through remarkable transformation and is something altogether different. And sometimes, despite you love for apple pie… you crave an apple pure. They are different things and should be treated as such.

Well ok then... you know I lied the book (and if you need a refresher, here's my review.)

What about the movie?

The Movie on its own merits.

- Well done! The pacing is smooth, the drama is gripping, the character development is pristine!

- The acting was superb!

- The use of flashbacks was a bit awkward, but the lead up to the climax was very well shot and executed.

- Marvelous story, we really feel for Charlie and his desire to fit in and stay connected to his friends.


The Movie in terms of being an adaptation of the book

- Great use of music.... they kept the spirit of the times with the needed modernization .. ie, they didn't bring it into today's world but let it stay where it needed to be with the right amount of emphasis placed on the indie bands.

... but they made changes (how could they not?). I guess I am disappointed in the changes because they seemed to be unnecessary and to change, in small ways, the overall feel of the story.

- They took out almost all of the family stuff... and while that is understandable  it is disappointing  The scenes with Charlie's father and the MASH episode, the story arc of his bonding with his sister.. these are elements that made the story more than just a coming of age story like so many others.

- A subtle change, but one worth noting: Early in the book Sam tells Charlie to not fall in love with her... and so he tries not to. This results in him not chasing her, not asking her out etc. Towards the end, Sam asks him why he never pursued her and he reminds her of what she told him... and this worked on a few different levels. It showed us how Charlie is so literal, it showed us that he was so determined to maintain that relationship that he never acted on feelings even when the situation had changed and it might have been okay to do so. In the movie, which lacked the early instruction from Sam, his inability to ask her out is painted as more of shortcoming, a social awkwardness, a failing on his part to "get" that she might have been interested in him rather than a intentional choice on his part to respect her wishes.

- Which leads us to another Sam and Charlie change.. in the movie he helps her with her studies which leads to her getting to go to college... and this dramatically changes how they relate to one another. He helps her academically and she helps him socially .. and while it isn't done as a quid pro quo thing, the elements are there  In the book, Sam likes him and includes him into her circle of friends for not other reason than she likes him and wants to include him.

- The sex.  In the book, Charlie and Sam don't have sex. In the movie it is strongly implied that they do.  This is a huge difference as the lack of sex (but the sexual touching) in the book is the catalyst for Charlie's breakdown and the book's climax... where Charlie learns about his past.  Changing that changes the breakdown to be one stemming from guilt or from seeing her drive away... not brought on by the sexual touching... and if it isn't a PTSD moment of panic that leads Charlie to realize his own abuse but rather the loss of a friend and romantic interest that gets him to that dark place, well, that is a loss as well because it siply isn't as powerful.

All in all the movie was well done and had I not read and loved the book as much as I did, I would probably have enjoyed it more.

However... I would advise the reading of the book and the skipping of the movie because in the end, the elements that made the book so well done are important enough to warrant the extra time of reading rather than watching. And, like I said before, the book is an incredibly quick read.

There you have it... read the book... (maybe while listening to the soundtrack from the movie). You won't be sorry.


Friday, January 11, 2013

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

A Chick-Lit with enough heart and mystery to overcome its almost cavity inducing sweetness and light.

The Peach Keeper is the story of women... old women, young women, women from a forgotten time, women of today... women who hate each other and women who would go to the ends of the Earth to protect each other. In short, this book is about the bonds that women can form when they decide to stop competing with one another and work together.

What worked:
 - The perspective change between the two leading ladies. While the author's voice didn't change, she never left you in doubt of who's part of the adventure you were seeing.

- The build up of the mystery and eventual conclusion.

- The supporting cast of characters, most notably the character of Rachel who really deserved her own book.

What didn't work... at least for me.
- The Rom/Com pairing off of couples. As soon as our cast of characters had all been introduced, two men and two women, the thought of a double date and living happily ever after was not just obvious, it was a forgone conclusion that sapped a bit of the tension from the story.

- The injection of the supernatural. Yeah, it's a pet peeve, but supernatural stuff always takes me a bit out of the story especially when it is introduced rather late in the game. It simply wasn't needed to tell the story.

- The "is he or isn't he" in regards to the sexual orientation of a character. For goodness sake people, just ask.  (But wait, you might be saying... isn't it rude to ask if someone is gay? No. Asking because you are curious is rude. But if you want to sleep with / fall in love with the person, then it is not only not at all rude, it is sort of a necessary step in determining comparability.  And he was part of the little happy foursome mentioned above... so the only person who didn't know he was into the woman was the woman herself, which was just annoying.

*Ok... another pet peeve... she has a laundry list of reasons she thinks he is gay but never EVER considers the possibility that he is bi. So.. yeah.. she saw him kissing another boy back in high school. I'm sorry to burst your bubble but high school sexual explorations does not equal sexual orientation... and even if he was madly in love with the boy in high school that doesn't mean that he couldn't also be madly in love with her... because, again, he might be bi. A mystery easily solved by asking.



But besides all that, the book was a quick read and I enjoyed the fact that though the two main women characters where set to be rivals, at least in the beginning  the author managed to make them both fully rounded out and sympathetic.  She didn't cut corners and make the rich perfect girl all evil or the more plain Jane character the heroine. I appreciated that.

So.. worth reading for sure... in fact if you need a book for the beach or the plane, consider this one a perfect fit.  Yes it is chick-lit (with all the pros and cons that entails) but it is full of heart, has a good message, and was well written.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I really enjoyed this book!

Perks is a coming of age story that focuses on the tapestry of the coming of age experience rather than the introspective focus that is often found in such tales.

The story isn't just about Charlie and his first year of high school, it is about his friends going through their final year of high school, about his sister going through a personal struggle that will define her for the rest of her life, and about a single moment in time that will never come again.

But mostly, yes, the book is about a wallflower named Charlie.

Charlie is special... today we would probably put him on the autism spectrum (although more in the Asperger's Syndrome end) and there is something else as well.. something dark that lies just below the surface, something that leads Charlie to have panic attacks and to be unable to stop crying.

There are some beautiful moments in this book, moments that resonate past the pages of cliche high school troupes and predictable love triangles. Moments when Charlie's ability to see the truth of  the situation because he is somewhat removed, because he is the wallflower are so expertly written by Chbosky that you want to break down and cry.

In the end, that is the greatest perk... and through Chbosky's use of the narrative structure of letters, we are able to capitalize on that perk as well.

By communicating with the reader through letters simply addressed to "Friend" we are both a part of the story and a spectator as well, unable to interact with the drama that is unfolding. We, the audience, become the quintessential wallflowers ourselves with all the perks that being so entails... perks like being able to see a bigger wider frame of the big picture.

And like Charlie we have the disadvantages of being an outsider... for even though Charlie is reaching out through his letters to "friend" the reader is powerless to stop the oncoming train of drama and disappointment  In the same way, Charlie is powerless to stop the wheels of time from moving... he must face the reality that when one is a freshman and all one's friends are seniors, one is going to have to start all over again.

The book is surprisingly deep for being so short, surprisingly fresh for being a few years old, and surprisingly profound for being considered a "young adult" novel.

I highly recommend it!

... There's just this one thing....

(And really it has nothing to do with the writing, I'm guessing ti was a publishing decision, but there is an epilogue that is not only extremely long for an epilogue  but is also vital to the story. It is more of the last chapter than the epilogue .. without it we would have been left at the climax instead of being allowed the falling action and conclusion.

But otherwise, this was an excellent read!