…I got all my sisters with me!

Growing up with sisters is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have a built-in best bud when you need it; no one else will understand just how quirky your parents are, she is the only one who will ever know all your stories from back in the day and you’ll never find a better partner in crime when you are trying to get away with something! On the other hand, you also have an attachment to the biggest pain in the butt you’ll ever know; I mean, she knows ALL your stories, and she could rat you out for sooooo much stuff if she wanted to, and half your clothes are probably renting space in her closet at any give time! And even though you are two very separate people, you’ll always be compared to each other, good bad or otherwise. No one else can make you laugh ’til you cry with a decades-old inside joke. And no one else has ever tickled you ’til you peed your pants! She’s the only one who can appreciate how it felt when you finally got old enough to stop wear matching clothing in formal portraits, and she knows it’s a term of endearment when you ask “Why was I cursed with such idiot sisters?!?” (Okay, maybe only my sister gets that one. Every year. Around Halloween?).

Book #20 Twisted Sisters, Jen Lancaster

sistersRating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: Working on a cable reality series is a dream for Reagan Bishop. She is a psychologist on the show I Need a Push, where people who need to kick-start their lives in a new direction get therapy and a makeover to help them take the first steps. She is very interested in human behaviors and showing people that the choices they make can have real consequences in their day-to-day dealings. She is careful with all of her choices including her strictly organic diet, and hold herself (and others) to a very high standard. She is the middle child of three girls and she simply cannot relate to her older sister, who dropped out of school and has a brood of unruly kids. And she cannot understand why her younger sister, Geri, would still live with their parents, except that she is only a hairdresser and that’s probably as good as it gets for her. Reagan is living the high life, (even if her parents don’t give her the recognition she deserves) until her boss announces that their show is moving to a network. Suddenly everything she stands for is being challenged in the name of budgets and ratings and she must conform or lose her job and all that she has worked so hard for. With the help of her co-worker Deva, she comes up with a plan to get the job done, but her journey into New Age methods takes her down a twisted path of self discovery and sibling rivalry!

My Impressions: I have read a lot from this author. I think this is her 10th book, and her third work of fiction. But as with her other two fiction novels, I struggle a little bit to remember that this is not one of her memoirs, because her characters tend to have her voice. Of course they have what ever voice she gives them, but her way of writing fiction is too similar to her style for memoirs and blogging (follow here http://www.jennsylvania.com/) and it’s hard to connect with the characters as ‘not Jen’.  This character was even hard to connect with because she is so easy to hate! I’m sure that is the intention; to see her as pretentious and self-important and blind to her ways, so that when she reaches this epiphany for herself, you can sympathize and like who she becomes. But eww! It’s hard to read a whole book of that.

The theme of sibling rivalry is interesting here. Mostly because it seems very one-sided. Like Reagan is creating the rivalry in her head, it doesn’t actually exist in the real world. There were a few examples of the other sisters creating drama, but they were relatively minor compared to the hype on Reagan’s end. If the other sisters were somehow more involved in either the immature behavior or giving her a taste of her own medicine, it may have been a more interesting plot point.

This is the second appearance from the character of Deva in Jen’s books. It’s hard for me to imagine her physical traits, so in my head she is the female version of the guy from Napoleon Dynamite but when he was in Just Like Heaven. I actually think this character is most developed and most interesting because she is actually believable. Even though everything she does in the book is totally unbelievable. But as a character she really sells it to you, and while far out there, away from any real point of the story, you can get into this bit of fantasy-fiction. It’s a little Teen Witch-y but at least Deva is consistent. And consistently ‘not Jen.’

Why you should read it: While a little underdeveloped and maybe predictable, this is still a really entertaining book. No doubt Jen Lancaster is funny! And I think her goal is to entertain you with a story, which is accomplished here. There are laugh-out-loud moments and things that every woman, sister and Whole Foods shopper can relate to!

Read if you liked: Here I Go Again, Freaky Friday, The Fame Game

Book #20 in the Bag!

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.” ― Orhan Pamuk, The New Life

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It’s goin’ down…

When I started writing this blog, I knew that I’d be giving my unsolicited opinion about the books I chose to read. It’s my outlet for creativity and a way to challenge myself to read more diverse things. So when I created my rating system, I basically assigned numbers to the phrases that I use to tell people about the books I was already reading. Did you like that book? Oh yeah, I’d totally read it again! What did you think of this one? Not really my favorite, but if you liked that other one, you’ll probably like this one… These are the kinds of things I say when I talk about books so I just gave them a number 5-1. This week I struggled to rate the book because, while it wasn’t my favorite, I could think of several people that I think would enjoy the book and therefore I’d recommend it. What to do? Well, I’ll try to give you my most honest opinion, tell you who I think will really like this book, and maybe compare it to something else for a frame of reference.

Book # 19- Serena, Ron Rash

Serena Rating: 2- Not my fav!

Synopsis: After Black Friday, the country is suffering; businesses are failing and people need jobs. But in the mountains of North Carolina, the timber business is booming; men can get jobs cutting or milling logs, women can work in camp kitchens. It’s hard and dangerous work, but it’s a paying job. George Pemberton considers himself lucky to be at the top. He is a partner in a lumber company and he is bringing his new bride from Boston to the camp to start their lives in business together. Serena isn’t like the other wives; she is up with the cutting crews, wearing pants and riding horseback to the tops of the clearings to make sure the men are working their best. She makes bets with even the most seasoned crewmen about the board length of a tree, handles wild animals and isn’t afraid to get dirty. She has ambitions for a future, logging mahogany in Brazil, and a past that she hides from everyone. Serena is a woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t let anything stand in her way.
As Serena and Pemberton plan their future timber empire, it’s get on board or get out of the way. Unless you’d have them show you the way out…

My Impressions: I have mixed feelings about this book. It wasn’t badly written, but it wasn’t a work of great prose. The story wasn’t captivating, but it moved along quickly with just enough intrigue to keep me reading. There was a lot of detail about logging, often at the beginning of chapters or sections, and it usually led up to an account of an accident where someone was hurt or killed. But then there wasn’t a very clear reason for each of these accounts. It’s almost as if they were used to mark time; ‘right around the time that so-and-so was killed, this other things happened too…’ And A LOT of people die in this book! Sorry if thats a spoiler, but anyone who makes it past the first 3 pages can tell that people will die and other people will be very blasé about it.

I think I found the setting to be the most interesting part of the book. The mountain terrain, the lumber camps, the poverty in the back woods. And the time period adds interest to the story as well. Not only the typical depression era concerns of economic despair, but also the development of national parks and concern for deforestation. There are the societal differences between the classes and gender roles. But it’s ultimately the culture of the lumber camp that provides the most drama for the story.

Then there is the relationship between Serena and Pemberton. She calls him Pemberton. Nothing else. She is a very, very strong woman, and he is in awe of her strength. It’s not that he is a weak man. But she is so strong, so dominant, that he is simply in her shadow. This will be a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and I’m sure they will both play the roles wonderfully. But if I were going to describe this marriage, I think it’s more analogous to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Or Kris and Bruce Jenner. I mean, he won an Olympic Decathlon, but we know who wears the pants… At any rate, If Serena’s yellin’ timber, you’d better move, and she’s one you won’t forget!

Why you should read it: Obviously it wasn’t my favorite, but I would recommend it to my Dad, who likes a good “shoot-em’-up” or back hills kind of story. And if someone said, “I like fiction, but darker and not so frilly,” I’d probably think of this book first. It’s not something that I usually read, and I’m glad to get out of my pajama books now and then, but I’m probably going to enjoy the movie a little more than I enjoyed this book.

Read if you liked: A Song of Fire and Ice (series), The Grapes of Wrath, Cold Mountain, Gone Girl.

Book #19 in the Bag!

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it…” ― Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

My funny Valentine

Please allow me a moment to deviate from book reviews to tell you about my Valentine’s day/weekend. My boyfriend is one of those guys that rolls his eyes about Valentine’s Day, its commercialism and overall Hallmark-holiday status. I, in turn remind him that he is welcome to buy me flowers any day of the year, not just Valentine’s Day, so if he’s really not into it, that’s fine. (He is smart enough to know that he should probably bring home flowers on February 14th, since that’s the only day of the year he ever buys me flowers! And also really yummy chocolate… Thanks babe!) Neither of us are very gushy romantics and don’t care for the demonstration of getting dressed up for a prix-fixe menu and a restaurant with a 6:00 or 8:00 sitting. So instead I made a fancy dinner at home and we just enjoyed each others company, quietly and comfortably.

On our usual Saturday date-night, we decided to try something different and went out for dinner at a top-floor restaurant with live jazz music, thinking we’d have a slow dinner with cocktails and enjoy the music and city views. And then we were presented with the Valentine’s Day prix-fixe menu and watched all of the dressed up couples on their romantic nights out…

My valentine to him was a movie and a book, of course. He is almost as book-hungry as me, but he’s more of a non-fiction reader, choosing biography, methodology and philosophy over say, a good murder mystery. Lately he is into the small business culture so I chose this title:

100 startupSince I’m a non-fiction novice, I did consult a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads before selecting the book (something I avoid when choosing books for myself) and I also read a great article that appeared in Forbes endorsing the quality of information and advice. I’ll get back to you with boyfriend’s review when he is done!

Because what I really wanted to talk about is the movie… I gave him a copy of Pitch Perfect.

pitch perfect

This was not a gag gift. My 35 year-old, non-fiction reading boyfriend loves this movie. He walks around the house singing songs from its soundtrack, he knows the mash-ups and he tells me little facts about the production of the movie everytime we watch it. And it just makes me laugh. Not at him, well not at him to make fun of him, but at him because it’s just so funny to watch him get so into a musical-comedy!

So after dinner Saturday night, we went home and watched Pitch Perfect (again). And I was treated to his version of the soundtrack (also funny because he doesn’t always know the right words to a song, but sings with confidence anyway). And then at the end of the credits I see “Based on the book by Mickey Rapkin.”  Huh? How was this auditory treat a book, my fiction driven mind wants to ask. A little googling and, silly me, it was a non-fiction book about collegiate a cappella competition.

But that got me thinking and googling a little more… What other movies are unknowingly based on non-fiction books? Some that I found interesting:

Friday Night Lights (Geoffrey Douglas),  Apocalypse Now (Michael Herr), Adaptation (Susan Orlean), Mean Girls (Rosalind Wiseman), Full Metal Jacket (Gustav Hasford), Love and Other Drugs (Jamie Reidy).

Anybody know of any more? Please share, I’m intrigued!

Also since I’m reading several books that are about to become movies, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on cases where the movie is better than the book. Do you have an example where the film adaptation simply out-shined the original?

Putting the FUN in dysfunctional

We’ve heard it a million times… The book is always better than the movie! There are very few examples where I can say that the movie was more enjoyable than the book it was based upon. So when I see a list of books that are about to be made into movies, of course I jump at the chance to read first! My book clubs chose a few from the same list so I decided to listen to one that wasn’t chosen.

Book#18 This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

This Is Where I Leave You_PB.inddRating: 3-It was a good book

Synopsis: To say that Judd has a lot going on right now would be a bit of an understatement. His father has just died of a long battle with cancer and he must return to his childhood home to sit shiva with his family. His family has a strange way of dealing with each other, and may not survive the next seven days in each others company without a trip to the hospital. His wife has left him for his boss; an affair he discovered by catching them in bed together on her birthday. He quit his job and moved into a basement apartment.

His dad was never a very observant Jew, so no one can quite figure out why they are all sitting shiva, or why it was his dying wish that they do so. Paul, the oldest brother, seems to want to play the martyr since he took over the family business and still lives in the same town. Wendy, next in line, wants to be better than everyone else again, and has brought her husband and three children along so her presence will be a priority. Philip, the youngest, is a bit of a black sheep and the baby and is intent of playing the role full-tilt. Judd just wants to get through the week without having to discuss everything going on in his life. Their mother just wants them to be a family again, giving advice and meddling, matchmaking and embarrassing the kids with her flashy outfits.

When Judd’s wife shows up with some unexpected news, Judd has to figure out the next phase of his life; and it wont be the clean slate he was hoping for.

My Impressions: I’m not sure I’d recommend this book, and I might wait for HBO or Redbox for the movie (though I think Jason Bateman is playing Judd and that might be worth watching). There is a lot going on with the family dynamics. The author does a good job of distinguishing character traits, but there are 4 siblings, 4 significant others, a mom, extended family, close friends, a boss/lover, old girlfriends and opportunistic widowers, all with details to keep track of. It was a little like trying to catch up with my own extended family at the holidays. Also, Judd is a little bit whiny and depressing, and it’s hard to feel sorry for him. Not because he was in anyway at fault for his situation, just because he keeps whining about it, and whining about how little sex he’s had lately. Just a little hard to care. The story moves a long with plenty of conflict and lots of family antics. It’s funny, but in a “only because it’s not happening to me” kind of way. You do start to care more about Judd as he sorts through his issues and decides to man-up a little, but then the end is a little anti-climactic.

Why you should read it: As I said, I wouldn’t jump to recommend the book. But if you want to compare the book to the upcoming movie, it’s worth a read. It was still a good book, even if there was a lot going on with kind of a sad-sack hero. In fact it’s just the kind of role that Jason Bateman plays perfectly!

 

Book #18 in the bag!

“but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” ― Jane Austen

 

To live, not to exist

I’m a picky reader. I think that phrase probably gets used more to describe  peoples eating habits, and I don’t think of myself as a particularly picky person. But I’m a picky reader. What can I say, I like what I like.  And I know what I don’t like. That said, I’m willing to try a lot of things. Before starting this book, I read the first chapter of another book and felt like it just wasn’t for  me. At least not in follow up to the last book that I couldn’t put down. Or the one that I was in the middle of listening to and couldn’t stop! So my friend Jen mentioned she was reading this one and I picked it up quickly.

Book #17 Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

me before you

Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: You never know when a single moment will change your life. Will Traynor knows better than anyone; he is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair  and the care of others since he was hit by a motorbike two years ago. Louisa Clark lost her job when the cafe closed and is looking to do anything that doesn’t involve sorting chicken parts. She answers an ad to be Will’s companion, his watcher as he puts it. She is grossly under qualified but is hired for her bright wardrobe and chatty presence. Will, who was once vibrant, daring, successful and lived a big life, is often annoyed by Louisa’s attempts to cheer him or make conversation. Louisa, who has never ventured outside of town and still lives with her parents, doesn’t know what to make of Will’s orneriness or the striking contrast to his former life she can see from photographs in his room.  As the two find their rhythm, Louisa is on a mission to show Will the joy that can exist in his new life, while Will is out to show Lou that she has a huge life to live.

My Impressions: I was a little slow getting into this book. Will’s cantankerous personality against Lou’s naivety is a stark contrast that hardly even creates conflict in the story because they don’t even spend time in the same room. And while Lou obviously has a point of view in the way she dresses and kind heart where her family is concerned, she is a bit of a doormat when it comes to her relationships. She doesn’t stand up for herself and lets them dictate how things should be for her. It’s her spirit of curiosity that made me really care about her as the story moved forward. Will, his person and his situation draws her out of her comfort zone and pushes her to experience more things in life that she may enjoy or that she may not care for; but at least she can say for herself. I was very interested in the psyche of Will from the beginning of the book. How you could go from a sky-diving, bungee-jumping, ass-kicking financial partner to driving a chair with your chin and relying on someone to feed you. It’s really no wonder he is mean to everyone that tries to care about him. But I also appreciated his realistic views on the way he wants to live his life after the accident considering the way he embraced life before the accident. And when he and Lou get tattoos, his is just the best!

Why you should read it: Well this an interesting spin on the romantic fiction genre. I can definitely see this being a “chick-flick” similar to The Vow.  Don’t let that dissuade you from reading! It was a very good book, an interesting topic and an unexpected outcome. It’s a fast read as well and you’ll get sucked in quickly once you discover Lou’s charm.

Book # 17 in the bag.

“One must always be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel