Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Royal Wedding (by Meg Cabot)

This one has taken me forever to read. It was my gym book, but I often found I'd rather read Ask Metafilter or something else than get back to this one. Which is not to say it's bad; it's fun. It's a more "adult" themed sequel to the Princess Diaries series, and of course, is about Princess Mia's wedding.

Kind of. The actual wedding ends up taking a backseat to some other plot developments, like Mia's long-lost sister and some stuff about Mia's parents I think? None of which is fully fleshed out. Really, this was not a page-turner for me, although I still enjoyed catching up with everyone, and Mia's voice is still charming.

The ending suggests this is meant to set up the next book in the series. I would totally read it! I just would hope for a stronger plot for the characters to hang onto.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Olive Kitteridge (by Elizabeth Strout)

I had this book on my shelf for quite some time, having heard good things about it, probably around the time it won the Pulitzer. I finally picked it up as my airplane read on a business trip this week because the Read Harder Challenge has a category for reading a book, then watching the movie -- and the Frances McDormand adaptation is also very highly regarded.

I didn't realize that it was a linked series of short stories, all about the same Maine coastal town and all, to a greater or lesser extent, featuring the prickly and complex protagonist Olive Kitteridge.  I enjoyed the format in this case, although I did get a little frustrated -- as I often do with short stories -- to get invested in a character only to have the vignette end and then never find out what happens next.

Olive herself is an interesting choice as a heroine, since she can be... very difficult. Her lack of loveability, however, doesn't mean she's unloveable. I think you catch glimpses of real kindness and goodness beneath the difficult exterior, and you end up if nothing else really respecting her and being drawn to her. But there's also the implication that she did real damage to her child when he was growing up, which is a bit hard to get past. There's also the fact that I pictured Frances McDormand the entire time I was reading this. I guess that's neither a positive nor a negative, realy.

I'm very curious to see how the miniseries handles the vignette structure -- probably by putting the most emphasis on Olive's story and maybe leaving out some of the "side" plots? I do hope we get the drunk piano player and the story about Harmon and Daisy, though; I think those were my favorites. I will report back after I watch it so I fulfill the terms of the RHC fully.


Update, May 23, 2016

The miniseries is, indeed, great! The piano player was a background character, and there were no Daisy and Harmon. But overall it was such a smart adaptation.

Loved the casting, even if they didn't make Olive overweight -- Frances McDormand was almost perfect (overweight she would have been perfect) and Richard Jenkins was completely perfect. The closure for Kevin's story that didn't exist in the book was terrific. The confrontation in the hospital scene and the scene with Olive and Theo, which I believe were not in the original, heightened the drama quite a bit. And Denise totally broke my heart, as she did in the original.

The RHC asks you to decide which is better, I think? They are both great, but I think the miniseries hangs together a little more strongly and has the edge for me.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

My Brilliant Friend (by Elena Ferrante)

This is the first book in the widely acclaimed Neopolitan series. Finally, I would know what all the fuss was about! Except... I don't really get what all the fuss is about. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book (I did) or that I won't continue on to the next books in the series (I probably will). But maybe it suffered a little from overhype.

The good stuff: the central female friendship is a complex mix of passionate love, rivalry, and envy,that is very persuasive. I also enjoy how Lila remains absolutely consistent as a character, but my sympathy towards her increases dramatically over the course of my reading as I began to see her how Elena sees her. It wasn't until the end that I realized what a trick Ferrante had pulled off there.

I also love the title, particularly because of a reference late in the book. The ending in general is super strong -- the bathing scene before the wedding is lovely, the final image is a great cliffhanger. It has a strong sense of specificity in terms of setting -- I absolutely 100% believed this was Naples at this time in history, post World War II. The world Ferrante creates is completely real and it's one I haven't read about before, so points for that too.

All that said, I do have a few quibbles. The prose itself I don't find particularly enthralling -- at times it was even awkward and somewhat confusing. But then again, it is in translation, so I made allowances for that. I know it's specific to the time and place, but I got really tired of all the machismo and paternalism that basically makes up the entire plot of the book. All the women are defined by their relationships to men, all the men do is posture and fight and browbeat the women, and many female characters are sidelined -- Elena's mother is a shadowy, hated background figure; sisters aren't really mentioned; Melina is just some crazy lady.

I am assured that once the novels get to the 60s, feminism comes into play and these mores are challenged. So this makes me feel like Ferrante knows what she is doing, and going for verisimillitude here.  I think I'll need to read the rest of the books to form a true opinion of that, and am curious if anyone reading this has gone further in the series and has thoughts on that.

All in all, this made for fun conversation and was a good read!

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