Friday, February 23, 2018

Standard Deviation - Book Review

Standard Deviation - Katherine Heiny B+

Published: May 2017
I loved Katherine Heiny’s short story collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow (2015)- it was scandalously delicious. Standard Deviation, Heiny’s debut novel (she’s published numerous YA novels under pen names) is full of charm and wit. I am always impressed when a novel that is meant to be funny, is funny. But, what I found most intriguing about Standard Deviation is the quiet and subtle portrait of a marriage in semi-crisis.

Graham, a 56-year-old venture capitalist is married to Audra who is 15 years younger. Audra was Graham’s mistress prior to divorcing his first wife, Elspeth. Elspeth was the prototypical (and misunderstood) starter wife. Graham and Elspeth never had kids. Graham and Audra have a 10-year-old son, Matthew.

Now, imagine if your current wife/former mistress wanted to be close friends with your ex-wife. I suppose it's not out of the realm of possibility; but, it's definitely not ideal.

I absorbed these characters, especially Graham. Each of them felt like people I know, I’ve known, or I'd like to know. The story is well-crafted. There is no over-the-top drama and basically no plot. Nevertheless, it's an entertaining look at marriage, exes, emotional infidelity and how easily the lines are blurred.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Book Review

Published: Jan 2018
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - Michael Wolff  B+

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is like the proverbial train wreck - horrifying and scary but you can't look away. Considering the soap-opera our White House has become, it's hard not to believe Michael Wolff's account of the Trump Administration. This book is flawed and Wolff himself comes off as a bit slippery. Nevertheless, this guilty pleasure reads like a nonfiction novel. Entertaining. Disconcerting.

Friday, December 29, 2017

On the Beach at Night Alone - Movie Review

In Theatres Now
On the Beach at Night Alone (NR) 104 mins C+

Starring: Kim Min-hee, Seo Young-hwa, Jung Jae-young, Moon Sung-keun, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi

On the Beach at Night Alone is the critically acclaimed film by Sang-Soo Hong. It stars Kim Min-hee, winner of the Best Actress award at this year's Berlin International Film Festival for her role in this film. Min-hee plays Young-hee, an actress who is attempting to put her life back together after a torrid affair with a married filmmaker.

The film opens with Young-hee visiting Jee-young (Seo Young-hwa), a divorced girlfriend who lives in Germany. Young-hee is in a state transition, wondering if she should stay in Germany and if she should end a relationship with her married lover. This, and the entirety of the film, is sparse. The mood is pensive. But, the emotions percolating underneath the surface are complicated. The first "act" of the film is quietly intriguing. The two women spend a lot of time talking and walking around Hamburg. They visit a bookstore. They have an awkward dinner with Jee-young's ex-husband and new wife. The four of them end up on a beach at night, before the film fades to black and moves into the second "act."

The second act of the film finds Young-hee back in Korea, post-affair. Her life is still in limbo. Her thoughts are plunging into despair. During the second act we began to understand the protagonist a little better. The second act also turns up the emotional intensity a notch; however, I found this part of the film less intriguing than the shorter first act. I kept waiting for something more dramatic to happen, it never did. That said, I still liked On the Beach at Night Alone because of its honesty and introspection. For those unaware, this film is reportedly based on a real-life affair between Hong and Min-hee.

On the Beach at Night Alone is definitely not for everyone. But, it was enough to motivate me to explore Hong's previous works.

Check out this trailer courtesy of YouTube

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Movie Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (R) 115 minutes B
In Theatres Now

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges and John Hawkes

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is relentless.  Months after her daughter is brutally raped and murdered, Hayes (McDormand) rents ad space on three run-down billboards just outside of her town. In an attempt to shame the local sheriff (Harrelson), the billboards raises the question: "Why no arrests/no progress?" The billboards immediately strike controversy and anger throughout the small town, especially with the "dumb as a rock" racist and homophobic deputy sheriff (Rockwell).

This film is flawed. Some of the dialogue is campy and contrived. But, despite occasionally missing the mark, Three Billboards is charmingly dark and McDormand delivers an Oscar-worthy performance.  It's fun, in a sad sorta way. 

Check out this trailer courtesy of YouTube --->

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Sweetbitter - Book Review

Published: April 2016
Sweetbitter - Stephanie Danler C-

The hype machine for Stephanie Danler's debut, Sweetbitter, was in full effect during the spring of 2016. It was often mentioned in the same breath as Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, while one New York Times headline deemed it "Bright Lights, Big City for the Restaurant Set." I was intrigued. I assumed I was buying a gritty autobiographical restaurant novel about a small town girl in the big city (sex, drugs and food!). Instead, Sweetbitter was a sluggish coming-of-maturity romp that reminded me of my drunken work hard/play hard twenties and the eventual rock bottom epiphanies that demanded I grow up and get my shit together. The novel had its moments. It hinted at the potential its hype suggested. But, overall I found it slow, frustrating, and less about food, more about a tiresome love triangle.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History - Book Review

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History - Katy Tur A-

In the spring of 2015, Katy Tur was a London-based NBC correspondent and campaign trail novice when she landed the assignment to cover Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Her boss said it would be, “six months tops.” But, what she (and most everyone) didn’t know at the time was that her trip on the crazy train was a one-way ticket.

For some, the wound is still too fresh to relive 500 days of Trump - that’s how long Tur was on the Trump beat. However, "Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History" is a fascinating and accessible behind-the-scenes look at the weirdest and most heartbreaking political campaign of my lifetime. And dare I say this is a lite read. Tur masterfully delivers her account of the Trump crusade in a way that’s both entertaining and enlightening, if not ultimately depressing.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hate U Give - Book Review

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas C+

Published: Feb 2017
My expectations were high. I wanted to love this book. The characters felt authentic. The subject matter is important. However, none of the characters resonated with me and it all felt too familiar. The Hate U Give is smart YA, but I was a little bored.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Restaurant Man - Book Review

Published: May 2012
Restaurant Man - Joe Bastianich A- 

This book almost felt like a guilty pleasure because it's so self-righteous. Joe Bastianich, winemaker and restaurateur extraordinaire, schools his readers with everyman charisma, a father's intellect and caviar dreams. If you have ever wondered what it takes to run a restaurant, or just curious (like me), this is a must read. Thoroughly entertaining.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Paris Wife - Book Review

Published: Feb 2011
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain A-

I can't get enough Hadley and Hemingway since I finished The Paris Wife. This fictionalized account of their 1920s romance and marriage was surprisingly captivating. Now, I'm desperate to separate fact from fiction.

Hadley Richardson was the first of Hemingway's four wives. She was an innocent girl from the Midwest, eight years his senior. Reluctant to fall in love with a younger man, Hadley eventually gave in to Hemingway's charm and youthful ambition. The couple moved to Paris shortly after getting married. In Paris, they fraternized with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. This period of their relationship was alive, filled with writing, friendship, and exuberant drinking. Adventures ensued, lines were crossed, and books were written.

The Paris Wife felt authentic. McClain did extensive research that included reading and rereading multiple biographies, memoirs, letters, novels, and stories written by and about Hadley and Hemingway. McClain's writing was simple yet intriguing, which is exactly how I felt about Hadley. Hadley was never the biggest personality in the room, especially among Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Duff Twysden, and Pauline Pfeiffer. But, in retrospect she might have been the best woman in the room. Even Hemingway might have agreed with that when it was all said and done.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare - Book Review

Published May 2017
This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare - Gabourey Sidibe B+

I know Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for an Academy Award. I know she's been on various television shows. But, I've never been more impressed by her talents than I am now. This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare is entertaining, surprising, and one of the best books of 2017 so far. Her fortuitous rise to fame, her engrossing (but not overbearing) family drama, and her witty sense of humor made this book hard to put down. Inspiring and sensible.

For more, check out Sidibe's Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross via the NPR link below.