[Book Review] The Girl On The Train

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This has been compared again and again to Gone Girl, a book which, in my opinion, is cheesy as hell, but about as thrilling as it gets.

It is, however, no Gone Girl. The Girl On The Train (Paula Hawkins, 2015, 325 pages, Riverhead Books) starts with the same premise: nothing is what it seems, people are deceiving, a crime that gets weirder and weirder. Unlike Gone Girl, though, there isn’t a single charismatic bone in any of the character’s bodies: everyone is about as unlikable as it gets, including the main narrator, Rachel. People don’t even act like normal people, doing things just for the sake of the plot, making it difficult for the reader to truly immerse themselves into the story.

It also alternates chapters between characters, which is a great way to keep a thriller’s pacing frenetic, as we’ve been shown again and again by Dan Brown, for example. A technique that is basically incapable of not working in a crime book fails to work here, for the very simple reason that the author doesn’t understand that, in order for a reader to actually crave that narrator’s next chapter, you pretty much need a cliffhanger by the end of every single one. Just read any Brian K. Vaughan comic book and you’ll see how effective that can be.

And the ending, oh, the ending. You can see it coming from about a third into the book, which means everything that comes afterwards should be a balls to the walls collection of crazy events, something that Gone Girl does very effectively. Yet the same patterns are repeated, characters keep doing stupid things just so they can come back to bite them in the ass and deliver a dozen more pages, everyone involved is completely oblivious to basically everything you’ll have picked up a hundred pages before.

As if the predictability weren’t frustrating enough, by the time the book reaches its climax it goes on and on and on, repeating things again and again, in such an annoying way that it is an actual relief to get to the end of it. If the reader already knows who did it, you might as well give them something really crazy, thrilling and unexpected to hang on to later. The comparison keeps showing up, but isn’t that what Gone Girl does most effectively?

Of course, it still is good enough to keep you going until the end. But let’s face it: if you have limited hours of reading in your life, you should probably be spending them on something that is better than a “good enough” book.

[Book Review] The Disaster Artist

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Imagine the worst movie ever made. No, seriously, THE WORST. Now multiply it by 100. That might give you an idea of what it’s like to watch the absolutely hilarious, confusing, nonsensical The Room, a 2003 movie written, produced, directed and starred (YES IT’S THAT BAD) by a very strange person named Tommy Wiseau.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (2013, Simon and Schuster, 270 pages) is lead actor Greg Sestero’s account on how the movie got made and how the hell he ended up in it. It alternates chapters following his getting to know Tommy Wiseau and the making of the movie itself, revealing that this absolute masterpiece could have turned out to be much, much worse.

Sestero is as charming a storyteller as it gets: by the end, the reader feels like part of the cast, exhausted by Tommy’s tantrums and relieved to see the filming process get wrapped. All of this is made an incredibly fast and enjoyable read thanks to Sestero’s comic insights into Wiseau’s mind and that of everyone involved in making the movie.

What makes this such a great book, however, is that it never resents the craziness; in fact, it embraces it and redeems it. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to come out of reading this without warming up to Tommy and his determination to make it in Hollywood even if Hollywood constantly spits on his face. Sestero does an incredible job at portraying this dark, mysterious and complex person as more than the guy we laugh at at the movie theater. Wiseau is human, heart-breakingly so, and you’re constantly reminded of that when his weaknesses and insecurities show between the cracks of his megalomaniac and arrogant exterior façade.

Set to be adapted to movie by James Franco (who will play Wiseau himself), The Disaster Artist is a treat to anyone who has ever watched The Room or is in any way interested in the backstories of Hollywood movies. To be quite honest, it’s a great read to anyone interested in, well, interesting people, because if there is anything to be said about Wiseau, it’s that he succeeded at being completely different from everyone else.

To sum up: watch the movie, read the book, and come and thank me when you manage to stop laughing.

[Book Review] Eleanor & Park

This is my first video review! I hope you guys enjoy it – please let me know what you thought.

And hey, happy 2015!

It’s time for a change

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I’ve changed.

Hell, I’m changing.

These past months have been an endless emotional roller-coaster, leading me to work a lot on learning about myself and finding peace with my demons.

In the process, I have neglected this blog a bit, partially because of having my mind elsewhere, partially because this whole way of reviewing simply wasn’t working for me anymore. I bought a Kindle and gave up trying: I downloaded tons – TONS – of books and now read a lot more than I used to. Since I was downloading them all already, I started buying books compulsively again. Reviews weren’t written because there were just so many to write.

And the thing is: who cares? Isn’t being a book addict the least of my problems? The least of anyone’s problems? It turns out I can finally say that I’m ok with buying too many books. Being a bookaholic is part of who I am. It’s not a situation that needs an intervention; I won’t go bankrupt or anything and I’ve been reading more than ever.

So here’s what we’re gonna do: I’ve changed, so this blog will change. I say to hell with rules. I will buy what I want whenever I want to, read whatever pleases me and review everything in a more concise way, keeping things shorter and easier. With that purpose, I’ll sometimes group book reviews together, as I have tried once or twice already. Easier, simpler, more readable.

And I’ll feel no more guilt. I am no longer a girl in her desperate attempt to buy less and read more. I am a girl in her desperate attempt to read everything she can.

No more rules. May the fun begin.

[Book Review] The Rosie Project

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Every once in a while, you run into a book that has more than a plot: it has a promise. You get eager to read it because it sounds so unique from its story alone, because you think you’ll run into something innovative and inspiring, something fresh and new. And with the game set, some authors still manage to ruin the completely brilliant premise they had.

That’s what happened to The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion, Penguin, 329 pages). The story is narrated by Don Tillman, a Genetics professor who supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome and decides to write down a list of questions to be answered by random girls so he can solve the “wife problem” and get married at last. In the middle of it, he runs into Rosie, a girl who has all the wrong answers to his questions, but becomes his friend in her quest to find out who her biological father is.

The first 100 or so pages of the book are very good: Don is an interesting, out of the ordinary character and the story seems to be set for a great development. The writing isn’t exactly fantastic (it’s pretty ordinary, to be honest), but both Don and Rosie are fascinating in the way they’re presented, and there are some very nice scenes that can be both sweet and meaningful, just like love really is.

Unfortunately, the author gets lost in his own plot. There are so many completely useless and irrelevant scenes you at first wonder if the story really is complex enough to use them all (it isn’t). There are so many scenes that turn out to be petrifyingly embarrassing you wonder if the author really meant for them to be funny (he did). There are so many boring secondary characters you hope your copy has a defect and will actually end before it seems it’s going to end (it won’t). And then you wonder if the ending will be as obvious as you thought at first (it will).

And trust me, I tried. I gave this book a chance. I was so excited at its innovative façade after the first hundred pages I thought it would somehow recover and end in an also innovative way. Turns out everything in the last 200 pages of the book alternated between annoying and cliché. The author reached a point in which he had the main character watch romantic comedies to apparently learn how to be a “romantic comedy guy”: but why, just WHY would anyone want a guy who isn’t purely himself? Good romantic comedies (and chick lit) male characters aren’t loved simply for what they do, but for whom they are. What they do simply reflects their virtues.

As if that complete wreck of a plot weren’t enough, its biggest promise – Don and Rosie – is completely ruined by lack of consistency. If you’re going to write a book about someone with autism, this person better portrait autism throughout the entire book, otherwise it was simply a lie you told your reader to trick him or her into reading about an actually rude and insensitive guy who has no explanation for behaving the way he does. And if you’re selling me a girl who is easy going and comprehensive, she better not create idiotic problems because of small things that have no significance at all.

The author points out in his acknowledgements that he wrote this book in a hurry. It sure shows. Whoever edited it also seemed to be in a hurry, otherwise they would have cut half the pages in this book and told him to rewrite whatever was left after the character’s introduction. If you wanted to read this, take my work for it: just don’t.

[(Short) Book Reviews] Who Could That Be At This Hour? and Storm Front

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Who Could That Be At This Hour?, Lemony Snicket

The first book in a new series from the nom de plume that signs A Series of Unfortunate Events, the story follows a young Lemony starting an apprenticeship with a completely incompetent mentor and trying to solve a mystery while asking all the wrong questions. Like anything else from Snicket, the book is fun and easy to read, with great plotting and strong characters. The story receives just the right amount of closure to make you happy with the book and waiting for the next one. Filled with irony and great lines, this is a nice pick for both children at age and at heart.

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Storm Front, Jim Butcher

The first book from the The Dresden Files series introduces us to Harry Dresden, a wizard that takes both private cases and helps the Chicago PD in ongoing investigations that seem to have something of the magical world to do with them. An incredibly fast read, the writing might be a bit sloppy at times and the story might not have profound metaphors or deep psychological development, but it is SO. MUCH. FUN. I mean it, it’s caps lock fun. It has everything from a talking skull named Bob to a love potion to giant insects to explosions to a spell called “FUEGO”. And if you’re the kind of person who turns down a book with a talking skull named Bob (I’m not), let me tell you something: the plotting is great. All the pieces of the story connect and make sense, showing Jim’s ability to set the game and then properly close it. I’m dying to read the next ones, which I heard are even better than the first. If you like easy and fun, this one is for you!

[Book Review] Wedding Night

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Few things are more frustrating than disliking a new book from a favorite author. After months (or years) of anticipation, you hope they will not disappoint you and deliver something that at least equals their previous works. So you order the new book, you wait for it to be delivered, you look longingly at the cover before you get started and set your expectations up high from page one already.

Liking Sophie Kinsella so much was one of the reasons I was extremely disappointed with Wedding Night (The Dial Press, 446 pages). The book alternates chapters between two sisters, Lottie and Fliss, as the second tries to stop the first from an impulsive marriage after Lottie breaks up with her previous boyfriend.

It is extremely difficult for a chick-lit fan to criticize Sophie Kinsella, who is one of the best authors of the genre. Her plots are usually well built, her writing is very good, her talent to write comedy will make you laugh out loud in public and embarrass yourself. In Wedding Night, however, the same joke is explored to exhaustion throughout at least three quarters of the book, leaving the reader impatient for it to be over or at least for something new to happen. This would have been much better if it were 100 or 150 pages shorter.

Long chick-lit books are perfectly enjoyable, though, as long as the main characters are charismatic and relatable: it’s hard to root for a couple if you dislike them both. That was my problem with 50 Ways to Find a Lover and now, with Wedding Night. From chapter one I wanted to shake Lottie by her shoulders and tell her to control herself: she is whiny, self-centered and inconsequent, irresponsible and thoughtless, demanding and, what’s worse, unbelievable. It’s not that I expected her to be perfect – it would have made her completely unreal –, but is it too much to ask for a character both likeable and credible? Both the boys surrounding her are also damp and colorless to the point I can’t even remember their names.

The one good part of the book are the chapters written from Fliss’s point of view, especially because of Lorcan, a friend of the groom who helps her stop the couple. Lorcan and Fliss are the only characters to whom Kinsella gave an actual voice, even if it’s difficult to accept the degree to which Fliss interferes in her sister’s life, leaving the reader also only half-heartedly rooting for her. Lorcan is, in the end, the only reasonable person in the entire book, and he barely appears in it.

(Lorcan is also sexy as hell. Feel free to imagine him as Benedict Cumberbatch. I did. Only thing that saved the book.)

As if it weren’t enough, include a predictable plot twist and a cheesy ending to this mess and you’ll have a good idea what reading this felt like. Even if Kinsella’s writing makes the book flow despite of its flaws, it’s a shame that we’ll have to wait longer to have another great story from someone so talented in warming hearts and causing laughter. If you want to read Kinsella, don’t get started with this one.

[Book Review] The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

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Reality can be scary as hell.

You can have zombies, vampires and werewolves living inside a magical forest or a medieval make-believe town. You can have ghosts possessing children and sending them down the stairs in an exorcism film. You can have crazy giant cyborgs destroying a city.

But nothing – nothing – is as scary as the fear reality can provoke. The reason children are so scared of monsters is the fact that they can imagine them inside their bedrooms, where they should be comfortable and safe, where the rules of the adult world should also apply.

Which is why The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (Neil Gaiman, paperback by Harper, 192 pages), like most other Gaiman’s works, gave me goose bumps all over. The book is written as to sound almost like an autobiography, leading us through the visit of an adult man to his hometown for a funeral and the half-forgotten story he remembers as he sees the pond at the back of a farm at the end of a road, a farm where he met Lettie Hempstock and lived a story too scary to be true.

The result is beautifully scary. The introduction of fantastical elements into a realistic story, when properly done, has the effect of making everything possible and nothing seemingly real. Gaiman has the very unique ability to turn every chapter into a child’s dream, every line into a faint smell long forgotten. This is quite possibly my favorite of his – fast, thrilling, colorful, yet dark, this book is childhood in words.

Speaking of words, the man is their ultimate master, perhaps a magical creature just like the ones he loves to write about: every line is gorgeous, every character shines, everything seems impossible to improve. It always takes me a while to finish his books because of the beauty of his writing; I feel compelled to reread every other bit again and again, like someone throwing wine from one side of the mouth to the other, until I have tasted his words in every way I can. I believe exquisite is the best word I can use. His writing is simply exquisite.

Good books, much like good music, can touch your heart’s strings without asking it for permission or letting it know in advance. And I imagine the feeling provoked by this book is so difficult to describe because of how indescribable the bliss of childhood itself is for every person and, therefore, for every reader. I could write thousands and thousands of words and would still not be able to explain why or how this book is so good, the same way you could write the best of autobiographies and would never reproduce your childhood’s magic

(Unless, of course, you happen to be Neil Gaiman. In which case, hi, Neil. You’re awesome.)

All I can say is please read this. It’s short, fast, beautiful and I bet you’ll be touched. This was quite possibly my favorite book of 2013 – and I dare say it’ll continue on my list of favorite books ever for a long time, especially as I read it again and again in a desperate attempt to keep living inside of it for a little bit.

“Adults follow paths. Children explore”. And Mr. Gaiman writes dreams.

[Book Review] Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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Action movies have led many of us to believe that espionage is the combination of explosions, soft killings, six-packed agents and the thrill of the chase.

Reality is, however, a bit less exciting. Hell, a lot less exciting. Reality is, most of the time, about making sense of what seems like tons of meaningless information in order to find patterns – and while that doesn’t sound exactly like a blockbuster movie on the make, it sure can translate well into a novel when the job is well done.

That is precisely what Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John le Carré, read on paperback, Sceptre, 448 pages) is all about. The plot follows George Smiley, an MI6 (or “Circus”, as it’s referred to throughout the book) agent, in his attempt to find a mole that, during the Cold War, is on the high ranks of the British Intelligence while feeding the KGB with inside information.

I find it necessary to make something very clear to anyone interested in reading TTSS: the book is boring. Yes, boring. Not only because it moves slowly, but because it is subtle in every discovery, making the readers wonder if they have correctly understood what has just happened. Every revelation is a small victory and you have to pick the pieces throughout the book in order to make sense of what has happened in the past, so don’t expect crazy-running-around-solving-clue-after-clue Dan Brown action. You won’t have any of it.

It is, however, absurdly satisfying. The fact that it is slow means the reader has a chance to read with Smiley and watch him as he finds every tiny secret that leads to the climax. I am still quite intrigued by how it can be such a good read when it’s so – again this word, but there really is no other – boring. The final result is delicious, just as solving a puzzle or winning a game is, because the process is so realistic it makes you crave for the discovery just as much as Smiley does.

Smiley is a portrait of the modus operandi used to find the mole and tell the story: slow, simple, kept-together, unpretentious, but highly intelligent. Smiley is a boring, gray, sad character, which only makes his surname more brilliant. You will root for Smiley as you would root for a stray dog as you watch him do tricks you wouldn’t expect him to know. No one is better to spy on spies than a man who doesn’t look like one at all.

This is, in the end, a great, great book. The story, once one finishes reading it, is perceivably well plotted – it gives neither the annoying feeling that the author kept all the secrets to himself, which ruins plot twists, nor the chance to figure it all out with a fifth of the book read. Beautifully written, the reader immerses himself into Smiley. And what else could be more explosive than to feel, for once, like you are actually a spy?

[Book Review] Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

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Many of us girls spent our teenage years watching romantic comedies that went from Notting Hill to Love Actually, from When Harry Met Sally to You’ve Got Mail. And to many of us – myself included –, that doesn’t mean we live in a fantastic world of cotton candy and unicorns, but that we learned from the best that we can aim as high as we want and not settle for less than Awesome Job and Prince Charming.

Yes, Prince Charming. Many would argue there’s no such thing; I’ve been saying they are living, breathing creatures for a long time now and getting surprise in response. The thing is, you can’t expect Prince Charming to be just like Aurora’s or Snow White’s, to look like Hugh Grant and behave like Colin Firth. Those Princes do exist and are perfect, in a sense that they are perfect for you. No one is perfect per se, but people can be perfect for each other, and that’s what we should all aim for. I have recently been proven that I was right to think so by running into one. Settling for a “frog”, as many claim to be only option, isn’t settling at all. It’s either not being brave enough to be be happier on your own or not recognizing that your poor so-called frog is, in fact, a prince. Your prince.

And yes, Awesome Job. If we work hard enough, why can’t we get what we want? Why can’t we dream of having power? Why can’t we aim at being a top comedian at a big city? Or a doctor, or a lawyer, or an artist, or whatever we want to be? Many of those movies – the good ones, of course – have strong, powerful female characters who fight for what they want and know what they are capable of. There is no step one for being happy, but a single level: being happy with yourself. And it doesn’t really matter what you do or how high you aim to go, does it, as long as it makes you happy? (And, well, it’s legal, of course).

And that, I believe, is the essence of Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (paperback by Three Rivers Press, 222 pages). Mindy both worked as a screenwriter and played Kelly Kapoor in The Office; she now has her own brilliant show, The Mindy Project, which is an honest, funny, light romantic comedy that manages to be more feminist than other shows that brag about it. Mindy’s book is what I can only describe as a collection of thoughts: there’s no real timeline, no precise object of analysis, but it basically gathers some of the story and many of the opinions of a great comedy writer and sweet, sweet girl.

Mindy covers the most distinct areas: from growing up as a chubby Indian descendant to starting her career as a comedian; from romantic comedy heroines and how fake they can be to her relationship with her mother. Maybe it looks autobiographical, but the biggest surprise to me was finding out that Mindy’s life wasn’t really the focus of the narrative. What happens to her is only used as an excuse to share thoughts many of us had, but didn’t know how to phrase. And everything shows us how big dreams aren’t  actually fantasies, but only plans.

If I haven’t talked you into reading it yet, I promise there’s this entire page dedicated to how perfect Colin Firth is that is entirely worth it by itself. With her light sense of humor and delicate appreciation of the finest things in life (yes, Colin Firth being one of them; I hope we can all agree at least on that), Mindy manages to steal laughter and tears faster than Kelly Kapoor would run after Robert Pattinson. By the end of it, you’ll not only want to be, but actually feel like one of her best friends. And with such a big heart,  I’m pretty sure she can fit us all in there.