Friday Flicks: Crazy Rich Asians

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Much will be made about the financial success of director Jon M. Chu's film Crazy Rich Asians out in wide release today. Based upon Kevin Kwan's wildly popular novel, the film marks one of the first large studio releases to feature an Asian cast. In 2018 this shouldn't be such a big deal, but the fact that most articles about the film mention this means that for better or worse, Warner Bros. has a lot riding on Crazy Rich Asians. I enjoyed the novel and got enough laughs out of it, that I decided to see what the film adaptation had to offer.

Like the book, the film follows NYU professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she follows her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) home to Singapore. One of Nick's best friends is getting married, so this is the perfect opportunity for Rachel to see the place he grew up. Nick has always been pretty quiet about his family, so Rachel isn't sure what to expect. She grows suspicious of him the moment they board their private first class suite on the plane, an extravagance Rachel has never even dreamed of. Soon Nick reveals a huge secret about his family. They are crazy rich!

Before the plane even leaves the tarmac, the news of Nick's mysterious new girlfriend reaches his mother played by Michelle Yeoh. Eleanor Young is not impressed with Rachel. Nick may think he's found "the one", but mothers know best. Rachel is American born from a single mother and has no financial or social stature to speak of. Eleanor will not stand by while her son's emotions and bank account are taken advantage of. She has to stop this relationship.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. Chu's film improves upon the novel by making the characters more emotionally rounded and allowing the themes of culture and family to weave into the comedy. Similar to the way that My Big Fat Greek Wedding bridged Greek culture into universally relatable themes, Crazy Rich Asians finds a perfect balance in highlighting the intricacies of its own unique culture while crafting an emotionally satisfying romantic comedy that should appeal to the masses. Unlike the novel, the film ends with a true conclusion that will leave you wanting more from these remarkable characters. I can't predict what the box office results will be, but I can say without a doubt that I thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians. 




Circe by Madeline Miller

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"When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist."

For months now I've seen the gorgeous cover of Madeline Miller's Circe gracing the screen of my phone though countless bookstagram posts, advertisements, and glowing reviews. When I had the chance to read the book as an advanced copy, I passed. It was classified as "women's fiction", so I didn't think it would appeal to me. I'm definitely not the target audience for "women's fiction". Still, I couldn't escape the allure of Miller's novel. Plus, it is 2018. Isn't women's fiction just fiction? Why do we have the need to differentiate? The cover became such a fixture of my awareness that I just had to see what all the fuss was about.

Born among gods and titans, Circe is not like the rest of her family. She is not all powerful as her father Zeus is, but she does have some powers of her own. Specifically, Circe is able to use witchcraft, a feat that scares the gods. She is banished to a deserted island and is forced to live a life of solitude. Rather than wallow in her misfortunes, Circe uses the moment to hone her skills and become more powerful.

Along the way, Circe is forced to face the best and worst sides of both humanity and mythology. She sees and experiences true love, family, and parenthood. She also sees the brutal evils of lust, anger, and war. Circe's story soon intertwines with some of the more familiar tales of Greek mythology. I was particularly drawn to her interactions with the legendary Odyseuss.

Circe by Madeline Miller is a sprawling epic that plays like a greatest hits of Greek mythology. Miller carves a spot for her character amongst some of the better and lesser known myths from the time. Several times I had to pause to research some of the stories to see what Miller was drawing on. Miller elevates her story by placing Circe into moments that force her to face normal human emotions and challenges. By giving her character and empathetic soul, Miller brings the gods and legends down to a level that all readers can relate to.

Despite the ambitious story that spans global history, I couldn't help but feel disconnected from large portions of the novel. Given all of the positive reviews this book received, I was surprised to find myself longing for more from it. Too often, Miller's characters simply tell the epic stories. This makes them removed from the action. Although I can't give Circe the unbridled support that others have, I certainly appreciate the scope and depth that it sets out to present.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 32)

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

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I've had a busy summer keeping up with a reading schedule of mostly new releases. I have a few weeks before my next ARC hits the shelves, so I've decided to take the next couple of weeks to catch up on some of the books that have been languishing on my shelf. To kick things off, I turned to a book that has been on my shelf for nearly a decade. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters first caught my eye when it appeared in the top spot on Stephen King's best books of the year list in 2009. I was just starting my undergraduate degree and was turning to fiction as an escape from my other course reading. I quickly bought a copy of the novel, and it has sat on my bookshelves ever since. Nine years and hundreds of books later, I finally decided to give it a read.

"We see what punishing business it is, simply being alive."

Following the end of WWII, the once sprawling estate of Hundreds Hall has turned into a disheveled remnant of a time that is soon to be forgotten. Most of the rooms sit vacant, in fact, the entire estate is empty save for an elderly mother and her two adult children. Each child does their part to keep the home running. The daughter tends to the home as best as she can while keeping her mother occupied. The son, injured from the war, does his part to keep the farm afloat. The mother spends her days thinking back on the way things used to be.

Things seem to be looking up for the family when they are finally able to gain the aide of the young housemaid. Sure, it is not the large staff that used to keep Hundreds Hall buzzing with activity and prestige, but any help is welcome. When the young girl falls ill, the family decides to ring Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who worked his way to become a successful country doctor. Faraday quickly surmises that the girl's illness is not a physical ailment but rather simple homesickness. Faraday prescribes a day off and is on his way. But something keeps drawing him back to Hundreds Hall. The more time he spends there, the more sinister it seems.

I went into this one expecting a novel filled with shock and horror. What I got was a more straight-forward work of historical fiction with slight tinges of understated suspense. That's not to say that The Little Stranger isn't scary. Rather than the pure horror of the traditional sense, Waters writes a nuanced character study that brims with a dark undertone that is far more unsettling. After making it through the rather laborious opening portion of the book, I found myself completely enthralled with the characters who inhabit it. The decaying home of Hundreds Hall becomes a physical representation of the characters as they erode into the hysteria of paranoia and unrest. I don't know that The Little Stranger will end up making my own year-end list of best books, but I do know that it provided a chilling read and different pace from my usual summer reading.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 31)

The Restless Wave by John McCain

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John McCain has been a fixture of American politics for over thirty years. He is a respected Senator from Arizona, a two-time presidential candidate, and a decorated veteran. At the age of 81, McCain was already entering into the twilight of his political career. A diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, the same kind that took the life of his friend and colleague Edward Kennedy, has put a more immediate threat on that long career. McCain has always been a fighter and has vowed to fight this cancer with everything he has. He knows his prognosis isn't great, so his latest and most likely final memoir gives him a chance to "...talk to my fellow Americans a little more if I may."

The Restless Wave is pretty standard as far as memoirs go. McCain hits upon the highlights of his life with the hindsight and introspection of a man who is at peace with coming to the end of his life. He replays moments from his history with detail and commentary that gives the reader a glimpse into his frame of mind during those times. With each recollection, I was struck by the way McCain seems to use his military background and family as the moral compass that guides each decision. Yes, there were times when he strayed from that path for political purposes, but each time he ended up returning to the center that guided him.

There are long stretches of the book spent detailing specifics of foreign policy and war strategies that got too dense for me. It was clear that McCain is passionate about his role in these situations, but the down and dirty details were simply too much to hold my attention. Readers with an interest in military history and strategy may glean more from these portions, but the casual reader may find themselves skimming over these sections.

At his core, John McCain is a man whose patriotism can't be denied. I don't doubt that he mostly acted in ways he thought would be best for the country he loves. He admits to and owns the mistakes he made, especially his disastrous 2008 presidential campaign, with class and grace. Despite the recent surge of divisiveness and misinformation in American politics, a shift he has witnessed firsthand, McCain remains optimistic for the future of the country. He is an old-school politician in the best sense of the word, the kind who knows how to buckle down and work with the other side of the aisle to get things done. Although our politicians seem to have lost that spirit of cooperation and compromise, they only need to look back at the extraordinary life of John McCain to be reminded of the things that unite us all.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 30)

The Day of the Dead by Nicci French

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Earlier this year, I read Sunday Silence by Nicci French as part of a TLC Book Tour. Although I was jumping into the series with the penultimate book, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and was looking forward to seeing how the series ended. The promise of a showdown between heroine Frieda Klein and notorious serial killer Dean Reeve was almost too much to pass up. When I was offered to review the final novel and kick of TLC's latest tour, I jumped at the opportunity.

Lola is in a panic. Her dissertation is due soon, and she hasn't even begun to come up with a topic for it. She isn't the most academically motivated student, but she never imagined she would be at this point. Desperately, she seeks the guidance of her professor. The professor has seen this type of unengaged student before. He offers the half-hearted suggestion that Lola find someone to shadow who works in her field of interest. He suggests the budding criminologist find infamous psychologist Frieda Klein. There's only one problem. No one knows where Frieda Klein is.

This moment has been a long time coming. What started as a perfectly normal consulting relationship between a psychologist and the police has turned into something horrible. Dr. Frieda Klein has watched as her world has been turned upside down. Her life has become intertwined with the obsessive delusions of murderer Dean Reeve. He's latched onto her for some reason, leaving a path of bodies and heartache in his wake. Now Frieda has cut herself off from the rest of the world. She's moved from her home, changed her appearance, and broken communication with her friends and family. Now she waits. Dean Reeve is out there, and she's the only one who can stop him.

In The Day of the Dead, the authorial duo Nicci French bring their long-running series to a satisfying conclusion. Eight novels in, they have built an extremely engaging cast of characters and an ever-intriguing cat and mouse scenario between Klein and Reeve. As the final novel in the series, The Day of the Dead works just fine as a standalone read, but I definitely think the ending will be more satisfying for those who have experienced the other books. More than the previous book, this novel sees the author delve deeper into Klein's mental state, an experience that is made even more poignant by the fact that Klein is a psychologist. The Day of the Dead has everything readers will want from a final novel and ends with a near perfect scenario that succeeds on multiple levels.

For more information, visit the author's website, publisher's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
This review kicks off a tour from TLC Book Tours. Check out the full tour schedule here.

(2018, 29)


The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

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"Sometimes a lie is more than just a lie. Sometimes it's the only way to win."

I've recently recognized that a popular trend in the titling of thrillers has emerged amongst my reading list. It seems like every thriller with hopes of becoming the next best-seller has the word "lie" in their titles. Like many of the "girl" books that followed a similar trend after the success of Gone Girl, these "lie" books have had a pretty mixed result for me. Last year saw the breakout of author Riley Sager with his thriller Final Girls. Glowing reviews from many of my trusted blogging buddies and the fact that it had a "girl" title placed the novel on my TBR list. Alas, I never got around to reading it. When I got the chance to read Sager's latest novel The Last Time I Lied (see the word "lie" in the title?!), I eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

As I started reading, I wasn't making comparisons to some of the other "lie" books that I've read. Rather, I kept thinking back to The Broken Girls by Simone St. James. Like that novel, The Last Time I Lied focuses on a main character who is haunted by the events of her past at a community institution for young girls. Unlike St. James, Sager steers clear of the supernatural, writing a story that is even more horrifying in the dark details of its ruthless reality.

Emma has become renowned for her painting. Her series of dark forests on canvas have captured the imagination and renown of some of the art world's biggest names. Her admirers have no idea about the dark secrets that lie beneath the foliage of each painting. They have no idea about the secret that dates all the way back to her time as an attendee at Camp Nightengale. They have no idea that this secret is about to be brought out from behind the leaves and vines that Emma has desperately used to hide them.

To go into any more details about the plot itself would ruin the fun and suspense for anyone planning to read it. Suffice it to say that this is an edge-of-your-seat read that kept me thoroughly engaged and guessing until the very end. Sager shifts between the present and past to reveal details about the characters and mystery surrounding the camp, expertly leading the reader through a maze of absorbing history and misdirection. As a protagonist, Emma strikes the right balance of inner turmoil and outer resolve. She works just as hard to solve the mystery as she does to come to terms with her emotional state. Sager beautifully manifests this internal struggle in the physical imagery of Emma's art. Amongst its other "lie" titled peers, The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager stands out as a top-notch thriller that easily surpasses the generic confines of its promotionally driven name.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 28)




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