Sunday, July 29, 2012

We Belong Together (Book Review: Where We Belong, Emily Giffin)

I have more or less loved all of Emily Giffin's books, so much so that whenever she has a new release, I always look forward - obsess - about reading them right away. So of course, I was first in line for "Where We Belong," her newest novel. I purposely did not read anything about the novel, not even the plot description, as I wanted my mind it to be a fresh read, free of any bias. The novel is a great read: one of those instances where you invest yourself in the characters that you savoured every chapter, and like old friends, miss them instantly after you turn the last page. 

Marian Caldwell is a showrunner for a television show. She lives a grand life in NYC and is even dating the head of her network. ("You're the new Les Moonves and Julie Chen" her friends tell her) In the beginning of the novel, her biggest concern was how to step up their relationship to a higher level - Marriage - but she receives an unexpected visitor that same night: an 18 year old young woman. It's the daughter she gave up for adoption. Of course, this rocks her world. It's a simple enough story, right? 

Yes, but this is where Emily Giffin shines. She makes the voices who tell the story so vivid and real, and relatable that you feel like you are seeing every side of a cube. She tells it from two points of view - from Marian, and also from Kirby, the 18 year old daughter. But the narration is never forced, and this is not one of those psychological pieces where you are asked to dissect differing voices. The story moves forward as it shifts from each voice, pushing the story effortlessly. You understand every character thoughtfully. You understand why Marian's surprise, her regret, her anxiety. You relate with Kirby's uneasiness, her insecurity, her wonder. Try not to cry when you read how Marian describes what she felt on that day when she had to give Kirby up for adoption. Try to contain your excitement as Kirby finally "understands" herself after she finally meets her biological father, Conrad. Ms. Giffin has a fine way of interweaving stories, and inserting pleasant surprises in the plot. You think you know where you are going, and yes, you do end up there, but the journey you take is full. 

I have some minor quibbles - I sometimes think chapters end too abruptly, but then again this may stem from my wanting more of and from these characters. Also, some minor subplots seem half baked: the internal drama in Marian's television show, Kirby's young relationship with Phillip. But make no mistake, this is my read of the summer, and the high bar which I will use to measure everything else I read for the season. If you have been a fan of Ms Giffin's writing, this is a gift.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Disregarding Henry (Film Review: Jesus Henry Christ)

Sometimes you are watching a film, and you just think to yourself, "Let me out of this misery!" That was what I was thinking when I was watching "Henry Jesus Christ." Directed by Daniel Lee, this movie tries hard - and sometimes very hard - to be 'quirky,' but it just ends up being a hot mess. It wants to be a black comedy, but it isn't witty enough to be one. A stellar cast - Toni Colette and Michael Sheen - works overtime for it to be something, but it is devoid of anything that they become victims of is inanity. I don't know why, but there's something about Toni Colette that doesn't sit well with me - too mannered? too self effacing? a self-realization that is a little too obvious? I find that in her other work as well, and maybe it is just a personal taste thing with me, as I know there are a lot of fans of her work. Jason Spevack, playing her genius 12 year old son is okay, though I did not really sense any full commitment from his performance. He has a lazy smile that bothered me. Maybe I was just not in the proper mood for this film, but I really did feel it was a waste of my time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Loose-ing Herself (Book Review: Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen)

You know that girl: the slut, the easy one, the "loose one." Kerry Cohen's "Loose Girl: A Memoir Of Promiscuity" is a story of such girl. It's a raw and honest telling of how she slept her way through her youth, and is written vividly and such poignancy that you really feel the pain and the need behind why she did so. Cohen is such a good writer that she lures you into her tale passionately, but then halfway through the book you ask yourself - is there a point to all this? Yes, you realize that this young woman is substituting the affections of random strangers seemingly because she didn't get enough from his parents, but you also do not sense that she is doing anything about it. The end and retribution comes too quickly that it is almost unbelievable for me, and doesn't give a payoff to what you have previously read. On one hand, I admire her very sensitive writing, but in the end it just comes off as a kind of laundry list of all the men she was with. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Red Velvet Scent (Scent Review: Jo Malone Velvet Rose And Oud)

London's Heathrow Airport is the perfect place to buy Jo Malone fragrances: their duty-free store there prices their bottles around thirty percent less their regular retail prices. So, I was looking for their recent London-only limited edition releases and sadly, most of them were already gone, and the only one they was Velvet Rose And Oud, from their Intense Cologne series. I actually like most of offerings in their Intense Cologne line, as I think those have more depth. And if I am not mistaken, I think this is the very first Jo Malone oud scent, which is the note-du-jour nowadays. This rose scent is not your jammy bright rose - it's deeper, and notes of clove and praline give it a dense hue. The rose is still the heart of the perfume, but the oud obviously gives it a spicy intensity. If there was ever a rose scent that could be easily worn by a man, this would be it. My friend Jeff bought it and I always loved it whenever he wore it during our cruise. I liked it a lot, and found myself holding a bottle getting ready to purchase but, I already have a couple of similar scents in my wardrobe (Lutens' Se Majeste and Labirynth Of The People come quickly to mind) to justify me buying another one. However, if you were clamoring for By Killian's Rose Oud, this would be a cheaper and just-as-nice alternative.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Paris For The Young And In Love (Book Review: Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins)

Here is another book I read when I was on vacation. Since I was in Europe, I thought I would start reading something set there, specifically Paris. Paris is a beautiful city, but I have yet to have a magical experience there after a couple of visits. So, maybe I will just live vicariously through stories. Anna moves there her senior year in High School, and she tries to fit in a strange country while she adjusts to new friendships. She is also still pining for a boy back home. She develops feelings for a classmate, Etienne St. Clair, who has a long-time girlfriend. Their relationship starts as deep friendship, and well, we all know how difficult and dangerous it can be to "cross the line." I loved that aspect of this story - how complications arise they two develop feelings for each other. It seemed real, and I loved how they never ever really verbalize and act upon feelings, as those feelings get deeper and more profound. I totally wished this had a more bittersweet ending, for it would have made the story more poignant. But, it's still a great read, and it made me feel young and in love even for a moment. 


Animal Husbandry (Film Review: We Bought A Zoo)

Sometimes I wonder if I am really as cynical as I used to be, or this old age of mine has made me even softer. I normally do not go out of my way for family-themed things, but I found myself watching "We Bought A Zoo" and enjoying it immensely. I was attracted to it because it was directed by Cameron Crowe, who directed "Jerry Maguire," and "Say Anything." The film was adapted from a non-fiction book about a family who bought and restored an old zoo. It's a fairly predictable story, and you more or less know how the movie turns out, so the fun should be how the filmmakers and actors connect the dots. Matt Damon is superb: he gives his role just the tight amount of pathos without it being too sentimental. I keep on forgetting how good an actor he is, and now that his boyish looks have somewhat faded, one can concentrate more on his characters. I am still unmoved by Scarlett Johansson, an actor I have never "gotten." I think she is too mannered, too self-conscious, and do not understand her appeal. (On stage, I am as baffled by her Tony-award winning performance)  They have even managed to make her unattractive here, with stringy hair and a perma-scowl. The kids are cute, as they ought to be in a movie like this, and I see a great future in Elle Fanning (Dakota's younger sister) who has star quality. This is one of those movies that entertained me while I was watching it. But, I also don't know if I would ever sit down and watch this movie again.

Friday, July 20, 2012

She's Spinning Around (Book Review: Spin by Catherine McKenzie)

"Spin" by Catherine McKenzie was, for me, an unexpected delight. It is, in the best sense, a celebration of a "hot mess."  It is about a young woman, Kate, who goes "undercover" in rehab to get scoop on a celebutante in exchange for a job at a music magazine. While the premise is somewhat unrealistic, the character has such a funny and unique voice that it all becomes quite believable and very very real. I loved the naturalistic way that characters discover and nurture their relationships. Though some characters may be a bit on the cardboard side, they served their purpose as the story moved forward. This is a great beach/vacation read: there's a lot of 'fun' in it, and even a great lesson to be learned in the end. And though the author, Catherine McKenzie is Canadian, I can sense a bit of British influence in the story and characters ( a lot of pub culture scenes) and of course I am such an Anglophile it just added to my appreciation of the novel. Oh, and also, I must add that I also loved that the love interest was a ginger: we sure don't get as much of those nowadays.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pink Down To Earth (Scent Review: Stella McCartney L.I.L.Y)

I have a perfume quirk: I don't like it when someone describes my scent as "clean." I don't think perfume should smell clean, for me it's an artistic expression, and for me, smelling "clean" is akin to a blank canvas. So I had to think twice when someone complemented me wearing L.I.L.Y, saying that the perfume smelled clean. But you know what? it does smell clean, it smells fresh, and in this instance, the description seems apt. I had been wanting to sniff Stella McCartney's L.I.L.Y. for a while, for I was/am a big fan of "Stella," her first fragrance. I thought she did a good job of modernizing the rose int hat one, and I had read that she was doing the same thing for muguet, or lily of the valley for this new fragrance. And you know how you can sometimes "envision" a scent? L.I.L.Y is exactly how I thought it would be: a lily of the valley that is soft yet sturdy, modernly classic, and ethereal. I love how even if this is a floral scent, it can easily be worn by a man. There is oakmoss/truffle in it that makes the scent woodsy. And yes, it is definitely clean-smelling but not "washed-out" or aquatic. There is a white musk here that brings the scent down to earth.I think this is a great Summer scent - I wore it on hot, hazy, humid weather and it smelled fresh, but not to fleeting enough on colder days. It's a beauty.

Women (Book Review: I Hate Everyone by Joan Rivers and I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron)

While on holiday the past two weeks, I found myself reading two books by two women, and I swear it was purely coincidental, or was it? Maybe some kind of energy was pulling me towards their books. 

The first one, which I read on the plane, was Joan Rivers' "I Hate Everyone...Starting With Me."  I am prefacing by declaring myself a  "Joan Ranger,"  which is what she calls her fans. I have been a fan of hers since way back, and have more or less followed most things she has done. I don't really like what she has been doing of late (never liked her Celebrity Apprentice gigs and most stuff after) but I think she deserves to do whatever she wants to do at this point. This book is a collection of things she hates, and it goes on and on and on. While I am sure the material works well with her stand-up routine, I found that on paper, it read very bitter and angry. Without her wink-wink delivery, it just did not engage me in a positive manner. The book was full of fillers, and I felt like she was trying to extend a very flimsy idea for a whole book. I still love her - I love survivors, and she is definitely one - and I hope she releases a more personal book soon. I remember being floored by her autobiography a while back. 

The recent passing of Nora Ephron made me want to finally read her last book, " I Remember Nothing, And Other Reflections." I read Lena Dunham's touching essay  recently and thought it was thoughtful and made me realize that Ms. Ephron touched a lot of people's lives. (I remember Steve Martin tweeted that he could not post jokes because he was still thinking of her)  This book is more a collection essays and it offers offers a glimpse of what is inside Ms. Ephron's mind, and while I may not agree with some of her thoughts, I appreciate her wry and funny tone.  She talks about failed marriages, rough childhood, missing chandeliers all in the same breathe and they are always interesting. Her kind of writing almost seems old-fashioned nowadays. In this age of blogging, her detailed essays seem too detailed, broadly thought out. It ends in a bittersweet manner - wherein she lists all the things she will and will not miss when she leaves the world. I wonder if she was already sick when she was writing this book, as it had a slight tone of foreboding in the end. This is personal writing at its very best, and it made me want to check out her other books. It made me lament the world losing her.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

People Alone (Film Review: People Like Us)

"People Like Us" is that rarity in a summer movie: a film with no explosions, no special effects, not even magic mikes.  It's even too low key to be a Nicholas Sparks novel. Based on real life events from Director Alex Kurtzman's life, it is a story of a Type-A personality-affected man who finds out, after his father's death, that his father had a family, and he has a half sister. It's a simple enough story that should be more honest. It only isn't because the screenplay is full of holes, but you can more or less forgive that. The reason? Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks gives down to earth performances that will make you believe. I never thought Pine much of an actor before, but he holds his own here, and Banks, as a woman-of-the-world type, glows in all the scenes she is in. The two of them have such a comfortable chemistry I have to sometimes remind myself that their characters are and will not be romantically involved. A much braver film may have explored that option, but here they play it safe by having Pine's character have a girlfriend. Michele Pfeiffer, playing Pine's mother, is given an almost thankless role, though she works hard at what she is given, but you can still sense that she was bored with her role. In a lot of ways, I liked it more than "Magic Mike," which I also saw this weekend. This one is just a little more honest, and more adult in sensibility.