Posted in Books, Movies

Movie Adaptations That Were Irredeamably Bad

A lot of great books become okay movies (Ella Enchanted), and some become really great movies (The Princess Bride.) A few become horrible, weird disasters that are not recognizable as the books we love. A lot of these adaptations are young adult fantasy, partially because so little effort goes into making media for young adults and kids. Here are some movies that were face-palmingly disappointing. Of course, the people who worked on these movies worked hard and are human beings, but we can critique the films without being too critical of the people who made them happen.

The Percy Jackson Series

It is almost universally agreed within the fandom that the Percy Jackson movies were terrible. They even made a second one despite the horrible reception the first received, in an attempt to save the franchise. The biggest mistake this movie made was taking the heart out of the series. They aged up the characters in order to sell the movie to teens, and instead of sticking to the source material, made cheap jokes about sex and used a lot of expensive visual effects. While a lot of books don’t translate well to the screen, Percy Jackson could have been amazing. It could have been on the level of Harry Potter as a film series, if it was done right. It literally would have been better if they had a robot voice read the text of the book and had the only visual be the Microsoft screen saver. Even the author publicly repudiated the movies. Zero stars. 

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Divergent

The Divergent series has a lot of issues- and we won’t get into those now, but the movies were a huge flop. They did not even complete the series, which gives you an idea of how poorly they were received. The studio kind of got in over their heads by splitting the last book into two films. The last book was pretty bad, and while the first movie didn’t divert much from the book, it only exposed the weaknesses inherent in the book. One of the central facets of the book was the love story, which was wooden in the movie. It doesn’t help that the male lead looks about ten years older than his costar. As movies go, I’d skip these ones and save a couple of hours.

The Mortal Instruments

While Cassandra Clare’s popular series is a byzantine, magical journey, it’s also kind of a crazy ride. Some of the source material didn’t exactly translate well to the screen (incest, but not the real kind.) The movie flopped, and then there was a second attempt with a TV show, which hit a lot of the same beats without fixing the inherent issues (too many characters, too much plot, too much explanation.) While Clare has continued writing her books, it’s probably safe to say that they won’t be making their way to the screen any time soon.

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Me trying to make sense of this movie

Vampire Academy

Admittedly, this movie is only really bad if you read the books. The books are kind of dark, emotional, and intense. The movie is a campy comedy, with romantic subplots. It’s mostly disappointing for fans of the books, which are much deeper and more complex than the movie, which basically just makes vampire jokes for two hours. It’s kind of a fun, silly thing, but it’s barely recognizable, with the exception of the book’s basic mythology and characters. Like the Percy Jackson series, there was a lot more source material, but further films have not metastasized. It’s just disappointing that the studio beefed it on what could have been an epic saga. They also un-ironically subtitled this film Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, which is so menstrual that it has to be on purpose?  

The question remains: why are all of these excellent books being butchered to make movies that barely recoup their costs? To my mind, the answer is twofold, and fairly straightforward. Firstly, movie studios think that they can make a quick buck if they make films even vaguely based on source material that is popular. They think that people who liked the book will go see the movie on principal. Even if you go to hate-watch it, they still have your money! Secondly, Hollywood thinks kids and teens are stupid, or at the very least, not demanding. This is wrong on several levels, but believing it means that they can write lazy movies with bad casting on the assumption that people will watch anything. To some extent, they’re right. Mortdecai made 47.3 million dollars. Some people will go see anything, once. However, if you have a viable franchise, and you throw it away for a cash-grab, people aren’t going to come see the next one. That’s why all of this is so disappointing, and such a waste. These are decent books, some of them are brilliant, and they deserved better than they got. Studios have proved that they can make great movies for teens and kids, they’ve just decided not to try. Two thumbs down for effort.


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Posted in Books

“Nathalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Click for Hi-Res image.This book is promising from the outset- you can see some of what it is from its beautiful cover, designed by Vikki Chu. The cover incorporates elements of the book without delivering any spoilers, for which readers should be grateful. Nathalie Tan is highly spoilable, so a good design that reflected the spirit of the book without oversharing is priceless.

We are introduced to Nathalie Tan, gourmand, world-traveler, and distant daughter. At the beginning of the novel, Nathalie receives a premonition of her mother’s death, in the form of birdsong. This lays the groundwork for the magic that is weaved into the tapestry of this story, which is equal parts achingly tragic and surprisingly hopeful. Our heroine returns to her home in Chinatown, only to find it much less prosperous than when she left. Nathalie’s mother posthumously grants her blessing for Nathalie to reopen her grandmother’s restaurant, allowing her to realize her dream. However, the neighborhood is in a downturn, and Nathalie fears it is her fault for abandoning her mother years ago. A prophesy tells her that she must aid her neighbors with her grandmother’s recipes, in order for her restaurant to be successful. Reluctantly, Nathalie agrees to help her neighbors, still resenting them for not helping her when her agoraphobic mother, Miranda, was alive. As Nathalie begins her journey, using her grandmother’s recipe book, she begins to understand that not everything is how she remembered.

As Nathalie interacts with the neighbors she left behind, she realizes that in her absence, they have cared for her mother. She also begins to see that they were a bigger part of her upbringing than she gave them credit for, and opens herself up to a relationship with the people who have known her all her life. She even contemplates a relationship with a man, when she previously thought she was too broken for love. When all of Nathalie’s plans begin to backfire, and her kitchen is destroyed, Nathalie tries to run away. A spirit seeking his peace reminds her about her grandmother’s courage, and inspires her to stay and fix her mistakes. Nathalie is able to repair her fractured relationships, and bring prosperity back to her home, with the help of an unexpected mentor.

This book is deep, complicated and nuanced, like a lot of Nathalie’s dishes. Unlike a lot of other coming-of-age romances, the love story is mostly not romantic, but familial. Through reading her mother’s journals, Nathalie is able to find the love that they always has for one another. She also connects with her grandmother, who died before she was born, but who Nathalie much resembles. Nathalie makes peace with her past, and in learning the truths she was never able to ask her mother for, she frees herself from anger, and resentment. She opens herself up to love, and finds within herself a strength and determination her grandmother would be proud of. Nathalie connects herself to the family she has lost by becoming closer with those who knew them, and in making peace with the neighbors she resented, Nathalie becomes whole.

One of the greatest strengths of this book, and one thing that makes it so unique, is the magical realism that permeates Nathalie’s world. Its presence makes you read each line extra carefully, lest you miss something significant. Nathalie’s grief, and her catharsis, are rendered in haunting, gorgeous detail that wrenches at your heart. This book will enchant and delight its readers, and leave them craving more.

 

Posted in Books, Podcasts

“Just Between Us” From YouTube to the NY Times Best-Seller List, a podcast is born

Allison Raskin and Gabby Dunn are best known for their YouTube channel, Just Between Us, where they do sketches and a more talk-y couch show. They got their start together a couple years ago, and have since developed a strong online following. Raskin has been open about her struggles with mental health while Dunn is a prominent LGBTQ+ activist, or what she calls a bi-con, or bisexual icon.

Dunn and Raskin have since co-authored two novels, NY Times best-seller I Hate Everyone But You and recent release Please Send Help. Individually, Raskin is a writer and director and Dunn has a financial memoir based on her podcast, Bad With Money.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first live recording of their podcast, also titled Just Between Us, which was recorded at the DC Improv, to a packed house. The podcast covers similar ground to their couch show, where they pick a subject, and discuss it at some length. On the podcast, they do a couple little bits about their current goings-on, have a guest, and then talk about a topic of personal or professional interest.

One of the reasons I personally have really connected with this podcast is that Allison and Gabby are Jewish, and they provide a different representation of what that looks like in media. Jews in media are pretty one-note, and it can be difficult to find anyone that looks or feels like me, but Allison and Gabby are relatable. They both have their own unique personalities and ambitions, and are not defined by any one aspect of themselves. Both have also been forthcoming about their mental health struggles, which is incredible. Their whole shtick has been that they are an odd couple, but you can also clearly tell that they are a unit. They really care about one another, and know each other well. They have amassed a following because they are so genuine, and because fans gravitate towards that realness.

The first segment of the show was devoted to their misadventures in traveling, some bits about the show being live, and an introduction to the podcast, for the uninitiated. Dunn wore a killer print suit, very summer and super on-brand, and Raskin sported a black jump suit, which is true to her simple but classic style.

The show’s guest was Dani Sauter, AKA Blonde in the District, who is a fashion blogger and style queen, also showing up in a summer printed suit, although hers was in a citrus color. I was not previously familiar with Sauter’s work, not being super plugged in to the fashion blogging community, but she was delightful. She was funny, engaging, and I cannot emphasize enough how much she was killing it in that suit. She is everything I imagined a fashion blogger to be, honestly. She’s put together, she’s glamorous, she’s what I imagine Eloise at the Plaza would be all grown up. In short, I am in love.

The three discussed Sauter’s work as a blogger, as well as her role in the body positivity movement. What really struck me about their conversation was something Sauter said. “People think body positivity is just for curvy girls, it’s not. It’s for everyone.” She could not be more right. She inspired me so much that I wore something fun to work today, instead of just one of my regular outfits from my rotation.

After their guest, Dunn and Raskin introduced their TOPIXXX segment, (my personal favorite part of the podcast) where they discussed Bachelor Nation, the Bachelor family of products, including the Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise. I’m familiar with the concept, as I too hate-watched the show guiltily in college, but it lost my interest after I realized I only really got negative emotions out of it. Basically, I don’t really care about the show, but I thought it was interesting to hear them talk about it. They were trying to figure out if they can ethically justify watching and engaging with the show, considering how destructive it seems to have been, especially in the past. Personally, I’ve watched Unreal, and found it to be a very entertaining satire of the whole Bachelor genre, so I’d prefer to watch that than the actual show.

Finally, when the two usually bring on a producer to talk about what they’ve learned and rate the show, they surprised Allison’s dad and brought him up. He was adorable and they had clearly not warned him, but they ribbed at each other and wound down the show in a good-natured way. He is pictured here, looking flustered and dressed almost identically to my dad, another middle-aged Jewish man who is a lawyer. He got a few good bits in, and was a good sport about being called to the stage without warning. Allison’s mom was perhaps the most amused, the look on her face when he jogged up to the stage was itself worth the price of admission.

Overall, I think Just Between Us, in whatever iteration you prefer, is worth a watch or a listen. You can find their podcast wherever you find podcasts, and their books are available wherever books are sold. You should try your local bookstore, because if you listen to Bad With Money or read the news, you know Amazon is probably evil. They also have merch available, and you can find out if they’re coming to a city near you here.

Posted in Books

“Storm Cursed” Mercy Thompson’s Latest Adventure

I love the last installment in the Mercy Thompson series, and was excited to get my teeth into this one. Ever since Mercy joined the pack and got married, a new life has been breathed into the story. In a lot of serialized supernatural stories, settling down and getting married is an indication of the story slowing down, of domestic life taking the reigns from the fantastic. What’s great about Briggs’ stories is that many of her characters find love and then go on to have further adventures, meaning that the reader gets to have their cake and eat it too.

I’ve also loved watching the pack itself be further fleshed out- seeing them as people and wolves, rather than just a group who either benignly dislike Mercy or outright hate her. Mary Jo, for example, has been truly hate-able in the past, as has Honey, who has less of a presence in this book. What we’ve been seeing in the latest books, and especially early in Storm Cursed with Paul’s sacrifice, is the pack’s loyalty to Mercy, whether they like her or not. Eventually, people come to like Mercy, in spite of themselves, or because they see how devoted she is to Adam. It is remarked upon that she’s not anyone’s “little wife,” but even the most stubborn of wolves can see that Mercy is loyal to her pack, which is as close to making her “worthy” of Adam as anything could be.

I obviously have a lot of problems with the way people define Mercy- the idea that she has to be worthy of someone to deserve their respect is pretty misogynistic. The internal structure of most werewolf packs is incredibly sexist, and it would be nice if we can see some changes in that in the next couple of books. Mercy’s strength is usually in being underestimated by others, but in some ways it’s also a weakness: she underestimates herself. The way that Mercy has had to define herself, by her relationships with men, is kind of uncomfortable. To most people, she’s the mate of the alpha of the Columbia Basin pack. To some, she’s Bran Cornick’s adopted daughter. To even fewer, she’s Coyote’s daughter. Defining herself by the people she loves and protects would be fine, but a lot of her story has been about people trying to use her to control those who she is affiliated with. Other adventures have been about her heritage, and her using her powers to help others. I would like to see more of Mercy’s story being about her, and less of it being about the men in her life. I really loved the last book, because even though she was kidnapped as a bargaining chip, Mercy managed pretty decently on her own, and seeing her faring for herself made Silence Fallen a really exciting read.

Storm Cursed had a lot of what I’ve been looking for in move Mercy books- lots of Zee, one of my favorite side characters, for one. I love Zee and Tad, and seeing them around the garage is a ripe opportunity for both humor and exposition. I loved getting more into the witches- Elizaveta has been spoiling for more time on the page, and I couldn’t be happier. Her story is bittersweet, but very well done. I also love how vain and catty the witches are, it really strengthens the witch mythology of this universe, wherein different families usually don’t get along, and might actually kill each other rather than sit down to tea. One thing I was less jazzed about was seeing Mercy in the hospital so much- it’s just a lot. I get that she’s more breakable than the other characters, who have enhanced healing due to being werewolves, but seeing Mercy get hurt is just heartbreaking every time. Ever since the horrifying rape she experienced in Iron Kissed, seeing Mercy get injured cuts deep. I feel like she got extra beat up in this book, and while that’s believable given the circumstances, it doesn’t make it any less palatable.

A lot of neat threads were weaved in for future intrigue, like the senator who is a descendant of Hawk, and I’m excited to read the next one. Hopefully, book number twelve will be out in 2020.

 

Posted in Books, TV

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Liberties in Adaptation

I’ve watched both seasons of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, starring Kiernan Shipka, but I’ve only recently come across the original comic book that served as inspiration for the show’s creepier premise.

I really enjoyed “Book One: The Crucible”, which is what I’ve read so far, but I did notice that there were considerable differences between the source material and the television show. Here are a few notable changes, and my thoughts.

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1. Sabrina’s Parents

In the show, Sabrina is an orphan, both of her parents having died when she was an infant in a plane crash. In the comic, it’s a little more austere. Edward Spellman is a more shadowy figure in the comics, while he is still dead. At the beginning of the story, it is clear that Sabrina is going to be taken away from her parents, and Diana is forcibly institutionalized by Edward. She recovers her sanity later, but it doesn’t paint Edward in the good light we see in the show. He even refers to Diana as a “vessel,” as though she is merely intended to bear a child. Overall, we get the impression that Diana was a mark and Edward is not to be trusted.

2. Madam Satan

While Madam Satan in the comic does pose as a teacher to gain Sabrina’s trust, she isn’t there at the behest of the Dark Lord Satan. Iola, as she is named in the book, is Edward Spellman’s first love, whom he spurned to marry Diana. After he left her, she killed herself and was consigned to hell. She is accidentally raised from the pit at the beginning of the book by a set of familiar-looking witches from Riverdale, Betty and Veronica. Iola’s motivation for tormenting Sabrina is revenge, rather than Lilith, who merely does the will of her master.

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3. Roz, Harvey & Friends

In the comic, Roz and Sabrina are not friends, but rivals, and Roz doesn’t have the sight. She’s just a one-dimensional mean girl. Theo Putnam is also absent. Sabrina doesn’t really have any other friends, except Harvey.

Harvey is very different from his television portrayal. While TV Harvey is a slim and boyishly handsome artist, comic Harvey is a muscly, gorgeous football player. Of course, the greatest difference between the two is that in the comic, Harvey dies by Madam Satan’s hand, or rather, lips. Unlike in the show, when Harvey’s brother dies and is resurrected with gruesome results, Harvey’s body is resurrected, but he’s not in it- Edward Spellman is.

4. The Church of Night

While the elders of the Church of Night do hold a trial for Sabrina regarding the Harvey incident, there is way less of a presence in the comic than in the television show. Nor does Sabrina attend the Academy of the Unseen Arts. There is no Father Blackwood, nor do the weird sisters make an appearance. A lot of elements of Father Blackwood’s character seem to have been drawn from the portrayal of Edward Spellman in the comic.

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5. Time Period

The comic book is set firmly in the sixties, while the television show doesn’t seem to have a set time period. Like Riverdale, which comes from the same creators, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina doesn’t seem to have a firm foothold in time, but does definitely have a retro vibe.chilling-adventures-of-sabrina-ending

6. Nicholas Scratch

While he appears as a main character in the show, Nick has no presence in the comic book. This is particularly big, because Nick is Sabrina’s main love interest in season 2, and probably the driving force behind some major plot action in season 3, when he’ll be rescued by Sabrina and Co.

I have yet to get my hands on further issues, but I will say that I have enjoyed the comic as much, if not more, than the show. If you’re a fan, I’d encourage you to read it.

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Posted in Books, TV

Don’t Read “Snow Falling” if you love “Jane the Virgin”

I initially had no interest in Snow Falling, the novel based on Jane’s book, but it passed through my hands, and my curiosity was peaked. I thought it would give me new insight into Jane, maybe, and I’m always up for a little romance.

Big. Mistake.

Other reviews on goodreads can give you a good idea of why this book is not worth reading, but here are just a few notable reasons you shouldn’t read it, if you actually enjoy watching Jane the Virgin.

It’s a straight-up adaptation- and a bad one

Snow Falling pretty much exactly mirrors the events of season one of JtV, with some deviations for period-accuracy. Obviously, artificial insemination was unheard of in the nineteen hundreds, so that couldn’t be in the book. But, aside from the names and some occupational changes, almost everything is the same. Josephine and Martin meet and are together for two years, then she becomes pregnant by someone else and their relationship is tested. Even the drug dealing stuff is part of the story, as Martin is investigating it, but it’s all less interesting than in the show, flatter and lacking depth. They do supposedly get their happily ever after, but the book honestly doesn’t hold a candle to the emotional weight of the show.

 

Michael isn’t interesting

While I’m more invested in Rafael as a character, Michael is undoubtedly a lovable and interesting part of JtV. This is due in part to Brett Dyer, who is fantastic, and his performance is a huge part of the reason Michael is so beloved by fans. However, little of TV Michael’s charm and charisma carries over to the book. His love for Josephine and his desire to protect her are huge parts of his character, which is important, but he’s given little meaningful characterization otherwise. Michael in the show is so engaging, it’s a pity he’s so watered down in the novel that is supposed to eulogize him.

Main characters are barely there

If it was going to be a straight adaptation of the story, it would make sense for Josephine to have the most important people in her life be her mother and grandmother. But they barely make an appearance and aren’t all that well served when they do. Petra, one of the most compelling characters on the show, barely makes an appearance at all. Louisa is a mostly benign, if flat character, and Rake is honestly kind of a joke. His desire to have a family, and to be successful, are all we really get from him. He want Josephine because she can give him a child, and because she’s beautiful, but otherwise his love for her seems pretty superficial.

The Narrator is superfluous

We are all familiar with the Narrator, whose identity is still a secret. What I really wasn’t expecting was for him to appear in the book. The Narrator makes sense for the show, and has provided a great frame for the viewer, but in the book is just kind of annoying and out of place.

No appeal to non-fans

As a fan of JtV, reading the book was disappointing. Any other reader probably would have been twice as peeved, because they wouldn’t even have the anticipation for the things a fan would know are supposed to happen. Having sampled romance before, I can say that this is pretty bad writing, even within a genre not known for subtlety. It’s a pity that it was so poorly done, it could have found fans in the romance community who would also like the show.

Shoehorned characters/plot lines

Important parts of the show, like the identity of Jane’s father, and his relationship with her mother, don’t really feel like they belong in the book. Josephine’s dad is also a performer, and they develop a strong relationship, but it feels out of place and as though the book was more interested in reflecting the reality of the show than developing the plot. The book should have been a straight-up romance/drama with the investigation of Sin Sombra and Josephine’s love story, but it deviated in places. That weakens already fragile parts of the book- Rake barely gets any play in the book, only really appearing as an obstacle to Martin and Josephine and as a source of temptation.

It makes the show worse

My main issue with the book isn’t that it’s bad- I’d hoped it would be good, but I wasn’t counting on it. My problem with it is that it makes watching Jane worse. Knowing that the book she supposedly worked on for so long, and pored her heart into, is crappy, makes the whole second half of season three and part of season four feel dishonest. Whenever someone talks about how good Jane’s book is, and how much they love it, it makes my heart sink a little. I hope they don’t publish a tie-in for Jane’s next book, just because I don’t want to be disappointed again.

Posted in Books

“Miles Away From You” by A.B. Rutledge

downloadThis book is so gorgeous- the writing, the characters, it is just so shiny. I loved it, right from the beginning. I do have to give this disclaimer, I am cisgender, so my opinions on what is offensive may not be fully informed. I do my best to be sensitive and understanding of the different life experiences of others, and try to listen to marginalized people and amplify their voices. That being said, the controversy around this book seems unfounded to me. I saw mostly cis, white women leading the outcry over the book, and frankly I had trouble finding queer people of color who had a problem with it. If any trans person or POC were to tell me that they found it troubling, that would be different, but I can’t really give credence to readers who haven’t struggled with either of these issues and claimed to be offended. I did think the marketing of the book, like the flap copy, was a little heavy-handed, trying to market the book to the LGBTQ+ community.

That being said, I loved reading about Miles. Epistolary novels are tricky, because you have to be able to give exposition without doing a huge info-dump all over your reader, and that can be difficult. Rutledge manages to weave details about Miles and Vivian’s lives in seamlessly to Miles’ lonely present, where he’s trying to figure out who is without his girlfriend. I really like the characterization of Vivian, she’s dramatic, and interesting, and someone we all have a version of in our lives. At the same time, she is flawed. We get the sense that she was a dramatic person, who demanded a lot from Miles. It seemed to me that their relationship wasn’t super healthy, but it is a hallmark of first love and teenage romance to have some unhealthy elements of neediness and idealization. I did think Miles’s feelings about having lost Vivian are brilliantly written- the survivors’ guilt, the feeling of restlessness and lethargy. His feeling of having been rejected by his community, and being blamed for Vivian hurting herself are so stark. In short, it’s a compelling, beautifully written account of a depressed person coming to terms with their new reality.

A lot of criticism of this book harps on Vivian being characterized negatively, to which I say, yeah. She tried to kill herself, she was depressed, she was a black trans woman rejected by her family. That’s a lot. And, like a real person, she’s flawed. The things she does aren’t all good or bad, and her relationships aren’t entirely healthy. This doesn’t make her a bad person, or a bad character, just a realistic one. There is a lot of positive characterization as well, how smart and funny she was, how charming, how warm. Vivian is described as the life of the party, dramatic, fun, creative, driven- a bunch of good things. Trans representation in media has to reflect broad, fleshed out characters, people with motivations, flaws, and weaknesses. Vivian’s flaws aren’t because she’s trans. Miles is flawed, too. All of the characters in this book, Miles, Vivian, Oskar, and Miles’ mothers, are flawed, and that’s part of the reason the book is good.

Initially, I thought the trip to Iceland was going to be boring, and I was mostly in it for Miles’ snarky narration, but it was really beautiful to read about. Oskar was a compelling love interest, and an interesting character. His conflict with his family, and what they were going through, was heartbreaking. Reading about Oskar and his dysfunctional, controlling relationship was equally awful, but immersive and heart wrenching. The book really does a great job of showing all of its characters as complex and dynamic, while not diverting too much from Miles’ story. In general, this book was well-written, touching, and hopeful. It might be triggering for those who have suffered from depression, lost someone to suicide, or experienced homophobic or transphobic violence. When read thoughtfully, it’s a message of hope, and acceptance. This book is about grieving and loving someone at the same time. It’s also about a young person experiencing a new place, and redefining his identity. It’s definitely worth picking up.

 

Posted in Books

“The Sacred Book of the Werewolf” by Victor Pelevin

I picked up this book initially because the cover was interesting- and the flap copy promised a complicated supernatural story with a strong female protagonist. Frankly, I was more than disappointed.

The book fails to deliver on its premise, and cops out using cliches fairly frequently, while also failing to explore interesting plot points and furthering others that hold no interest. It’s sold as a supernatural love story, but is mostly a treatise on post-Cold War Russia, with lore and history mixed in and no discernible point. The overarching themes are vague and ephemeral, while the tangents on philosophy and history seem like unused Chekhov’s guns. Honestly, while this book seems to have garnered a lot of praise, what it really needed was a good editor. The interesting parts, the main character and the mythology of foxes, go largely unexplored. How A Hu-Li came to live in Russia, what relationship she has with her fox sisters, and her opinions of humankind, are all touched on briefly but never delved into in a satisfying way. The so-called love story was particularly disappointing, given what the book promised.

The male lead is consistently boring. He alternatively threatens and placates the protagonist, but overall is more of a villain than lover. Their first sexual encounter is him raping her- and her first sexual experience in her two thousand years of life. Later in the book, the question arises as to if she intended to tempt him into engaging with her sexually, and she certainly manipulates him plenty, but while she acts lovingly towards him in many places, he treats her as a commodity. In fact, he does not trust her with secrets, and is loyal to his country, not to her. His most disturbing actions are the rape, and at the end of the book, when he leaves her without a word. In his goodbye note, he tells her he is grateful for the service she has done for their country, but he could never be with her again, as she is over a thousand years old. He was not troubled by the age difference when he thought she was a teenager, but when she is in reality an ancient power, then he runs off. He also refuses to believe her when she tells him that he is not some all-powerful werewolf god, due to his inbuilt arrogance. He’s clearly meant to be a flawed, even troubling character, but the fact that he’s still supposed to be a valid love interest is just off-putting. The whole idea is that A’s love for him is what allows her to attain enlightenment, but when he is unworthy of that love, it feels dishonest. It’s one thing to write a flawed character who is still lovable, and still yet another to write one who is both inconsistent and underdeveloped. The character who was the most fleshed out is actually one of his coworkers, a shady guy who comes onto A Hu-Li at various times, while being threatening. He is at least a consistent character with a discernible motive.

A Hu-Li’s quest for enlightenment is interesting, but her story is forever overshadowed by the other threads of the book, to the point that it feels like an afterthought. The idea that it was love all along that she needed to find what she was looking for is so saccharine and cliched, I almost put the book down after struggling through it for so long. So much of her backstory was revealed at the end, when in order for her journey to be compelling, the reader needed to know it earlier. This shows further how disinterested the author is in his own protagonist- she’s not a person, she’s a sexual object, and a plot device. A Hu-Li remarks frequently that foxes spit out the thoughts they hear from others, and do not have opinions of their own, in the normal sense. This comes through in the writing, as while she is supposed to be brilliant, A Hu-Li is a destitute prostitute who can’t look out for herself, despite being very old. The lore about her kind is scattered and unsatisfying, as though Pelevin couldn’t be bothered to put it on the page.

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Frankly, it reads as though Pelevin wrote the bones of an interesting story and then covered them up with a bunch of socio-political drivel. I read the whole book because I wanted to see what happened at the end, but I feel like every moment I spent reading it was a waste of time. Reading it just made me angry- not just how poorly written it was, but the derogatory language used towards both trans and gay people, and lightly veiled racism. I’m always hesitant to read books about sex work written by men, ever since I read the drab Debbie Doesn’t Do it Anymore, but this was a new low. If I could eternal sunshine of the spotless mind this book out of my head, I would.

 

 

Posted in Books, Podcasts

“Bad With Money” by Gaby Dunn

bwmThe book’s title is a mouthful, Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together- though the book itself is surprisingly accessible, for a financial memoir. It weighs in at a slim 304 pages and boasts an excellent cover, pictured here. You can say that a book is not its cover, but I promise, a cover decides who is going to pick up your book. Maybe half of readers, like me, are already invested in Gaby Dunn, but people unfamiliar with her work have to decide to pick up the book. Bad With Money has the pick-up factor in spades.

Gaby Dunn is primarily known for her work with her comedy partner, Allison Raskin, on their shared YouTube channel, but in the last couple of years she has also been doing a podcast on the Panoply network. “Bad With Money” the podcast has been on my radar for a while. It’s a good listen, and it’s enlightening for those of us who have only ever seen money through a specific lens. In my family, money was an open conversation. Reading about Dunn’s circumstances is anxiety-inducing, but makes the financial decisions of people different from me a lot clearer.

I was taught to save, save, save. Eat at restaurants infrequently, take-out occasionally, buy new things when you need them, but abstain when what you have is perfectly good. I always had everything I needed, but reckless spending was not what I was taught. Reading about Dunn’s financial foundations is an exercise in empathy. I come from a similar background, but had an entirely different experience with money. Dunn’s honesty, both in the podcast, and in her book, is refreshing. It’s hard to admit what you don’t know, especially when you are a woman. Gaby freely admits her youthful ignorance and recklessness, while acknowledging the people who have helped her get her financial life together since she began this journey.

As someone who is just beginning their independent financial life, this book actually helped me a lot. The main tool to playing the saving and investing game is one thing I have: time. You need time for your funds to vest, and if I start now, I’ll be in good shape when I retire in a half-century. There are a lot of great tips for people looking to save in a way that works for them, but my main takeaways from the book were similar to those I got from the podcast: no one has advice that works across the board, for everyone. My brother, who is disabled, cannot save the way I save, because he’ll lose his benefits. A lot of my friends live hand-to-mouth, and they don’t have retirement savings accounts. Some people I know support family, everyone’s circumstances are different. A lot of the takeaway from Dunn’s work is that capitalism is an iceberg that is on fire, and we are the Titanic. The rich have all pre-boarded the lifeboats, and the poor are all drowning. Also, the rich have publicly backed the fiery iceberg and bought travel insurance.

That dire prognosis aside, Dunn’s book was helpful for me to untangle some financial quagmires. As promised, I now know which kind of retirement savings account I need, and what kinds of debt I probably shouldn’t have. There’s a lot to love about Dunn’s book- it’s raw, and honest, and it doesn’t cause the reader to marinate in guilt about their own financial affairs. That last part might seem trivial, but it’s one of the most important ingredients to Dunn’s podcast and book: removing the shame of not knowing, putting the focusing on learning. Gaby expresses her own shame and embarrassment, while making it clear that she shouldn’t feel that way, that no one should.

In short, it’s worth a read. The book is fun, thorough, and interesting, without ever getting too bogged down in financial terminology for the average reader. I could have done without the chapter summaries, they were out-of-place and made me feel like I was studying for an exam, and most of the chapters were too short to need any review. I do highly recommend this book for anyone who is anxious about money, has a lot of money, or thinks they know a lot about money. You can find Bad With Money wherever books are sold, and you can listen to the podcast wherever podcasts can be found.

Posted in Books, Movies

“Crazy Rich Asians” Series

In the spring, I finally got my hands on Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling book about Singaporean and Chinese millionaires and billionaires. It was a true revelation, as clearly evidenced by its wide-spread success, and the book is getting a film adaptation in 2018. I loved the book, it was charming and funny and gut-wrenching, with twists and turns and biting wit that kept me reading until I had consumed the book whole. Seriously, if you have yet to read it, you must. It is mandatory.

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One of the most interesting part of the book for me was the cultural immersion the reader experiences. Phrases in various east Asian dialects are interspersed naturally in the dialogue, cultural norms are clarified, and food gets the special treatment of elegant, sumptuous description that would make even the most picky eater salivate. This complete immersion into the culture of the protagonists would probably require a lot of googling, but the author has wonderful footnotes that explain phrases, events and honorifics that the average reader (such as myself) might find confusing. The author has a freshly knowledgeable voice, and delves into an intense social structure with gusto. I have a detailed and farcical culture of my own, which I barely understand, and diving into this book was a breath of fresh air, to be honest. It is a book in which one can completely submerge oneself.

I read the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which, to my great delight, did not jump the shark. A lot of sequels fail to live up to expectations, but this one was a standout. Kitty Pong, a morally dubious side character from the first book, is made actually sympathetic in the second, and lots of other new characters are introduced without awkwardness. Focusing this book’s main trajectory on Rachel’s family was the right call, as opposed to continuing on with Nick’s family drama, which remains important but periphery. Nick is much more likable too, his honesty with Rachel and their working as a team in this book is satisfying for those of us who were cheering for them. The dissolution of Astrid’s marriage was expected, while money does a lot in this world, it can’t fix everything. Plus, we love Charlie with Astrid. His unselfish love for her is what she deserves, especially when sudden success makes Michael into someone Astrid can’t abide. There is excellent foreshadowing regarding Colette Bing’s true temperament when we see the way she interacts with her family and her servants. The book ends in Nick and Rachel’s families accepting them (with the exception of Nick’s grandmother, who I think we’ll be seeing more of in the next book) giving them both an excellent foundation for marriage, based on strong support from their families, who have accepted the match, and in Rachel’s case, her presence in their family.

There is a movie coming out next year, of which I have high expectations. It is frustrating that there are so few actors and actresses who are Asian who have had the opportunity to be successful, but I anticipate that the success of this movie will make way for more media focused on Asia and Asian-Americans, a severely underrepresented group. In the mean time, I eagerly look forward to getting my hands on the third book, which will only make me hungrier for more.