Reading Roundup: What I Read in May

I somehow plowed through four books this month. Four books I read in May 2017While a few sleepless nights didn’t hurt the cause,  May was full of page-turning winners! My top two reads are as follows:

The Dollhouse

By far the best book I’ve read thus far this year is The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, the one title that was not on my TBR list. I was in a browsing mood and clicked the “Try Something Different” link on my local digital library site. The Dollhouse showed up, and I was immediately intrigued by the synopsis:

Fiona Davis’s stunning debut novel pulls readers into the lush world of New York City’s glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women, where in the 1950s a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors lived side by side while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success, and where a present-day journalist becomes consumed with uncovering a dark secret buried deep within the Barbizon’s glitzy past.

When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren’t: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn’t belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she’s introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that’s used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.

Over half a century later, the Barbizon’s gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman’s rent-controlled apartment. It’s a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby’s upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose’s obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed. (Goodreads)

The Barbizon is not only the setting of the story, but also a character in the book. The hotel plays a central role, evolving over time as much as Darby and Rose do. Like its effect on Rose, the Barbizon would not leave me alone; and days after tearing through the book, I found myself pouring over articles about the historical building and its famous residents.

Barbizon Hotel

photo by Dmadeo

A mixture of fascinating history, rich characters, and suspenseful mystery, this is a five-star story. I can’t wait until August, when Davis’s next book is released!

The Princess Diarist

I wonder how different the experience of The Princess Diarist would have been had I read it prior to Carrie Fisher’s death, especially considering the several references she makes to her own “future” obituary. Though her stream of consciousness sometimes bordered on rambling, I found myself wanting more. More sordid behind-the-scenes tales from the filming of Star Wars. More heartfelt (and surprisingly beautiful) poetry about her feelings for Harrison Ford. More Carrie Fisher period. It’s hard to come away from this book and not want to be Carrie’s friend.

What did you read in May? Let me know in the comments – I’m always looking for the next great book!

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It’s a New Moon

This review does NOT contain spoilers.

Is it possible to marry a movie? Because if so, I’m marrying this one.

This morning, I took myself on a date. Even though I got to the box office two hours before it opened, I was still behind a lot of people, all of whom also planned to rendezvous with Edward today.
By the time I got inside, I was as icy cold as Edward. Where’s a werewolf when you need one?

So just a few general observations because I don’t want to ruin the movie for those of you who have yet to see it.
Firstly, I thought it was funny that all the previews were geared not to the teens, but to the 30+ females in the audience. That kinda says something, no? I must say, I had a good time listening to the reactions of the moms in the audience. I’m not sure who was swooning more, them or their kids. That’s a lie; I know, it was us old folks.
In a nutshell, I bow down to the director, Chris Weitz. I knew I’d like the movie, but I didn’t expect to LOVE it, especially since 1) Twilight did not meet my expectations, and 2) I didn’t love the book. The movie totally blew the book out of the water. There, I said it. I laughed, I sniffed a little, and I actually even cringed a few times.
Whereas Jake was one of the main reasons I didn’t love the book, he was a big part of why I loved the movie. Edward who? Relax – I’m not switching teams, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Taylor Lautner made me miss Edward less than I anticipated (no, not because of his abs, though they admittedly helped). Lautner’s chemistry with Kristen Stewart made their relationship so believable. I caught myself almost rooting for him. Almost.
And speaking of KStew, the girl left her lip alone for the most part and gave a really GOOD performance. I know, I was surprised, too. In all sincerity, though, she, RPattz, and Lautner (he needs a cute nickname, too) did a great job of bringing to life the ♥ angst and dark mood ♥ that Weitz set through his brilliant production decisions. And the supporting actors were equally wonderful. (I’m thinking about applying for membership to Team Chief Swan.)
I admittedly and shockingly can’t think of a single complaint. I don’t even care that they cut my favorite quote from the book. It’s safe to say that I will be contributing to the box office record several times.
And now?

220 days and counting

Also, I may or may not be headed to see New Moon again… in a few hours (see the label, “addiction”).

My Twilight Zone

Hubby and I braved the cold and all the Johnstown teens and tweens to see Twilight today. I know that you’re now expecting to read the words, “I *loved* it!” But I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong; it was good, and I really *liked* it, but it was missing that “spark” with which the books completely enthralled me. Maybe just as surprising to you is the fact that my hubby liked it (or at least claimed to; you can see his review after my cheers and jeers). In fact, he even indicated that he wants to read the books now. If only he can pry them from my hands. 🙂

So here are some of my thoughts (I will try to keep them spoiler-free for those of you who haven’t yet finished the book…cough, cough, Mom…or seen the movie).
Cheers:
  1. Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen. While I admittedly wasn’t sure about him at first (did anyone really picture Cedric Diggory as their vampire boyfriend?), he played the part perfectly. If you haven’t read what Stephenie Meyer has posted of Midnight Sun, you should. Reading these first 12 chapters of Twilight from Edward’s point-of-view, you can clearly see from where Pattinson drew his character motivation.
  2. Bella and Chief Swan’s father-daughter relationship. Having once been the moody, teenage daughter of my father, I found this portrayal to be among the most realistic in the movie. Plus, it added comic relief.
  3. The Cullen Clan. I couldn’t get enough of them (and didn’t – see my jeers). What great casting! I even liked Rosalie, who I really didn’t care for in the book. No matter what they were doing – from them simply sitting in the cafeteria to their fun-to-watch game of baseball – they contributed to some of the best scenes in the movie.
  4. The ballet studio scene. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that even though I knew how it would end, I found myself on the edge of my seat.
  5. The ending. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say that it did a great job of whetting our appetite for the sequel.
Jeers:
  1. Where was my Cullen clan? I get that the focus of the story is the relationship between Edward and Bella. And I get that they can’t possibly include everything from the book in the movie. BUT. The Cullens are a part of Edward and Bella’s story. Where was Bella’s friendship with Alice? Allusions were made to it, but it would have been nice to see more of the interaction between them and Jasper in the hotel, especially since we never really learn of Jasper’s gift the way the movie was told. The Cullens were perfectly cast, and their scenes were among my favorites, so I wish we could have seen more of them.
  2. Who pressed the fast-forward button? Again, I get that the movie is only two hours. And I know that to be a blockbuster, the movie has to sacrifice dialogue for action. BUT. The movie made quite a leap from Edward and Bella’s tortured non-relationship to their eternal love. Not to mention, we lost a bit of the humor between Edward and Bella when we lost some of their pivotal conversations.
  3. If you didn’t read the book, would you have fully gotten it? There were several allusions to things revealed in the book that were not really explained in the movie. My hubby didn’t read the book, and while he obviously got the overall story, I think there were a lot of intricacies to which he couldn’t be privy.
  4. Is there any way to make vampire movements less cheesy? This is the same complaint I have with True Blood. Showing vampires move at vampire speed, crouch in a protective stance, etc. is always difficult to take seriously, no matter how great your suspension of disbelief is (and mine is high given my love for musical theatre).
The jury is still out:
Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan. If I’m being objective, I would have to say that Stewart’s portrayal of Bella was pretty dead-on. In fact, in some ways it might have been slightly better than how she is portrayed in the book because, aside from her “you can’t say those things to me” meltdown toward the end of the movie, she wasn’t overly symptomatic of a damsel in distress. The problem is that Stewart’s interviews make it a little harder for me to be completely objective. Did you see The Today Show? She seemed truly annoyed by the fans, who are – HELLO – the whole reason there was a movie for you to make (not to mention the ones ultimately putting the hundreds of thousands in your bank account). I also got the feeling that she didn’t really like the books. And she was kind of rude to Pattinson. Okay, you get the picture. I’m not her biggest fan. Or maybe I’m just secretly jealous of her.
The verdict:
I liked it. I’ll see it again and probably like it more. I’ll buy the DVD, and it will no doubt be one I watch over and over. And I will run to see New Moon when it’s released. But I have a feeling that every time I see the movie, I will get the sudden urge to reread the book, which has taken up residence on my nightstand once again.
And now…a word from my dear hubby…
DH here. Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, yet. I should also say that I’m not one to immediately pooh-pooh a film based on a book, so I suppose the disclosure is beside the point.
I didn’t get any sparkles down my leg this afternoon, either, but that’s not usually how I enjoy my trips to the cinema. I was simply happy to be out seeing a movie at all after the colossal bait and switch Cher pulled on me years back. Here’s my verdict: Twilight was surprisingly watchable.
It wasn’t nearly as cheesy as I thought it would be, and it certainly had the potential to be so. Yes, the tweens swooned when the Brit with the gi-normous head came on for the first time, but he was dreamy. I thought the love story was believable, however, especially having taught girls and boys of that age. This is a tricky thing to pull off when you have adults writing dialog for child actors, no matter the actors’ skills. It was an interesting take on teen relationships, and a believable one for the most part.
I also liked the origin aspects of the story, which is always a draw for me. I like to hear how others attempt to tweak the vampire story. Richard Matheson got this ball rolling back in the fifties, and after a dozen or more retellings, I find it interesting to see still more wrinkles added to the legend. The compassion element was a particular favorite of mine, with Carlisle only “turning” those he couldn’t save otherwise–I was at first struck by his interpretation of “first do no harm,” and the irony of having the daddy vampire be a doctor in the first place. The characterization of the Cullens as the vegetarians of the vampires was a clever way of making an old idea new(ish).
As a movie, this one was what it was. It was essentially eye candy for the pubescent and fantasy for the lonely and outcast. The plot was minimal and predictable. It did seem to jump from initial conflict with James to the confrontation with Edward in the … ballet studio? And this was the biggest problem I had with the movie, as far as an adaptation goes. Of course, you can’t expect a two hour movie to cover everything in a 500 page novel. I have to chuckle when I hear the fan-girls complain about this. Movies and books are not the same thing, yet so many invested fans get tied in knots when their favorite nuance isn’t the center of things.
I have a point, related to the ballet studio, and here it is: I’m sure the ballet studio was chosen for some significant reason. I’m sure there were plenty of things in this movie that were specifically chosen because they were important. Cher told me that Meyer insisted on the filmmakers keeping the line “the lion fell in love with the lamb” for just this reason. That’s fine. I threw up a little when I heard it said out-loud, but whatever. But there seemed to be just as many choices made with no particular care to how they would translate to the screen. Perhaps this is a fault of the book as well. Just now, Cher insists there is nothing especially significant about the ballet studio, so maybe that choice by James is just as random as it appeared to me. Again, whatever. I didn’t expect high art. I just think that if you’re going to wink at the insiders during a movie, you shouldn’t make it so obvious to those of us who didn’t wear “Team Cullen” jerseys to the Richland Cinema.
Ok, this is more than I wanted to say, but I have one other beef. A friend mentioned his concern about Twilight emasculating vampires for the future, and while I thought that was pretty funny (Edward literally sparkles in the sunlight. How very Broadway musical.), I thought later that this new vampire tale certainly does reinforce the “girls love bad-boys” meme that kept me dateless in high school for so long. And Bella takes it one step beyond; it’s no longer enough to be attracted to the dangerous boy, she wants to be a vampire too? Ugh. What a drag.
In all, I thought it was fine. Enjoyed it, will likely never watch it again, but was interested enough that I’ll likely read the books over the coming holiday season. The scenery alone is enough to make me want to move to Washington state (not really).
Thanks for the space, hon.