Book Review: Belle Epoque

Before I get to the review, I just signed up for Bloglovin’, so feel free to follow my blog with Bloglovin. Which I know you could do anyway, but still. It’s, like, official now or something.

Like any person, an ugly woman’s looks are transformed by her conversation, humor, intelligence, and even grace. But all this reverses during the selection process. When a client enters the salon, I’ve seen a girl change from her giddy, laughing self to her repoussoir guise in an instant.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossI was so excited to read Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross. For starters, the premise speaks to my soul. Some dude starts a service for rich women to hire less attractive women so they can appear more attractive. Which, hello, totally speaks to my life experience of always having pretty friends but feeling like I fade into the background when I’m around them because I’m not even a fraction as cute as they are. Then, the main character (Maude) is hired as a beauty foil for Isabelle, but Isabelle doesn’t know that Maude is the help because her mom wants her to think Maude is her friend, which also adds female friendship stuff and mother/daughter drama. So excited!

But then the book was a total letdown, sigh.

First, while the premise is excellent, Maude is so, so boring. She moves to Paris to follow her hopes and dreams! She reluctantly becomes a repoussoir because it pays a whole lot more money than working in a laundry! And then she fades in the background whenever Marie-Josée or Isabelle are in the same scene. What I’m saying is that I wasn’t particularly interested in Maude or her journey.

Second, I don’t understand why this story isn’t told from Isabelle’s point of view. Maude really doesn’t do anything. Yet, Isabelle has all these interests and is full of personality and gets betrayed by her mom and Maude and is courting and and and. I’m not saying Maude couldn’t have been an interesting character whose arc through her relationship with Isabelle could have taken the reader someplace interesting; she just wasn’t. Isabelle seemed to have the true conflict. I think part of the problem is that Maude is just so passive.

Third, the relationships are not well-developed at all aside from Isabelle/Maude and Isabelle/her mother. Maude’s closest friend at the agency is Marie-Josée except I don’t think they’re really friends. M-J serves as a mentor to Maude, yes. Maude wants to run things by M-J. But I get no idea whatsoever of why Marie-Josée would be disappointed because Maude has to work on Christmas. Seriously, why does she care? Because I didn’t feel like I as a reader would be missing out on M-J’s dinner nor did I feel betrayed that Maude blew it off.

The same goes with the love interest. They have maybe three or four interactions and suddenly he’s pissed at Maude and disappointed in her, and she has to apologize. And I was honestly like, “Who cares what this drunk dude that I’ve spent maybe three scenes with thinks?” But I guess the reader is supposed to, which means that relationship was shallow at best.

Fourth, Maude goes to a lot of parties and balls and thinks a lot. That’s really what happens in the whole book. Oh, and she’s kind of taken with the glamor of it all. I guess there was some kind of conflict with Maude thinking she might one day belong in that world or something? I don’t know. I didn’t really care about her.

Fifth, the love interest is so terrible. He’s drunk all the time, and he’s judgmental, but he’s nice once or twice, so I guess that’s all that matters.

Sixth, I wanted to stop reading about 3/4 of the way through, but I really did want to know what happened to Isabelle at the end.

Also, is it wrong that I wish Maude had really been ugly instead of plain? I guess that would have made her more interesting.

SO DISAPPOINTING. The language is lovely, and the premise is great, but the underdeveloped relationships made it difficult for me to like this one. I did enjoy Isabelle a lot, though, so there’s that.

Source: Library

Audiobook Revew: Holes

Holes by Louis SacharI’m currently watching the movie version of Holes, so I figure now is as good a time as any to review the audiobook (written by Louis Sachar, narrated by Kerry Beyer).

Let me just start by saying the novel is flawless. I’ve read it before (and taught it once), and I am forever amazed at how well-crafted the narrative is. Everything comes together nicely, and the first time I read it (as an adult), days passed and I was still thinking about it. Sachar addresses race, class, retribution, reparations, grief, self-esteem, family, found family, corruption,  and a bunch of other stuff, all in however many pages (four hours on CD).

I mean, I am still thinking about it again. Pendanski straight out says that Zero can’t learn and that learning makes him agitated/makes his blood boil. WHAT. And the Warden and her cronies need to keep Zero ignorant because that’s the only way they can get away with murder (literally). I mean, of course, people get agitated when they finally understand just how much they’ve been oppressed.

Not to mention that everybody loves Sam the Onion Man until he dares step out of line by kissing Katherine. Yup, up until then he was their favorite. But how dare he think himself a PERSON? And that the sheriff tries to force himself on Katherine because she kissed the onion picker so obviously that means she’ll do anything with anybody? Also, of course it’s not against the law for her to kiss Sam, just for Sam to kiss her. Middle grade, people. Don’t sleep on it.


The audiobook, on the other hand, is good but not great. The narrative has a lot of flashbacks, and I didn’t think enough was done to differentiate between the past and the present.

I was also not that big a fan of the voices Beyer uses. Zero sounds slow, and Armpit sounds like a doofus. His Warden was fantastic, though. She sounded calm and menacing all at the same time.

I chose to listen to the book because we drove to Texas and the story is set there. I mention that because my mom got all caught up in the story (“Is this the movie?” “No, Mom, it’s the BOOK that the movie is BASED ON.” Semantics are important.) and is going to make me re-listen to the end because she fell asleep. So the point is that the audio is good enough to get my mom engaged. Also, my daughter wouldn’t let me listen without her even though she’s read it before.

While I’m here, I should probably mention that no major changes were made between the movie and the book, probably because Sachar wrote the screenplay. The biggest change is that Stanley is fat in the book, but I think Shia LaBeouf is an excellent Stanley because he’s so awkward and lost looking. Also, [spoiler] Sam’s death is EVEN WORSE in the book[/spoiler], which is saying a lot because my daughter cried and cried at that part of the movie.

The casting for the movie is also flawless. Sigourney Weaver? YES. And Dulé Hill (before he was my TV boyfriend Burton Guster) as Sam is such a treat. Plus, Eartha Kitt looks exactly the way Sachar describes Madame Zeroni. I wonder if Sachar had her in mind when he created the character.

Also, I have taught the movie, and my students still take a while to make all the connections between the past and the present. So the story is still sophisticated in movie form.

So what I’m saying is you can’t go wrong with any version of the story you pick up.

Source: Library

Top Ten Movies Based on Books

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is best/worst movie adaptations. I am in a positive place right now so I’ve chosen some of my favorites. Keep in mind, though, that this list is not in any way exhaustive since so many awesome movies started as books/stories. There are just too many adaptations to choose from, so I apologize to all the great movies I had to leave off.

Top Ten Tuesday

For example, did you know Die Hard is based on a book? I didn’t either! Not until I went through this list, very nicely posted to twitter by Crystal (@librarygrl2). So, yes, lots and lots of movies based on books. For today, I have only included the movies whose source text I have actually read. Otherwise, how would I know if it’s a good adaptation or not???

For me, a good adaptation doesn’t have to be completely faithful to the book’s plot. It does need to maintain the spirit or essence of the book, though. Movies do different things than books, so I never expect a movie to be exactly like a book. I expect a movie to be good in its own right and for me to see how the source text influenced the adaptation. Or I just expect the movie to be amazing, and I don’t really care what the book does.

1. Holes (Holes by Louis Sachar) – I actually just listened to this on audiobook for the first time (I’ve read the book before) and the movie adaptation is pretty much flawless. My only complaint is probably that Patricia Arquette is older than I pictured Kate Barlow, but the rest of the casting and the story are spot on. It probably helps that Sachar wrote the screenplay.

True story: If you see the movie, every time you read the book, you’ll get the theme song stuck in your head.

2. Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton) – The book has more science and more scary dinosaurs, but, well, you’ve seen the movie and you know it’s amazing. Right? I can’t remember which is scarier since it has been so long since I read the book, but the book is a fast-paced read and I would never, ever trust a velociraptor around door handles.

3. Mean Girls (Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman) – Obvs, the movie is a comedy and the book is a pretty serious non-fiction work, but the message is the same: middle to upper middle class/rich white girls are crazy when it comes to cliques and maintaining power.

4. The First Wives Club (The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith) – The book is a lot more serious and a lot less fun than the awesome, awesome movie that is currently streaming on Netflix. [That’s my way of telling you to watch it if you haven’t already.] Did I mention the movie is awesome? My daughter and I have watched it more than once. Love Goldie Hawn, love Bette Midler, love Diane Keaton. Love, love, love.

5. The Godfather (The Godfather by Mario Puzo) – The movie takes all the good parts of the book and leaves out all of the stuff no one cares about. I mean, does it really matter that the bridesmaid Sonny has sex with in the beginning of the movie has an extra large vagina and winds up in Las Vegas with Fredo? Of course not. (Also, yes, that’s mostly what I remember from the book.) The movie is long, yes, but, wow, I love it. Also, everything good about the book that’s not in the movie shows up in The Godfather II (like Don Corleone’s backstory). And, you know, how Fredo winds up in Vegas.

6. Aquamarine (Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman) – I don’t remember that much about the book except mermaid in the pool, honestly. The movie is so, so adorable, though. And! It holds up to multiple viewings. [It was a favorite of my daughter’s when she was little.] I love the focus on female friendship, and it also features a really fun crush.

7. About a Boy (About a Boy by Nick Hornby) – Both are excellent, but only one features Hugh Grant and “Shake It Fast” by Mystikal. I’m just saying.

8. Freaky Friday (Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers) – I have actually seen all three movie versions [two theatrical and one made-for-TV]. The Jodie Foster version is A+ for the awesome 1970s fun, and the Lindsay Lohan version is an A+ twenty-first century update. We don’t speak of the TV version. Love the book, love the two released in theaters.

9. The Wizard of Oz (The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum) – The book and the movie have so little in common Read the book if you want lots of beheadings and silver shoes and to learn about Midwestern hospitality in the 1900s. Watch the movie to see why it’s one of my childhood favorites. I can quote the whole movie is what I’m saying. And I still love the songs.

10. Bride and Prejudice (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen) – I am not that big a fan of the book [I know, I know], but holy crap, it’s a Bollywood version with lots of color and fun songs and Sayid from Lost dancing and singing. Don’t believe me? Check this out.

He’s the Indian MC Hammer! (He’s also Bingley’s equivalent.) I love it. This is another one I have seen multiple times because my daughter loves it. We actually need to own this movie. Also, I love how it translates all the main points of the book into a transcontinental romance. So fun and so great.

 BONUS: Top 5 Movies Based on Books I Haven’t Read

Because I just couldn’t help myself.

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf) – This movie is so well-paced and well-plotted. There are no throwaway gags or anything. Also: it’s FUNNY. Plus: JESSICA RABBIT.

2. Friday Night Lights (Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger) – Yes, I know there’s a TV show. But have you seen the movie? Because it is full of pretty, pretty boys and a final game that I watched like it was a real football game. And I don’t even care that much about football! But I was just that invested in the boys and their futures.

Because of the pretty, pretty boys, see?
Because of the pretty, pretty boys, see?

Also, if you love Tami Taylor (which I know you do), Connie Britton plays the Coach’s wife in the movie as well.

3. Imitation of Life [1959] (Imitation of Life by Fannie Hurst) – My great-aunt prefers the 1939 version because it focuses more on how the white woman’s wealth is created by her black cook. This version, however, is the one I’m most familiar with and the one that makes me cry great big tears of sadness. Annie’s daughter tries to pass for white and breaks her mother’s heart 100 million times. Also, Sandra Dee and Lana Turner plus a Mahalia Jackson cameo. Plus also, Lora thinks she and Annie are friends, but, yeah, they’re so not because of race and class barriers. So, you know, amazingness.

4. Freedom Writers (The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell) – I did not have any hopes of liking this movie because I hate movies about Great White Saviors Who Save the Poor Minorities from Themselves. However! The movie is more about the kids and how telling their stories changes their lives. Which means I wound up LOVING it. Writing love + awesome teacher = <3.

5. Clueless (Emma by Jane Austen) – Please. As if any movie list of mine would be complete without one of the greatest movies of all time. This is also streaming on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it, make it your business to watch it.

Book Review: Eleanor & Park

“You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”

The next time I say that I don’t like literary fiction remind me that it’s my favorite genre of young adult literature. REMIND ME. Because holy crap, I loved Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell so much. SO MUCH.

It gutted me. Gutted.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellHere’s what I loved about this book:

  • Eleanor
  • Park
  • Eleanor & Park
  • Park’s mom
  • Park’s dad
  • Park’s mom and dad
  • DeNice & Beebi
  • All of the relationships, basically
  • All of the character work, basically

What I’m saying is everything was A+. I believed all of the relationships. I loved the way everything was resolved. I mean, the way things ended with Tina, holy crap.

Rowell has this way, too, of giving a lot of information with small details. Like, Eleanor is poor, right? And it’s like, okay, so she has to share her room with all of her brothers and sisters. But you really understand just how poor she and her family are when she wishes she could save pads from a prank girls play on her because “what a waste.” Maxi pads touched by another person are a waste. Or how you understand that her mom’s boyfriend beats the mom and then forces her to have sex with him because she has a bruise and a hickey. Small details.

The sexual abuse is well-handled as are the hints that maybe it has happened before. Oh, and that Eleanor thought her father was terrible until she realized there are worse things than selfish. (That doesn’t mean her father is good or even decent, but just that he could be a lot worse.)

I was also quite impressed that even though Richie is a terrible, terrible, terrible person, Rowell still managed to make him a little sympathetic in the end. I mean, I hated him, verily, but still that sliver of humanity she gives him makes all the difference.

Oh! Another thing I liked is that my attachment to the characters grew as they grew more attached to each other.

Park’s parents are seriously the best. Flawed, yes, but excellent parents.

I also love that Park is embarrassed because they’re so affectionate, and you get the whole ugh annoying parents, but then there’s Eleanor not bringing people home because, again, worse than embarrassing.

I think, ultimately, that I liked this book so much because aside from the awesome characters and the fantastic relationships and all of the A++ writing, I completely bought Eleanor and Park’s growing attraction to each other. I liked that it didn’t quite make sense because these things don’t always makes sense, and I loved that the characters were aware of how much it didn’t make sense, but that it didn’t quite matter whether or not it made sense because they got each other.

Oh, and the last thing I absolutely loved is how Rowell would show how different characters saw the same situation: Eleanor’s gym suit, Park’s mom seeing Eleanor at the store, etc. Oh and good Lord, everything with Eleanor and her siblings broke my heart.

Also, I love how every time I think I’m done saying everything I love (and these are the non-spoilery bits!), I keep thinking of something else. I mean, Eleanor’s makeover! Park’s fight! So many things to talk about!

So what I’m saying is this book is awesome and you should read it. Easily my favorite read of the year so far.