Crazy Rich Asians

If Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde traveled and lived in 2018 Singapore, and then co-wrote a book, Crazy Rich Asians, or a book similar to it, would exist. Instead, author Kevin Kwan grew up among the uber-rich of Singapore, and wrote this satirical and comedic drama about the families behind the riches.

Understanding that his audience may not be in tune with how Asians and money work in Singapore, Kwan spends a lot of time explaining old money, new money, and some basic Chinese history as background. However, sometimes that background gets in the way of the story, which is ultimately about Nick (old money) who goes to America and falls in love with Rachel (no money), and then introduces her to his family. It's a classic story, and some of the Cinderella themes are familiar. In this new setting, the story feels fresh enough to put that aside and get pulled in.

Nick's best friend, Colin Khoo, is getting married and Nick is the best man. As they travel, Rachel gets small hints that Nick is connected to more money than she realized, but her first reality check comes from her college friend Peik Lin (new money), who also lives in Singapore. When Rachel tells the family whose wedding she is attending, Peik Lin's aunt exclaims:

"He comes from one of the reee-chest families in the world! And Araminta Lee - she's the supa-model daughter of Peter Lee, one of China's reee-chest men, and Annable Lee, the luxury hotel queen. This is like royal weddeeeng!"

What ensues is a bachelorette party on a private island, a bachelor party on a ship, jealous rich girls, and ultimately an angry, but subdued matron. Nick's mother, Eleanor Young, has no intention of letting her only son marry something worse than an American Born Chinese -- an American immigrant from China, the daughter of a single mom who waited tables in Chinese restaurants. She goes to extreme lengths to prove Rachel's unworthiness, ultimately unveiling an unsavory family secret that even Rachel doesn't know.

Crazy Rich Asians is the first of three books, and while things are hopeful, it ends with some of the story lines left open ended, to be resolved later.

As a movie, Crazy Rich Asians has a lot of expectations to live up to. With an all-Asian cast, it's shining the limelight on many unknown Asian actors. It's also highlighting the wealthy side of Singapore, while educating the world on parts unknown. The movie is also a romantic comedy, so it has to be funny and sweet, and a movie that people will tell their friends to see. The stakes were high for the movie makers, and failure was not an option.

Luckily, for the producers, actors, and the audience, author Kevin Kwan was involved in everything from the screen play to set design and worked to bring his vision to life. While reading the book I assumed several parts would  be ignored for the movie or downplayed. In addition, there are so many characters, it made sense some of them would be combined, or the movie would truly become bogged down, as the book sometimes is, in family history, instead of moving the story forward.

In the movie version Nick and Rachel have been dating for a smaller amount of time, making her lack of awareness seem less out of place. Family members are introduced briefly and then brought in more often in order to keep track of who is who. Some of the casting is perfect -- Ollie is exactly as I imagined him! While others are a miss -- Peik Lin is a bit too much and doesn't seem like the type of person that Rachel would have as best friend.

In the book, Eleanor's attempts to sabotage Rachel and Nick's relationship are subtle, and manipulative. In the movie she is a bit more obvious. While it moves the story along more quickly, I enjoyed the scheming Eleanor and would have liked to see a bit more of her.

Sidenote: Colin and Araminta's $40 million wedding will not disappoint.

Some of the changes from the book were good - in the book nobody knew the crazy rich Nick Young, and in the movie everyone knows who he is. Thank goodness!  I would have liked to see another relationship more frequently on screen. Cousin Astrid and her husband Michael's relationship is only presented in bite-size pieces, and has less an impact on the overall story, as well as providing the obvious contrast to Nick and Rachel's new relationship.

While the book makes room for additional storylines, the movie wraps things up a little tighter, giving the impression that this was a one-shot movie. They gave it all they had, and if you want to know more about Rachel, Nick, and the rest of the Young family, you'll have to read the next two books.

If you've read the book, and enjoyed it, you will enjoy the movie as well. The characters and themes stay true to the book, even if the story flows a bit differently. The romance is cute, without being obnoxious, and the couple is one you will want to root for.

Book or Movie? I thought both were good and you can't go wrong with either one.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is about books, and people, and people who love books. The way the author describes the love of books, and bookstores, pulls you in, and you may find yourself often nodding in agreement with her words. As a bookseller I see the truth of this statement on a regular basis:

"I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that is true?"

At the heart of the Society is the people, and love, and how books, a book club, and especially the book club’s creator, brought together an eclectic group of people during World War II while the Germans occupied their island.

Written entirely in the form of letters from the island occupants to the London novelist, Juliet Ashton, and then in her letters to her friends and publisher, the story is slowly laid out, although not in chronological order. The characters keep it going with their abrupt honesty, as well as their painful revelations. The war has officially ended, but their hearts are still healing.

Each character introduces themselves by telling a piece of their story, including how they joined the book club, and a bit about their favorite book. This book, the parts they choose to quote, and what it means to them, give away just a tiny bit of their soul, and the novelist learns to love these people first from afar, then more deeply when she goes to visit them. Eventually, their stories become her story as she also embraces life after the war.

Because of its format, I knew the on-screen adaptation could not be a literal rendering of the book, so my best hope was that it would portray the spirit of the book and stay faithful to the characters and their stories.

The theatrical release of the movie, with the same long name, was limited to Great Britain, much to the disappoint of Guernsey Society fans everywhere. However, those of us in the United States were lucky enough to have Netflix pick up, for release on Aug. 10. It’s been about 30 minutes since I finished watching it (I watched in between customers … I know, you’re jealous you didn’t get to watch movies while you work!) this review is a quick first impression. I reserve the right to edit as the movie settles over me for the next day or so.

The first half of the movie matched my expectations of what I assumed would be a close, if not perfect adaption. Juliet is tired of the fictional character that’s made her a semi-famous author and wants something real to write about. Meanwhile she’s being courted by the handsome, charming, and yet slightly superficial Mark Reynolds. In the novel, we get to know the characters through their letters, with Juliet not meeting them in person until ¾ of the way through the book. The movie instead chooses to introduce our male lead Dawsey Adams though letters, and then quickly sends Juliet to Guernsey to get to know the other book club members.

While this change of pace felt abrupt and rushed right at first, it made sense to move things along at a movie pace and worked well at helping the viewer get to know the others in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Without giving too much away, I felt the characters matched well with who I imagined them to be, as well as their love and affection for one another.

The second half of the movie deviated more from the original storyline, creating additional conflict for the eventual love triangle, and some suspense for how it would all end. Missing are two subplots that tied everything together in the book, but what replaced them worked well for the story and stayed true, overall, for the characters.

While not a perfect adaption, it was well done, and most Guernsey Society fans should be pleased with how the story turned out on the screen.

Conclusion: The book was better, but the movie is good too.

Update: The DVD of this movie has also been released, so you have more ways to view it.

The Darkest Minds

I categorize my books in terms of food. Salad books = classics, and deep thinking books. Meat and Potatoes = a good mystery, drama, or contemporary novel. Junk Food = vampires, romance, or YA dystopian. I love a good dystopian novel. The Darkest Minds is a decent dystopian novel. (Disclaimer, I've only read Book #1.) Having seen the trailers for the movie before reading the book, it was pretty easy to imagine, while reading, sweet Rue from The Hunger Games being reincarnated into another dystopian world to become Ruby of The Darkest Minds.

In this world, a strange virus is killing of the majority of the children ... or giving them super powers. Realizing they can't do anything to save those who are dying, the government focuses on how to handle new kids with powers. The solution, of course, is to round them up into concentration camp style work camps, and categorize them based on their ability. Each is given a color based on their ability, and separated. Realizing early on that being an orange or red is bad, Ruby, age 10, convinced the doctor accessing her that she is a green, thereby proving she is an orange with the ability of mind control.

While the world outside the camp walls isn't well developed in the novel, author Alexandra Bracken focuses heavily on the world Ruby lives in, including the conditions in the camp, and her increasing fear of both being found out, and her fear of creating meaningful relationships and her further trauma as she destroys those relationships. Ruby strives for anonymity. Everything changes when a new method for finding hidden reds and oranges is created, and at the age of 16, Ruby is outed as an orange, and quickly rescued by the Children's League. The novel follows her escape from them, after a scare, and her connection with three other children with powers, and her budding romance with Liam, a soft-spoken blue who has telekinesis.

Some of the things that make this novel stand out from other similar female driven dystopian dramas, is Ruby's slow realization that she can't survive on her own and needs people, a team, or a family. Also, she isn't a strong, domineering female, but is instead scared of herself and her abilities.

Anyone who has read the book, and seen the movie trailer knows automatically the movie creators had taken some liberties. However, those who worked on Stranger Things, a great show, had worked on The Darkest Minds, so it can't be too bad. Before seeing the movie, some clear discrepancies between the book and the movie were the kid's eyes flashing their appointed color when using their powers, and a strange stadium scene.

Sadly, the movie deviated even further from the book. The scene building done by Alexandra Bracken to help connect the reader to the characters was quickly skimmed over, making the scene with the doctor unrecognizable, the boot factory scene out of place, and the rescue even too abrupt. Ruby is quickly with her team of four, the aforementioned Liam; Chubs, a green with super smarts; and Zu, a yellow with power over electricity. Liam, Chubs and Zu stayed relatively true to their book counterparts, with Chubs perhaps a bit more sassy and enduring.

Ruby, on the other hand, while saying she is scared of her powers, and avoids discussing them, embraces them more quickly and more often than in the novel. The creators also seemed to want her to be more Katniss/Tris like, giving her more leadership opportunities. Her character development didn't stay true to the book, and once again, felt rushed. Oh, and about the eye glowing thing, apparently that is for the benefit of the movie-goer as no-one in the movie seemed to notice when someone else's eyes were glowing.

While I won't give away how that stadium scene played out, after you watch the movie, comment below and let me know if you thought it played out more as a "future leader" moment or "initiation ceremony" moment.

If I hadn't read the book, I probably would have thought the movie ok, but somewhat unremarkable. In this case, the book is much better than the movie.


A Man Called Ove

A few weeks back I asked my Facebook and Instagram followers which book I should read, “A Man Called Ove” or “On the Road.” The vote was unanimous for “A Man Called Ove” along with a lot of love and praises. As it sat on my counter over the past two weeks, others, entering the store for the first time also sung its praises. This is one book I was glad to have picked up. And then, I learned there was a movie as well! This made it the perfect next edition for book vs. movie.

First published by Fredrik Backman in 2012, “A Man Called Ove” starts out by slowly introducing the reader to the grumpy old man, Ove. Quiet, a bit OCD, and annoyed by everyone, it gives one pause as to why it came so highly recommended. Within a few pages I learned a few snippets of his past and opened my heart to loving Ove as those who had before me.

Ultimately, I realized I was reading a love story. It’s the story of Ove and Sonja, from Ove’s perspective as he enters a forced retirement, and desires to be in the presence of not only the love of his life, but his entire reason for being. However, his constant attempts to join his wife in the afterlife, are thwarted repeatedly by a cat, new neighbors, and old neighbors. By the end, Ove isn’t just a grumpy old man
(he is still pretty grumpy!), but a grumpy old man who learns he can live with his wife’s memory, while also having a life of his own, with more people to love.

Originally written in Swedish, the book has been published in dozens of languages, including English. While I read the English version, and some of the meaning was likely lost in translation, the color, warmth and humor came through. When I finished the book, I felt like I’d been temporarily made part of Ove’s makeshift family and wished I could be part of their neighborhood of characters.

In 2015 a movie with the same title was released in Swedish. It wasn’t released in the United States, but is available for streaming on Amazon Prime and on DVD. In 2017 actor/producer Tom Hanks announced he is planning to produce an English version of the book, someday.

Less than 12 hours after finishing the book, I was able to watch the movie for a comparison. I believe in watching movies in their original language, with subtitles, which happily is the only way Amazon Prime would let me watch it.

While not a word for word adaptation of the book, A Man Called Ove movie was likely the most literal book adaptation I’ve ever seen. Many of the scenes were exactly as you would have imagined them while reading, with some minor changes. Of course, some of it is different, and having watched the movie so close to reading the book, it was a bit jarring, such as the way Ove and Sonja meet and the overall timing of the book. The book takes place over a longer time period than the movie, but the pacing feels right during the movie, so it wasn’t a problem. Ove was well cast, and it was interesting to see all the Swedish cultural references, scenery, and language that I either skimmed through or didn’t entirely understand while reading.

And, while it’s possible I saw the movie too soon after reading the book, I’m not sure I would have liked the movie as well if I hadn’t read the book first. It seemed to be missing some of the warmth, and heart, from the book. The scenes were there, the story was there, the characters were well thought out, but something seemed to be missing. After much thought, I realized it was Bachman’s narration. Through each word of the book, from the background info, to the storytelling, and the character descriptions, you could fell Backman’s love and admiration for each character. Without his narration and prose, as a viewer, you didn’t get a chance to connect with the characters before the next scene. Ove’s first attempt to join his wife came on quickly. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to care about him and why he was doing it.

As the movie progresses some of those blanks are filled in, and by the end there are enough heartwarming scenes to fill the hole left by the beginning. In addition, the script writers added a few extra scenes that weren’t in the book. Without giving much away, I will tell you that two of these extra scenes worked well. They were a definite addition, rather than subtraction from the story. Others seemed to be trying to a fill a gap that didn’t need to be filled.

The book was definitely better. It is worth every word, and every minute spent reading it. The movie is a nice companion to the book, giving it a little bit more color, and life, but not a substitute. If you have some time, you may as well watch it, as “There’s nothing good on TV, anyway.”

The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant was originally released as The Iron Man in the United Kingdom, but renamed The Iron Giant for U.S. audiences so as not to be confused with the Marvel character. Since the movie is now available for streaming on Netflix, and the giant featured in the new movie Ready Player One, a friend suggested reading the original story.

Written by Ted Hughes, a Poet Laureate for the United Kingdom, the children's book was written as a fable. Released during the Cold War, it was a tale of finding peace with everyone, especially those who are so different from ourselves. Those who love the movie will recognize the description of the giant, who wasn't illustrated until 1985.

"His great iron head, shaped like a dustbin but as big as a bedroom, slowly turned to the right, slowly turned to the left. His iron ears turned, this way, that way. He was hearing the sea. His eyes, like headlamps, glowed white, then red, then infrared, searching the sea. Never before had the Iron Man seen the sea."

The Iron Giant causes problems by eating all the farm equipment, and initially the farmers trap him, to punish him, but our little hero Hogarth convinces the town to let him live in peace in the junk yard, where he becomes just another member of the community. Obviously this is quite a turn from the movie, where the town people come against him, and he rages against them and the Army. The climax for the book doesn't come from his interactions with the town, but instead with another space being who is threatening Earth.

Through a battle of whits, he is able to save the world, and becomes a hero, back in his junk yard.

On it's own, the story is sweet and endearing. Even having seen the movie dozens of times, I was able to get into the originality of the story and enjoy it for what it was.

The movie does what movies always do, and takes a simple story and makes it a bit grander, a bit larger than life. The supporting characters are brighter, more filled out, in the movie. The love between Hogarth and the Giant one of the greatest friendships in the movie sphere.

And don't tell me you don't cry when Hogarth is staring down his giant friend and says, "And you don't have to be a gun. You are who you choose to be." If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, have a tissue ready.

While not completely faithful to the book, the movie deserves it's following. And if you haven't seen it in a while, you have the chance.

If you want to read the original, you'll have to do it online. On Amazon it's running around $40 for a copy, so you might as well read the online version instead. The Iron Man, by Ted Hughes.

Which was better the book or the movie? I don't know. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the book knowing I already loved the movie.