Travel reading wrap-up (fall 2021): A batch of mini-reviews — high school drama, Aztec vampires, and classics retold

I’ve just returned from a one-week trip (which was all sorts of awesome), and realize that I’ve fallen way behind on my reviews. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away (and the week before, when I was already in pre-trip mode). As always, a mix of genres, topics, and new vs old.


Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado: A YA story starring a plus-sized Latina high schooler who dreams of a first kiss, even while feeling like she’ll never measure up. The story emphasizes the importance of true friendship and trust, as well as body positivity. Charlie experiences a first relationship, has her relationship with her best friend tested, gains confidence as a writer, and learns to stand up for herself and not let others’ negativity undermine her belief in herself. While there are some plot points that I found frustrating (such as a mother whose toxicity about Charlie’s weight is never truly resolved, and unnecessary break-ups with both her boyfriend and her best friend), I loved the lead character enough to make this a really enjoyable read overall.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This is my 3rd book by this author, but it definitely won’t be my last. Certain Dark Things is a gritty, noir-ish story of vampires, gangs, and drug runners in Mexico City. The main character is a teen boy who devotes himself to helping a lone Aztec vampire escape the city and the various other clans of vampires who want to see her and her people wiped out. It’s a fascinating spin on the world of vampires, and while I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the origins and natures of the different vampire species, I still really enjoyed this book. It’s dark, fast-paced, and surprising.

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: I guess I should have read the full synopsis, instead of deciding after just the first sentence that this book sounded like fun. The main character wakes up alone in a Las Vegas hotel room with a vague, hung-over memory of having married an adorable woman the night before. All she has to go on is a note left by the woman with a radio station listed. Grace decides to track down the mystery woman… but for the most part, despite the potential rom-com set-up, this is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, figure out who she’s meant to be, and understand her relationships with family and friends. Maybe because I went into it with incorrect (or incomplete) expectations, I was mostly frustrated and annoyed by the depth’s of the main character’s introspection and occasional selfishness.

Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle: This YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet offers a fresh perspective — that of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before meeting Juliet. Here, the teens are seniors at an upscale California high school. Rose has been looking forward to reuniting with Rob, her best friend and boy next door since they were small children, especially since their near-kiss right before he left for his summer job. But within a few days of school starting, Rob dumps Rose for the new girl in town — the mysterious Juliet, who also happens to be Rose’s cousin. I really liked the way the author turned the classic story into a contemporary YA drama, and found her portrayal of Rose very thoughtful as well as being a creative twist on a tale that’s been told and retold so many times. When You Were Mine follows some, but not all, of the original’s storyline, and the little differences keep this book fresh and engaging. Sure, I have a few quibbles and would have liked to see a few plot points handled differently, but overall, this is quite a good read.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi: Another classic retold! This twist on Pride and Prejudice centers on the “Bennet Women” — the young undergraduate women living in Bennet House at Longbourn College. EJ (the Elizabeth stand-in) is a senior studying engineering and the RA of Bennet House, who holds the values and standards of Bennet House dear to her heart. Her best friends are a trans woman, Jamie, who’s our Jane stand-in, and Tessa, who has a smaller role and seems to be taking the place of Charlotte Lucas. While hitting the major plot beats of P&P, it’s a fresh take full of woman power and feminism, with a nicely diverse cast and some clever approaches to the expected storylines. I really appreciated how EJ’s education and aspirations were given prominence. Here, marriage isn’t a goal or even talked about much — it’s about finding love and respect while also finding themselves, pursuing their dreams, and not giving in to the many ways the world outside of Bennet House might want to limit their opportunities or pull them down.

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

That’s my reading round-up! And now, back to all the ARCs and other books calling my name…

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Movie Versions of Classic Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is — well, it’s a freebie. Everyone participating can make up their own theme, so mine is:

Top Ten Movie Versions of Classic Books

I’m planning to see the Les Misérables movie tomorrow, and that got me thinking: What other movies, inspired by classic books, have I loved over the years? (Unlike most top 10 lists coming out at this time of year, my list is not specific to 2012). This is a totally subjective list, based on nothing more than my own enjoyment of the films. The only consistent criterion I’m applying here is that I’ve actually read all of the books mentioned.

So here goes:

1) ??Les Misérables??

Reserving judgement, of course, until I’ve actually seen the movie, but just seeing the trailers has blown me away. I first saw the stage version of the musical in London many years ago, which was memorable for many reasons, not least because I had last minute tickets for cheap seats about a thousand balcony levels up and found the experience positively dizzying. Following that, I decided to read the book — not an abridged version, thank you very much — and walked away from that experience in love with the characters and with a deep and abiding knowledge of Parisian sewers and convents. I’ve since seen the musical several times, have listened to the soundtrack enough to have it memorized, and may even have splurged on a French version of the soundtrack. (But don’t tell; it makes me sound obsessive).

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2) Pride and Prejudice: The BBC version, of course. There are countless other versions, remakes, modernizations, and reimaginings, and I even liked the Keira Knightley version (mostly because of Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet), but the BBC (Colin Firth) production wins hands-down for me. Although… Bride and Prejudice — c’mon, that one rocked.

3) Vanity Fair: Did anyone else read the book after seeing the movie? I loved Reese Witherspoon, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and James Purefoy in director Mira Nair’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel… but I ended up loving the book even more. Becky Sharp is not a nice woman, but boy, does she know how to make waves!

 

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4) Romeo and Juliet: As with the Jane Austen books, there are countless movie versions of Romeo and Juliet, but the one that is unparalleled, for me, is the 1968 movie directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Perhaps because I first saw it at a young, impressionable age, I remember it as being incredibly sensual and beautiful and utterly romantic. I suppose I should watch it again one of these days and see how it’s held up, and then perhaps check out the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version for comparison’s sake. And if we’re talking “inspired by”, mustn’t forget West Side Story either. Oh, Tony. Oh, Maria.

5) 10 Things I Hate About You: Sure, if we’re talking adaptations of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, I suppose I could have picked the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie (which is wonderful, by the way) or perhaps the 1953 musical Kiss Me Kate, but in my mind, 10 Things I Hate About You is tops. This charming adaptation captures the comedy of the original, and Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles are just superb.

6) Emma and Clueless: Two great movies from one great book. I really love the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma (Jeremy Northam makes a dreamy Mr. Knightly), and Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless is a pitch-perfect ’90s update.  Both movies are terrific. Don’t make me choose.

7) Dangerous Liaisons: Based on the 1782 epistolary French novel by Choderlos de Laclos, the movie was a perfect forum for a dazzling cast. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are absolutely deadly in this movie. Even Keanu Reeves was not too bad. Must. Watch. Again.

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8) Jane Eyre: Again, another classic with many different movie adaptations. But for purposes of this list, I’m going with the most recent. The 2011 movie starring Mia Wasikowski was lovely to look at and wonderfully acted. Sure, the plot was a bit compressed at times and parts were skimmed over entirely. Still, the gothic mood of the moors was perfectly captured. My only complaint might be that Michael Fassbender is, in fact, too handsome to play Rochester. Not that that’s much of a complaint, really.

Room with a view

9) Hard to choose — pretty much anything featuring Helena Bonham Carter (without insane wigs and bad teeth) could go here. Wings of the Dove, based on the Henry James novel, was the first HBC movie that came to mind, but in the end, I’ll go with A Room With A View. So beautiful, so romantic…

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10) For my 10th and final choice, I’m going with a movie that has not been released yet, but which I’m oh-so-eager to see: Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon, and featuring a Whedon-verse array of favorites, including Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Fran Kranz. The movie is scheduled for release in June 2013. Who’s with me?

So what are your favorite movies from classic books? Which Pride and Prejudice do you love best? Can you sing along with Tony and Maria on “Tonight”? And do prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a young ingenue or as a crazy minion of the Dark Lord? Sound off in the comments!

(And wishing, for one and all, health, happiness, and love during the holidays and in the coming year. May your days be merry and bright!)

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