Awards Circuit Book Nook for August 2015

ZforZachariahSummer’s over and that means kids (and college students) will be spending the next nine months or so reading books they’re required to. If you’re like me and can actually read for fun, then below are a couple titles you’ll want to check out while the kids read To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye.

NOW IN THEATERS

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Best known as the author of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien creates a gripping story about a lone teenager surviving the apocalypse and coming of age within it. Ann Burden is the lone survivor in a valley untainted by chemical radiation. When a mysterious man named Loomis arrives, the first person she’s ever met after years of isolation, she’s hesitant to befriend him, but does. Unfortunately, Loomis has plans built to sustain them for decades and whether Ann wants to be a part of them really isn’t up to her. This will be an interesting adaptation since, from the appearance of the trailer, it sounds as if director Craig Zobel borrowed the title and two of the characters, discarding everything else. Since the novel was written for kids, Ann is 16 and replaced in the film by Margot Robbie. Loomis, a white guy in the novel (enjoying the racial discussion that will probably result), is the only other character, leaving me wondering what Chris Pine’s point in the whole thing is. As a standalone entity, this isn’t a particularly compelling read. Told through a series of diary entries, Ann’s prose isn’t particularly advanced, but we do watch her grow from a child fearing people to caving into loneliness and realizing why we should be wary of strangers. Furthermore, there’s an added element of feminism injected, as Ann questions Loomis’ desire to dominate her and what his endgame is. The whole thing ends rather ridiculously considering the building suspense, but it doesn’t appear as if much of the original source is being retained at all.

Dark Places by Gillian FlynnDarkPlaces

After the success of Gone Girl, audiences waited with bated breath for the next adaptation of one of Gillian Flynn’s novels. In actuality, that had already happened with her book, Dark Places. However, the arrival and awards reception to Gone Girl caused this version, starring Charlize Theron, to be pushed back until this year. In all honesty, it’s probably for the best as Dark Places lacks the wit, complexity, and engagement of Gone Girl. Following the lone survivor of a massacre, much like Amazing Amy, Dark Places’ Libby Day is brisk and cold; unlike Amazing Amy, we learn all that immediately and there’s little change from thereon out. Now, I’m all for antiheroes, but because the book shifts perspectives, we barely learn anything about the character of Libby. She’s the survivor, she’s lazy and hateful, and she’s telling the story. Really, the book is more geared to showing us the lives of Libby’s brother – serving time for the murder of his family – and Libby’s mother. The latter gives us some great perspective on single motherhood and the thoughts that some mothers have, but don’t want to admit to. Unfortunately, the book goes off the rails with Flynn boxing herself into a corner, unable to resolve the plot without it turning into something out of William Castle’s Strait-Jacket. By the end, it’s hard watching the characters kick back and reminisce when everything’s concluded when, getting there, is so ridiculous. Based on the characters in the movie, I’m doubting the film’s screenwriter read the book, changing the red-headed, short Libby Day into the tall, brunette Theron. Considering how blah the book was for me, I expect little else from the film.

ALSO ON SHELVES

AsIfAs If!: The Oral History of Clueless As Told By Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew by Jen Chaney

It’s been twenty years since the movie that gave me lines like “she’s a full-on Monet,” “Whatever” and, my personal favorite, “Haiti-ans” came out to theaters. Amy Heckerling’s Clueless works as both a piece of 1990s nostalgia as well as a technologically ahead of its time/feminist friendly adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Author Jen Chaney doesn’t just seek to remind fans why the movie is awesome, but also go behind-the-scenes to see how difficult it was to make. Heckerling and crew worked with a miniscule budget and shooting schedule, as well as a bevy of untested actors, in the hopes that they would make something fun and frisky. What they ended up with was a box office success that’s endured for over two decades. Chaney goes into nearly ever facet of the film’s production, from pre-production to casting (Ben Affleck tested for the role that eventually went to Paul Rudd), and everything in-between. And for all you fans who enjoyed the big hats, faux fur, and plaid, there’s an inordinate amount of discussion on the creation of Mona May’s infamous costumes. There’s some fun trivia, an extended discussion on Brittany Murphy’s performance, and interesting chapters on the film’s cultural legacy (particularly Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” video). If you love Clueless, this is a must-read!

The Odds by Robert J. PetersonTheOdds

In the interest of full disclosure – Robert J. Peterson was my former editor back when I was a burgeoning writer just out of high school. However, he knew that giving me his book was like entering the lion’s den. Friend or no, a bad book is a bad book…..but he’s passed the test. I was prepared to write a review involving the words “pleasant,” “creative,” and other tame phrases meant to be praiseworthy without being hyperbolic, but hyperbole is required for The Odds. Set in a post-apocalyptic hellscape called Dedrick, The Odds follows a redhead named Eldridge as he struggles to survive a vicious tournament, based on the rules of chess of all things, in order to make enough money to pay off a debt before he succumbs to cancer. First-time novelist Peterson masters the art of world building, creating a land that’s simultaneously dead and lived in, with clearly defined rules, hierarchy, and more. He’s ability to describe characters that are grotesque leaves me yearning for a cinematic adaptation. There’s also a strong jumping off point for future books – this is part of a series – without it being required. This is a novel that stands on its own, but has enough meat to leave you yearning for me.

Worthy of an Adaptation?: YES! Eldridge is a redhead so I’m having trouble coming up with a likely candidate, but I saw the likes of Gwendolyn Christie as tough cop Zora immediately. I just want to see some of these creatures that are written about placed on-screen, preferably with practical effects.

ClintClint: The Life and Legend by Patrick McGilligan

For someone my age, Clint Eastwood’s always been a prominent cinematic icon with an unapproachable air to him. Controlling his press with an iron fist, McGilligan’s new biography on the star presents the man, warts and all. Clint: The Life and Legend balances Eastwood as an actor and one a personal level, neither image coming out unscathed. The book takes a bit of getting used, especially after a fairly trying 20 pages exploring Eastwood’s deeply embedded Americana origins. If you’re not a fan of hearing about someone’s great-great-great grandpa, it’ll be hard for you to get over that hurdle. But after that the book gets into a rather straightforward narrative, charting Eastwood’s television roots, roles in Sergio Leone’s films, and eventual respect as a director. As someone with little knowledge about Eastwood’s background and personal life, the book provided a lot of insight, even if it can feel a taste dry. McGilligan has a clear, academic voice that’s straightforward and no-nonsense. He never sets out to demonize the actor/director, but takes him to task for his rather childish treatment of long-time crew members and women. If you’re looking for nearly everything you’d want to know about Eastwood in one place, this is the book for you.