Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

where'd you go, bernadetteTitle: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 330 pages
Source: Borrowed from Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

The story behind this book: Andrew’s cousin Liz once recommended this to me while we were visiting her during spring break. We were so busy exploring Seattle, however, that I never got around reading to it. So, when our local book club had this listed as the book they were reading next, we both thought that it’d be a good way to: read the same book at the same time, finally read the book his cousin recommended so long ago, and meet new people in the process.

ALYSSA

I had a hard time getting into this, but once it got going, I was fully immersed. I think that Semple does a really good job of finding the humor in intense situations and really plays that up in this book, which I found enjoyable.

The best moments for me were the crazy PTA parents and Bernadette’s ways of getting back at them. In a lot of ways, I identified with Bernadette, which is kind of scary, but I’m not going to think about that too much. :p Having visited Seattle, it was a huge bonus for me to sort of know the neighborhoods and stereotypes that are portrayed. It added some nuance and detail to the story that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

While I very much enjoyed the middle, I found the end to drop back down to how I felt in the beginning. There isn’t much of a satisfying resolution and everything feels ridiculous; unfortunately, Semple goes past humor and goes into drama for drama’s sake. Without getting into spoilers, there were a lot of actual problematic issues going on that were sort of glossed over and made to look like they were resolved. Regardless, I enjoyed this book overall (still rated it a 4!) and it was an entertaining, easy read for what it was. I think anyone looking for a bit of good fun will enjoy this — it’s very approachable and deals with situations that almost anyone can relate to. Great book club book, for the record.

ANDREW

This could be my bias towards love of architecture coming out, but I wish they had spent more time revisiting Part II, where it talks about Bernadette’s career as an architect. It was one of the more compelling parts of the book, and I wish it had been a bigger part of the story instead of glossed over and just used as background information. Additionally, it gets strangely meta at the end, and I don’t think that it was done as well as it could have been.

Overall, however, it’s really funny. I laughed quite a bit while listening to this. It’s well written, and I think that the e-mail/letter format is well done and interesting. For the most part, the format fits the story nicely. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I do recommend it if you’re a fan of audiobooks; the narrator does a really good job. I think you could read the book and still enjoy without knowing Seattle, but having a rough knowledge of the neighborhoods and atmosphere of the city definitely helped me better enjoy the story.

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Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman The Secret ServiceDirector: Matthew Vaughn
Running Time: 2 h 9 min
Rating: R
Source: Chicago Public Library
 

 

 

 

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Ever since the commercials for this came out, I’ve been dying to see this movie — Colin Firth as a secret agent spy guy? Yes. Absolutely yes. I mean, I’ll see him in basically anything, but this looked particularly good. So, when we came across it during our weekly library browsing, Andrew and I decided to spend our Friday night hanging out and watching Kingsman.

Alyssa

I didn’t have the highest of expectations going in, but I expected to enjoy myself watching this movie. What I didn’t expect was to absolutely love it. For a couple of days afterward, I would see it by the TV and turn to Andrew to say, “That was actually such a good movie.” For me, it had everything: great acting, a solid story line with a few twists that were unexpected for the most part, and lovely cinematography. My favorite part about comic books turned movies are those beautiful shots that are reminiscent of a comic panel, and Kingsman certainly used those to its advantage, along with heavily stylized fight scenes. I at first thought that the fight scenes were going to bother me, since I’m incredibly squeamish about blood and gore, but I found that it was done in such a way that it really was like reading a comic, and I didn’t have to turn away when things turned violent– which is rare for me.

In terms of story itself, it’s wonderful. The movie makes me want to read the comics, because I fell in love with characters. The villain is a hilarious foil to the agents, and I hope he’s portrayed as well in the comics.

Andrew

Like Alyssa, I didn’t have very high expectations for this movie. Even the opening scene didn’t do much to improve my expectations. And I love Colin Firth, but I thought it was a bit far-fetched for him to play a secret agent. Luckily, I was quickly proven wrong in that belief.

I enjoy watching plot-heavy scenes more than I do action sequences, but Kingsman did a good job in balancing the two, to the point where the action sequences even contributed to the plot of the film, rather than having it seem like two separate movies: one with plot, and one with mayhem and fighting. (*cough* Captain America 2 *cough*) Also, a lot of movies coming from comic books try to make themselves more “realistic” for the “real world,” but this really stays true to some of its comic book roots in terms of not holding back on some of the goofy elements — like the characterization of Samuel Jackson’s character, and the over-dramatic stylized fight scenes — and staying true to the stylistic comic book elements for the way it was shot.

Overall, this is a surprisingly good movie and we highly recommend it.

Book Review: Andre the Giant – Life and Legend

andre the giant life and legendTitle: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
Author: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second
Paperback: 240 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Andre Roussimoff is known as both the lovable giant in The Princess Bride and a heroic pro-wrestling figure. He was a normal guy who’d been dealt an extraordinary hand in life. At his peak, he weighed 500 pounds and stood nearly seven and a half feet tall. But the huge stature that made his fame also signed his death warrant.

Box Brown brings his great talents as a cartoonist and biographer to this phenomenal new graphic novel. Drawing from historical records about Andre’s life as well as a wealth of anecdotes from his colleagues in the wrestling world, including Hulk Hogan, and his film co-stars (Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, etc), Brown has created in Andre the Giant, the first substantive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable figures.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Alyssa:

I was interested in this book for two reasons. The first is that Andrew loves Andre the Giant, and I wanted to see if he’d like this book as well. The second is that I was intrigued about using a comic format for a biography, so I wanted to see how it would work.

Overall, I think that it’s a success. This isn’t an incredibly detailed account of Andre the Giant’s life, but it covers the main information and gives enough facts and tidbits to make it an interesting read. Also, with the comic format, the story moves very quickly — I think I finished this in a few hours. The illustration style lends itself well to how the author portrays Andre’s life — very simple and straightforward. I learned a few things I didn’t know about Andre and I truly enjoyed getting to know about his life as a wrestler, since the only thing I actually had any previous information on was his work on The Princess Bride.

Andrew:

I love Andre the Giant. My love for him started through my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Because of that, I already knew many of the stories about him from that era. (If you’re interested in that, As You Wish by Cary Elwes is a wonderful source for that.) In the past, I’ve also had a passing interest in wrestling history, particularly in the era before I was born, when many people really didn’t know that the stories in wrestling were fake.

After hearing Alyssa’s recommendation, I was interested to see Andre’s story told in this format. I think it’s really fitting, since he’s seen as a superhero-esque character in the wrestling world. I really enjoyed the novel overall. The narrative could have been more cohesive, and I had heard a lot of the stories before, but I think that it lends itself quite well to the format and it was really cool to see the stories told this way.