Mini-Reviews: Bridesmaid, Design, Terra

Katy Birchall, The Secret Bridesmaid

Sophie Breeze has made a career out of being the perfect bridesmaid: she’s hired to pose as a friend of the bride and unobtrusively organize all the wedding arrangements. When the mother of a famous socialite hires her, Sophie is thrilled to be involved with such a high-profile event. But the bride, Lady Cordelia, is notoriously difficult and resists her every step of the way. Can Sophie work her magic and befriend the hostile Lady Cordelia, or will the bride’s petty antics force her to quit? This is a fun, breezy book that I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s entirely predictable, but I liked the book’s emphasis on female friendship (although there is a charming romance in the background as well). I also related to Sophie and enjoyed her character arc, as she learns to set boundaries and stick up for herself. Recommended for fans of the genre, and I’ll look out for more books by this author.

Renee Patrick, Design for Dying

It’s 1937, and beauty queen Lillian Frost dreams of working in the movies, but for now she’s employed at a department store in Los Angeles. When a former friend and roommate, struggling actress Ruby Carroll, is found dead, Lillian is caught up in the murder investigation — especially when she realizes that Ruby’s corpse is wearing a Paramount movie costume. In the course of her sleuthing, she meets several Hollywood personalities, including soon-to-be-famous costume designer Edith Head, who helps her solve the mystery. If you like historical mysteries, I think this is a good one. Lillian’s voice is sharp and colorful, much like the dialogue of a 1930s film. The Hollywood cameos are a bit contrived, but cinephiles may enjoy all the references. Overall, I liked the book enough to continue with the series at some point.

Connie Willis, Terra Incognita

This book is a collection of three previously published novellas. In Uncharted Territory, a group of explorers surveys a newly discovered planet, while they also navigate the complexities of sex and love in human (and alien) relationships. In Remake, a man falls for a woman whose ambition is to dance in the movies, even though (in this alternate yet eerily prescient reality) no one makes live-action movies anymore, let alone musicals, and everything is done with CGI. And in D.A., a young woman is admitted to a prestigious and extremely competitive academy in outer space, which is strange since she didn’t even apply. I enjoyed all three of these novellas, but for me Remake is the standout. It’s romantic and melancholy, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful. If you’re a lover of classic movies and Fred Astaire, it’s a must-read! 

Mini-Reviews #1: Readathon leftovers

It’s pretty obvious that I haven’t spent much time on this blog lately. *blush* What can I say — life has been busy for the past couple of months, and when I’ve had free time, I’ve preferred to spend it doing other things (like reading!). As a result, I have a pretty huge backlog of books that I haven’t written about yet, and the thought of sitting down to compose a full review for each one is incredibly daunting. So, rather than continuing to avoid the task, I’ve decided to do three batches of mini-reviews — just titles and authors of the books I’ve been reading, along with a couple of sentences expressing my opinions. Once I catch up, I plan to go back to my regular style of reviewing. But for now, here are mini-reviews for the books I read during April’s 24-hour readathon:

Love, Lies and SpiesAs If!

Cindy Anstey, Love, Lies and Spies — A fun, lighthearted bit of Regency fluff for those who enjoy YA historical romance. I found the spy storyline weak, and the romance wasn’t quite compelling for me — Georgette Heyer, this is not! But it’s a pleasant enough read for fans of the genre.

Jen Chaney, As If! The Oral History of Clueless as Told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew — This book will only appeal to people who really love the movie “Clueless” and who are fascinated by behind-the-scenes movie knowledge. Fortunately, I fall within this demographic, so I really enjoyed the book!

Hermit of Eyton Forest, TheAlways the BridesmaidWhy Not Me?

Ellis Peters, The Hermit of Eyton Forest — Full disclosure: this installment of the Brother Cadfael series features a male character called Hyacinth. But I still love this series about a 12th-century Benedictine monk who solves crimes! (Who wouldn’t?)

Lindsey Kelk, Always the Bridesmaid — Entertaining British chick lit about a young woman named Maddie whose two best friends are at opposite ends of the romantic spectrum: one just got engaged, while the other is getting divorced. My friend pointed out that Maddie is a huge pushover, which she (my friend) found irritating. While I think that’s a fair criticism, I ultimately enjoyed the book for  its humor and romance, so I’d definitely read more by this author.

Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me? — I think Mindy Kaling is very talented and hilarious, and this book had me giggling pretty much nonstop. I like that she isn’t preachy, she’s very self-aware, and she doesn’t apologize for her confidence (some might say arrogance). As she says in the book, there’s nothing wrong with being confident — as long as you’ve put in the hard work to back it up. Bottom line: if you like Mindy Kaling, you’ll like this book.

Review: Missing Reels

Missing ReelsFarran Smith Nehme, Missing Reels

This novel, set in New York in the late 1980s, follows the plucky young Ceinwen (pronounced KINE-wen) Reilly as she attempts to pursue her dreams in the big city. Unfortunately, she’s completely broke, so she lives with two roommates and works for a terrible boss at a vintage clothing store. But Ceinwen remains dedicated to her love of vintage clothes and classic movies — the older the better. She is also fascinated by her downstairs neighbor, Miriam, an older woman who is always poised, reserved, and impeccably dressed. Little by little, Ceinwen strikes up an acquaintance with Miriam and learns that she once starred in a silent movie that has since been lost. Ceinwen immediately becomes obsessed with the idea of finding the lost film, and with the help of a handsome British professor, she searches for anyone who might have a connection to the missing reels. In the course of her investigation, Ceinwen finds a community of fellow film nuts, a new romance, and possibly even a future career for herself.

I hate to say it, but this was one of my most disappointing reads of the year so far. The cover blurb makes the novel sound like a screwball romantic comedy, somewhat in the vein of “Bringing Up Baby” (which I love!). Suffice it to say, the book is nothing like that. There is very little humor in it, and Ceinwen is definitely not the effervescent, witty heroine I wanted her to be. Instead, she comes across as pushy and obsessive, practically stalking Miriam in order to get the inside scoop on her past life. I didn’t like her or her love interest, who is insufferably smug and patronizing, so I definitely wasn’t satisfied by the romance. And even as a fan of classic movies, I didn’t find anything interesting about Ceinwen’s quest to find the lost film. She goes around interviewing every person with even a remote connection to the film, asking questions she really has no business asking, and eventually the answer just plops into her lap. There’s no tension, no real stakes to the investigation. Overall, this book was disappointing to me on many levels — especially because I was hoping for something quite different.

Review: As You Wish

As You WishCary Elwes with Joe Layden, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of “The Princess Bride”

In this book, Cary Elwes shares his memories of making the beloved movie “The Princess Bride.” He talks about reading the book (by William Goldman) as a child, meeting director Rob Reiner for the first time, and being extremely nervous about his audition. He also reminisces fondly about his fellow cast members, particularly the late André the Giant, whom he describes as a true “gentle giant.” The book also spends a lot of time on the sword fight between Westley and Inigo, for which Elwes and Mandy Patinkin spent almost every free moment training. The filmmakers were determined to produce a duel that could hold its own with some of the greatest sword fights in movie history, and Elwes recalls the intensity of his training in detail. Along with Elwes’ own narrative, this book contains anecdotes from many other people involved with the film, including Rob Reiner (director), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), and Billy Crystal (Miracle Max). Overall, the book presents a fond, nostalgic look at the making of this classic film.

“The Princess Bride” is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I was definitely the intended audience for this book! I must say, it’s clear that Cary Elwes is not a writer by nature…the prose is often a bit stilted, especially when he describes his inner thoughts and reactions to what’s going on. However, the book is very readable, and it provides a great window into Elwes’ experiences in making this movie. I like the fact that other actors’ stories are included, so that it’s not just one person’s point of view. I also learned a lot of interesting tidbits about the process: for example, Elwes badly injured his foot during shooting, so there are a few scenes in which (if you’re looking for it) you can see him limping or favoring his bad foot. Wallace Shawn, who played Vizzini, was terrified of being fired because he’d heard that Danny DeVito had originally been considered for the part. And Billy Crystal apparently improvised some of the funniest lines in the Miracle Max scene, including the bit about the mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich! Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of the movie — and then I HIGHLY suggest re-watching the film! 🙂