Review: Stay Up With Hugo Best

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I moved Stay Up With Hugo Best to the top of my list when I was approved to read it, as it sounded like the perfect thing for me, as a woman in entertainment with an affinity for comedy. I wanted to like it, I really did– and perhaps the issue was that my expectations were too high? To me, almost every attempt at humor or cleverness fell just short of being truly humorous or clever. It was actually frustrating, how many times I felt that “this is going to be it!” during the set up, only to be let down by the punch line. Despite the promising plot and characters, the story roams about, with nothing of import really happening. There was a lot of ‘tell’ here, rather than ‘show’, like an extended obituary– not even as interesting as a New Yorker profile.

Now, with all of that being said, Somers is a capable writer. There’s nothing truly bad here, and she’s actually quite good at constructing concise, clear sentences, and telling a story. It’s just that this particular story is like watching paint dry. Her writing actually makes the overall even worse, because, coupled with the overall concept, there’s so much potential here. A has-been, millionaire late night television host and his young, impressionable writer’s assistant spend the weekend together? That is a great hook! Give me something more! Give me the ‘wit’ and ‘hilarity’, the ‘enigma’, the ‘less predictable’, as promised in the description! After being thoroughly confused, I returned to the description to see whether I had mistaken the book; was this meant to be funny? YES. THEY PROMISED. I wanted more debauchery, more scandal, more romance, or at least more searing commentary from June about Hugo, or from Hugo, about the cultural climate. If it was meant to just reflect a sad reality, I think the description should reflect that and not use words like “hilarious”, because that sets the reader up for something… Well, HILARIOUS; not an understated, slow-burn character study. I’ve witnessed this same bad-branding/poor marketing in films, with Our Idiot Brother (starring Paul Rudd) and Funny People (starring Adam Sandler), which were both portrayed as being comedies in the trailers, but were ultimately more about the melancholy side of humor.
Rating: 2.5/5

Buy Stay Up With Hugo Best on Amazon here.

Review: Watching You

I’ve been off the grid for a bit, buried in work, but still managing to fit in my daily reading, albeit at five AM. So prepare yourselves for a whole lotta Snark– whenever it is that I manage to get caught up.

All of that being said, I’m going to move the book I finished this morning to the front of the queue.  Why? Because, ladies and gentlemen, I have been genuinely surprised. It’s not often that my expectations are met– and far less that they’re exceeded. Now, it could be that my expectations have withered away over the past few months, having read so many mediocre books. But I’m going to give this one the benefit of the doubt. Of course, now that I’ve built it up, it’ll be a let down for you. Oh well.

So what’s the book?

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WATCHING YOU by Lisa Jewell. I had actually forgotten that was the title until now, and I’m realizing that’s probably why my expectations were so low. Don’t judge a book by its [terrible] title, folks. Watching You is about a small neighborhood in Bristol, England, in which everyone seems to be in everyone else’s business– as is the case in most small towns. But we’re quickly introduced to the fact that there has been a murder in this town, and the primary protagonist, Joey, is also the prime suspect. For about half of the book, it’s unclear whether she’s going to be driven to murder the object of her obsessions, or whether the story is about an innocent woman being framed/wrongly convicted. As the story unfolds, twists and turns are revealed regularly, subverting all expectations (I guess this is the theme of our post today). The way the information is revealed and the transitions are both flawlessly executed, with just enough coming out at just the right times, so that everything makes sense  without feeling contrived. There are a few moments that feel too coincidental, but I’ll give those a pass. Jewell’s writing is clear and her characters are multi-dimensional, possessing positive and negative traits that make them seem human. It’s the kind of writing that is made for movie adaptations. There’s no flowery prose in which to get lost, just a driving plot that keeps you turning pages until the very end.

I’ve never read anything by Lisa Jewell, and since I don’t research authors until after I’ve written the majority of my review so as to keep the person separate from the work, but given her long history writing in the genre, it’s making sense that this book is so solid. It definitely reads like the work of a professional– there’s nothing experimental or avant garde here, no sparks of pure brilliance, but it’s very good. The kind of book you’ll have no problems gifting to anyone and everyone.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Buy Watching You on Amazon here.

Review: Spindrift

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Hmm… Where to begin? As with many an avid reader, there’s a special kind of nostalgia I get when returning to books or authors I’ve read as a child. V.C. Andrews was one of those authors I read in that in-between space, when I had already exhausted such fare as A Wrinkle in Time, and was looking for something edgier, but wasn’t quite ready to make the leap to adult or literary fiction. Having already established my affinity for all things macabre or off-center, I was drawn to the gothic tales woven in My Sweet Audrina and Flowers in the Attic, and even more satisfying was the fact that I was the only child in 5th or 6th grade reading such disturbing material, which I happily recounted to my soft-stomached schoolmates.

Given this backstory, I was excited when given the opportunity to read an advance copy of the newest offering by Andrews, Spindrift, about a group of young women who attend an elite academy, only to have one go missing. Gothic mystery fiction, female protagonist(s), academia, and one of my favorite childhood authors– what could be better?

Turns out, A LOT.

This book is not well written. It’s messily-plotted, the characters are superficial, with little to no depth, and there’s hardly a phrase worth re-reading, so clunky and utilitarian is the language. There’s nothing of the sexy gothic mystery, that stomach-churning feeling I so vividly recall from my previous experiences reading V.C. Andrews. And don’t even get me started on the inherent (and accidental) irony of calling this series “The Burden of Brilliance”. You might expect, given that title, the book would be oh-so-clever. And you’d be sorely disappointed. I didn’t even want to bother writing a review, such was my dismay. And then I had a realization:

Hadn’t V.C. Andrews died before I was even born? How was she creating more work? 

Turns out, she wasn’t. 

This book isn’t written by V.C. Andrews at all– which is perhaps the most interesting part of the whole story here. Andrews herself died in 1986. Thirty-two years ago. So now you’re thinking “okay, that’s not weird at all. There are plenty of books posthumously published, plenty of tertiary pieces that remained hidden in a desk drawer, and perhaps this was just one of her lesser works, only recently discovered”. But no, that’s not what’s going on here.

This is a case of ghostwriting, with an emphasis on the ghost part.

Turns out, an author called Andrew Neiderman has been ghostwriting for V.C. Andrews, cashing in on her likeness for years, both on paper and on screen. Neiderman is best known for writing The Devil’s Advocate, which went on to be a widely popular film, though it’s widely regarded as being one of the few films that is better than its original material. I can’t help but feel a bit disgusted by this trickery, not only because it’s a little gross that a publisher would conspire to pass off work that is not Andrews’ herself, but because the writer they chose pales in comparison to Andrews. I have so many questions: when there are so many talented authors out there, why choose someone so subpar?

And more importantly, WHY THE EFF would you choose an older, male writer to ghostwrite for a woman who is known for writing feminine stories, from the perspective of young women, for an audience of young women? 

Gross.

Rating: 1/5

If, against my recommendation, you’d still like to purchase this book, do so at your own risk here. 

 

Review: The Light We Lost

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HOW DID I MISS THIS BOOK WHEN IT WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR?! Cue existential crisis-slash-anxiety attack that despite my attempts to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s hot in the literary world, great books are still falling through the cracks. Ladies and gentlemen– or however it is you folks are defining yourselves; don’t let me confine you– I’m giving out what I believe to be my first five star review of the blog. And possibly of 2018 (even though this was released in 2017).

Page One: Jill Santopolo reached right into my chest cavity and grabbed my still-beating heart.

The Light We Lost is stunning, from start to finish. It is that rare book that is both literary and relatable, which I think is due to its using beautiful language not as flourish, but because it’s from the soul. It’s the language of love and loss. Every word is meticulously wrought, but never pretentious or gratuitous. Or perhaps I’m just a hopeless romantic– emphasis on the ‘hopeless’. I think that my having not discovered this book until I did has to be for some reason. I mean, is it a complete coincidence that I randomly found it on September 11th? Social scientists would say yes, total coincidence. But again, I’m somewhat of a romantic.

This book is designed for those among us who are prone to losing themselves, at least occasionally, in the ‘what if’s?’. Those among us who are seemingly content in our lives, but who struggle to resist the urge to stalk the social media accounts of a former flame. Those among us who wonder about ‘the one that got away’– the one that, over time, rather than deteriorating in our memories, has built up, becoming super-human, invincible.

If none of those things sound familiar, then you’re lucky. But not really, because you’ll likely not appreciate the magic of this book. Santopolo is a genius at crafting meals out of mere moments, like this gem:

“Your face closed. I could see it, like a door shutting behind your eyes… I had stumbled into a fault line I didn’t know was there. I filed that away– I was discovering the landscape of you. Already I was hoping it was terrain I’d learn well, one that would become second nature to navigate.”

To me, this book captures the same tragic emotions of one of my absolute favorite soliloquies in Shakespeare: To be, or not to be. It captures perfectly the “heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. The only other contemporary author I’ve read who comes close to capturing this kind of heartbreak and longing is Julian Barnes, though I have to say, I think Santopolo’s feminine perspective gives it more resonance, at least for me.

A few other samplings I love from the book:

“It always seemed like you belonged to you and let yourself out to me when you felt like it; I never had complete ownership.”

“Sometimes a year feels like an eternity, broken up into tiny capsules of time. Each chunk is so monumental that it seems like its own lifetime within a life.”

Okay, guys, I could go on and on. And honestly, I’m getting annoyed with the fact that I don’t have anything snarky to say. The worst thing– the only bad thing, really– is that it had to end. I want to cry. I want to hold it in my hands, clutch it to my chest, crush it to bits so that I never have to let it go.

Now that I’ve set your expectations way too high, please check it out and then argue with me.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Buy The Light We Lost on Amazon

(PS: Because this is the first of Santopolo’s novels in this genre, I’m unable to binge read her and thus, would greatly appreciate any recommendations, if you know of any similar books– fiction or nonfiction, either way works for me– or if you have been similarly touched by a book.)

A Lukewarm Welcome

Greetings, interwebs! How’d you stumble across this page? Are you drunk right now? Did someone hurt you? In any event, I’m glad you’re here. Note that I’m not an exceptionally emotional person, so my ‘glad’ face is pretty much the same as my normal face, but I promise I’m glad.

Typing that word three times in a row has made me disassociate from it and now I’m thinking “what a weird fucking word– what does that even mean? And why is it such a glib word, when the meaning is kind of the opposite?”

Tangents.

Okay, so first thing’s first: the byline, ‘Highbrow Reviews of Lowbrow Culture’, is mostly a joke. I don’t actually intend to take a highbrow approach to any of the writing here. But I do have a Bachelor’s from an Ivy and a Master’s from one of the oldest and most esteemed colleges in the world– and yet I consistently find myself gravitating not towards literature and art that is considered ‘proper’ for a person of my education.

I’ve been writing reviews of books for years, on Goodreads, and I love the simplicity of that. I also like the rating system and keeping track of what I’ve read, because I’m one of those “voracious readers”, which means I plow through about two books a week and inevitably forget everything the second I finish the final page. Or whatever page it is that I lose interest.

So why a blog? I don’t know.

Will I keep updating it? I also don’t know. We shall see.

But I wanted a place to be able to discuss things in more of a long-form fashion. I also wanted to be able to keep track of my reviews of movies and food and other things I like. Or don’t like, which is probably more likely, since I’m basically the most curmudgeonly millennial you’ve never met.

So here goes!