Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Ruby in the Smoke'

One more book/movie review!

The Book: The Ruby in the Smoke (The Sally Lockhart Mysteries, Book 1)

The Author: Philip Pullman

How I Found It: Pullman was a favorite of mine when I was younger; I was enthralled by the His Dark Materials trilogy but never got around to these. Once I saw that the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation starred Billie Piper (after her run on Doctor Who), Matt Smith (pre-Doctor Who), JJ Feild (Northanger Abbey), and Julie Walters (Harry Potter's Mrs. Weasley), I just had to sign up!

The Review: In Victorian England, Sally Lockhart has been drawn into circumstances beyond her control. She has received a note telling her to "beware the Seven Blessings," and goes to her late father's office to ask a coworker what he might know about them. He drops dead of fear as soon as she utters the words.

Sally is no ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Raised solely by her unconventional father, she possesses a great head for figures and the stock market, has a working knowledge of Hindustani, and is a crack shot with a pistol. She's great under pressure, and the perfect person to unravel the mystery of her father's death, the Seven Blessings, and the mythical Ruby of Agrapur, which is supposedly being left to her. That is, it would be left to her if someone else didn't have her eyes on it--the diabolical Mrs. Holland and her murderous henchmen will stop at nothing to get the ruby, and the welfare of Sally and her close friends is being threatened. It's up to a penny dreadful-reading porter named Jim, a photographer named Frederick, his sister Rosa, their worker Trembler, and a young girl named Adelaide to band together and help Sally find the ruby and thwart Mrs. Holland.

As I read this, I could remember exactly why I'd loved Philip Pullman's books back in middle school. Wow, can this guy write heroines. I loved Lyra so much, and now I've come to love Sally just the same. I might not be great at math like she is, but there's so much to admire in her courage and self-reliance that I was taken with her from the first page. From what I've read, Pullman wrote these to try and give potboiler stories modern sensibilities, and it worked perfectly, in my eyes. Sally is a modern woman, and Frederick's clan, the bohemian Garland family, treat everyone with equality. It was marvelous to read about these thoroughly modern characters in such an enchanting time period. I never felt like the characters were too out of step with the times, and the period details were delightful. (I especially loved Jim and his inside-and-out knowledge of penny dreadfuls.)

And the villain! Oh, Mrs. Holland was dastardly and menacing, and while it was a bit of a caricature, it was also extraordinarily effective. She's a complete monster who has absolutely no scruples about harming little Adelaide! It was pretty chilling to read about this woman who has absolutely no morals. Most villains have at least one or two spots of good, but Mrs. Holland didn't, even when it came to children. It reminds me of that bit in The Incredibles when Helen tells Violet and Dash that real villains aren't like the ones on TV, that they wouldn't hesitate to kill children. Mrs. Holland certainly wouldn't, and that was darned scary.

Characterizations aside, the pacing was excellent; I tore through most of this one in a day. There's two mysteries going on here, but they do tie together in the end and it's fairly easy to keep track of which clues are for which, although the cast of characters gets a bit massive. I managed through judicious flipping back, although I could see where less patient readers or readers who dislike large casts of characters could get bogged down. This is far shorter than a Dickens novel, but has about as large a cast of characters.

Normally I would find the potboiler style overwrought and silly, but Pullman must know his stuff, because it kept me turning the pages to see how it all tied together. The man reading the newspaper, Mrs. Holland, the sailor seeking lodgings at Mrs. Holland's place--in one of the opening chapters, we're shown these three characters, told that they fit into the web of mystery Sally has shaken, and what choice do we have but to read on and figure out how they all fit together? The movie adaptation was clever in this regard by interspersing bits of narration from Jim, since he's the enthusiastic penny dreadful reader.

I so loved the movie adaptation, and I'm diving headlong into The Shadow of the North and watching that as well just as soon as I'm done. I was curious to see Billie Piper in a period piece besides Mansfield Park (which wasn't quite the best representation of the book, though it tried to do as much as it could in ninety minutes). I think she was well-matched to her character here. I particularly liked how she handled the scene in the beginning when Mr. Higgs drops dead in front of her--she nails Sally's attitude from the book perfectly. Pullman describes her as being able to cry on command in order to make others think she's weak, the typical simpering woman, while she is steady and in control all the while. Piper got that perfectly, as she went from sobbing into a handkerchief to being dry-eyed and level-headed as soon as she left the room.

JJ Feild, Matt Smith, and Julie Walters were all wonderful to watch. I always loved JJ Feild's Mr. Tilney, and he brings the same kind of knowledge and guidance of the heroine to this role. I really enjoyed Sally and Frederick's interactions on the page, and while they're cut down here (not enough time), Piper and Feild were sweet together and I'd really like to see more of that in Shadow. Matt Smith is just a sweetheart no matter what he's in, and I adored him here as Jim. Reading the book, I thought it seemed perfectly suited to him, and I was pleased to see I was right. One of the things I most loved about the book was how fiercely Jim protected Adelaide, and that was really on display in the last quarter of the movie, as Jim tries to get her to safety. Julie Walters really surprised me--I'm used to her as the kindly Mrs. Weasley, but she couldn't have been more different here! She's just as evil and abusive as the novel's Mrs. Holland, and the makeup department did an outstanding job; she looked almost completely different than usual!

I really recommend this book and the movie to fans of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, as Sally is just as endearing a heroine as Lyra. To others, fans of Victorian-style literature or potboiler-esque mysteries will love this one. One small warning, the book contains several instances of salty language, mainly from Mrs. Holland and Jim, and opium and its usage figures heavily into the plot, something some parents seemed to object to, so I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone below 14 or so. This is a perfect read for young girls who need a heroine to look up to!

In Which Trai Reviews 'Willow'

** This review is going to be rife with spoilers, as there is no other way to fully express just what I felt was wrong with this book. **

The Book: Willow

The Author: Julia Hoban

How I Found It: Initially, through browsing the YA section at Borders. This was another library read on my beloved Kobo TARDIS.

The Review: I think I have officially found the worst book I have ever read. This book was even worse than the dreadful Prescription for Romance. TARDIS should be grateful that I love her dearly and would never harm an expensive possession of mine, because if this had been a physical book, I would've been hurling it at the wall.

Now that I've officially raised (lowered?) expectations, let's get on to the actual review, shall we?

Willow is struggling to cope after the death of her parents in a horrible car accident. To make things worse, she is the one who was driving the car--it was the worst rainstorm of the year, Willow only had a permit, and her parents were tipsy and asked her to drive. Now she is living with her older brother, contributing to the family finances in order to make ends meet... and secretly cutting to deal with the pain.

Through her job at the local university library, Willow meets Guy, a boy her age who shares her and her late parents' interest in obscure anthropological texts. Though Willow can barely stand the thought of emotional connections these days, she and Guy begin to talk, but when Guy learns her secret, he becomes convinced that she needs saving. He makes every effort possible to draw Willow out of her depression and stop her self-harming, but in the end, it is Willow who will have to take the initiative to fix things.

This book is a real wall-banger, with two of the most annoying characters I have ever encountered. Guy in particular is someone I would never, ever want to meet in real life based on the actions I will ennumerate below, and since this is at least partially meant to be a romance, I am more than a little certain the author would not want me to feel that way.

First off, we've got Willow herself. She is at least characterized realistically, but that realism made her really annoying to read about in third person limited perspective. Willow does not cut anybody slack. She believes that her tragedy outweighs the mediocre problems in everyone else's lives, that it invalidates everyone else's right to feel. When a girl breaks some lab equipment and cries over it, Willow condemns her mentally, basically saying to herself, what right does this girl have to cry over something so minor? I could really understand that perspective, but geez, it made me lose a lot of sympathy for Willow regardless.

Later on in the novel, Willow has a huge blowup with her brother, where she accuses him of not letting her take care of her young niece because he's afraid that she'll kill her like she did their parents. Her brother makes no effort to smooth things over at first, but his wife leaves Willow an extraordinarily kind and understanding note the next morning. Willow brushes it off with the thought that clearly if Cathy is being that nice, she just doesn't get it. Ugh. Willow was incredibly selfish and even if it was realistic, she was not a person I particularly cared about or wanted to spend time with.

Then there's Guy. I'm pretty sure Guy is the worst hero I have ever encountered in YA or any other literature, and I'm counting Edward Cullen, for whom I have absolutely no warm feelings, in there. How does Guy offend me? Let me count the ways.

* First, there's how he finds out that Willow cuts. They're sitting in a park and Guy invites her to get a cappuccino. Willow believes she can't be making a connection at this point, only seven months after her parents died, declines, and gets up. Guy proceeds to grab her wrist and then try to pull her back down and get her to stay with him. It's a pretense so that he can brush a scabbed-over cut, see the blood, and realize she's a cutter, but no. Just no. You do not grab a girl you've only just met, someone who clearly isn't interested in staying in your company, and beg her to stay with you. That was so creepy and awful.

* Second, the incident that made me realize Guy is dumber than a sack of rocks. Willow has bought some boxes of razors on sale. When they fall from her bag in public, Guy claims she bought them for him to help her save face. Later on, they get into a fight, and he proceeds to throw the box of razors back at her. Even if the razors are safety-wrapped, what genius thinks that's okay?

* Third, the wonderful homophobia and sexism Guy exhibits. He's just sensitive enough to love Shakespeare and the same obscure book that Willow loves, Tristes Tropiques, but just manly enough to call a coffee shop Willow brings him to a "girly place" and say that he wants to get out of there. When Willow says all the guys at her old school used to love it, he says something like, "What kind of guys went to your school, anyway?" Awesome. So the only guys that can like a coffee shop are not masculine enough to be considered men, and probably, by extension, gay, which is apparently a bad thing in your eyes? Seriously, Guy, I'm loving you.

* Fourth, and most egregious, the absolute worst message I have ever seen in a young adult novel: a romance you're not ready for will clearly solve every problem you have! Willow kisses Guy and freaks out, realizing that she's not ready for a relationship. Guy gets mad at her for that, which is a pretty jerky thing to do, considering he knows how difficult and confused a time she's having. Willow kisses him a second time maybe a few days later and is magically ready for... some kind of relationship, I suppose. But then comes the real kicker.

Willow goes back to her old house with Guy. She finally has her first emotional breakdown over the situation, after she realizes she'll never be anyone's daughter again. And then... wait! She's suddenly ready to have sex with a guy she's known barely a month! We get passages like this: “But you’re so shy.” Guy’s voice is soft against her throat as he continues to slide her bra off her shoulders. “And you’re so vulnerable. Please tell me that you’re sure.” So basically, what Guy is saying here is, I don't think you're ready for sex at all, but hey, let me keep taking off your bra!

So they're in the midst of foreplay and Willow asks if he has protection. He has a condom in his wallet, and Willow asks how long it's been there (thankfully). And here's his explanation. Ready? He put it in there very shortly after he met her, because he wanted to be ready for if she needed "protecting" in this way. So ~sexual healing~ is the answer to emotional issues? Really? No. This was the most disgustingly unromantic passage I have ever read. He barely knew her and yet decided to be perfectly prepared to have sex with her. Ew, ew, ew.

After this, we do get resolution on the situation between Willow and her brother, something I actually cared about. The thing that really annoyed me is that, even though Willow's brother realizes she had sex, he doesn't seem in the least bothered by the fact that she's jumping into a relationship she doesn't seem to be emotionally ready for. Their relationship gets no real closure, which was, again, realistic, but not what I look for in a novel.

And then the very end, where Guy is again proven to be the worst hero I've ever read about. He says that now that he's Willow's lover (seriously, have you ever heard a 16- or 17-year-old boy use that term? I'm 20 and I haven't), she has to pick between him or her razor blades. She throws her razor blades into the lake when he basically forces her to, and the end sentence is something about how it's a "beautiful beginning." Um, no, I would consider this a terrifying beginning. She's entered into casual sex she isn't emotionally ready for with a guy who's a perfect mess of stupidity and an utter inability to handle her emotional issues in a mature way. Fantastic!

As you can probably tell by now, I absolutely loathed this book, and feel it sends the worst possible message to teenagers. At the very least, it showed me that professional help is necessary in a situation such as this, because as noble as his intentions were, Guy handled the situation in the worst way, and the ultimate resolution reeked of unfortunate implications (sex solves your emotional problems!). Avoid at all costs.

In Which Trai Reviews 'Before I Fall'

The Book: Before I Fall

The Author: Lauren Oliver

How I Found It: It was getting exceptional reviews for a YA book and I decided to make it the first library ebook I'd read on my wonderful Kobo TARDIS.

The Review: "The point is, we can do things like that. You know why? Because we're popular. And we're popular because we can get away with everything. So it's circular." (14)

Sam, Ally, Elody, and Lindsay are the best of friends... and the best of bullies at their high school. It's their senior year and their main concern on a Friday in February is Cupid Day, where students receive roses from their friends and admirers. Everybody knows that the ones who get the most roses are the most popular, and to Sam and her friends, popularity is paramount.

Everything comes to an end that night. Driving home from a party, Sam and her friends get into a hideous accident, and Sam is killed. No matter what kind of person she was, Sam tells us, surely we don't think she deserved to die that way? Maybe not, but it can't be denied that Sam has done some truly terrible things to people over the years.

Sam is dead... but then why is she waking up again, reliving the events of that Friday? It slowly becomes evident that Sam is in a Groundhog Day-style time loop, reliving that Friday seven times until she figures out why she has been given this last chance to right her wrongs. Is it so she can finally lose her virginity to her boyfriend Rob? Or is it because she's starting to realize that maybe she was wrong to ignore her childhood friend Kent McFuller? Is it because she has to mend her relationship with her family? And what part does a bullied girl named Juliet Sykes play in everything? Sam's seven final days will involve all these things, and in the end, she just might emerge from them a better person.

I've said before that I love ripple-effect stories: stories where we get to witness the effect one person's actions have on numerous other people. This was just what I wanted. Oliver does a great job with not being too repetitive as Sam repeats the day. Each day is almost completely different, and I loved those little variables that kept changing. For example, if Sam and her friends cut off a girl to get the last parking space, that girl is late to swim practice and not allowed to participate in a big competition, so the next time Sam lives that day, she purposely stalls her friend so that the girl can get the parking space. Or Sam and Lindsay's actions or inaction have the potential to expose a male classmate as a cheater to his girlfriend. I give Oliver credit for really keeping track of the characters and exploring different facets of their personalities on different days.

Of the four main girls, the two we get the most of are Sam and Lindsay. I think I remember reading something where Oliver said that she didn't expect, nor want, the reader to love Sam in the end, but to at least understand why Sam might've become a bully. As someone who was bullied myself in middle and high school, I didn't expect to like Sam, but I came to care about her redemption in the end, and I could at least see that it often wasn't Sam's actions that led to the bullying of others--it was her inaction, her refusal to do anything about her friends treating others poorly. It's not excusable, but the other three girls are so strong-willed that it's at least understandable that she wouldn't stand up to them, for fear of losing friends who were at least decent to her if nobody else.

Although the friendship between the four girls is admittedly based on some terrible things, I appreciated that Oliver showed how the girls genuinely did care for each other and protect each other's feelings. There are two sides to these girls: the intensely bitchy, bullying sides, and the vulnerable sides, the sides that hold the secrets they have promised to keep. Each girl has some kind of dark past, either with bullying or family issues, and it never felt overwrought, just realistic. These girls are all somehow damaged and, maybe because of that, seek to take their feelings out on others. As I said before, it doesn't excuse their actions in the least, but it at least made them seem human.

Sam's efforts to fix her actions and mend her relationships with both family and virtual strangers in her school were really well done. Of all the days, I think my favorite was when she skipped school to spend time with her little sister; as a little sister myself, I was really touched by that, and it made me admire Sam for showing enough growth to care about her family's feelings. Even so, Sam reaching out to her classmates showed how far her actions had reached, and how many people her and her friends' bullying had effected. Often, someone will ask Sam why she's talking to them when she bullied them in the past, and when they give her an example, Sam often won't remember it happening. Bullying is shown to be something thoughtless but pervasive, and I think this would be an important read for all teenagers. Though there is, of course, drinking and sexual content for the sake of realism, I think it would be a valuable addition to summer reading lists. A lot could be learned from Sam's path to redemption.

In the end, my main complaint with the book was that no explanation was given for how Sam was living the day over and over. We learn why--what the purpose for it was--but not how. I understand that this is not the type of book that would give the answer, that it would probably get too metaphysical with an explanation, but for a book that was otherwise entirely realistic, an unexplained fantastical element being the main premise left me a little confused.

I'd definitely recommend this one for both young adults and their parents. There is a lot of insight here into bullying and the high school experience, and I hope that others can take away some sort of lesson from Sam and her experiences.

In Which Trai Reviews 'Water for Elephants'

I haven't done this in a while, but I'm reviewing the book and movie in tandem given that I saw the movie barely a day after finishing the book and it seems silly to review them separately!

The Book: Water for Elephants

The Author: Sara Gruen

How I Found It: I decided to act on my longstanding interest in reading the book after seeing Christoph Waltz would star in the movie adaptation (I will follow this man's career to the end after seeing Inglourious Basterds!).

The Review: Jacob Jankowski has ended up on the wrong side of fate. Just as he is about to sit his final exams for his veterinary science degree at Cornell, he is informed that his parents have been killed in a car crash--and that his father defaulted on the second mortgage he took out to pay Jacob's education. Left with nowhere to go, Jacob is wandering along the railroad tracks when a train passes, and he hops on without knowing just what he'll find.

What he does find is the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus run by the tyrannical Uncle Al, who is hell-bent on outperforming the Ringling Brothers. Jacob is tasked with looking after an ill liberty horse, told to fix the problem when it is clear the horse won't last much longer. The performer in the liberty horses act is Marlena, who has such a way with the horses that Jacob is taken with her immediately.

As Jacob begins to perform his duties as the show's official vet, he is drawn closer and closer to Marlena... and Marlena's volatile husband August. The situation isn't helped by the addition of the elephant Rosie to the show; Rosie is allegedly stupid and unable to be taught. Jacob finds himself in love with both Marlena and Rosie--and has to figure out how to protect them both from August's violence.

I don't think I was quite as taken with this book as others were. It rates about three stars for me--I liked it, but I can't say I thought it was anything too amazing, writing-wise. There's an impressive amount of period accuracy and Gruen clearly did her homework many times over, but the writing itself was just basic, nothing too elegant or worth remembering. I wasn't so sure how well the framing device worked for me, either: we open the book with the elderly Jacob in a nursing home, and keep returning to him periodically as the story goes on. The thing is, I start wondering if I can read these sections without laughing when phrases like "my ticker" and "dagnabbit" are thrown around in all seriousness. Towards the end, I did like the elderly Jacob sections, as they gave us a sense of the full life he'd led, but in the beginning, I found myself rolling my eyes a bit at the cheesy language.

My other gripe was about Jacob and Marlena, who were far too flat and uninteresting for my tastes. Jacob is this utter paragon of goodness, to the point that it becomes so boring to read about him! He's the defender of animals and abused women, the type of person who feels immediate shame at guarding the "cooch tent." (All of this would be interesting if he only had flaws. I just wanted the kid to do something wrong once in a while just to prove that he was human.) Marlena comes off as little more than a caricature of a female character of the era, and even her backstory was cliched. I couldn't buy into their romance because I honestly didn't see much substance to it. Jacob seems to fall in love with her because of her prowess with horses and the fact that he (a) can't have her and (b) wants to protect her from abuse. Wanting to protect her is noble, but it just fell flat for me when I couldn't see any other reason to want them to be together. I'm also not a fan of characters falling in love far too quickly (as in, a few days to a few weeks), and that was what happened here.

However, that's not to say the characterizations were all bad. On the contrary, I loved reading about August and Rosie, as well as Jacob's friends Kinko/Walter and Camel. (I think it says something when your villain and an animal character are more interesting than your two leads.) Jacob's friendships with Kinko/Walter and Camel were nicely handled and became touching at the end. August was twisted and sadistic, but that was much more interesting than Jacob's flawlessness. Rosie was amusing and noble, and it was great to read about how she was trained and all the things elephants are capable of. I had no idea they were as smart as they apparently are. This book left me with a newfound appreciation for animals who perform, as long as they're treated well.

That brings me to the issue of appropriateness--I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone younger than 15 or so, or at the very least, a mature 14. I was meant to read this book for my high school book club a few years ago, until the teacher we ran it with read up to the part with the cooch tent and realized it was inappropriate for our younger members! I'm not normally one to object to sexual content in books, but I think this one would be a little too much for younger readers. And then there's something that would really bother sensitive readers and/or animal lovers: the animal abuse. Those were the only parts of the book that had me crying. August beats Rosie on more than one occasion, and it's just hideous to read about. (Not to mention the slightly unorthodox methods of keeping the animals fed and housed, which were cruel.) The animal abuse is certainly period-correct, but it was tough for me to stomach and would definitely bother younger readers.

Overall, I felt the book was a good read, but nothing truly special, due to the flatness of Jacob and Marlena's characterizations and the plain writing style. I think it's a good beach read, something a person could race through in a day or two, but it's not much more substantial than that. However, in one of the only times I will say this, I felt the movie was much better than the book.

Because the characters and story were so outrageous, it just seemed like a story that needed to be seen, not read. All the description in the world can't match the actual sight of the circus acts, or the elephant herself. It was great to actually see the liberty horses, to see the elephant who played Rosie, Tai, get to do the things I was amazed at when I read them in the book.

Jacob and Marlena were played well enough by Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, and their lack of flaws and bland personalities didn't seem to grate at me as much onscreen. I actually enjoyed watching them together and could buy into their physical chemistry. The final sequence of the film (which I won't spoil here) left me crying, and I realized that I felt more for the characters in the film than I did their novel counterparts, a sign that the movie was, in my eyes, better.

Christoph Waltz played August to skin-crawling perfection; the standout scene for me was when he directs Jacob and Marlena to touch each other in front of him under the pretense of dictating a circus act. There were times when I felt it was played a little too well--as I said before, the animal abuse is just too difficult to watch; I ended up crying so much before it even happened that I closed my eyes for the scene when he beats Rosie. Even the sounds of it were horrifying. Again, viewers sensitive to animal abuse should beware.

The movie is definitely worth seeing just for the sights and sounds of the circus, especially Tai the elephant. Towards the end, the film is touchingly handled, and I was able to connect with it emotionally in a way I hadn't for the book. I never thought I'd say this, but the movie was better than the book, in my opinion, and comes highly recommended from me!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Something Borrowed: The Movie'

This is so, so late and I apologize, but the good news is that I'm done with my semester! Summer break is here and I have invited a new member into my reading family: my new Kobo, who I have christened TARDIS. With TARDIS on hand, I have access to tons of library eBooks, to say the least! Now onto the movie review!

I reviewed the novel Something Borrowed last June, and have since become a great fan of Giffin's writing. She explores very complex emotional situations with depth and sincerity, and I could easily identify with Giffin's protagonist, Rachel. I was really looking forward to seeing the movie after seeing the trailer, and the movie definitely didn't disappoint.

A brief recap of the plot: Rachel White met Dex Thaler in law school, and while she always had a crush on him, she never admitted it to Dex, and came to regret it when her always-one-better best friend, Darcy Rhone, claimed him for her own, beginning a relationship with him almost as soon as Rachel introduces them.

Fast forward to Rachel's thirtieth birthday. Darcy and Dex's wedding is fast approaching, and Rachel is the maid of honor. After one too many drinks, Rachel and Dex end up in a cab together after everyone else has gone home, and they kiss... and then find themselves in bed together the next morning. They could both put the incident behind them as a drunken mistake, except that they realize they weren't that drunk, and that they might, in fact, have feelings for each other. They begin an affair even as the wedding date approaches, but therein lies the rub: is Dex really going to cancel the wedding, or will Rachel end up brokenhearted?

I think I did end up having one problem here--while Rachel and Dex are likable people and well-played by Ginnifer Goodwin and Colin Egglesfield, I couldn't help remembering that, well, I liked Something Blue better just because I found Ethan (John Krasinski, the absolute highlight of the movie) and Darcy (Kate Hudson, convincingly bitchy) to be a more compelling pair. As I watched the movie, I couldn't help but remember that Rachel and Dex just weren't as vibrant and fun to read about as Ethan and Darcy. Some of that comes through on the screen. We don't quite get the same sense of their personalities as we do from the book, where we become more intimately familiar with Rachel's thoughts and feelings, and get a better sense of the time she spends with Dex.

With that aside, though, I loved almost everything about how the movie turned out. As I said above, I adored how Ethan was portrayed. John Krasinski does an absolutely hilarious job and I approved the filmmakers' choice to condense Hillary and Ethan into one character. It always did feel a little too unbelievable to me to have two people in Rachel's life know about and encourage the affair. Krasinski really did make the viewer see Ethan's concern for Rachel, and their friendship was played beautifully, except for one big divergence from the book.

** Spoilers Ahoy! **

Ethan admits fairly late in the movie that he has feelings for Rachel, or did in the past. It's meant to be a parallel to Rachel always being second to Darcy in people's affections--that in Rachel's, Ethan is second to Dex--but it just felt too forced to me. I totally believed him as her best friend, but not as someone who'd always been secretly in love with her. Then again, his confession scene made my mother cry, so your mileage may vary!

** End Spoilers. **

Arguably, the most important dynamic in the movie is between Darcy and Rachel, and I think the movie nailed it. The sleepover and dance routine scene from the novel was kept, and worked really well. We get that same sense of Rachel's conflicted loyalties--her love for Dex as well as her friendship with Darcy, despite how badly Darcy has treated her over the years. Their friendship was shown so effectively that I was crying during the confrontation scene, and felt truly sad at seeing the friendship end, because even though the friendship was toxic, Darcy and Rachel had still been friends, period. Kudos to Goodwin and Hudson.

There was definitely some comedy thrown in, to fit in with the genre, but I really did laugh at it. I loved Rachel pulling a muscle "near her vagina" in the club, and Ethan's remarks ("Shit! Why am I in this?!" at the slideshow in the beginning, his explanation to Claire on why he can't be with her) often made the scenes he was in. Romantic comedies can be silly and even stupid at times, but I actually did enjoy the humor in this one.

Overall, I really think that fans of Giffin's novel will be well pleased at the result, just as I was. If anything, see it to raise the chance that Something Blue gets made (and stay for the credits; there's a teaser there!), because after seeing their performances in this movie, I'm truly eager to see Krasinski and Hudson reunite as a romantic pair! Very much recommended to fans of the book.