Hello, Sunshine

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Thank You to Simon and Schuster for providing me with an advance copy of Laura Dave’s novel, Hello, Sunshine, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Sunshine Mackenzie is a rising star in the world of social media chefs. She is on the brink of transitioning from Youtube videos to a high-scale production show on The Food Network. The only problem is Sunshine is not the image that she has created. She is not a farmer’s daughter and did not grow up in the rural south. She can’t even really cook. Just as her star is rising, her secret is exposed. Not only is the truth about her background revealed, but she is also caught having an affair with her producer, ruining her marriage. In the cutthroat world of social media celebrity, who has it out for Sunshine? Now that her world has been destroyed, can Sunshine rise from the rubble?

LIKE– I liked Dave’s snappy writing and colorful characters. I liked that the plot wasn’t completely predictable; for example, Sunshine’s life is complicated and the complications do not have simple resolutions. Hello, Sunshine has a strong message regarding social media and will give readers pause with regard to their own uses for social media. A few times, there is mention of characters taking posed, perfected shots for Instagram. These are pictures that don’t truly reflect their reality with accompanied falsified hashtags. Maybe I’m jaded, but I think most people engage in this behavior to an extent. Reading Hello, Sunshine has made think before I post. Am I reflecting the real me?

Sunshine’s life when she returns to Montauk and works for a high-end restaurant is entertaining. I loved the behind-the-scenes look at the back house of a fine dining restaurant. Chef Z is a fabulous crank!

DISLIKE–  There was a lot of plot crammed into the story making it feel rushed. For example, the start of the novel was a flurry of characters, the employees in Sunshine’s world, and it was on onslaught that was a struggle to track. I wish there had been more development between Sunshine and her niece, Sammy. I loved their growing relationship.

RECOMMEND- Yes. Hello, Sunshine is the epitome of a chick-lit/beach read. I’m not sure that I ever understood the concept of this until having my step-kids visit for the summer. The distraction of reading with kids around, makes me gravitate to novels like Hello, Sunshine. I’m not saying that Dave’s novel is lacking depth, only that it is written in a style that is easy to digest in small chunks and doesn’t require a quiet reading space. I’d definitely recommend Hello, Sunshine as a vacation read and I look forward to reading more of Dave’s novels.

Scrappy Little Nobody

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PLOT– In her memoir, Scrappy Little Nobody, actress Anna Kendrick follows her career from a child star on Broadway to breaking into Hollywood with hit movies, like Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods.

LIKE– Memoirs, especially light memoirs, are my go-to plane travel reading. I’m a fan of Anna Kendrick’s films and she’s a low-key celebrity, not one that is making tabloid headlines, so even though she’s only in her early thirties, I was curious to read about her career and personal life.

I had no idea that Kendrick was a former Broadway actress or that she had been nominated for both a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for her role in High Society. I love musicals and the crazy thing is, if this had occurred in the mid 90’s, as opposed to the late 90’s, I would have known Kendrick from her theatre roles, rather than film. In high school, I was absolutely obsessed with all things theatre and I knew all about everything that was happening on Broadway. I still love theatre, but the obsession waned as other things, like college, got pushed to the forefront. Although, I do remember the production of High Society, the specifics like cast and awards, were not on my radar. I loved reading about her experience on Broadway. especially how her family supported her dreams, even though it meant a lot of sacrifice and wasn’t even financially rewarding. Also, that Kendrick had to sacrifice a normal childhood to chase her dreams and that hanging out with other Broadway kids, is a bizarre experience.

Her Broadway success didn’t automatically translate to film offers. She went the indy route, making a musical film called Camp, I’ve never heard of Camp, but apparently, it has a cult following and Kendrick is often approached by fans of the film. It went to Sundance: Kendrick recounts a crazy trip, where the kids of the film, mostly unknown talent, descended on the Utah ski town and went wild. A repeating theme of Scrappy Little Nobody, is the years of work ( or lean times of no work), that Kendrick had to put in, before she became well-known. Every time she seemed on the verge of having a breakthrough, it wouldn’t happen.

Twilight, where she had a small part as a non-vampire friend of Bella (Kristen Stewart) was a big budget film that gave her enough money to last through the lean times. Even Up in the Air, a critically acclaimed film in which she received an Oscar nomination, didn’t provide enough income or job offers to sustain her. Kendrick recalls her rather unglamorous trip to the Oscars and feeling pressured into buying expensive shoes just to give the appearance of living a rich and glamorous life-style. Until recently, Kendrick shared a small, no-frills apartment with roommates, even during her trip to the Academy Awards.

In Scrappy Little Nobody, Kendrick comes across as a very down-to-earth, funny, and slightly-awkward thirty-something. She shares advice from George Clooney, who cautioned her not to count on fame or fortune in the film industry. Although Clooney is arguably a mega-star, it’s easy to remember that so many actors do have fleeting careers, or they may luck out with steady work, but not obtain the level of fame or money, that the public imagines.

DISLIKE– Nothing. Scrappy Little Nobody is entertaining and inspirational.

RECOMMEND– Yes, if you’re a fan of Broadway or Kendrick. Scrappy Little Nobody is a good pick for people needing inspiration or for a young person looking to break into show business. Kendrick may still be young, but she has had some incredible opportunities and she gives common sense advice based on her rather normal life.

All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers

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Thank You to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of Alana Massey’s,  All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In her essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, Alana Massey explores female icons, and their role in popular culture. She looks at how these celebrities influence us, and how society molds them, making the idea of celebrity a process of compartmentalizing and dehumanizing. She also explores how celebrities have impacted her own life.

LIKE– I like Massey’s concept for All The Lives I Want, how she doesn’t simply explore the idea of celebrity, but chooses celebrities that have made a direct impact on her. It’s often seen as bad taste to admit that you’ve been influenced, or even take an interest in celebrities, but whether people admit it or not, I find it to be a rare thing that a person is not at least a little affected or interested in celebrity culture. I find Massey’s willingness to admit this about herself and explore it, to be refreshing.

The last essay in the book, On Joan Didion and Personal Mythology as Survival, had my full attention. This essay is by far Massey’s most personal, as she recalls her love of Didion ( who doesn’t love Didion?), to a time in her life where she was in a toxic relationship with a drug addict. Massey also eloquently writes about Los Angeles and New York. Sure, some of the things she says about my beloved Los Angeles are not the most flattering, and I don’t agree with her assessment of it being a fake city. When I hear someone refer to Los Angeles as a false place, I know in my heart that they don’t understand my hometown. This aside, Massey writes poetically about the desert landscape of Southern California and juxtaposes it with the pulsing city of Manhattan. It’s beautifully written and made me slow down to fully absorb the impact of her rich descriptions.

When writing about female celebrity bodies, Massey does not hold back from sharing her own anorexia. Her descriptions of her obsession with thinness are grotesque, yet she does not make apologies for feeling this way. She owns her obsession. I was repulsed and saddened by her confession, yet at the same time, I admire the brazen quality of her writing. For better or worse, this is how pop culture has made an impact on her, and there is no need to apologize or feel shame.

DISLIKE– When I requested All The Lives I Want, on Netgalley, I requested it for the premise alone. I was completely unfamiliar with Massey and to be honest, even after reading her book and doing a Google search, I’m not sure that I know a lot about her. To this end, her collection read as if I should have prior knowledge of her, as if she is a well-know celebrity. She drops bits of information about herself, such as being a former stripper, her battle with anorexia, or that she went to seminary school; but none of this adds up for me to really understand who she is or why I should care about her essays. Either this collection needs context or perhaps I’m just out of the loop. The essays are uneven in regard to those that have a personal vibe, and those that are more academic in tone. All The Lives I Want would have been much stronger, if the essays had all been more personal.

All of the celebrities that Massey profiles are ones that will be well known to most readers, which works as it makes All The Lives I Want, accessible, however, it’s also material that has been done to death. Do we need another essay about Scarlett Johansson’s sex-symbol status, or another one explaining the mistake in vilifying Courtney Love? Massey adds little to the conversation. Again, if she had gone a more personal route, I think I would have found relevance, but her often academic approach was dull and off-putting.

RECOMMEND– No. I loved the concept of, All The Lives I Want, but I found it to be a tedious read. Massey didn’t leave me with a different perspective, and there isn’t enough personal content to make me interested in her as a narrator. All The Lives I Want, could have been a much more engaging read, if she had placed herself at the center of exploring her interest in celebrities.