Almost Like Being in Love (2004)

The Writer:

Steve Kluger has written novels, plays, and even a musical—most of them concerning baseball. Almost Like Being in Loveis his third novel.

The Story:

Travis is a nerd. Craig is a jock. And, in their senior year of prep school, they fall in love. But their perfect relationship is cut short when they leave for college on opposite ends of the country. 

20 year later, Travis is unlucky in love and feeling aimless. So he decides to hunt down his long lost love. But Craig has a very full life now, filled with its own complications. Although he misses Travis, he is not ready for the inevitable reunion.

The Judgment:

Kluger tells this story in a very unique way through the use of lists, emails, diary entries, post-it notes and other forms of narrative. This highlights the extreme quirkiness of the characters whose love of old musicals and baseball leads to endless references that were mostly lost on me. It makes them much more bearable than they would’ve come across in a more traditional narrative. It also enhances the novel’s charm, which it already oozes aplenty.

This is definitely a fun distraction of a book. But much of the story feels too cookie cutter cutesy. Travis’ adventure really strained my ability to suspend disbelief. While amusing, they become increasingly tiresome. And, by the time the reunion finally happens, there’s so little left of the book that Kluger really stretches the believable to wrap everything up with a tidy bow.

The Hidden Oracle (2016)

The Writer:

Rick Riordan is best known for his YA series about Greek mythology titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2005-09). He’s also done series based on Egyptian mythology [The Kane Chronicles (2010-12)] and Norse mythology [Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (2015-17)]. The Heroes of Olympusseries (2010-14) was a sequel to Percy JacksonThe Hidden Oracleis the first in his current series The Trials of Apollo (2016-20), a continuation of the Percy Jackson universe.

The Story:

Zeus is punishing Apollo (for his involvement in The Heroes of Olympus drama) by making him a mortal teenager. With no beauty, no talents, and no immortality, Apollo is easily attacked by some kid thugs in an NYC alley. He is saved by spunky Meg McCaffrey, whom he realizes is a demigod. He becomes bound to her for the remainder of his trials as he tries to regain his full god status.

They enlist the help of Percy Jackson to get them to Camp Half Blood, where they should have some relative safety. But, as Percy knows, it’s never that easy. Camp Half Blood has been suffering from an inability to communicate amongst demigods, an absentee Oracle of Delphi, and the disappearances of campers. Plus, Apollo is suffering from visions that he can’t interpret. Without an oracle to give prophecies, how can they go on a quest to fix their problems?

The Judgment: 

I had some initial reservations before jumping into another Riordan series. He has a narrative style of storytelling that had grown quite stale by the end of The Heroes of Olympus. But, he’s found a new style for this series. Told only through Apollo’s first-person narration, the story unfolds in a much fresher voice. Apollo has a cheeky humor that’s relatable to a young adult audience without being too juvenile for an older audience as well.

Riordan also fully embraces inclusivity in this novel. Just with Apollo alone we get a protagonist who is comfortably bisexual, and his list of ex-lovers grows humorous (excepting the epicly tragic ones). Once again, the story is infused with both well-known Greek mythologies and plenty of lesser-known ones as well. There’s always something fun to learn with Riordan’s books. And I’m ready to go on another one of his adventures with The Trials of Apollo.

#1: The Hours (2002)

The Players:

  • Stephen Daldry (Director): Esteemed director Daldry’s best-known films include Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours, and The Reader (2008)—all of which earned him Academy Award nominations. He has also directed shows on Broadway [Billy Elliot: The Musical (2008-12), The Audience (2015), The Inheritance (2019-20)] and Netflix’s The Crown (2016-17).
  • David Hare (Writer): The playwright’s best-known screenplays were The Hours and The Reader, which both earned him Academy Award nominations.
  • Nicole Kidman (Virginia Woolf): Academy Award-winner Kidman’s credits around this time include Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Moulin Rouge! (2001), The Others (2001), Birthday Girl (2001), The HoursDogville (2003), The Human Stain (2003), and Cold Mountain (2003). She was nominated for an Academy Award for Moulin Rouge! and won for The Hours.
  • Julianne Moore (Laura Brown): Academy Award-winner Moore’s credits around this time include Magnolia (1999), Hannibal (2001), The Shipping News (2001), Far From Heaven (2002), The HoursLaws of Attraction (2004), and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005). She earned two Academy Award nominations in 2003 for her work in Far From Heaven and The Hours.
  • Meryl Streep (Clarissa Vaughn): Academy Award-winner Streep’s credits around this time include Music of the Heart (1999), Adaptation. (2002), The HoursThe Manchurian Candidate (2004), Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), and Prime (2005).
  • Also Featuring: Stephen Dillane (Leonard Woolf); John C. Reilly (Dan Brown); Ed Harris (Richard); Miranda Richardson (Vanessa Bell); Jeff Daniels (Louis Waters)
  • Shout-outs to: Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale

The Story:

The film begins and ends with Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941. The following events occur within one day in each time period with scenes alternating between all three.

Richmond, 1923: Virginia begins to write her novel Mrs. Dalloway. Her husband, Leonard, and her servants keep a tight watch on her due to the nervous breakdowns she suffered in London. Her sister, Vanessa, visits with her kids. She and little Angelica find a dead bird. Death is something that deeply occupies her mind. Longing to be in London, Virginia runs off to the train station. Leonard goes to her, and they argue about moving back to London and her mental health. 

Los Angeles, 1951: Laura Brown, pregnant with her second child, begins to read the novel Mrs. Dalloway. It’s her husband Dan’s birthday, so she and her son Richie bake a cake. Her neighbor Kitty visits and confesses her fears about going to the doctor that day. Laura drops Richie off with a babysitter, and he cries, fearing she’s leaving him forever. She checks into a hotel where she intends to kill herself. After she dreams of drowning, she awakes having resolved to live. She picks up Richie and goes home to celebrate Dan.

New York City, 2001: Clarissa Vaughn is Mrs. Dalloway. She gets the flowers herself. She visits her friend and ex-lover Richard who is receiving a prestigious poetry award that evening. Richard has been living with AIDS and is now emaciated and mentally unbalanced. Richard’s ex-lover Louis visits Clarissa while she prepares for Richard’s party that night, and they discuss their past affairs with Richard. Clarissa goes to pick up Richard. He tells her that he has been staying alive for her sake, before he kills himself. That night Richard’s mother, Laura Brown, comes to stay at Clarissa’s apartment. She doesn’t apologize for abandoning her family after the birth of her second child. She merely states that she needed to do so to live.

Why I Love It:

The Hours is my all-time favorite movie and it’s based on the Michael Cunningham novel, which is my all-time favorite book. Daldry and Hare do a brilliant job faithfully adapting the novel. Hare’s background as a playwright really shows in how he infuses short scenes with so much meaning, giving cast members who only have one scene plenty to work with.

Daldry has assembled an all-star cast here. Kidman truly embodies Virginia Woolf, and it’s a shame that we don’t have a biopic of her as Woolf. Moore really feels at home as a 50s housewife, suffering from the constraints of her life. Streep does a masterful job as she tries to hold everything together while it all grows more chaotic. Plus we get incredible scenes with Toni Collette, Jeff Daniels, Claire Danes, Stephen Dillane, Miranda Richardson, and Eileen Atkins.

Beyond just the cast, though, is the movie magic that weaves these storylines together. There’s the main opening sequence that shows how these women are connected through Mrs. Dalloway. Its brilliance continues as the film embodies the themes of Mrs. Dalloway. And let’s not forget Philip Glass’ incredibly beautiful score. If there’s such a thing as a perfect film, I think we have it here.

Bonus Content: