Reading Roundup: January 2012

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

This is one of my new favorite books to recommend to people. It's translated from Korean and a little hard to describe, partly because the bare bones of the plot make it sound uninteresting and partly because the narration has an impossible-to-describe poignancy that is hard to convey in a simple review. Read it--you won't regret it.

The Beginning of After
by Jennifer Castle

This was a fairly standard YA book about a girl learning to cope with life after her family was killed in a car accident (haven't I read something like this before?). It wasn't that bad, but it wasn't that memorable either.

Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears

This was a book that I really wanted to like more than I did. I think the main problem is that it is marketed as adult fiction, but the level of the writing and the age of the protagonist (and the plot) make it feel very YA. In fact, a somewhat younger YA. It's a good book, but I think I was expecting something a little more meaty than what I got.

The Influencing Machine
by Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld

This is a book that was more meaty than I expected. It was a thought-provoking exploration of the media throughout history. I thought it worked well and I really liked the way the artwork interacted with the text.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

This book was fun simply because I was also a high-school student in 1996 and am now a social-media user. Some aspects of the plot didn't do much for me, but I did like some of the subtle messages about choices and consequences. I'm not sure how much those messages would get through to teens reading the book, though; this felt more like a YA novel aimed at the 30-somethings who would remember the good old days of dial-up and AOL.

Fires of Jerusalem
by Marilyn Brown

I think this book had potential, but I just couldn't get into it. I felt like none of the characters were developed well, especially the main character. I also felt like the author was trying too hard to describe the entirety of Jeremiah's life and I found myself wishing we could spend more time thoughtfully examining particular episodes instead of trying to get through 70 years in one book.

Home from the Meadows by Gerald Names

The only thing I can say about this book is that it is an excellent example of why having a good editor is key in creating a good book. If you want to know what's wrong with self-publishing, try reading this (the key word there is "try").

The Wise Man Returns
by Kenny Kemp

This book was a surprise to me; the main character and the setting were so vividly rendered that I still find myself thinking about them several weeks after finishing the book. I didn't like the ending very much but the first two-thirds of the book were just wonderful.

LIE by Caroline Bock

Another book with potential that just didn't quite make it for me. The author chose a hot-button issue and write compassionately about it, but moving the narration around between so many characters left me feeling even more confused about people's motivations.


In a Better World

This movie was quite good, but a bit heavy-handed in spots. I listened to an interview with the director and she talked about the idea of wanting to challenge the notion (both inside and outside Denmark) that Danes are all the same and that "all is well in Denmark". I think she did a good job exploring this idea and has made a fine film.

The Tree of Life

What can I say about this movie? I need to think about it more and probably watch it again. It's one of the few films I've ever seen that seems to speak purely to emotion. I usually pay attention to technical details, and form, and plot, but this movie was almost purely a sensory/emotional experience. I don't know if that makes it a 'good' or 'bad' movie--I haven't decided yet.


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