Reading Roundup: November and December 2014

Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante

This was our book club for November, and I thought some parts of it were better than others. I'm not a huge fan of Little Women and I don't know a lot about Louisa May Alcott. I thought the book was most interesting when it discussed Alcott's mother, Abigail, and her life as a woman in early America. The parts about Louisa's life didn't feel as focused to me and if often seemed that the author was making assumptions about what the readers already knew about Alcott. Also, Bronson Alcott mostly seems like a horrible, selfish person in this book, so it might be good to read a biography of him some time to get a little more balance.

Painting Kisses by Melanie Jacobson

I've loved everything I've read so far by Jacobson, but this was not as good as some of her other books. One of the things I like about her writing is that she writes about contemporary LDS single adults in a way that is very insightful and realistic. This book is still a romance, and set in Salt Lake, but the characters are not LDS. The book was a fun, escapist read and perfect for a sick day I spent at home. But in the end I really wanted more from it--I felt like the book could easily had another 50 pages or so that would have added more depth to the story. I loved the characters but felt that the plot was a little thin and rushed.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

After reading a fluffy romance, I decided to spend some time with literary fiction from Ireland. I've heard Toibin's name for a while but never read anything by him. Then I saw this on the new books display at the library and thought I'd give it a try. It's a beautiful novel--a deep, slow character study more than an action-focused book. I don't know much about Ireland in the 1960s and found myself turning to Wikipedia more than once to get a bit of context, but the political and social background really weren't that necessary to enjoying the book. if you are in the mood for a slow, dense novel, this is the book for you.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

There is a lot I could say about this book--easily an entire blog post. At first I didn't want to read it, simply because I have a four-year-old daughter and also because I have a few friends that have lost children. Dead or dying children are not something I like to read about. However, I read enough reviews of the book that I became intrigued by it and decided to check it out after it crossed my desk at work. On the one hand, I was frustrated by the fact that the novelist managed to reduce an entire ward (and stake) to a few of the most ridiculous characters. Yes, there are Mormons that are that weird, but usually there are plenty of others to balance them out. I understand that authors have to limit the number of characters in a book for many reasons but I still didn't like it. It didn't really strike me as deliberately anti-Mormon; instead, I mostly didn't like it because it felt like the worst kind of contemporary fiction where every character in a novel is some kind of freak or oddball (I'm looking at you, Jonathan Safran Foer and Brady Udall). I get tired of books like that. However, despite the many things I found uncomfortable about the book and the characters, I admired the author's skill in constructing the story. The ending was beautiful and I loved the way the many different threads of stories came together; I ended the book on a positive note, but still violently disliked some aspects of it.

Millstone City by S.P. Bailey

I bought this book last year but never got around to reading it. It was a pretty well-written little thriller that read quickly and easily. I think it could have been a bit deeper in terms of characterization, but as an example of the genre it wasn't too bad. I'm still sad about the death of one character that I really liked. 

Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander

This was an ARC I picked up at ALA and decided to read when I ran out of library books. It wasn't too bad--fairly standard teen fiction with a tragic manic-pixie-dream girl as the love interest. I thought some of the tension between math and art felt a little forced, but I thought the protagonist was one of the more realistic teenage boys I've met in fiction.

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Readers of my book reviews will probably have noticed by now that I have a weakness for contemporary 'women's fiction' (such a tricky term), particularly books that involve some kind of mystery about the past, family drama, and possibly some romance. This book fits that description, with a plot that alternates between a teen in the 1990s and a mental hospital in the 1920s. The historical story was pretty melodramatic, completely with fairly one-dimensional villains, but it was still a fun read.

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

This is another book that I could easily write an entire blog post about. It was heavily hyped at ALA this summer and I didn't manage to get an ARC before they ran out. I finally managed to get a copy to read and am afraid that I was a little disappointed. Perhaps I expected something different; I've read quite a bit of Harrison's writing and have particularly liked her non-fiction. This book was promoted as a mystery, and based on the blurbs I expected a faster pace and a bit more excitement. The plot meandered a bit and both of the big mysteries in the book (there are two) seemed to be resolved rather quickly and mostly without much actual help from the protagonist--characters suddenly and conveniently supplied explanations for both of the mysteries. The book is really more of a character study, but the characterization was the part that I struggled with the most. It mostly consisted of a lot of explanation and not a lot of action. I know what Linda thinks about a lot of things (and what she says the Church thinks about a lot of things), but I didn't see her actually doing very much. I felt that the amount of explaining done by her character was annoying and I was still left with a vague feel for who she really was. Despite the fact that I'm also a Mormon women living in Utah, I found this book surprisingly opaque.


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Earlier this year I read Rowell's novel Fangirl and fell in love with it. This book is different from Fangirl in some ways; for one thing, the story is much less dense and is told in a more straightforward manner. It's a fairly simple story of awkward teenagers finding love and acceptance with each other, but Rowell's writing creates characters that are far from stereotypical. This was another book that left me wanting more at the end because the world the author created was so engrossing.

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

It's a good thing I read this memoir while I was on a relaxing vacation because otherwise I don't think I could have handled it very well. Compared to Stossel, my struggles with anxiety have been fairly mild, but I still sometimes had a hard time reading about his life because it made me feel so anxious in sympathy with him. This was a very interesting book--some parts were actually pretty funny (his various attempts at curing his emetophobia for example) and other parts were much more poignant. Reading about the evolution of both Stossel's personal mental health treatment as well as larger societal trends was really interesting and made me reflect on similar experiences I have had.

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus

I ended up reading this book just a few weeks after Millstone City, which I guess was good because it made the inevitable comparison fairly easy to do. Although the books share a similar plot--Mormon missionaries run into trouble with gangsters in Brazil--they are quite different. Wirkus mentions Borges as one of his influences and it really shows; despite the fact that this book is written in English, the style feels like much of the contemporary Spanish literature that I have read. The writing is beautiful, with many little details that I am still ruminating about several weeks after finishing the book.

Movies

Pitch Perfect

I know I'm about two years behind the zeitgeist on this, but at least I finally got around to seeing it. It had its funny moments, I thought the acting was great, and the music was fun. However, the plot wasn't very strong (not surprising) and it couldn't seem to figure out whether it was trying to be a girl-power movie, a romantic comedy, or a gross-out comedy (not my favorite--ew). I don't have a strong desire to watch it again, despite the fact that I really liked Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick.

While You Were Sleeping

It's been a long time since I last saw this movie and I thought it was time to revisit it. Despite the fact that it's nearly twenty years old it has held up pretty well. The plot is kind of thin and I found myself cringing during some parts, but Sandra Bullock is delightful. I think this is one of her best movies.  

Comments

Th. said…
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I appreciate your counterpoints to my thoughts on books I've read recently. Very clarifying.

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