Reading Roundup: November 2015

The Lake House by Kate Morton

I had been anticipating the new Kate Morton book's publication for several months, and thankfully I was not disappointed by my high expectations. The plot for this book is similar to all of Morton's books--there are family secrets to be uncovered through a narrative that moves back and forth between contemporary characters and those in the past. Although there are a number of twists along the way, eventually everything is figured out in a satisfactory way. Morton has a tendency to sometimes be a little melodramatic and to stretch the suspension of disbelief too much--and some of her books are much better than others--but I thought this was one of her better efforts. The ending requires a particularly large leap of trust, but by the time we got there I had enjoyed the book so much that I was willing to play along and just enjoy it. 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I had mixed feelings about this book, which I'm sure were due in part to my having read a number of reviews that simply raved about it. I enjoyed parts of it, but put it down more than once without a strong desire to come back to it. The worldbuilding was amazing and probably the strongest part of the book; the writing was also beautiful. I struggled, however, with the plot because the pacing felt uneven in parts and because there were some areas where things were under-explained and others where they were over-explained. I never really connected with either of the main characters and particularly found one of them to be rather static. Also, this is billed as YA, but I would only recommend it for older adolescents since it had some graphic sex and a lot of violence.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This is a re-read, although the first time I read it was as a teenager so in some ways it felt like discovering the book for the first time. It also took me an entire month to finish since I kept the book in my purse and read it during lunch breaks at work and a few other times while out and about. I can still remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed this book the first time around; Dickens is not an author I have studied much in school (high school or college) and is not one I reach for very often. Yet every time I read his books I remember why they are 'classics' and why he is so well-loved and respected. This is a book that is full of great characters and interesting commentary on life. My only complaint is that Pip drives me a bit nuts by spending so much time mooning over Estella. 

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Moriarty is another one of my favorite authors and I really like her ability to combine subtle social commentary with fluffy chick-lit books. This is one of her earlier books and it leans heavier on the fluffy side than the serious side, although there is an interesting subplot about depression that's realistic enough to be rather terrifying. There are a few too many characters in this book and it's trying to do too much, but I had fun reading it anyway.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

This was another re-read; I think I've read this book four or five times now and it's one of my touchstones. When I first read it, I had just finished my third year of college as an English major and spent a lot of time doing the kind of literary analysis that this book simultaneously critiques and defends. At the time, I thought the idea of using research to solve mysteries was amazing and it's what I wanted to do when I grew up. Then I did grow up and did more graduate work, and realized that life wasn't actually like that, and now I identify with all the snarky parts of the novel that mock Freudian literary criticism and those who have spent so long speaking its language that they are too self-conscious to actually feel or experience anything. I know some people find the poetry parts of this book tedious, but they are actually one of my favorite aspects of it. Even after reading the book multiple times, I am still amazed that Byatt could create an entire alternate literary universe in such a believable manner. Reading it this time I also realized that the book is also a unique look at a way of doing scholarship that has, thanks to the Internet, become completely obsolete in just 30 years. So much obsession about photocopying and index cards and such--this book would be impossible to write in today's academic world.

Women at Church by Neylan McBaine

Although I had read parts of the book previously, I had not sat and read the entire thing through until we chose it for our book club this month. It was an excellent book to read and discuss as a group, and I would recommend it to anyone. I would particularly recommend it to anyone (especially any man) who is trying to understand why Mormon women may be unhappy at church. Really, anyone in a church leadership position should read this to get a sense of the possibilities of what we can do to make church a better experience for everyone. I like books with practical advice and examples, and this book is full of them. 

Movies

Suffragette

I wanted to like this movie, but I didn't enjoy it very much (and not because it's incredibly grim and depressing). The acting was great and I had no problem with the camera work. However, the plot was a bit of a mess and the pacing was off. The fight for women's suffrage took place over a number of years, so I think it would be a challenge to figure out how to talk about it in a coherent way in one movie. It was a good decision to focus on main character, but there wasn't enough time given for her to really develop and grow, and the larger context of what was happening often wasn't very clearly explained. The climax of the movie was an event that did change things, but it didn't really affect the main character directly and the movie never showed what happened after it took place. This felt like a movie that was based on an idea rather than a story, and that never works very well.  
 
Love Actually

Shortly after watching this, I started writing a blog post comparing it to Lorna Doone shortbread cookies. They're both mass-produced, blatantly commercial products that leave a bad aftertaste upon consumption. They also both have the potential to be high-quality, and do a great job imitating other similar products that taste much better. I know all this, and yet sometimes I get a very specific craving for processed crap. I love shortbread cookies, especially good quality ones produced with real butter by a local bakery. That said, sometimes I just want some Lorna Doones, even though I know I will regret that decision. So, even though I actually hate some parts of this movie, I get a craving to watch it every now and then. At least I know exactly what I'm getting into. Also, if you didn't already think Emma Thompson was a genius, there is a part in this movie that will prove you wrong.

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