Reading Roundup: April 2016

Eleanor and the Iron King by Julie Daines

This book surprised me because I expected it to be more cheesy than it was. It's a bit of a mishmash of a romance and supernatural thriller, but the medieval setting makes that work somehow. The main character got on my nerves sometimes because she really took a long time to stop being dumb and start trusting the right people, but the supporting characters were all great and I also loved the setting.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia by David Stuart MacLean

This was our book club choice for this month and I think that most of us would give it about three stars out of five. Some parts of it were very interesting and engaging, especially the first half of the book and the interludes about the science of malaria and anti-malarial medication. The second half of the book began to feel repetitive and loses momentum--in a memoir it can be hard to fully shape the story and give it the right amount of tension, and this book fell a little flat in the end.

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

This book has a lot of different threads, and some come together in the end and some don't. I liked it more than some of the reviews of it that I've read on Amazon--I think some of those who were disappointed expected a more straightforward mystery story, and this is not it. It's a little more literary and not everything is wrapped up or explained. I enjoyed that aspect of it as well as the interesting choice to have some sections of the book narrated by a collective group of people. 

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

There are so many things I loved about this book, I'm not even sure where to start. The three main characters had the potential to just be stereotypes, but they were all well-developed and sympathetic. The book tackles a number of heavy themes in an even-handed way, and the presence of religion was particularly handled well. I also really liked the relationships between the characters and their parents because they were complicated and nuanced, just like most parent-teen relationships. Too many teen books I've read either have the parents completely clueless in the background, or the source of all problems. This book has a little of both, and one character has some major epiphanies through conversations with their parents. This was one of the better YA books I've read in a while and I would definitely recommend it (probably best for older teens based on the subject matter--the content is fairly free from swear words and sex).
 
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Picoult is really good at writing compelling plots with lots of crazy twists, and not so good at developing realistic characters or dialogue. This book kept me reading and I was surprised by many of the revelations of the plot (especially a big one that I did not see coming); I also like the information about elephants that was interspersed throughout the book. I probably won't remember much of this book in a few months, but it was a fun and quick read.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

As I was reading this book, I kept being reminded of the book Peace Like a River by Leif Enger; they both feature young adult protagonists in the upper Midwest during the 1960s. This is a very different book as far as plot and writing style go, but the mood was similar and so was the focus on the landscape and people. The descriptions of the town of New Berlin and all its different inhabitants were some of my favorite parts of this book, as well as the relationships between Frank and the different members of his family. There was a mystery to be solved at the heart of the book, and although I was happy to have everything figured out, I was also a little sad when things were are all resolved and the book ended because I know I will miss the people and the places described in it.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I wasn't very impressed with the first book I read by Kidd, so I was reluctant to read this book (it's our book club selection for May). This book covers a long time period and the plot feels a bit too drawn out because of that. None of the characters change very much either--the "good" ones are always good and the "bad" ones are always bad--they do a lot of things, but there isn't much change in their feelings or motivations. I didn't dislike the book and enjoyed reading it, but I didn't feel particularly moved by it in any way.

The Dressmaker's War by Mary Chamberlain

It's been a while since I last read a book I hated so much (I probably particularly hated this one because I read it after reading several amazing books in a row, so it was a big let-down). The main character is extremely arrogant and immature, and never changes throughout the entire book. Despite the fact that a number of things happen to her, she remains a self-absorbed victim who can't ever see a bigger picture or understand the motives of other people. The plot went in crazy directions and there were several unbelievable coincidences, and the last third of the book took things in a really unexpected direction that was not foreshadowed at all. I kept reading this book just to see if it would get better, but it never did.

Movies

Brooklyn

Although I'm glad I read the book first, I still totally loved this movie. The book is much richer and the characterization of the protagonist is a little different, but the movie does a beautiful job adapting the story. The main actors were both excellent in their roles and so was the rest of the supporting cast. The only thing that could have made it better would have been including some more of the little details from the book, but there's not always a good way to do that in an adaptation. I know that not everyone would like the book because Toibin's writing style is somewhat unique, but I think most people I know would love this movie.

The Notebook

I've never seen this movie before, but I've seen references to it for years so I decided to watch it. I didn't have high expectations, so thankfully it did not disappoint me. I did not find it as romantic as many people seem to think it was--the female protagonist was a little too shrill for me to root for, and Ryan Gosling's character was surprisingly subdued given the depth of feeling he was supposed to possess. I probably won't watch it again, but at least I didn't hate it and now I know what everyone is talking about. 

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