Reading Roundup: November 2016

I spent half the month recuperating from surgery, which explains the massive number of books I read. A few of these books were one-day reads. I don't plan to repeat this number in December. 

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

It took me a while to realize that the focus of this book was really the protagonist and not the central mystery. In fact, the mystery itself had a rather anticlimactic resolution that I mostly figured out. The pace of the book was slower than I expected, but in the end I liked it and if the author writes another book about the same characters, I would read it.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

I've never surfed, or had any desire to surf, despite growing up in southern California surrounded by surf culture. However, a number of positive reviews convinced me to give this book a try, and now I think it's one of the best I've read this year. It is a long, dense book, and there were times when I didn't quite understand all the terminology used to describe the waves, but Finnegan is an impressive writer. This book is definitely going on my list of favorite memoirs.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

I've read more than one adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that just didn't work because it was trying too hard to be faithful to the events of the book, particularly the romance. On the other hand, this book does an excellent job of recreating Austen's tone of social critique, and even satire, and I had a lot of fun reading it. Sittenfeld manages to simultaneously mock and adore the Bennett family in the same way that Austen did; as long as you are not too attached to Austen, you probably would adore this book too (just be warned that it is a modern retelling and more explicit in many ways than the original).

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking memoir; Alexander's talent as a poet shows in the language, and her love for her husband comes through in every word. I'll admit that reading a book about a happy and fulfilling marriage is a little hard for me, but this was an excellent read.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

One of the things that bugged me most about this book is that one of the characters has a really strange name, and no one ever comments on it or asks about it. That felt really unrealistic to me, especially since the author must have some reason for choosing the name. This book was fairly predictable and the writing was clunky; I only kept reading to see how it ended, and even then I wasn't particularly surprised by the ending. The author notes that she wrote the book particularly to raise awareness of domestic violence, and it did feel like a book that had been created for an agenda rather than one with an interesting story to tell. 

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies

I liked that this book took place in a historical setting I haven't read much about before, and the descriptions of the setting really made it come alive for me. I also thought the characters were mostly well-written and their behavior seemed to fit the setting well. There was one character whose behavior was difficult and used to advance the plot, but her motivations were never really fleshed out and I found it hard to understand why she did the things that she did. However, in general I enjoyed the book and I'd read another one by the same author.  
The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

This was another book where I felt like the setting was its greatest strength--it really made me want to book a trip to northern Scotland. The main character bugged me because she was irrationally stubborn and didn't provide much introspection into her thoughts and motivations. That moved the plot along for a while, but made for some difficult reading for a while. 

The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine

This was a quick, one-day read that filled my time a few days after surgery, so my memory is a bit fuzzy since I was on painkillers. I was not able to guess the solution to the mystery and the pacing of the plot was good, but the main characters were not well fleshed-out enough for me to really care about any of them. 

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

The premise of this book is a little unrealistic, and it could have been written in a much more farcical or humorous style (I was actually slightly expecting that). However, Forman manages to make it work as a more realistic book, and I enjoyed reading it.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Susan Klebold

I've told a few friends that I would cautiously recommend this book--it's excellent writing and gave me a lot to think about, but it could potentially be traumatizing. If you think you can handle it, I highly recommend it.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

I've read a lot of historical fiction about the Second World War, and I love it when someone comes up with a fresher take on it. Cleave alternates between London under the Blitz and the seige of Malta, both parts of the war I haven't read as much about it, and throws in a few other interesting historical details as well. His writing is also really beautiful, and while I didn't always like the protagonist, she showed real growth. My only problem with this book was that it was really, really sad (no spoilers, but be warned). It's a beautiful book, but definitely not for the faint of heart. 

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafazi and Christina Lamb

This was our book club pick for the month, and I'm glad it was because otherwise I might have never gotten around to reading it. I enjoyed it quite a lot--it was both easy to read much more interesting than I expected it to be. I felt like it did a good job balancing the larger story of the history of northern Pakistan with the more personal story of Malala and her family.

Movies 

The Innocents  

One of my friends has now decided to playfully sum up my taste in movies as "pregnant Polish nuns", but in all seriousness I thought this was a great movie. The acting, cinematography, and pacing of the plot were all well-done, although I feel weird saying I 'enjoyed' it since it's not meant to be particularly 'enjoyable' in that sense. The only thing I felt faltered a bit was the ending, but in some ways it really was the best way to end the story and I began to see it coming halfway through the film.

Philomena

I had thought this movie was a bit more about the politics or history of the exploitation of unmarried mothers in Ireland by the Catholic church (since I've read a fair amount about that in connection with the movie). Instead, it's really more of a buddy movie/road trip movie, but thankfully the two leads can really pull it off and it was quite enjoyable. 

The Crown

This is a TV series and not a movie, but I watched the whole thing in a few days while recovering so I might as well review it. It's a bit slow in spots, and I sometimes had to look people up in Wikipedia to figure out what was going on, but generally I loved it and may actually watch it again since I missed some parts (I should have picked something less cerebral to watch while taking Percocet). 

Broadchurch

Also a TV series, but I watched the entire first season in one day and finished the second rather quickly as well. I love both police procedurals and British TV, so this was a particularly good choice. I wasn't sure about how the second season branched out into new things and new characters, but once the pieces came together in the end, I discovered that it all worked out in satisfying ways. I'm not sure how good another season would be since most of the pieces were wrapped up well.

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