Reading Roundup: March 2017

I know we're already in June, which means I'm three months behind on book reviews. I did start reviewing some of these books a while ago and then life got busy. I don't want to abandon this so I'm just going to finish it quickly and post it. Hopefully as I get caught up I'll get back to more substantive reviews. 

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

I felt like I liked this book even more than the first two, and I'm not sure if it was the fact that it covers a time period most similar to my own current situation or because I had taken a break from reading the books and it was nice to come back. Either way, this is a solid series of books and I enjoyed the third even more than the first two.

Love at First Note by Jenny Proctor

This ended up being one of my favorites out of all the Whitney finalists that I read. I liked that the protagonists were both musicians, which provided a shared connection and realistic setting in which a romance can develop. I also liked that they both had ways in which they had to grow and change for their relationship to work. Another strength of this book came from the supporting characters—it felt realistic that as Mormons living in a non-traditionally Mormon area of the country the protagonists had many good friends that were non-LDS. And it felt even more realistic that those friends and neighbors were good people with their own strengths, and not just there to serve as foils for the LDS characters. This is romance was both fun and sweet, and the quality of the writing made it a joy to read.

Southern Charmed by Melanie Jacobson

I’ve always liked Melanie Jacobson’s books and this is another great example of her skill in examining the complexity of life for LDS young single adults. Lila’s life is centered on her job as a high school teacher, her calling as Relief Society President in her singles ward, and taking care of her mother. Her new romance with Max disrupts everything and leaves her torn between different good choices. I thought this aspect of the book was well-done, but felt sometimes like the relationship between Lila and Max was a bit uneven, especially in terms of how much each person was expected to sacrifice and change. I mostly enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t my favorite of Jacobson’s.
My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen

This book seemed to be a favorite of many people, but a few months after reading it I have trouble recalling details. I felt like the historical romance category this year for the Whitneys was a little lackluster and none of the books particularly stood out to me. 

The Fall of Lord Drayson by Rachael Anderson

I could probably write the same comment (see above) for this book. It was cute and fun, and not very memorable. 

A Date with Danger by Kari Iroz

Unlike some LDS authors who write about non-Mormon protagonists or who downplay the religion of their characters, Iroz makes Mormonism a central element in her story. Not just Mormonism, but the particularities of Mormon-majority Utah county. Introducing an outsider like Damon Wade makes it more natural for the protagonist, Jack, to explain certain things to him, as well as to see her life in a different light when compared to someone’s from a different part of the country. I liked the romance between her and Damon—his calm maturity worked well to balance her flightiness and goofy humor. The biggest problems I had with reading the book came from confusion of some of the details of the plot and the compressed timeline for the romance. This book could be a lot better after another pass or two from a good editor. I also found Jack's immaturity to be annoying after a while; she's supposed to be 25, but acts more like an 18 or 19-year-old.
When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker

I guessed a few of the plot twists early in the book, but I didn't see others coming. It was a good book and the pacing kept me reading through to the end. I might go find and read some of Bleeker's books now.

Willowkeep by Julie Daines

This novel was a little more memorable than some of the others that I read--I liked that the protagonist had a lot of other issues to deal with besides finding love, and that one of the ways she and her love interest came together was his helping her to take care of her family. 

Lady Helen Finds her Song by Jennifer Moore

I liked the setting for this book, since India is a Regency location I had not encountered before. I also liked Helen and loved how open she was to learning about new cultures. However, the novel lacked suspense because the characters were too stereotypical and the only conflict in the book was a love triangle. But a love triangle doesn't really work unless both choices are equally interesting, and it was obvious from the beginning who she was going to choose. This was a novel with a lot of potential, but it lacked depth and nuance.

The Sheriffs of Savage Wells by Sarah Eden

I like that Sarah Eden's books always have a complex set of characters and a lot of different twists and turns to the plot--that makes them a lot of fun to read. The setting and conflicts in this book were both different from the others in the category, which was a nice break too.

How I Met Your Brother by Janette Rallison

This book was a lot of fun to read, and Rallison is great at writing dialogue. The connection between Belle and Flynn feels real, even before the characters themselves realize it. I did have a hard time warming up to Belle in the beginning and rooting for her. She’s prickly and a bit childish at times, and since the action of the book took place over just one week, she doesn’t get a chance to mature very much.

A Place for Miss Snow by Jennifer Moore

This book sent me to Wikipedia several times to learn more about the history of Greece, and I learned quite a bit about the Greek fight for independence from Turkey. The romance part of the book was well-paced and I enjoyed it.

Love's Shadow by Nichole Van

This book was the one that surprised me the most—I really did not think I’d like a book about a rich Italian with supernatural second sight. Van is an excellent writer and manages to bring all the threads of the story—a love triangle, Etruscan art history, an ancient curse, and a mystery from two centuries past—together in a book that is impossible to put down. Her depiction of the entire D’Angelo family made me want to move to Italy to live with them (too bad they aren’t real), and the worldbuilding around their supernatural gifts was solid. This book is one of a series about the family, and I think I’m going to have to go read the rest of them.
From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

I wrote up a longer review for this for Segullah that never got used, but I will summarize it by saying that I loved this book. I've read a lot of novels about the Second World War, but few were set in Italy, so having a novel setting helped. The characters, pacing, and writing were all really well-done too. I was happy that this ended up winning both best Historical and Novel of the Year for the Whitneys, because it definitely deserved both awards. 

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

If I want something suspenseful with a crazy twist at the end, I know I can count on Bohjalian to deliver. This book is the perfect escape for a few hours on a blustery afternoon.

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

We read this for my book club this month, and it was both interesting and funny. I'd really like to find an annotated edition that could explain everything in terms of Australian culture and history because I think that would help me appreciate it more. 


Finding Dory

One of my pet peeves about movies lately is that everything seems to be dominated by franchises, sequels, and remakes. It took me a while to warm up to Finding Nemo, but I really do like it and think it's a fun movie. That doesn't mean, however, that I really want to see a sequel, especially since this one has a flimsy plot and was just completely unmemorable. It was not the worst kids' movie I've ever watched, but I don't think I'll watch it again.

The Imitation Game

This movie was quite good, although my enthusiasm was dimmed a little after reading more about the history involved and what was changed on screen. That happens all the time, so I'm not particularly surprised, but if you're interested in learning more about Bletchley Park it would be good to read a few books. Nevertheless, this was an entertaining movie and I thought the acting was a particular highlight.

Manchester by the Sea

I had the misfortune of sitting in front of two people who apparently didn't know anything about this movie and wasn't happy to be there. How they ended up in the only showing in Utah County on that day and why they didn't leave, I don't know. Nevertheless, I did enjoy this movie for many reasons, although your mileage may vary. If you like deep, human stories and great acting, and don't mind swearing or the fact that some really depressing things happen in life, you might like it. 

Beauty and the Beast

I didn't bother listing it because I've seen it dozens of times, but we watched the animated version the night before going to see this one in the theater. It's one of my favorite movies, animated or not, and I was looking forward to this new live-action film quite a bit. There were a lot of things I loved about it--the costumes, the characters, the new songs, and the visual effects--but I'm not a super fan and got annoyed about the constant, obvious references to things that have apparently been bothering people for years. I love the old movie and don't mind if not all questions were answered and not everything was answered, so that aspect of the remake annoyed me.


The kids saw this movie in the theater, but I never did and was grateful they were happy to re-watch it with me. I loved everything about it--the music, the animation, the characters, and the story. I keep thinking I need to watch it a few more times, especially since we keep listening to the soundtrack on repeat. Also, for the record, I think it deserved the Oscar more than Zootopia.


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