Reading Roundup: May 2017

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

This was a satisfying ending to the entire series; I think the book I enjoyed the most was the third one, most likely because it is closest to the circumstances of my life right now. It's hard, however, to really choose one book over the others because they tell one continuous story in four parts. Letting go of that story and the characters is hard--I'm still thinking about them over a month later.

Extreme Makeover by Dan Wells

This book was extremely funny and slightly terrifying. Wells did a great job imagining all the possible ramifications of the mishap that starts the book going, and I kept getting surprised by all the twists and turns in the plot. That being said, it did feel a little weak in character development and I wasn't a fan of the ending. It was still a great read, especially if you like dark humor.

The Dressmaker's Dowry by Meredith Jaeger

This books strongest point was its attention to detail--it really conveyed a strong sense of place and time in both the contemporary and historical plot sections. On the other hand, the plot was terribly predictable and the characters were under developed. I enjoyed most of the book, but really didn't like the ending and have a feeling I will forget about it within a few months. 

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

The most interesting thing for me was this book's setting in New York City during the 1950s, since I haven't read much about that time period. However, the book dragged a little and I never felt emotionally invested in any of the characters. There wasn't much that was memorable about it.

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

I realized about halfway through this book that it was the third book in a row that I'd read with a similar plot structure (a person in the present trying to solve a mystery from the past, with the story of each time period told in alternating chapters). I guess I have a particular type of  'fluffy' book I like to read on airplanes, because I enjoyed this one just as much as the other two. Kearsley often includes some slightly supernatural elements in her books and I thought that worked well here. It just added to the romantic atmosphere. 

Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

After our airplane got diverted halfway through the flight, I realized that a book about a doomed group of travelers might not have been the best choice for reading during a trip. I still enjoyed the book and learned a lot more about the First World War. I would have liked to know a little more about the passengers on the ship and the impact of the sinking on the survivors, but other than that, I think this is a fascinating book.

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Zentner's first book (The Serpent King) was one of my favorites from last year, and while I wasn't as impressed with this one, it was still a great read. Zentner is good at depicting the complexity of life without resorting to simple solutions or cliched answers. His characters feel real and the problems they face do too. S-Boogie has started to read more contemporary YA fiction lately (she just finished both 13 Reasons Why and The Fault in Our Stars), and I think she might like this one too.

Movies

The Karate Kid 

Sometimes when I revisit old favorites from childhood with my kids, they don't resonate with them the way they did with me. Also, some movies just don't hold up over the years very well. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kids loved this movie as much as I did at their ages. They were bothered by the violence and cruelty of the bullies, so we talked about that a bit (and reminded them and myself that the movie deals with high school kids who are older than them). Both S-Boogie and Little Dude were also very happy to gain some cultural literacy through finally understanding the meaning of phrases like "wax on, wax off".

Me Before You 

When I'm choosing a movie to watch on an airplane, I generally choose something low stakes and highly entertaining (this was a great choice since I ended up needing a distraction from the poor guy puking who was only two seats away from me). I've read the book two times and already knew all about the controversy with the story and the stickiness of telling stories about disabled people in a way that uses them as a plot device. I can see that objection and get it, but also feel like both the book and the movie get into really interesting questions of male and female agency, compounded by questions of class and privilege (this is a major theme of Moyes' books). A particular strength in the movie was the choice of actors and they all worked really well together. It wasn't the best film I've seen this year, but a pretty decent adaptation of the book and a sweet love story.

Pride and Prejudice

I think I've only ever watched this once before and it was years ago so I barely remember. The Austen adaptation I watched obsessively in the 90s was Sense and Sensibility, so maybe I'm still a little partial to Hugh Grant as romantic lead (and I've always liked Edward Ferrars a bit more than Darcy). However, this miniseries has a lot going for it and absolutely deserves its reputation. I generally like longform adaptations of Austen's novels because they are complex stories and need all the movie parts to be present in order for them to work. Sometimes adaptations of P&P focus too much on the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, but her difficult family is one major complication that they have to deal with. I thought Mrs. Bennett in this version was a little too shrill and hysterical, but everyone else in the family was great--and Lydia was particularly awful.

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