Reading Roundup: July 2017

The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak

I'm pretty sure I actually read this book in June, but for some reason it didn't make it onto my review post. I'm surprised I didn't write about it, because I can't stop thinking about the novel and its characters. The writing is gorgeous and the setting and characters are so vividly described that I can't quite let them go. It's a thoughtful, quiet novel that will stick with you for a long time after you read it.

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

I grabbed this off the new book display at the library when I was in the mood for a good mystery. I thought the setting was the strongest aspect of the book; although the plot was not too predictable, some of the revelations in the end were things I had suspected from the beginning. 

I Wasn't Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse edited by Lee Gutkind

I've never had any desire to actually be a doctor or nurse, but I've always loved reading about medical things. The quality of the essays in this book varied and some were more interesting than others. In general, however, it was an interesting look at many different aspects of nursing.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey

This book, as well as the next three, were all library books I downloaded to my kindle for my vacation. Sometimes I have a hard time with timing e-books and end up with some not-so-great ones simply because they were available when I needed them. I was intrigued by the description of this book's plot, but found that it was much more complex than the summary had initially indicated. I loved the setting of the book, but had a hard time with the pacing of the plot and didn't ever connect with the characters. 

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer Armentrout

I think I thought this book was something else, and didn't realize until I was halfway through it that I had been mistaken. For a YA book, it really wasn't too bad. I kept getting frustrated with the main character, but she behaved like a completely normal teenage girl learning to grow up and make her own way. This would be a good book to read and discuss with teens, but I think I'm a bit too old to fully appreciate it.

The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung

It can be difficult to write a book like this that covers a wide span of time and a number of different characters, but for the most part Chung pulls it off. I was left feeling a bit bewildered by some of the things that happened in Korea because I am not familiar with the culture or history of that country, and I don't think Chung effectively portrayed the backstory in a way that was comprehensible. I also had a little trouble connecting with most of the characters, but in general I liked this book.

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I wanted to like this book more than I did--I loved the movie, and I was even reading the book in Hawaii. However, I had a hard time with the tone and I really had a hard time relating to any of the characters and their choices. I'm not sure if I was supposed to feel empathy or contempt for them, and I'm not sure what the author was going for either (maybe it's a little of both, in which case the book was successful after all).

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

This was our book club pick for the month, and otherwise I might not have read it since I wasn't particularly interested in the topic. I thought the plot was good, but the pacing frustrated me and I felt like the author had a tendency to get too bogged down in technical details and historical tidbits. It wasn't a terrible book, but definitely not as exciting as promised in the blurbs on the cover.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

This book actually took me nearly six weeks to read, mostly in small chunks during my lunch break at work or in other bits and pieces. For a book of this size and complexity, this turned out to be a good strategy. It's not that the book isn't well-written or that the story is not compelling--Brittain is an excellent writer and I felt completely immersed in the world of Great Britain during and after World War I. There were some aspects of her story that I really couldn't fully appreciate as a twenty-first century American, but most of this book is still a remarkably relevant reflection on the damaging effects of total war on a generation.


Movies


Dolphin Tale 

We're (slowly) doing a project to learn about the fifty states and needed a movie set in Florida. This movie is probably the most stereotypical "kid" movie ever made (it even has Morgan Freeman playing a wise and curmudgeonly doctor), but it was still charming and fun and the kids liked it.  

Despicable Me 3

We mostly went to see this movie because it was really hot, I had the day off work for a holiday, and the kids wanted something to do. Plus it was playing at the theater we can walk to (and that also offers cheap matinee pricing). I actually found the first movie in the franchise to be fairly funny, but by this point there really isn't much humor left since you've seen all the jokes before. Thankfully the movie really wasn't offensive, but it mostly reminded me that I'm tired of the latest trend of remakes and sequels and series in movies. 

Big Little Lies

The kids were gone for a week, so I signed up for a free preview of HBO and indulged myself in this miniseries. I love the book (and all of Liane Moriarty's work), and generally thought the adaptation was excellent. It lacks some of the quirky tone and dark humor of the book, but the acting was phenomenal. Adapting it as a seven episode series worked well for getting into all the intricate details of each character's life, and how they connected together. It does, however, have more swear words and more graphic sex than the book does (just a warning, since that surprised me).

The Big Sick

A friend urged me to see this movie in the theater before it left, and I'm really glad I did. It's funny and heartfelt, and all the actors in it do a great job. The comedy in it feels very natural instead of being forced or over-the-top; it's the kind of humor you find in a family or a long-term relationship where you have inside jokes and things that are funny because you know the backstory already. It's also refreshing to have a story about romance that also includes family and other complications in life, since that feels more real than most romances that seem to imagine too people with infinite amounts of good looks, money, and non-dysfunctional lives.

Dunkirk

Of course I went and saw this in Imax on the day after it came out, since I love anything about British history and World War 2--and Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors. The movie is both highly artistic and self-conscious about being a film, and somehow at the same time a highly immersive experience. I don't often re-watch movies, but I definitely need to see this again.

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