Reading Roundup: October 2017

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

How many contemporary mysteries are there that involve an unreliable narrator who can't trust anyone and who is personally damaged? And why do I keep reading them? I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, but I love mystery/suspense, and despite the flaws in this book, I mostly liked it. The main thing that annoyed me was the fact that the ending did the thing where it created a solution out of small detail that had not really been mentioned at all during the first three-quarters of the book, and once it was brought up, it made everything really obvious.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

I've seen this book on several "best of 2017" lists, and it definitely deserves a place there. I'm not very familiar with Antigone, which this book apparently retells, but it doesn't really matter because the book treats that connection fairly lightly. It tackles hard issues and difficult questions, and none of the characters get cut any slack. Not an easy or light read, but one I would highly recommend for the quality of the writing and the way it describes a culture that I know very little about. 

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

I checked out this e-book one Saturday when I wanted a quick, cozy romantic book to curl up with for a few hours. Kearsley is always good for a few hours of British escapism and I mostly loved this. Maybe some day I will meet a hot, Scottish archaeologist who also happens to have paranormal abilities. 

The Dry by Jane Harper

This book was a well-written mystery that kept me guessing to the end--the setting was new to me and played a big part in the book. The mystery was well-laid out and the ending made sense and did not seem to come out of nowhere, and the main character was somewhat flawed, but still sympathetic enough to make me want to read another book about him. 

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would; although Sandberg acknowledges her unique life and some of the privileges her level of income and family support give her, she never quite sees how they made recovery easy in some ways that other people will never have access to. Also, I wish she had gone a little more in depth about how awful her level of grief was--the book sometimes felt like it focused too much on the recovery process, making it feel like it should be easier or simpler than it really is. I think this could be a useful book for some people, but I would be cautious about giving it to anyone freshly confronting a major loss.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

This book involves several different interrelated characters and the storyline gets a bit convoluted, so some parts worked better than others. I've never been much into video games, but weirdly the strongest parts of the book were those that described an immersive, multi-player game that sounded quite incredible. There were several different themes being explored throughout the novel, but it never quite came together for me.

While the City Slept by Eli Sanders

Is this book true crime or social commentary? Both? It works really well as both and I recently recommended it to someone who was looking for books about current problems with the mental health care system in the US. You can read Sanders' original (prize-winning) article here, but I also highly recommend reading the book. 

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

 I've read a lot of similar books that move back and forth between past and present to uncover some sort of family secret, and sometimes I wonder why the author hasn't just chosen to tell the story completely in the past. Of course, learning about the past helps our contemporary narrator move forward in some way, but I often find that this part of the story is never as compelling as the historical section. This was a nice read, but I doubt I'll remember much about in a few months.

The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes

I think I've mentioned this before, but one thing Moyes does well is to really look at class differences and how they affect the agency of women. She's not afraid to write about people who are out of options and how they confront that fact--and then she gives them happy endings.  There's a lot going on in this book, but I most enjoyed the teenage character (even though she drove me nuts with her inability to ask for help, as realistic as that was).

Movies

The Princess and the Frog

Although we saw this quite a few years ago, the kids didn't really remember it at all. I think it is a delightful movie and one of the better Disney love stories, since both the protagonists have to work together to achieve a goal and change themselves, so their falling in love feels much more natural and equal than in other shows. The music is great too, and the kids had a great time watching it (and eating beignets).

Pocahontas

This is also a re-watch for me, but a first watch for the kids. I've only seen it a few times, but I've still never really liked it. One major weakness is the plot, which feels thin and lacks tension (despite the fact that people trying to kill each other should be tense). I think the lack of tension comes from the fact that Pocahontas is so perfect that she has no need to change, and is therefore completely uninteresting as a main character. In fact, all the characters are too stereotyped to be interesting in any way, and the music isn't very exciting either. I will say, however, that the animation is lovely.

Hocus Pocus

I've never seen this movie and neither have the kids, but we thought we'd try something new for Halloween. It wasn't terrible, but I don't think any of us have a desire to watch it again.

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