Reading Roundup: January 2018

How to Survive a Plague by David France

I didn't enjoy this book as much as some other books I've read about the same time period; some parts seemed to drag and it could be hard to differentiate between all the different people involved. It was still an interesting book and I learned new things about the history of treatment for AIDS, and how complicated and difficult progress can be.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Despite the fact that this book starts with a disappearance, it is not a mystery. In fact, there is not a lot of tension or a strong narrative thread. Instead, it is the story of a place and the people who live there, and how they grow and change over time. During the month since I read it, I've had a hard time mentally letting go of it because reading it was such an immersive experience.

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

I read a review of this book several years ago, but somehow didn't write down the correct title and never found the book. I checked out a book I thought was the title (which I had mis-remembered) and stopped halfway through when I realized it was not the book I was looking for. Then last year I read The Signal Flame, loved it, and realized that Krivak's first book was the one I was trying to find. I also loved this book--it's not an easy read, but the writing is gorgeous and I felt completely immersed in the time and place it describes.

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

Without giving too much away, there are elements of this book that completely took me by surprise.  It tells the story of three women, two in Europe during World War 2 and one in the present-day United States, and how their lives intersect. The pacing was a bit slow and it took a while for things to come together and make sense. I liked the characters, but felt that the way the book was written watered down the conflict too much and made it hard for me to feel invested in the story. It could have been two, separate books that were much more interesting. 

The Burning Point: a Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope by Tracy McKay

I've been reading Tracy's blog for a long time and was already familiar with her story, but reading this memoir was absolutely lovely. I have learned so much about grace and love from her experiences. She is a gorgeous writer, and this is one of my new favorite books to recommend to people. 


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I haven't been reading as many juvenile or young adult books during the last few years, and I need to catch up. I've heard nothing but rave reviews about this book, and they were all correct. It is such a good story, in the characterization, the setting, and how the plot works out. I have the sequel on hold at the library and can't wait to read it. 

Bring Her Home by David Bell

I think one of my goals this year should be to stop reading poorly written mystery novels just because the plot is intriguing. I only finished this book because I wanted to find out if I was right in my guess about the ending (I was). The main character was depicted in a way that was difficult to read; I know he was meant to be angry and grieving, but I still had little sympathy for him and did not want to keep reading about him. 

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

This book was a bit slow to start, and then I couldn't put it down and ending up finishing it in one sitting (staying up way too late!). I liked that the setting was unusual, the characters sympathetic and nuanced, and the way of telling the story kept the action going in a way that felt natural.

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

This book started out strong, but I felt like the characters became much less interesting as the story went on. Also, the pacing was a problem and the ending felt rushed and like it didn't match the rest of the book at all.

Autumn by Ali Smith

This book has been on nearly every single recommendation list I've seen for the best of 2017. I wish I had known a little more about it before I read it--it's a lot more experimental than I had anticipated. I finally started to understand it and like it about halfway through, and by the time I finished reading, I had fallen in love.

Movies

Kiki's Delivery Service

It's been years since we last watched this movie and the kids did not remember it. I liked it just as much the second time, perhaps even more. I love the fact that there isn't an obvious villain or a stereotypical plot--it's just a sweet story about a girl trying to figure out how to grow up. Plus there was a talking cat, so P. Bibby was happy.


Coco

The kids saw this in November, and I finally got a chance to go see it with them. I'm so glad I saw it in the theater, because the animation and music are both stunning. I loved all the little details throughout the movie, and even though I guessed most details of the big twist, the end of the movie still moved me. I definitely want to watch this a few more times!

Enchanted

This is another movie that we haven't watched in years, but the kids loved it even more now that they are old enough to get the jokes. It still has some obnoxious tropes that I didn't like (precocious child desperately needing a mom, grumpy rich dad/lawyer who needs to be loosened up), but in general this movie is a lot of fun.  

The Post

The acting and directing were the highlights of the movie for me; I felt like the script couldn't decide what the main point of tension was going to be, and the plot lacked strong momentum. I had read that the scriptwriter was inspired by reading about the life of Kay Graham, and so I expected and wanted a stronger focus on her character development. It was there, but could have been strengthened considerably and would have made the movie better.

Parade's End

You may or may not have noticed, but during the last few years I've become (even more) obsessed with British literature and film, and particularly interested in the years surrounding World War I. I've seen this miniseries promoting as similar to Downton Abbey more than once, but it actually does not share much besides the setting. It's important to remember that it's written by Tom Stoppard, adapting Ford Madox Ford, so there is little sentimentality or romance in any of it. Some of the characters are hard to keep track of, and the plot gets confusing. I spent a good amount of time really hating a few of the characters (different ones at different times), but when things start coming together and themes began to emerge, it suddenly all started to make sense and left me feeling astonished. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast in this film, as are most of the other actors. If you really love British modernism, beautiful cinematography, biting dialogue and social commentary--and are in a masochistic mood--this is the show for you.

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