Reading Roundup: November 2019

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

This was my first book by Ware, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite the fact that I started to figure out the big twist before the end, I still didn't guess all the details and couldn't put it down.

Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness by W. Paul Reeve

I'd read a few different pieces from Reeve about his research and wasn't sure whether I wanted to put the time into reading the whole book. I'm glad I did, because even though it's fairly complicated, it was fascinating. This is one of my new favorite books to tell people about because I learned so much from it.

Mercury by Margot Livesey

Even a month after finishing this book, I'm still not sure what to think about it. It's a long, complex book and uneven in the way it's written. The central conflict was muted and it didn't have a strong narrative arc, but the characters were well-realized and it posed a number of interesting questions about relationships, secrets, and aging.

The Nature of Life and Death: Every Body Leaves a Trace by Patricia Wiltshire

This book caught my eye since I've never heard about forensic botany before. The science parts of the book were the most interesting, as well as tidbits from Wiltshire's life that she added in. Some parts of the book were repetitive and could have used a bit more editing, but mostly this was a good read.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

I remembered loving Olive Kitteridge when I read it a number of years ago, but I honestly didn't remember much about it. Although this book includes some of the characters from the earlier one and references some of their stories, it also stands alone and it didn't matter that I couldn't always remember details from the first book. Olive isn't always the easiest character to read about, but Strout is a wonderful writer who makes you care about her anyway.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth War

I liked this book a bit more than the first one by Ware that I read. The setting was particularly creepy and the story took many twists and turns that I was not expecting. 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

I've always liked Patchett's novels and this one is no exception. Despite the title, it's not really about the house as much as it is about the family that lived there. The strength of this book is in the characterization--the evolving relationship between the protagonist and his sister is beautifully rendered and I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it. 

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

This book showed up on a number of "best of the decade" lists so I decided that I'd better give it a chance. I kept trying to decide if I should just give up because I wasn't enjoying it, but I finished. It never got better--it's an unfortunate combination of pretentious writing and unpleasant characters. Mostly it just left me feeling depressed.

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Mitchell Zuckoff

I've always felt a little bad that I didn't pay a lot of attention when 9/11 happened. It was a weird point in my life when I didn't have much access to the news (no television, no internet, etc.), and I lived far away from New York and didn't have a personal connection to anyone there.  Zuckoff does a great job balancing an overview of the day with the stories of a few particular individuals, which made it simultaneously comprehensive and too short. This book helped me catch up on the events of that day and made me want to know more--there are a lot of other great books out there and I might have to read a few more now.

Movies

Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben)

Movies from Spain always make me feel a bit homesick, and this movie is so gorgeously shot that it made me want to book a vacation immediately. I'd watch it again just for the scenery (and the accents). The plot doesn't quite come together and the pacing is uneven, but the acting is excellent.

Late Night

This movie had the potential to be great and didn't quite make it. Emma Thompson is wonderful (not a surprise) and the movie tackles some complex topics without simplifying them or falling back on tired cliches. There were some really great scenes, but ultimately I felt like it was a bit uneven and in the end was not very memorable.

Boyhood

This movie is really long, and yet when it ended I still wanted more. This is another movie where the actors are one of its strongest aspects, but everything else is excellent as well. It also made me reflect on how I would have felt watching it at different phases in my life, such as when my kids were much younger, or even when I was a teenager.

Home Alone 

It's been years since I've seen this movie so I thought it would be fun to watch instead of some of the other Christmas movies we've seen too many times. I forgot how good it is--the acting, the music, the gags--and the kids felt the same way. I think we may have to watch it again next year. 


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