Reading Roundup: December 2018

A Double Life by Flynn Berry

This was a quick read and I enjoyed it more than the last book I read by Berry, since it didn't suffer from the same problem of a last-minute reveal that mostly came from left field. The ending was still surprising to me since I didn't think it would go that far, but it was in keeping with what we knew about the character. While Berry is not my favorite thriller writer, she's better than most. 

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

I do not know a lot about physics and I have not spent a lot of time thinking about things like chaos theory. That made this book a bit hard to read, and it took me about halfway through the book to get a good sense of what was going on. I don't think that's the book's fault; in fact, I think that's a sign of a good translation that retained the foreignness of the setting and language of the original.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

The writing style of this book took some time to get used to--it's written in an almost stream-of-conscious fashion without quotation marks, and the narrator proves to be at least evasive, if not outright unrealiable. Some parts of this book are shockingly violent, but other parts are tender, and overall it is a fascinating look at life on the US frontier.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Numerous friends have recommended this book (and its sequels) to me over the years. I finally decided to read it before watching the movie, and now I can recommend it to. Sure, it's a bit fluffy, but it's also a lot of fun to read, a great window into a part of the world that is completely foreign to me, and a book with a lot of insight about human relationships. Now I'm anxiously awaiting my turn for the sequels from the library. 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Despite watching a number of different adaptations of this over the years, I've never sat down and actually read it for myself. It was a quick little read and a great way to spend an hour on a cold night next to the Christmas tree. Next year I need to make time to read it out loud with the kids because I think they would enjoy it. 

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

Another book read to complete a book challenge (I should start earlier next year) and to fill in some gaps in my cultural literacy. I had to look a few things up in Wikipedia while I was reading, and even then I felt like I missed some things. This book is not fast-paced or a thriller, and it took me some time to realize that since I kept waiting for the action to begin. It also made me feel old because I realized how much the world has changed and how far past the Cold War we really have come.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

I enjoyed this book more than Wolf Hall and found it easier to follow and more quickly paced. I had put off reading it because I felt like its predecessor was a bit of a slog, but maybe I need to go back and try that book again. Mantel's use of language is impressive, as is her ability to create fully-realized characters. If she ever writes a third book in the series, I will definitely read it.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

This is another book I missed out on as a kid, although I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it then either. It took me a while to get into because the writing is so very different from contemporary juvenile literature. It also has a fairly weak narrative arc and I kept wishing for a bit more description or backstory, or something (I'm still not sure what). That being said, the last bit of the book was amazing and I totally loved the ending.
 
Stillwatch by Mary Higgins Clark

I needed to quickly read a bestselling book from the 1980s to finish my book challenge for the year, and it's been about twenty years since I had read anything by Clark. I had never read this one before, but I think it holds up surprisingly well for a book that's thirty years old. Some parts of it feel really dated, and I kept being confused by the fact that a major part of the action is influenced by events during the Kennedy administration (only twenty years before the main plot). However, the political maneuvering and the gender issues in the book are still quite relevant now.

Movies

White Christmas

The kids hadn't seen this movie for a while, and my family tradition as a kid was to always watch this and Holiday Inn. We watched that one last year, and overall I think I like it a little better. The action flows better and feels less strained. There is, however, some pretty amazing acting in this movie by all four of the leads.  

Howard's End

The 1992 adaptation has long been one of my favorite movies, but I was excited to read so many positive reviews of this new version. I ended up binge watching all four parts in one night and mostly enjoyed it. The sets, music, and costumes are excellent, and I think the longer length helps the complexity of the story fully come together in a way that theater-length adaptations can't. 


Roma

I made a special trip to see this movie in a theater and it was totally worth it. I have been wanting to watch it again at home, and I'm sure it still holds up on the small screen. There are many, many things I could say about this movie (including the fact that I didn't realize until halfway through that there is no score). It is one of the best movies I've seen all year and a phenomenal example of film as an art form.

Rogue One 

The kids have now achieved their goal of watching all the Star Wars movies they possibly can (they watched the prequels and Solo with their dad, thankfully), and I'm all caught up too. In thinking about the latest movies, I would place this over The Force Awakens and below The Last Jedi. It had some good parts and some great action sequences, but it wasn't my favorite. Interestingly, watching all this Star Wars makes me want to introduce the kids to some other classic war movies like The Great Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwai

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse

The kids wanted to see this, and I'm really glad I went. I don't watch very many superhero movies anymore and I've never been into Marvel very much, so I'm sure I missed some fun Easter eggs along the way. It doesn't matter--this is still a great movie on both an artistic level and a story level. I will definitely watch it again with my kids.

Leave No Trace

I hadn't heard much about this movie earlier this year, but now it's popping up on all the 'best of' lists that I'm seeing. I completely agree--it's a wonderful movie (and, surprisingly, both very adult and completely PG). The acting is simply amazing, and the story it tells is complex, subtle, and beautiful at the same time. It reminded me a bit of Wind River in the way it faithfully depicts a corner of American society that we don't see very much in popular media (although it's pretty much the opposite of that movie in every other aspect). 

Crazy Rich Asians 

Renting this movie was my New Year's Eve treat, and I was a bit disappointed that my Roku was being glitchy. I might need to watch it again, because I think it could be a good movie if it's not blurry and being interrupted for loading. I also was a bit disappointed because it's just not as complex as the book and they changed some elements I thought worked well. However, I still loved all the actors, the music, and many of the editing and aesthetic choices. 

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