Reading Roundup: August 2020

It's a little weird to read a book about a time of national crisis in which the outcome was very uncertain during another time in which the future is still quite murky. Although I've read a lot about World War II, I haven't read much about Churchill and didn't know a lot about him. I also didn't know a lot about the political intrigues and complicated maneuverings that took place during the early part of the war in Britain. Larson's writing is easy to read and this book ended up being much harder to put down than I had anticipated.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Although I've heard praise for her writing for years, I'd never gotten around to reading anything by Woodson. This book is fairly short and the writing is spare, but she packs in a lot of meaty content to each chapter and somehow creates a compelling multi-generational saga in only two-hundred pages. I think I need to read more of her books.

An Imperfect Roundness by Melody Newey Johnson

I became friends with Melody a few years ago, and I was so excited to read her first published collection of poems. This is a wonderful collection of poems about concrete, seemingly ordinary things that become significant through Melody's luminous poetry. I love accessible poetry like this that captures the wonder that can be found in the world.
 
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane 

Some reviewers of this book described feeling disappointed in the fact that this book was less of a straightforward romance than they expected. The first half of the book does spend quite a bit of time on Laurie's recovery from her breakup, but I thought that gave the book more depth and helped contextualize her actions. I enjoyed reading a book about a relationship that included all the reasons why things can be difficult (workplace politics, cultural issues, family history) and how two people in love work through them.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell 

This book's strength is O'Farrell's detailed descriptions of life in the English countryside and the relationships between Anne and her husband's family and her children. After their initial courtship, he is often absent from the book. The first part of the book is a little slow, especially as it moves back and forth in time, but the threads all come together in the end.
 
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

I struggled with this book because the writing style is weirdly stilted and self-conscious. The author also avoids using any proper nouns, which adds to the unreal quality of the book and keeps the reader at a remove from what is happening. Reviews had lead me to believe that this was going to offer insight into the culture of the tech industry, but instead the author seemed to shy away every time she got close to anything specific or difficult to deal with.
 
Los ritos del agua by Eva Garcia Saenz

The second book in the White City trilogy did not disappoint. More descriptions of Spanish history and mythology, more outrageous scenarios dreamed up by truly evil people, and more clever interventions by an intrepid squad of detectives. I enjoyed this book just as much as the last one, and look forward to reading the last in the series.
 
A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This book combines high-quality writing with a rather depressing story. I kept hoping things would get better for some of the characters, and they didn't. However, based on what little I know about political and social issues in modern India, this book is a sadly accurate commentary on current events.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

It's just coincidence that this book about the Spanish Flu ended up getting published during a major global pandemic. The fact that it's set during that time period is actually not that important other than creating the impetus for the plot. Although it focuses on a few people in one small room over the course of just a few days, it still has a lot to say about humanity, love, and resilience (and also about the crushingly random violence and sadness of the world we live in). Donoghue's strengths are characterization and vivid descriptions, and this is a book I can't stop thinking about even though I finished reading it two months ago.


There is a lot I could say about this book and I'm not really sure where to start. This is an important book for so many reasons. It focuses on analysis of official language and behavior, not advocating for a particular stance. Books that advocate for change are important, but it is equally important to understand a situation you would like change. Petrey brings things together and analyzes them in a way that greatly increased my understanding of the treatment of gender during the last few decades in the Church. As an aside, it's a little weird to read a scholarly book describing events that I was present for (and I did find one small error in describing the timing of something). That, however, was just one chapter--and I still learned a lot from seeing things through an outside perspective. If you are interested in recent Church history and issues of gender and sexuality, I highly recommend that you read this.


I really wanted to like this book, but it mostly left me feeling exhausted. Both the main characters were difficult to like, and although some explanation of their personalities was eventually supplied, neither changed enough to make their romance believable. There was also a lot crammed into one book, including a number of related characters and side stories, and it was just hard to keep track of everything and everyone (and to care about them all).

Movies

 
This movie was much better than I thought it was going to be. Somehow I had gotten the impression that it was mostly going to be two people talking, but it was more dynamic and more focused on Pope Francis than the poster makes it seem to be. (I also didn't realize that the director was Fernando Meirelles, which would have made me more excited about it if I had known). The leading actors are, of course, excellent as well.  

 
I haven't seen this movie in a long time because I remember strongly disliking it. I only re-watched it to see if I still dislike it, and I do. Normally I like Tom Hanks, but he really grates in this movie; Meg Ryan is not one of my favorites, and she's particularly annoying as well. It also seems unfair to hate her boyfriend so much just because he's a little boring and he has allergies. Next time I'm tempted to try this movie, I'm just going to read this review so I don't make that mistake again.

 
After (re)watching the first movie last month we decided to watch both the sequels in one weekend. I liked that this felt like an actual follow-up to the first movie, and not just a retread. The characters and their world had changed and they had to keep growing to deal with the changes. The ending got a little predictable and some of the ending fight scenes dragged a bit, but otherwise we all enjoyed this.

 
This was another good addition to the continuing story, and got into some of the same questions about good governance, colonialism, and the environment that Frozen 2 addressed. I should have seen the ending coming, but surprisingly I didn't until shortly before it happened. This entire franchise is quite good, and if the kids want to watch them all again I would be happy to do it. 

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