Reading Roundup: October 2020

After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America by Jessica Goudeau

If you are looking for a book that will change your heart and mind, this is a good one to try. The author intersperses a history of refugee policy in the United States with the personal stories of two refugee families. The families came from very different circumstances, and those as well as the timing of their arrival in the US affected how they were received and how they have been able to adjust to life in a new country. I learned so much about the intricacies of refugee assistance, as well as the enormous difficulties faced by refugees around the world.

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

I had high hopes for this book based on the number of positive reviews I had read about it. However, reading it was a bit of a let-down. First of all, I've never really read any fan fiction and don't know much about that world, so I felt like the interspersed fan fiction interludes detracted from my enjoyment of the book. Perhaps they were meant to add to the experience of the book, but without a lot of context they didn't help me understand anything new about the characters or their world. Second of all, the romance between the characters felt rushed and focused too much on physical chemistry. When they faced an obstacle and things fell apart, their reconciliation felt rushed and not quite sincere. Also, some of the themes were hammered on too blatantly throughout the book and it just got tiring after a while.

Los señores del tiempo by Eva García Sáenz

I am actually surprised that I enjoyed all three books from this author equally. They are all a little different, but each is enjoyable on its own. In this book, the author combines a narrative in the present day with one from a thousand years ago, and I found both compelling. This book was a perfect end to the trilogy, and although I knew that end was coming, it was still hard to say goodbye to the characters. Now I just need to plan a trip to northern Spain.

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald

Earlier this year I read one of the essays from this book without noting who the author was. After I finished reading, I realized that it was Macdonald and that she was publishing a new book. This one is not an autobiography like her previous book, but rather a collection of essays that are all about the natural world and how humans interact with it. Whenever I read books like this, I feel a bit of shame about the fact that I spend a lot of time in my house and not enough outside, not even in my own backyard (which, to be fair, is much more boring and sterile than the average garden in England). However, Mcdonald's writing inspires me to pay more attention to myself and the world around me. I like books like hers that simultaneously teach me new things and inspire me to do more exploring and writing of my own.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

While I had read all three of the Hunger Games books years ago when they came out, I only really enjoyed the first one and didn't feel particularly invested in their world. I still thought this would be a fun diversion. It was quite fast-paced and I read it rather quickly, despite its length. I was never quite sure whether the author agreed with the protagonist's choices or not. There were times when the action of the book seemed inevitable, and yet there were others where it was easy to see the options available, and Snow did not always make the choice I think he should have. It was an interesting read that asks hard questions about human nature and morality

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

I like to read books about the world medicine and I like to read memoirs, and this was a great combination of the two. I also didn't realize that it would be a critique of our current medical system and of the racism in our society (and how they are often intertwined). Harper is a skilled writer and I hope to read more from her in the future.

Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti

I knew this book was going to be a little lame before I read it, and so I wasn't disappointed when it was. The ending was abrupt and a little confusing--I went back and reread a few parts and I'm still not totally sure about what happened. The protagonist also seemed immature for an adult and difficult to sympathize with because her difficult behavior was often what drove the plot along and created conflicts.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the writing is wonderful and the characterization is so vivid that I am still thinking about the main character two months after finishing it. On the other hand, the story lacks momentum and any sense of change or growth in the protagonist. It's all reflection and memory and philosophy, which are interesting, but don't really go anywhere. There is a bit tacked on at the end that moves forward in time and shows a glimpse of new things, and I wish the story had filled in the gaps to that point because it would have been interesting to see what changed.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

This turned out to be my least favorite poetry book of the year. I don't think poetic imagery has to focus only on delight or on pleasant images, or that it has to be universally applicable instead of personal to the poet. However, much of this book was incomprehensible to me and much of the imagery felt overwrought and melodramatic.

Movies

Darkest Hour

I had recently read a book about Churchill and this early stage of the war, and I'm glad I did because this made the movie much more comprehensible. I enjoyed it, particularly Oldman's performance, but didn't feel like it was particularly memorable. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Slowly working my way through Marvel movies with the kids. This is one of my favorites so far; Captain America is a great character, and I liked the rest of the cast as well. Although some parts of the plot were glaringly predictable from early on in the movie, it didn't hamper my enjoyment of it at all.

Maleficent

PB picked this movie when I asked her what she wanted to watch. It was actually better than I thought it would be (although I'm sure the extended rape allegory goes over the heads of most kids watching it). I don't have a great love for Sleeping Beauty and it's been a long time since I last watched it, so I can't really judge how well it interacts with that movie. It was fun to watch, but I have no desire to watch it again or to see the sequel. 

Rango

I had one of those moments where I thought "why didn't I watch this years ago?" I've apparently been missing out! Several friends whose opinions I trust have all recommended this movie to me and I finally got around to it. It was weird and touching and quite delightful. LD thoroughly enjoyed it as well. 

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