Sunday, September 08, 2013

Reading Roundup: August 2013

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

I don't know much about the world of highly gifted, competitive musicians, and I felt like the author did a good job making that world come alive and be understandable to readers. I also really liked the main character and her love interest; there were a few elements of the story that led to the conclusion that felt a bit over-the-top, but not so much that I couldn't suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Bohjalian is an author that I always end up a little disappointed by, but keep reading anyway. I felt like this book was one of his weaker efforts. He uses many of the conventions of popular fiction these days--gruesome details of murder mixed together with romance, jumping back and forth between characters and time periods, and using complicated historical time periods for somewhat simplistic statements about politics and ethics. He also always has some kind of shocking twist at the end of his books; this time, the twist was so unexpected that I found myself skimming back through the book to figure out where it came from. It did fit into the story, but was not really foreshadowed at all and I just ended up feeling disappointed.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book yet. It simultaneously amused me and horrified me; I think part of that comes from the uneven tone--the author doesn't seem to be sure whether her attitude is defiant, penitent, humble, defensive, or what. It's kind of all over the place and could use a bit of editing and refining. It certainly did make me think a lot about my parenting style and what my goals are as a parent and human being (and no, my goals for parenting do not include raising professional musicians).

Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears

This was another book that seemed to be a bit confused about its message and purpose. It had some lovely parts and I learned a lot about the history of the early days of the LDS Church in Hawaii. But, the structure was somewhat confusing; the first hundred pages or so focused on one particular character, but then he mostly disappeared from the rest of the book as the focus switched to a different character. The book included detailed footnotes (some of which I found rather trivial and unnecessary), but also made use of letters that were not obviously fictional (they were). There were also events that seemed as though they needed larger treatment, but didn't get it, and plenty of material that easily could have been separated out into equally compelling, more tightly written novels. I kept getting the sense that the author wanted to write fiction, but was afraid to stray too far from a hagiographic view of the past and too far from accepted facts (I already wrote about some of my issues with this approach here). I thought that was a shame because early Church history outside the U.S. is sorely underrepresented in historical fiction, and while this book is an admirable start, we really could do much better than this. I would rather read a more intimate, character and event-driven novel focusing on one place and time; it would give much better insight into the people of our past and inspire a greater desire to learn more. Instead, after reading this I mostly thought "meh" (well, I did want to go back to Hawaii because the descriptions of the setting were so spot-on).

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

On the one hand, this book seems like a stereotypical teen romance that is a bit too derivative of other works (including Ethan Frome, Dead Poets' Society, A Separate Peace, and Thirteen Reasons Why). On the other hand, I liked all those pieces quite a lot and I love spending a few hours with a good teen book. The characters in this one are interesting and the plot had several twists I wasn't expecting--it was a good way to spend an afternoon. 

World War Z by Max Brooks 

I picked up this book after two different friends recommended it to me and was surprised by how much I liked it. I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise, because I really like books about war, oral histories, and books that are written in an unconventional fashion. Yes, this book includes stuff about zombies that is sometimes kind of gory. But it's really not about the zombies at all and I had a lot of fun reading it.

Movies

Austenland

I have read Austenland twice and it's just not one of my favorite books. I think a big part of the problem is that I am just not that kind of Jane Austen fan; I don't really read her books for the romance and I've only seen the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice years ago. Honestly, I don't like Mr. Darcy very much and don't think he's very romantic. Maybe I need to give him another chance, but guys that are surly just don't do it for me. I'd rather have Edmund Bertram or Mr. Knightley. I also have no desire to live during the Regency period. That being said, I still really enjoyed this movie. It was a lot of fun and I thought the acting was excellent. Some parts of it felt a little underdeveloped, but in general it was great. 

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