Saturday, February 08, 2014

Reading Roundup: January 2014

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

I've read Jane Eyre more than once and have never quite loved it or understood why so many people like it. The romance between Jane and Rochester is particularly odd to me--the paternalistic nature of it and their differences in age and maturity turn me off. This book is a somewhat loose retelling of Jane Eyre set in Scotland during the 1950s and 60s. As an adaptation I thought it worked fairly well, especially since it did not completely adhere to the book (especially in the end), and I liked Gemma more than I ever liked Jane. My only problem with it was that the romance ended up seeming even more creepy and weird in the updated, more modern version.

The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor

 I was surprised that this book ended up in the general fiction category rather than the romance category, since I had it pegged as a romance. However, it is also the story of a woman's self-discoveries, personal change, and conversion to the Church, so it is more than just a romance. At first I felt like the main character was the sort of stereotypical unmarried "career woman" that seems to only exist in fiction, but she did grow on me as the book progressed. More than anything, though, I felt like the action in the book was a little too muted and the motives of the characters a little too unclear. I would have enjoyed more depth to the plot and a little more digging into what the characters really thought about things.

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This is one of my new favorite memoirs--it's a beautiful book, but really intense (be warned if you want to read it--there are some things that are possible triggers for anyone dealing with post-traumatic stress or recovering from abuse). The first few chapters felt a lot like Cheryl Strayed's Wild, with a similar story of a young woman who comes from a difficult background and spends time adventuring solo through a variety of potentially dangerous situations. Then, the worst possible outcome does happen to Amanda and she has to figure out how to get through it. Like I said, the book doesn't shy away from the terrible things that can happen to someone, but it also talks beautifully about what a person can do to survive that kind of a situation. I only wish the book had talked a little bit more about her recovery from her ordeal since it ends shortly after she is rescued. 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Lahiri has earned a number of awards for her novels and stories, which generally feature multiple generations of families in lives that cross between India and America. This book was similar to most of her other works that I have read--beautiful writing, interesting characters, a plot that spans a number of years in the lives of a particular family. I still like her book The Namesake best simply because it felt like it had a stronger plot arc, but this was a great read. 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This the book I've been talking about to everyone for the last few weeks. It had many similar concepts to books I've recently read about willpower and change as well as new things that I had not heard before. If you are trying to make changes in your life or looking for new ways to help your kids succeed, this is a must-read book. It's easy to read, engaging, and full of fascinating tidbits about our brains and why we do the things we do. 

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

I admit that I didn't like Edenbrooke (Donaldson's first book) as much as most people I know did. I thought it was a little boring, so I had somewhat lower expectations for this book. I don't know if it was just my lower expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised and ended up really liking this book. The plot had interesting twists and turns I didn't expect, the main character and her love interest were both fun to read about, and there was some interesting commentary on love, family, and personal growth. 

Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster

Reading this book was a bit of a struggle--on the one hand I quickly became emotionally invested in the story and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to the main character; on the other hand, it was so emotionally intense that I had to take a few breaks just to calm down a bit as I found myself a little too wrapped up in the story. I thought one of the strengths of the book was that, although the main character was really unpleasant, I ended up caring deeply about her by the end of the book. I've read a lot of discussions lately about the idea of 'likeability' and fictional characters, and agree with the idea that characters don't have to be someone we would want to be friends with. But it can still be difficult to really get into and enjoy a book with a protagonist that is so rude, immature, proud, and difficult to deal with. As a reader, I knew why she behaves the way she does, and that helped me feel more sympathetic and willing to root for her as she struggles to grow and change. This really is an excellent book for so many reasons; one of my only complaints is that the cover is terrible (I hate the picture and the tagline is misleading).

Movies

50/50

This movie is a little difficult to describe and seems a little weird in concept (it's a 'comedy' about a young man diagnosed with cancer). However, I still enjoyed watching it and thought its greatest strength was in the acting; the plot and pacing were a little uneven at times, but all the characters worked well together. If you can handle the fact that there is a character who can't speak without using the f-word more than once per sentence, this is a good little movie.

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