Read, Watched, Wrote: December 2017

Read, Watched, Wrote: December 2017

Happy new year! I hope everyone had wonderful holidays with family, friends, relaxation, and reading!

I didn’t have the greatest reading month, with a few disappointing books and some minor eye problems (constant dryness and twitching, ugh!) that have made both reading and computer work a little uncomfortable. Hopefully some new glasses and a visit with the doctor will address it (along with more frequent rests and–believe it or not–blinking exercises!).

Anyway, my reading was a mixed bag, but I got through more books than I thought–and I watched a whole lot of cheesy random things. I blame holiday fatigue. Here’s the roundup:

Read

Dear Martin

Dear Martin

Author:
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
This YA novel is similar to The Hate U Give in many ways--a black high school student, working hard in a private school with mostly white classmates, has run-ins with police that end in violence. In Dear Martin, Justyce studies the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and writes him letters, hoping for clarity in how he can stand up to injustice in a nonviolent way. As in The Hate U Give, Justyce finds himself torn between his black family and neighbors and his white friends, many of whom are convinced that black people have already achieved equality. Justyce, meanwhile, finds that just walking or driving while black can get him killed, and the smallest bit of evidence taken out of context--a photo, a conversation--is enough to label him a thug in both a court of law and the court of public opinion. This is a powerful, quick read, told mostly through dialogue and Justyce's letters to Martin. I sometimes have trouble with fiction audiobooks, but this was excellent. More info →
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Seabiscuit: An American Legend

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

I was blown away by Hillenbrand's Unbroken--the storytelling, the research, the detail--and after resisting Seabiscuit despite all the raves, I finally gave in and read it, hoping for a similar experience. I'm sorry to say that I didn't love it. I'm still impressed with Hillenbrand, but I wasn't able to overcome my overall disinterest in horse racing. While I loved Seabiscuit's personality, as well as those of the people surrounding him (and wow, the life of a jockey is tough!), it started to feel like just one race after another. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, sometimes there were injuries. Hillenbrand did succeed in building the suspense in moments--tense races in particular--but I just had a hard time getting invested in the overall arc of the story of Seabiscuit. More info →
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The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10

Author:
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Tag: England
Lo is a travel journalist covering the maiden voyage of an ultra-luxury cruise liner with only ten cabins. When she awakes on the first night to a scream and a splash, she is certain she's witnessed a murder--but none of the passengers or crew are missing. This book is suspenseful, appropriately claustrophobic, and has a decent twist. While I enjoyed it enough to keep reading, the total incompetence of the protagonist (who views the cruise as her professional "big break" and never acted like it) frustrated me throughout--much in the way of The Girl on the Train (though I did like this one more). I don't have to like characters in books I read, but I do want to have reasons to root for them when stakes are high. I found few here, and when combined with some loose ends, it ultimately wasn't the satisfying read I was hoping for. More info →
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Sweetbitter

Sweetbitter

Author:
Genre: Fiction
When Tess moves to New York, she is seeking something that she can't quite define. She finds answers when she lands a job at a famous high-end restaurant: belonging, experience, and identity. Both the insular world of the restaurant and her fellow employees with their singular areas of expertise quickly have her in their thrall--an attractive bartender and a worldly server in particular. This book started out strong for me--the organized chaos of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the restaurant was richly drawn and I could feel Tess's confusion, headiness, and determination to master the secrets of this new world--even as we sense that it's a place where one could, but should try not to, get stuck. As the book progressed, however, it often veered into pretentiousness and a frustrating lack of growth or progression in the relationships of the characters, who we mostly saw through the haze of Tess's heavy drug and alcohol use. I wanted to love this, but it unfortunately fell flat. More info →
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All Grown Up

All Grown Up

Author:
Genre: Fiction
I picked this up after reading several raves. The marketing--and I--wanted this to be an empowering story of an almost-40-year old who is single and childfree by choice, pressures and opinions be damned. Instead, Andrea seems to have drifted through her life, waiting for "real life" to happen to her, until suddenly she wakes up at 40, alone, in a job she hates, and uncertain how she fits into the lives of her family and friends. Her flailing is relatable--I think most people have moments of doubt about their own adulthood--as is her frustration with her own safe choices and abandonment of her drive to create. Still, I didn't love this. The driver to move Andrea from self-centeredness to a committed, adult member of her family didn't feel fully developed, and because she spent so much time avoiding the situation, I didn't feel invested either. More info →
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Beartown

Beartown

Author:
Genre: Fiction
Tag: Sweden
If I'd read it in time, Beartown would have made my best of 2017 list. But it was worth the wait and was the perfect wintery read. In the declining Swedish town of Beartown, hockey is the one bright spot. The talented junior team--and one player in particular--have the potential to win it all and revitalize the town. But a brutal event at an after-game party could be the downfall of the team, the players, and the future of the town itself. As the residents grapple with their loyalties and their own morality, each one is forced to answer for themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice for the love of a town and game. Backman veers away from the quirkiness that readers loved about A Man Called Ove, and instead brings sharp observations about small town relationships, family, and the saving grace of team and sport. I'll repeat many other readers on this point: you don't have to love or know hockey to love this book. More info →
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Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind

Melody is an eleven-year-old girl who has never walked, fed herself, or gotten herself dressed. She has also never spoken a word, though her head is filled with them. Melody has cerebral palsy, and many of the most basic aspects of her life present a challenge. But what she longs for most is the ability to communicate and show the world that the person inside is smart and feeling. Her world is changed when she learns of a machine that can help her communicate, in much the same way we've all seen Stephen Hawking speak. When she starts to show her smarts in school and in a high-stakes trivia competition, will her classmates allow her to become a full-fledged member of the team? This book wasn't perfect, but it was inspiring, insightful, and emotional. I especially recommend it for any children who may have classmates with cerebral palsy or other disabilities. More info →
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Reading Now

I’m almost finished with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. I loved Cleave’s Little Bee, and I maybe don’t love this one quite as much. So far I’m finding the prose a little heavy, but the characters come to life through the funny, smart dialogue–surprising, given the grim WWII setting.

Reading Next

Possibly Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which I received as a Christmas gift from my wonderful husband (who got me a bunch of books I’ve been dying to read!). I’m also looking forward to watching the show, but I won’t watch until I finish the book.

For more recent reads from some other bloggers, go check out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit.

Watched

Apparently I watched a lot of television in December. I finished up rewatching Parenthood (heartbreak, every time!), and then I watched a few other series on Amazon and Netflix: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (pretty funny and smart, though Amy Sherman Palladino tested my faith in her with the Gilmore Girls reboot), Glow (a show about women’s wrestling in the 80s did NOT seem like my thing, but it was surprisingly entertaining), and The Good Place (totally loved! Original premise and some really funny performances.)

I think all the craziness of the holidays prompted me to rewatch some familiar, unchallenging movies: Titanic (sorrynotsorry, I still love it), The Holiday (why is this my favorite Christmas movie??), and Little Women (looking forward to the new adaptation). I also watched The Circle, which I liked even less than the book. As I type this, I’m watching Leap Year, a sub-par rom-com, but it’s in Ireland! With Matthew Goode!

Wrote

Here’s what you might have missed this month:

I’m working on some new things here on the blog, so this will be my last monthly roundup for a while. Looking forward to great things in 2018!

Read, Watched, Wrote: December 2017

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12 thoughts on “Read, Watched, Wrote: December 2017

  1. I LOVED The Woman in Cabin 10, but I have really low standards for mystery/thrillers. I love them so much and read them so rarely that when I do read one, the critical thinking part of my brain goes to sleep and I can enjoy it no matter how awful the characters are. Sometimes a horrible plot doesn’t even bother me that much and it’s not until later that I think, “Why the hell did I like this book so much?!” Ha!

    I would like to read Alias Grace sometime too… The Netflix miniseries adaptation was good, but also super disturbing. The Circle was awful. I didn’t think it was possible for me to dislike a movie with Tom Hanks AND Emma Watson so much!

    • I think it’s GREAT that you’re able to do that! I feel like I was able to turn off my inner critic much more before I started blogging. I’m enjoying it, but there are downsides. Maybe with your ongoing Book Riot gig you could focus some articles on that aspect of your reading. It would give you a good excuse to read more of those pure fun books and give your brain a break!

      I think my reaction to some of these recent thrillers is a result of reading them on the heels of #MeToo. Even though the protagonists themselves frustrate me, I just can’t with the whole, “She’s drunk/anxious/on medication/a mess! Nobody believe her!” Plus after several of these (The Girl on the Train, The Woman in Cabin 10, and now The Woman in the Window) it’s starting to feel like too convenient a way to create an unreliable narrator. I couldn’t stand The Girl on the Train, but much of The Woman in Cabin 10 at least felt original and surprising.

      I just started Alias Grace last night and am hooked so far. I kind of knew I would dislike The Circle–the book was so over-the-top–but I always like to see how they handle books on film. You’re totally right, though–I expect better of Hanks and Watson!

    • Everyone Brave is Forgiven really was so good! He captured dry British humor so well in that dialogue. Cleave really has a knack for highlighting the absurd in absolutely devastating situations–I feel like there was even more of that in Little Bee, so I hope you get a chance to read it!

  2. When I taught 7th grade, I’d recommend Out of my Mind to struggling readers and they always enjoyed it. I’m dying to read Bear Town. I’m waiting until it becomes available at my library. I should just break down and buy it. Happy 2018!

    • I found myself thinking back to a girl I knew growing up who was in similar circumstances as Melody. It’s so sad that I never realized how isolated she must have felt. What a great book to share with middle schoolers, who often are in particular need of a boost of empathy!

      Hope you can get to Beartown soon!

  3. Wow, you read quite a lot! When you said you’d struggled with eye problems and reading in general, I was expecting like, two books, ha ha. I’m glad you reviewed Seabiscuit because I also loved Unbroken and had been thinking of reading this one, too. I think I still will, but at least this way, I think I’ll go in and not expect to love it as much as Unbroken (because we all know the best way to ruin a book is to go in with too high of expectations for it).

    • Yeah, I think my sense of timing in December was off with the holidays–it just felt like I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted. Plus not enjoying it as much contributed to that feeling, between the disappointing books and the discomfort.

      I feel like I’m the only person who didn’t love Seabiscuit, so definitely give it a try! It dragged in the middle for me, but on the whole I didn’t dislike it–I just didn’t love it like I’d hoped.

  4. I really enjoyed The Hate U Give (I’m a former high school reading teacher so I love YA) so I’m adding Dear Martin to my list. You review were really helpful and I’ve moved a few books both up and down on my TBR list. My husband and I just finished Mrs. Maisel last night – so fun and entertaining! You’re right, Leap Year wasn’t the best but I loved the setting. I’ve been enjoying watching Matthew Goode in Season 2 of The Crown!

    • Thanks–I’m so glad they were helpful! I didn’t know Matthew Goode was in The Crown–I’ll have to check that one out. I really liked him in Downton Abbey, and I’ll watch just about anything set in Ireland, so Leap Year was a winner 🙂

  5. I love The Holiday for no real good reason too! I mean, it’s pretty cheesy but SO GREAT to watch at Christmas! I watch it ever December and have for years!

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