“That's the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between two people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people's.” Fredrik Backman
Hello all! Greetings from the land of roller coaster weather! Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been reading and watching lately.
The London House by Katherine Reay. I adored this book. An unexpected request from an old college friend leads Caroline Payne to dig into the history of her grandmother and the great-aunt she was named after. Through diaries, letters, and World War II files, Caroline learns that the stories her family always told about her great-aunt and grandmother may not have been as true as they thought. The story jumps between present day and the diaries and letters of these two very close sisters just before and during the early years of World War II.
Despite the big setting of this novel, it’s such a personal story. The setting may be World War II, but it’s really a story about sisters, family, loyalty, joy, life, grief, loneliness, forgiveness. It’s a story about how our history informs our present, and the stories we tell ourselves matter.
Sunreach, Redawn, and Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson. These three titles are the latest in the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson, a YA science fiction series starring a young, brash fighter pilot her AI spaceship. When the series begins in Skyward, humans are battling for survival on a barren planet, stuck in a seemingly never ending war against their captives, the Krell. Sunreach and Redawn (co-authored by Janci Patterson) are novellas that give a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes or in the periphery of the main action of the series, while Cytonic is the third full length novel of the series, in which we spend our time with the series heroine Spensa. Like the previous novels, these three stories are fast paced, action packed, and peppered with humor. They ask some big questions about the nuances and complexities of war and peace, and further expand the universe.
Whiskey When We’re Dry, John Larison. Whiskey When We’re Dry is about Jess, a girl in the late 1800s who lives with her father and older brother on a small, remote ranch in the Rocky Mountains. Her mother died in childbirth, and while her childhood and early adolescence are difficult, the little family is–for the most part–content. Eventually, tension between Jess’s father and teenage brother lead to her brother leaving home, and not too many years later, Jess’s father dies. In danger of losing everything, Jess disguises herself as a boy to go find her brother.
This is one of those books that’s difficult to review, because on one hand, it’s so well-written. Jess’s voice is clear and distinct, and all of the characters are real and compelling. The setting and descriptions are remarkably vivid, and the ending is more satisfying than I expected. On the other hand–it was really, really depressing, and a tough book to read. It’s the kind of western that reminds you that parts of the Wild West of the 19th century really were wild, violent, dirty, and full of tragedy. I read it for my book club (two book clubs, actually!), and I’m glad I’ll get to process it with other people.
Anxious People, Fredrik Backman. Fredrik Backman (also the author of A Man Called Ove, which I adored) has a gift for writing stories that beautifully blend heartache and joy. Anxious People is about a group of very different but ordinary people brought together by rather unusual circumstances. It’s told in a circular fashion, with the narrative jumping back and forth in time, delving into the lives and concerns of the characters, with each winding road spiraling further toward the center event. It’s not a fast moving story, but it’s really lovely.
Spiderman: No Way Home. I loved the new Spiderman movie! There’s not a lot to say about it without giving away too much of the story–the down side to talking about a sequel. What I will say, is that I loved the redemptive arcs, the emotional depth, and all of the performances. My only story critique is for Dr. Strange, who doesn’t get nearly enough blame for all the things that go wrong.
Hawkeye. I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed Hawkeye. It’s like a buddy cop show, but with partners that are like father and daughter. Hayley Steinfeld is ridiculously charming, and Jeremy Renner perfectly captures the essence of a guy who's been through some STUFF, and who wants to just be normal with his family for a while. Too bad his past just won’t let him go. It’s a perfect blend of heart, humor, and action; plus, the Christmas setting is a huge bonus (as are a couple of cameos).
Wheel of Time TV series. Another review that boils down to–it’s complicated. This is an adaptation of a fantasy book series that I love and have talked about before. (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a 14 book epic fantasy series full of magic, political maneuverings, powerful women, Chosen Ones, adventure, and some of the most intricate world building around). The thing with book to film adaptations is that they’re never perfect. I try to view book adaptations as either their own entity separate from the book, or extra bonus material, and that usually serves me well when it comes to books I love (see: Anne of Green Gables adaptations). Are there things about this first season of the Wheel of Time that I dislike? For sure. There are some character choices they’ve made and storyline tweaks that rub me the wrong way. Are there things about the show that I like a lot? Definitely. There are some ways in which they’ve simplified and focused the narrative that work really well, and I like the way they’ve taken time to focus on the relationships between the characters. Despite the fact that it’s a mixed bag for me, so far the series is enjoyable enough that I will FOR SURE be tuning in with excitement to the next season.
You’re turn! What have you been reading (or watching) lately?