Summer Reading/Watching Recs

So I’ve been reading a lot of novels and watching a lot of movies lately and I thought I would post some of my recent recommendations for those who might be looking for a new author or movie release to curl up with on the remaining warm summer nights. These aren’t all recent releases, they are just things I’ve read/seen recently.

Books

1. Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, by Ken Follett – I list these together because they are the first two installations in the Century Trilogy. These historical fiction novels begin in the year preceding World War I and continue through the “resolution” (if you can really call it that) of World War II. The story line follows five interrelated families – one each from England, Wales, the United States, Germany and Russia – as they try to navigate and survive in a world thrown into the chaos of war. If you like historical fiction this is definitely a trilogy for you to try. The books are a bit long, but I flew through them and finished in only a couple of days. It’s one of those things that just sucks you in until you can’t put them down, so be sure you don’t have any pressing, upcoming deadlines in the next week or so. The third installment – Edge of Eternity – was released earlier this year but I’m still too poor to have read it. I’m sure it’s wonderful as well. (I will warn, however, that while these books are tastefully done overall, there is some graphic retelling of certain aspects of the world wars.)

2. Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, also by Ken Follett – Again, these books are linked and should be read in order. Pillars is set in 12th century England and follows the travels of a stonemason’s family on his quest to build the world’s most beautiful cathedral. World picks up in the same town a century later. Again, a wonderful selection for any reader who loves historical fiction. These books are more recommended for mature readers, however, since the villains commit many heinous crimes against humanity. It’s one of those things where you hate the bad guys so much you can hardly stand for them to be alive and are not at all sorry when they get what’s coming to them. 

3. Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown – I’m sure many of you have heard of these books and the religious controversies that surround them. Angels deals with an attack on the Catholic church by the infamous historical group known as the Illuminati, and Code deals with the search for religious relics hidden by the ancient Knights Templar. Yes, some of the characters say many things that can be taken as sacreligious and insulting to readers who – like myself – believe in an all-powerful God. However, like anything else it must all be taken with a grain of salt. If you do your historical research you will learn that the Bavarian Illuminati were hardly more than a group of early Germans protesting an “illegitimate” king and the Knights Templar were highly-trained members of the medieval Crusades. Like Harry Potter, it’s called “fiction” for a reason and witchcraft doesn’t have to be real just because you read about it. However, the way Dan Brown alters historical fact to create a breath-taking race against time is suspenseful and makes for a very good thriller read.

4. Divergent, by Veronica Roth – The Divergent series is also a trilogy, the first of which has recently been made into an acceptable movie. While certainly not high-brow classic literature, the series is a quick and fun read for a younger crowd. Another dystopian series, much like The Hunger Games, Divergent explores a forced class system and what happens when people are put into tiny boxes instead of being allowed to explore who they really could be. (If you’ve seen the movie, I promise, a lot of things make a lot more sense and Trish isn’t such a filmsy little girl in the books.)

5. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell – Ok, ok, I hear many of you sighing loudly at this one, but I just can’t help it. No matter what part of the country you come from, Mitchell’s Civil War novel is undoubtedly one of the great American classics. Is it a completely accurate depiction of the antebellum American South, with it’s endless mint juleps and towering plantation columns? No. But Scarlett’s unfailing determination to bring her father’s ruined plantation back to it’s former glory, no matter what muck she has to pull herself through first, is admirable. My husband calls it “the longest book ever written,” and that’s close to being true. I’m only halfway through right now and I just started chapter 31; but in the end it’s one of those novels that I think everyone should read, regardless of where you come from. It’s not just about the old South but about the war that put brother against brother and tore a country apart, and about how so many worked so hard to regain their dignity after it all fell apart. After all, when the movie came out in 1939 it was one of the most beautiful, elaborate productions to date and people of all social classes rode or walked for miles to see it. (Some potentially offensive material, but it’s part and parcel of the times represented and should be taken as such.)

 

Movies

1. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – rather than reiterate everything I already said about this one, I’ll just refer you back to my original post where I talked about the profound impact this movie recently had on me. I also discovered that it’s based on a book, although I haven’t read it yet, so that should be something to consider reading as well. 

2. Maleficient – Oh my goodness. The mister and I saw this movie twice in theaters and probably would have gone again if it had still been out. This is definitely Angelina Jolie’s best production to date, and I really don’t think anyone else could have done justice to the part like she did. This movie only recently left theaters, so it won’t be available for purchase or rental for a while, but it should definitely be on your list of things to watch soon. It is beautifully done, with every costume, every graphic, every movement so exquisitely  gorgeous to almost bring tears to your eyes. Even if you (somehow) don’t like the story line – which is also tremendously done – you’ll love it just for the visual aesthetics. Try to watch Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty first, if you can, just to refresh the Maleficient character in your mind before you watch it. You won’t believe the backstory she’s been given, or how “little beastie” will melt a dragon’s heart.

3. How To Train Your Dragon (1 & 2) – I really didn’t think I would like these movies. When the mister suggested watching the first one on Netflix I thought it would just be another little boy movie about dragons and fire. But it’s not. It’s the story of a Viking son who doesn’t really fit in and how he finds his place in a very unexpected way. The second installment, recently in theaters, is even better, with its resounding theme of family and honor. I have always been somewhat fascinated by both Greek/Roman and Norse mythology, so when the music swells and the characters begin to speak of “taking your place at the table of kings in the depths of Valhalla,” I couldn’t help but feel my heart swell a little. Even if you aren’t interested in that sort of thing, the vibes coming from the characters during that scene will get to you anyway.

I hope some of these suggestions will suit your fancy. Let me know if you have anything to recommend to me! I always love new books and inspiring characters. Happy reading/watching! 

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