Monday, July 27, 2015

Book #11: I've Got Your Number

I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Confession: Sometimes I love Sophie Kinsella books, and sometimes they are the worst.
I used to really enjoy her Shopaholic series, but then I began to feel like every story was exactly the same. Becky (the main character) would do something stupid. Then she'd almost tell the truth about what she'd done, but of course, she wouldn't. And then things would get awkward and the lies would pile up, and then she'd get caught. And then everyone would forgive her, because isn't she just a precious, scatter-brained cutie?
Um, no. She was annoying and whiny. So I gave up reading any of the books.
This stand-alone novel popped up in my "if you like this, you might like this" feed on Amazon, and I thought, why not? I was completely prepared for disappointment, but wonder of wonders, I really liked this story.
Now, it is total chick-lit. No doubt. But it's chick-lit written in the smartest and most believable way, and I found myself really getting into the plot:
Poppy, a twenty-something Londonite, has lost her engagement ring the week before her wedding. As if that isn't bad enough, it's a family heirloom ring, and her to-be in-laws are arriving any minute. In a terrible twist of fate, her phone is stolen and she has no way of being reached by anyone who might find her ring. Just before she's overcome with despair, she spots a cell phone in a trash can (ok, I know. This part sounds unbelievable, but it works. Trust me.), and she snatches it. Finders keepers. Unfortunately, it belongs to a businessman named Sam, and he would really like it back.
I'm sure you're asking yourself, "Oh, what could possibly happen between Poppy and Sam?" Yes, yes. I get it. The plot is predictable, but it's so enjoyable. And unlike the Shopaholic books, no one is a big fat liar, so the tension between characters never gets uncomfortable. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping Kinsella can publish some more books like this one soon.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book #10: A Trick of the Light

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
I love Agatha Christie. I discovered her in high school with And Then There Were None (which is brilliant, by the way), and I was hooked. I typically can't figure out who the murderer is - and there's always a murderer - and I think Mrs. Marple and Hercule Poirot are equally as well-written as Sherlock Holmes. But that isn't the only reason I love her books. Looking back, I've realized what really grabs me and keeps me reading is just how cozy they are.
People are forever drinking tea in front of fireplaces. They're walking down cobbled lanes or country roads while the sun is setting. There are a lot of discussions about doilies and biscuits and lovable dogs curled up by the kitchen tables.
Her books transport me.
I read Louise Penny's first book about Quebec's Inspector Gamache, Still Life, a few years ago, and totally by accident. I think it was a Kindle daily deal or something. But I was delighted to discover her books gave me exactly the same feeling as Agatha Christie's. Coziness. It doesn't matter if it's five zillion degrees outside (and it totally is at the moment I'm writing this), all I want to do is grab a huge cup of fancy espresso-based coffee with a ton of cream, a flaky croissant, and curl up with a fleece blanket on my couch. I'm even tempted to light my fireplace, but I don't because I've never actually used it, and I'm terrified there might be a family of bats or something camped out in my chimney.
Each Gamache book centers on a different citizen of the fictional Quebec town of Three Pines, and this book is about the town's resident eccentric artist, Clara Morrow. Clara has finally landed a huge art show, and everyone is thrilled, until a dead body turns up in her garden the morning after the show. It turns out that Clara knew the murder victim when they were younger, and she becomes the main suspect. Inspector Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean-Guy, set out to prove Clara's innocence.
As with each of her books, while there is a light-heartedness about much of the story, there's also a tinge of melancholy buried inside - much like an actual trick of the light.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Book #9: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I read Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" in middle school, and it stuck with me. It was so dark and subtly terrifying, and I think what made it so awfully scary is that it was about seemingly normal people who are, in reality, completely insane. And honestly, I don't think there's anything scarier than that.
I think the opening and closing paragraphs of her most famous book, The Haunting of Hill House, are among the best ever written. It still gives me goosebumps:
"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone." 
I had never heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I saw it mentioned in a list titled something like "The Best Creepy Books Ever" (I'm a sucker for lists like that), and decided to try it out.
There are no ghosts in this book. There is no supernatural activity of any kind. No one gets an axe and decides to get chop-happy with anyone's head. In fact, it reminds me of a much darker version of The Glass Menagerie.
But this book gave me the severe heebie jeebies.
It all centers around the Blackwood family, and in particular, an 18-year-old girl named Mary Katherine. She lives in a house with her older sister, Constance, and their ailing Uncle Julian. She tells the readers in the first chapter that the rest of her family is dead. She's the only one who will leave the house, and only when it is absolutely necessary to do so. She hates everyone in the town, and they return the sentiment.
Jackson does such a great job of slowly amping up the shiver factor - letting you see what's really going on with the Blackwoods, and why they are the way they are. The ending is unbelievably unsettling and wholly devastating, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book #8: Erasing Hell

Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle
I really wanted to be interested in this book, but man. I have to admit, it left me feeling uninspired and bored. 
I read Rob Bell's controversial offering Love Wins a few years ago. I was totally fired up about how much I disagreed with pretty much everything in it, so when I heard Francis Chan had written an "answer" book, I added it to my to-read list. And then promptly waited 3 years to pick it up.
To be fair, I wasn't a fan of Chan's Crazy Love, either. He's a big user of flowery prayers and conversational bro-isms, and it just doesn't do much for me. I do agree with his assertion that Bell's universalist theory -- no one will ever go to hell, and in fact, Hell the place doesn't exist -- is absolutely, 100% incorrect, but I feel this book does little to answer any questions. It's a lot of "we can gather from this passage that Jesus meant..." or "we don't know much about the customs of the time, but scholars do think that...", but no concrete answers.
And I get it. It's such a tough, heartbreaking subject. It's absolutely not a fun book to read, so I'm sure it was a chore to write. I think the publication was rushed in an effort to maximize sales while the Bell Controversy was raging, and that was a huge disservice to the topic at hand.