Book Challenge #2, Round 3: Books 11-15
It took me a while to finish all the books from this 5, but I’m also almost done with Round 4, so I’m hoping to get this challenge completed by the end of the year. We shall see how it goes… it depends on the last 7 books!
11. SKIPPING CHRISTMAS by JOHN GRISHAM
(suggested by Beth Dettman, “unknown by a famous author”)
I actually saw the movie based on this book for the first time last year (Christmas With the Kranks). It was playing on TV and Elizabeth and I jumped in and ended up watching all the way through; my impression of the movie was that the main characters, and the story as a whole, were more likeable than I was expecting, and the neighbors were terribly nosy and annoying but it was a sweet story by the end.
The book felt very much the same as the movie, so I guess that means they did a good job of transferring it from media to media. It was very quick-reading, which was nice; the other John Grisham I read in this challenge wasn’t super slow-paced or anything, but it was definitely longer and heavier. So this was a nice, short story. I felt the pain of the characters as they tried to do their own thing and felt more and more frustrated with the neighbors who just wouldn’t let it go that they were skipping Christmas. The ending conclusion felt satisfying; the community came together for the daughter, the husband was able to empathize with someone he had been mad at, and they didn’t even write the idea off as being wrong, they just decided it wasn’t the right timing. I felt like I went on the emotional journey that the couple did, and it worked for me.
The only issue I have is that I’m pretty sure they never explained that random guy who knew everybody but they didn’t know who he was. I had a feeling the movie gave some kind of answer but I can’t remember what. Was he an angel? Was he Santa Claus?
Other than that loose end, it was a fluffy read but entertaining, which is better than heavy and boring, so yay!
In the daily mail there were four more anonymous Frosty Christmas cards, these postmarked in Rochester, Fort Worth, Green Bay, and St. Louis. Frohmeyer’s bunch at the university traveled a lot, and Luther suspected this was their little game. Frohmeyer was restless and creative enough to mastermind such a prank. Thirty-one Frosty cards had now been received, two all the way from Vancouver. Luther was saving them, and when he returned from the Caribbean he planned to stuff them in a large envelope and mail them, anonymously of course, to Vic Frohmeyer, two doors down.
“They’ll arrive with all of his credit card bills,” Luther said to himself as he put the Frosty cards in a drawer with the others. He made a fire, settled under a quilt in his chair, and fell asleep.
12. APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH by AGATHA CHRISTIE
(suggested by Naomi Laeuchli, “character story”)
I remember reading Murder on the Orient Express many years ago in high school, but although I’ve seen both movies since then, I don’t remember my impression of that book. Agatha Christie was definitely fun to get into, though.
I was initially surprised with how long the opening of the story was. Other than one opening chapter with Poirot overhearing a vague conversation, I feel like we went almost half the book (though it was probably shorter) before he shows up again. We spend a large part of the opening setting up the suspects: the main family and the various observing characters. It works out, though, since so much of this story is based on understanding the dynamics between the family members of the victim, and everyone else trying to piece together the manipulation and control that they’re observing between the family members. Sarah King and Dr. Gerard have lots of conversations about what is wrong with the family and why the mother is so psychotic.
After the setup, the rest of it moved at a decently steady pace. Mystery stories can sometimes feel a bit repetitive and slow-moving, as everything has to be thoroughly explained and we have to deal with everyone’s denial and indignation and questions one by one, through each interview. This was a little slow at times in that way, but I like the thoroughness of the explanation and discovery when all Poirot really does is ask a few questions. This one had a satisfying conclusion for a story that needed it, and while I don’t see myself reading a bunch of these types of stories in a row, I think an Agatha Christie mystery every now and then is a nice change of pace.
“I have heard, M. Poirot, that once, in that affair of the Orient Express, you accepted an official verdict of what had happened?”
He said slowly, “That case was – different.”
“No. No, it was not different! The man who was killed was evil,” her voice dropped, “as she was…”
Poirot said: “The moral character of the victim has nothing to do with it. A human being who has exercised the right of private judgment and taken the life of another human being is not safe to exist amongst the community. I tell you that! I, Hercule Poirot!”
13. THE SPIRIT CIRCLE by SATOSHI MIZUKAMI
(suggested by Nathan Megill, “modern fiction”)
My very first manga! This was 6 books instead of 1, but my brother owned them all and the format actually turns out to make for quick reading, so once I got used to the whole “backwardsness” of it, I zipped through them quite quickly.
In spite of the fact that I have no other manga tropes to use as a measuring stick against this particular series (though I have seen some anime), I felt like this was a creative story! I liked the main character quite well and his determination to keep trying to make friends with the girl, despite her grumpiness and general hatred of his past selves. It was nice that they had a short cast list, because it was hard enough to figure out who was who when their looks kept changing. And since I’m not familiar with Japanese names and the way they do the surnames and nicknames and all that, I definitely had to reread some parts along the way to follow along with all of the plot. It might’ve taken me a few books in before I really started to grasp how recurring each modern day character was in the past stories.
It’s been a few months since finishing the series that I’m writing the review, so it’s probably not as detailed as it would have been, but I definitely liked the series. It was well-written and the conclusion felt complete and redemptive, as it should have. I was confused throughout the reading of it, but I imagine that if I reread the series someday, that it would make more sense and that I would catch things I missed the first time around. Either way, it was a fun and compelling introduction to manga for me.
Her: “So you saw the future already? You remind me of Lafalle, brooding like that. Well, you ARE him…”
His thoughts: (Ishigami-san’s seen it, too…!)
Him: “Wh-what did you think about that other life?”
Her: “Mm. Hard to say. Especially at the end, I have no clue what happened. It’s the future. I can’t quite sort it all out. I’m sure of one thing, though. Your very existence… is dangerous.”
14. TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED by ROALD DAHL
(suggested by Maria Sager, “something unusual”)
Well… this was certainly unusual! And often unexpected. I’ve read through most of Dahl’s kids books, which I go back and forth on whether I think they’re great and fun and creative, or whether I think they’re too dark and disturbing and odd. I had the same reaction with this book, although I am leaning much more towards the latter.
This is an adult age book of 23 short stories (although the middle ones felt like they got pretty long). There are some simple and fairly normal stories, such as: “The Hitchhiker”, where the title character gets the driver and himself out of a legal scrape when he reveals that his “fingersmithing” skills nabbed the policeman’s record book after they were pulled over for going too fast; or “Taste”, the opening story of a few men who like to bet on whether or not one of them can guess the wine that the other one provides, and when the ante is too high for the daughter who is promised in marriage to the guesser as the prize, it’s revealed that he cheated and looked at the bottle in advance.
Then there are some slightly weirder stories: “The Landlady”, which creates a creepy atmosphere in the setting of a bed and breakfast and gives us implications that the sweet and charming title character is much more sinister than she appears, although it never reveals anything definitive because it ends too quickly; or “Edward the Conqueror”, where a piano-playing wife finds a cat that she becomes convinced is the reincarnated Liszt, and when her husband is annoyed at her determination to broadcast it to the world, it is implied that he threw the cat in the fire.
But out of the whole mix, there were 4 stories that I would consider the most over-the-top and overtly odd, and almost disturbing, of the bunch: “Skin”, where a man who has a tattooed portrait on his back by a now-famous artist is, I believe, conned into letting someone kill him and take it from him; “William and Mary”, where a man dying of cancer agrees to let his brain and one eye be kept alive after his body dies so that he can see and think but never communicate again; “Royal Jelly”, where a bee-obsessed husband gives queen bee food to his malnourished newborn, and his wife’s horror as she realizes how bee-like her husband and baby are becoming; and “Georgy Porgy”, where a man who was traumatized by a baby rabbit being eaten by his mother as a child and fears the touch of women ends up getting drunk and being eaten by one of the ladies in his community and living in her stomach with a bunch of other men (either that or he’s in an asylum and believes he’s been eaten and is living in her stomach with a bunch of other men).
One thing about Roald Dahl is that he really likes the theme of justice, but usually coming out in perverted ways. He’ll make you dislike a character and then when they get their comeuppance it’s kind of what they deserve, but it’s also a little scary. He likes the oppressed person having power over their oppressor, or one jerk getting swindled by another jerk. It’s even evident in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. So it was fun to be able to notice that in his writing.
My favorite stories were probably My Lady Love My Dove, The Way Up to Heaven, Parson’s Pleasure, The Hitchhiker, The Umbrella Man, and Genius and Catastrophe… some because they were the least disturbing, some because they were well-done, and some because they will stay with me. All in all, it was quite an intriguing read!
“For me, after that, it was like the awful moment when you see a child running out into the road and a car is coming and all you can do is shut your eyes tight and wait until the noise tells you it has happened. The moment of waiting becomes a long lucid period of time with yellow and red spots dancing on a black field, and even if you open your eyes again and find that nobody has been killed or hurt it makes no difference because so far as you and your stomach were concerned you saw it all.”
15. HEARING GOD IN CONVERSATION by SAMUEL WILLIAMSON
(suggested by Kevin Megill, “non-fiction”)
I had a massive struggle at first finding this book to read. First my Dad gave me both the wrong name and the wrong author for it, so of course I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then when he corrected it and I looked it up on interlibrary loan, they STILL couldn’t find it! So I asked my Dad if he owned a copy because we both thought he did, but after checking we found out that he didn’t. So THEN I was gonna try to borrow it from my Mom’s Kindle collection, but it’s been so long since I’ve used my Kindle account that it was way too complicated to figure out. So I finally broke down and just bought it; I figured if it’s a Christian theology book recommended by my Dad it would be one I was okay with owning.
After all that, it was definitely a good read. The topic of how to hear God’s voice is so broad a subject that it was nice to get to read a whole book on it. The content wasn’t necessarily all stuff that I didn’t know/hadn’t heard before, but it was told very clearly and practically in a way that was really refreshing. I appreciated his perspectives and the fact that he was so open to how the way God speaks is bigger than us and non-formulaic, rather than saying “this is the way it works” about everything. I particularly liked his chapter on silence, about how God works on our hearts to get the deeper stuff instead of just repeating a phrase over and over; it was a lot of what I needed to hear and really well said. I definitely don’t regret the purchase and anticipate that this is a book I could get something out of on each reread.
“The purpose of claiming promises is to run our eyes up from the beams of sunlight (the blessings) to the Sun, to see the Illuminator more than just the illumination. Promises are only as good as the one who makes them. That’s why we meditate on Scripture: it’s to come to know the nature and person of God. When I’m bereft of words, I pray Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’
As I reflect on the character of a shepherd, God reminds me that his nature- who he is- will never allow him to abandon me. Even in silence.”