June 13, 2012

Arranged - Catherine McKenzie

I may have ranted once or twice (or more) on this blog about my dislike for what is affectionately known as Chick Lit.  (Probably the 3rd link best describes the reason for my dislike.)  However for some reason, I will still occasionally pick up a book of Chick Lit.

A few weekends ago, I was looking for some fluff to read.  I have been reading lots of non-fiction this year (partly course-work reading), and it was a beautiful summer weekend for reading out on the deck.  And so I picked this book up off of my TBR stack.

Actually, this book had been an impulse airport purchase a few weeks prior to reading it, as I was worried that I was going to finish the book I was reading at the time before I got home.  I didn't.  It caught my eye at the airport bookstore, as I had heard the author interviewed a year or so ago by Shelagh Rogers on CBC radio; and the fact that her main character is named Anne Blythe caught my attention (yes, Anne of Green Gables still ranks near the top of my Favourite Books of All Times list).

This book reminded me of why I will still pick up the occasional Chick Lit to read.  I didn't hate the main character (she was actually quite self-aware - very rare in Chick Lit; not whiney; and had a life outside of the romance story line).  It was funny at times.  It wasn't overly formulaic - in fact, the prerequisite wedding happens half-way through the novel rather than at the end.

The twist on the Chick Lit genre here is that the main character (the aforementioned Anne Blythe) realizes that she has terrible judgement about men, and so connects with an Arranged Marriage service and follows it through.  There is a plot twist in the second half which I'm not going to reveal here, but let me just say that I didn't see it coming.

And while the personality of the main character is nothing like that of her namesake, I did enjoy all of the Anne of Green Gables references through the book.  Her mother is a bit of a fanatic - it is even suggested that she married Anne's father just because his last name was Blythe.  The fact that Anne's brother is named Gilbert should say it all.  Here's one of my favourite passages (a conversation between Anne and her arranged husband, Jack):

"What was it like growing up named after a character in a book?" Jack asks as we linger over dessert.
"It was harder for my brother, Gilbert.  He had girls following him around, hoping to play out some romantic scenario they'd read about."
"Doesn't sound too bad."
"That's because you're assuming hot girls are obsessed with Anne of Green Gables."

Anyways, this was a perfect summer-time deck read on a weekend where I was looking for something mindless and enjoyable.  I'll keep Catherine Mckenzie (whose day job is as a lawyer in Montreal) in mind, next time I am tempted to pick up some Chick Lit.

June 10, 2012

What's So Amazing About Grace - Philip Yancey

This was my next book for the Lay Worship Leader course that I am taking - and an elective this time.  It is also a book borrowed from my church's library, as I had volunteered to do a book review for an upcoming newsletter.  And it is a book that has been on my radar as one that I might want to read for some time.  Am I allowed to list 3 reasons why I read it?

For the course, I was looking for a book that wouldn't challenge me too much (unlike a book read a month ago for the same course).  Life has been somewhat busy and stressful recently and since I knew I had to finish this book, I wanted to pick one up that I knew that I would finish.

So what is so amazing about grace?  I'm sure that everyone reading this blog, Christian or not, is familiar with the song Amazing Grace.  And yet what is grace?  The author pins it down to love/acceptance/forgiveness which is not earned or deserved, but given freely.  So many structures in our world are built on ungrace - earning your rewards - so the fact that we don't have to earn God's love really is quite amazing.

The book was easy to read and follow, and as I suspected, it didn't push me or challenge me too much.  I did get a bit frustrated at the big section of it dealing with American politics (I'm Canadian, eh - we have our own politics to worry about, so I tend not to follow our neighbours to the south too closely) and actually the overall feel of the book was quite American.  And the viewpoint tended to be that of an Evangelical Christian - fair enough since that is the perspective that the author is coming from - and as a Liberal Christian, I felt that my own perspective was not necessarily voiced always.

But overall, I'm glad that I picked this book to read.  I've submitted my formal response for the course - now I just have to write my book review for the newsletter!

June 1, 2012

Adventures in Solitude - Grant Lawrence

I bought this book back in January (I think), and I only just got around to reading it now.  I'm sorry I waited so long, since I loved this book!

I knew of Grant Lawrence from being an avid CBC radio listener; and last summer some of the stories that made up this book were played as audio pieces in local programs across Canada.  I loved the stories, and his story-telling style, but I can't stand his voice.  So this book was the perfect compromise.  The stories are there, along with their humour and tragedy; but without the voice.

Desolation Sound is on the BC coast, north of Vancouver, and when Grant Lawrence was a child (a very nerdy, mal-adjusted child), his outdoor-loving father decided to buy a large plot of land, and subdivide it for cottages keeping the original site for his family.  The first half of the book is the story of Grant growing up and growing into himself; learning to eventually enjoy his time at the cottage every summer after a rough beginning.  This half ends with teenage rebellion, and his refusal to have anything to do with his family and the cottage.

The second half of the book then deals with him re-discovering the cottage and his love for it as an adult.  Here, he is going back with his friends, and meeting the neighbours who have moved into the cottages in the area.  The whole book is interspersed with back-stories of the neighbours, stories of the history of the area, and stories of the geography.

Why did I love the book so much?  The stories were intriguing, the book was well paced, and the book made me laugh out loud at times, and cry at others (I finished it on the airplane a few weeks ago, and yes, I did cry at the end).  And above all, this book made me really, really want to visit Desolation Sound.  It sounds absolutely breathtaking!

My favourite quote from the book came not from Grant Lawrence, but from a quote that he included at the beginning.  "Language has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone."  (Paul Johannes Tillich).  I don't like loneliness, but I love solitude.  One of my favourite memories from last summer came from a day spent paddling my canoe by myself through the wilderness of Quetico Park - glorious solitude, but not an ounce of loneliness.

I guess this is a rave review!  I loved this book so much that I gave my copy away to my sister as soon as I finished it since I think that she and her husband will both enjoy reading it as well.