T is for (Books About) Twists #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for the A to Z challenge.

It’s a challenge to do a book with a good twist. The author has to insert clues into the story so that it’s not out of nowhere, but be cagey enough to fool most people so that when the twist comes, their minds are blown. Here are some books with twists I didn’t see coming.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (thriller): Show of hands, is there anyone who isn’t familiar with either the book or movie? Unreliable narrators have to be really well done for me to buy it, and with this one, I was fooled, in the best possible way. There were several twists in this book, and each one left me gasping. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. Even if you know what happens, seeing it unfold in the book is masterful.

The Woman In the Window, by AJ Finn (thriller): I usually HATE books with the drunk main character who can’t remember what she did unreliable narrator. I only read it because my friend, Ramona, recommended it to me, and she has the skill of knowing what other people will like. This book seemed like exactly that book for the first half, and I was losing faith. After the big twist comes, I could literally not put this book down. My adulting ended for the day.

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult (contemporary): Anna has been a donor for her sister Kate her entire life. Kate is diagnosed with leukemia, and Anna is a perfect match. When Kate needs a kidney, Anna refuses and gets a lawyer to petition for medical emancipation so she can make her own decisions about her body. The book presents some interesting ethical dilemmas (which I always love) and presents a series of thought-provoking twists at the end. This is a great discussion book.

The Westing Game, by Ellen Rankin (YA): My teacher read this to our 6th grade class, and because the main character, Turtle Wexler, liked to kick boys, I somehow got the nickname “Turtle.” It didn’t stick, but it’s the reason I now collect turtles. It’s a mystery about Mr. Westing, a rich man who died and left his fortune to whoever can solve his riddle. I remember being shocked by the twist at the end.

What books with twists do you recommend?

What Makes a Memorable Book?

img_6613I read a lot of books every year.  Some are new, and some are re-reads.  I don’t re-read them because I’ve forgotten them.  I re-read because it’s like visiting an old friend.  If I’m re-reading a book, it’s most often because I remember it, and remembered how much I loved it.

So, what exactly makes for a memorable book?

It has something different.  I went through a time when I read a ton of romance novels, and many of them were the same.  Romance novels, in general, have a pretty predictable structure.  Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, or just have sparks, insurmountable obstacle happens, obstacle is surmounted against all odds, happily ever after.  A romance novel doesn’t have to deviate from that recipe in order to be good.  But it does have to bring a more interesting conflict than the normal one.  Sign of Seven trilogy, by Nora Roberts comes to mind.  It’s romance mixed with paranormal happenings.  If you haven’t read it, but you like romance and big evil bad guys, check it out.

Characters have unique traits.  I love characters with unique traits.  In The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, the main character is antisocial and communicates through flowers.  In Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts, Novalee is superstitious about 7s.  The thing about unique traits, though, is that they can’t be for no reason and have no impact on the story.  Character traits have to mean something, or else they fade into nothingness in my memory.  Not to mention, meaningless quirks can irritate me into abandoning the book.

The characters make me care about them.  Not all characters have to be likable, and not everyone has to be a hero, but I have to be drawn into the story and care what happens, otherwise I’m indifferent.  When I’m indifferent to a character and story, I end up putting the book back down.  Holden Caulfield from the Catcher in the Rye is an example, as are Amy and Nick Dunne from Gone Girl.  Sure, they start off as likable, but I quickly came to hate them both.  It didn’t stop me from reading.  I wanted to know what happened!

It gets an emotional reaction.  This one is related to the last one, but if a book makes me laugh or cry, I’ll remember it.  I cry every single time I read Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls.  I’ve reread that book so many times over the last 20 (or so) years, but it gets me every time, just like it did the first time.  At least I know to have tissues.

But my emotions aren’t manipulated, and they don’t come cheap.  If I’m going to invest in a character, I want the sense that the author is invested in the character too.  If bad things are going to happen to a character, I want to know who the character is, if you expect me to care.  In The Martian, by Andy Weir, I was really rooting for Mark Watney to get off Mars.  My heart raced every time something bad happened to him, and I was genuinely excited when he was finally rescued.  I wouldn’t have been so invested if Mark had just rolled over and died, or passively waited to be rescued.  He worked for the victory, so I happily cheered him on.

The title makes sense.  This one isn’t a deal breaker, but I remember a book so much better if the title actually relates to the book in a meaningful/ memorable way.  The Night Circus is clearly and unambiguously related to the plot.  Bonus points because it’s title that would make me want to read the book.

What makes a book memorable to you?  Do you re-read?


A Movie-Watching Experience

Alamo Drafthouse, Lakeline

Alamo Drafthouse, Lakeline

I’ve never been all that fond of watching movies in the theater.  They’re crowded and loud.  If I have to go to the bathroom, I can’t pause it.  And worst of all, there are people disrupting the movie.  Now, at home, I’m the annoying person who talks all through the movie, points out things that are implausible, predicts what’s going to happen next, or yells at the stupid woman who opens the door to see why there’s a creepy noise outside when she knows there’s a murderer on the loose.  But that’s at home.  And my husband shouldn’t have married me if he didn’t want to put up with it.

But in the theater, there are strangers.  They didn’t sign on for a life sentence with me.  So I’m quiet and polite, and I prefer if others are too.  Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t.  I’ll never forgive the parent who brought their small children to a midnight showing of the Omen (Yes, true story), and the kid was playing a gameboy or something and laughed when the guy got hanged, dispelling any tension the movie may have had.  Grr.

At the Alamo Drafthouse, they have rules.  Strict rules.  Including: don’t take your cell phone out for any reason once the movie has started.  If you talk, you get warned, and then thrown out.  If you’re thrown out, you won’t be welcome back.  Kids are welcome only at certain movie showings.  They have other movies that are sing-alongs or quote-alongs.  Batman (1987) is one such movie that’s coming up there.  Who doesn’t feel compelled to say “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” at the appropriate time?

We went to see Gone Girl there last night, and the movie was pretty good, but what I enjoyed more was the experience.  The pre-show is movie specific, and they had old clips from Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Wells of “other gone girls.”  It was a lot of fun, not like those generic pre-shows that play at Harkins or AMC Theaters.  We ordered food, and not only did they have vegetarian options (like a veggie burger), but the food was really, really good.  The popcorn and drinks were bottomless, served in real dishes, and the popcorn had real butter.  I had a great time because of the whole experience, and the husband and I have never gone to many theater movies (maybe 2-3 a year), but I have a feeling we’ll be going to this one a lot.

On a not completely unrelated note, I’ve started #100daysofhappy.  If you don’t know what this is, check out the link.  It’s a challenge to be happy about something for 100 days in a row and share a picture of something that makes you happy.  Why not, right?  I shared the above picture for mine.  Follow me on Twitter, and you can follow my 100 Days of Happy journey.

T is for Twists

Puerto Rico; Photo credit: Doree Weller

Puerto Rico; Photo credit: Doree Weller

“I don’t really believe in ‘directions’ in art; the rope twists as you follow it, that’s all.”
Graham Nelson

When I was a teenager, writing horror, I LOVED writing twist endings.  I loved writing a story that was going along a certain way, and then BAM! hitting you in the face with something that seemed out of left field (but if you re-read the story, you could see it).  I kept that up for a little while, but then I started reading about writing.  Many authors warned that often times stories with twist endings are boring, just leading up to the super-clever twist.  Who cares about a great payoff if the story itself is boring?

I hang my head in shame, as this was the truth about many of my stories.  (I was a teenager; give me a break!)

Done well, twists can make for a memorable story.  M. Night Shymalan made three great movies with wonderful twists (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village).  I remember reading Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks for the first time, and the end was sad and surprising.  (Of course now I know that every single Nicholas Sparks book ends the same way, so it’s no longer a twist.)

Other good books with twist endings:

Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (also a good movie, but the book was better)

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin (this book is the origin of my nickname, Turtle)

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (a decent book; not my favorite, but a quality twist)

I think that twist endings, at their best, feel organic.  They don’t feel contrived or like a means to an end.  The twist happens as a way to imitate life, because life has a lot of twists to it.  It’s just the nature of it to be that way.  I haven’t written anything with a twist ending lately, but it could happen.  These days I mostly try to hang on as the story takes on a life of its own.  The characters whisper to me, and I go where they lead.  Some days it’s a bumpy ride!

“Life has got all those twists and turns. You’ve got to hold on tight and off you go.”
-Nicole Kidman



Gone Girl- A Review

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, is not a book I would have normally chosen to read.  Not that it wasn’t a book I would like, but if not for my book club, it never would have come up on my radar.

Nick’s wife, Amy, has disappeared from their home.  Nick has no idea why anyone would want to hurt Amy, but their house shows signs of a struggle.  The story of Amy’s disappearance is told from Nick’s point of view, offset by Amy’s diary entries from the time they met, up until the day of the disappearance.

For the first 100 pages, I couldn’t decide if I liked the book or not.  It definitely caught my interest, and compelled me to keep reading, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to go on the “like,” “dislike,” or “meh” mental shelf.

By the time I got to the end, I absolutely loved the book.  I liked the ending, I liked the suspense, and I liked that the book kept me in a constant state of tension.  I couldn’t wait to read the ending.

Now for the bad… So far I’m the ONLY person in my book club who liked the ending.  We haven’t discussed in any detail yet, as there are those who haven’t read it, but if it were majority rule, the ending would have to go.

Let me just say this: if you’re up for something a little different, that will keep you guessing until the end, give this book a try.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.