Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is cranky.  He’s the grumpy old man that lives on your block and patrols the area each morning to make sure everyone is following the rules.  He loathes technology and can’t understand why people today can’t fix things themselves.  He desperately misses his wife and feels life really isn’t worth going through any more.  Then the new neighbors move in and interrupt his sadness by backing their trailer into his mailbox.  And then they keep bothering him, and he keeps helping them because they are obviously hopelessly inept.  Could Ove have found reasons to stay around for a while longer?

I am not a big fan of feel-good books, but every once in a while one will really get to me.  The dark humor of the beginning is bitingly funny and gives way to a blossoming in our understanding of the grump that is Ove.  You will find yourself wanting to talk to that cantankerous curmudgeon you pass on the street to see what his deal is.  Ove is Ove for many reasons, many of which you discover in the pages of this book.

Even though it’s embarrassing to admit I did cry at the end of this book.  It’s got a great poignant, bittersweet and funny (all at the same time) ending that is wonderful.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

 The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has it all.  She runs an extremely successful Tupperware business, has organized her house so everything has, and is in, its place and is married to a loving husband and has wonderful children.  All is perfect in Cecilia’s life until she decides to organize her husband’s things in the attic and comes across a letter addressed to her in the event of his death.  The letter was obviously written ages ago and when he phones from his business trip she jokes with him about it.  He gets very quiet and asks her to destroy it.  After much inner struggle, you know what she does.  Yep, she opens it.  And learns the secret her husband has been keeping from the world.

I can’t really say too much more about the book.  You’ll be able to figure out what the general subject of the secret sooner than Cecilia, but she doesn’t open the letter until about halfway through the book.  The writing really moves, you are caught up in the main and secondary storylines and pulled along.  Fans of Jodi Picoult and Chris Bohjalian will find a lot to like in Moriarty’s book.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining by Stephen King

Believe it or not, this book came out 37 years ago!  I probably read it about twenty years ago so I decided to read it again before reading the sequel Doctor Sleep.

I’m sure everyone knows the story.  A man, Jack, his wife, Wendy, and young son, Danny, become the winter caretakers for a sweeping hotel in the mountains of Colorado appropriately called The Overlook.  Bad things happen. 

If you have only ever seen the movie you should really read the book.  There is so much here that never made it to the screen.  Shining, the ability that Danny possesses is really glossed over in the movie and here you get to understand what Danny can do.  The Overlook is even scarier in print.  And you would never be able to turn your back on a hedge animal ever again!

A perfect creepy haunted house (hotel!) read!

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Mia Dennett, the daughter of a powerful Chicago judge, is kidnapped.  Her kidnapper was hired to hand her off to some thugs and he was concerned that they would kill her.  So instead of handing her over he finds himself taking her to a cabin his family used long ago in the deep woods of Minnesota.  Her mother, Eve, is frantic and her father is stoic, as per usual.  Gabe, the detective assigned to the case and warned not to mess up, grows close to Eve as they try to find her daughter.

The structure of the book is really interesting.  There are three main points of view: Gabe, Eve and Colin (the kidnapper).  Each tells their story as Before (while Mia is gone) and After (Mia returned to her family).  Having the multiple viewpoints and two timelines makes the disjointed storytelling work well to keep the reader off balance.

I listened to this book and I didn’t really like any of the readers.  I stuck with it because of the interesting structure and because no reader was reading for more than ten minutes at a stretch.  There is a zinger of an ending, but I felt it could have come sooner.  This is one I may have enjoyed it more in print format.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Five victims are brought together by a psychologist specializing in recovery after traumatic events.  Her patients are not your typical victims of violent crime.  Each feels unique and isolated, yet she brings this group together to help one another heal through the similarities in their experiences.  These people have been through a lot, one was kidnapped and mutilated by cannibals, and another had her bones scrimshawed.  (Think about that last one for a bit and try not to shudder.)  But by bringing these singular victims together will the other that has touched them reach out again?

This is a great quick read (less than 200 pages!) to get you in the mood for Halloween.  Spooky and creepy, yet it’s a really interesting dynamic between the characters at group.  Lots of twists and turns and jumps keep you guessing what will happen next.  Very much set in a Lovecraft universe with touches of Cthulhu’s tentacles even though he who must not be named is never actually mentioned. 

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe


What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Munroe, a NASA roboticist in his past career, is the creator of the webcomic xkcd which has a blog portion called What If.  In the What If blog Munroe answers strange questions with real science broken down into layman’s terms and illustrated with stick figures.  For this book he collected some of his favorite, most popular, and some new questions and answers.   If you have any interest in physics, math, basically anything to do with science, and you have an odd sense of humor (like me apparently), you should probably give this one a chance.   I especially enjoyed his explanation of human genetics using D&D character stats and the way he explained not only the destructive end of the Richter scale, but it’s gentler side as well.

If you were that kid that always asked why? and how? this is the book that will finally give you the answers to the hard questions – like how many people would need to shoot laser pointers at the moon to make it change color and what would happen if you swam in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool?  Trust me, you want to know.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Kirsten was a child actress in the days before the collapse.  She was performing in King Lear, a non-speaking role as a younger version of Cordelia, when the famous actor playing Lear died of a heart attack at the beginning of the fourth act.  We pick up her story years later.  Kirsten is now a member of the Traveling Symphony going from town to town and performing Shakespeare and orchestral pieces on alternating nights.  Since the Georgian Flu hit electricity, order and gasoline are non-existent.  Survival is foremost on everyone’s minds, but it is now a time when surviving may not be enough.  Or as the lead caravan of the Symphony reads: Survival is insufficient.  (And yes, that was quoted from Star Trek, a member of the Symphony was a huge fan.)

Probably not the most comforting read with Ebola and enterovirus being so prominent in the news these days, but at least these diseases don’t have the over 99% causality rate of the Georgian Flu in Station Eleven.  This is a story telling of the moments before and the years after everything changed.  How life is becoming the new normal and how it’s not all bad.  And there is one heck of a glimmer of light at the end to leave you with some hope, unlike many “the world has ended” books.

This is also an amazingly well crafted book to be slowly savored.  Characters reoccur and their storylines tie in together in ways you can’t predict and don’t see coming.  What is Station Eleven?  Well, it has nothing and yet EVERYTHING to do with the story.  You’ll just have to read it to find out.