Reading, Writing & Other Addictions

Facing Reality Through Fiction

Book Review: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

The great thing about working for a book store is that you get your eyes opened to books you otherwise would have passed by.  Every Thursday at 10am, part of the Marketing Department of Half Price Books meets with one of the New Book Buyers to talk about what titles we are going to promote though signage, email, and yes, the book club.  I was given the job of coming up with eight questions for every book club title we choose.  So, it’s also my job to read every book club title we choose.  Most of them I like, a few are meh, and a couple I desperately wish I could get back the hours I wasted reading them.  A Man Called Ove, our August/September book club title, by Fredrik Backman is the best book club title we have ever chosen. But if we hadn’t chosen it, I never would have read it, which would have been a shame, because I truly believe it’s the best book I’ve read this year.

A Man Called Ove is a Swedish novel about a fifty-nine-year-old man called Ove (bet you never would have guessed that) who is forced into early retirement, so he spends his time patrolling the neighborhood, putting bikes back into the bike shed, making sure people are recycling correctly and complaining about dogs who pee on his paving stones.  All his neighbors think of him as the “bitter neighbor from hell,” and he doesn’t think much of them either, coming up with descriptive names for them like “the Lanky One” and “the Weed” because he can’t be bothered to learn their real names.  Then an accident prone man, his pregnant wife and their two girls move in next to him (smashing his mailbox in the process), and through a series of humorous and somewhat touching events they force Ove to come out of his shell and engage with his neighbors.  As Ove’s life is invaded by this family, you learn about Ove, and how he became the cranky old coot everyone believes him to be.

Backman uses clever chapter titles to draw in his readers, and the bittersweet humor that runs through the book makes Ove an endearing character.  I don’t want to give too much of the story away, so I’m not going to tell you why he tries to buy an iPad or why he needs to put up a hook, or why one of my favorite characters is a cat. What I am going to tell you is you need to read this book.

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Book Review: Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge

If you, like me, enjoy retellings of classic fairy tales, especially if they are clever, like Merissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, then you will love Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge.  This book explores how no heart is pure, and there is a little bit of a beast in all of us.

Nyx has always been told that she must marry the Demon Lord who makes his home in the tower ruins.  Her father bargained her life away before she was even born in order to make his wife happy.  His wife had desperately wanted children, so he made a deal with the Demon Lord. If the Demon Lord would grant them children, then one of their daughters would be given back to the Demon Lord as his wife. So, Nyx was chosen to be his bride. She was also chosen to destroy him and save her country of Arcadia from the Demon Lord’s evil bargains and demon horde. Resentful of her fate, and jealous of her sister’s blessed life, Nyx meets her fate with anger and intelligence, acknowledging that her attitude and hatred toward those who failed to save her, failed to love her, make her a suitable bride for a monster.  But her attitude seems to amuse her husband, as does the attempts on his life, and slowly, this woman who has never been shown love but has always been treated like a sacrifice, discovers what it is like to be loved and have another sacrifice for her.

Still, her mission remains: she must destroy the Demon Lord and save Arcadia.  But how can she save Arcadia after she sees the evil in their selfish hearts as they so willingly make their bargains, knowing what they will have to pay for it?  And how can she destroy the Demon Lord after she sees how much he has done to try to save her people, after she sees how much he is willing to do to save her?

Throw in a house that changes every time you turn around, much like the staircases at Hogwarts, though much more dangerous, and a servant called Shade, who isn’t much more than a shadow (literally), and you have an intriguing book that was firing my imagination long after I finished it.  (I even woke up this morning and reread the ending, after having finished it at 2a.m.)

I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale, or even just a good story.

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Fahrenheit 451

ImageThis year marks the 60th Anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451.  So, to celebrate Half Price Books is reading and discussing the book this month.

I had never read Fahrenheit 451, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The story is set in the future, where people turn their walls into interactive television screens, overdose on sleeping pills and get their blood “cleaned” so that they wake up with no knowledge of trying to kill themselves.  And the job of a fireman has switched from putting out fires to starting them.  How did this switch happen?  People stopped reading, and so the need for books was eliminated.  In this world (the world of Fahrenheit 451) a person can be jailed or even killed for owning a book (which I believe is bit overkill, but then power is corrupting and knowledge can be a dangerous thing).

The main character, Montag is a fireman.  He is paid to set fire to books found in people’s homes.  However, his curiosity gets the better of him and he starts taking books home, little by little. His newfound curiosity and his resulting discontent with his life forces him to seek out others who question things and cling to the knowledge found in books.

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning to not become complacent in your life, to keep on questioning things, to keep on searching for knowledge and understanding, to take time to listen and wonder, to create and imagine…to read.

Join the conversation this month by liking the Half Price Books page on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/halfpricebooks/app_541077369245456

Happy reading!

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