Pub Day Repost: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Believe the hype. All of it. 352 pages of Joy.

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

eARC, 352 pg.
Berkley Books, 2019
Read: July 1 – 3, 2019

I think it’s entirely fitting to start my post about this book by talking about another book (Nina Hill would approve, maybe even insist on it). I remember a lot of what I read about High Fidelity in the late 90’s (I was a little late to the party), was about guys saying to either hand the book to women to help them understand how we think — or to keep it out of their hands, for the very same reason. That resonated with me. I never thought for a second that I was Rob, Dick or Barry, but we thought the same way, we had a similar weltanschauung — their banter was scripted, where mine frequently fumbled — but overall, they were proof that I wasn’t the only one in the world who thought that way. It took me less than two chapters to feel the same way about Nina Hill — our tastes differ somewhat, she’s more clever than I am, and there’s the ridiculous affection for felines — but on the whole, she’s my kind of person. In fact, many of the people in this book are — she’s just the best example of it.

The authorial voice — Nina’s voice, too — is fantastic. I seriously fell head over heels almost instantly with them. The narrative is specific, funny, observant, compassionate, and brutally honest — mostly funny. It’s just so well-written that I knew (and said publicly) by the end of the first chapter that this was going to be in my personal Top 3 for 2019 — I’ve had some time to think about this, and have reconsidered. I’m confident it’ll be in the Top 5, but I should give the rest of the year a little room to compete. It’s one of those books that’s so well-written you don’t care what or who it’s about, as long as you get to read more of that wonderful prose. By chapter 4 — and several times after that — I had to self-consciously stop myself from highlighting and making glowing notes — because if I didn’t, I’d end up never finishing the book (I still have a lot of notes and passages highlighted).

Let me try to explain via a tortured metaphor (this is where you see why I blog about books, and not write my own). Say you’re taking a road trip, say, to go look at autumn leaves and you know the city you’ll be staying in, but know that there are about 18 different ways for the driver to arrive in that city. You know the whole time where you’ll end up, but you don’t have a clue how you’ll get there, what kind of foliage you’ll see (hint: it’ll be brown, red or orange), what the roads will be like, or what random and surprising things might happen along the way. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey — as the fortune cookies and high school graduation speeches tell you. This book is the same way — readers are going to know pretty much where this book is going to end up once they’ve read a few chapters. What they don’t know is how they’ll get there, what they’ll see on the way, what kind of surprises will be along the way, and how fast they’ll get there. It’s in these things that Waxman excels — her plotting is pretty obvious, but her execution is dazzling and often unexpected. (I want to stress that this is an observation, not a criticism)

Nina Hill is a reader — books are how she defines herself, the prism through which she sees and interacts with the world. She has a job (bookseller), a cat, a small home with a lot of shelves, a trivia team, book club, a place she exercises, a visualization corner, a fantastic planner and a love of coffee and quality office products. Her life is pretty regimented, but everything is just how she likes it. She also is introverted, prone to anxiety, and averse to change. Nina’s smart with a great memory, a penchant for honesty, and highly-developed sense of who she is.

Her friends are essentially the women she works with and the members of her trivia team — all of whom are intelligent, witty, well-read and fun. The kind of people I’d love to hang out with over coffee or wine for a few hours a week.

Nina’s mother is a noted and award-winning photojournalist and spends most of her time traveling the world being one. Nina was largely raised by a Nanny (although her mother visited frequently). Nina has never known a father.

Until one day her life changes — a lawyer arrives with some news. Her father is dead. Apparently, her mother discovered he was married and refused to have anything further to do with him. He was absolved of any need to support Nina or her mother as long as he never made contact with her. Which he honored — but made provisions for him in his will.

Her father was a successful entertainment lawyer, and a serial monogamist. He was married three times (one divorce, one widowing, and one marriage intact), had several children and more grandchildren (there are contextually appropriate and helpful graphics to help you understand the family structure). Nina went from being alone in the world to being a sister, an aunt and a grand-aunt in one conversation. She slowly meets various members of the family — discovering similar personality traits, interests and physical characteristics. The family she meets is wonderful — I could easily spend more time with them all. One brother and a nephew (who is older than her) in particular stand out — she gets to know them sooner and deeper than the rest. But many others are on their heels, and even the least-likable among them turn out to be great (with one exception, but that’s by design).

While reeling from the changes of learning she has an extended family, starting to meet them, and learning about her father — another thing happens in her life. There’s a member of a rival trivia team that she finds attractive, and who just may find her attractive. They have similar tastes and many shared interests, but he seems to know a lot about sports (including what “a Don Shula” is) and isn’t much of a reader. But there’s something about him . . .

There are three significant child characters in the novel — they’re not around much, but when they are, they have a large impact on the plot. They are all pretty unrealistic, talking and (apparently) thinking in ways that are immature, but not how kids talk and/or think. But they’re so adorable that you forgive Waxman immediately for these overly-precocious children. It’s not a major thing, I just wanted to say something less-than-positive about the book, and this is all I could come up with.

Throughout the novel, Nina learns how little she’s really alone in the world and how she might be able to find time for more people in her life — without losing who she is and too much reading time. This is the core of the novel and everything else is in service to this goal. While this is going on, there are plenty of laughs, chuckles and wit to carry the reader from plot point to plot point.

It’s a good thing that I stopped quoting from ARCs (I almost never got around to verifying the lines in the published version), because this post would either never be completed or would be so long that I’d be the only one who’d read the whole thing. I had to stop myself — repeatedly, actually — from highlighting great lines. Particularly comments Nina made to others (or the Narrator made on her behalf) about books and/or reading. Book memes are going to be mining this novel for years — you’ve seen 357 variations on the Tyrion lines about reading, or the 200+ takes on “Books were safer than people anyway” from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Folks, Nina Hill is going to bury both of them.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 122 books so far in 2019. If pressed, I’d easily say this is better than 120 of them, and might tie the other (it’s a lot more fun, I can say without a doubt). Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. I don’t know what else to say other than: Go, go read this, go buy it, expect it as a gift from me (if you’re the type to receive gifts from me, I’m not buying one for all of you on my wages, as much as I might want to).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this great opportunity!!

—–

5 Stars

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The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Believe the hype. All of it. 352 pages of Joy.

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman


eARC, 352 pg.
Berkley Books, 2019

Read: July 1 – 3, 2019

I think it’s entirely fitting to start my post about this book by talking about another book (Nina Hill would approve, maybe even insist on it). I remember a lot of what I read about High Fidelity in the late 90’s (I was a little late to the party), was about guys saying to either hand the book to women to help them understand how we think — or to keep it out of their hands, for the very same reason. That resonated with me. I never thought for a second that I was Rob, Dick or Barry, but we thought the same way, we had a similar weltanschauung — their banter was scripted, where mine frequently fumbled — but overall, they were proof that I wasn’t the only one in the world who thought that way. It took me less than two chapters to feel the same way about Nina Hill — our tastes differ somewhat, she’s more clever than I am, and there’s the ridiculous affection for felines — but on the whole, she’s my kind of person. In fact, many of the people in this book are — she’s just the best example of it.

The authorial voice — Nina’s voice, too — is fantastic. I seriously fell head over heels almost instantly with them. The narrative is specific, funny, observant, compassionate, and brutally honest — mostly funny. It’s just so well-written that I knew (and said publicly) by the end of the first chapter that this was going to be in my personal Top 3 for 2019 — I’ve had some time to think about this, and have reconsidered. I’m confident it’ll be in the Top 5, but I should give the rest of the year a little room to compete. It’s one of those books that’s so well-written you don’t care what or who it’s about, as long as you get to read more of that wonderful prose. By chapter 4 — and several times after that — I had to self-consciously stop myself from highlighting and making glowing notes — because if I didn’t, I’d end up never finishing the book (I still have a lot of notes and passages highlighted).

Let me try to explain via a tortured metaphor (this is where you see why I blog about books, and not write my own). Say you’re taking a road trip, say, to go look at autumn leaves and you know the city you’ll be staying in, but know that there are about 18 different ways for the driver to arrive in that city. You know the whole time where you’ll end up, but you don’t have a clue how you’ll get there, what kind of foliage you’ll see (hint: it’ll be brown, red or orange), what the roads will be like, or what random and surprising things might happen along the way. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey — as the fortune cookies and high school graduation speeches tell you. This book is the same way — readers are going to know pretty much where this book is going to end up once they’ve read a few chapters. What they don’t know is how they’ll get there, what they’ll see on the way, what kind of surprises will be along the way, and how fast they’ll get there. It’s in these things that Waxman excels — her plotting is pretty obvious, but her execution is dazzling and often unexpected. (I want to stress that this is an observation, not a criticism)

Nina Hill is a reader — books are how she defines herself, the prism through which she sees and interacts with the world. She has a job (bookseller), a cat, a small home with a lot of shelves, a trivia team, book club, a place she exercises, a visualization corner, a fantastic planner and a love of coffee and quality office products. Her life is pretty regimented, but everything is just how she likes it. She also is introverted, prone to anxiety, and averse to change. Nina’s smart with a great memory, a penchant for honesty, and highly-developed sense of who she is.

Her friends are essentially the women she works with and the members of her trivia team — all of whom are intelligent, witty, well-read and fun. The kind of people I’d love to hang out with over coffee or wine for a few hours a week.

Nina’s mother is a noted and award-winning photojournalist and spends most of her time traveling the world being one. Nina was largely raised by a Nanny (although her mother visited frequently). Nina has never known a father.

Until one day her life changes — a lawyer arrives with some news. Her father is dead. Apparently, her mother discovered he was married and refused to have anything further to do with him. He was absolved of any need to support Nina or her mother as long as he never made contact with her. Which he honored — but made provisions for him in his will.

Her father was a successful entertainment lawyer, and a serial monogamist. He was married three times (one divorce, one widowing, and one marriage intact), had several children and more grandchildren (there are contextually appropriate and helpful graphics to help you understand the family structure). Nina went from being alone in the world to being a sister, an aunt and a grand-aunt in one conversation. She slowly meets various members of the family — discovering similar personality traits, interests and physical characteristics. The family she meets is wonderful — I could easily spend more time with them all. One brother and a nephew (who is older than her) in particular stand out — she gets to know them sooner and deeper than the rest. But many others are on their heels, and even the least-likable among them turn out to be great (with one exception, but that’s by design).

While reeling from the changes of learning she has an extended family, starting to meet them, and learning about her father — another thing happens in her life. There’s a member of a rival trivia team that she finds attractive, and who just may find her attractive. They have similar tastes and many shared interests, but he seems to know a lot about sports (including what “a Don Shula” is) and isn’t much of a reader. But there’s something about him . . .

There are three significant child characters in the novel — they’re not around much, but when they are, they have a large impact on the plot. They are all pretty unrealistic, talking and (apparently) thinking in ways that are immature, but not how kids talk and/or think. But they’re so adorable that you forgive Waxman immediately for these overly-precocious children. It’s not a major thing, I just wanted to say something less-than-positive about the book, and this is all I could come up with.

Throughout the novel, Nina learns how little she’s really alone in the world and how she might be able to find time for more people in her life — without losing who she is and too much reading time. This is the core of the novel and everything else is in service to this goal. While this is going on, there are plenty of laughs, chuckles and wit to carry the reader from plot point to plot point.

It’s a good thing that I stopped quoting from ARCs (I almost never got around to verifying the lines in the published version), because this post would either never be completed or would be so long that I’d be the only one who’d read the whole thing. I had to stop myself — repeatedly, actually — from highlighting great lines. Particularly comments Nina made to others (or the Narrator made on her behalf) about books and/or reading. Book memes are going to be mining this novel for years — you’ve seen 357 variations on the Tyrion lines about reading, or the 200+ takes on “Books were safer than people anyway” from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Folks, Nina Hill is going to bury both of them.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 122 books so far in 2019. If pressed, I’d easily say this is better than 120 of them, and might tie the other (it’s a lot more fun, I can say without a doubt). Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. I don’t know what else to say other than: Go, go read this, go buy it, expect it as a gift from me (if you’re the type to receive gifts from me, I’m not buying one for all of you on my wages, as much as I might want to).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this great opportunity!!

—–

5 Stars

Dead Inside by Noelle Holten: Wherein I babble about a smidgen of the fantastic elements of this book

Dead InsideDead Inside

by Noelle Holten
Series: DC Maggie Jamieson, #1Kindle Edition, 293 pg.
Killer Reads, 2019

Read: June 1 – 3, 2019

I honestly don’t know what to say about this gobsmackingly good mystery. There are so many things I want to say, but I’m quite aware that no one will stick around to read all of them (and, well, I have to go to work, too — I don’t have that much time). I’m very tempted to leave my mid-point check in to stand, I inadvertently hit the essentials that I’d want to talk about now. I’m also thinking of a rant about the really lousy book blurb (no offense to anyone) because you keep waiting for all the events it describes to occur, and it was late in the book for all of it to happen — which I found distracting. But what do I know, might be too hard a sell without it. There’s no way I can do justice to all the characters — we’re talking a cast the size of Abercrombie’s The First Law or Martin’s A Clash of Kings. I could talk about how this could be an extremely preachy, issues book — but Holten so skillfully dodges that, letting the circumstances do the work while she tells a compelling story — and ultimately that’s more effective (and affecting) than the alternative. I could go on and on about the way that Holten constructed the mystery component of this novel — with enough suspects to satisfy Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, cleverly placed clues (and red herrings), and a very satisfying reveal or two. Or I could speculate about why someone who so clearly knows what she’s doing could introduce a series character with a book that doesn’t focus on the series character.

See what I mean?

Let me start with this and see where I go from here…yup, that’s right. It’s stream of consciousness time, boys ‘n girls. Outlines are for wimps.

The day this released, I wrapped up reading another book — which had this great ending (that I didn’t expect) — a wistful, romantic, ending to a fun, funny and exciting read. I was in a great mood, and noticed that I had more time before dinner would be ready, so I decided to dip my feet in the water with Dead Inside. I read the prologue — a first-person near-nightmarish description of a fearing what her drunk husband would do to her when he got home and pretending to be asleep to delay the inevitable (all for the sake of the little girl on the other side of the wall). So much for that happy mood — this prologue is one of the best bits of writing I’ve had the pleasure to encounter this year — it can compete with some of the best of The Power of the Dog — culminating in two sentences that shattered me. I remember practically dreading returning to the book after that, I wasn’t sure I could handle 400 pages of intensity. Thankfully, I was able to get back to that good mood by remembering the other book (and, sure, spending time with the people in my life that aren’t fictional creations). But that prologue stuck with me until I was able to get back to the book (although, almost a week later, I haven’t totally shaken it).

A quick, but important, aside: I know several of my readers have a pretty strict “No Rape” policy — and I’m not one to convince anyone against that. Rapes happen in this book — but you don’t get a play-by-play. It’s all either in past tense (e.g., “my husband raped me,” “sex was forced”), or an expression of fear that it might happen. It’s all matter of fact, completely un-exploitative, and necessary. If that’s too much, so be it — spare yourself putting this aside and don’t pick it up. But speaking as someone who has DNF’d in the past because of rape scenes, I’m telling you this is the way it should be dealt with in fiction.

Now, following the Prologue, the book drops the first person narrative, pulling us back to a more detached third person as it introduces us to a large cast of characters (the comparison to Martin was hyperbolic, but it doesn’t feel that way) — domestic abusers, domestic abuse victims, people in denial about being either of those, probation officers, police officers, police consultants, and so on.

The novel largely focuses on two characters — and I will, too — but there are plenty of other candidates. First, we have DC Maggie Jamieson — temporarily reassigned from a Homicide team (for reasons alluded to, but not really made clear — for her good, though) to a new team focusing on domestic abuse. The whole “reassigned to get away from homicide” part doesn’t work out too well for her when the domestic abusers her team is supposed to be working with start being killed. She’s smart, ambitious, haunted — an interesting combination, to be sure. She’s a good cop, and its nice to see that when it happens. Maggie happens to be the series protagonist, but you’d be excused if you didn’t pick that up until the last chapter. Our other person of focus is Lucy, a tough, no-nonsense probation officer working with the same population (largely). At home, however, that toughness disappears to be replaced with a timid spirit focused on placating/not angering her husband so he won’t beat her (or worse). The two “versions” of Lucy really couldn’t be more different from each other without a MPD diagnosis (or an origin story by Stan Lee). The Prologue, we quickly learn, was from her Point of View and things haven’t gotten better for her since then.

These two are surrounded by compelling, damaged, a well-fleshed out characters. Not every man is depicted as an abuser/potential abuser — and many of those who are depicted in that way are done so with a little bit of empathy for what made them that, while not flinching from condemning their actions and the pleasure they derive from it. Similarly, not every woman is depicted as an abuse victim or enabler. Some are — and they’re shown with the same kind of empathy. Thankfully, some of the damaged men and women are shown as hard workers, trying to make the world better, despite their own circumstances. It’s good to be reminded those people exist.

In short, Holten writes humans, not caricatures or types.

Not only is the cast of characters large — so is the suspect list. The only people in the book not worthy of suspicion were the murdered themselves (and at least one of them would’ve were on the list for a bit). Holten did a great job of giving the reader reasons to suspect everyone. There was a pretty significant clue introduced about one character and I put in my notes that it was a goof on her part, or the most scarlet of red herrings you could imagine. My favorite candidate turned out not to be the one — I didn’t figure they would be, I was just relishing the idea of one particular dark horse. The perpetrator/perpetrators (I’m not telling) is/are the only real possibility(ies) at the end of the day, everything clicked for me about the time it clicked for the police — and yes, I’d considered the correct solution, but liked my idea better until I saw what Holten was doing. A very satisfying solution. Better than the solution — the end of the book is so hopeful it comes as a relief (and feels almost foreign to the rest of the book).

Anyone who’s taken an Intro to Psychology class knows the syndrome where you start unconsciously diagnosing everyone you encounter/know with some sort of psychological disorder (those who’ve gone on to take Intro to Abnormal Psychology are probably aware of the more acute version of this — how graduate students get through the program with any kind of social life intact is beyond me). I had a version of this thanks to this book — I kept seeing people I work with, saw in stores, etc. as victims, abusers, enablers, and so on. Hotlen got in my head, no doubt about it. As I said the other day, “While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel….Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate — like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.”

Dead Inside is not an easy read — but that’s because of the subject matter, the realism of the characters and circumstances, not a problem with the author. This isn’t the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer — rather, it’s the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It’s a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it’s at once satisfying and disturbing — a great combination for a reader. You won’t read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you’ll join me in eagerly awaiting what’s coming next from Holten.

—–

5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Don’t Panic by Neil Gaiman, David K. Dickson and MJ Simpson: An Indispensable Guide to Douglas Adams and his Work

I’d intended to get this up and ready for Towel Day last week — but, obviously, I failed. Schemes once again, Gang aft a-gley. It’s pretty fitting, really that this is late.

Don't PanicDon’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Third Edition)

by Neil Gaiman; Additional Material by David K. Dickson & MJ Simpson
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy (related)

Hardcover, 207 pg.
Titan Books, 2003
Read: May 22 – 23, 2019

          
The idea in question bubbled into Douglas Adams’s mind quite spontaneously, in a field in Innsbruck. He later denied any personal memory of it having happened. But it’s the story he told, and, if there can be such a thing, it’s the beginning. If you have to take a flag reading THE STORY STARTS HERE and stick it into the story, then there is no other place to put it.

It was 1971, and the eighteen year-old Douglas Adams was hitch-hiking his way across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europethat he had stolen (he hadn’t bothered ‘borrowing’ a copy of Europe on $5 a Day, he didn’t have that kind of money).

He was drunk. He was poverty-stricken. He was too poor to afford a room at a youth hostel (the entire story is told at length in his introduction to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts in England, and The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy in the US) and he wound up, at the end of a harrowing day, flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. “Somebody,” he thought, “somebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

He forgot about the idea shortly thereafter.

Five years later, while he was struggling to think of a legitimate reason for an alien to visit Earth, the phrase returned to him. The rest is history, and will be told in this book.

I distinctly remember purchasing the first edition of Don’t Panic from BookPeople of Moscow in the fall of 1991 — I remember being blown away by the idea that someone would write a book about Douglas Adams’ work. I had no idea who this Neil Gaiman fellow was, but I enjoyed his writing and loved the book he wrote — and read it several times. It was a long time (over 2 decades) before I thought of him as anything but “that guy who wrote the Hitchhiker’s book.” The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy had been a favorite of mine for years by that point, and getting to look behind the scenes of it was like catnip.

This is the third edition, and as is noted by Gaiman in the Forward, it “has been updated and expanded twice.” The completist in me would like to find a second edition to read the original 3 chapters added by David K. Dickson in 1993, but the important change was in 2002, when “MJ Simpson wrote chapters 27-30, and overhauled the entire text.” If you ask me, Gaiman’s name should be in the smaller print and Simpson’s should be the tall letters on the cover — but no publisher is that stupid, if you get the chance to claim that Neil Gaiman wrote a book, you run with it. Overhauled is a kind way of putting it — there’s little of the original book that I recognize (I’m going by memory only, not a side by side comparison). This is not a complaint, because Simpson’s version of the book is just as good as the original, it’s just not the original.

This is a little more than the story of The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, but it’s certainly not a biography of Adams — maybe you could call it a professional biography. Or a biography of Adams the creator, which only touches upon the rest of his life as needed. Yes there are brief looks at his childhood, schooling, etc. But it primarily focuses on his writing, acting, producing and whatnot as the things that led to that revolutionary BBC Radio series and what happened afterward. Maybe you could think of it as the story of a man’s lifelong battle to meet a deadline and the lengths those around him would go to help him not miss it too much.

Once we get to the Radio series, it follows the The Hitchhiker’s Trilogy through each incarnation and expansion — talking about the problems getting it produced (in whatever medium we’re talking about — books, TV show, movie, stage show) and the content. Then the book discusses other Adams projects — Dirk Gently books, The Last Chance to See, his computer work, and other things like that.

It’s told with a lot of cheek, humor, and snark — some of the best footnotes and appendices ever. It’s not the work of a slavish fanboy (or team of them) — there are critical moments talking about problems with some of the books (some of the critiques are valid, others might be valid, but I demur). But it’s never not told with affection for the man or his work.

Don’t Panic is a must for die-hard fans — and can be read for a lot of pleasure by casual fans of the author or his work. I can almost promise that whatever your level of devotion to or appreciation of Adams/his work, it’ll increase after reading this. Any edition of this book should do — but this third edition is an achievement all to itself. Imagine someone being able to say, “I improved on Gaiman’s final draft.”

I loved it, I will return to this to read as well as to consult for future things I write about Adams, and recommend it without hesitation.

—–

5 Stars

Humor Reading Challenge 2019

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator): A Fantastic, Moving, Fun Tale of a Grieving Widower

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)


Hardcover, 337 pg.
Atria Books, 2014
Read: April 2 – 3, 2019

[His wife] often said that “all roads lead to something you were always predestined to do.” And for her, perhaps, it was something.

But for Ove it was someone.

I’ve been fully intending to read all of Fredrik Backman’s books after I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (3 years ago), but there were a couple of things holding me back. 1. I loved My Grandmother so much that I didn’t want something to eclipse it; 2. I didn’t want to be so disappointed in one of his other books that it tainted my memory of My Grandmother. I finally told myself to get over it and just read him — what did I really have to lose?

That was obviously the right call — this was just fantastic.

If at this point, you haven’t heard of this book and decided if you’re going to read it or not, I’m not likely to persuade you. It’s sold about as many books as a person not named James Patterson, J. K. Rowling or Steven King should be able to expect. There’s been a movie made of it in Sweden and Tom Hanks is working on a version, too. This book is practically a phenomenon, and in the years since it’s publication, the author, Fredrik Backman has practically become an industry. So, if you haven’t read it by this point, there’s probably a reason, I’m not going to convince you otherwise. Nor do I think I can contribute much to the discussion about the book beyond what’s already been said. But I’m still driven to talk about it a bit.

Ove is a recent widower who has decided that it’s time to join his wife, and attempts to kill himself by various means in order to do that. But like an aged (and more dedicated) Lane Meyer, he can’t complete the deed. Something always interrupts him — generally, it’s the fools and incompetents that are his neighbors needing his help. Somehow these people have reached adulthood without learning how to back up a vehicle towing a trailer. bleeding a radiator or any number of things. So he stops what he was doing, helps his whatever neighbor needs it (complaining about it and insulting them all the time) and tries again the next day.

Ove’s struggles with the neighbors and his botched attempts to end his life are interspersed with his life story — his troubled childhood, career, early years of his marriage and the tragic end of it. The writing here is incredibly effective — and Backman doesn’t even try to hide his emotional manipulation — he essentially calls his shots sometimes — and it works. He plays whatever tune he wants and the reader dances to it. Try to get through the paragraph where Ove thinks about missing holding his wife’s hand unmoved, I dare you. I was teary at least once before the midpoint of the work — and about a half hour after finishing the book, I had to go back and re-read the last few pages with dry eyes so I could be certain I read what I thought I read.

Ove in his cantankerousness, his particular and peculiar way of approaching life — and in his grief — is a fantastic character. But I think that his neighbor, a Muslim immigrant mother of three, who deices that her angry old neighbor needs a friend (whether he wants one or not) and then becomes that friend (which he definitely doesn’t want) is an even better character. Parvaneh is smart, kind, fun and loving — and as stubborn as Ove. Next to his wife, she’s the best thing to happen to him. There are plenty of other great characters (the overweight computer tech who lives on the other side of Ove is a fine example).

I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob.

One of the easiest 5-Stars I’ve ever given. If you keep putting off reading this — knock it off, read the book.

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5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter: PsyLED Fights its Biggest and Most Dangerous Foe and Troubles from Within

Time to wrap up our Tour Stop for this book — I hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as I have. I get a little long-winded below, sorry — but when I like a book as much as I did this one, it happens.

Circle of the MoonCircle of the Moon

by Faith Hunter
Series: Soulwood, #4

eARC, 400 pg.
ACE, 2019
Read: February 6 – 8, 2019

I’m going to have to talk about the events at the end of the previous book, Flame in the Dark, a little bit. If you haven’t read that — sorry. You may want to use the time you were about to spend on this post to purchase that/get it from your library instead.

So, with any of these Soulwood books there are three main threads to follow: 1. The PsyLED case(s) and storylines associated with the team; 2. The developments with God’s Cloud of Glory Church and Nell’s family; 3. Nell’s personal evolution as in independent woman and her supernatural development. These will all intertwine and effect each other — particularly the private lives of the PsyLED team and Nell’s own development. I want to touch on all these briefly to give you a good idea what to expect with this book.

Let’s start with God’s Cloud of Glory, which gets a lot less ink than we’re used to. But when they show up, it counts. It’s unclear how much of the church is really in favor of the changes occurring within it — it’s probably not as uniform as I’d been thinking. Which makes sense, any reformation is slow and complicated — and won’t be a straight line of progress, humans are messier than that. Whether this group will actually stumble into orthodoxy is hard to say, and it’ll definitely take years. We get to see a little of the pushback to the reforms here, but it’s nothing severe. I expect in a book or two, something will happen because of what we see in this book. The Vampire Tree on the Church’s land takes a different role in this book than we’ve grown accustomed to — and it’s probably the most important and intriguing development having to do with the Church in Circle of the Moon (possibly the most important in the book as a whole, too — time will tell).

We do learn some interesting things about Nell’s family and how they acted before Jane Yellowrock and the feds upended everything, too. I shouldn’t forget that…

As far as Nell goes, it’s been just a few weeks since she stopped being a tree and started being a human-ish person again. As you can see from the excerpt I posted earlier, things are going well for Nell and Occam, and things are moving quickly on the Mud coming to live with Nell front. But both are bringing their share of challenges for Nell. Her life is definitely not looking anything like what she’d envisioned and the changes aren’t easy for her — she mentions at one point her mixed feelings about coming into the twenty-first century. As much as she relishes some of these changes, none of them are easy.

Nell is forced to confront and re-evaluate her ideas about love, commitment, what it means to be in a romantic relationship. So much of her thinking is still that of a “churchwoman” as she’d put it. She knows other women, other men, don’t think of things in those terms and while she’s rejected her upbringing, she hasn’t yet replaced everything she wants to (she probably hasn’t even figured out everything she wants to change).Occam is the best person for her to be involved with right now (the cynic in me wants to say that he’s too perfect, but I like him too much to listen to my inner cynic) — his patience, kindness and understanding are what’s going to help her the most now.

I’m not gong to say anything else about Mud — but I’m a fan. I don’t think Hunter hit a false note with her character or any scene she was in. Mud’s a great character and knows exactly what she wants in this life (at least for now) and what she needs to do to get it. Primarily that involves manipulating and/or convincing her sister to do a few things — and Mud’s an expert at both of those.

As far a Nell and her powers go? Just wow. If you think the tree thing in the last book was revolutionary, just wait. There’s nothing as cataclysmic this time (thankfully — I’m not sure we readers could take it), but the implications of some of what Nell does in this book that aren’t yet known or seen, and the reverberations from them will be felt for a while.

So that brings us to PsyLED. Rick LaFleur wakes up in the middle of a very strange witch circle with no idea how he got there. He’d been called there somehow — as his cat. There’s a dead cat near and Nell picks up traces of vampires in the circle, too. Clearly, black magic is involved — but how and why, no one knows. It doesn’t take long before there are other circles being discovered — new and made in recent weeks. Rick and some of Ming’s vampires alike being called to them. Either of those happenings would be concerning — but the combination of them is mysterious and troubling. Also, why is Rick being called and nothing happening to the team’s other werecat? The questions and mysteries pile up quickly.

Some trouble in Knoxville law enforcement doesn’t help, either. Supernatural crimes/events — things like strange witch circles — aren’t being reported to PsyLED as they ought to be. The FBI and one particular agent (the witch that Nell met last time) are hovering on the fringes of the investigation in a way that speaks of more than mild curiosity. Changes and upheaval in the local vampire government — Ming of Glass is now a MOC, for example — feeds into some of the confusion.

It’s one of those situations where the more Nell and the team learn, the less they know. Everything points to big trouble, they just can’t figure out what kind of trouble — or even its source. Rick is going to have to explain a lot about things he’s previously been reluctant to discuss, for starters. And still, they may not figure out what kind of black magic is involved — and why — before it’s too late to save innocent/not-so-innocent lives.

This is the best PsyLED story this series has yet given us. Nell running off on her own isn’t going to crack this, solid procedure, a real team effort and some quick thinking (and a few lucky breaks) are the key to things working out. It’s probably the most exciting story, too. There’s a lot of action, there are more guns fired in this book by law enforcement than possibly in the first three books combined. Lainey and her magic, JoJo’s computer wizardry (legitimate and less than), Occam’s cat and trigger finger, Tandy’s abilities, plus Nell’s abilities (including offensive capabilities we haven’t previously seen) are going to have to work more in general and in combination with each other than they have in the series so far just to keep the team in the game — but for them to actually close this case and get some answers, they’re going to need extra help. I loved this part of the book and want to keep talking about it, but I’m going to hold back. I’ve often wondered if the team wasn’t wasting time in the past — not this time. Everything clicked for me with this story and I couldn’t be happier about the whole thing.

I’m pretty sure that I can’t say anything about the people behind the circles without ruining something. There’s some real evil afoot, I tell you what. There’s also a damaged soul (well, a few of them), some well-intentioned moves in the past that result in trauma and worse in the present, a mixture of aligned entities that don’t necessarily have the same ends in mind. You combine those things and you get a lot of damage, heartbreak, and death being dealt. Not only is this the best PsyLED story, it’s got the most compelling opponent(s) for the team yet.

I know that Rick has his detractors going back to early on in the Yellowrock books up until his involvement in this series. I haven’t checked as much as I should have to see if some of them have come around to him or not. I’ve never been as anti-Rick as others have been, but he’s never been a character I liked. As soon as he and Jane split, I would’ve been content to never think of him again — but Hunter had other ideas. I liked him in this role, but I’ve always preferred everyone else on the team (except Paka), and really hoped he’d be in the background for some time. Yeah, well, that’s absolutely not the case in this book. I won’t say that this book wholly rehabilitates the character for me — and I can’t imagine that the extreme anti-Rick contingent will be satisfied. But, I will say that it’ll be hard for people to not soften their opinion of him after this book. Hunter did a lot of good to his character in this book. For people who liked Rick and/or were positively-inclined toward him? You’re going to love this book.

Tandy does a couple of things in this book that intrigued me. Nell’s not the only paranormal on this team whose powers are developing in ways that may prove troubling. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that these two (and maybe others?) are changing, or if there’s another explanation — they’re changing each other, one is changing the other while they evolve themselves — or is there an outside party up to something? It’s also possible I’m reading too much into things.

This is largely an aside for people who are Yellowrock fans. Throughout this book, we brush up against Jane Yellowrock and what happened in Dark Queen, which seems to have happened while Nell was a tree (I think Dark Queen started about the same time as Flame in the Dark, but DQ ended a lot sooner than FitD), and Nell’s not really up on what’s going on with her friend yet. She knows a couple of the bullet points, but doesn’t really have the full picture. According to FaithHunter.net’s Reading Order, this novel actually happens after the next Jane Yellowrock novel. So, we’re about as confused as Nell is. Now, does this impact any of the interaction Nell, JoJo and the rest have with Jane, Alex or any of the vampires in Tennessee? No. But man, it makes me even more curious about what happens after Dark Queen — I didn’t think I could be more curious about that than I was, but man…this book has really intensified all that for me.

Okay, back to Circle of the Moon. I’ve given the first three books in the series 4 1/2 Stars each. I think this time I have to give in and toss that missing half star to the rating. The PsyLED story was great, we didn’t get bogged down in the Church/cult business too much, Mud just made me smile, and while I’m not comfortable with every choice Nell made in her personal and professional life (and a couple of the choices worry me long-term) — I like the fact that she’s making them. I can’t think of a single problem with this book, it satisfied every fan-impulse/desire I had, was a step up from previous installments in many ways, and told a solid and complete story that still drives the reader to want more. I can’t imagine a Hunter fan not liking this book — and it’s the kind of book that should get her some new readers, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions remain my own and are the honest reactions of this particular reader.

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5 Stars


My thanks to Let’s Talk Promotions for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book via NetGalley) they provided.

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey: A great Intro to the Canons of Dort and a valuable tool for study

Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of DortSaving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort

by W. Robert Godfrey


eARC, 265 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2019

Read: February 3 – 10, 2019


I’m halfway inclined to just copy and paste the Table of Contents here and say, “If you want to know about any of this, here’s where you start.” Slap a nice little graphic with some stars on it, and we’re done. But I’m not that lazy. This is a historically-based study of the Synod of Dort’s major product — the Canons of Dort (although it does look at some other concerns), the defense of the Reformed doctrines in answer to the challenges of Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants that took up and furthered his cause following his death. The Canons gave us the so-called “5 Points of Calvinism” and are often misunderstood because of that and as mischaracterized as those points themselves. If this book only helps people stop doing that, it’d be well worth the effort (it won’t, but it’s pretty to think so) — but it’s so much more.

There are four parts to this book — any one of which can be read independently from the others. I’m not sure why you would do that, but they’re self-contained enough that you don’t have to.

Part I focuses on the historical and theological context for the calling of the Synod, those who attended and the topics it would address. Godfrey is a Church Historian and former History professor, this is his bread and butter, and you can tell that from these chapters. You also get the impression that he could’ve written a book about the same length as this one just on the historical matters without breaking a sweat. This isn’t the best part of the book, but it gets things off to a great start.

Part II is a “Pastoral” translation of the Canons prepared by Godfrey for this book. I’m not familiar enough with other translations to really have much to say about this. I’ve read others, but I don’t have them committed to memory. Besides, I don’t know Latin well enough to evaluate the translation. But I can say that this was a clear translation, it didn’t read like something written in Latin for experts, but something written to help me and other Christians to wade through some weighty topics. As the problems caused by the Remonstrants were in the churches more than in the academy, the language matched that.

The heart of the book is in Part III, An Exposition of the Canons of Dort. Godfrey beings with some observations about the Canons as a whole — how they’re structured before he dives in to the Canons themselves. In addition to the errors of the Remonstrants, the Canons address other issues related to the doctrines involved, providing a resource for believers for generations not just an answer to their contemporary problems. The pastoral focus of the Canons — and Godfrey — is evident throughout the Exposition, he’s frequently talking about comfort, encouragement, and assurance. It’s not just an explanation and defense of the Reformation and Protestant teaching, it’s an aid and comfort to believers.

It may come as a surprise to see what Godfrey points out as a result of compromise, and the reasoning behind those things that needed no compromise. The behind-the-scenes portions of the book are as interesting as the exposition (giving an indication to those of us who didn’t sit under Godfrey’s Church History lectures that we really missed out on something). Godfrey also points out how the Canons weren’t as successful in some ways as they wanted to be — not as a failure, just that some of their goals were out of reach of the assembly.

Some of this section gets repetitive — because each Head of Doctrine is complete in itself, capable of standing alone — so similar points are covered repeatedly. Godfrey’s exposition both points that out and is written to keep the repetition from being dull, but instead an indication of the importance of the various points. This section is so helpful that I really can’t do justice — my copy is full of highlighted lines/paragraphs. I will be returning to it often, I know that. Concise, clear, insightful — everything you want in this kind of study.

The remainder of the book is Appendices. There’s an outline of the Canons, an explanation for the pattern of each head of doctrine (very similar to the same idea in the Exposition) and a handy guide to the relation of the positive articles to the rejection of errors. The last appendix is a new translation of the Synod’s provisional position on the Sabbath, giving some insight into the relation of the Synod’s stance to that of British Puritanism. The largest, and probably most helpful (and maybe controversial) is an extended look at Arminius and his overall project. Godfrey takes a position that argues against some recent scholarship (as I understand) and insists that he wasn’t a moderate Reformed churchman, but someone seeking to overturn segments of the church’s teaching and introduce serious Pelagian error.

In this anniversary year, I know this will not be the only book about the Synod released (I have another pre-ordered, and am sure I’ll pick up others) — but I can’t imagine that it won’t be one of the better. It is well-researched, careful, encouraging and pastoral — this is not dry and dusty history, nor dry and dusty doctrine. This book, like the Synod it focuses on, seeks to defend, protect and further the cause of the Protestant Reformation, the Gospel itself. As such, it succeeds and you’d do well to study it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.