Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a fantastically detail-oriented person and it drives him crazy that no one does things the right way. Signs are meant to be read. Rules are meant to be followed. Also, schedules are very important.

It took me twice to make it through this book - the first time I picked it up at the recommendation of a Swedish friend, when it was first released in English, but I put it aside after about 40 pages because Ove is just such a bitter crab ass. Since then I've had about 27 library patrons tell me how good this book is and now we're discussing it at the library, so I had no excuse not to sit down and read it.

Now I finally understand the book's popularity!

Ove's a complex man, but it's hard to see past his persnickety nature. As the story goes on, the reader starts to see the man behind the scowl and to better understand his situation. You start to feel sorry for him and to care about his well-being. Just like his new neighbor, Parvaneh.

This book currently is being made into a movie - I've watched the trailer, and I'm curious about the project. So often good books are ruined in the film translation, and this book has such a delicate balance. We'll see how it goes. One good sign - it's being done in Sweden, not in Hollywood!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past by Eric Spitznagel

Sure, it's crazy. But Eric Spitznagel decided he didn't just want to recreate his long-gone vinyl music collection - he wanted the EXACT records back. The one with his first girlfriend's phone number on the cover, and the one sporting his brother's threatening note about not borrowing it. The ones will all the familiar, unique pops, skips and scratches.

It's really nuts. But also a little understandable - it's a modern midlife crisis, right?

Spitznagel is funny and that's what makes this doomed quest bearable. He's got a real way with words, and there were times I laughed out loud at his descriptions. And yet there were other times I was physically uncomfortable with his mania - I got embarrassed for him when he was too blinded to realize how dumb he was acting.

There's some language in this book (you were warned), but it's the way guys this age really talk when they're telling you their best stories. It's really a good book, and the audiobook narration by Ramiz Monsef was spot-on.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Gerald's just a teen trying to get by until he can get out - working his job, staying out of trouble, keeping his head down at school. But that's tough when you grew up on TV as part of a "reality television" show that especially focused on your outrageous behavior. Everyone's sure his future is limited to either jail or death.

When he makes a couple of new friends at work, Gerald decides instead of acting out he'll take his life into his own hands and determine a new, brighter future.

While the story's slightly fantastical, you know this kind of thing actually happens. It's an acidic look at the unreality of reality television and the tolls it takes on its youngest celebrities.

I enjoyed the audiobook - Gerald's a kid forced into his own mind much of the time, and the narrator Michael Stellman does a great job making Gerald relatable and not just a space case lost in his own la-la land.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

A year ago Gottie was having sex with Jason, but it was a secret. A year ago her beloved grandfather was still alive and planning a big solstice celebration. But right now, time keeps slipping down a wormhole that spits Gottie out last summer, then rips her back to the present.

Gottie's a science and math genius, so the wormhole dilemma is a challenge she's attempting to rationalize. Is it possible? How? The part she's maybe overlooking is the Why? Additionally, her obsession with last summer means she's not really living her fullest life right now - there's a lot she's missing.

It's a story of shifting perspectives, with new information leaked out in drips and drabs. There's a delightful cast of characters in a loose, free-form hippy kind of household with minimal guidance and too many teenagers. I was captivated by the narrative - I couldn't decide if this was a story of magic realism, or science fiction, or some kind of psychological breakdown.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

Two teenagers connected only by a tragic car accident that took the lives of their philandering parents.

Juliette is addicted to Adderall, a passed-down legacy from her glamorous, over-achieving mother. Juliette knew about the affair and chose to shelter her wanna-be-author father's fragile ego. On the other hand, Abram was blindsided when his tennis-loving, uber coach father died; he and his mother had no idea there was another woman. Abram's depression means he's snacking and sleeping his days away in a Paxil fog.

They meet in the CVS and tentative politeness turns into an actual friendship. Maybe the only way to get past this grief, anger, and embarrassment is with someone who truly understands.

I loved these broken, real characters and their life-raft friendship. They each recognize a way to help the other heal, even though they feel helpless to do the same for themselves. And the budding romance is sweet and also very realistic.

The book is very well written and completely consuming. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen, hoping the whole way that love might win over in the end.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Vintage by Susan Gloss

This book is a sweet bonbon filled with fluffy nougat - three heartbroken women bond through a vintage clothing store. Men are the worst. Fashion! Love?

If you swoon at tales of women in love and hardship but need to know that it all comes out roses in the end, you'll love this book. This is not my usual fare, but we chose it as a book discussion title.

There's great character development, and the story's got a good arch - there are even a few surprises! I most enjoyed the older Indian woman, Amithi, and her intercultural perspective (she's much less a trope than the others).

The author is from Madison WI and the book is set there, also. Actually, a minor criticism is just how stridently the author places this book in Madison - every single thing is anthemically M-A-D-I-S-O-N! The story could have been in any medium-sized city with a liberal university presence, but she works 300% harder to make sure you can plot everything on a map and Google View the buildings if you wish.