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Book Review: A MAN CALLED OVE

DETAILS

Title: A MAN CALLED OVE
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Sceptre Books
ISBN: 9781444775815
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

BACK COVER BLURB

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbour from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

WHAT I THOUGHT

I don’t normally read contemporary or literary fiction, in the same way I don’t want to get a nasty skin rash — through avoidance. But after reading a couple of reviews, and seeing it listed on a couple of blogs as a book to read — yes, I’m looking at you, Norrie. I found myself staring at the cover in my local bookstore and thinking, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe I won’t get a skin rash, vomit, swoon or faint from cracking open its pages. So I bought it.

Sure enough, I checked myself regularly through out the reading process and, no rashes. I did, however, laugh a lot—because of his droll observations and the awkward situations he found himself dealing with—and smiled at the nicknames he gave everyone in his neighbourhood, including the mangy cat. Through to shaking my head in wonder, when the seemingly innocent act of drilling a hole in the ceiling turns out to be a lot more than drilling a hole in the ceiling.

There is so much more going on in Ove’s life, that trickles in through those first few chapters which, by the end, make you sit up and realise what’s really going on. And just why there is no colour left in Ove’s life anymore.

Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for the living For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.

All people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.

People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.

Poignant, funny, uplifting and yes, at times, heartbreakingly sad, Ove has lived a simple life that’s anything but simple. In that the challenges he’s had to overcome, and the people—good and bad—that have shaped and moulded the boy through to the man that he becomes, all become part of the very cleverly written backstory. From Ove’s interactions with his father, through to the loving relationship he has with his wife, Sonja, and how they met and fell in love.

But it’s in the present we see how Ove’s life slowly transforms through the interactions with his (somewhat) friends and neighbours. Flawed people who make mistakes, argue (a lot) and drive Ove nuts yet, who at times, also touch Ove deeply in ways even he never expected — especially his next door neighbour, Parvaneh and her two young daughters. And even though Ove tells these people exactly what he thinks of them, they still manage to be there and to rally round, and change a grumpy old man’s life, in ways he never expected, and for the better.

Sad, funny, poignant and heartwarming, A Man Called Ove is an immensely enjoyable read. And one you will not forget easily. Certainly, it touched me deeply.

Rating : 8 / 10

First Impressions Friday: THE WHISPERER

It’s that time of week, again, which means, it’s First Impressions Friday. For those of you who are unfamiliar, #FIF is a weekly meme created by J.W. Martin. The goal is to talk about a book you recently started reading then share your first impressions, predict what you think will happen, and then say whether you think you’ll enjoy it.

Last weekend I picked up two books, one was A MAN CALLED OVE, the other was THE WHISPERER by Donato Carrisi. Well, I finally finished reading A MAN CALLED OVE last night (which I’ll review next week) and have just started THE WHISPERER, billed as a gruesome murder-mystery. Well, I have to say, just reading the back cover blurb of this one gave me shivers down my spine.

Six severed arms are discovered, arranged in a mysterious circle and buried in a clearing in the woods. Five of them appear to belong to missing girls between the ages of eight and eighteen. The sixth is yet to be identified. Worse still, the girls’ bodies, alive or dead, are nowhere to be found.

Lead investigators Mila Vasquez, a celebrated profiler, and Goran Gavila, an eerily prescient criminologist, dive into the case. They’re confident they’ve got the right suspect in their sights until they discover no link between him and any of the kidnappings except the first. The evidence in the case of the second missing child points in a vastly different direction, creating more questions than it answers.

Vasquez and Gavila begin to wonder if they’ve been brought in to take the fall in a near-hopeless case. Is it all coincidence? Or is a copycat criminal at work? Obsessed with a case that becomes more tangled and intense as they unravel the layers of evil, Gavila and Vasquez find that their lives are increasingly in each other’s hands.”

I mean, come on, if that doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will. But, as I’m only a few pages in, I’m not sure where this one will lead and, by the end, whether or not it will be a hit or a miss. Certainly, all the right ingredients are there. I just hope that with this being a translated work, that nothing has been lost in translation, as oft times can happen.

Here’s to solving this grisly mystery.

Bullet Journalling — One notebook to rule them all!

To keep myself organised and, because I love paper and all things stationery, I’ve been a journalist all my life. From writing in little spiral-bound notebooks and school exercise books as a child, right on through to a fancy leather-bound Midori (an expensive Japanese notebook) that was a birthday gift. I’ve been an avid note-maker since I was able to hold a pencil and write.

I’ve used all sorts of notebooks to scribble in, and even tried the made for journaling journal by Baron Fig—yes, what a great name! Never mind the journal that everyone seems to hold as sacred, the Leuchtturm1917. But amongst them all, big, small, ruled, dotted or blank, fancy, plain, expensive or cheap. The one I love the most has to be the A5 pocket size Moleskine.

I’ve noted everything from lists of movies watched, to books I want to buy, to snippets I want to remember—quotes, sayings and random thoughts—all the things I don’t want to forget. From To-Do lists to complicated weekly and monthly calendars — they’ve all been scribbled in my beloved Moleskine.

Whatever the notebook of the moment, I’ve found the best way of journalling, the way to make it a habit rather than a chore, has been to follow the simplistic guidelines of Bullet Journal Guru, Ryder Carroll, who has made journalling not only easier to stick to, but almost an art form in and of itself.

Simplicity being the key to making it work. We’re not talking the kind of journalling where each and every page is a work of art, quite the opposite, in fact. Carroll preaches the minimalist approach. His BuJo approach gives you leave to just jot down notes and ideas, thoughts and reminders, as a series of short form sentences paired with a symbol that is your visual guide, as you categorize your entries into: Tasks, Events, or Notes (in it’s basic form).

In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself.” — Susan Sontag

For more information, Melody Wilding writes a great introductory article about Bullet Journaling for Beginners, over on Medium, and the New Republic has Why The Humble Notebook is taking over. Even the prestigious LA Times ran an article Why Is Everyone Crazy for BuJo?

Why? Because it gives people in a digital world the freedom—and yes, permission—to go analogue when it comes to note-taking. Rest assured, a BuJo only needs a pen or pencil—nothing more, nothing less—and doesn’t need constantly charging or updating. Further more, filling a notebook and filing it away on a shelf next to its brethren is an achievement.

And you, do you obsessively note take, and do you BuJo with the best of them?

Book Review: THE CITY OF BRASS

DETAILS

Title: THE CITY OF BRASS
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Publisher: Harper Voyager
ISBN: 9780062678119
Genre: Epic Fantasy

BACK COVER BLURB

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, and healing—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical Marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

WHAT I THOUGHT

Nahri is a young woman living by her wits on the streets of Cairo, running lucrative cons and healing rituals and staying one step ahead of being caught. She knows nothing about who she is or where she came from, but knows she has a gift for languages, and can heal herself from just about anything.

It’s while she’s conducting an elaborate con of a young woman possessed by a daemon spirit, that Nahri’s story takes a turn when she accidentally summons a fiery, good looking djinn warrior. Furious at being summoned by a mere mortal, Dara soon realizes that the young woman who summoned him is being chased by flesh-eating ghouls, who in turn are being controlled by an ancient foe: the Ifrit.

Fleeing the Ifrit and ghouls on an enchanted carpet, Dara kidnaps Nahri wondering why the Ifrit are so interested in this nondescript human. He soon realizes there is more to Nahri than meets the eye, and takes her out in the deep desert, to meet a friend he thinks might have the answers. But Dara has little time to find out more as the Ifrit—hellbent on capturing not only Nahri, but also in killing him—chase them further and further into the unforgiving desert.

Knowing what it might cost him and, as a result, Nahri, Dara decides the only safe place for them both is the legendary city of brass: Daevabad. A city hidden behind a magical veil, ruled by the Djinn or, to be exact, the Daeva. But there’s no guarantees they will be welcomed, even if they do live long enough to outrun the Ifrit. There are warring factions and mistrust raging through the city, where the six tribes of djinn live side by side with the Shafit—the mixed-blood human underclass—who are viciously mistreated by the magical Daeva.

The first third of The City of Brass is taken up with Nahri and Dara fleeing through the desert, a fast-paced beginning that I read on one sitting, I was that captivated from the get go. Not only do we get to know more about both Nahri and Dara, and his tragic history (seen in clever moments of flashback) but the snappy banter between the two characters flips between sarky jibes and irritation, but also shows a grudging friendship begin to form between them.

It’s when they finally reach Daevabad that the story takes a slower pace, but, nonetheless, an interesting one as new characters and situations present themselves. Where the initial conflict, such as it was, was between Dara and Nahri, now Nahri is thrown in the deep end of Daeva politics and the machinations of the ruling Qahtani family. And more specifically, we find out more about Prince Alizayd, the youngest son of the Qahtani ruler.

This second third and more of the story, is more politics and conflict, as each character struggles with their own personal plight. Dara, whose violent past still haunts him, might also be his undoing and the death of him. While Nahri finds she is less of a guest of the King, and more of a pawn and prisoner. As she slowly learns more about the city, its inhabitants, politics, and life of the Shafit. Everyone around her seems to have an agenda and hidden motives, as Nahri finds to her cost, when she is befriended by Ali. He may be a second son, and a prince and warrior, but he too has his own agenda and hidden secrets.

All of which makes for a lot of palace intrigue and political turmoil. And, while you think this all sounds rather dull and boring, I found it quite the opposite. Chakraborty has, through a lot of research, added a great deal of depth, as well as many layers to the story itself, never mind the characters. Each of whom are imbued with faults and flaws, and personal tics that really bring them all to life. This really is a conflict-driven plot with plenty of physical and more subtle violence, that never overwhelms the emotional side and turmoil of the character’s stories. All of which are richly detailed.

The City of Brass is like nothing I’ve read in a very long time. The world building is exceptional, helped in part by a very long history to the Middle East and beyond. A history and its myths Chakraborty happily mines to its depths, and adds so much more to this story with her own vivid imagination. She leaves no stone unturned to create a world which lives and breathes, and whose pulse you feel as you turn and read each and every page.

Death, loss, betrayal, and yes, love, The City of Brass has its fair share of emotion amid the confusion and turbulence of a city on the verge of exploding: Daevabad and the Daeva are about to take sides as the limits to truth, trust, and loyalties are pushed to the extreme.

The explosive ending resonates long after the last page is read. Leaving me knowing that there’s so much more to come, as I (among many) await the release of the second book in the series, THE KINGDOM OF COPPER, due out in the spring of 2019.

If you haven’t read this one yet, you’re missing out on one of the best epic fantasies written in decades.

Rating : 9.5 / 10

E Pluribus Unum

Warning: This post contains spoilers from Sunday’s Madam Secretary premiere.

Sometimes, and not very often enough, a TV show comes along that just rocks my world. One such show is MADAM SECRETARY, starring Teá Leoni in the title role, as Elizabeth McCord. This outstanding show—penned and steered by Barbara Hall and God himself, Morgan Freeman—is now in it’s fifth season.

It was the premiere episode this Sunday, in which Gen. Colin Powell, Madeline Albright and a personal hero of mine, Hilary Clinton guest starred, playing themselves. Each of these great previous, real-life, Secretary of State, offering advice and sage counsel to the fictional McCord on the topic of a Unified America, and the rise of Nationalism — “a perversion of patriotism” she quotes in what is, quite honestly, truly one of the most outstanding speeches never given by a Secretary of State or, to come out of the White House.

The fictional McCord’s remarks were inspirational—so much so, I ended up with chills going down my spine and goosebumps all along my arms.

Here’s the full text (released by CBS) from that crucial scene, after White Supremacists (Americans, not foreign terrorists I should point out) have tried to blow up the White House during a signing of an Accord between India and Pakistan.

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