Tag Archives: pregnancy

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch

This book made me cry.

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” And that was enough!

Fredrik Backman has created a truly eccentric personality in main character Ove, a grumpy malcontent with a big heart underneath who’s a stickler for the rules (as he conceives them) but grudgingly lends a hand (actually he takes over) to make sure the job is done right.

Despite the way Ove views the world, or maybe because of it, you kind of have to love this guy even wth his negative attitudes towards almost everything, except his wife who he dearly loves, (although he also has a soft spot for the Saab he drives). Fate in all its glory, both the good and the bad, keeps dictating Ove’s path, interceding when it seems like there’s no way forward. Not too long, (336 pages), A Man Called Ove is a mesmerizing read, one of those can’t put it down books which instantly peaks your interest. I really can’t say too much more or I’ll spoil the “fun” as you discover the whats and whys on your own.

The translation from the original Swedish can be jarring at times (I’m not a fan of first person narration), but there are some clever phrases that will bring a smile to your face and even an occasional laugh. My only complaint is that Ove acted older than his fifty nine years, but then again, he was born an old man. This one has been on my “To Read List” for awhile and it did not disappoint. I can see why A Man Called Ove was a New York Times Bestseller for almost a year – a perfect choice for a movie (made in Sweden in 2015). Five stars. Enjoy!

The greatest compliment : May I be “unlike you in the smallest number of ways”.

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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn takes her time telling her story, but that’s okay, it’s quite a story to tell. The Alice Network is the tale of three broken people who through a common cause are able to help each other heal their wounds.

A slightly pregnant Charlie St Clair is on her way to Switzerland via a stop in England to take care of her little problem. At least that’s what her mom thinks, but Charlie has a different idea on how to take advantage of the situation. With an address and a mission, she locates a gnarled-handed, disheveled old drunken woman – Eve Gardener, the unlikely key to answering her questions. Somehow Charlie perseveres and convinces Eve to join her quest, not realizing that her guide has a similar goal in mind. Eve’s driver, the Scotsman Finn Kilgore, assists the two unlikely travel companions in their attempt to find the whereabouts of Rose, Charlie’s cousin who disappeared during the horror of the German occupation. Just two years after the war, the motley crew makes their way to France to track down the clues revealed to Eve via her contacts from a mysterious past.

Don’t be fooled. Eve has her own sad tale to tell, dating from her days as a spy in France during the German occupation in World War I. Eve was a part of The Alice Network, an auspicious group of women who used their wits to extract military secrets from the enemy. Eve’s subtle wiles were beneficial while on the job at Le Lithe, an upscale bistro frequented by the top German military brass, facilitated by Rene Bordelon, a self centered profiteer who relished the good things in life and didn’t care if the paying customers were the enemy, as long as his elaborate needs were met.

Quinn alternates between Eve and Charlie telling their back stories until the subplots intersect as their search expands to the next level and truths are revealed. 3/4 of the way through the reader thinks “well that’s it, what more is there”, yet there is so much more to be told. Interweaved throughout the narrative is the budding romance between Charlie and Finn (who must contend with his own demons), with their mutual allegiance towards Eve expanding to an even higher regard for one another as the search continues throughout the French countryside as the three pursue a resolution to past wrongs.

Quinn perfectly masters the intertwining of past and “present” in her fictionalized tale of true events. While the main characters are fabrications used to move the plot forward, the details of the Alice Network and the subsequent capture of its participants are historically accurate. Even more impressive is the clever commingling of truth and fiction to create a flawless story. Whether or not you like any of the three main characters or approve of their actions, this historical novel is a compelling tale difficult to put down in spite of its 500 plus pages. A must read! Five stars.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

The devastation of war leaves behind many victims consigned to clean up the mess that was once their life. Homeless, both literally and figuratively, they huddle together as refugees in their new countries trying to come to terms with an altered sense of self, brushing aside those clinging memories which must be left in the past if they are to survive in the future.

The title The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien refers to the 11,541 red chairs placed in the center of the capital of Bosnia in 2012, representing each person who died during the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo, small chairs (643) indicating the life of a child. Such a visualization can’t help but move the reader before a single page is even turned. O’Brien’s intent is to haunt us as the story unfolds.

A charismatic stranger, Dr Vladimir Dragan, enters a small town in Ireland, intriguing the locals as he worms his way into the community, setting up shop as an alternative healer. Using his knowledgable background, he mesmerizes the townspeople, gaining their trust, even taking their children out to the countryside to teach them about the natural habitat. Vlad’s expertise in literature and poetry endears him to the members of the book club, gaining him further acceptance. One lonely woman, Fidelma, in a frigid marriage to an older man, desperately wants a child and convinces Vlad to oblige her desires. He reluctantly agrees and during their brief affair he also introduces her to the romance she craves. Verifying her condition, she is left wondering how to explain her predicament to her husband when her lover, afraid of discovery, disappears. Several weeks pass and he reappears, rumpled and mangy, for a previously arranged poetry outing. On the bus filled with townspeople, he is arrested as a master war criminal to the horror of the entire village, but especially to the pregnant Fidelma. Vlad has been on the run for almost twenty years avoiding an arrest for the atrocities he ordered during the Bosnian War, especially during the Siege of Sarajevo. Responsible for the death of thousands in an attempt at ethnic cleansing to remove all the Muslims in Yugoslavia, this man is hated the world over.

Realizing she is carrying this monster’s child, Fidelma wonders how to rid herself of this affliction, but matters are taken out of her hands when she is kidnapped and brutalized for revenge by Vlad’s bodyguards who are livid that they couldn’t claim the huge reward for their former boss’s capture. Just barely escaping death, Fidelma is rejected by her husband and seeks refuge from the nuns at the nearby convent who help her escape to London where she becomes one of the homeless and disenfranchised.

Now a refugee from her own homeland where she no longer feels welcome she must find a new life which includes meeting and hearing the stories of others who also have heartbreaking tales to confess, a string of seemingly unrelated anecdotes sharing a common bond of crimes against humanity. Fidelma meanders through various jobs drifting from one location to another, finally seeing closure by going to The Hague to attend Vlad’s trial and confront her former lover who is unable to admit any responsibility for his actions. Hearing his blame game, she must accept her own guilt in this matter so she can move forward. In a way, she is another war victim of this man. Eventually Fidelma finds some sort of peace with the help of her “new kin”.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this story which is full of literary references and an underlying message. There are many parallels with the author’s life. Edna O’Brien was a poet from a young age who felt a deep connection to literature and ran off with a writer to spite her parents and escape their disapproval, just as Fidelma left her parents to find a better life with an older, wealthier husband. O’Brien, who focuses on the truth, refusing to sugar coat her findings, has habitually found her books banned in Ireland due to the power and control of a church which prefers to deny the foibles of the average man prone to sin. O’Brien believes literature provides a means of escape and uses literary illusions as a parallel to Fidelma’s hardships, with references to classics such as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Aeneid by Virgil, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare. Including subtle underlying caveats, such as the name Fidelmas which means faithfulness and Vud (Vlad’s nickname) which means wolf, O’Brien’s true genius is in her vignettes revealing that each person has a tale to tell, no matter how reluctant the storyteller.

Carefully researched to bring an authenticity to her writing, O’Brien even attended the trial at The Hague of Radovan Karadzic, the true villain behind the ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War who received a sentence of forty years about a year ago.

This seemingly straightforward book leaves the reader with more questions than answers. While I would have preferred a bit more expository transitions between events, The Little Red Chairs is a poignant narrative reminding us of the evil which still exists in our world manifested, but all too often ignored, in the mantra “Never Forget”.

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

While reading The Rosie Project, I was continually delighted by the trials of Don as he pursued the ideal woman to marry. The only downside of the story was that it came to an end. I knew without a doubt that this was the best book I had read since Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. You can imagine my pleasure to discover that there was an upcoming sequel, The Rosie Effect. Since I was eager to see what Graeme Simsion had in store for Don and Rosie, I was thrilled when Netgalley allowed me preview this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Although sequels often leave the reader less than impressed, that is not the case with The Rosie Effect, a continuation in a story which is as captivating as the original. The reader is pulled into the inevitable conflicts which seem to surround Don, rooting for him when his unique perspective on life complicates normally calm activities. It is difficult to keep from laughing out loud at some of the antics which ensue. The author draws a vivid picture and each of the characters comes to life. It is as if Don, Rosie, Dave, Sonia, Gene, Claudia, George, even Lydia, are old friends and we can’t get enough of them.

Don and Rosie have relocated to Columbia University in NYC while Rosie gets her MD/PHD. Don has extended his friends list and is content with his married life. Then all hell breaks lose when Rosie let’s Don know that “we’re pregnant”. Problems ensue when Don attempts to discern The Baby Project. In order to keep Rosie calm, Don reaches out to his friends as the plot escalates with one crisis evolving into another. Somehow Don is able to turn the tables and assist his friends with their problems even though the solution of saving his own marriage continues to elude him, since the more Don tries to fix things, the more Rosie considers his efforts fruitless. It will take a miracle to resolve their issues, and as the situation turns from bad to worse the reader becomes even more vested in the results. Somehow, Simsion is able to tie the plot up in a bow putting things to rights, but leaving a few loose ends. I feel a flutter of excitement at the idea of another sequel.

It doesn’t get better than this. I predict a run away best seller. If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. The side story of the split up between Gene and Claudia with Gene moving to NYC and rooming with Rosie and Don, adds just the right amount of spice to the plot. Of course, we can’t forget Dave who is also having problems dealing with his pregnant wife, Sophia. New friend, George, an aging rockstar, adds to the mix of drinking buddies for Boys Night Out. How their lives intertwine brings delight to the reader, even when the outcome looks bleak.

A must read.