A Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman
First sentence:”Ove is fifty-nine.”
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Content: There’s swearing, including some f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Ove’s beloved wife died six months ago. And he’s been at a loss ever since. He’s gone to work, but since he was terminated, he’s really lost all purpose. So, he’s decided to kill himself. That is, until his new neighbors — Parvanah and her husband and children — decide to nose their way into Ove’s life.

It’s a simple plot, but it’s not the plot that makes this this book a good one. I have one HUGE quibble with it though: Ove is NOT fifty-nine. I know it says that in the first sentence, but he doesn’t act like a 59-year-old. he acts like mt grandpa did when he was 85 or so. So, once I aged Ove up about 20 years in mt mind, I was able to sit back and enjoy the story. I loved Parvanah, and her big heart and stubborn refusal to leave Ove alone. Ove reminded me of my grandpa, and so I knew there was a good heart under his crusty exterior, but I enjoyed the unfolding of the story, and the way those in his life included him. It was heart-warming and a lovely reminder that there are good people out there.

A very good story.

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Audio book: The Last Original Wife

lastoriginalwifeby Dorothea Benton Frank
Read by: Robin Miles
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Content: There’s a lot of mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. And some off-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Leslie Carter is the last original wife among her husband Wesley’s super successful Atlanta set. One was gone to divorce, another to death. And their husbands — Wesley’s friends — are marrying girls half their age. And Lesley has had enough. Actually, the “Barbies” are just a catalyst for what Leslie has been suspecting for a while: Wesley doesn’t really love her, he’s just still married to her because it’s easy and convenient. So, after a brawl in the club dining room between two of the new wives, Leslie up and leaves Wesley. She heads back to her hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and her brother — who, because Wesley’s a homophobe, she hasn’t seen in years — and takes up with an old high school flame, and learns that by discovering her roots, she finds herself again.

So. I wanted to like this one. And I did at first. Wesley was such a hideous character, so sexist and clueless, right from the start that it was easy to hate him and root for Leslie to leave him. But, that said, I got really tired really fast of all the descriptions of what they ate and drank (I really don’t care which wine is good with which meal) and what they wore (so she chose a red dress for the wedding of her best friend’s daughter, so what?). I got really tired of the ending — after Leslie decided to leave Wesley and they went through therapy, the book went on for another few hours. What was the point? (She needed a Happily Ever After with a Good Man). And it was so slut-shaming. I want to read the book from Cornelia’s– she’s the second wife of one of Wesley’s friends — point of view; she was so much a caricature that I couldn’t take her seriously. (And I got so very tired of Leslie’s judgement. She wasn’t perfect either.) I won’t even start on the whole Canadian-izing of the Southern accent. No Southerner says hoose for house (it’s hOWse). (The Canadian/Upper Midwest came out with out and about too…) Drove me nuts. Oh, and then there’s the math: Leslie was turning 60 and she’d been married for 30 years (it was a shotgun wedding, and her oldest was almost 30). HOWEVER, she got pregnant in college and had to drop out before she graduated. WTH? The math doesn’t add up.

The thing it did have going for it? A great sense of place. Frank knows Charleston and knows how to write about the town in a way that made me want to go. I could picture the warm, lazy summer, and the walks down the roads. I almost wanted to see it for myself. And I’ll admit that I didn’t bail on this one; I did want to see Leslie’s story all the way through, even if I did get impatient with it.

So, while it was annoying, it wasn’t awful.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

mrsqueenby William Kuhn
First sentence: “Several years ago, on a dark afternoon in December, Her Magesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, Defender of Faith, Duchess of Edinbugh, Countess of Merioneth, Baroness Greenwich, Duke of Lancaster, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy sat at her desk, frowning at a computer screen..”
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Content: There’s a few f-bombs (maybe a half dozen?). But other than that, it’s pretty clean. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

You would think, from the title and first sentence, that this is a story about Queen Elizabeth and you would be right. She is most definitely a character. However, I’m not entirely sure she’s the main character, or rather just a plot device. The basic plot is this: The Queen gets down one December day, and then goes missing. Six people — her lady in waiting, Lady Anne; her dresser, Shirley; her butler, William; a member of her security team, Luke; an employee at the Mews, the horse stables, Rebecca; and an employee of the shop where The Queen gets her cheese, Rajiv — all, for various reasons, go looking for her. It’s much less about The Queen and the reasons she left than it is about the politics of the royal household, and the lives of those looking for her.

Which isn’t to say it was bad. It wasn’t. But it wasn’t as good as I had hoped, either. The parts with The Queen out and wandering around, connecting anonymously with people were really intriguing and quite fun. The rest of it — the backstories, the drama, the relationship building — not so much. There were several times when I considered bailing on this — it just took way too long to get going — but I didn’t because it was for book group. I think I just wanted it to be more… fun. And much less drama-y.

I just wasn’t thrilled with it in the end.