Fairy Tales

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman completes my reading of the author’s work. What a joy it has been!

This story is about a precocious almost eight-year-old girl named Elsa who quotes Wikipedia, is bullied in school, and adores her quirky grandmother. Elsa’s parents are divorced and in new relationships. Her mother is expecting a baby. Elsa’s grandmother lives across the hall and she and Elsa share a secret language and a fairy tale world populated with amazing places and creatures. The building in which they reside has its own cast of characters; one of whom is Britt-Marie who figures prominently in Backman’s following novel.

Before Elsa’s grandmother dies,   she imparts a quest upon her granddaughter in true fairy tale fashion. Elsa is to deliver a series of apology letters to their neighbors and tell them her grandmother says she is sorry.

There are many themes and life lessons in this novel. Much of it is humorous based on Backman’s superb ability to create believable, flawed characters dealing with relatable life problems. I could go on and on about the novel, but as my followers know, I don’t think it’s wise to give away an ending! Backman’s imagination continues to amaze me. I will be singing his praises as I await his future novels. I loved this one!

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Hidden Truths

What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Leslie Nneka Arimah is a short story collection by an author who is originally from the UK and lived in Nigeria

Her unique stories are harsh and told in an original voice. I read over half of the book, but chose to stop as the stories were heart-wrenching and way beyond my emotional capacity. Child abuse is exceptionally abhorrent to me and I never enjoy reading about it so I decided to take a pass on the remaining stories.

If you are up to the emotional impact of this book, have at it. The writing is good. This content however, is not for me!

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a fictional family saga about Koreans living in Japan during and after World War Two. It is almost 500 pages in length and took me weeks to read.

The tale involves a young Korean girl named Sunja who becomes pregnant after being seduced by a married man from Japan. Not wishing to shame her family, Sunja accepts a marriage proposal from a border in her parents lodging house who is a kind-hearted minister. After their marriage, they move from Korea to Japan to live with his brother and his wife. The better life they anticipated there turns out to be one of poverty, suffering, and prejudice because Koreans are looked down upon by the Japanese who are occupying Korea at the time. The story continues for two generations. Each generation strives to cope with the oppression under which they live by different means.

I think this historical fiction has merit because it sheds light on a place, time, and circumstance which I knew little about. The book kept my interest up until the very end which disappointed me. Words and phrases throughout the book in Korean and Japanese left me baffled. This is a tragic story of a proud family which I liked because of its historic significance.

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On Thin Ice

Beartown by Frederik Backman is a new release by an author I have recently come to admire and follow. Although his new novel takes on the serious topic of an isolated small town whose identity centers on their boys hockey team,  I appreciated it all the more because it made apparent the versatility of the author.

In this novel, Beckman provides insight into the psychology of groupthink. As the story begins, an unidentified person with a shotgun is about to shoot someone. If that doesn’t grab your attention the rest of the story most certainly will.

There are many well-defined characters in the story, both young and old, and Backman does a phenomenal job in conveying their essence to the reader.

Beartown takes their hockey seriously. The star high school players are allowed to live by a different set of rules. When one of the star players breaks a rule of decency and law, the town rises to his defense without questioning whether he is guilty or innocent. After all, he has been placed on a pedestal based solely on his ability to score hockey goals.

Much of this story hit me right in the gut. I have witnessed this behavior on a personal level in my life and it’s never pretty. I believe all of us have at some point in time seen injustice and the damage groupthink can cause. The question we need to ask ourselves is which side of the fence would we stand on in similar circumstances?

This novel is definitely not lighthearted. It’s message however, is an important one. I highly recommended it.

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Not Again

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson was recommended by my friend Joan. I am glad she did so because I really liked this book!

The story starts off with a bang, well not a literal bang, but rather a triple murder. From there forward, it is one mystery after another. Loaded with twists and turns, the story centers on a number of interesting people in England who share connections to the murders at the beginning of the novel. Not all of them realize it at once.

The characters are interesting and believable. Each carries an emotional burden of some sort. Each copes in the best way possible for them. Collectively, they are survivors.

If you like a fast-paced thriller, this is the book for you. It’s the first I’ve read by Atkinson and I liked it a great deal. Thanks to my friend Joan for steering me towards it!

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The Art Thief by Noah Charney took me some time to grasp. On some levels, I enjoyed it. The story about three paintings which are stolen in three different countries has a good deal of art interpretation and is a mystery to be solved by law enforcement agencies in Italy, France, and England.

I laughed at some of the quirky character’s ridiculous dinner conversations and the depictions of people whose lives revolve around the art world. They reminded me of a hysterical episode of Murphy Brown many years ago. The pretentious nature of some art patrons can be funny!

I thought there were too many characters in this novel. I also got lost during the reveal of the art thief at the end. Did I miss something?  The plot was jumping from one place to another way too often. What I do know is I came away disappointed.  This novel lacks enough overall continuity for me to recommend it.

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The Spy:A Novel by Paulo Coelho is a short book based on the life of Mata Hari. Translated from the original Portuguese, it is an interesting story of a famous woman dancer who was executed as a spy in France during World War I.  Coelho tells her story as if she is writing her recollections from her jail cell while awaiting the verdict of the trial against her.  He also uses the voice of the lawyer who defended her at the trial to fill-in missing pieces of information.

Although Mata Hari is a woman I have long been aware of as a dancer famous for her seductive performances, I knew little else except that she was supposedly a spy.

In this poetically written novel, the author sets the record straight about her life and reasons behind her eventual death.  It is a sad story, but an interesting one from both historic and feminist perspectives. I am grateful to have read it because it taught me a great deal.

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