Friday, October 6, 2017

Fiction Book Reviews

The library book club started up again last month, and we began with an interesting discussion of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. In chapter one of this story about Ove, a man in Sweden living in a row house, Ove is at a computer store buying an ipad. The next chapter goes back three weeks earlier and continues chronologically as it tells the story of how he tries to kill himself multiple times. However, something always keeps him from "success" - new neighbors driving into his mailbox, old neighbors stopping by with problems, a frayed rope, etc. Ove is a very unique character, and everything in his life is black and white, it's either right or wrong, there are no gray areas according to his philosophy.

It turns out that Ove's wife had passed away several months before and he had recently been "retired" from the company he'd worked at since he was a teenager. Every day he goes to visit his wife's grave, bringing her flowers and discussing recent events. This was a fairly good story, however it was a very (very!) slow read. Since I already knew that his suicide attempts were not successful (because of chapter one), I was simply curious whether he was buying the computer for himself or the young family that recently moved to the neighborhood. There are several interesting characters in the book, but it honestly didn't hold my attention. The story has been made into a movie, which several ladies in the book club said they enjoyed.

This month we read The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis. Like many recent novels, this one is set in two different time periods - 1952 and 2016; however, both stories take place in New York City and focus on life in the Barbizon Hotel. The older story centers around Darby, a recent arrival to the hotel, and the friendship she enjoys with the hotel maid, Esme. While Darby tries to succeed at secretarial school and avoid the mean antics of the Ford models living at the hotel, Esme encourages her to get out and enjoy the jazz scene and even perform as a backup singer at one point. The modern story centers around Rose, a journalist researching and writing a story about the accident that occurred at the hotel in 1952 when one of the women fell to her death from the rooftop balcony.

This was an easy-to-read story. I found it enjoyable, however, most of us at the book club agreed that these were not characters that we became really invested in because they each seem so helpless in her own way and don't seem to grow or mature as the story goes forward. We also agreed that the ending was satisfactory, but it was all wrapped up so quickly and in a rather unbelievable way.

I especially enjoyed learning about The Barbizon Hotel as the author did a lot of research about life at the hotel (before it was turned into the very expensive condos housed there today). Here's a link to a great article about the hotel and some of its more famous occupants through the years. It's interesting to note that there are still ten women living in rent-controlled apartments on one of the floors. These women have lived there many years, and the author interviewed them as part of her research for the book. (One of the great things about our book club leader is that she always finds author interviews and other interesting articles like this one that relate to the books we're reading!) Here's a link to one of the author interviews.

I actually first heard about Ready Player One at one of the Stay Calm & Read On events at the library last year. This story is set in the year 2044, a time when everyone spends most of their waking hours in a virtual reality game because the real world is an ugly place. The main character is Wade Watts, a teenager living with his aunt in the "stacks" - scaffolding like contraptions that allow trailers and campers to be stored (and lived in) on top of each other.

When the creator of this all-consuming virtual reality game dies, his will specifies that the person who wins the final game (full of puzzles with allusions to the 1980s pop culture the creator was obsessed with) would inherit massive power and fortune and the rights to the game. Wade is the first one to stumble onto the first clue, and then the competition heats up as others in the virtual world begin to close in on the ultimate prize. I did find it extremely disturbing that the virtual world was more important to many of the characters than their lives in the real world.

This was a very interesting read with a nice conclusion. I enjoyed the pop culture references, although there were many that were lost on me as I wasn't into many video games during that time and never owned one of the (then) new home game systems. I put this book in Robbie's to-read pile, so we'll be all ready for the movie when it premiers next spring.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I enjoyed A Man Called Ove. Our couples book group is reading My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry for November. I haven't started it yet.

  2. A Man Called Ove was a good one & his second one is just as good, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry.

  3. I always love your book reviews. The only one on this list that I've read is A Man Called Ove. You've given me a couple to add to my list!

  4. Seems I'm in very good company, having read A Man Called Ove - which I actually enjoyed very much. Sorry to hear you had a tough go of it!

  5. I really enjoyed Ready Player One, but have seriously disliked A Man Called Ove, so much that I'm still stuck in the first chapter!


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