A Man Called Ove. She likes it, she likes it!

(photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

3 words: heartwarming, sad, wryly humorous

Oh, good people. I’m pretty sure I know Ove IRL. And it’s sometimes tough to like a guy like that, but dang it, he wins you over.

This is the book everyone’s been reading, which kinda makes me not wanna read it.

But someone somewhere said something that changed my mind. I wish I could remember who, so I could thank her/him.

And yeah: the curmudgeonly codger with a heart of gold is kind of a tired trope. But there was enough gentle humor in this book to tame the sour and cut the sweet.

And the plot veered a little darker sometimes than I’d expected, which made the heartwarming parts easier to take.

Ove is that grouchy neighbor who hates the world, but eventually his neighbors — and a cat in need of some TLC — make him realize life’s worth living. But he’s not staying alive without a fight.

Give this book a whirl if you like… curmudgeons with a heart of gold, stories of neighbors and a sense of community, getting a new lease on life, and a blend of sorrow and humor

So, readers… who’s your favorite famous grouch?

Unruly Reading: Q1 report

Anyone else wild about statistics? Me, too!

The only college textbook (that’s an actual textbook) that I kept is this little beauty, because I adore it.

I know: I’ve got some issues.

But there are up sides to everything, and in this case, I’ve got some serious numbers about my reading.

Here’s what’s happened in the first 3 months of the year around here:

 

My favorites so far this year:

 

So, good people… What’s the best book you’ve read in the first quarter of 2017?

Elinor Lipman and the power of the comfort authors

On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

3 words: witty, light, romantic

We all have go-to comfort authors, and Elinor Lipman has been one of mine since the happy day I discovered her books.

My favorite Elinor Lipman books are her clever romantic comedies–books like The Inn at Lake Devine and The Way Men Act and Then She Found Me.

(Some of her other books involve less likeable characters, and I really gotta like the characters!)

So I was flipped out with happiness when I found out that not only was her latest a romantic comedy, but it also involves real estate. And man do I love reading about houses.

So we had ourselves here the kind of book that made me stay up past my bedtime alarm, reading against the rules.

(Unruly? Heck, yeah!)

In this book, Faith is engaged to a probably-unfaithful loser. She works at a school, where she shares an office with a very nice, very single man. So there we have it.

And while her ne’er-do-well fiance is gallivanting around the countryside, taking selfies with old girlfriends (and new?) Faith buys a house. A darling little cottage of a house. Which she neglects to tell him about. Cuz: dude’s lost the right to know things.

And the house… the house is adorable, but it’s got some baggage.

Then there’s her family. Her dad left her (very calm) mom for another woman, and that’s got the family all in a tizzy. Except for the mom, who appears to be taking it in stride. So Faith and her brother (whose friendship is completely charming) try to figure out how to deal with that.

Throw all of these things into a bowl, stir gently, fold into a pan, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. The results: utterly delicious.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… romantic comedies, books about houses, witty repartee, mysteries from the past, and quirky extended families

So, my friends… Who are your comfort authors?

Strangers tend to tell her things… and I get why

Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson

3 words: sprightly, romantic, domestic

Sometimes life offers you a Perfect Book, and all you want to do is read it and read it and read it.

This is one of those.

I just kept flagging quotes (with these adorable little arrow sticky notes I picked up at Le Target) because Amy Dickinson’s sentences kept delighting me. Here’s a paragraph of good ones:

“I would lie in bed at night in our farmhouse and listen to my mother power up the pump organ by stomping on its wooden pedals until its bellows filled with air. Then she’d start to play the chords to Burt Bacharach’s ‘This Guy’s in Love with You.’ Given the organ’s overall creepy pipe tones and asthmatic volume changes as my mother pedaled faster or slower, it sounded like a lounge act in a horror movie.” (p. 16)

So this book is funny and romantic and light-hearted in parts, and then sad and overwhelmed and dealing with wrenching loss. It’s just like life!

I loved Dickinson’s first memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, which was the full story of her return to her small upstate New York town, to live among her extended family of women.
In this new book, she finds love mid-life (so romantic! so right!) and loses her mother (so sad and so stinkin’ difficult).

She writes things like this, which made me miss her mom (and mostly miss my own mom):
“There was a special quality and depth to her attentiveness. I often felt she paid better attention–or a better kind of attention–to me than I did to myself.” (p. 182)

And she writes all these things with candor and humor. Yes, she’s the nationally recognized “Ask Amy,” but she’s actually just living her complicated and beautiful and sometimes painful life just like the rest of us. Only she’s got the way of stringing together the words that makes her story absolutely entertaining and real and heartfelt.

And even though I’m kind of small-town-phobic (so many eyes watching a person’s every move), Amy (see how we’re already on first-name terms here? It’s that kind of book) loves small town living and it suits her well. She writes of her town with love and delight, and it almost makes me want to live there, too.

And that’s largely because of the people in this book, who obviously are real people, but the wonderful thing is the way Amy presents them to us, so we actually feel like we know them.

Give this book a whirl if you like… midlife romance, blending families, returning home, books that celebrate small towns and houses, and a mix of laughter and tears

What’s the best memoir you’ve read lately?

LaRose: quiet and surprising all at once

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

3 words: somber, interwoven, lyrical

This is one of those books where you hear the premise and you go, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

Here’s the premise: a man accidentally kills his neighbor’s young son while deer hunting, so he gives his own child to the neighbor to balance things out.

The hunter is Ojibwe, and this is an old tradition that he’s honoring, in order to repay his debt. A very old tradition, carried out in the current day.

I gotta say: I had to suspend my disbelief that anyone would do this. But then I thought: everyone else is not me.

And while the giving of the child is at the heart of the book, the story expands to encompass the lives of both families — with a focus on the two marriages and the teenage girls in each family — and the priest on the reservation, and a retired teacher, and a ne’er-do-well who’s stealing medication from the older folks.

There’s all kinds of drama coursing through this book, but even so, the book is quiet.

Maybe this came through extra much because I listened to the audiobook, which is read in lovely fashion by the author. She keeps the story sedate, even as people make choices that are fairly eye-popping.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… stories of complicated family situations, reading about contemporary Native American life, mild doses of magical realism, and exploring the effects of long-held traditions

 

I know it happens to us all…  What’s the most recent book that made you suspend your disbelief?

Currently… all that learning

As this winter promises to draw to a close one fine day, here’s what’s going on around here…

Reading | When packing for a weekend trip, I realized all of the books I’m reading as actual books (rather than audiobooks) are self-improvement nonfiction (or Alexander Hamilton by Chernow, a book that is my year-long companion). So… that was weird. I hopped up and grabbed a novel from my TBR pile, and I’m gonna give it a go. (The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick… will you be the book I seek?)

But really… my heart belongs to the self-improvement books:

  • Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life by David Allen
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
  • Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty by Harvey Mackay
  • AgeProof: Living Longer Without Running out of Money or Breaking a Hip by Jean Chatzky and Michael F. Roizen

 

Listening: Audiobooks| I just finished listening to LaRose by Louise Erdrich, which she beautifully narrates herself. And Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Ditto on the splendid author narration.

 

Listening: Podcasts | I’m newly hooked on the EntreLeadership podcast, because guess what? Self-improvement all over the place!

 

Watching | I’m fully hooked on The Crown, thanks to a well-placed recommendation by the Dear Man’s Dear Sister, who knows me well.

 

Learning | Oh, WordPress, you evil wonder! Our love/hate relationship rages on… The good news is I’m learning lots of things the hard way, which makes the lessons more memorable. (Remember that night I decided to repost some old blog posts and delete the previous versions because their formatting was messed up? And how I consequently lost all of the comments associated with those posts? That was the best!)

On the up side… I just finished my second Gale Courses class, Intermediate WordPress Websites, which has helped immeasurably. CSS… I’m coming for you! (Actually: CSS… occasionally I’ll inch close enough to do something tentative, while closing my eyes and crossing my fingers. But, hey: it’s something.)

 

Loving | My house is all clean and neat because Book Bloggers Reunion here at the Unruly Cottage. We’re laying bets on how long it lasts. The most optimistic view: 2 weeks. (I’m pretty sure that’s dead on. I’m already scattering books all over the place.)

 

Anticipating | We got tickets to see Hamilton! I was so excited I kept flapping.

The Bachelor GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

And I keep thinking: in spite of all the trouble in the world… how lucky we are to be alive right now.

 

Celebrating | Our 60th pizza place! We hit Coalfire, currently ranked #1 by Chicago Magazine. And yes… it was life-changing. You’re looking at a Honey & Salami and a Spinach pizza (with pistachio pesto whipped ricotta). We’re standing firmly in the “specialty pizza” zone here.

 

So guys… what’s worth celebrating in your life these days?

Charming. And I liked it anyway.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

3 words: charming, quirky, heartwarming

Yes, I said “heartwarming” without retching. I know. That’s not supposed to happen. Cuz man I can’t abide heartwarming.

Then this book came along.

And I loved every heartwarming minute of it.

Apparently, this is the recipe for getting me to read and actually like this type of thing:

Start with one lively 104-year-old woman. Add one 11-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. Add his devastated mother. Add his absentee father, who wishes to do penance.

Then add a Boy Scout project that matches up the centenarian with the boy, who proceeds to interview her about her life.

And since he’s obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records, he decides she should try to set one. Or several. Here’s an excerpt from one of their conversations…

“‘Oldest sky diver is taken. Plus oldest pilot. Plus oldest showgirl.’ He frowned.” (p. 63)

That totally cracked me up. The woman is 104 years old!

The charming thing about the book is that the author perfectly captures the speech patterns of a woman of 100+ and a boy with autism. They sound exactly like they would really sound.

And their friendship becomes a real thing.

Then the boy dies, and I know… if you’re like me, you can’t handle the dying children books. But in this case, it happens quickly, and he’s still present throughout the rest of the book. So it’s sad, but man did he ever make a difference in people’s lives. Lots of people’s lives.

So: heartwarming.

Also: read this book anyway.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… the Guinness Book of Records, intergenerational friendships, reinventing one’s life, stories of one person’s small actions having a big impact on others

 

What heartwarming books would you suggest to a reader with low tolerance for such things?

Book bloggers — we keep meeting!*

Book bloggers, y’all are my people. And I’m super lucky to live near some remarkable, creative, quick-witted, and funny bloggers, and sometimes we get together IRL. It’s pretty terrific.

Last weekend, I invited Julie and Katie and Marisa to Casa Unruly for our second reunion.

I simply adore these ladies.

We talked for hours and hours and hours, and we feasted on good things, and the time flew by.

The menu… Sweet peppers and hummus (thanks, Marisa!), followed by the frittata that didn’t want to cook, accompanied by Julz’s amazing fruit salad (balsamic vinegar is the secret ingredient), and then raspberry cake, which Katie brought from The Nice Bakery.

super fancy bakery cake

And Marisa brought tulips, and that made the table look lovely.

 

The talking… The big news is that our Katie’s expecting!**

I know!!!! Totally exciting news!!! She’s gonna be the best mom.

 

And then, of course, we discussed Blizzards and genealogy and DNA. And Julie described her typewriter ribbon quest — the woman seriously is taking the typewriter to a whole new level, and I’m in awe. And Katie served as our personal gardening guru.

 

The books… we all read different things, but there’s some interesting overlap. We talked about The Underground Railroad and Homegoing and Commonwealth.

And Marisa raved about Lincoln in the Bardo on audio (all those narrators!) And she talked about The Mothers by Brit Bennett and I tried to decide where to rank it on my TBR. Still deliberating on that one…  (If you’ve got an opinion, let me know!)

 

 

*Hamilton Easter egg!

3:26

 

**this one’s for you, my favorite rapping blogger!

1:04

JFK time travel extravaganza

Photo credit: Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston11/22/63 by Stephen Kin

11/22/63 by Stephen King

3 words: wide-ranging, wry, absorbing

 

Stephen King, where have you been all my life?

Actually, I know the answer to that one.

Dude’s been on the bestseller list most of the years I’ve been a reader. But I associate him with horror, and I can’t handle the horror.  

But ever since reading On Writing, my eyes have been opened.

Then my friend chose 11/22/63 for book club, so we could test whether King actually practices what he preaches.

I’m thinking he certainly does.

This book knocked my socks off.

It’s more than 800 pages long (which translates into 25 CDs of audiobook, which translates into a full month of listening at my usual pace), and I would’ve been perfectly content if it had been longer.

…cuz this book has it all goin’ on.

Rip-roaring plot: CHECK!

Likeable, relatable, memorable characters: CHECK!

Engaging narrative voice: CHECK!

A well-researched historical setting: CHECK!

Creative use of language: CHECK!

This book… it has all the things.

Here’s the quick rundown of this wonder:

Jake Epping is a high school English teacher whose buddy at a local diner shows him a wormhole into the past. His friend’s goal was to travel back in time to avert the JFK assassination, so the world could be a better place, and his dying wish is for Jake to carry out the mission. So… Jake dives back in time to 1958 and starts living a new existence in the past.

And King paints a vivid picture of that era — the good and the bad. There’s food that tastes terrific (and there are segregated restrooms) and there are kind and neighborly folk (and there are lots of people smoking).

In spite of the bad parts, Jake begins to feel at home in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And he falls in love. (That wasn’t exactly supposed to happen.)

So as he gathers intel about whether Oswald acted alone, Jake’s living a double life. And that always creates interesting dilemmas.

I’m a JFK geek (each of those four words links to a different JFK post… and that ain’t all of ’em) going way back, and I’ve read an embarrassing number of pages about his life and death. And I’m here to tell you… King got stuff right.

Dude not only researches the living daylights out of a topic, but then he’s careful about the way he sprinkles in the knowledge… like perfect seasoning.

This book… it far exceeded all my expectations.

I just wish I could read it again for the first time. Cuz: wow.

Give this book a whirl if you like… time travel; long, unfolding stories; reading about the JFK assassination; first person narrative; a mix of historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, suspense, and romance

So, kind readers… what book most knocked your socks off?

Week 4 of #riotgrams

The February #riotgrams challenge has wrapped up, and I gotta say: it stretched me outside my comfort zone. And that’s always a good thing.

 

Here’s the unruly Week 4…

Make a Bookface

 

Funny Books

 

Rainbow Book Stack

 

Favorite Quote

 

Most Badass Heroine

 

Doorstoppers

 

Bookish Confession: my cookbooks are sorely neglected

 

If you played along at home, which category of #riotgrams was your favorite?