Well Read

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman A Creative Title
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a terrific book title. However, as is sometimes the case, it doesn’t mean the book is good. With that said, it wouldn’t be correct to say this is a bad book or that is not worth picking up. In fact, in light of all the popularity and accolades and even a study guide this book has prompted, I’d be specious if I say this book is bad, because it's not.
The basics. Without giving away too much, it's clear from the onset the title refers to a woman who actually isn’t completely fine. Eleanor Oliphant could be “any woman” as the cliche goes. At age 30-ish, Eleanor has a simple life, doing a simple job with simple wants, which might easily amount to a completely fine life. And yet, within the first few pages one recognizes Eleanor Oliphant does have some interesting personality traits that beg to differ. Turning the pages, you may find laughter in some of Eleanor’s unique perspectives on life. She seemingly has a category and a “philosophy” with which she can effectively group everybody. Although she has the ability to size people up quickly (often with witty, sometimes acid and humorous explanations), Eleanor Oliphant has few friends. You know the type, the “quiet, loner, nerd accountant” in the back office, usually the brunt of office jokes and rarely invited out for TGIF drinks. Thus, if this is the entirety of Eleanor Oliphant, how can she be completely fine? The answers come slowly; begrudgingly and tediously slow. When Eleanor and the office computer geek (Raymond) “get together” after having rescued a little old who has an accident in the street, you begin to see how and why Eleanor Oliphant is not so fine after all. I think it’s worth stating I’m glad to have read the book, if only to know what all the hubbub was about. The issue, if that’s the best word I have with Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (aside from all the seemingly over-the-top hub-bub for such a book) is that the story(line) seems to be drawn out longer than necessary. Maybe it’s because the plot needs to feel long and drawn out to fit the storyline. In all honesty, I think within a few pages most readers are aware that something is wrong with Eleanor (hence the title). Likewise, I think it (must) be the intent of the author for the reader to get this point and thus be willing to take the journey to find out why/how Eleanor Olophant is NOT completely fine.  However, the reader must wade through a lot, too much and many disjointed, loosely connected, wandering episodes to know the “answer” to why Eleanor Olphant is not completely fine. Even if you don’t know the exact WHY with regard to the hints, implications and telltale clues, you are so ready to have the writer “spit it out already” mid-way through that you’re tempted to fast forward several chapter (I think at one point I did, and went back, just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything worth the read...I had not.) The book cover is interesting, the tone of the book is fun and an easy read. As I said in the beginning, I’m glad I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. And for better or worse the book is unique because only this author can write “this” book. On the other hand “Would I recommend reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?” Of course I would because it is so relatable and not just as a“good”pick from a“Top of the List” book reference. Admittedly, the book “speaks” to me in a very personal way. It’s not overrating (nor overreaching) to say that this book deals with some serious issues, albeit with a simplistic application. And yet, I think it safe to say that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is simply exploration (although I’ve not read the author’s guidebook for discussions).  The bottom line, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a creative tale. Moreover, as an avid reader, I can certainly appreciate that even the duplicitous, in fact especially it's book title is an integral part of the writer’s creativity and worthy of it’s wording. Read On!

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
A Man Called Ove

There are times when words like “heartwarming” lose their meaning because we have used, nay overused the word so much, that we lose clarity about the special meaning of such a word.

Well, in times like these something or someone may come along and remind us of the true meaning and importance of such a word.
Ove is the someone, as well as the something that provided the reminder to me.  A Man Called Ove can only be described with one word (if need be) “heartwarming!” - absolutely heartwarming!

Lately, I can’t say for sure what’s been going on; what set in motion the movement, or why it's become the “go to” for my “well-read” book choices. However, I venture to guess (at least right now) Swedish authors are offering something worth reading (not to say the USA writers or any other country’s authors aren’t). And yet, I’m delirious in my discovery of such a well written, well read (audio narration), and well-worth the read from a wave of Scandinavian writers’ books like Karin Fossum taking residence on my bookshelf. 

The premise, it’s never too late to_____________________________________ (you fill in the blank), this wonderfully heartwarming book is a known entity (as is much of what we reads). This book is an old-fashioned, unyielding, stuck-in-his-ways kind of guy, who believes the world would run much better if people just did things “The Ove Way” - and got on with things.

Ove is married to the only person in the world he has ever found to love and to be loving (apart from his parents). One day Ove has an experience that changes his life forever; sending him on a journey to live life as he never could have imagined, intended.

Shortly, without regard for his privacy or personal space, in came a bossy-brown-eyed-foreigner, a blonde-bombshell, an old best friend, the boy with too much blubber, a business owner, a bureaucrat, and others A Man Called Ove did not invite. And if that’s not enough to get you reading the story of A Man Called Ove, there’s “the animal” - because every well-written heartwarming read has an animal, a pet.

I laughed, I LOL, I laughed with tears; for the heart, for clever language and yes the sound of the heartwarming message the author brings to the story (which an audiobook may enhance).

When I thought about writing my review of A Man Called Ove, my intent was to find a way to wholly express, make very clear, yell out “this is a heartwarming story” and well worth the read.

Moreover, the book is hilarious! Certainly there’s a lot to be said for keeping, continuing to “read” books (as in cover to cover). And yet, the fun, the intensity and even the clarity of listening to a (well narrated) audio-book brings a different of kind of magic to a book; similar to the way a live (visual) performance of The Wizard of Oz embodied and brought to life the magic of the words on the pages of that book.

So when I came up the idea of putting together a list of other media to write a visual review of how heartwarming, wholesome and hilarious a story A Man Called Ove, this was the result: Archie Bunker of All in the Family fame, a strong, gentle Mary Tyler Moore show, a the crazy case of Seinfeld, a bite of Garfield, in walks Dennis the Menace, a peep of Will and Grace, a stroll on The Roadless Traveled and just very optional dash of Maya Angelou for poetic voice.

I’m not always sure whether the purpose of a book review is to recommend (or not), or simply to tell what the book is about, or what one learns/finds/discovers from the book. Interestingly, even if a book is not one I particularly enjoyed, I err on the side of “read it for yourself”. However, make no mistake, be very clear, as clear as the motor of a Saab (you’ll have to read this book), that A Man Called Ove, is recommended; highly recommended as a heartwarming, well written book, you would do well to read. Here’s to a well-read peace!

The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson 

An absolute delight!

Where to begin...1st - I was greatly impressed because there is no misogynist, gratuitous, sadistic sex or violence to women (or generally) in this heartwarming story. This is a book of adventure you could read to your child - who would enjoy and understand it (and you the adult to enjoy and appreciate it).

The 100-Year-Old-Man...is a book about life, living, and letting go (which happens to be the name of my book, The Lotus Approach). However, this book is not a collection of essays, but a story of man's long, interesting, unbelievably fantastic life; not because it was a perfect life - but because it was a life lived. The Man turns 100 and decides he'd rather "live" — just a little more — than stay and have a forced birthday "celebration" in the old people's home where he has been "sentenced" to exist.

After The 100-Year-Old-Man makes the decision to flee the old people's home, he embarks the kind of adventure "out there in the great big world" in the way that has defined his (long) life and living. He meets meets folks along the way whose life he will influence and who will influence his life. This is a fun and funny story; but not goofy, silly or trite. This is an original story from start to finish.

Although for some, as it did for me, The 100-Year-Man may call to mind the Forest Gump (story) movie written over a decade earlier. The obvious differences are The 100-Year-Old-Man is written by a Swedish author, incorporates some technological advances (the cell), the age of the main character is 100 (not 30ish), and The 100-Year-Old-Man is based in Europe, not the US (for me a component that makes reading like travel). And yet, similar to Forest Gump the main character is placed into real historical events (like many wars that have taken place during his 100 years). In this way The 100-Year-Old-Man is like a history lesson, although much, much, more fun.

The only caveat I have is that the story did drag a bit towards the end. Perhaps because the historical events are those familiar to my own history (unlike Forest Gump) and maybe because the life of a 100-Year-Old-Man is well...a long story. Undoubtedly, it because he lived a long life that makes The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared such a deylight-full story.  Here’s to a well read peace!

Death in  BRITTANY, by Jean Luc Bannalec

So very French...and fun reading

You will want to go...once you've read Death in Brittany (Commissaire Dupin#1) because it so very alive with magnificent words of picturesque nostalgia.  Set in the small little known (real life) seaside town of Pont-Aven Brittany (in France), Death in Brittany introduces a forgotten way of life and the Commissaire Dupin (police detective from France) who is now living on island (although not so much of his own choice).  Nonetheless, he is now "a person" who lives in Pont-Aven (because no matter how long he may live in the town, the natives will never allow him to say his is a citizen of their commune of familiars).

In this first  book, Jean-Luc Bannalec slowly, carefully, and melodically defines the nature of Commissaire Dupin which thankfully is noticeably unique from the standard detective persona (which can make a detective novel a bore).  Commissaire Dupin is a gruff, secure, self reliant man set in his ways, many of which identify him as "one of those Parisians"; for example he must have his bistro coffee experience - every day.  He, like all detectives has his special way of finding the truth behind unnatural deaths (murders) like the death of a old restaurateur, well-known and appreciated in the community.  There seems to be no apparent reason why anyone would kill such an old man (late 70's), but murder is apparent to
 Commissaire Dupin; and he comes realize this murder has special benefits to many people - which translates to many suspects.

What I appreciate about Death in Brittany (Commissaire Dupin #1) is the amazing descriptive identity of Pont-Aven; although this place does have cell phone reception, a top hotel and sophisticated shops, it still lives by old customs, old ways and old family connections.  Therefore, the reader, like Commissaire Dupin must not be fooled by the simplicity of life in Pont Aven.

Death in Brittany is a good read, not only because the Commissaire Dupin is interesting and the storyline intriguing, but because Bannalec successfully transported to me a place I would never have known existed.  Commissaire Dupin provided clues to solve the murder, and acted as vehicle to go to a different place, to learn about a different culture, at seaside, in the romantic Pont-Aven community.

Here’s to a well-read peace!

A Test of Wills, by Charles Todd

A Test of Wills is the 1st of the Inspector Rutledge book series and provides e background for this amazing historical fiction with the seemingly real-life lead character (Inspector Ian Rutledge) of the metropolitan police.

Inspector Rutledge is called upon to solve a mystery death (murder) of a former decorated military man (like himself).  A wedding was soon to take place for his young ward (God-daughter) with his approval.  However, although no believes the decorated military man had an enemy, the case seems to hinge on what happened the last time anyone saw him alive, locked behind closed doors with one of his (favorite) former soldiers - who is the man engaged to marry his young ward.

As the first book, A Test of Wills offers the necessary insight into what makes the Inspector Ian Rutledge character believable by sharing his personal, psychological and physical challenges - which have been deeply affected, indeed caused,  by the war and his subsequent return as somewhat of a "hero" in his duty as an officer.

In addition, this first book provides the reader background knowledge of the inspector's nemesis, the very real one in the person of his supervisor, as well as the nemesis of the war - which he can't shake (or won't shake him) - and the nemesis of the people and suspects he must deal with to solve the crimes he investigates (which are usually people in small, rural villages or towns).

Moreover, A Test of Wills sets the stage for understanding "the world of war" in which the book takes place is a world where almost everything is affected by war - as it is happening and will continue to affect (for generations) when it ends (whether won or defeated).  This understanding is absolutely essential to understanding Inspector Rutledge and the pull to continue reading Charles Todd (Inspector Ian Rutledge) series.

Admittedly, once you've read an Inspector Ian Rutledge book, you will want to read another, and another and another because Charles Todd (along with his mother) writes historical fiction as though he were telling the experience of an old uncle or family member who was there.  This is paramount to the success of the series, however, I believe it is no less tribute to his talent as a writer as is his understanding of "country people" and their beliefs, traditions, self preservation and the need to protect all that is sacred to their way of life.

My only note would be that I'm glad I read several other books in the series before   A Test of Wills; including Red Door, Pale Horse, Lonely Death to name a few because these more strongly defines and demonstrated the "nature" of the lead character (protagonist), and why one would want to read/find out more about Inspector Ian Rutledge.

Of course this probably makes sense - looking backward at the character because with each new book Charles Todd takes the opportunity to develop, expand, extend the nature of the character.

Nonetheless, reading other books in the series before A Test of Wills, is a testament to author's ability to maintain the thread of drama, interesting historical backgrounds (especially information about the wars), and insight a desire to read the next, then the next, then next Inspector Ian Rutledge because the order of books neither gives away or takes away from this good read.

Here's to a well read peace!

The Messenger of Athens, by Anne Zouroudi
Good Grief Greek Tragedy!

I’m convinced, the protagonist, in this (mystery story) series; a man of few words who has a dominant, yet compassionate personality, introduced as “The Messenger” Hermes Diaktoros, is based on a real person.

Moreover, although I understood a little late (in the series), in fact only after reading all (4) books which include Lady of Sorrows, The Taint of Midas, The Doctor of Thessaly and this book, The Messenger of Athens are based on Greek Tragedy.

The Zouroudi series has a more grief stricken, tragic tone, unlike other detective series of Charles Finch, Charles Todd, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Christianna Band, Charles Todd (although the Todd protagonist Inspector Ian Rutledge has a more somber edge). When I look back on the books, it seems an egregious miss on my part to connect the obvious intent to base the Hermes Diaktoros series on the well-known theme of the Greek tragedy. (Don’t ask why it took so long for me to realize a story written by an author with a Greek name, set in Greece, with a Greek protagonist named Hermes would naturally Greek tragedy theme...duhhh). 

Like most successful detective series, Hermes Diaktoros,The Messenger of Athens is a highly intelligent, necessarily eccentric personality with a cloud or a crown of personal mystery, depending on how one views it. In addition, Hermes Diaktros is not only a tad off putting, The Messenger came across a bit vindictive (what he may suggest is needed sometimes to arrange good for the good). 

Similarly, these “special investigators” are often identified by a signature quirk as with “The Messenger” who takes special care to maintain his white-white tennis shoes. It's worth noting that the use of the signature white-white shoes is a not only a clever writing; the white-white tennis shoes worn by Hermes Diatrokos an excellent author device for introducing "The Messenger" as both heavenly (the good guy) and a bit devilish (the bad guy who has good tricks up his sleeves); necessary as he endeavors to uncover "the truth" of the mystery in his path.

In The Messenger of Athens, the death of a young woman in this small Greek seaside community crosses the path Hermes Diaktoros. The "local-yocal" police classify the death as a suicide and the case is quickly closed. But in this small Greek community (culture) a person would rather experience a painful death than be known to commit suicide. Here enters "The Messenger" who although he has no apparent connection to the young woman, deems her death mysterious because there is no “true” reason for a young woman to commit suicide when, as The Messenger discovers is in good health and loved with no history of depression. Thus begins the journey, the mission, the drama of "The Messenger" who will uncover the "real" truth about the death of this young woman as he proceeds to peel back layers, and layers, and layers of secrets, long histories of lies and tragic treatments of human beings by other human beings.

Here I offer a caveat, a small spoiler alert if you will, to Zourdouri has a special talent for writing a detective novel, sculpted from the themes of Greek tragedy, which means that all end-of-the-story revelations and resolutions (inherently) leave a somewhat uncomfortable watermark. In other words, I’m the sensitive type and if I’d been quick enough to put 4 and four together, or for that matter 2 and 2 together, my first Hermes Diaktoros book, might have been my last. 

On the other hand, I can’t deny I kept reading the Hermes Diaktoros series, because the author has a talent, technique and craft of writing the detective novel. Like the other three books in the series, The Messenger of Athens is a chance to travel to beautiful Greece, as well as the opportunity to be introduced, to renew or experience a reinvented style of Greek tragedy as great theatre, dynamic drama and a book well worth the read.

Here's to a well read peace!

The Skeleton in the Closet, by M.C. Beaton

A new direction...a favorite author

Having read almost everything from the creator of Agatha Raisin (Detective) and Hamish Macbeth Mystery series, I was surprised to find this jewel, The Skeleton in the Closet, by M.C. Beaton.

M.C. Beaton (Marion Chesney), in her 80’s she is one of my favorite writers and well skilled as mystery, mystery detective, mystery/romance, romance/mystery  as well as romance/mystery/historical fiction writer, both of which she does with her unique style of storytelling I think comes from her experience/insights of Scottish heritage.

In general, Beaton books are interesting, innovative (Agatha Raisin is somewhat of a feminist, with princess tendencies) and lyrical  (as with Hamish Macbeth, perhaps something to do with Scottish heritage).  And like many of the (Cozy) Mystery series of books, Beaton books as lessons about  diverse culture, travel and history (mostly Europe) and are so dynamic, I find myself researching history to better understand the context of the story.

Specific to this story, it blends the components of romance, mystery, and real-life history to create a tale about who we are, who we think we are and what we think we want, when a man discovers his heritage (the skeleton in closet) and what that means to him and about him.  A man with no real friends, the life altering information about his heritage (the skeleton in the closet) is so devastating he eventually finds himself confiding in a former co-worker, a woman who he neither gave any notice to or thought worth(y) of noticing.  This creates both mystery and romance when the two engage in discovering more about the skeleton in the closet, while in process discovering more about themselves, their loves and lovers.

As a matter of style, my reviews do not include a lot specific details about the story(line) and/or its characters.  Instead, I want to "invite" the reader to discover the writer and the writer's creative genius based on the writer's implicit ability to connect fiction to real life experiences and opportunities for growth through reading their books...this is indeed what I enjoy about The Skeleton in the Closet, as  well all book in series by M.C. Beaton.

Here's to a well read peace!

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