Category Archives: Book Review

Noumenon – Marina J. Lostetter

Review (Amazon): 

In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy— is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated Convoy Seven) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.

A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon—in a series of vignettes—examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes—an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination.

My Review (spoilers, duh):

In a Nutshell: creative and amazing

This book is broken into two main parts – Resistance and Resilience, and within those parts, it’s broken into sections which jump ahead many years. It works really well with the story, but it is a bit unusual. I am going to detail it out pretty thoroughly so really, you should take my word and just read it because it’s awesome. The book has a sequel scheduled, and I know it will be a little while, so at that point, I want to have this to refer back to!!

The book begins in 2088 with Reggie, a PhD student who has discovered an unusual star, like it’s encrusted with something, and he is about to give a presentation to convince people that they should invest in getting a shuttle there to research it. The presentation goes well, mainly with the speculation that whatever is surrounding it was built, not naturally created, so the mission gets funded and is a go! During the party Reggie has to celebrate his mission, Noumenon, being a success, he meets a beautiful woman named Abigail and they hit it off.

2097: Noumenon’s team has assembled. Reggie, and his mentor Dr. McCloud (who pushed him to go to the summit in the first place) meet with the team. McCloud asks Reggie why he still hasn’t proposed to Abigail – it’s the mission. Everything was on hold because Reggie might have gone, but they have done their selection and he’s not on the list. We meet Nakamura Akane, the head of the ship design team, Donald Matheson, the head of the social systems (who hates Reggie’s implant “C” as obsolete and too chatty although Reggie has quite the attachment to her), and Dr. Sachta Dhiri, the head of strategy. They plan to have 9 ships with over a million people. How will they find that many volunteers? Matheson suggests clones. They choose a group of 100,000 people based on their skills and psychological strength to go, and those people continue to get remade every other life cycle (so people never end up with themselves) as the mission lasts.

2099: Reggie meets Jamal, who he introduces to C. Jamal also believes that C is a good, robust AI, and Reggie easily convinces him to build C to go along Noumenon, and he wants Jamal to go as well.

2124: The convoy is preparing for lift off. Reggie goes to Iceland with Dr. McCloud to see them off. They meet I.C.C. (new C) and Reggie uploads C’s memories to it without anyone knowing. All the ships have names – Mira is the one they live on, Eden is their small forest, and Bottomless is their storage ship, among others. We learn that although Reggie himself isn’t boarding the spaceship, his genes made the list to be a future clone.

2125: The convoy deploys with Reggie watching. He has incredible mixed feeling about being left behind. We switch over to the people on the convoy, and we’re quickly introduced to Nika and Margarita. Donald Matheson has been nicknamed “Father” and another of the heads becomes Mother. Father and Mother have worked with those selected for many years prior to deployment while in Iceland, and are both aboard the ships for the long haul. Everyone has their own job. Margarita is in charge of communicating back to earth, while Nika is an archivist. Cabins are divided between singles, doubles (if you got married), and quadruples (if you get married, you commit to raising two clones). Once the convoy has taken off, and everyone has a little time to get situated, there’s a huge blowout party!

The party is a huge celebration, and everyone is having a blast until Captain Mahler arrives with a shrill whistle, reminding everyone that the party was over, they had responsibilities, and they were to clean up and be ready for work the following morning.

Margarita arrives at her job, and although she was supposed to send the first message back to Earth, one from her contact, Saul, is already awaiting her. It asks “How are you?”. On Earth, in face-to-face communication, Saul is at best socially awkward, but Margarita soon learns that he is very social, and is always curious how she is doing. He doesn’t just care about the facts, but also the personal details, which both his life and hers are growing more interesting. At only about 6 months into the mission, already over 4 years had happened on Earth. Saul was married and had a son. Margarita started to think more about the “How are you?” question. She wasn’t the only one who was depressed. Suicides began happening on the ship, the first one being Nika’s biological cousin. Margarita continues to report back to Saul, more personally now which helps her, and after a few more suicides, she went to see the captain. The captain informs her that the original planning for the trip assumed that there would be suicides – expected them even. But no one expected them to happen so early in the mission as they expected them to start happening after the government had formed. A few suicides continued after the elections, but they dwindled away. Margarita was married, and was assigned a son–Reginald Straifer II. She sends Saul a last message to tell him, as Saul is in his 70s now and retiring. He’s replaced with someone Margarita has never met.

January 3, 2415 (30 years PLD – Post Launch Day):

We meet 8 year old Jamal III, who is about to get a sibling who happens to be a sister despite him REALLY wanting a brother. When he leaves school, he learns that his parents waited until the following day so that he could go with them and not have to miss school, so he visits his friend Diego instead. Diego is Jamal’s grandfather’s friend, but he’s more fun. Diego tells Jamal about how he had a sister; she was born the old fashioned way, and that Jamal needs to learn about prejudice because it’s not his sister’s fault that she is a girl. Diego talks about his life before leaving Earth, how he met Jamal 1 before they left, and how everyone needs to work together for this community. (Diego is great.)

When Jamal goes with his parents to pick up his sister, he remembers to ask what Diego wanted him to find out – what is the baby’s number. The adults start discussing how Diego must be close, much closer than Jamal’s grandfather. They watch the new baby, Nakamura Akane, be born, and head back to their ship. The next day, Jamal meets up with Diego, and tells him that having a sister isn’t that bad. He tells Diego the number, and then they head to Eden so that Diego can explain to Jamal that their ship is a closed system. For every baby born, an elderly person has to “retire”. There’s not enough supplies to not maintain that balance. Diego understands this, and he believes solely in it and in the mission. Jamal does not. He decides to find Jamal II (2 clone cycles ahead of him) to ask his opinion. Jamal II also believes in the mission. When the day comes for Diego to retire, he smuggles onto the shuttle to that ship and tries to stop the procedure. Diego definitively tells him that it is time to say good bye, and is retired. Jamal is in the biggest trouble of his life, and he turns to I.C.C. as his friend.

October 19, 48 PLD (2589 CE)

Still with Jamal III, 18 years later, Captain Mahler is inquiring why I.C.C. is having issues. A banner flashed saying “Remember clouds. Remember sand.” And neither I.C.C. nor Jamal know where it came from. I.C.C. turns on her full consciousness to try to deduce what is going on. She tracks down some people who witnessed the display, and tries to gauge their reactions to the messages, as they continue with “Remember ice cream trucks.” and “Remember holiday breaks.” I.C.C. thinks that there is something malicious going on, so she continues to turn on her full consciousness to spy on various crew members. She pieces together that the psychiatrist, Dr. Evita, was the connection between the crew members who had turned off the messages, and I.C.C. decides to tell this to Jamal…but Jamal is also one of Dr. Evita’s patients. He is who overrode I.C.C. in the first place to send the messages, and he tells her their plan – they intend to uprise to turn the convoy around to head back to Earth, all because of Diego and him being retired, in Jamal’s mind, too soon. The uprising happens, and there’s nothing I.C.C. can do to stop it. Jamal and his gang tell the governing officials that they are to turn the plane around, and when they say that they need more time, Jamal switches off the air into their room – the same room his sister is in too. Luckily I.C.C. has one last trick up her sleeve, and shorts herself out. When she comes back online, she learns from Margarita that the revolt lasted for a week, during which time Jamal was trampled, and none of the ringleaders were ever allowed to be reborn again. It’s Margarita’s retirement day, and she, like Diego, believes in the mission, and is happy I.C.C. is back online for her new version.

May 22, 98 PLD (3075 CE)

Captain Reginald Straifer IV is about to come out of SD travel and see LQ Pyx for what it is. He and Margarita discuss what the general mood will be and discuss the various messages that have been prepared for Earth. It’s been 100 earth years (10 convoy years) since they last received a message in return. There are many reasons that Straifer can think of as to why this may have happened, and coupled with the uncertainty of what they may or may not find at the star, there are a lot of pretty depressing ideas. Straifer rewatches the speech that his original gave on Earth so many years ago kicking off the project, and we learn that it was not supposed to be Straifer who was captain when they reached LQ Pyx; it was supposed to have been Mahler III, but he committed suicide and therefore eliminated his line forever.

They reach LQ Pyx and once they get everything in focus, they realize that the shell that surrounds the star…is man-made. It’s a mostly complete metal net of sorts. Still no reply from Earth regarding the incredible discovery. They discuss that they are also not receiving communications from whomever built the Dyson Sphere (which is a structure built around a star to passively gather energy), and they could be close-by, so they decide to open up their communications wavelengths further.

Six months later, they officially arrive. They have lots of speculations about the structure, but are excited to investigate it. The biggest question is – why isn’t the structure finished. Straifer seems to be getting more and more into his own head. We learn that after Mahler committed suicide, his widow remarried to Straifer. It seems to be plaguing him. When they are looking at the web, they keep going back to this section where there is a “seed” which seems to be at the middle of that portion of the web, and every night Straifer dreams of the seed, and it often has Mahler’s voice. When one of the probes returns, the pictures show a spaceship, and there’s a question as to whether that’s who is blocking the transmissions. Upon more research, it appears that not all of the web was constructed by the same individuals, or at least not all done at the same time. So what’s next? The original deployment allotted only a specific time to investigate LQ Pyx and then return to Earth with the results. Do they keep to the original plan, despite no news from Earth in years, or do they stay until they can complete the web?

They take a manned mission to the seed and find that one of the previous groups picked it apart fairly crudely to determine what was going on with it. As they are there, Straifer has an anxiety attack. He’s convinced there’s something wrong, and that they need to turn the ship around and get away from it. He goes so far as to tamper with the shuttle that is going to be heading back, but luckily I.C.C. alerts Nakamura to come stop him. He’s taken to the medical ship, where he dies – an aneurysm they suspect. Has the Seed claimed its first life?

February 9, 121 PLD (3088 CE)

The scientists finish collecting their samples of the mission as they were only allowed to stay for the allotted 20 years. I.C.C. is evolving, and has written a poem.

October 3, 121 PLD (3088 CE)

As the ships are transitioning into SD, something happens and part of Bottomless (the storage ship) is lost along with a bunch of crew members. They aren’t sure if SD travel can be used any more, so they proceed back at regular speed.

April 1, 161 PLD (3138 CE)

Something is different, even though it’s only 39 years later, and it takes a little bit to discover. Captain Mahler, the clone who was never re-cloned after his freak-out upon arrival at LQ Pyx is now the Warden, over a prison called The Pit developed out of the discontinued lines, aka “bad clones” who are used strictly for work details. This came out of … The problem is that the Warden and his prisoners don’t really fit into the system so they self-govern, and Mahler is abusing his power by killing prisoners. At the same time, we learn that Margarita (who is part of the governing board) and her former wife have sneakily reintroduced Jamal into society as their child Diego as they wanted general society to realize that the discontinueds do not belong in the Pit. This comes to a head when Mahler sees Diego and realizes he is the same as Rail who is in the Pit. Mahler approaches the board, but they refuse his request to allow him to check all the children who he believes to discontinued, so he hijacks a convoy that Diego is on. Margarita and her new wife hurry to find and protect some of the other children, and they learn that one of them is a clone of Mahler, who Margarita takes with her to the Pit. Margarita apologizes to Mahler for how this all turned out, but the convoy has sent a security team over as the feed of what is going on at  the pit is being distributed throughout the fleet by I.C.C. A battle ensues, and the Warden kills himself, both ending his suffering and stopping the purpose of the Pit.

May 28, 271 PLD (4101 CE)

Removing the Pit has made the crew take a handle of their fear and go back into SD, so they are quickly approaching Earth, and they are curious what they will find, since it’s been over a thousand Earth years since they’ve received any communication. What will they find when they return to Earth? The speculations that the book gives via discussions from the government board and how they might plan for such occurrences are all great possibilities for an ending to a book. Will they find anyone there? Is that why no communications? They have to wait to see. It’s no longer a homecoming, but more like a first contact.

When they finally do arrive, they see signs of life, but still, no response to any communications including the one that I.C.C. has been continually broadcasting since their arrival. They decide to wait for contact before fully landing, and give Earth 30 days to respond, and when they don’t, the convoy lands in Antarctica (a neutral zone). Shortly thereafter, they are approached by 6 humanoid figures, and they go out to meet them. Nika tries communication in multiple languages with no response and then reverts to sign language. All that occurs is that the 6 figures mimic her motions. Stopping to think about what to try next, the figures begin to run off, followed by the crew members. They are led down a long elevator, and the suspicion that the humanoids are indeed robots is confirmed when they power off upon arrival.

Once they reach the lower level, they find a huge underground city in the warmth of the geothermal. They begin seeing humans, but none will respond to them. They look frustrated and confused, and no one can understand why. They are led to an unusual room where the new robot escorts awaken a man who struggles to speak to them in a sort of code of abbreviations. None of the crew members can decipher it. They’re a bit creeped out about the situation so they go to leave the way they came when they meet Ephenza, the first person who can speak to them!

January 27, 4136 CE

We’re introduced to Esperanza Straifer – the daughter of Nika and Reggie Straifer. In the olden, on-ship days, they would have never been allowed to have a child as they were of different classes, and they weren’t allowed a clone. They had to have a baby the “old fashioned way”.  Esperanza is brilliant, but belligerent about life, partly due to ridicule she (believed she) experienced as a result of her parents and partly due to having to live up to her mother. She has been given implants similarly to the other Earth people so that she can communicate with them–a similar career as her mother had.

In the 35 years since landing, there’s been seemingly no progress on integration. Those from the ship are still considered outsiders, and the residents can’t be bothered by them. When Esper returns to the ship, there’s a message waiting for her, and she is surprised to learn that there was an agreement about the lease (of the land where the ships were parked) that she hadn’t been privy to. It turns out the board went over her head, and they thought she’d be happy since she seems to hate her job, and really, everything, but she isn’t. We learn that Earth likes having them there because they have the capability to grow lots of luxury items.

They instate another person to take over her role as ambassador to Earth, and it’s suggested that when they leave Earth (since even after years of trying, they aren’t integrating properly), maybe she should stay. She’s one of the few who has had successful implants (most can’t handle them) and she hates the way that she’s been treated. As she’s packing up to move out of her office, she gets a visit from her half-sister Caznal (after Esper’s father died, her mother married Ephenza, Caznal’s father). Caznal alerts Esper that there is something more going on, and she should not accept the loss of her job so willingly. I.C.C. backs up the suggestion that there is something more going on, and the board has consciously kept Esper in the dark about it.

Caznal begins to tell Esper that she has figured out the purpose of the Nest. It is full of hydrogen and she believes that it has the capability of pressurizing at such a high pressure that it can turn the hydrogen into a metallic state creating a circuit. However, when Caznal presented this data to the board in hopes of being allowed to study the seed to figure out how the ship’s computer, she was taken off the project. She knows that they believe her, but as she is an Earthling, not from Ship City, they don’t want her to know that they want to track down the creators of the Nest and make contact. Earth is too comfortable in their ways now to want change, and the concern from Ship City is that if Earth knows what they are doing, Earth will take away and destroy the Nest and not allow them to leave.

Negotiations begin without Esper, and everyone is excited to hear that Earth is agreeing to let them leave. Esper tracks down the full details of the negotiations and is shocked to find out that part of the negotiation was that Earth was to terminate I.C.C. She attends the board meeting to tell them how upset she is that they are agreeing to these terms when I.C.C. was the only thing to save them multiple times throughout their journey. Then to make the point even more cynical, she points out that if Earth thinks that I.C.C. is too outdated to make the trip, why wouldn’t they also think that the crew itself is too? It turns out that Esper is correct.

All the board and all the crew are subpoenaed for their genetic material so that Earth can determine if they are the correct people to go. Years go by as Earth has decided that the trip will necessitate 3 additional ships. Esper meets another janitor (her new job) named Lawrence, and is pregnant with twins. She goes to see her friend Toya who is still involved in board decisions when she realizes that Earth doesn’t want I.C.C. because they think it’s outdated. She realizes that Earth wants to keep I.C.C. because the knowledge of making fully artificial intelligence was lost long ago, and they realize that they need to stop Earth from taking the AI.

They fake a fire in which I.C.C. and Esper and Lawrence die (which means that they will not be able to go on the mission and will have to stay on Earth – a penalty that Esper is willing to take). Earth teams come in to salvage what they can, but they determine that I.C.C. is of no use without the main server which was destroyed.

A year later, January 19, 4148, a little over 2 millennia after the original voyage, the ships depart. Esper, Lawrence, and their two fraternal twins are there to watch, but the reader learns that the twins’ DNA was selected for the mission. Three hundred Earth years later, the book cuts to Toya introducing herself to the 20-something year old twins the day before her retirement and telling them that the ship owes everything to their biological parents.

An elderly Caznal meets with a young Jamal to continue studying the Nest, and they realize that the aliens who created it could control the hydrogen circuit with their bodies allowing them to biologically manipulate their gravitational field. Jamal initially is upset thinking that means that they will never figure out the Nest, but Caznal and I.C.C. are not so easily deterred. They believe that they can create something to bridge the gap and allow humans to do the same. It will take a lot of time and many years of research, but what do they have if not time?

Verdict: 4.5 stars

This book is one of the best books I have read in recent times, and I have recommended it to multiple people who have all really liked it as well. It’s still enough science to be sci-fi, but with a really incredibly interesting people story to go with it. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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The Wrath & The Dawn – Renée Ahdieh

Review (Amazon): Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

My Review (Spoilers):

Wow, I really could not get behind this book. I typically like YA, but this one had confusing (and/or bad) writing, and the plot never went anywhere. There’s a sequel, so presumably the author thought that she’d sell some more books by not revealing anything in book 1, but not from this reader. Typically a series has a plot which finishes in the specific book, and then an overarching plot which finishes in the series. This book was missing the first part of that, and I will never know if it’s also missing the latter.

I will admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of 1001 Nights/Arabian Nights. I’m not sure how I missed that, but alas. Maybe that would have filled some gaps for me.

The book begins with “a young man” and his father, General al-Khoury, having a conversation on a rooftop. I think it was supposed to be the hook to get you interested in the book, but it did not reveal enough to leave me with anything but confusion about who these characters were and what they were alluding to. (At the end of the book, I still don’t know.)

Then we meet Shahrzad. She’s getting all done up by her hand maidens, but we know there’s something going on. The suggestion is that she won’t live til morning, and there’s mention of another girl, Shiva, who we eventually learn is Shahrzad’s best friend. Shahrzad’s father comes to visit, and she promises that everything will be fine, and he should go home to her sister and be strong. She then meets the king, or caliph, and reveals to the reader that she intends to live to the following day, and her intention is to kill the king.

Cut to Tariq and Rahim, who we eventually piece together (sort of) that Tariq is Shahrzad’s boyfriend (sort of?) and Rahim is (I guess) his friend. Shahrzad sent Tariq’s family a letter, which he goes home to receive. We learn that Shiva was Tariq’s cousin, and upon her death, which Shahrzad is apparently avenging, Shiva’s mother, Tariq’s aunt, killed herself. Not much is revealed in the letter except that Shahrzad apologizes to Tariq for “her betrayal”. (aka we still don’t really know what is going on)

Cut back to Shahrzad. She’s waiting in her chamber for the king to arrive, and when he does, he makes a bit of small talk and then asks her why she volunteered. Is she willing to throw away her life at sixteen? (Finally, we are getting somewhere.) She begins to tell Khalid a story, and says that at the end, she will answer his question of why she volunteered. She begins the story of Agib and Mount Adamant, and talks until dawn when she stops as she has made it through the night. Khalid grants her one more night.

Meanwhile Shahrzad’s father and sister are preparing to go into hiding, but not before her father stops to pick up a book. I think this is important, but the whole story line of the father is exceptionally confusing.

When Shahrzad awakes, we’re introduced to Despina, her hand maiden, who although claiming to be curious about Shahrzad (as she’s the only one who has made it through the night) as well as a spy, she’s just an annoyance throughout the whole book and is not a spy in any way. Once Shahrzad is ready, she is escorted by “the best swordsman in Rey”, the Rajput, who is basically her bodyguard/watcher to the courtyards where the soldiers practice. She’s hoping to see the caliph in action as he is “the second best swordsman in Rey”, but when he’s not there, she awkwardly pretends she wants to learn how to use a bow and arrow. The caliph’s (only?) friend, Jalal, “teaches” her, and he’s fully aware that she already knows what she’s doing. He does give her a little insight into Khalid – he became a different person once his mother died. Jalal wants Shahrzad to help Khalid go back to the person he was before her death. Khalid finally enters the training field, and upon leaving, he tells Shahrzad that he’ll “see her tonight”, and when her stomach flutters, we know that her original plan won’t happen.

He meets her again that night, and they have sex, although he doesn’t kiss her (which she is thankful for because she’s already smitten with him but still has some small hope that she will still avenge Shiva’s death), and then she continues the story. Again, she makes it til morning. And again, she wants to go see the caliph fighting. There’s a tournament going on, and she watches as Khalid fights with his specialty weapon, two shamshir swords. The following evening, he doesn’t visit, but instead, she’s visited by the soldiers who take her to be killed. The cord is tied around her neck, and she is dropped…only to be released at the last minute.

Khalid comes to visit her to make amends and to tell her that he’s leaving for a week and she won’t be bothered while he’s away. Not much happens while he’s away. Shahrzad evades an attempted poisoning, and she meets Khalid’s childhood tutor who tells her of a troubled childhood, and then gives her a threadbare carpet because she possesses magic power. (Huh?)

When Khalid returns, Shahrzad takes him out into the city without a bodyguard, presumably to kill him although there’s no suggestion of how she plans to do that. They’re attacked in the street, but come out unscathed, and are so overcome with emotion that they kiss in the alley, and they’re now inexplicably in love.

We learn that Despina is pregnant, and it’s Jamal’s baby, and despite (I think) this book being set in ancient times, Shahrzad takes the modern stance and continues to push Despina to tell him and make things right which I found really out of period.

Shahrzad has moved on from trying to figure out a way to kill the caliph, but now instead is trying to figure out why the wives have to die (because she loves him now). She tries telling him another story about a wife trying to figure out her husband’s secret, but Khalid easily catches onto what she’s doing and beyond not telling her anything, gets really upset.

There’s a big event where a bunch of different emirs across the kingdom are coming to the castle, one of whom is Tariq. He’s there to get Shahrzad out, but she doesn’t want to leave because she hasn’t figured out the mystery, but also she’s in love with Khalid. At the same time, her father is presumably learning how to do some sort of dark magic with the book that he took from the library. He’s sacrificing animals, but beyond that, we have no idea what he is doing. When Tariq returns with the news that he did not bring Shahrzad back with him Jahandar (Shahrzad’s father) tells Tariq that he can help him get her back. Dunh dunh dunh

Another attempt is made on Shahrzad’s life, but of course is again foiled. But Khalid takes her to his chamber to recover – the first time she’s ever been there. Once Khalid leaves, she snoops around and finds a book of letters of apology to the families of every wife who he killed. No reasons were given as to why they had to die, and it’s obvious that the letters were never intended to be sent. She finds the one for Shiva’s family which breaks her, and then she finds one partly written and abruptly stopped to her family. He has to answer for what he did!! (Even though she still loves him and doesn’t want to kill him any more)

She intends to ask Khalid, but a confusing unexplained situation occurs where his headache is unbearable (presumably related to his lack of sleep?) and his uncle comes in and cures the headache with some sort of magic. After the headache goes away, he then tells her why all these women had to die. He married his first wife Ava when he was very young through an arranged marriage. She grew more and more withdrawn and he wasn’t giving her the attention she needed as he was trying to figure out how to rule the kingdom. He told her he loved her but she knew he didn’t mean it, and she kills herself.

After Ava’s burial, her father curses Khalid. “One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.” He tried to resist but the rains stopped, drying up the city, but Shahrzad mentions that it has rained since she’s been there, and that maybe the curse has weakened.

It seems like things are going well between the two until Shahrzad’s father follows through on his plan and lights a bunch of fires using his magic allowing Tariq to enter the castle and get Shahrzad while Khalid is gone for a few weeks. She is torn between resisting and not, but she wants to find her father and stop what he is doing. They encounter Jalal, and he tells Tariq to take Shahrzad out of Rey and make sure she never comes back. And the book ends.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

Many things are discussed but not followed through or explained properly. These include the magic, the caliph’s headaches (and the treatment for them), the fact that the caliph’s people are looking for Shahrzad’s family (why?) but can’t find them (are they actually looking?). Also, the curse. What? It doesn’t say marry a new woman every night and then kill her. Why not kill a hundred prisoners? The whole thing just felt very amateur and jumped around quite a bit which made it really hard to keep track of. Also it was a lot of staring into tiger eyes and leaning forward and taking “his lower lip between hers”. There are many other better YA books to spend your time reading, but it’s unfortunate because it’s always nice to read a book with non-white characters. I really wish this one had been better.

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Victoria – Daisy Goodwin

Review (Amazon):

Drawing on Queen Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin―creator and writer of the new PBS Masterpiece drama Victoriaand author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter―brings the young nineteenth-century monarch, who would go on to reign for 63 years, richly to life in this magnificent novel.

Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world.

Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.

“I do not like the name Alexandrina,” she proclaims. “From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.”

Next, people say she must choose a husband. Everyone keeps telling her she’s destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.

On June 19th, 1837, she was a teenager. On June 20th, 1837, she was a queen. Daisy Goodwin’s impeccably researched and vividly imagined new book brings readers Queen Victoria as they have never seen her before.

My Review:

Executive Summary: not worth reading

This book gets great reviews, and also there’s also the related PBS special, but I honestly thought it was quite boring. It basically took the reign of one of the greatest monarch’s of England, and condensed it down into a silly girl’s love story. I’m not really OK with that. The book basically covered ~2 years of Victoria’s life from right before when she became queen to when she proposed to Albert.

Victoria, whose name is Alexandrina Victoria, is about 17.5 years old when the book starts. Her father has died, her mother and her “friend” John Conroy look after her exceptionally closely, and her only real friends are her lady Lehzen and her dog Dash. She’s extremely sheltered and plays with dolls. She isn’t allowed to play with other children or even sleep in a room separate from her mother. Upon the death of her uncle, the previous king, she is just over 18 years old and is next in line to the throne. But no one believes that a young girl should be the queen (and frankly the portrayal in this book makes me agree).

Victoria  moves into the Buckingham house and starts to call it the Buckingham Palace. She sleeps in a room all to herself, essentially banning her mother and Conroy to the other end of the palace, and she develops a close relationship with “Lord M” aka the prime minister Lord Melbourne. Throughout the book, we don’t get to see Victoria develop into a leader who is competent and respected. We get to see her crushing on Lord M – a man 40 years her senior.

Shortly after she becomes queen, there’s quite a bit of drama as she becomes misguided by rumors and her hatred for Conroy. She orders the royal doctor to examine her mother’s lady-in-waiting, Lady Flora Hastings as she believes that she is pregnant to  Conroy. She’s not. She has an invasive tumor and dies shortly thereafter, and there is some sizable damage to Victoria’s reputation.

Everyone and their brother is working on trying to find Victoria a husband since she’s too unstable to rule without one. While Victoria thinks herself an independent queen like Queen Elizabeth, this book certainly paints her as someone who probably does need a husband. She can’t marry Lord M for a variety of reasons despite she supposedly wanting to, so we are introduced to a plethora of suitors – the soon-to-be Russian tsar (although this is also not a valid option for political reasons), her cousin George, and Leopold, Victoria’s mother’s brother, who is the King of the (newly formed) Belgians, insists on visiting with his sons Albert and Ernst.

It’s quickly apparent that Albert is the only viable option, despite Victoria loathing him and thinking he is such a bore until they sit down to play the piano together side by side, and the feel of him touching up against her is just electric. She soon proposes (is is customary for the Queen as she’s not just some ordinary lady), and he agrees, and the book ends leaving the rest of Victoria’s life for another story.

Verdict: 3 stars

I think I am either too old or just not the right target audience for this book. It felt very flighty and young adult to me, and according to other articles such as this one, a lot of it was untrue widely embellished. So I’d say skip the book, watch the PBS special because although I haven’t seen it, I am a big Doctor Who fan, and Jenna Coleman is quite impressive.

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2017 in Review

2017 was a pretty weird year, especially for Houston which is where I live. I’m still volunteering a lot with my animal rescue work, and in 2017, I started a new project at work, which both helps and hinders my reading schedule (more airline travel but also busier in general). This is also…the fifth year for this blog!! I’m happy to say I read about the same amount of books as I did in 2016, but I’ve been a bit slow in the last 6 months (timeline with the new project at work) for putting my posts together. In fact, one of the books has never gotten a review, but I’ll do my best to get it written!

For this year, I had less of a variety of genres. No classics, no romance. A pretty even split between Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Historical Fiction (arguably my 3 favorite categories) and then a pretty even split on the others.

2017 genres

Also for this year, I spent a bit more than usual on books – a little over $50 for the year. But really, in the grand scheme of things, that’s just over $4 per month on books. It’s nothing. I do try to utilize the library and borrowing books when I can, but sometimes, you just gotta read!!

I varied between a 2.5 and a 4.5 rating (one on each end of the scale), and the split between book club and non-book club books was relatively even.

Sixteen books, or 1.3 books per month, and 5,752 pages read, equating to just under 16 pages per day! Two years in a row I’ve held steady at 16 books. Will this be the year that breaks the cycle?!

Happy reading in 2018!

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The Girl from Everywhere – Heidi Heilig

Review (Amazon): As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.

But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.

If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years.

My Review:

Executive Summary: creative

We ended up selecting this book for our October 2017 bestseller (originally listed as TBD), and generally, I thought it was pretty good.

Unfortunately, my review on this is quite a few months late, so it’s going to be a bit limited on details, but if you like time travel and pirates, it’s definitely one to check out.

The ship, the Temptation, is captained by Slate. It isn’t obvious at first that this is the father of the main character, Nix. Nix and her father don’t really see eye to eye, and throughout the story we piece together why. The ship is controlled like the captain in a way similar to a normal ship, however, with the Temptation, if the captain has a map, he can not only find his way to the place, but also to the specific time in which the map was made. It’s not really explained (obviously because it isn’t a real thing), but it’s called Navigation, and only Slate can do it. He’s trying to get back to Hawai’i in 1868 where Nix’s mother died, awaiting Slate’s return.

The crew, including dreamy Kashmir, set off on various quests to acquire various items. Some are things like the bird who can allegedly cure any ailment, to things like tigers for bargaining for new maps. When they first arrive in Hawai’i, it’s 1884. They missed the year by a lot. Nix goes to speak to her mother’s friend Joss who still lives there in the opium den (now an “apothecary”) where Joss gives Nix her mother’s dragon and says she does have a map for them which they will get later. On her way back, she meets a white boy with a fancy family named Blake. He’s an artist and shows her some secret parts of the island and tells her about some of the legends of Hawai’i.

A sketchy sort of man named Mr D turns up to talk to Slate. He has an 1868 map to sell for $900k, and an additional catch is that the money has to be stolen from the Royal Hawaiian Treasury. It’s obvious through the discussion is the intention to replace the king with a new leader. Slate agrees to think about it, and he will give an answer at the upcoming ball where he’ll be able to see the map.

In the meantime, they investigate the treasury. Nix is being wooed by both Kashmir and Blake. She learns that Blake’s father, who is hosting the ball, has many important friends. Blake himself though loves Hawai’i and its history and culture.

Nix learns that the map which got them there was a back-dated map from Joss, so that the Temptation would arrive in the wrong time, and Joss provides Nix with a different map – one of the Qin dynasty of the tomb of the first emperor (the one with the terra cotta warriors)

They attend the ball, see the map, and Slate agrees to the terms. Blake explains later while dancing with Nix that the men are part of the Hawaiian League (the group wanting Hawaii to be annexed by America) and that Nix shouldn’t let her father get involved. Kashmir is found by Nix rolling around with Mrs. Hart and then is caught with the map which Nix stole which is unfortunate because Slate has made an agreement with Mr. Hart alone which is much better than the original plan, but the theft causes him to ever to the original.

Slate is furious, and Nix threatens to go to the police about the plan. He says if she helps him with the plan, he’ll teach her to Navigate…

They meet the Hawaiian League again to discuss the plan, and Nix goes back to visit Joss with this magical bird that they found at the start of the book. It can cure anything, and it cures Joss of her blindness. It is revealed that Joss can Navigate and she and Nix have a very intertwined life. Joss dies in the fire of 1886, but she also came to the exact location after 1886 to get her treasure and then returns to 1841 to live. She introduces Nix’s parents, and reveals that the reasons that none of the maps have worked thus far is that the same person cannot exist in the same place. In every attempt, Nix has been on board the Temptation, and she’s also been alive in the time they are trying to get to.

Blake draws them a map of the exact time they are in Hawai’i so they can return exactly to where they are, and they head off first to ancient China to obtain some terra cotta warriors. Not only did Qin bury the previous emperor with his warriors, but also with the tradesmen and women who made them. This is Nix’s first time to Navigate, and after some work and a few tries, she is successful. Nix and Kashmir use a crude canoe to get into the tomb where they leave the map of Chinatown in 1886 for Joss (she is trapped in the tomb, and apparently somehow escapes using that map) and to awaken some of the warriors to take back to Hawaii with them.

They return to Hawai’i and begin working on the plan. They will use to terra cotta warriors, who Nix has brought to “life” to convince the guards at the treasury that they are the Night Marchers (a legend in Hawai’i). Then they take the bottomless bag and fill it with the money. In a turn of events, Mr. Hart double crosses them and runs off with the money. In the meantime, Blake finds Nix at her post and realizes what is going on. They run to find Slate and Kashmir but no one knows where Mr. Hart is. Slate chased him for a while, and managed to get the bag of money back, but Mr. Hart still has the map. When they are about to bury the bag, they realize that Mr. Hart cleverly has hidden himself in the bag too.

Mr. Hart says he needs to get away from his wife who spends all the money and sleeps around. He wants Nix to take the Temptation and take him far away. Obviously everyone disagrees and are trying to convince Mr. Hart otherwise to no avail. And he has a gun and they do not. A shot rings out and they realize that Blake had been hiding  nearby, and hearing his father confess to shooting Blake’s uncle, the mapmaker of the map they are trying to make, he shoots his father in the arm. Mr. Hart then shoots his own son, and then Kashmir who is luckily wearing a Kevlar vest. Nix jumps on him, digging into his wounded shoulder and he grabs her by the hair, and also the gold all while holding a gun, and then the mystical Hawaiian warriors come and take Mr. Hart never to be seen again, and Blake is healed by the mystical healing spring. He shows them he has the map, and they head to the ship.

Nix approaches her father and tells her she has the map, but he can’t use it if she’s with him. She will have to go her own route if he wants to make it back to her mother. He tells her that Blake has asked to come along on the ship and he has agreed. He tells her that he is no longer going to try going back to Hawai’i because he can’t leave her. The book ends with Slate asking her where they should go.

Verdict: 3 stars

I really liked the idea of this book, but I didn’t like the specific plot. Think of all the various places and things that you could do with maps and time traveling, especially in the age of the Internet, and yet the majority of the book was spent in Hawai’i. I found the ending to be too convoluted and confusing, and I just wanted a bit more.

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Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Review (Amazon): “Are you happy with your life?”Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

My Review (SPOILERS!!):

Executive Summary: it puts the sci in sci-fi

This book reminded me a little of a Michael Crichton book or like a less-funny The Martian. It has a lot of science, specifically quantum physics in it and has an interesting plot because of it.

We meet Jason, his beautiful wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie straight away. It’s Thursday which means family night, but tonight is something a little different. Jason’s old roommate and colleague, Ryan Holder just won the Pavia Prize (a multidisciplinary prize for his work in neuroscience), and we get the idea that Jason just might be a little jealous. He could’ve been a world renowned physicist, but instead he decided to become a teacher when Daniela became pregnant with Charlie. She could have become a well known artist herself, but now she just dabbles. Ryan’s having an informal celebration that night to which Jason is invited but he doesn’t want to go. Daniela convinces him to stop by and to pick up ice cream on his way home. Due to some foreboding language right from the start, we know something bad is about to happen.

He goes to the Village Bar, one of his favorites, to meet his friend Ryan and give him some congratulations. Ryan has always sort had a thing for Daniela, and he asks Jason why she didn’t come. Jason in turn asks if Ryan plans to settle down, and he replies that he doesn’t think so. Work is too busy. Normal chit chat from two colleagues whose lives took different paths.

Jason has had enough and heads to the grocery store. On his way out, as he’s marveling at the crisp autumn air, he hears footsteps and suddenly there’s a gun pointed at his head. The man doesn’t want his money. He forces Jason into a car and directs him to drive to the university where Jason works. As he’s driving, Jason is pondering why the guy wants him, and is thinking about why it is that the guy has been following him (addresses of his in the GPS). He tries to ask questions, but doesn’t get the answers he needs. He tries to send a text message, but the kidnapper takes his phone and sends Daniela a message instead.

The kidnapper starts asking him more personal questions – who the man at the happy hour was, what his plans are for tomorrow, etc., as he’s forcing Jason out of his clothes into new ones as he leads him down into a building in the middle of nowhere. Jason is given some sort of drug in the side of his neck. As Jason is fading off, the kidnapper asks him about his life, and whether he regrets his decision to let his ambition “die off”. Jason talks about the research that he was working on pre-Charlie, the quantum superposition of an object visible to the human eye. The attacker mentions that he is not there to kill Jason. As he administers another medication, he tells Jason that “you can make it yours. You can have everything you never had” as Jason drifts to sleep.

***SPOILERS begin here***

Jason awakes to a man and a woman speaking to him. The man is wearing a Hazmat suit, and put him on a gurney to evaluate him. The man asks him some simple questions – Do you know who you are? Yes; Do you know where you are? No; Do you know who I am? No. The man is named Leighton and says that he and Jason are colleagues and friends. Jason is obviously wildly confused. He’s restrained and being given medical tests, and although he has no idea where he is or who he’s around, everyone else seems to know what’s going on.

He goes for a debrief, and realizes that it’s not a dream or a delusion, but he still doesn’t understand why everyone but him seems to know what’s going on. He’s lucid, and he remembers what it is that he had done previously, so he’s not sure what is going on. He uses the restroom, and tries to think about ways to escape, so when Leighton comes to talk to him, he deadbolts the bathroom and escapes out the window. He heads to his home, but it’s not his home. The pictures of him with his family aren’t there, but the key worked, so it is his home. As he’s walking around in the house that is both his but not his, he spots a certificate awarding the Pavia Prize to Jason Holden.

Freaked, he tries Daniela’s number. It’s not hers. Leighton and some others (obviously) track him down, but he escapes and heads to the hospital for some screenings. The only thing they find from the screenings is that he has high does of ketamine in his system – a surgical anesthetic. The doctor tells him that they can’t find any information about him working at the university, or anyone named Daniela Dessen in the phone book. Jason can tell that they are going to commit him to the psych hold, so he sneaks out of the hospital.

The story cuts to Daniela, who is talking to Jason. She’s wondering what took him so long to get home…she doesn’t know why, but something is different.

Confused Jason leaves the hospital to find Daniela. Hopefully that will sort some things out. When he finds her, she’s a successful single artist, casually dating Ryan Holder. He explains to them what is going on, from what he can piece together, Ryan doesn’t want to believe him. In the end, Ryan ends up going to Leighton, who then captures Jason, killing Daniela in the process.

Back in captivity, still with no real answers, Leighton agrees to show Jason what “they have built together”. Jason has years of notes of what he has done – which is built a “Many-Worlds” box. Basically at any decision point in life, a separate branch splits off for the “yes” and the “no” creating a quantum timeline of every possible scenario. He gets to see a video of himself, who he doesn’t remember, entering the box and then, what he does remember, stumbling back out of the box weeks later.

After Amanda speaks to him some more, they track down Ryan and beat the hell out of him because they realize that this is not their Jason. The Jason who went into the box is not the Jason who returned. It seems a bit dramatic all of this as it isn’t really solving any problems, and certainly you’d think that if they asked him to help, he would have. Instead, they detain him, and eventually, Amanda has a change of heart after learning that Daniela was killed and what they are doing to Ryan and comes to get Jason out of there. As they are being chased, they grab what they can and lock themselves into the “Many-Worlds Box” and begin their adventure.

They travel to a multitude of different “worlds” so to speak – some where things are completely not viable, like one where snow has buried everything and everyone is freezing to death, or with a deadly plague to others that are…close, but not right. They only have a limited amount of options due to how much of the suspension cocktail that they packed. So in the end, Amanda realizes that because in Jason’s life which he is trying to get back to, she didn’t exist, so she has to leave him to allow him to return to his life.

Jason continues forward, slowly, sometimes slipping into deep depressions, particularly in worlds which are close, but aren’t the one he wants to get back to. It starts to get pretty panicky at the end as the number of vials that he has to be able to try again are dwindling away, and then, just to make it more intense, he is mugged and some of the vials are broken, so he’s only down to just 2…then 1.

Once he enters the world that has to be the correct one, he has to figure out what to do with Jason2 (as he’s been called throughout). He decides to get a gun. When he arrives at the store, he’s met with an unusual response from the employee. He had been in there with the exact same request 5 times in the last week. He has to go and figure out what has happened. As it turns out, there are a variety of Jason variants who have split recently, all with the same mission – to return to their original world and to return to Daniela. Not all of the Jasons have the same personality. Some are willing to sacrifice anything to get to Daniela, and one specifically is killing them off one by one. “Original” Jason, if you can call him that, realizes that he has to do something completely outside of the box to be able to thwart his other selves.

He gets himself arrested so that Daniela will come pick him up. He explains to her what has happened, and luckily she believes him. They go pick up Charlie and head to Wisconsin. Daniela struggles with the idea of all of these other Jasons out there, all so close to being the one she knows. And how does she know which one is “the” one. (It doesn’t really matter because the book has been following this one specific version of Jason this whole time so obviously the reader is rooting for him). Jason proposes a lottery system to the other Jasons, and it is agreed upon, however, some of the bad Jasons, including Jason2 who has the most to lose, track him down due to Charlie powering on his phone.  Jason kills Jason2 during a confrontation, and they take his car and leave, but not before he whispers to Jason to look in the glove box. Once inside, he realizes that Jason2 has left some vials for them. This is how they can start anew and move past the threat of the other Jasons. Charlie gets to choose the world in which they live, and presumably they live happily ever after.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was definitely a thriller and also a thought exercise. There were a few parts where it got a little cheesy and predictable, but it’s easy to look past it as they were needed to keep the story moving forward, but I also think I would have given it a higher review had it not been so predictable. All in all though it is a good story, and I’ll be interested to see the movie which I think comes out later this year!

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A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Review (Amazon): Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).

My Review:

Executive Summary: slow to start but sweet at the end

This book took a little while to get into, but once you were, it was an easy read. It did remind me quite a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which was on our bookclub list pre-blog, thus it had been a few years since I read it, and it didn’t really make me like this book less.

As I’m writing this review, I just scrolled back to page 1 of the book, and I realize that the first sentence of the book is “Ove is fifty-nine.” Interestingly, I had forgotten this throughout the book, as Ove seems well into his seventies. He’s grouchy, stuck in his ways, and basically hates everyone and everything. He’s the neighbor you don’t want who does daily inspections around the neighborhood, ensuring that not a hair is out of line, even when it’s not a rule for the hair to be in line.

Ove used to be happily married to a teacher, Sonja, a ray of sunshine in Ove’s dark life. And when she died of cancer six months prior, Ove regressed into his darkness. The underlying plot of the book is Ove trying to commit suicide, in a dignified way, because he can’t go on living without his wife. However, each and every time, something bamboozles his attempt. He lives next door to another couple, Anita and Rune, who have been friends and frenemies over the course of their lives, and now that Rune has had a stroke, city officials are coming into the neighborhood to investigate whether Rune should be taken away from his home for his safety. Rune and Ove moved into the neighborhood at the same time and are two of the original members of the neighborhood. With Rune getting sick, Sonja dying, and the additions of various new neighbors, Ove sees his familiar, regimented old life slipping out of his grasp.

On his first neighborhood round of the book, we get introduced to most of the main players of the story. Ove meets a cat who he tells to scram. We meet Anders, who has a lot working against him. He’s divorced, self-employed, drives an Audi, goes jogging, and has a wife nicknamed “The Blonde Weed”. She has a little obnoxious dog, and Ove especially hates them both. Ove also finds a bicycle parked outside the bicycle shed, so he angrily puts it inside and continues on his route. And as he finishes inspecting unauthorized cars parked overnight in the guest parking or trash being properly sorted, we meet the new neighbor family as the husband backs their trailer into Ove’s house.

The Lanky One gets out of the Japanese car, and both Ove and The Lanky One’s pregnant Arabic wife begin to shout at him for being a moron. Ove thinks he may get along with her. The Lanky One tries again, and then runs over Ove’s mailbox, so Ove orders him out of the car so that he can maneuver the car into the driveway for them. Once finished, he shouts at them for driving where cars are not supposed to be and then stomps to his house! Shortly thereafter, the two daughters–a 7-year old and a 3-year old appear with food for Ove because their mom said he was probably hungry.

This begins a begrudging relationship with Parvaneh and her family. Parvaneh encourages Ove to take in the stray cat when it’s near death from being outside in the Swedish cold. Through this, he also reintroduces himself to Jimmy, as he uses his big body and its heat to help warm up the cat…and then realizes he’s allergic and Ove and Parvaneh take him to the hospital.

Parvaneh convinces Ove to teach her how to drive, and in the meantime, imposes herself and her children on him, always at crucial times during his suicide plots, to drive here various places.

But Ove isn’t only making friends with her family. He also helps the teen, Adrian, who owns the bicycle which was not in the shed like it was supposed to be. He’d agreed to help fix it it up for a girl who he likes.  Ove, with Parvaneh, deliver the bicycle to his place of employment, a cafe, where Ove learns that Adrian knows nothing about fixing bicycles, and his dad is in prison. So Ove shows him how to fix up the bicycle. Upon returning into the cafe, Ove meets one of Adrian’s coworkers, another adolescent named Mirsad, who is “bent”, and his father Amel. He also saves a man who has fallen onto the train tracks, as he is there planning to jump in front of them to take his own life. Through this, he makes the acquaintance of a journalist who he continues to shrug off for her story about his heroic deeds

Later in the story, Mirsad comes out to his father, who doesn’t take it well, and Ove ends up taking Mirsad into his home. Mirsad asks if he can accompany Ove and the cat on the daily neighborhood round. Upon this route, they stumble upon Jimmy who informs Ove that social services is coming to get Rune. Anita has been appealing it for two years, but the decision has been made. Ove is furious that he and Sonja didn’t know anything about this, but Jimmy says that they had specifically made the decision to not tell Ove and Sonja because they had had enough troubles of their own after the accident. Ove is furious. He’s had his share of run-ins with the “white shirts” over the years–first when he was younger and his house burned to the ground, and later after Sonja’s accident when the driver was drunk. In both cases, the bureaucracy did not work in Ove’s favor, and he was bound and determined that it wouldn’t happen again.

With the help of all the neighbors, Anders, who works with a towing company, manages to tow the white shirt’s car, illegally parked in the neighborhood of course, while he’s in getting Rune ready to move out. When he comes out and finds his car missing, he of course assumes Ove, who has been badgering him about the illegally parked cars for years and calls the police. When the white shirt returns, with two other white shirts, the neighborhood is ready. Jimmy, Anders, Mirsad, Parvaneh and co., and of course Ove are all there to back her up. So is Lena, the journalist. They show the white shirts a bunch of information about themselves, and basically suggest that the white shirts leave Rune and Anita alone or the information will be published. (This was a bit of a stretch in the plot, but OK.)

They all go on to live their happy lives. We learn that Ove has a heart condition–his heart is too big! Oh the irony is a little ham fisted here. The book technically ends when Parvaneh has her third child, a boy. But of course there is an epilogue to give everyone closure on the story. Four months later, Ove dies in his sleep. He gifts many things to all his recent friends, and over 300 people come to his funeral.

Verdict: 3 stars

Generally pretty good. It’s drily funny, and I always love a good curmudgeon. The ending was a bit overdone in my opinion (a bit too Hollywood ending), but generally the story moved nicely and was a decent “feel good” tale.

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