Sunday 24 October 2021

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Paperback, 294 pages
Published 7th May 2015 by Sceptre
(First published 27th August 2012)

Shelves: adult-fiction, better-than-expected, comfort-novels, lasting-impression, mental-health, read-in-2021, realistic-fiction, really-good, suicide

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots - neighbours who can't reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d'etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents' Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets.

But isn't it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so?

In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible...

The word-of-mouth bestseller causing a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman's heartwarming debut is a funny, moving, uplifting tale of love and community that will leave you with a spring in your step - and less ready to judge on first impressions a man you might one day wish to have as your dearest friend.

As a member of several book communities, there are certain books that I see mentioned again and again. Whenever someone is looking for fiction recommendations, you can almost guarantee that the book 'A Man Called Ove' will be mentioned at some point - though likely, you'll find several fans. When there's a lot of hype surrounding a book, I often end up feeling disappointed, but thankfully that wasn't the case with this one. Fredrick Backman is rapidly gaining popularity - especially due to his most recent book and upcoming Netflix series Anxious People -  and after reading his work for myself, it's completely understandable why his popularity is only increasing. 

I didn't really know what to expect from A Man Called Ove, only knowing that it is constantly getting rave reviews from many readers. Admittedly, it took me a little time to get into it - I did feel, initially, that Ove seemed a little too forced, too much of a caricature of your typical 'grumpy old man' stereotype, but as the book progressed I became more understanding of Ove as he grows into a very authentic character. I think several people will take some time to understand and empathise with Ove and that's the charm of this book - like the characters surrounding him, we initially only see a lonely, complaining curmudgeon but we quickly come to learn his history and his true self. Like any well-written character, I could relate to Ove in small ways and definitely saw some features of others within him. Though he's not an immediately loveable person, you just can't help but see that he has a big heart. 

Though this book isn't particularly long, there is an impressive amount of growth and development for both Ove and those around him. This book is essentially a character study of Ove, letting us know how his mind works, all his thoughts and feelings and most importantly, how and why he thinks and acts the way he does - there are of course some external plots,  events serving to allow us further into our protagonist's mind and history. Occasionally, some parts felt slightly slow or repetitive (the parking situation), but overall the story kept my attention well.

There are so many serious issues touched upon in this book without it ever feeling too 'heavy' - if you are feeling upset at any point, you can guarantee that there'll soon be some humour to cheer you up again.  Though the book is very comedic in style, it also addresses some very serious and potentially dark issues such as suicide and grief. Ove's past history is a key factor of the book and the story comes across as both beautiful and heartbreaking in equal amounts. His story - his life - is one of loss, growth, grief, friendship and new beginnings. I laughed, I cried and I now understand why so many people across the globe have fallen in love with both this book.

It's actually been a few months since I read this story, but I still think about it and I still think about Ove - to me, that's the sign of fantastic writing - a story that stays with you long after you close the last pages. Fredrik Backman is clearly an exceptional character creator and story-teller. This book is repeatedly described as 'charming' and I completely see why - it is the perfect descriptor for this book and for Ove. This is a real treasure of a book that I will continue to recommend to all.

Saturday 11 September 2021

The Only Plane In The Sky

The Only Plane In The Sky: The Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

Hardback, 512 pages
Published 10th September 2019 by Monoray

better-than-expected, books-i-own, favourites, historical, lasting-impression, non-fiction, read, read-in-2021
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

The Only Plane in the Sky is nothing less than the first comprehensive oral history of 9/11, deftly woven and told in the voices of ordinary people grappling with extraordinary events. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, new and archived interviews from nearly five hundred people, historian Garrett Graff skilfully tells the story of the day as it was lived.

It begins in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, where we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights. In New York, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable chaos at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker beneath the White House, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice watch for incoming planes on radar. In the offices of the Pentagon, top officials feel the violent tremor as their headquarters come under attack.

We hear the stories of the father and son working on separate floors in the North Tower, the firefighter who rushes to the scene to search for his wife, the telephone operator who keeps her promise to share a passenger's last words with his family, the chaplain who stays on the scene to perform last rites, losing his own life when the Towers collapse, the teachers evacuating terrified children from schools mere blocks from the World Trade Center; the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from rushing into the burning building to try and rescue their colleagues.

The Only Plane in the Sky is a unique, profound and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history and all of our lives..

Once again it is that infamous date in the calendar - the day where we all rightfully remember those who lost their lives during the horrific terrorist attacks against America. I find 9/11 extremely fascinating and wanted to take the opportunity to read a book about the events. There are several books on the topic and I am so glad that I chose to purchase and read a copy of The Only Plane In The Sky: The Oral History of 9/11

It is truly incredible to see how things quickly unfolded, from the people of New York awaking to a beautiful, bright, cloudless day to witnessing the complete destruction of a city complex and the consequential deaths of thousands only hours later. This book is informative and raw, documenting so many important moments. This book effectively captures the atmosphere, the fear, the strength and the spirit of America on that fateful day. I have learned so much from reading this collection.

As the title suggests, this book is an oral history of an absolutely unforgettable day in history. The book begins with some very helpful maps, flight plans and illustrations that allow you to envisage the following stories that are told and this context really helps as you progress through the events of the day. Through these illustrations and the provided photographs it is relatively easy to get quite a precise, firm idea of what was happening, where and when, despite the distressing and shocking events that occur.  Graff has created such a vivid account of the day through the words of those who lived it. 

The story is told through a multitude of first hand accounts including but not restricted to direct interview quotes, phone calls and transcripts. We hear from all sorts of people - on land, in the air and even in outer-space - and that's what makes this book so special and effective. We hear from the president, top government officials, pilots, emergency service workers, those who worked in the towers, those who awaited news from loved one and even kids in the city who thought that they were just going to school on another normal day. Each individual adds so much personality, so much gravity and it truly feels as though no stone was left unturned, no person unrecognised, when Graff decided to compile this extraordinary book. 

I can honestly say that I found every single part of this book to be compelling and thought provoking. Though I personally expected to find the survivors stories to the most interesting sections, I was equally fascinated by the story of the Bush administration and how the government attempted to handle the unprecedented situation that day. I particularly found the story of the events upon Air Force One thrilling and emotive as well as educational. 

Without a doubt, The Only Plane in the Sky is one of the most incredible non-fiction books I've ever read. There is so much that can be said about this book but it really is an experience that needs to be personally read by everyone who can get their hands on a copy. The multitude of perspectives bring a multitude of emotions - some hopeful, many distressing but each and every recollection deserves to be there. Despite what may be an initially daunting book of over 500 pages, I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone (in fact, I feel like I already have)!


Friday 6 August 2021


Lockdown by Peter May

Paperback, 399 pages
Published 16th June 2020 by Quercus

adult-fiction, better-than-expected, books-i-own, crime-thriller-mystery, dystopian, read, read-in-2021, sci-fi, title-appeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Written over fifteen years ago, this prescient, suspenseful thriller is set against a backdrop of a capital city in quarantine, and explores human experience in the grip of a killer virus. 

'They said that twenty-five percent of the population would catch the flu. Between seventy and eighty percent of them would die. He had been directly exposed to it, and the odds weren't good.' 


London, the epicenter of a global pandemic, is a city in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer. Martial law has been imposed. No-one is safe from the deadly virus that has already claimed thousands of victims. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed. 


At a building site for a temporary hospital, construction workers find a bag containing the rendered bones of a murdered child. A remorseless killer has been unleashed on the city; his mission is to take all measures necessary to prevent the bones from being identified. 


D.I. Jack MacNeil, counting down the hours on his final day with the Met, is sent to investigate. His career is in ruins, his marriage over and his own family touched by the virus. Sinister forces are tracking his every move, prepared to kill again to conceal the truth. Which will stop him first - the virus or the killers?t

I picked up Lockdown during the UK's third COVID lockdown and despite the eerie comparisons, I'm glad that I did! The book starts with a preface that tells us that initially the book wasn't published as in 2005 the thought of the UK capital, London, being in total lockdown seemed  too outlandish, but now we're all too familiar with both the term and the reality, meaning the book was published and has become a hit during these unprecedented times.

I have to admit that I was very happily surprised by this book. Though you should never judge a book by its cover, this isn't a book that I'd usually be tempted to pick up and the title is the sole reason that I did. I don't know what possessed me to want to read a book that was in reflective of our current trying times, but I thought that May predicted and portrayed life in lockdown impressively well. Granted, the lockdown in the book certainly seemed more grave than what we've been dealing with, issues such as fear and social issues were tackled very well. 

The story is set in London during lockdown as a new, highly virulent flu-type disease sweeps the population, threatening the lives of all. We are introduced to our protagonist, D.I. Jack MacNeil as he is tackles his last case before leaving the police force. As human remains are found at a construction site, he makes it his main purpose to bring justice to the victim. During the investigation we are introduced to many people including the forensics team which work tirelessly to discover the identity of the young victim. The book may primarily be a crime thriller, but we're also treated to a romantic storyline as we read about MacNeil's relationship with forensic orthodontist, Amy Wu. I enjoyed the characters in this book but Amy definitely was the most interesting to me as we learnt more as her character developed alongside the criminal case. I also liked the insight into both race and disability that Wu brought to the story.

Overall, the story was one that held my interest, it was easy to follow and had a bit of everything - mystery, action and romance. I was never bored whilst reading this one. I enjoyed reading about May's chaotic Lockdown London and mostly, I am impressed with his precognition! I was disappointed by the ending of the story which was, quite frankly, ridiculous and I felt that it did let the book down. Nonetheless, I'm glad I read this and would definitely recommend it. I look forward to reading more of May's work in the future.

Monday 2 August 2021

The Prized Girl

The Prized Girl by Amy K Green

Paperback, 384 pages
Published 20th February 2020 by HQ
(First published 1st January 2008)

abuse, adult-fiction, better-than-expected, crime-thriller-mystery, death, lasting-impression, new-adult, rape, read, read-in-2021, realistic-fiction, really-good
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Days after a young teenager named Jenny is found murdered, her small town grieves the loss alongside her picture-perfect parents. At first glance, Jenny’s tragic death appears clear-cut for investigators. In the murder of a former pageant queen from a safe and loving family, the most obvious suspect is a fan who got too close for comfort. But Jenny’s sarcastic, older half-sister Virginia isn’t so sure of his guilt and takes matters into her own hands to find the killer.

But for Jenny’s case and and Virginia’s investigation, there’s more to the story. Virginia, still living in town and haunted by her own troubled teenage years, suspects that a similar darkness lay beneath the sparkling veneer of Jenny’s life. Alternating between Jenny’s final days and Virginia’s determined search for the truth, the sisters’ dual narratives follow a harrowing trail of suspects, with surprising turns that race toward a shocking finale.

I hadn't heard of The Prized Girl or of Amy K. Green before glancing upon this book in my local bookshop but I am so glad that I happened upon it. The book tells us of the story of Jenny, a young beauty queen who has been found tragically raped and murdered and her older sister's journey in trying to discover what happened to her. 

This book seems to be the perfect bridge between young adult and adult fiction, mainly featuring younger characters and recounting several school experiences, but has a storyline that will appeal to fans of crime stories and psychological thrillers and focusing on some adult themes. The characters were not overly developed but  still well written. Though I didn't feel much of a connection to them, I could've read about them for days. There are two timelines in the book, the story of the past, of Jenny, as we see what led up to the dramatic events which resulted in her untimely death and the story of the present, as told by Virginia as she unravels plenty of secrets and attempts to discover the truth. 

The storyline takes precedence in this book and it's clear that Green is a great storyteller. I was gripped from the start. Although I did manage to predict 'whodunnit' around two thirds of the way through, this never distracted from the enjoyment of the story as there was so much that was explored and revealed in the book. I was always wondering something and curious about how the timeline would fit together in the end. This really was a page turner and I was very reluctant to put it down. Although there was a lot going on in the book and there were many twists, turns and revelations it was easy to follow. I was also very pleased that everything felt succinctly wrapped up at the end, though thankfully not rushed. The author did a fantastic job with a truly engrossing plot.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book as it really captivated me and I sped through it! It was simply but eloquently written and an extremely compelling story which tackles several extreme subjects. The Prized Girl is definitely a book that I will be recommending and I would love to read more by Amy K. Green.