3

Swede Lit Win: Britt-Marie Was Here

At the beginning of the month, the chaos of my life started bleeding into my reading. I wasn’t able to focus on reading for any length of time. I went days without reading any pages at all!

Finally, Fredrik Backman rescued me.

We all know that I loved A Man Called Ove and tried to force a number of you to read it. I also fell in love with My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes. I was hopeful for more of the same for Britt-Marie Was Here but also, how can a third book possibly hold up?

Oh it did!

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The cover I have

Britt-Marie was one of the characters from My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes. She was the one that Elsa’s grandmother tormented by shooting a paintball gun at her or pretending to hurl a dead body off the balcony. She was uptight, believed in everything in it’s proper place and just didn’t seem to care about much except to have the place clean and tidy.

Well at the beginning of Britt-Marie Was Here, Britt-Marie is living in a hotel room, desperate for a job to keep herself occupied after leaving her husband Kent, a serial philanderer who only values his wife for her ability to keep his life in order. There aren’t a lot of jobs in his economy, which Britt-Marie maintains is fine now as that’s what her husband has told her and he’s in business you know, but finally something is found for her. The rec centre at Borg, the kind of place that has only a road through it to recommend it, is looking for someone to keep it tidy.

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The cover I prefer

So Britt-Marie is off to Borg, a town decimated by the loss of their trucking industry jobs, where kids are left to fend for themselves, who only have the remnants of a soccer team left to give order to their days. Britt-Marie lands in Borg with nothing and has to contend with the semi-legalities of the supermarket-pizza-place-pub-laundromat-mechanic, motherless kids whose elder brother is mixed up with nefarious influences, and a blind roommate dealing with the loss of her father. And somehow, Britt-Marie, who knows nothing about soccer, becomes the kids’ soccer coach.

Britt-Marie Was Here has all the hallmarks of a Backman novel but instead of feeling repetitive and unoriginal, it is comforting and fun. Britt-Marie herself remains essentially the same – she still values cleanliness, has a love for glass cleaner, and prefers that things are done as they have always been done – but she makes room in her life for those who live in Borg. In so doing, she allows hidden parts of herself to come back to life after lying dormant for years. We come to realize that there has always been more to Britt-Marie. And Borg feels all the effects of Britt-Marie having been in town.

In the end, once again, I found myself in tears. It’s not a Fredrik Backman book unless you find yourself in tears in the end.

 

 

12

Screw being likeable: All Grown Up

Last week, I promised that when I got home from the lake, I would actually come to this space and blog about some of the books that I read.

Finally, here I am. Better late than never. Although I think the absence probably tormented me more than it did you.

At the last minute, I decided to tuck Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up into my bag. It ended up being a glorious addition – I even got to enjoy it in the sunshine for about an hour!

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Andrea, our heroine, has left her art grad program and moved back to New York City to start a corporate job and live on her own for the first time in her life. And while the lives of her friends, colleagues, mother and brother all move forward, she’s stuck in this cycle of lovers, work projects and gentrification in the neighbourhood she’s calling home. Each chapter tackles an event or person in her life and together, they put the pieces of her life together for the reader.

Before I read this book, I kept hearing about people not enjoying it or not finishing it because they didn’t find the heroine “likeable.” This is something we all need to stop doing eh? Heroines don’t need to be likeable. Is Holden Caulfield likeable? What about Gatsby? Heathcliffe and Mr Rochester kind of suck. But they don’t have to be likeable because they are male. We need to extend the same courtesy to heroines. Women have layers – let us showcase them in all their unlikeable glory.

Maybe you realize now that I am not one of the people that felt this way. I love how contrary and messy and sharp Andrea is. I love that she avoids her family, is very clear eyed about how her relationships with women change once they get married and have babies, and how she kind-of-but-not-really laments that she took a corporate world job instead of slaving away as a starving artist.

All Grown Up leaves breadcrumbs of a life in each chapter – something casually mentioned in one chapter becomes the focus in another so that in the end, you get the whole picture. It was unexpected in a myriad of ways – I didn’t expect to be as affected by it as I was. It was both funnier and more serious than I thought it would be.

Oh yes, Attenberg has gifted us with a brilliant, incisive, hilarious, wonderful book about a woman living her own life and giving no f*cks, except when she does. I loved it.

11

Lake Reads: Easter 2017

It’s been pretty quiet around here eh?

I’m going through another reading rough patch – I’m having a lot of trouble concentrating on reading! It’s been really busy at work and we’re still house hunting (which is the most intense experience out here) so I don’t have much left for this space.

BUT.

That’s about to change because it’s Easter and you know what that means? I’m headed to my in-laws’ house and all that’s expected of me in the next few days is to read and have some drinks. Maybe also run to town for ice cream.

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I have been looking forward to this weekend for weeks and weeks, thinking about what books will come with me. I’ve changed my mind many times but in the end, these are the books that I’m taking with.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. You may recall that I wasn’t a massive fan of My Brilliant Friend. It took me more than a year to take a chance on the second book in the series, The Story of a New Name. Well, that one converted me. I fell for that book hard and I think it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed by the friendship between Lila and Elena. I can’t wait to get into the third book.

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. This account of a white journalist going undercover as a black man in the Deep South in 1959 is more serious lake reading but it feels important and timely.

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter. What can I say? I’ve been in a murder state of mind. I’ve been listening to as many episodes of the My Favorite Murder podcast as time will allow. Given my non-focus abilities recently, I need something to grip me. I was haunted by Slaughter’s Pretty Girls. I look forward to her scaring the crap out of me again. This book needs to be back at the library on Tuesday – someone is waiting for it!

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. When I saw this post from Amy @ Read a Latte I was intrigued. I mean, it’s serious if you read a book twice in a week. When I was next at the library, I saw this book sitting out and felt like it was meant to be. I like the idea of an office duel between competing assistants who hate each other right about now.

The Secrets You Keep by Kate White. I don’t want to brag but I know the guy who took the picture that they used for this cover. When he told me about it I looked the book up and it sounded interesting: what would you do if your new husband is keeping secrets from you, ones that are potentially dangerous? I pre-ordered it (something I NEVER do) and now I’m taking it to the lake.

The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams. I read the first book in this promised trilogy (The Storms of War) quite a while ago. It was the story of a German-English family navigating society into the First World War and what it meant for their place in it. Kate Williams is an incredible biographer and she has taken equal care in crafting some solid historical fiction.

And that’s “it.” Three full days, 10 hours worth of car rides – I can do some serious reading damage this weekend. Promise that when I get back, I will actually post about some of it.

Happy Easter, friends!

4

Library Checkout – March 2017

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Another month just about over, which means it’s time to look at how we used the library via Charleen @ It’s a Portable Magic.

I felt like I was in the library all the time this month but the actual reading shows that I didn’t get through whatever I brought home very quickly. I bought a lot of books this month (bad, bad) and was excited about a lot of them. In a way you could say that I was just sticking to my blogging goal of reading the books I already have?

Read
Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (I’m a proper Canadian now, guys!)

DNF’d
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Queen Margot by Alexandre Dumas (I got 200 pages in and just did not care. However, I recently found the non-fiction version of the story and the showdown between Catherine de Medici and her daughter, Margaret of Valois and I’m super excited about it)

Returned unread
none, yet…

Currently out
The Lights of Paris by Eleanor Brown (anyone read this? I loved The Weird Sisters but have been avoiding this for some reason…)
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter

On hold
Sisi by Alison Pataki (I really really liked the first one, The Accidental Empress)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (conversion complete)

There you have it. Kind of a low-key library month. If you used the library this month, visit Charleen to link up!

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Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

I went to the library to pick up my hold (The Handmaid’s Tale) and ended up taking home a couple of other books (because that’s how that works) including Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik.

It’s billed as the “Muslim Bridget Jones.” I hope I don’t need to tell you what I think about that comparison (I hate it) but it kind of gives you an idea of what we’re talking about here.

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Sofia Khan is a 31 year old Muslim woman who works in publishing. She lives at home with her parents and her sister, who is getting ready to be married. Sofia has just broken things off with a man she thought she was going to marry. But when he refused to move out of his parents’ home, Sofia knows there isn’t a future for them. So now she’s trying to figure out what her future does look like – does she want to get married? Will she move out on her own?

And then the editors at work decide that she would be the perfect person to write a book about Muslim dating! So now she’s writing a book about something she’s very conflicted about.

Soon she begins mining her friends’ relationship experiences for stories, signs up for online dating (on a Muslim site) and stressing about writing this book that she isn’t really sure she ever wanted to write in the first place.

I liked this book – I was charmed by Sofia and her family; her parents who were the result of an arranged marriage and spend their time bickering about everything; various aunts and uncles who arrive on scene for celebrations; Sofia’s older sister, Maria, who is everything you could ever hope to have in an older sister and is also obsessed with wedding plans. I also loved Sofia’s friends – they were all so involved in each others’ lives – from showing up to support one becoming a second wife, to pretending it was no big deal that one of them was falling in love with a black man.

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is written in a kind of modern diary style, complete with text messages and emails. It isn’t really my favourite style, but it worked in this case. However, it could have done with another editing look – there were some amazing oversights (like Pasiktan instead of Pakistan).

But overall, this was a charming, light, quirky book. It had a lot of elements that I enjoy in this kind of “chick lit” book but the fact that Sofia was a devout Muslim (she wears a hijab, can’t see herself not marrying a Muslim, prays five times a day, doesn’t drink etc) made it so much more interesting. The family dynamics and the complications of her faith in a city that doesn’t always smile on it (she’s called a terrorist a couple of times by other commuters) made for a much more compelling read.

If you’re looking for something easy, something to make you giggle, I’d recommend this one. I’ve added the follow up (The Other Half of Happiness) to my list.

12

Never Have I Ever

As someone who thinks and talks and reads about books like 80% of the time, you kind of become defined by what you have read.

But what about those books that you haven’t read?

There are some books or authors that when you admit you haven’t read them, people don’t believe you. They think you’re missing out on some crucial bookish experience, like maybe you aren’t as widely read as they thought you were.

I try my best to read as much and as widely as possible. But there are inevitably going to be some books or authors that I don’t get to in this lifetime. Here’s a list of some of the ones that I haven’t reached yet.

Anything by Margaret Atwood. I know. I somehow managed to get through high school and university without reading any of her work. I actually didn’t know she was read in high schools until the other night. As far as I can tell, most of her work is dystopian? And that’s never really been in my wheelhouse. Still, The Handmaid’s Tale has been talked about a lot recently and I decided that maybe the time had come to read me some Atwood. I have a copy out from the library right now and if I actually read it, I can keep my passport.

 A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. One of those books that’s probably considered compulsory if you want to think of yourself as well-read. Well, too bad. I will probably never read this and it has a lot to do with the fact that anything I’ve ever read about Hemingway makes me not like him as a person. And I’m sure there are some of you out there that think I should separate the man from his art but nah. This is one I will probably never get to.

Books by Joan Didion or Nora Ephron. Am I wrong lumping them in together? They feel like they go together. People are always raving about one or the other and, while I suspect I would probably quite like their work, I haven’t gotten to it yet. I did read a Delia Ephron book recently-ish. Does that count?

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It constantly surprises ME that I still haven’t read this. It’s really hard to find a copy of it. Well, at least, every time it’s popped into my head to look for it, I can’t find it. I can hear you all yelling about online shopping but I prefer my book buying to be an in-store experience for the most part.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Are you yelling? Look, I gave The Hobbit a whirl and I was super bored. I can’t imagine reading three books of the same. I couldn’t even stay awake for the whole first movie. Pass.

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Any books or authors people are surprised you’ve never read?

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A New Favourite: Three Sisters, Three Queens

A few years ago, I got really excited because one of Philippa Gregory’s new books was billed as her first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl.

As you may recall, I loved The Other Bolyen Girl – it was my Philippa Gregory gateway drug. But The Kingmaker’s Daughter, although technically about the Neville sisters, was mostly about men making decisions around women.

In short, I didn’t like it.

I’ve tempered my expectations when it comes to Gregory of late. Most of the time, I take her books out from the library.

But, I think she might be hot again. Because The King’s Curse, The Taming of the Queen and now, Three Sisters, Three Queens were all amazing.

I didn’t post about The Taming of the Queen when I read it but know that Gregory’s depiction of Henry VIII’s clever final wife is excellent. Henry VIII as a stinking, cranky, brute of a man is vividly brought to life as poor Katherine Parr is forced into marriage with him and just wants to survive. I loved it – although finishing the book was bittersweet as you leave Katherine momentarily happy but if you are a student of history, you know she’s headed for a sad ending all the same.

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Three Sisters, Three Queens is mainly about Margaret Tudor, but Gregory weaves Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor (the Dowager Queen of France, not Mary I) into the story as well. This is incredibly effective for a couple of reasons: Katherine’s story has already been told and Mary’s wasn’t that interesting and this allows Gregory to play with the sister dynamics that are so fascinating given their statures and the times they lived in.

I had no idea about Margaret Tudor but now I love her. She was married off to the King of Scotland, James IV when she was barley 14. She was sent to live in Scotland, among a completely foreign court, forced to accept her husband’s many illegitimate children. When her husband was killed (on the orders of her sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon who was acting as regent for Henry VIII), she became regent for their son, James V.

But then she went and married this guy, Archibald (Earl of Angus) and the rest of the Scots were like “right, you forfeited the regency by marrying him so we’re in charge now.” She spent the next 10 years fighting for her right to be regent, fleeing anytime it looked like she was in danger. Her marriage, to a younger man who she had married for love, complicated her ambition as his family was knownto be in the employ of the English, working for personal gain, against Scotland.

Throughout the novel, Margaret and her sisters write each other letters, admonishing each other over matters of state, faith and family, the loss of children, troubles in their marriages, the changing borders. Their sisterhood is complicated by their status as queens, as each fights for her kingdom, her children and her happiness.

When I posted about this book on instagram, I said that it elevated the historical fiction genre. I stand by that. Gregory has written a fast-paced interesting book about women that history pits against each other. Viewed through Gregory’s lens, you see that these women were as much a product of their times as the men they were married to.

PS This one was recently released in paperback!