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Thursday, July 17,2014

Book reviews: Notes from Neil

Three for the Road

by Neil Rajala
Thursday, July 17 — A polar vortex in July? Reminded me of a typical Keweenaw Peninsula summer where I grew up. From what I hear, the more traditional West Michigan weather is on its way back, so those of you who love the heat and humidity combo get ready to play. Me, I'm going to be grateful for that brief taste of home. Here's what we're reading:



A MAN CALLED OVE
Fredrik Backman

To his younger and more modern-thinking neighbors, Ove comes across as the neighbor from hell. Cranky, unsmiling, and convinced that there's no one left in the world who knows how to do things the "proper" way. But there's a story of hardship and deep emotion buried within him, and Mr. Backman artfully peels back layer after layer to allow the neighbors (and his readers) to begin to understand this dour and seemingly unhappy man.

A huge bestseller in Europe, the novel is a portrait of a society that has a tendency to lose sight of the value of its aging citizens. As the complicated story of Ove's life becomes known, we watch him become entangled in the lives of the neighbors he thinks he wants no part of, and they in his. The author pulls no emotional punches - the story runs the gamut from pathos to humor, sweetness to sadness. A tissue nearby would be advisable. kobo eBook



FIERCE PATRIOT

Robert L. O'Connell

I sometimes think I could read nothing but brilliantly researched and written biographies of fascinating historical figures. Especially when I encounter one as compelling as this. William Tecumseh Sherman was a giant figure in our history, and a truly galvanizing one in retrospect.  As with many complicated personalities, history has taken more than one view of his life - hero to many, villain to others. The author is no Sherman apologist, which gives the narrative the ring of truth throughout, but he does an excellent job of placing the man accurately in his times.

A brilliant strategist, he was half of the Grant / Sherman team that ended the Civil War through decisive and daring measures, at a time when the fear was that true re-unification would elude us, and the rebels would keep fighting a guerilla war even after the official Confederate Army was defeated. His March to the Sea was a psychological master stroke, and made "Uncle Billy" one of our first national celebrities. Following the war, Sherman took military command of the transcontinental railroad project, and used his strategic prowess to solve the Indian and buffalo "problems". That, too, added to his fame in his day, but hindsight has shaped a different view of that part of the story. Brilliant and contradictory; daring, yet a careful and organized planner, W.T. Sherman was a lot of things - including a passionate believer in the young United States. kobo eBook



ARTS & ENTERTAINMENTS

Christopher Beha

This funny and thoughtful novel is for those of you who love (or hate) reality TV shows. "Handsome" Eddie Hartley, once a promising actor, finds himself teaching drama at the same small private school he attended as a boy. He's watched his girlfriend from his struggling actor days go on to become a major television star, while he and his wife struggle to afford the fertility treatments they need to start a family. So he sells a carefully edited sex video of himself and the now-starlet, mistakenly believing that it could be done without the world discovering that the other person in the video is him. He becomes despised, the starlet's career is bolstered, and his now-estranged wife becomes the star of her own reality show centered around the triplets she's carrying. Eddie does the only thing he can think of to regain his reputation and his family - he gets himself hired on to the show. Sure it's a farce, but a smart one, with a depth of real emotion at its core. kobo eBook

The books I read this week had a definite emotional quality to them. The finely wrought sweet sadness of Ove, the wickedly biting humor of Eddie Hartley. What book (or books) do you remember packing an emotional wallop for you?

Until next week,


Neil

NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.

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