My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

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“Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”

Elsa, 7-years-old, is astonishingly bright, creative and outspoken. These qualities lead her to be bullied at school and friendless. At home Elsa lives with her mother who is expecting a baby and has a new partner.  She doesn’t see her father as much as she wishes, he also has a new family. So she feels left out of both of her families in different ways and is an outcast at school.

Her grandmother is who Elsa’s world revolves around. She is her best friend, taking her on adventures and telling her tales about the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different like Elsa and nobody needs to be normal to fit in. Her grandmother does whatever she can to brighten Elsa’s day, whether it’s telling her fantasical stories, playing imaginary games or breaking into the zoo at night to show her the monkeys.

When Elsa’s beloved grandmother passes away, Elsa is left feeling alone and completely lost. Then her grandmother’s letters begin to appear, leading Elsa to people in her building that she didn’t know well before. Each letter is her grandmother apologizing for something, which helps Elsa to learn about her grandmother’s past and how she is connected to each recipient of the letters.

Through these letters Elsa experiences her own quest and expands the world she lives in to include new friends, neighbors and true stories that bring the fairy tales from the Land of Almost-Awake to life in a way Elsa never knew could be true.

Humanity in all it’s imperfections and varied challenges appear in Elsa’s letter delivery exploits.  An alcoholic, a well meaning cookie making couple, a overly fastidious neighbor (Britt-Marie! I wish I had read this book first!), a lurking dangerous figure and even a very large dog who becomes Elsa’s sidekick and protector.

“My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” is not just about an incredible bond between a young girl and her grandmother seeped in fairy tales and imagination. It is a beautiful testament to the strength of stories, kindness, helping others, looking beyond first impressions and knowing that everyone has their own personal struggles.

I absolutely loved this book. Elsa’s grandmother is a superhero of the type that every child should have. Someone to encourage them to be creative and brave and adventurous but also tell them the truth and protect them no matter what. Her grandmother is hilarious, getting into all kinds of trouble but always with the best intentions. As her grandmother’s past unfolds and the stories of those around Elsa are revealed, we learn how wonderful and varied a life her grandmother truly had.

This wonderful novel about second chances, love, family and the magic of a well told tale is a must-read for anyone who loves to laugh, and believes each and every one of us could use a superhero in our lives.

The Girl of Ink and Stars

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I’m a sucker for a beautiful book.

I was on twitter the other day looking at what other people were reading and someone tweeted about The Girl of Ink & Stars and I admit, I took one look and wanted it. It’s not just the cover, which is lovely, but the inside pages are strewn with star trails. And it actually sounded like a great read.

Isabella is the daughter of a cartographer. He used to explore the world beyond Joya (their island) and make beautiful maps from his adventures. Then an oppressive Governor arrived. The Governor doesn’t let the people go beyond their small sectioned off part of the island, which is rigged with bells to alert his guards of anyone trying to leave. Isabella dreams of seeing beyond their little hometown after years of studying the maps on her walls and growing up with her father’s stories of the world that exists beyond their boundaries.

When Isabella’s friend from school dies in the Governor’s orchard, Isabella gets in a fight her with other schoolmate Lupe, the Governor’s daughter, and blames her. Lupe runs away into the forgotten territories to find out why their friend died. Wracked with guilt and regret, Isabella cuts off all her hair and disguised as a boy, joins in the search party to find her.

As the search continues, Isabella realizes there is much more to be saved than her friend. Their whole island is on the precipice of destruction.

Definitely written for young readers, the characters are simple and the plot is straight forward. Interwoven through Isabella’s trek into the forgotten territories are aspects of the myths she grew up with. The balance between good and evil, the concept of sacrifice for the greater good and ultimately, the end of a myth that began long before she was born.

Though it didn’t engross me the way I wish it could have, it was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page. As an adult reader, my biggest disappointment was that the characters felt flat. The author doesn’t give them enough depth that we really care what happens to them in the end.

Though it’s not a book I would highly recommend to adult readers, for a young reader just discovering fantasy and mythology, it may be a perfect choice.

REVIEW: Jack Reacher #207 – Personal

“Then finally he opened the wrong door, and what came out at him was his problem, not mine.”

There is something comforting about a series like the Jack Reacher novels. None of them are extremely original, but they’re all entertaining. If you’ve read these before, you know that Reacher will be honorable, kick-ass and clever. He’ll kill a few people, save a few people and figure out the conspiracy just in time. There will be a little death, some blood and guts, but nothing too extreme. Overall, they’re pretty clean-cut adventure novels, always guaranteed to keep your fingers flipping (or swiping) those pages until the end.

Personal is not the 207th novel as the title of this blog post jokes – though sometimes if you’re a reader of the whole series, it may feel close to that. We’ve been through so many scenarios with Reacher, it feels like he’s been around much longer than he has. I can’t swear I’ve read all 19 Reacher novels. I definitely read first five or so and after that it became a little sporadic, but always fun, when I stumbled upon one. The great thing about the Reacher books is that you don’t need to read them in any particular order. He’s a pretty simple character that you can engage with through any book you happen to pick up.

In Personal, a sniper has taken a shot at the president of France from an astounding distance. The president isn’t killed, but the threat has been declared. A large international summit with global leaders is coming up where they’ll all be in danger, so their governments must find the sniper before the summit occurs. A worldwide search for snipers that could make that shot is put in motion and of course, only a few names come up.

One of them, John Kott, is fresh out of prison and has an intense personal vendetta against Reacher because Reacher was the one to put him away 15 years prior. Reacher ends up hunting down his old foe and defeating new ones along the way, as he tries to get to Kott before Kott gets him.

This Reacher adventure is chock-full of the usual. A woman partner (though Reacher would prefer to work alone), thugs, guns, stake-outs, plots inside plots and the various sectors of the military weaved throughout the entire debacle.

On a day when I needed a little book-vacation, I picked up Personal and was delighted by an evening of mindless lighthearted reading. As always, it was a perfect escape.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

I didn’t read this book for the halloween season, but it sure fits these darker days and chilly nights. If you want something creepy that’ll vividly paint images in your mind that you won’t be able to get rid of anytime soon, this is the book for you.

Jack almost died a few years ago while playing with his best friend, Nick. While their parents were sunning on the beach one day, the boys disappeared beneath the waves. They were soon hauled up from beneath the water, mostly drowned and forever changed. Since that day Jack has been unable to venture outdoors. He screams and fights his parents until they just let him live only inside their house, where he feels safe. He hasn’t left their home willingly in years.

And then, one day, the monsters come. There is tapping along their house at night, sounds on the roof, windows pried open, grotesque drawings on the bathroom mirrors. His mother begins to hear unnatural voices in the foggy night as she drives home. His father chases a large figure out onto the rocky shore and wakes up hours later, his throat slashed with what looks like fingernails. Nick sees bodies hanging in the closet, creatures crawling to and fro.

The monsters are everywhere. And only Jack knows why.

A fun, eerie adventure into a creative little boy’s hidden world that begins to invade the lives of those around him, “The Boy Who Drew Monsters” by Keith Donohue will have you waking up at night wondering what that tapping in your closet is (but you’ll be too scared to investigate it.)

It’ll make you never want to pick up a drawing pencil. Or open your window to see what that scratching is outside. Or stop your car to see what that howling is in the dark of the night.

It’ll make you thankful for sunlight, blankets, and the fact that some things, like these monsters, only exist in books.

Patrick Rothfuss’ ‘The Name of the Wind’ a magical adventure

“It was as deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”

Before you devour “The Name of the Wind,” the first book of the KingKiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, make sure you are truly ready. A large, steaming beverage, maybe a crackling fireplace, a blanket or two and a comfortable place to curl up for hours of uninterrupted reading – you’ll need it all because you’ll be there until the last page.

The Waystone Inn is a quiet establishment in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. A few people gather to tell stories or have a cup, but nothing really ever happens. The innkeeper Kote polishes his bar, sweeps out the dust and welcomes his few customers when he is lucky enough to have them.

Then one day, a chronicler stumbles into town and into a story – a story about the most legendary wizard who ever lived.

It is a story of demons and magic and love. It is also a story about many types of courage, even the courage to hide yourself in a little town.

Kote, who is in truth Kvothe, is known as the man who was whipped but didn’t bleed, who was admitted to Arcanum after only two days, a hero who saved the life of many and who possibly performed some of the greatest magic ever known. He exists in a million rumors, legends, myths and songs, but no one knows him in truth.

Kvothe, a man who is hiding himself and slowly fading away into the innkeeper Kote he pretends to be.

With a little encouragement, Kvothe agrees to tell the chronicler the real story of his life in three days. The first day is entitled “The Name of the Wind.”

In this first day, we learn everything from Kvothe’s childhood love of music and performance to his discovery of magic, years begging on the streets and entrance into the university.

We experience Kvothe’s first love and watch as he makes great friends and terrible enemies. Tragedies, losses and betrayals abound.

We are left with the feeling of wanting more because when Kvothe’s first day has ended, his story has only just begun.

(Originally written for Get Out

Top Ten Settings In Books

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is:

Top Ten Settings in Books

Cemetery of Forgotten Books –  When I read Shadow of the Wind and Daniel got to go to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, all I could think was how much I wished it really existed! I want to go! For those that haven’t read this book: it is an endless library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. According to tradition, everyone initiated to this secret place is allowed to take one book from it, and must protect it for life. I have always wondered what book would pick me to protect it. If only.

London Below – In Neverwhere when Richard Mayhew rescues Door, a whole new world in London is exposed to him. Sure he becomes invisible to real people, loses his job, his apartment and basically doesn’t exist anymore.. but its worth it! Now he gets to experience London Below, a much darker and magical london than the one above. I want to talk to the rat speakers, cross the night bridge and see the floating market! The floating market sounds like a wondrous place. Then I’d find a way to take a ride at the Earls Court just to see where I’d end up. Sure its all a little dangerous, but all interesting places are.

Narnia – Who wouldn’t want to live in Narnia? As a kid I always wanted to climb through the back of a wardrobe or see that magical light post appear. Meet some fawns, chat with some beavers, take a sail on the Dawn Treader. I can’t help it, sometimes when I’m walking in a forest… a small part of me still is hopeful.

Never Never Land – Pirates, magic, flying, fairies, mermaids, indians.. really, a haven for anyone who is a child at heart. And you can only get there by flying with fairy dust, probably the coolest mode of transportation ever.

Camp Halfblood – Camp Halfblood always sounded like so much fun! A sanctuary for demigods that keeps out their enemies. The magical cabins, the games, the training and even ambrosia which sounds delicious. Sure you could die if you eat too much, but who cares? It tastes like chocolate chip cookies and sunshine. (I may have added that sunshine bit, but in my head thats always how it sounded) Also, I’d really like to be a demigod. (Zeus if you’re listening, you can claim me now. I’ve read the books, I’m ready for this.)

Leviathan – From Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. Steampunk books are often a lot of fun, but Westerfeld definitely outdoes most of the others with his creations. I would love to fly on the Leviathan! Its an amazing huge biological airship (that sort of resembles an enormous flying whale blimp) and functions as a self-contained ecosystem.  I want to be on it but I also want to watch it sail through the night sky. It sounds glorious.

Wonderland & Looking Glass – I know when Alice fell down the rabbit hole and went through that looking glass, things got a bit on the crazy side. Sure the queen was a bit cranky, but other than that it sounded delightful. Changing size because of drinking and eating, animals that talk, tea parties, nonsense abounding! I always thought it sounded like a lot of fun and Alice was a bit uptight about it. Just enjoy it honey, so what if you’re as big as a house or as small as a pea?

The Chocolate Factory – Who could read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and not want to win a golden ticket to the factory? Chocolate lakes, magic dinner gum and even a teleport machine! The Chocolate room always sounded the best, but I’d love to peek into the Nut room and the Inventing room too. This chocolate factory doesn’t just make the best candy in the world, its a grand adventure.

Middle Earth – I would love to be a hobbit. To live beneath a hill, drink, dance, enjoy a pipe once and a while, appreciate the greener things in life. It sounds like a relaxing existence. Of course, I’d want to live there after Frodo fixed everything. None of that war and tribulations for me, thanks. Also, I’d like a pet dragon. I think if I lived in middle earth I could manage that.

OZ – I wasn’t sure about this one because I never had the urge to actually go there, but it is a great setting. Witches everywhere, munchkins, the emerald city. It sounds like a really interesting place to be!