August Novel Ideas - The Missourian: Mo Books

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Posted: Friday, August 15, 2014 2:59 pm | Updated: 2:27 am, Tue Aug 19, 2014.

What spouts rules and regulations, drives a dated Saab, and has a name that rhymes with Hoover? “A Man Called Ove.” This new novel by Fredrik Backman is sure to provide laughs and occasional twangs of the heartstrings.

Initially, there’s not much to like about Ove, a grumpy widower with an attitude that would sour milk. He’s a nosy, control freak “the sort … who checks the status of all things by giving them a good kick.”

Ove knows precisely how to do everything and doesn’t hesitate overstepping his bounds to tell neighbors, and strangers, that the Ove-way is the only way.

In reality, the 59-year-old was bullied as a young person, and trodden on by many. He’s now miserably lonely since he lost his wife, a woman who provided color in his black and white world. “He went through life with his hands firmly shoved into his pockets. She danced.”

Ove’s even more despondent because of his job loss, having recently been replaced by a computer. At loose ends and grief stricken, life pushes Ove over the edge. He becomes determined to join his wife in the hereafter, but when Ove attempts suicide either the rope he’s going to hang himself with breaks, or a needy neighbor interrupts him in the act of gassing himself, never realizing Ove’s intentions.

Both bittersweet and biting, readers will root for Ove, a charming curmudgeon if ever there was one.

***

Guest review by Nelson Appell, clerk, Washington Public Library.

Hampton Sides tells the remarkable and grim tale of the USS Jeanette’s attempt to reach the arctic in his new book, “In the Kingdom of Ice, the Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette.”

In 1879, George Washington De Long commanded the Jeannette to sail from San Francisco to the arctic. James Gordon Bennett, the wealthy owner of the New York Herald, financed the trip and hoped for another sensational story to highlight in his newspaper.

The first 150 pages of the book are a fascinating account of the conception of the expedition and the outfitting of the ship. In the 19th century, the arctic was still a terra incognita, largely unknown, its exact nature the subject of conjecture.

De Long was attempting to prove many theories. Was there an Open Polar Sea of relatively warm water hidden on the other end of an ice belt? Could that sea be reached by a Thermometric Gateway? Was there an island at the roof of the world?

Heavily provisioned and reinforced to withstand the pressures of the Northern ice, the Jeannette was soon “nipped” in the polar ice. For two years she was trapped until one day the ice parted momentarily before returning to quickly crush and sink the ship. Marooned on the ice, De Long led the crew on a trek to the nearest land — Siberia, Sover 1,000 miles away.

Racing against winter, they faced incredible hardship and danger: ever-shifting ice, snow-blindness, extreme cold, a pack of ill-behaved sled dogs, polar bears, and an annoying crew member.

Sides makes great use of surviving journals to fill out details of the harrowing journey across ice and sea. He gained access to the letters of De Long’s wife, Emma. These letters add poignancy to the tale as Emma waits to hear news of the Jeannette.

In addition, Sides tells the story of the journey of the Corwin (John Muir was part of her crew), sailing through the Arctic looking for signs of the Jeannette. Fans of Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” and the many books about Edward Shackleton’s Antarctic survival tale will find “Kingdom” riveting.

***

“Small Blessings,” a debut novel by Martha Woodroof, pleases in parts but demands reality be suspended to a great degree as the book draws to a close. It is, however, a pleasant read with admirable characters — like placid and patient college English professor Tom Putnam.

Tom has had his hands full in his long marriage to Marjory. Mentally unstable, Marjory “has been potty for years,” quips Tom’s friend Russ Jacobs, a college professor too, and a recovering alcoholic. Tom has no idea about Russ’ struggle with alcohol. Neither does the rest of the college staff.

A short fling Tom has earlier in their marriage, with a visiting poet, worsens Marjory’s condition. Once she found out about the affair, Marjory really fell apart. The infraction haunted Tom, and increases his guilt when he feels attracted to another woman, a newcomer to town. This breath of fresh air is Rose Callahan, who has accepted a position at the campus bookstore.

As soon as they meet, Tom and Rose experience a magnetic chemistry, which causes Russ to feel jealous because he finds Rose enchanting as well.

Tom has an ally and friend in Agnes Tattle, his mother-in-law, who has lived with him and Marjory for years. Agnes senses the connection between Tom and Rose. Yet, she doesn’t judge him because she has walked in his shoes and knows how difficult life has been for both of them caring for Marjory.

When a horrible accident occurs, Tom experiences the first of two shocking events, both of which lead him closer to Rose and a chance to finally have a life of love, not loneliness and despair.

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