The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

“Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—there was a boy who lost his mother,” opens this intriguing book, The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly.  It is an interesting opening sentence especially due to how much it reveals about the book.  David, the protagonist of the book, is a pre-teen who is the “boy who lost his mother.”  He is a quiet kid who loves his mother and the stories they read together.  When he loses her and his family life is dramatically changed, it is to stories that David looks for comfort.

Stories are at the heart of this book; more specifically, as the first four words indicate, fairy tales are at its center.  David, who is prone to seizures and exhibits obsessive-compulsive behavior, finds that he can hear books whispering to each other and speaking to him.  As the story progresses, he literally steps from his World War II home in the English county-side into a world of fairytales.  However, these are not the brightly-colored fairytales you plaster cheerful pictures of on the walls of your baby’s nursery; these are the tales from the dark woods behind your grandmother’s house that you were afraid to enter. 

As in most fairytales, David has to undergo a journey and learn a few things about his self and his place in his now altered family picture.  David is confronted by real dangers and faces decisions that could mean life or death not only in the world he finds himself in, but also in the world he left behind.  This book should be considered a fairytale for adults.  It isn’t a perfect book, or even a great book, but if you delight in story itself and are looking for something a bit unexpected, then this book is a very good read.  

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love in lowercase by Fransesc Miralles

Coffee Cup My Wife Made Me.jpg

In a moment, I'll tell you why there is a picture of a coffee cup here. First, I want to introduce you to love in lowercase by Francesc Miralles.  This book was originally published in Spanish in 2010 and was translated into English by Julie Wark in 2014.  I thoroughly enjoyed this smart, quirky, effervescent (read it; effervescent is the right word) book from cover to cover.

Back to the cup: The coffee cup was made for me by my delightful wife on a Saturday night while I was out with our oldest daughter.  She created the design, cut the vinyl on the Cricut (a fascinating machine she really enjoys) which she received for her birthday, and ironed the design (yes, ironed the coffee cup) onto the mug for me.  Drinking my two cups of coffee out of it this quiet morning while the girls slept had me smiling, reminiscing about when I first met my wife and thinking about this book that I'd forgotten (and, coincidentally, read while in Denver shortly after our first date).

Although he is not a librarian as I am, Samuel, our protagonist, has a personality a little like the one I used to have. He is a slightly brainy, slightly lonely, professor of German literature who moves through life listening to a music all his own.  Samuel's life begins to change when he starts taking care of a cat who has decided, against Samuel's wishes, to make Samuel's house his home.  He names the cat Mishima (if you haven't read Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy, stop and put a library hold on it now...okay, continue reading).  For the sake of juxtaposition, it wasn't a cat for me, but a flea-ridden, half starved German Shepherd mix of a puppy panting outside the library in the summer heat that I took in (she is now known as Annie).

Obviously, since the title points to this book being a love story, there must be a love interest.  Gabriella is this for Samuel.  We first meet Gabriella in this moment:

When the light turned green, I crossed the street thinking about the fastest way to get home.  I was right in the middle when the light changed to amber. It was then that I saw her...Time suddenly seemed to stop, like a satori in the old man’s book.  Then the past shot forward with astounding clarity.

For Samuel, this moment takes him back nearly 30 years when he last saw Gabriella.  The moment he remembers with her had a profound impact on his life.  Whether or not the moment really happened, with her, and as he remembers, is one of the mysteries of the book.

My similar moment happened one afternoon when I had swung by the library after working what was then my second job, landscaping.  I had stopped by the office for just a minute, filthy from work, and was walking out of the office area when I saw a woman leaving the library.  I was immediately stunned and short of breath.  I went straight to Dave, who was working the front desk, and asked "Did you see that woman? She's beautiful. Who was she?"

Dave, however, had not interacted with her because she came in, picked up a hold, went to the self-checkout, and left.  When he responded that he hadn't noticed her, I muttered, to myself as much as him, "She's like gravity." That made perfect sense to me because I'd never felt such pull from a person. Interestingly enough, there is a similar phrase in the book, "like planets condemned by gravity to collide."  Dave may have thought my comment was weird, but he'd known me long enough that he took it in stride.

So Samuel has this aforementioned satori moment with Gabriella, but then time swings back into motion and she is carried away from him.  Again, our circumstances were similar, except I didn't even have a name for the woman who had instantaneously caused such a great disturbance in my simple existance. Both Samuel and I knew then that we had to find out more about the women who just made an indelible impact on our lives.

Miralles' book is also filled with a cast of equally interesting supportive characters.  In fact, the other characters are unique enough that some reader's complaint about this book is that all of their stories aren't neatly wrapped up. When you finish the book, you still sit and speculate about how some of the side stories might end.  I don't fault that in this book.  I like that there is still a life going on for the other characters full of wonder and heartache and triumph that we can only ponder about.

Of course, you can guess that there was a first date in both our stories.  For Samuel, it goes like this:

I found a free table next to a column and hastened to strike the right pose: man waiting for the woman he loves; first date. It’s difficult to seem natural in such a situation, so I asked for a coffee and looked up. Just then, two especially fluffy clouds came together to create a great big mustache in the blue sky.

     Easily distracted is he? Yes, again, that makes two of us.  When Gabriella does show up, he just starts talking and opens with a statement about watching the clouds and seeing the mustache.

Samuel's awkward opening is followed by this statement, "Gabriella looked at me as if she had some kind of weirdo sitting across from her."  Lol; again, that is so appropriate.  I think some days my wife would need both hands to count how many times she thinks that about me.  She tells me she has never met anyone who thinks the way I do.

You really need to read this funny, feel good book to get it.  I know there are readers out there who won't love this book because they don't like quirky characters or unlikely, comic situations, but most of you will be rooting for Samuel and feel invested in his story and ready for the triumph or tragedy that will unfold on the last page.  

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Several people told me,”Since you loved The Rosie Project (by Graeme Simison), you’ll definitely love Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant.” Well, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong. I was laughing out loud (giggling, my wife might say, but I don’t giggle) during parts of the book. I really enjoyed the pace and the character as the book opened and Eleanor was fleshed out and endearing herself to me, the reader. I love quirky books and quirky characters (this reminds me, I need to review a little book titled love in lower case by Fransesc Miralles). Also, the book is well-written; Eleanor’s conflicts feel genuine, and there is a weighty burden from her past that counters the books humor and balances well.

Still, something happened to me along the way. I got tired of Eleanor. The pace of the book slows, the humor feels a little more forced, and she just started getting on my nerves. I’m not saying this is a bad book; my wife enjoyed it cover to cover and excitedly gave it to me knowing how much I would enjoy it based on what she knows I like. But the book wasn’t able to maintain the level of enjoyment throughout that it promised from the beginning. I had a similar experience with Nabakov's Lolita and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Both books have some of my favorite lines, and display openings of such force, speed, and exquisite writing that I’d have to say they are excellent books. But the latter parts of each cause me to lose the awe they initially elicited.

The book is still a good read. There is a lot to enjoy, and you may be one of those readers whose affections for Eleanor does not wane over time. For you, my friends, I hope that will be your experience.

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Werewolves of Montpellier

I think I’ve actually come across a book that earns the title Graphic Novel. The vast majority of graphic novels I read are simply the fun, super hero types that, in my mind, are simply bound comics (I realize this distinction may make no sense to anyone else, but it works for me). However, Werewolves of Montpellier, by Jason, feels like a graphic novel. It is a story of a likable, if not exactly confident or industrious, expatriate living in a French city and trying to figure out his life, love, etc… I’ve flipped through others of this type that work to be serious, Maus comes to mind, and Persepolis, but what separates this work from the others is that it is completely charming and not so overly serious as to drown the story or emotion out of the work.

The art is simple and telling. Often the silence, the lack of a caption, says more than any words could. There are a couple scenes where the characters are either looking at each other, or sitting in such tense silence, that the panels really grab you. One scene in particular made me laugh at the reality and absurdity of it, and another, on the last page, was packed with unspoken conversation. As far as actual conversation, some of the dialogue exchanges are really, really good. I would quote them here, but I don’t want to ruin it.

In the end, however, it is the plight, sincerity, and charm of the main character that make this work. I immediately read another of Jason’s other works, The Last Musketeer, and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have that special something to make it memorable. That’s when I realized that it was the main character I identified with, and it was that same character that made this book so fun for me. I’m actually having a hard time turning it back in, but that would be a bad librarian thing to do, and I will turn it back in today, or tomorrow…  

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