“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove(Author: Fredrik Backman) + (Year: 2012) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Sweden)


Review:

“And this is why a cat, and overweight allergy sufferer, a bent person, and a man called Ove make the inspection round that morning.”

A Man Called Ove is quite possibly the best and most heartfelt book I have read this year. I had no idea what to expect, so I kind of imagined some psychological thriller or something, as that is most of the Scandinavian literature I have read. Not at all.

A Man Called Ove told the story of a seemingly grumpy and mean old guy, who turns out to be a kind and gentle man, hardened by life.

I both laughed and cried while reading this book, sometimes even both at once. Every chapter was one little fairytale out of the life of Ove, and all of them told the story of life, love and loss. All of the characters were so endearing and different, each on their own. Among all of those, Ove, being the main character, inevitably stood out as the heart of the book, the core of the events, and also the soul of his little community. I found him funny while he was just a grumpy old fart, and then I loved him as who he really turned out to be.

Both the humor and the story were absolutely fantastic. They were simple, but enticing. And more than anything, they rang as very true and sincere. Ove was both a borderline superhero, and just a man who did his best and expected the same from the world. His story had a lesson, the one about the Saabs and the Volvos, about the struggle to do better and be better, to give the little that to you have to the people who have nothing; about time and the power of people to survive and thrive, despite everything.

“And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reacher when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.”

 

“The Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric

The Bridge on the Drina(Author: Ivo Andric) + (Year: 1945) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Bosnia and Herzegovina)


Review:

I loved this book!

How I felt about it can be summarized in a short form, however, why I felt that way might be a bit harder to explain. Or rather, how I loved it, and not how much.

The thing is I’m not sure that anyone who is not from the Balkans would be able to understand me fully. While this world of ours might be full of corruption, uneducated people, bad governments, lawlessness and even backwardness, it’s still a very special place on this planet. No other place mixes the East and the West as much as we do here. No other people in the world are so torn between how they are, and how they should be.

The Bridge on the Drina tells exactly that story. The story of me sitting with my great-grandmother in the shade in hot summers, eating the best tomatoes in the world, with some white cheese; the stories that she would tell me about the war, and how she would tell them – in a language not quite Bulgarian, full of Turkish loan words from the centuries before, when the Ottoman ruled over the Balkans. The Bridge on the Drina is also a story of my hometown, where my school was built on top of an old Turkish graveyard and the ghosts would roam with their horses at night, where everyone knows each other, and everyone, always, knows your dad! And also about how men would gather by the river, under the chestnut trees and drink rakia, while playing cards. And how they would call the gypsy orchestras to play music until dawn. How every village or city, or even a neighbourhood, has its own legend of the boys taken for the devshirme, the most cruel of taxes, or about a brave man who would conquer armies in order to win the heart of the girl he loves, and of the brave Christian girls, who, in order to protect their religion and virtue, would jump off of high rocks and waterfalls when soldiers would try to steal them from their homes.

The Bridge on the Drina is my childhood in a nutshell. I might have lived centuries after the events of the book, but on the Balkans, the story hasn’t changed that much.

This book is the story of many generations of people, and how life will always go on; that the darkest days will always end, and that they will soon be forgotten and the people will once again settle in their slumber of a half-drunken life, one that lacks great purpose, and gains from that, as the small moments are always better appreciated. The Bridge on the Drina describes a world which is dying today: one in which it serves no goal to hurry along, that a moment spent gazing at the river is not a moment wasted, and that life will always run in its own direction and you can but choose how to feel about that.

[Image Comics] First issues, part 1.

Last year I did two separate lists, The Good and The Bad. This year I will separate the posts, but not based on quality, as much as the fact that there are just too many of them. I will still order them by rating, but the rating is as much objective, as it is a comparison between the best and the worst. The reason for that is that, honestly, there wasn’t much good to pick from. I might be getting pickier with my comic books, but I noticed that the stories in at least half of this year’s batch were so similar that they could have been from the same universe. Also, there were two main trends that were entirely too visible: cults and werewolves. As well as the fact that I found the art on most of the issues just plain ugly.

Snotgirl #1Snotgirl #1 (2016)
Author: Brian Lee O’Malley

As gross as the title sounds, Snotgirl is absolutely the best first issue I read from this year’s Image comics Humble Bundle.

For starters, the art is gorgeous! Even when it’s kind of disgusting, it’s also drawn with style.

I had theories about the plot, but I didn’t manage to crack what’s actually going on with Snotgirl, but it a completely positive way, because I’m now very excited to continue reading on.

And also, happy to say that Brian Lee O’Malley is as awesome as ever!

Demonic #1

Demonic #1 (2016)
Author: Christopher Sebela

Not a spectacular one, but definitely enjoyable. Also, the fact that a lot of the rest were so bad made it stand out.

It’s a classic story of possession, confusion and a feeling of impending doom, but somehow, it offers a nice twist on the regular story. I felt almost claustrophobic, following the hardships of the main character, and having to experience how doomed he is when his family is on the line. It was not a pleasant feeling, but I think the story was built well enough to create it, so it must be doing its job well.

Also, I am still curious about some of the things that the character mumbled about only vaguely. Even though I smell a cult coming in the future.

Rockstars #1Rockstars #1 (2016)
Author: Joe Harris

This one is related to the cults and gods that I mentioned earlier. There have always been theories about rockstars being devil worshipers, about secret meanings in their music, songs being played backwards, etc. The protagonist of Rockstars is especially interested in that and is trying to solve the disappearance of two girls who went to a rock concert, one of them to later be found dead and the other one never to be seen again.

I was curious, still am, about where the story is going to go, so I would say that this is the second best issue from the bundle. The art was also very pretty, especially the way they drew the female characters.

My problem with Rockstars is that this story was not necessary. People could have continued their lives without needing it. I will probably forget I read this, despite my interest. And also, I hated the main male character. He was just such a weirdo, and not in a cute way. (I imagine him as those people who stare at you on the bus, only to make you uncomfortable.)

Shutter #1Shutter #1 (2014)
Author: Joe Keatinge

Now this comic book has great art and lots of potential!

From the vert first page I knew this is different than the other things I read until I got to it. I really enjoyed the art as well as the concept, or what I got from it.

My problem with Shutter is not what I did find in it, it’s what I didn’t. For a comic book set in a world so much different than ours, there should have been a bit more introduction, and there was none. I just got the major idea that this is not our world, at least not our world today, and that the main character and her father used to be adventurers. Aside from that, it still remains a mystery to me.

However, I would say that if you are a fan of Saga, this might be a good comic book for you!

Black Road #1

Black Road #1 (2016)
Author: Brian Wood

Viking frontier? That’s what it felt like. The story takes place after the spread of Christianity in Norway (Norskk).

There’s nothing really spectacular about the story itself. It really reminded me of the setting of one of the comic books I read last year, The Goddamned. A tough, war-hardened viking takes a journey on a road full of dangers, blood and enemies.

What I did not dislike was the art. In comparison to some of the other issues, it was great. And that is to say, objectively speaking it’s not much more than mediocre. However, as a fan of the Vikings TV show, I saw a familiar setting and background, so I was cool with it.

The Black Monday Murders #1The Black Monday Murders #1 (2016)
Author: Jonathan Hickman

Another cult one!

I think there might a bright future ahead of this comic book. However, the first issue was so overwhelming. Remember what I said about Shutter above? Well, this is the opposite. There’s too much information, even though you have no idea what is happening. There are diagrams, sketches, names, dates, dictionary entries, historical facts.

Yeah, sure, the reader gets the gist of the story, but there’s also so much information that remains just hanging there, because you don’t know the characters, you don’t know the settings, you don’t know the symbols. What about the girl who kept talking gibberish? There was a family tree of the Rothschild line with some someone added with every generation? Was that her? What is that supposed to mean for me, as the clueless reader?

Also, there was a stark difference between the drawings of the men and the women. The females looked well drawn, while the males were usually a lot of messy lines and just blackness.

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And last, but not least: WHY IS TAYLOR MOMSEN IN THIS?

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The Discipline #1The Discipline #1 (2016)
Author: Peter Mulligan

*** 1.5 stars ***

CULTS.

Here it starts getting bad all over.

The Discipline, solely based on the cover, seemed somewhat spooky, so I was pretty excited for it.

It’s just SO CHEESY!

I would say it’s more or less Supernatural 50 Shades of Gray. The main character is a neglected, dumb 23-year-old housewife who is sorely lacking sex, so she, instead, likes to gaze at paintings with elements of bestiality. Until a mysterious stranger comes along, flashes his D(iscipline), and starts training her for a sex pet. Or something.

Romulus #1Romulus #1 (2016)
Author: Bryan Hill

*** 1.5 stars ***

Wolves! Secret orders! Cults!

The art is not bad. On the story I call bullshit. A secret order has super-ninja wolf-women, even though they also have much more formidable soldiers, and they keep the wolf-women until the women themselves are about to cause problems. Which implies that before that, they were preferred, instead of the super-soldiers. Okayyy…

Also, lots of angst, insecurity and “I’m not my mother”s.

Basically, I lost my patience with this one. I don’t see the point behind it being made. The story doesn’t have anything touching or badass, or even a thing you could root for.

Kill Or Be Killed #1Kill Or Be Killed #1 (2016)
Author: Ed Brubaker

This one begs the question: BUT WHY?

An extremely pathetic guy decides to kill himself because… because… well, uh, I guess because his best friend, a girl, is not in love with him? Or because she pities him? Something like that? And he is so f*cking pathetic that he fails at that too, by the way. As a result of his failed suicide attempt, a monster/demon starts visiting him to ask for souls, in exchange of his. And he finds out that he is a bloodthirsty psychopath.

There you have it. Whether you would enjoy something like that, or not, is up to you. I was facepalming the entire time.

“The Star Diaries” by Stanislaw Lem

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(Author: Stanislaw Lem) + (Year: 1978) + (Goodreads)


Review:

What a fantastic book! One of the best ones that I have read this year!!! If you have not read it, and I assume that is the situation, I highly recommend it!

“I sat at my desk today, to write, and the chair said to me: ‘What a strange world this is!”

I will put this bluntly: I am highly aware that the English speaking world generally neglects the literature of the rest of the world, which is the idea behind the Reading the World challenge to begin with. I am also aware that among the world literature that does gain some fame, the Eastern block is not in focus. HOWEVER, I think that by not reading certain novels, The Star Diaries among them, people are committing literary crime. Because this book is brilliant in its writing, ideas and sense of humor, achieved through satire.

I read it in Michael Kandel’s translation, my Polish not being great as of yet(though I consider myself a good student), and I thought the writing was beautiful. I can only begin to imagine how lovely Lem’s original expressions are, because translations, no matter how good, always take away something from the original.

The language, overall, was very rich, changing between styles, even using a made up version of old and new language, in the Polish version, I assume, Polish, but also, and much credit to Kandel, of course, in the English version, a sensational mix of old and new English that I had some trouble with, but that only attests to it’s greatness, because it used expressions long out of use.

I am generally not a fan of satire, but this book was fantastic in that sense. The humor, so gentle and subtle and yet obviously there, was amazing. I usually put some berth between myself and humorous books, but I do not regret a second of reading The Star Diaries. Which brings me to the moment I will acquaint you with the book itself: The Star Diaries tells the story of Ijon Tichy, who travels from one planet to another and gets in all kinds of strange and comic situations. The stories are told in separate journeys, instead of chapters, and the journeys themselves were written out of order for 20 years. Some of them lean more on the philosophy, some more on the humor, but all of them are ultimately rewarding.  

Ijon Tichy is a great narrator. What he succeeds at the best is the fact that he takes all of the events that happen to him, no matter how strange or borderline disturbing they are, in a light-hearted and calm manner. He escapes narrowly from crashing his ship on numerous occasions, he is left stranded in space, he gets mixed up in all kinds of weird events, and he does it in an almost graceful manner. Even more so when he ponders whether he really existed, to begin with, when he creates the world, or gets arrested by robot fanatics.

Some of the voyages were better than others, some were longer and some, much shorter. I had trouble with the language, as I mentioned above, of the Eleventh Voyage, but the idea was brilliant and reminded me a lot of The Man Who Was Thursday. I will not let out any spoilers but it was great! If you ever wondered how the world was created, you would enjoy the Eight Voyage, in which Ijon goes to represent Earth in a gathering of the United Planets and understands how we came to be(a silly accident of oil spillage). He creates the history of the planet through a series of work mishaps during a project that he is in charge of in the Twentieth Voyage. The Twenty-first Voyage was admittedly challenging in a philosophical way, but also extremely interesting as it tells the story of how Ijon Tichy crashes on a planet of creatures that used to be human-like, until they started making genetic changes to their bodies and ended up completely robot and unable to return to the way they used to be, because they are torn by conflicts both of philosophical and religious character. (click for original Lem illustration)

I will leave you enjoy the rest of this mad and fantastic book on your own, but if you ever trusted my judgement, you will read it, because it is great! It incorporates all of the flaws of humanity, told in a humorous way, and also, as it seemed to me, though ironic, nevertheless full of the affection that Lem had for the human kind.

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“Saga, Vol. 5” by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, Volume 5

(Author: Brian K. Vaughan) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

This was definitely a more action-packed volume. From the hunt for the cure for the Will to the crazy space ISIS.

I definitely liked the fact that Ghus was there a big part of the time, though I did worry that he will become a victim, once he has received so much attention. The chemistry of the entire Prince IV-Marko Team was interesting, especially the scene with Marko and Yuma.

Team Gwendolyn, annoying as always, had some mixed moments, because I actually did manage to laugh during the dragon semen quest.

The cutest moment was a tiny one that some may have missed, but it was at the very beginning when Hazel mentions Barr. I have no idea why this is getting me so hard. I find it super sad.

Unexpectedly, I have settled with the idea that between Alana and Marko, I dislike Marko more. At the beginning he was the sane one but that has since changed and he has become sappy and unbalanced. This volume being the proof of that.

I really enjoyed the conclusion of this volume, though. Several stories were tied up neatly, especially the ISIS in space, aka a radical group not opposed to killing innocents. Quite the contrary, actually. The end of that specific story was just so satisfying.

This review is a bit of a mess, sorry. But having said almost everything in detail before, I have only small observations to add.