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Book Reviews: General Fiction

Posted on Nov 28, 2016 |

Underground Railroad


General Fiction

underground“A plantation was a plantation; one might think one’s misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality.”

“Most planters couldn’t tell one slave from another, even after taking them to bed. No wonder they lost track of their property.”

I was surprised by how gripping and fast-paced this story was. There are too many horrors to spend too much time on any one.

Cora was born into slavery in Georgia. She lost her father to fever before she was born and her mother escaped one night when Cora was young.

It was thought that the underground railroad didn’t reach as far south as Georgia, but a slave named Caesar knows otherwise (he was born free in Virginia before being made a slave). He sees in Cora someone with the strength to survive. At first, she doesn’t know whether his proposal to run away into the night is a trick—everyone tattles on everyone else, and the stakes aren’t merely death but a horrible, slow, painful death. Ultimately, Cora decides she believes him and they make it to South Carolina.

Compared to where they came from, South Carolina seems wonderful. Cora learns how to read, but she also learns about how white doctors are either enforcing sterilization on women or encouraging it, and instead of helping black men, they are studying the impact of syphilis. “Was it any wonder that the best medical talents in the country were flocking to South Carolina?”

At every stage, she is hunted by the slave hunter Ridgeway, who is still embittered about not being able to find her mother. Cora’s story leads her through several states and horrors await around every corner—branding, rape, beatings, chains.

Even slightly more well-intentioned whites use the Bible to explain why white people are superior.

Some of the things are still true today—today we have food deserts in inner cities where fruits and vegetables in particular are marked up considerably in places where people rely on public transportation and their feet: “From shopping for Mrs. Anderson, (Cora) was horrified that things in their establishment cost three times as much as those in white stores.”

This is a beautifully written story about a gruesome time in history and the brave souls who fought against an appalling system.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman


General Fiction

amancalledoveI really enjoyed this quirky, unique story about a curmudgeonly man of 59 with mild OCD ticks. His cantankerous view of the world made me chuckle out loud several times. He lost his job to computers. He hates technology and longs to live in a world where people can fix their own cars and know how to repair things around the house. “He had begun more and more to differentiate between people who did what they should, and those who didn’t. People who did and people who just talked. Ove talked less and less and did more and more.”

He bemoans: “An entire county standing up and applauding the fact that no one was capable of doing anything properly anymore. The unreserved celebration of mediocrity. No one could change tires. Install a dimmer switch. Lay some tiles. Plaster a while. File their own taxes. These were all forms of lost knowledge.”

Without his wife or a job, he tries numerous times to commit suicide, but his plans are thwarted every time by a neighbor who needs help, sometimes against a white shirt—some bureaucrat who wants to impose their rules.

Ove has battled the white shirts all his life, so when a neighbor needs help to do battle against a white shirt, he can’t help but get involved.

I won’t say more to not give anything away, but between Ove and his neighbors, this book is filled with a memorably cast of characters. Recommended.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak


General Fiction > Humor

impossiblefortressI had so much fun reading this book about three misfit freshman boys. The year is 1987, and Vanessa White graces the cover of Playboy magazine. In their small corner of the world, there is only one place in town that sells the magazine, and the protagonist Billy and his friends Alf and Clark devise a multitude of ways to obtain that magazine, despite the fact they are only fourteen years old (they’d need to be eighteen to buy it straight out).

One of their plots is to go to the store pretending to be older guys buying office supplies for Billy’s fledgling business—he programs video games on his Commodore 64 (meanwhile, he is failing his classes, causing no end of angst to his single mother, who works nights at the Food World struggling to make ends meet). During this failed attempt to procure the magazine, Billy meets Mary, who is a whiz at programming. She tells him about a contest to program video games. With her help, Billy starts hanging out at the store under the watchful eye of her father, the proprietor. His friends mock her for being fat, but Billy is dazzled by her computer skills. Plus, he’s found something that keeps his interest, unlike his classes, which bore him senseless.

This is a breezy, quick, fun read. I chuckled outloud several times, and it has all the stuff you want in a book—good writing, character development and change, and a satisfying ending. Recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book.

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