How to Be Thin in A World of Chocolate by Michele Connolly

I have a confession to make. I have never read a diet book in my life. So, what made me read this one? Two things. One: I have just submitted my latest novel which involves a chocolate maker, so the title of this book (which I adore) piqued my interest. Secondly: it was recommended to me as not only a quick, tremendous read, but a potential Xmas present (though, I don’t know I’d want to give any of my friends a book on dieting…).

Only, How to Be Thin in A World of Chocolate isn’t only a diet book. It’s really about how to feel good about oneself despite so many forces aimed at making you feel the complete opposite – especially those that come from within.

Packed with common sense, written in a warm, engaging way, I laughed out loud, found myself nodding away, and felt like rather than reading a book about how to look and feel my very best, I was having a conversation with a really empathetic, wise and funny friend. One that doesn’t believe there is anything such as a non-Abba person – my kind of gal.

The kind of book you can dip in an out of as well as read from cover to cover, I suspect it’s one many will return to again and again. Divided into sections around eating, moving and thinking, it offers little pearls, for example about exercise, reminding us of the sixteen rules of exercise we can completely ignore (eg. Exercise in the morning; do 30 minutes a day). There is only one rule we must follow (and when you read it, it’s obvious but I until it was in front of me, I couldn’t have identified it). I’m afraid you’ll have to read this little gem of a book to discover what that rule is.

So, if you’re looking for a little stocking filler that’s beautifully written and packaged and aren’t afraid to slip your family member/friends a book that on first appearances seems to be only about dieting, then this book with the great title is terrific.

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

I wasn’t certain what to expect when I first started reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman, despite the fact it came highly recommended to me by a darling friend whose reading choices I always love. The main protagonist, the 59 year-old forcibly retired Ove, seems to possess no redeeming qualities. Rude, prone to shouting and a level of intolerance of others’ failings that’s extraordinary in one who has not only held down a job for thirty-odd years but can also boast a successful marriage, I almost didn’t continue after the opening few pages… he’s just so damn unpleasant. But, there was also something a little familiar about Ove; a sort of defensive masculinity that you sometimes see in men of a certain generation (my father, my grandfather), as not only work, but life can render them redundant; make them feel as if they have no purpose anymore. It makes you want to hug and hold them and remind them of their value, especially when they most push you away. It’s testimony to Backman’s writing that after my initial reservations quickly dissipated, you feel exactly the same way about Ove – even when he shouts and slams doors… maybe even more so.9781476738017

Page by page, scene by scene, Ove, the very personification of a grumpy old bastard, is gradually revealed to us. The facilitator of this slow stripping of the layers that make up this complex, sad and angry man is a new neighbour, the pregnant “foreigner”,the pragmatic and delightful, Parvaneh and her normal (by-anyone-else’s-standards-other-than-Ove’s) family: her klutzy, gentle husband and two delightful daughters.

Resisting them at first by refusing to use their names and preferring the labels he so readily bestows on everyone to avoid intimacy, and by being a downright curmudgeon, Ove is slowly drawn into their lives and into facing the painful and joyous memories his own has thus far created. The novel then segues between the past and present, unfolding the life of the man called Ove, the morally upright and uptight hardworking grouch who nonetheless captures the heart of the laughing, beautiful and quite wonderful Sonja; the man who defiantly drives a Saab and defends one-eyed emaciated cats, young gay men, and any who find themselves unwitting victims of bureaucracy. We’re introduced to his neighbours, those who enter and exit his life; the hows, whys and wherefores, and suddenly, Ove and his surliness not only make sense but also become both irresistible and essential.

I don’t want to say too much more except that I laughed, cried, sighed, sobbed and had my heart filled and my soul nourished by this unapologetically sentimental but also biting tale of an ordinary man who proves over and over again that what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. Even the similes, which litter the pages with problematic regularity, ceased to bother me as they beautifully and accurately paint not only the colourful picture that is Ove, but his world-view as well.

Part fable, part sardonic treatise on the modern condition and those who recklessly abuse and use it and others, I can’t stop thinking about this gem of a book with hope, community and a man called Ove at its heart.


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