Wednesday, August 31, 2016

 
Imagine if someone, somewhere were keeping track of all your happy memories and that at some point you would have to pay (literally) for them.  That's the idea behind the quirky book The Invoice by the Swedish author and actor Jonas Karlsson.

The story begins as our unnamed narrator receives a strange invoice in the mail for over 5,700,000 kronor (about $800,000 in US money).  His name is on the bill, but there's no clear indication about what the bill is actually for.  Has he ordered some high-ticket item and forgotten about it?  Are the commas in the wrong places, and maybe it's supposed to be a bill for 57,000 instead (still an outrageous sum, but easier to wrap your head around).  Since there must clearly be some mistake, he throws the bill in the trash and heads off to work at the video store.

He only works part-time at the video store, and even when he's at work, there's not a lot to do.  He is a film buff, so it is enjoyable for him to be able to speak to the rare customer who comes in about film in general and more especially about rare or unusual films.  His slacker friend Roger also drops by from time to time, but with no romantic partner, the narrator leads a quiet life of work, going home to his small apartment to watch movies, play video games or listen to music and occasionally meet Roger for some not-very-exciting-or-adventurous outings.

So he is disturbed and somewhat alarmed to receive another invoice, this one even higher due to the "late fees" being added.  There is a customer service number to call, and after being on hold for many hours, he's finally able to speak to a customer service representative.  She tells him her name is Maud and asks what she can help him with.  As he begins to explain the gigantic bill that he's received in error, Maud is aghast.  Hasn't he been watching the news?  Seen all the leaflets? Walked by all the posters in town?  Everyone knows about the Invoices. It seems that the world powers-that-be have gotten together and designed the ultimate wealth re-distribution scheme.  Those who are happiest and having the best lives are charged most, and once they've paid in what they owe, the funds will be redistributed to those who haven't been as fortunate.  Maud goes on to question the things that the narrator enjoys -- sunshine, his apartment, the smell of flowers, etc.  She explains that none of that is free, and that now it's time to pay up.

The narrator becomes increasingly upset as he attempts to convince WRD (World Resources Distribution, the company behind the invoices) that he doesn't have any money or assets to pay such a large bill.  He assumes that there must have been a mistake somewhere in the accounting.  After several visits to the WRD headquarters (all the while trying to get a glimpse of Maud, his phone advisor), the situation doesn't seem to be getting better.  Will anyone listen to him? Why does he owe such an astronomical amount when others who seem to be doing so much better than he is received lower invoices?  Can he ever hope to pay off such a large sum?

I really enjoyed this slim book, and all the ideas it puts forth -- the most successful people aren't always those with the most money; you can be happy with your life even if you don't have much materially to show for it; misfortune can be a good thing in helping us to grow and mature; some people will never be happy even if things are turning out well for them.  I enjoyed Jonas Karlsson's first book The Room as well, and I hope both books will eventually be turned into films.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Invoice from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review


Monday, August 29, 2016

David Boudia sounded like a real jerk.  While he was a successful athlete, he was rude, arrogant, entitled and had no time for anyone who wouldn't benefit him in some way. He also used every opportunity to abuse cigarettes and alcohol -- and marijuana when he thought there were no drug tests on his horizon. OK, maybe he didn't ever reach Ryan Lochte's level of jerkdom, but he was up there giving ol' Ryan a run for his money.  Greater Than Gold describes Boudia's change of heart and attitude that allowed him to overcome his disastrous showing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics (where he won no medals) to becoming a more grateful, focused athlete who was able to bring home medals from the next two Olympics competitions.

David was born into a Catholic family with two hard-working parents and two older sisters.  In order to channel his boundless energy, his parents signed the young boy up for gymnastics lessons.  He soon realized that no matter how successful he was in the sport, no matter how much praise and recognition he received, he always wanted more and to be the center of attention.  Eventually, he got burned out on gymnastics but had discovered diving.  He (and his family) poured all his energy (and lots of time and money) into his diving training.  He was crushed after his performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and decided that rather than turn pro (where he would earn a lot of money very quickly) he would go on to college.  His Purdue coach, Adam, was patient and able to reign in the impatient Boudia and help him to focus on the process of earning a medal, rather than rushing headlong toward glory (which didn't work out so well in Beijing).

Because of his earlier successes in the sport, Boudia was somewhat famous on campus. This did nothing to reduce his partying out-of-control lifestyle.  One day in his sophomore year, he had something of a crisis, which led to a long talk with his coach Adam and Adam's wife Kimiko.  Due to his feeling so low despite all of his outward successes, Boudia was receptive to their Christian message.  He was baptized and began to work not for glory and adulation for himself, but to use his sport and talent to bring glory to God.  He also got married and had a child, two things which tend to help most party-animals slow down!

Although he ultimately achieved Olympic glory in London in 2012, Boudia has had to struggle with the fame and the realization that achieving his goal weren't as satisfying as he thought they would be. It was interesting to read about his struggles with hubris and how he became more process-oriented rather than goal-oriented to achieve success. Still, even though he's worked hard and achieved great things, there were many instances where he had to remind readers of his success ("I won Big 10 Athlete of the Week again?").  It sounds like even after all his achievements, he still struggles with his ego and sense of entitlement.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Greater Than Gold from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

Monday, August 22, 2016

Poor Gwen Marcey certainly has a lot on her plate in When Death Draws Near. An underemployed forensic artist, she's been commissioned to travel from her home in Montana to Pikeville, Kentucky to help draw a suspect in a series of vicious rapes.  At the same time, a recent bout of cancer has left her broke, and her ex-husband is threatening to sue her for full custody of their 15 year old daughter, Aynslee.  So when Gwen attempts to interview a victim who is recovering in the hospital, she's hoping to be able to do the sketch and get back to her life as soon as possible.

The hospitalized victim, Shelby Lee, refuses to say anything, so Gwen resolves to return later, and this time not be accompanied by the local Sheriff, Clay Reed, who doesn't seem too thrilled to have Gwen in town anyway.  Gwen isn't able to follow through, because she soon learns that Shelby Lee has checked herself out of the hospital and disappeared -- just like several previous victims.  When the young clerk of the hotel where Gwen is staying disappears in the middle of her shift, Gwen is terrified that the "Hillbilly Rapist" has struck again.

Not only is Sheriff Reed unhappy with Gwen's presence in town . . . it seems that someone else is, too.  Walking home from dinner one night Gwen is nearly run down, and later she finds a rattle snake in her bed.  Due to various events in town (who knew Pikeville was such a happenin' place?), there are no other hotel options for Gwen.  Luckily, Sheriff Reed tells her that the people who wanted to bring her in on the case from the beginning, Blanche and Arless Campbell, have insisted that she come and stay with them.  The Campbells are wealthy and influential.  Arless Campbell is a state senator with higher political aspirations.  Blanche is doing all she can to improve the image of eastern Kentucky.  Between them, they want all suggestion of crime, poverty or general "backwardness" removed from Pikeville.

All of this ties in with a second issue that Gwen becomes involved with: the practice of snake handling during religious services.  Since she's in town, Gwen is asked to do a facial recreation sketch for an unidentified body that has been found in the woods, apparently killed by a snake bite.  Gwen does such a good job that the young man's parents gratefully ask her to attend his funeral.  Once Gwen's new hosts, the Campbells, hear this, they ask her to attend and come back and draw sketches of the people who attend the funeral.  Since Senator Campbell has gotten a law passed in Kentucky forbidding the practice of snake handling, he wants the members of this particular church exposed so that he can enforce the law and hopefully stamp out the practice for good. Gwen (and eventually her daughter, Aynslee, who comes to stay with her) both face danger as they are unsure if they can trust anyone or if the snake handling church is looking to silence its critics.

I appreciate that the author was trying to demonstrate that, even if their practices seem strange to outsiders, the free practice of religion (by consenting adults) is one of the foundations of this country.  I didn't like the fact that it appeared the author had done some research for this book, and by golly, she was going to make sure to impart that to the reader.  For instance, when she attends a service at the snake handling church, an African-American woman makes sure to come up to Gwen and let her know that the Pentacostal  movement was started in Los Angeles in the African-American community.  Job done, that character wanders off and is never mentioned again.  Another strange thing is near the beginning of the book when Gwen and Sheriff Reed seem to play "serial killer Jeopardy" with each other (one giving characteristics and the other providing the name of a particular serial killer).  Very odd, especially since they don't seem to like each other and don't really get along otherwise. You'd think bonding over serial killer talk would allow them to warm to one another, but not in this case!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of When Death Draws Near from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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