Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

Genre: Fiction

Review: 

Oh my goodness, this book. Absolutely loved it! But before I get into the full review, let me just say that my blogging hasn’t dropped off because I’ve forgotten to review things (mostly). It’s dropped off because I’ve barely been reading this year, thanks to my new addition. She’s just about seven months old now, and while she doesn’t share my love for complex characters and thought-out plots, let alone well-crafted writing, she does enjoy books! She loves turning the pages for herself and isn’t opposed to taking a little nibble just to make sure they really aren’t edible.

That said, now that I’ve finally been able to get to Fredrik Backman’s Beartown, I so wish that I’d gotten to it sooner. I’ve loved all of Backman’s books, and this is no exception.

Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger. … This is the story of how we got there.” — Fredrik Backman, Beartown

And so begins one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Beartown is a hockey town. Its residents live and breathe hockey, from the youngest to the oldest, and that creates some issues for them. The whole town kind of feels like a TV high school where the football players skate by on their on-field talents and get away with pretty much everything, just on a bigger scale. But that also means that there’s a ton of drama (who ought to be the coach of this or that team? should we believe this kid’s word of that one’s simply because he’s a star? etc.), which certainly adds to the story.

But despite this book being set in a hockey town with a strong hockey element, that’s not what makes it so engrossing. There’s a non-hockey incident, one that I won’t spoil, that’s foreshadowed and hinted at until it happens. (As the publisher’s blurb says, there’s a “violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil” — and that’s all I’ll say about what happens.)

I’ll be honest — I hadn’t considered exactly what the violent act might be, and was making mental assumptions about it all the way through that turned out to be wrong.

As a hockey book, Beartown is good. The drama surrounding the junior team could have sustained the book, even without anything more. But the way Backman handled the “incident” was what really made me love this book. It wasn’t easy or glamorous or hopeful. It was realistic and shocking (but, sadly, not that shocking). It was, to put it simply, masterful.

The ensemble cast of characters significantly contributed to my love this book. I didn’t necessarily care about all of them at first, but by the end, it was really clear that all of their perspectives were valuable. I loved reading about the friendships and rivalries and family tragedies, the heartbreaks and the triumphs. I loved seeing the defining personality traits emerge from the teen characters over the course of the book, both good and bad.

The other thing about this book is that it’s timely. In 2017, when we’re questioning everything and finding out so many people aren’t who we thought they were, Beartown explores a similar idea. A girl accuses a boy of committing a violent act; a town reacts. The boy is a star hockey player, and the girl? Well, she’s just the girl accusing a beloved town athlete.

One of the quotes that really struck me was this:

Perhaps one day the man in the black jacket will think about this too: why he only wondered if it was Kevin or Amat who was telling the truth. Why Maya’s word wasn’t enough.

This kind of sentiment seems to define where we are as a society right now, and luckily, I think we’re starting to move in the right direction, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Beartown is a book about hockey, yes, but it’s also a book about community, family, friendships, and doing what’s right, even if that means suffering the consequences after. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Even if you think you wouldn’t like it because of the hockey plot elements, I urge you to give it a try anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

*ARC from Atria Books via NetGalley

 

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Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

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The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Historical Romance

Review:

I’ve been reading historical romance novels since I was maybe eleven years old, thanks to receiving some hand-me-downs from a thoughtful elderly neighbor. I’ve gone back and forth between loving them and being bored with them, and it seems like lately I’ve started to swing back to enjoying them, especially when I find books written by authors who write strong characters.

What I loved about The Duchess Deal was that it had an actual romance, not just a relationship based on looks. The hero, the Duke of Ashbury (or Ash), was disfigured in the war, and he doesn’t have the best personality either. The heroine, Emma, meanwhile, is pretty enough, but that’s not what most attracts Ash. Rather, he likes her personality and that she’s strong.

There is, of course, a marriage of convenience (that’s the “deal” part) and there are misunderstandings along the way before our HEA. There are also some interesting and entertaining side characters, but the heroine was really what kept me reading.

Emma, disowned by her father when she was just seventeen, has been supporting herself and living her own life for years, and she doesn’t lose her independent streak when she accepts the duke’s deal. I’m not sure how realistic that is (either before or after her marriage), but it’s the sort of character I enjoy reading about. She’s not swooning and claiming that she’s instantly in love at first sight, and she’s not boring, either. She’s everything a good heroine should be, and that’s what’s most important to me when reading historical romances.

Well, that, and a good hero, too, and the Duke of Ashbury doesn’t let us down, either. He won me over as soon as he noticed her for her personality more than her looks, something that rarely seems to happen in these sorts of books. More than that, underneath his gruff exterior, he’s genuinely kind (not that he’d like anyone to notice).

What didn’t so much work for me, though, was the interfering household staff, which definitely reminded me of the enchanted objects in Beauty and the Beast (possibly intentional? There were definitely other moments that hearkened back to BatB, too). I don’t think it’s appropriate for the era, even if it’s fun. While such a strong heroine may also be inappropriate, I’ll suspend my disbelief that far, especially because it’s possible, if not completely probable. A household staff who openly meddles with their employer, though, seems highly unlikely.

I gave this book four stars because I read it in one sitting and generally enjoyed it. It’s not full of insta-romance and it’s not as shallow as some of the others I’ve read, so I’d recommend it if you enjoy historical romances.

 

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Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: YA Sci-fi/Dystopia

Review:

I’m WAY behind on this book. I bought it in 2013, and it’s since been made into a movie, but I literally just got around to reading it. I have no idea how or why it took me so long to start it because it took me less than one day to read it from start to finish, and that was while taking breaks to take care of a baby. I could easily have read it years ago, but something stopped me, whether it was my changing reading moods or a feeling that I wouldn’t like it.

Regardless of why, I finally decided it was time (in part so I could watch the movie while it was available On Demand, though I only got two minutes in before deciding I didn’t really want to watch it after all). This is basically an alien invasion dystopia, in which aliens are killing off the human species in order to claim Earth for themselves. It sounds super science-fictiony, but when I was reading it, I felt like it didn’t focus on that as much as survival and humanity. In essence, what makes humans human? This is what I found so interesting about it.

I’ve super moved past my dystopian phase (and my young adult one, for the most part), but I did enjoy reading this. I liked that it didn’t just focus on the external situation, but that it did address the deeper questions: What makes humans human? What would it take for the aliens to win and destroy that humanity? How far can humans be pushed before they’ll lose the very essence of being human?

It’s hard not to see parallels between this alien invasion and terrorism (if we lose our values in fighting terrorism, have the terrorists won?), and that, for me, is what really made this book worth reading. I know it’s meant to be enjoyed on its face for what it is, and I did generally find it to be interesting, fast-paced, well-written, and creative, but the English major in me just wants to dissect it (which may just show how much I’ve missed school since graduating).

The characters as written were interesting, and I appreciated seeing how they thought when they were fighting not only for their lives, but for the survival of their species. A part of me would like to read the rest of the books in this series, but another part of me knows that if I bought them, it could very well be another four years before I got to them. Maybe someday.

That said, I would recommend this if you aren’t dystopiaed-out. It’s a quick read that I did enjoy, and while I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest of the books, it’s not because I don’t think they’d be good; it’s more that I’ve got so many other books to read that I’m looking forward to right now just a little more. I gave this book four stars.

Review: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

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The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Thriller

Review:

Nothing keeps me reading like a good thriller, and The Good Daughter was, in all respects, a good thriller. I listened to the audio version (narrated by Kathleen Early) and had trouble turning it off to do anything else. I even listened during some meals. Everything about this story pulled me in and kept me interested, and it’s a definite favorite for the year.

The Good Daughter is about two crimes that happen twenty-eight years apart in small-town Georgia, and two sisters caught up in the fallout from them. A horrific murder witnessed by two teenaged girls, Charlie and Samantha, changes their lives forever, and when Charlie witnesses another crime twenty-eight years later, the trauma resurfaces. Secrets and lies keep the story moving just as much as the crimes themselves, and it’s almost impossible not to keep reading.

I loved the concept of this book. So many books deal with crimes and solving them, but this is more about seeing how those crimes affect the people who witnessed them and were impacted by them (though there is a good dose of legal thriller thrown in for the second crime). Charlie and Sam were never the same after their family was attacked, and we learn more and more about them as the book goes on. Slaughter leads us to think one set of facts are true, and then later throws in another detail that adds more to the narrative. I loved this style, loved that I couldn’t trust that I knew the whole truth about anything up to the end. It’s one of the things that made what could have been a more literary story thrilling. The slow unveiling of the truth piece by piece made me question whether I ever really knew anything at all.

I know I’m being vague about the plot, but I don’t want to say too much about it — spoilers are the absolute worst for thrillers especially, and it would be SO easy to completely ruin the story. Suffice it to say that it’s very character driven, and it’s fast paced. It will draw you in and keep you hooked right through the very end.

So, why only four stars, then? Well, I felt like I had been led to expect a legal thriller by about halfway through the book, and then that part of the plot took a backseat to everything else and didn’t go quite the way I’d hoped and expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was still exactly what the book needed it to be, but it didn’t meet my expectations, so I knocked off a star for the mild disappointment. Still, I loved this book and would highly recommend it if you enjoy thrillers.

I’m back (hopefully!)

Babies are a lot of work. Sure, that sounds obvious to most people, but until you’re actually responsible for another human 24/7, it’s hard to understand just how much work. It’s the kind of work that’s fulfilling, sure, but it’s also completely draining and at times takes more energy than I even knew I had.

Does that mean I haven’t been reading? Of course not! I haven’t been reading as much as before, obviously, because I now have a little baby girl who is dependent on me for even the most basic things, many of which require my full attention and both hands, but I have been reading.

So why haven’t there been any reviews? Um, did you miss the part about babies being completely draining? At the end of the day, when I have a few minutes to myself (which is thankfully happening more now that we’ve got Baby Bookworm on a schedule with a bedtime), I usually spend those minutes mindlessly scrolling through Facebook posts before going to sleep early.

I do miss blogging and reviewing, though, and I’m hoping to be able to make more time to get my reviews up. I’m only managing to read 4-6 books a month, so they won’t be as frequent as before, but I’ll post as I finish.

So, what have I been reading? Well, honestly, there’s been a lot of slow progress on several nonfiction Pulitzer winners (An Army at Dawn, Washington: A Life, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, and The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between), but I’m also throwing in some fiction reads as well. Currently, I’m in the middle of The Stroke of ThirteenHomegoingBeartown, and Anything is Possible. I’ve also just finished The Good Daughter and The 5th Wave and will be posting those reviews shortly. I have also, of course, been reading a TON of children’s books. I don’t have any real plans to review them, but I will say that Bunnies for Tea and Ellie are definitely new favorites (among others).

I’ve got several NetGalley reviews to catch up on as well as many, many, oh so many books I’ve bought. I’ll read as much as I can, as always, and post my thoughts when I can.

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Genre: Science Fiction Thriller

Review:

This book is weird. In trying to explain it to my husband, I had trouble really even pinpointing a good description, especially without too many spoilers. It’s basically a sci-fi thriller revolving around the concept of the multiverse and dark matter: what if every possible outcome happened, just in a different facet of time?

Dark Matter is a well-written thriller, but its setting and some of the details are what really got me. I’m not sure I can say I loved this book or really, that I liked it, even. Many times I found myself stopping and thinking, “wait, what?” This got worse as time went on, but even when I felt like I was pulled out of the story because of something crazy, it still made sense for the world Blake Crouch created. It was weird, but done very well. It’s hard to pull off this kind of concept and I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I admire Crouch’s ability both to imagine it and to write it well.

I’m trying not to include any spoilers because spoilers will really ruin some of the suspense and excitement, especially in a book like this. So, what can I really say? It’s a thriller in which a man is stolen away from his family and his life, and he fights like hell to get back to them. That’s the best description I can give without spoilers. There’s a weird sci-fi element to the story (or, at least, weird to me — I’m not a big reader of sci-fi) and the idea of the multiverse plays a big role.

So, who should read this book? Well, that’s a tough one. If you like thrillers and don’t mind some sci-fi, this is a great book for you. Even if you don’t love sci-fi, you might love this book — I’ve read a ton of glowing reviews from people who don’t normally touch this genre. It’s super quick (or it was for me, anyway — I finished in just a few hours) and really interesting. I liked the suspense and wasn’t sure how it would end. The ending was somewhat satisfying for me, and I didn’t guess at the outcome.

I decided to give this book four stars. I’m really still not sure how I feel about it in many ways, but I think it was done really well and is one of those books that will stick with me, even after I move on to the next one.

 

Hello, April!

It seems like March flew by, and I didn’t get as much reading done as I’d hoped between traveling and preparing for the baby. I didn’t even touch Ulysses (though that’s not a huge surprise, since I’ve been planning to read it for so long) or any Pulitzer winners besides An Army At Dawn. I did finish and review four ARCs, three from NetGalley, so I’m doing a little better on that front at least.

This month is my last month without a baby competing for attention, so I’m really hopeful that I’ll get some good reading time in. My official goal for each month is to read five books, but for April, I do have a few that I’m hoping to read in particular.

First, I’d love to finish An Army At Dawn. It’s really interesting and written very well, and even though it’s hard to power through denser non-fiction (especially about wars), I’m pretty sure I could manage this in the course of the next month.

Aside from that, I’m hoping to get several NetGalley reviews posted. In particular, I have plans to finish The German Girl (way overdue on this one!), The Bone WitchAnything is PossibleBeartownMaking WavesMurphy’s Law, and The Secret Room. These are, for the most part, quicker reads, so I think I can manage all of them. I  have several more I’d love to get through as well, but my focus is primarily on books coming out in April — and there are a lot of them!

I’d love to finish two books I’ve gotten from Penguin’s First to Read program, too — The Space Between the Stars and Flame in the Mist, but since those don’t come out until a little later, I’m only planning to work them in if I have time.

I’ve got a few other books I’d like to read, too, but I may or may not post reviews for them. My biggest hope is to get through all of my outstanding NetGalley ARCs before the baby comes, though I know that’ll be a tough challenge. Besides reading, I’ll be continuing to work on my Bullet Journal, starting a gratitude log and possibly a morning writing journal, and generally spring cleaning my house (I wasn’t lying when I said reading Marie Kondo’s book inspired me to get this place in shape!).

What are your plans for April, reading or otherwise? What books are coming out soon that you’re looking forward to? Are you as happy as I am that it’s finally spring and we might (fingers crossed) be done with the snow?