Book review: Beartown

I picked up Beartown on a recommendation at the bookstore. The woman at the store said it was a book ‘about hockey, a tiny town and what happens when a tragedy hits’ and I immediately wanted to read it. I don’t know what it is about the smell of coffee and books that gets me all excited. In this case, however, I’m glad I trusted her comment. I read Beartown in a matter of hours.

The book is definitely about hockey. Being Canadian, that didn’t bother me. We’re pretty hockey obsessed. But I should explain that you don’t need to be a hockey fanatic or fan to read and understand the book. More than about hockey, this book is about people who love the sport–and some who don’t.

The tiny town of Beartown is set in a forest and has a small scattering of people. I love tiny towns. There’s something about the intimacy of them that appeals to me. Beartown, with it’s small set of quirky inhabitants was delicious. The book explained their stories, their backgrounds and why they acted like they did. It did so without breaking pace with the story, something that’s really hard to do. And, by the end, I felt like I was one of them, like I knew them.

Though this is mostly the story of one family, there were no outstanding heroes or heroines. Rather, this is the story of characters, with flaws and gifts, who acted in ways that caused a terrible incident to happen and then had to face the consequences. While I won’t destroy the story by saying what happens, I will say that the entire town has to react to it because Beartown is that small. Good or bad, everyone is changed by the end.

I loved that the characters weren’t perfect. I loved that they interacted with each other in good ways and in ways that drove the others mad. I loved how their past and stories were sprinkled throughout the book, like little gems to highlight their personalities and help the reader understand why it is that they acted the way they did.

Mostly, though. it is the writing that was addictive in the best sense of the word. Fredik Backman does an incredible job of creating interest. Just the way he presents what happens, the order in which he presents things, made me turn those pages. I will give you a snippet of what I mean by the very introduction. It’s very short but I think it will convey just how addictive the book is.

“Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shogun, 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.”

Doesn’t that just make you want to read more? It certainly did me. I read that little bit and had to buy the book right then and there.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading fiction, family fiction and those who enjoy a good mystery. It’s not a mystery, but it has enough suspense and action to satisfy the pickiest mystery fan. I would also recommend it to those who enjoy sports, because it is a lovely sports story. If you do pick it up, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Beartown: Amazon.ca: Backman, Fredrik: Books

Two reviews for the price of one…ahem (free)

Just finished a couple of books and I thought I’d share my thoughts here. The first was a recommendation from the lovely lady at the used book store. She said, and she was completely right, ‘this is a read for the beach’. I didn’t quite understand that she meant by that then, I do now.

The book is My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb. It’s a tale of two women who were close friends as children and who have grown up and moved apart; they are actually in different continents when the story stats. Years have passed but their friendship has endured.

The first friend, and heroine of the book, is Charlotte Mackintosh who describes herself as a cat-loving hermit. The reality is kinder than that. Charlotte is a quirky author who tends to see the best in people and who loves animals. When her mother’s home in Scotland needs tending to, she hops on a plane and gets busy.

It’s in Scotland that Charlotte starts to bloom. She finds her old friend Toran who falls for her quickly and who she doesn’t believe she deserves. It’s through Toran that Charlotte hears about her best friend, Bridget and what has happened to her.

Cathy Lamb’s book is a great read for the beach, like the wise lady claimed because it’s not a thriller or scary book filled with twists and bends. It’s a slow read, with quirky characters and humour that brings the reader gently to a happy ending. The fact that we could tell what the ending was from the start doesn’t take away from its endearing qualities. This is a great book for a summer read.

My Very Best Friend by Cathy Lamb

My second book is completely different from the first. I picked this one up completely on a whim and the fact that I liked another book by the same author. Margaret Atwood is a definite genius of the written word and Alias Grace does not disappoint.

This book is certainly not a gentle read or a book without twists or turns. It’s like a great giant magnifying lens into the human mind. It starts without a rush (something I absolutely loved) and takes its time introducing us to Grace Marks.

Grace is in jail when we meet her and she was in an insane asylum before that. Dr. Jordan a young psychologist has an interest in finding out just what is going on inside Grace’s head and he tries, day after day, to unravel her secrets. And secrets she has.

This is a book to be savoured. There isn’t an extra word or line. Margaret Atwood knows what she’s doing and she sharpened her pencil when she wrote this book. But it’s certainly not an easy, light read. It’s heavy with content, hints, subtle nudges and symbols. There are layers in the conversations that one can unravel and relish. The characters are intricately created and have real depth and personality.

I would definitely recommend this read to just about anyone who likes reading. It has received the Giller Prize, is a national bestseller and was finalist for many other awards. Margaret Atwood is a master of the writing craft and this is a fine example of why.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Review: Vox

Just finished it last night and the scary after taste is still with me. Vox is one of those books that I picked up, read a paragraph and couldn’t put down. It gripped me and refused to let go in the best sense.

It’s written by Christina Dalcher who holds a PhD in theoretical linguistics and that knowledge becomes evident as the book carries on. The author understands just how important language is and what it does to the human mind if it is forbidden. The consequences are dire and terrifying.

Vox is a dystopic story set some time in the near future in the USA. The main character is Jean, a wife and mother who, like all women can’t say more than 100 words a day. Well, she can but the consequences are horrific. Each woman and female child has a device on their wrist that counts those words and administers an increasing level of electric shock when they pass their limit. That limit does get reset each and every night but they only get 100 and that’s it.

The set up is pretty reminiscent of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in that women are suppressed and men have all the power. It also suggests that this has happened because of a mix of politics and religion so the US is now a theocracy. There are innumerable police and enforcers, all men, who suppress the women and there are new versions of schools for girls where they get rewards for being quiet and are taught how to be dutiful, housewives while the boys are brainwashed by courses on ‘theology’ that teach that God created man above woman and the ignorance of that rule caused all the world’s problems.

I loved this book. Jean’s arc from naive witness to heroine is believable and terrifying. I liked her from the get go and the story only endeared her further to me.

But the book was terrifying. I guess reading about a dystopia while Covid-19 is shutting schools, businesses and normalcy is out the window wasn’t the smartest thing. But I couldn’t help it; this book was incredibly addictive.

The reaction of her children from silly, lovable little ones to brainwashed pawns and the transformation of her little girl were devastating to read. If there had been a dog hurt in the book, I would have been able to put it down but that wasn’t the case. It was terrifying because it was something that I could see happening very soon.

Still, the book ends well. There is a happy ending and sanity returns. Still, it is most definitely a page-turner. There was no way I was putting this thing down until I knew what happened.

Of course I would recommend this book. It is an incredible read and really well written but I would recommend it because of some very specific reasons. One, it is so easy to get into it, I defy anyone to read two pages and be able to put it down. It’s that yummy. Two, It’s a topic that needs to be read and understood. We can’t let something like that future happen to us or our children. And three, it was simply a great, enjoyable read. The characters are awesome, the story is really great and fun.

If you are a fan of the Handmaid’s Tale, or like dystopic stories, this one is for you. I would also recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers and suspense because it was definitely that as well.

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Review: On second thought by Kristan Higgins

I loved On Second Thought. It caught me since the beginning and I simply couldn’t put it down; in fact, I stayed up late into the night to find out what happened, cried and laughed until the end. It’s one of those reads that you’re glad you bought because you know you’re going to read it again and again.

On Second Thought is technically a romance but it’s more the story of two sisters and how they cope with tragedy. They’re pretty different duo but still very likeable. I could relate to both and it was a joy to read how they got through difficulties and coped.

Ainsley is a happy-go-lucky, full of energy and always ready to help those around her. She has a huge heart and won’t take a minute to feel sorry for herself. Instead, she throws herself into helping others, including her old Grandmother and those around her. She has a job she’s not enjoying and still manages to have a smile on for everyone. More than that, she’s hilarious and I laughed out loud at what she thinks and does.

Kate is more intense but gentle. She’s hit with a devastating blow and is determined to not have things fall around her. She won’t collapse, determined to keep things together even in the face of pretty overwhelming tragedy. Kate keeps trying and I cried at her determined selflessness.

Both sisters need each other. It’s actually quite beautiful how the story weaves their personalities into a cohesive common story. They lean on each other and come out the better for it. Their relationship actually brings out the best in each of them.

There is romance in this book but it’s definitely in the background. The story focuses on these two women and how they grow to accept the harder cards that life has given them. Their interactions and reactions to things are what make the book move. There are really quirky and funny secondary characters but I loved the sisters from the start.

This is a book I would recommend to a variety of readers. It’s a definite read for those who enjoy romance but it’s also a very good read for those who like fiction, women’s lit or simply a good story. I really like Kristan Higgins and this is a great example of why she’s a New York Times Bestselling Author.

Image result for on second thought kristan higgins

Review: The shape of family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

I got this book as a recommendation…again. It’s a book about a family and what happens to them when tragedy strikes. I didn’t know the author or the book or anything about the story. I just picked it up and read the first chapter and was hooked.

More than anyone else in the family, I related to Karina, the daughter who struggles to find find herself and discover who she is. I loved how determined she was and how hard she worked at her studies. Having always been a type-A personality, that part of her, caught my interest right away.

The book is not just Karina’s story, however. We learn about the father and mother and her brother, Prem. They too grow through the book and I found their stories interesting to say the least. It was nice to see that adults too struggle to cope and are also growing themselves.

More than anything else, the book is a tale about how a family, that encounters a huge tragedy and has to learn to reinvent itself. People have to live in different ways, connect in different ways and redefine who they are. That sort of adjustment is huge and not easy. It takes years and lots of trial and error to figure oneself out. I loved that The Shape of Family gave that growth an authentic, serious portrayal.

I would definitely recommend this book. It’s not only written by a bestselling author but it’s a wonderful story. I loved the writing and the rhythm of the book, stealing me away and keeping me hooked until I turned the last page. If you like stories about families, about growing up and stories about trying to belong, this one is a great book to try.

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Review: The family upstairs by Lisa Jewell

The family upstairs is a mix of mystery book and family saga. This isn’t my usual read but lately, I’ve been straying from romance and trying new things. This particular book was a last minute recommendation as I left the bookstore and I’m glad I picked it up.

For me, the best part about the book was how quickly it caught my attention and refused to let go. The heroine, Libby finds a letter in her mailbox that simply changes everything for her and this is what starts the plot of the book. I loved Libby from the start. She’s intelligent, cautious, eager to know things and pretty reasonable. She doesn’t do foolhardy things that some heroines do in some movies or books that drive me crazy. Libby was interesting from the start and I didn’t want to close the book and not know what was going to happen to her.

This is a family saga book and the story threads include more than just Libby’s story. Since I don’t like to give away parts of plots of the book, I won’t explain too much here but I will mention that it was delicious because it told the story of a family and what happened to each member. Parents and children made serious decisions with serious consequences and I got to watch it all.

Since it was a mystery, there were twists. Now, I have to be one of the worst people to predict twists in movies or books; I can’t even foresee them coming in a Disney movie, let alone a book. So, to me, the twists were shocking, amazing and a complete surprise. There was even a point where I simply put the book down and stared at the words in disbelief. True, I’m pretty gullible, but I thought the twists were absolutely genius.

Definitely not one of my usual reads, it is still a great read that I inhaled in under 3 hours. I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in mysteries or family sagas, or even anyone who likes a book that is a page turner. I had never read anything by Lisa Jewell but this one was a definite hit.

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Review: The Testaments

I wanted to read this book almost as soon as I heard it was going to be written. The trouble with that is that I built it up in my head so much that I feared the reality couldn’t possibly match my wishes. Not only did the book meet my expectations, it surpassed them incredibly. This one is a keeper for years and years to come.

The Testaments is Margaret Atwood’s latest novel and one that she refused to write for over thirty years. It completes her earlier work, The Handmaid’s Tale. In an interview, she explained that the reason she decided to write it was that: “Instead of going away from Gilead, we turned around and started coming back towards Gilead.” She’s dead on.

Image result for cover time magazine with margaret atwood

Timing is just right for this book. It might not have hit us the same way 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. But, right now, it’s an incredibly pertinent and important document to read. And, such an amazing piece of writing.

Image result for cover time magazine with margaret atwood

Timing wasn’t, of course, what I loved most about this book. I picked up the hardcover (and I never, ever buy hardcovers) and read two paragraphs…and I knew I had to buy it. I loved, loved the content, the tone and the way she wrote, almost immediately.

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The book is written by different narrators-that I won’t explain so as to not ruin it for others. Each perspective has a very different perspective into the life in Gilead and each is rich with information, history and flavour. Eventually, without giving away too much, things merge and out of it comes, finally, the conclusion to the Handmaid’s Tale.

I loved each of the different perspectives. I was fascinated with the theocracy that Margaret Atwood had created. I thought it was authentic, brutally realistic without becoming overdone, and showed astute insight into human nature. As I read, I couldn’t help but to agree with the narrator’s logic and choices. As horrific as Gilead was, I could understand what transpired in the book, I could see why they had done the terrible things that they had done. It made logical sense.

It was also fascinating that the narrators didn’t destroy the mystery or the twists that happened in the book. I was left hanging, desperately hanging, at the end of each chapter, not knowing what was going to happen next.

I have many beefs with some books where characters step out of character, where rules that were once inviolable are suddenly broken, where the remnants of the plot are artificially twisted into a semblance of order at the end. I was so relieved that this book did none of those things. The ending was realistic and fit a grim and very plausible storyline. The characters stayed true to their beliefs, personalities and history. And nothing impossible according to Gileadian rules happened.

Better still, I was hooked. This is a book I read in bits of time stolen while my husband and I tried to get our house listed on the market. I snuck that book into work, tried to read while people talked around me and even moved important things aside so I could read it. It was addictive in the most delicious sense. If I could design heaven, it would be filled with books just like this one.

I absolutely recommend it. If you’re a fan of dystopian novels, female fiction or suspense, this book will fit you like a glove. You do not need to have read The Handmaid’s Tale to get hooked either. Try a couple of paragraphs, I bet you’re like me and can’t put the thing down. It was magical.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Review

Please note that there are some serious spoilers up ahead. Please do not read on. Stay away and do not continue. That’s it. Not for your eyes. Go away.

I’ve rambled on about The Handmaid’s Tale on my little blog before. I have had a lot of trouble with the violence it showed and the grotesque, horrific ‘punishments’ the protagonist endured. Still, I’ve been mesmerized by the book and, surprisingly, the show.

It’s rare that a show or movie can capture the soul of a book. The Handmaid’s Tale came close…until this season’s finale.

First, I should explain that the show has been so violent and so dark, that I was ready for anything happening as a finale. We’ve been following our heroine for 2 years but I was ready for her to die (she has come close several times) or be tortured (again) or dismembered or some other hideous form of torture. I had hugged my doggies and I was ready.

What did happened was almost worst than anything I had prepared myself for. Not because it was terrible, but rather because it made no sense. After two seasons of the show faithfully portraying the dystopian society drunk in its religious fervour, happily abusing and torturing our heroine, she refuses to escape and stays there.

What?, you say. Oh, I hear you. If her sacrifice to stay had served some purpose, I would have been on board. If it had made sense because of who our heroine is, I would have been on board too. But the only thing this ending serves is as a way to keep our heroine in the middle of turmoil and birth another season.

In other words. I’m not on board.

Oh. And I’m not scared any more either.

Image result for nolite te bastardes carborundorum

If interested, here are some other reviews of the show and the seasons both 1 and 2.

P.S. Isn’t it also little coincidental that the very house that Offred ends up in had not just a sympathetic Eye but a Martha that is part of the Mayday escape route?

Where I’m terrified

I’ve been watching a series for a year or so. It’s the Handmaid’s Tale and it’s terrifying. The show is so scary, I can barely stand to watch it. I almost get physically sick at the thought of what might happen.

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But I can’t stop watching.

I don’t like to tell people what to do. So I won’t start here. But if I could tell myself what to do, it would be to never start watching. I’ve read the book and it wasn’t as scary and awful as the show. And I never once thought, this could become reality, with the book.

With the show, it’s a thought that doesn’t leave my mind. And I think that’s the most horrific part of the entire ordeal.

Two reviews for the price of one!

My hubby was away, so I got busy reading. I found a couple of books at the used bookstore…completely different yet great in their own ways.

The first I read was “God is not great” by Christopher Hitchens.

(credit: goodreads)

I read it completely interested in his unique point of view and I found the book incredibly well written. Though I didn’t agree with everything he said (and that wasn’t the point of reading the book), I still found ‘God is not great’ a fascinating read.

Certainly, I don’t think religion poisons everything, as he claims but hearing about his point of view was very interesting. I have read a lot of books from devout believers and find those who oppose religion fascinating because they are so unique. Christopher Hitchens certainly fits that criteria.

He has also done impeccable research to support his point of view. His book covers most religions and practices and most holy books. Incredibly informative, the book was also so well written that reading was a pleasure simply for the vocabulary and sentence structure. I love reading a well-written book.

My second find at the used book store was Divergent by Veronica Roth.

(credit: amazon.com)

Divergent was delicious. It is YA and not my usual read but it was fascinating. It’s set in a dystopic future where society is divided into five factions to keep the peace. Each faction practices a way of life that matches their motto. For example, Dauntless are brave and that is their focus and goal in everything they do.

In that setting, young adolescents have to choose which faction they belong to and that was really interesting to me. I wondered what made someone choose one characteristic over another and what a world made up of one personality trait would look like. Tris, the heroine, agonizes over her choice and finally has to decide in very difficult circumstances.

The rest of the book, we follow Tris through the challenges she faces in her new faction. It might be make-believe but it was absolutely addictive and I certainly couldn’t put the book down. It was also the best companion for a weekend without my hubby while the dogs slept at my feet.

 

Though I would recommend both books, they’re certainly very different reads. If you do pick one up, let me know what you think and, as always, if you find a great read, share it with me. I love finding new books to read.