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

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.

Image result for book vox

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.

Image result for the testaments book

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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Two reviews for the price of one!

Okay, so they’re free. I just thought I’d do a ‘doubly’. I thought making it shorter and more compact might make it easier to read.

My first book is ‘First Star I see Tonight’ and it’s by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It’s a new one in the Chicago Stars series but it’s a perfectly good standalone if you want to pick it up.

Recap:

First Star I see Tonight tells the story of Piper Dove who is trying to be a detective. During her assignment, she spies on Cooper Graham, the Quarterback for the Chicago Stars. He catches her in the act and all mayhem ensues.

Reasons to buy it:

The dialogue is incredible. The comebacks, the lines, the quick jokes, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is known for her dialogue and this book doesn’t disappoint.

The characters are really likeable. From the tough Coop, to the determined Piper, they’re friendly, funny and yet quirky. Not a creepy, ew-inducing issue in sight.

Finally, the humour. I love a book that makes me laugh and this one did.

My second book is ‘Now that you mention it’ by Kristan Higgins. It’s just been released and, since I’m a big fan, I was waiting biting my nails for this one.

Recap:

Nora Stuart, successful doctor and specialist, gets hit by a car and ends up going back home to the teeny, tiny Maine community she left years and years ago. Back she goes to find her once quirky neighbours haven’t changed and she tries as hard as she can to mend relationships and her family. Along the way, she mends more than just that, which was fine by me.

Reasons to buy it:

I loved, loved the heroine. Nora wasn’t a hit in high school, she was a nerd. She wasn’t pretty or thin but she was smart and she used those brains to give herself a future. Being a doctor wasn’t easy but she did it. I loved that about her. She also had a wonderful doggie Boomer, who was immediately loved by yours truly.

The premise caught me right off. I love the concept of heroines who return to their tiny birth towns. I know it’s been done but I still find it awesome. I love the quirky characters and funny back stories. I would have loved to visit the island myself.

This wasn’t just a simple romance story. The main arc of the tale is more about the heroine mending relationships (including the one with herself) and owning her power, than about the romance. And, while she did it, she made me laugh. Awesome.

Note: If you’re interested in the books, click on the covers and you’ll go to the author’s sites.

Hidden Figures – Almost a Review

Really liked this review. A huge thanks to Trent for that wonderful post!

Trent's World (the Blog)

hidden-figures

A few weeks ago, I read the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.  I really liked the book and can’t imagine the movie covering one tenth the ground it did.  There is so much context and background in the book, and yet I know the author was still only scratching the surface.

This is not a review of the book (review = excellent.  Read it).  I just want to say something about the book, something that I thought about as I read it but that is even more relevant after the recent events in Charlottesville.

A lot of this book is about racism at its ugliest, but also how some people were able to rise above it, or perhaps “rise in spite of it” would be a better phrase.  A little background about how hard it was for people of color, and blacks in particular, to get ahead in…

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Review: Anything for You by Kristan Higgins

Anything for You is the fifth book in the Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins. It’s the story of the other twin, Connor and the book that I couldn’t wait to read once I read Colleen’s story. Certainly it’s one of a series, but it’s also a fantastic stand alone book, so don’t let that deter you from this fantastic author.

Anything for You is Connor’s story. He’s been in love with a girl forever and then some. The only problem is that she doesn’t think they can work things out. So, Connor waits and hopes and waits.

Jessica met Connor when they were only little and in a terrible accident involving their dog and her little brother who happens to have special needs. Since then, they have both tried to move on and leave things be but couldn’t. Jessica in particular, has been busy trying to give her brother a good home, a supportive environment and a good income. In her mind, her brother, who has very special needs due to nothing he’s ever done, deserves to have things made as easy as she can for him. Since their parents were both alcoholics and completely unreliable, Jessica has taken it upon herself to give him the best future she can.

It’s not an easy situation for Jessica, she works without a break, moves them from a rental home to a more permanent house always, always putting her brother first. When Connor comes along supportive, loving and caring, it’s almost beyond her to push him away. She’s had a life of nothing but sacrifices. It’s almost inhuman to have to push her one love away.

But there are issues to work out and her brother is only one of the problems standing in their way. Their father suddenly reappears in town interested in establishing a relationship with them, there is someone at work creating trouble for Jessica and Connor wants more than a simple relationship from her. He wants forever.

The way these two work things out is yet another triumphantly beautiful story by Kristan Higgins. The town is fast becoming a favourite of mine with those lovely, hilarious secondary characters and their antics made me laugh out loud more than once. Still, they are secondary to this lovely story and finally, Connor and Jessica do get their happy ending.

Absolutely another book I’d recommend from Kristan Higgins. She’s truly a very special writer, one that can weave sadness and humour into her stories without belittling the struggles or dimming the humour. Her books are a great choice and I have yet to read one of hers that’s a dud. Still, this one is truly special, so if you’re looking for a great read, one that will take you in and introduce you to a great set of characters while telling you a beautiful love story, look no further.

(credit:goodreads.com)

(credit:goodreads.com)

Note: Click on cover to go to site.

Review: Still Alice

This is another unusual read for me. I picked up this book and got caught up in the premise. What happens when a renowned Harvard professor gets diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. How does she cope? How does her family cope? How do priorities change and how does the way they relate to each other change?

Alice Howland is that Harvard professor. She’s known far and wide for her knowledge and insight. She leads a very busy, fulfilling life with her husband, also a hard-working professional and their three grown children.

We meet her as she’s rushing from one conference to another, presenting here, lecturing there. She’s professional, intelligent, able to multitask…and then she can’t remember a word at her presentation. It’s nothing that hasn’t happened to everyone at least once, but it keeps happening to Alice. Then there are the little things that she just can’t find and one day, she gets lost while running the same, familiar route.

Not being stupid, Alice realizes something is wrong and goes to check it out. The doctor not only confirms something is wrong, he explains it has probably been wrong for quite some time, she has just been able to cope because she’s very intelligent and she hasn’t noticed.

Once Alice finds out her diagnosis, the book becomes a map through the coping mechanisms of Alice and her family. We get to see it all through Alice…though she isn’t always the most reliable witness and gets worse as her illness progresses. She forgets who the characters in the book are and, at times, we have to decipher where she is or who she’s talking to from clues in her description.

The relationships in the family change with the illness. The relationship that I found most interesting was the one with her youngest daughter. Alice’s most troubling daughter, Lydia slowly becomes a supportive ally. Alice has to learn to think differently when she can’t simply use dialogue and words to analyze others. And through her new lenses, she sees things in Lydia that she had missed before.

This is definitely not a romance book or something I would normally read but I found it fascinating. One, it was really realistic. I could tell the author had done her research on the disease. Two, it was paced really well and we went from not knowing to knowing, organically and smoothly. And finally, the writing was magnetic. I really couldn’t put the thing down. I wanted to know what was going to happen and what the result would be for Alice.

Certainly, it’s not a book I’d recommend for someone searching for romance. It’s a book I’d recommend for someone looking for an interesting, quick, captivating read. It’s a story of a family coping with a life-changing event and how their relationships alter and change as they do. The book’s portrait of the illness is respectful but still manages to carry a punch in the story. All of it added up for a great read for me and explains why the book became not only a New York Times Bestseller but also a movie.

(credit:goodreads.com)

Note: click on cover to go to site.

 

A post I loved…

I’ve watched the show The Handmaid’s Tale. I read the book. It was one of those I couldn’t, couldn’t put down. It was incredibly addictive…and terrifying. I had nightmares for two days after I started reading the book…and this week, the absolutely horrible attacks on Manchester haven’t helped.

The book is terrifying because it seems like our world is only steps away from making it come reality and not fiction. It’s also terrifying because all of the things in it have already happened at some point in history, so none can be denied with a ‘that’ll never happen’ sort of comment.

But, as always, words fail me when I think of the great parts of the book and movie. And, then I saw this post that puts into words some of the things my little brain couldn’t. I absolutely loved it. Big thanks to Part Time Monster for that wonderful read.

Last week, as I was watching “A Woman’s Place,” the sixth episode of Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I was struck with a realization: I had not watched a single episode of the show without flipping through the social media feeds on my phone or my laptop simultaneously. So I started to think […]

via Why I Have to Look away from The Handmaid’s Tale Sometimes, and Why That’s a Good Thing — Part-Time Monster