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Monday, November 6, 2017

Beartown: I didn't know hockey could be so emotional

    Wow. This book holds so many feelings and emotions! Beartown is vastly different than Backman's charming A Man Called Ove, but he manages the same amazing character development. You don't have to know or care about hockey in order to like this book; I sure didn't.

    The people of Beartown eat, sleep, and breathe ice hockey. Boys are bred to play the game, and anyone who doesn't play watches intently. Big hopes and dreams are on the line for everyone involved. But it's all about to come crashing down when a big secret is shared and begins to rip the town apart.



    That summary really doesn't do this story justice, but I'd rather spend more time writing about my thoughts! This book isn't about hockey, not really. Backman does such an incredible job of capturing and contemplating human nature (I kind of make myself cringe using that term, but it's true) within the context of hockey. There is so much wisdom here. He brings to light some of the ugliest parts of ourselves as broken people. But he also plants seeds of redemption and forgiveness among it all.

    "A great deal is expected of anyone who's been given a lot." This is a quote and major theme from the book. Through multiple perspectives we get a glimpse into how the different characters use and abuse what they've been given in the form of money, talent, family, and influence. Having everything doesn't mean anything if you treat people like they're nothing. There were times I pleaded with the characters to do the right thing, to stand up, or to back down. I think this was a painfully honest portrayal of the internal and external conflicts we go through all the time.

    Backman is a master storyteller. This year I have finally come to realize that I prefer character driven stories and this book is all about character development. He does it so well, even though there are a lot of people to keep track of, I never felt lost, confused or bored. There were several characters (David, Kira, and Bobo for example) that I judged pretty harshly at the beginning for their first impressions. But they were each so dynamic; there was usually more to the characters than there seemed (just like real people! duh!). And then there were the characters that made me want to scream into a pillow...I'll let you decide who they were for yourself.

    There is so much more I could say about Beartown; it really packs a punch. It's certainly a heavy read but without a doubt this book will stay with me for a very long time.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Book about Books (could it get any better?)

    I have really been enjoying audiobooks lately. However, I'm super picky about what I listen to. It can't be anything too long or too complex--I will get distracted. And obviously, the narrator has to be bearable. I absolutely will stop listening to an audiobook if I can't handle the voice reading it. I also refuse to pay for audiobooks. My library has 3 really good services from which I can checkout and download free ebooks and audiobooks so that's what I stick to. It's been interesting because most of what's on my TBR is either not available in the digital collection as an audiobook, popular enough that I'd have to be put on a long waiting list, or too long that I'd rather read it than listen to it. This means I've been listening to things that aren't always high on my TBR list. It's fun to dive into some things that I haven't been anticipating like I often am for the print books I read.


    Annie Spence is a public librarian and Dear Fahrenheit 451 is her collection of letters to the various books she's crossed paths with during her life. Some of them are love letters to the books that have meant the most to her and some are break up notes to the old, offensive books she's weeding from her library's collection, plus, everything in between.

    I think my favorite part of this book though, are Spence's notes and commentary about working with the public. I laughed out loud because her stories as a librarian were so relatable.  Even if you don't work in a library, I think you'll find some humor here!

    There were lots of books Spence talked about that I either haven't read or haven't either heard about (...should I feel guilty about that..?) so I would kind of zone out sometimes. But it was really enjoyable to hear her thoughts on those book I have read or ones I haven't but have always meant to. It gave me some great ideas for doing reader's advisory at work! The last third or so of the book was mostly recommendations which probably would have been more useful had I stopped folding laundry and wrote them down, but we all know I don't really need more books on my TBR. I think if I had been reading the print version of the book, I probably would have skimmed through that last part and found the lists that looked most interesting ("Readin' Nerdy: Books about Librarians", heck ya!).

    Overall, a fun, quick listen. But stay away if you don't like to read books about books. However, if you don't like reading books about books, I don't know why you're reading a blog about a book about books ;) Happy Reading!

3/5 Stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

Artemis: Not the Heist I Was Hoping For

    This is not the review I was hoping to write when I picked up this ARC, and I'm afraid a lot of people are going to be disappointed, but I just had a really hard time getting through this book. I never read The Martian. The idea of a man stranded on Mars just didn't really grab me, but a heist on the moon? Oh yes. When I first heard about Artemis on a podcast this summer I immediately put it on my TBR. I can't say reading it made me want to rush to add The Martian to my TBR.



    Artemis is about a young woman named Jazz. She grew up in Artemis, the first city on the surface of the moon. What appears to be a marvel to tourists is just rock and glass to Jazz. Although her smarts and skills for mechanics and metal work could take her far, she has disappointed her father by choosing the life of a delivery porter, specializing in smuggling illegal goods into Artemis from Earth. Her goal: work as little as possible to pay her debts and live a modest life. But it's not going well for her. She once again fails the test to be an EVA master (someone who take tourists outside the city walls in special suits) and lives in a "coffin" where she can't even stand up straight. Things look up when a wealthy connection provides her with an opportunity she can't turn down. But it all takes a turn for the worst when she realizes there's more at stake than just money...control of Artemis itself.

    Maybe the summary will be enough to pull you in like it was for me, but all in all I was disappointed by this book. I really prefer character driven stories, and this book was mostly plot. Normally, I could get past this but I really did not like Jazz's character. It wasn't just her wasted potential but her cocky attitude and flippant personality. I'm all for flawed characters, but this one had few redeemable qualities for me. Honestly, she often came across as a teenage boy. I didn't feel like I had much of a chance to get to know the minor characters, which in turn left me feeling like there was a major hole in the story. Weir's writing, especially dialogue, felt really forced to me, particularly with the humor. There were a lot of "cringy" scenes and phrases, which sounds silly, but that's really the best way to describe how I felt. I'd be interested to know if this is how The Martian reads as well. Is this Weir's style or just how I felt about Artemis?

    I had high hopes for the heist aspect of the story, but it definitely fell flat for me. I was expecting something similar to Bardugo's Six of Crows for some reason...if anyone is familiar with that. But here, there just weren't any really exciting, gripping moments. Instead there was a lot of technical jargon weighing the story down. Every time something remotely interesting happened I felt like it was interrupted by a lesson on smelting. There are so many more interesting things Weir could have done with the world he created. Instead readers are subjected to paragraph after paragraph of welding explanations, air quality descriptions, and rock/dust composition.

    I don't know, perhaps my hopes for this were too high? I think Weir had some really great world building going for him, but unfortunately what it lacked in depth of character it overloaded with sarcasm and scientific lingo.

Artemis is released November 14, 2017. Thanks to Baker & Taylor for the ARC!

2.5/5 Stars

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Echo: a MUST Listen

    Do your ears and heart a favor and GO GET THIS AUDIOBOOK! You can thank me later. I don't even remember why I chose to listen to this book rather than read it. I think it was mostly because it was the only kidlit title from my TBR that was available on Libby at the time and I needed an audiobook while I folded laundry or something. I am telling you right now, listening to Echo is the only way to go! The print book just cannot compare!


    Echo starts with a fairy tale about a boy named Otto and a harmonica. Throughout the rest of the book this harmonica proves to carry some magic within it as it comes in contact with three different children when they need it most. Friedrich is living in Germany just as Hitler is taking power. His world is changing and he must learn to stand for what he believes in. A few years later we meet Mikey who lives in Pennsylvania as an orphan with his little brother. All they want is to belong in a loving family. A few years more and readers are introduced to Ivey. She must cope with moving to a new town and being sent to the Annex School just because she is not white all while her older brother is fighting in the war. Each of these characters have a talent for music and the harmonica finds them at just the right time.

    You're probably wondering what is so wonderful about a bunch of kids and a harmonica. Well, the best part about listening to this book is that there is a different narrator for each of the main characters AND there are instrumental sections. There are whole parts where you get to hear the songs played on the harmonica. I just can't imagine this book having the same effect on me if I had only read it in print. The audio was so well done! And it makes all the difference at the very end...I got chills listening to it!

    Apart from a completely magical listening experience, this story is just plain beautiful. I loved and cared for each character. Their struggles were so real and although I didn't live during these time periods, I personally felt the pain of injustice as if it were happening to me. I loved the little bit of fairy tale that was woven throughout the book. There's a little rhyme that makes its way full circle and it's something I would love to make into a print and put on my wall.


    You know when you're nearing the very end of a book and you think the next page is your last but then there's one more and then one more and you're like "ugh, this author has killed so many good endings!"? Well for one of the first times ever in my reading life I kept thinking it was the end, but instead it kept going and it only got better! Each "ending" was a better ending than the last and when it actually was the ending I almost started applauding!

    I can't wait for the next teen, or family, or really anybody at work who asks me for a recommendation. I will very enthusiastically suggest require they read listen to this book. It was truly enjoyable and what all reading experiences should be.

5/5 Stars
 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Station Eleven or: Eerie Dystopian that Could Actually Happen

    I've been wanting to read this book for a long while and finally got the chance to for my book club. It's often classified as science fiction which I get, but what's different about this novel is that everything is 100% realistic. It could literally happen tomorrow and that's what makes reading this such a nail biter.

   Arthur Leander is a world famous actor who collapses from a heart attack while performing King Lear on stage. His death is not a spoiler, I promise, it happens on page 1. From there readers follow his life (through flashbacks) and the lives of those who crossed paths with him at one point or another. The big catch is that the night of Arthur's death is also the night the world ends. 99% of the population is wiped out. And soon after that anything powered by electricity, gas, or battery dies too. No more air travel, internet, government, or hospitals. We're given details of life 20 years before and after the collapse and bits and pieces in between to form a narrative about art, survival, and civilization.



    So, that summary is kind of vague, but I don't want to give anything away. There's quite a few characters to keep track of and it would be better for you to just go read the book rather than me typing out a long summary of each of them! After finishing I realized how there wasn't ever really a main character because the story was told from multiple points-of-view. You know I love stories told from multiple POVs!
 
    This book wasn't what I was expecting when I heard it was dystopian mainly because of all of the flashbacks to before the collapse. There was just as much happening in the pre-collapse narrative as the post-collapse. It made the story more relatable, whereas so much dystopian fiction feels disconnected from my own world. Mandel certainly has a talent for making ordinary characters interesting to read about. There often wasn't anything special about the people in this story, but she had a way of making me sympathize with them and wanting to know what happened to them. I especially loved they way they were all interconnected with one another. It was like this web that spread over decades tying everyone together even if they never knew it.

    Like I said above, the disturbing part about this book is that it could happen to us at any moment. Nothing Mandel wrote about was out of the realm of possibility in the world as we know it. In our book club we talked about what skills we would have to offer if we survived what the characters here did. How horrifying would it be to never see your family again, trying to move on while assuming they are probably dead. Would we stay where we are or try to move somewhere more promising? So many questions are raised by the time I finished the book that I can't even begin to answer. I don't even want to think about answering most of them, it's too scary!

    There is so much more I could talk about but I think I'm going to leave it at that...hopefully this review is the little taste you need to bite into the book as a whole. Overall, a must read! Although it ends on a hopeful note, it left me a little depressed, so you've been warned!

4/5 Stars

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Underground Railroad and How It Stressed Me Out

    I don't want to make light of the events described in Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, but gosh, I feel like I need to watch several episodes of Friends to recover after this book. I finally picked it up when it was selected as a September title for the Diverse Books Club (@diversebooksclub on Instagram...check it out!). I'm always up for some great historical fiction, but reading this makes me feel the same way I feel when I watch movies like Deepwater Horizon or The Impossible. I think to myself, "Holy cow. I would not survive this. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering. I don't even want to think about it!" Stories like these have me holding my head in my hands the whole time because they're true. They really happened. I can't tell myself, "Well it's sad but it's just a story."


    The Underground Railroad follows Cora from childhood on a cotton plantation in Georgia through her young adult life as she tries to escape slavery and find freedom in the North. She meets friends and enemies along the way, gets captured more than a few times, and can't begin to know what it means to live a carefree life. She is aided by the the underground railroad, a network of allies and abolitionists working to help free slaves. Whitehead, however, takes it a step further and imagines the underground railroad as a literal train track underground that helps fugitives flee their owners. The story is told mainly through Cora's point of view (third person) but occasionally breaks to secondary characters.

    Like I said above, this book brought the 19th century South to life. So much so that I was practically groaning at the torture and punishments slaves were put through. I just cannot imagine treating human beings like they're property, animals. It's something I knew happened, but this Whitehead opened my eyes to it in a whole new way. There were so many heart-wrenching scenes throughout this book. I mean every time I thought maybe Cora could be happy, something horrible happened. I just wanted her to reunite with her mother, fall in love, have her own children, learn to read for crying out loud! I just wanted her to be able to relax! This was the most compelling part of the story: following Cora's journey. I had to know where she was going to end up.

    What I wasn't crazy about was the character development, meaning I didn't think there was much of it. Although we follow Cora from birth to young womanhood, I don't feel like I ever got to know her really well. I was certainly rooting for her, but it wasn't because I really liked her as a character (although I didn't dislike her), it was because she (and the other slaves) didn't deserve to be treated way she was. And if the main character wasn't completely fleshed out, you can imagine the secondary characters weren't either. I think the chapters from the other points of view were supposed to help with that but I found some of these more confusing or distracting than necessary or interesting (except for the one at the end...you'll know it when you get there!) I guess I found all of the characters to be rather cold and unapproachable (can that be a thing for characters in a book??).

    The other aspect of this book that bothered me was the timeline. There was a lot of back and forth between childhood and adulthood, past and present. The book definitely did not follow chronological order, which it wouldn't absolutely have to except I often had to reread sections to reorient myself about where I was in relation to where was a paragraph ago. I think Whitehead's goal here was to reveal certain things at certain times. He would often work backward as a way of introducing a new setting, but I found it a little jarring and disjointed.

    Overall, the need to know what was going to happen to Cora outweighed the things I didn't like about Whitehead's style choices. This was a great read, but definitely not because it gave me warm, fuzzy feelings. Instead, it made me angry about the injustices that took place in the past and the injustices that are still happening in the present. America may have made progress since slavery in the South, but we still have a long way left to go. I think that is Whitehead's real motive behind writing this story and he certainly drove it home for me.

3.5/5 Stars

 

Friday, September 1, 2017

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

    I'm going to come right out and say that this book made me uncomfortable. It was beautifully written and had me totally engrossed the entire time, but I was certainly challenged while reading it. I picked this book up because there was so much buzz about it and I don't like being out of the book loop. I knew what the main idea was, but the story tackled it a little differently than I was expecting.


    Penn and Rosie are doing their best to raise their five children. Without really meaning to, they carry one big secret. Their daughter, Poppy, is not like the other little girls around her. She has to go into the bathroom to change into her pajamas at slumber parties and her parents spend hours on the internet researching hormone blockers. This is because Poppy used to be Claude. The story follows the family over a decade as they navigate life and learn about acceptance of others and oneself.

    Transgender issues and rights are not topics I am very familiar with and honestly, not ones I intentionally seek to learn more about. But I realize stories like this one are reality for people and families around me. And I really believe this gave me a perspective I wouldn't have had otherwise. Although this is only one story and there are many more unique stories out there, I feel my understanding of this challenging, but timely topic has been enhanced.

    I suppose the hardest thing for me to grasp about this story was how easily Rosie and Penn accepted the idea of Claude becoming Poppy. I don't pretend to know how to raise kids, or know what it means to love one's child unconditionally, but there was so little resistance coming from the parents which didn't strike me as very realistic. In general, I thought the majority of characters in this book were very accepting of Poppy's transformation. Clearly there are scenes that stand out to refute that claim, but I mean overall, and especially at the end (sorry, slight spoiler), everyone is just pretty much hunky dory about everything. It's not that I wish bad things for Poppy's character, I just had an impression that things for her and her parents would take a lot more time, explaining, fighting, pushing against the system, etc.

    No matter how I feel about the content though, Frankel is, without a doubt, an excellent writer. My favorite parts of this story were all the bits and pieces of the family throughout the years. How Rosie and Penn fell in love, "watching" the older boys grow up, Grumwald and Princess Stephanie (and how they came full circle!), Poppy and Aggie tapping on each other's windows and more. The real heart of this book is family and love and I can't argue with that.

 4/5 Stars