Review: Beartown

12 March 2018
Hockey. This book is about hockey. Did I know that before I read it? No. Why? Because I judged a book by its cover...well technically I judged a book by not only its cover but also by its author. I never read A Man Called Ove even though it topped the bestseller list because quite frankly it sounded sad and I have to be in a particularly loathing mood to read a sad book. However, the book was widely acclaimed for the writing skills of its author, Fredrik Backman, so I thought I would read the current book he came out with. The cover looked peaceful and the title is Beartown so I figured it involved something about the wilderness, perhaps Alaska. I was kind of right, it involved a town in the middle of the wilderness but I managed to miss the hockey player skating in the bottom left corner of the cover.

The book is about a hockey town. Particularly a town that is failing in every aspect of the economy and only has its hockey team to pull them out of the hole. The Junior League hockey team is winning its way to the finals, which if won, means sponsors, new businesses, and money galore for the town.

Sound Interesting? Maybe, but not really to me. I definitely wouldn't have picked up this book if I knew that's what it was about, it all seemed a little too Friday Night Lights for me. Your typical crappy town that only has a sport made up of teenage boys to look forward to. However, I looked up the reviews and they were all extremely high and positive so I forged on.

The book was good in the beginning but I would say the first 100 pages deal strictly with hockey and bumps around to a lot of different characters which was kind of hard to follow at first. You follow the GM of the hockey team, the Junior League hockey coach, the A team hockey coach, the Underdog player, the Star player, the Badboy, the Mom, and the Pretty Girl. I categorized them this way, they actually do have names in the book, but you get the gist. Eight characters is a lot to follow (you're usually taught in writing classes that a reader can only keep up with four) and they all (except for the Underdog) have basic names so it was hard to remember who was Peter and who was David for the first few chapters. Moving along, I didn't hate but also didn't love the beginning of the book because quite honestly I'm a baseball girl and wasn't that into the hockey references.

But then, you get to the heart of the narrative and soon find out this book isn't about an underdog hockey team in a dwindling town finally making it to the "big" game, it's about something far bigger. About halfway through the book you're introduced to a big event ( I wont spoil it) and you realize the author was so damn clever because every single reference he made in the previous pages was a lead up to this event. I loved that because it almost felt like a mystery to me and I felt surprised and a bit dumb that I never saw this event coming.

It's so applicable and such an important message and I immediately became immersed and stayed up until 3am on a Sunday and finished 318 pages in one night. I finally understood where the rave reviews came from people and I got why this book became a bestseller.

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard, it makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe-- comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is we dehumanize the enemy.

Trudge through the first 100 pages (unless you love hockey, then you'll love the entire book) because once you make it to a certain climax in the story, it's impossible to put this book down. My review is 4 out of 5 books.

2017 Book Favorites

26 February 2018
What books do you recommend ?

This is a pretty common question I get asked by my friends. Although it depends on the person and the genre/style that they enjoy reading, there are a select few books in my "read" arsenal that I can always suggest. However, not everyone wants to read a classic piece of literature written in the 1800's no matter how noteworthy it is. New books are exciting and fresh and I dedicated 2017 to exploring new authors and genres.

2017 was also the year I actively decided to start tracking all of the books I read in a year. I made a goal of 50 books, but ending up reading 62! My goal for 2018 is to surpass last year and go for 65. If you don't already have a Good Reads account then I HIGHLY recommend you set one up. It's free and tracks all the books you have read, allows you to rate books, lets you track by % how far along you are in the book, and shows you what your friends are reading and what they rated specific books.

Of the 62 books I read in 2017, I only gave five books 5 out of 5 stars on Good Reads. These five books are my must-reads and I have included brief descriptions of each below. In addition, there are a couple that I will probably do more in depth reviews on in the future because a 1 paragraph description doesn't do the book justice. I also listed some honorable mentions I loved but didn't quite love enough to give five stars to.

One thing that Good Reads has showed me is that I primarily read historical fiction, nonfiction/memoir, and mystery/whodunit books, so I have broken down my book suggestions into those three categories.

Historical Fiction

The Underground Railroad -- Colson Whitehead
This book affected me so deeply I cannot even begin to explain its influence. It was by far the best book I read in 2017, quite possibly one of the best I've read in my entire life. The author came and spoke at my Alma Mater during my school's fall book festival and hearing him speak was so powerful. I will be doing a far more in depth review on this book in the future because I love it that much, but for now just take my word for it and immediately read this Pre Civil War novel detailing Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia plantation life. 

The Invention of Wings -- Sue Monk Kidd
I love WWII and Civil War history so it didn't surprise me that I fell in love with this story of two sister abolitionists who flee their plantation in South Carolina to fight for the freedom of those they once owned. It's an extremely powerful and true story (I visited and toured this plantation and home in March!) that I will also be writing more about in the future.

Salt to the Sea -- Ruta Sepetys
I already stated that I enjoy wartime novels and although this one takes place during WWII, it explores how the war affected the Soviets and Eastern European refugees. The novel begins as the nazis are crumbling and WWII is reaching a conclusion. However the novel focuses on refugees fleeing from the impending Soviet Advance. Most books I had read focused on Germany or those countries conquered by Germany so it often left this part of history out; I had never heard much about how the East was affected and I felt introduced to a whole new genre of WWII books.


How To Murder Your Life -- Cat Marnell
Former beauty editor for Lucky Magazine turned hardcore drug addict...this book is absolutely insane! The author is from the DC metro area which made the first couple chapters about her childhood very relatable, there's even a shout out to Tyson's Corner Mall. However, she soon moves to NYC and becomes a big time editor at various prestigious magazines all while maintaining a horrific drug habit. The book is so outlandish it's hard to believe the events actually happened to the author but she balances the dark parts out with humor and excellent writing to make the book an easy read. Also, she lived with Nev from Catfish so read it just for those stories.


I'm Thinking of Ending Things -- Iain Reid
This is a very short book, I read it in one night, and it has an OMG, WTF, WOAH ending that completely shocked me. Again, I read a lot of books but this one had an ending I never saw coming. The book has quite literally everything a good creepy mystery needs: a secluded farm, weird parents, an abandoned high school, and a car that breaks down on the side of the road...just a lot of eerie stuff that make it a scary and suspenseful read.

Honorable Mentions

The Kitchen House -- Kathleen Grissom
A fascinating take on Virginia plantation life in the Pre Civil War era. The story centers around a white Irish immigrant who is orphaned upon entry into America and sold to work in the kitchen house of a Virginia plantation. As I learned, this was apparently a common and lucrative practice for slave traders to take poor, naive, white immigrants who came over from Europe and sell them to plantations for almost triple the amount of money they would make from a slave. The main character lives in an awkward limbo where she is considered beneath the white family she works for, but above the slaves she lives in a cabin with, and is often very isolated. It was a very different and interesting way to describe the horrors of plantation life through a white indentured servant.

You-- Caroline Kepnes
Of all the books I have mentioned so far, this is the best written one. You may be asking why is it only an honorable mention then? Well, quite honestly the ending ruined it for me and knocked it down to a four star review, but overall even if you only read this book, about a stalker whose stalkeee falls in love with him, for the writing alone, it will be worth it. It's easy and quick to read and disturbing enough to make you wonder if you too have a stalker out there following your every move, but not disturbing enough to make you unable to sleep at night.

Sweetbitter -- Stephanie Danler
A nonfiction book about two years in the life of recent NYC resident and waitress Stephanie as she tries to navigate the city, what she wants to do in life and how to best carry six martini glasses at once. As someone who worked her college and graduate school career in retail and customer service I could relate to so many of her horror stories from the restaurant she worked in. There's also an element of the unknown as the author goes through her quarter life crisis which is not only relevant to my current life status but comforting to know that every 20-something is still figuring out what the heck they're doing.

Hillbilly Elegy -- J.D. Vance
This book has a lot of statistics in it and reads half like a nonfiction narrative and half like a textbook. I absolutely loved that about it and as someone who currently works in politics I found the numbers, voting records, and answers into how the country is in the state its currently in, fascinating. Also, because I work so heavily in politics in my daily life, the last thing I want to do is read political stuff when I get home and am trying to relax. That's why I love that the author wrote completely in a non-partisan fashion and highlighted the highs and lows of each political party. There's no bashing or blaming, which is extremely refreshing. Also, the authors grandmother raised him in the holler of Kentucky and was a complete badass woman whose behavior makes for some great stories throughout this book.

Review: All The Light We Cannot See (no spoilers)

24 February 2018

 I thought it was only right to have my first official book review be on a newer novel that has quickly become one of my all time favorite books.

This novel has truly blown me away. I literally LOL'd in my car listening to the audiobook, cried all over the pages as I read it before bed and just absorbed every bit of it in absolute awe. Every line written by the author, Anthony Doerr, is so melodically enchanting that he was somehow able to make war torn France sound like it still had some sparkle to it. 

To rewind, the book bounces between 1940 and 1944 every so chapters and mainly follows the life of a blind French girl named Marie Laure and the life of a German boy named Werner (although there are some other big characters throughout the book). It's fascinating to read about how two people on complete opposite sides of the war could actually have so much in common. When the war breaks out, Marie Laure is taken away from Paris, the museum her father works in, and everything known as "home" to her and she is placed on the sea of France where she must start anew. Likewise, Werner is a poor orphan destined to work in the mines the remainder of his life, until his intellect and the impending war get him a job with the Nazis working with radio and electronic repair. Both children (and I say children although they are about 16) have to leave behind everything they know and begin again because of World War Two. You see throughout the novel how their paths intersect and the toll the war takes on the both of them.

I don't want to include any spoilers in my reviews because I merely want them to act as an introduction you may decide to read or reject, but I will touch on one of the more powerful moments in the novel.

While at training school to become a Nazi solider, Werner is dragged out of his bunk, along with the other students, in the middle of the freezing winter to observe a prisoner. The book does not specify if the man is a Jewish person, and is only described by Werner as looking "Russian or Polish," but one can quickly infer the prisoner has escaped a concentration camp. Each student lines up and proceeds to take a bucket of water and dump it on the prisoner until he is soon frozen to death. It is such a powerful scene because Werner knows it is incredibly wrong and that he shouldn't do it, but he does it anyway.

When his turn arrives, Werner throws the water like all the others and the splash hits the prisoner in the chest and a perfunctory cheer rises. He joins the cadets waiting to be released. Wet boots, wet cuffs; his hands have become so numb, they do not seem his own.

That last line gives me absolute chills! The nerd in me is overwhelmed by the metaphor between how Werner has lost feeling in his hands and also lost feeling in his soul. But, I will not bore you with a literary review and just conclude that as a writer myself, I was amazed at the way the author was able to weave all the different story lines together and make them cohesive. 

One of my favorite lines from the book, which is often repeated is, “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever."

It of course relates perfectly not only to Marie Laure on a literal level because she is blind, but to how Werner is so quick to turn a blind eye to the monstrosities he commits with the Nazis. The book is brilliant and I proudly give it 5 out of 5 books.