Sunday, April 1, 2018

Us Against You - by Fredrik Backman: Book Review

No. pages: 448
Publishing Date: 5.06.2018
Format: Kindle


Unlike Beartown, in Us Against You there are more tears and people are more emotional. At the same time, people are crueler and the atmosphere is more charged. The novel felt heavy and I kept wondering if it could get any worse. It could and it did. The turn the events took made me gasp quite a number of times, it made me stop and reread, but it definitely made me turn one more page.

It was interesting to see how some of the characters I met in Beartown evolved. A few new ones are introduced, and one character in particular is so bad, it adds to the gut-wrenching feeling. To do this, however, he uses a politician, and for this political aspect I did not care too mcuh. In the end, it didn't influence the novel very much, except make it longer and winding. Some characters were introduced too late to fully get to know and like/dislike them, and some characters were just plain extra (see: Teemu and Vidar). I did like how he created tension by presenting the two teams, the Beartown hockey team (the greens) and the Hed hockey team (the reds) as enemies; you see the lows and the highs of the human nature as a result. I also liked how he presented the obvious "bad" characters from different perspectives to see how easy it is to judge, and they aren't as bad as you're tempted to think.

Unlike Beartown, Us Against You seemed at times unlikely. Not every action the characters engaged in had authenticity, and I am sure people don't usually speak like that, but in the cold Beartown people are so different that you let this slide. Speaking of the town, it's so unlike any city or town I have read about. Even compared with Hed, the other town in the novel, it seems very different and out of place.

The shorter chapters are so full with emotion (and I don't like this cheesy word, nor cheesy emotions) and dripping with feeling, that you can't close this book untouched. Of course, you have to give the writing style some time. I see how Fredrik Backman's writing may not appeal to every reader, but once you see how he uses language smoothly and apparently effortlessly to draw you in, you can't help but applaud him. There are moments when you expect the plot to go in a certain way, but he shifts it and it takes a different direction. 

I must say, though, I am not sure I want there to be a #3. (Although of course I will read it!) The story dragged a little bit in this novel, and if I think about it, not much was actually going on. There isn't really a happy ending, but better times for some of the characters are hinted at. Maybe Beartown is made to be tough, but without being a winner and champion. I am afraid that another book in the series will be just a commercial one, without the depth Beartown had. Comparing Beartown and Us Against You, the first one is much better. It was good to see how the characters recovered from/dealt with what happened in the first book, but we don't need to see them more than we already did, despite the unfinished feel the second book has. Also, the moments where the author has to make a paranthesis to help everyone catch up with the characters and events in the first book are annoying. 

For fans of Fredrik Backman, yes, you must read this. It does add a new layer to the story, albeit not a crucial one. I hope this is it with Beartown; we know the people and the town, but farewell. I like the author's writing better in stand alone novels. Harsh? Maybe, but I like to think I'm a picky reader.

4.5*

I received an e-book copy of the novel from Ariele Fredman, Assistant Director of Publicity at Atria Books | Simon & Schuster. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Cloister - by James Carroll: Book Review

Title: The Cloister
Author: James Carroll
No pages: 384
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publishing Date: 6.03.2018
Format: Kindle

Threading three different stories, the novel presents the story of people who are unable to present their cases clearly, or if they do, they are met with judgment and misunderstanding.

The story of World War Two Holocaust when millions of Jews were killed is well known. A victim of this injustice was Rachel Vedette, a French Jew, and her father, a scholar of the Torah. Presenting her story is done as a result of her discussions with Father Michael Kavanagh, a misfit in his group of Catholic priests. What helps Rachel and Father Michael understand each other and deal with their doubts and struggles is the story of Peter Abelard and Heloise. The texts Abelard wrote and Heloise made sure survived the ages showcase a man who dared to write about what he believed in and thought of, despite the shame and excommunication it brought upon him. Above all, the idea of love, in all the forms people try to see it in, is seen throughout the novel. It's what fuels every discussion and change of direction, whether it’s love for God or love for other people. 

More than Abelard and Heloise’s, Rachel and Father Michel’s conversation, and relationship, intrigued me. They seemed to play hide and seek, emphasis on seek, during their every encounter. Two people who think of themselves as impostors in their everyday life come face to face with the history of the Jews throughout the centuries and its implications for their personal lives. Two people confined to the self-sufficiency they’ve been used to up to that moment. Two people unable to be honest with each other because of their baggage and out of fear to not say too much or offend. This is what fascinated me.

I personally didn't like how some serious social and religious issues were approached. I haven't read anything by Abelard, and my Catholic knowledge is limited, but I sensed that some ideas the author adhered to were far-fetched. It was as if he wanted to tie everything in a nice bow and give his characters a final resolution and clear purpose, doubts-free. 

I enjoyed the foray into history, the musical and poetic language (which made the reading tedious at times, but I powered through) I was exposed to, and the attempt to show how apparently small and insignificant deeds of the 12th century carry weight well into our time.

Despite the heavy topic and at times slow paced reading, it was a good book, certainly appealing to history buffs. 

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rosie Colored Glasses - Brianna Wolfson: Book Review

Title: Rosie Colored Glasses
Author: Brianna Wolfson
No. pages: 336
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: 20.02.2018
Format: mobi Kindle

The one sure thing about this novel is that it's sad. I usually like the going back and forth between present and past, but this time it didn't help very much. It made the novel more difficult to piece together that it already was.
Rosie Thorpe, mother to two children, Asher and Willow, and ex-wife to Rex, suffers of mental illness. I honestly didn't know what that illness was. She was depressed, this I understood. She was a very energetic and happy person, marching to the beat of her own drum. Obviously, this proved to bring trouble long term, especially because her husband, Rex was the very opposite. Willow, their oldest child, is the one who suffers the most after their impending divorce. The novel is mostly told from Willow's and Rosie's perspectives, the author bringing the reader to understand what went wrong 15 years before and what can't function in the present.

What surprised me was that there were literally only six relevant people mentioned. The family of four, and Roy, Rex's best friend, and Chloe, Rosie's former roommate. With a family facing so many issues: a depressive mother, a father unable to show his love in a palpable way to his kids, a traumatized child who wets herself regularly - well, there had to be someone to do something. It usually surprises me how in some novels there just don't seem to be any other adults. Didn't Rex and Rosie have parents, siblings, close friends? Both kids were in school - why didn't a teacher, a counselor, someone intervene? 

I was drawn in by the novel, despite its shortcomings. I don't think there could have been a better ending to this story, because how can you make everything nice and clean and wrap it up in a bow with so many issues? However, I think Rosie's issues could have been explored deeper, Willow's trauma could have been handled better by the parents who seemed to accept it as something normal {A passage comes to mind: one day Willow comes to school with pencil shavings in her hair and Rosie, her mother!, remarks that she likes what Willow did to her hair. Really? The kid is being bullied.}, more involved adults could have been present in the novel. The premise was good, but the way it was carried out was not the best. I did like the idea of exploring mental illnesses and the way it affects families, although I wish it were more thoroughly presented. It repeats a bit too much when it is shown from Willow's perspective, but can you blame the poor kid?
A nice read, nonetheless, by a promising author.

I received a free advanced e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

List of Characters: {contains spoilers}
Rosie Thorpe - 36 years old - happy-go-lucky kind of person. Was working in a flower shop when she met Rex.
Rex Thorpe - 43 years old - organised, type A personality 
Rosie+Rex= married for about 10-11 years
Willow - Rosie and Rex's girl, the oldest child
Asher -  their younger boy
Chloe - Rosie's roommate. drug addict. Rosie becomes dependent
Roy - Rex's best friend
Amanda Rooney, Patricia Bleeker, Roger Wallace, Robbie Hawkins - kids at Willow's school, bullies

If You Only Knew - Jamie Ivey: Book Review


Title: If You Only Knew. My unlikely, unavoidable story of becoming free
 Author: Jamie Ivey
 No. Pages: 240
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Release Date: 30.01.2018
Format: mobi Kindle

I knew about Jamie Ivey because of her podcast, The Happy Hour, a podcast some of my favourite bloggers/ writer were guest on. She is bubbly and funny. You can tell right away that she is authentic (something she mentions people say about her all the time) and blunt. She tackles a rather taboo subject in her book/ memoir, but she is open with the readers, clear and concise in sharing her message so as to understand where she's been, what she's in the process of, and where she's going.
I closed the book feeling encouraged and pushed to get closer to Jesus. Not many books can do that.

I loved the illustration she used with the letters: for every thing we think we are, every bad thing, we usually pin a letter on us. It's a "The Scarlet Letter" thing. We are not the letters we pin, but the stories we tell. "We are not our letters anymore. We belong to a new Storyteller." As a lover of a good story, her words carried weight. What's I walked away with was that we are all a walking story that could point to God and what He does in us.

The things you learn in the book, what she shares is not something new. She knows this and she says it. Her book is just one more story that can show and testify to what God is able to do. It's a quick read, but not because it's an easily read story. What makes it accessible is that it's written in a friendly tone and it's relatable no matter your Christian background or lack of it. I left with this nudge: "God uses the stories of His people to change the world. It’s true. Your story can change the world, but you first must be willing to share it."

***
If you want to learn more about the author, she has a podcast where she chats with various guests about the big and small things in life. There's a series on the podcast connected to the book

I received a free advanced e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sociable - by Rebecca Harrington: Book Review

Title: Sociable
Author: Rebecca Harrington
No. pages: 256
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Release Date: 27.03.2018
Format: Kindle

I don't understand why the hatred towards this book: it's shallow because these are the characters acting in it. This is the youth of the 21st century. I think I can be a bit harsh with the characters of this novel because I, too, am a 20 something living in a world of hastag everying, LOL when you have a straight face, constant social media checking, the desire to appear deep and profound, but in reality being too shallow for our own good, and with a question mark at the end of a statement (which btw is more than I could handle in this novel.)  So, it is a novel focusing on millennials. No better definition of the word than this select group of characters.

"Funny" is not the word I'd use to describe this book. Sure, there were some moments. However, what sums up this  book is cringy. The focus on appearance, the failure to be of any substance, the obsession with one fix idea one has - it's too much at times. And yet, I couldn't blame the author; this is who the young people are nowadays, in larger and larger numbers. 

I liked how the author at times addressed the reader directly. I wish she had done that more often. At some points it felt as if she kept the distance, and only sometimes came closer to the reader again. Those ocassions were when one of the characters (usually the main character, Elinor) did something worse than before. 

I didn't like any of the characters. Elinor lacked any tact and individuality. She is dependant and seemed to like to dwell in self-pity (she has a bad day every time we see her doing something, anything) and conformity, she is fake and selfish. She is like a child who expects a gold star for doing something that's expected of them; except she's an adult. Her ex-boyfriend, Mike, is beyond what words could describe: annoying, self-sufficient, self-absorbed. Mainly all the characters exist to benefit from the others, to gain something from their large network. The characters manage to drive you nuts!

It left a bitter taste this novel. It's an easy read, lacking substance as far as depth of character goes, but maybe this was the point - to show the shallowness which we as a world are heading towards. Despite the light tone, it's sad. I am sure anyone over 35 years old would not like this novel, and those younger would still need tolerance for it. Silly me actually thought there'd be a redeeming moment for Elinor. Nothing though. Nothing can redeem the world this novel shows. 


I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

List of Characters (might contain spoilers)
Elinor Tomlinson - used to baby sit, gets a job at Journalism.ly. 26 y/o
Mike - her boyfriend, also a wanna-be writer
Pam - Mike's mother, a freelance writer for various publications
Sean - owner of Journalism.ly
J. W. Thurgood - an employer at Journalism.ly
Peter - writer at Journalism.ly
Sheila - Elinor's best friend. nurse
Ralph - Sheila's on-and-off boyfriend

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Night Child - by Anna Quinn: Book Review

Title: The Night Child
Author: Anna Quinn
No. Pages: 200
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publishing Date: 30.01.2018
Format: Kindle


I liked this book because it's not your ordinary childhood drama novel. It deals with a woman's struggle, Nora, the main character, to block what happened to her in her childhood. It's cruel and harsh, but it exude compassion.

I didn't feel like I got "to know" any character very well. I wish Elizabeth, Nora's student had been focused on more. I was more interested in how the author was to present the course of Nora's therapy and her psychiatrist's intervention. I didn't find it difficult to follow the progression of the story and of the unfolding of the problem.

What intrigued me was how in a relatively short period of time Nora could go from leading a perfectly mundane life to a totally uncontrallable one. For someone interested in the going-ons of the mind and psychiatry, this is a gripping novel. Yes, gripping. I might be easily impressed, but it kept me interested until the last pages. Sure, some things were to be expected; sure, there could have been more depth of characters; but overall it was a good novel, dealing with a tough subject.

What could have been left aside were the graphic descriptions. The novel deals with child abuse and the clear depictions were, in my opinion, unnecessary, as one can get the idea of the root of the whole issue Nora is facing.

I think there was more to this novel than the mere desire to tell a story. The choice to pack so much into a short time span, the choice to set the story in Seattle in the mid 1990s are elements I don't understand, but it sets the story apart.

I wouldn't recommend this novel to just anyone, and I would certainly warn of the difficult subject matter and the graphic aspect of it.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

List of Characters:
Nora Brown - High school English teacher; abused when she was six years old by her father
Paul Brown - Nora's husband; is having an affair with Elisa (if I remember her name correctly), their neighbour
Fiona - Nora and Paul's six year old daughter
Jason - a student
Elizabeth - a student. commits suicide
John - School principal
James - Nora's younger brother; gay
Helen - Nora and James' mother; died when they were young
Seattle - where Nora and Paul live now
Ireland - where Helen was from and Nora and James were sent after Helen died and their father left them

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The End We Start From - by Megan Hunter: Book Review

Title: The End We Start From
Author: Megan Hunter
No. Pages: 160
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Release Date: 7.11.2017
Format: Kindle

I like dystopian novels, but this one didn't make a big impression on me. I liked the little details of the novel that gave it personality: the unnamed woman; the people whose names are only a letter (and of course this made me wonder what would have happened if there were two or three people with the same letter name); the span of the novel from the birth of the child, Z, to the moment he takes his first steps; the lack of emotion throughout the novel - facts are presented, no details; to quote an excerpt in the novel, they left behind sadness and happiness.

It didn't read like a substantial novel - the plot was minimal, really. It read like an anonymous person's journal entries, as if the reader didn't need to know all the details. And I do want to know the details, actually - how did R's parents disappear? Where did he go when he went away? What was life like, really, in the shelters? All these gaps in the plot would make for a great discussion point, I am sure, but it's difficult for the reader to understand the characters better.

The novel has a poetical tone, but at some point it started to drag on. However, it's a short novel and it's a fast read. It's not a bad novel, it has it beautiful parts, but I wanted more from it plot-wise.


I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.



List of characters:
unnamed woman - mother of Z, a baby boy
R - the woman's husband, Z's father 
S and J - R's friends
N - R's father
G - R's mother
O - another woman, the woman's friend
C - O's baby girl
D and L - two young men who help the woman and O
H - O's friend from college
F - H's wife
B and W - H and F's children
V - the woman's old boss