Review: ‘Beartown’ by Fredrik Backman

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Photo taken by Katie Dvorak (@kmdbookworm)

I am not sure I’ve seen a book more raved about on #Bookstagram than Beartown. That alone piqued my curiosity, along with the fact that I adored Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.

I heard that Beartown was nothing like A Man Called Ove, a totally different voice for the Swedish author. My mom picked it up at the bookstore because she too read A Man Called Ove, but Beartown didn’t hook her. Too different, too sad. I knew there was a possibility I’d side with the Bookstagram community and love it, and a chance I’d side with my mom and dislike it.

The former turned out to be the most true. I did dislike the book in the beginning and absolutely loved it in the end.

Beartown is about a small town, obviously called Beartown, where the woods are creeping in, businesses are closing and the townspeople struggle to find jobs and deal with the endless dark winter. But there are two things that keep them from moving away: resilience and hockey. As the book begins, the junior hockey team in Beartown is about to compete in the semifinals, and if they win, bring people and jobs and the golden days of hockey back to this small backwood town. (Side note: You don’t have to like hockey to enjoy this book.)

Then an act of violence threatens to tear everything, and everyone, apart. I won’t go into too many details on that, because while I’m not sure it’s a spoiler, I don’t want to take the chance. I’ll just say the act and the way in which the townspeople reacted to it is all too common, and all too infuriating. It made me mad and frustrated, which are emotions I don’t usually like feeling when reading. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on, wasn’t sure how I wanted the book to play out. But I knew I had to keep reading.

And all I’ll say is that I am glad I did. Backman does not ties things up with a pretty little bow, but he also understands that while humans are flawed, many have the capacity for generosity and compassion and kindness not seen on the surface. This book addresses it all: family, friendships, love, ignorance, bravery, fragility, cowardice, hate, and community.

I didn’t expect to be all-out sobbing at the end, turning back to it after the last page and reading over passages again. Wondering if I should start it all over from the beginning now that I see the ending. It took me a while to leave Beartown, and while I’m not going to return right away, I know I will at some point. There’s a sequel waiting, Us Against You, and I’ll need to revisit Beartown before I’m ready to see what happens next.

Five out of five stars.

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Review: ‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’

61Ef-CxEV0L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I picked up Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal on a whim at Barnes and Noble a couple months ago.

I finally got around to finishing the book over the weekend, and I really enjoyed this unexpectedly powerful tale of friendship, love and desire. Though. it was a little awkward the other day when my boss asked me what I was currently reading. …

One of the main characters in the novel, Nikki, the daughter of Indian immigrants who marches to the beat of her own drum, much to her parents dismay, accidentally starts teaching a group of Punjabi widows to write erotic stories. She initially signed up to teach a creative writing class, but the women show up expecting the class to teach them English. Confusion ensues, and not long after one of the widows finds a book of erotic stories in Nikki’s bag. She starts reading from it for laughs, and soon the widows are all sharing their own sexy stories. But the classes also include a lot of gossip, gossip that leads Nikki to uncover a horrible secret about a young woman’s death.

This book is heartfelt and funny at times, and serious and heartbreaking at times. It touches on the roadblocks and oppression women face as they age, as well as the trials of the immigrant experience. And a lot of erotic stories!

Four stars out of five.

Review: ‘Welcome to Lagos’ by Chibundo Onuzo

Both funny and sad, Chibundo Onuzo’s “Welcome to Lagos” was different than any book I’ve read so far this year. I loved its ragtag cast of characters, sharp wit and honest look at Nigeria’s culture. (Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this from Catapult Books.)

The book starts with Chike Ameobi fleeing the army after being ordered to kill innocent civilians. He is joined by Yemi and later, as they flee, their group of two becomes four as they pick up a young militant, Fineboy, and a women fleeing the militants, Isoken, and last a women who left her abusive husband, Ifeoma. Together these five form a dysfunctional family. A family that spins finds itself involved in a government scandal.

I loved the characters most of all in this book. Onuzo has a way of making you like every character you meet, even if their intentions are not good. It also gave me a look at Nigeria, a country I admittedly have not read much about. I simply enjoyed this book, even when I wasn’t sure what would happen next.

Three and a half stars out of five.

Readathons

As a member of Instagram’s bookstagram community (it’s a whole wide world I didn’t know existed until this year), I have joined in a few hosted readathons.

Two of them have been to read for eight hours in the span of two days (a Saturday and Sunday) and one has been reading for 25 hours in a span of five days (Thursday-Monday).

I have not reached the readathon goal yet, but also haven’t let it discourage me. However, my feelings are mixed on readathons. On the one hand, they get me to read more than I usually would, and I enjoy seeing how others are doing and what they are reading.

But this past weekend, when I reached 7 hours and a half, I realized maybe I can participate in them for fun, while not needing to reach the set goal. In an effort to read more this weekend, I picked up my book when I didn’t really want to read, tried to read it on a noisy and crowded Metro, and even tried to read it faster so I could finished the other book I had going in the eight hours. The one book I read in its entirety was Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. I really loved the book, but think I would have enjoyed it *even* more had I let myself read it over a longer period of time; really savoring it and reading it when I most wanted to dive back into the magical story.

Have you participated in a readathon? What do you like or not like about them? (also, if you wanna join in on the bookstagram fun, follow me at @kmdbookworm.)

Review: ‘Spinning Silver’ by Naomi Novik

9780399180989.jpgI wasn’t sure what was inside the package I received last Friday. I was definitely a book, but I didn’t know which book it was. But then I tore it open and squealed with delight, and I am not normally a person who squeals. It Naomi Novik’s newest novel, Spinning Silver. (Thanks to Del Rey Books for the advanced copy! This book comes out July 10.)

I became a fan of Novik in 2012 when I discovered her Temeraire series. I greatly enjoyed the series, so when Novik released Uprooted in 2015, I quickly got my hands on a copy and enjoyed it just as much, if not more than, her other novels.

Spinning Silver is no exception; it’s magical, atmospheric, a page-turner and beautifully told. On the surface it’s a retelling of the classic tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but it’s also so much more than that. The book starts by introducing readers to Miryem, the daughter of the town’s moneylender. Unhappy with how her father conducts his business, basically letting the people in their small town take advantage of him, Miryem takes things into her own hands, collecting the money due to her family and, in a way, turning silver into gold. Her ability to do this draws the attention of the Staryk, creatures of the winter who love nothing more than those sun-filled coins Miryem now has many of.

Their attention draws Miryem into their world, as well as the world of her kingdom’s tsar and tsarina, the children of an abusive father, and a fire demon. Novik does a great job of making her characters fully realized, and of writing complicated and strong women. I felt myself rooting for many of the characters throughout the book, and I really enjoyed seeing how Miryem changed throughout it.

One small drawback to the novel was that it’s told from different characters’ perspectives, but it sometimes took me a few lines into a new section to know who was narrating that chapter. In addition, I felt the book got a little convoluted when it dealt with Miryem’s interactions with the Staryks and the rules of their kingdom. The middle also was a little bit slow, but Novik makes up for that in the end.

This was a magical tale, deftly told and one that made me lose sense of time. I cannot wait to see what fairy tale Novik chooses next to twist into something wholly unique.

Four stars out of five.

Review: ‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer

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Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less” is my fourth five-star book of the year! I laughed out loud at Less’s antics and mishaps and loved how Greer was able to use humor and fun to also make poignant points about life.

Less won the Pulitzer Prize this year, an honor I think it is most deserving of.

The book focuses on Arthur Less, a failed novelist whose boyfriend of nine years is about to get married to another man. Less descides the best way to avoid the wedding is to skip town. But not just to the other side of the country, but the other side of the world. Less accepts invitations to speak, write or just travel in Mexico, Germany, Italy, Spain, Morocco and more. It’s a trip he uses as an escape, and one that opens his eyes much more to the world around him.

However, Less also is kind of a mess, and has plenty of missteps and mishaps on his adventures; all which are hilariously executed by Greer’s deft hand.

“Where was he? Somewhere in there he lost the first phase of youth, like the first phase of a rocket; it had fallen, depleted, behind him. And here was the second. And last. He swore he would not give it to anyone; he would enjoy it. He would enjoy it alone. But: how to live alone and yet not be alone?”

This book made me laugh more than any in recent memory (though to be honest, books don’t make me laugh that often), and I grew to adore Less as a character, even if he is quite self-pitying and at times needs to be more self-aware.

Throughout the book Greer peppers great insights about what it means to be human, and all the love, loss, heartbreak, hilarity, melancholy and excitement that goes with it.

Five out of five stars.

Review: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

“What’s the point of having a voice
if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

HateUGive_10-10Snap-770x1163Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, is a heartbreaking an important work. It speaks to the time we are now living in now in America, but also to our past and to our future.

The audience this book is particularly geared toward, young adults, can start important and vital conversations about race and police relations in the United States. For any educator or parent looking to have talks with teens about the Black Lives Matter movement, this book offers a place to start. But it’s also a book all adults should read; although I’ve followed the news and read a lot about the shootings of unarmed black men and women in the United States, I still found this book eye-opening, I still learned from it more than I knew before.

The book focuses on Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl who lives in a lower-class neighborhood called Garden Heights. One night Starr attends a neighborhood party and accepts a ride home from a childhood friend, Kahil. On the ride home, the car is stopped by a white cop for no apparent reason. The police officer forces Kahil out of the car, and when Kahil leans over to check that Starr is all right, the cop shoots him, killing him. The murder makes national news, with young Starr in the spotlight, trying herself to understand what happened, to understand her place in the Black Lives Matter movement, and to mourn her beloved friend.

This novel shows an honest and real portrayal of people who every day live in fear of what might happen to them at the hands of the police or others simply because of the color of their skin. Starr is a young women brimming with life and humor, and the people who surround her in Garden Heights are caring and loving as any family would be. The violence that touches them all is violence that should not occur, the burdens she carries at such a young age are burdens no person should have to carry.

My only criticism would be that I wish there were a few more stories about Starr’s friendship with Kahil, or even a chapter written in his voice. Starr fights so hard in Kahil’s name, and I just wish we had known him even better.

Four stars out of five.