Rating + Review: Beartown

A Man Called Ove – both the book and the movie – was well-received, but I hadn’t bothered with either because in all the blurbs and reviews, the main character is described as a grumpy, old curmudgeon. That’s really not the type of character I gravitate towards! I’m going to have to rethink that opinion, however, because I just read another one of Fredrik Backman’s books and it was incredible. Thanks to my Aunt Celeste’s recommendation, I read Beartown and was blown away from page one.

Goodreads Blurb:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

If Beartown is an accurate portrayal of Fredrik Backman’s writing, then sign me up for the rest of his books. From the shocking first page to the very end of the book, I was captivated by Beartown’s inhabitants.

Beartown is a small town hidden in the woods that lives and breathes hockey. With jobs and businesses disappearing, the junior hockey team offers the town one last chance for glory and economic stimulation. But when an appalling incident happens days before the big game, the town has to decide between what it wants to be true and what it knows is right.

Perhaps because I’ve lived in small, cold towns where sports ruled, but I found this book so relatable. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine the events of the book at all. It could practically be pulled from headlines. In addition to the setting and content, author Fredrik Backman uses a variety of characters – all with their own charms and flaws – to give a well-rounded representation of a community. Each point of view was compelling. The writing was so easy to read and lovely. There were several fantastic descriptions and lines sprinkled throughout that made Backman’s writing superb. It’s atmospheric and insightful. Beartown was also an emotional read. I teared up a handful of times as I read, proving that the characters felt real to me.

Even though it’s early in 2019, I feel confident that Beartown will be one of the best books I read this year. Without a doubt, this was a five star read for me.

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Kingdom of Ash

Kingdom of Ash, the final book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, was my most-anticipated book to read for 2019. In a nutshell, this fantasy series follows a female assassin out to save the world from an ancient evil creature who is building an army of vile creatures. There are also fae warriors, pirates, witches, wyverns, talking spiders, and shapeshifters, plus drama, romance, and plenty of epic battles. The previous six books, plus novellas, means that I had already devoted close to 4,000 pages to the series, and I was eager to see how SJM would pull everything together, defeat evil, and give us a satisfactory ending. While almost 1,000 pages on its own, Kingdom of Ash is a dense read – but absolutely worth it. I was first introduced to Maas when I read her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I adored the series, so at first, I was hesitant to fall for Throne of Glass. How dare she write another fantastic series?! However, as I read novel after novel, there was no denying that I was hooked. I’m definitely a SJM fan.

Goodreads Blurb:

Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas’s #1 New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an epic, unforgettable conclusion. Aelin Galathynius’s journey from slave to king’s assassin to the queen of a once-great kingdom reaches its heart-rending finale as war erupts across her world. . .

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, Aedion and Lysandra remain the last line of defense to protect Terrasen from utter destruction. Yet they soon realize that the many allies they’ve gathered to battle Erawan’s hordes might not be enough to save them. Scattered across the continent and racing against time, Chaol, Manon, and Dorian are forced to forge their own paths to meet their fates. Hanging in the balance is any hope of salvation―and a better world.

And across the sea, his companions unwavering beside him, Rowan hunts to find his captured wife and queen―before she is lost to him forever.

As the threads of fate weave together at last, all must fight, if they are to have a chance at a future. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever in the explosive final chapter of the Throne of Glass series.

I’m so sad to see this series end because I really and truly enjoyed it. From start to finish, I was immersed in Sarah J. Maas’s world. I loved getting to know the characters, hearing about their struggles, and watching them grow into incredible heroes. The series may have started with our young Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol, but it grew into something bigger and better than I could have imagined.

Kingdom of Ash begins right where Empire of Storms left off. **Slight spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Empire of Storms** Aelin is being held captive in an iron box by Queen Maeve – tortured physically by Cairn and mentally by Maeve’s power of illusion. Rowan searches for her frantically, along with Elide, Lorcan, and Gavriel. Meanwhile, Aedion leads an army to fight against Morath. He’s joined by Ansel of Briarcliff, Prince Galan, Ilias of the Silent Assassins, Rowan’s fae cousins, and the Bane, among others. Lysandra uses her shapeshifting abilities to become Aelin as needed, but her lack of flame is quickly noted. Picking up from Tower of Dawn, Chaol and Yrene make their way to the continent along with Nesryn, Sartaq, and a host of well-trained soldiers from the southern continent. But before they can get to Terrasen, they decide to take on a faction of Morath’s army in Anielle – Chaol’s father’s city. Far from the fighting, Dorian and Manon hold the two wyrdkeys and search for the third. When their search proves fruitless, Manon changes course and works on rallying the crochan witches. Dorian continues to gain even more control of his magic and learns some incredible skills. He ultimately makes the decision to leave Manon and go in search of the last wyrdkey in the most dangerous place of all: Morath, where Erawan will surely be keeping watch over it. Outnumbered by the thousands, and with Erawan and Maeve as powerful enemies, does Terrasen stand a chance? Our characters are all in danger: who will survive?

The characters are fighting to keep their world safe from evil, and I felt like I was right there with them. I was invested in the characters and the outcome. Even though at points the book was slow and I wanted more to happen, it was balanced by moments of great intensity. Looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted to cut any of it out, even though I barely managed to finish the book before my 21 day loan was up. In fact, sometimes I felt like scenes weren’t long enough or that I didn’t get enough dialogue from certain characters (like Manon. She’s awesome). One of my favorite things about this book was how all of the pieces fit together. I love how characters pop up just when they’re most needed. I love how everyone is so on board to build a better world – humans, fae, witches, pirates – everyone works together. The ending becomes all about #girlpower, which felt a little bit forced, but I’m okay with because I’m a ‘90s girl! There are a lot of chapters at the end to wrap everything up. This is one book where all the loose ends are taken care of. It’s pretty clear where everyone and everything stands at the end. I adored the journey that Aelin and Maas took us on, and I don’t know what I’m going to read in the fantasy realm now that I’ve read all of the Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses books! 5 stars and beyond. One of my most favorite series to read, ever.

My 5 Star Books of 2018

We’re already 18 days into 2019, but I still wanted to share some of the best books I read last year. I hope you’ll be inspired to add them to your TBR lists if you haven’t read them yet. Out of 59 books, I gave 13 books a 5 star rating on Goodreads. The chart below talks about 10 of these titles. While most of the titles are YA, I find it interesting that there are two graphic novels listed and a nonfiction book. Neither have appeared in my previous “Five Star” posts (check out my lists for 2015, 2016, and 2017). A tip: click on the infographic below so you can zoom in and actually read the text!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Becky Albertalli’s books:
    • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (and the adorable film adaptation, Love, Simon)
    • Leah on the Offbeat 
    • The Upside of Unrequited 
  • Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
  • One Dark Throne and Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake
  • The Thousandth Floor series by Katharine McGee
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
  • Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2) by Claudia Gray

Did any of the above books make it onto your favorites list? What were your favorite books of the year?

Powerful Graphic Novels

Last year during NaBloPoMo, I posted about feeling a bit lost when it came to the graphic novel genre. I’m intrigued by graphic novels. I want to like them. But I hadn’t really found a graphic novel that felt like it fit me.

So I kept trying.

I finally found several graphic novels that impressed me, so much so, in fact, that I now own a box set! And I would like to own a copy of the other great book, too.

Powerful Graphic Novels to Add to your TBR:

March, three book series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell 

John Lewis – yes, the congressman from Georgia – shares his story of how he became a key figure in the civil rights movement. Book One covers John Lewis’s early life and how he became involved in the movement, including his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. The novel shows how the student movement began as they carried out nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins. While Lewis reflects back on how the movement began and changes he helped bring about, he’s also preparing for the inauguration of history-making President Barack Obama. Book Two is a bit darker, following Lewis as he and the Freedom Riders board a bus headed to the deep south. The riders are faced with violence, imprisonment, and arson. Book Three covers the Birmingham Church Bombing and how activists attempting a nonviolent march across a bridge in Selma were beaten by state state troopers.

  • March is a powerful series that should be read by everyone. The Civil Rights Movement often gets boiled down to the basics in school, but I learned so much about other important leaders and organizations during the 1960s, what went into the planning of the March on Washington, and how dangerous it was for people to protest – even peacefully – and especially in the south. John Lewis is incredible and, as he points out near the end of the book, is the only one left of the “Big Six.” At only 23 years old, Lewis participated in sit-ins and peaceful protests, was a freedom rider, witnessed police brutality, endured jail time, met with President Kennedy to discuss the Civil Rights Bill, and spoke at the March on Washington before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. We could all use a refresher on our recent past, and this book provides that information in a very accessible way. The comic book format makes it more dynamic and emotional than a history book. Great storytelling and great illustrations. I read March: Book One on my kindle fire and really liked how I could double-tap on a picture and the frame would enlarge on the screen. Then, by swiping, it would switch to the next frame in a really cool way. By double-tapping again, it would zoom out so I could see what the entire page looked like. I sometimes find reading graphic novels a bit confusing, so this feature was really great. The next book, I checked out from our library, and by the time I got to the third book, my husband bought me the three-book series because I talked about how well-done this series was. I’m glad that I own these. They are worth rereading. Five stars and beyond!

Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll 

Melinda is just starting her freshman year of high school and she’s already an outcast. That’s because she called the cops on the big end-of-summer party – though no one is interested in her reasons for doing this. Struggling through a rough school year without her friends, parents who don’t pay attention, and teachers who are clueless, Melinda turns inward and mostly silent. Thanks to a passionate art teacher, time, and a need to protect others, Melinda finally reveals that she was raped by an upperclassman from her school.

  • If you see this book in the library or at a bookstore, pick it up because you need to read it. Laurie Halse Anderson’s original novel Speak is the quintessential text on sexual assault for teens and young adults. It is a must-read because it’s so honest and real and poignant. Melinda’s voice – though she doesn’t say much – has so much to tell the reader. And in this version, what she doesn’t say is filled in by the expressive illustrations. This graphic novel, published almost 20 years after the original book, is a refreshing and relevant update, and just as important now as it was then. It’s not just important for teenage girls either – it is important for teen boys, college-age students, teachers, and parents. And even if you haven’t experienced sexual assault or harassment yourself, there is something for everyone to gain, whether it’s simply awareness or empathy. I don’t think you can walk away from this book without feeling something. Emily Carroll’s illustrations match perfectly with the text – it’s almost like they were always meant to be this way. I loved how the images stirred up feelings of sympathy, frustration, anger, and hope even though there’s not as much text to read as a full novel. Every few pages I found myself going “mmmm” – which meant, “Wow, Laurie and Emily, you just made an amazing point.” Even though I’ve read the original book multiple times and watched the movie, this still left an impression on me. Until women’s voices and victim’s voices are believed, until there’s no longer a need for #metoo and #timesup movements, until there is a belief that women’s rights are human rights, Speak will continue to be a necessary text. So read it. You won’t regret it.

Have you read any graphic novels this year? Tell me about them!

Faraway Lands

As I sit in the Houston airport during a loooong layover, I’m reminiscing about all the cool places I traveled to in books this year.

  • An assassin’s keep in a dessert oasis in Sarah J. Maas’s collection of novellas, The Assassin’s Blade. Maas knows how to write books that suck you in and transport you to a new, fantastical place. Her world building is so well done. The Throne of Glass series is incredible. In this story, I could almost feel the heat and sand as Celaena trains in the dessert.
  • An almost-utopian island called Antica in The Tower of Dawn. Also a part of Maas’s Throne of Glass series, TOD sends a few characters away for healing by the famed healers of the Torre Cesme and for answers and military backing. While some fans felt this book was a distraction from the main story (trying to make money off another book?), I felt it was a refreshing break, offering up another opportunity for Maas to shine at world building and society building. Unlike what’s happening on the northern continent, the people of Antica are safe and cared for by a royal family that fiercely protects their own.
  • Fennbirn Island in Kendare Blake’s Two Dark Reigns. The island is retaliating against the botched ascension by sending out a deadly mist that no one understands. So technically, this is a dangerous place, but it’s so intriguing and magical that I can’t help loving this dark, twisty series.
  • A colony on the moon in Andy Weir’s sci-fi novel, Artemis. There’s nothing cooler than imagining what it would be like to live on the moon. That’s not just me, right? Weir makes the multiple-domed colony sound so plausible thanks to his science-heavy descriptions and explanations. How do you build humongous buildings on the moon? You extract the supplies right from the moon itself and smelt the building materials. Genius! Between the science, there’s also a decent adventure, heist, survival story going on, too.

Traveling by book is my favorite kind of travel. All the thrills without the hassles of airports!

Where have books taken you this year?

5 Star Reads of 2017

This year, I was blown away by the second and third books in multiple trilogies. In the past, it had felt like no other book in a series could top the first book – and the third book? Might as well just pretend it never existed (I’m looking at you, Allegiant). But authors Sarah J. Maas, Victoria Aveyard, and Leigh Bardugo have made me hopeful that trilogies and series are alive and well. Sarah J. Maas tops my list as the author of five of my most favorite books of the year. Stand alone books didn’t disappoint either. Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a must-read for anyone looking for a politically and emotionally savvy #metoo read. I’ve been anxiously awaiting for another book from my Graceling-universe-author Kristin Cashore, and while Jane, Unlimited was worlds away from Graceling, I was still hooked on every page. I’m looking forward to whatever else she decides to write. Another interesting thing about this list? Women authors dominate, with the only male writer being Scott Westerfeld for Afterworlds. Way to go, ladies!

Without further ado, here are my five star reads of 2017, in no particular order:   

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  2. A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas
  3. A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3) by Sarah J. Maas
  4. Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas
  5. King’s Cage (Red Queen #3) by Victoria Aveyard
  6. Ruin and Rising (The Grisha Trilogy #3) by Leigh Bardugo
  7. Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
  8. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

But I read so many GREAT books this year, and eight books just doesn’t do my reading list justice. So here are a few four star books that were an absolute pleasure to read.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
  • Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo
  • Siege and Storm (The Grisha Trilogy #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh
  • The Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
  • A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2) by Beth Revis
  • Shades of Earth (Across the Universe #3) by Beth Revis
  • Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  • Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
  • A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray

What were your favorite reads of the year?

Find my top books of 2016 here and 2015 here.

It’s no Wonder this book is on the big screen

In 2014, I posted about three books that had great messages. One of these books was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Wonder is about a ten-year-old boy named Auggie Pullman who is about to attend public school for the first time. While this would be challenging for anyone, Auggie has an even more difficult time because he was born with a facial deformity. The book follows Auggie’s side of the story as well as his classmates, his older sister, and other people around him, showing the effects of the strange looks and bullying he encounters. Everyone learns something from Auggie. While the book is written for elementary students (grades 3-6), teens and adults will enjoy it just as much as a younger audience. This winter, the book’s popularity and it’s message to “choose kind” have catapulted Auggie and his story to the big screen.

I’m bringing all this up because I recently came across another great article called “The Power of Wonder.” In the article, Julia Roberts (who plays Auggie’s mom in the film), author R.J. Palacio, and director Stephen Chbosky (who also wrote a little book you might have heard of called The Perks of Being a Wallflower), discuss Wonder, how it impacted their lives, and the messages that stood out to them the most. I enjoyed hearing Julia talk about how she read the book to her three kids – complete with voices – and the awkward situation that lead to R.J. writing the book. If you have read Wonder, I highly recommend this short but sweet article, which can be found in the December issue of Good Housekeeping magazine or online here. If you haven’t read Wonder yet, be sure to pick this one up. I think it will become one of those great classics that we share with our kids like The Giver, Number the Stars, and Matilda.    

Anyone else out there want to share some love for Wonder?