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?

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.

Reconstructing Amelia: A Mother’s Hunt for the Truth

reconstructingameliapostA rule-following, intelligent teenager dies when she falls from the roof of her affluent New York City high school. At first, her lawyer mother accepts the police’s ruling that the horrific death was a suicide. As a single parent, she blames herself for not being around enough for her daughter, Amelia. However, an anonymous text message declaring that her daughter didn’t jump shocks her out of her grief and she starts asking questions and looking for answers. As she digs deeper into the weeks leading up to her daughter’s death, she learns that Amelia was hiding many secrets. Alternating chapters fill readers in on Amelia’s life, which includes secret school clubs, hazing, a mysterious friend she only knows via text message, a hunt for her father’s identity, skipping school, encounters with her principal and English teacher, and a budding relationship with a girl. The mother starts to wonder if her daughter really did commit suicide – perhaps life was just becoming too much for her. Readers will eagerly turn the pages of Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight as they try to find out the truth, too.

This book had been on my TBR list for a long time, as it was on a 2013 Buzzfeed list of 14 books to read before they become movies. All of the other books on the list (Divergent, The Fault in our Stars, Ender’s Game, The Maze Runner, Gone Girl, just to name a few) did become movies…except for Reconstructing Amelia. IMDB still lists the project as “in development” and the only name attached to it is Nicole Kidman. So I’m not sure that this project will ever move forward, but it would make a pretty great movie or TV miniseries. The book touches on a lot of important issues like bullying, unhealthy friendships, how much parents and schools should monitor and be involved with what young people do online, and strengthening the relationship between educators and parents, as they both have an important place in the care and raising of our young people.

I went into this book cautiously. I figured that a book with a lot of hype and a possible movie deal could lead to disappointment (Serena by Ron Rash was also on the Buzzfeed list, and you can read my thoughts about that one here). However, the more I read, the more I became hooked. I wanted to find out what had happened in Amelia’s life and how all of the texts and emails would look afterwards to her mother. So many different pieces were woven together to create a compelling snapshot of the lives of Amelia and her mother. I stayed up late to finish reading this book and it was worth it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good thriller, especially teachers, parents of teens, and mature teenagers. Reconstructing Amelia turned out to be one of my favorite reads of 2016, and I’m hoping you will enjoy this one as much as I did.

31 Favorite Books to Celebrate my 31st Birthday

31stbirthday

So, I cheated a bit with this list by counting some series and trilogies as one, but I think that’s fair because it’s my birthday and I get to make up the rules! As these are my favorites, I’ve posted about many of these titles. The links below will take you to my posts related to the books or authors.

My 31 Favorite YA and Adult Books:31favorites

  1. The China Garden by Liz Berry
  2. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  4. The Eight by Katherine Neville
  5. Every Day by David Levithan
  6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir
  8. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  10. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  11. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  12. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
  13. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  14. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  15. Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  16. Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry
  17. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  18. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  19. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  20. Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
  21. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  22. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  23. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – link coming soon!
  24. Voyager from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  25. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  26. Under the Never Sky trilogy by Veronica Rossi  
  27. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  28. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  29. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  30. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  31. Deadline by Chris Crutcher

How many of these have you read? Do you consider them favorites as well?

Five Star Books of 2016

fivestarbooksof2016Once again, I was pretty tough on the books I read this year. While I read many books that were good, good wasn’t enough to earn a coveted five star rating! Like I said last year, I reserve the five star rating on Goodreads for books I truly loved. Books that hooked me and I couldn’t put down. Books I had a connection with, characters I loved or enjoyed, and plots that were unexpected. These are books I’d read again. These are books I’d recommend to others (and then feel heartbroken if that person didn’t love the book as much as I did). This year, I marked nine books (out of 61 total) worthy of five stars. It’s interesting to note that two of the books were ones that I read over Christmas break – I was lucky to finish the year with such great books. I plan to write more about Reconstructing Amelia and Three Dark Crowns later. For now, just consider adding them to your TBR list! 

  1. Most of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  4. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
  5. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

fivestar2016

Honorable Mentions:

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  

What were your most favorite reads of 2016?