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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Dear Martin

I’ve been a fan of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy since the beginning. And while I’ve missed an episode or two throughout the 15 seasons, it never fails to make me laugh and cry and have lots of “feels.” One of the scenes that touched me the most was in last year’s “Personal Jesus” episode in which Dr. Bailey and her husband Ben give their son Tuck “the talk” about how to act if he’s ever approached by police. Since he’s black, his mom tells him, “Your only goal is to get home safely.” He “can’t climb through windows, throw rocks, play with toy guns and never, ever run.” It was an emotional conversation and illustrated the point that for people of color, it’s not a given that their children will return home safely or that police officers are there to protect them. Grey’s Anatomy was bigger than a television show on that night, and fiction can work in the same way. I think books provide a great way for us to learn and empathize with lives that are different from our own. After reading The Hate U Give last year, I kept seeing Dear Martin as recommended reading, so it seemed like another good opportunity to learn about the reality of race in America. 

Goodreads Blurb:

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.


I really wanted to like this book. It discusses real-life, important issues. It had such great reviews and hype. But…it just wasn’t done very well.

Dear Martin tells the story of Justyce McAllister, high school senior, as he questions what it means to be a young black man in a world where it’s always trying to bring you down. He might be from a rough part of town, but he’s going to make something of himself. He attends a fancy, mostly-white school and is Ivy-League bound. But week after week, he hears about kids who look just like him who are gunned down by police officers, and even experiences a run in with police himself. He starts writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way to channel his anger and become more aware.

Early on, I realized that this is one YA book that actually feels young adult. There’s no subtlety or layers. The author leads us right to the point rather than allowing the reader to formulate questions and opinions. On top of that, nothing new is really brought to the table. It’s a collection of thoughts and arguments – that we’ve all heard before – with a loose story attached. I was quite unimpressed, but figured at only 200 pages, it was still worth it to power through. I’m glad I did because halfway through the story, the writing – or at least, the storytelling – gets much better. There’s a cohesive plot and the reader develops actual feelings for the characters. Basically, the second half of the book feels completely different than the first half.

At the end of the book, the author notes that she was interested in “examin[ing] current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings,” however, I’m not sure how successful she was in this because she shares hardly any details about MLK. Where were the stories and speeches and examples of what he did? This would have been really useful considering the main character is writing to “Martin” and asking for his advice. Even the main character questions why he bothered to write to him: “What was my goal with the Be Like Martin thing? Was I trying to get more respect? (Fail.) Was I trying to be ‘more acceptable’? (Fail.) Did I think it would keep me out of trouble? (Epic fail.) Really, what was the purpose?” That was my question, too. The letter writing was a gimmick that didn’t really serve a purpose.

Despite my criticism of the book, I do think it could be important for a younger audience who may be new to thinking about race issues. For more experienced readers, I think there are better books to read about this topic.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

From teenagers in a high-tech skyscraper to a father who was shot twelve times – my reading choices for the first two books of the year couldn’t be more different! That’s what happens when your book selection relies on the OverDrive app, though, waiting for holds to come in. My second read of 2019 was The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti.

Goodreads Blurb:

A father protects his daughter from the legacy of his past and the truth about her mother’s death in this thrilling new novel from the prize-winning author of The Good Thief.

After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.

Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.

I chose to read this book after hearing about it on NPR. But by the time my hold came in, I had forgotten what the book was about and what I was intrigued by! As I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What is the point of all this? What am I supposed to get out of it? Where is this book going?” At times, the pacing was slow, but then there were moments of extreme action. Even though its plot and purpose meander, I still ended up enjoying this book.

The book follows Loo and her father, Samuel Hawley, as they move to be closer to Loo’s maternal grandmother. Loo has a tough time fitting in at school, partly because her father gets a bad reputation after beating up some fishermen, and partly because there are some real jerks in her class. When Loo is a teenager, she finally realizes that her dad might not be the best guy. She starts to wonder why he has so many guns, why he’s so paranoid, and why they’ve had to pick up and leave so often and so suddenly. In between Loo’s chapters, there is a chapter detailing each of the twelve times Hawley has been shot. These chapters are ridiculous – from a shoot-out in a diner, to a man shooting his own wife, to a near-drowning after a whale almost topples their boat, to accidentally shooting himself – Hawley has had a life like no other. It’s no surprise, then, that Loo doesn’t know how to blend in at school. While Loo and her father struggle to understand each other, their relationship gets tested in a dramatic final chapter called “Everything That’s Happened & Is Happening & Is Going to Happen.”

While many reviews I’ve seen online have expressed displeasure at the amount of violence in the book and the lack of sympathy they felt for the title character, I found it really interesting that I was rooting for Hawley and his daughter in spite of their obvious flaws. It’s true: Hawley has done a lot of bad things in his life. He deserves to go to jail. He never seems remorseful about the terrible things he’s done. Even so, I wanted him to escape, to live, to get away with his crimes! I could easily see this book turned into a movie or HBO miniseries. The alternating flashback chapters, rooting for the underdog, and the author’s descriptions make the novel very cinematic. I was also hooked by the two mysteries that are woven through the novel: how did Loo’s mother, Lily, (Hawley’s one-true-love) die, and is anyone really out to get Hawley? We gather bits and pieces as the book sprawls on, and my predictions kept changing as I read. In all, I’m glad I stuck with this book and gave it a chance, and I’d definitely consider reading another book by Hannah Tinti.

We’ll All Become Stories

Many months ago, I read an article from the Washington Post called “Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love.” I knew then that I wanted to read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. This nonfiction, medically-heavy memoir is not what I usually read, but the Kalanithis sounded like people I wanted to know more about. With 13 years of Grey’s Anatomy under my belt, I was able to make enough sense of the clinical terminology and experiences to make this read worthwhile. I was incredibly surprised by how lyrical the prose was written. I hadn’t realized that while Paul Kalanithi was studying biology and neuroscience in college, he was also studying English literature, even applying for a masters in English literature at Stanford. Science and literature are sometimes clashing concepts, but Paul wanted to figure out the answer to the question: What makes human life meaningful? Whether the answer existed in language and meaning, or in the brain, he couldn’t quite decide, but he pursued the answer for his entire life. Despite finding out that he was terminally ill at the age of 36, Paul lived with dignity, following Samuel Beckett’s words, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’m sure this book would affect me differently if I was experiencing a medical crisis in my own life or in the life of someone I know. I think this book would be more powerful at different stages of my life. Paul was intellectual, making him seem strong, but also distant from the reader at times. I would have appreciated more anger from Paul – it would have been completely understandable – or humor (as Lucy later points out, Paul was “wickedly funny” and also sweet and tender, crying many times throughout his prognosis). I was moved to tears reading Lucy’s epilogue. The book builds with an increasing tension as you realize that Paul’s time is about to run out. I was going to put the book down and go to sleep, but then kept reading because Paul’s story deserved the attention to see it through to the end. I stared at the beautiful family portrait of Paul, Lucy, and their baby daughter Cady at the end of the book for a long time. It just didn’t seem fair that this young husband and father and intelligent, caring doctor should be gone so soon. The book hurts, so it’s hard to say that I “liked” it, but I do respect it.   

My next book after When Breath Becomes Air was The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder. It wasn’t a particularly uplifting reading week for me, as this book also had to do with death and dying with dignity. However, it was kind of fitting to get a teen, fictional voice on cancer after such a heavy book.

The Probability of Miracles introduces readers to a teen named Campbell who has been battling cancer and receives some bad news at her recent trip to her doctor. Basically, the only thing that can save Cam now is a miracle, and Cam is not the miracle type. She’s spent too much time watching her family and friends work at Disney to believe in magic. Cam is cynical and sarcastic, distancing herself from people so that when her time comes to leave, it won’t hurt as much. Cam’s mother learns of a little town in Maine that is said to have magical powers, so she picks up her two daughters, loads up a U-haul, and goes in search of a miracle. After a road trip, Cam ends up in Maine and the quirky town seems to be making her feel better. But is it just a bit of relief before the end or a real miracle? For once, Cam allows herself to feel hopeful and open to possibilities.

At first, I found Cam to be a bit too cynical for my taste. After all, she really doesn’t speak very highly of Disney, and who does that?! But she is dealing with cancer and I’m sure her attitude is one way to handle the upset. She’s young and instead of dreaming about her future, she may not even make it to her 18th birthday. Cam changes during her time in Maine, and learns several important lessons, including, “It’s better to be kind than to be right.” In time, the book grew on me and I enjoyed it.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, stories provide tools for us to express our both our fears and dreams.

Mmmbop, ba duBOOKS

At the end of last year’s NaBloPoMo, I was off to Chicago for Hanson’s “Finally It’s Christmas” tour, and now, I’m off for another Hanson concert! This time around (also the name of a great Hanson song and album!), Hanson will be performing with a symphony orchestra. So, in honor of one of my favorite musical groups, here are some brief book reviews paired up with the lyrics to Hanson’s most popular song, “Mmmbop.” Enjoy! Tip: click on the image to make it bigger and easier to read.

And you’re welcome in advance for getting this song stuck in your head for the rest of the day!

NaBloPoMo is Here!

It’s November and NaBloPoMo is back! Whether the event still exists is anyone’s guess – as I certainly can’t find anything about it on blogher anymore – but I’m officially declaring that I’ll be participating in this unofficial event! I’m eager to share all the bookish thoughts, reviews, and news I’ve been saving throughout the year. I hope you’ll follow along with me this month.

For those of you who are new to Love2Read365, welcome! Please check out my About page to learn a little bit more about the blog and find links to some of my most popular posts.

It has been another year of great books for me, and I hope you had a great year of reading, too. When I reflect on what I’ve read in the past year, I see that Young Adult books dominated once again. I think this is because I like the fast pace, the drama, the adventure, and freshness of Young Adult literature. Meanwhile, Adult Fiction often feels boring to me, with the plots more often than not focusing on a depressing marriage. While I thought that I had branched out to a larger variety of reading material, this breakdown clearly shows otherwise!

These labels are pretty limiting, though, because there’s so much more to each book. There’s Fantasy, Contemporary, Chick Lit, Social Justice, Science Fiction, and LGBTQ representations. Heck, one book (#7) was even a Western!  

I’ll talk to you more about some of these books as we make our way through November, but for now, I’d love to know if you read any of the same books as me. I’d also like to know if you’ll be participating in NaBloPoMo so I can follow along with your blog.

Here’s to a happy, creative, connected November!