Book review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman


Title: Beartown

Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 3rd May 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“In a large Swedish forest Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart.

And each year more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered a bright new future.

But it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act.

It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done.

Who will speak up?

Could you stand by and stay silent?

Or would you risk everything for justice?

Which side would you be on?”

My review:

I picked up Beartown on a day where I wanted to read something uplifting from a change to the usual crime. Most readers know Fredrik Backman through his past inspirational and lively stories so I was expecting Beartown to follow a similar story line and structure however I soon learnt that the spirit and atmosphere in this book is different to his usual.

“Anything that grows closely enough to what it loves will eventually share the same roots. We can talk about loss, we can treat it and give it time, but biology still forces us to live according to certain rules: plants that are split down the middle don’t heal, they die.”

An important element that Beartown shares with past books written by Backman is the extraordinary and almost surreal feeling it inflicts on its readers. As I read chapter after chapter I was immediately transported to the setting and felt like a spectator in an intimate scene. There is a very strong sense of community in the small and tight knit town which is supported by its huge following of hockey, particularly in the high school teams. At a first glance Beartown may appear to be a book about a hockey match and a dreadful event that follows, but it quickly becomes clear that hockey lies at the surface of what this book represents as human nature and relationships are at the core of its foundations.

“It’s only a game. It only resolves tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.”

Each character in Beartown is unique and fascinating and Backman manages to successfully create a bond between the reader and the characters, just as in his previous books. This produced a very powerful and emotional reading experience and I truly enjoyed getting to know all characters despite their flaws, which is unusual considering that there are so many characters in this book who are all portrayed as damaged, fighting their enemies and conquering their fears.

“If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway.
All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway.
What you create, others can destroy. Create anyway.”

Although I really enjoyed delving into each character’s mind, I had some issues with the pace at the beginning of the book. I was almost ready to give it up as it seemed like a very unnecessarily long winded introduction to the hockey team and the match, but I am so glad that I decided to continue until the end. A tragedy occurs at the halfway mark and it is at this turning point where the Backman’s truly brilliant storytelling comes to life as he raises all the important questions that make us see each character in a different light .

“One of all the terrible effects of grief is that we interpret its absence as egotism. It’s impossible to explain what you have to do in order to carry on after a funeral, how to put the pieces of a family back together again, how to live with the jagged edges. So what do you end up asking for? You ask for a good day. One single good day. A few hours of amnesia”

Despite the slow beginning and uneven pace, I still consider Beartown a successful publication which highlights all of Fredrik Backman’s qualities and skills as a writer. The community feel is strong throughout the entire novel despite the hardships that the people of Beartown face and this factor alone is enough to encourage me to recommend this book to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Beartown is a unique and exceptional book that must be celebrated for the masterpiece it is.

The Liebster Award

Studious Saturday

Happy Saturday! It’s going to be a rainy weekend here and so I am really looking forward to spending the majority of my time reading in bed. This week’s Studious Saturday post is a tag which has been really fun to complete.

What is The Liebster Award?

“The Liebster Award is an award that exists only on the internet and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. The earliest case of the award goes as far back as 2011. Liebster in German means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.” – The Global Aussie

Rules:

  • Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the Award.
  • Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
  • Nominate 11 people
  • Ask the people who you have nominated 11 questions

I’ve been tagged by Emer who has proposed the below questions. Thanks so much for tagging me, Emer! These questions really made me think and reflect which I love!

  1. If you had the power to talk to and be understood by any animal, what animal would you choose and why? – Dogs because I would love to have a dog one day and it would be extra special if we could communicate not just through actions but words as well.
  2. If you could spend a year living in another country where would you choose and why? – I’ve already done this twice before but only one was a choice. If I had to move again I would probably choose Switzerland because I fell in love with the country when I visited last year and it is one of the few places I have been to where I can see myself building a life.
  3. Would you rather be the best player on a terrible team or the worst player on a great team? – Tricky question but I think that I would prefer to be the worst player on a great team because I would be able to learn a lot from my teammates and improve enough to become like them.
  4. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Explain your reasoning. – No because they are both different shapes. A hot dog is like a sandwich but it is not a sandwich. You could also argue that nachos are pizza because of the topping and technically if you ignore the size they are something like a pizza but that doesn’t make them a pizza, same with hot dogs and sandwiches.
  5. Do you like to read the book before you watch its film adaptation? – Yes! I almost always read the book before watching a movie.
  6. What is your all time favourite TV show? – Friends is by far my all time favourite TV show. I’m currently rewatching it from the beginning and realising all over again how much I love it!
  7. Do you have any special or unusual talents? – I am quite a good ballroom dancer after having been dancing for over 15 years. I wouldn’t say that it’s unusual because there are many ballroom dancers across the world but it’s definitely a special for me!
  8. What strange food combinations do you enjoy? (Mine is scallions in milky tea… yes I know it is weird!!) – Yes, that is quite weird! My favourite food is strawberries and I eat them with anything I can find.
  9. If they were making a film of your life who would you like to cast as yourself? – It’s a tough question but I would probably pick Mila Kunis because she has a background of various cultures and languages and a story similar to mine and if they made a movie of my life I would like that to be the running theme.
  10. What would you do if you were invisible for a day? – Travel! The temptation to sneak into any flight would be too much so my first stop would be the airport.
  11. What three books would you recommend that everyone read? – A Thousand Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Quiet by Susan Cain and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I tag:

MeggyIngeYvoManiMarinaEllieAshToyaMeaghanShrutiDee

My questions are…

  1. If you could pick anywhere in the world to be right now where would you pick and why?
  2. Do you have any pet peeves?
  3. Do you ever skip to read the last few pages of a book to find out how it ends?
  4. If you had to keep only one physical book in your home which book would it be and why?
  5. What is your opinion on audiobooks?
  6. Do you have a favourite quote that you like to live by or follow?
  7. What’s the first thing you like to do when you get back home from a busy day?
  8. Imagine you wake up one day only to realise that you are famous. Would you love it or hate it?
  9. If the world from Fahrenheit 451 ever becomes a reality how would you react and what would you do?
  10. Is there a book that made you fall in love with reading?
  11. If you met your five year old self right now what advice would you give him/her?

All the people tagged deserve this award and I hope that they enjoy answering the questions if they choose to do it. (No problem if not!) If anyone else decides to do this tag and answer my questions please let me know as I would love to read your answers!

Book review: Vox by Christina Dalcher


Title: Vox

Author: Christina Dalcher

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia

Publisher: HQ

Publication date: 21st August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Silence can be deafening.

Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.

Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.

Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.

For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…

My review:

As a linguist and fan of dystopian fiction I was hoping that Vox would explore the current climate driving extremist views on sexism while shining light on the importance of expression and autonomy. Although at first it seemed to me that the premise of this book is exactly what I expected,  in actuality there are so many other deep rooted issues examined through the main character’s point of view that my opinion on the book changed quite drastically after finishing it.

Imagine a world where women are deprived of one of their basic rights: the freedom of expression. Suddenly young girls are obliged to follow an outdated curriculum that no longer includes reading or writing. Females are obliged to only speak 100 words per day or otherwise face the pain of electricity shot through their veins as punishment for extending their limit. The concept seems so terrifying and yet at the same time not too far from reality and this combination is exactly what prompted me to read Vox.

By far the most interesting aspect for me was the science behind the linguistics research carried out by the main character, Jean. Not only was it well researched and educational but also relevant to the development of the plot and sudden turn of events during the final chapters. Sudden societal changes and human reaction has been widely diversified in other literature like The Handmaid’s Tale but the focus on language and how it affects our emotional state made this book stand out from others in the market.

Unfortunately I was not moved by any of the characters and felt that some of the other story lines explored, such as Jean’s love interest, were too unimportant when considering the significance of the surroundings. It seemed almost ruthless that instead of focusing on the investigation delivered to her by the government as one of the few specialists on the subject she preferred to attract attention in other ways. My disinterest in her character grew even more towards the end as the confrontation between her team and the government unfolded in what felt like a simple solution to a very complex problem.

Rarely do I have such conflicting opinions on a book but Vox really disturbed me. There is much to love in this book and a lot to think about while reading it however certain elements felt unnecessary and the characters were too dull to fully hold my attention. Nevertheless, I am pleased that I decided to read this book as the concepts explored stayed with me for a very long time.

Book review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh


Title: Twisted

Author: Steve Cavanagh

Genre: Thriller/Crime

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 24th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

My review:

This book certainly lives up to its name! There were several moments when I was certain that I had figured out each character’s motive but I ran into another unexpected twist which was a little frustrating at the beginning but more enjoyable as I soon discovered that the rest of the story line follows suit. I rarely have such fun trying to discover the plot twists but it is best to enjoy the rollercoaster ride in Twisted as guessing the twists is close to impossible.

Much to my surprise, Twisted is completely plot-driven and extremely fast-paced unlike many recently published books in the genre which tend to be slow burners with the focus generally on character growth. I struggle to recall the last time I read such an intense thriller which I loved despite not caring much for any of the characters. There are three main characters with chapters written from each character’s POV. At first I was convinced that I had already identified the murderer but as I read on it soon became clear that it wasn’t quite as simple as finding out who the culprit is but rather the rationale leading to their actions in the past and their response upon learning that the other two are aware of the truth. This concept was enough to form a deliciously gripping story line that held my attention until the end.

I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre and I particularly advise anyone hoping to read the book to go in blind and enjoy the ride. Steve Cavanagh has created a masterpiece with Twisted and I suspect that a long time will pass until I discover another cleverly plotted and well written thriller like this one.

The influence of opening lines and catchy beginnings

Studious Saturday


Without a doubt one of the most important elements of a book is the opening line and first chapter. Publishers crave an impressive and memorable opening line and often base their decision on whether to move forward with a manuscript depending on how well the first few chapters are written. Likewise, a powerful beginning sets the tone for the plot and story line and, as the first point of contact with the reader, a strong connection right from the start is vital.

As first impressions are essential, I wanted to share my thoughts on a few books that had a huge impact on me as a reader due to their powerful beginnings.


Lullaby / The Perfect Nanny – Leila Slimani

The baby is dead. It only took few seconds.

Leila Slimani paints a picture of horror and chaos in the opening chapter of Lullaby (published as The Perfect Nanny in USA). Although I ended up disliking this book for many reasons, the events revealed in the first chapter were shocking enough to pique my interest and encourage me to continue reading. The details in the first chapter almost feel too explicit and unnecessary at times but setting the scene with the murder and revealing snippets of the events building up to it is a very powerful technique which I felt worked extremely well in this book.


The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

I forget everything between footsteps.

“Anna!” I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise. 

My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here…

The first chapter of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is as intense and superb as the rest of the book. What makes it stand out is the precise choice of words and unique writing style that immediately transports the reader to the setting. I was impressed with so many aspects of this book and, although I read it almost over one year ago, the opening chapter stayed with me even to this today.


Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and
changed…

 

The first few sentences emphasise the essence of this book by exploring the senses through the eyes of the main character. The writing is so powerful that I could almost feel the heat and blaze as I read the first chapter. It is arguably one of the most notorious opening lines in literature and rightfully so.

As a reader, I am immediately influenced by the first chapter of any book, sometimes almost subconsciously. Although I enjoy slow beginnings if the writing suits the genre of the book, unexpected opening lines or unforeseen events revealed in the first pages almost always convince me that the book I am about to read will be a hit and for that reason I will almost always prefer it to a slower beginning.

Question time

Do the first few paragraphs or chapters of a book have an impact on you as a reader? What are some of your favourite opening lines?

One year of blogging: thoughts, goals and reflections

Studious Saturday

I almost can’t believe that I am writing this post! This time last year I decided to finally start my own blog after years of hesitation. My first post was incredibly difficult to write and I spent hours rewriting and editing it before posting. Ever since then, this journey has developed in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined and looking back, I am so glad that I continued and didn’t give it up.

When I think back to my reading choices before I started this blog, I almost can’t believe  that I restricted myself to only one or two genres. My Goodreads account consisted of a rotation of thrillers, contemporary fiction and a few classics thrown in but I never allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone and try a book originally published in a different language or a historical fiction novel set in a time or setting unfamiliar to me. Engaging with other bloggers, authors and publishers inspired me to branch out to so many books that I was initially unsure about but ended up loving.

Not only did my reading choices change, but my writing also gradually improved to the point where I now feel comfortable publishing book review posts without having to rewrite the majority of the content. I am still a long way away from producing the kind of content that I aspire to create but I recognise that it takes both time and effort and so I have found myself gradually becoming more eager to work on my writing.

Creating my own brand and sticking with a schedule have been my main struggles with blogging and a huge part of my goals for this year. Today, I am pleased to disclose my new theme as well as a much more appealing logo and banner. Organising my schedule is my next priority and something I hope to overcome in the next few months; I recognise that my ideas for Studious Saturday discussion posts have been limited lately and want to completely focus on these posts rather than book reviews which now come much more easily to me.

Finally, the most pleasantly surprising element of blogging has been the huge support from other fellow bloggers and the interest from publishers and authors. I have read some truly excellent ARCs and connected with so many wonderful members of the book blogging community. As of today I have nearly 300 followers which is so many more than I ever expected and the amount of positive comments and support on my posts is so uplifting and encouraging. The community is full of many lovely people and I am pleased to have found the select few who have become friends and excited to find many more in the years to come. Thank you to all who have supported me during this past year and I cannot wait for the new challenges and ideas to come for Facing the Story!

Book review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


Book Cover

Title: Where the Crawdads Sing

Author: Delia Owens

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Corsair

Publication date: 8th November 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Celeste Ng, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My review:

A touching tale of survival, hope and resilience, Where the Crawdads Sing was one of the bestsellers in the Historical Fiction genre in 2018 and rightfully so. There are so many aspects that make this book truly great and a special read to cherish for a long time.

Kya is a young girl, left to face life’s struggles alone after her mother walks away from her abusive father and her siblings soon follow the same path. The beginning of this book explores Kya’s strengths, weaknesses, fears and hopes in great detail and the reader is able to join her on this incredible journey of survival as she bravely faces each challenge. Aside from Kya’s unique character traits, the author successfully portrays the remaining minor characters as vital companions to Kya’s survival, from her close allies Jumpin’ and Mabel, to her first friend, Tate. Each character is so wonderfully developed and integrated in the novel that it becomes hard not to appreciate ones that we should dislike such as Chase Andews and his friends who label Kya as “the Marsh girl”.

Another element that makes this book stand out is the beautiful setting of the marsh and the effortless way in which the author depicts the smallest creatures and atmospheric surroundings of Kya’s home. Nature’s wonders are celebrated throughout this book as Kya learns how to take care of herself by making the marshland her habitat and discovers the hundreds of species that she shares her home with. Not only did I find this aspect educational, but also immensely powerful and engaging. Few books published in this genre have used the environment or countryside as a backdrop to the story line as it seems too complex to achieve or perhaps not suited to the plot. However, in Where the Crawdads Sing, the marsh is so alive that it almost becomes another character:

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

On a final note, perhaps the most impressive literary element in Where the Crawdads Sing is the beautiful writing. The storytelling is mesmerising and I often felt unable to put the book down as I was so immersed in the plot. Words flow so naturally in this book and there were so many sentences and phrases that I wanted to bookmark and refer to later on. Few authors are able to create such a delightful setting and completely capture the reader’s attention and I found it remarkable just how powerful the writing was.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a celebration of nature and the strength that one needs to overcome tragedy and meet the challenges of life head on. A mixture of unique characters, compelling writing and a beautiful setting make this book a success and one that should be praised in all its forms. It is by far the most special book that I have read this year and one that I will be recommending to everyone around me.