Quick Lit: June 2018

Jul 16, 2018

I read 22 books in June, and I'm chatting about 16 of them in today's post. So, as you can imagine, it's longer than normal. On the blog this past month, I shared reviews for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. Two of those were June reads!

I should have reviews soon for the other books I read in June – Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas and A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. As always, check out the Quick Lit linkup that's hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy if you're looking for more reviews and recommendations.

99 DAYS AND 9 DAYS & 9 NIGHTS BY KATIE COTUGNO | Let's start with a confession: I had no intention of reading 99 Days. A heroine who ruins her relationship with a guy because of something she does with his brother? YIKES. But I recently found myself craving YA contemporary, and this book kept popping into my brain. Honestly, y'all, I'm shocked that I So Enjoyed It. There's a lot of drama in here, and I was judging ALL the characters. And yet... I was invested in the outcome, couldn't put the book down, and loved Cotugno's writing. The emotions this book evoked were messy and complicated, but I admired Cotugno for writing something so thought provoking. 

After finishing 99 Days, I had to pick up the recently released sequel. I was pretty happy with the way the first book ended, but I couldn't resist seeing what happened next with the characters. The premise of this one made me cringe, again, though I did love the change in setting. Who can resist a book involving a European vacation? This was another emotionally complex story that involved some things I definitely didn't like, and yet I was still so invested in everything. My favorite part was the way Molly has to reconcile her past with the new identity she's tried to create for herself and the life she wants in the future. I So Enjoyed It, even though the angst would typically bother me.

DEFENDING TAYLOR BY MIRANDA KENNEALLY | I'd heard from a few friends who'd read this series that this book was their least favorite, but I just couldn't bring myself to skip it. I've enjoyed these books overall, despite my varied reactions to each, and knew I wanted to complete the series. I liked that Taylor was such a driven character, that she begins to find more balance by the end of the book and that she's able to talk to her parents about their expectations vs her dreams. But I hated the entire plot since it revolved around her lying to protect someone who didn't deserve it, and the romance felt super rushed to me. I was So Over It by the end.

COMING UP FOR AIR BY MIRANDA KENNEALLY | Y'all, I've outgrown this series. I usually enjoy the "friends to lovers" trope, but it didn't work for me here. Maybe because the attempt at no strings attached seemed destined for inevitable heartbreak? I had so many issues with this entire storyline, and I was incredibly frustrated by the heroine. The motivation behind her actions felt so immature! I struggled with the fact that the heroine felt that being inexperienced was something to "fix" or be ashamed of and the book never addressed that idea. It pains me to say I was So Over It because that's not how I hoped to say goodbye to Hundred Oaks.

THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE BY STACEY LEE | After loving Lee's debut and second book, I was excited to see her tackle a new genre. The heroine in this book is an aromateur – someone with a heightened sense of smell who is able to use her talent to make elixirs that help others fall in love.  I loved the concept, and the tone of the book reminded me of a YA Sarah Addison Allen. It's a lite version of magical realism, but I could tell Lee put a lot of thought into the mythology behind this ability. It was a whimsical book with an endearing (though occasionally frustrating) heroine, but I just wasn't sold on the romance. I So Liked It overall.

THE KISS QUOTIENT BY HELEN HOANG | This book has been getting a ton of buzz in the blog world! This was a fun, unique romance – though I have some personal reservations about it. Stella Lane has Asperger's and decides to hire an escort to help her get more comfortable with dating and romance. The author described it as a gender-swapped Pretty Woman, which felt accurate. I was invested in the characters, thought the pacing was just right, and didn't mind the drama. But y'all, this was way too steamy for me. Like, woah. I'm giving it my So Enjoyed It rating because there were so many things that did work for me, but I definitely skimmed past A LOT.

SAVE THE DATE BY MORGAN MATSON | I was so excited to start reading this book, but I was side-eyeing it by the end. I loved the overall message and the focus on family. Both of those things were positives! But I struggled with the heroine's immaturity and naiveté, the disjointed pacing and plot, and the fact that it felt way longer than it needed to be. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to accept that this many things would go wrong in one wedding weekend and that so many people in America were this invested in a newspaper comic strip. I got the sense this book went through a lot of revisions (but needed more), and I'm sad to say I was only So Okay With It

THE PERILOUS GARD BY ELIZABETH MARIE POPE | This book was published in 1974, but it popped up on my radar a few years ago. I finally got around to reading it, and it wasn't really what I expected. I think I fixated on the word "Tudor" in the summary and expected more of the historical fiction elements and less fantasy. A number of Goodreads reviews mention this as a childhood favorite, and I wonder if I would have liked it if I'd read it then. As it was, I just didn't click with it. I liked the main character, but I wasn't invested in the plot at all until the very end. For a pretty short book, it felt like such a slow read. I'd give it a So Okay With It, but I did consider a lower rating. 

THE READ-ALOUD FAMILY BY SARAH MACKENZIE | I've only listened to a few episodes of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, but I'd been eagerly anticipating this book. Part One explores the benefits of reading aloud, Part Two offers practical tips for creating book culture at home and connecting with kids through books, and Part Three features read aloud book recommendations for four age groups. I loved it all, but the chapter on asking compelling questions was worth the price of the book alone. This a great resource, and I can see myself referring to it frequently in the future. I So Loved It and would highly recommend it to other parents!

THE COTTAGES ON SILVER BEACH BY RAEANNE THAYNE* | I've really enjoyed the Haven Point series up to this point, but this one was a struggle to finish. I didn't like it at all, and I'm bummed that was the case. The dialogue felt very cheesy to me, and the romance just limped along. And I know it's because I wasn't invested in the couple! They were so one-dimensional, boring, and kept pushing each other away for no reason. The formulaic nature of the series was way more apparent in this one. And honestly, I was more interested in the missing sister-in-law than anything else and that wasn't even resolved by the end. As you can probably guess, I was So Over It.

THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE BY JEANNE BIRDSALL | I loved the first and second books in this series, so I was excited to pick up the third. I always feel like I'm escaping into the past when I settle in with the Penderwick sisters. Birdsall's writing makes these books feel like classics! I love watching the sisters grow up, and it was interesting to see how the sibling dynamics were affected by Rosalind's absence (she was on vacation with a friend). It was wonderful to get to know Jeffrey better, and I was so moved by his story. I'm so curious what will happen next with him. Hijinks and hilarity abound in this book, and it was the perfect read to welcome summer. I So Loved It

BORN A CRIME BY TREVOR NOAH | I didn't know anything about Trevor Noah, aside from the fact that he hosts a late-night talk show, prior to picking up this book. A friend recommended it to me, and I trusted her enough to give it a try. I was expecting it to be just another celebrity memoir. Well, bless my heart. It blew me away! Noah focuses on his childhood in South Africa, not his career or rise to fame, and I was immediately invested. He's a gifted storyteller and makes you laugh one minute and cry the next. He discusses heavy subjects – apartheid, domestic violence, poverty and more – with insight, wit, and honesty. I've thought of it often since finishing and So Loved It

SUNBURN BY LAURA LIPPMAN | I don't pick up a ton of mysteries, but I wanted to read this one for two reasons. The first is shallow: I love the cover. The other is not: it was a Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide pick! As soon as I started this book, I knew I couldn't put it down until I was done. I loved so much about it – the unreliable narrator, the slow burn pacing, and the question of who is being played. Each new revelation gave me a different view of a character! I wasn't entirely satisfied by the ending, but I think it would be great for a book club discussion. If you want a mystery that's more about the characters and less about a crime, this one is for you. I So Enjoyed It

THE DISH BY STELLA NEWMAN | I'm drawn to books where one of the characters is a chef, which explains why I randomly bought this one day. Laura and Adam have a meet cute and hit it off right away... until Laura realizes that she can't tell him about her job. Adam is the head chef at a restaurant she just secretly visited and negatively reviewed. There's more to the story, but I was immediately invested. Unfortunately, I lost patience with it by the end. I can't handle the lying and secrets that cause so much hurt and misunderstanding! Add that to the fact that there were way too many unnecessary secondary storylines, I was just So Okay With It in the end.

A TANGLED WEB BY L.M. MONTGOMERY | L.M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors, but this book was so different from anything I've read from her before! This story features two families who are feuding over who will inherit a prized heirloom jug. LMM introduces you to all the various members of the Dark and Penhallow families. Some of their stories are sad, others are hilarious, but all were intriguing. I was confused by the number of characters early on but enjoyed it more once I could follow the various squabbles, romances, and scandals. Overall, I So Liked It – but the last line was so unexpected and racist that it soured an otherwise enjoyable book. 

BEGIN, END, BEGIN EDITED BY DANIELLE BINKS | In the past, I haven't had the best of luck with short story anthologies. They're usually so hit or miss, but I figured this collection was my best chance at a win because I'm obsessed with Aussie authors! I'd only read books from three of the ten authors featured but was excited regardless. And you know what? I So Enjoyed It overall! Two or three were just okay, but the rest were engaging and enjoyable. None of them truly wowed me, but I don't really expect that from this type of book. My favorite was from Ellie Marney (gimme all the Wattscroft), but Gabrielle Tozer's was a close second.

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

What have you been reading lately?

Let's Be Adventurers

Jul 10, 2018

I just got back from a week in the mountains, and the hardest part about packing was choosing what books I would bring. Despite knowing that my Kindle had more than enough reading material to last me all week, I couldn't resist tossing a few... or seven... books in my bag. Because there are two things I love most about this season: 1) vacations and 2) summer reading lists. Today I'm combining both of those things!

Every year, I pair vacation destinations with the books I'd want to read at each. I usually have a mix of old and new books from my TBR, but this year I focused on 2018 releases on my radar. And, in another change, they're all adult fiction. Young adult will always have a special place in my heart and on my shelves, but I haven't been reaching for it as much recently. So, whether I'm chilling by the ocean or the baby pool, here are 15 books I'll be reading:

the extras: hat | pouch | sunscreen | sunglasses | swim suit | towel

At the beach, I'm usually reaching for contemporary fiction. I want something that's immediately engaging and doesn't require my complete attention. Pre-baby, I could tune out the world... but now I need books that I can start and stop pretty easily. Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza, When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger, and Ghosted by Rosie Walsh all seem like they would fit the bill: the price a woman pays for pursuing a political career, secrets simmering in the suburbs, and an instant connection that's disrupted by a sudden disappearance. Don't you want to dive in to each based solely on that little teaser? Sign me up!

When I'm in the mountains, I'm more likely to pick up historical fiction. I don't know what it is about that destination that makes me want to travel back in time, but I think it's the slower pace and quieter days. I'm able to sink into the details of the past more deeply! Beatriz Williams is a favorite for me, so The Summer Wives is on the top of my must-read list. I actually just finished Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce, which read like a historical Bridget Jones. So delightful! And I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos has a dual timeline and is sure to be gorgeously written. I'd be willing to go on a hike if I could reward myself with reading one of these at the end.

I can't explain why, but the lake feels like it calls for something with twists and turns. Whether it's a full-on thriller or a contemporary book with an air of mystery surrounding it, I want something that will keep me guessing until the end. The Life Lucy Knew by Karma Brown involves a woman with amnesia, and the summary reminds me of my favorite Liane Moriarty book. An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim is a sci fi book where a couple is separated by time travel gone wrong. Finally, things get out of hand in a "No Baby Club" in Those Other Women by Nicola Moriarty. I can picture myself sitting in on the dock frantically reading as secrets are uncovered in each book...

the extras: elastics | speaker | lip balm | sunglasses | bag | drink | sea spray

Let's be real: most of my summer days aren't spent at fabulous destinations. On any given day, you're probably going to find me sitting in the backyard. And with fewer distractions and my bookshelf only steps away, I don't have to predict my reading mood! I want to read A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, the story of an Indian-American Muslim family, because it's gotten so much praise. I've enjoyed Paula McLain's writing in the past, so Love and Ruin is on my radar (even though I'm not a Hemingway fan). And Estelle recommended Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton long before Reese Witherspoon's book club picked it. But now I'm even more excited to read it!

 the extras: towel | sunglasses | mascara | tote | water | swim suit | speaker

I know this isn't the case everywhere, but our neighborhood pool is often chaotic. People are blasting music on their speakers, little kids are horsing around, and I have to protect my pages from being sprayed by water! So, I'm looking for books similar to what I'd read at the beach. Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson sounds adorable – and I love the cover! Emily Giffin can be hit or miss for me, but I'll still check out All We Ever Wanted. And honestly, the comparisons to Grey's Anatomy are the main reason I want to read The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin. All three seem like they would keep me hooked regardless of the noise level around me. 

What books will be in your bag this summer?
Any trips already booked?

This post was inspired by a past Top Ten Tuesday topic, now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl
Here's a look back at my "summer bags" through the years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2017

June 2018: Recap + On My Shelves

Jul 6, 2018

Hello, summer! We've had summer temps in Georgia for a while now, but I was excited to officially welcome the season in June. We spent most of the month playing outside, and I expect more of the same in July.

1. Sweet Treats in the Summer Sun – It was hard to choose photos from June because I probably have a hundred of the same thing: playing in the backyard. We spent most of our time digging in the dirt and playing in the pool! But I liked this photo from one of our ice cream dates after visiting the library, a small moment that's still so special.

2. Shopping and Snacking Solo – Nick was traveling a lot in June, so it was extra sweet to have an entire afternoon to myself once he was home. I went shopping, listened to my music extra loud in the car, and got to read my book while treating myself to a little something at a local bakery. I savored every moment!

3. Creating a Happy Planner Instagram – The craziest thing I did in June was create a planner-focused Instagram with Kelly! Our name, @youremyplannerperson, was inspired by our favorite friendship from Grey's Anatomy. It's been fun to participate in that community and find other people who are obsessed with all things Happy Planner. 

4. My First Readathon – I don't think I've ever participated in a readathon before, but I couldn't resist when I saw a number of bookstagrammers talking about #8intwo hosted by @25infive. The goal of the readathon is to read for a total of 8 hours over the span of two days. It took focus, but it was so fun to participate and be successful! 

Read 22 Books | Favorites:
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE.
You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night
because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days.
FINE is what you say.”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“He’s twelve years old, and this summer he learns that people will always
choose a simple lie over a complicated truth, because the lie has one unbeatable advantage:
 the truth always has to stick to what actually happened,
whereas the lie just has to be easy to believe.”
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

“How did one not obsess over something wonderful?
How did one like something a reasonable amount?”
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

 “If you want a child to know the truth, tell him the truth.
If you want a child to love the truth, tell him a story.”
The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

“I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and,
depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

“We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection.
 But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer.
Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.”
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

June was a slightly slower blogging month for me, but I was still able to meet my goal of 8 posts for the month. My first post was my May 2018 Recap, as is usually the case, and I chatted about nine books in my May 2018 Quick Lit post. Even when I don't have my blogging mojo, I can make those two posts happen!

I shared four longer reviews for books that I absolutely loved: Making Up by Lucy Parker, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and then Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. 

Since we're halfway through the year, I decided to share the ten best books I've read so far this year. It's always been one of my favorite posts to write, especially because it's fun to see how it compares to my final list in December. I can't wait to see what stays on the list and what new favorites steal a spot!

And finally, my favorite post I shared was Check Your Neck: My Thyroid Cancer Story. I was diagnosed two years ago, and I've been meaning to write this post ever since. If you only read one thing I posted in June, I hope it's that one – mostly just because I want you to know it's important to regularly check your neck.

1. Adventures in the Great Wide Somewhere // Travel Books That Aren't Travel Books by Kelly from Belle of the Literati – YAY, KELLY IS BACK! This wasn't her first post in June, but it was my favorite. I love when she chats about books that inspire her to explore the world, especially since she's #travelgoals. I'm ready to pack my bags!

2. 6 Strategies to Get Out of Your Reading Rut by Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy – Who hasn't been in a reading rut before?! I've definitely had seasons where I just can't seem to find my reading mojo, though lately I've had the opposite problem and need to step away from the books. Ha! This post had lots of great ideas in it!

3. Why I Love Family Storytelling (+ Why It Matters) by Janssen from Everyday Reading – I'm generally not a fan of sponsored posts, but I was surprised when I realized this was one because it read like a personal discussion. I haven't looked into this app yet, but I saved the post to dig deeper into the idea of family storytelling.

Favorite Song: "2002" by Anne-Marie
I didn't listen to very much music this month because I was too busy catching up on podcasts,
but this song was on repeat for most of the month. It took me back to middle school!

Favorite Audiobook: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
narrated by Elizabeth Evans
Technically, this is the only audiobook I listened to in June. But I loved it, so it still counts!
I thoroughly enjoyed my audio re-read of this series and can't wait for the final book later this year.

Queer Eye, Season 2, starring Jonathan Van Ness, Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Bobby Berk, and Karamo Brown – It just so happened that my son spent the night at my parents house on the day this season was released, so I got to binge it. I intended to get things done with my alone time, but the Fab 5 took priority. No regrets!

Set It Up (2018) starring Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs – I was so excited for this movie when I first saw the trailer on Netflix, but it still managed to surpass my expectations. This is the romantic comedy I've been craving, and I foresee so many rewatches in my future. Funny, adorable, and perfectly cast!

Ocean's 8 (2018) starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and Awkwafina – This was a fun heist movie with a great cast, though not a fave. Nick and I enjoyed it, but it wasn't something that I'd watch again. It felt long at times!

Jane the Virgin, Season 4, starring Gina Rodriguez – I got so behind on this season of Jane the Virgin that I decided to wait for it to hit Netflix to catch up. That was such a good decision! I laughed, teared up, and felt my jaw drop. I love this show so much, and I am DYING to see what will happen after that finale. 

The Kissing Booth (2018) starring Joey King, Joel Courtney and Jacob Elordi – This was... not good. I'm a sucker for teen movies, so I kept watching, but yikes. It was so cheesy, the acting wasn't great, and I had major issues with the relationship. Being jealous and controlling isn't attractive and doesn't need to be romanticized. 

Ibiza (2018) starring Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer and Phoebe Robinson This movie was so weird! I laughed at a few scenes/lines, but I didn't really like it overall. It was so raunchy, lacked direction, and felt like it lasted forever. And I don't like seeing a grown woman would act this way for someone she's talked to once.

Irreplaceable You (2018) starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Huisman – The premise of this is basically plot of Before I Go by Colleen Oakley, though the movie isn't based on the book. I didn't like the movie very much because I just had no emotional investment, despite the incredibly sad subject matter. So forgettable. 

Jane Eyre (2011) starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender – I've only seen this once or twice since it came out seven years ago, but it was on my mind after a book I read in June reminded me of Jane Eyre. I chose to cheat and watch the movie instead of reading the book, and I love this adaptation.

Pre-Ordered: Us Against You by Fredrik Backman and Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Audible: My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

For Review: The Good Luck Charm by Helena Hunting and Marilla of Green Gables  by Sarah McCoy

NetGalley: Life on the Leash by Victoria Schade and The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory

'Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did.'

Jun 30, 2018

If you read my blog post yesterday, then you probably already know that I loved everything about Beartown. I don't know why I put off reading it for so long! I'm glad I did, however, because I was able to pick up the recently released sequel, Us Against You, soon after I finished the first. Still reeling from the emotional events in the first book, I thought I was more prepared for the second. I wasn't. But I was sucked back in from the very first lines:
Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. We'll end up saying that violence came to Beartown this summer, but that will be a lie; the violence was already here. Because sometimes hating one another is so easy that it seems incomprehensible that we ever do anything else.”
I won't go into too much detail about the plot, but Us Against You picks up after the events in Beartown. The community was divided in the first book, and the fissures get worse in this book when the town learns that their local hockey team will soon be disbanded. Tensions are higher than ever, especially because former Beartown players are now on Hed's team. The rivalry between the two cities runs deep, and it exacerbates all the dissatisfaction and division that already exists within Beartown. Of course, things eventually come to a head.

Although you probably don't have to read Beartown first, I strongly suggest that you do. The beginning of Us Against You does revisit what happened in that book, but I think Backman's strength is in his character development. And Beartown is a character in and of itself. If you miss out on all that backstory, I'm not sure you'll fully understand how the town and the people who inhabit it got to this point. It's significant information!

Why should you pick up this book? Because Backman delivers another emotional, engaging and unforgettable story. If you read and loved Beartown, you probably want to know what happens next. So, you should read it for that reason first. But, beyond that, you should pick this up because Backman returns to characters you've grown to love and introduces you to new characters who will surprise you. He brilliantly depicts the way people are complex and proves yet again that he has a keen understanding of human nature. 
“The worst thing we know about other people is that we’re dependent upon them. That their actions affect our lives. Not just the people we choose, the people we like, but all the rest of them: the idiots. You who stand in front of us in every line, who can’t drive properly, who like bad television shows and talk too loud in restaurants and whose kids infect our kids with the winter vomiting bug at preschool. You who park badly and steal our jobs and vote for the wrong party. You also influence our lives, every second.”
Truthfully, I can't do this book justice. Backman writes in a way that is wholly unique and hard to describe. But I can't get enough! He infuses the story with so much emotion. I felt like I was on the verge of tears the entire time I was reading. I was simultaneously desperate to know what would happen next and dreading getting to the end. I care so deeply about these characters and am so invested in their futures that it's hard for me to believe they aren't real. I have no idea if there are plans for a third, but I've got my fingers crossed because I need more. 

Us Against You was on my list of best books I've read so far in 2018, and I know it will make my final list at the end of the year, too. Almost nothing I've read this year has compared to this book. It succeeds on every level: profound writing, a thought-provoking story, and well-developed characters. Backman rips my heart out but still gives me hope. This story will stay with me for years! Despite the heaviness, I know I'll re-read Beartown and Us Against You many times over because books like this don't come around very often. 

So Quotable
“He’s twelve years old, and this summer he learns that people will always choose a simple lie over a complicated truth, because the lie has one unbeatable advantage: the truth always has to stick to what actually happened, whereas the lie just has to be easy to believe.”
Release Date: June 2018 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 448 pages | Source & Format: NetGalley/Kindle & Hardcover/Bought

* I received a copy of each book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the books or my review.

'This is the story of how we got there.'

Jun 29, 2018

It only took one book for Fredrik Backman to become one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read  and loved My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie Was Here. So, there's no excuse for the fact that it took me more than a year to read Beartown. It was always there, in the back of my mind, but I kept putting it off. The sports-focused summary didn't appeal to me, but I knew that the book would be a character study. And from the first two sentences, I was hooked:
Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's head, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.
It's hard for me to articulate all the reasons I loved this book. I supposed I should start with the fact that Backman was born to tell stories. Every word and phrase seems to be chosen with such care. And you know what's hard for me to wrap my mind around? His books are translated into English! If it wasn't printed on the book's title page, I would never guess. I have so much appreciation for this translator, Neil Smith, because he makes it feel seamless.

Backman's previous books contained more humor and whimsy, and the tone of this one was a departure. But, for me, the writing still felt so consistent with what I've come to know and love about his work. Rather than focus on one main character, as he has in the past, a place is the character at the heart of this story. Beartown is in the middle of nowhere and has almost nothing to show for itself. Except for its junior hockey team. 

This small town lives and breathes hockey... and probably dreams of it while they sleep, too. I'm not a sports person, but I was still swept up in this narrative. Backman helps you understand why hockey is revered, how it has come to represent so much more than a game, and the way it's holding the town together. So, what happens when something happens that rips that community in two? That's what Backman explores in this novel.

I don't want to spoil what happens to change everything, but I will say that it's devastating. Backman focuses on numerous characters, something that I normally dislike. But it felt so necessary for this story, and I'm thankful he wrote it this way. You'll get to know some of the key team members, fellow students, parents, politicians, business owners, and local bullies. Some of the characters are central to the entire story, and others have brief roles to play. All serve a purpose and are complex and richly drawn. If you love character-driven stories, this is for you.

What I loved most about this book is that it made me think. It's been a month since I finished, and I can still feel my mind drifting to some of the questions raised in this book. Do sports teach teamwork  and selflessness or breed groupthink and entitlement? How do you choose to react in the present to something that threatens your future? When an accusation is leveled against someone, who do you believe? What does it mean to be loyal?
“There are few words that are harder to explain than 'loyalty.' It's always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing.”
Beartown is an emotionally draining read, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I honestly loved everything about it! It's about so much more than a town obsessed with sports. It's timely and relevant to the world today, but I can see it being just as impactful a hundred years from now. Technology marches on, but human nature stays the same. And Backman explores the best and worst of what it means to be a parent, a coach, a friend, a teammate, and a sibling in these pages. I can't get these characters out of my brain, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Whether this is your first and fourth Backman, I hope I've convinced you to read it! This was on my list of best books I've read so far in 2018, and I know it will be on my final list at the end of the year. It's stunning, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. It further cemented Backman's place on my "auto-buy" list, and I cannot begin to tell you how many lines I marked in these pages. Nothing I've read in the weeks since I finished this has compared... until I got to the sequel, Us Against You. I'll be sharing my thoughts on that one tomorrow!

So Quotable
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”
Release Date: April 2017 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Atria Books
Pages: 418 pages | Source & Format: NetGalley/Kindle & Hardcover/Bought

* I received a copy of each book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the books or my review.
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