Girls Burn Brighter

Rating: 
Author: Shobha Rao
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Mar. 2018 (read June 2018 as audiobook)

This was a super heavy read. At one point I’m sure I read the synopsis for this and thought, a book about disenfranchised women who find power within themselves, how empowering, sign me up. But between reading the synopsis and downloading this book as an audiobook, I totally forgot the plot and was super disturbed at how dark this was!

Girls Burn Brighter is set in India (amongst other places) and focuses on the friendship between two young women, Poornima and Savitha. They are only friends for a short period of time, but they develop a strong relationship during that time and come to realize that the other is the only person to ever truly love and care for them throughout their lives. They are torn apart by the circumstance of being young women of marrying age in India and both suffer some truly atrocious acts of hatred and spite against them.

It’s totally evident if you read the synopsis, but I did not realize this was a book about human trafficking. Human trafficking is one of the great injustices facing our world today and yet there is very little literature devoted to it and it makes for a truly upsetting read. I suffered through this book along with both Poornima and Savitha. It was uncomfortable and hard to read and that’s exactly how a book about human trafficking should be. A few months ago I read a book, A Girl Like That, about the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia and was truly appalled.

For some reason I thought India treated women better (than Saudi at least), but this book shocked me in its malice. The men in this book had so little regard for women and many of the men in the novel truly despised them. Yet I had no problem imagining these men and their cruelty. I did know I was getting myself into a tough read, but this book really made me despair for humanity. It also tells the story of two strong women who, despite all the suffering that has been visited upon them, still yearn and aspire to a better life. They find strength in the love they have for one another and no matter what shit life throws at them, they always continue to pursue something better for themselves, and in Savitha’s case, something better for her family too.

I listened to Girls Burn Brighter as an audiobook, but I’ve since decided to switch back to non-fiction for my audiobooks for a while because this is another book that the audio just didn’t quite do justice to. The writing is quite flowery and I think I would have liked it a lot in written form, but in audio I tended to get a bit distracted by the writing and sometimes would zone out.

The ending is oh so frustrating. I knew I was approaching the end and I was so nervous as to how the author was going to end things and while I don’t fault her for the ending, it was still torture! The plot was a little unbelievable for me, partly because I couldn’t believe so much hardship could be experienced by two people, but also in that the coincidences in this novel were just a little too far past believable for me. But it is a great story about the strength and perseverance of women. Just mentally prepare yourself before you go into this book because it was honestly one of the most emotionally draining books I’ve read it a long time.

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Emma

Rating: 
Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub Date: 1815 (read June 2018 as an audiobook)
Audio Narrator: Nadia May

Whyyyy is this book so loooong?! This was my first Jane Austen and I really wanted to like it, but I feel like I just did everything wrong with this novel.

First of all, I listened to it in Audiobook, and while I did get a laugh out of the narrators british enthusiasm, I just couldn’t keep track of the characters or who was narrating. Plus it took me like 2 months to listen to and the plot is so low key that I kept forgetting what had happened before or who any of the characters were. So audiobook was probably a bad format for this one, but I’m still not convinced I would have liked it much better in print. There’s some classics I like, but a lot of them just make me feel bad and uncultured because they’re supposed to be good literature, but I just find them so unbelievably boring.

I do get it though. I can definitely appreciate what Austen does with this novel. She is very clever with her writing and her characters and I laughed a lot at Emma, although mostly just at how stupid she was. It’s a little mind boggling that this was first published all the way back in 1815. That is over 200 years ago and people are still reading this and the setting wasn’t even that different from today! There is definitely still a class of rich british aristocrats that get caught up in this gossipy matchmaker stuff and making sure that everyone sticks within their “class”.

I forget how old Emma is, but she lives at this english estate called Hartfield and goes about her life until she makes a new friend Harriet and endeavours to play matchmaker for her. Emma has decided to never marry herself and throws all her energy into her friendship with Harriet. Then there’s a series of hi jinx in which Emma repeatedly tries to set Harriet up with men who run in a much higher class than Harriet and she constantly misinterprets everyone’s intentions, even though she believes herself to be the highest and best judge of character.

Anyways, I may have enjoyed this more as a print book and even thought I didn’t really like it, I don’t really have much bad to say about it. I do get why this is a classic, I just personally struggled with the pacing and seeming lack of plot. I feel like not very much happened in this book, and yet it’s still almost 500 pages. So not a favourite from me, but it wouldn’t deter me from trying Austen again in the future (but NOT as an audiobook).

What’s your favourite Jane Austen book?

Us Against You

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Fredrik Backman
Genres: Fiction
Read: Mar. 2018 (Pub date: Jun. 5, 2018 in North America)

Thank you to Atria Books, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As some people might be aware (because I can’t stop talking about it), Beartown was my favourite book of 2017, so I was super happy to get an advance copy of the sequel, Us Against You, and I even re-read Beartown to get back up to speed on all the characters. I loved Beartown just as much the second time around, but I was really nervous about this one because I didn’t think Beartown really needed a sequel and it’s easy to kill a good thing milking the cash cow too long.

Disclaimer: Beartown spoilers below plus minor spoilers for Us Against You, but nothing you don’t learn early in the story.

Us Against You starts where Beartown leaves off. It’s summer, but everyone is anxiously awaiting to see what will happen to their beloved hockey team in the fall and Peter is worried that there may not even be a hockey club to be anxious about. Kevin and his family disappear overnight, but Maya’s family decides to stay. Beartown is their town as much as anyone else’s and they believe they shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome.

Most of the former Junior team has followed their coach David to Hed, but Amat, Bobo, and Benji remain behind in Beartown. In the absence of the former team and coach, several newcomers arrive on the scene and hockey and politics become more intertwined than ever.

Fredrik Backman’s writing is just as beautiful as ever in this book. The novel continues in the same voice as its predecessor and it is just as lyrical and insightful. My copy of Beartown is tabbed everywhere with quotes that I loved and I tabbed a lot of well written passages in this book as well. But sadly, some parts of this book just didn’t work for me.

As a standalone, Beartown offers a varied perspective of the plot. Backman takes us on a journey with his characters and their perspectives are all incredibly moving. Beartown is very much a character driven book, but it still had a strong plot to carry it forward. Us Against You is still a character driven novel, but the plot isn’t as strong and it struggled to carry all these voices.

The plot is slower than Beartown and there is a lot of political drama that is just too convoluted and honestly, doesn’t even really matter that much. Backman tells us in the synopsis that before the end of the novel someone will be dead, and he builds his plot around this climax. The drama builds between Hed and Beartown and hate and violence lead to more hate and violence, culminating in tragedy for everyone.

Backman continues with some of the themes from Beartown, examining the long-lasting impact that rape can have on a girl and her family, and the sense of community that comes from a shared love of sports. Backman also explores the compounding impact of violence and our resistance to change. Hockey has always been seen as a men’s club and those men can feel very threatened when faced with equality politics and will try and protect themselves at the expense of anyone who does not fit within their idea of who hockey is for.

So I very much loved the themes of this book, but I struggled more with the perspectives. We’re given a lot of new perspectives in this book, which is great, but we also lose a lot of the perspectives from the previous book of characters we’ve already come to know and love. I really liked that this book expanded to include Maya’s brother Leo and more of William Lyt, but it also included a lot about the Pack and this is where it got bogged down for me. I wasn’t really interested in Peter’s feud with the Pack or with Richard Theo’s schemes. Richard Theo serves to mount the tension within the towns, but I don’t think he was needed. His schemes were too convoluted and the characters could have carried the plot without him. Hed and Beartown would have been at each other’s throats, regardless of the drama with the factory jobs and the political scheming.

I thought the novel had a great start with William and Leo fighting and the breakdown of the Andersson Family. I thought Kira and Peter’s storyline was so heartbreaking, but it felt so real and I could empathize with how the strain of losing your firstborn and your daughter being raped would slowly start to breakdown your marriage. Likewise, I love where Backman takes us with Maya, Ana, and Benji in this book. Benji was one of my favourite characters in Beartown and you just ache for him reading his story. He is one of those totally perfect, imperfect characters. I thought all of these storylines were strong and they really carried the novel for me.

But like I said, I struggled with the Pack. I didn’t care about Teemu and I thought Vidar came in too late into the story for me to really care about him either. I get what the Pack means to Teemu, Woody, Spider, and Vidar, but I think Backman communicates this concept of family and community just as well through his other characters. Likewise, the Pack served to escalate the violence between Hed and Beartown, but again, I think this theme could have been carried just as well through other characters like Lyt. I really liked the idea of Vidar and I’m thrilled Backman decided to spend some time on the goalie, which is an essential part of any team, but Vidar lacked developed at the expense of the rest of the Pack. I would rather see his character fully realized than have all the secondary Pack characters.

I am disappointed that David didn’t have a voice in this story and that Amat and Bobo’s voices were limited. I really liked all of these characters and I really think Backman could have given them more in this story. We hear very little from the Beartown players who switch to Hed. They go to Hed to play for David, not Hed and I would have liked to hear more about how they felt about suddenly playing for their rival and the struggle of losing the support of their community. It’s kind of taken for granted that the boys and their families would all just change allegiance to Hed (and that Hed would accept them), but they were all Beartown born and still lived there, so I felt that suddenly playing for their rival would be a real source of conflict for some of the players and that they would struggle to be accepted by Hed and the other members of the existing A-team.

My biggest struggle with this book though is the emotional pacing. I felt this book was more emotionally manipulative than the first book and the writing started to feel a little repetitive. Beartown is an incredibly powerful, emotional read and Backman uses a lot of the same phrases and wording to try and create those cathartic moments, but they lose their impact when you read them 3 and 4 times throughout the novel.

This book is just damn depressing. Like I said, Beartown is definitely an emotional read, but it still has hopeful and happy moments to contrast the sad ones. Us Against You has very few hopeful moments. It is just down, down, down for the entire novel and any happy or hopeful plot points are just too small to bring this book back up. I felt like I was falling into the pits of despair throughout the whole book and I never had any chance of climbing back out.

We’re told in Beartown that 2 of the boys will turn professional and that the young girl, Alicia, will grow up to be the best hockey player Beartown has ever seen. So I can’t help but assume that Beartown must succeed at some point for these players to achieve success and I want to read about it! I don’t know if Backman has a third book planned for this series, but I could see this having another book and I really hope it does because I need to see Beartown transformed. I’ve seen them beaten down and shit on and now I need to see them heal and grow. I didn’t think Beartown needed a sequel, but now that it has one, I really need it to be a trilogy so that this can be the dark middle book. This works as the angst-y middle book, but not as the finale. This story feels unfinished and I really hope it gets a (better) conclusion.

For this reason it’s a hard book to rate. Granted, I am holding Backman to a higher standard because of how phenomenal Beartown was, and I still loved the writing and several of the character arcs in Us Against You, but I need more from this series now! I think there’s a lot of potential for a final book and if that is the case, it would change my review. I don’t mind being brought low in book 2 if you’re going to raise me up in book 3. But if this is where it ends, I am definitely left disappointed.

FYI, you can pre-order Us Against You at fredrikbackmanbooks.com

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Kim Fu
Genres: Fiction
Read: Mar. 2018

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This was a really interesting read. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore just came out in February and it already has a bit of a lowish rating on goodreads, which is usually a deterrent for me, but I’m obsessed with camping and I was really intrigued by the premise, so I decided to go ahead with it anyways.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore tells the story of 5 girls around ages 10-12 who attend a sleep-away camp in Washington State. The girls are from all over the region, including British Columbia. The highlight of the camp is supposed to be an overnight kayaking trip to a remote island, but this kayak trip goes horribly awry and leaves the girls stranded on an island. The book tells the story of what happened to the girls, while simultaneously flashing forward in each of the girls lives to see how they later fared.

The structure of this story was really interesting. Throughout the main story of what happened at Camp Forevermore, we get a short story for each of the girls future lives. These stories don’t really reference what happened at camp and in my opinion could each be viewed as separate short stories, but generally examine how they might have been affected by what happened on that fateful kayaking trip.

Because of this, the novel read more like a collection of short stories to me, but I didn’t mind it because each sub-story felt fully formed and realized and the writing was really beautiful. It didn’t deliver on what I was expecting from this book, but it was still a really nice piece of writing, so I didn’t mind. I think Kim Fu got the atmosphere of the story just right and I think the cover perfectly reflects that atmosphere too.

My complaint would be that it was a bit short. I was really into the main story at Forevermore and I would have liked to see this part of the novel developed a little more. It had a bit of a Lord of the Flies vibe and explored how children act and develop when left alone in stressful situations without adult support and I would have liked to see these themes explored in a little more depth and a bit better tied in with the futures of each girl. I also thought it was a weird choice to tell Kayla’s story instead of Andee’s. Andee is one of the 5 girls on the island, why tell her sister’s story instead of hers? I didn’t really get why the author choose to do this and was one of the reasons I thought the flash forwards could also work as short stories, since some of them seemed to have very little to do with what actually happened at camp.

Overall though, I did really like this, which goes to show you can’t always trust the goodreads ratings. I thought the writing was strong and the story was beautifully told. It’s a bit of a slow-burn novel, but it worked in this context. Plus I love supporting Canadian authors!

The Break

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐
Author: Katherena Vermette
Genres: Fiction
Read: Feb. 2018

I flew through The Break, which was the second book in my February Reading Challenge.

The Break is written by Métis author Katherena Vermette and tells the story of a Métis family and the struggles and challenges they’ve experienced, both together and apart. The novel opens with young mother Stella witnessing a crime on the break of land outside her house. She is paralyzed with fear and calls the police, but both the victim and the perpetrators have disappeared and law enforcement is not convinced of her story.

I don’t want to run the book by getting to into the plot, but it’s told from a lot of different viewpoints. There are 4 living generations in Stella’s family and they all have a voice in this story. As the police investigate the incident and the family is shook by violence, Vermette examines all the relationships and history that exist in this family. There are some narrators outside of the immediate family, such as the young Métis officer who investigates the incident, but this is really a story about family, the bonds that tie us together and the conflict that can threaten to tear us apart.

First off, the writing in The Break is fantastic. As soon as I started reading it I knew I was going to like it because it is just so beautifully written and the characters emotions are so tangibly felt. This was an insightful look inside the lives of a Métis family and it was very obvious the love this family had for one another, even through all the challenges they’ve had to overcome, the mistakes they’ve made, and the violence they’ve witnessed.

The tone of this story is very sad. Vermette made it easy to empathize with her characters and their pain felt very real. The story is heartbreaking and it was upsetting for me how frequently the women either experienced or witnessed sexual and domestic violence. But the women are what made this story so beautiful. It’s a very fractured family unit in that very few of the men in the family have stuck around or remained present in their families lives, but in the absence of reliable men, the women (sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmothers) have constructed their own family unit that is incredibly close.

The synopsis reads like this is a mystery novel, which it is in some ways, but it’s mostly a slow-burn family drama, which is one of my favourite types of stories. So I really liked this one and I am in love with Katherena Vermette’s writing. A fantastic read!