October Summary

I totally killed it this month, setting a new PB for most pages read in a month. I have Sarah J. Maas to thank because I’ve been re-reading her Throne of Glass series and those books are monsters. Plus, I flew through her 1,000 page finale! Here’s my summary:

Books read: 10
Pages read: 5,077
Main genres: Fantasy
Favourite book: Kingdom of Ash
Favourite Re-read: Empire of Storms

October and November have to be some of the best months for new book releases. I have so many anticipated reads spread over the last month and into next month that it’s hard to keep track. I started off the month with one of my most anticipated reads of the last 3 years with JK Rowling’s new book in the Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book forever and it did not disappoint. I love the balance Rowling strikes between the mystery investigation and Robin and Strike’s personal lives. My only regret is reading this one too fast.

Also new this month was the companion novel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, similarly named The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; the new graphic novel Check, Please! #Hockey; and a novel about Boko Haram, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree. The latter was probably my favourite of the three. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a tough read about the atrocities Boko Haram is committing  in Nigeria, but important, I would recommend to everyone.

Check, Please! #Hockey is an absolutely adorable graphic novel about freshman hockey player Bitty’s first year in college. He’s gay, loves nothing more than baking, and has a huge fear about being checked. It’s a great book about friendship and the pressures of college and sports. I really liked it and can’t wait for part 2 to come out next year! Unfortunately I didn’t love The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy quite as much as it’s predecessor. It was still a fun read packed full of meaningful observations about 17th century women, but it wasn’t quite as funny and I thought the plot was a little lacking. All Your Perfects by Colleen Hoover was my one romance read of the year and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is a romance novel, but it packs a punch by addressing several other little talked about issues in the plot.

My book club pick of the month was Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I decided to listen to this as an audiobook and ended up loving it! It wasn’t a favourite at my book club, but I thought it was a really fun read that actually packed a really meaningful punch about traditional and modern culture. My other audiobook of the month was The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss, which is about women’s fight for the right to vote in America. I’ve been working on this audiobook for several months and while I liked that this book exists, I struggled with the audiobook being really boring. I wrote a brief review on my goodreads page, but I haven’t decided if I will share it on my blog or not because it’s hardly a review.

Finally, I re-read Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms in anticipation of Sarah J. Maas’ new book and epic series finale, Kingdom of Ash. I have been loving my re-read, but thank god it is now over because it was so emotionally draining at the end and now I really just need to read anything that is not fantasy. Surprisingly I didn’t love Queen of Shadows quite as much as I remembered on my re-read, but I think I may have loved Empire of Storms even more. I finally pinpointed what I liked about it so much, which is that the main characters are actually all together for most of the novel. I’ve gotten used to them being separate for the last few books, but it was great seeing them all come together in Empire of Storms. It made for a much faster paced book, and boy was it ever intense!

Kingdom of Ash is finally out there in the world. Despite actually quite liking the finale, I did write a bit of a critical review of it. I thought there were a few problematic elements and parts that I didn’t like, but overall it was a pretty fast paced and emotional finale. I liked the ending and I feel mostly satisfied with how the series finished.

I’m thrilled now for November because it is my favourite reading month! The Goodreads Choice Awards were just announced yesterday and I love challenging myself to read and vote in as many categories as possible, so I just added a ton of books to my TBR!

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Check, Please!: #Hockey, Volume 1

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ngozi Ukazu
Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Sep. 2018 (read Oct. 2018)

Okay, this was very sweet. It’s not quite what I was expecting, but I liked it nonetheless. Check, Please! is a graphic novel about young hockey player, Eric Bittle. “Bitty”, as he’s christened by his teammates, is just starting University. He’s a former figure skater, internet vlogger, and baker extraordinaire, who has been offered a spot on the Samwell University hockey team. Bitty quickly fits in with his teammates, buttering them up with his delicious pies, and fortunately they are all very accepting of him when he comes out to the team. But Bitty harbours a deep fear of being checked while playing hockey and seems to have started off on the wrong foot with the team captain, Jack.

I struggle to say further what this story is about. It’s not really a plot driven story, but a character driven one. The first volume is a compilation of Bitty’s first two years in University and I believe the second volume will cover his final two years. This book is about post-secondary education – the friendships and relationships you build in these formative years, the pressures to succeed, and the jealousy and insecurity that sometimes develops from that pressure. There are so few books that are set in University and those “new adult” years, so I really appreciate any literature featuring characters in their 20’s. Most of all though, I appreciated that this was a lot of fun!

A Nigerian immigrant from Texas is definitely not someone I would peg to write a book about boys and hockey, but this book never takes itself too seriously, so it just works. I feel like it could have had a little more depth. Ukazu explores the themes I discussed above, but it is fairly surface level, so I excited to see where she takes it in the next volume. But it was a very enjoyable book to read and the artwork is super cute!

Fall 2018 New Releases

Okay, the number of new releases that I can’t wait to read coming out this Fall is A LOT! There are so many new sequels coming out, I can’t wait to read them all!!

September 18th

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) – I have been waiting for this one for YEARS and it recently has a release date in September, which is pretty much the most exciting news ever! I need to know what Robin and Strike will get up to next!

Wildcard by Marie Lu – I read and loved Warcross last year, so I’m thrilled this series is getting a sequel so soon!

Check Please! #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu – Okay, I admit I only recently discovered this one, it’s a graphic novel, coming of age story about (gay?) hockey players. It has wonderful reviews already and I am super intrigued to read it!

October 2nd

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee – If this is anything like The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, it will be a hoot! Can’t wait to read more about Felicity! (I don’t think the first book is required reading for this one)

Saga, Volume 9 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples – I’m literally always ready for a new Saga installment.

October 9th

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – That’s right, the author of The Book Thief is finally publishing a new book!

October 23rd

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas – Sarah is finally publishing the final book in the Throne of Glass series. Empire of Storms ended on the most outrageous cliffhanger and then I got a whole book about Chaol forced on me that I didn’t need, so I can’t wait to finally read this last installment.

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend – I only just read Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow a few weeks ago and I am totally obsessed with it! So glad I only have to wait until October for the sequel.

November 6th

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C Dao – The second (and I believe final) installment in the Forest of a Thousand Lanterns series. The first book was surprisingly dark and juicy and I’m really interested in this follow up retelling of snow white and the evil queen.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – I’m not sure why this new fantasy caught my eye over the million other new fantasy’s coming out, but I heard it has mature themes and a strong protagonist, so I really want to read it.

December 4th

All the Wandering Light by Heather Fawcett – I haven’t been seeing too much hype about this series, but I really liked the first book, Even the Darkest Stars, and I was really sad when the release date on this one got pushed back a few months, but this is set in the frigid, snowy mountains, so it’ll be the perfect atmospheric read for December!

 

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

Beartown


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Fredrik Backman
Genres: Fiction
Read: May 2017

 

I really liked A Man Called Ove and Britt-Marie was Here, but Beartown was definitely my favourite Fredrik Backman novel to date! This was quite different then his other work, but it was excellent!

This is how you do large casts. I just read Paula Hawkins’ new book, Into the Water, which had a huge cast of characters, but she did justice for none of them. Beartown has a huge number of characters as well, but it really worked in this book. The characters are slowly introduced throughout the course of the novel and their relationships to one another are clearly indicated, so it wasn’t hard to follow and I was thrilled to see a lot of who I thought would be minor characters have some really interesting stories. Every character was well realized and well developed considering how little focus some of the characters got.

The characters reminded me a little of Melina Marchetta‘s work in that they grew in ways you did not anticipate and that you grew to like characters that you didn’t like initially. This shouldn’t have been a surprise though as Backman does an excellent job at making you love slightly unlikeable characters in all his novels. I loved the way Backman would present characters in different ways depending on whose point of view you were reading and that perspective could totally change your opinion of any character. For example I loved how characters like Bobo flip-flopped throughout the entire novel – you wanted to love him and then he would disappoint you and then you would love him again.

“It doesn’t take long to persuade each other to stop seeing a person as a person. And when enough people are quiet for long enough, a handful of voices can give the impression that everyone is screaming.”

I was totally impressed with the writing in Beartown. I highlighted so many passages throughout reading the book and I was really impressed with how Backman handled the serious topics in the novel as a male writer. I don’t want to give anything away because I think it’s best to go into this book blind, but it was definitely culturally relevant and very moving.  

I found the entire novel to be very insightful into sports culture and rape culture, both of which are often largely entwined, as well as the emotions that cause us to perceive things the way we do. It was a great novel about family, friends, sportsmanship, winning, and community (among many other things). There was so much going on in this book and so many different themes explored alongside the main theme.

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much 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.”

Definitely recommend this one for everyone! There was no part of this novel that I disliked and I think anyone can relate to the story.