Book Review: Beartown

Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: April 25, 2017
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the May Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

The challenge for May was to pick the book that you most recently acquired and read it before the end of the month or get rid of it! I bought Beartown in the end of April after renting it and not finishing it from the library TWICE. I knew it was a book I wanted to read and would want to keep, I just couldn’t seem to get through it in the time allotted by the library. Ironically, once I started it this time, I couldn’t put it down and finished all 415 pages of it in four days.

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My COMPLETED Unread Shelf Challenges

Beartown tells the story of a small hockey town on the edge of a forest. As the book frequently says, “Bears shit in the forest. Everyone else shits on Beartown.” The only thing that keeps Beartown going is the hockey club. And when all the work that was put in to the club by each member of the community is about to come to fruition, something happens to put everything they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy. The community response is, understandably, very strong. And as the drama unfolds, the few who choose to risk it all for what’s right face losing their entire support system.

The character development in this book is strong. In my opinion, this is both its strength and its weakness. The first time I picked it up, I found the narration to be a little heavy handed. The tone was almost prophetic in its third person omniscient style. There was a lot of foreshadowing of how a character would act based on their pure and unchangeable personal definition — which irked me since I tend to favor more dynamic characters. At first I found this to be on the telling-not-showing side of things, and was a little frustrated by the style. Honestly, that is why, after only reading forty pages, I returned it to the library without a second thought.

However, all the character development in the exposition, comes full circle after the main event, because faced with such strong personal dilemmas, each person is forced to look inside themselves to pick a side. As the reader, you’re already inside of each character’s head, and are able to dive even deeper in to the conflict with that knowledge in tow.

Without getting in to any of the details, I thought the ending was really well done —  for a trilogy. I have SO many questions, but got enough closure to wait a month for the next installment to be released! (Us Against You comes out on June 5th!)

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Book Review: I’ll be Gone in the Dark

This past weekend I listened to the new hot book of the moment on a long solo road trip I was taking – keep in mind that at the time, only five days ago, this was a book almost noone had heard of. I had a long drive after a long first week of work at a new job, and thought I needed something really gripping to keep me awake in the car. I started browsing my Scribd app for options and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark came up. I had seen a few positive reviews on #bookstagram, so I gave it a shot. Six hours later, after driving through Pheonix-area traffic and arriving at a friends house, I should have been racing out of my car- but honestly, I didn’t want to stop listening to this book! And thus began my relationship with this book that has come to take over all of my thoughts.

I would normally skip to the synopsis and my thoughts on the writing at this stage, and we’ll get to that, but I need to state the elephant in the room first. I was so haunted by this book for days, and now that the Golden State Killer has been caught, I am full of so much relief and am ready to talk about it.

 I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a true crime memoir retracing the steps of the posthumous author, Michelle McNamara. McNamama passed away in her sleep in 2016, before completing the book. Luckily for us, her husband pushed through and got the book finished and published to help raise awareness of the Golden State Killer and publish the findings Michele had pulled together. The book tells the stories of each of the attacks – it tracks their escalation in nature, and pinpoints the defining traits that link each one to the GSK. It explains criminology tactics like profiling, using DNA, fingerprinting, and geolocating. It takes you right along with McNamara through all her false leads and innocent suspects and also successes.

Truthfully, I felt every attack when I was reading this book. I cringed and tried to close my eyes (but I was driving, so I didn’t). I wanted it to stop but I had to get to the next clue. After arriving back home from my weekend away, I didn’t rush to finish the last 30 minutes of the book because, being back in the comfort of my Golden State home, I couldn’t stand thinking about this creep who may still be out there. I didn’t sleep well for the my first two nights back home. The first night I just kept imagining being woken up with a flashlight. Can you think of anything worse? Except of course what would come next. The second night a dog in a neighboring house barked for over an hour – an annoyance on a normal night, but enough to cause serious concern when you remember that the Golden State Killer wasn’t deterred by barking dogs. I told myself to forget the facts, that he probably died long ago, and while I’m sure my brain would have listened over time, the extreme relief I felt when he was caught the next day was so real. Last night, I slept like a baby.

I would like to say THANK GOD THEY FOUND HIM TWO DAYS AFTER I READ THE BOOK, but that doesn’t give McNamara enough credit. What she did in contributing to the knowledge in this case shouldn’t be understated and I don’t think the timing is really that coincidental.

So my takeaway – this is a real true crime book. The descriptions are not sugar coated so if you pick this up, you will be reading about murder and sexual assault. McNamara does it tactfully though, and while I felt the fear, I never found her writing to be over the top gruesome. So, my advice is that if you are a true crime lover, read this book and prepare to be blown away. AND BONUS: the killer is caught so you should hopefully be able to sleep well at night!

 

Enjoy!

Book Review: An American Marriage

Author: Tayari Jones
Published: February 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

I went in to my February Book of the Month selection thinking I should skip the month, and would ONLY get a book of The Great Alone was an option. Fast forward to reviewing the choices, and I couldn’t turn down An American Marriage once I read the description. It sounded like a story that I needed to read if I was going to understand the America we live in today. This may sound dramatic but incarceration and racism, particularly in the South, is a topic that has gotten me fired up in the past few years. For more on that topic you should definitely read Hell is a Very Small Place by Jean Casella. Anyway, I read the following description and decided I had to have this book:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined.

Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future.

From the description, I gathered that the book would probably be heavy, but I couldn’t have anticipated how hard hitting it would be. It may be my age (28 to the characters’ early 30s) and relationship status (living with my boyfriend of a few years 🙂 ), but this book hit home so hard. At my stage in life I spend a lot of time dreaming of my future – the house I’ll hopefully own and the children I’ll hopefully raise. I can only imagine being a few years down the line – a newlywed couple with a house they bought together and kids on the horizon – and then having the rug ripped out from under you and told to put everything on pause for 12 years because of a false accusation.

The writing structure was unique, but it really worked for this book. The first hundred pages or so are written as an exchange of letters between the newlyweds, and then it transitions to a multiple narrator style for the rest of the book. This change could have been abrupt but I found it worked really well in this case!

Honestly, I don’t have anything negative to say about this book, except only read it if you’re willing to experience all the unfairness of today’s world.

If you want to join BOTM  and experience great books like this that may otherwise not be on your radar, use my referral link for a discount on your first month!

Review: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee
Published: January 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
New York Times 10 Best Books 2017
FLW Rating: 4/5

Pachinko is a book that I will always remember, maybe not for the story, but for the history lessons I learned from it. This may just be me, but I feel like when it comes to history I tend to stick to similar cultures – American, European, maybe Russian or African at times, but very rarely do I study Asian history. Almost two years ago, I went to the Chinese American museum in New York City, and was blown away at how that population suffered upon immigrating to the US. It’s with this self awareness, that I’m so happy that I read Pachinko and that it is a New York Times Top 10 Notable Book for 2017. But I digress, Pachinko is a wonderful story set in Korea and Japan that spans almost the entire 20th century.

The story begins with a teenage girl, Sunja, who is living in the Bansu peninsula of Korea. The country has been largely oppressed by Japan who is beginning its quest to take over the region, using Korea as a stepping stone to China. Sunja lives with her mother, who, as a recent widow, provides for her family by running an inn full of interesting characters. But as Sunja grows up and moves away from the inn, she is forced to persevere – through hunger and poverty and segregation of many types. Sunja is an inspiring protagonist and as her family grows and moves, you feel yourself growing with them.

My favorite thing about this book, is of course the history, but beyond that I loved the writing. When I finished reading, I felt like I was going to mourn the loss of a dear friend (not a spoiler of the ending, just a reflection of my connection to this book), and so I kept turning the pages to the authors note. What I learned is that Min Jin Lee moved to Japan when her husband accepted a job, and she spent a lot of her time interviewing locals to prepare for this book. She had been working on the story for so many years, and wanted to make sure that it was exactly right. I think this anecdote is the purest example of what makes this book so moving and personal – the time and attention and care for the people it portrays just reflects how genuine Lee’s writing was.

While the plot may come in second to the characters and the history, it moves at the just the right pace, with just enough action to keep you turning the page. I would recommend it to someone looking for a heavier-novel or a lighter-nonfiction.

Review: Missoula

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Published: 2015
Genre: Non-fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

A couple months ago, I had a conversation with a coworker about some of our favorite narrative non-fiction authors and Jon Krakauer was at the top of that list. So the next time I found myself in a bookstore, I decided to check out out what books he had written aside from Into Thin Air. I posted a photo of his book Missoula and that photo became my most popular post by far in terms of comments. So many people said that they read it, were so affected by it, and that I should absolutely read it next. I requested it from the library and read it in two days over Christmas break – not exactly cheery Christmas reading, but when the writing is as good as this was, it’s easy to make an exception.

In Missoula, Krakauer tackles the tough issue of rape on a college campus. Most rapes that occur in the US today happen in private homes between acquaintances, making the cases notoriously difficult to prosecute, causing even more trauma for the victim.

Krakauer follows the cases of two women who decide to pursue charges against their alleged rapists. He documents their stories from the first friendly interaction, all the way through the justice system proceedings. For brevity, some sections of the court proceedings were left out, but the latter half of the book feels as though the reader is a fly on the wall in the court room, so crudely exposed to the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense. The language used is blunt because it is factual – no euphemisms are used to soften the blow of accused actions. I think this language and the unrelenting use of it throughout the court proceedings are what cause many readers to cringe and warn others about the challenges associated with reading this book.

However, as Krakauer is so famous for, he masterfully weaves together the experiences of these two women to tell their stories in a way that isn’t dry nor boring. I felt captivated and invested in the outcome of the cases, which kept me flying through the pages the whole time.

Missoula is thoroughly researched and rich in statistics – statistics that I wish more people knew. One of the facts often cited about rape is that 45% of rape accusations are fabricated. Krakauer, through his research, discovered that the two papers which cited for this statistic were debunked soon after publication. The true statistic of false accusations ranges from 2-10%. Similarly, a DOJ study found that 2% of women in America experienced rape, however a more inclusive study conducted by the CDC found that the number is a much more staggering 19.3%. And worst of all, if someone is raped in this country, the rapist has a 90% chance of getting away with no penalty while the victim will suffer from a lifetime of psychological effects.

There are many dimensions of this book worth exploring – from the role of the local prosecutors, to the varying obligations of the prosecution and defense in the court room, to the role of the universities, but it would take too much time to dive in to them here. While these topics may seem very technical, Krakauer makes them a part of the story, so that they are both understandable and interesting to the reader.

I would highly suggest Missoula to another reading looking for a social justice narrative non-fiction read – or really anything to make you feel engaged and fired up.

Have you read it? Let me know below in the comments!