Book Review: Come With Me

Author: Helen Schulman
Published: November 27, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
FLW Rating: 3/5

I still cringe when I read the title. Ok I had just had to get that out. There is one scene in this book that was the absolute worst. It ended with the title, and I’ll never be free of that experience. I’m struggling with how to express how annoyed it made me because I truly really liked the rest of the book, it just takes me a minute to remember what actually happened in this book. But when I do.. oh, then I recommend it!

Come with Me is a modern story about a family living in Silicon Valley. Told through multiple perspectives, Come With Me is able to paint a picture of modern life through a moment of tragedy in a community.

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While writing that synopsis I wanted to write the word MODERN over and over and over. It just is so modern – it features a family in which the mother is the main source of income for the family; where the father is a former talented journalist in a world that doesn’t pay for media; and where the son in the family maintains a long distance relationship through the use of his smart phone. But the main point of conflict in the novel is an issue as old as time — depression and suicide.

I think the contrast between the modern world the characters are living in and the old as time story of depression of a teenage boy made the tragedy of this story that much more powerful. There wasn’t any cyberbullying or AI involved in his suicide, it was just a tragedy. And the responses from everyone in the community felt real.

As you can probably tell from this review, I really genuinely liked this book. But I feel the need to say that because it’s not an easy book to like. It took a while to get in to, and it’s not incredibly plot driven, and that scene. Ugh that scene. It just ruined it. I think this book has so much potential and if you are a contemporary fiction lover who can handle a bit of… sex? I would say definitely pick it up. But if you’re at all sensitive, I just have to keep it honest, this may not be the book for you. Or maybe it is, but when things get weird, just skip to the next chapter.

This book is out November 27th so if it sounds up your alley definitely check it out! Thanks so much to Harper Books for the free review copy – as always all opinions are my own.

What I’m Reading: November

A little late to the game, but I’m here to “preview”my November reads — which will feature the theme of Nonfiction November! I have always touted myself as a lover of nonfiction, and while this remains true, I’ve found myself drawn to easier and quicker reads since joining the bookstagram and book blogging community. I’m excited to gain some headway on my non-fiction TBR and dedicate a month to reading some of those I’ve been dying to get to. Here’s how it’ll work:

Reading

My goal is to read FIVE nonfiction titles this month. Two hardcopies from my unread shelf, two kindle (e-arcs) I’ve been given from publishers recently, and one audiobook from my unread shelf) that’s available on Scribd.

(Note all images and descriptions from Goodreads)

Asperger’s Children by Edith Sheffer –  Hans Asperger, the pioneer of autism and Asperger syndrome in Nazi Vienna, has been celebrated for his compassionate defense of children with disabilities. But in this groundbreaking book, prize-winning historian Edith Sheffer exposes that Asperger was not only involved in the racial policies of Hitler’s Third Reich, he was complicit in the murder of children. In the first comprehensive history of the links between autism and Nazism, Sheffer uncovers how a diagnosis common today emerged from the atrocities of the Third Reich. With vivid storytelling and wide-ranging research, Asperger’s Children will move readers to rethink how societies assess, label, and treat those diagnosed with disabilities

Indianapolis by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic – Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, days after delivering the components of the atomic bomb from California to the Pacific Islands in the most highly classified naval mission of the war, USS Indianapolis is sailing alone in the center of the Philippine Sea when she is struck by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship is instantly transformed into a fiery cauldron and sinks within minutes. Some 300 men go down with the ship. Nearly 900 make it into the water alive. For the next five nights and four days, almost three hundred miles from the nearest land, the men battle injuries, sharks, dehydration, insanity, and eventually each other. Only 316 will survive. A sweeping saga of survival, sacrifice, justice, and love, Indianapolis stands as both groundbreaking naval history and spellbinding narrative—and brings the ship and her heroic crew back to full, vivid, unforgettable life.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou – The full inside story of the breathtaking rise and shocking collapse of Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup, by the prize-winning journalist who first broke the story and pursued it to the end, despite pressure from its charismatic CEO and threats by her lawyers. In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the female Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup “unicorn” promised to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would make blood testing significantly faster and easier. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.7 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work.

The Age of Walls by Tim Marshall – The globe has always been a world of walls, from the Great Wall of China to Hadrian’s Wall to the Berlin Wall. But a new age of isolationism and economic nationalism is upon us, visible not just in Trump’s obsession with building a wall on the Mexico border or in Britain’s Brexit vote but in many other places as well. China has the great Firewall, holding back Western culture. Europe’s countries are walling themselves against immigrants, terrorism, and currency issues. South Africa has heavily gated communities, and massive walls or fences separate people in the Middle East, Korea, Sudan, India, and other places around the world. As with Marshall’s first two books, The Age of Walls is a brisk read, divided by geographic region. He provides an engaging context that is often missing from political discussion and draws on his real life experiences as a reporter from hotspots around the globe. He examines how walls (which Marshall calls “monuments to the failure of politics”), borders, and barriers have been shaping our political landscape for hundreds of years, and especially since 2001, and how they figure in the diplomatic relations and geo-political events of today.

The Longest Line on the Map by Eric Rutkow – The Pan-American Highway is the longest road in the world, running the length of the Western Hemisphere from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in South America. It represents a dream of friendship, commerce, mobility, of the Americas united. Our collective imaginations have been forged along its path: Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the iconic Argentine revolutionary, traveled it northward in The Motorcycle Diaries; Jack Kerouac, the voice of the beat generation, followed it southward in On the Road. Many adventurers have journeyed the highway’s distance, but the road itself still remains shrouded in mystery. Why was it built? And why does it remain unfinished, with a sixty-mile long break, the famed Darien Gap, enduring between Panama and Colombia? Now historian Eric Rutkow chronicles the full story of the highway’s long, winding path to construction, which reshaped foreign policy, cost US taxpayers a billion dollars, consumed countless lives over a 150-year period, and changed the destinies of two continents. Fully illustrated with photographs, documents, and maps, The Longest Line on the Map offers readers a bird’s eye view of the incredible highway that snakes through more than a century’s worth of US and Latin American history, ending in a triumphant ideology that insists the Americas share a common destiny and mutual interests

Posting

Throughout the month I’ll be sharing reviews of the books I’m reading and I’ll look forward to your non-fiction reviews as well! I also intend to participate in the weekly posting challenges by the group of bloggers hosting this themed month of reading! Here are the prompts:

10/29-11/2: – Your Year in Nonfiction Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

11/3-11/9 – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

11/11-11/16 – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

11/17-11/23 Reads Like Fiction: Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?

11/24-11/30 – New to My TBR: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

For more information check out the ladies who are hosting the challenge this month!

Happy (non-fiction) reading!

What I’m Reading: September

September is always the busiest month of the year for me – I’m not sure why it always surprises me! This year I’m traveling to the East Coast for a slew of family events and then continuing on to Portugal for a week of work/play! (ALL PORTUGAL SUGGESTIONS WELCOME – I’LL BE IN LISBON!) After that I’ll be home but cramming for an engineering licensing exam while also trying to celebrate my birthday. Oof!

In terms of books, I have so many books I want to read, and after sticking to a strict TBR in August I want to give myself some wiggle room. So here are my top 3 for this month!

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Pub Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Viking Books
IT’S FINALLY HERE! I’ve been waiting years to read a new book by Tana French and I cannot wait to read this book!

Goodreads Desciption: Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin 
Pub Date: February 13, 2018
Publisher: Berkeley Pub
This book was actually gifted to me by the author, who’s been following me on instagram for a while now! I was so honored to have her reach out and the cherry on top was that this book has totally been on my radar since its pub date back in February! (I said I would read this last month but didn’t have time. It’d definitely a priority for me this month!)

Goodreads Description: Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have been best friends since their early twenties, when they first began navigating serious romantic relationships amid the intensity of medical school. Now they’re happily married wives and mothers with successful careers–Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. Their lives in Charlotte, North Carolina are chaotic but fulfilling, until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring for years. 

As chief resident, Nick Xenokostas was the center of Zadie’s life–both professionally and personally–throughout a tragic chain of events in her third year of medical school that she has long since put behind her. Nick’s unexpected reappearance during a time of new professional crisis shocks both women into a deeper look at the difficult choices they made at the beginning of their careers. As it becomes evident that Emma must have known more than she revealed about circumstances that nearly derailed both their lives, Zadie starts to question everything she thought she knew about her closest friend.

Autumn by Ali Smith
Pub Date: February 7, 2017
The Challenge this month for #theunreadshelfproject2018 is to read a FALL book – think blankets, hot apple cider, leaves falling, sweater weather…. I could go on. And since there’s never been a more “fall” book than one titled Autumn, I’ve decided to read this one! I picked this one up at a used book store last month and I’m excited to get to read it so soon! (Fall doesn’t really hit San Diego until ~ November so I was giving myself some time 🙂 )

Goodreads Description: Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Two old friends–Daniel, a centenarian, and Elisabeth, born in 1984–look to both the future and the past as the United Kingdom stands divided by a historic, once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand-in-hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

A luminous meditation on the meaning of richness and harvest and worth, Autumn is the first installment of Ali Smith’s Seasonal quartet, and it casts an eye over our own time: Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art. Wide-ranging in time-scale and light-footed through histories, Autumn is an unforgettable story about aging and time and love–and stories themselves.

What are you planning to read this month?

Book Review: The Book of Essie

Author: Meghan MacLean Weir
Published: June 18, 2018
Genre: Fiction/ YA
FLW Rating: 2.5/5

The Book of Essie is extremely popular right now – but it rubbed me the wrong way. The plot was simply too unoriginal for my taste, and all of the characters were too immature to enjoy reading about. I tried – I really did – but this one just didn’t do it for me.

The Book of Essie book is centered on Esther (Essie) Hicks, the youngest child in a religious family who stars in a reality series all about their life. Essie’s father is a pastor, so when Essie gets pregnant unexpectedly, the stakes are high as she works out what to do and what to tell the public.

The book was structured as three separate stories told by different characters- Essie, Liberty, and Rourke. Essie, as I mentioned, is the star of this show – the teenager who gets pregnant unexpectedly and has to figure out how to handle it. (She doesn’t have to, but if she wants things done on her terms, she does.) Liberty is an entertainment journalist who is interested in helping Essie, but also has a story of her own, which presents her with her own biased approach. Rourke, a classmate of Essie’s, may just be her way out. He has a secrets and hidden motivations as well, which make his side of the story enjoyable to read. Through Essie’s pregnancy, the three characters are forced to consider what they stand to gain, what they stand to lose, and what they truly want. There is no straightforward solution for any character, and therein lies the drama.

Beyond that, there is an underlying story of how did Essie get pregnant. It is clear that the answer is a secret for a reason, and as the details emerge each character is again faced with difficult decisions on what to do with the information they’ve obtained.

But herein lies my issue – each character acted with such short sightedness, naivite, and immaturity that I could hardly stand to continue reading this book. While Rourke was my clear favorite character, I just couldn’t stand watching him go along with the plans that were made. I know people have different pet peeves with characters, but mine is definitely characters who make immature decisions when honesty and maturity could solve the situation. That’s not a spoiler, just a general feeling.

This book had elements of scandal, reality television, and overbearing religious families, so I totally get the appeal and found this book entertaining. But ultimately I felt so disappointed by the lack of depth of this book. I felt like there could have been so much there, and somehow there just wasn’t.

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought!

July Reading Recap

Happy End of July! Overall, July was a great month for me – Looking back, the 4th of July was a blast, my new job celebrated summer with an outdoor party, my book club met on a beach for a Sunday afternoon of fun, we attended a beautiful wedding in Fullerton, California, and took a trip to San Francisco!

Between all of that, I was able to get through 5 books! That’s more than I expected considering my study schedule, but somehow I also feel like I didn’t really get in to any of them. Here are my quick thoughts on each with full reviews linked where available. Also quick note, these are in order of completion date!

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Literary Fiction, LGBTQ Fiction
Tone: Serious, Somber, Inquisitive
Structure: Alternating narrator in two distinct but related stories
Read if you like: reading about the AIDS crisis, Paris, cults, art history

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Tone: Cozy, Gothic, Suspense
Structure: First person in present time, with diary entries from the past
Read if you like: family dynamics, suspense, England


The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Genre: General Fiction (Felt YA to me)
Tone: Sassy, Snarky, Gossipy
Structure: Alternating narrator, Linear timeline
Read if you like: Reality TV culture

Boomtown by Sam Anderson

Rating: 4.5 Stars
Genre: American History
Tone: Respectful, Humorous, Intriguing
Structure: Two dominant story lines – one present day, one moving through time
Read if you like: American history with a sense of humor, urban planning, basketball

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: General Fiction
Tone: Quirky, Fantasty
Structure: A long meandering journey to a big climax
Read if you like: Going along for the ride, narrators who are a bit “different”

Did we overlap?? Tell me your favorite book you read this month!

Book Review: You, Me, Everything

My summer reading list this year has included some seriously hard hitting books. I wanted to lighten things up, so this week I’m bringing you three great beach reads! So pack your bags with these three books, and get ready to be drawn in to the drama!


Author: Catherine Isaac
Published: May 1, 2018
Genre: General Fiction
FLW Rating: 3.5/5

Tell me this: what sounds more like a vacation read than reading about a mother and son on vacation in the French countryside? Not much, right? Trust me, this story has a lot more depth than the beautiful cover would lead you to believe, but the airy setting definitely adds to the atmosphere and keeps the plot light and beachy!

You Me Everything tells the story of Jess and her son, William’s, vacation in France at a resort owned by Alex –  Jess’s ex-boyfriend and William’s dad. The book opens on the night of Williams birth, when Alex is mysteriously missing, and then skips ahead 10 years to a time when Jess is trying to reunify the father and son for all of their best interests. This story has components of love, friendship, and family and makes for a good quick read that will give you a sense of the importance of those relationships in your life.

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What gave this book some depth was the condition of Jess’s mom. Jess’s mom has a rare disease called Huntington’s Disease which is kind of like ALS, but actually a whole lot worse. Between Jess coping with seeing her mom in that condition, to wondering about the genetic effects on her life, a lot of the focus of the book was spent on discussing life with a chronic illness.

I truly enjoyed reading this story and thought the plot had just enough twists to keep it interesting, without putting my emotions through the wringer. The best word to describe the plot is comfortable, which is great for a beach read. To me, the best part of this book was watching the relationships unfold – I loved watching Jess and Adam reconnect, and also seeing Adam build his relationship with William.

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My ideal summer afternoon – a good book, some BBQ chips, and a beer from my favorite brewery!

Overall, this book was exactly what I needed it to be – a quick and relatively light book with love, romance, friendship, and family. While the writing was nothing to write home about, I don’t have any real criticisms about it. As I was reading it, someone messaged me on bookstagram and said that this book was “fine but not memorable”, and a few weeks later I would say that sounds about right!

Have you read it? Let me know what you thought!

Book Review: The Favorite Sister

My summer reading list this year has included some seriously hard hitting books. I wanted to lighten things up, so this week I’m bringing you three great beach reads. So pack your bags with these selections, and get ready to be drawn in to the drama!


Author: Jessica Knoll
Published: May 15, 2018
Genre: Mystery
FLW Rating: 4/5

Confession: I love the Bachelor franchise, including the spin-off show Unreal. So when my book club was deciding on a fun summer read and I heard the description for this one, I was ready to say yes – except for one thing: the opinions I’d seen on bookstagram for this book were atrocious. I’d like to set the record straight and use this as an example that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet (but always believe my posts 😉 ). I totally understand why people didn’t like it in the beginning (we’ll get to that), but this book was so worth sticking it out and actually made for a great read and a great book club discussion!

The Favorite Sister is about a group of women who make up the cast of a TV show called Goaldiggers (get it, they go after goals as strong independent women who don’t need men in their lives). The book opens at present day where you find out that one of the women from the cast has died – and there is a mystery surrounding the circumstances of her death. The book then jumps back a few seasons and tells the story from the perspective of three of the women, who explain events in their perspective and slowly reveal the whole truth. This book is full of drama, twists, turns, and surprises — which makes is fun to read and fun to discuss!

I just want to say out of the gates that I understand why people didn’t like it. Most of the negative reviews I read stated that they strongly disliked it early on, and decided to stop reading it. I hear you, I’m definitely a proponent putting down a book if you’re not enjoying it, but in this case I would encourage you to continue. The drama at the outset of the book is stupid. It feels below the reader – like something you just don’t need in your life and a weird premise for a book. The women are treating each other poorly and overall the vibe just isn’t great. But YOU GUYS, this is all setting you up for the first twist. I think it’s risky for an author to start a book like this – putting the worst part first in such a long book can clearly rub people the wrong way.

From that point on, I truly enjoyed this book. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed the narration from each of the different perspectives. There were some great twists and turns and the plot kept me engaged until the very last second!

The rocky start makes it a 4/5 for me, but I definitely want to encourage you to read this book! And BONUS it’s been picked up for a TV series. No word yet on when or where but the producer of Wild and Big Little Lies has purchased the rights!

Mid Year Favorites: Backlist

It has been such a great reading year for me! So far (well by the end of June) I’ve read 30 books! That was my entire Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for the year because I wanted to let myself read any book I wanted, regardless of how long it would take me to get through, without worrying about a reading goal! Well, I have been reading books of all lengths and still flying through them! I thought I’d give you a recap of some of my favorites from this year. Today I’m sharing three that were published in 2017 and tomorrow I’ll share my three favorites of 2018!

Back List

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Pachinko – Pachinko was my first dip in to the world of Asian literary fiction. I’m embarassed to say this, but I really hadn’t read many books set in Asia before this year and this started me down a rabbit hole to say the least! I learned so much through this beautifully written book and would recommend it to literally anyone. (Pub date: Feb 2017)

Summary from Goodreads: Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

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Beartown – I’m so ashamed of how long it took me to pick up Beartown. After A Man Called Ove, I’ve been claiming Fredrik Backman as a favorite author without picking up any of this other books. I’m so glad I picked this up because it is beautifully written and incredibly moving. An absolute must read! (Pub Date: April 2017)

Goodreads Summary: People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

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The Leavers – As I wrote in my Instagram post (linked here), I was legitimately sad to return this book to the library. It took me a long time to read because I found it to be pretty heavy (and also I lost it in my suitcase for a couple weeks.), but ultimately I felt such a bond with it before I returned it to the library. I ended up buying a copy of this book because I just need it in my life. Also note: this was part of my Asian literary fiction rabbit hole. (Pub Date: May 2017)

Goodreads Summary: One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

 

Part 2 – Books Published in 2018 will be posted here TOMORROW

Meeting Fredrik Backman

SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:


I attended my very first author event last weekend (I’ll admit that I have seen David Sedaris live in the past, but I consider that to be more of a show than an author event.) Meeting Backman was an absolute joy. I loved the way he spoke and how authentically himself he was – it lets you know that the amazing voice that you hear in his books is him. Nothing about him was “put on” and although I know speaking in front of large groups of people is his absolute worst nightmare, I am beyond thankful that he does it for us – his readers. Hearing him speak for an hour was incredible and I wanted to highlight some of his thoughts for you.

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Where does he start a book?

The common places, of course, are the story or the characters. Backman’s answer to this was, both but really “the feeling he wants you to leave with as you’re closing the book”. For Beartown and Us Against You the feelings were: Punched in the gut, sad, scared, but also full of hope. He also said he wants you to close the book and think to yourself “I need to talk to someone about this.” I cannot express how strongly I felt each of those emotions. His writing is good.

How does he feel about sports?

This may come as a surprise to some, as it did to me, but Backman actually loves sports. Growing up he played “everything. Except hockey.” What he wanted to do in the Beartown trilogy was many-fold but I want to highlight two in particular.

1 – He wanted to write a book to highlight how important sports are. His wife and his father, he mentioned in particular, don’t enjoy sports and he wanted to write a book to show his wife how important sports are.

2 – He wanted to tackle the issue of damaging sports culture. The way he talked about it was so incredible. He started to describe how the ideal hockey player is tough, and violent, and wins, and doesn’t take no for an answer, and goes out there to fight every day, etc etc. And then he slowly transitioned to “what happens when a girl says no to him? Did we ever have a conversation with him about that? At 17 years old.” The way he ended with “at 17 year old” gave me chills the way his most powerful passages in the book did. It was at that moment that I realized edited or not, this man is the real deal. It also let me know that he doesn’t hate Kevin (from Beartown). It gave me the impression that instead of viewing Kevin as inherently evil, he genuinely felt that sports’ culture had failed him. “Had we ever had a conversation with him about that?” Wow.

Humor

As we all know and love about Backman’s books, particularly the early ones, he uses humor to offset sadness. I particularly loved this in his first book, A Man Called Ove, where every sad moment was brought back to being humorous relatively quickly. While I didn’t notice it as much in Beartown or Us Against You, this was the opening topic of the discussion last weekend. Backman said that as an awkward kid, humor was a way in. “You like people who make you laugh. That’s just normal social behavior.”

But Backman pointed out that it can also be a weapon, and that joking in the locker room as middle school boys and making homophobic jokes is “just a joke” to the people making them, but is destroying the person who’s affected by it.

Also on the topic of humor – Ove is apparently the most common middle aged man’s name in Sweden. It would be like calling the book “A Man Called Mike” in America. Apparently Backman thought it was a funny joke that didn’t translate in to any other language.

Self Doubt

This was a total curveball in the conversation – it was the final question of the night and a woman from the back row asked how he’s overcome any issues with self doubt. I naiively thought that it was a silly question, but then was humbled by Backman’s honestly.

At first he said “I haven’t” and the audience laughed.

Then Backman said he struggles with serious anxiety, and there’s nothing funny about not overcoming self doubt. After events like we had today – which were full of respect and openness – he feels the way he does the morning after a party when he drank too much. “Why did I say that? Did I have to …? I wish I hadn’t… .”

He shared that on his last book tour he called his wife crying in the middle of the night (Swedish time) because he had so much anxiety that he has panic attacks – so this time his wife is traveling with him.

One thing that I found truly remarkable and I have so much respect for him sharing is that he’s in therapy because he doesn’t know how to deal with success. His exact words were “I’m in therapy for not being a failure.” It was amazing to hear someone open up about the topic of mental health and answer the question with so much honesty.

 

There is so much more of this conversation I would LOVE to share with you, but neither you, nor I, have the time to share it all here! I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little more from Backman – I know I sure did!

Book Review: Us Against You

SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:


Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: June 5, 2018
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

Sequels are hard – I imagine hard to write, sometimes hard to read, and honestly, as I sit here writing this, hard to judge. Us Against You is a phenomenal sequel and overall a phenomenal book – although, YES you do need to read Beartown first.

Going in to it, I wondered how the story would be set up – would it have the same pattern of an arch as Beartown? What will be the drama this time? I think the answer to that comes from the fact that while Beartown was a great standalone novel, it never should have been a standalone novel because the consequences of what happened in that book need to be allowed to play out in the public eye– so that we can see, hear, feel, experience, understand, and learn from what happened. Us Against You didn’t need its own drama or its own arch because the drama of Beartown wasn’t over. And for continuing that so strongly, Us Against You in a perfect sequel.

WARNING: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ BEARTOWN THE FOLLOWING MAY BE A SPOILER! NOT 100% BUT SOME. READ THIS FIRST

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Us Against You is, as I mentioned, the sequel to Beartown – a book about a hockeytown in Sweden, in which the only thing going for it is its hockey team. Through that mentality, a group of hockey players is elevated above the rest of society, which creates unhealthy dynamics for young men – most about seventeen years old. When this unhealthy sports culture creates a conflict in the town, each member of the community is left to deal with how we got here and where we go. Some will leave town, some will hate those who leave town, and other will find comfort in new places. Backman writes with so much feeling and creates not only an extraordinary book, but an extraordinary sequel.

While reading this book, I was admittedly less enrapt by the plot than I was when I was reading Beartown itself, but I  think that’s because a) the shock had worn off and b) because it was hard to read about the characters I had grown to love go though such hardship.

One of the things I particularly liked about this book, was that Kevin, one of the negative characters from Beartown, wasn’t a focus in this part of the story. After what he did in the last book, he wasn’t a character I wanted to see again. I loved the focus on Benji – who kind of became the star of this show, and Vidar.

In general, what I love about Backman and his writing is that where there are glimpses of sadness, there are glimpses of hope too. He balances tragedy with humor, and gut wrenching pain with optimism, and I think that is why he can teach you such a lesson while also leaving you wanting more at the end of the day.

I highly recommend this book, because I highly highly recommend Beartown and Beartown would not be complete without this sequel. You may have heard that Beartown will be a trilogy – but for now it’s just two books. I have heard from friends who have met him in person in other cities (he didn’t talk about this when I met him in San Diego), that he’s not ready to start on the third book quite yet because these two took a lot out of him. UNDERSTANDABLE! I just read ’em and I have the most serious book hangover of the year. So, enjoy these two as we all wait patiently and full of hope for the third book in the trilogy!


I hope you’ll stick around this week for my other posts – I have so much I want to share with you from this experience!