Book Review: Beartown

Beartown has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now. When I first picked it up, I thought the book wasn’t for me because of all of the hockey content, but I pushed forward this time and realized it was much more than that.

This book, like all of Backman’s books, is complicated. There are many characters presented within the text who are experiencing different, yet relatable struggles. Whether it is your identity or financial hardships, marital struggles, or internal strife, you find yourself in each and every one of those characters as they experience their separate grief, sadness, and fear. You find peace knowing you are not alone. Beartown is a story about being human. It’s raw and poignant to every reader.

Beartown, largely, is about how a fragile and already violent and complicit community reacts to a tragic moment. It looks at characters who make the right decisions, and characters who make the wrong ones. It is fictional, yet we see this happen all of the time, and it is frustrating.

The town, focused solely on getting its hockey team to the finals, loses sight of morality and humanity in this one important event. I read this book with shaking hands and angry tears most of the time, but Backman does not fully betray the reader. He shows that in darkness, there is light and that there are bears in this community who will fight for their cubs.

There are many “teams” in this book besides the obvious hockey one. Beartown demonstrates the power behind a good team and the strength of small teams. These teams can be husband and wife, lovers, best friends, colleagues, and mentors. Characters were constantly learning throughout this story how to be better individuals so that they can support their teams. I was moved by many of the characters and their loyalty to one another. It was a beautiful, raw, and complicated story.

A few things to wrap up my review:

Believe victims and survivors. BELIEVE THEM.

Have grit and persevere.

Knock yourself into that wall if you need to — full force. Again. Again. Again. You have strength and you have worth.

And,

“Words are not small things.”

Trigger warnings: rape, suicidal thoughts, suicide mentions, sexual assault, homophobia, guns, violence, victim blaming, child mortality (past), foul language.

My Top Books of 2020

At the beginning of 2020, I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I planned to slow down and enjoy the books I read, rather than stressing about meeting a large goal. Well, this year was unexpected as we found ourselves at home more than ever before. Despite this extra time, I still decided to read slow, but still surpassed my reading goal by 10 books this year.

Each year, I reflect on my favorite books. I like to share an array of books that reflect different genres and perspectives. While my reading list was heavily fantasy-focused this year (thanks to Sarah J. Maas), I still tried to incorporate romance, memoir, historical fiction, fiction, thriller, and young adult in my reading list. I also introduced new authors to my bookshelves, such as N.K. Jemisin, Neal Shusterman, Octavia Butler, Kristin Hannah, and T.J. Klune. I had an amazing reading year and made incredible bookish friends from around the world!

Now, here are my top 12 books of 2020.

8 pictured here. The others have been lent to friends, were read on my Kindle, or listened to as an audiobook.
  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

I do not think there is a more perfect book out there. Fantasy, adorable children, LGBTQ representation, inclusion, humanity, self-acceptance – this book will make you cry happy tears and clutch your heart to make sure it doesn’t burst. I loved this book. I have purchased this book for about 5 people, and will continue to do so until everyone I know reads it.

2. House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J. Maas

I discovered Sarah J. Maas in 2020, reading her ACOTAR series with a buddy read group. Out of all of the SJM books I read this year (about 10), this one was the best. The world, the writing, the characters – it was an amazing experience. Like any fantasy book, get ready for some world building, lots of details, and with SJM, lots of steam. I love Bryce and Hunt, and I could not get enough of this story! Anxiously awaiting the next release.

3. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

This memoir should be read by all. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Miller, and my husband read the physical book this year. This memoir transformed and empowered me to stand up against injustice in its many forms. It is a poignant, important memoir that stirs crucial conversations about sexual assault and its survivors. Believe survivors. This memoir was moving, poetic, and brilliant. You will have no words reading this.

4. Kindred by Octavia Butler

This science fiction novel tells the story about a woman who travels back and forth to the Antebellum South, constantly saving a young white man who is her ancestor. This book is fascinating, horrific, and important to read. It’s a captivating story about the history of racism and slavery in the United States. I read this book in one day.

5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My first Kristin Hannah book was The Great Alone in 2017, and while I really enjoyed it, The Nightingale is a book that will stick with me for a while. It is so powerful, telling the tale of sisterhood, WWII, sacrifice, women spies, and heartbreak. I cried and clasped my hand to my mouth many times throughout this book. Definitely recommend this one. I can’t stop thinking about it.

6. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

I was really lucky to receive an advanced reader’s copy of this book back in the spring. I love Practical Magic (the movie) and very much loved Hoffman’s Rules of Magic. I was so excited to get this book and read about Maria Owens. I was not disappointed. A story about sisterhood and witches? Powerful women? Witchy, magical tips about herbs and spells? Even a little historical fiction crossover? Yes, please.

7. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This book, though considered fiction, is based on a true, horrific reform school that operated for 111 years in the United States. It’s such a poignant, heart-wrenching book. It is enraging, captivating, and so well-written. It is a masterpiece. Read it read it read it.

8. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I read The Broken Earth trilogy this summer, and was blown away by Jemisin and her work. This is some of the best, most captivating prose I have ever read. The dystopic, horrific world that Jemisin creates is just the start of why this series was so fascinating. The book features Black characters, a Black female protagonist, and has powerful conversations about race, class, individualism, gender equity, and more. Just read the entire series, OK?

9. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

And yet another Kristin Hannah book that made me ugly cry. I think I sobbed for 5 minutes after reading this one. So beautiful – a story about friendship, loss, love, grief, family, coming-of-age, chasing dreams – I couldn’t get enough of it. Reminded me of Now and Then. I heard the sequel is even more gutting, so here I go!

10. We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Can I recommend that readers read this one instead of American Dirt? This is an own voices story about immigration and real and current events. This is an extremely painful, heartbreaking story. It tore my heart apart as I read this. It deserves all of the attention and praise.

11. The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Can we please talk about this terrifying feminist debut? This book was so scary, captivating, and just plain old awesome. I loved it. This book was revolutionary in many ways. It was some dark horror, and I was here for it. If you want witchy, cutesy spells, don’t read this one. If you want to have some nightmares, read this one!

12. Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins

I was really lucky to receive an advanced listeners copy from Libro.fm. You want to read a powerful story about a woman learning about her northern and southern roots? You want to get a humbling history lesson and learn about the Great Migration and the displacement of Black people across the country – a lesson you did not learn accurately in school? Read this book. Also, Jerkins is a delight!

BONUS BOOK!

13. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This was one of the best gothic horror books I’ve read in a long time. Creepy, hair-raising story about a headstrong woman who encounters the imaginable. It also talks about race, colonialism, and eugenics as part of its horror. It’s just … so good. And the cover? Amazing.

What are some of your favorite books this year? Share in the comments!

Book Review: Anxious People

“They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. You’re good enough.”

“But when you get home this evening, when this day is over and the night takes us, allow yourself a deep breath. Because we made it through this day as well.

There’ll be another one along tomorrow.”

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

I wanted to highlight these quotes from Fredrik Backman’s latest book Anxious People because they made me feel the most. Like, the hand-over-your-mouth-with-tears-in-your-eyes feels after a long day of work during a global pandemic and divisive political election. Just … lots of feelings.

It’s been a rough year for all, and when I first heard of Anxious People, I was admittedly … anxious about it. A book about mental health? Would it be too triggering for me? Would I have trouble reading it? Will I like it?

The answer to all of these questions is yes. It was hard to read. Some moments, I needed to put the book down and read something else for a few days. The story, however, was so intricate and powerful that I needed to learn what happened to these likeable, sometimes unbearable characters. I needed to work through that pain and discomfort, for in the end it was worth it. The ending was so beautiful! It was restorative.

I laughed out loud the first 5 pages of this book (something I never do). I cried during this book (something I usually do not do). I just really enjoyed reading it. I heard the audio is fantastic, and consider listening to it down the road as a reread.

Backman has a gift for writing about the intense, raw moments of being a human. (A Man Called Ove? I still get choked up) In this book, like all of the others, of the characters were flawed and are written in such a unique way. He really has a gift. I am grateful I had the chance to read it with a group of insanely sweet bookstagram friends. Have you read this one?

Synopsis (pulled from Goodreads):

This is a poignant comedy about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Viewing an apartment normally doesn’t turn into a life-or-death situation, but this particular open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes everyone in the apartment hostage. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers slowly begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths.

As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people. 

Review: ‘The Broken Earth’ Series

I did not know what to expect when I started The Broken Earth series, but I was not disappointed. The series started popping up on my Bookstagram feed (@keepitkassual) in the late spring, and I knew that it was something I needed to get my hands on!

The glossy Hugo Award pictured on each cover is more than well-deserved. Author N.K. Jemisin presents some of the best storytelling that I have ever read with shifting points of view and poetic, poignant prose. You are constantly on the edge of your seat as you read, concentrating on every word as you learn about Essun and her story.

 

Orogenes are a specific race within the Stillness with a power called sessapinae, giving them the ability to control tectonic activity within the earth. Also referred to as the derogatory term, roggas, orogenes are oppressed, feared, and hated beings; they are seen as the “Other” within the Stillness. Essun, an orogene herself, kept this secret from Jija. She believes that Jija has taken Nassun somewhere to kill her, so she sets forth to find them and seek revenge on Jija. That is the premise of the story. Essun’s quest to find her daughter. What readers are presented with is so much more, however.

What I liked about The Broken Earth series was that the books shed light on many important social topics, including environmentalism (the Earth seeking revenge on the beings that destroyed it), systemic racism, and classism. The books aren’t just limited to those themes, however. They also explore individualism, resistance, LGBTQ relationships, and gender equity. These topics are important, and they are impeccably intertwined throughout the books.

The first book was my favorite, for it seemed the most organized.  I enjoyed the shifting points of view. Essun’s story is told in the second point of view, so, you, the reader, are Essun. You are the protagonist. The Fifth Season also follows the stories of Damaya and Syenite, two other orogenes. The ending of the book will leave you feeling exhausted and duped … but in a good way.

The Obelisk Gate has the one thing that a reader of the fantastic enjoys: world-building. Hundreds of pages of it. So much that it almost came across as disjointed and hard to follow. This might be because I don’t enjoy lengthy world-building, but it’s high fantasy, so I should have been prepared for it. I do read and enjoy Tolkien, don’t I? He loves to talk about trees. 

The Stone Sky, the final book, can be read quickly because you don’t want to put it down once you start. Jemisin’s writing is entrancing. The mother-daughter struggle is profound as you discover that Nassun’s powers go beyond what Essun could have ever imagined. This difficulties that they face stretches to the very end. The finale is truly heart-wrenching and fast-paced. You’ll finish feeling heartbroken yet satisfied. You will find yourself experiencing a complex array of emotions. That’s because it’s such a complex series.

In The Broken Earth series, Jemisin presents readers with the following question:

What are we willing to sacrifice to avoid positive change?

The Broken Earth series is a profound glimpse into our present and our future. It’s important now, more than ever, to have conversations about climate, race, and human rights. We must make sustainable change. We have to save our world.

. . . . .

N.K. Jemisin was the first writer to win three consecutive Hugo best novels awards for science fiction and fantasy. As a Black writer within the fantastic genre, her books feature strong Black characters struggling and combating important social issues. 

You can learn more about N.K. Jemisin and her work here.