Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

(Originally published as The Scandal in hardback)

Genre: General fiction

Similar to: All of Backman’s other work like A Man Called Ove. 

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of ice hockey or overly wordy fiction

Publication date: 3rd May 2018

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a really long time because I thought I’d love this book but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me ages to read and because I didn’t fully connect with the storyline I really wasn’t sure how to review it. So apologies in advance if my review makes no sense – I’m still trying to process my thoughts. 

Beartown or The Scandal (christ, even the name is confusing) is set in a small town in a Sweedish forest. The town is in decline – industry is waning, people are leaving but those who are left all have one thing in common – a fierce love for their ice hockey team. But when their star player commits a terrible crime the town is divided – did he really do it? Is it really his fault? And should his alleged actions go unpunished for the greater good of the team and the town? What follows is an examination of the issue from about 35 different perspectives, all from characters with similar sounding names.

I found this book incredibly confusing. I really struggled to keep track of who was who and what their relationships were with each other, let alone how they felt after the incident. There seems to be something about the way that Fredrik Backman writes that I just don’t like (I also struggled to get into A Man Called Ove). I think it’s his scant character descriptions that initially throw me, plus the rate at which he cycles through each of them that kept drawing me out of the story to check who was who. 

I also found the pacing of the storyline incredibly slow. There’s very little action until a shocking event half way through, then a forensic examination of how the townspeople react. And that’s it. When you’re not sure what the difference between Bobo and Benji is, or where the fuck Lyt came from it’s kind of hard to care about what they think, especially when you’ve got no context for understanding why they might feel that way. 

I have to admire the way that “the issue” was explored. I liked how Backman presented different topics – class, race, privilege, power, money, the success of your children and blended them together to essentially explain the reactions of the town’s residents. Ultimately though, I found the novel really depressing. There’s no doubt that an incident took place (a horrible, illegal incident) but I didn’t feel like there was any kind of satisfactory resolution. It made me feel powerless, as I couldn’t see what the answer should (or even could) have been. I’m sure that’s what the author intended but urgh, it made me want to weep for humanity. Also, I’m not sure that threatening someone with a shotgun is a particularly responsible portrayal of the only way to get revenge on a criminal. What was it trying to say – the law doesn’t work so you need to take matters into your own hands? I can only hope that it doesn’t put anyone off from reporting a crime of this nature. 

Ultimately, I’m aware that everyone loved this book – and you probably will too – so please don’t be put off by my review. It just wasn’t for me.
You can all go ahead and tell me how wrong I am in the comments now 😂 

Rating: Two and a half not-so-jolly-hockey-sticks out of five. 

Confusing and depressing, I really wasn’t a fan.


Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!

 

Advertisements

Review: The Lido by Libby Page

​​”Sometimes you need to swim outside the lanes”

Genre: General Fiction, British Fiction (I refuse to write Women’s Fiction just because it’s a story with female characters)

Similar to: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, *whispers* Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (I don’t want to jump on the NEXT BIG THING bandwagon)

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of quirky, heartwarming British literature

Publication date: 19th April 2018

Well blow me down with a feather – it’s so rare nowadays to hear the words South London in relation to anything other than knife crime/drugs/violence and yet…what do we have here? A book about COMMUNITY and FRIENDSHIP and PEOPLE BEING NICE TO EACH OTHER and it is so lovely and touching and relevant that I want to weep.

The Lido is the story of Rosemary (86), who has lived in Brixton for all of her life. She’s been a regular user of Brockwell Lido since she was a child and still goes every morning for her daily swim. When the local council announce plans to sell the facility off to redevelopers, Kate (26) is asked to cover the story for the local paper. After meeting Rosemary, Kate realises that the lido is so much more than just somewhere to exercise and her and Rosemary’s battle to save it gives them both a new purpose as well as an unlikely friendship.

I really enjoyed the overall premise of the book. I liked the idea that one of the characters (Rosemary) had lived in the area all of her life, and the way that she talked about her home really gave you a sense of what it was like to live in Brixton, how it had changed but how there was still a thriving community, just like there always had been. I thought that the time slips back to Rosemary’s younger days (including her fond memories of her husband George) worked particularly well and I loved that, as an older character, she brought so much local knowledge that really grounded the story. I found her descriptions of the lido in the 1940’s and 50’s particularly evocative and her personal account gave me an emotional connection to the building and the campaign to save it.

I thought that the author did particularly well to write such a charming, quirky book that covered some big, weighty topics. Loneliness is a key theme (both in younger and older people) and I could definitely relate to the feeling of living in a city full of people but still being cut off and isolated from the world. I loved that Rosemary was able to help Kate to integrate into the local community and that helping her to do so also gave Rosemary a new friend *thinks for the five millionth time about volunteering locally*. I also thought that issues around grief and depression were handled sensitively – we definitely need to hear more about bereavement in older people.

I really enjoyed the depiction of exercise helping people with anxiety and low self esteem. I thought it was really interesting that the author chose an individual sport like swimming but still managed to show how just taking part gave the characters so much more than a workout. I know I immediately thought about making more use of my local council pool (then I remembered how much effort it takes to prepare to swim and how disgusting the sports centre is – it’s due to be demolished and rebuilt so maybe I’ll go to the new one*)

The only drawback I have for The Lido is that it does occasionally dip its toe into the saccharine waters of the overly sentimental (see what I did there?) and there’s a romance storyline that feels a bit unnecessary and slightly detracts from the overriding theme of strong female friendship (why does a character always have to pull to evidence their newfound happiness?) but overall the pacing is good and there was enough drama to keep me entertained. 

Apart from those minor niggles, I think it goes without saying that I loved The Lido. It’s a completely feel-good read that still covered a whole bunch of difficult topics. I loved that the characters of Rosemary and Kate became friends despite the age gap and I especially liked how having an older character gave the novel a grounding and history that enhanced my emotional connection. I found the whole thing utterly charming – perfect as a gentle summery read.

Rating: Four hold-your-nose-and-jumps out of five.

Lovely, funny, sad, joyous, infuriating, heartwarming, evocative, charming, uplifting, emotional…literally ALL OF THE FEELS. The Lido is like a hug in a book.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley! I also read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #23 Read a book with a female protagonist over the age of 60. 

*  I definitely won’t. 

 

TL;DR March Review

* Still no proper graphic.

Hello Lovely Readers!

Is it just me or has March flown by? Happy April everyone and Happy Easter/Passover/Day of Chocolate- white rabbits!

So March brought us the official beginning of spring and even though the weather is still cold and extremely rainy, signs of new life are starting to pop up everywhere. My daffodils are going strong, my veg seeds are coming up, my fruit trees are in bud and the tortoises have fully woken up and are rampaging round my kitchen.

I’ve made my annual plan for my allotment (including separate list of Things That Won’t Fit) and I’m slowly transferring seedlings across. I’ve had to hold of on planting quite a lot of things for fear of frost damage, but after this last little icy blast we should be good to go. This is the busiest time of the year gardening wise so I’ve got absolutely loads to do.

The house renovation project is going well – the plastering is finished, the fireplace has been re-pointed, the kitchen and bathroom are ordered and a fitter is due to start in a couple of weeks. We’ve also ordered the wood for the skirting boards and door architrave and sourced a new front door. Today I’ve been chipping bits of plaster off the floorboards and generally tidying up – we’re going to need a MASSIVE skip!

I’ve done a bit more antiquing and acquired a few more bits and pieces for the house, including this delightful copper kettle that’s over 100 years old:

…and also this old-but-still-useful trug…and of course a book (it’s Margaret Atwood and it was £2, how could I resist?)

This month I’ve focused entirely on book reviews (I still had some hanging around from last year) so I’ve cleared my backlog. I’m doing well with both my Netgalley backlist and all my current ARC’s are on schedule. I’ve read six titles for #Read Harder 2018 which is bang on schedule so I’ve allowed myself to go read new things that don’t have deadlines – what a novelty! I’d almost forgotten what its like just to read a book because you thought it looked interesting in a bookshop.

So, in case you missed any of my March posts, here’s the TL;DR three sentence book reviews:

Women by Chloe Caldwell – A brilliantly engaging piece of what appeared to be autobiographical fiction. Absolutely loved it, although I suspect lots of other people won’t get it. 🌟Five out of five 🌟

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel – I totally get why people love this series, but the rape scenes sat uncomfortably with me. Otherwise a really original epic. Four out of five.

Misogynation by Laura Bates – A hilarious collaboration of essays from the author of the Everyday Sexism project. Occasionally felt repetitive but overall a great read. Three and three quarters out of five

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup – A moving, poignant, important read that drew obvious comparisons to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs and unfortunately came up lacking. An amazing story but slightly too impersonal. Three and a half out of five.

Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris – I had sooooo much criticism for this book, the details were awful and there were so many minor inconsistencies and errors that it drove me mad – and yet the main story was a total page turner. Appalling ending though. Three out of five.

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed – more YA that I’m too old for. Fluffy nonsense but with an original Islamic angle that managed to hold my interest. Two and a half out of five. 

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter – Meh from start to finish. I expected a lot  more. Two and a half out of five. 

So that’s March wrapped up! Last month I said that I was hoping to have a bathroom fitted or at least on order by the end of March – it’s not fitted yet but it is on order and scheduled to be fitted in April so hopefully by the end of this month it might finally be in situ! Fingers crossed!

How was your March? What will you be up to next month? ? Let me know in the comments!

Much love,

Lucinda xxx

Ummm, thanks?

So it seems I’ve reached that magic number of 1337 likes on my blog. What a super weird thing to congratulate me on.

So, ummm, yay me?

I’m slightly suspicious that WordPress has realised they haven’t sent any kind of encouragement to me for quite a while, so now I’ve got a “well done for trying!” badge. Is this the equivalent of a digital wooden spoon award?

Has anyone else had a congratulatory message for a totally random number? Or is it just me?

Review: The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

image

Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.co.uk

Build a wall! Build a wall! Build a wall!

Erm…. even as an English person with very little knowledge of US politics I know that’s not a good idea. Fortunately, The Line Becomes a River really helped me to understand why.

The book is the real life account of a second generation Mexican American who goes to work for the Border Patrol Agency, stopping illegal immigration from Mexico to the US. As mentioned above I’m British with very little understanding of the situation, so I was totally unprepared for what I was about to read.

I’m not sure how much (unbiased) coverage immigration from Mexico gets in the US but I for one knew very little about it. All I’d seen is Donald Trump saying that Mexicans were rapists and drug dealers, and they were coming to America to expand their criminal operations. Naturally (like literally everything that is spewed forth from the mouth of The Donald) I’d assumed this was nonsense, but I had no concept of the reality. The Line Becomes a River really opened my eyes to what was going on, from the unique position of someone working to keep illegal immigrants out but who was also descended from the same cultural heritage.

I think the thing that struck me most about the entire immigration situation was the sheer danger of trying to cross the border illegally. I didn’t really think about the terrain (mountainous desert), the temperatures (high enough to kill you within a few hours if you don’t have adequate water/shade) or the sheer distance you would need to travel. I also knew nothing of the gangs who were utterly taking advantage of ordinary people by charging them ridiculous fees in exchange for smuggling them into the US – in other words, people trafficking – or the relationship between the gangs themselves and drugs, guns and other types of illegal activity.

What seemed utterly crazy to me was the deportation situation. Cantu describes immigrants who have lived and worked for thirty years in the US, paying taxes, marrying, having kids – who then get deported back to the country some of them haven’t seen since they were children. I couldn’t believe the rudimentary way that families were being ripped apart. Even looking from an economic perspective, the costs for deporting, say, the father of a family of four must be huge when you take into account the social, mental and monetary pressures that the remaining family members would be subjected to. That’s not to mention the ethics of taking away a father, role model, care giver and often primary earner from a young family. For what? And all because the country of birth box on the individual’s passport said “Mexico” and not “USA”. Crazy.

Some of the stories detailed in the book were truly terrifying. There were tales of finding bodies in the desert which had been executed by gangs, groups of immigrants dumped by the people traffickers and left to die, babies who had not survived the crossing, children unable to see their parents because they had made it through but the rest of their family hadn’t, kids visiting their dads in detention centres… there were so many people at risk and so many lives that were being destroyed.

I did appreciate that Cantu didn’t offer his own political opinions on the situation, but instead relied on telling the stories of the people that he encountered without bias. This allowed me the freedom to make my own mind up about what was going on.

It seemed to me that instead of trying to target the individuals trying to enter the US, there should be a crackdown on the illegal gangs and people traffickers. I appreciate this is easier said than done, especially when they live in a country such as Mexico where it seems relatively easy to pay your way out of trouble, but it has to be a better idea than building a wall. Not only would the terrain prohibit the wall from actually being built, the physical difficulties of policing the bloody thing would surely make the entire enterprise cost prohibitive? Couldn’t that money be put to better use?

Despite the shocking nature of the novel, I did struggle with the narrative flow. The first person perspective was interesting but Cantu obviously found his job very difficult, so the whole book was tinged with his own depression. It seemed to jump from one upsetting story to the next, with no hope and no solutions provided. I know that Cantu had to retain a professional distance from the people he encountered, but that lack of emotion in his writing really made the book quite lacklustre in places.

Overall, I’m glad that I read The Line Becomes a River as I feel much more aware of some of the issues that are happening on the border. However, the execution of turning these stories into a cohesive memoir could have been a lot better. In parts the book lacked pace and the writing often failed to grip me. Food for thought, but still quite disappointing.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars.
A great, impartial, own voice viewpoint on a political hot potato let down by a dull narrative style.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #4 Read a book set in Central or South America written by a Central or South American author.

Les Mis Read Along

I’ve been meaning to read Les Miserables for such a long time, but never managed to get past the first few chapters. So, when I saw the #LesMisReadalong being publicised on the lovely novels and nonfiction blog I couldn’t wait to sign up!

The read along is being hosted by Nick and his blog has a wealth of information about Les Miserables, including historical background, advice on the different versions available and a downloadable reading schedule.

I’ve shamelessly cut and pasted the rules of the read along from Nicks blog to explain how to join in:

How to Participate

1 Get an unabridged copy of Les Misérables. See below for suggested translations/editions.

2 If you have your own blog, write a welcome post explaining why you are joining the read-along and what you hope to gain from it. Include your past experience with Les Mis in any of its forms. Leave a link to your post in the linkup section at the end of this post. If you don’t have a blog, you can leave your information in the comments section below.

3 Download the Les Miserables Chapter a Day Reading Schedule 2018.

4 Commit to reading a chapter a day. If you get behind or race ahead, no worries. Life happens. My blog posts will stay on track with the reading schedule, and I would ask that you please respect the reading experience of those who may not know the full story. In other words, no spoilers!

5 Please feel free to post the official Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along graphic on your website or blog to spread the word.

6 Subscribe to One Catholic Life so you don’t miss any read-along posts throughout the year. You can get updates via email by using the form in the right-hand sidebar or you can subscribe via RSS and read them in your favorite blog reader.

So, what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

image

image

Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

This is becoming a bit of a theme recently, but THIS BOOK IS GREAT! Dear Amy absolutely had me gripped from the start and I found it really difficult to put down. The story really drew me in and it was so fast paced I whipped through it in a few days.

In other news, I also finished reading an absolute shocker of a story this week – review on Friday – so this unexpected run of positivity will be short lived. Anyway, I digress…

Dear Amy is the story of a teacher, Margot Lewis, who also freelances as an agony aunt (Amy – hence the title). One of her pupils goes missing, and despite the police thinking that she ran away from home, Margot has her suspicions. At the same time, letters start turning up addressed to the Dear Amy column from Bethan Avery, a local girl who disappeared some years before who had never been found, suggesting that she had been kidnapped and asking for help. At this point, about a million questions are thrown up. Are the letters really from Bethan? How can a girl who has been kidnapped be posting letters? Why doesn’t she just say where she is? Are the two cases linked? Is Margot really as sane as she appears to be? There are so many layers, plot twists and unexpected events that take place in the novel that it really did have me guessing until the very end (if you’re sick of hearing me trot this phrase out, wait until my review on Friday. That book definitely didn’t have me guessing anything for ONE SECOND).

I was completely hooked by the storyline in this novel from the very beginning. I really liked the fact that the main character, Margot, was an unreliable narrator. Her mental health issues and the fact that she had stopped taking her medication made me question everything that she said had happened. I wasn’t sure if she was imagining whole chunks of the story, entire events/characters or if her viewpoint was so altered that the ending would be along the lines of ‘so I imagined the whole thing?’ I subsequently spent a lot of time trying to cross-reference people, situations and timelines to try to ascertain where the truth might lie. This might sound tiresome but I liked the added complexity and depth that this gave the main storyline. 

However, I did find that when it came to sub-plots, especially the quite frankly weird and totally inappropriate love interest, the unreliability of Margot’s story made me second guess everything a bit too much. Was the character a complete figment of Margot’s imagination? Was his interest in her real? Was he who Margot thought he was? I think the story would have been just as interesting without this detail (it wasn’t the most scintillating romance ever) and overall I didn’t feel that it added anything to the book.

I liked the fact that the story wasn’t overly gore laden or too graphic. A lot is left to the imagination when the author describes the kidnappers actions and I think that this allows the reader to either brush over the repulsive events as too awful to think about or fully immerse themselves in their brutality, depending on their own personal preferences. I think that there’s often a fine line between too much and too little detail, but in this instance I think Helen Callaghan got it just right.

I don’t usually read so called kitchen sink thrillers so I approached the story with fairly low expectations, but I really enjoyed the book – it was a total page turner from start to finish. It was a fairly original idea (I think – like I said, I’m not a afficianado of the genre) so I guess fans of something like The Girl on the Train would really like it. I’m not saying that Dear Amy is as good, but it is close. The writing style is quite easy, pacey and isn’t overly descriptive, making it a good beach read if you want something darker than the usual chick lit. Lucinda recommends!

Rating: 8/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #12 Read a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read.