Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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.

 

Beartown is a speck of a place. High unemployment, it’s run down, and has seen better days. With the prospect of the junior hockey team of finally making it to the national semi- finals , the fate of the town rests on a handful of boys.

This book is one that reflects a deep love of hockey in a small town. The pride and the way of life that it has become is  just as important as breathing, is well written. Kevin is the local golden boy, has the hopes of winning the semi final rests on his and Benji’s shoulders. Two friends who can read each others thoughts when they are on the ice. They are chalk and cheese but the friendship works well for both boys.

Maya and Ana have the same kind of friendship. Two girls who formed a life long bond when Ana saved Maya when they were children.

The dynamic of both sets of friends gets tested but it’s how well a friendship can survive a life changing event that makes this story.

This book is about is about the bonds of friendship. New ones formed, old ones under strain and some that just don’t survive. I love how that theme was woven in with hockey. The characters are varied and strongly written. While you know who the perpitrator and victim are its how the community reacts that is a big focal point halfway through the book.

I was captivated by this book. You get drawn into both sides of the event and all the while I was cheering for certain characters as well as feeling lukewarm to others only to have my feelings change as the story went on.

I have read all of Mr. Backman’s books and have loved them all for various reasons but find that with each book they become stronger. The varied themes that he writes about is something else I love about him. He can write about the elderly and young alike and gives each character and story a depth that is wonderful to read.

ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

5 stars

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Ultimatum by K.M. Walton

imageIt’s not Oscar’s fault he’s misunderstood. Ever since his mother died, he’s been disrespected by his father and bullied by his self-absorbed older brother, so he withdraws from his fractured family, seeking refuge in his art.

Vance wishes his younger brother would just loosen up and be cool. It was hard enough to deal with their mother’s death without Oscar getting all emotional. At least when Vance pushes himself in lacrosse and parties, he feels alive.

But when their father’s alcoholism sends him into liver failure, the two brothers must come face-to-face with their demons–and each other–if they are going to survive a very uncertain future.

Oscar has his fathers looks but that’s about all they have in common. He is artistic, loves classical music and plays the violin.  He takes after his mother in personality.  He has nothing in common with his brother, who torments him, and feels that both his father and brother don’t know or like him.

Vance has his mothers looks and is jealous of his brother for looking like his father, who he idolises.  Both he and his father love Reggae music, parties and having a good time. Both are selfish when it comes to thinking of others and Vance things his brother Oscar doesn’t like him much. He is always putting Oscar down for being a “sissy’ and acting like a girl.  Vance is always angry but that anger hides something deeper.

As they both stand vigil at their father’s deathbed they both think about how the other brother has treated them wrong and how they are misunderstood.  Both are scared and both are hurting. But when they are pushed into a future they never contemplated can they stand together or will it tear them apart.

The story goes back and forth between events from three years ago and the present. Each brother tells a bit of their own views on what was going on after the death of their mother and how they feel standing at their fathers deathbed. It’s  a tale of two brothers who misunderstand each other and it seems impossible for them to find their way back to being what they were when they were younger. Both have issues, Vance hides his fear with anger, Oscar hides away and draws or listens to music. It’s a tough book in the way that it forces Vance and Oscar to not only look at themselves but also at the demons that drove their father to where he is now, to face the things that they fear the most.

Holding a vigil at a deathbed is incredibly hard and watching your loved one take their last breath is heartbreaking, but more so for two teenagers who have already lost their mother now wait to lose their father.  It was an incredible book, well written in dealing with the emotions that are more heightened and the anger and fear of being completely helpless in this situation. It wasn’t a sappy book but one that dealt with the harshness of a family that wasn’t that strong after the death of their mother, a family that was struggling by for years with no emotional connection between the three remaining members.  It was heartbreaking as it should be, a hard emotional read that brought me back to when I was with my family as a grandmother was in her final days.  Some anger, some stories were told, memories relived and pain and sorrow as she took her final breath.  This story deals with that reality.

ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

5 stars.

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The Origins of Benjamin Hackett by Gerald M. O’Connor

imageIn the summer of ’96, Benjamin Hackett has come of age, technically. And in the midst of the celebratory hangover, his world is whipped out from under his feet. His parents have finally shared their lifelong secret with him; he’s adopted.

At the age of eighteen, the boy still has some growing up to do, and with the help of JJ, his loquacious consigliore and bodyguard, he embarks on an adventure that’ll put to bed a lifetime of lies.

Over the course of five days, they find themselves caught up in the darker side of Cork. But when they sweep through the misfits blocking their way and finally discover the truth of it…now that’s the greatest shock of all.

 

The day after his 18th birthday Benjamin finds out that he is adopted.  He is shocked but most of all angry for the lie his parents have kept from him all his time.  After seeing the parish priest who arranged the adoption he goes on a quest to find out who is parents are.  This sets him on a path that takes him into the underbelly of Cork and aligning himself with questionable characters to help him get to the truth.  With JJ helping him unquestionably as a friend should, he finds what he is looking for.  Will he keep what he found out to himself or will he blow apart the world of the people who raised him and others around him to satisfy his every building anger?

The opening few pages of the book had me laughing.  The writing and language is great, the local lingo and manners of speaking brought me right back to when I was in Ireland.  Benjamin was right to be angry but the story is a long and winding one that brought him to the truth.  it’s a tall yarn that only the Irish can write and get away with.  It’s not your typical coming of age story.  I loved the first and third part of the story.  The middle third with him and JJ’s goings on in Cork were farfetched. It did add to to the story but I found it dragging a bit in my opinion.  The whole thing with the way they wanted to break into the convent to find out his parentage was just way to out there.

In saying that it was a good read and brought me to 90’s Ireland. I also could tell that this was written by a Corkman even before i realised that the writer is from Cork.  Stories set in the west usually have a certain feel and desolation to them, just as you can can tell a Dublin writer as well.  Having worked for a Corkman you can get some of they lyrical way of the county in this story. It’s a good first novel from Mr. O’Connor

ARC provided by Netgalley for a fair and honest review

3.5  stars

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And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

image

“Isn’t that the best of all life’s ages, an old man thinks as he looks at his grandchild, when a boy is just big enough to know how the world works but still young enough to refuse to accept it.”

Grandpa and Noah are sitting on a bench in a square that keeps getting smaller every day. The square is strange but also familiar, full of the odds and ends that have made up their lives: Grandpa’s work desk, the stuffed dragon that Grandpa once gave to Noah, the sweet-smelling hyacinths that Grandma loved to grow in her garden.

As they wait together on the bench, they tell jokes and discuss their shared love of mathematics. Grandpa recalls what it was like to fall in love with his wife, what it was like to lose her. She’s as real to him now as the first day he met her, but he dreads the day when he won’t remember her.

Sometimes Grandpa sits on the bench next to Ted, Noah’s father—Ted who never liked math, prefers writing and playing guitar, and has waited his entire life for his father to have time for him, to accept him. But in their love of Noah, they have found a common bond.

Grandpa, Grandma, Ted, and Noah all meet here, in this peculiar space that is growing dimmer and more confusing all the time. And here is where they will learn to say goodbye, the scent of hyacinths in the air, nothing to fear. This little book with a big message is certain to be treasured for generations to come. 

I read this last night and bawled my eyes out. It was so raw and emotional that tears streamed down my face and made it hard to read at the end.

As much as it is about love and aging it is about loss. The loss of memories, the very things that make us who we are and what those around us mean in our lives. What happens when your memories slip through your fingers like sand and you barely remember who you are, never mind those around you. What it is to see the person you love to not remember who you are and the pain that goes with that. It is a story that I am sure many can relate to, and that is the most heartbreaking thing of all.

My father has started with dementia and I see this as a preview of things to come.  I have known people with Alzheimer’s and it’s heartbreaking to see them struggle to remember and to also see family members sad expressions as their father, mother or grandparents not know who they are and confuse them with people from the past.  As short as this story is I had to stop a few times to get a grip on my emotions as they overwhelmed me a few times. I suggest that if you start reading this one to have tissues handy as you will need them.

A powerful short story that left me sleepless thinking about it.

ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review

5/5 stars

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The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

imageRebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick’s far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is far more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he’s fated to become.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she’s sacrificed for love–her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself – will have been for nothing.

Ok, we all know who this story is about.  The names have changes and some of the circumstances as well but we all know it’s a spin on Kate and William.

The fact that Bex is American puts a bigger spin on this story. Sure there are a lot of books out there with an American gal who accidentally runs into a prince somewhere in the world and it becomes a whirl wind romance that the prince’s father can’t stop, because it’s always the father that puts up a stink.

What I liked about this book was the way it was written, strong characters, a strong background of the places and for the fun of it, a quasi love triangle between the two princes and Bex.  I thought it would be a nice light, but long read.  Something fun that I would be able to put down and pick up later on.  Instead I found myself sitting on the couch, guzzling coffee and flew through this book in a day!  So much for a light read.  I will hold my hands up and say that I enjoyed this one much more than I thought I would and probably more that what most will.

I was surprised to read that this is a fan fic book written by two Americans.  As far as fan pic goes this is miles better than the most famous fan fic of all, 50 Shades.  Being an American living in England I found this book a good read.  Having had watch Kate and Wills story play out here on the news and in the rags and then to watch their wedding, it was all a bit romantic.  Who doesn’t like a romance like this once in a while?  It was a guilty pleasure book, one that will make some peoples eyes roll at the cheesy thought of it.  Trust me though, the writing is good enough to grab you and the pages fly by.  I dare you to not read it in one sitting, go ahead and prove me wrong.

4/5 stars

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Going Hard by Kelsey Browning

imageSlick sports agent Griffin Steele is living the highlife in Los Angeles, far from the shadow of the North Carolina mountains where he grew up. But when his hometown falls on hard times and needs his help, Grif reluctantly agrees to commute between coasts. He never expects the lush scenery, in the form of pretty tomboy Carlie Beth Parrish, to be such a temptation.

After an impetuous one-night stand with Grif Steele fifteen years ago, hardworking blacksmith Carlie Beth has tried to make a living and raise her daughter in the hometown she loves. Then, too-sexy-for-his-Rolex Grif blows back into town like the perfect storm, making Carlie feel less like a thirty-something mom and more like an infatuated teenager.

When a stalker targets Carlie Beth, Grif can’t help but step in to protect her. But once he discovers the fourteen-year-old secret she’s been keeping from him, will he embrace the truth or will he turn his back on Steele Ridge and Carlie Beth forever? 

 

Carlie Beth impressed me with her feisty attitude and her fierce devotion to he daughter. 15 years after Grif left for LA she has carved out a life for herself and Aubry in Steele Ridge. When Grif arrives back home all the old feelings come to surface again.

Grif is grudgingly back in his hometown, he really doesn’t want to be there but when he sees Carlie again it’s hard for him to let go of what happened all those years ago.

I loved the chemistry between them, Carlie tries to deny it but she doesn’t want to get hurt again, and who can blame her? Grif is also trying to get past an incident that happened back in LA  and isn’t very trusting at this point either.

Aubry is a teenager who doesn’t miss a thing when it comes to her mother. She is witty, sharp, and a determined young lady who has the best qualities of both her parents. When she shows up Grif at a corn hole game he can’t help but like her attitude that reminds him of her mother.

There are a few twists in this book about things going on in town and with Grif and Carlie Beth. The interaction between them and Aubry is realistic and fun to read.  It’s got a bit of everything in here, romance, mystery, and wonderful characters.

This is a collaboration series between Kelsey, Adrienne Giordano, and Tracy Devlyn each writing a book. Going Hard is the first in the series. There was a prequel novella that was available through the writers newsletters. You don’t have to have read it to know what happens in this book.

ARC provided by author in exchange for a fair and honest review

4/5 stars

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The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

imageThe Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives.

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.

She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live

Ivan is a child of the  Chernobyl disaster .  Born with severe physical deformities as well as a connective tissue disorder that makes his face sag, he isn’t the prettiest of things, but he is incredibly intelligent.  He causes mischief among the staff and residence of the hospital but he is alone and isolated due to the fact that the rest of the “mutants” have the minds of small children.  He has no peers to talk to, the staff, bar one nurse, hates him for reasons unknown.  He doesn’t know who his parents are or when his birthday is.  The only person that shows him any love or affection is Nurse Natalya and the only joy he has is reading. His life is one boring routine, being invisible and making it his business to know what is going on with all the staff.  He is proficient in knowing everything that happens in the hospital by being there but unseen.  He susses out all of  his fellow mutants and in some cases develops soft spots for some.

He writes his life story after the arrival of Polina, a 15 year old orphan who has found out recently that she has leukaemia. After getting hold of her diary he thought it would only be fair to let her in on his life story. They make slow going of becoming friends. Polina  opens Ivan’s world in ways he never thought possible.  She is intelligent, shares his love of reading, making mischief and breaks through the loneliness that has surrounded him since his birth.  She brings him outside, something he never wanted to explore.  She shows him life, she makes him laugh for the first time in his life and in a round about way, love.  They develop a strong bond but one that is doomed.

This isn’t a YA book, even though it’s told through the eyes of Ivan, this is an adult book.  It has many heartbreaking moments mixed with realistic themes and has a sharp edge to the harshness of it all.  The settings seem too real to be fiction but as we know that because of the setting and the time frame this story could be based on reality. I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually a fictional book. It’s about struggle to find some sort of happiness in the bleakest of situations and settings.  Ivan was an asshole but when Polina came into his life he changes.  Not only does she save him, he in turn, saves her.

The ending is heartbreaking on so many levels, I did cry a bit at the end.  It left me very emotional and I felt incredibly bad for Ivan but it also had some hope for him at the end, to find peace and whatever joy he could. This is a raw and harsh book, the narrative was incredibly well done. There are some funny bits and black humour in it, you laugh in parts you know you shouldn’t but you can’t help it. This is one that will stay with you.

ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review

5/5 stars

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