Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Title: Beartown
Author: Fredrik Backman
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: April 25, 2017

Synopsis from publisher's website:
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

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 explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Beartown was pitched to me by the wonderful team at Simon & Schuster Canada as part of their pre-release activities for the book. The winner of the giveaway and I both received finished copies. Before I started reading it, all I knew about it was what was written in the synopsis above.

Beartown is a hockey town. The community thrives on the sport and nothing brings them closer together (or tears them apart) more than their passion for the game. A team of 17 year old boys have the weight of their town on their shoulders as they head into the semi- final match. The team has been together for ten years, training for this moment. Everyone from their coach, club president, team sponsors and parents constantly reminds them that winning could secure more funding for their hockey club and put their town back on the map.
"The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?" p109
Though hockey takes center stage in this, Beartown also walks readers though the perspectives of various inhabitants of Beartown uncovering layers of additional themes that touch upon classism, substance abuse, violence, ageism, and bullying to name a few.
"He turns sixteen today, and all his life he has been teased and rejected. About everything. His looks, thoughts, manner of speech, home address. Everywhere. At school, in the locker room, online. That wears a person down in the end. It's not always obvious, because the people around a bullied child assume that he or she must get used to it after a while. Never. You never get used to it. It burns like fire the whole time. It's just that no one knows how long the fuse is, not even you." p327
The one central theme that resonated for me was around sexual assault.
"For the perpetrator, rape lasts just a matter of minutes. For the victim, it never stops." p177
The town's unwillingness to talk about it, victim shaming and viewing the perpetrator as the victim. These are all things we have seen happen in our own modern day society and I applaud Fredrik Backman for putting it front and center.
"Words are not small things." p234
Beartown is a masterpiece. Fredrik Backman's writing, from his meticulous character development down to his ability to elicit an abundance of emotions, is like nothing I've ever read. This engaging and captivating novel will hit a chord down to your core. Beartown easily makes it on my all-time favourite book list. The extra star in my rating above is no mistake!

Backman will not let you down. I will simply leave you all with one of my favourite quotes from the book…
"There's a thin line between living and surviving, but there's one positive side effect of being both romantic and very competitive: you never give up." p123

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of Beartown by Fredrik Backman from Simon & Schuster Canada for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman

Title: The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family's Quest to Bring Him Home
Author: Sally Mott Freeman
Format: Paperback ARC
Pages: 608
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: May 9, 2017

Synopsis from publisher's website:
The extraordinary, real-life adventure of three brothers at the center of the most dramatic turning points of World War II and their mad race to change history—and save one of their own.

They are three brothers, all Navy men, who end up coincidentally and extraordinarily at the epicenter of three of the war’s most crucial moments. Bill is picked by Roosevelt to run his first Map Room in Washington. Benny is the gunnery and anti-aircraft officer on the USS Enterprise, one of the only carriers to escape Pearl Harbor and by the end of 1942 the last one left in the Pacific to defend against the Japanese. Barton, the youngest and least distinguished of the three, is shuffled off to the Navy Supply Corps because his mother wants him out of harm’s way. But this protection plan backfires when Barton is sent to the Philippines and listed as missing-in-action after a Japanese attack. Now it is up to Bill and Benny to find and rescue him.

My thoughts...
Freeman's novel was clearly a labour of love. She was determined to research and investigate the mystery of her uncle's past, even though she never had the opportunity to meet him.

This is an indepth telling of her father's and uncles' experiences throughout WWII, specifically around the events of Pearl Harbour and experiences POWs in the Philippines. Her writing drew me in and had me hanging on each page as I immersed myself in her family's history.

The Jersey Brothers is a memorable and gut wrenching story of one family's unwavering desire to save one of their own.

Why I connected with it...
Where do I even begin? I felt all kinds of connections to Sally Mott Freeman's telling of her family's past. The setting of where it took place and the situation I was in while reading it resulted in me finishing all 600+ pages of the book in just under 5 hours.

First, the setting. Much of Barton's story takes place in various parts of the Philippines, the birth place of both  my parents. I found myself jotting down all of the locations named as Barton was moved from one camp to another. After reading the book, I checked the locations on Google Maps and realized a couple of the prison camps are only a couple hours from where members of my family currently live. I also deeply connected to this book as I read it on a flight from LAX to KOA (Kona, Hawaii). Knowing that my travels later on that week would eventually take me to Pearl Harbor, it fueled my desire to learn more about Freeman's family. However, before even reaching Pearl Harbor, my interactions with our Air BnB host deepened the connection even further. On our third day, I had noticed a card on the fridge that had an image of a former Naval Officer. When I inquired about the man in the phone, our host went on to explain that the image was of her father, a Pearl Harbor survivor. Following this revelation, I told her about the book and the story of The Jersey Brothers and she was just as intrigued as I was.

Who I'd recommend it to...
Readers who have an interest in WWII history may enjoy this novel. Based on where Freeman's family was stationed, readers are able to see the war from three very different perspectives: Bill (a White House advisor in charge of the first Map Room), Benny (an officer on the USS Enterprise) and Barton (a POW).

The Jersey Brothers will be available on May 9. If you decide to give the book a chance, please stop by again to let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of The Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman from Simon & Schuster for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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