Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”

President Bill Clinton

That’s the voice I heard throughout this book. The nice guy, the type guy who buys the cool fourth of July fireworks and shoots them off for the kids so they don’t get burned. But ….but…..but… She said…. She claimed….She alleges….. He walks away. He didn’t. He hasn’t. He wouldn’t. He’d never. Or would he?

 

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The Story

A hockey town in a forest in Sweden is never the same after the night of  a teenage party just before a big hockey tournament. The star player is taken away by the police just as the team leaves, a week later, for the tournament. Did he or didn’t he?

Beartown, a sort of rust-belt town pinning all its hopes for revival on a youth hockey team’s rise to the finals. A leading player, regarded as NHL-worthy, is the shining star. He is the son of well-off parents, lives in the right part of town. Failure is not an option in his family. The town adores him.

The hockey club manager’s daughter fakes being sick. She wears bulky clothes, secretly rids herself of the clothes she wore that night. She hides. “This way he can only hurt me,” she tells herself.

The team bands together. It’s for the star player. We must stay tight. You are nobody alone. The child of a refugee, finally a member of the team, must decide how far loyalty goes. A mom at a breaking point. A bar owner who won’t take crap. They all have a choice to make. The player in the center of it all–what will he do?

The hockey team sponsors and parents gather together.  They want the Hockey Club manager fired. His daughter–HIS DAUGHTER–has ruined everything. She is the one who went to the police–a week later!

“But why didn’t she go immediately–she must be lying.”

“Have you seen the jeans these girls wear today?”

“It’s so confusing for guys …”

“Did she go up the stairs first?”

“Did she make her feelings–her supposed NO–clear?”

“They can’t scream rape every time their affections are rejected.”

“We all know X–he’d NEVER do that. She’s lying. Trying to get attention.”

“She doesn’t want her parents to know what she was up to so she lied.”

“The boy.” “The young WOMAN.”

 

 

What I Liked–what was truly accurate

I grew up in a rust-bet town in Indiana. We once had an NBA-worthy basketball star [who behaved himself]. He played Division I college basketball and missed the ’76 Olympics due to a wrist injury. I guarantee you there are still more people in that town who can tell you his name and some of his stats than can tell you who the Vice President is. Even though, the Vice President, too, is from Indiana.

I say this all because Backman nails the culture of small town sports, the hero worship of an outstanding young athlete. The kids and adults who want to ride his coattails to a better place. The adults who make cars or nebulous “jobs” available to let the kid live his dream in style. Or who move a family from low rent to high rent so the kid can play on a better team. “No problem–you’ll be in the NBA, just send me tickets.”

All of this is why I did not want my daughter to be a cheerleader. After all, who takes first dibs on cheerleaders? Athletes. Never mind that most would not do anything out of line. There are always some guys who fail to get the decency memo, who wouldn’t recognize or accept the word “No” if it was shined in their eyes in neon letters. They’ve “earned it.” Just like the fraternity boys on campus, or the college athletes or NBA or NFL or NHL or MLB stars. They’ve “earned” the women. Whether the woman were told or not.

Anyone who has watched a moment of college or overtly pro sports in the USA knows there is corruption. We understand that there are matters swept under the rug. Oh yes, the NCAA levels recruiting violations and other ethics charges. Pro teams cringe and do damage control and occasionally even cut lose an athlete caught beating his wife senseless or having “non-consensual sex” [never the “r” word] with a fan or groupie.

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But how many of those incidents ever make it to the press? College athletes and fraternity boys (often one and the same) have created a culture of rape, date-rape and sexual assault on many campuses. Yet the girl still gets blamed. 60 women come forth with the same story, but the famous actor gets a hung jury and a mistrial. Because we “know” him. He’s nice. He wouldn’t do that. Just like those frat boys from the “best families” wouldn’t do that. Just like that rags-to-riches athlete from the “bad” neighborhood would never let his own celebrity status go to his head and make him “know” he’d “earned” “it” whenever he wanted it. Whether the girl said yes or not.

The culture of rap music, of locker room banter, of generation upon generation of dirty talk and disrespect of women wink, wink, nudge, nudge, hubba-hubba. Hockey, the locker room teaches, is for guys. “If a girl likes hockey she’s a lesbian. If she likes hockey players she’s a slut.” The girls all want “it” is the other lesson it teaches. “No” can mean–hell, it often means, “yes, please.” Ha-ha.

What happens when MEN, yes MEN, stand up and say “No More?” Who knows. It rarely happens. The men who think like that aren’t always interested in sports. I loved the boy in the story who asks his Dad if it is crazy to wait till marriage to have sex. Is it crazy to want it to mean something? To not want to just f-*k? The Dad is unnerved by this. Still he manages, very weakly, to affirm his son’s views.  The lesson though is clear: No man wants his son to be the last male virgin–too much a reflection on Dad.

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And the alleged perpetrator’s Dad–the boy’s Dad (it’s always a boy who gets accused by a woman–note the difference), throwing his weight and money around trying to buy loyalty. But when you’ve been a refugee you know there are worse things in life than not playing hockey or working in a crummy job that makes your back hurt. How much loyalty can be bought? Is money for great skates enough? Can you gain loyalty thru Intimidation? Well?

 

Apparently in Sweden it’s same stuff, different country because this book shows the lengths people will go to to justify unacceptable behavior by some guy who can slap a puck or sink a shot or score a touchdown that would never be allowed by anyone just grunting away earning a degree in biology and filling a work-study job.

Oh, and that’s just the first part of the book. The ending…..No spoilers. None.

Summary and Rating

4 out of 5 stars

This should be mandatory reading for every sports nut, every youth sports league, every booster club in the country. Beyond this country. Every. Single. One.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Review: Caught in the Revolution

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I spent the lasts month’s of the Carter administration and the first three years of the Regan administration studying the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Tzarist Russia. All turned out to be a fascinating preparation for our world today. I was a continent away, in Malawi, when the Berlin Wall came down. I was devastated to be totally away from television that week. Back then, only rich expatriates and high ranking members of the government had satellite dishes for t.v. in Malawi. I heard it all on the shortwave BBC World Service.

 

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This fall marks the 100th Anniversary of the October [or November for those on the Western calendar] Revolution in St. Petersburg (aka Petrograd, aka Leningrad).  Yes, you read that right. St. Petersburg–not Moscow.  Moscow rose to prominence after the revolution, The last few years have given us a wealth of re-tellings of the first World War. Now it is on to the newly retold downfall of Nicholas II and the Romanov dynasty, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Civil War and, finally, (though not all in one year) the birth of the Soviet Union as we knew it until the Regan years.              Lenin image credit.

 

 

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Helen Rapport’s Caught in the Revolution is a grand tale. The speed and violence of change is caught so vividly that  I found myself breathless–as though I had been chased by the very mobs who took over. Unlike most Americas, I had a very good understanding of all that went into this revolution. It’s memorable moments are as well known to me as our own Boston Tea Party or the convening of the first Continental Congress. But hearing Rapport’s words made it all new and exciting again.

The Good

For me the good was hearing it told thru the eyes of the outsiders of the “old order”–the diplomats accredited to the court of the Tzar, the American bankers and businessmen brought in to try to hasten the pace of modernization and keep the Russian army fighting the war. Taken from letters and diaries the accounts of the country’s growing discontent with the war, of the new round of bread riots, of the killing of the despised Rasputin, the mutinies of the soldiers and sailors and the return of Trotsky and Lenin were made so real.

This is not an academic historian’s account of the times. This is a layman’s history, written to be read and savored.

The Bad

There isn’t really anything “bad” here. There is “bad” in the culture being remembered. Everyone trying to keep the alcohol out of the  hands of the mobs so that looting, pillaging and raping would be kept to a minimum was a very sad harbinger of what occurred in, especially, Berlin at the end of World War II when Soviet soldiers were set loose on the conquered country.

I did not shed tears over the losses the diplomats suffered in terms of priceless antiques lost. All could have sent their household goods home at the start. I also really couldn’t lament that the revolutionaries took the Tzar’s priceless wine cellar apart. Or that others poured out wine everywhere to keep the mobs less drunk.  The senseless destruction of property of, priceless records and libraries that were wantonly burned or destroyed was awful. What moved me most was the senseless violence–the rage–of a people held down for far too long.

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Their brutality–taught them in part by the Tzar’s Cossacks and his secret police it must be said, was almost too much for me at times. I did not condone, but understood the symbolism of Nicholas being sent into exile. Killing HIM was very logical to the people in charge. He had killed so many–or rather so many had been killed by a stroke of his pen or in his name. His beloved wife wrote her own death warrant by keeping the monk Rasputin around. But killing his children? No. Senseless.

That said, there isn’t much here to help Americans really understand what went wrong with Tzarist Russia. As Americans we used to be fine-tuned to avoid totalitarian or absolute dictatorship regimes. Today, obviously, we cannot take for granted that all Americans have come of age knowing anything what-so-ever about them.

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I wish she had given a bit more on the various causes of discontent and how it got so out-of-hand. I also wish even more had been said about how the peasants and workers were used by the Intellectuals of the movement and the differences between Lenin and Trotsky, as well as how violence became the watchword of what should have been a peaceful life after the revolution. The secrecy of the new regime, which intensified after Lenin’s death–that was not what they signed up for, those workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors, for once again they were virtual prisoners. The Church and all morality were cast out–yet Russian was a very Christian nation. In World War II, Stalin would allow the church back somewhat to keep the people fighting the war.          Photo: Wikipedia

But, this is a layman’s history–a book club history in the best sense of that genre.

 

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Book Clubs

When your book club selects this–and many will and should–don’t be afraid to dig deeper. Let someone read classics such as Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie for the problems in Nicholas’ life. Let someone read Richard Pipes or Alexander Rabinovich–deeper historical accounts. And let someone read the nearest competitor to this–John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World which gives an American Socialist’s perspective. That one is a book club book for all times. I couldn’t put it down, stayed away over 30 hours to read and “live” it in 1983. It is the book the movie Reds came from.

And, if you book club is a women’s club especially (but men are welcome to hear it all, too) be sure to assign someone to read on Nadezhda Krupskaya–Lenin’s wife and other Soviet women who tried to re-write the world women lived in for the better.

Big Complaint on the Audio Version

The reader was mind-numbingly DULL. It is a tribute to the prose of this book that even read in a near monotone I finished the book. The reader did such a disservice to this work.

 

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport

 

Rating

4 Stars

 

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

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Julie Murphy is one of the brightest stars of her generation of YA authors. No, scratch that. Of her generation of AUTHORS period. I love her books. The characters are vividly drawn, the dialogue is pitch-perfect. The emotions are spot-on to the age group. Everything is …. well… excellent.

There were so many amazing quotes, but, sadly, my week didn’t allow much time to pull over and write them down. I listened to the audio book, and in this case I wish I’d read it. I’d have covered a notebook in quotes.

Maybe the gist of life is learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Ramona Blue

 

The Story

Coming of age is difficult enough when you live in a former FEMA trailer with a decent, hard-working single Dad and your knocked up, but wonderful sister. Add in sister’s obnoxious boy friend, a drunk Mom who left long ago and it gets worse. But then there’s sex.  Or rather sexuality. Now, don’t go rolling your eyes. Ramona, called Ramona Blue by some due to dying her hair blue, has a dilemma that it is sometimes shocking to those of us who grew up when Stonewall meant only a Confederate general. Is she a lesbian? Does she like boys? Too? Only? Both? Neither? Things get wonderfully complicated when Freddy returns to her life.

 

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The Good

I loved every minute of this book because it was all so true. The truth rings from each page of this story. I’ve heard sections of this in conversation with my kids and their friends. I’ve heard more of it from the young man I like who worked at the gas station but now works at the dollar store. It’s American teenage-hood circa today.

I loved that the sister and her boyfriend had to face real-life consequences. The boyfriend’s response was totally true-to-life. The girl friend didn’t get the Kate Middleton or Hollywood Starlet pregnancy. I loved that the someone in this story [no spoilers] stopped to retrieve a condom and put it on–and that he knew how to do it without having slept with half the school. That was amazing. And that they commented on how this was never part of a movie. I loved that drugs were not only not an entertainment option–they weren’t even mentioned except maybe for marijuana. While there was sex, it was not gratuitous nor was the writing graphic. And, no where was religion mocked.

It seems to me that childhood ends and adult life begins the moment you stop believing your parents can rescue you.

Ramon Blue

Ramona’s sense of having to be a grown-up, of having to protect her family is an angst that runs from Princes William and Harry down to the kid living in a beat-up, cast-off trailer in a no-where town. All classes of kids today seem to feel responsible in ways they shouldn’t [and yes, irresponsible in ways they usually should]. The determination she pours into helping her family is something I see kids do in our poor, rural area. They let it rob them of options–steal their own future. That part of the story is so achingly real that I often had tears in my eyes.

The sweetness of Freddy, the presence and authority of parents, the truthful thoughts on Ramona’s weaker parent, the feeling that even that lousy trailer was a home lifted me from my own worries and made me see that parents do their job more than we think. Her Dad did the job well. We hear about the worst stuff–the “where were the parents” stuff–not the good stuff. Parents were mostly obeyed, too. That was heartening to see in a YA novel.

I loved coach Pru. I have been that “coach” to many kids I encounter–pushing them to reach for more than a C.M.A. course–by all means do it to get the job, but don’t stop there–that sort of thing. I loved her. I loved that Ramona had a mentor find HER. That’s how it happens. Her struggle with this was also so painfully real. That pride of a very poor, disenfranchised kid is often their own worst enemy. Once again, Julie Murphy nailed that emotion.

And finally, I am still screaming YES! YES! YES! at Ramona’s excellent mockery of rom-com movies. “Why CAN’T the fat friend ever get the guy?” Plus who wouldn’t love a character who shares your own early adulthood breakfast of two Pop-Tarts and a diet Dr. Pepper?

The Bad The very, very, minor momentary disappointment explained

There really was absolutely nothing “bad.” Not at all. My one teensy, weensy disappointment was that sports were involved in getting to college. Too often poor kids, first generation college students to-be, see sports as the only possible way to get to college, when in fact they are among the worst.  I should have trusted that Julie Murphy would handle it perfectly and she did. The whole thing  was made truthful and real by the need for grants and loans to pursue it. But while I was had just the tiny-est disappointment in this, I know that an individual sport like swimming can be one of the greatest catalysts to personal strength and self-discipline ever. For that I rejoiced! I hope this story line inspires readers to get in the pool or out on the track or just on the sidewalk walking. It’s a great way to work off tension and sort out all the confusion in any mind.

Rating

4.75 out of 5 Stars

So good! Both Ramona Blue and Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ [my review is here] are destined to be Young Adult classics for years and years to come. I can’t wait for her next book,

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

 

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Review: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

 

When I was in 3rd and 4th grade my Mom was one of a group of mothers who came to our school and presented great works of art–what we would call today an “enrichment program.” They were The Picture Ladies. Two of those pictures became life-long favorites of mine. The first was, Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LeGrand Jatte and the other was Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.

So, when I saw Christina Baker Kline’s new novel, A Piece of the World, on my library’s book club shelf, I grabbed it. I knew from the cover it was about the painting in some way.

The Story

The older I get, the more I believe that the greatest kindness is acceptance.”

(p. 276).

 

Christian Olson and her brother live on their family’s old homestead in Maine. Christian, now in old age, meets Andy Wyeth a painter who befriends a friend of hers. With only limited use of her legs–and most of that even gone with age, Christina becomes a model for what will become Andy’s greatest painting.

“It’s painful to hold out hope for the things that once brought you joy. You ahve to find ways to make yourself forget.”

[Christina on her brother, Al] (p. 219)

She has visible demons: her nearly useless legs. She also has invisible ones–her descent from a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, her ties to author Nathaniel Hawthorne and her refusal of medical treatment in childhood. Then, too,  there is her father’s ending her education and assuming she’ll keep the family and the house going.

Andy too has his demons–notably following his father as an artist and as a man. Their relationship is complicated by the circumstances of his father’s untimely death.

I’m angry at losing him, but I’m also angry at the waste….The time wasted, the energy squandered on meaningless possessions, the compromises…I don’t want to make the same mistakes.

[Andy] (p. 194)

The Good

The book captures the salt air-dried atmosphere of the painting to perfection. I felt I knew Christina pretty well by the end. Andy was a bit more elusive, but a typical artist nonetheless. You can’t pin him down.

I enjoyed the look at Christiana’s life thru the years. I had always envisioned her as a girl though–it was fascinating to learn she was an elderly woman who was respected and accepted by the artist and his wife.

I felt the joy and sadness of Christina’s life as though she was my own relative or dear friend. I felt Andy had a right to be conflicted.  That’s how well-told the story was.

 

The Bad

I really don’t have any complaints. There were a few places where I wanted more to the story but it is a sparse book to go with a sparse life, sparse region and sparse, mysterious painting.

I’m not sure why the Bible was always in lowercase letters. Perhaps that was a style-sheet change at the publisher.  Overall the book was respectful to religion. One busy-body got what she deserved, but that was it.

 

Rating

4 Stars

With two excellent books, this one and Orphan Train (now in a young person’s edition–I love that!) that I’ve enjoyed, Christian Baker Kline is an author whose future books I will eagerly await. I hope to read her past books as well.

 

A Piece of the World by Chrsitina Baker Klein

For more information on Christina and the Wyeths see the Farnsworth Art Museum which includes the Wyeth Center and the Olson House (Christina’s home which is the house in the painting).

 

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Photo credit: The Farnsworth Museum/Olson House

Review: The Last Girls by Lee Smith

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When I find an author I like, I tend to go on and read all (or at least most) of what they’ve published. I started this in high school with Herman Wouk, then in college with Chaim Potok and have kept up the habit with several others over the years. In this era of Reading Challenges there are some aimed at doing this and others at clearing your To Be Read list/pile. Lee Smith’s The Last Girls is one of those books. I read her novel Oral History when it came out then lost track of her. Recently I read (and reviewed here) her memoir, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life and decided she’d be one of the author’s whose backlist (prior books) I’d tackle gradually. (I posted about the other author’s I’d read in this Top 5 Wednesday post).

Best Quote

”…she has given her body nearly away already, to her children and her husbands, and now she wants to hold on to what she can.”

The Story

In 1965 a group of girls (including the author in her real life) went down the Mississippi by raft. All were students at a Southern women’s college. In the book they all reunite after one dies and go on a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi to remember their lost friend.

The Good

I’m one of those readers who loves the backstories of the characters. I like to know all about them.  I loved learning about each of their childhoods, what they were like in college, where they were today. The title comes from the old news story about the trip–they were referred to as “girls” and not women. One of them remarks that that could not happen today.  Hence they are the “last” girls to do such a trip.

The plot may have been a standard reunion story (a plot I usually really enjoy, by the way), but the characters each had unexpected, if not really “secret-secret” aspects of their life and of their inner “person.” I found myself really looking forward to the drive to and from work (an hour and 15 minutes each way) so I could listen to more of their stories.

I related best to Anna who, in college, planned to write serious fiction but settled for making great money writing formula romances. And I loved Pete–the “River Lore-ian” [I listened to the audio. I don’t think it was laureate. I think he was about River Lore, hence Lore-ian.] I enjoyed that entire story line. And, ugh! Bridgette and Leonard–who hasn’t been trapped with people like them?

An aside: I loved learning that “Mary Scott College” was, in real life, Virginia’s Hollis College where a friend’s mother, who became a poet, went. That was a fun “extra” connection.

The Bad

In spite of all the great backstory, I didn’t come away feeling I knew the characters.

I couldn’t stand Baby. There, I’ve said it! She was…well…a baby! I realize she was mentally ill and in 1962–1965 there were no medications that helped. That part was very sad–and I completely sympathized with even a fictional person suffering in that era. But I still couldn’t stand her little, whiney, manipulative, entitled self!  I could see dear Jeff adoring her–the “Soldier boy” protecting a “baby” and all. But, for the life of me, I couldn’t see why Harriet stayed friends with her! I’d have been at the college housing office in a week begging to move ANYWHERE to avoid her! Even marrying an older man didn’t make her more endearing–and I usually love any story of that sort.

I also kind of hoped Courtney would follow dear Baby’s ashes off the side of the ole Showboat Paddle Wheeler. Another lady who lunches who wasn’t satisfied with all she had. Catherine wasn’t annoying but her husband sure was. Nice, but annoying.

Picky, picky stuff: While panty hose had technically come out in 1962 they were far from common yet and, there was no diet Coke in ’65. Minor stuff–very, very minor stuff.

Rating

3.5 Star

That I didn’t like the main character was personal preference. The writing is wonderful! If you like reunion stories as much as I do, you will still enjoy this one, in spite of my dislikes.

I look forward to another Lee Smith novel before too long. I am going to read them all still., in my own sweet time. As an author, Lee Smith inspires me.

Here’s a link to the author’s story of her own raft trip.

The Last Girls by Lee Smith

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Is it me, or are those bathing suits more suited to the 1940’s than to the Annettte and Frankie years?

Review: One Plus One = Wonderful

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JoJo Moyes won my heart easily with Ship of Brides, then made me a life-long fan with Me Before You (Heck, I loved the movie of that one!). I even liked (but didn’t love) the sequel,  After You, which many fans didn’t. Now with One Plus One she’s entered my league of Favorite. Authors. Ever. I love the tone of her books. Her characters are believable and the stories are realistic enough that I fall right into them. Right now I’m really missing Jess, Tanz. Norman, Nicky, and Ed. That kind of real.

 

The Story

Can truly good people do the wrong thing?

Does it matter WHY they did the wrong thing?

Jess Thomas is a single Mom raising her daughter and step-son alone, her husband having fled to his mother’s due to depression. It’s a hard luck life for Jess and the kids,  Nicky and Tanzy, but she keeps seeing the glass as half-full. Her positive attitude is contagious, without being cloying or precious. She’s not Pollyanna and her life is no picnic. Both kids are bullied for being odd. Nicky is a young teenage “Goth boy” who likes make-up and video games. Tanzie is a mathematics whiz years above her grade level who really only enjoys spending time with their huge dog, Norman.

Ed Nichols is a computer-geek who accidentally creates a successful software company that’s gone public and is about to release another new phenomenal product. To get rid of a girl he thought he wanted he gives her insider stock trading knowledge. His life as he knew it, is over.

The couple meet when Jess is cleaning his vacation home for the cleaning service and he is shouting on the phone after learning he is accused of insider trading.

Then there’s a road trip to Scotland.

What I Loved

Everything. Not a word put wrong. Ok, I could quibble about the likelihood of it all, but why? I’ve seen stranger things happen in real life. People meet thru all sorts of circumstances. But, I’ve been in love. You just KNOW, don’t you? The emotion, the twists and turns of this novel are simply RIGHT. Utterly right. It all just …works. Splendidly.

What I Disliked

Nothing. Really. Nothing.

Rating

4.5 stars–I just loved it. I loved it so much I just bought a copy! I read fiction from the library. Not good for an aspiring author to admit, but I do. I buy them AFTERWARDS if I truly love them. I haven’t do that in a long, long time!

And, Jojo? There’d better’d be a sequel!!!

And, this one could do with Eddie Redmayne in the movie–he’s geeky enough.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyoes

You can read my review of other JoJo Moyes’ books here:

Paris For One & Other Stories

After You

Me Before You

Ship of Brides

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Review: Shotgun Love Songs

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“A debut novel that delves so deeply into the small-town heartland that readers will accept its flaws as part of its charm.” (Kirkus link)

You can almost hear John Mellencamp’s voice in this book! “I was born in a Small Town…” Only that would be a small town in Indiana. This singer hails from small town Northern Wisconsin. A town very much like Mellencamp’s hometown, only much colder.

The Story

Boyhood friends, Leland (Lee), Henry, Kip and Ronny are all grown up now. Ronny has is now disabled from a accident and from his hard-drinking days on the pro rodeo circuit. Henry/”Hank” is happily married and running one of those farms whose Scarecrow got rained on. Kip is trying to be the town savior by buying the grain mill and rehab-ing it. And there’s  Leland (Lee)–the Big Success of Little Wing.  A rock n’ roll superstar. But friendship can be a fickle thing.

The Good

…the safest thing is to become an island to make your house a citadel against all the garbage and ugliness in the world.” (Shotgun Love Songs).

I didn’t have to read where the author was from to know why the voice of this book is so authentic. He IS from “Little Wing”–a Wisconsin boy who knows the language of his state. He knows the small town boys he is writing about. I was impressed with the emotions the men expressed–at least in their thoughts. Lee’s looking out for Ronny, Hank’s love for Beth and their kids, even Kip’s eventual show of emotion all were so real to me–these are, of course, the boys I grew up with (albeit in Central Indiana) and the men I work and live by now in Southern Ohio.

The Bad

I was shocked to read some truly dreadful reviews of this book. I thought it was great. Yes, like most debuts, it had its weak spots, but none that really affected it to me. It is a guy story, told in a guy way, with guy morality. That seems to be the big gripe among online reviewers. It would be a good movie, too. Brad as Lee. Bradley as Hank and so on. It would do well at the box office. Kind of  guy’s Steel Magnolias.

Rating

4 full stars. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Shotgun Love Songs by Nickolas Butler

 

Review: Surviving the 70’s: Muscle Cars, Freedom and Fun

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One of the fun things about the self-publishing boom is getting to read memoirs of ordinary people. The folks who live next door, who sell boxes or repair copiers, who marry their prom date and have two kids and live more or less happily ever after–those kind of “folks.” Such is the case with this little memoir by a graduate of my own high school.

 

 

The Story

Greg Phillips tells of the fun he had, the hell he raised, the dodgeball he played and the cars he drove in his short and sweet memoir of life in Delaware County, Indiana in the 60’s and 70’s.  He was a young man full of life and energy–energy that was often curtailed by the whack of male teacher’s fraternity paddle on his backside! As a parent I often yearned for my son to be in a school like I went to–where there were decent men, family men, who taught not only history or math, but also taught boys to be hard-working, straight-talking, gentlemen who knew how to handle themselves. As Greg Points out, this was before the childless Phd’s (as I like to call them) took over education.

 

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Photo Credit

This could have been a teacher’s actual paddle.

The Good

What shines thru in this story is the accountability, the consequences for actions, the do-the-right-thing spirit of the times in which Greg and I grew up. Whether its the story of the fabled 1972 Tiger basketball team with future Purdue star Bruce Parkinson, or the integrity drilled into boys in the same-sex gym classes of a saner era. Greg writes truthfully about all the ways he was formed into being a hard-working, hard-playing family man and businessman. He tells about the tragic loss of his son, the sad loss of his father and all types of life experiences.

I like the memories of boys being boys and no on calling the cops or the therapists or the safety squirrels. I remember the legend of the teacher who lost his finger in the basketball hoop–he taught the next day. That’s the way men were then and the way they should still be. Boys and girls of every era raise hell in one way or another. We shouldn’t over-react to it.

 

Dodgeball

Illustration Credit and link to the poem Dodgeball–go on, click! Read it!

The Bad

“Bad” is too harsh. This isn’t fine literature and was never meant to be!

He owes no apology for his talk-it-out writing style, but Mrs. Dunn would have a lot to say! And while I certainly wasn’t in his gym class–it was all single sex back then, I don’t imagine quite as much profanity was used, but I AM sure it was all implied.

This isn’t so much a book as a nice long chat with the author at the Hide-out or the Mouse on Smith Street. And that’s just fine.

 

Rating

3 full stars. A fun written oral history of a life well lived and not yet done!

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Photo credit

Review: Chilbury Ladies Choir

51Cca4CCbQL._SY346_This book, told thru letters and diaries, follows on the heels of my 4 week series on favorite epistolary novels and nonfiction. Sadly, it did not make the cut to be included. In fact, twice I nearly tossed it back. The first time was when I checked it out from the new hardback book display at my library . The second time was while listening to the audio version. That it was favorably compared to the Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Club: A Novel still baffles me. I imagine the fact that both are set in World War II and both are in the United Kingdom (or at least WERE in the United Kingdom before the Nazi’s invaded in the case of the excellent Gurnsey book) and that both employ an epistolary narrative must have been enough for the intern charged with writing the blurb on the back of the book.

I expected to love this book. I did like certain moments of it, but found it just too much of an improbabe mess of story lines to be lovable.

Note: Spoilers abound. It was necessary. Skip to the rating if you don’t want it spoiled.

The Story:

The beginning of the book is all about the trauma of the choir being disbanded by the vicar due to a lack of men left on the home front to sing. This is promptly forgotten except for occasional mentions of the choir here and there until the last chapter. I never really understood how the was supposed to be this uplifting thing, let alone the focus of the story.  Sadly, this is where most reviewers must have stopped reading.

The characters are mostly stereotypes. The matron with the double-barrelled name and the son in the RAF. The Brigadier’s down-trodden wife, who is magically pregnant right as their 20 year old only son is killed. (The bitter tone at the start of the book centers around how awful the son was. That’s right–no one, not even his siblings are sorry he’s dead.)  Their gorgeous debutante-aged daughter, their younger daughter and a still younger Jewish refugee foster-daughter round out the family.

Everyone from his silly wife to the villagers are of course afraid of him. He carries a crop. Of course he does. Apparently, though, the author has never heard that a “horse whip” (as she calls it) of the kind stereotypical British Brigadiers go around thwacking against a thigh or a lover’s bottom is known as a  “crop.”  Surprising he doesn’t have a Labrador. Must have scared the poor thing off. Anyway, this man is silenced by a lady who previously would have cowered in a dark doorway to let him pass. Such is the magic imparted by a good cuppa and an air raid or two.

Then there’s the amazingly modern P.C. elements. The first patient treated from the Dunkirk evacuation is, wait for it…. openly gay (at least he is open about it with the helpful nurse) and, at a time when men went to prison for being gay,  he trusts a total stranger to return his male lover’s ring–and she does it. I’m fully aware that not everyone thought this should be illegal  (nor should it be)–it is just so typical of the immature story lines here. Then the silly young man outs a spy to her! He’s working FOR the spy’s headquarters. You’d think the Brigadier would be right there to beat him with his crop or blast him with his Purdys but no!

Then there’s the flouncing out done to epic levels by the double-barrelled matron’s RAF pilot-officer son when he, too, is done wrong! Epic. But wait! There’s more! He gets to flounce in a letter to the maid he’s just used to get over the debutante who did him wrong. Are you following all of this? But, its about the choir, Silly!

The other characters include a maid, a butler, dueling midwives of the nasty sort not shown on PBS (well at least not till a Downton movie perhaps), the nice, but soon forgotten new choir director and other people in the village Chilbury who suffer a lot once the war heats up, but until then have time to see spies, blackmarketeirs, downed pilots and locate fenced stolen nude paintings. Right, got all that?? But its about the choir? Where is the choir?

The Good:

Not much. I suppose I liked a few of the people. Mrs. Tilling and her lodger, Colonel Mallard (spellings may be off since I listened to the book). Baby Rose seemed sweet. Sylvie, the little refugee girl. Tom, the London boy out hop-picking and maybe someone else. I’m too exhausted trying to keep them all straight. Baby Lawrence was obviously crying because he couldn’t cope with it all–and him part of the most ridiculous story line of them all. Poor lad. Not even a Labrador to snuggle.

The Bad:

The story is such a mess of intrigue, plotting and boredom that I had trouble keeping everyone straight. The whole thing makes Downton Abbey’s Bates mess seem trifling. Someone–the younger daughter? The refugee girl? Says, just before the retreat to Dunkirk occurs, that “at least we [that is the nearly doomed British Army]  have got all routes covered” [something like that]. Very prescient. Very wrong, too.  Lots of stuff like that. “It’s officially now the Battle of Britain,” is actually said out loud. Yes. That kind of thing. Praise for Churchill, but no memory of all the upper-class twits who were British Fascists and appeasers and loathed him–at least in 1940.

Rating:

2 stars only because I finished it and liked the Colonel and Mrs Whatshername. Save yourself the trouble and read the Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel, instead. I will say that in spire of my opinion of this book, I will try another book by this author–even a sequel. I’m sure she can do better. Let’s hope her success with this book is enough to earn her a good, experienced editor.

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Review: The Trophy Child

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The Story

A suburban doctor’s wife with a stoner son by her first husband, is now trying to force her second child to perfection ala the Tiger Mother. Her step-daughter has tried to choke her. Her husband is drinking too much and has a random hook-up one night. So what happens when her push for perfections gets a bit too much? Her small British Lakes District town is watching with fascination! (It is British and there may be a few odd terms that confuse Americans, but Google them, ok? It’s all just like any suburb here.)

The Good

Wow! I kept HAVING to read more, more more! This is a fast-paced book in which the narrator doesn’t really mean to mislead you–but nothing predictable happens!  The characters each have surprises in store. The family dynamic was very real and very believable.

The Bad

I’m not sure there was anything bad! Not really even anything disappointing.

Rating

4 full stars! A great pick for Oprah Book Club fans and other book clubs. Fans of Lisa Scottoline and Jodi Picoult will want to try this one.

I hope there’s a movie so here are two of my cast picks:

PBS History's

This should be an excellent movie. My casting picks? Laura Carmichael for Karen.  And, just for fun, could Robert Bathurst have a brief cameo as the Headmaster? Y’all know I hopelessly ‘ship the doomed Sir Anthony and Lady Edith so humor me with this casting, ok? But please not Benedict or Tom or even Sam Irons for the husband. Someone more mature looking.

Photo Credit

Thank You to bloggers Cleopatra Loves Books and Rather Too Fond of Books to alerting me to this compelling read. Why not click on the links and go read their reviews as well?

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