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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman //Book Review// To say this a book about a small-town hockey team is true, however, there is so much more to this story than the plot! At its heart, Beartown is really about right versus wrong, courage versus fear, the price of winning at all cost, friendship, loyalty, community, family, parenting and perseverance. In one sentence, it's an insightful study of the human condition - the good, the bad, and the ugly!

I am a firm believer in the idea of "the right book for the right time" (this concept also works in the reverse). I first read Beartown last year in my book club. I don't know anything about hockey and wasn't really interested in spending too much time to begin. To be honest, I probably would not have picked up this book if it wasn't a book club selection. I am so glad that I did!

The storyline involves hockey but it really could take place in any competitive culture: ballet, softball, dance, cheer, football, basketball, etc. The competitive event of my personal reference at the time I read Beartown was a high school debate league. Through my son's four years of debate we met wonderful people that have become life long friends. We also experienced the very real but completely unnecessary side of humanity with the extremely cut-throat, win-at-all-cost families and coaches. Ethics, morality, principles, even the concept of just being a kind human being, were not always part of the equation. Although our personal experiences were very different on the surface, the underlying elements of the dark-side of humanity were extremely prevalent and similiar to the characters in Beartown. Hockey is just the backdrop in Beartown. Backman does a masterful job peeling back the layers of his character's personalities and examining their strengths and weaknesses. It's interesting to consider that if I read this book at a different time in my life, I may have written a completely different review. For now, however, Beartown hit on all cylinders.

The following quote is one of my favorites from the book and summarizes the big picture. Backman quotes Mother Teresa, "What you create, others can destroy. Create anyway. Because in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and anyone else anyway."

You will have to be the judge if this is the "right book at the right time" for you or not. If you have already read Beartown what did you think? Are you planning to read the sequel Us Against You?

One important note, there are triggers involving sexual violence and infant death in this book just in case those details are necessary for you to avoid. The language (also especially the locker room talk) is also very salty.

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Not My Cup of Tea

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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen //Book Review// This may not be a popular sentiment with Jane Austen fans but I will honestly admit that Northanger Abbey is "not my cup of tea". This assessment may surprise those of you who know of my often professed love and appreciation for Jane Austen's other works. I will unabashedly claim my adoration of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice, however, I can not state the same for Northanger Abbey. I felt as though I was slowly trudging through snow, uphill, while I tediously read this novel. I am glad that I read it and was also happy when it was over. I did appreciate Austen's wit and humor but could not help feeling like I was trapped inside a string of "inside jokes" that I just didn't get! Despite my lack of understanding of many of the cultural references of the day (including a lengthy list of Gothic novels of the time), Austen successfully weaves a variety of interesting themes throughout the novel. The themes include: the role of the heroine (in both the novel and in life), novel reading, naivety, youth, wealth, social status, misunderstandings and maturity.

Unlike heroines of the novels of the day, Catherine Morland is a simple, naive, innocent, sweet-natured, middle-class girl of seventeen. She loves to read Gothic novels which impact her perception of how she views a variety of events in her life ultimately troubling her separation of fact from fiction. Like the heroines of Austen's other novels, Catherine ultimately develops into a discerning young woman. She desires happiness and doing what is right which is contrasted by many of the other character's desire for material wealth and social position.

Northanger Abbey is considered a "Gothic parody" as Austen satarizes the novels that were popular at the time she was writing. I think it is important to delineate her parody of the Gothic novel from the importance of reading. Austen is clear in her support of reading and education. She is also the queen of satire as she pokes fun at society's misgivings. 

It is understood that Austen wrote the original manuscript for this novel in 1798-1799, sold it for publication in 1803 (it was not published - for details see my earlier blog post), her brother Henry purchased it back from the publisher, Austen made more revisions and the novel, renamed Northanger Abbey was published with Persuasion after her death.

What is your opinion of Northanger Abbey? Is it one of your favorite or lesser favorite Jane Austen novel?

Book Details:

  • Publisher: Penguin Red Classics
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141028132
  • Format: Paperback; Out-of-print

 

 

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Oh my heart...

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Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery //Book Review// Where do I begin? Adjectives like "splendid", "delightful", "charming" and "lovely" come to my mind, however, they still seem to fall a bit short in forming a complete picture of this novel. In addition to Montgomery's stylized, descriptive sweetness, we experience a greater depth in the characters and their experiences in Anne of the Island, the third book in this series. This book begins where Anne of Avonlea leaves off as we, the reader, experience Anne's continued transition from girlhood to adulthood. The story is full of heartache and joy, love and loss, new beginnings and sad goodbyes. Themes of growing up, identification, community, friendship, acceptance, education, family, perseverance, respect, maturity, love, marriage and living life to its fullest are layered throughout the story. We see Anne determine who she is (she no longer views herself as an orphan) while she explores what her purpose should be in life. Anne states, "The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth."

The book begins as Anne leaves Green Gables and sets off for college in Kingsport. Anne perfectly describes "home" to one of her roommates at college. Montgomery writes,

I’m going home to an old country farmhouse, once green, rather faded now, set among leafless apple orchards. There is a brook below and a December fir wood beyond, where I’ve heard harps swept by the fingers of rain and wind. There is a pond nearby that will be gray and brooding now. There will be two oldish ladies in the house, one tall and thin, one short and fat; and there will be two twins, one a perfect model, the other what Mrs. Lynde calls a ‘holy terror.’ There will be a little room upstairs over the porch, where old dreams hang thick, and a big, fat, glorious feather bed which will almost seem the height of luxury after a boardinghouse mattress. How do you like my picture, Phil?"

"It seems a very dull one," said Phil, with a grimace.

"Oh, but I’ve left out the transforming thing," said Anne softly. "There’ll be love there, Phil—faithful, tender love, such as I’ll never find anywhere else in the world—love that’s waiting for me. That makes my picture a masterpiece, doesn’t it, even if the colors are not very brilliant?"

The love Anne has received from Marilla (and Matthew) while growing up, has laid a firm foundation in Anne's character as she prioritizes what matters most to her.

I also love the section of the novel when Anne returns to the house where she was born. The current resident had met Anne's birth parents and saved a bundle of letters she found in the house. Montgomery writes,

The letters were yellow and faded and dim, blurred with the touch of passing years. No profound words of wisdom were traced on the stained and wrinkled pages, but only lines of love and trust. The sweetness of forgotten things clung to them—the far-off, fond imaginings of those long-dead lovers. Bertha Shirley had possessed the gift of writing letters which embodied the charming personality of the writer in words and thoughts that retained their beauty and fragrance after the lapse of time. The letters were tender, intimate, sacred. To Anne, the sweetest of all was the one written after her birth to the father on a brief absence. It was full of a proud young mother’s accounts of “baby”—her cleverness, her brightness, her thousand sweetnesses.

“I love her best when she is asleep and better still when she is awake,” Bertha Shirley had written in the postscript. Probably it was the last sentence she had ever penned. The end was very near for her.

“This has been the most beautiful day of my life,” Anne said to Phil that night. “I’ve FOUND my father and mother. Those letters have made them REAL to me. I’m not an orphan any longer. I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday, sweet and beloved, between its leaves.”

There are too many noteworthy passages to recount, so my best recommendation is to start at the beginning of this series and soak up the goodness of these special books! Enjoy!

 

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"This parcel of penguins really performs!"

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Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater //Book Review// I will touch on the structure and plot of this children's book, although I think the most wonderful part of the story involves the touching relationship between Richard and Florence Atwater, the book's authors.

The witty dialogue and alliterative appeal make this story a delight to read aloud to young children who will enjoy the crazy antics of every child's dream and every parent's nightmare - the unexpected delivery of a penguin to the house! The line from the book, "This parcel of penguins really performs!" just rolls off of the reader's tongue while tickling the imagination of young children. Most children are classically full of questions ranging from normal to absurd and this book encourages the children to keep asking those questions. I also love how the partnership of Mr. and Mrs. Popper closely mirrors the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Atwater, the authors of the book.

This leads me to what I believe to be the really fascinating part of the success of Mr. Popper's Penguins - the authors. Richard Atwater wrote the original manuscript after watching a documentary about an Antarctic expedition in 1932. In 1934, Richard suffered a stroke which left him unable to write or speak. His wife, Florence, submitted Richard's manuscript to two publishers with no success. Florence, then rewrote sections of the manuscript and submitted it again. I find it amazing that the writing is consistent and the reader can not delineate the portions written by Richard from those written by Florence. In 1938, the revised manuscript was published by Little, Brown and Company. Mr. Popper's Penguin's was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1939 and has maintained a beloved spot in children's literature ever since!

I love the story behind the story, especially when it involves the fascinating stories of authors who persevered until their stories were published. The world of books and literature would be at such a loss if authors gave up the first time they were denied publication! Here's to the idea of never giving up!!!

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A New Approach to Book Reviews

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Writing a book review feels a little bit like walking a tight rope for me. On one hand, a book may be a perfect fit of both substance and timing. On the hand, it may be a dreadful match. (If I don’t enjoy a book, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It only means that that book is not for me or not for me at this time.) Often, my opinion falls somewhere between the two. For these reasons, I will modify my future book reviews.

I have decided to no longer assign lollipops (representing stars) on a scale of 1-5. After all, the choice of 5-stars (or lollipops) is like limiting the adjectives I can use to only five words. Instead, my book review goals will be to highlight the details, themes and ideas that caught my attention and intrigued me. I l love a good book discussion and look forward to many more with you all!

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What do you think? Do you like a five-star rating system or do you think it’s too difficult (and unnecessary) to label a book in such a way?

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