A lot of time has passed since the tragic events of Beartown. Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich have left the village to start a new life somewhere else, the rest of the inhabitants has found a way of either forgetting or ignoring. But now they are threatened by a storm and a fateful series of events brings people home, opens up old wounds and creates new ones. Beartown as its rival village of Hed will never be the same again, they all will have changed and one person’s life especially will be determined by the events of only a very short time.
I have read almost all novels by Fredrik Backman and yet, I am overwhelmed each time and even though I am all but prone to extreme emotion, I can’t help crying while reading his stories. From the first two books settled in the Swedish village of Beartown (The Scandal/Beartown and Us against you, I knew what to expect from “The Winners” and was somehow prepared, but nevertheless, the author managed to trigger something in me.
Maybe it is the characters who are the most normal people one can imagine, who have their good and caring sides as well as the others which would much rather be hidden. Maybe it is the setting in an unknown village somewhere in the forest which nobody has ever heard of. It is the maximum of normalcy that we encounter in this trilogy and that makes you feel at home and bond with the characters immediately.
Backman’s masterful foreshadowing gives a glimpse in what is to come, it only hints at the upcoming tragedies and thus raises suspense which keeps you reading on, unable to put the book aside. You know that something really dreadful, horrible is waiting at the end and yet, just like life goes on you continue until you reach that moment where you are hit with a hammer.
I am lacking the words to adequately convey what the novel did to me, to describe the experience of reading and after the last page, of leaving this wonderful story. Backman is an exceptional author and his Beartown series is an exceptional read.
Eleven-year-old Roland Baines’ life changes dramatically when his Africa based parents decide to send him back to England to attend a boarding school and get the classic education. While the political landscape forms itself after the Second World War, the boy takes piano lessons with Miss Cornell who will shape not only his idea of music, she will become his first love. Incidentally or initiated by fate, Roland’s life will remain closely connected to global events, be it the cloud coming from Chernobyl, the beginning and end of the Cold War, or major crises such as AIDS and the pandemic. As we travel through his life, he has to learn some lessons, some taken light-heartedly, others a lot harder and leaving scars.
I have been a huge fan of Ian McEwan’s novel for years and accordingly, I was keen to open his latest novel “Lessons”. What I have always appreciate most in his books is his carefully crafted characters who – hit by events outside their control – need to cope and to adjust. He is a wonderful narrator who easily makes you sink into the plot and forget everything around you. Even though “Lessons” does not focus that much on a single question as in “The Children Act” or “Saturday” and was much longer than most of his former writings, I hugely enjoyed how his protagonist’s character unfolds in front of us and becomes who he is when his life closes.
The novel has been announced as “a chronicle of out times” and admittedly, that’s just what it is. By the example of Roland, he illustrates the last six decades, he chronicles British and European politics, arts, music and mind-set. Roland’s process of learning does not stop, life is a continuous process of trial and error, of mistakes and good decisions which all leave their mark.
Interestingly, the protagonist is a rather passive character. He only ever reacts to what happens, his piano teacher’s advances, his wife’s running away, his career: Roland does not actively shape his life, it is the first and foremost the women he encounters who make him move and – even though they all remain minor characters – it’s them who bring the verve and dynamics into the action.
I can imagine that some readers will find the novel a bit slow and lacking focus, yet, I totally adored it and enjoyed every minute of the read.
When the pandemic hits New York, her ex-husband William convinces Lucy Barton to leave the city and to come to live with him in a house in a small town in Maine, by the sea. Lucy trusts Williams, in these fields he knows much better what to do and thus, she leaves her apartment behind, while their two daughters also flee the metropolis. Lucy experiences the first weeks and months like many of us did: life has come to a standstill, everybody is afraid of the fatal virus and interaction with human beings is reduced to the absolute minimum. However, this new situation also offers room for reflection and questioning decisions made, things said and done and all that ultimately matters in life.
I was not really sure if I was already willing to read a novel in which the pandemic was a central aspect while the virus is still raging. However, I totally adore Elizabeth Strout’s novels and since I have met Lucy Barton before, I was looking forwards to “Lucy by the Sea”. As anticipated, I found the novel a wonderful read, slow in pace, which was simply perfect for the time portrayed and the topic, and deeply reflective which I personally perceived just like an invitation for myself, to take some time and seize the chance of the standstill to look back and ponder on where I have come from and where I want to go to.
Apart from the new rules in life – keeping a distance, wearing a mask, obeying lockdown – Elizabeth Strout again focuses on the fragile and complex family bonds that her characters are born in and cannot escape. William finds a part of his family and gets closer when everybody is getting more distant; their daughters Chrissy and Becka have grown up and find a renewed sisterly bond. Lucy has to accept that the girls have become independent and do not need their mother that much anymore. But also the couples’ relationships are put to a test. William and Lucy have been friendly for some time after their divorce, but can living under the same roof work? Lucy comes to understand that love can take different forms and is expressed in diverse ways and loving also means that losing is hard.
Without a doubt one of this year’s absolute highlights. The protagonist feels like a dear and close friend and towards the end, I did not want the novel to stop, but just to go on forever. Elizabeth Strout, again, has not only captured the mood of the pandemic and chronicled our lives but also demonstrates her deep insight in our human condition and what makes us real humans.
Julian Aguon is a human rights lawyer and defender from Guam. “No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies” is a collection of poems, essays and speeches which center around crucial topics such as colonisation, climate change and the rights of indigenous populations. In total, it forms into a manifesto for the respect of life on earth, no matter if human, animal or plant. He gives insight in his own process of growing up, of gaining insight and learning that even though we as humans should care for the same ideas and aims, the world often works with other mechanisms.
The author has formed a strong voice which immediately captures the reader. In the afterword, he states what he thinks is crucial at the moment, it is not being loud, but to listen. He does not use an accusatory tone, but a quite voice which makes you concentrate more on what is said, paying more attention and reading more closely.
Some of the essays provided new information to me, in others, it was mainly the perspective that was new and which I have ignored so far. It is beautifully written despite the seriousness of the topic and the increasing urgency for action.
An outstanding collection that definitely does leave an impact on the reader.
Twelve stories from Japan, tales about love, food, relationships, life and death. Sayaka Murata offers a mix of stories that raise questions about how we live, what we consider acceptable and more than once goes beyond the red line of our comfort feeling. It is not always easy to follow the characters, to dive into Murata’s world and not to be appalled but to remain open minded. The author does not specify if the plots are set in today’s Japan, at some point of the future or in an alternative reality, it remains for the reader to decide. Having read “Earthlings” and “Convenience Store Woman” I already knew that the author has a talent to reaching my emotional limits and this she succeeds again with her stories.
Some of the stories left a deeper impact on me than others. Among them the one that also provided the title for the short story collection, “Life Ceremony”. The idea of eating human flesh was beyond my imagination even though I liked how the protagonist was drawn and her emotions transmitted.
Food in general seems to be a topic in Japanese literature, after recently having read “Butter” by Asako Yuzuki, I already had the impression that the sensual aspect is something that plays an important role, maybe because a highly controlled society does not grant itself the luxury of such feelings.
Relationships, types of families also are touched upon several times, can two women qualify as family and can a couple experience love without ever having intercourse? The stories invite you to ponder about many questions and to scrutinize your position and attitude when it comes to the deviation of the common.
A wide range of short insights into lives that move unnoticed among people even though they are at the fringe if their nerves.
Olly, Ash and Miller have grown up together. In their community, they have always been perceived as a unit which nobody could intrude. In their small East Coast town, life is easy in the 1950s and dream are big. Forty years later, things are different. None is left of their friendship, Olly is on his own, now also without a job and Ash and Miller are negotiating their separation. It is Olly’s aunt Tassie that cannot stay any longer in her care home that brings them together again. It is not easy to confront the past, especially while watching a young threesome bunch repeating their mistakes.
I totally adored Liza Klaussmann’s novels “Tigers in Red Weather” and „Villa America“ and thus was eager to read her latest novel “This is Gonna End in Tears”. She did not disappoint, quite the contrary, the story is the perfect read for a hot summer where you sense that it needs some escalation to be able to breathe again. Full of suspense even though it is not a mystery, you read on to find out how all the tension between the characters will finally dissolve.
“Well, that was the point, what he’d only recently realized: there is no point; everyone thinks they’re the hero of their own story, when actually there’s no story at all. Just an outline that gets filled in with nonsense and accidents and happenstance and luck. And the, well… and then nothing.”
What I appreciated most was how the author detailed the characters. They are all unique in their disappointments of life, in their mixed emotions and inability to actually speak about what goes on in their mind. The atmosphere profits from this, you feel that something must happen, that they cannot just go on like this.
It is a novel about friendship and dreams and expectations of life, about creative minds and everyday chore, about bonds that are strong and bonds that can feel like handcuffs. An intoxicating read from the first page which I could hardly put down.
Seattle attorney Camille Delaney rushed to the hospital where her friend Dallas Jackson has to undergo an emergency operation with a fatal outcome. When the former nurse accidentally sees his folder, questions arise. What happened in the operation room? And why was nobody aware of the seemingly critical state her friend was in? As her company only represents hospitals and high profile doctors, thus she cannot pursue her inquiries. Instead this brings her to a point where she has to ask herself if she has given up her ideals for the money and status. As a consequence, she decides to run the risk and leaves the company to start her own firm with her first case. She soon realises that nobody wants to talk about Dr Willcox, responsible surgeon in the operation room, but her gut feeling tells her that something is totally going wrong in this hospital.
There are some similarities between the author and her protagonist. Amanda DuBois herself was a trained nurse before she became a lawyer and medical malpractice has been her area of specialisation. “The Complication” is her first novel which highly relies on her profession knowledge combining medical aspects with law. From a seemingly unfortunate operation, the case develops into a complicated conspiracy which brings the protagonist repeatedly into dangerous situations since she has to deal with reckless people who do not care about a single life.
What I liked about the novel was how the medical details were incorporated and explained along the way so that the reader with limited medical knowledge could smoothly follow the action. The characters are authentically drawn, especially Camille’s discussion with her mother about her ideals and principles raising the question what use she makes of her legal capacities while working for a law firm that puts more interest in the billing hours than helping to serve the law was interesting to follow.
Even though I would estimate that the case is realistically depicted with Camille again and again coming to dead ends and only advancing slowly, I would have preferred a higher pace since as a reader, you have a lead and soon know what scheme is behind it all.
Eighteen-year-old Beth arrives in Manhattan in June 1983 with high expectations. An investigative article for her school’s newspaper secured her a prestigious internship at a newspaper and promises to become the summer of her life. However, her welcome is rather unspectacular, the apartment she shares is shabby and she feels like an outsider. At her workplace, too, she soon feels like a stranger, her three fellow interns seem to be much more knowledgeable and move around like fish in the water. She immediately befriends Edie, an outgoing young woman of New York’s high society. Hard work, a completely new life – Beth is overwhelmed by her new life, too overwhelmed to notice that not all is what it seems and therefore, she has to learn the hard way, that New York is a shark’s pond.
Meg Rosoff has created another young adult novel that also attracts adult readers like me. “Friends Like These” tackles not only Beth’s coming-of-age but also friendship at workplaces, the precarious situation of interns and still after so many decades, women’s place when it comes to careers – it does not make much difference that the novel is set four decades in the past.
Beth is the typical bumpkin, she is inexperienced, insecure and does not know how to behave in these unknown surroundings with all the cool people. Edie quickly becomes her mentor and introduces her to the habits and lifestyles of the Big Apple. The difference between the two girls could hardly be greater, but soon, Beth comes to understand that not all is gold that glitters and that what she envies is not what it seems at first.
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, funny as well as reflective it opens a whirling world that makes you question what you really want in life. A novel of first which can be exciting and hurting at the same time.
Summer could be enjoyable and light hearted but then, the cosy Périgord region is caught in Spain’s trouble with Catalonia’s independence movement. “Les Troubadours”, a local folk group, have published a song supporting autonomy for the region that shares their cultural heritage. The song goes viral and soon not only the Spanish government but also shady groups become aware of the poet and the band. When the police find a sniper’s bullet and a stolen car in the woods, the know that the situation is much more serious than they thought and that people are in real danger as the Troubadours are about to perform a large concert.
Martin Walker continues his series around the French countryside chief of police Bruno Courrèges. Even though also the 15th Dordogne mystery offers a lot to recognise from the former novels, “To Kill a Troubadour” is much more political and takes up a current real life topic. Apart from this, you’ll get exactly what you’d expect from the series: a lot of food to indulge in, history of the region and the French countryside where everybody seems to be friends with everybody.
One would expect the life of a countryside policeman to be rather unspectacular and slow, however, this could not be farer away from Bruno’s reality. Not only do big conflicts come to his cosy province, but also a case of domestic violence demands his full attention.
What I appreciated most, like in other instalments of the series before, was how the cultural heritage was integrated into the plot and teaches about the history you along the way in a perfectly dosed manner.
Full of suspense while offering the well-known French countryside charm, a wonderful read to look forward to summer holidays in France.
It is the death of her cousin Chevy that brings Cassandra from London back to Toronto where her family is based after having left Trinidad. But she not only returns to the funeral but to a whole history of her family that suddenly pops up again. Stories she had forgotten but now remembers, things which have always been unsaid despite that fact that everybody knew them and secrets that now surface in the big house in Florence Street where the tension is growing day by day. The sisters and aunts find themselves in an exceptional emotional state that cracks open unhealed wounds which add to the ones that have come with the death of Chevy.
Sophie Jai was herself born in Trinidad just like her protagonist and grew up in Toronto, “Wild Fires” is her first novel and was published in 2021. It centres around a family in grief, but also a family between two countries and also between the past and the present and things that have never been addressed between the members. Having been away for some time allows Cassandra a role a bit of an outsider and she sees things of her family she has never understood.
The author wonderfully interweaves the present story of the family gathering at the Toronto home to mourn the loss and Cassandra’s childhood recollections and well-known family stories. Thus, we get to know the deceased and his role in the family web. Like Chevy’s story, also the aspects that link but also separate the generations of sisters are uncovered thus exposing long avoided conflicts.
The novel raises the questions if you can ever flee from the family bonds and how to deal with what happened in the past and has never openly be spoken out loud and discussed. Sophie Jai finds the perfect words to express the nuances in the atmosphere and paces the plot according to the characters’ increasingly conflicting mood.
I liked how the characters and their story unfolds, yet, I would have preferred a more accelerated pace and at the beginning, I struggled to understand the connection between them which was a bit confusing.