Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I won an ARC of Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. When I received the novel, I saw that it was a sequel to Beartown and decided that I needed to read the first book in order to enjoy the second.

Genre: Contemporary fiction, hockey

Blurb: 

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.

My thoughts: 

I was a bit hesitant to read this book as the story suggests a tale of hockey – and I am not a sports person at all. But the book is so much more than a story about sports. It is a story about community, a story about hopes and dreams, a story about relationships and loyalty. It is a story about issues that communities keep to themselves and how that silence can affect a person.

From being hesitant about reading this story, I have become a fan of Backman’s writing. His words have caused me to feel emotion, and his descriptions of a life in a small town that breathes hockey encouraged me to love his characters. Reading the story reminded me of those family films centring on sports that always have a good moral behind it but instead this story is more adult. It is a story that shows the underbelly of humanity – and yet also shows its positive side. The statements made by the author throughout the novel are succinct, and yet get straight to the heart of the issue.

I would highly recommend this novel – even if you do not watch or play hockey. You will feel emotional, you will feel anger. And you will come to understand what being part of a sports team can be to a person.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 77th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

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Favourite Read of the Month: October 2018

During the month of October, I  read 8 books for this year’s Book Pledge, bringing my total for read books this year to 76 books. I may have to up my goal from 75 books this year to 100 🙂

The titles I read in September are listed below. To read my reviews (if you haven’t already), click on the title in the following list:

  1. The Lost Queen by Signe Pike – historical fiction  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars
  2. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer – contemporary, women’s fiction  ⭐⭐⭐  3 stars
  3.  Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa – Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars
  4. When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen – Young Adult fiction, historical, romance ⭐⭐⭐  3 stars
  5. If Not For You by Debbie Macomber – romance, contemporary fiction ⭐⭐  2 stars
  6. Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris – thriller, psychological thriller, mystery ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars
  7.  Man of War by Sean Parnell – thriller, military thriller ⭐⭐⭐  3 stars
  8. A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi – Young Adult fiction, contemporary fiction ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars

Reflecting on my choice of reads for the past month, I would say that I have chosen well. I read so many books that I enjoyed! Two of them, The Lost Queen and Shadow of the Fox, have sequels coming out (hopefully next year). I enjoy both of these genres (historical ad fantasy) and look forward to continuing with the stories. As I have to choose one for my favourite, I would choose Shadow of the Fox. Why? For the humour. Reading the story made me smile, and made me think of the anime that I enjoyed watching with my family a few Christmases ago.

What was your favourite read in October? Share your choice, or the link to your post, below.

Favourite Read of the Month:

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

Remember!

The 11th day of November means something to many of us who live in Western society. It is a day on which we pause to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom that we enjoy and take for granted. We think of those veterans who fought in the Second World War against Nazism and Fascism. We think of those solders who, even now, fight for our ideals and for the freedom which our countries hold dear.

Even though I teach young children of 5, 6, and 7 years old, I encourage them to think about what this day means for us. They may not yet understand the concept of freedom and what it means not to have it, but they come to understand that the task of our soldiers is important – and that we show our gratitude for their sacrifice on this day. I cannot have a philosophical debate with them as I would with older children – but I can plant the seeds for this day’s meaning in their minds.

One way to encourage this day to mean something to the children, is to use the medium of art. This year I thought of using the basis of a mixed media art project that I had seen in a newsletter sent out to teachers by Crayola. I hope that when my students look at this project in the future that they will remember the reason why we made it.

A Mixed Media Art Project for Remembrance Day. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

I was lucky enough to have a student volunteer help me prepare the letters for the project – she cut them out for me before working with the children in small groups on the project. The pre-cutting certainly helped the children to finish the task relatively quickly.

We worked on the project over two days – the painted background on newspaper had to dry before they could paste on their poppies and letters. Some children complained that ripping the construction paper was difficult – but the result was more effective than if they had cut the red paper. And ripping the paper is a small way in which to strengthen their fingers.

I like the presentation of their projects on the board outside of my classroom. For the next week as people pass by in the hallway, they will remember.

What did you do to remember on 11 November?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This post is linked to Stream of Consciousness SaturdayThe prompt is: mean(s). 

A Last Minute Author Event

When I heard about Jodi Picoult coming to Toronto to speak about her latest book A Spark of Light, I was interested in attending as I have read a number of her books and enjoyed them. Her event, unfortunately was sold out. I put myself on the waiting list as someone might cancel their ticket.

The event was on Monday and I had swept it out of my mind. When checking my email during lunch, I saw that I had received a notification stating that more spaces had opened up: I quickly messaged my cousin to let him know (he enjoyed her books as well), and bought tickets. Going to the event was a bit rushed as it was last minute but I thought it would be worth it as she is a well-known and successful author.

When I arrived at the venue in the evening, I was surprised at how many people were in attendance – over 500! It is the biggest author event that I have been to. I liked that they had large screens to project the conversation to the audience. As a result I did not mind that I was at the back of the hall.

It was interesting to listen to someone who has written so many successful novels. She is very confident – and very political. To be honest, I was disappointed that she spoke so much about American politics. The election may have been the following day, but we were there to listen to her speak about her book as well as her writing process.

I am still glad I went to the event, however, as what she said will give me a better understanding of the novel when I read it.

Weekly Smile #WeeklySmileHave you read any of Jodi Picoult’s novels?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This post was inspired by Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

Book Review: The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

I was curious to read The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris as I have enjoyed watching the shows he has performed in for TV.

Genre: Children’s fiction

Blurb: 

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded kids. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they’ll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso’s villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.

My thoughts: 

This is a perfect read for those tweens who love magic and adventure. The narrator speaks directly to the reader, inviting them to immerse themselves in the story – a story which is interrupted with explanations of magic tricks (which young magicians would adore). As I was reading the story, I could not help but think of some of my students who would enjoy the side narration given by the author of events and magic. Difficult words are seamlessly explained by Harris within the story and the teacher in me loves that the readers will learn new vocabulary. I could see this easily becoming a favourite of some young readers. It is fun, has humorous moments, and is a story of outcasts who become friends and save the day.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 76th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

A Costume Problem

One of my biggest smiles last week was caused by a problem one of my students had with his Halloween costume. He came to school dressed as a piece of Lego (a toy which he enjoys playing with). Within the first half hour in class, he experienced a few problems. The first problem came when he realised he could not sit on his chair properly to do his Math Problem of the Day.

After completing his problem, my student followed the class routine and fetched his book box to begin some silent reading. He then realised he could not sit on the carpet!

He came up to me a few moments later and asked for help to take his costume off. He preferred to be costume-free until our school’s parade. Until that moment, though, the children in the class and I could not help but smile when we saw his struggles. He did find some solutions to his problems though. 🙂

Weekly Smile #WeeklySmileHave you experienced costume problems? What were they?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2017

(This post was inspired by Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

Book Review: The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

I decided to pick up the second of the B. A. Paris novels that my colleague had lent me. The Breakdown was the second novel that had been published by this author. As I had enjoyed her debut novel, I was looking forward to reading this one.

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense

Blurb: 

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside—the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

My thoughts:

The Breakdown was an interesting read, though not as good as the debut novel written by B. A. Paris. The story begins slowly and, in the first part of the novel, the description of the main character’s thoughts (Cass) is a bit repetitive. The novel becomes interesting, however, when it is suggested that not all is as it seems, that her illness may not be what is suggested. The clues that are dropped to suggest this, encourage the reader to try and work out what is actually happening. I love reading mysteries and thrillers when the changing scenarios keep the readers on their toes, so to speak. The start of this novel does not encourage this but, once the tidbits are dropped, the reading experience of the novel improves.

As all good thrillers do, the novel ends with a twist – half of which was unexpected for me. I enjoyed reading the way in which the protagonist experiences the revelation of what had happened to her and it ends with a satisfying conclusion. I would not label The Breakdown as B. A. Paris’ best novel; but it is an enjoyable thriller nonetheless.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 75th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

For my next read, I decided to pick up one of the ARCs I received at Frenzy Presents, an event held by Harper Collins Canada for book bloggers.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Blurb: 

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

My thoughts:

I loved reading this book! The story is refreshing and encompasses so much: identity, loneliness, growth as a person, social issues, young romance. Shirin is a young girl who is angry most of the time because of the way she is treated by those in her community at at her school. As we read her story, we get inside the head of so many young women who cover their heads. They have the freedom to choose how to dress – and yet their choice is reviled. As I read about the experience of this young Muslim woman, I respected her and began to understand the choices she had made. What I love about this character, though, is that she grows and develops during the story. She learns to see others for who they are and, as a result, grows as a person.

This novel is honest. It forces you to see the experience of a Muslim teenager living in America. It encourages you to look at preconceptions – your own as well as those of others. A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a story I would recommend not only to teens, but also to older readers who are looking to understand the experience of young people from another culture living in a western society.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 74th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Weekend Coffee Share: A Halloween Week

Join us for some coffee time!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I am not enjoying the dreary weather that we have been having this week. Grey skies and rain has been in the forecast. Mid-week, we had a break with some costume fun (and luckily the rain stopped for a while for the kids to go out trick or treating).

Speaking about Halloween. Did you dress up? I did, of course, as it is a fun event to participate in – and the kids love it. No-one really got my costume but that is okay – my family enjoyed the memories it brought back of our time in Paris. If you want to see what I looked like dressed as a server at an upscale restaurant in Paris, visit my Halloween post here.

On the night of Halloween I came home exhausted. Not only did I have excited kids in my classroom, but I also had an Open Classroom so that the parents could come in and have a look at their children’s work. It was an enjoyable time and it was good to chat to have the chance to chat to them. The children also enjoyed showing their moms and dads what they had done in class.

The day after Halloween was just as tiring for me. The children were cranky from their late night and also running high on sugar. The sugar rush seems to have continued over into Friday. Hopefully by Monday they will have calmed down – until they get all excited about Christmas! 😀

I almost forgot to tell you. Last weekend, my cousin and I attended two more events at the Toronto International Festival of Authors. On Friday we listened to a panel featuring Linward Barclay, Joy Fielding, and Shari Lapena. The discussion was so interesting that I did not want it to stop. One hour is definitely not enough! On Saturday we went to listen to Esi Edugyan and Meg Wolitzer. This was also an interesting discussion. Esi Edugyan read a piece from her novel. What a beautiful voice! She should be reading her own audio books!

This weekend I do not have any plans to go out anywhere. Instead I am doing the usual: housework, laundry, exercise dance classes, and reading. This afternoon I found a TV show on Netflix that I am enjoying – Lethal Weapon. I have been trying a few recently that haven’t kept my attention but this one will as it has some humour in it.

Have you seen the show? The pilot was really well done. I will watch a little more and see how it goes.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you to have a wonderful week. It is almost time for supper, and time to head into the kitchen.

What would you tell me if we were having coffee?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This post is linked to Eclectic Alli and the Weekend Coffee Share)

Dressed for Halloween

For the last four years on Halloween I have dressed up as a Renaissance princess (including the blonde wig). This year I decided to change my costume and dress up as something that reminded me of my summer holiday in Paris.

What I wore is the uniform of the servers at an upscale restaurant in Paris called Au Pied de Cochon. As expected, not many people caught the reference – but my family did and they loved the memories the costume invoked.

We ate at the restaurant for lunch on a Sunday. I loved the ambience of the place and knew when we entered that I would enjoy the experience. The servers treated us like kings – even though we were dressed in typical touristy gear.

My meal was delicious – the tastes of butter and cream perfectly blended. The dessert was extravagant and, because we knew the server, we received a few extra pig meringues. 🙂

Halloween this year brought back some memories – and made me think we need to visit this restaurant again.

Did you dress up for Halloween?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2017