January 2020–Part One

Welcome!  It’s a brand-new decade.  My reading resolution for 2020 is to read 84 books (7 per month).  Fingers crossed it happens!,  Thank you for joining me here.    (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.  Thank you!)  I hope you enjoy this series.

Book #1: 

BearTownBeartown by Fredrik Bachman (Length: 433 pages).  This novel is the best book I’ve read in YEARS.  Set in a small hockey-obsessed town in northern Sweden, this book features absolutely gorgeous language and writing, fully-developed characters and a very descriptive sense of place (reminding me of Louise Penny’s town of Three Pines in a way).  The book is a bit slow to start, with the first quarter dragging  a bit, but don’t give up . . . keep reading!  The hockey theme is overarching but isn’t too detailed for those who don’t follow sports.  There is also one violent scene but there’s an excellent resolution of the plot that I found to be very realistic.  I enjoy seeing the redemption of characters too–so well done here.  A MUST READ!  

From the publisher:

The bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

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

Book #2: 

Winter in ParadiseWinter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Length: 321 pages).  I was in the mood for a beach type read, and grabbed this at the library without reading any reviews beforehand.  A bit of a mistake as this isn’t my favorite Hilderbrand novel.  The best part of this book is the descriptive setting (the island of St. John instead of Hilderbrand’s standard Nantucket setting).  I adore how detailed the author is with the real-life names of the beaches, roads and even restaurants on this gorgeous island.  The plot is interesting enough, with the husband dying and the wife discovering he led a double life.  However, this book is the first of a series, and is NOT a standalone as it ends with a total cliffhanger and the mystery is STILL not resolved at the last page.  I found this to be a bit annoying, as the author is essentially forcing the reader to buy/borrow the next few books in the series to find out what really happened.   I did dislike a few of the characters very deeply (the adult sons are very shallow), and I found it odd how Hilderbrand mentions SO many other books by other authors throughout.  These book mentions aren’t really organic within the plot, so I’m not sure what her end game is here?  I’m totally going to have to read the next one in the series to find out what really happened, but I’m going to be annoyed about it the whole time.  😉

From the publisher:

A husband’s secret life, a wife’s new beginning: escape to the Caribbean with #1 New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand.

Irene Steele shares her idyllic life in a beautiful Iowa City Victorian house with a husband who loves her to sky-writing, sentimental extremes. But as she rings in the new year one cold and snowy night, everything she thought she knew falls to pieces with a shocking phone call: her beloved husband, away on business, has been killed in a helicopter crash. Before Irene can even process the news, she must first confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death on the distant Caribbean island of St. John.

After Irene and her sons arrive at this faraway paradise, they make yet another shocking discovery: her husband had been living a secret life. As Irene untangles a web of intrigue and deceit, and as she and her sons find themselves drawn into the vibrant island culture, they have to face the truth about their family, and about their own futures.

Rich with the lush beauty of the tropics and the drama, romance, and intrigue only Elin Hilderbrand can deliver, Winter in Paradise is a truly transporting novel, and the exciting start to a new series.

Book #3: 

City of Girls (2019) Author: Elizabeth GilbertCity of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (Length: 480 pages).  Just to start, I am NOT a fan of Gilbert’s more famous book, Eat Pray Love.  However, I had heard this fiction book was really good and I took a chance on it.  I heard correctly–this is such a good read!  This is a sweeping, character-based novel set in New York City, with the majority of the plot occurring in the 1940s and 1950s. The entertainment/theatre world is the main focus here, with a costume and sewing angle, and I found all of this fascinating.  I will say this is a bit racier than I expected as the narrator is very promiscuous, but I didn’t find these scenes to be gratuitous as all so I was fine with them.  I adore any novel set in New York City (I found this to be a bit similar to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in a weird way), and I could not put this one down.  This would be a fantastic airplane/vacation read as it’s total escapist fiction.  

From the publisher:

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.


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