“Beartown” by Fredrik Backman

Beartown (Beartown, #1)(Author: Fredrik Backman) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)

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Review:

A Man Called Ove was one of the best books I read last year, so I was interested in reading another one of Backman’s novels. A friend lent me Beartown and Us Against You, so I immediately got on with it.

Beartown was a rather good book, although it was more sad and dark than I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I was taken off guard by the sober and honest narrative of the problems of a small, lost town in the Swedish forest. Had this book been American, I kind of expect there would have been a lot more sugar-coating of the heaviness in the hearts of the characters. European authors, however, often have this cheerful way of telling sad stories.

And I think that’s what Beartown really was – the sad story of people who deserve to be happy, and how they deal with that. I felt that the characters had a lot of personality and were very realistic, which is something I always greatly appreciate. The inhabitants of Bjornstad all had their own crosses to bear and it wasn’t very easy to separate who’s good and who is not, as it was obvious that even good people do bad deeds, and bad people can surprise us by lending a helping hand.

Out of all of the characters, I liked Benji the most, and my suspicion is that so did most people. He was the one person in the book who always stepped up, despite his constant urge to fail. I felt like this was the kind of person that I would rather be – predisposed to failure, but instead fighting for success, rather than a person like Kevin – used to success and bored with it. But really, each character presented a different moral that the author wanted us to draw and this was done so smoothly that I wasn’t even annoyed and I didn’t find it preachy.

Beartown was not flawless, however. I would say that it had more issues than A Man Called Ove, for example. At a certain point I started growing tired of Backman’s writing techniques. I felt like almost every statement in this book was made at least twice (when it came to Beartown’s love for hockey, then 200 times). For example, we read time and again how no one outside of the town would understand their love for hockey. Okay, I get that I will not get it, enough already, let me read. Same thing applied to the ominous way of delivering information about the upcoming violence “There’s going to be violence.”, “No one knows how the violence came”, “People will later talk about the violence in the town” etc etc.

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“Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)(Author: Sarah J. Maas) + (Year: 2012) + (Goodreads)


Review:

If you have been following my blog for some time, you would know that I have a special place in my heart for YA novels. If you haven’t, there it is. If I have a reader’s block, or I just want to read something that I expect to like, I will choose YA.

After I got fed up with Atlas Shrugged, I decided to take a break and read something light and nice. Even more so, I chose a series that has received a lot of positive reviews in the last few years.

I would say that Throne of Glass is largely overhyped. I would not put it at the bottom of the YA books I’ve read, but it’s definitely not good enough, in my opinion, to be placed so high up, either. With 378 339 ratings and an average of 4.23, it stands as overhyped through and through.

My biggest issue with this book was the main character. Celaena is the single most self-involved character that I’ve read about. What is worse is that unlike other similar characters, in which that is a bad quality and is supposed to be noticed and disliked, I don’t have a drop of doubt that Sarah J. Maas thinks that Celaena is perfect as she is. Well… don’t be fooled.

The first 30% of Throne of Glass are Celaena talking about herself and bragging to no one in particular. She is beautiful, she’s strong, she’s the best, she’s the fastest, the deadliest, the smartest, the most clever, etc. etc. etc. Celaena literally takes everything every other character says and in her head argues that she’s better in it. “Oh, that lady is beautiful!” – “No, I’m more beautiful”. “You are beautiful.” – “Not only that, but I’m also the deadliest assassin, beat that!”. “You are the deadliest assassin!” – “And I’m also super beautiful, you loser.” She was really hard to stand, honestly.

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And coming back to the fact that she’s the deadliest assassin in the world yadda-yadda, she talks a lot, but she kills just once in the entire book and the rest is just bragging. Every character in the book has heard of her and she is super scary, yet she has the chance to kill an evil monster and she doesn’t.

While we are at it, Celaena also happens to spend her days reading, play the piano masterfully and be just 18 years old! Because you can learn how to kill a person in 12804 different ways, while also reading and playing the piano.

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The other characters that are more prominent in the book are prince Dorian and Chaol, the chief of the royal guard. One is pretty and likes Celaena and the other one is strong and likes Celaena. You get where I’m going? Both of them severely lack personality, so that’s about what we know about the two of them. There are very minor details revealed, because, after all, who cares what kind of people they really are, Celaena is beautiful and deadly, right?!?

The things that I did like about the book were the general setting and the magical elements. If the author starts paying more attention to those, I can see a pretty interesting story forming. The Wyrdmarks plot was by far the best story of in the book and I was actually interested to read more about it.

“Sofia Wizards” by Martin Kolev

Софийски магьосници(Author: Martin Kolev) + (Year: 2017) + (Goodreads)

(Around the World: Bulgaria)


Review:

After a whirlwind of a year and after moving away from Bulgaria, I ended up nearly finishing 2017 with a Bulgarian book. And what a book it was.

While I was eager to start Sofia Wizards (I got the translation from the author’s Facebook page. Alternatively, I would think Wizards of Sofia would sound better), I didn’t have very big expectations. The friend I borrowed the book from told me that it’s basically Bulgarian Harry Potter, which was more or less scary, because no book would live up to that name.

It turned out that while they had many similarities, including a first chapter almost identical to the main points of the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the book was not a rip-off. That is not to say that it didn’t borrow many ideas, like the hidden streets (similar to Diagon Alley), or the magical pubs, etc., but it was not done in a blatant way.

Kolev actually brought a lot of little things to the book that I quite enjoyed, such as the quest games in which you actually physically get sucked in, or the schools of magic which are separated by abilities, rather than personality traits and preferences (nature magic, mirror magic, fire magic).

Something that I really loved about the book was the alternative look on Sofia. Having made the decision to leave Bulgaria, I didn’t think I would miss it very much. But while reading Sofia Wizards, I did remember fondly the streets and places mentioned, as well as imagine this other Sofia that I would have liked to be a part of, if it existed.

Overall, a very enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to the next installments in the series (as I saw the author mentioned on his Facebook page that there will be others).

“The Firebird” by Susanna Kearsley

The Firebird (Slains, #2)(Author: Susanna Kearsley) + (Year: 2013) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Another book I’ve had for a really long time and just now decided to read. Well… I wouldn’t have missed out on much, had I not read it.

The Firebird was not terrible, but it just wasn’t anything special whatsoever. It was bland and long and not very eventful. While I expected the characters’ powers to be an important driving force of the book, they seemed more like background noise, while the main story was that of the character of Anna, who was just a little girl caught in an a somewhat exciting period of history.

I will not pretend that I was familiar with the historical background of the book, because in all honesty, it was something that Bulgarian history books must have considered somewhat irrelevant to us. Therefore, I managed to learn some interesting facts about the struggles in Scotland, Ireland and England, and also a great bit about the history of the Russian empire and St. Petersburg. From this point of view, the book was more or less entertaining.

But that’s where it all ended.

The actual story was not even that of a main character of the abovementioned events. Anna was just a nice girl who knew all the right people. The other characters in the book all seemed to be greatly attached to her, but I just couldn’t understand why. Her charm remained a mystery to me, and so did everyone’s infatuation with her.

I felt more or less the same about the other two main characters, Nicola and Rob. I think I would have liked to read a bit more about them so that I can actually be interested in at least one storyline in the book, but they were just as shallow of characters, as Anna seemed to me.

While The Firebird didn’t suffer from any spectacular flaws, unfortunately, it didn’t have any great virtues either. So much so that I’m afraid I will have forgotten all about it in a couple of months’ time.

 

“Written in the Stars” by Aisha Saeed

Written in the Stars(Author: Aisha Saeed) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I had absolutely no expectations going into this book. I remember seeing the pretty cover and thinking it might be worth checking out, so it did end up on my shelves and stayed there for a long time.

However, after reading the first few chapters, I was surprised by the direction and the tone of the book. The beginning was mild enough and innocent enough, as we followed the hardships of an American-Pakistani girl, who is struggling with hiding the fact that she has a boyfriend, despite the orders of her conservative parents.

The book quickly changed its tone, surprising me yet again. With Naila going back to Pakistan and staying with her family there for the summer, I was baffled as to the idea of the book and it took me longer than usual to figure out where things are going.

Once it came to me, though, I couldn’t help but feel helplessly furious. Not just at the idea of this book, which is positive, more or less, but at the injustices and abominations on the female personality that are allowed to exist even in our times. The author condemned the situation the main character was in, but also, setting her personal example, kind of tried to make excuses, which made me even more angry, as I think this is something inexcusable.

Since it might be a spoiler, please continue reading only if you don’t mind knowing the main storyline of Written in the Stars.

S P O I L E R S     A H E A D

So… arranged marriage, huh? Can anything positive really be said about that? I don’t think it matters what your religion tells you, how pious or conservative you are, what social order and norms you are used to, taking someone’s right to choose who they share their life and bed with is abominable. I am sure that no matter what I say, I would not be able to convince otherwise a person who believes in arranged marriages, however, I would compare that to rape. It is rape. It is forsaking your own child to be raped and continue living with the person who did that to them.

And no matter how this book was supposed to be received, the only thing it positively succeeded into making me is feeling angry. While reading how happy Naila’s family was to send her to that man’s family, I was angry. By seeing how his family treated her, I was angry. I am still angry that someone on this planet there is even one single person who is living in this terrible situation. And lastly, I am angry because of the hypocrisy of women’s movements nowadays. Western women fight for their right to show their nipples on Instagram, but they don’t fight for the millions of women who spend their lives married to their rapists. If your argument is that Islam praises arranged marriages, please go away, because this is just some perverted way of reading something that has a completely different meaning, exactly the same way as Islam only encourages men taking second wives in order for widows not to starve to death, and not in order to help out a man’s virility and the wider variety in his bedroom.