Monday, October 30, 2017

Beartown by Fredrik Backman (2017)

Currently one of my favorite authors. He just seems to get people, especially those for whom life isn't easy. The main character in this book is Beartown - the whole town with it's love of hockey, it's hopes for a winning team, it's frustrations with loss of jobs, struggling families - even those that are well off are struggling with something. I have to admit that for a while things looked bleak, the need to win became so great, that people forgot the difference between right and wrong, but I knew Backman wouldn't leave it like that. He showed us such a wide range of characters, each with its own struggles, but in the end good won (mostly) over evil. (This right/wrong vs good/evil is Backman's concept, not mine, but I really liked it.)

When a book that begins with: "Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead, and pulled the trigger." you start imagining a myriad of ills, slights, offenses that teens might encounter. Throughout the book I kept trying to figure out who was going to shoot whom.

I knew he was a Scandinavian author, just didn't realize he was Swedish until I just looked it up. His story is so universal, that it could be in the U.S. One family moved to Canada for a while, but that could have been from the U.S. There was just one mention of Swedish nationals, and the a few mentions of krona. I had to look up how much 5,000 kr. was worth ($600) to figure out the extent of that one gift/bribe. Since I listened to the book and didn't see the names in print, my ears made them sound like familiar one. Only by looking at the text I realized they were mostly unfamiliar.

-Maya lives with her parents Peter Anderson, the general manager of Beartown Ice Hockey, and Kira, a lawyer and Leo, her little brother. 
-Ana is Maya's best friend and seems to sleep at Maya's way too much.
-Amat lives with his mom Fatima, who cleans at the rink. (I like the words she wrote down for her son, a variataion from Mother Theresa: "If you are honest, people may deceive you. Be honest anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfishness. Be kind anyway. All the good you do today will be forgotten by others tomorrow. Do good anyway. 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." And he had written: "They say Im to little to play. Become good player any way!" And he practices every morning before school to become one.
-Zach is Amat's best friend
-Kevin's parent built him a rink in the back yard when they couldn't find him one winter when he was little - because he was out on the lake practicing shots. His parents are well off but too busy to watch him play, though he is the star of the junior team.
-Benji is Kevin's best friend with some older sisters, one works as a bartender. 
-Bobo is a huge player on the junior team, who helps his father in the auto shop and his mom work in the hospital.
-Sune is the long time coach of the A-Team, though board members want him out.
-David is the coach of the junior team about to play the game of the decade and expecting to take Sune's place.
-Jeanette is a teacher having to deal with the energetic hockey players in her class.
-Ramona runs the local bar and is the town's psychologist. She hasn't stepped more than a few feet outside her bar since her husband died.

Anyway, you get the point. A town, even a small town, is made up of a lot of people, each with a role, job, relationships, problems, and when a whole town's future is threatened, it is interesting who comes through and does the right thing. Just realized this book fits into the recent #MeToo conversation.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown (2016)

I am still enjoying books about Paris. This is the story of two women. The first is Margie or Margaret in 1924, who goes to Europe to accompany a younger cousin, but who is left alone in Paris, decides to stay against her parents wishes, and finds she loves it. She gets a job at the America Library. I sent a friend there to do research while he was living in Paris for a few months, as it had books that he needed - in English. I now found out how it was started - from books sent over to France during WWI for American soldiers. Margaret meets a French painter Sebastian, but even at the beginning of the book we know she somehow is forced to come home and live out the life her parents had planned for her in high society. We learn of her through her diaries that are discovered by her granddaughter.

Margie's granddaughter is Madeline, who has a loveless marriage in Chicago in 1999. She comes to spend some time with her mother in Magnolia, Georgia and finds her grandmother's diaries. She finds so many similarities. Both of them are not typical beauties and lack the delicateness and grace of others in their society. They feel they have to marry the men chosen form them by their parents. (I never understood how Madeline still felt that way in 1999.) Madeline wanted to be an artist and spent her high school and college years painting, but when she married, her husband wanted everything neat and she gave it up. But in Magnolia she find new and old friends who make her more comfortable than she has felt in years. While reading her grandmother's diaries, she has to make decisions about her own life.