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Beartown and Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Susanne’s Reviews:

Beartown

Fredrik Backman: You’ve left me drained, almost completely bereft of words. This is a novel, unlike any of your others, yet it’s so full of heart and emotion that we the readers know emphatically that it is yours. And after the last words have sunk into my soul, I can emphatically say, thank you! This one is to be treasured.

Now, what can I possibly say about this story, without giving it away?

Beartown is a town that eats, sleeps and goes to bed thinking about one thing: Hockey. Hockey is what makes this town tick. Vibrate. Come Alive. Beartown, and its residents wouldn’t be a community without it. Every person, every family pins their hearts on the Junior Boy’s Hockey team and its inhabitants have nothing left. It’s a huge cross for these kids to bear (no pun intended) and sometimes, well, something or someone has to break. Sadly, strength and resilience give way to anger and pain, leaving no stone unturned, yet that little bear inside those who’ve been dealt the most blows, refuses to give up.

Whether or not you like Hockey, I can almost assure you that it will grow on you after reading this. And if you know someone who plays? Well, you will understand the drive and the desire better than a lot of us. But the raw human emotion that is dripping from each and every page of this novel? You will all feel that. Fredrik Backman evokes it from each and every reader and here, he does so in a way that he has never done before. And I am truly honored and extremely grateful to have experienced it.

A huge thank you to NetGalley, Atria Books and the amazing Fredrik Backman for giving me this ARC in exchange for an honest review. It has been a privilege.

Published on NetGalley and Goodreads on 2/16/17.

Us Against You

Some of my favorite people, live in one of the most memorable of towns and they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Most however, wear their hearts on their jerseys. Their Hockey Jerseys that is. They used to be all the same. Then something happened. Something bad. And now Beartown and all of its residents are divided. Now it’s Bear v. Bull: Beartown v. Hed. And their hearts, as well as ours have been torn apart. “Us Against You.”

Peter Andersson’s life has been defined by Hockey. Being the GM of the Beartown team is all he knows. Even though he and his family lost almost everything last year, hockey was the one thing he could count on, till now. When he gets a second chance to save his team, Peter is relieved and then anxious, for nothing is as it seems. Politics has invaded Beartown, the Hockey team and Peter’s life. Which one is strong enough to survive?

Beartown is a place where Hockey rules. Always has, always will:
It’s a simple game, if you strip away all of the crap surrounding it and just keep the things that made us love it in the first place. Everyone gets a stick. Two nets. Two Teams. “Us Against You.”

For the last year, twelve year-old Leo Andersson has sat on the sidelines watching his family fall apart. First Maya and now his parents. The time for sitting and watching is over. Now is the time for action.

Maya and Ana are the best of friends. As long as they have each other, they can survive anything.

Beartown Hockey has received a new lease on life. A new coach has taken over, a coach who wants the best players. Players we know and love who have everything it takes to win and who love their town. Benji, Amat, Bobo and Vidar (the new star goalie with a bad temper and a big heart). Benji is now the Captain of the team and is responsible for everyone else. Benji, whose pain is the most palpable. Benji, whose story breaks me in two. Amat is the fastest player on the ice, no one can catch him now, nor will they ever be able to. Bobo loves hockey, but he loves his mother more and is the best son she could ever ask for.

For the last year, I have carried so many of these characters with me. Ramona (owner of the Bearskin Pub), Amat and Benji. My Benji. I just love him. I have wanted and needed to know that he was ok every second of every day, wondering, worrying, waiting. Reading both “Beartown” and “Us Against You,” I have felt Benji’s angst, fear and pain, it seeped in my veins and took over. “Us Against You” made me feel a myriad of emotions. It made me anxious – nerves endings completely raw, scared and sick to my stomach, and just a complete sobbing mess, many times over. Fredrik Backman makes you feel that. Time and again. He makes you feel every single thing his characters are feeling (whether it’s “Ove,” “Britt-Marie” or my Benji). To me, Benji and all of the other characters in this book are real. I consider most of them my friends and in case it’s not obvious, my heart bleeds Bear.

“Us Against You” is the sequel to Fredrik Backman’s “Beartown” which was one of my top two reads of last year, with Backman being my absolute favorite author. In order to get the full background into the characters, I suggest reading that book first. Though this novel started out a little slow, it takes off soon enough and delivers in a way that only Backman can. “Us Against You” is a sequel with heart and it stole mine immediately. I look forward to it grabbing yours in exactly the same way.

A huge thank you to Ariele Friedman at Atria / Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this novel to read and review. You made my year! Thank you also to NetGalley and the amazing Fredrik Backman. I love your characters Mr. Backman. Benji and Britt-Marie? Well, I hold them both very close to my heart.

Published on Goodreads, Twitter and Instagram on 3.18.18.

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In Case You Missed It by Lindsey Kelk

Susanne’s Review:

Oh So Funny, Sweet and Romantic, “In Case You Missed It” Hits All the Right Notes.

After failing to make it big in DC, Ros hightails it back home to London and her parent’s house. Little does she know that they’ve renovated the shed in their backyard just for her. How sweet it’s not!

Now that Ros is back, she reconnects with old friends, and thanks to a little phone blip that sent a mass text to “all contacts” in her phone with an “I’m back message,” she also reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Patrick who broke her heart. Sounds perfect right?

What Ros finally realizes however, is that sometimes you can’t rekindle what you had, you have to move forward. Luckily for her, she has her several old friends and someone kind of great waiting in the wings.

“In Case You Missed It” by Lindsey Kelk is a super sweet, funny, lighthearted rom-com that was exactly what I needed in these crazy stressful times.

Another sweet buddy read with Ms. Kaceey!

Thank you to Edelweiss, Harper Collins, and Lindsey Kelk for the arc.

Published on Goodreads on 1.23.21.

Kaceey’s Review:

You can look back fondly on the past, but you must always be moving forward.

Ros returns home to the U.K. after putting in four long years in Washington DC. She’s positively thrilled and beyond anxious to slip back into her life with her best friends and parents. And oh yeah, maybe that short-sighted boyfriend that let her go just a bit too easily.

Small problem. Her loving, (not so) straight-laced parents don’t want her back in the house. It seems they have “rekindled” their intimacy. In the words of Ros “Ew!” What’s more, her friends have since moved onto new hangouts, careers, pregnancies. And the ex-boyfriend? Well…what is there to say about ex’s?🙄

This is a fine welcome home!
However, Ros decides she may not be ready to give up her past while everyone around her keeps moving forward.

A deliciously sweet, charming rom-com that has you rooting for Ros to find her place and maybe true love along the way.

This one has all the ingredients you could ever hope for! Kudos to Lindsey Kelk! I will definitely be looking for more of her books.

A buddy read with Susanne that we both really enjoyed!

Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for an ARC to read and review

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The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

Susanne’s Review:

What does it take to find your true self?  Life-Changing Events.

Susan is a 45 (forty-five) year-old woman who is prickly as a pear or rather as prickly as cactus if I’m going to get technical. Friendly isn’t exactly her forte. Set in her ways, Susan prefers routine and likes to be alone. Having had to grow up quite fast, Susan became extremely independent at a very young age and has never had to rely on anyone to do anything.  Difficult, stern, self-involved, yet quirky, Susan is an acquired taste if truth be told.

When news of her mother’s passing hits, Susan is shaken to the core.  Especially when she receives word of her mother’s will.  

Then she gets even more unsettling news, Susan discovers that she’s pregnant at the age of 45 (forty-five)!  (Being that I’m in my mid to late 40’s myself, I found that news to be quite unnerving as well!).  Fortunately for Susan, this unexpected pregnancy brings about a few life changes, including opening herself up to unexpected friendships, family, and a whole host of new emotions.

“The Cactus” by Sarah Haywood is a novel about self-discovery and exploration.  About coming into one’s own. The truth is, that it’s never too late to change.  Sometimes you just need a push or two in the right direction. This novel has been compared to “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” one of my favorite novels of all time.  While I don’t think this novel compares (as truth be told, Susan is nothing like Eleanor and doesn’t hold a candle to her). In my opinion, this novel is something different altogether and should stand on its own.  

An enjoyable novel with some truly lovable characters, including Aunty Sylvia, Susan’s neighbor Kate, and most importantly, Rob, whose interactions with Susan were sublime.

Thank you to my local library for loaning me a copy of this audiobook, which was narrated by Katherine Manners.

Published on Goodreads and Twitter on 1.23.21.

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Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Kaceey’s Review:

We can’t all be perfect…alas we are indeed Imperfect Women.

Women are under so much pressure. To be the perfect mother, the perfect wife and have a perfectly successful career. With all these expectations one may lose themselves along the way.

This is another book that presents itself as a thriller but with profound messages hidden between the lines. It’s really all about life and expectations. The pressure that others put upon us as well as what we heap upon ourselves. Oh yes, we want it all. But is that truly an achievable goal? Is it even what we really want from our lives? Can we be joyful, content and satisfied without possessing the golden ticket?

Nancy, Eleanor and Mary have been friends since University. When Nancy is killed, her two best friends are left to discover the truth in what was happening in Nancy’s life, while also looking in the mirror and taking stock of their own.

I toggled back and forth between the written and audio versions of this book. Though the pace seems to crawl somewhat near the middle, it ended with a rock-solid message.

This is the second book I’ve read by Araminta Hall. And though Our Kind Of Cruelty remains a favorite, I very much enjoyed this latest. I will definitely be watching for more from this author.

Thank you to NetGalley Farrar Straus and Giroux for an ARC to read and review.

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Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

Susanne’s Review:

Absolutely Unreal.

Affecting, Enthralling, Tragic, Traumatic.

In a quiet picturesque community on Long Island, new residents from Brooklyn move in. As soon as they arrive, it’s immediately clear to the current residents of ‘Maple Street’ that the Wilde’s simply don’t fit in. Gertie is a former Pageant Queen and her husband Arlo, is a has-been Rock Star and a former junkie. Sadly, their kids, Julia and Larry aren’t exactly ‘Maple Street’ material either.

The neighborhood is ruled by Rhea Schroeder, a master manipulator, who is adored by everyone and just happens to be the Wilde’s next-door neighbor. At first, Rhea appears to be their friend, little does Gertie know, however, that Rhea is not who she seems. Shortly thereafter, she turns on her new friends. Unfortunately for the Wildes, Rhea is a very persuasive woman and she convinces everyone in the neighborhood to turn against them as well.

While this is happening, an unfortunate incident occurs in the community. A sinkhole opens up and it swallows one of its residents. Once that happens, things go from bad to worse.

Thereafter the Wildes are brutalized and victimized by everyone in the neighborhood all because of Rhea Schroeder, one woman who wields all of the power.

A tale that takes place in the future and for which a reporter interviews the residents of Maple Street after the fact. Upon being interviewed, the residents questioned what was true and what was not.

Trying to sum up how I felt after reading “Good Neighbors” by Sarah Langan is virtually impossible. Frankly, at first, I was stunned and I had no words. I read this with my book buddy Kaceey and we found it to be wholly original. Wild and crazy, it had some quite interesting, and funny passages. Then this novel started to take a darker turn, which was unexpected, and then it became something else entirely. Something wholly astounding, devastating, and heartbreaking. To say that it broke me doesn’t quite cover it.

Even though this book wrecked me, I must say that this is one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. 
In my opinion, this entire novel represents a much bigger picture. An allegory if you will. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it but what I will say is that it took me an entire day to come to that conclusion and when it struck me, I was dumbfounded.

If this book is not on your TBR, it should be. It is an incredible story and it is a MUST READ.

Sarah Langan, I applaud you for this brilliant novel and cannot wait to see what you come up with next. This is my first 5-star read of 2021 and it is also the first book that will appear on my Goodreads best-of list for 2021 as well.

As I mentioned, this was a buddy read with Kaceey – I’m so glad we shared this read together, I’m not sure I could have read this one alone.

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books and Sarah Langan for the arc.

Published on Goodreads and Twitter on 1.17.21.
Excerpt posted on Insta.

Kaceey’s Review:

All the stars🌟🌟🌟🌟 🌟

I’m speechless. What did I just read?!

You know how occasionally you pick up a book firmly believing you know exactly what you’re in for? That’s precisely what yours truly did.
Okay sure, another book about feuding neighbors. Yes, we did have that…but paired superbly with so much more, providing shocking, revolting views of mankind in uncertain times.

The author takes us on a frightful journey into our world, exposing us to a side of humanity at its worst.
While this is fiction, so much of it rang true given the world in its current crisis, and the shameful things we’re doing to each other along the way.

So…to be clear:
This isn’t JUST about one long hot summer in Long Island.
This isn’t JUST about a sinkhole that opens up in the park down the street.
This isn’t JUST about a new family not fitting into the new neighborhood.

This IS about human nature and how ugly that can be at times.

The behaviors were horrifying. I was aghast! How could this happen in real life. Yet all we have to do today is turn on the news and witness first-hand that this is indeed happening in our very own world gone sideways.

Not every reader is going to come away with similar views and opinions.
This is going to be one of those books you either love or hate. And folks guess what? It’s okay to disagree!!

Personally I HATED the depraved behavior of the characters, but LOVED the book and the message it conveyed.

A buddy read with Susanne that lent itself to some incredible discussions.

Thank you to Atria Books via NetGalley for an Arc to read and review.

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Into the Fire (Orphan X #5)

Kaceey’s Review:

Greg Hurwitz has done it again!  

Book five of the Orphan X series. And this latest storyline, as well as Evan himself, have not lost steam! 

Each time Evan answers his phone he understands he’ll be risking his own life to help someone with nowhere else to turn. This time is no different. 

To say Max Merriweather is down on his luck would be a massive understatement. Recently separated from his wife and daughter, Max is barely scraping by. The weight of the world has reduced him to a shadow of his former self.  To add to his misery, his cousin was murdered. But not before leaving Max in possession of a mysterious envelope. With implicit instructions to put it in the hands of a trusted reporter 

Now no one is safe and once again, it’s up to Evan to put the pieces of this strange puzzle together and save Max!  

As with all the books in this series…it’s non-stop action! I just love Evan as he tries to figure out what he wants for his own future while still being willing to help those in need.  

Why hasn’t this series been turned into a movie (multiple movies)!?🍿🍿 

Only one book left in the series. Pardon me, Mr. Hurwitz 🙋🏻‍♀️

I hate to be a bother but do be a dear and pick up the pace! I need more books. please!  

Thank you!

A buddy read with Susanne!  

Susanne’s Review:

Heart Stopping and Completely Thrilling!

Just when Evan Smoak has decided to turn over a new leaf and stay out of trouble, he finds himself in the thick of it. This time, helping a man whose cousin was murdered and whose family has completely turned against him. A man named Max Merriweather who is now on someone’s hit list for unknown reasons.

Evan would like nothing more to just walk away from it all and yet, it is not in him. He is a man who lives by a code.

“Into the Fire” started off on a bit of a depressing note, with Evan feeling lost and alone. Being the person that I am, loving Evan the way that I do, I wanted to dive into the book and comfort him and tell him that everything would be alright. That being said, Evan is a survivor and triumphs over all.

This novel was pulse pounding, highly emotional and it put me through the absolute ringer. Reading this series, I sometimes wonder how on earth I pull through! What I loved most about this book was Evan’s interaction with Joey Morales. Joey is a fantastic addition to this series and I love the witty banter between these two. If you’re looking for a series that will entertain and make you feel alive, the Orphan X series is definitely it!

“Into the Fire” was another fabulous buddy read with Kaceey!

Thank you to my local library for loaning me a copy of this book (and series). I have loved it so much that I went out and bought the entire series!

Published on Goodreads on 10.18.20.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

Susanne’s Review:

Just call it Love, Pure and Simple.

“Writers and Lovers” by Lily King is the story of Casey Peabody, a 31-year-old woman who knows pain and defeat and knows it well.  A waitress and a struggling writer, Casey recently lost her mother and is $73,000 in debt due to exorbitant college loans that have taken over her life.  Working two jobs just to pay the minimum, Casey merely exists.

When she begins dating two very different men, complications ensue.  Both men are interesting, intriguing and both provide something she so desperately needs.  Inspiration to write, and write she does.  

Brilliant, introspective, funny, and a bit snarky, Casey’s character immediately drew me in. Whether it be when she was sparring with her landlord Adam, hanging out with her friend Muriel analyzing their love lives, talking about books, serving customers at the upscale restaurant she works at, or babysitting her boyfriend’s sons for the weekend and teaching them how to shuffle cards and make her favorite snack food. Simply put, Casey shines in whatever situation she’s in.  People are drawn to her for a reason and I was hooked.  

Truth be told, I loved everything about “Writers and Lovers” –  including the writing, the character development, and the way it made me feel inside.  Casey is a character I won’t soon forget!  

After reading stellar reviews, I’m looking forward to reading Lily King’s “Euphoria.”  

Thank you to my local library for loaning me a copy of the audiobook narrated by the brilliant Stacey Glemboski – who sang as well.  To say that I was blown away by her narration is an understatement.   If you haven’t read this yet and it’s on your tbr, I highly recommend checking out the audiobook, it’s outstanding.

Published on Goodreads on 1.21.21.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Susanne’s Review:

Atmospheric, Dark, Eerie, Fantastical and Mystical.

When Alex Stern arrives at Yale University in New Haven, CT, her past is just one of the many things she simply cannot escape. The Grays are the other.

Alex is quite special you see and that is why she is recruited. Alex has a very unique ability to see the “Grays” also known as ghosts, who surround everyone without our knowing it. For this she is desperately needed by the House of Lethe and Darlington. Darlington becomes her mentor, teaching her about Yale’s Secret Societies, each of their unique abilities and how to harness them.

As if that wasn’t enough for Alex to handle, Darlington suddenly disappears.

Thereafter, of course it goes from bad to worse.

A woman is killed on campus and while she doesn’t appear to be affiliated with the societies, looks may just be deceiving. Without Darlington, Alex takes it upon herself to investigate. This causes a disruption with the Dean, the Societies and of course, with the Grays.

Fantastical, spooky and vibrant, “Ninth House” spoke to me. The storyline is enveloping, intriguing and preternatural. What made this book even more compelling is that the Secret Societies at Yale do in fact exist, which admittedly led me to do a little research (including how many there truly are, how long they have been around, membership rituals and which famous people have been “members”). This character-driven fiction/fantasy drew me in because of the wild storyline and of course the characters of Alex, Darlington and Dawes (the House of Lethe Research Assistant), whose characters were expertly crafted and were wholly compelling in different ways.

Something else I truly appreciated about this novel is that it took place at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, (where the author, Leigh Bardugo obtained an undergraduate degree). Having grown up in Woodbridge, Connecticut, (fifteen minutes from New Haven) and having gone to school and having worked in New Haven for a number of years, I know a lot about the City and all of the old haunts (no pun intended), cross streets and pubs, etc., referenced in the book and incredibly, the author got all of them exactly right. Oftentimes authors make up towns in Connecticut when writing books that take place there, for fear of getting something wrong, so reading this book and reminiscing about The New Haven Green and Yorkside Pizza was a pure delight.

“Ninth House” of course, ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving me wanting and waiting desperately for more. I will, of course, be reaching for the sequel as soon as it’s out.

Thank you to my local library for loaning me a copy of the audiobook, which was narrated by Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell both of whom were brilliant.

Published on Goodreads on 1.17.21.

The Wrong Family by Tarryn Fisher

Kaceey’s Review:

Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that!💁

Juno is a former therapist, married with a family. Then she lost it all. Down on her luck, she finds the perfect solution by moving in with Winnie and her family.   

Juno doesn’t take up much room and does her best to be as unobtrusive as possible. But there’s something odd going on in the house between Winnie and her family. And Juno, ever the therapist, can’t just turn her back on and ignore. 

Oh my gosh! What a wild and freaky ride!  

The storyline is so bizarre and outlandish I couldn’t tear myself away! I kept saying to myself, (and to Susanne) “this can’t be happening!?” But oh yes, my page-flipping friends, it most certainly did happen!  

Looking for an out of the box thriller? You’ve found a treasure trove here! Mind you, it will require you suspending your believability. But at the same time it was real enough that It still had me looking over my shoulder… you know, just in case!😱 

Don’t miss this latest thriller by Tarryn Fisher! I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! 

A buddy read with Susanne that left us both in a state of shock over what we just read. 

Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for an ARC to read and review.

Susanne’s Review:

There is Dysfunction and then there is “The Wrong Family.”  

Freaking Weird, Wild, and Wholly Unexpected.

Frankly, I’ve NEVER READ ANYTHING LIKE IT and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  

I was like a rabbit eating my way through my neighbor’s lettuce patch… hungry for more.

(I’m not exactly sure what that says about me, but let’s not analyze that one. (especially if you’ve already read this book, lol!))

So your best bet here is to go in blind, just like I did.  The characters’ crazy machinations will mystify you just as they did me.  

This was a fun buddy read with Ms. Kaceey.  This book gave us lots (and lots) to talk about and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

Thank you to Edelweiss, HarperCollins – Graydon House, and Tarryn Fisher for the arc.

Published on Goodreads on 1.16.21.

Lie, Lie Again by Stacy Wise

Kaceey’s Review:

What a pleasant surprise! I just loved it!

A domestic drama about three women who are friends and neighbors. Together they navigate through life’s’ never-ending obstacles in pursuit of what else…happiness and success of course. Maybe even with a bit of love tossed in.

Embry: Still in her early twenties. A Mother of two loving children with a handsome (soon to be movie star) husband that she adores. But she’s hiding a secret that threatens to put her marriage at risk.

Riki: Teaches in a private elementary school. She’s constantly hounded and questioned by privileged parents regarding their golden children. Forcing her to walk a fine-line in order to keep her job. As for her personal life…she has a boyfriend she just can’t seem to commit her heart to. Perhaps because she covets someone she shouldn’t?

Sylvia: Overly confident and won’t hesitate to step on anyone to get what she needs. When she learns her boyfriend may not be as ‘available’ as he lets on…well let’s just say, Hell hath no fury. You get where I’m going with this one!

“Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again”

I enjoyed every minute of this book! I completely lost myself in the lives of all three women, and even though they were not perfect, (Who is?) I loved them all.
Not fast paced, nor a twisty shocking thriller. I would describe it comfortable and highly entertaining. And it was all I could think about until I could dive back into the pages!

Thank you to Goodreads Giveaways, Lake Union Publishing and Stacy Wise for a copy to read and review.

The Shadow Man by Helen Fields

Kaceey’s Review:

Anyone familiar with my taste in books knows I prefer my thrillers a bit on the darker side.

Careful what you wish for…this is one over-the-top, wicked read!

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man? The Shadow knows.”

The shadow man has an agenda. He’s on the prowl for the perfect victims to meet his objective. What is that you may ask? Come on now, you know I can’t tell you…that would spoil the fun!

Connie is a forensic psychologist brought in from the US to aid the local Scotland police. Connie is no wall-flower and her methods are let’s just say, out of the ordinary. But yet I loved her! She’s tough as nails and won’t hesitate to go toe-to-toe with anyone.

Can her expertise help find The Shadow Man before time runs out?

This was my first read from Helen Fields and jumped at the chance to read this one. I am thoroughly hooked and planning to go back and read her series which looks equally chilling!

Thank you to NetGalley and Avon Books UK