Mini-reviews: Three short takes on my end-of-the-year reads (or listens)

It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve, I’ve finished three different books over the last day or so, and I’m not really in the mood to write detailed reviews. So, wrapping up my year of reading, here are my final three books of 2020:

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Title: Us Against You (Beartown, #2)
Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: 2018
Length: 448 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.

Saying I have a love/hate relationship with Fredrik Backman’s writing is a bit too strong. Maybe it’s a like/feel annoyed by relationship?

Us Against You is the sequel to Beartown, continuing the story of a small hockey-obsessed town, its politics, its personalities, and its ugly and beautiful sides. This book is really very dark and dismal for most of its length, with people suffering, fighting, and making each other miserable.

As with his other books, I found myself rolling my eyes at the abundance of declarative statements about the meaning of life. I’m glad that I read Us Against You, for the sake of seeing what happens next in these characters’ lives, but ended up speeding up to the audiobook to 1.5x when my exasperation made me want to just be done with it.

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Title: The Little Book of Hygge
Author: Meik Wiking
Published: 2016
Length: 289 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Denmark is often said to be the happiest country in the world. That’s down to one thing: hygge.

‘Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things. My personal favourite is cocoa by candlelight…’

You know hygge when you feel it. It is when you are cuddled up on a sofa with a loved one, or sharing comfort food with your closest friends. It is those crisp blue mornings when the light through your window is just right.

Who better than Meik Wiking to be your guide to all things hygge? Meik is CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and has spent years studying the magic of Danish life. In this beautiful, inspiring book he will help you be more hygge: from picking the right lighting and planning a dinner party through to creating an emergency hygge kit and even how to dress.

This little hardcover (borrowed from the library) is a guide to hygge — taking the Danish concept and using it to make life more peaceful, cozy, and satisfying. It’s a sweet little book — no earth-shattering revelations here, but a gentle reinforcement of some basic principles: simple is better, be cozy, keep social gatherings small and intimate, enjoy making and sharing, spend less, focus on the here and now.

I’m not sure that I got much in the way of practical steps, but it’s a good reminder to cherish the small moments and make life more comfy and cozy in little ways. And, as the author points out, the more candles, the more hygge.

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Title: I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are
Author: Rachel Bloom
Published: 2020
Length: 288 pages
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In the vein of Mindy Kaling, Ali Wong, and Amy Poehler, a collection of hilarious personal essays, poems and even amusement park maps on the subjects of insecurity, fame, anxiety, and much more from the charming and wickedly funny creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Rachel Bloom has felt abnormal and out of place her whole life. In this exploration of what she thinks makes her “different,” she’s come to realize that a lot of people also feel this way; even people who she otherwise thought were “normal.”

In a collection of laugh-out-loud funny essays, all told in the unique voice (sometimes singing voice) that made her a star; Rachel writes about everything from her love of Disney, OCD and depression, weirdness, and female friendships to the story of how she didn’t poop in the toilet until she was four years old; Rachel’s pieces are hilarious, smart, and infinitely relatable (except for the pooping thing).

Rachel Bloom is talented, funny, and hides absolutely nothing in this hilarious memoir about a girl who never felt “normal”. She shares poems and diary entries written by her 12-year-old self, tells about becoming a theater kid through a musical script, shares the ups and downs of her love and sex life, and manages to be really moving even while making me laugh out loud or cringe uncomfortably.

I loved Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and reading this book makes me want to go watch the series all over again (or at least watch some of the best musical moments). I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is a must for fans!

(Okay, sure, why not share a random favorite CXG musical number? Well, if you insist…)

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And that’s it! Onward to more great reading in 2021!