#78 Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

32920254Young author (she’s 24) Danya Kukafka’s Girl in Snow is getting a good dose of buzz as a compelling who-done-it thriller. It’s a promising debut with some graceful writing, though the plot is unsurprising and the characters are formulaic.

The narrative follows three different characters in the aftermath of a high school girl’s murder in a small Colorado town. Each of these narrators, the high school girl who despised the murdered girl, the teenage (probably on the spectrum) neighbor boy who was obsessed with her and is now a key suspect in the investigation, and a police officer investigating the murder, offers the reader a different perspective on the dead girl and the town. Because all of the characters are familiar stereotypes, the Girl in Snow murderer is an easy guess and most suspense readers will figure out the twist by the middle of the book.

Looking past the predictability of the characters and the plot, there is a brightness to Kukafka’s writing; parts glimmer with a real understanding of human nature. I’ll be interested to read what Kukafka writes next.

#77 Sex and Rage by Eve Babitz

32332902Originally published in 1979 and recently reissued by Counterpoint, Sex and Rage by L.A. party girl turned writer Eve Babitz is a hazy coming-of-age novel starring Jacaranda Leven, a party girl turned writer who bares a striking resemblance to Babitz. On the surface the book is all sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, Babitz painting a glamorous and destructive path of self discovery for her surfer girl heroine. Below the surface we catch glimpses of something tangible, Jacaranda’s vague smartness, her unabashed sexuality, her drifty desire for something more meaningful than sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

Though Babitz evocatively pins down that coked-up, gold-adorned, smoggy sun glare of 70’s LA to the page, it was as much a surprise to me as the characters around Jacaranda that she could pull it together and focus on something other than herself long enough to become a published writer. Sex and Rage is all atmosphere and little depth, and I was left feeling bored and ambivalent.

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#76 Beartown by Fredrik Backman

31443394Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, has managed to write another wonderfully accessible, character-driven novel with loads of personality and emotion, complex relationships, and a good dose of hope and heartache.

In Beartown ice hockey is everything. Surrounded by dense forest, Beartown is small and remote, devoid of industry and running low on hope for the future. As the town unites behind the young ice hockey team poised to bring home the championship and bring new lifeblood into Beartown, the community is rocked by a violent act upon a young girl.

Once again I was impressed with Backman’s ability to write evocative scenes and characters with depth while addressing serious issues with humor and heart. A great read.

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#75 Final Girls by Riley Sager

32796253I love a good thriller. And I had high hopes for Riley Sager’s Final Girls, which has received starred reviews from Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist, and was praised by Stephen King as the “first great thriller of 2017.”

Like most books in the suspense/thriller genre, there’s a twist. I guessed the reveal within the first 20 pages, so when I finally got to the end it felt eye-rollingly predictable. The slasher action takes center stage over character development and the characters felt flat and stereotypical, their pain laughable and gratuitous. I wasn’t sad when the book ended.

Also, isn’t it interesting that more and more male authors are taking gender-ambiguous pseudonyms in an attempt to sell suspense books to women?

#74 The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

30556459Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, my book club’s pick for August, is a fantastic read full of adventure, suspense, and heart.

Hawley, a complicated father and a dangerous man, and his young daughter Loo return to the town where Loo’s mother grew up. After years on the run they set down roots and stir up old emotions.

Constellations, literal and metaphorical, run though Tinti’s narrative: Loo looks to the stars for stability and her path, Hawley’s old criminal network is a constellation both intricate and menacing, and Hawley’s body is a map baring a constellation bullet scars.

Loved it.