Young 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.
I 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?
Wow. This book kept me up past midnight, furiously flipping page after page towards the bloody end and listening intently to the creaks and noises in my silent house with wide open eyes.
Beth Lewis’ The Wolf Road is intense and unflinching, terrifying and great. Looking for a well-written and suspenseful beach read? Well, here you go. (Maybe don’t read it in the forest in the dark by yourself.)
Like Nettie Lonesome, the heroine in Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures, Lewis’ Elka is a strong young female protagonist fighting for survival and connection in a cruel, dangerous world. After a huge storm, Elka is taken in by Trapper, a quiet hunter harboring a secret. When Elka discovers the truth about Trapper, she escapes into the wilderness to survive. But will she survive with Trapper nipping at her heels?
The setting is post-apocalyptic, but not overtly so. The remote Canadian wilderness Elka escapes into is alive with trees and wildlife, but crater lakes formed by Russian bombs leak chemicals into the Earth, and mentions of old wars and bombs that destroyed large swaths of North America are peppered throughout the book and inform the fierce survivalist nature of the characters.
Slow Horses is the first book in a series by Mick Herron about MI5 agents who have been relegated, by bad choices they’ve made, the enemies they keep, or circumstances beyond their control, to the backwater of Slough House, an office for fallen/disgraced agents.
The characters are a motley crew, the plot a bit far-fetched, and the pace a little slow at the beginning, for my taste, for a mystery.
I didn’t love this book, but am intrigued enough by the characters and the snappy writing that I might read book two. I discovered this series via librarian Nancy Pearl over on NPR, who notes that the books get better as the series progresses.
How reliable is an unreliable narrator? This is the question I asked myself throughout the whole of this page-turner. The premise of Norwegian by Night is an interesting one: Probably senile, recently widowed, Jewish American man moves to Oslo, where he doesn’t know the language or the culture, to live with his granddaughter and her husband. Recently arrived, he witnesses a violent crime and rescues a young boy at the scene; they escape, evading the police, his granddaughter, and those looking for the boy. Do we trust this narrator, and to what end?
While Norwegian by Night is, at its core, a book of suspense, it also provides a fascinating look at Jewish identity, the frailty of memory, language and the ability to communicate without words, war and the effects of violence on the brain, parenting, aging, and death. It’s great. Read it.
This debut book of fiction by writer Emily Fridlund is a stunner.
It’s a classic coming-of-age story. High school student Linda doesn’t fit it. Like so many high school kids who feel like they’re the wrong age at the wrong time in the wrong place, she lives the life of an outsider. Her peers keep their distance at school, and she lives a long way from anything with her odd parents. When a family with a young boy, Paul, moves in across the lake, Linda starts to babysit, forging a relationship with the boy and his parents. From page one we know that something devastating has happened to Paul, a knowledge which drives this elegant, sad, austere story to the end.
I really love Fridlund’s writing, there were so many sentences and passages in History of Wolves that made me go “wow.” Some coming-of-age books feel like replicas of stories we’ve all read/heard before, but this one stands out. From the beginning, Fridlund constructs a narrative built on dramatic tension, with the reader constantly questioning “what the fuck happened to that kid?!” The snowy backwoods setting evokes isolation and loneliness, and the characters are unique, complex, totally flawed.
I can’t wait to read what Fridlund comes out with next.
After reading and loving Chaon’s Await Your Reply a few years ago, I was excited to pick up an ARC of Ill Will at my fave local bookstore (where I used to be a bookseller).
Sadly, I didn’t like this book. I found the characters unredeemingly grotesque, and because I disliked the characters so much, I couldn’t invest any emotional energy in actually caring about the plot or the outcome. Blah.