#21 Slow Horses by Mick Herron

7929891 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.

#15 Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller

15814497How 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.

#8 History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

30183198This 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.

#5 Ill Will by Dan Chaon

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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.