Snowblind

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Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

Publication Date: June 15, 2015 by Orenda Books

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My Thoughts:

While I prefer stand alone books to series, I kept seeing such strong reviews for Ragnar Jónasson’s work that it seemed fitting to read Snowblind in February during our one and only major snow storm of the season.

Snowblind is equal parts psychological thriller and police procedure and while I finished the book quickly because I became so absorbed in the story, Jónasson slowly builds up tension right up to the finale. Snowblind is more about plot complexities and character building and I appreciated how Jonasson didn’t look to rush towards the conclusion since it only added to the intensity as the plot moved along.

Jónasson uses the environment to add to the fear factor of the story – not knowing who the killer is despite being in a small town, the claustrophobia of being trapped in by snow and having nowhere else to go, and the isolation of both the location and the weather. I was continually reminded as to why The Shining is so terrifying and Jonasson knew just how to play on similar fears.

While I’ve begun reading more crime fiction by Norwegian authors, this is my first experience with an Icelandic author and it’s easy to see why people are raving about Jónasson! Fans of slow-paced, psychological crime thrillers will love Snowblind – the comparisons to Agatha Christie are totally accurate, but Jónasson’s style is unique enough to stand on its own. I’m excited to jump into the second novel in this series – Nightblind.

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Homesick for Another World

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Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel Eileen was one of the literary events of 2015. Garlanded with critical acclaim, it was named a book of the year by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. But as many critics noted, Moshfegh is particularly held in awe for her short stories. Homesick for Another World is the rare case where an author’s short story collection is if anything more anticipated than her novel.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

Publication Date: January 17, 2017 by Penguin Press

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My Thoughts:

I usually don’t read through short story collections quickly, but I ended up reading Homesick for Another World in two sittings. Ottessa Moshfegh’s stories are darkly comic and span a multitude of people and experiences that make each narrative memorable in their own way. Unlike other collections where some of the stories included begin to blur with one another in a way that warrants taking a step back from reading too many at once, I found myself excited to start the next story in this collection.

Some of the most memorable for me include “Bettering Myself”, “Malibu”, and “Dancing in the Moonlight”. While all of Moshfegh’s stories are dark and unsettling, these three stories in particular danced the fine line between disturbing and darkly comical. For anyone who has read Moshfegh’s novel, Eileen, Homesick for Another World is a phenomenal collection of stories that highlights all the aspects of Moshfegh’s style that makes her writing so thrilling and unique.

As Red as Blood

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Lumikki Andersson has made it a rule to stay out of things that do not involve her. She knows all too well that trouble comes to those who stick their nose where it doesn’t belong. But Lumikki’s rule is put to the test when she uncovers thousands of washed Euro notes hung to dry in her school’s darkroom and three of her classmates with blood on their hands. Literally.

A web of lies and deception now has Lumikki on the run from those determined to get the money back—no matter the cost. At the center of the chaos: Polar Bear, the mythical drug lord who has managed to remain anonymous despite hosting lavish parties and having a notorious reputation. If Lumikki hopes to make it out alive, she’ll have to uncover the entire operation.

Even the cold Finnish winter can’t hide a culprit determined to stain the streets red.

As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka

Publication Date: January 17, 2017 by Crown for Young Readers

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My Thoughts:

While a quick, enjoyable read, As Red as Blood felt a bit too much like a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for young adults with Lumikki as the less goth little sister of Lisbeth Salander.

Despite this issue, As Red as Blood is still a fun read if you don’t take it too seriously. While I had my doubts about Lumikki, I began to enjoy her personality more once she met Elisa and there was less of a focus on teen drama and cliques. Plus, what isn’t there to like about a badass female main character who can outsmart a bunch of grown men/criminals?

While there are tons of YA novels out there that integrate elements of fairy tales, Simukka uses that aspect well and never did I feel like she was letting it stray away from her own story line. This was probably one of the elements of Simukka’s writing that I enjoyed the most.

I did have some difficulty with the writing style at times, but I’m not sure if that was more from the translation than Simukka’s style. There was an awkwardness, particularly with dialogue, that I found difficult to get past, but I’d be willing to give Simukka another chance to see if that changes with the second book in this trilogy.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

The Shadow Land

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A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Kostova’s new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss.

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

Publication Date: April 11, 2017 by Ballantine Books

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My Thoughts:

There are aspects of this novel that I absolutely LOVED, but the pacing is what ultimately ruined this for me.

To start, Elizabeth Kostova is a phenomenally talented writer. Much of what I loved in The Historian is present in The Shadow Land – the dynamic characters, the intensely detailed descriptions of the surrounding environment, and a unique mystery all twisted within. While I wouldn’t exactly qualify The Historian as a “fast-paced” read, I never felt like the storyline was dragging at all. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for me with The Shadow Land.

I felt invested in the plot for the first 200 pages or so and I absolutely loved Bobby’s character. Alexandra felt a bit lacking in personality and I felt a bit confused about the underlying hints at her attraction to Nevin. However, the chapters that shared Stoyan’s personal narrative were stunning and at times, heartbreaking. I only wish that there could have been less lead up to Stoyan’s story and the final “reveal” because the slow pace ultimately made finishing the novel feel like too much of a chore.

This is the type of book for those who like to get lost in the details and are okay with a long, winding and often untraceable plot. What’s best about Kostova’s style is her ability to paint a country for a reader who hasn’t necessarily been somewhere like Bulgaria – I could easily picture the narrator’s surroundings and it made me begin to itch to travel somewhere new and different from what I’m accustomed to. For those who need a strong, clear cut plot and don’t have an appreciation for extensive detail, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest picking up The Shadow Land.

Thank you, Netgalley and Ballantine Books for allowing me the chance to read this book before its publication date in exchange for an honest review.

Human Acts

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In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

Human Acts by Han Kang

Publication Date: January 17, 2017 by Hogarth

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My Thoughts:

…the question which remains to us is this: what is humanity? What do we have to do to keep humanity as one thing and not another?

Human Acts is a powerful and unsettling story about the Gwangju Uprising and the long-lasting impact President Chun Doo Hwan’s vicious military response to civilians standing up for democracy had on the people who lived through it.

The novel starts out with the story of a young boy named Dong-ho and Kang’s choice to tell the events that occur in the second person POV created a more intimate experience than third person POV would have. Knowing what would happen to him, I quickly felt grief for a person I only came to know in the first few pages of the novel.

Kang does not hold back in sharing with the reader what it was like to be in Gwangju leading up to the student uprising. Volunteers housing and creating an identification system for hundreds of dead civilians, grieving families and loved ones coming in the hopes of finding their missing spouses, children, friends, etc. and many times being unsuccessful in their search. Mass funeral ceremonies and a constant, underlying sense of fear for their lives and the lives of those they love while living under a dictator who didn’t think twice about murdering hundreds of his own people.

Our bodies are piled on top of each other in the shape of a cross.

After Dong-ho’s murder, the story moves on to chapters told by those connected to him in life with the first narrated by his friend, Jeong-dae. Unlike Dong-ho’s story, Jeong-dae’s is told in the first person POV which only lends to experiencing the brutality of what happened to him and those around him. As the novel progresses, the chapters told by others who knew and cared for Dong-ho move along to become further separated by the events of May 1980 by time, but it is clear that even time couldn’t take away the impact that week had on those who lived through it.

She had no faith in humanity. The look in someone’s eyes, the beliefs they espoused, the eloquence with which they did so, were, she knew, no guarantee of anything.

While Human Acts is a visceral and deeply personal story, it also leaves unanswered many unsettling questions about conscience and what would lead people to behave in such horrific and brutal ways against their fellow humans. Han Kang has written yet another poignant and powerful novel that will haunt the reader long after finishing the last page.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.