To finish up this year, I’ve read a few solid books in the month of December. Some I have enjoyed tremendously, some, not so much.
Still drudging through that collection of short stories I started back in October, I must say I’m really not loving it. I’m determined to finish it before 2022 though, so wish me luck with that.
But now, let’s see the ones I did like. Will any of them make my favorites of the year? Definitely a possibility.
Stalker, by Lars Kepler
What can I say about Lars Kepler? This Swedish duo is simply brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Their storylines are intricate and complex, and the plots are usually very well structured. For the books that I read so far, at least. Let’s see what this fifth installment in the Joona Linna is about.
The book starts with a video message The Swedish National Crime Unit receives. A young woman is in her home and is unaware she is being filmed. Not long after they receive the video, the body of the young woman is found brutally mutilated. While heavily pregnant new detective Margot Silverman is getting her team together and that tries to find this vicious killer, another video is sent. Very similar to the first one, the crime unit realizes they have a stalker/serial killer on their hands. Realizing she needs help, Margot reaches out to Joona Linna. He is still on convalescent leave after the traumatic events from the Sandman but agrees to help her. He brings along his longtime friend and trusted colleague Erik Maria Bark, a renowned hypnotist and trauma expert to figure out who is behind these crimes.
And there are more videos that follow, unfortunately. If they can’t find the killer soon enough, more bodies could pile up, so they are running against the clock.
With new evidence sprouting up, it seems like an innocent man is behind bars for a crime committed years ago. The similarities between the old case and the three new murders are too close for comfort, and the trio works around the clock to figure out who this killer is. Erik Maria Bark seems to be personally involved in this series of crimes, he just can’t figure out how or why. Things from his past are coming back to haunt him, and he is seriously starting to doubt his own innocence.
The final reveal is shocking, and the whole team is surprised at those dramatic turns of events.
What are my thoughts on this book? I don’t even know where to start if I am being completely honest.
I find the authors’ style expansive and intricate narrative very fast-paced, although it could seem too long for some readers. Sure, some details are totally unnecessary, but somehow it works. It makes the storyline more believable, and the characters more natural.
They are flawed, which makes them more endearing to me. I don’t like reading about perfect people who are too reserved and reasonable. Weird and messed up are more my thing, like most of us humans are in real life.
I won’t be dragging on too long about the style, so let me talk about the ending of this book. There were very subtle clues about who the culprit was, but I couldn’t pinpoint them while I was reading the book. Now that I know who did it the clues seem more evident. Nonetheless, the ending still surprised me. Until the last quarter of the book, I was still scratching my head because things just didn’t seem to make sense.
But once again, Kepler brought it all into an explosive ending that was really shocking. I will not give any more details, because it will spoil it for you. You just have to read it for yourself if you are curious.
I cannot recommend Lars Kepler’s books enough, especially for Nordic Noir lovers.
The Dinner by Herman Koch
Not my favorite read of the bunch, it is mostly curiosity that got me to finish this book. Not a great motivator, but the second half was a bit easier to get through. Let’s see what this book is all about.
Two affluent families in Amsterdam meet in a very posh restaurant for dinner to discuss an unpleasant incident that concerns their children. The whole dinner, from appetizers until dessert, is filled with awkward conversations, silences, disagreements, and a little drama. One of the brothers is a popular and well-liked politician aspiring to become Prime Minister, and the horrific act their two teenage sons committed is standing in the way of his dream. The two couples end up discussing the best course of action to take since a police investigation is impending. They all deal with this situation differently, which goes to show just how far some people are prepared to go in order to protect their families. The ending is surprising, but not shocking.
That being said, the book touches on some very sensitive topics and the values some privileged upper-middle-class families feel they are entitled to.
The first half of the novel dragged on for me. It started really slow, and it took me a while to get into the story. But by the actual dinner part, I wanted to know what happened that got the two couples so worked up, and why they were acting so weird. Needless to say, their belief system is thwarted, to say the least. I really did not enjoy their entitlement and the way they view the more underprivileged classes. It felt almost like they were victim-blaming, and it just irked me. Mind you, the book was written more than ten years ago, and political correctness is more present in our daily lives now. I still gave it three stars on Goodreads because the writing style is narrative and descriptive, which made the story more bearable. It was an okay read, but not for everyone.
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
The third book I finished this month is by a new author in the thriller genre, Rachel Hawkins. She used to write young adult novels, and for her first thriller, I must say I enjoyed it a lot. Let’s see what it’s about.
Jane, newly arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, is broke and clearly running away from her past. She is looking forward to a new, peaceful life. She takes a job as a dog walker for a few families in the gated community of Thornfield Estates. That is where she meets Eddie Rochester, a recently widowed man in his early thirties. His wife Bea drowned in a boating accident along with her best friend Blanche under questionable circumstances. Although for months their disappearance was deemed an unfortunate accident, Blanches’ body is discovered and her death deemed a homicide. Bea’s body is still missing, but Blanche’s husband Tripp is accused of his wife’s murder. With a twist that will leave you speechless, Hawkins really keeps your attention until the very last page.
I loved this fast-paced thriller told from two perspectives. Not gruesome, it is perfect for domestic thriller lovers. Hawkins has a way of telling a story that keeps you engaged and guessing the whole time. With a great ending, it is a book that you’ll be glad you picked up. It isn’t too graphic, so it’s appropriate for someone looking to get into the domestic thriller genre. I gave it four stars on Goodreads, and I’m looking forward to her new book coming up in early 2022, Reckless Girls.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
And, after three months of forcing myself to finish this collection of short stories, I finally did it, just before the end of the year. On December 31st, to be exact.
There is no synopsis for this book since it is a collection of short stories. There are twelve short stories that are all different. But they all play along with the complex gender power struggles that are still present today. She writes about some very varied topics ranging from anger, guilt, experiencing and inflicting pain.
I must say, there is only one story I kind of enjoyed, the rest I just didn’t get. That being said, the writing is great, but the stories, not so much. That is strictly my opinion, you might like it.
If anyone else reads this book, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on it.
Am I the only one who didn’t appreciate this book?
Beautiful World, Where Are You? By Sally Rooney
The third book by this author was a somewhat blah read for me. I much prefer her previous two novels. I love the way this author writes, I just didn’t connect with the characters of this novel at all. Rooney’s writing style is intellectual and narrative, with a great introspective take on philosophical debates.
Alice and Eileen have been friends since school, and now that they are adults they lead different lives. Alice is a renowned novelist who is on the road a lot, and Eileen works in a publishing house, barely scraping by.
While taking some time away from Dublin, Alice meets Felix while she’s staying at a house in the countryside. Within days of meeting him, she invites him to Rome with her, where she has to attend work-related events.
Eileen, getting over her break-up with a live-in boyfriend, starts back flirting with Simon, a childhood friend, and neighbor growing up.
Eventually, the two best friends get together after months apart, and the friendship comes to a head. They both have things they need to get off their chest, but will their friendship survive?
Throughout the book, Rooney gets into the characters’ most inner thoughts while dipping into the email correspondence between the two best friends.
The book is very well written once again, but the characters are highly unlikable. They all have many emotions and opinions about complex subjects.
Their thoughts are all over the place, and their views of the world are somewhat too complex to be deemed real. I know it’s a work of fiction, but I personally have a hard time buying that two close friends communicate in that manner. Especially over email. I found it a little pretentious, to be honest.
All in all, I still recommend the book, and I gave it three stars on Goodreads.
This concludes my last month of reading for 2021. I will follow soon with my favorite books of the year by month, and the 22 books I picked from my own library to read in 2022.
Happy reading friends!