It's time for the last book bag of the year - how is that even possible?! It's an eclectic mix of novels, so let's get to it!
THE ICE BENEATH HER, a young woman is found brutally beheaded in the home of a famous businessman, Jesper Orre. The scene is chaotic and bloody and to Detective Peter Lindgren, it is eerily reminiscent of a case he and his partner, Manfred Olsson, worked 10 years ago where a male immigrant was also found beheaded. That case was never solved. Here, in present day, Jesper is mysteriously missing, and Peter and Manfred have no idea about the murdered woman's identity. So they turn to Hanne, a behavioral police consultant, who helped the police with their case ten years ago. Cut to two months earlier, where young shop worker Emma receives a marriage proposal from Jesper Orre, the enigmatic CEO of the clothing store where she works. Jesper wants to keep their relationship a secret: he's been hit hard lately by the press. Emma complies, but when Jesper never shows up for their engagement dinner, she's befuddled. As time passes, Jesper doesn't respond to Emma's texts or calls, and she becomes increasingly enraged. This was an intriguing Swedish thriller. The beginning half to three fourths of the novel kept me guessing and rather engaged. I was truly stumped and trying to figure out exactly what was happening (which doesn't always occur for me). For me, one of the hardest things with this particular novel was that I just didn't really connect or empathize with its main characters. Peter was pretty much an empty shell and not at all sympathetic. Emma was a tough one to read and to engage with. Hanne was probably my favorite, but she didn't get a lot of "air" time, so to speak. Overall, this was an interesting thriller, and I really did find the plot intriguing and well thought out, for the most part. I enjoyed reading the portions where I was scratching my head, trying to figure out how everyone was connected. It was a little less enjoyable once I deduced most of it, and I wish I had related to the characters better, or understood how their backstories were woven in to the fabric of the actual mystery. 3 stars
THE TWILIGHT WIFE, by A.J. Banner, Kyra Winthrop and her husband, Jacob, are headed to live on a remote island (in the house where Jacob grew up) to get away from it all. Kyra recently suffered a head injury in a diving accident; she hit her head on a rock and while Jacob saved her, she cannot remember the past four years of her life and is having trouble with her current ability to retain things. Kyra and Jacob hope time away, in a quiet place, will let Kyra--and her memory--heal. But once on the island, Kyra begins to remember more and more. She has no one to rely on but Jacob, who tells her much of what she remembers are only dreams. But Kyra is convinced it's more. And what about the shadowy third figure she continually recalls from their diving accident? Kyra isn't sure who to trust, even herself, as she tries to unfold her past and recall not only her accident, but who she has been for the past four years. This was a fascinating book that really took the premise of the "unreliable" narrator to a whole new level. What I enjoyed the most is that we learned the bits and pieces about Kyra's life, and who she was, just as she did. This made the novel very suspenseful and helped make up for any points where it seemed a little unbelievable or where the story felt a bit flat. I found the book captivating and basically read the second half in one sitting: it's a very fast read, and you become easily drawn into Kyra's world. The ending is a little easy and pat, but I still enjoyed watching all the pieces come together (even if I'd guessed some of them already). The novel really truly does a masterful job at creating intrigue into Kyra's past and the various parts of her life, and how she has arrived on this remote island with Jacob. It's a little eerie, a little creepy, and a little haunting. It was sort of a fun version of a Lifetime movie--one that had me hooked and enjoying the plot, versus rolling my eyes and changing the channel--and because I so enjoyed seeing everything come together and racing through the end of the book, it pushed my rating up to 4 stars. If you're looking for a quick suspense read, it's definitely worth picking this one up.
SMALL ADMISSIONS. In this novel, Kate Pearson is going through a rough time. She's been dumped by Robert, her incredibly handsome French boyfriend, and she turned down a spot in her grad school program, so instead of living a dream life in Paris, she's living on the couch, barely able to wash her own hair. Her friend Chloe feels responsible (Robert is her cousin, after all), her friend Vicki is just annoyed (Vicki has no patience for wallowing), and Kate's older sister Angela just wants to fix everything. She connects Kate to a lead for an interview at the admissions department at the Hudson Day School. Surprising everyone, Kate gets the job, and suddenly has to get her life together. There's no time for self-pity during admissions season, after all. Indeed, Kate finds herself drawn to her job, her new colleagues, and the various children she meets while at work. And while Kate's working non-stop, her friends are busy falling in love, feeling guilty about their role in Kate's earlier breakdown regarding Robert, and generally making a mess of things. Will Kate make her own mess at the new admissions gig as well, or is this the fresh chance she needed? I am torn somewhat on my thoughts for this book. It starts off quite witty and drew me in immediately. It's told from a multitude of perspectives, including Kate's friends (Chloe and Vicki), her sister (Angela) and Kate, and Kate's new boss, Henry. It's also interspersed with tales of several children trying to get into private school, along with the perspectives of their parents. There's definitely some nuance and depth there, but sometimes it's A LOT. A lot of characters, a lot of jumping of back and forth. I won't lie: Kate's friends certainly annoyed me at times. The side show with them can be humorous, but often just irritating. I found myself wanting more Kate. The problem with all the jumping around is that I didn't really get to know the characters as much as I wanted, which was a shame, because they were fascinating. Poeppel has done an excellent job of creating real, flawed characters, and I just wish they all received a little more face-time. Still, don't think I didn't enjoy the book, because I did. There are some wise and wonderful moments and some instances where I found myself laughing out loud. Kate is endearing, and you cannot help but rooting for her character. This book is redeemed by her and her journey. She is an inspiration. Because of her and my various feelings for this novel, my final rating falls at 3.75 stars.
Look for the next book bag in 2017 - wow! Time flies!