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May
17

Bookworms: “Light” Beach Reads

If there was one thing I did a lot on my vacation, it was read. (That and sleep. And crossword puzzles. At a pool bar with a pina colada in my hands. Not too shabby.)

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I brought a carry-on FULL of books to choose from, based on recommendations from friends, favorite blogs, long-time wish lists.

And apparently I managed to read two of the most depressing, most intense books of the lot. So much for easy beach reading…

The Hypnotist

hypnotist cover

(Source)

I first heard about this book via NPR and was really excited to find a used copy at Powell’s Books last summer. As a big fan of the Stieg Larsson Milennium trilogy, I was  intrigued about another dark crime novel by Swedish writers (the author name “Lars Kepler” is actually a pseudonym for a husband/wife team).

As much as I loved parts of this book, I was disappointed overall. The dramatic ending left something to be desired. I wanted more of a twist than I got, and I felt like the authors sort of lost steam and weren’t sure how to conclude the story. I also did not understand all of the Pokemon references. Maybe I’m out of the loop as a 30-something female, but I felt like the plot’s reliance on a passing fad dated the book in an unfavorable way and rendered it less of a timeless murder mystery than it could have been.

That said, there were parts of the book that blew me away. The best plot twist came early in the story and shocked the hell out of me. And the 100-page flashback in the middle of the story at first felt out of place, but it fleshed out a lot of the characters and gave some much needed context to the plot line. Plus it was just crazy disturbing.

Overall, if you are a murder mystery fan (especially if you liked Stieg Larsson), you’d probably enjoy this. Like many fellow reviewers, however, I found that it left something to be desired. And if you are not a fan of having your brain totally twisted around, you would probably hate it.

The Murderer’s Daughters

murderers daughters

(Source)

I really wanted to like this book. Part of me feels a little heartless for not gushing over its cultural importance. After all, it raises awareness about a lot of important social issues – domestic violence, the foster care system, redemption for criminal behavior, and more. When I read that the idea for the story came from the author’s own near-encounter with domestic murder, I wanted to like it even more.

But I just couldn’t.

Like The Hypnotist, the best part of the story was the first 100-150 pages. It was full of tension and emotion, and many questions about what would happen to the two main characters. The book tells the story of two young girls whose father kills their mother in a drunken rage, and the fallout of this one act for the rest of their lives.

I appreciated that the story was told from both girls’ perspectives. But as they grew up, I felt the cliches start to pile on and I wanted more nuance. I wanted more complexity. I won’t spoil it for those of you who read it, but I felt that the characters grew into cariacatures. For the first time probably ever, I wondered if this story would make a better movie than a book. And the so-called “twist” at the end left me completely disappointed.

I finished the book feeling rather depressed about the whole situation. I was angry about the portrayal of the girls’ mother as somewhat of a bitchy harlot – it felt like an underlying message was “She got what she deserved”. I was conflicted about the portrayal of the girls’ father, especially over time. Are there some acts that are simply unforgivable and deserve no explanation? Or did he pay his dues and merit some level of sympathy?

Perhaps that was the goal of the story…to raise these questions in the first place. Perhaps just by challenging the character details, I am participating in an important conversation about some very difficult topics. But as I closed the final pages, I took a deep breath and wondered how I was supposed to feel. (And this response seems to be pretty consistent among some of its Amazon and Goodreads reviews).

Maybe it was more nuanced than I give it credit for.

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