Julia Dahl – The Missing Hours

When Claudia wakes up, she cannot remember the past hours. When she looks in the mirror, she hardly can recognise the girl she sees. Obviously, something really bad has happened, her body can tell it, she, however, does not know what it is. She is afraid that somebody at her dorm might see her in that state, luckily it is spring break and most of her fellow students at NYU are gone, just one boy seems to be there. When Trevor sees her, he knows that the girl needs help, yet, the girl is Claudia Castro, super rich and an Instagram famous artist. But that doesn’t count, when somebody is in need, you help. And that’s what Trevor does – not knowing in what a mess all this is going to end.

“The Missing Hours” is a dark novel about the one of the nastiest crimes imaginable. Julia Dahl opens the plot with the big question about what might have happened, once this is answered, the next question follows: why? But then it becomes much more interesting to observe what the experience does to Claudia. She has been assaulted, that much is obvious, and quite often, there are only two options: either the victim withdraws completely blaming herself for what has been done to her or she fights her assailant. The author interestingly chooses to go both ways turning the novel into an intense and gripping read.

The plot is mainly driven by emotion – (unrequited) love, hatred, vindictiveness, but also despair and loneliness. The characters go through challenging times and emotions that they are unable to control, too young and unexperienced they make choices which turn out to be totally wrong, but in their state of being blinded by their feelings, the cannot respond in any other way. It is easy to understand what they do and why they do it, even if you know that nothing good can come from it.

On the other hand, the novel also raises the question about who is there when you are in need. Quite normally, it should be your family, but things are complicated with Claudia’s parents and her sister is about to give birth and surely has other things to care about. Sometimes a stranger can be your saviour, not being too close might be the best for a complicated situation.

What I really liked about the novel is how the protagonist’s conflicting thoughts are conveyed. She feels ashamed, blamed herself, is worried about what might people think of her even though she obviously is the victim. She is educated, knows exactly what to do in such a case and yet, decides not to do what is recommended. As a reader, you can see why she acts in that way and is nevertheless struggling with her choice.

A fast paced thriller which has a lot more depth than one might have expected.

Annie Ward – Beautiful Bad

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Annie Ward – Beautiful Bad

When the police is called to a crime scene, they are prepared for the worst: a child’s voice could be heard during the 911 call. Flashback to a time fifteen years before. Maddie works as a teacher in Bulgaria while her best friend Jo is based with a NGO in Macedonia. During one of her visits, Maddie gets to know Jo’s British friends, among them Ian to whom she feels immediately attracted. Times are hard for the two young women abroad and not everything runs smoothly, misunderstandings, too much alcohol and words that better had not been said. Their friendship does not last in contrast to Maddie’s love for Ian, but their love was not meant to be immediately and now the big question if it ever was meant to be looms over them.

Annie Ward’s is a psychological thriller in which nothing is what it seems, in which you have to re-assess all relationships, all events narrated and all characters again and again to get a complete picture which differs a lot from the first impression you had. The fact that different characters’ perspectives are given alternately and that the story is told at different points in time, all mixed up so that you spring forward and backward and sometimes get the same event two times, does not make it always easy to keep an overview. Even though this to a certain extent supports the suspense that is created, for me it also contributed to some lengthiness.

There are two strong aspects in the novel that I found quite remarkable and authentic. First of all, it clearly shows how detrimental bad relationships can be. Being literally addicted to a person never is a good basis for a partnership since it easy opens the door for abuse and oppression. Second, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder should never be underestimated. There are experiences that you will never forget and you never really come to terms with. They shape your personality if you want or not and have an impact on your behaviour, relationships and whole life.

“Beautiful Bad” could certainly surprise me with all the twists and turns and was cleverly crafted to lead you in a lot of wrong directions.

Fredrik Backman – Us Against You

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Fredrik Backman – Us Against You

Is there a future for the small community of Beartown in northern Sweden after all that happened last season? Summer is almost over, but how should life go on without a hockey team? The best players have left and taken the coach with them. Peter Anderson, the ice hockey club’s GM, is left behind with a mess; when the club presents the new coach – a woman – this seems to be the last nail in his coffin. But Beartown is not a place where people give up, they all fight, for different goals, with different motives. And slowly a new team forms and life comes back to the community. Hockey is not all there, hockey is everything and for the sake of the game, you sometimes have to cut back your own interests.

I have read several novels written by Fredrik Backman, also the first of the Beartown series which I find absolutely necessary to understand this one, and I still do not know how he manages to drag you so completely into the novel and to make you want to cry several times.

Even though in this instalment, there is not the big culminating point to which the plot inevitably heads like in the first one, you can feel the suspense throughout the whole novel. After what had happened before – the rape, the hatred, the taking sides – the characters now need to adjust their lives, somehow get back to a kind of normal which isn’t the normal they had known before. This is where the greatest strength of the author lies: he manages like hardly any other to portray the nuances in the feelings, contradicting emotions and strong convictions which cannot be explained since they have always been there and are true therefore.

His characters walk on brittle ground, any second, it all could explode and the whole community could end in total chaos. They move carefully, but sometimes also like a bull in a china shop, but they are aware of each other and especially of the other’s needs. What is so special about Beartown is the strength of the people when they are needed. They all have a good heart, the fight hard, but they also know that as humans they have to take care of each other and that life is not always fair but that they can balance the unfairness with their actions.

No, life is never easy in Beartown, many suffer a lot and you wouldn’t want to change places with them. Yet, on the other hand, what more could you hope for than a place like this small town and its inhabitants?

Again, it is a novel about hockey. But also about love and hate. Life and death. Violence and peace. Just about everything that matters. And above, wonderfully written so that you can hardly put it away once you’ve started reading.