BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Courier – by Kjell Ola Dahl @Orendabooks #NordicNoir

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The Courier blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I always love discovering international authors and I just couldn’t resist this chance to read more Nordic Noir. So please join me while I share my thoughts on The Courier!

Title: The Courier
Author: Kjell Ola Dahl
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: 2015
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: March 9th 2019
Pages: 276
(Originally written in Norwegian: ‘Kureren’)

“You can hide, you can move to an island, build a hut and wander on a beach for years, lonely. But when the past comes calling you are the same person.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Those who know me are probably already aware of the fact I have a special interest in WWII historical fiction and I always enjoy a good mystery. Add an international setting you don’t see every day and the fact that it’s Nordic Noir in the first place and you’ll find me jumping up and down out of sheer excitement. Oh yes, I couldn’t wait to dive into my copy of The Courier and it turned out to be just as good as the reviews I saw popping up kept promising me. Want to know why?

The first thing that stands out in The Courier is that this story is actually set in three different time periods which are connected by the main characters. The story mainly switches between 1942 and 1967, both having its own storyline and different angle to contribute to the plot. This mostly dual timeline was one of the strongest elements of this story for me and highly enhanced my reading experience. The fact that we are left in the dark about what happened in 1942 and what consequences it has on the characters in 1967 adds a healthy dose of suspense to the plot and the author is able to build this feeling of suspense and intrigue in both storylines. Both are equally strong for different reasons, a balance that is easy to achieve while using a dual timeline.

The writing and plot development also really stood out for me. This story managed to grab my attention right from the very first chapter and the engaging writing style made it easy to fully emerge myself in the story and travel back in time. The descriptions of time, place and characters are detailed and well developed, making it easy to imagine yourself as a spectator observing the story from a front row seat. The main characters felt real as they are realistically displayed with flaws and all; you will soon find yourself rooting for them and this makes connecting to the story all the easier.

Another thing I could really appreciate was the historical content and the many references to daily life in Norway and Sweden in 1942 and 1967. Especially since WWII historical fiction tends to focus on countries like Germany, Poland or France, I was excited to be offered a glimpse of the history of lesser known countries that were affected by that particular part of history. It was interesting to see the characters evolve over time as they react to the things that happen to and around them. The plot also has quite a few surprises in store and I can promise you that you will not see them coming. The Courier is a little Nordic Noir gem and a very satisfying read for fans of historical fiction and thrillers alike. Highly recommended!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Olso.

 


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YVO’S SHORTIES #88 – And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer & The Enchanted

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two stories I highly enjoyed for different reasons… The novella And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer by one of my favorite authors Fredrik Backman and a story I had to put on hold the first time around but highly enjoyed: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld.


Title: And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer
Author: Fredrik Backman

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Novella
First published: August 24th 2015
Publisher: Atria books
Finished reading: March 4th 2019
Pages: 97
(Originally written in Swedish: ‘Och varje morgon blir vägen hem längre och längre’)

“I’m constantly reading a book with a missing page, and it’s always the most important one.”


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I think most of you are already aware of the fact I’m a huge fan of Fredrik Backman‘s work… I decided to pick up this novella first before hopefully diving into the Beartown sequel next month. Novellas can go either way for me, as I normally prefer a more developed story, but there are exceptions where I’m able to connect to a short story in the same way. And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer is one of those exceptions. Not only is it good to see Alzheimer in the spotlight, we also see its effects on both the person itself and those close in a refreshing way. This novella has an almost surreal touch where memories and the real world overlap and exist at the same time. I love the way Fredrik Backman uses the prose and memories to help understand what it would be like having a fading memory. Past and present are liquid as we see the grandfather, his son and grandson in different stages of their life in such a way that erases all boundaries. The representation of the grandfather’s memories as a square where persons and objects alike are incorporated is fascinating… Especially how the square changes over time as Alzheimer starts taking over his brain. It’s a wonderful and heartbreaking family focused story that is well worth your time.


Title: The Enchanted
Author: Rene Denfeld

Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
First published: March 4th 2014
Publisher: Phoenix
Finished reading: March 7th 2019
Pages: 233

“After a time, it seemed that the world inside the books became my world. So when I thought of my childhood, it was dandelion wine and ice cream on a summer porch, like Ray Bradbury, and catching catfish with Huck Finn. My own memories receded and the book memories became the real memories, far more than the outside, far more even than in here.”


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I remember first trying to read this story a few years ago and being unable to connect to the magical realism elements of the story… It really shows that there is something as the right or wrong time to pick up a book, because this time I was fully mesmerized by this magical story. The Enchanted isn’t for everyone and if you are not a fan of magical realism I won’t suggest reading it. If you are open to the genre though, this story will prove to be a little gem. The story behind The Enchanted is actually quite dark, as the main setting is inside Death Row of a maximum security prison. We get to know some of the darkest and most dangerous criminals in a very special way, and it’s an interesting as well as very disturbing glimpse inside their heads. I love how we hop between different characters in such a flowing way that really helps keep everything connected. One of the voices only has his identity revealed at the very end, but this doesn’t mean the story doesn’t make sense or is harder to follow. No, you will get swept up in the whirlwind that is this magical story and savour each and every single magical realism element that will help soothen the sometimes difficult and disturbing subjects as (child) abuse, violence and mental health. Rene Denfeld did a fantastic job combining the different elements, waving them together in such a way that will leave you speechless by the time you reach the final page. The writing, the magical realism, the characters, the contrast of the fantastical and brutal reality… It’s true that The Enchanted is not for everyone, but the right person will be just as enchanted as I found myself to be.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #76 – The BFG & The Insect Farm

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around a reread of a childhood favorite and a TBR jar pick. Roald Dahl is one of the very first authors I was able to read by myself back when I was tiny, and I’ve read his books over and over again since. It’s been a long time since I last read The BFG though, so I thought it was about time I did. Such a wonderful experience… The Insect Farm by Stuart Prebble was a TBR jar pick, and not as good as I hoped.


Title: The BFG
Author: Roald Dahl

Genre: Children, Fiction, Fantasy
First published: 1982
Publisher: Puffin Books
Finished reading: January 11th 2019
Pages: 195

“The matter with human beans,” the BFG went on, “is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles.”


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Roald Dahl is one of the very first authors I was able to read on my own back when I was tiny, and I’ve read his books over and over again since. It’s been a long time since I last read The BFG though, so I thought it was about time I did. And boy, did I forget about a lot of the details of this story! I had a wonderful time revisiting this story and its illustrations. I had forgotten most things about the Big Friendly Giant and just how funny his speech is (especially when read out loud to children). The story itself is simple, easy to follow and is actually quite scary if you think about it… But the BFG and his dreams give the story a whimsical twist. It’s a great story for young and old and I will be looking forward to finally watch the movie adaptation so I can compare the two. Another successful Roald Dahl reread and a jump back in time!


Title: The Insect Farm
Author: Stuart Prebble

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance
First published: March 10th 2015
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Finished reading: January 13th 2019
Pages: 320

“In my mind, and what keeps coming back to me is that the insect farm has been a hidden player in so much that has happened – the continuing thread running behind so many of the milestones along the way.”


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The Insect Farm has been my TBR jar pick during the last two months, and it took me way longer to finally pick it up despite the fact I was looking forward to it. The blurb was quite interesting and I was looking forward to discover more about the mystery and what the insect farm had to do with it all. What I didn’t expect to find was that The Insect Farm is basically a mix of a family drama and a romance story including a love triangle. The story has a character driven plot and a considerably slow pace, something I didn’t expect and it took me longer that expected to finally finish the story. As always with character driven stories, it’s important being able to connect to the main characters to ensure properly enjoying the story. Sadly, this was not the case here. While Roger is quite an interesting character and I would have loved to learn more about both him and his learning capacities, I felt he wasn’t developed as thoroughly and his character fell flat for me. As for Jonathan and Harriet: they did have a more thorough development as the main focus seems to be on them, but I can’t say I felt really invested in their story or what happened to them. The story wasn’t told in a linear way, and the actual ‘mystery’ is pushed into the background only to be revealed and rushed to finish at the end of The Insect Farm. Instead, it’s more of a romance story of how Jonathan and Harriet first met and how their lives progressed afterwards. It even has a love triangle! *shudders* All in all it wasn’t my cup of tea, but fans of slower character driven family dramas with a romantic focus and a hint of crime will probably have a better experience.


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ARC REVIEW: Mala Vida – by Marc Fernandez

Title: Mala Vida
Author: Marc Fernandez
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
First published: October 1st 2015
Publisher: Arcade
Finished reading: January 5th 2019
Pages: 240
(Originally written in French: ‘Mala Vida’)

“Franco is dead, but not the evil he brought into the world.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Arcade in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’ve had an interest in Spanish history and especially the Franco period even before I picked it as my thesis subject. It’s easy to say that when I came across Mala Vida and read the blurb I was sold immediately. A story partially set in one of my favorite European cities and one I know closely: check. An intriguing historical background and mystery: check. A healthy dose of crime fiction, suspense and plot twists: check. Oh yes, while Mala Vida is mostly a contemporary crime thriller, it also included a historical element and a very intriguing and devastating one at that. This story was originally written in French back in 2015, and will be available in English next week. The translation works splendidly and I had a great time reading this story. The writing style made it easy to keep myself invested in the story; there are flashbacks, different point of views and plot twists that will keep you on edge until you have everything figured out. The setting was a huge bonus for me and I liked the inclusion of cultural elements to make the setting feel more authentic. The historical case discussed in Mala Vida is fascinating and I liked how we get multiple views on the topic through the different characters. Diego’s character is very interesting and I liked that he is a journalist. The same goes for the other main characters: each has their own personality, background and adds a little something unique to the story. All in all a very successful read for me!

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The radical right has just won the election after twelve years of Socialist rule in Spain, and things are about to change drastically. As the country is preparing itself to retrace its steps to the past, there are other things happening as well. A series of murders is committed in various cities in Spain, and there are no clues found as to who is behind them or why they were killed. There seems to be no obvious connection between them, but isn’t there? And that is not all either, because a national scandal is about to be revealed as well…

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If you like stories with an international setting that can offer a little something different and outside the box, you should definitely consider Mala Vida. Part legal thriller, part historical, part mystery and part crime fiction, this story is a mix of a lot of different elements and very well executed at that. I personally loved the Spanish setting, the diversity of the main characters and the story as a whole. The historical element is both well executed and shocking and will definitely leave a mark… A very interesting read and one I’m very glad I came across.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #69 – A Boy Called Christmas & The Girl Who Saved Christmas

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! And with Christmas Eve being tonight, what better stories to review than not one, but TWO Christmas themed stories! The first two books of the Christmas MG series by Matt Haig… Both absolutely adorable books that will get you in the right mood in record time.


Title: A Boy Called Christmas
(Christmas #1)
Author: Matt Haig

Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction, Fantasy
First published: September 12th 2015
Publisher: Canongate Books
Finished reading: December 20th 2018
Pages: 272

“An impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand yet.”


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I have been wanting to read the first Christmas book ever since I received and read the third book as an ARC a while back, and I thought December would be the perfect month to do so. And it turned out to be another magical experience. A Boy Called Christmas is the perfect Holiday season read for children and adults alike, and also perfect for reading out loud to the younger ones. Matt Haig’s writing style is spot on. Funny, entertaining, engaging and easy to read; you will find yourself turning pages admiring both the story the author has been able to create and looking at those adorable illustrations which connect really well with the plot. There is sadness, there is even some violence, but overall it is mostly a happy story full of joy and goodwill… And a healthy dose of humor as well. Perfect for the season as well as a perfect gift!


Title: The Girl Who Saved Christmas
(Christmas #2)
Author: Matt Haig

Genre: Middle Grade, Fiction, Fantasy
First published: November 3rd 2016
Publisher: Canongate Books
Finished reading: December 22nd 2018
Pages: 337

“Life is like a chimney – you sometimes have to get through the dark before you see the light.”


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I couldn’t NOT read the second book after finishing the first, especially since it’s exactly that time of the year when these little stories are to be appreciated most. The Girl Who Saved Christmas is without doubt a worthy sequel. I admit it took me a little while to get into the story, but that was probably mostly me and not the book itself. The writing is just as spot on as in the first and third book, and I’m adding Matt Haig to my list of authors I need to read more of ASAP. His middle grade writing is absolutely adorable with just the right amount of humor and spark to give it that special feel. This story is another one that is perfect to read out loud to children; I’m positive it will be a big hit with all those funny moments and characters to follow! The illustrations fit the story perfectly, and add a nice little touch to what is already a wonderful story. I can completely recommend all three books of the series both as a Holiday read and the perfect gift for young and old!


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ARC REVIEW: The Darkness – by Ragnar Jonasson

Title: The Darkness
(Hidden Iceland #1)

Author: Ragnar Jonasson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: October 15th 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: October 14th 2018
Pages: 336
(Originally written in Icelandic: ‘Dimma’)

“Over the years she had spoken to so many suspects she had developed a knack of spotting when people were trying to pull the wool over her eyes.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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!! Happy publication day !!

I’ve been meaning to try one of Ragnar Jonasson‘s books for some time now, so when I saw that the translation of Dimma was coming out I just couldn’t resist. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story set in Iceland before, so the setting alone was a huge bonus for me. But what stands out for me even more is the main character of The Darkness. Yes, she is a detective with a complicated past, which may sound as a cliche… But this is all forgotten as we finally have an older main character to follow; DI Hulda Hermannsdottir is 64 and almost retiring, and getting to see her at this point in her life is truly refreshing. The Darkness is both about Hulda and the secrets of her past and the death of an asylum seeker from Russia. While a bit slow at point, the development of the plot and plot twists is well done and this story definitely has some surprises in store for you. And that ending! I wish I could understand Icelandic so I could find out what happens next… I’m fully intrigued. There are three different POVs to deal with, one of them set in the past, and all add something to the plot even though it takes a while to figure out how everything connects. The writing is solid and reads easily, and despite a slower pace at times The Darkness is still a very good detective thriller.

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Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir is about to reach the age of retirement, but she is allowed to dive into one last cold case before she has to clear her desk. She decides to look into the death of a young asylum seeker from Russia. While the other detective had ruled it a suicide, Hulda is convinced they didn’t investigate all angles in the past. She starts her investigation, but soon finds out nobody actually wants her to keep investigating. The renewed attention to the case may have dangerous consequences…

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The Darkness both has an interesting setting and a strong main character to build a story around. I really appreciated to finally have an older main character, and Hulda is without doubt a very interesting one to follow. The mystery around her past and the cold case she is investigating will keep you on your toes, making the slower parts less noticeable. And what a shocking ending! I definitely didn’t see some of the reveals coming. Talk about ending things with a blast… I will be looking forward to book two.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #53 – The Walls Around Us & Love And Gelato

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around another YA edition, although the books belong to different genres. The first was an absolute cover love case and a story that managed to surprise me. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma has to be one of the few stories were magical realism as an element didn’t actually bother me. The other is a typical contemporary romance story set abroad, Love And Gelato by Jenna Evan Welch, and was too cliche for me to properly enjoy.


Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma

Genre: YA, Mystery, Paranormal
First published: March 24th 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: October 6th 2018
Pages: 319

“Our private taste in books showed a hint of our secret selves, and sometimes I was the only one who got to see those secrets.”


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This is one of those books I just knew I had to read without even knowing what it was about… The power of a beautiful cover. It’s also one of those books where it’s better to go in blind, because the full effect of it will be that much more powerful. The Walls Around Us isn’t your ordinary YA story. Strange, captivating. brutal, mesmerizing… You will be in for a ride with this one. You think this is just another thrilling crime story when you start reading, with a hint of a teenage Orange Is The New Black and a bit of Black Swan. But The Walls Around Us offers us more than that. It’s one of the first times magical realism is used in a story that didn’t actually bother me. Instead, the strangeness and beautiful descriptions took me on a journey along with the main characters, enjoying my time discovering what exactly was going on. The prison scenes were fascinating, and the many dance related scenes were a nice touch as well. I can’t say I was a fan of most of the main characters, but they did work perfectly in The Walls Around Us I guess. I enjoyed this story a lot more than I thought I would, and all in all it was more than a pleasant surprise. I don’t think The Walls Around Us is for everyone, but the right person will be just as mesmerized by this strange and magical story as I found myself to be.


Title: Love & Gelato
Author: Jenna Evans Welch 

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 3rd 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Finished reading: October 9th 2018
Pages: 400

“You know, people come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they stay, it’s for the same two things.”
“What?”
“Love and gelato.”


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I know contemporary romance isn’t really my thing, but I have fond memories of my various stays in Italy and I really felt like travelling back there again through this story. I mean, who can resist that setting and the possible talk about a lot of delicious Italian ice cream? Because there is one thing true: Love & Gelato makes you crave all kinds of Italian food. And the author did an excellent job at describing the city of Florence and the setting in general. It almost felt I was there along with the main characters! The setting was probably my favorite part of this story, and I liked the idea of the journal and Lina learning more about her mom that way. The writing makes it easy to fly through this story as well… But there were also a few things that really bothered me as well. The first elephant in the room is of course the dreaded love triangle. Why o why do most YA books have to be ruined by this trope? I would have loved this story so much better without it… Because the love triangle (or in fact multiple ones) also ment the introduction of a whole lot of cliches. And cringeworthy moments. And more cliches. It ended up being just too much for me, although I have the suspicion fans of contemporary romance stories will enjoy Love & Gelato a lot better than I did. It’s also the perfect summer/beach read despite some sad and deeper moments.


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