Norma by Sofi Oksanen


normabkreviewtemp1 (3)Norma
By Sofi Oksanen
Translated by Owen F. Witesman
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
ISBN13: 9780451493521
Pages: 320
Genre: Finnish Literature/Magical Realism



When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, her daughter, Norma, is left alone with the secret they have spent their lives hiding: Norma has supernatural hair, sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood–and the moods of those around her–moving of its own accord, corkscrewing when danger is near. And so it is her hair that alerts her, while she talks with a strange man at her mother’s funeral, that her mother may not have taken her own life. Setting out to reconstruct Anita’s final months–sifting through puzzling cell phone records, bank statements, video files–Norma begins to realize that her mother knew more about her hair’s powers than she let on: a sinister truth beyond Norma’s imagining. As Sofi Oksanen leads us ever more deeply into Norma’s world, weaving together past and present, she gives us a dark family drama that is a searing portrait of both the exploitation of women’s bodies and the extremes to which people will go for the sake of beauty.


Norma was an interesting encounter that occurred during my ongoing efforts to read more translated titles. I cannot say exactly what expectations I had set upon picking it up nor am I certain that they were met. My experience was a complicated one that I am still attempting to sort out.

Norma has a unique attribute. Her hair. It grows at a rapid rate and reacts not only to her own mood, but the mood of those around her. When Norma’s mother suddenly commits suicide, it is this very ability alerts her to the possibility that there is more behind her mother’s death than she has been told. What ensues is a journey to discover the truth and the revelation that perhaps her mother knew more of their shared secret (Norma’s incredible hair) than she told even Norma.

This is a somewhat typical mystery that is heightened by an added dose of magical realism supplied to the reader through Norma’s supernatural hair. Her hair is what defines her, setting her apart from other protagonist. I found this to be a mix of strength and weakness in terms of character development. While this unique feature provides an interesting variant, there was little else here that really made Norma jump off of the page. She was relatable in her grief and isolation, but perhaps not profound. I was comfortable with her, but not astounded. Supporting characters really failed to grow into anything of true interest for myself. They simply co-existed with the story.

The plot does boast some relevant topics that touch on human trafficking and the selling of black market babies that are worth note. However, it all unfolds at a somewhat surreal pace that is hard to describe as rewarding or heavy hitting. Narration is broken down into easily digested chunks that offer a fast read, but also seems to strip away from what I felt could have been a more impactful experience, leaving the reader to question what is really happening at times. The result is awkward and abrupt. I felt engaged but struggled to maintain the connection at times. Perhaps I would have appreciated this more if the author had chosen to place more emphasis on the topics contained within and explored them further. The pacing was ill-timed, dragging on during uneventful moments and skimming through significant revelations. I cannot say how much of my time with Norma was altered due to this being a translated work, but I have found nothing to imply it has not been translated well.

I think many fans of magical realism with an appreciation for the odd and eccentric might enjoy Norma. For myself, it was a mixed bag of emotions that never seemed to fully blossom into something memorable.

Untitled design Enjoyed with a blend of raspberry hibiscus tea.

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Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us
By Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN13: 9781250130921
Pages: 352
Genre: Mystery/Suspense


A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love. 

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

(New) Thoughts

The Wife Between Us is stunningly complex story of a divorced woman and her ex husband’s young bride to be. It is everything you will want in a suspenseful mystery and nothing you expect. It’s tempting rave about this book for multiple paragraphs and part of me is dying to discuss it at great length, but that would be an atrocity. This will be short and sweet. Do yourself a huge service, skip the lengthy reviews and jump into this one blind! You will come to appreciate the obscured synopsis.

This is a distorted tale of marriage and deceit that is fueled by slow revelations and character development. The brilliance being that it relies on completely “unreliable” narration. Told through alternating chapters, a cunning manipulation of viewpoints effortlessly conceals the truth well into the final pages.

To know that this is co-authored is spectacular. Each seamless transition and intelligent sequence of events leave no evidence of more than one pen at work. Combined efforts have created a gratifying read that successfully deceives the reader. You will think you know, then you will realize you don’t. Then you will think you do. But you don’t.

What begins as a classic tale of a failed marriage and an affair quickly evolves into a work of true craftsmanship that twists and turns so many times, it is disorienting. The final outcome is a story within a story that is completely addictive and absorbing. The pages will turn themselves. Grab a hot cup and prepare to settle in, because if you appreciate mystery and suspense, you will find it difficult to put this one down.

*I would like to thank St. Martin’s Press for this advanced copy. The above review is my own, unbiased and honest opinion.

Untitled designEnjoyed with multiple cups of Chamomile (to counteract the tension), as I just couldn’t stop with this one.


Pre-Order Links: Book Depository

Happy Reading!

Danielle ❤

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The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger

The Red Hunter
By Lisa Unger
Publisher: Touchstone
ISBN13: 9781501101670
Pages: 359
Genre: Thriller/Mystery


What is the difference between justice and revenge?

Claudia Bishop’s perfect life fell apart when the aftermath of a brutal assault left her with a crumbling marriage, a newborn daughter, and a constant sense of anxiety about the world around her. Now, looking for a fresh start with a home restoration project and growing blog, Claudia takes on a crumbling old house–one that unbeknownst to her has an ugly history and may hide long buried secrets.

For Zoey Drake the defining moment of her childhood was the horrific murder of her parents. Years later, she has embraced the rage that fuels her. Training in the martial arts has made her strong and ready to face the demons from the past–and within.

Strangers to each other, and walking very different paths in the wake of trauma, these two women are on a collision course–because Zoey’s past nightmare and Claudia’s dreams for her future take place in the same house. As Zoey seeks justice, and Claudia seeks peace, both will confront the terrifying monsters at the door.

(New) Thoughts

The Red Hunter is a tale of two female strangers whose paths have unknowingly been woven together by their own dark pasts. Claudia is a single mother working diligently to build a new life of happiness through the process of renovating an old house with her daughter. She longs to leave the brutal attack that flipped her life upside in the past and heal. Zoey is a fierce young woman who aims to confront the murder of her parents and her tragic history head on. Fate will weave a tangled web that eventually bring them and their demons together in a head on impact that will forever change their lives.

My initial reaction to The Red Hunter was to pick it up and devour it! I found myself instantly drawn to Unger’s fluid narration and writing style. Fortunately, I forced myself to settle into a slower pace and absorb this one over the span of a few days because this is a story that I feel is most rewarding when allowed to unfold slowly.

Character development was steady, offering substantial growth and establishing a solid connection with the reader. It was easy to identify with Claudia and Zoey. While each has chosen an entirely different course of action in life, there were constant factors in place that assured every decision and difference remained relatable and viable. Unger supplies a solid back story for our main protagonists while leaving the waters just muddied enough to fuel the mystery. They are credible and familiar, yet there is so much more to know.

Plot progression is well paced. The story starts out feeling a bit unhurried when compared to some thrillers, but I found this to be well warranted. The initially slower introduction allows the reader adequate time to familiarize themselves with not one but two protagonists.  Things soon pick up however, and a rapidly developing plotline draws the reader in as two separate lives begin to fall inline through the use of cleverly alternating timelines and point of views that come together seamlessly.

Lisa Unger’s writing is direct and smooth. She effectively creates an atmospheric experience that is as engaging as it is convincing while avoiding unnecessary and frivolous details. She sets a stage ripe with the air of mystery and no shortage of the unexpected. As a latecomer, I found The Red Hunter to be a terrific introduction to Lisa Unger’s writing.

Untitled designEnjoyed with a cup of red rooibos tea with a hint of almond and vanilla.


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