Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Millennium Trilogy

If you haven't heard of these books, you are seriously missing out. Stieg Larsson is a Swedish author and journalist who became most famous outside his native Sweden via the posthumous publication of his Millennium Trilogy. The trilogy introduces us to Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist with a passion for exposes and Lisbeth Salander, punk hacker extraordinaire with a chip on her shoulder. In the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the two team up to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, who vanished from her island home 40 years ago. I don't want to give too much away so let's just say that this odd couple teams up to solve the case and we discover a lot about the Vanger's and about these two characters throughout the course of the novel. The second novel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, delves more deeply into Salander's history and we learn more about her. This novel involves Blomkvist teaming up with investigative journalists to bring to light a sex trafficking ring involving high ranking Swedish politicians. Salander has, meanwhile, cut off all contact with Mikael after the completion of their previous case, the Harriet Vanger disappearance. The final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, picks up right where the last one left off. Because of that, I'm not going to give any details, I do not want to spoil the books for anyone. But know this, these novels are amazing - the depth that Larsson gives to his characters makes them real, you feel their every emotion. I cannot more highly recommend these and have done so to anyone and everyone looking for a book. And without a doubt, all have agreed that they're phenomenal. The real tragedy is Larsson's premature death; apparently his original goal was to publish 10 novels. We can at least be glad he finished three before he died.

Oh and if you're interested, these books have been made into movies in Sweden and are making the rounds in the US (subtitled in English of course). Please see them if they come to your city!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

So you all know that I love reading about the Tudor’s so of course, when I heard about Wolf Hall, I had to check it out. This book takes a slightly different approach – instead of focusing on Anne Boleyn or King Henry VIII or even Queen Elizabeth I, this one focuses on Thomas Cromwell, a man who was an advisor to King Henry. Cromwell’s rise to power was interesting, to say the least. He came to the Kings attention because of his role as advisor to Cardinal Wolsey. Once Wolsey was killed as a traitor, yhou would expect that anyone he was protecting, or anyone who was loyal to him, would be taken down as well. But somehow Cromwell made himself ever more useful to the King and Court. This book covers a point in time from when Henry is first thinking of divorcing Katherine, to right after Anne’s first miscarriage. We never see her downfall, or Cromwell’s, for that matter. But that doesn’t make this book any less interesting and intriguing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Paris Vendetta by Steve Berry

Cotton Malone strikes again! I love these Steve Berry books because they’re easy to read, there’s always a bit of history woven in, so I feel like I’m learning something without having to try, and they’re entertaining to boot. The Paris Vendetta was no different; this time Cotton and Henrik Thorvaldsen, his Danish billionaire friend, uncover a plot to disrupt the world’s financial systems. At the same time, Henrik has discovered exactly who was responsible for his son’s murder, two years earlier. At the same time, we learn about a quest to discover the treasure Napoleon supposedly smuggled out of his island prison on St. Helena and which was discovered and subsequently lost by the Nazi’s during WWII. These books are relatively fast paces and always entertaining.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

This was our book club pick for January and it was another great find. The Piano Teacher is set in two separate time periods that are intertwined and trade off the narrative as the story progresses. The title character is Claire Pendleton, a newly married Englishwoman who relocates with her husband, Martin, to Hong Kong in 1952. There, after taking a job as a piano teacher to a wealthy Chinese family, the Chen’s, she meets Will Truesdale, their chauffer. As she and Will become closer, parts of Will’s past start to come out and it becomes evident that there is more to Will than meets the eye. It is Will who is the focus of the story told in 1941. There, also fresh off the boat to Hong Kong, he meets Trudy Liang, a beautiful and wealthy girl of mixed race, she’s half Portuguese and half Chinese. These two characters make for an interesting juxtaposition; mixed race people are usually looked down upon and slighted, however Trudy’s wealth allows her entrance into many places she would not otherwise be welcome. This was a tumultuous time, World War 2 was underway and everyone was impacted, especially Hong Kong, which came under Japanese rule. I love historical fiction in general, so I really enjoyed this book. It moves at a good clip and the stories, while not perfect, are intertwined nicely.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Been Here a Thousand Years by Venezia Mariolina

Been Here a Thousand Years follows the Falcone family over several generations. We are first introducted to Don Francesco Falcone, a powerful man who has six daughters with his mistress, Concetta, before she finally bears him a son. These women and their children are really the heart of this story. This story is mostly told through Gioia, the fifth-gernation Falcone through stories she heard over and over again as a child. Venezia paints a vivid picture of the Italian countryside and also deftly interweaves bits of Italian history into the story. This book was originally published in Italy and this is a translation; obviously I didn’t read the original but I do not feel like anything was lost in translation. It’s a powerful and moving story.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Amazon Kindle

This won’t be my typical book write up review, instead I’ve decided to review my new Kindle. This is the type of device that I would swear was invented with me in mind. I love to read, and I read fact. Because of that, I always take several books with me on vacation so I won’t run out of good reading material. Unfortunately, that leads to a lot of extra weight in my baggage, especially for a long trip. Enter the Kindle – I got it for Christmas and while it won’t replace the library for everyday reading, it’s already making my life easier for travel. I can take 10 books along with me in the same space as just one! That to me is just amazing. The Kindle isn’t perfect though, it can take up to ½ second to turn the page; not a lot of time, no, but still noticable. Also you can’t share books on the Kindle, which is, in my opinoin, the biggest downside. From what I understand of the competition, the Nook from B&N allows lending of books – while you lend it out, you cannot read it. That is an acceptable compromise to me, sicne if I lent out a real book, I couldn’t read it either. I am really hopefully that Amazon will jump on that bandwagon sooner rather than later. That said, I don’t know if I’d buy one for myself – I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still pretty pricey at $259. which is why I’m happy mine was a gift – all the goodness, none of the guilt. If you’re like me, definitely consider the investment, or get someone to invest in one for you.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

I have been meaning to read this series for awhile now, and kept putting it off. Finally I got the first book, The Gunslinger, from the library and read it. And wow, I was blown away and definitely wanted to keep going. So I got the rest of the books from the library and spent five days over the long weekend reading the next six books in the series. And these are not small books, but they are just so engaging, that I couldn’t put them down. I read while I worked out, while I ate, while I watched football, while I did practically everything. A quick synopsis is all I can give you since these books are so detailed, but I’ll do my best to get you hooked. These books are the story of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of Gilead. Gilead is in Mid-World, which calls to mind the Old West with a bit of magic thrown in. Mid-World was once inhabited by the “Old People” whose knowledge allowed for technological advances, but that knowledge has since been lost. Roland’s lifelong quest is to find the Dark Tower, to stop the rest of the universes from coming undone and ending all life. Throughout his journey, Roland picks up a band of misfits who become his ka-tet, a group of people bound together by a shared destiny. This group consists of Eddie Dean, a former heroin addict, Susannah Dean, a woman who lost her legs in a NYC Subway accident, Jake Chambers, an 11-year old from New York, and Oy, a bumbler from Mid-World. As I stated before, these books are complicated and I won’t try to synopsize every last detail; just know this, if you liked Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, you will love this series. Even if you’re not a Stephen King fan, this isn’t like his horror novels, this is more along the lines of the Green Mile or The Stand.

For a bit of history – Stephen King wrote the Gunslinger in 1970, although it wasn’t published until 1984. The last book in the series, The Dark Tower, came out in 2004. Part of his motivation for finally finishing the series was the car accident in Maine in June of 1999 that nearly killed him. If you pick up the paperbacks of these novels, you will be able to read all about it yourself, as King has provided a foreword and afterward for each novel, describing his thought process.

Book 1 - The Gunslinger

Book 2 - The Drawing of the Three

Book 3 - The Waste Lands

Book 4 - Wizard and Glass

Book 5 - Wolves of the Calla

Book 6 - Song of Susannah

Book 7 - The Dark Tower