Archive for May, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson  
Paperback, 608 pages
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
June 23, 2009

Financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist might have just made the biggest mistake of his career.   After running a story in Millennium magazine, of which he is part owner and chief editor, exposing the shady business practices of corporate tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerström, he’s hauled into court and slapped with a libel conviction and a prison sentence.  Now advertisers have started pulling out and in order to protect the magazine from going under, Mikael knows he has to step down as editor and take a temporary leave of absence.  His business partner and sometimes lover, Erika Berger, isn’t happy about it but trusts that he knows what he’s doing and reluctantly agrees to play along. 

Before Mikael even has a chance to figure out his next move he receives a strange phone call from a lawyer who represents a man with an even stranger proposition.  He travels to Hedeby Island to meet with the elderly Henrik Vanger, of the once highly powerful empire of the Vanger Corporation, where he learns that Vanger wants to hire him to spend a year on the island gathering information to write a family history.  But that will just be the cover story.  What Vanger really wants him to do is attempt to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his young niece who vanished from the island without a trace thirty years ago.  Though her body was never discovered, Vanger is certain that she was murdered and he suspects that one of the family members is behind it.  Mikael is hesitant to accept the job at first, despite the large sum of money Vanger is offering as compensation, but finally agrees when Henrik sweetens the deal with the promise to divulge damaging information about Wennerström when the year is over and Mikael’s contract is finished.  

Never imagining that he would crack the case, Mikael immerses himself in researching the rich history of the Vanger family and gets to know the relatives still living on the island.  To his surprise, he stumbles onto some new evidence that had been previously overlooked by both Henrik and the police. 

With the help of the young, emotionally troubled computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Mikael soon learns that there’s much more to the story than a young woman gone missing.  The pair uncovers a string of brutal murders that span the decades and they risk their lives to discover the shocking truth.   

With all the corruption, sadism, kidnapping, torture, and good old-fashioned revenge, it’s hard not to get sucked into Mikael’s world, anxious for him to solve the mystery and take down Wennerström.  The setting of the story is Larsson’s native Sweden and having never read any books that take place there, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  At first I had some trouble with the writing style.  It seemed a bit choppy and had all the flow of a laundry list (which might have just been a side effect of the translation), but once I got used to it I didn’t mind it a bit and I was able to focus more on the story and the characters.  It started off on the slow side but about 100 pages in I was hooked.  

I felt like I was right there with Mikael in his little guest house on Hedeby island, pouring through boxes of documents through all hours of the night, shivering next to the little wooden stove.  Even though it took me a little while to get into the story, I liked Mikael immediately and felt a connection with him.  He seemed real to me and it was easy to understand the motives behind his actions throughout the book. 

Salander is a fascinating character with a troubled past and enough flaws and admirable qualities to bring her to life as an intriguing and multi-dimensional person.  She shocked me more than once.  Faced with some terrifying situations she remains cool-headed and rationally plots out her next moves.  She was quite a little firecracker and struck me as a person that I definitely wouldn’t want to cross, despite the fact that she’s five feet tall and probably weighs 100 pounds soaking wet. 

Overall, it’s a great book that I would definitely recommend (although, fair warning that it contains scenes that some people might not be comfortable with).  It actually reminded me quite a bit of Serge Lukianenko’s Watch series (with I love), without all the supernatural elements of course.  I’d never heard of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo before I borrowed it (thanks, D!), but since then I’ve seen it absolutely everywhere.  Chances are, if you haven’t read it yet you’ve at least seen it.  With such an intriguing title and eye-catching cover it’s hard to miss.  

I don’t normally read thrillers but I’d love to see where this trilogy is headed in the next book, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

An Echo in the Bone

 

An Echo in the Bone: A Novel

Diana Gabaldon  
Hardcover, 832 pages
Random House Publishing Group
September 22, 2009

An Echo in the Bone continues the saga of Claire Fraser, the time-travelling doctor who originally hails from England circa World War II, and her Scottish Highlander husband Jamie Frasier.  The American Revolution is in full swing and the Frasers  have fled their home on the Ridge after a devastating fire nearly took their lives.  Though they intend to return to Scotland to retrieve Jamie’s printing press and avoid the fighting, a series of unfortunate circumstances and Jamie’s status as a former militia colonel land them straight in the middle of it.  Jamie’s fear of facing his illegitimate son across the battlefield turns into reality and Claire is up to her elbows in the blood of wounded soldiers as she fights to keep them alive.

Brea and Roger are back in modern-day Scotland, living at Lallybroch, after escaping through the stones with their two young children.  Now all they have of Claire and Jamie are a box of carefully preserved letters that they read one at a time to learn the fate of Brea’s parents.  Roger begins to write a compilation of all they know about the nature of time travel, intending to educate Jem and Mandy when they’re older, but it falls into the wrong hands and Roger will have to risk travelling through the stones once more to save his family.

I’ll stop the synopsis there and just give you my thoughts at this point, because so many things happened in this book it would be nearly impossible to touch on them all without giving too much away.  It started off with a bang but then the story lost my interest a bit for a good couple hundred pages.  I could have done without so many descriptions of Claire’s medical procedures, the entire pirate-ridden, failed sea voyage, and so many chapters centered around Lord John and William.  My favorite parts were the chapters dedicated to Ian and Brea and Roger actually.  I find that I’m unable to connect with Claire as much as I did in the beginning of the series, and I think it’s because she started out as being close to my age and now decades have passed for her and only a few years have for me.  It’s just a theory though.  Gabaldon also introduced some new characters, like the brother and sister Quakers, that I really connected with and of course it was wonderful to revisit the always hectic lives of Claire and Jamie.

The second half of the book picked up again and I dove headfirst into the story, unable to wait to see what would happen next.  I heard about the unsatisfying ending before I even started reading it so I was fully prepared for loose ends to be left open, but honestly I really liked the end.  I knew that the story wouldn’t be wrapped up in a nice little bow with full closure (because of course there has to be another book!) so I took what I could get and turned the last page planning to wait patiently until the next book is released and the saga continues.

Have you read this book?  How did you feel about the ending?

Book Review: Brighid’s Quest

Brighid’s Quest

P. C. Cast  
Paperback, 544 pages
Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
February 23, 2010

* I received a complimentary ebook from the publisher via NetGalley.

Brighid Dianna has fled her homeland of the Centaur Plains, casting aside her destiny to become the herd’s next High Shaman and choosing instead to join Clan MacCallan as its Huntress.  Though she misses running free across the fields of her childhood home, she becomes comfortable with her new life and tries to forget the demanding and power-hungry mother she left behind.  She grows close to Elphame, the Clan’s Chieftain, and volunteers to embark on a journey to retrieve her grieving brother, Cuchulainn, who has traveled to the Wastelands to lead the winged half-blood race of New Fomorians to Partholon.

What Brighid finds when she tracks down Cuchulainn is a complete surprise – instead of the evil, demonic creatures who’d been responsible for the rape and enslavement of countless Partholonian women and the murder of Cuchulainn’s beloved, she finds herself surrounded by a swarm of bright, caring children.  Won over by their innocence and inquisitive nature, Brighid dedicates herself to protecting the New Fomorians as they make the dangerous journey to their rightful home.  

On the way she tries to coax Cuchulainn out of his withdrawn period of mourning and discovers that his soul was shattered when he lost his love, Brenna, and is only existing as a shadow of the warrior he once was.  Now the only way to save him is to tap into the power of the High Shaman inside her and journey into the spirit world to bring back the shattered pieces to make him whole.  And in the process she’ll accomplish much more than saving the life of her Chieftain’s brother.  Her quest will force her to come to terms with who she really is, and in the process, prevent a disastrous war between the two lands she calls home.

When I started reading Brighid’s Quest, I didn’t know it was a continuation of another story (Elphame’s Choice), so in the beginning I was somewhat distracted by all the backtracking.  But once I got a handle on the inner workings of Partholon and the basic history of the relations between humans, Centaurs, and the demon Fomorians, I settled into the story and connected with the characters. 

Brighid and Cuchulainn are both striking and powerful figures, and I love the banter between them that grows into the strong bond they share after Cu is made whole once more.  The New Fomorian children are adorable, despite their never-ending energy and ceaseless chatter, and I was intrigued by the discrimination of humans by the centaurs of Brighid’s herd (which leads to some horrific events).  For a YA novel, I was surprised by a few of the more graphic scenes and details, but it added to the story and none of it seemed gratuitous. 

This was my first time traveling into the world of Partholon and I’m happy to say it won’t be the last.  This book was a lot of fun to read and it had a few truly badass scenes that really make the adrenaline kick into gear.  While it can definitely be read as a stand-alone book, I think I’ll check out Elphame’s Choice before the next one comes out.