Thursday, November 18, 2010

Deep Stepping Stones by Robert D. Miller

Deep Stepping StonesDeep Stepping Stones by Robert Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really, 2.5 stars, so I rounded up. :-)

Disclaimer: I know the author – he was my high school track coach.

Deep Stepping Stones is set in modern-day Montana, and follows the exploits of 2 FBI agents investigating the disappearance of 2 other agents, whose disappearance may or may not be related to a terrorist cell somewhere in the state. It is a fairly tight suspense novel, without any egregious plot holes, but I do have a few nits to pick, upon which I will elaborate momentarily.

But first a few words on the writing style – it is extremely detailed, down to describing the color of the agents’ socks, or their exact jogging route through the streets of Butte. While this serves to give the reader a feeling of really being there, a few times it moved into the realm of distraction, as when we are treated to 2 paragraphs describing the likes, dislikes and mindset of one of the agents wives, whom we never meet. I did get used to the detail after a while, and it really helped during the description of the last, desperate raid on the terrorist hide out, where the detailed description of the house layout (including a floorplan) enabled one to really get immersed in the action. Other times, however, it seemed like Miller was writing a tourist guide for Butte (or Jackson Hole), which, for my taste, went a bit overboard.

One of the things that bugged me the most was the lack of differentiation among the characters. They all spoke the same way (even the “bad guys”) and I never got the feel for who these guys really were. The minutae of descriptors merely served to overwhelm me with details, and didn’t do anything to really let me see into these guys’ heads. It was a case of the author “telling” me about the characters, rather than “showing” me, by their actions and dialog.

My largest complaint about the plot was the seemingly laid-back approach the agents took when a US Senator was kidnapped. They would knock off at 6pm and go have long, leisurely meals and then turn in for the night. And there weren’t any more agents brought in on the case – I would think that the kidnapping of a US Senator (even if he is from Idaho) would involve more than 2 agents, and there would be enough of a sense of urgency that they would work in shifts around the clock.

Don’t get me wrong, in the end, I enjoyed the book. But I do think it could have been better. Of course, I have never written a book, so I have to give props to Mr. Miller for even doing so, and for getting it published! I do hope he writes another book, because I think he will improve as a writer, and this one definitely shows promise! (Let’s face it – I’m downright envious that he had what it took to write it in the first place! I admire that ability, greatly!)

Farlander by Col Buchanon

Farlander (The Heart of the World, #1)Farlander by Col Buchanan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Heart of the World (of which this is book one) looks much like the Mediterranean and surrounding areas, though without the long “boot” of Italy. It is an imagined world, though somewhat grounded in ours, with words and names similar enough to be familiar, but foreign enough to be new. The cultures, too, seem vaguely familiar, even to the point of monks who follow the Daoist Way.

But this is not the history of our earth, despite the similarities. In this world, there is a ruling cult, called Mann that preaches embracing the flesh and is bent on conquering the entire known world. Its society & politics remind one of ancient Rome, with plots to capture the throne, crazed rulers keeping the masses entertained by gladiatorial games, etc.

Still opposing it, even after 10 years of siege and war is the loose confederation of the Mercian Free Ports. The people here still follow Daoism, and are fighting to remain free.

And into this mix of politics and conquest are the Roshun – a society of assassins who train both mind & body using Daoist principles, and who avenge the deaths of those who have purchased their protection. (Think Ninja + Jedi and you get the picture of who they are.)

The book mostly follows an older, and dying, Roshun named Ash, who takes on an apprentice, Nico, a young man living on the streets in Al-Khos, the largest city of the Mercian Free Ports. Ash had always avoided taking on an apprentice, but, knowing his end is near, he nearly randomly chooses Nico, as he catches Nico trying to burgle his room. They go back to the Roshun monastery in the remote mountains (again, this evokes images of the monks of the Shaolin Temple) and Nico begins his training.

Meanwhile, the heir of the Mannian matriarch kills a young woman who wears the Roshun seal of protection. This launches a vendetta in which Ash and young Nico are main players.

The book switches back and forth among several main characters/storylines, keeping the pace quite brisk. We get to see the depravity of the Manninan rulers (though thankfully, not too terribly graphic), their plots to at last take the Mercian Free Ports, and their personal paranoia. We also follow a soldier of Al-Khos, where we see the devastating effects of the long war/siege. And we follow Ash & Nico.

All of this is quite skillfully woven together, in a world that Buchanon does a masterful job of making real. While some things are maybe a little too clichéd (e.g. master “jedi” and his apprentice), things do not always follow to form, which is refreshing. We definitely feel the grit and pain of hand-to-hand combat, and it is not in any way glorified. The pacing of the book is quite good, and I found myself ripping through the last half, wanting to know the outcome, which, while leaving open the door for book two, was not quite what I expected.

I thoroughly enjoyed the world created by the author, and do look forward to the 2nd book!

NOTE: The copy of the book I read was an advanced reader’s copy – this book will not be published in the US until January 2011. However, it has been published in Great Britain, so it may be possible to find a copy online, somewhere.

Monday, October 25, 2010

All Hallow's Read!

The great and magnificent Neil Gaiman (who is one of my very favorite writers) has proposed a new excuse for giving books er.. holiday: All Hallow's Read, wherein one gives scary books as gifts. Brilliant!

You can read his original proposal here,
and he adds a bit more info near the end of the post here.

In light of that, I would like to list some of the scariest books I've ever read, and provide some other suitable All Hallows' Read books. So, here we go:

Scariest books I've read:
The Shining by Stephen King - One of the scariest books I've ever read. I read it years ago, after college. I remember reading it only during the day, because I was too scared to read it at night!
Salem's Lot by Stephen King - One of the best vampire books, ever. I was so scared when I read this book that when my roommate opened the door to our dorm room I screamed and threw the book at her!
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin - Oh, man, this one scared me silly! However, I was only in high school when I read it, and I wonder if it stands the test of time. I'm not sure it would scare me as much, today. But, you never know! ;-)

Other good books for All Hallow's Read:
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - fabulous story! Scary enough for young readers, deep enough for adult readers. Original enough for anybody!
Dracula by Bram Stoker - Anyone who likes vampire stories should read this one, since it is the foundation for them all. However, most modern readers will not get much of a "scare" from it. The style is decidedly old fashioned, and a lot of the dialog seems very odd to the modern reader, so it's not something you can just get carried away in. But, it IS the beginning of the lore, and as such, is definitely worth a read, for historical benefit, if nothing else.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - If you haven't read this book because you've "seen the movie" or you think you know the story - you're wrong! Read the book! This is *not* a "scary" story involving raging monsters ravaging the countryside, villagers with pitchforks, etc. This book is an amazing exploration of what it means to be human, what it means to create something, and what (if any) obligation the creator owes to the created - or vice versa.
The Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan - Another great choice for younger readers.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith - This (I believe) was the first of the classics/horror mashups that have become so popular. Not so much a scary story, but a delightful romp through an alternate Austen-verse, where Elizabeth and her sisters are trained zombie-killers, trying to rid England of the plague of the undead. At least 80% of the book is comprised of Austen's exact words - Grahame-Smith does a masterful job of adding in the zombie bits, and making them seem as if they belonged! A fun romp for any Austen and/or zombie fan!

If you still can't think of any good books for giving, ask anyone at your local, independent bookstore, or at your local public library!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Hell

From HellFrom Hell by Alan Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, speculating as to his identity. Specifically, it posits that the murders were done by a doctor to cover up the infidelity of one of the royal family. The doctor is a bit off his rocker, hence the brutality of the murders.

This novel is for mature readers only, as both the violence and the sex are quite explicit. Given the nature of the story, it's appropriate, but, nevertheless, I would caution prospective readers.

I found it somewhat hard to get through, due to the subject matter. The author and illustrator are exploring the darkest of human emotions and actions, and this made for uncomfortable reading. The artwork adds to this ambiance, being very harsh and somewhat frenzied feeling. The whole experience is unsettling, as I'm sure they intended.

The author also wrote V for Vendetta, which is one of my favorite graphic novels (and a favorite movie!), which is why I picked up this book. But while V was violent, it wasn't to the extent of this book, nor was it as emotionally unsettling. As I said, this book goes to some pretty ugly places.

This edition has comments and notations by the author, which is interesting. I always enjoy a glimpse at the creative process: learning how and why things ended up in the finished product.

But, if you're not a student of graphic novels, or a Jack the Ripper junkie, you may find this book just a little too dark to be enjoyable.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the 3rd book in what is known (in the US) as the Millenium Trilogy. The first book is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second is The Girl who Played with Fire. I have now read all three, and must say this set of books is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. I can't talk about this 3rd book alone - it's really just part of a whole.

The series follows Lisbeth Salander, a Goth, anti-social genius computer hacker, and Mikael Blomquist, a magazine reporter. They are drawn together at first in a mystery about a disappearance of a young girl, and end up exposing the Swedish underworld, corrupt government officials and human trafficking. The Swedish title of the series (the author is Swedish) is "Men Who Hate Women", so that should tell you what this series is really about - violence against women, and what that does to the victims and what it does to society.

These are riveting books - absolute page turners! But they are also full of very violent scenes, which are hard to read, and you will end up thinking about them for a long time.

Neither of the main characters is really heroic. Both are very flawed people, and often aren't even very likable. But I found myself really rooting for them, nonetheless, and celebrating when Lisbeth manages to put one over on someone (who usually deserves it!)

You can certainly enjoy these as nothing more than thrillers (a la Dan Brown's work) but there is much more to these books than just entertainment. Larsson wanted to expose the hidden side of Sweden's idyllic nation, often viewed as a model country, and show us the cruelty and violence that is still perpetrated on women by men in positions of power.

These are very powerful books, but also just plain good reads!

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman's Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" by Mike Carey

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Nverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Like a movie adaptation of a novel, it has been pared down to the bare essentials. But they kept the most important parts, and didn't seem to make any wild changes from the original story. The illustrations were quite good and seemed true to the descriptions in the original novel. Again, as with a movie adaptation, not all of the visuals were as I had imagined them, but it was fun to get another viewpoint.

This is a good introduction to the novel, but anyone who reads this first MUST read the novel to get the full impact of the story. The novel is one of my favorites - so if you're only going to read one of these versions, I recommend the novel. But if you've read the novel and want an alternate visualization, this version is absolutely worth it!


KrakenKraken by China Miéville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was good, but not great. Really probably 3.5 stars - it did seem to get better as it went on.

Kraken is set in modern-day London, but a London full of all kinds of para-normal places & people. It is a sprawling story of the end of the world and those who are trying to prevent it (including squid worshippers) and those trying to make it happen (a living tattoo and a dead magician). Several 'normal' folks get caught up in the goings-on, but, as is usual with Mieville's work, there are more oddities per page than most authors have in an entire book! One must certainly be willing to 'think outside the box' to enjoy Mieville's work - and in this book, he doesn't disappoint. Even his prose is full of wonderful oddments: " bit at him like a rooftop would..." Um, yeah. :-)

But,despite all this, it didn't quite grab me as much as his other books have (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, two name 2). I never quite felt compelled to read it, as I usually am with his books. It was only in the last 75 pages or so that I didn't want to put the book down. Mind you, it wasn't that I didn't enjoy the book, but it never really gripped me until the end.

Still, this is a book chock-full of stuff you'll never read anywhere else. Mieville's way of looking at things just is not normal! But it IS intriguing, unique and makes you want to come back for more - there's really nothing like it. His books are very "baroque", if you will: full of lots of curlicues and intricate designs and nooks and crannies. There is nothing 'plain' anywhere - and though this isn't my favorite of his books, it is still a fine example of his unmatched creativity and weirdness!

I also find it interesting that this is the 2nd book I've read this summer having to do with multiple gods and an apocalypse (the other being American Gods by Neil Gaiman). These 2 books are quite different in style, yet have some similar themes (gods, worship, belief, faith). And Gaiman is the only other author I know that writes books that are just as full of weird and creative ideas. I find it interesting to think about these books in light of each other.

Anyway, this was a good book, and certainly worth reading if you enjoy speculative fiction. If it is your introduction to Mieville, it may make you go "wow!" - perhaps I'm just too used to being wowed by him!

The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron

The Calculating Passion of Ada ByronThe Calculating Passion of Ada Byron by Joan Baum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was disappointed with this book. Considering that the title was "The Calculating Passion..." there was very little passion to be found in the book. It was a rather dry read, mostly a series of quotes from letters by, to and about Ada. (For the uninformed, Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace is considered the world's first computer programmer, as she devised algorithms for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine - an early computer prototype.) After reading this book I really don't know much more about Ada and her life - certainly there are no insights into the person of Ada, herself. The book read as if it were an extended version of some history major's MA thesis or something. Very disappointing. Read it only if you are desperate for anything Ada-related.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

American Gods

American Gods American Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have been reading since I was 4 years old (for those who are counting, that means I've been reading for nearly 50 years). In all that time, this is the first book that when I finished it I immediately flipped back to the start and read it straight through a second time. Really - it's that good! But, it's not just that it was good, it was the story, and how it was told - after reaching the end I wanted to go back to the beginning and re-read it, knowing how it would all turn out. I wanted to catch all of the foreshadowing and symbolism that I didn't get the first time - to understand more of what was going on. Because this is a RICH book. It's rich with characters, the like of whom you've never seen. Rich with places so unique that it's hard to believe that many of them are real. Rich with an idea that is so wonderful for its originality and its simplicity. And that idea is this: think of all of the immigrants to America for all of these centuries; imagine that when they came they brought 'their' gods. Now imagine what happens to those gods when these people forget their old gods, when their descendants turn to the new gods of the automobile, technology, the media, etc. What do those old gods do? How do they live? What do they want?

This is mythology like you've never seen it. From my description above, you may be thinking this is some sort of "Clash of the Titans" or something. You're wrong. This is a novel of every-day America, with every-day Americans trying to get by. There just happen to be a few odd (and I do mean ODD) gods running around, though you'd never know it by looking at them. How some humans get mixed up with the gods' struggles is the meat of the book.

But, hmmm, that doesn't accurately describe the book, either. This book is full of weird sh**, Really weird. Dark, fantastic, bittersweet. I guarantee you've never read a book like this. I haven't, and you know how long I've been reading!

Just go get this book. Read it. It's weird, its funny (I laughed out loud many times), it's sad, it's deep. It's GOOD.

I should mention that I read this book as part of 'One Book, One Twitter' ( It's kind of a global book club. (Well, nearly global - because of China's internet blocking there were no Chinese participants.) People discussed it on Twitter, and Neil did several'Twitterviews' where folks got to ask him questions. It was a lot of fun!


Cairo Cairo by G. Willow Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Got this book on the recommendation of Neil Gaiman (he tweeted about it, I think), and since we're going to Cairo next year, I *really* had to get it!

First off, the dust jacket is really cool, but the actual cover is beautiful!! It's embossed with the stylized title and the skyline from the cover, bordered by an intricate, delicate pattern. All done in purple glitter. VERY nice!

The story is set in modern day Cairo, and involves the more-than-coincidental entwining of the lives of a hashish smuggler, a woman in the Israeli army, an Egyptian journalist, an American would-be suicide bomber - and a Jinn. It's a fascinating combination of an action thriller with Egyptian/Arab mythology. While the fact that all these people get mixed up together seems a bit far fetched, if you believe the Jinn, there are no coincidences! So just go along for the ride and you'll see the under-Nile, a battle with Satan (Shaitan), drug smugglers and more. But woven through the entire book is the theme of forgiveness, coexistence, and love - a theme which is sorely needed in the Middle East. I wish I could believe that such goodness really does exist over there. Surely it must!

Any graphic novel review should include mention of the artwork, as a graphic novel is not just a book with pictures - the pictures are part of the narrative, and actually help to tell the story. I thought the depictions of Cario street-life were very interesting and full of detail, and the depiction of the demons and Satan were very well done. And, oh my, the Jinn is *quite* handsome! I just wish it had been in color, as I imagine it would be so very rich!

Overall, a very fine graphic novel with a rip-roaring story and wonderful artwork!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Life-changing books

Currently, around the world, thousands of people are reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods (including me). It's part of the One Twitter, One Book project (1b1t2010, #1b1t on Twitter). As part of the online discussions, someone asked what book or books changed your life. This is a compilation of responses. I thought they were pretty interesting, and can certainly see why most are on there (the largest exception being I Capture the Castle, which our book club read and which no one really liked, and some really hated it. I was lukewarm. Not life-changing for me!) Several of my most powerful, life-changing books are there - most prominently To Kill a Mockingbird. Anyway, I'm sharing it, because it's an interesting list, and has some books that are probably Worth Reading. Enjoy!
Age of Innocence Edith Wharton
Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars Daniel Pinkwater
Alchemist Paulo Coelho
All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque
American Gods Neil Gaiman
Anthropologist on Mars Oliver Sacks
Antigone Jean Anouilh
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand
Beyond Civilization Daniel Quinn
Black Jewels Trilogy Anne Bishop
Blue Highways William Least Heat Moon
Brave New World Aldous Huxley
Cannery Row John Steinbeck
Catch-22 Joseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
Complete Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dark Tower series Steven King
Darksword Trilogy Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman
Dispossessed Ursula K. LeGuin
Dragonsong Anne McCaffery
East of Eden John Steinbeck
Elric of Melnibone Michael Moorcock
Etty Hillesum: Interrupted Life the Diaries, 1941-1943 Etty Hillesum
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues Tom Robbins
Far Pavilions M. M. Kaye
Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz
Friday Robert A. Heinlein
Giver Lois Lowry
Good Omens Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
Happy Death Albert Camus
Harry Potter Series J. K. Rowling
High Rise J. G. Ballard
Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkein
I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith
Illusions Richard Bach
Infinite Jest D. F. Wallace
Intelligent Man's Guide to Science Isaac Asimov
Ishmael Daniel Quinn
L'Invitee Simone de Beauvoir
Liar's Poker Michael Lewis
Life of Pi Yann Martel
Lord of the Flies William Golding
Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkein
Matilda Roald Dahl
Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley
Moon of Three Rings Andre Norton
Narnia Chronicles C. S. Lewis
Neverending Story Michael Ende
On The Road Jack Kerouac
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish Dr. Seuss
Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett
Poet Michael Connelly
Power of Myth Joseph Campbell
Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
Road Cormac McCarthy
Road Less Traveled M Scott Peck
Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf
Sam, Bangs and Moonshine Evaline Ness
Shannara Series Terry Brooks
Sorrow Beyond Dreams Peter Handke
Story of B Daniel Quinn
Stranger in a Strange Land Robert A. Heinlein
Till We Have Faces C. S. Lewis
Timbuktu Paul Auster
Time Enough for Love Robert A. Heinlein
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
Way of the Peaceful Warrior Dan Millman
Weirdstone of Brisingamen Alan Garner
Wit Margaret Edson
Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L'Engle

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Golden City

The Golden City (Fourth Realm, #3) The Golden City by John Twelve Hawks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the 3rd book in the 'Fourth Realm Trilogy'. The trilogy is about 'the vast machine' of personal electronic data, collected by everything we do these days, and the problems of privacy and security that can arise if 'the wrong people' get control of this information. But it's told in a bit of a science-fictiony/fantasy mode, in that there are certain people (Travelers) who, throughout history, have been the ones to move humanity forward and speak up for peace and justice (think Da Vinci or Gandhi). These travelers have the ability to leave this 'realm' and travel to other realms (alternate reality). In addition to the travelers, there are normal humans who have sworn to protect the travelers - these are the Harlequins. (Think ninja assassins crossed with James Bond)

The premise of the trilogy is that there is a secret group (*sigh*, isn't there always??) called The Brethren, trying to use the Vast Machine to create the perfect society, where everyone is controlled. Their goal is very 1984/Brave New World/Fahrenheit 451-ish. They manage to get a 'bad' traveler to help them. He travels to one of the other realms and brings back designs for ever-increasingly complex and powerful computers, which they use to increase their ability to track everyone. Meanwhile, there is a 'good' traveler (brother to the 'bad' one), several Harlequins and a motley crew of 'off-the-grid' types are attempting to stop Brethren and their nefarious plans.

I was drawn to the trilogy by its first book (The Traveler), in which one of the main protagonists is a female Harlequin named Maya. (Did I mention Harelquins carry swords?? :-) And I was also drawn by the fact that the author's real name is not John Twelve Hawks, and that no one has seen him and that he lives completely off-the-grid. The first book was very exciting, as we see the reality of the omnipresent Vast Machine and learn of those fighting against it. Lots of good action!

However, the last 2 books of the trilogy are less gripping, though this 3rd one is a bit better than the 2nd. In the 2nd & 3rd books we spend a lot of time mucking about in the other realms (one of which is Hell), and there's really not a lot done to move the plot forward. I got the impression that the author had this "cool" idea about other realms and people who go there, and wanted to work this into the books. Because, personally, I think the series would have been much more effective without the mystical mumbo-jumbo. The issues of electronic privacy, surveillance, security, etc are very real, and don't need to be 'spiced' up with this un-real stuff. And, I'm getting very tired of all of these hidden societies trying to run the world (Illuminati, etc). This is trite, and, truth be told, takes away from the real threat of electronic privacy issues. I think it's way scarier to think that we are giving away our privacy in the name of 'security', not because some secret society is trying to take over the world, but because we're not willing to get out of our comfortable, consumerist world and open our eyes, so we let well-meaning governments whittle away at our privacy. THAT is scary - because it's REAL. Bringing in the whole secret society thing just makes the real issue seem fictional.

Now, this is not to say I didn't enjoy the books. But I really think they could have been better. And, I have to say that unless you really like all the mystical other realm stuff, and the secret-society-plotting-to-take-over-the-world stuff, just read the first book. You don't get anything else new from the subsequent books. But, for sure, Maya kicks a$$! :-)

Arctic Chill

Arctic Chill Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I got this book from my friend who lives in Iceland. (It is written by an Icelandic author.) Since I like mysteries, and I've been to Iceland twice, he thought I'd like it - and he was right! Even though is is a later book in a series, I was still able to enjoy it. In fact, I want to go back and read the earlier books now, too!

The book follows inspector Erlendur as he tries to unravel the murder of a 10-year old Thai boy. Not everyone in Iceland wants immigrants there, especially not "brown" ones. So through his investigation we get to see a lot of different reactions by suspects/witnesses. It is an interesting glimpse into Icelandic society.

Erlendur is pretty much a loner (aren't all detectives in such novels? ;-), and can be pretty gruff, but he is intelligent and clearly wants to solve this crime. His interactions with his co-workers and his estranged family give us a bit of insight into why he is the way he is. It is some of this background that I hope to get more of when I read the earlier books in the series.

I definitely enjoyed the mystery, and enjoyed "seeing" Iceland again, and "visiting" parts of Reykjavik I've seen before. My only complaint was the ending - like so many books, it seems, the author reaches the end and rushes through in 3-4 pages, and doesn't slow down to fully examine or experience the denouement. It was very "wham, bam, thank you ma'am"! But, this is a small nit to pick. Any fan of detective fiction will enjoy this, and will get the added flavor of Iceland, to boot! :-)

The White Tiger

The White Tiger The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. But I was nicely surprised! It was a very entertaining read! It is an eye-opening look at the "new" India, through the eyes of a boy/young man, Balram, from the lower class. He ends up in the 'big city' working as a driver for one of the 'new rich' families. Through his experiences we are exposed to the reality of modern-day India: unimaginable wealth and consumerism is literally side-by-side with utter poverty and filth. Needless to say, those without money are daily/hourly reminded of their poverty and there place in society. Centuries of teachings on castes and religion attempt to 'keep everyone in their place'. But with the advent of modern communication and travel, the poor see the inequity and injustice in the current society, but are mostly powerless to do anything to change their circumstances.

Balram is a likable character - intelligent, curious and has the ability to see things as they are. He knows that he is no different than the rich man he works for, but he hasn't the means to change things - or so it seems. His observations about society and what it means to be successful are very enlightening.

The books is written as a series of letters to the soon to visit premier of China. Balram is attempting to prepare the premier for what the real India is like. This epistolary style is very effective, as the reader of the book is the one who is really getting the message.

Balram doesn't sugar coat anything - we see the rampant corruption of government, that is so systemic there is no other way to run the country. We see crass consumerism flaunted in the face of utter poverty. We see the cruelty of the local 'landlords' who beat and kill and steal from their tenant farmers. We see how the servants do little things to get back at their masters.

What we really see is a country that is at once modern and high tech, but at the same time it is feudal and backwards. This dichotomy is very clearly shown to us. Yet, Balram never seems to question why things are the way they are - he's too busy just trying to figure out a way to get ahead. He learns the game, and takes drastic steps to get out of the virtual cage in which society has placed him. He doesn't seem to rant against inequities or injustice or complain that India needs to be reformed. He just figures out how to succeed, based on the current 'law of the jungle'. And despite his less than ethical actions, I still liked him, and found myself rooting for him - most of the time. I think this duality of his character is very symbolic of India as a whole - there is much to be admired, and much to condemn, yet they exist side by side.

I know that I shall never think of India in the same way after reading this, and I have to think that was the author's goal. I definitely recommend this book - it will open your eyes to the real India, and maybe also make you think about your own ethics and beliefs.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Booked to Die

Booked to Die (Cliff Janeway Novels (Paperback)) Booked to Die by John Dunning

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When I started this, I wasn't sure if I'd read it before. It was vaguely familiar, but I thought that may have been due to having heard about it. The whole first half of the book, I was convinced I hadn't read it - the characters and situations just didn't seem familiar. But then we reached the part where the old man dies and leaves hundreds of books, the value and ownership of which is in dispute. Aha! BOOKS I remembered! But not the people! Hmmm, what does that say about me? ;-) Anyway, it was still a fun read, as I couldn't quite remember how it all came out.

This is apparently the first book in a series, about an ex-cop who is into rare books and solves crimes. (In this one, we see how he becomes and EX-cop.) It was pretty much your typical mystery - mildly interesting characters, multiple suspects, etc. The protagonist, Cliff Janeway, is kind of interesting - a cop with a bad temper who also loves books. But I sometimes found his motives and actions a little unrealistic. But, with all the talk about books, book shops, book appraisals, etc, we get a good look into the world of book selling. (However, since this was written in 1984 - pre-internet - things have changed since then, especially with the advent of eBay and other online sellers.) So I still enjoyed it - even the 2nd time around! I will probably try the next one in the series, to see if it continues to hold my interest. It's always nice to have a light read available!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Marquisarde

The Maquisarde The Maquisarde by Louise Marley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was a nice surprise. I was just scanning the sci-fi shelves at may favorite local bookstore, auntie's, when I saw this one, with a sticker denoting it was an autographed copy. When I looked closer, I could see that there was a woman on the cover (and not the stereotypical fantasy heroine, straight out of Wagner). Then I read the synopsis and had to pick it up!

The book is set in the not-too-distant future, where the world has basically been divided into the haves and the have-nots, due to a combination of economic crisis, wars and disease. The haves are loosely organized into an association of nations, and they have drawn a line in the sand, as it were, separating themselves from the poor countries. Those who live in the protected area live much like most of the current first-world nations. Those outside the line, live like the worst of the current third world. There is one small catch, however, for those living in the protected area - the government censors news and controls a global police/army force that maintains border safety (aka kills those who try to enter the protected area, or those who are deemed 'enemies' of the state).

Our heroine, Ebriel, is a conert flutist living in Paris with her husband and daughter - safe, secure and not really concerned about what goes on "out there". However, events occur which cause her to closely examine her government, her beliefs and her very self. She ends up connecting with the resistance - the Maqui, or the Chain - and her world is turned upside down.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of this character, and how she changed throughout the book. She is very believable, and doesn't come across as larger than life. I could see her as a real person. And it's nice to have a mature protagonist, and not th typical teen or twenty-something. :-)

While there were a couple of things I could predict, there were many plot points that I didn't expect, including the ending, which is extremely realistic, and not a sappy, story-book ending (small spoiler: but don't worry - it doesn't have a SAD ending - it just doesn't take the easy, predictable way out.)

In general, this didn't feely "science fiction-y" - the characters seemed real, the world seemed real, the story was believable. I think that even those who don't think they like science fiction would like this book.

The author has written other award-winning books, and I will definitely be on the lookout to pick them up!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Lazarus Club

The Secrets of the Lazarus Club The Secrets of the Lazarus Club by Tony Pollard

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I had high hopes for this book - but I was disappointed. The book is a sort of mystery/thriller, set in England in the mid-1800's. Several corpses have been found in the Thames with their hearts and lungs torn out. The story is told by a medical doctor who is first brought into the investigation to help, and then becomes a suspect. Several historical figures play a part (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Babbage), which is what drew me to the book. However, other than IK Brunel, none of the other historical figures play much of a role. They are just guests or members of "The Lazarus Club", a discussion group of scientific/progressive thinkers. Our doctor gets drawn into the club, and soon gets caught up in the hunt for a mysterious mechanical device create by Brunel, that people are getting killed for, and the doctor finds his own life in danger and begins to suspect members of the club.

It all sounds rather exciting, and, at times, it is. (The entrance of the Lady Ada Lovelace - the first computer programmer who wrote programs for Babbage's Analytical Engine - ranks up there with some of the best scenes from Frankenstein.) But, the problem is the author can't make up his mind what story he is telling. There are too many dead ends, too many sections of the book which do nothing to drive the story forward, etc. I think there could be at least 2, if not 3, GOOD books made from this one book.

Also, the way the story is told, I never really connected with any of the characters - I couldn't really feel any emotion, except in rare passages. Most of the time, the narrator (the doctor) just seemed to be dryly relating what happened. This kept me from really getting into the story. Though the author captures the era well, the dry narrative style is a real shortcoming. (I still remember a high school English teacher I had, who, in the creative writing portion of the class would say "SHOW me, don't TELL me what happens" - too bad Mr. Pollard didn't have her as a teacher!)

Because of this, I can't really recommend this book, unless you are interested in this time period or in IK Brunel. There are other, better, books out there.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amelia Peabody's Egypt

Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium by Elizabeth Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For any fan of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, this is a wonderful compendium. It's part factual history of Egypt combined with the characters of the books. There are pictures and short bios of the characters, listed alongpt with actual historical figures. Many of the historical events that take place during the novels are detailed here, enabling the reader of the series to get a greater sense of the culture and political events of the time. It has certainly helped me to get a deeper enjoyment from the novels, and certainly broadened my knowledge of Egyptian history. (And, given that a trip to Egypt is on my schedule for next spring, this is a doubly good thing!)

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is about John Gilkey, the man who loved (rare) books so much he would steal them, and the book seller & detective who tried to catch him. Gilkey is basically a con man, who is looking to establish a valuable book collection, because he believes it will give him the reputation he desires: as an intellectual, rich man of the world. The problem is, he can't afford the books he wants, but he feels it's his right to be able to own them, so he steals them. He has created a morality whereby it's not really stealing when he "gets" his books without paying for them. To finance his 'habit' he steals credit card numbers from Saks, where he works part time.

But Gilkey isn't the only person in this book who loves books perhaps a wee bit too much. We are also introduced to rare book dealers and historical figures, all of whom go to great length to collect books. (One of my favorites was a professor in Nebraska, who died in 1952 surrounded by 90 TONS of books! A man after my own heart...)

It's a tale well-told, with elements of suspense and daring-do. It's also a good introduction to the world of collectible books - what makes a book 'rare' and what makes its price go up.Being a book collector, myself, (albeit one whose collection probably doesn't have a single book worth over $250), I enjoyed mingling with others who also love books. I can so totally relate to the wonderful feeling of seeing shelf after shelf of books for sale in a shop or book fair! There really is nothing like an actual, physical BOOK to delight one's senses. The author sums it up nicely:
...a testament to the passion for books - their content an histories, their leathery, papery, smooth, musty warped, fixed, torn, engraved and inscribed bodies.

And I leave you with this inscription from a medieval scribe:
This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see.
To steal this book, if you should try,
It's by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you're screaming "oh, oh, oh!"
Remember, you deserved this woe.

PS I borrowed this book from a fellow book club member, and I'll be returning it to her tomorrow!! ;-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Sandman Volume 1

The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (Volume 1) The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have heard about this book (series) for a long time and finally decided I'd better read it and see what all the fuss was about. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, and I've come to appreciate graphic novels these past few years, so I was optimistic that I would like it. And I did.

This book is a series of stories originally published separately. The series is about "The Sandman" - you know, the guy who puts sand in your eyes and makes you dream while you sleep. In this series, he is one of a race of immortals, known as "The Endless" (along with his sister, Death). The set of stories are all sequential, but each one has its own feel to it. Many reminded me of some of the horror comics I read as a child (tho, much better story & artwork!).

The Sandman is an intriguing character, and I plan to read more in the series (book #2 is on order!)

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Girl Genius Volume 1

Girl Genius Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne & the Beetleburg Clank Girl Genius Vol. 1: Agatha Heterodyne & the Beetleburg Clank by Phil Foglio

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hey, how could I not like a book with this title?? ;-)This is a graphic novel, that seems to be a combination of manga and steampunk. Our plucky heroine is being raised by relatives, after the mysterious disappearance of her father. She's studying at Transylvania Polygnostic University, trying to learn the secrets of science, but apparently has no aptitude for it. Events transpire to put her in danger, and bring her into contact with a cute boy (natch) and her hidden talents become less hidden.A fun story with a girl who has brains and courage. I love the world that the author has created. Looking forward to volume 2!

Whip It!

Whip It Whip It by Shauna Cross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Picked this up for fun because Randy and I love the movie. I hadn't realized it was a book until I watched the credits all the way thru. so I decided I'd get the book and see if it was as good as the movie – and it is! It's a great story of a misfit girl (Bliss aka “Babe Ruthless” Cavendish”, in a small Texas town. She's totally indie/punk/emo and her mom is totally into beauty pageants – she wants bliss to be the local beauty queen, just as she was. Bliss just wants out of town.

By accident, Bliss discovers the world of roller derby, tries out for a team and discovers she's really, really good at it! She can be herself, and is surrounded by a bunch of other misfits, who, together, form a kind of family for Bliss. (Unlike her totally 'uncool' real family.)

As with any coming of age story about a girl, there is a boy. There is some sneaking around and lying to the parents. There is some BFF conflict. But even if it is a bit predictable (the book's ending is a little less realistic than the movie), the character of Bliss and her thoughts and observations keep things fresh. There are many laugh-out-loud scenes, and several that reminded me why I'm glad I'm not 16 anymore!

A fun read, and I'd recommend it to teenage girls (or those who used be teenage girls). There are some scenes that some parents may find objectionable - no, the sex is not explicit, but it's there, along with shoplifting – but even Bliss ends up learning about the consequences of bad choices, and also something about the love of parents, even those who aren't 'cool'!

A Thread of Grace

A Thread of Grace A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the 3rd book by Mary Doria Russell that I've read (the first two being The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God). All of these books have similar themes though they are presented in entirely different ways. In this one, Russell tells the story of Jewish refugees in northern Italy during WWII, and of the help they received from Italians – both Christians and Jews. But again she explores themes of faith, choices, and good intentions gone awry.

We follow the lives of many different people – Jewish refugees, Italian Jews, Italian Christians, and Nazis. There are a lot of characters, but they (almost) all are well-rounded, believable and necessary to the story. (I quibble with the necessity of a couple of minor characters, but even they, I suppose, serve a purpose that the other characters could not.)

Much like her first two books, this one was difficult to read because of the suffering of the characters. Because the events portrayed were based on real people and real events, it seemed even more difficult for me, at times. (I have always been greatly saddened and horrified by the Holocaust.) I had to keep reminding myself of the GOOD things done by many people, such as hiding the Jews even at personal risk. It helps to remember that as depraved as humans can be, we are also capable of amazing acts of love and self-sacrifice. (Indeed, the title is taken from a Hebrew saying: 'No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there is always a thread of grace.')

I hadn't known anything about this portion of WWII, so it was interesting to learn about the Italian resistance and the sanctuary and assistance offered by many Italians. I also learned a lot about the war in Italy as a whole.

But, this isn't a history book, really. It's an exploration of morality – why do some people do 'bad' things while others choose to do good? And the book also shows the horror and devastation that war wreaks on civilians. The innocent are always killed. Was it worth it? In the big picture, we say yes – we had to oppose Hitler, But for the individual lives lost or ruined, was it worth it to them? Many willingly put themselves at risk for the greater good, but many who just wanted to survive did not. Is it even possible to NOT take part in something like the fight against the Nazis? If you do nothing, are you a collaborator?

You will ask yourself these questions, and others when you read this book.

The last lines of the novel reach to the heart of its purpose: “ the end, did Klara Hitler's sickly son ever fire a gun? One hollow, hateful little man. One last awful thought: all the harm he eve did was done for him by others.”

I anxiously await Ms. Russell's next book.

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1) The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book on the recommendation of Laurie King (the author of The Beekeepers' Apprentice and others in the Mary Russell series – which I highly recommend) who recommended it on her page on I'm very glad I did! I've now been introduced to one Flavia de Delacy, an 11-year-old with an obsession with chemistry and poisons, living in a small village in England in 1950, But, despite the young age of our narrator, this is not a children's book (not that it contains 'adult' material – just that most kids would not enjoy it), It's a classical mystery story, along the lines of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, if Miss Marple were an 11-year-old eccentric.

Flavia's observations, her thought processes, her analyses of the situation are all beyond her year's, yet there is still an 11-year-old's lack of refinement and relationships. She is charming, and a bit scary – as most child prodigies can be. But she is also endearing and quite funny. Her feuding relationship with her older sisters is quite realistic, and her attempts at revenge (and her plotting thereof) are quite amusing. Just what any 11-year-old genius in chemistry would do!

(For those of you familiar with Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, Flavia reminds me of a young Amelia crossed with a young Ramses.)

The mystery is a classic “who done it”, and while the local constable is attempting to unravel it, Flavia is one step ahead of him at almost every turn (partially because she is withholding evidence from him).

The setting of the small English village plays a role in the story, as everyone knows everyone else, and there are every village's share of eccentrics. This all adds to the charm of the novel.

The 2nd book in the series has now been published (The Weed that strings the Hangman's Bag) and I'm very much looking forward to reading it, as well!

Montana 1948

Montana 1948 Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
OK, I admit, as a native Montanan, I'm a sucker for books about growing up and living there. (e.g. anything by Ivan Doig) But I hdan't heard of this author before – my sister stumbled across the book in the Goodwill store in Moscow, ID and brought it home for my dad to read, and then I borrowed it and read it.

It takes place in the fictional town of Bentrock, in the NE corner of Montana. Though the town is fictional, its people and their struggles, prejudices and relations are very real. The author has captured life in small town Montana quite well.

And as any good book about small town Montana, Indians play a role. And in this novel, a critical role.

The narrator is a young boy, from the prominent family in the region, whose father is the county sheriff. Events arise that uncover some shameful secrets in the family, and what happens when those secrets come to the surface. The young boy, as most boys, both idolizes and also feels distant from his father. And sometimes a bit ashamed of him (he doesn't carry a gun on duty, for one thing). Seeing the story through someone's eyes who is connected (by blood) but also apart from (by age) gives us a unique vantage point.

I suppose you could call it a 'coming of age' story, as, certainly, at the end, our narrator is not the naïve child he was at the beginning. It's also very much a 'classic' western story, with much of the tension of “High Noon” or “3:10 to Yuma”. It's also a bit of a myth-buster, showing the sordid truth of much of Western race relations, that many people don't want to hear or believe.

I found it quite powerful and full of truth.

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War and Peace

War and Peace (Vintage Classics) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Whew! I finished it. All 1215 pages. Plus the author's comments in the appendix.

Overall, this was not an easy read, but it wasn't a bad read. It was different from every other novel I've read. (In fact, Tolstoy says this wasn't a novel, but was “what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form it was expressed.” While it dealt with real events and real people (Napoleon's wars with Russia), he uses fictional people to tell the story (such as it is).

I must say, it was a difficult book to get into. The first couple hundred pages were pretty difficult – firstly, because there were a ton of characters introduced, secondly, because they all have multiple names (apparently, Russians use nicknames & diminutives frequently) so it was hard to keep track (I ended up creating diagrams for my reference), and thirdly, because not much happens! There's just a lot of rich people going to parties, gossiping and flirting with one another. And that makes it sound more interesting than it is, I think! But, gradually, the reader begins to understand the different characters, and events develop (war) that make things much more interesting. The rest of the book was much more riveting to me, with the exception of the epilogue (more on that later).

Let me just take a moment to talk about the translation I read. Silly me, at first I didn't really think that there would be multiple versions of 'a classic', but when I found the book in the bookstore, there were at least 5 different translations. After doing some research on the internet, I opted for the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (a married couple who have translated many Russian novels). I chose this one because many reviewers said that it was a more faithful translation, and in their intro, they elaborated quite a bit on the choices they made when translating, and how they tried to keep the rhythm and flow of Tolstoy's prose alive in English. I don't have anything to compare it to, having read no other versions of the book, but I must say that I could distinguish distinct rhythms in different sections, and the words and phrases they used were quite marvelous, at times. I was also extremely grateful for the footnotes, which explained a lot of Russian cultural references (and even pointed out what was a pun in the original Russian). I think they really helped me get a better feel for the book.

But, this is a LONG book. And, once you get past those first couple hundred pages, a LOT happens. It might not have seemed so overwhelming to one more familiar with the time and place of the novel, but I really knew very little about the Napoleonic wars, and certainly nothing about Russian history of the time, and the consequences of the wars. So it held my attention, throughout.

The characters seemed somewhat flat to me, at first. But as the book progressed, I began to see different layers to each of them. But I don't think the individual characters – as characters – were important to Tolstoy. I think he created people he could put in situations in order to illustrate his point.

And what was his point, you ask? Good question!! I think this book is really a long exposition of what history is and what causes (or doesn't cause) historical events. Tolstoy gives many illustrations of events which historians claim were ordered, and caused by, “great, historical characters”, but which didn't really happen according to script, and the only reason things ended up the way they did is because of a whole host of events, decisions and even weather all bearing action on the outcome. Tolstoy does NOT like most historians. He goes off several times about how Napoleon was not some great military leader, and derides historians for portraying him as such.

Which brings us to the epilogue. This book has one of the strangest endings – probably because it's not a true novel, as Tolstoy states. The “story” just kind of stops, and then we get to the epilogue, where Tolstoy starts declaiming very clearly his views on history, power, freedom of will, etc. There is a brief section early on in the epilogue where he does wrap up a little more some of the characters, but it's not really and “ending”. However, most of the epilogue is not 'fiction', but a philosophical treatise. I found this somewhat difficult to get through. I had trouble following all of his arguments and examples. But, fortunately, he makes enough of them (over and over and over) that I understood what he was saying. (And, of course, I had an inkling of what he was trying to say from the rest of the book.) If you want to know what War and Peace is “about”, read the epilogue. It all boils down to Tolstoy's premise that humans don't really have 'free will' when looked at collectively, and that 'great leaders' aren't really the ones who make events happen.

It took Tolstoy about 1180 pages to say this in a 'story', and a few hundred more to fully explain this as a philosophical treatise. Suffice it to say, I found the first 1180 pages easier to read, but I was able to more fully grasp what he was saying after reading the epilogue, and the author's notes in the appendix.

So, it was a long haul, but I'm glad I read it, and I enjoyed most of it! ;-)

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was another pre-release book giveaway I received at the Auntie's bookstore ( book club bash. It's a "young adult" book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it - other than the fact that the protagonist is a teen-age girl, I didn't feel like it was 'beneath me'.

It's a science fiction book about a world (earth in the future? it's never explained) where different regions have different wealth and resources, and people are confined inside each region. As a yearly 'celebration', children from each region are selected to participate in the Hunger Games - the ultimate in Reality 'television' - they fight to the death, with the winner being guaranteed food for life.

Our protagonist, Katness, lives in one of the poorest regions and is the sole provider for her family, and a proficient hunter (who hunts in the forbidden area outside the fence). Her younger sister is chosen for the games (pretty much a death sentence, since kids from the richer areas are better equipped by their sponsors), so she volunteers in her place. The rest of the book is about her training and the big fight. In the middle of all this, we see a lot of dirty politicians and some of the machinations behind the scenes of the world. Our eyes are opened, along with Katness.

The world created by the author is pretty well thought out, and the characters are pretty well-rounded, if somewhat predictable.

All in all, a fun, entertaining read.

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Meltdown Iceland

Meltdown Iceland: Lessons on the World Financial Crisis from a Small Bankrupt Island Meltdown Iceland: Lessons on the World Financial Crisis from a Small Bankrupt Island by Roger Boyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm not really much of a finance-wonk, but I was interested in this book because I visited Iceland the day the people threw out all the politicians who caused the nation's financial collapse and elected a whole new administration. And, knowing some Icelanders personally, I was interested to read what an "outsider" thought of the whole fiasco. (I also enjoyed references to places in Iceland that I've seen)

I was a bit worried that this book would be full of all kinds of boring financial stuff, but it was really interesting. The author really got into the *people* behind the collapse - what motivated them, what went wrong, etc. It really was fascinating - kind of like a soap opera! (Sadly, the results of the collapse were no fantasy...)

The author makes the point that seeing what happened in a small country (total population is just over 300,000) makes it easier to grasp what went wrong world-wide. And I have to say that I have a much better understanding of what caused the global financial collapse after reading this.

The book was short, and very easy to read - not dull or boring, which was a relief! Certainly, it's a niche market book, but anyone who is interested in understanding what happened, without having to wade through pages of graphs & numbers would get a lot out of this book. Plus you really get to understand the Icelandic psyche! So, I quite enjoyed it!

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was a total surprise. I picked it up as a freebie (pre-release copy) at a "book club bash" at our local bookstore ( It sat on my shelf until April of 2009, when we were headed to Sweden (and Iceland) for a couple of weeks. Since the author was Swedish, I thought "how appropriate!". So I started reading it on the plane and simply ATE IT UP! It's an interesting tale, told in an interesting way. The girl of the title is a computer whiz/hacker, and very anti-social (for reasons we learn later). She gets involved in doing some work for a magazine editor, and we end up with a variation of the locked room mystery. But there's WAY more here than a simple mystery. This book is the first of a trilogy, which in Sweden is called "Men who hate women". While being a very entertaining read, we also see a lot of the violence and repression that men can perpetrate on women, even in a supposedly 'egalitarian' society of Sweden. But it's never preachy. It's just a great, great read, with some of the most interesting characters I've met in a book. Fortunately, when I got to Sweden, the sequel was out (in English). Needless to say, I snatched it up, and read it on the way back! (I'm now waiting desperately for the 3rd book to be released here in the US) Anyway, this has become one of my favorite books/series. I'm just sorry that the author has passed away before he could write more.

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