07 July 2011

Mysterious Book

I love when I get to the library to pick up a book that I requested, and I have no idea what the book is.

Sure, I get an email (more on that later), and/or I check out my account on the website, but sometimes, sometimes, that title and author isn't enough to jog my memory.

And then I get to the library--sometimes days later--and I pick up the book, and, bingo, it's that book. The one I requested six weeks ago and it's finally in. The one that I randomly saw in the stacks the last time I was in the library. The one that was recommended to me over a year ago, and I just found the slip of paper inside another book.

It's a great surprise.

Or, there's an ongoing confusion for sometimes hours on end, until I can get home and look up the title. Have you ever noticed that some books--mostly paperbacks, I think--don't have a summary anywhere on them? The back cover is full of accolades, the first page offers an extract of maybe a paragraph or two that doesn't divulge much. There's no hint of A Jacqui Hale Novel or something, anything, to give away the secret.

So there's nothing left to do but read.

My latest "mysterious book" is Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, a detective novel. It is, of course, a paperback with no summary. Where did that come from? The book has been turned into an eponymously titled BBC series, starring Jason Isaacs, whom I've adored ever since I was more interested in his villain than Mel Gibson's hero in The Patriot, and I was scoping out his IMDB page while looking at HP7.2 stuff. See? I get book recommendations from random places.

13 June 2011

The Southern Vampire Mysteries aka True Blood books

I'm obsessed with True Blood the tv series (I get the DVDs from the library since I don't have cable) and so in 2009 I started to read the books the series is based on. And they're fantastic.

Note: the tv series is loosely based on the books. Some of the characters have the same names, but act completely differently, or survive on the tv show and are killed in the books, etc etc. This is not a loyal adaptation.

The books, written by Charlaine Harris, are not Serious Literature. They're quick, entertaining reads, about 300 pages each. It's an interesting premise Harris has built on: a telepathic waitress, Sookie, connects with vampires because she can't read their minds. Vampires have "come out" to all of humankind; there are other "supes" (supernatural beings) that are still "underground". Many parallels can be drawn to the vampires' "coming out" to the actual, real-life coming out of LGBT people in America, and to general xenophobia and the desire for isolationism from anything deemed Other.

I don't know if I'd actually classify the books as mysteries, but things go bump in the night, people die, and Sookie is usually at least partly involved in figuring everything out.

Sookie manages to get involved in everything: vampire politics, werewolf leader brawls, fairydom. To some extent, it's kind of ludicrous how she attracts the attention of everyone who's not a "normal human." It's along the lines of Bella in the Twilight books insisting she's not attractive, but all the boys in her high school (including a 100+ -year-old vampire, zomg) hit on her. Eyeroll.

What I enjoy most about Sookie, I think, is that she seems very realistic. Frequently, she has moments of confusion and conflict about how her life is progressing, and being changed, through her interactions with vampires and other "supes." Can she consider herself to be Christian if she's killed people? Should she use her power to read people's minds to help the vampires (who might use the information to punish a human)?

I recommend the series for anyone who enjoys supernatural quasi-mystery stories. I've now read ten of the novels in the series; the eleventh was just released. There are also miscellaneous short stories which I haven't read. Some of the short stories present details or plot points for the novels, and I got through about a third of the sixth book, thinking I had forgotten a major plot point of the previous book, before I looked it up and came across the existence of the short stories. But I got through the series fine without the short stories.

Ratings: 4 out of 5 (I really liked them)

19 May 2011

Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy

I finally read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire last June, in rapid succession. I immediately put my name on the library's list for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and when my two weeks rolled around, I devoured that as well. I'm sad that that's all we're going to get--Larsson had only completed the first three of his books before his death. I would love to spend more time with Lisbeth

The books are intriguing, and I love the random facts or quotes that start the sections. The writing is fast-paced, and even though the books are a not-insubstantial length, I read them quickly because I was so enthralled. The plots are fantastic--a teenage girl who goes missing from an island? Corporate corruption? Sex trafficking?--and there were instances when I wish we had been given greater explanation or backstory into a plot element. What really happened with Wennerstrom?

Lisbeth is a fascinating character. She's disturbed, has her own sense of morality, and is unforgiving. She's had a horrible childhood and early adulthood--the main part of the books--but she's resilient. I think Lisbeth is a great example of an antihero; sometimes you don't entirely want to condone her methods, but you definitely root for her.

Michael Blomkvist is...not my favorite. He sleeps with everyone. Not that I have a problem with that--or with the Berger/Blomkvist relationship--but does he need to sleep with every. single. person. in order for him to be an interesting guy? Apparently. He also comes across as kind of self-absorbed, abandoning his responsibilities to go off "Blomkvisting," as Christer Malm puts, it with little advance notice. But that's okay, he's a sex-on-a-stick superspecial journalist. I definitely got the idea that Blomkvist was more than a bit of a "author insert" aka "author avatar." He's who Larsson would be if he were cooler, or so it comes across.

I think I would've enjoyed the books more if Erika Berger were more involved. I loooved the drama surrounding her in the third book. She's absolutely fascinating, and as a woman looking to work in the media--not journalism, no, but still media--I really related to her and was rooting for her. She has a definite sense of ethical behavior, of morality, but she's willing, reluctantly, to allow Blomkvist to bend the rules in order to get details for a story that would help the greater good.

I read this article from the Huffington Post a while back, and I wanted to share it. The author, Tom Matlack, explains that the Millennium Trilogy should be used as a jumping-off point for a discussion on domestic violence and rape. I agree: at this point, the series has been read by an overwhelming number of people, but I haven't come across much that addresses one of the, if not the, main issues of the books.

His conclusion is particularly compelling:
Larsson gives his readers a window on sadistic rape, and yet we really don't want to make the association with reality. [...] But ignoring the problem won't make it go away -- by choosing to remain voyeurs, we are, in effect, making the world safer for violent predators. Sexual abuse is rampant and the real victims don't have Lisbeth Salander's ability to fight back. They are depending on the rest of us to do the right thing, by stamping out a culture of abuse and holding perpetrators accountable. "Social change will happen," Wolfe points out, "when more people stop choosing the route of saying nothing and acting like it's not happening."

In summation: read the books, they're good, but don't be afraid to discuss the underlying themes. And I'm off my soapbox (for this week).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at Amazon
The Girl Who Played with Fire at Amazon
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest at Amazon
My Problem with 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' by Tom Matlack

08 May 2011

The Thorn Birds

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is one of those books that gets mentioned (often in online discussions of completely unrelated things) what I feel is quite frequently for a (to me) random novel. I don't know why the book was mentioned so much, but it seemed that many of the discussers enjoyed reading it, and I decided to give it a go.

The plot follows the life of Meggie Cleary, from when she is a young girl in New Zealand in the early 1900s who moves with her family to a sheep station, called Drogheda, in Australia, to when she is an old woman. Meggie is the only daughter of a large Irish-Australian family, and is quite pretty. She is proud, aloof, and naive. Fiona Cleary, the mother is not affectionate, at least outwardly, toward her children. Meggie, as a result, uses two men in her life to meet her affection needs: she adores her oldest brother, Frank, and confides in him, but when Frank leaves the family, Meggie shifts her affections to the new area priest, Ralph de Bricassart. This relationship as Meggie grows from a young girl to a woman is a (the?) main focus of the novel.

Ralph de Bricassart, the other main character of the novel, is a Catholic priest who is ambitious but flawed. He hopes to move up the hierarchy of the Church, but is continually drawn to Meggie and Drogheda. To me, Ralph's turmoil is an interesting theme throughout the book--much more interesting than Meggie herself.

Quite often in the novel, I found myself having uncharitable thoughts toward Meggie--I frequently found her impetuous and childish--but I almost think that's a requirement for the heroines in some of these epic stories.

A few of the minor characters are also intriguing. Meggie's aunt, Mary Carson, who owns Drogheda, is completely ridiculous and manipulative, seeing Meggie as competition for Ralph's affections. Mary's jealousy creates a situation with major consequences for Ralph. Fiona, Meggie's mother, is genteel and obsessed with her parlor furniture even in the dusty outback; she is also somewhat cold, or at least not openly loving, toward the majority of her children. Fiona's past is a fascinating subplot of the story.

In summary: very entertaining, soapy, epic-romance-y read. Forbidden love! Church politics! Australian outback! Worth it if you enjoy this type of novel; otherwise, not entirely noteworthy.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (It was okay)