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Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson

Published: 2008

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Rating: 4 of 5

Much has been written about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, especially now that it is available in paperback and the follow-up book, The Girl Who Played with Fire has been released.  I’ll keep my synopsis short and sweet:  This book follows Mikael Blomkvist, a magazine editor, and Lisbeth Salander, a rough-around-the-edges private investigator, as they dig into a decades-old missing woman mystery and a corporate fraud scheme.

My mother-in-law first mentioned this book to me months ago.  I added the title to my list and then promptly forgot about it.  Soon though, I started seeing the book everywhere – in blog posts, on bestseller lists, in articles anticipating Fire‘s release.  I bumped it to the top of my list and waited in a (long) line to get a copy from my library.

I now understand the buzz.  This book was pure page-turning entertainment – I felt physical pain whenever I had to set it down to do annoying things like eat, shower, and go to work.  Fortunately, it was also a fast read, so I was able to speed through it and return to normal life fairly quickly.

Set in Sweden, Dragon Tattoo introduced me to an area of the world I’ve never visited before in books.  One of my dearest friends grew up in Sweden and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the country (particularly the interesting food) while comparing it to the things she has shared about her childhood.  This book was certainly not a travelogue, but the occasional descriptions of the countryside and the small towns in which it was set made me want to make Sweden my next vacation destination.

In fact, this book was an absolute thriller, with some mystery thrown in for good measure.  I didn’t know much about the book when I started reading (having scrupulously avoided reviews to avoid spoilers), but the translated Swedish title should have tipped me off:  Men Who Hate Women.  Normally, I don’t do well with books containing lots of violence or brutality, especially against women.  To be honest, there were parts that were difficult for me to read (or even skim) due to the graphic descriptions.  But I was so gripped by the plot that I was able to push through those sections and still enjoy the book.

If you haven’t read this one yet, I would definitely recommend it with one caveat:  Please start it early in a weekend.  I’d hate for you to have to use a sick day at work so you can stay home to finish it!  Myself, I’m looking forward to reading Fire.  While I’m waiting in my second library line to get it (139 people long!), I’ll keep myself occupied by deciding where to put the Dragon Tattoo tattoo that I won from Books on the Nightstand!

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:

1 More Chapter – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

All About {n} – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Book Lady’s Blog – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Books on the Nightstand – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — what are you waiting for?

Literary License –The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (a review)

The Literate Housewife Review – #186 ~ The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Old Musty Books – Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

S. Krishna’s Books – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie

Published: 2007

Genre: Young Adult

Rating: 4 of 5

After some prompting from a teacher, Arnold Spirit, Jr. decides to leave his reservation’s high school and enroll in the neighboring community’s all-white high school.  All he really wanted was a better education, but what he gets is a sense of living in two worlds while belonging to none.  His fellow Native Americans, including his best and only friend, view his transfer as a rejection and betrayal.  His new white classmates are racist and largely ignore him.  Through it all, Junior illustrates his account of the school year with hilarious cartoons and a candid narrative.

When I read Rebecca’s review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on her blog, The Book Lady’s Blog, I immediately added it to my ever-growing list.  It sounded edgy, interesting, and unlike anything I’ve read recently.  I wasn’t disappointed!

Despite the misleadingly long title, Sherman Alexie’s writing is tight, concise, and perfectly balanced in youthfulness and emotion.  As a narrator, Junior was funny and endearing.  I laughed aloud multiple times, particularly at his wry, self-deprecating asides.  This book really did read like the journal of an intelligent teenager who is just trying to figure out where he fits in the world.

It feels almost strange to write about how funny I found this book given how sad it was.  Several members of Junior’s family are serious alcoholics and their resulting poverty is heartrending.  There are times when Junior is forced to walk and hitchhike the twenty-some miles to and from school because his family doesn’t have money for gas.  During the darkest part of the book, several terrible tragedies hit Junior’s family.  Racism – by both the whites and the Native Americans – controls many of the characters and Junior bears the brunt of much hate.

There is no sugarcoating in this book.  It is painfully honest and has even managed to land itself on some banned books lists (check out Rebecca’s post for the excerpt that is primarily responsible for this honor).  But the good-natured attitude and wry commentary that accompanies all the bluntness makes it an insightful and worthwhile read.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:

The Book Lady’s Blog – Book Chat: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Fizzy Thoughts – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Jessecreation’s Weblog – STD Conferences and YA Lit

New York Times – Off the Rez

Underage Reading – Book vs. Book: Battle of the kids battling racist humiliation and not quite winning

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Zorro

Title: Zorro (audiobook)

Author: Isabel Allende

Published: 2005

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4 of 5

Isabel Allende’s Zorro could have been titled The Making of Zorro.  Rather than repeating the already-legendary exploits of Zorro, Allende tells the creative and captivating story of how Diego de la Vega became the Zorro we recognize from TV, movies, and books.

The story begins before Diego’s birth in Spanish California and travels to Spain, the Caribbean, and New Orleans as Diego grows and develops his swordsmanship and sense of right and wrong.  Until this book, my exposure to the Zorro legend was limited to the Antonio Banderas films.  Even with that limited background, I was able to see how carefully Allende crafted Diego’s childhood to draw direct links to already-established aspects of his adult career.

This was a very plot-driven book, with adventures and challenges moving the characters and story along.  There is something here for everyone – pirates, warfare, religious conflict, damsels in distress, prison breaks, high seas adventures, disguises, duels, gypsies, and even Napoleon.  It sounds frenetic – and maybe it was – but it kept my full attention through the very last word.

Diego’s development as a champion for social justice raised some interesting themes along the way, but Allende kept even those topics quite light.  I would definitely recommend this as a fun and attention-grabbing book.

I would also recommend the audiobook, especially for a road trip.  A good portion of the book revolves around Diego’s travels, so it would be a perfect compliment to a long car ride.  The narrator, Blair Brown, is one of my favorites and she did an excellent job with this novel.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about Zorro:

Blogcritics – Book Review: Isabel Allende’s Zorro

Brie – Isabelle Allende’s El Zorro: A Book Review

The Guardian – Behind the Mask

The Independent – Zorro: the Novel, by Isabel Allende, trans Margaret Sayers Peden

MostlyFiction Book Reviews – “Zorro”

NPR – Zorro Comes to Life in Allende’s Latest

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The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Published: 2005

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Rating: 5 of 5 (re-read)

The Book Thief is, hands down, one of my favorite reads.  Ever.  I have been a Book Thief evangelist for the past year, trying to tell everyone I know that they must drop everything and go read it immediately.  Either my book club took pity on me or my sales tactics are improving, because they chose it as our July book.

I imagine most people have already at least seen this book around – for goodness sake, there was a full-page New York Times ad for it several months ago.  I won’t give a full synopsis here, but suffice it to say:

It’s just a small story really, about among other things:

A girl

Some words

An accordionist

Some fanatical Germans

A Jewish fist fighter

And quite a lot of thievery.

All the women in the book group really enjoyed this book.  Each person admitted to crying (many to sobbing), and all had much to say about the book and its characters, themes, messages, and narrator (Death was very popular amongst us).  It was an excellent discussion – if you are looking for your next book club pick, we highly recommend this one!

To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to give too many specifics about what we discussed.  I will note that we launched into a very interesting side conversation about how culpable the German citizens were for the horror done in their own backyard.  Things got slightly heated over this issue, with some people wondering if living in post-World War I Germany was like being an unsuspecting lobster in slowly heating water.  Others argued that enough people knew what was happening early enough to put a stop to things.  Obviously, this is a question that will never be satisfactorily answered.  Along those lines, though, when asked if Hans Hubermann and the other characters were culpable, people were a lot less willing to answer affirmatively.

Perhaps Markus Zusak was so successful with this book because he was able to place the recognizable face of humanity into a truly heinous period in our history.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Book Thief:

5 Minutes for Books – The Book Thief

At Home with Books – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Review

The Book Lady’s Blog – The Book Lady and The Book Thief

Devourer of Books – The Book Thief – Book Review

Fizzy Thoughts – Days of Remembrance and The Book Thief

The New York Times – Stealing to Settle a Score with Life

Out of the Blue – Book Review: The Book Thief

Rhapsody in Books – Sunday Salon – Review of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

USA Today – ‘The Book Thief’ rises above horrors of war

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Drood

Title: Drood

Author: Dan Simmons

Published: 2009

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Rating: 2 of 5

I feel I should begin this post with a caveat.  Anyone who knows my reading habits well knows that I am a very serious Charles Dickens fan.  As far as I’m concerned, he is the standard to which all other authors are compared.  One of my best days while studying in London was the day I visited his house (now a museum) and spent the afternoon gaping at his belongings.  So.  Take this under advisement when considering my thoughts about Drood.

Several months ago, I read an article about two new books that attempted to address the many lingering questions behind Dickens’ unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Intrigued, I decided to re-read The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then read the new books to see how they did in solving the real mystery of Edwin Drood.

Drood is narrated by Wilkie Collins (of The Woman in White fame), Dickens’ crony and relative by marriage.  At its core, Drood is a historical thriller set in the last five years of Dickens’ life.  Collins reveals the mysterious character of Drood who haunts Dickens and influences his personal and career decisions.  Full of jealousy and opium, slums and literature, it becomes a wild ride through London’s forgotten tunnels and a bizarre, occultish underworld.

I rated the first book, The Last Dickens, a 1.5 of 5 because the story was thin and the writing needed some serious editing help.  I’m giving Drood slightly more, only because the writing was actually quite well done.  The story and the characters, however, made me want to abandon the book about 300 pages into the tome.  (Yes, tome.  This book was 777 pages long – about 400 pages too many.)

This book should have been titled ‘Collins,’ because it was almost entirely about him, his struggles with opium addiction, and his own growing obsession with Drood and Dickens.  Dickens himself flits in and out of the story and Drood…  Well, Drood becomes a primary character in several occult-centered scenes that I found deeply disturbing and overly done.  I could go on about everything I disliked about this book, but I’ll keep this short:

It was unnecessarily long.  The story repeatedly started and sputtered out for the first 400 pages.  Many of the plot elements were contrived and ridiculous to the point of outright laughter.  And most importantly – the ending, which was the sole chance the book had at redeeming itself, was so dissatisfying that I slammed my book shut in anger.

I imagine that fans of the thriller genre would really enjoy this book.  And people who have less emotional attachment might not feel as cheated as I did by this book.  But for me, I still consider the mystery of Edwin Drood to be fixedly unsolved.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about Drood:

Allison’s Attic – “DROOD” on the Early Bird Blog Tour

Blacklin’s Reading Room Reviews & More – My Dear Wilkie

Book Chatter and Other Stuff – Review: Drood

Booking Mama – Review: DROOD & Giveaway (includes a clip of Simmons reading from the book)

Bookish Ruth – Book Review: Drood by Dan Simmons

Bookpage – Simmons imagines the spark behind Dickens’ unfinished work

Book Reviews by Bobbie – Book Review of ‘Drood: A Novel (ARC)’

A Bookworm’s World – Drood – Dan Simmons

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore – Review: Drood, by Dan Simmons

Heidenkind’s Hideaway – Drood

The Independent – Drood, by Dan Simmons & The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl

Jenn’s Bookshelf – Review, Giveaway & Blog Tour-Drood, by Dan Simmons

LA Times – ‘Drood’ by Dan Simmons and ‘The Last Dickens’ by Matthew Pearl

My Friend Amy – Blog Tour: Drood by Dan Simmons and a Giveaway! (complete with a personal sketch from Simmons himself)

Old Musty Books – Dan Simmons: Drood A Novel

Perry Web – Drood

The Tome Traveller’s Weblog – Review AND Giveaway: Drood by Dan Simmons

The Washington Post – A Long-Winded Rival to Dickens

We Be Reading – Early Review: Drood

Write for a Reader – Review: Drood

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The 13 Clocks

Title: The 13 Clocks

Author: James Thurber

Published: 1950

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 3 of 5

The 13 Clocks is a fairy tale-like story about an evil and cold Duke, his captive and beautiful niece-Princess, and the mysterious stranger who seeks to marry her.  To free the Princess, the stranger must complete an impossible task in an impossible amount of time.

I became aware of this book through an NPR story about the reprinting of this classic children’s tale.  Intrigued by Neil Gaiman’s forward claiming it to be “probably the best book in the world,” I picked it up at my library.

Though I wouldn’t go as far as Gaiman’s claim, I can say that this book was entertaining.  It was a very fast and quirky read, full of jabs at fairy tale cliches and clever word usage.  I read an older edition of the book and found that its whimsical illustrations added to my enjoyment of the story.  I can understand how this book was likely a progenitor to many of the modern fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed.  Maybe part of its charm lies in its concise simplicity, but ultimately, it wasn’t long enough or interesting enough to bring me under its spell.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The 13 Clocks:

Eyrie – The 13 Clocks

LA Times – Thurber’s world of wonders

The New York Review of Books – The 13 Clocks

NPR – Beloved Children’s Book ‘Thirteen Clocks’ is Back

Things Mean a Lot – The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Title: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Published: 1998

Genre: Mystery, Fiction

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Using her inheritance, Mma Precious Ramotswe established the only female-owned detective agency in Botswana – the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  Business is initially slow, but soon she has a nice flow of cases to which she applies her critical thinking and memory skills.  In this first novel in the series, Mma Ramotswe tackles various mysteries including missing husbands, suspicious lawsuits, and a kidnapping.

It felt like I was seeing books from this series all over the place, so when I noticed the first one on my mom’s bookshelf, I quickly borrowed it.  I was expecting a true mystery novel and was surprised to find something more like a collection of loosely connected mini-mysteries.  In addition, I was expecting a rather fluffy read, but found that this author was not afraid to tackle some heavier issues including spousal abuse, death, and witchcraft.

My mom told me I would love Mma Ramotswe and how right she was.  Precious was spunky, funny, and strong – characteristics I love in a female protagonist!  I laughed aloud multiple times in the book, and even shoved the following hysterical passage into my husband’s hands:

Now constipation was quite a different matter.  It would be dreadful for the whole world to know about troubles of that nature.  She felt terribly sorry for people who suffered from constipation, and she knew that there were many who did.  There were probably enough of them to form a political party – with a chance of government perhaps – but what would such a party do if it was in power?  Nothing, she imagined.  It would try to pass legislation, but would fail.

Get it?  Try to pass?  Oh, it just kills me!  Please don’t misunderstand though – Mma Ramotswe’s wry perspectives do extend beyond potty humor.  In fact, everything and everyone she encounters is subjected to her unique and entertaining observations.

While I certainly enjoyed this read and would recommend it as a nice alternative to the summery chick lit that is starting to pop up around the pool, I don’t feel invested enough to seek out the second book of the series.  I may pick it up eventually, but I think one installment of Mma Ramotswe’s matter-of-factness will keep me satisfied for awhile.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency:

Book Club Girl – Literary Adaptation Smackdown on TV Tonight (shows the trailer for HBO’s TV series based on the book series – makes me want to sign up for HBO!)

Bart’s Bookshelf – No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency ~ Alexander McCall Smith

Grasping for the Wind – Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

The Guardian – No 1 Ladies’ Detective writes a cookbook (a soon-to-be published cookbook will feature Mma Ramotswe’s favorite dishes and proceeds will go to ‘good causes’ in Botswana)

Maw Books Blog – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Rat’s Reading – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency / Alexander McCall Smith

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