November 1st, 2010


# 67 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson

Journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by wealthy industrialist/financier, Henrik Vanger, to investigate the disappearance of his great-neice, Harriet Vanger, who suddenly went missing without a trace 40 years previously.

The police were unable to find Harriet, and Vanger has been obsessed with finding out what happened to her ever since.

Blomqvist eventually teams up with Lisbeth Salander, a surly, intensely private young woman with tattoos, piercings, a chip on her shoulder the size of a boulder, an unusual way of looking at things, and a genius for ferreting out information and hacking into computers.

This book has been an international phenomenon, and I can see why! It starts off a little slow, but picks up so quickly that before you know it, you're blazing along at Mach ll.

The characters are incredible as well - especially that of Lisbeth Salander, who, IMO, is one of the few truly unique characters in literature - an archetype comperable to Dickens' Uriah Heep. (Not that I'm suggesting that she is a villian.)

I generally choose books based primarily on a summary or synopsis of the story. For a long time I ignored this book, in spite of all the hype, because a summary just does not do it justice. I'm so very glad that I finally jumped on the bandwagon! The hype is very well-deserved.

I've already reserved the next book in the trilogy from the library.


# 68 A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet

Arthur Conan Doyle

Leave it to Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery of two Americans who are travelling together through Europe, and are found dead in separate, but related incidents.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part introduces Holems, his extaordinary intellect and powers of deductive reasoning, and the case of the two dead Americans.

The second part shifts to the back story of the dead men, set in the American West amid the founding of Salt Lake City by the mormons, and is actually quite gothic in tone.

The third and briefest part unites the first two parts in neatly packaged conclusion.

I enjoyed this very much, but I was glad that it was a short, quick read.

El Corazon

226. A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War
by Dennis Lehane

Started: October 27, 2010
Finished: November 1, 2010

When I read Lehane's Prayers For Rain a while back, I didn't realize it was part of a series of detective novels at first. It held up well enough on its own. This novel, the first in the Patrick Kenzie series and Lehane's first novel period, also works well as a stand-alone novel. The actual story is pretty strong, the characters--both good and bad--are well-drawn. I did find many of the contemporary cultural references to be a bit clumsy and as a whole the novel was a bit preachy about race relations, focusing too much on telling what was wrong instead of showing. But overall, I really enjoyed this read. 267 pages. Grade: B+
Total # of Books Read in 2010: 226
Total # of Pages Read in 2010: 56,569


That's what makes James McCommons's Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, A Year Spent Riding Across America such a compelling read, and, now that the summer Trip Report has been filed, material for Book Review No. 26. Part ethnography, part policy advocacy, part business reporting, Waiting on a Train exposes readers to the Springer show that often plays out in the coaches; to the perspectives freight railroaders have about a passenger train, often with unreliable equipment, gumming up their transportation machinery; to the differing visions of successive Amtrak managements; and to the sometimes wishful thinking of state and national transportation planners.

Collapse )(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books #55-64

55) Weapons of Choice by John Birmingham (Science Fiction/Alternate History, 384 pages)
The premise of this book is simple: What if a contingent of 21st century naval ships get sucked through time and land back in the middle of World War 2? If that makes you intrigued, you should read this book.
There are a lot of characters thrown at you, both fictional and historical, and it's hard to keep them straight. But Birmingham focuses his attention on a select few to keep the reader interested and the story moving along. I did feel that the parts focusing on the Axis players were weaker, characterization wise, but that is because they were not sympathetic characters to begin with. Also, the first 100 pages or so was a string of gratuitous violence I could have done without.
It was really interesting to see how both the future and the past characters interact and clash, given technological, cultural, and ideological differences.
Highly recommended for military history, alternate history, or WW2 junkies. 3.5/5

56) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (YA Dystopian/Audiobook)
I listened to the bulk of this in one massive 15 hour car ride between DC and FL. It was exactly what I needed while I was driving at 2 AM on very little sleep. The narrator was fabulous, the plot kept me very engaged, and I really wanted to know what happened next. 4.5/5

57) Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Young Adult/Audiobook)
Honestly, this would have probably been a 3/5 except the narrator was bloody brilliant! This was a coming of age story, with a twist, in which the themes of identity (whether culture, self-image, external/internal) and community (familial, cultural, societal) are explored in a number of different ways. I enjoyed seeing how Amal grew but at times, the story seemed heavy-handed. The audio-recording was top-notch, and Rebecca Macauley did a fantastic job giving everybody their own unique voice (and accent, tone, timbre...). She really brought the story to life for me. 3.5/5

58) The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (YA Fantasy, 384 pages)
Another audiobook to keep me company on my 15+ hour (each way) drive to/from FL. I switched to reading the text version since I can only really stand audiobooks while driving long distances. Purists may hate this but I really like revisioning of old, familiar tales. While the writing was a bit simplistic at times, I got sucked into the story and really appreciated the imagination behind Beddor's Wonderland. 4/5

59) Designated Targets by John Birmingham (Science Fiction/Alternate History, 384 pages)
This is the second book in Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy. I didn't like this as much as the first book - too much went on in too many different locations to really get more than a fleeting sense of the situation before the reader was whooshed off somewhere else. I would have liked a bit more of the cultural/social ramifications of the Transition, as well as more of the personal moments between the future-types meeting and interacting with their family.
Still, a good read. I have to respect Birmingham not pulling any punches, and showing he isn't afraid to kill off characters. 3/5

60) Final Impact by John Birmingham (Science Fiction/Alternate History, 368 pages)
Everything that I was weak in the 2nd book was magnified in this book. Too many things going on in too many different places, with confusing jumps in timeline. I felt the characterization was weaker than the other two books, in part because of all the action Birmingham tried to get through. I got the sense that for the author, the characters were not people in their own rights but plot points to hinge the story on -- a very weak writing tool that leaves me feeling ultimately very unsatisfied.

One thing I *did* like was the ending, oddly, as many had complained about the multiple loose ends. I thought that it was very indicative of the journey and the role of the characters - they were pulled out of their own time in which they had been fighting a war that has gone on for 20 years, with no end in sight. They landed in the middle of another war, and even at its end, their job was still not done.

Overall, I'm glad I read this series. It was a very unique premise that could have been done better, but still told an adequate story. I think the series could have been much stronger if it had been three books longer. There were things that happened off-screen in-between books that really should have been explored in the prose, and many events that would have had a more meaningful impact if they had been fleshed out more. 3/5

61) Naked Heat by Richard Castle (Mystery/Media Tie-In, 288 pages)
Half of the enjoyment I get from this book is the sheer tongue-in-cheek nature of the entire thing. It's not high literature, but it's pretty darn fun.
The Castle creative team really do know their audience. The creation of a real Nikki Heat series is genius. And the subtle fan service in the books is awesome! (Did anyone spot the cop duo named Malcolm and Reynolds? Love it!) 4/5

62) Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley (General Fiction/Humor, 285 pages)
It's funny because it's true. Underneath the layers of absurdities are kernels (sometimes rather large ones) of truth. Buckley satirizes not only the Supreme Court, but inside-the-Beltway politics, Congress, reality television, public opinion, the media cycle, and the entire legal system at large. I loved every minute of it. 4/5

63) Blameless by Gail Carriger (Fantasy/Steampunk, 355 pages)
Gah. I want the next one NOW. This series just keeps improving. All the charm, wit, and supernatural shenanigans from the first two books are back and better than ever. And there were some very interesting developments on the Home Front that will be absolutely delicious when explored out later. Is it July yet? 4/5

64) Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Science Fiction, 345)
Miles is back.
I cried for about ten minutes, for the last few pages and for a bit after I finished the book, reading through tears. The entire book focused on the themes of life and death, and the necessity of death as the affirmation of life. Lois masterfully orchestrated a very complex mystery plot in which Miles untangled the various strands with his usual forward momentum way, upsetting and dragging along everyone he encounters into his wake.
I knew what was coming; I had heard Lois say as much at a con a few years back, but I kept hoping, praying... but no.
Brilliantly done. 5/5