Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

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

Hmmm. This was a mixed bag. The set up to this mystery did not draw me in at all, and I had to struggle--tried to read it a couple of times, and finally resorted to audio. I do not usually bother but I did in this case because there was so much hype on this title. The problem is the writing, I'm afraid, though it did occur to me that perhaps it was the translation. The second book in the series, The Girl who Played with Fire, was so much more fluent that I still wonder how the first could have gotten past the editors.

Larsson develops some unusual and interesting characters, though [strike me dead if I lie] Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and ostensibly the main character despite the "Girl" of the title, is way too good to live. He's the greatest lover who ever lived, can talk a snail out of her shell, and has no known faults.

The book only begins to pull its own weight after 150 pages, but the mystery itself still suffers from hydra-headedness. The first mystery, so dry and hard to understand in the set-up is dropped in favor of an even less plausible one. I am a generous sort, however, and am willing to suspend disbelief. It's undoubtedly a good thing not all of us are technowizards so we can take the author's word on computer theft and what is possible. So, okay, we've worked up a head of steam on this search for a missing person, and Lo! [again, beat me livid if I lie] we get pages of really despicable descriptions of violence against women. Very descriptive, very grotesque, very unnecessary.

So okay, after that has us wondering if we really needed to read this, Larsson goes back to his orginal mystery, which is financial reporting and economic theft. Hmmm. Don't let the this book stop you from enjoying the second in the series, however. There is violence in The Girl who Played with Fire, but mercifully, it is directed at a bad man, and doesn't seem nearly as horrid as what we were treated to in Dragon Tattoo.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ratio: The Simple Codes behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman

This is the coolest book for cooks. I've needed this so many times in my life. I simply find it oppressive to race out to the store every time I am missing something in a recipe, so I have often just wanted to know what the ratios are--what is absolutely necessary for something to be defined as "cake" as opposed to "bread" for instance--so that I can create. And here it is. I'm so glad.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley

A Carrion Death

Michael Stanley is actually two authors. It must be a wonderful experience--wonderfully difficult, wonderfully rewarding--to work so closely with someone as on a work of fiction. A Carrion Death is the first of their attempts and they succeed, if not unequivocably.

The mysteries are set in Botswana, and I am infinitely grateful that listening to Lisette Lecat read Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series has allowed the unusual city names to roll off my tongue like a native. Molepolole, Mochudi, Gabarone seem familiar to me now, but I'm glad the authors included the map in the front of the book.

I adore mystery series where the deaths are not gruesome and the investigators are civilized. A little bit of moral ambiguity, a few philosophical dilemmas, a human fraility or two, and voila! I am entranced. But I did feel a formula at work here. It felt workmanlike. I look forward to the second in the series to see if the authors managed to set themselves free.

The Mochudi Radio interview done with the main character of A Carrion Death, Assistant Superintendant David "Kubu" Bengu, however, tells us what they think of Michael Stanley in Botswana, my faint criticisms aside. Detective Kubu

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)

What a roller-coaster ride this turned out to be. From the first pages of this second title in a 3-part series, I found myself insatiably curious about the motivations of these distinctive characters. If you met Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you will know what I mean by distinctive. Come to think of it, if you have read anything by Natsuo Kirino (Out, Real World), you probably know edgy comes in many shades and many nationalities. This one is special.

The book may be less about the "girl" than about a man--the reporter, Mikael Blomkvist. The story is distinctly from a man's point of view, though point of view shifts several times in the telling. The girl of the title appears to be a deeply dysfunctional social misfit who manages to instill an awed respect and fierce loyalty in many who work (or sleep) with her. Larsson may strong-arm the reader into caring for Lisbeth through his characters' voices--she makes no attempt to charm us. In the end, we do care about her, somehow, our sensibilities bruised, manipulated, satisfied. A model for Lisbeth is suggested in the translator's blog: Possible model?

Blood Safari by Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer mysteries are a special treat. The women are strong, the men sexy, the land distinctive. Meyer's latest title, Blood Safari, is especially fascinating for defining at least two sides to the wildlife crisis in the parks areas of southern Africa up through Kenya. His website shows photos of some places he describes in the book, and they are truly magical, places like none others. Photo Gallery

There is always something untamed about a Meyer book...his characters are sometimes barely in control of themselves, their emotions, their physicality. They are real, immediate. I think we identify with their frustration at the evil in people, and wish we could be as edgy. While I have enjoyed all of Meyer's books, I especially enjoyed Heart of the Hunter, one of his first.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing by John Gierach

Sex, Death and Fly Fishing

I can't decide whether this man is a better writer than he is fisherman. How can I know? Fisherman are known to lie--nay, say exaggerate--but it sounds as though his catch-and-release has allowed him years of fishing pleasure, pain, and travail as is only right for one who writes of it. I adore his crotchety voice, his clear descriptions of locales we outsiders will never see, had we the time and the hand-tyed flies.

The laconic tales of grown men who spend their time (and not just vacations and weekends!) catching fish, only to release them again, somehow makes the absurdity of our modern life more bearable. The effort lavished on the deceit by the artful tying of a fly that matches a molt that occurs only once a season must describe the craziest hobbyist or the most righteous artist at his task. This kind of passion enriches his life, and ours, too.