Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Translated by Reg Keeland. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: Sweden festival of Trastock occurs in July.

Mikael Blomkrist put his tail between his legs when he lost a libel suit brought against him by multimillionaire Hans-Erik Wennestrom. Unlike the United States where if you are convicted of a crime you immediately start serving your sentence, in Sweden Blomkrist is allowed to travel to the coastal town of Hedestad to help an old man solve the case of his missing niece under the guise of writing Henrik Vanger’s storied biography. Beware, it’s a huge family tree so study it well.
Meanwhile, back in Stockholm Croatian born Dragan Armansky, financial director, CEO and COO of Milton Security, and expert in financial fraud is investigating Blomkrist. He knows there is more to the story than what was exposed in court. How can a top notch journalist screw up so badly? He puts his best researcher on the case. If anyone can dig up the dirt it’s Lisbeth Sander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. Known only as Wasp in certain circles, Lisbeth could pass for a child if it weren’t for a bunch of punk face piercings, a really bad attitude, and a steel trap memory.
It goes without saying Sander and Blomkrist team up. Together, they uncover corporate corruption and a horror that runs far deeper than the mystery of a missing niece.

Confessional: when I stand over a tombstone, the first thing I do after reading the deceased’s name is to do the math to figure out how old they were when they died. Is that horrible of me? In the beginning of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo there is a family tree. I was surprised to see at least four people died at a young age and immediately knew that would be part of the mystery.

Author fact: Larsson died in 2004 after delivering the manuscripts for his “Girl with…” series.

Book trivia: I think everyone knows The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was made into a movie. I also think everyone has seen it but me.

Nancy said: Pearl called Girl with the Dragon Tattoo an immediate best seller.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the odd chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 222).


June Travels

Of course I am not really traveling anywhere, but for the first time in a couple of months I have (finally) gotten back to reading. and. And! And, I did drive a car for the first time since 3/19/20. There’s that. In truth, I have been reading all along, just not with the pleasure and leisure I used to have. All of that is slowly coming back, in part due to the realization it’s okay to disappear into the pages from time to time. It is okay to read with no other agenda. I have started to think of the books as different forms of travel. Without further ado, here are the books for June:

Fiction:

  • The Second Summer of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Places I’ll go: Washington, D.C. & Alabama.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Places: Pennsylvania & something like heaven.
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Places: around Sweden.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Places: Barcelona, Spain and thensome.
  • Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Places: My back yard of Western Massachusetts and Honduras.
  • Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell. Place: Cofu, Greece.

Nonfiction:

  • Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro. Places: all around New England

July Mistakes

So. I never posted what I hoped to accomplish reading for July. Whoops and whoops. To tell you the truth, I got busy with other things. What other things I couldn’t tell you. It’s not the thing keeping me up at night. Besides, if I’m truly honest no one reads this blather anyway. In my mind the “you” that I address is really me, myself and moi; our own whacked out sense of conformity. Let’s face it, my reviews are as uninspiring as dry toast carelessly dropped in sand. It’s obvious something needs to change. I just haven’t figured out what that something is or what the much needed change looks like. Not yet at least. I need a who, where, what, why, and how analysis to shake off the same as it ever was. It’ll come to me eventually.
But, enough of that and that and that. Here’s what July looked like for books and why:

Fiction:

  • Killing Floor by Lee Child – in honor of New York becoming a state in July (Child lives in New York).
  • Alligator by Lisa Moore – in honor of Orangemen Day in Newfoundland.
  • Forrest Gump by winston Groom – on honor of the movie of the same name being released in the month of July.
  • Aunt Julia and the Script Writer by Mario Vargas Llosa – in honor of July being the busiest month to visit Peru.
  • Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch – in honor of Murdoch’s birth month.
  • Blood Safari by Leon Meyer – in honor of Meyer’s birth month.
  • By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept by Paulo Coelho – in honor of July being Summer Fling Month.

Series continuation:

  • Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Yes, I am behind.
  • Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson.
  • Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Confessional. Even though there are two more books in the Barsetshire Chronicles I am putting Trollope back on the shelf for a little while. The stories are not interconnected and I am getting bored.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm. I only started this. It will be finished in August.

What startles me as I type this list is I didn’t finish any nonfiction in July. I started the Holocaust memoir but haven’t finished it yet. No nonfiction. Huh.


Blood Spilt

Larsson, Asa. Blood Spilt. Translated by Marlaine Delargy. New York: Viking, 2004.

Reason read: to continue the series started in June in honor of Larsson’s birth month.

Rebecka Martinsson returns after killing three people in The Sun Storm. That seems pretty incredible when you consider Rebecka is a tax lawyer. But, she had a good reason. (In other words, read the book.) When we catch up with Martinsson in The Blood Spilt she has been on sick leave and struggling with post traumatic stress.
Police woman Anna-Maria Mella and her partner, Inspector Sven-Erik Stalnacke are also back in Blood Spilt. They are dealing with the murder of Mildred Nilsson, a controversial and strongly disliked and equally liked priest who was found murdered. To catch you up on Anna-Maria, she was pregnant during Sun Storm and is now on maternity leave a year and a half later after giving birth to her son, Gustav.
Back to the plot.
Anna – Maria and Sven-Erik have their work cut out for them. Any number of people could have killed Mildred. Husbands in particular had the strongest motive. Mildred’s life work was rescuing battered women from abusive spouses. She was responsible for households torn apart leaving the menfolk left to care for the children left behind and the upkeep of their homes. Additionally, Mildred was on a crusade to save the grey wolf which put her at odds with farmers and hunters alike. Personally, I could have done without the Yellow Legs subplot. I think the story would have held up just fine without it.
Rebecka inevitably gets caught up in the murder when she befriends a mentally challenged boy who might have witnessed the crime.
As an aside, if you are an animal lover this book will be really hard to read. Just saying!

Lines I liked, “And at the same time: loneliness had her on its hook, a barb through her heart, reeling her in” (p 176. “The hardness of the heart is a remarkable thing” (p 229), and “There’s no room for him among the grieving” (p 293).

Author fact: Larsson was a tax lawyer just like Rebecka Martinsson.

Book trivia: You can read The Blood Spilt without tackling The Sun Storm but if you are going to read both it is recommended to read the books in order, Sun Storm before Blood Spilt.
Another piece of trivia: Larsson includes a few references to cultural icons such as Astrid Lindgren (Swedish author who wrote Pippi Longstocking among others), Abba and Niklas Stromstedt. As an aside, the latter reminds me of Dennis Quaid in some pictures.

Confessional: I had to look up “Modesty Blaise” to see what Rebecka’s colleague was referring to when she said Rebecka was the firm’s very own Modesty Blaise.
Second confessional: I am always wary of “death seems to follow me” characters, especially when they have no business getting caught up in murder (like park rangers and lawyers).

Nancy said: nothing specific about The Blood Spilt.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 222).


Sun Storm

Larsson, Asa. Sun Storm. Translated by Marlaine Delargy. Read by Hillary Huber. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003.

Reason read: June is Larsson’s birth month.

Rebecka Martinsson had fled her small town of Kiruna many years ago to become a successful tax attorney in Stockholm. She attempted to escape scandal involving sex and the church and hasn’t been back since. You can fill in details between the lines, but readers will not know the exact reason why she disappeared all those years ago until much later in the book. They only know Rebecka reluctantly returns only after being called by an old friend needing legal advice and emotional support. Sanna has been accused of murdering her much beloved evangelical brother, Viktor Strandgard. When all of the obvious evidence, including motive, points to Sanna as the killer Rebecka must dig deep to uncover the truth.
Probably the best part of Larsson’s writing is how descriptive she is with people and places. I especially liked how flawed and broken most of her characters were.

Author fact: Sun Storm is Larsson’s first novel.

Narrator fact: Huber does a great job with the different character’s voices. Rebecka Martinsson as a lawyer is strong and direct while Sanna Strandgard, whose brother has just been found murdered, is weak and frightened. Even the male voices are well done.

Book trivia: Sun Storm won an award for Best First Crime Novel.

Nancy said: just that Sun Storm won the Swedish award for Best First Crime Novel, which I already mentioned.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 222).


Sacrificial June

June was all about giving up various elements of my life for the sake of family. I’ll go off the book review protocol to say one nice gesture threw off a myriad of plans. Because of one nice gesture I:

  • sacrificed a camping trip,
  • postponed my first trip of the season to Monhegan,
  • cancelled plans with my mother,
  • lost four training days,
  • lost hours of sleep but gained a kink in my back due to sleeping on an air mattress,
  • got behind on reading and writing end of year reports,
  • spent more money than I budgeted due to a cancelled flight,
  • missed a day of work, and
  • have no idea if I actually helped or not.

Anyway. Enough of that. On with the books:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Short Stories:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above”
    by Sherman Alexie
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “What You Pawn I will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
  • “Harrowing Journey” by Joel P. Kramer
  • “Ado” by Connie Willis

An August Attempt

So. I’ve done a few short runs here and there. Nothing crazy, but at least I’m back in it somewhat. Spent more time with the books. Speaking of which, here they are:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman (EB/print)
  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (AB)
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli (EB)
  • Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (EB)
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print)
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)

Nonfiction:

  • A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China by Kirsty Needham
  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird
  • Eurydice Street by Sofka Zinovieff

Series continuation:

  • Arctic Chill by Arnuldur Indridason (EB/print) – which I forgot to mention when I was plotting the month. It’s the last book of the series -that I’m reading. (There are others.)
  • Big Bad City by Ed McBain

LibraryThing Early Review:

  • Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – which came after I plotted the month of reading so it wasn’t mentioned before.

 


Under the Snow

Ekman, Kirsten. Under the Snow. Translated by Joan Tate. New York: Picador. 1999.

Reason read: August is Ekman’s birth month; read in her honor.

I love it when someone calls a book “moody.” It’s even better when I agree with them.
There are tensions in an isolated village near the Lapland border where everyone knows your name, wants your secrets, and suffers together through a winter that is “5,064 hours long” (p 4). Even Police Constable Torsson has an attitude when he learns he has to travel 25 miles over the ice and snow to investigate the death of a young teacher. When a man is found frozen to death in a snowbank and the entire community won’t talk about the details, for all appearances it looks like an accident. This much is true – after getting into a fight after a mah-jongg game Matti Olsen collapsed and died of exposure. Case closed. Or is it? A friend of Matti’s arrives the next summer and convinces Torsson it isn’t really over; the case deserves a second look. Is it connected to a woman with a piece of bloody rope in a backpack?
For most of the story it bounces from perspective to perspective as different characters share what they want you to know. Most effectively, Ekman reserves the first person narrative for the murderer’s detailed confession.

Quotes to quote even if they are a little abstract, “Waves of small talk were now lapping over the place where he had sunk” (p 12) and “The headwaiter decided not to love him, a delusion requiring no great spiritual struggle” (p 45).

Author fact: Ekman also wrote Black Water which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Under the Snow was first published in 1961. For some reason that took me by surprise. It wasn’t translated by Joan Tate until 1996.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Under the Snow.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the cute chapter called “Swede(n) Isn’t It?” (p 223).


Travels of August

Since the Run for Nancy was only a few days ago I am still on a high from not only running four miles, but running four miles without pain. No pain whatsoever. The pain is so gone it’s as if I imagined the whole thing. Weird. Weird. Weird. As for books, since I don’t have any other running plans in the near future:

Fiction:

  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe – in honor of August being Chick Lit month.
  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay – in honor of Courtenay’s birth month being in August.
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts – in honor of August being Dream Month (hey, I read it somewhere).
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett – in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
  • The Case of the Missing Servant¬†by Tarquin Hall – in honor of Rajir Ratna Gandhi’s birth in August.

Nonfiction:

  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird – in honor of Colorado becoming a state in August.
  • Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff – in honor of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin.
  • A Season in Red by Kirsty Needham – in honor of the Double Seven festival in China.

Series continuations:

  • The Big Bad City by Ed McBain – to continue the series started in July.

If there is time:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman – in honor of Ekman’s birth month.
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli – in honor of Fairy Tale Month.

 


August Ahead

My obsession with moving rocks has come to an end now that the big boys are playing in the backyard. This hopefully means I’ll scale back to just two fanatical activities: running and reading. Or reading and running. I wonder who will win out? I am in the last month of training before the half marathon, but here are the books planned for August:

  • Anarchy and Old Dogs by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started in May in honor of Laos Rocket Day. I have been able to read other books in the series in one to two days.
  • Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell – in honor of July being one of the best times to visit Sweden (listening as an audio book).
  • Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon by David Grann in honor of August being the driest month in the Amazon.
  • The High and the Mighty by Ernest Gann in honor of August being Aviation month.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin in honor of Baldwin’s birth month (print & AB).
  • Children in the Woods by Frederick Busch in honor of Busch’s birth month (short stories).
  • Flora’s Suitcase by Dalia Rabinovich in honor of Columbia’s independence.

PS – on the eve of posting this I ran 7.93 miles. Why the .93? My calf/Achilles started to give me grief so I had to stop. Now I wonder if the running has a chance to catch the books?


Return of the Dancing Master

Mankell, Henning. The Return of the Dancing Master. Read by Grover Gardner. Blackstone Audio, 2008.

I love the way Henning Mankell writes. There is something so dramatic about each and every word. A warning though, his scenes of violence are not for the faint of heart. Even if you have never been victim or even witness to a violent crime Mankell makes you feel right there in the moment. It’s as if the violence is happening to you. Very cringe-worthy material. Case in point – the brutal torture and murder of retired policeman Herbert Molin sets the stage for the Return of the Dancing Master. Stefan Lindman takes a medical leave of absence from his job as a police officer in order to battle mouth cancer. While in the waiting room of his doctor he reads about the murder of Molin. As a way to keep his mind off his illness Lindman decides to investigate Molin’s murder as Molin was once a colleague of sorts back in the day. Lindman finds himself getting deeper and deeper into the investigation when another man is murdered. As he comes to realize Molin was not the man he thought he knew, Lindman starts to question his own relationships.

Small disappointment – the crime scene of Molin’s murder is his house. Lindman breaks into the house after the real police assigned to the case have left. He is able to discover Molin’s diary wrapped in a raincoat which proves to be a vital clue. How did the real investigators miss that? There are other pieces of evidence that Lindman uncovers before anyone else, like the camping site of the killer. Again, how did the police miss that?

Postscript ~ the audio version is amazing. For starters, there is a whole cast of people reading the parts so women actually play women and so on. Also, at the end is a small piece of music so one can picture the dancing master taking a spin on the floor with a student. It’s a little eerie.

Reason read: July is the best time to visit Sweden.

Author fact: To learn more about Mankell go here.

Book trivia: Most of Mankell’s books include a character named Kurt Wallander. Mr. Wallander doesn’t make an appearance in The Return of the Dancing Master.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 232).


Man From Beijing

Mankell, Henning. The Man From Beijing. Read by Rosalyn Landor. New York: Random House Audio, 2010.

The opening scene to The Man From Beijing (aside from the judicial oath) is stunning. Mankell describes in haunting detail the travels of a lone wolf as it hungrily searches for prey. I won’t spoil it by saying anything more. Suffice it to say this scene sets the tome for an ominous story. After visiting a wolf and wilderness center in Colorado my mind’s eye can see this solitary wolf (and it’s ever present hunger) with detailed clarity which makes Mankell’s opening scene even more chilling.

Henning Mankell is a master at writing mysteries. The Man From Beijing is no exception. The story starts with nineteen people, concentrated in one tiny Swedish village, brutally murdered. Most of the victims are elderly and the level of violence inflicted on them is unprecedented. Even their pets have been viciously attacked and killed. As the details of the massacre unfold the plot becomes multi-generational, spanning 150 years; and international, taking place in China, Zimbabwe, the United States and, of course, Sweden.

Reason read: I needed a “wild card” story for the fun of it. I chose The Man From Beijing because it isn’t attached to any other story (Mankell writes mostly series).

Author Fact: Mankell was the first winner of the Ripper Award.

Book Trivia: The Man From Beijing is an international best seller. According to IMDB it was made into a television movie in 2010.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 223).


Firewall

Mankell, Henning. Firewall. Trans. Ebba Segerberg. New York: The New Press, 1998.

I have to say it again. I think something got lost in the translation of this book.

Kurt Wallander is a Swedish detective trying to solve a series of mysterious deaths. At first the only common factor is the time frame in which these people died. A man falls dead after using an ATM, a cab driver is beaten to death, and someone has apparently committed suicide at a power station all within a matter of days. But, as the investigation continues pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Somehow the picture reveals an absurd terrorist plot.

What makes Firewall so entertaining is Kurt Wallander’s personality. He is a short tempered detective, good at what he does but not as great at being a divorced dad to his near-adult daughter. She finds him overbearing and lonely. I found Wallander and his Swedish police work very strange. For starters, Wallander is accused of not doing things by the book and for the most part those accusations hold true. Over and over he considers sharing information about the various investigations with his colleagues but over and over again he finds reasons not to. Also, computers connected to the crimes aren’t confiscated, potential witnesses and suspects aren’t detained for questioning, and despite rooms being searched several times, key evidence is not discovered right away. Case in point: an office was searched several times and yet Wallander finds a postcard under a computer keyboard days later.
I found some parts of Firewall predictable. Wallander is single. At his daughter’s urging he joins a dating service. Within days he gets a letter from a potential match. Right away I knew this “response” was trouble, for the letter is slid under his door – no return address or postmark. Wouldn’t Wallander have read how the service works and wouldn’t he have found a nondescript letter without a postmark a little suspect?
All in all Firewallwas a good vacation read. It was fast paced and highly entertaining.

Favorite line: “A person who died eventually became a person who had never existed” (p 7).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Crime is a Globetrotter: Sweden” (p 59).


Blackwater

Ekman, Kerstin. Blackwater. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Ekman’s Blackwater is possessive. It grabs you and you can’t put it down. It’s dark and gritty – peppered with angry scenes of violence and meaningless, lust driven sex. Like a maze with many twisting passages Blackwater has a community of dark stories to tell. Each tale is tangled with another and at the center, common to all, is a double murder. While everyone knows about it and is touched by it, no one can solve it for twenty years.
In the beginning Annie Raft follows a lover to Blackwater to his out-of-the-way commune. On her first day in town Annie stumbles across the murdered bodies of two tourists camping in the backwoods of Blackwater. For twenty years she is haunted by the face of the man she thinks did it until one day that face comes back in the form of her daughter’s newest boyfriend. The mystery, along with a whole host of secrets, start to unravel.
The landscape is such an important element in the novel I would have enjoyed a map, something that illustrates Annie getting lost in the forest, how far away from town the commune was, where the well was that Johan was tossed into in relation to where the murders took place, etc.

These are the really great lines: “The silence was violent after the noise of the cars” (p 10).
“He felt strangely empty inside, a green jumble of oblivion, and his skin felt licked by eyes” (p 136).
“You cannot live in the world without living off it” (p 177).
“She had lived a cautious and parched life” (p255).
“It had been an open question between them, whether you can see into your own darkness and whether it actually is your responsibility to do so. Or whether you evoke the darkness and make it into your own by toying with it” (p 422).

 

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Crime is a Globetrotter: Sweden” (p 59).