Monday, May 31, 2010

Page 22: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The conclusion to Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is bittersweet.  The first two books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, were so well written and plotted it did not seem possible the third book could outdo them.  Now that it has, you realize there will be no more books from this great writer who died in 2004 at the age of 50.  Larsson created one of the most amazing characters in the thriller genre.  Lisbeth Salander is small and thin in stature, but a giant in intellect and courage.  She and investigative reporter Michael Blomkvist, the other main character, take on a secret organization within the Swedish secret police that has been responsible for unlawful and heinous treatment involving Lisbeth since she was a child.  More of this history is revealed in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Instead of telling you more about this book and revealing what happens ( this would be a real spoiler), here are some reviews that will give you a good preview.  Let me be clear here, please don't read this book until you have read the first two, and in order!  There are many reviews of the Millennium Trilogy, especially now that the last book has been published.  I will give you only a few here.  Please check out the others starting with your favorite search engine.

Review 1: "A thoroughly gripping read . . . Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson's fierce pixie of a heroine, is one of the most original characters in a thriller to come along in a while--a gamin, Audrey Hepburn look-alike but with tattoos and piercings, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Lara Croft and the cool, unsentimental intellect of Mr. Spock . . . Owes less to the Silence of the Lambs horror genre than to something by John le Carre."
---Michael Kakutani, New York Times

Reiew 2: "The literary equivalent of a caffeine rush . . . Larsson was one of those rare writers who could keep you up until 3 a.m. and then make you want to rush home the next night and do it again . . . Larsson is something like John Grisham [but] Larsson held an extra ace: the creation of Salander."

Review 3: "Larsson has produced a coup de foudre, a novel that is complex, satisfying, clever, moral . . . This is a grown-up novel for grown-up readers, who want something more than a quick fix and a car chase.  And it's why the Millennium trilogy is rightly a publishing phenomenon all over the world."

Just so we all don't get too maudlin about the end of this trilogy, I have some good news that you may not have heard.  The Swedish film industry has already made the first two books into movies and is coming out with the third.  Also, not to be outdone, Hollywood is making its own versions.  For what it's worth, I don't think any movie will be able to capture what Larsson created in print.  But that is only my opinion, and I do plan to see all three movies.  After all, Peter Jackson made The Lord of the Rings into great films.  Let's hope this trilogy will be worth seeing on the silver screen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Page 21: Rashi's Daughters

Maggie Anton has written a wonderful trilogy about the life of the famous Talmud scholar Salomon ben Isaac (Rashi).  Rashi was born in 1040 and lived most of his life in Troyes, France.  Each book in the trilogy features one of his three daughters.  The Rashi's Daughters trilogy is as follows: Book I: Joheved, Book II: Miriam, and Book III: Rachel.

The Talmud is the second most important Jewish religious text after the Bible.  Rashi is famous for his commentaries which were written to explain and illuminate the text.  His was a lifelong work and Rashi's commentaries are still found in the Talmud as it is studied today.  Rashi studied in Germany for several years and then returned to Troyes.  He established a yeshiva (school) for Talmud study, and it became very famous.  Of course, traditional Jewish study at the time was for men and not women.  The unique theme of this trilogy is that the author postulates, based on historic evidence, that Rashi also taught Talmud to his three daughters.

These books include many fascinating discussions between Rashi and his daughters as they study Talmud together, but that is not the whole story.  All three daughters eventually married and had children of their own. Their lives are closely followed including helping their father in the family vineyards, having children, and establishing their own careers.  Daily life in medieval France is woven into the narrative and is quite fascinating.  One daughter was a midwife and another a textile merchant.  We think of the medical knowledge of the time as primitive compared to modern medicine, but the discussion of the medicinal uses and effects of various herbs is enlightening.

They were fortunate to live in a period of history in France when Jews were treated better than in other periods such as the Inquisition.  However, the participants of the First Crusade changed all that in 1096, and managed to massacre nearly the entire Jewish population of Germany during the third book of the trilogy.

Find out more about this trilogy by going to which will provide you with a great deal of information about the books as well as other links to pursue if you are so inclined.  I found this trilogy to be an inspired and well researched window into the past as it existed in eleventh century France.  The story of each daughter is unique, but the entire trilogy is a continuous narrative of Rashi, his daughters, their families, and other individuals that are an important part of the narrative. I think you will find this trilogy to be a great read as well as a definite learning experience.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Page 20: South of Broad

South of Broad by Pat Conroy is a book within a book.  It is the story of Leo King and his coming of age in the summer of 1969.  It is also a story about Leo's love affair with his city of Charleston, South Carolina.  If you have ever been to Charleston, you will understand.  I am prejudiced, since I have been to Charleston and think it is one of he most beautiful cities in our country.  If you haven't, this book will convince you to pay Charleston a visit.

The story begins in May 1969 with Leo describing the events that will shape his adult life, and the lives of his new friends.  He meets them all in the course of one week.  His new neighbors are Sheba and Trevor Poe, twins who live with their alcoholic mother.  Three orphans, Starla, Niles, and Betty are added to the group.  Then there are three Charleston aristocrats: Molly, Chad and his sister Frasier.  To round out the group there is the son of the new black football coach at their high school, Ike Jefferson.

Leo is just about finished with his probation after being caught at a party with a bag of cocaine in his jacket.  The cocaine wasn't his, but Leo refused to rat out the high school football star that asked him to hold it.  The football star was a stand up guy and never said a thing.  He ended up playing quarterback for Clemson the next year, and Leo went through the legal system.  He disappointed the hell out of his parents, but that is not the only reason.  His older brother, Steve, committed suicide when he was thirteen.  Steve was their golden boy and Leo could never replace him.  In fact, Leo's nickname, the Toad, pretty much confirms this.  Oh yes, his mother is the principal of the high school Leo and all his new friends attend as seniors that fall.

Leo is the glue that holds all these disparate people together, and the one who forges their lifelong friendship.  Starla and Niles are from the mountains of North Carolina and have been in orphanages since they were very young.  They are wounded in spirit and wary of everyone.  Sheba and Trevor have been abused by their psychopathic father, and have become consummate actors in order to deal with reality.  Chad, Molly, and Frasier live 'south of Broad' which means they are a geographic, genetic, and cultural part of old Charleston families that consider most other people beneath them.

The other story is about Charleston and its location on a peninsula between two rivers that empty into Charleston harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.  Charleston is a beautiful city that has a European flavor with its narrow streets and hidden gardens.  According to Leo's father it is "The Mansion on the River."  The descriptions of the city reveal a love that is palpable.  The entire ambiance of the city as portrayed by Leo--the people, homes, gardens, smells, the water--make Charleston unique.  This beauty provides a vivid contrast to some of the terrible events that occur in the book.

Please check out Pat Conroy's web page at for a summary of the plot and more reviews.  I can't say enough about Pat Conroy.  If you have read any of his other books you know what I am talking about.  Read South of Broad, you are in for a great experience.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Page 19: Daemon Finished

I finished reading Daemon and stand by what I said in my previous post.  This is a great technothriller, with all the blood and gore of the video games it uses for part of the premise--maybe too much, and is receiving praise from most of the readers who have commented on Amazon.  In case you don't know, Daemon is the first in a two-part series.  The second book is Freedom and continues where Daemon left off.  I have not started Freedom yet, but will write a post about it when I finish.

Daemon continued to be a good read all the way through with plenty of surprises and twists.  It begins to get somewhat political in the second half, but, hey, this is nothing new for this genre.  The ending left me wondering what will happen until I discovered Suarez will bring the story to a conclusion in his second book.  Again, Daemon appeals to geeks and gamers, but anyone who likes thrillers and sci fi will enjoy this book as well.