Tuesday, November 30, 2010

fall reads

Here's my fall reading list while I come to terms with the past two days.

historical fiction, science fiction and the three 'girl' books:

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran – After Cleopatra's and Marc Antony's deaths, their children were brought to Rome and raised by the the emperor Octavian's sister, Octavia who was also a previous wife of Marc Antony. This is the fictional story of her daughter's upbringing in Rome and until her eventual factual marriage to Juba II. They reigned as king and queen in Mauritania though the story ends at their engagement.

Day After Night by Anita Diamant – I don't read books about man's inhumanity to man and I especially don't read books about WWII and the extermination of and cruelty to the Jews. It makes me feel sick and helpless. This book is about the aftermath of WWII when the Jewish survivors of the holocaust with nowhere else to go were streaming out of Europe and into Palestine where they were intercepted by the British and held in another camp, placed in barracks and surrounded by barbed wire. They were treated much better of course and most were only there for several weeks before they were released but can you imagine? To be released from the concentration camps only to rounded up as they tried to reach Palestine and be in another 'detention' facility? But I digress. This story follows four of the women who are currently interred in the camp until their escape several months later. Their stories, their 'secrets' are slowly revealed. Secrets because no one wants to talk about their particular pain, misery, guilt and shame, no one wants to be judged by what they endured, what was forced upon them. No one wants to be defined by what they survived.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – Well, I had no idea what this book was about even though everybody else has already read it. I had no idea what it was about but I certainly didn't expect what it was about. It took me a little while to get into it as he introduced the characters and set up the story and to get past the Swedish proper and place names. Pretty gruesome (and all too real if you are a woman), the story itself (or stories since it seemed to be three stories intertwined) and the statistics that precede the sections. It set me to wondering, and not for the first time, about misogyny, about why so many men seem to fear and hate women and why that drives them to such brutality. And I wonder about the author himself. One the one hand, his female characters are very strong, competent, capable. On the other hand, he paints them as either victims or jumping into men's (or rather one man's) bed. All that aside, it was a good story, a good mystery and kept me reading.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb – The first of a trilogy about dragons on the brink of extinction and a pact with humans to aid the last dragon in saving her kind. I suppose it works in the end but in this book, the dragon has disappeared and the humans are left with caring for a group of young stunted deformed hungry dragons. The humans devise a plan to send the dragons and the undesirables of their population as dragon keepers to find a better place for the dependent dragons.

Ground Zero by F. Paul Wilson – One of the final Repairman Jack books. There are two more and then a comprehensive rewrite of Nightworld, a book already published that really comes last. It's a science fiction/fantasy series but it has nothing to do with outer space or alternate worlds but does deal with the supernatural. It is about the classic struggle between good and evil, a hero's tale, but not in the usual sense. More like neutral vs inimical. The bad 'force' wants possession of this world to feed off of and the 'good' force, mostly benign neglect, doesn't intervene unless it wants to manipulate someone's life as a means to an end. Like creating it's Defender. The Conflict is eternal and once Earth falls sway to the Other, the Ally will not want it back and will turn it's attention to other fronts. Anyway, all that comes much later. Jack, the main character, flies under the radar and what he does is fix, or repair, situations. His clients come to him when all the traditional legal recourses have failed. He's a stand up guy though, our Jack is, but he does know how to handle himself and doesn't hesitate when need arises. You should really start at the beginning with The Tomb. Jack is just a regular guy fixing things for people and then weird stuff starts happening to him one book at a time. Or you might want to start with Jack: Secret Histories (a young adult selection) which is a prequel but then definitely The Tomb. They build on each other so you should read them in sequence. The nature of the struggle doesn't become apparent until you are 5 or 6 books in.

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb – a continuation of the story started in Dragon Keeper. The dragons are growing out of their deformities and maturing with the exercise and fresh food and the human keepers are continuing to evolve into their 'elderling' forms. Love, intrigue and a flash flood fill out this book. Just when they fear all is lost, they find the lost city of yore that has been their goal.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson – I don't know what to think about this guy and the theme of these books. The theme is misogyny and I don't mean the rude and condescending form of it. It's about the brutal rape and torture of women kind of misogyny, the disregard the facts that fly in opposition to your opinion of women kind of misogyny. The author writes about it in a way that makes it abhorrent and the perpetrators detestable. But he writes about it, creates these repellant characters all the same. The women are all strong characters, no complaints there, even when they are being brutalized. And they do. Get brutalized. The main character, 'the girl' of the title takes no shit from men who want to harm women. She's still pretty much a big unknown when this book starts but her back story is finally revealed. She's small, slight, extremely intelligent and is capable of lethal violence when she feels threatened. So, I changed my mind. I do have one complaint. At the start of this book, she has money and mobility and the first thing she does is get a boob job. What?! What the fuck is up with that? It was totally out of character and didn't come into play in the story again once he had dwelt on it somewhat in the very beginning. C'mon on. Really? You really want me to believe that this strong female character, however wacko she may be, really cares about having tits? So is that what the author thinks all flat chested women want given the money and the mobility...to get tits? I almost put the book down. Once he started telling the actual story, then things were fine. This was not a mystery like the previous book, more like a man hunt with some murders thrown in. The conspiracy against 'the girl' is revealed.

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See – 1830s country life in China, the story follows the lives of two young girls who become 'old sames', two girls who promise to love each other and hold true all their lives in a culture where women are considered an unwelcome mouth to feed that will be 'married out' but never really accepted into their new families until they become the matriarch. So much sadness and heartbreak women have suffered.

The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell – A story set in Japan in 1799-1800, or actually mostly Nagasaki and Dejima. Dejima was the fabricated island and sole trade port of the Dutch East India Company in Nagasaki Harbor. The story follows a young clerk whose intent is to spend 5 years, make his personal fortune and then return to marry his sweetheart. Events conspire to thwart his ambitions, including his fascination with Japan and one woman in particular and it is twelve years before he actually leaves. The story shifts perspective from Jacob to the woman of his attraction to a Japanese interpreter telling their stories and then back to Jacob. It was a good and engaging read.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson – OK, I finally get it. This is about violence towards women and the men who commit it. Duh. (I had to have that spelled out for me towards the end of this third book.) It is cloaked in a story about murders and a conspiracy and an expose´ magazine. In this final book, the conspiracy having been revealed in book 2, the perps are tracked down. All the bad guys get what's coming to them but not before lots more havoc is wreaked. This is probably the only book written by a man that I have ever read that has not only strong women characters, but so many of them. But for every strong woman character there is an equally repugnant man who hates women. These women are in charge of their lives and have no trouble initiating sex when it suits them but really, did they all have to jump in the bed of the main male character? Well, not all of them but damn near. I enjoyed all three books. It's really one story with each book taking up where the previous one left off. As noted, the theme is brutality towards women and he quotes a lot of statistics but the story in no way attempts to explain the prevalence of the behavior in society.


  1. Great list - I haven't read any of these although I have been curious about the Larrson books. I think I would struggle with Day After Night and I find stories of human cruety difficult to handle.

  2. I have am half way through the second book in the Steig Larsson trilogy - my thoughts are with you on the boob job.
    I recently read a couple of Faye Weldons (just to balance out the myognist theme)- I think you would enjoy them too.

  3. I knew before I knew anything about the Stieg Larsson books, that I would not be able to read them. When I read what they were about, I was so glad that I listened to my intuition.

    After WWII, my Aunt Edie moved to paris to help relocate refugees from the camps. She loved the work and loved Paris; in fact, she never moved to the U.S. Spent the next 60 odd years in Paris. I saw her for the last time just a few months before she died. She still spoke French with a New York accent. Ha! May she rest in peace.

  4. I've got the dragon tattoo book on hold at the library (I'm like #33 or something). I'll have to remember this post when I run out of books to read :)

  5. Some intriguing suggestions here Ellen - I'll follow up on a couple of them. Thanks.

  6. Blimey, what about a bit of escapism?
    I'm feeling rather delicate lately and my reading has to accommodate that feeling.

    I find gruesome gruesome, can't do blood, suffering, violence, suffering, blood, violence. Give me a nice romance?

    No?, you're right, maybe not. I'd be bored by them in no time.
    Give me a classic, then, just for now.

    Ah, that's better.

  7. I've read all three Steig Larsson books and can't decide if I like them or not. I prefer the films, but they stretch my credulity a bit too far for the reasons you set out. There are better Scandinavian books out there and I intend to find them.

  8. I've not read any of these. Interesting choices.

  9. I love it when you do your periodic book review posts, Ellen. Books are important to me, and I love to hear what my friends are reading and what they think.

    I think I'll skup the Larsson books, though. Nope, not for me.

    F.Paul Wilson can really write a page turner, can't he?

  10. I love a good mystery and violence in fiction does not bother me. I really liked the Larsson books, have read them, listened to them being read and enjoyed the first film (have not seen the other two). I guess the boob job is a bit odd, but I was not totally put off by it & it did not take up much of the story. Guess I'm not so picky about story lines as long as the mystery is a good one. I'm sorry Larsson died before he could complete more.

    Now I'm off on P.D. James mysteries and this woman can really spin a yarn!

  11. Interesting list. I've heard so much about the Larsson books, but haven't read them. Right now I'm reading Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir.

  12. I have Larsons' books but I haven't had a chance to read any of them yet. I will though!! And the Dragon books seems intriguing as well. Thanks hun!!


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