Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In 1966 Harriet Vanger, daughter of the CEO of the large family-run Vanger Corporation, goes missing from her family's island community and is never seen again. Not even a body is found, and her great uncle, Henrik Vanger, has explored every possible lead to discover what happened to his one and only favourite family member.

Over the last forty years her disappearance has become Henrik's obsession, and he's positive someone in the family murdered her - but they never found a motive, and without one he doesn't know who to suspect. Now, in 2005, Henrik has little time left as he grows old and plenty of money to indulge in his obsession one last time.

Mikael Blomkvist is a forty-something financial journalist and editor of Millennium magazine, a magazine he co-founded which prides itself on investigative journalism. But Blomkvist and the magazine have just suffered their first big blow: he's been convicted of libel against one of the biggest business entrepreneurs in Sweden, Hans-Erik Wennerström.

Wanting to keep a low profile and pretend he's been fired from the magazine in order to try and save it from further attack by Wennerström, Henrik Vanger's proposition comes at an ideal time. Mikael's father once worked for the Vanger Corporation, and Harriet herself had babysat little Mikael a few times. Henrik offers Blomkvist a year-long contract with the pretext of writing a history of the family - an autobiography of Henrik - while his real mission is to discover what happened to Harriet.

After some convincing, Blomkvist takes the job - but when he discovers the first new evidence since the tragedy occurred, he realises he needs help - and who better to go to than the private investigator who did such a good job on Blomkvist when Henrik hired her?

Lisbeth Salander is a quiet, secretive young woman who excels at what she does because she's also a genius hacker. With a troubled past and a dicey present, her trust in Blomkvist takes her by surprise. The two team up to discover the truth about Harriet, and to take Wennerström down.

It is a mystery, and a thriller at times, and a detective book - but it's also a political and economic commentary, has one of the more original and daring heroines of the genre, and is invigorating in its details. I don't read many mystery novels, because (ironically), I find them boring. Aside from a quiet patch at about the two-quarter mark, I never found this book boring, even though not a whole lot happens until the last third.

Both Blomkvist and Salander are engaging protagonists, for very different reasons. Things happen to them that will make you upset and angry, especially Salander, whose side story holds you enthralled and revolted at the same time, as does the truth about Harriet - but there's nothing gratuitous here, or unnecessarily included or described: it's all relevant.

The cold of Sweden - at times down to -35F was vividly realised - as was the setting of Hedeby Island. I would have liked to "see" more of Sweden - everything was terribly familiar - but a mystery book isn't really the place for that.

This is a very mature book, with themes that make you despair yet are handled so compassionately that you are never alienated. I also enjoyed the economic side of the other plot line, and Blomkvist's words towards the end were very apt considering the recent problems with the American stock exchange and subsequent recession, when he's asked by a TV host about "the fact that Sweden's economy was now headed for a crash." He calls it nonsense, which I couldn't agree with more.

The other side of the commentary that's strong and interesting is the issue of journalistic responsibility, and ethics. Decisions are made at the end that are highly questionable, but there are no easy answers - Blomkvist is the voice of our conscience here, and yet you can see the other side too. I don't envy him his position!

I love the story of this author and I'm looking forward to reading the second and third installment in this trilogy. Despite the lenght of the book and the unusual pacing (which slows to a stop more than once) I loved it!

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Book review: Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Just plain fun! Although the book starts off a bit slow, Handler has a unique way of writting about adult-hood that is laugh-out-loud funny. Just try not to read it in public. :)

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Book Review: Stiff

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This unique book did a good job of taking the fairly odd (and somewhat gross) subject of human cadavers and making it conversational, educational and amusing. It fell short in a few chapters -- taking readers down a long, boring rabbit holes -- but overall it demystified the use of human cadavers for science, etc. which was an education I’d prefer to learn through book. Worth a read after you’ve read a few to many fantasy or romantic books.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Boston - in less than 48 hours

I've visited Boston 5 times in the past, and had an entirely different experience each and every time. From my first trip in high school with my parents, where I stood in awe of the stacked brick houses and picturesque river and bridges, to my last trip, where I strolled the city comfortably with a post-local snapping photos of towering churches and tree lined streets. Every trip has been a good trip and while I've never spent more than a few days there some places have left a lasting impression. An Ode to some of my favorite spots....and moments during my last trip with my kind tour guide and great friend, Marisa.

The Boston Commons

The New England Holocaust Memorial

Beacon Hill

The original Cheers bar, which is actually called Bull & Finch Pub, "where everybody knows your name,".....

Marisa and I enjoying some beers at Cheers

Swan Lake

Back Bay

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween 2009: Max and Ira Storm Manhattan

I decided to sew, button, Velcro and glue my Halloween costume together this year. I've never been much of a domestic genius, and although I knew sewing was going to be horribly challenging I wanted to give it a try. I figured Max, from the newly topical Where the Wild Things are, would be an easy enough costume to create with a few yards of white fabric, big buttons, a dowel, silver king ball, and a crown. How hard could that be to re-create? Answer: 2 full days in the fashion districts tinyest shops and at least 8 hours trying to figure out a sewing machine.

First off, sewing is tough (don't combat me on this, I already know I'm domestically challenged) and sewing with a cheap sewing machine is even harder. The fleece fabric I bought for the pants, which would be tucked under the white sweatshirt with big round buttons and a white hood, easily caught in the sewing machine and tended to fall apart if yanked to hard in the wrong direction. The king staff turned my living room into a silver glitter and gluey mess and my Max PJ pants turned into short shorts with white leggings.

Jerome's take on Ira included some long white claws, attached to old gloves, tall horns, filled with aluminum foil and attached to my headband and fur from one of my winter coats.

So, we stormed Manhattan, from Fredrick Brown's show in the Lower East Side to Gus' birthday part on the Upper West Side and made plenty of friends along the way. Some photos, prepping for our night out: