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The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played With Fire

In this follow up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson digs deeper in the life of Lisbeth Salander as a double homicide occurs, and her fingerprints are found on the murder weapon.  Larsson’s writing is so sharp that this page-turner is a thriller of the highest order.  Even if you typically don’t read these types of books, it’s hard not to enjoy Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2009
630 pages

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Here On Earth by Alice Hoffman

Here On Earth

This was one of those books I picked up a long time ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf collecting dust.  Modern American fiction/chick lit is not exactly my favorite these days, and this book reinforced why I don’t care for it.

In Here on Earth, a married woman with a 15 year old daughter returns to her hometown in Massachusetts.  The reason for the trip is the funeral of the family housekeeper, who was really the woman who raised her, since her own mother died when she was young.  While there, she rekindles a flame with a man who was also raised in her home, only to find out that the relationship is wrong on so many levels.

It had a story that could have at least made it a page turner, but the writing ended up being more chick-lit than thriller.  Not my cup of tea.

2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1999
236 pages

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The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

The Last Chinese Chef

Nicole Mones knocked another one out of the park for me with The Last Chinese Chef!  The story begins when Maggie McElroy must travel to China to attend to a paternity suit against her late husband’s estate.  Maggie, a food writer, agrees to interview a Chinese-American chef while she is there for an article on traditional Chinese cuisine.  The author takes us on a fascinating trip through modern and ancient Chinese culture, epicurean delights, and history, and wraps it all up in a romance that will leave you sighing and wanting more.  It was a great way to start off my summer reading!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2007
278 pages

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Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent

Lost Nation

A few years ago, I read Jeffrey Lent’s In the Fall, and I was mesmerized with the author’s talent for prose paired with a gripping historical narrative.  I knew I would have to read another by this gifted writer.  Lost Nation did not disappoint.

The novel takes place in Vermont, before statehood.  Men ventured out into the wilderness of this New England area for solitude, and to establish communities as they would have them – far from the seats of competing nations that would control them.  Those nations, The United States and Britain, weren’t content to leave them alone.  One such man, Blood, came to this area escaping his past. He brought him a young woman he won in a card game, and he established a tavern in the middle of the wilderness where he could set up trade.  This was the lost nation that these settlers sought, but they soon found that paradise was a pipe dream.

In Lost Nation, Lent examines man’s need for isolation and community at the same time.  His characters struggle with self-worth, self-reliance and human dignity.  Lastly, his exploration of understanding and forgiveness in the characters of Blood and Sally, amidst the cruel backdrop of wilderness survival, is memorable, and has a uniquely American flavor.

Jeffrey Lent is a master not only at storytelling, but in presenting the past in such a way that readers are easily transported into that world.  His prose is amazing, and the novel was fluid and gripping.  I recently read a Booker Prize Winner that I couldn’t give the full five stars to because it of it’s disconnectedness.  Lost Nation is an example of a novel that fully deserves all five stars.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2002
370 pages

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A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

A Dance With Dragons

This summer I accepted a challenge to “kill off” a number of series I had started.   Completing A Dance with Dragons knocks off the first series of the season.  (And reading two 1100+ page books was quite a commitment, let me tell you!).

Continuing with the Game of Thrones saga, Martin continues this novel as the second half of the previously released A Feast for Crows. The author explained at the end of that novel, that the book was simply too large to fit into one publication, so while the time frame is the same for both books, he focused on certain characters in A Feast for Crows and other characters in A Dance with Dragons.

My favorite story lines in this novel were those of Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryan, Theon Greyjoy and Arya  Stark.  There were times when the enormous cast of characters got too much for me.  I started getting lost with the rest of the Greyjoys, and who are the Conningtons?  I have found watching the series to be helpful, because then I can put a face to a name, which allows for faster recall of the characters.  I’ve watched the first three seasons, but I’ve decided to watch them again, from the beginning, before I move onto the last two.  Already, I’ve noticed subtle story lines that I missed earlier.

Do prepare for Martin’s usual twists and turns.  Already he killed off one of my favorite characters in this book.  At least I think he did – we already have evidence of one character (and I won’t say who, in case you haven’t read the previous books) who appeared to be dead, but was, in fact, alive.

The next in the series is not yet published, but will be called The Winds of Winter.  I hope Martin doesn’t take too long to finish it!

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2011
1123 pages

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The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road To The Deep North

Set in Australia and Thailand during World War II, The Narrow Road to the Deep North tells the tale of survival of the human spirit, and the narrow line between virtue and inhumanity.

This is a wonderful book club book.  There are many themes worthy of discussion in Flanagan’s work; and despite the tragedy of the Thai-Burma Death Railway, the author deftly keeps the reader from getting too close to his subjects.  This was a good thing for me because it would have been heartbreaking if he had.  There is also another purpose for the distance – the understanding that you don’t really know the people you think you know.

One of the main story lines is between Dorrigo Evans, an Australian officer, and Major Nakamura, who is a commander of the POW camp where Evans is held.  Threaded in the gripping story of human cruelty and war, Richard Flanagan explores the human spirit and the different ways in which virtue is recognized and achieved.

I appreciated this novel for the history presented of the Japanese POW camp and the Thai-Burma Death Railway.  The author’s writing is beautiful, and there are an abundance of quotes that linger in memory.  I also enjoyed the examination of various themes, but my one big complaint was that the book never really came together in the end.  I suppose that was intentional.  Is there a point to war after all?  Can something good and purposeful come out of it?  Can humans truly rise above themselves and be more than they (or you) know them to be?  I like endings that come together with one big “Aha!” moment.  This one didn’t, and that was sad and disappointing.  But maybe that’s the point.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
334 pages

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