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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2015/09/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , stieg larsson, , the millennium series, the millennium trilogy,   

    The Girl in The Spider’s Web is Even More Larsson Than Larsson 

    If Stieg Larsson’s story were a film, people would complain about its theatricality: A man writes a trilogy of thrillers in his spare time, seemingly for his own pleasure, and dies suddenly at the age of 50 just before the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (aka, Men Who Hate Women), is published and becomes an international sensation.

    The same sort of incredulity met the announcement that Larsson’s estate had engaged another writer, David Lagercrantz, to write a fourth book in the Millennium Series. Larsson was many things as a writer, but above all he was unique. He wrote about genius punk hacker Lisbeth Salander and her accomplice and sometime-lover, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, with a specific voice. When The Girl in the Spider’s Web was announced, the main question was whether Lagercrantz could capture that Voice, or whether the novel would be a pale imitation. In fact, what Lagercrantz has achieved is nearly-impossible: he’s written a Lisbeth Salander novel that’s every bit as Larsson as its predecessors.

    The tone is spot-on
    One of the things that set The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo apart was the horror-movie tone Larsson managed to achieve in a setting—his native Sweden—where murder and other violent crime is actually very rare. Larsson achieved this by suggesting—or, more accurately, clearly demonstrating—that this civility was superficial, that many upstanding members of society hide extremely nasty inner lives. Larsson’s characters generally turn out to be rapists, blackmailers, and sociopaths despite their urbane and civilized exteriors. Lagercrantz has absolutely nailed this aspect of the Larsson universe, introducing characters who are completely respectable on the outside, and absolutely contemptible within.

    Lagercrantz gets Lisbeth Salander
    Lisbeth Salander is a complex character. What Larsson discovered in the character was a moral core where justice mattered; Lisbeth despises many people and doesn’t hesitate to punish those she sees as deserving it, but she instinctively protects those who are good. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web she punishes both individuals (including one smarmy, arrogant traitor she humiliates in a game of chess in one of the book’s most fun moments) and organizations—including the NSA itself, hacking into the agency’s deepest intranets and exposing information that shakes it to its core.

    The side characters
    The Millennium Series is about Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, celebrated journalist in a perpetual state of sexy, imminent professional disaster. The two make for a compelling team, an unlikely romance, and brilliant detectives. Lagercrantz captures the peculiar magic of their relationship perfectly, despite making the genius decision to keep Salander and Blomkvist apart during (almost) the entire story. They communicate via phone and secretly shared computer file without sharing space, but the affection and respect between them is obvious thanks to skillful writing.

    More importantly, Lagercrantz approaches the supporting characters precisely how Larsson did: With an excess of detail that few other writers bother with. The bit players in Larsson’s—and now, Lagercrantz’s—story have incredible detail and life. A witness describing a thrilling encounter between Salander and some thugs is in the story for perhaps a page, but Lagercrantz offers up a rich description that makes him real. It’s part of Larsson’s legacy that he treats all his characters as important, and Lagercrantz wisely replicates this.

    The story
    Lagercrantz has crafted a story that feels like Larsson: A genius computer scientist working on a quantum computing breakthrough that could render encryption and privacy impossible realizes his work is being pursued by criminals in league with the NSA. At the same time, he rescues his autistic son from the abusive boyfriend of his ex-wife. While living with his father, the boy, August, demonstrates savant-like drawing and math capabilities, and when his father is brutally murdered in an attempt to steal his research, the boy becomes the sole witness—a witness who can only draw what he’s seen.

    Lisbeth Salander eventually saves August from certain death, and takes responsibility for the boy, and in this sequence of the novel we get the series’ most perfect distillation of Lisbeth so far: she is tough, smart, and determined. As the strands of the plot lead back to her own family, she sees herself in August. For all her rough edges, Salander is a good person who risks everything to protect an innocent little boy.

    Camilla Salander
    Finally, Lagercrantz gets the last piece of the puzzle for the Millennium Series: the Salander family. Mentioned briefly in the original trilogy, Lisbeth’s twin sister, Camilla, emerges in this book as a major force. Beautiful where Lisbeth is rough, monstrous where Lisbeth is fierce, Camilla is a terrifying vision because she is who Lisbeth would be without her moral center. And by the end of the book, with every other enemy vanquished—the NSA, the Russian mob, the various small-time monsters who beat children and manipulate others for their own gain—Camilla is at large, leaving only a haunting text message to Salander (Until next time, sister!) as evidence that she’s now established as the true villain in the Millennium Series.

     
  • Jeff Somers 8:36 pm on 2015/08/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , stieg larsson, ,   

    5 Reasons We Can’t Wait to Read The Girl in the Spider’s Web 

    When Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo appeared on bookshelves in 2005, shortly after he passed away from a heart attack, it was a sensation—first in his native Sweden (under the original title Men Who Hate Women) and then worldwide. The book and its sequels, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, were fresh, gritty tales that depicted the world as poisonous and rotten, yet still worth fighting for. And they introduced one of modern literature’s great characters in Lisbeth Salander: expert hacker, rape survivor, and justice warrior.

    Larsson’s estate has decided to continue the franchise, now taken over by bestselling author David Lagercrantz. The new book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, has been written in utmost secrecy. Lagercrantz reportedly worked on a computer without an internet connection and delivered the manuscript as a hard copy, by hand, to his publisher. Here’s why we can’t wait to read this new novel—which is now available for purchase.

    Because of Lisbeth Salander
    Let’s face it: great characters often outlive their creators. Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Jason Bourne—the literary world is awash in characters being kept alive, reinvented, and brought to new audiences years and even decades after their original creator has passed on. Lisbeth Salander is in that league. She’s one of the most complex, most interesting, and most entertaining characters ever created. She’s scary and capable of violence. She has a moral code she adheres to no matter what. She’s brave and willing to sacrifice herself for her friends and for the cause of justice. She’s smart. And she’s the farthest thing imaginable from a damsel in distress. It’s safe to say the world needs more of her, and it needs it sooner rather than later.

    Because of Michael Blomkvist
    The focus on Salander shouldn’t make us forget the other half of this team: journalist Michael Blomkvist. He’s smart, funny, and messy, with an acerbic view of the world and a melancholy approach to mysteries—not to mention a fluid sexuality and willingness to explore the darkest parts of himself—that make him a welcome and able partner for Salander in every way. The two were painted just differently enough to make their relationship crackle, and a new book offers the possibility that they might partner up on a more permanent basis.

    The Worldview
    Larsson created a singular worldview and universe in his trilogy, a world in which money and brand names had corrupted everything around them, yes, but also a world in which it was still possible for a few dedicated people to win the day, at least briefly, solely through their own efforts. The Sweden that Larsson created—and that Lagercrantz will hopefully maintain—is dirty and unfair, but also fascinating, especially when Salander’s hacker underground rubs up against Blomkvist’s liberal intelligentsia.

    The Story
    Let’s not forget that these books are crackerjack mysteries and thrillers as well as character studies. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best Locked Room mysteries ever written, and the subsequent novels delved into the mystery of Salander’s family and backstory in ways both satisfying and surprising—even shocking. The world of the Millennium Series is genetically coded for thrilling mystery stories, and the tidbits released by the publisher are tantalizing: Blomkvist is once again contacted by someone with a mind-blowing story to tell about his breakthrough research into a frightening form of artificial intelligence—someone who’s working with Lisbeth Salander, who is pitted against the NSA itself and running afoul of a secretive group of blackhat hackers known as the Spiders. While these details are skimpy, they paint a picture of the ideal Salander/Blomkvist team-up.

    David Lagercrantz
    American readers may not be terribly familiar with Swedish journalist and author Lagercrantz, but he’s a very successful writer whose journalistic background matches up well with Larsson’s. Lagercrantz is a bit of a wild man, once claiming he invented all the quotes in the famous autobiography he ghostwrote, I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic. That book was wildly successful, so Lagercrantz can do whatever he wants in his career. The fact that this impish, mischievous writer chose to work on these books says he’s passionate about the characters and the legacy—and it’s always good news when a writer this talented takes on a franchise.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2015/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: altered carbon, believe the hype, bonfire of the vanities, , , stieg larsson, , , ,   

    5 Books that Lived Up to the Hype 

    What’s the most common element in the universe? If you paid attention in school, you might answer hydrogen, but you’d be wrong. The most common element in the universe is hype, and it’s something we will never run out of. Millions of years after mankind goes extinct, an alien species visiting the dead planet Earth will still find plenty of hype swilling about the atmosphere, championing hot new singles you’ve just got to hear, movies everyone’s going to be talking about, and books that are sure to change literature forever.

    Sometimes, of course, hype is justified. Sometimes a much-hyped book turns out to be just as good as the hype promised. The following are five novels that came wrapped in copious amounts of hype—which was totally warranted.

    The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
    It’s easy to forget the hype surrounding this novel, which appeared in early draft form as a serial in Rolling Stone magazine in 1984 before being heavily revised and published in 1987. Wolfe was already a superstar, of course, but he was known primarily as an essayist and nonfiction writer prior to Bonfire (which was his first novel), and the serial stunt sent the hype machine into overdrive. The novel lived up to the hype, though, creating a vividly imagined story that truly did capture the New York City that existed in the 1980s as it traced the interwoven stories of “master of the universe” bond salesman Sherman McCoy, his mistress, a washed-up tabloid reporter, and dozens of other wonderfully observed characters in a shining, crumbling city.

    The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
    Not only did The Corrections win the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction and stand as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (among other awards), it was famously chosen for Oprah’s Book Club back when Oprah, and her book club, dominated the pop culture zeitgeist in a way our kids will never truly understand. Franzen’s, er, less than gracious response to this dubious honor made the book even more famous than it otherwise would have been, and for a while every conversation over cocktails at least briefly touched on it. And it continues to deserve our attention, as its study of the Lambert family’s mistakes, triumphs, joys, and miseries is infused with a hypnotic dread that makes it the sort of novel you want to reread every few years to see if age has made you wise enough to catch something new.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
    By the time The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published in the United States, it had already taken Europe by storm, so to say that 2008 greeted its English translation with a lot of hype would be an understatement. The story of Larsson’s untimely death, coupled with the grisly and supposedly “shocking” aspects of the novel, made thriller and mystery fans salivate to read it, and for a while it was the book everyone wanted to know if you’d read yet. And it lived up to it all, being well-crafted, very Swedish, and, yes, kind of shocking—but also incredibly entertaining, and filled with masterful twists and turns that justified the tidal wave of hype that preceded it.

    The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
    When Gone Girl exploded onto the scene, the search for the “next Gone Girl” began in earnest. A few months ago, the drumbeat for The Girl on the Train being that next great thriller with an unreliable narrator and awesome, insane twists began. And you know what? It nails it. The Girl on the Train is a worthy successor to Gone Girl’s crown. The story of three women linked in unexpected ways—one of whom is a literally unreliable alcoholic narrator—keeps the twists coming while it ratchets the tension up in expert increments, touching on some of the same themes as Gone Girl—love, marriage, and loyaltybut in different ways.

    Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
    The “cyberpunk” genre isn’t as well-defined or deeply populated as some other categories, and as a result, whenever a new novel is announced promising that combination of believable tech wizardry and body horror that defines the genre, people tend to get excited and throw around a lot of superlatives. But any doubts about Altered Carbon are waved away within the first few pages, as Morgan’s sharp writing, imaginative concepts, and gritty, realistic feel combine to make this one of the best recent science-fiction books—and one that lived up to every great review and eager recommendation preceding its arrival in your hands.

    What book hooked you with unbelievable hype—then turned out to be just as good as you were told?

     
  • Maurie Backman 7:00 pm on 2014/08/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , stieg larsson, , , , thomas harris,   

    6 Great Books to Read on a Dark and Stormy Night 

    The ShiningYou’re home alone, the wind is howling, and a steady rain is beating down heavily against your window. You put on your most comfortable pair of pajamas, pour yourself a mug of hot chocolate, and prepare to cozy up on your couch with a fuzzy blanket. Now all you need is the perfect book to let this dark, stormy night take hold of your mind, and we’ve got several suggestions.

    While you don’t necessarily need ominous weather to enjoy these great works, there’s just something about flashing lightning, crashing thunder, and the heavy pitter-patter of pouring rain that creates the perfect backdrop. For an even more intense experience, we suggest reading one of these books by candlelight. You can always turn the lights back on if you find yourself getting a little too spooked for comfort…

    The Shining, by Stephen King
    There’s a reason Joey from Friends had to stash this novel in the freezer halfway through. If you’re going to get drawn into the world of a haunted, isolated hotel, you might as well do it on a night that lends some realism to the already spooky setting. We won’t spoil the plot, but let’s just say supernatural forces abound to create a tale that’ll rattle you to your very core—especially against a stormy background of your own.

    The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe
    This collection features some of Poe’s most thrilling, suspenseful works, from the terrifying “The Pit and the Pendulum” to the fear-inducing “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Pick and choose your favorites and prepare to get swept away by the satisfyingly scary settings Poe creates. Throw in a little real-world thunder and lightning, and it won’t be long before you’re tempted to hide under your own covers until morning.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker
    Nothing complements a Gothic Transylvanian setting like a pounding storm, ideally one that intensifies as you keep reading. Pummeling rains and wailing winds can only make this chilling novel better, especially if you’re reading it for the first time.

    The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
    Forget about the movie version. If you’re looking for a character that will truly mess with your head in the most thrilling of ways, Hannibal Lecter most certainly fits the bill. This novel screams psychological thriller, and against the backdrop of an already eerie night, you’ll be hard-pressed not to consider going to sleep with the lights on.

    Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews
    Now here’s a story that will captivate you in the creepiest of ways, especially when the dreary, isolated nature of the attic is echoed by a real-life raging storm. Reading this novel in an eerie setting of your own will elevate it in a manner that’s as thrilling as it is disturbing.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson
    The first novel in Steig Larsson’s trilogy introduces us to the ever-fascinating and complex characters of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, who team up to solve a mystery with a twist so disturbing it’ll leave even the most jaded of readers reeling. The intricate storyline and cold, icy, remote island setting make this masterpiece the perfect stormy night read.

    What books do you recommend for a dark and stormy night?

     
  • Chrissie Gruebel 5:00 pm on 2014/07/23 Permalink
    Tags: anita diamond, , brokeback mountain, certain girls, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , middlesex, rick yanked, stieg larsson, susan cain, , the fifth wave, , , , white fang   

    A Definitive List of Books for All Vacation Occasions 

    The City and The City

    It’s already July 23, and we need to have a talk: Have you taken a summer vacation yet? Seriously…have you? For real, Americans are notorious for this gross oversight. Yes, sure—we don’t get enough vacation days in general, but if you’re not taking the ones you DO have, then we don’t have a leg to stand on collectively as a society. I mean, we all want to be like Europe, right, where they get approximately 200 days off per year (just an estimate)? So in order to accomplish this task, we all need to work together to stop working (for at least a week, that is).

    To help, here’s a list of vacations AND the books you should bring to each. So go forth! Pack a suitcase full of books and travel-sized shampoos! Live a life of temporary leisure, you won’t regret it! Europe: we’re coming for you:

    Camping, Mountains, Wilderness
    You + nature + books + maybe animals(?) = never a bad idea, and always a great idea. Whether you’re in the mood to check out from civilization, or simply find yourself wrapped up in nature’s loving arms, we’ve got a few titles on our list to remind you not to get too big for those Eddie Bauer britches—plus a few that’ll warm your heart and make you laugh. Still…leave room for a map. And a compass. And a tent. Let’s not be too cavalier where bears are concerned, okay?

    Cruise
    As long as no one gets Legionnaire’s Disease, cruises are basically floating barges of people in surf shorts Wang Chung-ing it 24/7. Morning buffets, alcohol, several pools, afternoon buffets, karaoke, volleyball, evening buffets, pineapples, off-off-Broadway-quality entertainment, midnight buffets. What more could a human want, really? (Enough lifeboats for everyone, if we’ve learned anything from Titanic—but besides that, LITERALLY nothing, because there’s a really high chance you’ll be allowed to wear a captain’s hat.) Bookwise? Anything goes.

    Historical/Cultural Trip
    Whew! If these walls, columns, churches, city squares, statues, monuments, battlefields, paintings, quilts, broken bells, buildings, gargoyles, fountains, parks, murals, sculptures, ruins, theaters, old wooden ships, lighthouses, walled cities, medieval castles, and artifacts could talk, right? The world’s got stories to tell! Which is crazy. These books will get you in the mood to explore, uncover some ancient mysteries, and maybe make a few stories of your own.

    City
    Every city has a vibe all its own. Cities are like little pockets of magic where everyone dresses really cool and you’ve got all the culture and history you could possibly want right at your fingertips (and all the culture and history you never knew you wanted). Plus, in the summertime most cities smell like hot garbage, which is special.

    Beach Town
    Some of these novels are set at the beach, some merely mention the beach (maybe?), and others are flashy pieces of glitter that have basically nothing to do with the beach. Surprise! It doesn’t matter. A good beach read only requires an engrossing plot that hooks you immediately, because what do we want? To devour a story while sitting under an umbrella and drinking the rosé we’re hiding in our travel coffee mug. And when do we want it? Now.

    Solo Travels
    We’ve already covered the fact that eating out solo is basically the best thing that can happen to a book lover, but going on a trip solo? With no one else’s clipboard of fun to follow? You’ll be reading in bed, at dinner, on a bench, under the moonlight, in a box, with a fox, here, there, everywhere. Bring eight books with you. Bring ten. You’re on a solo vacation—you’re not there to make friends.

    Spa
    This is a time for self-reflection, meditation, and getting the knots rubbed out of your shoulders by a trained professional. Wrap up your hair. Eat fresh fruit. Drink green tea. Breathe. Dance like no one’s watching. You get the drift. This collection of books will help you get into the right mindset to find yourself if you’re lost; and if you’re not lost, then it’ll be the right thing to read while you’re getting your feet massaged or your dead skin cells scraped off.

    Adventure (outback, safari, joining the circus, etc.)
    So you wanna live in a treehouse for a few days? DO IT. You have the heart of a lion! This portion of the list runs the gamut from taking down a government conspiracy to swimming with alligators, so you can take your pick of which adventure you’d like to accompany you on your adventure. We’ll be over here, reading quietly in a non-dangerous place.

    Road Trip
    As long as you’re not the driver and you don’t get carsick, you can put away a million books while you’re on the open road. Just be sure to look out the window every once in a while to take in the glorious scenery, and to maybe keep your eyes peeled for a Sonic. Plus, you can pretend to be a moody teenager who has big plans (BIG ONES), if only you could get away from your stupid family.

    Staycation
    Home alone? You’ll wanna laugh. Or cry. Mostly laugh. But maybe cry a little while you look at yourself in the mirror? That’s something some of us might do when we’re alone. No big deal or anything. In any case, you’ll be free to feel all the feelings you wanna feel because you’ll be all wrapped in your enduring solitude. Enjoy your vacation from other people!

    What are you packing to read during your next vacation?

     
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