The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl in the Spider's WebThe Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (2015)

Summary

Hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist are back in this continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series.

Review

I was position #1 on the library waitlist for Spider’s Web, so I got it the day it was released. I took it with me on a camping trip in Oregon and stayed up at night, reading by the light of a lantern.

I thought the book was just… okay. It didn’t have the same excitement and energy as the original trilogy. Lisbeth and Mikael felt a little off and there were too many forgettable new characters. I also thought the ending was strange and unsatisfying. Overall, I still thought the book was okay, but I don’t think I’d recommend it.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et al.)
  • Hacking
  • Autism and savants
  • Mysteries and thrillers
  • Sweden

Annihilation

AnnihilationAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Summary

Area X was once a place of human civilization, but nature has since taken over. Four female scientists embark on an expedition (the twelfth such expedition) to learn more about the strange place that has been cut off from the rest of the world.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Review

Ugh, this book was really weird. I thought for sure I’d like it, so I bought the whole trilogy before I read the first book. Now I’m not sure if I should continue reading it (I heard the second book was very different from the first) or if I should just leave it alone and move onto something else.

The book didn’t explain any of the bizarre things happened, any of the history of Area X, or any of the rules about the expeditions. I get that it’s a mystery and only the first book of a trilogy, but I found it really hard to enjoy the book when I had no idea what I was reading.

At least it was short.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Weird science-fiction
  • Female scientists
  • Arguing about whether to call a building a “tower” or a “tunnel”
  • Apocalypses
  • Creepy mysterious environments
  • Dolphins with human-like eyes

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

Summary

A woman named Rachel takes the commuter train every day where she imagines the lives of a couple who live in a home along the train tracks. When the wife goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help in the investigation, which she might be more involved in than she realizes.

Review

I was eager to see what the hype for The Girl on the Train was all about. Overall, I thought the book was okay… not terrible, but not spectacular either. I liked the premise and the plot was fast-moving, but the characters weren’t very interesting. There were a few red herrings, but I predicted some of the ending fairly early in the book.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl. Both are thrillers that revolve around marital problems and have multiple narrators, but they’re definitely two distinct books. If you’re a fan of Gone Girl, though, I think you’d like this book (and vice versa).

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Psychological thrillers
  • People watching
  • Marital problems
  • Gone Girl
  • Alcoholism
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Learning British terms like “off-license”

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Summary

Lydia, the golden child of a mixed race couple, is dead, but it will be days before her body is found in the nearby lake. Lydia’s Chinese father wanted her to have the social life he never had while her white mother, who gave up her dream of being a doctor to have a family, pushed her academically. Now the lives of her parents and siblings are turned upside-down as they struggle to make sense of her loss and confront the secrets and strains that led to her death.

Review

Everything I Never Told You is told through Lydia’s family members — the father who wanted her to fit in, the mother who wanted her to stand out, and the overlooked siblings. It’s an emotional story about identity, unreasonable expectations, racial and gender prejudice, and family dynamics. Don’t expect a “feel good” story with this book.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Parents projecting their hopes and fears on their children
  • Strong character development
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Racial and gender prejudice
  • Fitting in vs. being different

Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

Summary

On the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears unexpectedly.

I don’t want to ruin the story, so I won’t say much more than that. 😛

Review

Gone Girl was a book I liked, but didn’t love. The twists and turns and unreliable narrators made for a really interesting story, but I couldn’t stand the crazy, despicable characters… though I guess that’s the point.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Mystery, suspense, and crime genres
  • Dark, psychological thrillers
  • Complex personalities
  • Gender issues
  • Red herrings
  • Marriages gone bad
  • Unreliable narrators

The movie (2014)

A movie based on Gone Girl (also called Gone Girl) starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike was released in October. I watched the movie shortly after finishing the book and I was impressed by how true it stayed to the book. I had heard that it had an alternate ending, but I was disappointed to find it more or less unchanged. Nonetheless, the movie was really well done and I recommend seeing it.

Inferno

When my mom and sister started reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, I thought I’d join them and read it at the same time. I accidentally picked up my copy of Dan Brown’s Inferno instead, without realizing I was reading the wrong book. Whoops! 😛

So a decade after my last Dan Brown book, I finished Inferno last week.

Summary

InfernoInferno is Dan Brown’s 4th book about Harvard professor of symbology and iconology, Robert Langdon — this time, centered around Dante’s Inferno. The story begins with Robert waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy with no knowledge of how he got there. His doctor, Sienna Brooks, tells him that he is suffering from amnesia after getting shot in the head the night before. When the assassin shows up to finish the job, Robert and Sienna flee and try to piece together what happened, leading them on a thrilling race against time.

Review

Thankfully, reading the Robert Langdon books out of order doesn’t matter, so there weren’t any problems with reading Inferno before The Lost Symbol.

The core idea of Inferno is that we are seeing rapid, unsustainable population growth and some argue that it is going to cause our extinction within 100 years if we don’t act now. That, coupled with the idea of transhumanism, made for a thought-provoking read. I was shocked to learn that half of US pregnancies are unintended.

I know Dan Brown gets a lot of criticism, but his stories are gripping and fun to read. One of the things I really like about his books is the blending of fact and fiction. I enjoy googling all of the art, buildings, and people he references in his books as I’m reading.

While I enjoyed reading Inferno, there was one thing that drove me nuts: I couldn’t understand why the antagonist left his series of clues. I get that there wouldn’t be much of a story without them, but I really would have appreciated a motive for doing so. The ending also felt a bit weak to me.

Oh, and I learned that “doge” refers to more than just the internet meme; it was also the title of Italian city-state rulers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. That made for some funny visualizations while I was reading. 😛

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeSummary

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a first-person narrative by a 15-year-old autistic boy named Christopher.

Christopher is brilliant at math. He knows all the prime numbers up to 7,057 (and he numbers his chapters in sequential primes, rather than sequential integers), he excels at logic puzzles, and he pays great attention to detail.

Although Christopher is certainly capable intellectually, he has social and emotional issues. He has difficulty relating to other people, he can’t stand to be touched (even by his parents), he hates the colors yellow and brown, and he closes his eyes and groans when he gets overwhelmed.

After Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog murdered outside, it becomes Christopher’s mission to solve the case. Motivated by the dog’s murder, his love of Sherlock Holmes, and his teacher’s encouragement to write a story, Christopher begins to tell his story in the form of a mystery novel.

Review

I heard about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when I saw it compared to Flowers for Algernon, which I read last month. Both books are narrated by disabled men. In the case of The Curious Incident…, the narrator is a boy with autism (Asperger’s); in Flowers for Algernon, the narrator is a man with a low IQ who quickly transitions into a genius and back again. Both stories had special meaning for me, because I have cousins with autism and a grandpa with Alzheimer’s. While Flowers for Algernon was a much more emotional read for me, both books were fascinating because of their unusual perspectives.

Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.

Although the book starts out as a mystery about who murdered the neighbor’s dog, the real heart of the book is in seeing things through Christopher’s point of view. I really enjoyed how he tried to make sense of the world and I was thrilled when he mentioned the Monty Hall problem, which is a favorite logic puzzle of mine.

Perhaps also worth mentioning is that the story takes place in England, so there are lots of British terms and phrases (for example, “maths” instead of “math”). I even had to look up a few things like “snooker” and “orange squash.” 😛

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Whoops, a post slipped through my fingers! I finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple a month ago, but I forgot to publish my post about it. Here it is:

Where'd You Go, BernadetteSince it was released in 2012, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, a novel by Maria Semple, has been getting a lot of attention. A film studio has even already gotten film rights to make it into a movie.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an epistolary novel about a wacky architect named Bernadette who goes missing just before a family trip to Antarctica. The story is told from the perspective of Bernadette’s 14-year-old daughter, Bee, and a collection of emails, letters, etc. she acquired. The book takes place in Seattle and Bernadette, a transplant from L.A., can’t stand Seattle and has no problem poking fun at the city.

In one such rant about Seattle, Bernadette complains about the slow drivers,  “athletic do-gooders,” Microsoft, and the locals’ lack of attention to physical appearance. And she says:

Whoever laid out this city never met a four-way intersection they didn’t turn into a five-way intersection.

I have to admit there is some truth to that; there are some pretty bizarre intersections in Seattle. 😛

Bernadette complains about Seattle frequently (though she came to love it in the end), but it was fun to see the local references scattered throughout the book. She mentions things like Beecher’s Cheese, “Go Huskies!”U Village, the Seattle Freeze, and the blackberry bushes that grow like weeds. Bernadette even says “the 405,” which is something Californian transplants are notorious for doing.

While gossipy, self-absorbed, passive-aggressive  private school mothers aren’t really my thing, I enjoyed the novel. It’s not particularly cerebral, but it was an entertaining and easy read.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestLast week, I finished reading the final book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I enjoyed it, but I wish I had read it immediately after finishing The Girl Who Played with Fire (book #2), rather than months later. It picks up immediately after The Girl Who Played with Fire ends and heavily incorporates the events from The Girl Who Played with Fire into the book. I had already forgotten many things from The Girl Who Played with Fire, so I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it sooner. As a minor complaint, I also thought the ending (after Lisbeth Salander’s trial was over) was a bit drawn-out and should have been condensed. Overall, I really liked the Millennium series… and the first book is still my favorite. 😛

A Nice, Relaxing Weekend for Reading

Hooray for long weekends! Nick and I had a nice weekend… running a few errands, visiting family, cooking a few yummy things, but mostly relaxing at home – just how we like it. 🙂

The Girl Who Played with FireI finished reading The Girl Who Played with Fire a little while back. It’s book #2 of the Stieg Larsson series. I wrote about the first book in the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, back in February. The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the final book in the series, is next on my list of books to read. Several people have told me that The Girl Who Played with Fire was their favorite book in the series, but I think I prefer The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I say “I think” because they’re both awfully good. 😛 I’m excited to see how the series wraps up in the next book… I just need to find the time to read the nearly 600-page hardcover. 😛

Shanghai GirlsJust yesterday, I finished Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. A couple years back, I read another of Lisa See’s novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (the movie comes out in July), so I was anxious to read this book. It’s about two sisters living in Shanghai in the 1930’s and trying to live modern lives. Their lives are suddenly changed when their father becomes bankrupt and tells his daughters that he has arranged marriages for them with two brothers from America. It was a great story that left off with a major cliffhanger. Thankfully, I found out that there will be a sequel, Dreams of Joy, that releases tomorrow. Hurrah!