The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Voices, City of Bones (Ashes, and Lost Souls), Under the Never Sky and Graceling


Despite the fact that I have spent a fairly obscene amount of time watching Doctor Who during the past several weeks, I have managed to get a little reading in too. Stay tuned later for my review of Doctor Who and Philosophy: Bigger on the Inside, which I currently have on hold at the library. But in the meantime,

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

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite loved this book. Yep, it was violent. And quite disturbing. But the characters were so very compelling to me. Especially Lisbeth Salander. She’s a person whom society has completely failed, who is in an incredibly vulnerable position. And yet she refuses to be a victim. She transcends her circumstances and refuses to be defined by what has been done to her. In fact, not only does she tackle everything life throws at her with incredible courage and resourcefulness, but she is also a champion of justice and defender of the helpless.

It made me really think about how I would look at life, authority, and morality if I had experienced what Salander experienced, rather than my own sheltered middle class life.

I thought it was interesting that Larsson envisioned Salander as a sort of grown-up version of Pippi Longstocking. It made me want to go re-read the Pippi books, which are apparently as much a part of the Swedish national consciousness as Pinocchio is of the Italian national consciousness. Do we have a children’s book that permeates American culture to that extent? Little House on the Prairie maybe? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? I don’t know.

This book is so worth reading, but the violence against women is pretty awful, so be warned.

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2)Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t crazy about the first book (Gifts) in this newest series by Ursula le Guin. But this second book is lyrical, beautiful, and understated.

I can never resist a story about the ruins of a secret, legendary library. But le Guin isn’t just pulling the heart-strings of bibliophiles with the plot device of the ruined library. There is much food for thought about politics, philosophy, religion, and individual responsibility in her carefully crafted, deceptively simple plot. And the characters–all of them–are so real and complex they almost breathe.

Le Guin’s books are quite unique in their genre, and a reader unused to her particular ethos and style might miss events so significant they color and shape the entire plot. Her philosophy of alternative power structures and the mystic significance she attaches to the simple, vital task of keeping a household alive shine through in this subtle, powerful novel. I may have to reread Gifts to see if I missed something the first time through.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a rollicking, fun read. It kind of reminded me of Twilight, except that it took itself ever so much less seriously. I don’t usually read books of this genre (the spine is marked YA Horror), but maybe I should.

Plot-wise and character-wise, there’s not a whole lot going on. Or perhaps there’s too much going on–so much that it’s like a mad ride on a flying motorcycle. The excessive descriptions of silly little things in the Shadow world or whatever it’s called are a little Harry Potter-esque (but nowhere near as annoying; yes, I know I’m the only person on the planet who can’t seem to work up any enthusiasm for Harry Potter).

This is kind of empty-headed fantasy, but so much fun. Or maybe I was just in a good mood when I read it.

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will serve as my review for books 2-4 of this series. Because once an author starts ending her books with cliff-hangers in the arrogant supposition that you will perforce continue reading, the books no longer merit individual reviews.

These were fun reads, although not quite as entertaining as the first book. Still, I have to fill up my long commute with something.

City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5)City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book seemed like a departure from the rest of the series on the one hand, and like a rehash of the previous book on the other hand. Once again teenage romance is just out of reach, because somebody is cursed, or having bad dreams, or something. But suddenly, everyone is having kinky vampire sex, and the bad guys are good guys and vice versa. Or not. I think I am just getting bored, which is probably good, because I don’t have to wait with bated breath for the final(?) sequel, which comes out this year.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a quick Kindle read; it seemed more like a novella than a novel. On a post-apocalyptic earth, everyone is living in underground pods, where they spend most of their time in the Realms (virtual reality), because how boring would it be to spend your whole life in an underground pod?

Except that it turns out that some people do live out in the real world, where life is nasty, brutal and short, but actually a lot cooler than the Realms because everything is Real. Kind of a transparent message to teenagers about the virtues of living some part of their lives offline, I guess.

Also, a lot of people have amazing powers somehow associated with a kind of permanent lightning that’s in the sky all the time. I am not making this up. And that’s basically the entire story. I felt like this book never really got going; like the whole thing was a prolonged explanation before the plot started. And then the book ended. I’m sure there will be sequels, but I don’t think I’ll read them.

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books I know my daughter will love in a few years. In fact, a lot of it she would love right now, but there are elements of the story that I’m not quite comfortable with her reading at the age of nine. Maybe I just don’t remember what I was reading at her age.

I loved the strong female lead and thought the story was very engaging. It reminded me a lot of the Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip fantasy novels I used to read and reread as a kid. But I didn’t get that emotionally involved in the characters’ struggles. Part of it may have been that I listened to the audiobook, which was more of a radio show production with lots of overdramatic music and a whole cast of actors. Maybe it’s weird, but I like my audiobooks just read aloud, not dramatized.

This is probably a series that I won’t continue unless I run out of audiobooks for my commute and get desperate.

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What do you think?