Monday, March 23, 2009

some quick book reviews

I read several very satisfying books lately to commend to you. I've noticed a trend in my reading: I'm gravitating towards books by Scandinavian authors. I guess I should say "North European" authors, as I have learned that the term "Scandinavian" is deeply offensive to many. Indeed, a Scandinavian may recoil and react as though you used the word "snownigger", so offensive is the Sc word for inexplicable reasons. I don't want to say "North European", though, because to me, that does not signify that group of snowy, fjord-infested countries home to so many brilliant authors. If I hear "North European", I think of places like Poland. But then again, I'm just an ignorant American, drawn to the books of that region like an ant to a picnic. I figure that with those long, hard, dark winters, a lot of people stay inside and write, and they get very polished and clever indeed. The only problem is that their work doesn't get translated into English and published over here as quickly and thoroughly as it should.

Knowing that we're missing a lot of great reads from that region-formerly-known-as-Scandinavia, be sure not to miss what does make its way to these uncouth shores. In particular, I'm commending "Nemesis" by Jo Nesbo to you. This thick and thoroughly satisfying book is more than a murder mystery; Mr. Nesbo manages to combine several murder mysteries into one, with lots of thoughts on the impact of 9/11 in Norway, the historical and psychological underpinnings of revenge, Sun Tzu's teachings on the importance of consistency, alcoholism and other kinds of escapism, etc., etc... Mr. Nesbo is a great writer, and I'm glad, seven years after it came out in Norway, that "Nemesis" made it here.

"Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindquist was a big blockbuster in Sweden and the rest of Europe. I intend to write about modern vampire fiction on another day, but I'm just throwing this one in here as another example of an original and greatly talented author from the world zone formerly known as Scandinavia. Dark, depressing as hell, and violent, but very, very gripping, "Let the Right One In" is a thoroughly engaging read for the more stouthearted reader.

"Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts" by Laura Benedict was a weird and compelling book I hated to put down. Three well-off middle-aged, Midwestern women have their lives turned upside down, the repercussion of something terrible they did together as teenagers. Ms. Benedict is a beautiful and imaginative writer, and she packs a lot into a page. My only bitch was that she put her lengthy flashbacks into italic font; it gets really old, reading page after page after page in italics. The reader can figure out that it's not the present without that, Ms. Benedict! Give us some credit!

"Chasing Smoke" by Bill Cameron: this talented Portland author gives us a hero who is a lonely policeman on convalescent leave for bladder cancer. Skin Kadash, nicknamed for an eyesore of a birthmark, is an alcoholic who has managed to ruin almost every corner of his life. I loved this book; Bill Cameron has a great updated noir style.

"The Zero Sum Game" by Brad Meltzer: a quick read set in D.C. politics, with the conceit that jaded staffers and politicians are manipulating legislation as part of a game with prizes. This book started off very engagingly but then was less winning, for me at least, after the narrator was summarily dispatched a quarter of the way in. I loved this book at first but then turned on it. At least Mr. Meltzer had the backbone to resist adding a romance to his story. This one would be a fine book to take to the beach, but turn to the formerly-known-as-Scandinavians for a more deeply satisfying read.


Silliyak said...

Actually, this makes me want to read Sun Tzu. I want to know what he has to say about " alcoholism and other kinds of escapism" ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey, if gloomy Nordic detective novels are your thing you should read Arnaldur Indridason (in translation of course, unless your Icelandic is better than mine). He doesn't make me wish I lived there, but I do enjoy his books.

I finally got round to reading The Goneaway World, which I bought as a Christmas present to myself after I read your review of it. Loved it! Keep those reviews coming ...

Fellmama said...


I assume you've read Smilla's Sense of Snow? Amazing book. I read it in December, though, which was a mistake. I was cold for weeks.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Oh, yeah, I read "Jar City" and something else by Indridason. i will read anything by anyone from that region, anything which has been translated into English, of course.

I have not yet read "Smilla's Sense of Snow." Why not, given that every other booklover in North America read it? It was my ex-MIL's favorite book... I think the only book she read the whole ten years I spent with her son... so it's tainted with Evil Mother-in-Law Germs. I should get over that and try it, though.

DH said...

Hi other DH...sorry to read you weren't enamored with Meltzer's latest. I confess I'm a big fan of his, so I'll have to check it out soon.

Just stumbled across your sorry to hear about the interaction with the husband.

Best of luck to you.

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