Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Millennium aka The Girl series

After reading The Millennium series last week, I now know exactly five things that have come from Sweden--my sister-in-law's late husband Ulf (who I've never met), the furniture maker Ikea, the pop group Abba, the vampire movie 'Let the Right One In,' and this crime trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

The books made a killing in the 2010 bestsellers list, which means there's something in them that caught the public's interest. After reading them, I think I know what it is. It's almost formulaic actually--the right mix of suspense, sex and action.

'The Girl...,' which is how the titles of all three books in the series start, is Lisbeth Salander. She's every inch a heroine, and by that I mean she's not someone you'd meet in real life. A few inches short of 5 feet, she looks like an anorexic teen. But she could beat the crap of an armed biker dude three times her size. And she's also a world-class hacker with a photographic memory.

Of course, somebody THAT gifted has to be antisocial, and so she is. Her antisocial personality disorder (I'm making an amateur diagnosis here; the series hints at Asperger's but up to the end it doesn't give a name to Lisbeth's condition), in fact, is used as a launching pad for a number of plot twists.

The other protagonist, who serves to foil The Girl's unconventionality, is Mikael Blomkvist, an idealistic veteran journalist, whose career exploits are given just as much attention as his habit of bedding almost all the female characters who befriended him in the series.

Together Lisbeth and Mikael, with the aide of a few supporting characters who recur throughout the trilogy, solved a missing person mystery, dismantled a sex trafficking operation, and exposed a secret organization within the Swiss Sapo.

While I'm not a fan of characters with inexplicable talents, unless they figured in a fantasy plot, I enjoyed the series overall. I had to sustain suspension of disbelief for an extended period, what with the number of coincidences that influenced how the plot unfolded. But overall I think Mikael and the other characters were able to counter the implausibility of some aspects of the plot. For entertainment value, I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 Reads

If 2009 was the year of Twilight and Harry Potter (revisited), 2010 was no different--it was still fantasy and adventure year for me.

The series that stood out were The Watch by Sergey Lunkynenko, The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. Towards the end of December, I took on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I mostly went for the completed series because I didn't want to wait for installments. Also, the paperback box sets I bought were way cheaper than individual copies. My copy of The Mortal Instruments was the 3-in-1 version, which meant I had look like a total geek lugging around a chunky book until I was done with the trilogy.

But The Kane Chronicles and The Heroes of Olympus, also by Riordan, I couldn't resist, although they each had only one book out yet (if it's not obvious by now, I'm a Riordan junkie). The next Kane book will come out in May, and the next Heroes in October. I'm guessing I'll have to reread the first books when they come out.

Reader response
I have written some very candid reactions to The Mortal Instruments and His Dark Materials in this blog, as well as that stray I picked up to kill time, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, which I've never forgiven for raising my expectations and then helplessly letting me down. But for the Lukyanenko and Riordan books, I had nothing except a few lines in some entries. I'm hoping to rectify that in the coming months.

I've mentioned Lukyanenko in an early entry in my Twilight blog--for which I should probably arrange a decent burial soon--but that was when I've only seen the movie and haven't yet read the books. That was also around the time I saw the Swedish movie Let the Right One In, and I was totally obsessed with vampire lore and imagined myself dazzling mortals.

As for Riordan, well, what can I say? He's the one I'd like to be when I grow up. His stories are ingenious, witty and unpretentious. They're the kind of stories I like to hear--and tell. In Percy Jackson, he has creatively woven the story's magical elements into the New York City backdrop, and Percy's Manhattan sensibilities into the Greekness of Camp Half Blood. So now I can't get enough of demigods with dyslexia and ADHD. And from the only Kane book I've read so far, it looks like Sadie and Carter Kane can hold their own next to the Greek godlings.

In the pipeline
For 2011, I'm exploring the crime genre and I've started with The Millennium series. But I'd also like to revisit the roots of the fantasy genre--Tolkien and Lewis. Then I'll retrace my way back to contemporary urban fantasy, starting with the sequel to The Mortal Instruments, City of Fallen Angels, due this April. There's also the prequel, the Infernal Devices, but only the first book--Clockwork Angel--is out, and I have to wait till December 2012 for the trilogy to be completed.

I might also do the interactive novelty series 39 Clues, the first book in which is by Riordan. I'm also thinking about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I started reading last year but never quite appreciated. The comedy was mostly hit-and-miss--at least for me, because I never find obnoxious kids cute or amusing. But I'd like to see if the succeeding books can justify the hype around this series.