Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

One of the two magic related books I bought at Borders recently. I felt a little self-concious and awkward like the chick who rung me out was judging me for buying two books relating to witches and wizards. But you know I’m an awkward human being in general and I over think everything so she probably didn’t even notice. I guess my Harry Potter fixation extends to other literary ventures.

Anyway, this one is about a girl, Connie, who is studying for her PhD in Colonial History at Harvard. She inherits or rather is instructed to fix up an old house in Marblehead and by old I mean early 17th Century. She is cleaning the house and finds an old bible with a key inside of it. Inside the key is a name: Deliverance Dane. She investigates and finds out that Deliverance was an accused witch who hanged in the Salem Witch Trials and finds that she had a physick book which contained spells or potions directions. Long story short… she finds a previously unknown accused witch who was an actual witch. So she goes on the hunt for this book for her dissertation. The book goes back and forth between Connie and Deliverance and her descendants as we learn about the book and the magic they are capable of.

It was an interesting concept, the idea that there was an actual witch who was accused at the Salem trials. Not to mention I’m all for the combination of history and a mystical element. The magic here was what is known as vernacular magic or folk magic. It’s not so much about magical spells or “silly wand waving” as Snape would say. It’s more about potions and enchantments to help people. It sprang from the concept of the cunning woman who was sort of like the town healer (think that scene in The Princess Bride where they take Wesley to the wizard who declares him “mostly dead” and gives him a cure). The book looked at an interesting and arguably more accurate view of the witch trials. No not that there were real witches, though there were cunning folk, just the motivation and process behind the witch trials. I learned a lot about that time in history from this book.

As historical fiction, the historical part was spot on but what was lacking, however, was the fiction part. It was a pretty simple read to be honest and lacked a lot of the drama and suspense that I was hoping for. It had brief moments but they were far and few between. The back of the book compared it to The Historian, a book which I adore, but this one didn’t compare at all. They also tried to include some romance which seemed forced, there seemed little purpose for it here. It wasn’t a bad book, I just wasn’t impressed. Even the mystery was lacking. There were parts that were way too easy to figure out and others that they didn’t touch on at all. I would have liked to have been able to figure out for myself where the book was hidden but they insulted my intelligence and didn’t let me. In fact in general I felt like this book insulted my intelligence. I was a history major and I love solving mysteries and suspense. Also a minor issue I had was the flashbacks included a lot of writing that was meant to be in the Boston vernacular (replacing r’s with h’s for the accent). I mean I live in New England and I’m all for the accent but it was just confusing and made it needlessly harder to read.

I liked the book. It was okay. I was just a little disappointed. I had high hopes and it didn’t live up to it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

This is the second in the Millenium Series (the first being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which I read in the winter. My brief review is in the four months of catchup post). It picks up with Lisbeth Salander (the girl) in the Carribbean taking it easy thanks to her recent activities. Mikael Blomkvist meanwhile is back at Millenium working on a magazine issue and a book relating to human trafficking and the sex slave business in Sweden. When the book’s author, his wife (who was doing a dissertation on the sex trade), and Lisbeth’s guardian all turn up dead in a single night all signs point to her as the killer. Mikael however doesn’t believe her to be guilty and investigates who else could have killed them and would want to frame Lisbeth. The book delves much deeper into Lisbeth’s history and we learn a lot about how she got to be the way she is. We learn how she got the nickname Wasp, why she was declared incompetent, and much more.

The book took me awhile to get into. The whole first third is about Lisbeth on vacation and buying new stuff to start over and Mikael editing this book and wondering what happened to her. I really could have done without a lot of this. It seemed unimportant (who knows it may come into play later) and at the end I was remembering the beginning and how it had nothing to do with the main storyline. The real meaty part of it, when we get into the mystery, doesn’t start until around page 215. But when it did finally pickup it was non-stop excitement. There were so many twists and turns that I spent a lot of it rereading passages just to figure out what had happened. It was also much more suspenseful than the first book. It was a real page-turner, which is such a cliché statement but absolutely true. I did not want to put it down. It took me six weeks to read the first 200 pages and a week to read the rest of it (its 725 pages).

I also have to say that it leads to some times of confusion but one of the things I really like about these books is that it is told from many different perspectives. We don’t just hear about what is happening from Lisbeth or Mikael, but a combination of the two and a myriad of other characters. I think that is really refreshing when it comes to mystery novels. It’s not just told from one character’s perspective with whom we have to follow along with as they try to put clues together. We get a whole bunch of different pieces and perspectives. I think it helps you come up with more substantial possibilities. In the first book I figured out a key part of the mystery and the same was the case in this one. I actually figured out a lot of this one but there were still surprises. I’m pretty sure the last twenty pages I had mouth hanging open and I definitely cannot wait to read the third one (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

On the whole it was very good. I definitely recommend it, especially if you like mysteries. Maybe it was because one of the perspectives it was told from was the police or just that it is more sensational but this one seemed very much to me like an episode of Law and Order. I can really see it making a good movie. On that note… they are making these books into movies staring Daniel Craig as Mikael. Which honestly I think is brilliant casting. I think he has the right amount of smarts and brooding to pull it off. I’m waiting to hear who they get to play Lisbeth. I’m not all that impressed with the rumored options (Carey Mulligan, Ellen Page, Kiera Knightley, seriously?) and they better not screw this up. Also I am a little confused because there are Swedish version already. I've seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it’s pretty good. It’s on Netflix instant. They did change a few things around (like making two characters one) but in general they stuck to the main storyline. They did also add a small part in that gave a major thing about the second book away. Maybe that is why I figured a lot out?