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by Charlotte Abbott
Feb 22, 2012

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Fiction and nonfiction releases from Stieg Larsson, Arthur Phillips, Kevin Brockmeier, Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking.

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake; Anthropology Of An American Girl; The Girl Who Kicked The Horn (NPR)

What We're Reading: May 25-31

May 25, 2010

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest Anthropology Of An American Girl The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

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Maureen Corrigan hails the "genius" of Stieg Larsson's vision, as revealed in his final "Girl Who" mystery. Is Anthropology of an American Girl the next Catcher in the Rye? Neda Ulaby says no. And novelist Aimee Bender evokes the taste of love in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

By Stieg Larsson

In this anxiously awaited final installment of what everyone calls The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, Stieg Larsson gives readers a look backward into the grotesque childhood that shaped his heroine, Lisbeth Salander, into the asocial street fighter and crackerjack computer hacker she became. As in the preceding mystery, The Girl Who Played With Fire, Salander is the still point of a furiously churning plot that involves, in this case, high-level business corruption as well as a rogue special-ops agency secreted in the Swedish government. For most of this tale, Salander lies immobile in a locked hospital room; meanwhile, her sometime partner in crime, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, frantically races around Sweden trying to save Salander, who's been accused of committing a ghastly triple murder and assaulting her own monstrous father. Blomkvist bets that the uncommunicative Salander isn't guilty of the crimes; but because she's Salander, Blomkvist knows she's not really innocent, either.

The full genius and compassion of Stieg Larsson's vision is revealed with the publication of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Larsson was a feminist and the larger mystery that his incomparable series probes is the mystery of misogyny — most explicitly in this furious whirlwind of a final book. Without sentimentalizing his enigmatic heroine Lisbeth Salander, Larsson gives readers a deeper understanding of the sources of her singular patterns of thought and prickly emotions. Salander, who weighs in at 90 pounds, speaks in sullen monosyllables and sends out aggressively mixed sexual signals, is the most charismatic and powerful woman to prowl the mean streets of detective fiction since Miss Marple laced up her walking shoes. The fact that, as far as we know, there will be no further installments (Larsson died in 2004, shortly after delivering his three mystery manuscripts) makes finishing this series — which, all together, forms one monumental novel — a melancholy experience. — Maureen Corrigan, reviewer for Fresh Air

Hardcover, 576 pages; Knopf; list price, $27.95; publication date, May 25

Anthropology Of An American Girl

A Novel

By Hilary Thayer Hamann

Anthropology of An American Girl follows the romantic fixations and travails of one Eveline Auerbach as she progresses from high school in Sag Harbor, N.Y., to college at NYU in the 1980s. She roams through the Hamptons, Jersey and Manhattan, trying to locate her place in the world and carve out a personal mythology. The novel was self-published a few years ago, then picked up by Spiegel & Grau and allegedly re-edited.

The blurbs on the back jacket compare the author to Jane Austen, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Henry James and J.D. Salinger. That's a lot to live up to, and I'm sorry to report that author Hilary Thayer Hamann doesn't manage it. Hamann is splendid when it comes to describing bedsheets ("soft and dry, like cooking flour when you are little and you dig in with a metal spoon"), a boyfriend's eyes ("a beautiful horizon, dominions of clouds and winds of ice and insinuations of birds") or clothes ("Her silk shirt caught the light the way pearls do, the way pearls in light look like milk on fire"). But it's difficult to describe her narrator as anything other than empty and pretentious. Eveline says practically nothing, ever, to anyone, nor does she do much, but she's constantly being congratulated by everyone around her for her intelligence, discernment, bravery, soulfulness and, particularly, beauty. Three pages cannot pass without someone marveling at how cool or gorgeous Eveline is. Through it all, Eveline is a blank recorder of others' fascinations with her. It is hard to share them. Can anyone do an "anthropology" of just one person? This book feels more like a case study of narcissistic personality disorder than a novel. — Neda Ulaby, NPR entertainment reporter

Hardcover, 624 pages; Spiegel & Grau; list price, $26; publication date, May 25

The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake

By Aimee Bender

Until she's about to turn 9, Rose Edelstein seems to be a normal little girl, especially in comparison with her older brother Joseph, a scientific genius who is her mother's favorite. Then her mother bakes her a lemon cake with fudge icing, and Rose, upon eating a slice warm from the oven, recognizes a strange new emotional flavor — the moroseness behind her mother's cheerful mask. From then on her emphatic sense of taste intrudes upon every bite of food. Meanwhile, her brother's growing social withdrawal overshadows his precocious brilliance. Rose and Joseph share a fragile bond in this Los Angeles household haunted by neurotic limitations. Their father is so phobic about hospitals he waited out the children's births on the sidewalk. Their mother has a wide array of thwarted ambitions. This sensual and detailed portrait of Rose's coming of age as a "magic food psychic" also reveals the complicated negotiations within a family where missed connections are the norm.

Aimee Bender's audacious, sexy and surreal short stories (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures) did not fully prepare me for the richness and depth of this empathetic and exquisitely paced novel. In the Edelstein family, which lives in a Los Angeles neighborhood combining American families, Eastern European immigrants and "screenwriters who were usually having a hard time selling a script," Bender has created a set of characters who could be modern-day West Coast descendants of Salinger's Glass family. Salinger fans should find familiar Rose's alertness to hypocrisy, her haunting vulnerability and her yearning love for her brother Joseph. The fabulist elements of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake are stunning, but what makes this novel a keeper is the sheer beauty of the language Bender uses to describe love. — Jane Ciabattari, NPR book reviewer

Hardcover, 304 pages; Doubleday; list price, $25.95; publication date, June 15
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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest ()

'Hornet's Nest': In Stinging Mystery, Feminist Fury

May 24, 2010

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The final verdict is in: Steig Larsson has posthumously proven himself to be one of the Greats of Mystery Fiction, taking his place in the pantheon along with other demi-Gods like Christie, Sayers, Hammett, Chandler, Robert Parker and his (still-breathing) fellow Swede, Henning Mankell. With the frantically awaited American publication of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the last novel in his The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, the soaring architectural ambition of Larsson's trilogy fully reveals itself. Once readers recover from the depression always attendant upon reaching the end of a superb story (and from the particular sadness here of knowing that Larsson, who died of a heart attack after turning in the manuscripts of his three mysteries, won't be writing any more) many of them will want to return to the first novel, to savor — with the wisdom of the newly enlightened — the earliest hints of the catastrophes to come.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest makes clear that all three of Larsson's novels ingeniously turn on the classic "locked room" mystery plot. In the debut thriller, our hero, disgraced business journalist Mikael Blomkvist, and our matchless heroine, Goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, joined forces to solve the decades-old disappearance of a young woman from an island off the coast of Sweden that was entirely sealed-off from the mainland. The second novel of the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire, found Lisbeth accused of a triple murder and holed up in her secret apartment, hiding out from the police and feeding the dogged Blomkvist clues to the background of the crimes via computer.

In this culminating novel, Salander is again at the still center of a force five horror: She lies immobile-but-still-texting in a locked hospital room. The indefatigable Salander is recovering from a bullet to the brain and a premature burial. Meanwhile, Blomkvist — aided by some of his fellow journalists, rogue hackers and skeptical police detectives — scurries around unearthing the dimensions of a monstrous Cold War-era scandal within the Swedish government whose long fallout has warped Salander into the Ms. Not Nice Girl loner she is today. (In a life-or-death courtroom scene late in the novel, the nonplussed 20-something-year-old Salander saunters before the judge wearing a frayed black leather mini skirt and a T-shirt that reads: "I AM ANNOYED")

Salander's gloriously anti-authoritarian personality is of a piece with the unapologetic feminist vision of Larsson's novels. Every positive character here, male and female, fights the good fight against the forces of misogyny — both the everyday sexism that assumes female deference to be the default position in the workplace and the more violent eruptions that result in psychological and sexual abuse and, sometimes, even death. Larsson opens The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest with a short prologue about female warriors throughout history. Among the "warriors" in this tale are Blomkvist's sister, who is a lawyer specializing in women's rights cases, and Erika Berger, Blomkvist's longtime lover who has taken over the helm of a militantly old-boy newspaper. Clearly, however, it's Salander's own story — stretching over the three books — that's intended as the central saga.

Salander is a flawed-but-riveting modern-day Amazon who faces down the evils of the global sex trade and the blanketing indifference of a patriarchal government. Whenever feminist mystery writers (and fellow demi-Gods of the genre) Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton have gone explicit with the sexual politics in their novels, they've been slammed for being "preachy." No such complaints have been flung at Larsson. Perhaps overt feminism in detective fiction is more palatable coming from a man ... or from a Swede ... or ... who knows? The literary and political miracle here is that Larsson managed to create an unforgettably steely series that fixates on: "violence against women, and the men who enable it." As a mystery lover and a feminist, I'm grateful for the Salander novels and also saddened that Salander and Blomkvist won't be making any more citizen's arrests in the future.

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Stieg Larsson (AP)

American Readers, Waiting Impatiently For 'The Girl'

Apr 5, 2010 (Morning Edition)

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Every now and then, a book series comes along that becomes an obsession for fans. Not too long ago, kids were lining up at midnight for the latest Harry Potter book. Now it's adults who can't wait to read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the final installment in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. But in this country, they're not lining up at the local bookstore — they're ordering their copies from overseas.

Larsson's trilogy is a genuine publishing phenomenon. More than 3 1/2 million copies of the first two books are in print in the U.S. alone. A film version of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has just been released. And the U.S. release of the third book is scheduled for May 25. Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity for Knopf, the U.S. publisher, says no one knew how big the books would be.

"We thought that Stieg Larsson, as an author, should be a best-selling author. But did we see the juggernaut on the horizon, the international juggernaut that Stieg Larsson has become? No."

Knopf obtained the rights to the books after Larsson's death in 2004. At the time, he was unknown in the U.S., so the publishing company's first priority was to introduce him to the public. At that point, they didn't think about the need for a simultaneous release of the books in different countries. They just wanted time to build interest with the release of each book. They had no idea that avid fans would be so eager to get their hands on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

As John Gomperts, one of those fans, puts it, "Once you know you can have it, once you know it exists in English and you can buy it, it would be crazy not to."

After a friend told him the book would be available in Britain long before its U.S. release date, Gomperts didn't waste any time.

"She said, 'Well you know you can just go to [] and buy it.' And, in fact, she said, 'I've already been there, it's coming out on Oct. 8.' As it turned out , it was released on Oct. 1," says Gomperts. "I had it and had already read it by Oct. 8."

Celeste Warrington, of Cincinnati, says that impatience got the better of her, too. She had already read the first book in English when she discovered that her husband had bought the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, during a trip to France. It was part of a pile of books her husband had gotten to help him with his French, and Warrington instantly realized her husband didn't know what a treasure he had.

"So I called him and I said, 'Can I take this book? You can read the first one in English, I would like to read this one.' And I did and loved it," Warrington says. "He read the first and second and loved it, so we couldn't wait. We jumped the gun and went on and ordered the third one. And we ordered two copies 'cause we realized we were not going to be able to share."

All this online book-buying did not escape the attention of book sellers, like David Thompson of Murder By the Book mystery bookstore in Houston. Thompson says the store wanted to honor the U.S. release date, but it kept getting harder and harder.

"We had gotten several very loyal customers who just absolutely needed the third book because the second one ends with such a cliffhanger you really, really want to read that third one right away," Thompson says. "And so we felt that it was really important to serve our customers and import these books that there was a desperate demand for."

Eventually Knopf found out that Thompson's store and others were importing copies of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and selling them to their customers. Knopf asked the booksellers to stop the practice, because says Bogaards, "it's a violation of copyright law."

But even online booksellers like are supposed to honor the U.S. release dates, which Bogaards says consumers may not know.

"What I would say to readers is, I would encourage them to shop at their local bookseller here in the United States or their online bookseller in the United States, where no laws are being broken and you are supporting the continuing discovery of world literature," Bogaards says.

And if the much speculated-over fourth book in Larsson's series surfaces? What then? Bogaards answers with a careful chuckle.

"If there is a fourth book — and we know that there are 200 pages of a fourth book somewhere — I can assure you that we will consider, if we ever have the opportunity to publish it, we will consider publishing it simultaneously with our U.K. partner."

Fans like John Gomperts would love another book, but having already read the third one, Gomperts says the last 100 pages of it were so satisfying, he doesn't mind stopping right there.

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