Brief Takes: A Superior Death (An Anna Pigeon Novel, by Nevada Barr

A Superior Death is one of the earlier novels in the long list of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series. In a way, all of these novels follow a formula of Anna’s adventures in a national park, which are complicated by a suspicious death Anna must investigate, as she tries to figure out how to live the rest of her life, which was disrupted and somehow damaged by the death of her husband years earlier.

The Lake Superior summer vacation setting is one of the more interesting, and Barr adds amusing macabre and perverse elements to this particular outing, making it one of the more fun ones.

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Brief Takes: Winter Study (An Anna Pigeon Novel), by Nevada Barr

As one of the more recent outings of Nevada Barr’s Ranger Anna Pigeon, this novel revisits Isle Royale, the setting of “A Superior Death.” The time period, however, is later in Anna’s life, and the action takes place during winter in the park, when it has been abandoned by tourists and visitors to a small team of researchers. Accordingly, the passions detailed in this story are cold ones, and Anna’s hardships deal area as much with her repugnance of the level to which her fellow humans can stoop as well as the mysteries of death and disappearance and the physical hardships of the severe weather.

Brief Takes: Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1), by Stephenie Meyer

In this exceedingly popular novel, Stephanie Meyer has re-invented the idiom of the vampire to suit that of her protagonist, a bored, almost loveless teenage girl. Bella finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with one of her classmates, who turns out to be a godlike, dominant, romantic vampire, whose obsession with her matches her own. This coming of age story in our STD times is more concerned with love than lust, but openly acknowledges the potentially fatal outcome of losing control of one’s appetites.

Brief Takes: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson

This mystery novel takes place in Sweden and took a little while to get started, but after about 100 pages in, it was very difficult to put down. The mystery itself is very intriguing, but it was the characters that kept me reading. The girl with the dragon tattoo herself — Lisbeth Salander, a sort of autistic genius computer hacker —  in particular was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

Brief Takes: The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson, Reg Keeland

The plot in this follow up to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is not as mysterious and twisty, but I loved finding out more about the protagonist, the brilliant but socially challenged hacker Lisbeth Salander,  and what made her tick.

Brief Takes: The Poet, by Michael Connelly

This is the first book I’ve read from Michael Connelly, and it was a recommendation from Stephen King that make me pick it up. The elements described on the back of the book alone made me want to read it: a serial killer who slays cops who are haunted by cases they couldn’t crack. Additionally, the killer makes it look like the cops commented suicide, and leaves quotes from Edgar Allen Poe with the bodies as “suicide notes.” Great plot elements and a real page turner.

More importantly, however, I don’t remember reading a book before in which the narrator had such believable insight into himself, and in which his own perceived flaws play so heavily into the plot. One of the cops who has been killed was the narrator’s twin brother, and he compares his life to his brother’s and examines his own through the ever-changing filter of his understanding of the case. The plot has enough twists and turns that you and the narrator can interpret different things at different times in a hugely different way. That self-awareness of the narrator is what made me come away from this book feeling that I’d had more than just a roller-coaster ride of a thriller, and more an understanding of how our self-image and our choices determine the outcome of our lives.

Brief Take: Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown

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Returning to the field of the intellectual action hero who travels the world with beautiful women solving esoteric crimes, Dan Brown makes this novel as interesting as “The DaVinci Code,” but perhaps less controversial. If you loved the riddles, games and historical clues that must be solved through symbology, you should love this one about as much as you did the Da Vinci code.