Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews



#DayOfTheGirl–Happy Birthday Lisbeth Salander


gwdtI don’t remember exactly what it was about the cover of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that stopped me in my tracks, but I remember the first time I saw it, face-out in the New Titles section of my local Waterstones (or Waterstone’s, as it was back in 2008). It’s a striking cover, and the faux-newspaper style blurb on the back cover sucked me in immediately. It’s one of the rare books that I bought and started to read almost immediately, despite the fact that, until the moment I saw the book, I had never heard of it.

Anyone who has ever spoken to me about Larsson’s Millennium trilogy will be aware of my feelings on the subject: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a masterpiece, one of the finest pieces of crime fiction ever produced in any language, helped along by the strong protagonists at the story’s centre, Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander. The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest fail to live up to the promise of the first book and are, in my opinion, much too long to hold the reader’s attention. There is a lot of background information that could have been cut without sacrificing the story, and the Millennium Trilogy – which, in the end, is only average – could very well have been the incomparably brilliant Millennium Duology. But that’s beside the point.

Lisbeth Salander is not your average heroine. It’s probably more accurate to say that Larsson’s creation redefined the whole concept and created one of the most recognisable and enduring female characters in the history of crime fiction. Larsson has been branded as a misogynist by people who seem to have missed the central point of the Millennium books: yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a book about the mistreatment of women at the hands of men (let’s not forget, the original Swedish title translates as Men Who Hate Women), but for me, Salander’s very existence is all you need to see where Larsson’s sympathies lie.

Lisbeth is a character with a dark and, for the most part, mysterious past. We meet her mother briefly, and learn of the existence of a twin sister, with whom Lisbeth has little to no contact. It isn’t until later in the series that we learn the full story, and the role that her father – a Soviet thug – played in her upbringing. Now in her early twenties, she is seen by the state as mentally challenged, and placed in the care of a solicitor who has control of her entire life, a man in whose downfall the reader can take great delight, as it gives us the first real glimpse of who Lisbeth Salander really is.

With her tattoos and piercings, Lisbeth is as unconventional in her looks as she is in her personality. Fundamentally broken by the abuses in her past, she has found a way out of pain and misery to become a self-reliant adult who proves time and again that she is more than capable of looking after herself. A technical genius who can make computers acquiesce to her every wish, a skilled fighter and – strangely – a master of disguise, the socially-awkward Lisbeth is driven by a solid moral code that is often at odds with how people perceive her to be. The epitome of the modern day feminist, Lisbeth is a force to be reckoned with, and a character who endures beyond the confines of Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, and the numerous films it has spawned, a fictional role model to which many – both men and women – aspire.

On a personal level, thinking back to when I first met Lisbeth brings me back to the period that introduced the “Dad” in my blog title to the “Reader”. I was halfway through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest when my son was born at the end of summer 2009, and I ended up having to finish the book by listening to the audio version – I have memories of trying to balance a week-old child in one arm and a huge hardback in the other, and failing miserably.

On 27th August this year (3 days before my son’s sixth birthday), Lisbeth Salander is set to return to our lives in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Swedish writer David Lagercrantz has taken on the unenviable task of bringing one of crime fiction’s most iconic characters back to life. If his novel Fall of Man in Wilmslow, which I will be reviewing here in the near future, is anything to go by, we seem to be in good hands. I’m looking forward to spending time with someone who feels like an old friend, a feminist icon who could just as easily be described as a nerd icon (as if we need any more!), and seeing where her next adventure takes her.

For now, though: Happy Birthday, Lisbeth Salander! May there be many more.

Day of the Girl twitter card

Find more #dayofthegirl action by following the Twitter hashtag, and by following @QuercusBooks and @MacLehosePress. And check out the trailer below for The Girl in the Spider’s Web.


#GreatestGift–Giving the Gift of Reading for Christmas


‘Books are a uniquely portable magic.’
– Stephen King, On Writing

Blog tour list #GreatestGiftWhen birthdays or Christmas roll around, there’s nothing I like more than the book-shaped parcels that are an inevitable purchase for someone who loves to read. In our family, they’re invariably accompanied by the joke that never gets old (really, Dad!) about how it’s a bicycle or a bottle of whiskey. But it’s better than either of those things: it’s a hunk (usually, given my reading preferences, a rather large hunk) of paper and card that has the power to transport me out of my everyday life, and into something – or somewhere – completely different.

Maybe it’s for this same reason that books are always my first port of call when it comes to buying gifts for other people. New baby? The Fisher Price My First Book is perfect (at least it was when Fisher Price were still producing it). Sister’s wedding? How about a hardcopy of Edward Monkton’s A Lovely Love Story to commemorate the fact that it was the piece I opted to read during the ceremony? What child can resist F. Paul Wilson’s brilliant The Christmas Thingy at this time of year? Or the many adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh at any time of the year? And what adult can resist the charms of young Jack, the narrator of Emma Donoghue’s Room, or the myriad characters that form the central core of Stephen King’s Under The Dome?

I like to think of myself of something of an evangelist (though not of the Billy Graham type): I love to promote reading and try to do what I can to spread the love for books, so when I buy gifts for the young’uns, they’re books that I loved at that age and which I believe still hold the power to enthral and astound. It’s an encouragement to read, and in some ways a subtle hint that reading is an acceptable pastime, something that they shouldn’t be afraid of doing, or of being seen doing. With adults, it’s about sharing the books that I’ve loved with others, a much more personal – and personalised – version of the posts that you find on Reader Dad.

No matter what, there’s a pact between the recipient and I, an unspoken promise that it’s something I think they’ll enjoy, something that is much more than the paper on which it is printed. It’s a ticket to another world; a brief glimpse into another life; a gift that will bring hours, if not days, of escapism and entertainment.

Passion for Reading POSMy family have resigned themselves to the fact that there is a very good chance that a gift from me won’t be a bicycle or a bottle of whiskey, and I’m happy to say that I’ve even converted some of them to my way of thinking. And it’s great to see that I’m not alone: projects like World Book Night and Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read are evidence that there are plenty of like-minded people in the world, who love to give and receive books as gifts. All in all, I can’t imagine a greater gift than that of reading, or of something new and amazing to read.

Thanks to the wonderful Quercus family who will be running the #GreatestGift campaign throughout December; I’m delighted to have been asked to take part, and look forward to following the campaign as fellow bloggers and vloggers have their say.

Thanks also to Quercus, who have provided a wonderful bundle of books, as well as some lovely #GreatestGift stuff (gorgeous postcard, poster and bookmark, right), that will be given away at the end of today to one lucky winner. The books in question are all books I’ve read this year, and you can expect to see some of them in my list of favourite books later this month. Click on the links to see my reviews:

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Jöel Dicker

Research by Philip Kerr

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre

Reader Dad

To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is send a single tweet answering the following question:

Which book would be your #GreatestGift?

Make sure you include the hashtag #GreatestGift as well as including @MattGCraig @QuercusBooks to ensure your entry is included.

The competition will close at 6 PM this evening, 1st December 2014 and the winner will be notified shortly thereafter.

Follow the #GreatestGift hashtag on Twitter, find details of the full campaign at the Quercus blog, and be sure to check out Book Addict Shaun tomorrow for more on #GreatestGift and another giveaway of another amazing bundle of books.

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