What We’re Reading

It’s time for holiday shopping, and books make excellent gifts! Here’s our roundup of some of the year’s popular fiction and nonfiction titles, all perfect presents for globetrotting friends and family.

120209_girl-who-played-with.jpgBy Stieg Larsson
Knopf, $25.95

Law and Order: SVU buffs take note: if you haven’t picked up Stieg Larsson’s best selling thrillers yet you’re missing out. In The Girl Who Played with Fire, the highly anticipated follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, reclusive computer genius Lisbeth Salander’s fingerprints turn up at the murder site of two journalists working to expose Sweden’s sex trafficking scene. Mikael Blomkvist, magazine publisher and friend of Salander, dives into the investigation to prove the young woman’s innocence. Full of technological intrigue, sex crimes, and murder, The Girl Who Played with Fire reads like The Da Vinci Code set in ultra-modern Sweden and hopped up on coffee. This book easily stands alone, but you’ll appreciate it more if you read it as part of Larsson’s series of three. The final installment, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, hits bookstores in May 2010. Book Details »

By Frank Delaney
Random House, $26.00

Frank Delaney, author of Ireland and Tipperary, returns once again to the Emerald Isle in his newest novel, Shannon. The story follows Robert Shannon, an American priest who served as a Marine chaplain in World War I, as he arrives in Ireland to trace his roots and treat his shell shock. His journey follows the mighty Shannon river into the heart of the country. Along the way, Shannon encounters a wide variety of characters, whose stories enable Delaney to share the rich history of the land. The author’s love of his native Ireland is evident and infectious, and I found myself repeatedly flipping to the map in the front of the book so I could visually follow Shannon’s path. Book Details »

The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City
By John Buntin
Harmony, $26.00

Gangster shootouts. Police corruption. Prostitutes. Publishers. Politicians. We’ve seen it all before in novels and films, from The Big Sleep to L.A. Confidential, but Buntin’s history of the City of Angels is a fresh read because it documents the true people and events that inspired L.A.’s film noir persona. Buntin energetically follows the interwoven career paths of two Los Angeles rivals: gangster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker. Along the way you’ll get a page-turning glimpse of the city’s underworld, with cameos from celebrities like Robert F. Kennedy, Al Capone, and J. Edgar Hoover. Book Details »

The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens
By Mark Lamster
Nan A. Talese, $29.95

If you’re a fan of Baroque art, you’ve probably marveled at masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens. His works are displayed at museums around the world and his talent as a painter is universally acknowledged. What you might not know is that Rubens was intimate with Europe’s most powerful figures, and he had a hand in some of the most influential policymaking of his time. Rubens was a Renaissance man of the 17th century, and Lamster’s extensively researched history reveals the painter’s successes at espionage, peacekeeping, and international diplomacy, from Italy to the Low Countries to Spain. While slightly heavy on historical details, Master of Shadows is a comprehensive look at the changing European landscape in the 17th century. Book Details »

By Hanan Al-Shaykh
Pantheon, $24.95

At the age of 14, Kamila is forced to marry her deceased sister’s husband—a man 18 years her senior—in Beirut. At 15 she bears her first child. Soon after, she begins a passionate affair with the love of her life, choosing a path that will have lasting consequences for her family and children. In The Locust and the Bird, Lebanese writer Hanan Al-Shaykh presents her mother’s history in the first person, revisiting some of her family’s pivotal moments and tragedies. Politics are overlooked in the book, which instead explores Beirut’s complicated domestic culture from the 1930s to present day. Kamila can be a little tiresome at times, but Al-Shaykh’s portrayal of love and family duty in Lebanon is honest and enlightening. Book Details »