Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
I love fantasy and have been waiting with great anticipation for The Golem and the Jinni. I was not disappointed by this enchanting debut novel by Helen Wecker, but it was not what I expected either. This story is much more an allegory blended with historical fiction than it is a classic fantasy with a magical system driving the plot. It is a difficult story to describe in a meaningful way because the novel has many layers. On the surface it can simply be read as an interesting tale about magical creatures, evil wizards, spells, and the pursuit of immortality. (Aside to parents - this is definitely NOT a children's story.) But, woven throughout the novel are several much deeper themes to ponder long after you finish the book. On one level, this is truly an immigrant story - people throughout time moving to new places out of wanderlust, to escape a threat, or in pursuit of a better life and the challenges of creating community, maintaining cultural identity, and overcoming language barriers and prejudice that come with that. Ultimately, both the Golem and the Jinni end up as accidental immigrants to the wonderful/frightening place that was New York City of 1899 and their adventures as strangers in a strange land provide a fascinating allegory for all immigrants. On another level, The Golem and the Jinni is a study of human nature - the moral and ethical dilemmas, romantic and platonic love, faith, altruism, free will and enslavement, and the meaning of life and death. Wecker's mythical creatures are forced to tackle these big questions of humanity without the benefit of parents, religious training, or schooling that give most of us some foundation and watching them wrestle with those issues is surprisingly entertaining and thought-provoking. I suspect this is a book that could give you a new perspective each time you read it.
Initially, I was so anxious to understand what the big conflict would be (anticipating some type of magical culture clash or something), I almost missed the beautiful view along the way. I started the book over when I finally realized that Wecker is laying down a very intricate pattern that you have to appreciate from start to finish - this is not a book you'd play on double speed or you would miss much of the nuance, some of the deeper questions, and some very nice prose. Wecker takes disparate stories, multiple characters, several historical time periods and weaves them together to create a rather mesmerizing flying carpet of a tale that is part fable, part romance, and part historical fiction. And, when you get right down to what every reader hopes for, The Golem and the Jinni delivers - it has a terrific ending! Helene Wecker is really talented and for a debut novel, The Golem and the Jinni is quite well written - characters are nicely fleshed out, settings are vivid, and there is a nice fluidity moving between settings and different periods of time. In addition, the audio version benefits from the narration of the always fine, George Guidall - his seasoned voice is a great fit for this story.
I have no hesitation in recommending the book. This isn't your average fantasy fare, but most fantasy readers will find a lot to love. In addition, because of the bigger themes, the amazing characters, and the vibrant historical setting most people who enjoy an entertaining and meaningful story independent of genre will like The Golem and the Jinni. I am really looking forward to more from Helene Wecker!
Miserere is another name for Psalm 51 or literally it means "have pity or mercy" and when you hear Miserere, you will see that this is a Perfect Title for this book. I would not have noticed this debut novel from Theresa Frohock, but saw that it was recommended by both Ilona Andrews and Martha Wells so I decided to check it out. This might be the darkest fantasy I have ever loved. With chillingly evocative language, Frohock creates a tale that is part horror, part fantasy, and completely engrossing. Frohock bases much of the plot/setting structure on Christian mythos, but also uses angel references from the Kaballah and pieces of other religions and that lends some weird and scary "authenticity" to the story. Yet, Miserere is unlikely to offend the religious sensibilities of most of the faithful and it most certainly is not a proselytizing vehicle. It is very difficult to describe this debut novel because it is so different from any fantasy I've read. It probably most reminded me of the horror novel, Between Two Fires (Christopher Buehlman), because of the adept use of Christian iconography and the frightening depictions of pure evil. The angels of Miserere are not the sweet Valentine cherubs - these are the Fallen in all their evil glory and the Seraphim (literally "burning ones") who fight in Woerld to hold back the minions of Hell from the Earth. As good as Frohock is at presenting evil in its purest, scariest form, her "good guys" are not so pure and most are terribly flawed and also quite engaging. Frohock starts the reader in the middle of the story and fills in the pieces as the narrative progresses. If you read the Publisher's Summary, you'll have a good feel for where you are as you start out and this tale pulls the listener in very quickly. Caveats: There is some graphic violence, a little graphic sexual content, and the tone is Very Dark until the ending so this is not a book to listen to if you are having a bad day. On the brighter side, this is a redemption tale and it has a very satisfying ending.
Eileen Stevens' narration is not bad, but not as good as I think this book deserved. Stevens is really skilled with character voices so all of the dialog is quite good. However, she uses sort of a "sotto voce" tone for the the narrative sections like she's telling you a secret or something that I don't care for and she mispronounces some common words (like banal and derisive) which always bothers me.
Miserere has an interesting plot, intriguing characters, wildly imaginative world building, and nice prose - I highly recommend Miserere for anyone who has a strong constitution and can handle this dark fantasy. This is the first in a planned series so I'm looking forward to what else will emerge from the twisted imagination of Theresa Frohock.
Sixty-One Nails is a nice introduction to a new series, The Courts of Feyre. This opening book is set primarily in modern-day London with a likable everyman protagonist who suffers through the world's toughest midlife crisis. Sixty-One Nails blends the tropes of urban fantasy with old-school folklore about the Fey and Feyre (how many ways can you spell Fairy - let me count the authors) and mixes in some fascinating English history to create a unique fantasy adventure. The plot is fast paced with a lot of action, but not a lot of violence. The city of London, the surrounding countryside, and the rich English history are all used quite effectively to set the tone and to drive the plot. The writing is strong with a lot of evocative language to build great mental pictures to enhance the story.
Much of this first book is really about Niall Petersen (Rabbit), a middle-aged Joe Blow coming to terms with who he really is and what he will really do with the rest of his longer than expected life wrapped up in a truly engaging plot and the evolution of this central character is interesting and believable within the fantasy context. There is a romantic thread in this first book which does not factor much until the end of the book, but unfortunately, I think it may be a bigger part of the rest of the series. I say unfortunately because I really enjoyed listening to Rabbit's evolving relationship with his mysterious mentor much more than I enjoyed the more trite romantic relationship with the less mysterious and less powerful girlfriend.
Nigel Carrington is very pleasant to listen to and his voice seems to be a good fit for both the style and setting of the book.
With some reservations about the romance introduced at the end of Sixty-One Nails, I intend to continue with this adventure now that Audible has added two more in the series. Most readers of Urban Fantasy will like this new twist to the genre - recommended.
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
In Haruki Murakami's own words:
"It's all pointless--assuming you try to find a point to it." Kafka on the Shore
"It's not that meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words." 1Q84
I read this book last year, my first HM read, which I jumped into with no knowledge of the author, and having read no reviews of the book at all. Since then I have read several of Murakami books, and not because I am an enthusiastic fan at all--I actually found myself a little disturbed by Kafka on the Shore. I was bothered by the wierd sexuality, the blurry boundaries and constructs, the pointless ramblings, the silliness I thought bordered on insult to the reader. I read interviews Murakami had done, I read about his background, I read very dissected critiques by scholars of Murakami books, and still held on to a bit of repulsion towards Murakami's books. But...I kept reading his books! I was drawn to them; they haunted me, they stayed with me, persistently colored my mind.
When 1Q84 was released, I bought it impulsively,then wondered why. I realized that Murakami writes for the reader; I understood that what brought me back time and time again to HM was the fact that somewhere in me, I knew that in HM's books I was in the presence of genius. I could read/listen to HM and drift through a dream, like closing my eyes and floating on a raft in the pool, I didn't need to make sense of the journey--I just enjoyed it.
I relate this only to try to explain the experience I had with Kafka on the Shore, It was in many ways magical and lasting. I'm not sure I loved it, but it captured me. I could compare it to the other books of his but I will not because it has been done--I will leave you with my experience and say that Murakami, like any author, is not for everyone--just like Beethoven or Mozart are not for everyone--but their genius cannot be argued. I am looking forward to listening to 1Q84--just picking the right time to be consummed. If you are compelled to find meaning in every event, to right each word with your own understanding, read again the top 2 quotes by Murakami...you may "find" something that isn't even really there at all.