Review – The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the JinniOtto Rotfeld is a lonely man who wants a wife. Knowing his chances are nearly impossible with the women of his Polish village, he turns to an outsider to fulfill his request. A man who practices dark magic agrees to make him a wife of clay, a golem. The request is difficult to fill but the strange old man manages the creation, and shortly after, the golem and her master board a ship for America. Rotfeld wakes the golem on the ship but dies soon after leaving her to fend for herself in a world she doesn’t understand with no one to watch over her. After arriving at Ellis Island, the golem runs, inundated by the wants and needs of those crowded around her. Rabbi Meyer, a widower making his way in New York, spies the golem. Knowing what she is and fearing for not only the golem but those around her, he takes her in and names her Chava.

Maryam Faddoul is the heart of her Syrian neighborhood. One day, she takes an old copper flask, a family heirloom, to the local metal smith, Arbeely, to be repaired. While fixing the flask, Arbeely unknowingly releases a jinni. The jinni, now named Ahmed, has trouble living by the strict rules that govern human form. Chained by the spell that captured him hundreds of years ago, he can no longer take his true jinni form. He struggles to accept what little he can experience of life as a human. While roaming the dark streets of New York City he attempts to find a bit of freedom. It’s on one of these explorations that he meets Chava and becomes fascinated by her and what she is.

Mythical creatures struggling to fit into the daily life of 1890s New York City, Chava and Ahmed want to stay hidden but chafe at pretending to be human. Taking to the night, the two explore the city, grow close, and begin accepting that life will always be this way for them. When they are involved in a tragic event, their lives, and the lives of those around them, change forever. Choices are made, lives move forward, and the golem and jinni once more find ways to survive.

How can you not love a story about mythical creatures set in 1890s New York City? It’s such a rich story and I enjoyed how Chava and Ahmed fought to fit in. The Syrian and Jewish neighborhoods that take them in are full of incredible characters and their lives become mirror images of the immigrants around them.

Chava is particularly interesting in the way she fights not to fulfill every want and wish she is mentally bombarded by. Built to obey a master, but living without one, she learns to control the impulse to help everyone and fix everything. It’s painful and troubling but she endures. Ahmed, on the other hand, steeps himself in sorrow and self-pity longing for a former life far out of reach. It’s Chava who teaches him there’s more to being human than what he believes. It’s the limitations of these mythical creatures that make them human.

Wecker does a fine job of pulling strings in this story. What might feel like several story lines is really one very long tale that twists and turns but never tangles. It’s an incredible web that draws people together in ways never imagined. There’s nothing better than a story like that. This may be a story of mythical creatures, but in the end, it’s a story of people adjusting to new lives and learning how to fit in. The simplicity of that is what makes this wonderful.

I don’t usually go in for book trailers, but why not, here’s the trailer for The Golem and the Jinni.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Golem and the Jinni

By Helene Wecker

Harper

ISBN: 9780062110831

 

Best of 2012

It’s that time of year when I begin to panic. Yes, panic and it has nothing to do with the holidays. What worries me, causes lack of sleep, and makes me ponder endlessly over a glass of wine (or two)? It’s best of lists. That’s stupid, I know, but here’s the thing — I always look back over the year and think about what happened, good and bad, vacations, time with family and friends, and of course, the books I read. So, to alleviate some anxiety, I’m going to share a best of list with you. Whether you like it or not.

Last year I had this genius idea (I thought it was genius and I’m not taking any feedback on that!:)). Instead of picking a list of say 10 books (how could I pick a number one), I would go month by month and pick the books I liked that month. Now, you may see a book on this list and then look at my review and notice I didn’t rate the book high at the time. The reason I picked it? All gut feeling. I’m telling you which books resonate with me, even months later in some cases, so I can say, ‘You know what, try it.’

January
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
The Secret Diary of a Princess: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Melanie Clegg
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

February
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

March
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (read along, no review)
Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger

April
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

May
Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate #3) by Gail Carriger
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch (read along, no review)
Railsea by China Mieville

June
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Heartless (The Parasol Protectorate #4) by Gail Carriger
Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5) by Gail Carriger

July
Among Others by Jo Walton
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
In The Woods by Tana French

August
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

September
The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma

October
Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson

November
The Likeness by Tana French

December
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

I read more fantasy and less historical fiction than in earlier years. And, as always, I have a few series going — not something that I see changing in the New Year. A good series is this reader’s downfall. It’s interesting how my reading habits change, even over the course of a year. One of the reasons I like to keep lists is to see my progress over a year’s worth of reading, that, and I really do like a good list.

OK, the big question — what did you read this year? Anything memorable, wonderful, something you wish you hadn’t read? Share, share. It’s not as if my to read list is getting any shorter anyway.

Review – The Scottish Prisoner

The Scottish Prisoner

By Diana Gabaldon

Delacourt Press

ISBN: 9780385337519

4 stars

I have a soft spot, a very soft spot, for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Jamie and Claire Fraser are among my favorite fictional characters. When I heard the latest John Grey novel would feature Jamie (the character has made appearances in the books but never as a major character), I made the decision that this would be my introduction into the Lord John Grey Outlander spinoff.

Jamie Fraser is now a paroled prisoner of war working as a stable hand on a remote farm called Helwater in the Lake District of England. While he wouldn’t say his life is satisfying without his wife and family, he is thankful for life’s small diversions. He’s no longer in prison, he spends his days working with horses, and is close to the son no one knows is his; affording him a small reprieve from his grief over losing his wife, Claire, and their child he never met. When Tobias Quinn, a friend of his from the Jacobite Rising, shows up at the farm, he tells him he wants nothing to do with the failed rebellion or with Tobias himself. He’s lost too much, namely his wife and child, and fears losing what little freedom he has gained at Helwater. When Lord John Grey summons him to London too many memories come flooding back to Jamie and he wants absolutely nothing to do with any of them.

Lord John Grey is almost as unhappy as Jamie is about the situation they find themselves in. A former warden of the jail where Jamie was held after the Jacobite Rising, he has no interest in seeing him especially since their last parting, which was on awkward terms. Lord John is in possession of documents that may contain information about a new possible uprising and he believes Jamie may be the only person who can help him figure out what the documents say. It’s an unhappy and uncomfortable match from the beginning.

One of the nice things about the Lord John Grey series is that the books are meant as standalone novels. Having the Outlander background and understanding the complicated relationship between Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser will add more for fans of the series, but if you have a love of historical fiction, this book could be a good entrance point into the Outlander world if you’re looking to try it out. It gives you a taste of Jamie’s life, what he’s lost, and while not a full background on him, it provides enough to make you want to know more about him and the wife he lost. Although, as fair warning to fans, the Jamie you meet in The Scottish Prisoner is slightly more hardened than the more good-humored Scotsman many have grown to love. Claire is alluded to numerous times and if you’re a fan of the series, this particular book is set after the battle of Culloden when Claire has returned to her own time and Jamie has been released from prison, essentially in the 20 year time period the couple spent apart in the series.

The Scottish Prisoner is set in Ireland but the slightly mystical feeling you get from the series is still present as there is a plot in the works to steal an ancient relic that the supporters of the Rising hope will inspire their Cause and rally supporters in Ireland. While I could have done without this little twist — I personally didn’t think it added much — it did evoke the supernatural feeling of the series without the time travel element. This is my only quibble with the book though. As always, Gabaldon goes above and beyond in the entertainment department and this book will probably be a fast read for fans of the series.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Review – The Map of Time

The Map of Time

By Félix J. Palma

Atria Books

ISBN: 97814391673097

4.5 stars

If truth be told, the idea of time travel has fascinated me for a long time, since I read The Time Machine as a teenager in a high school English class. The complicated systems, consequences, and the mechanisms by which time travel is possible are the making of stories I love dearly. Then there are the questions: can the past be changed and should it be? So much potential for a fantasy lover like me! In The Map of Time, three stories intertwine to make Victorian England the birth place of time travel with the author, H.G. Wells, crisscrossing stories to investigate instances of time travel.

Andrew Harrington is a man in mourning for a woman brutally murdered by Jack the Ripper. Years pass and yet he still can’t forget the harlot he met in the dark, dank, back alleys of London. He had hopes of bringing her home to his comfortable mansion and making a true lady of her; a dream now lost. His cousin, however, has plans to change his grieving by means of time travel. If Andrew could travel back in time, he would be able to rescue his girl and move on with his life. Game for anything that will stop his pain and possibly save the love of his life, Andrew agrees and the plot to kill Jack the Ripper is set in motion with the aid of H.G. Wells.

On the other side of London, Gilliam Murray, the proprietor of Murray’s Time Travel, an expedition taking patrons to witness a great future battle between man and automaton, is happily filling his coffers thanks to a time traveling device and fabulous marketing tactics. It is on this expedition that Claire Haggerty, a woman attempting to escape to the future and a new exciting life free of Victorian ideals, falls for the brave Captain Derek Shakleton, the man who saves humankind. But has she really fallen for a man from the future?

Pondering the affect his work, The Time Machine, has had on readers and literature in general, H.G. Wells is approached by a man claiming to be a true time traveler and a man in need of his help in order to save great works of literature from destruction. Skeptical, Mr. Wells becomes a detective of sorts to understand what and who he is dealing with — is the man a true time traveler? Can he be believed? Should he be? Can time travel really exist? Unsure what to believe, he decides to meet with the man anyway and see what his future, and fate, have in store for him.

What Palma does so well is make everything believable even for the most skeptical of his characters, H.G. Wells. He is also a master of tying up loose ends; creating an amazing web of intricate tales that all have similar elements yet are so very different. He’s a fascinating writer able to bring alive the time period of Victorian England with its fascination with new inventions as well as imagining a future world that would entrance. Each of the three stories have common themes, love being the main one, and he treats each story gently to make everything plausible — even if some of the characters are not sure of what they’ve gotten themselves into.

The Map of Time is an intricate story set in a brightly imaged Victorian England but with a fantasy subplot that causes each and every character to re-think their actions and lives. This story is a cautionary tale about the use of science and the foibles of love for his characters but above all, it’s an utterly fascinating and readable book. You won’t want to put this one down.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.