Planet Exherbo

September 12, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Bedrock Linux now supports Exherbo (Beta channel right now!)

Bedrock & Exherbo – duo infernale! 😉

Due to the attempts of an Exherbo user to get it supported in Bedrock Linux, I got curious about it myself. So, what’s Bedrock?

“Bedrock Linux is a meta Linux distribution which allows users to utilize features from other, typically mutually exclusive distributions. Essentially, users can mix-and-match components as desired.”

To me, that was immediately interesting as I simply cannot spend as much time on Exherbo as I used to (which was a whole damn lot). Bedrock looked like a potential solution to basically run two (or even more!) distributions at once – and, thus, be able to actually run a binary distribution but to use (and maintain!) some Exherbo packages (or a subset of those).

Thus, I took a closer look, found it pretty easy to add “fetching” support (which means you can actually run a command that fetches our stage and adds it as a Bedrock “stratum”) for Exherbo. My first attempt wasn’t ideal but lead to a very constructive and pleasant discussion with Bedrock’s lead developer, Daniel “paradigm” Thau.

Ultimately, we figured out caching support in order to not overly tax our, Exherbo’s, ancient server, mucked around with user support and lots of other stuff which boils down to one simple fact:

Exherbo is now both “hijackable” (i. e. it can be Bedrock-ised (sorry but it’s one heck of a film!), converted into Bedrock) and “fetchable” (i. e. installed as a part of a Bedrock installation) in Bedrock’s new beta channel, starting with version 0.7.8beta1.

Of course, this works in a virtual machine as well so you can try it out yourself without any risk.

For me, I’ve converted my current Fedora installation into Bedrock and, of course, fetched me an Exherbo stratum. To be completely honest, if that actually means I’ll be able (or willing) to put some real time into Exherbo again remains to be seen but at least I now have some way to try.

For Exherbo this means some more exposure to the world and for Bedrock, well, it’s one more in the impressive list of supported Linux distributions.

I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at September 12, 2019 02:14 PM

September 09, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Bear and The Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1), by Katherine Arden

That evening, the old lady sat in the best place for talking: in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven.

In the street of the small village I grew up in, there lived (and lives to this day even though she is very, very old now!) a lady of sheer infinite kindness. During the 1980’ties she still used an old oven that burned wood in her wonderfully old-fashioned kitchen. I spent many days there doing my homework for school, warming up on a wooden bench next to said oven or just hanging around listening to her stories.

Thus, when I read the introductory quote, I felt immediately reminded of those days during my childhood and I was hoping for being taken back into those simple times.

Unfortunately, this was not really to be: Many of the slavic “demons” or rather familiar spirits appearing in this book were part of her stories as well so I did feel a slight connection. Nostalgia isn’t enough, though, and this turned out to be a very, very slow read. I almost lost patience with it and might have put it aside for good because too much irked me about this book even though the story is promising:

Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the youngest daughter of Pyotr, the local squire, and Marina, his wife, who dies giving birth to Vasya. Marina’s mother had special talents and Marina just knows that Vasya will inherit those.

In fact, Vasya is a wild child, a tomboy, very down to earth and connected to nature. Above almost everything else she values (her) freedom. Due to all this, she can actually see the familiar spirits she knows so well from the old stories told by her nurse, Dunya. She lives in harmony with them, feeds them and even talks to them and learns from them.

Doom is heralded by harsh winters, though, and the arrival of a new Christian priest who tries to “save” all those “heathens” from their worship of the old gods:

He spoke of things they did not know, of devils and torments and temptation.

And this is where things start to go severely wrong in the book: We’re exposed to tons of religious crap. Neither the villagers nor Vasya need saving in the first place – they used to live in peace and harmony with each other and nature and only the arrival of the zealous priest makes things go deeply awry.

Religion, and especially Christianity, pretty much poisons the local society depicted here and, true to life, is basically as much a cancer there as it is in our society today.

Vasya is the only ray of light in this because she is a free spirit herself:

I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.

It takes way too much of the book to get to this point where Vasya finally declares her independence. Of the titular “bear” we first get to hear after almost half the book! The “nightingale” comes even later…

Until then we have to deal with religious nuts expressing all the things that are “sinful” and even the well-meaning people like Vasya’s father are contemplating how to “save” her:

Marina, thought Pyotr. You left me this mad girl, and I love her well. She is braver and wilder than any of my sons. But what good is that in a woman? I swore I’d keep her safe, but how can I save her from herself?

I wanted to grab Pyotr at that point and club some sense into his thick head! No matter the gender, leave people be the way they want to be and if that includes going wild, so be it.

Only when the book is almost over do we get some true development and, thus, a glimpse at how good this book could have been had it gotten to the point a bit quicker:

Morozko spared Vasya a quick, burning glance, and she felt an answering fire rising in her: power and freedom together.

At the end, we get to really feel that fire, the raw (narrative) power that could have made a brilliant book! Alas, it’s still too little and too late to raise this book above the two stars I can justify to award it.

And, yet, I might actually read the second book of the trilogy to see if it’s more of the long-winded same or if Arden actually succeeds in allowing Vasya and Morozko to roam freely and wildly as they should.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at September 09, 2019 04:43 PM

September 08, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Tim im Kongo (Tim und Struppi, Band 1), von Hergé

“Tim im Kongo” wird üblicherweise als der erste “wirkliche” Tim-und-Struppi-Band angesehen, da der eigentliche Vorgänger, “Tim im Lande der Sowjets” von Hergé lange Zeit als “Jugendsünde” abgetan wurde. Auch hat er diesen später meist als “Band 0” bezeichneten Comic nie mehr überarbeitet (im Gegensatz zu den meisten anderen Bänden).

Insofern darf der vorliegende Band “Tim im Kongo” wohl zurecht als erster “Tim und Struppi”-Comic angesehen werden. Nie vergessen darf man dabei, daß dieser Comic bereits 1930 erschien und insofern “Kind seiner Zeit” und darüber hinaus das Ergebnis einer sehr naiven europäischen Einstellung zu Afrika und den Menschen dort ist.

Die “Eingeborenen” werden in der vorliegenden 8. Auflage von 1981 – und bereits “entschärften” (!) Ausgabe – als geradezu kindlich (kindlich-einfacher Satzbau, einfachste Wortwahl – “Dingsbums” ist eines der häufigsten Worte…) und unendlich naiv dargestellt.

Ganz klar: Mit heutigen Augen gelesen, kommt man um die Erkenntnis nicht herum, daß dieser Band rassistisch ist.

Dann kommt der edle Weiße, Tim mit seinem weißen Hund, und bringt alles “auf Vordermann” – der Kolonialismus als Rettung. Mir dreht sich der Magen um.

Auch in jener Zeit sehr beliebt unter den herrschenden weißen Kolonialherren: Die Großwildjagd und so zieht natürlich auch Tim los und tötet einen Elefanten – seiner Stoßzähne wegen. Traumhaft.

Die zusätzlich wohl auch noch gewaltverherrlichenden Szenen früherer Auflagen kenne ich schon gar nicht mehr und bin, ehrlich gesagt, froh darüber, denn als Kind habe ich auch diesen Band gemocht und all das, was mir heute so übel aufstößt, gar nicht wahrgenommen.

Ich bin gespannt auf die nächsten Bände, auch wenn ich ein bißchen Angst habe, mir eine Kindheits-Ikone zu zerstören.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at September 08, 2019 11:57 AM

September 07, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Tim im Lande der Sowjets, von Hergé

Nach vielen Jahren habe ich auf Empfehlung von Akash diesen “Tim und Struppi”-Comic mal wieder gelesen. Es ist das allererste Werk in dieser Comic-Reihe und sein Alter (Entstehungszeit 1929 bis 1930) ist unverkennbar. Die damalige Sowjet-Union, die als Heimat der gefährlichen kommunistischen Horden gesehen wurde, hat so natürlich nie existiert und der gesamte Comic leidet etwas unter dem Fehlen eines echten Plots.

Ja, man erkennt die Entwicklung Hergés als Künstler im Verlauf des vorliegenden Bandes, aber es ist doch alles sehr rudimentär und die späteren “Co-Stars” wie Kapitain Haddock, Professor Bienlein oder die beiden Detektive fehlen noch gänzlich.

Insofern sei interessierten (Comic-)Lesern oder Nostalgikern der Einstieg z. B. mit “Das Geheimnis der Einhorn” empfohlen.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at September 07, 2019 01:32 PM

August 31, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5), by Andrzej Sapkowski

I’ve first read “The Last Wish” in 2011. It was recommended to me by my friend Ingmar (who still has to read it, I suppose!) who – as it turned out later – used me as a guinea pig for books he intended to read but didn’t know if he would enjoy them and, thus, enticed me into reading them first.

Little did that scoundrel know that he had involuntarily introduced me to what is today one of my favourite fantasy book series.

It took a few years to really set in, though, because while I enjoyed “The Last Wish” well enough, at the time it was a three-stars-read to me – which means “it was ok’ish but nothing special”.

Nevertheless, I wanted to read more about that strange man, a witcher actually, who hunts monsters for a living. Unlike some other heroes in fantasy, Geralt is not a killer-for-hire and he won’t indiscriminately slaughter any non-human but consider them first – and sometimes confuse them:

The monster shifted from one foot to the other and scratched his ear. “Listen you,” he said. “Are you really not frightened of me?”

– “Should I be?”

In Geralt’s open-minded world, “monsters” aren’t necessarily evil and if they aren’t, they don’t have to fear him because he’s more likely to sit with them and drink instead of mindlessly murdering them. A commendable approach. In other cases, Geralt may try to lift the curse or enchantment that originally caused the change into a monster.

If Geralt really has no choice but to kill, Sapkowski in turn allows even despicable monsters some degree of dignity (or maybe some remnants of former humanity?) which is something rarely seen in contemporary fantasy:

She turned—and Nivellen forced the sharp broken end of a three-meter-long pole between her breasts. She didn’t shout. She only sighed.

Geralt himself isn’t unaffected either: “The witcher shook, hearing this sigh.

And in such rather unconventional ways, Sapkowski almost playfully and gracefully explores topics like true love, the monstrosity of man, the nature of evil and choosing between evils. Especially the latter is something that I had – regrettably – forgotten about because many of us should subscribe to the witcher’s philosophy:

Evil is evil, Stregobor,” said the witcher seriously as he got up. “Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I’m not a pious hermit. I haven’t done only good in my life. But if I’m to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all. Time for me to go. We’ll see each other tomorrow.

I’m not going to “see” Geralt tomorrow because before I read the next book of the series, I want something new and exciting but I’m as certain that I’m going to pick up the next book rather sooner than later.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading Geralt’s adventures to anyone who is even remotely interested in fantasy.

P.S.: At the beginning, when I talked about my first “encounter” with Geralt I neglected to mention I read the German translation at the time. Possibly because the German translations were publicised prior to the English ones. In fact, I started this second reading in German as well but – after having played the Witcher computer games in the meantime – found that I wanted the names and terms in their English variants even though I very slightly favour the German translation over the English one. So if you prefer reading in German, this book is also available as “Der letzte Wunsch”.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 31, 2019 05:20 PM

August 26, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Game, by Michael J. Sullivan

This is another short story by Michael which he published separately as part of one of his Kickstarter campaigns.

It’s about Troth, a previously minor Non-Player Character (NPC), who “lives” in a Massively Multi-player Role Playing Game (MMORPG) and suddenly develops sentience.

The premise is interesting and the story well-told (how could it not be, it’s a Sullivan!). It’s just that it’s a bit… short. Given that this is a short story, well, I guess I’ll let it slide… 😉

Recommended to anyone with 30 minutes to spare.

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by Wulf at August 26, 2019 02:29 PM

August 25, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Bretonisches Vermächtnis (Kommissar Dupin #8) von Jean-Luc Bannalec

Vive la France! – auch wenn sich das etwas merkwürdig anfühlt, wenn man weiß, daß sich hinter dem Pseudonym Jean-Luc Bannalec der deutsche Literat Jörg Bong (schon eine Weile nicht mehr) versteckt. Merkwürdig fühlt es sich auch an, nach längerer Zeit der “Abstinenz” einmal mehr in meiner Muttersprache gelesen und, jetzt und hier, auch geschrieben zu haben.

Andererseits schreibt mit Martin Walker auch ein nicht ganz so “waschechter” Franzose (sondern ein Schotte!) über seinen Bruno und ist damit ziemlich erfolgreich.

Ähnlich verhält es sich auch in anderen Punkten, was beide Roman-Serien angeht: Beide, so scheint es leider, haben ihre besten Zeiten hinter sich. Denn der vorliegende Band “Bretonisches Vermächtnis” ist immer noch nett, Dupin als Figur weiterhin ausgesprochen sympathisch und auch gewissermaßen glaubwürdig; nur leider wirkt doch alles recht routiniert:

Schon Hunderte Male hatte er hier gesessen. Er hätte die Augen schließen und den Raum dabei im Detail beschreiben können.

Nun gut, hunderte Male haben wir Dupin nicht “getroffen”, aber dies ist bereits der achte Band und, ja, man kann schon leider zunehmend Parallelen zu älteren Fällen finden.

Na klar, mit den beiden neuen Polizistinnen LeMenn und Nevou hat sich Bannalec neue Randfiguren erschaffen, aber nach einem vielversprechenden Anfang, während dessen die beiden beginnen, Konturen zu gewinnen, gelingt es Bannalec nicht, sie wirklich mit Leben zu füllen…

Kein Kaffee, kein Wein, Dupin machte sich langsam Sorgen um Nevou.

… dabei kann ich diese Sorge nur allzu gut verstehen!

Stattdessen holt er den vorher abwesenden Riwal zurück an Bord der Ermittlungen. Ein Kunstgriff, der notwendig scheint, um der etwas verworrenen Geschichte und deren Auflösung ein bißchen Authentizität zu verleihen.

Auch eben diese Geschichte – schnell zusammengefaßt und in mehrerlei Hinsicht leider nur mäßig originell – kann nur bedingt überzeugen: Drei ältere Herren – ein Arzt, ein Apotheker und ein Weinhändler – aus Concarneau verbinden ihre langjährige Freundschaft mit dem Geschäft – sie investieren gemeinsam in die lokale Wirtschaft. Da wird der Arzt ermordet und ein eher seichtes Drama nimmt seinen Lauf.

Viele Nebenfiguren treten auf und wir lernen den stereotypen jung-dynamischen Bürgermeister Concarneaus ebenso kennen wie die Besitzerin einer lokalen Konservenfabrik und viele weitere Lokal-Größen. Leider ist niemand von ihnen wirklich interessant, aber alle irgendwie schwer verdächtig – für meinen Geschmack zumindest tummeln sich zu viele Figuren am Rand und die Lösung des Falles fällt Dupin plötzlich förmlich in den Schoß. Und, Deus ex machina, alles wird – zumindest für mich ebenso überraschend wie nur bedingt glaubwürdig – plötzlich gut, oder fast.

Vielleicht ist es das Gesetz der Serie (also, nicht das Gesetz der Serie): Je länger eine Buch-Serie Erfolg hat, desto höher ist die Wahrscheinlichkeit, daß es dem Autor nicht gelingt, ein würdiges Ende zu finden, bevor wir seines Helden überdrüssig werden. (Ganz anders übrigens als Henning Mankell, der seinem Kommissar Wallander einen etwas traurigen, dabei aber überaus würdevollen, realistischen und lebensbejahenden Abschied angedeihen ließ, was ich nach über 40 Jahren des Lesens so noch nie gesehen habe!)

Allzu oft wird es dann glatt und routiniert, wie hier – das tut keiner Serie gut.

So zumindest geht es mir – leider! – sowohl mit meinem geliebten Bruno als auch – wie mir böse schwant – mit dem mir so sehr sympathischen Dupin.

Allerdings – und das gibt mir ein wenig Hoffnung – tut Bannalec etwas, daß mir zutiefst sympathisch ist: Er läßt Dupin nicht nur den reinen Wortlaut des Gesetzes, sondern auch dessen Bedeutung beachten:

Dupin hatte gegrübelt, wie er sich beim Verhör verhalten sollte. Vor allem: welche Fragen er stellen sollte. Um was zum Thema zu machen. Oder, andersherum: Was würde er […] alles erzählen lassen und wie ausführlich? Und – was nicht?

Darin wiederum sind sich Walkers Bruno und Bannalecs Dupin sehr ähnlich – sie lassen nie die Menschlichkeit außer Acht, sondern verhalten sich jedem Menschen gegenüber anständig.

So lasse ich diesen achten Band aus Jean-Luc Bannalecs Dupin-Reihe mit gemischten Gefühlen zurück und werde doch nicht von ihm, Dupin, lassen und empfehle diesen Band all jenen, die meine kleine Schwäche für französische Kommissare teilen.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 25, 2019 04:41 PM

August 20, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1), by Ilona Andrews

I’ve read this book because it sounded a bit like Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” which I like. And, indeed, there are similarities – the most important one for me was that I didn’t really like either series’ respective first book.

“Magic Bites” was a confusing read much of which is due to the messy style of storytelling employed here. There’s a knightly order that’s supposed to help people in case of magic disasters which seem to happen due to weird alternating “cycles” of magical and technological “dominance” which in turn seem to have devastated the major cities but not everywhere (?).

There’s a mercenary guild that somehow plays a role as well and of which Kate, our heroine, is part of. Somehow Kate is obviously “special” due to her father (?) but at least in this first instalment of the series we never get to know what the big deal is.

Lots of things aren’t explained or so badly explained that I missed those explanation or promptly forgot about them – none of that being very likely. I often felt like I was missing crucial information. As if I had started not the first but a follow-up novel in the series. But from some other reviews, I don’t seem to be the only one.

As far as the story goes, it’s simple, nothing new and, to be honest, rather boring: Kate’s mentor Greg, one of the more important and powerful knights of the order, has been brutally murdered and Kate is investigating what happened.

Move over, Sherlock.” is how she puts it but that’s really not how I see things because Kate doesn’t seem to have much of a criminalistic sense or experience. At least, though, she’s lucky and so she somehow manages to solve the case and (barely) survive.

We don’t really get to know Kate, though: We rarely “see” her in her “natural habitat”; yes, she does go out with a potential love interest but while it starts out nicely…

Would you go to dinner with me?” “I would,” I found myself saying. “Tonight?” he asked, his eyes hopeful. “I’ll try,” I promised and actually intended to do so. “Call me around six.” I gave him my address in case the magic knocked the phone out.

… and I found myself smiling, what happens during that date feels artificial and shallow because Kate – who obviously really wanted to go – is suddenly greatly annoyed when they eat at a fancy restaurant and considers giving up on the guy entirely.

Harry Dresden at least whines and complains and while I didn’t exactly like him in the first “Dresden Files” book there was at least humour and cheesiness in a good way.

At times there are attempts at humour here as well but they often fall quite flat: Like calling a mare “Frau” (German for “woman”). It’s a small thing but it bothers me.

There are tons of loose ends as well:

The fact that vampires weren’t supposed to have existed two hundred years ago when the tech was in full swing bothered me a great deal

Ok, and what does Kate do about it? Does she follow up on this with anyone at all? No. She’s greatly bothered but promptly forgets about it. Wow.

In fact, who is Kate? Who was her father? What – apart from her mentor – was Greg to Kate?

Why does everything miraculously fall in place during the epilogue?

As if that wasn’t enough, the writing isn’t very good either:

There was something so alien in the way he moved, in how he sat, how he smelled, how he looked at me with the eyes brimming with hate, something so inhuman that my brain stopped, smashing against that inhumanity like a brick wall. He made me want to scream.

Sorry, what? Her brains stops but smashes itself… Sorry, I think mine is about to disengage trying to make sense of that.

Ultimately, I’m confused by this book but I’m told the series “gets waaaaaaayy better!” so – just like “Dresden Files” that took 9 books till I liked it – I’m going to give this series another chance. Not like Kate who has the last word(s) in the book…

Tomorrow,” I said. “I can start tomorrow.

… but once after I’ve recovered from my book-induced dizziness. 😉

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 20, 2019 04:14 PM

August 15, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Pile of Bones (The Legends of the First Empire #0.5), by Michael J. Sullivan

This is a short story about Suri and Minna from Michael’s “The Legends of the First Empire” series which I highly recommend to any fantasy fan.

With 36 pages and about 10.000 words it’s a very short piece but it nicely “showcases” some of the “features” of the series which is currently comprised of four full length novels and two more in the making (not like Rothfuss or Martin, though…).

I’m usually not all that great a fan of short stories but I enjoyed this one.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 15, 2019 03:31 PM

August 14, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Dark Bones, by Loreth Anne White

This will be an untypically short review because this book was interesting enough but I had expected so much more: This books predecessor, “A Dark Lure”, was very, very suspenseful and exciting and told a really interesting story.

“The Dark Bones” features a few characters from the first book (namely Olivia and her daughter Tori) but deals with the murder of Noah North which his daughter, Rebecca, a white-collar-crime cop investigates. During the course of her investigation Rebecca meets her ex-boyfriend, Ash, again who quickly becomes a “person of interest” in this case and an older one about two missing kids.

As in the previous book, White’s career as a romance writer shines through and – again – her heroine falls for the handsome rugged second protagonist – it worked the first time so why not try to apply the successful formula again?

Which would be fine by me but somehow I was not as invested in both the story and the people this time around. Rebecca broke up with Ash because he cheated on her and met the girl again – she never asked him for the reason but just left. Ok, so some people do that, I get it, but if she really loved him so much that Rebecca never had any serious relationship again would she really just leave? Wouldn’t she at least ask him to explain himself before basically burning all bridges and leaving her home for good?

Either way, even when Rebecca becomes convinced of Ash’s innocence, she still feels that he harbours a huge dark secret – and instead of digging into him till he spills, she tries to distance herself emotionally – which didn’t work when he cheated and, surprise, surprise, doesn’t work now either.

The story takes a long time to pick up speed and when it does, it feels slightly rushed. The twist at the end doesn’t really feel right either – like it was “tacked on” in hindsight.

It’s pretty obvious what happened to the missing kids so that part of the story wasn’t as interesting as it could have been either. Among all the romance stuff and our heroine oscillating between loving her Ash and being wary of him I sadly sometimes lost interest in the entire proceedings.

Maybe it’s in fact that: The book is simply too long for what it has to tell us.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 14, 2019 03:55 PM

August 09, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable. – Anorak’s Almanac, Chapter 91, Verses 1 – 2

Actually, for me, being human doesn’t suck and yet I fully sympathise with the feeling that videogames do add to life – always provided we can agree that books count as well.

This book, in fact, made me smile a lot and remember a lot of things from my childhood and youth – during the 80ties which feature more than prominently in this wonderful geeky, nerdy story.

I’m three years younger than Cline but it seems we share a lot of experiences and, maybe, some notions about life:

So now you have to live the rest of your life knowing you’re going to die someday and disappear forever. “Sorry.”

This, Cline says, might be one way to summarise what life is about and how it ends. It’s certainly a very sobering way of expressing it. Nevertheless, it’s true.

In 1979 in the hilarious “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Eric Idle already sang “Life’s a piece of shit / When you look at it” and that’s pretty much the situation in which our hero, Wade Watts, finds himself: Living in 2045 on an Earth that has been devastated by climate-change, wars for resources, with his parents dead, he’s a loner.

Wade lives with his unloving aunt in her trailer but mostly stays out of her way in his hideout, hidden away in OASIS, an immersive virtual reality simulation that let’s its users escape from the harsh reality. By heart, Wade is an egg hunter, a “gunter”, who is searching for the Easter Egg in OASIS the finder of will inherits the entire wealth of OASIS’ founder.

“Ready Player One” tells the story of the hunt for that egg and the inheritance.

The entire book is full of references to the 80ties and I’ve had so many “WTF” moments, e. g. when Cline mentions FidoNet (in its time the largest private pre-internet network) – of which I had the honour to be a member (2:2437/209 and others) of for more than a decade.

For me, the book exactly hits its mark because of the many “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” moments: I’ve played most of the games, watched most of the films and have heard most of the music. Cline obviously knows his target audience very, very well, even quoting the right role models:

I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal. – Groucho Marx

I even felt like the author describes feeling at times and, I guess, that’s why this book made such an impression on me – I felt at home, it felt like the book was written for me.

Of course, we tend to whitewash our childhood, gloss over the rough patches we all went through. Maybe that’s why I like this book as much as I do and maybe I’m being played here but if that’s the case I’m going along willingly because everything feels so right.

I’d totally be a “gunter” in the scenario presented here, I’d certainly loathe the evil mega corporation and I’d love to be Wade.

I’m writing this review on Linux in text-mode (-nw) Emacs (not vile vim!) running in a Konsole (not a typo!) window with zsh; right after reading the book on a jail-broken Kindle. If you understood that, you’re my brother (or sister, for that matter!) and I guarantee you’ll enjoy this book.

If not, well, I’m not sure… I’m not sure what today’s kids will think of this book unless they’re totally geeky and/or nerdy because my very own offspring doesn’t really know most of the games and films mentioned throughout the book. They might still enjoy it for the action and adventure, for the unbridled joy this book permeates despite the dystopic setting.

At its heart, “Ready Player One” is more than a glorification of the “good old times” (which the author knows full well weren’t that great) or one of the escapism OASIS allows for (the danger of which the author recognises very clearly as we see when he introduces a certain “device” at the very end).

It’s a story of survival in spite of the odds, of true friendship beyond the confines of gender or skin colour:

I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation.

It’s a story of finding love and a bit of coming-of-age. And for me, it’s an instant classic (totally awesome stuff!) that’s going right into my “Favourites” shelf!

P. S.: “I’d heard all the clichéd warnings about the perils of falling for someone you only knew online, but I ignored them.”, says Wade at one point.

I did, too. I’ve now been married to her (in the real world!) for about 20 years and she’s hopefully still reading my reviews. 🙂

I love you, C.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 09, 2019 03:57 PM

August 04, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

A Dark Lure, by Loreth Anne White

Survival is a journey. It is the quest that underlies all stories. No matter the geography, or culture, or era, in one form or another, the story of survival is the same story we listen to, riveted, around the flames of the hunter’s fire. Or hear from the mouth of the astronaut returned from a burning spaceship, or from the woman who trumped cancer. We listen in the hopes of learning what magic they used to conquer a great beast, to deliver a decisive victory, to make it alone down the peaks of Everest alive . . .

Wow, what a ride! This was probably the most suspenseful novel I’ve read this year so far.

Basically, it’s a story about survival: Olivia West, sole survivor of the “Watt Lake Killer” who died in prison, works anonymously on Broken Bar Ranch as its manager when a body is discovered. The victim’s remains have been put on display in the same way the dead killer used to do and weird things – coincidences? – begin to happen on Broken Bar Ranch.

A cop who worked on the side-lines of the original Watt Lake case – now dying from cancer – never believed the real killer had been apprehended and, thus, he’s out with his young daughter, Tori, to catch the right guy this time…

It’s hard to find fault with a book that’s as engaging and exciting as this one. Of course, it’s not high literature but it’s nearly perfect for what it is. At times, it shows that before this book, White wrote “romantic suspense” books for about ten years, e. g. when our heroine, Olivia, gets all excited reading:

She was turned on by the masculine beauty of his prose, the clean, muscular sentences that bespoke a latent empathy in the author.

Uhm… Right. This does read a bit weird to me but it’s easy to overlook because at no point does this book get boring: Frequent switches of perspectives and places take place but I always knew exactly what was going on which is a big plus for me. The backstory of the Watt Lake killer is told by means of a book written by Tori’s late mother and makes for chilling interludes.

Just like Tori…

Tori’s vision was blurring, and she could hear her father’s deep, rhythmic snores coming from the other room. But she was unable to put her e-reader down.

… this book kept me glued to my Kindle.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes to read a good thriller!

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Bedrock Linux, Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at August 04, 2019 12:10 PM

July 30, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

This was an amazing and deeply touching read. I was born in 1975 and, being the son of rather politically interested parents, I remember the Soviet-Afghan War and the Mujahideen and their respective roles in Afghanistan since about 1985.

I intellectually knew about the atrocities committed during that war, during the in-fighting among the Afghan warlords and, later, by the Taliban.

This book, though, tells the very personal story of Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of Jalil Khan, a prosperous business man from Heart, and Nana, one of his servants. While the early parts focus entirely on Mariam who desperately wants to be accepted by her father, we later get to know Laila and her parents (and a few other very memorable characters) as well.

Mariam’s and Laila’s ways cross when they both get married to Rasheed, the owner of a small shoe shop in Kabul.

When I started reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, I thought it was a bit slow but when I noticed I had finished about 75% of the book in one marathon reading session without even noticing the time passing, I understood how wrong I was. I had practically been glued to my Kindle even though reading what both women suffer through was, at times, hard.

I simply couldn’t help myself, though, because this book tells of suffering but is definitely not about it. It’s in fact a very personal history of its heroines, their loving, their losses, their children, and families. Neither Mariam nor Laila ever give up; they do what they have to do (and sometimes that’s horrible) and still manage to retain their humanity.

Since I always at least roughly knew what year I got told about, I could compare at which stage of my life I was at the time. It was shocking to read how people literally got shredded to pieces by rockets in Afghanistan while I was getting married and our first child was born. I did not only intellectually know what had happened but I felt like I actually got a glimpse of the personal tragedies.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” pretty much lets those splendid suns shine on those two women as fictional examples of what actually happened to thousands of Mariams and Lailas in Afghanistan.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 30, 2019 04:30 PM

July 26, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Warden’s Fury (The Ancient Guardians, Book 3), by Tony James Slater

This is the third book of the science fiction series “The Ancient Guardians” and – in a good way – it’s more of the same compared to the two earlier books. But this book has a few things going for itself.

First and foremost, that’s its author, Tony James Slater: I first learned about Tony when one of his books, the highly recommended “Kamikaze Kangaroos!: 20,000 Miles Around Australia. One Van, Two Girls… and an Idiot” was free for a limited time on Amazon. Of course, it was the last part of the title that made me take it.

It was a hell of a ride – quite literally for Tony and metaphorically for me because Tony is not only a semi-insane traveller and writer but has a very decent sense of humour, never shy to make a joke on his own expense. Meanwhile, I’ve read every single book he has published and I ended up liking all of them!

Why? Because we’re all a bit of Tony: He’s clumsy, does daft things during his travels, and has the most surreal accidents (a bear ate his pants…) I’ve ever read about. Tony being a nice guy, though, whom you wish to succeed: you hope for him when he meets his sister’s best friend, Roo, and likes her a lot, you cheer for him when they become a couple and you would have liked to congratulate them on their wedding day. And even if you’re Superman and, thus, Tony’s opposite, you can’t help but feel for him when he semi-fails again.

So, when Tony informed us about his writing a) a science fiction book, b) doing it to show his sister he can, and c) doing it in spite of never having written anything but his travel memoirs, I was sceptical. “Earth Warden” had a cheesy cover and a nice-enough but somewhat flimsy story – and yet it held promise.

Warden’s Folly: A Sci Fi Adventure”, the second volume, still featured the same kind of cover art but the protagonists were developing, the story grew in a good way and I actually really enjoyed it – despite not reading science fiction at all. In fact, I liked this book so much I asked Tony when the next volume, this book, would finally be published – and, just as I had hoped, Tony answered pretty quickly because he is a nice guy and very approachable.

I was not disappointed in this book: The story is pretty simple – Earth has been abandoned by its former inhabitants in favour of us – humanity as we know it. The Lantians (the (mostly) good guys) and the Lemurians (the (mostly) bad guys), said former inhabitants, were warring against each other and decided they both had to leave Earth to prevent its destruction. The Lantians founded the paramilitary order of the “Wardens” and from its ranks installed an Earth Warden to guard Earth.

For a long time everything’s fine but, of course, things eventually go south and Warden Lord Anakreon (Kreon), his friends Kyra and Blas need to pick up Tristan (Tris), Tony’s alter ego, up from Earth to follow into his father’s – Mikelatz, another famous Warden – footsteps and save the universe from the antagonists, especially the Black Ships whom we don’t really know (yet).

All of this is nothing out of the ordinary; what makes it special is Tony’s trademark tongue-in-cheek humour, the “classic” science fiction feeling that we know from stuff like “Star Wars” and his basic good-naturedness that resonates throughout the entire book and, actually, the series so far.

I do have one small gripe with this book specifically: It’s somewhat gorier than its predecessors and mostly needlessly so. I do get that Tris sometimes uses humour (““Rest in pieces,” he murmured.”) to deflect and mask his true feelings in front of his friends but the solution to tricking an iris scanner is rather tasteless. Some humour just falls flat for me but your mileage may vary, of course.

All in all, I recommend “The Ancient Guardians” to anyone who has read at least one of Tony’s travel book because if you like his style of writing and the hilarious stories in those, chances are good you’ll like his science fiction stuff as well.

If you’ve never heard of Tony, start with the afore-mentioned “Kamikaze Kangaroos” – my daughter enjoyed it so much, Tony & Roo, that her entire class at school got to learn about your adventures!

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 26, 2019 10:13 AM

July 23, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“Is it true you haven’t read any of these books?”
“Books are boring.”
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you,” answered Julián.

“The Shadow of the Wind” is one of those books that leave me deeply satisfied and in tears. It’s a sweeping epic about Daniel Sempere, a bookseller’s son, who – by accident or preordained by fate – learns about an obscure and mostly forgotten author, Julian Carax, whose book “The Shadow of the Wind” will change Daniel’s life and those of pretty much everyone he loves.

Even though there are some rather exciting and suspenseful scenes throughout the book, Zafón takes his time to paint a broad picture of Barcelona, the narrated time (1945 to 1966) and people. And, yes, at times this does make the book somewhat slow but only by giving room to everyone in this book to gain a character of his or her own can we really appreciate the masterpiece this book actually is.

Because there’s not a single character to whom we cannot relate: Daniel, driven first by his desire to know and understand the secret he is chasing after. His father who understands him and – in spite of warning Daniel – lets the latter make his own mistakes. Fermin, the reliable albeit somewhat shady friend of the family whom Daniel picks up from the street.

Not only the major characters are fully fleshed out, though, but even a tram conductor on the sidelines of the story gets his chance to shine.

Zafón can do this because not only does he have a wonderful story to tell but he has the language to tell it as well:

My voice, rather stiff at first, slowly became more relaxed, and soon I forgot myself and was submerged once more in the narrative, discovering cadences and turns of phrase that flowed like musical motifs, riddles made of timbre and pauses I had not noticed during my first reading.

Nevertheless, beyond phases of untarnished happiness (“She looked intoxicated with happiness.”) there’s always a sublime threat lurking just beyond the page we’re currently reading. We always feel Franco’s oppressive dictatorship and the climate of denunciation, endangering whatever little peace the characters get.

Yet, there’s always hope and, often, a bit of comic relief:

Isaac let out a snort of defeat and examined Bea carefully, like a suspicious policeman. “Do you realize you’re in the company of an idiot?” he asked. Bea smiled politely. “I’m beginning to come to terms with it.”

At the end of the day, this is certainly not a simple book; not one that lends itself to be read at the beach but more of one that should be enjoyed with a glass of wine, read amongst books because this is a story about books:

About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 23, 2019 11:22 AM

July 18, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager

Because the lake’s been lowered by drought, the farthest-reaching branches scrape the bottoms of the canoes, sounding like fingernails trying to scratch their way out of a coffin.

Wow, this was an unexpected pleasure!

Coming from the background of having read too many difficult books lately, I chose this book because it sounded like an easy, light who-dun-it with an interesting premise. Two truths, one lie: a) I greatly enjoyed this book, b) it was an easy read, c) it kept me glued to my Kindle for hours.

Of course, b) is the lie because this book was an excellent blend of who-dun-it, thriller, adventure and near-insanity.

Emma, a young painter of 28 years, gets invited back to the reopening of an exclusive summer camp for “rich bitches”. The camp was originally closed 15 years ago when – during Emma’s stay there – three of her fellow campers disappeared without a trace.

Emma, traumatised by the disappearance and what happened afterwards, comes back to deal with a creative blockage and to finally find out what happened to her friends all those years ago.

The book starts slowly; we get to know Emma and get used to the wonderful writing style Sager employs:

I’ve heard Randall boast to potential buyers that my surfaces are like Van Gogh’s, with paint cresting as high as an inch off the canvas. I prefer to think I paint like nature, where true smoothness is a myth, especially in the woods. The chipped ridges of tree bark. The speckle of moss on rock. Several autumns’ worth of leaves coating the ground. That’s the nature I try to capture with my scrapes and bumps and whorls of paint.

We also learn what and, partly, why she paints and, thus, get a first glimpse at the shadows in Emma’s life: Even after 15 years she still feels guilty about the disappearance of her friends and though neither kind nor extent of her guilt are clear at this point, we get a very good idea at the monstrous kind of feelings Emma harbours.

Fifteen years. That’s how long it’s been. It feels like a lifetime ago. It also feels like yesterday.

Thinking about that sentence, remembering the momentous events in my own life (first love, marriage, first child…), I found myself nodding agreement with that sentiment. In fact, it was quite often during the first half of the book that I found myself understanding our protagonist exceedingly, sometimes even shockingly, well.

It’s best not to talk too much about the plot because there are a few twists some of which I didn’t really see coming – that might, of course, be me but I really enjoyed them all either way.

The dense atmosphere of both the camp itself, the woods and the flooded valley helped greatly, of course, because just as my opening quote shows, the atmosphere is satisfyingly creepy at times and sinister, at least once even desperate.

All of that combined with using both traditional elements of the “great outdoors” stories as well as having Emma use her phone sensibly really kept me interested and at my Kindle with very few breaks for coffee, etc.

I run my finger from the spot that probably-is-but-might-not-be the gazebo to the ragged triangles nearby. I assume those are rocks. Which means we need to make our way northeast until we reach them. After that, it looks to be a short walk north until I find the X. Our route now set, I open the compass app downloaded to my phone the morning I left for camp, rotating until it points northeast. Then I snag a handful of wildflowers and, with Miranda, Sasha, and Krystal in tow, march into the forest.

A truly enjoyable book with very few flaws. Recommended to any reader.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 18, 2019 06:39 PM

July 16, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Wilder Girls, by Rory Power

(“Why me?!”, impromptu art by my daughter when I asked her to do something for me)

“Why me?!”, I asked my wife, “Why do I always have to choose the worst books?!” – with the prettiest covers, I might add.

Because this book is a classic example why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – which, in this case, is beautiful whereas the contents read like they’ve partly been ripped out of the script to some mediocre horror b-movie and partly been born out of the brain of a pubescent teenager. Maybe a sadistic ecology freak was on-board as well because at times the book reads like something along the lines of “nature strikes back”.

The plot is simple and the premise interesting: A female-only boarding school on a small island; “the Tox”, some kind of plague, ravaging the wildlife, the girls and their teachers. Hetty, Byatt and Reese, three pupils and friends, are trying to survive. Suddenly, when Byatt vanishes Hetty learns something sinister is going on on the island…

I’m not even sure where to start with my criticism because this book has almost no redeeming qualities: The writing is weird and I found myself asking “what did she smoke?!”:

And in the other hand, Raxter. No ferry on the horizon, mainland far and farther. Water and shoreline born new every day. Everything what it wants to be. Everything mine. I’m buried there no matter where I go.

The wise old woman expressing the above is Hetty, a teenager of 16 years… Yeah, riiight…

The pacing is all over the place, too: Slow introductive scenes into the not-so-normal school life with the Tox dominate the first 50% of the book. Then, suddenly, things escalate quickly and we find ourselves in outlandish fights with cross-breeds between human and flora (!), and corrupted animals.

Then again, things come to a screeching halt and we’re back inside the school. As if that wasn’t enough already, we’re witnessing school girl tragedy, the evil headmistress, the misunderstood well-meaning teacher and lots of other characterless characters.

In a rather simplistic attempt to cater to a broader audience, there are some LGBT motifs tacked on to the story. Unfortunately, they feel completely artificial and add nothing at all to the story. The entire ménage à trois between our three lacklustre “heroines” feels completely off and weird. Worst with respect to that, though: I didn’t care one bit. Byatt? Reese? I couldn’t care less whom of which makes Hetty’s heart beat faster.

This entire book feels very bizarre but not in a good way. I progressed from “bizarre”…

“Don’t,” […] cries from behind me. But I can’t listen. It’s not him anymore. I lean hard, brace my hand on his elbow as I wedge the knife deeper and deeper and start to lever it up. There’s a heart to all this. There has to be.

… by way of “seriously?!”…

He’s rotting from the inside out.

… to “disgusting”…

Until finally. A snap. And inside his rib cage, I see it. A beating heart, glossed in blood. Built from the earth, from the bristle of pine, and inside, there is something else, something more, something living. I don’t think twice. Just claw at it with both hands, and it comes screaming out with a wet tear.

… within this very scene and the entire book.

Especially the above scene made me actually think that these might simply be the feverish violent fantasies of a pubescent boy, tinged with bloodthirsty revenge.

Curiously, Hetty of all people sums up my feelings for this book pretty well:

Person after person collapsing under the weight of this place, lie after lie, and I’ve had enough of this. Enough of these confrontations, of secrets spilling out of us like blood.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 16, 2019 01:26 PM

July 14, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

A Walk to Remember, by Nicholas Sparks

As these images were going through my head, my breathing suddenly went still. I looked at Jamie, then up to the ceiling and around the room, doing my best to keep my composure, then back to Jamie again. She smiled at me and I smiled at her and all I could do was wonder how I’d ever fallen in love with a girl like Jamie Sullivan.

The story is as simple as it gets: Boy (Landon) meets girl (Jamie), falls in love with her (and she with him) but they’re star-crossed lovers.

I like this book and I don’t like it. I really like that it feels plausible and honest:

She looked away. “Yes,” she finally said, “I’m frightened all the time.” “Then why don’t you act like it?” “I do. I just do it in private.” “Because you don’t trust me?” “No,” she said, “because I know you’re frightened, too.”

I liked how Landon basically fell in love unwillingly and reluctantly but will not and cannot stop once he’s embarked on the journey. I also greatly like Spark’s beautiful and elegant writing:

The ocean turned golden silver as the shifting colors reflected off it, waters rippling and sparkling with the changing light, the vision glorious, almost like the beginning of time.

And, yes, I’ve laughed with Landon and Jamie and I’ve cried about them. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never seen a film by this name or with this exact story but that’s part of it: The story – while moving and not without merit – is far from new or original. It’s executed well enough to get away with that in my book (sic!) but your mileage might vary.

I really like the depth of the feelings portrayed and I liked how I rooted for every single character in this book – even if some (Eric!) were unbelievably “good”.

Sometimes things were almost too sweet and heavy to swallow but for the most part, things were realistic enough to accept for me.

My second – and by far biggest – gripe is fairly personal: I can’t stand all this religious stuff. I’m an atheist. I’m done with what was once “my” church and I’m done with beliefs and I certainly don’t need those in my books. I’m not even sure why all that stuff had to be in this book because the book could have worked completely without it.

Maybe Sparks felt it necessary to describe a young man’s way to redemption – I don’t know. I can’t buy into it and in the end, the author can’t simply let go and let his work speak for itself; no, he obviously feels the need to preach to us simple sinners and that’s what soured the book somewhat for me.

Nevertheless, a book that makes me cry isn’t totally beyond… redemption. I can’t help it and do like this book more than I don’t. That’s what the four stars try to say.

Still, if you’re like me and want to read something similarly moving but more thought-provoking and potentially controversial, you might want to read “The Universe Versus Alex Woods” by Gavin Extence.

If you pretty much only want the emotions and quite a bit less substantial though, go and read “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes.

Or read this one – it’s a quick and moving read after all. You’ll just have to either buy into religion or ignore that stuff. It will take away from the experience, though.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 14, 2019 10:42 PM

The Piper’s Son, by Melina Marchetta

Let’s face it – I’m not going to finish this weird book. I’m totally confused: I pretty much loved Marchetta’s earlier novel “Saving Francesca”. It was one of the best books I’ve read 2019 so far.

Thus, I expected to love “The Piper’s Son” as well but I never got into this book. Somehow, the entire book with its plethora of characters and jumps in time falls flat for me.

What I’m taking away for myself is this: Just as in music there are one-hit wonders in literature as well. To me, it seems like Marchetta is one of those – she wrote one amazing book in which she told the one great story she had to share with all of us and for that I’m grateful.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at July 14, 2019 08:46 AM

July 13, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

– ‘What’s that?’
‘A book. I borrowed it.’
– ‘Dead, I suppose.’
– ‘The Beaton fellow.’
‘Oh yes. Everybody’s dead.’
– ‘Good show, though.’
And he went off to bed glumly singing ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning’ as the Queen opened her book.

In this short novella, the Queen herself stumbles upon a travelling library and, pretty much accidentally, gets into reading. The entire concept, though, is so foreign to the household (who are annoyed by the more and more thinking monarch) and the family (who are fairly happy to be left alone) that everyone gets upset with her majesty. Hilarity ensues.

Well, maybe not actual hilarity but definitely some very amused smiling – with a stiff upper lip, of course. After all, the queen is portrayed as fairly human and sometimes, my own upbringing seems to make a cameo:

‘To tell you the truth, ma’am, I never got through more than a few pages. How far did your Majesty get?’

– ‘Oh, to the end. Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate. That’s always been my philosophy.’

That has been my philosophy as well and certainly is the main reason my DNF shelf actually consists of one single solitary ashamed book. Judging by the quality of many of the books I’ve read, I could have saved years of my lifetimes by actually DNF’ing more often. But I digress.

It’s all this books fault, though: It all but invited me to think beyond its edges, between the pages and the lines and let my thoughts fly, just like her majesty:

What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

We – as readers – know exactly what she means and how one book leads to the next; opens up new (reading) paths to follow. This book for example came from a recent blog post on GoodReads.

Plus: This fictional queen has a wonderful take on books:

‘Pass the time?’ said the Queen. ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.’

The entire book was a true breath of fresh air after the stocky, stuffy, simplistic confines of David Eddings’ Belgariad. It’s by no means a masterpiece or more than just highly amusing but I really enjoyed the entire literary journey and the coming-of-age of a reader.

The only issue I take is with the ending; but We will graciously overlook this slight demerit as one is wont to. 😉

‘I think of literature,’ she wrote, ‘as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.’

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by Wulf at July 13, 2019 10:19 PM

Enchanters’ End Game (The Belgariad, Book 5), by David Eddings

Finally. I’m done with “The Belgariad”. For life. And I’m so happy about it.

This epic fantasy adventure started out well with “Pawn of Prophecy”, went slightly downhill in “Queen of Sorcery” due to all the travelling, went straight into a wall when “Magician’s Gambit” turned out to be a lame duck, recovered somewhat during “Castle of Wizardry” and, eventually, went down the drain with this last instalment – “Enchanters’ End Game”.

In this final book of the Belgariad, we accompany Ce’Nedra’s army into the land of the Murgos, fighting against them and the Malloreans. Wait a second, though – Ce’Nedra’s army? No, in fact it’s been taken from her by the men around her whom Eddings obviously felt much more competent to handle matters of war:

Once she was comfortably quartered in the Stronghold, Princess Ce’Nedra found herself even more removed from the day-to-day command of her troops.

Sadly, Ce’Nedra herself seems quite content to fall back into her cliched role as her Garion’s mindless “tiny princess”. Whenever she actually does something, she gets put firmly back into place and is scolded by whatever man is around. She never gets a real chance to learn and grow beyond what she is.

As for the others, they travel a bit, they fight a bit, some sidekicks die; forgotten as soon as they draw their last breath. Honestly, all the travelling and the pretty much non-existent hurdles were seriously boring me by now. Reading this book mostly was a chore for me.

Even the titular endgame is boring and beyond redemption. Ultimately, Garion puts it best:

“Then everything worked out for the best, didn’t it?”
– “Yes, Garion. It’s as if it had all been fated to happen. Everything feels so right, somehow.”
It’s possible that it was fated,” Garion mused. “I sometimes think we have very little control over our own lives – I know I don’t.

After the second book at the latest, it’s crystal clear nobody of importance is going to die or even sacrifice anything. Yes, as mentioned before, an unimportant sidekick or two die (I’ve just finished this book and already forgotten who…) but at the end of the day, there’s no way things are going to go really wrong – and this makes this entire epic fantasy saga stale and bland for me.

There’s absolutely nothing I take away with me from these books. I’ve learned nothing new, I’ve felt nothing new, I’ve not noticed any new or original idea. Not even a single quote-worthy sentence is to be found in this seemingly unending bleak desert of words whereas I thirst for something that nourishes me.

If you’re young (10 to 15 maybe?) and haven’t read much fantasy before, the Belgariad may be to your liking. It does have its moments.

If you’ve read these books when you were younger and loved them, stay clear; you will be disappointed because even if these books were what you remember them to be – you are not who you were anymore.

Anyone else, stay clear as well: A seasoned reader will pretty much know the entire story very early on and there’s nothing in these books to surprise you or keep your interest for tens of thousands of words. And this in books that are about “the Word and the Will…

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by Wulf at July 13, 2019 04:20 PM

July 11, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Castle of Wizardry (The Belgariad, Book 4), by David Eddings

Finally, we’re (mostly) back on track: Garion gets to know his place in the big picture, Ce’Nedra finally becomes a character and not some one-dimensional caricature and Belgarath shows some human feelings.

Whenever we’re not witnessing our heroes travelling but get to know them in their “natural habitat”, things get really interesting.

I’m certainly never going to recommend “The Belgariad” to anyone but a teenager but at least this book made me actually want to finish the series instead of DNF’ing. I hope the fifth book doesn’t make me regret my decision…

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by Wulf at July 11, 2019 10:39 AM

July 09, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Magician’s Gambit (The Belgariad, Book 3), by David Eddings

“We all have our little shortcomings,” Silk admitted blandly.

This is yet more of the same I’ve read so far in the Belgariad. We’re still travelling, we’re still seeing some fights the result of which is crystal clear from the outset and it’s becoming stale and bland.

There’s some character development finally but mostly everyone still feels like an archetype and not like a real person.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are lots of “Deus ex machina” moments during which something that should be hard gets resolved effortlessly:

He ran his fingers over the icy iron, not knowing just what he was looking for. He found a spot that felt a little different. “Here it is.”

And just like that, that’s it. Garion explores some more of his capabilities but is still kept small by Belgarath and Pol. The ending is rushed, anti-climactic and actually feels like Eddings just wanted to end the book which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.

Sometimes I wish I could “unread” books because they were so fantastic. In this case, I would have had to forget an entire genre to find any original thought or idea.

This book was actually starting to get boring and tiresome; everything feels rather mediocre about it – I just hope the next one gets better again…

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by Wulf at July 09, 2019 12:20 PM

July 05, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Queen of Sorcery (The Belgariad, Book 2), by David Eddings

Don’t think about it, dear,” Aunt Pol said quietly as they left the village and rode south along the highway. “It’s nothing to worry about. I’ll explain it all later.

This second instalment of “The Belgariad” had a lot of dialogue like the above. Our young hero, Garion, is still on the road, travelling south in pursuit of the thief of an ancient artefact with his Aunt Pol, Mister Wolf and the others.

Unfortunately, Pol tries to keep Garion ignorant for reasons partly eluding me and – for reasons completely eluding me – Garion sulks and pouts a bit about it but instead of simply refusing to move another inch till they finally tell him what’s going on, he pretty much accepts being kept in the dark. Very annoying and, at least in my experience as a father of three kids (and having been one myself!), not very truthful either.

Plus: It’s simply annoying to me as a reader because I do have a pretty good idea about what Pol and Mister Wolf are hiding from Garion but Eddings should probably have made them loosen up a bit.

The “still being on the road” part is somewhat annoying, too. It’s getting a bit formulaic at this point – the group is travelling, they’re being hunted/followed/apprehended or something similar in some city/town/village/whatever and, of course, they master it pretty much without skipping a single step… Sometimes they quickly and heroically solve a local issue while being at it anyway.

While this book is still suspenseful, at times I found myself in the position of any kid ever travelling longer than five seconds minutes and, thus, asking: Are we there yet?

And the answer to this question dreaded by every parent (because it will most likely be repeated ad infinitum!) with respect to this book? No, it’s a little longer yet – because not even at the end of “Queen of Sorcery” are we there.

Another small gripe of mine is that nobody really ever changes: I might expect and be more tolerant about this if it only applied to the older members of the party but, alas, Garion himself doesn’t change much either. Very slightly, maybe. Only at the very end of the book do we get a glance at a somewhat more reflective Garion. (Even though his childish petulance keeps coming up: ““I don’t need any instruction,” he protested, his tone growing sullen.”)

The worst issue, though, comes up when Garion finally grows a pair and rightly tells Aunt Pol off (I cheered!):

Well, I’m tired of being manipulated. You and I are finished!

Pol’s answer to that made me fume with rage:

We will never be finished. You owe me too much for that!

Eh, what? No, Pol, our children don’t owe us anything. We may have carried them as babies, pampered them – whatever. All of that was our very own decision. We decide to become parents in the first place (in this day and age) and we know (to some degree at least) what that means long before it actually happened.

Whatever we might sacrifice as parents, it’s our decision and does not create any kind of debt or obligation our children might have to repay. (Oh, and just in case you wondered: the best answer to the above statement is: “Ok, shall I explain the washing machine, the oven, [etc. etc.] to you then?“)

In this case this is even more obvious since Pol actively keeps Garion in the dark about certain things about which she owes Garion a proper explanation.

Nevertheless, the richness of the story-telling and attention to amusing details (“Right now he’s telling me about the day he learned to fly,” Aunt Pol said. “That’s a very important day for a bird.”) still made me want to keep reading and ultimately kept things interesting enough.

Let’s see what Magician’s Gambit brings…

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by Wulf at July 05, 2019 03:10 PM

July 02, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, Book 1), by David Eddings

Wikipedia defines GrimDark as something that is “particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent” and that’s pretty much the definition of what I do not like in my fantasy books.

When I read fantasy, I want the heroes to be good people at their core. I want a world that’s essentially worth saving and not a dystopia that basically deserves going down the drain anyway and while violence is nothing I abhor, it’s something that should be used sparingly and only if necessary for the story.

Fortunately, “Pawn of Prophecy”, the first volume of “The Belgariad” is quite the opposite of GrimDark and pretty much exactly what I outlined above:

Garion, a young farmhand, tutored by his “Aunt Pol” grows up on the farm of a modest, good-natured man who cares about his people. When strangers arrive at the farm, Pol and an elderly story-teller, “Mister Wolf”, come to the conclusion it’s time to make a move of their own and so they leave with Garion and the local blacksmith to go on a dangerous trip through the land, searching for a dangerous ancient artefact and its thief. They’re closely followed by their mysterious adversaries at each step…

A lot of this book reminded me of Tolkien and I suspect Eddings was inspired by Lord of the Rings to some extent. The story, albeit simple so far, is original enough, though, to have kept me entertained throughout the entire about 80.000 words and I was actually surprised when I hit the end of the ebook edition I was reading.

Of course, this being a somewhat simple story, there’s no philosophical depth to be expected or huge new insights into life, the universe and everything to be gleaned but even simple truths are helping me feel “at home” in a book and in this particular case, I was captured by the very first paragraph of the first chapter already:

THE FIRST THING the boy Garion remembered was the kitchen at Faldor’s farm. For all the rest of his life he had a special warm feeling for kitchens and those peculiar sounds and smells that seemed somehow to combine into a bustling seriousness that had to do with love and food and comfort and security and, above all, home. No matter how high Garion rose in life, he never forgot that all his memories began in that kitchen.

As everyone knows, the kitchen is the (secret) haven of any respectable home and the heart of every good party as well as the place where said party starts and ends. As such, it is only fitting for any respectable book to start right there!

That and quite a bit of humour…

My Master wanted me to move a rock,” Wolf said. “He seemed to think that it was in his way. I tried to move it, but it was too heavy. After a while I got angry, and I told it to move. It did. I was a little surprised, but my Master didn’t seem to think it so unusual.

… are good enough for me to be happy.

Anyway, depth and insights are not required for my personal taste in fantasy anyway, though, and so I enjoyed this book for what it was – an excellent start into a work of epic fantasy that’s new to me.

That said: Please excuse me while I start devouring the next book in the series…

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by Wulf at July 02, 2019 02:29 PM

June 29, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

It was suddenly as if the book were not a dining room table at all, but a sort of Sahara. And having emptied his canteen, the Count would soon be crawling across its sentences with the peak of each hard-won page revealing but another page beyond. . . .

This book was a huge let-down. Amazon tells me, its print edition has 378 pages. Those must be metres high and wide because I swear it were 10.000 for me. In fact, reading this book felt exactly like my opening quote.

Count Alexander Rostov has the bad luck to be born into a family of aristocrats during revolutionary times. His only redeeming feature from the perspective of his “comrades” is a poem he wrote. Which is why they don’t put him against a wall but into life-long house arrest inside his favourite hotel, the Metropol in Moscow. Ok, well, he’s moved from his favourite suite to the attic but ultimately, Alexander makes the very best of it or – as the blurb puts it – “can a life without luxury be the richest of all?

The answer, sadly, is no. A resounding “no” because the Count – being a self-declared “gentleman” lives after a code of honour that more reliably imprisons him than any government ever could. He reads what he’s supposed to read (Montaigne, but in his most brutish way he uses the book to prop up his table! Oh heaven, what a villainous miscreant!), lives where they tell him and lives out a quaint live which, to be honest, is simply immensely boring.

During his first year of house arrest Rostov meets Nina who is (metaphorically) going to become his daughter’s mother. Their meeting is amusing and their adventures raised my hopes for a good book but, alas, it was not to be. Nina becomes first a pioneer, next an exile and ultimately a victim of her Soviet dream and we only ever get reminiscences about her. An opportunity lost.

Now, the Count gets settled into a life that’s the very definition of twee and is actually happy with it. He meets a beautiful (willowy) woman whom he “consorts with” but would never risk his modest but gentlemanly bachelorhood for her. Not even “moving together” in the hotel ever crosses his mind.

He twists a young girl whom he calls his daughter into a younger version of himself whom he basically (and gentlemanly!) has to “push from the nest” because she’s afraid of the world beyond the doors of her hotel home. Which is mostly the Count’s very own fault.

Here’s an example so you can make your own mid up – it’s pretty much the best example of the strenuous way of telling a non-story:

After all, what can a first impression tell us about someone we’ve just met for a minute in the lobby of a hotel? For that matter, what can a first impression tell us about anyone? Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.

Why, yes, I haven’t made that up – he did it!

Even worse, the characters don’t develop in any way. The Count at 32 (at the beginning of the book) feels pretty much exactly the same (namely like a wise old sage!) in all aspects that matter (yes, he takes one step after another but that’s not what I mean) compared to himself at 64 (at the end of the book). His friends are the same as well; they’re all noble, self-deprecating and revere “His Excellency”, the Count without ever criticising or questioning him.

We don’t learn much about “Russia under[going] decades of tumultuous upheaval”; in fact such small matters as World War II are mostly skipped or “charmingly” referred to. All that ever matters is the count, the willow and his daughter.

Only during a few key moments in the book do we get to see real emotions and passions. If and when we do, though, it certainly “shakes the dust from the chandeliers.”. Because one thing’s for sure: Towles can definitely write. Let’s take a look at Rostov remembering something as simple as bread:

The first thing that struck him was actually the black bread. For when was the last time he had even eaten it? If asked outright, he would have been embarrassed to admit. Tasting of dark rye and darker molasses, it was a perfect complement to a cup of coffee. And the honey? What an extraordinary contrast it provided. If the bread was somehow earthen, brown, and brooding, the honey was sunlit, golden, and gay. But there was another dimension to it. . . . An elusive, yet familiar element . . . A grace note hidden beneath, or behind, or within the sensation of sweetness.

An author who can so richly and evocatively write on such a simple subject most certainly deserves my respect but the story is so lacking it’s the book’s ruin. Whenever passions run high, we really get to see the quality of writing but there is way too much of what I like to call “non-content” – filling material, literary waste products – that gather and celebrate dark masses in honour of their ilk:

For the record, the Count had risen shortly after seven. Having completed fifteen squats and fifteen stretches, having enjoyed his coffee, biscuit, and a piece of fruit (today a tangerine), having bathed, shaved, and dressed, he kissed Sofia on the forehead and departed from their bedroom with the intention of reading the papers in his favorite lobby chair. Descending one flight, he exited the belfry and traversed the hall to the main stair, as was his habit.

For the record, I know the Count to be a slave of his habits and I really couldn’t care less (especially in such detail!) about the exact measure of his eccentrics.

Said eccentricities lie not only within the Count but inside the author as well and once fancy strikes (he’d probably prefer the less prosaic “providence”) him it’s “as if Life itself has summoned them” (the eccentricities!) and force him to randomly capitalise words. Must be the literary adoption of wagging one’s finger, I guess.

It’s truly sad because the book has an interesting premise and the potential for greatness which it can’t fully realise despite having something to say:

I have had countless reasons to be proud of you; and certainly one of the greatest was the night of the Conservatory competition. But the moment I felt that pride was not when you and Anna brought home news of your victory. It was earlier in the evening, when I watched you heading out the hotel’s doors on your way to the hall. For what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.

Only the ending – amusingly exactly the piece most proponents of this book loathe – somewhat reconciles me – the Count finally overcomes his artificial convictions and starts living a little, next to a willow…

A satisfying end to a book that seemed to never end but eventually came to a proper close.

Amor Towles writes like I would imagine Count Knigge on a charming rampage.

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by Wulf at June 29, 2019 09:24 PM

June 23, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Suspect (Joseph O’Loughlin #1), by Michael Robotham

This is a pretty standard thriller with nothing special to recommend itself over any other of its kind. Basically, a whiny shrink, Joseph “Joe” O’Loughlin, who keeps making stupid decisions throughout the entire book ends up being man-hunted as the prime suspect in a string of murders, starting with a former patient of his.

Very early on, when being asked to help in the investigation of the murder, Joe decides it’s a brilliant idea to withhold essential information from the police:

All the while I’m thinking, I should say something now. I should tell him. Yet a separate track in my brain is urging, It doesn’t matter anymore. He knows her name. What’s past is past. It’s ancient history.

This stupidity annoys me without end: The cops will find out about such connections anyway so Joe should have told them right away. After all, he will have read this in countless books or seen it a hundred times at the cinema or on TV. Such lies by omission never help. Robotham still using this dead-beat plot device made me groan with despair.

Joe O’Loughlin is pretty daft all around, though: He’s seriously best friends with a man who – after more than a decade – still tries to get at Joe’s wife. When confronted with having Parkinson Joe doesn’t talk to his wife but hops into bed with a former prostitute.

Yes, the parts where Joe is on the run are suspenseful and I kept on reading but at the end of the day, suspense is not enough. Suspense is not sustainable and provides no “food for thought” and even in a thriller there should at least be a very small bit of that or it will taste stale quickly – just like Michael Robotham’s “The Suspect”.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at June 23, 2019 11:49 AM

June 19, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Faking Ms. Right, by Claire Kingsley

He turned back, meeting my gaze, a disarming openness in his eyes. Right there, in that exact moment, I did a terrible, terrible thing. I fell in love with my boss.”
(Just to let you know what you might be about to read. 😉 )

This was another quick and easy read just to relax. I wanted something amusing and entertaining and this “romantic comedy” was just the thing. “Faking Ms. Right” is about Everly, the sunshiny assistant of Shepherd Calloway. Shepherd mimes the cold-hearted robot but is, of course, a great person deep inside.

To get back at an ex-girlfriend who now dates his own father (yikes!), he manages to convince Everly not only to fake being his girlfriend but to even move in with him. This being a romantic comedy what has to happen happens and they fall in love. Since it’s a “hot romantic comedy” the story encompasses all kinds of encounters in some detail…

This is by no means a demanding or sophisticated book but both Everly and Shepherd are fun and irresistibly likeable and the chemistry between both feels just right. A quick dose of Everly?

The truth was, I liked making people happy. It was my catnip. Getting someone grouchy to smile? Best high ever.

Yes, it’s clichéd and so is the entire book – and this was just what I expected and wanted.

Shepherd is somewhat possessive and neanderthal but, hey, I enjoyed even that:

But there was a deeply primal part of me that wanted to insist—no, command—that she wear my ring at all other times. Running, shopping, out with her friends drinking martinis—I wanted that ring on her finger.

The story is told from both Everly’s and Shepherd’s perspectives and mostly switches between them from chapter to chapter which often distracts me but was executed perfectly in this case.

The only thing I found somewhat annoying is the author’s excessive use of the “f-bomb” – and I usually don’t care about that at all but once per sentence at times is a bit much even for me.

Ultimately, this is nothing you have to read but if you (occasionally) enjoy a romantic comedy in the cinema or on TV, you’ll feel right at home in this book.

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by Wulf at June 19, 2019 05:47 PM

June 16, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The October Man (Rivers of London 7.5), by Ben Aaronovitch

The October Man” served as a quick escape from another book I simply didn’t want to keep reading right now. For that, a quick escape, this book is great.

It’s nothing really special, though, and feels like it was written to fill the gap between full-length novels. If you remember the previous book (and especially its ending!) in the series, this probably makes sense.

This book won’t work as an introduction to the series but nobody will expect that, I hope, from an instalment that’s listed as “7.5”. For the fans, though, it’s a nice, quick read and you’ll feel right at home.

This time, we follow Tobias Winter, a German police officer and magic practitioner who – with the help of Vanessa Sommer, a colleague – investigates the murder of two members of a drinking club.

Amusingly, Tobias originates from Ludwigshafen (am Rhein) which is located about 9 km northwest of where I’ve been living for half my life now. While having been born and raised in Lower Saxony for the first half of my life, it came as a bit of a shock that I’ve come to like the land and its people.

Most of the story plays out in and around Trier, though, and not Mannheim and Ludwigshafen. That’s pretty much the only risk Aaronovitch takes – everything else follows his tried formula (or is it a mind-controlling forma?) of the series: Slightly hapless hero cop chases after traces of magic, vestigia, and tries not to mess up to badly.

And both Winter and Aaronovitch succeed at that – the trademark humour is there…

Mama used to be a radical Green, which is how she met my father. She assaulted him, he arrested her—it was love at first handcuffing.

… the usual banter is as well…

Then she laughed and looked me straight in the eyes. “Fuck me,” she said. “You’re the magic police.” “It’s not nearly as much fun as you think it is,” I said. But I could tell she didn’t believe me.

… and, just like that and before you quite realise, the book is over as is this review.

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by Wulf at June 16, 2019 09:52 PM

June 13, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Body in the Castle Well (Bruno, Chief of Police 12), by Martin Walker

Oh, Bruno, what did he do to you?!

Bruno, you know I just love following your adventures around St. Denis. Unfortunately, just having finished the 12th outing – The Body in the Castle Well – I feel tired. Tired by the never-changing tides in St. Denis – there are even two love stories which are rehashed (again!) – and the complexity of the mystery. (And there’s a third love interest to boot!)

The Bruno mysteries always were a “place” you gladly came back to because while things were moving on, they didn’t change abruptly. Bruno would always be that local cop everyone liked and who did a good job not just enforcing the law but making it work for the people it was made for.

Also, while the story always had some connection to current topics, it was never really forced but (mostly) believable. Bruno’s adventures with Isabelle, Pamela and, sometimes, others were mostly amusing and engaging and simply “fit” into the context.

Fast-forward to Bruno no. 12: The story is complex and confusing about document forgery, a WWII master forger, his brother-at-heart and the descendants of the French fascist militia. Confused? Me too.

Oh, and there’s the body in the castle well who used to be a rich art student who wanted to uncover art forgery, potentially to make a name for herself.

There’s still a lot of Bruno in this book – cooking, a few (but way too few!) of his friends, him being everybody’s darling and being nice to everyone – even the kids of his newest love interest (“We stir the pasta so that we can eat and the sauce becomes magic. If not, it’s very tragic.”).

It’s barely (if at all) enough to be recommended to anyone but the staunchest of Bruno fans (and I think I am!)., though.

If Walker has issues continuing, not rehashing, Bruno’s story maybe he should take a break or even put Bruno to rest without further ado.

Because you definitely deserve much better, my dearest Bruno!

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at June 13, 2019 10:59 AM

June 10, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta

And when I finish speaking, I kiss her cheek and I take away the tray. And it’s empty. That’s how we begin.

The “Young Adult” genre and I rarely get along. Call it a generation gap, I suppose, because, let’s face it, at 43 I’m not really the target audience of YA anymore. In fact, my very first note about this book was “I don’t feel like reading about school girls”.

And, yet, there are some YA books that still appeal to me, e. g. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. “Francesca” – like many books recently – somehow ended up on my “to be read” list and when it was their time, I had long forgotten why I wanted to read this. Encouraged by wife (hey, C.!) who had just finished reading it, I just jumped into it.

The story is pretty simple: Francesca Spinelli is the daughter of a mother with an academic background and profession and a father who works as a builder. Finally, there’s Francesca’s younger brother, Luca. Francesca, just having switched schools, is still getting used to her new school and finding new friends, while protecting her little brother as well.

As if that wasn’t enough, her mother suffers a crippling bout of depression and mostly doesn’t get out of bed anymore. Complicating things even more, there’s a guy who actually turns out not only to be very decent but also interested in Francesca.

None of this is very original and we’ve seen such stuff on television and read it in other books. “Saving Francesca”, though, has the virtue of being disarmingly honest about its heroine and the other people in her life. There are no princes (or princesses!) who “save the day”. Just like “the rest of us” life doesn’t only hand Francesca roses but she has to work hard.

At least at the beginning, you feel with Francesca when she tells us how she made it through yet another day. She doesn’t hide anything from the reader and is completely honest about how (bad) she feels but even though sometimes not wanting to get up herself, she refuses to give up and works her way back up again.

Francesca’s friends are the kind we all wish we’d had (or we wish our for our children!): They’re around when Francesca really needs them and make it better, albeit not easier, for her.

This book is not “hard to devour”; originally, I believed it was so popular because it’s uplifting and “easy to digest”. Fast food literature.

I was right and wrong because, yes, this book is ultimately uplifting and inspires hope. It’s not Tolstoi either and, thus, not hard to read. It’s never shallow either, though, but a testament to a literary genre that has merits beyond the literary ones and that is sometimes too easily dismissed.

It doesn’t always have to be War and Peace, after all, but smaller and yet no less enjoyable witticisms make this book very appealing:

‘You’re judging her by her literacy,’ Tara says. ‘You’re a literacist.’

“Saving Francesca” and especially its ending, really moved me emotionally and made me rethink my stance on an entire literary genre – if a book can do that, it certainly deserves a place within my favourites – and maybe yours?

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at June 10, 2019 03:24 PM

June 07, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Hollow World, by Michael J. Sullivan

You’re unique—truly unique. You have hair—and it’s two colors. Your skin sags, and has all those great creases, like a beloved knapsack that has been taken everywhere and shows evidence of every mile. No one else has that.

This is going to be a slightly biased review because I’ve read pretty much everything Michael has published and loved most of it. That combined with the fact that Michael is immensely approachable and a very straight-forward person makes for a mixture I can’t resist.

You might want to read another of Michael’s books first, though, to find out if you like his style. Hollow World, while definitely a Sullivan, is maybe not the best introduction. For that, I’d like to recommend his Riyria Revelations books to you.

That said, bias or not – this book was very interesting, exciting and entertaining. In “Hollow World”, Ellis Rogers, a 58-year old man with a difficult family history escapes his wife of 35 years and his best friend, Warren, when he receives the news that he’s terminally ill. Using a DIY time machine built in his garage, he jumps 2000 years into mankind’s future.

I have a few (minor) gripes with Hollow World: I’d certainly have enjoyed to get to “see” a bit more of the world itself. Yes, we get introduced to some individuals (voxes, wonderful!) but I know for a fact that Michael has a real knack for world building (read Legends of the First Empire if you don’t believe me) and I wish he’d used it more extensively.

When we reach the main part of the story (a bit too early), we’re strongly exposed to “god and country”, “Old West” and “Good old times” stuff. Again, yes, it’s intentional but it’s going slightly overboard for my taste.

Especially when Ellis Rogers – who seemed mostly sane till that point – picks up on the religious stuff I rolled my eyes.

I also wished for Michael to be a bit bolder about Ellis and Pax. There’s a lot to be said for not making things too easy and even at some key moments (“You recognised me!”) even the daftest old-fashioned guy should come around to see what’s happening.

On the other hand, the way Michael describes the relationship between Pax and Ellis is believable and – considering Ellis’ past experience – it’s probably much to ask for him to embrace what’s going on.

Plus: The door is not closed to more stories from Hollow World, I think. It has a lot of potential yet and I’d like to read more of it, especially about Ellis and Pax and humanity at that point of its development because the philosophical issues beyond the shallow religious meandering are still to be explored more fully.

Maybe taking up just a little fewer major topics in one book would be good because, as Michael writes in the afterword, Hollow World encompasses “liberal versus conservative, gay rights, religion, and God” and it’s hard to do justice to all of those within the confines of a single novel.

And, honestly, there’s nothing to argue about equality (not “gay rights”, Michael). Trying to tell anyone whom they’re supposed (or not supposed) to love has nothing to do with “dualities” but is simply infringing on other people’s turf – just ask Pax.

Anyway, one conclusion still holds true after reading a less-typical Sullivan: When I look at my “Favourites” shelf on GoodReads, I see Paul Auster, Isabelle Allende, Thomas Mann, J. R. R. Tolkien and Michael J. Sullivan – it’s just that only the last one never disappointed.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at June 07, 2019 11:02 AM

June 03, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Hermit Girl, by E. M. Collyer

I’m a bit like moss; at first you don’t notice me, but while you’re not looking, I secretly grow on you.

I got this book for free as an advance review copy by the author who happened to like my review of “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” and approached me. Thanks, E. M., I appreciate it!

Secondly, I’d like to point out that “ten percent of the profits of this novel [are being] donated to the Children’s Adventure Farm Trust” by request of said author. That’s pretty cool as well.

So, now that the introduction is out of the way; what’s this all about? Essentially, it’s about Willow who is a “socially-challenged” young adult, working as a temporary employee in a (for her) boring office job.

Living at home with her overbearing mother, Willow is not much of a happy camper. In fact, she is a bit bitchy at times and annoying. Also, she’s a YouTuber and not very successful at that – she has like 10 subscribers. In her videos she basically gives dating advice in spite of the fact that her only relationship (that goes beyond mere acknowledgement of existence) is with “SSJ Bailey”, an employee of a local store.

All in all, Willow’s life is a bit of a mess. Hold on, though, because as per the introductory quotation, she actually did grow on me – somewhat.

Collyer was right to approach me – Willow does have quite a few similarities with Eleanor Oliphant (albeit being an original story in its own right!). Willow is socially inhibited, has difficult familial bonds and something of a “dark secret”.

Willow’s personality differs vastly from Eleanor’s, though: Where Eleanor doesn’t allow herself to think of herself as being anything but “completely fine”, Willow feels she’s undeservedly suffering:

The day doesn’t get any easier, though. There are no points awarded for suffering.

Both Eleanor and Willow seek to make a good impression on a man but whereas Eleanor makes insane plans, Willow prepares pick-up lines which she calls “PowerPoint wake-up calls” to push men out their comfort zone. This does make a lot of sense but Willow tends to get a bit preachy about it: There are YouTube video scripts that basically try to drive home the point of the chapter. While they’re mostly spot-on, they’re standing on their own and sometimes indeed feel like a sermon.

Willow – to me at least – isn’t very likeable either; at times, she’s outright unkind, snarky and deliberately offensive and hurtful (if she scores a hit or doesn’t as in the following example) doesn’t matter:

I tell her she looks like an aberration of nature. Chloe beams. “Thanks, Kayleigh!”

Willow keeps comparing her life to that of others who “all have easier lives than I do. The world is much nicer to them.”. At which point I want to ask her how she could possibly know that.

She basically keeps coming back to the ancient lament “Why ME?!” as well which I find rather annoying on many levels: First of all, if you ask “why me” you pretty much put yourself into the centre of the universe. While I sympathise with that, I came to understand that the universe as such doesn’t even know I exist and doesn’t care. The universe just exists and that’s it.

Secondly, it (most of the time) puts things out of a healthy perspective: Willow is lonely, not suffering from terminal cancer or something like that. (And what does it say about someone if they say “why me” – doesn’t that kind of imply that “some other person deserves it much more”?)

And, of course, by asking “why me” you make yourself a victim. “Destiny” wills it so and you’re just an innocent victim who can’t do anything about it. No, most of the time, you can change things.

On the other hand, when Willow is slipping into her YouTube alter ego, Kayleigh, she becomes more interesting. She’s still snarky but there’s a quality of outright (and outspoken!) honesty to her that I enjoyed a lot (during a disastrous blind date, arranged by her mom):

Our relationship,” I tell him, “is that I was forced to come here by my mom. And that I’m leaving right now. That’s all this is.

Among others, it were those scenes (or the one during which Willow “prepares” several guys for her subscribers) that endeared Willow to me.

Especially when she reminisces about her past and looks at old school photos (tons of those here as well!) and notices that she painted small blue circles around the faces of her childhood crushes, I can relate to her. That really helps to even out her bitchier character traits.

In many more instances, Collyer truly hits home – for me at the very least – and keeps my interest up. Often times I know (or think I do) exactly what she means and that helps keeping me engaged even though “Hermit Girl” is somewhat “verbose” in parts. This shows especially in the middle parts whereas the ending feels a bit rushed.

Ultimately, the lightness and fun of “Eleanor Oliphant” are missing dearly here. With Eleanor I felt constantly torn between laughing with her, sometimes about her, crying about her and a lot of other emotions that book triggered in me.

That didn’t happen with Willow and, I think, that’s the main reason I couldn’t connect as thoroughly and didn’t like her as much. Maybe the somewhat jaded Willow is more realistic than Eleanor but I for one prefer to read about the latter.

Nevertheless, if you enjoyed “Eleanor Oliphant” you’re likely to enjoy “Hermit Girl” as well. Maybe differently, maybe as a “runner-up” but, honestly, if you’re second only to Eleanor Oliphant, you must have gotten something right.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at June 03, 2019 04:23 PM

May 28, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Die Seiten der Welt: Blutbuch, von Kai Meyer

Familien sind Bücher, die mit Blut geschrieben werden. Die Erinnerung an den Anfang schwindet, je näher man dem Ende kommt. Die vorderen Seiten mögen vom Gewicht der hinteren erdrückt werden, aber jedes Blutbuch braucht sämtliche Seiten mit all ihren Makeln, um vollständig zu sein.

Es gibt keinen Zweifel: Kai Meyer schreibt (meist) sehr, sehr schön und kann sowohl spannend und schnell als auch mitreißend und mit “Tiefgang”.

Den ersten Teil dieser Trilogie, “Die Seiten der Welt”, habe ich im Herbst 2015 gelesen und mich sofort in diese wunderbare Welt verliebt. Mit phantastischen (sic!) Einfällen, viel Charme und Warmherzigkeit zog mich die Magie des Romans schnell in ihren Bann.

Auch den zweiten Teil, “Nachtland”, habe ich im Frühjahr 2016 sehr gern gelesen. Tatsächlich finden sich beide Bücher in meinen Favoriten wieder.

Nun ist es 2019, mehr als drei Jahre nach meinem letzten Ausflug zwischen die Seiten der Welt. Furia, die Heldin der Trilogie, und mittlerweile Freiheitskämpferin erscheint mir weitgehend unverändert – und doch konnte mich dieser dritte und letzte Band nicht mehr so mitreißen wie seine Vorgänger.

Die Geschichte, die sich leider allzu kurz und knapp zusammenfassen läßt: Furia und ihre altbekannten Freunde kämpfen gegen ihre altbekannten Gegner, die sich nichts Neues einfallen lassen. Man jagt sich durch Refugien, die Außenwelt und nichts ist wirklich überraschend oder neu.

Als wäre das noch nicht bedauerlich genug, so schleppt sich die Erzählung – vermutlich mangels inhaltlicher Masse – mehr oder minder einfach so dahin. Die große, beinahe noch einmal kindliche Freude (und ich bin 43!), die ich angesichts der ersten Bände empfand, ist diesmal nur ganz selten einmal aufgekommen (ja, die Leseratten haben mir Freude gemacht!).

Auch einzelne Stellen, z. B. die des einleitenden Zitats, haben mein Herz höherschlagen lassen, aber ich war nicht der “Getriebene”, der “nur noch ein Kapitel” lesen wollte.

Das alles ist so schade, denn die Ideen (sic!) sind großartig (mit Ausnahme der Begegnung hinter dem Spiegel…) und Kai Meyer, dessen Bücher ich grundsätzlich schätze, kann viel mehr.

Schade um so viel Potential, aber vielleicht brauchte Meyer ja auch ein Ende für einen neuen Anfang, damit sich die letzten Worte des Buches bewahrheiten können – jedenfalls wünsche ich ihm (und mir!) das:

Aber wenn dieses Ende auch ein Anfang ist, dann gäbe es keines, das mir lieber wäre.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at May 28, 2019 05:30 PM

May 23, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green

I don’t think I actually felt any of those ways, but it seemed on-brand.

This book actually is a remarkable thing. Remarkably horrible, in fact. Or maybe it’s the generation gap – at least if we’re not talking about biological age because Green is just about four years younger than me.

This “Thing” deals with the appearance of aliens in every major city on earth and a young adult woman, April May (seriously?), who becomes an Internet celebrity for dealing with the implications of this “visit”.

I chose the initial quote because everything in this book is pretty much superficial and only deals very shallowly with all the possible implications of physical confirmation of the existence of intelligent life beyond Earth. (Well, intelligence is relative – as anyone reading to the end will find out when “Carl” utters a single simple word as “judgement” on mankind.)

The entire book is basically Hank Green trying to build upon his clout as an Internet celebrity (at least I guess he is; I’ve never heard of him) and tries to stay “on-brand” just like his not-very-likeable heroine.

Oh, and April May is, of course, bisexual. Now, don’t get me wrong: That’s perfectly fine with me (hey, I am, too!) but the way Green writes her makes it very obvious that April is just bisexual because Hank thinks it’s “trendy” and “modern”. She’s a tool on many levels…

April is terrified of intimacy, nevertheless often lonely, insecure, neurotic and egotistical (traits many of which she most likely shares with the majority of the nerd-ish target audience). In short, she’s a mess. A mess with Thoughts, though:

We’re going to skip around the timeline of the story a bit here, but I have now been on the news a lot, and I have Thoughts.

Yes, brilliant, the audience is oftentimes directly addressed which I find almost as HIGHLY ANNOYING AS THE SHOUTING (in net-speak) which occurs often. I actually hate it when literary figures address me as the reader. Do not break the fourth wall unless you have a really good reason for that or the writing talent that Green very obviously lacks.

What he lacks in talent, he tries to make up for in preaching liberal ideas:

But in those manic moments when I thought I could be some kind of vessel for truth, I’d thought about what I’d say if I someday got a soapbox. That income inequality is out of hand. That all people are pretty damn similar so it would be great if we stopped hating each other. That prison sentences for nonviolent crimes are dumb and that drug addiction is a health problem, not a crime problem.

Yes, Hank, I agree with all your points and so probably does about 95% of intelligent mankind with me. Even for an Internet celebrity “stop hating each other” is a bit on the intellectually “thin” side, though, eh?

The entire book seems solely written to build upon Green’s status and to appeal to his “Nerdfighteria” (read: fanboys and –girls) from the “millennials” generation. Parts of the book are probably meant as (self-)criticism or reflection on this Pavlovian reflex to jump on pretty much any bandwagon that (seems to) remotely make sense, no matter what the consequences:

Of course, I was pulling this all straight out of my ass. I didn’t know if the Carls were dangerous or if my mind was being controlled. Who cared as long as my made-up shit wasn’t as poisonous as Peter Petrawicki’s made-up shit. In the end, my brand was me, so whatever I said became something I believed.

Ultimately, though, this will more likely work self-affirmatively – after all, the “Nerdfighteria” are just sitting behind their keyboards and surfing the net; it’s not like they’d ever act like that “IRL” (in real life).

Even when Green tries to do more than scratch on the surface of things, he doesn’t get beyond a single sentence at best before falling back into his comfort zone of writing with the philosophical depth of fortune cookies:

I’m honestly worried, because I think we’re just starting to get used to the impact that the social internet is having on us culturally and emotionally and socially.

Green caters to his audience so much that he even includes verbatim tweets of dubious value to the story, transcripts of interviews and, most annoying, lists, e. g. “Here are a list of thoughts I had in the space of five seconds”.

I could forgive all that stuff if only Green had some talent for writing and something resembling style in between lists and tweets but it only gets to this level:

I reached under my shirt to feel my own skin, warm and soft and as fragile as air.

“Fragile as air”? Her skin? What kind of comparison is that? Have you ever managed to break air? Let’s see how a competent author handles a very similar feeling her heroine experiences:

I felt like a newly laid egg, all swishy and gloopy inside, and so fragile that the slightest pressure could break me.

(From: “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine”, by Gail Honeyman)

That makes much more sense.

All that mess basically boils down to one simple truth that seems to apply to both creation and creator:

I was really, deeply, honestly, and truly infatuated with having people pay attention to me.

Don’t get me started on the ending, by the way; it’s the coup de grâce for the entire book.

So, if you’re a teenager up to a twenty-something (and daft to boot), you might enjoy this thing. If you’re above the age of 40, find a real book. Anyone in between should proceed with caution.

P.S.: If you intend to include senseless, meaningless gore in your book for no reason but to cater to violence freaks, at least have the decency to just write it. Or, better even, just leave it out because, honestly, if you’re aware you should warn your readers, it’s a pretty good indicator you’re doing it wrongly:

This chapter is going to contain some graphic violence. I will tell you when it’s coming. I will not be offended if you skip it.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at May 23, 2019 03:36 PM

May 21, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

May 16, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

I was fine, perfectly fine on my own, but I needed to keep Mummy happy, keep her calm so she would leave me in peace. A boyfriend—a husband?—might just do the trick. It wasn’t that I needed anyone. I was, as I previously stated, perfectly fine.

Eleanor Oliphant most certainly is not fine.

Unless, maybe, Honeyman has read Louise Penny’s brilliant mysteries, among them “Dead Cold” (also published as “A Fatal Grace”) and actually means FINE (she even uses this term in all-caps herself) which stands for “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Egotistical”. That’s part of what Eleanor is.

I’ve read this book is about loneliness and, yes, it certainly is but it’s so much more – depression, childhood abuse and recovery.

Eleanor goes to work, trying to avoid any non-essential contact with her co-workers or, in fact, any human being for that matter. She relies completely on her routines (“I sat down and watched television alone, like I do Every. Single. Night.”) and abhors any deviations. Whenever she starts to actually experience feelings, she drowns them in Vodka. Suddenly and by pure chance, Raymond enters her life and Eleanor realises there should be more in life than routine.

This is not a romance, though. It’s not a “funny” book as such either – even though it has plenty of humour.

After much reflection on the political and sociological aspects of the table, I have realized that I am completely uninterested in food. My preference is for fodder that is cheap, quick and simple to procure and prepare, whilst providing the requisite nutrients to enable a person to stay alive.

The humour is always laced with Eleanor’s immense pain from which she is hiding; albeit not very successfully because you can’t “escape or undo” your past, nor can you just shed it:

The past could neither be escaped nor undone. After all these weeks of delusion, I recognized, breathless, the pure, brutal truth of it. I felt despair and nausea mingled inside me, and then that familiar black, black mood came down fast.

We are all defined by our past; what was done to us by our parents, by siblings, other relatives or other people we love(d). Since none of us are perfect, it follows that everyone will at least make mistakes. I made and still make mistakes raising my kids. I’m just trying to make my mistakes with as much love as possible.

Most of us can deal with what we experienced; some of us – yours truly included – just like Eleanor need help dealing with our past and we must learn to live with ourselves and our demons.

This “universal brokenness” is probably the reason this book is deservedly as popular as it is: We can relate to Eleanor because we at least recognise a few of her “eccentricities”. The consistent way she narrates her own story, her complete, disarming honesty even at the expense of her own dignity at times, makes her human.

The more Eleanor tells us about herself, the more she lets small remarks slip that are revealing with respect to her abusive “Mummy” and the one incident that forever changed her life. The further we get the bolder Eleanor becomes and she gets ready to face the truths she needs to confront to get better and once she has crossed the Rubicon, there’s no holding her back:

I was ready. Bring out your dead.

Until that point, though, it’s a struggle for Eleanor and it was sometimes a struggle for me because I so badly wanted her to get better and at one point, I realised I rooted so much for her I just had to have a happy ending or be crushed.

How can someone survive a mother like Eleanor’s? The conversations with her are written in a way that gave me the creeps; they start out relatively normal, harmless and even – in a few instances – positively…

You wouldn’t understand, of course, but the bond between a mother and child, it’s . . . how best to describe it . . . unbreakable. The two of us are linked forever, you see—same blood in my veins that’s running through yours.

… it already started sounding slightly weird here but it quickly escalates much further…

You grew inside me, your teeth and your tongue and your cervix are all made from my cells, my genes. Who knows what little surprises I left growing inside there for you, which codes I set running? Breast cancer? Alzheimer’s? You’ll just have to wait and see. You were fermenting inside me for all those months, nice and cozy, Eleanor. However hard you try to walk away from that fact, you can’t, darling, you simply can’t. It isn’t possible to destroy a bond that strong.

Eleanor “fermented” inside her mother – what a horrible thought! And, yes, even such a deprecating bond cannot completely be destroyed. We just have to learn to live with it.

That Eleanor is still a functioning – albeit damaged – human being after all that makes us admire her and her humanity. All the more so as we only learn the entire horrible truth bit by bit (“I was normal-sized and normal-faced (on one side, anyway).”): In her developing companionship with Raymond, Eleanor slowly realises there’s more to life and seeing how she works her way back into a more “normal” life is moving and enjoyable.

It’s never kitschy or soppy because her honesty (and often: bluntness) is very refreshing. Especially due to the fact that she knows full well that she’s not really fine:

You’re a bit mental, aren’t you?” she said, not in the least aggressively, but slurring her words somewhat. It was hardly the first time I’d heard this. “Yes,” I said, “yes, I suppose I am.

At other times I wanted to shout at her, e. g. when she decides a random good-looking guy will save her. By means of a partner, she intends to “reassemble”, to reinvent herself and make the “Eleanor pieces” fit – which can’t ever work that way.

You might not like Eleanor, maybe even loathe her for her constant denial, for her “weakness” or maybe you love her for her strength and her ultimate refusal to give up. Either way, you cannot be indifferent to her because she feels completely real. She could be your weird colleague, your rarely-seen neighbour.

All of this combined with Honeyman’s wonderful writing style, and the ending that is exactly as it should be, won this book a place among my favourites of all time.

Only a few days ago I read “Kaffee und Zigaretten” by Ferdinand von Schirach who wrote in that book “We’re looking for the books written for us.”.

I couldn’t agree more.

P.S.: To my Maria: If you ever read this, SvF, please know that I’m deeply grateful for all your help and let me quote Eleanor herself:

I felt very calm. “Essentially, though, in all the ways that matter . . . I’m fine now. Fine,” I repeated, stressing the word because, at last, it was true.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at May 16, 2019 03:00 PM

May 11, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Kaffee und Zigaretten, von Ferdinand von Schirach

Die Würde des Menschen ist die strahlende Idee der Aufklärung, sie kann den Hass und die Dummheit lösen, sie ist lebensfreundlich, weil sie von unserer Endlichkeit weiß, und erst durch sie werden wir in einem tiefen und wahren Sinn zu Menschen.

Zu Ferdinand von Schirach kam ich über sein Buch “Verbrechen”. Irgendwo stolperte ich über den Namen dieses Buches und natürlich kannte ich die Familie von Schirach aus der deutschen Geschichte. Ferdinand von Schirach selbst war mir jedoch kein Begriff und so googelte ich ihn und fand schnell heraus, daß er der Enkel Baldur von Schirachs ist, des “Reichsjugendführers” im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland.

Nun ist der Nationalsozialismus ein Thema, das mir persönlich sehr wichtig ist. Ich bin 1975 geboren und so ist es vollkommen klar, daß ich keine Schuld an den Verbrechen der Nazis trage.

Ich bin aber in Deutschland als Deutscher geboren und so trage ich – mit allen anderen Deutschen zusammen – eine historische Verantwortung, die Geschichte nicht in Vergessenheit geraten zu lassen und eben keinen Schlußstrich oder ähnliches zuzulassen. Werden wir nämlich Geschichtsvergessen, tragen wir eine Mitschuld, sollte sich diese wiederholen.

Bis heute jedoch ist mir die “Motivation” für den millionenfachen Mord völlig unbegreiflich. Ich kann nicht nachvollziehen, wie es Menschen möglich war, sich an Planung und Umsetzung solcher Taten zu beteiligen bzw. diese gar zu beginnen.

Die Hauptschuldigen sind alle tot, die kleineren “Räder im Getriebe”, Hanning, Gröning und wie sie alle heißen, haben auch keine Antworten und die Angehörigen der Haupttäter schweigen zumeist.

So kam es, daß ich “Verbrechen” las, in der Hoffnung, mehr über Baldur von Schirach zu erfahren. In dieser Hinsicht wurde ich enttäuscht. Allerdings zog mich der Stil Ferdinand von Schirachs, seine unemotionale Erzählweise und seine Themen sofort in seinen Bann, in dem ich bis heute dankbar gefangen bin.

Ich habe seither alle Bücher von Schirachs gelesen und er gehört für mich zu den großen Autoren des noch jungen 21. Jahrhunderts. Das Rechtsverständnis und –Empfinden eines Ferdinand von Schirachs und der zugrundeliegenden Ideen sind unwahrscheinlich menschlich und menschenfreundlich, ohne dabei rührselig oder emotional zu werden. Das Recht wird als unveräußerliches Gut, das einem jeden Menschen zusteht, wahrgenommen.

Persönliches bleibt allerdings bei von Schirach nahezu vollständig außen vor. Es kommt, wie Privates, nicht vor. Das ist nicht schlimm, denn seine Bücher “sprechen” für sich selbst und werden ihren Autor überdauern.

Dies sind die Prämissen aller Bücher von Schirachs – bis zu “Kaffee und Zigaretten”, dieser Sammlung von kurzen Erzählungen, persönlichen Erzählungen und winzigen Einblicken ins Private.

Stilistisch entspricht auch das vorliegende Buch ganz seinen Vorgängern – direkte, klar Sprache, unmittelbar erzählt, manchmal mit feiner Ironie und dezenten Humor “angereichert”.

In 48 “Kapiteln” ist natürlich nicht alles Gold, was glänzt: Nicht alle Kapitel haben mich angesprochen, manche haben mich gar ratlos (aber nie verständnislos!) zurückgelassen. Andere dagegen, z. B. Kapitel 18, in dem es um die Würde des Menschen und zeitlose Grundideen des Rechts geht, haben mich zutiefst berührt.

Nicht deswegen, weil diese Ideen so neu wären (im Gegenteil, manche sind 3000 Jahre alt, wie von Schirach selbst schreibt), sondern weil nur ein Ferdinand von Schirach es fertigbringt, diese Ideen so einfach, klar und direkt ins 21. Jahrhundert zu übertragen.

Wenn wir heute Minderheiten nicht schützen – ganz gleich, ob es Juden, Migranten, Asylbewerber, Homosexuelle oder andere sind –, fallen wir wieder zurück ins Dumpfe und Dunkle.

Auch die Analysen der früheren RAF-Verteidiger, Otto Schily, Christian Ströbele und Horst Mahler, sind äußerst interessant zu lesen…

Auf einer Tonbandaufnahme ist Schily zu hören. Er brüllt durch den Saal: »Wir führen gegenüber der Macht das Argument des Rechts ins Feld.« Ich kenne keinen anderen Anwalt, dem spontan solche Sätze gelingen.

… und von Schirachs Schlußfolgerungen ebenso zutreffend wie amüsant, so z. B. über Ströbele:

Ich würde ihm ohne Zögern meine Brieftasche und meine Wohnungsschlüssel anvertrauen. Aber Schily würde ich als Verteidiger wählen.

Vieles von dem, was Ferdinand von Schirach schreibt, trifft mich bis ins Mark – und in manchen Fällen, weiß ich nicht einmal wirklich warum. Vielleicht habe ich in von Schirachs Werk so etwas wie “Heimat” gefunden, passend jedenfalls wäre es:

»Fehlt dir das alles nicht?« Harold dachte nach. In seinem Gesicht sah ich jetzt den jungen Mann wieder, der er damals war. »Ich glaube nicht, mein Lieber«, sagte er nach einer Weile. »Nein. Heimat ist kein Ort, es ist unsere Erinnerung.«

Und auch über Baldur von Schirach schreibt dessen Enkel ein paar Zeilen, die in der Feststellung kulminieren, vielleicht sei er, Ferdinand von Schirach, “aus Wut und Scham über seine Sätze und seine Taten der geworden, der ich bin.

Ich jedenfalls bin sehr dankbar für die Literatur Ferdinand von Schirachs und bin ganz bei ihm, wenn er gegen Ende des Buches schreibt:

Wir suchen die Bücher, die für uns geschrieben sind.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at May 11, 2019 02:15 PM

May 07, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Repentance, by Andrew Lam

The fact that they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor didn’t matter. They were guilty by association, by the color of their skin and the slant of their eyes. It didn’t matter that they didn’t speak Japanese, or that they were American citizens. The bottom line was that their kind had perpetrated a horrid crime that came from the land of their ancestors. The shame was a burden that all Nisei silently bore, a burden every soldier in the 442nd was fighting to be free of.

I got this book for free as a win from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Thanks!

“Repentance” tells the story of Daniel Tokunaga, a successful surgeon, who is confronted with his estranged father’s past during the Second World War. Daniel’s father is of Japanese descent and fought as part of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history.

During (mostly) alternating chapters narrating of 1944 (Daniel’s father and his best friend) and 1998 till 1999 we learn a lot about Daniel and his own family as well.

Even though Lam doesn’t have his own style, his writing is fairly well, at times very atmospheric and – in the respective context – mostly absolutely plausible and believable. Lam’s prose at times feels even poetic:

The house sucked up his voice, offered no return. […] The house was a time capsule. A grave, he thought. Even a clock’s tick would have been welcome music. The dead room gave Daniel the creeps. Inside, the distant pulsation of the cicadas felt far away. Inside, time had died—life gone elsewhere. Even the past had passed on.

Especially the war time perspective is brilliantly developed and I found ourselves immersed in the narration:

The horror of their situation now dawned on Ray. Unable to advance, unable to retreat, six guys left against four machine guns, one of which they couldn’t see but which could see them the minute they lifted their heads or stepped out from behind a tree.

Why then only three stars? There are two issues with this book: First of all, “Repentance” is missing the chance to tell the story of the 442nd – why did it become the most decorated unit? Why did those Nisei fight so valiantly? Lam could have elaborated on this beyond the rather simplistic direct answer he gives himself:

The fact that they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor didn’t matter. They were guilty by association, by the color of their skin and the slant of their eyes. It didn’t matter that they didn’t speak Japanese, or that they were American citizens. The bottom line was that their kind had perpetrated a horrid crime that came from the land of their ancestors. The shame was a burden that all Nisei silently bore, a burden every soldier in the 442nd was fighting to be free of.

Especially in the light of Americans of Japanese descent being held in civilian internment under harsh conditions, why would people volunteer to fight and die for the country that did that to them? The book leaves us without even trying to explain that.

The story “Repentance” tells us is a powerful one and it would certainly have been possible to highlight the special challenges that the Nisei faced in the USA before, during and – in part at least – after World War II. I for one would have been interested to learn more about that.

In the author’s “Historical Notes” there is indeed additional information about the 442nd but it comes too late (it should have been interwoven in the story) and it’s too little to make any great difference.

The second issue I have is with Daniel, the protagonist, himself: When he learns about a family secret his father, Ray, has kept, Daniel is very, very quick to condemn Ray. No doubt, under the specific circumstances Daniel is sad and confused and he says so:

He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. “I still can’t wrap my head around the stuff with my dad. It’s just so bizarre.”

That is wholly understandable and believable. Nevertheless, he completely condemns his father and is generally awfully quick to judge:

No wonder his father hadn’t wanted the government to investigate his medal. Because he hadn’t earned it…worse, he’d lied […]”

Not quite the next second but at most hours later, he clearly identifies with his father again:

Celeste, I would love to tell you about my dad. I’m very proud of him.

Daniel actually “oscillates” between blaming his father for everything gone wrong in both their lives and blaming himself. Both with equal vigour and both implausibly quickly, often in the course of hours:

As Daniel perused his dad’s archive of his life, he felt a deep sense of regret. Was it my fault for keeping us apart all those years? Was it me who robbed both him and my children of a relationship they could have shared? And Daniel realized, it was.

“No, Daniel”, I want to shout, “it’s at most partly your fault but mostly your father who tried to mould you into the unrealistic picture he imagined someone else would have been having of you.” (Yes, the convoluted wording has a very good reason.)

In the relationship between the parent and a child, it’s extremely rarely the child to blame for the major failures.

Neither is it possible for anyone burdened like Daniel to follow his wife’s – Beth – trivial advice:

You can do it differently. Start right now. Just start by being a person who’s not carrying a burden. Now that we know where that burden came from, why don’t you put it down and leave it there?

No, Beth, you can’t just put such a burden down and move on. If things were so easy, a lot of shrinks would be out of a job.

All in all, “Repentance”, in spite of the shortcomings I mentioned, is a well-written, interesting book that could have achieved more but can still be recommended to anyone with an interest in historical fiction and especially those interested in World War II.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at May 07, 2019 05:32 PM

May 03, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

That’s true, good lady, but then we boatmen have seen so many over the years it doesn’t take us long to see beyond deceptions. Besides, when travellers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them to disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years—that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together. Good lady, I’ve already said more than I should.

Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, live in post-Roman Britain. They – like everyone – are suffering from some strange memory loss that prevents them from recalling large parts of their lives:

Now I think of it, Axl, there may be something in what you’re always saying. It’s queer the way the world’s forgetting people and things from only yesterday and the day before that. […] Like a sickness come over us all.

Sometimes, though, either Axl or Beatrice do remember things from their past; just like one morning Axl remembers their son who has moved to a village not too far from their home. Not having seen him for many years, they decide to visit him. The entire book is basically about their journey and the people they meet.

This book is definitely not for the casual reader – you always have to read closely and attentively or you will miss a lot of small details that are not always of great relevance but which help form the “big picture”, e. g. we learn early on that Beatrice and Axl aren’t allowed to own and use a candle at their home. When they’re talking about a cloak much later on, we learn said cloak was one they “later we lost in that fire”.

Furthermore, the entire book can be read in a number of ways – as a somewhat simple story of the arduous journey of our elderly couple, or maybe that journey itself isn’t one of physical hardship but an allegory for their life together and the challenges they encountered.

Even individual encounters and deeds during the journey can often be interpreted in many ways. The more abstract interpretation is all the more plausible as the writing style is very formal, sometimes excessively so:

Master Ivor told us of it, and we thought it poor news to succeed your brave intervention.

Nobody – at least today – talks like that. While this is, undoubtedly, yet another means to achieve a feeling of estrangement, it is too much for me.

In addition to this strange formality, the narrator often doesn’t directly describe the landscape but how it could or would have been at the time narrated:

There would have been elms and willows near the water, as well as dense woodland, which in those days would have stirred a sense of foreboding.

This adds again to the feeling of estrangement from the literal story itself and makes it harder for me to actually enjoy the story. It distances the reader from the story and while that might be the right way if you only care about your art and not your reader, I didn’t like that.

I always felt like I was being led by the nose somewhere and tried to anticipate it. I felt like being manipulated to be “educated” and I didn’t enjoy it.

The weird forgetfulness everyone is afflicted by makes for very strange dialogue like this one:

“What’s this you’re saying, princess? Was I ever the one to stop us journeying to our son’s village?” “But surely you were, Axl. Surely you were.” “When did I speak against such a journey, princess?” “I always thought you did, husband. But oh, Axl, I don’t remember clearly now you question it. And why do we stand out here, fine day though it is?”

Uh, yes, and why are you tormenting us with repeating dialogues like that all the time?! It’s really truly annoying to have to keep reading stuff like that.

On the other hand, it’s the most important narrative feature of this book so I do understand the general need to make sure we fully understand it and its implications. Even more so since both Beatrice and Axl do remember additional fragments of memories whenever they talk in length about any given topic. Quite a bit of information is given in that indirect way.

Especially information that has been hidden before – because every character in this entire book is hiding things – some major, some minor – from everyone else. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes we simply don’t know and have to find our own answer.

Everything in this book is taxing like that, even down to the names of our heroes:

Beatrice literally means “she who makes happy” – and she is Axl’s one and only. The only person for whom he really cares and she makes him happy.

Axl means “father of peace” (or “father is peace”) and even that is quite fitting as we will learn late in the book.

The abbot will insist we carry on as always. Others of our view will say it’s time to stop. That no forgiveness awaits us at the end of this path. That we must uncover what’s been hidden and face the past. But those voices, I fear, remain few and will not carry the day.

While I was reading “Giant”, I constantly felt like the author was wagging his finger at me and lecturing me. Literature, to me, though, is not about lecturing. I want “my” books to entertain me, to make me think and question things but not by moralising, lecturing, finger-wagging but unobtrusively.

Maybe that’s too near to “edutainment” (which I have no qualm with) for some but that’s just the way I feel. I don’t like reading the old classics (Schiller, Goethe, etc.) either anymore – they’re just too far from my life and times.

“Giant” does read like such a classic or, possibly, a play:

Should I fall before I pass to you my skills, promise me you’ll tend well this hatred in your heart. And should it ever flicker or threaten to die, shield it with care till the flame takes hold again. Will you promise me this, Master Edwin?

At least a few amusing passages found their way into this book (possibly by accident!):

“Let’s come away, child,” Axl said. “This is no sight for you or your brothers. But what is it made this poor ogre so sick? Can it be your goat was diseased?” “Not diseased, sir, poisoned! We’d been feeding it more than a full week just the way Bronwen taught us. Six times each day with the leaves.””

Ultimately, though, “The Buried Giant” is lost on me due to its excessively allegorical nature and narrative complexity – if a book is so taxing, I can hardly enjoy reading it anymore, it’s simply too much for me. Maybe it’s Ishiguro handing us all the essential information to make up our own mind and come to our own conclusions and it’s just me.

I didn’t give up on this book but I’m giving up on its author for good.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at May 03, 2019 01:12 PM

April 29, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Relic, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Every sixty to seventy million years or so, life starts getting very well adapted to its environment. Too well adapted, perhaps. There is a population explosion of the successful life forms. Then, suddenly, a new species appears out of the blue. It is almost always a predatory creature, a killing machine. It tears through the host population, killing, feeding, multiplying. Slowly at first, then ever faster.

“Relic” was a fast and easy read: New York City’s Natural History Museum has already had its share of dark rumours about a “Museum Beast” when two kids are found brutally murdered in the basement of the museum. And further deaths follow…

Thus, Lieutenant D’Agosta from the local Police department takes the lead in the investigation, closely followed by FBI agent Pendergast from New Orleans who knows the killer’s modus operandi from a previous case.

Furthermore, there are Margo Green, a graduate student, preparing her dissertation, supported in both that and her independent investigation by Professor Frock, her wheelchair-bound mentor who is part of the higher echelon of the museum.

Soon, all of them will find out that sometimes the hunters turn into the hunted quickly…

So, why read this? Simple: After a long streak of taxing reads, I wanted something simple, something easy and satisfying and, depending on the kind of “easy” I want, this could be a murder mystery who-dun-it or, as I this instance, a fast-paced thriller.

In a thriller I’m looking for…

– Thrills (obviously!) – check!
– Suspense – check!
– Surprise (as I knew the 1997 film, there was less of it than I would have liked but:) – check!
– Excitement – check!
– Anticipation – check!
– Anxiety – check!

… and I got it all. Especially the flight through the basement and subbasement of the museum was farily great and I certainly didn’t expect the ending which differs somewhat from the film.

Thus, if you’re looking for an easy read with a lot of thrills, just grab a copy of “Relic”, turn the lights low and get reading!

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 29, 2019 10:15 AM

April 24, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

No Exit, by Taylor Adams

Thrilling, suspenseful – and completely over the top

No great quotation comes to the rescue in this case which could actually be good because “No Exit” promised to be a fast-paced thriller with a highly interesting premise: Darby, a college student takes refuge in a rest/service area during a blizzard. There she meets four other travellers who are stranded. When she finds a girl, Jay, in a van in the parking lot, she knows she’s going to have an interesting night ahead of her…

It was all really happening, right now, in vivid color, and a little girl’s life was really on the line, and tonight’s title match would be between a sleep-deprived art student and a human predator.

This outset got my hopes up high – after several books that taxed capacity for prolonged complexity (especially during a holiday!) I just wanted some action-flick-look-alike of a book. And, admittedly, I got one. So, why only three stars out of five?

Well, worst of all: Pretty much every single plot twist was foreseeable. Early on I guessed at two completely different possible story lines but once the first “big revelation” about a certain relationship has occurred, it was rather obvious in which direction we were heading. Not that it was a completely bad idea but it has been used so often before, I was slightly disappointed.

My next gripe is with Darby, our “sleep-deprived art student”, herself: Not only is she fairly sporty, ingenious with improvised weapons, full of wild ideas (in the vein of “if I mix this, put something in the toaster and run fast enough…”), no, she is willing to sacrifice herself for a complete stranger. Oh, and she’s really fast or so she thinks:

She wondered — if he went for the .45 under his jacket, could she yank the Swiss Army knife from her pocket, retract the blade, and cross the room quickly enough to stab him in the throat with it?


Which leads me to another huge issue: Especially towards the end of the book, Adams goes bat-shit insane with his story. While I’m absolutely willing to suspend my disbelief there are so many totally crazy things happening that I just can’t help it and think it might have been better to just let the book end.

Last but not least, the gore: It was just as over the top at times as those crazy ideas I mentioned before. Yes, the perpetrator is a sadistic psychopath but there’s no need to describe in gruesome detail how he kills a certain person.

It’s sad so much went wrong with this book because at its core, it was a decent thriller and could have satisfied my needs for some shallow fast food entertainment. As it is, I’ll have to “cheat” and read another thriller before moving on towards deeper waters again.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 24, 2019 10:42 PM

Die Geschichte der Bienen, by Maja Lunde

Sie findet den Weg hinaus aus dem Flugloch, dreht eine Runde vor dem Bienenkorb, ehe sie allmählich den Abstand zu ihrem Zuhause vergrößert. Aber noch ist sie nicht bereit.

Ein weiteres Mal läßt mich ein Buch recht ratlos zurück: “Die Geschichte der Bienen” von Maja Lunde ist zweifellos intelligent, kritisch und zutreffend. Am Ende – und immer, wenn es auch zwischendurch “menschelt” – ist es auch ein kraftvolles und berührendes Buch.

Leider sind die Längen zumindest am Anfang spürbar: Bemüht erzählt Lunde in drei Zeit- und Erzählebenen von der Geschichte der drei Protagonisten, ihrer Familien und ihrer jeweiligen Beziehung zu den Bienen.

William, im Jahr 1852, ist mäßig erfolgreicher Saatgutkaufmann und Naturforscher, der – so meint er zumindest – seiner Familie seine Leidenschaft für die Forschung geopfert hat und daran zerbricht.

George, der vermeintliche Realist mit großen Träumen, der als Imker in den ländlichen USA lebt und arbeitet:

»Ich liebe Star Wars. Deswegen bin ich noch lange kein Jedi geworden.«

Tao, die Getriebene, die die eine kurze Stunde, die sie mit ihrem einzigen Sohn, Wei-Wen, am Tag verbringen kann, dafür nutzen möchte, diesem eine bessere Zukunft zu ermöglichen. Vielleicht tut sie auch zuviel des Guten; vielleicht tut ihr Mann, Kuan, auch zu wenig desselben – es muß offen bleiben:

Wir haben viele Stunden, da können wir einiges schaffen. Ich würde ihm so gern das Zählen beibringen«, erklärte ich.

Sicher ist nur: Wei-Wen ist der Schlüssel zur persönlichen Geschichte Taos und Kuans sowie auch zur übergreifenden Handlung.

Etwa die Hälfte des Buches wird aufgewandt, die Protangonisten, William, George und Tao, und deren höchst unterschiedliche Charaktere haarfein zu beleuchten. Hier ist es auch, wo ich deutliche Längen gespürt habe – das Buch “zieht sich”.

Allerdings auf unbestritten hohem Niveau – nie wird die Charakterisierung plump oder platt. Das Mißfallen, der sprichwörtliche “Kloß im Hals” auf eine vermeintlich schlechte Nachricht hin wird “traditionell” behandelt und verarbeitet:

Ich warf einen ordentlichen Speichelklumpen aus, und die Fliege verschwand, ich sah nicht, wohin, wollte ihren Weg aber auch nicht weiter verfolgen.

Auf diese eher indirekte Weise werden Denken und Handeln der Personen glaubwürdig und lebensecht. Das ist zweifellos ein großes Verdienst und erhöht die Wucht des machtvollen Endes.

Auch ein leiser, feiner Humor findet sich an vielen Stellen des Buches und ich fühlte mich auch immer mal wieder erinnert:

In mir kribbelte es vor Erwartung, denn jetzt ging es los, endlich ging es los. »Es gibt Essen!« Thildas Stimme zerschnitt das Summen der Insekten und schlug die Vögel in die Flucht.

Andererseits aber leidet das Buch zeit- bzw. zeilenweise an “Kalenderspruch-itis”:

Ich hatte geglaubt, mich entscheiden zu müssen, aber ich konnte beides in Einklang bringen, das Leben und die Leidenschaft.

Dieses Motiv wurde so oft verwandt, daß es sich mittlerweile vorwiegend klischeehaft oder – sofern intendiert – selbstironisch liest. Eine ernsthafte Verwendung wie hier – nein, das kommt deutlich zu spät.

Dennoch: Nach etwa der Hälfte des Buches wird direkter und unmittelbarer erzählt. Es wird vielleicht ein bißchen weniger reflexiv, dafür aber lebendiger, zeitweise wirklich mitreißend und spannend, teils interessant und sprachlich ausgesprochen schön und fließend.

Menschlich glaubwürdige Dialoge zeigen die Befindlichkeiten; auch im beinahe Banalen spiegelt sich Nähe wider:

Er feixte. »Lass mal hören, Papa. Wie ist das mit den Bienen und Blumen?« Ich lachte. Er auch. Das wärmte.

Leider bleibt es nicht immer beim Indirekten, bei der Kritik ohne den erhobenen Zeigefinger; manchmal, so muß man vermuten, meint Lunde auf uns “grobe Klötze” Leser mit dem “groben Keil” Moral direkt einhämmern zu müssen.

Sie wird dann belehrend und moralisierend, was diesem Buch nicht gerecht wird:

Er sah mich nicht an, redete einfach nur weiter, hob seine Stimme. »Du wirst auch wieder einen Kollaps erleben. Es wird wieder passieren.« Jetzt sprach er laut. »Die Bienen sterben, Papa. Und nur wir können etwas dagegen unternehmen.« Ich drehte mich zu ihm. So hatte ich ihn noch nie reden hören, ich versuchte mich an einem Lächeln, das zu einer schiefen Grimasse geriet. »Wir? Du und ich.« Er lächelte nicht, schien aber auch nicht wütend zu sein. Er war todernst. »Wir, die Menschen. Wir müssen etwas ändern. Darüber habe ich doch gesprochen, als wir in Maine waren. Wir dürfen dieses System nicht unterstützen. Wir müssen etwas ändern, ehe es zu spät ist.«

Ja, sicher, wir müssen etwas ändern, aber nicht demonstratives Aufbegehren oder – noch drastischer formuliert – Aufwiegelung wird da helfen. Die weitgehende Finesse eines Romans wie dieses jedoch schon eher.

Insbesondere dann, wenn die drei Erzählstränge des Romans am Ende miteinander verknüpft werden und das Schicksal der Menschheit anhand des Lebens dreier Menschen (oder eines Menschen, wie man es nimmt) erzählt wird.

Da nimmt das “Schicksal” massiv seinen Lauf und man gibt sich, vielleicht auch nur für einen Moment, der Hoffnung wider besseres Wissen hin, um wenigstens einen Moment länger (wieder) zu glauben, alles werde gut. Wird es nicht; für niemanden in keiner Zeitebene:

Da beugte er den Kopf vor, sein Gesicht zersprang, es löste sich gleichsam vor mir auf. Er stieß drei tiefe Schluchzer aus. Sein Körper brodelte unter meiner Hand.

Hier am Ende brilliert Lunde sprachlich wie erzählerisch und spielt ihre Stärke aus: Sie spielt mit unglaublichen Formulierungen. Tief bewegend und authentisch.

Am Ende bleibt ein wenig Hoffnung…

Wir drehten uns zum Bienenstock um, und so blieben wir Seite an Seite stehen und betrachteten ihn. Unsere Hände waren sich ganz nahe, aber keiner nahm die des anderen, wir waren wie zwei Teenager, die sich nicht trauten. Die Wärme zwischen uns war wieder da.

… individuell in allen Zeiten…

»Es war nicht deine Schuld, Tao. Es war nicht deine Schuld.«

… wie auch global für die Menschheit.

Genau das ist der Verdienst Lundes: Sie zeigt im Kleinen und auf der persönlichen Ebene die Gefahr, die Tragik, aber auch die verbleibende Hoffnung und Liebe auf, die uns alle, als Menschheit, bleibt und letztlich hoffentlich eint.

Wäre Lunde dies etwas kürzer und prägnanter gelungen, so wäre ich auf jeden Fall bei vier Sternen; so bleibt es bei dreien und der etwas vagen und bangen Frage, ob das Ende ohne die lange Einleitung in der vorliegenden Form funktioniert hätte.

Was meinst Du dazu?

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 24, 2019 07:58 AM

April 21, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

IN THE DARKNESS, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.

(The last sentence of the book, almost the only good one.)

I was expecting to re-learn my Greek classics, told with a modern voice in modern language. I expected tales of heroism, of the great Greek heroes like Odysseus, of the Trojan war.

What I got was a pale romance, lots of pathos and characters I couldn’t care for at all. Achilles almost always submits to his mother’s wishes, Patroclus is annoying and whiny and both fall in love with each other for no discernible reason whatsoever – unless you count Achilles’s feet…

His dusty feet scuffed against the flagstones as he ate. They were not cracked and callused as mine were, but pink and sweetly brown beneath the dirt.

Or Achilles’s feet… Again…

Up close, his feet looked almost unearthly: the perfectly formed pads of the toes, the tendons that flickered like lyre strings. The heels were callused white over pink from going everywhere barefoot. His father made him rub them with oils that smelled of sandalwood and pomegranate.

Yes, feet and lots of them…

Everything else takes a backseat compared to the romance parts which simply bored me almost enough to put this thing away for good.

Because, honestly, I don’t like nonsense like this:

As for the goddess’s answer, I did not care. I would have no need of her. I did not plan to live after he was gone.

And whenever something threatens to happen in this book, e. g. for pretty much the first time after 50% (!) of the entire book…

The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.

… the chapter ends and the next one starts…


… with more stalling. The story never stands a chance against Miller’s prose, it drowns before ever flourishing. It almost feels like Miller is doing it on purpose and mocking us:

It was easy, in those moments, to forget that the war had not yet really begun.

Because we can’t ever forget that STILL NOTHING HAPPENED. Even the rare fighting scenes are incredibly boring and full of… feet!

I could not even see the ugliness of the deaths anymore, the brains, the shattered bones that later I would wash from my skin and hair. All I saw was his beauty, his singing limbs, the quick flickering of his feet.

And what do we get at the end about the legendary Trojan War?

THE PROPHECY TOLD TRULY. Now that Pyrrhus has come, Troy falls. He does not do it alone, of course. There is the horse, and Odysseus’ plan, and a whole army besides.

Wow. Just wow. How do you get to write so incredibly boring and be celebrated for it?!

I’m certainly not going to waste more time on Miller’s books.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 21, 2019 07:44 AM

April 17, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Age of Legend, by Michael J. Sullivan

Time had sneaked in and stolen her recklessness.

Michael J. Sullivan has done it again: He has written a book that doesn’t need to hide behind any other work in contemporary fantasy. His latest masterpiece, Age of Legend, the Kickstarter of which I had the honour to participate in, begins after the Battle of Grandford at the end of the previous book, Age of War.

This makes “Age of Legend” the fourth book in Michael’s “The Legends of the First Empire” series which I whole-heartedly recommend to, well, actually anyone who reads. (In fact, my wife isn’t really into fantasy but thoroughly enjoyed Michael’s Riyria books.)

I already wrote it in the review for the previous book but this latest instalment solidifies this feeling: More and more, “Legends” turns into Michael’s magnum opus. The Riyria books, which are fairly different from Legends, are undoubtedly great but the narrative depth of Legends is absolutely remarkable.

Michael gets pretty much everything right and this starts even before the actual book with his “Author’s Note”:

Now, there are a few things in this second half that I’ve done differently than my other books, and I want to warn you about them in advance.

This is expectation management done right – before we even get started Michael informs us about what he has done differently. I love his transparency.

The main part of the book again takes us to the war of the Rhunes against the Fhrey and lets us accompany our heroes Persephone, Suri, Brin, Gifford and the others in their global as well as their personal struggles. True, some of them take a backseat compared to the earlier books but to me at least this feels completely natural – there’s so much story to tell that the narration has to concentrate on slightly fewer characters. Some of them grow far beyond what I expected (and they themselves!) and some fall short of their own expectations.

Michael is a master of characterisation, though, and consequently, those characters he focusses on truly come to life and “feel” real, alive. Literally nobody here is perfect, none of them are spotless white-vested heroes. As do we all, our heroes struggle – against their own fallibility, their doubts and, of course, an enemy who considers them animals.

Among all the considerable developments in this book, Michael never loses his touch for careful world building, e. g. a very simple question…

I noticed a number of carts being lashed to horses outside. What’s that all about?

… leads us to the invention of chariots. Just as in the earlier books this is executed brilliantly.

And while all this plays out about 3000 years before Riyria and, thus, long before our time, Michael carefully makes us think of contemporary challenges but never preaches or lectures us:

The dwarf?” Malcolm paused and thought a moment. “Well, I wasn’t referring to him specifically. But now that you bring it up, I should point out that you run the risk of painting a whole race with the same ugly brush, which could have unexpected consequences in the future.

I think Michael’s greatest gift and the key to understanding his work but especially “The Legends of the First Empire” is his empathy. The downtrodden, the despised – however deserved that may be – are not beyond redemption. This deeply human attitude is part of what makes me love his books:

Empathy—the ability to understand and appreciate the feelings of others—is the cornerstone of civilization and the foundation of our relationships. Lack of it . . . well, lack of empathy is as close to a definition of evil that I can come up with.

In the beginning, I already referred to Michael doing Kickstarter projects for his latest works (and even this he does pretty much perfectly).

Kickstarter projects are great for this kind of stuff – the author finally gets more than just a meagre share of the proceedings and we, the readers, get to read the book earlier at the very least and, if committing by pledging higher amounts, lots of other goodies. I certainly wish more authors would make such good use of Kickstarter.

So, if you’re into fantasy go ahead and read Michael J. Sullivan’s fantastic books!

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 17, 2019 05:51 AM

April 13, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

I didn’t know it then, but it was too late—I had internalized my father, introjected him, buried him deep in my unconscious. No matter how far I ran, I carried him with me wherever I went. I was pursued by an infernal, relentless chorus of furies, all with his voice—shrieking that I was worthless, shameful, a failure.


It’s not hopeless. You’re not a boy at the mercy of your father anymore.

It all started out so well: The narrator, Theo Faber, is a psychotherapist who goes out of his way to help Alicia, the “Silent Patient”. Alicia has been put into a psychiatric hospital after her husband was murdered with her standing next to him, the weapon at her feet. She refuses to (or can’t) speak at all.

Theo himself is damaged as well by an overbearing father who has always made him feel insufficient, worthless and a failure (cf. opening quotation). He feels like he’s pretty much the only person on earth who can help Alicia find her voice – metaphorically and literally – and so he sets out to help her.

The setting I described above intrigued me – it sounded exciting and promised suspense and I strongly related to Theo with whom I felt I shared some “history”.

Psychotherapy had quite literally saved my life.

The entire first part of the book struck me deeply and the narrative “vibes” resonated within myself:

I could feel myself thawing in the heat, softening around the edges, like a tortoise emerging into the sun after a long winter’s sleep, blinking and waking up. Kathy did that for me—she was my invitation to life, one I grasped with both hands. So this is it, I remember thinking. This is love.

I vividly remember a few situations (e. g. the restaurant in Amsterdam, C., where they “shot” me 😉 ) with my wife of almost 20 years now that triggered similar feelings and reminded me of similar experiences.

About love. About how we often mistake love for fireworks—for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm—and constant.

These “autobiographic connections” and the expectations they raised are, undoubtedly, part of why I feel so let-down by and disappointed in this book.

Soon, though, there were discordant tones within the narration that had rung true so far:

I wanted to reach out and pull her close. I wanted to hold her. But I couldn’t. Kathy had gone—the person I loved so much had disappeared forever, leaving this stranger in her place.

This is quite obviously delusional – Theo simply confuses his picture of Kathy with the real person. Sure, this is certainly a literary device but crudely wielded and, thus, it annoyed me slightly in the beginning.

Later in the book, Theo’s own issues become even more prevalent and, to me at least, more and more annoying. They escalate in their narrational crudeness as well:

Perhaps he wasn’t human at all, but the instrument of some malevolent deity intent on punishing me. Was God punishing me?

What?! Yes, sure, whatever…

Spoiler title
There are quite a few characters as well who take quite some space in the book but never really get used: There’s Jean-Felix, a caricature of a gallery owner and Alicia’s friend, there’s her brother-in-law, the latter’s wife, Tanya (his assistant, how cliched is that…), Alicia’s cousin Paul and others who pretty much all have something to hide or to be embarrassed about but who only ever serve as a means to an end – to distract us, the reader, from the simple truth which you begin to sense early on and which leads to “the big twist”.

Some characters, like the hospital’s director, Diomedes, are pretty much caricatures of themselves, so shallowly are they depicted.

On the other hand, Michaelides does get a few things right: Short, engaging chapters that keep you glued to the book (“just one more chapter and then I’ll sleep!”), inserting excerpts from Alicia’s diary helps as well and all in all, it’s still an interesting read – at least in the beginning.

The middle parts of the book are rather slow and uneventful. Lots of stuff is going on but only few things happen that actually drive the story forward. Towards the end, things are being rushed and the story, after “the big twist”, deflates as quickly as a punctured balloon.

Ultimately, this book has good ideas and an interesting premise but it feels sensationalist and simply can’t live up to the hype that’s been generated about it. Alex Michaelides is, first and foremost, a screen writer and it definitely shows in this book.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 13, 2019 12:40 PM

April 09, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Bones She Buried, by Lisa Regan

“A completely gripping, heart-stopping crime thriller”

Nah, it’s not, just joking. This is just an annoying trend (lately?) to add such marketing bullshit to the title of any books feared not to sell otherwise – or so it seems.

“The Bones She Buried” is, of course, neither completely gripping nor, fortunately, heart-stopping. It’s pretty much a bog-standard police procedural featuring Josie Quinn, a thirty-something (I guess?) police detective in Pennsylvania (which doesn’t matter at all because the setting is usually completely generic), who is investigating for the fifth time now with the usual staff who, so far, “covered cases so shocking and high-profile, they’d made national news.

And, of course, Josie will eventually “[unravel] a scandal so massive and so complex that it’s still sending shockwaves through not just the region but the entire nation.” And it all starts with the murder of someone close to her.

Honestly, all that thickly-applied pathos is not even necessary: Sure, Lisa Regan (whose surname I tend to “prominently” misspell) will never become a new Hemingway or Shakespeare. That’s just fine, though, because the “absolutely unputdownable” “crime thrillers” she writes as if there was no tomorrow, are entertaining, well-paced, sometimes amusing, and always suspenseful.

Compared to many other books, this is fastfood – best devoured quickly and in secret, feeling slightly guilty over the wasted hours but, ultimately, happy to have read something that entertained me without taxing me.

Well, at times things do get a bit… complex:

Josie’s ex-fiancé, Luke Creighton’s sister had a farm up in Sullivan County, so Josie had been there before.

Such things happen if you mass-produce like Regan (but at least I don’t have to wait long for each new instalment):

Vanishing Girls: A totally heart-stopping crime thriller (Detective Josie Quinn Book 1) Jan 17, 2018

The Girl With No Name: Absolutely gripping mystery and suspense (Detective Josie Quinn Book 2) Apr 19, 2018

Her Mother’s Grave: Absolutely gripping crime fiction with unputdownable mystery and suspense (Detective Josie Quinn Book 3) Jul 19, 2018

Her Final Confession: An absolutely addictive crime fiction novel (Detective Josie Quinn Book 4) Nov 28, 2018

The Bones She Buried: A completely gripping, heart-stopping crime thriller (Detective Josie Quinn Book 5) Mar 27, 2019

So, if you can enjoy a run-of-the-mill police procedural, you can’t go wrong with Lisa Regan.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 09, 2019 03:54 PM

April 07, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon

“Margret,” he said, “you are my child. I forgave you all your sins on the first day of your life.”

This book has been lauded for a lot of things – supporting feminism, its share of LGBT characters, its absolutely gorgeous cover and I’m sure it would heal the Draconic plague as well were the latter real.

The problem is, though: This book is way too long. The entire first third of the book basically consists only of (court) politics and scheming. There is no real storyline to follow yet; it’s basically all just building up slowly to the real story which is all the more sad as behind all the convoluted, long-winded, stilted writing hides a decent (albeit not very original) story:

After a thousand years of imprisonment by our heroes’ ancestors, the “Nameless One” – a dragon – is going to return and wreak havoc all over the world. Few people know this secret and even fewer are prepared and willing to actually do something about it.

Tané, a young lowly-born orphan, wants to become a dragon rider of “the East’s” sea guard but hides many a secret herself, harbours self-doubt beyond any reason and is one of those glorious few who rise to the challenge and act.

Sabran is the queen of Inys, a part of “Virtudom”, a political and religious alliance based on chivalric virtues, both pretty much the religious and secular leader and – by religious doctrine – the final bulwark against the Nameless One’s return.

Ead is a spy from the eponymous Priory of the Orange Tree at Sabran’s court and the latter’s confidant. She’s a capable combatant, honourable and virtuous (in more than just name) and fairly ambitious, aspiring to rise (out of her murdered mother’s shadow to beat!) from her respected but lowly position to much more exalted positions in the priory, meanwhile protecting and counselling Sabran, battling the Nameless One and pretty much anything else that threatens her or her charge.

And Ead is pretty much the boulder upon which this book precariously rests – and remains standing albeit an avalanche of issues. In short: Ead rocks!

So, to quickly summarise: We have a time-proven (formulaic) plot of good versus evil, we have three young women who will have to rise and shine beyond anything they ever expected, we have chivalric values codified into religion which complicates an already complex court and we still have about 70% of the book ahead of us…

And I must not forget to introduce the last two narrators:

Niclays Roos, an aging alchemist, on the other hand is a scoundrel, a villain from the books (sic!), an opportunist of the worst kind. Having tried to find the formula for a potion for eternal life his whole life long, he has been banished from Virtudom because Sabran lost her misplaced belief in Roos. He’s willing to blackmail himself out of any situation and would pretty much sell his grandmother or his own soul if it gave him an advantage.

Last but not (quite) least, there’s Loth: Sir Arteloth “Loth” Beck is the proverbial knight in shining armour – good-natured, honourable, an embodiment almost of the chivalric virtues but, alas, pretty much hapless and forgettable. He’s a nice-to-have-but-expendable sidekick, reliable and more lucky than competent.

That concludes the story and the most important dramatis personae but don’t despair if you’re into complex settings – after all there are about (wait for it…) 130 characters in total you’ll read about.

The long-winded, stilted narration in the beginning and the complexity are in fact the most important issues that drag this book down. Yes, the plot is formulaic, yes, the characters are “somewhat” archetypical as well but – and this is why “Priory” still gets three stars from me – when Shannon overcomes her own inhibition to go beyond what she seems to feel are the limitations of her genre, you feel the raw potential of an author who needs refinement, who needs someone to encourage her to break free from convention.

Shannon already does this fairly nicely when it comes to her heroines: First of all, almost all major characters (and lots of minor ones) are female. Not the helpless “damsel in distress” kind either but the strong and independent kind. I like that. What I like even more about it is, that it is – mostly! –unobtrusive – I didn’t even really notice this until I actually thought about it analytically. Of course, I knew Ead (did I mention she rocks?) and Tané are young women but I didn’t really care at all – why shouldn’t women be heroic and protagonists in fantasy?

So, yes, Priory can be read as feministic but in the way I personally prefer – not artificially trying to make a political statement or to throw it in the reader’s face but to simply “organically” make the point.

Similarly, the LGBT aspect works well for me: The LGB (T is missing) relationships are mostly well-written and believable – at least the female perspective (which, naturally, eludes me to some extent) reads well and is intrinsically plausible. I’m not quite as convinced about the male perspective: We only get to witness Roos’s and Jannart’s (Roos’s dead nobly-born lover) relationship post-factum as Jannart has died years before the book even starts. To me, a bisexual man, while not outright wrong, the remembered interactions do feel a bit “off” but that could be me.

As well as with feminism, tolerance/acceptance/open-mindedness/you-name-it towards LGBT (which is one of two major topics in my life) isn’t asked for or forced upon anyone. On the contrary: The relationship between Ead and her lover develops believably (again, from a male point of view at least) and organically which I appreciate greatly.

And, still, “The Priory of the Orange Tree” is, sadly, not a great book albeit written by an author who has the potential for greatness.

Whereas other authors simply try to bite off too much for their own good and overexert their limited talents, Shannon does have the talent required to write a great tale but lacks in experience. Thus, she makes a lot of mistakes even beyond the length of her novel, like killing off characters without it making much of a difference to anyone:

“Forgive me,” he said thickly. “Forgive me, […].”

… says one of our protagonists after one such needless death and that’s pretty much it. The victim does get a few “honourable mentions” but his death changes nothing. Do not kill off characters without a good reason and without an important impact on either the story or another character. The death here does nothing of the kind.

At other points in the story, Shannon is needlessly gory in her story-telling, e. g.:

“A musket fired and blew her guts across the cobblestones.”

This is simply not warranted and often annoys me and turns me away from a book.

Similarly, in contrast to her afore-mentioned subtlety and sensitivity Shannon sometimes has a tendency to be too explicit or in-your-face-ish:

“Something was changing in her. A feeling, small as a rosebud, was opening its petals.”

At the point in the story this occurs, any even slightly sensitive reader will long have envisioned said rosebud themselves. We’ve just been witness to the change we’re explicitly being told about here so it would better have been left unsaid.

Another even more poignant example comes towards the end of the book where Shannon thinks she has to really spell it out:

“A woman is more than a womb to be seeded.”

Yes, any sane person knows that and – I’m sorry – those who don’t are beyond redemption anyway.

Anyway, before I fall prey to overstaying my own welcome, let me summarise: “The Priory of the Orange Tree” is definitely overly long – only after almost two thirds of the book things really do start to happen.

There’s also way too much religious stuff around for my taste (“Virtudom”, “Dukes Spiritual”, I don’t need any of that) and, yes, some of the characters are formulaic and some sentences make me cringe (“Abandoning all hope of Halgalant [paradise], Loth waded after the murderous wyrm-lover.”)

Behind all that verbosity, formulas and some cringeyness hides a story that’s worth telling, characters worth knowing (Ead!) and an author that I’m going to keep an eye on.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at April 07, 2019 11:27 AM

March 31, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, by Malayna Evans

“KA-TASTROPHY” Or “The story erupted from his mouth like vomit.”

I got this book for free as a win from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Thanks!

There are books I’d love to just completely forget about, e. g. Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter so that I could read them again for the first time. Others, I simply want to forget. This book is one of the latter.

Reading “Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh” does indeed feel like the story erupted from [the author’s] mouth like vomit. Seriously, as an author you should be able to at least stay above that level. That seems to be the primary issue, though: The author, Malayna Evans, is the self-professed “author of the middle grade time travel series, The Egyptified Joneses” (from her blurb at Amazon) – despite this being her debut title and she simply can’t write:

– Evans’s severely limited vocabulary shows all over the place, e. g. all people are doing if they’re in distress or even hurt is moaning:

Jagger moaned as his little sister spun and zoomed back into the house.
Jagger moaned when his phone
Jagger moaned as Tatia draped a dress over
Wenher moaned through clenched teeth as she slowed the horses.
Jagger moaned. Was he really being profiled in ancient Egypt?

And this is just a careful selection from around 30 moans. The characters’ voices often “crack” as well and oftentimes it’s not quite clear why – was the cracked voice trying to be stern? Is it just puberty or was the speaker so emotional his voice cracked? Mostly, we don’t know. Nor do we care.

– Oh, and grammar surely is important for any author to make themselves clear:

He flinched, startled by a huge, black cat that jumped onto the railing separating the street from the park, running miles along the lake, teeming with bikers and dog walkers.

The railing teems with bikers and dog walkers? Wow, that must be a busy railing, indeed, and so many artistic people!

She leaned into the captain, whispering, as the prince steered he and Aria into the rectangular building on

He and Aria? I think not. Maybe some comma might have helped to save that sentence but, alas, Evans liberally sprinkles them all over the place…

They must be in one of the small, storage rooms adjoining it.

… making it painfully clear she doesn’t know how to use them.

Now, I’ve read books that were saved by their story – not so in this case, though, because the story is bland and uninspired: Two kids get magicked back in time to ancient Egypt, save the Pharaoh and his family and secure “Death life” (afterlife) for one of his daughters. Story telling mostly consists of either someone using mono-syllabic magic (“Bind!”) to make happen whatever needs happening (and that includes everything but the book ending).
Alternatively, Aria (yes, seriously, the “y” stayed over at Ice and Fire) dives into her seemingly bottomless pink purse (or maybe it’s a disguised TARDIS?) and – TADA! – finds just the thing they need (chewing gum, bug repellent…) to save the day.

None of the characters are in any way relatable, interesting or at least likeable. In fact, each and every character is boring, clichéd and guaranteed not to develop in any way. You simply don’t care if Aria, her brother or anyone else lives or dies. Or the people they try to save.

In a nutshell: This book is a complete, utter, irredeemable failure without any saving graces. Don’t believe me? Want to know if this book might actually be for you?

Just try reading the following chapter headings without cringing (my favourites are written in bold) – if you’re successful, read the entire thing; otherwise, do something more worthwhile like watching paint dry or grass grow:


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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 31, 2019 11:52 AM

March 28, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

“I don’t want more sense!” I said loudly, beating against the silence of the room. “Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?”

I read “Spinning Silver” first and liked it a lot. “Uprooted”, I’d heard, was even better and while it’s certainly a great book, I’m not actually sure if “Spinning Silver”’s minor pacing flaw wouldn’t have made this book even better.

“Uprooted” tells the story of Agnieszka who lives in a small village near the Wood. Capital letter, because it’s an evil wood! Evil as in, monsters roaming it and everyone going into it either staying there, never to be seen again, or coming out corrupted to the core.

Fortunately, a Dragon (who is actually a wizard called Sarkan) lives nearby and protects the village and its inhabitants – albeit at a price because every ten years he takes a daughter from the village and this time it’s Agnieszka. Afterwards, chaos ensues.

A good, highly entertaining chaos with, admittedly, a lot of method behind it but a bit breathless. Where “Spinning Silver” was slow at times because Novik took time to tell her story slowly and with great care, “Uprooted” mostly rushes through the highly enjoyable story. It feels like the story practically broke free from Novik, as if it simply had to get out and be told without any delay:

“The swelling heat of it filled me, burning bright, almost unbearable.”

You don’t leisurely read “Uprooted”; you feverishly turn the pages as fast as you can, you wolf it down in large chunks, not wasting any time with chewing carefully. You just want, no, need to get your fill of the story!

Yes, it’s that exciting. The excitement is so great, though, that it can become if not almost unbearable but slightly tiresome.

I just wish Novik had paced her storytelling a bit – why not tell us more about Agnieszka’s first months in Sarkan’s tower after having been chosen?

Why not tell us more about the wizards at the king’s court, especially Alosha? What about Sigmund? The children? The princess?

There are so many interesting and potentially lovable characters who make a – more or less – short appearance and are only ever mentioned again in passing. After all, pretty much all characters are so wonderfully human with their strengths, their weaknesses and everything that makes them so believable.

The breakneck speed at which large parts of the story are told doesn’t leave much room for pure literary enjoyment, it doesn’t lend itself to thoughts about guilt and redemption as was the case in “Spinning Silver”. It doesn’t leave enough room for losing oneself among the pages – the Wood is always lurking just around the corner and the reader never feels entirely safe; it’s literally “one trap after another”.

In spite of my criticism, I really, really enjoyed this book – it’s a fairy tale gone (action) thriller in part and it has the same dry subtle humour that I loved about “Spinning Silver”…

“but the thought of putting a knife into a man was something else, unimaginable. So I didn’t imagine it. I only put the knife on the tray, and went upstairs.”

… and the same beautiful and relatable style:

“Happiness was bubbling up through me, a bright stream laughing.”

Ultimately, “Uprooted” is a book that leaves me hungering for more. Hopefully a bit more relaxed and laid-back next time, a bit more like “Spinning Silver”. In fact, since we’re talking about modern fairy tales, let me make a wish:

Dear Naomi Novik, creator of amazing literary worlds, first among the fair folk, gifted among authors, please write a book that combines “Uprooted”’s thrills with “Spinning Silver”’s depth and eternal praise be yours!

P. S.: Naomi, what’s that grudge against poor squirrels?

“I stumbled over the torn and spoiled body of a rabbit or a squirrel, killed as far as I could see just for cruelty;” (Uprooted)

“He had a small bow and arrow, and shot squirrels, and when he hit them, he came and looked at their little dead bodies with pleasure.” (Spinning Silver)

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 28, 2019 04:50 PM

March 22, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

“There are men who are wolves inside, and want to eat up other people to fill their bellies. […] You have fed each other, and you kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away.”

I don’t like fairy tales. Not at all. Especially not Grimm’s fairy tales. In fact, I dislike those so intensely for their cruelty and “rough justice” that I didn’t read them to my kids and hated them as a kid. Sorry, Little Red Riding Hood, for more than 40 years (and counting!) I’ve been rooting for the Big Bad Wolf!

Thus, it was with some reservations when I started reading “Spinning Silver” which turned out to be a fantastic story, masterfully told.

A soft-hearted moneylender’s daughter, Miryem, finds out she metaphorically has the ability to turn silver into gold which, in turn, becomes known to the king of winter. The king presses Miryem into his services and even kidnaps her.

The local duke’s daughter, Irina, is married off to the country’s tsar who is obsessed by a fire demon. Last but not least, there’s Wanda and her brothers whose lives are intertwined by fate with those of Miryem and Irina.

Sounds complex and maybe complicated? Well, yes, it is. Pretty much every major character gets to tell a part of the story from a first-person perspective which lends credibility and depth to the narrative. Unfortunately, this is one of the two notable flaws of “Spinning Silver”: Perspectives are usually switched with the chapter, sometimes even within a chapter and we, the readers, don’t get told but are “dumped” into the new point of view.

This makes things more dramatic at times but much more confusing as well. When I was even slightly tired (and who isn’t sometimes?!) or sleepy (e. g. when reading in bed) I would sometimes wonder who was actually narrating at that moment. The positive effect is, from my point of view (sic!), by far outweighed by the potential confusion. I would have wished for the narrator’s name in the chapter heading or whenever the perspective changed because the “confusion effect” would destroy the immersion.

Immersion, though, is a great factor of my enjoyment and despite my complaint “Spinning Silver” is one of those books between the lines and pages of which I could lose myself. While I read the words and absorbed the story, glorious pictures of green pastures during summer and snow-clad forests during harsh winters rose before my inner eye.

The story is so powerfully and yet gracefully and sensitively told, I felt like the narrated world got real and its inhabitants with their merits and flaws became fully fleshed-out human beings. As if that alone hadn’t yet been enough, Novik employs a decent, mostly subtle and sometimes dry humour, often finely laced with irony:

“I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered.”

Each character, even the afore-mentioned husband, gets to develop “organically”: Rarely has careful character development felt as real as in “Spinning Silver”. You cannot help but believe the motivation of every single character and while some turns in the story are predictable, they are so delectably satisfying and wonderfully enjoyable.

Did I convince you to read this remarkable book yet? No, well maybe you want some “philosophical” depth to your books? Do not falter, “Spinning Silver” is for you!

While unobtrusive at it, this book deals with deep moral and philosophical matters – does the well-being of many outweigh the needs of few? May I even sacrifice one life to save many? Does the “greater good” allow for any means? The answers to those questions aren’t simply provided, though:

“I say to you, here are the dangers. Some are more likely than others. Weigh them, put them all together, and you will know the cost. Then you must say, is this what you owe?”

Depending on your personal answers to those questions you might find yourself in a bit of a moral dilemma at times.

On the other hand, even those who prefer a more “hands-on” approach may find themselves at home in this story as it’s perfectly summed up by one of our heroines:

“What did it matter that they didn’t speak of kindness, here; they had done me a kindness with their hands. I knew which one of those I would choose.”

In spite of all this praise I must not fail to deliver one more issue that slightly marred my reading enjoyment: At times, “Spinning Silver” does feel a little “slow”. As mentioned before, the story is lavishly told, in great depth and detail and, for me at two points in the story, it ever so slightly drags on.

Then again, if a story is that good, the language so enjoyable and even the villains so relatable if not likeable, how can I find fault in something like this?

“Warm gold blushed through the whole length of it with the slightest push of my will, and the child gave a soft delighted tinkling sigh that made it feel more like magic than all the work I’d done in the treasury below.”

And, thus, my review ends…

“I had spun the silk and then I had knitted it with the finest needles in the vines and flowers of the duke’s crest”

… and with equal care this story is spun. Reluctantly leaving the lines and pages I’ve rejoiced being lost between, I’m hastening towards Novik’s “Uprooted” next – and you go read “Spinning Silver”, and, please, keep the wolf away.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 22, 2019 06:24 PM

March 16, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Christmas Eve by Jim Butcher

“Christmas Eve?”, I hear you cry. Why that?! Why pick an unimportant short story from the Harry Dresden universe and write about that?

Simply because it lets me make a point: Harry Dresden is a male chauvinist pig; he’s a misogynist arse. And even an impromptu short story is worth reviewing it because the stuff is just that good.

I read the first book, “Storm Front”, expecting nothing, getting something weird. I certainly didn’t really like it – generous 3 stars. I was wondering if it would get any better and read book two. More of the same – but people said, “WAIT! It’s going to get better soon-ish!”.

I read on. Same experience with books three, four (yes, the one that’s supposed to have gotten better!), five… All three stars, all… interesting. Somehow… exciting, though… Harry still is all the above and yet, there are redeeming qualities. Not sure what they are but why ever else would I have read on?!

Book 10, lo and behold, actually did get better! People – for ONCE! – were right! Harry Dresden is annoying but I’m sitting here and can’t wait for book – wait for it – 16 of this weird literary junk food that so entices me, that calls out to me, that sounds like a Siren’s song to me!

This story? It’s just nice. The most important people we’ve come to love from Harry’s neck of the Chicago woods are around, the atmosphere is right and, well, it has Harry…

Hello, I’m Wulf and I can’t get enough of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 16, 2019 11:02 AM

March 15, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

An interesting book, falling short of greatness for me.

I started reading this book with high expectations – interesting setting, highly praised on GoodReads. I really expected to love this book but it was not to be, unfortunately.

Maurice Hannigan, 84, sits in an old hotel at the bar and drinks to the people he loved most and who all have passed away before him, telling us about his relationship with them and, consequently, about his life. The son of an Irish farmer, he, too, sets out on this path and soon by far surpasses his parents and becomes a wealthy and well-respected man.

We learn about the Dollards, formerly major land owners and employing Maurice’s mother and himself, whom he loved to hate for his entire life. He toasts to his brother Tony who died as a young man, his first child, Molly, his sister-in-law Noreen, his son, Kevin, a well-known journalist who has emigrated to the USA and, last but not least, his wife Sadie.

Griffin tells her story, Maurice’s life, in long chapters most of which overlap with each other in narrated time. This gives her room to explore each relationship deeply and allows for concentrating on their respective unique aspects. Unfortunately, the overlap does cause some conflicts that are hard to handle gracefully. Let me give you an actual example:

“It was twenty-seven years later that I learned the origin of the coin from Emily at that special dinner she’d arranged. But even then she’d been holding back. And it wasn’t until a year after that again that I found out the real consequence of its theft. And it was all because of Noreen, would you believe.”

I’m calling this, well, clumsy. You might consider it a narrative device, I don’t like it, sorry.

In between each of those toasts we’re getting a small glimpse into the current time and Maurice’s state of mind which is – at the very least – bordering on depression. By his own admission, Maurice is sleeping very badly (“I’ve stopped sleeping, have I told you? Two hours, three if I’m lucky now and then I’m awake.”), feeling bad and guilty as well as being prone to pondering (“Staring at the ceiling, going over it again, this bloody decision”). He’s tired and pretty much hopeless (“I feel tired and, if I’m honest, afraid.”) – all clinical symptoms of a depression.

Maurice even has people worrying about him (e. g. David, a social worker; Emily, the hotel’s owner; Robert, his notary) but none of them seem to recognise that and help him.

Griffin ends the book as anyone past the first chapter will know – “when all is said”, Maurice tries to take his own life. I’m sure Griffin doesn’t want to “promote” suicide as a way out of acute grief but a bestselling book ending like that does make me feel uncomfortable.

Putting that thought aside, I still didn’t really warm to the book. I can’t even put my finger on the exact reasons: Griffin’s language is believable (if restricted to Maurice’s vocabulary) and vivid. The story itself is plausible – everything in Maurice’s life could have happened just like it is told. Maybe that’s in fact part of my problem with the book – I felt myself nodding and registering the narrated facts but I was rarely touched by the story.

There were a few passages that really gripped me, especially since I’m a father and, obviously, a son myself (“fathers have a lot to answer for”), and made me swallow, e. g. this passage:

“But no, I mean, sorry for the father I’ve been. I know, really I do, that I could’ve been better. That I could’ve listened more, that I could’ve accepted you and all you’ve become with a little more grace.”

Boy, can I relate to that…

Unfortunately, this emotional engagement remains the exception for me in this book. Too rare and, in the end, too late.

To be able to really love a book, it needs to strike a chord within myself. I’m not an analytic reader, you won’t catch me scientifically dissect a book. The books I’ve loved most so far are those that make me enthuse about them to my wife and children till they send me somewhere else (or leave themselves). There are books (you can find them in my “Favourites” shelf on GoodReads) that make my soul thrive and rejoice (or only mentioning their names brings tears to my eyes) and I cannot help but sing their praise.

I fully expected “When All Is Said” to be such a book but it felt too shallow, it never engaged me emotionally and, quite possibly, maybe it’s all me, myself and I who’s to blame for that.

I guess you’ll have to find out yourself.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 15, 2019 03:13 PM

March 11, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Der Trafikant by Robert Seethaler

Der Trafikant by Robert Seethaler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Durch eine Laune des Schicksals aus dem Salzkammergut ins Wien der Jahre 1937 und 1938 verschlagen, trifft Franz auf Otto Trsnjek, den Trafikanten (Betreiber eines Tabakwarenladens / Kiosks), findet mit Anezka die große Liebe und in Gesprächen mit Sigmund Freud heraus, daß er, Franz, nichts weiß und die Welt verrückt (und manchmal ziemlich unfair bis grausam) ist.

Franz ist ein netter Bauernbursche – respektvoll, freundlich und (scheinbar?) etwas “einfach gestrickt”. Der See bei seinem Heimatdorf und dessen mit den Jahreszeiten wechselnde Farbe ist bis zu Franz’ Aufbruch nach Wien sein größtes Interesse – von der Welt-Politik ist er weitgehend “unbehelligt” und Zeitungen werden von ihm zu eher “periphären” Zwecken genutzt:

“Hin und wieder hatte Franz vor dem Abwischen eine Überschrift, ein paar Zeilen oder vielleicht sogar einen halben Absatz gelesen, ohne daraus allerdings jemals einen sonderlichen Nutzen zu ziehen.”

Aus diesem amüsanten Versatzstück sollte man jetzt jedoch nicht schlußfolgern, daß das gesamte Buch nur nettes Geplänkel ist: Wir befinden uns in 1937 und damit der dunkelsten Epoche der deutschen Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert und “Der Trafikant” schildert dies aus der Sicht Franz’, der ein feines Empfinden für Recht, Gerechtigkeit und ein respektvolles Miteinander besitzt.

Otto Trsnjek, sein Lehrmeister auch in ethischen Fragen, ahnt schon sehr klarsichtig, was noch passieren wird:

“»Bis jetzt ist nur das Geschäft eines Trafikanten besudelt worden. Aber hier und heute frage ich euch: Was oder wer kommt als Nächstes dran?«”

Ein Mensch wie Franz kann, ja, er muß in Konflikt mit der Ausgrenzung, Diskriminierung und Verfolgung geraten, die er in seinem Umfeld einerseits an Otto Trsnjek, aber auch an Freud, buchstäblich hautnah erlebt. Nun könnte man meinen, Franz werde sich zurückziehen, vielleicht in die innere Emigration, genau das aber tut er nicht.

Franz allein kann die Welt nicht verändern, so glaubt er, und wählt daher den Weg des “zivilen Ungehorsams”, der Widerständigkeit ohne Teil des organisierten Widerstandes zu sein.

Allein diese Geschichte erzählt zu haben, wäre bereits verdienstvoll und auch und gerade heute wichtig. Tut man das aber dann auch noch mit der wunderbaren Sprache, derer sich Seethaler wie nur wenige andere zu bedienen weiß, wird die Lektüre für den Leser zum absoluten Hochgenuß:

“Franz spürte einen merkwürdigen Stolz in sich aufsteigen, der irgendwo hinter seiner Stirn zerplatzte und wie ein warmer Schauer in seinen Kopf hineinrieselte.”

Als ich diesen Satz las, war das wie eine warme sprachliche Dusche; er evozierte Gedanken an ein Feuerwerk, das am Himmel explodiert und dessen Explosionsspuren herabsinken – ganz wundervoll!

Nimmt man dann noch Franz’ persönliche Liebesgeschichte – völlig frei Kitschigkeit, glaubwürdig und in ihrer Kompliziertheit so wahrhaftig – hinzu, so weiß man erst in seiner Gesamtheit diesen wunderbaren Roman wirklich zu würdigen.

Man leidet mit dem jungen Mann mit, wenn sein “böhmisches Mädchen”, seine “runde, böhmische Königin” plötzlich und unerwartet einfach mal wieder verschwindet:

“Nachdem es geschehen war und er wie ein Häuflein Glück auf dem Rücken neben ihr lag, stellte er sich vor, wie er am nächsten Morgen, gleich nach dem Aufstehen, um ihre Hand anhalten würde. Aber als er aufwachte, war sie weg.”

Selten wurde es so schön beschrieben und waren Glück und Unglück so nah bei einander.

An vielen Stellen jedoch zeigt sich in sprachlich ergreifendster Weise die innere Spannung dieses Menschen, der doch eigentlich nichts als leben und leben lassen möchte, der sein Mädchen lieben und ganz einfach sein möchte, es aber doch nicht sein kann, weil seine eigene Menschlichkeit und Anständigkeit dies nicht zulassen.

Dieses Buch kann nicht gut enden, aber es endet plausibel. Gerade in unserer Zeit muß man dieses großartige Buch beinahe schon lesen, aber es ist auch ein unglaubliches Erlebnis, das sich niemand verwehren sollte.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 11, 2019 04:15 PM

March 09, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Do you like watching glaciers move? Like, in real-time? Are you a German teacher of English? Do you hate someone very much? (You can even combine the last two!) 

Congratulations, this book is especially for you!  

I actually enjoy a good story, lavishly told in good time. Me possibly drinking coffee or wine and enjoying myself, even losing myself inside a story told slowly, delightfully, perhaps playfully. 

The story-telling here is mooooooooostly slooooooooow. Just slow. Not lavish, not delightful, not playful, just plain old slow.  

Now, slow food? Good stuff! Fast food only makes me fat anyway. Slow food doesn’t mean I have to enjoy chewing on a piece of granite – or reading this book. 

‘f slows the only prob, things mighta haven’t look so bleak. Ain’t just that, sirree, naw. The language. South’rn drawl my ass.  Short sentences. Clipped sentences, eh? Yeah, boy, might work. If yall are proper pen pushers, heh?! Franklin, ma boy, you ain’t a one.  

Ok, enough of this. It’s really annoying. I really, really hated those clipped sentences. They read like they hated their literary life for being, well, emaciated. 

Well, all of that could still have been forgiven (I can almost see the small teaching, pupil-hating, glacier-watching demographic from the introduction nod their approval!) but let’s take a look at the story itself: 

Young Larry (40 today) goes on a date, girl goes missing, people start hating Larry, apart from his “special friend” Silas (at this point, the German teachers get glassy eyes, remembering) and even more special Wallace Stringfellow. The former being a sorry excuse for a friend, the latter being worse.  

At the very beginning, poor Larry gets shot and Silas goes up and down memory lane for about 80% of the book, inspecting their miserable, boring lives in the past. Discovering “shocking” truths and a body. (Not, two, though. The mystery that all but ruined Larry’s life never gets solved.) 

The first words in chapter seven are basically a clue bat I, unfortunately, didn’t fully appreciate: 

“IT WAS 1982.” 

Yes, and we’re at 41% of the book and feeling like we’ve had to wade through decades of boredom but, wait, those guys are about 40 and no point whatsoever has been reached or made so far – we’re not safe yet, with decades before us yet! (Had I realised earlier and not only now, in hindsight, or given in to my instincts about bad books I might have preferred to watch grass grow but, alas, that exciting exercise has to wait for a worse book.) 

Still chapter seven (did mention those chapters can take an hour or more of a fast reader’s time (not to speak of the poor sod’s life!): “IT WAS THE slowest week of his life,” man, you’re taking the words right out of my mouth.

Anyway, why did I even finish this turd? Well, truth to be told, my daughter has to read this book for school and being the stupid oaf I’m sometimes maligned to be, I mouthed off to her about how good this book must be, having great reviews on Goodreads and how she should just get reading it! Sorry, my dear Schn…, I’m sure to do it again but for this book you have my sympathy. 

Drink, have fun with grass, do whatever you want with your life but don’t make people read this book. 

Oh, and if you really are a German teacher of English, I’m presenting you with a list of seven (because I can!) books better suited for your intended purpose which won’t make your pupils hate you (even more, at least): 

I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 09, 2019 05:48 PM

March 04, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Die ewigen Toten by Simon Beckett

David “Selbstzweifel” Hunter ist zurück – leider nicht in Bestform

Der forensische Anthropologe David Hunter, bekannt aus Becketts früheren Romanen in dieser Reihe, wird diesmal zu einem Leichenfund in einem ehemaligen Krankenhaus, dem St. Jude, gerufen. Dort angekommen wird sehr schnell klar, daß sich ein größeres Geheimnis hinter den abrissreifen und finsteren Mauern des St. Jude verbirgt. Damit steht die Kulisse für einen ebenfalls eher düsteren Krimi mit gelegentlichen “Ausrutschern” in beinahe schon poetische Sprache und ein wenig Humor.

Ich freute mich auf einen neuen Krimi mit Hunter, der mir aus früheren Bänden sympathisch und interessant in Erinnerung war. Das bleibt auch bei diesem Buch so, jedoch wird es leider von den permanenten Querelen zwischen Haupt- und Nebencharakteren massiv überschattet – ein forensischer Taphonom verärgert Hunter, Hunter verärgert seine Auftraggeber bei der Polizei, ein frustrierter Bauunternehmer verärgert alle.

Als wäre das noch nicht genug, läßt sich auch Hunter von all dem Ärger ins Boxhorn jagen und an sich selbst zweifeln. Angesichts seiner Erfahrung und seines Renommees ist das aber nur sehr bedingt plausibel und hat mich zumindest doch sehr gestört.

So viel Ärger und Selbstzweifel machen einfach keinen Spaß mehr und trüben das gesamte Lesevergnügen deutlich ein. Völlig unnötigerweise noch dazu, denn Beckett schreibt – wie immer – gut und zeitweise geradezu poetisch…

“Die Stille, die auf allem ruht, hat eine andere Textur als tagsüber, ist besinnlich und noch gedämpfter. Sie hat ein fast spürbares Gewicht.”

… gepaart mit Einschüben (direkt auf das vorhergehende Zitat folgend) trockenen Humors…

“Vielleicht liegt es auch bloß an mir.”

Hemmend auf den Lesefluß wirken sich zudem die Zeitsprünge aus – da wird von einer dramatischen Entwicklung erzählt und an deren Höhepunkt ein Sprung in die Zukunft im nächsten Kapitel vollführt, von dem aus dann in Form einer Rückblende erzählt wird. Das nimmt Tempo heraus und mindert – ebenfalls völlig unnötig – die Spannung.

Ganz am Schluß tritt dann etwas ein, anläßlich dessen ich nur noch innerlich leise aufstöhnte, “nicht schon wieder!”. Völlig überflüssig und ärgerlich wird hier eine Nebenhandlung erneut in den Vordergrund gerückt, die besser einfach in der Vergangenheit verbleiben wäre.

“Die ewigen Toten” läßt mich insofern ein wenig ratlos zurück: Einerseits ist es ein durchaus gelungener Krimi, andererseits ist die Atmosphäre übermäßig angespannt und bedrückend. Darüber hinaus zieht sich das Buch bis zur Mitte reichlich in die Länge, um dann am Schluß im “Schweinsgalopp” zu einer mäßig glaubwürdigen Auflösung unter Einbeziehung “oller Kamellen” zu kommen.

Ich glaube, für mich ist der Zeitpunkt gekommen, mich von David Hunter und Simon Beckett zu verabschieden.

I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 04, 2019 01:58 PM

March 01, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

The Test

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Test – an exercise in superfluousness

“The Test” is a short story about an immigrant taking a citizenship test. What he doesn’t know: It’s all simulated. When a group of terrorists takes everyone hostage at the test and they put him into difficult situations, his behaviour is actually being evaluated with respect to suitability for citizenship.

The story isn’t bad at all but nothing here is new and all of it has already been executed a lot better by other authors. There are even a few things intrinsically implausible that are never explained and before you know it, you’ve finished the very short novella.

It’s a bit like Brecht once wrote: “Indeed it is a curious way of coping: To close the play, leaving the issue open…”

Unfortunately, Neuvel isn’t Brecht and can’t really pull this off as successfully but wrote a novella that’s simply superfluous.

Thus, to quote Brecht to the end, “There’s only one solution that we know: That you should now consider as you go What sort of measures you would recommend To help good people to a happy end.”

The measures I would recommend are simple: Find a better book to read.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at March 01, 2019 11:25 AM

February 28, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Muttertag by Nele Neuhaus

Muttertag (Ein Bodenstein-Kirchhoff-Krimi #9)

Muttertag by Nele Neuhaus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nele Neuhaus auf dem Weg nach vorgestern

Ich war skeptisch, als ich die Lektüre des neuen Krimis um das Ermittler-Duo Bodenstein/Sander (vormals Kirchhoff) begann. Allzu routiniert und lieblos heruntergeschrieben fühlte sich das vorherige Buch „Im Wald“ für mich an.

Dies schien sich auch zu bestätigen: Nach kurzer Einführung startet „Muttertag“ mit dem Auffinden der Leiche eines alten Mannes langsam und behäbig. Viele Figuren werden eingeführt, die Ermittlungen laufen in verschiedene Richtungen und – zeitweise – wirkt das zäh und arg bemüht.

Es wechselt zudem immer wieder die Erzähl-Perspektive zwischen der Haupthandlung, einem Nebenstrang und einem inneren Monolog des Mörders. Das hilft nicht wirklich dabei, sich in der Erzählung zurecht zu finden und wird langatmig. Bis etwa zur Hälfte des Buches.

Erst danach beginnen die Zusammenhänge klarer zu werden und Ermittlung wie Erzählung nehmen Fahrt auf. Denn nach der langen Durststrecke findet Neuhaus zurück zu alter Form der früheren Bücher, vorgestern: Spannend, mitreißend, dramatisch wird es und ein bis dahin laues Belletristik-Lüftchen wird zum Sturm, der die Seiten geradezu umreißt.

Ein versöhnlicher Schluss mit Nettigkeit und Charme rundet „Muttertag“ ab und macht zwar leichte Krimi-Kost nicht nahrhafter, aber doch appetitlich und lecker!

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at February 28, 2019 11:27 AM

February 20, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Mittagsstunde by Dörte Hansen

Mittagsstunde: Roman

Mittagsstunde: Roman by Dörte Hansen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wieder ein großer Wurf, der an seinen Vorgänger erinnert.

Diesmal geht geht es um das Sterben eines Dorfes über Jahrzehnte hinweg. Damit einhergehend sterben aber nicht „nur“ das Dorf und seine Bewohner, sondern eine ganze „Dorf-Kultur“: Mit Flurbereinigung und allgemeiner Urbanisierung gehen Traditionen und manchmal auch Existenzen zugrunde.

Hansen glückt es jedoch, in diesem Untergangsszenario auch bereits den hoffnungsvollen Anfang einer Weiterentwicklung darzustellen. Insbesondere ist verdienstvoll, dass es Hansen mit großer Behutsamkeit und Zurückhaltung durchgängig glaubwürdig gelingt, die charakterliche Entwicklung insbesondere Ingwers sich organisch entwickelnd darzustellen.

Auch hier ist der „Wiedererkennungswert“ autobiografischer Erfahrungen potentiell groß: Viele Schilderungen im Buch haben mich schmunzeln lassen oder mich allgemein an meine eigene Kindheit „auf‘m Dorf“ denken lassen.

Insofern habe ich mich auch in „Mittagsstunde“ (bei uns übrigens eine Stunde später, von 13:00 bis 15:00 Uhr) sehr schnell heimisch gefühlt und habe Seite um Seite in Ruhe genossen; mit Ingwer, Sönke und Ella gebangt, geendet und neu begonnen.

Ganz reicht es dann doch nicht an „Altes Land“ heran, aber es fehlt nicht viel daran und ich freue mich schon auf den nächsten Roman.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at February 20, 2019 11:24 AM

February 17, 2019

Wulf C. Krueger

Altes Land by Dörte Hansen

Altes Land

Altes Land by Dörte Hansen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ein Jahrhundert-Roman

Wie ein mächtiger Strom ist „Altes Land“ – mal ruhig und unaufgeregt erzählend von der Familie Eckhoff, Heinrich „Hinni“ Lührs und anderen Bewohnern des alten Landes, dann wieder mitreißend und voller Kraft.

Dörte Hansen erzählt mit größtmöglichem Respekt und großer Behutsamkeit von und über ihre Protagonisten. Keiner von ihnen ist frei von Fehlern, frei von Schuld, und alle erhalten Raum, ihren Blickwinkel darzulegen. So wird schwer Verständliches nicht besser, aber doch nachvollziehbarer. Man muss diese Menschen nicht mögen, aber es ist fast unmöglich, sich ihnen zu entziehen.

Das liegt wahrscheinlich auch daran, dass man Hansens Protagonisten beinahe zu kennen meint: Die Öko-„Familienmanagerinnen“, deren Kinder in die frühkindliche Begabtenförderung gequält werden, der alte Landwirt, der weiß, dass ihm niemand mehr nachfolgen wird und der trotzdem nicht aus seiner Haut kann, die seltsame (oder zumindest so wahrgenommene) ewig „Zugezogene“ – sie alle entstammen dem alten Land oder finden sich darin.

Es sind aber alles Menschen, die nicht nur dort anzutreffen sind, sondern die glaubwürdig und lebensecht in jeder Art von kleinem Ort leben könnten.

Meine Vera heißt Leane und lebt – mittlerweile über 90 Jahre alt – in einem kleinen Dorf irgendwo in Deutschland. Auch sie war geflohen und war jemand in Not, so war sie da und ihre Tür (natürlich die Hintertür!) stand (nicht nur) mir immer offen.
So vieles habe ich „wiedererkannt“ ohne jemals im alten Land gewesen zu sein. Über weite Teile des Romans hatte ich das Gefühl, Hansen schriebe mir förmlich aus der Seele.

Für mich ist „Altes Land“ ein Jahrhundert-Roman, ein seltener und kostbarer Glücksfall der Literatur, der mich begleiten wird wie sonst wohl nur Thomas Manns Buddenbrooks.

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I am and have been working on quite a few F/OSS projects: Exherbo (Nick: Philantrop), Gentoo (Nick: Philantrop), Calibre plugin iOS reader applications, Calibre plugin Marvin XD, chroot-manager, stuff on github, lots of other projects. If you like my work, feel free to donate. 🙂

by Wulf at February 17, 2019 11:28 AM