“Stories matter – telling them, sharing them, preserving them, changing them, learning from them, and escaping with and through them. We learn about ourselves and the world that we live in through fiction just as much as through facts. Empathy, perception and understanding are never wasted. All libraries are a gateway into other worlds, including the past – and the future.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that featured a passage good enough for an opening quote. And the above passage is just from the Cogman’s acknowledgements at the very beginning. Fortunately, the implicit promise given holds true for this sixth instalment of the series.
Originally, I intended to give this book four stars, maybe mention it’s more like 4.5 but when I thought about what’s missing in this book for the fifth full star, I couldn’t really think of anything. Yes, there’s not much “philosophical depth” to be found in “The Secret Chapter” but when I contemplated that, I realised I’m perfectly fine with that – the entire series is a lot of fun and yet gives some food for thought and sometimes that’s enough.
“The Secret Chapter” is much like its predecessors: Irene’s and Kai’s dynamics are there and some of the others, e. g. Silver and Vale, are making an appearance. Vale, unfortunately, doesn’t feature prominently in this book but considering what it’s about, this makes sense.
Because this time, Irene is sent to acquire a book by doing a Fae lord a favour by stealing a painting. Doesn’t sound very exciting? Well, Irene needs the book to save an entire world; in fact, a world that used to be her safe haven in complicated times – she went to school there and it helped in lot in shaping her. Thus, a heist is planned in the vein of the heist films of old, e. g. “Rififi” or “The Sting”, with a gang consisting of Fae, Irene, Kai – and a rogue dragon! Starts sounding more interesting, eh?
The job seems to go quite well up to a certain turning point at which an already suspenseful novel takes a turn into a fast-paced action thriller which is quite refreshing. Nevertheless, just as I would have hoped and expected, the aptly-named “The Secret Chapter” ultimately turns out to be much more than “just” a heist story or an action thriller. Satisfyingly, it succeeds as well in incorporating Irene’s parents into the story in a good and believable way.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the trademark humour of the series is there as well:
“‘Kai! There’s been a palace revolution and the peasants are attacking!’ Kai gave a deep shuddering sigh and finally opened his eyes properly. ‘Execute them all in the public square,’ he mumbled, clearly still half-asleep.”
If I had to find fault with this book, I’d probably point out that while Irene and Kai are obviously devoted to each other, there are reservations on both their parts. They keep secrets from each other and that’s fine – we all do. The motivation is what counts, though, and at least Irene’s reason to hold back is – at least in part – mistrust or maybe insecurity. I can’t really define it but by the sixth book, I would have wished for more trust and intimacy.
I also like Cogman’s take on Brexit – especially in the grim light of the result of yesterday’s (12.12.2019) general election in the UK:
“‘The United Kingdom?’ ‘Very strongly tied to Europe, which is why CENSOR has an English name and acronym. It did attempt to leave the European Union last year, but apparently that was prompted by demonic interference. A lot of politicians were subsequently tried for treason and beheaded at the Tower of London.’”
While I don’t condone the beheading, I certainly think the divisive short-sighted tactics of a certain hare-brained prime minister will lead to disaster for those who just elected him.
Anyway, coming back to the book, it ends with a twist that I didn’t see coming at all – a twist that isn’t a big deal in an immediate or urgent sense but it has the potential to upset the precious balance that has only so recently been achieved among the worlds and factions.
And yet, it all fits satisfyingly together naturally and in a strangely uplifting way. It’s probably helped by the personal growth Irene shows at the end:
“‘Mother, please, hear me out. If there’s something I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that everything people do is important. I happen to have chosen this particular thing to do with my life, and I was lucky enough to have the choice.”
Whole-heartedly recommended without reservation to any fan of the series; recommend with minor reservations to those who haven’t read “The Secret Chapter”’s predecessors yet. You would miss out on a lot of minor things so go and read this entire series.
“‘Life was much easier before I had to worry about everyone else worrying,’ Irene muttered. ‘It’s called growing up, dear. It comes with staying alive.’”
It pains me to write this but I didn’t really like “Age of Death”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book per se. It’s just that it feels flat and – ironically – lifeless. That’s probably why it took me almost a month to finish it.
“Age of Death” starts where Age of Legend, the previous book, left off with a huge cliffhanger. Now our heroes move on into, uh, a sort of different realm… No, this won’t do: If you haven’t read the previous book yet, stop reading this review here – afterwards spoilers for the series as a whole might lurk!
So, without further ado: Our heroes waded into the pool and died. They now enter the “afterlife” and meander through the different realms of it. This is my first issue: I’m an antitheist. Even if I suspend my disbelief and my opposition to anything related to faith, I’m simply not interested in any such ideas. Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favourite authors but even his ideas on afterlife are irrelevant to me even though I found myself at one time wishing he was right:
“In that world beyond the veil of death, we found that those we had thought to be lost forever had only been misplaced.”
The blurb tells me: “In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.”
I haven’t read either Virgil, Dante or Milton and I don’t intend to. You might consider me a barbarian or uncultured – whatever: I think the “classics” have mostly outlived themselves and belong to the past from which they originated. Amusingly, it was one of those classic authors who expressed a similar thought in a way that has imprinted itself on me at least 30 years ago and has stayed with me ever since:
“There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.” Voltaire, in a letter to Cardinal de Bernis (23 April 1761)
Keep your truths, Dante, and explore your hell but I’m not interested in it. Similarly, I found the ideas Michael expresses somewhat alluring but not really interesting – Brin, Roan, Gifford and the others move through Rel and Nifrel and, yes, have to overcome a lot of obstacles but everything feels slightly off: The pacing is very uneven – there are long passages during which hardly anything happens and then there are huge battles but even those feel somehow anticlimactic – they’re all dead already so what danger is there? Yes, there is the danger of losing oneself by not believing enough in oneself being but instead of exploring that idea, it’s simply presented and – seemingly – forgotten about.
And before I knew it, just before our friends reach their destination, the book ends with yet another cliffhanger. Ok, I half-expected that but in the previous book’s “Author’s Note” Michael explicitly warned us about it but didn’t do so this time so I was hoping…
Apart from the issues I’ve already mentioned there’s the fact that a lot of characters, e. g. Persephone, hardly make an entrance. Yes, we see Persephone “in passing”, so to speak, but she isn’t really around. Nor are many others, like Suri who might have featured very prominently but only did so shortly early on. It was disappointing for me.
And yet… Michael is an amazing author: Whatever he writes about, his storytelling is believable, full of warmth and, well, comforting. If Michael ever did a mystery kickstarter, I’d chime in. Even if I knew nothing and there was no information whatsoever. Because I love how and what Michael writes.
“You want to create?” Nyphron said. Malcolm ignored him. “Just consider what could be done if wars were a thing of the past and everyone worked together.”
Yes, “Age of Death” was a disappointment but I can’t help myself so let me go ahead and say it out loud:
Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of a Unix system architecture; init diversity initiative.
Devember1 it’s coming and for this year (which is also my first year participating) I’ve chosen something really close to me: the init and service manager (called init/rc for the rest of the post). Specifically I’ve chosen to rewrite 66 from scratch.
Notes: In the following paragraphs there is an explanation of what led me to rewrite 66. I was planning to explain this from some time and I’ve taken to opportunity to do so now.
I read one book at a time, always. I simply cannot just “switch” from one book to another anymore. So, if I hit a rotten tomato I tend to actually read less.
I’m typing this on my iPhone. A minute ago, I found myself wondering and thinking, “I usually read at a time like this.” – while I was playing a game. Then it began to dawn on me: ‘How much must you despise a book to fantasise about writing its review on GoodReads while actively trying to avoid reading said book?!‘
The answer in a nutshell: Very much, and the reason is that pretty much everything in this book is bland, wrong and unbalanced.
Let’s start with the supernatural aspects: While I’m in no way superstitious, don’t believe in anything supernatural, I actually greatly enjoyed the ambivalence of the previous instalments in this series. For McGray pretty much everything was at least supernaturally influenced whereas Frey never really believed in anything like that. The resulting strains between both and the different approaches made things interesting. It made for a nice balance.
Even better: De Muriel kept the ambivalence and we never knew for certain if there were supernatural elements or not. We, as readers, could make up our minds ourselves.
In “Darker Arts”, though, Frey and his no-nonsense philosophy clearly dominate the entire book. McGray basically only features as an unhinged clown who has a good idea at times but mostly raves or broods, sometimes attacking people.
Somehow, among complicated family trees, goldmines in Africa and lots of spiteful people the story meanders along, seemingly aimlessly and no progress is being made. At first, our heroes don’t worry but time passes and nothing really seems to be moving anywhere. Lots of false leads, a travesty of a trial and until the sensationalist ending during which Frey miraculously conceives the solution to the crime in a most unbelievable way, de Muriel obviously tries hard to bore us to death.
The solution to the crime is so complicated that de Muriel actually has to resort to having Frey spell everything out to his superior and, thus, us. If an author has to resort to such desperate measures, they’d better gone back and revised their plot.
Plus: Frey is basically constantly bemoaning his uncle’s untimely death during the previous book. The previous book, in fact, overshadows this one as it is being alluded to all the time. So often actually that I became annoyed about it. Yes, I enjoyed “The Loch of the Dead” but it’s not like it would garner de Muriel Nobel the Nobel Prize in Literature…
“Darker Arts” reads like de Muriel has spent all his good ideas. If it wasn’t for certain developments at the very end, I’d say this might be a farewell to the series – McGray receives grim personal news, Frey is impaired by the events of “The Loch of the Dead”, another important character leaves the scene…
Ultimately, considering the bland story, the bad writing and the fact that this book made me read less, I think that’s it for me – Oscar de Muriel just lost a reader for good. Or, to say it with McGray’s constantly repeated words: “Och nae…”
Wow, we’re already at the 18th instalment of this great series. When I picked this book up, I was slightly worried how I would like it, considering that I haven’t exactly had much luck with long-running series this year; the latest Dupin a disappointment almost as badly as the latest Bruno (review here).
Would Deborah Crombie let me down as well? Would she make me wish for Duncan and Gemma, whose exploits I’ve been following for years, to finally ride into the sunset?
The answer, fortunately, is a resounding “NO!”.
Set this time in the Cotswolds – and thus outside Duncan’s and Gemma’s jurisdiction – we find ourselves at Beck House, the summer house of Melody Talbot’s parents, Ivan and Addie. What was planned as a carefree weekend for Duncan, Gemma, Melody and Doug with a charity luncheon turns into something much more sinister when it comes to light that one of the victims of a car accident had already been dead at the time of the collision…
The other victim of said collision is actually Duncan Kincaid himself – fortunately alone in the car at the time. The fact that I just felt compelled to mention he was alone is a strong indicator for one fact: You know you really like a series and its characters when you’re actually truly worrying about what’s going to happen to one of the main characters.
During the entire book which switches perspectives frequently and naturally (meaning you don’t get confused at all!) I was wondering what might happen to Duncan. I was keeping my fingers crossed all the time and worried with Gemma about him.
I’ve always liked her as well and I sympathised even more with her during this book because she constantly has a lot on her plate: She has to organise the kids, has to be a “proper” guest of the Talbots, a friend to several characters in the book and takes part in the investigation with Duncan (both being supported by Melody and Doug, of course!).
It’s not only Gemma, though: Everyone – including even minor character like Kit – get a fair amount of “stage time” and, surprisingly, everyone is actually interesting.
This applies to the local cop, DI Colin Booth as well: Booth, who could have reacted territorially, gladly accepts the help he’s getting from his London colleagues and they, in return, don’t try to take over his investigation. I’m not sure how realistic that actually is but it surely helped with the lively atmosphere.
Booth is smart, down-to-earth and simply very congenial:
““Colin Booth, Gloucester CID. And you are?” Gemma noticed that he hadn’t used his rank, and that in the few moments since he’d arrived he had very unobtrusively loosened the knot in his tie. She was beginning to like Colin Booth.”
So did I.
Even the interludes – describing past events in the lives of some major characters – were actually enjoyable and helped understand current events better.
One sentence, early on, reminded me strongly of the entire series and, especially, this book…
“Down-to-earth food, and delicious, the sort of thing he’d grown up on in Cheshire.”
… which is similarly down-to-earth and delicious.
No, Crombie didn’t let me down and I’m happily awaiting the 19th book!
Let me state clearly where I stand when it comes to Alex Verus: I think he’s the greatest Urban Fantasy protagonist ever.
I’ve enjoyed every single book in the series and I enjoyed this latest instalment as well – just not as much as most of the others, unfortunately.
Why though? The trademark humour is there, Luna is there and so are Anne, Variam, Arachne and others. Sadly, they mostly take a place on the backseat this time.
Luna barely gets any serious “stage” time; she’s generally around and worries a lot but doesn’t get to do or experience much. For such an important character that’s pretty sad.
We do get to see more of Anne who has a more “active” role in the proceedings but she remains unrefined and pale compared to many other characters. Maybe part of that is my own perception, though; I’ve never felt that Anne added much to the books – she always felt like the obligatory love interest and I never found her especially interesting. It’s probably because of that I don’t care very much about the role she plays in this tenth book.
Personally, I think even the air elemental Starbreeze – who is FINALLY back in this book – is a lot more interesting and even more important.
The story is rather simple as well: The war between Britain’s Light Council and Richard Drakh is ongoing and Alex comes to realise he will have to step up his game and make some hard decisions in order to actually achieve at least some of his goals and protect those he loves.
And that he does: He plunges head first into the action and does what has to be done – the personal consequences – as of yet unclear – be damned. The personal and character changes these bring are subtly shown by Jacka and that’s a large part of why I still enjoyed this book.
One of the major downsides can best be illustrated by a direct quote from the book:
“I looked at the house for a moment longer, feeling as though a very old piece of unfinished business had just come to an end.”
Reading many parts of this book makes me feel exactly like that: “Being on a clock” (as Alex puts it) – because we’re nearing the end of the series – makes Jacka pick up loose threads from earlier books (so loose I often didn’t even remember them…) and put quite some effort into resolving them. That, in itself, is commendable but I’d rather have had some real character development beyond Alex himself and that is sorely lacking in “Fallen”, unfortunately.
Jacka is setting up his stage for the final books, makes previous characters reappear (cf. Starbreeze or Meredith), makes some others disappear (and that one character to boot! How dare he!) and is generally preparing to move on to greener pastures. That we feel this in the tenth of twelve planned books is a bit premature, I think.
Maybe, though, it’s again me who already feels saddened by the thought of having to say goodbye to Alex Verus whose adventures have brightened up my reading time.
Last but not least, don’t worry if you’re a fan – you will enjoy “Fallen” (aptly titled!) as it’s fast-paced, suspenseful and features much of what we came to love. I just wish it had been less of a “blast from the past” and more of a future-oriented book.
If you’re new to Alex Verus, don’t start with this book, though. This is one of those series you need to read in order.
“‘Who the hell are you?’ Geralt asked again, leaning forward. ‘What are you doing… in this forest? How did you get here?’ The girl lowered her head and sniffed loudly. ‘Cat got your tongue? Who are you, I said? What’s your name?’ ‘Ciri,’ she said, sniffing.”
Once more we return to Geralt of Rivia, the eponymous Witcher, and his deeds. Mostly, though, “Sword of Destiny” serves to define Geralt with respect to his friends. We get to meet Dandelion again, and, of course, Geralt and Yennefer of Vengerberg cross paths several times as they are… Well, whatever they are, they certainly don’t know themselves.
Most importantly, though, Geralt meets Ciri, the Child of the Elder Blood, for the first time. Ciri, who will become so important in Geralt’s life. We meet her three times throughout the stories in this book which are loosely connected to each other but mostly show us who Geralt truly is.
The more I read, the more loose threads I dimly remembered from the entire saga actually turned out to be picked up and resolved. I liked this book the first time I read it but I only came to really appreciate its narrative depth and immersion this second time around. Whereas Geralt – to me at least – was a very likeable person, he really grew on me and I deeply sympathized with this fictious man.
Especially fascinating were his travels with Yurga, a travelling merchant he rescues, and on whom he invokes the Law of Surprise (for those (yet!) unenlightened among you: That means Geralt – as a reward – asks for something his debtor finds at home but didn’t expect, e. g. a child.). What is revealed as part of that voyage about Geralt is fairly astounding and deeply moving.
I was engrossed with the switches of perspective – Geralt alternatingly hallucinating and being clear-headed. When the borders between what he imagines and what’s real get murkier, the story becomes almost philosophical and we cannot ever be sure what was actually real and what was not. And, in fact, this is not being resolved. It’s up to the reader to decide for himself which makes me feel the author takes me seriously and I greatly appreciate that.
Ultimately, this is probably the best introduction any fantasy hero could hope for. What starts lightly and with witty sarcasm by “monsters”…
“‘That is right,’ the dragon interrupted. ‘Well, it’s the times we live in. For some time, creatures, which you usually call monsters, have been feeling more and more under threat from people. They can no longer cope by themselves. They need a Defender. Some kind of… witcher.’“
… goes to great length to end on a very serious and positive tone:
“‘It’s like they said! Geralt! It’s like they said! Am I your destiny? Say it! Am I your destiny?’
Yurga saw the Witcher’s eyes. And was very astonished. He heard his wife’s soft weeping, felt the trembling of her shoulders. He looked at the Witcher and waited, tensed, for his answer. He knew he would not understand it, but he waited for it. And heard it.
‘You’re more than that, Ciri. Much more.’”
Neither Geralt nor Ciri actually know at this point how right they are and, thus, I strongly encourage you, dear reader, to join them on their journey…
“Der Blaue Lotus” entstand im Jahr 1934 und wurde bereits 1946 erneut überarbeitet und es wurden wiederum auch inhaltliche Änderungen vorgenommen.
Auch hier versucht Hergé wieder eine “runde” Geschichte zu erzählen, doch leider mißlingt ihm das gründlich: Die Story besteht in wesentlichen Teilen aus Tims fortgesetzter Flucht und Wieder-Inhaftierung. Ein Entkommen ist dabei absurder als das Vorangegangene.
Erstmals allerdings – und das spürt man wohltuend – hat Hergé sich nicht mehr einzig auf “Erlesenes” oder ihm Berichtetes verlassen, sondern hat sich – obschon nicht ganz ohne Druck – mit seiner Materie beschäftigt.
War also bisher der Kolonialismus und Imperialismus uneingeschränkt gut und allenfalls die “edlen Wilden” als Relikte einer im Untergehen begriffenen und “minderwertigen” Kultur geduldet, schlägt das Pendel nun mehr in die andere Richtung aus – Hergé versucht sich mit Hilfe seines Freundes Zhang Chongren, einem chinesischem Künstler, ein besseres Bild zu machen und sich von bornierten Vorurteilen zu verabschieden. Er tut dies auf recht “platte” und naive Weise, aber – und das muß man sich bei der Beurteilung immer vor Augen halten – Hergé ist nun einmal Kind seiner Zeit und muß jedes Quäntchen Freiheit mühsam erringen.
Daß Hergés Bestreben ernst und – unter obigen Aspekten betrachtet – grundsätzlich gelungen ist, ist schon daran zu ermessen, daß er den sog. Boxeraufstand von Tims Freund Tschang historisch korrekt als “Fäuste der Gerechtigkeit [und Harmonie]” bezeichnen läßt, womit er deutlich macht, die Geschichte nicht nur zu verstehen, sondern auch mit der Sache zu sympathisieren – in früheren Bänden hätten alle Nicht-Europäer in “Pidgin” vom “Boxlaufstand” (o. ä.) gesprochen.
So interessant all das auch ist – über seine Sympathie und Freundschaft ist Hergé leider seine Geschichte aus den Fugen geraten: Weder taugt die vorliegende Erzählung als alleinstehender Band, noch gewinnt sie durch die Einbettung in den Kontext der “Zigarren des Pharaos” dessen Fortsetzung sie eigentlich sein soll.
Schulze und Schultze sind auch wieder mit dabei; auch hier wieder zwar als Freunde, aber als Widersacher, die Tim im Auftrag einer korrupten Kolonialbehörde verhaften sollen und dies ganz im Sinne des “Kadavergehorsams” wider besseres Wissen versuchen: “Und um Ihnen zu sagen, daß wir Sie nie für schuldig gehalten haben! Aber Befehl ist Befehl!”
(“Bauz, Bitches!” – wie meine Tochter sagen würde)
Für Fans vielleicht das Richtige, für mich nicht wirklich.
In this sixth instalment of Regan’s Josie Quinn series a child is abducted in a rather complex way and more “surprises” await Josie and her team during the investigation because not everything is as it looks at the beginning…
At least it’s not like it looks to Josie or anyone on her team because very early on there is a horrible give-away as to the reasons of the abduction which made me see a lot of the things to come right from the start. That was a huge let-down and while there’s still a lot of suspense, it severely detracted from the potential this book showed.
This is especially disappointing for me as I’ve really enjoyed “following” Josie during her cases so far. While the books in this series never had much depth and were at no point intellectually challenging, they were suspenseful, often surprising and never dull.
Compared to other cases, though, this one – while not exactly dragging on – isn’t quite as fast-paced. All the more so if one considers the tumultuous events of the previous book.
What’s missing as well are the actual characters on Josie’s team: While Noah, Gretchen, Mettner, Lamay and Chitwood, are all there, they mostly seem to be lacking their earlier personalities. For some reason I don’t really understand Noah is still injured and while he was an idiot during the previous book, now he’s a softie. Gretchen hardly ever gets into the limelight; Chitwood, Josie’s boss, isn’t his usual abrasive self either and I had to look up the others as they were unrecognisably shallow.
There’s hardly anything going on in Josie’s private life and the one potentially major development that could have become great limps away whimpering because Regan didn’t have the courage to go through with it.
All in all, while this is not a bad book in itself, it’s just a disappointment as I’ve come to expect more from Regan. It’s a lukewarm instalment in this series that can be skipped without really missing anything.
Der vorliegende Band, “Die Zigarren des Pharaos”, entstand im Jahr 1932 und wurde 1955 überarbeitet und koloriert. Dabei wurden auch geringfügige inhaltliche Änderungen vorgenommen, die aber der Geschichte keinen Abbruch tun.
Tatsächlich ist dieser Band der erste, der eine konsistente und unterhaltsame Geschichte erzählt und nicht mehr die vorher übliche Ansammlung von mehr oder minder lose verknüpften Szenen.
Erstmals tauchen auch die ersten altbekannten Figuren auf: Hier sind es die tollpatschigen Detektive Schulze und Schultze, die jedoch über weite Teile des Bandes Tim festnehmen wollen und ihm – im Gegensatz zu späteren Bänden der Reihe – nicht oder nur aus wenig altruistischen Gründen helfen.
Auch eine Premiere: Dies ist der erste Band, der mich wirklich unterhalten und mir Spaß gemacht hat.
Basically, the blurb says it all – a (book) hoarder in a post-apocalyptic world lives among his tons of books and realises he’ll have to burn some of them. Unfortunately, he’s not the brightest bulb (not even in a world without power!) and, thus, disaster happens.
This is a nice-ish short story without any connection to Michael’s other works. It pretty much lives from the setting (books filling a small house entirely – sans a few “paths” – lovely though in theory!), the “name-dropping” (all the big post-modern names appear) and the central dilemma of burning books.
The latter is this short story’s saving grace in my book because as Heinrich Heine, the great German poet, wrote as early as 1823 (and, thus, eerily predicting the Holocaust):
“Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“Where books are burned, in the end, people will also be burned.”)
Might be worth a read if the above sounds interesting to you but, honestly, you won’t really miss much if you skip this one. If, though, you’ve reached the point at which you secretly (cough) adore the ground Michael treadslevitates above, it’s a must-read.
Two years ago, I somehow came across “Still Life”, the first in a series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec, Canada. It was a good book, no doubt, and I was quick to catch up with the series which I greatly enjoyed.
What I expected to be a standard police procedural turned out to be so much more. Gamache isn’t the young, enthusiastic investigator but a man in his fifties who has experienced a lot and instead of becoming disillusioned, embittered or hopeless as one might expect, he grows.
“Things are strongest where they’re broken.” is how Gamache puts it and how he lives – and he himself has been broken a lot of times. He’s not the “Gentleman police officer” that George’sLynley is (or used to be). He’s not Rankin’s cynical Inspector Rebus.
Armand Gamache is a literary unicum.
In this fifteenth novel of the series, Gamache investigates the disappearance of a young woman who is beaten by her husband. She is soon found dead and so is her murderer. If he can be convicted, though, is not quite as certain…
As always, Gamache’s home, the small village “Three Pines”, and its inhabitants play a role (albeit less prominently than in some of the other books) and we get treated to all the familiar characters like Ruth, the semi-insane poet, Clara, the artist, and, of course, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste.
The relationships between the characters are another of the major highlights of this series: The closely-knit and yet open, welcoming and open-minded community of “Three Pines” is the fictious place we would love our kids to grow up in.
These books live from the relationships so lovingly depicted and the almost mythical quality of “Three Pines”.
As with every one of her Gamache novels, Penny has a fundamental topic which might not continually take a centre place but which will surface throughout the novel. In this case it’s vigilantism – how do the central characters deal with it themselves when most seriously tempted; when all it would take is looking away at the right moment…
“It was all Jean-Guy Beauvoir could do not to turn around. March back to […]. Tell Armand and Reine-Marie and Billy to look away while he forced […] to a kneeling position, took out his gun. Placed it at the base of the monster’s skull. And fired.”
And – how would we deal with it? Would we give in to the temptation? I’m going to admit it: I for one was sympathising with Beauvoir at that (rather early!) point in the story. I hope I’d do as he does…
Would we be able to face the consequences of our deeds?
““Consequences,” said Gamache. “We must always consider the consequences of our actions. Or inaction. It won’t necessarily change what we do, but we need to be aware of the effect.”
Ultimately, though, both Gamache and Beauvoir disregard exactly that advice and that’s part of what so greatly appeals to me about those two men: When they feel they have to act, they’re just going to do it – no matter the consequences because it’s the right thing to do:
“Homer plowed right through them, running straight into the Bella Bella. Wading in. Breaking through the thin ice at the shore, he fought his way forward. To get to his little girl.
Gamache and Beauvoir plunged in after him.”
Even if that means plunging into a flooding river – and Penny pulls that off effortlessly. She has given each character her books so much personality that we never – not for a second – doubt they would do this. It’s another one of the immense strengths of Penny’s story-telling – she is a master of characterisation.
As similar both Gamache and Beauvoir are, they are different kinds of investigators which is another highly interesting aspect of the Gamache novels:
“While Jean-Guy Beauvoir explored the tangible, what could be touched, Armand Gamache explored what was felt. He went into that chaotic territory. Hunting. Searching. Tracking. Immersing himself in emotions until he found one so rancid it led to a killer.
Beauvoir stopped at the door. Gamache went through it.”
All this may sound intimidating if you’re just in it to read a good mystery but do not despair because while there’s lots of serious wisdom and kindness to be found in these books, they never take themselves too seriously and there’s always a good portion of humour involved:
“Isabelle. Jean-Guy. Armand. Three colleagues. Three friends. A trinity. Sturdy. Eternal. Together. “Three Pines,” she said. “Three Stooges,” said Ruth as she walked by and entered the bistro.”
As usual, there are very few things not to like about a Gamache novel but there are two minor issues in this one: First of all, there’s a huge flooding. Basically, the entire province of Quebec is in a state of emergency and we get to read quite a bit about it in the first half of the book. This entire part of the story is pretty much completely neglected in the second half. It’s not a big deal but it’s a loose end that could easily have been avoided.
A little more annoying were the weird and superfluous injections of Twitter messages at the beginning of a few chapters. They didn’t really add to the story and they were an unwelcome distraction. I don’t get why some authors these days seem to believe they cannot write a good modern book without directly adding social media parts. Especially when they obviously don’t quite grasp how said social media work (in a technological sense).
Nevertheless, these are really minor issues that simply don’t matter considering Louise Penny’s achievement by writing yet another, the fifteenth (!), absolutely fabulous book.
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.” (Source: https://bedrocklinux.org/)
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:
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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”.
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 dasGesetz 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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!
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.
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.
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!
““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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
“– ‘What’s that?’ ‘A book. I borrowed it.’ – ‘Dead, I suppose.’ ‘Who?’ – ‘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.’”
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…
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…
““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…
“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.
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…
“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.
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”.
“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.
“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.
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!
“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?
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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!
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.
“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.
“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…
“BUT FIRST, TO AULIS.”
… 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.