I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to write this review. The story still resonates within me; simple, and yet hauntingly beautiful. Soul-devouring and yet hopeful.
I still have no idea how to write this review so I’ll start with the characters since those will be who make or break this book for you.
Desiree and Stella Vignes, twins, grow up in Mallard; a small town not on any map comprised of mostly coloured inhabitants. In addition to the ever-present racism of the time – we’re starting in 1968 – the inhabitants of Mallard are proud of their town which was founded by a man for “men like him, who would never be accepted as white but refused to be treated like Negroes.”.
Adele, their mother, whose husband – their father – has been murdered by white people for no particular reason, stays in Mallard for all her life whereas Desiree and Stella flee it as soon as they reasonably can, at 16.
While at first both twins stay together in New Orleans, Stella ultimately leaves her sister behind to pursue another life – “passing over” into a “white life” with a white husband, Blake Sanders, and their soon-to-be daughter Kennedy.
Desiree stays behind and goes on to marry the “jet-black” Sam Winston from whom she soon conceives her daughter, Jude. Sam turns out to be a violent abuser, though, and so Desiree flees with Jude back to her hometown Mallard and her mother Adele. Jude, being “Blueblack”, never has a chance in Mallard and takes the first real opportunity to leave. Not in the dark of the night like her mother and aunt but – a new generation’s privilege – openly to build herself a new life.
Over the decades (covering mostly the 60’ties to the 90’ties of the 20th century) we’re following the fates of both “The Vanishing Half”, Stella, Desiree and, most importantly, those of their children, Jude and Kennedy.
Because, almost inexplicably, the lives of both Jude and Kennedy intertwine and while they stay just shy of friendship, Jude and Kennedy build upon the familial bonds they share.
Much more than that, though, Jude immensely grows through her relationships: Her friendship with Barry who likes to become Bianca or her sometimes-rocky but unending, boundless and unconditional love of her partner, Reese.
In fact, the relationships in “The Vanishing Half” are what makes this book so immensely appealing to me. Their credibility and the truthfulness of the emotions displayed raise this book far beyond the ordinary. And, yet, the book is also very, very accessible – no stilted or complicated language, simple truths expressed effortlessly…
»When you married someone, you promised to love every person he would be.«
Take into account the beautiful and weirdly fitting cover and you get a book that will stay with me for a long time, I think.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for what it achieves – and effortlessly at that.
»She did not know that Jude and Reese had talked, once or twice, about marriage. They wouldn’t be able to, not without a new birth certificate for Reese, but still they talked about it, the way children talk about weddings. Wistfully.«
I’m not even sure when I got this book. It probably was part of some Kickstarter campaign of Michael’s and Robin’s which I had the honour to participate in. So I simply had to read it!
This “Making of” book was simply supposed to answer the age-old questions every author gets asked: »Where do you get your ideas? How long does it take you to write a book? How do you come up with the names? Do you write every day?«
Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favourite authors and, thus, I was highly interested in these rather standard questions; I just didn’t expect answers as good as these:
»In school, they may have learned about symbolism and metaphors, but no one said anything about which software program to use, how much of an outline to build before you begin writing, or what music to listen to while typing.«
Starting with the initial questions, Michael explains how he works. This will likely not entirely work for everyone but the techniques and ideas Michael presents are an excellent starting point to actually and consciously think about how to get started with writing. A great many of said ideas make a lot of sense to me at least.
It doesn’t even stop at the playlists but even includes interesting material about the hardware (including Moleskin notebooks, a fountain pen and an inkwell!) and software (Scrivener) Michael uses, how he uses it and even employs screenshots and photos to make sure everyone gets at least an idea. It’s not too much either – just the amount needed to – figuratively – taste blood!
The creative process Michael describes in great detail, using his book “The Death of Dulgath” as an example, is indeed absolutely fascinating. Spoilers are unavoidable in such a situation but, as always, Michael warns us about that fact and truly prominently marks spoilers for his other books. Exemplary.
We also get tiny glimpses into Michael’s past, e. g. …
»When I first started writing, I worked on a manual typewriter. It was 1975, personal computers didn’t exist.«
… and some other interesting ones – including photos of manuscripts from that time. You’ll have to get this book to get to know more about all that stuff that any “Sullifan” – your’s truly included – might want to know!
So far, I’ve only taken into account Michael’s parts of this book but his wife and co-author, Robin, takes meticulous care to describe the business side of things in several chapters. The most prominent and interesting one to me was “Contracts and Deadlines” in which she describes what to be careful about in contracts, etc. While I have no immediate relation to these topics, it was nevertheless highly interesting to learn about them. Engagingly presented, even the rather “dry” contract subject matter becomes an almost riveting account of the adventures in the publishing world.
Last but not least, Robin tells us about her tiring and yet tireless work on the Kickstarter campaigns she famously runs together with Michael.
»I want to explain what we did in the hope of helping other authors run successful campaigns.«
In fact, this is what the entire book is very clearly about: Helping and supporting others. No other author I know of has published such a fascinating account on his work.
The only minor criticism I have is that the Kickstarter campaign information could have been a bit more verbose. A little more about that would have been nice but maybe that could be the next one’s stretch goal!
This book is highly recommended to any “Sullifan” but those probably don’t need any encouragement anyway. It’s also recommended to any aspiring author or generally anyone interested in learning about how Robin and Michael J. Sullivan work hand-in-hand to create literature for the 21st century.
That didn’t quite hit the spot: An old derelict ship selected as a last-ditch effort to save humanity from an alien invasion. A fleet of semi-autonomous bots. A single outdated first-generation bot that saves the day.
It slightly reminded me of Murderbot but, I’m sorry, it lacks the latter’s innocence and… logical purity. These bots seem logical at first glance but have nothing better to do than emulate humans, citing pseudo-religious “Rites of Something”…
»Bot 9 approached to speak the Rites of Decommissioning for it as it had the destroyed silkbot, only to find its activity light was still lit. “4340-H?” the bot enquired.«
One would think, a vastly superior AI should know better.
»Dupin spürte, wie eine gewisse Aufregung in ihm aufkam. Er hatte Hunger, ja, aber es war noch mehr: pure lukullische Lust.«
Da wären wir also mal wieder – der neunte Bretagne-Krimi um Kommissar Dupin. Wenn eine Buchreihe diesen “Reifegrad” erreicht, dann wird mir bei jedem neuen Band ein wenig “mulmig”, denn allzu oft verliert sich der Autor in der Routine und für treue Leser wie mich, wird es dann leicht langweilig.
Nicht so hier, denn Dupin ist diesmal nicht in seiner (schon lange nicht mehr) neuen Heimatstadt Concarneau, sondern in Saint-Malo. Eigentlich soll er mit seinem Präfekten, Locmariaquer, an einem Seminar zur Département-übergreifenden Zusammenarbeit teilnehmen – wer Dupin ein wenig “kennt”, wird wissen, mit welcher Unlust er dies tut.
Um so interessanter wird es, als direkt in seiner Nähe in einer belebten Markthalle ein Mord geschieht. Ganz in seinem ermittlerischen Element ist Dupin, der diesmal weitestgehend auf die Unterstützung von Nolwenn, Riwal und den anderen verzichten muß, als weitere Morde geschehen. Stimmungshebend ist für Dupin auch das kulinarische Umfeld (Rum, gutes Essen, nette Cafés!).
Ein wenig skeptisch ist er allerdings schon, als Dupin nun mit der lokalen sachlich-nüchternen Kommissarin Huppert und dem leicht geckenhaften Nedellec den Fall unter den Augen ihrer jeweiligen Präfekt_innen lösen soll, aber…
»Das ging alles in die richtige Richtung, so langsam konnte er sich die Gemeinschaftsermittlung vorstellen.«
… und genau so sah ich das beim Lesen auch!
Nach dem Versuch im vorherigen Band, zwei neue Polizistinnen einzuführen, der bestenfalls mittelprächtig gelang, erleben wir hier einen Dupin in guter Form und mit zwei Kolleg_innen, die erfolgreich mit Leben und Charakter ausgestattet werden. Diesmal also etwas erfreulich Neues!
Wie immer sind Sprache und Schreibstil sehr gelungen, aber durch das andere Umfeld, die “Erkundungen” desselben durch Dupin und die geänderte Figuren-Konstellation fühlt sich alles “frischer” an und die eingangs erwähnte Gefahr der Routine besteht nicht einmal.
»Ein behaglicher Teppich aus Klängen. Müßiggängerisch. Eine Bucht von sagenhafter Schönheit und Eleganz.«
Außerdem zeigt Dupin im Umgang mit einer schwer an Demenz erkrankten alten Dame einen hohen und überaus sympathischen Grad an Empathie. Er nimmt sie ernst und versucht – letztlich erfolgreich – in ihrer Welt »die Ordnung wiederherzustellen«. Dies läßt Dupin in meinen Augen menschlich wachsen und sich entwickeln – was mehr könnte ich mir wünschen?
Der Fall selbst ist spannend, interessant und originell. Nicht alle Elemente sind neu, aber mir hat sowohl die Cleverness Dupins wie auch diejenige seiner Gegenspieler_innen ausgesprochen gut gefallen.
Insofern: Dupin ist weitgehend der alte, der sich aber doch sehr wohl entwickelt. Alles andere ist im Fluß. Das weckt Leselust – fünf wohlverdiente Sterne von mir!
This was the worst disappointment in years… I loved “Ready Player One” and was eagerly awaiting this second instalment. After all, a sequel to an instant classic? What could possibly go wrong?!
Turns out the answer is “everything”: Wade Watts was an underdog; orphaned, hunted but optimistic and positive with a great group of friends. In this book, though, he has turned into a vengeful spoiled brat:
»I gleefully zeroed out hundreds of trolls in this fashion. If someone talked shit about me, I found them and killed their avatar.«
And that’s not the only instance in which Wade is completely unrecognizable. Our young hero has turned into a complete idiot. Even his one-week-girlfriend Art3mis has understood what a douchebag Wade has become and left him. His friends are mostly avoiding him but Wade doesn’t really act upon any of that – apart from stalking (!) Art3mis, invading the others’ privacy, etc. etc.
We get told all that during almost the entire first quarter of the book. There’s pretty much just Wade summing up how badly he messed up. Even that isn’t really well presented: This entire part is mostly just boring and partly disillusioning. Exactly the opposite of the light escapism of the first book.
Even worse: It’s the exact same premise as in the first book. In “Ready Player Two” we get to read about yet another easter egg hunt – it even uses the same website… Not only does this feel lazy on the author’s part but very risky as well because you cannot simply use the same plot devices over and over – which is exactly what Cline tries, though.
Plus: Whereas IOI was the big evil corporation, now Wade turned things around and…
»GSS absorbed IOI and all of its assets, transforming us into an unstoppable megacorporation with a global monopoly on the world’s most popular entertainment, education, and communications platform.«
… now GSS is not much better, “weed[ing] out” whatever they deem “unsavory”.
I found my hope somewhat renewed when Cline introduced “L0hengrin” and her “L0w Five” as the spiritual successor of both Parzival and his “High Five” but apart from a few “guest appearances”, this entire (promising) angle remained unused.
The entire book feels like a badly implemented game with tons of repeating “fetch item quests”: Wade and his entourage are running one errand after another. Due to the time-limit Cline has imposed upon our fallen heroes they basically have to rush through those quests as well and everything remains pretty bleak and bland.
At no point was I ever excited or rooting for anyone at all. At some points, to use the author’s own words from the book, “I felt no sense of victory, because I had no idea what had just happened.”.
Even Art3mis who was very critical of Wade for a long time, suddenly comes around and practically jumps back into his arms without any obvious motivation or reason…
Worst of all is the ending, though… A certain device gives Wade the key to (virtual) immortality and he revels in his new-found abilities in a way that’s outright horrifying. Wade’s hybris in these final moments seems to reflect the author’s who probably wrote this book not as a labour of love (like the first book very obviously was) but as one of simple, basic greed.
In “Fallen” we saw how Alex had to harden and tackle things differently than he used to. He ‘fell’ away from trying to be the nice guy and concentrated on what he felt had to be done. He picked himself up and re-emerges ‘forged’ by the blows he received and the hits he delivered.
“Forged” picks up right there: Alex is back in force and at the height of his game. He quickly realises he currently has three major issues:
The Council of (Light) Mages
Richard Drakh, his former master (and his (former) entourage)
(Dark) Anne, his (ex-?)lover, recently possessed by a Jinn
To be able to solve them, he has to solve them separately because he can’t deal with all three at the same time.
We get to know this ‘forged’ Alex a lot better in this penultimate book of the series:
»I was left crouching, surrounded by three dead men, alone once more.«
This Alex is harder than ever before. Most of the time, he doesn’t even consider how to deal with his enemies non-lethally – not because he’s turned to “evil” but because he’s running out of time and alternatives on many levels.
Over the years, Alex has found (and lost) friends he cares for deeply. Even mortal enemies are given chance after chance to walk away. Only now under enormous duress does Alex resolve to the ultima ratio…
Everything Alex does is to protect those he loves from harm. Most prominently Anne, Luna, Variam but others as well. That’s his cause for which Alex is willing to kill and, if necessary, die. It started showing in the previous book already but by now it’s crystal clear that Alex has developed the will to power, but not for the sake of power, but for the sake of his cause. Which, to me, is just.
As a result, we’re confronted with more blood and gore but never unnecessarily or crossing the border beyond which it would become disgusting.
Some loose threads are being picked up again, e. g. Shireen…
»“Tomorrow, Shireen,” I said. “It’s time to end this.” I stepped out of Elsewhere, and back into my own dreams.«
»“Enough chances,” Cinder said. “I get it.”«
Nothing in the narration is over the top but it’s mostly tense and suspenseful. There are some scenes of serene beauty, though, and they counter what otherwise might have become too bleak.
Most importantly, we witness Alex neither being “light” nor “dark” – he’s somewhere in between and even former enemies can acknowledge and, in some cases, respect that. Those self-righteous zealots who reject Alex’ offer of safe conduct and might redeem themselves if it weren’t for their fanaticism, in turn fall – never to rise again.
While Alex’ methods might seem extreme at times, when his enemies tempt his allies they choose to stand at his side based on their own free will.
When I read “Fallen”, I wasn’t sure I liked the direction Jacka was taking. Now I know he was right and what’s coming was and is inevitable…
“Forged” is on many levels the culmination of everything that came before it and does its author great honour. I can hardly wait for the final instalment, “Risen”, which is expected in December 2021.
Encouraged by these reading experiences, I decided to move on to “Leviathan Wakes” of the “The Expanse” series by James S.A. Corey. I was struggling with it as you can read in my review but I came to love the characters, the world and the way Corey injects a tiny ray of hope into the bleakest of situations.
I’ve also re-read “Homo Faber” by Max Frisch after about 30 years. When I first read it at the age of 15/16, I was immediately taken by it. It struck chords I didn’t even know about. This time it were completely different aspects of the book that struck new chords again. I’m not going to let another 30 years pass but I’ll surely re-read it again.
The last two books of 2020 were Alice Schwarzer’s biography of one of Germany’s most important publicists, Marion Gräfin Dönhoff. Dönhoff was part of the resistance against Hitler in her “first life” and went on to become a journalist and the head of one of Germany’s most prestigious newspapers, “Die Zeit”.
No review of my year in books could ever be complete, though, if I neglected to mention Michael J. Sullivan. Michael and his fantasy series have been recommended to me by Ingmar to whom I remain indebted for that. Be it Royce and Hadrian from “Riyria” or “The Legends of the First Empire” – whatever Michael writes is so wonderful that it keeps amazing me. It’s probably because – in Michael’s own words:
“The stories I write might be fantasy, but the depiction of the feelings people share for each other is real.”
What more could I ask from a work of fiction than to let me experience their characters’ feelings? Or, in my own words, “I don’t know Michael personally but after having read thousands of pages he wrote, I’ve come to see him as a bright beacon of hope, empathy and love.”
Speaking of personal heroes: The greatest literary surprise of 2020 was Allie Brosh resurfacing and getting her unforgettable, hauntingly beautiful and breathtakingly sad “Solutions and Other Problems” published. Reading its “serious part” made me cry over a comic for the first time ever.
There were lots of let-downs as well but if you really want, discover them yourselves!
Reflecting on all this and realising that I’m a wet-eyed snivelling mess again, the year 2020 wasn’t so bad after all and I’m looking forward to 2021.
Ich kam mit Marion Gräfin Dönhoff zum ersten Mal bewußt in Berührung als ich über den 20. Juli 1944 las. Denn bereits zum ersten Jahrestag 1945 schrieb Dönhoff »In Memoriam 20. Juli 1944. Den Freunden zum Gedächtnis« über ihre Freunde aus dem Widerstand gegen Hitler, die von den Nazis ermordet worden waren. Daraus entstand ihr 1994 veröffentlichtes Buch “Um der Ehre willen. Erinnerungen an die Freunde vom 20. Juli”, das ich als überaus beachtlich empfand und dessen lebendige Schilderungen einen kleinen Einblick jenseits der Geschichtsbücher in diese Persönlichkeiten erlaubt.
Die Namen – allen voran Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg – sind mir wohlbekannt und doch gewinnen sie im Rahmen der behutsamen Aufarbeitung der Dönhoff’schen Erinnerungen an sie durch eine großartige Alice Schwarzer neues Profil. Ganz besonders Dönhoffs Gefährte aus Kinder- und Jugendtagen, Heinrich Graf Lehndorff.
Wenn es um “Heini Lehndorff” geht, ist es das eine, um diesen Mann aus Wikipedia zu wissen. Etwas völlig anderes aber, wenn Dönhoff sich an diesen Jungen erinnert, mit dem sie auf Bäume geklettert ist, den sie im Eiskeller vergessen hat und dem sie “Kräheneier direkt ins Gesicht geprustet” hat. Die Unmittelbarkeit dieser Erinnerungen, die zumindest eine blasse Ahnung von dem Menschen ergibt, ist mir sehr tief unter die Haut gegangen.
Ob aber als einziges Mädchen ihrer Klasse auf dem Jungengymnasium, als Teils des “harten Kern des Widerstandes gegen Hitler” oder – nicht schön, aber doch für die Zeit beachtlich, “mit dem von ihr in Kenia erlegten Leoparden”; Dönhoff tat, was ihrer Meinung nach zu tun war. Vor, während und nach dem Krieg; unbeirrbar und unbeugsam.
Auch das “zweite Leben” als Journalistin für “Die Zeit” (und zeitweise auch andere Zeitungen) wird von Alice Schwarzer ruhig und in wohltuend gediegener Sprache dargestellt. Mehr als 50 Jahre lang hat Dönhoff “Die Zeit” maßgeblich in verschiedenen Rollen geprägt.
Ein bißchen kurz kommen die einzelnen Stationen zum Teil schon, aber dafür ist das durch Alice Schwarzer von Marion Gräfin Dönhoff gezeichnete Bild doch klar: Es muß sich um eine Frau gehandelt haben, die ihren Weg auch gegen alle Widerstände gegangen ist und die sich einerseits gegen Hitler verschworen hat, sich aber Jahrzehnte später “über Pumuckl halb tot lachen kann”.
Trotz dieser Nähe gelingt es Schwarzer dennoch, eine gewisse Distanz aufrecht zu erhalten und ihr Sujet ehrlich und manchmal auch ein wenig kritisch zu beleuchten. Es ist diese Mischung von Distanz und Nähe, von offensichtlicher Bewunderung und kritischem Hinterfragen, die aber das große Verdienst Alice Schwarzers ausmachen.
Die ersten zwei Drittel des Buches bestehen also einer guten Biographie Schwarzers über Gräfin Dönhoff, die danach noch in Interviews mit Schwarzer sozusagen selbst zu Wort kommt. Auch diese Gespräche sind überaus lesenswert.
Zum Schluß finden sich noch eine Sammlung von Auszügen wichtiger Artikel Dönhoffs aus der “Zeit”, so z. B. “Was heißt Widerstand” von 1989 und viele weitere. Beim Schreiben dieser Rezension habe ich mich immer wieder in diesen Artikeln “fest gelesen” und festgestellt, wie modern und progressiv Marion Gräfin Dönhoff gewesen sein muß.
Immer wieder “angereichert” wird diese wunderbare Biographie noch durch zahlreiche Fotos von den verschiedensten Stationen des Lebens von Dönhoff.
Insofern ist “Marion Dönhoff: Ein widerständiges Leben” ein überaus lesenswertes Werk, das Geschichte lebendig und beinahe erlebbar werden läßt.
This was such a nice idea: A Christmas romance! Ok, the author added “office romance”, “enemies-to-lovers” and “fake dating to evoke jealousy in an ex” but if that actually had worked out, I probably would have loved it.
The beginning is very promising even: The banter between our heroine, Olivia, and her grumpy boss, Asher, is amusing, sometimes even witty and almost always funny. The atmosphere is charged between both of them and had Shepherd kept doing this, added some kind of conflict to solve before the “happily ever after”, everything would have been great.
»“Cozied up on the couch. Snuggled under blankets. Snow falling outside. Christmas movies. Cake. We’re living a Lifetime special.”«
When I read that, I was sure this had to be great! And it was until I came to the second half of the book which manages to derail it completely…
If you still want to read this book, take care, huge spoilers follow…
Unfortunately, every minor issue is blown out of proportion: Olivia and Asher are caught almost in the act in the office – and Asher’s reaction is to call it all off? What kind of guy does that? Ok, I thought, this shouldn’t be hard to salvage…
Olivia goes out for a kind of “girls night” to console herself and I expected something to go wrong. I did not expect Olivia to have poor enough judgement to accompany a known sexual predator, Levi, whom both her circle of friends and Asher warned her strongly about into a »curtained off rooms his handler is guarding«.
Olivia is sexually assaulted there and has to find out the next day that Asher knew exactly about said predator and his methods. She decides that…
»Levi is never going to touch another girl the way he touched me tonight. I’m going to make sure of it.«
At this point, I thought, ok, this will be harder to recover from because the man Olivia loves knew and didn’t do anything about it. I was still holding out hope because the book started out so well and Olivia’s courageous decision not to let Levi get away with it was something I appreciated.
Even though, I must say, I don’t think a book that’s basically supposed to be a light Christmas romance is the best place to deal with the very real problem of sexual harassment or assault.
Then comes the next sexual assault, Asher making a fool out of himself, Olivia allowing Asher (who knew and did nothing) and her boss, Ana (who knew and did too little), to lull Olivia into complacency and waiting for something big to happen about Levi…
This is the point where the book started losing me – further entanglements, e. g. a kiss, ensue – and when Asher and Olivia finally make it up with each other it’s just too late for me. Shepherd has already managed to completely derail her storytelling “train” which was moving along so nicely in the beginning…
Last and least, I do enjoy a certain amount of well-written smut in a romance. In this case, the “build up” is rather nice but (anti-)climaxes in a meagre »“Well,” I say after I’ve been sufficiently ravished.«…
Ultimately, “Faking Under the Mistletoe” started with a bang, went shortly serious and ended in a whimper.
When I was around the age of 18 – the age of majority in Germany – I felt like I had broken through some magical barrier to adulthood. (I hadn’t.)
Now, I felt, it was my sacred duty (it wasn’t) to find out about – imagine a drum roll if you will – nothing lesser than the meaning of life itself. (Didn’t find it.)
Young me contacted the most well-meaning, wisest and awe-inspiring people I knew (not my parents) and asked them indirectly what the meaning of life is. I think I received exactly one answer and that went like “You’ll have to find out for yourself.”. It took me about 20 years to figure that one out:
There is no “meaning of life”. There is just what we figure out we want to do with our lives and how we live it. I have a vague idea for myself but I’m still figuring it out and I think the “figuring it out” part matters much more than the result – especially since for me, said result is always changing. Not in substance but in nuances.
Along comes a book whose author states:
“The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience.”
As if that wasn’t pretentious enough in itself, we all have to figure it out for ourselves. And who is either Mitch Albom or Morrie to judge that “So many people walk around with a meaningless life.”?
Albom isn’t a great writer either: His simple style and his child-like adoration of Morris Schwartz drives him to try writing his idol into a pseudo-religious transcendent figure:
“And the things he was saying in his final months on earth seemed to transcend all religious differences.”
I’m sorry, I can buy into Morrie having been a very kind and interesting person but to basically glorify him like that cannot do any person justice.
In its entirety, “Tuesdays with Morrie” feels like a collection of anecdotes, the glorification of the mundane and stating the obvious. Beyond its inherent merit of paying its subject’s medical bills, it wasn’t worth reading for me.
As of right now, I’m actually still undecided how many stars I’m going to award “The Dark Archive” as, unfortunately, I cannot do five stars but oscillate between three and four starts… Let’s get going and see where reflection leads me…
So, the seventh instalment of “The Invisible Library” lies behind me – and a whole new field of opportunities for further books has been opened on several levels.
That’s good because just as we change throughout life, so must a series of books as it evolves or it will outlive its welcome – at the very least with me. Evolution does have its risks and drawbacks, though, and to get all the characters – new and old – to where they need to be; to set the stage for what’s to come, Cogman seems to have lost a little bit of the plot.
More on that later, though. Let’s start with the good news: This is, indeed, undeniably and recognizable “The Invisible Library” how we know and love it: Irene Winters, the protagonist, is at the height of her game and, as usual, chasing after another important book.
With her is Catherine, the woefully-absent Lord Silver’s niece, Irene’s new apprentice. Silver himself has fled London due to immediate threats. Catherine aspires to become a librarian – an archetypal one, of course, which leads to some… challenges… in her relationship with Irene. While Catherine starts out as your “run-of-the-mill” Fae, she organically and believably develops throughout the novel which I truly enjoyed witnessing. This speaks highly of Cogman’s ability to create and nurture convincing characters.
Speaking of “development” inevitably leads me to Kai: Kai gets a few scenes only to himself which I liked and which were nicely integrated into the story as a whole. There’s not much outward relationship development between Kai and Irene – with the exception of one crucial point… Not perfect but I liked its unobtrusiveness.
Another welcome new addition to the cast is Shan Yuan, Kai’s older brother, whom Kai defers to but who, in turn, seems to loathe Kai. While I don’t like him as a person, Shan is an interesting character at the very least whose addition I enjoyed.
Vale is with us throughout most of the book as well: London’s great detective hunts “The Professor” – which is a lovely pseudonym, paying homage to both J.R.R. Tolkien (you can do, too, with the Tolkien Birthday Toast) and Sherlock Holmes’ greatest adversary, Moriarty, whom every devotee worth his salt will know.
Said Professor understandably doesn’t really enjoy being hunted and, thus, sends assassins after several of our heroes which makes for a fast-paced and action-loaded novel. It’s just like always when you’re enjoying a book – “just one more chapter” stole me quite a few hours of sleep (but fortunately, I’m on holidays right now!).
Cogman’s light-hearted and (mostly) friendly trademark humour is present as well, for example, when Irene and Kai philosophize about universal healthcare and other current issues. (Still unforgotten, last book’s witty reference to a certain hare-brained Prime Minister who is, unfortunately, still leading his country back into the bad old times…)
With so much light, there is some shadow as well: The plot itself is a bit thin for me. Yes, we do get a story but it doesn’t really hold water. There are no real “leaks” but in the heat of the action said water dissipates and once we’re in a calmer phase, we do get to wonder about what’s behind all this… The epilogue might hint at what lies ahead but, still, this is a small blemish on an otherwise good book.
A secondary blemish is one choice of Irene’s, a casual cruelty, which was not strictly necessary and feels out of character. Yes, she admonishes herself immediately for it and that somewhat relativises it but it still marred my picture of Irene.
Despite these blemishes, though, this is a fast-paced, enjoyable and oftentimes funny book that fits well into Cogman’s fictitious universe – and ours, of course.
Well, my reflection finished and all said and done, I’m now ready to decide upon the initial question of awarding stars: A slightly-generous four stars it is.
Oh, and a huge “Thank You” to you, Genevieve, for writing this book – and for gifting me a copy! (In contrast to the former, the latter had no influence on this review!)
Well, I’m sitting here in front of my keyboard, thinking what to write about this book… Don’t get me wrong, it’s clearly Josie Quinn and I like Josie and I like the series… but…
Anyway, we’re in Denton once more; this time under complicated circumstances: Flooding has hit the city and Josie is stressed out seeing her city sinking. Fortunately, she isn’t immediately impacted as her home seems to be on a hill or something. I forgot and it doesn’t really matter.
Josie and Noah, probably soon to be declared patron saints of Denton, take in Misty – Josie’s dead ex-husband Ray’s ex-stripper lover – their, Misty’s and Ray’s, kid, Harris, and their dog in. (Yes, everyone and their dog…) Misty, starting to turn from bimbo to actual human being, immediately counters any kind of normal cognitive reaction by… excessive cooking.
And here’s the “but” from the beginning: I feel I’m starting to tire a bit of the cast. Noah, the too-good-to-be-true saviour type; Misty, the bimbo; Gretchen the “strong silent type” in a female version and – tada – fresh from the mayor’s office: Amber Watts, the mayor’s plant or truly an excitable woman who even steals in the course of the investigation. It’s just nothing new. That’s not bad in itself but we’re exposed to so many reminiscences of earlier books and Josie’s past, it feels somewhat repetitive. Moreover, we get to see her almost succumb to her demons once more – which seems to pretty much happen in every Josie Quinn novel these days, too.
Some loose threads (why doesn’t Vera want to enter the policy HQ?) never really get picked up.
And, yet, the story is… serviceable. Nothing spectacular but an ok’ish book, featuring ok’ish people.
If you like the books (which I still do), you can safely pick this one up; you’ll feel right at home. If you’re new to Josie Quinn, start with one of the earlier books and know it never gets any better (but rarely worse either!).
I still love those dearly, despite quite a few of them (especially Tintin) not aging very well because those comics are “children” of their time – they’re ranging from “culturally insensitive” to “fairly damn racist” which I realised when I started re-reading Tintin after all those decades. So, lesson number one: Be careful if you revisit the heroes of your childhood.
Another thing I’ve learned long ago: I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories. Call me an incurable optimist but in spite of all the challenges we, as humans, face, I’m sure we will overcome those challenges and prevail. So, apocalypse? Go away.
In 2012, I played Telltale Games’ adventure game “The Walking Dead”. Pretty much a post-apocalyptic interactive novel. The game – as its successors – focuses strongly on character development and emotion. Despite the setting I originally hated, I was captivated. Then I found out this entire thing was based upon a “graphic novel”. A graphic novel… sounded a) rather pretentious and b) a lot like my good old comics so I decided to give it a try.
I hated the setting, I hated the violence, I hated the gore – and yet, I liked it. After binge-reading all the novels available at the time, I had fallen in love with this modern kind of comic. And I came to understand why the term “graphic novel” is actually very fitting (in this case at least!): “The Walking Dead” featured highly interesting characters, a strong storyline and it touched upon a LOT of ethical and moral issues which are never “dealt with” and “done with” easily but are most often explored, a journey embarked upon and never taken lightly.
The most intriguing part, though, was the amazing cast of characters: From the eponymous “Walking Dead”, the roamers or walkers who everyone is destined to become, to the small-town cop Rick Grimes who pretty much becomes the centre of world of “The Walking Dead” (very much against his will and to his chagrin!), heroines like Andrea (no, it’s just that something flew into both of my eyes!) or Maggie and remarkable villains (who sometimes developed immensely!) like Negan to all the diverse and non-discriminating (I think we’ve seen all of LGBT) other characters.
Speaking of LGBT: This is one of the very few brilliant examples of how to be non-discriminating – by simply not caring AT ALL. As can be imagined, considering we’re talking about an adult graphic novel, we see deep love of every kind among the characters and their gender simply doesn’t matter (or at least not to the “good” people).
As if the great cast and the story and all that wasn’t already enough, the character development during its entire run among said cast was fantastic as well. I don’t think I’ve ever found the characters so believable and relatable in some cases and, in other cases, sometimes so outlandish and yet still so conceivable. What Negan was and what he became and, especially, HOW he became it, for example, is textbook-worthy. A truly masterful achievement of storytelling.
As can be imagined in the afore-mentioned post-apocalyptic scenario, a lot of that cast will, unfortunately, die. Now, you can just kill Star Trek’s red-shirts off. You can kill the nameless masses. Beware of killing off major characters as had to be done in this graphic novel: If you just kill off your character in, e. g. a “red wedding”, and that’s pretty much it, you leave your readers alone in their astonishment, their shock and, yes, even in their grief. You might get away with it but you WILL alienate a part of your audience.
If, on the other hand, you kill if and when you simply HAVE to (e. g. because the story demands it) and you do it in a way that respects the character and preserves its dignity, then I can accept and respect that. That said, Kirkman gets even that right: At one point, a MAJOR character dies. And, damn, did I cry. The novel ends with an optimistic perspective and that would have worked already. Kirkman improves on that, though, and adds:
I’m sorry to my fans and to myself and to […]. I feel like I killed a close friend. The deaths in this series are never taken lightly, they’re never done with a sense of glee. They weigh on me the same way they weigh on you. These characters are very real to me, and their deaths are upsetting even to me. […]”
As you can see, this reflects my view on killing characters and puts it very clearly.
So, let’s see: Great story, great cast, great author – what’s there not to like?
Well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure myself. There are 193 regular issues but I didn’t quite binge-read them actually. In fact, my interest was slightly like the moon waxing and waning – I’d read, let’s say, 50 issues and, feeling sated, I would move on to something else.
After a few months or a year, I would read the next 50 or so and, thus, the cycle started anew. So, yes, for me there was enough “Walking Dead” and so I took my leave of that world for quite some time and, yet, would succumb to its lure all the same.
I’ve been told (and read in reviews of people whose opinions I value highly) that the quality among the story arcs varies. That could be true. Maybe it wasn’t just feeling sated but stumbling upon a weaker story arc that made me read something else.
I simply do not know.
What I DO know, though, is that I will sorely miss being able to revisit the world of the “Walking Dead” which I have come to respect and love just like any other wonderfully and skillfully crafted fantastic world.
If you’re just into comics/graphic novels, try “The Walking Dead”. If you don’t like reading or some such nonsense, try “The Walking Dead”. If you’re beyond comics but are still willing to give the genre another chance, let it be “The Walking Dead” to make you feel the magic (albeit a completely different kind!) once more.
If you’re basically anyone, try “The Walking Dead”. They ARE that good.
Wow, this was a huge let-down for me. I’ve never been the greatest Dresden fan but with Harry being a character one can relate to, I always found something to actually really like. Not so in this book.
Basically, we’re reading about a huge battle during which everyone and (sometimes literally) their dog makes an appearance – oftentimes just for the sake of appearing and showing that, yes, they still exist and Butcher hasn’t forgotten about them.
Unfortunately, as pitched as the battle must be, I never really “connected” with the story. Yes, all of Chicago and its inhabitants are at risk but I was rather indifferent about that. I was even repelled by some aspects of the way the story is told, e. g. There are many places during which it gets overly gory for no reason at all. I actually tried to find a somewhat moderate part to quote here as an example but, alas, I failed. There is no example I could quote here with a clean conscience towards younger readers.
Fortunately, though, the good-natured trademark humour is still around, though:
»“Guys!” I said. “The pizza—all the pizza—is in danger!” That got their attention.«
So, yes, the small folks are around as well but even they – who sometimes played rather prominent roles in earlier books – feel like they only get a few “honourable mentions”. They’re not really in any way integrated into the story albeit the potential for that existed.
Yes, it’s still the Dresden Files but it feels like Butcher wrote himself into a corner from which he couldn’t really escape. The path he chose feels like that of a pubescent boy in a frenzy – because Butcher can rest assured I don’t care about Harry’s scrotum or the gore I mentioned before. Over-the-top battles, feverishly written about and bringing in everyone doesn’t really endear the book to me either.
Nevertheless, Dresden Files – if you liked them so far, you might grind your teeth a bit while reading this book but you’ll probably still like it to some extent, like I do.
If you didn’t like Harry Dresden by now, after 16 books (“Battle Ground” being no. 17), this instalment won’t change your mind and you should probably abstain.
Let’s just hope that Jim Butcher will find his way back from epic megapolis-scale wars to what he did early on: Portraying the foremost wizard of Chicago, a deeply mixed character who tries to do “the right thing” to the best of his abilities. That’s what makes Harry relatable (despite the urban fantasy setting); that’s what makes Harry Harry.
»The real battle for your own soul isn’t about falling from a great height; it’s about descending, or not, one choice at a time.«
This holds true not “just” for souls but books as well…
I’m writing this review with a heavy heart because I’ve been a fan of Armand Gamache since the very first book.
Gamache is the most human investigator I’ve had the pleasure to “accompany” him through 16 books now. His cases were never easy or clear-cut. There were rarely any truly, irredeemable evil perpetrators. Gamache himself wasn’t always the knight in shining armour but a believable human being.
Three Pines, the almost mythological home of the Gamaches’, basically became a beloved part of (almost) all the books. Its inhabitants – Clara, Gabri, Ruth – they usually played an important role.
In this book, though, Armand and his entire family find themselves in Paris for the birth of Annie’s and Jean-Guy Beauvoir’s child where the latter live after Jean-Guy got a job at an engineering company. Also in Paris is Stephen Horowitz, Armand Gamache’s godfather, who took care of young Armand after the death of Armand’s parents. After a family dinner, an attempt on Stephen’s life is made and, thus, the game is afoot!
I was immediately sceptical when I realised we would stay in Paris for (almost) the entire book. Three Pines is so atmospherically important that I missed it.
As an IT guy I couldn’t really tolerate this either:
“Beauvoir could see past Loiselle, into Arbour’s office. Something was happening. The computer had come back to life, and images were flashing across the screen. Even from a distance, he could see what it was. Emails. Schematics. Being erased.”
This is just nonsense and only ever happens in films. In real life, you wouldn’t see a thing. The data would silently be deleted and none would be the wiser for it. This is, of course, just a detail but it annoyed me.
Attention to details in an author has always been important to me and Louise Penny didn’t majorly disappoint so far but in this book, she just does away with some things, e. g. Horowitz’ children:
“I do need to point out that in a previous book Horowitz has children. In this book he does not. I’m afraid I made a mistake in that first mention of Horowitz, in being far more specific than I needed to be. Lesson learned. Children erased.”
Children erased. Just like that. Annoying.
These are just my minor qualms with the book, though. What really disappointed me was that Armand Gamache almost turns into an action hero in this book. His more philosophical traits take a backseat to a mystery that’s not even very interesting intrinsically.
The solution feels a lot like a deus ex machina after a rather complicated, convoluted and far-fetched plot that wasn’t hard to follow but wasn’t really interesting either.
In her afterword, Penny explains why she wrote the book the way she did:
“I’ve tried to bring that wonderment. That awe. That love of place because of the place, but also because of the memories a place holds, to this book. That love of Paris that I discovered with Michael.”
I love Paris myself but apart from the fact that I bought a mystery novel and not a book about Paris, Penny regrettably even fails to convey how Paris “feels”: Yes, she describes it well enough but the bustling streets, the Parisians themselves, the contrasts of the touristic Paris and its darker sides – they’re all missing. It’s a pretty sterile description of places but the “awe” she mentions is absent for me.
I can absolutely relate to “explore” Paris with your significant other (been there, done that) but unless you write about Paris, you cannot really convey that to your readers.
A bit later Penny writes…
“This is a book about love, about belonging. About family and friendship. It’s about how lives are shaped by our perceptions, by not just our memories, but how we remember things.”
… and she’s right: She wrote about the Gamaches’ and their love for each other. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for a good Gamache mystery, though. Especially when the (few) conflicts among the family (Armand and his son Daniel) feel mostly superficial.
The one potential major conflict among the family in this book that is not about Daniel is, disappointingly again, solved within six sentences (the new-born child…) and feels artificial and “tacked-on”.
Just as the ending made me roll my eyes (Stephen).
No, sadly, this is the one Gamache you should probably skip if you want to remember Armand Gamache as he used to be. Let’s hope for a better 17th instalment next year.
(To my English-speaking audience: There’s a Google-Translate button at the bottom of each page and the next review will be in English again.)
“Es ist ein spielerisches, ritualisiertes Hin- und Hergezerrtsein zwischen Minderwertigkeitskomplex und Hybris.” (Der Autor über die Pfalz)
Vor gar nicht langer Zeit schrieb ich bereits darüber, wie gern ich mittlerweile in der Pfalz lebe, unter dem Titel “Danke, liebes Universum”.
Was also lag näher, sich diesem Thema auch literarisch weiter anzunähern? Im Rahmen meiner umfangreichen fünf-minütigen Recherchen stieß ich erneut auf Christian “Chako” Habekost, einen Echt-P(f)älzer Komiker aus Bad Dürkheim (ca. 20 Minuten von hier).
In 16 Kapiteln schreibt Habekost – dankenswerterweise auf Hochdeutsch – aus ihrer Mitte heraus über “seine” Pfälzer. Allerdings – und das macht das Buch gleich nochmals sympathischer – verleugnet Habekost dabei nie seine Wurzeln und so wird aus dem Plural von “Wagen” quasi unwillkürlich und wohl ungeplant von Hochdeutsch auch “Wagen” pfälzisch “Wägen”. Das ist außerdem nicht nur nett, sondern vor allem auch authentisch – jahrelang hat mir dieser Plural den Schlaf geraubt!
Überaus angenehm fand ich zudem, daß Habekost sich nie ernsthaft über die pfälzischen Eigenarten lustig macht, sondern sie geradezu zelebriert und mit den Pfälzern, niemals aber über sie lacht. Wie könnte man aber auch:
“Auch bei anderen nicht essbaren Sachen, die Gefallen finden, bricht sich das südländische Naturell unaufhaltsam Bahn, dann flippt der Pfälzer richtig aus und sagt: »Net schlescht.«”
Oft habe ich mit (meist) großer Freude festgestellt, daß meine ureigenen “pfälzischen Beobachtungen” als Aussergewärdischer oft zutrafen, auch wenn sie vielleicht nicht immer (für mich) schmeichelhaft waren:
“»Net jeder Besserwisser weiß, dass ma rescht habe un trotzdem en Idiot soi kann.«“
Oder auch die gelungene Darstellung Pfälzer Volksweisheiten:
“»Ei, die sin all so bleed, do könntsch naus wo ke Loch is.«“
Kleine Wiederholungen zwischen den Kapiteln trüben ein wenig das überaus positive Gesamtbild. Allerdings lassen sich diese Wiederholungen durchaus sachlogisch herleiten. Auch – und das ergibt sich natürlich aus der Vita des Autoren – finden sich Bestandteile verschiedener Bühnenprogramme im Buch wieder. Wer diese also bereits kennt, mag sich also entweder über den “Wiedererkennungseffekt” freuen oder aber ob dessen kurzzeitig (meist nicht mehr als ein Absatz) gelangweilt sein.
Auch handelt es tatsächlich mehr um eine humoristische “Gebrauchsanweisung” (obschon manchmal mit politischen Anklängen) denn um einen “Reiseführer” im klassischen Sinne. Natürlich finden sich die “wichtigen” Pfälzer Themen (Weinfeste, Saumagen, Weltkulturerbe – in dieser gewichteten Reihenfolge) wieder, aber vor allem ist dieses Buch eine herrliche (und verdiente!) Liebeserklärung an die Pfalz.
Jedem, der diesen wunderbaren Landstrich besser verstehen oder gar bereisen möchte, dem sei dieser kleine Band auf jeden Fall wärmstens ans Herz gelegt – mit einer kleinen “Warnung” allerdings:
“Und all den Snobs, die über Fleischberge auf Tellern und hektoliterweise fließende Alkoholika ihre Nase rümpfen, möchte man zurufen: »Willkommen im Land der beladenen Teller und übersprudelnden Dubbenkelche, willkommen im Fürstentum der unzähligen, unverständlichen Wörter, willkommen im Paradies der Feldfrüchte und Feigen, willkommen im pfälzischen Reich der Fruchtbarkeit! Hosianna all mi’nanner und Proscht, zum Wohl. Die Pfalz.«”
Es ist keine 24 Stunden her, als ich tief seufzend neben meiner Frau ins Bett sank und mein Schicksal beklagte, schon wieder ein… komisches… Buch zu lesen. “Über Südtirol”, sagte ich und meine Frau antwortete, “Oh, nein, Südtirol – Faschismus und Nationalsozialismus, lies doch etwas Leichteres…”
Sie hatte – wie (fast) immer Recht – und Unrecht zugleich. Ja, die Geschichte ist nicht leicht verdaulich: Trina, eine zu Beginn des Romans junge deutschsprachige Lehrerin, lebt im inzwischen buchstäblich untergegangenen Alt-Graun, einem kleinen bäuerlich-geprägten Dorf mit ihrem Ehemann Erich.
Trina durchlebt die Italianisierung (also die versuchte Ausmerzung alles deutschsprachigen und des altösterreichischen Charakters) durch den Faschismus, auf- und überlebt Aufstieg und Fall des deutschen Nationalsozialismus und bleibt in ihrem Dorf, obschon die persönlichen Verluste ihrer Familie ans Unerträgliche grenzen.
Schlußendlich weichen Trina und Erich doch der Gewalt; diesmal derjenigen der Unternehmen, denn die damalige Firma Montecatini überflutet Alt-Graun im Rahmen eines wenig sinnvollen Staudamm-Projektes. (Übrigens hat die heutige Edison S.p.A., Rechtsnachfolgerin von Montecatini, sich dem Autor völlig verweigert…)
Von alldem erzählt Balzano mit großer Empathie, mit Behutsamkeit und Vorsicht. Er verurteilt nicht, sondern beschäftigt sich mit einem Stück Geschichte, über das ich fiel las, auf einer enorm persönlichen Ebene. Wüßte man es nicht besser – Balzano wurde 1978 geboren – so möchte man meinen, er sei dabei gewesen. Als habe er Trinas Verlust der Tochter, des Sohnes, der Heimat und letztlich noch ihres Mannes als mitfühlender Augenzeuge erlebt und ganz schlicht diese Geschichte empfindsam niedergeschrieben.
Nichts ist wirklich leicht an diesem Buch – außer vielleicht der ruhigen Sprache, die unzweideutig erkennen läßt, wem die Sympathie des Autors gehört. Diese Sprache erzählt unaufgeregt und eindringlich von Trina, die wiederum als Ich-Erzählerin ihrer verlorenen Tochter Marica ihr Leben erzählt.
Doch genau das ist wohl der große Verdienst dieses nicht allzu langen Buches – 275 Seiten weist die Print-Ausgabe auf: Die tragische Geschichte eines “ertrinkenden” Tals in Südtirol zwischen Faschismus und Nationalsozialismus auf einer zutiefst persönlichen Ebene “anfaßbar” und “erlebbar” zu machen. Selbst wer so gar nichts mit Politik, Krieg und Geschichte “am Hut” haben mag, dafür aber ein offenes Herz, der wird sich diesem Buch letztlich nicht entziehen können.
Da fallen ein paar “Längen”, die nicht von der Hand zu weisen und verantwortlich für meinen eingangs geschilderten Seufzer sind, letzten Endes nicht ins Gewicht. Es bleibt ein eindringliches Bild auf dem Cover: Der denkmalgeschützte Kirchtum von Alt-Graun, der sich über die Fluten erhebt. Darunter liegt eine Geschichte, die Balzano gekonnt und lesenswert auferstehen läßt.
Reading about that in what amounts to a crude comic was a singular experience for me – despite suffering from depressions myself at the time.
Soon after I had read “Hyperbole”, Allie disappeared from the net. We, her fans, hoped she was well but we rarely got any (reliable) information.
Six years later, in September 2020, Allie “resurfaced” and announced her new book “Solutions and Other Problems”. Needless to say, I immediately read it – and initially, I was very slightly disappointed.
Allie still did her quirky, charming, weird comic – about a balloon, her stalking her neighbour as a kid and other issues. These panels in the first few chapters feel like Allie had to find her way back to her style. Like regaining her voice after a long spell of silence. She’s “warming up” and, obvious in hindsight only, paints and writes up her courage to tackle what Allie calls “the serious part” and this is the part that just plain floored me.
I won’t go into any kind of detail but what Allie went through is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (the number of which is zero, though).
What follows is both a great feat of celebrating life and at the same time the panels in the “serious part” are basically oozing existential pain and hardly endurable loss. Many pages just consist of comic panels without any text. It’s as if Allie temporarily lost her voice again and this makes it all the more intense. Especially since she is unrelentingly honest and authentic. Allie depicts her losses, her regrets just as believably as in showing us how she overcame them.
It was the first time I ever cried over a comic.
Allie Brosh wouldn’t be Allie Brosh, though, if she didn’t pick herself up, “reassembling” herself and moving on with life. For me, that is the most important lesson of both “Hyperbole and a Half” and “Solutions”: In spite of seemingly insurmountable, almost unsurvivable issues, life goes on.
From laugh-out-loud funny (“pile dog”) to stirringly human (befriending herself), Allie Brosh is an icon of hope. I wish her all the best and hope to get to read more of her brilliant comics.
Even if not, though, she’s hereby inducted into my personal hall of fame and unlikely heroes!
For Fox’ Sake – what a disaster! What an unholy mess of a novella! Our protagonist, Fox 8, who is, you guessed it, a fox, gets a quick glance of what humanity is capable of. This is a promising premise and, if excitedly well, could lead to an interesting story.
Unfortunately, it turns out foxes don’t “speak” English very well and I don’t have much patience for sentences like this:
“But I was fast and nated by those music werds, and desired to understand them total lee.”
The entire booklet is written like that and the story is just as “meh”. In Fox 8’s own words:
“Reeding my Story bak just now, I woslike: O no, my Story is a bumer. There is the deth of a gud pal, and no plase of up lift, or lerning a leson. The nise Fox’s first Groop stays lost, his frend stays ded. Bla.”
Der Literaturkritiker Denis Scheck hat dieses Buch empfohlen (“Auf nur 160 Seiten entfaltet die Autorin Monika Helfer eine beeindruckende und gehaltvolle Geschichte über Familienstrukturen und Beziehungen.”) und sein Wort hat für mich Gewicht.
Wie so oft, wenn’s dem Esel zu wohl wird, naja, Ihr wißt schon… Das Problem dieses kurzen Büchleins ist, daß es die einerseits sehr persönlich erzählte Familiengeschichte der Autorin ist.
Helfer beantwortet darin sich und uns die Frage “Woher komme ich?”. Das deutet aber auch bereits mein erstes Problem an: Diese Frage habe ich mir in bezug auf die Autorin nie gestellt. Ihre persönliche Antwort läßt mich daher weitgehend kalt.
Parallel kommt hinzu, daß es – zumindest meinen Lese-Erfahrungen zufolge – kein seltenes Schicksal ist: Familie auf dem Dorf am Ende der Welt vor gut 100 Jahren – zur Zeit des Ersten Weltkrieges. Die Frau, Helfers Großmutter Maria, ist nicht landläufig (sic) “normal” und wird daher samt ihrer Familie der ganzen denkbaren Boshaftigkeit einer dörflichen “Gemeinschaft” ausgesetzt – widerlich, aber hinlänglich bekannt.
Noch schwieriger wird es, wenn eine ohnehin schon nicht besonders spannende Geschichte mühselig zu lesen. Ein Beispiel; das folgende ist nämlich ein einziger Satz:
“Tag und Nacht zog das Pferd den Schneepflug über die Wege und schaufelten die alten Männer, die man im Krieg nicht brauchen konnte, die Schellen am Zaumzeug waren Tag und Nacht zu hören, und einmal — alle waren schon in der Kirche, aus den Mündern dampfte es, aus dem Weihrauchfass in Walters Händen dampfte es, seit Neuestem war er Ministrant, weinend hatte er gebettelt, Ministrant sein zu dürfen, auf die Knie war er vor Maria gegangen, wie es der Pfarrer den Schülern beigebracht hatte, in ihren besten Kleidern waren alle in der Kirche, Frauen und Mädchen links, die Männer und die Buben rechts —, da öffnete sich der Haarknoten an Marias Hinterkopf, sie nahm das Schultertuch ab und versuchte, die Haare neu aufzustecken.”
Das sind, falls ich richtig gezählt habe, 123 Worte (!) in einem Satz, der letztlich aussagt, daß Marias Haarknoten sich gelöst und sie versucht hat, diesen wieder herzurichten. Alles andere ist “Beiwerk”.
Dergestalt lesen sich leider weite Teile des autobiographischen Romans, auf dessen Lektüre ich gut und gerne hätte verzichten können.
Dennoch: “Die Bagage” ist kein schlechtes Buch. Nur einfach kein originelles Buch und allenfalls nehme ich mit vollem Einverständnis und Genugtuung folgende Erkenntnis über Pfarrer mit:
“Er war derselben Meinung wie sein Vater, dass so einer eine überflüssige Existenz sei, ein Nichtsnutz.”
Oh, well, this will be a difficult review to write, I guess. I really like this series and its ideas, its wonderful characters, the brilliant writing, etc. etc.
Along came “Cibola Burn”: We find ourselves accompanying Holden and his crew through one of the rings into the great unknown – into which a band of settlers from Ganymede made it before him and pretty much started colonising the planet, Ilus, there.
Unfortunately for those pioneers, the UN has awarded the “Royal Charter Energy” (RCE), a big Earth corporation, the rights to the afore-mentioned planet – which they refer to as “New Terra”. When RCE tries to get a shuttle down to the planet, it gets blown up by the settlers.
Holden is sent to Ilus/New Terra to mediate between the settlers and the RCE guys, only to get caught between both of them.
This leads us into a long story about the conflict between the settlers and the RCE people, the “awakening” of the stuff the protomolecule’s creators left on the planet, a catastrophic disaster, Miller investigating and, again, leading Holden around. There’s sabotage in space and on the planet, a one-dimensional villain whom Amos would have shot on the spot in the previous books and a scientist whom Corey makes fall for Holden – right until she gets laid by someone else and finds out that guy’s the real love of her life… Not to mention episodes about “death slugs”, eye-infecting parasites and lots of other “filling materials”.
All this just plain made this entire book way too long for its own good. While there was still a lot of suspense, long stretches of describing the atmosphere on the planet after a disaster kept boring me.
Last but not least, apart from Holden himself, the entire crew of the Rocinante was somehow not themselves – Alex felt mostly absent, Amos was weirdly subdued, almost completely submissive to Holden and Naomi spends weeks in a brig which we get to witness for far too long.
I’m going to take a break from “The Expanse” in favour of another book or two.
Ich bin gebürtiger Niedersachse – sturmfest und erdverwachsen. Vor über 20 Jahren verschlug es mich hierher – und ich verfluchte mein Schicksal! Ausgerechnet die Pfalz! Mein “südliches Exil”, wie ich es jahrelang nannte. (Wobei “der Süden” bekanntlich südlich von Göttingen beginnt!)
Die Menschen in der Pfalz sprechen seltsam. Jahrelang habe ich sie bitten müssen, langsam und deutlich zu sprechen. Denn “Pälzer” haben für ganz banale Dinge ganz merkwürdige Namen: “Grumbeer” sagen sie zur Kartoffel (und wenn sie nur genug aus ihrem “Dubbeglas” getrunken haben, sprechen sie auch schon mal mit ihren Grumbeern).
(Und fangen wir gar nicht erst mit dem “Monnemerisch” jenseits des Rheins an…)
Meinen Kindern habe ich jedweden Sprachfehler/Dialekt verboten und dies nötigenfalls mittels Strafe (meist blieb es aber bei Androhung derselben) durchgesetzt.
Mit den Jahren wurde ich milder: Kleine Dialekt-Sünden wurden erst vergeben, dann übersehen. Dann begann, langsam, schleichend, lange unbemerkt, die Assimilation… Aber man will ja kein Dibbelschisser sein – oder gar piensen.
In Wahrheit aber haben die Pfälzer immer mehr Rücksicht auf mich genommen als umgekehrt. Das nämlich zeichnet sie aus: Sie sind warmherzig und großzügig. Gesellig und häufig entwaffnend direkt.
Sie haben meine hochdeutsche Arroganz zumeist übersehen und meine Familie und mich herzlich aufgenommen. Nirgendwo habe ich mich so willkommen gefühlt wie in der Pfalz. Nirgendwo habe ich so gern gelebt wie in der Pfalz.
Die Region ist schön, es ist warm und sonnig, aber vor allem die Menschen hier haben mich mit ihrer Freundlichkeit und Herzlichkeit “überrumpelt”, mich für sie eingenommen, bevor ich es noch so richtig realisiert hatte. (Gabi, Obi, Simi, Uwe, Gerd, Frank – all Ihr anderen: Danke!)
So richtig klar wurde mir, was ich von der Pfalz halte, als ich am 12.09.2020 zufällig auf die COVID-19-bedingte Aktion “Mein Worschdmarkt Dehääm 2020” aufmerksam wurde. Der Bad Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt mußte dieses Jahr nämlich gänzlich anders ausfallen (sic!) – nämlich im ganz kleinen Rahmen und für die meisten “dehääm”.
Der Wurstmarkt – der übrigens kein Wurstmarkt, sondern das größte Weinfest der Welt ist – war mir nur am Rande ein Begriff – namentlich wie auch auf dem Weg in den Pfälzer Wald auf dem Motorrad vorbeifahrenderweise.
Der “Dergemer Worschdmarkt” jedenfalls machte auf seinen “Literarischen Frühschoppen” aufmerksam, der von dem mir lange bekannten und geschätzten Christian “Chako” Habekost (der übrigens mit dem Alter immer besser werden zu scheint!) moderiert wurde.
An sehr vielen Beiträgen hatte ich meinen Spaß – und mußte feststellen, daß auch ich als Aussergewärdischer doch vieles erkannte und mochte. Wer das zwei Stunden lang am Stück an Geist und Herz unbeschadet übersteht, dem muß klar werden: Widerstand ist zwecklos!
Ferdinand von Schirach schreibt in “Kaffee und Zigaretten”:
»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.«
Viele meiner schönsten Erinnerungen aber wurden hier – in der Pfalz – geprägt und meine Kinder sind gebürtige Pfälzer. Die Pfalz würde mir fehlen.
Einer meiner Lieblingsschriftsteller ist von Beruf Schauspieler. Nach vier großartigen, teils autobiographischen, Romanen bedarf Joachim Meyerhoff keiner großen Vorstellung mehr. Wenn also Meyerhoff ein neues Buch geschrieben hat, dann muß bei mir literarisch alles andere hintanstehen. Das ist nichts Neues.
Neu für mich persönlich ist allerdings, daß ich dieses Buch als Rezensionsexemplar über NetGalley.de vom Verlag, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, erhielt. Dafür meinen ganz herzlichen Dank an Kiepenheuer & Witsch und NetGalley.
Wie schon in den vier vorherigen Bänden von “Alle Toten fliegen hoch” erzählt Meyerhoff auch hier intelligent und mit viel Humor aus seinem Leben – obschon der Auslöser diesmal ein durchlittener Schlaganfall kurz nach dem 51. Geburtstag war.
Aber nicht nur der Schlaganfall und der daraus resultierende Krankenhausaufenthalt wird thematisiert, sondern – und das sind meines Erachtens auch die erzählerischen Höhepunkte – auch (in der Erinnerung verschüttete) Erlebnisse aus Meyerhoffs Leben, an die er sich (meist) gern erinnert und uns, seinen Lesern, davon erzählt.
“War die Katastrophe im Gehirn vielleicht mit einem »Best of Verschüttet« zu beheben?”
Auch sprachlich ist der “Hamster” wiederum ein Genuß – wenige deutschsprachige Autoren unserer Zeit verstehen es so wie Meyerhoff, einerseits mit sprachlichen Bildern zu spielen und wunderbare Wortschöpfungen zu kreieren wie im nachfolgenden Beispiel:
“Die drohende Ohnmacht tanzte um mich herum, war mal vor mir, mal hinter mir, umkreiste meine Stirn und schoss mir im Sturzflug mit zusammengefalteten Schwindelschwingen in die Magengrube.”
Ein herrliches Bild einer bedrohlichen und erschreckenden Situation – das ist für mich wirkliche Sprachkunst. Sprachkunst aber, die nicht künstlich anmutet, die nicht Überlegenheit demonstrieren oder das Bildungsbürgertum feiern will, sondern eine, die mir und meinem Empfinden nahe ist.
Deutschland gilt als das “Land der Dichter und Denker”: Ein manchmal schweres Erbe. Schwer für Autoren, weil sie damit grossen Ansprüchen ausgesetzt werden. Aber auch für uns Leser, die wir von der Schulzeit an mit “Klassikern” traktiert und mit literarisch “schwerer Kost” gefüttert werden, bis wir entweder die Lust am Lesen verlieren oder aber glauben, Literatur müsse “schwer” sein, um lesenswert zu sein. Meyerhoff setzt dem mit intelligenter Leichtigkeit, dabei nur ganz selten ins Seichte abdriftend (und selbst dann unterhaltsam!), daß es auch anders geht. Er schreibt elegant und schön, ohne dabei zu überfordern. Ja, den manchmal bemängelten Pipi-Kaka-Humor gibt es, aber er ist nur Mittel zum Zweck, nicht Zweck der Übung. Das relativiert ihn und läßt ihn als Stilmittel Wirkung entfalten, (meist) ohne albern zu wirken.
Dieses Verdienst darf man nicht gering schätzen, denn so mag der eine oder andere, dem die Schule die Bücher verleidet hat, zurückfinden zum Buch als m. E. bedeutendstes Kulturmedium.
Für mich fühlt sich Meyerhoff durch seine Erzählungen wahnsinnig vertraut an; viele Merkwürdigkeiten, z. B. die Sehnsucht das eigene Leben (zumindest temporär!) mit demjenigen des norwegischen Bauern zu tauschen oder Buffet-Manieren (oder den Mangel an letzteren!), teilen wir.
Kleine Fehler trüben jedoch das Gesamtbild: Einerseits sind dies ganz “harmlose” faktische Punkte, wie z. B. folgendes:
“Morgen würde in Hamburg die CSU einen neuen Parteivorsitzenden wählen. Zur Wahl standen Friedrich Merz, Jens Spahn und Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer”
Zum einen würde die CSU niemals in Hamburg irgendjemanden wählen, zum anderen sicherlich nicht die Politiker der Schwesterpartei CDU, die das tatsächlich getan hat.
Außerdem ziehen sich die Krankenhaus-Passagen dann leider doch etwas, denn die Mit-Patienten bleiben bestenfalls schemenhaft und die Nächte, die Meyerhoff reflektierend verbringt, in der Sorge, etwaige Nachlässigkeit könnte zum nächsten Schlaganfall führen, sind demgegenüber einfach viel interessanter.
“Hamster im hinteren Stromgebiet” zeigt uns einen unendlich sympathischen Joachim Meyerhoff, der erwachsen geworden ist. Wir haben ihm dabei staunend, lachend, mal bewundernd und mal bemitleidend zugesehen, aber in jedem Fall war es ein Vergnügen.
Der weitgehende Stillstand in diesem Buch schmälert dieses Vergnügen ein wenig, aber dennoch ist dieser vorläufige (?) Abschluß der Reihe sehr lesenswert, auch wenn er nicht ganz an die Qualität seiner Vorgänger heranreicht.
– I do not like science fiction literature. – I do not like soap operas (so why would I like a “Space Opera”?) – I do not like author’s killing off their heroes (GRRM, I’m looking at you!)
What I came to realise, though, is that James S.A. Corey has extremely interesting stories to tell and the means to seemingly effortlessly tell them in a way that keeps me coming back for more.
As in its predecessors, in “Abaddon’s Gate” the alien protomolecule plays a major role and, of course, Holden, Naomi, Alex and Amos are with us again, too. In addition, we get to meet new people like Bull, an OPA operative, Anna, a preacher, and yet another member of the Mao clan.
As has been Corey’s forte before, every single character feels believable; like a living, breathing person. All of them change and develop which is something I value very, very highly in a book if it’s intrinsically plausible.
Corey is not only masterfully presenting his story and characters but has an impeccable feeling for pacing: Often we’re breathlessly following the rapid developments and at other times we get the time to savour the story, the characters – the entire range of human emotions which few authors can stimulate as brilliantly as Corey does.
“Abaddon’s Gate” is not entirely easy to love, though: It’s, again, pretty dark in tone and setting. There are hopeful “undercurrents” during the entire book, though, that kept me from falling into depression – even when a minor yet very wonderful character dies.
As if all that wasn’t yet enough to make this book a pretty much instant favourite of mine, there are major human topics that get addressed in a very decent and remarkably unobtrusive way: From complex and, oftentimes, difficult subjects like forgiveness and redemption to somewhat easier ones like our insatiable curiosity (which tends to kill the proverbial cat…) and many others.
Just like the books before it, “Abaddon’s Gate” is to quote myself “challenging, long, complex and dark but of an overall quality that makes it feel like it pretty much plays in its own league.”
This was a tricky one for me… I have tried reading science fiction before and (usually) didn’t like it. It was all too often dark, gritty and bleak, set in a dystopian universe in which pretty much everyone acts completely self-absorbed. Thus, I disavowed science fiction in books because I’m a closet optimist: I’ve subscribed early on to the philosophy, the idealism and optimistic view of the future as imagined in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
“Leviathan Wakes” is (mostly) the former kind of sci-fi: We witness a beginning war between several factions (Earth, Mars, the Belt), we see “vomit zombies” and, in general, some parts of this book were so gruesome and almost depressing that I considered to give up on it entirely.
I understand the grit and grime to be essential explanations of the condicio humana, the human condition, as it is in the fictional universe of “Leviathan Wakes” but I don’t want or need them. I need to believe I can improve my world a little bit for as long as I’m here at least.
There’s a general grittiness to the entire setting that is far from what I prefer in sci-fi. In addition, I’m not really a fan of the “noir” genre by which “Leviathan Wakes” obviously was inspired by as well.
The story is great, though: Due to acts of brutality in order to instigate a war, we meet Miller, a down-trodden cop, and Holden, first an officer on a ship that becomes a victim of the afore-mentioned provocations, later on serving as captain of his own ship. Whereas Miller is disillusioned by his work, the general state of the world and life as such, Holden is an incurable idealist. Holden unwaveringly tries to do everyone justice and wants to be a force of good in his world and acts accordingly.
“One bad mistake on either side and both planets might be radioactive rubble by the end of dinner. But right now they were just friends having a meal together. It was right. It was what Holden had to keep fighting for.”
Together (albeit not always voluntarily), Holden and Miller try to unravel the mystery of cloaked ships and their attacks, the intentions of an aggressive alien protomolecule and, ultimately, to save humanity as a whole. As can be derived from these broad topics, “Leviathan Wakes” features a long, complex story that plays out over many months.
The narrated point of view switches between those of Holden and Miller respectively which is, especially at the beginning of the book, somewhat tiresome because until they finally meet (after about one third of the book!), both their storylines don’t obviously overlap and it’s sometimes hard to get back into the reading flow. Once the storylines merge, though, the switches turn from nuisance to elegant pleasure.
At times, I was basically fighting my way through this book because I felt a complete absence of hope for the situation and our heroes whom I found extremely convincing and relatable. Each and every character was masterfully created – even those on the sidelines – and the developments among them felt so real and plausible that I just couldn’t bring myself to give up.
Plus: Right after a major turning point (Eros Station…) a tiny spark of hope appeared. This, too, was brilliantly orchestrated by Corey and helped me get over the reading-induced blues I was feeling. Holden’s idealism, the antithesis to Miller’s abjectedness, to what Miller calls his “death-self”, also helped a lot to get me through this book. This area of conflict between both men was at times almost painful and stressful to witness but so fascinatingly written that I found it entirely, almost overwhelmingly so, believable and plausible.
The great writing, the suspense (sometimes hardly endurable!), the interesting setting and the richness of the universe in which I even liked someone aptly nicknamed “the Butcher of Anderson Station” – they all made this book an unforgettable experience.
Ultimately, “Leviathan Wakes” is challenging, long, complex and dark but of an overall quality that makes it feel like it pretty much plays in its own league.
If you’re even slightly into science fiction and can make it past what happens on Eros Station, give “Leviathan Wakes” a try. Highly recommended – especially considering the amazing ending!
I have no idea how this book actually made it onto my to-read list. Anyway, it was a quick and sufficiently satisfying read.
It’s a rather simple mystery with an interesting premise: A ranger, our local hero Philip, finds the mangled corpse of a young local woman. Together with the new sheriff, Lane, he tries to find out what happened.
This is a topic we’ve often read about before but this time, it happens on “Rockfish Island”, a backwater island. We get to know quite a few of the locals – many of them Philip’s friends – and try to sleuth our way to the culprit.
“Black Bear Alibi” features some humour, interesting, relatable characters and a decent albeit unspectacular story. The twist at the end was as foreseeable as forgivable.
Annoying were the numerous grammatical and orthographic mistakes that adorned this book and made me think it might have been self-published without the help of editors and proof-readers. Even more gratingly, Fuller doesn’t always get there’s a difference between online messaging and books and, consequently, she tries to convey meaning by misspelling words, e. g. “obbbbjjjjectivvvve” or “alllll”. This is just plain horrible.
I came to this book immediately after having read Sager’s “Home Before Dark” which I devoured breathlessly. Sadly, “Lock Every Door” didn’t live up to my expectations.
It starts out interesting enough: Jules, 25, has lost her parents some years ago, now she has just lost her job and left her boyfriend because he cheated. While she tries to put her life back together, she sleeps on a friend’s couch. This is when she gets a job as an apartment sitter in the “Bartholomew”, a posh apartment building in New York City. Apart from a few weird rules (“no visitors at all”, “every night must be spent at the apartment”) everything seems fine until Jules meets another, rather peculiar, apartment sitter who then proceeds to disappear…
The setting is perfect, the ideas are good but this is a book of missed opportunities because the characters and the building itself are fairly interesting but Sager doesn’t really use that: The apartment sitter who vanishes, Ingrid? Jules just met her three times and immediately believes pretty much everything Ingrid tells her. Nick, the nice and hot surgeon next door? He’s potentially an interesting character but he doesn’t get enough focus by far. Or the residents, or Charlie, the doorman – they all remain flat and shallow. Whereas I’d have liked to get to know them a bit, they’re treated as accessories.
The building features gargoyles – what a chance for an author to evoke even more of a Gothic atmosphere but Sager misses that opportunity as well. Jules even names the gargoyle next to her bedroom “George” but apart from a dream or two, he just sits there on his ledge.
While “Lock Every Door” is still a page turner, it never reaches the quality of “The Last Time I Lied” or “Home Before Dark”. Building up suspense and a latent atmosphere of threat – which I expect from a good thriller – takes time but everything in this book feels rushed. We hardly met Ingrid and gone she is. Dylan, another apartment sitter? Gone before he could take shape. The aging one-hit-wonder author? We hear a bit about her but then she’s (mostly) whisked away.
And then there’s the ending… The mystery behind what happens in the Batholomew is outlandish, absurd and unbelievable. It feels rushed as well – just as if Sager felt he was running out of ideas and had to come to a conclusion. Any conclusion.
No, this, sadly, was very disappointing compared to Riley Sager’s other works and, thus, I can only award a still-generous three stars.
“Home Before Dark” tells the story of the Holt family who moved into a house that “remembers” – and it hasn’t seen much love… In fact, it came cheap because Baneberry Hall is a veritable haunted house. Or is it not? Our hero is Maggie Holt, the daughter, who doesn’t remember much (almost nothing, actually) about the house and their short time in it. After her father Ewan’s death, Maggie inherits the huge house and decides to renovate and sell it; after all, she’s an interior designer and has her own company. There’s more to it, though…
““I have a confession to make,” I eventually say. “Let me guess,” Dane says, deadpan. “Your real name is Windy.” “Close. I didn’t come back just to renovate Baneberry Hall. My real reason for returning is to try to figure out why we left this place the way we did.” “You think there’s more to the story?” “I know there is.” I tell him everything.”
Sager’s narrative switches between passages from “the Book” that Ewan Holt, Maggie’s father, wrote about his family’s short stint at Baneberry Hall 25 years ago and Maggie’s own musings here and now. Often, both timelines feature similar events or mingle with each other which makes things even more interesting.
For me, this novel worked on several levels: The “haunted house” angle has always fascinated me and appeals to my taste for the mysterious. Getting the story told from both the past and the present alternatingly, made for a rare and almost artistic balance that supported the atmosphere because we feel there’s something off but we cannot put our finger on what it is exactly.
“I hold the page close to my face, as if that will help me better make sense of it. I’m still staring at those emphatic question marks when I hear a noise. A creak. Coming from the room next door. The Indigo Room.”
I’m not superstitious, I don’t believe in anything “supernatural”. I do love a good ghost story, though, and this is an excellent one which I didn’t want to put down. There were several key scenes that made me think I had figured it out but the solution in the end was as simple as ingenious – and, of course, I’m not going to spoil it for you. I didn’t see it coming and when I thought about a few seemingly loose threads, I quickly realised I had been doubly fooled!
It’s still not a perfect mystery: Maggie, as likeable as she is, remains largely flat and doesn’t really change or grow much over the course of the action. A few minor characters, e. g. the friendly neighbourhood ex-con, Dane, were a bit cliche and could easily have been improved upon had they gotten a little more time in the limelight (same goes for most secondary characters).
Nevertheless, this was a very satisfying read that prompted me to immediately start on Sager’s “Lock Every Door” and if you, like me, enjoy a good story, a haunted house and chasing shadows (or something more sinister?) – go for this book because…
“Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.”
Here we go again… Yet another Harry Dresden and yet it’s both more of the same as well as different.
The first nine books were all mediocre to me – three stars because I felt generous – and ridiculously stupid for reading nine ok’ish books in a row till the Stockholm Syndrome set fully in with book 10.
So, we’re at number 16 (!) now and most series have become bland, boring and/or been warped beyond recognition (cf. George’sLynley!). In fact, it’s somewhat similar with respect to the “beyond recognition” part:
Harry Dresden, who used to be a “a male chauvinist pig; […] a misogynist arse” by my own words, has turned into a mostly-decent human being. A very long-lived human being (think centuries!) and a wizard to boot.
“It’s not about who they are,” I said quietly. “It’s about who I am. And the example I’m setting.”
Maybe it’s all me who enjoys a Dresden who – in the midst of a pitched battle – thinks that “Sometimes the best defense is a T. rex”. Comic relief, hilarity ensuing while the forces of the unlikely good and the most-definitely evil battle it out. That too is Harry Dresden.
Or maybe it’s Butcher who – by now in his mid-forties – still looks like an irredeemable nerd but has grown together with his wizard hero into something that not only other nerds can respect.
How could I not love someone who explains “home” like this:
“But there’s a deeper meaning to home. Something simpler, more primal. It’s where you eat the best food because other predators can’t take it from you very easily there. It’s where you and your mate are the most intimate. It’s where you raise your children, safe against a world that can do horrible things to them. It’s where you sleep, safe. It’s where you relax. It’s where you dream. Home is where you embrace the present and plan the future. It’s where the books are. And more than anything else, it’s where you build that world that you want.”
Apart from all that, my four stars are still generous because this book feels like Butcher tried (successfully!) to become reacquainted with his characters himself – they’re all there: Murphy, Molly, Mouse, Maggie, Michael, Lara, Thomas – pretty much everyone makes a (more or less) short cameo appearance.
Don’t get me wrong: You’ll feel right at home with this book if you like Dresden. It’s just that “Peace Talks” feels a lot like a transitional book; at its end, nothing is resolved. It’s not a horrible cliffhanger either. It’s just that once you’ve read the final sentence, you’ll realise you’d have been ready for the main action. Which is likely what’s coming up in “Battle Ground”. While it’s not a huge deal, it’s sad that we have to wait yet another few months.
Even worse, though: Having everyone meet Harry again – who is sorting out his legacy anyway already – is a bit like having his life pass by… It feels slightly as if Butcher is working up courage for Harry’s endgame. That, too, could just be me again.
Either way, this book most likely won’t sway you in either direction: If you liked Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden before, this book won’t change that. It might, in fact, inspire more sympathy for Harry.
On the other hand, if you don’t like Harry (yet), you won’t be convinced by reading this book. It doesn’t lend itself to be a starting point for the series either – you’ll hardly know who’s who and why they are as they are, as “Peace Talks” is about how all the Houses, factions and monsters we all know come together to make peace – or shoot to kill?
Secondly, “Peace Talks” is probably some slight nod to us, the readers, who (mostly) held our peace for those six long years after its glorious predecessor, “Skin Game”, was published.
I have high hopes for Dresden, Butcher and, most of all, “Battle Ground”. I just hope that won’t be Harry’s last dance…
“Promise me you’ll fight smart,” I said. She bumped her head against my arm and said, “How would you know if I did?”
Wow, this was such an annoying read! Chloe Sophia Brown comes across as a pampered, snobby whiny, weak damsel in distress who needs rescuing.
From this outset, I already didn’t like her.
Someone who describes herself like this…
“This mind-blowing bore had zero friends, hadn’t traveled in a decade despite plenty of opportunity, liked to code on the weekends, and never did anything that wasn’t scheduled in her planner. Don’t cry for her; she’s in a better place now. Even Heaven can’t be that dull.”
… is simply someone who is wallowing in her own shitty quality of life.
Chloe thinks, feels and behaves like a victim of her fibromyalgia (chronic pain, pressure sensitivity, tiredness, sleep problems, etc.) and Hibbert never ceases to emphasize how horribly suffering her heroine is.
Not only from her illness but from being abandoned by her ex-fiancé, every single friend she ever had (we ask ourselves: what kind of “friends” were those?), her family (apart from her sisters) and who knows whom else. In addition to being ill, Chloe is overweight and black.
At times, I’ve wondered how Hibbert managed to not make her an amputee as well or clinically depressed or maybe blind… Yes, sorry, I’m being sarcastic because Chloe was so annoying.
Then there’s her “love interest”, Redford “Red” Morgan, whose previous relationship was with some kind of glamour girl who oh-so-horribly abused the poor guy: She hated his motorcycle but used it for glamour photos. Wow! What abuse… Furthermore, she is described as somewhat bitchy. It was all so horrible that poor Red (who is, of course, a ginger!) fled London and, gasp, changed and tried something new! What tragic development!
Apart from that he’s an uneducated moron who doesn’t know the word “indisposed” and reacts to it like this:
“He was going to have to buy a bloody dictionary to keep up with her vocab, but he could read between the lines.”
Or he could take some English lessons and, thus, extend his two-hundred-words vocabulary. In addition said vocabulary seems to be dominated by the word “fucking”. It features prominently in every second sentence or thought of his. (Chloe has a similarly obsessive relationship with the word “pussy”…) I’m not averse to some swearing but does it have to be all the time?
“He watched her as closely as he could, which was pretty fucking close.” and next he decides to tell Chloe “You’re cute as fuck, you know that?” – why? Is there really a woman who would want to hear that? (I have no doubt there are enormous numbers of male morons who think so…)
And Chloe swoons at that…
Red, at times, is outright creepy, e. g. when he “[drinks] in every detail like some sexually deprived Victorian bloke”. Urks…
At other times, he’s more of an animal:
“She snorted, rolling her eyes, but he could tell she was pleased. It oozed out of her like jam from a layer cake, and he was lapping the sweetness up, desperate for more.”
Is he a dog?!
When it comes to creepy, Chloe isn’t exactly innocent either:
“This hunger was urging her to sneak inside his head and devour everything she came across. But that would be a little creepy, possibly violent, and probably illegal, so she settled for asking questions.”
“Possibly violent”? Devouring his brain? Thanks, but no thanks!
Last but not least, the book is full of what my children kindly informed me is called “fake-depth” or calendar mottos to me:
“Bliss should be held on to with both hands.” “Good things usually hurt in the end.”
Ultimately, this book failed miserably for me on many levels: For a mindless romance (which I expected) it’s too complicated; for a serious book, it’s too shallow and simple. In the end, to me this book was one of suffering – of Chloe’s and of mine reading this stuff…
That fear was completely unfounded as I loved this book as much as its predecessor. Maybe a little more even since Ng has improved upon both her writing style (which I already liked the first time!) and her story.
Again, we’re thrown right into the “end game” and work our way backwards into the past, learning how what happens in the end, is pretty much inevitable from the very beginning…
The most impressive, though, is Ng’s “cast”: Mia, the artsy photographer, whose mysterious past still haunts her and let’s her lead a nomadic lifestyle with her daughter Pearl. Mia is more of a silent observer, someone who watches and listens. Who won’t judge but offer a shoulder to cry on and an arm to support others.
““Do what it takes,” Pauline had said to her as she had hugged her good-bye.”
And Mia does it. Every single time.
Almost completely altruistic in her behaviour towards others (with her daughter Pearl a notable exception), Mia is the linchpin upon which the entire novel rests – and it works tremendously well.
“It turned out that despite their best intentions, her parents had prepared her exceptionally well for art school.”
Pearl herself is – as one might imagine – not exactly the typical teenager albeit her school life is difficult at times, boys become a very distinct interest, well, and lots of other common issues. Nevertheless, due to her constant moving with her mother, Pearl had to learn to become independent early on and she has become truly empathetic.
Finally, there are the Richardson’s: Mrs. Elena Richardson, the matriarch of the family whose primary agenda is “playing by the rules” and “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”. She thinks of herself as progressive and supportive of those who are worse off than she is. In truth, though, she tries to build up favours with anyone she meets and those who play by her rules are rewarded and those who dare say no to Mrs. Richardson are either “discarded” or even punished for their non-conformity.
Mr. Richardson is more or less an afterthought – he’s, of course, successful in his job and supports his wife out of misplaced loyalty and self-imposed pressure. He does what his wife expects him to do and any kind of small doubt is quickly suppressed by what he considers his duty.
The Richardson’s have four children: Moody, the slightly brutish guy who has a crush on Pearl but doesn’t dare approach her and who is both crushed and spiteful when Pearl cops off with his brother Trip.
Trip is the good-looking type who gets all the girls – and loses interest in them just as quickly as he picked them up. Just Pearl is special…
Lexie has it all figured out: Having known her boyfriend Brian for years, dating him for two, having “done the deed” with him recently, she already pictures her studies at Yale which accepted her, her triumphant return to her hometown as well as subsequent marriage, kids and a sheltered life in suburbia. Little does she know what awaits her only in the few months this book covers, much less of what’s certain and what’s not…
Last but not least among the siblings, there’s Izzy. The black sheep of the family. Isabelle Marie Richardson surely is a misfit in the Richardson family. She was born prematurely and due to the constant critical observation by her mother, has grown wary, sceptical and, paradoxically, to be free-spirited. She is one of the “crazy ones” in that glorious advertisement “Think Different” by Apple.
Technically, there are the McCulloughs, Bebe Chow, a Chinese immigrant, their/her daughter May Ling-Mirabelle and others but while they’re all interesting to read about, they have to take a back seat because the main cast needs all the room in this fine-spun, brilliantly-told narrative about freedom, loss and redemption.
There’s a lot to like even about the more antagonistic characters because Ng’s tremendous talent at painting soulful character portraits full of empathy and understanding – deservedly or not – that every single person feels “real”, right and believable.
Mia’s story, the battle for custody, all of that is heart-rending already but the way especially the child generation acts among each other and towards the adults, are what leaves you breathless and engaged. You may anticipate at some points what’s going to happen but that doesn’t matter at all because of the fabulous writing, the impeccable style and the sheer talent that “Little Fires Everywhere” exudes.
“Mia held her for a moment, buried her nose in the part of Pearl’s hair. Every time she did this, she was comforted by how Pearl smelled exactly the same. She smelled, Mia thought suddenly, of home, as if home had never been a place, but had always been this little person whom she’d carried alongside her.”
Ng is a force of nature when it comes to telling her stories: She starts slow and sometimes, things get slightly confusing but what started with a bang that should be hard to beat will slowly creep up on you, enclose you and finally sweep you away if you let it. It’s a literary landslide and, again, paradoxically, you want to be in it.
Or, to stay within the main motif of the book…
““Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.””
… and, yes, that may be true but as Mia puts it so fittingly…
“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow.”
Please, please, more of this, dear Celeste Ng, and, of course, you, yes, YOU, go and read this book!
“Lydia is dead.”, these three words mark the beginning of Lydia’s journey which we’re about to embark upon. These three words make you think it cannot possibly get worse. Right until it gets worse. A lot worse.
I can relate to this book on so many levels: First and foremost, I’m a father. I’m not prone to nightmares but there’s one that has haunted me countless times since my first child was born – losing a child. Fortunately, the nightmare didn’t become reality and I hope it stays that way.
This is what this book is (partly) about, though: Losing a child. The reasons, the family, the friends (or lack of); everything is believable and feels shockingly truthful. Painfully so, even.
Secondly, as the husband of a woman who made being independent a prerequisite for her moving in with me. A woman who spent the next 20 years lovingly caring for our children, as wise as Solomon, as strong as Hercules, as clever as Gandalf. A woman who then decided – quite unlike Marilyn – there was even more she wanted to do and moved on to get an apprenticeship in a field she loves and where she can apply her skills and learn new ones. She will have finished this apprenticeship before our own children finish theirs.
As we know, Lydia, 16, is dead. She was the daughter of Marilyn and James Lee and had two siblings – her older brother Nathan (“Nath”) and Hannah, her younger sister. “Everything I Never Told you” explores their pasts, their present and, in tiny glimpses, their futures. At the beginning, we find ourselves in 1977 but we’re going to take a ride through the decades that will likely forever be “before Lydia” to the family right to the point where past and present tragically converge. Unobtrusively and narrated with empathy and understanding, it tries to answer the one question every parent would ask: Why?
James is the son of Chinese immigrants. Born in the USA, he is American as he never ceases to tell himself. He knows he looks different compared to his caucasian compatriots and then as, unfortunately, today, this does matter. Thus, James always wants to blend in, tries not to stand out but to do what he feels he has to do. Like being the sole provider for his family and, without wanting to, destroying his wife’s dreams. He never quite manages to overcome his inhibitions due to him being different, though, and he projects his own wishes on his children.
Because Marilyn wanted to be a doctor. She excelled in her classes, she studied hard in pursuit of her life’s dream. All the while harassed by her own mother to instead meet a “nice Harvard man”, marry him and be a good wife and mother. Life happened, though, and instead of a doctor Marilyn became James’ wife and later on she came to the false conclusion “It was a sign, Marilyn decided. For her it was too late.”
Years later, she tries to start anew but fails to achieve her goals once more. She, too, just like James, reacts by putting pressure on her daughter Lydia to achieve Marilyn’s dreams. Lydia doesn’t have a childhood but a series of learning events, “extra credit assignments”, competitions. She doesn’t get to be bad at something or she’s met with even more “incentives” to work harder. Feeling deeply indebted to her mother, Lydia complies. She doesn’t quite know why because she doesn’t really want to do all this.
Nathan on the other hand knows exactly what he wants:
“That fall, when the guidance counselor had asked Nath about his career plans, he had whispered, as if telling her a dirty secret. “Space,” he’d said. “Outer space.” Mrs. Hendrich had clicked her pen twice, in-out, and he thought she was going to laugh. […] Instead Mrs. Hendrich told him there were two routes: become a pilot or become a scientist.”
Nathan wants to go to space and – similarly to his father – he does what he has to do. He tirelessly works towards his goal all the while understanding the tearing his parents do to Lydia:
“Do what everyone else is doing. That’s all you ever said to Lydia. Make friends. Fit in.”, Marilyn tells James and goes on to state that she “didn’t want her to be just like everyone else.” The rims of her eyes ignite. “I wanted her to be exceptional.””.
Nathan is Lydia’s cornerstone and anchor; the one person who truly understands her and who tries to alleviate her situation. When he, too, seemingly deserts her, Lydia feels put on a path that can only lead to one conclusion…
And, yet, whereas we, the readers, know what is to come from those first three words, Lydia herself finds a way to deal with all the pushing and pulling in opposite directions by her parents:
“If she fails physics, if she never becomes a doctor, it will be all right. She will tell her mother that. And she will tell her mother, too: it’s not too late. For anything. She will give her father back his necklace and his book. She will stop holding the silent phone to her ear; she will stop pretending to be someone she is not.”
Last but not least there’s Hannah, the youngest daughter and the one mostly overlooked by her parents. Even though she may not be able to express her fears and thoughts, she’s often spot-on with her observations and is very sensitive to the mood in her family. Whenever she gets any attention from her parents, she grows, only to wilt soon after in Lydia’s shadow.
Ultimately, “Everything I Never Told You” is about what all characters never told each other. It is about open and latent xenophobia in our society. It is about parents trying to model their children according to their, the parents, wishes instead of the children’s. Celeste Ng spins all this elegantly and seemingly effortlessly into a force of a nature of a novel that blew me away, reduced me to rubble and helped rebuild myself. Ng’s writing is beautiful and evocative:
“[Her hair] darkened from golden-wheat to amber. It kinked and curled like a fiddlehead fern. It amazed him that he could have such an effect on anyone. As she dozed in his arms, her hair slowly relaxed, and when she woke, it had stretched back to its usual waves.”
If it hadn’t been for the ending as it is, this book would already have been a solid four-star read. With the terrible and crushing conclusion that still allows for hope and redemption, though, “Everything I Never Told You” becomes an instant classic that everyone but especially parents should read – right after telling their children the one simple truth that can literally and metaphorically save lives:
“Hemmersmoor ist der Eingang zur Hölle.”, so endet der Klappentext und genau so ist mein Eindruck nach der Lektüre dieser Ansammlung von lose miteinander verwobenen Erzählungen über das fiktive Dorf Hemmersmoor und seine mehr als eigenartigen Bewohner.
Leider ist die hier heraufbeschworene “Hölle” jedoch eine literarische, denn im Grunde ist das, was Kiesbye sich hier ausgedacht hat, ein obszöner, widerlicher Morast der Gewalt-Pornographie. Ein Beispiel:
“Wir waren noch immer im Stimmbruch, als wir […], […] und […] vergewaltigten.”
Damit ist dann auch schon alles wesentliche zum Inhalt gesagt; alle Geschichten drehen sich um Aberglaube…
“Käthe Grimm war dem Blick eines heulenden Hundes gefolgt, als sie siebzehn Jahre alt war, und seitdem sah sie Irrlichter und schauerliche Trauerprozessionen nach Einbruch der Nacht und verfolgte die Hochzeiten der Untoten”
“Ich hatte mir meine Rache so lange ausgemalt, und ich hatte [ihn] nicht genug leiden sehen.”
… Brutalität und Grausamkeit.
Es fängt klein damit an, daß statt Blätter zwischen den Seiten schwerer Bücher zu trocken, diese “Methode an Eidechsen und Blindschleichen” erprobt wird und dabei vom Autor geradezu genußvoll die letzten Zuckungen der Tiere beschrieben werden.
Nun könnte man mir entgegenhalten, dies möge dem Zweck dienen, die Grausamkeit der Kinder darzustellen und quasi die Szenerie literarisch aufzustellen. Leider ist es jedoch so, daß derart viel Gewalt beschrieben wird, daß ein Abstumpfungseffekt unausweichlich ist – ab einem bestimmten Punkt ist auch der “Ekel-Faktor” einfach ausgereizt.
Auch wenn man über Menschen schreibt, die geradezu klischeehaft selbstsüchtig, egoistisch, eifersüchtig und rachsüchtig sind, gleichzeitig aber wehleidig und voller Selbstmitleid, so kann man dies doch auf eine zumindest spannende oder zumindest interessante Art und Weise tun. “Hemmersmoor” läßt jedoch auch dies schmerzlich vermissen – egal wie dramatisch die Erzählung ist, Kiesbye erzählt monoton, schleppend und manchmal geradezu einschläfernd langweilig vom Tun seiner Protagonisten; “erschreckend direkt” nennt das wiederum der Klappentext. Ich nenne es “erschreckend banal”.
Erschwerend hinzu kommt, daß es absolut keine Identifikationsfiguren in Hemmersmoor gibt – jede einzelne Figur wird auf ihre Weise schuldig an anderen. Mal gravierender, z. B. beim lapidar erzählten Baby-Mord oder Vergewaltigung, und manchmal dann etwas weniger, z. B. bei der an den Katzenschwanz gebundenen Dose.
Keine der Figuren dieses Buches zeigt auch nur ansatzweise Anteilnahme oder echte Empathie; man schämt sich vielleicht kurzfristig ein wenig, aber es dominiert das “Wegducken”, das Wegsehen und Weghören. Die Dorf”gemeinschaft” ist in Wahrheit ein völlig unrealistischer und absurder Pfuhl menschlichen Versagens.
Die eigene Schuld wird dabei in den Hintergrund geschoben und grob verharmlost:
“»Ich erwarte nicht, dass deine Eltern mich mit offenen Armen empfangen, aber was geschehen ist, war ein dummer Jungenstreich. Ich wollte deinen Bruder nicht umbringen.«”
Mißgunst, Schadenfreude und Neid regieren Hemmersmoor und es wird sich weidlich ergötzt am echter oder, wie im nachfolgenden Beispiel, falscher “Schande”:
“[Ihre] Schande, ein Kind unter ihrem Herzen zum Traualtar tragen zu müssen, brachte Leben in einen trostlosen, matschigen Februar.”
Merkwürdig ist auch, daß es keine Polizei oder andere Ordnungsmacht zu geben scheint; da wird eine ganz Familie öffentlich ermordet, ihr Haus niedergebrannt und ihre Leichen verscharrt und niemanden kümmert es. Ja, es ist wohl nur einige Jahre nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg, während dessen die Nationalsozialisten den millionenfachen Mord an Juden, Behinderten, Homosexuellen und vielen weiteren Gruppen begangen haben. Auch in diesen Fällen hat die Bevölkerung weitestgehend weggesehen, aber hier geht es um Menschen in der Mitte der Dorfgesellschaft. Selbst wenn man kritiklos die Abwesenheit jedweder Ordnungsmacht akzeptiert – in diesem Dorf wird jedes Geschehnis zum eigenen Vorteil genutzt, dieses aber nicht?
Das alles ist sehr schade, denn Kiesbye gelingen immer mal wieder Formulierungen, die mehr versprechen, als das Buch letztlich halten kann:
“Ich hatte mich im Jahr zuvor zur Ruhe gesetzt und seit Jahrzehnten nichts von meiner Familie gehört. Ich hatte sie an den Rand des Vergessens getrieben und dort gefangen gehalten, wie wilde Tiere.”
Dergleichen kreative und wirkungsstarke Bilder werden aber immer wieder durch platte Versuche, einen Schock-Effekt zu erzielen untergraben:
“Ricos Augen hatten mich fasziniert. Ich musste mir so ein Paar besorgen.”
“Hemmersmoor” ist eine vertane Chance, das Dorfleben gerade so zu verfremden, daß es tatsächlich spannend, erschreckend und, wenn es sein muß, auch brutal wirkt. In der vorliegenden Fassung jedoch ist es nur abstoßend, monoton und – über weite Strecken – einfach nur langweilig.
Mit Ausnahme einiger weniger gelungener sprachlicher Konstrukte weist “Hemmersmoor” auch keinerlei Eigenschaften auf, die diese Buch-gewordene Gewalt-Orgie rehabilitieren könnten.
Ich jedenfalls fühle mich nach dieser Lektüre beschmutzt und angeekelt wie schon seit langem nicht mehr.
This is a strange book. From what its protagonist, Christopher, says about himself, it sounds like he’s somewhere on the autism scale. Once confronted with criticism about how he portrays Christopher, the author, Haddon, (from now on: The Weasel) takes the easiest possible way out:
“2) curious incident is not a book about asperger’s. it’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. indeed he never uses the words ‘asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (i slightly regret that fact that the word ‘asperger’s’ was used on the cover). if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. it’s as much a novel about us as it is about christopher.”
“Asperger’s” is on the cover but it’s not what the book is about. Ooookaaayyy…
But, hey, at least to The Weasel, he has a good reason for this. From the same site:
“1) i know very little about the subject. i did no research for curious incident (other than photographing the interiors of swindon and paddington stations). […] imagination always trumps research.” (Emphasis by me!)
“imagination always trumps research” – so, yes, The Weasel just pulled something from his arse and put it on (e)paper.
There is a lot I could say about the demerits of this book but I’ll leave it to someone who actually seems to be an expert on the subject matter:
Recently, I watched the series “Band of Brothers” and was surprised by its quality. The often-used introductory statements of the former members of the 101st were very impressive and lent the series a lot of credibility.
After having watched the final episode, I decided I wanted to read Ambrose’s book that served as the source material. Little did I know what awaited me…
While the series provided me with a consistent, logical stream of events, the book simply adds anecdote after anecdote. There’s hardly any reflection on those anecdotes either and if Ambrose tries to add his analysis, it’s sadly lacking, simple-minded and features lots of “Hooray patriotism” that’s part of what actually caused the war he narrates about.
At times, Ambrose tries to actually support his point of view by citing other works – unfortunately, they’re mostly of similarly questionable quality as his own book. In other cases, Ambrose references books that were written in the immediate aftermath of the war and, thus, still strongly subjectively influenced.
I for one, though, prefer a proper history book on World War II and not a collection of anecdotes. Especially the strong hero worship Ambrose resorts to all too often…
“The coordination with British artillery was outstanding. So was Winters.”
… truly annoys me: From what I’ve read about Richard Winters beyond the praise Ambrose never ceases to sing, Winters must have been a great man and soldier. So let his deeds speak for himself, i. e. Wikipedia calmly tells us that “Winters agreed for the statue to bear his resemblance on the condition that the monument would be dedicated to all junior officers who served and died during the Normandy landings.” when they erected a statue at Utah Beach.
The series itself actually shows the war as it must have been – grim, bloody, horrible. Whenever the former soldiers get to talk about their experiences, they often get teary-eyed whereas Ambrose belittles what they got through by making it look easier than it could have been. And, in fact, Ambrose stoops so low that he compares the weapon fire to Fourth of July fireworks:
“War provides more meat to satisfy that lust than any other human activity. The fireworks displays are far longer lasting, and far more sensational, than the most elaborate Fourth of July display.”
Wow, just wow. Please excuse me for a moment while I vomit.
Sometimes, Ambrose tries to get in some German quotes into his narrative. Unfortunately, these parts obviously got very little attention by him or his editors:
“Hinkle, Hinkle, ist das du“
To me, a German, this reads like a verbatim translation of “is that you?” whereas proper German would be “bist Du das?”. It’s a small issue but it’s just as annoying as the military abbreviations Ambrose liberally uses. Yes, after a few uses I can imagine “CP” stands for Command Post”, “OP” for “Outpost” or “ETO” for “European Theatre of Operations” but till I figured it out, it was confusing for no good reason.
And while Ambrose obviously is a fan of “Ike” Eisenhower, he’s not good enough to avoid belittling other famous commanders like Montgomery:
“Ike needed the 101st and 82d in the line. It was a question of timing. Eisenhower wanted to attack even before New Year’s Eve, but Monty, commanding the forces (all American) on the northern shoulder of the Bulge, stalled and shivered and made excuses, so it did not happen.”
A little xenophobia bordering on racism (another cause for the war) isn’t something Ambrose is much concerned with either:
“Had Reese been a Soviet, German, or Japanese soldier, this little nonincident probably would have turned out differently.”
(The “non-incident” he’s talking about is severe, continued sexual harassment of civilians, by the way.)
War crimes are talked about but there’s no criticism at all:
““You shoot him,” Moone replied. “The war is over.” Skinny Sisk stepped forward, leveled his M-1 at the fleeing man, and shot him dead.”
Pretty much the only decent thoughts expressed in “Band of Brothers” are, interestingly, those of Richard Winters again who remembers reaching a concentration camp:
“The memory of starved, dazed men,” Winters wrote, “who dropped their eyes and heads when we looked at them through the chain-link fence, in the same manner that a beaten, mistreated dog would cringe, leaves feelings that cannot be described and will never be forgotten. The impact of seeing those people behind that fence left me saying, only to myself, ‘Now I know why I am here!’ ”
I will definitely avoid Ambrose as an author from now on and stick to my history books.
So, bad books, work sucks but it’s not too bad? A bit of escapism would be nice? Quickly, grab a fluffy romance novel and laugh, cry, cringe. Sometimes at the same time.
That pretty much covers how I came to read this book – and for a long time, I was absolutely loving it because probably most of us have “leaned back against [our] car and grinned like a fool”. This is Bree Prescott, heroine in this wonderfully sappy romance, fawning over Archer Hale, “the local, mute loner” – well, you get the gist.
This book features a lot of those moments and they were definitely a huge part of what made this book appeal to me. The writing is… adequate. It’s certainly not great but it fits the overall mood quite well:
“I stared at him, our eyes meeting and tangling just like the first time we had met.”
As long as you don’t actually think about “tangling eyes”, you’ll be fine. There are even a few insights in there that were unexpected, at least for me:
“Maybe there was no right or wrong, no black or white, only a thousand shades of grey when it came to pain and what we each held ourselves responsible for.”
And, at times, it gets very, well, soggy…
“He moved toward me, his lips parting slightly, the look on his face a mix between uncertainty and blatant lust.”
What follows is exactly what you’re thinking of right now. Spelled out. Blatantly. If you like that, you won’t be disappointed.
At times, I actually loved this book and was already thinking how this review would read – raving, that I was sure of. I was touched by little things that reminded me of my wife of more than 20 years. Everything was hunky-dory.
And right before we were happily riding into the sunset, Sheridan royally messes up.
I won’t go into the details but it’s so horribly bad, I felt cheated, lied to – belittled as the reader, Sheridan’s audience. I don’t need to be taken overly seriously but there are limits to my patience and while I suspend disbelief, experience and parts of my brain for a good romance, I won’t be fooled.
With the last few chapters Sheridan really manages to totally destroy the entire book for me. I’m still reeling right now because I still feel abused.
Without that, I’d have awarded this book four stars at least, with this “twist” I cannot help make that two only and an author I will avoid from now.
This is my second approach to the work of Ernest Hemingway and I thoroughly hated the experience.
I dimly remember my first attempt when I had just seen “Hemingway”, 1988’s mini series about the author. I think at the time I read “A Farewell to Arms” and put it aside about half way through.
Now, more than 30 years later, I thought it was time to revisit Hemingway and maybe I would like his work better this time. Cautiously, though, I opted for “The Old Man and the Sea”, fearing I might still be bored.
Which I was. Thoroughly. The old fisherman going out to fish, ill-prepared, being pulled out onto the deep sea in a small boat, a skiff, by a fish that’s about as large as said skiff, battling it out, may be impressive to an author who loved bull-fighting, women and drinking hard but it’s nothing I care about anymore.
I’ve been a Bruno fan from the very first book on. I enjoyed reading so much about himself, his friends and the entire town. For quite a few books, things were developing nicely and Bruno became a favourite of mine.
With this book, this ended.
It all starts interesting enough with the death of an old sheep farmer and his children suspecting foul play when they find out they’ve effectively been disinherited. Bruno promises them to look into the entire issue and does fairly well, using his expertise of rural laws and regulations – I was actually getting my hopes up of getting a real Bruno experience. Like a welcome mixture of…
“Sex, drugs, murder—and cruelty to animals.”
… as Walker puts it at one point.
The mystery that starts out so well, takes a backseat to a confusing tale of an aging rockstar, his adult children, a Russian oligarch, his daughter, the Ukraine conflict and world politics…
“Chateau Rock” reads like Walker is simply trying to boast about his cultural knowledge, e. g. About music and, thus, let’s Bruno, a rural French flic say this:
“He recognized the notes of the Spanish classic Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. At home, he had a CD of Paco de Lucía playing it on guitar while backed by an orchestra, the delicacy of the guitar against the deep sound of the strings and the sharp counterpoint of the clarinet.”
But, ok, maybe Bruno suddenly developed a taste for Spanish guitar music who knows… Even the previous cooking sessions that used to be lovingly described while showing a self-reflecting Bruno, sometimes even getting a new insight into the investigation, feel forced and are entirely superfluous. They add nothing this time but are page after page of transcribed recipes – not what I’m reading Bruno for.
Isabelle makes her usual cameo appearance but everyone else is severely neglected by Walker: Florence, Gilles, the Baron are all mentioned but play hardly any role at all and even rarely serve as bystanders as they sometimes did in the past.
Even Bruno himself is weirdly unlike himself: Not only does he make several potentially severe rookie mistakes (which, magically, turn out to be non-issues) and he does a few things that make him (rightly!) question himself:
“his self-doubts about his treatment of […]. He knew it was standard police procedure, but it was not the way he liked to work.”
Walker has lost me with this latest instalment in a series I used to love. Very sad.
Schon seit Jahrzehnten habe ich eine Schwäche für Frankreich.
Allerdings ist mein Französisch doch inzwischen sehr, sehr “eingerostet”, so daß eine Kommunikation auch stark von Gestik und Mimik abhängt. Insofern bin ich immer dankbar, wenn man sich – meist lachend – auf halbem Wege entgegen kommt. Andererseits aber verbindet Deutschland und Frankreich nach Jahrhunderten der (milde ausgedrückt) Rivalität eine im Vergleich dazu noch junge Freundschaft.
Nimmt man dazu noch Verdun, Izieu, Lyon und all die anderen Gräuel, die Deutschland, mein Land, seinem Nachbarn Frankreich angetan hat, so ist es keine Selbstverständlichkeit, daß meine Familie und ich immer mit offenen Armen empfangen wurden.
Insofern sei auch geschrieben, was ich sonst nur beim Überqueren der Grenze ausrufe: “Vive la France!”
Seit einigen Jahren bereits nimmt ein interessanter Trend zu: Ausgerechnet deutsche Autoren wie Jörg “Commissaire Dupin” Bong (unter dem Pseudonym Jean-Luc Bannalec) oder eben, wie hier, Alexander Oetker, schreiben über Frankreich. Vielleicht ist dies auch Martin Walkers erfolgreicher Bruno-Reihe zu verdanken; auf jeden Fall aber komme ich nicht umhin, diese Bücher zumindest mal probehalber “anzulesen”.
Oetker, um dessen bereits drittes Buch um seinen Commissaire Luc Verlain es hier geht, siedelt diesen in der Aquitaine (deutsch: Aquitanien) im äußersten Südwesten Frankreichs an. Hier lebt und arbeitet der frühere Star-Polizist von Paris aufgrund der Krebserkrankung seines Vaters und löste in den ersten beiden Büchern, “Retour: Luc Verlains erster Fall” und “Château Mort: Luc Verlains zweiter Fall”, bereits mehrere Fälle mit Intelligenz, Empathie und Menschlichkeit – eine Mischung, die mich sofort angesprochen hat.
Auch im vorliegenden Buch, das – eher untypisch für Frankreich-Krimis – im Winter spielt, gelingt es Oetker, eine interessante Geschichte um Austernfischer, eine “Bürgerwehr” sowie zwei Morde zu erzählen, dabei auch der Beziehung zwischen Verlain und seiner Freundin Anouk hinreichend Raum zu verschaffen, ohne aber die Spannung zu vernachlässigen.
So gern ich auch “Winteraustern” gelesen habe, so bleibt davon aber leider nicht viel zurück, denn auch wenn Oetker immer mal wieder zaghaft versucht, Sozial- und Gesellschaftskritik (z. B. über die unsäglichen Zustände in den Pariser Banlieue) unterzubringen: Viel Substanz haben seine durchaus unterhaltsamen Krimis nicht.
Verlain selbst wird von Oetker noch mit Charakter ausgestattet, aber das Talent reicht wohl nicht, um auch die Nebenfiguren noch lebensecht und glaubwürdig zu gestalten. Anouk (die harte Kickbox-Polizistin mit dem weichen Kern), Yacine (böser Vorstadt-Kleinkrimineller, dessen Leben durch die Begegnung mit Verlain zum Guten gewendet wurde), Etxeberria (der Ex-Trinker-flic und Vorzeige-Baske) – sie alle bleiben schemenhaft, klischeehaft und können nicht wirklich überzeugen.
Womöglich ist dies aber auch unausweichlich, wenn man eigentlich sein gesamtes Erwachsenenleben (Oetker ist Jahrgang 1982) für die Mediengruppe RTL gearbeitet hat…
Was bleibt, sind ein paar Stunden angenehmer Leseunterhaltung mit einem sympathischen Commissaire, ein Augenrollen wegen der allerletzten Seiten und – bei aller Kritik – wohlmeinende vier Sterne, die eigentlich drei sein müßten…
I had just read a somewhat mediocre book when I found out Lisa Regan (whom I always want to spell Reagan because whenever I read one of her books, I’m reminded of the late cowboy/ultra-conservative president) had published another of her Josie-Quinn thrillers.
Regan’s books rarely feature something new and exciting but on the other hand, they rarely disappoint because Josie, a small-town detective, and her team are interesting to read about – and quite often the story unfolds at breakneck speed.
This instalment in the series is no exception to either of those two sides of the coin:
“Josie stood in place, her feet concrete blocks. “We believe that Trinity was abducted by a serial killer.””
What a way to break such news to the family…
Josie’s long-lost twin sister, roving reporter Trinity, now fallen from her network’s graces, is abducted – and by a serial killer to boot.
“Josie’s heart ached for her twin. “That’s terrible.””
This is either a recipe for a literary disaster or something good. Fortunately, while this book is not a highlight of the series, it’s quite enjoyable while still being nothing special.
While the story is interesting and engaging, I saw every plot “twist” coming from miles away – up to the very last sentence in the book. Sometimes, going back to the well-known, successful formulas can actually be pleasant. This is such a case for me.
There are a few instances in which Josie and her team make some truly stupid mistakes for which I wanted to shout at them but, ultimately, this Josie Quinn thriller won’t disappoint (if you liked her this far!) and I’m going to stick with her for the time being.
This is the story of a family, holidaying in Nantucket over the summer each year. We’re getting an insight into their life during the eponymous “Summer of ‘69”.
Exalta, the grandparent generation, is the matriarch of the family. Her husband, Penn, passed away years ago and is idolised by Exalta who herself has been a prisoner of the (sometimes questionable) morals of the time but is on her way to make the best of the tumultuous times.
Exalta’s daughter, Kate, is part of the parent generation. Her first husband, Wilder, who served in the Korean War, died shortly after coming home while cleaning his gun. Wilder is the father of Kate’s daughters Blair and Kirby and her son Tiger whereas her third daughter, Jessie, is her second husband’s child. David, Jessie’s father, is a lawyer and made sure Kate got the life insurance payout after Wilder’s death. David is such a great guy, that instead of talking to his binge-drinking wife, he passive-aggressively avoids her completely – to which she responds by buying something huge…
Tiger has quit college to go to war in Vietnam and finds out that’s what he wants to do. Of course, he’s the good kind of soldier and rescues a young boy whose mother was killed (but she was Viet Cong, of course!) instead of massacring innocent villagers, using Napalm and Agent Orange like the rest of them (cf. My Lai).
Kate is so upset about his leaving that she starts drinking heavily. Well, Kate, wait till you see the pictures of what Tiger and his nice buddies did in Vietnam…
Her oldest daughter, Blair, is married to Angus (whose brother, Joey, she used to date) and is expecting their first child. Angus is mostly married to his job at NASA, though, and is working on the planned moon landing while possibly cheating on Blair.
Blair’s sister Kirby is a bit younger; a young adult with a secret that changed her outlook on life. Kirby strives to be more independent and, thus, finds herself a job on Martha’s Vineyard instead of summering with her family in Nantucket. From a young age on, Kirby wanted to be a rebel and, thus, went on a march with Dr. King and her teacher. She rather actively “befriends” the police (the nice guys routinely murdering coloured people in the USA, cf. George Floyd) while at it; slightly defeating the purpose.
She’s quite principled as well – unless the guy’s hot in which case she tells him off (his parents might not approve!) to later date him again when nobody will know it…
Finally, there’s Jessie: Jessie has just turned 13 and falls for Pick, 16, the son of the caretaker of her family’s summer home in Nantucket. Unfortunately for her, while he’s trying to get to second base with her, he’s working on another girl in parallel. Once that girl agrees to “go steady”, Jessie’s dismissed. Just in case, though, he keeps in touch with her as her penpal. Jessie also routinely steals when under pressure but her grandmother, Exalta, quickly fixes that for her to “save face”. Exalta doesn’t really want to know the reasons either, she just grounds Jessie for a week.
There are other characters like Bill, Pick’s grandfather, Bill’s hippie child-neglecting commune-living daughter Lorraine (AKA Lavender), the grabby tennis teacher, the pseudo-feminist tennis teacher, some of the “upper echelon”, etc. etc. but you get the gist.
Why do I tell you all this when I usually just skip to the nitty-gritty? Because you should know what this book is about before you stumble into it, knowing nothing – like I did. I have no idea why this book made it to my “to-read” list and I probably wouldn’t have read it in the first place had I known what I was in for.
By now, you might come to the conclusion that I’m not exactly fond of “Summer of ‘69”. Surprisingly (and somewhat shamefully), that’s not the case. In fact, I really enjoyed reading this multi-generation family soap opera of a book.
Sure, while writing this review, I feel like I should hate every single person that is even mentioned in passing in this book and, yet, it’s a feel-good summer read which is what I wanted. And now a storm is brewing here – must be karma for actually liking this.
“Ich nannte sie eine Schwärmerin und Kunstfee. Dafür nannte sie mich: Homo Faber”
Es muß in den frühen 90’er Jahren gewesen sein, als ich im Bücherschrank meiner Mutter ein Buch im recht nüchtern und sachlich gestalteten weißen Schutzumschlag sah – “Max Frisch”, “Homo faber” und “Bibliothek Suhrkamp” stand dort. Suhrkamp kannte ich – sonst nichts. (Heute weiß ich, daß es sich um die Hardcover-Ausgabe aus dem Jahre 1962 handelte.)
Ich war damals 16, ein seltsamer Vogel, der immens viel Zeit am Computer verbrachte und ansonsten viel las. So traf ich zum ersten Mal auf Faber…
Walter Faber, ein durch und durch unsentimentaler, nüchterner Techniker, der an nichts glaubt, sondern ein Mann der Wissenschaft ist, trifft nach diversen kurzlebigen Frauenbekanntschaften eine junge Frau – Elisabeth, von ihm jedoch Sabeth genannt- die ihn nicht mehr loslassen wird. Eine ganz besondere Liebesgeschichte. Doch letztlich ist dies eine auf vielfältige Weise tragische Geschichte. Wie hätte ich dem mit 16 widerstehen können?
Ich verschlang das Buch. Ich wollte Faber sein; natürlich der unantastbare, technophile Faber, der Ingenieur, der die Welt sieht, wie sie ist und sie verändert… Die weniger schönen Seiten des “Homo Faber” blendete ich gründlich aus.
Ich ging beruflich in die IT und wurde tatsächlich ein bißchen wie Faber.
Das Buch wurde eines meiner absoluten Lieblingsbücher – Fabers und Sabeths und ihrer Geschichte wegen.
Rund 30 Jahre sind seither vergangen. Ich bin verheiratet und habe drei Kinder, die jedoch keine Kinder mehr sind. Ich bin immer noch in der IT. Ein wenig wie Faber gewesen zu sein, hat mir nicht immer gut getan.
Aus Neugier habe ich “Homo Faber” nach all diesen Jahren erneut in die Hand genommen. Dieses Mal als eBook, auf dem Kindle. Walter Faber würde es zu schätzen wissen.
Ich war überrascht, wie anders ich das Buch dieses Mal erlebte: Faber, dessen Alter im Buch ich nun nahezu erreicht habe, kann ich besser verstehen. Seine Reise nach Guatemala, seine Unterbrechung eben dieser Reise.
Vor allem aber: Fabers und Sabeths Reise von Paris nach Rom hatte beim ersten Mal “gefühlt” sehr viel mehr Raum eingenommen. Im Grunde war es die Reise (sowohl die tatsächliche als auch die metaphorische), die mich faszinierte; die Figur des Faber und seine Sicht der Welt.
Die Welt vor Sabeth kann Faber verstehen – zumindest hat er eine ganz klare Idee von ihr:
“Wir leben technisch, der Mensch als Beherrscher der Natur”
Die Liebesgeschichte mit Sabeth ist immer noch schön, äußerst behutsam und mit großem Einfühlungsvermögen und Empathie erzählt.
Jetzt jedoch verfolgte ich geradezu schmerzlich, wie Fabers Welt nach dem Unglück vollkommen aus den Fugen gerät und er sie auch nicht mehr verstehen kann:
“Diskussion mit Hanna! – über Technik (laut Hanna) als Kniff, die Welt so einzurichten, daß wir sie nicht erleben müssen.”
Hannahs Kritik an “[der] Weltlosigkeit des Technikers” kann (und will) Faber nicht verstehen. Ohne wirklich zu verstehen, wie es geschehen konnte, ist Faber schuldlos schuldig geworden und zerbricht vollkommen daran. Die Welt, die er zu kennen glaubte, wird ihm fremd.
Mit 16 hatte ich am Schluß des Buches noch Hoffnung für Faber – jedoch mit älteren Augen gelesen, bleibt davon nichts übrig. So oder so wird es für Walter Faber keine Zukunft geben – ohne es zu wollen, hat er alles – sich selbst eingeschlossen – zerstört.
“Hanna hat immer schon gewußt, daß ihr Kind sie einmal verlassen wird; aber auch Hanna hat nicht ahnen können, daß Sabeth auf dieser Reise gerade ihrem Vater begegnet, der alles zerstört –”
Ein wunderbares, schönes, schmerzliches Buch, das jeder (mindestens) ein Mal lesen sollte.
“The past will hunt you down” it says right there on the cover and I wish it was sarcasm by Patterson to put it there. Because the past hunts only him down.
Let’s start at the beginning, though: In typical Patterson redneck manner, he lets Cross witness the state-sponsored murder of a killer he put away – right after Cross framed the guy… Cross himself about the framing part:
“You might ask if I believed the ends justified the means, and I’d answer that in this case, yes.”
Wow, just wow. But, hey, we’re not yet done with such crap because next to believing in state-sponsored murder, god and similar sources of evil, e. g. patriotism, Cross is just plain unbelievably dumb (how that reflects on his creator is left as an exercise to the reader…). An example: Right before heading deep down into an underground bunker (!) of one of those “preppers”, he asks his friend Sampson:
“I’m not back in an hour, use the Find My Friends app and come get me.”
Since our author obviously thinks he needs to be up-to-date with blackmail practices, he showcases his deep knowledge about crypto-currencies by letting a nerd (of all things…) say the following:
“The Ethereum stopped moving,” he [the nerd] said. “Okay,” I said. “Where is it?” “In two hundred and fourteen accounts spread out all over the world. Some of it has been downloaded to so-called hard wallets, but I have the codes for them. Not a Bitcoin of it has been spent, though. As far as I can tell.” “So it’s just sitting there?”
You’re not required to know but Ethereum and Bitcoin are two different crypto-currencies and the above is like saying “he didn’t spend a Dollar from the thousands of Euro”. It just makes no sense and simply displays how ignorant the author actually is.
But let’s put these blunders aside – is it a decent story? Well, it’s not too bad but, unfortunately, we’ve ready it all before – Jannie running? Check! Nana Mama being an annoying wise-crack? Check! Ali being… Well, I won’t spoil that one for you but, hey, “the (history) book on the shelf, Is always repeating itself” – WATERLOO! (Yes, Abba is much more entertaining!)
Patterson doesn’t stop at repeating himself, though, no: He even puts in large portions of previous investigations, including some Kyle Craig crap and other rehashed nonsense.
And then there’s the ending… Again, I won’t “spoil” (haha!) it for you but, honestly? How cheap can one author get?
Seriously, James Patterson is dead to me. And nothing of value was lost.
“(Confession time: that moment, when the humans or augmented humans realize you’re really here to help them. I don’t hate that moment.)”
It doesn’t happen often but I’m running out of words. So, go andreadmypreviousreviews first, I’ll be waiting here for you. Everything I stated before still holds true for this book.
This first full-length Murderbot Diaries novel proves that Wells can obviously write at any length without ever being overly verbose or even boring.
“Network Effect” starts (mostly) peacefully and pretty similarly to the previous novellas. It’s all there – Dr. Mensah, her family, friends, colleagues and, most importantly, Murderbot who (yes, “which” just wouldn’t do!) is still socially “challenged” with many but not with all…
“It was just me-the-SecUnit they didn’t like. (That didn’t apply to the seven kids. I was illicitly trading downloads via the feed with three of them.)”
… as is, as shown, the friendly humour. First and foremost, though, Murderbot keeps developing in several significant ways (none of which I’m going to spoil for you!) but keeps up with his “strong convictions”…
“Just clients. And if anyone or anything tried to hurt them, I would rip its intestines out.”
We get to know new “humans”, we meet another old friend and an original story I enjoyed a lot.
All in all, this novel left me yearning for more due to its cleverness, creativity, smartness and all the exciting and suspenseful action. Most of all, though, because Murderbot is one of the most relatable characters in a book I’ve ever come across.
In my review about “Exit Strategy” I wrote I don’t love Murderbot. I was wrong.
A Route 53 record set, to point to
the server (so I have a simple name to give to my son’s friends’
A custom record from the AWS Instance
Scheduler, so that
we can have the server stop automatically at bed time, and start up
again the next day (saving cost as well as being a parental control of
So, this stack has to be deployed along with the Instance
and it assumes that you called that stack “instance-scheduler” (should
probably parameterize that). But, hopefully this is useful to someone
Some tasks to do in the future:
Get the server to update to the latest minecraft server automatically
Push some of the configuration into the template: right now, the
template starts the EC2 instance but doesn’t auto-start the server.
It’s expected that you’ll want to customize the server.properties
before starting it the first time. Then, you can enable it with sudo
systemctl enable minecraft-bedrock-server.service and start it with
sudo systemctl start minecraft-bedrock-server.service
Whereas the latter is (almost) purely humorous, though, “The Murderbot Diaries” deliver on several levels:
– They most certainly are funny. Usually not the over-the-top thigh-slapper kind of funny but there’s always a bit of melancholy around the corner. Or the humour is laced with mild regret.
– While I have no clue who “NPR” is, I agree with him that “We are all a little bit Murderbot.“. At least we would like to be. Or maybe even strive to. Because Murderbot, in its ethics and morals, actually surpasses quite a few of us. (Unfortunately, if this applies to you, you won’t notice…) (Or because it can just download from entertainment feeds without worrying and binge-watch stuff that sounds truly cool. )
– Last but not least, Murderbot appeals to my inner nerd: A SecUnit! Super-human strength, reflexes, built-in weapons, travelling space (while binge-watching!), searching for meaning, for what it wants to do – who could resist?
– It’s exciting and you know what’s going to happen when Murderbot simplay states “I shut my risk assessment module down.”
Despite all the challenges it faces (battles, almost wiping itself out, etc.), the truly difficult situations are (seemingly) handled with ease: “I had a complex emotional reaction.”
The novelty has worn off by now, of course, but the thrill of something new, exciting and wonderful has been replaced by recognition, trust in a positive outcome and a feeling like coming home.
I wouldn’t go as far as Ann Leckie (“I love Murderbot!”; although, re-reading the previous paragraph… ) but Martha Wells and her Murderbot actually changed my mind about the entire Science Fiction genre (was: Staring elsewhere and hoping it goes away on its own; is: “Hm… Maybe there’s more like this?”) and – as whoever knows me will attest to – changing my mind borders on the Herculean efforts…
The Murderbot Diaries strangely appeal to me. As I’m still on my way to the full length novel, recently published, I’m wondering at the simple elegance and straightforwardness of the novellas.
This second instalment in the series is, thankfully, pretty much more of the same in a very good way. We still get a good view of a “construct” that’s basically a robot with human parts – and it shows: Murderbot feels slightly like it’s a person on the autism scale.
“I skimmed it but most of my attention was on getting through the crowd while pretending to be an ordinary augmented human, and not a terrifying murderbot. This involved not panicking when anybody accidentally made eye contact with me.”
This time, Murderbot is literally and metaphorically on a journey: Having recently run away from its benefactor of the first novella, Dr. Mensah, it’s now literally on the way to dig into its own – murderous? – past. Metaphorically speaking, Murderbot is on a journey to find itself, to find out what it actually wants – if having a guardian is actually the same as having an owner and other questions.
“On the way to this transit ring, alone on my empty cargo transport, I had had a chance to do a lot of thinking about why I had left Mensah, and what I wanted. I know, it was a surprise to me, too. But even I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my lifespan alone riding cargo transports and consuming media, as attractive as it sounded.”
Fortunately, it finds a friend in ART, a Research Transport, with computing power beyond even its own comprehension. When Murderbot gets itself hired by a human “crew”, things quickly become complicated because lurking beneath waves of “non-caring” is a complicated being that has more in common with us humans than it likes to admit. Murderbot feels more compelled to help its humans by them asking it to than it ever was by its long-gone governor chip. And yet it’s still the socially-impaired escapist media junky:
“I wanted to just sink into my media downloads for a while and pretend I didn’t exist.”
Murderbot acts uncompromisingly human and is just as full of flaws as the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, though, it transcends those flaws if it has to.
If that doesn’t give the rest of us nerds hope, what could?
“And in their corner all they had was Murderbot, who just wanted everyone to shut up and leave it alone so it could watch the entertainment feed all day.”
I’m not a Science Fiction fan. I’m not especially fond of novellas. This one, though…
I can’t even really explain what appealed to me about this novella: Murderbot neither really feels like a robot nor like a person but still strangely… plausible. Murderbot’s actions feel logical, yet simple. It does what it has to do. It’s ambiguity as an artificial lifeform makes it feel both familiar in, e. g. its shyness and some other emotions – not to speak of its entertainment addiction. Plus: An artificial lifeform that (sometimes) acts more humanely than its human counterparts? Fascinating!
Murderbot is literally strange enough to go through a contrasting melange of emotions as well. This contrast, the SecUnits conflicting feelings and survival strategies is probably what made this story so wondrously attractive for me.
All in all, the novella is based on an interesting premise with a good mixture of characters and a lot of suspense. Spice that up with Murderbot itself and its diverse clients and you get a modern, fresh approach to science fiction.
When I decided to read this book, I was expecting a light, funny romance before going back to more “serious” books. I basically wanted what the title promised – an early “Beach Read”. Unfortunately, this was obviously not to be.
First of all, January, our heroine, is annoyingly insecure. Her mother got cheated on by her late father and both the cheating and the dying entirely shattered a 28-year-old’s world. Right.
Gus, our brooding, “evil sexy” (repeated ad nauseam throughout the book!) hero is not only an embodiment of male clichés but pretty much behaves like an arse: he keeps pushing January away for no discernable reason, keeps alternating between giving obvious signals and pretty much kicking her out.
At times I thought we’d get to the funny, light beach parts but then they interview former cultists, visit the scene of mass suicide/murder (where they quickly proceed to entirely different kinds of “investigations”) and do their best to lengthen a mediocre story and book.
Over long periods, this book was simply boring. In fact, despite just having finished reading it, “Beach Read” is already fading from my otherwise perfectly fine memory. Which is, come to think of it, no loss at all.
Along came “Warden’s Fate” and with it, the final instalment in the series, Tony is back! Gone are (most of) the typos, the characters actually make sense and get sufficient room to grow.
Back as well is Tony’s humour and good-natured kindness in his story. The action is still there and this book is another page-turner but the pacing is much more even and “rounded”. We actually get to enjoy the book, its scenes and people which is really, truly nice.
There are lots of good ideas, presented in an engaging, suspenseful way and, mostly, in actually really well-chosen words.
Especially important to me: Tony gets the emotions right this time – we really feel with Tris, Kyra, Lukas and everyone else.
Of course, this isn’t high literature and it doesn’t have to be because this book is over-the-top action, fun, and just great entertainment!
I pretty much enjoyed every page which makes this book, astoundingly, a full five stars read – and I don’t even like the Science Fiction genre!
As much as it surprises myself, I’m most likely to actually read this crew’s further adventures.
In this article, we will be looking into how we can build a computer program
for solving arbitrary Binary Puzzles using the Python programming language, and
the Z3 Theorem Prover.
Z3 is a Satisfiability Modulo Theories (SMT) solver made by Microsoft Research.
It is cross-platform and is released under the MIT license. Z3 comes with a
Python API that we will be using. Our goal is to encode the rules of the
Binary Puzzle game in terms of mathematical equations that Z3 can comprehend.
Once we have defined the rules of the game for Z3, we want to use it to solve
any solvable Binary Puzzle for us or tell us if the puzzle is unsolvable.
I enjoy number puzzles such as Sudoku and Binary Puzzles. For some reason, I
always end up solving more Binary Puzzles than I solve Sudokus. Binary Puzzles
are more straightforward than Soduku and are thus playable in a shorter amount
of time. A Binary Puzzle can be played online from various websites or via
applications that are available for both Android and iOS. Look in the
application store on your preferred platform, and you will most likely have
numerous implementations of this uncomplicated puzzle available to you. The
example puzzles I use in this article are taken from
BinaryPuzzle.com, which is my preferred website for
playing the game in a web browser.
Let us begin by having a closer look at the Binary Puzzle game before we begin
implementing the solver in the Python programming language.
Rules for Binary Puzzles
The Binary Puzzle game consists of an NxN two-dimensional game grid with some
cells pre-filled with either zero or one. The rest of the cells remains empty
for us to fill in with either a zero or a one. The difficulty of the game can
be tuned by adding or removing pre-filled values in the initial game state.
The rules for the Binary Puzzle game are pretty simple: we must solve the
puzzle using the following set of rules:
Each cell must contain either a zero or a one.
No more than two identical numbers are allowed immediately next to each
other, both horizontally and vertically.
Each row and each column must contain an equal amount of zeros and ones.
Each row and each column must be unique.
An observation we can make from the third rule is that the smallest possible
game grid is 2x2, and each NxN two-dimensional game grid must make use of an
even N value. The 2x2 game grid is also the only size of a game grid where the
second rule does not have any influence on the game, and the second rule is
thus ignorable for this particularly sized game grid.
We begin with an easy 6x6 game grid with 14 pre-filled cells out a total of 36
cells. That is 38.9% of the game grid being pre-filled for us before we have
even begun. This example game will hopefully allow us to build up some
intuition about the game mechanics, and make it easier for us to understand the
rules we need to implement using Python and Z3 later in the article.
The initially pre-filled cells are the only cells that remain immutable
throughout the game while we try to discover the value of each of the empty
cells in the game grid. The pre-filled cell values are set in bold typeface in
all of the visualizations in this article to make sure we do not
unintentionally change any of them.
The initial game grid looks as following:
We look for the pattern where two identical numbers exist immediately next to
each other either horizontally or vertically in the game grid. Once we have
identified one or more identical pairs in the game grid, we know that the cells
before and after the pair cannot share the same value as the pair itself
because of the second rule of the game. We update the game grid with the new
We continue the search for patterns in the updated game grid. We have created
some new locations where two identical values are in a pair, which allows us to
repeat the previous step.
We can also look for a new pattern, which is when we have a horizontal or
vertical triplet, where the content of the first and last cells are identical,
and the middle cell is empty. Since we know from the second rule of the game
that no more than two identical values are allowed immediately next to each
other, we can deduct that the content of the middle cell in the triplet must be
the opposite of the first and last value of the triplet. The game grid now
looks as follows:
We can now fill in the remaining three cells using a mixture of the second and
the third rule of the game.
Now that the game grid is complete, and no empty cells remain, we can verify
that the game state satisfies each of the four rules. Each cell contains either
a zero or a one. No more than two identical values are next to each other
neither horizontally nor vertically. Each row and each column have an identical
amount of zeros and ones. Finally, each row and column are unique.
We have solved our first Binary Puzzle manually. We can now begin building a
model of the game using Python and Z3.
Building the Model
The purpose of this article is to build a Python program that can solve
arbitrary Binary Puzzles for us. We use the Z3 interface for Python to do “the
hard labor” of this task, but we still need to describe the game rules to the
Z3 solver before it can do anything useful for us.
Before we start defining the Z3 model of the game, we need to define the
representation of the game grid in Python. We use the same initial game grid as
used in the example game above. In Python, we encode the game grid as follows:
We represent the game grid as a list of lists of integers and N values in
Python. The N value is defined as the Python value None and is used
throughout this article to represent an empty cell. The task of the Z3 solver
will be to eliminate any N values in the game grid and replace it with either
a zero or a one.
If we were to solve the puzzles without an engine like Z3, but using “pure”
Python code, the naive approach would be to define several imperative steps
that try to solve the game by eliminating the empty cells one by one.
The way Z3 works is by us adding “constraints” or “assertions” that will make
it possible for its built-in solver to solve the domain-specific problem that
we are describing using our constraints. In this case, the Binary Puzzle game.
Once we have added all of the game rules encoded as constraints to the Z3
solver, we ask it to come with a possible solution for us. Z3 will try to find
a solution where all constraints are satisfied or otherwise notify us of its
inability to solve the given puzzle.
To implement the Binary Puzzle solver as “bug-free” as possible, we perform
some initial input validation of the input puzzle to ensure that it is
meaningful before we ask Z3 to try to do anything to it. We start by defining a
Python value representing the size of our game grid. We call this variable
size, and we define it as follows:
We want to ensure that the input puzzle is non-empty:
We want to ensure that the game grid’s size value is an even number in
accordance with the observation we made while going over the rules of the game:
We want to ensure that the NxN input puzzle has the correct dimensions, and
does not contain rows or columns of a different length than N. We verify this
by ensuring that each row is size cells wide:
Now that we have validated the input puzzle to avoid the worst mistakes, we can
start constructing the Z3 solver for the puzzles.
When we work with a constraint solver such as Z3, we do work with traditional
programming concepts such as “variables,” but we do not assign values to them
like we would in Python. Instead, we build up a set of equations that makes use
of these variables, and then we ask Z3 to give us a result where all of the
constraints are satisfied. If our input is impossible to solve because of
violations of the game rules, Z3 will be unable to give us a solution, and the
problem is considered unsatisfiable. However, if the problem is satisfiable, Z3
will have the correct value for each of our cells in the game grid.
The symbolic variables we define for Z3 has no structure, such as rows and
columns. Instead, we later define the structure using the equations we add to
The first task we have to perform is to build a list of all possible x and y
pairs we have in the game grid. We call these our “positions”:
We can now create the symbolic variables used by Z3. Each symbolic variable
must have a name, which we in Python can represent as a string value. The
string value allows us to later identify the specific variable during debugging
if that becomes necessary. We create a Python dictionary of (x, y) pairs as
key, and the symbolic Z3 integer as value for each cell in our game grid:
We have now defined a symbolic variable for each cell in the 6x6 game grid.
Each symbolic variable can now be looked up in our dictionary of symbols using
its x and y value as the key. We also named the symbolic variables “v0;0”,
“v0;1”, …, “v5;4”, “v5;5”, respectively. While we still have no
structure for the symbolic variables, we can visualize the symbolic variables
in the game grid in the way they will be used once we have build structure such
as “rows” and “columns”:
We do not have to inform the Z3 solver about the existence of each of the
symbolic variables. Instead, the solver will learn about their existence as we
use them in our constraints later in the article.
The dictionary of symbols allows us to build two Python lists representing each
row and each column in the game grid as lists of symbolic variables. The added
structure will make it easier to implement the rules of the game in the next
steps. We create the rows and columns lists in Python:
To avoid unnecessary duplications in our source code, we also create a variable
representing both the rows and the columns in the game grid as the rules of the
game often apply to both:
We can now instantiate the Z3 solver which we will add the constraints of the
Since some cells are already pre-filled for us, we need to inform Z3 about the
value of these cells. We do this by adding a constraint specifying the exact
value of the given symbolic variable using the equality comparison operator in
An important detail to understand here is that even if we apply the equality
comparison operator here, the Z3 variable overloads this operator. The operator
overloading ensures that it is the expression we add to the solver and not the
boolean result of Python comparing the symbolic variable with the content of
the value variable for equality.
Notice how we explicitly ignore the empty cells in our puzzle since the goal is
to have Z3 fill those out for us.
The first set of constraints directly related to the rules of the game will be
coming from the first rule: all cells in the game grid must contain either a
zero or a one. We add these constraints to all of the symbolic variables in the
dictionary of symbols as follows:
An example of a violation we could make now would be if our input game grid
contained a value such as two, which would be a violation of the set of
constraints we have added to the solver.
The next constraints we add to the Z3 solver handles the third rule of the game
and ensures that each row and each column have the same amount of zeros and
ones. Instead of counting each zero and one in each row and column, we encode
these constraints as the sum of each row, and each column must be equal to the
size divided by two:
The constraints needed to check the uniqueness of each row and each column are
slightly more complicated but required to implement the fourth rule of the
game. For each row and column, we ensure that each other row or column does not
contain the same values as the current row or column does. Remember that we
pass the Z3 solver symbolic variables such that the Z3 solver will check the
actual content of the variables when we execute the model. We implement these
constraints in Python as follows:
The final set of constraints we need to add to the Z3 solver are only necessary
for all NxN game grids where N is greater than 2. These constraints implement
the second rule of the game that says no more than two identical numbers are
allowed immediately next to each other horizontally and vertically.
We model these constraints using a set of “sliding windows” of three cells in
each window of the game grid: each triplet must not contain three identical
values in it. We can visualize the sliding window algorithm of three cells as
Implementing the sliding window constraints in Python looks as follows:
Another approach we could have taken here is to check each window if the sum of
the three symbolic variables is equal to 0 or 3. However, using equality checks
for these constraints seemed more intuitive to the author at the time of
Using the Model
We have now implemented all the game rules as mathematical equations for Z3 to
be able to solve the puzzle, but first, we have to check the solver if the
current constraints are “satisfiable”. We use the solver’s check() method to
If the input puzzle contained a violation of some of the constraints, such as
containing two identical rows, then the call to check() would fail, and we
would raise an exception.
Once we have run check() successfully, we can fetch the model that Z3 has
created for the puzzle:
We can now query the model for the actual value of each of the symbolic
variables stored in the dictionary of symbols. We build up a mapping between
the cell positions, and the result of the evaluation of the symbolic variable:
If we visualize the solution from Z3, it will look as follows:
We have successfully programmed the Z3 solver such that it can solve the 6x6
game grid for us, but we implemented all of the game rules such that they will
work for any NxN game grid with an even N value. We have specified the rules of
the game as a set of mathematical equations instead of specifying each step
Python needs to take to solve the puzzle.
It is much easier to write a validator for whether the game is correctly solved
or not than it is to solve the game itself. However, we will skip the details
of the validator implementation in this article.
Puzzles with Higher Difficulty
Let us have a look at how the solver handles a more difficult input puzzle. We
change the input puzzle to be a 14x14 game grid instead of the example 6x6 game
grid. In the new puzzle, only 45 out of 196 cells (23.0%) are pre-filled for
us, making this game much harder than the example game where 38.9% of the cells
were pre-filled. The new game grid looks as follows:
The Z3 solver can solve this puzzle in around 2.5 seconds on the author’s 2.6
GHz Intel i7 desktop computer from 2016. The result seems to be correct. The
solution looks as follows:
An interesting detail that is worth including here is what happens if we ask Z3
to solve an impossible puzzle. With the rules encoded as a set of mathematical
equations, we could try to build an input puzzle that passes the initial input
validation but would be unsatisfiable.
One of the most trivial puzzles we can construct that is unsatisfiable and
passes the input validation is this 2x2 game grid for which no possible
solution exists under the rules of the game:
This game grid will be a violation of the third rule of the game whereby each
row, and each column, must contain the same number of zeros and ones if we try
to solve it by filling in the two empty cells. Additionally, both rows of this
game would be identical, which is a violation of the fourth rule of the game.
Because of these violations, this puzzle will be unsatisfiable. Passing this
puzzle to the solver will make our program throw an “Unsolvable Puzzle Error”
Exploring Z3, together with the Python programming language, has been a fun
learning exercise. I could see myself use Z3 to solve various real-world
problems that I have historically relied on implementing manual solutions
crafted by hand to solve. Changing my mindset from trying to solve the specific
problem by hand over to modeling the problem in a declarative way is
entertaining and something I wish I could make use of more often in my daily
life as a programmer.
If you are interested in learning more about using Z3 together with the Python
programming language, I suggest you take a look at the excellent Programming
Z3 guide by Nikolaj
Bjørner, Leonardo de Moura, Lev Nachmanson, and Christoph Wintersteiger from
The source code for the Binary Puzzle solver, we implemented in this article,
is available from Github. The source
code is published under the BSD 2-Clause license.
“The stories I write might be fantasy, but the depiction of the feelings people share for each other is real.”
I’m cheating. The above quote is not from the actual content but from Michael’s afterword. I chose it for the simple fact that, to me at least, this is what makes Michael’s books “work” for me. But we’ll come to that yet…
First, I have to admit that I was actually afraid of reading this book. “Age of Death”, this book’s predecessor, was not exactly my favourite. It felt long, uninspired, weighed down by metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.
The creative playfulness, the lightness, was mostly missing and those were important reasons I really liked the books before it. Would “Age of Empyre” “fix” this and as easily achieve what the first four books did?
“Brin felt altogether miserable. The written language was her one thing, her life’s achievement. She’d spent years creating, refining, and polishing the system. It was the accomplishment she was proudest of, at least until a moment ago.”
… where early on the wheel was invented and Michael actually managed to make me believe it could have happened the way he envisioned it, this feels a bit more heavy-handed as you can see. And, yet, we do get a glimpse of the wonders that made the earlier books so good here as well.
Metaphysics are back as well but they feel less forced and actually intrinsically make sense – especially the idea of both literally and metaphorically becoming “light”(er) by freeing oneself from whatever bogs us down appeals to me.
Once more, Michael gets almost everything right – every loose end is wrapped up and seemingly disconnected events unavoidably lead to the brilliant conclusion not only of this book but the entire series.
Overall, all the choices Michael makes for his characters (and there are some I didn’t entirely like) are great. His way of telling his story is above reproach and I stick to what I wrote early about the series being his magnum opus.
Why is that? Because Michael.
The feelings he tells us are real, feel real. I don’t know Michael personally but after having read thousands of pages he wrote, I’ve come to see him as a bright beacon of hope, empathy and love.
In his protagonists’ darkest hours, there’s hope…
“That’s what stories are for, Brin realized. They are magic that aid people in times like this. They provide hope, a light to see by when all others are snuffed out.”
… and love of all kinds…
“A mouse trapped in a corner by a bear will still fight for survival. Love, he came to realize, was like that. No matter the odds, love refused to give up.”
… as well as empathy and forgiveness. That, basically, is what the tremendous and epic story Michael has told us is about.
The human warmth Michael’s books practically exude (combined with his good-natured humour) shine through in many places (major spoiler ahead so think hard before you reveal it!):
““Minna?” Suri said, and the wolf stopped to look back. “Would you like it better if I called you Gilarabrywn?” The wolf whimpered. “You like Minna better?” Yip. The wolf’s head jerked up with enough force that her front paws came off the ground. Suri shrugged and smiled. “Minna it is.””
The afterwords of both Michael and his wife Robin shed light on some decisions and opinions and greatly helped to get “the big picture”.
Michael, Robin, should you read this: Thank you for doing this and allowing me to help via Kickstarter. It was a wonderful, amazing, brilliant ride and please, please, please keep on writing – whatever it is, I’m going to read it.
You two are the real Legends – and you didn’t even have to die!
After not just one but two less than stellar reads in a row, I wanted to read something that was a) unlikely to disappoint (because I didn’t have high expectations in the first place), b) uplifting and c) easy to “digest”.
“The Happy Ever After Playlist” was almost exactly that. It started right by being funny…
“I snorted and descended into manic laughter again, putting a finger to my twitching eyelid.”
… and went on to be just “nice”, good-natured maybe or – as my daughter might put it – “wholesome”…
“Ten days. I’d had Tucker for ten wonderful, fur-on-my-bedspread, wet-kisses-in-the-morning, tail-wagging days.”
It felt pretty much like watching an old favourite TV show from childhood. Exactly what I wanted.
Of course, a (mostly) simple romance like this, featuring a hot bone-marrow-donating (to save a little girl!) rock star, Jason, and a curvy blonde, Sloan, who falls for him, is pretty much as cliché as it gets. Thus, I read this alternating between smiling (and sometimes giggling) and cringing (“I wanna get my hands on your pipes.”) – sometimes even simultaneously.
What helped was how effortless this book is written and, thus, to read. Even the constant switching between the perspective of both Jason and Sloan felt natural and made sense. Where other authors tend to be heavy-handed and “artsy” about such stuff, Jimenez got it exactly right.
Up until about the middle of the book, everything worked just great. It got slightly more complicated after as both Jason and Sloan mess up three times over mostly stupid issues. Maybe that’s “true to life” but one “crisis” is enough for me in a romance.
A minor detail but a nice touch were the song titles that precede every chapter. Judging by the titles they fit nicely and since I’d never heard of most of the musicians, I’m currently playing the eponymous “Happy Ever After Playlist” (which you can find on Apple Music here). (I must admit, I’m slightly disappointed now as the titles sounded more promising than what I’m hearing now. )
Ultimately, though, this was exactly the kind of literary junk food I was craving and what more could I possibly ask for?!
“If there was ever a candidate to be patron saint of computers then it would be Alan Turing. Mathematician, war hero and tragic victim of homophobia.”
And the above quotation is pretty much the only redeeming quality of this entire uninspired mess of a book.
As seems almost mandatory among “hip” authors these days, we have completely unnecessary jumps in the narrated time between chapters. Why can’t people tell their story linearly?! It’s not that hard and Aaronovitch stops jumping around the middle of the book and nothing of value is lost. So, why do it in the first place?
There’s no character development, no furthering any story arc, nothing. Not even the mediocre story of mixing magic, the generally supernatural and technology is fully explored but lacklustrely told and unconvincingly at that.
Even worse: Apart from countless allusions to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, “False Value” alludes to other works of Aaronovitch (probably those graphic “novels”) which I’m not in the least interested in reading.
This book was so boring, I’m surprised I managed to finish it. If you’ve been a fan so far, skip this one and hope for better times. If you haven’t read any “Rivers of London” yet, start at the beginning instead and, if you get that far, pretend this turd doesn’t exist.