The hardest part of writing a mystery for North American audiences has got to be getting the ending right. Because in American mysteries, the whole afThe hardest part of writing a mystery for North American audiences has got to be getting the ending right. Because in American mysteries, the whole affair travels the arc from procedural to personal, concluding with the inevitable – and once upon a time, appreciated – face-to-face confrontation between law and disorder. It’s a formula that becomes more tiresome the more the genre adheres to it, and only Europe has truly embraced tossing a little mystery back into the business of, um, mysteries again (Thank you, Karin Fossum).
To little surprise, this formula turns out to be the worst part of The Calling, which is otherwise, a tightly plotted, gruesome, outstandingly populated, and very well written police novel. The deep rural Ontario setting is brilliant, and each member of the quickly established cast of soon-to-be-regulars is unique and original, at least for the genre. If you like anything about procedurals, you’ll love this novel. Even the treads it sets on the freeway of familiar ideas is done better than I’d hoped, finding at least small measures of originality in one of the game’s oldest set-ups.
Outside the book itself, there’s also a lot of speculation about who the author, Inger Ash Wolfe, might actually be. I’m less interested in that, so long as the novels keep coming. This is not just a promising beginning; it’s a chance to push the boundaries of the form into a mindset that lets a mystery be something more. ...more
The best parts of Matt Ruff's alternate War on Terror world are when the story seems like a waking dream: characters sense their version of events isThe best parts of Matt Ruff's alternate War on Terror world are when the story seems like a waking dream: characters sense their version of events is not quite the reality, yet the scenes are infused with details too vivid to be anything less. These parts, especially during the first half of the novel, open the reader's eyes to new perspectives on what Americans must think of as an unchangeable cultural moment. But, also as with a dream, the longer the novel goes on, the more gaps appear to make the story less effective, less believable, and less magical. It plays games with wild pairings that work only to make the characters whose world we wanted to believe in seem less believable themselves. The ending effectively explains "the mirage," but the second half of the book disappoints on a promise: that even a broken mirror can, through inversion and distortion, show us exactly who we are....more
However unnecessary to making The Hunger Games enjoyable as a stand alone novel, Catching Fire manages to be a sequel that visits familiar territory wHowever unnecessary to making The Hunger Games enjoyable as a stand alone novel, Catching Fire manages to be a sequel that visits familiar territory while creating entirely new appeal. Existing characters are given greater depth, while new ones are vivid and believable. Even scenarios designed to mirror certain events in the first book are recreated here in a way that sacrifices none of the tension for the repetition. I would not have thought a sequel could be as satisfying as its predecessor, but Catching Fire, though dependent on The Hunger Games, is an addition that mirrors the original while revealing more intricately cut sides to its evolving storyline. Brilliant....more
Violent and gruesome, "A Congregation of Jackals" is as modern a take on the Western as No Country for Old Men but one that overlays the standard tropViolent and gruesome, "A Congregation of Jackals" is as modern a take on the Western as No Country for Old Men but one that overlays the standard tropes of the genre with a barbarism that seems believable for its mid-19th century setting and that gives readers a sense that the "lawless" West may have been far less romantic than they imagine. The novel is essentially one long draw toward a brutal climax, but characters along the way are exceptionally well crafted -- particularly the womanizing Dickey and the soulless villain Quinlan. Even incidental characters are given depth and an aura of existence beyond the plot.
Also admirable is Zahler's portrayals of African-Americans who, despite the racism of the times, were never set-up as simple scenery or "color" for the story, or portrayed as inferior outside of their immediate circumstance. It's a subtle line that the author never crosses and makes Jackals all the more enjoyable. Other novels have been far less deft in their treatment of the racial divide in the Old West. Zahler deserves recognition for his first novel on several levels....more
Brilliantly suspenseful, though of course not nearly as violent or as satiric as, say, Battle Royale. The characters are vivid, sympathetic, and for tBrilliantly suspenseful, though of course not nearly as violent or as satiric as, say, Battle Royale. The characters are vivid, sympathetic, and for the most part honestly drawn, though the humanity of the Careers seems coldly distant. The novel's story is set in a world that is believable enough without becoming a futuristic caricature that distracts from the Games themselves and Katniss, Peeta, Prim, and Gale deserve to be permanent fixtures in any reader's collection. The only portion of this book that played flat for me was the set-up for a sequel, which felt, coming at the end of a survival novel, wholly unnecessarily. YA is apparently written in threes. ...more
Full of vibrant, engaging characters and with an original plot that sidesteps the overplayed tropes of many World War II novels, "The Losing Role" isFull of vibrant, engaging characters and with an original plot that sidesteps the overplayed tropes of many World War II novels, "The Losing Role" is highly readable and very enjoyable as a light espionage novel where theatrical performance can almost always fool someone. Anderson's is a book that elevates the promise of self-published novels, and is certainly of high enough quality to stand on its own, surpassing many titles that have found larger audiences and even a few film adaptations. Recommended for a entertaining read, and as the start of what should be an excellent series. I'm glad I took a chance on Anderson's work -- it was well worth it....more
Rich and resonant language, a slowly unfolding story, and with an awareness in narrative reminiscent of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, GentRich and resonant language, a slowly unfolding story, and with an awareness in narrative reminiscent of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, The Pox Party is mature enough to give pause to readers of any age as it presents the flawed morality of America's past in a way probably none of us would have imagined. Alternating between worlds of rank privilege and forced sacrifice, skewed knowledge and unblinking simplicity, Anderson's world is painful, uncompromising, and so poetically drawn that its architecture chimes with the bones of histories known and imagined, showing the founding of the country--however nobly reasoned or ornately dressed--to have never dealt with its questions of race. A brilliant book that I hope never relinquishes its roots--Young Adults should eat our history (and us) alive for how much we've boiled stories for them into something soft enough for adults to digest....more
The Emperor of Ocean Park, which dedicates quite a number of pages to the game of chess its narrator loves, is itself a sort of chess match. Author CaThe Emperor of Ocean Park, which dedicates quite a number of pages to the game of chess its narrator loves, is itself a sort of chess match. Author Carter runs multiple sophisticated plots concurrently through the story, making Emperor a novel of academia, of racial and professional politics (here often identically aimed), a straight-up legal thriller, and a story of an already disintegrating family coping with the loss of its domineering patriarch – all of which somehow meld into a coherent and satisfying finale. But Carter's great creation is Talcott Garland, a persona whose intelligence and intellectual accomplishment combine with an initial innocence, even naivete, about the turpitude he discovers on all fronts. Talcott's ability to remain a character true to his own strictly defined moral standards – within a community of nefarious, if well-crafted, personalities -- carry the novel to some of its best epiphanies and most memorable asides. Without Talcott, there simply wouldn’t be a novel, and for a fiction that can ask for perhaps more than the typical amount of patience of its readers, he is quite literally the center of gravity around which the entire work, and its fictive world, revolve. ...more
In drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlIn drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlet, and to scholar Axel Vandel (See:Shroud), John Banville has created another beautiful novel on memory, identity, reflection, power, youth, and love (or sex), as a response to grief. Banville's powerful lines are delivered gently, as if to bloom inside the reader once they've passed his eyes, and I often thought this novel to be a lighter parallel to the brilliant novel, An Adultery. Ancient Light is a an amazing book filled with the truth of experience as expressed through an expert hand....more
Wholly satisfying, The Passage manages to do something new with the notion of vampires, combining the bleak, apocalyptic landscape of The Road with thWholly satisfying, The Passage manages to do something new with the notion of vampires, combining the bleak, apocalyptic landscape of The Road with the Christian overlay of Stephen King's The Stand. Driven by character as much as by plot, Cronin's bleak world is populated with a well defined, believable cast who carry the story well, even though episodes that feel slightly too arranged and overly cinematic. Probably most satisfying is the novel's ending, which sustains the sense of wonder held throughout the story, and leaves readers a multitude of avenues for their imaginations to travel. ...more
An almost perfect modern spy novel, filled with a keen understanding of the contemporary environment of Putin's Russia and the United States' self-genAn almost perfect modern spy novel, filled with a keen understanding of the contemporary environment of Putin's Russia and the United States' self-generated dependance on privatized intelligence companies. The plot is masterful in tying strong characters to its global events, and Anna Resnikov is an excellent embodiment of the modern agent and one who satisfies the need for readers to see heroes driven by goals more human than global. Dryden's novel makes the spy novel relevant to an age that has all but forgotten the Cold War, and gives espionage an urgency that had felt lost in the information age....more
A phenomenal Young Adult novel that treads the long-lost genre of Books for Boys and emerges from that wasteland to create an adventure that should liA phenomenal Young Adult novel that treads the long-lost genre of Books for Boys and emerges from that wasteland to create an adventure that should live beside favorites like Z for Zachariah and the short story The Most Dangerous Game as an engaging, frightening, and completely immersive novel, with powers to lure young male readers to books in ways the current girl-centric, vampire-saturated YA market has all but abandoned. And this is not to say the book holds no value for young women, as Ashfall is filled with strong-willed, independent and independently minded female characters, not the least of whom is the original and wholly authentic "tomboy" Darla, whose skills with machinery, farm life, and general survival make her the perfect companion to narrator Alex, whose strengths lie in martial arts and willful tenacity. Boys are in such need of exciting, well-written male-narrated YA novels that portray females respectfully and realistically -- and the market is so spare of just that -- that it makes Ashfall doubly easy to recommend: It fills a dire need for male readers, but the story's spark and accomplishment will entertain all. Fantastic stuff....more
If you want a concise presentation of President Obama's failures and successes in his Administration's first 18 months, start this book at the EpiloguIf you want a concise presentation of President Obama's failures and successes in his Administration's first 18 months, start this book at the Epilogue. In very few pages, you will have a roster of accomplishments that are in many places historic, all far-reaching, and most all completely unheard of by the average voter. This is the story of Obama's presidency so far: that his drive for measurable steps forward -- from the elimination of "middle-man" vendors for student loans that in turn helped to fund the health care bill, to unprecedented increases in education standards and teacher rewards, to the most thorough Administrative analysis of military policy since the Cuban Missie Crisis, to gaining concessions by China to publicly record its goals for pollution reductions -- occludes the need to score political cheap shots and short-term gains against an unmistakably aggressive, even obstructionist opposition party.
Each chapter in The Promise details, sometimes painfully so, one of the major initiatives shaped or confronted by the Obama Administration, and while there are enormous frustrations to be had in Obama's missteps, throughout the course of the book an appreciation builds for not only the gargantuan tasks faced by any politician during the economic recession of 2008-2010, but for the remarkable capability of this current officeholder in taking a hands-on approach to each of the challenges.
There is no doubt that, however long it lasts, Obama's presidency will be historic. What is regrettable is how little we realize that each of Obama's lesser known gestures toward reshaping the presidency and regaining economic stability for the United States have affected our long-term growth. You come away feeling that the perhaps prematurely awarded Noble Prize will be less remembered for peace and better thought of as a reward for the economic policies and initiatives taken by Obama that not only saved the Union for the short-term, but probably extended its life. This is a genuinely remarkable presidency, whether or not people are willing to recognize it. ...more
If you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. PaIf you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Panic. Because if you think about it, Panic is The Hunger Games, reverse engineered. Gone is the elaborate make-up and ridiculous hair. Gone are the high concepts of political rebellion and wealth inequality, the elaborate clockwork of machinations designed to strip individuals of their human bond – all these constructs become false, burdensome, over-elaborate metaphor. The Hunger Games is Panic which is, at its heart, a novel about young adults who have nothing, who expect nothing, and who know the world is designed to benefit people whom they will never meet but who most assuredly have more: more opportunity, more wealth, more chances. Panic is a story about us. About bored kids. Broke kids. Broke kids in love, for that matter, whose efforts toward romance are as unsteady as their steps into adulthood. And reading this makes us embarrassed for so loving the unnecessary drama that most YA allows. Because we are Katniss Everdeen only insofar as she is Heather. We shouldn't need so much dressing around the idea that we are a country at a loss of what to do with itself. That we have created so much distance between the possibility of change and its achievement that a game like Panic seems not plausible, but outright familiar. These are memories instead of fantasies, and Panic is a wonderful, brilliant novel with one simple ambition: to remind us who we are. We are the broke kids. The bored kids. Kids trying to feel. Oliver has never needed science fiction to explain how we work. We are more fantastic and flawed and aflame in our small ambitions toward happiness than the rules of science fiction could ever allow. ...more
With cutting humor and sharp insight, Wharton writes a layered novel that will have you despising in turn each of the three parties involved in its ceWith cutting humor and sharp insight, Wharton writes a layered novel that will have you despising in turn each of the three parties involved in its central affair. Likewise, their individual sacrifices -- however much driven by vanity, self-importance, or sincerity -- make Ellen Olenska, Newland Archer, and May Welland complicated, faceted characters who are also strikingly sympathetic; each burdened by a sense of propriety that removes them so far from their own understanding of their needs, the reader probably has as clearer a line of sight on the convoluted motivations leading them to their hearts, if only for the distance. This is a novel too of a lost New York, and a naïvely separatist America, though this novel’s well drawn Puritan ghost still runs, finely shod while scandal hungry, across the continent, in and out of the doors of the nation’s literature, for we are nothing American without the noise of gossip to cover the lusts that we savor. This brilliant novel, with its heartbreaking, soft-handed finale, captures a country we never met, but whose behavior is completely our own. Perfect literature.
In this extended piece of informative journalism, author Eichstaedt interviews a variety of those affected and entranced by piracy, from Somali nationIn this extended piece of informative journalism, author Eichstaedt interviews a variety of those affected and entranced by piracy, from Somali nationals who are active or retired pirates, to international officials charged with piracy's control, if not eradication, to industry-hired security officials seeking non-violent resolutions to kidnapping scenarios, to Somali refugees in Kenya seeking an escape from a country that seems, at its best, unmanaged and, at worst, out-of-control. The author finds several legitimate roots to piracy, from Yemen-led overfishing of the Gulf of Aden, to the more surprising use of Somali waters as international dumping grounds for toxic waste, decimating the economic opportunities for a nation dependent on the sea. This is a thorough, non-judgmental approach to the issue that finds a surprising amount of legitimate complaints to compile with the more obvious arguments made by those seeking fortune in a country that offers little in the way of long-term stability. An approachable and fascinating investigation of the issue, and of those whose lives are defined by it....more
This standalone fantasy novel creates a world centered around tenets of European Christianity, but that is not to say this is a Christian novel, or shThis standalone fantasy novel creates a world centered around tenets of European Christianity, but that is not to say this is a Christian novel, or should be read as one. Instead, Frohock uses this inspiration to craft an original kind of magic; its larger figures will seem familiar to Westerners, but the reliance on faith is no more mystic than that of any other fantasy world. The vision created within this frame is original, well written, and worth exploring. It took me half the novel to realize I wasn't being set up for an immediate sequel, which is something of a rare gift from novels these days, but Frohock's Woerld would be worth another visit, as the fantasy she has created is so deeply detailed and imagined that it is hard to forget after this first, brief go-round....more
A fable that is both tragic and filled with fantasy – a spirit tree towering outside the entrance to a tent; a entire village turned blind; spider pacA fable that is both tragic and filled with fantasy – a spirit tree towering outside the entrance to a tent; a entire village turned blind; spider packs moving in glyphs to protect only the women -- Who Fears Death is thick with imagery in its otherworldly pilgrimage through an ever-present racism and sexism that plagues its near-barren East African setting. A bildungsroman submerged in damask-patterned sands, with complicated goals and characters full of purpose, the book is hard to describe, and pointless to pin, but brilliantly moves between our world and worlds less familiar to tell, or retell, a story of women from their flight as literally voiceless victims to embodying the channels of the oldest power. More fairy tale than futuristic, Who Fears Death is paced exceptionally well, and moves to its climax, its one version of a truth, with strength and the commitment bred of resignation and ideas of hope, future, change. ...more
Continuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving TrisContinuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving Tris and Four more reasons to distrust, fear, or forsake almost everyone they encounter in author Roth's dystopian Chicago. What's striking is how violent this series remains, with conflicts played out in large scale gun battles and the psychological effects of murder remaining a central conflict in the book. The series is still about identifying boundaries, familial and personal, to the end of creating individuals who better understand their role in a fractured society, but the tones remain dark throughout. The Divergent series is vivid, original, and frighteningly realistic (see also: acceptably cinematic) in its violence -- which either makes this story a stunning parable of modern times, or a set that points too sharp a finger when singling out the ills of our own failures of character....more
This novel is probably impossible to remark on in any significant manner here, and who cares what I think about it, anyway, right? But I liked GatsbyThis novel is probably impossible to remark on in any significant manner here, and who cares what I think about it, anyway, right? But I liked Gatsby for its portrait of the Twenties, and the evocative language that cements its people into a believable, if fallible, mindset and its places into the movements we know and see of the world. Like so:
That’s my Middle West — not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name.
The novel is unbelievably memorable like this, in its pieces, which makes for half of the love it should receive, I think. There are other obvious things to remark on -- the automobile accident, Gatz' fate, and is this all a great invention for the gap between rich and poor, those beautiful and the damned? -- but unlike Hemingway where you feel the poetry of the language points you to a direction of understanding, Fitzgerald seems at times to speak either with feints toward allegory or with a flavor of distance such that interpretation beyond the recitation of events can feel like a reach beyond the original intent. Which is probably, you could presume, why we're all asked to read it so often, and why we come back around to it so much: because we can't answer such questions even when they are asked about ourselves....more
Like most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is,Like most people in their early twenties, Helga Crane is filled with the desire to be more than she is, to be more entranced by the world than she is, and to see something more of life than her teaching position in the rural South offers. The cure, then, is to dismiss, one after another, the stops on the fickle road to her contentment: her native Chicago, New York's Harlem, Copenhagen's exotic promises. Passed over too are opportunities for extended family, for marriage, and for genuine love. What is never made explicit is how much the background of 1920's American racial segregation contributes to Helga's discontent, and how much is of her own manufacture; a dilemma at the crux of the novel's experience, and the heart of many conversations about race: does the scene define the characters, or are actions here independent of context? The stark result of Helga's travels, however, are revealed by the title: the more you move around a country simultaneously obsessed with and ignorant of its problems with race relations, the deeper you sink into the worst of what it offers.
On a personal note, I'm disappointed I didn't hear about this book until age forty, when it is the perfect novel for late high school and early college students to explore the incongruous, complex relationships between whites and blacks in early 20th Century America, while simultaneously examining the idealistic wanderlust of any person's early twenties. This is -- or it should be -- a classic novel, familiar to any student of American literature. As it is, I only heard about it because NPR put it on a one-off book list published last week....more
Alego writes a fascinating account of Grover Cleveland's progress from Buffalo's defender of the everyman to friend of the nation's many tycoons, theAlego writes a fascinating account of Grover Cleveland's progress from Buffalo's defender of the everyman to friend of the nation's many tycoons, the economic circumstances surrounding his presidency's two non-consecutive terms, and, of course, the scandal of the secret operation and its ultimate public resolution. Along the way, bits of social history pepper the story -- including appearances from L. Frank Baum (the author posits on how double-meanings in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz serve as stand-ins for the debate on a gold versus silver monetary standard) and Stephen Crane, and medical histories of the time surrounding cancer, oral prostheses, and the uncommon practice of using antiseptics. Readable, enlightening, and illuminating on a dozen different subjects, one can't help but feel that this is how history should be written: in full acknowledgment that its characters were once lustily alive, fallibly human, and irreplaceable in their individuality. An excellent book for casual historians, and an absolutely brilliant summer read....more
Stephen Schwartz's pulp novel Beat mixes the surprising nature of its explicit sexual and violent content with an ending that somehow feels too choreoStephen Schwartz's pulp novel Beat mixes the surprising nature of its explicit sexual and violent content with an ending that somehow feels too choreographed and too cinematically-minded for the rest of the book. Having creating Hayden Glass, a gritty, believable police detective with a predilection for drugs and a clinical diagnosis of sexual addiction, Schwartz sinks him headfirst into San Francisco's world of sex trafficking -- a business in which the detective has sometimes been a willing participant. All of this is excellent, gritty noir, and feels like an alternate, pulpier angle on Andrew Vachss's highly stylized Burke, series. But it's the conclusion that breaks the spell, creating an ending that while satisfying in parts could be replaced with the denouement of any half-baked Hollywood action film. As the Glass series goes forward, here's hoping Schwartz finds a better model to mimic for his original and engrossing cast of characters....more
Like the post-9/11 milieu that permeated Saturday, and Black Dogs's Cold War spell well before it, The Comfort of Strangers feels like a political novLike the post-9/11 milieu that permeated Saturday, and Black Dogs's Cold War spell well before it, The Comfort of Strangers feels like a political novel disguised as a social one. But whose politics? Is this McEwan exploding post-WW2 Europe? Is the lust here a parable, and if so, for what? What does the lovemaking between Colin and Mary say differently than that between Robert and Caroline if these were not characters but states? This is the rewarding frustration of Ian McEwan's work -- that it can seem more than it is because the lines of it are so clearly drawn. Never needlessly expositive or over-adorned with description, the world is so stark that it feels like parable even when its objective could be, as McEwan has explored many times before, examining love, or marriage, or sex, to lengths where this need for unity fails its human actors. So it seems not to matter if this novel of sex and power is also a novel of war, because in love, war is inherent: its demands are inhuman, devouring, inevitable. That is not so much history as it is human life. McEwan's genius is in painting one so well as to take on the shape of the other....more
This novel's average mystery plot and functional writing are overwhelmingly redeemed by an exceptional, unforgettable premise. The first in a trilogy,This novel's average mystery plot and functional writing are overwhelmingly redeemed by an exceptional, unforgettable premise. The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman doesn't need to redefine the police procedural to be successful; if anything, the book could have taken an even darker turn to set the tone for what's expected to come. Enjoyable as a distraction, but disturbing to dwell on -- the next two books had better deliver....more
With a more coherent and more believable premise than, say, Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Legend establishes an Orwellian police state (somethingWith a more coherent and more believable premise than, say, Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Legend establishes an Orwellian police state (something that feels akin to the society of Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang), whose boundaries are defined no less violently. It's one of these episodes of violence that centers the moral system of Lu's world -- once this crime is committed, the lines are very clearly drawn. But it is an act that is hard to stomach, and that seems shocking even with romantic/violent predecessors like Divergent and The Hunger Games. Does it work to ground this created reality? Do the stakes from here on out seem more real? It does. They do. But it also demands that every other event reach that same level of realism -- the romance can't be stilted; the politics must feel genuine; the alternatives that the main characters fight for must feel, in short, worth it, otherwise the violence that Lu asks readers to go along with -- this one violent act in particular -- becomes theater with no real pain, and no real consequence, to make it seem honest. It short, it risks becoming a melodrama about revenge. I enjoyed Legend, but it's asked me to root for a certain kind of humanity after an extraordinarily inhumane act was displayed. I'm not so lovestruck as yet to follow blindly....more
Murambi is a novel produced as part of a Rwandan program to remember the genocide of 1994 – an event in which between 800,000 to 1,200,000 individualsMurambi is a novel produced as part of a Rwandan program to remember the genocide of 1994 – an event in which between 800,000 to 1,200,000 individuals were killed, most with weapons wielded by their neighbors. The book also makes an effort to capture the Rwandese desire to have the world see beyond the perception that the region is "cursed" by violence, rather than that violence being the result of several specific political actions. The book reproduces the key cultural conflicts by working on the individual level, placing novelist Cornelius Uvimana in a position as somewhat both a perpetrator and product of the murders. And rather than paint in broad strokes of violence, author Diop effectively uses one or two key images of its aftermath – a child’s severed foot in a dog’s mouth; a man hiding under the dead -- to make the murders personal, and somehow imaginable. Murambi is a challenging book, and an important story, that bumps against a great many stereotypes of the region and its people, and ultimately asks that we see not see the Rwandese as sculptures in misery, but as people struggling, continuing, and alive. ...more
Fast-paced and loosely constructed, but with an engaging and interesting plot, Nairobi Heat follows police detective Ishmael as he investigates the muFast-paced and loosely constructed, but with an engaging and interesting plot, Nairobi Heat follows police detective Ishmael as he investigates the murder of a young white woman who holds mysterious ties to Kenya. As an African-American visiting the continent for the first time, Ishmael's journey to Africa reveals the gaps in his understanding of black politics outside America, race relations within his own country, and his own sense of place within the law, bringing the potential for massive change to the life of a man who had been rifling through Madison looking for answers the area didn't seem to allow. Excellent secondary characters make Nairobi's lopsided "equality" come to life, and the larger conflicts behind the case are focused on individuals, avoiding broad strokes of political and popular righteousness, and acknowledging that anyone can become tainted by immorality, even when their actions seem just. A quick read, but with an ending that that will please Nguigi's soon-to-follow fans....more
A novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, roleA novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, role-playing games, and films into contemporary New York college life. Yet the book somehow sheds its inspirations to create an adventure novel that makes the magic we view as a retreat back to childhood fantasy seem a dangerous, powerful thing. It's the weight that Grossman gives his subject -- however wryly cast in its popular frame -- that gives the story the gravity of adulthood. Suddenly the threats are genuine and the temptations of power within adult life actually damning. The consequences of our desire to see the world though the naivety of a childhood relived become palpable -- thrilling, but ultimately exhausting, washing off the youth of fantasy for the sadness of escape. Only the very end of the novel seems to abandon this altered reality, dipping a bit too far into its own mystique. But The Magicians offers a wild ride to get there: emotional, touching in its romances, and capturing all the awkwardness of newfound adulthood. It's a fantasy novel unafraid to show a darker, more earthy side, and it's a take on the genre that shouldn't be missed....more
Set in post-revolutionary Russia, Eye is a well-written thriller, if a little too by-the-book in how its mystery -- centering around the deaths of theSet in post-revolutionary Russia, Eye is a well-written thriller, if a little too by-the-book in how its mystery -- centering around the deaths of the Romanovs -- unfolds. The author, under his given name of Paul Watkins, has written richer, more detailed novels that capture the feel of their period at least as well as Eye: Night Over Day Over Night, The Forger: A Novel, and the beautiful In the Blue Light of African Dreams are all highly recommend for readers who enjoy Eastland's language and plotting, but wish to explore genres outside this book's traditional presentation....more