Who saw the movie and, in spite of the great cast, found it too gory, dehumanized, obsessive, and (sh...moreReview subtitle: Don't Judge a Book by its Movie!
Who saw the movie and, in spite of the great cast, found it too gory, dehumanized, obsessive, and (should I say it) psychotic? Raise your hands! (Count me in... ☝) I'm happy to say that the original novel was a different story. All the elements that bothered me in the movie adaptation are there, yet there is always a (relatively) sane motivation for even the worse decisions.
The synopsis is simple: using a couple of diaries, the descendants of two stage magicians try to unravel the mystery of their feud, which more than a hundred years later, still continues to claim victims in both camps. Alfred Borden, a genuine talent, almost a prodigy in the field, sees Rupert Angier as a fraud, a worse than mediocre magician... and so the conflict is born. Over the years, both men try successively to mend the gap and unfortunately they always fail. In my opinion, this is the essence of the novel: not the obsession (which is the apparent theme), but the tragedy of two people unable to break free from a vicious cycle.
One of the reviewers said that the characters are not likeable, but I disagree. They both make dreadful choices, but in the end what I felt for them was an infinite sadness for never being on the same page. If only they could have put their anger aside, they would have seen (before it was too late) their similarities and end the enmity. And how similar they are! They both "kill" a part of themselves in order to prove to the other that they are better.
What I found extremely interesting about this novel is that the story is circular: the end is a "karmic" reflection of the beginning and both protagonists have to pay for their pseudo-suicides. (view spoiler)[Rupert Angier who started by faking a communication with the spirits turns into a "ghost" and the Borden-twins, who always pretended to be one person, remain one after being separated by death. (hide spoiler)]
Although not your typical SF story, this is altogether an excellent read!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a story about uprooting, about the desperation of never finding one's "land," about the insecurity of never knowing w...moreThe Yiddish Policemen's Union is a story about uprooting, about the desperation of never finding one's "land," about the insecurity of never knowing where one is going to be tomorrow. I'm not Jewish, but in my opinion this novel tells the millennia-old story of a people always forced to run, always prejudiced against, always oppressed. Because from Antiquity (going through the horrid Inquisition era) to World War II, these people never enjoyed a pause in the their flee. Do they even enjoy it now, during the twenty-first century?
But first things first, let's get over with the writing technique that everyone talks about. Simple test: do you like the following sentence? "The clock on the hospital wall hummed to itself, got antsy, kept snapping off pieces of the night with its minute hand." YES → lucky you; you're in for a great ride. NO/MAYBE → this novel is about 380 pages of akin sentences to the one above.
I read lots of comments from people who wondered what was the purpose of the plethora of Yiddish terms? Does Mr. Chabon try to create a language barrier and hence suggest the idea of isolation? It turns out, the language was in fact the spark that kindled the idea of this novel. Here is the story as told by the author himself in "Guidebook to a Land of Ghosts," an essay first published in 1997 (yes, ten years before the novel first saw the light).
In 1993 the author bought a book published in 1958, named Say It in Yiddish (by Uriel Weinreich and Beatrice Weinreich). It was an modern phrasal dictionary, which he calls "probably the saddest book that I own." The issue that gnaws at him is the futility of this phrase-guide, since by that time Israel already abandoned the Yiddish language. From there to brainstorming about possible needs for such a dictionary, there was only one step. (He puts forth two speculations but, for lack of space, I'll mention only the relevant one.)
"I can imagine a different Yisroel (Note: a post-war equivalent of Israel), the youngest nation on the North American continent, founded in the former Alaska territory during World War II as a resettlement zone for the Jews of Europe. (I once read that Franklin Roosevelt was briefly sold on such a plan.) [...] The resulting country is a cold, northern land of furs, paprika, samovars, and one long, glorious day of summer. It would be absurd to speak Hebrew, that tongue of spikenard and almonds, in such a place. (Nota bene: so he assumes that they would speak Yiddish instead)[...]
But grief haunts every mile of the places to which the Weinreichs beckon. [...] By taking us to Yisroel, the Weinreichs are, in effect, taking us home, to the 'old country.' To a Europe that might have been."
It is the old country that the author attempts to recreate in The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and he success admirably. Because this world is not just a scanty pencil sketch - it is a luscious Renaissance-style oil painting (you know, the ones that dwell in every minute detail). Mr. Chabon "paints" credible humans with their emotions and personal histories, which are part of a plausible community history, placed in a made-up but once again believable development, subject to the bigger geographic interaction. No element is left aside and no effort to improve on the novel's world is too small. The author could have chosen to tell the story of the old country from a historical perspective, with much less time-cost and subsequent creative effort. But, by molding a contemporary world, Michael Chabon appears to point out that the character's feelings of uprooting are in fact still a painful reality.
This is not a happy story, but neither is altogether a dejected one. The relentless bereavement of the people who have lost their land is an ever-present shadow. But so is the hope that one day they will find their land. ------✁------------
P.S. At the end, the edition that I read (Harper Collins's ebook published in 2012) has a Glossary of Yiddish Terms, which unfortunately is nowhere before mentioned. Do yourself a favor and check to see whether your edition has one. You'll need it...(less)
This is by far the best book in this series, if not the best book by Patricia Briggs that I read. It is a mystery, which is a novelty compared to all...moreThis is by far the best book in this series, if not the best book by Patricia Briggs that I read. It is a mystery, which is a novelty compared to all of the Mercy Thomson novels and the previous Alpha & Omega stories. It is also one of the better written works of her (coming right after reading Hunting Ground, which was a disappointment in style, the undeniable improvement in technique shows right from the start).
I see that there are already quite a few reviews that expand on the plot, so I won't go there. I'll mention instead what I liked about it.:
1) the contradictions in the plot that irked in the Mercy Thomson series are gone (do you remember the part where Mercy learns that ghosts try to avoid vampires at any cost, yet she finds the vampires' dens because these are the houses with a deluge of ghosts? Yup, me too...). Fair Game brings no contradictions, no lose ends, no stretches of imagination (well, as long as you don't complain to the existence of werewolves or fae), no coincidences, no holes in the story.
2) the plot is full-fledged, not just a smidgin of action as a background for the romance. While the previous stories in the series are categorically romances, Fair Game is foremost a mystery with a romantic background. It's almost as if the romance and the plot stop fighting with each other over the spotlight, and in doing so, both of them win.
3) the dynamic between Anna and Charles is realistically narrated, and unlike the previous installment, I found Charles's protectiveness convincing, not half rebarbative, half melodramatic. Maybe because the problems that they face as a couple are so serious, the interaction between Anna, Charles, Brother Wolf, and Anna's Wolf feels much more undirected.
3) as I said before, the writing, although still undemanding, is an improvement compared to the previous book in the series. I want only to mention here that there are no more tiresome redundancies of wiki-like werewolf-information, and when this information is related, it is incorporated in the dialogue not told by the narrator.
4) last but not least, I absolutely loved the ending! That was so unexpected and I don't want to spoil anyone's surprise. Now I can't wait to see where Ms. Briggs takes the story... (less)
This book has been somehow a disappointment. Not because the plot is bad - it is not, thought pretty standard for a detective story - but because the...moreThis book has been somehow a disappointment. Not because the plot is bad - it is not, thought pretty standard for a detective story - but because the writing is rather b(l)a(n)d. About a fifth of the book is written in two-word sentences and the remaining contains just marginally longer constructions.
Moreover, the narrative, told in the first voice, only has one speed: jocular-slow. Jocular because Elvis Cole is that type of guy who thinks that the earth will stop spinning if he doesn't crack a joke every other sentence. Slow because the narrator decides to share with us every single sensorial stimuli that he encounters and every thought (no matter how random) that crosses his mind. Unfortunately by doing so, the rhythm of the story relaxes considerably - not a good thing when it comes to a mystery novel.
I try to stay away from quoting, but in this case I think it's necessary to understand my complaint about the writing technique and the listlessness. Joe Pike, a mercenary friend, just came to the main character's house when the events got incendiary. One might think that his arrival would speed up the pace, but instead we are given this:
"She say this guy Dom's a matador?" "Yes." The pancakes were good. I wondered if he'd put cottage cheese in them. "I put cottage cheese in these," he said, reading my mind. "What do you think?" I shrugged. "Okay." He ate. "You know what matador means?"
And it goes on and on like this, even when (view spoiler)[his friend is shot and bleeds (possibly to death) on the pavement (hide spoiler)]: Cole still tells us jokes and describes the paintings that decorate the environment he is in.
Then of course there is another issue that irked me: Cole is supposed to be a modern chevalier with a mission to empower women. However, pseudo-chevalier might be a better name since one way of "accomplishing" his mission is by sleeping with these women exactly when they are most vulnerable. One could say that things happen (and I agree here). But when this kind of things happen twice (with both female characters of the novel) it strikes me as a very distasteful pattern in a hero. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is the first book about Sherlock Holmes that I read and my first impression is one of total amazement: for some short-stories, it is phenomenal h...moreThis is the first book about Sherlock Holmes that I read and my first impression is one of total amazement: for some short-stories, it is phenomenal how multi-faceted Sir Doyle's character is.
If some people need the adrenaline rush to flourish, Holmes needs an intellectual match to keep him engaged. And when he can't find a competition arduous enough, he falls back to the only thing that takes the edge off his apathy - the cocaine. He is an intellectual junkie in that respect and certainly not a nice person. It's true, he doesn't solve the mysteries for money, but he doesn't do it to help people either. He does for the sake of the sport and in that way he seeks to gratify one person only - himself.
I don't agree thought with some readers who claim that, by constantly showing off in front of Watson, he proves insecure and seeks attention. I think, aside from the villains to whom he can't confide, he simply considers Watson the closest person to his intellectual level. The fact that he neither has friends nor attempts to make any, comes only to support my point.
About the stories of this collection, they are quite concise (obviously a result of the media where they were first published) and follow a certain pattern - presenting the puzzle followed, almost immediately, by the solution. One can't expect a lot of development and twists in the situation given these constraints. Overall, the stories were satisfying, although I wish there were more cases of Holmes being wrong or, at least, showing signs of doubt.(less)
I got this book for free with the Audible Xmas promotions without knowing even to what genre it belongs. As it turns out, it wasn't a terrible book, i...moreI got this book for free with the Audible Xmas promotions without knowing even to what genre it belongs. As it turns out, it wasn't a terrible book, it wasn't a great book. I would rather label it forgetful-entertaining.
The main issue with "Succubus Blues" is the pervasive chick-lit flavor, which is quite mephitic during the first half of the book. Of course, this is a kind way of saying that I found the first half to be boring, with repetitive mundane, if potentially women-enthralling, tasks. It is amazing how little happens in this section: not before long, I got totally exhausted about yet another date and yet another dance evening.
The refreshing news is that, unlike most of the paranormal adventures, the demarcation between the good and the evil side is quite fuzzy - dare I say, gossamery. I am not talking here about the villains of the book, but about the angels and the demons (along with their subordinates) who all cut loose together. Ms. Mead tries to make a point that, in no matter on which side of the barricade the war may catch someone, each individual has a positive side and a sad story.(less)
For such a quick read, "The Mountains of Mourning" is the heaviest story in the series so far (and I just finished Ethan of Athos): it drips with mess...moreFor such a quick read, "The Mountains of Mourning" is the heaviest story in the series so far (and I just finished Ethan of Athos): it drips with messages and lessons for tolerance, acceptance, and respect even more than Barrayar did.
Yes, it is a bona fide mystery, but the crime is only a pretext for exploring the implications of being different in a world that prizes above all physical perfection. This theme in itself is not new; what is new, however, is the fact that Ms. Bujold delves into the causality of this compulsion for corporeal superiority: the reason the population on Barrayar is so obsessed with perfect bodies can be found in its tumultuous history, when regular folk were not able to care of the sick and weak. The author looks with understanding at the poorer population who initially became so intolerant not from evilness but as a necessity to survive. Even Miles's final decision is a exhortation toward tolerance, if not forgetfulness.
I found this novella a wonderful, if melancholic, addition to the saga.
P.S. "The Mountains of Mourning" is not a stand-alone story: there are references to evens and characters from the previous novels that someone new to the series wouldn't grasp. (I know this for a fact since my sister started the series with this novella and she was thoroughly confused.)(less)
I must be the exception from the rule because I thought that this novel was more enthralling than the previous installment, Paladin of Souls. I won't...moreI must be the exception from the rule because I thought that this novel was more enthralling than the previous installment, Paladin of Souls. I won't go again over the exceptional writing technique of Ms. Bujold, which I discussed at length in my reviews of The Curse of Chalion (link) and Paladin of Souls (link). Enough to say that the author's style continues to be consistently impressive and gripping.
Quite a few readers complained that they didn't find the religious twist from The Hallowed Hunt as compelling as the theological system from the previous two novels of the series. Maybe it's just me, but what I consider irresistible about these novels is the investigation performed, the questions asked, not the author's discovery, and even less the religious system devised to facilitate the inquest. But if we are to discus the actual doctrine of this book, I happen to welcome the shamanic branching, as a necessary infusion of fresh energy and information after the ubiquitous interference of the Bastard God from Paladin of Souls.
Now, yes the plot slows down a lot in this novel, and in truth there isn't much going on, but the characters are wonderfully nuanced which makes up for the lack of action. Lord Ingrey, the main male character, blurs the line between good and not-so-good: I won't call him quite evil, yet he is the darkest and most ambivalent of all Chalion heroes. And unlike Lord Cazaril and Royina Ista, whom were both profoundly blighted in their prime, Lord Ingrey has fared quite well notwithstanding a difficult childhood: in fact the book starts when he is at the hight of his dignity (at least up to that point). However, IMO the character that pulls the book together, is Lord Wencel Horseriver. He remains uttermost obscure to the reader up to very late in the novel, never giving us enough clues as to decode his true nature (or when we are giving some cues, they tend to be conflicting and cluttered).
The part that I didn't care much in The Hallowed Hunt was the ending: I simply thought that the villain's motivation was weak. It's not that, if I put myself in this character's shoes, I couldn't understand it, but, as a reader, I was hoping for a more electrifying play of events. Even so, I cannot wait for the next book in the series (and I hope there will be one)!(less)
I am totally in love with Louis's writing style, or better said, her voice. Because she does have a voice which is so rare nowadays: in the cacophony...moreI am totally in love with Louis's writing style, or better said, her voice. Because she does have a voice which is so rare nowadays: in the cacophony of writers, rarely one can recognize a unique voice, distinguishable from thousands others. And yet, I believe that's the case with her. Her pen brings words to life: if she talks about a character, I find myself inside that person's head; if she describes the environment, I'm there looking at mountains or wading barefoot through rivers. I believe her style's strongest point is the character development, although quite a few people seem to regard the introspection as a slowing in the rhythm of the story. I guess it's a personal preference: I'd rather read a few extra pages to understand the actor's behavior, than dive head-down into the story and without gulping for enough air to bring the tale to life. As I said in my review of The Curse of Chalion (link to review), I don't think anything in her stories is gratuitous.
However overall I found Paladin of Souls less captivating than The Curse of Chalion. It took me a while to realize what there seem to be the "problem" (not that it greatly affected my reading experience, as my one-day-start-to-end read proved it). Some folks complained that there isn't that much going on in the book; but I believe that's only a side effect since there are much more action numbers in Paladin of Souls than in the previous instalment. In my opinion, the novel would have done better with an extra negative character. In The Curse of Chalion we have the Chancellor dy Jiornal who plays the secondary villain next to the curse itself. But in the second novel, there is no one besides the mysterious demon-driver to bring more tension (and twists of fate) in the scene. Yes we still have a version of the positive character turned negative through a perverted quality (in The Curse of Chalion this is Roya Orico who, by being too lenient, tips the good-bad scale; here it's Lady Cattilara whose morbid love threatens the lives of all those around her). But as these characters always turn good in the end, their contribution to the angst is not the same as a true rogue.
On the other hand, I found the characters from Paladin of Souls more nuanced and multidimensional than those in The Curse of Chalion. Ista is not only torn apart by a catastrophical early life, but also between her resentment (and let's admit it, esoteric fear) of dealing with the Gods and her true divine calling. Her furtive and rather concisely described love affair is charming and much more convincing than that of Royina Iselle in The Curse of Chalion. Both male characters, Lord Arhys and Lord Illvin, although extraordinary in their military skills, are quite regular men, easily tempted by a hot-blooded beautiful woman and frighten by their portended bleak fates.
Finally, although the goods' presence is much more widespread in this second installment (the Bastard Good is a singular character), I found the pure metaphysical discourse shy away in front of the mystery with metaphysical vibe.(less)