It is increasingly rare in adult literature to find three dimensional characters, and probably rarer in children's novels. Sage Blackwood has inventedIt is increasingly rare in adult literature to find three dimensional characters, and probably rarer in children's novels. Sage Blackwood has invented an entire forest of them and has created a tale to draw in readers of every age.
Jinx is a surplus child in his family's clearing in the Urwald forest so his step-father takes him deep into the forest and off of the Path that provides safety for all who travel it. But instead of falling victim to all of the dangers of the woods, werewolves, trolls, ghouls and the like, he is purchased (rescued?) by the wizard Simon.
Taken by Simon to his house in the woods that he shares with a few dozen cats, Jinx grows up surrounded by magic, but only learning snatches of it from Simon. However, Jinx has magical powers of his own.
It is hard to avoid spoilers, but Jinx meets two others of his own age and the three proceed on a great adventure. What sets this book apart is the wonderful people that are in it. These are not storybook characters of cardboard, but rather multilayered people of questionable character. Can one be good while doing evil or evil while seemingly decent? As in life, it is not always easy to tell.
The writing itself is amazing. It flows so smoothly that you don't even realize that you are reading a book designed for a third grader. Appealing to the adult reader, it is a wonderful way for children to explore the world of literature that treats them as grown-ups and refuses to condescend.
The ending of the story leaves open the possibility that there is more to tell. I certainly hope so, as I have come to truly enjoy the company of the young people, the trees, the witches and the wizards of Urwald. ...more
It amazes me how publishers are willing to print just about anything written by a best selling author. And apparently, in the case of Death Comes to PIt amazes me how publishers are willing to print just about anything written by a best selling author. And apparently, in the case of Death Comes to Pemberley, without even bothering to edit it. Although I am not sure that an editor could have saved this silly piece of something, I would have felt better if they had tried.The professional critics also amazed me, and made me long to get my hands on a copy of the book they were reading, because I did not recognize this one in the reviews at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the LA Times. I found little to praise and much to bemoan. What they may not have noticed is that had an editor been found to cut so much of the repetition and pointless exposition this book could possibly have become a charming novella and homage to Jane Austen. It could not have gotten any worse. As it stands now, it is difficult to read and even more difficult to believe.
Starting with Elizabeth Darcy nee Bennet. What happened to the overly confident, intelligent, insightful heroine who found “delight in the absurd”? How did she become the woman who meekly stood by and allowed the housekeeper to order her about in the presence of her guests as if she were Daphne du Maurier’s unnamed narrator in Rebecca?
“I will sit with Mrs. Wickham until Dr. McFee arrives, madam. I expect he will give her something to calm her and make her sleep. I suggest that you and Mrs. Bingley go back to the music room to wait; you will be comfortable there and the fire has been made up. Stoughton will stay at the door and keep watch, and he will let you and Mrs. Bingley know as soon as the chaise comes into sight. And if Mr. Wickham and Captain Denny are discovered on the road, there will be room in the chaise for the whole party, although it will not perhaps be the most comfortable of journeys. I expect the gentlemen will need something hot to eat when they do return, but I doubt, madam, whether Mr. Wickham and Captain Denny will wish to stay for refreshments. Once Mr. Wickham knows that his wife is safe, he and his friend will surely want to continue their journey. I think Pratt said that they were on their way to the King’s Arms at Lambton.”
This is simply wrong. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet would have been telling the housekeeper what she wanted done and how she wanted it done. She had been Mrs. Darcy for six years, surely a woman of Elizabeth’s intelligence would have learned how to order a household by now and would not have tolerated being treated like a child. The character created by PD James wonders if the housekeeper “was being deliberately reassuring.”
Who is this person with Elizabeth Darcy’s name? She appears as nothing but a foil for the others and is perhaps the most passive character in the novel.On the morning after a dead body is found in the woods of Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth both feel the need to address the servants. PD James apparently thinks it is important for us to know this and to remember it as she repeats it four or five times, even including it twice in the same paragraph:
"...love, I think it is time for us to speak to the staff, both the indoor servants and those who may be working in the house. Mrs. Reynolds and Stoughton will have told them only that there has been an accident and the ball has been cancelled, and there will be considerable alarm and anxiety. I will ring for Mrs. Reynolds now and say that we will come down to speak to them in the servants’ hall …"
Why not just go down and speak to them? The long heralded "talk" reveals nothing that has not already been discussed and provides no illumination of either the characters or the action. The elevation of mundane information is repeated throughout the novel, seemingly without reason.
Like the candles. Yes, candles. The body of Capt. Denny is placed on the table of the gunroom. When the authorities arrive at Pemberley, they are taken to view it. But first we must detour into a discussion of candles. Three pages of talk about how many candles they need, what kind of candles they are, how many are already in the gunroom (fourteen, we are told) and if the use of dining room candles will upset the housekeeper and the butler (?!?). I wondered whether the number and type of candles was a red herring placed in the path of the solution to the mystery or if it was simply James’ way of reminding us ignorant readers of the the 21st century that they had no electricity in 1803. I believe it to be the later. Or perhaps she had a minimum word quota to meet.
This repetition continues throughout the novel, as scenes and activities are described by multiple characters with minor differences between the accounts. Testimony given to the magistrate is repeated at the inquest, and then again at the trial. Really, we need to hear three times that the horses did not want to enter the woods?
And there is way too much of the amateurish “do remind me” and “do you remember when” manner of adding details from the original Pride & Prejudice to this story. As if anyone other than a die-hard Jane Austen fan would be reading Death Comes to Pemberley. And if someone was unfamiliar with that novel, these trips down memory lane would hardly enlighten them. Either way, it would cause the action to slow, if there was any action to speak of. Which there really isn't.
The mystery itself is surprisingly weak, especially coming from PD James. Much as I love mysteries, I don't like being able to figure them out in the first few chapters. There were times, I confess, that I found myself wondering who really wrote this book? Was it a hoax, or was a ghost being overly helpful? And really, what book were those professional critics reviewing?
I strongly recommend that those who have not yet spent the money on Death Comes to Pemberley to not spend it. Do not check it out of the library. Do not download the sample to your nook or kindle. If you love Jane Austen's people and their stories, read her books. They are free to download from multiple sources. ...more
I knew when I read The Winter Queen that Boris Akunin was an author of rare talent. I raved about his ability to transport the reader to the Russia ofI knew when I read The Winter Queen that Boris Akunin was an author of rare talent. I raved about his ability to transport the reader to the Russia of the Czars in a wonderfully florid style. The Winter Queen was the first of the Erast Fandorin series of mysteries. Akunin has decided that there are 16 different genres of mysteries, and 16 different personality types according to an interview he gave the San Diego Reader. The Winter Queen was the international conspiracy novel. The second book in the series, but for some reason the third published in the US, was the Turkish Gambit, a spy novel. The third book was Murder on the Leviathan, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery. Not only is the structure of Murder on the Leviathan different from the Winter Queen, but the prose is as well.
The 1878 Paris murder of English Lord Littleby was particularly heinous, resulting in not only his death, but also the strange deaths of seven members of his household staff, and two children related to them. There was no sign of violence on the bodies of the staff members, and most of them were found sitting around a table in the kitchen, but Lord Littleby had been beaten around the head with a blunt instrument.
Although he possessed a large collection of valuable antiquities, only a single statue of Shiva was stolen, along with a silk scarf perhaps used to conceal it. But the statue was fished out of the Seine almost immediately, leaving Gustave Gauche, the Investigator for Especially Important Cases with few clues to follow.
Gauche is well named, and reminded me of Agatha Christie's description of her own character, Hercule Poirot as a "bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep." Having found a whale shaped golden pin in Littleby's clenched fist, presumably ripped from the murderer's clothing, Gauche determined that is was used to identify the first class passengers and officers of the Leviathan's maiden voyage from Southampton to Bombay. Detecting the single passenger or senior officer lacking this golden bauble seemed an easy task to Gauche and so he boarded the ship at Southampton, sure he would have his criminal by the the time the ship reached LeHarve.
And so we begin our cruise on the largest ship of the day, offering first class accommodations so lavish and comfort so great that passengers would have no need to bring their own valets and/or maids. Nor would they be expected to take meals in a large dining hall, but in small salons of about ten people. It was in the Windsor salon that Gauche, with the assistance of the ship's Captain, was able to assemble his most likely suspects.
They included the Englishman, Sir Reginald Midford-Stokes, an erratic baronet, scion of a wealthy family, travelling to some "god forsaken Oceania," Mme. Renate Kleber, a young, pregnant wife of a Swiss banker traveling to join her husband in Calcutta, M. Gintaro Aono, a Japanese nobleman who claimed to be an officer in the Imperial Army of Japan, a Mlle. Clarissa Stamp, a "typical Englishwoman, no longer young, with dull colorless hair and rather sedate manners," a specialist in Indian archeology, Anthony F. Sweetchild and the ship's chief physician, the Italian M. Truffo and his English wife of two weeks. Also at the table was the first officer of the Leviathan, M. Charles Renier.
When the Leviathan reached Port Said, a Russian diplomat, with a shock of white hair and a slight stammer joined the party, eventually informing Gauche in response to his unsubtle questioning about the absence of his whale emblem, "I do not wear it because I do not wish to resemble a janitor with a name tag, not even a golden one."
Soon items turn up missing, and then passengers turn up dead. It is clear that the murderer is among our party in the Windsor salon. But who? And how many will die before the murderer is uncovered?
The story is told in the alternating voices of the passengers, through their diaries, letters and private thoughts as each chapter is written from a different point of view. None of them from the perspective of our intrepid Russian diplomat, Erast Fandorin; we only see him through the lenses of the other travelers. But he is essential to the solution of the mystery.
Clearly written in the style of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, Murder on the Leviathan is a cozy mystery reminiscent of Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express. But it is ingeniously updated, as Akunin exposes the national and racial bigotry of that era and those writers and handily refutes it. It is the kind of book I had to occasionally put down, just to marvel at how well he was handling this genre and how much he was improving it all while poking gentle fun at its conventions.
The characters are beautifully drawn, the plotting is almost perfect and although it seems to slow a little in the middle, the mystery is resolved just when one can no longer stand the suspense. For we all know that there is another shoe to drop somewhere, we just aren't sure whose shoe it will be and how far it will fall.
If you enjoy an intelligently written, complex, cozy mystery, Murder on the Leviathan is one you should not miss. Whether you consider it a parody of the genre or a simple cozy, it is a pleasurable read. ...more
Raised in a liberal Jewish family, David Harris-Gershon considered Palestinians, if he gave much thought to them at all, to be the bad guys. "GrowingRaised in a liberal Jewish family, David Harris-Gershon considered Palestinians, if he gave much thought to them at all, to be the bad guys. "Growing up, I just thought of Palestinians as another enemy of the Jewish people," he said. "I thought of them as a caricature of evil. And that is sadly common among American Jews."
One would think that the experiences that Harris-Gershon and his wife had in Israel would only have reinforced that opinion.
On July 31, 2002, while David Harris-Gershon was enjoying a lunch of pasta and tomato pesto at their home in Jerusalem, his wife Jamie was in the student cafeteria at the Hebrew University, cramming for an exam with a couple of friends.
The two Americans had met and married in the States and traveled to Israel for a year of study at the Pardes' Educators Program. One year led to three as they both enrolled in a two year graduate program at Hebrew University for their Masters in Jewish Education.
So it was that Jamie was at the cafeteria, that July afternoon, just leaning over to retrieve her study materials, when the backpack bomb went off, killing her two friends and seriously injuring her. Later that night at the hospital, Jamie's surgeon presented David with a misshapen nut that had flown from the backpack bomb into Jamie's small intestine, saying, "Sometimes people want these things."
By December of that year, Jamie's physical recovery had progressed well enough that the couple returned to the States, settling in the Washington DC area, him to teach and her to await the birth of their first daughter. Jamie began the hard work of her emotional recovery, while David simply denied his trauma. After all, he wasn't at the University that day. He had not been hurt by the terror attack. If anything, he had failed to protect his wife - he was clearly not a victim.
Except that of course, he was. He was suffering from many of the PTSD symptoms, not even knowing that there was such a thing as Secondary PTSD, or secondary traumatic stress disorder. Although not a diagnosis under the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, it is a very real syndrome:
'Dr. Charles Figley, a psychologist and professor of social work at Tulane University, wrote in his 1995 book, "Compassion Fatigue, Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder," that secondary traumatic stress is "the natural consequent behaviors resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person."' - The Jewish Chronicle
No matter how hard he tried to deny it, the stress was taking its toll on him, causing breathing difficulties, worsening his insomnia, taunting him with exaggerated threats of harm to his family. Unable or unwilling to accept therapy, he struggled alone with his demons.
And then one day he read that the terrorist, Mohammad Odeh, now in an Israeli jail, expressed remorse for the bombing. Everything stopped for Harris-Gershon at that moment and he immediately began an almost manic attempt to verify that statement of regret. To meet this man.
Knowing that he could never forgive, he did want desperately to understand, hoping that understanding might lead to healing. He began exploring reconciliation, wondering what the South Africans found at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Could reconciliation work without revenge? He made contact with others who were also dealing with unbearable pain created by political violence. And he decided he needed to meet with Mohammad Odeh.
He connected with Leah Green of the Compassionate Listening Project who helped him to reach out to the Odeh family who agreed to meet with him. His journey led him to a home in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, where he met with the family of the terrorist who tried to kill his wife.
Clear and accessible Harris-Gershon's prose in this book is compelling, honest, and at times lyrical. Planning to read for an hour or two before bed, I read until four in the morning, unable to put the book down.
It is a riveting account, not only of the bombing, but of the Harris-Gershons' attempt to rebuild their lives, coming home to the United States, the births of their two daughters, and of his return to the Middle East. The self-deprecating humor often found in the internal dialogues which he conducts with himself and with inanimate objects, leavens the dark nature of the tale.
But the book isn't just a memoir. Harris-Gershon explores the roots of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the politics leading up to the July 2002 Hebrew University attack, the intifada, and the impact of the occupation upon the Palestinians. Both David's wife and her attacker play background roles because this book is not simply about a bombing in Jerusalem.
Society has developed ways to deal with and assist both the direct victims and the perpetrators of terrorism. Prison for one and intensive physical and emotional therapy for the victims.
What I learned from this thought provoking book is the need to address the trauma of the secondary victims. For every primary victim, there must be a dozen or more family members and friends who are traumatized as well. And for the Palestinians there must be an equal number of secondary trauma victims of artillery shells and the oppressive nature of occupation.
And how many are even aware that they are suffering from a form of PTSD? That they too, are victims. How many simply trade the pain and fear for hate? Perhaps because reconciliation is hard and hate is easy and it is re-inforced by both cultures.
I don't know, anymore than Harris-Gershon knew that his visit to the Odeh family would help him to find closure, reconciliation or peace. But sometimes, you have to try anyway, because nothing else has worked. ...more
I'm not generally a fan of this type of fiction, and thought the P.D.James effort to be an abysmal failure. Which is why I was so pleased to find thisI'm not generally a fan of this type of fiction, and thought the P.D.James effort to be an abysmal failure. Which is why I was so pleased to find this gem. What I hated most about the James novel was completely lacking here: there was no false notes of "do you remember such and such?", there was no heavy-handed clumsy attempt at imitation.
This is a skillful, flowing tale told as Jane Austen would have told it had she lived and been so inclined. From the first words, Austen's influence is clear:
"The death of Mrs. Bates, a very old lady whose hearing had long since gone and who had spent her last few months either in her bedroom or sitting in her chair in the parlor, would have gone unremarked in London, where people spent their time discussing fashion, nobility, and the latest offering at the theatre. In Bath her decease might have been mentioned as a piece of dull news, before the residents and visitors resumed discussing who had been seen at the Pump Room during the day or who was giving a whist party that night. In Highbury, however, Mrs. Bates's passing was an event which was talked over in every house, both great and small. They wondered about her last hours, hoped that their own ends would be so peaceful, and discussed what they had heard about the funeral arrangements. To the romantic, a death may not hold the same fascination as the hopes for a wedding, but just as young ones begin, old lives must end."
Even the Chapter names are dead ringers, like "Excursions of a Lively Mind," or "Sketches From the Past." The same examination and illumination of manners and social pretense that Austen excelled at are present in The Highbury Murders. Plus, there is a mystery. Yes, a real live mystery.
If you are interested in a light hearted cozy mystery and a visit with old friends, you will probably enjoy this book. ...more
Boris Akunin's prose doesn't tell you that The Winter Queen is set in 1876 Tsarist Russia, it takes you there. It slows you down to an era before teleBoris Akunin's prose doesn't tell you that The Winter Queen is set in 1876 Tsarist Russia, it takes you there. It slows you down to an era before telephones, when steel nibs were replacing goose quill pens; an era when the potential of electricity was being explored and advertisements for Lord Byron's whalebone corsets for men (AN INCH-THIN WAIST AND YARD-WIDE SHOULDERS!) appeared on the front page of the Moscow Gazette. The language itself becomes part of the story, keeping the reader delightfully immersed in the world of the mid-nineteenth century.
And perhaps that is why the first sentence is the exception to the rule of minimalist openings:
"On Monday the Thirteenth of May in the year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow's Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitnesses to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency."
My immediate reaction upon reading this sentence, was to check the publication date to make sure that I was reading a book that had been published in 1998. My second reaction was an intense interest in what outrage had flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency.
Our hero, Erast Fandorin, is an orphan who lost his mother early in life and his father shortly before the novel opens. Before dying, his father gambles away the family fortune forcing Fandorin to leave the gymnasium and forgo university to take a job as a low ranking police department functionary.
(Fandorin is a Collegiate Registrar, fourteenth class. In 1722, Peter the Great had introduced a table of ranks, which is included in the book, delineating status and seniority amongst the different government services. As a Collegiate Registrar, fourteenth class, Fandorin has a rank equivalent to a Naval Ensign.)
Only three weeks on the job, his boss indulgently sends him to retrieve the suicide note of the young man who "flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency" by committing suicide in the Alexander Gardens. A student at Moscow University who was heir to millions, Pyotr Kokorin walked up to a young lady and her chaperone, declared his undying love for her, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
But that was not the only strange incident to occur in Moscow on that day, and from his desk at the Criminal Investigative Division, Fandorin suspected something more complicated was happening. Stretching the approval he got from his boss for his errand, he begins investigating what appears to be an outbreak of suicide attempts.
Following the clues left by the dead student Fandorin stumbles upon a salon conducted by a beautiful mysterious woman, Amalia, whom he describes as a Cleopatra. Amongst her many admirers, was the suicide, Kokorin, and his friend and fellow student, Akhtyrtsev, and "an officer of the hussars, a well-set-up young fellow with a slight slant to his eyes and a smile that was all white teeth and black mustache" named Count Zurov.
Leaving the salon, Erast falls in with Akhtyrtsev who, over drinks in a seedy bar, provides information about the suicide of Kokorin during a game of American Roulette.
This being Boris Akunin's world, it is called American Roulette until the actions of his characters cause it to be renamed:
"Kokorin had read somewhere about American roulette and he liked the idea. He said, 'Because of you and me, Kolya, they'll rename it Russian roulette--just you wait and see.'"
When Akhtyrtsev is murdered and Fandorin injured, as they are leaving the "iniquitous establishment" the investigation is taken over by a State Counselor, Ivan Brilling from St. Petersburg, who dazzles Fandorin with a display of deductive reasoning reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes; "It's the deductive method, my dear Fandorin."
Under new leadership the investigation picks up speed and the suspect pool increases, leading Fandorin on a race across Europe to England.
Beautifully written, with a plot that Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum would admire, The Winter Queen is loaded with almost mischievous literary references and sly humor.
Boris Akunin, though born in Georgia, was raised and lives in Moscow. He studied Japan in the Institute of Asian and African Studies of the Moscow State University. He did literary translations from Japanese and English into Russian, including work on the "Anthology of Japanese Literature" and worked on the Pushkin Library.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, he turned to filling what he felt was a gap in Russian reading material. There simply was no decent, entertaining fiction. There were political exposés, of course, and the classics, which had always been available, even under the Communist regime. But well written fiction for pleasure reading was practically non-existent. He set about to change that, writing about a young man who solved crimes in Imperialist Russia.
Part of his plan for the series is to include a novel for each of the 16 genres of mystery crime fiction that he has identified. The Winter Queen is an international conspiracy, the second book is The Turkish Gambit, a spy novel and the third is Murder on the Leviathan, a classic cozy mystery....more