"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo

John Oliver Funko Pop with Marlon Bundo Book
This book is a delight. And the proceeds go to support good causes that aid gay youth.

A Hero of France

TITLE: A Hero of France
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

With this book now read, I am caught up with Furst's series set during World War II and am eagerly awaiting another. This one focuses on the French Resistance in 1941 and the covert work done by the leader of a Resistance cell who is known as Mathieu. He and his team specialize in getting downed British fliers out of occupied France so they can be returned to England to fight again. A few familiar characters from previous books show up and I admire Furst's ability to juggle all the characters' timelines as his books are not written in strict chronological order. This attention to continuity and connections add realism to the series and while each book stands on its own, reading all of them gives the reader a real sense of the concurrent events of a Europe in the midst of war.

There's plenty going on here: various missions, overtures from British intelligence to help and perhaps take over the running of the escape pipeline, and the German high command determined to break up the organized French resistance. But as usual, it's the characters who get under my skin more than the events. Furst bases his books on well-researched events and activities, bringing to life the simple bravery of people fighting for what they believe in. And in today's political climate, these books are a good reminder of how easy it is to lose one's freedoms. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Golem and the Jinni

TITLE: The Golem and the Jinni
AUTHOR: Helene Wecker

This took me a lot longer to read than I would've liked, partly due to the smallish text (maybe I should've read it on my Kindle), but toward the end, partly because I didn't want to say goodbye to these characters. I read a sequel is coming in the fall, but this book has a perfect ending and while I welcome the chance to read more about Chava the Golem and Ahmad the Jinni, I would have been happy enough with just this.

Chava is a Hebrew creature made of clay to be the wife of a man who dies en route from Prussia to New York City in 1899. An elderly rabbi realizes her true nature and takes her under his wing, trying to teach her how to fit in. Ahmad (his real name is unpronounceable) is a jinni released from a flask by a Syrian metalsmith after years of captivity. Still trapped by the iron cuff on his wrist, put there by the wizard who had imprisoned him, the newly-named Ahmad is stuck in human form.

Wecker makes full use of their opposing natures as the two non-human creatures happen upon each other one night and form an odd friendship. Chava has been left masterless yet privy to the thoughts of all humans she comes in contact with. Needing neither sleep nor food or drink, possessing no beating heart, she is under constant stress of being found out. A being of superior strength, she poses a danger to society and she can be destroyed by the reading of a particular spell. Freed from a master's control though by nature she was made for such control, Chava struggles to find her place in the city she finds herself in.

On the other hand, Ahmad is a creature born to soar and the constraints of human form and the need to also fit into society, are as chafing to his nature as the cuff on his wrist.

Dangers come from all directions, including the arrival of the elderly mystic who created Chava who is seeking eternal life, the bewitched man who senses Ahmad's true nature, and instances where both Chava and Ahmad inadvertently reveal their special abilities. Wecker does a wonderful job weaving together the disparate characters and events, including flashbacks, to give us a fully realized, fantastical New York City at the end of the 1800s. Along the way, she gives us a treatise on what it means to be human, as well as an unexpected love story.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Trespasser

TITLE: The Trespasser
AUTHOR: Tana French

Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad is probably my favorite mystery series, mainly because it doesn't focus on just one detective or pair of detectives. This book focuses on Det. Antoinette Conway and her partner Stephen Moran, both of whom appeared in the previous book, The Secret Place. This one, told from Antoinette's point of view, follows the detectives as they investigate the murder of a young woman in her home, as well as all the harassment Antoinette has faced since transferring to the Murder Squad from Missing Persons.

What first appears to be a slam-dunk-the-boyfriend-did-it case turns into something more complicated, especially after Antoinette realizes she's met the victim a while back, not to mention they both live in the same general neighborhood. The evidence against the boyfriend is circumstantial and in their desire to finally have a major case to solve, Antoinette and Stephen find their imaginations running wild through possibilities. But, could they be right? Things just aren't adding up for a simple solve and the pressure from more senior detectives working the case with them isn't helping.

French is skilled in moving along the story in what feels like real time while delving just as skillfully into Antoinette's psyche. And that's the best part of this series. Each narrator has his or her personality and it shows through the narration, making each book connected while being able to stand on its own. If you love mysteries but haven't read this series yet, I suggest you give it a try.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Midnight in Europe

TITLE: Midnight in Europe
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

This historical spy novel is set mostly in Paris from late-1937 through much of 1938. The protagonist, Cristian Ferrar, a Spanish emigre living in Paris, is a lawyer for an international firm and travels often for his job, spending time at the main office in New York, where he has a lover, and in Paris. But he also is a supporter of the Republican forces in Spain fighting Franco's fascist army. Unlike most of Furst's novels that I've read, which focus on spying against Germany, in this book, Nazi Germany's actions form a backdrop for the conflict in Spain when Ferrar is enlisted by the Republic's diplomats in Paris to help supply arms to the Republic's army. Since most countries won't ship arms directly to Spain, Ferrar and Max de Lyon, a diplomat/arms dealer, engage in dangerous clandestine operations.

The usual Furst thrills are on display, with Cristian becoming involved with a woman who likely is more than she seems, close calls in enemy territory, and even appearances of characters from other of Furst's novels, especially Count Polanyi. As always, I felt like I was part of the time and place, thanks to Furst's impeccable research and attention to detail. His books might not be compulsive pageturners, but they are engrossing, filled with wonderful, fully realized characters. Now, on to the next one!