The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – Book Review

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

A golem and a jinni walk into New York City at the turn of the century. Okay, well, the Jinni doesn’t actually walk, he arrives in a copper flask that has held oil for longer than anyone can remember. The Golem, though, she walks. She walks right off the ship that carried her from Europe and right along the bottom of the harbor. Oh, and also this isn’t a joke, but Helene Wecker’s lovely and magical story about late 19th century immigration, identity, and just a little magic.

YOU GUYS. SO GOOD.

Really, I found everything about The Golem and the Jinni just fabulous. Both the Golem and the Jinni were astoundingly realistic, especially considering they are mythical creatures. What is particularly well done with their characterization is the fact that their concerns are at the same time unique to a golem (or a jinni), but also contain threads that would make their problems easy to relate to for we non-magical beings. Wecker’s turn-of-the-century Jewish and Syrian immigrant communities are also vividly drawn and compelling, making The Golem and the Jinni a real treat for lovers of historical fiction.

The Golem and the Jinni is one of the very rare books that I wish was longer, so that I might continue to dwell within its pages. Very highly recommended.

Source: Publisher.
Learn more about The Golem and the Jinni on the publisher’s website

 

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Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight – Audiobook Review

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, narrated by Kristine Hvam
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper Books, both imprints of HarperCollins

Synopsis:

In the middle of a hugely important client meeting, Kate gets a call about her daughter. Amelia, always an exceptional student and a good kid, has been accused of cheating on an English paper and is being suspended. By the time Kate arrives at the school an hour later, there are emergency vehicles everywhere and Amelia is dead after ostensibly jumping off the roof. Kate is bereft at losing her daughter and finds herself overwhelmed by her grief, until she receives an anonymous text claiming that Amelia did not jump. As Kate begins to investigate her daughters life, she realizes just how much Amelia had been keeping secret from her, and becomes increasingly sure her daughter did not commit suicide.

Thoughts on the story:

Reconstructing Amelia alternates between Kate’s point of view after Amelia’s death and Amelia’s leading up to her death. Amelia’s sections in particularly are heartbreaking because she is a great, funny girl with some serious problems that are really not her fault and knowing that her story is going to end with her tragic death is often very difficult. I actually found myself hoping she had committed suicide or that she had fallen off the roof by accident because I just couldn’t bear the thought of anyone killing her. The way this whole thing is plotted worked very well for me. Kate’s discoveries often connect with what Amelia is going through in the alternate chapters, but not so much that anything feels redundant. It is overall a very well put together story.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This is the first time I’ve listened to Kristine Hvam in a full-length production and I was very impressed. She introduces slight variations in her voice to differentiate between Kate and Amelia, so that even if you miss the chapter tag of the character and date you can still figure out easily which character’s point of view you are in (even without the fairly obvious context clues). About the dates in the chapter titles, though… That was the one thing that didn’t work for me as well consuming this as an audiobook versus a print book. I did not pay enough attention to the dates when I heard them that by the next time around I could remember what they were, and audio of course makes it more difficult to go back and check. Luckily both story lines progress in a linear fashion, so the only real issue was not knowing quite how much time elapsed over the course of the story.

Overall:

Loved! This is a good one if you want to cause some obsessive listening. The book is well put together and the narration is top-notch. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio*
Indiebound: Audio*
Downpour Audio

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

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Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart – Audiobook Review

Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart, narrated by Jef Brick
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper Books, both imprints of HarperCollins

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

On April 6, 1940, explorer and future World War II spy Theodore Morde (who would one day attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler), anxious about the perilous journey that lay ahead of him, struggled to fall asleep at the Paris Hotel in La Ceiba, Honduras.

Nearly seventy years later, in the same hotel, acclaimed journalist Christopher S. Stewart wonders what he’s gotten himself into. Stewart and Morde seek the same answer on their quests: the solution to the riddle of the whereabouts of Ciudad Blanca, buried somewhere deep in the rain forest on the Mosquito Coast. Imagining an immense and immaculate El Dorado–like city made entirely of gold, explorers as far back as the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés have tried to find the fabled White City. Others have gone looking for tall white cliffs and gigantic stone temples—no one found a trace.

Legends, like the jungle, are dense and captivating. Many have sought their fortune or fame down the Río Patuca—from Christopher Columbus to present-day college professors—and many have died or disappeared. What begins as a passing interest slowly turns into an obsession as Stewart pieces together the whirlwind life and mysterious death of Morde, a man who had sailed around the world five times before he was thirty and claimed to have discovered what he called the Lost City of the Monkey God.

Armed with Morde’s personal notebooks and the enigmatic coordinates etched on his well-worn walking stick, Stewart sets out to test the jungle himself—and to test himself in the jungle. As we follow the parallel journeys of Morde and Stewart, the ultimate destination morphs with their every twist and turn. Are they walking in circles? Or are they running from their own shadows? Jungleland is part detective story, part classic tale of man versus wild in the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Lost in Shangri-La. A story of young fatherhood as well as the timeless call of adventure, this is an epic search for answers in a place where nothing is guaranteed, least of all survival.

Thoughts on the story:

I’m not always keen on authors inserting themselves into stories, but Stewart’s combination memoir/history is extremely effective. I’m not sure that either his own story or Morde’s would have been enough to fully interest me, but combined they definitely kept me listening. Morde’s story provides the background, as well as some interesting spy games – including a plot to assassinate Hitler. Stewart’s story provides the heart, the human interest. I mean, this guy misses his daughter’s fourth birthday to gallivant around the jungle! It is his drive and his need to find the lost city that keeps the reader going, and then Morde’s story that provides the color and interest enough to break things up.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jef Brick does a really great job, I generally had no problem discerning whether we were listening to Stewart’s story or Morde’s. There was one odd moment where I wondered whether I had been confused and there had really been two narrators the whole time because he sounded so different for one of Morde’s sections, but that seems to have been an odd bit of stray editing, or a different recording venue, or perhaps a trick of my ears and not an issue with Brick’s narration.

Overall:

I found Jungleland to be a nice change of pace and an enjoyable audiobook. I think I would have liked the print, but am fairly certain that I enjoyed it more in audio than I would have in print. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

 

 

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Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear – Book Review

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

My reviews of the first nine books in the seriesMaisie DobbsBirds of a FeatherPardonable LiesMessenger of TruthAn Incomplete Revenge, Among the Mad, The Mapping of Love and Death, A Lesson in Secrets, and An Elegy for Eddie.

For the first time in ten books, Maisie Dobbs is not truly ready for her next case. Of course, she has never failed a case so utterly as she did her last big one. Maisie doesn’t really do failure well, and this one is eating at her. It doesn’t help that the man she considers responsible, the one she could not bring to justice, is one who is constantly at the periphery of her every day life, and would be even closer if she weren’t actively working to keep him away. His presence is a constant reminder to Maisie of the time she failed, all the ways she is not everything she wants to be, and so nothing is really right: not her work, not her relationship with James. What Maisie really wants, what she feels that she needs, is experience. Marcel traveled widely and Maisie feels that it was those travels that helped him become as perceptive and empathetic as he was in the years that she knew him, and so Maisie desires to leave the life she knows and the man who loves her and travel.

Leaving Everything Most Loved does involve a case, but it almost seems beside the point. Maisie is pulled in on the case of an Indian woman killed two months earlier. The case went cold for Scotland Yard and they effectively dropped it, until her brother arrived to agitate for justice. Frustrated with the police, Mr. Pramal is referred to Maisie by her own mentor’s mentor. Maisie investigates, but she is more inside her own head than is typical. She seems almost to be going through the motions, more focused on where her own life is going than on Usha Pramal’s murder.

If you haven’t read any of the Maisie Dobbs series before and are thinking about starting here, please picture me waving big red flags. Don’t do it! Leaving Everything Most Loved is so much more internal and with so much less plot than most of Winspear’s series. Also, because this is the 10th book in the series, much of the background for this time of contemplation comes not from the 260 or so pages of Leaving Everything Most Loved, but from the couple of thousand pages preceding it. If you haven’t read the previous books, you are simply not going to care, and if you haven’t read Elegy for Eddie, you are not really going to grasp Maisie’s sorrow. Even fans of the series may need to be in the right mood to enjoy Leaving Everything Most Loved, as it has a very different feel from the rest of the series. However, it seems that it is going to be important as a transitional book (at least, I assume it is a transition, and not an ending).

Not your typical Maisie Dobbs experience, but many fans will appreciate the intense look into Maisie’s psyche.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Literary Rogues by Andrew Shaffer – Book Review

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins

From the Marquis de Sade to Edgar Allan Poe to Bret Easton Ellis, there are, in the history of authors, some seriously screwed up individuals. In Literary Rogues, Shaffer details the lives and debaucheries of more than thirty, as the title says, wayward authors. As might be expected, there is a whole lot of sex, drugs, and alcohol herein, but somehow Shaffer manages to keep all of the authors from running together.

Shaffer does not divide up the lives of his subjects here as clearly as he does in Great Philosophers Who Fail at Love. In Great Philosophers, Shaffer gives each philosopher a separate chapter, even when they are interrelated. In Literary Rogues, on the other hand, writers who were friends, lovers, and compatriots frequently occupy chapters together, the narrative even drifts occasionally between two authors as the history warrants it.

What is particularly impressive about Literary Rogues is that Shaffer does not simply stick to the bad boys (and girls) of 20th century literature. Whole books could be (and indeed have been) written about Hemingway or the Fitzgeralds, but Shaffer begins all the way back in the 18th century with the Marquis de Sade and doesn’t stop until he comes to James Frey, drug addict and pseudo-memoirist extraordinaire.

Because many authors have similar vices, Literary Rogues might be best enjoyed in bits and pieces, a chapter here, a chapter there so as not to get bogged down in all the alcohol-induced deaths. Still, this is a fascinating account of some of the best-known writers of the later-day Western canon.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

ucy Arlington

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