Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Witches of Chiswick

You can't even imagine how much I wanted to like this book.  The awkward thing is I say that EVERY time I pick up a new Rankin Book.  The thing is when Rankin is good, he's really shut the front door good. Funny, strange, ridiculous break the fourth wall hilarious, mildly eccentric blah blah.  When he's bad though (and please please cult following don't hurt me) he's basically unreadable.  This one oddly fell smack dab in the middle for me.  I was almost embarrassingly apathetic about this book. I started reading this APRIL TENTH. That's 5 months ago. It doesn't take me 5 months to ready ANY book. I just kept picking it up, reading half a chapter and then getting distracted.  When I read it, I could kind of get into it, but it didn't grab onto me, and by the time I finished it I was just left... apathetic.

I was mildly annoyed (and it's been echo'd on other reviews) that there were too many loose ends and that there was a little too much of the book aimed at people who've read every one of Rankin's other books. I've read a few (ok, more than a few) but apparently not enough because there were times I was left a little too confused... I don't even know.

I think it bothers me because I want to love all of Rankin's books. Like, I really really want to. I love the idea of the world he's built, with paradoxes, time travel, witches (non-existant, but still kinda there. I guess). I dunno. This is a terrible review. I don't even know.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Magic of Saida

I received this book as an ARC, sent to me by the publisher, and I finished it a few days ago and am still processing it. This will be a bit of an odd review (but really, most of mine have been recently). I think what's holding me back is I always want to write a review that lets people know what I felt about the book, and if I think they would enjoy it. I keep coming up empty, because all I can think is that this book was just lovely. 

In the best possible way, I don't quite know what to make of this book. The book is a soft tale of 20th Century Colonialism, something that's rare in almost all other books related to that topic. It felt real - lives lived and impacted but it wasn't the focus of the book - it was there, it was history and it was life, but it wasn't what the book was about. I put a quick summary from the publisher below because it doesn't flow with my review, but to me the book was about regret, longing and memory. It struck a chord because a recurring feeling the protagonist had was that he didn't know where he belonged, and he never truly felt a part of something. 

It's about finding your identity through finding the past. The book was brilliantly written, but Vassanji is a brilliant writer, one I have loved for a while. His brilliance lies in the subtleties of what he writes, the characters that he builds and where he takes the story - and above all I've always thought Vassanji is a storyteller. In all honesty I enjoyed this book more than I've enjoyed a book in a while. I broke my trashy Urban Fantasy kick to read this, and I'm incredibly glad I did. Absolutely go grab a copy, you won't regret it. It will leave you thinking and dreaming, and a feeling nostalgic for things you may have never known.


The Magic of Saida tells the haunting story of Kamal, a successful Canadian doctor who, in middle age and after decades in North America, decides to return to his homeland of East Africa to find his childhood sweetheart, Saida. Kamal's journey is motivated by a combination of guilt, hope, and the desire to unravel the mysteries of his childhood--mysteries compounded by the fact that Kamal is the son of an absent Indian father from a well-to-do family and a Swahili African mother of slave ancestry. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch Kamal's early years in the ancient coastal town of Kilwa, where he grows up in a world of poverty but also of poetry, sustained by his friendship with the magical Saida. This world abruptly ends when Kamal is sent away by his mother to live with his father's family in the city. There, the academically gifted boy grows up as a "dark Indian," eventually going to university and departing for Canada. Left behind to her traditional fate is Saida, now a beautiful young woman. Decades later, Kamal's guilt pulls him back to Kilwa . . . where we discovers what happened to Saida during a harrowing night of sinister rites.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lazarus is Dead

Full Disclosure: I won this as an ARC copy from the Goodreads giveaway.  I was pretty excited to have won this one - generally I'm thrilled to win a book, but I really do love Europa as a publisher. No, they didn't tell me to say that. Yes, I actually really do think have favourite publishers.

Lazarus raising from the dead is the last, and arguably most famous of Jesus's public miracles resulting in two of the most famous Biblical quotes: "I am the resurrection and the life" and "Jesus Wept". The thing is only John mentions Lazarus - and that was written about 100 years after the other Gospels, and the problem with John, as well all know (do we all know this? My uncle used to be a Benedictine monk. Maybe this isn't common knowledge) John is... less dependable. Beard himself says it hilariously well "Mark is considered the most factually accurate. Matthew and Luke base their accounts on Mark, while John is closer to the kind of writing known today as creative non-fiction." So yes. Creative non-fiction. Historical Fact.

Whatever. Anyways. Beard's novel focus around the detail that Lazarus is described as Jesus' friend - something Jesus has few of. Why is it Lazarus' death that causes Jesus to weep? Why did the first three gospel writers omit Lazarus from their version of historical record? Beard traces the history of Jesus' friendship with Lazarus, then their more adult lives. I don't really want to get into much detail here (because you know. Spoilers) so I'm going to tell you what I think about the book.In the best possible way, I don't actually know what to make of the book. Stylistically, Beard is close to perfect, flippant but never trivial, and enough probability is added to the core of Lazarus's story to make you care about his eventual fate (or you know, one of the two options that Beard gives. Which is true? Who knows). But about the book itself I don't actually know quite what to make of it. It bounces between speculative fiction and more realistic textual analysis. It's a made up (or not) (but maybe?) (but really, too complex a debate for Goodreads) Biography of the man who was arguably Jesus' only friend.

Complicated, I know.

When you read it you'll understand.Lazarus is Dead is arguably the most unusual and original book I've read in a while and I read a lot of odd books. Call it speculative fiction, or whatever you want, and go get a copy when it comes out. It's very very much well worth a read. You'll probably put it down and be a little confused and fairly thoughtful about what is fiction, what is fact and the stories none of us know, but wish we did.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stealing Magic

Blah Blah Blah I love Tanya Huff. This is not a secret. Wizard of the Grove is one of hands down my favourite books ever, the Blood Series is one I adore and the Keeper series this one I've read so many timees I've destroyed two copies. I haven't recommended these books to anyone who hasn't liked them. Huff is funny, smart and a fabulously entertaining writer.

Stealing magic is a collection of short stories (man I really do hate most short  stories.), really it's a double header of Huff’s comical short stories featuring Magdelene (the world's most powerful and laziest wizard) and Terazin (a top-notch thief). The book is charming, funny, and once again proves that Huff has no regard for the conventions and boundaries of genre I don't really know WHICH genre to effect. The Magdelene stories in Stealing Magic are certainly some of the few ‘high fantasy’ short works that I have ever liked. I'm pretty sure my favourite of the two are the Magdelene ones. Originally an apprentice to Adar, a castle wizard she unknowingly dismantles his most powerful spells like they don't even exist. She gains Adar's powers, just before he is turned into a pile of gray ash (oops), and decides to leave the castle. Traveling with H'sak, a demon trapped inside a mirItror, she finds that the most bucolic villages have the most unique customs concerning wizards, like welcoming them with axes or chains and manacles. Probably awkward. Basically I love that Huff gives us a lazy heroine who does not suffer from heart pangs, unhappy love, "save-the-world" complex and takes life, magic and men as something to be relaxed about. It's hot outside guys.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Water For Elephants

I wanted to love this book. I can't even tell you how much I wanted to love this book. I actually read it before the movie came out solely based on the fact I thought the cover was pretty. We all know I'm that person. I picked it up because I've always had a bit of a fascination with the circus' that toured in the early 1900's - a fascination Carnivàle cemented. So I really really wanted to love this book. So the book was seemed like it could have happened and seems to have been well researched and that's about the best I can say about it. Oh, and Wikipedia says it was written for NaNoWiMo. That's kind of cool.

That's not entirely true. It was an alright read - the idea of an orphan running away to the circus is one that is rarely a bad premise because of the inherent romance. There was a love triangle that didn't actually annoy me, and there was a very very sweet ending. The book was ok - not amazing and I think part of my... apathy towards it was because I wanted so badly to love it and I just didn't. Something was just missing.