Tag: Helene Wecker

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2013

These are my favourite fiction titles read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2013. Click the title for links to full reviews. My top 5 non-fiction titles for 2013 will go up Thursday.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (ISBN 978-0-7704-3640-7)

Cover image for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony MarraAnthony Marra’s debut novel is set in Chechnya around five days in 2004. From the woods behind her home, eight-year-old Havaa watches as her father, Dokka, is “disappeared” by Russian soldiers. Desperate to save Havaa from the same fate, Ahkmed, the incompetent village doctor who dreams of being an artist, delivers her to a nearby hospital, and into the reluctant care of Sonja, a British-trained physician trapped in Chechnya by the war. Marra’s lyrical prose contrasts with the brutal reality of the war torn country in which his story takes place. Dark and depressing on one hand, and buoyed by hope on the other, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena delivers the highs and lows life under difficult circumstances. Full of beautiful, striking details, this moving and resonant novel captures the heartache of war, and the depths of human resourcefulness in a narrative that will remain with you long after the final page.

Categories: Contemporary

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (ISBN 978-0-06-228022-0)

Cover image for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanA man returns home to Sussex for a family funeral, but instead of attending the wake, he finds himself revisting the ancient Hempstock Farm, home of his childhood friend, Lettie. As he sits next to the pond that Lettie called her Ocean, he recalls seemingly impossible events from his childhood. When he was seven years old, the suicide of a boarder at the edge of this ancient property set off a chain of supernatural events, unleashing a malevolent force convinced of its own beneficence. A relatively short novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane simply distills everything that is wonderful about Neil Gaiman’s work into a smaller, more concentrated story that highlights his skill as a story teller for all ages.  This novel is for those adults who do still want to read about daft things like “Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies.”

Categories: Speculative Fiction, Fantasy

The Golem and the Jinni (ISBN 978-0-06-211083-1)

Cover image for The Golem and the Jinni by Helene WeckerDebut novelist Helene Wecker combines mythology from the Jewish and Arabic traditions to tell the stories of two magical creatures who arrive in the diverse  immigrant community of New York in the late 1800s. Chava is a masterless golem, brought to life from clay by a disgraced rabbi who practices dark Kabbalistic magic . The jinni emerges from an ancient flask taken to a Syrian metal smith for repair. Strangers in an unfamiliar land, both the golem and the jinni struggle to find a place in their new home, while trying to conceal their true natures from the people around them. Wecker brings the immigrant communities to life as the two beings forge an unlikely friendship despite their opposing natures. Their relationship between them and their two communities will be key to defeating the evil forces that are converging around them. This novel is rich in both mythology and historical detail.

Categories: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

The Dirty Streets of Heaven (ISBN 978-00-7564-0768-1)

Cover image for The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad WilliamsEarthbound angel Doloriel, also known as Bobby Dollar, is a heavenly advocate, charged with defending the souls of the recently departed at their final judgement. He goes head-to-head with the demonic advocates who want to claim those same souls for the ranks of hell. Closer to humans than angels, Bobby has never met God, isn’t much of one for prayer, and doesn’t really trust the angels and principalities higher up the heavenly food chain. There’s no love lost on their side either, so when a soul Bobby is supposed to be representing disappears before judgement, he worries that he will be held responsible if he can’t track it down. But of course, this case runs deeper than one missing soul.  Tad Williams masterfully blends urban fantasy with noir detective fiction in a fast-paced adventure that engages with Christian lore and puts a new spin on angels and demons. Book two, Happy Hour in Hell, also deserves an honourable mention as one of the best books I read in 2013. 

Categories: Urban Fantasy, Mystery

Eleanor & Park (ISBN 978-1-250-01257-9)

eleanor-and-parkEleanor and Park couldn’t be more different from one another. Park has had a normal middle class upbringing, even if he was occasionally teased because his mother is Korean. Eleanor, on the other hand, was kicked out of her home by an abusive step father, and spent a year living with family friends who didn’t really want her. Eventually Richie lets her come home, but the abuse has only gotten worse in her absence. Eleanor sticks out like a sore thumb at her new school making her a target for bullying, but sitting next to Park on the bus offers her some measure of protection. One bus ride at a time, they build a tentative friendship that quickly becomes first love, even as the situation seems to doom their romance to failure. Rainbow Rowell has written a YA novel that is at once hard and brutally truthful, but also beautiful and touching. Slow paced and yet never boring, Eleanor & Park is an entire book made up, almost exclusively, of tiny, amazing, resonant, details. Rowell’s second novel of 2013, Fangirl, also deserves an honourable mention.

Categories: Young Adult, Romance 

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Looking for more excellent reading? Check out my top fiction reads from 2012.

The Golem and the Jinni

Cover image for The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Weckerby Helene Wecker

ISBN 978-0-06-211083-1

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

But remember this. A creature can only be altered so far from its basic nature. She’ll still be a golem. She’ll have the strength of a dozen men. She’ll protect you without thinking, and she’ll harm others to do it. No golem has ever existed that did not eventually run amok. You must be prepared to destroy her.”

In the belly of a ship bound from the old world to the new, a Jewish man named Otto Rotfeld takes his final breath. A woman, assumed to be his wife, stands at his side. However, she is not a woman at all, but a golem, a creature made from clay and brought to life to do her master’s bidding by a practitioner of dark magic. Masterless, the Golem arrives in New York, with no sense of purpose or direction, save the desire to fulfill the unspoken needs of the people around her, which come to her unbidden.

In a workshop in Little Syria, New York, a metal smith named Boutros Arbeely attempts to repair a copper flask brought to him by a customer. His interference unleashes a creature that has been trapped in the flask for hundreds of years. Around the jinni’s wrist is an iron band, trapping him in human form and restricting his magical abilities. A powerful wizard must have created the binding, but the jinni has no memory of being captured, and no notion of how much time has passed.

Strangers in a strange land, both the golem and the jinni struggle to find a place in their new surroundings, while trying to conceal their true natures from the humans around them. They tentatively begin building delicate new lives which must inevitably go awry. Although the golem and the jinni share a similar predicament, their different personalities and essential natures are a study in contrasts. Steady and thoughtful, the golem is primarily concerned with appearing normal, and preventing herself from becoming a threat to others; she would rather destroy herself than cause harm. Whimsical and temperamental, the jinni seeks whatever pleasure he can find in human life while struggling to regain his natural form, with no regard for the consequences to others.  Both characters chafe against their bonds, and find some small comfort in being able to be themselves in one another’s company when they eventually meet. The genius of this book lies in bringing to two characters and communities together as the situation plays out.

Though the main characters and key elements of the plot are supernatural, the setting is grounded in historical fact. Wecker evokes the setting of 1899 Manhattan wonderfully, as seen from the alien perspectives of two supernatural beings who have become hopelessly entangled in human affairs. A motley assortment of supporting characters bring Little Syria and the Jewish community to life. Bit by bit, we learn the stories of Fadwa el Hadid, a Bedouin girl from the jinni’s past, and Ice Cream Saleh, a cursed Syrian immigrant who sees too much. Much like in The Night Circus, the characters and the setting carry the story as Wecker ponderously gathers the various threads necessary to finally bring the tale to its stunning conclusion. Exquisitely imagined and elaborated, The Golem and the Jinni is best read slowly, allowing ample time to soak up the details of this enthralling debut novel.

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Already read and enjoyed The Golem and the Jinni? I recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Spring/Summer Fiction Preview

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. In addition to attending workshops and hanging out with other folks in the library profession, I was able to attend a Book Buzz event, and visit publishers at their booths on the exhibit floor to find out about the new fiction titles coming this spring and summer. I didn’t get much reading done this past week, so in lieu of sharing a review, here’s a peek at some of the forthcoming titles I am excited about for the first half of 2013.

Blood of Dragons (978-0-06-211685-7)
Cover image for Blood of Dragons Well known for writing fantasy trilogies in interlocking worlds, Robin Hobb is adding a fourth and final volume to The Rain Wilds Chronicles after a cliff hanger ending in volume three. The dragons and their keepers have reached Kelsingra, and the rebirth of the Elderlings is imminent. But although Kelsingra is no longer lost, the legendary silver wells on which the dragons depend are nowhere to be found. The keepers must steep themselves in the magical memories of the city to try to find out what has become of the wells before the dragons die. This series Harper Voyager continues April 9, 2013. (Update: read my review.)

Categories: Fantasy

Golden Boy (978-1-4767-0580-4)

Cover image for Golden BoyThe Walkers seem to be the perfect family. Karen Walker is a high power criminal attorney, and her husband Steve is about to stand for the British Parliament. Their son Max is the popular golden boy of his school. But for Karen, it all feels like a charade, and one that could fall apart at any moment. Steve’s candidacy for public office means that their lives are about to be laid bare to intensive media scrutiny. Between the publicity and the return of one of Max’s childhood friends, the Walkers are afraid that the secret of Max’s intersex condition will be exposed. Abigail Tarttelin’s novel is due out from Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) on May 21, 2013.

Categories: LGBT, Contemporary

The Golem and the Jinni (978-0-06211-083-1)

Cover image for The Golem and the JinniIn Helene Wecker’s debut novel, an unusual pair of magical immigrants arrive in New York City in 1899, creating an improbable connection between Jewish and Arabic mythology.  Ahmad is a fire jinni, accidently release from his lamp into the streets of the city. Chava is a Golem whose master, a Kabbalist magician, dies on the voyage from Poland to America, leaving her to make her way alone in a new country. United by their common immigrant experience, but then driven apart by their disparate heritage, only a “powerful threat” can bring them together again. HarperCollins is recommending this title for fans of The Night Circus, A Discovery of Witches, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Look for this HarperCollins book on April 23, 2013.

Categories: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology

If You Could Be Mine (978-1-61620-251-4)

Cover Image for If You Could Be MineSara Farizan’s debut novel is a young adult title about forbidden love in Iran. Sahar and Nasrin are best friends, but they are also in love, and in Iran homosexuality is a crime. Nasrin must marry the prosperous doctor her parents have selected for her. The girls keep their love a secret, passing only as friends in public. When Sahar learns that while homosexuality is a crime, being transgender is not, she must consider whether it would be worth transitioning in order to be able to love and even marry Nasrin openly. The only problem is that Sahar doesn’t identify as a man. This title is due out from Algonquin on August 20, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT, Romance

The Rithmatist (978-0-7653-2032-2)

Cover image for The RithmatistTor is hyping this title as Brandon Sanderson’s YA debut, since his previous books are classified as either middle grade or adult. Rithmatists are powerful magicians who use their skills to bring creatures known as Chalklings to life from two-dimensional chalk models. These Rithmatist-controlled creatures are all that protect the American Isles from being overrun by Wild Chalklings. The son of a chalkmaker at the Rithmatists’ academy, Joel dreams of being a Rithmatist himself. It seems more likely that he will follow in his father’s footsteps, until students at the school begin disappearing, and Joel must help solve the mystery. Following shortly on the heels of the conclusion of the Wheel of Time series, The Rithmatist is due out on May 14, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

I received ARCs of a number of these titles, so look for reviews closer to the release dates.