Good Books and the Random Movie

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28 June 2013

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a look at 1899 New York City, with a twist. Though it reads like historical fiction, and all of the time period details are accurate, the book is about two supernatural creatures.

In Poland, a learned man of dubious character has agreed to create a golem. This will not be a typical clay thug who will react like a puppet, but the most realistic human-seeming golem ever created. She has been requested to be the wife of a man who is moving to New York to start over. When the man is done and she is handed over to her soon-to-be-husband, she is put in a box to spend the trip across the ocean with the luggage.

But the man does not wait until reaching New York before saying the incantation that will wake her. They are mid-Atlantic when he awakens her. And she is bound to him - can even read his emotions and desires so she can serve him. But the man is sick and will not live through the voyage. Once unbound, the golem will continue on to New York to try and figure out what to do next.

Centuries ago, a jinni roamed the Syrian desert. He stayed away from humans and lived for hundreds of years, even building a palace of glass that could only been seen when the light hit it just right. He was content to work with metal he extracted from the ground and formed into beautiful art. As a creature of fire, this was his skill. But eventually, he got curious about humans.

And now, in New York City, a Syrian woman has brought a beautiful flask to a tinsmith to be repaired. Her family has kept if for generations and it has held up remarkably well. And it does not really need to be repaired now. Mostly it was brought to make sure the tinsmith was included in the community and had work to do.

After copying the intricate pattern around the flask, Arbeely set his torch to the metal to begin his work. But as soon as the pattern was marred, man appeared on his floor. The iron cuff on his arm preventing him from changing from is current human form.

And so two magical creatures find themselves in the chaos of New York City in 1899. They will have to find a way to blend into the crowd so no one discovers what they really are. Eventually, they will meet up and share their stories.

Wecker has created a wonderful book. She captures the good and bad of 1899 New York. Her characters, both human and magical, are complex and real. This book will appeal to fans of history, Jews who grew up with stories of  the golem, and anyone who read any of the magical folktales of the jinni.

Wecker, Helene. (2013). The Golem and the Jinni. New York: HarperCollins.

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22 June 2013

Shadow of Night (All Souls #2)

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is the second book in her All Souls trilogy.

Diana needs a teacher. She has tried to deny that she is a witch for most of her life, but now she needs to learn to use and focus her magic. Her aunts, who are also witches, cannot teach her enough to face what is coming. She needs someone who is like the witches of old.

Matthew would do anything to protect Diana, but he cannot teach her magic. His centuries of knowledge and super-human strength will not be enough. But as a vampire who has lived so long, he can help guide Diana to a place in time that was (relatively) safe for witches and help her find the right teacher.

The 1590s were not the safest time and people are suspicious of outsiders, especially ones who speak so strangely. But Matthew knows that at the time he was not in London, so it should be okay to travel through time and carefully hide in the city while Diana learns to control her magic. However, after more than 400 hundred years, he may have forgotten some of the obligations he had at the time. After all, anyone who sees him will assume he is the 1590s Matthew, not one from the year 2012.

Harkness is a brilliant writer. Though the series has supernatural elements it reads like historical fiction. Her stories will suck you in and hold your attention until well after you finish the book. As a history professor, she is a master of research and it is reflected in her work. Run to a bookstore and buy the first two books now! Then wait impatiently with me for her to finish the third (but also know that they are so good because of the time it takes her to research the layers of history she includes).

Harkness, Deborah. (2012). Shadow of Night. New York: Viking.

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15 June 2013

Choke Point (Rutherford Risk #2)

Choke Point by Ridley Pearson is the second book in his Rutherford Risk series featuring John Knox and Grace Chu. Rutherford Risk is a personal security agency and specializes in high-risk operations such as hostage negotiation and tracking stolen funds.

After an article in the Amsterdam newspaper, a philanthropist has hired Rutherford Risk to shut down a knot shop - a sweatshop using young girls to tie knots for rugs. The article, written by Sonia Pangarkar, leads John Knox to believe that girls are chained to their work stations. With the help of Grace Chu, a computer genius who can trace money or signals all around the world, they must find the girls in the story.

Since Pangarkar wrote the article, a few of the people quoted have been killed or have disappeared. Knox and Chu will use different methods to try to get to the knot shop without alerting the bad guys of their approach.

Pearson is a master of suspense and high-energy adventure. His characters are wonderful and flawed and will keep readers coming back for more. Hopefully this series will have many more books (hint, hint).

Pearson, Ridley. (2013). Choke Point. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

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10 June 2013

If You Could Be Mine

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan is the story of first love between two women... in Iran where they could be sentenced to death for it.

Sahar has been in love with her best friend Nasrin since they were six years old. They have promised each other to always be together. But now that they are becoming adults it is expected that they will each get married.

When Nasrin's family announces her engagement, Sahar tries to think of a way to stop the wedding. In Iran the only crime as heinous as homosexuality is adultery. They cannot continue to be together if Nasrin gets married.

When Sahar's cousin brings her to a party to try to cheer her up, she meets a woman who was born a man. There is no law against being transgendered - it is seen as fixing nature's mistake. If Sahar becomes a man, she can marry Nasrin...

Farizan has written an intense coming of age novel. The characters face a situation that every young LGBTQ person has to face, but in even more dire circumstances due to government and religion in their country.


Farizan, Sara. (2013). If You Could Be Mine. New York: Algonquin Young Readers.

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09 June 2013

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls #1)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is the first book in her All Souls trilogy which takes place in a slightly alter version of our world. Along with humans there are three other types of humanoids inhabit the earth - witches, vampires and daemons. They go about their lives just like us and try not to let us humans notice that they are different.

Diana Bishop is a historian and professor. She is taking a year to study the history of alchemy at Oxford where she had access to original illustrated manuscripts her work is based upon. She is also a witch. Since the age of 8 she has tried to deny her connection to magic and witchcraft. In fact, she refuses to use magic. And she has only slipped up 5 times this year, but fixing the washing machine should not count as the result of not using magic would have caused a flood.

Her year is going along on schedule until she requests the manuscript Ashmole 782. When she receives it, she can feel it magic. She lays her hand on it and it opens. Though she tries to focus on the illustrations and historical significance of the book, it feels like someone has put a spell on the book. She quickly finishes and returns the book to the archives.

Soon Diana notices more creatures (vampires, witches and daemons) in the Bodleian. And she is constantly being followed. Including by a vampire who introduces himself as Matthew Clairmont. He is a professor and doctor of genetics. Her aunts always told her that creatures do not mix with other types of creatures, but Diana is curious about him. And he is shocked that she had a book that everyone has been looking for for almost a century and simply returned it to the archives.

But others will not be so understanding of Diana perceived mistake. Witches and vampires will stop at nothing for the information she held in her hands. Daemons, who are less dangerous than the other creatures, will beg her for her help to retrieve it.

Harkness has created a world that will delight readers and leave them begging for more. Buy the first two books today and wait impatiently with me for the third to be published. Reader who liked the Night Circus will love this book.

Harkness, Deborah. (2011). A Discovery of Witches. New York: Penguin Books.

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03 June 2013

Liars and Thieves (Grafton and Carmellini #1)

Liars and Thieves by Stephen Coonts is the first book in his Grafton and Carmellini series. Tommy Carmellini is a CIA thief - he breaks into places to pant bugs or steal information. On his days off, he hangs out with his best friend Willie the Wire - a convicted thief and joint owner of their locksmith business. Jake Grafton is a retired Navy Admiral (from Coonts' previous series).

Part of the rotation of CIA agents includes guard duty. And this week is Tommy Carmellini's turn. But when he arrives at a remote safe house in the mountains of West Virginia the two guards are dead. As he makes his way to the house he sees military-trained soldiers and hears shots from inside. Though he does not know who is in the house, he does what he can to help them escape.

After Carmellini rescues a translator from the house, she steals his car and escapes. Though he still doesn't know what is going on, he knows he wants his car back. Using a few friends to track her down, Tommy finds out that the attack on the safe house is being blamed on him. Now he must work off the grid to solve a crime that may lead to some of the top politicians in Washington. The only person he knows who can help him is retired Admiral Jack Grafton.

Coonts has created a character that fans of Jack Reacher will love. He is a basically honest guy who makes his own rules and does what it takes to help the innocent.

Coonts, Stephen. (2004). Liars and Thieves. New York: St. Martin's Press.

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