What I Read in July ‘14

I got my usual four books in this month, but I am already blowing by that for next month. I’ve got one finished and one near done for August already. The four books in July were some really good ones, and a wide mix. I’ve got some adventure, some mystery, some fantasy, some magic realism; tons of stuff for just four books.

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The Thief

Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

This is just pure adventure. This time, Isaac Bell is helping out a man who has found a way to shoot talking motion pictures, while working against a German man trying to get the invention back for the Kaiser. This time Isaac’s fiancée Marion takes a larger role than before, since the case deals with her line of work.

There is very little outstanding about the Thief, other than it more ridiculous than usual plot. It is an excellently executed adventure. While the clients invention of a talking picture would be a big deal, the villain, a German called the Acrobat thanks to his athletic abilities, want it so he can use propaganda to make sure the United States is on Germany’s side should they go to war with France and Britain. It is a flimsy plot, but one that makes for some fun scenes and set pieces. It is slightly less ridiculous for Isaac to display the prowess he does here than in The Race, when he immediately picks up how to fly a plane as well as the expert pilots in the race. Here he just works as a stunt man on film sets, which fits him perfectly. Really, this is just a might fun adventure.

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The Final Solution

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is great, and this book doesn’t change that. It is a bit different, being essentially Sherlock Holmes fan faction. Of course, the old detective in this book is never directly named as Sherlock, but it is clear who he is. It is also better thought out than calling it fan fiction would suggest. As the title would suggest, while it is a mystery it is also about the Holocaust. A young boy has lost his parrot, plus a man has been murdered, and an elderly Sherlock Holmes decides to help track down the bird, which will likely lead to the killer. The boy, a young Jewish kid who was traumatized by what he saw before he fled Germany, is unable to speak, but Sherlock is still able to help him. It is an excellent novella, a satisfying mystery with plenty extra to chew on as well. Like everything else by Chabon, I highly recommend this.

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Written in My Own Hearts Blood

Diana Gabaldon

This is the eighth book in Gabaldon’s Outlander series and it continues to be enjoyable. Though I could swear I’ve read book seven, An Echo in the Bone, I can’t for the life of me recall most of what happened in it. So that made some of the early chapters in this one kind of frustrating. After I found my footing, it was a great ride. Somehow this book is almost a thousand pages long, yet still left me wanting more. It also somehow felt uneventful for a book of this length. Part of that is the problem with a long running series like this. After eight books, this series is populated with a host of interesting and intriguing characters and there just aren’t enough pages to go around. That is a problem that plagued the middle part of my favorite book series, the Wheel of Time. Here it is less pronounced, but still extant. Another problem it shares with that series is that that this book feels less like a complete piece and more of a chapter in a larger Saga. In the first half of this series, each book was complete, though they all left hooks for further stories. Outlander is the story of how Claire came to be in the past and with Jamie. Dragonfly in Amber is the story of how that all fell apart. Voyager brings them back together and ends with another fresh start. The two books previous to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, while the definitely contain complete stories, don’t feel as complete as the previous ones. They are as enjoyable on a page to page basis, but not as cohesive a whole. Of course, I may just be misremembering them, since I can’t really recall book seven all that well.

Heart’s Blood takes Jamie and Claire, and all their friends, through the Battle of Monmouth and finally back to their home in North Carolina. Plenty of time is spent hobnobbing with historical figures like George Washington and Benedict Arnold, one of the big draws of the series for me, as well as balancing the conflict of being friends and relatives with people on the other side of the conflict. There is also the aftermath of Jamie’s son William finding out that he is the bastard son of a Scottish traitor. This book has the younger players really growing up. Ian finds love, William takes some adult responsibilities and even young Germaine starts to become a man. In a section that kind of doesn’t work, Roger ends up mucking about in the history of this series, revisiting things that have long since been dead while Brianna deals with some sort of kidnapping plot. Having those two in the future makes it hard to incorporate them in the story, though I think that problem has been resolved. The real problem is with William’s portion of the story. While he does show growth, the book ends with almost none of his questions being answered. Not only about him and his father, though that part of the story does have a least some sort of closure, but also about his search for his possibly dead cousin and/or his cousin’s wife/widow and child. Speculation about him and her is present from the very start, but it is not at all resolved by the end of the book. I assume there are answers to come in the coming volumes of this series, but that means years of waiting and a significant portion of this book used to essentially tread water on this story.

Still, it is another fine entry in this series. I can’t recommend anyone start with this book, but it is a fine continuation of this series.

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The Golem and the Jinni

Helene Wecker

This one was certainly interesting. It follows two magical beings as immigrants in early 20th century America: a Golem created for a man to be his wife, though he died on the crossing passage so she is alone and masterless, and a Jinni who had been trapped for centuries but unleashed by a tinsmith. While situations as virtual immigrants are similar, their points of view and natures are not. The Jinni want’s nothing more than to be free of the spell that traps him in human form. He acts just as would if he were still a still free in the desert, with no concern or regard for anyone else. The Golem, however, is intimately aware of everyone’s feelings, being able to sense people’s thoughts, and desire’s nothing more than to fulfill her purpose and help them. They both have to deal with being immigrants in America, along with trying to conceal and master their natures.

The first three quarters of the book are excellent. It slowly reveals the characters and their problems. Soon the two protagonists meet and help each other grow. Unfortunately, the ending is a real let down. The slow building cracks in the two’s facades of humanity start to crack naturally as they become more involved with people, but the novel doesn’t allow this to come to fruition. The last part of the book does not deal with the very human problems of these inhuman characters, it becomes all about the magic of how they came to be. The struggles that each character has been facing aren’t really dealt with, merely pushed aside to have a big magical ending. Not that their problems are solved by any means, merely that a completely different kind of struggle takes over the last quarter of the book. It was much less compelling than what came before it. Still, The Golem and The Jinni is an enthralling read, just one that has a somewhat suspect ending. There are some really well drawn characters here, very human whether they are human or not.

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