Monday, February 23, 2015

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

When this book was added to my book club list, I dreaded reading it.  I just couldn't see how some sort of fantasy about mystical creatures living in New York in 1899 would appeal to me.  And the book did take some time to get going.  But, now I am glad I read it.  It turned out to be more than a fantasy - it was part love story, part mystery.  And the Golem and the Jinni were purposely imbued with human characteristics so for the most part it was easy to forget they were just creatures of human mystical belief.

The Golem is created in Poland to become the wife of a man immigrating to New York.  Against its creator's advice, he awakens her aboard ship before arriving.  Then he dies and she is left to fend for herself on the ship and in New York (after she walks to land on the bottom of the Hudson River).  Early on she is discovered by an old Rabbi who guesses at her secret and guides her in the ways of being human.

The Jinni is enslaved in the body of a human thousands of years earlier and captured in a copper pot which was passed on for generations.  When a New York based Syrian tinsmith is asked to repair the pot he mistakenly releases the Jinni.  Like the Golem's Rabbi, the tinsmith becomes the Jinni's guide to living life as a human in New York.

The remainder of the book deals with the troubles these two creatures have living as humans.  Of course, they eventually meet, immediately recognize the other is not human and face life together.  Though both are trapped as humans, they are created with very different natures which often clash.  Both also leave a great deal of carnage in their wake - some caused directly by them; some by mishaps of others who come in contact with them.

Another part of the book is unravelling the Jinni's past - he does not immediately recall how he was captured and enslaved as a human and that is eventually revealed to him and the reader.  As is the connection between his origins and the Golem's.

By the end I could not put the book down as I was so intrigued by seeing how the different storylines would come together - and they did, in my view in a very believable way.  So, don't hesitate to read this book like I did - it's worth the initial effort and the time commitment as it's not a short book.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Friendship by Emily Gould

In a word or two - don't bother.  This book deals primarily with the friendship between Bev Tunney and Amy Schein, two thirty year old women in New York who have been friends for years.  Or at least they describe themselves as friends - but Amy is so completely self absorbed I don't know how Bev can even stand her.  In fact, it seems like Bev initiated the friendship, kept it running and was the only one who cared when times got tough.  Not that Bev was perfect either, she could not hold down a job, moved across the country for a guy who ended up cheating on her under her nose (though it took her a long time to figure it out - apparently she had a pattern of trusting people who were only in it for themselves), was estranged from her family and, frankly, I was glad the book didn't last past when she had a baby as I'm sure she would have screwed that up too.

I know real people are flawed and everything, and I don't think fictional characters need to be super-human, but I just didn't like these characters enough to enjoy the book.  For me there were no redeeming qualities.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ellen in pieces by Caroline Adderson

It's funny, while this book kept my attention, while I was reading it, I didn't think it was that thought provoking.  But then when I finished it, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  First of all, I don't think the description on the book jacket does it justice.  It makes it sound like a middle aged divorcee has a midlife crisis and turns to a much younger man for solace/entertainment/self-validation.  And while that does happen, this book is about so much more.

It deals with Ellen's relationship with her parents, who both die in tragic ways, her daughters, one a troubled ex drug addict, her ex-husband (and his mother), her two closest friends, her sister, her neighbours and even her dog.  The relationships are very complicated and often we see them from both sides as subsequent chapters are written from different perspectives.  In addition to changing narrators, at times new chapters jump ahead by a year or two - it can take a few pages to reorient yourself but I wouldn't say it's overly confusing.

What I found myself thinking about was the end of the book (which I won't give away) and whether it was satisfying.  I concluded it was as the relationships were very human and any loose ends were very realistic.  In all I enjoyed the book and it was a very easy read.