Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review: Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic

Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm torn. The 20 year old art heist is interesting and fun; it's a decent, though not difficult, mystery. Atkins does a reasonable enough imitation of Spenser and the other characters. There are nice touches with accents and slang typical of Boston that gives flavor to the book. I like the updating of the BPD and more realism with Spenser's interactions with them (without losing Belson and Quirk).

But Atkins is missing some important elements of Spenser. He's still a smart-ass tough who quotes Thoreau, Frost, and Shakespeare. He still has his code. But Spenser qua detective is not quite there. He gets tailed several times in ways that would make Hawk lose all respect for Spenser. And he's not quite as perceptive or intuitive as Parker's Spenser was.

Compared to Parker at his best, this doesn't compare. But it's still better than Parker at his laziest.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: Bloodline

Bloodline Bloodline by Claudia Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are books that you just don’t want to end. You read through them quickly because you need to know what is going to happen next, but you dread that with each page you are getting close to the end. This is one of those books. Claudia Gray presents us with one of the best versions of Princess Leia in all the canon. Leia is just as strong, witty, and haughty as we see her elsewhere, but we also see her inner strength, her vulnerability, her concerns and fears. She is thoughtful and introspective about her past without being nostalgic. This is not a bratty, arrogant teen-age princess, this is sabacc playing bad-ass.

The story itself is engaging, action-packed, and suspenseful. The secondary characters are well-drawn. There is plenty of foreshadowing for the events of the new trilogy. For those who whine about the where the Resistance comes from in TFA and TLJ, this books shows and explains the roots. So stop ya bitchin’!

One of the many things I liked about the book was Leia’s continual struggle with dealing with the knowledge of Vader as her father. She is not as forgiving as Luke – that is, she is not as willing to accept Anakin’s redemption at the end of Jedi. She also has to come to grips with who Anakin was before he becomes Vader and why he becomes Vader. And all of this plays important roles in the plot.

The Chuck Wendig trilogy is great and moves the story forward from Jedi. Bloodline plays just as important role of connecting the original series to the new. It plays an essential role in the canon. More than this, it is just a damn good story.

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Sunday, May 06, 2018

Review: Davita's Harp

Davita's Harp Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Chaim Potok’s books are so engulfing: they suck me into a world that is both familiar and foreign; a world that appears both enchanting and soul-crushing. Davita’s Harp, though different than many of Potok’s other novels, nonetheless shares these features. One major difference is that the protagonist is a young girl: Ilana Davita. The second is the way the story is told. It is much more like a memoir. It starts with some of Ilana’s earliest memories as her world starts to take shape. It has a collage quality to it without a lot of continuity. As she grows the story becomes more robust and continuous, though never losing that memoir feel.

One of the reasons I love reading Potok is that he captures my own ambivalence about American Judaism (of the more religious variety). He, and his characters, are pulled to it, but at the same time he shows it’s darker, uglier side. The push/pull of the secular and religious is the dramatic tension in Potok’s novels. Davita’s Harp adds several other layers to this push/pull with conflicts of gender, politics, and family.

This is a much sadder novel than Potok’s other works that I’ve read. There is repeated tragedy, injustice, and death. And lots of pain and inner torment. The memories of past traumatic events haunt the characters and change them. A major theme of the books is that the characters are all driven to embrace some kind of ideology to help make sense of and give purpose to the world. For Ilana’s parents this was communism and Marxism; for others it was religion: Orthodox Judaism or the Catholicism of her Aunt. Ilana, struggling to make her own sense of things, turns to each of these as well. Mostly, though, she is looking for a home, a community. Part of the sadness, the tragedy of the book is that for most of the characters, and for some more than others, the individual gets let down, hurt, even rejected by their chosen ideological community. This is somewhat, though possibly unintentionally, mirrored by the grand conflicts in the background of the book between fascism and communism as they ate their own and the rest of Europe in the Spanish Civil War and World War Two.

The Jakob Daw character and his stories are intriguing. They add a somewhat mystical element to the novel. I’m not sure – much like Ilana – what they mean, but they provide a texture to the novel. And they are important for Ilana’s growth and development as she comes of age.

From very young, Ilana has to deal with heartbreak and loss. She is not always successful at it but she does seem to find a home in the synagogue and yeshiva. They too, though, end up causing her great pain. One of the best and chilling sequences in the book is her response to the injustice she experiences. I believe, though, that she eventually finds an outlet for her pain and finds peace through her writing and storytelling – as suggested by the hopeful ending.

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