PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Miéville

China Miéville is a weird fantasy author.  No, really, that’s what he calls himself:  an author of weird fantasy.  He is also a damn competent sci fi author, (see Embassytown here,)  and a workman of the  odd genre tale (see The Census-Taker  here.)  In his New Crobuzon series, we are introduced to the world of Bas-Lag, a fantasy world full of weird and wonderful creatures and environments.

Each volume in the series is a completely stand alone book.  The only link is the Bas-Lag universe world.  It is fantasy, fantabulism, and yeah, OK, downright weird, but oh, so readable!  I mean, really, who doesn’t get caught up in the world of humans, remades, which are humans being punished by grafting on mechanical devices, or part of other species, which then suits them for various specific jobs.  Or not.  There are frog people who can craft golem made of water, and cactus people, spiny dudes, grumpy and prickly, flying people of various types, and some hybrid bug-human creatures.

So what is Perdido Street Station about?  Um, well, umm,  it’s set in a city called New Krobuzon where there are humans, but other races like I said,  as well as steam-powered robots and cyborgs, though there are also magicians and scientists. The story is about a scientist who is asked to help a crippled bird man fly again but by accident releases a plague of trans-dimensional moths onto the city that eat people’s minds. Oh, and the scientist is involved with a woman who’s head is a scarab beetle and who makes sculptures out of her own spit!”

Yeah, steam punk set in 1799.  Of course, it is not clear whether that 1799 is our universe’s calendar year, or New Crobuzon time, but really, when steam powered machinery work arm-in-arm with magic, but they STILL don’t have indoor plumbing, who cares, right?

Really long work, but the writing is pearlescent.  Description after description, without it feeling like information dump, we come to really know this place.  Maybe more than we wish.

Yep, I am really a fan of Miéville.

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THE HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss

This is a story about a boy in Poland at the start of the Second World War, who falls in love with a girl his age.  But, as happened so often in those times, the girl was sent to New York by her family, as a response to the rumblings around them of the German activities.  The boy, Leo Gursky, at a later time, is hustled to hide in the woods by his mother who says she will join him.  The Germans come to the village and kill everyone.  The boy, saved by another, makes his way, also to New York, hoping to find Alma, his love from the village.  But not having heard from him at all, she assumed, with good reason, that he was dead, and married someone else.

Fast forward to NYC, present time.

Here there are three narrators: Leo Gursky, our Holocaust survivor and sometimes writer, living alone in New York, waiting to die; 14-year-old Alma Singer, a precocious girl who has to deal not only with her father’s death but with her mother’s subsequent depression as well; and a third person omniscent narrator who relates the story of a little-known book called  The History of Love. It goes without saying that these characters are connected in ways they don’t understand which turns out to be the mysterious book) and that somehow this connection, once made, will help everyone involved.
One of those books with several seemingly discrete storylines, which eventually get woven together.  In this case, they got a little confusing, and a little tangled, but it was still a lovely story nonetheless.
Leo has an upstairs neighbor, who is also part of the tangled threads.   Some of the book is a little look into the dilemma of aging and loneliness.  Leo tells us, “I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I’m out, I’ll buy a juice even though I’m not thirsty. If a store is crowded I’ll even go so far as dropping my change all over the floor, the nickels and dimes skidding in every direction.”  We become more and more invisible as we age, but perhaps not so invisible as we think.  
I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  Perhaps you know that Nicole Krause was married to Jonathan Safran Foer, whose work I have talked about here on the blog.  Just put his name in the search window.  The two divorced in 2014.  Just a little bit of trivia for you, to keep you on your toes.

NEKROPOLIS by Maureen F. McHugh

The cover blurb says ‘A literary novel in sci fi clothing.’  Well, no.  Literary, ok, if you mean a smidge preachy and a bit lead-footed on the metaphoric racist aspect. Sci fi, not much.  More like sci fi light.  Set in Morocco in some kind of near future,  we do have harni, which are biological creations made to look like humans, although they are not, and are manufactured for specific tasks.  Kind of like DIY servants.  And we do have the process of jessing,  which is an implant that makes a person bonded to whoever pays for them…. buys them.   This is voluntary, kind of a guaranteed job program.

It leans heavily on the idea that harni aren’t ummm well people, and of course they are not.  So they are looked down upon, and looked upon as I guess we would look at robots.  So anyway, the protagonist,  Hariba, has herself jessed because she doesn’t know what else to do with herself.  Her widowed mother lives in the Nekropolis, the old graveyard with its mausoleums now used as housing by the poor and just-above-poor, containing shops and markets, just like a little city within a city.

At her employment, Hariba meets and falls in love with a male harni, a lovely hunk of manhood, and he falls in love with her, and they plan to run away together and find a way to get smuggled into Spain, where they will be given asylum and a new life.

I should have liked this much better than I did.  After all, it did have some interesting characters, and a fine action line, a plot where something happened next and next, etc, as plots should have, but really, I think I was underwhelmed because of possibly where I am in my own head at the mo, and the relentless undercurrent of moralizing throughout the story.  Lots of musing about what are feelings, and emotions, and reflections on what it means to be a human.  Ho, not to mention hum.  Was this supposed to be a disguised discussion of Islam, the Arab world’s treatment of women, or what?

This is not this author’s first rodeo, but I will probably not be searching out more of her books.  Like I said, the fault lies with me and my cranky world outlook these days.

SURVIVING MICHAEL by Joseph Birchall

An interesting, if not compelling, story of four young boys, who at the end of their school days, have a game of dares, at a cliff’s edge.  Michael was reluctant to jump into the waters, and so one of the others gave him a helpful push.  Michael did not survive the jump, and the three remaining are left to deal with this in their lives.

We readers get to follow their lives, told in alternating voices of the three, until 15 years later, when they have their annual get-together on the date of Michael’s death, although that death and Michael are never mentioned.

It is interesting to see the path of each of their lives, without our caring overmuch about any of them.

Nice twist at the end, although it was telegraphed rather heavy-handedly, so the astute reader could see it coming.

One reviewer called it ‘unput downable’.  Yeah, well, I put it down several times.  Wasn’t sure I really wanted to pick it back up again.

DYING TO READ by Lorena McCourtney

A pleasant cozy mystery featuring a gormless young woman who can’t seem to get a job, whose P.I. uncle has offered her a pity hire as his assistant while she continues to job hunt.

Uncle falls off a ladder while cleaning gutters, and has to spend some time in the hospital and rehab, and sends his young assistant off on a couple of small errands for his business.  One was to deliver a message to another young woman who was a live-in assistant for an older wealthy woman.  When our gal arrives, she is met by the members of a book club devoted to mysteries, who are not able to rouse the older woman to open the door, and are worried.  Our gal, having few brains and apparently no scruples, uses one of their keys which they had been given, to enter the house, and after searching the house, finds the woman dead at the foot of a set of outside stairs.

Of course, after being repeatedly told not to involve herself in this business, she involves herself in the business, gets herself kidnapped, and later locked in a closet while the house is set on fire.

Yeah, I know.  Like I said, it was a pleasant read, not the best cozy I have ever read, yet, not the worst either.  Not sure why it was titled as it was, because really the book club were so peripheral to the story, but hey, ya gotta call them something, right?

McCourtney’s bio says she is  the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of 48 Christian mysteries and romances.  OK.  Who knew?  Prolific, that’s for sure.

 

 

MURDER AT BREAKFAST by Steve Demaree

Another Dekker cozy mystery.  This series is pretty lightweight, perfect for gentle reading right before falling asleep.  It features the two tubbies, Lt. Decker and Sgt. Lou somebody or other.  Food obsessed, and semi retired, these two guys are the only homicide detectives on the Hillsdale force, so are retired until a dead body shows up.

However, now, Lou has a Wii, and is losing weight by the minute, much to Lt. Cy’s dismay, who is afraid he will lose his eating partner. Will Lou finally convince Cy to shed an ounce or two?  Stay tuned.

This murder occurs at an upscale apartment building, which offers meals either in the communal dining room or via dumb waiter, on a tray in their apartments.  Pretty nifty, right?

Well, an elderly resident is found with her face in her Cheerios, and the investigation is on to find out what happened.  It is not clear at first that she was murdered;  possibly it was poisoning, but how, at what point, could that have happened?

As with the other books in the series, not terribly hard on the mind, (although once again I had no idea of the murderer, but I plead inattention rather than lack of brain power.  That’s my story and I am sticking to it.)  These stories in the series are all easy-peasy, bright and breezy, with no bad words, sex scenes or even blood.  So don’t expect anything too heavy.  Just sweet bedtime reading.

If you want some idea of the other books in the series, just enter Steve Demaree in the search box on this blog to get a list of the other titles in the series which I have read and babbled on about.

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer

A young Jewish-American writer journeys to the Ukraine to find out more about the life of his grandfather. Guided by Alex , an America-obsessed local, Jonathan ventures into the heartland of the Ukraine seeking to shed light on events that occurred to his grandfather during World War II. Joining Jonathan and Alex is Alex’s surly grandfather and a dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.

The story is about Jonathan Safran Foer, curiously named the same as the actual author of the book . He is an aspiring writer in his early 20s who travels to Ukraine to try to find the small Jewish village of Trachimbrod where his grandfather grew up and to find the woman who helped him escape the Nazis during the war. He speaks no Ukrainian or Russian, and his only maps of the area are 60 years old, and so so he  needs a translator and a driver and somehow happens upon Alex, who has the most wonderful and creative English, sounding like a thesaurus.  Alexander is an Odessa native about his own age, and his blind grandfather, who acts as their driver (if you have read any modern Russian literature you will understand not to question this kind of thing) and their ‘seeing-eye’ bitch Sammy Davis Junior, Junior.

Half of the story is written by Alex, as letters to Jonathan. He writes in English in a broken idiolect that suggests computer translation gone awry His sections are humorous, and touching, as he takes side trips into  the nature of friendship, grief and regret, among other things.

The other half is written by the fictional Jonathan, and covers the history of the village from the day it got its name in 1791 until its destruction by the Nazis in 1941, by following the exploits of his ancestors. All of these sections have a very surreal quality. They jump around in time, different eras have glimpses into the past and future.

It is a story about what happens when you put an American and an Eastern European born in the Soviet era, in the same room and try to make them explain to one another why the other one thinks the way they do.

The over arching story of the ancestors, how the village was created, up until the arrival of the German Nazis is poignant, if a bit surreal,  and emotive.  But we come to love Alex, who wants so desperately to go to America and be an accountant, and is so proud of his English, with his enormous vocabulary.

I admit to mashing together selections from other reviews because I have entered the Age of Unabashed Laziness.  But I would have written every word had I felt up to it.  Cross my heart and hope to die.

This was Foer’s first novel, written when he was 25.   He later wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I commented on here.