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review 2017-07-31 03:26
Bear (Engel)
Bear by Marian Engel - Marian Engel

I remember the buzz around this Governor General's Award winner in the mid 70s when I was just beginning to be an active student of literature, and I also remember blinking and pushing it aside when I heard that it had woman-bear sex in it. At that point in my life, I was far more interested in the various romantic oddities of 18th and 19th century Gothic fiction (though come to think of it, that includes vampires, who are surely no less odd as lovers than a well-disposed bear).

Anyway, coming at this as part of my CanLit reading project, I was mercifully unaware that a recent mocking internet meme had caused a surge in its readership, and in online reviews. My attention was focused instead on the fact that the protagonist is a woman (my gender), an archivist (my profession) and of the 70s (roughly my generation). There were definitely moments of identification: when she reveled in her solitude and in her exploration of the "folly" home she lives and works in over the summer, and, of course, her self-conscious spinning-out of her half-fascinating, half-tedious work. But though I remember at second hand the era of sexual experimentation and freedom (new to women), the associated emptiness and lack of direction - a prevalent theme of this work - is not one that moves me in personal ways.

What pleased me about this novel was its good writing, clear and perceptive, about the progress of solitary emotions, and the quirky but believable details about cottage-country surroundings; so believable, in fact, that somehow it cajoles you into accepting the notion of a bear as well. I should add that this animal, though still very much wild in temperament, is not in his natural surroundings. There are different degrees of wildness, and this is quasi-domesticated vacation territory, not bear country. It is a particularly nuanced view of the wildness and solitude to which our city-dweller actually aspires. This is wildness colonialized and civilized, where your job is still to sort out an old library, and your encounters with a real bear are accompanied, quite literally, by annotations - found scraps of paper containing little pieces of historical bear information.

I was grateful that there was no anthropomorphism in the depiction of the bear. He remains an animal in his responses at all times, including his final, casual clawing, which brings Lou to her senses and sends her back to her own life.

Overall, the experience of reading this was somehow slight, and not just because the novel is very short. Though it did describe emotional states beautifully, I did not feel by the end either invested in Lou as a character or particularly knowledgeable about her. In a sad way, that may be the book's best expression of 1970s emotional alienation. And it's probably why I ended up going with 3 instead of 4 stars.

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review 2017-07-22 18:54
My Review of 2084
2084 - Mason Engel

2084 by Mason Engel is a futuristic novel where the populous wears "lenses" instead of using computers.

 

The main character, Vincent, has other ideas about what the "lenses" are for.

 

When I read the Goodreads blurb, I thought this was going to be an intriguing story. The concept is intriguing, but the execution fell flat. This book starts off strong, but towards the middle, I feel, the author was in too big of a hurry to get to the climax of the story. The writing wasn't as engaging, and there were more grammatical errors that threw me off my reading flow.

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review 2017-06-14 09:41
Fantasielos, berechenbar und oberflächlich
Damian: Die Stadt der gefallenen Engel - Rainer Wekwerth

Der deutsche Autor Rainer Wekwerth ist den meisten von euch sicher durch die populäre „Labyrinth“-Trilogie bekannt. Der erste Band erschien 2013, doch Wekwerth schreibt bereits seit Mitte der 90er Jahre Kinder- und Jugendbücher, später kamen Thriller hinzu. Bis 2004 erschienen alle seine Werke unter verschiedenen Pseudonymen. Ich habe entschieden, „Damian: Die Stadt der gefallenen Engel“ vor der „Labyrinth“-Trilogie zu lesen, weil es einfach länger auf meiner Wunschliste stand. Außerdem wollte ich erst antesten, ob mir sein Stil zusagt, bevor ich mich auf einen Dreiteiler einließ.

 

Ferien in Berlin – welcher Ort könnte besser geeignet sein, um sich von einem gebrochenen Herzen abzulenken? Die 17-jährige Lara freut sich darauf, Zeit mit ihren Großeltern zu verbringen und die Stadt auf eigene Faust zu erkunden. Als sie den gutaussehenden Damian kennenlernt, ist ihr Liebeskummer wie weggeblasen. Sie verliebt sich Hals über Kopf in ihn und ahnt nicht, dass ihre Begegnung kein Zufall ist. Hinter der Fassade erhabener Altbauten und hipper Neubaugebiete ist Berlin das Schlachtfeld des ewigen Krieges zwischen Himmel und Hölle. Unbemerkt von menschlichen Augen bekämpfen sich Engel und Dämonen ohne Gnade, doch nun droht eine alte Prophezeiung alles zu verändern. Lara ist der Schlüssel. Seit Jahrzehnten hütet ihre Familie ein düsteres Geheimnis, das sie in große Gefahr bringt und schon bald muss sie um ihr Leben fürchten. Werden Damian und Lara eine Möglichkeit finden, ihrer Bestimmung zu entgehen, um zusammen sein zu können?

 

Bücher, die in meiner Heimat spielen, üben immer einen speziellen Reiz auf mich aus. Berlin ist eine fabelhafte, aufregende Stadt und es interessiert mich grundsätzlich, wie sie auf andere Menschen wirkt, vor allem auf Menschen, die nicht hier leben. Ich kann nachvollziehen, dass Rainer Wekwerth Berlin als Setting für seinen UF-YA-Roman „Damian: Die Stadt der gefallenen Engel“ wählte, weil ich es absolut vorstellbar finde, dass hier im Verborgenen ein Krieg zwischen Engeln und Dämonen wütet. Berlin ist ein Ort vieler Geheimnisse, Rätsel und ja, auch Konflikte. Wieso sollte es nicht als Schauplatz des Kampfes zwischen Gut und Böse dienen? Ich habe mit dieser Idee überhaupt keine Schwierigkeiten. Wekwerths Beschreibungen meiner Heimatstadt fand ich in erster Linie amüsant, da sich meine persönliche Wahrnehmung stark von Laras Eindrücken unterscheidet. Ich mochte die jugendliche Protagonistin überraschend gern, obwohl sie nun keine starke Persönlichkeit/Heldin und – typisch Teenager – etwas theatralisch ist. Jede Kleinigkeit mutiert sofort zum nächsten potentiellen Weltuntergang. Lara erlebt die Berliner_innen als nett und freundlich – ich kenne sie als rotzig, gehetzt und unhöflich. Den Hauptbahnhof lässt Wekwerth in schillerndsten Farben erscheinen – ich halte ihn für eine hässliche, megalomane Monstrosität aus Glas und Stahl, die den falschen Namen trägt. Leider bleibt der Autor im weiteren Verlauf der Geschichte recht vage, was Laras Aufenthaltsorte betrifft. Ich hätte mir konkretere Stadtteilbeschreibungen gewünscht, um besser einschätzen zu können, wo genau sie sich aktuell befindet. Es ist gut möglich, dass dieses Bedürfnis rein subjektiv ist, weil ich selbst Berlinerin bin, daher möchte ich diesen Punkt nicht bemängeln. Ich muss hingegen kritisieren, dass „Damian: Die Stadt der gefallenen Engel“ zwar ganz nett ist, aber mehr auch nicht. Die Geschichte ist dramatisch und einigermaßen spannend, zeichnet sich meiner Meinung nach jedoch durch eine fantasielose, berechenbare Oberflächlichkeit aus, die vermutlich durch die binäre Behandlung von Himmel und Hölle zustande kommt. Während der Lektüre wehte mir ein Lüftchen christlich-religiösen Einflusses um die Nase, das stark nach Traditionalismus roch. Mir war die strikte Einteilung in Gut und Böse, in Schwarz und Weiß, nicht aufgeschlossen genug. Ich sehe Satan am liebsten in Milton-Manier; als ambivalenten, kultivierten, charmanten Verführer, nicht als Bestie und war stets überzeugt, dass es selbst im fundamentalen Krieg zwischen Himmel und Hölle zahlreiche Graustufen gibt. Bedauerlicherweise beabsichtigte Rainer Wekwerth meiner Ansicht nach durchaus, diese steife Kategorisierung mit Damian aufzubrechen. Damian war sein Ass im Ärmel, er sollte alle Erwartungen kippen und der Geschichte Originalität verleihen. Es hat nicht funktioniert. Jedenfalls nicht für mich, weil der Autor den haarsträubenden Wendepunkt der Handlung, Damians großen Moment, in wenigen Sätzen runterratterte, statt dieser Sensation den nötigen Raum zuzugestehen. Vielleicht hat er sich für ein Jugendbuch zu viel vorgenommen. Schließlich handelt es sich um eine theoretisch unmögliche Entwicklung, deren Tragweite und Bedeutung gewaltig sind und diese den Rahmen des Genres eindeutig sprengen.

 

Während der Lektüre von „Damian: Die Stadt der gefallenen Engel“ von Rainer Wekwerth verbrachte ich zwangsläufig viel Zeit in ärztlichen Wartezimmern, weil ich gerade mit einem frisch operierten, gebrochenen rechten Handgelenk aus dem Krankenhaus entlassen worden war. Für diese spezielle Situation war das Buch definitiv passend, denn es las sich leicht, schnell und flüssig. Ich musste mich kaum konzentrieren und spontane Unterbrechungen waren unproblematisch. Daher möchte ich großzügig sein und vergebe zwei einhalb Sterne, obwohl mir bewusst ist, dass es meinen Ansprüchen unter normalen Umständen nicht gerecht geworden wäre. Es war nett, anders kann ich es nicht ausdrücken. Leider reicht „nett“ nicht. Ich werde die Fortsetzung „Damian: Die Wiederkehr des gefallenen Engels“ nicht lesen, weil ich nicht glaube, dass dieses Unterfangen von Erfolg gekrönt wäre. Tatsächlich hadere ich sogar mit mir, ob ich es mit der „Labyrinth“-Trilogie versuchen soll. Mein Interesse ist geschrumpft. Vielleicht irgendwann einmal. Falls es mir günstig hinterhergeworfen wird.

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review 2017-05-18 08:33
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs (book) by Ryohgo Narita, illustrated by Katsumi Enami, translated by Taylor Engel
Baccano!, Vol. 1: The Rolling Bootlegs - Ryohgo Narita

In the year 2002, a Japanese man has won a trip to New York, and he’s having a terrible time. A bunch of teens mugged him and took his most prized possession, his camera. If he wants to get it back, he’ll have to talk to a member of the Camorra (an Italian crime syndicate). Luckily, the man he speaks to is in a good and talkative mood, and boy does he have a story to tell. It starts in 1711, when an alchemist and his comrades summoned a demon who gifted the alchemist with the knowledge of how to make the elixir of immortality, and continues to New York in 1930.

In 1930, a young man named Firo has just been promoted to executive in the Martillo Family, a Camorra group. At that very same time, two cheerful and energetic thieves named Isaac and Miria have just arrived in the city, determined to right their past wrongs by doing only good deeds. Of course, they have a rather odd notion of what constitutes a “good deed.” And at the same time as all of that, an immortal old man named Szilard is being driven to a meeting by Ennis, his artificially created human servant. Szilard has spent the centuries since he became immortal trying to determine the recipe for the elixir of immortality, and it looks like he might have finally achieved his goal. Unfortunately, a fire makes things more complicated, and the two surviving bottles of the perfected elixir go missing.

Ennis has to track the bottles down or risk getting killed by Szilard. Of course, they just happen to look like regular wine, it’s the Prohibition era, and there are two different Camorra groups, a couple idiot thieves, some thugs, and several FBI agents in the area, so her job isn’t going to be easy.


My first exposure to this series was via the anime, which was confusing, violent, high-energy, and lots of fun. One of the reasons it was so confusing was because it didn’t entirely follow a linear timeline. Viewers would be shown events from 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1711, all mixed together. I have since learned that this is because the anime adapted events from the first three novels. Although this first volume in the series jumped around between the various prominent characters and their storylines, it at least stayed rooted in 1930 (with a few brief glimpses of 2002 and 1711).

Although the more linear storytelling was nice, I’d still advise most English-language Baccano! newbies to start with the anime. The only reason I might tell someone to start with the books instead is if 1) they absolutely needed more linear storytelling and/or 2) they couldn’t stand Baccano’s on-screen gore and violence. While this novel was a lot of fun and contained several bits of information that fans of the anime will love, the writing/translation was...not very good.

The book was very heavy on dialogue, which was probably a good thing, since the issues with the writing/translation were most noticeable in the narrative parts. The phrasing often seemed stilted, and there were times when I wondered how accurate the translation was, because certain statements contradicted each other. For example:

“They couldn’t die from injuries or illness. As long as they didn’t age, they could rely on regenerating even if they fell into boiling lava.

However… The exception was that they could be killed with ease.” (50)

I think that this is referring to the way the immortals could “eat” each other - the only way an immortal (the true immortals, anyway) could die was by being absorbed by another immortal. However, the phrasing is strange. Another contradiction:

“Why? Why did this have to happen now? Why a conflagration now of all times?!

There was nothing here that was flammable!

The liquor… I must haul out the liquor…” (57)

Umm… Liquor is actually quite flammable. And then there was just plain awkward writing, like this:

“In the instant he stood, frozen, the muzzle of a gun appeared from behind the falling Seina’s.” (163)

Seina’s what? I’m pretty sure it’s referring to Seina’s falling body, but the sentence structure made it seem like it was referring to something like “the falling Seina’s gun.”

In addition to awkward writing, the book committed the crime of being a historical novel with, at best, vague and handwavy descriptions. One of the things I had been hoping the Baccano! novels would include was interesting period details. There were a few, here and there, but not nearly as many as I had expected. Instead, more of the focus was on the action and dialogue. On the plus side, that probably contributed to this being a very quick read.

As awkward as the writing/translation was, it somehow never leached the fun out of the overall story. I still enjoyed this combination of Prohibition era setting, goofballs and deadly criminals, and immortality-granting wine. I could remember the end result of the two missing bottles of wine, but I couldn’t remember how they got to where they needed to be, so it was fun trying to keep track of them. Also, it was surprisingly nice to see these characters again. I haven’t seen Baccano! in a few years, and this book made me think that a rewatch might be a good idea.

If I had to pick favorite characters from the anime, I’d probably go with Isaac, Miria, and Claire/Vino. I still found Isaac and Miria to be delightful in this book, but one thing that surprised me was how much I liked and felt sympathy for Ennis. I couldn’t recall her making much of an impression on me when I saw the anime. I think the book might have included details about her history that weren’t included in the anime, but it’s been so long I can’t be sure.

Eh, I should probably wrap this up. Overall, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would, although I’d hesitate to recommend it to Baccano! newbies - try the anime first. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the anime, it’s definitely worth giving this book a shot, if only for the extra character information.

Extras:

There's a 3-page afterword written by the author. Also, these aren't exactly extras, but the book includes several black-and-white illustrations and 8 pages of color illustrations (or 6, depending on how you're counting). Unfortunately, the color illustrations have text on them that needs to be read, and it's a bit hard on the eyes.

The illustrations were nice enough - often a better way to get an idea of what a particular character was supposed to look like than any of the descriptions in the text, if there were any. However, I did note one possible historical inaccuracy. One of the illustrations showed a 1930 New York cop. I googled their uniforms, and I think Enami might have gone with a more modern uniform design than was appropriate.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-04-30 23:24
April Re-Cap
Daughter of Deep Silence - Carrie Ryan
Queen of Always (Stolen Empire Book 3) - Sherry D. Ficklin
Unknown - Wendy Higgins
The Edge of Everything - Jeff Giles
The Hooker and the Hermit - Penny Reid,Luci Cosway
Ten Thousand Words - Kelli Jean
How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back - Diana Rowland
The Roanoke Girls: A Novel - Amy Engel
All In: (The Naturals #3) - Jennifer Lynn Barnes
GHOST (Boston Underworld Book 3) - A. Zavarelli

(Audiobook) Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

Finish Date: 04/03

4/5 STARS


(eBook) Queen of Always by Sherry D. Ficklin

Finish Date: 04/04

4.3/5 STARS


(eBook) Unknown by Wendy Higgins

Finish Date:  04/09

5/5 STARS


(eBook) The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

DNF on 04/12


(Audiobook) The Hooker and the Hermit by L.H. Cosway & Penny Reid

Finish Date:  04/13

4/5 STARS


(eBook) Ten Thousand Words by Kelli Jean

Finish Date:  04/19

3.8/5 STARS


(Audiobook) How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back by Diana Rowland

Finish Date:  04/22

4/5 STARS


(Audiobook) The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Finish Date:  04/24

5/5 STARS


(eBook) All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Finish Date:  04/26

5/5 STARS


(Audiobook) Ghost by A. Zavarelli

Finish Date:  04/29

3.3/5 STARS

 

 

10 Books Total for the month of April (3,331 Pages)

(5 eBooks and 5 Audiobooks)

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