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REVIEW:  The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

REVIEW: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem-and-jinni

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

Dear Ms. Wecker,

The decision to try this book came about in a way that often catches me. It just seemed “different.” When faced with such a book, I’m often like a child who sees a something unknown and just has to pick it up and look at it closer. Sometimes it pays off with a wonderful discovery and other times it won’t. Here the payoff is thoughtful, mesmerizing book with intriguing characters, situations and a hopeful but by no means certain happiness for some.

I first saw the book at Amazon from their “people who…”. The cover – oh yes, I’m fickle for cover art too – made me look twice, the title made me click on it to discover more and the blurb, well that was the “different” that made me decide to buy it. While I don’t often read fantasy novels, I do like them and this one promised not only a jinni but a golem as well. Not your ordinary vampire, shifter or zombie fantasy novel here. And along with the unusual characters there’s turn of the twentieth century NYC for the same admission price. How could I resist?

The setting is a trip back in time and makes me glad to I had just finished watching the early episodes of Ric Burn’s documentary about New York City as that allowed me to much more easily “see” the places and things described, especially the angel fountain and the crowded tenements of the immigrant lower east side. I love it when things come together that way. The story is a lovely view of two immigrant communities. While it’s not always complimentary, it’s always sympathetic. I also agree with the view point that many of the issues covered here are relevant today – the clash of cultures, languages and traditions still being brought to this country 110 years later.

The Golem and the Jinni are fascinating creations. They’re opposites and yet the same. They have so many similarities but also differences. She is earth – solid, dependable and more comfortable being told what to do. He’s fire – fickle, fleeting, free spirited and damn the consequences. He’s appalled at being confined while she’s horrified at being rootless. On the other hand, they’re both “not human” and can see the truth of the other allowing each the luxury of being exactly who and what they are. They manage to understand each other as no human could ever know them. They are beings bound to another’s will who find freedom. Born of the old world, they come to the new and reinvent themselves. And yes to all the comparisons to immigrants.

The plot is one that kept me guessing and believe me, this is a good thing. Its intricacies take quite a while to unfold and take shape. At first I wasn’t sure who all these secondary characters were and how on earth their backstories would be relevant for the Golem or the Jinni. But in the end, everything is knit together and the tapestry of the story is completed. Oh dear, that’s a mixed metaphor.

The pathway to the denouement is a twisty one which must have taken a good deal of time to imagine and then wrestle under control. I do love when a plot leaves me guessing and interested.

But is there a romance?, I can hear readers asking. Well, in a way. Each is the one the other thinks of when times get tough. She gets him to see and accept his responsibility for his actions while he gets her to loosen up, find some joy in life and be willing to take a few chances. In the end, as the Golem thinks, they’ll have to work at a relationship, carve one out that will fit and suit only them. Can they do it? I think yes. They’re both strong but still flexible and as they continue to make and remake their lives, I think they will find a place just for them. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Nightfall by Anne Stuart

REVIEW: Nightfall by Anne Stuart

Dear Anne Stuart:

You have been one of my autobuy authors from the moment I discovered you in the early 2000s, and no one writes bad boy heroes like you do. In today’s era of alpha billionaires, Motorcycle Club anti-heroes, and New Adult dudebros who wreck everything around them, I wondered how your dangerous men from an earlier era would hold up. When I saw that one of my favorite Romantic Suspense novels ever, Nightfall, was available in ebook form, I had to revisit it. Does the book hold up after 20 years? And is Richard Tiernan still the epitome of sexy/dangerous? The answer to both questions is: oh yes, and how.

nightfall anne stuartWhen the story begins, Richard Tiernan has been convicted of the grisly murder of his wife and has been released pending appeal after famous author Sean O’Rourke posts his million-dollar bail. Tiernan holes up with O’Rourke in the latter’s Park Avenue apartment, where O’Rourke plans to write a novel about Tiernan and the killing. Meanwhile, Tiernan’s young children have disappeared and he is suspected in their deaths.

Cassidy Roarke, Sean’s editor daughter, comes up to New York from her home in Baltimore after receiving a cryptic message from him and discovers that Sean wants her to help with the manuscript. She recoils at the idea of participating but can’t say no to her brilliant father, especially since she suspects there is more going on with him than just the desire to complete the novel he says will be the crowning achievement of his career.

Cassidy is both drawn to and repelled by Tiernan; she has no reason to doubt the judgement against him and he doesn’t do anything to persuade her otherwise. Tiernan is clearly attracted to her and Sean seems to be egging him on. The result is a type of cat-and-mouse game in which Cassidy is not exactly the mouse (because she’s quite clear-headed and relatively good at taking care of herself), but she does feel a bit like an insect on a pin. Tiernan is constantly studying her and engaging with her (mostly with Sean’s complete and somewhat baffling approval), and Cassidy soon finds herself enmeshed in Tiernan and Sean’s machinations.

Sean was in the midst of some high-flown fantasy, staring out the window at the New York skyline. Tiernan was sitting in the huge green leather chair that had been in Sean’s office since the beginning of time.

Cass remembered when she was small, curling up in the warm leather arms of that chair, sleeping. It had been her favorite place in the world. Tiernan didn’t turn, but she knew perfectly well he knew she was there. He seemed to have a sixth sense.

She wanted to order him out of her chair. Instead she simply stood in the doorway and cleared her throat.

Sean whirled around, an accusing expression on his florid face. “About time you woke from your beauty slumber, Cassie,” he said. “You never used to be such a slothful creature. We have work to do, and time’s a wasting.”

“Is it?” She carefully avoided Tiernan’s gaze. He was dressed in jeans and a cotton sweater against the cool morning air. She was wearing the same thing. He had a mug of black coffee in his hand. She drank hers black as well.

“You’re the one who’s so determined to get back to Baltimore, though why any sane person would choose to live in Baltimore when they have the option of New York is beyond me,” Sean declaimed. “We’re planning on changing your mind, aren’t we, Richard? Make it impossible for you to leave.”

“Impossible,” Richard echoed.

She couldn’t help it, she threw him a wary glance as she moved to her father’s littered desk. He met the gaze blandly enough, but she wasn’t so gullible she didn’t recognize the challenge. The threat.

“I have a job,” she said mildly, glancing at one stack of papers that looked like official court transcripts.

“You could take a leave of absence.”

“I could. I don’t want to. I have plans, things I want to do with my life.”

“Richard doesn’t.”

I can’t give away much more of the plot without spoiling the reading experience. Stuart does a terrific job of creating a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces slowly come together until you suddenly see the picture you’ve been working on. Every character in the story has a purpose, and even the minor characters are well drawn. I particularly appreciated Cassidy’s relationship with Sean’s current wife, Mabry. Unlike so many fictional stepmothers, Mabry, who is a gorgeous, thin, platinum-haired ex-model, has an excellent relationship with Cassidy. The two women don’t compete; they talk to each other, and they are connected by their common love for Sean and their ability to see him clearly. Cassidy’s mother, who appears late in the story, is far more of a caricature than Mabry, but even she is a recognizable type.

Richard Tiernan is the anti-hero whom every author writing such a character hopes to produce. He is genuinely frightening and genuinely sexy. As Cassidy gets to know him better he reveals more sides to himself and more honorable attributes, but he never loses that aura of danger. Richard was a college professor before the murder, and Stuart does a terrific job of making me believe that a person in an unexciting, unheroic occupation can have psychological depths we never imagine (and they may never explore). This is definitely a romance, and there is definitely an HEA, but Richard never, ever loses his edge.

In Stuart’s novels, bad boys aren’t always paired up with heroines who stand up to them, or who feel like true partners. Some of them verge on TSTL, while others seem to walk right across that line and take up residence. Cassidy, thankfully, doesn’t go there. She’s spent her entire life dealing with narcissistic, emotionally unavailable people, and she’s good at carving out a space for herself and a life that doesn’t kowtow to them practically or emotionally.

As a result, when Cassidy and Richard finally get together, the sparks really fly. I’d forgotten how sexy a sex scene can be. This is not a case of Tab A into Slot B. The language can get a little lush, but it suits the characters’ temperaments and relationship. And every scene has meaning for the story.

The suspense plot is top-notch. There are clues scattered throughout the story, and since this last reread was my third or fourth time through the novel, I could see the trail. But when I read it for the first time I was so engrossed in trying to figure out Richard Tiernan that I almost didn’t pay attention. I don’t mean to suggest that the mystery is grafted on, not at all, this is a suspense thriller down to its bones. It’s just that the Sean-Richard-Cassidy relationship is so intriguing that I almost didn’t care about whether Richard did it and if he didn’t, who did.

There are books that grab you and don’t let go when you read them, but they don’t wind up being unable to stand the test of time. This is not one of those books. As an inveterate rereader, I have no doubt that I’ll read Nightfall again one day, and when I do, I’ll enjoy it yet again and probably find something I missed before. Grade: A

~ Sunita

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