Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review - The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker
Trade Paper Back
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0062110831
496 pages

Advance Readers Copy


     Golem [goh-luhm, -lem] 1. Jewish Folklore. a figure artificially constructed in the form of a human being and endowed with life. 2. a stupid and clumsy person; blockhead. 3. an automaton.

     Jinni [ji-nee, jin-ee] Islamic Mythology. any of a class of spirits, lower than the angels, capable of appearing in human and animal forms and influencing humankind for either good or evil. (also, jinn, djinn, djinni)

     The Golem and the Jinni is a unique mixture of Hebrew and Arab mythology; a modern telling of stories older than the written word. A golem, a clay woman created to serve as a rich man’s companion, loses its master to a burst appendix on board a steamship headed to America. A jinni, released by an unsuspecting tinsmith from its prison after hundreds of years in captivity, tries to recall its hazy past. For both, finding their way and places in 1899 New York City is both a challenge and a curse. Disoriented and alone they set out to understand the world around them. How do two creatures, neither of them human, fit in to this strange new world?

     The golem begins her independent life as a baker and the Jinni as an apprentice tinsmith. Completely unknown to each other, the two creatures of ancient lore explore the unfamiliar and very human city. The golem, taken in by a kind, old rabbi, is tormented by the desires and wishes of others, which she can hear in her mind. Ahmad, named by the tinsmith who released him from his captivity, has no patience for the dreariness of humans. Both must work to create a place for themselves in America, and develop relationships with the humans who surround them.

     And then, one cold, wind-swept night, they unexpectedly cross paths.

     File with: One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, mythology, folk lore, Scheherazade, fantasy, and social outcasts.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Golem and the Jinni Amazon Page

The Golem and the Jinni Excerpt

Official Author Website

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review - The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

The Hangman’s Daughter
Oliver Pötzsch
Kindle Version
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Publication Date: December 7, 2010
Source ISBN: 054774501X
Print Length: 448 pages

     A murder mystery set in 17th Century Bavaria told from the perspective of an executioner? How creative is that? Yes, I understand that Oliver Pötzsch gleaned a lot of this story from his own genealogical background, but still… I love all the originality that came out of his family history research. Believe me when I tell you that most family history study is rather boring (dates and names and full of dull farmers and peasants and such) so a truly original idea stemming from that exploration is extremely interesting to me. Had he only written this one book I might have attributed it to a flash-in-the-pan but interesting. That Pötzsch was able to add to the story for an additional three more books is an amazing accomplishment.

     The Hangman’s Daughter is a dark and grisly tale told from the viewpoint of Jacob Kuisl, the local Hangman, who is not at all like what executioners have been portrayed in film and fiction over the years. Kuisl is not a cold, heartless killer hiding behind a mask. He’s a real, loving, caring person that understands his role as village executioner and sets out to complete his every duty to keep his family in beets and mutton. But Jacob is also a kind-hearted, compassionate, and logical-minded man that understands the harsh realities of the world he lives in even if he has to break a few noses to get to the truth. And the tortures and executions he must commit in the name of the village leaders are sometimes burdens he has difficulty shouldering, especially when he doesn’t agree with the judgments handed down by the town burghers. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it puts Kuisl in a precarious situation. Like when the midwife that delivered his children is accused of witchcraft.

     I think that the logical, caring, scientific man behind the mask is the main reason this story worked for me. Yes, you could argue that the language or phrases could not have come from the 17th Century (but really, what fun would that read be?) You could also argue that there’s too much implied violence here (especially the torture of a witch and the murder of children) but the sad reality is that the world was a very cruel place when this fictional account happened and Pötzsch does an excellent job of setting the tone for his historic scenes, which is another reason I rated this story high. But the main reason I enjoyed this story so much was that I valued the characters. The Hangman with a secret heart of gold and a fist of fury, his daughter, Magdalena, trapped by circumstance of birth to marry an executioner herself and filled with melancholy and stubbornness because of it, the town doctor’s son, Simon, a new physician himself, who despises the old medicinal practices of blood letting and purging, and the accused witch who is nothing more than an innocent midwife with a few herbal remedies made The Hangman’s Daughter a very enjoyable read. The character development was beautifully paced and the antagonist cleverly conceived and I began to care about the characters very quickly; a sure sign of a well-written story to me.

     The Hangman’s Daughter was a comparatively quick read for me and I enjoyed every moment of it very much. As a matter of fact, I appreciated The Hangman’s Daughter so much that I purchased the Kindle versions of the other two available books in the series, The Dark Monk and The Beggar King and pre-ordered the forth-coming fourth book in the series The Poisoned Pilgrim, due out later this year.

     File with: Historical fiction, murder mystery, Jesse Bullington, horror, history, executioners, Ellis Peters, hangmen, and witchcraft.

5 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:
Hangman's Daughter Series
1. The Hangman's Daughter (2010)
2. The Dark Monk (2012)
3. The Beggar King (2012)
4. The Poisoned Pilgrim (2013)

The Hangman’s Daughter Amazon Page

The Hangman’s Daughter Wiki Page

The Hangman’s Daughter Video Trailer

HistoricalNovels.Info Review
(Includes other novels featuring executioners, non-fiction works about executioners, and additional online information. Very informative!)

Author’s Official Website
Interview with Oliver Pötzsch

Interesting WSJ Article about Oliver Pötzsch


[A Lesson Learned: So, I’ve come to realize recently that I tend to reward creativeness and originality with slightly higher ratings in the books that I’ve read. Should I let that affect my rating? Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so but I don’t really know. What I do know is that I recognize rather quickly what books I do like and if you’re anything at all like me then you’ll probably like many of my highest rated books. I hope that my reviews have helped you decide which books to read and that you’ve enjoyed them as much as I. If not, well, your voice can be heard in the comment section below every post. Let me know what you think! And, thank you for reading The Alternative!]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review - The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible Worlds
Karen Lord
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: February 12, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0345534057
320 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is, in my opinion, everything that’s right and good with Science Fiction today. It contains mind-powered space flight, reminiscent of Dune but without the religious/spice-drug aspects. Some of the main characters are humanoid “aliens” like every non-human race in Gene Rodenberry’s alternate Star Trek universe (i.e. Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans, etc.). There is one very dead planet destroyed by a hostile enemy similar to what happens in Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, among others. And, there is futurism but not in a dystopian Brave New World or Hunger Games way but more like Asimov’s Foundation series where science remains one of the more crucial element to the survival of the human race rather than its downfall. But, more importantly than all these other fascinating tropes is that The Best of All Possible Worlds contains social Science Fiction mingled expertly with human interaction, the bonds of friendship and love through difference, and a very modern feel for a style that used to be called classic. There is good reason why I mention some of the greatest contributions and novelists of Science Fiction in the descriptions above and that’s because The Best of All Possible Worlds belongs categorized with them. Now, more than ever, we need successors to the hard Science Fiction mentalities of the past fifty years that have disappeared with the passing of the great Science-Fiction writers of the Golden Age. Karen Lord is an obvious front-runner.

     A powerful, technologically-minded race of humanoid “aliens,” the Sadiri, suddenly find themselves homeless after their world has been completely destroyed by a planet-busting weapon. In an attempt to integrate themselves into a new society a small group of traveling male survivors seek refuge on the colony planet of Cygnus Beta and are challenged to rebuild their race by locating suitable DNA matches from the women that currently live there. Grace, a Cygnus Betan and a scientist trained in linguistics is assigned as liaison between the local politicians and the Sadiri to help aide them in their search for acceptable female counterparts and to build new settlements to ease their integration into society. Her Sadiri counterpart, Dllenahkh, together, with a small team of representatives from both cultures set off on an expedition across the newly colonized planet. Along the way their close friendship becomes something more than either expected. But with advanced humanoids from the stars what exactly does that mean? And where might it take them?

     The Best of All Possible Worlds is a fascinating science-fiction novel that I'd recommend to readers who enjoy character driven stories with a bit of technology, some biology, mystery, alien psychology, and light, non-conventional romantic elements. Lord’s style is both elegant and subtle, her world-building spectacular, and she spends very little time telling the reader the story but rather showing it by engaging our imaginations with her concise and often poetic prose. There is a new, powerful, and creative voice in the realm of Science Fiction. Her name is Karen Lord.

     File with: Jack McDevitt, mind-bending space travel, Dune, technology, Star Trek, alien culture, Gene Rodenberry, light Romance, Science Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut, Peter F. Hamilton, planet killers, and futurism.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Best of All Possible Worlds Amazon Page

The Best of All Possible Worlds Random House Page

The Best of All Possible Worlds Space Between Words Page

Official Karen Lord Website

The Best of All Possible Worlds Excerpt

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Book Review - Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson

Death Warmed Over
(Dan Shamble, Zombie PI Series #1)
Kevin J. Anderson
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0758277343
304 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     New Orleans has a tendency to spit out some odd and unsavory characters from time to time but when the undead, including zombies, vampires, werewolves, and a host of other distasteful characters infiltrate NOLA then it can only go from really bad to totally jacked. When the “Big Uneasy” occurred, a mysterious event ten years earlier that released every variety of nightmarish monsters into the real world, one P.I.’s investigative workload took an unusual turn for the bizarre. Dan Chambeaux, Zombie PI, and his ghostly, lounge-singing girlfriend, Sheyenne, take on some of the shadiest cases in the “Unnatural Quarter” including a resurrected mummy suing the museum that put him in their showroom for wrongful imprisonment, two hexed witches filing legal action against a publisher for not using “spell check” on its books of enchantments, and a skittish vampire with a stake phobia. Those cases pay the bills but of greater importance to Chambeaux is who turned him and why? And what’s with the bullet hole through the middle of his head? Twisted, hilarious, and completely entertaining Death Warmed Over is the perfect gift for that murder-mystery ghost-loving undead-zombie-detective-humorist fan in your life. You know who they are!

     Death Warmed Over, the first book in the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series by Kevin J. Anderson is a rollicking, dark-humor, supernatural tale that I recommend for pulp, humor, detective, zombie, and murder mystery fans of all ages. (Mostly not for pre-teens, ‘cuz, you know, there’re zombies and mayhem and the unnaturally undead in here. Of course, just by saying this I know it’ll send them all flocking to the nearest library to check it out. If only that were true?) [If you are under 13 and reading this please forget that I wrote the last two sentences. K? BTW, there’s plenty of really excellent YA novels at the library.]

     File with: Zombies, the supernatural, zombie private investigator, murder mystery, even more zombies, undead, super-unnatural beings, flesh-eaters, pulp detective/true crime stories, Zombies vs. Vampires vs. Werewolves, a lot more zombies, New Orleans, witches, mummies, curses, and The Walking Dead.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Series:
1. Death Warmed over (2012)
2. Unnatural Acts (2012)
3. Hair Raising (2013)

Death Warmed Over Amazon Page

Death Warmed Over Kirkus Review

Death Warmed Over Tor Review

Kevin J. Anderson Blog

clip_image003 clip_image005 clip_image007

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Book Review – Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel by Lia Habel

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel
Lia Habel
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0345523341
496 pages
Advance Reader’s Copy


     Their love knows no end… well, his doesn’t. Can a Steampunk lady from the crusty upper class find unconditional love with a handsome, urban-guerilla zombie?

     Dearly Beloved is the sequel to Lia Habel's novel Dearly, Departed which I did not know when I originally made the request for the Advance Reader’s Copy (Yes, I know, shame on me for not doing my homework but the premise sounded good. It was a zombie story! What of it?) At any rate, when I understood that it was the second book in a series it all began to make sense to me. It explains my feeling of being slightly lost, albeit momentarily, through the first chapter or so. This is not the first time I’ve accidently read a story out of series order (probably won’t be the last either) and I apologize to the author for not being able to connect Dearly, Departed (which I did not read) with Dearly, Beloved. It also explains why some of the characters felt, to me, so familiar to each other both in dialogue and action. This is a very good thing for a second book in a series, by the way. You want your characters to interact with familiarity and understand some of each other’s motives and emotions. All that said, this could have been, in my opinion, a stand-alone story on its own merits my confusion not withstanding. Dearly, Beloved is a very good story that contains intricate sub-plot twists, a world full of unusual (sometimes bizarre) characters, and multiple political and social points of view. Habel is a competent writer, has exactly the right voice needed to create inventive stories in the genre, and managed to integrate unique and creative ideas into her narrative. Always an advantage in a genre overflowing with overused tropes, memes, and cliché.

     The interesting idea here is that zombies can lead fairly normal lives if they reanimate early enough to prevent too much deterioration to the brain and are able to control their animalistic lust for consuming human flesh. And in this world zombies are considered second-rate citizens that many believe should not be afforded the same rights as the living. The socio-political climate is in a delicate balance that’s about to boil over. A dangerous standoff exists between “The Changed,” a radical group of sentient zombies fighting for their survival, and “The Murder,” a squad of paramilitary rebels determined to terminate the living dead and their living allies. Nora Dearly and her zombie boyfriend, Bram, fight together to keep both their worlds from erupting into social unrest and violence while attempting to understand the unique complications of their living/undead new love. Hell of a way to develop a budding relationship!

     Those of you familiar with my blog know that the Romance genre is one that I normally do not read or review. This particular book then presented me with a serious review dilemma. Should I read Dearly, Beloved with the pre-formed notion that I’d more than likely rate it low simply because it is a Romance or do I take the chance and hope that the Zombie elements outweigh the endearments? The answer? Dearly, Beloved is, in all actuality, an excellent Zombie novel with interesting and captivating elements of Romance, social reform, violence, and xenophobia deftly woven into the backstory. While not quite the type of story I normally showcase here Dearly, Beloved was a surprisingly intelligent, creative, and entertaining read.

     File with: Virus Apocalypse, Neo-Victorian Gothic Romance, Noir Steampunk, zombies, The Walking-Dead meets Romance, high-society, adventure, futuristic thriller, social unrest and reform, commando guerilla zombies, soft porn, and living corpses.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Dearly, Departed Series
1. Dearly Departed (2011)
2. Dearly, Beloved (2012)

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel Amazon Page

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel Excerpt

Dearly, Beloved: A Zombie Novel Review and Interview

Official Author Website