Review: The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene WeckerFor most refugees, losing a spouse halfway through the journey to America would be horrible. For Chava, it is almost world-ending. Not because she loved her husband, but because she was his servant. Chava is a golem, a being sculpted from clay and given life with dark magic.

Ahmad once roamed Syria like a god, reshaping his form at will and exploring the minds of the humans who crossed the country’s vast deserts. Endless powers, yet he still found himself outsmarted, imprisoned in a copper flask for centuries. Even once released from the flask, Ahmad is still trapped in physical form by an unbreakable iron band.

In a city of millions, these impossible creatures meet. And in a few horrifying moments, Chava and Ahmad are bound together in a way they could never have imagined. Someone else knows who they are, and will stop at nothing to bring them under his control.

A glorious debut

I loved The Golem and the Jinni. The plot is excellent, with several well-placed twists and an ending that’s just the right mix of bitter and sweet.

But in many ways the facts of the story are secondary; Helene Wecker’s novel is a master class in character study.

Just like humans do, Chava and Ahmad spend a great deal of time puzzling over their origin and purpose. Do they have souls, can they go against what nature has made them, are they purposeless without a master?

Much of the tension in their friendship comes from their clashing views on life. Chava is cautious, solicitous, and afraid to explore her new world; Ahmad is hedonistic, and does what he wants without thinking about who might be affected.

Yet as their situation grows increasingly dangerous, we see them learn from each other. Chava becomes braver, and uses her ingrained curiosity more frequently; Ahmad learns to temper his desires and think further than five minutes ahead.

The Golem and the Jinni is an engrossing look at turn-of-the-century New York City, mythology, and superstition. It’s also cerebral, giving the reader plenty of ethical and moral dilemmas and thoughts to gnaw on and discuss. The story is beautifully written, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

The next in the series, The Iron Season, hits shelves in 2018.

(I read this book as part of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. It’s also my June book for the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge!)

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Review: The Invention of Murder

The Invention of Murder, Judith FlandersMurder has been around for thousands of years, but it was the Victorians who perfected the art of publicizing it.

Every kind of murder — from disemboweling to poisoning — was fodder for journalists, authors, playwrights, and songwriters. Audiences could not get enough, and it’s been the same ever since.

In The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, author Judith Flanders details dozens of murders and the stories they inspired — including what we now know as modern detective fiction.

Murder most entertaining

If you’ve ever kept up with a murder trial by reading articles, read the Sherlock Holmes stories or anything by James Patterson, or recognized something “ripped from the headlines” in an episode of Law and Order, you can thank the Victorians.

Humans have probably always liked hearing and gossiping about murderers and their motives, but the 19th century was the first time the majority of the population could afford to buy newspapers (and were educated enough to be able to read them).

It was interesting to see how the crimes Flanders writes about spread into, novels, plays, music, and popular culture. These entertainments influenced (and were influenced by) England’s police forces, which in turn developed and used scientific discoveries to change how murders were solved, and suspected criminals tried.

Flanders’ book feels repetitive, especially earlier on. It was only when I got to the chapters about poison panics and how those and other murders influenced the development of detective novels that I got interested fully.

The Invention of Murder is a well researched — if skimmable — read. Perfect for weirdos like me who enjoy what happens at the intersection of history, science, and literature.

(I read this book as part of the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.)

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Writing Prompt #6: Greeting

Writing Prompt(This month’s writing prompt is Greeting: Write a story or poem that starts with the word “Hello.”)

Hello, little one — little gnome, baby-that-could-be.

I used to dream about you. We went on walks, you asked a thousand questions, and I explained to you that of course Santa is real because magic is real, and Santa is magic.

We’ve talked about how we would raise you (minimal screen time, play outside, no social media accounts before you’re 13), and what you might be like (tall, smart, obsessed with stories).

We’ve worried about you, too. What if you inherit my anxiety disorder, his food issues? What if we decide we’re ready, but can’t seem to get you here? What if we decide we’re not ready, and you make an appearance anyway? What if there’s something wrong with you, or I die getting you here?

I’m afraid of you. You would change everything, make everything about this world scarier. Not only do I not know how to deal with colic and teething, I can’t imagine how I would help you understand and deal with bullying, terrorism, and the fear and hatred that seems to be everywhere these days.

Given the choice myself, I’d choose to be born. This world is sometimes frightening, but so much about it is worth experiencing: books, road trips, french fries, love. Would you choose life for yourself, given the opportunity? If you’re anything like me, I bet you would.

Am I selfish for not letting you exist? Some people think so. But there’s a difference between giving you life and giving you a good life, and I don’t think I’m able to give you the latter.

Even though you will probably never exist, I miss you. I miss the million possible versions of you (even the one that hates reading). I hope that if your soul exists somewhere, it understands and accepts my choice.



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Review: Heroes Are My Weakness

Heroes Are My Weakness, Susan Elizabeth PhillipsPeregrine Island, Maine, is the last place on earth Annie Hewitt wants to be. Her career as a ventriloquist has fallen apart, she’s deep in debt, and her mother has just died. The only things she has left are her puppets and the island cottage her dying mother insisted hides some kind of “legacy” that will solve all her problems.

And if the island is the last place Annie wants to be, Theo Harp is the last person she wants to meet. Theo, the psychopath who tortured her as a kid and got rich and famous writing about other psychopaths. He wants Annie gone, but his threats no longer intimidate her.

For one thing, Annie’s got bigger problems. Every day she goes without finding her mother’s “legacy” is another day wasted, but strange things keep happening. Someone cancels her grocery order while everyone else’s is delivered by boat as normal; the cabin is broken into; and worst of all, someone is messing with her puppets.

Are these just harmless pranks, or does someone want Annie dead?

Gloriously Gothic

Nothing soothes the savage soul like a modern Gothic romance novel. Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ book has it all: a plucky heroine, a brooding hero, a creepy old house, and secrets, plus general skullduggery and puppets (that last one’s why it’s “modern”).

Annie is independent and stubborn, so of course I liked her immediately. She spends most of her time alone, and has come to rely on the voices of her puppets to guide her. This brings up some interesting themes, and I love the way Phillips integrates these “characters” into the story.

Theo did something horrible to Annie years ago, and clearly the reader is supposed to distrust him as much as she does. But the deeper in trouble Annie gets, the more she finds herself relying on Theo. And he is a rather amazing male specimen. If she has to be trapped on a freezing cold island for two months, she might as well have a little fun.

The mystery is well done, although the ending (spoiler alert!) felt a little anticlimactic — which made me think of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, itself a critique of the Gothic genre. There’s also some really harsh and beautiful moments in a subplot featuring a little girl who’s seen things no one should see.

Heroes Are My Weakness may have a whiff of Gothic about it, but at its core it’s a romance novel — a damn good one. It’s steamy without being smutty or (overly) cheesy, and is overall a well-written novel that kept me hooking (and smiling) to the last page.

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The Importance of #AnxietyGirl

The last 12 months have been the worst of my life. But they’ve also been the most liberating. I lost my job, went on unemployment, moved to a new town for a new job that was almost immediately dissolved, and spent the next six months searching for yet another new job. My savings took a big hit, and now I’m too far away to see the therapist I really liked.

I also learned that going on unemployment is not shameful. I applied to so many jobs (around 170 since last April) that writing resumes and cover letters became as easy as breathing. Even interviews lost most of their terror. I learned I can book movers, stand my ground with stupid apartment complex managers, and drive myself through downtown Austin during evening rush hour.

Through some of my favorite people — Jenny Lawson, Wil Wheaton, Linz DeFranco — I learned that anxiety lies to me. It tells me I’m a bad employee, a bad wife, a failure, that I constantly disappoint those around me.

I learned that one of the best ways to fight anxiety is to be open about it. I’ve started blogging more about it, and using #anxietygirl in some of my tweets and Facebook posts. Some things I’ve shared:

  • It’s incredible how fast I can go from being okay to hating every single thing about myself. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • What I hate most about being ‪#‎anxietygirl‬ is how my anxiety saps all of my energy. I’m sitting on the sofa, exhausted and paralyzed by all the things I know I have to do before bed. And this is one of my good days.
  • Things only I think when about to meet strangers: “Damn it, I should have looked at my small talk flash cards!” ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • When the prospect of attending a social event full of strangers in a few days makes you have to stop what you’re doing now and meditate. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬

I don’t post these things to gain sympathy. I post them because 40 million people in the US have an anxiety disorder, but only about a third receive treatment.

I want my friends who count among those 40 million to know that they are not alone; I want those who don’t have anxiety disorders to understand a bit better what’s happening in my brain.

Being more open is scary — it might mean that some people will think less of me, or that I could face prejudice at work.

But I’m tired of hiding, of pretending that I don’t have to fight my brain every day for who gets to control my feelings. I’m being honest, I’m using my anxiety against itself, and I’m better off for it.

Anxiety girl

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