Adult

Book Review: The Red Magician by Lisa Stein

I must admit to having read more Holocaust fiction than can be considered healthy. I have a morbid fascination with frightening level of darkness that human beings can allow themselves to participate in. Nearly every major nation involved in WWII completed atrocities that today would be considered highly unethical. They did it for science. They did it out of fear. They did it because everyone who was not there ally had become “the other” and therefore, less than human. The psychology of it is both incredibly scary, and extremely interesting. When I read a Holocaust novel, or any WWII novel, I am looking for an exploration of the elements that could turn normal, loving, people into monsters. I am looking to understand the feelings of the victims. I am looking for a window into one of humanity’s most terrifying times. Stories like Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and Tatiana de Rosnay’s “Sarah’s Key” are beautiful and heart wrenching examples of amazing Holocaust fiction. You understand the characters, and through them, you understand the true effects of the Holocaust. You understand the nightmare the characters lived. Next to such deep, emotional, and character driven stories Lisa Stein’s “The Red Magician” pales in comparison.

I do not want to say “The Red Magician” was bad. It wasn’t. The National Book Award sticker affixed to the cover is a testament to its technical flawlessness and uniqueness. The magical realism aspects were a fascinating glimpse into Jewish mysticism. Thematically, the story is rich. The characters embodied the belief that many Jewish communities held that surely the German government was not exterminating the entire Jewish population of Eastern Europe. It was unthinkable in the modern age. And, if they were, other countries would certainly step up and stop them before their reach extended too far beyond their borders. Many communities believed everything would be fine, despite the warnings they received. It also digs deeply into the desire to keep fighting, and survivor’s guilt.

Unfortunately, that is as deep as things got. The characters were incredibly underdeveloped. Strong relationships were created with little build up. A few pages of conversation, and suddenly the main character is in love. A handful of interactions, and another character is willing to take responsibility for another’s life. A page or two of confrontation, and life long enemies are created. I couldn’t convince myself that these relationships were real, or important, and therefore could not connect to the characters.

I remember reading “Bartleby the Scrivener” in high school. At a specific point in Melville’s famous story Bartleby apparently decides that he will no longer do anything. He would “prefer not to” review a document in his office. He would “prefer not to” leave the office. He would “prefer not to” defend himself in a court of law. He would “prefer not to” do anything at all, even eat. To this day, remembering the story fills me with a rage I cannot explain. It bothers me that Bartleby does not care if he lives or dies. He does not value his life, and no one stirs him to care. It bothers me, which is probably more telling of my mental state than anything else. There is a point in “The Red Magician” where the protagonist gives up as well, and I felt that frustration and rage again as her character refused to listen to those around her, including the person she was supposed to have loved. Perhaps if I felt more connected to her as a character I would understand how the horrors she witnessed throughout the Holocaust would have brought her to a passive point where she neither sought death, nor continued to live, but I could not. I almost gave up reading at that point, but persevered.

“The Red Magician” is definitely a different view of the holocaust, and it stirred me emotionally, though not in the way I am accustomed to stories from this time period moving me. I would recommend it to fans of magical realism and fans of WWII historical fiction. I believe, in this case, my lack of enjoyment was mostly emotionally and not intellectually driven. This story is a unique view that I think would be a great way to spark a conversation among middle grade and young adult readers while keeping them interested with a magical and almost fantastical setting.

If you have read it, what did you think?

redmagician

Paranormals on Parade – Five Stories About Vampires, Ghosts, and Monsters (Oh My!)

Happy Wednesday! This is Halloween week, such an exciting, dark (maybe a little too dark since daylight savings time has yet to hit), and spooky time of year. If you are staying in, sheltered away from the rain and cold wind (at least here in Portland) you are going to need something to read, and I have a few haunting suggestions for you.

1. The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn (3.42 Goodreads)

bird eater ania ahlborn

Goodreads Summary: Twenty years ago, the mysterious death of his aunt left Aaron Holbrook orphaned and alone. He abandoned his rural Arkansas hometown vowing never to return, until his seven-year-old son died in an accident, plunging Aaron into a nightmare of addiction and grief. Desperate to reclaim a piece of himself, he returns to the hills of his childhood, to Holbrook House, where he hopes to find peace among the memories of his youth. But solace doesn’t come easy. Someone—or something—has other plans. Like Aaron, Holbrook House is but a shell of what it once was, a target for vandals and ghost hunters who have nicknamed it “the devil’s den.” Aaron doesn’t believe in the paranormal—at least, not until a strange boy begins following him wherever he goes. Plagued by violent dreams and disturbing visions, Aaron begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind. But a festering darkness lurks at the heart of Holbrook House… a darkness that grins from within the shadows, delighting in Aaron’s sorrow, biding its time.

My Thoughts: Wonderfully creepy. There was a part of me that was never certain if what was going on was real or imagined, and a part of me that dreaded turning the page to find out.

2. Written in Red by Anne Bishop (4.36 Goodreads)

written in red anne bishop

Goodreads Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Thoughts: “Written in Red” has one of the most unique views on creatures of the night that I have read. It is wildly creative, and well worth the read. There are some nail biting parts, but overall if you are sensitive to scary, you should be good here.

3. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (3.74 Goodreads)

the historian elizabeth kostova

Goodreads Summary: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

My Thoughts: I have a morbid fascination with Vlad Tepas and the role his bloody legend played in the creation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. This story is such a wonderful and haunting tale that in some ways shows how a legacy can become a legend. I am not going to lie, this is one of my favorite books. It’s got just enough creep factor to make it a perfect Halloween read.

4. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (3.82 Goodreads)

Anno Dracula Kim Newman

Goodreads Summary: It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.

Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history. Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London.

My Thoughts: Yet another vampire novel that plays with the legend of Vlad Tepas. Sensing a pattern here? Vampires, Queen Victoria, and Jack the Ripper in an interesting alternate history? This story was steampunk before people even knew what steampunk was. Kim Newman has a wonderful writing style, and the best word for this story is engrossing. I could not put it down. The sequel “The Bloody Red Baron” is worth a read too, though I did not lose myself in it nearly as much as Anno Dracula.

5. Splintered by A.G. Howard (4.02 Goodreads)

splintered ag howard

Goodreads Summary: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

My Thoughts: I could do without the burgeoning love triangle, but otherwise, this is a great read. If you really think about it, “Alice in Wonderland” is one of the most frightening tales we tell our children. Lewis Carroll’s classic has taken imagination in a darker direction for years. This is one of the best “dark” adaptations I have read. Asylums, monsters, dark and dangerous world, and so much more make it an excellent Halloween read.

Weekly Reading and Review Update- September 10th, 2014

Wow! It has been a few days since I last posted. A posting schedule like that just won’t do. Since I currently have several irons in the fire and none of them are quite ready to be pulled out, I figured why not let everyone know what is coming up?

Currently Reading During Commute

nest_esther_ehrlichNest by Esther Ehrlich

(Middle Grade)

I was invited to review this by the publisher through Netgalley. It is a beautiful story that I am savoring slowly because so much about the narrator’s life reminds me of the pains and triumphs of my transition into teenager from child.

Currently Reading Before Bed

the_book_of_life_deborah_harkness

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy Book 3) by Deborah Harkness

(Adult Fiction)

I could wax poetic about my love for this series and the author, Deborah Harkness. She is intelligent, funny, and has a way of telling a story that makes it come to life. The final book in the All Souls Trilogy series is not a disappointment. It is hard to put this one down when it is time to sleep.

Currently Listening To

off_to_be_the_wizard_scott_meyer

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

(Adult Fiction)

I must admit, the 8-Bit cover drew me to this book. I haven’t had a lot of time to listen at work since things have been kind of crazy, but when I do have time, I drop into this one. It is a tongue in cheek play on the traditional “thrown into a fantasy world” idea. I find it thoroughly entertaining.

Upcoming Reviews

the_stone_of_valhalla_by_mikey_brooks

The Stone of Valhalla by Mikey Brooks

(Middle Grade)

4 Out of 5 Stars

the_mystery_of_dragon_bridge_ann_howard

The Mystery of Dragon Bridge by Ann Howard

(Young Readers)

5 Out of 5 Stars

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