Whoo! Two more down this week, and only 6 more ARCs to go before I'm back to buying my own.
Book 86: My Father's Paradise
, by Ariel Sabar
This is an ARC that I was kindly sent by the folks at Algonquin Books. It was released on Spetember 16th and is now available for purchase: My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq
Mr. Sabar, a child of '80s Los Angeles, grew up dismissing his immigrant father. Between an unwillingness to spend money on luxuries like eating out, a fashion sense still inspired by his Kurdish childhood, and an accent that never quite faded, Mr. Sabar's father simply seemed to come from a world so foreign to the author's as to be incomprehensible. Eventually, though, the author came to wonder what his father's story really was and, fortunately for us, to ask questions. From his inquiry came this book, a deeply personal yet widely accessible account of the author's family's move from a village in Kurdish Iraq to the emigrant camps of Israel to America.
The story of the Kurdish Jews is one that I knew nothing about but this book spoke to me nonetheless. The author intersperses stories about his family, beginning with his grandparents' childhoods, with modern-day information about his father, a renowned scholar of Aramaic. His deft storytelling style brings the stories of these people to life, along with his personal interest in them. As he describes his father leaping across the rooftops of Zakho, the village where the family lived in Iraq, the reader has a clear image of this young boy, so unfamiliar in some ways, yet so familiar in others- he may speak a language most of us think of as long dead, but he still fights with his friends over possession of a shiny trinket. It's clear, as the story of the author's father progressed through starts and stops, that the author himself has gained a profound respect for a man that suffered much and worked very hard to get to where he is today. My Father's Paradise
is an excellent book, for anyone, really. It's not just about the history of Kurdish Jews, or even of the author's family, but rather a exploration of family dynamics. How they change, how they change us, and how they continue to influence us long after they're gone. You may learn something about an oft-forgotten people, or about yourself.
Book 87: Nox Dormienda
, by Kelli Stanley
This book was also an ARC, kindly sent by Ms. Stanley's publicist. This book was released on July 18 and is now available for purchase: Nox Dormienda: A Long Night for Sleeping (An Arcturus Mystery)
It's raining outside, of course; it always is in Londinium. Arcturus, medicus to the governor and sometimes detective, has a murder to solve and limited time to solve it in. There's a beautiful woman, a trusty assistant, a bully with a heart of gold, sneaky politicians, and plenty of villains, of course. All the elements you would expect of a hard-boiled detective story. The difference here is there's also a Mithraeum, a sprinkling of Latin phrases, some Druids, and talk of the Emperor. See, this isn't just any old noir- it's Roman Noir.
The idea of having a hard-boiled detective story set in London (aka "Londinium") 83 AD is a great one. All the fun of your usual noir, plus Roman intrigue. As far as the mystery goes, I'd say Ms. Stanley pulled it off nicely. She clearly knows her history (and her noir) and the story had plenty of nice twists and turns. Occasionally there were odd jumps that read, to me, like someone had edited out a scene but forgotten to fix the transition, though that may have been fixed in the final copy. My main gripe, though, is about the romance. This is the third historical fiction I've read in the least few months that would have been vastly superior had it not included the romance. Ladies, I know you really want to have a love interest in your story but please- if you decide to go for it, spend as much time developing that as you did you history. An unrealistic love affair can ruin the suspension of disbelief just as easily as a poorly researched historical scene can. I read in Ms. Stanley's bio that she loves Shakespeare and I can believe that- some of the relationships read like the comic love stories of Shakespears in that everyone seems to fall in love with exactly the right person by the end, for no apparent reason and with no explanation, and they do so seemingly instantaneously. I'm reasonably romantic but come on. It takes more than a pair of pretty eyes.
So, the romance was bad, and I really, sincerely hope Ms. Stanley will work on that because she has a whole series planned around this concept, and I for one think it has great potential. As of now, I'd check out the second installment for sure, then see how it develops. I wouldn't call this a great book (even without the romance) but it was a solidly good read and has the potential to be more. Excellent job with the innovation, Ms. Stanley, and I'll be keeping my eye out for the next book in the series. As for the rest of you, if you enjoy Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, and especially if you enjoy Roman history, or even if you don't know much about either but want a fun, original murder mystery, check this out- it's good, muddy fun.