The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Michael Chabon, 2007

Hugo Winner - 2008

Premise: In the final days of Sitka before Reversion, a murder is committed, buried, and investigated. 

So I went into this book trying to give it a fair shake, even though the only thing I remember about reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (by the same author) was that I thought it was overrated. Now the main thing I'm going to remember about this book is that it's tedious.

It's an alternate-history murder mystery that wants to be in a hardboiled style, but the writing only occasionally comes within a glimpse of the cleverness of the greats in that genre. Mostly it's just too precious. One perceptive Goodreads review put it very well: "If he can come up with three ornamental ways to portray one thing, he includes all three of them in the book." And that person said they enjoyed the book. 

To be fair, I can currently only read books in short bursts, and this book was not well served by that. The descriptions were so lengthy and tedious that I started skimming them just so I could keep track of what was even happening (very little). If I weren't reading it for the Hugo project, I would have quit the book a dozen times over in the first half, which drags on and on setting up the situation and the character. I would say characters, but it's all about the main guy, even though after all that description I still don't feel like I know anything important about him (there's all this past trauma, but it's just not compelling) or care at all what happened to him. 

It's alternate history, and the world is really intriguing - but the world doesn't have any practical impact on the story. None of the interesting questions raised by the premise (what if the U.S. had let a few million Jewish refugees settle in Alaska in the 1940s) are actually addressed, in favor of a plot that's trying to blend a noir, a conspiracy novel, and a tiny minuscule bit of vaguely possible supernatural goings-on. (I also spent a third of the book wondering whether all alternate history novels should be eligible for the Hugo if this is.)

I guess it wasn't necessarily bad. It was occasionally even good. But I resent how long I spent reading it, only for it to just end in a big shrug. 

1 Star - Didn't Like It.  


Serial Reading: October Daye #4-#9

Monday, February 22, 2021

Pandemic life has brought me back to reading series in a big way, and I've been continuing to work through Seanan McGuire's October Daye series. I am enjoying these books, but I don't have enough to say for individual reviews. But on the other hand, I do want to remember what I thought of each later, so... time for a lightning round!

Book 4: Late Eclipses - Toby races against time to find a poisoner.

A lot happens, but I don't have much to say about it. Running! Reveals! A villain who last appeared in book 1 that I didn't remember! There's a lot of death in this one, and the scenes where Toby is tortured by iron poisoning are very effective. 

Book 5: One Salt Sea - Toby races against time to find some kidnapped kids before a war starts. 

I liked this one quite a bit. It introduced a whole civilization of sea fae, new characters, new powers, etc. Toby only doubled back on herself like a video game character replaying a level once and only passed out once. Spoiler: We say goodbye to Connor, which... was anyone surprised? Really?

Book 6: Ashes of Honor - Toby deals poorly with loss until a changeling kid in crisis needs help before someone else kills or exploits her, possibly destroying Faerie in the process.

I was so relieved to have Connor off the board (finally) that I kinda skimmed through all the self-destructive behavior that opens this book. I liked the new characters and getting more about the past of Faerie and the structure of the world.

Book 7: Chimes at Midnight - The Queen's animosity toward Toby comes to a head, but luckily for our heroes, she's not actually the rightful heir to the throne.

There's something slightly forced about the inciting incidents here, but the discovery of the truth and assembling of allies works well. The complicating mess around Toby getting dosed with magic drugs and turning herself mostly human is somehow both repetitive and compelling at the same time. It's my biggest ongoing uncertainty about this series: I can't decide whether I think the repeated plot elements and themes are effective or annoying. I do like that at least the power creep so common to this genre feels baked into the character premise.

Book 8: The Winter Long - A friend from the past is a foe and a foe may be a friend. Toby learns more about her mother's life before she was born and takes a dangerous stand.

Apparently, the series was building to some of the revelations in the book, and it does feel like everything kind of comes together here. New characters and returning characters and some status quo changes that feel earned. Possibly my favorite so far. I did find it fascinating that the meta message in this book is that the people who were most helpful to Toby when she was struggling with depression and trauma aren't necessarily all people who are healthy for her to be around now that she can stand on her own. 

Book 9: A Red-Rose Chain - Toby, not exactly the pinnacle of diplomacy, is sent to the Kingdom of the Silences to stop a war. 

Hey, some different plot stuff! This book brings a lot of dangling plot threads together to create some new status quos and some big open questions for later books to deal with. I liked it a lot. 

The Duke Who Didn't

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Duke Who Didn't
Courtney Milan, 2020

Premise: Chloe Fong is focused on one goal: making her father's sauce a successful business. She certainly doesn't have time for her old crush on Jeremy Yu. Jeremy wants to convince Chloe that he's serious about her, but what will happen when the townsfolk find out that he's technically the Duke?

So, Chloe is a constant list-maker. She's stubborn and type-A and prone to over-planning and keeps grudges like they're going out of style. The first pages describe her beloved clipboard.

What I'm trying to say is I feel a bit called out here. Maybe more than a bit. 

Even if you don't strongly identify with the heroine, though, there's a lot to love here. I think what I most enjoy about Milan's work, and most of the romance I like, is the particular mix of reality and aspiration. 

For example, many of the characters face racism and other discrimination because the book is set in England in 1891. However, it's also set in a wonderful haven of a multicultural village - an unlikely place but not impossible. In fact, both heroine and hero face and overcome their difficulties in ways that are perhaps unlikely for the time but not impossible (you can always check Milan's notes at the end for citations and research).

Another aspect I enjoy is that the romance feels right. I usually have little interest in lust-at-first-sight, and Chloe and Jeremy have been pining after each other for a realistically long time, even if their visits have been short. There's a lot of angst about a particular obstacle to their union that turns out to pop like a soap bubble when actually aired (rather than turn into a heap of cloying melodrama). 

Both of them are brave and true and talented, and they make each other better as well as making each other happy. 

Another winner from an author I am coming to trust. 

5 Stars - An Awesome Book