An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green
Book Review / May 23, 2019

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green My rating: 2 of 5 stars “I don’t think I actually felt any of those ways, but it seemed on-brand.” This book actually is a remarkable thing. Remarkably horrible, in fact. Or maybe it’s the generation gap – at least if we’re not talking about biological age because Green is just about four years younger than me. This “Thing” deals with the appearance of aliens in every major city on earth and a young adult woman, April May (seriously?), who becomes an Internet celebrity for dealing with the implications of this “visit”. I chose the initial quote because everything in this book is pretty much superficial and only deals very shallowly with all the possible implications of physical confirmation of the existence of intelligent life beyond Earth. (Well, intelligence is relative – as anyone reading to the end will find out when “Carl” utters a single simple word as “judgement” on mankind.) The entire book is basically Hank Green trying to build upon his clout as an Internet celebrity (at least I guess he is; I’ve never heard of him) and tries to stay “on-brand” just like his not-very-likeable heroine. Oh, and April…

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Book Review / May 16, 2019

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman My rating: 5 of 5 stars “I was fine, perfectly fine on my own, but I needed to keep Mummy happy, keep her calm so she would leave me in peace. A boyfriend—a husband?—might just do the trick. It wasn’t that I needed anyone. I was, as I previously stated, perfectly fine.“ Eleanor Oliphant most certainly is not fine. Unless, maybe, Honeyman has read Louise Penny’s brilliant mysteries, among them “Dead Cold” (also published as “A Fatal Grace”) and actually means FINE (she even uses this term in all-caps herself) which stands for “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Egotistical”. That’s part of what Eleanor is. I’ve read this book is about loneliness and, yes, it certainly is but it’s so much more – depression, childhood abuse and recovery. Eleanor goes to work, trying to avoid any non-essential contact with her co-workers or, in fact, any human being for that matter. She relies completely on her routines (“I sat down and watched television alone, like I do Every. Single. Night.”) and abhors any deviations. Whenever she starts to actually experience feelings, she drowns them in Vodka. Suddenly and by pure chance, Raymond enters…

Kaffee und Zigaretten, von Ferdinand von Schirach
Book Review / May 11, 2019

Kaffee und Zigaretten by Ferdinand von Schirach My rating: 5 of 5 stars “Die Würde des Menschen ist die strahlende Idee der Aufklärung, sie kann den Hass und die Dummheit lösen, sie ist lebensfreundlich, weil sie von unserer Endlichkeit weiß, und erst durch sie werden wir in einem tiefen und wahren Sinn zu Menschen.” Zu Ferdinand von Schirach kam ich über sein Buch “Verbrechen”. Irgendwo stolperte ich über den Namen dieses Buches und natürlich kannte ich die Familie von Schirach aus der deutschen Geschichte. Ferdinand von Schirach selbst war mir jedoch kein Begriff und so googelte ich ihn und fand schnell heraus, daß er der Enkel Baldur von Schirachs ist, des “Reichsjugendführers” im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland. Nun ist der Nationalsozialismus ein Thema, das mir persönlich sehr wichtig ist. Ich bin 1975 geboren und so ist es vollkommen klar, daß ich keine Schuld an den Verbrechen der Nazis trage. Ich bin aber in Deutschland als Deutscher geboren und so trage ich – mit allen anderen Deutschen zusammen – eine historische Verantwortung, die Geschichte nicht in Vergessenheit geraten zu lassen und eben keinen Schlußstrich oder ähnliches zuzulassen. Werden wir nämlich Geschichtsvergessen, tragen wir eine Mitschuld, sollte sich diese wiederholen. Bis heute jedoch ist…

Repentance, by Andrew Lam

Repentance by Andrew Lam My rating: 3 of 5 stars “The fact that they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor didn’t matter. They were guilty by association, by the color of their skin and the slant of their eyes. It didn’t matter that they didn’t speak Japanese, or that they were American citizens. The bottom line was that their kind had perpetrated a horrid crime that came from the land of their ancestors. The shame was a burden that all Nisei silently bore, a burden every soldier in the 442nd was fighting to be free of.” I got this book for free as a win from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Thanks! “Repentance” tells the story of Daniel Tokunaga, a successful surgeon, who is confronted with his estranged father’s past during the Second World War. Daniel’s father is of Japanese descent and fought as part of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. During (mostly) alternating chapters narrating of 1944 (Daniel’s father and his best friend) and 1998 till 1999 we learn a lot about Daniel and his own family as well. Even though Lam doesn’t have his own style, his writing is fairly well,…

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Book Review / May 3, 2019

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro My rating: 2 of 5 stars “That’s true, good lady, but then we boatmen have seen so many over the years it doesn’t take us long to see beyond deceptions. Besides, when travellers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them to disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years—that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together. Good lady, I’ve already said more than I should.” Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, live in post-Roman Britain. They – like everyone – are suffering from some strange memory loss that prevents them from recalling large parts of their lives: “Now I think of it, Axl, there may be something in what you’re always saying. It’s queer the way the world’s forgetting people and things from only yesterday and the day before that. […] Like a sickness come over us all.” Sometimes, though, either Axl or Beatrice do remember things from their…

Relic, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Book Review / April 29, 2019

Relic by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child My rating: 4 of 5 stars “Every sixty to seventy million years or so, life starts getting very well adapted to its environment. Too well adapted, perhaps. There is a population explosion of the successful life forms. Then, suddenly, a new species appears out of the blue. It is almost always a predatory creature, a killing machine. It tears through the host population, killing, feeding, multiplying. Slowly at first, then ever faster.” “Relic” was a fast and easy read: New York City’s Natural History Museum has already had its share of dark rumours about a “Museum Beast” when two kids are found brutally murdered in the basement of the museum. And further deaths follow… Thus, Lieutenant D’Agosta from the local Police department takes the lead in the investigation, closely followed by FBI agent Pendergast from New Orleans who knows the killer’s modus operandi from a previous case. Furthermore, there are Margo Green, a graduate student, preparing her dissertation, supported in both that and her independent investigation by Professor Frock, her wheelchair-bound mentor who is part of the higher echelon of the museum. Soon, all of them will find out that sometimes the hunters…

No Exit, by Taylor Adams
Book Review / April 24, 2019

No Exit by Taylor Adams My rating: 3 of 5 stars Thrilling, suspenseful – and completely over the top No great quotation comes to the rescue in this case which could actually be good because “No Exit” promised to be a fast-paced thriller with a highly interesting premise: Darby, a college student takes refuge in a rest/service area during a blizzard. There she meets four other travellers who are stranded. When she finds a girl, Jay, in a van in the parking lot, she knows she’s going to have an interesting night ahead of her… “It was all really happening, right now, in vivid color, and a little girl’s life was really on the line, and tonight’s title match would be between a sleep-deprived art student and a human predator.” This outset got my hopes up high – after several books that taxed capacity for prolonged complexity (especially during a holiday!) I just wanted some action-flick-look-alike of a book. And, admittedly, I got one. So, why only three stars out of five? Well, worst of all: Pretty much every single plot twist was foreseeable. Early on I guessed at two completely different possible story lines but once the first “big…

Die Geschichte der Bienen, by Maja Lunde
Book Review / April 24, 2019

Die Geschichte der Bienen by Maja Lunde My rating: 3 of 5 stars “Sie findet den Weg hinaus aus dem Flugloch, dreht eine Runde vor dem Bienenkorb, ehe sie allmählich den Abstand zu ihrem Zuhause vergrößert. Aber noch ist sie nicht bereit.” Ein weiteres Mal läßt mich ein Buch recht ratlos zurück: “Die Geschichte der Bienen” von Maja Lunde ist zweifellos intelligent, kritisch und zutreffend. Am Ende – und immer, wenn es auch zwischendurch “menschelt” – ist es auch ein kraftvolles und berührendes Buch. Leider sind die Längen zumindest am Anfang spürbar: Bemüht erzählt Lunde in drei Zeit- und Erzählebenen von der Geschichte der drei Protagonisten, ihrer Familien und ihrer jeweiligen Beziehung zu den Bienen. William, im Jahr 1852, ist mäßig erfolgreicher Saatgutkaufmann und Naturforscher, der – so meint er zumindest – seiner Familie seine Leidenschaft für die Forschung geopfert hat und daran zerbricht. George, der vermeintliche Realist mit großen Träumen, der als Imker in den ländlichen USA lebt und arbeitet: “»Ich liebe Star Wars. Deswegen bin ich noch lange kein Jedi geworden.«“ Tao, die Getriebene, die die eine kurze Stunde, die sie mit ihrem einzigen Sohn, Wei-Wen, am Tag verbringen kann, dafür nutzen möchte, diesem eine bessere Zukunft zu…

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller
Book Review / April 21, 2019

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller My rating: 2 of 5 stars “IN THE DARKNESS, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.” (The last sentence of the book, almost the only good one.) I was expecting to re-learn my Greek classics, told with a modern voice in modern language. I expected tales of heroism, of the great Greek heroes like Odysseus, of the Trojan war. What I got was a pale romance, lots of pathos and characters I couldn’t care for at all. Achilles almost always submits to his mother’s wishes, Patroclus is annoying and whiny and both fall in love with each other for no discernible reason whatsoever – unless you count Achilles’s feet… “His dusty feet scuffed against the flagstones as he ate. They were not cracked and callused as mine were, but pink and sweetly brown beneath the dirt.” Or Achilles’s feet… Again… “Up close, his feet looked almost unearthly: the perfectly formed pads of the toes, the tendons that flickered like lyre strings. The heels were callused white over pink from going everywhere barefoot. His…

Age of Legend, by Michael J. Sullivan
Book Review / April 17, 2019

Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan My rating: 5 of 5 stars “Time had sneaked in and stolen her recklessness.” Michael J. Sullivan has done it again: He has written a book that doesn’t need to hide behind any other work in contemporary fantasy. His latest masterpiece, Age of Legend, the Kickstarter of which I had the honour to participate in, begins after the Battle of Grandford at the end of the previous book, Age of War. This makes “Age of Legend” the fourth book in Michael’s “The Legends of the First Empire” series which I whole-heartedly recommend to, well, actually anyone who reads. (In fact, my wife isn’t really into fantasy but thoroughly enjoyed Michael’s Riyria books.) I already wrote it in the review for the previous book but this latest instalment solidifies this feeling: More and more, “Legends” turns into Michael’s magnum opus. The Riyria books, which are fairly different from Legends, are undoubtedly great but the narrative depth of Legends is absolutely remarkable. Michael gets pretty much everything right and this starts even before the actual book with his “Author’s Note”: “Now, there are a few things in this second half that I’ve done differently than…