Monday, December 30, 2019

Eternal Life by Dara Horn

Reviewed by Ambrea

Rachel Azaria cannot die.  Since she made a deal to save her firstborn child more than two thousand years ago, Rachel has learned she cannot die.  She has married countless men, borne hundreds of children, and lived dozens of lives; now, in the modern world, she’s faced with the prospect of losing a new family as her time with them slowly ebbs away.  But as Rachel grapples with her mortality—or lack thereof—she’s forced to reconnect with the man she once loved and who also shares her curse.

Eternal Life by Dara Horn is an interesting novel.  I think I originally picked it up because the cover reminded me of Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni—shades of midnight blue and azure mixed with gold—but I was ultimately drawn in by the story.  Like The Golem and the Jinni, Horn’s novel draws on ancient Jewish tradition and myth and history to create a compelling story; however, it approaches faith, morality, immortality, and magic or mysticism in a very different way.

Eternal Life is also novel that poses a universal question:  What is the meaning of life—and what will a person do when faced with immortality?  Horn doesn’t necessarily try to answer the first question; rather, she offers one story from the perspective of one person and tries to take on the notion of what makes a life worth living.  It’s interesting to see the ways in which Rachel’s and Elazar’s lives develop as they grapple with these ideas and try to understand their place in the world.

Besides her exploration of very complex themes, Horn also delves into historical locations and events, which I really enjoyed.  I found it interesting to see Rachel’s “first life” in Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple and, likewise, I liked seeing little snippets of history—ancient civilizations in the Middle East, small towns in medieval Europe, glittering new cities in America.  I wish more of Rachel’s previous “lives” had been portrayed.  I would have liked to see more of what she faced throughout history, but, sadly, much of the book bounces between her early life and her new life in America.

Overall, I really, really liked—I won’t say love, not quite love—Eternal Life.  It’s one of those books that manages to stick with me.  It has a heart, no matter how tragic the story can become, and it hinges on hope.  It made me think and, like The Golem and the Jinni or, even better, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, it made me enjoy the simple pleasure of reading.  I thought it was beautifully written and lovely all around, like listening to a storyteller.

I was immediately sucked into the novel and I truly enjoyed following Rachel’s story, even if her life (or lives) didn’t go quite how I would have expected.  Although I was left with some lingering questions, specifically about her curse and what it means for her now that I’ve finished the book, I found it to be a very interesting and fulfilling novel.  I think it will stay with me, even after I return it to the shelves.

Friday, December 27, 2019

White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux

Reviewed by Christy

            Claudine and Henry Calhoun’s opulent, once lucrative real estate agency is coasting on fumes. Henry, the architect, is burnt out and indifferent. In fact, he’s half hoping for the firm’s collapse so he and his wife can leave Aspen, Colorado and start all over. Claudine, the dogged real estate agent, refuses to give up. When pop star Zara expresses interest in a lavish Aspen mansion, Claudine jumps at the chance to make the big sale that will save her and her husband’s business. The mansion in question also happens to be the first house Henry ever designed and built, and Claudine promised him he would never, ever have to set foot in it again.
            Breaking her promise, Claudine decides to hold their annual office Christmas party in the mansion and invites Zara herself so she can witness its potential. Never mind that most of the sales agents dread the holiday party and the inevitable White Elephant gift exchange – where everyone competes to bring the most impressive gift. However, a strange gift – an old cowboy statue – appears in the middle of the game. No one will claim it, and it confuses the guests. Except for Claudine and Henry. Though they don’t know the sender, they know the gift. The statue ties them to the scene of a crime – a crime committed in the same mansion where they’re celebrating. Someone at the party knows what they did.
            While this book is marketed as an isolated “whodunnit” in the vein of Clue or Agatha Christie, more than half of the book is initial set up. I was excited about the snowy setting and the potential of everyone being trapped but once the gift is revealed the rest of the novel quickly putters out. The blizzard that threatens throughout does nothing but mildly inconvenience everyone as they’re arriving. I wouldn’t say I hated it because it’s an easy read but it’s also kind of forgettable. One of the twists is so obvious I thought for sure it was a red herring but unfortunately, it was not. To be honest, with its under developed characters and quick resolution, it somewhat reminded me of an adult version of RL Stine’s Fear Street series. I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing (I still love and read those books even today) but it’s not what I look for when I pick up an adult mystery. With an abundance of Christmas mysteries to choose from, it’s hard to recommend this one because it just doesn’t stand out.

** I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. **

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Nevermore: 127 Hours, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Chestnut Man, On Mystic Lake

Reported by Jeanne

Nevermore opened with a report on 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Halston which details Halston’s incredible six day ordeal with his hand wedged between rocks in an isolated canyon.  No one knew where he was; there would be no rescue party.  With inadequate clothing and supplies, he couldn’t wait to be found.  He had to take a desperate action to save himself.  Our reviewer said that the book covered a good bit of Halston’s life before his ill-fated trek and she found it all to be very interesting and thoughtful.  She watched the movie based on the book as well and enjoyed both.  She did warn us that it was all more than a bit nerve-wracking at times.

The next book up was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes:  And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. The author is a licensed mortician who is very frank about what happens to bodies after death.  The embalming process is described in detail and it is “horrible,” but our reviewer said the book is excellent.  Doughty is witty but respectful; and while it is a difficult subject, it’s one everyone will have to face at some point whether for pre-arranging a funeral or making arrangements for a departed loved one. Many times people agree to funeral details without fully understanding what they are choosing.   

Soren Sveistrup’s thriller The Chestnut Man features a serial killer who leaves a figure made of chestnuts and matchsticks at the scenes of his crimes.  Police detectives Thulin and Hess are sent to investigate, but complications soon arise.  A fingerprint found on one of the figures is matched to a child who was murdered a year earlier. Our book club members are very fond of “Nordic Noir” so this psychological thriller was quickly snapped up by another reader.

On Mystic Lake was Kristin Hannah’s debut hardcover book.  The story revolves around Annie Colwater who becomes an empty nester when her only child leaves home to study abroad.  Shorter thereafter, Annie’s husband confesses he’s in love with another woman, so Annie flees to her hometown of Mystic to try to start anew.  Our reviewer said it was good, but confessed she was a bit disappointed.  She loved Nightingale by the same author and this book just did not measure up.