The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon (3 December — 15 December)

Criminy, this was a hefty book. Not really in length, though 400 pages is nothing to sneeze at, but more in that there was a lot of stuff happening all at once!

Meyer Landsman (or just Landsman, really) is our protagonist, and he starts the story off by being called out of his fleabag hotel room to another fleabag hotel room a few floors down to check out a dead body — because he’s a cop, not because the hotel staff are weird or something. Landsman is off duty, but when he notices the chess board set up in the room, he takes the case anyway, due to his longstanding hate-hate relationship with his father and chess, among many other family issues. Of course, when Landsman goes to investigate the death, it turns out that the body didn’t belong to just some random person, and in fact the biggest of the bigwigs in the area might not be pleased that Landsman is poking his nose in.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that it’s got an alternate history going on. I may have known that at one time, but I had forgotten, and I spent a few pages trying to figure out why Chabon was insisting that three million Jews lived in Sitka, Alaska. When he mentions that, oh, there also aren’t any in Jerusalem, I said, “Ohhhhhh,” and was much better able to follow the story from there. So, yes. Israel hasn’t happened, Sitka is where the Jews live because of some American niceness that is about to end and leave said three million Jews looking for somewhere else to go, and Landsman only has a few weeks to tie up (or, if need be, “tie up”) all of his unsolved cases before he doesn’t have a badge anymore. Woohoo!

Also, this book is less about the “who killed Mr. Dead Person” mystery than I would have liked, and much much more about all of Landsman’s problems — a chess-wizard dad who didn’t pass those genes on to his son, a sister that died in a plane accident a few months back, an ex-wife who once aborted a fetus for him and who is now his commanding officer, a cousin who once looked up to him enough to become his partner but who now just pities him, the alcoholism that lets him live with all of these people… the list goes on and on. Some of these problems intriguingly work themselves into Landsman’s Dead Person investigation, some of them just hinder it.

I was kind of dissatisfied with the ending for reasons that I keep attempting to type and then erasing, because I’m not really sure what I didn’t like about it. The various threads get tied up, for the most part, but I can’t even remember what happened at the end even though I keep going back to it right now! I guess that’s the moral of Chabon’s story… weird things can happen, but at the end of the day it’s unremarkable business as usual.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007)

See also:
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld (14 November — 15 November)

Um. I loved this book. A lot. I really didn’t expect to. I mean, I read Westerfeld’s Uglies series, and I thought it was pretty okay — entertaining, adventurous, and the like — but this is some seriously excellent stuff!

Maybe I forgot to tell myself that I love steampunk, I don’t know. Leviathan starts right at the beginning of World War I, immediately after Franz and Sophie are assassinated (by poisoning, this time). The usual suspects go off to war, but it’s not trench warfare on the menu today, but a machines vs. nature showdown. See, in this world, there are Clankers and Darwinists (and neutral people, of course, but they aren’t as exciting). The former love their giant walking machines; the latter love their giant whale zeppelins. And when I say whale, I mean that oh, also, Darwin has figured out DNA in this world and the Darwinists evolve their zeppelins and the like by splicing together interesting bits to make battle animals and flying implements that are alive. That’s pretty darn cool. Let’s work on that. 🙂

So the background of the story is excellent, and then the two main characters, who share chapter-time, are pretty awesome themselves. We first meet Alek, the only son of Franz and Sophie, who is whisked away in the middle of the night to go hide from the people who’d rather he be dead. Of course, he’s fifteen, so he’s not too good at the “shut up and hide” aspect of this whisking. Our other protagonist is Deryn, a girl who is passing as a boy (called Dylan) so that she can join the Air Service and go flying. She is also fifteen and a titch full of herself, but she thinks awesome things like, “Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!” Deryn’s kind of a badass.

Oh. And the illustrations are magnificent. As are the endpapers. Keith Thompson is my new artist-crush. 🙂

This is the first in another trilogy, I think; I can’t wait for the next one!

Rating: 9/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009)

See also:
Blogging for a Good Book

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry (24 March — 25 March)

Charles Unwin is a clerk at the Agency; he compiles the notes of his detective, Travis T. Sivart, and files them away nicely under titles like “The Oldest Murdered Man” and “The Man Who Stole November Twelfth.” But on this day, he is mysteriously promoted to detective in place of Sivart, which does not suit Unwin, who likes his clerk’s job and has no interest in detecting. He makes his first case to find out what happened to Sivart, and soon realizes that this case will take more skills than what he can learn in his Manual of Detection.

This book was weird, and also awesome. There’s not much more I want to say about it because I’m not sure which are details and which are clues. The weirdness is along the lines of Jasper Fforde’s — an alternate universe where weird things happen and it’s okay. The man who stole November twelfth did, actually, make the whole city skip from Monday straight to Wednesday.

Berry’s awesomeness is much in his writing. I had to read aloud this (long-ish, sorry!) passage to Scott after I read it because it’s just so brilliant:

“On the twenty-ninth floor, another long hall, another lone window at its end. But in place of the carpeting of the thirty-sixth, here was a buffed surface of dark wood, so spotless and smooth it shone with liquid brilliance. The floor gave Unwin pause. It was his personal curse that his shoes squeaked on polished floors. The type of shoes he wore made no difference, nor did it matter whether the soles were wet or dry. If the shoes contained Unwin’s feet and were directed along well-polished routes, they would without fail sound their joyless noise for all to hear.

“At home he went about in his socks. That way he could avoid disturbing the neighbors and also indulge in the occasional shoeless swoop across the room, as when one is preparing a breakfast of oatmeal and the oatmeal wants raisins and brown sugar, which are in the cupboard at the other end of the room. To glide with sock-swaddled feet over a world of glossy planes: that would be a wondrous thing! But Unwin’s apartment was smallish at best, and the world is unkind to the shoeless and frolicsome.”

Rating: 9/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde (28 August − 1 September)

The premise behind this book is an alternate universe in which weird things happen regularly − time gets out of joint, extinct animals can be cloned, religious fighting is replaced by “Who was the real Shakespeare” fighting. As in this universe, the government has a lot of bureaus to control its constituents, among these SpecOps 27, the literary division.

Our protagonist, Thursday Next, is an operative in this group who gets lured into a big investigation by the fact that she’s seen the bad guy involved, Acheron Hades − few others have because he doesn’t resolve on film. He is out to make a name for himself by stealing an original manuscript to Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit as well as a machine called a Prose Portal invented by Thursday’s uncle, Mycroft. With it he can enter original manuscripts, kill a character or two, and completely change every copy of whatever story he’s gotten into.

Thursday works to rescue her uncle, restore a failed relationship, and save Jane Eyre from destruction, all while battling the forces of evil in Hades and government corruption.

I really liked this book. Fforde makes the alternate universe seem very real with little details (an ongoing Crimean War, Jehovah’s Witness-like “Baconians”) and writes entertaining characters. A couple of times, when time-travel and manuscript-revising were involved, I thought too hard about how things could actually work and lost the story a bit, but otherwise it was great. This is the first in a series of Thursday Next novels, and I will definitely be looking for the second the next time I hit the library.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2001)