Tag Archives: angels

Good Day in Hell

Proof of Angels

Proof of Angels: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett (William Morrow, $14.99, 281 pages)

A Novel of Hope, Redemption, and the Gift of Angels Among Us…

“…without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.” Mary Karr

Mary Curran Hackett’s debut novel, Proof of Heaven, was excellent. This, her second novel, is about a fireman, Sean Magee, trapped in a burning building in Los Angeles. Magee is doomed and prepared to meet his end until an angel appears. Magee’s unable to see through the smoke but the female angel leads him to the place where he can make a blind three-story leap from the quickly collapsing building. Remarkably, Magee survives.

“He wanted to start over in a place that welcomed re-creation and self-invention…”

Magee had already lived one existence in New York City and a different type of life in Los Angeles. After being saved from a horrible death by what may be divine intervention, Magee’s finally ready to tackle the demons in his life and pursue happiness: “Everyone, Sean knew, had a demon or was once a demon… Then again, he thought, demons were nothing more than fallen angels like himself.” Will Magee’s third try at life – real life – be successful?

“Everyone’s got something that makes existing complicated.”

Yes, this is a story about redemption and it is – as was Proof of Heaven, a life-affirming one. Magee is an Everyman who wants what everybody wants, “Everybody wants to feel whole.” Without divulging too much, Magee comes to realize that what he actually wanted the most in his life was the company of a special woman; one he spurned and walked away from early on in his life. Will he be able to reunite with her?

This is a highly engaging and finely written morality tale. However, it has one enormous flaw. As the reader senses that the story will wrap up in a few dozen pages, it comes to an abrupt, disappointing ending. It’s as if someone cut the tape on a song, so that there’s no fade-out. It’s jarring, as when one listens to “She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles. So is the unexpected early conclusion of Proof of Angels.

Hackett is a highly talented writer, so one has to wonder if she got caught up in writing to a strict deadline or if she simply ran out of ideas. I suspect it was the former.

Recommended, for those willing to accept a close-to-great story that wraps up in a non-satisfyingly abrupt – and not quite realistic, manner.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Proof of Heaven (nook book)

You can read a review of Proof of Heaven: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/heaven/

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Full of Grace

 

pictures of youPictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.95, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect. There was no karma. The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the opening of Pictures of You, two women — April and Isabelle — are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide into each other on a foggy highway. Only Isabelle survives. This leaves three survivors, including Isabelle’s husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam. In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to save him.

It’s quite an innovative set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt. Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that brings to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg) she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story. One lesson has to do with powerlessness: “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Than there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble: “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.” “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress… (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the fact that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life. When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears… each one said the same thing: Come home. Come home.”

It wasn’t a pill or a car that made her feel safe.

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes. The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not. And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved. There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account. All in all, this is an amazing novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. 

The reader who enjoys this book may want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn, which also wrestles with the notion of angels on this earth.

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The Greatest Gift

Christmas at the Toy Museum by David Lucas (Candlewick Press, $15.99, 32 pages)

This is a children’s book about 22 classic stuffed toys that live in a Toy Museum.   On Christmas Eve, the toys all rush to gather under the Museum’s grand Christmas tree.   Once there, they sadly realize that there are no gifts for them under the tree!   That’s when Bunting the old toy cat comes up with a great idea – the toys will wrap themselves up as gifts for each other.   This seems like a very good idea, except that Bunting is the “gift” opened last and he has no gift to open for himself.Christmas at the Toy Museum (med.-lg.)

Well, it turns out that the toy angel at the top of the tree is a real angel with magical powers.   She decides to reward Bunting with a truly special gift, a wish that he can make that will come true.   Bunting decides to wish that Christmas would last forever, and so it does from that point forward.

This is a beautifully illustrated tale that teaches young ones the value of selfishness, while also indirectly telling them that everything in life – including one’s friends – has value.   Christmas at the Toy Museum would make a perfect gift for a child in almost any household.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Christmas at the Toy Museum is recommended for children ages 3 and up, although we can imagine that some smart 2-year-olds will also enjoy it.   David Lucas is also the author-illustrator of Lost in the Toy Museum: An Adventure.  

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Full of Grace

Pictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.94, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect.   There was no karma.   The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the start of Pictures of You, two women – April and Isabelle – are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide on a foggy highway.   Only Isabelle survives.   And she’s joined in the role of survivor by her husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam.   In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to rescue him.

It’s quite an amazing set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt.   Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that calls to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg), she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story.   One lesson has to do with powerlessness:  “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Then there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble:  “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.”   “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress…  (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the notion that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life.   When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears…  each one said the same thing:  Come home.  Come home.”

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes.   The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not.   And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved.   There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account.   All in all, this is an amazing second novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Magically written, heartbreakingly honest.”   Jodi Picoult

The reader who enjoys this book may also want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn.  

  You can find our review of American Music here:  https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/late-for-the-sky/

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn (Knopf, 237 pages, $23.95)

“When you’re lost in Juarez/ And it’s Easter time too/ And your gravity fails/ And negativity don’t pull you through…”   Bob Dylan (“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”)

“The memory was like an explosion and he was inside it, living through it and it surrounded him and slowly he breathed into it…  This was where he was headed.   He was entering someplace.   It seemed to be his life.”

This one is a brilliant and one-of-a-kind experience.   Author Jane Mendelsohn has written a novel about disorientation and jumbled lives, where people are not sure whether they are living now or in the past.   Or in the future.

“…she seemed to enter that new future and for an instant the past disappeared.”

The novel starts out with an Iraq war veteran – circa current times – being treated for his injuries by a 21-year-old physical therapist whose name is Honor.   As Honor works on the wounded soldier, whose name is Milo, she begins to feel and hear stories…  His body “is like a haunted house.”   She feels the stories in his limbs and in his bones, but bit by bit he also begins to tell her the stories that he sees.   He tells the stories and they both listen thinking that somehow these stories may involve people from the past.

Yet, the stories are disjointed and cover very different periods of time:  17th century Turkey (1623 to be exact), 1936 and 1969.   These life stories of five separate individuals are seen in visions and/or heard by our two protagonists.

Music and its simple joys is one of the themes that unite the distinct stories.   A dancer in Budapest in 1623 inspires a man of chemistry to invent a cymbal, the prototype of today’s premium brand found on many drum kits.   Count Basie’s inaugural performance at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on Christmas Eve brings lovers together:  “The music had swung them here…  this happy romantic rhythm would kill them both.”

Another theme is the past as prelude.   We cannot fully understand who and what we are now without understanding our ancestors and how their choices during their lives led us to the current moments in our lives.

“Do you ever regret coming east and leaving the movies?”  Anna asked.

“No, I don’t,”  Pearl said.   She was looking straight up with her eyes open.   Anna, already falling asleep, couldn’t see the tears.   “If things hadn’t happened exactly the way they did,” she said, “I wouldn’t have been here with you.”

At the conclusion of American Music we see how the past and present stories are related.   But this is not the key point.   Once the past is fully encountered and understood, Mendelsohn tells us, we can’t hold on to it.   Once it has served its purpose (once our relatives have lived and died for us) it is time to let the past (and them) go.

“She saw the…  figures walk into the desert and she watched them…  and she knew for the first time that she had not been letting them go and then the car drove on and she let them go.”

There’s an angel, a guardian angel of sorts that appears to a character in this book.   He delivers a message and then disappears after doing his job.   Jane Mendelsohn has done her job here so very, very well that it’s remarkable and more.   I can almost see where the wings attach to her shoulders.

Highly recommended.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Angels on Earth

CC Theresa Brown

Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life and Everything in Between by Theresa Brown (HarperOne, $14.99, 224 pages)

“Death.   It casts a long shadow in this book, and in these stories.   Even when death is not present it hovers just around the corner, unbidden and unwanted, but waiting nonetheless.”

“People say, why wait?   But really they should say, don’t wait.   Listen when you can, tell the people in your life you love them…”

If doctors are the mortal gods of medicine, then nurses are its angels.   At least that’s the case put forth here by Theresa Brown, a former Tufts University Journalism professor turned Registered Nurse (R.N.).

It seems that Brown and a former close female friend were looking for meaning in their lives when they decided to go to nursing school.   Brown started at Penn but finished at Pitt.   In Critical Care, Brown pulls back the curtain on what she somewhat successfully labels the Science of Nursing.   My mother was an emergency room nurse, so much of what I read in Critical Care sounded familiar and true…  Good hearted nurses are worn down by tough-minded superiors.   These nurses rarely receive praise for medical successes but often are blamed for the failures.   And, they have to clean up stool because “doctors don’t do poop.”

Still, this seemed like a somewhat lightweight survey of a crucial field.   There are some specific problems with the telling.   Brown shows us her empathy in writing about patients like the all-too-young David, who is battling leukemia; and Irene, the Pittsburg television personality who does not realize that she’s dying until she hears her former co-workers talking about her on TV.   But as soon as we become engaged with their lives, Brown’s off describing other things – like a voluntary job change.

Brown also loses track of former patients (some of whom have likely died) and their families.   In this age of the Internet, it’s odd that she did not pursue some basic research to find out what happened to them.   Also, the book begins with multiple pages of acknowledgments which seems distracting before we get to the actual content.

A last flaw is that we do not get to know the author’s husband or daughter.   They remain on the edges of the stage.

What Brown does quite well is to convince the reader of the need to enjoy life (and other people) while good health lasts.   Today’s tiredness may be diagnosed as leukemia or some other energy-robbing disease tomorrow.

Critical Care lets you walk in the shoes of some very ill patients, both young and old.   Yet for a better overview of today’s world of medicine – as practiced on a daily basis – I recommend two books by Dr. Atul Gawande.   The most recent is Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (2008).   The contemporary classic is Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science (2003).

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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