Tag Archives: first novels

Two of Us

The Last Will of Moira Leahy: A Novel by Therese Walsh (Three Rivers Press; $15.00; 304 pages)

Therese Walsh’s first novel is a story of twins; a pair of near mystical sisters who call to mind the twins in Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.   The twins share thoughts, a unique language and their lives until an accident with tragic consequences for the piano-playing prodigy Moira.   Maeve, the narrator, must then find the means to continue her life on her own.   She’s assisted on her journey by finding a magical keris sword, and this leads her to Europe, where she finds out special things about her life and her sister’s life.

Maeve blames herself for the accident involving Moira and the journey that she takes provides her with a new perspective and much-needed forgiveness.   This is a well-told and very entertaining read from Walsh, although the reader must be willing to suspend reality as parts border on magic and science fiction.   There’s also a tremendous amount of jumping around, jarring the reader’s patience with the lack of chronological order.  

Sticking with the story until the end will, however, reward the reader with a satisfying conclusion to this unique tale by a very promising writer.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

   “This tender tale of sisterhood, self-discovery, and forgiveness will captivate fans of contemporary women’s fiction.”   Library Journal

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Almost Everything

Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe by Jenny Hollowell (Henry Holt and Company; June 2010)

“We got what we needed.”

This novel tells the story of one Birdie Baker, a young woman from a small eastern town and a deeply religious upbringing.   She marries young – a huge mistake – and decides to escape the life that others have planned for her.   So she “(comes) to Los Angeles, running from something.”

Birdie has a fantasy, that in the big western city recovered from the desert she will find everything lovely, effortless, safe.   She dreams of becoming an actress, being discovered, walking on red carpets and having young girls envy her.   But L.A. can be a tough town for those without money and fame.   Years pass as Birdie exists as a stand-in for a famous actress and a sometime body double.

Important men, men with power in the movie trade, find Birdie attractive but even they can see that she’s aging fast.   Now time has passed and “she was thirty, almost everything, almost nothing.”

Similar stories have been told in other novels about Hollywood, and this reader worried that the story was running out of gas before the halfway point.   Birdie seems less than totally interesting and often unlikable, and she spends too much time with older men.   Fortunately, Birdie eventually meets Lewis – a young male actor who believes in the same things that Birdie once did.

First-time author Hollowell comes up with some great lines detailing how Birdie sees Lewis as a younger version of herself; a fellow traveler haunted by his past but filled with hopes and optimism:  “How young he was, afraid of forgetting the tragedies that made him.   He did not yet know that he will never forget, that he will want to forget but will not be able to.”   With the character of Lewis, Hollowell finds a sweet spot.   Birdie will, of course, become romantically involved with Lewis but even she understands that this will end up like a brother and sister relationship.

Birdie is at first confused about life in L.A. and about why she is not getting what she wants and needs.   She goes on to become a woman who literally comes to believe that having a life – at least the life she wants – is impossible.   And yet she knows she has certain powers.   While producers and directors may not chase after her (pretty girls in Hollywood being a nickel a dozen), a lot of average men do want to be with her.   Why?   Well, because Birdie “did not talk about the future or ask them to be in it…  She did not seem to want them so they pursued her to discover the reason.”

The second half of the novel is strong as Hollowell discovers a way to give Birdie most of what she wants out of life, if not all of what she once dreamed.   And the conclusion – the final words – of Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe cannot be improved upon.   “This is how everything should end:  with the forgotten remembered, the wounded healed, and the sinners forgiven.”

This is a nice debut for Jenny Hollowell.   This reviewer hopes that her sophomore effort is built around a more engaging (and intelligent) protagonist, and that she finds a unique story line.   She’s a self-professed fan of Bob Dylan (“He is so good at summing things up…”) and perhaps she will find some inspiration there.

Recommended.

Take Away:   This story is not very original and it is not close to perfect, but there’s enough here to make it an engaging and satisfying read.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It’s All in the Game

Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens (Oceanview Publishing)

Jason weighed the situation for a moment, and then decided to risk jumping out of character.   “Pisa isn’t in the game,” he typed.   Very quickly, the voice responded.   “This isn’t a game.”

Fortuna is a rollicking E-ticket ride from first-time author-musician-technology expert Michael Stevens.   This is the story of Jason Lind, a computer science major at Stanford.   Jason is brilliant but bored and then he discovers the web-based game of Fortuna.   As in Second Life, Fortuna offers the chance for Jason to re-create himself.   The digital version of Jason is a living, breathing, avatar in medieval Florence, Italy.   However, playing the game has its costs – financially, time-wise and to Jason’s relationships…

The game of Fortuna eventually so absorbs Jason that he faces losing his teaching assistant position at The Farm and – quite possibly – the prospect of dropping out of school.   One aspect of Fortuna is gambling; real people gamble for riches and status for their digital persona.   But when the gamble is lost, debts must be paid off in true American dollars.   The penalty to fail to pay one’s debts is death.

Jason’s huge debts cause him to take a job at the high-tech Silicon Valley company GPC, where his late father worked.   Jason’s uncle heads the company that is rumored to have ties to organized crime.   GPC provides some immediate funds and protection for Jason but he may not be safe anywhere.

Eventually, Jason must run for his life as he faces threats from both inside the game of Fortuna (“You are in danger.”), and in real life.   Jason’s father – one Nicholas Fabonacci – gave 50 million dollars to Stanford before dying under mysterious and questionable circumstances.   Was Fabonacci – whose name graces a newer building on the campus in Palo Alto – killed and, if so, will Jason share his fate?

Perhaps the best aspect of this computer technology-mystery-thriller is that the reader will not anticipate the ending in advance.   Fortuna is about a massive struggle between good and evil – Machiavellian in nature.   Which one wins in the end?   You will have to read the 290 pages of Fortuna to find out the answer.

Highly recommended.   Fortuna is a game worth playing and a unique tale that is well worth reading. “Wild and addicting!”   Shane Gericke (Cut to the Bone)

Fortuna will be released on Monday, May 3, 2010.   A review copy was provided by Oceanview Publishing.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized