February 12, 2012 · 9:06 am
Chosen: A Novel by Chandra Hoffman (Harper, $14.99, 304 pages)
Chandra Hoffman makes a strong debut with her first novel, Chosen. Written in clear flowing prose, Hoffman will draw empathy from the reader by presenting a true-to-life portrayal of individuals from both sides of the adoption process.
“I wanted to tell a story in which there are no heroes or villains, just shades of gray, real people trying to recover from their stumbles with grace.”
Chloe Pinter is the director of a private adoption program in Portland, Oregon named Chosen Child. Engaged to a youthful beach bum who yearns for a life on the beaches of Maui, Chloe is immersed in the intimate details of the lives of her clients, torn on what she wants from her own life. Chloe’s committed to support each of her clients, who range from delinquent, hostile convicts to wealthy high school sweethearts. She provides them with the financial and emotional resources that she has available, even putting her career and personal life on the line when one of the babies goes missing.
There are other cases where her influence was heavy, life-changing… and then there are those for whom her actions were like strokes on the Zen watercolor paper, where the darkest of watermarks disappear after brief moments…
Hoffman captures the waves of emotional confusion and exhaustion that accompanies parents of newborns. She demonstrates the complexities of the adoption process with compassion and expertise that she brings to the novel from her prior professional work as an orphanage relief worker. She further delves into sensitive topics such as infidelity, postpartum depression, and domestic violence but does so with grace.
This story has merit, and the passion that Hoffman has for the world of adoptions comes through clearly. My recommendation falters due to the storyline’s predictability and the farfetched resolution to the main part of the story. Hoffman’s attempt at portraying the complexities of the characters often falls short and results in several unlikable, egotistic male characters who either continue to imagine or participate in affairs, and two of whom describe in detail the way they would murder their partners (which, thankfully, never comes to fruition). Therefore, this novel is simply recommended.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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October 15, 2010 · 10:39 am
The Vaults by Toby Ball
If The Vaults by Toby Ball is made into a movie, it will have to be shot in black and white. A film noir mood permeates the City, from the desolate squatter camps in abandoned factories to City Hall, where heavyweight-boxer-turned-mayor Red Henry rules with a predator’s innate understanding of his opponents’ weaknesses. It’s big-city America in the 1930s, the heyday of the newspaper, when deeply flawed men can become heroes by exposing corruption. That’s where we meet Francis Frings, the Gazette’s star reporter, who’s working on a story that implicates the entire criminal justice system and threatens to topple Red Henry.
The hardboiled characters who populate Frings’ world – his lover, a sultry jazz singer; his hootch-swilling editor – are richly drawn. Frings’ investigation, alone, would make a compelling crime thriller. But his investigation is just one of three that threaten the mayor’s kingdom, and therein lies the genius of Ball’s novel: Three “heroes” with vastly different motivations – and no knowledge of one another – simultaneously begin tugging on the threads of the central mystery. Ethan Poole is a private eye with socialist leanings who’s not above blackmail. Arthur Puskis is the rigidly methodical archivist of the City’s criminal files. Mayor Henry lashes out at all who threaten his kingdom, his brutality kept in check only by the pragmatic consideration of public relations.
Ball’s writing is fast-paced and terse. He rotates the action from one investigation to the next, and in the process, fleshes out a world of ingenious criminality, unionizing, strike-breaking, smoky nightclubs, and insane asylums. The characters’ quests are provocative and timeless: Truth, Justice and The Purpose of Life. The book’s one weakness is the implausibility of the operation that Mayor Henry kills to protect. But The Vaults is such a good read that it hardly matters.
The Vaults (St. Martin’s Press) is Ball’s first novel. It’s a winner, and anyone who reads it will be standing in line to get his second.
Review by Kimberly Caldwell Steffen. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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Tagged as 1930s, America, archivist, Arthur Puskis, big city America, black and while, blackmail, book review, books, City Hall, complex storyline, corruption, crime, crime thriller, criminal justice system, criminal records, criminality, debut novel, Dirty Old Town, Ewan MacColl, fast-paced, fiction, film noir, films, hardboiled characters, heavyweight boxer, heroes, historical fiction, insane asylums, investigation, investigative reporter, jazz singer, Joseph's Reviews, justice, Kimberly Caldwell Steffen, Kindle Edition, labor unions, Mayor Red Henry, multiple protagonists, music, mystery novel, new author, newspapers, novels, original work, P. I. thriller, politics, predator, Private Investigator, recommended books, Rod Stewart, socialists, St. Martin's Press, terse, the City, The Dubliners, the Navajo Project, The Pogues, The Rod Stewart Album, The Vaults, Toby Ball, truth