Tag Archives: new authors

Friend of the Devil

Past Crimes Hamilton

Past Crimes: A Novel by Glen Erik Hamilton (William Morrow, $26.99, 321 pages)

They drill politeness into the Seattle cops with six-inch galvanized screws. It always amused Dono, and I was starting to get the joke.

When Guerin spoke again, his voice was level and hard enough to skate on. “If you go around looking for your grandfather’s associates, firing off any question that comes into your head, then we could lose a chance to build a case against someone. He could walk.”

This first novel by author Glen Erik Hamilton is semi-autobiographical. The early life of the narrator, Van Shaw, mirrors that of the author. Seattle, boating and bad behavior are what they have in common. Van Shaw is a wounded Army veteran on leave back home in Seattle. His experience in Afghanistan put him into a special class of soldier, one who has endured combat situations far more disturbing than most guys could handle.

Shaw has a complicated past that includes a broken family with long-standing grudges. He has received a letter from his grandfather, Dono. The two of them have been estranged for a while. The backstory is complicated and the author uses flashbacks to lead the reader through Shaw’s apprentice years at his grandfather’s side pulling burglary jobs, all the while learning the tricks of thievery, large and small.

The story line meanders bit as it picks up threads that form a general fabric of Shaw’s and Dono’s lives. As threads are added, the momentum builds. The reader is pulled into a messy set of situations. (Suffice it to say that Shaw becomes a prime suspect in a crime.) Hamilton keeps his end game in focus and delivers a satisfying read.

This is the promised first of a series of Van Shaw novels. Hamilton has laid the groundwork for a complex character who is likeable but troubling. (A friend of the devil, if you will.) Lee Child’s Jack Reacher comes to mind.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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How Can I Tell You

Everything I Never Told You (nook book)

Everything I Never Told You Ng

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng (The Penguin Press, $26.95, 292 pages)

“James is all too familiar with this kind of forgetting. From Lloyd Academy to Harvard to Middlewood, he has felt it every day – that short-lived lull, then the sharp edge to the ribs that reminded you that you didn’t belong.”

Celeste Ng’s novel is about a Chinese-American family in the truest sense of the words; James Lee is a Chinese-American professor married to an Anglo woman. Although born in the U.S., “(James) had never felt he belonged here….” James has consistently experienced discrimination as a minority resident of Ohio – an experience his wife Marilyn has largely been exempted from, and his sense of bitterness has been building up. Matters come to a head when his fifteen-year-old daughter Lydia goes missing, and is eventually found dead.

The loss of Lydia threatens to destroy the Lees’ marriage as Lydia was the favorite of their three children, a daughter in whom their hopes for a perfect future had been placed. This family novel is also a mystery as the circumstances of Lydia’s death are largely unknown. Marilyn Lee makes it her mission to “figure out what happened… She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.”

Everything Ng

Ng’s thought-provoking tale informs us that a sudden tragedy can either destroy individuals or give them the chance to start anew. And this unique, engaging novel reminds us that “the great American melting pot” operates haphazardly and imperfectly.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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My Father’s Gun

Rules for Becoming a Legend (nook book)

Rules for Becoming a Legend: A Novel by Timothy S. Lane (Viking Adult, $26.95, 352 pages)

“The time is out of joint.” Hamlet, Act I, scene 5, line 188

Timothy S. Lane’s Rules for Becoming a Legend, released in March, is a strong debut novel. In the age of travel ball and the mistaken belief that every child is a Division 1 and/or professional prospect of some type, there are many not-so-subtle lessons contained in the pages of Rules. For those who truly do have the talent to excel at a chosen sport, the message is scarier.

In a basketball-crazed town, Jimmy “Kamikaze” Kirkus is even more talented at basketball than his father, Todd “Freight Train” Kirkus. “Freight Train,” a one-time sure thing star in the NBA, is known in his middle age as nothing more than a flop who loads trucks with Pepsi for a living.

One disaster after another descends upon the Kirkus family, creating something known to the locals as “The Kirkus Curse.” Only some of it can be traced to the actions of the characters themselves. While in life, the vicious cycle of misfortune that results from a single misdeed is all to real for many, in this novel it is taken to a close-to-unbelievable extreme.

In the midst of these sad circumstances, young Jimmy must decide for himself if it is worthwhile to pursue the path to becoming a sports legend; a journey which may lead to his ruination. In Rules, the joys of childhood are lost far too quickly.

Lane’s characters are interesting and the major themes resonate. There are high quality passages throughout the book such as, “The warmth around Genny (Todd’s wife) was delicious, and the moment he settled in next to her he was able to regain the just-below-the-surface sleepiness that was the best part of waking up….”; the end of a strong passage in which Genny suppresses her anger toward her husband, “Letting even just a little of that in would blow the hinges off the whole thing and she would suffocate…”; or, considering the meaning of Jimmy’s basketball throughout the book, the strong use of personification, “He (Todd) set the ball on the table and swept up the broken vase. The basketball watched him work.”

Lane tells the story in a sequence of never-ending flashbacks, which is understandable initially but unnecessary and/or irritating later on in the book. Despite the examples above and many other well-worded passages, the book is generally written in a fragmented manner – intentionally so it would seem, to accentuate the characters’ thoughts and circumstances. However, there are times when this is not stylistically necessary and, therefore, subject to question. Yet, neither criticism detracts from the general reader’s overall enjoyment of what is otherwise a very solid effort.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Rules (audible audio)

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A slam dunk of a debut… Rules has the authenticity and pathos of a great Springsteen song.” Jonathan Evison, author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel.

Dave Moyer is an educator, a former college baseball player and coach, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Coming Up Next…

Rules_for_Becoming_a_Legend

A review of Rules for Becoming a Legend: A Novel by Timothy S. Lane.

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Black Is Black

Wendell Black, MD (nook book)

Wendell Black, MD: A Novel by Gerald Imber (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, 412 pages)

Fans of medical-themed stories will be happy to find this one written by famed plastic surgeon Gerald Imber. Dr. Wendell Black, the central character, narrates an often-dark and sinister tale. Black is a New York City police surgeon. His credentials allow him access to crime scenes even though he’s not a sworn officer who carries a weapon.

Circumstances that seem quite ordinary place Black at the center of an international crime syndicate. His first encounter with the mayhem created by the criminals occurs on a flight to New York. A call over the public address system for a doctor on board to provide assistance brings Black to the side of an ailing passenger.

The story centers on the theme of connections, mostly centered around human friendships. The in-flight medical emergency becomes more than a one-time event. Black seeks out the help of a Central Intelligence Agency staffer who’s well placed in the organization when he realizes there’s trouble that far exceeds Black’s problem solving capabilities.

Imber provides the reader with just enough medical information to be plausible but not in an egotistical and heavy-handed way like one finds in the Kay Scarpetta novels. In this post-9/11 era tale, an awareness of terror threats forms a basic thread in the plot’s fabric.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Imber’s debut is a fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists.” Booklist

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Fire Lake

The Lake House: A Novel by Marci Nault (Gallery Books, $16.00, 386 pages)

The Lake House (nook book)

In The Lake House, two women, generations apart, struggle with finding a true home — a structure and a place in their hearts. The older woman, Victoria Rose, is a beautiful and talented actress who chose to leave her home by Lake Nagog near Acton, MA, at the end of World War II. Victoria was escaping the smothering and predetermined life that lay ahead for her. Being a wife and mother within the confines of a wealthy and isolated community held little appeal for her. Now in her seventies, she returns to Lake Nagog to heal the deeply felt pains of loss brought on by the death of her granddaughter.

Heather Bregman, a successful 28-year-old newspaper columnist, is suffocating in her relationship with fiancé and agent Charlie. Heather is a travel writer whose adventures are exciting and challenging. She feels invisible and hardly cared for when Charlie neglects to pick her up at the airport after a long trip.

The backdrop for the intersection of the lives of Victoria and Heather is a small, closed community on Lake Nagog. Until recently, the ownership of the lovely cottages that border the lake has been passed down through generations. Now, one of the cottages is sold to an outsider to the consternation of the elderly residents. To make matters more volatile, the new owner is Heather! She has broken her engagement to Charlie and hopes to find a more stable and meaningful life along the lake.

Both Heather and Rose are outsiders of a sort. Each of them is yearning for a life that feels just right. Their efforts to fit in and settle their lives form the basis for the tale. Author Marci Nault is a master of layered detail and sentiment. She knows just when to pull back from an excess that would break the spell she has cast.

The Lake House is an excellent choice for a summer vacation read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. “A richly textured novel about love, friendship, and second chances that spans generations.” Mary Alice Munroe, author of The Summer Girls.

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The Lake House

Lake House

A review of The Lake House: A Novel by Marci Nault.

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If I Could Turn Back Time

The Repeat Year: A Novel by Andrea Lochen (Berkley, $16.00, 400 pages)

Some things are better the second time around…

“You have to pay to get out of going through these things twice…” Bob Dylan

This is a book that I wanted to like more than I did. Andrea Lochen came up with a great premise for a debut novel. A young nurse named Olive experiences a terrible year in 2011, when her numerous losses include a breakup with her longtime boyfriend. On New Year’s Day she suddenly wakes up to find that it is not 2012, but rather 2011. It’s a repeat year. (A year that she will repeat with full memories of what happened the first time around.) Will she use it to rectify her personal mistakes and save her ragged personal relationships?

Unfortunately, Lochen fails to make the most of her storyline. The tale begins in a very engaging fashion, but about a third or half-way through it becomes difficult to read. The dialogue seems less true to life, and some happenings made it harder to suspend disbelief. For example, instead of allowing Olive to be the only “repeater,” another character is brought into the story — someone who happens to be a friend of Olive’s mother — who also relives years in her life. That seems like a bridge too far.

The topic of time travel is a fascinating one. Since Olive is a nurse, she could have used her knowledge of the patients that had been treated in the hospital during 2011 to prevent medical errors and conceivably save lives. Lochen uses this notion just once, and by page 200 of 400 the story becomes a pretty standard romance novel.

Clearly, Lochen has some skills as a writer, so let’s hope she herself gets it right the second time around. Perhaps she’ll write The Repeat Novel.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Repeat Year was released on May 7, 2013.

The Repeat Year (Amazon)

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A Coming Attraction

A Working Theory of Love: A Novel by Scott Hutchins (Penguin Press, $25.95, 336 pages)

This debut novel by Scott Hutchins – a University of Michigan graduate, a former Truman Capote Fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program and a current Instructor at Stanford University – will be released on October 2, 2012.   The protagonist, Neill Bassett, lives in a San Francisco apartment building “on the south hill overlooking Dolores Park.”   He commutes to work in Menlo Park, where he works at a small but innovative Silicon Valley company.   Here is a synopsis of A Working Theory of Love:

Neil Bassett is now just going through the motions, again joining the San Francisco singles scene after the implosion of his very short-lived starter marriage to ex-wife Erin.   He’s begun to live a life of routine, living with his cat in the apartment that he and Erin once shared.   On one otherwise ordinary day he discovers that his upstairs neighbor Fred has broken a hip.   Neil summons an ambulance, and when the paramedics arrive Fred says to Neil, “I’m sorry, Neill.   I’m sorry.   I’m so sorry.”   This sets Neil to wondering about life itself — was Fred apologizing for “his basic existence in this world, the inconvenience of his living and breathing?”

Neil’s physician father committed suicide ten years earlier, leaving behind personal diaries of thousands of pages.   The artificial intelligence company Neil works for, Amiante Systems, is using the diaries to create a human-like computer which uses the words of Neil’s late dad to communicate.   To Neil’s surprise, the experiment seems to be working as the computer not only gains an apparent conscious awareness it even begins asking Neill difficult questions about his childhood.

While in a state of shock over the events at Amiante, Neil meets an intended one-night stand named Rachel.   He falls for her and wonders what his life would be like in her company; and, yet, he remains bogged down with his feelings for Erin.   To make matters worse, Erin continues to intersect with Neil at unlikely and unexpected times.   When Neil discovers a missing year in the diaries – a year that might unleash the secret to his parents’ seemingly troubled marriage and perhaps the reason for his father’s suicide – everything Neil thought he knew about his past comes into question.   Neil now becomes paralyzed with confusion and indecision. 

Scott Hutchins’s story deals with love, grief and reconciliation while teaching us about life’s lessons.   He shows us how we have the chance to be free once we let go of the idea that we’re trapped by our family histories – our sad or disappointing childhoods, our poor youthful decisions, and our unintended miscommunications with those we love and have loved.   A Working Theory of Love presents the reader with a unique, highly gifted new writing talent in the form of Scott Hutchins.

“A brainy, bright, laughter-through tears, can’t-stop-reading-until-it’s-over kind of novel…  This book’s got something for everyone!”   Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Absurdistan

“Scott Hutchins’s wonderful new novel is right on the border of what is possible…  The book is brilliantly observant about the way we live now, and its comic and haunting story will stay lodged in the reader’s memory.”   Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love

“It takes a genius, a supercomputer, a disembodied voice, and a man who’s stopped believing to create A Working Theory of Love, Scott Hutchins’s brilliantly inventive deubt novel…  This book is astonishing.”   Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son

Joseph Arellano

The synopsis of A Working Theory of Love was based on information provided by the publisher, and on an Advanced Uncorrected Proof.   The novel will be released in hardbound form in October, and will also be available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.

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Deacon Blues

Red Cell: A Novel by Mark Henshaw (Touchstone, $24.99, 336 pages)

The president of Taiwan orders the arrest of a set of spies from China, and China retaliates with a military attack.   As the U. S. moves battleships into the war area, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learns that its top mole within China, “Pioneer”, has been uncovered; and that the president of China is ready to go to war with America.   It seems that the Red Chinese have a secret weapon known only by the code name The Assassin’s Mace.

With the prospect of a war to end all wars on the horizon, The Company turns to Kyra Stryker, a young Jason Bourne-like agent who barely survived her prior mission in Venezuela.   Now she’s called upon to not only rescue Pioneer, but to also – as a member of the select Red Cell think tank, find and destroy The Assassin’s Mace.   Nothing less than the future of the Free World rests in her hands.

Mark Henshaw has written an espionage thriller that can stand beside the very best of its genre.   A former, highly-decorated CIA analyst and member of the Red Cell, Henshaw takes us deep within the world of spies, from Virginia to South America and Asia.   This one will make a great film, and every young actress in Hollywood will vie for the role of Kyra Stryker!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Cell was released on May 1, 2012 and is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

 

 

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