A review of The Forgetting Place: A Novel by John Burley, which will be released on February 10, 2015.
Tag Archives: new books
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.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
You can read a review of Proof of Heaven: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett here:
Dataclysm: Who We Are* (*When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder (Crown, $28.00, 272 pages)
Dataclysm – an unprecedented deluge of digital information reshaping our view of the world.
Christian Rudder is a co-founder and the analytics team leader of the dating site OkCupid. Rudder has made use of the massive amount of data collected by his website. He ventures beyond the two basic and common data use perceptions – government spying and commercial manipulation to encourage purchases. Rather, he has added a third use – an unprecedented look into the nature of human beings.
The OkCupid site data yields not only the responses to its in depth questionnaires but also the transactions and/or communications between the site’s users. Much is revealed regarding our prejudices and preferences through text and graphic depictions.
Data geeks and everyone else will benefit from reading this fascinating mainstream science book. It is definitely not a pop science product. Rudder’s smooth writing style is quite surprising for a data person. Perhaps his Harvard education included writing classes or he has the benefit of an excellent editor. The comfortable sentence structure provides a balance of tech data and human warmth.
This is a book that should appeal to those readers interested in how often humans act like pack animals, versus how often they act independently. It’s only fair to add that Dataclysm requires an attentive reader who has a true commitment to the subject matter. The payoff is well worth the effort.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Photograph of Christian Rudder by Victor G. Jeffreys II.
A Question of Honor: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 336 pages)
The 2013 installment of the Bess Crawford saga draws readers back to India in 1908 for the plot-setting incident. Bess grew up in colonial India where her father, Colonel Crawford, commanded a regiment. One of his officers was identified as a murderer; however, the fellow was presumed dead before he could be captured and tried for his crime. The regimental honor was sullied and the memory of the evil deed followed the men for years.
The secondary plot threads concern the perils faced by British citizens whose children were shipped back home due to sickness and the tensions between the British and local warring tribes in the early 1900s. Fast forward ten years to 1918 and we encounter Bess serving as a nurse on the battlefields of France. She is, as always, plucky and strong willed. Her eyes and ears gather information from the wounded as she carriers out her duties. One fellow in particular confides in her regarding the presumed dead murderer from her father’s regiment, thus sparking Bess to action. The regimental honor is family business!
The tale unfolds across Europe from this multi-level beginning. The book seems to be more Bess’ journal than a mystery novel. The narrative is a bit bouncy which may be due in part to the advance reader’s edition on which this review is based. There is an interesting contrast in perspective for fans of the authors, the mother-son duo who write under the pen name of Charles Todd. The Ian Rutledge series focuses on the post-war personal fallout for a male World War I officer; whereas, the Bess Crawford series details the ways in which women were expected to be brave and serve their country in time of battle and yet maintain their modesty. That’s quite a challenge.
An Unwilling Accomplice: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)
This year’s Bess Crawford tale segues smoothly from the one reviewed above. There is an even pace to the telling as the reader learns of Bess’ experiences behind the battle lines in France. As the book begins, Bess is home in England on leave and planning to rest. A messenger delivers an order regarding a badly wounded soldier who has requested that she accompany him to Buckingham Palace. Bess must accept the assignment and forego her rest.
The soldier, Sergeant Jason Wilkins, is to receive a medal from the king. Social mores dictate that Bess restrict her care to checking in on Sergeant Wilkins and tending to his bandages. At no time is she to stay in his London hotel room. The evening after the ceremony, Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon (known to fans in past mysteries) meets her for dinner in the hotel dining room. All seems well until the next morning when Bess goes to ready Sergeant Wilkins for his trip out of London. Wilkins’ bed is empty and he is missing!
The Army and the Nursing Service blame Bess. Her spotless record of service is now tainted and she is placed on administrative leave pending a review of the matter. That’s all she needs to spur her to find the vanished soldier and clear her good name. Simon assists Bess in her quest whenever he is between covert assignments.
The complex plot line is at times confusing. There are miles of back and forth driving in the English countryside chasing the elusive Wilkins. The search occurs among three small towns. A map of the vicinity would be helpful. This review is based on an advance reader’s edition. Hopefully, the final published version will include a map. One other matter is confusing – Bess and Simon are devoted friends and their relationship seems oddly platonic. Perhaps his military rank relegates him to only being a buddy?
Review copies were received from the publisher. An Unwilling Accomplice was released on August 12, 2014.
Mean Business on Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 304 pages)
An opening chapter filled with violence is standard fare for writers such as Lisa Unger, Deborah Crombie and Lee Child. Thereafter, the story settles into an exploration of the characters and their motivations that eventually link back to that initial shock. The reader is provided red herring possibilities for the solution to the mystery – who dunnit?
Author S. Craig Zahler has penned a “novel” that is, in fact, a snuff movie on paper. Sadly, the Warner Brothers studio has optioned the book and the author is working on the screen adaptation. His vision may spring to life. My hope is that it will be X rated. Anything less will mean that the gore and violence splattered on most of its pages has been insinuated and a younger audience will be admitted for viewing.
The contrasts set up between Detective Jules Bettinger, formerly of Arizona, and the sworn officers in Victory, Missouri are punctuated by crude epithets hurled every which way. Bettinger is exiled after being less than helpful when the former son-in-law of the mayor comes to the police station to secure assistance in locating his missing would-be bride.
Bettinger is alternatively a well-spoken man with an education, a loving husband and father and a guy out for revenge. Regardless of his role, he’s only marginally likeable. Zahler is sadly lacking in his female character development. Each of the women in his tale is one-dimensional. Even Bettinger’s wife fails to experience authentic feelings.
If trash talk and gory, sadistic and gratuitous violence are your preferred criterion for selecting a book, have at it. Everyone else should steer clear! To be clear, this book is not recommended; far from it.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.