Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness

Deborah Harkness

            The Book Of Life is the long awaited third, and final, installment in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. And, it was definitely worth the wait.

            As with the first two books, The Book Of Life picks up where the last book, Shadow Of Night, left off. Matthew and Diana have returned to their present and are reunited with their family and friends at Sept-Tours. Life after their return is very busy for Matthew and Diana, and they are quickly immersed in a myriad of crises, including the Congregation and children, love and loss, and the missing manuscript. As with their lives, the book moves at a very fast pace – perhaps too fast, as it sometimes feels as if there is too much development too quickly. This was particularly disconcerting to me after Diana gave birth; her post-birth pace and actions are so discordant with my own experiences as a first time mother.

Nonetheless, Deborah Harkness doesn’t disappoint. Like the first two books in the trilogy, this book contains history, great character development, and fine detail beautifully painted by her words.

The Book Of Life also differs from the first two books in the trilogy. It has more of an “otherworldly” feel to it. Whereas a description of the first two books might include an aside – “oh, and there are witches, vampires, and daemons” – in this book, creatures are more central to the plot.

            Reading The Book Of Life was a bittersweet experience. It is an excellent read and was wonderful to be re-immersed in Matthew’s and Diana’s world. However, it brings with it the disappointment of the end of the adventure. Mixed with this is some frustration, as not all of the outstanding questions have been answered – not all of the loose ends have been tied up.

            What stands out about The Book Of Life, from beginning to end, is the myriad of strange bedfellows brought together by the changing times. And, there is no doubt – The Book Of Life is magical!


Friday, July 11, 2014

THE QUICK by Lauren Owen

Lauren Owen

            The Quick by Lauren Owen is a sort of literary-paranormal/fantasy/supernatural fiction genres crossover. In other words, it’s literary fiction, and there are monsters.

            Charlotte and her younger brother, James, grew up in the country, in 19th century Yorkshire. After completing his education at Oxford, James decides to move to London to write poetry. Here, he meets affluent aristocrats. He also encounters members of the Aegolius Club, an old, mysterious, and secretive Club of London. Not much is known about the Club or its select members – although ‘Aegolius’ is a genus of owls.

            As we journey through The Quick, we meet other interesting characters. Some of these include others who are like the Club members, but without the affluence, called the Alia. There is also a young woman who was a rope walker, an American who gets tangled up with the Club members, and a doctor whose reputation earns him the appellation ‘Dr. Knife’.

The beginning of The Quick was slow, and I had a difficult time getting into the book at first. The pace picked up, but the book seemed to jump around. Suddenly there would appear some writing by (or about) someone never referenced before in the book. This made the book feel a little choppy. But, the pieces eventually all fell together neatly. However, throughout the book, I was never quite sure about (or, could not keep track of) the date.

            Owen’s book is interesting, and her character development is beautiful. But I was dissatisfied at its end. Even now, I do not know whether or not I liked this book. So, it is receiving my first mixed recommendation.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

SEAL TEAM SIX: Hunt the Jackal by Don Mann

SEAL TEAM SIX: Hunt the Jackal
Don Mann

            Seal Team Six: Hunt the Jackal is the fourth in Don Mann’s Seal Team series, but it is the first of his books that I have read. I have, however, read Seal Team Six novels written by another former SEAL. There are some similarities between the stories portrayed by both former SEALS, as well as some differences. After reading Hunt the Jackal, however, I feel like I have a better sense of which parts of the novels may accurately portray SEAL Team Six.

            In Mann’s latest Tom Crocker action/adventure thriller, the primary plot line involves the wife and daughter of a U.S. Senator who have been kidnapped by members of one of the Mexican drug cartels run by a man known as the Jackal. The recovery of the hostages falls to Crocker and his team. Although most of the novel deals with the kidnapping, we briefly follow Crocker’s team through an unrelated mission in Syria, and we also learn a bit about the personal lives of these SEALS.

            I am not, in general, an action thriller reader. However, I am fascinated by the SEALS and enjoy reading about them. We are so fortunate to have these amazing people working for us. I am grateful for, envious of, and curious about SEAL Team Six, and I gladly devour these novels.

            Mann wrote Seal Team Six: Hunt the Jackal with the help of Ralph Pezzullo, a New York Times bestselling author, and it shows. Although the book feels somewhat frenetic in its pace, it is a good read. It keeps the reader riveted and on the edge of her seat. I look forward to the next hunt by Crocker’s team.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ONE OF US by Tawni O'Dell

Tawni O’Dell

            Tawni O’Dell’s novel, One Of Us, is a literary mystery. Those who work in each genre may be horrified by my classification and eschew such a combining of their genres – but, that is, in fact, what it is. It is primarily a character study, with a touch of a mystery running through it.

            Some of the characters who are portrayed include poor Irish immigrant coal miners, the wealthy mine owner, and the boy who “made good” – that is, the boy who was born and raised amidst the poor coal miners and who made himself an equal of sorts to the mine owner and his ilk.

            Dr. Sheridan (Danny) Doyle is a famous forensic psychologist. He was the boy who grew up in the little mining town – with an abusive father, a mentally ill mother, and his maternal grandfather, who was largely responsible for helping him escape a future in the mines.

            When Danny returns home to care for his elderly, ill grandfather, the mystery begins. He returns to his poor, dysfunctional roots in designer attire. He represents a sort of bridge between the poor miners and the wealthy mine owner and his haughty, wealthy daughter, Scarlet. Danny fits in everywhere, he fits in nowhere, and he is embroiled in the mystery. There are even ghosts involved in the mystery.

            The mystery, of course, is solved. Along the way, however, we learn a great deal about forensic psychology, coal mining, and the “Nellies”, who appear to be O’Dell’s fictional version of the Molly Maguires. I found these portions of the book to be fascinating.

            Perhaps O’Dell intends her book to be an exploration of who constitutes “us”. Perhaps O’Dell’s characters are metaphors – overdrawn and stereotypical representations (for example, suggesting that the wealthy can get away with murder). If so, she is not particularly subtle with her use of these representations. Perhaps this is intentional. She even includes a tongue-in-cheek television combination of Scooby Doo and Ghost Busters that comes to the poor, little town.

            One Of Us is well written, and the characters feel real – with one exception: I was never able to envision a physical face for Danny. Perhaps this, too, was intentional on O’Dell’s part. I certainly was able to picture his psyche from the text.

            O’Dell’s literary study of what it means to be one of us goes beyond the simple rich versus poor, owner versus miner. Danny’s secretary, for example, is a minor character who demonstrates that whether or not we are considered to be one of “us” depends on how we are clothed. In other words, how we cloak and present ourselves greatly influences whether we are “one of us”.

            One Of Us is neither a true literary character analysis nor a true mystery. It does not fit well within either genre. But, it doesn’t matter. I thoroughly enjoyed the read.