Archive for September, 2019

Old Bones

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

By Preston Douglas and Lincoln Child

The Short Take:

Preston/Child are my favorite thriller writers. This novel begins a spin off series to feature archeologist Nora Kelly (though I thought it was launching a spin-off for FBI Special Agent Corrie Swanson while reading). The search for a lost camp of the ill-fated Donner Party drives the action.

Why?

This is no Agent Pendergast thriller–Douglas and Child’s highly successful (and highly readable) series but a new beginning featuring a familiar, recurring character. Preston Douglas is very into archeology and has written nonfiction in that area. I can’t blame him for putting that expertise to use in a new series but Nora Kelly is too– well–normal. She does things by the book and, as any archeologist will tell you, archeology field work is a slow, tedious process. Even several murders didn’t perk the action up enough.

Agent Corrie Swanson, another character from the Pendergast series who also appeared here, is a different matter entirely. She’s young, pugnacious, driven, intuitive, and a bit reckless. In other words, she’s interesting. Her first appearance in the original series was in the pages of Still Life with Crows, the book that initially got me hooked and is still one of my favorites.

The information on the actual Donner Party is interesting, though also horrific. The authors only made a few tweaks to that reality to make the typical thriller trope work (two parties want the same thing, one is ruthless and evil, the other is the protagonist).

It’s decent escapism fare, but I sure wish this duo would go for the dynamic Swanson over the staid Kelly.

A Little Plot:

Clive Benton tells archeologist Nora Kelly he knows where a lost camp of the Donner Party is and wants her to supervise the dig. Oh, and there might be a chest of gold.

Meanwhile, Agent Corrie Swanson is investigating murders where the upper part of the body is missing. And she thinks Kelly’s dig might be connected.

For more about these prolific authors click here.

The Satanic Verses

Friday, September 13th, 2019

By Salman Rushdie

The Short Take:

WOW! What an epic journey this is. Rushdie’s most controversial novel is a masterpiece of wit wrapped around observations on the contradictions in life, alongside scrutiny of modern culture, colonialism, racism, Islam, and the nature (maybe) of good and evil.

Why?

This book is so rich and nuanced it defies easy description. Plus, I suspect some things whooshed by my limited comprehension. The action begins with a bang thousands of feet in the air, moves between India and England, and journeys through time into the world of faith. It is remarkable.

Rushdie earned a fatwa (rescinded in 1998) as well as literary accolades when this book came out. I wondered where the offense lay (or if I would even recognize it), but it’s right there in the title. Historically there is strong evidence Mohammed did make a pronouncement (satanic verses) allowing three female sub-gods, which he quickly retracted–saying it came from Satan instead of his usual spiritual contact, the archangel Gabriel. That first, mistaken pronouncement is now thoroughly denied.

Rushdie weaves that contradiction throughout this work, especially with his two main characters: Gabriel Farishta, a famous Indian actor who plays many characters drawn from the Hindu religion, becomes the personification of good. And, Saladin Chamcha, a thoroughly Anglicized voice-over actor who can’t get on-screen roles due his ethnic looks, turns into both a literal and figurative devil.

But that’s just part of the story. Gabreel’s dreams wind around the formation of a religion roughly like Islam as well as an ill-fated pilgrimage to Mecca led by a butterfly-clad woman. He also pursues with passion the icy Allelulia Crone. Saladin is arrested as an illegal immigrant, horribly abused, and finds his wife is heavily involved with another man before he turns into a giant, horned devil.

Sub plots and a host of intriguing characters enrich this novel even further. This is not one to rush through. It should be savored. Probably repeatedly.

A Little Plot:

Gabriel and Saladin are the only survivors of an airplane bomb, gripping each other as they fall thousands of feet into the English Channel–and live. Their subsequent lives take very different paths but their destinies remains intertwined.

House of Salt and Sorrows

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

By Erin A. Craig

The Short Take:

Inspired by the Grimm fairytale about 12 dancing princesses, this novel starts like a Disney movie but evolves into a Stephen King horror story.

Why?

Since this book begins with the burial service for the fourth of 12 sisters to unexpectedly die, you have a pretty good idea bad things are in store. However the descriptions of the locations, clothing, and various incidentals dazzle in their sumptuous, other-worldly beauty and beguile you into dreamland. Then that same level of graphic detail begins to describe the horrific dreams and hallucinations haunting the protagonist, now-second-oldest daughter Annaleigh.

In fact, the descriptive quality of this debut novel (aimed primarily at young adults) is its strongest point. Other factors seem underdeveloped: Important characters change their attitudes for no discernible reason. The plot, while appropriately full of surprises, seems muddled and hole-ridden.

Of course, when you’re writing about magical happenings you can get away with a lot. But I did find myself going “Really?” more than once.

A Little Plot:

Eight surviving sisters, along with their father and stepmother, have stayed in mourning far too long. The discovery of a secret door allows the girls to exchange their somber clothes for party wear as every night they escape to a different celebration.

For more about Craig click here.

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