Friday, September 28, 2012

The Humming of Numbers – Joni Sensel

The Humming of Numbers© 2008 Henry Holt and Co., New York

Being one of those who is always on the prowl for cheap books to introduce me to new authors, I must admit I don’t just lap up books because they are free or nearly so—something has to appeal to get me to give it a try. The Humming of Numbers had several of those qualities: I found it at a dollar store (you know, those stores where “everything’s a dollar”), it was young adult fiction which has a certain appeal because it usually reads quickly and there is less need to turn on the inner censer at language or graphic descriptions, and it was set in an ancient English abbey (promising a faith element that appeals to my preachery side). What I found was something that gave me ups and downs in my reading moments.

Aiden, a novice monk who is nearing the time of taking his final vows, wants to join the abbey’s Scriptorium to copy and illuminate scriptures. Lana, the illegitimate daughter of the local Lord, is taken to the abbey to work a penance for attempting to defraud pilgrims with false relics. They are an unlikely pair indeed, but when Viking raiders attack it falls to these two young people to save their community. Aiden hears numbers humming from everyone and everything that has life (a talent he has suppressed all his life because no one believes him, and worse will ridicule him for), and Lana practices wood witchery. These traits will draw them together and help them win the day in the end.

The story is well-written and woven into the fabric of time with great skill. It is a compelling story of mystery, magic, and mayhem that promises to hold the attention most readers. I can applaud Sensel’s use of wordcraft to its fullest. Even in her description of Lana and her birth situation, there is an unquestionable use of language. Her story-building skills and characterization as well as descriptive passages call for the reader to read, read, read. Nothing can be more important for an author than to entrance their reading audience to this point.

Even so, I am disturbed by a couple of things that I encounter in the book. First, as a YA novel, there are some passages that would cause me to hesitate in recommending it to audiences younger than fifteen. While there are no blatant sex scenes, there is an implication toward them. Another, probably more, disturbing thing for me (as a pastor/man of faith reading the book) is the address of Christian faith throughout the book. It seems that (with at least some historical foundation) the established monks of the abbey are seen as stern and given to retribution on behalf of God. On the other hand, the witch of the story is seen as having a more genuine faith.

Because of this I give this book three out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, September 28, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hark! – Ed McBain

Hark! (87th Precinct Series #54)©2004 Simon & Schuster, New York

As police procedurals go, you cannot beat a good 87th Precinct novel. It’s just fun to follow the everyday goings-on as the police decipher each bit of evidence that comes their way. And nobody seems to tell the tale better than the late Ed McBain could. The stories are generally well-written and easy to read.

Hark! follows the guys at the eight-seven as they unravel the murder of Gloria Stanford (an Americanized anagram of her German “Antsdorf”). The use of the anagram to change her name gave her murderer, who turns out to be Adam Fen (another anagram for the recurring nemesis of Carella, Kling and the boys—the Deaf Man), the ingenious idea of how to confuse and be-muddle the detectives of the 87th squad.

Though the murder gets the ball rolling, the major crime is a big pay-off for the Deaf Man who weaves a Shakespearean web by sending quotes from the Bard to at the same time tell the police about the crime he intends to commit and confuse them as well.

While this is a good diversion for a few hours’ reading, Hark! does have its draw-backs. Thrown into the mix of the on-going daily calls that we see in the 87th are the developing/dying relationships between various cops on the squad. And then Carella is distracted by the upcoming double wedding of his widowed mother to an Italian furniture mogul from Milan and his sister to the assistant DA who let their father’s murderer get away with the crime.

Even these distractions don’t hurt the telling of the story—at least not too much anyway. Again, those who like police procedurals in the line of Hill Street Blues and Blue Bloods will have a nice time with this 87th Precinct story. Four out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, September 15, 2012

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