The Wonder of All Things, by Jason Mott

The Wonder of All Things, by Jason Mott
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
ASIN: 1322022763
304 pages, eBook
Expected Publication: 30th September 2014
Source: NetGalley

 Tragedy strikes a small town when a plane accidentally crashes into a crowd of air show spectators. Among the casualties is a boy named Wash who is found amid the wreckage seriously injured, bloody and torn, by his best friend Ava. Distraught and panicked, Ava lays her hands upon Wash and they both witness his wounds miraculously heal. The existence of Ava’s power does not stay secret, but the healing results of using that power do not come without exacting a brutal price upon her. As others flock to the town to seek Ava’s aid, or to perhaps exploit and control her for their own goals, Ava and her single father, along with Wash and the grandmother who raises him must deal with these outside forces as well as new personal discoveries.
When I requested an advanced reading copy of this through NetGalley a part of me worried that the publisher would consider my thoughts on Jason Mott’s last book, The Returned, and refuse me. Though popular and spawning a television show, that novel left me feeling disappointed. The biggest factors in that reaction were its ending, which I found bordering on cartoonish, and the dilution of its focus across too wide a range of stories/points of view. But aspects of The Returned still impressed me and I was more than willing to try another of Mott’s novels (or I wouldn’t have made the request). With The Wonder of All Things Mott avoids both of the above problems as I saw them and writes a touching story with compelling characters that flows sharply in readability and tone.
The thematic set up for The Wonder of All Things is familiar to those who have read Mott – a sudden, unanticipated event that magically alters a normal causal relationship between life and death. The mysterious event (or in this case power) engenders a bit of awe, reverence, hope, and fear simultaneously in people; how they respond and deal with the newfound situation or power becomes the novel’s central focus. Very effectively here, Mott puts the brunt of this focus directly on Ava and Wash and to their guardians. Other characters also react in unique ways to Ava’s power and its implications, but their decisions and actions all filter back to those protagonists, rather than being dispersed through multiple protagonists as in his previous novel.
Ava’s magical powers to heal are straightforward and Mott takes this simple ‘what if?’ scenario and proceeds to deeply investigate its impact on the young girl and those closest to her. Mott writes his children characters most vividly, endearing them to the reader and investing them in their struggles, in particular to Ava’s desire to help those she cares about around her, but on her own terms.
Overall the adult characters seem less solid, present each as more of a narrative impetus for Ava’s character. The primary exception to this is Ava’s mother, who died prior to the start of the novel and is present through flashbacks of Ava’s childhood and her mother’s early realization of Ava’s healing powers and the price it exacted. Ava’s mother is a fascinating character, strong and loving yet weakened by bouts of serious depression. The parallels that Mott draws between physical and mental health are important and Mott effectively unites the past and present of the novel through the comparisons between Ava’s loving mother and others in really understanding the consequences and power of Ava’s gift/curse.
Those who enjoyed The Return should also appreciate The Wonder of All Things, but those on the fence could find this an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Four Stars out of Five

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced electronic reading copy of this from Harlequin Mira via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, by Robert L. O’Connell

Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, by Robert L. O’Connell
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 1400069726
432 pages, hardcover
Expected Publication: 1st July 2014
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

I used to know a fair amount about the Civil War and Sherman, but not having read much about it in years, many things had slipped my mind. Having lived in St. Louis for a good time and knowing Sherman’s connection to the city I was interested in giving this biography a read. Overall it is a fascinating and very approachable volume, never getting bogged down in too many details and presenting the history and personalities in an engaging style. While not skimping on details and analysis, O’Connell effectively avoids academic tones, relating a good deal in almost conversational fashion. The writing makes it clear that he is really interested in this story and the character of Sherman.

The downside to the book, however, is its organization. O’Connell in the introduction makes the point of needing to separate the various aspects of Sherman’s complex character or personality and behaviors, which at times he feels could become seemingly incongruous or too scattered to follow as one coherent chronological line. This results in the book being divided into three sections: 1) a military perspective (campaigns and his relations with the military hierarchy), 2) another military perspective (his relations with the troops under him), and 3) his personal life. O’Connell’s previous work, which has focused on military and weapons makes the focus of this wartime hero understandable. But, a large amount of the introduction points out the important contributions that Sherman made after the war, which have often gone ignored, particularly in realizing or enabling the “Manifest Destiny” of the previous political years prior to the war’s outbreak.

Sadly, very little text is spent on this period. The bulk of the book is taken up just with the first part. The second part is really a continuation or a rehash of things already covered, but provides a slightly more detailed perspective of Sherman as viewed by his troops. In this way the two chapters of that second part feel more like a biography of the soldiers rather than Sherman. Additionally, much of the private life of Sherman in the final part (again only a couple of chapters) still gets discussed (just more fleetingly or generally) in the earlier sections. The entire end of the book thereby feels like a slightly more specific discussion of things already mentioned, leaving them feel tacked on and superfluous, too separated from the whole.

Despite my issue with the breakup of the organization, this volume would be a fine addition to the library or reading list of those interested in the Civil War and the people involved. O’Connell summarizes other historical accounts of Sherman’s life well within the entirety of his text, often analyzing conflicting views or offering up his own unique take on interpretation of events or beliefs that the historian can only speculate upon with the evidence we have. In all O’Connell seems well-reasoned and informed and he offers copious notes to original sources for those who wish to delve deeper.

Four Stars out of Five