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Archive for the ‘HarperCollins’ Tag

On the Political ‘Highway to Hell’   1 comment

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by [Tur, Katy]

Unbelievable is the perfect title for Katy Tur’s account of Donald Trump’s path to the White House. It’s also the most apt description of our country’s current political situation.

Tur, an NBC reporter, spent a year and half traveling with the Trump campaign around the country from rural to urban settings – and many times back again. As part of the press corps she had a figurative front row seat; although, literally it was often a back-of-the-room-in-a-makeshift-cage view of the businessman/reality television personality. She saw and spoke with those who supported him. And, perhaps most difficult of all, she was singled out by Trump (on several occasions) at his rallies; this led to threats from Trump’s supporters. She listened to his inconsistent statements, rude remarks and ambiguous assertions. At times the candidate played nice, but Tur quickly learned to be leery.

Tur recounts the events leading to the election in two ways. Each chapter begins with a brief description of some aspect of Election Day 2016. The rest of chapter, details her experiences on the campaign trail. The book starts with the 535th day before the election.

As well written and interesting as this book it, it is also difficult to read. The language and actions of Trump and his supporters was/are bewildering. I found myself becoming upset. Fortunately, the book captures many behind-the-scenes moments and the author reveals a lot about her past, her hopes and the personal toll taken in her experience on the road.

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2017
291 pages

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Family Life   Leave a comment

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Who’d imagine that an uninvited guest who shows up at a baby’s christening with a bottle of gin could divide, then fuse, two families over a span of 50 years? Ann Patchett, of course. Humor, tragedy, quirky, yet believable characters result in a compelling story.

In Commonwealth, Patchett creates a novel within a novel – of sorts. She deftly illustrates the Rube Goldberg effect initiated by one man’s attraction to another man’s wife. The havoc it inflicts is expected, the alliances it forms aren’t.

The Cousins and Keating families are brought together when Beverly Keating divorces her husband to marry Bert Cousins. Beverly is a beauty with two young daughters; Bert, the gin-carrying party crasher, is egocentric and the father of two girls and two boys. The Keating girls move with Beverly and Bert to Virginia, while his kids stay with their mother in southern California during the school year.

The six children spend summers together in Virginia. Their combined disdain for their parents and unrestricted activities form bonds that continue into adulthood. The novel begins in the early ‘60s long before the concept of helicopter parenting took flight. Bert hastily retreats when his kids arrive, leaving Beverly, who’s emotionally detached, to manage alone.

Much of the narrative follows Franny, Beverly’s younger daughter. Franny’s relationship with her sister and step-siblings is told in flashbacks moving from childhood to young adult to middle age. In Patchett’s hands, Franny is optimistic; she looks for the best– even when it’s unlikely to surface.

Commonwealth
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2016
322 pages

Art and Conscience   Leave a comment

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Disturbing and lyrical are the best words to describe Lida Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children. Graphic and violent could also be added to the list.

Set initially in an unnamed Eastern European village, the narrative involves characters known by single-word descriptions: photographer, writer, playwright, filmmaker, poet, performance artist, widow and girl. Everything centers on the girl.

It is her image as she flees the bombing of her home that is captured by the photographer. The girl has already been victimized by soldiers long before she loses her parents and brother in the explosion. Yuknavitch’s writing is as vivid as the photo that eventually earns the photographer critical acclaim.

The girl runs into the forest and finds her way to the widow’s home where she learns about art and more about survival. Theirs is a quiet, comfortable relationship. Their pasts are always near, but their focus is on the moment.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world the artists believe they must bring the girl to the United States. The hitch is they don’t know who she is or where to find her. As often happens, money solves most problems and here it comes to the rescue in a round-about way. Even with resources the task isn’t easy.

The realistic descriptions of physical and sexual violence make this a difficult book to read. Fortunately, this is overshadowed by demonstrations of humanity and the author’s powerful writing. At its core, it questions the extremes endured to appease consciences.

The Small Backs of Children
Lidia Yuknavitch
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins 2015
222 pages

Under Construction   Leave a comment

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Bawdy, excessive and slightly unbelievable are my first impressions of Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl.

Set mostly in Wolverhampton, England, Joanna Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl going on 35 who is certain she has outgrown the life into which she’s been born. Joanna is intelligent, funny, overweight and practically exudes anguish since she is still a virgin; in fact, she’s never been kissed. There’s also an awkward, embarrassing moment when she’s on TV. So, she does what most teenagers attempt: she reinvents herself. This involves a new name and a career; that’s right, a career. As a music critic.

At first, Joanna, now known as Dolly Wilde, manages to remain true to herself while projecting a much more confident demeanor. However, the need to fit in eventually overwhelms her and her journey of self-discovery leads to predictable consequences – especially since it involves sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The Morrigan family relies on government assistance to get by. When Joanna innocently mentions this to a neighbor she worries this could mean an end to their life on the dole. This is, in large part, the reason she decides to pursue a career, so she can help financially. This, of course, means quitting school.

Moran’s writing is vivid, albeit at times also lurid. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to compensate for the exasperation Joanna/Dolly causes.

My initial reaction to the novel doesn’t change much by its end.

How to Build a Girl
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2014
341 pages

Slick and Sly   Leave a comment

The adage that opposites attract is evident in Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. Noel and Vera aren’t exactly drawn together as much as they are forced upon each other: Noel is an orphaned 10-year-old evacuee and Vera is a middle-aged woman who reluctantly agrees to care for him.

Before they meet, Noel has managed to fly under the radar in London with his elderly Godmother, Mattie, with whom he’s been living since the death of his parents. Both have a disdain for authority and are content in their relative isolation. As World War II becomes more imminent, Mattie’s health deteriorates and England increasingly is in Germany’s crosshairs.

Noel is unusual, and Vera is initially convinced he is not very bright. Today he’d be considered a nerd; certainly his intellect and lack of social skills don’t make him a popular child. Vera is widowed and trying to make ends meet, although her efforts aren’t on the up and up. Soon, Noel offers suggestions to improve upon Vera’s scams and their efforts prove to be quite successful, if not quite moral.

Among Noel and Vera’s prey is Mrs. Gifford who unwittingly (and repeatedly) donates to whatever charity the two have concocted. However, they don’t just take her money, they spend time getting to know her. Eventually, Noel becomes protective of the old woman.

Evans’ writing style is subtle as the relationships evolve. Attitudes begin to shift and bonds are created. The couple begins to accept each other’s flaws while recognizing their own.

Crooked Heart

Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2015
282 pages

Poetic Justice   Leave a comment

Finacial Lives

Jess Walter takes satire to a new level in The Financial Lives of Poets, a look at marriage, social media, unemployment and breaking the law. Matt Prior is an unemployed financial journalist and a would-be poet. His senile father lives with Matt, his wife and their two young boys. Matt is convinced his wife is having an affair. When he isn’t busy writing poems about the direction of his life, he stalks his wife’s online activities.

Walter instills humor and pathos in his characters. In fact, these elements are so evenly balanced it’s difficult to choose a preference. It’s funny that Matt meets two young hoods late at night at a 7-Eleven; it’s pathetic when he continues the relationship. It’s amusing when Matt comes up with an idea to save his home from foreclosure; but it’s sad to realize the extent of his debt and desperation.

The novel’s title comes from another of Matt’s bad ideas, although this one is completely legal: a website with financial news written in blank verse. Matt left his job at the local paper to pursue this not surprisingly unsuccessful venture. It’s not that the poetry is weak, only that, for better or worse, poetry simply doesn’t appeal to everyone; and as it turns out, particularly not financial types.

The Financial Lives is suggestive of a Breaking Bad Lite. The motivation for making ill-conceived choices is understandable, even if it cannot be condoned. The farther Matt sinks, the less intriguing the story. It wears thin.

The Financial Lives of Poets
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2009
290 pages

Amy Tan’s Tome   Leave a comment

The Valley of Amazement

At nearly 600 pages, Amy Tan’s recent novel, The Valley of Amazement, is not just long-awaited, it’s just long. Very long.

It’s the exhaustive story of Chinese courtesans, mothers, daughters, unattainable love, and mistakes repeated from one generation to the next. And, it’s so dang long. Tan clearly did her research to impart so much about the life of a courtesan. The trouble is that other authors have written on this topic much more succinctly. Lisa See comes to mind.

Two thirds of the work is told from Violet’s perspective, which begins when she is seven years old growing up in a Shanghai courtesan house run by her mother, Lucia, an American. Violet is initially unaware that her father, whom she has never met, is Chinese. At 14, Violet is sold to become a courtesan herself when her mother sets sail, unwittingly without her daughter, for San Francisco. Thus begins the lengthy downward spiral Violet endures as things go from worse to worse, interspersed with moments of rare happiness or brief tolerance to her life’s harsh realities. Much of what Violet endures is predictable.

The book’s final third provides Lucia’s view. By comparison, the brevity, although a relief, is puzzling. Yes, Violet is the focus, but this is a narrative about mother-daughter relationships. Even with Tan’s excessive details, Violet is an intriguing character as are several others. After spending so much time with them, they do find their way into our hearts; it just could have been sooner rather than later.

The Valley of Amazement

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks

Ecco/HarperCollins, 2013

589 pages