Archive for the ‘HarperCollins’ Tag

Imperfect Investigator   Leave a comment

In The Hollow Man, British author Oliver Harris presents one of those multi-flawed detectives that have become so popular in recent crime fiction. Okay, maybe it’s not necessarily a recent trend, but his protagonist Nick Belsey is one ambiguous cop who seems to be nearly invisible to those around him given what he gets away with in plain view.

Belsey is a Detective Constable with the London Police and the hefty catalog of his indiscretions, mostly involving gambling, drinking and abuse of position, overshadows his negligible good qualities. Yet, as Harris provides more and more insight into his character’s personality, it’s clear that even though Belsey wears the good guy’s white hat, it is set exceptionally askew.

It appears that Belsey has hit rock bottom in his personal life, consisting primarily of self-destructive behaviors, which has caught up with his career. He’s facing a formal inquiry with a forced leave of absence looming over his head. Despite this, he becomes embroiled in a murder investigation which he links to a major financial crime and sees as an opportunity to (illegally) change his life.

The novel is engaging and full of dark humor. In spite of Belsey’s conduct, it’s impossible not to wonder if he’ll continue on his path to ruin or see the error of his ways. The major flaw comes in the form of Belsey simply flashing his badge to get near crime scenes and restricted information given that he should have either restricted or no access due to his own transgressions.

The Hollow Man
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Bourbon Street Books (HarperCollins), 2012
470 pages

Blind Date Review   Leave a comment


The blind date set up by the Pikes Peak Library District was okay. I might go out again with another Ray Bradbury book, but for now the novellas in Now and Forever are enough.

The stories blend a sense of otherworldliness with the familiar. First in Somewhere a Band is Playing, Bradbury plays with the themes of life and the afterlife. The story begins abruptly when a writer practically falls off a train near an isolated Arizona town. It’s beautifully described and seems an ideal place to live, at least until the writer begins to wonder what’s beneath the surface beauty. It’s an enjoyable story, but predictable. I was hoping for something other than a “Twilight Zone” twist.

In Leviathan ’99, Bradbury, by his own admission in the preface, has created a sci-fi version of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, right down to the main character: Ishmael. Set in 2099, the beast is a big white comet pursued by a spaceship and its blind captain. It’s actually fun making the jump from being at sea to out in space. And, it’s not to be as big a leap as one might initially imagine.


It’s been years since I’ve read anything by Bradbury. Although I have long been intrigued by the titles of his numerous works, I am not a reader who’s made it through much of his literary oeuvre. I can certainly appreciate his imaginative approach and accessible tone, but the bottom line is that he’s not really my type.

Now and Forever
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2007
177 pages

It’s All in the Cards   Leave a comment


Eleven-year-old Luz Maria Costilla has a gut-wrenching way of storytelling. She’s a lot like Scout, daughter of Atticus Finch. Unfortunately, Luz’s father is nothing like Harper Lee’s heroic character. Nonetheless, in Mario Alberto Zambrano’s debut novel, Loteria,  Luz is full of grit and independence.

Loteria is a game of chance, popular in Mexico, designed around cards each of which features an image rather than a number. The images, through riddles, are called out by the game’s dealer. The novel of the same name is built around the cards as Luz recounts the disintegration of her family and how she became a ward of the state of California. It’s rich with humor, sorrow and vivid imagery thanks to the game. The irony is that Luz isn’t talking; she has a journal and the cards to speak for her. Some knowledge of Spanish is helpful.

Luz loves her father. She sees past his many faults: he’s violent, he drinks, and has questionable parenting skills. In his own way, he loves his wife, his elder daughter Estrella and Luz. A few other relatives come in and out of the narrative, but the focus is on this nuclear family. For the El Borracho card, Luz recounts, “When Papi sang in the backyard I’d dance to whatever song he sang. He’d be a little drunk under the light of the porch, and for every four sips he took, I took one.” Not every card is as obvious in its intent, but as Luz puts them together they come to life.

Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2013
270 pages

Global Issues and Self-Discovery   Leave a comment


Barbara Kingsolver and Joni Mitchell have a lot in common – at least to me. I’m especially drawn to their early works. They’re prolific and both know the beauty of language. Even though they’re favorites of mine, it doesn’t mean I don’t see their foibles.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to anything by Mitchell, but I did just finish Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I pretty much read anything and everything she writes. Unfortunately, it didn’t wow me. It has plenty of descriptive images and the characters are interesting, but the story itself is just too predictable.

Climate change is the driving issue with the theme of understanding the world around us. Dellarobia is a young mother of two in a lackluster marriage. Just as she is about to embark on an affair, she discovers monarch butterflies have blanketed the woods on the family land in rural Tennessee. This introduces her to scientists, the media, family secrets, and herself.

Dellarobia’s an appealing character. She’s a good mother, but isn’t thrilled by being a wife thanks to her easy-going husband, Cub, and his willful, demanding parents. To counter the country folk, Kingsolver brings in the intellectual Ovid Byron, a researcher.

The gist of the story can be found in the first and last chapters. The downside to only turning those pages is that you’d miss the imagery, sarcasm ascribed to some of the characters, and the magic Kingsolver has with words. Then again, you’d get to skip the preachy tone and predictability. It might be time to listen to Joni Mitchell again.

Flight Behavior
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
HarperCollins 2012
433 pages

Midlife Crisis in the Old West   Leave a comment

Just to be clear, The Sisters Brothers isn’t missing an apostrophe. The first time I saw
the title by Patrick DeWitt I was certain there was an error. I thought the book was about
the male relatives of sisters. That’s half right: brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, but no
female siblings.

Set in the Old West, Eli narrates as he and Charlie, both professional gunslingers, embark
on their latest assignment: to find and kill an enigmatic miner. DeWitt’s depictions of time
and place are so strong you can practically smell smoke after the gunfights. Charlie is the
elder and angrier of the two brothers. Eli paints himself as a sensitive man, going so far as
to keep a horse he describes as “portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty
miles in a day…” even after he acquires a better, faster one. His reasoning: he felt sorry for
the old one. Strange stuff from a reputed bad guy.

Although his age isn’t mentioned, Eli is going through, if not a midlife crisis, at least a mid-
career one. He’s questioning his line of work. DeWitt injects humor into this western tale
about two men bound by blood and business, but separated by sensitivity and yearning.
Eli realizes he has missed out on many things including, a wife and family, because he has
knowingly ridden alongside Charlie. At one point, this realization even causes Eli to go on
a diet. Yup, mighty strange stuff from a reputed bad guy.

The Sisters Brothers

Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins Books, 2011
325 pages

Parenting Without Boundaries   2 comments

If you read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin be sure you have
someone with whom you can talk about it.

This disturbing, yet compelling, story unfolds through a series of letters written by
Eva to her absent husband, Franklin. The purpose of the letters is to try to under-
stand how their 15-year-old son, Kevin, could murder seven classmates, a teacher,
and a school cafeteria worker.

Through a clear almost detached, yet very personal, perspective Eva expresses the
difficulty she has in relinquishing her independence to become a mother. Following
Kevin’s birth, she continues to lack a natural maternal instinct. Still, Eva is not
without heartfelt emotion and empathy; she simply has difficulty showing these traits
to Kevin.

On the other hand, neither is Franklin completely blameless; although his side of the
story is not told. As seen through Eva’s eyes, Franklin maintains a vise-like grip on
the image of a happy, American family. His perception does not include discipline,
respect to others, or a recognition that there are two sides to every story.

Kevin is simply a bad kid, albeit an exceptionally bright one. The concept of uncon-
ditional love falters under Shriver’s pen. Parents are bound to examine their parent-
ing style and question whether it is the right approach. It is easy to be critical of
Eva and Franklin, but it’s hard to know if anyone else could have parented Kevin with
a different outcome.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2006
432 pages

(I wrote this review several years ago, but decided to post it here.)

Ingredients for Friendship   2 comments

Labeled as a “novel about food and friendship,” The Recipe Club by
Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel chronicles a long-time friendship
through emails, letters and recipes. The latter are the real stars. From
appetizers such as, “Good Karma Veggie Samosas,” to desserts includ-
ing, “Wash-Away the Blues Berry Cobbler,” each recipe is named to
coincide with the events in the characters’ lives.

Roughly ninety percent of the book is written as correspondence. I
suspect each author assumed the role of one of the two main charact-
ers, friends Val and Lily, who weather every imaginable squall as
young girls/teenagers. The distinct voices reflect their contrary per-
sonalities, which add weight to the opposites-attract-theory of re-

With two narrators, it’s easy to provide both sides to every story. It
is also not difficult to see how misinterpretations occur. The novel
begins with an email exchange between the two women as they try
to bridge a 28-year rift in their friendship. It’s no spoiler to say the
attempts prove fruitless. This is followed by the main section of the
book: letters written between 1964 and 1973, and nearly all are
accompanied by a recipe for their recipe club. Everything leads to-
ward their falling out.

The result of the book’s structure is a “Forest Gump” approach to
showing the times as they were a changin’ for Val and Lily. The for-
mat was an uncomplicated way to introduce others who impacted
their lives. Friendship and food are important connections; the
authors show sometimes they aren’t always stress-free.

The Recipe Club
Three Bookmarks (thanks to the recipes)
HarperCollins, 2009
337 pages