Category Archives: HarperCollins

Book Review: The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo

9780062390554The Art of Crash Landing 

By Melissa DeCarlo
ISBN: 9780062390554
Harper Paperbacks, 2015

“Twenty-seven minutes is, if anyone ever asks, exactly how long it takes to cram everything I own into six giant trash bags.” 
—opening sentence of The Art of Crash Landing

I defy you to read that opening sentence and not keep reading.

The title of this book gives hints about the story. Before we even begin to read we know that someone’s life is spiraling out of control, and we know that someone is going to share some insights about the experience. We guess that, one way or another, the person survives. A little banged up maybe, but still in one piece.

That person is Mattie, who is 30, pregnant and couch-surfing. Her mother combined just enough love with just enough alcoholic negligence to shape her into a person who is an absolute mess, but with a capacity for daring compassion.

From that first sentence I liked Mattie. I cheered for her when she made good decisions, and I completely understood when she messed up big-time. Her character appeals to the side of us that has made mistakes, but reassures the side of us that says, “Well, I made some mistakes, but at least I didn’t screw things up that badly.”

Mattie’s mother—who died of cancer—had cut off all contact with family, so Mattie is surprised to hear that her maternal grandmother has died and left her an inheritance. The answer to her problems? Perhaps, but not without some adventures and some mystery.

“But now, my hand turning this last doorknob, the feeling is strong enough to take my breath away. Even though I already know what I’m going to find.”  —Mattie in The Art of Crash Landing

What’s behind the door? I bet you want to know. 

It takes skill to write a heartbreaking story with humour, and DeCarlo strikes the right balance. Some chapters unfold with an inescapable sense of impending doom, but those chapters are balanced by others that unfold with irrepressible hope. DeCarlo creates well-rounded characters who are flawed, but endearingly so. The extra touches she brings to the story—guinea pigs and farting dogs—make it all the more charming.


 I received the book from Harper Paperbacks for review purposes. 

I was not financially compensated for this post. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.






Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

9781443436069The Book of Strange New Things 

by Michel Faber
ISBN: 9781443436069
HarperCollins, 2014

I had my defences up for the first part of this book. The main character, a Christian minister, travels to the faraway planet of Oasis to live with and teach Christianity to the indigenous alien population.

Oh oh.

Considering the damage done to indigenous populations around the world by Christian missionaries of centuries past, I was not prepared to buy into that as a good idea, at least not initially. But I had to keep reading just to see if Peter Leigh, Christian minister, ended up tortured and murdered by less-than-welcoming aliens.

As I read on, I realized that Peter does not use his considerable knowledge of the Bible to proselytize but to enlighten. He calls the Bible “a storehouse of messages,” and he leaves room for metaphorical appreciation of its stories.

The trouble is, Peter is not the first Christian missionary to have contact with the Oasan beings. Previous missionaries taught the Bible—the Book of Strange New Things—with more fervor and factual flair, and the Oasans are not equipped with the ability to perceive subtleties of meaning or metaphor. When fact-based Oasans baldly quote passages like, “We will have no other God than God our saviour. In Him alone we have hope of life,” it makes Peter uneasy. He begins to see the dark side of his purpose there.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Peter’s wife, Bea, is dealing with apocalyptic-like climatic and economic disasters. The distance between her and Peter and the daunting challenges she must face alone stress their relationship and diminish her faith.

In The Book of Strange New Things, messy, complicated humans seem delightfully fascinating next to the stoic, plodding, straightforward Oasans. Faber’s message could be that we can’t—and shouldn’t—stomp out our human controversies and complexities, much as we might sometimes want to.

In The Book of Strange New Things, Peter’s allegorical, multi-layered interpretation of the Bible seems delightfully reassuring next to the inflexible—and ultimately, unsatisfactory—factual view. Faber’s message could be that there is a time for faith and a time for doubt.

In the end, I liked this book, but I can see how many people would not. I’m a member of a progressive Christian church, and I found the Christian zeal of Peter at the beginning of the book off-putting. I bet atheists would bail early.





Book Review: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

0062113763The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

by Rita Leganski
ISBN: 9780062113764
HarperCollins, 2013

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of magical realism. If you prefer cold hard facts, maybe not so much.

Given the title, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, I don’t think I’m giving away too much when I say the main character does not speak, or at least not with words. Voiceless, he uses other means to communicate deeply with people (alive or dead) and with nature and the universe.

Rita Leganski creates a charming character in Bonaventure Arrow. Because he doesn’t speak, Leganski can’t use traditional dialogue to convey his insights and emotions. She uses head nods, gestures, and thoughts in a way that I feared might get tedious and annoying after a while, but it never did.

The mystical New Orleans setting matches the mystical nature of the story. Leganski brings in Southern Baptist tent revivals, Roman Catholic rituals, Voodoo curses, and Hoodoo charms to add spicy twists to her narrative.

Occasionally, just very occasionally, the stilted dialogue of Bonaventure’s mother, Dancy, did not ring true to me. Dialogue is not Leganski’s strong suit as a writer. Her strength is beautiful, descriptive narrative that captures the essence of a thing.

“Dancy did not know of Gabe’s feelings, but Bonaventure could hear them and he thought they sounded like a pearl that forms in concentric layers of kindness to protect a helpless oyster from a hurtful grain of sand.”

Fortunately, since Bonaventure doesn’t speak, dialogue is not a prominent feature of the book, so the dreamy story flows.

Leganski gives us plenty to think about: life after death, different ways to perceive the unspoken, the benefits and dangers of religion, the need for forgiveness (or not), acceptance of differences, and the poison of guilt, revenge and loneliness.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow received unanimous approval from the members of my book club: fans of magical realism all.

Book Review: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

9780062285539The Good Luck of Right Now 

by Matthew Quick
ISBN: 9780062285539
HarperCollins, 2014

I read the first line of this book and knew I had to keep reading: “Dear Mr. Richard Gere.”

I mean, how could you not keep reading after that?

The main character, Bartholomew Neil, is a 38-year-old who lived with his mother his whole life. After her death, Bartholomew finds a “Free Tibet” letter from Richard Gere in his mother’s drawer, and this letter sets off the sequence of events that leads Bartholomew to stretch beyond his geographical and relationship boundaries. We readers learn about the events through letters Bartholomew writes to his mother’s hero, Richard Gere.

His mother had a theory—the “Good Luck of Right Now” theory.

By her theory, when someone wins, someone else has to lose, and if some people get rich, others must stay poor. By her theory, in order for one person to be considered smart, others must be average or below intelligence, and the beautiful can only be considered so if there are homely people by which to compare them. In other words, one person’s joy is another’s suffering. When good things happened to Bartholomew and his mother, she says: “I feel sorry for whoever is getting screwed to balance all this out.” The Good Luck of Right Now comes from believing that when bad things happen to you, you can celebrate that someone somewhere is having a great day.

“Believing—or maybe even pretending—made you feel better about what had happened, regardless of what was true and what wasn’t.”

Armed with this theory, a little Catholicism, some Richard Gere Buddhism and the unus mundus (One World/One Mind) philosophy of Carl Jung, Bartholomew makes his way through life without the mother who raised him, loved him and protected him. His journey takes him away from his hometown Philadelphia north to Montreal and then Ottawa. (I’m from Ottawa, so I delighted in Bartholomew’s visit to Cat Parliament on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill even though, sadly, it’s no longer there.)

There isn’t a “normal” character in this book. They could open a “Dysfunctions R Us” store. But they are all endearing in their own cracked ways. Quick manages to make likable characters out of a socially awkward 38-year-old, a damaged social worker, an alcoholic Catholic priest, a traumatized library volunteer and her potty-mouthed brother.

Matthew Quick consulted some Canadian friends about our country, so maybe I shouldn’t quibble about the stereotypical “eh” sprinkled through the language during the Canadian portion of Bartholomew’s travels. I can only guess those Canadian friends gave him different advice than I would give. Personally, I think references to “eh” weren’t necessary, didn’t add anything to the story, and they set my teeth on edge just a little. Quick tries redeem himself by acknowledging that “That’s a stereotype that will offend the locals.” Right, so why even go there?

But non-Canadians won’t be bothered by such things—or might even have a laugh at our expense—so they can read gamely on without clenched teeth. They can adopt some of those Buddhist and Jungian philosophies and go along on Quick’s mystical ride. 

And if they don’t like the book, they can take some comfort in believing that, by the Good Luck of Right Now theory, someone else somewhere is really enjoying a good read.



Book Review: Anchorboy by Jay Onrait

9781443429474Anchorboy: True Tales from the World of Sportscasting 

by Jay Onrait
ISBN: 9781443429474
Collins, 2013

I wish he had waited about ten years before writing a book.

Ten years from now, Jay Onrait would be able to give us the view from States side. Ten years from now, he would have more stories in his arsenal, so he could include fewer stories about his bodily fluids. Ten years from now he might have learned to look less in the mirror and more outside of himself.

I believe when Jay Onrait was writing this book, he didn’t envision 51-year-old suburban moms as his potential audience. I believe that because the best audience for this book is: (1) male, and (2) younger than I am.

That’s fair; he is a sportscaster, after all.

In my household though, I rival other family members in the sports fanaticism department. There’s a time in May when French Open tennis, NHL hockey, ML baseball AND curling all happen at the same time; I barely leave my couch. Before Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole and Producer Tim moved to the States, my son and I watched the re-play of their version of SportCentre on TSN every morning.  We watched because we wanted the highlights, and they entertained us with their comedic delivery. (And I could look at Dan O’Toole’s face all day long.) When I heard that Jay Onrait had a book, it went on my Christmas list. Mine, not my husband’s or my son’s. Jay Onrait was stuck with a 51-year-old suburban mom as his audience.

As I read, I had the same reaction I had to Kelly Oxford’s book, Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar. It’s not a bad book. I can’t give it a negative review. It’s just not the right book for me. (I wasn’t surprised to see her mentioned in the Afterword. I knew they were connected somehow.)

I started out with plenty of hope. Onrait was a Gary Carter and Montreal Expos fan, so we had that in common. We share an appreciation for the glory years of the Edmonton Oilers, so that was good, too. And he is, after all, “Canadian!” But why, oh why, do people feel their “I got so wasted” stories are in any way unique and interesting? They are neither. Even when the story is “I got so wasted at the Olympics,” it’s still not unique or interesting. Especially when the wastee is too (a) drunk, (b) lacking in common sense, and (c) busy riding on the coattails of the network to take personal responsibility for his actions. Disappointing.

I experienced minor heart palpitations when Onrait revealed his complete ignorance about Craig Kielburger. To be fair, sports and humour are Onrait’s business not humanitarian work, but Kielburger is one of my personal heroes and an exceptional Canadian. It disappointed me that sentences involving bodily fluids outnumbered those about Kielburger by about 1276 to 8. (And the first number doesn’t include images conjured by the activities behind Hooker Harvey’s.)

I have to disagree with Onrait on one other very important point: Felching is not funny. Nope. Not under any circumstances. Never. Yuck. (Look it up.)

On page 11, Onrait writes: “I’m kind of an asshole.” He proves this point from time to time through his stories, but his human decency does shine through the cracks of asshole-ishness. He has potential for something better. 

In about ten years, Jay Onrait will be able to tell us how he survived “successful-Canadian guilt” after his move to the United States. In about ten years, he’ll have more stories to tell, so we won’t have to know about his bodily functions. In about ten years, he will have met a humanitarian or two, so we’ll see more of the decent, non-asshole “Canadian!” that hides beneath the Jay Onrait public persona.

In about ten years, if Jay Onrait writes another book, I hope he pictures 51-year-old suburban moms reading it. It would be a better book.

Book Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

9781443422666The Rosie Project 

by Graeme Simsion
ISBN: 9781443422666
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2013

Two things: First, the character is not Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, but he will remind you of him at times; second, this book is meant to entertain and enlighten, but not to change the world.

How you respond to those two facts dictates how you will respond to this book. 

Some find the main character’s resemblance to Sheldon charming and engaging. Others roll their eyes and dismiss the book because of the similarity. Some readers settle into this book with a light heart that allows them to enjoy the story for the pleasant romp that it is. Others pick it up with the expectation that the challenges faced by those with Asperger syndrome should be dutifully and seriously addressed. These readers rail against every perceived cliché and misrepresented fact.

I settled into this book with a light heart. I found Don Tillman’s resemblance to Sheldon charming and engaging. 

I don’t see The Rosie Project as a textbook examination of Asperger syndrome. I don’t think a novel should have to bear that awesome responsibility. Does it raise awareness of the prevalence of Asperger syndrome in society? Yes. Will it encourage people to be more understanding of people who navigate society differently from most? Yes. Does it entertain and enlighten? Yes.

That’s good enough for me.

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