A trio of mini book reviews and excerpts, crafted by Literary Lotus.

blues in paradise
By Lou Zitnik
LULU; 184 pages; $15.95

Twenty stories previously published in myriad Hawai`i-based literary magazines and venues–including Honolulu Magazine, Tinfish, and Hawai`i Review–comprise Lou Zitnik’s first, self-published collection, focused on a weekend of everyday and fantastical events set in the Islands. Zitnik displays a range of narrative techniques and closely-observed dialogue, cultural interactions, and characters, largely, he says, drawn from his experiences during the past 25 years living in Hawai`i. His earthy voice, unpretentious talk-story-like tales, and “real” glimpse into island culture, from cockfighting to mana, offers a fresh perspective for newcomers and a well-paced, inventive depiction of life around us.

An excerpt from “Falling for Eddie”:

“Back then everyone knew something about the Makena deal but no knew anything. It was a same-old story. A resort project had been proposed for one of the last undeveloped beaches in Kihei. Permits had been requested and greased, pissed-off letters to the editor written, lawsuits filed, and testimony at public hearings ignored. The deal kept rolling. Now, no matter what, a few people were going to make a lot of money. There’d be more jobs, more small business, and only one less beach for fishermen and nude sunbathers, neither one of whom had much of a lobby.”

The Astonished Universe
By Helene Cardona
RED HEN; 101 pages; $19.95

Moving from the everyday to the metaphysical, Helene Cardona’s bilingual collection of fresh, considered poems–set side-by-side in French and English–ring with simplicity and clarity in both the short and long form. Best known for her voice work and acting roles in such films as Chocolat, Cardona here displays her love for sound while delving into the personal and searching for the spiritual. Though some seem best accessed through knowledge of the exact people and events, Cardona avoids self-indulgence and doesn’t take herself too seriously–a successful combination of humor, depth and light.

An excerpt:

“Woodwork

If I could gather all the sadness of the world,
all the sadness inside me,
into a gourd,
I’d shake it once in a while,
and let it sing,
let it remind me of who I used to be,
bless it for what it taught me,
and stare at it lovingly
for not seeping out of its container.

The Rossetti Letter
By Christi Phillips
POCKET; 383 pages; $24

Joining ranks of such academic-mystery-love stories as A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Nicholas Christopher’s The Bestiary, Phillips rich debut novel centers on Claire Donovan, a Columbia PhD student completing her thesis on Alessandra Rossetti–a Venetian courtesan who lived in the early 1600s and at first bears a slight likeness to Mata Hari in her political machinations. Shifting capably between historical documents and letters and Claire’s present day experiences on her first trip to the city, the novel offers a distinct if not overtly original trajectory of competing discoveries and vibrant protagonists, evoking the magic of one of the world’s most enchanting cities.

An excerpt:

“Surely it must be called for what it was: madness. What Antonio had seen of Venice during the Carnival, in the two days since he’d returned, convinced him that everyone in the city was possessed by folly. Masks disguised true identities, from the lowest servant to the highest noble, and Venice was alive with music and a thousand gambols: balls and comedies, gondola races, jousts and combats, goose catching and bull baiting.”

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