Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Winter Guest-Pam Jenoff

The Winter Guest
Pam Jenoff
Mira, Aug 26 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780778315964

In 1940 in Biekowice, Poland the Nowak patriarch died in a cart accident while the matriarch was hospitalized with severe injuries.  Though acrimonious rivals with diverse opinions about the German invasion; the oldest children, twins Helena and Ruth take charge of their younger siblings (Michal, Dorie and Karolina) even as the Nazis blitzkrieg Poland.  

Though she knows she should ignore the wounded foreigner, Helena rescues Jewish American soldier Sam Rosen.  Initially telling no one about him she hides the paratrooper as he heals.  When Helena and Sam fall in love, jealous Ruth reacts with bitterness; while opportunistic neighbors plot against the family. 

The latest Pam Jenoff WWII Poland thriller (see The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat’s Daughter) is another excellent historical as readers obtain a vivid sense of life during the Nazi occupation.  The strong cast makes for a powerful drama enabling us to see the deadly era through the eyes of the five Nowak siblings (especially the diverse bias of the twins) and Sam.  As the truth fails to set them free, The Winter Guest is a fantastic 1940s war novel.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Benedict Bastard-Cate Campbell

The Benedict Bastard
Cate Campbell
Kensington, Aug 26 2014, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758292308

In 1923 Seattle, Dr. Margot Benedict continues to practice medicine at the Women and Infants Clinic.  Driven by Mr. Blake and accompanied by Nurse Sarah Church, Margot arrives at The Ryther Home to inspect the place before applying for government funds to assist the children’s home.  After being nasty towards Margot’s two Negro companions, Mother Ryther objects to the doctor’s insistence that she allow her and Nurse Church to vaccinate the orphaned or abandoned kids residing there.  When Margot meets the young charges, she is taken aback by a little boy who could have been her demented brother Preston’s twin (see Benedict Hall).

Stunned Margot seeks the truth while at the same time Bronwyn Morgan searches the city for her lost three years old son sired by Preston when she was sixteen.  As Margot seeks proof that she has an illegitimate nephew whom she hopes to take to Benedict Hall; she and her Pater visit psychopath Preston at the asylum where he is held in a drugged state; and family matriarch Edith brings Bronwyn into the home.

The third Benedict Hall historical family drama (see Hall of Secret) is an enjoyable glimpse at bygone era in which a changing America still feels the impact of WWI.  Now married to Frank, Margot keeps the interesting storyline focused as her inclusive beliefs remain decades ahead of her time.  Charlie’s paternity issue enhances Cate Campbell's entertaining glimpse of the Roaring Twenties in the Pacific Northwest.


Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Agincourt Bride-Joanna Hickson

The Agincourt Bride
Joanna Hickson
Harper, Aug 19 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 978000744697

In fourteen years of marriage to “Mad King” Charles VI of France, Queen Isabeau already has given birth to four boys and five girls when a sixth worthless female Catherine pops out.  Royal nursery boss Madame La Bonne is pleased that the fifteen years old Parisian baker’s daughter Guilliamette Dupain gave birth to a stillborn.  Given no choice, Mette becomes Catherine’s wet-nurse.

Over the years Princess Catherine keeps Mette at her side during her childhood and into adulthood.  Though a commoner, Mette guides the child through the chaotic courts of her insane father and her ambitious brother King Charles Dauphin; both whom plan to marry her off to forge an alliance.  The powerful Duke Philippe of Burgundy also has an agenda for this princess.  However, after the forces of Henry V win at the Battle of Agincourt, Catherine becomes either a greater asset or liability for the ambitious plotting to use her or get rid of her.  Only Mette, risking her life, protects her until the royal sibling must choose between two monarchs, her brother the French King and English King Henry V.

This is a vivid historical biographical fiction tale that brings to life early fifteenth century France (at court, in Paris and the countryside) and to a lesser degree England through the eyes of Catherine’s prime confident.  Though not for the casual reader as the storyline can be overwhelming in the depth of background, The Agincourt Bride is a very fresh entry in the often told tale of Catherine of Valois (see The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien and The Queen's Secret by Jean Plaidy).  The pleased audience will return for the continuation of Catherine’s saga (see The Tudor Bride; not yet published).


Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 22, 2014

Incense & Peppermints-Carole Bellacera

Incense & Peppermints
Carole Bellacera
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 2 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781497355637

In 2011 Memphis, sexagenarian nurse Cindy Sweet receives a Facebook message from her fiancĂ© Ryan Paul Quinlan, who allegedly died in Vietnam over four decades ago.  Stunned she thinks back to 1965 when idealistic Cindy voluntarily joined the military as a nurse assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh.  She faced death and maimed victims on her first day and every day afterward while serving in Nam.  Cindy still sees the face of her first dying soldier; a youngster from South Carolina whose last wish she could not grant.

Cindy also reflects on her first innocent love before she volunteered Gary McCartney; her passionate second in Nam with Ryan; and her calm final one with Sergeant David Ansgar whom mentored her as she adjusted to the frantic existence at the 24th.  Though encouraged by her husband David, this hesitant grandma must decide whether she wants to meet Ryan at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

This is a reflective Vietnam War tale starring an innocent growing up rather quickly when faced immediately with dying and severely wounded young soldiers; just the title (from the Strawberry Alarm Clock song) will remind boomers of the sixties furor.  Carole Bellacera provides a gripping storyline due to the support cast (patients and staff) who bring a timely haunting message that the cost of war is not just in combat dollars, but also the impact on those fighting and their loved ones; that lingers on for decades after the last soldier came home.


Harriet Klausner

Never Mind Miss Fox-Olivia Glazebrook

Never Mind Miss Fox
Olivia Glazebrook
Little, Brown, Aug 19 2014, $25.00
ISBN: 9780316242899

Martha and Clive met while attending Oxford.  He fell in love immediately and felt fortunate when he persuaded her to join his Barkes family Easter vacation in France.  Clive’s brother Tom’s special friend Eliot Fox joined them. 

After years away from England, Eliot Fox comes home to London.  One of her students Eliza Barkes informs her parents (Clive and Martha) that her piano teacher knows both of them.  Whereas Martha relishes the coincidence, Clive panics as Eliot was his series of indiscretions over the years.  Fearing she will expose his betrayal to his wife, Clive tries to keep the piano teacher away from her; but Eliot knowing the power she has over her occasional lover refuses to back away from the Barkes.

Appealingly rotating between the present relationships and past illicit trysts, this is an absorbing character study that looks at the impact an eccentric other woman has on her former lover and his family.  The quartet is three dimensional making the cause and effect of his cheating seemingly genuine.  Although the encounters over the years come across as well written but improbable happenchance, the trouble Miss Fox’s return to England causes to the Barkes’ seemingly happy family makes for an appealing novel.


Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Grand Design-Amber Stockton

A Grand Design
Amber Stockton
Abingdon, Aug 19 2014, $13.99
ISBN: 9781426773471

On a dare from her BFF Libby, Alyssa Denham entered the Bride Magazine contest to win a romantic getaway for two on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  Home to her grandma, Alyssa used to visit the island when she was a child until an incident shattered her heart and when her dad died she never returned.  When Bride informs Alyssa she won the vacation, she struggles with whom to take with her as she has no man in her life.  She sadly muses she can’t even find a date for the June weddings she attends; so persuades Libby to join her as the contest says “two” not “couple”.

The two BFFs delight in working with Alyssa’s grandma on an heirloom quilt and enjoy the Lake Huron island immensely especially since they have access to places outsiders are banned from visiting.  Meanwhile local Scott Whitman and Alyssa are attracted to each other, but her heart must let go of what happened several years ago to her and her family on Mackinaw Island so that their love can fill the vacuum.

The latest Quilts of Love inspirational (see A Promise In Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga and A Sky Without Stars by Linda S. Clare) is a warm coming of age contemporary in a wonderful setting starring a fascinating protagonist who spent years hiding in plain sight from what happened.  Although the romance is rather straightforward, Alyssa’s rapid maturity makes for an endearing tale.

Harriet Klausner

Bittersweet-Colleen McCullough

Bittersweet
Colleen McCullough
Simon & Schuster, Aug 19 2014, $26.00
ISBN: 9781476755410

In Corunda, New South Wales, Australia, St Mark's Church of England Reverend Thomas Latimer sires twins (Edda and Grace) with his first wife, but their mom dies in childbirth.  The church rector mourns his loss, but soon marries his stern housekeeper.  Two years after the birth of his first children, Thomas sires another set of twin girls (Heather and Katherine).

By 1926, Thomas encourages his four young adult daughters to leave their home to attend the nearby new Corunda nursing school though each has different BHAGs in mind.  Edda wants to become a doctor though she understands the bias against female physicians.  Her twin Grace’s objective is more acceptable by Australian standards as she wants to be a wife and mother.  Tufts, as Heather’s siblings call her, wants freedom mostly from the demands of her parents.  Finally Kitty wants acceptance for her brain instead of her beauty.  Now as each begins their own unique adventure in independence, the quartet knows there are two sure things in life: death and through thick and thin they can always rely on her sisters to be there when it really matters.

Bittersweet is a great family epic that provides readers with a profound absorbing glimpse at Australia especially during the twentieth century decades between the World Wars.  Each of the lead sisters is fully developed but also possesses differing personalities and diverse desires as to what they want out of life.  As their respective lives bounce back and forth between sorrow, happiness and feelings in-between, the four siblings remain steadfast in their belief that they always have each other when the going turns ugly or simply Bittersweet regardless of distance and other relationships.


Harriet Klausner