Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Real Santa-William Hazelgrove

Real Santa
William Hazelgrove
Koehler Books, Oct 1 2014, $16.95
ISBN: 9781938467943

Fifty years old and now unemployed after S&G fired him; George Kroenfeldt feels he failed at life.  He knows he was not there for his older children (eighteen year old daughter Jamie and twenty year old son Jeremy) from his first marriage and not that much with his youngest with his second wife, tweener Megan.

Ridgeland Elementary fourth grade teacher Barbara Worthington responds to Santa Claus questions from her class as she has for four decades; which leads to her student Megan having doubts.  Her friend informs Megan that her older brother insists Santa Claus is not real as their parents pretend otherwise.  Megan asks her parents if that is true and when they say no, record him to place on YouTube when Santa and his reindeer land on their roof.

Jamie demands her dad give her an IPhone for Christmas while Jeremy wants a new car and their mom pushes him to sell their tiny home for a new one.  George says no to all three demands as money just got tighter.  However, he reacts differently to Megan’s query.  Though his plan will cost a fortune he does not have and he will need many people involved, George as Santa will land on the roof with reindeer.

The actions and reactions of the cast to George’s obsession to create a Real Santa in order for his daughter to believe make this a winner.  George knows he cannot afford this yet also believes he cannot afford not to do this though the cost in money and relationships is exorbitant.  The climax feels logically wrong, but emotionally right as William Hazelgrove authors a wonderful Christmas family drama. 

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Sudden Light-Garth Stein

A Sudden Light
Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster, Sep 30 2014, $26.95
ISBN: 9781439187036

As he nears his fortieth birthday, Jones Riddell separates from his wife Rachel.  For the first time since his father exiled him after the teenager’s mother Isobel died over two decades ago back in 1967, Jones, accompanied by his fourteen years old son Trevor, heads to his family mansion, Riddell House in Washington State; Trevor arrives for the first time.  Financially strapped Jones and his sister Serena want to sell the estate, but first they must remove their uncooperative father Samuel to a nursing home.  Though he is not mentally what he once was, Samuel refuses to leave his home where generations of Riddell’s have resided since they made a fortune in timber.

Trevor hopes his parents reconcile as he misses having both parents.  Meanwhile, fascinated by the estate and his ancestry, the teen learns about his paternal family when he finds the diary of his late great-Uncle Ben’s lover Harry and of the curse that began with Samuel’s avarice grandfather Elijah.

A Sudden Light is a fascinating family drama that looks closely at several generations of Riddell’s still residing, some as ghosts, in the mansion as told by Trevor assisted by timely spirits’ soliloquys.  Although at times Trevor’s narration seems to mature and accepting for his youth (in spite of a coda explanation) more insight into the hauntings would be welcome. This is an intriguing epic.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Promise Beth Wiseman

The Promise
Beth Wiseman
Thomas Nelson, Sep 30 2014, $15.99
ISBN 9781401685959

Teen cousins Mallory and Kelsey were more like sisters ever since they were born three days apart.  However, Kels is dying and in desperate need of a kidney transplant.  Extensive tests prove Mallory is the only match and she plans to donate a kidney to save the life of her BFF.

A dozen years later to fulfill a vow she made to her late cousin, Mallory informs her parents and her boyfriend Tate that she will donate a kidney to save the life of Majida, the daughter of her Pakistani pen pal Abdul.  Her three loved ones fear for Mallory’s safety in Lahore, but she stubbornly travels to Pakistan.  In country, Mallory reluctantly agrees to wed Abdul so Majida can come to America for treatment.

Back in the States, music teacher Tate worries about recently orphaned Verdell, a student who steals things from the bathroom and never practices the piano.  Though he wishes he could help the grieving child, he has no idea how; matters turn worse when he becomes temporary guardian. 

Mallory’s altruistic willingness to travel to dangerous Pakistan and also marry there seems nearly over the top of K2 for a rational person whose late cousin would call her nuts; in spite of the Afterward informing the audience her subplot is based on a real person.  The Promise is a fascinating inspirational as Tate deals with a troubled tweener and Mallory struggles to help Majida and escape her own captivity.  Both turn to God to guide them through their crisis.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cali-Deborah Frazier

Deborah Frazier
Deborah Frazier, Aug 22 2013, $9.00
ISBN: 9780578128795

Rita and Mike Evans are the perfect who fell in love in high school.  Both are excited with the birth of their first child; but especially the marine, a former quarterback, who looks forward to playing sports with his son.  However, Dr. Martin informs them their newborn has abnormalities in the genitals and recommends surgery to change the boy into a girl.  Reluctantly, Mike accepts the doctor’s recommendation and persuades his wife that their son is better off as a girl.

Over the next few years Cali is raised as a girl mostly by her loving mother; her dad, filled with guilt and doubt, kept reenlisting and volunteering for deployments.  Cali prefers competing against the guys and proves a better athlete than them.  She begins receiving hormone shots, but unaware what they are; as her mom refuses to tell her the big secret and her dad abandoned his family.  Cali also feels suicidal as she hates feelings of being a boy trapped in a girl’s body.  Meghan remains her only friend and anchor even after Cali confesses to her that her brain screams male.  Becoming a psychologist to help others with similar haunting issues as hers, twentyish Cali meets and marries kind Lance but she still feels trapped in the wrong gender.

Cali is a powerful psychological thriller that cautions parents to think of the long-term consequences on their newborn before agreeing to a sex change medical procedure.  Character-driven by the protagonist’s inner turmoil of a freak in the wrong body, Cali reminds readers that even loving decisions have second order effects and that doctors are people not gods; but mostly consider the future as much as the present.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Language Of Silence-Peggy Webb

The Language Of Silence
Peggy Webb
Gallery Books, Sep 9 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781451684810

In 1976 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Ellen Blair fears her husband Wayne.  To the rest of the world Wayne is a charming businessman; but inside their home he is violent having sent his wife to the hospital with accidents caused by her clumsiness.  Knowing if she does not flee soon, her spouse will one day kill the child she carries. 

Her Great Aunt Ruth Gibson encourages her to leave town just like Ellen’s grandmother Lola did five decades earlier.  Lola joined the Great Giovanni Bros/ Hogan & Sandusky Circus as a star tiger tamer to escape family violence.  When Ellen gets to the Haven House shelter, Wayne greets her with a beating he disguises as a car accident.  Her mom offers no hope as Josie insists Wayne is a good husband if Ellen could learn the Language of Silence.  When Ruth is hospitalized in Arkansas, Ellen insists on going to the Ozarks while Wayne demands they stay home to greet his visiting Japanese client.  Leaving Tupelo, Ellen joins the same traveling circus as her grandmother did but as a teacher with her favorite student being mute Nicky.  Ruth welcomes her niece, but soon sees visions of irate Wayne coming for his runaway spouse.  With Lola’s help, the female relatives flee for their lives from a psychopathic husband.

The Language of Silence is a profound tale that looks deeply at spousal abuse during the “Stand By Your Man” at any cost even your life era.  Ironically, Wayne believes in the sanctuary of his vows enhanced by his fists.  Although the ending seems over the top of the trapeze wire, The Language Of Silence is a wonderful second chance at life if you take the risk.

Harriet Klausner

The Goddess Of Small Victories-Yannick Grannec

The Goddess Of Small Victories
Yannick Grannec, Willard Wood (translator)
Other Press, Sep 9 2014, $26.95
ISBN 9781590516362

In 1980, the Institute for Advanced Study sends archivist Anna Roth to the Pine Run Retirement Home in Pennsylvania to persuade obstinate widow Adele Gödel to release the papers of her late husband, brilliant troubled mathematician Kurt.  Anna says she would like to catalogue the Nachlass so that those qualified can study it.  She also explains she reads the rarely used Gabelsberger shorthand; the style Kurt employed.

Adele tells the visitor how they met in Vienna and though several years older than Kurt with his mother’s reluctant approval they married.  When the Nazis annexed Austria, Kurt and Adele fled eventually arriving in America, but treated as enemy agents due to their accents.  While she did everything to make her disturbed mate’s life easier over the five decades together, for the first time Kurt, still distressed, found acceptance at Princeton because of his brilliant work.

This is an intriguing biographical fiction that focuses on the mentally tough widow and through her filter we see the great but mentally ill genius.  Although distracting from the fascinating main storyline, a well-written secondary subplot re the relationship between Adele and Anna further shows the strength of the older woman; as she encourages her visitor to be all she can be with what she wants out of life.  With real persona like Einstein; documented incidents (with footnotes) and events like the A-bombs and the Cold War to anchor time and place, readers will appreciate The Goddess Of Small Victories.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Front Seat Passenger-Pascal Garnier

The Front Seat Passenger
Pascal Garnier, Jane Aitken (translator)
Gallic, Sep 9 2014, $13.95
ISBN 9781908313638

After visiting his père in Normandy, Fabien Delorme returns to Paris to an empty house.  He actually is pleased though surprised his wife Sylvie is not home as their relationship has drifted apart.  Fabien soon learns that Sylvie and her lover Martial Arnoult died in a car accident in Dijon.

Instead of grief, Fabien obsesses over his spouse having a secret lover she concealed from him.  In Dijon to identify Sylvie’s corpse, Fabien notices a woman do likewise with Arnoult’s body.  Obviously he concludes she is Arnoult’s widow, Martine.  Ironically in spite of her cuckolding him, Fabien misses Sylvie who kept him anchored.  Thus he decides since Arnoult stole his wife, he will do likewise with the other man’s widow.  Stalking Martine, Fabien becomes part of her life and that of her companion.

The latest Gallic translation of a Pascal Garnier suspenseful French middle class tragedy (see Moon in a Dead Eye, The Panda Theory and How’s the Pain?) is another superb dark surrealistic novella.  Character driven by an unlikable but realistic three degrees of separation quintet, readers will appreciate the impact on their respective mates by the deaths of The Front Seat Passenger and the driver.

Harriet Klausner