Monday, December 31, 2007

The English American-Alison Larkin

The English American
Alison Larkin
Simon & Schuster, Mar 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9781416551591

Twenty-eight years old Pippa Dunn is English to her bone marrow; she believes DNA would affirm that it is in her gene pool to make a proper cup of tea. So why does she feel like an outsider in the West London home of her adoptive parents, who she loves. She cherishes her sister too, but they are night and day.

However, Pippa discovers that her biological parents do not have Earl Grey running through her arteries; instead her mom is an artsy Georgia peach and her father is a politically astute DC business man. Pippa needs to meet Billie and Walt, whom she fascinates as people who will understand her unlike her adoptive prim and proper English family. When she meets them and gets to know them a bit, Pippa is disappointed as the reality fails to live up to her fantasy.

THE ENGLISH AMERICAN is a terrific insightful “biographical fictionalized account of the author’s one-woman show. The story line is superb when it focuses on Pippa’s inner thoughts on identity and belonging as the nature vs. nurture argument is debated inside her head. When the plot turns to a second chance romance between Pippa and Nick, that failed seven years ago because she was not ready; it loses some of its discernment because it diverts from the prime theme and besides his hyperbolic drama queen performance seems inane. Still Pippa makes for an insightful character who provides a strong focus between the DNA and the loving home.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Sixth Wife-Suzannah Dunn

The Sixth Wife
Suzannah Dunn
Harper, Jan 8 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780061431562

Considered pragmatic by her friends especially the Duchess of Suffolk Catherine Brandon, twice widowed Katherine Parr became the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, a position not known for its longevity. Perhaps it was the experience gained from being wedded to two much older husbands, bur Katherine proved her practical nature by surviving four years with the elderly monarch until he died, making her unique as the Dowager Queen,. Within a few months of becoming a widow again, Katherine marries Thomas Seymour, whom she was in love with before Henry “exiled” him to Brussels so he could marry her; he since has returned to England and become a confidante of Princess Elizabeth. They have a daughter Mary, but was her last marriage a happy one ponders Catherine as Thomas seems more fascinated with the princess than his once royal wife?

This is an interesting biographical fiction novel that looks deep into the latter part of the life of Katherine Parr, mostly from just after she became a thrice widow. The story is told almost exclusively by Catherine looking back after Katherine has died in 1548 so lacks a historiographic counterpoint as the subject’s best friend distrusted her last ambitious husband, who she believed married the “Widow” for her political connections. One interesting side note is that the vernacular used is twenty-first century (explained why by Suzannah Dunn in an afterward) so that purists who prefer Shakespearean English should pass as the idioms are technologically modern; thou who find Shakespeare as “ye olde” English will appreciate the anachronism. Well written, THE SIXTH WIFE provides a fascinating slant on the Tudor age especially life near the top during the five years after Henry’s demise.

Harriet Klausner

Snowfall at Willow Lake-Susan Wiggs

Snowfall at Willow Lake
Susan Wiggs
Mira, Feb 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778324935

Fortyish international Attorney Sophie Bellamy has always wanted to help the less fortunate and has been successful at it. However, the cost of spending much of her life overseas has been personal; her marriage to Greg died and her relationships with her two children, twelve year old Max and New Paltz College student Daisy are dysfunctional and distant at best. The same holds true with her grandchild Charlie.

Following a nasty hostage misadventure at the Hague involving her work with the depressed people of Umoja in Africa, Sophie has come to wintry Avalon, New York to make amends with her offspring, which means getting on with her former spouse, his new wife Nina and her offspring (see DOCKSIDE for Greg’s tale). However, the first person she meets after the lake effect snow and ice caused her car to skid and crash is Dr. Noah Shepherd, a veterinarian. Sophie is attracted to him, but she did not come to Ulster County for romance; she came a second chance with her children; not understanding that a second chance with Max and Daisy can only come with Noah.

The Avalon Lakeshore Chronicles (see THE WINTER LODGE and SUMMER AT WILLOW LAKE) are always terrific family drama romances, but SNOWFALL AT WILLOW LAKE may be the best yet due to the complexity of the relationships. Sophie is an incredible lead protagonist who has given her heart to the less fortunate children in places like Africa’s Umoja, but has failed to connect with her children in Avalon as she has tried to protect them by excluding them from the horror she has witnessed. Fans of the series will fully appreciate this strong tale while newcomers will relish how inside a romance talented Susan Wiggs reminds her readers that many children around the world suffer needlessly.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rich Girl-Carol Culver

Rich Girl
Carol Culver
Berkley, Jan 2008, $9.99
ISBN: 9780425219157

Victoria Lee grew up in Hong Kong, but currently the teen lives in her family’s Mcmansion in San Francisco sans parents. She attends the exclusive Manderley Prep, but though her family is wealthy she feels like an outsider. Whereas most teens would love to be on their own, Victoria feels lonely as she has no friends at school and nothing at home. Worse than the fact that her parents want her to go Ivy while she wants to attend fashion school, she likes student Steve Heller, but he ignores her.

Gabe Thomas is confused as he has no scholarship yet his single mom a housekeeper pays his tuition to attend Manderley Prep. He wants to know how with his theory being that his unknown father is connected to the school. He likes Victoria as he sees her as a fellow outsider, but frowns on her efforts to join the in crowd since she was nominated to run for class treasurer as she plans the teen party of the century at her Mcmansion.

The second BFF teen tale (see MANDERLEY PREP) is an entertaining tale of a depressed lonely RICH GIRL trying to become popular at all cost. Victoria’s efforts to be in is compared to that of Gabe, who flaunts being out. Young adult readers will appreciate this fine character study of how far someone will go to satisfy the psychological need to belong.

Harriet Klausner

Stuck in the Middle-Virginia Smith

Stuck in the Middle
Virginia Smith
Revell, Feb 2008, $13.99
ISBN 9780800732325

Joan Sanderson loves her sisters, but also is jealous of both them. Her older sibling Allie has started her own family and her younger sibling Tori has had early career success. Instead Joan feels STUCK IN THE MIDDLE of her sisters as a failure since her boyfriend dumped her and her job stinks.

However, moving next door is a young woman’s fantasy: a single hunk doctor. To her surprise, he is very religious, which gets her thinking about her lapsed beliefs. As she struggles to provide quality care to her elderly grandmother, Joan reassesses her feelings of abandonment that she blamed on her mother although her father was the one who left. With Allie as her ally and Tori as her rival, Joan tries to get the hunk next door to notice her, but at what cost to who she is.

The first of the Sister to Sister trilogy is a warm relationship drama as the three sisters seem real especially their sibling rivalries. The story line starts a bit slow to allow the audience to understand each of the sisters, but especially the star the middle child Joan. Fans have fully developed siblings who behave in a consistent manner, which leads to a fine inspirational chick lit tale that focuses on being one’s self when relating with others especially loved ones.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 24, 2007

If Not Love-Kay Langdale

If Not Love
Kay Langdale
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312367398

Sarah considers an affair with Harry, her husband Michael’s best friend. Kate thinks her husband Harry no longer desires her and is sniffing elsewhere so she turns to her mother for guidance. A widow Isobel explains to her despondent daughter that her marriage had issues of infidelity too as her husband Kate’s dad Robert had an affair with Martha. Isobel visits Martha at her nursing home where Robert’s mistress tells her that her four years as the other woman were the highlight of her life. Night nurse Shelia notices the sudden vim in her patient Martha and ponders her own virginal chaste marriage as she wed for convenience not love. Finally there is migraine sufferer Judith, whose husband Tom is kind and caring, but she has never let go giving up her son for adoption.

The six women have their own chapter with a final seventh denouement tying up their individual but somewhat connected entries. All six women seem genuine while the support family members enhance the deep look at each of the stars as readers learn why each one committed to a relationship especially IF NOT LOVE. To learn the Judith link requires reading this fine female British version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Little Ray of Sunshine-Lani Diane Rich

A Little Ray of Sunshine
Lani Diane Rich
NAL, $14.00
ISBN 9780451222961

Emmy “EJ” James works the early night shift at the Quik ’n’ Go as a temporary means of making some money until she feels it is time to move on as she has for the past six years living in her Airstream motor home. However, with seventeen minutes left in her shift, two customers arrive. “Springfield tells EJ that “Ponytails” needs help as her car seems to have broken down. Ponytails informs EJ her name is Jess Szyzynski and she is an angel here to help her; EJ assumes another lunatic escaped from the asylum as she is no George Bailey in need of A Wonderful Life.

Digs Greene arrives to inform EJ that his dad Danny and her mother Lilly are getting married. Emmy thinks back to when she left in the middle of the night six years ago instead of marrying Dig’s older brother Luke. Although her mother is a nasty selfish piece of work while his father is a kind widower, EJ wants nothing to do with either family. Ponytails the angel thinks otherwise. To her bewilderment EJ drives home to confront Lilly.

The two romances especially between EJ and Luke is well done, but takes a back seat to the tale of Lilly trying to persuade her daughter she has changed due to the love and caring of a kind gentle man as her daughter’s distrust of her is bone marrow deep. The whimsical story line is driven by the complex interrelationships between the cast who seem real flaws and all. Whether Jess is an angel and where the Airstream ends up parked require reading this rich family drama filled with much more than just A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE.

Harriet Klausner

Choosing Sophie-Leslie Carroll

Choosing Sophie
Leslie Carroll
Avon, Feb 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780060871376

Estranged from her wealthy father August deMarley for over two decades former burlesque dancer and club manager Venus learns he died by reading it in the Aspen newspaper. She informs her fiancé Tom Elliot she is going to New York for the funeral, but he need not come.

In New York, August’s attorney Cap Gaines explains that Livy as she is called by family since her name is Olivia inherits the minor league baseball team the Bronx Cheers who play their home games on City Island. However, August “deMiser” as his daughter knew him left a stipulation that she complete the circle; no one knows what he meant though Cap has an idea. The second stunner is a college age female almost her over six foot height who is at the reading. Cap introduces Livy to her daughter Sophie, whom she gave up for adoption twenty years ago. As biological mother and daughter try to forge a relationship, Livy hides her insecurities re Sophie, Tom and the team behind her towering height as she runs the Bronx Cheers hoping to make the playoffs for the first time; something dad never saw.

This entertaining relationship drama is a fabulous look at teaming in sports and in the “adoption triad”. Readers will enjoy watching Livy and Sophie struggle with bonding while her adoptive parents reluctantly but lovingly encourage them. Although Brooklyn, home to the minor league Cyclones seems a better choice of location as the Bronx has the Yankees, fans of an extended family drama will appreciate observing whether Livy hits a home run with her daughter, her team, and her fiancĂ© or strikes out.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Office Upstairs-Charles Banov, M.D.

Office Upstairs
Charles Banov, M.D.
History Press, Nov 2007, $34.99
ISBN: 9781596293700

Born in Charlotte, South Carolina at a time when Jews were treated with contempt almost as bad as blacks were, Charles Banov was destined to become a doctor due to his mother pushing him in that direction (in a subtle manner) and his own desire to figure out puzzles. As a medical student he was a curious mix of serious student and risk taker. A teacher who taught him how useful a placebo can be is explained in a funny manner but gets the point across.. After doing an internship he had to do military service so he became a Lieutenant and a surgeon in the navy where he acquired a taste of wanderlust. It was a borning two years so he opened up his own practice in the nearest Texas place that never had a doctor. He was known for his compassion and even temperament.

During his career as in intern and he was called upon to make decisions not included in his field of expertise like Ob-Gyn work and cardiac problems. He talks about his travels in other places, in one such place he went he was kidnapped by South American revolutionaries. He was helping patients in crisis during Hurricanes Hugo and Katrina and was involved without his knowledge, in espionage action during the Cold War. Dr. Banov makes no bones how much he loves his wife and their two sons who are doctors and the daughter who has Rhett’s syndrome. He is a Marcus Welby M.D. who cares about his patients and people in general, working through government agencies to get things that need taken care of done Anyone reading this book will want this man as their doctor.

Told in a breezy style, filled with anecdotes, humor and picturesque events, OFFICE UPSTAIRS is a memoir of a doctor filled with fear and uncertainly but somehow always getting the job done.

Harriet Klausner

Pinkerton’s Secret-Eric Lerner

Pinkerton’s Secret
Eric Lerner
Holt, Mar 2008, $25.00
ISBN 9780805082784

In 1856 in Chicago, Alan Pinkerton forms his Pinkerton National Detective Agency by hiring several strong seemingly trust worthy men; women need not apply and he does not expect any will.

He is proven wrong when pretty Kate Warne applies for the position of Pinkerton Agent. Pinkerton says no, but Warne is persistent so he hires her with his plan to give her soft jobs and less pay than his male operatives. However he quickly changes his mind when she turns out to be one of top agents as he gives her increasingly more difficult cases to work. Attracted to one another, they begin an affair that turns ugly once Pinkerton’s wife learns that Kate is under the cover not undercover.

This is a fabulous biographical fiction story that provides the audience a deep look at the personal and professional lives of Alan Pinkerton and the first female agent Kate Warne. The story line is action-packed from the onset whether it is in Chicago setting up the agency, on a case in DC leading to the formation of the Secret Service, or working to uncover Confederate spies in the capital. Readers will appreciate this superb historical tale.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All for Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson-Amanda Elyot

All for Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson
Amanda Elyot
NAL, Feb 2008, $14.00
ISBN 9780451222978

Mary Darby was born in 1758 to an affluent merchant who not long afterward abandoned his family. Mary received an education especially in the fine arts and at fifteen planned to perform on stage shortly. However, her mother persuaded her to marry Tom Robinson, the heir of a rich uncle. He proved the second disappointing male in her life; others followed as she seemed to find a lifetime of losers although she hid her disappointment inside her poetry. Ultimately Tom’s wastrel ways led to Mary going on stage where the Prince of Wales saw her and made her his.

Mary Robinson’s words from her poetry, essays and letters enhance this delightful historical biographical fiction. Amanda Elyot pays homage to the royal mistress while allowing the audience to understand the motivators of her life, which in turn spotlights the limited options women had during the latter half of the eighteenth century even in relatively enlightened England. Regency romance readers will appreciate The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mermaids in the Basement-Michael Lee West

Mermaids in the Basement
Michael Lee West
Harper, Jan 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780060184056

Carrying twenty extra pounds is enough of a load, but Renata DeChavannes rationalizes that she has earned every pound. Five months ago her mother and stepfather died in a plane crash leaving Renata bereft. Recently the National Examiner ran a feature about her boyfriend award winning movie director Ferguson Lauderdale having an affair with actress Esme Vasquez while filming on location in Ireland Joyce’s Ulysses. Finally her father Louie informs her that he is marrying again for the nth time with someone younger than her.

However, all that goes on the back burner when Renata obtains a message from her late mom insisting she go “home” to learn her "dirty secrets." A chance to escape Hollywood and her current case of writer’s block, Renata leaves for the Alabama’s Gulf Coast. There she will do her mom’s bidding while seeing the steel magnolia make that tungsten magnolia triad of her grandmother Honora DeChavannes, Renata’s former nanny Gladys Boudreaux and longtime friend former actress Isabella D'Agostina McGeehee.

Although the myriad of subplots needs a scorecard (or perhaps a flow chart) to keep track of, fans will enjoy this amusing slice of southern life. The women including Renata’s late mother come across as fully developed formidable people while the men especially her boyfriend and her dad seem emaciated in comparison. Still readers will appreciate this humorous but discerning look at you can come home even if a major part of what made it home has passed on.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Adultery Club-Tess Stimson

The Adultery Club
Tess Stimson
Bantam, Feb 2008, $5.99
ISBN: 9780553591408

In England divorce lawyer Nicholas Lyon loves his wife Malinche and their three daughters. In fact he dotes on his four females who love the only male in the household. Everything is perfect.

That is everything was perfect until he meets beautiful effervescent attorney Sara Kaplan, who makes it obvious to Nicholas that she intends to sleep with him. He initially rejects this young siren’s seductive song, but also fantasizes about sleeping with sexy Sara; he wants her even as he denies it. Sara turns up the London heat on her target while Malinche considers trying a tempting new recipe.

THE ADULTERY CLUB is a fascinating look at relationships through the rotating perspective of the prime triangle. Readers will empathize somewhat with Nicholas’ plight as he desperately tries to insure his blood flow remains in the upper head; fans will totally sympathize with Malinche even though she considers a rustic temptation; finally no one will appreciate the antics of the seductress who in many ways comes across as a young Lolita (though obviously older). Tess Stimson provides an interesting tale in which the mistress and the wife (supported by their kids) play tug of war with the man.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 14, 2007

Alibi in High Heels-Gemma Halliday

Alibi in High Heels
Gemma Halliday
Dorchester Making It, Feb 26 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780843958355

When internationally renowned fashion designer Jean Luc Le Croix hires Madison "Maddie" Springer to design the shoes his models will wear during Fashion Week, the Californian screams with euphoria. However, she quickly learns the people rule of gravity in which she who goes up must crash down when psychic Mrs. Rosenblatt accidentally hits her because she could not figure out how to use her new stick shift car. Making matters worse, Maddie’s mom and Mrs. Rosenblatt insist on accompanying her to Paris to help her get around since she now has broken leg.

Things turn darker in Paris when someone uses a Maddie shoe with a stiletto heel to kill the lead model Gisella. Maddie's best friend Dana arrives to replace Gisella as the show must go on. Soon after that Maddie's boyfriend, LA homicide detective Jack Ramirez comes to Paris to keep her out of further trouble, but more corpses follow all tied to Maddie’s shoes, which makes her the prime suspect of the Gendarmes.

The fourth “High Heels’ amateur sleuth tale ( see KILLER IN HIGH HEELS, SPYING IN HIGH HEELS and UNDERCOVER IN HIGH HEELS) is a fun entry as Maddie’s chick lit big mouth sends her into trouble with the cops, the Paris fashion world, and the killer. Every time she speaks she gets deeper in trouble and someone from stateside shows up intending to rescue her; they are like the movement’s motto of “we’re here to help you”. Readers will laugh with Maddie’s dilemma as her ALIBI IN HIGH HEELS unravels leaving the audience to wonder if her next gig is a convict in high heels designing prison shoe wear.

Harriet Klausner

People of the Book-Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book
Geraldine Brooks
Viking, Jan 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780670018215

In 1996, Sydney, Australian resident Hanna Heath receives a call from the UN as they want to use her rare book conservator expertise. Apparently the renowned Sarajevo Haggadah, thought destroyed during the Bosnian War, has been found. Harriet is euphoric as she knows the value of this incredible ancient Hebrew tome with its images.

Although a loner whose only love is rare books, when Hanna meets the “savior” Muslim librarian Karaman, they are attracted to one another. Still it is the book that holds her enthralled as she begins to uncover other artifacts of the past buried inside the pages (white hair, insect wing, salt, and a wine stain) and items missing (lost fasteners). Each tells a unique story about who held the precious Sarajevo Haggadah.

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK is an interesting tale that uses the discoveries by Hannah to take the reader back in time to meet those who handled the ancient tome in various eras like 1940 Bosnia, 1480 Seville, and 1492 Barcelona, etc. Each entry provides a historical conflict between a person protecting the book and those wanting to defile the book. Throughout this superb fiction tale is the underlying message that the time for the Jews, Muslims and Christians to unite in peace is now not tomorrow as all have more in common than the differences that divide them.

Harriet Klausner

Harriet and Isabella-Patricia O'Brien

Harriet and Isabella
Patricia O'Brien
Touchstone, Jan 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 9781416552208

In March 1887 in Brooklyn Heights the great American abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher lays nears death. His extended family has gathered to pay their last respects while the media also arrives seeking a story especially since his two famous sisters have publicly feuded over him in the past fifteen years.

The gathering is mindful of a similar family meeting that happened a decade and a half earlier to discuss how to handle the scandal. On the front page of the newspaper is an accusation that Henry is having an affair with his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton witnessed by her children. A church committee conducts a kangaroo hearing into the matter and in 1875, he stands trial for committing adultery while his former parishioner, Theodore Tilton, sues him. Henry’s sisters split as Harriet the renowned author supports him and Isabelle the ardent suffragette condemns her sibling.

This is a fabulous historical fiction tale that could be easily read in the headlines of today. Other flashbacks round out the tale, but it is the deftly handled celebrity trial of Henry Ward Beecher that makes this worth reading. Reconstruction Era historical buffs will appreciate this fine telling of the events that caused a schism amidst the first family of mid nineteenth century human rights.

Harriet Klausner

The Last Cowgirl-Jana Richman

The Last Cowgirl
Jana Richman
Morrow, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061257186

Now fifty-two years old and never married Dickie Sinfield looks back on her childhood when her father moved the family from the burbs to a Utah cattle ranch; at seven she went from suburban princess to mucking cowgirl. Over a decade after the transformation, eighteen year old Dickie had enough with the rough lifestyle and fled the ranch for Salt Lake City where she became a reporter.

Over the decades Dickie wants nothing much to do with her family and denies her feelings for her childhood friend Stumpy Nelson. However, her mortality comes home to roost forcing her to reexamine her feelings when her brother, Hebert dies in a poison gas accident at Dugway Proving Grounds. She returns to the ranch for his funeral and to face her family, her friends, and mostly herself.

This is an interesting family drama that looks deep at the impact emotionally on decisions in which people have reasonable choices to make; of fascination is how easily humans rationalize the selection vs. the rejections. In an aside subplot related to Herbert’s death, the Feds are nuked by Jana Richman for their disregard of safety when it comes to handling of chemical and biological weapons, but the prime plot is people justifying poor choices.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Light Fell-Evan Fallenberg

Light Fell
Evan Fallenberg
Soho, Jan 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9781569474679

In 1996 in Tel Aviv, literature professor Joseph Licht hopes to reconnect with his five adult sons as he desperately needs their forgiveness. Twenty years ago he deserted them and their mother when he realized he loved married male Rabbi Yoel Rosenzweig; Joseph was unaware that he was gay until that moment, but soon after he and his rabbi began their affair until a guilt wracked Yoel killed himself. Stunned by his loss, a grieving Joseph ended his marriage to Rebecca and his relationship with their five offspring. He also no longer practiced Judaism after three decades as an Orthodox Jew. Now he invites his children to join him on his fiftieth birthday although he is unsure they will come for each of them has major emotional problems that he knows he caused by what he did to them two decades ago when they were young.

Readers will feel empathy towards the five sons although their range of issues seems to run the gamut. Life in many aspects of Israel comes across very deep as the audience is taken to locales where the Licht family live to include the Negev, the university, the kibbutz and a small gay enclave. Although the look back to the Joseph-Yoel tryst is seen through a fond schmaltzy nostalgic lens even by the sons rather than a nuke that destroyed two families, readers will enjoy this deep family drama of a disdained patriarch trying to reconnect with the now adult children he deserted.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 10, 2007

Daughter of York-Anna Easter Smith

Daughter of York
Anna Easter Smith
Touchstone, Feb 2008, $16.95
ISBN: 9780743277310

In 1461 fifteen year old Margaret mourns the death of her father who died in combat when the House of Lancaster’s forces ambushed his House of York. Also dead is her older brother Edmund. Her oldest brother Edward is now the claimant to the throne instead of the insane king Henry and his French wife Queen Margaret. Not long afterward, word reaches Margaret that Edward won a major victory claiming God on his side.

Margaret tells her two younger brothers (George and Richard) the good news. Edward introduces Margaret to former Lancaster supporter, Anthony Woodville. She is attracted to him, but hides her feelings as he is married. Not long afterward Edward is crowned King when Henry, Margaret and their son flee to Scotland. Over the next two decades Margaret does her royal duty sacrificing much of her happiness as does Richard training to one day be a king but remaining steadfast to his older brother whereas George envies his regal sibling

This is a sweeping saga that brings alive the latter half of the fifteenth century through an ensemble support cast including the major historical figures of the era that were on the European stage. Meg is a strong loyal person with ethics, but it is the historical tidbits that are fascinating and make the two plus decades come to life. Although at times the story line slows down in order to account for the major events between 1461 and 1480, historical fans will appreciate the deep look at England through mostly the eyes of THE DAUGHTER OF YORK.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 6, 2007

This Side of Heaven-Anna Schmidt

This Side of Heaven
Anna Schmidt
Harlequin Everlasting, Jan 2008, $5.25
ISBN: 9780373654253

They met at her brother’s wake and knew they had nothing in common. He was a Badger farm boy; she was eastern hippie; he went to Nam; she protested against Nam. Still Dr. Spencer Anderson and attorney Zoe Wingfield became friends and lovers. They married and raised three children.

They overcame their difference to forge a strong bond of love even after almost four decades together. When she had cancer he was with her all the way as she defeated the disease. However, the disease has returned much worse than her first battle and she is much older and not sure she wants to enter the ring again. Spencer knows what he wants of his soulmate; that she fights the good fight on the prayer they have many more good years together.

THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN is a poignant family drama as Spencer and their adult children want Zoe to battle the disease, but her spirit is not there. Interestingly in spite of the trauma and the first person perspective that provides some inner fears of the lead couple, neither Spencer nor Zoe come across as fully developed beyond both feeling like cancer victims as the disease controls the plot. Still Anna Schmidt reminds her audience how much cancer impacts an extended family not just the person with the illness.

Harriet Klausner

The Vow-Rebecca Winters

The Vow
Rebecca Winters
Harlequin Everlasting, Jan 2008, $5.25
ISBN: 9780373654260

They met at Clark High School in 1973. Nick Marsden knew it was love at first sight and persuaded Stefanie Larkin they belonged together. Over the decades together he showed his love in many ways, but never voiced those three words.

Flying back solo from British Columbia after dropping off a couple of lovebirds, fifty-two years old grandfather Nick’s plane goes down as he heads home to Mackenzie, Montana during a snowstorm. His wife photographer Stefanie knows he is a great pilot but as the hours pass without a word she panics. To help her mind, she reads the journals she kept for decades. If he comes back to her she plans to tell him she loves him. Waiting for rescue, Nick begins writing letters to his beloved Stephanie telling her how much he loves her. If he returns to her, he plans to tell her he loves her.

This is a refreshing unique romance as the lead protagonists are not together except in flashbacks for most of the novel. Nick and Stefanie learn how important it is to tell your loved ones that they are The Little Prince “Saint-Exupery” and you their “Tropical Bird” as everyone needs words almost as much as deeds. Fans will appreciate this strong drama as Nick and Stefanie realize during a life threatening crisis how much they mean to one another as he may not make it back alive.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lady of Milkweed Manor-Julie Klassen

Lady of Milkweed Manor
Julie Klassen
Bethany House, Jan 2008, $13.99
ISBN 9780764204791

Her father may be a Vicar, but he has no soul as he throws his twenty years old daughter Charlotte Lamb out of his home when she became pregnant. She has no place to go except to Milkweed Manor, a home for unwed mothers.

Ashamed before arriving at the manor, Charlotte is further humiliated when she learns a former suitor rejected by her cold stern father as unsuitable Dr. Daniel Taylor works there. However, he proves a gentleman when upon recognizing her he promises not to reveal her identity. In turn she learns his secret and vows to keep it concealed even after he asks her to help him with a personal matter. Neither expected to fall in love especially since he is staff and she is a fallen woman.

LADY OF MILKWEED MANOR is a discerning look back to the nineteenth century in which single women were ostracized if they became pregnant while society winked at the virile men. The story line is more historical than romance even with a changing relationship between the lead couple. The insight into the era through what happens to a single pregnant female from her out of sight out of mind exile to the birthing to the goat/breastfeeding is fascinatingly profound, but also proves overloading at times and the ending seemingly impossible. Still this is a strong character driven tale that will appeal to historical readers.

Harriet Klausner

Notes From the Backseat-Jody Gehrman

Notes From the Backseat
Jody Gehrman
Red Dress, Jan 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780373895489

Marla and Gwen met a dozen years ago as sophomores at Arly High School. They became best buds and still are. While Marla is in Paris meeting her future in-laws Gwen beomes confused and upset with her relationship. Since Marla will not be available for girl chats, she gives her friend a journal to write down her feelings as she, her boy friend Coop and his best friend since college Dannika drive from San Diego to a wedding in Mendocino in the “Devil Blonde’s” car.

Gwen feels jealous before she even meets the beautiful and popular actress Dannika Winters. What shakes her further is she is not sure she and Coop will pass the impossible line of demarcation of three months, a zone that no previous boyfriend of Gwen ever made. Marla believes Coop and Gwen are soulmates, but she believes that not even Jackie O could help her friend in this crisis as the Dannika is so in and a mere mortal like she is cannot compete. The drop dead gorgeous Ms. D makes the skittish Gwen feel insecure as D and Coop are Malibu while Gwen and Coop are the Laundromat.

NOTES FROM THE BACKSEAT is a terrific tale of an insecure woman writing in journal format how inadequate she feels in a contest against a Goddess rival with the winner taking all; the Dolphins vs. the Patriots. The three prime players come alive especially Gwen who shrivels into jealous loser status while Dannika tries to sabotage the relationship obtaining courage from Hostess cupcakes and Coop is a nice person unaware of the game in which he is the prize. Readers who appreciate a deep tale that gets into the guts of the star will enjoy what makes Gwen tick.

Harriet Klausner

Single Mama Drama-Kayla Perrin

Single Mama Drama
Kayla Perrin
Mira, Jan 2008, $13.95
ISBN 9780778325512

Miami single mom Vanessa Cain feels she has finally found her Mr. Right in former Atlanta Braves player Eli Johnson; they are engaged to marry although they had a fight over spilled milk. However, the office manager of Believe the Dream, Change Your Life agency soon learns the hard way that she once again gave her heart to a loser. CNN reports that the still married Eli was killed by Conrad Redgrave, husband of his lover Alyssa; the cuckold spouse confessed he shot and killed the paramours with a single arrow as they were having sex in his bed.

That was bad enough with the media in frenzy mold. However, Eli’s legal widow Tassie demands Vanessa vacate the condo she shared with her daughter Rayna and the late athlete as she says it is at least half hers since the divorce was never finalized. Needing to escape the media frenzy and the vindictive wife, Vanessa heads to the Bahamas on business in an attempt to persuade highly regarded motivational speaker Chaz Anderson to join her agency. They hit it off, but she does not trust her fickle heart to finally find the right man for her.

This is an enjoyable contemporary romance starring a very deep lead female character who makes mistakes in judgment, but refuses to give up on her self and on life. Chaz is a nice person and Rayna provides child support to the story line, but as the title states this is a SINGLE MAMA DRAMA.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sweet Georgia Brown-Cheryl Robinson

Sweet Georgia Brown
Cheryl Robinson
NAL, Jan 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780451222282

In Detroit Marvin Brown is obsessed with making a fortune so the stand up comic plans to change his routine from impersonation to “sh*t happens”. He wife Georgia is unhappy that he will use the N-word and the B-word in his act as she reminds him his clean show enabled him to open up the Gospel Exposition. However, he felt like a loser when he, Georgia and their two kids Edrik and Haden moved in with his parents.

Marvin’s new act is well received and lands him a well paying radio talk-show host position. Georgia is elated until she learns her Marvin is cheating on her, that he uses her as his punching bag on the air, and that he has a thirteen years old offspring she never knew existed move in with them. Upset and hurt Georgia obtains a job as a talk-show host after a guest appearance on her spouse’s show where he is nasty while she is sweet in rebuttal. However, when Marvin crosses the on air line, his career is in freefall; only SWEET GEORGIA BROWN can save his butt, but will she as he changed Georgia from sweet and probably from Brown with his caustic radio comments about her.

This is a fabulous African American affirmative answer to “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”, but with a sweet twist as Georgia punches back in their on the air gender war. Fans including most males will root for Georgia as Marvin cruelly puts her down at home and in public. Told in three parts by Cheryl Robinson, readers will appreciate this fine tale of transformation as success spoils Marvin, but encourages Georgia to be more as she learns from her husband the pitfalls to avoid.

Harriet Klausner

Gotta Keep On Tryin'-Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

Gotta Keep On Tryin'
Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant
Touchstone, Jan 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9781416531678

African American single mom Gayle Saunders knows she has come a long way since her homeless days caused by her gambling husband Ramsey (see TRYIN' TO SLEEP IN THE BED YOU MADE) as she raises her beloved teenage daughter, Vanessa alone. She and her long time best friend business partner Patricia Reid have made a success of their Ell Crawford children's books and related merchandise. Whereas Gayle is the artist, Pat is the business; together they have turned Ell & Me into a thriving firm.

As Gayle struggles with the sudden rebellion of Vanessa who wants to become a professional dancer and moves into the home of her boyfriend, Pat struggles with the arrival of teenager Tiffani who claims that Marcus is her father. Although DNA testing proves otherwise, Marcus wants to help her make it while neglecting his wife Pat. Since kindergarten Pat and Gayle have been there for one another if only to listen, but this time neither can talk about the fears inside of their respective hearts.

Success does not necessarily bring happiness as Gayle and Pat learn the hard way in this fine family drama. Each of the key players, not just the Ell & Me two entrepreneurs are fully developed. Thus the audience understands why Marcus wants to help Tiffani; Vanessa needs to leave home although she does not slice the financial cord; Pat feel insecure Gayle feels all alone; and Tiffani manipulates the four of them. Although at times the story line dips into soap opera territory, readers will enjoy the sequel that follows the personal lives of two friends and their families.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 30, 2007

Voices from the Street-Philip K. Dick

Voices from the Street
Philip K. Dick
Tor, Nov 2007, $14.95
ISBN: 9780765318213

In 1950s Oakland, California affluent Stuart Hadley lives the American dream. He owns a nice home; has an adoring pregnant wife; and recently was promoted manager in a television and radio shop. Stuart Hadley is dissatisfied with his near perfect life as he wants more but has no idea why this is the season of his discontent. He turns to alcohol and sex to dull his anger at middle class existence but that only makes him internally rage more; and he wants to reject the respective adulation of his wife and his boss as that frightens him because once gain he does not know why.

Stuart turns to the Society of the Watchmen of Jesus for salvation. At the sect he meets Marsha Frazier, who he desperately craves. However, Stuart fails to find solace with his new religious order; instead he spirals deeper into depression and begins to destroy his life by tearing down his relationships and losing the respect of his wife and his boss.

VOICES FROM THE STREET is a complex character study of a person living and rejecting the American dream as pronounced during the Ike era. Not an easy read as the story line is somewhat murky and convoluted, but fans of Philip K. Dick will appreciate the rich look at the unhappy days of the 1950s through the increasingly psychotic mindset of the prime protagonist.

Harriet Klausner

Siege of Heaven-Tom Harper

Siege of Heaven
Tom Harper
Dunne, Dec 2007, $26.95
ISBN: 9780312338725

In 1098, the surviving feel their sacrifices were worth it as the Crusaders see the end in sight with the conquest of Jerusalem coming soon. However while some remain wary and weary from all the bloodshed, the leaders of the various Christian armies show their true colors of pride and vainglory as each competes with one other to be the first inside the holy city.

Greek Demetrious Askiates is tired of the destruction, deaths, and atrocities like the spread of the plague in Antioch he has witnessed from both sides of the religious war. He wants to go home to Constantinople, but remains committed to serving the Byzantine emperor even when he is disappointed with being sent to Egypt to negotiate with the Fatimids to obtain their support against the Turks.

The final entry in Tom Harper’s excellent First Crusade trilogy (see THE MOSAIC OF SHADOWS and KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS) is an incredible eleventh century thriller as the star Demetrious is not solving a murder, but instead trying to keep from being killed. His trek from the Holy Land into Egypt brings the period of the First crusade vividly alive to his grateful audience as few if any novels in recent memory have.

Harriet Klausner

Symphony-Jude Morgan

Jude Morgan
St. Martin's, Dec 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312369514

In 1827 twentyish Irish actress Harriet Smithson believes she can become a star without sleeping with a theatre manager or a play producer. Instead, she takes the radical approach by staying with her family’s troupe going to Paris to perform Shakespeare.

In France she takes over running the group as her father sinks deeper into alcoholism, her brother has no talent for the stage or business, and her mother feels her age and her growing waistline. Her performance as Ophelia in Hamlet is the rage of the city leading to acclaim and the demand by the adulating public to see her perform. Composer Hector Berlioz is attracted to Harriet, but she rejects his advances until her fame wanes while his soars especially when he credits her as his muse and the Symphonie Fantastique is performed.

Rotating perspective between the actress and the composer, readers obtain a fascinating biographical historical fiction that is not easy to read due shifting tense, but worth the time as fans obtain a rare deep look inside the mind of a performer while performing. Harriet and Hector come alive on and off stage as Jude Morgan provides a virtuoso performance with the entertaining SYMPHONY.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tales from Mistwillow- Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Tales from Mistwillow
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
RMFW Press, Sep 2007, $9.95
ISBN: 9780976022510

The theme behind this superb eleven tale anthology is the title town Mistwillow in Colorado at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The contributions vary from a ghost sending faxes to his descendents to solve a family mystery (“Jilly and the Ghost” by Sally Clark) to a ghost returning home in an urn a century after his parents died in an earthquake (“Return Me to Mistwillow” by Terry Wright) to an amusing “Mistwillow Crime Wave” by Suzanne Young in which a dedicated sheriff receives several confessions on a homicide.

Each tale is well written by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with many being haunting such as the Iraq war vet who comes to “Amy’s World” by Cindi Myers or the serial killer who comes “Full Circle” from his childhood demons by Charlie Calloway. Others are grounded as the wife no longer accepts being a “Sparring Partner” by Jeff Shelby or the WWII home front drama of “Bingo” by Jedeane MacDonald in which a young woman leads amateurs fighting a fire on her first day as fire chief. Whether it is political rivalries Steve and Jennie opening a time capsule (“It’s About Time” by Janet Lane) or Addie learning “Death Lessons” at eight years old during WWI or Thomas adding a special ingredient to his “Kilning Spree” pottery (by Lauren Patten), all are fun to read. The anthology ranges from paranormal to suspense to mystery with no clinkers as readers will enjoy visiting the short stories that make up TALES FROM MISTWILLOW just like Amanda eventually does in “Mistwillow Day’s” by Liz Hills.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 23, 2007

Accidentally Yours-Susan Mallory

Accidentally Yours
Susan Mallory
Harlequin HQN, Jan 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780373772056

In Seattle, single mom Kerri Sullivan knows she is running out of time for her nine year old son Cody is slowly dying from Gilliar’s Disease. Her only hope to save her offspring is the mercy and money of Nathan King, whose son died of that illness six years ago as researcher Dr. Abram Wallace was on the verge of a breakthrough in his lab before the fire destroyed his workplace. She has taken work at the Grill where King eats although she knows the rumors that he lost his heart when his son died. She confronts him when he comes for lunch and he tells her to leave; she is fired and escorted out with no success at obtaining his financial backing of Wallace.

Based on a tip from his chauffeur Tim, her new plan is to pretend to the media that King cares and is putting up the money. Nathan fumes as he prefers controlling his publicity, but has little choice if he does not want the wrath of motherhood that could impact business. However, though feeling trapped he has a price to charge this ferocious single mom.

This is five tissue box tear jerker that will leave the audience weeping throughout hoping for a miracle. The underlying theme is medical miracles need funding to help achieve them. Readers will admire the lead female character as she refuses to give up while much of the support cast like Abram’s long time assistant Linda and the townsfolk of Songwood believe in him. With a strong caring support cast, fans will answer Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?” in the affirmative when Susan Mallory is the inspirer.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other Stories-Nadine Gordimer

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other Stories
Nadine Gordimer
FSG, Nov 27 2007, $21.00
ISBN: 9780374109820

This thirteen short story anthology focuses on the theme of how people identify themselves; more from a need to belong today than from heritage and family history especially if the backdrop is horrific like the Holocaust; as the past vanishes like an “etchosketch”. Each of the fascinating entries will leave the audience pondering what it means to be a third generation living in a “foreign” land that is home in every connotation; even if it is the same land your ancestors occupied. What occurred to one’s ancestors in the mother country a few generations ago only matters if the present makes it matter as roots are irrelevant unless today’s descendents make it otherwise. All the contributions are well written and adhere to the basic concept. The most mesmerizing is “Alternate Ending” in which Nadine Gordimer tells the same tale from the “First Sense”, “Second Sense” and “Third Sense”; perspective is everything. The title track is also terrific as a Londoner goes to Kimberly, South Africa pondering who he is related to as race is irrelevant. This is a thought provoking winner as never forget atrocities may be significant, but the present conditions rule.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Elvis Takes a Back Seat-Leanna Ellis

Elvis Takes a Back Seat
Leanna Ellis
Broadman & Holman, Jan 2008, $14.99
ISBN 9780805446968

In Texas fortyish widow Claudia feels all alone as her parents and child previously died and now she organizes some of her recently deceased husband’s items for a garage sale she is holding. However, amongst her spouse’s belongings she finds a note he must have wrote just before dying. His last request was to have Claudia return a weird bust of Elvis that she had planned to sell to Memphis.

Claudia would prefer not to drive to Tennessee, but foolishly told her sexagenarian Aunt Rae, who knew the King and pushes her niece to do her late husband’s final bidding as a way they can come together. Thus, Claudia, Aunt Rae and acerbic fifteen years old pregnant Ivy, daughter of a family friend, drive from Texas to Tennessee while ELVIS TAKES A BACK SEAT to these three traveling females who bond on the road and in Memphis especially after Graceland.

Once Leanna Ellis decides between homage to Elvis and emote end of the world sister angst the story line turns into a deep character study of the three females. Ironically when ELVIS TAKES A BACK SEAT to the threesome while on the road; the trio overwhelm the readers with their melodramatic torment that apparently is hyperbolic humor that reads awkward. In Memphis Elvis moves to the front and so do the women who come across as genuine with issues in which they bond. Overall an entertaining tale of three generations of women finding their way through Elvis (each chapter reflectively is titled with an Elvis song).

Harriet Klausner

My Beautiful Disaster-Michelle Buckman

My Beautiful Disaster
Michelle Buckman
NAVPRESS Think, Oct 2007, $12.99
ISBN: 9781600060830

Having been outside enviously looking at the in crowd, Dixie Chambers feels she has made it when she gets to join the popular kids and attend the best parties. Life has never been better for Dixie until she meets rock and roll singer Vince Evans. She vows to do whatever it takes to make him her boyfriend even if it does not feel right.

However, once he gets what he wants from her, he ignores her. When Dixie learns she is pregnant, Vince could not care at all as that is her foolish problem. Feeling all alone and afraid to tell her parents, Dixie blames God for her current mess. Although she realizes that Vince and her new pals will not be there for her; her former best friend who she dumped would stand by her as a BFF does and so will the Lord if she embraces him.

The Pathway teen tale (see Maggie Come Lately; not reviewed) is a fascinating character study starring a young girl who just wanted to be in, but faces the complex issue of pregnancy. Michelle Buckman makes her case that even in the darkest moment faith in God helps an individual confront their demons. This is a well written inspirational young adult tale that will have readings think about their choices while giving hope even if the selection turns out wrong.

Harriet Klausner