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