Thursday, January 31, 2008

An Irish Country Village-Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Village
Patrick Taylor
Forge, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780765316240

In the 1960s having decided to practice medicine in Balleybucklebo, Northern Ireland, (see AN IRISH COUNTRY DOCTOR) Barry Laverty begins his “apprenticeship working for Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, a local legend. He finds the wide range of patients with their diverse problems fascinating and keeps him attentive. Barry also quickly learns why his mentor is a superstar amongst the working class and he admires the grumpy Fingal. This is not so much due to his medical healing but more because he gets involved in the social affairs of the villagers.

Currently Fingal battles the council who want to change the Black Swan pub from a popular local establishment into a touristy thing to bring in more money. Barry also finds his attraction for engineering student Patricia Spence growing even as he fears yet hopes she will soon go to Cambridge. Finally he faces a malpractice lawsuit from a widow whose husband he misdiagnosed.

This warm sequel to AN IRISH COUNTRY DOCTOR is an entertaining tale that brings to life a small village in the 1960s. The storyline is character driven as the eccentric locals bring time and place to the foreground. Dr. Fingal is somewhat the stereotype of the grumpy caring aging doctor, but no one will care as he brings extra heart to the mix. Fans will enjoy the continuing saga of Dr. Barry Laverty as he holds the insightful tale together while growing into the heir apparent to the village doctor.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blue-Eyed Devil-Lisa Kleypas

Blue-Eyed Devil
Lisa Kleypas
St. Martin's, Mar 2008, $19.95
ISBN 9780312351649

The daughter of a Houston energy tycoon, Haven Travis was born with a golden spoon. Hardy Cates is her opposite having grownup in East Texas poverty. They meet and sparks fly, but she is engaged to marry Nick Tanner, who her dad believes is not good enough for his beloved daughter in spite of his affluent background.

When Haven elopes with Nick her father cuts her off without a cent. An angry Nick blames Haven and batters her. She flees for the safety of her home where she finds her father and Hardy squabbling over a business deal. Hardy offers her comfort as they fall in love, but she fears commitment following the beatings Nick gave her and the estrangement with her family especially her father.

The key to this entertaining strong contemporary romance is the lead female character who has issues with her family, her abusive spouse and herself that show up at her job and even in bed. Readers who appreciate reality in their romances will want to read this insightful look at the aftermath impact of abuse long after the physical wounds have healed; love and passion do not necessarily heal the mental trauma even with the nurturing passionate care of a loving person.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Heart Remembers-Kim Vogel Sawyer

My Heart Remembers
Kim Vogel Sawyer
Bethany House, Mar 2008
ISBN: 9780764204937

In 1886 New York City, the tenement fire killed Ma and Da Gallagher, leaving their three offspring orphaned. The oldest eight year old Maelle has no time for grief as she watches adults split the trio into different families. She gives the new parents of baby Molly the family bible; and she gives her brother Mattie the family photo. She vows to them to one day find them even as everyone calls her Mike as her short haircut leaves her looking like a boy.

In 1902 Louisiana, traveling photographer Mike Watts continues her search for Mattie and Molly. Mattie has spent a lifetime being discarded by one family after another as he currently lives in Texas. Teenaged Molly was too young to remember the fire, her siblings, her biological parents, or even her birth name as the only family Isabelle as she is called ever had was the Standlers of Kansas City and they just died; but her older Standler brother scornfully informs her who she truly is.

Although the plot device of having siblings separated via the orphan trains with one eventually seeking the others has been used a lot, Kim Vogel Sawyer refreshes it in MY HEART REMEMBERS by rotating the story line between the three lead characters. Thus the audience obtains a deep look at what happened to the trio a decade and a half after the fire radically changed each of their lives. Historical fiction fans will appreciate the saga of the three Gallaghers.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bound-Sally Gunning

Sally Gunning
Morrow, Apr 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780061240256

With the family patriarch in the colonies, the rest of the Coles travel from London to the New World to join him in 1756. During the harsh sea voyage, seven year old Alice watches her mom and brothers die. In Boston her father rids himself of the burden of raising her by indenturing her for the next eleven years to the Morton family of Dedham.

Alice does housework, but is treated like a daughter for the most part by her Morton owners. She and ten-years-old Abigail "Nabby" Morton become friends. When Nabby marries Emery Verley of Medfield, her parents transfer her indenture contract to their new son-in-law. However, she is treated with disdain and abuse so she runs away. She makes it to Cape Cod where Lyddie Berry (see THE WIDOW’S WAR) and her companion Eben Freeman shower her with kindness and give her a home and a job. Everything looks good until Alice realizes she is pregnant.

BOUND is an insightful look back at the horrors of the late colonial period’s indentured servant system that included selling children into servitude. Readers will be stunned by the horrors of what happens to Alice in her second assignment. In many ways a cautionary tale that claims economics often trumps freedom especially for impoverished people, Sally Gunning provides a well written thought provoking mid eighteenth century thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade-Nicole Galland

Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade
Nicole Galland
Harper, Feb 2008, $15.95
ISBN: 9780060841805

The nomadic musician left Britain to tour the continent, but when he reaches Venice he decides to join the Fourth Crusade. There he meets resolute believer Germanic knight Gregor of Mainz, the intrepid warrior’s father-in-law the leader of the crusade Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, and in disguise as an Arab Princess Jewish healer Jamila of Alexandria, whom the wanderer rescues.

However, a lack of capital slows down the crusaders from achieving their goal to retake Jerusalem. To keep their quest alive, they first sack the Christian city of Zara and surround Constantinople. As the musician, Jamila and Gregor try to perform good deeds; the crusaders have other desires enflamed by Boniface, who plans to use his expendable force to gain increased power and wealth.

CROSSED is entertaining historical thriller that looks deep at the way leaders manipulate their supporters for avaricious reasons. The musician without a name and Jamila are developed enough to bring the thirteenth century to life. On the other hand Boniface seems so one dimensional and a cruel nasty sort, one must wonder how he lined up support. Gregor steals the show as he changes from idealistic zealot to disillusioned realist.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wife Goes On-Leslie Lehr

Wife Goes On
Leslie Lehr
Kensington, Mar 2008, $14.00
ISBN 9780758222411

In Los Angeles four women who share in common failed marriages meet for the first time at a furniture store. They become close friends. In spite of two young children, Diane ended her marriage due to her spouse’s gambling addiction. Lana’s relationship to a Hollywood hunk died while the tabloids and late night TV turned her into a dumb joke as he publicly cheated on her. Former homecoming queen Bonnie remains married to a martinet husband still reliving his football glory days until he bucks their marriage leaving her with two children in holy singleness.

Diane learns that Annette resides in the house her ex gambled away. Bonnie nearly emotionally collapses while choosing a coffee table with Lana’s help. Soon the foursome turns to one another for mental support and little favors.

WIFE GOES ON is a compassionate look at female survivors of the divorce war forming a bond of sisters. Each member of the quartet is unique with divergent issues, but is there for one another. Although the selfish childish husbands come across as one dimensional deserving of being raw meat at a vampire convention, fans will enjoy this often amusing but always deep look at the aftermath of ending a for worse only relationship as life for the ex wife goes on

Harriet Klausner

The Memory of Water-Karen White

The Memory of Water
Karen White
NAL, Mar 2008, $14.00
ISBN 9780451223036

After being away from her hometown for almost a decade, Arizona school teacher Marnie Maitland returns home to McLellanville, South Carolina. She only came back to the Low Country because her former brother-in-law Quinn begged her to help her nine-year-old nephew Gil whom she has never met.

As Marnie and Gil connect and to a lesser degree she with Quinn, her sister Diana resents her intruding in the life of her son and for that matter hers. Marnie realizes her sibling is angry with her and assumes the reason is the boating accident when they were kids that killed their mother while they survived. Whereas Marnie recalls little of that fatal day, Diana has tied the accident to the “Maitland Curse” that has haunted the family for decades.

THE MEMORY OF WATER is a strong family drama due to the four prime players feeling real especially their flawed interrelationships. The story line smoothly changes viewpoint between the quartet so the audience sees different looks at the same event or issue; especially how the sisters interpret their mother’s death. With a final plausible yet surprising twist, readers will be LEARNING TO BREATHE while waiting for her next tale.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Philosopher's Apprentice-James Morrow

The Philosopher's Apprentice
James Morrow
Morrow, Mar 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780061351440

A Philosophy PH.D candidate withdraws his application after losing a heated argument re his dissertation; the only thing left for him to obtain his doctorate. Mason Ambrose accepts work tutoring seventeen year old Londa Sabacthani, who suffered a severe head injury that destroyed her morality. Her brilliant mother molecular geneticist Edwina wants Mason to help her daughter regain what she lost.

Mason travels to Edwina’s home on Ilsa de Sangre of the Florida Keys to work with Londa, who tells him she is an only child. Soon after he arrives Mason finds on the next estate five-year-old Donya living with two tutors trying to help her regain her lost "rectitude" following a brain injury occurring from a bicycle accident. Donya insists she is an only child whose mother is Edwina. The three tutors share notes and conclude after some other snooping that Edwina is a female Dr. Frankenstein.

This is an excellent satirical look at American ethics re business, science, politics, and the family with seemingly nonsensical actions yet retains its feasibility. This is mostly because the solid cast rings genuine especially the kids. For instance Londa takes her new learned ethics to the business community. Fans who appreciate something different but entertainingly well written and thought provoking will want to follow the teaching escapades of THE PHILOSOPHER'S APPRENTICE.

Harriet Klausner

Forgive Me-Amanda Eyre Ward

Forgive Me
Amanda Eyre Ward
Random House, Feb 2008, $13.00
ISBN: 9780345494474

Thirtyish international journalist Nadine travels the hot spots of the globe in pursut of the story. However, when she journeyed to a small village outside Mexico City to interview the parents of twelve recently murdered young boys, two thugs battered her breaking ribs and more. When Nadine regains consciousness she finds herself in the Cape Cod B&B owned by her estranged father and his fiancée. Dr. Duarte provides her needed medical care.

Nadine feels this is the last place she wants to be while healing. She reads in the paper an article on a local couple traveling to Cape Town, South Africa to attend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. The pair needs to hear why a black woman killed their white son in 1988. Nadine feels a deep need to cover the story so without official backing, she flies to Cape Town, a place where she lost the love of her life. She meets grieving Americans; who give her their late son’s boyhood journal.

FORGIVE ME is an interesting morality drama starring an interesting protagonist who believes the story comes before her safety although her Mexican incident has left her with doubts. The tale cleverly uses the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings to spotlight Apartheid, but could have been any prejudicial ism especially state sponsored. The journal that the parents give Nadine leads to her reflecting back on her failed relationships with her father and her soulmate. Although some spins feel forced and false, fans will appreciate Amanda Eyre Ward’s deep look at motivation of individuals and countries.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Blue Star- Tony Earley

The Blue Star
Tony Earley
Little, Brown, Mar 2008, $23.99
ISBN 9780316199070

In 1941 in Aliceville, North Carolina seventeen year old high school senior Jim Glass loves fellow student Chrissie Steppe, but can do little about his attraction. Chrissie has a boyfriend, Jim’s buddy Arthur “Bucky” Bucklaw who joined the navy; complicating matters for Jim is her family owes his family a lot of money. Still he vows to one day make Chrissie his girlfriend.

He turns to his paternal models for advice; his Uncles Coran and Zeno coach Jim on winning the heart of a girl. However, everything abruptly changes December 7, 1941 in which his quest seems childish when compared to Bucky being stationed on the USS California which was hit by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. For that matter Jim, like many of his peers, wonders if staying in school to play baseball until he graduates is more important than fighting for his country immediately.

Seven years have passed since the adventures of JIM THE BOY (not read) as he has matured from a precocious ten yea old to a still growing up high school student in love when WWII intercedes. Patriotism becomes a key theme as an odd triangle forms. Readers will appreciate the true sacrifice (not the DC pandering) the military makes to serve. However, it is the impact on Jim and his high school peers who are of an age to join and feel the need to do so that makes the sequel a strong look at America going to war.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Trouble the Water-Nicole Seitz

Trouble the Water
Nicole Seitz
Thomas Nelson, Mar 2008, $14.99
ISBN 9781595544001

Forty something Honor believes her life is over as her marriage is history and she is unemployed. Deep in her psyche, Honor believes she deserves both and worse as she now feels there is something lacking in her that makes her contemptible not fit to be loved by anyone. Even knowing she cannot run away from herself, she flees to St. Anne’s Isle off the South Carolina coast.

Honor attempts suicide, but the islander Gullah nannies intercede and prevent her from succeeding. They nurse her back to physical health and shower her with love that brings emotional contentment. Honor moves in with another somewhat wounded adoptee Duchess. Soon she begins to paint and contacts her sister Alice. When Honor informs Alice she has cancer, the younger sibling reassesses her successful life that looks like a failure next to her dying sibling’s recent lust for life.

The three females (Honor, Duchess and Alice) rotate perspective so the audience gets to understand what motivates each of them. Adding to that insight is the back and forth major highlights of each of their lives over the past eight years. However, there is too much happening with each of these females so that none of their problems to include loneliness, physical and mental abuse, depression, and suicidal tendencies is looked at as profoundly deep as the well written TROUBLED THE WATER should. Still fans who appreciate a look into a troubled person trying to find a life preserver will enjoy this fine inspirational tale.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Cure for Modern Life-Lisa Tucker

The Cure for Modern Life
Lisa Tucker
Atria, Mar 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780743492799

In Philadelphia they were young and in love with plans. Now they have become enemy combatants. Amelia Johannsen has devoted her life to helping the poor; while business executive Matthew Connelly has devoted his life to making money.

On a freezing night, Matthew walks to his loft across a bridge only to be accosted by a desperate ten year old child. Danny “the knight” as he calls himself that night pleads with Matthew to help his three years old sister Isabelle as both are homeless. Matthew wants to rid himself of the pest, but Danny refuses because he knows what will happen to his sibling. One thing leads to another with Danny involving Matthew who involves Amelia who involves their old college friend Ben.

This is a terrific character driven morality tale in which Lisa Tucker makes the case that it takes people caring about the welfare of others to make an ethical society. Danny is a fascinating character as he uses several names depending on who he hits upon and classifies his marks; for instance he assumes on first impression that Matthew is a selfish Republican SOB. Amelia is the bleeding heart liberal while Matthew is the cold hearted conservative and Ben is the pragmatic middle that the two extreme sides assume lacks passion. THE CURE FOR MODERN LIFE is truly to care and help other people.

Harriet Klausner

The Cure for Modern Life-Lisa Tucker

The Cure for Modern Life
Lisa Tucker
Atria, Mar 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780743492799

In Philadelphia they were young and in love with plans. Now they have become enemy combatants. Amelia Johannsen has devoted her life to helping the poor; while business executive Matthew Connelly has devoted his life to making money.

On a freezing night, Matthew walks to his loft across a bridge only to be accosted by a desperate ten year old child. Danny “the knight” as he calls himself that night pleads with Matthew to help his three years old sister Isabelle as both are homeless. Matthew wants to rid himself of the pest, but Danny refuses because he knows what will happen to his sibling. One thing leads to another with Danny involving Matthew who involves Amelia who involves their old college friend Ben.

This is a terrific character driven morality tale in which Lisa Tucker makes the case that it takes people caring about the welfare of others to make an ethical society. Danny is a fascinating character as he uses several names depending on who he hits upon and classifies his marks; for instance he assumes on first impression that Matthew is a selfish Republican SOB. Amelia is the bleeding heart liberal while Matthew is the cold hearted conservative and Ben is the pragmatic middle that the two extreme sides assume lacks passion. THE CURE FOR MODERN LIFE is truly to care and help other people.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Last Beach Bungalow-Jennie Nash

The Last Beach Bungalow
Jennie Nash
Berkley, Feb 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425219270

The fifth anniversary of her being cancer free has arrived for April Newton; but she does not feel like celebrating the milestone. Physically she may be doing well, but mentally she is depressed. She believes her once close relationship with her husband is slowly eroding even as he constructs their “dream home”.

Instead she finds contentment with a nearby Redondo Beach bungalow, whose owner Peg has put up for sale. Instead of the dream house she prefers THE LAST BEACH BUNGALOW. However, she wonders how much she will hurt her husband if she tells him how she feels.

This is a fascinating character study of a woman who has physically defeated cancer, but mentally is still fighting windmills. April is a wonderful person struggling with the dilemma of whether to tell or not to tell her spouse as that is the question she must face. If she tells him how she feels, she will hurt him as he is building their new dream house out of love for her; if she does not, she will go deeper into depression and he will know something is wrong. THE LAST BEACH BUNGALOW is a strong family drama that realistically looks deep at after the cancer is gone.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Someday-Karen Kingsbury

Karen Kingsbury
Tyndale, Feb 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780842387491

In Bloomington all the extended families of the Baxters gather at the hospital where Ashley gives birth to Sarah, who died a few hours later. Although everyone knew the baby would not survive, they all grieve their loss and turn to God for solace. Patriarch widower John Baxter decides to propose to Elaine Denning who has brought much to his life even as he still loves and reveres the memory of his late first wife. However, he fears the reactions of his adult children.

Three weeks after the funeral that still haunts everyone, John’s son Hollywood actor Dayne Matthews and Dayne’s wife Katy travel to different countries to film movies. However, on location the tabloids have a field day with Dayne caught in a compromising position that could destroy his marriage. Luke Baxter also seems to have wandered away from his vows while John and Elaine end their relationship.

Fans of the series will mourn the death of the newborn as the Baxters especially Ashley and her spouse Landon struggle to understand why God would allow such a tragedy. There will not be a dry eye in the house especially when Ashley, the inspirational moral fiber of this tale, begins to believe in the miracle of Sarah. Although an affair seems out of place, readers will enjoy this warm tale as Ashley knows that SOMEDAY she and Sarah will be together looking down to help future Baxter descendents find the Lord.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Next Level-David Gregory

The Next Level
David Gregory
Waterbrook, Feb 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781400072439

Logan Bell quit his first job after graduating with a business degree; he hated his boss the jerk and felt out of place as a human resource specialist. He would prefer to play games, but dad the business executive keeps asking the question: have you found your next job?

He visits Universal Systems where the number two guy the Director asks him what he wants to be; he says an organizational development analyst who looks for problems. The Director hires him as the first OD in the massive organization and sends him to the first level to analyze what he sees and report back to him his findings. When the Director feels he understands that level, he will go on to study Levels 2-5 sequentially. Logan soon realizes that the employees of Level 1 never perform anything related to the goals of the company. The Director sends him to Level 2 as Logan begins to understand how Universal Systems operates and makes a profit.

This entertaining easy to read and comprehend parable actually works on two levels. First there is an obvious business application involving the staff working to achieve the company’s strategic goals instead of their own agenda or their individual interpretation of the top management objectives. However, on a much deeper level, David Gregory makes a case that for people to feel their life is complete with a high sense of self actualization they must look beyond themselves to choose freely to encompass God’s plan for guidance; for that is maximizing one’s self on the fifth level. Although enjoyable with a fascinating concept, this reviewer doubts many readers will take to heart David Gregory’s well written “parable of finding your place in life”.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Payback-Melody Carlson

Melody Carlson
Multnomah, Feb 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781590529348

The Portland, Oregon police especially Detective Ebony Hamilton take seriously any visions that high school student Samantha McGregor has as the teen has helped on recent cases (see BAD CONNECTION, PLAYING WITH FIRE and BEYOND REACH). Ebony, who was her late dad’s partner, and Sam believe her visions are a gift from God to help people.

However, recently she has had three seemingly separate sets of visions. The first involves her mother’s new boyfriend Steven, whom Sam does not like; the second entails a terrorist act at a gala that she thinks is a prom; the other line of visions is the bullying of a teem by his peers. Sam talks with Ebony about all three. The cops and Sam attend local proms hoping to avoid a disaster. Meanwhile her mom complains about missing money from her accounts while Steven apparently has vanished. The three sets of visions will soon become clear hopefully not too late; as Sam requires the patience of Job with the understanding that faith in God even when she does not comprehend why the Lord does what he does is the key to life.

The fourth Secret Life of Samantha McGregor is an entertaining inspirational paranormal crime caper. Readers will appreciate Sam’s dedication and caring as she tries to prevent harm to people as her three visions indicate. Although in real life one cannot thank the Lord too much, in a novel it becomes irritating as readers know of Sam’s strong belief and gratitude. Still, this is a fine entry with a fabulous final twist and filled with moral issues like dealing with teen bullying, identity theft, turning the other cheek, failing to save a soul, and throughout the series the belief that God’s way is the only way.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Liar's Diary-Patry Francis

The Liar's Diary
Patry Francis
Dutton, Feb 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780452289154

Forty something violinist and composer Ali Mather joins the staff of Bridgeway High School as a music teacher. From her first enthusiastic good morning, the newcomer brings a zest for life as well as the need to be the star whenever she is not alone. Ali lists her marital status as separated. The students are also caught up with this dynamo when she initially tells them to call her Ali, but after a visit to the principal’s office she winks and says make that MRS. MATHER.

Observing Ali’s antics is thirtyish school secretary Jeanne Cross, a plain looking reticent woman married to a hunk orthopedic surgeon; their teenage son overweight, dyslexic Jamie attends the school. Surprisingly opposites Jane and Ali become friends as the newcomer sleeps with much younger shop teacher Brian Shagaury and car dealer Jack Butterfield. Ali keeps a detailed diary that includes her belief that someone is stalking her including entering her home; soon her lust for life in the spotlight clashes with Jeanne’s trinity of mother, wife, secretary.

Told from Jeanne’s perceptive, THE LAIR’S DIARY is a fascinating psychological character study that looks deep into the souls of the two female friends and to a lesser degree their family members. Jeanne’s story telling is perfect for the tale as she adds no energy, fitting her personality. Although there are seemingly important moments that get shorted because of the concept of having Jeanne tell the story in her monotonous tone, readers will enjoy this psychological look at opposites converging at a point of no return to what was before.

Harriet Klausner

Back Creek- Leslie Goetsch

Back Creek
Leslie Goetsch
Bancroft, Feb 2008, $19.95
ISBN: 9781890862527

In 1975 in Virginia, eighteen years old Grace Barnett has just graduated from high school and looks forward to attending the University of Virginia in the fall. However, her world collapses starting on Memorial Day when she witnesses a boating accident on a nearby creek that looks like a suicide. On the day of the funeral for boating incident victim Tommy White, Grace’s pregnant older sister Lillian returns home after being away for several years; while their mother quietly leaves without a word. Serving as the referee between two combatants, Grace is yanked on one side by Lillian and the other by their alcoholic father.

Grace continues through the summer in the middle trying to mend the rift between her two loved ones. With only the romantic classics of Austen and the Bronte sisters as solace, a desperate Grace turns to their neighbor Cal, the owner of the boat in which Tommy died; Cal has recently returned from serving in Vietnam. However, he suffers from neurosis caused by battle fatigue syndrome and is little help. Even more anxious as she finds no answers from Jane Eyre, Grace travels to North Carolina intending to bring her mom home, but instead returns to Virginia alone as a powerful hurricane hammers BACK CREEK.

This is an interesting coming of age historical tale starring a teenage forced to grow up seemingly over night. Grace is fabulous as she holds the tale together with her perspective on her family, neighbors, and herself. Unlike her sister who fled to New York, Grace has doubts about leaving this BACK CREEK, but this summer of discontent shows her she has inner strength. Young adult readers will identify with the heroine while their parents will root for her to make it.

Harriet Klausner

The Chocolate Lovers’ Club-Carole Matthews

The Chocolate Lovers’ Club
Carole Matthews
St. Martin’s, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312376666

Lucy Lombard is addicted to one thing, chocolate. Her craving can come in any shape or form as long as it is chocolate. Headaches vanish with one bite. Problems at work instantly vanish with one bite of gooey chocolate. Heartaches do not exist except if she has no chocolate nearby, but so far that has not happened as she is always prepared.

She and three other chocoholic fanatics (Autumn, Nadia and Chantal) formed THE CHOCOLATE LOVERS' CLUB. The quartet meets at Chocolate Heaven to discuss issues that disturb anyone of them where they can toast one another with a bar. It is not the talking and listening that provides this group solace; instead it is the chocolate. Cheating boyfriend, womanizing bosses, an addicted gambling spouse and a failed marriage mean nothing once the foursome take their first nip of eternal sweetness.

THE CHOCOLATE LOVERS' CLUB is an amusing chick lit tale starring four females who believe Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is sweet heaven as they use chocolate as their panacea for anything negative. Besides needing monthly blood tests for diabetes as the anti Atkins Diet, the story line is a lighthearted look at friendship with chocolate being a shallow link that brings this quartet together. Although the friends seem one dimensional, the audience will enjoy this sweet tale that sees the world through chocolate colored glasses.

Harriet Klausner

The Opposite of Love-Julie Buxbaum

The Opposite of Love
Julie Buxbaum
Dial, Jan 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385341226

The night before twenty-nine years old Yale law graduate Emily Haxby dreams of slicing and dicing her boyfriend into Mu Shu Andrew; the next day just before he appears ready to propose she ends their relationship. Her friends are stunned as they thought Emily and Andrew were the perfect couple. More confusing to them is that Emily cannot explain why except that it is her not him. Her best friend tells Emily that she is a masochist.

Emily also worries about her beloved Grandpa Jack, who seems to be fading rapidly; he is everything to her unlike her icy relationship with her father, lieutenant governor Kirk Haxby who wants her to follow in his footsteps by becoming a Manhattan attorney defending big corporations from lawsuits. Instead she escapes the Big Apple, her job and her relationship pressures to spend time with her Grandpa Jack and his best friend at the retirement home. There she learns what life is all about as THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE is not hate; it is a soulless emptiness, but Emily struggles to understand how to refill the void once it has become a vacuum.

This is a fascinating look at a woman who seems to have everything yet feels her life is vacuous as she believes she has nothing worthwhile except for Grandpa Jack; once he dies Emily assumes that except for her memories, she turns empty. Emily is a terrific protagonist struggling with the meaning of life. Although the climax seems too perfect, readers will appreciate Julie Buxbaum’s deep look at THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Four Wives-Wendy Walker

Four Wives
Wendy Walker
St. Martin's, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312367718

In suburbia the four married women meet while working on a public health benefit. Each has relationship issues involving their respective families. Housewife Janie Kirk is cheating on her spouse; lawyer Marie Passeti struggles with her work, her family and a hot intern she desires; affluent Gayle Beck uses prescription drugs to cope with her abusive husband; and a doctor’s spouse and mother Love Welsh receives a letter from her estranged father that shakes her current existence.

As the women become better acquainted with one another; they become aware of each other’s personal issues that send the quartet individually to relook their own problems with a wiser perspective. Especially hitting home to the remaining trio is Love’s agony over whether she wants to have a second chance with her father; as his note of reconciliation brings back a past she prefers to forget.

This look at life in suburbia is an interesting tale that rotates viewpoints between the FOUR WIVES so that the audience gets to understand what specifically disturbs each of them beyond the obvious stereotyping of the women and their husbands. As each of them learn more about the other three, they also comprehend more about themselves. However, the ending does not fit the tone of the well-written story line that throughout Wendy Walker elucidates how complex relationships truly are implying resolutions are filled with opportunity costs not necessarily happy ones.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Just in Case-Meg Rosoff

Just in Case
Meg Rosoff
Plume, Feb 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 978045228976

Infant Charlie Case is just learning to walk when he enters his older brother’s room. Fifteen year old David is not paying attention to his much younger sibling who climbs precariously on the sill of the open bedroom window. Charlie watches a bird fly by as he teeters on the ledge. A greyhound sitting outside nudges him back a bit until David happens to look up; panicky he pulls Charlie off the windowsill.

However the brush with death shakes David to the core while Charlie cannot understand why his brother prevented him from flying with the birds. David begins to see death and disaster on every corner as he begins to comprehend and personify Fate. He decides the only way to beat Fate in the game of personal mortality is to change one’s identity as Fate will seek to harm David Case, but not Justin Case and alters his image accordingly. However, accompanied by a greyhound that no one else sees, his efforts prove futile as he realizes with each next step he takes “This is how the world ends” even as photographer Agnes Bee turns him into the symbol of "doomed youth".

JUST IN CASE is an insightful allegorical look at life and all it offers through Justin’s efforts to avoid what he believes is everyone’s Fate: death. With Fate providing observations on life and death, parents hide in the sand to avoid the issues their teens face. Readers who appreciate a deep thought provoking parable will enjoy Justin Case’s efforts to survive but not live his life.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 7, 2008

I Want Candy-Kim Wong Kellner

I Want Candy
Kim Wong Kellner
Avon, Feb 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780060847982

In San Francisco fourteen years old Candace Ong knows first hand what being Chinese-American truly means. Her Chinese parents work at the Eggroll Wonderland Chinese restaurant. They believe she is their obedient "eggroll girl" working at the restaurant, doing well in school and staying out of trouble.

However that is the Chinese side of her. The American side that she hides from her parents wants to explore the streets of the city with her friend Ruby. Candace envies Ruby as she does not slave in a hot kitchen. That summer Candace has a chance to spend time with Ruby, but can a protected young teen survive the means streets of San Francisco.

Told from Candace’s perspective, readers will appreciate this insightful look at a teenager whose Americanization is at odds with her parents’ Old Country beliefs. Her name symbolizes the issues of assimilation as she has a common American first name and a Chinese surname. Candace is terrific as her parents assume she is their dutiful “eggroll girl” while she explores the mean streets of San Francisco with enthusiasm and awe, but not all she encounters is positive as she meets some appalling people. This is a deep character study of a young teen pulled in two directions by her friends and her parents.

Harriet Klausner

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver-Jenny Gardiner

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver
Jenny Gardiner
Love Spell, Feb 2008
ISBN: 9780505527479

Claire Doolittle wonders what happened to her life. She and her architect spouse Jack are raising five kids, but in the last few years he has become a drill sergeant instead of a loving partner starting with his honey-do list. She looks back fondly at spontaneous sex anywhere, but now allows him access to her once a week as his bossy Ward Cleaver no longer appeals to Lumpy Claire even if she still loves the martinet.

Claire receives an email from her former boyfriend Todd and she fondly remembers having fun with him before he broke her heart. She replies and they begin exchanging emails. Jack needs to go to Miami on a business trip, he plans to take his beautiful office associate Julia with him. Her in-laws offer to watch the five kids so Claire can join Jack in Florida, but he rejects her coming with him. Upset, Claire follows Jack to Miami to see if he is cheating with Julia after seeing them together at an office gala in which her spouse acted like her old Jack, but not for her.

This is an engaging look at a middle age marriage as the two lead characters have become cemented in their ways and spontaneity no longer exists to unite them in fun. Interestingly marriage did not burn the lifestyle of either Claire or Jack though some comprise and change led to an overall consensus; kids nuked their lifestyles. Claire is fabulous as she wants more than being Mrs. Cleaver mother to five, but her Jack expects her to meet his list of demands, keep the kids in line, and take care of his needs; he no longer seems to care about hers. SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER is a deep look at marriage as the relationship goes into the phase of raising children.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Calling Home-Janna McMahan

Calling Home
Janna McMahan
Kensington, Feb 2008, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758221964

In Falling Rock, Kentucky, Roger Lemmons deserts his wife Virginia and their two teen children, eighteen years old Will and fourteen years old Shannon. Roger left the rural backwater town accompanied by a beautician. Although despondent even before her spouse left her, and now worried about their future, Virginia knows the way of the hills is to move on and tale care of business as she did when her dreams were violently destroyed years ago.

Virginia especially sees much of her former self in spirited Shannon. She vows to insure her daughter gets out of Falling Rock by avoiding the errors she made as a teen. As Will has his own issues of abandonment by his dad and feeling like an outsider with the two females in his life, mother and daughter bond closer together with Virginia seeing her “escape” if Shannon makes it, but people have a way of repeating the most awful of truths.

Using music to set the time as the late 1970s, readers will appreciate this strong family drama that looks deep into relationships especially between a mother and her daughter. The rotating perspective of the story line enhances the poignancy; as the Lemmons face extremely difficult choices that with each step turns more complex and disturbing. Life is realistically portrayed as a bi*ch with caveat that somehow the strong thrive. Janna McMahan writes a deep character study of people facing personal problems.

Harriet Klausner

Sunrise-Jacquelyn Cook

Jacquelyn Cook
BelleBooks, Feb 2008, $16.95
ISBN: 9780976876090

In 1849 twentyish educated and wealthy Anne Tracy loathes the stifling lifestyle of an affluent southern belle as her late father, Macon’s second mayor, prepared her for a grand world tour, but he died before they went. Anne enjoys her hometown, but perhaps it is her daddy’s Connecticut Yankee roots that battle with her Georgia peach momma’s blood, but she also detests her social position requires her to marry as that is all a woman can hope for.

Her family arranges for Anne to wed self-made wealthy businessman William Butler Johnston, who is over two decades, her senior. In 1850 they travel to France on their honeymoon and continue on to Italy. When the pair returns to Macon, they are in love, but hide their feelings from one another. They are also determined to build an Italian neo-Renaissance style mansion in the heart of Georgia. The construction begins in 1855, but soon after its completion, the Civil War intrudes as every male is drafted to fight for the Confederacy even someone in his fifties. Anne prays everyday he comes home to her so she can confess to William how much she loves him; something she neglected to tell him before he left for war.

SUNRISE is based on the true story of the marriage between Anne Tracy and William Johnson; in fact their mansion Hay House is called the "Palace of the South" and is on the historical register. Fans of historical biographical fiction will enjoy this interesting tale based on the genuine mid nineteenth century romance whose legeacy remains a strong part of Macon.

Harriet Klausner

The Wedding Machine-Beth Webb Hart

The Wedding Machine
Beth Webb Hart
Nelson, Feb 2008, $14.99
ISBN: 9781595541994

In Jasper, South Carolina the four women met and became close friends starting with a purloined watermelon while attending high school. Over the years they married and had kids of their own, but that sister bond remains tight even in their middle age. Each belongs to the All Saints Episcopal Church and as a unit has become known as “The Wedding Machine”. The all for one and all for four musketeers agree that it time to find spouses for their loved ones.

However not all is perfect in their world; in fact life is a series of disasters in which marriage is just one of them. Elizabeth “Sis” Mims uses pills to dull the ache of losing her loved one; she is considering going out with their church minister, but feels guilty for contemplating that. Ray Montgomery is upset that her daughter is thinking of marrying her fiancĂ© the son of a preacher in his father’s tawdry strip mall church. Hilda Prescott remains reeling from a divorce. Finally a worried “Kitty B.” Blalock struggles with her husband's illnesses.

Readers will enjoy this Steel Magnolia sisterhood of yo’all “Dolly Levy” types, who believe southern hospitality and etiquette are the keys to life. Each face personal crisis in their middle years, but with the support of the other Wedding Machine members they confront their issues with strength. Although at times the story line turns too mint julep, fans will appreciate Beth Webb Hart’s warm regional character study.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 4, 2008

The History of Lucy's Love Life in 10 and a Half Chapters

The History of Lucy's Love Life in 10 and a Half Chapters
Deborah Wright
Plume, Feb 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780452289147

Lucy cannot believe it that her fantasies have more life than her reality. One year seeing Anthony Brown has driven Lucy to total ennui as he fails to compare with her dreams shared with her heroes like Lord Byron, George Clooney and the newsagent who sells her the Daily Telegram. At least in her fantasies these hunks know how to melt a girl’s bone marrow.

Lucy is stunned when research scientist Dr. Kay Merrick fires her as his personal assistant due to tardiness. Irate, she steals his prototype time travel machine. She decides since modern man is Neanderthal when it comes to romance. She plans to use the invention to meet Byron, Casanova, and Leonardo, maybe even Ovid though Lucy does not swing that way and all the other great lovers of history.

Based on the concept that the grass is not greener on the other side, Lucy’s trek to find love in history is an engaging whimsical tale that turns HG Wells and Bill and Ted upside down. The story line is fun as begins her quest with her list of three constantly changing when the new reality fails to come close to her fantasy. However, Lucy is too flighty to be likable. She is unable to show up at work on time, unable to focus on Anthony and his needs, unable to relate her needs to him, and unable to stop day and night dreaming of other men. Still Lucy’s adventures with history’s hunks are fun to follow as her frolics provide a different look at the romantic hero.

Harriet Klausner