Thursday, July 31, 2008

Being Elizabeth-Barbara Taylor Bradford

Being Elizabeth
Barbara Taylor Bradford
St. Martin's, Sep 2008, $27.95
ISBN: 0312354630

With the death of Mary Turner, her estranged daughter Elizabeth inherits Deravenel's due to her late father’s will. However, the Board has issues with Elizabeth being in her twenties and with the poor stewardship of her mother. Mary has left the company in financial trouble having removed profits needed for capital reinvestments to assist her husband, Philip Alvarez instead.

However, her influential childhood friend Robert Dunley throws his support to Elizabeth, who he believes is more than capable of turning the company around. As they work together to save Deravenel’s, they initially try to ignore their attraction to one another. However, that proves more difficult than dealing with the Board of Directors as love is more complicated than business relationships.

The latest Deravanel’s family drama continues the saga (see THE RAVENSCAR DYNASTY and THE HEIR) with a fabulous cute twist taken from sixteenth century England and brought to contemporary times. The story line is character driven, as always is the case of a Barbara Taylor Bradford’ sweeping epic. Fans of the author will fully appreciate this fine contemporary in the boardrooms and bedrooms as BEING ELIZABETH is a novel of substance.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Anathem- Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
Morrow, Sep 2008, $29.95
ISBN 9780061474095

In the future on the planet Arbre, great thinkers are clustered behind the “Concent” walls where they control knowledge from the illogical thinking “Saecular” masses. Preadolescents who show a strong logical ability for rational thought are taken away from the masses to be educated as logical scientists or pragmatic mathematicians inside the cloisters. They learn early on their responsibilities as knowledge is power and knowledge used unwisely is dangerous; thus must be coveted and protected.

Nineteen year old Raz showed signs of brilliance when he was eight, he was collected to be trained as a muse. He has become a “Tenner” over his decade plus of intense learning. Thus his time to go outside amongst the low life Saecular is coming; an event he is allowed once every ten years hence a Tenner. However, the cloistered soon realizes a pandemic catastrophe from outer space is coming soon. Much of the older Concent members feel strongly that physical intervention is prohibited as they debate what to do. However, teens like Raz and those he associates with have not lost their need for adventure. Foolishly perhaps without adult supervision and some would say in violation of their elders, they set forth to save Arbre.

This is a fascinating tale mindful of Gulliver’s Travels to Laputa, the flying island of scientists and mathematicians. The debates and discussions on history and the upcoming calamity are enjoyable to follow, but can turn tedious as long stretches purposely lack action; those behind the walls are reflective thinkers not necessarily doers except perhaps the teens. Fans who appreciate a cerebral science fiction thriller with as much philosophizing as action will want to read Neal Stephenson’s brillian, interesting but different ANATHEM.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hell on Earth- David L. Porter

Hell on Earth
David L. Porter
Forge, Aug 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780765313805

At a time when California struggles again with the annual wild fires and other parts of the country also have trouble from out of control infernos, HELL ON EARTH is a timely insightful look at what is going on. The author somewhat personalizes his account by telling how he felt when his own house was destroyed during the 2003 season. However, much of the book is making a scientific case that it will get worse not better based on the combination of global warming and the political and public indifference to the fires (except when a person is personally involved). David L. Porter believes the firestorms have not yet had its perfect storm yet though have come close. The environmental disaster is a Catch 22 as the warmer climate brings in new predators destroying trees and the fires devastating much more adding CO2 into the atmosphere to warm the climate even further. Although well written with a strong scientific case for action and containing many anecdotal examples and showing somewhat the heroic side of the fire fighters and their frustrations, Mr. Porter fails to put a victim’s face on the fires. He mentions names, but never really digs deep into those who lost their lives, loved ones, or property. Still in fairness his premise is to argue we can win the wildfire war, but must take action now starting with declaring war. This is an interesting cautionary book that warns HELL ON EARTH has only begun.

Harriet Klausner

Alexander and Alestria-Shan Sa

Alexander and Alestria
Shan Sa
Harper, Aug 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 0061543543

Macedonian King Philip abuses his heir Alexander though he rationalizes that a monarch must be tough. Queen Olympias offers no protection for her offspring from his dad; instead makes demands on him. Angry Alexander turns abusive towards those weaker than him. However, he widens his outlook to include poetry entirely due to his tutor Aristotle.

When an assassin kills Philip, Alexander is glad not just because he is the king. He feels this is his chance to take out his revenge on his nasty father and showing his superiority to his imperious mother by conquering the world, not just Macedonia. He quickly wins in Greece, Persia and Egypt. However, he finally meets an opponent who matches him in cunning strategy when it comes to war and surpasses him when it comes to love, Queen Alestria of the Amazons; who admires his strength as almost her equal and decides to make Alexander her “wife”.

This refreshing look at Alexander rotates viewpoints between the titled couple and her loyal servant Ania. The story line focuses on the romance between the lead couple although there is wonderful look at the world of the amazons as Shan Sa makes the myths seem like hard core history. Fans of ancient historical romances starring real persona will enjoy ALEXANDER AND ALESTRIA as the great conqueror and the amazon queen meet their perfect opponent to cherish and fight for who is on top.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My Husband's Sweethearts-Bridget Asher

My Husband's Sweethearts
Bridget Asher
Delacorte Press, Aug 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 038534189X

In Philadelphia thirty something Lucy Shoreman loves and hates her fiftyish husband Artie. She left him six months ago when she learned he cheated on her. However, when Artie informs her he is dying, Lucy comes home to help him in his final days. Still she is bitter and finding out other secrets he hid from her increases her acrimony; especially his concealing an illegitimate alienated adult son, John.

She decides life is unfair that she the cuckold one needs to go it alone when he had so many women in his life who shared the good times so let them also share the end times. She calls all the women in his black book and assigns the somewhat stunned females with tasks. She orders her mom, the divorce queen, to arrange the funeral. Finally to herself, she assigns bringing together estranged father and son; though she admits to herself he is a chip off the old hunk block.

The story line is limited as everything focuses on the death countdown; however the ensemble cast make up for this with their differing personalities and reactions to Artie and Lucy. The sharp chick lit asides and the often rancorous exchanges are superseded by a sentiment of doing the right thing even if it kills you. Fans will appreciate this bittersweet final grand "Tour d'Artie".

Harriet Klausner

Just Breathe-Susan Wiggs

Just Breathe
Susan Wiggs
Mira, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 0778325776

In Chicago, Sarah Moon loves her husband of five years Jack Daly. She enjoys her work writing the comic strip Just Breathe whose star Shirl reflects much of the idiosyncrasies Sarah sees in life; but unlike Sarah Shirl often confronts the hypocrisy. Sarah has been undergoing infertility treatment until she came home and saw Jack, who had been struggling to get it up with her, naked and up with his “horsy” business associate.

She leaves heading home to Glenmuir, California while having Shirl represent her frustrations with men, divorce and being in your thirties while living under your mom’s roof. Ironically, Sarah is pregnant and even more sardonic, she and fire chief Will Bonner, a single father, are friends. He was her enemy in high school while his daughter Aurora is her teen replica of loneliness and angst from when she was in high school and, who already has mom issues exponentially compounded by her father and the cartoonist falling in love.

Susan Wiggs shows her greatness with this terrific second chance at love tale as she combines humor with the Shirl comic strip at the start of each chapter with deep angst laden relationship issues. The story line is obviously character driven by the lead couple and Aurora; but what makes this so good is the reader will cry and laugh with the lead trip throughout. Ms. Wiggs provides a superb family drama filled with love.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 26, 2008


St. Martin’s, Aug 1 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 0312375832

Newlywed and recently appointed to the Supreme Court Justice Preston Hendricks still recovers from the stroke he suffered as his memory of the seventy two hours prior to his illness has not yet returned. His wife, Yates Gilchrist partner attorney Ariel Vaughn and his son New York BLACK DOOR erotic club owner Trey Curtis worry if he does. They had a heated tryst before knowing who the other was and each still wants more; in fact it was a drunken Ariel mumbling about f-ing with Trey just before Preston collapsed from his stroke.

Desiring to move amidst the DC A list of celebs, Preston’s assistant Michele Richards plots to replace Ariel as her boss’ wife though she would not mind a tryst with Trey. Married sexagenarian Congressman Laird Forester also wants to make it with Michele. Meanwhile Trey and Ariel still want each other, but feel guilt as he knows better than to violate the “Man Law” especially with his father as the victim and she loves her spouse and not wanting to hurt him; Preston believes his wife is cheating so he considers an affair with Michele.

The third Black Door contemporary tale (see SEDUCTION) is an intriguing entry as the prime players come across as fully developed with flaws that will have readers waiting for a Shakespeare (or at least Peyton Place) tragedy to occur. The story line is driven by the cast; all selfish in some way, as each seeks sexual satisfaction. Soap operatic in design, BETRAYAL is an enjoyable novel that stands alone; but to better understand the history even as Velvet cleverly works in the past into this complicated plot, fans should read the previous two books.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Gone-Away World-Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World
Nick Harkaway
Knopf, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307268860

For a rare time the government’s claims re the Go Away Bomb is not obfuscated with the usual disinformation and misinformation. The assertion that the weapon was not of mass destruction just capable of erasing nasty reality elements made people euphoric with the no damage to property concept. However, the reality modification proved in reality a bit more convoluted as Einstein was right about relativity. Soon after the release of the Go Away Bomb, people’s nightmarish thoughts started to turn into real monsters of the under the bed variety.

The Jorgamund Pipe is built like a belt around the world that releases FOX, an elixir to counteract the Go Away Bomb effect at least for the few kilometers nearby. When a fire threatens the pipe and consequently the shrunk world, Gonzo Lubitsch, his best friend, and their HazMat emergency team go to put out the blaze and repair the damage. They know they enter a world of horrific chaos, but as Gonzo’s pragmatic best friend says that is the norm for his pal going back to childhood under the tutelage of a Kung Fu guru, his military time building a bomb of not mass destruction and seeing its collateral damage shrinking the globe to a small Livable Zone.

With nods to Vonnegut and Pratchett, THE GONE AWAY WORLD is an engaging satirical science fiction cautionary tale that takes a strong anti-war stand based on the justifications proving reality is relative. Those who believe will insure the facts fit their thesis; those who do not likewise (Cheney and Anti Cheney Effects). The story line is non linear as the unnamed best friend narrates by providing readers with Gonzo’s biography. This is for the most part entertaining and relevant even with a final monster twist but also at times at least to the reality envisioned by this reviewer feels as if a sidebar hijacked the plot temporarily. Still cerebral sci fi fans with plenty of time will want to read Nick Harkaway’s thrilling thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Bachelor Degree-Judith Marks-White

Bachelor Degree
Judith Marks-White
Ballantine, Jul 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 0345492390

In New York thirty-eight years old divorcee Samantha Krasner has always felt overwhelmed by her beloved but larger than life mother, Madeleine Krasner-Wolfe. Inanely she thinks her mom has been wealthy widowed twice to her one impoverished divorce and is a noted art collector while she is an assistant at the Cole Gallery.

Madeleine wants her daughter to live life to the fullest as the late Rosalind Russell described her philosophy that “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death”; so she is euphoric when Samantha and hot British artist Blake Hamilton seem to hit it off. However, geography is a factor so Madeleine encourages her daughter to after the gynecologist hunk Spencer Gould or perhaps Mark Robbins. Meanwhile she makes it a family affair when Madeleine decides to go after Spencer’s father Alden, also a gynecologist. To matchmake with the father and son physicians, Madeline arranges medical appoints for her, Samantha, and her niece virginal Celeste.

The upper crust Manhattan-Long Island lifestyle comes across in a vivid manner through the escapades of the Aunt Mame like mom and her often embarrassed daughter. Madeleine is more of a caricature lampooning the elitist affluence right next door to poverty while the rest of the support cast enables the audience to see deep into what makes Samantha tick. Samantha is the star but her chick lit asides are more often cold and cruel instead of cool and comical. Still overall this romp through the world of the nouveau widowed riche is an intriguing look at the indifference of the let them eat cake crumbs crowd.

Harriet Klausner

Off the Menu-Christine Son

Off the Menu
Christine Son
NAL, Aug 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780451224170

A decade ago in high school in Houston, the best friends (Hercules Huang, Whitney Lee and Audrey Henley) encouraged each other to succeed; they did and share valedictorian honors. Over the years the three Asian-Americans remain close friends; meeting once a month to share their latest achievements, their secrets and concerns except for one; none of the trio wants to fail especially in front of their best friends; that fear is so phobic, each rejects their respective dream.

Successful high powered Whitney wants to be a singer; Hercules fears opening a new restaurant; Audrey is frightened that she cannot live up to her adopted parents’ expectations or for that matter that of her friends. They cannot tell the others until that getaway weekend together when each of the late twentyish women reveal their innermost desires only to find their “sisters” encouraging them as they always have done for one another.

The key to this warm contemporary fiction is the three protagonists are different yet similar as each is driven to be perfect” so that their bond seems genuine. Readers will appreciate the support each gives to one another while also accepting the underlying premises that to be human means being imperfect and no matter how close people get to one another there remain hidden aspects. Although there is no action to speak of, fans will enjoy this realistic uplifting character driven sisterhood tale.
Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Holding My Breath-Sidura Ludwig

Holding My Breath
Sidura Ludwig
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Aug 2008, $23.00
ISBN: 0307396223

As a child after hearing the daring exploits of her late Uncle Phil who died flying a plane in Africa during WW II (several years before she was born), Canadian Jew Beth Winnipeg wants to become initially an aviator but then an astronaut. Her parents assume she will outgrow that childish whim as women, Canadian and Jews mean three strikes and your out. However, her life in Winnipeg changes abruptly when her maternal grandmother suddenly dies. Her mom Goldie takes in her younger siblings. Thus as Beth starts elementary school, she suddenly has two older “sisters” with dreams of their own.

Teenage Sarah wants to go either to Hollywood or Broadway as she dreams of becoming an actress or a singer. Reticent Carrie who vows no husband ever pushes her younger niece to go for her desires. Meanwhile Beth’s parents want her to marry a Jew and raise a family in Winnipeg as her mother wants to reach the pinnacle of Manitoban social strata and believes her daughter through marriage is the ticket.

This is an interesting Canadian mid twentieth century historical tale that affirms life goes on whether one faces death, illness, anti-Semitism or abuse. The problem with strictly adhering to let’s move on is that the trauma ends abruptly without deep lasting consequences. This is a charming somewhat compelling family drama as Sidura Ludwig provides a fascinating look at growing up Jewish in Manitoba in the 1950s and 1960s.

Harriet Klausner

From Bad to Worse-Todd and Jedd Hafer

From Bad to Worse
Todd and Jedd Hafer
Think (Navpress), Aug 2006, $12.99ISBN: 1576839702

Teenager Griffin Smith knows he is not in Kansan, the center of the great debate between God vs. coincidence AKA Darwinism. Griff is like most Wheat State residents and probably the brunt of the country thinking not all about whether God or Darwin created the universe. There are more important things in life than worrying whether one has an afterlife or not especially since he is about to begin his second road trip; having barely survived his first with his extended family including the irate coyote he ran over; he still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

This time the itinerary is to go from his California college to Oregon to pick up his childhood friend and secret love Amanda Mac to take her home with him. However he kicks himself for agreeing to his father’s abstinence vow caused by Griff hearing chase when his father said chaste. Amanda Mac is the woman for him though she is unaware of how much he loves her. He also has a secret that he believes will end any chance he has with Amanda Mac, but owes her the truth even as the miles pass without him able to tell her. He knows the family waits for his heroic arrival while he thanks God though he is not sure for what beyond being the modern day teenage Job.

The second Griff tale is a deep biting character driven story in which the hero and everyone he knows has issues that believing in God and even worshipping does not mean instant eraser with a prayer. This concept contrasts with recent claims of evangelists who “sinned” but prayed for cleansing and insisted God answered them. Thus the Hafer brothers provide a realistic, often amusing, but always underlying serious spin to being a teen Christian in the modern world. Young adults will appreciate FROM BAD TO WORSE and the equally poignant BAD IDEA.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Carry Me Home-Sandra Kring

Carry Me Home
Sandra Kring
Delta, Aug 2008, $13.00
ISBN: 9780385338134

In 1940 Wisconsin WWII sixteen year old Earl "Earwig" Gunderman understands from his mom that the fever he suffered fried his brain leaving him struggling with learning new concepts. His older brother Jimmy tries to help Earwig as much as he can. That ends when a drunken Jimmy enlists in the National Guard. With no training, he is sent with equally raw recruits to serve in the Philippines where his unit is destroyed at the Battle of Bataan. With no word about how Jimmy fared, his family except Earwig assumes he died and grieve their loss.

Several years pass until Jimmy finally returns home, but he is not the same person who left. He suffers from battle fatigue after spending the war as a POW. He turns to drink, but Earwig will not allow his beloved older brother to drown himself in pity; nor will widow Eva Leigh.

The first half of this fabulous historical thriller introduces the audience to the Gunderman family and friends who are gung ho patriots in support of the war effort reaching a stunner when mom announces “the army lost Jimmy”. However, the tale becomes excellent with a current relevancy when Jimmy returns from the war bitter, angry and introverted. He and other vets accuse the government of deserting them in Bataan, which infuriates the townsfolk who remain patriotic supporters of the war allowing for no criticism for that helps the enemy. Yet even with that deep poignancy, Earwig owns the story line with his simple pragmatic outlook.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The View From Garden City-Carolyn Baugh

The View From Garden City
Carolyn Baugh
Forge, Aug 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 0765316579

The American female has arrived in Cairo to study at the American University. She befriends six neighbors in Garden City. First there is her Arabic Professor Afkar who introduces the foreigner to more than just the language a she introduces her to Turkish coffee while explaining she remains a pariah who was forced into marrying an abusive husband due to a teen indiscretion. Twenty something Huda marries wealth as directed by her parents though she finds her kind spouse physically repulsive instead of wedding the impoverish man she loves. Part of her acquiescence is due to her mother Karima, a female genital mutilation victim. Huda’s permanently grieving grandmother Selwa gave birth to twelve children, but only three live. The wife of the building’s custodian Yusriyya conceals her pain as her spouse spends more time with his second fertile wife than her. Finally Widow Samira loves her best friend's husband as she always has even when her husband was alive.

This is a superb look at the life of women in Cairo as different generations of females share their loves and hates of their restrictive world with the visiting American student. The story line is more a character study series of vignettes than a novel, but is deep as the audience learns what demons haunt and restrain each of the six Egyptian women. Although the prose can get too flowery descriptive at times, fans will enjoy Carol Baugh’s strong tour as the sextet provide the student and the readers with a fabulous THE VIEW FROM GARDEN CITY.

Harriet Klausner

Gamer Girl-Mari Mancusi

Gamer Girl
Mari Mancusi
Dutton, Sep 2008, $16.99
ISBN: 9780525479956

Maddy Starr did not appreciate how great her life was until her parents separated. She was the collateral damage of the split as she no longer attends an exclusive school in New Hampshire but goes to public Hannah Dustin High School as she now lives with her old fashioned grandmother; hip is out and ancient is in. Her fist day freaks her out as she alienates the in boy Billy Henderson, who with his popular friends makes life miserable for Maddy starting with calling her Freak Girl and becomes their favorite person to harass. No one not even the losers will help Maddy battle the most popular “Haters” as she calls Billy and his clique.

For her birthday, her father sends Maddy Fields of Fantasy computer game. Her character is Elfin Princess Allora, who becomes a powerful mage mentored by Sir Leo the tank. Maddy begins to write a manga comic book based on Allora’s adventures in the FOF realm and starts a manga club at school.

This is a fun teen tale as Maddy goes from popular to freak when she changes schools. She turns to manga art and FOF as a defense mechanism to temporarily escape her mental pain in the real realm. The GAMER GIRL meets on line Sir Leo and in person Chad Murray, but feels fickle as she likes both of them. Young adult readers will appreciate Maddy’s woes as she struggles in real life while escaping albeit temporarily in virtual life.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 21, 2008

The House of Stag-Kage Baker

The House of Stag
Kage Baker
Tor, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780765317452

The Yendri are a gentle innocent people living in contentment in their valley protected from outsiders by mountains until the Riders showed up. They viciously enslave the tranquil Yendri, working them in the fields until they die. Their spiritual guide promises them their freedom from bondage to a new land led by the Promised Child. Meanwhile Gard, a half demon foundling who was banished from the tribe for his violence, keeps attacking the invaders. A baby is found and brought to the Yendri to raise; they assume she is the Promised Child.

Gard gets frozen while trying to climb the mountain and believes he is going to die. Instead he is found and made into a slave by the mages who are bound by magic to live in the mountain.. The mages are evil and decadent and love seeing slaves kill each other in the arena. Gard quickly learns how to maneuver his hosts so they will trust him while he plots his escape. He and the Promised Child known as the Saint are fated to meet and their relationship will change both their worlds.

Kage Baker, author of the Company series, returns to her, THE ANVIL OF THE WORLD realm with a dark fantasist parable. THE HOUSE OF STAG is character driven with the spiritual guide and the Promised Child having differing parallels to the Bible. There is plenty of action, the usual trademark wry but desert dry humor, and tons of intrigue. Gard is the prime star as the half demon shows with his risk taking actions he has a heart of goodness in spite of his nasty reputation. The Saint incongruously has the goodness PR spin, but ironically fans will observe some noted discrepancies in her lifestyle. Biblical references aside, readers will enjoy this magnificent tale.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Matchmaker of Perigord-Julia Stuart

The Matchmaker of Perigord
Julia Stuart
Harper, Aug 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0061435074

Guillaume Ladoucette, the only barber in aging Amour-sur-Belle, France struggles with his business in decline because his customers are reaching the age of baldness. He also is somewhat bored with life in his village except for the elaborate meals in which time has ignored the microwave generation.

The bachelor wonders how he can remake himself and his shop. He comes up with what he assumes is a brilliant plan of being a matchmaker as he knows all there is about love having lost his Emilie years ago to a much wealthier suitor. Guillaume changes his tonsorial shop to Heart's Desire and tests his service with his best friend, Yves Leveque, who suffers heartburn from his failed relationships. After decades away Emilie returns home as an affluent divorcée with plans to restore the town’s rundown chateau to bring back the tourists who once flocked to the village. Guillaume believes she came home for him so the matchmaker works on himself.

This is an engaging whimsical tale that although occurring in the present invokes a bygone pre-Internet era. The characters make the story line fun to read as Guillaume arranges dates that fail yet somehow assist his clients with what they need and not what they want in a sort of turning upside down the belie the customer is always right. Although somewhat padded and the ill-advised use of enchanted “tiles” to resolve some relationship issues seems off kilter in spite of the fanciful quirkiness, fans will enjoy a charming trip to rural France guided by Julia Stuart.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mia the Melodramatic-Eileen Boggess

Mia the Melodramatic
Eileen Boggess
Bancroft, Mar 2008, $19.95
ISBN: 9781890862565

Fifteen years old Mia fears this is going to be the summer of her discontent. Her best friend Lisa is off to some brainy camp and her boyfriend Tim is in Maine visiting his grandparents while she remains in Des Moines. She assesses her options, Mia concludes she can spend her vacation time being the butt of her younger brother Chris’ pranks or she can escape the house by finding a job although employment for a young teen is not easy to find.

Mia obtains work at Little Tyke’s where her role is coming off the bench to replace youthful stage frightened actors; that is when she is not mortifying herself as Playtime Pal the clown. As Tim dates a New England teen, heartbroken Mia considers going out with attractive fellow troupe member Eric.

The heroine has come a long way from MIA THE MEEK as she does things she could not have done before like performing on stage and overcoming a broken heart to dive back into the dating pool. What stays the same is the amusing sibling war with Chris as she matches him prank for prank; young readers will be on the alert when it comes to their breakfast. Yet by summer’s end there is a truce of sorts between the battling sibs. Young adult fans will enjoy the lighthearted MIA THE MELODRAMATIC as the star deals with several relationship calamities although never that deeply.

Harriet Klausner

The Seamstress-Frances De Pontes Peebles

The Seamstress
Frances De Pontes Peebles
Harper, Aug 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0060738871

In 1928 in lawless Northeast Brazil sisters Luzia and Emilia Dos Santos are both talented seamstresses who each dream of a Prince Charming to take them away from the “war” between the affluent “colonels” and the outlaw cangaceiros. However, Luzia knows her chances of marrying a handsome wealthy hunk is zero ever since she was scarred and her arm deformed in a childhood accident. Emilia is a beauty with many men wanting her; albeit all locals.

Two events change the sibling dynamics. Infamous bandit Hawk kidnaps Luzia and their Aunt Sofia dies. Emilia marries wealthy influential Degas Coehlo but remains dissatisfied while Luzia survives her ordeal and soon becomes one of the outlaw cangaceiros. As Luzia becomes notoriously famous as THE SEAMSTRESS, Emilia hides their connection fearing her scornful mother-in-law will toss her back to her rural dirt roots; but her father-in-law the criminologist is going after her sister.

This is a fascinating historical tale of two sisters whose paths diverge yet converge. Interestingly in the lap of luxury, Emilia is unhappy while living dangerously off the land Emilia is contented. Although overly written with too many passive descriptions, fans will appreciate this deep look at life in Brazil in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Harriet Klausner

Off Season-Anne Rivers Siddons

Off Season
Anne Rivers Siddons
Grand Central, Aug 2008, $24.99
ISBN: 0446527874

Fifty three years old Lilly Constable McCall knows she has lived a most fortunate life as she married her beloved soulmate Cam and raised together fine children. He was a highly regarded architect while she was a popular sculptor. They are decades into a loving marriage that both expect would last for many more years. Then their love story ended when Cam died in Edgewater, Maine.

Feeling more than just grief, Lilly feels she has no reason to live. However, she obsesses over going to the family cottage in Edgewater; a place she spent a lot of her childhood there. She muses about the summer of 1962 where Peaches Davenport is jealous of Lilly. not so much because of the material possessions or even the interest Jon Lowell seemed to have with then eleven years old Lilly. It was her parents she coveted. Peaches wanted to be the daughter of a GW professor and the feminist rights activist and artist mother; whereas Lilly hated her father’s total control of her and her mom’s disdain for a tomboyish daughter, preferring cute Caroline Kennedy. However, the middle age Lilly will soon learn you can’t go home even when it feels like déjà vu especially betrayal.

This is an entertaining family drama starring an interesting middle age woman overwhelmed by grief who hopes to recapture her passion for life by returning to a place she cherished at one time although that summer ended in betrayal. Lilly does not handle loss well and soon will have to deal with another death; preferring to cocoon herself into isolation. Readers will root for her to overcome her understandable depression, but will feel blitzed by a climax that seems off key. In spite of the ending, fans of Anne Rivers Siddons will enjoy the deep poignant OFF SEASON.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, July 18, 2008

Domestic Affairs-Eileen Goudge

Domestic Affairs
Eileen Goudge
Vanguard, Aug 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781593154752

In 1982 Greenhaven, Georgia, Abigail and Lila were best friends although the former’s mother worked as a housekeeper to the latter’s affluent family. Abigail also was attracted to Lila’s twin brother Vaughn. However, Lila’s mom accuses Abigail’s mother of stealing, fired her, and tossed mother and daughter into the street.

In present day New York, Abigail runs a successful catering business and is a TV show guest due to a popular cook book she wrote; while she and her husband Kent raise their child Phoebe. However, lately Abigail has been unhappy as Kent ignores her and Phoebe seems frighteningly withdrawn. In that environs Lila arrives impoverished from a factory fire and despondent from her husband’s suicide. She begs for a job for the sake of her son. Abigail hires her frantic former friend as the family housekeeper. However, what has split them for over two decades remains especially with the insult of the job as a reminder of reverse fortunes; but soon current painful issues such as Vaughn reappearing will surface to complicate any chance of reconciliation between the once two best friends.

DOMESTIC AFFAIR is an engaging contemporary tale that focuses on friendship and betrayal. The story line is character driven obviously first by the two lead females, but also enhanced by their extended family members. Although at times the plot veers into soap opera turf, readers will enjoy this fine modern day drama wondering what will happen to each key cast member as the underlying rapport and discord of relationships change.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 17, 2008

That’s (Not Exactly) Amore-Tracey Bateman

That’s (Not Exactly) Amore
Tracey Bateman
FaithWords, Aug 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446698955

In Manhattan, as part of her final semester at interior design school, Laini Sullivan must do a real project. She and her project partner Jazz are assigned to make over Nick Pantalone’s struggling coffee shop. Nick is all for the two young women adding zest to his shop; his nephew Joe opposes what he classifies as her intrusion and detests all her ideas. Almost as bad is the fact that while all her friends seems to have a significant other in their life, she baby-sits on Valentine's Day.

Whereas Joe is outright hostile towards her; police officer Mark Hall, who she recently met, likes her. They begin dating, which upsets Joe, who suddenly acts nice towards a confused Laini, who went from no men to two men in a heartbeat. However, she is “not exactly sure which of her studs makes her heart beat.

The third Drama Queens chick lit tale (see YOU HAD ME AT GOOD-BYE and Catch a rising star) is an amusing angst laden story that starts with Laini’s jocular yet grim aside that she is five feet in seven feet of water. Her asides are humorous, but also poignant and inspirational as the heroine struggles with doubt about herself that makes the choices she has that much more difficult as she has options re her profession and her personal relationships (including with God) but lacks confidence.

Harriet Klausner

Pharmakon-Dirk Wittenborn

Dirk Wittenborn
Viking, Aug 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0670019429

In 1952, Yale University psychopharmacologist Dr. Will Friedrich and psychiatrist Dr. Bunny Winton conduct experiments on volunteer students using a mood enhancer drug that comes from a new Guinea leaf used locally by witch doctors in rituals. Will gives a dose to troubled undergrad Casper Gedsic. The freshman goes on a murdering rampage.

Years after the incident Will still carries deep regret and mountains of guilt. He also does not hide his disappointment in his four “unprofessional” offspring as they fail to meet his standards of acceptable vocations. The youngest Zach has become an addict more than a writer; Fiona becomes a painter, Lucy is an aid worker; and the great hope Willy proves the most inadequate when he leaves acceptable pre-law to study art.

Zach narrates the historical tale of a dysfunctional family whose patriarch has “sock moments” in which he seems so deep in thought he appears comatose. The story line is at its best when the focus is on the experiment and its aftermath especially the impact on the participants. When the plot switches to the Friedrich children, their woes seem mundane compared to the guilt suffered by their father, who has not been able to find a defense mechanism to psychologically adapt to what he wrought. Still fans of family dramas will appreciate this look at the degrees of affect of one tragic incident.

Harriet Klausner

Pharmakon-Dirk Wittenborn

Dirk Wittenborn
Viking, Aug 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0670019429

In 1952, Yale University psychopharmacologist Dr. Will Friedrich and psychiatrist Dr. Bunny Winton conduct experiments on volunteer students using a mood enhancer drug that comes from a new Guinea leaf used locally by witch doctors in rituals. Will gives a dose to troubled undergrad Casper Gedsic. The freshman goes on a murdering rampage.

Years after the incident Will still carries deep regret and mountains of guilt. He also does not hide his disappointment in his four “unprofessional” offspring as they fail to meet his standards of acceptable vocations. The youngest Zach has become an addict more than a writer; Fiona becomes a painter, Lucy is an aid worker; and the great hope Willy proves the most inadequate when he leaves acceptable pre-law to study art.

Zach narrates the historical tale of a dysfunctional family whose patriarch has “sock moments” in which he seems so deep in thought he appears comatose. The story line is at its best when the focus is on the experiment and its aftermath especially the impact on the participants. When the plot switches to the Friedrich children, their woes seem mundane compared to the guilt suffered by their father, who has not been able to find a defense mechanism to psychologically adapt to what he wrought. Still fans of family dramas will appreciate this look at the degrees of affect of one tragic incident.

Harriet Klausner

How Far Is the Ocean from Here-Amy Shearn

How Far Is the Ocean from Here
Amy Shearn
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Jul 2008, $23.00
ISBN: 0307405346

Susannah Prue agreed to serve as a surrogate mother to wealthy Kit and Julian Forsythe, but in the trimester of her pregnancy, she changes her mind and flees. Now "hugely pregnant" Susannah takes refuge at the dilapidated Thunder Lodge motel owned by the elderly Garlands who generally know why a big pregnant big city girl chooses to fall of the map and be buried on the Texas-New Mexico desert.

Susannah finds the other guests and the owner Marlan, who calls her Susie Q, and his family as desperate to hide from the world or at least someone like she is. She makes friends with the owners' mentally impaired teenage son Tim and Alabamian Dicey and her niece Frank. Now Susannah is going to give birth any day, but has no idea what to do about her child, but knows what she does not desire, the disinterested Forsythe couple raising her baby.

The residents of Thunder Lodge are a terrific fully developed eccentric group who forge a family of sorts; on the other hand Kit and Julian are stereotypes of the idle rich with no purpose in life except hedonism. Julian sums it up when he suggests to Kit they should redecorate their home instead of raising a child while Susannah is already carrying. . Still this is a profound character study focusing on the human need for love and belonging with others by answering the deep philosophical title question.

Harriet Klausner

The Bell Messenger-Robert Cornuke with Alton Gansky

The Bell Messenger
Robert Cornuke with Alton Gansky
Howard (Simon & Schuster) , Sep 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9781416549819

In 1865 Virginia Union Army Lieutenant Jeremiah Tate and his men met and killed Confederate soldiers. The Northern military officer also killed a fundamentalist Confer date preacher holding a bible; the victim was known locally as THE BELL MESSENGER for he spread the Lord’s Word to the soldiers. Before he died the preacher gave his bible to Tate along with a letter to his mother stating that a man will come delivering his bible to her. Tate brings the bible to the preacher’s mom, who explains her son wanted him to keep his most precious possession.

Take keeps the bible and saves a little girl’s life. Ruth’s father is grateful and in Tate’s debt forever. Tate meets a Chinese man and saves his life and then gives him the bible. Over the next century, the Bell Messenger’s bible passes through many lives helping people know God blesses everyone as each has a chance at redemption. Now it resides in the present with recent college grad John Brandon, who is fascinated with learning the century and half history of this particular bible.

The Messenger Bell bible is actually the star as it fascinatingly passes from person to person; starting with its Confederacy origins; to San Francisco; to Egypt; to an English WWI solder who finds peace and quiet with the Word on the western front; to Egypt again; and to a Saudi Arabian cave; to the present. Readers get to know each owner reasonably well as their motives, thoughts, and beliefs are presented as much as their actions. Although the concept of telling the vignettes of those owning an item over time has been used before (for instance, THE YELLOW-ROLLS ROYCE) THE BELL MESSENGER is an interesting memorable work.

Harriet Klausner

Dangerous Pleasures-Bertrice Small

Dangerous Pleasures
Bertrice Small
NAL, Aug 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780451223975

In Egret Pointe, fortyish Widow Annie Elizabeth Miller raises five children by herself with no social life since her husband died in London. When her mom calls whining that her dad ignores her for golf, Annie knows this is an omen. Soon the high school calls to inform her that her two oldest Nathaniel and Amy are on detention; that is followed by the middle school informing her that her twins Lily and Rose are suspended. Finally her youngest stay at home Wills rejects the nap that Annie desperately needs.

Her corporate litigator sister Lizzie who knows Annie’s “strength” façade hides a depressed miserable person, submits her name to a contest sponsored by Channel, a spa catering to female desires. Annie wins a week at the spa. She has the time of her life sexually and otherwise. Shockingly she is offered a position at the spa, which would eliminate her financial woes and her sexual abstinence, which she accepts. However, her family, especially her kids who depend on her, wonder how far will success and pleasure spoil Annie Elizabeth Miller.

The sequel to PRIVATE PLEASURES is a pleasurable erotic tale starring a fortyish mother of five who has no life of her own with the only person interested in her well being her sister. The transformation of Annie from only raising five kids to sex siren works; she classically displays defense mechanisms defending herself psychologically with initially altruistic and suppression states to altruistic rationalization s. She defends her changed behavior from a stay at home mom to BDSM and multiple-partners. Fans will enjoy Bertrice Small’s fine character study while pondering the wise wisdom of teenage philosopher Amy that eventually you reach an age that sex does not matter (not).

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everything Nice-Ellen Shanman

Everything Nice
Ellen Shanman
Bantam, Aug 2008, $12.00
ISBN: 9780553591477

In Manhattan Michaela "Mike" Edwards learns the truth when she was fired from her job as a copy writer at A.S. Logan Advertising because she bet on the wrong horse at the office politics race and no one on the other teams wants a woman who cannot relate to other females. No income means no more expensive New York apartment so she moves back in with dear old dad who raised her as a single father and his live in girlfriend.

Mike obtains work as a substitute life skills teacher to a group of seventh-grade girls. She wants to nuke the curriculum which teaches girls to be domestic girlie girls instead of all you can be. Meanwhile, she and visiting Aussie reporter Gunther seem attracted to one another, but he must soon leave the city of "oy vey" pessimism to return to home land of sunny optimism.

Mike is fabulous as a tomboyish kick butt woman who cannot cope with the inane office females arguing over mascara and lipstick color; she prefers to be one of the guys. The story line is fast-paced as she struggles with earning money, residing in the land of barbarians (Brooklyn), teaching girls to cook and sew, and dealing with Gunther who has turned her life upside down. Fans will enjoy Ellen Shanman’s fine chick lit character study as the heroine makes EVERYTHING NICE, RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Matters of Faith-Kristy Kiernan

Matters of Faith
Kristy Kiernan
Berkley, Aug 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425221792

When Marshall Tobias was twelve years old he watched his best friend Ira die in a horrific accident. He grieved his loss with the only solace he found coming from Ira’s brownie making mom. Marshall questioned his faith and searched other paths, but all the jewelry he collected proved to be junk. His parents are upset with his condemnation of a God who would allow such a death, but Marshall will not bend.

He begins to turn to his girlfriend Ada’s belief system in search of solace. Marshall brings Ada to meet his parents who are totally disenchanted with some of her radical thoughts; especially when she espouses prayer and exposure therapy instead of medicine. They become irate when Marshall and Ada try to persuade his sister Meghan to pray for her heath rather than undergo medical treatment. The split family meets in court as her parents demand judicial intervention to insure their daughter receives proper medical care.

This tale digs deep into A MATTER OF FAITH as readers learn how the two opposing camps feels about caring for Meghan’s life threatening food allergies through the perspectives of Marshall and his mother Chloe; each represents a side in the debate. The five prime characters come across genuine making the faith vs. medical science argument that much stronger; fascinatingly Marshall seeking to fill his belief vacuum since Ira died has adopted Ada’s contention, which adds to the overall strength of the novel. Kristy Kiernan provides a strong tale populated by real people divided over what to rely on.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Moonpies and Movie Stars-Amy Wallen

Moonpies and Movie Stars
Amy Wallen
Plume, Jun 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780452288959

In 1976 in Divine, Texas grandmother Ruby Kincaid feels her life is overflowing with family concerns with no time for herself. The widow runs her late husband's bowling alley; serves as mother to her runaway daughter’s abandoned children Bunny and Bubbie whose dad is about to remarry; and finally puts up with her impudent childish sister Loralva. Ruby copes nicely with her “moonpie” lifestyle until she sees her absentee daughter Violet starring in a TV commercial.

Outraged, Ruby decides enough of this inane separation; though she also knows she would not mind a bit of self time. She mounts a save the marriage and family rescue mission. Loading her Winnebago with MoonPies to limit the stops, Ruby, Loralva, Bunny, Bubbie and their paternal grandma Imogene head to Hollywood to bring Victoria home; with an agreed upon side trip to meet Bob Barker on The Price Is Right.

This is an amusing yet angst ridden historical tale in which rural Texas dirt meets Hollywood glitter on Hollywood and Vine. The trek west is fun as long as you are metaphysically arm-chairing the journey. Though some of the capers the Divine trio get into seem strained beyond farcical lampooning, fans will appreciate this interesting look at save the marriage while wondering whether they can succeed when Violet has seen the lights of Hollywood; Americanization of “How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Dragonfly Pool-Eva Ibbotson

The Dragonfly Pool
Eva Ibbotson
Dutton Sep 2008, $17.99
ISBN: 9780525420644

By 1939 most English know war against Hitler is imminent. In London, Dr. James Hamilton worries about his extremely popular daughter Tally, born just before her mother died. Thus when a grateful patient arranges for a scholarship at the remote boarding school Delderton, he accepts because he wants her out of the capital though he knows he, his spinster aunts, his patients, and the neighbors will miss his precocious caring daughter.

Tally is unhappy to leave London, but makes friends with other students on the train. She soon finds she loves the school especially the freedom and the lessons by her counselor and biology teacher Matteo. She continues to help other people as that is her makeup. When she attends a movie that has a newsreel, she is excited by the freedom stand by the King of Bergania, who rejects the Nazis’ demands. When Tally learns of a folk dance festival there, she organizes the students to participate, chaperoned by Matteo. There she meets the lonely twelve year old Crown Prince Karil. However, when his father is assassinated while attending the festival, Karil is in danger by those who hope to appease Hitler. Tally and her friends risk their lives to try to help Karil flee to England.

This is an entertaining historical fiction filled with a can do optimism in spite of the mass murdering madman. Tally is terrific, a sort of preadolescent Mary Poppins assisting others with their problems; the middle school audience will admire her determination and courage as she is an excellent role model. The rest of the key characters are also fully developed though they either move forward the vivid story line or increase understanding of the remarkable heroine. My advanced copy did not contain the illustrations by Kevin Hawkes, but if his entries match that of his work in LIBRARY LION, fans are in for an even greater treat. Early teen readers will dive head first into THE DRAGONFLY POOL while demanding their school be more like Delderton.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bad Idea-Todd & Jedd Hafer

Bad Idea
Todd & Jedd Hafer
Think (NavPress), Aug 2006, $12.99
ISBN: 1576839699

In Kansas, eighteen years old Griffin Smith has just graduated from high school. He looks forward to going away from home where his parents divorced and new relationships in two states have left him confused. His mom married Max the “Mediocre” author while his father is engaged to Rhonda the Cliché a woman closer in age to Griffin than his dad. Griffin plans to fly to Lewis College in Southern California to meet his pen pal Carrot (who he prays is the female of his dreams) and his running teammates.

Dad has other ideas. He decides father and son need to re-bond like they did before the extended family soap opera so he insists on a road trip. However, before Griffin can object, his father includes Rhonda so she too can bond with his son. Also on the drive are Griffin’s five years old brother Colby (a partial bond project for dad and fiancée as he is to be dumped in Topeka at his aunt’s house) and Griffin’s best friend Cole; one stop is to see mom for more bonding.

Griffin knew as soon as the Cliché suggested the road trop that it was a BAD IDEA. However, he soon learns five key life lessons that will stay with him forever so he reassesses the road trip as still being a bad idea worth doing (except for the dead coyote biting him). Readers will enjoy his teen lit commentaries on extended families divided all over the country, going to college, and prayer as he learns through some hallowing experiences what grace under fire truly means. This is a well written at time amusing yet always serious young adult inspirational tale, starring a sensitive high school grad trying to experience the world.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Falling Under-Danielle Younger-Ullman

Falling Under
Danielle Younger-Ullman
Plume, Aug 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780452289659

When she was a young girl, Mara Foster's parents acrimoniously divorced; besides learning Santa was a fraud that Christmas Mara knew dad was never coming back. She took it personally blaming herself and it still affects her relationships as an adult. Mara always sees the dark side to humans as she suffers from the anxiety disorder agoraphobia.

Men do not want to deal with Mara’s issues. That is until she meets Hugo, who wants to be with her in spite of her phobias. He encourages her to move on, but to do so Mara must look deep inside herself; a thought that frightens the young woman, but enough to run from or towards Hugo remains to be seen as she loathes touching and he wants intimacy.

FALLING UNDER is a one woman show as the story line deals with Mara’s phobias that make it impossible for her to have an intimate loving relationship; though in some ways she does have that with her only friend who is as angst laden with demons as she is. The storyline focuses on whether besieged Mara can move past her terrors encouraged by the kind Hugo. Readers who relish a realistic study of a tormented lonely person will appreciate FALLING UNDER as the quince will wonder whether Mara finds her groove or remains tortured in self afflicted hell. PS the ending is realistic but not easy to swallow.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hudson Lake-Laura Mazucca Toops

Hudson Lake
Laura Mazucca Toops
Twilight Times Books, Feb 2007
ISBN: 9781933353579

In 1926, in spite of being out of the way in a remote rural part of Indiana, the hottest jazz spot in the Midwest is the Blue Lantern Club on Hudson Lake. Especially popular amongst aficionados is the Jean Goldkette Orchestra featuring highly regarded Bix Beiderbecke on the coronet.

Bix has come to isolated Indiana to avoid life as he failed at love, family, and now alcohol. Women love the great coronetist, but they accept that in Bix’s mind jazz comes before them; locals and those from Chicago and Indianapolis accept that is part of Bix; his Iowa family never did. Of course I.U. student Harriet understood what a fling with a musician meant until Bix; Joy, a flapper who hangs out with gangsters, also has interest in Bix. However, women and jazz may mix, but the big city mob wants bootlegged alcohol and jazz to mix too; whereas the Ku Klux Klan plans to own the conservative area, which means no big city jazz. Bix has no time for either violent group as his two women have become possessive.

This superb biographical fiction tale brings to life the Jazz Age in the Midwest as the audience gets an in close look at the band, obviously Bix, and their personal issues re doubts about skills and family. The invasions by the KKK and the Chicago mob add depth to the 1920s in Indiana. However, this is Beiderbecke’s tale in every sense as his struggles to be loved and accepted are fraught with self tormenting doubt and self destruction when he could not cope with accolades even as he begged people to praise his work. HUDSON LAKE is a strong historical tale in which the reader gains a vivid glimpse of a bygone Americana era through the travails of Bix and the band.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pleasure U-Carole Hart

Pleasure U
Carole Hart
Berkley, Aug 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 0451224132

Lila is stunned when her high school boyfriend Tad drops her because he says she puts him to sleep in bed as she is boring. Appalled and humiliated, Lila, believing Tad never lies, decides she needs to take a drastic step to improve her performance as she built her entire life dream centered on pleasing Tad.

Lying to her parents about a job in Colorado, Lila the desperate enrolls in Babylona Institute of Sexual Professions, better known as Pleasure U. After the initial shock of the various relationships out in the open, Lila, who thought she would have only Tad, finds her classes are fun and learning how to give and receive pleasure has proved enlightening. However, practical sex education with her peers from both genders looks so yesterday when she wants to go monogamous with big Ben, but only if she gains his heart as much as his penis.

Although superbly written, readers will have problems with the basic concept of a school whose entire curriculum is a degree in sex for young adult twentyish age students; credibility and accreditation aside. The story line actually is a fabulous coming of age tale starring a likable depressed teen whose entire life was planned around the boyfriend she met when she was fifteen. However, at least this reviewer had problems with a school for scandal.

Harriet Klausner


Claudia Mair Burney
David C. Cook, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN 9781434799388

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, due to her health issues, twenty-four years old African-American Regina “Gina” Dolores Merritt is very aware of her fitness as she suffers from bipolar, fibromyalgia and migraines. Gina has tried suicide when her mental wellbeing turned so bleak even for her depressing standard, but miraculously (or in her mind despondently as even Hell rejected her) she survived. She turned to Jesus for salvation for her and her child Zoe as she feels she shares his suffering.

On Ash Wednesday at the Vineyard Church Gina attends, she is stunned and near hysterical when Christ wounds, the stigmata, begins to appear on her. As the flock is in shock with this seeming miracle occurring to the crazy person, word begins to spread around Ann Arbor. Many assume Gina the insane did it to herself as the self proclaimed pious prophets insist Jesus would never pick a certifiable suicidal single mom. However soon afterward, addict Anthony Priest offers his help to the beleaguered stunned single mom as does his estranged mom Veronica Morelli; but even Gina wonders what does either expect to gain with their self-proclaimed pious offers.

This unique inspirational tale is an entreating character study, but not your typical faith fiction. Jesus is treated both as a person with human lovers and as the Son of God; while Gina is the last person anyone would expect as the Chosen One. The story line is told mostly from a first person introspective that rotates amongst the key players; especially fascinating is Gina, the self anointed oldest twenty-four years old person in the world. Through her, the audience obtains an insightful exacting look at sharing Christ's suffering rather than the distant metaphysical metaphor that is like the Iraq War for many Americans. Although there is some intrusive padding involving saints, readers who prefer well written but different spins to their Christian literature will enjoy the crazy woman’s miracle.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 7, 2008

Germania-Brendan McNally

Brendan McNally
Simon & Schuster, Sep 2008, $26.00
ISBN: 1416558829

By March 1945, Albert Speer knows the end of the Third Reich is near. His immediate future is bleak as he and Herr Hitler have had a falling out as Speer sees no miracle to save Germany while the Fuhrer insists victory is soon. If he survives Hitler’s final days, Speer has hopes as the Foreign Ministry believes he will be selected by the allies to run Germany as a technocrat untainted by the atrocities; if not he plans to hide in Greenland. He expects his prime rival will be propaganda genius Heinrich Himmler, who believes he will stand with Ike to repel the Russians out of Europe.

At the same time the Nazi leaders work to spin their recent past into patriotism and fear of the Fuhrer, the Jewish Loerber quadruplets, at one time called the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers before the Nazis broke up the act, have their own personal issues in surviving the war. Manni the assassin uses his mental skills to bend people to his needs. Sebastian can send dreams to multiple people at the same time faked his death to go underground as an operative for the Blood of Israel movement. U-boat captain Ziggy can hear peoples’ thoughts and can bend their thoughts to his wants. Finally Franzi is Himmler’s personal psychic consultant, but also works occult experiments. He, because of his Himmler connection and his counter espionage, is in trouble and his siblings mentally know it; the trio is converging on Franzi inside of beleaguered Germany to rescue him before the fall.

GERMANIA plays out on two levels: that of the siblings trying to rescue one of them and the final days “fantasies” of some of the Nazi’s top leaders. Both subplots are well written and merge quite nicely. However, the fascination is with men like Speers, Himmler, and others who believed strongly they will thrive once the ally occupation began. Readers will appreciate this strong end of WWI historical fiction with its paranormal aspects and the deep look into what some of the German leaders believed was their fate.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Reconstructing Brigid-Lee Nichols

Reconstructing Brigid
Lee Nichols
Red Dress, Aug 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780373895625

In Maine twenty-eight year old Jody Hulfinger was found dead in her under the water car two weeks after she vanished following a tryst with idle middle class Aaron White, who actually is fond of her twin sister Cate. The twins’ father Stanwood, known for his “big money, big noise” and big influence demands the best to solve what happened to his daughter. However, the numero uno accident reconstructionist expert in the country is in hiding following a car accident; Brigid Ashbury is unable to get back on the bike as she suffers from auto-phobia.

However, she agrees to work the case anyway as she has problems accepting a happy woman would commit suicide and what she read in the dossier makes her question a tragic accident. As she begins to uncover clues and connecting the dots, she realizes she is also Reconstructing Brigid at the same time. The evidence begins to point towards Aaron, but Brigid has doubts even as she finds everyone wants her to stop investigating as the Feds and Stanwood feel they have a perfect case against White; however one person in particular is willing to set up an accident to end Brigid’s snooping.

This is a fabulous chick lit whodunit starring a likable heroine struggling with a case of post traumatic stress disorder following her car accident, but unable to resist the investigation. Readers obtain a close look at what an accident reconstructionist must do to “reenact” the event inside of a clever mystery. Lee Nichols provides a one sitting tale that hooks the audience from the moment that Aaron drinks hot chocolate while praying for exoneration but expecting handcuffs.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Good-Bye And Amen-Beth Gutcheon

Good-Bye And Amen
Beth Gutcheon
Morrow, Aug 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780060539078

Still reeling and grieving the tragic deaths of their parents Laurus and Sydney, the three adult Moss children arrive for the middle age mourners’ lottery; in other words what to do with their parents’ possessions. Each comes to the house with differing desires and needs, but it starts off wrong when the youngest and only son Jimmy takes the baby grand piano that the middle offspring Monica wanted. War has begun between the Moss orphans.

The oldest Eleanor Applegate wants things for her four children so will fight for them, but raising four kids makes her believe in fair and share. Monica Faithful wants whatever she can get, but also needs to play fair with her siblings in the Lottery while she struggles in a bad marriage just like she struggled in what she thought was a bad childhood due to her officious snobbish mom. Jimmy Moss has been estranged from his family seemingly forever, but though he is not sure he wants a reconciliation he wants to be fair with his older sisters. Coming into the Lottery fair play is what each wants; now comes the practice as the summer house and the concert Steinway and much more become debated.

The sequel to LEEWAY COTTAGE is an interesting well written extended family drama as the three siblings encouraged by their respective loved ones struggle with the orphans’ lottery while saying GOOD-BYE AND AMEN to their parents. Each of the Moss offspring had issues with their overbearing mother that shapes their thoughts. Superbly written, each character including the extended family members is unique and complete. However, after a while the reiteration of past transgressions turns into whining as the audience will demand the trio complete the task. Still this is a solid look at families at a time of grief and asset divisibility.

Harriet Klausner

That’s What’s Up!-Paula Chase

That’s What’s Up!
Paula Chase
Kensington Dafina, Jul 2008, $9.95
ISBN: 0758225822

At Del Rio Bay High School in Maryland, Mina Mooney is euphoric as she has achieved her dream of making the varsity cheer squad that is competing in the Extreme Nationals at O.C. (Ocean City). She knows that being a cheerleader means hanging out with the in crowd, the Upper Circle at DRB. Mina also looks forward to spending more time with her boyfriend Brian.

However, not everyone welcomes Mina to the top social rung. The reigning queen Jessica Johnson plans to make trouble for Mina when they are in O.C., but puts on a façade of welcome. Her friends have issues too starting with the feeling Mina dumped them to enter the Upper Circle as they do not have a ticket. Lizzie has met Todd, the first boy to distract her from schoolbooks; Kelly is giving ex-hustler Angel a second chance though she has doubts; and Jacinta is thinking of ending her relationship with Raheem for slapping her. Finally Mina finds Craig hanging around her though she wants Brian. The four best friends need each other, but each member of the Del Rio Bay Clique is distracted.

The latest DBR Clique tare (see SO NOT THE DRAMA and DON’T GET IT TWISTED; neither read by me) is a fascinating look at the teen lifestyle in a Maryland high school. The cast is sold though purposely stereotyped to bring out the message that diversity in friendships is good. Readers will see how different the Clique sisters are from one another and yet in spite of their differences and recent spats remain bonded friends. Paula Chase provides a fascinating young adult relationship drama as the quartet struggle with boy problems.

Harriet Klausner

Project Jennifer-Jill Amy Rosenblatt

Project Jennifer
Jill Amy Rosenblatt
Kensington, Aug 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780758223586

Joan knows Nietzsche the late nineteenth century philosopher is at fault that her former fiancé Michael, whose relationship skills are shallower than a wading pool, married the "Jennifer", super person taking what she wants from the weak and meek. On top of losing Michael to a stronger predator, Joan’s boss Fred Lutz, who attended the infamous wedding, fires her as she got the cushy job as a favor to Michael; he needs to give the job to a friend of Jennifer. Finally affirming bad things come in three, her landlord Christine kicks her out of the apartment because she needs it for her recently married niece.

Joan is sick of being kicked to the curb. She vows to become Nietzsche’s superwoman a Jennifer. However as she asserts herself, her friends and her widow mom thinks she is turning into an aggressive bitch. After interviews with Attila the Hun, Felix Unger and Madam Van Winkle, she obtains a new personal assistant position to Tim Wells while Project Jennifer succeeds.

This is an engaging chick lit tale with a deep message of “to thine own self be true”, which fascinatingly mirrors the tale; the heroine is at her most interesting as confused, flawed but likable Joan and at her least when she becomes a Jennifer clone. The support cast is solid especially her ex, her two best friends, her mom, and of course her image of the Jennifer. Although the tale loses some steam when Joan becomes superwoman Jennifer, fans will enjoy her metamorphosis while wondering will she revert back to being Joan who everyone admires.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Matter Of Wife & Death-Ginger Kolbaba & Christy Scannell

A Matter Of Wife & Death
Ginger Kolbaba & Christy Scannell
Howard, Jul 2008, $$12.99
ISBN: 9781416543886

The five pastors’ wives of Red River, Ohio meet every Tuesday at Lulu’s Café, forty miles from their churches in order to nosh and commiserate. They share their woes that they cannot tell anyone else even their husbands.

Mimi Plaisance left teaching to be a stay at home mother to her four preadolescent children, but the newborn Milo is driving her insane as he always cries. Mimi never sleeps except when driving as she feels like his personal 24/7 slave.

“Golden” Kitty Fleming remains a snob as her spouse pastors the largest congregation. She is the self anointed Queen of the Southwest Pastors’ Wives fellowship society, but fears being on top means others want to displace her.

Jennifer Shores is the church secretary where her husband Sam is the pastor, but she wants children and has none after a decade of marriage. She is even jealous of the single moms she councils at the crisis pregnancy center even though she knows their lives are hard.

Lisa Barton is a stay at home mom to her two teens. She has the DNA for being a pastor as her parents are the pastors of a nearby church. However, her daughter Callie is rebelling and causing problems for them at the church with her behavior.

Public relations guru Felicia Lopez-Morrison came with her husband and their now four year old child from Los Angeles two years ago. She worries that her firm will close the Cincinnati office where she works and that her son has reverted back to his terrible twos biting people.

Although rotating the story lines of five lead characters is a bit overwhelming (novellas seems more suited), each of the wives seem real and their woes genuine. Each has problems that they handle differently with Mimi’s proving quite a stunner. Fans will enjoy dining and gossiping at Lulu’s café with the pastoral quintet (see Desperate Pastors' Wives).
Harriet Klausner

The Shack-William P. Young

The Shack
William P. Young
Windblown Media, Jul 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780964729247

Mackenzie Allen Philips married up when Nanette Samuelson said yes over three decades ago in Oregon. They had three boys and two girls. The two older boys have left the nest while Josh remains at home along with the older daughter Kat. The youngest child Missy was abducted four years ago during a family vacation; evidence found in an isolated shack led to the conclusion she was brutally murdered.

Since her death, Mack has lived in a fog state, The Great Sadness as he accuses that Great Interferer God for letting an innocent die. Now during a nasty ice storm while his wife and the two at home kids visit relatives in Washington State, Mack receives a strange letter in the family mail box not delivered by the post office. “Papa” asks him to meet him at THE SHACK. Although his entire essence says to ignore the missive, he heads towards the aptly named Hells Canyon National Recreation Area to confront this Papa and hopefully gain closure; Mack will learn more than he bargained for from Papa who vows to always wipe away the tears as more will occur over the years.

This is an interesting contemporary inspirational tale in which a still grieving father learns the truth about his late daughter and why bad things happen to the innocent. Mack confronts Papa asking him why while Papa responds without the philosophical babble of free will by saying his dead child will be in his heart for eternity. A fabulous twist enhances the plot as Mack learns he used the Great Sadness to repel his family when they need him most. Fans will appreciate this strong character driven tragedy as William Young provides a deep angst laden story line in which Mack and the audience understand God is there for us at our gravest moments when we feel most abandoned to help us through the dark into the light.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Shortie Like Mine-Ni-Ni Simone

Shortie Like Mine
Ni-Ni Simone
Dafina, Aug 2008, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758228390

In Newark size fourteen sixteen years old Seven “Big Mama” McKnight struggles somewhat with self esteem as the thickest person on her clique, but being bigger also makes her feel she is fly. However, she is worried about her twin sister Toi who sneaks out of the house to be with her hood of a boyfriend. She also hides her feelings for the school’s star baler Josiah, who is seeing her friend Deeyah.

When Melvin “Big Country” arrives from Murfreesboro, North Carolina, he likes Big Mama whom he calls “Shawtie”, but she rejects his passes. Instead her best friend Shae begins seeing him. Meanwhile Deeyah starts playing with Josiah’s enemy Dollah; so Josiah dumps her and begins trying to get Seven to go with him. Seven wants to fly with Josiah, but also fears destroying their clique, but that may be too late as she and Shae are on one side of the divide and Deeyah with Ki-Ki and Yaanah on the other.

This is an entertaining character driven urban teen relationship drama that brings alive an inner city extended clique. Seven holds the story line together as the 360 degree focus with her struggles between loyalties pulling her in differing directions. She wants to do right by her friends, her family, Josiah; and others, but realizes someone probably her will be hurt regardless of what she does even doing nothing. The hip hop vernacular adds freshness that enables the young adult reader to feel even closer to the strong cast especially the superstar Seven as fans will say yeah-yeah to Ni-Ni Simone’s superb in the hood teen tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Jewel of Gresham Green- Lawanna Blackwell

The Jewel of Gresham Green
Lawanna Blackwell
Bethany House, Aug 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780764205118

Fearing for the safety of her daughter though she too is in danger, Jewel Libby flees her home; heeding the advice of trusted friends she journeys to rustic Gresham to ask the Vicar Andrew Phelps and his wife Julia Hollis for sanctuary for her and her child. They take the newcomers into their home.

Meanwhile Andrew and Julia are concerned about their relationship with her two adult children. Aleda the writer has become a hermit who wants nothing to do with anyone even her mother. Philip the surgeon is being pulled into opposite directions as he his wife loathes his closeness to his extended family and makes efforts to pull him away from them. When Andrew becomes ill, he needs Philip’s medical skills, but efforts to help his stepfather angers his spouse. Meanwhile, Aleda inadvertently abets a nasty individual causing problems for the Gresham villagers especially her mom and ailing stepfather. Ironically fearful in hiding Jewel becomes a gem as she brings compassion and caring to a family in trouble.

Fans of the Gresham Chronicles will relish this jewel of a tale as Lawanna Blackwell continues the account with more of a focus on Aleda’s two adult children. The story line is character driven by the extended family which also includes Jewel and her daughter. Ironically they provide the lesson and inspiration to the extended Phelps-Hollis households of second chances and everyone needs someone who cares them and who they can care about too. THE JEWEL OF GRESHAM GREEN is a strong addition to a great saga.

Harriet Klausner

Unbridled Dreams-Stephanie Grace Whitson

Unbridled Dreams
Stephanie Grace Whitson
Bethany House, Aug 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780764203275

All seventeen year old Irmagard Friedrich dreams of is riding a horse as Liberty Belle at the Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show. However, her mother insists Irmagard behave like a lady and attend Brownell finishing school.

On her journey east to attend school, her father arranges for Irmagard to slip away to audition for the Buffalo Bill gala. She obtains the position of Liberty Belle, horse-rider, but touring the country proves difficult as she expected accolades not mud. Meanwhile the troupe’s superstar Shep Sterling tries to court Irmagard, but she ignores his attention as she focuses on being the best trick rider the Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show has ever had, while knowing the estrangement of following her dream is causing with her mom.

UNBRIDLED DREAMS is a wonderful late nineteenth century Americana romance starring two likable lead characters and a strong support cast including the horses. The story line is filled with subtle messages interwoven into the exciting often amusing plot. Besides the obvious believing in oneself to chase your dreams, parents should encourage their children to pursue their dreams (sort of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young’s Teach Your Children blended with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet in a western setting). Stephanie Grace Whitson provides her fans with a wonderful historical.

Harriet Klausner

Unbridled Dreams-Stephanie Grace Whitson

Unbridled Dreams
Stephanie Grace Whitson
Bethany House, Aug 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780764203275

All seventeen year old Irmagard Friedrich dreams of is riding a horse as Liberty Belle at the Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show. However, her mother insists Irmagard behave like a lady and attend Brownell finishing school.

On her journey east to attend school, her father arranges for Irmagard to slip away to audition for the Buffalo Bill gala. She obtains the position of Liberty Belle, horse-rider, but touring the country proves difficult as she expected accolades not mud. Meanwhile the troupe’s superstar Shep Sterling tries to court Irmagard, but she ignores his attention as she focuses on being the best trick rider the Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show has ever had, while knowing the estrangement of following her dream is causing with her mom.

UNBRIDLED DREAMS is a wonderful late nineteenth century Americana romance starring two likable lead characters and a strong support cast including the horses. The story line is filled with subtle messages interwoven into the exciting often amusing plot. Besides the obvious believing in oneself to chase your dreams, parents should encourage their children to pursue their dreams (sort of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young’s Teach Your Children blended with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet in a western setting). Stephanie Grace Whitson provides her fans with a wonderful historical.

Harriet Klausner

Faking Grace-Tamara Leigh

Faking Grace
Tamara Leigh
Multnomah, Aug 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781590529294

In Nashville, part time Seattle Sound reporter Maizy Grace Stewart is financially struggling. When Steeple Side Christian Resources offers her a job, Maizy applies and is hired. However, there is one prerequisite to the job; one must be a practicing Christian. Maizy barely can spell the word Christian, but figures she can fake piety as good as anyone in the flock, starting with dropping her first name and heeding the guidance of the “Dumb Blonde’s Guide to Christianity” reference book even if she is not a blonde or much of a Christian.

She actually pats herself on the back with her Oscar winning performance until her newspaper editor Linda Stillwater asks her to research drug use among church going Christian teens starting with her church. Then there is Jack Prentiss who works at the paper and goes to the same church. He knows she is a sham and has doubts about her investigation into Steeple Side for an article that exposes their sins. Although uncomfortable with the assignment, Maizy knows this is her opportunity, but she is attracted to Jack who seems to know her too well.

The author uses humor as a device to lighten the tale and strengthen the message of everyone needs to forgive and receive forgiveness from their transgressions. Maizy’s guide book brings amusement to the mix as she applies it as her Gospel although at times it leaves her in odd situations. Jack is a wonderful counterpart as he is not sure whether to strangle or kiss his amazing Grace. Fans will appreciate Maizy’s FAKING GRACE inspirational romance.

Harriet Klausner

April Fool-John Neufeld

April Fool
John Neufeld
Grey Swan Press, Jul 2008, $16.95
ISBN: 9780980037739

In affluent Connecticut semi retired political campaign consultant George Willett envies his late dad; his father remarried late in life after his first wife died. Hypochondriac George, who rushes to emergency rooms and doctors as a way of life though he is physically healthy, is bored with his spouse dutiful Peg and even considers hiring a hit man.

He especially wants to rid himself of his wife when he meets author and writing instructor Valerie Herrick in New York City. They begin exchanging warm emails as she lives in Arizona. He also considers coming out of retirement to work the California recall governor initiative though his memory of the odious Bushwhacking of the Cleland campaign in Georgia still leaves a bitter aftertaste. However, first before he can regain his lost youth this Boomer needs to rid himself of Peg.

This odd contemporary character study focuses on an aging eccentric boomer who lives comfortably, but regrets his major choices in life starting with Peg. After meeting Valerie, he decides she is the person who will make the rest of his life worth living, but he understands he must rid himself of Peg. An incredibly developed character somewhat at the expense of the overall plot, fans will not like George, but will empathize with his disappointments in himself that he manifests with his anxiety attacks and his projection of blaming Peg. George’s political work cleverly sets the time just before the California recall ballot in this deep well written but difficult tale that sets a high quality bar as the boomer books begin.

Shadows of Colossus- T. L. Higley

Shadows of Colossus
T. L. Higley
B&H. Aug 2008, $14.99
ISBN: 9780805447309

By 227 B.C. on the island of Rhodes, Tessa of Delos has reconciled with the belief she will never be free. Instead for the past decade she has been an enslaved hetaeira courtesan to affluent politician Glaucus. Now on the anniversary day, she decides the only escape is suicide. However, fate intervenes when her owner dies violently.

She sees an opportunity to escape by hiding his death from authorities. She also knows the risk of being caught is probably execution. Others, hoping to develop a kinder society based on democracy, take chances by abetting Tessa on her quest to escape bondage.

Starting ten days before the “quake” that leveled the five decade plus old statue, this is an engaging inspirational ancient historical thriller. The story line is fast-paced with a fascinating “Christian” message two plus centuries before the Christ as told by Jews and compared with local Hellenistic paganism adding depth to the overall visit to this Greek island. However, because of the fascination with the overall theme, more background into this particular one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World would have made this fine tale into a colossal thriller; yet this is still a terrific look at Greece over two millennia ago.

Harriet Klausner