Sunday, August 31, 2008

Feast of Saint Bertie-Kathleen Popa

Feast of Saint Bertie
Kathleen Popa
David C. Cook, Sep 2008
ISBN: 9781434799876

In Saratoga, Roberta “Bertie” Denys buries her famous in Silicon Valley husband Larry who suffered from Parkinson ’s disease. Her only regret is their adult son Garrett failed to show up at the funeral; Garrett vanished four months ago. After the burial, Bertie comes home to find her house on fire; an arsonist struck. Her neighbor Suzanne takes her into her home.

Bertie moves into a rural shed where she plans to pray every three hours and learn what her visions mean. There she meets pregnant general store owner pregnant and single India, Russ, his ex wife Brenda and his ex partner Gil who is Brenda’s second husband. Russ and his former father in law Boyd repair Bertie’s roof. Bertie also helps at a food kitchen for the homeless where she sees Garrett who came in for a meal. He promises to visit her soon even as letters from her late spouse begin to arrive once a week to help her move on.

This inspirational character study stars a strong female protagonist trying to move on after the death of her beloved spouse who suffered for quite awhile with his debilitating illness. Part of her adjustment is from taking care of her late husband. As she seeks an inner peace through prayer, Bertie wonders if she can find this need for “all shall be well” without first finding her son. With a strong eccentric support cast, fans will enjoy Kathleen Popa’s fine contemporary.

Harriet Klausner

The Secret's in the Sauce-Linda Evans Shepherd and Marie Everson

The Secret's in the Sauce
Linda Evans Shepherd and Marie Everson
Revell, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780800732080

In Summit View, Colorado following the wedding of Evangeline and Vernon catered by the Potluck Club members, the women believe they have proven how good they are as everyone enjoyed the food. They decide to open up a catering business.

They find success preparing meals for galas. However, while their cooking and catering are proving triumphant, each has personal issues to face. One of the members turns to alcohol; another’s torrid ancient history affair surfaces; a third just lost her beloved parent; and finally a fourth must choose between two lovers. They turn to one another for solace.

The Potluck Club crowd decides to become professional caterers at a time when each of the members have personal issues. The rotating lead never gets deep into anyone’s particular woes so their problems are minimized; almost trivialized. Still fans of the series will enjoy the latest optimistic entry as the Potluck Club turns professional.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Broken-Daniel Clay

Daniel Clay
Harper, Sep 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0061561045

In Southampton eleven year old Skunk Cunningham lives with her father, brother and au pair. Skunk watches bully Bob Oswald batter teenager Rick Buckley; a few minutes after beating Rick up badly, Bob reports to the cops that the nineteen years old Buckley raped his thirteen year old daughter Susan. No one messes with one of Oswald’s five daughters as the patriarch is not concerned with the truth; in this case the police Dr. Mortimer affirms Susan is a virgin. Charges were dropped.

Skunk avoids the Oswald girls like they have the plague as they are as insane and violent as their dad. Meanwhile Rick is afraid to go outside because he knows Oswald is not through with pummeling him. Finally unable to remain self incarcerated as he is going crazy, Rick reenters society looking for someone to beat up.

Although the plot is skeletal, this is a dark bleak character study. The Oswald brood is a fascinating family as Bob’s argument that Rick harmed his daughter is based on fear she overtly displays; he is unable to take responsibility that her fear is of him. However, it is the metamorphosis of Rick from frightened shadow to avenger against those he feels affronted him like the female his age who told him his pecker was microscopic as well as the Oswalds. Not for everyone as the desolation and hopelessness oozes throughout, fans who appreciate the dark side of human interactivity will want to read aptly titled BROKEN.
Harriet Klausner

The House Of Allerbrook-Valerie Anand

The House Of Allerbrook
Valerie Anand
Mira, Oct 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0778326012

In 1535 unmarried Sybil Sweetwater is unable to take her post at court because she is carrying the child of married tenant farmer Andrew Shearer. Her parents send Sybil into family exile and their sixteen year old daughter pragmatic Jane is to serve at the court of King Henry VIII. Jane enjoys her time there especially as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne of Cleves but, her monarch’s persistent sexual assaults frighten her so she flees the court for Allerbrook assisted by Peter Carew.

Jane’s brother Francis, now the family patriarch, is irate with his sibling’s failure to appease the appetite of the king and bring acclaim not disdain on the Sweetwater family. Additionally, a witness at the court fabricates what occurred. To punish Jane and appease King Henry, Francis forces Jane to marry much older farmer Harry Hudd. Although not used to the hard working of the land, Jane adjusts in part because of their son Tobias. When her brother suddenly dies, Allerbrook becomes Jane’s; she plans changes in the lifestyles of her and her child.

This engaging sixteenth century historical tale pulls no punches when it comes to the plight of women of all walks of life in England as females are less valuable than cattle except in terms of bearing an heir. Told over five decades, fans who enjoy a sweeping saga will appreciate the impact of royal intrigue on the HOUSE OF ALLERBROOK.

Harriet Klausner

The Appearing-Kristen Wisen

The Appearing
Kristen Wisen
Credo House, May 2008, $24.99
ISBN: 9780978762087

Not to far in the future Homeland Security establishes the Domestic Investigations Unit to spy on churches and close them down if they break any of the anti-intolerance laws. In Russia, Russian Preident Alexander Magorum has formed the Federation of World Powers and gets the Arabs to let the Jews build a new Temple. He is working towards a a one currency and one religion in his new world order; taking advantage of corruption to bring all nations under his command. At the midpoint of what some call the Great Tribulation, Alexander holds a news conference in his Jerusalem Temple; he reveals himself to be Hitler who was rescued by Lucifer after being in Hell for 666 months.

He wants the people who believe in him to wear his mark and those that refuse will die. At Gracee Church, the elders who studied the end of times know the world is entering a period of extreme violence and injustice. They move to caves in the North Carolina Mountains hidden by God’s angels so that the authorities cannot kill them. They are all true believers except for one who spies on them; this modern day Judas gives photos and other incriminating evidence to the authorities. Only God can protect them if he sends his son again.

With some overall nods to obviously the bible and to the Tom LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins Left Behind saga, this is a fascinating tale of the rise of the Anti-Christ with billions joining him; as few recall what he did in WWII and will again because he has pandemic plans to eradicate non-believers. The Rapture comes at the beginning of the Great Tribulation but differs from Left Behind in several key ways; this refreshes the religious thriller. There is plenty of action and no wisely preaching yet Kristen Wisen makes her beliefs known.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gilding Lily-Tatiana Boncompagni

Gilding Lily
Tatiana Boncompagni
Avon, Sep 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0061451010

Lily Grace moves from Nashville to New York with plans of taking Manhattan by storm. She becomes very popular amidst the elite social class and meets educated wealthy charmer Robert Bartholomew. They marry.

When Lily becomes pregnant, Robert loses interest in her as she gains weight and is no longer the it “Girl of the moment”. He quits his job as a lawyer and begins spending time with his socialite mother who never wanted the southern belle as her daughter-in-law. Lily begins writing lifestyle articles that allows her reentrance into the high society world her pregnancy kicked her from, but she is treated with distain led by Robert’s mother.

Using hyperbole as an amusing saber, Tatiana Boncompagni provides a fascinating look at what people will accept in order to belong to a group that treats “outsiders” as pet rocks. Lily holds the tale together with her need to be part of the upper crust elitist crowd whose motto ought to be “Let them eat cake off our Persian rugs”. Humorous yet somewhat sad as the human need to belong supersedes self actualization even when the members disdain you as inferior. This is a well written insightful contemporary tale in which readers will like the desperate Lily and root for her to find the grace of telling her spouse, her in-laws and the wealthy in crowd to pound rocks although at the same time the audience knows her inclination is in the opposite direction.

Harriet Klausner

The Outsider-Ann H. Gabhart

The Outsider
Ann H. Gabhart
Revell, Aug 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 0800732391

In 1812 twenty-year-old Shaker Sister Gabrielle Hope has visions that enable her to see the future. Still she is steadfast to her commitment she and mom made in 1807 when they moved to Harmony Hill and adheres to her religious beliefs.

However, a kiss from visiting widower Dr. Brice Scott makes her wonder if the Shaker life of celibacy that she and her mother have vowed to follow is for her. As Brice’s kind gentle words stir a passion of forbidden love inside her, she begins to reconsider her vows especially since the community separates moms and daughters leaving her no one to consult with about her feelings.

Using a potential taboo romance more as a mechanism than as the prime plot theme, Ann H. Gabhart provides a deep look at the Shaker Movement during the War of 1812. Well written, historical fans learn about the impact of celibacy on the Shakers including some who fail to adapt and commit suicide. Although none of the characters including Gabrielle display any deep passion about anything even death, which in fairness fits in some ways the Shaker society expectations of the flock, fans will enjoy this interesting War of 1812 tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Blessed-Lisa T. Bergren

The Blessed
Lisa T. Bergren
Berkley, Sep 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780425223420

The Gifted are a group of thirteen men, women and children from all walks of life; each endowed with a gift from God who sends them on a mission. According to a glass map they must travel to Avignon where the papacy is headquartered. They have a message to deliver to Pope Cornelius, but the evil men endowed with the Dark One’s powers try to prevent them from reaching him. Vincenzo de Bruce and his mentor Abramo fail n their attempt to kill them.

Daria D’Angelo who was betrayed by her Uncle Vincenzo is a healer who when demonstrated God’s powers she seems to convert most who observe her. The defection of her uncle hurts her badly and she hates Abramo who held her prisoner doing horrific things to her. She and the other Gifted know what awaits them in Avignon; corruption of the Cardinals by their enemies and influencing the pope byf the Gifted who now have a loyal following from believers. A showdown is coming with the Gifted praying they are victorious.

The third tale in the Gifted trilogy (see BETRAYED and BEGOTTEN) comes to a glorious finish. The de facto leader of the group is Daria, a strong independent woman who willingly suffers for God, but remains steadfast in her love and worship of Him. Besides wanting to clean out the depraved at the papal Court, the Gifted believe that the Word needs to be spoken in the native dialect and a worshipper do not a middle man priest to pray to God. This religious thriller is enthralling, filled with action and fascinating characters, and many messages, not all subtle, for the reader to ponder.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sunset-Karen Kingsbury

Karen Kingsbury
Tyndale, Sep 23 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 0842387587

Dayne and Katy Matthews leave the bright lights of Hollywood to begin anew their life in Bloomington, Indiana where they plan to raise a family and to run the local Christian Kid’s Theater; their first production is coming soon. While Cody Coleman fights in Iraq, Bailey Flanagan tries out for a role at the CKT while struggling with her feelings for the deployed soldier.

The family patriarch widower John Baxter and Elaine Denning are getting married. He knows he must sell the family home that ahs meant so much to everyone. However as endings occur with new beginnings, faith, love and friendship guide everyone through the dramatic upheavals of radical change.

As with the previous books in the Baxter family saga (see SOMEDAY, SUMMER and SUNRISE), redemption and faith are recurring themes inside an engaging character driven tale. The Baxters are moving on but it is not easy to leave behind the evidence of their memories though they each know the time is right to do so. Sub-genre fans will want to read Karen Kingsbury’s Baxter family tales as love and faith are powerful twin engines in the hands of this superb author.

Harriet Klausner

Company of Liars-Karen Maitland

Company of Liars
Karen Maitland
Delacorte, Oct 2008, $24.00
ISBN 9780385341691

In 1348 England, many believe the devil is everywhere as the plague has killed numerous people and torrential storms seem endless. Hope is gone whether one is aristocratic or peasant as are crops adding to the vicious cycle of death.

Nine desperate travelers with no connection except fear band together on a journey to the south where it is reported the devil has not landed. As they make their way across a pestilent land, none reveal who they are especially their most precious deadly secret yet each has a tale to tell. Increasingly it appears none will make their destination and if they do are they bringing the devil’s Black Plague with them.

With obvious homage to the Canterbury Tales, Karen Maitland paints a dark grim historical as the nine travelers expect death to greet them every step of the way. The story line offers no hope except for the Grim Reaper and undertakers as England is hammered by the pandemic plague and horrific weather making life for the survivors miserable as no one is safe from pestilence, famine, and exposure. Not an easy read as every page oozes with despondency and death, the COMPANY OF LIARS is a powerful look through he travelers at the year England almost died.

Harriet Klausner

This Year's Model-Carol Alt

This Year's Model
Carol Alt
Avon, Sep 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780061366246

Trying to earn some money before going off to the University of Penn; tall Melody Ann Craft works as a server at the Porter House in Morristown, New Jersey. On his way back to civilization after visiting family in Cleveland, photographer Jonathan Novak stops on the barbaric side of the Hudson to grab a bite to eat. Melody Ann is his server and he thinks she is a beauty who displays decorum and cool calmness with a nice smile. He says he is not a stalker, leaves her with his business card and tells her to call the Manhattan model agencies using his name as a reference. He leaves her a nice tip before finishing his drive back to what he considers the real world.

Although cynical Melody calls and soon finds herself in Manhattan learning what it takes to be a supermodel. She is sent on shoots with photographers who must have been part of the Spanish Inquisition in a previous life and finds her peers detest rivals. However, Mac struggles with the male model hunks and huggable who are temptation. Still she wants to make it in Manhattan, but remain an ethical Jersey girl; a seemingly impossible mission.

THIS YEAR’S MODEL is an exposure of what happens behind the scenes in the world of modeling as seen through an increasingly former innocent turning cynical gilded. Character drive the story line especially the Jersey teen who tries to avoid the drug scene, the hunk scene, and the cat fight scene; which leaves her somewhat remaining as an outsider. Although nothing new, Carol Alt provides a deep look “beyond the glory”, glitter and glamour to the ugly underside of super modeling.

Harriet Klausner

Magic and the Modern Girl-Mindy Klasky

Magic and the Modern Girl
Mindy Klasky
Red Dress Ink, Oct 2008, $13.95
ISBN 9780373895779

In Washington, D.C. reference librarian Jane Madison left the coven because she was unhappy with the attitudes of many of her witch peers. She also decides to take a hiatus from spell-casting.

Six months later, Jane tries her bewitching power only to be shocked as she has none. Adding to her dismay is someone destroyed her witching accouterments. Jane questions her feline familiar openly gay Neko and her best friend Melissa White, but learns nothing new except she is under a witch assault. Desperate she turns to David Montrose, her protector and astral bodyguard before summoning Ariel to restore her magical powers. Instead nothing goes right with the enchantment as Ariel has become an artsy celebrity with a little more than fifteen of almost famous. Soon Jane, her grandma and Neko are in trouble by an unknown assailant who wants her magically deboned while she goes out with archtiect Will Becker but wants instead her astral defender.

The sequel to SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL continues the misadventures of the chick lit witch librarian as this time she loses her power. The story line is lighthearted fun as readers, her familiar, her grandma and her astral bodygaurd wonder what happened to Jane. Althouhg the plot is thin, fans and jane will want to know the answer to that key magical question.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

White Christmas Pie-Wanda E. Brunstetter

White Christmas Pie
Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour, Sep 2008, $10.97
ISBN: 9781587899376

Sixteen years may have passed since his widower father Frank dumped him unceremoniously on an Amish couple, but Will Henderson never fully moved beyond his bitterness. Regina and Mark Stoltzus raised Will in love, but the abandonment leaves him filled with anger especially around Christmas time.

His fiancée, Karen Yoder tries to help him come to grips with his biological dad leaving him with the Stoltzus, but fails to reach her beloved Will. Frank never expected years to pass when he left his son behind with friends of his late wife; he needed steady work when he left with plans to come back for Will. An accident leaves Will in dire need as Frank’s second wife encourages her remorseful guilt laden husband to see his son.

'WHITE CHRISTMAS PIE is a superb inspirational family drama as the prime cast confront major issues especially abandonment. Fans will find it interesting how each of the prime players feels the impact of the abandonment differently. The Stoltzus feel Frank did the right thing out of love and honored them with the greatest gift he could give them. Frank feels guilt that so depresses him his second wife fears for his well being. Karen knows how much the abandonment hurts the soul of her beloved fiancé, but is unsure of what to do. However, Will makes the tale as the adult remains emotionally battered by the child left behind. Wanda E. Brunstetter provides her fans with a touching tale of who makes up a real family.

Harriet Klausner

Back to Life-Kristin Billerbeck

Back to Life
Kristin Billerbeck
Avon, Sep 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780061378775

Although one year has past since her fiftyish husband Ron died, thirty-five year old Lindsay remains stunned and unsure of what she wants in life. Residing in a senior citizen condominium, Lindsay still grieves as she feels her life is rudderless.

Ron’s first wife Jane arrives at the condo. She is the executor of his estate and needs to complete the documentation to distribute the assets in accordance to the will. Accompanying Jane is their adult son Ron, Jr. whom the first salad days wife insists to the second trophy wife that he is actually someone else’s junior. The two wives loathe one another yet to their mutual shock soon begin to understand what the other brings to the table and brought to Ron.

The second Trophy Wives Club is an engaging tale that enables the audience as well as the two wives to see deep into the souls of Jane and Lindsay. The chapters rotate their points of view, which initially focuses on amusing scorn as both feel the other is an irritant, but slowly turns to respect. Readers will appreciate this fine inspiring tale as each of Ron’s wives learn much about themselves through understanding the other spouse.

Harriet Klausner

Woman of a Thousand Secrets-Barbara Wood

Woman of a Thousand Secrets
Barbara Wood
St. Martin's, Sep 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0312363699

Her parents adopted Tonina as an infant although her much lighter skin meant she came from another land. She grew up tall, much taller than all the women and most of the men. Tonina was also competitive; rather than allow a potential suitor to defeat her in athletic contests; she participated and usually won especially in swimming. Finally her family worries that she has no man so they believe she must go from their tiny island to the nearby mainland seeking people just like her.

Her journey takes her to the Mayan Empire where she meets a barbarian outsider Kaan. They are attracted to one another, but he is married. When his wife dies, he begins the quest to insure her soul is cleansed. Soon Tonina joins him as they travel together to Mayapan bringing along an entourage of followers. However, Mayan Prince Balam has raised an army of many people with one battle in mind; destroy Kaan, who he holds culpable for all that has failed in his life. That means killing every follower who are both genders and all ages including elderly and children, but few soldiers.

WOMAN OF A THOUSAND SECRETS is a superb pre-Columbus Central American tale. The story line brings to life several cultures especially the Mayan, but to a lesser degree the islanders. Tonia is a fabulous central figure who holds the insightful plot together from the island to the mainland. Barbara Wood provides an entertaining Mayan Era historical.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bride of Casa Dracula-Marta Acosta

The Bride of Casa Dracula
Marta Acosta
Pocket, Sep 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9781416559634

Milagro De Los Santos and Dr. Oswald Grant are engaged to be married. However the bride is frustrated with the rules that she must agree to in order for his side to accept her. Upset, Milagro wants to tell the bloodsuckers to go to hell, but he loves Oswald so he bites her tongue and agrees to adhere to the Vampire Council's strict code of conduct to include no sharing of the same bed until they marry twice; first a public exchange of I do’s and a second a vampire blood exchange ritual as her intended and his family have a slight genetic abberation; they need blood to survive.

Besides her future in-laws loathing her, the marriage plans are taken away from her. Her friend Nancy takes over the public ceremony and the Vampire Council assigns Cornelia to run their rite of passage. Nancy is over the top and Cornelia has designs on the groom whom she has shared a bite or two with before Milagro intruded; with Cornelia comes her brother Ian whom Milagro has shared a bite or two too. As Milagro ghost writes a book for a maniacal self preclaimed shapeshifting cleint, accidnts begin to occur that makes Oswald wonder if his beloved cannot handle the pressure; Milagro knows someone wants to prevent their marriage and plans as always to kick butt.

The latest satirical visit to Casa Dracula is as always an amusing take no prisoners “vampiric” romance. The story line lampoons the sub-genre from werewolves to vampires and their extended packs and families as well as wedding planners. Filled with twists including a great final spin, readers will appreciate Milagro’s escapades as her world is crumbling when she should be at her happiest; either way she knows what will occur will be toasted with a few pints of blood – mostly she fears hers.

Harriet Klausner

Amor and Summer Secrets-Diana Rodriguez Wallach

Amor and Summer Secrets
Diana Rodriguez Wallach
Kensington, Sep 2008, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758225535

In Philadelphia an agument occurs between forty-five years old Lorenzo Ruiz and his eighteen years old son Vincent over what is family and their heritage. Lorenzo having arrived in Camden as a ten year old accomapnying his older brothers and their parents never looked back. However the fight shames Lorenzo who ignored his roots and Americanized his offspring. To atone for his slap at his DNA pool, he decides to send Vince and his other child fifteen-year old Mariana to spend time learning their heritage. Instead of hanging out with her friends and attending sweet sixteens, an unhappy Mariana and a euphoric Vince are shipped to some distant relatives she never met in Puerto Rico for the summer.

Mariana feels punished for her father’s sins and in the remote mountain home of her great aunt and uncle finds herself bored and lonely. There is no air except the occasional breeze that blows hot; no fast food only ultra spiced meals she cannot pronounce; no English except for cousin Lilly; no privacy or even posters on walls. So why she wonders is she having the greatest summer of her life.

The characters especially Mariana make for a strong entertaining contemporary tale. Vince sets the tone with his bet on the flight down that his sulking sister will cry on the way home because she will be sad that the most wonderful summer of her life is over. The story line contains a strong cast that provides deep insight into Puerto Rican extended families with a divide between those living on the island and those residing in the States. Diana Rodriguez Wallach provides a superb intelligent tale about how friendships make a place feel like home even when you first believe the Doors are right that “People are strange when you’re a stranger”.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hometown Favorite-Bill Barton and Henry O. Arnold

Hometown Favorite
Bill Barton and Henry O. Arnold
Revell, Sep 2008, $19.99
ISBN: 9780800719142

Although their team lost the Mississippi state championship game, the three stars remain heroes in Springdale as they go off to college. Wide receiver and linebacker Dewayne Jobe gores to USC; quarterback Sly Adams to Miami; and linebacker Jesse Webb to Mississippi. Dewayne and Sly become superstars contending for the Heisman while Jesse’s career ends with an injury. At school Dewayne meets affluent Rosella Caldwell; they fall in love and marry.

Dewayne and Sly go to the NFL as stars while Jesse dies in a drunken driving incident. Dewayne, Rosella and her parents rescue her nephew Bruce and her niece Sabrina from their addicted mom Bonita. Rosella gives birth to their child. Dewayne is on top of the world and thankful to the Lord, his widowed mom, and his wife until a tragedy, a personal life threatening health issue and betrayals by loved ones leave him to understand how Job felt.

Using football as a mechanism Bill Barton and Henry O. Arnold modernize the story of Job as several traumatic incidents in a short time leave Dewayne in all sorts of anguish. Will he blame the Lord for deserting him or will he seek solace in the Lord while going through incredible layers of traumas? Young adult fans will appreciate this inspirational tale of the football star sacked several times until his life seems fumbled away.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cassandra & Jane-Jill Pitkeathley

Cassandra & Jane
Jill Pitkeathley
Harper, Sep 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0061446394

Cassandra & Jane Austen were more than sisters; they were best friends sharing their desires for a romantic world though depending on relatives for sustenance made romanticism difficult. Neither finds much beyond disappointment as their family is at the lowest rung of the aristocracy; this means they must behave with decorum and obey the rules of the Hampshire Ton, as they are not high enough or wealthy enough to flaunt their standing as the poor relative. Making matters worse, romance proves bitterly disappointing for the siblings who each finds love only to lose love. However, when Jane dies at forty one, a grieving Cassandra destroys the letters from her sister that she always kept.

This is an engaging refreshing look at the life of Jane Austen through the eyes of her older sister. Cassandra and Jane are fully developed characters as the readers through the former’s perceptions learn much about what happened to Jane. Although the facts and the fiction do not always blend together the avid Austen audience will fully relish this biographical fiction as the novel is loaded with tidbits about this wonderful author whose works almost two centuries old remain in vogue today (unless you are Clueless)..

Harriet Klausner

Tuscan Holiday-Holly Chamberlin

Tuscan Holiday
Holly Chamberlin
Kensington, Sep 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 0758214030

Single mom Elizabeth Caldwell is proud of her daughter Marina who just graduated from college. However, she is concerned that her offspring is marrying Boston Brahmin Jotham Grandin for all the wrong reasons. Turning into a pop psychiatrist Elizabeth believes Marina is submissive to her fiancé on everything; and marrying him not out of love or even friendship, but more a reaction to avoid the victim mistake her mom made over two decades ago. As a graduation present, she buys two tickets to Italy. Marina thinks it is for her and her fiancé, but Elizabeth awkwardly corrects her that this TUSCAN HOLIDAY is for mom and daughter.

Elizabeth knows she is not a role model having been unable to fully commit to her lover Rob after thirteen years together, but hopes to reconnect with her daughter and prays Marina finds some passion. In Italy, Elizabeth is ready to give up as Marina behaves like the condemned walking the last mile to their execution. Suddenly the air seems fresher and livelier when Marina meets Luca who brings a zest for life that has both women reconsidering their relationships back home.

This is an entertaining look at relationships especially between a mom and a daughter. The lead pair rotates perspective so that the audience sees the same event at times almost entirely different as the two female Caldwells bring personal lenses to the mix. Fans will enjoy this fine family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Let Them Eat Fruitcake-Melody Carlson

Let Them Eat Fruitcake
Melody Carlson
David C. Cook, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9781589191068

The four young women of 86 Bloomberg Place are not feeling joyous even as the holiday season approaches. Kendall is having an affair with a married actor in spite of knowing she should not. Megan fears she will soon lose her job while seeing no opportunities. Leilani feels she is not just in a rut; she is glued in place and has no earthly idea how to get moving. Finally Anna’s boyfriend has returned, but she is not sure she wants him back.

With everyone despondent, the quartet of twenty something roommates know they are spiraling deeper into depression and instead of lifting each other up they seem to be increasing the downward spiral. They debate throwing a party but are unsure that will bring cheer into their lives.

The sequel to 86 BLOOMBERG PLACE continues the deep look at twentyish year old single females. Each of the members of the quartet is unique and fully developed with a bit more maturity although they make mistakes in relationships. Fans who appreciate an ensemble character study, sort of an all female Friends, will enjoy Melody Carlson’s fine contemporary, but those who like action need to find a different address.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Family Sold Separately-Kate Long

Family Sold Separately
Kate Long
Ballantine, Aug 26 2008. $14.00
ISBN: 9780345479679

She has heard her entire life about the family curse that haunts the Millers. Katherine knows when she turns eighteen tomorrow she will meet the doom that destroys every generation when they turn adult.

Not that Kat has had much of life anyway In Bank Top, England. Her dreams will never be answered even the simplest ones like social acceptance by her peers, a lithe body, leaving the hamlet forever and two parents; her dad died when the curse struck in an accident and her mom fled the village leaving her with Poll, her legally blind grandma known for verbally ripping skin, and Poll’s companion garbage dump scavenger Dickie the Dogman. Kat knows Poll needs her so she has no hope except to become as acerbic as her grandma is while watching afternoon television shows that require no brain power. Everything changes when Collum arrives at Bank Top, claiming he is Kat’s cousin.

This is a fascinating look at a teen on the brink of independence adulthood struggling between her desires and her family responsibilities even as she anticipates the expected disaster to strike any moment. Kate better understands now why her mom left but feels guilt over considering doing the same because she believes her caustic grandma needs her. The local dialogue is a two edge sword as its usage brings a sense of location, but can be distracting. Still FAMILY SOLD SEPARATELY is a strong character study starring a dreamer who fears her flights of fancy will prove either futile or nightmarish.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Forbidden Daughter-Shobhan Bantwal

The Forbidden Daughter
Shobhan Bantwal
Kensington, Sep 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 0758220308

Their first offspring was female so Nikhil and Isha Tilak expect their second child to be a male. However, they are stunned when ultrasound test confirms Isha is carrying a girl. Nikhil's affluent parents demand their daughter-in-law abort the female fetus. Even her physician Dr. Larnik recommends ending her pregnancy with an illegal abortion.

Nikhil says no as he wants his offspring to live and also worries about the health of his wife. However, he suddenly is murdered. Isha believes her husband’s modern day western stance against the abortion on demand due to the fetus being thewrong gender led to his homicide. She assumes she is next if she fails to abort ASAP.

THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER is an insightful look at the international abortion industry in which a prime reason to destroy the fetus is the wrong gender especially in patriarchal societies. The story line is at its best when the focus is on Nikhil, Isha and their extended families (especially his) as they put faces to the abortion issue. When the plot pontificates against the free use of abortion, some of the sting is lost as the pressure on Nikhil to do his duty and then after he is murdered on his pregnant widow to do her duty loses some of the impact. Still well written, this astute tale affirms no one gets as deep into Indian society as Shobhan Bantwal does (see THE DOWRY BRIDE).
Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Swap-Jenesi Ash

Jenesi Ash
Berkley, Sep 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780451224941

When her best friend adventurous Jamie informs cautious Mia that she is moving on from Clover Bud, the latter’s lover Aiden demands he move in with her. However, Mia has some doubts that she wants their relationship to go in that direction as she is not fully satisfied with their sex life although she has no one else to compare him to; he is her first and only lover.

Jamie knows she will miss her lover Caleb and her best friend Mia when she leaves town, but believes it is time for her to move on to try something new. On her last weekend in town, the two pairs of lovers try something daring; they swap lovers shocking the quartet with their reactions as their deepest darkest desires surface and are satiated for now.

Although erotic from almost the onset, SWAP is a deep character study as the quartet begins to understand their selves and especially their companions. Each of the fearsome foursome seems genuine and unique. That weekend, which contains an “A” through “Z” repertoire of sex (anal to zoo ménage a quatre), also enables each couple to appreciate what they have and have not. Erotic romance fans will enjoy this wild sex SWAP.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Swim to Me-Betsy Carter

Swim to Me
Betsy Carter
Bantam, $5.99, Aug 26 2008
ISBN: 9780553591484

In 1973, seventeen years old Delores Walker leaves her troubled family home in the Bronx. She takes the bus heading south where she obtains work as a mermaid at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida, which she believes is a miracle of sorts as she is not pretty.

Shockingly, Delores becomes the star somewhat because she is nice and displays enthusiasm in her work and somewhat her imagination with productions like the Merfather spoof brings in audiences who had been going toDisney. Her peers think she is the best and anyone who gets to know her feels likewise. TV producer Alan Sommers sees a chance to work with a human interest story angle on the most popular mermaid, but needs to muddy up the water perhaps with skeletons from the Bronx. Delores tries to remain true to her kind self as she becomes almost famous as a local TV “weatherwoman” and the invasion of the extended Walker family, but is grateful for wise mentoring by gentle circus giant T. Rex and mermaid attraction owner Thelma Foote.

This is an entertaining character study held in focus by Delores, a likable star attraction. The caring Delores turns the lonely, slick and ambitious into being kinder and friendlier as everyone including readers (with the exception perhaps of her runaway father) feels her warmth and subsequently a need to change. Betsy Carter provides an uplifting historical that brings to life the impact of Disneyworld on 1970s Florida.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sweet Life-Mia King

Sweet Life
Mia King
Berkley, Sep 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425221679

Paul’s promotion is too good to pass up; so he, his wife Marissa and their daughter Pansy relocate. They leave New York for Hawaii. The whole family has adjustments to make, but especially Marissa who has gone from Manhattan working mom to Islander stay at home mom.

However, Paul reacts the strangest as demands a trial separation so that he can "find himself"; as he feels he lost his identity to being provider, husband and father. To economically survive, Marissa takes in renters that lead to friendships; however, she also knows it is a time of reckoning. She has to decide Hawaii with a chance of Paul returning or New York where employment exists for her.

This entertaining tale focuses on what is a SWEET LIFE as the lead couple relocates to what each assumes will prove to be paradise only to find location is important, but people make their own “Eden”. The story line is character driven especially by Marissa who is unsure what she must do for her and their kids. Although Paul is appallingly simplified to the point of stereotypical born again slacker, fans will enjoy this fine tale of a woman rediscovering just who she is.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bon Appetit-Sandra Byrd

Bon Appetit
Sandra Byrd
Waterbrook, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400073283

Lexi Stuart dreams of becoming a pastry chef, but that means risking everything for special on the job training in France. Her boss Luc suggests a swap for six months with his sister Dominique. She decides to go for it leaving behind L’Esperance the French bakery she works at in Seattle and her boyfriend Dan to work and learn at a bakery run by grumpy Madame Odette in Presque le Chateau.

The adjustment does not go smooth as her twentyish American enthusiasm is looked at with disdain by many of the locals. Still she works hard and joins a church. However, she begins to feel welcomed when she meets preadolescent Celine and her father Philippe, an attractive widower. As her time overseas begins to count down, Lexi has to choose between Washington State and rural France; both feel like home.

The sequel to the mouth watering LET THEM EAT CAKE is an enjoyable tale as Lexi struggles for acceptance in France where from her first entrance at the airport is scorned and laughed at. Readers will appreciate the tasty bakery scenes as “Mamam” initially treats her new employee like an ugly American. Although the romantic subplot feels too sweet. Sandra Byrd provides her audience with a deep look at France and French pastry cooking.

Harriet Klausner

The Other Side of Darkness-Melody Carlson

The Other Side of Darkness
Melody Carlson
Waterbrook, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400070817

Ruth loves her husband and children, but fears for them. She doesn’t want them tricked by the machinations of the evil devil. She prays for them and does everything to prevent Satan from tricking any of her loved ons into sinning.

However her husband Rick resents how much money and time she spends on the Valley Bridge Fellowship Church and it’s New Life Christian School. Her children Mary and Sarah resent her pushing religion down their throat as they have enough at school. Worse her hero Pastor Glenn has been fired by the congregation either because they were fooled by Satan or jealous of how good he is. Ruth feels her world imploding as the more she prays the more things go bad and the more they go bad the more she prays especially when she follows her idol Pastor Glenn to his new church; her family refuses to go with her.

This is a refreshing very intense inspirational Christian tale in which the main character suffers from a serious mental illness, obsessive compulsive disorder. Ruth is unique protagonist as the more time she gives, the more troubled she becomes. Interestingly several deeply religious individuals selfishly and knowingly take advantage of her time and money. Although seeing demons seems unnecessary, Melody Carlson leaves the audience with a deep poignant thriller in which accepting psychological treatment is just one tool provided by God to help his flock with free will.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ghost Radio-Leopoldo Gout

Ghost Radio
Leopoldo Gout
Morrow, Oct 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0061242683

Supported by his girlfriend Alondra and his radio engineer Watts, former punk rocker and ham operator Joaquin and his cult favored talk show Ghost Radio are in amidst the American alternate lifestyle crowd. Based in Mexico, Joaquin emcees chat-analysis discussions mostly centered on myths, legends and the supernatural turning real.

He sets the tone by providing two frightening inexplicable incidents from his youth that he fortunately survived but his family in the first paranormal event and his best friend in the second happening died. Callers tell their encounters on the air. The more he hears, the more Joaquin seems unable to separate the real from the fake as realty perceived by this talk show host has vanished; a born again believer in supernatural phenomena he cannot stop himself from tussling with those who defy the laws of physics by being here.

GHOST RADIO is an entertaining supernatural thriller that builds on the theory that some white noise is not beneficial especially the unexplained. Joaquin is an interesting protagonist who goes from true believer to true skeptic to born again believer. Although the writing at times feels oddly stilted and off kilter for what is occurring at that moment, fans will enjoy Joaquin’s adventures on and off the air.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 9, 2008

On the Move-Pamela Britton

On the Move
Pamela Britton
Harlequin HQN, Sep 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780373772223

SSI sports agent Vicki VanCleef believes her current assignment is impossible. Knight Enterprises Motorsports hired SSI to watch over NASCAR driver Brandon Burke, whose reputation as an out of control bad boy was affirmed at the Indy last year when on the last lap, with him 20 laps behind the leader, he caused the car in front to crash. Her amoral boss assigned her the task of baby sitting this wild Neanderthal.

In violation of his contract, Brandon plans to ride in a drag bike race. Unable to reason with him or to get him to adhere to his contract, Vicki arranges for his bike to be taken. Brandon threatens to arrest her, but she warns him the bad PR would destroy his already shaky career. She finally gives up and tells him his bike is in the bathroom and leaves. Her boss is ecstatic with her work and assigns her to Brandon exclusively. As the driver and his agent get acquainted over arguments and kisses they fall in love. However, he hides a dark family secret he refuses to tell anyone because he believes if it is revealed it would bury his racing career permanently and end his chances with his beloved Vicki, who sees beneath the nonchalant exterior.

This is a terrific NASCAR romance starring a fascinating bad boy and the woman who drives him to distraction. The story line is faster than a spin around the oval as Vicki and Brandon fight and kiss and fight. The return of stars from previous tales (see ON THE EDGE) adds to the racing venue, but it is the warm contemporary romance that steers this fine tale.

Harriet Klausner

8 Sandpiper Way-Debbie Macomber

8 Sandpiper Way
Debbie Macomber
Mira, Sep 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778325789

In Cedar Groove, Washington, Emily fears her husband Pastor Dave Flemming is having an affair. She is not sure who, but has found proof; Dave’s jacket pocket contained another woman’s earring and he comes home late at night, but will not tell her where he has been.

If he is not committing adultery, Emily fears he is grave robbing. He spent a lot time with a dying congregation member giving solace; after the person past away her relatives claim her jewelry was stolen. Dave had access to the woman’s home and that damaging earring in his pocket. Emily prays to God for guidance to help her decide what to.

The latest Cedar Cove contemporary tale is an engaging story due to Emily's quandary as to what she should do. As always the support cast is solid and the audience receives updates on what is happening to the prime players from previous novels (see 74 SEASIDE AVENUE) and new neighbors are introduced (Like Sheriff Troy Davis’ former love Faith Beckwith). Readers will enjoy the latest trek to Washington State as Emily wonders whether her moral kind husband has gone to the dark side.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Various Flavors of Coffee-Anthony Capella

The Various Flavors of Coffee
Anthony Capella
Bantam, Aug 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 0553807323

In 1896, twentyish Robert Wallis is a poet who prefers to lay back and do nothing. When he does work he is known for his excessive hyperbole. Coffee maker Samuel Pinker decides that Wallis is the perfect author to write a glowing guide to coffee beans that the entrepreneur believes will help his business thrive so he hires the laziest poet in London.

When Wallis meets his employer’s daughter Emily, he decides he wants her and courts her with charming ditties. However, Pinker, worried about his daughter, dispatches the writer on a world tour of coffee beans. The expedition broadens his horizon as the apolitical aloof Wallis gets involved with social issues like slavery and suffrage.

Wallis makes this superb historical tale from the start as he changes from a selfish indifferent young man into a caring thoughtful person. Readers will appreciate his adventures in finding a good cup of coffee by tasting the various flavors offered around the world. Filled with fascinating yet plausible twists, Wallis gains an education yet underneath his escapades the foundation of the plot is the Abyssinian proverb that “When a woman gives a man coffee, it is a way of showing desire”.

Harriet Klausner

Fade Away-Harlan Coben

Fade Away
Harlan Coben
Delacorte, Sep 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780385342506

Ten years ago an injury ended his stint in the NBA without him playing one professional regular season game, but though Myron Bolitar has always thought of what could have been he uses self deprecating humor to move on and mope over what was lost to fate. He spent time as the most visible undercover FBI agent in the country (remember this is pre Plame days) before deciding to become a sports agent.

New Jersey Dragons owner Chip Arnstein wants to hire Myron to find his longtime sports rival going back to the sixth grade and the ACC, Greg Downing, who has had an illustrious pro career. The word to the media is he sprained his ankle; but on the street and in the Dragons front office Greg vanished five days ago. Using his not so honed FBI skills, Myron investigates with clues leading to a corpse, gambling, bold thirsty point shaving mobsters and a bit of everything else. Myron realizes he never came to grips with the injury that ended his career before it began.

The reprint of the third Bolitar tale (see DEAL BREAKER and DROPSHOT) is a superb story that easily overcomes the initial credibility of an owner hiring a sports agent to play sleuth due to the hero. Myron is wisecracking throughout targeting himself more so than others, but as he gets closer to finding his firmer rival, he realizes the humor hides his disappointment. This is a terrific series that holds up nicely a decade plus since its first printing as this entry affirms.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Mother's Wish: An American Christmas Carol-Jerry Camery-Hoggatt

My Mother's Wish: An American Christmas Carol
Jerry Camery-Hoggatt
Waterbrook, Sep 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781400074051

In Hastings, Nebraska, young Eleanor “call me Ellee” Crumb McKutchen heeds the call of the poet Juan Ramon Jimenez who urges people to “write the other way”; thus Ellee’s philosophy of life is “contrariwise”. She wants to be part of the changing the world and knows where and who she wants to start with; her mom who has an image that she expects from her daughter; a vision that Ellee cannot see for herself.

Considering running away the tweener sits at the Comeback Café, thirty miles from her home, wondering how to mend her broken dreams without hurting her mom who puts up blank Christmas lists for herself, her spouse, and her two children Susan and Eleanor; Susan being Ellee’s older engaged sister. Each fills the list, but fulfilling it is irrelevant. Ellee knows mom means well even if her good intentions pave the way to hell for Ellee. Suddenly a three-armed waitress and an eccentric truck driver Jedidiah accompanied by his cat Cecily provide the distraught child with a strange holiday brew; an adventure on the backwaters of the Plains in what matters in life.

This is a terrific tweener Christmas Carol, Americana Midwest style starring a distraught girl whose flight of fancy is in opposition to her mom’s no nonsense attitude. Fans will enjoy Ellee’s adventures as Captain Jedidiah and his not named Mrs. Smee cat take her on a journey of understanding. This is a fun tale and mom’s gift to her youngest daughter is the perfect Christmas present.

Harriet Klausner

When the Soul Mends- Cindy Woodsmall

When the Soul Mends
Cindy Woodsmall
Waterbrook, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400072941

Two and half years ago, then seventeen year old Hannah Lapp left in disgrace the Old Order Amish community and her family home in Owl's Perch, Pennsylvania. Her equally shunned Aunt Zabeth Bender took her teenage niece into her home in Winding Creek, Ohio. Hannah vowed never to return although she misses her family, even though her father who’s shunning of her means to him she is dead. Hannah has found contentment with her beloved Martin Palmer and the children they raise.

However, when her troubled sister Sarah frantically calls her, Hannah, in spite of her sibling spreading the rumors that led to her exile, rushes home to help her. She quickly realizes the community loathes her for her choices; her father demands she leave. With the help of her former fiancé Paul Waddell, Hannah tries to help Sarah with mental health issues while she also wonders if she made a mistake when she left her home.

The third Sisters of the Quilt tale (see WHEN THE HEART CRIES and WHEN THE HEART CRIES) is a terrific ending to the Hannah Lapp saga as readers obtain a deep understanding of the faith Mennonite and Old Order Amish families. However what makes the story line engaging and inspiring is Sarah, a unique person in terms of the Amish or for that matter inspirational fiction in general as she suffers with mental issues. Readers will appreciate this excellent entry in the Lapp saga as Hannah returns home to help her sister while her parents and siblings struggle with shunning and welcoming.

Harriet Klausner

The Shape of Mercy-Susan Meissner

The Shape of Mercy
Susan Meissner
Waterbrook, Sep 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400074563

She knows her family’s money comes with quite a cost for college student Lauren Durough. As long as she depends on that wealth to finance her she will never be autonomous from their purse string control. Though scared, she accepts a position working for octogenarian Abigail Boyles.

The unpleasant bitter older woman hires Lauren to transcribe the journal of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, whose first hand account of the seventeenth century Salem witch trials come alive in her diary though she was convicted. As she performs her work, Lauren begins to heed the advice of the courageous Mercy, but also realizes the seventeenth century chronicler’s descendent remains bitter for failing to confront her personal issues; Lauren vows to follow Mercy’s lead although she is not sure where it will take her except it gives her hope and she believes it does likewise for acrimonious Abigail.

This is Christian inspirational literature at its best as Susan Meissner entertains yet gets her message of hope and faith to her readers through her three female characters without preaching. The diary is incredible as Mercy goes through several emotions including feeling the Lord abandoned her, but throughout believes that though she dies unfairly God awaits her. Her overall optimism lifts Lauren and eventually Abigail as well as readers. THE SHAPE OF MERCY is moving and encouraging.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 4, 2008

Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes-Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Red Dress, Sep 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 0373895763

Delilah Sampson knows she suffers from obsessive compulsive behavior; just ask William Shakespeare when you meet him in the after life. She cannot help herself when her mind fixates on something. Her current desire is to buy a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes having first read about them in some chick lit tale. However, she does not have the money or the prospects as window washing pays so much to purchase the expensive name brand at $450 per shoe.

Still never one to throw in the towel or in this case the shoes, Delilah begs her father to teach her the tricks of his trade, professional gambling. Her plan is simple earn enough to buy the shoes and quit gambling as she would never be consumed on something like betting, that’s daddy’s preoccupation. However, though she believes her plan is a shoe in, nothing goes according to Hoyle or at least by her bible Blackjack Winning Basics by Tony Casino; as she meets someone she likes and her father withdraws his help just when she needs him the most. Still Delilah can taste the shoes on her feet so she keeps playing while obsessing over Chris and wondering if it is all or nothing for her

Delilah makes for a refreshing chick lit tale as readers obtain a deep but humorous look at someone suffering from OCB; once she fixates on something, she cannot let go. The support cast is eccentric as they are her posse ready to rescue her when they cannot save themselves while Chris is a perfect foil to the heroine and her female horde. Fans will applaud Lauren Baratz-Logsted for her intelligent use of the sub-genre to inform readers on a psychological problem while enjoying the insightful character driven “Sin City debacle”. Meanwhile the audience will wonder whether Delilah will become addicted to name brand shoes or become “The Old Woman in a Shoe”.

Harriet Klausner