Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The God Cookie-Geoffrey Wood

The God Cookie
Geoffrey Wood
Waterbrook, Feb 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400073443

Coffee shop owner John Parrish enjoys debating anything and everything with his best friends, his employees Mason and Duncan. He especially relishes their arguments over faith and Heeding God’s voice. At a Chinese restaurant, Parrish opens up his fortune cookie to a bizarre message: "Take the corner." Whereas his buddies believe this is some cookie cutter nonsense, John believes God is calling him to take a leap of faith.

Although he has doubts and expects he will end up humiliated in the eyes of his two friends and several strangers, John heeds the note to go to the nearest corner to obtain further divine guidance. There he picks up a mysterious letter from the ground by the bus stop. John decides his heavenly quest is to deliver the note to its rightful owner. His odyssey has begun.

The story line starts slow until Parrish’s quest leads him to meet people who react differently to his heavenly need to deliver the letter. His mission enables him to see what others need as if he is wearing their shoes. The interaction between the lead character and the support cast makes for an unusual inspirational tale that fans will enjoy trekking along side Parrish on his journey of the soul.

Harriet Klausner

Love and Other Natural Disasters-Holly Shumas

Love and Other Natural Disasters
Holly Shumas
5 Spot, Jan 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446504775

During Thanksgiving with her spouse and their five years old son Jacob, eight months pregnant Eve thinks her Jonathon is having an affair, sort of. She sees how friendly he is on the phone with some unknown female and concludes where there is smoke there is fire. He denies her accusations.

Eve opens his e-mail, which affirms he never physically touched the other woman, but shared a deep emotional relationship with her. However, Eve and Jon also realize how much they had drifted apart when both considers whether it is worth saving their marriage for themselves and not just the kids.

This is a thought provoking deep look at what is cheating in a relationship especially in the electronic age. Fans will ponder whether one is stepping out on a spouse although there is no physical contact between the mate and the other person. Holly Shumas also raises the ethical question of whether it is ethically acceptable to perform domestic spying when a spouse suspects their mate of an affair; especially to check the personal email to find evidence they are cheating. Although the story line is a bit slow as the focus is deeply on the emotional behavior of the lead couple, readers will appreciate this fascinating sharp tale that asks what denotes cheating in the modern age.

Harriet Klausner

We Take This Man-Candice Dow and Daaimah S. Poole

We Take This Man
Candice Dow and Daaimah S. Poole
Grand Central, Jan 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446501835

In Florida Dwight and Tracey Wilson seem to have the perfect marriage as they raise their two children in their new home. They are euphoric when Dwight has a chance for a major promotion, but Tracey changes her mind when she learns the job is in Maryland. They talk and argue over relocating until Dwight takes the position and leaves on own with plans to return to Florida on weekends; while Tracey remains behind with the kids. That arrangement fails.

Dwight ends his marriage with Tracey and soon afterward has an affair with his work peer Alicia Dixon. When she becomes pregnant, Dwight marries her, but he is unaware that his divorce from Tracey is not finalized. Instead his legal wife arrives in Maryland hoping to save their marriage.

This is a well written entertaining extended family drama starring three people with personal issues that make each struggle with relationships. However, most readers will have a problem with the basic premise that each of the two women wants Dwight as their mate to help them raise their kids although he comes across as emotionally feeble and unable to cope with one family let alone raising two. Fans will enjoy this intriguing tale of a bigamist caught between two women, three children, and his inability to decide what to do; leaving it up to Tracey and Alicia to come up with an alternative family arrangement if the two strong women can stop their bickering and compromise.

Harriet Klausner

Houston, We Have a Problema-Gwendolyn Zepeda

Houston, We Have a Problema
Gwendolyn Zepeda
Grand Central, Jan 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9780446698528

In Houston twenty –six year old single Jessica Luna is perhaps the most superstitious person in Texas; she will argue otherwise insisting it is a survival technique to dealing with her family especially her mom and older sister. She depends totally on psychic Madame Hortensia for guidance and buys special good luck gizmos from the spiritualist especially after the clairvoyant makes three predictions that all happen.

Jessica has decisions to make as she loathes her job in insurance even with a promotion coming her way when she would prefer to use her Art History degree. However, it is the two men recently in her life who represents her work vs. her vocation whom she must choose from. Guillermo the lazy flaky Latino artist and a prim and proper white businessman Jonathan are attracted to her. Jessica turns to her advisor Hortensia for her job decision and for which man she should select.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEMA is an entertaining lighthearted Latina chick lit romp focusing on the metamorphosis of a young woman lacking confidence in herself so she depends on amulets, horoscopes, and psychic reading, etc. to boost her esteem. Readers will root for her while enjoying the amusing antics of Madame Hortensia, the psychic whose objective is contact with dead presidents on official government paper yet has a consciousness. Fans will enjoy this fascinating coming of age tale with a psychic dependence twist starring a passionate believer who relies on undependable forecasts to make her decisions.

Harriet Klausner

The Bishop's Daughter- Tiffany L. Warren

The Bishop's Daughter
Tiffany L. Warren
Grand Central, Jan 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446195140

After his mom praised Bishop Kumal Prentiss with increasing fervor, freelance journalist Darrin Bainbridge moves to Atlanta with plans to investigate the celebrity minister. He figures he will not have to dig far to find dirt for a story and in turn obtain accolades from his father.

However, Darrin quickly realizes that God works in mysterious ways when Darrin visits Bishop Prentiss’ Freedom of Life Church to join the congregation as an undercover reporter. There he meets THE BISHOP’S DAUGHTER Emoni Prentiss. As he falls in love, Darrin uncovers the scandal that would make him famous and get his father’s praise, but he must weigh that with being the righteous person his beloved pious Emoni warrants.

THE BISHOP’S DAUGHTER is a terrific inspirational romance starring two fully developed wonderful lead characters. This fine duet is nicely supported by solid family members and the congregation. The story line is loaded with scripture as “Honor thy father” becomes increasingly difficult to achieve but the biblical references enhance the tale of love between the cynical undercover reporter and the title character. Their rotating perspective to include his blog augment a delightful realistic romance as doubting Darrin falls in love with the enemy’s daughter.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Funeral Planner Goes to the White House- Lynn Isenberg

The Funeral Planner Goes to the White House
Lynn Isenberg
Mira, Feb 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780778327356

Much of the country regardless of political affiliation is in shock with the unexpected sudden death of the charismatic First Lady Haley Stone; not only was she widely loved and respected, this was a first for a FLOTUS. Even before Americans can move on, the Secretary of State Jonathan Darcy having worked diligently and successfully forged a Middle East accord died from a broken heart three months after his terminally ill fifty-two years old wife did.

Funeral planner Madison Banks of Lights Out Enterprises had tastefully handled Mrs. Stone's memorial and that of the Darcy couple; earning the appreciation of the nation and the widower President Andrew Stone. He appoints Maddy on the hastily created House Bereavement Specialists Committee, a temporary group to help the nation obtain closure and move on in the grief cycle. Called "The Grief Czar", Maddy struggles with her assignment especially being there for Andrew as his "grief buddy". She sets up a special government sponsored event, My Grief Day while her boyfriend Victor Winston works on the legacy of his former boss, Darcy, on implementing the peace accord in the Middle East.

There are too many “stand up comic” type jokes and chick lit asides that subtract from what otherwise is a superb satirical political thriller. The story line is fast-paced as Madison is drafted by POTUS to help the country work its way through the stages of grief. Fans will agree that Maddy has come a long way since her first foray into the Adam Smith world as THE FUNERAL PLANNER.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 29, 2008

Super In The City-Daphne Uviller

Super In The City
Daphne Uviller
Bantam, Jan 2009, $12.00
ISBN: 0385342691

In New York City, twenty-seven years old Zephyr Zuckerman has quit school and a relationship so is undecided what to do next especially since unemployment makes her choices somewhat limited. Her friends encourage her to be all that she can be, but offer nothing specific as they have issues too. Divorced scientist Tag travels the world in search of a party to crash. Lucy the social worker seeks Mr. Right via ten dollar bills. Mercedes the violinist has a famous boyfriend and plenty of doubts. Professor Abigail tries the Internet for her dates.

When the super at her parents’ Greenwich Village brownstone is taken away by the cops, Zephyr takes the job as she figures how hard is using a plunger. She begins to learn the dark criminal secrets of the tenants, which leads to two groups investigating her as the Feds assume she is working for the mob in the Village and the Mob assumes she is working for the Feds in the Village. The behavior of her friends only affirms what the Feds and the Mob believe.

Over the top of the Empire State Building, SUPER IN THE CITY is perhaps the best urban chick-lit tale in the last few years. The story line is fast-paced from the opening lies and transgressions and never slows down until the final desperate effort to clear her name before either undercover group takes drastic action. Humorous and satirical with no respites, fans will enjoy Daphne Uviller’s irreverent biting of the Big Apple.

Harriet Klausner

Buying a Piece of Paris-Ellie Nielson

Buying a Piece of Paris
Ellie Nielson
St. Martin's, Jan 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 031238355X

Jack Nielsen tells his wife Ellie while they are driving in Melbourne, they should buy an apartment in Paris. She and their accountant agree for differing reasons. She because she loves the city while the accountant says it makes sense financially. Back in Paris Ellie begins the search for an apartment they can afford that has the special French unique feel and would comfortably be showcased in a magazine. Blaming the butcher, she entered her first realtor office only to be met with culture shock from the onset; as the number of rooms is irrelevant, but the number of meters is everything. Other stunners also occur as Ellie obtains a taste of the unique Parisian real estate market. Like much of the audience outside of Paris, Elle finds a part of the city that she never knew existed until she began the search. Filled with homage for the French capital, readers who enjoy a lighthearted well written memoir will want to read Ellie Neilson’s melodious tour of apartment hunting in Paris.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Winter Rose-Jennifer Donnelly

The Winter Rose
Jennifer Donnelly
Hyperion, Jan 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781401301033

Twelve years may have passed since the Whitechapel serial killings (see THE TEA ROSE), but time does not heal all wounds; as East London remains a slum. On a positive note, idealistic reformers want to make things better for the impoverish masses residing there.

With the help of her fiancé, M.P. Freddie Lytton, recent medical school graduate Dr. India Selwyn Jones opens a practice in Whitechapel tending to the ailing poor especially addicts, but with her goal being the closing of the opium dens. Resident crime chieftain Sid Malone detests these outsiders who think they are better than the locals. He wants this Good Samaritan and all her reformist ilk to leave the neighborhood as their type of good in his mind causes more harm. Besides they interfere with his lucrative businesses. However, he changes his mind about India when she saves his life. They fall in love, but Freddie wants control of India’s fortune and will do anything to insure he gets it. When a pregnant India thinks her beloved Sid is dead, Freddie “gallantly” marries her.

This is an interesting late Victorian romance that besides the subplot above contains what has happened in the dozen years since the events of THE TEA ROSE to key players like Joe and Fiona, who is Sid’s sister and India's friend. The well written story line is character driven by a strong cast, although there is too much happenstance occurring to them. Still fans will enjoy catching up with the Bristows and others while reading about the star-crossed love between Charlie (Sid’s real name) and India.

Harriet Klausner

The Girl She Used To Be-David Cristofano

The Girl She Used To Be
David Cristofano
Grand Central, Mar 19 2009, $22.99
ISBN: 0446582220

In Columbia Pike, Maryland, bored and alone except for the one man in her life, math teacher Sandra Clarke decides it is time for a change. She calls up her man; Witness Protection Program US Marshal Randall Ferquer to inform him she received a call from the Brooklyn based Bovaro family. The sixty year old Fed retrieves her so she can receive her newest identity as he has done several times over the past two decades.

When she was six, her parents took her to a restaurant where they witnessed the Bovaro mob patriarch kill a man. The FBI was given a tip about their witnessing the homicide and placed them in he WPP. However Melody’s actions as a teen led to the murders of her parents. Randall has been with her all the way, but he informs her he is retiring and the new man in her life is Sean Douglas.

However, this time when they reach a motel in Cape Charles, the last stop before the Chesapeake Bay complex, another man enters her life. Jonathan Bovaro, son of the killer, sneaks into her room and persuades Melody Grace McCartney, her birth name that he calls her by, to flee with him. Although she knows he probably will kill her, she takes a chance on his offer of freedom even as Sean gives chase.

THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE is a strange but intriguing contemporary tale that puts a fascinating spin to the Witness Protection Program. Melody finds it tedious with the same stereotypical identities, cities, motels and lack of fun. The Feds feels they are doing her a favor by keeping her safe and alive, but she feels otherwise; that the FBI and WITTEC lied about their “new” lives as Melody feels they killed her with their rules. Thus when Jonathan enters her life, he brings freshness to her stale existence. Fans will enjoy this fascinating character study that places a totally unique limelight on the WPP.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Fireman's Wife-Jack Riggs

The Fireman's Wife
Jack Riggs
Ballantine, Dec 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345480064

In June 1970 South Carolina low country is in its seventh month without rain. Drought or not Cassie Johnson is bored with being the wife of Walhalla fire chief Peck and even the mother of their fifteen year old daughter, all star pitcher Kelly; the reason she married responsible Peck. The drought just makes it more oppressive on her as her spouse is always putting out fires. Since the last rain, she and firefighter Clay Taylor have had an affair hotter than an out of control blaze; he even jokes that the rain will only come if they cool their relationship.

Finally having enough of her husband’s too busy to see to her needs, Cassie and Clay run away together. However, a revelation strikes her that by fleeing with Taylor, she is repeating the same error that led to her marrying Peck. Cassie leaves Clay to go stay with her mom in the nearby mountains to look inside and determine what she wants, but fate waits for no one as she will soon learn.

THE FIREMAN’S WIFE is a deep character study that looks inside to what motivates the title protagonist. The support cast is developed to enable readers to better understand why Cassie feels the way she does. The tale is clearly hers as she finds her heart as arid as the weather and her soul as oppressed as the humidity. Fans of strong family dramas (cannot say historical as key 1970 social elements like the civil rights and anti war movements are lacking) will enjoy Cassie’s tale as she learns the grass is not greener on the other side especially during a drought and as the Moody Blues’ song says: “Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home”.

Harriet Klausner

The Queen’s Sorrow-Suzannah Dunn

The Queen’s Sorrow
Suzannah Dunn
Harper, Dec 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780061704277

Queen Mary feels euphoric that she has become the monarch and thanking God plans to reverse the trend away from Catholicism to Protestantism by her subjects. Being half Spanish as her mom was the ill fated Catherine of Aragon, she feels even more ecstatic when her potential rival King Philip of Spain, a devout Catholic, marries her.

Philip sends one of his retainers Rafael to his wife Mary Tudor to build her a special sundial. However, the Spaniard has a difficult time adjusting to the damp climate and worse the mistreatment by the nobles who loathe and perhaps fear Catholic Europe. His project is delayed by the weather and the lack of funding, which adds to his sorrow as he misses his family who stayed in balmy Spain. He is attracted to Cecily the housekeeper and soon they become best friends before falling in love even though the confused foreigner still misses his devoted spouse.

In spite of the title, for much of the story line Mary plays a secondary role as Rafael and Cecily play the lead characters; the climax abruptly but exhilaratingly twists the prime role so Mary’s sorrow becomes known. Through the actions of the cast, the story line digs deep as to what motivates the Queen who never forgot her daddy’s rejection of her and her mother; his first wife. Rafael’s constant lament even when he is with caring Cecily feels overwrought as how many times and ways can a protagonist tell his audience he misses his home and family before he becomes redundant.. Still this is an interesting Tudor historical that uses a forbidden romance to provide an indirect look at Queen Mary’s sorrows.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 22, 2008

True Colors-Kristin Hannah

True Colors
Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's, Feb 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9780312364106

In 1979 Washington State, the three teenage Grey sisters (Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann) mourn the death of their mother. Her passing tightened their sibling bond as they help each other with the males who enter their respective lives.

In high school, Winona’s best friend is Luke, but she hides one thing from him; she is attracted to him. Instead Luke falls in love with Vivi Ann. They become an entry, but she cheats on him with farmhand Dallas. Winona does the unthinkable breaking the sisterhood bond by betraying her sister. Vivi Ann and Dallas marry, have a child and manage the family farm, until he is arrested for murder. Vivi Ann pleads with Winona a lawyer to defend her spouse, but she refuses. When Dallas is convicted of homicide, Vivi Ann blames Winona. However, her son, Winona's nephew, begins to move the irresistible force his mom and the immovable object his aunt trying to bring about a reconciliation between the estrangde sisters.

TRUE COLORS is a deep character study that looks closely at the relationships between sisters, especially after an estrangement occurs. The story line is driven by the siblings and Luke early on, but it takes the newcomer to begin the healing. Kristin Hannah provides a strong family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Handle with Care-Jodi Picoult

Handle with Care
Jodi Picoult
Atria, Mar 3 2009, $27.95
ISBN: 0743296419

In 2002 in New Hampshire, happily married Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe look forward to their second child who they pray will be as healthy as their daughter Amelia. At the hospital during a nasty Nor’easter, Charlotte gives birth, but knows something is wrong when she hears a pop and the stunned nurse asks if she did that. As Sean says she is perfect, Dr. Gianna Del Sol and the OR nurse tell Charlotte not to lift the newborn’s arm. Willow is born with Type III Osteogenesis imperfecta; brittle bone disease that will mean hundreds of broken bones over the years from sneezes, falls and sudden movement.

Over the next few years, Charlotte, having given up her vocation as a chef, becomes Willow’s caretaker. The costs of raising her are exorbitant and the impact emotionally on each family member is straining relationships; especially feeling lost is adolescent Amelia who has never been on a vacation and the only trip outside the state was to a special hospital in Nebraska for her younger half-sister’s care. Worried about Willow after she is gone, Charlotte sues her best friend Piper who was her initial obstetrician and never said anything about an unhealthy fetus. Charlotte’s actions divide the O’Keefe family further as questions of abortion are raised at court.

The key to this insightful family drama is each of the prime O’Keefe players have differing personalities and react to situations in varying manners. The story line is obviously driven by the cast especially by Willow who knows she is loved by the sacrifices made for her. Fans will see the impact on her parents and her sister as all focus is on her. As always Jodi Picoult provides a poignant tale that discerningly raises awareness of the impact an ailing dependent has on others in her circle.

Harriet Klausner

The Fall of the Templars-Robyn Young

The Fall of the Templars
Robyn Young
Dutton, Jan 22 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780525950684

After the crushing defeat at Acre and the failure to take Jerusalem (see BRETHREN and CRUSADE), Knight Templar Will Campbell returns to Europe to find a shocking new world order awaits him. Still depressed over the end of the Christian Kingdoms in the Holy Land, he finds monarchs at least as powerful as the Pope is. At the Templar main chapter in Paris, Will also learns that the French King Philippe is trying to take back the lands that belong to English King Edward I. To achieve his objective, Philippe signed a treaty with Scotland in which he provides them with money and arms so the Scots can occupy King Edward while France regains the occupied lands on the continent.

Although he hates Edward, Will goes to England with two other Templars to meet with the monarch. His worst fears prove real when the Templars agree to fight the Scots; he objects and quits the order as an overt sign of his protestation. He remains in Scotland for years fighting against the English before finally returning to Paris where he hears of a plot by Philippe and his advisers to disband the Templars and seize their treasury and other assets. A betrayal by someone close to him leads to Will’s capture and torture. Friends liberate him and he tries from the shadows to save the Templars.

The third Last Days of the Templar saga covers the period between 1295 and 1314 in an entertaining educational way as the audience obtains a deep look at political and military intrigue in mostly England, but to a lesser degree in France and Scotland. The era is a time of tremendous tumultuous change as secular monarchs and the Papacy fight for control; the kings reject subservience to the Pope while the Holy See proclaims them as heretics. The research is meticulous as the story line is rich with flavoring, but what makes Robin Young’s final entry in her brilliant young adult trilogy so good is the cast especially the beleaguered hero who bring alive the medieval events that changed the world setting up the cradle for the Renaissance.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 19, 2008

In the Wake of the Boatman-Jonathon Scott Fuqua

In the Wake of the Boatman
Jonathon Scott Fuqua
Bancroft, Nov 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 1890862428

In November 1942, Helen Steward gives birth to her second child, Puttnum. His father Carl is in a dark mood with the events of WWII and his bad knee keeping him out of the service; something a man’s man like him cannot accept. He thinks his son would be better off dead and considers saving Puttnum from life’s disappointments by breaking his neck.

That paternal attitude stays with Putt as he does well at his high school studies, but is filled with anger; his arrest affirms his father’s opinion that his only male offspring is a loser. The teen obtains an ROTC scholarship to attend the University of Virginia where he has an interlude with his cadet commander, which leaves Putt struggling with his identity. Graduating from college, Putt puts on women’s attire; he feels guilt, fear and euphoria. To prove he is a man’s man, he volunteers for Viet Nam where he becomes a decorated hero. Back home, he is recruited to infiltrate a stateside Russian espionage ring, afterward the media and the military make him an American hero forcing him to hide even deeper his desire to wear women’s clothing. Whereas his father and brother-in-law (another man’s man) agree Putt is a loser, his older sister thinks otherwise though she knows something disturbs him turning him angrier and colder.

This is a deep psychological character study in which the relationship between father and son is based on what a man is. Carl feels his son is a wimp in spite of his service record and spy endeavors; though that is a psychological defense mechanism as his offspring accomplishes what he wanted to do. Putt is a fascinating character as he struggles with his unholy desire to wear women’s clothing by acting cold. IN THE WAKE OF THE BOATMAN is an intriguing psychological drama that looks deep inside the tormented soul of a man whose solo reason for living is trying to win his father’s affection despite decades of failure to achieve his objective.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Best Of Everything-Kimberla Lawson Roby'

The Best Of Everything
Kimberla Lawson Roby'
Morrow, Jan 27 2009, $23.95
ISBN: 9780061443060

Reverend Curtis Black’s daughter twenty-two years old Alicia Black Sullivan expects to be handed anything she wants on a gold platter. Her wealthy daddy always took care of the bills. Her spouse pastor Phillip Sullivan pleads with her to stop running up expenses they cannot afford for purchases they do not need. However, Alicia ignores her husband’s beseeching.

Alicia ignores him living her life as if she still was daddy’s little girl. Phillip struggles to corral his wife, but her infidelities prove too much. He divorces her. Alicia learns a lesson from the end of her marriage; her second husband will be richer than daddy so he will not care about her spending habits.

Turning from Reverend Curtis (see SIN NO MORE, THE BEST KEPT SECRET, CASTING THE FIRST STONE and TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING) to the next generation, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING contain intriguing twists. This time Alicia is so self centered, Phillip realizes the zillion times he forgave her transgressions only lead her to repeat her negative egotistical behavior; thus recognizing he is no Job, he walks. The other message of redemption can only occur if the person truly in their soul means it to happen; God will know. Although fans of the series will struggle with Alicia’s attitude, Kimberla Lawson Roby puts readers to the test: can they forgive such an unrepentant sinner whose only lesson learned from her marriage is to wed someone much wealthier?

Harriet Klausner

The Courtier's Secret-Donna Russo Morin

The Courtier's Secret
Donna Russo Morin
Kensington, Feb 2009, $14.00
ISBN 9780758226914

When Jeanne Du Bois turned seventeen, the convent where she lived for a decade kicked her out due to a lack of payments by her odious dad. She goes to the court of the Louis XIV in Versailles, where her family is in attendance as part of the Sun King’s retinue. Her abusive father Gaston decides to marry her off to some pathetic noble over the objection of his wife Adelaide whom he considers a womb-loser; however her Uncle Jules encourages her to be all that she can be. He gives her fencing lessons, male garb and a mustache. Ergo Jean-Luc is born.

Jean Luc joins the musketeers as a loyal comrade to Henri and Antoine. Meanwhile Jeanne falls in love with her brother in arms Henri; he reciprocates though remains ignorant that Jeanne is Jean. As Jean-Luc turned to Uncle Jules, Jeanne turns to courtesan Madam de L’Enclos for advice with men. However, as she struggles with both identities, she learns of a plot to assassinate Queen Marie-Therese. The three musketeers vow to save their queen even at risk to their lives.

The spins to this engaging seventeenth century Musketeer romance are the gender bending Jeanne and the fact most of the support cast including the heroine’s father are nasty hedonistic sociopaths although there are those who are kind to Jeanne like her uncle and courtesan. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Uncle Jules trains his niece and never slows down as Jeanne falls in love when she was a young man.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This Side of Heaven-Karen Kingsbury

This Side of Heaven
Karen Kingsbury
Center Street, Jan 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781599956787

Nate and Annie Warren expected so much more from their son Josh, who grew up with everything he could ever want. Instead he has been a major disappointment never achieving anything beyond being a tow truck driver. He even failed at that though it was not his fault as a drunk driver left him unemployed and even lower in the esteem of his parents even as he rescued two young women from being DUI victims.

However, there are some friends like his neighbors Carl, Daisy and Cara who see him as a champion and a buddy. Although he would like to reconcile with his parents he holds no hope to do so as he cannot live their life. More so he would like to meet his eight year old daughter Savannah. When tragedy strikes him again, his mom meeting his friends realizes she never knew her son who is a hero to his friends and wants to make amends with her granddaughter that she never knew about. Her granddaughter lives with her addicted mom Fran Ito in New York City. Fran learns Savannah might be due some insurance money following Josh’s tragedy; she plans to get the money to pay for her habit.

Although loosely connected to JUST BEYOND THE CLOUDS through some characters, THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN is a fascinating inspirational family drama that focuses on what is a hero and tolerance for decisions by loved ones that may not seem right to you but is to them. Whereas God and his friends accept Josh as he is enabling them to believe he is a kind loyal hero; his parents feel he failed even when he severely injured himself to save lives. More than beauty is in the eye of the beholder as his loved ones failed to see his caring soul while his friends admired him for that. Karen Kingsbury provides a deep look at parental expectations unfulfilled because they were never accepted by their offspring; albeit the Warrens lose a lot by their negative reactions to their son.

Harriet Klausner

This Side of Heaven-Karen Kingsbury

This Side of Heaven
Karen Kingsbury
Center Street, Jan 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781599956787

Nate and Annie Warren expected so much more from their son Josh, who grew up with everything he could ever want. Instead he has been a major disappointment never achieving anything beyond being a tow truck driver. He even failed at that though it was not his fault as a drunk driver left him unemployed and even lower in the esteem of his parents even as he rescued two young women from being DUI victims.

However, there are some friends like his neighbors Carl, Daisy and Cara who see him as a champion and a buddy. Although he would like to reconcile with his parents he holds no hope to do so as he cannot live their life. More so he would like to meet his eight year old daughter Savannah. When tragedy strikes him again, his mom meeting his friends realizes she never knew her son who is a hero to his friends and wants to make amends with her granddaughter that she never knew about. Her granddaughter lives with her addicted mom Fran Ito in New York City. Fran learns Savannah might be due some insurance money following Josh’s tragedy; she plans to get the money to pay for her habit.

Although loosely connected to JUST BEYOND THE CLOUDS through some characters, THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN is a fascinating inspirational family drama that focuses on what is a hero and tolerance for decisions by loved ones that may not seem right to you but is to them. Whereas God and his friends accept Josh as he is enabling them to believe he is a kind loyal hero; his parents feel he failed even when he severely injured himself to save lives. More than beauty is in the eye of the beholder as his loved ones failed to see his caring soul while his friends admired him for that. Karen Kingsbury provides a deep look at parental expectations unfulfilled because they were never accepted by their offspring; albeit the Warrens lose a lot by their negative reactions to their son.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Miracles of Prato-Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz

The Miracles of Prato
Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz
Morrow, Feb 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 978006176720

In 1457 in Prato, Italy, artist Carmelite Order Monk Fra Filippo Lippi, commissioned to paint a picture for the convent chapel of Santa Margherita, sees the beautiful novitiate Lucrezia Buti and decides immediately he needs to paint her. He asks her to become his model for his paintings and frescoes. Excited she agrees.

However, her visits to his studio are unacceptable behavior for an unaccompanied woman although both act with proper deportment. Still her spending time alone with Lippi, a known womanizer, is a breach of faith. As the artist and his subject fall in love, she poses for his masterpiece The Holy Mother at a time when the sacred Sacra Cinola belt of the Madonna vanishes. Some in the city blame Lucrezia and want her punished even as she proclaims she remains chaste; others believe her sincerity that she remains a virgin.

Using historical references, Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz provide an intriguing biographical fiction tale of the renowned artist-monk and his most inspirational model with a deep look at the fifteenth century Italian culture that threatened to destroy them. Although in some ways the well written story line appears to be a bittersweet romance, the insight into the limitations of a poor monk vs. that of a Pope or other Medici make for an engaging tale with some intrigue as authors’ note points out their son Filippo Lippi lived with and was trained by his father Fra Lippi and was as renowned if not more so than his father. This is an engaging look at a forbidden love whose work for the Santa Margherita nuns is on display in Florence and highlighted by Robert Browning in his Victorian poem Fra Filippo Lippi.
Harriet Klausner

Lessons In Heartbreak-Cathy Kelly

Lessons In Heartbreak
Cathy Kelly
Downtown, Feb 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 1416586245

Booking agent Izzie Silver has come a long way from convent school in Tamarin, Ireland as she has made it in Manhattan as a successful booking agent. Still the Irish expatriate is not satisfied with how far her career has come as she hopes to one day open her own agency for plus-sized models. Her only setback is falling in love with charming financier Joe Hansen, who happens to be married.

With her prime advisor nonagenarian Grandma Lily hospitalized with a stroke Izzie turns to Aunt Anneliese in Tamarin for help. Anneliese has her own heart issues. Despondent, she has learned her husband is having an affair with her best friend. Thirty seven years of marriage and he betrays her though she tries to hide her feelings of rage and hurt. The aunt and her niece find Lily's 1930s and 1940s diaries that describe the family matriarch also suffered from heartbreak.

LESSONS IN HEARTBREAK is a fantastic family drama that focuses on three generations of females with relationship issues. The lead trio is fully developed although much of what we know of Grandma comes from her diaries and the observations of her daughter and granddaughter. The rich character study contains brilliant spins as Grandma back before and during WWII, and Anneliese and Izzie in the present are obtaining advanced degrees in “How to Mend a Broken Heart” (the Beegees).

Harriet Klausner

The Nightingale-Morgana Gallaway

The Nightingale
Morgana Gallaway
Kensington, Feb 2009, $$14.00
ISBN: 0758227280

In Mosul the al-Ghani family patriarch Tamir was a highly respected judge under the Hussein regime. A pragmatic moderate, he encouraged his children to be all they can be and urged his two daughters Fatima and Leila to obtain an education and encouraged them to dream. Leila wants to be a doctor and not forced into an unwanted marriage. When Saddam was deposed, he remained well respected and his family treated nicely though the income dropped radically.

However, when the photos of torture of Iraqis by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison are revealed, Tami becomes outraged by the affront to his people. As hostilities in Mosul make the city extremely dangerous for everyone, he demands that his daughters adhere to strict Muslim laws, is thankful to Allah that Fatima has a fiancé sensible Khaled and informs Leila he will arrange a marriage for her. Leila obtains work as a translator at the American military base’s hospital, but hides from her parents what she is doing even helping torture victims. Leila begins a relationship with Special Forces officer James Cartwright, but as Mosul explodes in violence she must choose between her father’s demands and what she believes is the right thing to do.

The well written forbidden romance between the American solider and the twenty-three years old Iraqi female takes a back seat to the incredible look at Mosul when the firefight ignited and united the city against the occupiers. The story line is deep as the audience obtains a poignant often depressing look at what the war has cost the locals. Readers will appreciate THE NIGHTINGALE as Morgana Gallaway provides an in depth tale of clashing cultures when war devastates Mosul and threatens every resident as none will come out of the conflict without some loss.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Black Girl Next Door-Jennifer Baszile

The Black Girl Next Door
Jennifer Baszile
Touchstone, Jan 13 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9781416543275

In the mid 1970s in affluent California, elementary school student, Jennifer Baszile and her sister were the only black kids in the building. In the first grade she obtained a deep lesson on de facto racism and ignorance after winning a running race. The loser, naturally white, as everyone else except her sister was, “intelligently” commented that blacks had something special in their feet. Her teacher confirmed that as a truism. Her dad took exception but was careful not to have the school think he was a ghetto thug as he understood they were the local Jackie Robinson and had to behave with more decorum than their neighbors. As integration was pushed as social and legal policy, Jennifer would see de jure racism when she visited her paternal relatives in Louisiana and de facto segregation in Detroit seeing her maternal blood. Still her parents pushed her and her sibling to live the American dream as black pioneers, which the author succeeded because she became the first black female professor at Yale’s History Department.

THE BLACK GIRL NEXT DOOR is a superb memoir that looks deep into one black family making it in an all white wealthy neighborhood during a time when the Civil Rights movement was pushing integration against racial laws and society barriers. Professor Baszile provides powerful anecdotal incidents of so-called supporters of integration resenting the first black family on their block and how it felt to be the only exceptions to the all white rule in so many scenarios; not just school. Readers will appreciate this superb well written window to how society has come a long way due to brave settlers like the parents of the author who wanted more than the dream for their offspring; they courageously went after the opportunity fully aware they would be the token black family next door.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Barefoot Brides-Annie Jones

Barefoot Brides
Annie Jones
Steeple Hill, Jan 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 0373786425

In Santa Sofia, Florida the Cromwell females and the Weatherby father and daughter are excited with the discovery that each says must have been the Lord’s doing. Thirty years ago the ex-husband of Dodie Cromwell abducted their youngest daughter from their Atlanta home and vanished. Dodie raised her two oldest Jo and Kate but never gave up hope. Local fish fry king William Jay Weatherby adopted an abandoned infant left at his renowned restaurant in Santa Sofia, Florida, a town the Cromwells have visited on vacation. The rest is the Lord’s doing.

Whole Moxie excitedly adjusts to three blood females in her life, Sun Times editor R. Hunt Diamante tells her tale in his paper. Jo struggles with doing God's mission as she sets up her mission, but has hope in her faith in the Lord and minister Travis Brandt to guide her. Dr. Kate realizes she loves Dr. Vince Merchant, a new grandfather, so she prays for a second chance with him as they prepare to marry.

In the second Barefoot saga (see THE BAREFOOT BELIEVERS, not read by me) is an engaging character driven drama as the four females struggle to form a revised extended family while each of the three younger generation women have the Lord in their life and a man. Fans of inspirational tales will relish the forging of relationships with one another and with the Lord as the siblings learn that God may work in mysterious ways that seem a long time to the Cromwell women, but they also know his strategic plan for his flock somehow works.

Harriet Klausner

What I Was- Meg Rosoff

What I Was
Meg Rosoff
Plume, Jan 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 0670018449

H looks back over the decades to the moment that defined his life. His father determined that H was to attend St. Oswald’s on the East Anglia coast and dumps his teenage offspring there. Having a lot of freedom prior to the drop off, H struggled with the school’s rules and the decorum expected of him by his three roommates (Barrett, Gibbon and Reese).

Bored, the sixteen years old H wanders the nearby beach when he meets Finn, a squatter living in a ramshackle fisherman’s hut. Finn is beautiful and alive in spite of his being an orphan whose only companions are books and a cat. H and Finn become friends doing things together like fishing, sailing, and crab cooking. However, their idyll ended with death, scandal and a police inquiry. Now eight decades later, Finn returns to East Anglia JUST IN CASE he does not know.

This engaging character study starts off a bit slow as readers share the ennui engulfing Finn. However, once Finn and H become friends, the story line accelerates into a combination buddy-coming of age drama. Well written and insightful fans will appreciate Meg Rosoff’s fine tale of paradise found and paradise lost.
Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Marshmallow for Breakfast-Dorothy Koomson

Marshmallow for Breakfast
Dorothy Koomson
Delta (Dell), Feb 2009, $12.00
ISBN: 9780385341332

After spending time in Australia, Kendra Tamale returns home to England to escape with a fresh start. She rents a room from Kyle Gadsborough. Her plan is to keep everything simple and with her landlord, mind her business while paying the rent on time; no personal relationships.

However she feels sorry for his twin six year old children who are in shock that their mom left them and their dad. As she learned upon her first meeting with the kids, Summer cannot shut up reminding her she is black while Jaxon with his thumb in his mouth looks like the world has ended. The pair are pros when it comes to taking advantage of their dad. Unable to adhere to her plan of non-involvement especially when Kendra becomes Kendie, Kendra creates the sugar Saturday breakfasts even as she falls in love with the single father and his two kids. However, she believes her past will taint her in their eyes and prepares to give up to live a lonely wretched life as she expects Australia to surface especially when the mom returns to take the children with her.

This is an intriguing family drama in which one person’s choice destroys another individual’s equilibrium, The story line is character driven by obviously the four prime payers, but also subtly by the wife and by what happened in Australia as the past strongly influences the lead quartet. Fans will appreciate MARSHMALLOW FOR BREAKFAST as Dorothy Koomson provides a deep look at relationship failure and how little it takes to bring a glimmer of hope.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fool-Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore
Morrow, Feb 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780060590314

In 1288, King Lear of Britain decides to divide his kingdom into three monarchies run by each of his daughters. Who inherits what will be determined by Lear based on whom he perceives loves him the most. His best friend and most loyal subject the Earl of Kent warns him he is acting the fool with this proposition; for his honesty he is exiled from the nation.

His eldest daughters Goneril and Regan constantly flatter him and tell him how much each loves him; their ducal spouses also go out of their way to cajole their father-in-law. His youngest child unmarried with suitors Princess Cordelia refuses to sweet-talk her dad with blatant lies; instead she is honest and sincere with him refusing to exaggerate her love. Irate with Cordelia, Lear leaves her nothing; instead he splits the kingdom between Goneril and Regan. However, as King Lear descends into madness, his decision leads to murder and war.

Paying homage in a cheeky way to the Bard, Christopher Moore’s take on the classic King Lear play is a brilliant mix of bawdry bedroom-bathroom comedy with a tragic novel in five acts. The story is told by the one person who knows everything that is going on because as the FOOL everyone except the apprentice FOOL Drool assumes subconsciously that Pocket is too stupid to understand court intrigue by the royals and the retinue. Well written and entertaining, Mr. Moore captures the essence of Lear in this fine rendition that is summed up by mentioning the rationale for having a ghost is simply “there’s always a bloody ghost”.

Harriet Klausner

Pictures at an Exhibition-Sarah Houghteling

Pictures at an Exhibition
Sarah Houghteling
Knopf, Jan 20 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307266859

In Paris, Max Berenzon attends medical school though he has no desire to be a doctor; in fact he wants to join his father’s business and eventually take over the art gallery, but his dad Daniel rejects his desire. Max is also attracted the gallery’s assistant, Rose Clement.

When the Nazis occupy Paris, the Jewish Berenzon family goes into hiding in a wine cellar far away from the city. They leave behind priceless paintings. In 1944, with Paris liberated, Max and Daniel learn of the looting of their masterpieces. Max vows to recover the stolen paintings. As he scours the legitimate but crooked dealers, the black marketers, and the Nazi sympathizers, he also seeks Rose.

The key to this excellent look at the missing after WWII Nazi ethnic cleansing is the little innuendoes and hints of anti-Semitism, clues to stolen masterpieces, and insightful angst over not knowing what happened to loved ones but sadly confident whatever occurred was not good. Max makes the tale work as he comes out of the war and his cellar obsessed with finding his father’s art collection and Rose while learning paragons of society possess some of his family’s masterpieces. Readers will relish traveling France with him as Sarah Houghteling paints a hunting picture of post war Western Europe.
Harriet Klausner

The Isle of Dogs-Daniel Davies

The Isle of Dogs
Daniel Davies
Serpents Tail, Feb 1 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9781852429980

In London Jeremy Shepherd as the editor-in-chief of a London fashion magazine seems to have it all, living a glamorous life as an in person. However, he finds himself unsatisfied with his life and as he looks deep inside himself and concludes what he does is so insignificant it means nothing to anyone. Having a breakdown of sorts, he quits his position and leaves swinging London for his parents’ home, a couple of hours by train from his previous haunt.

He decides to apply quantum physics to reengineer his life into something less complex except for more sex. He takes a low paying, non demanding demographics collector civil service job and begins his sexual quest. Jeremy is especially fascinated with “dogging", having outdoors sex with total strangers. He soon finds fellow adventurers wanting to share a tryst in a parking lot as well as pervert-hunters wanting to slice and dice him and his revelers.

This is an engaging look at a local rebel using public sex in spite of the Patriot Act (England’s equivalent that is) surveillance society with official cameras monitoring everyone (great job for secret agent voyeurs). The story line is driven by Jeremy who tossed the glitter for parking lot encounters. Although the vigilantes stalking and assaulting the free public sex crowd never comes across as realistic as it seems (hard to get it up even the outrage when it appears the transgressions are relatively minor unless you’re a bible thumper politician). Readers will enjoy this fine character study mindful of Benjamin Franklin’s cautionary adage that "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Addition-Toni Jordan

Toni Jordan
Morrow, Feb 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061763571

It started when she was eight years old and counted the ten steps in front of her family house. Over the next two plus decades schoolteacher Grace Lisa Vandenberg who is a nineteen counts everything to include steps to and from work, the number of poppyseeds on her morning orange cake and the letters in her family’s full names. She lives life by the numbers as she has even assigned numbers to colors. Ten is her magic number unlike her hero the inventor Nicola Tesla who worshipped three.

However, her fine tuned world falls apart starting with swiping a banana from the shopper behind her so her bunch will be ten not nine; thus Seamus Joseph O’Reilly, also a nineteen, meets the banana thief. He in turn steals her morning spot at the café, but asks her to have breakfast with him. Years of orange cake and seed counting turn into the trauma of pancakes, which seems like a miscalculation as computing syrup is somewhat limiting, but she likes the fact that they are both nineteen’s.

Counting numbers rules how Grace lives with ten being perfect because of the number of fingers and toes. She obviously suffers from a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, but she functions quite nicely and is amusing when she discusses her affliction and how she hides it from others; a lesson learned at eight years old when her fingers were working calculations in public. Although at times her obsessions, for instance her hero Tesla, can become a bit overbearing, this deep look at a person with OCD is a well written character study with droll chick-lit asides.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Magic Happens-Cathy Corcoran

Magic Happens
Cathy Corcoran
iUniverse, Nov 2008, $16.95

Just outside Boston, former Raytheon cubicle mates, engineers Bob and George, open up their own firm B&G Enterprises in the Hingham Shipyard. Bob persuades his wife Kate to buy a million dollar plus home for them and their six years old daughter, but the firm failed to survive in time for its birthing; two months after his proclamation B&G was dead.

While Bob hides in his bed with growing depression, Kate brings in income as a public relations consultant that does not come close to paying off the credit card loans Bob took out or the mortgage. Being a recovering alcoholic who attended AA even before her spouse’s business collapse, Kate finds herself desperately needing a drink as the meetings no longer help. Needing to release her stress caused by the incredible debt and the wallowing in self pity undependable Bob, Kate joins the local gym that her friend took her too as that was cheaper than psychotherapy. To the shock of heterosexual Kate she wants her female drill instructor leading the aerobics Lou. While at work she has issues with her boss Alden at the Social Welfare League. Kate is in the middle of a major period of change.

This is an excellent character study as Cathy Corcoran provides an inspiring insightful look at a working suburban mom struggling with a world she no longer recognizes. First there is formerly dependable Bob in so a deep funk that he cannot get out of bed. Then there is her problem with Alden, which she can no longer walk away from as that job is the only source of income, making her feel trapped and in need of a drink. Finally there is Lou, who has Kate wondering if all these years she was a closet lesbian and not aware of it. Cutting across all is the money problem, as Lou puts it so eloquently “sh*t happens”, but Kate believes the corollary MAGIC HAPPENS too.

Harriet Klausner

The Lost Recipe for Happiness-Barbara O’Neal

The Lost Recipe for Happiness
Barbara O’Neal
Bantam, Dec 30 2009, $13.00
ISBN: 9780553385519

Although two decades have past since the horrific accident in Espanola, New Mexico that killed her sister and boyfriend and scarred her, Elena Alvarez remains mentally disturbed. Her only escape from the nightmares and ghosts is cooking, which she studied in Europe before returning to Vancouver as a chef at the Blue Turtle where her Santa Fe roots and his French cuisine merged. When the local paper features her instead of her boss Dmitri, he fires her.

Slasher film director and Blue Turtle restaurant owner Julian Liswood tasted talent in Elena’s meals at the Blue Turtle. He offers her the position of executive chef at his new Aspen restaurant; she accepts. In Aspen, she works diligently on the menu in order to compete with a city known for food almost as much for skiing. She also finds herself falling in love with her employer, the divorced several times Julian.

Although a passionate contemporary culinary romance has been done many times, THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS is kept fresh by the haunting of Elena who literally cannot go home and the failures at marriage of Julian; although the latter pales in comparison on the trauma indicator. The pair shares in common a passion for food and each other while both fears relationships as they always end in failure. With a nod to The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbara O’Neal cooks up a tasty gourmet meal.

Harriet Klausner

Harold and Me: My Life, Love, and Hard Times with Harold Robbins

Harold and Me: My Life, Love, and Hard Times with Harold Robbins
Jann Robbins
Forge, Dec 9 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780765300034

In 1982 in Oklahoma City, Jann Stapp received a call that Harold Robbins will interview her for the temporary job of his personal assistant. Down to a box of cereal and two cats, she was excited by the possibility as she knew her grandma, her mom, and her aunt were fans of the renowned author. She was also frightened as she read the Pirate the night before her trip to Los Angeles for the interview that changed her life. He hired her and remained in the job for the next ten years as an assistant to the volatile hard living Robbins. In 1992 she became his wife and was with him until he died five years later.

Although the biography obviously focuses on Harold Robbins, his widow provides a deep perspective into their relationship. Even as Ms. Robbins descriptions are somewhat rose colored to include the hard times when he was over the edge, she captures the essence of her late spouse whose genius was entertaining the public with intense passionate tales; the same way he lived life. Obviously for fans of Harold Robbins or celebrity biographies, HAROLD AND ME: MY LIFE, LOVE, AND HARD TIMES WITH HAROLD ROBBINS is an intriguing insight into the king of the titillating raucous thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 5, 2008

Erotic City-Pynk

Erotic City
Grand Central, Nov 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446179577

In Atlanta lies the adult only Erotic City, the hippest, swingiest club in the southeast. The club occupies three stories in the heart of the downtown; a place where customers can behave with no inhibitions and no concerns up to four nights a week. Sex of any persuasion is the only game in Erotic City.

Thirty-two years old Club owner Milan Kennedy struggles to insure her clients are enjoying their visits without recrimination. However, just surrounding the sexual oasis is Georgia, a state that fundamentally condemns sex even between two consenting adults. They want the club closed and threaten the client base with exposure. Meanwhile Milan’s significant other former boxing champ “Lavender” Lewis has issues with his ex volatile fruitcake Ramada Hart who will do anything including destroying Milan to get her champ back.

Though the heat is hotter than the equator, surprisingly EROTIC CITY is a character study of relationships between several people from differing aspects of life. The lead couple, his ex and her sisters are fully developed protagonists and an antagonist, but the support cast especially the clientele come across with just enough development to understand their wants and desires. Readers will enjoy Pynk’s deep contemporary that focuses on relationships through the lens of sex in the city that prefers to pretend it is non existent, and those who flaunt it will regret it.

Harriet Klausner

The Piano Teacher-Janice Y. K. Lee

The Piano Teacher
Janice Y. K. Lee
Viking, Jan 13 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 0670020486

In 1952, recently married to Martin, Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong when her spouse is assigned there as the chief engineer of the British colonial government Department of Water Services overseeing the construction of the Tai Lam Cheung Reservoir. Wealthy Chinese Melody and Victor Chen want their daughter Locket to receive piano lesions but only an Englishwoman will do as her teacher. Claire accepts the position so she has something to do, but quickly realizes her student has no interest in learning to play the piano.

In 1942 in Hong Kong Will Truesdale and Portuguese-Chinese Trudy Liang share a passionate affair, but the Japanese soon occupy the British colony. Ten years later, he is still in the city working as a driver to the wealthy Chen family. When he and Claire meet, the attraction is incredible. Soon they are having an affair that everyone knows about as neither do a good job hiding their trysts. However, the events of 1942 and who caused what to Will, Trudy, and Victor resurfaces as the good times ended with the Japanese invasion and returned when the war ended, but seem heading to another destructing finish for all involved.

This is an insightful historical fiction that brings to life two closely related periods: surviving the Japanese WW II occupation and recovering just after the occupation and the war is over. The cast is strong as each does what he or she must to live through the ordeal of the 1940s although ramifications still linger as of 1952 when seemingly less life threatening choices once again may lead to tragedy. THE PIANO TEACHER is a strong character study of survival of the fittest which means do whatever one must to live during WW II and its aftermath in Hong Kong

Harriet Klausner

Leaving Whiskey Bend-Dorothy Garlock

Leaving Whiskey Bend
Dorothy Garlock
Grand Central, Nov 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 0446695343

In 1890 Whiskey Bend, Colorado, Chester Remnick beat up his stepsister Mary in public; none of the men intervened. Mary’s friend Pearl Parsons warns Chester to stay away from her and his stepsister or she will use her rifle to convert him into a hen; she does shoot him in the leg. The two women and schoolteacher Hallie Wolcott decide to flee the brutality and abuse of the town.

A previous victim of abuse, Pearl vows to find a safe haven for her friends. A storm almost kills Mary, but she is rescued by a rancher Eli Morgan, who gives them shelter at his rundown spread while she heals over the objection of his malicious mother who knows the women mean trouble and wants them to leave. Outraged from the affront Chester is hunting the women with plans to take the friends to teach them a lesson and bring home his stepsister to take care of his shack. Eli has his own issues as his mom never forgave him for abandoning the family years ago and a need to find out who murdered his younger brother Caleb. As he and Hallie fall in love, neither are prepared for an unknown adversary who wants him dead.

Although intriguing with the premise of late nineteenth century abuse and with solid key characters, the romance fails to come across as realistic; as that and the climax seem abrupt. Still fans of Dorothy Garlock will enjoy her western romance as family issues threaten the lives of Eli and the three women he vows to protect.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cutting For Stone-Abraham Verghese

Cutting For Stone
Abraham Verghese
Knopf, Feb 6 2009, $26.95
ISBN: 9780375414497

In 1947 dedicated to the Lord Sister Mary Joseph Praise leaves Kerala, India for a missionary assignment in Yemen. The voyage mostly by sea is grueling, but Sister Mary has the Lord accompanying her so has no ill affects. She saves the life of Dr. Thomas Stone who is heading to Ethiopia.

Sister Mary and Dr. Stone meet for the first time since their sea trek at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa and she provides him comfort. Sister Mary dies during child birth, but her twin sons Shiva and Marion survive; Thomas never knew although she wrote him a letter explaining all. Adopted by physicians at Missing Hospital, who hide Mary’s letter, the brothers thrive over the decades until each becomes a doctor.

This is a terrific twenty century epic that wonderfully blends a family drama and medical practices into an Ethiopian political thriller. The well written story line is told by one of the siblings, who vividly explains, the love he and his twin received from his adopted parents, his discovery of the letter, and especially medicine in war torn Ethiopia and in the battle zone of the New York City slums. Although coincidence allows the major early events to occur the way the do, fans will relish this deep tale of two adopted brothers becoming doctors just like their parents and the biological father they do not know.

Harriet Klausner

Lark and Termite-Jayne Anne Phillips

Lark and Termite
Jayne Anne Phillips
Kopf, Jan 9 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780375401954

In the last week of July 1950 West Virginia, seventeen year old Lark; her mute younger brother Termite and their Aunt Nonie struggle to survive with none of them having any hope for the near future. Lark is confused by her past starting with her mom who dumped her on her aunt before disappearing and ending with having no idea who her dad is. When she was nine, the infant Termite, who cannot walk or talk, was abandoned on Nonie’s doorstep.

Whereas Nonie is filled with fear for herself and her two charges while working overtime at a nearby restaurant to feed the three of them, Lark raises Termite while his father Corporal Robert Leavitt serves in Korea as the war begins. When Lark attends secretarial school, she soon is paralyzed with fear and despair just like her caretaker aunt as she realizes what Nonie knows that the future is at best gloomy for her or Termite.

Four days in July 1950 serve as the basis of this insightful historical character study that enables the audience to look deep inside the souls of the four prime characters and to a lesser degree Lark’s mom. LARK AND TERMITE is both sad and uplifting as the audience along with the teen understand that she like her aunt has no future and Termite’s is even less than hers; yet Lark has dreams for her and her ward even though they her subatomic tiny, they matter. Something as simple as a means for Termite to be a bit mobile like getting him a wheelchair though that is a dream as money is only for the basic sustenance of food and shelter. This coming of age drama is not an easy read as there is an overall feel of dismal inevitability to the story line, but even in total darkness little bits of hopeful light shine through.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Too Deep-Jennifer Banash

In Too Deep
Jennifer Banash
Berkley, Jan 2009, $9.99
ISBN: 9780425223536

With her mom traveling in Europe, Casey McCloy left Normal, Illinois to attend the prestigious Meadowlark Academy in New York. She will live with her Nanna in the affluent Bramford Building in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She has come a long way from her initial shock at the elegance of her new digs and school as she loves living in the Big Apple.

She has the urbane teen look and a boyfriend Drew Van Allen, but lately is concerned that the real small-town Midwesterner has vanished underneath a sophisticated phony veneer and that if Drew peeled away the surface he would detest what he sees. The top gun of the social set at Bramford Madison MacAlister is irate that the farmer’s daughter is dating her Drew, whom she actually was not seeing when he turned to the country bumpkin. She wants Drew and plots to steal him while bringing normal back to the social stratosphere by humiliating and driving her rival back to Illinois.

The sequel to THE ELITE continues the adventures of the teenage country bumpkin navigating the shark infested waters of the east River’s upper class. The key cast characters are fully developed hyperbolically representing a “good vs. bad” High Noon showdown on Fifth Avenue and a few other elite Manhattan locales (this crowd thinks the boroughs are foreign nations) with Drew going to the victor. Although there are too many subplots occurring with several not resolved, fans of teen high society will relish the latest civil war between the forces of THE ELITE.

Harriet Klausner

Adios to All the Drama-Diana Rodriguez-Wallach

Adios to All the Drama
Diana Rodriguez-Wallach
Kensington, Jan 2009, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758225573

In Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, high school student Mariana Ruiz is shocked to find sitting at the breakfast table, Alex, whom she met during the summer when she visited family in Puerto Rico (see AMOR AND SUMMER SECRETS). Her last memory of him is his standing roadside in Utuado as she drove off to go home after they were an entry during the summer. Whereas Alex is ready to continue where they left off, Mariana is unsure whether she wants to take up where they left it especially since she also is attracted to her locker buddy Bobby (see AMIGAS AND SCHOOL SCANDALS) that she tried to hide but everyone seems to know.

As always Mariana asks Madison and Emily for advice, but the former is totally preoccupied with her on-line boyfriend whom she has never met in person and her other friend has parental woes Meanwhile estranged Aunt Teresa is getting married on New Year’s Day with the teen cousins Mariana and Lilly serving as her bridesmaids while Mariana wonders who she will save the last dance for when the ball comes down; because that is whom she will kiss.

The third tale has the three amigas with boy problems that strains their friendship as for the first time they are not there for one another. The cast is solid and the subplots involving Teresa, Madison and Emily add to the overall teen angst, but no question there is only one star in Diana Rodriguez-Wallach teen series, Mariana, who first hand understands the Loving Spoonful’s prime question of the universe (and not that of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy): Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?. ADIOS TO ALL THE DRAMA is an interesting look at teen decision making, information gathering, and especially drama queen angst.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 1, 2008

Signora da Vinci- Robin Maxwell

Signora da Vinci
Robin Maxwell
NAL, Jan 2009, $15.00
ISBN 9780451225801

In Vinci, Italy Caterina, as befitting the daughter of an apothecary, is trained in alchemy. In 1451 when she turns fourteen, Caterina meets and falls in love with much older Piero da Vinci. Although he is from a much higher social circle, he offers to marry her. They make love and she becomes pregnant.

He reneges on his pledge as his family threatens to disown him if he weds his inferior mistress. After Caterina gives birth, Piero's family takes away the newborn Leonardo from his unwed mom; as she has no rights compared to their influence. The da Vinci brood abuse Leonardo, but his visits to his mom gives him hope. When she sees his incredible drawings, she arranges for him to apprentice with a master artist in Florence. Missing her son, who is becoming renowned as an artist, Caterina arranges a reunion with her Leonardo, but a surprise awaits her in Florence.

SIGNORA DA VINCI is a fascinating biographical fiction that looks deep into the life of Leonardo’s mother. The story line is well written as it brings out the sacrifices Caterina did to obtain quality time with her son while he is raised by his wealthy affluent paternal family. The background of the Renaissance is also intricately interwoven into the plot. Although she performs some seemingly implausible events, which Caterina admits “would be impossible for a woman of my station” that detracts from the tale even with an explanation, sub-genre fans will relish this reflective refreshing indirect glimpse into the life of Leonardo through the eyes of his doting mom.

Harriet Klausner

In Love with a Younger Man- Cheryl Robinson

In Love with a Younger Man
Cheryl Robinson
NAL, Jan 2009, $14.00
ISBN 9780451225825

At college, her dorm residents dub Olena Day the “bitch” due to her prickly demeanor; she rationalizes her behavior as acceptable because her first boyfriend committed suicide when they were fifteen. Her college roommate who happens to be her cousin Candice warns Olena her chances of finding a boyfriend is slim to none as African-Americans prefer lighter skinned docile females. Olena ignores Candice’s rant and becomes Andrew’s girlfriend. When she becomes pregnant he demands she abort their twin fetuses. He still dumps her and marries another girl he impregnated.

Twenty-five years later, Olena is even a greater bitch than her college days, as a successful businesswoman but with no friends and no outside of work relationships. Lonely she takes leave from her job planning to write a book, but soon meets finance executive Matthew Harper, who is almost two decades younger than her. They are attracted to one another and begin an ardent relationship though she has doubts beyond their age differences as she knows first-hand men leave.

Olena makes this deep tale work when she falls IN LOVE WITH A YOUNGER MAN; who sees below the acerbic exterior to the lonely vulnerable woman inside. As Olena begins to think of a future without her beloved, she begins to look back to what she did to cause her to have no friends by running off anyone who tried to get close to her including family. Fans will appreciate this deep character driven contemporary romance as few protagonists are as developed as Olena is. deep
Harriet Klausner