Wednesday, April 30, 2008

She Always Wore Red-Angela Hunt

She Always Wore Red
Angela Hunt
Tyndale, May 2008, $13.99
ISBN 9781414311708

A former Chief of Staff to a US Senator, almost forty Jennifer Graham left DC for Mount Dora, Florida following an ugly divorce, accompanied by her two sons. She is attending mortuary school and has converted her family Victorian mansion into a place for her and the boys to live and as the Fairlawn Funeral Home. Since she is in training, elderly embalmer Gerald Huffman lives with them while overseeing the body dressing.

However, the change does not work out as smooth as Jennifer hoped for. Her son thirteen year old Clay has joined a team of shoplifting troublemakers and has been nasty at home to her and his brother. He is driving her to the end of her rope although she loves him and will keep on feeling that way regardless of what trouble he is in. However Jennifer also discovers she has a half-sister dominated by a fundamentalist stepfather whose beliefs make Jennifer wonder about her own as her faith in God is tested.

The sequel to DOESN’T SHE LOOK NATURAL is a deeper tale than the fine first Graham entry as issues of faith, race, divorce aftermath and teen peer presure are handled deftly while interwoven into a strong character driven story. Jennifer is a wonderful lead protagonist who left DC for smalltown Florida for her sake and that of her sons in order for them to start fresh; however the best laid plans of mice, women and Jennifer often go astray. Angela Hunt provides a poignant contemporary novel that in spite of the profound issues, frustrations and differences true maternal love is always there.

Harriet Klausner

The Last Time I Was Me-Cathy Lamb

The Last Time I Was Me
Cathy Lamb
Kensington, May 2008, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758214638

Mourning the death of her mother, Jeanne Stewart is outraged to find out her boyfriend “Slick Dick” has been cheating on her. Irate Jeanne obtains revenge on her live in lover when she mixes peanut oil that he is allergic to with his condoms. His reaction is to sue her. With her personal life in tatters, her professional life melts also when she suffers a nervous breakdown.

Jeanne closes her mom’s Chicago home and taking a violin and a gold dolphin necklace her dad gave her just before he died, she leaves and heads to her brother’s home in Portland, Oregon stopping to have pancakes at the Opera Man’s café in Weltana. She begins her recuperation by signing onto an anger management class as required by the court. Running naked as the class requires, she stumbles but a kind man helps her. At her brother’s urging, Jeanne works on the PR campaign of a gubernatorial candidate; the man who rescued her when she fell running. The Slickster she left behind in the Midwest is considering a lawsuit.

THE LAST TIME I WAS ME is a charming character study of a grieving woman using a betrayal to find herself. The story line overall is fun to follow, but at times Jeanne turns chick lit chic responses that feel out of place for her. Still fans will cheer Jeanne on as she seeks to find her misplaced groove.

Harriet Klausner

The Madam Of Maple Court-Joan Elizabeth Lloyd

The Madam Of Maple Court
Joan Elizabeth Lloyd
Kensington, May 2008, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758223722

When Dom DePalma suddenly dies he leaves his twenty something widow Pam with an exorbitant mortgage on their exclusive Maple Court mansion and other bills. Pam knows that if she is to continue to live her lavish lifestyle she enjoyed with her spouse, she needs to find a way to bring in money.

Chase Hobart, a married associate of Dom, suggests to Pam that she is a sex object he desires though he loves his wife Anna. He implies she should host special parties for visiting business moguls in which beautiful women offer distinctive services for a fee so that Club Fantasy allows her to continue to belong to the country club. In other words she would be madam to high price call girls catering to the rich and richer. Things work extraordinarily well for Pam, who is booked solid and her sex life is better than ever; however, she soon realizes someone is not euphoric by her cottage industry and she fears may make trouble for her.

This engaging lighthearted frolic is an enjoyable read as Pam turns her posh mansion Maple Court into a high class brothel so that ironically she can pay her mortgage on her home. Pam keeps the story together as the only fully developed character; readers will understand her motives as her hedonism is a refreshing change from the usual adjusting to a less income lifestyle. With the Governor Spitzer and Senator Vitters scenarios, Pam’s saga is relevant; however, the story line loses an opportunity to look deeply at what drives a person to prostitution to maintain their current social position. Instead the tale never takes itself seriously yet fans will enjoy Pam’s escapades as the Maple Court madam to the wealthy.

Harriet Klausner

The Moon in the Mango Tree-Pamela Binnings Ewen

The Moon in the Mango Tree
Pamela Binnings Ewen
B&H, May 2008, $15.99
ISBN 9780805447330

Not long after WWI ended, Barbara is forced to forget her dreams of being an opera diva when she marries Dr. Harvey Perkins, who informs his new bride that he is giving up his practice to serve as a medical missionary in Siam. He offers her a platitude that she will be able to sing once they settle in Siam. Frightened as she is a comfortable Christian and not a missionary, Babs objects to their relocation as she prefers they move to Chicago where the local opera has offered her a performing role. However, he rules as the husband and they head to Siam.

However, not long after arrival in rural Nan, Babs is unable to adjust to the abject poverty she witnesses or the conditions of their lifestyle. Harvey is appalled with his spouse’s failure and irate with her weakness when she suffers a nervous breakdown. Still they return to the States for her to heal, but fanatical Harvey forces them to return to his Siam practice soonest.

THE MOON IN THE MANGO TREE is a terific historical tale that allows the audience too look deeply at the role of women in society. Fascinatingly Harvey cares and loves his spouse, but is disappointed in her failure to adjust; her ambition and goals are irreleverant. Babs wants to adapt as she accepts that is her position in life, but resents giving up her goals and cannot cope with what she has seen in Siam. Although the description of time and place is extremely vivid enabling the reader to feel they are in America and Siam circa 1920s; that also slows down the pace of an otherwise strong early twentieth century relationship drama.

Harriet Klausner

The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society-Beth Pattillo

The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society
Beth Pattillo
Waterbrook, May 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400073948

In Sweetgum, Tennessee, the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society consists of women who have been hurt in their relationships, but share their love of knitting and formed a book club. Sexagenarian librarian Eugenie Pierce has never even tasted love. Sisters Ruthie Allen and Esther Jackson will probably take sibling rivalry to the grave. Twentyish Camille St. Clair may not have the years of kicking the can experiences like the others, but her life is currently on hold as she cares for her dying mother. Merry McGavin seems happy with her loving family, but loving family means hiding the truth behind a façade as she is overwhelmed. Finally there is newest member thirteen years old Hannah Simmons, who has no future except to repeat the ugly past culminated with a temper fit in the library tearing out pages from books. As each faces a personal crisis caused in part by secrets they hide, their knit lit pals encourage and support one another.

This Yada Yada crowd meets the Elm Creek quilters in a Mossy Creek like Tennessee small town is a fine ensemble tale starring fully developed women in personal crisis who finds their knit lit members being there for them. The story line is well written, but though smooth, the author never explores deeply any of the ensemble cast while touching on all of them. Fans will enjoy the sisterhood as each helps one another.

Harriet Klausner

Dogwood-Chris Fabry

Chris Fabry
Tyndale, Jul 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414319551

It has been twelve years since Will Hatfield was sentenced to Clarkeston Federal prison, but he is about to be released in two months. He has a great desire to see the family farm in Dogwood, West Virginia and Karin the only woman h ever loved. When he went to prison, she never answered his letters as she made a new life for herself in a passionless marriage with three children she adores.

When Will comes home, he is not greeted like the prodigal son as most locals believe he should have spent his life in prison for his crimes; even his brother would be happier if he left. The family has been dragged through the sewage due to Will’s DUI vehicular homicide of two innocent girls. He is attacked at the place he used to work and the town tries to take the farm away from him due to eminent domain. Karin is coming to learn the truth ABOUT THE SACRIFICE Will made for her.

On the surface DOGWOOD seems like a straight line story with Danny the brother of the dead sisters receiving counseling because he blames himself for their deaths. Karin tries to be happy in her situation while Will shows patience as he waits for Karin to realize the truth. None of the peoples’ stories are quite what they appear as the revelations are quite shocking. Chris Fabry has written a heart wrenching character driven tale as each of the key players feels guilt while praying for redemption and a fresh start.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Guy Next Door-Carol Culver

The Guy Next Door
Carol Culver
Berkley, May 2008, $5.99
ISBN: 9780425221365

Since her parents are divorcing, Maggie and her mother leave the McMansion and move into a small rental house. Maggie’s mom is in such a deep depression, she cannot look for a job; Maggie’s dad, a venture capitalist, is also going through hard financial times. He has cut back on expenses including perks Maggie has taken for granted, but he still pays her fees to attend exclusive Manderley Prep.

Also attending Manderley is Eric, her former next door neighbor in exclusive Monte Vista; they used to play together as kids. Now he barely notices her, but she thinks he is a hunk and is hung up on him. Her father is going to chaperone the school dance and wants his daughter to date his girlfriend’s geeky son. She aggress on the condition he buys her invisible braces. Maggie wins a scholarship to go to Hawaii for a chorus competition and her friend makes her sexy clothing. Eric notices her, but they both might get in trouble when drugs are found in Maggie’s purse; he wants to be her hero by coming to her rescue.

This breezy fun filled young adult BFF tale demonstrates that being a teen is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Teenagers constantly face moral dilemmas while observing people in authority abuse their power and break the rules; role models at their best. (not) Maggie grows through the course of the action-packed story line as she learns to be honest to herself with the decisions she makes. Carol Culver has written a dynamite BFF book.

Harriet Klausner

Above the Houses-Susan Enberg

Above the Houses
Susan Enberg
Delphinium, May 28 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9781883285302

These are nine insightful tales starring people quietly hiding their feelings of helplessness from loved ones while navigating through a personal crisis; realism is Susan Enberg’s poignant deep collection. The best entry and one of the best shorts of the year is “Time’s Body” as an elderly man attends the funeral of his long time wife; anyone over fifty will taste their mortality with that story. Others are as deep as this one whether it is a grandpa who has not met his grandchildren talking with a grandma he just met who has memories of her children, a late spouse and a grandchild, but nothing else (“Beginning”); a new bride undecided between exaltation and detachment towards her new mate (“Moon”); or a woman recognizing her life is filled with lies starting with self-mendacity (“River Hills”). Ms. Enberg is one of the best short story authors on the market today as affirmed by this anthology that has readers marveling at the depths of her everyday people.

Harriet Klausner

Above the Houses-Susan Enberg

Above the Houses
Susan Enberg
Delphinium, May 28 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9781883285302

These are nine insightful tales starring people quietly hiding their feelings of helplessness from loved ones while navigating through a personal crisis; realism is Susan Enberg’s poignant deep collection. The best entry and one of the best shorts of the year is “Time’s Body” as an elderly man attends the funeral of his long time wife; anyone over fifty will taste their mortality with that story. Others are as deep as this one whether it is a grandpa who has not met his grandchildren talking with a grandma he just met who has memories of her children, a late spouse and a grandchild, but nothing else (“Beginning”); a new bride undecided between exaltation and detachment towards her new mate (“Moon”); or a woman recognizing her life is filled with lies starting with self-mendacity (“River Hills”). Ms. Enberg is one of the best short story authors on the market today as affirmed by this anthology that has readers marveling at the depths of her everyday people.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 28, 2008

Shadow of Light-James E. Cherry

Shadow of Light
James E. Cherry
Serpent’s Tail, Jun 2008
ISBN: 9781852424923

Forrest looks like a typical small Southern town; however, below the surface in the Tennessee town, racial tension waits for the incident to explode. One night after planning and casing a house where a respected black woman lives, white males burst in to rob it. They expected the elderly female “Big Mama” to be at church as she always is, but instead she was home. The leader of the invaders Ronny Mcalister" rapes her before shooting her.

Miraculously she lives and her livid grandson police detective Walter Robinson wants to know how close his peers are o catching the culprits. All local blacks decry the crime, but Walter’s nephew neighborhood druglord Cebo wants white blood to flow especially those who committed the obscenity. He informs the police that if the SOBs are not in custody within forty-eight hours a cop will die; another will die every forty-eight hours afterward until there are no police or the perps are caught. The town is a powder keg with only Walter able to keep the fuse from igniting, but he sympathizes with his nephew as this is his beloved grandma.

It does not take a lot of words to describe the town where blacks see no way out of poverty that engulfs communities. In some way James E. Cherry’s vivid description of a town without pity feels somewhat 1960s yet the author makes the case that poverty is the modern day de facto racism. Walter is a good person and cop as he tries to glide above the racial divide even as he understands how many whites look down at blacks; he vents his frustration on his wife. However this time he cannot ignore the incident nor does he truly want too. How he acts will determine whether this town burns down in a Forrest fire or not as James E. Cherry provides a strong thriller that plays out on two levels: town-wide and character poignancy.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Way He Moves-Marcia King-Gamble

The Way He Moves
Marcia King-Gamble
Harlequin Mediterranean, May 2008, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373389711

Argentinean publisher Serena d'Andrea decides a Rhythm Dancers’ cruise is just the ticket for her to forget her former lover, diplomat Marc LeClair. However, on board the Alexandra's Dream, Serena meets Gilles Anderson, who could be Marc’s identical twin; he insists he is not when she confronts him.

Serena finds a moon pendant that allegedly brings one’s true love to the person wearing it. However, she thinks her charm brings nothing but bad luck as someone threatens Serena’s life; fearing for the woman he loves, Gilles wonders if there is a connection between the threats to Serena and those he endured at his last post as Marc LeClair in Argentina.

Although there is too much distracting going on even for a cruise ship, THE WAY HE MOVES is an entertaining romantic suspense that makes for a fine finish to an entertaining mostly at sea contemporary miniseries. The story line is fun to follow as Marc struggles with his lies to the woman he loves while Serena knows the way Gilles kisses intimately. Fans will enjoy the last stop of the Alexandra’s Dream as Marcia King-Gamble provides a delightful wrap up.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Summit- Nick Heil

Dark Summit
Nick Heil
Holt, May 2008, $16.00
ISBN: 9780805083101

In 2006, eleven climbers died trying to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The most famous fatality was David Sharp who was left near the top still alive while forty other people continued their ascent. One week later, Lincoln Hall was left to die at the same spot that Sharp died; he survived that night without shelter leading to speculation re Sharp.

Nick Heil investigates the true story of what went wrong on the Everest climb in the deadliest year since 1996. He makes the case that some ruthless commercial operators are making increasing access available but at the cost of dramatic increase in risk. Readers will be hooked by Mr. Heil’s passion for mountain climbing while horrified by the avarice of some to take advantage of the obsession of many advocates to claim they reached the top of the world. The author points out rescue is usually impossible and can endanger others; while he also defends operator Brice who was accused of abandoning Sharp to die on the mountain’s Death Zone. However, Mr. Heil also rips less conscientious operators like the guide who failed to assist a confused Thomas Weber, who other climbers felt could be rescued. This is chilling yet fascinating as Mr. Heil provides a lucid account of the deaths on the DARK SUMMIT.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Women In Hats-Judy Sheehan

Women In Hats
Judy Sheehan
Ballantine, May 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345480088

Bridie Hart is a show business legend as America’s most beloved TV mom even if her show has been off the air for fifteen years. Everyone adores except her adult daughter Leigh Majors, theatre director, who wants as little to do with her famous mom as possible. She hides her connection to her late famous father and older sister. Leigh is irate with her spouse playwright Michael, who agrees that his mother-in-law would be perfect for a role in a play he wrote.

Bridie being Bridie tries to take over the production because she fears her offspring is incapable of performing the production and so does not want her to fail. Leigh is attracted to the stage manager, James and considers acting on her desire. Instead she confesses to Michael why he hurt her when he accepted Bridie for a part and her thoughts towards a fling, but she agrees that her mom deserves one more time in the spotlight.

This warm family drama focuses on the dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter. The story line is filled with poignancy as Bridie tries to take over out of fear for her offspring while Leigh needs to succeed or fail on her own. Mindful of the song “Teach Your Children” by Sills, Crosby, Nash and Young, WOMEN IN HATS is an enjoyable contemporary tale.

Harriet Klausner

A Hollywood Ending-Robyn Sisman

A Hollywood Ending
Robyn Sisman
Plume, May 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780452286139

Fearing her career is diving into made for TV movies older women roles; Oscar winner Paige Carson needs a major success. She made a poor choice when she agreed to star in a horrific remake of Cleopatra. Paige is also losing juicy parts to younger actresses.

However, Paige is euphoric when she is selected to star with superstar Jackson Rolfe in what looks like may be the box office hit of the year. However, her inane co-star makes Paige reconsider her career as he is as unprofessional of an actor she has had the misfortune to meet. When London stage calls her to perform Shakespeare, Paige leaves behind Hollywood dirt and the latest tabloid lies and shenanigans especially her rock star superstar father. In London she finds herself attracted to her snooty landlord, Ed Hawkstead, a documentary filmmaker struggling to break out; he to his chagrin reciprocates as he does not want to want this Hollywood fluff dubbed by the press as Princess Paige.

This enjoyable contemporary romance stars two likable opposites whose initial stereotype of the other makes each detest their feelings, but this is more Paige’s tale since the first part focuses on her woes and Ed does not enter the stage until act two (about halfway into the novel). Still as Paige and Ed become acquainted they realize their preconceptions were false and allow their hearts to lead them. Readers will enjoy the romance between this fine couple.

Harriet Klausner

The Sugar Queen-Sarah Addison Allen

The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam, Jun 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780553805499

Affluent semi southern belle Josey Cirrini has one big problem. She is THE SUGAR QUEEN of the south; unable to resist candy and cakes. Since her mom the great dictator demands she must stop eating sugar, twenty-seven year old Josey feels like a kid as she hides her stash in a secret compartment inside her closet.

Battered Eat and Run greasy spoon waitress Della Lee Baker takes refuge in Josey’s hideaway. Worried about her uninvited guest, Josey tries to make the haven a bit more comfortable for her soaking wet unwanted guest who explains she took a dip in the nearby cold river. Meanwhile Josey relooks her lifestyle starting with her philandering father Marco, developer of Bald Slope Ski Resort, and her secret attraction for the mailman Adam Boswell while Della Lee becomes her streets wise fairy godmother helping Josey with her insecurities starting with the best grilled cheese sandwich in town and ending she hopes with Adam.

This whimsical charming romantic fairy tale is an engaging tale as tough Della Lee harangues, bullies, and coaxes Josey to go out and get him in spite of her mom’s objection to a working class son-in-law. The story line is driven by the relationship between Josey and Della Lee though the other key players are complete especially how they connect to and from the titled character. On top of all that is the mystery of Della Lee. Readers will appreciate this engaging tale and seek and want to read Sarah Addison Allen’s magical previous novel (see GARDEN SPELLS).

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tailspin-Catherine Coulter

Catherine Coulter
Putnam, Jun 2008, $25.95
ISBN 9780399155031

She woke up to find her hands tied to her chest and her legs locked in wieights just before theyows her into the lake. An expert swimmer, Rachel Abbott, illegitimate daughter of a powerful senator, gets free and goes on the run. She believes her father’s two siblings want her dead to prevent her from revealing something that could have destroyed her dad’s career; though before he died he was planning to go public. In Ketucky Appalachia on her way to a safe house to rest and think, she sees a plane make an emergency crash landing; the pilot and the passenger manage to escape just before the plane exploded.

The pilot is FBI Agent Jackson Crowne who was flying his friend psychiatrist Dr Timothy MacLean to Washington, D.C. in order for the agency to protect him from an unknown adversary. Dr. Maclean suffers from frontal lobe dementia, which has led him to break confidentiality about three patients. Even at the hospital there are attempts on the psychiatrist’s life just as there are on Rachel’s. Happily married Savich and Sherlock are sent to learn what happened to Maclean and then hearing her story, take Racheal under their wing. Soon they too are in danger from killers wanting Timothy and Rachel silenced.

Catherine Coulter is one of the best authors of exciting thrillers writing today. The several subplots running throughout her novels that eventually tie together is a work of art. In the case of TAILSPIN, Savich and Sherlock heat up the pages while a romance between Rachel and Jack blossoms. Readers already care about SS, but will also like JR. and his evolving romance with Rachael. Fans of the series will relish the protagonists and their cronies as they struggle to stay alive against cunning professional killers.

Harriet Klausner

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World
Tony Horowitz
Holt, Apr 29 2008, $27.50
ISBN: 9780805076035

Upon a visit to Massachusetts, Tony Horowitz is awed when he sees Plymouth Rock; not out of it being grand sort of an American Gibraltar, but to realize it is not much more than a pebble. As one child points out, the Pilgrims must have had small feet to land on that rock. Tony reflects on what he knows about American history only to draw major blanks for over a century and half; from Columbus until Jamestown. What frightens Tony is that he graduated with a history degree. Thus he vows to track the story of the European explorers who traveled American even before Columbus. Starting with the Vikings and following with the French and Spanish, Tony tracks those who came before Jamestown.

With a nod to Mr. Wuhl’s HBO special Assume The Position, Tony Horowitz goes on a reverent journey tracing the paths traveled by European explorers between 1492 and 1607. On his trek, Mr. Horowitz meets many people with a differing interpretation of events like the Spanish (St. Augustine was founded forty-two years earlier than the Plymouth Rock landing) came before the Pilgrims so America should celebrate Thanksgiving with Chili. This is a fun travelogue as Mr. Horowitz’ enthusiasm and energy add to the enjoyment; quoting Mr. Wuhl: "I shit you not".

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Summer Snow-Nicole Baart

Summer Snow
Nicole Baart
Tyndale, May 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414316239

After seeing life as half empty for a decade since her mother walked out on her, Julia DeSmit drops out of college coming home pregnant. She vows to change her negative attitude for the sake of her baby thinking in terms of slicing off the top of the cup so that her cup is filled.

Julia lives with her beloved grandma who gave her a home when her mom abandoned her. She also works at the grocery store. However, Julia’s new found positivism collapses when her mother Janice comes home expecting a warm welcome on a chilly March evening. Her daughter’s anger and acrimony explodes as Julia wants Janice to just leave as she wants nothing to do with her mother although she sees herself somewhat in the same predicament that Janice faced.

This is a terrific character study of three generations of women struggling with the return of the sandwiched one who had previously abandoned her mom and daughter. The trio is fully developed so that the audience will feel they know why each behaves the way they do especially with one another. Fans will appreciate Julia’s lament as she begins to understand what her mother faced and what it means to forgive. However, being human and not divine she cannot forget and thus has doubts she can ever accept Janice as her blood relative especially since Grandma is more her mom than her biological mother ever was. This is a strong contemporary look at three related females trying to reconnect even as the fourth generation is coming.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Don't Hex with Texas-Shanna Swendson

Don't Hex with Texas
Shanna Swendson
Ballantine, Apr 29 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345492937

She left Manhattan and her position at Magic, Spells & Illusion, Inc. because Katie Chandler fell in love with her boss Owen Palmer, who apparently does not reciprocate her regard and besides she fears for his safety due to her hex appeal. She goes home to the family farm in Cobb, Texas where she knows no major magical lines exists and ergo assumes there is a slim to none chance of an enemy arriving.

As she works at the family owned Chandler Agricultural Supply store, Katie finds her hometown boring after living an enchanting life in New York. Everything changes when her mom tells her she witnessed some eerie happenings that no one else apparently noticed. Katie wonders if a rogue mage has come to town but that seems ridiculous as the lack of a power source makes it impossible. Still she informs her other former boss Merlin who sends Sam the gargoyle to investigate. Meanwhile Katie notices a magical advertisement in a local magazine in which Phelan Idris offers an online course to those who can read his ads. Owen comes to Texas to help out, but his arrival only tells Katie she still love him. Her mom realizes he is the one and insists he stay at the farm while Idris assigns his horde of amateur wizards to destroy Owen.

The fourth Chandler-Palmer romantic suspense fantasy (see ENCHANTED, INC, ONCE UPON STILETTOS and DAMSEL UNDER STRESS) is a terrific entry in an entertaining series. The story line is fresh as readers meet the parents while the magical battle takes place in Texas. Still as with the previous three enchantments, it is the odd fascinating relationship between the lead couple that makes this a fine entry as the villains learn what most people in the Lone Star State already know: DON’T HEX WITH TEXAS unless you want a mess of trouble.

Harriet Klausner

Suddenly-Barbara Delinsky

Barbara Delinsky
Morrow, Apr 2008, $18.95
ISBN: 9780066214580

In Tucker, Vermont, pediatrician Mara O'Neill died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Her best friend and practice partner thirty-nine years old Dr. Paige Pfeiffer is stunned by the news. However, even more shocking to the pediatrician is when the autopsy reveals Valium in Mara’s blood, the police rule most likely suicide. Paige refuses to believe that is true as her friend was euphoric over the adoption of a child from India.

Pediatric practice partner Angie Bigelow feels Mara’s death is the end of her once happy marriage to Peter Grace, who was having an affair with the deceased. Paige is in denial that her friend since college is dead. However, she honors Mara by caring for the Asian infant that the late doctor was adopting at the same time struggling with her desires for Noah Perrine, acting head of the private school where she coaches the Mount Court Academy’s Girls Cross Country team.

This is a reprint of an early 1990s character study. Ironically, Barbara Delinsky provides readers a deep look at Paige and to a lesser degree Angie; but through them Mara. The story line makes a case that it takes a well rounded person to do a good job raising a child. Although the independent women SUDDENLY seem too dependent on men, fans will appreciate the deep look at each of the females as Mara’s death cuts through them like a surgical knife in this entertaining fiction.

Harriet Klausner

Beyond the Night-Marlo Schalesky

Beyond the Night
Marlo Schalesky
Multnomah, May 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781601420169

In college Madison Foster and Paul Tilden were best friends who fell in love with one another. Over the years since they first met, both have hidden their deepest feelings but are always there for one another. As Maddie begins to go blind, she does not want pity from anyone especially her husband Paul or their daughter Mandy; he tries to just be there like he always has.

When a car crash leaves Madison unconscious in a hospital, he knows he was not at fault even if he drove their car; still he feels guilt that she instead of he lies in the hospital bed. Paul is there for her as always pleading with her to come to him for this time he needs her to be there for him. He prays for his Maddie to come back to him so he can tell her how much he loves her

This is a deep inspirational romance with an incredible final twist that will stun readers. The story line uses flashbacks to tell the back story of the lead couple as they learn God’s plan is too complex to comprehend, even aspects of it, especially when something bad happens to someone good who is also a true believer. Readers will appreciate this toughing warm tale of two soulmates who have embraced the Lord but are learning to trust God too

Harriet Klausner

Sisterchicks Go Brit-Robin Jones Gunn

Sisterchicks Go Brit
Robin Jones Gunn
Multnomah, May 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781590527559

Though in their early fifties, best friends Kellie and Liz have dreams since they were teens they hope to one day fulfill. Kellie still wishes to start an interior design business with Liz as her partner; Liz wants to visit London, a dream she has had since she was a teen.

Elderly neighbor Opal is going home to England to see her sister. Liz and Kellie decide to join her. As the Sisterchicks swing through England, they run into trouble, fog, and a good time while meeting nice people (for the most part), but also begin to understand that God knows their inner wishes whether the Lord grants them or not.

Fans of the series will want to accompany the Sisterchicks on their tour of Britain, which instead of the Romanism of Bronte starts as traffic like can be found in New York. The story line is actually more a series of anecdotal tales rather than a novel, but fans of the adventures will enjoy the SISTERCHICKS GO BRIT.

Harriet Klausner

With Endless Sight-Allison Pittman

With Endless Sight
Allison Pittman
Multnomah, May 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 9781601420121

In 1861, fourteen years old Belinda and her family leave Illinois with high hopes of starting anew in the Oregon Territory as her father wants them all to grow without having something handed to them like the ironworks shop he inherited. However, the journey, which started somewhat luxurious, proves dangerous in the Rockies.

Belinda is hurt, but survives although she knows she will never be the same as her faith in God has been battered almost as much as her body and mind when she becomes a prisoner of Laurent the killer. She shows her belief in the Lord when she forgives him. As her spirit and beliefs return stronger than ever, eventually she makes it to a brothel in South Pass City, Wyoming Territory; where her faith in God is totally restored as these peddlers of the flesh renew her soul.

The third Crossroads of Grace Americana tale (see TEN THOUSAND CHARMS and SPEAK THROUGH THE WIND) is an exhilarating inspirational thriller in which the heroine for a short time is a nineteenth century female Job as everything goes wrong ; though that occurs almost halfway into the plot. Readers will enjoy one year in the life of Belinda who WITH ENDLESS SIGHT seems much more mature in her dealing with men (except for her daddy) like her estrangement with her older brother Chester, her attraction to Del, forgiving the killer Laurent, and Buck who she hoped would make her feel like a woman.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Outcast-Sadie Jones

The Outcast
Sadie Jones
Harper, Mar 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061374036

In England the war is over and many veterans are coming home to their loved ones. Ten year old Lewis Aldridge struggles with having an adult male in the household with the return of his father Gilbert and the change in routines to a more stifling environment. However as both males adjust, the lad still enjoys picnics in the woods with his mom Elizabeth until the day she fails to return home with him having drowned.

While Gilbert remains outraged in his grief over the next year, his remote father remarries Alice, who has no idea how to reach her stepson. A few years later, Lewis goes to prison for arson, having burned down a church. In 1957 now nineteen years old Lewis is free and returns home. Sixteen years old Kit Carmichael, daughter of the most influential family, is attracted to Lewis and wants to help him while her older sister twenty one years old Tamsin teases and flirts with him, which he assumes means she is attracted to him. Their abusive father, who is his dad’s boss, simply wants to destroy him.

This deep historical tale may take place in the Happy Days of the 1950s in England, but has incredibly deep relevance today as the family dynamics is explored. First the issue of returning veteran being away for extended war duty shows how complex life can be whether it is fifteen months deployment to Iraq or fighting for several years on the continent. Second there is the parental abuse of the father hitting his wife and Kitty as if he had the divine right to do so, which leaves an angry Lewis feel helpless. Finally there is the alcoholism of Gilbert and Alice that isolates Lewis even further. With THE OUTCAST ironically as the center to all these social issues, Sadie Jones provides a powerful look at the dark side of families circa 1957 but still germane in 2008.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Boy A-Jonathan Trigell

Boy A
Jonathan Trigell
Serpent's Tail, Jul 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9781846686627

In Luton, England Boy A and Boy B were convicted of murdering a young girl Angela Milton. Being teens there names were suppressed and their sentence relatively short for the heinous crime they committed.

A decade later Boy A is freed and uses Jack Burridge as his new name; a fight in the bar gives him the nickname “Bruiser”. His probation officer Uncle Terry arranges a place to live for Jack and finds the young man a job as a map reader. As Boy A, Jack learned how to survive brutal incarceration by fitting in and being amiable with everyone. He is doing well until he begins an affair with a woman at work at the same time the media announces Boy A is free to kill again.

Although the alphabetizing of each subsequent chapter is gimmicky, it works as it accentuates the dilemma of society dealing with violent youths committing crimes. Jack is a fascinating character as he knows he will be insecure for the rest of his life looking back at who will point the finger at Boy A. Readers will see how he got to the situation he is in as Jonathan Trigell takes the audience back through the lead character’s life that led to his joining Boy B to commit a homicide. Jack knows first hand that society pretends to rehab convicts, but expects revenge any moment. Fans will appreciate this strong character study of a young man who has no future, lives to barely survive the present, and cannot forget the past as no one (including himself) will ever let that occur.

Harriet Klausner

On Account of Conspicuous Women-Dawn Shamp

On Account of Conspicuous WomenDawn Shamp
Dunne, Apr 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312379971

In 1920 following her beloved dropping dead, Widow Ina Fitzhugh moves from Virginia to teach school in Roxboro in Person County, North Carolina. Three natives worry that the out of towner will disparage their community. Guerine Loftis, Doodle Shuford and Bertie Daye hope to sell Ina on the merits of living in Roxboro.

During her first year in town, Ina often thinks about how much she left behind to live in this backwater town. Still she makes tentative friends with the three women. However each has their own goals that they pursue, which has the four females still somewhat friendly but drifting apart.

This tale starts off a bit slow as the audience meets the four females, but picks up some speed once the fearsome foursome get together. The story line is a historical period piece that provides a deep look at a by gone era in the rural south when sophisticates from Virginia were considered foreigners and suffragettes like Bertie at a minimum eccentric. Readers who enjoy a leisurely character driven tale will appreciate this engaging glimpse at four women in the post WWI North Carolina summed up by the opening quote: “Well-behaved women seldom make history” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander-Ann Herendeen

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander
Ann Herendeen
Harper, May 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780061451362

In 1812 London, as a future earl Andrew Carrington knows he must begat the heir and the spare; thus he must find an appropriate wife who will not be upset with his dalliances as his sexual preference is males. He thinks he found the perfect spousal breeder in impoverished romance author Phyllida Lewis, who he admires and believes he might love. Andrew deems life is good when on top of meeting and marrying the understanding Phyllida, he makes the acquaintance of baronet heir Matthew Thornby.

Andrew’s perfect world splinters when a blackmailer tries to extort money from him. Worse someone molests his charming Phyllida, but forces her silence with the threat of exposing her husband. Though she hides the truth, Andrew learns what happened to her. Feeling like a loser, Andrew wonders what he can do to protect his beloved wife and his cherished lover from harm.

This fabulous erotic Regency romance stars three likable fully developed individuals with diverse personalities who bring a different look at the usual locales and suspects that frequent sub-genre novels. The story line is fast-paced as the audience knows from the title that Andrew is atypical of the normal historical romantic novel hero. His relationships with Phyllida and Matthew are beautifully portrayed and his feelings of inadequacy are caused because he cherishes and loves both of them. Humorous and satirical as Ann Herendeen skewers the ethics of the Ton (and by implication modern day American hypocritical claims of morality) PHYLLIDA AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF PHILANDER is a superbly written “bisexual regency romance”.

Harriet Klausner

Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione-Chuck Black

Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione
Chuck Black
Multnomah, Jun 2008, $8.99
ISBN: 9781601421241

Lucius the first Silent Warrior and a horde of his men sought to overthrow the King and Prince, but were defeated in battle. They retreated to the realm of Arrethtrae to spread their rebellion among the citizens, but hope blossomed when the Prince arrived. The people killed him, but the Father resurrected him and he gave the people the message that he would return. In the meantime, they should tell all the inhabitants of the realm about the Prince and wage war against Lucius and his Silent Warriors.

Rumors spread that a new kind of knight has arisen; men with evil in their hearts and souls withered to nothingness. Their liege allegedly a shadow warrior demands they spread discord across the land. Sir Kendrick and a young knight Sir Duncan he is mentoring learn that a Shadow Warrior is causing unrest at Bel Lione. A former Shadow Knight of Ra who defected helps Kendrick sneak into the castle to seek Sir Duncan, chained and tortured in the dungeon. There are other prisoners there also; Kendrick vows to return to liberate them, but first he must contend with the Shadow Warrior; believing in his Prince he expects to vanquish his foe.

In a feudal world the battle for the souls between the King and the Prince and the Shadow Warriors (obvious metaphors) takes place. The prince has just left Arrethtrae while his loyal followers spread his word. Teenagers will enjoy this inspirational parable that entertains without preaching.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 14, 2008

Secrets-Jude Deveraux

Jude Deveraux
Atria, May 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780743437189

As a twelve years old child Cassie Madden fell in love with kindhearted Jefferson Ames. Although she moaned being born too late, as he is older than her, she still wanted to be near him as often as possible.

Years later at college Cassie knows that in spite of being engaged to someone else, she still loves Jefferson, who is a widower raising his daughter five years old Elsbeth. She ends her engagement and travels to Williamsburg, Virginia where her Jeff lives with his offspring. She becomes Elsbeth’s nanny. Meanwhile Jefferson, his friends and his father enjoy the antics of elderly eccentric movie-actress Althea Fairmont who lives nearby. Althea arranges a special performance of a real unsolved murder mystery with Cassie and Jeff starring in the lead roles; her goal is to see if anyone can uncover the truth while Jeff begins to fall in love with Cassie; who never stopped living him

The romance is well written as the lead characters are a fine pairing once Jeff no longer considers Cassie as a younger sister. However, the tale belongs to the mystery as seemingly everyone conceals SECRETS; with every revelation the plot twists and keeps twisting. Readers will enjoy this engaging romantic whodunit as the support cast will keep the audience wondering what secret Jude Deveraux will reveal next.

Harriet Klausner

The Betrayal-Kathleen O’Neal Geer and W. Michael Geer

The Betrayal
Kathleen O’Neal Geer and W. Michael Geer
Forge, Jun 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780765315465

The Ecumenical Council of Nicea met in 325 AD to decide what texts go into the New Testament codifying the Scriptures of Christianity. The Council was convened under the auspices of the Emperor Constantine who demanded a definitive version of Jesus’ life that will in turn solidify his rule. He orders people who know the truth including members of the church killed and heretics defined as such by him burned.

At the Monastery of St. Stephen the Martyr in Egypt, Romans order the monks to burn the texts. They poison the food killing almost a hundred monks, but three survive because they were overlooked having been in an obscure section of the church. Barnabas the scholar grabs as many books as he and the others can carry. He escapes with the help of former Roman aide to Constantine Cyrus and the newest monk Zarathan and the beautiful Kalay. The Romans pursue the trio wanting to capture Cyrus and kill the others. Barnabas takes them to the secret cave of his mentor who provides the fleeing trio with a map that leads to the greatest treasure of all.

This captivating biographical fictional account about the life of Jesus does not fit the official Church doctrine as the Geers draw a different conclusion than the Nicea Council did. The authors make a case for a radically dissimilar interpretation of the events and the personality of Jesus; insisting that three plus centuries later the victors rewrote the history. Those who objected to the True Church tenet were declared heretics and subject to torture to gain confessions and ultimately burned at the stake (still relevant today). THE BETRAYAL is a terrific thought provoking historiographic action thriller that delves into the life of Jesus by focusing on those who wrote the doctrine in the fourth century.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Coffin County-Gary A. Braunbeck

Coffin County
Gary A. Braunbeck
Leisure, May 2008, $7.99
ISBN 9780843960501

Cedar Hill, Ohio has seen more than its share of violence over the two centuries since its foundation. In fact the small town was built on the blood of mass murders. Several decades ago, a mob lynched a man. Recently, the casket factory exploded before burning down the surrounding neighborhood.

Violence is the periodic norm. The townsfolk believe the ancient tree contains demons locked away for eternity as long as no one slices a limb. When murder arrives, everyone knows the tree is not containing a demon. When murders begin that puts Cedar Hill on the national news beyond being known as the Coffin County, the police investigate. The Reverend who runs the Cedar Hill Open Shelter will tell you more than you want to know; he is even writing the events down. The police detectives are not as forthcoming with the truth as the clues of the homicides lead back to an abandoned cemetery besides which everyone especially Sheriff Jackson is watching Ben Littlejohn whose wife and son were killed.

With two Cedar Hill short stories on top of the full length novels, fans of small-town horror thrillers will appreciate the aptly named COFFIN COUNTY. The prime tale takes its time as Gary A. Braunbeck establishes the atmosphere with a unique strangely different style, a personalized account by people like the Reverend and Ben reacting to the serial murders that seem impossible to have occurred by a mortal. Fans must peruse deep into the novel before beginning to understand the cause, but most readers will enjoy the slow simmer leading to learning what is going on in Cedar Hill while wondering whether a grieving Ben will only watch from the sidelines.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Imagine Me and You-Billy Mernit

Imagine Me and You
Billy Mernit
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Apr 2008, $23.00
ISBN: 0307395375

In Los Angeles screenwriter and instructor Jordan is upset that his wife Isabella left him, but not worried about her returning to him as he has developed the perfect plan. His scheme is simply to build on his spouse’s jealousies, which will have her running home ASAP.

Since Jordon knows he cannot actually cheat, he must create a girlfriend; as a screenwriter he figures on writing a character for the script. He models his imaginative girlfriend after a former student Naomi. After he begins placing evidence of a lover, Naomi shows-up. There is one problem with her; no one besides Jordan sees or hears her. Confused by Naomi pushing Jordan to come clean with what he really wants and struggling with keeping his web of lies from imploding, Jordan assumes nothing can get worse; however this is not a Hollywood script as his wife and the real Naomi come to town.

Although the story line gets overwhelmed at times by the overkill of advanced screenwriting 401, IMAGINE ME AND YOU is an amusing tale that lampoons Hollywood stereotypes especially the romantic comedy images. Jordan is a fascinating lead character as he struggles between make believe and reality leading to the three women (the two Naomi’s and Isabella) in and out and maybe in or out of his life. He simply lives life as the star of a romantic comedy in which Cary Grant plays him and Katherine Hepburn plays Isabella with him getting the girl at the end. Overall fun to read in spite of too much insider screenwriting slowing down the plot, Billy Mernit satirizes the romantic comedy.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ruby Among Us-Tina Ann Forkner

Ruby Among Us
Tina Ann Forkner
Waterbrook, May 2008, $9.99
ISBN: 9781400073580

Her mother Ruby died when Lucy DiCamillo was eight years old. Her maternal grandmother Kitty raised Lucy with love. Now an adult, Lucy wants to know more about her late mom than mostly the memories shared by her beloved grandmother, but fears any inquiries she makes might hurt Kitty.

Lucy slowly learns why Ruby was a single mom raising her. She also begins to gain other pieces of her mom’s life before Lucy was born and over the eight years they lived together. As she begins uncover secrets that enable her to start to know her mom beyond just her grandmother’s memories of her daughter, Lucy also understands much more what makes Kitty tick and she realizes her granny will always love and cherish her.

This is a superb character study of a young adult needing her own personal connection to her late mom who died when she was a child. As Lucy investigates her maternal family tree, she tries to do so without hurting her grandma; yet begins to have a nagging feeling that everyone else knows secrets they keep from her. Fans will accompany Lucy on her personal quest as she needs to feel Ruby amongst her.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him-Danielle Ganek

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him
Danielle Ganek
Plume, May 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780452289543

In Manhattan’s Chelsea section Mia McMurray works as a gallery receptionist assisting patrons at Simon Pryce Art Gallery by looking snooty and pretty. However, Mia sees the job as temporary as she dislikes her peers whose self-importance seems ridiculous to her as all they do is act like candy to customers; Mia plans to cross the barrier and have her work hanging at a gallery; albeit a nice one rather than the dump she works in.

When talented artist Jeffrey Finelli is killed by a taxi on his opening night gala, Mia watches the entire accident in slow mo. She also observes the fascinating holy war over his paintings as a battle royal between collectors and his estate explodes. His death leads to a feeding frenzy as everyone wants to own an original Finelli especially his masterpiece “Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him”. However, the painting's model, Finelli's niece, Lulu claims ownership.

Lulu and Mia become friends; encouraging each other. The former quits Wall St to paint and takes a chance on love with an artist; while the latter begins to date art dealer Zach Roberts while quitting her candy girl role to become a writer.

In many ways this chick lit tale is a coming of age story as Mia finds her groove when she stops watching and begins doing. The story line is amusing as Finelli stars in the art of death with his posthumous season being like uneaten asparagus quickly over though his masterpiece keeps reselling. This is a fun look at the art world as Lulu and Mia take no prisoners.

Harriet Klausner

The House at Riverton-Kate Morton

The House at Riverton
Kate Morton
Atria, Apr 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9781416550518

In 1999 Ursula Ryan plans to make a film about the events at The House at Riverton in 1924. She meets with the only known person still alive, ninety-eight years old nursing home resident Grace Reeves to confirm the facts.

Grace was fourteen years old when, like her mother, she obtained work as a servant to the aristocratic Hartford family at Riverton House. She especially enjoyed “invisibly” watching Lord Asbury’s two nieces and nephews when they visited. Her favorite target was Hannah, who was her age. In 1924, sisters Hannah and Emmeline were allegedly the only witnesses to poet R.S. Hunter committing suicide at Riverton. However, Grace also saw what happened on that fatal day as Hannah's selfish plans and Emmeline's jealousy surface while the maid observes first hand the death of the poet.

This is an engaging haunting love story that brings to life a bygone era of the English aristocracy in decline following WWI. The four prime characters seem genuine though filtered by the nonagenarian memory of seventy five years ago. Kate Morton provides a strong character driven tale of hate, deceit, and love with the more powerful element triumphing.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Loner-Geralyn Dawson

The Loner
Geralyn Dawson
Harlequin HQN, May 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780373772933

In 1899 Caroline Kirkpatrick is worried about her missing foster father Ben. She needs help to find him and an alleged hidden Bad Luck Treasure. She decides her best bet is mercenary range detective Logan "Lucky" Grey so she heads to Austin to obtain the services of “The luckiest man in Texas”, whom she married fifteen years ago.

He believes his luck is all bad and so warns women to avoid him. However he is unaware that the one female he wants, Caroline is his legal wife. When they exchanged “I do”, he thought it was a fake and forget about it as he moved on. He also is unaware until now that she gave birth to his son Will. When Logan learns the truth about his marital status he is dumbfounded but will do what it takes to insure his wife is safe; Caroline is just as determined to persuade her beloved that he brings her all good luck.

Following up the Bad Luck Brides with the first of the Good Luck Grooms, Geralyn Dawson provides an amusing western romance starring two fascinating protagonists. Caroline the Valkyrie starts things off right when she knocks out a dangerous outlaw; the adventures keep on coming for her and THE LONER she loves. Throw in the McBride gang to add to the chaos and that leads to delightful spins inside this wonderful historical romance.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Last Dance at the Jitterbug Lounge-Pamela Morsi

Last Dance at the Jitterbug Lounge
Pamela Morsi
Mira, May 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780778325192

In Texas, Jack and Claire Crabtree are raising three children while successfully having built a pool-cleaning business. However, they have recently fought over everything; especially contentious is the house Jack built that he wants his family to move into while Claire is happy with their present home and refuses to dislocate their children (nine years old Zaidi and six years old twins Peyton and Presley) just because her husband believes bigger and newer mean better.

When his family informs Jack that his grandfather is in a coma, he goes home to Catawah, Oklahoma, a place he avoids like the plague because he is embarrassed by his roots. Claire, who has never met his side, accompanies him. Meeting his family is a stunner for Claire who learns a lot about what makes Jack tick as she realize she may love him but did not know Jack about him; maybe it is time she did.

There are two relationship dramas; obviously that of Jack and Claire, but also flashbacks that provide readers with insight into that of his grandparents, Bud and Geri. This technique enables the audience to compare the eras and to contrast the similarities and differences between the relationships. Fans will enjoy this poignant character study as Claire and readers learn first hand why Jack buried his roots and why big and new are better.

Harriet Klausner