Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Irish Country Girl-Patrick Taylor

Patrick TaylAn Irish Country Girl
Patrick Taylor
Forge, Jan 5 2010, $24.99
ISBN 9780765320711

In Ballybucklebo, Ireland, Kinky Kincaid serves as housekeeper to small village’s two doctors (Dr. Barry Laverty and Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly). On Christmas Day, Kinky turns storyteller as she spins a spellbinder to the children with the tale of the St. Stephen's Day ghost.

When she was a child the age of her audience, Kinky was known as Maureen O'Hanlon. She had the unique skill of seeing the future. As Kinky tells about dark fairies to enraptured fans, back then Maureen must choose between her heart and her career.

The latest Ballybucklebo Irish County cozy (see An Irish Country Christmas, An Irish Country Doctor and An Irish Country Village) is another superb tale with a neat twist as the previous support player housekeeper takes the lead effortlessly. The story line has two key plots one of which isKinky’s past when she had to make up her mind and choose one of two roads and the present when she tells the ghost tale. Fans will relish this terrific twist as Kinky proves to be a superb storyteller as the top banana title lead character.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

House Rules-Jodi Picoult

House Rules
Jodi Picoult
Atria, Mar 2 2010, $28.00
ISBN 9780743296434

Emma Hunt has dedicated her life to her son Jacob who suffers with Asperger's syndrome. Her sacrifice has come with personal lost and cost as her career was pushed aside; her ex-husband Henry the computer programmer left as he worked at home and could not concentrate with the tantrums; and her other son Theo three years younger than Jacob is expected to watch over him when mom cannot, but ignored otherwise by her as he cannot even get his permit. She lives to protect Jacob and Theo understands that the prime house rule is take care of your brother.

However, her efforts to give her soon a life fall apart when the police charge eighteen years old Jacob with the murder of Jess Ogilvy. His inability to understand non verbal signs and comprehend social nuances puts Jacob at risk. Desperate, she hires Oliver O. Bond as Jacob’s lawyer.

This is a super look at Asperger’s Syndrome, but not just the person suffering from it, but also the impact on family members especially Theo. The murder mystery tales a back seat even in the courtroom to how Henry thinks and reacts to senses overload, which can be simply crinkling of paper. Rotating perspective between family members, the lawyer and others, fans obtain a deep look at the total impact of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Professor and Other Writings-Terry Castle

The Professor and Other Writings
Terry Castle
Harper, Jan 19 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780061670909

“Courage, Mon Amie”. Ms. Castle discusses her quest to find the grave of her Great Uncle Lewis Newton Braddock, who died in combat on the continent during WWI.

“My Heroin Christmas”. Following a holiday at home, Ms. Castle muses about moms, step siblings, and heroine and other addictions, especially to the work of Art Pepper.

“Desperately Seeking Susan”. The author pays homage to her love-hate friendship with Susan Sontag.

“Home Alone”. There is no place like home at least that is the mantra of interior designer magazines that have become a favorite of Ms. Castle as she ponders what will happen to the contents of her interior designed abode when she passes on January 28, 2038 especially the bed linen.

"Travels with My Mother." Writing about complicated relationships, Ms. Castle describes hers with her mom as the oddest she has ever had while also trekking together through the inspirational work of artist Agnes Martin.

“The Professor”. As a graduate student, Ms. Castle had a short affair with a female professor that still resonates in her mind as perhaps one of her key moments as she began to understand others have needs, desires and feelings too.

This collection of autobiography commentaries and essays are intelligent, amusing often self-deprecating and entertaining as Terry Castle dives deeply into relationships that impacted her journey so far. All six entries are witty and well written as each rips asunder a piece of Ms. Castle’s soul for others to admire her courage for allowing us to see so deeply and emulate her open honesty. This is an enjoyable compilation except for me to witness the oracle stating January 28, 2038 means being a coherent octogenarian when many say I am an incoherent fiftyish.

Harriet Klausner

Indian Summer-Tracy Richardson

Indian Summer
Tracy Richardson
Luminis Books, Jul 2009, $11.95
ISBN: 9781935462255

Twelve-year-old Marcie Horton looks forward to the last day of school especially no math for the summer. The last day of school means the fun symbolic Children’s Fair in which she always wins the foot race. However, as she pedals up the hill she dreads spending a few boring weeks at the isolated cottage of Mamaw and Poppy on Lake Pappakeechee.

At her grandparents’ cottage, Marcie is bored until she learns university President Swyndall plans to have the nearby James Woods torn down for a development project. She feels strongly opposed to destroying this ancient thriving forest. Encouraged by a Native American Adena girl’s spirit, Marcie pushes to find a way to prevent the destruction of the pristine woods. At the same time, she becomes friends with Kaitlyn Swyndall, daughter of her opponent, as they are part of the same team for the upcoming regatta. Finally Marcie fears her intervention could cost her parents their jobs as each works at the university.

This is an enjoyable young adult tale that focuses on how a courageous but frightened tweener sees things in an adult world. Marcie is terrific as she fears her intrusion will harm her parents since she does not fully comprehend tenure, but also feels she must do the right thing re the Adena girl’s spirit. Although the solution to how she earns the respect of the Swyndall family simplifies a complex issue of development vs. environment and ultimately heritage, middle school fans will enjoy Marcie’s charming Indian Summer.

Harriet Klausner

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents-Liza Palmer

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents
Liza Palmer
5 Spot (Grand Central), Dec 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446698382

When Grace Hawkes was thirteen years old, her father Ray deserted her mom, her three younger siblings and her. Stunned the family rallied to support one another. Fifteen years after Ray walked out on them their mom died. After the burial, Grace left behind the family not talking to anyone for the past five years.

Ray suffers a stroke and asks his three adult children to visit him. His illness provides Grace with an epiphany that she emulated the worst thing her dad did to the family. She expects nasty treatment for abandoning them, but vows to make it up as much as she can. Ray’s second wife Connie welcomes Grace, but she suspects her stepmother of duplicity. Shocking everyone, Ray gives power of attorney to Grace; even more stunning to Ray’s offspring is there no evidence that Connie lived in his house. Instead the home is a shrine to his first family. Encouraged by her adult son Dennis, Connie considers suing the four Hawkes.

This is an entertaining family drama that focuses mostly on Grace’s relationship with her late mom, her dad and her siblings. Her grief when her mom died drove her away as every person mourns a loss of a loved one differently even as each goes through the general grief phases. Although the ending is too rosy for the complicated poignat character driven story line, fans will enjoy Liza Palmer’s on the spot Field Guide to Burying Your Parents.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Queen's Governess-Karen Harper

The Queen's Governess
Karen Harper
Putnam, Jan 21 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780399156182

Katherine Ashley has no hope for her future ever since her mother drowned and her father married Maud. Her stepmother treats Kat with contempt and uses her as a drone nursemaid to her half siblings.

Her impoverished slavish life changes when she does something for Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII. He takes her from her father’s home, has her educated and sent to the court serving Anne Boleyn, but actually is a spy for him. In 1536 when the Queen is executed, Kat survives becoming governess to Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth. She remains with the Princess through some hard times and continues to serve when Elizabeth becomes queen.

This is an intriguing look at the Tudor sixteenth century reign from the perspective of a servant caught in the middle several times during the rule of King Henry and Queen Mary while serving as s surrogate mother in many ways to Elizabeth before she becomes queen in 1558, over two decades after her mom was executed. Imprisoned twice during plots and counterplots, The Queen’s Governess survived family and court intrigue; as Karen Harper provides fans of English royal biographical fiction with a fresh perspective.

Harriet Klausner

Damaged-Kia DuPree

Kia DuPree
Grand Central, Jan 26 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446547758

In Washington, D.C. ten years old Camille Logan is placed with her latest foster family as part of a swinging door system that ignores the welfare of the child once placed because the social services’ workload is overwhelming. Over the next few years, she is abused and sexually molested. The system never bothers to take a look at Camille or her care providers as she is out of sight and therefore out of mind.

Drug dealer Chu is disgusted with what he sees happening to Camille and takes her into his home. He takes care of her until he is murdered in a drug deal. Camille desperately decides to become a hooker working for a nasty abusive pimp, which makes her wonder if she has other options to get off the mean streets of DC.

Damaged is a dark, gritty and profound look at life in DC when a poor youth is caught up in the foster care system and consequently the streets. The cycle seems in evitable though Camille hopes to break out. Although the climax fails to live up to a moving character driven story line that captures the essence of surviving in America’s urban jungle, fans will appreciate Kia DuPree’s powerful inner city hustle; the perfect capitalism system as anyone is for sale on the open market with no tax or surcharge; just supply and demand.

Harriet Klausner

The Burning Land-Bernard Cornwell

The Burning Land
Bernard Cornwell
Harper, Jan 19 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780060888749

As the ninth century begins to wind down, King Alfred of Wessex is old and dying. The Danes feel the opportunity to conquer Wessex whose great leader has foiled them before is now. Warlord Harald Bloodhair leads the Viking horde invasion by sea and land Mercia and Wessex.

Alfred turns to his oath-bound loyal Saxon pagan warrior Uhtred of Bebbanburg; the warlord defeats Harald, but also breaks his pledge of fealty. Deciding enough of England and its treachery, the warlord and his warriors head home to reclaim his family land. They confront other war parties and a witch’s curse only to take another spin back in the world of Alfred and his increasingly Christian nation as the he Danes from East Anglia and the Vikings from Northumbria head once again towards Mercia and Wessex.

The fifth Saxon saga (see Sword Song).affirms once again that Bernard Cornwell is one of the best, if not the top warrior, of pre William the Conqueror Dark Ages historical fiction. The story line is fast-paced and filled with plenty of bloody action. However, it is an ailing dying Alfred nearing the end of his “Great” reign and the Saxon pagan warlord Uhtred who bring the period alive as the barbarians are at the gate, but it takes a barbarian to prevent them from entering. Fans will relish this deep tale as The Burning Land is increasingly Mercia and Wessex as Alfred no longer can defend them.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Girl with Glass Feet-Ali Shaw

The Girl with Glass Feet
Ali Shaw
Holt, Jan 5 2010, $24.00
ISBN: 9780805091144

Ida Maclaird seeks a cure to stop her slow debilitating ailment; she is turning into glass starting with her feet, but slowly spreading up her body. The young woman feels she caught her illness on the St. Hauda's Land archipelago; so has returned to these remote northern islands seeking the cure before it is too late.

Before he met Ida , Midas Crook had no plans to ever marry, but he falls in love. He joins her quest to find the cure to her plight. They turn to biologist Henry Fuwa, who prefers saving the endangered insect like moth-winged bull rather than a human, but also offers hope as he insist he can help her followed up with despair saying she will turn totally to glass. Carl Mausen, a friend to Ida's family, wants to help her as if she is his daughter and offers her his cottage as a temporary home, but his fidelity is to her mother who he loved and lost. Finally Emiliana Stallows is rumored to have cured a previous girl with glass feet.

This is an interesting parable fantasy that focuses on the fleeting fragile nature of relationships that can easily shatter as each person has major issues relating to others. The glum tone permeates the story line as relationships that were once warm turn icy leaving the audience to wonder if Ida and Midas are doomed even if she is cured. Although too many back stories re secondary characters are included even as their tales add to the atmosphere of pending gloom, fans will enjoy touring the islands of despair as Ida and Midas cling to love as their hope deteriorates along with her condition.

Harriet Klausner

Not My Daughter-Barbara Delinsky

Not My Daughter
Barbara Delinsky
Doubleday, Jan 5 2010, $24.95
ISBN: 9780385524988

In Zaganack, Maine, the three high school students BFFs Lily, Mary Kate and Jess forge a pregnancy pact. Soon afterward, seventeen years old Lily informs her single mom Susan, who also happens to be the high school principal, that she is carrying a child. Susan is stunned that her daughter would do this as she failed to learn from her mom that kids having kids is not good. Kate and Sunny learn their teens Mary Kate and Jess respectively are also pregnant.

Meanwhile the school board of old men blames Susan and her progressive example for the outrageous pact. As each of the parents struggle, Susan reflects back on what her father and mother did to her by kicking her out of their home so she turns to her daughter’s father global photojournalist Rick for emotional help especially when Lily’s pregnancy has health issues and the boys involved along with their parents are unsure of their roles.

This is a profound look at a deep societal issue involving teen pregnancy. The cast is especially strong as the townsfolk specifically the board, the mothers and their pregnant daughters, and to a lesser degree the involved males are fully developed so that the readers understand their perspectives and hidden agendas. Susan especially is an incredible protagonist as she sort of goes through the phases of grief. Although the ending is to sugary perfect with resolution, fans will appreciate the road to get there.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Scarlet Letter-Nathaniel Hawthorne and Wayne Josephson

The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Wayne Josephson
Readable Classics, Nov 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780615332017

In seventeenth century Boston, scholar Roger Chillingworth returns to the Puritan colony after two years in England. He is stunned to find his much younger lovely wife Hester Prynne with an illegitimate daughter Pearl, a resident of Prison awaiting trial for adultery. Hester refuses to betray her lover for his condemnation for violating one the God’s Commandments. Her punishment is to wear a capital Letter A on her breast for the rest of her life. Roger vows to expose the cretin who dishonored him. For refusing to reveal her lover's identity, she is condemned to wear a letter 'A' sewn onto her clothes. Driven to madness, Roger resolves to discover and destroy the man who has stolen his honor. Over the next few years, Hester does her best by her daughter while suffering poverty, humiliation and guilt for what she cannot offer her beloved Pearl; while the two men not in her life fail to cope with crippling guilt, remorse and cowardliness.

As he did with another classic Jane Eyre, Wayne Josephson provides a modernization of the syntax of the language while adhering to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s powerful moral message that rings true today with for instance the abortion controversy. Purists will insist if it isn’t broke don’t fix it, but Mr. Josephson makes a strong case that the 1850 published novel is going the way of the Canterbury Tales (let the purists read that in ye olde English). The re-touch is a bit more than desired, as part of the original is the overdrawn atmospheric background of a martinet paternal society invoking God’s wrath. Still Mr. Josephson does a super job of making this great classic starring a brave heroine much easier to read and very entertaining while enhancing the strong message of forgiving oneself as well as others for “sins”.

Harriet Klausner

The School of Essential Ingredients-Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients
Erica Bauermeister
Berkley, Jan 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425232095

Lillian became a cook as the only means of reaching her mother who walled herself off after her husband abandoned her. Over the years, she taught herself the culinary art and opened up a successful restaurant.

Highly regarded as a chef, Lillian wants others to share in her joy of food. She mentors eight students for a month on every Monday. However, besides the power of good food, Lillian hopes to provide the same wisdom she found with her mother. Nervous because she has no idea who her students will be unlike the experience she succeeded with her mom, Lillian looks forward to Monday nights at her School of essential ingredients in baking a wonderful life.

This is a super character study tale that in many ways reads like interrelated short stories as the chapters focus on different people starting with Chef Lillian and switching to students like married couple Helen and Carl (separate sections), Antonia, Tom, Chloe, Isabelle and Ian. Each has woes that Lillian hopes her teaching the essential ingredients of cooking will help each to understand what matters in life especially relationships. This is a strong contemporary as Lillian puts her soul in every meal she makes because cooking for others is one of the best ways to connect to their souls.

Harriet Klausner

Very Valentine-Adriana Trigiani

Very Valentine
Adriana Trigiani
Harper, Jan 5 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061257063

In Manhattan's Greenwich Village, octogenarian Teodora Angelini faces the dismal fact that her family business since 1903, Angelini Shoe Company, is going bankrupt. Her thirtyish granddaughter Valentine Roncalli, having failed in a relationship and as a teacher, asks Gram to teach her how to design quality wedding shoes while she works out a financial plan to save the business as the mortgage overwhelms the profits.

On the other hand Valentine’s brother, Alfred, wants Gram to retire to a home and his to an apartment so that he can sell the building for millions. Meanwhile Chef Roman Falconi wants Valentine so when she and her Gram go to Italy to buy supplies, they plan to rendezvous on Capri. However, she is confused re her personal life after Valentine meets Gianluca, the son of Gram’s lover and secret fiancé, finding she is attracted to him.

Although this is more Valentine’s tale, this is a deep character study that has many messages but mostly focuses on what to do with a family business that provided for a wonderful lifestyle yet whose time seems to have past as specialty brick stores are being supersede by the Net. Valentine and Alfred have opposing opinions as he wants to end the drain and make an instant profit by selling the edifice while she feels a strong need to save the shoe business. Fans will appreciate this strong tale as Adriana Trigiani does not pass judgment, leaving that to the reader, as tradition and letting go have their respective time and place.

Harriet Klausner

Winter Garden-Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden
Kristin Hannah
St. Martin’s, Feb 2 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312364120

Evan rescued Russian Anya from a German prison camp. They married, moved to the American Pacific Northwest after the war, and she spent her life grateful to him. She gave him two daughters that she failed to connect with as Evan meant everything to her. On the other hand Evan loved Meredith and Nina.

While Nina traveled the world as a photojournalist, older sister Meredith stayed home to work on her family’s apple orchard. When Meredith turned forty, her dying father asked her to take care of her aging mother after he is gone. She wants to say no but agrees. Nina comes home to help her sibling with their cold mother, whose mind is fading. Over vodka, mom tells the truth about losing everyone in her family during the Nazi siege of Leningrad and Stalin’s post war purges.

This is a fascinating tale of a mother and her two daughters coming together as adults like they never did when the younger generations was kids. Anya owns the tale as she describes the horrific hardships during WWII especially the 900 day sege and Stalin’s deadly actions afterward. Her saga makes the issues of her daughters seem petty. Readers will empathize with Anya as she lost so much of her heart and soul that what was left she could only give to her savior Evan. Although the ending feels totally out of place with its “perfection” considering the personalities of the three women, fans will enjoy the trek to the climax especially when Anya as the prime guide tells her shocking horrendous story.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Living Oprah-Robyn Okrant

Living Oprah
Robyn Okrant
Center Street, Jan 4 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9781599952390

This gimmicky memoir is exactly like the title proclaims as thirtyish Robin Okrant lived one year in accordance with Oprah's advice. Ms. Okrant obviously admires Oprah, but also scorned that anyone even Oprah could adhere to her advice over a period of time. Testing her hypothesis, she tries keeping score along way and criticizing Oprah when she deemed sit worthy such as the talk show host’s obsession over female looks. Although the memoir has many tedious entries as Ms. Okrant chose honesty over entertainment. Still this critique leads to a fascinating odyssey in which the author concludes to live real life to the fullest and forget this best life as described by anyone except you and your loved ones, and not proscribed by an outsider even a famous successful TV guru. Not for everyone as this modern day search for the Holy Grail, “My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk”, seems a bit beyond even reality TV, yet many of the "Oprahized" entries are insightful and fascinating albeit expensive.

Harriet Klausner

Kitchen Chinese-Ann Mah

Kitchen Chinese
Ann Mah
Avon, Feb 9 2010, $13.99
ISBN 9780061771279

Isabelle Lee grew up on Chinese-American cuisine though she never cooked any as her mom was the family chef. However, she can talks a good game as she grew up listening to her mom discuss food. However, her career in New York tanks so she heads to Beijing where her sister Claire practices law.

She and Claire are not bosom sisters. However, Isabelle feels good about seeking her roots when she obtains work writing about Kitchen Chinese cuisine to the western expatriate population. Still the transition is not smooth as she struggles with adjustment since the cultures in New York and Beijing are a zillion light years apart and she begins to learn Claire’s secret. However after considering going back to the States, the siblings warm up to one another and soon Isabelle finds she likes life in Beijing.

This is a terrific contemporary tale starring a fascinating lead character who feels like a fresh water fish in the ocean. Roots aside, Isabelle realizes her racial classification is backwards as American comes way before Chinese. Even the language she speaks is 99% English and a few Kitchen (and bathroom) Chinese words. As she struggles to adapt in order to connect with her sister and her heritage, fans who take the journey with Isabelle will appreciate the trip.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Longest Journey Home-John Grogan

The Longest Journey Home
John Grogan
Harper, Oct 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061713309

Before Marley (see Marley & Me), John Grogan grew up in a deeply religious Catholic home near Detroit in the 1960s and '70s. His parents loved him and tried to get him to live a good Catholic ethical lifestyle. However, John was an imp who like many boys used his telescope to stare at the woman next door. He drank holy wine, smoked cigarettes and tried to score with girls while also eluding the necker-checker watcher, his kind but strict mom. To imbue him with their fervor, his parents took John on family miracle trips to visit shrines and camp under the stars so he would learn first hand the miracle of God. However unlike his parents or his brother Michael who turned towards priesthood and was as a devoted believer as their parents, John was devoted to the altar of female breasts; at best an agnostic as pure faith seemed illogical and tedious. When he met Jenny, he fell in love and began the real transition to adulthood, but remained practically faithless. That is until his father’s illness led him to re-look his values including Catholicism.

This is an interesting memoir that reads like many young middle class Americans (religious denomination not matter) growing up in the 1960s as drugs, wine and sex were in and the religions of parents were out. Still amusing and filled with angst, John Grogan’s The Longest Journey Home was not quite finished at this point, but he was definitely getting his act together. Boomer fans and their still alive parents who want to reminiscence about the internal family revolutions will enjoy joining Mr. Grogan as he travels a path many others took; younger fans might ask so what.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Cougar Club-Susan McBride

The Cougar Club
Susan McBride
Avon, Jan 26 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061771262

Forty-five year old New Accounts advertising team leader Kat Maguire is downsized after fifteen loyal years at her firm; when she finds her twenty-eight years old lover Roger having cyber sex she downsizes him. She decides to go home to St. Louis where her family and two BFFs live.

Her buddy Carla Moss is a successful news anchor, but the station seems to be grooming a bimbo replacement. She also has personal problems as her beloved mom is losing her grip on realty.

Dermatologist Dr. Lisie Randolph has been successful at work, with raising her kids and apparently in marriage. However, the empty nest syndrome is hammering at her while her spouse whom she married in college ignores her.

These three middle age women in terrific shape physically, but a bit down mentally unto they re-forge their friendship and go on the prowl as cougars hunting young male meat. However, each knows deep inside their soul they really seek love, commitment and the meaning of life.

This is a fun tale of three women seeking their groove as middle age has each wondering if that is all there is to life while attempting to hang onto their dwindling youth. The characters are solid including the support cast of each of the lead females and the rotating point of view enhances understanding what each wants. Although somewhat unlikely perhaps even over the top of the Arch, fans will root for the Cougar Club members to get what they want.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Swimming Inside The Sun-David Zweig

Swimming Inside The Sun
David Zweig
Second Guess Media, Aug 2009, $17.99
ISBN: 9780615297507

When the major label company signed him, guitarist Dan Green thought he could walk across the bay to Brooklyn. He was euphoric until the firm listens to his obviously talented but non-sellable album. They refuse to waste another penny on it or him.

Stunned and depressed he no longer can touch his guitar as if it contains a deadly toxin and even stops fantasizing over the female backpacking neighbor Andrea Liebman. Instead while contemplating rice milk and Kierkegaard, Dan dooms every possible relationship with lovers and friends over selling out. As people avoid him like he has swine flu, Dan creates his "smart-heat index" that enables him to classify women he sees, some for the first time, and instantly considers proposing but the flaws he perceives in them prevent him. His neurosis of failure turns psychotic as he depersonalizes everyone into various categories of self soul sellers.

This deep character study hooks the audience who wants Dan to make it in life and with his music, but do it on his terms (a psychotic sort of Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers). The story line avoids clichés and burying itself inside of the lead protagonist’s head with simple but clever focus switches from first person to third person though Dan continues to tell the tale. Readers who appreciate a profound tale in which Manhattan is gray, cold and aloof yet somehow also warm, creative and fascinating will enjoy the intense well written Swimming Inside The Sun of troubled Dan Green.

Harriet Klausner

Noah's Compass-Anne Tyler

Noah's Compass
Anne Tyler
Knopf, Jan 5 2010, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307272409

In Baltimore Liam Pennywell thought he would be the great twentieth and twenty-first century philosopher rather than a fifth grade school teacher at St. Dyfrig. However, to be an accomplished muse takes ambition and hard work; two traits that Liam lacks as his two former wives and his three estrange daughters would testify. He is taken aback when the second-rate private school retires him though he just turned sixty one.

He comes home bewildered only to wake up the next day in a hospital with no recall of the assault in his apartment. Liam needs to know what happened during the lost hours so he begins a quest. He meets thirtyish Eunice, whose élan for life is opposite of his dark world view. Somehow she encourages him to be all he can be; although he insists that is not much he vows to try to shake off his lethargy with reckless abandonment.

This is a terrific character study that avoids clichés so the audience roots for Liam to regain what he once had and lost after years of what he perceived were kidney shots from those who he loved. The story line is leisurely and meandering with no great nirvana as Liam tries with Eunice encouraging him. Anne Tyler is at her best with this super tale of a man kicked to the curb and the young woman who insists That’s Life (Sinatra) as “Some people get their kicks stompin' on your dreams” while others will encourage you to “get back in the race”.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 18, 2009

Days of Gold-Jude Devereux

Days of Gold
Jude Devereux
Atria, Dec 29 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9781439107942

When Edilean Talbot leaves England for Scotland in 1766 to live with her uncle, she feels out of place. However, worse she is despondent because rather than take care of her, he is marrying her to one of his odious friends once she turns eighteen so they can use the gold she inherited from her late father.

Although he believes no good deed goes unpunished, Angus McTern agrees to help her escape from her nefarious uncle. Both must flee Scotland as she runs from an unwanted marriage and he from the law accusing him of kidnapping her. He escorts her by pretending to be her husband, across the ocean to the colonies though he also conceals he loves her. However, upon reaching Boston, they separate, but meet soon afterward when mutual friends help Edilean with an adversary.

This historical prequel to Lavender Morning provides readers the background to the founders of Edilean, Virginia, but readers do not need to have read the second tale to enjoy this fun Georgian romance. The story line is fast-paced with a damsel in distress theme enhanced by the hero seeming to always get in trouble when he rescues her. Although the cast is somewhat stereotyped, the plot is refreshed by Angus who cannot prevent himself from rescuing Edilean, which he knows is trouble with the law, her enemies, and his heart.

Harriet Klausner

Roses-Leila Meacham

Leila Meacham
Grand Central, Jan 6 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446559980

In the middle of the seventh century the Toliver and Warwick clans crossed the Atlantic to reside in the Carolina Colony. Rivals back in England during the War of the Roses, they remain competitors through the century plus as South Carolina become a state. In 1836, members of each family went to Texas to join in the revolution against Mexico. The family feud started centuries ago in England before relocating to South Carolina and continues in the twentieth century in Howbutker, Texas.

As her family anxiously waits for her to die, elderly Mary Toliver reflects back at her life starting with her regret when she gave up her love Percy Warwick for her family estate Somerset; unlike her brother who met his beloved in France during WWI and returned to her. She knows she can blame Percy for refusing to help her save Somerset like Ollie DuMont did, whom she married. However, as an octogenarian near death she knows who is at fault. She vows to sell Somerset to liberate her grandniece into not making her mistake.

This saga follows seven decades of two families whose feud goes back centuries and across the ocean. The viewpoints rotate between Mary, Percy and Rachel so that the audience compare how each interprets the same situation differently, especially the octogenarian pair. Rachel provides a fascinating look at her roots when she learns secrets that everyone wanted to hide. Fans of historical family sagas will enjoy this entertaining epic, which at times are soap opera and other moments profound.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Her Mother's Daughter-Julianne Lee

Her Mother's Daughter
Julianne Lee
Berkley, Dec 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425230084

The seventh grade girls and one younger sister Karen were playing “Bloody Mary” when Queen Mary Tudor arrived to tell the truth to the lone fifth grader who called out to her. She explains the reality behind her notorious legend. Her father King Henry VIII adored her until she turned eleven when he tossed her and her mother Katherine of Aragon aside for Anne Boleyn. She returns to the court as a servant to her half sister Princess Elizabeth. Acrimonious and angry due to her father’s rejection and her inability to see her mother, Mary finds some joy eventually in her marriage to Philip of Spain, but that is not enough as he was more away than with her. When she became Queen, she pushed to end the heresy of her father by returning the country to the Catholic Church leading to the deaths of many.

This is a terrific “autobiographical” fiction as Mary reminds readers history is written by the surviving victors, which in this case is her half-sister Elizabeth. Readers will enjoy this fine version although using a fifth grader as her listener seems like an unnecessary gimmick even based on the mythos that Bloody Mary kidnaps little children, as the strength of the novel is in Mary’s explanations and rationalizations for her actions built predominantly on her deep religious belief that Catholicism was the pure version of Christianity. This is a winning portrait.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Conundrums-Harry Pearce

Harry Pearce
IT (Harper), Dec 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061826597

This is a fun puzzle book that will make a great holiday gift for the person who enjoys working out the word plays that make up the Conundrums. The problem with this as a present is that the purchaser will want to do the 171 puzzles to include the back cover. I had the additional fun of competing against my husband who loves these types of word-picture plays. He kicked my donkey in as he clinched the victory with too much left to go. After that we had a good time teaming up to solve the entries. Most are cleverly designed though a few of the solutions may not be the best interpretation as viable alternatives exist. Fans of puzzles will relish this enjoyable collection made much more fun by playing with someone else, but remains a winner even competing with Harry Pearce.

Harriet Klausner

The Murderer's Daughter-Randy Susan Meyers

The Murderer's Daughter
Randy Susan Meyers
St. Martin’s, Jan 19 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312576981

In a rage their drunken father kills their mother and almost kills one of his daughters Merry. The child and her sister Lulu are sent to an orphanage. Lulu plays the system while the system plays Merry, but stay together as they forge a symbiotic relationship.

Lulu becomes a doctor, but hides her nightmarish childhood from everyone. Merry becomes a victim abdicate though she is totally dependent on Lulu and drugs. Merry visits her father while Lulu behaves as if he committed suicide on that fatal day three decades ago. Now he is being freed from prison; something neither of his children support as they fear the shadows he left them with when he committed the atrocity.

Rotating first person perspectives between the sisters, fans get a deep look at how a tragedy when they were children impacts them as adults. Ironically though Lulu and Merry seem like opposites as the audience observes and “listen” to both over the next three decades, they sound so identical that a reader would struggle to delineate who is relating their lives at a particular moment. This adds to the overall impact of a psychological thriller as beneath the public mask each never truly moved past the pivotal horrific incident. The Murderer’s Daughter is a profound look at the survivors coping throughout their respective lifetimes when a family member commits an atrocity; exponentially devastating when the trauma is also against another family member.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bloodroot-Amy Greene

Amy Greene
Knopf, Jan 12 2010, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307269867

On Bloodroot Mountain in Eastern Tennessee, Byrdie Lamb raises her grandchild Myra, whose mother and father died when a train hit their vehicle while they were carousing. Byrdie loves Myra who is more a daughter to her than her daughter Myra’s mom Clio ever was. She also knows Myra has the “touch” skill that runs in the family though Byrdie never displayed this ESP talent. In fact, Myra’s boyfriend Doug not only realizes it, he knows he will never win her love because of it.

He is proven right when she meets John Odom, son of the hardware store owner. He is also “touched” and they passionately fall in love. However his violence pushes her from his valley home back up the mountain where she raises their twins Laura and Johnny. The siblings have issues as their mom is placed in an asylum. Laura marries and has a child, but when her spouse dies his family takes away her kid. Johnny burns down his paternal side’s store. The next generation seems destined to repeat the same mistakes as the previous generations on Bloodroot Mountain.

This is an engaging Appalachia family drama that looks deep inside the souls of the cast with Myra being the link between five generations of mountain people. Although the subplots are straighter than the Bonneville Salt Flats and some key characters just vanish, readers will appreciate the depth of life on Bloodroot Mountain as even a finger with a ring on it becomes symbolic of dreams broken and breathing in Amy Greene’s profound harsh slice of Appalachia.

Harriet Klausner

Bo's Cafe-John Lynch, Bill Thrall and Bruce McNicol-

Bo's Cafe
John Lynch, Bill Thrall and Bruce McNicol
Windblown Media, Sep 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781935170044

On the surface executive Steven Kerner, his wife Lindsey and their child Jennifer live the perfect Southern California lifestyle. However, he has anger issues, which explodes when Lindsay yells at him for failing to pick up Jenifer from school so they could spend quality time together. Her nagging and some earlier alcohol lead to his raging. The two women in his life leave.
Lindsay and Jennifer move back into the house while Steven resides in an expensive Santa Monica hotel not far from where he works. He assumes this fight will blow over, but Lindsay has given up on his violent temper and files for a divorce.

At a bar whose ownership and name changes seemingly monthly, elderly Hawaiian shirted Andy Monroe offers advice and friendship to Steven who rejects the kindness. He pleads with Lindsay who obstinately refuses to take him back unless he gets professional anger management help; he angrily leaves instead as he knows he needs no help as he can control his temper if she would stop igniting it. Andy gets Steven to meet with a group of peers who tell their updated story at Bo's Café.

This is an interesting character driven inspirational family drama that focuses on getting help when one’s personal problems feel overwhelming and released by hammering at others including loved ones. That help may come from God, peer groups, or counselors; but the key to remember no one walks alone. With a strong cast led by Steven whose temper is so explosive it puts fear in the eyes of his two women whom he loves and shame inside his heart, readers will relish his efforts to change driven by his Electra coach.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 10, 2009

June of the Cornhusker Ball-B.K. Mitchell

June of the Cornhusker Ball
B.K. Mitchell
Xlibris, Jun 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9781441540362

Her mom passed away five years ago, but though the loss was hard, June Whitley Horroa had no major problem moving on because she had Aunt V who in many ways has been a surrogate mom to her for years. In 2005, June has come home to Richmond, Virginia where her family is part of the elite upper class living on Monument Ave.

She wonders about Aunt Vivian’s late husband Uncle Bill who died years ago when he was young. When Vivian becomes ill, she insists on telling June the truth about her heritage starting in 1942when her beloved Bill begged her to take him back after he left Sally; she pleaded with him to fix her indiscretion as the Negro Howard who has a family and she had an affair leaving her pregnant. Stunned and ignoring her problems with Meniere’s, June begins digging into her past finding a concealed trapped door that stuns her as her family was involved in international intrigue with Nazis and local southern intrigue with African-Americans. The more she digs, the more she learns that her white bread upper crust family has a lot of fascinating passionate skeletons; some of whom still live and love especially when musing about the Corn Huskers Ball.

The cast throughout especially June, Vivian and the rest of the family past and present are a strong fully developed crowd who being to life Richmond circa 1942, 2005 and several pivotal dates in between. Fans will relish this fine family drama as amateur sleuth June begins her investigation into her twentieth century roots especially looking closely at the relationship between Howard and Vivian. Summed up nicely by Freud, that sometimes a “cigar is just a cigar”, but sometimes it is much more if one is willing to risk what he or she thought they knew about their extended family.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Things That Keep Us Here-Carla Buckley

The Things That Keep Us Here
Carla Buckley
Delacorte, Feb 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780440245094

Peter and Ann Brooks separate after he informs her he does not love her. A year later single mom Ann works and raises their two daughters. She learns that the virulent form of H5N1 virus has reached phase five, leading to the closing of all schools by the feds. Accompanied by her neighbor Ann goes to the store fearing quarantine so she stocks up on necessities. When Ann returns home, she finds her estranged husband and his co-worker Shazia there.

Ann invites them in to stay for now but in separate beds. The Feds declare the anticipated quarantine in which everyone is to remain indoors. Over time as the pandemic spreads, the people inside the Brooks’ home become claustrophobic; food supplies dwindle as she bought for herself and two youngsters and not two additional adults; electricity goes out during a storm; and firewood is low. Ann’s best friend is dying from the virus so leaves her son in front of Ann’s house. She fears bringing the child inside as the disease is probably incubating inside him, but Peter overrules her. Peter also takes care of a stray dog whose owner died, but Ann resents his using their dwindling food he gives to the child and canine. Everyone remains in danger unless a vaccine is manufactured as half the population is dead, others are dying, and sustenance supplies are becoming scarce.

The Brooks family trials, tribulations and triumphs serve as a microcosm of what is faced by other people throughout the world. Some become heroic helping the needy; others try to protect their immediate loved ones; and finally those exist who commit legal and moral crimes. Ann owns this apocalyptic thriller as she feels strongly that her kids come before others in an imploding world gone mad; the opposite of Peter. In her debut, Carla Buckley provides a thought-provoking thriller that asks her readers who would they become if civilization somewhat vanished.

Harriet Klausner

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn-Alison Weir

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn
Alison Weir
Ballantine, Jan 5 2010, $28.00
ISBN: 9780345453211

Historian Alison Weir takes readers on a deep look at the last days of Anne Boleyn and what led to her execution. Interestingly, the author admits her research changed several of her notions and nukes popular beliefs. The key change that Ms. Weir claims is that she exonerates King Henry VIII of directing his principal adviser Thomas Cromwell to find seditious excuses to rid himself of his second queen so that he can remarry a woman who will give him a male heir. Instead, the author makes a powerful case that Cromwell realizes his boss’ spouse was a politically shrewd rival unlike her naïve predecessor Katherine of Aragon so with allies he trumped up false charges of treason and adultery with five men including incest. In other words the monarch’s advisor conducted a blood of one velvet coup.

This is a super biography that is rich with supporting data yet is easy to read and follow the detailed support and conclusions drawn by Alison Weir; who makes a strong case that Anne declaring her innocence all the way to the gallows was telling the truth. Other related “truisms” are also shredded, but it is the historian’s powerful argument of Anne Boleyn’s innocence, Thomas Crowell’s diabolically successful plotting, and King Henry’s being bamboozled that make for a great look at who did what leading to the second wife’s execution.

Harriet Klausner

Excess Baggage-Sean Gardner

Excess Baggage
Sean Gardner
Everlast, 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9780982158098

Record executive Tara Stevens leaves the New York scene after munching on the Big Apple for Los Angeles and the Left Coast as a V.P of the Hip-Hop Promotions of Big-Time Records. There she reconnects with her high school boyfriend advertising director Dorian Daniels.

His best friend attorney Christian James is tired of the lame date scene. When a teen rams into the car of Registered Nurse Nona Jones, her vehicle hits Christian’s wheels. They hit it off figuratively. Although attracted to one another, neither is aware they will also meet in a courtroom re the Jackson memorial case.

However, Dorian and Christian have issues that keep each from committing to the woman they respectively love. Tara and Nona want more from Dorian and Christian, but neither is able to move past the Excess Baggage that loads down their hearts.

Rotating viewpoint, aptly titled Excess Baggage is a wonderful contemporary African-American romance with four strong protagonists. Each, especially the males, carry bags as the back cover sums the plot with its vivid depiction of bags of frustration, bitterness, disappointment, neglected, sex, envy and shame. Yet built on those lower two bases of the pyramid is enthusiasm, attraction and at the top love if they give their respective relationships a chance. Fans will root for the two couples to make it, but to do so, each especially the males must move past their demons.

Harriet Klausner

True Confections-Katharine Weber

True Confections
Katharine Weber
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Dec 29 2009, $22.00
ISBN: 9780307395863

Ever since she accidentally burned down the home of a classmate as a teen during a temper rage, Alice Tatnall has just wanted to be accepted as a person and not as “Arson Girl”. The incident cost her a college scholarship and forced her to accept work at Zip Candies. There she meets the confectioner’s heir Howard "Howdy" Ziplinsky, ten years older than her and Jewish. They fall in love and marry, but she remains ostracized by the family as the “Arson Girl”. Two kids (Julie and Jacob) and working diligently at Zip Candies apparently is not enough to overcome that one transgression even though over three decades have passed.

In an affidavit, the fiftyish Alice explains the history of the company that she cherishes. Zip’s was started by impoverished Hungarian immigrant Eli Czaplinsky who developed his famous first candies like Little Sammies and Mumbo Jumbos from teaching himself English after stealing a copy of the controversial Little Black Sambo from the library. She further explains connections to a runaway slave, Nazis and the Little Susies crisis as well as her relationship with Howard who is in Madagascar while she battles his avaricious sister Irene who plans a hostile takeover in order to strip the company of its assets for her personal gain.

Using a legal affidavit as a neat gimmick to tell the tale of a candy company and its extended owning family, True Confections is a delightful story that is at its best when the plot pulls no punches as it explores racism in the confectionary world. The cast is solid though seen through the filter of Alice who at times cleverly hesitates on her true confessions re confections. This is a deep look at a person who has found her life making candy and the company that she cherishes; especially the roots.

Harriet Klausner

The Secret of Everything-Barbara O'Neal

The Secret of Everything
Barbara O'Neal
Bantam, Dec 292009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780553385526

Following the total disaster in Montana, thirty seven years old hiking tour guide Tessa Harlow returns home to her father Sam the surfer dude in Santa Cruz. While her foot is in a cast healing, mentally Tessa thinks about her birthplace, Las Ladronas, New Mexico. Tessa decides it is time to truly go home.

.In Las Ladronas, Tessa meets single dad Vince Grasso and his three girls (Natalie, Hannah and Jade). Vince and Tessa become lovers, but she warns him she is a rolling stone so will one day leave as a “wanderer” does. Tessa also investigates her past starting with the 100 Breakfasts diner. As she and Vince fall in love, the kids come first.

This is an engaging character study as Barbara O’Neal gets deep into the spirit of each key player, which is more than just the charming quintet. The story line is driven by a combination of romance, children in need of a caring mom, the mental healing power of delicious food, and a bit of mystery of what happened to the little girl who left town almost three decades ago. In spite of quoting Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the climax is too abrupt resolving issues wider than the state in a flash. Still The Secret of Everything is worth reading as Ms. O’Neal reveals the poignant answer as Tessa finds her Tao in this enchanting tale.

Harriet Klausner

Eve-Elissa Elliott

Elissa Elliott
Bantam, Dec 29 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385341455

Eve and Adam love their life in the Garden of Eden. However, paradise is lost when Eve seduced by Lucifer as much as by her curiosity persuades Adam to take an apple bite from the Tree of Knowledge forbidden fruit. Saddened but a believer in the original tough love, Elohim kicks the pair from the Garden and into the harsh cruel world.

Over the next few years, the previously pampered pair struggle, but finally turn it around as their home becomes a safe haven to raise kids and drink beer with figs and grapes. They have several children as Adam believes in barefoot and pregnant. Abel is a sheepherder; Cain becomes a farmer, Seth the favorite provides solace to his mom; Naava is a weaver; Dara is a potter; and Aya the healer remains invisible to her family. Cain turns away from Elohim to the Sumerian fertility goddess Inanna while his sister Naava seduces him into taking her to the nearby city. Naava is jealous that Dara works for the prince, so she marries the prince. Outraged by her betrayal Cain causes a riot that displaces the first family and soon commits fratricide.

This dysfunctional family drama makes for an enjoyable biblical biographical fiction in which they needed a shrink. The story line leaps around as perspective is rotated. Eve grows in her job as the first mom after being kicked to the curb by God due to the original sin. Her daughters even “invisible” Aya come across as fully developed in part because they tell the saga while the males are not fleshed out beyond their roles of supporting the women who dominate their lives. Although except for the setting, the First family feels like an American brood sent back to the first days, fans will enjoy the novelization of Eve and her clan.

Harriet Klausner

The Things That Keep Us Here-Carla Buckley

The Things That Keep Us Here
Carla Buckley
Delacorte, Feb 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780440245094

Peter and Ann Brooks separate after he informs her he does not love her. A year later single mom Ann works and raises their two daughters. She learns that the virulent form of H5N1 virus has reached phase five, leading to the closing of all schools by the feds. Accompanied by her neighbor Ann goes to the store fearing quarantine so she stocks up on necessities. When Ann returns home, she finds her estranged husband and his co-worker Shazia there.

Ann invites them in to stay for now but in separate beds. The Feds declare the anticipated quarantine in which everyone is to remain indoors. Over time as the pandemic spreads, the people inside the Brooks’ home become claustrophobic; food supplies dwindle as she bought for herself and two youngsters and not two additional adults; electricity goes out during a storm; and firewood is low. Ann’s best friend is dying from the virus so leaves her son in front of Ann’s house. She fears bringing the child inside as the disease is probably incubating inside him, but Peter overrules her. Peter also takes care of a stray dog whose owner died, but Ann resents his using their dwindling food he gives to the child and canine. Everyone remains in danger unless a vaccine is manufactured as half the population is dead, others are dying, and sustenance supplies are becoming scarce.

The Brooks family trials, tribulations and triumphs serve as a microcosm of what is faced by other people throughout the world. Some become heroic helping the needy; others try to protect their immediate loved ones; and finally those exist who commit legal and moral crimes. Ann owns this apocalyptic thriller as she feels strongly that her kids come before others in an imploding world gone mad; the opposite of Peter. In her debut, Carla Buckley provides a thought-provoking thriller that asks her readers who would they become if civilization somewhat vanished.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

O’ Juliet-Robin Maxwell

O’ Juliet
Robin Maxwell
NAL, Feb 2 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451229151

In Florence, Italy, Juliet Capelletti is happy that her best friend Lucrezia Tornabuoni is marrying into the Medici family as that is what she wants. On the other hand Juliet wants a Dante to sweep her off her feet rather than an arranged marriage. Her parents Simonetta and Capello have arranged for her to marry her dad’s silks and wool business partner Jacopo Strozzi, a member of the second wealthiest family in the city. Juliet detests Strozzi for his odious touching her without regard to her feelings, his yellow teeth, his odor and being sneaky.

Strozzi informs Juliet’s father that the Monticecco family declared war on them by sinking a cargo of silk and burning down a factory. Although he has no idea why a feud occurred, Capelletti retaliates. Romeo Monticecco tries to bring peace between the families, but matters get worse instead. When he and Juliet meet, they fall in love, but neither family will tolerate a marriage between one of them and a member of the enemy.

This is an interesting novelization of the classic play in which Robin Maxwell catches the essence of Romeo and Juliet as well as the political and economic intrigue of Florence that leads to the manipulations, back-stabbing and family feud. Although Strozzi as the devious villain is described as odious a quadrillion times, historical romance fans except for Shakespeare purists will enjoy the retelling; as the Bard receives the Austen-Bronte modern day chutzpah treatment.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones-Alexander McCall Smith

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
Alexander McCall Smith
Knopf, Jan 12 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780307454706

In Edinburgh six years old Bertie Pollock needs to escape the war between his parents over how to raise their kid. He would like to give them pointers but they are too obtuse with adult power to listen to their child. Instead he decides the cub scouts might be the perfect escape especially from his mom as Irene is stifling (not that he wants to go camping in the woods). Neither of his parents are fond of the idea that their darling wants to join the scouts; for that matter neither is Bertie.

Meanwhile Cyril the canine has fallen in lust leaving his pet human artist Angus Lordie with six issues to deal with. Newly married Matthew adapts to life with a live in partner as does his wife Elspeth who has no idea how men behave. Finally lonely Domenica remains isolated with in many ways only his intellectual self and Cyril and his new horde to talk with while mumbling that his dog is scoring better than he ever has. As always a torrent in a teacup confront the occupants at of 44 Scotland Street

This is a terrific slice of Edinburgh as the readers learn more of The World According to Bertie and other residents of 44 Scotland Street. The characters are extremely deep yet cleverly understated. Their wonderful profound stories intertwine into a “Precious” tale as Alexander McCall Smith showcases his Love Over Scotland as much as he has Botswana.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Second Helping-Beverly Jenkins

A Second Helping
Beverly Jenkins
Avon, Jan 5 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061547812

In Henry Adams, Kansas, the town’s fairy godmother affluent fiftyish Bernadine Brown, who saved the town when she bought it over the Internet (see Bring on the Blessings), is in Barcelona. Bernadine plans on building a school next when she comes home. However while she does Europe, a crisis occurs when the Dog and Cow Diner’s new chef, Florene Maxwell, a culinary college student, introduces French cuisine to the locals who wants good old plain American food as this is Kansas not Oz or Paris.

Meanwhile eleven years old Amari Steele has one goal besides not eating puree vegetables for breakfast. He wants to be adopted by his foster father Mayor Trent July and the rest of the family who have welcomed him with love. He comes up with a plan to show he is worthy when he suggests a revival of a dead tradition, the August First parade.

Bernadine returns to town still attracted to Malachi, but her cheating former spouse has come to Henry Adams begging her for a second chance, make those 275 million dollars chances at love. However, besides tornadoes attacking the town, unwanted former spouses stalking, Bernadine’s beloved Crystal becomes part of an odious abduction plot.

The third Henry Adams tale (see the super historical SOMETHING LIKE LOVE) continues the wonderful saga of a town established by former slaves in the 1880s as an oasis, now trying to survive in modern times. Once again as Beverly Jenkins did with the previous contemporary Blessings tale, the great author provides a fascinating look at African-American history inside a town’s twenty-first century struggle to remain viable. Fans will enjoy A Second Helping as Ms. Jenkins provides another terrific tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Man with Two Arms-Billy Lombardo

The Man with Two Arms
Billy Lombardo
Overlook, Feb 4 2010, $24.95
ISBN 9781590203071

In Chicago Henry Granville loves baseball to the point that of when no game is on or in town, he reads The Natural to his unborn child. His pregnant wife Lori thinks it is cute until May 15, 1984 when Danny is born. Henry begins a determined campaign to turn his offspring into a baseball player while overturning Lori's objections. Danny proves a phenomena as he can throw with both arms.

Although childhood was hours of daily pitching ambidextrously, Danny signs with the Cubs who demonstrates a right handed skill equal to Seaver and a left handed ability compared with Koufax. Cub opponents especially on the road call him the Freak and his father a monster. As Danny falls in love with art instructor Brigit and finds another rare skill that of clairvoyance which will soon change his life in New York during a series with the Mets, he begins to doubt the Major Leagues is worth the cost to his family and himself.

This is a super baseball story due to the strong characterizations as fans will believe Henry is a super switch-pitching "Freak" (no link to Cy Young winner (with no link to Tim Lincecum except for are great). The support cast, especially his family, Brigit, and his teammates and opponents augment the deep look at a young pitching phenomena who grew up with a baseball rather than a rattle.

Harriet Klausner

Once in a Lifetime-Cathy Kelly

Once in a Lifetime
Cathy Kelly
Pocket, Jan 5 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416586258

In Ardagh, Ireland, Star Bluestone is the last of a long line of women who for generations were pagans in an ocean of Christianity. She cares what happens to the females in her town although she conceals her efforts to quietly help them.

TV reporter Ingrid Fitzgerald is horrified as her male counterparts grow old they remain on the air while her female peers are replaced by beautiful blonde bimbos. She knows her time to be placed on the shelf is coming soon. Ingrid loves her husband David Kenny, owner of the town’s heart and soul, Kenny’s Department Store and their children, who have left the nest empty. Charlie Fallon appreciates working in the store’s art gallery where she sells incredible tapestries designed by Star, and loves her husband and son, but has never been able to tell her despotic mother to let her live her own life. Finally there is jewelry designer Natalie, who seeks to learn more about her late biological mom, who begged on her dying bed for everyone to not burden her daughter with her heritage. However, David has been acting strange of late, sort of heartbroken, as rumors spread he is losing the store and perhaps much more, which worries the townsfolk.

This is a whimsical Irish work of contemporary fiction that hooks the audience from the onset as the women of Ardagh struggle with change that seems to be unstoppable. The story line is character driven with each of the females above and others dealing with the transformation that could leave their town without its soul, Kenny’s Department Store. Though the ending may seem too simple to some readers, Cathy Kelly provides a Brigadoon for the Internet age as the small town tries to overcome being the latest victim of takeover disguised as globalization progress.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It All Changed in an Instant: More Sox-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure-Smith Magazine (ed)

It All Changed in an Instant: More Sox-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
Smith Magazine (ed)
Harper, Jan 5 2010, $12.00
ISBN: 9780061719431

This is a fun, often irreverent, with many poignant entries in this entertaining succinct memoir collection. The selected contributors use six words to describe their “thoughts”. With commentary like Edward Doerr’s “Age twenty-tree, scored pallbearer’s hat trick” or “Wife away, pizza today, diet tomorrow” by David Logan, the audience will empathize or laugh with some as for many of us they hit home. Others are sad like Noema Abbott’s profound “Tiny son dying in my arms”. Best read leisurely over several weeks, It All Changed in an Instant is entertaining yet deep as summed up by Lisa Anne Auburch’s “Everything I touch turns to mold” and Brooke Marie Gorman’s “Story of my life? bad timing” as compared with the ultimate optimist Phil Skversky when he says: “Alzheimer’s meeting new people every day”. Readers will appreciate the short and snappy deep collection that includes classic concise Yogi-isms while making up their own - even the shopping list, I critique.

Harriet Klausner

Thicker Than Blood-C.J. Darlington

Thicker Than Blood
C.J. Darlington
Tyndale, Jan 1 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414334486

Fifteen years ago when their parents died, sisters May and Christy Williams reacted totally different though they shared in common deep grief for their loss. May became a rancher while Christy turned self destructive with alcohol and nasty relationships with a series of losers.

However, thirty-three years old Christy is now cleaning up her act working extremely hard at Dawson’s Book Barn in Longmont as a rare book buyer. In spite of her efforts, her past indiscretions haunt her especially getting caught in a DUI on her recent birthday so when stolen valuable first editions including a Hemingway are found in her home, she is the only suspect for the thefts. Needing time to prove her innocence and having a desire to see May, who she failed years ago, Christy heads to Triple Cross Ranch unaware that her recent past will follow her there.

Although by the book (no pun intended towards Dawson's), this is a fascinating second chance for two estranged sisters who failed each other when each needed the other to reach out of the darkness of death. May found solace in God while Christi found hers in alcohol. Fans will enjoy this inspirational tale of the two siblings although the felonious subplot seems too obvious of a solution. Still Thicker than Blood is a deep tale of love between sisters and God.

Harriet Klausner

The Vera Wright Trilogy: My Father's Moon, Cabin Fever, and The Georges' Wife-Elizabeth Jolley

The Vera Wright Trilogy: My Father's Moon, Cabin Fever, and The Georges' Wife
Elizabeth Jolley
Persea, Feb 23 290010, $19.95
ISBN: 9780892553525

My Father's Moon. During WWII, fresh from boarding school, Vera Wright becomes a nurse in training at St. Cuthberts Hospital. Vera uses childish games to feel welcome until she becomes the lover of married "Dr. Metcalf, Jonathan". She becomes pregnant, but the doctor dumps her so she gives birth to Helena and becomes a single mom working at the Fairfields School.

Cabin Fever. A nursing student at St. Cuthberts Hospital, Vera becomes the lover of married Dr. Metcalf. She becomes pregnant, but he dumps her so she gives birth alone. She fears being a single mom, but rejects offers of help from her parents. Confused but beginning to understand the difference between hurtful and nurturing relationships, she attends a medical conference, but struggles to leave her hotel room as her memories frighten her.

The Georges' Wife. Vera has become housekeeper to Mr. and Mrs. George and lover to her male employer while returning to school as a medical student. She becomes pregnant with Mr. George’s child. They plan to marry and move to Australia as her mom still worries about her choices.

The Vera Wright trilogy is an intriguing look at a coming of age woman during WWII (My Father's Moon and Cabin Fever) and into her middle age (The Georges' Wife). The writing feels stilted, but brings to life the 1940s and 1950s from the perspective of a British woman, who in My Father's Moon and The Georges' Wife is not very likable while readers will empathize with her in Cabin Fever. My Father's Moon and Cabin Fever cover the same events, but from differing mental perspectives with the latter being the best book of the trio as Elizabeth Jolley takes a deep poignant look at Vera’s reactions to mistakes she has made in her young life. Overall this omnibus is for fans who relish British historical dramas.

Harriet Klausner

The Summer We Fell Apart-Robin Antalek

The Summer We Fell Apart
Robin Antalek
Harper, Jan 5 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061782169

Their dad was a famous playwright who died when his career declined. Their mom was a wannabe actress who became a cult favorite for her B roles. Their four offspring growing up never felt they had parents as the so called adults in the Haas family of six neglected their children.

The youngest Amy hated the constant tension as all she wanted was a normal life like those on TV. George wanted to love and be loved so in any dispute especially after his father died, he always supported their mom. The oldest Kate found escapism and solace in her studies as she became a lawyer mostly as a reaction opposite to her artistic parents. Finally the oldest son Finn turned to alcoholism and addiction to provide him a haze of avoidance.

This is a fascinating look at a dysfunctional family from the perspective of the four children as the adult may neglect their offspring but the child becomes the adult. The story line is character driven as the demons that haunt each of the foursome and how each copes with them is deeply explored by Robin Antalek. Mindful of Family Pictures by Sue Miller and This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, readers will enjoy this profound look at family relationships as seen by the children looking back as adults.

Harriet Klausner

Got It Going On-Stephanie Perry Moore

Got It Going On
Stephanie Perry Moore
Kensington Dafina, Jan 1 2010, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758234452

Attending Western Smith College, Cassidy Cross wants to become a Beta Gamma Pi sister as she knows they are the top sorority on the campus. However she has a reputation for guy hopping, but maturity has changed her though the players keep hitting on her. Instead Cassidy, the dance squad captain, wants to Al Dutch’s girlfriend.

Al reciprocates reality is nowhere near the dream as it turns into a nightmare after they go further than she is ready for and turns worse when he reveals his secret to her . Her pledge sister Isha encourages Cassidy to get professional help and to turn to her faith to guide her.

This is an interesting entry in the Beta Gamma Pi young-adult series as the focus is on premarital sex, illness and much more as Stephanie Perry Moore takes a profound look at sexually active young adults. That much more is the problem as Cassidy seems more like a college coed Job so much are her woes which can overwhelm the reader especially when other BTI sisters have issues too. Fans of the saga will initially not like the heroine’s brash yet aloof escapades but will root for her when she begins to look within her heart and soul for solace.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
David Bianculli
Touchstone, Dec 1 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9781439101162

Although the biography primarily focuses on the famous TV show that nuked the then boundaries of television, there is more to this solid look at this groundbreaking show. David Bianculli opens with a section on the childhood and early steps of the brothers entering the entertainment world until their key appearance on the Jack Paar show. However, it is the deep look into each show and the battles with CBS and with other members of the show over what can be said or used on the air that makes this a fascinating biography. Finally the ultimate tribute to Tom and Dick Smothers besides bios like this one is how far they opened TV with current satire that tore into the establishment. The show was killed in its third season in 1969, but Mr. Bianculli makes a strong case that its influence remains stratospheric today in Stewart, Colbert and Maher.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Butterflies of Grand Canyon-Margaret Erhart

The Butterflies of Grand Canyon
Margaret Erhart
Plume, Dec 29 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452295490

In 1951 Jane Merkle rides the train with her older husband Morris from St. Louis to spend the summer with her in-laws the Hedquists in Flagstaff, Arizona. On board she meets two female botanists; Elzada is going to Arizona to investigate a thirteen year old cold case murder. When they arrive they are warmly greeted by Morris’ sister Dotty and his brother-in-law Oliver. Dotty encourages Jane to be herself and not follow her mantra of “When in Rome, remember you’re from St. Louis”.

She heeds their advice after her luggage is lost to trade dresses for jeans as comfort is more important near the Grand Canyon. Jane buys a butterfly net and is attracted to National parks Ranger Euell Wigglesworth. Unable to stay out of the inquiry and the vastness of nature since she comes out of her cocoon, Jane assists on the investigation while chasing after butterflies of love.

The Butterflies of the Grand Canyon is an enjoyable historical tale that compares humanity and nature with the former filled with inane frailties and the latter majestic stark beauty, but does so with a soft touch. Jane is the star who holds the engaging story line together while the support cast enhances understanding of her metamorphosis and of the region. Well written in a low key way, fans will enjoy Margaret Erhart’s entertaining look at being human in the early 1950s on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Listen-Rene Gutteridge

Rene Gutteridge
Tyndale, Feb 1 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414324333

The town of Marlo seems like an ideal community to live in as it is quiet, serene and small enough that no resident is a stranger. People go put of their way to help each other as good neighbors should. That changes when a new website recording conversations that people had when they assumed they were safely private.

Two men know this kind of site will turn neighbors against each other and tear apart the fiber of families and community. Opinion columnist and crossword constructor Damian Underwood knows what words can do and fears the posting of private conversations will lead to violence; he proves correct. Police Detective Frank Merret sees the crimes that happen because of the private conversations on the website and does his best to figure out what is happening. Damian’s family is a casualty while Frank thinks his ex wife is a target.

With a nod to politicians who speak foolishly on what they thought were closed microphones, words spoken in private but revealed in public changes the relationships and thereby the complexion of a small town long after the perpetrator is caught. The characters are realistically drawn with the audience caring what happens to the reporter, the cop and their families. Stunning in its simplicity yet resulting in nasty consequences, Rene Gutteridge provides a cautionary tale of beware of Big Brother (or sister) as he or she need not be from the Feds as your neighbor can listen from anywhere with today’s technology.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Queen’s Dollmaker-Christine Trent

The Queen’s Dollmaker
Christine Trent
Kensington, Jan 1 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758238573

In 1781 Paris the fire destroyed her family home and shop. Her parents died soon afterward. Teenager Claudette Laurent leaves Paris with other fleeing females hoping to find work in England. After a horrific employment with a shrew, Charlotte uses her dollmaking talent to open up a small shop in London

Over the next few years her dolls become prize possessions of the elite and knowledge of her talent crosses the Channel to Versailles where young Queen Marie Antoinette asks her to come home. In France, Claudette reunites with her childhood boyfriend Jean-Philippe. As the Revolution explodes, Claudette’s connection as the Queen’s Dollmaker places her in prison awaiting a date with Madame Guillotine if she fails to give testimony against Her Highness.

This is a terrific late eighteenth century saga that uses real persona to bring to life mostly Paris during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The two keys that refresh this delightful story line are the insightful look at dollmaking and collecting in the 1780s and a rather different view of the Queen who becomes a convenient scapegoat for the excessive of the Revolution. Historical readers will appreciate this deep look at life in France during a period of turmoil.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Secrets of the Tudor Court: Between Two Queens-Kate Emerson

Secrets of the Tudor Court: Between Two Queens
Kate Emerson
Pocket, Jan 5 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 9781416583271

In 1637 sixteen year old Anne “Nan” Bassett crosses the Narrow Sea from Calais, France to Dover, England along with her older sister Catherine. Nan wants to join the court as a maid of honor to Queen Jane Seymour. Surprisingly King Henry selects her to become a member of his wife’s entourage.

When Jane dies in childbirth, Nan leaves the court to move in with her cousin, the Countess of Sussex. Henry not forgetting the élan of Nan orders her back to the court when he marries again and again. With intrigue everywhere inside Henry’s court, Nan falls in love, but to survive she must give away her child as her family is no haven since they are caught up in Cromwell seditious activities.

The latest secret at King Henry’s court (see Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace) is an engaging historical starting a maid of honor who keeps her head by keeping her head in crisis. Based on a real maid of honor, Nan is a terrific heroine, but in many ways the aging monarch steals the show as the King seems to obsessively need to prove his manhood as he goes through a few more wives following the death of Jane. Fans will relish Kate Emerson’s strong historical tale of life and death at King Henry’s court.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 27, 2009

Snapped-Pamela Klaffke

Pamela Klaffke
Mira, Han 1 2010, $13.95
ISBN: 9780778327462

Fifteen years ago Sara B and Ted founded Snap with no money to truly launch the magazine. However, with its Dos and Don’ts, the magazine has become one of Canada's most popular weekly. In fact if imitation is the ultimate flattery, than Snap is the top gun.

However, as Sara B closes in on her fortieth birthday, she has lost some of her edge; even she knows she is on cruise control professional and personally. Her affair with younger Jack is okay but not any euphoric incredible. Even her renowned page Dos and Don'ts has lost its luster at least in her mind. Sara B especially feels her age since she hired energetic youthful Eva, who represents what Sara B was before she realized the new forty is still forty.

This is a superb sarcastic saga of a woman not coming to grips with middle age hammering at her when she compares herself today with Eva and with herself at Eva’s age. Time has moved on and she fears passed her by when she was not looking beyond the next Don’ts. Fans who relish a dark jocular acerbic tale will appreciate this strong tale as Sara B realizes she has gone from a Do to a Don’t.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hero’s Tribute-Graham Garrison

Hero’s Tribute
Graham Garrison
Kregel, Oct 2009m $13.99
ISBN: 9780825426858

Michael Gavin is a hero in his hometown of Talking Creek, Georgia. He was quarterback of the high school football team and played at the University of Georgia. He was given the Medal of Honor for his distinguished service in Iraq. Parents in Talking Creek always use Michael as the epitome of a person being all they can be; in other words a hero.

However everyone is shocked when Michael learns he has cancer; the townsfolk are there for him and his family whole sadly wondering why bad things happen to good people. As he nears death, Michael asks sports reporter Wes Watkins to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. Wes is stunned as he and Michael are strangers, but agrees. He begins digging into the life of the local hero with an ulterior motive of using the story as a ticket out of town to the bigger gigs. However, Wes begins to uncover some shocking secrets in the life of the paragon revered by his town. He ponders who Michael truly was and if he tells the entire truth with what he learned what that says of him as he would push the statue of Mr. perfect off the pedestal.

Michael dies in the very beginning of the book, but readers see who he is through the filtered lens of different people especially his family, the townsfolk and the reporter as each provides their perspective. Character driven, fans will appreciate this terrific insightful look at a Hero’s Tribute as to be human means to have flaws, but it takes Amazing Grace to move past them to greatness. With a final twist at the eulogy that will leave readers stunned and wanting to join in on the four song tribute, Graham Garrison provides a strong Christian tale.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flowers for Elvis-Julia Schuster

Flowers for Elvis
Julia Schuster
Bell Bridge, Apr 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9780982175613

Single woman Willard gives birth to twins; one is white while the other is black. She knows that in the Eisenhower era in Mississippi she, the kids and her lover would be lynched. However, the black child Olivia dies, but instead of the newborn’s soul going to heaven she remains at the portal to watch over her sister whose life will be difficult. Willard’s sister Genevieve is also pregnant and the Mother Superior orders her to keep her niece (though she doesn’t know it is her sister’s child) saying she had twins.

Over the years Olivia’s spirit watches over her twins whom she loves equally. They do not have an easy life because Genevieve is a bit touched, ignoring her children as they grow up; providing a terrible home-life due to drinking, stealing and turning tricks. As a young teen Louisa gets pregnant and her lover refuses to leave his wife. Louisa stays with him as his mistress; she has several miscarriages. Her twin Anna Beth tries to be supportive and though their lives are stretched neither breaks. However, their attitude towards their mom is different as they have given up trying to reach the horrid woman. Their spirit sister Olivia tries to console them as she knows God has a plan for each of them.

The poignant story line focuses on a dysfunctional suburban civil Rights Era dysfunctional Mississippi family. The narrator Olivia tells the tale of her sisters and like readers learns late in the plot what her purpose is and why God cannot take her to him at this time. Genevieve suffers from mental illness but little is understood about her illness. She is self destructs believing her patron saint is Elvis and she almost destroys the twins she neglects. Flowers for Elvis is a touching tale made stronger by a unexpected spin.

Harriet Klausner

Lute Player-Norah Lofts

Lute Player
Norah Lofts
Touchstone, Dec 8 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 9781439146071

Blondel the lute player loves Berengaria the wife of his sire, King Richard the Lionhearted although he does not act on his regard for several reasons and not just because he would be executed. He knows the woman he cherishes above all else loves her husband and beside he is the king’s companion and would never be disloyal. Berengaria's hunchbacked sister Anna Apieta is attracted to Blondel while Richard loves Crusading and men.

When Richard heads off for Jerusalem, Blondel accompanies him mostly because of his love for Berengaria. After they failed, he returns home with his monarch until the king is captured in France. He continues home not sure how to break the news to the woman he loves.

The Lute Player is a terrific medieval fiction in which the audience obtains a less romantic but totally human view of King Richard the Lionhearted and the Crusades through the eyes of four people impacted by the monarch and the war. Besides the title player, the audience learns how the queen and her sister feel as well as the ruler’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. With a strong antiwar message as the horrors come home to roost to those on the home front, Norah Lofts provides a super historical showcasing the effect of the Third Crusade on Richard’s mother and wife.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Angelic Way: Angels Through the Ages and Their Meaning for Us

The Angelic Way: Angels Through the Ages and Their Meaning for Us
Rami Shapiro
BlueBridge, Nov 2009, $15.95
ISBN: 9781933346199

Rabbi Rami Shapiro looks deeply at angels in religion and mythology. The major religions share in common several similar traits though has some differences. One thing the Rabbi emphasizes that is common amidst the world religions is the role of angels is to help guide people closer to God and with one another as everyone is linked with everyone else. He also provides an intriguing chapter on Satan The Fallen Angel who “existed” a full millennia before Jesus anchored as a key part of the Zoroastrian religion with his being God’s opposite ( assort of Yin and Yang – pardon the mixing of beliefs). As fascinating is the chapter on humans going the opposite way by ascending to heaven rather than angels descending to earth; people like Enoch, Elijah, Isaiah, Rabbi Ishmael, Mary and Muhammad are some of those included. In the Old Testament, angels play major roles as God’s agents including Satan whereas Christianity takes the position that Satan is evil trickster able to fool people to act in his image. With other chapters including angelic sightings by key figures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this is a rounded fascinating look at what angels have meant over centuries though the prime emphasis is on the Hebrew; as the author is a rabbi.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Skeptical Romancer-W. Somerset Maugham and Pico Iyer (editor)

The Skeptical Romancer
W. Somerset Maugham and Pico Iyer (editor)
Everyman’s Library (Random House), Nov 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307272126

W. Somerset Maugham is renowned for his highly regarded novels like of Human Bondage. However, less known is that the late author was a world traveler who wrote articles and letters about the locations he saw as a boy in Spain, a spy in Russia, traveling in Asia during the Great Depression and much more including the United States. Although a few of these short observations are known by readers especially those from The Land of the Blessed Virgin released in 1905 (included as a section As A Very Young Traveler) most probably are not remembered. The other chapters are Sketches of China (from On a Chinese Screen, 1922), Across Southeast Asia (from The Gentleman in the Parlour, 1930) and A Life in Retrospect (from The Partial View, 1954). With over sixty entries and a chronology of the author’s life matched up again major world events, fans of Mr. Maugham or those who appreciate a different type of travelogue that looks at the human condition will want to read this fine collection. Fans will understand better the underlying motives to the late writer’s masterpiece plays and novels as he matured from that boy in Spain to an adult horrified with what man can do to man yet somehow remained optimistic even into his sixties and beyond when the obituary column was constantly loaded with his peer group.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Secret Year-Jennifer R. Hubbard

The Secret Year
Jennifer R. Hubbard
Viking, Jan 7 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780670011537

Sixteen years old Colt relaxes in his room when he gets a call from Syd who tells him that Julia Vernon died in a car accident. Neither Syd nor their friends knew that Colt and Julia were secretly seeing one another for the past year. They hid their relationship because she was from the Black Mountain country club wealthy set and he was from the dirt poor flats.

Both of them enjoyed sex and being with each other every Friday night, but had to ignore one another in school. Her brother gives Colt Julia’s diary because almost every entry involves him, and how much she wanted to be with him; yet also relished being part of the in-crowd even though that meant her public boyfriend was Austen who she did not like. Colt reads the diary and wonders who Julia really was and how will he move on without her as he struggles to get on with his life while grieving in silence.

First love can prove disconcerting under ideal conditions, but when social, economic, race, religious difference also are part of the relationship, it can prove extremely difficult. Colt and Julia had a tough time of it due to the social class differences between them. Readers get to know Julia through the mindset of people like Colt but mostly via her dairy; she was a troubled teen unable to break down her feelings for Colt from her need for social acceptance by her peers. Colt is disturbed by how much he cared for Julia as he has to still conceal his feelings especially his grief as the other man and still find a way to move on. The Secret Year is a strong teen relationship drama.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Rules of Play-Jennie Walker

The Rules of Play
Jennie Walker
Soho, Jan 1 2010, $20.00
ISBN: 9781569476253

As the cricket match between England and India occurs, she wonders about changing the rules of engagement in sports and in life. Her husband is a nice bloke caught up with the test match; so much so he explains the rules of play to his bored wife who asks him feining interest while dreaming of her lover explaining the rules of an affair to her. Her lover enjoys a bit of mystery in their trysts as if she enables him to ignore his work as a loss adjuster insurance agent. Her sixteen years old stepson wants nothing to do with her or his father as he plays by his own rules.

However, it is her marriage that has left her feeling ennui leading to her pondering whether the rules of cricket apply to the rules of an extramarital affair or for that matter life and marital and extramarital relationships. She muses whether extraordinary circumstances like hitting a seagull change the rules of cricket, which albeit implies if yes one should alos be able to change the rules of life.

The Rules of Play is not for everyone as it has an English philosophical spin that challenges what exactly are the rules of society, who made them and who is the enforcer and referee of them. The cast is purposely stereotyped to fill a specific relational role i.e., husband, lover, and stepson in the life of the narrator who not only holds the first person account focused but is the only multi dimensional character. Fans who relish something cerebrally different will relish the Rules of Play in life as cricket is unfair. To those who lose at either game.

Harriet Klausner

Tender Graces-Kathryn Magendie

Tender Graces
Kathryn Magendie
Bell Bridge, Oct 28 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9781602855823

Virginia Kate Carey has come to West Virginia to release the ashes of her volatile mother, Katie Ivene Holmes. In the 1950s, peddler Frederick Hale Carey was going cabin to cabin in the mountains when the Texan arrived at the home of Grandma Faith, mother to Katie Ivene, who looked like an Egyptian princess instead of a Mountaineer.

They marry, move into a cabin near grandma Faith, and have three children, two sons Micah and Andy and middle child Kate. The parents become alcoholics having incredible fights and external trysts. In an effort to save the marriage, Frederick and Katie send their three children to live with their abusive aunt and even nastier uncle. The children return home, but Frederick leaves to attend college in Louisiana. Seven year old Kate is sent to live with her father and Micah in Baton Rouge while Andy stays in the mountains. One year later momma arrives with a new hunk and Andy whom she leaves behind with Frederick and his siblings. Now Virginia Kate has come home to release the ashes and write her memoirs so she can also free herself of the ghosts especially that of Katie Ivene who haunts her.

This is an intriguing family saga that grips the audience due to the changing voice of the narrator from a seemingly innocent naive little girl to an adult woman trying to free herself when she frees her late mom. The cast is fully developed as the audience can subtly understand the maturing of the three children especially the daughter who tells the drama of a beautiful volatile mom seemingly larger than life and the more stable than the raging dad. Their wars before the split never left their three offspring as the child is the adult. Fans will enjoy this deep look at a dysfunctional family in the 1950s, 60s and 70s never quite finding the happy days.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remarkable Creatures-Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures
Tracy Chevalier
Dutton, Jan 5 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780525951452

Born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, her father gave his daughter quite an education to search for the “curies” of life that can be found by the beach so they can sell their catch to wealthy tourists. This was Mary Anning’s training at paleontology fossil hunting. She became one of the best and hr research led to her belief that the age of the earth was much older than that of the Old Testament as proof of an age with gigantic creatures before humanity (and Darwin) existed.

Elizabeth Philpot and her family come to coastal England for their brother’s marriage. She meets Mary and enjoys the fossil hunter’s tales. They become friends and partners searching for the bones of pre mankind. When Mary discovers fully intact dinosaur remains, Elizabeth speaks for both of them in front of the science community that detests females in their business and several try to rip off the find as theirs. However their BFF is tested when Colonel Thomas Birch arrives in Lyme Regis to ask Mary to help him on his fossil hunt.

Based on real people who made incredible contributions to paleontology before Darwin, Remarkable Creatures is an entertaining historical fiction that showcases the strength of conviction a woman had to have to do anything outside the accepted limited roles. We come more than just a long way, try light years, from the Regency-Victorian eras. Fans will enjoy Tracy Chevalier’s spotlight on two women who made a difference as their work is still on display in Oxford.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage-Jerry Orbach and Elaine Orbach

Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage
Jerry Orbach and Elaine Orbach
Touchstone, Nov 2009, $23.00
ISBN: 9781439149881

This is a combination memoir and poetry book as Elaine Orbach tells the audience about her marriage to the late actor Jerry Orbach, starting with how they met in the first half of the biography. That section is interesting but nothing extraordinary. The latter half of the book consists of short poems that for the most part are lighthearted ditties that the late actor scribbled on a cat calendar before a shooting. His wife Elaine would read and enjoy them before tossing them into a tureen. At his funeral several were read in loving memory and eventually led to the book. Is this great literature? No as some of the entries are inane, others poorly written and few complex beyond simple rhyming. Yet the poems are inspiring and enjoyable. Readers will who appreciated Law and Order will relish seeing another side of the actor; his love for his beloved Elaine as the couple reminds us how important it is to tell your loved ones you care while they still can appreciate the mental hugs.

Harriet Klausner

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet-Colleen McCullough

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
Colleen McCullough
Pocket, Dec 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9781439158791

Her sisters assume the bookworm spinster Mary Bennet will take care of their widow mom in her old age. The siblings each have their own lives although dreams from two decades ago never played out the way each thought it would be. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy share an unhappy marriage. Kitty the widow is lucky as her mate died just after they exchanged their vows. Jane is pregnant or recovering form pregnancy with no time for anything else. Lydia has become a drunk.

When her termagant mom dies, Mary feels relief as she can now live her life. Her sisters and their husbands are outraged when she says goodbye as she travels in Northern England keeping a journal on the plight of the working poor. However, the thirty-eight years old has never been anywhere alone so she runs into all sorts of trouble that she bravely faces like the Highwayman and the Prophet Father Dominus who abducts her into his cave. Meanwhile Mr. Darcy has political ambitions so he hires nasty but loyal Ned Skinner to keep the sisters in line as scandal would destroy his plans.

Although it lacks the subtle humor of Jane Austen, this “sequel” to Pride and Prejducie is well written as it extrapolates where the characters could have gone two decades later. That is the strength and weakness of the story line as it is interesting to see where Colleen McCullough takes the Bennet sisters and their extended families. However, fans will find it difficult to accept what they become; for instance Mr. Darcy as an ambitious over the top of Big Ben villain or the bookworm becoming pretty, outgoing and touring the worst conditions she can find in the north. Fans who cannot get enough Austen spins will enjoy the quadrillionth twist.

Harriet Klausner

Leiatra's Rhapsody-RYCJ

Leiatra's Rhapsody
OSAAT, 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780981825632

Leiatra Townsend grew up as the only child to affluent parents in whom her mom was judge, jury and executioner. Blaine Keith had eleven siblings. They met at college when she was a sophomore psych major and he a senior seeking as business degree. A two year rocky courtship led to marriage. Soon afterward she gave birth Alexis Blake followed rather quickly with twins Seth Gregory and Sedan Jordan.

Although Blaine has a strategic plan for his family, Leiatra opens up a counseling practice that is not one of her spouse’s objectives. Over time Leiatra becomes intrigued by the sexual interactions between the genders and begins a study in which she is the lone female. She has trysts with patients and other men that she hides from her family and the medical board for years. Her world collapses when someone anonymously accuses her of unethical practices with the board and to her husband. She must choose between her research and her family and career.

This is a fascinating look at a woman whose medical ethics is questionable though she rationalizes it to herself as field research. The story line looks deep into why Leiatra seeks out sexual encounters though she knows if her work is revealed, her marriage will end, her children will be left with their father, and her license revoked. Although the men she uses seem cookie cutter identical, fans will enjoy Leiatra's Rhapsody as RYCJ will have the reader pondering where the acceptable boundaries of moral medical research are drawn.

Harriet Klausner