Monday, March 30, 2009

Saints in Limbo-River Jordan

Saints in Limbo
River Jordan
WaterBrook, May 2009, $13.99
ISBN 9780307446701

In Echo, Florida Widow Velma True struggles to go out her door. Her agoraphobia has been getting worse as going to the mailbox is an incredible quest that she never achieves. She traces her fear of outdoors to when her beloved Joe died.

On her birthday, a stranger arrives at her door to give her a gift that does not look like much. However, somehow the mysterious present from this baffling stranger has Velma looking back over her memories with Joe and their son Rudy. She begins to appreciate what she had and still has through her memories though her reminiscences on the river of her life include some depressing moments. She begins to find herself pulled between her desire to have what she once had before Joe died and Rudy grew up, and what she has now. Finally her adventure into her mind leaves her vulnerable to a malevolence that wants the gift and will take away what she cherishes to steal her birthday present.

SAINTS IN LIMBO is a whimsical tale mindful of It’s a Wonderful Life with the addition of a nasty essence wanting to steal her gift. Filled with regret and remorse, Velma is fabulous as she goes on her adventure inside her mind. Although to many subplots that are left unresolved detract from this overall fine thriller, readers will enjoy accompanying the heroine as she tours her soul.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 29, 2009

5 Bodies to Die For-Stephanie Bond

5 Bodies to Die For
Stephanie Bond
Mira, May 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778327059

Atlanta remains gripped with terror as The Charmed Killer continues to intimidate the city. Meanwhile Carlotta Wren hides at the home of her former fiancé Peter, but his late wife’s presence dominates his residence; besides his elite pals hold her culpable for sharing the DNA of her father who pulled a few fiscal stunts on them; ergo she is unwelcome.

Her body-mover friend Cooper and his assistant her brother Wesley are finding business a bit slow in spite of the antics of the Charmed Killer. In spite of the down turn in the economy causing less professional corpse transportation, as always, Carlotta finds life out of control.

The fifth body movers’ thriller continues Carlotta’s adventures as a corpse and hunk magnet as the dead pile up while police detective Jack, her former fiancé Peter, and Cooper the professional body mover want her. The overarching plot makes snail progress leading to whether Carlotta is losing her Mojo or just filler. Still the lighthearted romp retains its graveyard jocularity that is a trademark of the series while fans will wonder who the last man standing will be in the Carlotta sweepstakes.

Harriet Klausner

Hungry Woman in Paris-Josefina Lopez

Hungry Woman in Paris
Josefina Lopez
Grand Central, Mar 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9780446699419

The suicide of her cousin Luna shakes Los Angeles based Mexican-American journalist Canela to her bone marrow. She needs to escape so she leaves behind her family, her fiancé Armando and her job to find passion, something that has mysteriously vanished form her life. She goes to Paris where she enrolls in the internationally famous cooking school Le Coq Rouge and rents an apartment.

Canela has a string of lovers and makes friends with other students. Though she does not quite retain the passion that died with Luna she moves on in her grief for her cousin and feels her soul healing. Upon graduating from the culinary school, Canela returns to Southern California, but her life before Luna’s death is no longer enough.

This is a fascinating character study of a young woman who seems to have everything only to feel she has nothing and must do something about the void in her soul made self aware by her cousin’s suicide. Canela is a wonderful lead character who provides a profound first hand account that is entertaining and engaging as she uses élan and sass to hide her inner doubts. Fans will appreciate Josefina Lopez’s terrific contemporary while rooting for Canela to make it.

Harriet Klausner

Fifty Is Not a Four-Letter Word-Linda Kelsey

Fifty Is Not a Four-Letter Word
Linda Kelsey
5 Spot, Mar 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446195904

In 2003 Hope Lyndhurst-Steele believes strongly her upcoming fiftieth birthday is no milestone as nothing will change in her near perfect life. However, just after her birthday, her world collapses. Her mom announces she is dying with just a few months to live. Hope’s husband Jack says he cannot cope with her cynicism and upside down values accentuated when she is more upset that he told their son Olly before her that he is leaving her and moves out. She is also upset to see Olly hanging around with the neighborhood tramp, the older single mom Vanessa; Hope tells her to leave her son alone only to upset her son. Hope feels no hope as she flees for Paris to reassess her relationships.

This is an interesting character study of a fifty year old woman whose world implodes and has to look closely at her set ways and decide whether changing is worth the cost. Hope is a fascinating protagonist but the use of her viewpoint abates the impact of how the others feel as we only know them through a Hope filter. Still this is a difficult read as the heroine learns fifty is a four-letter word and changing one’s spots is extremely difficult; that is if a person truly wants to change.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Summer on Blossom Street-Debbie Macomber

Summer on Blossom Street
Debbie Macomber
Mira, May 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780778326434

In Seattle at the Blossom Street yarn store, A Good Yarn, owner Lydia feels great about overcoming cancer for the second time. To celebrate and to bring in new clients she and her sister Margaret decide to start a new group “Knit to Quit”. However, Lydia also notices her sibling is extremely careful with her words, but Lydia expects that will pass soon enough.

Lydia and her spouse Brad discuss adopting an infant. In the interim, Lydia allows twelve year old Casey to move into her home with tom’s agreement. The baker Alix wants a baby too, but her spouse Pastor Jordon demands she give up smoking first so she considers joining the new class. At the advice of his doctor who is worried that chocolate CEO Hutch will suffer a stroke or heart attack if he does not slow down, he joins the group. Finally concerned bookstore owner Ann Marie needs a stress releaser so she also attends Knit to Quit so she can get away from the demands of her adopted daughter's biological father, a recovering addict, wanting to see her child.

The latest Blossom Street tale is an engaging entry due to a strong cast struggling with issues and traumas. The multiple subplots are all engaging and tie together at the Knit to Quit group. Fans will enjoy this warm SUMMER ON BLOSSOM STREET as Debbie Macomber stitches a multifaceted good yarn.

Harriet Klausner

Chin Up, Honey- Curtiss Ann Matlock

Chin Up, Honey
Curtiss Ann Matlock
Mira, May 2009, $13.95
ISBN: 9780778325581

John Cole comes home ostensibly only to attend the wedding of his son Jonny. However, he also has returned hoping to persuade his wife Emma Berry to give them a second chance. Emma has doubts, but agrees to try again with the stipulation that together they see a marriage counselor. Reluctantly John, who hates discussing issues with loved ones let alone strangers, agrees.

As the day of the marriage ceremony comes closer, Emma realizes her in-law disapprove of her son. She wants to help Johnny with his future relations so she makes an effort to change the mind of her son’s mother-in-law and show she, her husband and Johnny are good people who will be there for her daughter.

The quirky secondary cast makes for a fun lighthearted frolic. The story line lacks action and the one of the two prime premises not significant as Johnny will have to prove his worth to his in-laws with deeds not his mom’s interference. The second chance romance aspects are also somewhat muted as the differences between John and Emma are minor. Still fans will enjoy watching the antics of the groom’s mother, making two fronts worse.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 27, 2009

Belong To Me-Marisa de los Santos

Belong To Me
Marisa de los Santos
Harper, Mar 31 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061240287

After recognizing that LOVE WALKED IN to their lives, Cornelia Brown and oncologist Dr. Teo Sandoval married. Following a miscarriage and the 9/11 tragedy, the couple leave Manhattan for the suburbs of Philadelphia.

The urban Cornelia finds adjusting to the burbs quite difficult as the problems of the natives seem insignificant after 9/11. Cornelia cannot stand her disparaging neighbor Piper, unhappy wife to Kyle and mother of two, who is the vicious self-proclaimed leader of what is acceptable behavior. On the hand she seems to get on with single mom Lake whose son Dev believes they left California to be near his dad, an absentee father who vanished thirteen years ago. However she reconsiders her initial impressions and stereotyping the two women. Piper voluntarily becomes the caretaker for cancer victim Elizabeth and subsequently when her “patient” dies keeps providing support to the grieving family even as Kyle walks out on her. The brilliant young teen Dev uncovers the truth about his father.

Though the ending will not shock anyone, the complicated roads travel by the various support staff and Cornelia is deep with detours potholes and ruts making for a profound drama. Cornelia like readers will reassess her classifications of Piper and Lake; she sees the former proactively nurturing a neighbor and her family irregardless of the gossip, and the latter concealing truths from her son. Fans of contemporary family dramas will enjoy the big city immigrant struggling to adapt to life in a foreign land, the suburbs.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Laura Rider's Masterpiece-Jane Hamilton

Laura Rider's Masterpiece
Jane Hamilton
Grand Central, Apr 2009, $22.99
ISBN: 9780446538954

In Hartley, Wisconsin, after dozen years of marriage, Laura and Charlie Rider are comfortable with each other though their relationship has become nonsexual. They enjoy working together in their Prairie Wind Farm nursery business and especially enjoy good storytelling.

However, something subtly changes between the couple when Charlie and radio show host Jenna Faroli begin exchanging emails encouraged by Laura who thinks that will enable her to write a Jane Austen quality romantic masterpiece. Laura persuades Charlie to jointly write fanciful and flowery intimate messages to lure the town’s most famous person into "The Project". However, the game they play spins out of control when Charlie begins to desire Jenna; jealous Laura believes she is working on a masterpiece; and Jenna finds herself wanting and loathing Charlie as the “author” of those romantic emails.

This is an interesting but strange triangle as each of the prime trio has wants and flaws with a sort of modern day gender bending Cyrano take of who is writing the poetic romantic emails. Throw in Jenna’s supportive buddy Dickie into the mix to further complicate the already convoluted relationships. Amusing yet profound, LAURA RIDER’S MASTERPIECE is refreshing and original although the audience will feel Jane Hamilton could have went even further outside the conventional story line.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Decision and Destiny-DeVa Gantt

Decision and Destiny
DeVa Gantt
Avon, Apr 7 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061578250

By 1837, the dysfunctional Duvoisins family struggles with inner turmoil since the death of the patriarch Frederic’s second wife frail Colette. Her twin daughters born in 1828 Yvette and Jeannette struggle with their mom’s death and the almost immediate third marriage of their father to his late first wife’s sister Agatha. Jeannette is especially hurting as she is closer in temperament to her mom than the somewhat wild Yvette. Their governess nineteen year old Charmaine Ryan has helped them adapt to their wicked stepmother as she protects them as best she can especially the youngest infant Pierre from Agatha’s abusive anger.

However, Frederic has withdrawn while his two oldest sons, both born in 1808, the illegitimate Virginian Paul and his heir from his first wife John argue over business, family, and Charmaine. With treachery from within leading to tragedy, the Duvoisins family, already split due to the late Colette’s ties to father and son, seems on the verge of total destruction; only Charmaine is the one person who might save them from themselves, but she is pulled between the two oldest sons.

The second Duvoisins historical saga (see AN OCEAN AWAY) is a terrific entry that uses humor and innocent events like a picnic or horse riding to somewhat defuse the overwhelming family strife. The story line is character driven with the ensemble cast coming across as fully developed especially their differing passions to include loathing. More of what caused the schism is revealed as the writing team of DeVa Gantt provides an interesting middle tale; however though newcomers will enjoy aptly titled DECISION AND DESTINY, they will relish the dynamic interrelationships and rivalries much more if they read the first novel.
Harriet Klausner

Spirit Horses-Alan S. Evans

Spirit Horses
Alan S. Evans
Oceanview, Apr 1 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781933515250

In 1996 in Cheatham County, Tennessee Shane Carson believes he lives the perfect life. He loves his wife Jen, their preadolescent kids Jacob and Tina and the horses he raises; and loves his work as a horse trainer and has earned a well deserved reputation as one of the best

Mrs. Erickson drops off a feisty mare she bought at auction from a cranky owner. She asks Shane to “start” the spirited Mustang and when ready find the steed a home with caring people. Shane realizes the animal is part of the legendary Spirit Horse herd roaming the Shoshone reservation in Wyoming. After a tragic accident caused by a man running a light kills his wife and kids in a car crash, Shane drinks away his grief until he recalls the promise he made to his son to return the Spirit Horse to his home. He escorts the horse back to her Wyoming home and makes friends amongst the Shoshone especially Chief Tigee and his granddaughter Tara while making enemies when he helps the tribe with a danger that threatens them and the herd.

With a touch of whimsy, this is a great story of a man reeling from a sudden tragedy that wiped out his beloved family, but finds redemption with the horses he loves. The strong characterizations especially the support players like his mother-in-law and his friend a ranch hand enhance a deep look into the soul of a person who was living heaven on earth until the vehicle accident moved him into hell until he finds a second chance at life through his love of horses.

Harriet Klausner

A Year On Ladybug Farm-Donna Ball

A Year On Ladybug Farm
Donna Ball
Berkley, Mar 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425225875

Though widows Cici Burke, Lindsay Wright, and Bridget Tyndale have each other while living a gentle middle class suburban lifestyle, each feels their lives are unfilled now that their kids have moved out and their husbands are gone. The trio decides they need something different so they buy a rundown mansion in rustic Shenandoah Valley with plans to renovate and grandiose dreams centered on an art school and a winery with lush gardens. They are greeted on their dilapidated newly purchased estate by a zillion lady bugs, liberated livestock and hints of a comedic ghost

The amigas move to their new home dubbed the Ladybug Farm shocking their adult offspring with the decision. However, fixing up the house and estate proves daunting as nothing goes right. Over time each begins to have doubts about their decision to uproot their lives from comfort to disaster, but the trio sticks it out through thick and thin as they begin to learn how to live life again as empty nesters.

This is an engaging tale of three best buddies who elected seven presidents and got involved in numerous causes coming together after the last spouse dies to find a new personalized mission now that the adult children are spread around the country. Their efforts make Murphy comparatively speaking into an optimist as nothing goes right yet everything goes right as long as friends are there for one another. Readers will enjoy the three musketeer-ettes as they provide humor, pathos, and logic to one calamity after another.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 23, 2009

Up at the College-Michele Adrea Bowen

Up at the College
Michele Andrea Bowen
Grand Central, Apr 2009, $23.99
ISBN: 9780446577755

Yvonne Fountain Copeland is distraught when her husband PH.D Dr. Darrell dumps her for his peer, arrogant as he is, Dr. Bettina Davidson; Instead of moping Yvonne turns to the Lord who helps her get through her marriage break-up and even his idle threat of obtaining custody of their kids high school aged D’Relle and middle school aged Danesha. She returns with her children to her hometown of Durham, North Carolina where she obtains an adjunct professor position at Evangeline T Marshall University.

Yvonne meets religious “Eva T” U Collegiate basketball coach Curtis Parker who enjoys his bachelor lifestyle. He had no plans of marrying anytime soon until he falls in love with Yvonne. However, as he has problems with reconciling what his work requires for him to be a success with what his soul demands, Yvonne remains at his side helping him understand what matters.

Well written with an interesting lead pairing, the overwhelming premise of UP AT THE COLLEGE is with Jesus throwing assists, you can slam dunk through life. Faith is how the audience will define Yvonne while her ex is a sort of King Solomon filled with knowledge but lacking passion. The most interesting character is Curtis who has a struggle between what his job requires and what the Lord requires of him. Although the abundance of preaching slows down the fast breaks, Christian romance readers will enjoy Michele Andrea Bowen’s fine contemporary.

Harriet Klausner

The Cardboard Universe-Christopher Miller

The Cardboard Universe
Christopher Miller
Harper, Apr 14 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061686368

The late Phoebus K. Dank was a copious author of mostly science fiction. His collective work was not highly regarded by critics as his plots were simplistic proof that the shortest distance between two points was his storylines from start to finish. Yet somehow anything Dank wrote was published and his loyal fan base would have bought his copying the Hemlock phonebook.

After his death, an encyclopedia of all things Dank and dirty appears. Primarily two men debate the merit of Dank. Professor Bill Boswell who did his thesis on Dank conducts a class in Dank Studies at Hemlock in California; Dank’s housemate Owen Hirt is renowned in Dank circles for more than rooming with the author as he is famous for murdering him. They represent the polar opposites with both sharing the thought that Dank would have abbreviated them.

This is an odd brilliant premise that satirizes the self proclaimed experts on the works of a writer, but could be any topic like TV business and financial reporters. The book has an encyclopedia feel to it as it serves in many ways more like a biography than a novel in spite of the clever murder mystery that runs throughout. Although at times the tale is difficult to read as “encyclopedia” sections require filler to insure the concept remains valid, fans will enjoy this often amusing lampoon summed up with the ironic twist that Phillip K. Dick appears in a Phoebus K. Dank story.

Harriet Klausner

Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam

Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam
Kamran Pasha
Washington (Simon and Schuster), Apr 14 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 9781416579915

In the seventh century in the Arabian Desert, Muhammad has surfaced as a prophet who is gaining a loyal following. He envisions a woman as his wife and arranges with her father to marry Aisha, who may be his youngest wife, but by far the most intelligent and spirited of Muhammad's dozen. She is his favorite, but loses her place when the other wives accuse her of adultery to the Prophet. She tries to prove her innocence, but he receives a revelation from God that regains her position. When Medina is attacked, Aisha’s bravery and leadership help save the day, but the Muslim men prefer docile women so she earns some respect but also perhaps more loathing. Muhammad becomes more than just a prophet as he becomes the Prophet uniting the Arabian tribes. However, God works in mysterious ways as soon after he succeeds in conquering the holy city of Mecca, Muhammad dies.

His nineteen year old youngest widow Aisha earns a position as advisor to the Caliph of Islam pushing for universal civil rights. Aisha becomes a teacher and a commander as perhaps the most powerful known female in the Muslim Empire. However, her efforts for the rights of women lead to civil war.

This work f biographical fiction is a great historical tale that brings insight to the early growth of Islam, the Muslim Empire, and the role of women in that society. Aisha is a brave person who does what she believed is morally right; which led to the “least” wife becoming the most spouse through conviction and courage. Ironically as Islamic women placed her on a pedestal as their champion, Aisha had become less confident that she chose right and suffered remorse for those who died for her cause. Readers will appreciate this excellent historical fiction that depicts the key Muslim woman during the cradle years of Islam.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sea Changes-Gail Graham

Sea Changes
Gail Graham
Jade Phoenix, May 01 2009, $15.99
ISBN: 9780692001004

In Australia, Felicity no longer comforts her mom Sarah; she insists her mother move on with her life instead of still grieving her late husband Charles as almost two years have passed since the heart attack killed him. She tells her mom Charles was her dad and even his mother has moved on beyond mourning. The daughter also coldly lectures her mom over the annuity she accepted in which Sarah took care of herself only and complains that her mom’s shrink Dr. Kahn holds her back.

Sarah feels isolated from her family and decides to end her life at Bondi Beach with a final drowning swim. Instead of dying she finds an underwater civilization in which the occupants especially Xaxanader welcome the surface dweller. She soon is back on the beach wondering if what she saw is real until she returns to the sea world; especially afterward when Bantryd of the sea moves into her home with her in order to search for her parents who came ashore years ago. This happens at a time when missing teen heiress Jennyfer Blanchard who resembles Bantryd vanishes. Everyone sees the videotape that shows Sarah with Jennyfer; so Felicity, Kahn and anyone in the Brisbane area believe she killed Jennyfer.

This is an intriguing character driven fantasy with a deep message pleading with the survivor to seek a new groove when a life mate dies. Sarah’s overwhelming depression drives away her loved ones. Ultimately after finding life underneath the sea, Sarah must decide between memories fueled by grief and starting a new life to build new memories. She is a terrific protagonist who holds the whimsical yet melancholy story line together although the support cast feels too stereotypical on land and at sea as they exist only in terms of her. Readers will enjoy Sarah’s sea saga as she struggles to move on in her life following Charles. She considers suicide as the only solution, but learns there is so much more out there.

Harriet Klausner

Chasing the Bear-Robert B. Parker

Chasing the Bear
Robert B. Parker
Philomel, May 2009, $17.99
ISBN: 9780399247767

Spenser and Susan are talking while watching the swan boats in the Boston Public Gardens as she wants to know more about what he was like growing up. His mother died giving birth to him, so he lived with his father and two uncles. The three men taught him to box and know right from wrong, which he realized early on may not always be legal.

Jeanne is his first friend and she tells him how much she hates her father because he is an ugly drunk who beats up her and her mom. One day Jeanne calls out to fourteen year old Spenser from her father‘s truck asking him for help. He follows them and separates her from her dad. The drunk gives chase, but with a little help he dies in his attempt. Spencer tells the police before returning home.

Spenser knows when to fight and when to take flight. He refuses to help the Anglo boys beat up Mexicans so the bullies challenge him, but Jeanne gets his family to the fight sight. When the Mexicans decide to fight, Spenser refuses to join them but also hides his information from the Anglos. Susan can see the teen roots of the present day Spenser.

The same qualities that Spenser has as an adult can be seen as a teen because he does not care about one’s race but instead the person. His Boy Scout tendency to help someone in need comes through loud and clear, especially his disinterest with rewards and accolades. Targeting young adults, Robert B. Parker provides insight into what shaped his hero, a role model of get involved.

Harriet Klausner

An Accomplished Woman-Jude Morgan

An Accomplished Woman
Jude Morgan,
St. Martin’s, Apr 14 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 0312539665

Years ago Lydia Templeton caused a scandal when she rejected her neighbor Lewis Durrant’s offer of marriage as filled with pride she preferred her studies though she knew prejudicial society scorned a single female choosing learning. She since serves as her widowed father’s host and eludes her married brother’s efforts to find her a spouse. Now thirty, Lydia’s godmother Lady Eastmond asks her to do a favor as her Henry is ailing. She wants Lydia to chaperone her ward Phoebe Rae through the treacherous waters of high society in Bath. Unable to say no to the kind elderly woman, Lydia reluctantly agrees.

Mr. Allardyce and Mr. Beck try to court Phoebe Rae, making Lydia's chaperone lifestyle even more unbearably boring as the twit won’t choose between the suitors insisting she loves both of them. Worse Durrant is in town seeking a wife while his wastrel nephew Hugh Hanley the heir is also in Bath insuring his patron wealthy uncle does not do something foolish by marrying and begetting an heir. When Lewis and Lydia meet, they make a bet over her chaperone duty and his bridal chase.

With obvious homage to Jane Austen, AN ACCOMPLISHED WOMAN is a delightful romantic comedy of errors filled with humor and twists as nothing quite works as expected for seemingly everyone. The cast is solid even tertiary players like the stereotype moms of the suitors. With a wonderful fast-paced story line filled with spins, Jude Morgan provides an amusing nod to Pride and Prejudice as the heroine’s time in Bath makes her wonder whether she truly is an unaccomplished woman as nothing goes according to plan.

Harriet Klausner

Chasing the Bear-Robert B. Parker

Chasing the Bear
Robert B. Parker
Philomel, May 2009, $17.99
ISBN: 9780399247767

Spenser and Susan are talking while watching the swan boats in the Boston Public Gardens as she wants to know more about what he was like growing up. His mother died giving birth to him, so he lived with his father and two uncles. The three men taught him to box and know right from wrong, which he realized early on may not always be legal.

Jeanne is his first friend and she tells him how much she hates her father because he is an ugly drunk who beats up her and her mom. One day Jeanne calls out to fourteen year old Spenser from her father‘s truck asking him for help. He follows them and separates her from her dad. The drunk gives chase, but with a little help he dies in his attempt. Spencer tells the police before returning home.

Spenser knows when to fight and when to take flight. He refuses to help the Anglo boys beat up Mexicans so the bullies challenge him, but Jeanne gets his family to the fight sight. When the Mexicans decide to fight, Spenser refuses to join them but also hides his information from the Anglos. Susan can see the teen roots of the present day Spenser.

The same qualities that Spenser has as an adult can be seen as a teen because he does not care about one’s race but instead the person. His Boy Scout tendency to help someone in need comes through loud and clear, especially his disinterest with rewards and accolades. Targeting young adults, Robert B. Parker provides insight into what shaped his hero, a role model of get involved.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Weight Of The Mustard Seed:-Wendell Steavenson

The Weight Of The Mustard Seed:
Wendell Steavenson
HarperCollins, Mar 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061721786

This is an interesting biography of Iraqi Special Forces General Kamel Sachet, who worked closely under Saddam Hussein. Dedicated to Iraq, Sachet was a war hero during the Iran conflict of the 1980s and led the invasion of and commanded the occupying army in Kuwait prior to the first Gulf War. His story is fascinating as he struggled with the Baath Party excessively and with his boss’ ugly turn to torture; in fact he discouraged his sons from joining the military or the government. When the Desert Shield allies kicked the Iraqis out of Kuwait the general became disillusioned with all the unnecessary death caused by a violent megalomaniac; he already had fallen out of favor as someone had to take the fall for the Kuwaiti embarrassment. He turned to the Koran for guidance as he felt THE WEIGHT OF THE MUSTARD SEED on his soul. In 1999, Hussein had Sachet executed.

This is an insightful biography that explains how a caring person in a high level position struggled with an out of control abusive dictator. Readers will be fascinated as Wendell Steavenson provides a deep portrait of a general, a people, and a country in strife.

Harriet Klausner

Thanks For The Memories-Cecelia Ahern

Thanks For The Memories
Cecelia Ahern
Harper, Apr 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061706233

Joyce Conway lies at the bottom of the stairs after falling. When she next awakens she is at a hospital, having miscarried. Her father is there, but her husband Conor remains away on business. She lost so much blood, she received a blood transfusion. After her release from the hospital, she goes to live with her dad as she and Conor are divorcing. Joyce begins having odd visions, speaks Latin, and knows trivia tidbits re European architectural design and Irish history. None of these oddities were known before her tragic accident.

American Justin Hitchcock is a visiting professor at Dublin's Trinity College, where he lectures on European art and architecture. He gave a pint of blood at a nearby hospital and mused afterward that some anonymous person owes him. He is mystified by his constant running into a female he never met and his attraction to this stranger, who muses over how she keeps meeting a male stranger she finds so appealing.

This whimsical contemporary romance is a fun tale, but ironically the prime relationships are not between the lead couple; instead the top guns are Joyce with her father and Conor with his family. The cast is strong with the secondary players providing insight into what motivates the lead couple; Joyce feels the pain of her miscarriage and not much re her divorce while Conor seeks to do something meaningful. The blood destiny never comes off the ground as much as the other interactions, yet fans will relish this engaging tale of fate mindful of Cusak-Beckinsale in Serendipity.
Harriet Klausner

The Geometry of Sisters-Luanne Rice

The Geometry of Sisters
Luanne Rice
Bantam, Apr 14 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9780553805130

Still reeling from the deaths of her husband and oldest daughter Carrie during a storm off Mackinac Island, Maggie Shaw obtains a job teaching English at the prominent Newport Academy in Newport, Rhode Island. Her two other children, the well adjusted sixteen years old Travis and the deeply disturbed fourteen years old Beck-accompany her on the move from Ohio.

In Newport, Beck meets and befriends fellow math prodigy Lucy, who hopes to create a computation that will lead to her late father visiting her. Beck on the other hand turns to math for solace as principles don’t leave. Travis struggles with two girls; the one in hand vs. the one he left behind. Meanwhile as Maggie readjusts to New England, having been at the academy before, she prays for a miracle as Carrie’s body was never recovered.

This is an engaging look at grief as Maggie seeks solace by retuning to a place that she was happy in her past. She is not there for her two teens who have issues as she can only deal with herself at this time. The story line is character driven as the three surviving Shaw family members each cope (or not) in their own unique way. However, when the plot takes a spin that most readers will see coming, it loses some of the acute angles that make up THE GEOMETRY OF SISTERS.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 20, 2009

City of Thieves-David Benioff

City of Thieves
David Benioff
Plume, Mar 31, 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 0452295297

During the Nazi siege of Leningrad, seventeen year old Lev Beniov remains in the city alone as his dad “officially” vanished several years earlier and his mom and sis were evacuated. However, he is unable to stay in hiding as he needs food, but he is caught looting. The Germans execute looters on the spot. Yet Nazi Colonel Grechko offers Lev and equally guilty twenty year old Russian army deserter Kolya a chance to live. They are to obtain twelve eggs in five days for his daughter’s wedding cake; failure means death.

They quickly know the black market has nothing for sale. Thus the duet works their way behind the Nazi line as they assume nearby farms are their best bet. Lev and Kolya stumble onto a Nazi death squad sexually abusing Russian women and help the partisans kill the Nazi beasts. As they witness more atrocities, the unlikely duo becomes friends while Lev is attracted to kick-butt partisan sniper Vika.

This deep look at the atrocities of war stars a coming of age odd couple who forge a friendship out of surviving the abuses they encounter in spite of Kolya being a confident extrovert and Lev a self mocking introvert with the latter telling their story. The story line is fast-paced with plenty of action; much of which accentuates the abuses, carnage, and the scarcities the civilian population face. Readers will want to join Kolya and Lev on their quest to find the Holy Grail: a dozen eggs.

Harriet Klausner

Flyaway-Suzie Gilbert

Suzie Gilbert
Harper, Mar 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061563126

This is a fascinating memoir of a woman who had no idea what she wanted out of life until Suzie Gilbert took a position at a animal hospital near her Hudson Valley home. Ms. Gilbert began her quest to save birds by bringing the wounded to the animal hospital. Soon she converted her home into Flyaway, Inc., a nonprofit wild bird rehabilitation center. Her bewildered spouse and their kids shared their home with squawking parrots who ruled supreme the roost and unknown species sharing the bathroom with the human intruders. The hardest thing for the author is to do is letting a healed guest go home to the wild. Encouraging people to pursue your dream regardless of the oddity or what others might think, Suzie Gilbert provides a tender passionate autobiography filled with humor, pathos and caring.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dear Husband-Joyce Carol Oates

Dear Husband
Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco, Mar 31 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 0061704318

These fourteen short stories focus on family relationships that appear initially normal, but turn grim when a crisis occurs. Each tale is well written and insightful; with some shocking. For example “Dear Husband” is a letter from infanticide mom Andrea Yates explaining to her spouse she did God’s work when she drowned their children. "Vigilante" focuses on a drug abuser son trying to kick the habit while helping his mom avenge his father. Though some aspects of the theme has been used often by Ms. Oates, all the entries are "Special" whether it stars an autistic child devastating the lives of her caretaker parents and her ignored younger sister or a juror attracted to a charismatic defendant in “Mistrial”. Women forced to make difficult decisions that fail to go as planned in "Cutty Sark," and "Landfill," or meeting the boyfriend’s family in "The Glazers,", are part of “Dear Joyce Carol Oates” entreating look at the dark side of the American family.

Harriet Klausner

Flipping The Script-Paula Chase

Flipping The Script
Paula Chase
Kensington Dafina, Mar 31 2009, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758225863

Brian has left Del Rio Bay to attend Duke University on a scholarship. His Del Rio Bay High School junior girlfriend Mina misses him. However, as he acclimates to freshman life at college while playing ball, he communicates with her less and less. As she thinks of Brian and wonders WHO ARE YOU WIT? she panics that she is losing her boyfriend to a cheerleader, but though he wants to remain faithful, her uncertainty and lack of trust are driving him crazy.

Michael is euphoric but also frightened. He has an opportunity to spend time away from Del Rio Bay in DC attending a creative arts program that fits his fashion dreams. However, he fears going so turns to a friend Rob the dancer for guidance. Meanwhile Rob’s hanging around the jocks upsets star athlete JZ whose latent homophobia ignites. He struggles to control himself as he wants to beat sense into Rob, but knows the trouble he could get into including kicked off the team and besides he wants Jacinta; who is uninterested in him.

The latest coming of age Del Rio Bay teen drama, FLIPPING THE SCRIPT, adds immense complications to the relationships with geography and sexual preference causing difficulties for everyone. The recurring cast has matured considerably since the days of SO NOT THE DRAMA, but so has the issues they face. Fans of the series will enjoy the continuing adventures of the crew; newcomers will appreciate this fine young adult novel while seeking out the previous four escapades so they DON’T GET IT TWISTED as to how far the group has come.

Harriet Klausner

Katt’s in the Cradle-Ginger Kolbaba & Christy Scannell

Katt’s in the Cradle
Ginger Kolbaba & Christy Scannell
Howard (Simon & Schuster), Feb 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781416543893

In Red River, knowing they always must be on super exemplary behavior, the four pastors’ wives desperately meet once a month for a couple hours at Lulu’s café figuratively as a MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH to share what they cannot with others. The quartet has an opportunity to release emotions as they let their respective hair down.

Felicia Lopez-Morrison’s family is flying in from L.A. to help her though she prefers they stay home. Their feud is not endearing and could cause problems for her spouse Dave with their First Baptist Church congregation.

Mimi Plaisance’s alcoholic father has joined the overcrowded household already including his daughter, her spouse Mark and their four preadolescent kids. He refuses to abide by the house rules causing conflict with his family and the neighbors.

Jennifer Shore feels sandwiched as she struggles with being a mother to her adopted eleven month old baby at a time when her mother suffering from bi-polar is mentally deteriorating. She balances all that while working part-time at the Red River Community Church where her husband Sam is pastor.

Parents of two teens, Lisa and her husband Joel are caught in a church feud that looks ready to split the flock of the Red River Assembly God apart.

Once again the quartet meets to release some tension and reduce stress caused by being DESPERATE PASTORS’ WIVES sharing with one another (and readers) their trials and tribulations. Rotating perspective over the month of April between the four women, fans will gain insight as to how a pastor’s wife sees their role especially from inside the fish bowl with the flock outside looking in at them. Once again well written, the latest lunch at Lulu’s Café is an entertaining character driven tale that is more a series of vignettes than a novel, but fun and informative as talking to peers drowning in a similar sea helps keep a person afloat.

Harriet Klausner

Darwin's Race-Brian Ullmann

Darwin's Race
Brian Ullmann
Medallion, May 2009, $7.95
ISBN 9781934755075

Reality television producer Terrance Carlton believes the ratings are everything. Thus he is euphoric with the concept of two teams consisting of six kick butt experienced mountain climbers on each competing to reach the summit of unconquered 19,492 feet Kuk Sur in the Tibetan Himalayas; the first person to reach the top of the inaccessible peak with the world’s biggest and deepest canyon Tsangpo Gorge to add to the improbability of success receives $2 million.

Millionaire Preston Child agrees to finance the event on the condition he and his daughter Malika are participants though the pair refuse to explain their rationale for climbing the mountain. Veteran mountaineer Conner Michaels has a personal reason to climb, he seeks the lost corpse of his brother Tucker who died on Kuk Sur six years ago when the siblings were one day from attaining the summit. Others have agendas mostly involving fame, fortune or both. Carleton arranges for each person to hoist a camera on their shoulder so the audience can see everything live. Between the treacherous mountain, the horrific climate, the deadly gorge, and apparently a yeti, no one on the mountain is safe. However, the most dangerous element is the humans especially those hidden in the mists.

The climb up the mountain is fast-paced and exciting from the onset and never slows down as unforgiving nature and even less sympathetic humans ballet for the grand prize. Instead of being fully developed characters, each climber has a personal agenda that mostly defines who they are; this works as the most complete “player” is the main antagonist, the mountain. Fans will enjoy trekking up the impenetrable Kuk Sur alongside the participants of DARWIN’S RACE.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


St. Martin's, Mar 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9780312375843

The Naughty Book Club members (Naomi, Kennedy, Mira and Tyler) are each unhappy. Naomi's husband Jacob remains a player though married as he cheats with a horde of women. His sister Tyler ends her lesbian relationship with her partner and moves in with her sibling and his spouse who loathes her gay ways. Flight attendant Kennedy meets Nigel in the skies and wants him to join her in the Mile High Club. Mira finds herself attracted to Tyler although she hesitates to act on her desire.

Soon the four females and the two males will have their innermost secret revealed to each other. Each has doubts where the revelations will lead only they share in common a need for SEDUCTION, a sense of BETRAYAL and a desire to see what is HIDDEN behind their individual BLACK DOOR.

Although there are too many major players seemingly at times tripping over each other’s desires, NAUGHTY is a heated erotic dysfunctional relationship drama that hooks the reader who wants to know whom will end in who’s bed (and a few other spots) together. Each of the ensemble cast is fully developed with distinctive steamy personalities from rough to velvety smooth as the libido rules the roost as always when one crosses through the Black Door.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Addict-Michael Stein

The Addict
Michael Stein
Morrow, Mar 31 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061368134

In 2008, the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States is Vicodin. Not well known is that Vicodin shares a close “DNA” chemical imprinting with the illegal opiates. With that background, Dr. Stein provides a profound look at helping a Vicodin addict kick the habit, physically and psychologically. Twenty-nine years old Lucy Fields visited Dr. Field having become totally addicted to Vicodin after using it for years. Lucy is a college graduate coming from an affluent family. She is fully aware of her health crisis, which brought her to the medical school professor for treatment.

This terrific memoir filled with pathos and compassion will nuke the concept held dearly by talking heads who refuse to accept American pharmaceutical addiction as a health issue perhaps even worse than the illegal drug problems they prefer to rant about. Dr. Stein stays professional for the most part except for some minor well-earned pontification. However, Lucy puts a human face on medically treating legal addictions as readers will be spellbound by her real story.
Harriet Klausner

The Lost Quilter-Jennifer Chiaverini

The Lost Quilter
Jennifer Chiaverini
Simon and Schuster, Mar 31 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9781416533160

Master Quilter Sylvia Bergstrom Compson cherishes her special an antique quilt with an incredible history. Some call it “Birds in the Air” based on the design; others call it the “Runaway Quilt” after the runaway slave who sewed it; and finally “the Elm Creek Quilt” where Joanna the slave reached having ridden the Underground Railroad in 1859.

Slave catchers caught Joanna and brought her back to her owner, Josiah Chester in Virginia, but she left behind with the Bergstrom family, her son. Hans and Anneke Bergstrom and Aunt Gerda raised the child as their own; concealing his true identity. In the present Sylvia searches Gerda's diary and Joanna's quilt for clues as to the identity of the runaway slave who stitched a masterpiece.

The best Elm Creeks Quilt tale in years, THE LOST QUILTER answers many of the questions raised in THE RUNAWAY QUILT. The story of Joanna to include her punishment following her recapture makes for a fresh tale with much of her early saga sewed into the quilt. Fans of the series will relish Joanna’s tale of bondage and liberty; as she as THE LOST QUILTER wants the freedom for her and her loved ones to soar like the birds in the air of THE RUNAWAY QUILT.

Harriet Klausner

Silly Little Rich Girl-Jimmy Gleacher

Silly Little Rich Girl
Jimmy Gleacher
Casperian, Apr 1 2009, $12.00
ISBN: 9781934081174

As she lies in the hospital Liza Davis reflects amusingly on the New York Post headlines that dubbed her and Lily Durfee as SILLY LITTLE RICH GIRLS doing an inane stunt to get attention. Liza muses that the media as always does what it does best rush to judgment without supporting facts.

Her hospitalization can be traced initially to when her older sister Jamie vanished after their business oriented mom ripped her for joining the Peace Corps instead of getting a real job. Missing her sibling, Liza, a student at Dartmouth, began writing letters to herself signed by her sister. Her mom pressures Liza to work on Wall St when she graduates when she wants to do is design clothing; which reminds her of her vanished sister. However, her quest to find her sibling, who reportedly never showed up in Africa, becomes her obsessed mission; reality is not an issue nor is danger as she travels the country in her pursuit.

This is a refreshing brisk family drama starring an intriguing college age student and her affluent anti-soccer Type A mom. Through their dysfunctional relationship the audience obtains a picture of Jamie and their younger brother Jack. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Jamie disappears and never slows down as Lily lands in one troubled situation after another culminating in the media flip flops re an abduction and hospitalization. SILLY LITTLE RICH GIRL is a philosophical intense yet often humorous character study of a family of four with one kitchen chair currently empty though the table is set to include her.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Ocean Inside-Janna McMahon

The Ocean Inside
Janna McMahon
Kensington, Apr 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758221971

On Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, Emmet and Lauren Sullivan raise their two children in a wonder loving home. However, their idyllic lifestyle takes a horrific blow when their youngest daughter nine years old Ainslie becomes critically ill.

Emmet and Lauren try their best not to neglect their teenage older daughter Sloan, but cannot help their focus has to be on Ainslie. Sloan feels increasingly like an intruder filled with anger, resentment and remorse as even their grandparents ignore her while taking a zillion photos of her ailing sibling. She begins to turn to reckless actions like swimming in the ocean at night alone and falling for her boyfriend Cal’s pressure in order to gain some attention from her parents.

THE OCEAN INSIDE is a profound look at what happens to internal relationships when a trauma crashes the lives of a happy seemingly well balanced family. The Sullivan foursome is fully developed with each having a unique personality so that the audience can see how they react differently to Ainslie’s health crisis. Lauren dives into charities; Emmett worries about paying medical bills; Sloan feels deserted; and Ainslie turns reflective as she knows how her sister, her parents, and the islanders feel. Janna McMahan provides a thoughtful contemporary tale that will leave her readers pondering how we would act.

Harriet Klausner

The Moonflower Vine-Jetta Carelton

The Moonflower Vine
Jetta Carelton
Harper, Mar 24 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061673238

In the 1950s near Renfro, Missouri, retired teacher Matthew Soames, his wife Callie, three of their adult daughters and their one grandson gather at the family farm. Each is happy to see one another.

The youngest daughter Mary Jo is a TV producer living in New York City; she hates to come home to the dirt of Missouri. The oldest child Jessica feels good about her life though her father feels her choices were stupid as he believes she could have been much more. The patriarch Matthew feels the world is passing him by as he wants to go beyond Missouri to see firsthand what he reads; but feels strongly he could never leave Callie behind. Though he hides his anger, Matthew believes his out of control daughter Mathy is God punishing him for his transgressions; his salvation he feels lies with her son. His other adult child Leonie is the one who most honors her parents by obeying their demands; however she loves a man her father will reject if asked. Callie is the oddity amongst the five as an illiterate who adheres strictly to late nineteenth century morality as if two world wars never occurred.

This is a reprint of an early 1960s family drama that captured the essence of living in Missouri in the 1950s. The story line is character driven as the audience obtains mostly through Mary Jo’s observations how each of the others perceive their respective lives; ironically Mary Jo has no section to call her own, but her lens cutting across the family brings her into focus. In some ways a novella collection as each member has their own chapter; THE MOONFLOWER VINE is a fascinating mid twentieth century historical tale.

Harriet Klausner

Vera and the Ambassador-Vera and Donald Blinken

Vera and the Ambassador
Vera and Donald Blinken
SUNY, Feb 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781438426631

President Clinton appointed financial banker Donald Blinken as the American ambassador to, Hungary. Mr. Clinton selected Mr. Blinken because the President understood the fledgling democracy would need someone who could help the country adjust to the global economy and Donald’s wife Vera was born and raised in Budapest; as a child she and her mom fled just after WWII ended and the Soviets brought down the Iron Curtain.

This memoir provides alternating insider looks at Hungary during a critical adjustment point. Rotating perspectives, Donald’s sections enable the reader to obtain a glimpse at world events impacting the former Communist nation such as joining NATO and helping with the Bosnia crisis. Vera’s entries are more personal as she compares the 1990s Budapest to her memoirs of living there in the 1940s. VERA AND THE AMBASSADOR is one of the best autobiographies in recent years, as readers will appreciate the couples’ take on the 1990s in East Europe with Hungary as their prime focus as well as the historical viewpoint of how much the capital changed in four plus decades of Soviet rule.

Harriet Klausner

Royal Blood-Rona Sharon

Royal Blood
Rona Sharon
Kensington, Apr 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758228581

In 1518 Sir Michael Devereaux is sent from Ireland to the Tudor Court to participate in the annual Order of the Garter tournament. At about the same Michael arrives, Princess Renee de Valois of France is forced to go to the Tudor Court to spy on King Henry VIII.

Soon after their separate arrivals, Renee hears of a plot to kill the monarch and that is followed by several murders. Cardinal Wolsey asks Michael to investigate the homicides. As Michael begins to connect dots between England, the Vatican and Ireland, he leaves out one key mark from his past until he is injured and he suffers from ugly visions of murder. He soon fears for his sanity as he ponders a supernatural killer while falling in love with Renee who reciprocates; but neither trusts the other leaving both vulnerable to a clever killer.

This is a fascinating spin on the reign of Henry VIII using real events to bring alive the aptly titled tale. The action-packed story line combines a whodunit with supernatural implications and a romance starring two wonderful protagonists. However Michael makes ROYAL BLOOD brisk as he fears he is going insane between his nightmares and his paranormal conclusion as to what is killing the blue blooded regal retinue.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You’ve Got Blackmail-Rachel Wright

You’ve Got Blackmail
Rachel Wright
Putnam, Apr 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9780399250941

Fourteen years old Lauren “Lozzie” Cracknell cannot believe how much trouble she is in. Her older sister Karen is outraged for her borrowing her green nail polish and a few other items. Her parents have separated with her mom apparently dating her boorish English teacher Mr. Hilary Barnett. Lozzie may be killed by her mother or by the school bully two ton truck Tonya. The former will be irate as Lozzie forgot to mail the invitations to her mom’s customers at the A Cut Above salon; the latter is disturbed over an email sent to all their classmates that combines Tonya’s face with a donkey’s body.

Lozzie survives Karen’s tirade and with the help of her best friend Dex gets the letters delivered. Tonya with her freaky super tall spy Fran the giraffe lurking and their gang ready to execute Lozzie remains a threat. At her mom’s salon, Lozzie and Dex find a note addressed to Hilary blackmailing him. Even more stunning is Mr. Bore has authored a novel The Haunting of the Black-Eyed Girl. The teen duo brainstorms and draws conclusions as to who is behind the extortion threat and why; not realizing the danger of investigating the demand for ten thousand pounds.

The stressed to the max Lozzie and her sleuthing buddy Dex makes a fun young teen amateur sleuth duo as they use Holmes logic to solve the blackmail of the boring schoolteacher. The story line is fast-paced and humorous as Lozzie lands in one predicament after another, but with help from her friends and dad survives the ordeals only to land in the next mess. Fans will enjoy this young adult whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

The Collector of Worlds-Iliya Troyanov

The Collector of Worlds
Iliya Troyanov
Ecco, Mar 24 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061351938

In the nineteenth century Sir Richard Francis Burton is a military officer, spy and amateur anthropologist. He learns two local languages so that he can intermingle with the natives more freely; this enhances his work as an espionage agent and his passion as an anthropologist, but especially with courtesan Kundalini.

When his military career ends due to a report on brothel use by the army, he leaves India. He uses his ability to speak Hindustani and Gujarati to masquerade as an Indian doctor on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Sir Richard and John Speke journey to explore the Nile. They meet many tribes as they travel from one lake to another with Sir Richard marveling at each culture while John loathes the savage beasts as much as he detests his disgusting companion.

This is a terrific biographical fictional account that brings to life the three prime Burton adventures. Amazingly in spite of Burton starring in each, they are radically different as if there are three well written novellas connected by the brazen hero. His India escapade is highlighted more by Kundalini than Burton as she fosters his interest in Eastern philosophy, religion, folk stories, and exotic sex. His Saudi saga provides vivid insight into an illegal pilgrimage to Mecca, but it is Burton’s daring masquerade that hooks the audience. Finally, the contrast between the two explorers is wider than the width of the continent yet it is the deep look at the tribes that will fascinate fans. Using real correspondence, events, places and people, Iliya Troyanov provides an excellent nineteenth century tale based on the real world adventures of Sir Richard Burton.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cham-Jonathan Trigell

Jonathan Trigell
Serpent’s Trail, May 2009, $15.95
ISBN: 9781852429584

His grandfather was a successful man who brought the family middle class comfort; his father built on that foundation and turned the family into one of the rich. His son Itchy feels lost, not knowing what to do in life except have a good time; as he has affluence way beyond his need. He turned into a womanizing sports junkie living in the exclusive French Alps village Chamonix Mont Blanc in which the more perilous the event the more he relishes participating.

As he nears thirty, Itchy feels less certain of defying mortality sports. However, he cannot resist snow, the stuff you ski down the Alps on and the stuff you sniff up your nose as a Columbian uphill. He still loves watching the “ bobfocs" babes and pseudo cherishes the romantic poets of early nineteenth century. Yet recently the ski bum remains unfulfilled and despondent; decadence remains his lifestyle though it no longer has the savory taste it once had while his drunken drug stupors leave him with memory gaps. Itchy gets community active with an obsession to uncover the identity of a serial rapist.

This is a fascinating character study of a third generation nouveau riche who knows something is no longer right in his world, but remains clueless as to what it is and why the change; the I in his first name stands for idiot and ignorance. Even when he decides to be a heroic activist, he picks a dangerous path and approaches it as a sport as if he is downhill skiing with total abandonment of safety. The action is somewhat limited even when the antihero does his insane sporting events, but no one will care as Jonathan Trigell digs deep into the psyche of excess materialism leading to indifferent decadence even if Itchy is no BOY A.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 13, 2009

What the Bayou Saw-Patti Lacy

What the Bayou Saw
Patti Lacy
Kregel, Apr 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780825429378

In 2005, southern transplant Sally Stevens teaches American Music at Midwest Community College in Normal, Illinois. She has received threats from three white supremacist students who want her to delete any references to blacks and particularly detest the fact that a black Shamika Williams attends. As Katrina bears down on New Orleans, Sally worries about her brother and his family and her best friend Ella and her brother getting out. Her sibling left the city, but Ella remained behind as she works at a hospital where sixty three ambulatory patients reside.

When whites assault Shamika leaving her in the hospital, the school turns to Sally to expedite them from a law suit. Instead she feels an affinity for the injured student, letting the police investigator as well as Shamika and her irate Aunt Ruby know it. Sally explains what happened to her as a child living in segregation in 1959 Waco; an incident that led to her and black Ella becoming sisters; yet in spite of the chain with Ella, she has hidden the full truth of what happened when she was twelve from even her husband Sam all these years.

WHAT THE BAYOU SAW is a captivating character study that looks deep into the destructive aspects of racism on different individuals, but especially Sally with her façade crumbling under the weight of the current hate incident. The story line is for the most part passive as Katrina, Waco (1959 that is) and Shamika are more reflective rather than active. Fans who relish a profound look at race in America, circa 1959 and 2005, will enjoy this fine tale that emphasizes the importance of reporting of crime to protect others while proclaiming we have come a long way, but have a long way to go.

Harriet Klausner

Somebody Else's Daughter-Elizabeth Brundage

Somebody Else's Daughter
Elizabeth Brundage
Plume, Apr 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452295377

In the Berkshires, headmaster Jack Heath hires former drug addict Nate Gallagher to teach at his Pioneer School. Jack’s wife Maggie was a classmate of Nate.

Each has an agenda that sent them to Western Massachusetts. Jack had to start over after his reputation was trashed at his last academic stop. Maggie tries to be the dutiful wife though she hates her abusive womanizing spouse. Finally Nate wants to see his daughter Willa, whom he and his girlfriend gave away seventeen years ago when they were hippie addicts to Candace and Pioneer School president Joe Golding to raise; Willa attends the school. Joe hides from the school board that he produces skin flicks while Candace is a former porn actress.

Nate admits to himself teenage Willa seems adjusted even as she is beginning to experience sexually experiment with failing student Teddy Squire, who suffers from dyslexia. All hell breaks loose when Teddy receives a DVD starring Candace. Maggie has had enough of the abuse, and a local hooker wants money for silence or she will expose her school clients.

Elizabeth Brundage comparatively explores the lives of several people who seem so different on the surface, but deep down come across quite similar. Money can provide a bit of public polish, but the tarnish will remain privately below the surface. Although too many major events occur almost simultaneously, fans will relish this homage to Thomas Carlyle with a reflective look at peeling away the clothing to glimpse at the inner soul of the ensemble cast.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Color of Lightning-Paulette Jiles

The Color of Lightning
Paulette Jles
Morrow, Mar 31 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061720055

In Texas freed slave Britt Johnson is still angry with his wife Mary when he stomps off to get supplies. When he returns still somewhat fuming, he finds a horrific sight awaiting him. His oldest son is dead; his spouse and their two other kids as well as their elderly neighbor and his grandchildren are gone. He knows the Kiowa abducted them; that is if they have not killed them.

When the Kiowa abuse the female prisoners, Johnson's ten-year-old son adapts their lifestyle rather easily. Meanwhile Johnson begins a quest to rescue his family while the Office of Indian Affairs sends Quaker Samuel Hammond to convert nomadic Kiowa from a feral society to agriculture. He is especially appalled with the tribe’s abduction policy and even more aghast when some of the kidnapped prefer to remain with their abductees. Johnson refuses to quit seeking to ransom his family; knowing the mental scars each bears.

Based on a legendary mid nineteenth century hero, THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING is a superb historical biographical fiction that brings vividly to life the saga of Britt Johnson. The cast is powerful as guilt ridden Britt struggles with rescuing his family members from the Kiowa and afterward coping with their changes; his wife is mentally and physically an abuse victim and his two surviving children, especially his son, have adapted to the Indian culture; each finds it difficult to return to their previous life. Paulette Jiles provides a thoughtful look at a true American hero and his family.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 9, 2009

Much to Your Chagrin-Suzanne Guilette

Much to Your Chagrin
Suzanne Guilette
Atria, Mar 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9781416585978

Almost thirty, no longer engaged, and a recent recipient of a Master of Fine Arts degree Suzanne Guillette had a concept for her first book that Jack her new literary agent felt had merit. The wannabe author would write anecdotal true stories of embarrassing moments collected from family, friends, strangers, and her own. Surprisingly many people volunteered their tales of humiliation. The author found most could be classified in common categories like clothing, relationships (especially romantic), office blunders and body emissions (liquid that feel warm and fuzzy or look like uncooked oysters and gas bombs that is louder than a heavy metal band while the smell clings to everything). Well written, the best embarrassments are the one’s the author provides as those like misunderstanding her relationship with Jack or the need to sneak out to smoke while working at a health agency are the best as they set the bar for others. Humorous (as long as it is not you) and honest especially by Ms. Guilette, readers will enjoy these forthright memoirs that affirm to err is human, but to be embarrassingly caught is un-divine.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Lost Hours-Karen White

The Lost Hours
Karen White
NAL, Apr 2009, $15.00
ISBN 9780451226495

The riding accident that almost killed her and left her parents’ dead mentally buried Piper Mills as her dream of riding in the Olympics was crushed that day. Though she mostly ran from her major disappointment and fantasized re her the deaths of her parents, she never fully moved on.

Following the recent death of her beloved grandfather, she inherits the farm; her grandmother died earlier in a nursing home having suffered from Alzheimer’s. Strange notes from her grandma via their lawyer Mr. Morton remind Piper that as a preadolescent twelve years ago she buried a box in the garden with her grandfather. She digs up the box that contains stuff belonging to her grandma like a 1920-1930s journal, newspaper article about a dead infant, and a necklace with a charming story of its own. She begins to seek out those still alive mentioned in the journal to learn who her grandmother was.

This is an interesting look at family as Piper is elated to learn her grandma’s story while alos feeling a bit remorseful she made no efforts to do so when her grandma lived; in fairness she was too young to appreciate mortality. The story line is character driven as Piper learns the meaning of forgiving (including herself) from the journal and her grandma’s friends who are still living. Readers will enjoy this deep Savannah River family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Paradise Valley-Robyn Carr

Paradise Valley
Robyn Carr
Mira, Apr 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778326649

In Virgin River, Cameron sadly muses how ironic life is. He and his former pediatric partners met at the Davenport Hotel Steak House in Grants Pass while Abby attended a wedding there. Attracted to one another, they had a fling that he thought he outgrew and she never had one before. He sought her out the next day, but she was gone. When Doc Mullins died, he moved to Virgin River to change his lifestyle; Abby arrived soon after carrying his twins. He wants to marry her and raise a family with her, but she rejects his advances.

Marine corporal Rick went to Iraq a boy, but came home early a shattered man who sees a dark future due to the leg. Liz who loves him refuses to accept his rejection as she keeps in her heart what the retired military like Jack and the General (who misses his Muriel while she is in Hollywood) told her; those who love a wounded warrior are wounded too and never leave your loved ones behind. Others like newcomer Dan pray for a fresh start here as people before him have achieved; Cheryl who has a past too gives him hope.

Paraphrasing the early 1960s TV show the naked City, "there are 8 million stories” in the Virgin River community and Robyn Carr nicely balances several of them. The key to this well written multi-faceted contemporary tale is the ensemble cast; for instance the eight players named above are fully developed with different personalities while other returning citizens enhance the current tale. Filled with angst and pathos, fans of Robin Carr’s quiet salute to the veterans will enjoy the latest trip to Virgin Rover.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Serendipity-Louise Shaffer

Louise Shaffer
Ballantine, Mar 24 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345502094

In New York, Rose Manning is a legendary philanthropist. How highly regarded is made quite clear to her daughter Carrie when Rose dies. A who’s who of causes arrives at her funeral to praise Rose. Carrie cannot help but notice not one of the accolades mentions Rose the friend or for that matter her late husband (and Carrie’s dad) brilliant Broadway composer Bobby Manning whose death changed the family dynamics; all the eulogies target Rose’s philanthropic activity. Even in death, her mom has left Carrie bitter, unwanted, and feeling like a failure unable to reach the humanitarian bar set by her cold to her, but warm to strangers mom..

While cleaning out Rose’s apartment, Carrie finds some strange secrets about her mom that she never shared with her. She would like to follow up with her maternal grandma but is somewhat estranged with the renowned stage actress Lu Lawson; the split occurred when she was a little girl and her daddy died. Instead she goes to New Haven to see Lu’s older brother octogenarian great-Uncle Paulie. He tells her the truth about Rose, Lu and Lu’s mom Mifalda; and how illegitimacy that seems to run through the generations. She follows that with a close friend of her parents and finally her maternal grandma.

This is an interesting family drama that looks at four generations of women with each having issues leaving estrangements between them. The story line is carried nicely by Carrie though at times she seems too naive for someone with her pedigree. Still fans will enjoy her sleuthing as she begins to go past the caricature of the happy altruist widow image to piece together the full puzzle of who her mom really was and what shaped her.

Harriet Klausner

Serendipity-Louise Shaffer

Louise Shaffer
Ballantine, Mar 24 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345502094

In New York, Rose Manning is a legendary philanthropist. How highly regarded is made quite clear to her daughter Carrie when Rose dies. A who’s who of causes arrives at her funeral to praise Rose. Carrie cannot help but notice not one of the accolades mentions Rose the friend or for that matter her late husband (and Carrie’s dad) brilliant Broadway composer Bobby Manning whose death changed the family dynamics; all the eulogies target Rose’s philanthropic activity. Even in death, her mom has left Carrie bitter, unwanted, and feeling like a failure unable to reach the humanitarian bar set by her cold to her, but warm to strangers mom..

While cleaning out Rose’s apartment, Carrie finds some strange secrets about her mom that she never shared with her. She would like to follow up with her maternal grandma but is somewhat estranged with the renowned stage actress Lu Lawson; the split occurred when she was a little girl and her daddy died. Instead she goes to New Haven to see Lu’s older brother octogenarian great-Uncle Paulie. He tells her the truth about Rose, Lu and Lu’s mom Mifalda; and how illegitimacy that seems to run through the generations. She follows that with a close friend of her parents and finally her maternal grandma.

This is an interesting family drama that looks at four generations of women with each having issues leaving estrangements between them. The story line is carried nicely by Carrie though at times she seems too naive for someone with her pedigree. Still fans will enjoy her sleuthing as she begins to go past the caricature of the happy altruist widow image to piece together the full puzzle of who her mom really was and what shaped her.

Harriet Klausner

The Traitor's Wife-Susan Higginbotham

The Traitor's Wife
Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks, Apr 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781402217876

In 1306 England, thirteen years old Eleanor de Clare leaves the Priory to marry Hugh le Despenser while her favorite uncle, the heir to the throne Prince Edward, sleeps late with his lover Piers Gaveston. She is happy living the aristocratic good life and being Hugh’s spouse.

One year after her marriage, her uncle becomes King Edward II and Eleanor eventually a Lady in Waiting to his wife Queen Isabella from France. Over the next few years, Eleanor hears unsettling rumors as to why her husband is the royal favorite. No longer the naive teen worshiping her uncle and husband; has she scrutinized what she knows about the two men especially examining how ambitious her husband is. She concludes the rumors are basically true as she deems her spouse would sleep around with anyone to further his goals and fears the outrage amongst the aristocracy in England and France re Hugh’s methods to gain favors and the affront to the Queen, who has her own personal affront to the king. Though she would prefer to expose her husband and uncle to the naked truth and is unsure of the long term consequences of her inaction; Eleanor tries to protect her extended family.

This is an intriguing medieval historical epic starring a courageous real fourteenth century person, many other genuine people (like her husband) and what seems like a support cast from a Cecil DeMille movie; a four-page character reference guide helps. The story line brings to life the Edward II reign so that the audience obtains a taste of the era. Although the zillion players feel like they could fill up Wembley Stadium, fans of fourteenth century sagas will enjoy this engaging biographical fiction mostly told thorough the eyes of Eleanor.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 6, 2009

Turning Tables-Heather and Rose MacDowell

Turning Tables
Heather and Rose MacDowell
Bantam, Mar 24 2009, $13.00
ISBN: 9780385338554

Erin Edwards loses her job as a New York marketing manager. Needing work, she pleads with family and friends until her dad and his golf pal Harold use their connections to obtain her a job waiting tables at Manhattan’s exclusive Roulette restaurant in spite of having never worked as a waitress in her life and the owner having doubts higher than the Empire State Building.

Chef Carl Corbett wants the marketer out of his restaurant as does Steve the owner; they plan to make her life as a waitress miserable. Gay waiter Cato the wannabe actor gives her tips while steady customer Daniel the television show producer is attracted to her. Erin takes her new position one day at a time as she considers becoming a mass murderer starting with dad and Harold while wondering whether she will survive the attacks by the chef and the owner.

This is an engaging Manhattan chick lit tale that is at its best when the action is inside the restaurant because of the support cast either working there or dining there. The story line is fun due to secondary players like hyperactive Gina, commandant chef Corbett, and kindhearted Cato wrapped in purple. Erin is obstinate, but obviously is unsuited to work at Roulette; so her travesties there add to the fun. However, when she (and readers) steps outside the restaurant, the story line loses its humorous look at glitz and gourmet turning somewhat inane. Still turning pets aside, The MacDowell sisters write an amusing tale of life inside a top Manhattan restaurant.

Harriet Klausner

The Painter of Battles-Arturo Perez-Reverte

The Painter of Battles
Arturo Perez-Reverte
Random House, Mar 10 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780812977301

Still haunted from his coverage of war, photographer Andrew Faulques hides from the world. As a catharsis of the atrocities he witnessed and photographed, he paints a mural in a tower that provides the human face to the horrors of combat.

A stranger arrives informing Faulques that he plans to kill him. He blames the photographer for commemorating him as a Croatian resistance fighter during the Serbian conflict when he was captured in a sniper’s position. Instead of glory, he feels his life ended with that picture because he knew he could never live up to the fake image. As calm as his visitor is discussing death, Faulques explains his side to his assassin including his seeing his beloved die while they worked a war ravaged nation.

THE PAINTER OF BATTLES is a refreshing unique war thriller starring two antagonists who “see” the battles differently. The sniper insists he may kill his enemy with a bullet, but Falques kills much more as his photos affirm a picture is worth a thousand bullets. Their debate spins from just the merits of war to what are atrocities and cruelty and in a war environs can there be real love. Fans will be fascinated by this tale though the action is somewhat muted as the two lead characters provide a deep dissertation on what war is good for and to whom starting with a photographer who became famous by thriving on hostilities.

Harriet Klausner

Men, Money and Gold Diggers-Je’Caryous Johnson

Men, Money and Gold Diggers
Je’Caryous Johnson
Grand Central, Apr 16 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446541084

In Houston African-American investment banker Caleb Peterson wonders why he always meets gold diggers. Recently, there was cheating Kendra; before her was Vanessa who used his credit card to buy boobs for her mom; and before her was Liza who still drives the Mercedes. His latest Asia proves the opposite but she is too nice, uneducated, and Josephine six-pack. He pulls a stunt with “Water Melon” to dump her.

In Houston, former model Paisley Terrell has been with Bobby for a year and a half, but thinks he is stepping out on her. She arranges for the “Busted” reality TV show to prove her claim and they do. She ends it on the air.

Caleb and Paisley meet at a club with most nursing their latest relationship failures. They hit it off and become engaged, but their friends warn each of them over whether to have a pre-nuptial agreement or not. Meanwhile Dedra ends her abusive relationship with violent Marcus while also falling in love with Caleb while Paisley’s ex sports agent Bobby Trumane is back in town ready to pick up where he left with Paisley.

This novelization of the author’s play is a well written tale of love that though the reader will know is an adaptation will appreciate anyway due to the cast. The lead couple is a fascinating pairing as each is going through relationship-karma as they learn what love is all about. With the exception of Dedra, the support cast is never fully developed though they play key roles. With a terrific final spin on what’s love, Je’Caryous Johnson provides an engaging novelization of his play MEN, MONEY AND GOLD DIGGERS.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 5, 2009

God Only Knows-Xavier Knight

God Only Knows
Xavier Knight
Grand Central, Mar 23 2009, $13.95
ISBN: 9780446582391

The four African-American women (Julia, Toya, Cassie, and Teri) met when they attended the same almost all white Christian Light School in Dayton, Ohio two decades ago. Each has found success in their chosen field, but what unites them is a tragic memory from their days at the school. Eddie Walker attacked one of the girls, but with help from the others, he was the one who became debilitated.

Now Julia Turner is coming home to become superintendent of Christian Light School. They hid the truth, but Eddie’s brother Police Detective Peter Whitlock still investigates the accident. His efforts prove fruitful when he finds links to Cassie; forcing Julia to decide whether she must reveal the truth of what happened when she was thirteen years old, but owes her three friends an opportunity to voice their opinions as to whether the truth will set them free.

This is an entertaining contemporary character study starring best friends dealing with a traumatic incident twenty years ago that haunts each of them differently. Their lives and that of others (besides obviously Eddie) like Pete were shaped by that tragedy and their immediate actions. Each of the foursome know if they remain silent nothing will happen to them; however Julia’s conscience makes her question whether silence is right especially when an obsessed Pete goes after Cassie. Although the final denouement seems unlikely detracting from an interesting tale, fans will enjoy Xavier Knight’s deep look at how one major disturbing event as a teen shapes the adult even though two decades have past.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Atlas of Unknowns-Tania James

Atlas of Unknowns
Tania James
Knopf, Apr 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780307268907

In Kerala, India, their father Melvin with help form his mother raises his two daughters Anju and Linno Vallara when his wife and their mother committed suicide. Crippled Linno turns to painting and proves to be a talented artist. However, Anju steals the work as hers and obtains an art scholarship in New York while the real painter remains behind expecting to be a servant to her father for life.

However, Anju’s deception collapses when she shows not one iota of talent. Disgraced, she flees with her only friend being Bird, who is connected in an enigmatic way to her late mom. While Anju hides from her family, Linno becomes an artist of renown. She has forgiven her sibling and wants her to come home.

This is an interesting family drama that vividly compares life in India with immigrants in New York. The sisters are fascinating as opposites in personalities yet in spite of deception and betrayal; there remains a flicker of sibling loyalty. Tania James provides a deep look at two sisters whose conflicting dreams has divided and united them in the past, but where will it take them if Linno pulls off the reunion has the sibs and readers wondering.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Inn at Eagle Point-Sherryl Woods

The Inn at Eagle Point
Sherryl Woods
Mira, Apr 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778326267

In Chesapeake Bay, Jess O’Brien realizes she is in financial trouble and the inn she is renovating may have to go on the market. Jess asks her older sister Abby Winters, a financial genius, to come home to help save the inn from foreclosure.

Abby plans to assist Jess a bit, but will not stay long as she and the rest of the family are somewhat estrange though she took care of them when mom deserted them. To her chagrin, her former lover, Trace Riley holds the mortgage paper that Jess must pay off or lose everything. He demands she stay in town if she wants to buy time for her sibling. Abby never forgot Trace and still wants him, but a bad marriage and relocating her five years old twins (Caitlyn and Carrie) at a time the ex Wes wants full custody cause her to hesitate as she grasps she who hesitates may be lost, but she feels lost either way.

Leaving Serenity, South Carolina, Sherryl Woods introduces her fans to the Chesapeake Shores series with an engaging contemporary family drama. The cast is solid especially the lead female protagonist who finds herself feeling engulfed by a 360 degree blob as her sister, other family members, her kids, her ex and her former lover place conflicting demands on her. Although too many plot machinations occur to limit the heroine’s choices detract from the tale (making Abby choose would have left her more vulnerable from those she failed to satiate), fans will enjoy the story of the over-achiever.

Harriet Klausner

The Way We Were-Marcia Willett

The Way We Were
Marcia Willett
St. Martin’s, Apr 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780312382889

In the late 1970s in Cornwall, England, pregnant Tiggy, still grieving the loss of the father of her unborn, arrives at the home of her best friend Julia. Kindhearted naval wife, Julia takes her pal into her home where she already raises three children while her spouse is mostly at sea as a naval officer. After Tiggy gives birth, she and her son Zack remain in Julia’s home as part of the extended family.

In 2004, as Zack waits for the birth of his first offspring, Julia looks back on her life. She still is irate with her husband for his affair with her enemy Angela while Tiggy tries to help her move on. Meanwhile Julia worries about her daughter Liv pining and whining how she left the love of her life marry someone else.

This epic family drama looks deep into the friendship between two women who are always there but especially help each other through traumatic situations; of which there is a ton. The story line gracefully moves through the three decades highlighting major events and enabling the reader to understand the prime players. However, the women are female Jobs suffering from so many traumas that none of the cast members come across as fully real.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 2, 2009

One Day at a Time-Danielle Steel

One Day at a Time
Danielle Steel
Delacorte, Feb 2009, $27.00
ISBN: 9780385340298

Her mother is Florence Flowers, a legendary author known for shallow best sellers. Her late father was Bernard “Buzz” Barrington, a legendary literary and dramatic agent. Her sister Jane is one of the top Hollywood producers of the past decade. With that DNA Coco Barrington wonders where she went wrong as she rusticates in Bolinas in Northern California as a dog walker far from “civilization” also called Los Angeles.

Jane and her significant other Lizzie are thinking of having a child. They ask Coco to dog and house sit for them; which she reluctantly agrees. However, she thought she only had to deal with the lord of the manor jack the dog; instead some guy named Leslie is hiding in her sister’s house from a psychotic former girlfriend. As she and Leslie become acquainted, both feel a deep attraction. However, she refuses anything Hollywood and he is renowned British actor Leslie Baxter; then again his favorite beautiful companion is his six years old daughter Chloe and her mom is dating a stud two plus decades younger than her.

This is an engaging contemporary fiction tale that at times the readers feels they ride a merry go round as Coco’s doubts vs. her love keep going round and round; Leslie is too nice a guy to have doubts especially if she loves him. The support cast is solid as her two female relatives who at first seem nasty, but actually are frustrated with her as they want Coco to come out of her self inflicted exile. Die hard fans of Ms. Steel will enjoy ONE DAY AT A TIME as Coco must learn to follow the title credo if she is to have any chance at happiness.

Harriet Klausner