Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Plague of Doves-Louise Erdrich

The Plague of Doves
Louise Erdrich
Harper, May 12 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780060515133

The massacre occurs on a farm near Pluto, North Dakota. Only an infant daughter survives. The white community is outraged and in a fevered pitch, a posse acting more like a mob search for Ojibwe Indians whom they blame for the horrific incident. When the posse finds several Indians, they hold them responsible without evidence and hang them; one of them Seraph “Mooshum” Milk survives.

Over the next few decades, the families involved in the lynching incident intermingle. Mooshum's granddaughter Evelina Harp is raised on a nearby reservation in the1 960s and 1970s. As a teen she falls for bad-boy Corwin Peace and is friendly with a nun, who unbeknownst to her is descendents of the lynch mob; in fact she is too as part of her family come from that vigilante mob. Evelina attends college and work at a mental asylum Corwin becomes a felon.

In some ways this excellent story is a series of vignettes that are told in a non-linear manner; a technique that adds depth to what happened in 1911 and how by the 1970s the descendents of those involved in the two murderous incidents have intertwining lives. The complex story line is made even more complex by the many fully developed and important characters although Evelina as the narrator keeps the plot sort of focused. This is a winner as fans learn through a lot of seemingly irrelevant and apparently unrelated clues the truth of that tragic year once the big picture becomes complete. Louise Erdrich is at the top of her game with this terrific tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Plague of Doves-Louise Erdrich

The Plague of Doves
Louise Erdrich
Harper, May 12 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780060515133

The massacre occurs on a farm near Pluto, North Dakota. Only an infant daughter survives. The white community is outraged and in a fevered pitch, a posse acting more like a mob search for Ojibwe Indians whom they blame for the horrific incident. When the posse finds several Indians, they hold them responsible without evidence and hang them; one of them Seraph “Mooshum” Milk survives.

Over the next few decades, the families involved in the lynching incident intermingle. Mooshum's granddaughter Evelina Harp is raised on a nearby reservation in the1 960s and 1970s. As a teen she falls for bad-boy Corwin Peace and is friendly with a nun, who unbeknownst to her is descendents of the lynch mob; in fact she is too as part of her family come from that vigilante mob. Evelina attends college and work at a mental asylum Corwin becomes a felon.

In some ways this excellent story is a series of vignettes that are told in a non-linear manner; a technique that adds depth to what happened in 1911 and how by the 1970s the descendents of those involved in the two murderous incidents have intertwining lives. The complex story line is made even more complex by the many fully developed and important characters although Evelina as the narrator keeps the plot sort of focused. This is a winner as fans learn through a lot of seemingly irrelevant and apparently unrelated clues the truth of that tragic year once the big picture becomes complete. Louise Erdrich is at the top of her game with this terrific tale.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Julia And The Master Of Morancourt-Janet Aylmer

Julia And The Master Of Morancourt
Janet Aylmer
Harper, Apr 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 0061672955

In rustic Derbyshire, Julia Maitland would be the first to admit she had a near perfect childhood along with her younger sisters and her brother. Perhaps the only down part is her brother is fighting for the British against Napoleon and though she supports the cause she fears for her sibling. Still she looks forward to her first season in society where she hopes to make a match with a handsome caring gentleman who finds her attractive.

However, Julia's lifestyle and season collapses when her father’s investments fails followed by the news that her brother David died in combat. While the family grieves and adjusts to poverty, the patriarch suffers from depression and a weak heart leading to his wife’s desperation to make a suitable match for her oldest daughter as options are limited by society. Thus Julia ends up in London and Bath. That is followed by a trek to Dorsett with her Aunt Lucy where the previously docile country miss joins Kit chasing after smugglers, French agents, traitors, and love.

This Regency romp focuses on the accepted restrictions that the females of a family of quality are allowed and what duty must be done within these limitations. For instance although Julia’s mom would prefer to grieve her loss of her son; compounded by her husband’s health, having three daughters to marry, and the financial depression she heroically does what she believes is good for the family. The story line is fast-paced as Julia gets into one misadventure after another. With her sisters, wild Sophie and gentle Harriet, to go, Regency readers will look forward to future exploits by the Maitland siblings.
Harriet Klausner

B As In Beauty-Alberto Ferraras

B As In Beauty
Alberto Ferraras
Grand Central Publishing, Apr 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446697897

Cuban-American Beauty Marie Zavala is tired of the world judging her by her waistline just because she is forty pounds over the so called norm. She has tried everything to lose the excess, but fads come and go, diets and exercise come and go, but her weight remains the same. B is ashamed of her body.

She really tanks when she overhears her boss at the Manhattan ad company commenting negatively about her size; even worse her waistline apparently will prevent her from receiving a well deserved promotion. B has had enough with the put downs. Her best friend Lillian the petit suggests she do a remake of the entire B. Russian-American Tax accountant Natasha Sokolov offers her work to show off her voluptuous body to men who will pay for a big woman. B accepts the deal of spending time with big body worshipping males only her first client is disappointed when he sees her as he insists she is too small to be anything but a fashion model.

B AS IN BEAUTY is an entertaining contemporary tale starring a woman who fans will root for as she begins to not accept her size, she learns to accentuate her assets. B is the star, but the kindhearted madam-mentor somewhat steals the show with her tutelage. The irony that B is too small adds humor to a profound tale in which the heroine learns beauty is only skin deep.

Harriet Klausner

The Bridge of the Golden Horn- Emine Sevgi Ozdamar

The Bridge of the Golden Horn
Emine Sevgi Ozdamar
Serpent's Tail, May 2009, $15.95
ISBN: 9781852429324

In 1966 sixteen years old, she lies about her age so no one can prevent her from being a “guest worker” while she studies the Berlin theatre. Her Turkish middle class upbringing is probably more of a handicap than her age as that has left her naïve because she is used to protection. However, she begins to expand her experiences when she meets members of the Turkish Workers' Association and starts to read the works of German Prime Minister Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Gorky, Engels, and others. The young woman already overcame the typical Turkish education of dumping down females so that they remain obedient of their male family members or she would not live across from the theater. Yet the older women tell her to treasure her virginity while a friend insists that leaves her ignorant of men who control art.

When she returns to Istanbul, she is considered modern because she pays her way, but continues her study of movies under a drama teacher who wants art to imitate real life like street peddlers who work the Bridge of the Golden Horn. However, belonging to a Marxist group proves dangerous as they are beaten and his works tossed into the Sea of Marmara. With toilets stopped up with leftist literature, the woman vows to leave Turkey after being jailed for allegedly abetting Kurdish separatists.

This is a fabsulous translation of a great autobiographical fiction novel that brings to life tumultuous Turkey in the late 1960s when being left meant being left out as well as the role women were allowed. The story line follows the escapades of the heroine who learns so much about life in Berlin, but realizes how much when she returns to Istanbul. Apparently THE BRIDGE OF THE GOLDEN HORN is the second of three autobiographical fictions; Emine Sevgi Ozdamar provides an entertaining profound historical novel.
Harriet Klausner

Censoring an Iranian Love Story-Shahriar Mandipout

Censoring an Iranian Love Story
Shahriar Mandipout
Knopf, May 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9780307269782

As Shahriar turns fifty, he is tired of his futile attempts at writing a strong novel only to have the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance censor the guts of each one. It is so bad he knows exactly what Pofiry Petrovich, as he calls his official hound, will find objectionable, which usually guts the story line.

Shahriar decides to try an upbeat optimistic tale, a love story set in modern day Iran. He begins writing how Sara and Dara meet at the library and fell in love. However, Iranian Campaign Against Social Corruption forbids this couple being alone; their parents object to their being alone; and other family and friends also oppose their being alone. Still they defy the government, the religious leaders, and their parents by serendipitously meeting wherever they can. However, as he writes his classic, Shahriar realizes how much trouble he could be in; he begins censoring passages, ripping out the heart of his novel. Yet he still tries to sneak some scenes of the couple together without chaperones into the plot (the theme of his novel) by having his lead couple suffer remorse and ruin at the end hopefully making it morally acceptable by the Iranian literary cop.

This translation will be considered one of the top satires of the year as Shahriar Mandipout uses censorship to tell a story of romance in modern day Iran, but could be in almost any place as for instance the political corporate media complex assaults those with an opposing view. The story line is super as Shahriar the fictional author edits his work by crossing out what he expects deleted, which guts his writing. Fans will relish this excellent use of romance to lampoon censorship.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tide, Feather, Snow-Miranda Weiss

Tide, Feather, Snow
Miranda Weiss
Harper, Apr 28 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 0061710253

This is an engaging memoir of Miranda Weiss’s first year living in Alaska after residing in Oregon where she taught straight fifth-grade science. She describes vividly the adjustment she and her boyfriend John made when they accepted teaching positions in the small village Homer. They travel all over the area leaning its history with landmarks. However, the deepest most interesting part of this excellent year in the life of is the profound look at how the Old Believers live while the pair struggles to become more like the locals; self sufficient. For instance they catch salmon in the Kenai River to freeze for the long winter, etc. However, the long periods with just one another led to deep musing by the pair and the end of their relationship; though that segue is the weakest piece due to being overly dramatic. This a terrific insightful look at the cost to a “Forty Eighter” trying to become Alaska-acclimatized in the final American frontier.

Harriet Klausner

Jennifer Johnson Is Sick of Being Single-Heather Mcelhatton

Jennifer Johnson Is Sick of Being Single
Heather Mcelhatton
Harper, May 5 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061461361

In Minnesota, though she dreams of being a real writer, thirty years old Jennifer Johnson works as a copywriter toiling in the marketing department of Keller's department store. She is currently going through some difficult personal times with the least being a fire in her cherished apartment. Jennifer struggles with her younger sister getting married though she is happy for her Bridezilla sibling; she even loathes more her ex who is also getting married though she does not want the Groomzilla rat back. Both are marrying others on Valentine Day’s; a holiday that has betrayed her. Finally she seems to have lost the battle of the bulge accepting size 12 for the first time though she is freaking out.

Dating especially on-line has proven one disaster after another so much so she wonders if this is divine punishment. Her co-worker Ted loves Jenifer, but she ignores his kindness as being weak. Meanwhile, the store’s heir Brad Keller asks her out to her shock as she cannot think of one reason why her. As they go out a lot, she changes her goals to meet what she perceives he wants; soon he proposes and she accepts, but though her new objective is not being single she has nagging doubts every time she thinks beyond her immediate goal.

Unlikable as the lead is in many ways especially with her opinionated décor attitude on life, fans will enjoy this fine chick lit tale ironically due to Jennifer, who paints an honest, often amusing and not always kind self portrait. The story line overuses acceptable chick lit devices, but overcomes the expected standard with the sarcastic at times contemptuous look at relationships. This fun frolic will surprise readers with a wonderful final spin as Jennifer understands the realism of what her Prince Charming is.

Harriet Klausner

Busy Woman Seeks Wife-Annie Sanders

Busy Woman Seeks Wife
Annie Sanders
5 Spot, Apr 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446505444

Marketing executive Alex Hill is too busy to worry about her domestic fiascos as she spends seemingly 24/7 on creating an ad campaign to introduce a new sportswear product line. However, ignoring her home proves futile when her flighty mother Bean falls and needs caretaker help; the former sixties model moves in with Alex.

Alex seeks a "wife" to clean the house, cook meals, and care for mom. Her friend Saffron finds her Ella, who after one day leaves without notice as she has a better offer. Instead Ella, without informing Alex, pleads with her out work actor brother Frankie to take over her position so that someone is there for Bean. He agrees and enjoys cooking idolizes Bean whom was a paper thin role model, and performs the household drudgery. Saffron and Bean hide Frankie from Alex because each believes the exec would never accept a man doing this type of work well. That subterfuge fails when Alex finds Frankie at her home; she fires him and throws everyone including Bean out. However, not only is her house back to shambles and her eating fast food, the new product launch falls apart. Frankie and his posse of pushy females want to save Alex’s butt if she lets them.

Though absolutely predictable in a Lucy- Ethel harebrained way, once all the players are introduced, BUSY WOMAN SEEKS WIFE is an amusing wacky contemporary that plays on gender bending and the role of superwomen in modern society. The key cast members are fully developed with each having several flaws hyperbolized to add to the zaniness of the plot. Ironically, each key character is also very caring of the others in their relationships, which leads to a strange ethics of protecting one another even if that means lying. Fans will enjoy this madcap screwball comedy.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Scenic Route-Binnie Kirshenbaum

The Scenic Route
Binnie Kirshenbaum
Harper, May 12 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780060784744

Forty-two year old divorced Manhattanite Sylvia Landsman loses her job so she decides to go on a vacation before she walks the pavement looking for work. Sylvia knows she is being foolish as she needs to find a job, but goes off to Italy anyway. In Florence, she meets married American expatriate Henry Stafford in a café; he explains that his wealthy wife is in some remote spot in India visiting her guru.

Henry and Sylvia travel Europe together in his Peugeot that his wife bought him. A classic New York cynical Jew, Sylvia and Henry pass the drives with her telling him amusing tales about her family as well as her shortfalls including the betrayal of her best friend Ruby that ended their friendship. Sylvia secretly hopes Henry will prove her relationship guru, as she lacks the courage to pursue more than they have right now.

THE SCENIC ROUTE is an engaging character study that initially appears to be a series of vignettes, but soon ties into a profound quirky glimpse at two people falling in love, but will either have the courage to take the risky next step. Sylvia is a fascinating protagonist as she explains her failures and that of her family while internally praying Henry will proclaim she is the one; Henry proves a good listener who materialistically has everything but emotionally has little as he prays Sylvia will proclaim he is her one. Fans will appreciate this spin on romance as Binnie Kirshenbaum makes a strong case that it takes a brave soul to open one’s heart and as one gets older the courage wanes.

Harriet Klausner

The House on Fortune Street-Margot Livesey

The House on Fortune Street
Margot Livesey
Harper, May 5 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061451546

Thirtyish Abigail Taylor and Dara MacLeod met while attending St. Andrews University. They became friends and years later remain BFFs. Abigail became an actress while Dara became a social counselor. They disagree on love and how to pursue it until each suddenly finds true love; Abigail with academic Sean and Dara with violinist Edward.

Soon after they meet the men in their lives, Dara moves into Abigail's house renting the downstairs apartment. Abigail receives an anonymous letter addressed to Sean insisting she is cheating; Dara reconciles with her father, who abandoned the family when she was ten. The letter and the father impact each relationship including that of the BFFs.

This is an intriguing character study as four people rotate with each telling their back story and their perspective of what is going on. The key to the story line is how each person’s past long before they met one another and forged ties impacts on how each of them interpret the various relationships. Although the action is limited, readers who relish a 360 degree look at four relationships especially the same baggage an individual brings to each will want to read THE HOUSE ON FORTUNE STREET.

Harriet Klausner

The French Gardener-Santa Montefiore

The French Gardener
Santa Montefiore
Touchstone, Jun 2 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416543749

Freelance journalist Miranda and her spouse David accompanied by their children move from London to Gloucestershire in Dorset although he still works in the big city; she dreams of writing a novel without the city distractions. As David spends increasingly more time in London and away from their home Hartington House, Miranda and the kids struggle to adjust to rustic life; she misses all the glamour and glitter of London while the kids have no earthly idea how to play outdoors when they are used to monitors.

Frenchman Jean-Paul arrives searching for his lost love Ava Lightly whose family once resided in the home that David and Miranda bought. He brings with him a simpler lifestyle especially his love of gardens as he tells them how his Ava loved the feel of rich earth; his cheery optimism is infectious as the kids and Miranda enjoy their time with him as if he a kindhearted Pied Piper. ,

This is a well written profound tale in which the garden serves as a metaphor of life. The story line is divided into the four seasons with the garden different each time as is a person through the years. This story is poignant due to the wise aging title character who flashes back to the spring of his life so that the audience learns what happened to him and his Ava. Fans will appreciate Jean Paul’s wisdom as it is never too late to hug a loved one even if the person you cherish has passed; the good memories provide strong mental hugs.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Sky isn't Visible From Here-Felicia C. Sullivan

The Sky isn't Visible From Here
Felicia C. Sullivan
Harper, Apr 28 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 0061765325

This is not an easy to read autobiography though extremely well written and poignant, as Felicia C. Sullivan bares her soul in a cautionary memoir. She lived poor in Brooklyn with her mom Rosina working in a series of diners while always being fired for stealing and through one boyfriend after another as Rosina stole to pay for her cocaine habit and changed boyfriends when they tired of her. Felicia did not fit in any of the zillion neighborhoods mom moved them to as her skin was to white. She escaped to Fordham University and just before she graduated mom vanished. However, the child is not far from the parent as Felicia fell into similar patterns with drink and cocaine even while succeeding in finance behind the facade of a fake history; that is until her behavior led to her firing. This is an excellent autobiography in which the author peels away the masks to reveal her most inner essence for audiences to see how far she has come from her nuclear bomb roots and how “habitually” easy it is for a person to fall back into self destructive behavior.

Harriet Klausner

Of Men and their Mothers-Maeve Medwed

Of Men and their Mothers
Maeve Medwed
Avon, Apr 2009, $$13.99
ISBN: 9780060831226

Her former boyfriend Jack of Somerville Legal Services asks Maisie Grey for a few favors that will help his pro bono client Darlene Lattanzio; whose mother-in-law is suing her for custody of her grandson baby Anthony. Having once had the mother-in-law from hell, Mrs. (that is always and forever) Mrs. Pollock, whom she still wars with over the raising of her sixteen years old son Tommy, Maisie agrees. She hires Darlene at her Boston-based organizing firm, Factotum and even hides the young mother’s breast milk in her freezer.

Maisie is also unhappy with Tommy’s choice of a girlfriend, September Silva, who was kicked out of her home and now lives with them. At a hospital she runs into former momma’s boy Gabe who finally escaped his mom’s domination when she died. Maisie and Gabe start dating though she fears he is only looking for a substitute mom and she has two teens living with her. In fact she reads the riot act to Stephanie starting with attending school. September is ecstatic in having a “mom” giving her direction and agrees.

This is an amusing look at the triangle relationships between mothers, their sons and their daughters-in-law. The story line is filled with humor starting with frozen breast milk next to frozen pot pies, but also fails to dig deep into why the ties between mom and son sometimes overwhelms the son’s bond with his wife; thus a fun tale could have been a profound contemporary relationship drama, but is not. Although supermom Maisie saves the day for seemingly everyone (except for granny Lattanzio) too easily, fans who enjoy a lighthearted funny romp will want to read OF MEN AND THEIR MOTHERS.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Reluctant Heiress-Eva Ibottson

The Reluctant Heiress
Eva Ibottson
Speak, Apr 30 2009, $9.99
ISBN: 9780142412770

In 1922, Princess Theresa-Maria of Pfaffenstein may be an heiress, but she will not inherit much more than a rundown castle. Most aristocrats would be appalled, but Tessa is euphoric, because her financial state allows her to do what she wants. Thus she works for the Viennese opera company as a wardrobe mistress hiding her royal connection from her peers.

First generation nouvelle riche English orphan millionaire Guy Farne comes to the opera house seeking a means to entertain his high society guests and his snobby fiancée. When he and Tessa meet they are attracted to one another and quickly fall in love. However, she is unsuited for him as he wants an aristocrat not a working girl as a wife. Meanwhile impoverished Prince Max loves Tessa and wants to marry her.

Though a young teen historical romance, THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS provides much more. The underlying premise throughout the complex story line is how much WWI shook up the world order; similar in tone to the excellent PBS series The people’s Century especially how The Great War reshaped the rest of the twentieth century. Readers will need a bit of time to fully understand how the prime four characters feel about the new world order because Eva Ibottson has cleverly left clues about what would have been expected of each if WWI had not occurred. This is a great young adult early 1920s tale at a time when the enthusiasm of a new hope for world peace was waning into a great depression.

Harriet Klausner

Rose House-Tina Ann Forkner

Rose House
Tina Ann Forkner
WaterBrook, May 19 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 1400073596

Four years ago, Lillian Diamon learns that her husband Robert and their twin daughters Sheyenne and Lee died in an automobile accident. Lillian believes her sister Geena was the cause as she was having an affair with Robert and vanished just after the accident. Five days after burying her family, Lillian traveled to Rose House in La Rosaleda, California. There she sees in an art gallery a painting of Rose House, dubbed Beauty and the Beast Within from an anonymous artist; in front of the stately mansion is Lillian in all her grief.

In the present Lillian takes time off from the restaurant she works at to travel to Rose House and to learn more about the picture. She has not spoken to Geena since the tragedy as her sister knows she hates her. In La Rosaleda, when she meets artist Truman, she wonders if he painted her picture while he thinks their encounter is a private personal moment like the one he inadvertently intruded on four years ago. Meanwhile Geena desperately tries to reach her to warn her

Much of the profound character study story line is a metaphor based on how an individual sees his or her life as a portrait painted by many other people until tragedy pulls away the various masks that hides the inner soul. A spin re the car accident adds excitement to the plot but detracts from the painting concept as if someone exploded bright red onto a soft pastel. Still Lillian is a diamond (with a d) as she is summed up with the family photos at the restaurant in which everyone else have loved ones on display while all she has is ROSE HOUSE.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Moment Between-Nicole Baart

The Moment Between
Nicole Baart
Tyndale, May 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414323220

Thirtyish accountant Abigail Bennett enjoys working at Johnson, McNally & Bennett in Rosa Beach, Florida although tax season can be hectic. However, her life explodes when tragedy strikes her younger sister, Hailey. Unable to cope, an obsessed Abigail seeks closure so she quits her partnership and travels to British Columbia to confront Hailey’s boyfriend Tyler Kamp.

In the Canadian winery where Tyler works, Abigail meets him. She begins to make friends with him and others employed there and surprisingly she finds she likes Tyler. Abigail also finds he cannot give her closure; only by turning to God might she find what she seeks.

The story line contains two rotating subplots: the present with Abigail in Canada and the past as she and her family relations unfold. Filled with passion, Abigail keeps the overall plot focused with her first person viewpoint and her actions in the third person perspective. Although the support cast outside of the two sisters are never lucid enough especially Tyler to understand who they are beyond how they relate to the siblings, Nicole Baart provides a deep poignant look at how mental illness takes a toll on anyone in that person’s circle especially family.

Harriet Klausner

Veiled Freedom-J.M. Windle

Veiled Freedom
J.M. Windle
Tyndale, Jun 2009, $13.99
ISBN 9781414314754

New Hope relief worker Amy Mallory has looked forward to being assigned to Kabul since she first began her vocation as she believes she can help the impoverish populace. However, her fantasy and reality are not even close; as a woman, even a western female, and a Christian are so restricted she can do very little. Amy hires Jamil as her interpreter as she tries to help women released from prison start over.

Condor Security’s Steve Wilson heads personal security for the country’s Minister of the Interior Khalid Sayef though he vowed never to return to the war scarred nation where his worst nightmare occurred. Amy and Steve meet because his employer is the one Afghan leader willing to risk his life pushing a reform agenda.

This is an exciting relevant character study that through the three prime players enables the audience to have a better understanding of Afghanistan. The most intriguing aspect of the tale is the profound look at the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad. Although “government speak” acronyms abound (ironically starting with the author’s name) slowing the pace as the reader will stop to figure them out, VEILED FREEDOM is a timely insightful look into a nation devastated by three decades of war.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Wildwater Walking Club-Claire Cook

The Wildwater Walking Club
Claire Cook
Voice (Hyperion), May 5 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9781401340896

In Massachusetts, Balancing Act Shoes is downsizing and decides that fortyish Noreen Kelly is redundant. They offer her eighteen months of salary and career counseling, which she accepts. On her first day of work freedom, Noreen tries to call and email her lover Michael, whose company conducted the reduction at her firm, but he fails to answer her; she knows silence denotes she has been dumped. She finds daytime TV boring so she goes to her former place of work and using her employee discount for no reason she can fathom buys enough walking shoes to fill Imelda Marcos’ closet.

Noreen begins walking and soon meets her neighbor Tess the teacher who is lonely as her teenage daughter is not speaking to her. They begin walking together and meet Rosie, who owns the big house at the top of the hill. She joins them as they form the Wildwater Walking Club with over 10,000 strides every morning on the nearby beach walk. They talk about their woes everyday. Tess hopes to reconcile with her daughter before she goes off to college; Rosie feels overwhelmed with too much responsibility and Noreen feels under whelmed with no responsibility. They become friends with one another and others like a cancer victim in New Orleans and unemployed Rick who especially likes Noreen.

The WILDWATER WALKING CLUB is an engaging look at the importance of friendship as each of the three women finds walking as a catharsis because they have someone listening to their personal concerns, fears, and gripes. There are several other subplots involving other people, but those detract from the main theme of a friend in need sometimes only need simple acts like listening. Readers who enjoy a celebration of friendship will want to walk the beach along side the Wildwater trio.

Harriet Klausner

Sunnyside-Glen David Gold

Glen David Gold
Knopf, May 5 2009, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307270689

In 1916, while Europe is overwhelmed with the devastating war, Hollywood silent movie star Charlie Chaplin is seen in over eight-hundred different locations at the approximate same time. Chaplin struggles with making Sunnyside, a picture he believes worthy of his skills but the studios prefer to repeat the same success until they drain every bloody cent from the public. He also has issues with the war as he wants America to stay out of the hostilities across the Atlantic. Finally he has his usual female problems with lovers and the most daunting woman of all, his demanding mom.

As Chaplin is spotted everywhere, Leland Wheeler goes to California with dreams of being a movie star although he calls himself Leland Duncan; instead of Hollywood he is soon heading to the western front as his status as the son of the last Wild West star offers him no solace from the German armies even though the Kaiser enjoyed the Buffalo Bill shows. Finally aristocratic Hugo Black volunteers to leave Detroit to fight under General Edmund Ironside who leads an expeditionary force into Russia just after Lenin takes power. Soon all will converge.

Packed with many real persona from the War that ends all wars era, SUNNYSIDE is a complex historical fiction that sub-genre fans will need plenty of time to read. The story line contains seemingly a cast that only Cecil Demille and Glen David Gold could keep track of as there are a multitude of subplots even more than the three prime themes above. The profound kaleidoscope ultimately comes together as Hollywood goes to war with a celebrity cast; who for the most part never ventures outside Southern California, but are true patriots; as Chaplin, Wheeler and Black know first hand.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Honor Thy Father-Gay Talese

Honor Thy Father
Gay Talese
Harper, Apr 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061665363

Released in 1971, this is a reprint of the classic Bonanno New York Mafia family biography with a new Afterward updating what happened to the prime extended family members. Still insightful as it was back in the 1970s, readers get an insider look at the rise and fall of the Bonannos via the interviews by NY Times reporter lease and Bill Bonanno after they met in 1965 in a courtroom. The book is broken into four overarching periods starting with the infamous disappearance of the boss Joseph Bonanno in 1964 just after dining with his lawyer and while carrying no weapons and with no bodyguards; this snatch led to the “Banana War” between his mob and three other New York area gangs.

Insightful even with the account being more a historical, the audience will enjoy the side tidbits like the gangsters hiding in the boroughs (with dogs) or New Hampshire while laughing at the Untouchables. Though at times the action wanes leading to boring sections; readers should remember the goal was an honest account of Mafia life in the 1960s and 1970s. For the most part this is achieved, but the tone also feels as if Mr. Talese somewhat crosses the thin line with his subject as he appears to like Bill as a person. This remains a fascinating look at the Mafia from the inside in which silent loyalty is everything so why did Bill agree to five years of interviews and how did that impact his relationship with his dad; the son understood the Mafia mantra of HONOR THY FATHER, but how can revealing insider information live up to that tenet?

Harriet Klausner

Yesterday’s Embers-Deborah Raney

Yesterday’s Embers
Deborah Raney
Howard (Simon & Schister), Mar 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 1416593098

On Thanksgiving Day, Kaye DeVore and her five years old daughter Rachel died from monoxide poisoning. The grieving widower Doug understands the irony of their deaths as an EMT he has warned about the hidden dangers of monoxide poisoning. However, he has no time to mourn as he must raise five children with the oldest Kayeleigh being only twelve.

Mickey Valdez knows the DeVore kids and their late mom as she runs a day care center that include the family’s youngest Harley. As Doug struggles to make enough money to support them, he relies heavily on Kayeleigh to take charge of her siblings while also is always late for picking up his kid from the daycare center. Mickey takes Harley home and Doug invites her to join his family with their take-out meal. Harley, Sarah, Sadie and Landon are thrilled to have Mickey eat with them, but Kayeleigh resents her. When the two adults meet at a wedding that Doug wanted to skip but Kayeleigh insisted on attending, the townsfolk sense a spark and begin matchmaking though Kaye is only gone less than three months and the tweener resents the intrusion.

This is an interesting family drama in which six people struggle with a sudden death of two loved ones when the patriarch begins courting another woman. The story line is character driven as the kids react differently to Mickey entering their lives and she and Doug have major doubts as each knows it is to soon for him and his children. Though somewhat similar in tone to REMEMBER TO FORGET, the poignant reactions of the children refresh this deep inspirational Clayburn, Kansas novel (see LEAVING NOVEMBER).

Harriet Klausner

Wit’s End-Karen Joy Fowler

Wit’s End
Karen Joy Fowler
Plume, Apr 28 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 0452290066

In Santa Cruz, California, twenty-nine years old Rima Lanisell visits her godmother mystery writer Addison Early at the latter’s oceanfront house Wit's End. Addison is extremely popular for her Maxwell Lane mysteries, but is somewhat a recluse. Her former boyfriend Bim is a recurring character in her novels even as she mourns his recent death; as does his daughter Rima although the latter grieves her brother much more although he died four years ago.

For every one of her mysteries Addison creates a dollhouse display of the prime murder scene. However, as her deadline comes closer, she has not started her prototype. Meanwhile Rima has gone through years old correspondence especially fascinated by those involving Constance Wellington of the Holy City cult stronghold, and the dedicated online discussion boards to learn the truth behind the Maxwell Lane novels; she is shocked that even she is a subject of fan discussion. The more she learns about her godmother, her father, and others; the less she understands.

The storyline focuses on how much change has occurred in communications due to the Internet as once an author and a fan might relate one to one, but now a fan can communicate with many other fans instantly. Addison is a terrific character who brings a sense of ironic humor to the mix while her fab fans dissect every comma in her seeking nuances of universal truisms. Rima is not as likable as her godmother, as she wears her grief as armor, but she is the catalyst with her slight probing into the past. WIT’S END is an engaging profound tale with a wry wit that makes the case fame is no longer fifteen minutes since the Internet makes celebrity status seemingly eternal even when the hits stop coming.

Harriet Klausner

Beach Trip-Cathy Bolton

Beach Trip
Cathy Bolton
Ballantine, May 12 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9780345505996

In the 1980s, Mel, Sara, Annie and Lola met at Bedford University in Mount Clemmons, North Carolina. They became friends, but after graduating from the liberal arts school went their separate ways. Mel became a mystery novelist living in New York; Sara is a part-time Atlanta attorney; Annie has become a Nashville businesswoman; and Lola married rich. Each is forty-five years old and they are meeting for the first time in over two decades on Whale Head Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks at the exclusive Wild Dunes resort, owned by Lola's husband.

As they enter middle age, each of the women has pressing relationship issues that weigh heavily on them. Lola depends on drugs to cope with her manipulative spouse. Annie recognizes how terrific and caring her husband is and their kids are, but still obsesses over a tryst with a married professor at Mount Clemmons. Sara worries about her ailing son while detesting her marriage and envying Mel’s Manhattan lifestyle. Mel is a bit jealous of the others being still married as she has tried and failed twice yet also understands herself as the truism of her last novel “I'll Sleep When You're Dead” describes her husbands in her mind.

Although midlife crisis group encounters have been the theme of many novels including one by Cathy Holton (see REVENGE OF THE KUDZU DEBUTANTES), Mel with her Manhattan kick butt armor brings freshness to the mix. As the week passes, the four friends change from sipping tea to drinking tequila as they share their angst, guilt, and failures leading to a subtle strengthening bond. Fans will enjoy this engaging character study of middle age women in crisis who at the end of their BEACH TRIP learn they can do more than endure and survive, they can thrive.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Chosen One-Carol Lynch Williams

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
St. Martin's, May 12 2009, $16.95
ISBN: 9780312555115

In the Chosen Ones compound, the leader Prophet Childs, accompanied by three apostles, visits the trailer home of the extended Carlson family to provide them with a treasured gift. He informs the patriarch, his three wives and twenty-one children that thirteen year old Kyra will become the seventh wife of her Uncle Hyrum; her father’s brother who is sixty years old.

Her father and biological mother are stunned by the “good” news. They understand why the oldest offspring is unacceptable for an important apostle like his sibling, but cannot fathom an elderly uncle making his teen niece pregnant. Kyra is even more horrified as she has been reading banned books from the library on wheels that have made her question the polygamist Commandments of the Chosen Ones. As their enforcers the God Squad goons insure everyone behaves through excess force, abuse and murder, Kyra wonders how she can escape this atrocity that feels like a rape of her soul and soon her body without causing her family repercussive atrocities.

This is an exciting young adult drama as Kyra’s fears (for herself and her family) feel real and propel the story line. Character driven, readers will obtain a deep look at a sect whose dogma controls every aspect of life for the flock. Although somewhat over-killed to the extreme, as the elders ignore “Thou shall not kill by murdering parishioners, fans will enjoy this timely read as Carole Lynch Williams defines what it means to bestowed with the honor of being THE CHOSEN ONE while given no other choices.

Harriet Klausner

Ghostwriter-Travis Thrasher

Travis Thrasher
Faith Words, May 28 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446505581

Horror writer Dennis Shore is extremely popular with his novels always making the bestseller lists. However, since his wife Lucy died several months ago, he has struggled with making coffee let alone writing. After driving his daughter Audrey across the country to her college in California, Dennis has come home to a lonely empty nest overlooking the Fox River.

He is desperate as a deadline is coming soon, but he has nothing. That is nothing except a manuscript sent by a fan. Dennis sends in the work as his; it becomes published with incredible critical acclaim. The author Cillian Reed is irate that his hero stole his work. Cillian wants what he deserves and harasses Dennis who feels his life is in jeopardy as much as his reputation, but what to do to remove the horror that threatens his existence is met with the same paralysis he suffered with writer’s block.

This is an exciting tale starring an intriguing lead character whose morale anchor died when his wife passed away. Dennis is a terrific protagonist who knows he is doing wrong but cannot stop himself from passing Reed’s manuscript off as his. The story line for the most part is fast-paced even though the jumping back to the relationship between Dennis and his then alive wife can be confusing and detracting. Still Travis Thrasher hooks the audience with this fine tale somewhat mindful but much more psychological suspense than the movie A Murder of Crows.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Last Queen-C.W. Gortner

The Last Queen
C.W. Gortner
Ballantine, May 5 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345501851

In 1492 with the conquering of Granada, King Fernando and Queen Isabel have united Spain and kicked out the Moors. Their thirteen year old daughter Princess Juana is proud of their achievement. However, to strengthen their control of Spain the royal couple begins to marry their children to other regal offspring to forge alliances via political marriages. Thus Juana’s older sister Princess Catalina becomes wife of England’s Henry VIII.

She waits her turn, but when it comes she is upset and asks her parents to reconsider as she has never met the Hapsburg Empire heir, Philip of Flanders. It does not matter how she feels as she is sent from her homeland. To her shock, Juana and Phillip are attracted to one another from the start and fall in love. Years later with heirs and spares, Juana shockingly becomes heir to the Spanish throne; she must act cautiously in order to avoid upsetting her spouse or her parents while both sides tug on her allegiance; others understanding her situation try to take advantage by manipulating the two sides to gain royal favors at her expense.

THE LAST QUEEN is a terrific biographical fiction novel bringing to life the sister-in-law of Henry VIII; via his first wife. Juana is caught in the maelstrom of political intrigue that leaves few survivors; her troubles are compounded by lies and betrayals. C.W. Gortner captures the era in which even a princess cannot avoid swimming in a cesspool filled with woman-eating sharks.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Secret Keepers-Mindy Friddle

Secret Keepers
Mindy Friddle
St. Martin’s, Apr 28 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312537029

In Palmetto, South Carolina, septuagenarian Emma Hanley plans to see the world. However, she has to put on hold her tour when her spouse Harold suddenly dies while having coffee with his female admirers. Emma has no time to consider her loss as her adult children need her and make demands on her.

She is the sole caretaker of Bobby whose illness left him mentally incapable of caring for himself. Dora has turned to religion, compulsive shopping and a martinet spouse. Even Will, who died decades ago in Vietnam, seems to haunt his mom. Dora’s former lover from her hippie days Jake Cary comes home to mend a broken heart and fix gardens like that on the neglected estate of Emma’s late grandfather Amaranth and indirectly people too so they flourish.

On the surface, SECRET KEEPERS seems like the zillionth southern dynasty saga, but is actually much more as Mindy Friddle looks at how the present turns the past into a family mythos in which facts are irrelevant. Each of the key players in the hamlet extended family including the late patriarch, grandfather and Will seem like real persons with each one possessing a personalized definition of what heaven on earth would be to them; however that denotation is always out of reach. Filled with pathos and eccentricity, readers will enjoy the misadventures of the SECRET KEEPERS.

Harriet Klausner

Twilight of Avalon-Anna Elliot

Twilight of Avalon
Anna Elliot
Touchstone, May 5 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 9781416589891

Morgan LeFay’s granddaughter Queen Isolde struggles with the powers she inherited from her infamous ancestor and her father Mordred. With the murder of her spouse, the king of England, she knows his loyal men will suspect her of sorcery due to her roots. She also knows there will be an ugly power struggle to initially determine who leads the army and subsequently fill the throne. She feels ill because she will see the bloody fights twice; before and during. Her advisors urge her to marry so she can be protected, but she abhors the idea especially since she still grieves her loss of three days.

The apparently most powerful of the warriors fighting for the crown is Cornwall King Marche, who plans to marry the queen to solidify his hold though he is also attracted to her. Isolde tries to end his courtship, but Marche refuses to listen. When the beleaguered queen meets mercenary prisoner Trystan, she learns she is unsafe from Marche, who forces her to marry him. However, Isolde and Trystan flee the castle with Marche in pursuit.

This is a fascinating Arthurian tale that retells the often retold story of Isolde and Trystan. The emphasis is on political intrigue though there are paranormal moments. Part of the intrigue is caused by Trystan who throughout remains an enigmatic shadowy champion; perhaps antihero might be more descriptive. However, Isolde comes across as either incompetent or a moron as she remains dense and oblivious that something is wrong in her inner circle while her loyal supporters keep getting assassinated. Still this is an interesting fantasy told from her perspective, which ironically affirms her enemies are right that someone else needs to be on the throne for the sake of the kingdom.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pop Apocalypse-Lee Konstaninou

Pop Apocalypse
Lee Konstaninou
Harper, Apr 28 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061715372

In the near future the mediasphere has replaced the Internet, enabling users to follow the lives of people to the minutest detail. In fact reputable names have become a commodity item traded on the Reputations Exchange.

Eliot Vanderthorpe, Sr. is the CEO of the firm that runs the mediasphere. Unlike his successful dad, Eliot, Jr. is a wastrel failure. Frustrated with his no chip off the block offspring Sr. places the name of Jr. on the Reputations Exchange. Eliot the son learns of another Eliot living in the banned off-limits Occupied Zone of Northern California where anti capitalists once held sway. Junior decides to meet his other self only to find a conspiracy spinning in many directions like an octopus’ tentacles.

This future tale is a fast-paced lampooning of celebrity fame, pop culture, and media attention span as to what is important. The story line is fast-paced throughout as capitalist society is satirized on seemingly every page; even the Middle East has become one caliphate run by a pop idol. Fans who enjoy an irreverent look at modern culture will want to read Lee Kostaninou’s amusing take no prisoners’ tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Man Who Loved China-Simon Winchester

The Man Who Loved China
Simon Winchester
Harper, Apr 28 2009, $15.99
ISBN: 9780060884611

This is a fascinating biography of Cambridge University biochemist Joseph Needham. Although married to a scientific peer Dorothy, he fell in love with a student Lu Gwei-djen in the 1930s. She taught him her language and her love for her culture. Needham began exploring the country even as the war with Japan in the late 1930s and 1940s made it unsafe for anyone especially a British professor. Still he continued his travels and soon began to uncover the incredible historical intellect of China, investing new technologies and learning scientific secrets centuries before the west. His efforts led to McCarthy naming him a Communist and banning him from America. That did not stop him as he searched for why an anomaly occurred; while the Renaissance reawakened scientific curiosity in the West, in China suddenly scientific discovery ended. Known as the “Needham Question”, this remains unresolved as China explodes into the modern world at am exponential pace that mirrors what it once did during the Middle Kingdom. This is a terrific biography.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, April 10, 2009

B Is For Beer-Tom Robbins

B Is For Beer
Tom Robbins
Ecco, Apr 21 2009, $17.95
ISBN: 9780061687273

Six years old Gracie Perkel looks forward to spending time with her Uncle Moe as her parents are never there for her while he tries to give her time; especially after he has had a six pack. Moe is the king of beer drinkers. However, this time Moe fails Gracie, leaving her depressed with a need to drink away her loneliness just like adults do.

When she goes for a drink, the Beer Fairy visits her and offers to teach about life especially the importance of beer. So begins Gracie swim in the suds realm.

Written like a children’s fairy tale, B IS FOR BEER is an odd, often humorous look at beer through the eyes of an elementary school kid. The irreverent story is set from the beginning when Gracie asks her mom what is that stuff that looks like pee-pee that her dad drinks especially while watching sports. This book is for you readers, who enjoy an ultra lighthearted fantasy filled with amusing factoids, will toast Tom Robbins with a six pack.

Harriet Klausner

Bunco Babes Tell All-Maria Geraci

Bunco Babes Tell All
Maria Geraci
Berkley, May 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425227589

In Whispering Bay, as she turns thirty-five, Florida realtor Kitty Burke does what she does on Thursday night, play the dice game bunco while drinking margaritas with her friends. However, this week Kitty feels a tad lonely as she is the last woman standing single; all the other bunco players are married.

Kitty is attracted to trice married handyman Steve when he fixes her toilet. He stays the night and they both enjoy the tryst. However, neither is in the market for more than an occasional fling if they can keep it secret from their neighbors. Soon as her mom is considering selling their dilapidated home which Kitty hopes to buy, she wonders if she should take a chance and play bunco with Steve as her desire for him has grown to what might make this three time loser her Mr. Right.

Inane title aside, BUNCO BABES TELL ALL is a solid look at the importance of relationships; whether it is just playing bunco with friends once a week, humans need contact. None of the characters are very deep especially since their flaws are no developed yet the premise shines through that people need caring people. Fans will want to roll the dice with Maria Geraci’s bunco babes as we can’t lose reading how Kitty and Steve both win at Bunco if they play together.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Choral Society-Prue Leith

Choral Society
Prue Leith
St. Martin’s, Apr 28 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780312560782

The fifty something women meet in a choral class and become friends at a time each suffers from a midlife crisis. Lucy the food columnist has recently lost her husband and apparently now her column. Single mom Rebecca has always been single going through men like M&Ms though the constant meeting, dating and breaking up has made her wary. Venture capitalist Joanna is bored with her life as she is comfortable with bottom lines not men.

The choral director Nelson and Rebecca begin a tryst. Joanna falls in love for the first time but learns a sad lesson about mixing work with pleasure. Rebecca helps Lucy with a complete makeover that gives her confidence to try to obtain a teaching position and perhaps even a new man.

This is an engaging character study of three middle age women struggling with issues and men, or lack of the latter. Each of the three BFFs is unique as they each approach life from different foundations. Although they all would like a loving relationship with a male, each of the trio understands “I will survive” (Gloria Gaynor) without one; as they are strong and strengthened by their friendships so that they believe they can do anything because “I am woman” (Helen Reddy).

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Entertaining Angels- Judy Duarte

Entertaining Angels
Judy Duarte
Kensington, May 2009, $12.95
ISBN: 9780758220165

In San Diego suburb Fairbrook, while attending high school, Kristy Smith worked extra hard on her class work because she wanted to attend college and knew to do so she had to earn a scholarship. However, she lost her dream when she became pregnant and needed to work to support her son Jason and ironically her grandmother too. Kristy remains upbeat refusing to wallow in what could have been.

While attending school Craig Houston dreamed of becoming a pastor in an impoverished country. Instead he accepts the pastor position in Fairbrook. Though he feels he is needed more overseas, he changes his mind when he gets to know his middle class flock; encouraged by wise Jesse. He tries to help those in crisis like pregnant teen Renee Delaney, but it is Kristy even after unfairly accusing Renee of theft, whose optimism is pervasive and has him believe everyone needs support even a broken dreamed pastor if they are to obtain redemption.

ENTERTAINING ANGELS is an entertaining inspirational tale that will give readers a mental boost with its optimistic isms (perhaps too many) encouraging the audience to seek God rather than wait for God to come around. The story line is driven by the strong cast; not just those above as others like Kristy’s best friend play major roles. Fans will root for the people of Fairbrook to find salvation, but especially want Kristy to obtain her dream of going to college.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Breathe-Lisa T. Bergren

Lisa T. Bergren
David C Cook, Jun 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434767080

In 1883, their father sends three of his offspring from their Philadelphia home to Colorado Springs; each has a different mission. Dominc St. Clair is to watch over his two sisters while setting up the family publishing business in the growing city. His beautiful sister Moira was sent west to get her away from her myriad of suitors. Finally his other sibling Odessa has come to Colorado to stay at a sanatorium for consumption victims run by Dr. Morton. Neither Moira nor Dominic wants to be there as the former wants to sing professionally and the latter wants to see the world.

Odessa barely has a breath left when she makes it to her destination. There she meets two other patients, elderly Sam O’Toole and rancher Bryce McAllan. Hearing a noise at night, Odessa investigates only to fall down unconscious. When she awakens she learns Sam died, but is convinced someone murdered him. Attracted to Bryce who reciprocates, which shocks her as all men fall for Moira, Odessa learns she and the rancher received cryptic poems from Sam that hint at a treasure. As they fall in love, the people who killed Sam want the messages he left behind and are willing to murder two consumption victims to obtain them.

Aptly titled, this is a superb historical medical thriller that brings to life victims of consumption (Tuberculosis) as they struggle to BREATHE. The cast is solid inside the sanatorium and in Colorado Springs. Although Sam’s death and the subsequent attempts to steal his messages add suspense, Lisa T. Bergren’s tale is at its best when readers are inside the sanatorium observing late nineteenth century medical practices dealing with a deadly crippling disease.

Harriet Klausner

Strange Nervous Laughter-Bridget McNulty

Strange Nervous Laughter
Bridget McNulty
Dunne, May 2009, $23.95
ISBN 9780312544348

The city of Durban like all of South Africa is suffering from the blistering heat with temperatures breaking records almost every day; there appears no break in the sweltering record setting summer. Tempers already are frayed when a robbery occurs at a small mom and pop grocery. No one is hurt as cashier Beth and two customers Mdu and Meryl cooperate with the robber. Afterward the somewhat traumatized trio feels good to be alive

Each moves on past the incident. Beth floats when she is euphoric and currently rises high as she is elated with dating undertaker Pravesh in spite of his toe nail fetish; helping him in his occupation is he knows when the Grim Reaper is coming by a tingling sensation behind his knees and heat burning up his inner ears. Mdu, who communicates with whales, meets Aisha, who ignores reality as an unnecessary intruder while somewhat living inside her dreams. Guinness World Records sends assistant Meryl to obtain information on Harry, who seems on the verge of breaking the record for dining green.

STRANGE NERVOUS LAUGHTER is a profound yet whimsical character study that takes a deep look at what is love and how we behave when we believe we are in love. Each of the key characters are fully developed so that the reader accepts their musings and misbehavior due to their conviction they are in love; they act out of character when they feel that way. Thus the audience obtains a powerful analysis of love inside an amusing tale as the cast members tend to delude themselves that this is the one and act eccentric and quirky while under love’s magical spell. Bridget McNulty provides an excellent contemporary tale that brings South Africa to life while insisting love’s behavior is universal.

Harriet Klausner

The Brothers Boswell-Philip Baruth

The Brothers Boswell
Philip Baruth
Soho, May 2009, $24.00
ISBN 9781569475591

In 1763 London, John Boswell hates his older brother James who has become friends with renowned lexicographer Samuel Johnson; by default John also loathes Johnson due to the company he keeps. Obsessed with his sibling, John stalks both men and pays Thames River boatmen for information on what the pair discussed when they ferry them.

John recalls when Johnson was his friend before his sibling usurped his relationship. Increasingly he considers fratricide as a means to right the wrong he believes James has done to him. He ponders whether to kill both men to ease the rage vibrating in his gut that seems to grow with every thought about the pair.

THE BROTHERS BOSWELL is an intriguing biographical suspense thriller that stars real Georgian Era writers. The triangle comes to life as each of the key three players seem genuine especially their interrelationships. Though the ending is obvious for anyone familiar with the classic biography Life of Johnson;, fans will feel the tension throughout as increasingly John is losing control of his mind fogged by his hatred, envy, and deep conviction that he has been wronged by his sibling and his former friend.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 6, 2009

Life Without Summer-Lynne Griffin

Life Without Summer
Lynne Griffin
St. Martin’s, Apr 14 2009, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312383886

In a Boston suburb, life had been perfect for Ethan, Tessa and their four years old daughter Abby; until in a second, their child was killed by a hit and run driver near the Bright Futures Preschool she attended. Apparently, there are no witnesses to the vehicular death. After meeting cold aloof homicide detective Caulfield, Tessa concludes the cop will not do any inquiry beyond asking the preschool if anyone witnessed the deadly incident.

Ethan grieves but Tessa is shattered even sleeping in Abby’s bed. Her husband, worried about his wife, persuades her to visit grief therapist Celia, who seems more than just sympathetic; as if they share a commonality. Tessa finds some minor solace using her journalistic skills to investigate her daughter’s murder. She draws up a list of potential suspects.

Celia has married history professor Alden, after her first marriage to Harry fell apart when they discovered a shocker on their sailboat. She moved on, but Harry became a drunk and increasingly depressed teenage son Ian has chosen to live with him. On Tessa’s list near the top is Harry.

This is an intriguing character study that looks deep into the grieving process and the difficulty to obtain personal redemption. The story line uses the investigation as a means for Tessa to try to move on. Journals kept by both women enable the audience to understand what disturbs each of them, making each seem real; although Lynne Griffin conceals critical information from readers that should have appeared in earlier journal entries seems unfair, yet doing this also allows the tension to mount exponentially. Fans will enjoy Celia’s efforts to learn who did it.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Show Me the Sky-Nicholas Hogg

Show Me the Sky
Nicholas Hogg
Canongate, Apr 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781847671899

One year has past since rock and roll superstar Billy K vanished while walking and reading along a Cornish cliff. London Detective Inspector James Dent has led the frustrating investigation that is gong nowhere. Rather than cold case the inquiry, he takes a fresh look based on the clue that Billy K was reading the 1834 journal Show Me the Sky by London based missionary Nelson Babbage nee Naqarase Baba of Fiji. The cop follows Nelson’s travels to Australia with plans of going on to Kenya and Fiji but he vanishes in the Outback.

Also disappearing in the Outback is English biker Cal Smith, who vanishes after crashing his motorcycle. Dent seeks Smith, who he thinks might be Billy K or at least know where he is. If that fails he will continue following Nelson’s trail.

The concept is exciting, but the execution is difficult to follow as men simply vanish with revelations late explaining the common why. The story line is at its best with the nineteenth century journal extracts especially when Nelson goes home as a missionary. The key male characters are developed so that the audience can understand their universal anguish. Although somewhat convoluted, SHOW ME THE SKY is an intriguing character study.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lake Overturn-Vestal McIntyre

Lake Overturn
Vestal McIntyre
Harper, Apr 21 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061671166

One night in 1986 in the Cameroon in the area adjacent to Lake Nyos, every bug, animal, and 1700 humans mysteriously died. In Eula, Idaho, two seventh grade friends Enrique a closet homo sexual and high functioning autistic Gene agree to write a paper on the unexplained phenomena for their science fair project.

However, Gene obsesses over what happened in Africa, which leads to the end of his friendship with Enrique. At the same time, Enrique's house cleaning mother begins an affair with a married client; while Gene's pious religious mother, steadfast faithful to a husband who abandoned her ages ago feels she is cheating in her heart as she is attracted to someone besides her missing spouse.

The tale feels more like a series of vignettes rather than a novel as LAKE OVERTURN digs deep into the lives of lonely people in Eula in 1986; not just the pair described above. The various characters seem genuine especially in their loneliness and desperate need to connect with someone else. Mindful of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, Vestal McIntyre provides a profound look at how far a lonely person will go for companionship.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Road To Jerusalem- Jan Guillou

The Road To Jerusalem
Jan Guillou
Harper, May 2009, $25.99
ISBN 9780061688539

In 1150 Sweden Arn Magnusson is born; the second son of an aristocratic Swedish family. While still a child, he is air lifted by a rock, which when he lands below the castle should have killed him. Instead he returns from the dead leading his parents to believe he is special especially with the hair covering his forehead from the day he was born. His parents send Arn to a monastery where the monks teach him to read and write. However former knight, Brother Guilbert becomes his mentor teaching him archery and swordplay as well as guiding him into understanding the metaphysical spiritual realm.

Arn is attracted Cecilia; especially loving her voice when she sings. However Cecilia's jealous sister Katarina seduces Arn and subsequently confesses her sin. Excommunicated for his transgressions Arn is sentenced to serve his penitence as a Knight Templar for two decades in the Holy Land.

The aptly named THE ROAD TO JERUSALEM (Arn is still in Europe by book’s end) is a fabulous historical thriller that provides a refreshing perspective on twelfth century religion and society in Sweden. Arn is a terrific lead character who holds the vivid story line together; the support cast enhances the deep look into Swedish medieval society while also propelling the plot forward. Crusades historical readers will appreciate this opening gamut and anxiously await the hero’s return hopefully in Jerusalem.

Harriet Klausner

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire-C.M. Mayo

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire
C.M. Mayo
Unbridled, May 2009, $26.95
ISBN 9781932961645

In 1864 with the Monroe Doctrine in limbo due to the American Civil War, French Emperor Louis Napoleon installs Maximilian von Hapsburg as the emperor of Mexico. However, Maximilian obsesses over having no heir as he and his wife remain childless. He persuades a couple to give him their two years old son Agustin in exchange for money.

When Maximilian decides to adopt Agustin and name him his heir to the Mexican throne, the infant’s American mother Madame Alice de Iturbide objects. Outraged by the affront to his power, he deports Alice back to the States. Her being separated from her son leads to an international squabble especially as the war to the north is ending over the rights of babies and their biological mothers. With his country collapsing and his wife Carlota becoming mentally unhinged, Maximilian has too much on his plate in order to maintain his rule so he lets the child join his mom.

Based on a true story, this is an engaging, though at times verbose with too much detail, historical biographical thriller that brings alive an intriguing point in the country’s history. The key characters come alive with Maximilian as the most fascinating as he struggles with the economy, his wife and his subjects on the brink while also battling to keep his adopted heir. C.M. Mayo provides a well written interesting look at THE LAST PRINCE OF THE MEXICAN EMPIRE.

Harriet Klausner