Sunday, August 30, 2009

On The Bluffs-Steven Schindler

On The Bluffs
Steven Schindler
Elevated Press, Aug 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9780966240818

Middle aged Brian DeLouise knows where he went wrong as his stomach protrudes and his hairline recedes. His only fun is fantasy baseball as he has not had sex with his wife Frances in over two years; and for the most part when they did have sex over their two decades or so marriage it was perfunctory as neither brought any energy to the boudoir. Frances has found pleasure in the arms of other men.

Frances asks for divorce claiming everything as her hers just when Brian prevents a mugger from robbing a couple at a time he also lost his job as Night Hawks producer. Depressed he looks back to the most wonderful summer of his life. The one just before he impregnated and married Frances, who lost the child she was carrying. That summer on Cape Cod, Brian worked summer theater where he met and fell in love with Portia Smart. With nothing to hold him in the DC area, Brian decides to find the love of his life.

This is an entertaining character study of a man who married the wrong woman though he did it for a noble reason. The story line starts a bit slow as the audience ponders why Brian stays married to a man-eater, but picks up considerably when he meets Portia and her daughter. Although Frances is a stereotype who ends up with everything as Brian believes it is worth the cost to get her totally out of his life, fans will enjoy this fine second chance at love if Brian and Portia take that key risk of admitting their feelings especially with her daughter nay-saying him.

Harriet Klausner

After You-Julie Buxbaum

After You
Julie Buxbaum
Dial, Sep 1 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385341240

Since the death of her baby, Bostonian Ellie Lerner has had nothing that turns her on. Neither her marriage to Phillip nor her teaching position matters. Her only tie to the living is Lucy Stafford who moved to England where she married Greg and has a child, Ellie’s goddaughter Sophie.

When Lucy is tragically murdered by a mugger, Ellie’s apparent last tie to life dies with her. However, something whispers to Ellie to cross the Atlantic to be there for Sophie. While Phillip is confused and Greg is hiding his grief with indifference, Ellie comes for the funeral but stays to take care of the hurting now mute eight years old Sophie who witnessed her mom’s death. .

This is a well written contemporary tale starring realistic characters struggling with life after a tragedy. Ellie is terrific as she finds a reason to live in the needs of Sophie whose father has abandoned her as if she mugged and killed his American wife. Her nurturing Sophie through their nightly ritual of reading the Secret garden together brings to her solace that she had not previously found. Whereas the two females forge a deep relationship that helps each move on somewhat beyond their respective trauma by regaining a sense of self, the two males in their live remain bewildered. AFTER YOU is a strong character study that focuses on regaining one’s equilibrium after a tragedy has occurred.

Harriet Klausner

Forgiven-Shelley Shepard Gray

Shelley Shepard Gray
Harper, Aug 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9780061474477

The fire devastated the Lundy barn and injured Winnie Lundy when she tried to rescue trapped animals. Her brother Jonathan (see WANTED for his tale) saves her life. An ambulance takes the severely burned Winnie to the hospital, which is too far from her loved ones to visit her by carriage. Family friend Eli Miller accompanies her to the hospital. The marshal tells them cigarettes caused the inferno.

Eli arranges for his English brother Samuel Miller, who left their Amish community for the university, to visit Winnie at the hospital so she has companionship while healing away from her family. Soon after he began seeing her, Winnie and Samuel fall in love, but though they believe in the Lord, their belief systems are different. While they seek a common faith, Jonathan cannot turn the other cheek like he knows he should forgive the transgressor and his wife Katie encourages him to do so; instead he obsesses over who smoked the cigarettes. Also Anna and Henry pray her mom will come around

The third Sisters of the Heart inspirational Amish romance is a terrific tale with three subplots that tie together around the theme of forgiving the FORGIVEN for their sins. The cast is strong as an obstinate Jonathan cannot move past the fire with his sister so badly hurt; Samuel and Winnie need to forgive one another if they fail to find common ground; and Anna cannot move past her mom’s rejection of her embracing love and faith in Amish country. Shelley Shepard Gray writes a strong inspiring tale as to err may be is human but to gracefully hug the forgiven is truly divine.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sins of the Father-Angela Benson

Sins of the Father
Angela Benson
Avon, Aug 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061468520

Feeling remorse that he never recognized his two children from out of wedlock and encouraged by a letter his late mom left him, Abraham Martin, after informing his beloved wife Saralyn what he did three decades ago just before he married her, admits he sired Michael and Deborah with their mom Leah. His revelation upsets his son, Isaac, who quits abruptly the family business, MEEG. As he tries to develop a relationship with the two adults he abandoned when they were babies and patch up the split with Isaac, Leah demands Abraham take care of his other offspring.

Deborah welcomes his efforts and is elated he has given her a firm to manage while her brother Michael rejects everything offered by Abraham to him. His acrimony impacts his relationships with his mom and wife Josette as he is filled with rage and a thirst of vengeance. Isaac also takes his anger with his dad into his relationship with his spouse Rebecca. Meanwhile the only seemingly contented child of his since his pronouncement Deborah is attracted to Abraham's attorney, Alan Weems, who is the same age as her parents, which has her mom worried that her daughter seeks a father figure.

With a modernizing of the relationships of the biblical Abraham, Angela Benson provides an engaging contemporary drama. The story line feels like a soap opera as one melodramatic event follows another. Still the cast is full dimensional (even Abraham’s late mother) with each reacting differently to the patriarch’s revelations. Fans will appreciate the SINS OF THE FATHER as Abraham’s efforts for redemption seem to have fallen apart as his past transgressions with two women appears to be repeated by his offspring.

Harriet Klausner

Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz-Belinda Acosta

Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz
Belinda Acosta
Grand Central, Aug 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446540513

Ana Ruiz has her hands full as her fourteen year old daughter Carmen blames her for her dad Esteban leaving them although he cheated on her and he left. She wonders if she made a mistake hiding Esteban’s affairs from Carmen and their other older child Diego.

Regardless Ana desperately wants to regain what Esteban destroyed when he walked out: her closeness with Carmen. She decides to throw a quinceanera gala for her daughter, but Carmen seems disinterested; preferring to punch her mom by exclusion and omission, Ana is hurt more by Carmen’s behavior than the womanizing and abandonment by Esteban. Diego plays intermediary between his wary mom and his acrimonious sis while his cousin Bianca takes over the role of quinceanera party planner.

This is a well written family drama that deftly focuses on the extended Ruiz brood. Ironically the “white girl from Kansas” enhances the profound look at a Mexican-American family as she knows more about Mexican music than the Ruiz family. Carmen is angry and but holding her mom culpable while her brother guesses at the truth. Ana is superb as the prime player who feels as if her world has ended yet resolutely hides what Esteban did to her from her daughter. Fans will enjoy this drama that looks into the trials and tribulations of a Mexican-American family.

Harriet Klausner

A Cousin's Prayer-Wanda E. Brunstetter

A Cousin's Prayer
Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour, Sep 2009, $10.97
ISBN: 9781602600614

Katie Miller left her Indiana Amish community to live with her grandparents in Florida after blaming herself for panicking over a bee in their vehicle heading to Hershey Park. They were in an accident as her boyfriend Timothy’s van crashed; he, Paul and Raymond died in the crash while Wayne lost the use of his legs and Jolene her hearing. Grieving her loss, she returns to her Hoosier State roots to attend the wedding of Loraine to Wayne. Afterward, Katie knows she cannot go back to Florida as the sunshine died with her boyfriend.

Still grieving Katie also suffers from anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Freeman Bontrager, who has been half in love with Katie for years, offers her solace. Katie finds him comforting, but he also seems interested in Eunice. When rumors spread about Katie, she feels Freeman betrayed her after she trusted him with her fears and secrets.

The second Indiana Cousins relationship drama (see A COUSIN’S PROMISE) is a terrific character driven tale as Kate and others struggle with survivor guilt that even engulfs loved ones who were not in the accident. For instance Kate’s mom feels remorse for sending her to Florida last year, but was unsure then and remains uncertain as to what to do. Fans will enjoy this deep saga as everyone tries to move pass the tragedy through the help of God and loved ones.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen's Champion

Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen's Champion
Elizabeth Chadwick
Sourcebooks, Sep 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781402225185

In the early thirteenth century, as the younger son of an affluent influential family, William Marshal has limited prospects. However, he proves quite skillful with a sword. When he performs a chivalrous act that saves the life of powerful Queen of Eleanor of Aquitaine, he earns the position of special protector. He becomes tutors to the princes and pledges loyalty to the heir Henry out of his fealty to the lad’s mother. He stays loyal as rebellion pits father against son and when Henry dies, Marshal swears loyalty to Henry's brother Richard. This placed him against his brother who pledged loyalty to Richard’s brother Prince John. While Richard is on Crusade, John makes a bid for the throne; this puts Marshal between a rock and a hard place as he must choose between honoring his pledge or his family. He obviously chose right as he became known as the "greatest knight” by his peers.

This is a terrific biographical fiction that fans of the era will enjoy as William served loyally and bravely to a who’s who of the period. The cast starting with Eleanor and the succession of princes/kings/cardinals and popes enhance a strong look at a fascinating individual.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Piece de Resistance-Sandra Byrd

Piece de Resistance
Sandra Byrd
WaterBrook, Sep 15 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400073290

After completing her pastry classes in Presque le Chateau just outside of Paris, Chef Lexi Stuart returns home to Seattle looking forward to running and baking a bakery. However she knows she has one year to succeed.

At the same time she works hard to make her bakery a success, Lexi deals with her relationship with her French boyfriend Philippe and his daughter, Celine and local lawyer Dan. She wonders if she can have her cake and eat it too, but soon will understand that Lovin’ Spoonful means more than just a recipe entry, as she now knows what Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind truly means.

The third Lexi Stuart tale (see LET THEM EAT CAKE and BON APPETITE) is a fine entry as the lead protagonist has come home but her choices with opening a bakery and her personal life are complex. Lexi makes the story line sweet yet her relationships are complicated and her decisions difficult leaving fans enjoying the aptly titled PIECE DE RESISTANCE as even the cover is mouth watering delightful

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon-Melody Carlson

Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon
Melody Carlson
Summerside, Sep 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9781935416180

Thirty-two years old attorney Hope Bartolli comes home to Sisters, Oregon to attend her beloved Nona’s funeral. Still grieving her loss and filled with guilt for not returning more often to see Nona before she died, Hope is stunned that her grandmother’s will includes a stipulation for her to inherit. She must remain in Sisters for one year.

Hope left Sisters to avoid her ex boyfriend Drew and her baby sister Cherry after they became an entry and married. She does not want to go home because she knows sibling warfare is what awaits her as she still is hurt and angry; as the only gem left for her in Sisters is her eleven year old niece Avery. The oldest sister Faye is also arriving coming from Portland having split from her husband Still for Nona, Hope will try, but her premonition proves correct as the three sisters go to war with one another.

Although there is a romance with Lewis the state executor, the well written story line is more about the relationships between three adult sisters who became enemy combatants that Nona wanted to end and also hoped her Hope would find happiness back in Sisters. The key characters including the late Nona are fully drawn so that the fights and squabbles seem genuine. Fans who appreciate a profound family drama will want to tour Sisters, Oregon guided by Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Harriet Klausner

The Counterfeit Guest-Rose Melikan

The Counterfeit Guest
Rose Melikan
Touchstone, Aug 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416560876

In 1796 England, Mary Finch has become a wealthy heiress as she marvels how far she has come in about a year since she met her estranged uncle and the recent adventures she shared with two mysterious men (see THE BLACKSTONE KEY). In London her best friend Susannah and her new husband Colonel Crosby-Nash throw a ball honoring the once impoverished teacher. During the gala, Mary notices Nash meeting with a stranger, who is obviously in a disguise. She meets the mysterious COUNTERFEIT GUEST Cuthbert Shy.

Undercover espionage agent Cuthbert believes the colonel is committing acts of treason, but lacks solid information to prove his case. He persuades Mary to assist him, which she agrees to do. She accompanies the newlyweds to his estate in Kent. There she meets Captain Robert Holland, whose Woolwich headquarters is a target of the saboteurs. Although attracted to Mary, he fears her new affluence makes him unacceptable as he is only a lowly artillery officer.

This is a fun sequel that follows the further adventures of eccentric Mary Finch with another mysterious male. The story line is filled with action from the moment that Marry and THE COUNTERFEIT GUEST meet and never slows down. Although the use of fortunate luck helps marvelous Mary on her escapades fan will enjoy her early Regency exploits.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Look to the East-Maureen Lang

Look to the East
Maureen Lang
Tyndale, Sep 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414324357

In 1914 as war seems imminent across the continent, in Briecourt in northern France, the hostilities are local as the “Hundred years War” between Toussaints and the de Colvilles remains heated. However, the German Armies march into France and soon occupy the small village. The two families know they must bury their feud in order to protect their kin, other villagers, and any straggler trapped by the German assault. One century of family feud fighting must end over night as a bigger threat looms.

Although not a natural born Toussaint having been adopted, Juliette knows first hand the disdain held by the de Colvilles. She falls in love with wealthy Belgian entrepreneur Charles Lassone, whom she has delivered food to as he has been hidden from the Kaiser’s troops in the cellar of the Briecourt church. If he is found out, he and several villagers will die.

This is an intriguing historical tale with a romantic subplot enhancing the deep look at life during an occupation. Juliette is terrific as the lead protagonist who holds the insightful story line together as her love with Charles is pure and in stark contrast to a village filled with the seven deadly sins. Readers will enjoy this cautionary tale that resonates today at a time when outright lies by leaders are acceptable because the mean no longer matters if the end is achieved.

Harriet Klausner

The Fruit of Her Hands-Michelle Cameron

The Fruit of Her Hands
Michelle Cameron
Pocket, Sep 8 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9781439118221

Her widower father Rabbi Ashkenaz raises her with his Christian housekeeper as if Shira is a boy as he educates her. When her father is arrested as a heretic, she and one of his students Rabbi Meir ben Baruch saves his life. Shira and Meir fall in love and marry. They relocate to Paris where French scholar Nicholas Donin obsesses over the beautiful intelligent Jewess. Ironically as he fixates on Shira, he continues his angry harangue that Jews are Lucifer’s supporters. Meir believes they must counter his anti-Semitic tirade while Shira is more passive about what they should do. However, she understands Donin also threatens her marriage, which she concludes is a microcosm of the Jewish situation in Europe since the assault by Donin began in earnest. So she agrees with her spouse they must take a stand before a continent wide ethnic cleansing purge begins.

This is an intriguing thirteenth century biographical fiction novel starring a somewhat sedate heroine and the two livelier passionate men in her life. The irony of this engaging historical is that the volatile Donin and the courageous Baruch are much more fascinating than the somewhat flaccid lead character whose goal like many Jewish moms is keeping her family together safely. With a deep look at the Jewish lifestyle in peril in medieval France, readers will enjoy the “story of Shira Ashkenaz”, wife of a renowned Jewish thirteenth century scholar.

Harriet Klausner

Just Between You And Me-Jenny B. Jones

Just Between You And Me
Jenny B. Jones
Thomas Nelson, Sep 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781595548511

Maggie does not have the T-shirt, but she survived the death of her mom when she was a child and the martinet demands of her dad. Instead Maggie lives for her work as a globetrotting cinematographer unlike her drug abusing sister Allison.

Her dad begs her to come home to help him with his eight year old troubled granddaughter Riley as Allison dumped her before running away. Reluctantly, Maggie agrees though she knows any family involvement means trouble and heartache. Back home, all that she fled from hammers at Maggie’s soul especially when she looks into the messed up eyes of Riley. On the positive side there is Connor the veterinarian.

The key to this strong look at a family in crisis is each of the four prime players seems real with their dependence on varying defense mechanisms in order to survive relational demands. Maggie puts up a bold front to hide her distrust of relationships as Connor knows first hand; Allison hides behind drug abuse; Riley pretends she does not care; and dad feels overwhelmed so he keeps his emotional distance to hide his fear of failure. Though the ending is too pat and obvious, using pathos, wit, and humor, Jenny B. Jones provides her audience with a profound family character study of a Jack and his three descendent Jills struggling like the Cowardly Lion to find courage and have cake too .

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hour I First Believed-Wally Lamb

The Hour I First Believed
Wally Lamb
Harper, Aug 2009, $15.99
ISBN: 9780060988432

Leaving Three Rivers, New Hampshire, Caelum and Maureen Quirk accept positions in the Denver area. However, Caelum never envisioned teaching creative writing to untalented averse students. He becomes even angrier over what his wife was doing.

Meanwhile Maureen is a nurse at Columbine High in quiet Littleton. As Caelum, who is in New Hampshire caring for a sick aunt, and others are watching the news in horror in April 1999 two students go on a shooting rage. Caelum fears the worse for his wife; as his creative mind ponders in fear if she is still alive and following the massacre how will she cope with survivor guilt.

This is a deep look at the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy as Wally Lamb shows how the survivors of the massacre suffer from a variety of emotional issues including survivor guilt. The story line is character driven as Caelum in New England especially goes through a myriad of emotions while Maureen who cowered in a cabinet wonders what she could have done to stop the carnage. The rumination that every family harbors potential killers like the two teen suicide mass murderers seems unnecessary; the profundity of the tale is with the way people find defense mechanisms to cope with an unforeseen trauma. THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED is a super tale that will leave readers filled with anguish and wondering how to prevent this and Virginia Tech from occurring at a time when people arrive at volatile presidential events wearing provoking dress statements of semi automatics as suspenders.

Harriet Klausner

Angel Time-Anne Rice

Angel Time
Anne Rice
Knopf, Oct 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781400043538

Excellent contract killer Toby “Lucky the Fox” O'Dare works for the Right Man who insists his chosen victims are the bad guys while their side is funded by the good guys. Toby has come a long way from a family tragedy that changed his life; when his mom murdered his siblings and herself, he quit God because he believed God deserted him. He no longer continued his studies for the priesthood, but remorse is setting in.

He has just completed his latest kill when guardian angel Malchiah coming out of the shadows offers Toby a chance for redemption. Toby accepts the deal, but finds himself in the thirteenth century in England; masquerading as a Dominican friar. He is immediately caught up in a vendetta against all Jews; as a couple Meir and Fluria is accused of killing their daughter for her converting to Christianity. His assignment is to prevent a religious massacre.

The first The Songs of the Seraphim saga is an exhilarating redemption thriller starring a fascinating protagonist who goes from one extreme to another. His “past” in “Angel Time” (our recent past and present in “Natural Time”) and that of the Jewish couple and their daughter’s “Natural Time” add depth though it is somewhat disjointed (as time flows differently between NT and AT) to understanding Toby’s life and medieval life for Jews inside a Christian world. Using real persona and events in thirteenth century England, Anne Rice provides a deep save the soul story. Fans will enjoy Toby’s attempts to redeem his soul although he understands he can never make up for violating the Commandment Thou Shall Not Kill, but he has begun his soul survivor salvation mission in the past and hopefully with a call to New Orleans.

Harriet Klausner

The Hour I First Believed-

The Hour I First Believed
Wally Lamb
Harper, Aug 2009, $15.99
ISBN: 9780060988432

Leaving Three Rivers, New Hampshire, Caelum and Maureen Quirk accept positions in the Denver area. However, Caelum never envisioned teaching creative writing to untalented averse students. He becomes even angrier over what his wife was doing.

Meanwhile Maureen is a nurse at Columbine High in quiet Littleton. As Caelum, who is in New Hampshire caring for a sick aunt, and others are watching the news in horror in April 1999 two students go on a shooting rage. Caelum fears the worse for his wife; as his creative mind ponders in fear if she is still alive and following the massacre how will she cope with survivor guilt.

This is a deep look at the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy as Wally Lamb shows how the survivors of the massacre suffer from a variety of emotional issues including survivor guilt. The story line is character driven as Caelum in New England especially goes through a myriad of emotions while Maureen who cowered in a cabinet wonders what she could have done to stop the carnage. The rumination that every family harbors potential killers like the two teen suicide mass murderers seems unnecessary; the profundity of the tale is with the way people find defense mechanisms to cope with an unforeseen trauma. THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED is a super tale that will leave readers filled with anguish and wondering how to prevent this and Virginia Tech from occurring at a time when people arrive at volatile presidential events wearing provoking dress statements of semi automatics as suspenders.

Harriet Klausner

Spirit of the Badge: 60 True Police Stories of Divine Guidance, Miracles & Intuition

Spirit of the Badge: 60 True Police Stories of Divine Guidance, Miracles & Intuition
Ingrid P. Dean
Topaz Heart, Oct 1 2009, $17.95
4836 N. Indian Lake Rd
Traverse City, MI 49686
ISBN: 9780982082409

These sixty short contributions from various types of Michigan law enforcement officials are not just inspirational, which they are. The entries provide a deep look at what goes through the minds of police officers as they risk their lives. The compilation is further divided into a variety of topics to include: angels and apparitions; dreams and intuition; healing with humor, signs, symbols, and synchronicity; lessons of the heart; and unexplainable phenomena. However, that is irrelevant as the audience will appreciate each true life short story as they all are well written and seem to come from the heart and soul of the police officer. This is a strong engaging collection whether it is the sergeant looking back at his late mom’s vision of his uniform, the bird pecking at a McDonald’s bag that has the bomb squad fearing an explosion, the officer finding the teenage suicide victim before the wild animals run off with the corpse and take away parental closure, herding a drunken bear, or the premonition not to peak through the last window. Aptly titled, an appreciative audience will agree that Ingrid P Dean and her contributors figuratively and literally live up to the SPIRIT OF THE BADGE.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots-Carolly Erickson

The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots
Carolly Erickson
St. Martin’s, Sep 8 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312379735

At fifteen years old Mary Stuart writes in her diary about her marriage to the French Dauphin, a boy half her size, but heir to throne. However, though he becomes King, Francis II never was healthy enough to sire a child let alone the next ruler. Thus Mary’s position at court is hazardous as her mother-in-law Catherine de Medici through her seer Notredame rules. After her husband dies, Mary returns to Scotland to rule as the queen with the death of her father. She marries Henry, but he rapes her. With a lover Bothwell Mary plots to kill her spouse, but regardless of what she does her Scottish subjects and even her family loath her as a killing opportunist. This allows her rival English Queen Elizabeth to lock her away for years with few caring; not even her son, about the incarceration and the ultimate execution.

This is an interesting biographical fiction novel that will please fans who cannot get enough of the sixteenth century queen rivalry. Although Elizabeth wins the real war, Mary wins the Erickson character comparison as she seems full dimensional while her adversary appears to have one characteristic that of a psychotic meltdown; obviously this is told from Mary’s viewpoint where she is a towering heroine and others are shrimps. Well written, THE MEMORIES OF MARY QUEEN OF THE SCOTS is an enjoyable historical fiction of an interesting tragic (though she manages to make her trials worse) figure.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Girl Mary-Petru Popescu

Girl Mary
Petru Popescu
Simon & Schuster, Sep 8 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416532637

The Emperor Augustus is concerned with the security of the empire so he orders a Roman soldier Apella to spy on the Jews. Mary, daughter of a rabbi-carpenter, meets Apella and is attractive to the non-Jewish hunk. Apella falls in love too with the seventeen year old who makes him feel guilt and remorse for hiding his true identity of Pontius Pilate from her. However, soon afterward at a fair, she meets Joseph the woodcarver and is attracted to him too.

Confused and bewildered by her being torn between two different men, especially when Joseph has one wife, is engaged to another and offers her the position of third spouse, she takes a pilgrimage up to the top of Mt. Barak to be alone with God. As the Creator tells her to remain patient, this occurs at a time when her clan needs her leadership as King Herod has kicked them out of Nazareth.

This is an intriguing look at the young Mary that cleverly leaves the reader to wonder if the Virgin birth occurred or not, but provides an insightful look at what shaped the attitudes of Jesus’ mother. The period comes alive especially the turbulence and intrigue that seems everywhere in Judea. Although readers will need to adjust to the formal vernacular style of the entertaining plot, fans will enjoy this fine biblical fiction as the no turn the cheek Old Testament God takes care of business in his mysterious way of shaping the playing field for Mary and Joseph.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leaving Carolina-Tamara Leigh

Leaving Carolina
Tamara Leigh
Multnomah, Sep 15 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781601421661

Piper Wick left her hometown of Pickwick, North Carolina taking an embarrassing secret with her that she prayed she would never have to be reveal. She worked hard at public relations and has come a long way from her roots; especially with her engagement to a Congressman.

However, she had not thought deep into the future until she learns her Uncle Obe probably is dying and his will most likely will reveal her humiliating secret. Piper rushes home to persuade her uncle not to do so. Whole back in Pickwick, Piper deals with her estranged relatives and her uncle’s godson, Axel Smith whose religious belief begins to give Piper hope that she might forgive those who hurt her.

This is an engaging tale that makes a strong argument that veracity is the key in developing strong loving relationships; anything less than the truth harms yourself and others. The story line is character driven mostly by Piper trying to conceal her past. Although the action is limited and at times deliberately rambles at a rustic leisurely pace, Fans will enjoy Tamara Leigh's inspirational witty tale that second chance forgiveness and redemption is a natural part of a family when given the chance.

Harriet Klausner

The Dragon House-John Shors

The Dragon House
John Shors
NAL, Sep 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451227850

In Chicago, Iris Rhodes has lived a comfortable life taking no chances until her dad dies. He was a Vietnam veteran who never got over the atrocities he did and witnessed so stayed away for the most part from his family out of fear of his rage. Before he died he was working on his redemption by fostering a center in Ho Chi Minh City for Vietnamese street children.

Iris promised her dad she would finish his dream. She and her friend Iraqi war veteran Noah Woods, who lost a leg in combat, head to Vietnam where his mom hopes her son can finally get past his mental anguish. In country, the visiting Americans are shocked with how many people live on the streets, especially the young. The task seems daunting but when they meet Mai and one armed Minh, who make change selling items to tourists, Iris knows she has found her niche. Neither of them knows what to do about addict Loc, who threatens the kids. Then there is grandma Qui who carries her leukemia ailing granddaughter Tam on her back while selling old books to buy treatment for her beloved. At the center they meet her dad’s assistant, who is getting the place ready.

This is a gripping character driven thriller that hooks the audience from the onset with the profound look at the cost of war even one that ended over three decades ago. The cast is super as Iris and Noah meet the faces of hostilities in Nam like Qui who is desperate sells books so her beloved Tam can get medical treatment only by the time she has the money it is too late. Iris understands though she lives a comfortable middle class existence as her late dad never was the same after his time in Viet Nam while her friend Noah likewise has not been the same after his stint in the desert. This is a great tale that makes a strong argument that the battles continue years after the fighting ended.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 14, 2009

Girl Trouble-Holly Goddard Jones

Girl Trouble
Holly Goddard Jones
Harper, Sep 1 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061776304

This eight story collection “answers” the Beatles question in Eleanor Rigby: “Where do all the lonely people go?”; they go to Roma Kentucky. Each tale focuses on a person(s) who has personal moral issues relating to others that bring their own ethics into question like the father of a son accused of rape (title tale) or married with a newborn basketball coach’s star pregnant with his child (“Life Expectancy”). The entries are quite good, but the locale can feel repetitive as it limits the environment; as such this reviewer suggests reading GIRL TROUBLE over a couple of weeks. The best short stories especially worth reading together are the insightful duality entries of "Parts" and "Proof of God"; the same incident the vicious murder of a young girl is told by her mother and her killer. The townsfolk make Holly Goddard Jones’s compilation worth a visit to Kentucky.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Gate at the Stairs-Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs
Lorrie Moore
Knopf, Sep 2009, $25.00
ISBN 9780375409288

In the Midwest in September 2001, twenty years old Tassie Keltjin, daughter of a gentleman potato farmer, is at college looking forward to the greats of literature. In between her semesters, she takes a position as a nanny to restaurateur Sarah Brink, who has no children yet but is considering adoption.

Sarah begins her search for a suitable pregnant woman who does not want to raise a child or have an abortion. She has a choice between a girl without a brain or a white female whose African-American boyfriend dumped her when she mentioned the “P” word. Meanwhile Tassie receives an education on social class and race relationships while finding a lover Reynaldo, who conceals from her elements of his life.

This is a terrific character study of a a young woman just after 9/11 trying to make sense of a world that seems out of control from her relative understanding. Tassie makes the story line as the center holding it together with her wonderful mix of gentle naivety and Midwestern potato wisdom. Fans will enjoy her escapades with 9/11 in the backdrop as Lorrie Moore explores the issues that split society through her intelligent yet bewildered protagonist coming of age.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Good Mayor-Andrew Nicoll

The Good Mayor
Andrew Nicoll
Bantam, Aug 25 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385343121

For two decades Tibo Krovic has served as THE GOOD MAYOR of Dot on the Baltic Sea. He has been in love with his secretary Agathe Stopak for years, but does his best to hide his feelings from her and everyone. Besides being his employee, she is married to a drunk.

Agathe is sad as her marriage lacks love. She visits the Italian psychic Strega Mamma Cesare and soon afterward takes a closer look at her boss. Tibo knows something has changed in the office, but is not sure what. For the next few weeks, the pair keeps their distance as much as possible until one day he asks her to go to lunch. She accepts and they enjoy their meal together but being ethical he refuses to cross the line so she looks elsewhere.

THE GOOD MAYOR is a super whimsical romance with pathos and humor enhancing a profound look at Tibo and Agathe. Whimsy is the prime element throughout even describing the country at the onset. The fully developed lead couple affirms that love is so capricious and quirky it is the ultimate proof of chaos theory. Fans will relish this wonderful charming love story while wondering whether a happy ever after is in store for protagonists.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Natural History of Unicorns-Chris Lavers

The Natural History of Unicorns
Chris Lavers
Morrow, Aug 11 2009, $26.99
ISBN: 9780060874148

This is an intriguing nonfiction work searching beyond the varied mythical legends to the aptly titled THE NATURAL HISTORY OF UNICORNS. Chris Lavers escorts his audience to a world five hundred years before Jesus in which Greek physician Ctesias living in Persia describes the unicorn that has become the basis of mythos. Lavers follows up on the Ctesias' account with a deep look at similar horned species especially the Tibetan chiru. He takes the legend to Christ as the first Christians connected the “animal’s” purity to Jesus but cites a biblical reference of a Jewish cow becoming a unicorn. .The author goes in great depth into medieval times and their tapestries and the nineteenth century romanticists who relished the purity of the unicorn. Even though the enlightenment scientists claimed there were never such a beast, the unicorn lives today in books and movies as a fantasy creature but Mr. Levers makes a strong case with a few sidebar cul de sac trips that the fabled beast has its roots in real animals. The author’s energy will hook readers from the onset as fans will follow the discourse of Chris Laver’s deep look into THE NATURAL HISTORY OF UNICORNS.

Harriet Klausner

Once on a Moonless Night-Dai Sijie

Once on a Moonless Night
Dai Sijie
Knopf, Aug 11 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307271587

In 1978 the French student attends the University of Peking studying Chinese literature when she is hired as a translator between the Chinese representatives and a western movie crew wanting to make a film on the last Emperor Puyi. At the meeting she learns of the mysterious second century Buddhist sutra written in an unknown language that the emperor inherited. She becomes obsessed with translating this treasure. The student finds out about the sutra’s history in the twelfth century when the Japanese incarcerates Puyi; who apparently ripped it in half and tossed it from a plane.

The student further learns from street stand seller Tumchooq that his father Paul d'Ampere did some work on the half found by her maternal family; her mom is curator at the museum of the Forbidden City. D'Ampere went to prison for twenty five years until he died. The student-narrator aborts the baby she had with Tumchooq and leaves for France after he left the city motivated by to seek the missing half. She tracks him in Burma in 1990, but he is arrested and deported to Laos.

This is a complex well written historical novel that either grips the audience thoroughly with its poetic look back in time or turns off the readers with its flowery description of the past. Case in point is some of the passages go on and on and on with incredible depth like the historian looking at the ancient emperor’s love of the art of calligraphy. Character driven including the prized sutra that seems to have a life of its own, ONCE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT is not for everyone as the action in spite of imprisonment in several eras and locales is limited to musings.

Harriet Klausner

Many and Many a Year Ago-Selcuk Altun

Many and Many a Year Ago
Selcuk Altun
Telegram, Sep 2009, $13.95
ISBN: 1846590671

Within the Turkish Air Force, Kemal Kuray's rapid rise has become legendary as does his even faster fall when a plane engine fails. He knows he is fortunate to be alive, but he has to heal from his injuries, Kemal detests desk duty.

Kemal is assigned to a top secret translation project team where he and technology expert Suat Altan meet and become friends; in spite of ironically Kemal being career military and Suat meeting his military obligation on the assignment. Not long afterward, Kemal learns from Suat's identical twin Fuat that his sibling vanished; but left behind a note for his new friend; provided him an expensive house to live in rent free, and set up a monthly allowance of $5,000 upon his retirement. Kemal struggles with what Suat has done while searching for him around the world and a greater guiding principle in his life.

This an interesting character tale with mystery elements that is more an inner search for being even though the quest takes Kemal into North and South America, Europe and Turkey. With irony, the story line is driven by Kemal’s need to know. Although at times the tale seems too clever losing its innocent whimsical charm though regains it too, MANY AND MANY A YEAR AGO is a fine look at finding one’s self.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 7, 2009

Social Lives-Wendy Walker

Social Lives
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s, Sep 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312378165

In Winchester, Connecticut, the four wives meet to plan and host an event at Winchester Academy. Rosalyn, married to billionaire Barlow, is the social leader who decides who is in and who is not. Newcomer Sara gave up investigative reporting to marry Wall Street guru Nick, but has doubts about a second child while they are over budget in renovating their McMansion. After sneak peeks into her husband’s locked attach case, Jacks fears that David's hedge fund has collapsed even as she worries the Feds are looking into potential illegal deals and loan sharks want instant payment. Eva likes her role as a wife and as a relationship saboteur.

Eva knows Jacks and Barlow are having an affair; instead of ignoring it or outing them, she arranges for Queen Rosalyn to believe Sara is the other woman. Meanwhile Rosalyn worries about her fourteen years old daughter Caitlin going hot and heavy with student hunk Kyle; thus the event in which a sexologist will warn parents that teens prefer Friends with Benefits rather than commitments. Caitlin wants more from Kyle, but knows the student queen of mean Amanda is manipulating both of them while she turns to a friend on the net for advice and solace.

This is an entertaining look at the affluent who asks themselves is that all there is as they are discontented with their lives. Rosalyn, Sara and Jacks are developed enough for their disgruntlement to seem genuine though few readers will feel any empathy towards the golden spoon crowd. The behind the scenes manipulator Eva is underdeveloped especially why she enjoys being Machiavelli in Connecticut. Still fans who like reading about the rich and not famous will want to read the SOCIAL LIVES of FOUR WIVES.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Homeland-Barbara Hambly

Barbara Hambly
Bantam, Aug 25 2009, $26.00
ISBN: 9780553805529

In 1861 Cora Poole just married Tennessean Emory, but while he fights for the Confederacy he leaves his new bride and infant child safe with her relatives in Deer Isle, Maine. Emory’s neighbor in Greene County, Susanna Ashford loves the arts and would like to attend school in Philadelphia, but the Civil War prevents her.

Susanna and Cora become pen pals sharing their dreams and disappointments. Susanna nurses the injured and sick while Cora cares for her baby and demented mother. Each does what they can to support the troops and their family, but have the letters over the next four years to give them solace as lifestyles die on the battlefields.

This is a very creative refreshing look at how the Civil War divided families especially through the letters exchanged between the lead two women. Cora and Susanna drive the epic historical as their correspondence changes over the four years of the war. Fans looking for something refreshing, brisk, and unique will want to read Barbara Hambly’s super insightful Civil War saga.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Breaking the Bank-Yona Zedis McDonough

Breaking the Bank
Yona Zedis McDonough
Downtown, Sep 8 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439102534

Mia Saul lost her job at the same her husband Lloyd kicks her to the curb. Accompanied by her ten year old daughter Eden, she moves into a crummy Brooklyn apartment, where their neighbors include a tough young drug dealer and a widower whose dogs use the hallways as toilets. Mia obtains temporary work while her spouse argues over child support and Eden struggles to adjust to the changes in her life.

Mia goes to an ATM to withdraw money, but the machine hands her thousands which she did not ask for without reducing her account into negative numbers; the machine advises her to use the loot smartly. She leaves with plenty of money and dreams of opportunities. The police wonder if she is doing something illegal and her family friends fear for her sanity so they decide on an intervention while Lloyd demands Eden stay with his parents in North Carolina. When she meets her neighbor Patrick, Mia finds a breath of fresh air in her still troubled existence.

Although the plot is thin and filled with improbability (not counting the ATM machine who is more human than most of the cast), readers will enjoy this allegorical look at modern life in which the manta is to get something for nothing is highly acceptable. The whimsical story line is fast-paced as everyone inside of Mia’s circle wonders if she selling drugs or her body. Fans who enjoy something different but magical will want to read Mia’s BREAKING THE BANK as the “fortune cookie” ATM wisely advises the heroine on spending her unearned loot.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece-Vernon Silver

The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece
Vernon Silver
Morrow, Jun 2009, $26.99
ISBN: 9780061558283

Vernon Silver shines a spotlight over the shockingly cut-throat often illegal (by even renowned museums) competition for priceless ancient art by focusing on a kylix by famous ancient Greek artisan Euphronios. Twenty-four centuries ago the renowned potter created a chalice that vanished into ancient antiquity only to surface in 1971 when tomb robbers digging near Cerveteri, Italy, uncovered the Greppe Sant'Angelo tomb. The tombaroli thieves sold the piece to a dealer, who sold it to an American who sold it to the Metropolitan Museum for $1 million in 1972. It was purchased by a dealer in 1990 only to vanish again until 2008 when it was returned to Italy.

This is a fascinating though convoluted account that will shock and fascinate readers. Mr. Silver provides a deep look at art accountability, theft, and private and public sales as larcenous behavior including private “burials” has been the norm. THE LOST CHALICE is surprisingly exciting, insightful and stunning nonfiction.

Harriet Klausner

Still Life with Elephant-Judy Reene Singer

Still Life with Elephant
Judy Reene Singer
Harper, Jul 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061713750

Horse trainer Cornelia "Neelie" Sterling is stunned to find her spouse Matt, a veterinarian is cheating on her with his practice’s partner. Outraged, she tosses him out of their house, but fails to finalize their separation with a divorce though as a former social worker she knows she should. Neelie cannot make it permanent even when she learns his girlfriend is pregnant.

Neelie turns to donuts for solace, but finds out about strike three and four when she realizes their accounts are empty and their house has a second mortgage. When an opportunity to rescue an elephant in Zimbabwe arises, she jumps at the mission as does Matt. Philanthropist Thomas Princeton Pennington funds the quest, who falls in love with Neelie, but she distrusts men; instead showering her love on Margo the mother elephant and her baby. Meanwhile Tom and Matt compete trying to persuade Neelie to make room in her heart for one of them.

The key to this super character study of a cuckolded woman who distrusts men loves the elephants and their African habitat. Neelie has choices to make between the men who want into her life and what to do with Margo and her calf. Fans of strong character studies with a charming elephantine spin will want to read Judy Reene Singer’s engaging tale of love between a woman and an elephant.

Harriet Klausner

The Corner Booth Chronicles-Mimi Thebo

The Corner Booth Chronicles
Mimi Thebo
Ballantine, Aug 18 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345492203

In Eudora, Kansas local author Margaret Lupin’s newest novel The Vortex is published. The townsfolk are stunned with the storyline as everyone tries to figure out whom Margaret was referring to. As “over the hedge” gossip widens, relationships explode. Engaged couple, Janey Lane and Mark Ramirez, end their engagement due to his apparent romancing. Kylie Requena. The parents of three rambunctious boys, pregnant Pattie and Phil Walker are struggling with their marriage that seems on the brink of imploding. Meanwhile the town as a whole struggles with recently arisen racism thought dead by most residents and the new sexual preference prejudices. Finally, like many small communities Eudora feels the impact of the long running Iraq and Afghanistan Wars with families coping poorly with multiple deployments and deaths. None of that touches on a strange new cash crop growing on one farm.

Mindful of the Georgia cozy Mossy Creek saga and Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove Washington State series, THE CORNER BOOTH CHRONICLES is a fine Jayhawker farming community cozy. Using vignettes, Mimi Thebo introduces readers to the troubled players of Eudora who struggle with everyday living in a world changing all the time that they each fears is leaving them behind.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 3, 2009

Stray Affections-Charlene Ann Baumbich

Stray Affections
Charlene Ann Baumbich
Waterbrook, Sep 15 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780307444714

Cassandra Higgins needs some mental time away from her spouse and their four sons. She looks at a snow globe and muses about her childhood while staring at the three dogs and the little girl inside. Cassandra thinks back to beloved Grandpa Wonky and her dysfunctional relationship with her mother Bad Betty Kamrowski; she also recalls her love of helping injured animals that drove her closer to her Grandpa and away from her mom.

Her husband assumes Cassandra is going through some sort of inexplicable female nonsense while her sons wonder what is going on with their mom; her best friends are worried that she is heading into a deep depression. However, none of those concerned about Cassandra’s mental health understand the magic of this snow globe. Soon she and her loved ones will learn of dreams as they take a “flurrious” journey accompanied by a remarkable snow globe.

This is an intriguing family drama with a strong cast including the snow globe in which the mom seems to be losing it starting with broiling cookies. As she regains her lost dreams and ergo her equilibrium, her husband, kids, and neighbors become concerned with her mental state; that is until the trek. Whimsical in a sort of Brigadoon way, STRAY AFFECTIONS makes a strong case that no matter how old you are follow your dreams instead of discarding them with regret.

Harriet Klausner

The Widow's War-Mary Mackey

The Widow's War
Mary Mackey
Berkley, Sep 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425227916

In 1853 in Rio de Janeiro, Carolyn “Carrie” Vinton knows she cannot grieve the loss of her fiancĂ©, abolitionist Dr. William Saylor, as she carries his child although she is not sure what to do. That is until William's stepbrother, Deacon Presgrove, arrives in Brazil from the United States and proposes marriage; insisting it is a family matter of honor. Feeling she has no choice with her being pregnant, she accepts. They return to Kansas as husband and wife only for her to find out that she has fallen for a ruse; as William is alive and Deacon’s family are slavery sympathizers.

Bleeding Kansas continues unabated and deadly. Carrie disregards her safety to find William. As the battle on the Plains remains heated and deadly, Carrie finds her beloved, but he and their and their child are kidnapped by pro-slavers. Carrie recruits the help of an African-American cavalry unit to free her beloved and their son

This is a great 1850s historical thriller that showcases how in the territory on the Great Plains the prime issue was whether a new state entered on the Free or Slavery Side of the debate. The story line is loaded with action while providing a powerful look through fully developed protagonists of Bleeding Kansas where many believe the Civil War first began rather than at Fort Sumter. Mary Mackey provides a strong Americana saga as the decade leading to the war is bloody.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea- Noah Andre Trudeau

Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea
Noah Andre Trudeau
Harper, Aug 4 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9780060598686

This terrific historical takes a fascinating deep look at Sherman's "march to the sea" in 1864 in which his superior Grant had major doubts about the supply line reaching the troops. Noah Andre Trudeau makes the case that the destruction across Georgia was not as total as some believe due to the assault on key commercial targets and somewhat civilians hit by the elite Northern Army. Instead, the march was less destructive than other Civil War battles and only considered harsh and damaging because for much of the war, Georgia was immune due to its location in the Deep South and away from the Mississippi. The goal of the march was psychological as Sherman and his army brought home to the Confederacy no place is safe. Additionally, Mr. Trudeau reminds readers that key information was provided to the Union army by liberated slaves yet Sherman proved ever the racist when he discarded the freed bondsmen once he used them. This is a super account that will open the eyes of the audience.

Harriet Klausner

The Truth About Love-Josephine Hart

The Truth About Love
Josephine Hart
Knopf, Aug 11 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307272614

In 1962 in Leinster, Ireland, the teenage son of Tom and Sissy O'Hara dies in an accident. Everyone comes to the funeral even newcomer Thomas “The German” Middlehoff who muses about attending his first Irish funeral. The parents of the victim and his siblings Olivia and Daragh know now life is surviving until you die.

Over time however, the desire to just live becomes superseded by other needs except for the family patriarch who believes his mission in life is to keep his family safe and avoid risk. The widower expatriate who ran away from one death that haunts him, Middlehoff initially adopted the O’Hara philosophy, but found it permeated his literary work. Sissy becomes so depressed she is hospitalized. Olivia is angry and resentful as she feels she lives a dead life in homage to her late older brother; she turns to therapy and the the stage to pretend she lives. Finally there is Daragh who is simply an evanescent shadow with no substance.

Rotating perspective the audience receives a powerful look at surviving the death of a loved one. The cast is deep as each represents an outlook on life and death. Although late surprise twists and denouements feels forced and hasty and detract from a profound look at THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE even in death, fans of strong family drama will want to read Josephine Hart’s fine tale of what happens to those who live after a loved one dies with no warning.

Harriet Klausner

The White Queen-Philippa Gregory

The White Queen
Philippa Gregory
Touchstone, Aug 18 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9781416563686

Everyone is shocked when twenty-seven years old widow Elizabeth Woodville Grey marries the newly crowned King Edward IV; five years younger than her. He is the House of York while she is the House of Lancaster. With a twist, her family becomes his greatest loyalist backers while his brother George and his advisor Warwick unite in duplicity to steal the throne. A third family of cousins the Tudors wait in the wings while encouraging both sides in the dispute. The War of the Roses begins with the ascension of THE WHITE ROSE as queen.

The key to this super historical fiction is not the often told tale of changing loyalties or heated trysts (a Philippa Gregory norm), but the speculation into Edward and Elizabeth’s two sons, the lost princes placed in the Tower by their Uncle Richard. Clearly researched in great depth, Ms Gregory makes her case plausible based on accepted facts. Fans will enjoy the epic WHITE QUEEN as history comes alive, but it is the speculative history that makes this a triumph worth reading amidst a sea of novels as cousins go to war with ironically the long term victor being the third family Tudor.

Harriet Klausner