Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Mental Floss History of the World-Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur

The Mental Floss History of the World
Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur
Harper, Oct 27 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061842672

This is a fun way to look at the history of the world (in 400 pages) as the mental Floss crowd provides their irreverent glimpse back in time and for a few pages the Great Bush Recession. With twelve chapters divided by eras, an appendix on Oh Canada and of course that Great Bush Recession, readers get a taste of chicken beer historical trivia. The reference tome includes chronological and locality asides, but mostly focuses on the who’s who of the past and who they are doing it to; and not just Europe and North America; as Chapter 4 aptly represents the book with its “There’s No Place Like Rome (Except China, Persia India, Mexico and Peru). Amusing and hip even when discussing pestilence, disease and war like how the great plague limited the great Justinian or that six battles on the western front in WW I resulted in at least 250,000 dead or there is a bit of land beyond the Hudson. Whether it is invoking divine approval by Sumerians, Persians, or Americans, this is an engaging look at the world’s historical foibles even during critical pivotal points missed by that much by the Third Estate (some things remain the same whether the coverage is the French Revolution, Imperialism in Africa or The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars). The Mental Floss History of the World provides as Paul Harvey would say “the rest of the story”. Did Abraham really give up that beach front property to his nephew?

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Questionable Life-Luke Lively

A Questionable Life
Luke Lively
Beaufort, Oct 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780825305214

The job comes first to Philadelphia Trust & Guaranty banker Jack Oliver as he climbs the ladder of success. He ignores his wife Tina and two children Joshua and Jessica except when he needs them to promote his career. His friends are only buddies if they matter in his business life as does his colleagues.

When PT&G is purchased by the Merchants bank, Jack, twenty-seven years there and second highest in rank is stunned as he is kicked to the bottom of the food chain and maybe out the door if he is not careful. The stress and disappointment leads him to a hospital stay in which he learns who cares about him: no one as his family and his mistress fail to visit him. A friend John Helms introduces Jack to Benjamin “Benny” Price, the old-fashioned president of the small local Citizens Bank in Roanoke, Virginia, who hires Jack, but also mentors him on what matters in life even when Merchant Bank comes to town with its avaricious bottom line ledger.

This is an enjoyable inspirational drama that is It’s A Wonderful Life meets Scrooge in a modern but somewhat remote setting. The story line opens each chapter with poignant questions and related but somewhat clichéd citations, but the running theme throughout the plot is that it is never too late to change from a life evolved around the seven deadly sins to a caring loving person. Although the tale is obvious where it is going, readers will enjoy the journey.

Harriet Klausner

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books-Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books
Charles Dickens
Everyman’s Library (Knopf), Nov 14 2009, $18.00
ISBN: 97803072721754

This collection consists of the Charles Dickens’ Christmas Books, all written in the 1840s

A Christmas Carol (1843). Everyone knows the story of how Ebenezer Scrooge the miser got the Christams message from his late partner and the three ghosts.

The Chimes (1844). Porter Trotty Veck has no hope for the future on New Year's Eve until he hears the spirits of the chimes.

The Cricket on the Hearth (1845). John is much older than his wife Dot, but their marriage appears to be over when he finds evidence that makes him believe she cuckold him. John talks with the spirit of the Cricket on the Hearth whose chirping Dot says means good luck.

The Battle of Life (1846). Doctor Jeddler is a cynic, but his daughters' sacrifices for loved ones make him reconsider his scorn.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost (1848). Chemistry Professor Redlaw is tormented by his past until a ghostly twin arrives on Christmas Eve to make him forget his past; afterward any one who meets the professor also forgets their distress as he does with the Swidger and Tetterby families until Milly Swidger reverses the spell because of her goodness that comes out of a lost child

The reprint of Charles Dickens early Victorian Christmas stories will prove a delight for fans of the most famous entry, A Christmas Carol. The Cricket on the Hearth and The Haunted Man and the Ghost are somewhat similar in lessons learned to that of A Christmas Carol though with their own inspiring twists while The Chimes uses a spiritual advisor but spins quite differently. However, the most diverse is The Battle of Life, which has a rushed ending and no paranormal guru as it feels more like O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi,. This is a holiday winner as all five tales showcase the works of one of the greats of literature.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan-Ali Eteraz

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan
Ali Eteraz
Harper, Oct 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061567087

Ali Eteraz was born in Pakistan but raised also in the United States where his family moved to when he was ten years old. His father prayed to Allah that if God granted him a male offspring, he pledged that son would be a servant of Islam. As a child he is taken to Mecca where is further pledged to God and attends the Madrassa Islamic school where teachers abuses the children in the name of Allah. Ali rebels as a teen, but also begins to embrace his religion. However, as he grows into adulthood, he begins to understand his religion is also a culture, but struggles with how strict should one adhere to scripture in a shrinking world?

This is a fascinating intelligent memoir that focuses on the author finding his identity in a western culture that thrives of individual freedom that on the surface seems contradictory to the dogma of religion, in Ali Eteraz case Islam, but could have been the other major religions too. Mr. Eteraz feels his niche is to fight from the pulpit the two extremes of Taliban-al Qaeda deadly extremism and the uninspired event worshipper. How he reached his conclusion is a terrific personal journey of the soul that is easy to follow and admire.

Harriet Klausner

The Good Plain Cook-Bethan Roberts

The Good Plain Cook
Bethan Roberts
Serpent Tails, Nov 1 2009, $15.95
ISBN: 9781846686658

In 1936 in rural Sussex affluent American widow Ellen Steinberg advertises for a cook at her new country home. Nineteen year old Kitty Allen, needing to find a place to stay, applies for the position and to her shock though she lacks any experience gets the job because of her résumé filled with lies.

Ellen expects Kitty to make whatever meal she orders for herself, her poet lover George Crane, her eleven year old daughter Geenie and George’s tweener daughter Diana. Her employer also insists on openness from everyone as she knocks down interior walls to affirm her beliefs. Ironically she hides her feelings of guilt re her husband’s death from her daughter. Meanwhile George begins writing bad poetry to Kitty while bewildered Geenie and confused Diana observe his actions with both unhappy about it. Geenie also blames Kitty for her inability to get the attention of her negligent mother. Like everyone else except perhaps Arthur the gardener, Kitty struggles with her place in this dysfunctional household.

Filled with symbolism of breaking down barriers to relationships in order to build stronger affinities, the aptly titled The Good Plain Cook is a terrific character driven historical nove; Kitty and the two children are innocents with the newcomer becoming an object of affection of the poet who sees her as his symbolic muse yet can’t seem to write poetry while his benefactor assumes he is writing an ode to their love; the kids are watchers of the adults using pretense to conceal feelings behind self built defense mechanism, which they emulate in differing manners as Geenie is overtly angry and Diana introvertly fearful. All five players are fully developed in this well written depression Era drama.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Art Student's War-Brad Leithauser

The Art Student's War
Brad Leithauser
Knopf, Nov 3 2009, $28.95
ISBN: 9780307271112

In 1943 Detroit eighteen years old passionate art student Bea Paradisio gets on the street car when a soldier on crutches offers his seat to her. Feeling a patriotic fervor, Bea wonders what she can do for the soldiers who risk their lives to make democracy safe for those back home. She begins to visit hospitals where the wounded heal or die; and starts sketching the patients so the soldiers can regain somewhat what they lost at war.

Bea knows the visits to the soldiers are as much for her mental health as it is for the G.I.s she meets. Her home is a mess of accusations and counterattacks. Her mentally unbalanced mom claims her own sister is trying to steal her husband Vico in spite of Grace being happily married. Her other break from her mom’s insanity is with art student Ronny Olsson, heir to greater Detroit’s largest drugstore chain. However, it is mathematician Henry Vanden Akker, whom she becomes a woman for as she knows he will not return from the war. Soon after learning Henry died in a plane crash, she catches the flu, but recovers to marry and raise a family.

This is an excellent historical tale that looks deep into the life of a woman on the home front during and after the war. Bea’s life during WWII is the more fascinating segue though the late 1940s are well written, but raising a family as important as that is lacks the utmost fascination the audience will have with the artist “returning” the faces to the injured soldiers. The Art Student’s War is a super 1940s drama as Bea shows women came a long way during WWII as an intricate part of “The Greatest Generation”, but afterward returned to more traditional roles

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Solemn Lantern Maker-Merlinda Bobis

The Solemn Lantern Maker
Merlinda Bobis
Delta, Oct 27 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780385341134

In the slums of Manila crippled Nena and her ten years old mute son Noland struggle to survive. She brings in money doing laundry while he and his friend Elvis sell paper lanterns they make from colorful paper.

With less than a week to Christmas a drive by shooting leaves an American dead and his wife badly hurt. Noland and Elvis witnessed the event and guide the woman to the former’s hut. As everyone searches for the missing American, Noland’s outraged mom rants at him proclaiming his good intentions will be the death of both of them.

This is a fascinating thriller that brilliantly looks at life in the Manila slums. The key cast members seem genuine as each reacts differently to Noland’s act of mercy. Thus this is a strong but cherished look at Philippine culture especially the gap between the impoverished and affluent. Merlinda Bobis uses the Manila setting on the international stage to tell a local tale of the indigent dreaming of making it western style while also schizoid loathing the west’s materialistic superiority; flaunted by aid that never reaches those in need yet enables the affluent to feel they are kind philanthropists. With a mystery re mother, son, and friend to enhance the family drama vs. the international situation, THE SOLEMN LANTERN MAKER is a tense winning novella

Harriet Klausner

Spinning Forward-Terri DuLong

Spinning Forward
Terri DuLong
Kensington, Nov 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758232045

Fifty-two year old Sydney Webster has no time to grieve the death of her husband in a car crash. Instead she unceremoniously is tossed out of their house and finds herself overwhelmed by debt caused by her late spouse’s gambling addiction and to top off her woes, she is the recipient of their adult daughter Monica’s anger.

Her friend Alison invites Sydney to live at her bed-and-breakfast on Cedar Key, Florida. Needing to pay her bills, Sydney, using her hobby, opens a knitting shop to the chagrin of brusque Noah Hale, who wanted the property. While living on the island, Sydney who was adopted decides to seek out her biological parents after meeting the town grouch Sybile, who Alison agrees looks so similar to her that they must be related.

Spinning Forward is an intriguing tale of a woman who gave up her independence for comfort choosing to ignore her late husband’s peccadilloes. In some ways though. Sydney is over fifty, this is a coming of age or perhaps better described as a second chance coming of age saga. Although the romance seems more a requirement that feels unnecessary, the cast is super strong even the evanescent Miss Elly, but this is the unsinkable Sydney’s tale from start to finish.

Harriet Klausner

Alfred and Emily-Doris Lessing

Alfred and Emily
Doris Lessing
Harper, Oct 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780060834890

"Alfred and Emily: A Novella”. Alfred Taylor is a farmer who becomes affluent and marries a warm caring local. Ignoring the rage of her father, Emily McVeagh leaves town and goes to London where she becomes a nurse who marries a doctor. World War I never occurs so they never meet as a wounded soldier and a nurse.

"Alfred and Emily; Two Lives. Alfred Taylor was severely injured in combat on the continent. He was medically evacuated back to a London hospital. There he met Nurse Emily McVeigh. As he healed, they fell in love and got married. They move to Rhodesia after the war and have two children Doris and Harry, but their colonial farm fails.

This is a fascinating combo historical biographical fiction and a short biography. The novella is a terrific alternate history of the author’s parents while the biography provides a short guide to compare what if to what happened. Fans of the great author will appreciate this fine book although the fiction overwhelms the nonfiction as the latter is too minute for newbies and too repetitive for fans while the former provides an intriguing look at probably what would not have happened if the liberating of the masses did not happen because the mechanism WWI was never fought.

Harriet Klausner

The Recipe Club-Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

The Recipe Club
Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel
Polhemus Press, Oct 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780982349205

Valerie “Valpal” Rudman and Lilly “Lillypad” Stone are like close sisters who are totally opposites. They became BFFs forever when they formed the Recipe Club when they were ten years old pen pals; as each letter required a recipe be included. Lilly is a classic extrovert hoping to make it as a singer; Valerie is the centerfold of introvert studying diligently to become a doctor. Over the years they remained friends through all types of family crisis until one incident devastated their friendship.

Over a quarter of a century pass with neither communicating with the other until Val’s mom dies from cancer and she sends Dear Lilly an email while Lilly’s mom Katherine the Great ran away. As they near fifty, Valerie and Lilly write to one another like they used to only using email. Both are stunned with what they learn that could split them apart again.

Using email letters to tell the tale of two women and their families, The Recipe Club is a strong character driven drama. The lead duet comes alive through their correspondence and provides enough insight into the support, mostly relatives, to enhance the loving relationship between BFFs. Although gimmicky with the mouth watering aptly titled recipes leading each chapter, fans will enjoy this fine story of friendship.

Harriet Klausner

Life on Top-Clara Darling

Life on Top
Clara Darling
St. Martin’s Griffin, Sep 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780312536947

Sophia Steele has just graduated from Boston College. The mathematics super brain has a master plan drilled down to the minutest level imaginable as she begins her new job in New York. She moves into her sister Bella Marie's Manhattan apartment while constructing a perfect financial portfolio to make her fortune. Things start off wrong when she arrives at Bella’s apartment and her sibling is not home. Sophia lets herself in and begins exploring though she admits to herself that her sister would call it nosy probing. When Sophia finds Bella’s stash of erotica, she is stunned as her sibling humiliates herself with her actions.

Bella enjoys being a Penthouse Pet. She enjoys the photos and especially the fantasies she indulges in. She knows her younger sister will learn the truth about her secret life but Bella is not ashamed as she enjoys her sexual life. Bella looks forward to mentoring the new college grad and the other newbies until she receives a shocker that matches that of her sister.

Based on the TV show, LIFE ON TOP is a fascinating look at two yuppie sisters with different plans as to how to make it in Manhattan. The older sibling uses her model perfect body and sex in the city while the newbie plans on her business degree and brains to achieve her goal. The latter modifies her plan. Readers will enjoy this somewhat over the top slice of making it in New York as a Penthouse Pet.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Badass-Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson
Harper, Oct 27 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9780061749445

The title will kick most people’s butts as BADASS is a not fiction, but a terrific forty entry short biographical accounts of some of the toughest warriors in history. The book is divided into four sections (Antiquities, The Middle Ages, The Age Of Gunpowder, and The Modern Era) with ten entries in each. The Antiquities and The Middle ages are fascinating for those who are lesser known like Julia “the black widow of Rome” Grippina and Indian Warlord Chandraguupta Maurya although the writings on Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, von Richtofen of Snoopy and music renown and Leonids of 300 Men fame are quite good. The other three sections contain some ass whippers from Napoleon to Pattern to Bruce Lee to Testa. All the entries are fun to read as gender and location is not a prerequisite to warriors entering a butt kicking battle in which the leader knows he or she will leave dead and maimed on the battlefield, but as Ben Thompson cites Mike Tyson with “I want your heart. I want to eat your children”. This is what makes a true BADASS and this biography an entertaining read as real persona like Wolf the Quarrelsome barbarian and Bhanbhagta Gurung the fearless Gurkha make this fun for the armchair warrior.
Harriet Klausner

A Blue And Gray Christmas-Joan Medlicott

A Blue And Gray Christmas
Joan Medlicott
Pocket, Nov 10 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9781416597353

At Covington, Max brings in a box containing letters and journals that had been buried until Frank Hays’ backhoe dug it up. He gives the box to the ladies (his wife Hannah Parrish Maxwell, Grace Singleton and Amelia Declose) believing they might enjoy the contents.

The authors were Tom a Confederate soldier and John a Union soldier left to die in a pit in 1864. One from he South and one from Connecticut, but elderly angel Miss Ella Mae nurses both of them and conceals them from bounty hunters seeking deserters. Feeling an affinity, to the past, the three Covington women try to bring together descendents of Tom and John.

Although refreshing and entertaining, the story line is too sugary especially in the present, but even in the last year of the Civil War, the sweetening feels out of place. Still the cast is solid especially the three Covington women and the three heroes of 1864 who come alive through their writings. With a strong refreshing premise, fans of the series will relish A Blue and Grey Christmas; others might find the glucose too high.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Museum of Innocence-Orhan Pamuk

The Museum of Innocence
Orhan Pamuk
Knopf, Oct 20 2009, $28.95
ISBN: 9780307266767

In 1975 in Istanbul, affluent thirty year old Kemal stops at a shop to buy a purse for his fiancée Sibel; also of a wealthy family. He is instantly attracted to the shop girl eighteen year old Fusun, who he knows is forbidden fruits as his family will object to her for being from the poor side of town and besides his match is made; they are also related though quite distantly.

Kemal does not break off his engagement, but maintains everything as memorabilia (in his mind) that involves his non-relationship with Fusun, as he keeps everything and looks at each item as the most precious whether it be earrings, etc in his personal museum. He feels no contentment in spite of his wife’s caring tenderness at a time when discontent rules the country. Only with his “priceless” artifact collection reminding him of what he never had enables him to fantasize about his Fusun does he feel some contentment.

This is a deep look at unrequited love using the backdrop of turmoil late 1970s Turkey to enhance the impact of the intense story line. Profound, Kemal makes the tale as he knows he obsesses over Fusun as depicted by his prizes he maintains in The Museum of Innocence. Sibel and Fusun, though differing personalities, are fully developed people who add to Kemal’s confusion by being themselves. Although the plot feels overwhelming at times with so much going on in Istanbul, readers will appreciate Orhan Pamuk’s powerful tale of a man fixated on a “Goddess” he can never obtain as truly his outside his imagination.

Harriet Klausner

A Quilter’s Holiday-Jennifer Chiaverini

A Quilter’s Holiday
Jennifer Chiaverini
Simon & Schuster, Nov 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9781439139325

Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Elm Street Quilters gather to spend time with friends stitching gifts for loved ones. This year is special as each person creates a quilting block to add to the cornucopia that symbolizes what they are most pleased about. The event is a success but a snowstorm threatens to strand everyone at Em Court Manor.

Diane leaves anyway, but ends up stranded with a chargeless cell phone. Sylvia who once was the sole owner of Elm Creek Manor hopes that Summer, a founder of Elm Creek Quilts, has found through research her blood relatives living in California. Sarah, another founding mother of Elm Creek Quilts, learns her husband will not be there for her pregnancy because his father needs him to run the family business. Anna the manor’s chef tells Jeremy , the boyfriend of another founding mother, that she loves him even as he is driving to the dorm of his girlfriend Summer. Gretchen seeks a cause to serve. Gwen misses her daughter Summer while finishing a quilt to thank the person responsible for giving her mentor a bone marrow transplant. Quilters unable to come are missed but remembered.

More a series of vignettes that update the quilters’ lives especially their personal problems; this novel targets the fans of Elm Creek Quilts. This novel will leave readers laughing, crying and empathizing with the woes of the quilters. Fans will relish this entry but to learn what happens to the Quilters and their staff the audience will need to continue with the next saga. For the Elm Creek Manor horde, Jennifer Chiaverini stitches a fine character driven tale of friendship.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Done Far from Home-Anne DeGrace

Done Far from Home
Anne DeGrace
Avon, Nov 2009, $14.99
ISBN 9780061728808

Teenager Jo travels far from her home in, Canada due to Eamon. He came to stay with her and her parents and took her virginity and her mother. Seeing him with the latter sent her on the road. The teen finds work near Calgary General Hospital at Cass’s Roadside Cafe as a waitress.

Seven months after she decided to hit the road on a particular nasty weather day in 1977, many people stop at the roadside eatery for a break in their arduous travel. Octogenarian Eunice tells her story insisting she has nothing to live for anymore. The businessman says his life is ruined as he runs away with no place to go. Bob the Mountie stops explaining he is in the middle of a crisis. Others like the trucker also tell their tale all linked to Pink the American hitchhiker who didn’t pay his tab or leave a tip.

FAR FROM HOME is an odd but fascinating Canadian tale that reads more like a series of anecdotal entries linked by the diner or Jo’s back story re her family. Thus, a day at the diner or at the lead character’s life at home make for an intriguing but not deep look at a variety of people passing through the life of Jo or Pink. Although there is no dramatic revelation as the lead character simply must decide between staying, heading east back through Calgary or west to Vancouver (south and north are not an option); fans will enjoy this Canadian café cozy as Anne DeGrace provides a warm character study.

Harriet Klausner

Christmas Cake-Lynne Hinton

Christmas Cake
Lynne Hinton
Avon, Nov 3 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061711503

In Hope Springs, North Carolina, Margaret tries to remain upbeat in front of her friends, but the cancer has returned and spread to her organs. Her BFFs would do anything for her so in the hope to cheering her up they get the idea for another cook book which would include best recipe for a contest they would sponser. The idea was Beatrice’s, but she no longer has the enthusiasm for the project; surprising herself, her spouse funeral director Dick and her friends, she quits her leadership role and asks Louise to take over.

Margaret tells her buddies from the Hope Springs Church that she just wants to visit her hometown and see their former Pastor Charlotte, who runs a battered women's shelter, both in Texas. Getting past her depression with a mission, Beatrice steals her husband’s funeral van to drive Margaret, Louise and Jessie to Texas.

The sequel to The Friendship Cake is a wonderful slice of life as the Tar Heel best friends know hope springs eternal even with one of them in Texas, another depressed, another dying and the others overwhelmed with what to do. With recipes leading each chapter, the women run the show as they drive a funeral van from Carolina to Texas to fulfill Margaret’s last wishes. The Christmas Cake is a five tissue box tear jerker as friendship is forever.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bunco Babes Gone Wild-Maria Geraci

Bunco Babes Gone Wild
Maria Geraci
Berkley, Nov 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425229965

A disappointed Georgia Meyer cannot believe her boyfriend Spencer Moody gave her a calculator for their fifth anniversary. Although he is also her boss, she expected an engagement ring but not something for the office.

Needing time to reconsider their going nowhere relationship, Georgia visits her sister Frida in Whispering Bay, Florida. Frida and her buddies the Bunco Babes welcome Georgia to join them on a Bunco night. They plow her with drinks and soon vino veritas takes place as she tells all to them including her attraction to Dave Hernandez, whom she just met. Sober Georgia must recalculate what she wants out of life.

This is a lighthearted romp that fans will enjoy as Georgia invades Florida only to realize she has to make up her mind who she wants. The Bunco Babes are a solid support crew especially with dice and margaritas while Dave is a well drawn protagonist. Still this warm frolic is owned heart and soul by Georgia as she must roll the dice between being a football widow if he ever asks, a love goddess if he ever asks, and if neither asks a Bunco Babe gone wild.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish-Edited by Shana Liebman

Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish
Edited by Shana Liebman
Grand Central, Oct 26 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446504621

This compilation by Heeb magazine combines humor with a profound look at being a Jewish-American assimilated into the country’s culture yet keeping oneself partially immersed in Judaism. The forty-eight essays are divided unequally into six classifications that cleverly reflect like for a Jew in the United States: sex, drugs, work, youth, family, body and soul. Each is well written to bring out an experience using PowerPoint as Caryn Aviv did rather than the Rabbi or “Lesbians at temple” in which Lisa Kron explains the meaning of “Please Rise” during the High Holy days using bowel obstruction for lucid denotation. Whether it is naked at the kibbutz (Rebecca Addelman) or seeing the Hebrew School teacher naked at her home (Eric Weingrad), readers will enjoy this irreverent yet relevant look at being Jewish in America. As my spouse fondly recalls growing up with an Orthodox mom, a pagan dad, and two leaning towards paganism brothers, he remains proud four decades after bringing out into the open over the kitchen table: the point spread during Chanukah with the pot being chocolate money. This collection is a terrific anthology that uses jocularity to tell the story of Jews adapting in America several generations after having our centuries old ancestral names anglicized at Ellis.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me-Lisa Fineberg Cook

Japan Took the J.A.P. Out of Me
Lisa Fineberg Cook
Downtown, Oct 20 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439110034

Jewish American Princess Lisa F. Cook accompanied her husband when he accepted a teaching position in Japan. Used to the pampered life of the wealthy of Beverly Hills, Ms. Cook was in for culture shock following the business flight from California. First instead of a luxurious private residence, they moved into an apartment. Second she suddenly became a domestic engineer struggling with things like laundry and cooking she took for granted that someone else was paid to do back in Southern California. Adjusting proves a nightmare even when she is rewarded with nirvana, a washing machine. Ultimately, Ms. Cook begins teaching English as a second language, which she finds satisfying.

Although much of the memoir reads like an uneven diary with fits of jerky input; when Ms. Cook digs deep beyond the trials and tribulation of a Yank in Japan into how she feels about aspects of the Japanese culture, the book contains profound passages. Overall, readers will mostly enjoy the efforts of the author and her husband finding ways to make both of them contented with life as a self anointed J.A.P. trying to initially survive but ultimately thrive in Japan.

Harriet Klausner

The Girl On Legare Street-Karen White

The Girl On Legare Street
Karen White
NAL, Nov 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451227997

Her opera star mom Ginnette Prioleau Middleton pleads with her Charleston, South Carolina realtor daughter Melanie Middleton to help her buy back the family home on Legare Street that just came on the market. Melanie wants nothing to do with her mom whom she has not seen in decades; although as an expert on historical house restoration, she is the right person for the job.

A psychic like her daughter Ginnette hides from her daughter that she fears for Melanie’s life from paranormal elements. Melanie’s friend Jack Trenholm nudges her to allow her mom back into her life. He even agrees to investigate the supernatural to eliminate the threat from beyond while a reporter pushes to tell the story of the return of the great diva.

The sequel to The House on Tradd Street returns Lowcountry’s top realtor Melanie in an entertaining tale of a mother-daughter dysfunctional relationship amidst ghosts and other spirits. Though intended as humor Jack's seduction efforts detract from the prime plot of Ginnette trying to reconnect with Melanie as she fears for her offspring due to visions that the spirits are coming to haunt her. Still fans will enjoy the return to Charleston.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home
Rhoda Janzen
Holt, Oct 2009, $22.00
ISBN: 9780805089257

This is a fascinating memoir of a woman at forty who was still recovering from a car accident that disabled her from lifting her right arm over her head. However, that proved minor to her husband Nick dumping her after fifteen somewhat volatile years together. He ended their marriage to be with Bob, who he met on the Internet. Realizing with his departure that she was a co-dependent who encouraged his behavior because she could not leave, Rhoda Janzen moved back into the home of her Mennonite parents. There she creates her 12-step program to help her move on even as she looked back to the religion she was raised in but abandoned.

This is a terrific memoir that uses self deprecating humor to both enlighten the reader on helping oneself through tough times and most critically lighten somewhat the emotional strain and stress of difficulty with jocularity. Rhoda Janzen does so by taking the audience back to her Mennonite roots as only a skeptic can appreciate chilled borscht as a gourmet dessert instead of a soup served cold. Although the appendix “A Mennonite History Primer” seems an awkward padded addition that feels out of place, Ms. Janzen proves you can go home when loved ones are there to welcome you with mental and physical hugs as long as you are remember the unwritten unmentionable criticality of what is expected from you: “polish your floor with your ass”.

Harriet Klausner

The Divorce Party-Laura Dave

The Divorce Party
Laura Dave
Penguin, Apr 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780143115601

As Nate Huntington and Maggie Mackenzie become engaged, his parents Gwyn and Thomas Huntington are ending their three and half decade marriage amiably. In fact the couple plans on hosting a divorce party with Thomas trusting his soon to be ex wife Gwyn the professional party planner is doing everything with class, taste and amity.

On the same day his parents are ending their marital relationship in Montauk, Long island, Nate is introducing Maggie fromBrooklyn to them. She is not sure how to behave when she and her Nate are starting together while her future in-laws are ending their marriage; alpha meets omega.

Rotating perspective between the two women, fans receive a strong character study that looks closely at what motivates Gwyn to want a divorce and Maggie to want to get married. Through their respective lens, the reader also sees how each of the two women perceive the two men though Maggie’s notion of her future father in-law is based on first impressions tied to the amiable divorce. Ironically these four people and several support characters search for more meaning in life while wondering what truth is when dealing with a loved one (think of the Memorex commercial – is it real or Memorex). The strong realistic cast brings poignancy to this charming profound relationship tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Gift-Cecelia Ahern

The Gift
Cecelia Ahern
Harper, Nov 3 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9780061706264

In Dublin, business mogul Lou Suffern is a 24/7 workaholic who has no time for his family, who is tired of his failure to be there for them ever. On a brisk wintry morning in front of his office, Lou buys a hot cup of coffee for a homeless person and for no known reason offers Gabe a job in the mail room. Gabe in turn tells Lou his boss is having serendipitously lunch dates with his rival.

Gabe tries to convince Lou how important family is, but the corporate officer is uninterested in his two children who are young and boring and his wife Ruth as he has a mistress. Lou realizes that Gabe can be in two places at one time and begs the man to help him do so. Gabe gives Lou a magical pill to clone himself. One Lou will close the real estate deal; the other goes home to his family as Gabe prays his “client” will learn the importance of loved ones.

This is a fascinating version of A Christmas Carol as Lou thinks he is helping Gabe with an act of kindness, but Gabe is actually trying to help Lou place his priorities in order. The underlying message of this whimsical angelic story line is too simplified as Lou learns what matters between being “Ruthless” and being with Ruth and his other family members. Fans will enjoy that Lou learns what matters in a wonderful life is it is never too late because it’s a wonderful world.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunflowers-Sheramy Bundrick

Sheramy Bundrick
Avon, Oct 13 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061765278

In 1888 in Arles, France, prostitute Rachel Courteau takes a needed time out from her brothel life that she embraced out of necessity when her parents died. She hides in a garden from the nasty cracks of the good citizens, but soon falls asleep. She is awakened by a thirty something red haired male who has secretly sketched her nap.

Rachel assumes her visitor, the crazed artist Vincent Van Gogh is another client. He arranges a tryst but brings with him wildflowers. He begs her to let him paint her instead of sleeping with her as she expected. As their relationship blossoms in spite of his increasing bouts madness, she meets his friend Gauguin while wondering if she can ever be free of being a fille de maison as increasingly she believes it will not be with Van Gogh consumed by his lunacy.

Rachel is the key to this terrific look at the life of Van Gogh as she brings freshness to the artist and the period. As Sheramy Bundrick notes in her afterward, there is little known about the real Rachel so the author took liberties with her, but tried to remain true to what is considered factual about Van Gogh; she succeeds. Fans of historical biographical fiction will want to read SUNFLOWERS, as art professor Sheramy Bundrick captures the essence of Vincent Van Gogh’s Lust for Life (by Irving Stone) through Rachel’s first person perceptions of the artist and his work especially SUNFLOWERS.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Margerita Nights-Phyliss Smallman

Margerita Nights
Phyliss Smallman
MacArthur & Company, 2008
ISBN: 9781552786994

In Jacaronda, Florida Sherri Travis works as a bartender at the Sunset. She has left her husband, Jimmy, the golf pro at the nearby country club as she is tired of his scams. When his ship the Suncoaster explodes, the lead cop Stiles believes Jimmy died on board and Sherri killed him to collect life insurance.

Sherri believes Jimmy is alive pulling another scam. She tries to find their mutual friend bi-polar Andy who may know what is going on especially after someone stole a video Jimmy left her that apparently includes what he was up to. As her arrest seems imminent and her upper crust in-laws hold her culpable, Sherri with the help of friends (especially Marley) investigates her late spouse’s recent dealings, but soon Andy is killed too, but not before he refers to Casablanca.

This terrific cozy serves Long Island tea as Sherri goes from sarcastic doubter to griever (for both Jimmy and Andy) to lover to killer pursuer. She makes the tale fun with her sass, spunk and spitfire sleuthing. The support cast is super also as the island community in the mind of Jimmy’s mom is divided into three groups: the rich, the servant class from the other side of the causeway and the trailer trash. Phyliss Smallman provides an entertaining Florida west coast amateur sleuth with a touch of romance.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The End-Salvatore Scibona

The End
Salvatore Scibona
Riverhead, Oct 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 9781594484056

In 1953 in the Italian neighbored Elephant Park in Ohio, the residents enjoy the annual August Feast of the Assumption. “Unwifed" and “Un-children” baker Rocco cannot accept his family left him; in fact he rejects the military informing him his son died in action in Korea. He expects every one of them to come home shortly.

The workaholic jeweler with nothing else in his life, the bone weary seamstress, the runaway teen, and the acrimonies elderly abortion doctor attend the Feast. They are just as lost as the baker is as they cannot accept desertion although each in some way has been affected by dissimilation. In fact in a macabre way they have each other as they and others unite when a few blacks try to enjoy the festivities but are not just unwelcome but hostilities turn violent with The End justifying the means.

This not a simple linear historical tale that goes from one point to the next until the end is reached; instead the story line is convoluted and difficult to follow, but once the reader adapts, he or she will appreciate a deep look into the window of the souls. A sort of Eleanor Rigby starring in the Outcast of Poker Flats; The End is a profound tale of what makes a community as the coming together is not necessarily positive. Not for everyone, Salvatore Scibona provides to his audience a resonating character study in which each of the key cast members find their respective past converge on a hot humid August 15 1953, a day of infamy for the lost residents of Elephant Park

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Southern Lights-Danielle Steel

Southern Lights
Danielle Steel
Delacorte, Oct 20 2009, $28.00
ISBN: 9780385340281

New York Assistant District Attorney Alexa Hamilton is assigned the lead of prosecuting alleged serial killer Luke Quentin of rape and murder. The case is loaded with forensic evidence that Alexa sifts through diligently until the single mom is distracted when her seventeen year old daughter Savannah begins receiving letters threatening to harm her. Alexa assumes Luke or an ally is behind the nasty threats.

Alexa asks her former spouse Tom Beaumont, who lives in Charleston, to keep their teenage child Savannah with him and presumably safe. His current wife who was also his first spouse objects to the intruder from his in between marriage, but Tom ignores her complaints and that of his upper crust family. As Savannah becomes closer to her dad and step-siblings, Alexa also begins to feel better about her relationships especially after meeting Edward.

Although wrapped inside a serial killer legal thriller, SOUTHERN LIGHTS remains more a typical Danielle Steel affluent family drama as the focus is on how everyone in the extended Beaumont-Hamilton circles interrelate or do not. Entertaining especially for fans of Ms. Steel, the threatening letters subplot takes a back seat to the Alexa personal drama.

Harriet Klausner

Serena-Ron Rash

Ron Rash
Ecco, Oct 2008, $24.95

During the Depression in Appalachia, wealthy lumber baron George Pemberton returns from Boston to Waynesville, North Carolina accompanied by his new wife, the orphan Serena. Waiting for him to disembark from the train is his sycophant partners, pregnant teenage kitchen hand Rachel Harmon and her outraged father. A drunken Harmon demands Pemberton take care of the child he sired. Instead encouraged by Serena, George kills him as he knows he is above the law.

Pemberton destroys the land and its people and his wife Serena is as evil and avaricious as he is. She insures Rachel is scorned by everyone and that the brat once born remains the bastard he or she is. Meanwhile Serena also obtains the undying loyalty of foreman Galloway whose life she saved; he becomes her slave willing to kill anyone if she asks; however George actually likes having a son adoring Jacob and angering his wife.

This is an intriguing look at the Depression from various perspectives. Especially fascinating is the poignant glimpse at horrific working conditions that make a case for a strong OSHA and yet in spite of the danger of death and maim the workers have forged a club like solidarity (mindful of soldiers in war conditions). Although the key cast is stereotyped; the Pembertons especially Serena are evil caricatures of the abuse of wealth while in contrast poor single mom Rachel is kind and noble, fans will appreciate this powerful 1930s drama.
Harriet Klausner