Monday, November 30, 2009

The Queen’s Dollmaker-Christine Trent

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 27, 2009

Snapped-Pamela Klaffke

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hero’s Tribute-Graham Garrison

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flowers for Elvis-Julia Schuster

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Lute Player-Norah Lofts

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 21, 2009

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Monday, November 16, 2009

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Secret Year-Jennifer R. Hubbard

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Rules of Play-Jennie Walker

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Tender Graces-Kathryn Magendie

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remarkable Creatures-Tracy Chevalier

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 7, 2009

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet-Colleen McCullough

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Leiatra's Rhapsody-RYCJ

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 6, 2009

Forever Waiting-DeVa Gantt

Forever Waiting
DeVa Gantt
Avon, Nov 24 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061578267

In 1837 Virginia, Governess Charmaine Ryan fears the Duvoisin family empire will soon collapse. The aging patriarch widower Frederick struggles to keep the plantation and shipping empire afloat, but increasingly believes his efforts are futile as it seems too little too late. His son John left insisting he will never step on the Duvoisin Plantation again. His illegitimate son Paul wants to be the head of the shipping empire, but Frederick has doubts that is enflamed by his second wife Agatha who wants everything with no rivalry from his sons. Meanwhile Paul also insists he loves Charmaine while John comes home reluctantly. Although unsure how she feels about the two offspring, Charmaine will not allow the shrew to destroy her beloved Duvoisin clan as she promised Frederick’s first wife Colette that she will tale care of the men.

The final tale in the Colette's Prayer Duvoisin family saga (see Decision and Destiny: Colette's Legacy and A Silent Ocean Away: Colette's Dominion) is a fine sweeping nineteenth century Americana. The story line focuses deeply on the interrelation extended family dynamics of the Duvoisin brood using flashbacks to inform newcomers how the clan reached that point of implosion. Although the finish is too emoting and melodramatic, fans of the saga will relish the heavyweight championship battle between Charmaine and Agatha with the stakes being the souls of the Duvoisin family.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grace After Midnight-Felicia Pearson and David Ritz

Grace After Midnight
Felicia Pearson and David Ritz
Grand Central, Nov 13 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446195195

In Baltimore, Felicia Pearson was born to a drug addict. Although the infant mortality rate is high for that class of baby, she survived overcoming illness. She was raised by foster parents who cared about her, but she could not accept their loving kindness. Instead she turned to the streets where she worked the crack trade under the tutelage of "Uncle" and "Father". At fifteen she killed a woman in self defense but spent several years behind bars. At the same time Uncle is killed street style and father goes to jail for life. Not wanting to emulate them any longer, upon parole Felicia accepts work on an assembly-line but her criminal past kept her from going straight. The Wire saved her in a Hollywood only happy ending as Felicia Pearson keeps the hope alive fueled by the regrets of the harm she had caused.

This autobiography pulls no punches as Felicia Pearson tells her past with an open eyed honesty; not often seen in memoirs. Using street vernacular, Ms. Pearson leaves nothing to the imagination as she explains her street life childhood in spite of a loving foster mom and Pop. Profound and profane made even deeper by the street vernacular, Ms. Pearson has in deed come a long way from working the corners to Hollywood, but has not lost who she is. Grace After Midnight is inspiring for it’s in your face from the heart honesty.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Everything But A Christmas Eve-Holly Jacobs

Everything But A Christmas Eve
Holly Jacobs
Avalon, Dec 2009, $23.95
ISBN: 9780803499843

In Erie, Pennsylvania Hungarian expatriate Nana Vancy Salo has spent a lifetime fighting the Salo Family Wedding Curse that haunted her descendents whenever one of her blood relatives was about to marry. However, the curse has been broken and all of her grandchildren happily married. Instead of resting and enjoying life, she feels lost with no purpose.

Nana Vancy tells her Silver Bells friends Isabel Henning and Annabelle Connor that she is bored though she is elated the curse has ended as she feared she would never see that day. Annabelle suggests Vancy become a matchmaker as she shown a propensity with her grandchildren (see Everything But a Groom, Everything But a Bride and Everything But a Wedding). Liking the idea, she thought she would try matching up her husband’s office manager Eve Allen and next door neighbor TC Potter with plans of wedding bells for Christmas. After interrogating a bewildered Eve, she invites her to a family holiday dinner in which TC Potter is also invited after the hostess interrogated him re his status and learns of their past connections in kindergarten and high school.

This is a wonderful Christmas surprise (and not just for the confirmed bachelor who finds love with his Christmas Eve) as Holly Jacobs spins beyond the tale of the Salo Curse into a new matchmaking direction for Nana and the Silver Bells. Fans will enjoy this lighthearted frolic as the three BFFs orchestrate the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Harriet Klausner

Love In Translation-Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Love In Translation
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
St. Martin’s Griffin, Nov 24 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780312372668

Thirty three year old Celeste Duncan extrapolates her present into the future and what she sees is ennui. She needs a change with her job and with her sort of boyfriend, but the wannabe singer fears taking the first step professionally or personally.

However, Celeste receives an odd phone call and a box arrives filled with heirlooms; clues to the unknown father she never met. On a whim based on these new items being omens, she flies from San Jose to Japan in a ten hour airborne sardine can flight to meet her father. When she meets her English-speaking homestay “brother” Takuya she wants to kiss him senseless, but holds in check the desire. He helps her follow the clues especially with translating Japanese into English. As they travel across Japan, Celeste finds she is falling in love with her twenty-eight tears old guide, but his mom has his former girlfriend in mind for a daughter-in-law. As the trek increasingly looks futile, a despondent Celeste wonders if it is time to return the land of boredom.

This is a fun yet profound tale due to the lead female who uses self deprecating amusing metaphors to describe her despondency over her life back in the States and her seeming failures in Japan. The story line is character driven as the audience will enjoy Celeste’s fumbling with the culture starting with her practiced words in Japanese that she thought meant thank you for welcoming her, but instead her teacher tricked her and she proposed. Fans will enjoy An American in Japan falling in love with her homestay brother, the culture and the people as she searches for her biological father.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sand Castles-Nancy Gotter Gates

Sand Castles
Nancy Gotter Gates
Five Star, Nov 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9781594148262

In Columbus, Ohio, setting up a surprise retirement party for her sixty-two years old spouse Leland, Virginia “Ginny” McAllister takes a nasty fall. She is taken to the hospital where she undergoes knee surgery. While recovering in the hospital, Ginny and her “gimp twin” roommate Joy Wentowski becomes friends and she tries to help her new buddy through a bad time.

Her efforts lead to a confession from Leland that upsets Ginny. After his wife leaves the hospital, Leland relocates them to a Sarasota, Florida retirement community. However, instead of quality time together, he is off playing golf or fishing all the time while she feels like a widow whose friends and family are all back home. When she meets Nicholas at a poetry group meeting, Ginny considers ending her long marriage to Leland as her new “beau” is there for her while her husband is not. A hurricane that traps her and her sister Melba pushes Ginny to decide.

This is an interesting retirement age tale as two snowbirds move south, but drift apart as neither adjusts to their new situation; in fact each runs from the changes in their relationship. Although lacking any twists as the plot is obvious, fans will enjoy a different type of coming of age as two retirees must decide what each wants out of what is left in their lives and with whom.

Harrier Klausner

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lit: A Memoir-Mary Karr

Lit: A Memoir
Mary Karr
Harper, Nov 3 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780060596989

This is a fascinating memoir as writer Mary Karr obviously has come a long way. In Texas her parents were alcoholics who when sober were psychotic, but when drunk were beyond the fringe. However, much of that period is in her previous autobiographies The Liars’ Club as a preadolescent and Cherry as a teen. Instead Ms. Karr picks up her saga in her late teens and takes it to her current age of fifty years old. She left for college on the west coast, but though bored tried to desperately to prove she belonged at school and with her boyfriend’s affluent parents. Like her parents she turned to alcohol to numb her past so those demons would not harm her present. When she became a devout Catholic Ms. Karr feels that changed her emotionally so that she can feel good about living inside her skin as even Harvard failed to give her the inner confidence of belonging she desperately sought.

Well written with incredible insight and yet filled with self deprecating humor, Mary Karr explains her obsessive human need for self actualization and acceptance. Ms. Karr’s third memoir looks deep at herself seemingly even more so than before; perhaps because this time the adult cannot use the unintended consequences of the shield of a child (The Liars’ Club) or a teen (Cherry ) to garner empathy from her readers. This is a winner of a courageous person overcoming her roots to make it in her mind.

Harriet Klausner

The Interrogative Mood-

The Interrogative Mood
Padgett Powell
Ecco, Oct 2009, $21.99
ISBN: 9780061859410

This is an odd yet fascinating book as there are no declarative sentences. Instead every line is a question that goes deeper and deeper in profundity and acerbity. Starting with a childlike innocence re “Are your emotions pure?” and asking seemingly silly questions like “Would you eat a monkey? and ending with the seemingly finish to a relationship between the interrogator and a silent responder (can that be readers?) whose lack of resonances implies much with “Are you leaving now? Intriguing with a weird psychological spin, recommend those who appreciate a deep internal look at one’s self, answer the questions; just do it over a few weeks or your loved ones will ask are you crazy especially at $21.99? Hopefully yours do not answer that.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rules of the Game-Neil Strauss

Rules of the Game
Neil Strauss
!T Books (HarperCollins), Oct 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9780061911699

Although the book is focused on becoming a successful pick up artist, it actually is a well written relationship primer on interrelation dynamics regardless of gender and scenario. The book is divided into three sections. The first “The Stylelife Challenge” consists of breaking bad habits and replacing them with good routines. This needs to occur over thirty days so as Mr. Strauss points out follow the instructions strictly and read each day the applicable section over the month in order to kick out the bad and bring in the win. The second chapter “The Routines Collection” is perhaps the most applicable to the male PUA as it describes different pick up scenarios. To us targets, this section is amusing as women will recognize some of the trite devil spawned pick up tries and some new at least to this retired target. The third and final chapter “The Style Diaries” once again is useful to kick any bad habit as keeping score is critical regardless whether it is to meet women or diet.

Not for everyone but more than just for those penis envy wanting to play the Game played at the level of a master PUA, Rules of the Game gives easy to read and applicable tips though difficult to achieve dynamics. A successful relationship depends on get ridding of the bad habits by replacing them with good ones. Mark Twain said: "It's easy to stop smoking. I stopped a thousand times."

Harriet Klausner