Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Scent of Sake-Joyce Lebra

The Scent of Sake
Joyce Lebra
Avon, Feb 17 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061662379

In Kobe when her two year old brother Toichi died because she failed to watch him closely, Rie is filled with guilt. A few weeks later, her father Kinzaemon IX informs the grieving Rie that she is the “future of the Omura House”. Her interpretation of his simple statement defies societal beliefs. Instead of marrying the next sake brew master, as a woman entering a brewery sours the products, she decides she must save the House of Ohura. She detests her mother’s adage that a female must always live for the male by “killing the self”.

Her parents arrange her marriage to Johei in order for them to produce the next heir. However, she realizes her husband is an incompetent womanizer who will destroy the House of Ohura if left in charge. Rie vows their product White Tiger will be number one sake in Japan, which means defying the demands of her womanizing spouse to raise his children (with a geisha) and by tradition he take charge of the House of Ohura. Over the years she proves a superior business person and her diverse ideas make the House of Ohura strong; her father gives the official brewery seal to her not Johei.

This late nineteenth century Japanese tale focuses on the venerable sake brewing industry through four generations of a family. Rie is the link between her parents, her children and grandchildren as she holds the interesting story line together. What is fascinatingly is how she changes from warm and caring to cold and dominating towards family members. Only the sake eventually receives her warmth. Genre fans will appreciate this deep historical tale that provides insight into late nineteenth century Japanese culture and tradition through the eyes of someone who defies the norm.

Harriet Klausner

The King’s Grace-Anne Easter Smith

The King’s Grace
Anne Easter Smith
Touchstone, Mar 10 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9781416550457

In 1485, Richard III, having incarcerated his two nephews Edward and Richard in the London Tower a few years earlier, dies in battle. Everyone including their illegitimate half-sister and frequent visitor Grace Plantagenet assumes the young York Princes who vanished were killed by him. Thus Henry of the House of Tudor claims the crown and ends the War of the Roses.

A few years later Perkin Warbeck arrives in London insisting he is the Duke of York, the younger Prince Richard and the rightful King of England, since he also claims his older sibling was killed by their uncle. Though her half-sister is the queen of King Henry VII and she herself is on the outer fringe of the court’s retinue, Grace needs to know the truth whether Perkin is Richard or a ruse set in motion most likely by a bitter desperate Duchess Margaret to put the House of York back on the throne.

Using an ultra minor real person with links to all the major players in the late fifteenth century as an amateur sleuth, Anne Easter Smith provides the audience with a deep look at the fates of the two princes. The story line is driven by the heroine who wants to be truly accepted by her family as she figuratively swims the polluted Thames trying to determine if the claim is genuine. Fans will enjoy her efforts as Ms. Smith brings to life a court loaded down with Machiavellian-like politics and backstabbing while the major players on the English stage are given the minor treatment as support cast.

Harriet Klausner

An Accidental Light-Elizabeth Diamond

An Accidental Light
Elizabeth Diamond
Other Press,
ISBN: 9781590513019
2 Park Ave, 24th Floor, NY, NY 10016

As it was starting to get dark police officer Jack Philips is driving home when thirteen years old Laura Jenkins runs out of the blue into the road from behind a bus. He has no time to break and kills her. Although the inquest exonerates Jack, he cannot forgive himself as he goes over each second of the tragedy wondering what he could have done different; perhaps turning on his headlights. He remains traumatized as he sees Laura everywhere. He fears for his two daughters and thinks of his mom’s suicide when he was a teen. Unable to work Jack goes on medical leave and unable to talk to his wife Samantha his marriage crumbles.

Laura’s mother Lisa is as depressed as Jack is and ties her daughter’s accidental death to the heart attack that killed her father when she was about Laura’s age. Like Jack she sees Laura everywhere. She turns to psychics as she feels her daughter’s ghost is trying to reach her. Her spouse Derek ignores his wife’s pain. Instead he stalks his daughter’s killer. Jack wonders if the unhinged man is considering an eye for an eye while also pondering whether the teen’s ghost is real and trying to tell him something.

The key to the psychological ghost story is the aftermath on two families sharing an accidental tragedy. Both families deteriorate following the death of Laura although Sam and Derek are never developed beyond the roles of spouse and parent; on the other hand Jack and Lisa are full blooded grieving parents with similar past histories. Fans will wonder if Laura is actually there and if yes, why as Elizabeth Diamond provides a deep family drama that mixes the paranormal with the psychological.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 30, 2009

Life Sentences-Laura Lippman

Life Sentences
Laura Lippman
Morrow, Mar 10 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061128899

Author Cassandra Fallows’ nonfiction work received critical acclaim and was best-sellers. Her venture into novels did okay, but not near the level of her memoirs of growing up in Baltimore in the turbulent 1960s or her revelations into her relationships; two failed marriages and a zillion affairs.

She considers writing a biography of her elementary school colleague notorious African-American Calliope Jenkins who two decades ago was accused of murdering her infant son. Jenkins has not answered one question on the infanticide charge. A Caucasian Cassandra looks up three African-American former classmates of both her and Jenkins in order to obtain their memories of her subject’s childhood. However, she is taken aback as their recollections are Grand Canyonesque apart from hers.

Allowing Tess Monoghan to take a well deserved breather but remaining in Baltimore, Laura Lippman provides a deep character study that focuses on the tricks of memories. The gap between what Fallows recalls from their school days vs. the three interviewees is oceanic in size as relativity of perspective surface. Readers will enjoy this strong psychological tale that spotlights the tricks the mind employs to conceal the negative memories; especially those in which the person is more a passive observer rather than directly actively involved.

Harriet Klausner

The Laws of Harmony-Judith Ryan Hendricks

The Laws of Harmony
Judith Ryan Hendricks
Harper, Feb 10 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061687365

Sunny Cooper grew up in a New Mexico commune. However, when she was eighteen, an accident killed her younger sister freaking out Sunny. Unable to remain at the commune, she fled in self-exile barely able to communicate with her mom Gwen.

Fourteen years later, Sunny lives in Albuquerque, but still has not moved past her grief and thus remains somewhat estranged from her mom; both somewhat impact her relationship with her boyfriend Michael as she hides part of her self from him. When Michael dies in a questionable accident, the cops interrogate her like she is a killer and like a zillion cockroaches creditors surface demanding payments of Michael’s enormous debt that she was ignorant existed. She flees to the commune, but mom remains the same out of touch happy hippie homemaker. Still needing escape, Sunny flees to Harmony on San Miguel Island off Washington State. However, her past follows her to the barrier island.

Sunny is the key to this intriguing character study of a person hammered by two tragedies in which she has obtained closure in neither. Whereas her mom wrote off her daughter’s death as the laws of nature have taken back her younger child, Sunny internalized it. As to Michael, no one will let her move on. Although the story line has too many sidebars that subtract from the focus of THE LAWS OF HARMONY, a deep psychological drama of a person struggling to cope with traumas in a world that will not allow her to do so.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iodine-Haven Kimell

Haven Kimell
Free Press, Aug 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 1416572848

In Indiana, college senior Trace Pennington earns a “living” working at a farmhouse while attending school under the name of Ianthe Covington. .She excels at school, but is a life drop out. She may have run away from home but the abuse of her home and her mom’s church never left her in spite of an exorcism. Her only contact at home is Candy who insists both of them have had encounters of the first kind with aliens.

When Trace meets older sophisticated Dr. Jacob Matthias, she begins to have dark sexual dreams about having sex with him as a father substitute for her broken angelic dad. Trace intellectually knows this would be a mistake, but her increasing madness drives her to be what her dream lover wants her to be until she marries her professor who shapes her into his second faculty wife. As the insanity supersedes the increasingly rare intelligent clear moments, Trace whenever she lucidly remembers who she is also wonders what to do when he ever rejects her like he must have with his vanished first spouse.

This is not an easy book to read as Haven Kimell gets deep inside the head of a very disturbed female who opens the novel with a stunning “confession” and continues to dig deeper into the battered darkened psyche of the probably insane lead protagonist. Although this disturbing well written character study can turn overly melodramatic, readers who appreciate something radically different will want to read IODINE, the psychological story of an abused child who has become a mentally ill adult.

Harriet Klausner

Believe Me-Nina Killham

Believe Me
Nina Killham
Plume, Jan 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452289765

While her husband the professor lives and works in Williamsburg as he has for the last two years, University of Maryland astrophysicist Lucy Delano raises their thirteen year old son Nicolaus Copernicus “Nic” Delano though dad sees him frequently. Lucy the atheist encourages Nic to ask questions on any topic as she insists none are stupid. However she has reconsidered her curiosity concept as lately Nic’s interests veer towards two taboo topics: girls and religion; not that he asks mom much on either.

Nic finds suburban Christianity comforting when he ponders the free will of selecting a brand of crunchy peanut butter from eight choices while at the same time a kid his age in Pakistan has his house fall on his head. The Christians may not be able to answer his five whys except in some mystical mumbo jumbo (which is not that different than mom's naturist big bang theory), but Mrs. Porter bakes good cookies that provide comfort while mom buys cookies. Lucy is concerned about Nic not so much that he admires the long legs of his babysitter, but because his teen rebellion is heretical as he studies God forbid the bible. Mom knows she cannot excommunicate her son, but the bible in her mind was written by the first fantasists. However both reconsider their beliefs when illness strikes.

The key to this debate over whether there is a god is the low-keyed family approach to the question rather than the extremes pounding theories as scientific proof or gospel. Nic makes the tale from the onset starting with his simple peanut butter question and his continual search for the truth. Although the support cast is to religiously “correct”, readers will appreciate Nic’s quest especially why would God turn his back on an ailing child of his as his mom and dad would never do that to him.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dream House-Valerie Laken

Dream House
Valerie Laken
Harper, Feb 3 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780060840921

Married couple Kate and Stuart Kinzler have enjoyed hanging on to their college lifestyle though they graduated seven years ago. However, as she closes in on thirty, Kate wants more than a rundown Ann Arbor apartment and all night parties. Reluctantly Stuart agrees it is time to commit to their relationship, but loathes such a permanent fixture like a house. With the help of her parents, they buy a fixer-upper; but are ignorant that almost two decades earlier in the summer of 1987 a murder occurred in their new abode.

As Kate dives into the renovation project, Stuart walks out of the home and her. Despondent over the apparent end of her marriage Kate keeps working on the house. She soon meets African-American Walker Price who grew up in her new home before going to jail as a teen for the homicide almost twenty years ago, and her friend Jay comes by realizing upon arrival he cleaned the house after the police finished their murder investigation.

This is a timely look at the American strategic vision of individual ownership as the house serves as the connection between four thirtyish adults. The link between the Kinzlers and Walker is obvious; however the tie to Jay is a major stretch that is asking a lot of the reader to accept. Still this is a deep character driven tale as Valerie Laken goes inside the underpinnings of owning one’s DREAM HOUSE with a strong look into the bonds that make effective nurturing relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 26, 2009

Of Words and Music-Lynda Fitzgerald

Of Words and Music
Lynda Fitzgerald
Five Star, Mar 2009, $$25.95
ISBN: 9781594147760

Wealthy widow, sexagenarian Lilah Kimball has never recovered from when her late martinet spouse told their daughter Elizabeth to never come back if she marries beneath her. So when social worker Felicity Greenlea informs her that Elizabeth is dead three months ago from a car accident, she hides her grief; as she always prayed for a reconciliation. She also learns she has a twelve year old granddaughter Bethany Freemont whose father died two years ago after suffering with leukemia. Although she prefers to say no, encouraged by her best friend (and housekeeper) Marabet, Lilah agrees to temporary house the child until a paternal relative is located.

Lilah hides from Bethany who hates her grandmother for not being there for her mother. Marabet sees a chance for Lilah to regain her life lost fourteen years ago. However, her forty year old son Charles, a chip off the dictatorial block of his late dad, wants the brat gone. As Lilah and Bethany begin to bond playing the piano together, secrets from Athens and Atlanta haunt everyone.

This is an engaging redemption family drama as Lilah has a chance to indirectly fix the mistake of her life if she can take a chance on loving someone again. The cast is strong . Marabet is a terrific BFF who is there for her buddy, but refuses to pull punches. Bethany is a delightful charmer who goes from loathing to loving her grandma. Charles’ wife Lese goes from mouse to frightened lioness while Charles shows few if any redeeming qualities and fans will hiss him with what he did years ago to his mom and late sister. Although overwrought at times especially a late unnecessary runaway scene, fans will enjoy this fine character driven drama with a fabulous final twist that defines what a family truly is.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Passion of Mary-Margaret-Lisa Samson

The Passion of Mary-Margaret
Lisa Samson
Thomas Nelson, Mar 10 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781595542113

As explained by Aunt Elfi and grandma, the second Mary-Margaret was born in Baltimore when an evil entered a seminarian student who entered the first Mary Margaret not long after the crash on Wall St. As an aside the first was a by-product of the second’s grandmother and a tourist from Belgium. When the first died giving her soul to the second, grandma raised the child until she died when the second was eight years old. Aunt Elfi left for Tibet while the second attends St. Mary’s Convent School for Girls where she is on the fast track to becoming a religious sister of Christ.

However, Mary Margaret II meets the Locust Island Chesapeake Bay Lightkeeper’s carefree son Jude Keller; to her inner shame she is attracted to him and him to her; both hide their feelings although they become friends as she must fill grandma’s redemption destiny for her. Mary-Margaret completes her last assignment, a medical missionary task in Swaziland before taking her vows. Jude comes home too, bitter and troubled from his time on the mainland. Mary-Margaret finds she remains attracted to Jude and prays for guidance from the Holy Spirit of Jesus, who provides her with surprising pragmatic and worldly advice.

This is an excellent tale of redemption starring a quirky religious student, an acrimonious disturbed young man, and a terrific mystical modern rendition of Jesus providing help to Mary-Margaret. The story line is fast-paced though initially confusing between past and present partially because of the common first and Second names. Fans will enjoy this deep inspirational story as whimsical eccentricity turns redemption into a moving entertaining read.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Rose Variations-Marisha Chamberlain

The Rose Variations
Marisha Chamberlain
Soho, Feb 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9781569475386

In 1975, following her graduation at a Philadelphia school in which she was the only female in her class, twenty-five-year-old Rose MacGregor accept a temporary position as the token “Girl Composer at a St. Paul, Minnesota college. She arrives with almost nothing beyond a few T-shirts and her cello. Her only feminist ally in the music department is the secretary Frances Dupree.

She dreams of becoming a famous composer and finding true love; having spent her pre-graduate days growing up in New Hampshire and taking care of her younger sister Natalie. Rose blossoms in St. Paul as she falls in love although the romance ends sadly. She joins cellist Lila Goldensohn’s all-female musical group and enjoys her time on her mentor’s farm composing. That ends abruptly when a despondent pregnant Natalie arrives. After doing what comes naturally which is taking care of Natalie, Rose’s music thrives while she continues her quest for love.

This is an enjoyable historical character study that takes the audience back to the early days of the feminist movement; affirming we have come a long way baby; if you have doubts look at sports with women dunking. The story line is owned by the appealing Rose who seeks musical accomplishments in her professional life and an interesting combination of self sufficiency with a love of a lifetime. Her eccentricity that flourishes with growing confidence due to her musical achievements make for an engaging tale in which the late 1970s have become historical.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 23, 2009

The King's Daughter-Barbara Kyle

The King's Daughter
Barbara Kyle
Kensington, Mar 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758225450

After being in exile due to her religious beliefs, Queen Mary sits on the English throne. Her strategic objective is cleanse England of her late father’s heresy; returning the country back to true Christianity and away from the abomination of Protestantism. Thus her first major act as queen is to marry Catholic true believer Prince Philip of Spain to forge a real Christian alliance.

As Mary leads a religious cleansing leading to her reputation as Bloody Mary, others plan her overthrow. For instance rebel Isabel Thornleigh wants to save the life of her father merchant Thomas rotting in a prison for allegedly being a Protestant. To do so she ignores her father’s plea for her and her mom to travel to Antwerp for religious freedom, ends her betrothal, and begins seeking a means of removing Mary from the throne before she marries Philip; and replace her with her half sister protestant Princess Elizabeth. She quickly realizes she is a dreamer with no hope of success until she meets Spanish mercenary Carlos Valverde. Their efforts and others lead to the failed 1554 Wyatt rebellion.

The follow up to THE QUEEN'S LADY is a terrific mid sixteenth century historical that brings to life the religious cleansing under the reign of Bloody Mary as well as the counter insurgency. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action using real events to focus the plot on; while also containing a strong lead female character caught up in the power struggle of the post King Henry era. The romance between Carlos and Isabel rightfully takes a back seat to the tumultuous times that sweep up seemingly everyone culminating in the failed Wyatt revolt.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Luke’s Story-Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Luke’s Story
Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
Putnam, Feb 9 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780399155239

In Syrian Antioch in 20 AD, Loukon (later called Luke) was owned by stoic Theophilus, who sees intelligence in his teen slave that he feels if fostered, could lead to the lad rising above his station. Theophilus’ belief is affirmed when Loukon saves a man’s life using knowledge he learned form a physician. Deciding to help his slave, Theophilus pays his tuition to attend the University of Tarsus while the other slaves angrily resent his special treatment. At the school, Loukon meets opinionated Saul who thought the gentile Greek slave was beneath him. Loukon studied hard and graduated; afterward he returned to his master’s’s estate to practice medicine encouraged by his owner-mentor.

Loukon soon provides medical care to the poor and at sea. He hears fables about a carpenter in Judea who preached a philosophy that was heretical to the Jewish powerbrokers. After this man’s murder, His Word spreads. Saul was rooting out these heretics until on the road to Damocles he witnessed a miracle. He buries Saul the killer of the faithful and becomes Paul the believer. He continues his travels, but now as a teacher of the Christ. When he and Loukon meet again, he converts him. Now calling himself Luke, he studies diligently Christ’s teachings starting with a series of dialogues with Paul and later with Mary. Although he never met the carpenter, he feels he knows Him and writes his story of Jesus even as the Romans persecute the followers of the Christ.

As they did with the insightful MARK'S STORY: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PETER the Left Behind team provides a deep biographical fiction of one of the Gospel authors. The newest Jesus Chronicle focuses on Loukon the stoic becoming Luke the believer; perhaps the first major figure who never met Jesus except in his heart. The ancient Mediterranean world comes alive as Luke and Paul travel spreading the word in spite of the danger. Although nothing new surfaces, the faithful will rejoice with this profound look at the only Gospel writer who never met the Christ in person.

Harriet Klausner

Little Giant of Aberdeen County-Tiffany Baker

Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Tiffany Baker
Grand Central, Jan 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446194204

The wagering was enormous as almost every townsfolk of Aberdeen bet on the size of the boy Lily Plaice was carrying because of how much the child stretched her stomach; this kid was going to be huge. Everyone feels remorse when Lily dies giving birth to a giantess, but more are upset because no one won the pool as the newborn outweighed the highest estimate. Her widower father blames Truly for killing his wife; to some degree her older sister pixyish Serena Jane does too. Finally their father dies as he lost the will to live. Truly and Serena Jane go their separate ways with the latter becoming a popular affluent beauty while the former a dirt poor ostracized farmer.

Bob Bob Morgan decides Serena Jane will be his wife and achieves his goal as expected of the latest runt of Dr. Robert Morgan’s. Truly loathes her brother-in-law who has always been one of her harshest abusers. However, after years of marriage Serena Jane decides enough with a loveless relationship; she flees town leaving behind Bob-Bob and their eight years old son Bobby. Bob-Bob blames Truly for driving away his wife. However, when she discovers she has healing talent after finding some herbal cures written by a nineteenth century witch-wife of the first Dr. Robert inside a Morgan quit, Truly begins to assert herself.

This is a unique superbly written character study of a truly scrumptious giantess and how those in a 360 circle around her treat her with scorn with two exceptions, outcasts like her. The story line is driven by Truly who takes her size as a matter of fact on the surface but inside the ridicule hurts her. Readers will appreciate this fine saga of a woman who is physically different.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Almost Single-Advaita Kala

Almost Single
Advaita Kala
Bantam, Feb 24 2009, $13.00
ISBN: 9780553386103

In NewDelhi, twenty-nine year old Aisha Bhatia works as guest relations manager at the five-star Grand Orchid Hotel. She is good at her job, but the single woman knows the pay stinks especially for the long hours she works.

Her mom and other relatives especially the females constantly remind Aisha she should be married by now. She agrees secretly but hides her loneliness with champagne and spending time with her two best friends Misha and Anushka, whose divorce was just finalized. Her search for love has run the gamut of internet dating to fasting on a Hindu holiday. So far she has had no luck until New York banker Karan Verma comes to New Delhi; for the first time she reconsider what she wants in life.

More a contemporary Indian chick lit than a romance, ALMOST SINGLE is a superb glimpse at how India’s modern day society treats single females as they close in on thirty. Aisha feels the pressure of getting married, but though she wants too she refuses to settle; instead she prefers the fun with her two pals until she meets Karan. Fully developed Misha and Anushka augment this profound look at single women in modern times especially with the latter getting divorced. Using plenty of wit and jocularity, Advaita Kala lifts her novel above a Bollywood version of chick lit romance with an entertaining tale starring an almost thirty- year old single.

Harriet Klausner

Sacred Well-Antoinette May

Sacred Well
Antoinette May
Harper, Mar 24 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061695551

Fortyish travel writer Sage Sanborn is in Mexico’s Yucatan on a writing assignment to describe romantic spots in the Peninsula. During a storm, she rushes inside a tavern in Merida. There she meets David Winslow who asks her to join him for a drink. They listen to a local band play a haunting love song that David insists was written by a former states governor.

In 1923 Yucatan Governor Felipe Carillo Puerto and American female journalist Alma Reed met and fell in love. She reported the plundering of Mayan artifacts, which angers some locals. Soon afterward Felipe is assassinated; Alma blames herself for the murder of her beloved as her article led to his death.

Sage returns to San Francisco where her boyfriend Mark lives to write the heartbreaking story of Felipe and Alma. However, she also misses David and considers returning to him and the Yucatan.

SACRED WELL is an intriguing premise of an American female reporter investigating the true life story of Alma Reed. The two subplots eight plus decades apart are fascinating to follow especially the historical based on the tragic love between Alma and Felipe. Although the contemporary lacks the excitement of the 1920s, fans will enjoy this fine tale of a modern American journalist searching for what her counterpart found in 1923 in the Yucatan.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Writing on My Forehead-Nafisa Haj

The Writing on My Forehead
Nafisa Haj
Morrow, Mar 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061493850

In California, teenager Saira Qader is a second generation Muslim-American whose views on life radically differs from her immigrant parents from India and Pakistan respectively. She even senses the gap between her and her older sister Ameena who married the choice of their parents. Saira wants to attend college like most of her school friends plan to do, but knows her overprotective old country (that is before the 1947 partition) parents want her settled in marriage to someone they choose.

In 1983 at a family wedding in Karachi, fourteen years old Saira attends by herself as her mom and sis refuse. She is stunned to learn her mother lied about her maternal grandfather; instead of being dead, he lives in London far from his days as a Gandhi freedom fighter; he is patriarch to another family with his British soulmate and three offspring. That revelation leads to her going to college where she experiments with drugs and sex; once she graduates she becomes an international war correspondent which leads to an estrangement with her family. A few years later, she comes home as her mom is near death and her sister is a totally devout Muslim. Not long after mother’s death father returns to India while soon after that Ameena is shot in mob retaliation for 9/11 because she wears a hijab. Saira begins to look again at her Asian roots vs. her Americanization.

This is an intriguing glimpse of a Muslim-American family struggling with tradition of the first generation and the assimilation of the second. The story line occurs over a few decades so the audience obtains the metamorphosis, especially of the lead character Saira. The cast in America, London and in Pakistan (incredibly prfound is her Aunt Big Nanima) is fully developed so that the audience learns the impact of globalization on American assimilation. This is a deep look at a Muslim making it in the United States.

Harriet Klausner

The Killing Tree-Rachel Keener

The Killing Tree
Rachel Keener
Center Street, Mar 18 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 1599951118

Living on Crooked Top Mountain in Appalachia, recent high school graduate Mercy Heron dreams of visiting the ocean although she also understands she has no future beyond waitressing at the diner owned by kind Rusty who is interested in her. Her mom died giving birth to her and her father was never there so her grandparents raised her. Her grandpa Father Heron is a deacon who expects perfect pious behavior from her; while her grandma Mamma Rutha is a bit crazy. In fact everyone except perhaps Mercy and her best friend Della assume Father is a martyr for living with a lunatic.

Della, known for her wild ways, persuades Mercy to go to the docks where all the cool kids hang out. Mercy meets a boy her age who says he saw a fire-trout in the water. He also tells her his name is Trout. She is attracted to him, but Della warns her he is unacceptable as a mater migrant worker who harvests crops. When Mercy walks to town to buy jeans, it begins to rain and Trout gives her a lift. They find much in common and begin seeing one another though she knows Father will be irate with her transgressions just like he was with her mom.

The sense of life in Appalachia is superbly portrayed as few novels have been able to do. The lead couple seems genuine and the support staff very strong either enhancing the mountain lifestyle or the relationship between the lead couple (not necessarily in a positive way). Although the descriptions and characterizations overwhelm the limited action including the climatic suspense, readers who relish a deep sense of place through a powerful cast will want to read this keen look at Appalachia.

Harriet Klausner

Sleepwalking in Daylight-Elizabeth Flock

Sleepwalking in Daylight
Elizabeth Flock
Mira, Mar 2009, $21.95
ISBN: 077832513X

In Chicago, Samantha Friedman misses her former life before she became a car pooling soccer mom to her teenage adopted daughter Cammy and her eight years old twin sons Jamie and Andrew. The stay-at-home mother reflects bitterly that she has not had sex with her husband Bob in a period longer than it takes to have a baby. Samantha has escaped ennui with an affair as she considers running away from family and responsibility.

Seventeen years old Cammy is even more despondent than her mother as she turns to drugs and sex to escape reality. The brooding goth teen keeps a diary including dark poetry that reflect her anguish while writing about her out of control activities as she considers running away from family and responsibility.

The despondency level of this dysfunctional family makes for a deep but difficult read. The two Freidman females are fully developed so the audience sympathizes with the two of them. Filled with despair and a sense of hopelessness, mother and daughter desperately need to find one another before there is that all there is in life takes full hold on them. The males serve roles that enable readers to better understand how despondent the women truly are. Although the ending seems contrived, the aptly titled SLEEPWALKING IN DAYLIGHT is a profound tale in which wealth does not necessarily mean happiness.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Red, White and Blue-Laura Hayden

Red, White and Blue
Laura Hayden
Tyndale, Mar 1 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414319407

Emily Benton is elected President of the United States. The first female PROTUS asks her best friend Kate Rosen to be her Chief of Staff; a position in which the President must fully trust the aide to provide poignant often unwelcome truths and honest advice.

Kate has doubts about accepting the job as she is a deeply religious person who fears the corruption of the White House will cause her to slip from her first loyalty to God. However, she rationalizes her decision by thinking she can bring the Lord’s Commandments into a place where avaricious grabbing of more power is everything and faith is left behind in the pack of disregarded morals. Whatever she chooses, Kate will be tested by friendship, belief, and loyalty especially when scandal erupts over a corpse.

The timing is perfect with the Inauguration of a new President as RED, WHITE, AND BLUE provides deep insight into the changing of the guard, who has easy access, and everyday life inside the White House (not just the Oval Office). Emily is an interesting first female president as she makes decisions that at times pamper her support group at the cost of the greater good (must be the first commandment of politicians). Kate with her vacillation and her change from idealist to doubting cynic makes a case that there is little room for a truly deep religious person in political DC even running the faith based initiatives program whose function is to pamper the PROTUS support base. Her relationship with Emily’s former husband Nick seems ingenuous and fake though key to a unique triangle power struggle. Still fans will enjoy this fine look at the White House through mostly the lens of a deeply devoted religious person.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fat Chance-Rhonda Pollero

Fat Chance
Rhonda Pollero
Pocket, Mar 2009, $$14.00
ISBN: 9781416589488

Her mother Cassidy with her five surnames from all her spouses persuades her daughter Finley Anderson Tanner to buy a cottage on the beach of Palm Beach for $25,000 that mom swore that stepdad Jonathan Tanner, who died fifteen years ago, wanted her to have. The estates & trusts paralegal at Dane, Leiberman and Zarnowski loved Jonathon who was the only man she considered as her daddy.

Accompanied by her friends, Becky Jamison, Olivia Garrett and Jane Spencer, she goes to see her new house only to find it smells horrendously and the inside is a disaster. Becky soon finds a corpse in a closet. While the police plan to do nothing as they assume he is a vagrant, private investigator Liam McGarrity seems to show up every time she is in need including obtaining her a cheap handyman. Her new boss at the office criminal defense attorney Tony Caprelli encouraging her to investigate while Finlay thinks once again mom dumped on her as she resolves to learn who left the body in her beachfront home.

The latest Finley Florida fiasco is a fun frolic as the heroine is conned by her mom only to find matters getting worse for her. The lighthearted story line is brisk and breezy as the heroine seems to land in amusing scenarios regardless of what she does. Fans will enjoy her escapdes and her chick lit asides as she now has two hunks maybe in her personal life.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hand of Isis-Jo Graham

Hand of Isis
Jo Graham
Orbit, Mar 23 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780316068024

In the first century BCE the invincible Roman Empire has crossed the Mediterranean and threatens Egypt. Proud of their independence the ruling Ptolemy family will do what it takes to prevent the Roman takeover. Especially prepared is the heir to the present Pharaoh ailing Ptolemy XII, his teenage daughter Cleopatra.

Cleopatra trusts only her half sisters Iras and Charmian, who share the desire to keep their kingdom free of the outsiders. Ostensive, a handmaiden to her future queen has the true burden of being there for Cleopatra and advising her as her future Queen struggles through the Roman political maze. However, the two sisters are also the Hand of Isis Incarnate; something the Romans want superseded by their pantheon.

This is an intriguing look at Cleopatra’s Egypt at a time of crisis from the perspective of the Ptolemy female leadership struggling to keep their kingdom independent. The story line vividly takes the audience on a tour of ancient Egypt and to a degree Rome as Jo Graham escorts us into hidden desert temples hidden and Roman palaces in which danger lurks everywhere. Told by Charmian, fans will be charmed by the efforts of the siblings to use anything and everything including sex to conquer the conquerors.
Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I Would Die for You-Brent and Deanna Higgins

I Would Die for You
Brent and Deanna Higgins
Revell, Jan 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9780800732448

So many religious leaders send others to do their “battles” while they collect hedonistic rewards on earth; leading to cynicism as preaching is do what I say not what I do. Thus the inspiring true story of fifteen year old BJ Higgins is not just refreshing; his life renews the reader’s soul. From the opening preface in which Indiana RN Donna Guilder describes her first meeting with BJ when he is rushed to the hospital with a respiratory infection until his death six weeks later from what he caught doing God’s mission in Peru and the aftermath from his still strong belief in God’s way; this teen is what religion needs to be. BJ lived what he believed in and died for what he believed in; never doubting God’s plan even when he did not understand it. Well written, no one who reads this engaging combination biography and autobiography (from BJ’s blogs and journals) will doubt this young man’s devotion to spread the gospel nor his conviction as death was imminent.
Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Women-T.C. Boyle

The Women
T.C. Boyle
Viking, Mar 28 2009, $31.95
ISBN: 9780670020416

Frank Lloyd Wright lived a life of triumph and defeat all in the public eye. Whether he designed a remarkable edifice like his Wisconsin home Taliesin or an affair he seemed bigger than life. Four women loved him though surely there were others: Montenegro dancer Olgivanna, Miriam the drug addicted Southern belle, Kitty the first wife; and Mamah the intellectual equal who was murdered.

Told mostly by Wright’s apprentice Japanese-American Tadashi Sato, this is an engaging biographical fiction. The story line looks at the great twentieth century architect through the musings of four females who loved him as each looks back at their relationship with him. Ironically, the show is stolen from the star and the titled characters by the narrator. Tadashi as the sole survivor is the only one whose opinion of Wright changes and whose wry thoughtful commentary throughout the novel add much of the complexity of trying to describe this multifaceted person; how complicated is symbolized by the remarkable Taliesin where much tragedy occurred.

Harriet Klausner

Confessions of a Beauty Addict-Nadine Haobsh

Confessions of a Beauty Addict
Nadine Haobsh
Avon, Feb 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061128622

Twenty-eight year old Bella Hunter destroys her career as the beauty expert when she opens her mouth while intoxicated to a New York Post reporter. Her dissing of colleagues leads to the columnist being fired from her job at Enchante magazine. However, her former boss and mentor Larissa “Riss” Lincoln gets Bella a position as beauty expert columnist at Womanly World, a magazine that caters to her mom and grandma.

She feels out of place at her new location and struggles with her boss Frances McCabe, but feels good about her assistant Megan Murphy. As she tries her best to accomplish the mission of making Womanly World the “Chic” for wives and moms, the magazine’s editor James Michael initially believes she is a pretty face without one pixie of a brain cell; however, her enthusiasm and efforts coupled with creative ideas make him reconsider his first opinion of Bella. She on the other hand cannot speak above third grade English whenever he comes near her.

Initially readers and James will dislike and disdain Bella as being snobbishly chic (hiding her Ohio and hair roots) and too stupid as a motor mouth when she scorns Womanly World to Megan at the office. However, over the course of the story line, fans and James will warm towards the lead character as she tries to be helpful to others and accomplish her mission for the magazine. Fans will enjoy the catty (that includes males for the unenlightened) wars between those working in the beauty magazine realm.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 9, 2009

Your Roots Are Showing-Elise Chidley

Your Roots Are Showing
Elise Chidley
5 Spot, Oct 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 0446178144

Lizzie Buckley is frustrated, tired and bored. The suburban London mom takes care of her toddlers while her still handsome hunk of a husband James is always on the road. Overweight and over the top with resentment she sends a scathing email about James’ failures re her and their kids to her sister; only problem she sends it accidentally or perhaps Freudian slip accidentally to James.

James not needing much of an excuse leaves her and informs her he is filing for a divorce leaving Lizzie alone with their twins. She begs him to come home as she suffers anxiety attacks, but he refuses. Lizzie goes to a therapist and soon reflects on what has passed and soon concludes she has been depressed since the kids were born and her marriage added to her lack of self esteem. While she hopes to bring back the old Lizzie and persuade James they can still be a family, he is hanging with his assistant.
Stereotyping of the key secondary players detracts from an otherwise intriguing family drama in which the heroine is unaware that she suffers from post partum depression until her husband leaves. The story line is driven by the heroine who goes from a tin Lizzie to a dizzy Lizzie trying to mentally heal and get James back. Though Lizzie’s recovery seems a bit fast once she understands what happened to her; fans will enjoy her efforts as she could have quoted

Bring on the Blessings-Beverly Jenkins

Bring on the Blessings
Beverly Jenkins
Avon, Feb 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061688409

Fiftyish Bernadine Brown feels strongly she has wasted her life when she chose a high society marriage to Leo the cheat instead of social work. When she receives over $275 million in a divorce settlement, Bernadine decides to use that money for some common good. She learns that the town of Henry Adams, Kansas is in trouble. She wants to help one of the few surviving historical oasis founded by former slaves in the 1880s, which is now up for sale on the Internet.

Bernadine also sees the town as a way to find homes for needy foster children. She is the buyer and quickly finds an ally in Henry Adams Mayor Trenton July; but there are those who oppose her dream as they do not want troubled children in their town.

Even when writing a contemporary Beverly Jenkins always provides her audience with a fascinating look at African-American history; this time with the return to Henry Adams (see SOMETHING LIKE LOVE). The story line is fast-paced from the moment that Bernadine begins to format her project and never slows down as the tidbits of historical information are interwoven into the strong contemporary plot. Fans will enjoy this delightful tale and want sequels; those who have not read this great author are missing a treat.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Agency-Ally O'Brien

The Agency
Ally O'Brien
St. Martin’s, Feb 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781433260995

London-based literary agent Tess Drake takes no prisoners at work, in romances, or even with family and friends. She does not care what anyone thinks of her except her boss at Bartwright, an international multimedia giant.

When senior partner Lowell Bartwright dies mysteriously during a tryst, Cosima Tate is named to replace him. Cosima hates Tess for a various reasons especially since she suspects the agent who sleeps around is including her husband in her affairs. Knowing the she must leave, Tess considers opening up her own firm starting with her top client bestselling children’s author Dorothy Starkwell whose panda star is accused of being plagiarized. She also knows someone is trying to frame her in Lionel’s death. With her life at stake on two fronts, her only hope to survive apparently is underselling Oliver Howard whose first novel is being considered for a Cruise movie.

Although the tale of urban depravity has been used quite frequently, THE AGENCY is an entertaining story starring a ball busting (women too) man-eater who acknowledges her errors, but the audience never learns what motivates her behavior. In many ways Cosima is similar to Tess so their cat fight is a war of female alphas in which collateral damage to other people is acceptable by both of them. Neither receives the slightest empathy from readers who will dislike both. Still fans will enjoy Tess’ misdeeds in London.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Love on the Line-Laura Castoro

Love on the Line
Laura Castoro
Avon, Feb 2009, $13.95
ISBN: 9780061542763

Four years have passed since her white husband died. African-American Widow Thea and their daughter Jesse have moved on. Mom has an influential well paying job and a new “old teen” love in her life Pastor Xavier Thornton; while her mixed race child who can pass for white is a terrific athlete starting college. Xavier proposes and she accepts though her work keeps her in a different state than his.

Xavier’s Arkansas church frowns on his wife for her frequent absences, her white like attitude and her daughter’s white like looks. Thea loves Xavier and what she does for living, but begins to understand the pressure mounting on her spouse. She is also worried about Jesse, who is unsure of her heritage even as her blue eyes and light skin give her a choice until someone reveals her mixed bloodlines.

This is an intriguing look at defining one’s race in modern times when the child is the offspring of mixed races. Thea and Jesse make the tale work as each face complex identity issues with courage and strength. Although Xavier is more a caricature of the ideal husband-father-community activist than a person, fans will enjoy this fine inspirational as Thea knows he is a good man but loves her work and Jesse knows what she should do, but that is not easy to do.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Paisley Hanover Acts Out-Cameron Tuttle

Paisley Hanover Acts Out
Cameron Tuttle
Dial, Mar 5 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780803733442

Sophomore Paisley Hanover is used to being part of the in-crowd, which at school means joining the Yearbook club. However, the faculty adviser Mrs. Madrigal informs her she is not on the list so must leave. Her seven point plan to Ivy League success has taken a hit but worse her chances with super soccer star Eric Sobel vanquished. Instead Paisley is exiled to the losers’ wasteland Drama.

Although taken aback, Paisley is not a person to dwell on defeat. Instead the confident soph regroups and adjusts to being a drama queen and quickly makes new friends as she finds she likes the genuineness of the freaks and geeks. She begins an underground insurgency against the bullies of the in-crowd leading the Un-revolution.

Mindful somewhat of the movie Sydney White, PAISLEY HANOVER ACTS OUT is a delightful middle school drama starring a teen that becomes likable when she “un”-burdens herself of being in and cool. Her campaign to make Un in is fun to follow as are her doodles. Young adult fans will enjoy her escapades as "Miss Unpleasant" writing an anonymous crusading column for the school paper filled with quirky amusing observations that survival of the fittest does not mean emotionally dining on the “Un”.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Work What You Got-Stephanie Perry Moore

Work What You Got
Stephanie Perry Moore
Dafina, Dec 30 2008, $9.95
ISBN: 0758225423

Western Smith College sophomore Hayden Grant looks forward to pledging for the Beta Gamma Pi sorority along with her BFFs. However she is taken aback when Myra, Bridget, and Chandra decide not to join her at Beta Gamma Pi; the four roommates seem to be drifting apart. Although she has issues with the hazing, Hayden goes along with the herd mentality saying nothing. She regrets not voicing her reservations when a pledge nearly dies from a particularly nasty assault led by Keisha the Betas Big Sister Mean Machine.

Many of the sisters are expelled leaving Hayden to become the local chapter president; a position she did not want at least at this time. She also deals with her attraction to Creed who is pledging to a fraternity in which Hayden’s ex-boyfriend Butch is president. She does not want to cause Creed any problems. As she works on clearing the name of her sorority, and tries to resolve her relationship with Creed and her three BFFs, Hayden depends on her Christian faith to guide her to do what is ethically right.

This is an interesting young adult relationship drama that encourages readers to not just join the line if it feels wrong. Hayden who tells the tale is a solid lead character as she regrets not speaking out against hazing. Her friend Penelope is one of the Betas kicked out though she did not participate in the hazing; standing silently on the sidelines doing nothing is almost as bad as performing the abusive deeds. Although the use of Ebonics especially by professionals like Hayden’s uncle who is the college president is a detractor (personally prefer professionals sound educated like Obama does), fans will enjoy the first Beta Gamma Pi inspirational tale.

Harriet Klausner