Monday, June 29, 2009

June Bug-Chris Fabry

June Bug
Chris Fabry
Tyndale, Aug 1 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414319568

In a Wal-Mart parking lot that looks identical to the zillion others she and her dad Johnson have parked in overnight while touring the country in their RV, seven year old June Bug half looks at a poster for missing children. She has to take a quadrillion looks but knows for sure the picture of nine years old Natalie Anne Edwards of Dogwood, WV staring back at her is that of June Bug.

She challenges her beloved father to explain what is going on and fears the kindhearted John is not her dad but a kidnapper living a vagabond life with her. She demands the truth and John knows he owes her at least that as he takes his beloved daughter back to the cross point where their lives pivotally changed knowing he will probably face the law, the media, and her.

Chris Fabry brings a wonderful modern day West Virginia spin to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable sprinkled with the philosophical tenet of Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet. The story line is driven by the solid cast, but anchored by precocious June Bug with her need to know who she is. Mr. Fabry provides a delightful family drama that Mr. Hugo and Mr. Gibran, would enjoy as much as readers will.

Harriet Klausner

Henry's Sisters-Cathy Lamb

Henry's Sisters
Cathy Lamb
Kensington, Aug 2009, $15.00
ISBN 9780758229540

Globetrotting photographer Isabelle, kindergarten teacher Celia and author Janie find out their mom River is going to have open heart surgery through the usual pink slip notes she has sent each of them everyday even when they lived in the same house with her. Reluctantly the Bommarito sisters come home to Trillium River, Oregon though they would prefer to ignore their mother. The trio is close in spite of their geography and vocations, and all are looking forward to spending time with their mentally disabled brother Henry who seems to love everyone.

As they take care of their healing mom and watch over their demented grandmother so she does not fly away and Henry, the sisters who fled their hometown all find some unexpected solace here in trying to save the family bakery where their brother works. Isabelle beings to understand why she preferred short term relationships; Janie begins to understand she suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder; and widow Cecilia is finally overcoming her grief over her husband’s death that sent her into doing dangerous stupid things.

This is an interesting family drama filled with pathos and humor as HENRY’S SISTERS realize they are unhappy while their mentally disturbed brother is very contented. Initially writing his happiness off as ignorance of not knowing better; each soon learns he understands much more than they realized. Each of the sisters begins to look inside as they start to come to grips on the personal demons that disturb them. Well written, readers will relish Cathy Lamb’s enjoyable poignant character study that affirms contentment and despondency are personal though it takes loved ones to help someone maintain a degree of happiness and satisfaction in life.

Harriet Klausner

Labor Day-Joyce Maynard

Labor Day
Joyce Maynard
Morrow, Jul 28 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061843402

On the Labor day weekend in 1987, thirteen year old Henry persuades his single mother Adele to leave their dump for a trip to the nearby PriceMart. He is ecstatic when she agrees as she never leaves their home except if she absolutely has to since his dad left her and remarried.

They meet Frank, who bullies them into picking him up. An escaped convict, Frank needs a place to hide from the law so he coerces the mother and son to take him into their home or else. However, as he holds them prisoner in their home, the trio forges a relationship with him in charge. He tenderly ties Adele to a chair using her silk scarves as gentle ropes; while feeding her. He teaches Henry, who hates sports as he stinks at them, to throw a baseball. He soon finds he wants more from the mom as they fall in love and consider fleeing together, and with her son who fears desertion from his mom and his surrogate father.

This is a super character study that focuses on the changing relations between three protagonists over the Labor Day weekend. A Stockholm syndrome effect occurs as each grows closer to one another. Henry is the glue that keeps the story line focused as he admires Frank’s courage and mentoring skills while also fears he will take his mom with him leaving her son behind when he goes on the lam. Fans will relish three seemingly losers finding something special during the long weekend together even as each anticipates no happy ending (the Sword of Damocles always lurking during the holiday) ;instead they expect to pay a steep price for six days and five nights of a fairy tale.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 28, 2009

In the Heart of the Canyon-Elisabeth Hyde

In the Heart of the Canyon
Elisabeth Hyde
Knopf, Jul 14 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780307263674

Colorado River rafting guide JT Maroney has a diverse group joining him on his 125th whitewater trip down the river. J.T. is especially concerned with the experience level or lack thereof by some of his passengers.

Unemployed Peter Kramer seems only interested in getting into the pants of the assistant guide Dixie Ann Gillis. The Frankel couple, seasoned seventy- something rafters who unbeknownst to J.T. Ruth conceals that Lloyd suffers from Alzheimer’s. The sexagenarian pair Boyer-Brandt, mother Susan and obese teen daughter Amy Van Doren, Evelyn the Harvard professor, and the four Compsons of Salt Lake City round out the rafters. The strangers assemble for thirteen days of Forming, Storming, Norming,. Performing and Adjourning IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON

This is an exciting insightful look at how groups even doing outdoor activities work as the audience gets a deep look at the entire cast including the leader. "OMG" to quote Amy, the story line gets into the heart of its ensemble cast to include the river. Although an emergency spin feels contrived to add unnecessary life threatening action, but instead almost drowns the prime plot; fans will enjoy this profound look at group dynamics in the wild.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Night Counter-Alia Yunis

The Night Counter
Alia Yunis
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Jul 14 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307453624

Lebanese immigrant Fatima Abdullah is dying, but shows no interest in a reconciliation with her estranged husband Ibraham or for that matter with her children sprawled all over the country as she prefers to ignore their issues. She has no desire to see any of her ten offspring; their children except Amir or even her pregnant great-granddaughter; they did not want to hear her prattle about her 1001 Arabian Nights countdown.

Instead she stays with her gay grandson Amir, who welcomes her insanity in Los Angeles as an actor who knows his town is filled with crazies so his attitude is why not one more with his blood. For the last 992 nights ever since Scheherazade visited her demanding she tells her stories, Fatima has complied. When her tales end, Scheherazade insists so does her life; as happens with everyone. With nine to go, the octogenarian expects to be dead next week even as Ibraham wants to be there for her; as does the FBI who believe the Abdullah family are a sleeper terrorist cell because of Amir’s name and his association with a former lover under federal surveillance due to his former lover Amir being under federal surveillance.

This is a terrific tale that keeps the audience wondering whether Fatima suffers from dementia or is a clever modern day fantasy. Fatima obviously owns the fast-paced novel as she begins her final countdown to what she expects is her death. Her family especially heartbroken Amir, whose lover dumped him during the countdown, provide solid support as all of them except her host assumes she is certifiable; whereas her host thinks she is an eccentric lovable kook. Sherazade plays a key role, but like the Memorex commercial one will ponder is she real or imagined as does the circular logical FBI finding perceived terrorists under any Arab sounding rock. Alia Yunis provides a powerful modern day family thriller with the twist of the FBI “interrogates” Sherazade.

Harriet Klausner

Mr. Allbones' Ferrets-Fiona Farrell

Mr. Allbones' Ferrets
Fiona Farrell
St. Martin’s, Aug 4 2009
ISBN: 9780312383077

In the late nineteenth century in England, ferret whisperer and breeder Walter Allbones meets naturalist and rare bird collector Mr. Pitford and his lovely granddaughter Eugenia when his pets poach rabbits to bring to him from the nearby estate owned by the scientist. They sort of catch him in the act. He agrees to provide Mr. Pitford with ferrets to be shipped to New Zealand to control the out of control rabbit infestation.

Walter is attracted to Eugenia and as much to the money he can make selling his ferrets. The pair chaperoned by grandpa begins an international trek to sell his ferrets. As their journey continues Walter believes he loves Eugenia, but fears her reaction would end their friendship. He does not understanding she begins to reciprocate his feelings in spite of his emitting the stinky odor of ferret sweat to her olfactory sense.

This is an interesting amusing historical tale with a wonderful romantic subplot that enhances Fiona Farrell’s satirical homage to Darwin as mustelids and ferrets play matchmakers, but not the way readers would expect. The story line is whimsical with solid characters having differing personalities. Fans who relish something different and do not demonize evolution will enjoy this irreverent look at relationships, human and otherwise, that both highly respect in awe and cheekily mock also in awe Darwin.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Belly Dancer-DeAnna Cameron

The Belly Dancer
DeAnna Cameron
Berkley, Jul 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425227787

Leaving New Orleans with her new husband, Dora Chambers vows to be a good wife. To obtain her spouse’s approving regard, she joins Chicago’s Fair's Board of Lady Managers. However, her efforts do not register with him as he remains distant and colder than the city’s weather in winter.

The Fair's Board of Lady Managers assigns Dora to the seemingly nasty task of monitoring the belly dancing exhibition at the World’s Fair. While the prim and proper female elite laugh at Dora, she finds the assignment fun, likes and admirers the dancers and is attracted to their manager, Hossam Farouk. He is an enigma to her as his voice says he distrusts her, but his eyes say he wants her. Inside the pavilion, Dora feels free unlike outside where she lives in a gilded cage.

The setting of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago provides more than just a wonderful backdrop as people from around the globe show off the best of their respective societies. In that venue, the innocent heroine, while trying to please her husband’s family and friends, becomes Dora the “Explorer”. However what she mostly scrutinizes is herself as she wants to break out of the chains society places on women, but also fears the consequences. THE BELLY DANCER is a terrific historical tale that proudly salutes the nineteenth century suffragette movement leaders and their everyday troops while also affirming society is so much stronger when barriers of specifically group aimed restraints are limited.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Best Friends Forever-Jennifer Weiner

Best Friends Forever
Jennifer Weiner
Atria, Jul 14 2009, $26.99
ISB: 9780743294294

In Pleasnt Ridge, Illinoss, Addie Downs and Valerie Adler became best friends forever when the latter moved on the same block as the former when both were nine years old. They remained BFFs until high school as Val becomes part of the in crowd while Addie becomes the school joke.

Fifteen years later, Val is the weathergirl on the local news while Addie is the caretaker of her troubled brother. Val can have any guy while Addie goes Internet dating only to find loser after loser. They have completely lost contact with each other until the day Val arrives at Addie’s house with blood splattered on her. She insists she needs her BFF to help her out of a tight spot as she has enacted vengeance on her former boyfriend Dan Swansea. Police chief Jordan Novick investigates the disappearance of Dan, but he has a problem that he never anticipated with this case; love at first sight not with beautiful Val, but with homely Addie.

This is an amusing lighthearted chick lit crime thriller starring two BFFs who became BEs (best enemies) only to finally clear the air between them and return to being BFFs. The story line is jocular insanity over the top of the Sears Tower that readers will relish with every laughing yet profound moment. This is chick lit at its best.

Harriet Klausner

The Embers-Hyatt Bass

The Embers
Hyatt Bass
Holt, Jun 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9780805089943

Playwright and actor Joe Ascher believes he is the greatest artist of all time and expects his family to adulate him. His wife Laura suffers in silence his egomania accentuated by his womanizing. His daughter Emily has always tried to be daddy’s little girl, but he only has time for himself. The only member of the family who lives harmoniously is Emily and Joe’s son Thomas who was never concerned with what his father thought of him, but now he is dying from lymphoma.

Now an attorney Emily is getting married to half Korean Clay. Their wedding is to be held in Berkshires at family vacation home where she and Tom spent their summers. The ceremony is on a hill where Tom’s ashes were scattered as Emily needs her late brother at the wedding. Her parents are divorced; while Laura remarried, still womanizing Joe is a has been who hopes for one last glory hit like a former punch-drunk boxing champion going in for one more title fight long past his prime. His estranged daughter wants him to give her away, which may be his last chance to perform as a father.

Rotating between the past and present, Hyatt Bass provides a fascinating tale that has few events, but differing perspectives as to what occurred. The story line is character driven by the Ascher family who are all fully developed protagonists seeing incidents totally different. Fans will enjoy the Butterfly Effect on a family as minor occurrences lead to major confrontations years afterward; thus the Aschers are victims of self induced inertia and chaos. EMBERS is a wonderful introspective novel though there is for practical purposes no action.

Harriet Klausner

Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father's House

Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father's House
Miranda Seymour
Harper, Jul 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061466564

In 1944, twenty-one year old George FitzRoy Seymour ecstatically bought the house of his dreams Thrumpton Hall in Nottinghamshire, England; the home his Foreign Service parents abandoned him in with relatives when he was two. To make the purchase he marries wealthy Rosemary Scott-Ellis. However, the estate and the manor house instead of his wife became his significant other as everything he did from that pivotal point was to keep his house in perfect order. He expected his children to be as perfect as the house and ripped author Miranda Seymour for being a fat teen. He also did not hide his sexual preference for young males.

This is a fascinating memoir that is made even stronger by the author being the daughter of the subject and her key disclaimer that she does not know all the skeletons. George is an intriguing individual who knew the intricate history of his house especially as the first minor to reside there in over three centuries. His childhood abandonment impacts his adulthood at a time in which the aristocracy is in rapid decline following WWII. He obsesses over owning and maintaining THRUMPTON HALL. Readers will appreciate renowned biographer Miranda Seymour’s look at growing up with a father who cherished his house as his significant other and loved the edifice seemingly more than he did his family.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange-Amanda Smyth

Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange
Amanda Smyth
Crown, Jun 30 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780307460646

In Black Rock, Tobago, half-breed Celia D'Abadie’s mom died giving birth to her while her absentee Caucasian father deserted her to return to his home in Southampton, England. Her maternal Aunt Tassi raises her lovingly. Everything is great until Tassi marries Roman. He is abusive and ever leering and stalking Celia. When she is sixteen, her uncle rapes her.

Celia flees her home for Trinidad where she meets William Shamiel. He and his family take the teen into their home. She obtains work as a maid to the family of Dr. Emmanuel Rodriguez. His English wife Helen is mentally on the verge of collapse as everything sends her to hysteria while his two kids are precocious when mom is not around. However, the move to Port of Spain that starts off uplifting soon turns ugly too for Celia.

Celia and the locale of Trinidad-Tobago refresh the often told tale of a naive young country bumpkin forced to come of age rather quickly in the city. The teen’s adventures on both islands bring them to life for the reader as Amanda Smyth escorts her audience beyond the tourist sections to the heart of the islands. Celia is terrific as a hybrid who has always felt like an outsider with no protector from male predators though her aunt tries somewhat. Though the plot is somewhat thin, fans will enjoy Celia’s quest to find a place where she feels she can sleep at night safe and secure and as important to her well being knows where she belongs in life.

Harriet Klausner

Among Us Women-Joan Lerner

Among Us Women
Joan Lerner
BookSurge Publishing, Apr 2009, $15.99
ISBN: 9781439228807

Elderly Jewish grandmother Rose grieves the death of her husband yet feels guilt and anger because she also feels free as her late spouse was abusive and demanding. She seeks an activity that will help society (and herself) opting for rescuing unborn babies slated for abortion. Almost forty Jane wants a baby, but her husband proclaims he is gay and leaves her. Jane is in shock but also angry and upset towards her spouse. Eva is an activist African American who has an abortion when her married white lover demands she get rid of the fetus. She is angry and remorseful for not standing up to what she wants and considers kicking him to the curb.

These three women meet over the baby issue and though they share differing perspectives and generational gaps, they find a common interest in their love for interior design. Each struggles with decisions that will haunt them regardless of the choices they make as these are not easy to make. There only solace is in interior design

AMONG US WOMEN is an intriguing tale of three females coming together to forge a sisterly bond though each is radically different in age, appearance, beliefs and most important in terms of reality temperament. The character driven well written story line is inspiring without preaching as Joan Lerner makes the case that everyone needs someone is a basic human need mindful of Maslow's hierarchy. Readers who enjoy an uplifting character study will appreciate the tale of three women finding a connection to one another through their joy of interior design.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lady Jasmine-Victoria Christopher Murray

Lady Jasmine
Victoria Christopher Murray-
Touchstone, Jun 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416589174

A plotter all her life in order to gain positions of wealth and respect, Jasmine Larson Bush knows she is fortunate that her beloved spouse Reverend Hosea Bush forgave her lies and plots. A lesser man would have kicked her to the curb for her Jezebel transgressions (see TOO LITTLE TO LATE and TEMPTATION. She has vowed to God (and her husband) to always tell the truth and to stop her Machiavellian machinations and tells both her lies in a massive confession.

When his father is shot in an accident, Hosea is named temporary pastor of the City of Lights Riverside Church though he has doubts and so does several selection board members. Jasmine relishes the glory and respect she and their daughter will receive as the wife and child of the pastor. However, the one transgression that she hid from her beloved Hosea surfaces when a blackmailer demands money. Jasmine used to fighting the opposition goes after the blackmailer with plans to counter blackmail by threatening double exposure and those board members who loudly objected to her husband as the interim pastor. As she charges into the frays she wonders if God and Hosea will forgive her this time.

LADY JASMINE is a terrific inspirational contemporary tale that is filled with church intrigue, a light mystery, humor and pathos. Fans will appreciate LADY JASMINE as she falls back into her scheming ways though her cause is not quite as ugly as in the past, her method is as she considers the end justifies the means but also learns once again how merciful the Lord is towards those who trip up.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Secret Diaries Of Charlotte Bronte-Syrie James

The Secret Diaries Of Charlotte Bronte
Syrie James
Avon, July 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061648373

The Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, Maria, Elizabeth and Anne) grew up in the nineteenth century in the Yorkshire moors of Haworth along with their brother Branwell under the parenting of their father the local Perpetual Parson and their Aunt Elizabeth. Their mom died when she was eight. Whereas the three girls enjoyed stories, their brother turned to alcohol. At school, Charlotte being ugly was placed last to select for anything until she began telling stories to her fascinated classmates. After leaving school, Charlotte realized her choices of employment as a single most likely spinster woman was teaching or being a governess. She chose to try writing, as did her sisters, using pseudonyms to gain publication without their father knowing it. Ironically she hides her writings from her dad who she is the most dedicated to him of all his offspring. She also begins keeping a diary that opens with a stunner, a marriage proposal in 1845. Well aware that “my heart is knit to him, her father’s curator and their next door neighbor Arthur Bell Nichols. After she dies, he destroyed much of what she wrote to him.

This is a super historical biography that uses a diary to tell the tale of Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre. Using a first person perspective brings depth to the great author even that much more, but also detracts from how others see her and events like her sisters and Arthur as they come across through a Charlotte filter. Still this is an excellent biographical fiction that looks profoundly at a great nineteenth century writer as Syrie James does her research to tell the story of Charlotte Bronte as she did with THE LOST MEMOIRS OF JANE AUSTEN.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sunnyside Blues- Mary Carter

Sunnyside Blues
Mary Carter
Kensington, Jul 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758229199

For almost a decade Andes Lane has moved from one location to another like a rolling stone gathering no moss. Now twenty-five years old she decides she would like to stay put at least for now. She rents a house barge “Luna” from Jay in Seattle

When her landlord Jay needs someone to baby sit his ten years old son Chase, she reluctantly volunteers since it is only temporarily. Andes accompanies the child to Sunnyside in Queens, New York on what she expects to be a waste of time. However as she watches over the tweener, her own past arises forcing her to confront what sent her on the road nine plus years ago.

This is a terrific coming of age tale; with the spin that the adult Andes (due to her positive relationship with Chase after a very poor start) is the one changing the most. The cast is strong as each of the trio and another couple in West Virginia confronts their past. With some back story of what happened years ago, Mary Carter provides a refreshing unique road tale where the final destination is Sunnyside hopefully discarding the blues.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Order in Chaos-Jack Whyte

Order in Chaos
Jack Whyte
Putnam, Aug 2009, $26.95
ISBN 9780399155772

In 1307, King Philip IV of France declares all Knights of the Templar as outlaws. With the support of Pope Clement V, the monarch orders his armies to arrest all the knights and confiscate their treasure. They are to kill any who resist and torture those caught so reveal the hidden cache. The Pope directs the Holy Inquisition against the Templars.

The double prong assault leaves the Templars with little protection. Those still free are rodents hiding in holes. Warned by the Grand Master, Templar knight Sir William St. Clair leads some of his peers and Widow Lady Jessica Randolph to Scotland where King Robert Bruce offers them sanctuary in return for them joining his side against the English and rebels allied with their enemy. Knowing their time is over, William releases his men from their sacred vows and after the battle at Bannockburn pledges to find the mythical Merica.

The final tale of the Templar saga (see KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK AND WHITE and STANDARD OF HONOR) comes across more as a historical account rather than an action-packed medieval suspense thriller. Readers learn in great detail re what and why the Pope and the French king conspired to destroy the religious order. Still fans who relish deep doses of realism that feel as if you are there will enjoy Jack Whyte’s fascinating final account that is filled with early fourteenth century betrayals, counterplots and little action as William and his followers discuss freedom more than fight for freedom.

Harriet Klausner

Receive Me Falling-Erika Robuck

Receive Me Falling
Erika Robuck
Elysian Field Press, Jun 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 9780982229804

With the sudden deaths of her parents due to a car accident on the night of her engagement party, grieving Meghan Owen learns she inherited a plantation on the Caribbean island of Nevis. She makes a rash decision to get away leaving behind her consoling fiancĂ© Brian by visiting the estate. She especially wants to see it when she learns her dad betrayed her image of him when the family lawyer explains the place was bought with stolen money and she will need to sell it to pay her father’s debts. Still she plans to learn the history of Eden.

In the 1830s, Catherine Dall’s alcoholic father owns Eden, a sugar plantation that employs over a hundred slaves. However, while her dad buries himself in drink, Catherine oversees the plantation though is very disturbed over using slave labor even as she defends her family’s practice.

This is a well written interesting tale with a fascinating premise of two women over a century apart connected by the same plantation and by a need to find a way to forgive their respective fathers for transgressions that haunts them. The story line is fast-paced though changing time periods throughout as the anchor of the Island of Nevis enables the two subplots to flow smoothly. Although key support characters like Brian, the lead women’s fathers, Meg’s mom, and a slave who dies seem underdeveloped though important to understanding the two stars, fans of strong character thrillers will enjoy this profound look at being born free.

Harriet Klausner

The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart-M. Glenn Taylor

The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart
M. Glenn Taylor
Ecco, Jun 17 2009, $16.50
ISBN: 9781933202310

He is probably the oldest person in Appalachia rumored to be born back in 03 that is 1903; in the West Virginia section of the mountain range he is considered older than dirt. Over a century ago, his thirst for life and his moniker of Trenchmouth Taggart came from the same harrowing incident. His not so sane mom tossed him into an icy river. Taggart survived but suffered a nasty infection in his mouth. On his 108th birthday, he had his lips sewn tight with fishing line wire except for a straw opening for coffee, tea and moonshine, as his latest means of survival; this time from an outside reporter. He learned to survive and to insure he depended on only himself thanks mostly to his grit and that strong Mountain Widow Dorsett who saved his life after his mom tossed him to his watery grave; as she taught him to rely on himself.

Although now a senior’s senior citizen, he still gets aroused in fights against those blowing off mountain tops, but Taggart has gone aground ever since he set up target practice as a union sniper targeting the coal mining firms; suits and scabs were his favorites. He surfaces when he needs liquor or music. Although he cannot speak, he tells THE BALLAD OF TRENCHMOUTH TAGGART to a Time reporter.

This is a fascinating ballad that provides the audience a deep look into West Virginia’s Appalachia across the twentieth century where poverty has always led to the loss of childhood innocence at an extremely young age. Trenchmouth is an interesting character with his tale enhanced by those in his lives starting briefly with his fire and brimstone mom drowning him; to the Widow teaching him to be independent and strong; to the union leaders hiring him to shoot the enemy, etc. Fans will enjoy his life on the outside as his recreation is moonshine and music.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Journey, a Reckoning, and a Miracle-K.J. Fraser

A Journey, a Reckoning, and a Miracle
K.J. Fraser
O Books, May 2009, $29.95
ISBN 9781846942068

“Spring”. Seventeen years old Lucy believes the rapture will be soon forthcoming. She is on a pilgrimage to sites of mass violence to bring solace to those who died for no reason.

“Summer”. Judith believed in Bush’s war and enlisted. In Iraq she survived but lost all four of her limbs and is blind from a nasty incident. She is bitter as she sees vivacious Condi in her mind selling unnecessary deaths to the public like selling a brush to a bald person. However, her family and Joseph makes Judith feels she is still special as one of God’s children and her own whimsical comedic attitude begins to pull her through.

“Autumn”. As Bill proposes to Lucy and she accepts, they kayak down the Mississippi near St. Louis when her vessel tips. Mark and his wife using modified swift boats rescue them. If the saved duo were Bushies Mark might have tossed them back into the river. As he, his wife, Lucy, Bill , Judith, Joseph, and others pray for George’s soul hoping he will apologize for the war dead though they assume he is more likely to co-star with Dick as stand up comedians doing a neo-con revival show changing the facts.

These three interrelated contemporary tales are fascinating though can turn heavy in their condemnation of the righteous right especially condemning the Iraq War sold by chicken hawks at an exorbitant price to Americans. The book is timely with references to violence in the 1990s as another Democratic president is in the White House enabling the extreme right to justify their right to kill. Fans will be stunned by amount of poignancy and emotion as the cast is solid even that of a caricature of a humbled George seeking redemption. Overkill yes, but well written and intensely interesting as the audience joins K.J. Frasier on A JOURNEY, A RECKONING, AND A MIRACLE.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Condition-Jennifer Haigh

The Condition
Jennifer Haigh
Harper, Jun 30 2009. $14.99
ISBN: 9780060755799

In 1976, the marriage between Paulette and Frank McKotch is teetering on the brink of collapse because he wants sex and lots of it and she doesn’t. They are spending the summer together with their three kids at Cape Cod with plans to sell the beach cottage when the vacation ends. However both are stunned to learn their thirteen years old daughter Gwen has been diagnosed with Turner Syndrome, a chromosome deficiency that keeps an adult in the body of a pre- puberty child. Gwen’s parents disagree about how to proceed; Frank seeks medical answers while Paulette wants to keep Gwen safe.

Two decades later, Frank and Paulette long divorced have never married again. Their son Bill lives with his beloved male partner and works as a cardiologist in Manhattan, but hides his sexual preference from his parents. Their youngest child Scott teaches school and is married with two kids. Gwen lives alone working at a museum. On a vacation, she falls in love with her guide. However, Paulette, still protecting Gwen, orders Scott to find his sister and bring her home. His mission forces each of the five McKotches to relook their relationships and their lives.

This is an intriguing character driven tale that looks deeply at how a health condition impacts everyone in a family; even one that is dysfunctional. The cast drives the story line as each seems real though in many ways the rest of the family besides Gwen show their traits by how they act towards her. The key to this touching tale is the way Jennifer Haigh avoids turning THE CONDITION into a five tissue box soap opera; as readers will feel for Gwen who demands no tears as she is a self sufficient adult.

Harriet Klausner

Pop Salvation-Lance Reynald

Pop Salvation
Lance Reynald
Harper, Jun 23 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061672972

Seventh grader Caleb Watson has always felt different than his family or his schoolmates at the exclusive private academies he has attended. He has never been quite able to understand why he feels this way or explain it to anyone including himslef; he just does.

That changes on a field trip to the Hirshhorn Museum where he sees Andy Warhol's homage to Marilyn Monroe's Lips. Caleb begins to worship the pop icon who as the lad learns was born a sickly effeminate Czech in Pittsburgh but died a legend. He changes his look so that he appears as close to Warhol as possible and begins making strange movies like his hero did. Caleb soon has groupies that include his gay partner Aaron; his Sedgwick in Sonia, and his Monroe in runaway male Rocky Horror fan Brit. They test the Warhol existence to the limit and beyond as “turn on, tune in, and drop out”; which means acid, cross dressing, suicide and fetishes.

This is an interesting look at teen outcasts in Regan Era Georgetown. The fully developed, alienated in different ways, characters drive the story line as each of the Warhol-Rocky quartet seek a reason to belong and think by emulating the late artist or the movie they are achieving this. Although the plot reads less like a novel and more like a biography, fans will enjoy the desperate antics of Caleb and crew as they turn to the world of Pop for salvation.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos-Margaret Mascarenhas

The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos
Margaret Mascarenhas
Grand Central, Jun 19 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446541107

In Venezuela, fifteen year old Irene Dos Santos is on vacation with her best friend Lily Martinez when she vanishes. Everyone assumes she probably drowned though no body was found.

Years pass, Lily is eight months pregnant when she has an accident that leaves her bedridden on the same day that the town’s statue of the Patron Saint Maria Lionza cracks in half. Lily begins seeing visions of Irene that frighten her, but remind her of how much she lost when her rebellious friend vanished. Meanwhile her family persuades her they need to perform a Novena to Maria Lionza to insure the baby makes it from the spirit realm to the mortal world. Nine nights of prayers begin with every evening a different person tells a tale to entertain Lily and guide the unborn.

This is a fascinating but extremely difficult tale to read as the narration switches nine times making the novel feel more like a series of short vignettes though there some overarching common themes. The fun is with those recurring topics as readers see radically different perspectives on the Patron saint, the vanishing, and the country’s recent violent revolutionary past.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Secret Alchemy-Emma Darwin

A Secret Alchemy
Emma Darwin
Harper, Jun 2 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061714726

Following the death of her husband, modern day historian Una Pryor is in England visiting her family and taking care of business. To escape her grief, she researches the lives of the fifteenth century Woodville siblings, Anthony and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was married to Sir John Gray, but when he died the young widow pursued and married Edward IV; they have ten children, but when the king dies none of them take the throne as his Brother Richard acts swiftly. An earl, Anthony tries to save his nephew Ned from his fraternal uncle and get him crowned as the rightful king. Meanwhile Una turns to estate's handyman, Mark Fisher whom she has loved forever for solace.

A SECRET ALCHEMY is an interesting fiction that rotates Una’s present life with fictional historian’s deep look at the court dominated lives of Anthony and Elizabeth. The action is mostly off page, but ultra fans of fifteenth century royal intrigue will enjoy this fine entry somewhat overwhelmed with the details of how the Woodville siblings struggled to survive the internal battles for the throne.; which he and her sons (the Princes in the Tower) did not.

Harriet Klausner

Ms. Taken Identity-Dan Begley

Ms. Taken Identity
Dan Begley
5 Spot, Jun 22 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446506182

PhD candidate Mitch Samuel writes an epic tale about life on the farm, but like all his other manuscripts, the publishing industry rejects it. He explodes ripping each paper of his book and a magazine owned by a neighbor. Feeling guilty for ripping up People, he goes to the bookstore to buy a replacement. While there he goes over the top in a fiery rage when he sees Katharine Longwell's latest numbing novel.

He steals a copy of The Cappuccino Club planning to put it in a bonfire but begins to read it while sipping coffee at Starbucks. Katharine sees what he is reading and joins Mitch. He tells her that his cousin is considering writing a chick-lit tale and Katharine offers to help her. Mitch assumes chick lit should be easy – dump down. However, he cannot think like a chick lit aficionado so he tries Oprah and a dance class accompanied by his roommate’s sister Marie, a hairdresser. To his shock he likes Marie and being with her though as an intellect he cannot fathom why.

This is an amusing satire of gender sub-genre stereotypes using hyperbole to exaggerate the acceptable roles. This makes for a humorous story line, but also leaves Mitch as an unlikable intellectual snob who mocks chick lit and its fans as being shallow morons; he bites the hands that might feed him. Still chick lit fans contrary to the protagonist’s scorn will enjoy the lampooning of their sub-genre while hoping Mitch is exposed as one of their writers.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Love Finds You In Treasure Island, Florida-Debby Mayne

Love Finds You In Treasure Island, Florida
Debby Mayne
Summerside, Jul 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9781934770801

In Treasure Island, Florida, Amanda Burns owns a bicycle shop that also sells skateboard. Except for her high maintenance sister, Amanda is happy with her life though she would not mind some romance. That is if annual customer Jerry Simpson was the other.

Every year he rents a tandem, but nobody has ever seen him with anyone or for that matter riding the bicycle built for two. This year when he arrives, Amanda decides to learn more about her mysterious favorite customer. She learns he comes to the island to see his parents on their anniversary and rents the tandem for them. This summer she reaches out to him and with the encouragement of his mother they spend time together finding love, but what happens when it is time for him to leave the beach.

This is terrific character driven relationship drama that showcases how a person needs cherished loving companionships. Jerry is close with his grandfather and his parents and them with him. Amanda has close friends, but would like to really get to know Jerry; what she knows already has her heart pumping with admiration and desire. Jerry is a caring soul who would do anything for his loved ones and though attracted to the bicycle store owner, he is shy on acting on his feelings. Fans will agree that love is the treasure to be found on the Floridian island (and elsewhere) as the lead couple, their loved ones and readers will affirm.

Harriet Klausner

Dune Road-Jane Green

Dune Road
Jane Green
Viking, Jun 16 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780670020867

When Kit divorced Wall St. workaholic superstar Adam, she left him with the Highfield, Connecticut country house. Instead she moved from the mansion having left the manor to live in a nice home near the beach town’s Main Street raising their kids there.

She works as a personal assistant to renowned writer Robert McClore, a widower who avoids the world. Kit has made new friends like her yoga partner Tracy and lives next to a reliable neighbor in eight something Edie. As Kit decides to become Robert’s second wife though he has shown no romantic inclination towards her or anyone and she is seeing Steve, her previously unknown half-sister Annabel arrives from England to meet her. However, the biggest problem she faces is she begins to believe she still loves her ex.

Remaining on the New England shore (see BEACH HOUSE) Jane Green provides her fans with an interesting character study starring strong avaricious women living a very shallow existence until one of the card carrying members drops out. Thus the audience compares Kit’s revelations on what matters vs. the greedy desires of her former BFFs make for a strong story line. Unnecessary late suspense detracts from the comparative character study as the sudden action subplot feels out of place. Still watching Kit change so that she no longer fits with the gourmet gossip group makes for an overall fine read.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Penny Pinchers Club-Sarah Strohmeyer

The Penny Pinchers Club
Sarah Strohmeyer
Dutton, Jul 2 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780525951179

In Rocky River, Griff and Kat Griffiths have been fighting for a long time over her out of control spending habits. She thinks he is a penny pinching miser and he feels she is a spendthrift with no discipline. As their daughter leaves the nest for the first time to attend college, Kat is stunned to find Griff has a secret bank account and seems to be spending an exorbitant amount of time with his research assistant. Those two findings open up Kat’s eyes that she nothing in her name, which means a sudden change in demeanor before filing for divorce.

Kat joins the Rocky Rivers Penny Pinchers Club to learn how to save money whole also having a support group. She cancels cable television and stops drinking gourmet coffee. She begins scavenging dumpsters near the groceries to find thrown away food. Kat saves money, but apparently not her marriage. When a wealthy former lover reenters her life, Kat knows she must choose between an apparent failed marriage and a new start, but love is making her selection difficult.

This entreating timely contemporary drama is an enjoyable often amusing but always poignant tale with a deep message subtly included. The fast-paced story line focuses on Kat who has spousal issues while obsessing to squeeze the penny starting with no more Starbucks; in fact she pulls a reaction formation so much so she gives Lincoln a headache with her squeezing. Fans will enjoy the newest penny pincher as she begins to understand more than just saving money; though in her forties and a mom, she begins to understand what matters; something many people never learn.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sorrow World-Raymond L. Atkins

Sorrow World
Raymond L. Atkins
Medallion, Aug 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781934755631

Wendell Blackmon left home when he was sixteen after he tossed his abusive father into a well. Reva lost her parents and had her leg amputated due to a drunken train engineer. Wendell is sailing in the South pacific, but comes home because his ship needs repair. He and Reva meet in a bar and feel an instant connection as if they lived and loved in past lives. On the second date, Wendell proposes because he loves her and wants to be a father to her son. She accepts and they marry before he has to ship out again.

When he returns, they start their life together, but just as they adapt, he is called up again and sent to Korea. When he returns this time, they move to Sand Valley, Alabama where he becomes the police chief. After decades of no violent crime, a murder occurs of a woman who claimed to be a free spirited witch; her burned remains found on Sorrow Wood land. Wendell investigates only each clue about the mysterious woman and her violent death leads back to his and Reva’spast.

This is the story of two ordinary people who fall in love and marry. Yet as everyday as that sounds; their tale is very poignant reminiscent of Erich Segal’s Love Story. The story line takes place during WW II, the Korean Police Action, and up to 1995 when the homicide occurs. Though the police procedural suspense comes late, fans will enjoy love through the ages on a par with the epics of Barbara Delinsky and Danielle Steele.

Harriet Klausner

Four Freedoms-John Crowley

Four Freedoms
John Crowley
Ecco, May 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061231506

In the early days of WW II, FDR orders production companies to manufacture the weapons needed to fight the Nazis and their axis partners. In Ponca City, Oklahoma, brothers Henry and Julius Van Damme establish an airplane factory to build the B-30 Pax, America's largest warplane

However, the siblings know there biggest handicap is finding experienced workers as most are in the military. They feel fortunate to hire Prosper Olander whose 4F due to a severe curvature of the spine kept him out of the war. The brothers also are pleased with employing street corner philosopher Pancho Notzing; whose religious fervor encourages all types of people to be all they can be but do so while living in a Harmonious City regardless of race, religion, ethnic background as he claims we are all humans and must share and support one another. The brothers also hire enthusiastic women who will accept working blue collar jobs away from home; most have never turned a screw or hammered a nail and few ventured more than a few miles from their family house. Still they come from all parts of the country with various backgrounds to learn how to build the plane and then mass produce the bomber.

This is a terrific WW II saga that obviously tells the tale of life and relationships while mass producing the war machine. However, the subtly thrilling profound story line also implies through the strong cast that this setting all over the country led to future generations of the disenfranchised demanding the same Constitutional FOUR FREEDOMS that FDR said were in jeopardy by the Nazis. Prosper sets the tone with his uplifting “sermons”, but the entire ensemble shows why this is considered the “Greatest generation”.

Harriet Klausner

Swimming-Nicola Keegan

Swimming
Nicola Keegan
Knopf, Jul 14 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9780307269973

When Philomena "Pip" Ash was nine months old, her parents entered her in a baby water class; she amazed everyone when, unlike the other kids who plopped and fell, she began smoothly moving through the water. Olympic coach Ernest K. Mankovitz trains Pip turning her into an unbeatable swimming robot who wins gold medals in three Olympic Games.

Over the years of her success, Pip’s older sister dies of cancer, her father is killed in a plane crash, and her mother collapses mentally with an endless string of nervous breakdowns. The pool is where Pip denies her ghosts, but she never learns to relate. However, as her career winds down, Pip finds herself increasingly dealing with the demons that haunt her as she can no longer sublimate her feelings by swimming.

Character driven, this is a super look at a person whose only psychological defense mechanism over the years of tragedy is swimming, but now with her career waning, even the pool is no longer a haven for her. Pip is terrific with her cursing about life’s unfairness as all the emotions she psychologically avoided by swimming away from them are igniting inside her now. With a candid look at real and metaphoric death (as this is not just the demise of a person) through the confused mocking lead character, whose convoluted ramblings can be difficult to follow, SWIMMING is a gold metal winner.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Havana Nocturne-T.J. English

Havana Nocturne
T.J. English
Harper, Jun 9 2009, $15.99
ISBN: 9780061712746

Just after WWII, the American government deported Mafia boss "Lucky" Luciano sending him home to Sicily. However, instead of crossing the Atlantic, Luciano landed in Cuba where financial genius Meyer Lansky was setting up shop. Cuban dictator Batista and the island’s laws encouraged gambling investment. Soon Havana became the center of gambling, prostitution, and nightclubs while also turning into the central bank of mob activities in North America. Tourism flourished. While the United States struggled with the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, Havana was the true melting pot, as the Mafia welcomed anyone willing to spend. Everything collapses when Castro’s revolution kicks Battista and the mob off the island in 1959.

True crime author T.J. English provides a fascinating look at the Mafia in Cuba from the end of WW II to the Communist takeover. His theory is that Batista worked for Luciano as opposed to the prevalent belief that the mob chief was a welcomed “guest” of the dictator as long as he paid for the privilege. Fans will enjoy the deep look at the mob controlled activities in Havana and the author’s contention of “How the Mob Owned Cuba ... And Then Lost It to the Revolution”.

Harriet Klausner

Moon Shell Beach-Nancy Thayer

Moon Shell Beach
Nancy Thayer
Ballantine, Jun 23 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345498199

Clare Hart and Lexi Laney were best friends attending high school on Nantucket and went to the U of Mass together. When developer Ed Hardin proposes marriage to Lexi, she accepts though she does not love him. She figures he is her ticket off the island and she will do everything to be a perfect wife to him. She never looked back.

That is until now. After a decade of a poor relationship filled with sorrow, regret and abject loneliness filled with lovers, Lexi decides to divorce Ed. She returns to Nantucket where her once BFF Clare does not trust her to just pack one day and leave without a warning. As the pair begins to rekindle their past friendship, Lexi is attracted to Clare’s long time on and off boyfriend Jesse.

This is an entertaining beach novel that focuses on the friendship between women. The story line is fast-paced and breezy although readers will not have to worry about drowning in the somewhat shallow plot. Clare and Lexi are fascinating lead characters yet not as deeply explored as they should be; still they share in common (besides being Townies) a propensity for picking unfaithful men making for a walk on MOON SHELL BEACH worth the time for fans of second chance at friendship tales.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, June 5, 2009

Desperado City-Rebecca Coleman

Desperado City
Rebecca Coleman
Medallion, Aug 2009, $7.95
ISBN 9781605420561

The teens know this is the last time they will work at the Catskills theme park DESPERADO CITY as they have just graduated from high school. Though shook up, none seem particularly interested in the death of a younger teenager in the “Haunted Hotel”.

Danielle prefers snowboarding and gossip with her BFF Sophie’s who is stringing males who want her against one another. Sophie’s brother, Nick may be a born again religious fanatic, but also is a lady’s man as he interprets the bible literally when it comes to females. On the other hand nerdy Adam wants Sophie, but she uses him as jealousy bait to hook the fireman Joey. The owner’s son Toby fears he will inherit DESPERADO CITY.

Somewhat a whodunit that is resolved early, DESPERADO CITY is more a teen character study with so much self-torment and tsuris that the amount of runaway hormones on the loose is over the top of the Catskills. The cast is strong as individuals, but as an ensemble can be overwhelming; sort of like having too much sugar. Still this is an interesting look at teenage brooding and anxiety amplified by a homicide.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Goat Ate Its Own Legs-Alex Bennett

My Goat Ate Its Own Legs
Alex Bennett
Harper, Jun 30 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9780061719684

These thirty-one short shorts (none are more than fifteen pages) are entertaining and surprisingly several contain twists that will catch the reader off guard. None of the entries are clinkers, but a few are extremely profound about the “human” condition like “Dating Death” in which a suicide victim and Death begin seeing one another, Genghis Brown a rat of a species meeting the Prince of Darkness and “Anger Management” due to low levels of aggression. The title story is a stunner as the audience learns why the goat did what it did and its human owner did what he did afterward; but the kid only chomped himself to survive while his parents modestly but swiftly dine on their children as a gourmet delicacy. Irreverent yet relevant as even God has been divorced and Cyrano knows he has been put through a Bennett rinse cycle, fans who relish something different in their shorts (no pun intended as that would be to light for this collection), mostly humorous, but always hyperbolizing society with the uncanny dark stripping of the pompous. This is an odd winner, but best served over several weeks so the reader will be less likely to anticipate the mocking spins on human civilized society.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago

I'm Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago
Hape Kerkeling
Free Press (Simon and Schuster), Jun 16 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416553878

In 2001 thirtyish German comedian Kerkeling decided to search for God by hiking the 500-mile sacred Camino de Santiago, which starts at the foothills of the Pyrenees and ends at the Shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He was following the route of Christians who have taken this pilgrimage for at least twelve centuries. With just under forty stops, Kerkeling understood he would need to walk at least 12 miles a day to complete the tour in less than two weeks. He also knew he was an unhealthy couch potato. Still he began his trek heading to the first of just under forty recognized stops on the trail and came close to quitting right then.

His version of the pilgrimage is interesting especially when he talks with workers at the sacred pit stops (irreverent but that is what these locales sound like) and with fellow pilgrims to understand their motives and gain a group inspiration to finish the arduous journey (think Canterbury Tales). Although the readers knows how far Kerkeling traveled in terms of miles/kilometers, the comedian fails to provide a baseline beyond doubting couch potato status so his spiritual awakening never fully comes across. Still his trek from the disenchanted to the enlightened is a profound journey of the soul.

Harriet Klausner

I love You, Beth Cooper-Larry Doyle

I love You, Beth Cooper
Larry Doyle
Harper, Jun 9 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061732775

At the Buffalo Grove High School graduation the poster boy for geek Denis Cooverman gives the valedictorian speech. In his talk to his peers, he decides to go for the ultimate set down and the impossible dream. He names those who are bullies and abuse victims; he also tells those shocked people assembled for the graduation ceremony that “I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER” although he expects abject rejection from the cheerleader.

Shockingly, instead Beth encourages Denis, which outrages her boyfriend Kevin, who wants to kick some geek butt. Even more stunning Beth comes to Denis's graduation party with her two BFFs Cammy and Treece. Thus the three females join Denis and his only guest, his maybe gay pal Rich. Fuming Kevin and his army crash the party planning to beat the snot out of the geek; the Coove with Rich and the ladies flees into the night.

This is a humorous over the top nerd’s excellent adventure as the Coove and company are on the run from the army. Fans will enjoy the tale as long as the plausibility meter is left on idle. Mindful of the Keanu Reeves film The Night Before, in so many ways as Coove learns that his perfect heroine is human with flaws.

Harriet Klausner

Tomato Rhapsody-Adam Schell

Tomato Rhapsody
Adam Schell
Delacorte, Jun 23 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385343336

In sixteenth century Tuscany, ebreho farmer Davido loves his tomato plants that his grandfather brought back from his voyage with Columbus; The Jew relishes the bright color to the incredible aroma that makes him feel pure of heart though his future in-laws fear he loves the plant more than his betrothed. New town priest The Good Padre permits Davido to bring his “love apples” to town, the Jew is ecstatic.

Meanwhile vile olive mogul and village owner Giuseppe and his henchman Benito search for truffles. His stepdaughter olive farmer Mari is attracted to the unacceptable outsider as Jews are less than the beasts of burden and besides Giuseppe has plans for her and her land. At the Feast of the Drunken Saint donkey race all hell breaks loose as everyone wants a piece of something or someone leading to “a comedy of errors” that prove “much ado about nothing”.

With homage (or perhaps chutzpah) to the Bard especially A Merchant of Venice, TOMATO RHAPSODY is an amusing Elizabethan Era tale of greed and love. The story line is kept at a frantic pace throughout as one thing leads to another. Although none of the characters (except the tomatoes) ever develop beyond a simple stereotype, fans who enjoy a zany historical caper will want to read Davido the ebreho’s adventures in Tuscany.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Ugly Man-Dennis Cooper

The Ugly Man
Dennis Cooper
Harper, May 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061715440

These eighteen short stories take a dark amusing look at sex, gore, and gory sex. Ironically the title story is an extreme short yet gets the message across of gore, death and sex. involving a dying diseased person turning hookers into “angels of mercy”. Other entries are grosser though there is an ironic humor to most. “Jerk” for instance is an apropos description of a puppeteer. The title of the weird "One Night in 1979 I Did Too Much Coke and Couldn't Sleep and Had What I Thought Was a Million-Dollar Idea to Write the Definitive Tell-all Book About Glam Rock Based on My Own Personal Experience but This Is as Far as I Got" seems longer than the entry. There are also longer contributions starring sadists who are also “ugly men” torturing, mutilating, and raping teenagers. Those tales that are explicit stone serious are not easy to read; nor are the “scripts. On the other hand, those with a mocking edge like "The Anal-Retentive Line Editor" are super as where else can you find a running war between an editor and a writer over the latter’s gay erotic thriller. THE UGLY MAN is typical Dennis Cooper as the author will tickle his fans with his pickle while also shocking the sh*t out of newcomers with his quirky look at death, gore, and sex.

Harriet Klausner

Summer House-Nancy Thayer

Summer House
Nancy Thayer
Ballantine, Jun 23 2009, $24.00
ISBN 9780345498205

Needing to escape from banking, thirty year old Charlotte Wheelwright leaves Boston to to stay on her nonagenarian grandma Nona’s estate. Her family of bankers supports her move because everyone has been concerned about Nona living by herself as the elderly woman has been mumbling frequently about long ago events and people dead. To occupy herself Charlotte starts a garden.

Over the next few years she loves working the land with her only stress occurring when the family invades for the annual get together to discuss financial matters. Her garden begins to turn a profit as she sells some of her organically grown items. However, her white collar banking family objects to her selling her efforts as that is beneath the upper crust Brahmins that the Wheelwright clan believes they are. This summer they plan to make Charlotte stop as they once did her mom Helen, but she might have an ally in her mother who isangry with her spouse for cheating on her.She supports her daughter to do whatever she wants.

This tale is an interesting look at the wealthy upper class through the eyes of a rebel (with a cause). Charlotte has found happiness working her garden, which was acceptable for an affluent woman of leisure, but once she becomes a middle class peddler than everyone except Nona and mom turn on her. Image is everything to the Wheelwright clan. Although the plot is extremely thin with the conflict seemingly minor and most of the support characters unlikable snobs, fans of contemporary family drama will still want to read Nancy Thayer’s SUMMER HOUSE.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Promise of Lumby- Gail Fraser

The Promise of Lumby
Gail Fraser
NAL, Jul 7 2009, $15.00
ISBN 9780451226969

In the Rockies’ tiny town of Lumby, Pam and Mark Walker had hoped their restaurant at the Montis Inn would be a success. Neither was ready for how successful it become. Now each is exhausted from overworking and both wonder what is going on with the former owners. The now famous philanthropists of Saint Abbey, the monks are receiving exotic animals and selling gourmet dining to delighted customers who come for great food and spiritual cleansing as they know the way to a man’s spirit is through his stomach.

At the same time, vet Dr. Ellen Campbell announces she is selling her practice to Tom Candor. He is made quickly unwelcome because he fails to mingle. Tom fears rejection if they knew his darkest secret, killing Ming the panda. However carpenter Mackenzie McGuire is attracted to the newcomer and hopes he reciprocates.

Fans of Lumby (see STEALING LUMBY, LUMBY’S BOUNTY and LUMBY LINES) will relish this engaging return trip enhanced by the local newspaper gossip. The subplots are fun, over the top of the Rockies, and all subplots end up in “Happy Valley” (but not Penn State). Whimsical, uplifting and warm, THE PROMISE OF LUMBY is a lighthearted frolic that requires leaving the reality meter at page one.

Harriet Klausner