Friday, December 31, 2010

Marrying Daisy Bellamy-Susan Wiggs

Marrying Daisy Bellamy
Susan Wiggs
Mira, Jan 25 2011, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778329251

In Avalon, New York, wedding photographer Daisy Bellamy continues, as she has for years, strugglling to choose between two wonderful men who love her. She adores both hunks. Julian Gastineau could never live by Willow Lake while Logan O’Donnell could.

However, everything changes between the trio when Daisy gives birth to Logan’s offspring Charlie. Yet nothing changes as in spite of having a child with a man who wants to raise a family with her, Daisy still has wet dreams involving Julian. She knows one day she will have to select between two lovers; one safe and nurturing while the other is wild and carefree.

The latest Lakeshore Chronicles (see Snowfall at Willow Lake and Summer at Willow Lake) is a profound character study that looks deeply into the souls of three protagonists. Daisy understands responsibility but desires running around the world as a crisis photojournalist. Julian offers her the freedom to soar anywhere; Logan offers her a safe haven to raise their child. Readers will enjoy this complicated relationship drama summed up by the Roy Orbison and Joe Melson song Running Scared.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Every Little Thing-Pamela Klaffke

Every Little Thing
Pamela Klaffke
Mira, Jan 18 2011, $13.95
ISBN: 9780778329237

In San Francisco, although she loved her mom Britt dearly, Mason McDonald knows her notorious late mother’s scandalous newspaper column was a constant source of embarrassment. Still in spite of feeling abashed, she knows she will miss her beloved mom who left everything to her cherished daughter.

Mason goes home to attend her mom’s funeral and grieve her loss. However, her two stepbrothers Aaron and Edgar, who were part of her early childhood in Sonoma when their dad married her mom, want to renew their acquaintance with her. Instead of mourning her mom’s death, Mason inadvertently steps into her shoes as the step-siblings’ actions lead her into a scandalous fiasco that probably has Britt the “scandal whore” smiling at her daughter. However, they also have a more significant second order effect when she vows to take charge of her life just like her mom did.

Every Little Thing is a big thing entertaining chick lit tale starring a somewhat caustic pathetic woman finding herself when she steps into her late larger than life mom’s high heels. In many ways the deceased Britt brings the freshness with her loved ones looking back at her crude, rude and lewd lifestyle; a sort of outrageous Auntie Mame. Readers will enjoy Mason seeking her groove as she begins to believe scandal is just another gene in her DNA makeup.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Serve a King-Donna Russo Morin

To Serve a King
Donna Russo Morin
Kensington, Feb 25 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780758246813

In the sixteenth century, King Francis I of France killed the parents of Genevieve Gravois. Her acrimonious aunt raised the orphan with one thought: how to hate the monarch across the Channel. She loathes the French ruler, which fuels her thirst for vengeance by training in male activities like using a bow.

King Henry VIII of England believes the girl is a perfect tool to assassinate a rival across the Channel. He encourages her to be the best agent and she swears her loyalty to her liege. Believing the time is right, he sends his top trained spy to France to preferably kill his royal rival or if that is not possible to provide valuable information to the English ruler. However, instead of an amoral despot, Genevieve, who obtains a position as maid of honor to the royal mistress Anne de Pisseleau, finds the French king honest, fair and pushing the renaissance across a court filled with art and artists. The king feels the Renaissance movement will be good for all of Ftamce. The English spy feels a dilemma as the king she pledged loyalty to turns out to be an immoral beast while the king she vowed to murder is a benign ruler.

This is a fascinating look at a rarely seen Tudor rival, King Francis (Francois) of France who pushes the Renaissance to enlighten France. The glimpse at his court is refreshing as sixteenth century focus is normally on the Tudor monarchs (see Robin Maxwell’s Mademoiselle Boleyn). However, Genevieve’s conflict between royals is not on a par with the French court background; as the King of France comes across as a heroic enlightened ruler while the King of England comes across as a villainous avarice despot.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Heartwood-Belva Plain

Belva Plain
Delacorte, Feb 8 2011, $26.00
ISBN: 9780385344128

Family matriarch Iris Stern feels she has had a happy marriage and a great late career as a college professor. When her husband Theo suffers a massive heart attack, Iris knows she loves her spouse and her adult children, but the needs of her kids are not hers and their decisions are definitely not hers.

In California Robby McAllister loses his college teaching job due to cutbacks. He and his wife Laura, Iris’ daughter returns to New York to be near her family. As he fails to land a position, she thrives with a fixer upper Victorian and a catering business. An upset Robby flees to his family home and store in Ohio, but Laura remains in New York with their daughter and meets Nick. Iris has her own issues with an ethical question of what is right in accordance with her deep Jewish faith vs. what Theo desires as well as how to handle a secret he concealed from her.

The late Belva Plain takes her readers back to where it all began with Evergreen as she provides a profound look at the Stern family. The cast is strong, but remains true to their personalities yet the character driven story line can stand alone. Ms. Plain, who died in October, pays homage to herself with a depth few authors ever achieve.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Amish Midwife-Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould

The Amish Midwife
Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould
Harvest House, Feb 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780736937986

Just outside of Aurora, Oregon, three weeks after baby number 244 is born, her dying widower adopted father informs twenty-six years old midwife Lexie Jaeger with the rest of the truth that he and his late wife concealed from her. He tells her to never forget how he and her adopted mom loved her and finally admits his Montgomery County, Pennsylvania biological maternal grandma sent her a carved box. When her beloved dad dies, Lexie looks inside the box.

After helping 245 enter the world, Lexie decides to travel to Pennsylvania to meet her birth family and learn why she was given away. She leaves behind James who she has been seeing for several years as she obsesses with a need to know her kin. In Pennsylvania, she meets the family and assists Aunt Melia the lay-midwife accused of manslaughter when her Amish patient and baby died during delivery. However, as Lexie begins to learn about her roots, she finds secrets that her biological family feels are An Inconvenient Truth. She considers leaving for home, although she knows God would expect her to forgive those who let her down as a baby.

The first Amish Clark and Gould collaboration is a strong family drama that focuses on a person’s bone-marrow deep need for a specific indent in which he or she believes they belong. With action provided especially by midwife responsibilities in light of the manslaughter charge and a supporting romantic subplot, The Amish Midwife is a terrific character driven tale as Lexie learns you can and cannot go home.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 24, 2010

Juno's Daughters-Lise Saffran

Juno's Daughters
Lise Saffran
Plume, Jan 25 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452296732

On the San Juan Island in Puget Sound, single mom Jenny Alexander raises her two daughters, seventeen years old Lilly and thirteen years old Frankie. Jenny left her physically abusive husband Monroe while still nursing her youngest. She does need a man permanently in her life; though local carpenter David would like her to reconsider, as Monroe’s beatings still linger in her mind.

Every year the Islanders host a summer theater festival. This year The Tempest is the main event with a cast of professional actors from New York, Los Angeles and Ashland, Oregon. Jenny and Lilly are attracted to Andre the New York actor. Frankie has her own issues, but is tired of the family version of the Tempest. She runs off to Seattle, which turns the Alexander raging storm into a monster.

With super interwoven nods to the Bard, Juno’s Daughters is an excellent family drama that explores some of the themes of the classic play in a modern context. For instance, the relationships between mom and daughters are brilliantly scrutinized with each holding certain power over the other, but Jenny as the adult rules. The cast makes the tale as the Alexander family star in a terrific contemporary as a “tempest in a teapot” is brewing.

Harriet Klausner

We Are Not Eaten by Yaks-C. Alexander London

We Are Not Eaten by Yaks
C. Alexander London
Philomel (Penguin), Feb 22 2011, $12.99
ISBN: 9780399254871

The eleven-year-old Navel Twins (Oliver and Celia) prefer armchair traveling rather than physically explore the world. However the tweeners are the offspring of the Lower east Side Explorers Club’s top guns; who drag them around the globe for smelly adventures in Mongolia and Africa, and islands not found in an atlas. In fact, the pair is the only children who attend the annual club gala.

Recently their mom disappeared and their dad wagered with evil rival Sir Edmund S. Tithletorpe-Schmidt III that he will not only find her but they discover one of the greatest finds ever. He anteed with his fifth graders, who if their dad fails, will be Sir Edmund’s servants until they graduate high school. However, when dear old dad becomes ill in Tibet after meeting poison witches; sneering Sir Edmund demands remittance. Thus the kids now know a fate worst than adventure awaits them; so giving up TV and other electrons, they fly to Tibet to rescue their dad and then their mom and by the way discover that great historical find. If they save the world and not get chewed by a humongous yak that would be wonderful but only if the cable is working in the Himalayas.

Targeting the middle school crowd, We Are Not Eaten by Yaks because they are herbivores while yetis are not is an exciting adventure thriller filled with satirical lighthearted humor. The stars are couch potatoes who are forced into the wild without a remote as they now know is a fate worse than an Accidental Adventure.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gryphon-Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter
Pantheon, Jan 11 2011, $27.95
ISBN: 9780307379214

This engaging twenty story collection from one of the best authors of the short format includes seven new tales and sixteen entries from his previous anthologies. The tales all look closely at ordinary people living mundane lives yet each character possesses a jocular quirkiness that sets him or her just outside the norm. The entire compilation contains all solid tales with a few of the reruns being super and new tales for the most part excellent. “Gryphon” (see Through the Safety Net) stars a fourth grader musing about a substitute teacher providing special reading and times table lessons. The art dealer knows 9/11 changed him forever in enigmatic “Royal Blue” (see The American Scholar). The stranger enters her house and announces to the frightened woman they are soulmates, but she will soon learn what soulmate means to him in “Ghosts” (see Ploughshares). “Fenstad’s Mother” lectures him when he visits her adamantly insisting that he just tries to be good, but his daughter Sharon is the real thing. The "Poor Devil" is actually a couple beyond the edge of divorce. As always Charles Baxter provides a strong insightful look at everyman; often through a surreal Dali like eye.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Someone Else's Garden-Dipika Rai

Someone Else's Garden
Dipika Rai
Harper, Feb 1 2011, $13.99
ISBN 9780062000354

In the rural part of India where family tradition is strictly observed, Mamta is sold by her family in marriage. Soon afterward, her depraved husband sells her kidney to pay for his hookers. When that money runs out he plans to sell her other kidney. Mamta learns of his deadly plan so she flees. With no place else to go she returns home where her father and brother help her escape to another part of India.

Mamta finds employment and sends money home, but her mother considers her dead for leaving her husband as that is an unacceptable breach of custom and religion. Her brother-in-law Lokend arrives trying to win a public office election, but a worker of his rival severely batters him. Mamta nurses Lokend back to health. They fall in love before returning together to their village.

This is not an easy read as Dipika Rai displays a dark gruesomeness in rural India. Not only are female rights ignored as Mamta is sold into marriage and her kidneys and other organs owned by her spouse, but her mother and son-on-law accept that as a husband’s right. A late spin to bring some hope into the gloomy plot feels like an unneeded Americanized addition to an otherwise strong grim look at the ugly side of humanity. Timely with today’s headlines as the House of Representatives Republicans and nine Democrats who voted against the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010 would change their vote if they read Someone Else's Garden.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Brooklyn Story-Suzann Corso

Brooklyn Story
Suzann Corso
Gallery (Pocket), Dec 28 2010, $23.99
ISBN: 9781439190227

In the summer of 1978, fifteen year old Samantha Bonti of Bensonhurst dreams of becoming a writer living on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Being half-Jewish and with no father in the household since her Italian dad abandoned her and her mom, Sam is treated as a pariah by the Italian Catholic neighbors. Her Jewish mother Joan is filled with rage at humanity including her daughter and alcohol fuels her bitterness; while Grandma Ruth is her cheerleader encouraging Sam to go for it. Sam’s BFF is fellow outcast Janice Caputo who loathes her heritage that she sees as stifling crap in which males thrive to be the next great gangster.

Sam’s world spins out of control when she meets half-Sicilian, half-Dutch Tony Kroon, a mobster in training. She falls in love with him as she believes he understands her dual heritage. However, Tony warns her to never question his work. Her mom normally ignores her but tells her to dump him as he is no good; Grandma Ruth tells her bubelah to drop him before she loses her dream and becomes her mother’s clone.

This is an entertaining character study of a teen seeking to belong while also dreaming of escaping to that other island across the water. Sam makes the tale work as readers will dream a little dream with her (paraphrasing Mama Cass) while also wondering whether she will cross the East River to truly go after her desires or remain in Brooklyn with Tony who climbs the ladder of his chosen vocation.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Tudor Secret-C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Secret
C.W. Gortner
St. Martin's Griffin, Feb 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN 9780312658502

In 1553 the affluent influential Dudley brood dispatches servant Brendan Prescott to serve their cruel son Lord Robert at young King Edward's court. The young orphan knows that the Dudley family own King Edward who has been gravely ill and unable to rule.

The Dudley patriarch fears intelligent survivor Princess Elizabeth more than the heir to Edward’s throne Princess Mary. William Cecil, protector of Princess Elizabeth, enlists Prescott to spy on his employer. However, the more the lad learns about those surrounding the royal siblings, the more he believes competing and overarching conspiracies abound, but is unsure what she should do with what he learns because she trusts no one.

The key to this Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles tale is ethical Brendan who believes in loyalty, but unsophisticated in the ways of court intrigue as he is caught between his duty to the Dudley clan and to the princess. He and vicious Lord Robert bring freshness to the entertaining Tudor historical as the rest of the latter’s family and much of the court is stereotyped. Still C.W. Gortner (see The Last Queen) reveals the secrets behind those playing for power on a life and death royal stage through the only transparent participant who participates in a parallel play way.

Harriet Klausner

Dreaming in English-Laura Fitzgerald

Dreaming in English
Laura Fitzgerald
NAL, Feb 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780451232144

Twenty-seven years old Iranian expatriate Tamila Soroush knows how fortunate she is when American Ike Hanson married her in Vegas as she was able to remain in the states (see Veil of Roses) with the Prince Charming she loves. Instead of Teheran, Tamila joyfully goes to Tucson, Arizona where her hostile mother-in-law wants the marriage annulled and Tamila deported.

Law enforcement watches her marriage to Ike closely to determine if it is real or a Green Card sham. Tami realizes she must shed her Tamila upbringing in which women accepted their fate and defend her self from the deportation-arrest first and ask questions later government (that reminds her of home) and her enemy mother-in-law.

This is a direct sequel to Veil of Roses so to understand how far from Iran to Nevada seemingly naïve Tamila has traveled, readers need to read her first fairy tale of going after what she believes is America. Her new American family led by her angry mother-in-law push for her deportation based on a phony marriage. Ike is caught in the middle between the combatants, his relationship combat experienced mom and his naïve immigrant wife. However, this proves no contest as the entertaining story line follows the anticipated path even with detours.

Harriet Klausner

The Darling Strumpet-Gillian Bagwell

The Darling Strumpet
Gillian Bagwell
Berkley, Jan 4 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 97804252388592

In 1660 following a decade of bleak Cromwell gray, thirty year old Charles II is crowned king. In London as the monarchy returns, young Nell Gwynn was beaten by her partially intoxicated mother Eleanor for losing her oyster barrow when the girl was caught up in the royal festivities. She vowed no more beatings and she will find a way to escape from the smell and oil of oysters that Nell believes has penetrated her brain. She flees to her sister Rose the whore who advises her to leave their termagant mother and the Golden Fleece tavern but must get the money first.

Nell turns to whoring working for Rose’s employer Madam Ross though she only recently started her courses. The patrons love her deprecating cheeky humor. She goes to watch the return of The King’s Company performing Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth after years of being shut down. There she meets Robbie Duncan who takes her away from the brothel. Soon her bawdy commentary leads to her performing on the stage. When King Charles II sees her act, he makes her his favorite courtesan. Nell understands that she is the Protestant whore of the king, but also is fond of her kind lover while maneuvering the deadly royal courtesan court. She “captures the heart of England and Charles II” as even when he is dying, the monarch wants his beloved taken care of after he is gone.

This historical biography of Nell Gwynn is a terrific tale from the invigorating bur different perspective of a courtesan who rose from abject poverty and family abuse to become the nation’s Darling Strumpet. Decades before Fielding’s “lewd” classic Tom Jones, Nell’s real life witty ribald comments about herself and the life in the men (paraphrasing Mae West) wanting her make for a fun look at the Restoration.

Harriet Klausner

Somebody Pick Up My Pieces -J.D. Mason

Somebody Pick Up My Pieces
J.D. Mason
St. Martin's, Feb 1 2011, $24.99
ISBN 9780312368876

Almost three decades ago the worst day in her life occurred. Her Uncle Lamont Williams killed Charlotte Rodgers’s lover and beat her to a pulp. She survived the brutal hammering while he went to prison.

Now twenty-seven years since that horrific day, Lamont has been released from jail and wants to rejoin his family. His niece, now the family matriarch, wants nothing to do with the relative who also paid off a debt with Charlotte as the remittance.

Her three adult children have left Charlotte isolated in Murphy, Kansas as they are frustrated with their acrimonious mother who abandoned them as children years ago and now struggle with their own problems. Her daughter Cammy lost her child in a car accident. She cannot move passed her grief so she leaves her husband. She moves to Denver where her two older sisters, Connie and Clarice “Reesy”, reside. Connie loves her newborn. She and the baby’s father John seem ideal for one another until he learns his father is dying. The third sister Clarice remains angry at her spouse Justin for cheating on her.

The latest Rodgers women saga once again makes the same case that the child is the adult. The four females have new tsuris to compound their psychological defense mechanisms caused by more traumas than Job faced. The impetus this time that exponentially spirals the unhappiness of the foursome is the return of odious Lamont who demands retribution from his niece who he blames for his imprisonment. Although somewhat feeling repetitive to the previous tales (see One Day I Saw a Black King and You Gotta Sin to Get Saved) in spite of the latest tragedies, ironically there is a sense that finally somebody is picking up the pieces of her soul.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Collectibles -James J. Kaufman

The Collectibles
James J. Kaufman
Downstream Publishing, Jan 4 2011, $14.95
1908 Eastwood Rd; Suite 324; Wilmington, NC 28403
ISBN: 9780982587300

The son of Manhattan high societye Preston Wilson grew up with a platinum spoon. On the other hand orphaned as a child Joe Hart was raised by his working class Uncle Howard and Aunt Lettie with a sterling silver spoon. Whereas Preston has an extremely easy path to success; Joe works his way through the US Navy, college and law school.

They met as teens when Joe saved Preston's life in the Adirondacks. Years later, a distraught Preston is in deep financial trouble and needing a lawyer. He asks Joe to represent him; Joe agrees on the stipulation that Preston owes him a debt that one day he will collect. Preston accepts the strange terms. Not long after reluctantly agreeing to help, Joe saves his client from financial ruin. The attorney demands remittance. He directs Preston to obtain the trust of Joe’s friends “The Collectibles”; as he expects Preston to care for these troubled people when he soon cannot. He explains he helps them as homage to his uncle helping him. Johnny is a mentally challenged dishwasher; Missy is a domestic abuse victim waiting tables; Tommy is a gambling addict; Harry is a bipolar photographer and Corey is a carpenter suffering from early Alzheimer's.

This is a character driven inspirational tale that makes a case for people to select and help “Collectibles”. The key to this strong message is that each of the Collectibles contains different personalities and woes. Joe shows first hand by example to Preston that life has no meaning if you fail to, as his uncle said,” … help the other fella”. This work is si thought provoking, readers will reflect on who their “collector” is and who their “collectibles” are.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Winter Ghosts -Kate Mosse

The Winter Ghosts
Kate Mosse
Putnam, Feb 3 2011, $24.95
ISBN 9780399157158

Over a decade ago in WWI George Watson vanished while serving on the Western Front. His younger brother Freddie has not been able to move on having found no closure. His grief so great, Freddie spent time in an asylum.

Ten years have passed since the Armistice ended the combat. Freddie works for the War Grave Commission which enables him to seek clues to his sibling. He drives a motorcar in the French Pyrenees still seeking solace. During a snowstorm, he crashes his vehicle near the remote village of Nulle. At the small mountainous hamlet Freddie meets Fabrissa. That evening, Fabrissa tells him her tale of harassment and death. The next day, Freddie cannot find Fabrissa, but his inquiries for her lead him to a six century old mystery.

The Winter Ghosts is a fascinating 1928 tale of two individuals who come together for one night; each seeking solace over what was lost of their respective souls due to war. The story line starts extremely slow as Kate Mosse takes her time to set time, place and Freddie’s angst. Still readers will enjoy the cost of war still being paid by survivors years, even centuries, after the hostilities end.

Harriet Klausner

A Royal Likeness -Christine Trent

A Royal Likeness
Christine Trent
Kensington, Dec 28 2010, $15.00
ISBN 9780758238580

In 1803 Marguerite Ashby, heiress to the renowned Laurent Fashion Dolls and a former student of the late great wax artist Monsieur Curtius who died years ago, escapes Paris for London. She becomes a renowned London doll maker. However, rabble attacks her shop because of her Franch lineage. Her husband Nicholas dies during the anti-French assault. Marguerite escapes the city for Edinburgh.

Her friend and fellow French expatriate Madame Tussaud hires Marguerite to work with her waxworks exhibit. Tussaud proves an artistic genius but a financial failure at the mercy of her amoral business partner Paul de Philipsthal. When Paul dies, Marguerite opens her own waxworks. Meanwhile the Crown asks for her help with creating decoys just prior to the engagement at Trafalgar.

This is an engaging Napoleonic Era historical though there is some romance as two men (not counting Police of Chief Joseph Fouche) chase after the widow. The story line starts very slow as Christine Trent sets the stage in France , England and Scotland. Once established, the plot accelerates into a fun early nineteenth century tale culminating with an intriguing look at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crazy-Peter Blatty

Peter Blatty
Forge, Nov 9 2010, $22.99
ISBN: 9780765326492

In 1941 in Manhattan, Joey El Bueno is a seventh grader at St. Stephen’s School. He cherishes comic books and movie while somehow safely eludes the nuns and bullies who run the school with iron fists. Joey meets new student nutty Jane Bent as both relish the movie Gunga Din. He realizes he appreciates people with a touch of lunacy as a super attractive trait; Joey especially enjoys her mangling metaphors of what apparently is history and what confusingly seems to have not yet happened.

One day after a movie, Jane vanishes. Joey is confused by her vanishing, but more bewildered by everyone at school looking at him like he is Crazy because no one else will confess they met or even saw Jane. He begins to wonder if they are right; as time passes with no clues to prove she lived or what happened to Jane; if he is not insane than Joey turns to his comic books for solutions as there the supernatural and paranormal are the normal.

This is an intriguing look at 1941 New York City though the eyes of a tweener who may be crazy. Ironically, the elongated sentences imply that Joey is crazy or that Jane is a strange essence; however those same significant seemingly endless sentences are difficult to follow requiring at times re-reading. With a nod to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire though the novel occurs two decades earlier than the song, fans will enjoy this offbeat character study of a person who may be crazy, but then again who is not at least just a little bit insane.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 4, 2010

These Things Hidden-Heather Gudenkauf

These Things Hidden
Heather Gudenkauf
Mira, Feb 1 2011, $15.99
ISBN: 9780778328797

After spending five years in prison for the murder of her newborn daughter, twenty one year old Allison Glenn is released to the Gertrude Halfway House for the next six months. Her parents have disowned her and her younger sister Brynn has ignored her efforts to contact her. Allison has fallen mightily from being perfect in high school. Her lawyer meets her at the prison and takes her to Gertrude House where she meets owner Olene who encourages her.

Bookends owner Claire Kelby and her husband Jonathan adopted their now six years old son Joshua who was found abandoned at a fire station when he was two days old. They heard the unknown teenage mother tried to kill him. Nursing student Charm Tulia likes coming to the bookstore where she buys all sorts of self- help books because she is the one who left Joshua in a safe house in accordance with Iowa law.

Brynn ignores her sister’s plea to talk to her. She stays with her granny taking medicine for depression. She attends school enjoying the animal classes. Brynn was with Allison when she gave birth. There were no doctors or hospitals based on Allison’s insistence. Olene arranges for Allison to interview for a job at Bookends Bookstore. Charm remembers entering the bookstore for the first time and recognizing Joshua. She comes regularly to see that he is okay. Claire hires Allison. Soon the full truth that connects these women will surface.

The key ensemble cast especially the four prime females is all developed while the connection between the ladies is developed over the course of the wonderful story line. Although there are two key coincidences that feel out of place re the woman involved, readers will enjoy that the truth does not always set one free.

Harriet Klausner

These Things Hidden-Heather Gudenkauf

These Things Hidden
Heather Gudenkauf
Mira, Feb 1 2011, $15.99
ISBN: 9780778328797

After spending five years in prison for the murder of her newborn daughter, twenty one year old Allison Glenn is released to the Gertrude Halfway House for the next six months. Her parents have disowned her and her younger sister Brynn has ignored her efforts to contact her. Allison has fallen mightily from being perfect in high school. Her lawyer meets her at the prison and takes her to Gertrude House where she meets owner Olene who encourages her.

Bookends owner Claire Kelby and her husband Jonathan adopted their now six years old son Joshua who was found abandoned at a fire station when he was two days old. They heard the unknown teenage mother tried to kill him. Nursing student Charm Tulia likes coming to the bookstore where she buys all sorts of self- help books because she is the one who left Joshua in a safe house in accordance with Iowa law.

Brynn ignores her sister’s plea to talk to her. She stays with her granny taking medicine for depression. She attends school enjoying the animal classes. Brynn was with Allison when she gave birth. There were no doctors or hospitals based on Allison’s insistence. Olene arranges for Allison to interview for a job at Bookends Bookstore. Charm remembers entering the bookstore for the first time and recognizing Joshua. She comes regularly to see that he is okay. Claire hires Allison. Soon the full truth that connects these women will surface.

The key ensemble cast especially the four prime females is all developed while the connection between the ladies is developed over the course of the wonderful story line. Although there are two key coincidences that feel out of place re the woman involved, readers will enjoy that the truth does not always set one free.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lily of the Nile-Stephanie Dray

Lily of the Nile
Stephanie Dray
Berkley, Jan 4 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425238554

In 31 BC, Roman legions loyal to Octavian defeats married couple Cleopatra and Mark Antony at the battle of Actium. They follow that victory with a successful invasion of Egypt leading to the suicide of the royal opposition leaders. Afterward to insure no more Egyptian uprising behind a martyr and to extinguish the prophesized Golden Age for Isis worshippers, the young Roman emperor takes the vanquished Egyptian queen's preadolescent children in chains to Rome. He incorporates the older twins Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios and the youngest offspring Ptolemy Philadelphus into his household.

Helios is irate as he loathes bowing down to the barbaric Roman Emperor who has taken away his divined destiny. His wiser sister Selene works the court though she conceals her Isis worship from those who scorn her beliefs as primitive. Selene soon learns she possesses inner strengths, outer enticing beauty to rival her mom, and a need to defend her religious beliefs and her people. She refuses to back away from the emperor as she challenges the man who defeated her mother in ways her mom tried to do but ultimately failed.

Mindful of Michelle Moran’s delightful young adult targeted Cleopatra’s Daughter, Stephanie Dray provides a wonderful adult entry that enhances the first century BC thriller with a touch of magic. Selene is strong as she tries to protect her siblings and her people from the wrath of Rome. Historical armchair readers will enjoy a trip to the Mediterranean escorted by the charming Lily of the Nile.

Harriet Klausner

The View From Here-Deborah McKinlay

The View From Here
Deborah McKinlay
Soho, Feb 1 2011, $24.00
ISBN: 9781569478714

In England, Frances and Phillip have been married for two decades. They have no children of their own, but they raised his daughter Chloe, whose mother abandoned her. In her forties, Frances learns she suffers from a malignant tumor. Stunned Phillip leaves London where he worked on his latest marketing book to return to their rural home to help his beloved wife.

However Frances feels betrayed as she has found a romantic letter that ties her husband to his book editor Josee, the London-based editor of his books. Instead of confronting Phillip, Frances follows him to London where she sees him say goodbye to Josee. As she knows she is dying, she looks back to herself in 1976 as a twentyish woman in Mexico eking out a living by teaching English. There she met three wealthy selfish American couples (Patsy and Richard, Bee Bee and Ned, and Sally and Mason) who she initially cannot distinguish between the extender Severance family members. However, she and Mason have an affair; which she rationalized by blaming Sally until she realizes her lover was having sex with Patsy too. As her death looms, Frances relooks at her relationship with Phillip who she knows loved her though he betrayed her.

The View from Here is that this is an engaging insightful character study. The story line contrasts Frances as twenty-two years old who believed she could do anything and selfishly went after whatever or whoever she desires without a care for others; vs. the forty something dying Frances who is no long shallow as she has cared for others like Chloe and forgives her beloved Phillip for his indiscretions. The protagonist will have readers ponder whether the sums of a person’s good deeds and bad deeds can be accrued like debits and credits on an accounting journal.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Journal of a UFO Investigator -David Halperin

Journal of a UFO Investigator
David Halperin
Viking, Feb 3 2011, $25.95
ISBN 9780670022458

In 1966 in Philadelphia sixteen years old Jewish Danny Shapiro worries about his dying mom but finds solace in UFOs as he cannot turn to his hostile father for solace. Over three years earlier, he saw his first UFO, which was not a shocker to him as he had been a UFO investigator for two weeks. His fascination leads to a split from his long time school buddies who find the study of UFOs inane, weird and extremely tedious. Danny is indifferent to being ostracized as he meets new friends who share his interest.

Danny and his cronies investigate UFO phenomena. He soon finds himself in unbelievable adventures as the three Men in Black interrogate him; he disappears in middle earth and soars to the moon. Before he can come home to see how mom is doing he finds himself as an out-patient in an alien operating room and falling in love with an ET thief. Stunned by all he encounters, Danny becomes guardian to a hybrid ET-earthling, who is the golden child expected to simply save the planet.

This is a strange yet profound coming of age tale starring a teen isolated from his friends due to his obsession that makes him different in an environ that demands fit to standardization; as variance need not apply. Danny is a sympathetic protagonist who seems lost with no hope to the reader as he creates a world where he is a superhero unlike his Philadelphia neighborhood where he is a scorned pariah. David Halperin provides a discerning psychological tale that uses science fiction elements to tell the story of a lost soul who dreams of great things in his fantasies to escape his realities.

Harriet Klausner

Under the Mercy Trees-Heather Newton

Under the Mercy Trees
Heather Newton
Harper, Jan 18 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780062001344

In 1986 in Willoby County, North Carolina, Leon Owenby disappears without a trace. His younger brother wannabe writer Martin leaves New York City to come home to help in the search for Leon. Martin leaves behind in Manhattan his former lover Dennis and their dying friends as the AIDS epidemic has devastated the New York gay community like a modern day Black Plague.

In North Carolina, Martin resents being back in the closet as he has always hid his sexual preference from family and friends. He even had a girlfriend in high school, who still loves him. Months pass with no progress in finding the missing Leon, but so many family secrets have been revealed; yet perhaps because of his previous self-protective training growing up as a closet gay, no one knows about Martin’s New York lifestyle or at least no one will openly raise it.

Told mostly by Martin although there are other perspectives with each containing their own personality, fans will enjoy this interesting “historical” family drama in which the Reagan era feels like ancient history with its pre Information/Communication age. The premise for the family gathering in Willoby is strong, but their remaining in the county over several months turns the storyline somewhat weak. Still readers will appreciate this enticing tale of secrets revealed by an ensemble cast with diverse emotional needs wearing family masks to conceal those personal issues assumed would lead to excommunication of that person.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life in Miniature-Linda Schlossberg

Life in Miniature
Linda Schlossberg
Kensington, Dec 1 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758238436

In the 1980s in California, twelve years old Adie and her fifteen years old sister Miriam live with their single mother Mindy. When mom suffers a nervous breakdown, she spends time in a mental ward while a neighbor watches the two kids. As soon as she comes home, Mindy moves with her two daughters to their latest strong of apartments; as whenever she feels it is time the family moves.

Miriam, who has been Adie’s anchor, runs away with her boyfriend. Mindy reacts by moving with her youngest daughter to a hotel. This starts a new string of moves but from hotel to hotel as Mindy runs from beasts that Adie knows do not exist except in her mom’s schizoid mind though she pretends otherwise. Each move means meeting new people and making friends temporarily as Adie is good at doing, but also changing one’s name as the tweener understands she cannot connect with anyone beyond the shallowness of the next paranoid move.

Adie tells the insightful family drama with a keen first person viewpoint that also enables the reader to understand her sister and mother as she quotes both of them frequently especially Miriam. The key to this profound tale is that although there is a glimmer of hope for the two daughters raised by a mentally ill single mom, chances are heavy that neither will find adulthood any better than their dysfunctional childhood as the girls will probably run from personal demons like their mother has.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough-Ruth Pennebaker

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Ruth Pennebaker
Berkley, Jan 4 2011. $15.00
ISBN: 978-0425238561

Fifty two year Richard calls his forty-nine ex wife Joanie to inform her that his live in lover twenty-nine years old BJ is pregnant. She calls him an asshole and hangs up while her mom Ivy, who lives with her, hears her. Joanie believes their fifteen year old daughter Caroline who lives with her also hates her. She tells moody Caroline who wishes someone would listen to her and stop assuming how she feels. Joanie is unhappy at home and unhappy at work as 24/7 she believes Sartre is right.

Caroline has one friend Sondra. She likes Henry, but with no breasts she has no chance except helping him with his Spanish homework. Her parents’ drive her crazy as each wants to have her validate they are the better parent.

Ivy misses her favorite child David who lives in New York with his wife and kids; grandchildren she never sees. She asks Caroline if she prays, but her granddaughter ignores her. Ivy walks to a chic store, which treats her poorly so she steals a scarf.

Joanie drives Caroline to Richard’s house. Ivy asks her daughter why she divorced Richard. Joanie says he left. Richard and BJ try to be nice to Caroline, but it is contrived and the teen finally says BJ should consider an abortion. BJ is hurt and Richard angry.

The four prime females are fully developed while the males feel emaciated. Though too long the insightful story line provides a realistic character study of four Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough asking themselves what they did to deserve this life.

Harriet Klausner

The Best Laid Plans-Lynn Schmurnberger

The Best Laid Plans
Lynn Schmurnberger
Ballantine, Jan 11 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9780345491190

In Manhattans’ affluent Upper East Side, Tru Newman is an “M&M” (Maintenance and Mothering) stay at home to raise her twin fourteen years old daughters and being there to make life easier for her spouse Peter an investment banker. At a charity event Tru hosts she learns the shocking truth that Peter has been unemployed for three months with the family living on credit cards.

Tru’s BFF Sienna Post loses her nightly news anchor position. Both are desperate when they come up with a scheme to make money. They create an escort service with all the female working girls over the age of forty. To their shock, the clientele is under thirty year old yuppies who appreciate an older woman. Meanwhile Peter’s new job has him working with a flirtatious beauty at the same time their twins battle with one another over an acne eighth grade lover. However the worst of all is her mom, a former Miss New York Subway who has a heart attack and moves in with them.

Though too much occurs that impacts the meat in the sandwich caretaker and the ending is too simple for what is going on with the three generations, fans will enjoy this lighthearted Manhattan frolic. The ensemble cast is solid though held in focus by the overworked middle generational matriarch. Fast-paced with plenty of humor, The Best Laid Plans of mice and Tru always go astray.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Strongheart-Don Bendell

Don Bendell
Berkley, Sep 7 2010, $5.99
ISBN: 9780425231081

Joshua Strongheart is a half-breed who has lived in both of the worlds of his biological parents. He feels he fails to fit in either and insists he no longer cares as he is satisfied with being a loner. Yet he also holds close to his heart the only two items he cherishes: his father Claw Mark’s Bowie knife that he gave to his mother to give to Joshua; and his stepfather Flower Valley Marshal Dan Cooper's Colt .45 Peacemaker.

A Pinkerton secret courier, Joshua delivers a letter from the President to General Davis in Oregon to insure Captain Jack and his Modoc tribe receives a fair trial as he does not want the killing renegade already a hero amongst the tribes to become martyred. As he rides the stage, the brothers McMahon, Jeeter and Harlance, rob the coach at Sunset Gulch. They leave Joshua for dead, but failed to finish the job. He is coming for them as they also stole his two valuables and the Presidential document.

This is as much a fabulous richly textured historical thriller as much as an exhilarating western saga as Don Bendell provides an entertaining late nineteenth century tale of vengeance. Armchair readers will feel they accompany Joshua on the trek to deliver the package. The hero is fully developed as the audience obtains glimpses into his past that enhance the understanding of Strongheart. With a fabulous High Noon confrontation containing an unexpected spin, fans will enjoy this engaging Americana; as Mr. Bendell known for his CID tales shows he can writer a wonderful “tale of the old west”.

Harriet Klausner

The Princess of Nowhere-Prince Lorenzo Borghese

The Princess of Nowhere
Prince Lorenzo Borghese
Avon, Dec 7 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061721618

Sister to Napoleon, Paulina Bonaparte knows she is beautiful and though not a blueblood, she can out royal any princess with her demands. Napoleon uses his sibling to strengthen his foreign ties by arranging a marriage to Italian Prince Camillo Borghese. He wants her while she drives him crazy with her coquettish behavior. She teases him over his jealousy while seeking other men especially with him frequently away from their home. They are in love and at war with one another, but neither understands which emotion is more important until their world collapses under the weight of tragedy and regrets; as it is too late to mend.

Told by Pauline's surrogate daughter Sophie who look back over four decades, this is a great biographical fiction story starring two passionate flawed individuals who fight, fuss, and fail. Refreshing as revelations prove too late to act upon, Sophie represents the delightful historical personage as she initially admired her guardian only to loath her ill tempered guardian. Prince Lorenzo Borghese writes a terrific take that grips the audience with a unique insightful look at the Napoleonic era through the raging relationship between his sister and brother-in-law.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tales From the Yoga Studio-Rain Mitchell

Tales From the Yoga Studio
Rain Mitchell
Plume, Dec 28 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452296916

Lee owns the Edendale Yoga Studio in the Silver lake section of Los Angeles; she also works as an instructor. She likes giving back to her students by helping them achieve their desires though she gave up on one of hers when Alan the artist left her and now has doubts about what to do as a chain wants her studio and is offering her quite an incentive package. Without prying, Lee looks deep into the souls of her long time pupils as their lives converge at her studio.

Lee encourages Stephanie already an overachiever to seek solace in her accomplishments. She believes Graciela the artist is a talent especially when the woman does not fear baring her soul to others. The Yoga guru knows Imani the actress conceals secrets that Lee hopes do not cripple her with shame. Finally there is her BFF loyal Katherine. She will be there for each them especially when they confront the agony of defeat

Tales from the Yoga Studio is an enjoyable contemporary that provides deep insight into yoga and running a studio with friendship. Each of the five women will learn truths about themselves and the others. Character driven, fans will appreciate this warm tale as Rain Mitchell brings more than just yoga and friendship to the wonderful story line; the author will persuade readers yoga is an art form that touches the hearts of those who participate; so get up and join.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clara and Mr. Tiffany-Susan Vreeland

Clara and Mr. Tiffany
Susan Vreeland
Random House, Jan 11 2011, $26.00
ISBN: 9781400068166

Louis Comfort Tiffany hires unmarried women as his artists to avoid the strikes that men are prone to conduct. His New York glass studio manager Clara Driscoll is a widow with a series of romantic tragedies besides her husband's death. Clara does her best to insure her talented female crew is taken care of properly.

In 1893 Tiffany presents the stained glass collection at the Chicago World’s Fair. He takes all the accolades failing to mention the genius he left behind in New York. Clara enjoys living amidst the Gilded Age New York artist community, but wishes her contribution as the creator of the stained glass lampshades that have made Tiffany’s famous would also bring her renown. The credit for the innovation goes to Tiffany, but Clara lives with that as her employer encourages her and her girls to create even if it negatively impacts profits. She also wishes for a man who was devoted to her as she has been to Tiffany and others.

This is an engaging historical that bases the storyline on the premise that Driscoll was the artistic genius not Tiffany although history and the then late nineteenth century gave all the kudos to the man. Thus the reader obtains a sense of time and place as society praises Tiffany but ignores his female workshop and its brilliant leader. Readers who enjoy something different will relish the tale of the woman behind the famous man.

Harriet Klausner

What My Best Friend Did-Lucy Dawson

What My Best Friend Did
Lucy Dawson
Avon, Nov 30 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061964435

Magazine photographer Alice frantically dials 999 when she finds her best friend impulsive TV personality Gretchen unconscious. Alice fears Gretchen overdosed. On the emergency ride to the hospital, the medic makes small talk to try to keep Alice from going into shock. At the hospital ER, a stunned Alice looks back to her relationship with Gretchen.

Alice was bored as her friends were becoming responsible adults with spouses and kids; she wanted neither. She met Gretchen during an L.A. shoot and they became instant buddies. A bonus occurs when she meets Gretchen’s brother Bailey in New York though she has steadfast Tom back in California. However, over time Alice realizes Gretchen does not live life to the fullest as she once thought, but over indulges with her obsessive needs running over anyone including loved ones with a tank tread.

This is a low-keyed fascinating female buddy tale with a terrific dark twist. The BFFs and the two males are fully developed characters so that the audience will believe they are real and what happened is genuine. Fans will want to know What My Best Friend Did as Lucy Dawson hooks her readers from the opening emergency until the final denouement.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Place of Peace-Amy Clipston -

A Place of Peace
Amy Clipston
Zondervan, Dec 23 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780310319955

Several years ago, the accident shattered many lives in the Amish community Pennsylvania. Most families turned to the Lord trying to understand how an innocent died while Miriam Lapp watched the baby. Miriam blamed herself for causing the tragedy; so after her dad shunned her and her boyfriend Timothy betrayed her she left the only home she knew and moved to Indiana where her cousin Abby warmly welcomed her

Her married sister with children Hannah, who forgave her unlike their parents and other siblings, calls Miriam to inform her that their mother died. She races home, but her father refuses to acknowledge her; most of the townsfolk and her family except Hannah follow his lead. Miriam grieves the death of her beloved mom who she was not allowed to see ever since her father threw her out. She also knows she still loves her former fiancé Timothy Kauffman, who is seeing someone else. Miriam knows she will never forgive herself so why should other forgive her. She returns to Indiana only to come back home when her father suffers a stroke. However, still a pariah, Miriam begins to question her faith for the first time.

The third Kauffman Amish Bakery tale (see A Gift of Hope and A Promise of Hope) is an engaging entry as the undesirable tries twice to come home, but remains in exile. Miriam is a wonderful lead character who after several rejections questions her faith. Hannah is courageous as she is there for her sister, which could ostracize her and her family. Although Timothy is a bit irritating when he is not chomping on strudel, fans will enjoy this Amish bakery romance.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Stranger on the Planet--Adam Schwartz

A Stranger on the Planet
Adam Schwartz
Soho, Jan 21 2011, $24.00
ISBN 9781569478691

In 1963, the Shapiro couple divorce. Their dad begins a new family; for the most part leaving his three children to live with their dysfunctional mother. Over the next six years following the split, twelve years old Seth, his twin sister Sarah and their younger brother Seamus struggle with their mother Ruth’s horrific behavior abetted by their maternal grandfather and aunt who believe divorce as the original sin. Ruth or Aunt Rhoda setting her up seems to date a series of losers as boyfriends. In 1969 Ruth’s latest misadventure culminates with her marrying Eddie Lipper sixteen days after they met in the Catskills.

As the years go by teenage Seth is embarrassed by his mom’s outrageous behavior and her emotional needs that feel like a vampire sucking out his soul. As Seth becomes an adult, he keeps distance in his relationships until he marries Molly. However though he loves her, he remains detached from her. Tragedy brings the SSSS brood back together for the first time in years; Seth tries to tell them how he feels but has spent most of his life avoiding the emotional havoc caused when you love someone one.

This is a character driven family drama with most of the insightful story line narrated by an increasingly emotionally distant Seth. His siblings and mom are well drawn support players while his father is rightfully somewhat shadowy as expected for someone who Seth believes deserted his kids when they were very young. Although Seth’s late revelation feels contrived, readers will appreciate the child is the adult as Adam Schwartz provides a profound psychological study of a man who is a stranger in many ways with his family.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nella Last in the 1950s: The Further Diaries of Housewife, 49-Patricia Malcolmson and Robert Malcolmson (editor)

Nella Last in the 1950s: The Further Diaries of Housewife, 49
Patricia Malcolmson and Robert Malcolmson (editor)
Profile Books, Nov 16 2010, $15.95
ISBN: 9781846683503

This is a follow-up to the previous two segments (Nella Last in War and Nella Last in Peace; neither read by me) with a third diary entry by Nella Last in Mass Observation (established in 1937 as a sociology look from within Britain at its people). The almost daily keen observations continue the remarkable detailed look at a changing British society; this time from 1950 through 1954. With WWII and peace past as the Cold War begins in earnest but seemingly far away from the isles though she fears nuclear war, Nella looks more at her self and her family than at the larger impacts on British society as she did in her first two volumes. She no longer works full time for the Women’s Volunteer Service though she still socializes with friends from her days at WVS. Her husband Will is depressed as he was forced to retire. She deals with Will alone as their sons left Barrow in Furness then in Lancashire; Arthur moves his family to Northern Ireland and Cliff is a sculptor in Australia. Thus her “You come a long way baby” lifestyle during and just after the war is greatly diminished by her caring for Will in a shipbuilding town with not a lot to do. Still using humor and self deprecating wit, she provides plenty of insight into the family life of empty nesters in early 1950s Britain. The third and apparently final entries of the Nella Last commentaries are a terrific compilation by one of the best twentieth century diarists.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The King’s Daughter-

The King’s Daughter
Christy Dickason
Harper, Nov22 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061976278

Although King James I ignores the danger within his kingdom as dangerous as that on the continent due to a seemingly coming religious war between the Protestants and Catholics. James believes he is the peacemaker even while his own court is divided. His vessels for peace are strategic marriages between his offspring and those of other rulers as grandchildren prevent war.

James’ daughter Elizabeth was born when he was the King of Scotland and estranged from her mother Anne. When the English monarch died, six years old Elizabeth watches her father become the King of England. Three years later, traitors try to kill her father and place the nine year old Elizabeth on the throne, but the Gunpowder Plot fails. However, her sire trusting no one wonders how involved his daughter truly was. Over the years Elizabeth only trusts her black slave Thalia Bristo as they share in common "captivity" and a desire for freedom. When she meets her latest intended as her father has played with her mind by threatening her with suitors, Elizabeth thinks Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate, would make an ideal spouse so she must trick her dad into approving their marriage while not losing her head to either man.

Christy Dickason provides a profound fresh historical biography that moves beyond the Tudor publishing tsunami to the beginning of the Stuart reign. Elizabeth is terrific as she swims the deadly sea of intrigue that inundates her father’s rule. Although a target of the Gunpowder Plot, she becomes a victim even though she escaped the attempted abduction as her father assumes she was a willing participant; already envious of her popularity he never trusts her again. This is a deep look at the King’s Daughter; the other Elizabeth who kept her head too.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 12, 2010

Goodnight Tweetheart-Teresa Medeiros

Goodnight Tweetheart
Teresa Medeiros
Gallery (Pocket), Dec 14 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439188156

Her book was an Oprah pick, a bestseller and a near Pulitzer winner. So Abigail Donovan wonders what she is doing in a Queens’ bookstore competing with Biffy the Bunny and bailing out the owner by wearing Biff’s bunny costume. She should be working her next book, but has writer’s block with her confidence sinking faster than the stock market during a recession.

Her publicist signs her up at Twitter. She soon cyber-meets Twitter user “MarkBaynard", who mentors her as to the rules of writing in a 140 character environ. Twittering back and forth with retweets and much more, she learns he is a professor on sabbatical seeing the world. No longer feeling sorry for herself, she wants to join her tweeter mate in the real world; not yet understanding the masks people wear in cyberspace to conceal the real person and what they are doing in the mundane realm.

Different, but well-written, Goodnight Tweetheart is a fascinating contemporary relationship drama that mostly uses Tweeter messaging to tell the story. Character driven, fans will root for the pair as Abby finds her muse and groove through her tweetheart MarkBaynard.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The True Memoirs of Little K-Adrienne Sharpe

The True Memoirs of Little K
Adrienne Sharpe
FSG, Nov 2 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780374207304

In 1971 as she nears her hundredth birthday, Mathilde Kschessinka begins to write her autobiography. Her memory remains keen as she knows every man who bowed to her and every dance she took as the prima ballerina assoluta of the Russian Imperial Ballet. When she was seventeen years old, Little K was already a highly regarded ballerina who catches the eye of the heir to the Russian throne Nikolai Romanov. Little K became his mistress, but he ended their tryst reluctantly when he became the czar and marries Alexandra. Not one to miss a step she turned to the grand dukes; but never remaining loyal with any of the royal cousins as her devotion remained with her Niki as he is the power that she desires; he returned to her for a short tryst leading to an offspring. Her ambition surpasses that of Lady Macbeth as Little K played the cousins in an effort to place her child as the heir over the sickly son of Alexandra. The Revolution led to her exile to Paris.

This is an engaging biographical fiction of a Russian diva who gives meaning to the word diva. Filled with the lead protagonist’s ambitious relationships with the Romanov family and with the ballet world, fans who relish either will enjoy the antics of the “prima ballerina assoluta.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Goddess of Fried Okra-Jean Brashear

The Goddess of Fried Okra
Jean Brashear
Bell Bridge Books, Apr 1 2010, $16.95
ISBN: 9780984125890

Years on the road with Mama and Sister running away from bill collectors led to six foot red haired Eudora "Pea" O'Brien swearing she would settle down in one place to root and die. When Mama died, Sister was sixteen and Pea eight. Sister ran off social services do-gooders and used her glaring mojo to send away her no good father Alvin. Instead she raised Pea.

Now over two decades since mama died, Sister is dead too. Pea is filled with remorse with how she treated her Sister who sacrificed so much for her. She wants to tell her she is sorry and appreciative. Like Sister, Pea believes in reincarnation, but to reconnect she must find Sister’s new host body. Pea begins a Texas Odyssey seeking the signs of Sister. Her trek with no money leads to other outsiders joining her quest as they seek to belong too. Soon she finds herself mentored in sword fighting by a reincarnation of Howard’s Red Sonja and in the most critical element of southern living, creating fried okra fit for the Goddesses; while also raising a child as Pea has found the glory of a family.

This is an intriguing character study that focuses on Pea who learns what life is all about with the death of beloved Sister and her Dorothy on the road to Oz trek as she picks up caring misfits in need. None of the support cast is fully developed as their sole purpose is support of Pea. Fans who enjoy a leisurely paced Texas Odyssey will want to accompany Pea and her companions as they journey in real terms just a few miles but metaphorically light-years.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stay with Me-Sandra Rodriguez Barron

Stay with Me
Sandra Rodriguez Barron
Harper, Nov 30 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061650628

In 1979, five toddlers, each with a starfish drawn on their hand, were rescued from a small boat during a hurricane. An anonymous female telephoned the Mayaguez, Puerto Rico authorities tipping them off that the five children were on a boat tied to a dock with no adult supervision. Each was placed in a home, but David, Adrian, Raymond, Taina and Holly kept in touch as the harrowing experience bonded them like siblings.

Almost three decades later, David is diagnosed with brain cancer. His four mates rush to his side to be there for him. He considers them his family; and has two requests of them that only they can perform. He wants to know if their DNA matches and pleads with them to discover the identity of the female who called the cops, thirty years ago. Although they disagreed in the past whether to investigate what happened, the other four will do anything for David who is dying.

The quintet makes the tale seem plausible as each has a unique personality, but it is David’s illness which anchors the realism and provides a tear jerker element. Character driven, fans will enjoy the saga of the five who came from the sea as babies illegally (good thing it was Puerto Rico) who always even in death remain bonded to one another.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You Dropped a Blonde on Me-Dakota Cassidy

You Dropped a Blonde on Me
Dakota Cassidy
Berkley, Dec 7 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425236994

Maxine Cambridge cannot believe how far her economic situation has collapsed. She was a trophy wife and mom until she caught her spouse Finley “The Talleywhacker” cheating on her. His reaction was to begin divorce proceedings and cut off all of Maxine’s funding. Desperate Maxine and her teenage son Connor, who chose his mom over his dad and Lacey, move in with her mom Mona Henderson in her retirement village.

Maxine cannot find employment as she has no marketable skills even at the Cluck Cluck Palace fast food place, which eight months ago she, make that Finley, could have owned it. Instead of designer gowns, she wears her mom’s bargains. Humiliated enough, she feels it is time to bury her when she meets her high school class of ’87 chemistry partner Campbell Barker. He has always liked smart, sassy Max and still does as he appreciates her self-deprecating sense of humor. Now he has to make her believe he is serious when it comes to her.

Using humor to lighten the tense family drama, You Dropped a Blonde on Me looks at the aftermath of a horrid divorce mostly from the perspective of mad Max. Although the finish is as expected, mindful of the First Wives Club, fans will enjoy the saga of New Jersey’s biggest loser; as she sucks it up seeking her groove while failing numerous times, but always gets up to try again, as Mona says she is a not a quitter.

Harriet Klausner

Love Letters from Ladybug Farm-Donna Ball

Love Letters from Ladybug Farm
Donna Ball
Berkeley, Oct 5 2010, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425237175

Three years ago, the BFFs widows Cici Burke, Lindsay Wright, and Bridget Tyndale lived middle class suburban lifestyles, but each felt their lives unfilled with their kids moved out and their husbands gone; they purchased a run down Farm (see A Year on Ladybug Farm). Since their epic risk began, they feel At Home on Ladybug Farm, but also struggle to stay afloat with their financially draining renovation of the historic mansion although their small art studio, winery and jams and jellies store have had some success.

Friends suggest they open up the estate to major social galas. The trio has doubts but the sum of money they will receive from a society wedding overcomes their qualms especially when their first customers appear in need of a new location for a soon to be wedding. However, their guts prove right as they deal with lunatic combative mother-in-laws, bridezilla and goats as well as a romantic first for one of the widows.

Obviously for fans of the series, the latest adventures on the farm in the Shenandoah Valley is a lighthearted amusing tale as the three women deal continues to swing the bat regardless of what life tosses at them. Each of the ladies keep their essence yet change as they begin to recognize the truth that they are struggling farmers who no longer can be labeled suburban dwellers; unlike several years ago when they would have silently put up with the bull of guests even nasty undesirable ones.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Wolves of Andover-Kathleen Kent

The Wolves of Andover
Kathleen Kent
Little, Brown, Nov 8 2010, $24.99
ISBN 9780316068628

In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, while both worked on her cousin’s farm, twenty-three years old Martha Allen falls in love with hired hand Thomas Carrier. However, she also hears the rumor that circulates about Thomas fleeing England after playing a major role in the beheading of King Charles I.

Thomas saves Martha’s life when wolves who stalk the farm attack her. He also learns that kidnappers have crossed the pond preferably to capture and take back to London for public trial or execute the man who killed the former monarch. These outsiders hear the rumors about Thomas living on the coast north of Boston.

Although those who have read The Heretic’s Daughter knows what will happen to Martha, Kathleen Kent demonstrates her skill as a great author by engaging the full attention throughout of her fans (and newcomers) in the superb prequel. The story line is action packed as the conflict between people entrenched in the Restoration come across as the status quo and those adapting to a new world order carved in a wilderness makes for a strong historical that looks deep at the darker roots of Colonial America.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Object of Beauty-Steve Martin

An Object of Beauty
Steve Martin
Grand Central, Nov 23 2010, $26.99
ISBN: 9780446573641

Art writer Daniel Frank of the Stockbridge, Massachusetts Franks is bone marrow weary of his 24/7 thoughts about his amoral former lover Lacey Yeager. He knows she will sleep with anyone to get a head. In hopes of purging her from his blood, he writes down his thoughts about the rise and rise of Lacey Yeager in the upscale Manhattan art world.

In the Clintonian Era, twenty-three years old beautiful Lacey Yeager obtains an entry level job as a Sotheby staffer. The intelligent and ambitious Lacey quickly rises up in rank in the company’s normally glacial pace. As she did at Sothby’s to obtain promotions, Lacey uses her body and brain to obtain a position at exclusive Barton Talley's gallery of "Very Expensive Paintings"; ethics is for the hogs and legalities is for the frightened losers. Finally she achieves her objective of opening up the Lacey Yeager gallery in Chelsea and even 9/11 fails to prevent her meteoric rise to the troposphere of the high priced art universe.

As a microcosm of the greed that led to the crash, An Object of Beauty is a terrific look at the ultra rich in which avarice with a need for more is a way of life as Steve Martin eloquently states that America has an aristocratic class with no moral ties to the country. The addition of pictures of paintings adds a fine art touch to the story line. However, this is Lacey’s tale as she is a fascinating prototype as seen through the eyes of her whining former lover who exposes much of himself having a brain with one icon imprinted on it even as he exposes the woman he loathes and cherishes. Although the ending feels off kilter, Mr. Martin provides a profound condemnation of wealth without morality is worthless.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Bake a Perfect Life-Barbara O'Neal

How to Bake a Perfect Life
Barbara O'Neal
Bantam, Dec 21 2010, $15.00
ISBN 9780553386776

In Colorado Springs, forty years old Ramona Gallagher loves her bakery, which brings her joy that very little else does in her life. Her other love is for her daughter Sofia who she had as a single teen.

When Sofia’s husband is injured in Afghanistan, he is sent to Germany for medical care. Sofia flies to Europe to be with him. However, before leaving Colorado, she asks her mother to watch her stepdaughter thirteen year old Katie as the teen’s mother is in jail on a drug charge. That summer Ramona and Katie bond, which encourages the bakery owner to reconcile with her somewhat estranged family and to take a chance on love with a man she was seeing when they were teens.

Although bonding between the “bread” generations has been done before, Barbara O’Neal bakes a fresh tale as in many ways it is the teen who teaches the adult what matters in life. Character driven mostly by Ramona but cleverly enhanced by Katie, fans will enjoy this terrific contemporary extended family drama, as the young “grandmother” discovers The Lost Recipe for Happiness.

Harriet Klausner

Rescue-Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve
Little, Brown, Nov 30 2010, $26.99
ISBN: 9780316020725

In Hartstone, Vermont, paramedic Peter Webster stops at the scene of an apparent one car crash. Peter pulls out the unconscious driver Sheila Arsenalt who obviously was driving under the influence. He treats her injury.

Afterward he is drawn to her like a bear to honey. They have an affair and eventually marry. Soon they have a daughter Rowan. However, parenthood does not abate Sheila's drinking. Instead she hits the bottle much more until she is in another car accident with Rowan as a passenger. To keep his wife out of jail, a desperate Webster sends Sheila away. Years later, a high school senior Rowan has begun drinking; hoping for A Change in Attitude, Webster begs for Sheila to come home to help their daughter.

Rescue is an entertaining family drama starring three intriguing characters that seem to prove love is not enough to cement strong relationships. Neither Peter (as heroic first responder – even meets a teen he brought into the world years ago in an emergency), Sheila (as a woman unable to stop from hurting those she loves or herself) or Rowan (teen in peril) are fully developed beyond their dysfunctional roles. Yet in spite of the characterization, readers will enjoy Anita Shreve’s enjoyable relationship tale.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Transformation of Things-Jillian Cantor

The Transformation of Things
Jillian Cantor
Avon, Nov 2 2010, $13.99
ISBN 9780061962202

In Deerfield, Pennsylvania Jennifer Levenworth is at the salon getting her hair done when her husband is on the TV news. His appearance on the air is not unexpected as Will is the local district attorney, but the reason is a shocker. The reporter states Will has been charged with accepting bribes.

Stunned, Jennifer races home to be with Will. He has resigned and plea bargained to avoid prison. Jennifer finds her life has transformed back to what it was before they moved to the burbs and joined the country club set. Returning to Philadelphia, she hopes to regain the job she gave up and reconcile with her former BFF working mom Kat who she dumped when she fled the city. However, Jennifer struggles with returning to her former lifestyle and her marriage is at best shaky as her spouse is psychotically mute. Her father refuses to talk to her as if she is an embarrassment and her sister is busy raising a horde. Then there are the dreams when she sleeps to keep her further off balance.

This is a terrific character study that focuses on a woman who has fallen into humiliation as she deals the fallout with loved ones from her husband’s felonious activity. The story line is obviously character driven as Jennifer finds her life shattered but also cannot feel for or even understand her disgraced spouse as she holds him culpable when he needs emotional support. Ironically she comprehends her father’s reaction but not Will’s withdrawal. Although the twisting end seems as far out of place as Pennsylvania is from Florida because it does not fit with what has gone on before, fans will enjoy The Transformation of Things especially lifestyles.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree-Kate Emerson

Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree
Kate Emerson
Gallery (Simon and Schuster), Dec 14 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439177815

Aging and ailing King Henry VIII chooses Katharine Parr as his sixth wife. Not long after the monarch remarries, Elizabeth Brooke arrives at court as a lady in waiting to the new queen. There she meets Katharine’s married brother Will. Elizabeth and Will become friends as he helps her with the backstabbing intrigue. They are deeply attracted tone another and she believes she loves the kind Will, but marriage is traded on a royal exchange as an item for bartering.

Years later Will is single having had his marriage annulled while his Bess also is free as her fiancé died. They become lovers at a time an era ends with the death of the monarch; Henry’s son Edward becomes king. The widow queen Katharine remarries but dies in childbirth. Lady Jane Grey ascends to the throne, but not for long as less than two weeks later Princess Mary becomes queen. Mary a devout Catholic married to the Spanish king also an extremely deeply religious Catholic accuses many at court especially Bess of seditious support of Jane.

The latest Secrets of the Tudor Court (see Between Two Queens) is an entertaining historical made fresh by the lead protagonist Bess Brooke, a real person. She brings an interesting perspective to the overly written era as an optimist in a dangerous curt filled with nasty intrigue and stays up beat even when accused of treason in allegedly placing Jane on the throne and in support of her cousin’s failed revolt. Sub-genre fans will enjoy Kate Emerson’s enjoyable look at the Tudors.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 24, 2010

City of Tranquil Light-Bo Caldwell

City of Tranquil Light
Bo Caldwell
Holt, Sep 28 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780805092288

In 1966 widower Will Koehn looks back at his life with his wife Katherine who died twenty years earlier. In 1906, Will an Oklahoma farmer and Katherine Friesen a Cleveland deaconess met on a ship traveling to China. Both were Mennonite missionaries filled with enthusiasm and fear. They became companions and later a married couple as she offered her nursing skills and he the word of the Lord. The pair was there when the revolution occurred culminating with the rise of Kuomintang even as other missionaries are violently exiled. The duo stays through drought, famine, earthquakes and winters requiring five thick coats; as long as Will and Kate had each other and God, they can help others cope with any human atrocity and any natural disaster.

This is an entertaining early twentieth century epic that provides a vast loook of life in China. The dedicated couple endures all sorts of external problems, but though at times it seems over the top as they adhere to their mission and each other in an almost superhero detached way, their love for God and each other keeps them strong and going. Ironically the passion in this engaging historical comes with Katherine's diary as she invokes feelings for the plight of their Chinese neighbors and for each other.

Harriet Klausner

The Christmas Journey-Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Journey
Donna VanLiere
St. Martin’s, Oct 26 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780312613723

Every year the Christmas season seems to come earlier and earlier as the stores decorate even co-mingling with Thanksgiving as the Yuletide is a big sales time. Pageants are everywhere displaying the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and especially the nativity scene as Joseph and pregnant Mary found no room at the inn, but the owner allowed them to stay in a stable. This is the sentimental legend, but not the true story as another example of when “Professor” Wuhl’s theory (extracted from Who Shot Liberty Valance?) that "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend" (see Assume the Position).

The couple travels seventy miles taking several days to complete the trek. As they depart from Nazareth, Joseph notices that people he knew all his life as friends treat Mary like a pariah because Mary became pregnant while living under her father’s roof. They leave as outcasts in accordance to the then Laws of Moses. Their journey proves grueling with Mary feeling each step the donkey takes. She fears what is expected of her raising the Son; while he fears being the father to the Savior as he believes he cannot be worthy of having God bestow such an honor on him. When they reach their destination, the crowds are overwhelming and there is no place for them at the inn. Joseph feels overwhelmed because he has to help Mary deliver but though conditions are extremely poor, Mary gives birth to a healthy Savior.

Donna VanLiere ‘s version of one of the most legendary journeys provides a realistic look at the two travelers as a pregnant Mary rides a donkey for seventy miles (I rode a mule years ago down the Grand canyon for a few hours and that was fun but a bit sore). The trek is dirty and dusty while people they know along their path ignore them The illustrations augment the story as Ms. VanLiere adds the human facts normally ignored by the miracle birth.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Harry Potter Film Wizardry-Brian Silby

Harry Potter Film Wizardry
Brian Silby
Collins Design (HarperCollins), Oct 19 2010, $39.99
ISBN: 9780061997815

This is a terrific addition to the Potter universe as the depth rivals that of the films. Little things like “ads” for magical products and the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes catalogue add incredible layers to the interactive tome. Fans will remove all sorts of items like Slughorn's Apothecary labels of products used in the movies. There is plenty of information and articles on how the films made the Roweling realm realistic, which include supporting photos, salt as snow and much more.

Sent to me by the publisher, you can’t help but tear this fabulous entry apart. My spouse cringed when I ripped open the cellophane and had cardiac arrest when I pulled out Potter’s acceptance letter to attend Hogswarts Hall; though he also marveled at the details of the castle and cave, etc. and touched the pullouts (he cannot have my ticket to the Yule Ball). In fairness, he laughs at people who claim they owned that first Spiderman (see Amazing Fantasy #15) as he once did, but admits his copy was worth chump change because his mom bought it for him at a bazaar and he read it as a tweener a zillion times. Now if I can only obtain a second ticket to the Yule Ball so he can escort me; perhaps an order of Pumpkin Juice or with the help of Professor Snape. This is a great holiday gift for that young fan or in my case the ancient collector (wonder if there is Potter could put the cellophane back on).

Harriet Klausner

Crown of Dust-Mary Volmer

Crown of Dust
Mary Volmer
Soho, Nov 1 2010, $24.00
ISBN: 9781569478615

As the Gold Rush fever spreads across the country, temporary poorly constructed towns like Motherlode, California form. Realizing a chance to make some needed money from the horde, Emaline runs the Victoria Inn providing room and board to the prospectors trying to make their fortune. For the right price, she also offers other specialized services.

Emaline is attracted to the mystery of newcomer Alex, an enigmatic stranger who never speaks more than a few words at a time and never stops for a second even when acknowledging others like his hostess. Unable to resist learning more about the silent man with the hat, Emaline learns he is a she. Further unable to stop herself from going maternal, Emaline keeps an eye on Alex, who becomes known as "Golden Boy" as “he” seems to find gold in the mines. As Alex’s gender bending causes “him” trouble due to his effeminate manner, Emaline runs into trouble due to her relationship with a black man.

This is a great Gold Rush era tale that provides the audience with a deep look at life in one of the hastily constructed towns. Emaline is a wonderful protagonist who holds the insightful story line together as she has a heart of gold (sorry for my triteness) and cares for others while also trying to make it anyway she can. The support cast is solid enhancing a strong sense of time and place. Hopefully Mary Volmer can find more gold circa 1850 California.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan-Roberta Gately

Lipstick in Afghanistan
Roberta Gately
Gallery (Simon and Schuster), Nov 9 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439191385

In Boston, Nurse Elsa Murphy wants to work at an overseas clinic in an impoverished nation. Her motivation was the news clips and photos of the Rwanda genocide back in `1994 when she was part of a poverty stricken household consisting of her single mom, her infant niece and an addicted sister. Thus in 2002 when Aide du Monde assigns her work at a medical clinic in a rural area of Afghanistan she is exhilarated.

After a long journey made easier by kind guides starting in Pakistan, Elsa arrives at remote Bamiyan home to the Hazara. She moves into a home recently vacated by the Taliban invaders who were kicked out of the village. Elsa’s enthusiasm to learn local customs and her friendly caring nature make her quickly popular with those who work at the eighteen bed hospital and many villagers. However, she and feisty Widow Parween especially become BFFs starting with a common pleasure in using lipstick; something banned by the Taliban and a need to help females. The Bostonian also likes Lieutenant Mike Young though fraternizing is taboo.

Lipstick in Afghanistan is a terrific insightful character study of an American diligently working in a remote Afghan village. The two best friends are wonderful fully developed protagonists as they risk their lives to improve the lot of others. Although the romance with Mike seems a bit forced though well written and does raise questions of how far must you depart from your culture when you are a guest of another nation in which promiscuous behavior is unacceptable. Still fans will enjoy this discerning look at a dedicated Massachusetts nurse providing health care and more in a remote rural part of Afghanistan.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Casting About-Terri DuLong

Casting About
Terri DuLong
Kensington, Nov 1 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758232052

Four years ago Monica Webster moved to Cedar Key, Florida where she bought her mom’s yarn shop and fell in love and married Adam Brooks (see Spinning Forward). Life has been good as business is doing well and her relationship with Adam is strong. She loves living on the Key with eccentric neighbors and her beloved Adam.

However, her idyllic world implodes when the court declares Adam’s alcoholic former wife an unfit mother following a DUI in which their eight-year-old daughter, Clarissa Jo was left home unsupervised; custody is granted to Adam. Although she was unsure she wanted to be a mom, Monica feels for Clarissa Jo who arrives clinging to a Raggedy Ann doll like a much younger child would. As the trio tries to forge into a family, a struggling at step-motherhood Monica turns to her kindhearted grandma for sage advice; even though her granny died years ago.

The prime plot of Monica and Adam adjusting to his preadolescent daughter living with them is not a new theme (see Carrie Adams’ The Godmother and the Stepmother); however several subplots bring brisk freshness to the enjoyable character driven story line. Granny adds a beautiful TLC touch from the grave and Monica’s BFF has relationship issues. Fans of family dramas will appreciate Terri DuLong's fine tale of an adult welcoming with doubts that she is capable of parenting a frightened depressed girl whose best friend is her doll.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Driving on the Rim-Thomas McGuane

Driving on the Rim
Thomas McGuane
Knopf, Oct 21 2010, $26.95
ISBN: 9781400041558

In Montana, Dr. I. B. “Berl” Pickett blames his mother for all his woes as who names a baby in Big Sky Country after Irving “God Bless America” Berlin. When his friend Clarice fails at suicide, Berl conceals her attempt. However, later she dies from her injuries and he is suspended from practicing awaiting a review board look at negligence and potential criminal charges.

To pass time, Berl becomes a house painter, an occupation he did before he became a doctor. He also muses on his past as Irving Berlin’s non protégé and at fourteen when his aunt seduced him. Berl thinks of the doctor who mentored him and the two women in his life, Jocelyn the pilot who makes him want to soar and thoughtful Dr. Jinx who makes him look inside at his soul; however it is another woman who wants him dead for what he did.

Not for everyone as there is limited action and even that, for instance a stabbing, is quick and not very vivid. Instead Driving on the Rim is a strong reflective character study of a person who believes he is worthless in spite of several people who hold a contrary opinion about Berl. Readers who appreciate a profound look inside the heart and soul of a person will enjoy Driving on the Rim as Berl learns the true meaning of functional simple two-way and convoluted multi-way relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Compass Rose-John Casey

Compass Rose
John Casey
Knopf, Oct 19 2010, $27.95
ISBN: 9780375410253

In Sawtooth Point, Rhode Island, Game Warden Elsie Buttrick gives birth to Rose. Elsie loves Rose’s father her neighbor, fisherman Dick Pierce, but cannot marry him as he already has a wife May and two children. Although much of the small town condemns Elsie for having a child out of wedlock, she holds her head up high while raising her daughter as a single mom. May on the other hand feels publically humiliated by her husband’s betrayal.

Over the next decade and a half outgoing and optimistic Rose wins over all of those who scorned her mother; Even May loves the precocious girl. As Elsie and Dick stay attached through lust that some might say is love; a depressed May turns to her sons and Rose while dedicating her life to making their small part of the Sawtooth Point human ecosystem that they reside in better.

This is a direct sequel, though it can stand alone, to the award winning Spartina. The story line is obviously character driven mostly by the three females pierced together by the man in their lives. Readers will relish the return to the Narragansett Bay estuary to visit the extended family of Dick Pierce although no one appears to be punished for their excesses; instead even Peirce seems rewarded due to sunshine Rose, a teen Mary Poppins.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bad Penny Blues-Cathi Unsworth

Bad Penny Blues
Cathi Unsworth
Serpent's Tail, Sep 1 2010, 7.99
ISBN: 9781846686788

In 1959, with one year on the job as a Police Constable in London Pete Bradley and his partner PC Alan Corbishall find a female corpse near the Thames in Richmond while their superior Acting sergeant Alf Brown snores in the back seat of their vehicle. CID DI Bell arrives to question Bradley on what he found. Pete decides to investigate the homicide in which he had observed at the crime scene how the culprit tried to clean up the “mess”. He soon learns the victim was a West London prostitute, but their inquiry hits a wall as has the other inquiries into the brutal serial killing of the area’s hookers.

Fashion student Stella Reade married Toby. Recently, she has been haunted by horrific nightmares of an abducted young woman who she does not recognize. However, when she learns of the Thames body, Stella believes she can help the police, but hesitates as she assumes they will write her off as one of those swinging drug soaked mod with her school work, a happening mate and their hip friends.

The time and place comes across very vividly though the chapter titles using song names seem inane in a grim murder case that in some ways feels more like a London Noir. Pete is a terrific character as shown early with the wry commentary of his and Alan re the snoozing older sergeant that has generational relevance to this day. Stella brings plenty to the case though her paranormal element is more distracting than insightful. Still Pete’s investigation into the genuine unsolved Jack the Stripper case makes for an enjoyable historical British police procedural.

Harriet Klausner

Dog Stories-Diana Secker Tesdell (editor)

Dog Stories
Diana Secker Tesdell (editor)
Everyman’s Pocket Classic (Pocket), Oct 5 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780307593979

This twenty short stories anthology focuses on the relationship between canines and their best friends, humans. The entries include a who’s who of literature going back to the nineteenth century (but no Jack London). All the contributions are well written as they range the pack of doggy tales of the tails. O’Henry provides his usual twisting story “Memoirs of a Yellow Dog” as does Bret Harte in his “Yellow Dog”; though the settings are quite far apart. Fans will enjoy meeting the three-legged pit bull Ava who owns “Ava’s Apartment” (by Jonathan Lethem) or encountering P. G. Wodehouse’s “The Mixer” who just wants everyone to get along together while unable to comprehend why not. Whether it is the Case of the “Black Dog” by Penelope Lively or the amusing whimsical James Thurber’s “Penelope Has Her Day”, canine lovers (and fans of short stories in general) will relish reading tales like Mark Twain’s “A Dog’s Day” and a wonderful entry by Ray Bradbury. Dog Stories is a strong entertaining compilation as Groucho once mused: “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read”; this enjoyable collection combines dog and book.

Harriet Klausner

Come Back, Como: Winning the Heart of a Reluctant Dog-Steven Winn

Come Back, Como: Winning the Heart of a Reluctant Dog
Steven Winn
Harper, Nov 2 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061802584

In San Francisco, preadolescent Phoebe Winn harangues her parents Steven and Sally to buy her a dog. Instead, they ignore her pleading and keep buying other pets like goldfish whose life expectancy seemed less than a nanosecond. The couple finally acquiesces to their daughter’s non-stop rant. At the local shelter, they adopt a mutt who they name Como. He has two traits: a need to escape human confinement and a bone marrow loathing of males. Como keeps trying to escape and makes it clear he hates Steven regardless of how hard the man worked at gaining the dog’s trust and affection. When Come escapes and is hit by a car, a bath-robed Steven takes him to the vet as the canine may want out, but is part of the Winn family.

Obviously this warm memoir will remind readers of Marley and Me, and pets of their own (my Max had unrequited love for me, but tolerated my husband, and disliked our son). The pre-Como section is a bit hard on us weak stomach animal lovers as the pets seem to die in rapid prematurity, but adds a sense of genuineness to the true life family drama. Additionally the overall lack of the perspectives of Phoebe and Sally to Como’s canine catastrophes and Steven’s apparently futile efforts to win his heart would have added a wider view of whether the dog will adopt the Winn brood as his “pets”. Still canine lovers will enjoy Como’s tale as Steven tries everything in order to win the heart of a dog that seemingly has imprinted on his DNA to hate him.

Harriet Klausner

Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Two Deep Valley Books-Maud Hart Lovelace

Carney's House Party/Winona's Pony Cart: Two Deep Valley Books
Maud Hart Lovelace
Harper, Oct 12 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780062003294

Carney's House Party. In 1911, Caroline "Carney" Sibley has come home to Deep Valley, Minnesota from college for the summer. She plans to throw a month long party and especially looks forward to seeing her friends from the old Crowd. In town with Carney is her classmate at Vassar Isobel Porteous. Her high school sweetheart Larry Humphreys has come home too, but she finds irritating infuriating Sam Hutchinson quite attractive.

Winona's Pony Cart: In Deep Valley, Minnesota, Winona Root prays that her family gives her a pony for her eighth birthday. She has told her father what she wants, but he insists no way. Ignoring her dad’s proclamation, Winona believes her wish will come true, which is what she tells her friends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.

Two of the three Deep Valley stand alone stories (see Emily of Deep Valley); are filled with humor and pathos. Carney's House Party is a full novel while Winona's Pony Cart is a novelette, but each contains fully developed characters, a trademark of Maud Hart Lovelace. As the author did with her Betsy-Tacy saga, these reprints of Deep Valley books bring to life the seemingly innocence of early twentieth century Minnesota.

Harriet Klausner

Emily of Deep Valley-Maud Hart Lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley
Maud Hart Lovelace
Harper, Oct 12 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780062003300

In Deep Valley, Minnesota, orphan Emily Webster lives with her Grandpa Webster. Like other girls in the class of 1912 at the high school she attends and now graduating, she has dreams of going to college. However, she not only owes her elderly relative for taking her in, she feels strongly that she must not leave her beloved Grandpa Webster alone; thus she remains outside of the Crowd.

Although she expects a cold "lost winter" Emily vows to keep active. She works hard studying and is fascinated with the culture of the nearby Syrian community. However, it is the new high school teacher Jed Wakeman who has Emily dreaming once again of being all that she can be.

One of the three Deep Valley stand alone stories (see Carney's House Party and Winona's Pony Cart), Emily’s tale is a reprint of a warm Americana tale. Emily is a fabulous individual who initially feels sorry for herself but comes out of her funk when she decides to make herself a better person while she suffers through the “lost winter” as her few friends go to college. Jed is a nice person studying for his Masters in sociology. However it is the “bad boy” Don Walker who danced with Emily and somewhat steals the show with his scorning intelligence as he purposely butchers Browning and his mocking speech at high school commencement. With humor and pathos Maud Hart Lovelace brings to life the seemingly innocence of 1912 Minnesota when a teen smoking a cigarette means juvenile delinquent.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Occasional Torment-Bee Robb

My Occasional Torment
Bee Robb
Five Star, Dec 8 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594149238

It Has been thirty three years of marriage to Sebastian Connery, yet Julia fears for her relationship. She knows her spouse, his lunatic father also named Sebastian and ashes of the extended Connery brood in the urns inside her bedroom closet remain irate with her for not naming the next generation the III.

Julia begins talking to herself. Her husband has been vanishing for periods without explanation. The ashes of her relatives agree that is like he did years ago when Sebastian was having an affair. Her imaginary self insists what do you expect after three decades of marital ennui and challenges her real self to find a faithful happy couple celebrating their silver anniversary. Julia begins her quest which leads to the retirement community of Sebastian the elder and dinner with the “Vampire” next door whose husband allegedly exploded. So far Julia has had no success on her quest to find a couple who remain in lust after five decades of marriage.

This is an intriguing look at marriage over the long run as everyone including her still disapproving of her (after three plus decades of marriage to his son) father-in-law, her Vampire neighbor next door, her teen son and most critical her other self insists intimacy inevitably becomes ennui. The support cast especially the imaginary Julia is flaky as they insist marital survival is not marital romance. Although Julia’s occasional torment seems at times childish and irritatingly churlish compared with the rest of cast specifically her alter ego, fans will enjoy her quest to find one marriage of fifty years or more in which the couple remain overtly intimately in love.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Midnight Clear-Kristi Astor

A Midnight Clear
Kristi Astor
Zebra, Nov 2 2010, $5.99
ISBN: 9781420105476

In December 1908, American artist Troy Davenport lives with his Aunt Agnes when he notices a picture in the gossip column she is reading. It is his muse who he met briefly on the passenger ship Mauritania; he desperately wants to paint Miranda Granger who with her family is staying over Christmas at the luxurious Grandview Hotel during its grand opening gala. Two weeks later at the hotel, Troy and Miranda meet. She refuses to give him money or sex, but he surprises her because all he wants to do is paint her.

Miranda thinks back a decade ago when she loved Paul Sutcliffe. They planned to marry, but her dad offered him money and he took it. He ignored Miranda’s plea in which she told him she was carrying his child; now raised by loving distant cousins. She assumes Troy is a fortune hunter unaware he comes from wealth.

Six months later William remains irate with his middle daughter Gertie for her tryst with Edmund that Miranda intercepted. Gertie blames Miranda for her trouble taking no responsibility for her action and for her father taking them back to Surrey. Troy arrives in her village allegedly to paint the abbey ruins. He pursues his muse again. He owes her the truth, but has to leave for New York to see his dying father. She is not home so he gives a note to Gertie to give to her older half-sister. Her father informs Miranda that Troy came but left as he wanted money not her.

The lead couple is a strong pairing of two people with secrets. The support characters are super by enhancing the Edwardian England era deeply. Although her younger sister is a spoiled brat with no redeeming qualities and some coincidence is needed to cause misconception between the lead couple, this is a strong historical.

Harriet Klausner