Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sweet Tea at Sunrise-Sherryl Woods

Sweet Tea at Sunrise
Sherryl Woods
Mira, May 2010, $7.99
ISBN 9780778328452

Knowing his baseball career is over; skirt chasing player Travis McDonald arrives in Serenity, South Carolina. He likes the small town atmosphere and decides to stay there. Travis buys a local radio station.

When he meets his neighbor single mom of two Sarah Price, Travis enjoys her light banter except for the self-deprecating comments. He hires the waitress to work his morning show as the DJ though she has no on the air experiences. As she works diligently at her new position, Sarah struggles to overcome the constant put downs of her verbally abusive former husband Walter while also falling in love with her new boss; who she knows stole her heart even if he is out of her league.

The romance remains mostly in the bleachers as the return to Serenity focuses on the stars of the previous books. Still this is an entertaining tale as Travis is a wonderful individual trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life as he is young but retired. Sarah in many ways is the more fascinating protagonist with her doubts after years of being assailed as a loser; although her epitome feels false, fans of the series will enjoy catching up with the lives of those who previously starred in the Carolina saga.

Harriet Klausner

The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund-Jill Kargman

The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund
Jill Kargman
Plume, Apr 16 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452295940

In 2006 thirty-four years old Holly Talbott believes she has a happy marriage to Tim, a Wall St. hedge fund dealer and a wonderful son Miles. Although his family objects, Holly periodically meets with her best friend Kiki, a Jew from Brooklyn, who divorced Tim's brother.

However, on one of their clandestine get-togethers, Holly and Kiki observe Tim hugging tightly another woman. Instead of Tim being ostracized for cheating by his family and the community during the divorce, Holly is the one treated with contempt; as she comes from the wrong side of the tracks. The pre-nuptial agreement affirmed that perspective. Whether it is taking Miles to school or booted from a charity fundraiser, the Wall St. Hedge Fund wives and mothers treat Holly as a leper. Only Kiki still remains her friend. While Kiki dates a seemingly normal nice guy, Holly finds a series of losers.

This is an amusing witty contemporary tale that misses the bite of a satirical look at the financial meltdown as the timing seems off, but will entertain readers with the two BFFs seeking a nicer class of men. With a jocular story line, readers will enjoy this lighthearted romp of the rich and the kicked out of the wealthy club, but also believe The Ex-Mrs. Hedgefund misses an opportunity to lampoon the affluent financial crowd for their egotistical excesses.

Harriet Klausner

Hannah's List-Debbie Macomber

Hannah's List
Debbie Macomber
Mira, May 2010, $24.95
ISBN 9780778327806

In Seattle thirty-six year old Hannah Everett dies from ovarian cancer after a long battle. She leaves behind a letter to her beloved pediatrician husband, Michael that he is to open one year after her death.

On the first anniversary of Hannah's death, Michael reads her note to him. She pleads with him to get on with his life as he has grieved long enough. She wants him to actively seek a new wife. Hannah suggests he consider three candidates for his second spouse: her cousin Chef Winter Adams; her oncologist nurse Leanne Lancaster or eccentric artist Macy Roth. Michael goes out with each of the women but each quickly recognizes that his heart is buried with his late spouse.

Although some readers will question how fast Michael acts on his beloved deceased wife’s final request, fans will enjoy this strong look at grieving as the lead protagonist tries to move on as his spouse requested with the three women she suggested. Michael is fully developed so that the audience understands his concerns and fears while Hannah is only seen through his eyes and the letter. The tree candidates are developed to different degrees, which makes it easy to know the ending relatively early on. Michael hooks the readers throughout as he struggles with choosing from Hannah’s List because he is unsure if he can.

Harriet Klausner

Nose Down, Eyes Up-Merrill Markoe

Nose Down, Eyes Up
Merrill Markoe
Villard, Apr 20 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345500212

Forty something Gil works as a handyman at an elderly couples’ vacation home where he also resides for free. His girlfriend Sara works as an animal communication expert, which has enabled Gil to understand what his four dogs want.

He is taken aback when he realizes the top canine in his pack Jimmy the alpha is providing lessons and lectures to the neighborhood dogs on a variety of surviving with human topics. Jimmy teaches the other dogs how to properly beg especially for treats and the merits of indoor vs. outside peeing in nasty weather.

When Gil meets up with his former wife, she offers him work remodeling her guesthouse. He accepts, but Jimmy persuades him to take him with him. As he ignores Jimmy for time with his remarried former wife, Gil makes it clear to his four legged BFF that he is not his companion's biological father. Upset to know he is adopted Jimmy seeks out his biological parents especially his mother; not realizing how nearby she is.

This is a terrific pooch lit parable that focuses on what makes a family without being overly too cute. Jimmy and Gil are a wonderful pairing as Jimmy assumes the man who raised him is his daddy until he learns the shattering truth. His observations on family, love, and loyalty will obviously provide dog lovers with a charmer, but other readers will appreciate the wisdom of Jimmy’s teachings starting with the title.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lean on Pete-Willy Vlautin

Lean on Pete
Willy Vlautin
Harper, Apr 13 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061456534

When his dad decides to start over for the zillionth time, fifteen year old Charley Thompson relocates with him from Spokane, Washington. However, shortly after moving to Portland, Oregon, Charley's irresponsible father deserts him to move in with a married woman. Soon afterward the woman's husband kills Charley's dad.

Charley obtains a job working for Del Montgomery at Delta Park racetrack. However, watching what Del does to the thoroughbreds upsets Charley more than his dad's death especially when he learns his employer plans to sell his only friend Pete to people who will kill the horse. Deciding nothing is there to keep him in Portland, Charley steals Pete to keep him safe. Together they flee the Pacific Northwest.

Although Charley seems to have incredible luck on his trek with people helping him and Pete providing money, food and shelter without asking questions of why a young teen was .on his own; when no one is there shelter still is easily available. Putting aside the realism probability (Vegas would take Charley and Pete off the board), fans will enjoy his plight and flight as readers will cheer the lad on while knowing all he wants is to be part of a loving family.

Harriet Klausner

Good to a Fault-Marina Endicott

Good to a Fault
Marina Endicott
Harper, Mar 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061825897

Forty-three years old divorcee Clara Purdy works as an insurance claims adjuster while living in the house she grew up in inherited after her parents died. Rushing to the bank so she can get back to work on time, Clara crashes into the car driven by Clayton Gage. No one is injured seriously from the fender bender, but the mother of three Lorraine learns while at the hospital she has cancer in its late stage.

Clayton vanishes, so feeling responsible while Lorraine remains hospitalized; Clara invites the woman's nasty mother and her three children to live with her. Clara also allows Lorraine's alcoholic brother to move in too. While everyone in town wonders why Clara is suddenly acting like Mother Teresa, others also help especially Minster Paul whose wife left him; he is attracted to Clara. When Lorraine recovers after receiving radical treatment and Clayton returns, Clara feels alone as the three kids go back to live with their parents. Deciding to return to her sterile life before the accident, a changed Clara dumps Paul, but will being alone be enough after having family with her.

This is an entertaining character study that mostly looks at Clara who goes from being alone to having a de facto adoption of a family to being alone again but with a new attitude. Although the profound look at how much Clara changes is a two edged sword as the plot moves at times very slowly, readers will root for the heroine as she begins to leave her self imposed shell seeking her relationship groove.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Map of True Places-Brunonia Barry

The Map of True Places
Brunonia Barry
Morrow, May 4 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061624780

When Zee Finch was a child in Salem, she watched her mother commit suicide. Zee became a juvenile delinquent stealing boats, which led to her nickname “Trouble”; her father lived in his own bubble not realizing how much trouble his daughter caused. Ten years after her last theft, Zee turned her life around becoming a psychotherapist working with the internationally renowned Dr. Liz Mattei and is engaged to a Boston Brahmin.

Zee’s perfect life implodes when her patient Lilly Braedon kills herself, which brings up buried memories of her mom committing suicide in front of her. With a need to leave Boston, she heads to Salem where she sees first hand how ill her father is; Zee avoided the truth that her dad also hid from her as to the severity of his Parkinson's disease. However, he needs her now as his companion Melville just left. As father and daughter struggle to finally move on together passed the pivotal moment that led to the omissions and strains between them; Zee throws away her life plan seeking The Map of True Places in her relationship with her dad.

Returning to the Salem of The Lace Reader with some characters from that book appearing in this one, Brunonia Barry provides her fans with a profound complex relationship drama as the past impacts the present and the future. Out of love and grief, Zee and her dad learned to conceal key things from one another which only further separated them when they needed each other for closure. Making the case that in family relationships that honesty is the best policy for the long run, Ms. Barry provides a thoughtful tale that will have readers reflecting on their lives.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Leaving Unknown-Kerry Reichs

Leaving Unknown
Kerry Reichs
Avon, Mar 30 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061808135

In Frying Pan Landing, North Carolina Maeve Connelly is fired twice in one day. First her boss at the Gin Mill canned her for being late again; this time as they tried a new happy hour venture. Second her family gives her the boot tired of her irresponsible behavior. She cannot fault either as she vows to become responsible although she blames her misdeeds on a string of bad luck starting when she was nine.

Maeve decides to start over on the left coast where a friend lives. So accompanied by sassy Oliver the cockatiel, she heads west. Upon reaching Unknown, Arizona, her jinx strikes again with her car breaking down. To her shock, the locals welcome her and she works at several jobs feeling pretty good except for her extreme case of hypochondria while delaying her final destination the latter being caused mostly because of Noah the bookstore owning children’s author even if he apparently has a girlfriend who’s tall enough to dunk.

The second Connelly sister chick lit tale (see The Best Day of Someone Else's Life) stars an eccentric likable protagonist and a horde of nice supporting players. Breezy, this lighthearted frolic is fun to follow though takes a while for the plot to gel as Maeve the cursed seeks her groove in Venice Beach, but wonders if her true destination is Unknown.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 26, 2010

Almost Forever-Deborah Raney

Almost Forever
Deborah Raney
Howard (Simon and Schuster), May 2010
ISBN: 9781416599913

In Hanover Falls on November first, late at night, Bryn Hennesey plays cards with a resident at the homeless shelter, wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Charlie Branson. Bryn feels guilty because she hasn’t told her husband that she is still volunteering at the shelter even though he does not want her hanging with criminals and addicts.

While they are playing cards, she hears a siren sound in the background, which suddenly gets much louder. It is the fire department coming to put out the fire in the shelter. As they evacuate the building, the firefighters including her husband, Adam, rush into the inferno to insure all the residents are out. After the fire is put out, the building collapses killing several firefighters including the husband of Bryn and Garrett Edmonds' wife Molly. The grieving Garrett turns to Bryn for comfort. The pair realize they have deep feelings for one another but something in her past may cause him to turn his back on her.

Besides being an entertaining novel, the story line is embedded with many moral issues that will have readers reconsider their values as respect and understanding of others are critical in any relationship. Bryn is a wonderful person who volunteers to help the needy at personal cost and risk. The survivor guilt she feels almost cripples her but time and Garrett’s empathy help her heal. Deborah Raney makes her second chance at life work because the audience believes that her lead couple is real.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Either You're in or You're in the Way: Two Brothers, Twelve Months, and One Filmmaking Hell-Ride to Keep a Promise to Their Father

Either You're in or You're in the Way: Two Brothers, Twelve Months, and One Filmmaking Hell-Ride to Keep a Promise to Their Father
Logan Miller, Noah Miller
It (HarperCollins), Mar 30 2010, $15.99
ISBN: 9780061763175

This often amusing always inspiring memoir is not for everyone as it has stretches of too much detail, but those readers who enjoy a Hollywood success story will be encouraged by the Bros to take a chance on a dream. The biography focuses on the former baseball players’ efforts to keep a deathbed promise they made to each other to make a movie about their late homeless alcoholic father who died in prison. The Miller siblings explain the obstacles to include Mother Nature and getting performers like Ed Harris, who comes across as an honest hard working performer as does the rest of the cast. Although the setbacks seem relatively minor lacking a drama queen or king and not enough discussion on their baseball careers (should have played for the Twins), fans will enjoy the quest of two Bros with no credits to their names or money pulling off the filming of their dad’s life. This will remind readers in some ways of Roger and Me with the starkness to an outsider of Hollywood replacing Flint.

Harriet Klausner

The Birth of Love-Joanna Kavenna

The Birth of Love
Joanna Kavenna
Metropolitan (Holt), Apr 13 2010, $14.00
ISBN: 9780805091540

"The Moon". In 1865 Vienna, obstetrician Professor Ignaz Semmelweis fails in his efforts to find the fundamental cause of deadly childbed fever though he felt sanitary conditions played a major role. He mentally falls apart from depression as the vision of all the women he failed to save visits him in his mind; leading to an asylum.

"The Empress". In 2009 London, Brigid Hayes is in severe pain from labor as she is about to give birth to her second child.

"The Hermit". Across town from Brigit, failed author Michael Stone finally is published with his work The Moon focusing on Semmelweis. However, he feels overcome with finally making it as a novelist and fearful with what next.

"The Tower". In 2153 prisoners 730004, 730005 and 730006 stand trial for treasonous behavior against the Protectors who enforce ultra sanitary conditions on a near extinct humanity. No one is allowed to do anything against the leaders keeping the species safe from itself.

Although rotating the stories through two cycles is a distracter even as that technique tries to interconnect the stories, the four well written tales are filled with timely symbolism. The book is filled with irony as those who demand less government in people’s lives demand more government in pregnant women’s lives. Each entry is solid and loaded with metaphors leading the audience to ponder the roles of do-gooder outsiders directing what pregnant women can do (past, present and future).

Harriet Klausner

The Season of Second Chances-Diane Meier

The Season of Second Chances
Diane Meier
Holt, Mar 302010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780805090819

Forty-eight years old Columbia University literature professor Joy Harkness leaves the city for a position at Amherst to escape her solitary lifestyle and her dozen years of torture at Morningside Heights for what might prove a fascinating program. She sees herself giving up little for a new start.

Joy euphorically moves to Western Massachusetts where she buys what would be kindly called a fixer upper. She hires much younger handyman Teddy Hennessy to work on her Victorian. As she eludes the campus coyotes, Joy and Teddy begin to date, but his martinet mom objects.

The Season of Scond Chances is an interesting character study of a forlorn academia as the lead jumps at starting over. The ironically named Joy begins to find herself at Amherst because the locals will not allow her space to crawl back into her solitary shell of distrust. Although Teddy’s mom comes across as a stereotype of Mommy Dearest over the top of the Berkshires, readers will appreciate the middle age professor seeking her groove.

Harriet Klausner

Relapse-Nikki Turner

Nikki Turner
One World (Ballantine), Apr. 20 2010, $14.00
ISBN 9780345511058

Her middle class father Sterling raised Beijing Lee as a single parent. However, she visited her mother Willabee and her older sister Paris who Sterling knew lived on the other side of the track and in her dad’s mind they were riding the train the wrong way. He is proven right when ignoring her conscience Paris sells ten year old Beijing to Chimp so she can buy crack. Teenager Mike intrudes on the sale and using a knife kills Chimp before warning Paris to take care of her sister better or else.

Years pass and Beijing has become a hotel concierge insuring the wealthy receive the best treatment. In Vegas, she thinks she may be in love with Lootchee, who treats her nice and gives her luxurious presents. However, he also brings with him a dark side that places Beijing in trouble even as her maternal family causes havoc in her life. However, all hell breaks loose withher life is in danger; Beijing thinks back to her last rescue and knows she could use a hero again just as Mike known as Stash is back.

This is a superb street lit tale that contains a powerful cast especially the heroine within an exciting story line. The tale grips readers immediately when the reader realizes Paris is selling her ten years old sister because the addiction supersedes everything else. That hold on the audience never lets up as her “loved ones” place Beijing in jeopardy while a late rivalry between Lootchee and Stash leave fans wanting more. This is a strong look at surviving the streets where a Relapse is the magnetic pull of your family.

Harriet Klausner

Lamb Bright Saviors-Robert Vivian

Lamb Bright Saviors
Robert Vivian
Bison Books, Mar 2010, $22.95
ISBN: 9780803213807

Mr. Gene and his assistant young Mady travel across Nebraska preaching the Lord’s word and distributing bibles. However, Mr. Gene takes ill and knows he is dying. He stops at the home of an elderly blind woman while word spreads of the preacher’s imminent demise which leads to many folks arriving.

As he babbles about God, four people are invited to hear his final confession. Each is euphoric with the chance because they seek redemption. Living inside a baseball dugout, Oly prays that one day he will coach school sports. Former convict Yarborough sought revenge against someone who betrayed him, but forgave the person after he took a pound of flesh. Tattooed all over his body, Gus uses body art to display his ire at the world. Finally Iraqi war veteran Munoz carries the head of his brother in arms killed in theater.

This profound character study is a terrific look into the souls of six people seeking redemption; ironically that includes the rambling preacher who believes if he delivers the four strangers to God he will have atoned for his sins. The novella contains a stark Nebraska atmosphere that enhances the story line for those readers will appreciate an austere reflection on the foibles of atoning for one’s life even in death.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Summer at Tiffany-Marjorie Hart

Summer at Tiffany
Marjorie Hart
Avon, Mar 30 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780061189531

In 1945, University of Iowa undergrads Marjorie Hart and Marty Garrett managed to come up with the money to take the train to and from New York; their plan is to spend the summer in the big city though that means finding work. They obtain an apartment for the summer overlooking Columbia and Tiffany's hires both of them as their first female floor sales pages running errands up and down the famous store. The pair wore special blue dresses and rings while searching for celebs like Judy Garland and her husband Vincent Minelli. In the evenings the pair hits the night spots all over town and joined the city in celebrating V-J day.

This is an entertaining somewhat fluffy memoir of what ohmygosh was the best summer of the author’s life as readers see Manhattan through the eyes of two naive teen visitors. Sweeter than the ice cream served at Schrafft's Ice Cream parlor but not as nourishing as the Automat, fans will enjoy Marjorie Hart’s look back with B&W photos to the end of WW II in New York. The year she learned the meaning to the song “How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm After they've seen Paree” (in this case New York).

Harriet Klausner

The Year It Snowed in April-Eva Bottier

The Year It Snowed in April
Eva Bottier
St. Martin’s Griffin, Mar 30 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780312360603

In Harlem, his maternal grandparents raised Avery Benjamin Clarke in a protective middle class environs. Although shy by nature he was doing okay obtaining excellent grades at school and was a nice respectful child at home.

Now in 1983, thirteen years old, Avery is stunned when his mother Carla arrives at her parents' brownstone as she abandoned him years ago. She worries that her parents have ruined her son turning him gay with their over protectiveness. She has him visit her at her place where he is introduced to pot, cigarettes, and alcohol. He learns cursing is the most frequently used descriptors and modifiers. Avery takes his lessons with him as he soon gets into fights at school and in the neighborhood and shouts profanity at his caring shocked grandparents. However, his spiral downward has just begun as Carla has a mission to insure her son is straight.

The Year It Snowed in April is a fascinating character study that focuses on negative nurturing as an adult can lead a child down a path of destruction. The story line is driven by the cast especially Avery who goes from encouraged pampered child to abuse victim learning to abuse others. Although so much is dumped on Avery the pile is higher than Morningside Heights, readers will appreciate this tense tale of how a good young person is taught to be ugly.

Harriet Klausner

Family Value-Stephen L. Nelson

Family Value
Stephen L. Nelson
Five Star, May 7 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594148736

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Didonatos and the Marshes live in a two family house at 392 Chestnut Street. Each couple has two young kids living with them. The families get along though each adult has issues as they struggle to make it.

Tony DiDonato cannot find a job as a professor of medieval literature so he is a stay at home dad refurbishing old furniture, which is his passion but will not admit it to himself or his wife as that is blue collar. His wife Laurel is a safety engineer at Jackson Products, Inc, who recently learned of illegal dumping of toxic chemicals by her firm; she was adopted and wants to learn who her biological parents are. Jay Marsh is a lawyer who enjoys doing pro-bono cases representing impoverished clients as he is encouraged by his caring adopted mom; he has no desire to learn who his biological mom is and detests his adopted father for deserting them. His wife Carol is a probation officer trying to help kids in trouble, but though she joined Adult Children of Alcoholics, she still has issues with her late mom the drunk that the house she inherited from her is a constant reminder; soon her work and what is in the basement threaten both families.

This intriguing family drama has too much going on so that none of the four adults or for that matter the four kids appear differently from each other, which in turn detracts from the personal and family crisis that the adults face. Still readers will enjoy watching each character struggle with Family Values as they want to do the right thing professionally and personally for their own sake and for that of their family.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Looking for a Love Story-Louise Shaffer

Looking for a Love Story
Louise Shaffer
Ballantine, Apr 6 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345502100

In Manhattan Francesca's first novel Love requires that she take a photograph by highly regarded photographer Jake Morris. They are in immediate lust followed almost immediately with a tryst in his nearby apartment. Before he returns to work he suggests they meet to marry.

Several years later, Jake divorced Francesca and has since remarried and moved to California. Adrift Francesca got their dog Annie and loneliness. Francesca meets octogenarian Chicky, who asks her to write the real love story, a biography of her Vaudeville parents Joe and Ellie. Needing to feed her and Annie, she accepts the writing memoir although she wishes her client would stop calling her Baby Doll. However, as she learns of the unlikely love story of Joe and Ellie friends for life, Francesca introspectively reflects on her own life, that of her parents and of her relationship with Jake. Her musing has her begin to move on as she struggles to find a publisher for the love story memoir she wrote.

Looking for a Love Story is an entertaining whimsical chick lit tale starring a delightfully flawed lead protagonist. Francesca is terrific as she learns so much about what makes a relationship work with the realization her best friend is Annie. The support cast enhances the complexities of the modern world as relationships are not linear but a series of interconnecting waves. Readers who enjoy a thought-provoking character study will appreciate Francesca seeking her groove, as she begins to understand thanks to Joe and Ellie the key ingredient that any relational groove requires.

Harriet Klausner

Looking for a Love Story-Louise Shaffer

Looking for a Love Story
Louise Shaffer
Ballantine, Apr 6 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345502100

In Manhattan Francesca's first novel Love requires that she take a photograph by highly regarded photographer Jake Morris. They are in immediate lust followed almost immediately with a tryst in his nearby apartment. Before he returns to work he suggests they meet to marry.

Several years later, Jake divorced Francesca and has since remarried and moved to California. Adrift Francesca got their dog Annie and loneliness. Francesca meets octogenarian Chicky, who asks her to write the real love story, a biography of her Vaudeville parents Joe and Ellie. Needing to feed her and Annie, she accepts the writing memoir although she wishes her client would stop calling her Baby Doll. However, as she learns of the unlikely love story of Joe and Ellie friends for life, Francesca introspectively reflects on her own life, that of her parents and of her relationship with Jake. Her musing has her begin to move on as she struggles to find a publisher for the love story memoir she wrote.

Looking for a Love Story is an entertaining whimsical chick lit tale starring a delightfully flawed lead protagonist. Francesca is terrific as she learns so much about what makes a relationship work with the realization her best friend is Annie. The support cast enhances the complexities of the modern world as relationships are not linear but a series of interconnecting waves. Readers who enjoy a thought-provoking character study will appreciate Francesca seeking her groove, as she begins to understand thanks to Joe and Ellie the key ingredient that any relational groove requires.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty

Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty
Craig Welch
Morrow, Apr 6 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061537134

From the start with the poacher “Hunt” on Puget Sound led by Detectives Volz and Jarmon, fact is stranger than fiction as Craig Welch affirms with these entertaining yet also horrifying true crimes at sea collection. The entries occur in the Pacific Northwest and run the gamut of what poachers will do for profit. Although the prime focus is the Washington State fisheries, bears are killed to harvest their gallbladders as medical remedies and several others similar animal slaughters are highlighted also. Perhaps the biggest shocker is the tale of charismatic Native American artist Doug Tobin, who the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hired as an informant to enable them to catch geoduck poachers; he turns out to be a double agent as he is one of the prime poachers.

This well written true crime compilation will fascinate and shock readers as dedicated law enforcement officials try to prevent poaching on the Washington State waters. No question that Craig Welch provides much of the entries from the perspective of the cops working the seaways who he admires as his empathies are with these hard working game wardens who face danger. However, he also makes the “Crab Men” and “Clam Kings”, etc. come across as dedicated capitalists as to the professional poachers this is a business.

Harriet Klausner

How High The Moon-Sandra Kring

How High The Moon
Sandra Kring
Bantam, Apr 6 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385341219

In 1955 in Mill Town energetic rabble-rouser ten year old Teaspoon enjoys singing. The Tom Boy was deserted five years ago by her single mom Catty. Her mother's former boyfriend Teddy raises Teaspoon who decides she needs to change her out of control behavior so he will be proud of her.

To achieve a life makeover, Teaspoon needs a female role model as all she knows is typical male behavior: fighting, lying, and more fighting. To achieve her objective, Teaspoon joins the Sunshine Sisters mentoring program in which an adult is paired with a child. Her Big Sister is highly respected Brenda Bloom, daughter of the most affluent family in town. Brenda and Isabella (ladies are not Teaspoon except in size) match up well and soon each is teaching the other and Teddy until Catty returns.

This is a strong cast who provides a deep look at small-town living in the Eisenhower Era. The story line is driven by the relationships with Teaspoon as the center holding the tale together. Although the plot is straightforward with no surprising spins, historical fans will enjoy tomboyish Teaspoon’s efforts to become respectable Isabella (her birth name).

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dearest Cousin Jane-Jill Pitkeathley

Dearest Cousin Jane
Jill Pitkeathley
Harper, Mar 23 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061875984

In 1787, Jane’s mother expresses her concurs to her husband Mr. Austen about the behavior of his niece Countess Eliza de Feuillde whom she calls Betsy as she did before the aristocratic marriage. He insists she is just having fun with her flirting with their two sons James and Henry. However, Mrs. Austen complains that her seductive airs send the wrong behavioral message to fifteen years old Cassandra and especially twelve years old Jane who carefully watches her older cousin’s antics.

Eliza Hancock came to Paris in 1780. There she met the Comte and married him. They had a child Hastings whose health is poor and soon after their stay in England with her paternal uncle's family, he dies. Not long after that Eliza’s spouse is guillotined. Even in mourning, Eliza still teases the men especially Jane's brothers; playing them against each other while Jane watches in fascination and her mom disapproves.

By using a young Jane’s real cousin who had an apparent scandalous reputation, Jill Pitkeathley provides a fresh look at the influences on the author before Miss Austen became the novelist. For fans of biographical fiction and of course anyone who wants more Austen in their diet, Dearest Cousin Jane is a super repast as this is an enjoyable invigorating look at the extended family through the impact of the notorious cousin.

Harriet Klausner

The Sweet By and By- Todd Johnson

The Sweet By and By
Todd Johnson
Harper, Feb 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061579523

At the Ridgecrest Nursing Center in rural North Carolina, life is repetitively dull everyday for the residents, who wait to die. However, two of them, steel magnolia Margaret Clayton and country music fan Bernice Stokes meet and becomes friends though the former is witty and the latter is incoherent for the most part. They become the dynamic duo nuking every rule.

Their church-going nurse Lorraine watches over the pair closely while protecting them from any real trouble from the brass although she knows the devilish women enjoy stirring her juices. Lorraine’s daughter April attends medical school, but relishes the antics of the two BFFs; as does Rhonda the beautician who does their hair on her off days.

This is an entertaining character study of women bonding although they are from different walks of life and three generations. Rotating perspective between the fearsome five female friends, readers get to know each of the protagonists. Fans who appreciate a wonderful character driven saga that reminds readers what life is all about will relish a visit to Ridgecrest as The Sweet By and By is friendship.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 19, 2010

No Distance Too Far-Lauraine Snelling

No Distance Too Far
Lauraine Snelling
Bethany House, Apr 1 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780764206108

In 1904 Dr. Astrid Bjorklund decides to practice her calling in Africa as the third generation in her family to do God’s work. However, she prays her beloved Joshua Landsverk understands her desire. Instead they have an argument and she leaves for the east to attend missionary training.

In Blessing, North Dakota a deadly measles epidemic threatens those residing on the Red Bud Indian Reservation. Her friend Dr. Hawk asks for her medical assistance. Rushing back to help, Astrid wonders if her missionary calling is closer to home as she follows God's message.

The second Home to Blessing historical novel (see Measure of Mercy) is an entertaining early twentieth century tale that focuses on the personal life of a female missionary. Astrid believes she has been called by the Lord to serve, but where as the need in the Dakotas is great but Africa has been her destination goal. Although at times the pace is a bit slow due to the deep concentration on practicing medicine in 1904 in substandard environs, the strong cast makes for a profound historical.

Harriet Klausner

The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather-Alexandra Potter

The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather
Alexandra Potter
Plume, Mar 30 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452295889

A decade ago twenty-one years old American college grad Charlotte Merryweather arrived in London. She quickly realized she was an uncouth moron when it came to class and style. Thus she reengineered herself from the idiot with the scrunchie hairdo into the guru of style.

Now thirtyish Charlotte seeks a new home for her and her long time boyfriend while she and her office assistant Beatrice try to persuade a perspective new client to go with her company. However, she is stunned on the morning commute when she sees someone in a battered ugly orange Beetle who looks like her ten years ago. Unable to resist, Charlotte follows her younger self doppelganger home. She soon realizes this is her as twenty-one years old Lottie the loser. Thinking she has a second chance to avoid the stupid mistakes she made back then, Charlotte plans to mentor herself but begins to learn that her choices were super a decade ago as they led to her success; but recently have been poor as she had forgotten the lessons learned.

This is an entertaining chick lit tale in which the mature Lottie learns much more than her naive younger version. Although time paradox issues are ignored, the two Lottie’s make for a charming tale as the thirtyish woman begins to understand that she got to where she is today due to the unsophisticated twentyish version. Readers will enjoy this fine tale as the older heroine learns life lessons.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Invisible Boy
Cornelia Read
Grand Central, Mar 30 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446511346

In 1990 in Manhattan, former socialite Madeline Dare is happy with her marriage to blue-collar Dean though she does not like their dumpy Union Square apartment that she and her spouse share with her sister and their friend. Still she does not miss her former lifestyle of the rich and socially Mayflower prominence nor her exile to the Berkshires as she accepts being poor.

Madeline runs into her distant cousin Cate Ludlam, who is leading a clean-up of Prospect Cemetery in Queens. Unable to say no, Madeline is drafted to pull weed duty. However, she finds the skeletal remains of a young child, who turns out to be missing three years old Teddy Underhill. Refusing to stay out of the NYPD inquiry, Madeline learns that the little boy was an abuse victim of his mother and her boyfriend.

Unlike The Crazy School or A Field of Darkness amateur sleuthing stints, Invisible Boy is more a condemning look at society that is run by class status, heritage elitism and racial stereotyping; as justice is not blind to the affluent or the poor albeit treated differently. Readers will appreciate Madeline’s daring exploits in Manhattan and Queens as she refuses to back down from a system that enables a three year old to be discarded.

Harriet Klausner

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly-Connie May Fowler

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly
Connie May Fowler
Grand Central, Apr 2 2010, $23.99
ISBN: 9780446540681

In Hope, Florida, as the summer solstice proves to be the hottest day of the year, thirtyish successful novelist Clarissa Burden wonders how her life could be so miserable. She knows the reason is her envious spouse Igor “Igy” Dupuy, a failed multimedia artist who draws nudes in an effort to bed them. He has replaced her mother as her personal put down artist.

Clarissa needs to escape from his indifference, but sees no hope in doing so. However, she is unaware that the house she shares with the brute also contains ghosts. She and the spirits want freedom so on the longest day of the year, the heat inside the Burden home has become hotter than hell.

This is a whimsical character tale that grips the audience once the stage is set as the reader will want to know whether Clarissa suffering from writer’s block and spousal cruelty is losing her mind or do ghosts, a carnival cast and animals communicate with her. Fans will relish Clarissa as she seeks escaping her troubles by learning to fly solo the hard way.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Lost Wife's Tale-Marion McGilvary

A Lost Wife's Tale
Marion McGilvary
Harper, Mar 16 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061766091

Edith Lutz has run away. She obtains work as a housekeeper to publisher Adam Davenport by lying about her background. However, Edith seems to always look back as if she expects someone to come up to her and say gotcha.

As Edith and Adam become better acquainted they are attracted to one another. However, though she wants more, Edith never stays around for relationships of the heart as she learned as a child they always lead to misery. Still she wants to stay as Adam loves her, but her lies are catching up to her as her past has too, which means it is time to run again before she is hurt if he unmasks the real Edith.

Edith holds the tale together as the viewpoints are mostly seen through her eyes and the story line rotates between her present and her past. She is a fascinating protagonist though in spite of her abusive childhood never fully garners reader empathy and loses that when a relative arrives searching for her. Interestingly the other key cast members even to a degree Adam in the present but especially her family in the past are predominantly seen through Edith's filter so the latter cannot “defend” themselves. Readers who relish a strong character study will want to understand Edie’s tale.

Harriet Klausner


Grand Central, Mar 23 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446179584

Miki Summers is a sexaholic who loves the heat with anonymous pursuers until her out of control sexcapades catch up to her. Valencia Sanchez is bisexual hitting on both sexes in spite of being engaged to an affluent fiancé who tells her monogamy with him only or goodbye. Voyeur Teela Raye loves seeing others go at it and then doing it with her mate, but a peeping Thomasina may not be enough satisfaction especially since her mate is not interested in her passivity as a watcher. School teacher Brandi Williams is a one night special hitting different hunks every evening, but soon craves doing it in daylight too.

These four women are sex addicts who meet at Sexaholics Anonymous meetings. There each tells their tale staying in control one minute at a time as their libido keeps whispering feed me.

The four key characters rotate perspective so that the audience obtains a deep look at how crippling addiction can be. Each knows the danger their sexual need causes yet they cannot control their libido’s indulgences. Well written, Sexaholics is an entertaining erotica that focuses on the destructiveness of being out of control when 24/7 your vagina controls your brain.

Harriet Klausner

The Icing on the Cake-Jennifer Ross

The Icing on the Cake
Jennifer Ross
Ballantine, Apr 6 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345492968

In Dallas, debutant Ansley Waller enjoys being among the elite especially the envy of her sorority peers at Baylor as she is engaged to Parish, the top Texan bachelor. However, at a soiree, Parish watches Ansley behave cruelly to a girl and he becomes angry with her nastiness. He breaks off their engagement. Parish tells Ansley he prefers someone nice with an ok butt than the most beautiful woman in Texas with a nasty demeanor.

Humiliated, Ansley leaves Dallas for Manhattan where her estranged septuagenarian grandma Vivian lives. The sandwich generation in between them Hattie hates her mother who deserted her when she was five years old to run off with Charlie. In New York Vivian tells her granddaughter she has sixty days to find a job or leave. While Vivian works through a tax mess her late second husband caused to hurt her, Ansley begins baking cupcakes and opens a bakery. As she begins to find Ansley, someone is trying to insure she fails starting with the plumbing.

This is an entertaining coming of age family drama starring a likable cast. Ansley holds the tale together as she may have left Dallas with her tail dragging, but soon takes Manhattan by storm; one cupcake at a time. Filled with recipes (cupcakes of course), fans of contemporary character studies will enjoy Ansley’s efforts to add one recipe that she invents into the family “heirloom”.

Harriet Klausner

Corner Shop-Roopa Farooki

Corner Shop
Roopa Farooki
St. Martin’s Griffin, Apr 1 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780312577872

In London teen Luhith "Lucky" Khalil is a terrific football player who dreams of playing for the English national team and being the hero bringing home the World Cup trophy. However, the fourteen year old is distracted from his goal by his attraction to his grandfather's employee Portia. His father Jinan is a hard working lawyer who is a second generation Pakistani immigrant while his mother Delphine dreams of romantic love though Jinan is to busy working to waste time romancing his spouse. Lucky’s grand father Zaki the shopkeeper is the first generation immigrant.

Zaki loves to gamble and admires the young English women like his daughter-in-law whom he met before his son did. Although he knows why Delphine chose Jinan because he is a professional while Zaki is a storekeeper, he outrageously flirts with her, calling her beautiful. They begin a tryst as each gets what they desire, but at what cost.

This is a terrific family drama starring a strong ensemble cast. The story line shifts viewpoint between the primary players, which enables a convoluted fascinating focus on the conflicting aspirations of three generations of a Pakistani-British family. In this story individuals' goals clash and the Khalil brood learn that sometimes you have to pay an exorbitant price when you get what you asked for.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Get Lucky-Katherine Center

Get Lucky
Katherine Center
Ballantine, Apr 6 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345507914

In New York, Sarah Harper is rising to the top at an advertising agency. However, she suddenly feels remorse and guilt over her bogus bra campaign. She drafts an email with pictures of boobs while confessing that her ad campaign was B.S.; she accidentally (on purpose as she rationalizes that dumb decisions can be good choices) sends it to the entire firm .

Fired, she flies home to Houston. Her sister Mackie and her brother-in-law Clive take her into their home. Mackie tells Sarah that they have tried for a baby for years but failed and is resigned that she will not conceive. She has told Clive no more. Sarah offers to serve as the surrogate mom, which the couple accepts. Nine months of carrying has Sarah confused as she wants Clive and her former boyfriend Everett while she and Mackie drift apart. Making matters worse for the battling siblings, their widower dad announces he is getting married.

This is an engaging family drama in which the sisters act at any moment as if they are ready to rumble. Amusing throughout, the story line gets deep inside the siblings yet for the most part fails to dig into how it feels to be carrying your sister’s baby from the perspective of both. Mindful of the movie Baby Mama, fans of a lighthearted contemporary will want to read Get Lucky.

Harriet Klausner

Losing Charlotte-Heather Clay

Losing Charlotte
Heather Clay
Knopf, Mar 23 2010, $24.95
ISBN: 9780375415388

Sisters Charlotte and Knox Bolling grew up on their family Four Corners Kentucky horse farm. Each knows thoroughbreds as well as they know people and in many respects are more comfortable with horses. When Charlotte leaves for New York, Knox resents her leaving her to remain on the farm.

Charlotte marries finance manager Bruce Tavert. They move to the West Village of Manhattan, but though geographically apart, the siblings remain close yet apparently different. Charlotte gives birth to twin boys, but dies soon after her sons are born prematurely. Although hardly knowing one another except through Charlotte and their grief for her, Knox and Bruce raise the babies together as she leaves the farm for the big city.

Losing Charlotte is a fascinating character study of three people who are tied together through the death of one of them and the births of the next generation. Bruce and Knox grieve their loss, but the latter is the more fascinating protagonist. Whereas Bruce is New York banker stereotype; Knox struggles to adapt to Manhattan after the Kentucky farm especially raising her nephews and finally dealing with her assortment of contrary feelings towards Bruce, the twins and ultimately Charlotte. She changes throughout the story line as she goes from ire for what she perceives is her sibling’s desertion to innocent caretaker to almost in love with her brother-in-law to finally uplifting nurturer. She makes this family drama an entertaining deep tale

Harriet Klausner

The Language of Sand-Ellen Block

The Language of Sand
Ellen Block
Bantam, Apr 6 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780440245759

She remained in intensive care as the only survivor of a house fire that killed her husband and their four year old child. When she finally is released from the hospital, thirtyish Abigail feels adrift and disconnected. Pondering what to do as she grieves her twin losses and feeling a need to leave Boston the site of the tragedy, the lexicographer decides to move to the North Carolina barrier island Chapel Isle where her spouse spent many enjoyable summers growing up.

Abigail accepts the position of lighthouse caretaker. However upon arriving at Chapel Isle, the cottage she rented without seeing is dilapidated. The islanders initially for the most part reject her as an outsider, but soon Abby, as they call her, makes friends with two locals Merle and Ruth, who warmly welcome her. Others quickly follow. As she works on repairing the lighthouse, accommodating the ghost haunting the place, and fixing up the cottage, Abby makes an effort to help Nat, the island pariah with a tragic past like hers feel as welcome as the two ladies did her.

This is an engaging character study of a woman grieving a deep recent loss trying to start over in a fresh location that has ties to her late husband. The cast and the words that introduce each of the twenty-six chapters (remember the lead is a professional lexicographer) make for a fine tale of slowly moving on step by step through the phases of grief (in Abby’s case in alphabetical order).

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 15, 2010

The House On Sugar Plum Lane-Judy Duarte

The House On Sugar Plum Lane
Judy Duarte
Kensington, Apr 1 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758238948

Amy Masteron’s marriage to workaholic Brandon was already shaky when her mom died. Deciding to take over her mother’s quest to find her birth family, a determined Amy begins a search that leads to a great-grandmother Eleanor Rucker, who surprisingly remains alive living with assistance in Fairbrook. While Brandon is confused by their marriage collapsing, Amy accompanied by her five years old daughter Callie moves to Fairbrook where she rents Ellie’s Victorian, but conceals her ties to learn more about her maternal roots.

However, Amy realizes she is running out of time as Ellie’s mind is failing with memories vanishing. Amy is heartbroken with this sad twist of fate, but like the townsfolk, she prays for a miracle re family. Brandon hopes for one too with his being the return of his two women back in his life.

This is an entertaining character study as Judy Duarte takes her fans back to Fairbrook (see Entertaining Angels and Mulberry Park) where miracles are known to happen, but not in the way the recipient asked. The key cast members (to include several townsfolk as well as the Masterson trio) learn lessons of faith and the importance of loved ones. The House on Sugar Plum Lane is a warm yet profound tale of allowing and accepting second chances at relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Queen's Pawn-Christy English

The Queen's Pawn
Christy English
NAL, Apr 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451229236

In 1169, eleven years old Alais, Princess of France understands she is just another useless female except as a pawn in a marital alliance. Whereas her mother died birthing her, Alais’ older married step-sisters were spawned by the wicked Queen Eleanor who was her father King Louis’ first wife before she divorced him to marry the English monarch Henry II. Alais’ dad informs her she will marry Prince Richard, son of the devils King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Ever since Henry exiled her for his lover Rosamunde, Eleanor, though behaving, considers how she can place one of her sons on the throne; with Richard her first choice. When she meets Alais, Eleanor is stunned as the girl reminds her of her herself. She mentors the Princess of France to be her daughter-in-law, but does it out of love. Alais cherishes her teacher, but as she becomes a young woman, she wants much more than Eleanor allows for her. Soon, their mother-daughter like relationship turns acrimonious as the younger uses the power tips the older taught her boldly and brazenly to go after the top prize.

Although Eleanor has been the star of other biographical fictions, this is a refreshing account as the audience sees the late twelfth century world of England and to a lesser degree France through the eyes of the two female powerhouses. Fast-paced, sub-genre fans will enjoy this deep saga as two women vie for control of the English stage using men of rank as pawns in their chess match.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 12, 2010

Seeing Stars-Diane Hammond

Seeing Stars
Diane Hammond
Harper, Mar 23 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061863158

Ruth Rabinowitz knows her thirteen years old daughter Bethany is destined for stardom in Hollywood. Thus, she leaves behind her husband (Bethany’s dad) and takes her teen to Los Angeles where she expects instant status.

As Bethany’s manager Mimi Roberts renames her Bethany Ann Roosevelt, the child enters the world of humiliating rejections while her mom continues Seeing Stars. Bethany meets other teen wannabes with more experience at being cast off. Laurel hopes to be a star before her dying mom passes away. Allison the Texan has personal issues that interfere with her acting desires. Quinn, also from Seattle like Bethany is, has been abandoned by her abusive stepfather and ineffective mother, which makes Mimi her surrogate parent.

Fascinatingly the story line focuses mostly on the stage mother and her offspring as they face rounds of degrading rebuffs, yet the stereotyped three other teens steal the show with their personal troubles. In fact Ruth’s epiphany about motherhood and stage motherhood detracts from the tense character driven saga of a teen trying to make it in Hollywood where the norm is debasing oneself only to receive demeaning dismissal.

Harriet Klausner

The Lake Shore Limited-Sue Miller

The Lake Shore Limited
Sue Miller
Knopf, Apr 6 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780307264213

Author Wilhelmina “Billy” Gertz writes a play about an anxious family learning of the terrorist bombing of The Lake Shore Limited as the train enters Union Station in Chicago as their mother-wife is on board. Billy knows she is the model for the estranged husband in her play as she waited for news whether her lover Gus died on one of the 9/11 plane crashes.

Gus’s sister Leslie believes her late younger brother found the love of his life in Billy. Still Leslie tries to set up Billy with her friend Sam as she assumes the playwright is grieving her loss and the Lake Shore Limited was her catharsis. Meanwhile Rafe who has the role of the aloof husband in the play feels remorse and survivir guilt as his wife is dying,

The play within the novel is not a new idea, but brilliantly used by Sue Miller to bring together a post 9/11 quarter either grieving or suffering from guilt as each has personal issues. The story line rotates perspective so that the audience obtains a deep look at grief and healing as only love can bring to the soul. The Lake Shore Limited is a terrific character driven tale as readers will relish Sue Miller’s profound look at surviving tragedy by putting a face to those 3000 plus who died on 9/11.

Harriet Klausner

Bone Fire-Mark Spragg

Bone Fire
Mark Spragg
Knopf, Mar 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780307272751

In Ishawooa, Wyoming Sheriff Crane Carlson finds the corpse of a teen amidst the wreckage of a meth lab at a time the stoic cowboy has personal issues. He has just learned what he expected about his failing health and wants to reconnect with his first wife who has remarried; not withstanding that Crane is married too. His current spouse Jean is a nasty vulnerable drunken pothead outraged that her husband is reaching out to her predecessor and not her.

Her daughter Griff the sculptor dropped out of her eastern college to return to Wyoming to care for her ailing octogenarian grandfather Einar Gilkyson. He loves her especially her devotion, but wants her to live her life as her health care graduate student boyfriend Paul heads to Uganda with or without her. Instead Einar asks his estranged lesbian sister Marin whose long time love just died to come to the ranch to take acre of him as he is dying.

Paul’s nephew ten years old Kenneth was abandoned by his New Age mom. However, rancher Barnum McEban raises the lad with tender love.

This is a well written modern day western drama of life in a small Wyoming town. Griff is the hub of the tale as the ensemble cast is a sort of no more than two degrees from her. The characters are too stereotyped, but they come together in stark environs as life seemingly tosses no hitters at them. Yet with all the desolateness of reality, Griff shines with a powerful caring energy while using the bone remains of animals as the objects of her art; metaphysically displaying life as a Phoenix arising from the Bone Fire of the dead.

Harriet Klausner

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther-Ginger Garrett

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther
Ginger Garrett
David C. Cook, Mar 28 2020, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434768018

In the month of Av in the year 3414 since the creation, Hadassah the orphan is a Jew in exile as the people lost the war and their homeland. She lives in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, with her cousin Mordecai who saved her life. However, her tale is that of her becoming Esther, one of the wives of King Xerxes and ultimately savior of her people.

This is a well written biblical biographical fiction of one of the heroines of the Old Testament. Using the real recent flood of antiquity items sold in the black market as a way of having Esther tell her tale in her “diary”, Ginger Garrett provides her audience with a terrific rendition of a strong woman whose heroism (along with that of her cousin) is celebrated as Purim; a holiday that Hitler wanted destroyed as he feared a second Esther rising from the ruins of his Final Solution.

Harriet Klausner

Getting the Picture-Sarah Salway

Getting the Picture
Sarah Salway
Ballantine, Mar 23 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345481016

The elderly residents of Pilgrim House are all females except for crusty stuffy George Griffiths. His being the only male not on staff ends when nude female model photographer Martin Morris moves into the retirement home.

Martin has a hidden agenda. Decades ago he met and fell in love with Mrs. George Griffiths. His Mo however chose to stay with her spouse and their children although Martin believes he was the love of her life as she was his as proven by the letters of love he wrote his beloved but wisely never sent. He needs to know why she never left the priggish snob. Although Mo is dead, Martin still writes to her as if she was alive and ready to join him even as he begins to investigate the life of Mo with George, who never knew of his wife’s affair with Martin.

This is a fascinating character study that looks deep into the relationships at a retirement home filled with feisty individuals who all seem full of life. However, the prime focus is the intriguing triangle as the connecting woman is dead while one of the men in her life is unaware that the other was in her life albeit forty tears ago. Using letters (not just those written but not mailed by Martin), Getting the Picture is an entertaining relationship drama.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Book of the Shepherd-Joann Davis

The Book of the Shepherd
Joann Davis
HarperStudio, Dec 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9780061732300

Joshua the shepherd tries to intervene when the father beats his son while others cheer the dad on. Joshua knows the law is an "an eye for an eye", but that cannot be right. He asks the Lord why he failed to intercede and hears a whispered reply that he did by sending Joshua. Later the kindhearted shepherd dreams of an Old Man who tells him to seek "the new way."

Former slave Elizabeth thanks him for interceding in saving her charge David’s life; both having been kicked out by the lad’s angry father. Joshua, Elizabeth and David begin a journey to find “the new way”. On their trek they share their pasts and meet the Storyteller, the Apothecary, the Blind Man, and the Stranger; all provide them with assistance and morality lessons. The trio also meets evil wolves in sheep clothing. When they reach the destination cave near the Great Inland Sea, the three travelers know “the new way” awaits them deep inside, but will they overcome their fears to obtain what they seek.

This is an interesting parable that explains the changes from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Targeting readers of all ages and including enhancing illustrations (by Sudi McCollum), The Book of the Shepherd is a terrific morality play based on “the story of one simple prayer, and how it changed the world”; The Peace Prayer validates the Law of Substitution allowing compassion not ire and avarice to be humanity’s guide.

Harriet Klausner

Hester-Paula Reed

Paula Reed
St. Martin’s, Feb 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312583927

One year after the confession by Arthur Dimmesdale that he sired the wild child on Hester Prynne, her cuckold raging spouse Roger Chillingworth dies. To Hester's shock, her estranged spouse leaves a fortune to eight years old Pearl. Wanting Pearl to be accepted, Hester decides to use the money to leave hateful Boston for London, where she once enjoyed the gaiety of life.

Hester quickly realizes you can't go home as Cromwell the Protector runs the country with an iron fist that makes the Massachusetts Bay Colonists look like hedonists. Besides banning dancing and closing down the theaters and most other public entertainment places, the required wardrobe is an ugly gray. Still Hester and Pearl move in with her friend Mary Wright and her children to the rejoicing of both families. That changes when Mary's dour rigid spouse Robert comes home. He informs Cromwell of Hester's second sight skill that enables her to identify sinners and she is used by the Protector to do so. Feeling sick to her stomach over so many deaths she caused, Hester secretly joins a Royalist restoration group that makes her an ally of King Charles II trying to take the throne.

The where are they now sequel to the female stars of The Scarlet Letter is an entertaining tale although some of the heat seem more suited in a modern context than the Cromwell era and Pearl is to precocious for an ostracized preadolescent. Still this is a fun historical as Paula Teed answers the question what happened to Hester and Pearl after they leave the colonies.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just Like Me, Only Better-Carol Snow

Just Like Me, Only Better
Carol Snow
Berkley, Apr 2010, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425232484

In Orange County, Hank Czaplicki informs his wife Veronica that he has found his soulmate in realtor Darcy DaCosta, a much older woman. Hank dumps Veronica and their son Ben. Veronica keeps food on the table for her and their son by being a substitute teacher at Ben's elementary school Las Palmas.

However, thanks to the food coach of the Kitty and Katz show Haley Rush, the actress’ manager Jay meets Veronica and realizes she is almost an identical twin in spite of running mascara. He hires her to pretend to be Haley at an easy $100 an hour plus bennies for photo ops. Veronica enjoys the attention and going out with hunk Brady Ellis, but each night she goes home to her rental and raising her beloved Ben.

This is an intelligent tongue in cheek mommy goes Hollywood chick lit tale. Veronica makes the fun story line work, but it is the underlying theme of celebrities pay a deep price for their fame that grips the audience. With a charming twisting romance, readers will relish Just Like Me, Only Better as, like in Here Today, Gone to Maui, Veronica gets to play the part of someone else’s more exciting life that makes her real life seem so boringly suburban mom.

Harriet Klausner

Broken-Travis Thrasher

Travis Thrasher
Faith Words (Hachette), May 25 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446505550

As a teenager Laila was wild and in spite of a wealthy loving family, she goes down a dark road that leads to gang rape. Despondent she leaves her small Texas hometown for Chicago where she becomes a high priced escort. One night her client gets too violent and Laila shoots him. She thinks she killed him. For the next six months, Laila is on the run, but hears voices and sees visions.

She no longer can delineate between what reality and fantasy are. The brother of the John she shot goes after her and forces her to do his bidding which includes paying off a debt he owes to despicable men. Laila realizes the man she shot is alive. She flees to New Orleans, but they follow her with demonic determination to use her in their plan. Also in the Big Easy is her brother hoping to find her and praying if he does he can bring her back to God’s graces as something evil pursues her.

Laila is an interesting flawed individual who has lost her way because she believes she cannot be saved as redemption is out of reach. However, there is some hope still inside her especially when she encounters a being not of this earth. However, she is not the key to this strong inspirational drama; her enemies her fully developed atypical antagonists whose malevolence makes the beleaguered heroine see like a choir girl. Travis Thrasher provides a character driven morality tale as hope is a key element of faith.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Second Time Around-Beth Kendrick

Second Time Around
Beth Kendrick
Bantam, Mar 30 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385342247

The five females became BFFs in college and get together every July Fourth weekend since. Their tenth gala is at successful attorney Arden’s vacation home where each discusses what they would have done differently if they were able to start over.

Two months later, Arden is dead and her four compatriots (Jamie, , Brooke, Caitlin, and Anna) inherit $250,000 each to begin anew only if they seek the dreams they mentioned would make them happy. One buys a broken down dorm with plans to convert it into a B&B; another strives to be a chef; a third starts a novel; and the fourth becomes an event planner. However, dreaming and going for the dream are not the same as each finds roadblocks and detours, but have one another and the memory of Arden to help them achieve their goals.

The women make this sister bonding contemporary a solid tale as each seems genuine although some of their problems feel forced as if each of the foursome has to have major tsuris to achieve their objective. Inspiring, fans will enjoy this fun character study as the women have a Second Time Around to go after what they failed to go after the first time.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 8, 2010

Not Without Hope-Nick Schuyler and Jere Longman

Not Without Hope
Nick Schuyler and Jere Longman
Morrow, Mar 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061993992

On February 28, 2009, Clearwater, Florida is chilly even with the Phillies in town for Spring Training. Early that morning four twentyish men sail from Tampa Bay into the Gulf of Mexico for a day of camaraderie fishing before leaving for different parts of the country. Three of them are football players with two in the NFL (Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith) and the third Will Bleakley having played recently at the University of South Florida. They and the fourth Nick Schuyler expect a fun day. However, 35 miles from Florida, disaster strikes when their boat capsizes. They survive clinging to the ship for hours, but hypothermia eventually kills Marquis, Corey and Will in that order. Almost two full days since the boat turned over, the Coast Guard rescues Nick whose survival is believed to have been caused by seasickness, which led him to wear much warmer clothing than his doomed friends.

Not Without Hope is an incredible account of death and survival as Nick not only fights the bitter cold, but the frightening fear of helplessly watching your friends die while wondering when your turn occurs. Readers will appreciate this powerful memoir as Nick struggles with survivor guilt and more. Although at times his vivid descriptions are redundant, fans will know how Nick feels as he pulls no punches with this deep harrowing description of forty-five hours in hell.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 5, 2010

Small Change-Sheila Roberts

Small Change
Sheila Roberts
St. Martin's Griffin, Mar 30 2010, $13.99
ISBN 9780312594473

In Heart Lake, Washington, Brian Turner is anxious over money issues as he fears a lay-off due to the economy tanking. He has been tolerant of his wife Tiffany’s recent spending as she suffered a miscarriage, but now calmly explains to her that she can no longer waste money on her “bargains”. When Tiffany fails to cut back on her credit card use, he cannot take it any longer. He leaves his shopaholic spouse.

The Heart Lake Elementary School principal informs temporary fifth grade teacher Rachel Green that Ambika Sinj is coming back to work after being on maternity leave. Rachel was hoping for a permanent teaching position rather than subbing as the former means benefits for the divorcee and her two children since the rat Aaron dumped her and their money. No longer trusting in Prince Charming, she has another problem, Chad who wants her and the kids in his life.

Banker Michael Sharp informs his stay at home fortyish wife Jessica that though he remains employed his job has been centralized on Ohio though he has a local offer at less money. To supplement their income instead of moving to Ohio, Jess wonders if she could return to the music she gave up years ago to raise two kids, who now are adults; though one has returned to the nest.

The three neighbors form the Small Change Club to help each other cope with the impact of the downward spiraling economy by being a support group. Each seeks pragmatic solutions to financial woes.

This is an enjoyable look at the impact on three suburban families struggling with financial strain. The ensemble cast is powerful especially the three lead females who set out to make Small Change in their respective lifestyles in order to swim rather than sink in red ink. Readers will enjoy this fine tale as the heroines seek practical solutions to their woes.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Sun and The Moon-Brian D. McClure

The Sun and The Moon
Brian D. McClure
Universal Flag Publishing, 2006, $14.95
ISBN: 9781933426099

The sun is tired so he tells the moon that he is retiring. Fearing the unknown, the moon says to his friend the sun that is a stupid idea as that will end everything especially the fun. Angry at the moon for his lack of support, and further upset over being called a jerk by his BF; the sun shouts at the moon that its reflection is useless. The argument gets nastier as each ignores their responsibilities during the loud argument; neither considered unintended consequences on the innocent people on earth. When each finally calms down and realizes how out of control their respective temper was, both suffers from remorse and vow to never lose control again while making things right.

This is a terrific fable targeting elementary school children. The story line focuses on the consequences of the out of control argument that increasingly heats up while also providing a strong moral stance that flaring tempers cause problems and people must be responsible and accountable for their actions. Although the rhymes at times seem awkward, young readers will enjoy the well written tale, brightened up by Buddy Plumlee’s strong illustrations.

Harriet Klausner

All The Queen's Players-Jane Feather

All The Queen's Players
Jane Feather
Pocket, Apr 13 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416525547

Forced to watch the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Rosamund Walsingham look forward to when she can leave the royal intrigue behind. Rosamund muses on happier times before her royal entanglements. That ended when, through her brother Thomas, she met the writer Christopher Marlowe, who brought her to Queen Elizabeth's attention where her relative secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham demands her loyalty to him or else.

Her Highness appreciated Rosamund’s fine drawings. However, Rosamund understood her role was being an espionage agent ferreting out Catholic intrigue against the Queen. When she met courtier Will Creighton, they fell in love; but that is an emotion an undercover agent cannot afford to embrace.

This is a terrific Elizabethan Era thriller starring a heroine who wants out, but understands the only way out of spying is death. Readers see through Rosamund’s eyes and somewhat that of Kit too, the court of Queen Elizabeth. In many ways Marlowe is the fascinating player on the Elizabethan stage as he brings freshness to the mix especially with his gay lover. Historical fiction reader swill welcome Jane feather into the fold as All the Queen’s Players understand death is one stroke away.

Harriet Klausner

Season of Water and Ice-Donald Lystra

Season of Water and Ice
Donald Lystra
Switchgrass Books, Oct 2009, $13.95
ISBN: 9780875806280

In 1957, fourteen years old Danny is stunned when his parents split up. His mom remains in Chicago while he accompanies his dad to Northern Michigan to sell power tools. Neither adult takes the time to explain to Danny why the separation occurred and why his mom abandoned him to his dad. He knows his dad angrily quit his job at a Grand Rapids automobile plant, which in turn angered his mom.

Eighteen year old Amber is an unwed pregnant wannabe artist. She is lonely, frightened, and unhappy as she is unsure of what to do with what she is carrying. Ostracized by the locals, who are led by her horrified parents, she is a pariah shunned by all. Even the father of her child left her. When the two outsider teen misfits meet, they naturally find common ground with being abandoned by loved ones; they begin to help one another adjust to their respective situations, but that too is unacceptable as her former boyfriend returns while Danny’s mother remains silent.

Told in the first person by Danny, this is a great character driven historical tale in which time and place is always in the background via subtle references like cars, songs, etc. The key cast members mostly provide profound insight into either Danny or Amber; who in turn are fully developed and anchor the plot. Although doubtful circumstances occasionally drive the story line at times, this coming of age tale stars a young teen growing up rather quickly to the frailty of dysfunctional human relationships. Readers will relish this fine not so happy days in Michigan.

Harriet Klausner

The Queen's Lover-Vanora Bennett

The Queen's Lover
Vanora Bennett
Morrow, Mar 16 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061689864

As the English cross the Channel invading France, French princess Catherine de Valois feels neglected and alone as she always has, but now her fear has increased dramatically. She knows she cannot turn to her father insane King Charles VI or her mother self-indulgent Queen Isabeau. A timorous person by nature, who would choose flight over fight, , she realizes her escape from war torn France is as the wife of English King Henry V. Her only haven in the royal storm is her tutor, poet Christine de Pizan.

Soldier-poet Owain Tudor is part of the Welsh royalty imprisoned by the English monarchy. He has become a page in the court of King Henry V. Christine introduces her only student to Owain. They become close friends although she is now the Queen of England and mother to the ruler of France and England.

This is a strong historical biographical fiction of a woman surviving royal intrigue in two countries. Title aside, this is Catherine’s tale although Owain plays a major role. Readers will relish this strong look at the French and English courts before and after Agincourt through the eyes of the person who knew first hand the good, the bad, and the ugly of both monarchies.

Harriet Klausner

The Cross Gardener-Jason F. Wright

The Cross Gardener
Jason F. Wright
Berkley, Mar 2010, $22.95
ISBN: 9780425233283

John Bevan was born on a side of a road abandoned by his teenage mother. He grew up with one life goal sustaining him; that one day he would be part of a traditional family. He married Emma Jane and they had a daughter Lou Lou. She became pregnant, but a car accident kills her and the unborn.

John’s dream shattered that day. He ignores his child and places two crosses at the spot where his spouse and his unborn died. Everyday he visits the location as he buries himself deeper into his grief. However, one day John finds a stranger painting his crosses. The painter and John talk about life and death. The Cross Gardener begins to help John heal and to remember his deceased loved ones and most important if for no reason other than in memory of Emma Jane, their living daughter as his late wife would expect nothing less from him.

This is a character driven inspirational tale that builds off the grief of why bad things happen to good people. John holds the somewhat thin story line together as his happiness turns to depression and grief when tragedy destroys his dream. With the underlying message that nobody has to walk alone especially when life is at its darkest, sub-genre fans will appreciate Jason F. Wright’s strong belief to reach out; as John begins to comprehend that he left his beloved Lou Lou to walk alone.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Between Friends-Kristy Kiernan

Between Friends
Kristy Kiernan
Berkley, Apr 2010, $15.00
ISBN 9780425233474

In Naples, Florida Ali will always be grateful to her friend Cora who donated the eggs that enabled her to have a child. They became headline news with the miracle of modern reproductive technology. She and her husband Benny the cop love their fourteen year old daughter Letty, but now Ali wants a second child. She plans to persuade Benny and then talk to Cora, who has just come home after a teaching gig in Puerto Aysen, Chile.

However, Cora has just learned something about herself that will end Ali’s plea for her to undergo the ordeal again before it begins. She must find the courage to explain to her BF that she suffers from Polycystic Kidney Disease, a genetic disorder that means dialysis rather soon and she fears Letty might inherit the diseases from her. Meanwhile Letty tired of being the miracle child is seeing Seth, a nasty teen with demands on her.

The relationships between the four prime players especially the two BFFs keep this character study from becoming a soap opera though it is a a tearjerker. The lead four are fully developed to the point readers will hope for a second miracle. With a late unexpected twist, fans will enjoy Between Friends while waiting for the results of Letty’s PKD tests.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 1, 2010

Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It- J.D. Mason

Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It
J.D. Mason
St. Martin’s, Mar 16 2010, $23.99
ISBN 9780312598563

In the late 1970s in high school, Renetta, Phyllis and Freddie became the best friends. Everyone knew them as the Tres Amigas. Then something happened to destroy their friendships as they left behind a newborn in the emergency room.

Over the next three decades, Renetta married a nasty person Vincent who used the secret as a weapon against her; until he suffered a questionable stroke. Phyllis put her career over love and family until she failed to get the promotion she expected which shattered her esteem. Freddie is married to Don, but feels the empty nest syndrome of three adult kids having flown away so she takes writing classes under Bianca Hightower who sees more than just a potentially good writer.

Tasha Darden grew up in foster care mostly with disgusting adults after being abandoned in an emergency room thirty years ago. When the only caring foster mom she ever had died, Tasha decides it is time to hire a detective to find her biological mother to ask why. Her sleuth has three prime candidates: the Tres Amigas.

This is a superb character study of friendship and redemption with the three BFFs and the one offspring all coming across fully developed yet different. Readers will appreciate Tasha’s efforts to meet the mother who abandoned her at birth, wondering who of the Tres Amigas is her mother. Well written, Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It is an engaging tale as the past has caught up with the present.

Harriet Klausner