Monday, May 31, 2010

Going in Circles-Pamela Ribon

Going in Circles
Pamela Ribon
Downtown, May 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416503866

When Matthew Goodman walked out on his wife Charlotte, she was stunned as in her mind his ending their marriage came of nowhere as she thought she was his “Sunshine” even when she struggled to get out of bed in the morning. Matthew decides to come back home after a few weeks as a bachelor Charlotte struggles with his return.

Fuming with resentment as she had moved on in the phases of grief passed the denial stage to that of acceptance Charlotte walks out on a stunned Matthew. She moves into apartment to ponder whether she wants to remain married to her husband. However, she finds herself panicking over what she logically knows are nothings like weeping over a burrito while sitting on the curb. With anxiety and depression ruling her, Charlotte turns to creating her Plan in order to eliminate having to choose between taco and burrito, and most important no more shocking revelations as a to do list will provide her with security. Her family, her husband, her friends, and her co-workers demand not so subtly she must choose to be married or not to be married. However her new office friend Francesca offers her something different to consider, physical release via roller derby for the soul.

This is an entertaining coming of age character study though the lead protagonist is a thirty year old nonentity. Charlotte is a fascinating protagonist whose lack of confidence leads to crippling anxiety attacks. Her husband never comes across as fully developed nor does his reasoning. The rest of the support cast supports the heroine as she skates around the oval of life trying to learn to get up from the bumps and bruises her skinny butt suffers with every hit she takes for that’s life.

Harriet Klausner

A Visit from the Goon Squad-Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan
Knopf, Jun 8 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9780307592835

Record-company executive Bennie Salazar wonders where the years went as he listens to another horrific band of young untalented egos that believe they belong at the top. Divorced, he feels removed from his tweener son as if he still lives in analog and the kid is digital. Bennie thinks back to the late 1970s in the Bay area when he was young and part of the punk band Flaming Dildos that thought they belonged at the top.

Bennie's former assistant Sasha is a mother hiding out in the desert after a youthful life of impulsive thieving. Her tweener daughter Alison thinks her mom is out of step with the digital world.

Meanwhile Bennie meets Alex who dated Sasha. He later hires him to obtain the services of fifty paid "parrots" to pretend to be fans of a group performing at a concert. His target audience he informs Alexis is the silent future majority who text rather than speak.

The key to the five decades of Bennie and others is what happens to a person when cynical age fueled by addictions and complacencies overcomes youthful rebellious fervor. Character driven with a powerful ensemble cast who all seem fully developed, the loci points anchor the epic story line are Bennie and Sasha. Jennifer Egan is a virtuoso as readers will relish the changes of the information age as music is a terrific milieu as the industry travels from vinyl to cassettes to CDs to DVDs; mirroring society.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Ultimate Sister Disaster-Jane Mendle

My Ultimate Sister Disaster
Jane Mendle
St. Martin’s Griffin, Jun 8 2010, $8.99
ISBN: 9780312369040

A year older than her sister Franny, Zooey has become a prima-ballerina performing at Lincoln Center. Franny envies her sibling as her parents ignore her focusing somewhat on the talented offspring; though in fairness mom is doing it from Africa and dad from his boutique. Not that Franny is a failure as she is tall, pretty, and obtaining high grades in her first year at prep school.

As Franny’s grades fall, the dynamics at least between the sisters change when Zooey suffers a broken leg that jeopardizes her career. They begin to come together as Franny realizes how much her sister sacrifices for her love of dance. Her desire reminds Franny of her own goal to become a journalist. However, their burgeoning friendship has one major divider; both want a certain awesome school editor.

With a nod to the late J.D. Salinger (worth reading Franny and Zooey), young adult readers will enjoy the bond of sisters are strongest when necessity arises. Franny and Zooey are fully developed characters as their need to be there for one another during a difficult period in which their parents are not truly there for them overwhelms their rivalry. Fans will relish Jane Mendle’s insightful look at the disasters and triumphs of two sisters navigating Manhattan together.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 28, 2010

No Less Than Victory: A Novel of World War II-Jeff Shaara

No Less Than Victory: A Novel of World War II
Jeff Shaara
Ballantine, Jun 1 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9780345497932

With the great success of the Normandy invasion, Allied Commanders all the way up to Five Star General Eisenhower feels strongly that the European theatre of Operation would soon be over. The German army battered is in full retreat.

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt knows the war is over unless they can somehow turn around the blitzkrieg allies who are racing across France into Germany from the west and the Russians from the east. He decides to draw the last line in the icy mountainous Ardennes where he plans to isolate the Americans and from there seize Antwerp. If this Hail Mary desperation fails, the Field Marshal knows it is a short matter of time before Berlin goes Russian as the Eastern front is collapsing also.

This is a terrific action-packed WWII fictional account of the end of the European part of the war starting with the last German counteroffensive at the Battle of the Bulge; for the earlier parts of the war see The Steel Wave and The Rising Tide. Ironically real life persona like Ike never comes across as breathing especially in his case since the audience never learns how he felt knowing he sent so many to die at D Day and more to follow in the Ardennes even with a just cause. Military fiction readers will enjoy the fall of the Third Reich, but this tale is limited mostly to the western front as if the Russians were not coming.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bijou Roy-Ronica Dhar

Bijou Roy
Ronica Dhar
St. Martin’s, Jul 20 2010, $23.99
ISBN: 9780312551018

Nitish Roy left Calcutta for the United Sates. There he and his wife raised two daughters in America. When Nitish dies, having no sons, his oldest daughter Bijou agrees to take her beloved father back to India for a proper burial. Her mother and younger sister accompany Bijou who serves as the surrogate male in honor of her dad.

In India as his family prepares to spread Nitish’s ashes ehilr Bijou meets the son of her late father’s best friend, Naveen. Attracted to Naveen, Bijou believes he might be able to shed some light as to why her father left India and never returned until now. As she begins to understand Nitish’s political fiascos that led to his and his wife’s emigrating to the United States, she also looks deep at her family’s heritage and her Americanization; finding little comfort in either.

Bijou makes the tale entertaining and insightful, as she struggles to learn her parents’ culture and why they left India behind while also wondering where she belongs. The cast is incredibly strong as they bring to life contemporary India as seen through the lens of assimilated Indian-Americans. Fans will enjoy Bijou’s growing disconcerting awareness that she does not feel she fits in either world.

Harriet Klausner

Blood and Silk: The Hidden Love Story of Mary of Magdala and Jesus of Nazereth-Carol McKay

Blood and Silk: The Hidden Love Story of Mary of Magdala and Jesus of Nazereth
Carol McKay
BookSurge, Jan 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781439207628

Following the crucifixion, Christ’s disciples fled. Mary of Magdala lived in Provence, France where she assumed the name Lady Avigail of Aurasio. Her companions are the Bishop of Gaul Maximinus of Galilee and Indian tribe Domari led by Raja Abraham. Watching a bawdy production play The Passion of Christ allegedly based on her and her beloved Jesus, she becomes upset with the lies of what she considered a beautiful love story. Encouraged by her friends who know who she is; she tells her tale though she expects it to be meaningless as the widow wife is meaningless.

Affluent Aram gave his daughter Mariamne of Magdala to Jesus, son of Joseph of the House of David. The couple marries under Jewish law at an Essene monastery. Mariamne and Jesus have three children while he begins the journey of destiny going to India and Alexandria to learn. When he returns he begins to preach and soon has a following as the Roman leaders in Judea and the Jewish priests and monarch want the rabble-rouser gone. At all times his wife had his back; unlike the men who pledged fealty.

This is a strong biblical biographical fiction as Mary tells what happened in her life as the wife of Christ. Carol McKay’s impeccable research is incredible and referenced so that the well written narrative has strong documentation supporting the author’s beliefs, conclusions and vivid descriptions of life in the early first century Judea. Although at times the writing can be to stiltedly flowery, readers will compare what we think we know of Mary to what Ms. McKay argues she was. Blood and Silk is an insightful novelization of the life of Mary of Magdala.

Harriet Klausner

The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare-Arliss Ryan

The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare
Arliss Ryan
NAL, Jun 1 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451229953

In the year of our Lord 1623, the sexagenarian is dying. Her caring teenage granddaughter LizBeth is excited over the package that arrives for her beloved Gran. Inside is the published works of her husband who Ben Jonson insisted will be remembered forever. However, Gran remembers her bald headed Will a bit differently than his adoring fans.

When she was twenty-six years old, Anne Hathaway of Shottery met eighteen years old William Shakespeare. She fell in love with the younger man and helped him with his writings. Though most assume he had to marry her, she tells LizBeth he needed her. She further claims to have written some of the plays, but women cannot get credit and besides Will is selfish as most men of this age are even if the works are ageless. In fact when the son of a craftsman runs off with a troupe for London, she follows leaving their children with her parents. At his side, Anne helps Will write.

With a nod to Shakespeare in Love, this is a terrific biographical fiction with the twist of using expected Elizabethan Era gender roles (ironically with who rules) and the belief by some that the Bard did not write all of his backlist to provide a deep spin to the legend of Shakespeare. The story line transports readers back in time, but the fun in this wonderful historical is the lamination on some of the plays like Hamlet. Reader will enjoy The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare as a different spin to the legend is wonderfully developed.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sweet Misfortune-Kevin Alan Milne

Sweet Misfortune
Kevin Alan Milne
Center Street (Hachette), Jun 2010, $19.99
ISBN: 9781599952970

Though years have come and gone since the pivotal tragedy of her life, Gig Harbor, Washington resident Sophie Jones never moved passed the accidental deaths of her parents when she was nine years old. When her fiancé Dr. Garrett Black breaks off their relationship, she becomes depressed. A chocolate shop owner, she creates and sells the Misfortune Cookies that are made with bitter chocolate and contain cynical messages that all focus on this is the worst of all possible worlds but will inevitably get even worse. Her philosophy is Murphy is an optimist

Garrett returns to town and wants to start anew with his beloved. She rejects him, but it is how acrimonious and angry Sophie has become that shocks him. They make a bet over an ad they place in the local paper: "Wanted: Happiness." He insists 100 people or more will respond; she says no way. If he is right she will go out with him; if not he will not bother her again.

This is a bittersweet sugary tale that though over the top of Mount Rainier is fun to read. Fans will want the acrimonious Misfortune Cookie writer to be proven wrong, but have no hope this will occur. Sophie is terrific with her life sucks attitude while Garret tries to prove her wrong. With a great twist albeit not realistic, fans will relish this fine character study of how a tragedy impacted three families still affects the survivors years after the harrowing bereaving incident.

Harriet Klausner

Who Do I Lean On?-Neta Jackson

Who Do I Lean On?
Neta Jackson
Thomas Nelson, Jun 15 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9781595545251

Having come a long way from the homeless shelter, Gabby Fairbanks rejoices when she finally obtains custody of her sons (Paul and P.J.) from their dad and still her husband Philip. She plans to make sure they feel at home at the new apartment in Richmond Towers they are moving into.

However, she is stunned with what she perceives is a betrayal by ex her husband Philip. He has run up exorbitant debts gambling and needs to pay them off immediately. He begs Gabby to give him the funds. Her Yada Yada prayer partner Jodi Baxter, her friend retired cop Harry Bentley offer her solace but not much practical advice besides not helping her husband as does Lee the lawyer who loves her. Gabby turns to God for guidance though her first inclination is to let Philip be punished especially when his actions threaten the House of Hope.

The third Yada Yada House of Hope inspirational tale (see Where Do I Go? and Who Do I Talk to?) is an entreating story that Yada Yada fans will relish as Gabby has come so far. The cast is strong in particular the heroine who has difficult issues still to confront, but has the strength of being “Souledout” which enables her to lean on the Lord for help. Newcomers will enjoy this tale, but reading the first two entries of the House of Hope series will enhance the experience.

Harriet Klausner

Nancy's Theory of Style-Grace Coopersmith

Nancy's Theory of Style
Grace Coopersmith
Gallery, May 18 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416598862

Bay area socialite Nancy Carrington-Chambers believes in style before substance so she had the perfect wedding, but three years of marriage has not come close to her nuptials. Todd is a boorish bore who shows no idea what proper decorum requires. Sick of her husband, she leaves their mansion to focus on Froth, her event planning consulting business while living in their San Francisco apartment.

To prove her worth as a planner, Nancy accepts the mission impossible of changing the stuffy Barbary Coast Historical Museum fundraiser into a must attend gala as opposed to a must stay away event. Nancy’s British assistant Derek Cathcart adds class to her efforts, but she is confused by her attraction to the openly gay expatriate. Meanwhile, her cousin Birdie dumps her four years old daughter Eugenia on Nancy and leaves without a look back. Nancy finds an unstylish unconventional family of sorts with her as the center and Derek and Eugenia joining her while her affluent upper crust parents demand she show class and style by returning to her husband; but then there is also Rick to consider.

This is an amusing contemporary that is superb when it keeps the relationships somewhat light; when the story line switches to poignancy it loses some momentum as that profoundness clashes with the overall humor of the tale. Still with a strong support cast and coming of age super lead, fans will appreciate Nancy’s Theory of Style that mirrors the School for Scandal (by Sheridan) until she pragmatism forces her to revise her belief system.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chasing Lilacs-Carla Stewart

Chasing Lilacs
Carla Stewart
FaithWords, Jun 17 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446556552

In 1958 in Graham Camp, Texas, twelve years old Sammie Tucker’s mother Rita suffers from nerves. Sammie hopes to become a writer, but needs a typewriter. She actually has a boyfriend, loose definition, in California teenage transplant Cly MacLemore; though her best friend Tuwana Johnson likes the cool cat more than she does.

Sammie’s world collapses when her depressed mom commits suicide. As she nears her thirteenth birthday, Sammie wonders who she can depend on when people you love leave you by yourself. Family members and Cly try to be there for Sammie, but her mom was everything to the depressed grieving child.

This is a strong historical tale as several cast members struggle with personal issues. Sammie cannot move on beyond her mother’s death as she wonders if her crazed late mom ever loved her. Cly has parental issues too as his frustrated dad dumps him on relatives hoping the teen straightens out from being a delinquent. Other cast members have problems that haunt them too. Chasing Lilacs is a poignant look at residents of a small Texas town during the Eisenhower era; as everyday people strain to overcome problems; ironically Sammie’s mother did just that selfishly leaving behind trauma for her family especially her daughter.

Harriet Klausner

Sometimes Mine-Martha Moody

Sometimes Mine
Martha Moody
Riverhead, May 2010, $14.00
ISBN: 9781594484681

In Columbus, Ohio, cardiologist Dr. Genie Toledo and married Turkman State basketball coach Mick Crabbe have been seeing each other for two hours every Thursday for the past dozen years. Outside of Mick, her patients are Genie’s life.

As the fifty something Mick’s team gains national prominence, Genie becomes involved with his wife and one of his adult children. Mick’s twenty-something daughter single mom Claudia has a coronary disease so at her father’s prodding becomes Genie’s patient. This turn leads to his wife Karn “consulting” with Genie about their mutual interests in her family. Meanwhile Mick’s 1999-2000 squad had high expectations but is not coming together as a unit at a time he learns he has a fatal form of prostrate cancer.

This is an entertaining character study that focuses on the life of a mistress who has no one else but her lover yet must conceal her fears that if he dies she is alone unable to even share her grief overtly with anyone. The cast is solid as Mick and his family seems genuine especially as his health deteriorates while Genie holds the story line together. Although the ending appears off kilter in its Madame Mitterrand demeanor, readers will relish the aptly titled Sometimes Mine.

Harriet Klausner

The Perfect Happiness-Santa Montefiore

The Perfect Happiness
Santa Montefiore
Touchstone, Jun 8 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439183465

In London, Angelica Lariviere lives the perfect life. Her husband Olivier the French banker adores her and their two precocious children love her. On top of that she a popular children's book author with friends who think the world of her and her family.

At a dinner party Angelica and Jack Meyer meet. They are instantly attracted to one another flirt seemingly harmlessly until it turns into a heated tryst. They hook up in Capetown, South Africa where she is on a book tour and he owns vineyards. Angelica knows she has complex decisions to make that she puts off until she returns to England where she assesses what she would lose if she pursued passion.

This is an intriguing character driven relationship tale in which Angelica as the key protagonist must choose between seemingly tedious comfort and passionate zeal. The support cast is strong especially her family and friends while ironically her lover brings out her passion yet fails to do so with readers even when he provides a stunning revelation. Fans will wonder will Angelica choose her family or her lover as she understands that her personality is radically different with each of them.

Harriet Klausner

Based Upon Availability- Alix Strauss

Based Upon Availability
Alix Strauss
Harper, Jun 8 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061845260

Although the years have passed, Manhattan’s Four Seasons Hotel manager Morgan has never moved beyond the death of her beloved older sister Dale, who died of leukemia when they were children. Morgan has no one to talk to and has not had anyone since Dale died though she is always there for her mom especially on her late sister’s birthday and death day. This is ironic to Morgan as she is seeing someone, but cannot truly tell anyone how much she wants to talk to Dale.

When Morgan meets art gallery owner Trish, she believes she has met a similar hurting kindred spirit. Trish has never moved passed her fiancé dumping her just prior to their wedding and her friendship with her BFF seems over as her former buddy gets married. Trish, like Morgan, sees a kindred hurting spirit and soon they meet others like them.

This is a poignant drama as the audience sees deep inside Morgan, Trish and several other women. Alix Strauss escorts readers behind closed doors of the hotel that serve as a metaphor for taking fans beyond the closed doors into the minds of various people. Morgan is terrific as she with the hotel holds the story line together as readers meet a horde of women (besides the two above) with diverse relationship issues; as one never fully moves on passed a trauma.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Leaving the World-Douglas Kennedy

Leaving the World
Douglas Kennedy
Atria, Jun 15 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9781439180785

Jane Howard celebrates her thirteenth birthday with her family when she makes a cryptic comment that no one is happy. The next morning her dad quoting her profound statement on happiness leaves.

Jane internalizes what happened, blaming herself. She locks away her feelings and turns to the academic world for sustenance. At Harvard she has an affair with her married thesis adviser, who dies in an accident; which affirms her belief people leave. Jane makes a fortune in the finance world, but turns to teaching at a minor Boston university. She falls in love with film archivist Theo and they have a child, but he steals her money while running off with his new partner. Once again Jane learns men leave. However, she finds a new interest a child-murder investigation in Calgary.

A lot happened to Jane but she courageously is accepting that sh*t happens as That’s Life (Sinatra), but what makes her an admirable heroine is that “Each time I find myself flat on my face I pick myself up and get back in the race”; she never quits. Readers will root for Jane who tells her entertaining tale in which “Some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream But I don't let it, let it get me down.” That’s Life.

Harriet Klausner

The Sister Wife-Diane Noble

The Sister Wife
Diane Noble
Avon, Jun 22 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780061962226

In 1841 recently converted to Mormonism, Lady Mary Rose Ashley travels by ship from Liverpool, England to America. On board the Sea Hawk, she meets ship builder Gabriel MacKay. They are attracted to one another; she introduces him to her new religious beliefs; and they marry.

The newlyweds settle in Nauvoo, where Mormon prophet Joseph Smith preaches his revelations from God. Joseph’s latest proclamation is that polygamy is acceptable and encouraged. He directs Gabriel to wed Mary Rose’s best friend, the widow Bronwyn so she can be taken care of. Gabriel and Bronwyn agree to marry, but she insists on a nonphysical arrangement; however Mary Rose believes that though she is his first wife she might be losing her husband to his second wife. Then there is Enid who plans to become Gabriel’s first wife regardless of prior spouses.

The first Brides of Gabriel tale is a strong relationship historical drama that takes a deep look at Mormon polygamy without preaching pro or con. Instead the cast makes the tale powerful as engrossed readers reflect on their belief system that encourages under certain proscribed circumstances multiple marriages in order to economically support several households that insures the caring of widows and orphans. Americana readers and those interested in alternate societal systems will relish the well written The Sister Wife.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Dangerous Book of Heroes-Conn Iggulden & David Iggulden

The Dangerous Book of Heroes
Conn Iggulden & David Iggulden
Morrow, Apr 2010, $26.99
ISBN: 9780061928246

The 36 biographical shorts are entertaining and insightful, but limited in scope as most of those highlighted are British males. There are several American entries (Washington, MLK, Helen Keller, Apollo 11, Sitting Bull, Iwo Jima and Flight 93, etc) and three other females (Cavell, Nightingale, and the SOE). Overall the selections seem reasonable though Anglo-American focused although one must question labeling heroes those who massacred their opponents with no regard for collateral damage of the innocent like Cromwell and the pirate Henry Morgan; though in fairness they do push forward the British Empire. The fun for an American audience is not rationalizing the brutality of a “hero”, but in observing how British authors place their spin on United States’ legendary heroes like Washington and Keller.

Harriet Klausner

Prospect Park West-Amy Sohn

Prospect Park West
Amy Sohn
Downtown, May 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781416577652

The gentrified yuppie population has invaded Park Slope in Brooklyn. There they file away in Co-ops that cost a fortune. Most are filled rage and boredom; at least the mommy yuppies are; who knows what the daddy yuppies are doing across the bay in Manhattan.

On the playgrounds and cafes, the mothers meet to commiserate their impotency. Abandoned Rebecca’s attempts to seduce her spouse fail because he prefers fatherhood over spousal-hood. Lonely Lizzie leans increasingly to returning to lesbianism as her roadie spouse is never home. Ennui Karen finds living in the borough too limited to a social climber ready to take Wall St. Actress Melora misses Manhattan where her myriad of mental phobias are eccentric while here in the burb they are psychotic.

This is an interesting satirical mommy lit starring four women with differing issues. Each comes across as their own person and the oft-referenced neighborhood provides strong background to their plight. Although the well written story line focuses deeply on each mommy’s psyche in a lampooning amusing way; their individual sexual and kiddy plights seem shallow when each makes it feel as if the end of days has begun. Still sub-genre fans will want to visit Prospect Park West to see how the yuppie moms cope.

Harriet Klausner

The Last Bridge-Teri Coyne

The Last Bridge
Teri Coyne
Ballantine, May 25 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345507327

A decade has passed since then seventeen years old Alexandra “Cat” Rucker fled her abusive father. She has no plans of ever coming home as she earns a living as a cocktail waitress at a strip joint. However, the alcoholic Cat learns from a family neighbor back in Wilton, Ohio that her mom committed suicide leaving behind a cryptic message on stationary "Cat, He isn't who you think he is. Mom xxxoooo."

Cat goes home to a cold reception from her siblings Jared and Wendy. None of the three has any idea what their mom meant while their father lies in a coma following a stroke. Meanwhile as Cat poorly faces her past; her first lover Addison Watkins offers her more than just condolences, but she only trusts alcohol.

Cat is not a likable person, but makes the tale because of her alcoholic nastiness. Readers will understand her belligerence towards her siblings as her brother was a welcomed athlete and her sister the perfect obedient princess while she was disobedient, overweight and frumpy and the townsfolk chose to ignore her dad’s abuse towards her and her mom (mindful of Kitty Genovese in 1964 Queens). Not an easy read with the focus on domestic violence and incest, but readers will want to cross the rickety Last Bridge to learn what traumas in her childhood made the quarrelsome adult Cat.

Harriet Klausner

29-Adena Halpern

Adena Halpern
Touchstone, Jun 15 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9781439171127

In Philadelphia, fifty-five years old Barbara Sustamon and her husband Larry the dentist host a birthday party for her widowed mom Ellie Jerome. The cake from the Swiss Pastry Shop contains twenty-nine candles. Ellie wishes to be that age again for one day, as she is jealous of her twenty-five years old fashion designer granddaughter Lucy and has a lifetime of regrets as well as a closet filled with clothing provided by her decade older late husband Howard.

The next morning Ellie awakens to find her wish came true. She persuades Lucy that she is Ellie and they begin to make her day happen even as Barbara and Ellie’s BFF septuagenarian widow Frida Freedberg worry about her strange phone calls to each of them. As Barbara and Frida search for Ellie, Lucy and her grandma begin an odyssey that will have more meaning for the four of them and others.

The four females make for a profound character driven tale as each has regrets except the youngest. Ellie is superb as she learns she is not jealous of her granddaughter’s opportunities but of her era allowing women chances her generation never had as marriage was the only goal. Barbara just wishes to prove her worth to her mother. Frida prays she can finally move on passed her late mom who haunts her every decision. Ironically Lucy as the under thirty is the wisest. 29 is a deep tale with some humor provided by the searchers.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 17, 2010

Loon: A Marine Story-Jack McLean

Loon: A Marine Story
Jack McLean
Ballantine, May 25 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9780345510167

After graduating from the Phillips Academy, Jack McLean joined the Marines. After basic training, he went to Viet Nam where he served a tour from November 1967 to July 1968. Following his stint in hell, He came home, left the military and enrolled at Harvard. His story of his time as a marine in Nam is harrowing and dangerous. Using letters he sent home and dialogue from what he recalls, Mr. McLean provides a profound experience of serving on the firing lines; just a few days after arriving in country. Though the re-enactment of verbal communication may disturb some as to authenticity since four decades have passed and collaboration is not easy, readers will believe the author has an audio-graphic memory as the chaos and fog of combat comes frighteningly across. This is a great memoir by someone who attended school with President Bush 43, but chose a different path of serving during the Viet Nam War.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hating Perfection-John F. Williams

Hating Perfection
John F. Williams
Humanity Books (Prometheus), Aug 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9781591027324

Based on a personal search to define perfection in the modern world, John F. Williams provides a profound philosophical analysis of what is human and how Hating Perfection led him to a “subtle search for the best possible world”. The entries defending his position are mostly anecdotal incidents starting with Whiskey Lao in Laos and traveling elsewhere predominantly in Asia with most in China, Mr. Williams generalizes from his experiences; so his approach probably will cost him the academic philosopher. The author argues what is the essence of God and a so called master plan; claiming God is so into extreme free will, he could not care less what we do to covet his or her grace. Thus, as with God and mankind, Mr. Williams’ arguments come across as powerful albeit somewhat reiterative while he insists that in spite of atrocities and contradictions between love and hate of others, and a deity’s (if one exists) disregard, this remains the best of all worlds where heaven and hell converge. Whether a reader accepts the writer’s strong treatise or not, his logical work is intriguing especially his reflections on where humanity belongs in the cosmos with homage to Voltaire’s Candide; Mr. Williams is Pangloss who believes strongly that this is “the best of all possible worlds”.

Harriet Klausner

People of the Longhouse-W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear

People of the Longhouse
W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Forge, Jul 20 2010, $25.99
ISBN 9780765320162

During the Late Iroquoian Period around AD 1400, the northern tribes are at war with one another over resources including people to replenish shrinking populations. Most struggle to survive with the constant conflicts, some strive.

The People of the Standing Stone are massacred with their village destroyed. The children are sold to Gannajero a brutal slave trader who sells children to other tribes. The People of the Standing Stone’s female war chief Koracoo and her spouse Gonda are outraged by the atrocities and want their two kids and the other children rescued. They and two adversarial warriors begin a rescue mission that can only end with death; hopefully they pray their enemies.

The latest North America's Forgotten Past tribal saga (see Mississippian period - People of the Thunder) is a great entry that emphasizes time and place just prior to the European contact. As denoted in the nonfiction introduction, the Iroquois are a prime source of American democracy (not just Locke and the Founding Fathers), which adds to the fascination fog an action-packed story line that remains if first gear for most of the historical thriller. Although the climax feels abrupt and rushed, readers will enjoy the insightful People of the Longhouse.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The One That I Want-Allison Winn Scotch

The One That I Want
Allison Winn Scotch
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Jun 1 2010, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307464507

In Westlake, Washington, thirtyish Tilly Farmer believes strongly she lives the American dream with one glaring exception. A guidance counselor at the high school she graduated from, Tilly married her teenage boyfriend Tyler. The exception is they remain Dinks (double income no children) as she wants kids to round out her perception of the perfect American family.

At a fair, Tilly runs into her high school friend Ashley who tells fortunes. The fortuneteller reads Tilly’s future leaving a stunned woman who has her rosy colored glasses removed. Tilly mentally puts on Tyler’s shoes to see their relationship from his perspective; she concludes he never moved passed his college sports injury that left him stuck in Westlake rather than the bit city pros. She takes a fresh look at her sister living in Los Angeles and instead of pity she feels envy. Finally new art teacher Eli challenges Tilly to stop being Mother Teresa and return to her love of photography.

Allison Winn Scotch provides an intriguing character study of a woman whose idyllic life shatters one relationship at a time once she realizes that her nurturing others at the cost to her well-being hurts them too. The support cast is strong as each enhances the reader’s understanding of lead protagonist’s motives. Although even with the paranormal element of visions, fans will early on predict the path of the story line, but Tilly and company make for a deep tale focusing on relationship opportunity costs.

Harriet Klausner

Nonna's Book of Mysteries-Mary Osborne

Nonna's Book of Mysteries
Mary Osborne
Lake Street Press (LSP), Jun 3 2010, $16.95
ISBN: 9781936181162

In Florence, fourteen years old Emilia Serafini fantasizes of becoming an artist’s apprentice, but females need not apply. Her father Francesco wants his teenage daughter married to mid twentyish Benozzo, son of an affluent businessman.

Emilia’s only hope resides with her understanding mom Violante who persuades her spouse to allow their daughter to masquerade as a young male apprentice for one year to foreign widower Makarios before she settles down in marriage to Benozzo. At the same time, her mom gives Emilia an ancient tome passed down maternally for generations; Nonna's Book of Mysteries is an alchemy reference guide. Art patron Franco learns of the secret tome and plots to own it so he can present it as a gift to Cosimo de'Medici in order to gain favors. Thus he courts Emilia, wins her heart, and persuades her father to let him marry her.

Nonna’s Book of Mysteries is a great historical tale that on the surface brings Renaissance Florence alive; especially the narrow choices allowed women. However, subtly the story line encourages young females, and by implications males too, to be all you can be as setting and pursuing BHAGs is worthy of everyone. Well written with a profound message, young adult readers will relish Mary Osborne’s strong historical.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 14, 2010

Healer-Linda Windsor

Linda Windsor
David C. Cook, Jun 28 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434764782

In the sixth century in Alba, Brenna’s mother the powerful healing witch Queen Joanna of Gowrys abruptly awakens from a frightening vision of the destruction of her subclan caused by Chieftain Tarlach O'Byrne. The powerful Tarlach still rages at Joanna for her audacity to marry someone else when they were an obvious pairing due to ancestry. He has never forgiven her for defying their destiny by her marrying her beloved Llas. Tarlach leads the O’Byrne clan on a deadly vengeance, but before she dies Joanna curses him with the prediction that her offspring will divide his brood leading to peace for everyone.

Taking her death words gravely serious Tarlach hunts for Brenna who was taken to the woods by her cousin Ealga her nurse and raised there. When her surrogate mom Ealga dies, Brenna has no other human to talk to and her only companion is Faol the wolf. As they have done for two decades, the O’Byrne clan searches for Joanna's daughter. Tarlach’s heir Ronan leads the hunt, but he is hurt and dying. Brenna, a healer on a par with her late mom, saves his life, but by doing so exposes herself to her enemy.

The first Brides of Alba Christian Arthurian fantasy is a strong opening act that follows up nicely with a fresh arc from the Fires of Gleannmara trilogy. The story line is fast-paced for the most part especially when Ealga flees with her infant cousin to raise her safely in the woods and continues when the two clan heirs meet. The tale slows down a bit after Ronal heals, but regains speed into the final turn. Fans will relish the return to Linda Windsor’s strong Christian Arthurian mythos with the saga of the healer.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Lover-Jill Dawson

The Great Lover
Jill Dawson
Harper, Jun 1 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061924361

Rupert Brooke arrives in Grantchester, England where he runs the gamut of relationships. He is attracted to a reticent schoolgirl, but flirts outrageously with any female he meets. A male friend seduces Rupert into his first sexual encounter.

In 1909 prim and proper housemaid Nell Golightly has watched Rupert’s carouse and thinks he is shameless. Since her parents died, she vowed to never fall in love as that hurts the survivor. However, Nell falls into swooning lust when she runs into Rupert as he goes for a skinny dip swim. They begin a tryst, but he turns increasingly morose as his myriad of affairs leave him without solace at a time he grieves the death of his brother and doubts his poetry writing skills. Instead of turning to Nell, he rejects her for a Tahitian.

Nell makes this deep biographical fiction of the Pre WW I era British poet Rupert Brooke come alive as she tells the tale of a talented young man who confused making love with being in love while ironically he sought love everywhere he went. Although he is The Great Lover, in Nell’s mind her Rupert also lacked confidence in sustaining and receiving love and his talent as a poet. Jill Dawson provides a powerful perceptive portrait of a man questing for love.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Little Town, Great Big Life-Curtiss Ann Matlock

Little Town, Great Big Life
Curtiss Ann Matlock
Mira, Jun 1 2010, $13.95
ISBN: 9780778327882

In Valentine, Oklahoma, nonagenarian Winston Valentine is featured on the local radio show as a model of energy and everyone admires his spirit. As such with the town about to celebrate centennial celebration, many want to honor their most ebullient citizen although he might not make it to the gala.

There is one Grinch in town, thirty-eight years old pregnant Belinda Blaine. Carrying has brought back depressing memories loaded with guilt from two decades ago; a secret she has shared with not one not even her husband, Lyle. She knows she owes him the truth, but fears admitting it will not set her free.

Teenage Paris Miller uses tons of makeup to conceal the battering she receives from her abusive grandfather. She considers running away, but rejects that as her grandfather needs her and she needs him.

Café owner Fayrene Gardener has loved and been hurt before. However, still an optimist she is dating a newcomer.

Although there are too many subplots in Valentine, this entry is a great uplifting yet melancholy tale. Readers will enjoy the return of stars from previous novels and appreciate the issues the ensemble leads of Little Town, Great Big Life cope with. Fans will join the centennial celebration that honors town legend ninety-two years old Winston.

Harriet Klausner

Hurricanes in Paradise-Denise Hildreth

Hurricanes in Paradise
Denise Hildreth
Tyndale, Jun 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414335575

On Paradise Island, Bahamas, American expatriate Riley Sinclair is the Guest Relations Director at the luxurious Cove. She has three guests coming who require special treatment. Best-selling author Laine Fulton is planning a novel here and has just left her husband-agent Mitchell, who asked Riley to take care of her. Septuagenarian widow Dr. Winnie Harris, a principal, is on her first vacation without her late spouse in decades; her adult children ask Riley to watch over her. Beauty pageant winner Tamryn Carson has arrived to think about her future while mom is worried about her and asks Riley likewise.

The healing waters help the three guests with their troubles as a hurricane is coming so Riley arranges for her five yeat old daughter to leave the island to stay with her father in the States. Meanwhile even more soothing for the four women is a sisterhood bonding as each finds solace with the others while bringing different issues to the table. They will soon need one another with a hurricane and a vicious stalker bearing down on the island.

Hurricanes in Paradise feels like two novels in one starring the same four lead female characters. Much of the first half of the story line comes across as a deep character study as the audience gets to know the fears and flaws of each of the four feisty females. Towards the middle, the plot changes into more of an adventure thriller as the quartet face a hurricane and a nasty stalker. Throughout Denise Hildreth encourages her audience to remember when personal hurricanes hit people, they need to remember that “Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race, That’s Life” (Frank Sinatra).

Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 10, 2010

Private Life-Jane Smiley

Private Life
Jane Smiley
Knopf, May 2010, $26.95
ISBN: 9781400040605

Almost two decades ago in Missouri then eight year old Margaret Mayfield’s father committed suicide. Soon after her dad took his life; her brother dies in an accident and her other brother from measles. Their widowed mom informs her three daughters they must find a spouse.

In 1905, twenty-seven years old Margaret is still an unmarried spinster but she meets astronomer US Navy Captain Andrew Jackson Jefferson and they soon marry. He takes his new wife to California where he works at an observatory. Her first shock about her husband is how he reacts to the death of his mom in the earthquake and three years later to their baby. Over the years as her resentment and ire grow, Margaret realizes her husband suffers from obsessive behavior until by 1942 she looks back in anguish that she subjugated her dreams for his and never received the slightest regard from her spouse while his sister becomes a polished reporter. Still she accepts her lot until he betrays a Japanese- American family that they have been friends of for years claiming they are spies with no supporting evidence and the Feds don’t need anything beyond his say so.

This is a subtle first half of the twentieth century epic that shows how far women have come in over a century. Margaret is superb as she holds the profound story line together yet by WWII regrets what she could have been while admiring her courageous sister-in-law, but she accepts her lot in life until her spouse betrays a neighbor. Jane Smiley writes a powerful yet low keyed brilliant saga of a woman’s role up until WWII when the Greatest Generation changes the dynamics.

Harriet Klausner

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me-Kristen Chandler

Wolves, Boys and Other Things That Might Kill Me
Kristen Chandler
Viking, May 13 2010, $17.99
ISBN: 9780670011421

Although only sixteen years old, KJ Carson has incredible wilderness skills due to personal experiences with her single parent, a wilderness guide. She can fish and hike in the wilds with the best. The teen uses her talent to guide tourists around Yellowstone National Park.

Young city slicker Virgil and her mom arrive in West End, Montana where KJ has lived all her life. The newcomers persuade KJ to write about the endangered wolves living in the nearby park. KJ and Virgil write articles for the school newspaper about the wolves in the wild that split the less than 1000 townsfolk into divided camps: those who have lost livestock to wolves and want them hunted as deadly predators and those who believe they are critical parts of the ecosystem.

This is an interesting middle school drama that encourages (at times with a sledgehammer) people especially the young to adhere to your values and not let anyone bully you into doing something you feel is wrong or even leaves you uncomfortable. KJ is a fascinating lead character as she is refreshingly surly and brooding more often than not. Readers will relish the morose one as she takes a stand to protect the wolf population while also learning that boys like Virgil are more dangerous to her health than wolves

Harriet Klausner

Jump-Elisa Carbone

Elisa Carbone
Viking, May 13 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780670011858

After he tried and failed at suicide, Critter was locked away at a mental institution. However, he didn’t hang around; long because he was able to escape from the asylum.

Over her objections, her parents plan to send P.K. to boarding school. She refuses to hang around so she runs away from home.

Critter and P.K. meet at a rock gym and recognize in each other a similar lost soul mentality. She invites him on a rock-climbing trip that he accepts. Both understand that their freedom sojourn will end once the authorities catch them or funds run out. As the pair begins to fall in love mounting one rock at a time, each finds a renewed élan for life.

Targeting middle school readers, this is a terrific tale of two teens on the run together staying one jump ahead of the authorities chasing after them. Critter and P.K. find a common bond with one another. Fast-paced with ultra short chapters that rotate perspective mostly between the lead pair, fans will root for the runaways who find each other on rocks and a dumpster, but can they sustain it when both has issues that cage them.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sea Escape-Lynne Griffin

Sea Escape
Lynne Griffin
Simon & Schuster, Jul 6 2010, $25.00
ISBN 9781439180600

In the Boston area, forty-five year old Laura Martinez is the poster person of the sandwich generation. Her widowed mom Helen has suffered a stroke, which leaves her as the caretaker though mom and daughter have never been close. Her two young children Claire and Henry are confused about how to behave with nana suddenly around. Even her husband Christian is unsure.

Helen survives more in the past than the present as she constantly muses over her late spouse. Her mom’s thoughts bewilder Laura who reads the love letters between her parents. Laura is stunned as she begins to uncover family secrets that she never knew of, which in turn leads to a new understanding and appreciation of her mom and an awareness of the need to be more honest with her family.

Sea Escape is an interesting family drama that is at its best when the story line focuses on the tensions including feelings of being trapped that engulf Laura. When the subplot moves into the secrets of the past, the tale loses its grasp on present issues as the yesteryear comes across edgy but unreal. Readers will overall enjoy Sea Escape as Lynne Griffin provides a strong look at being trapped between the older and younger generations.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hearts on a String-Kris Radish

Hearts on a String
Kris Radish
Bantam, May 25 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780553384758

The extreme weather conditions running across much of the country shuts down the Tampa International Airport. Five women waiting for flights meet and agree to share a luxury suite at a nearby hotel on the beach. Tense Nan arranges the stay. Joining her are Vegas lounge act Patti, house-mom of three teens Margo, reticent Buckeye hair stylist Holly and sex oozing Cathy.

Each shares their personal tale of triumphs and much more defeats. However, the encounter rejuvenates each of the females; as they make more than just make due of a bad situation; instead being grounded has helped them become grounded.

Each one of the fearsome fab five females has a distinct personality that in turn makes their sisterhood bonding that much stronger. However, instead of only focusing on the quintet’s personal life sagas; subplots also involve psychics and secret agents that detract from the group. Still fans of Krish Radish will enjoy being grounded by weather in Tampa with the Hearts on a String quintet.

Harriet Klausner

The Pregnant Widow-Martin Amis

The Pregnant Widow
Martin Amis
Morrow, May 11 2020, $26.95
ISBN: 9781400044528

In the summer of 1970, college students were touring Europe. Keith and Lily are in Italy with her tall friend Scheherazade and a third female Gloria. However, the amiable relationship between Lily and Keith begins to crack when she concludes that her boyfriend desires her friend and perhaps their other companion more than her.

Ironically Gloria also a beauty seems willing to sack with Keith while Scheherazade appears out of his reach. Lily increasingly realizes she cannot compete with either of the beautiful girls for Keith’s attention though she allows him sexual pleasures when she is not teasing him. With Lily torturing him with on and off sex, and Gloria apparently willing to have sex, Keith’s lofty goal for the summer remains climbing Scheherazade.

Although the pivot that keeps the story line anchored is how far women came due to the sexual revolution of the early 1970s caused by medical advances (some will say subtractions), The Pregnant Widow is more a treatise than a straight forward tale. Character driven by the traveling troupe, but with a deep look at religion and culture during the beginnings of radical change leading to “You’ve come a long way baby”, this is a profound but not an easy read. Martin Amis using flashbacks proves his belief that the sexual revolution dramatically changed life as few events in recorded history have.

Harriet Klausner

Honeysuckle Summer-Sherryl Woods

Honeysuckle Summer
Sherryl Woods
Mira, May 25 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778328469

While her abusive spouse Dr. Paul Hammond remains in jail, Raylene still stays inside the house of her best friend Sara Price in Serenity, South Carolina. However, leaving the house is currently impossible as she still fears her ex husband will arrive to assault her.

Currently she watches Sara’s five year old son Tommy and two years old daughter Libby when she goes to get them cookies only the boy has run out of the backyard. Wracked by agoraphobia, Raylene calls the radio station where Sarah and her fiancé Travis work. New Sheriff’s Deputy Carter Rollins brings Tommy home; the kid stepped out for ice cream. Carter thinks Raylene is a rich snob unwilling to get sweaty and dirty so refused to look for the child. He raises his two sisters Carrie and Mandy. On the other hand heeding the advice of his siblings to get a girlfriend, he begins to visit Raylene. When he learns the truth about her, he feels remorse for jumping top conclusions and joy because he knows he is attracted to her. However, though he is the first male she admires as a hunk, Raylene knows she is not good enough for him or his sisters as her phobia rules her life.

The seventh and final Sweet Magnolias tale is a strong ending to a solid series. The story line focuses on the romance of an agoraphobia sufferer, which makes for a powerful contemporary. With the stars of the previous book returning, Sweet Tea at Sunrise, fans will enjoy this fun yet poignant romance as her two BFFs and his two sisters (and readers) insist the lead couple is a pair of idiots.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sylvan Street-Deborah Schupack

Sylvan Street
Deborah Schupack
Plume, May 25 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452296282

In Ashley-on-Hudson is the cul-de-sac Sylvan Street. Five families live in harmony in this suburban setting up the Hudson Valley from New York City. They are there for each other helping with their kids and more as everyone is a friend to everyone else. In fact Sylvan Street seems like a throwback to a more idyll almost naive era when suburbia was the goal of most Americans.

At a weekend pool party, a suitcase containing one million dollars is found and opened. Suddenly morality and family values prove meaningless as every one of the contenders scheme to possess the loot. Friends and families, the Levolices, the Canes, the Yanivs, the-Hansens, and the Margolis brood want to claim the cash. War has broken out on Sylvan Street.

With a modern day nod to the Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Traven’s book and the Bogart movie), Sylvan Street is a great character study as greed and need supersede friendship and to a degree family loyalty. Readers will enjoy this fast-paced character driven saga of the American dream; as many on Main St. are angry at Wall St. but want to move to Wall St. and as angry at the Federal government but want the Feds to lead the cleaning of the Gulf using someone else’s money; irony rules.

Harriet Klausner

The Blue Bistro-Elin Hilderbrand

The Blue Bistro
Elin Hilderbrand
St. Martin’s Griffin, may 30 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780312992620

For the last eight years, late twentyish Adrienne Dealey has worked a series of hotel jobs. Her last gig was in Aspen, but now she arrives in Nantucket. Owner of the upscale Blue Bistro Thatcher Smith hires Adrienne as the restaurant’s assistant manager although she has no experience working at a restaurant so it is a work in progress.

As she learns the business while serving as the hostess, Thatcher and Adrienne begin an affair. However, every night when the Blue Bistro closes Thatcher and his partner talented chef Fiona Kemp share dinner in the kitchen where she hides as her retreat from society; all this leaves Adrienne confused until she finds out the truth about her “rival” and why the Blue Bistro will close after this summer.

This is an interesting Nantucket contemporary drama starring a likable cast. Although some minor subplots feel like padding and a late twist unnecessary, the story line is entertaining. Fans will relish the locale as Elin Hilderbrand owns the beach in summer while wondering along side of Adrienne what is truly going on between Thatcher whom she believes wants her and Adrienne.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Days of Grace-Catherine Hall

Days of Grace
Catherine Hall
Viking, May 27 2020, $25.95
ISBN: 9780670021765

As the Germans bomb London, many children are evacuated to the countryside. Twelve years old Nora Lynch is one such 12 year old. In Kent Vicar and Mrs. Rivers takes Nora into their home. Over the next few years she relishes living with the Lynch family and dreads going back to London as their daughter, Grace, who is her age, becomes like a sister to her; even as she begins to the notice the cracks in the idyllic family.

Five decades later, Nora is dying from cancer. She brings into her home a single teenage mom Rose and her newborn daughter whom she helped bring into the world as a midwife. Rose allows Nora to name her baby and the grateful elderly woman calls her Grace.

This is a fascinating tale with two subplots fifty years apart that ultimately converge in a terrific climax. Nora, Grace, and Rose are wonderful fully developed protagonists who make the duality entertaining to follow. Although the key support cast is not as solid as needed to further flesh out the tale, fans will relish the fabulous Days of Grace.

Harriet Klausner

Band of Angels-Julia Gregson

Band of Angels
Julia Gregson
Touchstone, May 18 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9781439101131

As a child living by the beaches in 1840s in Wales, Catherine Carreg lived a carefree without much parental supervision. She especially enjoyed riding ponies on the beach while competing against her best friend Deio, the son of a cattle driver. However, Catherine also hated living in the small hamlet as the gossip follows everywhere. In fact whisperers forced her father to forbid her spending time with Deio and when her mom died in childbirth, her life turned even more untenable.

The first chance she gets to escape to London she takes; abetted by her buddy. Catherine obtains a position in Florence Nightingale’s home for sick governesses at a time the Crimea War is in the news. She volunteers as a nurse at a time her beloved Deio enlists as a soldier. The horrors of war force both to grow up instantly in order to cope with death and mayhem; neither fully comes to grip with what they witness and must do as duty calls while engulfed by the fog of being at or near the front.

The key to this strong Crimean War drama is the battle scenes and their aftermath are not dumbed down or hidden off page as Julia Gregson depicts the nightmare in vivid blood red and gruesome gray. The horrors that the lead couple witness force both to mature rapidly if they want to emotionally survive even with their love for one another. Readers will appreciate the aptly titled Band of Angels as the spotlight is on the mid nineteenth century conflict through the eyes of two young volunteers; who rather quickly ask themselves the Edwin Starr question on war - what is it good for?

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ransomed Dreams-Sally John.

Ransomed Dreams
Sally John.
Tyndale, Jul 1 2010, $13.99
ISBN 9781414327853

Eliot Montgomery is the American ambassador to Venezuela. However, an assassin shoots Eliot and his wife Sheridan. Fed Luke Traynor saved their lives, but Eliot is crippled and Sheridan wounded. Both are emotionally traumatized and he is forced to quit the diplomatic service as he cannot adjust mentally to his condition.

The pair flees to a remote Mexico village as they retreat from the world. However, Sheridan returns to her hometown of Chicago to see her estranged father, a U.S. congressman, who is dying. Now that she is with her family, especially her sister Calissa, she tries for reconciliation. She also struggles with her feelings for Luke as her spouse goes deeper inside his shell; hiding even from her.

The tormented anguish of Eliot and the guilt of Sheridan make for a strong character driven drama. The support cast complements the lead couple who is going through post traumatic stress disorder separately as they no longer are a team since the nasty assault. Although the bad guys seem more caricatures than real threats, the audience will enjoy this strong look at the life of a diplomat after a shattering event as an alleged safe harbor can prove dangerous.

Harriet Klausner

Wedding Cake-Lynne Hinton

Wedding Cake
Lynne Hinton
Avon, May 18 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061711510

Though they recently seen her (see Christmas Cake), the ladies of Hope Springs, North Carolina miss their former pastor and close friend Charlotte Stewart since she moved to New Mexico to run a battered women’s shelter. Charlotte has doubts about committing to her boyfriend because she fears she will end up just like the women who stay here; likewise she misses her Tar Heel buddies.

Meanwhile in North Carolina, Jessie and James Wilkins instead of renewing their vows have separated. Busybody Beatrice Witherspoon tries to intervene though she changes her objective when she learns her daughter is engaged and serendipitously sending out invites. Finally, lesbian Louise Fisher accepts a wedding proposal from the widower of recently deceased best BFF Margaret.

The fifth Hope Springs Ladies cake series (see The Friendship Cake) is an engaging celebration of friendship and camaraderie although it lacks the tear jerker poignancy of the last tale (see Christmas Cake). The story line is character driven with a charming throwback feel to a less complicated time. Although perhaps too fluffy, fans will not care as we celebrate the latest slice of hope springs eternal life filled with best buddies and recipes.

Harriet Klausner

When Winter Returns- Kathryn Miller Haines

When Winter Returns
Kathryn Miller Haines
Harper, May 11 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061579578

In 1943, Rosie Winter and her best friend Jayne Hamilton are elated to be back in New York following their traumatic South Pacific USO tour (see Winter in June). The pair makes a special stop in Upstate New York to pay their respects to the parents of Billy DeMille, Jayne's late fiancé who died in action two months ago.

However, the pair is stunned to learn their Billy was not the real Billy; he stole the identity of DeMille who died at Pearl harbor during the infamous attack. At the George Bernard Shaw Home for Women Pursuing Theatrical Vocations in Manhattan, Rosie shares rooms with her enemy Ruby Priest, and Jayne with eccentric Ann Fremont. They visit the apartment of the Billy they knew and find German letters written in disappearing ink and a stack of money. Jayne's mobster former boyfriend Tony is causing trouble and the two performers cannot find parts as another gangster Vinnie has blacklisted them. Finally Jack is back; apparently having deserted after being injured while at war

The latest Winter WW II drama is a superb tale as the can-can girls return home bringing alive mostly Manhattan with their lively dance steps. The mystery of “the wrong Mr. Wright is fun to follow while the two actresses struggle to find work, having been blacklisted by the Mob several years before McCarthy did likewise. Rosie is at her best as she weaves a web of lies to protect her friends only to be overwhelmed with keeping track while also trying to solve everyone’s problems because everything's not coming up Rosie.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Villa Mirabella-Peter Pezzelli

Villa Mirabella
Peter Pezzelli
Kensington, $15.00
ISBN 9780758220516

In Los Angeles, Phil Langway persuades Med-Devices Technologies marketing guru Jason Mirabella to conceal key ProCardia One device negative results from clinical tests. The resulting investigation stopped with him being held culpable; whereas his boss escapes free, Jason is fired and loses his friends who are ashamed of him and afraid to be associated with him, and has no chance of making it with his former boss Bill Forsythe’s daughter, Amanda who is carrying his baby.

Humiliated he returns in abject disgrace to his home in Rhode Island where his family owns and manages a failing bed and breakfast. His dad Giulio is elated his son is home and employs him at the B&B; his two siblings Ray and Natalie are unhappy that the prodigal offspring has returned to work at the inn as they do not trust him to stay and besides they heard too many times from their dad how great he is. As Jason works passed his own disappointments where he failed to take an ethical stand, he tries to prove to his family he plans to stay in New England and never return to the West Coast by learning more about his siblings’ desires and skills.

The stereotypes of the happy loving Italian family and the Los Angeles tundra-hearted affluent snoot detract from a well written entertaining values story line. Jason is superb as he learns what is important in life when he cooked the books. He originally rationalized that he did it for Amanda, but coming home opens his eyes to that he did it for selfish reasons. Fans will enjoy his life values lessons learned saga while wondering if Wall St. has learned anything from the worst near meltdown in America since Three Mile Island.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Sister’s Voice- Mary Carter

My Sister’s Voice
Mary Carter
Kensington, Jun 1 2010, $15.00
ISBN 9780758229205

Although Philadelphia artist Lacey Gears has never heard a sound and has no known family that she knows of, she believes she lives a great life. She enjoys her career, which is on the rise, has a nice caring boyfriend and a loyal dog. Her idyllic life is turned upside down when she receives a note insisting she has a twin sister; this is a shocker because she has no known biological family.

Lacey assumes the message is her boyfriend’s sick joke, but soon affirms the note is true. She has a twin Monica, an author, which is how she learned of her existence, who can also hear. Euphoric to learn she has family, but heartbroken that her parents gave her up for adoption because of her impairment, Lacey, who has doubts, contacts Monica who is excited and wants her twin in her life.

The key to this terrific character study is the reversal of stereotypes as Lacey is independent and Monica reliant, which comes across throughout the story line, but especially after they meet. Thus, as readers obtain a deep look into the subculture of people born deaf, My Sister’s Voice is a strong profound tale with a solid ensemble secondary cast although the family secrets revealed late detract from an otherwise superior tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Forbidden Rose-Joanna Bourne

The Forbidden Rose
Joanna Bourne
Berkley, Jun 1 2010, $7.99
ISBN 9780425235614

As the French Revolution explodes across Paris and the countryside, the hunt for aristocrats to receive kisses from Madame Guillotine grows intense. As do a few courageous souls trying to smuggle the émigré across the Channel before they lose their heads.

Marguerite de Fleurignac is a noblewoman who risks her life trying to help her endangered compatriots reach England. However, she fears her masquerade as a governess is now in trouble as her chateau has been burned to the ground. When she meets English spymaster William Doyle, she pretends to be Scottish governess Maggie Duran while he masquerades as Frenchman Guilliame LeBreton. However, he knows who she really is as he searches for her father while she knows who he is and the objective of his task. The French secret police are aware of both of them and their conflicting missions.

Like My Lord and Spymaster, this is a superb historical espionage thriller with a strong romantic subplot; that is he key to this strong French revolution saga as the growing love between the distrusting masquerade duo enhances the prime spy mission. With a nod to the Scarlet Pimpernel, fans will relish the irony that everyone knows who everyone else is, but pretends otherwise.

Harriet Klausner

The Lies We Told-Diane Chamberlain

The Lies We Told
Diane Chamberlain
Mira, May 25 2010, $13.95
ISBN: 9780778328537

When sisters Maya and Rebecca Ward watched their parents being murdered, they reacted totally opposite to the horror in spite of the fact each became a doctor. Pediatric orthopedist Maya is a withdrawn introvert who married Adam not out of love though she cares about him, but out of finding a safe haven. Rebecca has not married and remains an extrovert who works on global disaster relief scenarios.

Following a hurricane, Rebecca goes out to help the survivors. Her sister and brother-in-law come with her. However, as Maya flies out of the ravaged area with a patient, her helicopter apparently crashes. The assumption is she is dead, but she remains alive in an isolated area. Adam and Rebecca grieve their loss in ways neither of them or Maya would have fantasized before the helicopter vanished.

The Lies We Told is an interesting contemporary tale in which the grievers turn to one another for solace unaware they betray the person they mourn for. The Rebecca-Adam subplot is emotional while the Maya arc is a thriller. Although the latter gets into more perils than Pauline with escapes that rival the implausibility of the movie heroine, fans will enjoy the distant triangle wondering who will do right in the end.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Journey Home-Michael Baron

The Journey Home
Michael Baron
The Story Plant, May 11 2010, $5.99
ISBN: 9780981956862

When Joseph awakens he is confused as he has no idea who he is or how he got to where he is. The people who found him are kind to him and offer to allow him to stay with them, but he feels an urgency to find where he belongs. Seventeen year old Will offers to drive him to wherever he needs to go. Reluctantly, Joseph accepts after asking Will questions about his parents.

Elderly Antoinette is dying from Alzheimer’s. She resides at the Treetops assisted living facility while dreaming of the day she and her late lover Don will reunite. Her adult son Warren is going through difficult times as he lost his corporate job and marriage, and increasingly his beloved mom. He decides to cook her favorite meals with her help as he recalls she was the great neighborhood chef creating unique meals for only people she knew. Warren finds a passion and a connection with his mom while also attracted to kindhearted Jan the nurse. Soon these three people and the two road warriors will connect in ways no one on earth could understand.

This is a great family drama with a delightful spiritual twist. The four prime players and to a lesser degree Jan are fully developed as Michael Baron gets inside the mind of an Alzheimer’s victim, an apparent amnesiac as well as those who care about them but are unsure what to do. Readers will want to join the cast on aptly title Journey Home to learn how the diverse subplots connect the dots.

Harriet Klausner

Lowcountry Summer-Dorothea Benton Frank

Lowcountry Summer
Dorothea Benton Frank
Morrow, Jun 15 2010, $25.99
ISBN 9780061961175

In 2007 at Tall Pines, the family gathered to celebrate Caroline Wimbly Levine’s forty-seventh birthday. Caroline has no problem with closing in on fifty as her focus on the family remains first and foremost in her mind. Her only son Eric (from the marriage with that English pig) is attending college at the University of South Carolina less than an hour drive away from home, but that could be on the other side of the Atlantic for how often he comes home. Caroline rationalizes that he probably feels freedom from her and his horde of other adult supervisors. His mom worries about him because he is living with an older woman and her child.

Caroline struggles with the rest of her family members at the gala. Her sister-in-law Frances Mae becomes drunk. Her nieces except perhaps the oldest Amelia must be adopted as they cannot share even partially her DNA as she considers them escaped convicts. Her brother Tripp has personal issues of a sexual kind. However, it is the family’s late matriarch the recently departed Miss Lavinia who still from beyond controls the rowdy horde through Caroline.

This entertaining Southern Fried family saga returns readers to the Plantation for a Lowcountry Summer jamboree. The cast is solid but it is Caroline who wryly holds the plot together with her observation on others and her wit. Fans will enjoy the return as the child becomes the adult with Caroline having learned Miss Lavinia’s life lessons.

Harriet Klausner

Daughters of Fortune-Tara Hyland

Daughters of Fortune
Tara Hyland
Atria, May 11 2020, $16.00
ISBN: 9781439165065

In 1974 in Valleymount, Ireland, single mom Katie O’Dwyer dies. On her deathbed she informs her beloved fifteen year old daughter that her father is London based retailer William Melville. They had an affair that he ended just before Caitlin's birth. William attends Katie’s funeral and informs his daughter that she will move into the family estate in Somerset.

William's wife Isabelle resents her husband’s illegitimate daughter and their spoiled daughters, Elizabeth and Amber, treat her as if she is beneath them. At her new school, Caitlin is drugged and gang-raped, but decides not to have the animals arrested. Instead over the years she struggles to adjust from a middle class existence to an affluent one. She finishes her schooling and goes to Paris to study fashion design before traveling to New York to prove her talent. Elizabeth becomes a chip off her dad’s block with her business acumen that she hopes to use to win daddy’s approval; and Amber becomes a supermodel with emotional issues that lead to out of control behavior.

When the focus is on the three sisters and their struggles to make it in their chosen fields and how they relate to their parents (stepmother obviously in Caitlin’s case), the story line is a terrific family saga. When the plot spotlights other family members, it feels intrusive as too much of a soap opera spin occurs. Still the siblings are wonderfully complete as each has personal issues and flaws while trying to make it independently and eventually in unity.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Illyria-Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand
Viking, May 15 2010, $15.99
ISBN: 9780670012121

Fourteen years old Madeleine and Rogan share much in common. Each is the youngest of six siblings; their fathers are identical twins; and symmetry between the two families that seemed almost eerily paranormal. However, the most common shared trait between these two first cousins is their love for one another. Although he has five older brothers and she has five older sisters of which they match ages and the other fourteen first cousins from the three siblings of their fathers, Madeline and Rogan are the only kissing cousins.

From their great-grandmother, a renowned actress as were her ancestors and family peers, the pair has inherited her stage talent; none of the current extended family members have a neutrino worth of talent in spite of their DNA. After finally making love for the first time, the duo discovers in the Hudson Valley attic of the family mansion a toy cardboard theater with pieces of lace. Each visit to the attic finds a different scene. The school casts the two cousins in a production of Twelfth Night that parallels the toy theater. Rogan begins to comprehend his love for Madeline parallels his Shakespearean character wise clown Feste as most likely his drama unlike the comedy Twelfth Night will end in a tragedy.

This is an intriguing romantic fantasy that focuses on young teenage love with a profound look at the taboo subject of first cousins’ incest by using drama in the attic and at the school play to explore deeply the passion and desire of the kissing kin. Rogan and Madeline are fully developed so the audience will feel their love for each other as more than puppy adulation. Yet the audience like Rogan who gained wisdom as Feste anticipates their prim and proper families (except perhaps their late great grandma) will condemn and keep them apart as what they feel for each other is unacceptable in society.

Harriet Klausner

Refuge on Crescent Hill-Melanie Dobson

Refuge on Crescent Hill
Melanie Dobson
Kregel, Mar 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780825425905

Camden Bristow traveled the world for New York based Fount Magazine, but this time when she comes back to Manhattan from Indonesia, she learns the firm declared bankruptcy. Out of work, out money and soon out of her studio, Camden may be out of her head, but decides to rusticate at her grandma’s house in Etherton, Ohio. Although she has not seen her grandmother in years, Camden knows she will receive the conquering hero’s welcome home as she did the summer she spent there as a child.

In Etherton, Camden learns her grandmother recently died. Feeling remorse for failing to visit more often, Camden suffers further guilt to learn she inhered the dilapidated mansion. However, upon moving in, eerie things occur that lead her to believe someone else resides inside the mansion. She thinks back to her grandmother’s tales of being a station on the Underground Railroad as the house contains secret passageways and hidden nooks to keep runaway slaves safe. Resident Alex Yates offers to help her renovate the mausoleum and investigate the eerie happenings. Attracted to the Buckeye, she accepts.

Mixing romance, a modern day mystery, rumors of ghosts and other paranormal activity, and an alleged hidden treasure, Melanie Dobson provides readers with a wonderful contemporary tale. Camden is terrific as she knows the only way for her to remain in small town Ohio after New York and the world is Alex. He has altruistic interests in making his town a better place to live and personal interests in the newcomer. However he doubts he can persuade the globetrotter to stay in Etherton. With an eccentric cast of all ages and maybe from beyond to cause havoc for the lead couple, readers will relish Refuge on Crescent Hill, a strong drama.

Harriet Klausner