Friday, July 30, 2010

Plum Blossoms in Paris-Sarah Hina

Plum Blossoms in Paris
Sarah Hina
Medallion, Aug 1 2010, $15.95
ISBN: 9781605421261

Andy, her boyfriend in high school, college and graduate school, unceremoniously dumps Daisy Lockhart. Heartbroken as she never saw it coming and assumed as her only boyfriend she ever had, they would always be together. Daisy, unlike her Henry James’ namesake, travels to Paris rather than Rome. There the American meets writer Mathieu, who grieves the recent death of his mother.

.Mathieu and Daisy become lovers. He shows her a side of the city that few Americans ever see especially the arts and the legends that make Paris what it is. As they remain together, Daisy knows she delays the inevitable of choosing between being an American in Paris or an American in America.

This is an entertaining contemporary relationship drama in which Paris owns the story line. The city is seen mostly through the admiring, adoring and to a lesser degree disapproving eyes of the American in Paris. The lead couple is a wonderful cross Atlantic pairing, but more so the blossoming Daisy; as readers will wonder whether Daisy will follow the dreams of her heart or the American dreams she left back home.

Harriet Klausner

Plum Blossoms in Paris-Sarah Hina

Plum Blossoms in Paris
Sarah Hina
Medallion, Aug 1 2010, $15.95
ISBN: 9781605421261

Andy, her boyfriend in high school, college and graduate school, unceremoniously dumps Daisy Lockhart. Heartbroken as she never saw it coming and assumed as her only boyfriend she ever had, they would always be together. Daisy, unlike her Henry James’ namesake, travels to Paris rather than Rome. There the American meets writer Mathieu, who grieves the recent death of his mother.

.Mathieu and Daisy become lovers. He shows her a side of the city that few Americans ever see especially the arts and the legends that make Paris what it is. As they remain together, Daisy knows she delays the inevitable of choosing between being an American in Paris or an American in America.

This is an entertaining contemporary relationship drama in which Paris owns the story line. The city is seen mostly through the admiring, adoring and to a lesser degree disapproving eyes of the American in Paris. The lead couple is a wonderful cross Atlantic pairing, but more so the blossoming Daisy; as readers will wonder whether Daisy will follow the dreams of her heart or the American dreams she left back home.

Harriet Klausner

Whisper On The Wind-Maureen Lang

Whisper On The Wind
Maureen Lang
Tyndale, Sep 1 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414324364

When the war broke out, her parents got the entire family out of Belgium before the German war machine invaded the small nation. However, in 1916, Isabelle Lassone returns to war ravaged Brussels to persuade the man she loves Edward Kirkland to flee the continent with her. Edward refuses to go but also demands she leave. Isabelle tells him if he remains in the devastated country so will she.

Edward is irate with obstinate Isabelle for staying as he fears for her safety; he also admires her courage and knows he loves her. However, Edward also worries what will happen to her, him and his “illegal” colleagues if she will learn he works for the underground newspaper, La Libre-Belgique, a dangerous occupation as the German invaders censor any news that places them in a bad light; truth be damned.

Whisper on the Wind takes the reader to Brussels during WW I when the Germans occupy the city and country. Isabelle and Edward are intrepid souls because they know if caught they will probably be executed without a trial. Readers will relish how the news traveled in 1916 as those who controlled the “free press” controlled the news.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Road Through Wonderland-Dawn Schiller

The Road Through Wonderland
Dawn Schiller
Medallion, Aug 1 2010, $15.95
ISBN: 9781605420837

Her father was career military so Dawn Schiller spent her childhood moving from post to post. A road trip from the east Coast to the Glendale, California led to the teen meeting thirtyish married “King of Porn” star John Holmes. Only fifteen and ignored by her dad, Holmes becomes a father figure to Dawn. He and his wife Sharon allow Dawn to move in with them. Cocaine and other drugs changed the relationships as Holmes turned violent and forced Dawn into prostitution. Barely surviving the gruesome 1981 Wonderland murders, she ran away turning her “mentor” over to the police.

The movie Wonderland was a gritty look at Dawn Schiller's teenage years leading to horrific murders. However, her memoir is even grittier and darker as the author goes much deeper in describing her early life. Not an easy read though well written as the horror will last in the audience’s mind long after finishing the book. Stunned readers will appreciate Ms. Schiller’s autobiography warning parents and other adults that discarding children leaves them vulnerable to a Pied Piper who showers them with deadly interest (think of the DC Snipers).

Harriet Klausner

More Church Folks-Michele Andrea Bowen

More Church Folks
Michele Andrea Bowen
Grand Central, Jul 28 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446577762

In 1986 at the Gospel United Church, older flock members remember the two-decade plus old scandal at the Triennial General Conference (see Church Folk) as another meeting is about to convene. At this church meeting, bishops are elected to fill vacancies. Senior Bishop Percy Jennings wants good Christian males to sit in these critical seats. Bishop Jennings believes Pastors Theophilus Simmons and Eddie Tate are ideal individuals who would make super Bishops. He needs at least one of them to gain a seat if he is to clean the church of its avarice embezzlers who cannot spell Bible.

Bishop Jennings learns something nasty is occurring in Mozambique. He assigns Pastor Tate’s mentee Pastor Denzelle Flowers to investigate. Denzelle’s day job supervisor is elated that his ordained minister FBI agent Flowers is going to Africa to look into drug smuggling. Pastor Flowers soon discovers a scheme to sell illegal sexual enhancement drugs to Bishop Jennings’ prime adversary’s mentee Pastor Sonny Washington; they plan to extort the votes of those caught in an adulterous scandal.

The return to the Church Folks environs is a terrific insightful tale that once again reflects on the religious leaders being a microcosm of the larger society. Some care about the spiritual and other needs of their flock while some of the leadership care about themselves as Michele Andrea Bowen makes a strong case that just because you’re a bishop or pastor does not mean you are holier than the congregation. Although the ensemble cast can be overwhelming for the reader as well as church officials, with interesting FBI intrigue enhancing the thriller, fans will relish this exciting entry as the avarice and the nurturing battle for the souls of the congregation with motives wider than the chasm between heaven and hell.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scumble-Ingrid Law

Ingrid Law
Dial, Aug 24 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780803733077

When he turns thirteen, Ledger Kale inherits his genetic Savvy, but hates the feeling of what he describes as red ants running wild in his blood. He especially is ashamed because he cannot control his Savvy unlike his family including his older cousin Mibs (see Savvy); his power leads to destruction of human created objects.

Fearing for their son (and society), who has not learned how to Scumble his Savvy, his parents leave Ledge and their younger daughter seven year old Fedora at the remote Wyoming insect ranch of Uncle Autry. Also staying at Flying Cattleheart Ranch are several of Ledge’s cousins. Complicating the situation is thirteen year old Sarah Jane Cabot, snooping wannabe reporter who sees exposé articles on the strange extended family at the ranch. At the same time her businessman father sets out to take ownership of local establishments including Autry’s ranch. Ledge knows life at the ranch is at least as complicated as back home.

This is a terrific whimsical coming of age tale that targets middle school readers (and my spouse) with its insectoid humor, but will be enjoyed by adults as a strong metaphoric novel as well. Filled with a conscience and guilt, Ledge is a fabulous narrator whether he discusses with readers the plight of destroying his father’s nose trimmer, spilling his guts to feed carnivores, or the quandary caused by the snoop queen. The support cast at the ranch also brings humor to the mix. However, this is Ledge’s saga as he struggles with the change from tweener to adolescence causing him emotional stress and physical imbalance; all because his Savvy has surfaced out of Scumble control.

Harriet Klausner

The Book of Peach-Penelope J. Stokes

The Book of Peach
Penelope J. Stokes
Berkley, Aug 3 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425234495

She grew up under the boring auspices of her mother and grandmother who insisted she be a “Southern Lady” at all times. Priscilla Bell Posner “Peach” Rondell envied the freedom of being ignored by the matriarchs that her brother Harry had and the ease of her much older sister Melanie seemed to adapt to being another iron maiden. The first chance she got to escape from Chulahatchie, Mississippi and their home Belladonna, Peach did.

Now twenty-three years later, divorced from Robert after two plus decades of marriage, the former Miss Mississippi runner-up has come home following the advice of her white-hair shrink to confront her mommy demons. She uses a journal to write down her thoughts as escapism from her widow mom who has not changed one iota from her adherence to the Southern Lady rules of public behavior. She also begins an affair with soon to be divorced Charles Chase whom she met at the Piggily Wiggly fruit aisle. However, Peach finds the most solace at the Heartbreak Cafe, where she writes her musings and becomes a member of a motley crew who would be unacceptable to mom.

The Book of Peach returns readers to the same setting as the Heartbreak Café (the latter’s star Dell makes key appearances in this tale too) in a satirical often jocular regional family drama. The bittersweet humorist journal kept by Peach in her second Mississippi run enables the reader to understand her childhood and the exclusive membership requirements of being a Southern Lady, which the lead protagonist admits she failed at because of displaced compassion. Although at times the story line can slows down the pace of sipping mint juleps, Penelope J. Stokes provides insight into a regional subculture maintained subtly by Steel Magnolias.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Hollywood-Mona Simpson

My Hollywood
Mona Simpson
Knopf, Aug 3 2010, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307273529

Before relocating to Southern California, Claire the composer and Paul the comedy writer shared raising their son William reasonably equal. However, in Santa Monica, Paul works long hours as a TV comedy writer; which leaves the raising of their baby almost totally to Claire.

With no time for herself or her career, Claire hires fiftyish Filipino Lola to help with William. Lola sends most of her earnings back home for her children to attend better schools. Besides caring for William, the nanny tries to help her high powered employees remain a coherent family unit as Claire and Paul seem continents adrift. Other parents realizing Lola’s full value try to buy her loyalty.

Except for those who believe marriage is a sacred constitutional right, the readers will relish this stinging jocular indictment of the American marital system. Ironically the Hollywood pair lives in the same house while the nanny’s family is across the Pacific, but seemingly the latter is much more content and helpful to others than her American counterpart. As Claire and Lola rotate leads so the audience can determine honesty and pretentiousness between the two mothers and their social circle this novel will make readers think about what is really important.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Stuff That Never Happened-Maddie Dawson

The Stuff That Never Happened
Maddie Dawson
Crown, Aug 3 2010, $23.00
ISBN: 9780307393678

Shge had thirty years of marriage to historian Grant McKay, but with their two kids gone, Annabelle wants more as she always loved someone else although her husband is a nice kindhearted person. When her pregnant daughter Sophie has a major health issue, Annabelle comes to Manhattan to help her.

The city reminds her of her first love back in the 1970s when as newlyweds with Grant teaching at Columbia University, they lived with his sponsor Jeremiah. Both Jeremiah and Annabelle knew an affair between Grant’s beloved wife and his cherished mentor would destroy him. However, they could not resist the passion. Now back in New York, she knows Jeremiah is near; Annabelle must choose between the two men she cares most about.

This is an entertaining chick lit family drama held together by Annabelle as readers compare her and her two loves in the 1970s with her as an about to be grandma with two loves in 2005. The triangle is strong as is Sophie and the city. Although the ending feels abrupt and too pat, fans will enjoy The Stuff That Never Happened as the lead protagonist has a second chance at selecting between the two men she loves.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Blessings of the Animals-Katrina Kittle

The Blessings of the Animals
Katrina Kittle
Harper, Aug 3 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061906077

In Ohio, after eighteen years of marriage her husband Bobby leaves veterinarian Cam Anderson and their teenage daughter Gabriella. When Sheriff Metz calls for her help with dead and dying horses, Bobby ends their marriage rationalizing if she only asked him to help.

That same afternoon, she knows it is over with Bobby when she catches him with a younger woman. Despondent, Cam notices other successful relationships like her parents celebrating their golden wedding anniversary; her BFF (Bobby’s sister) is engaged to a nice man, and her gay brother Davy and his for life mate are adopting a child. She distrusts her heart as being fickle, but soon learns she is not alone with broken dreams when Davy’s adoption plans fail and her daughter Gabriella has turned from sweet to caustic sour. Still as she helps a cranky geriatric horse, she reflects on her life and where she wants it to go; concluding with the ironic help of her horsy patient so far in spite of Bobby’s desertion, it’s a wonderful life especially with other men vying to enter it.

This is a profound look at relationships through mostly the eyes of someone who realizes the healing Blessings of the Animals; a feeling I personally agree with Katrina Kittle as my husband always insists my significant other was Max the dog. The story line is character driven as fans see how the lead protagonists and people in her sphere observe their relationships with others especially loved ones. If you prefer save the world action look elsewhere, but those who appreciate a superb well written drama that focuses on saving a soul or two will relish this deep one sitting tale; an aging steed serves as Clarence Oddbody figuratively teaching the depressed vet how to move on with her wonderful life.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 18, 2010

With Friends Like These-Sally Koslow

With Friends Like These
Sally Koslow
Ballantine, Aug 10 210, $25.00
ISBN: 9780345506221

The foursome met in the 1990s when they became apartment mates sharing the costs of rent in Manhattan. Over the years, they went their separate ways, but Quincy, Talia, Chloe, and Jules remain friends although their lifestyles are different from those single days in New York.

Chloe married a Wall Street hedge fund manager while Talia wedded a teacher with a healthy trust fund. Both have preschool aged sons while also job sharing a copy-writing position. They were best friends until Talia went after a job that should have gone to Chloe. Quincy and Jules remain childless. They were best friends until Jules gave away Quncy’s real estate deal to her boyfriend.

Each is confronting their forties with men in their lives who seem at times too powerful and too inadequate. Arthur admires Jules but fails to act beyond friendship. Tom hides in the academic world while Talia anchors them in gritty reality. Xander demands timorous Chloe be at his side at parties and other events. Jake tries to be there for his Quincy, whose life is filled with tragedy. Now the quartet has reconnected.

This is a warm tale that focuses on the value of friendship in the good times and especially the bad moments that everyone faces. The lead four females are totally different in personality, but each holds up their perspective rotated between them. The men in their lives are also diverse with differing degrees of demands on the women in their lives. Although nothing new to the sisterhood theme is added, readers will enjoy this intelligent salute to friendship due to the strong ensemble cast.

Harriet Klausner

Kings of the North-Cecelia Holland

Kings of the North
Cecelia Holland
Forge, Jul 2010, $27.99
ISBN: 9780765321923

After being away for several years, Raef Corbanson, accompanied by his traveling friends Leif the Icelander and Liassa, returns to England at a time when strife threatens the country. Whereas Raef just wants to go home to Jorvik, several men strive for the throne ever since Ethelred the Unready became the ruler.

Raef’s former shipmate Denmark King Sweyn Forkbeard wants the crown now precariously worn by Ethelred. The monarchs’ respective sons Edmund and Knut also covet the throne. Raef tries his best to be a decent foster father to Knut and reconcile with his daughter, Gemma. However he hesitates to confront Lady Hedeby while also hoping to stay out of the monarchy free for all.

The final tale of the Loosestrife dark ages thriller (see The High City) is a terrific Viking era historical. Partially because he can see the future that he believes cannot be changed, Raef remains submissively acceptant of his and others’ fate. His realistic reaction to his paranormal skill leaves him relatively inert as the center of the story line reacting to those hyperactive rivals seeking the crown. Still fans of the Loosestrife epic will relish the fight for the throne in the early decades of the eleventh century.

Harriet Klausner

Perfect Blend-Sue Margolis

Perfect Blend
Sue Margolis
Bantam, Aug 3 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385339018

In London Amy Brown left the public relations field to raise her son Charlie as a single mom. Now that he is six years old and in school, she has returned to work planning to become a freelance reporter, but fails to obtain any work in the field. She works at her friend Brian Potter's Café Mozart coffee shop.

Brian has a commitment phobia as he goes through women faster than his customers can drink a cup of coffee. Amy’s other best friend Bel is a struggling actress who earns a living doing electronic messages. She always meets brutes. Amy believes her two BFFs are meant for each other.

When her opinionated sister Victoria opens her mouth most people including her parents and their significant others ignore her. Architect Sam Draper challenges Victoria’s latest assertion. Even though he is building a nearby mega coffee shop for a client, Amy instantly likes and admires him for speaking back while he is attracted to her. However, she also knows that when her boyfriends meet Charlie, they flee.

This is a fascinating slice of life in modern day London with Amy as the anchor of the entertaining story line. Each of the key players has issues that frighten them, but the underlying premise is as bad as these seem the world will breathe tomorrow. That enchanting generalization also detracts slightly from the specificity of the tsuris like Brian’s terror of going bankrupt, Victoria’s fear of inadequacy and Amy’s efforts to be a working single mom. Still fast-paced with a touch of jocularity, fans will enjoy this lighthearted contemporary.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wicked Appetite-Janet Evanovich

Wicked Appetite
Janet Evanovich
St. Martin’s, Sep 14 2010, $27.99
ISBN: 9780312652913

After pastry chef Elizabeth “Lizzie” Tucker inherited her eccentric Great Aunt Ophelia’s home in Marblehead, she quit her job and moved from New York City to Massachusetts. She became a pastry chef at Dazzle’s Bakery in Salem. Everything is going right for her until a handsome man entered the store and touched her hand; leaving a burn mark on her. Her life turns further complicated when Diesel shows up at the store and her home.

He informs Lizzie that they are both “Unmentionables” humans with special abilities; his is to find people whiles hers is to locate objects. He needs her to find the SALIGIA Stones; each one possesses a power of the Seven Deadly Sins. His cousin Wulf wants the stones to create hell on earth while Diesel wants them hidden in a safe place. Lizzie and Diesel go after Gluttony, which has been fractured into pieces with each segment given to a member of the Hope family by their Uncle Phil. However, no matter how diligent the pair is, Wulf is always a step or two ahead of them until he obtains his first piece while the two unmentionables feel increasingly hopeless.

Janet Evanovich’s new series opens with a great first entry filled with her trademark humor especially as Lizzie takes on the characteristics of an Unmentionable and the storyline contains plenty of action and romance. The heat generated by Lizzie and Diesel will burn reader fingers while the villain is the more fascinating player as he is an enigmatic wicked yet charismatic person. Readers will look forward to the next adventures of this interesting cast.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Home Again-Mariah Stewart

Home Again
Mariah Stewart
Ballantine, Jul 27 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780345520357

Dallas MacGregor knows she has come a long way since moving to St. Dennis on the Maryland side of Chesapeake Bay from New Jersey back in 1983. She hated the change until she met and debated worms with Grant as she lived with energetic Great Aunt Berry just after her four years old sister died. In 2010 she has become an award winning actress.

However, her wonderful Hollywood lifestyle is nuked when her soon-to-be-former spouse, movie producer Emilio Baird is involved in a sex scandal that causes a nightmare for Dallas as the tabloids investigate and bombard her with innuendos and deliberate half-truths and lies. Sick of the unfair furor and wanting to keep her son Cody safe from the feeding frenzy of the media nasties, she flees from Southern California with her child to Aunt Berry’s abode where she remembers spending her happiest childhood moments. There she and veterinarian Dr. Grant Wyler soon meet and both understand deja vu as they still are attracted to one another. However, his performance is sidetracked when Cody and his new best buddy Logan vanish and a frantic Dallas panics. Emilio followed by the media storm rushes to Maryland in order to salvage his career by performing as the doting husband and concerned father. However, while he acts for the cameras, Grant performs in the field for the woman and her son he loves.

The latest Chesapeake Diaries family drama (see Coming Home) is an entertaining contemporary second chance at love romance. Dallas is the star as the link between Hollywood and St. Dennis while the rest of the cast play second and third banana support roles. Although the comparison between a shallow Hollywood and a profound Chesapeake Bay seems exaggerated on each coast, readers will enjoy Dallas’ coming Home Again.

Harriet Klausner

The Red Queen-Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen
Philippa Gregory
Touchstone, Aug 3 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9781416563723

As a child, Margaret Beaufort felt she was destiny’s darling and planed to remain pious while pushing the cause of the red Rose of Lancaster. However, her mother rudely awakens her by informing her she is a worthless chip off the old block of England’s military commander in France; and therefore will be sent to Wales to marry some lord older than her parents. She is quickly widowed at thirteen and forced to marry again. This time she has a son, whom she names Henry after the king. To keep him safe she sends him away but pledges him to the daughter of the White Rose rival York family. Widowed and married this time to Lord Thomas and knowing her son is ready to take the throne from the usurper, Margaret executes a coup.

This is a terrific historical biographical fiction as queen of the sub-genre Philippa Gregory provides her fans with another strong female royal (see The White Queen and The Other Boleyn Girl). Filled with intrigue, murder and betrayal while occurring for the most part in the second half of the fifteenth century, Ms. Gregory focuses this time on a female dynasty maker as Margaret Beaufort proves to be the matriarch of the Tudor line.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Slicker-Lucy Jackson

Lucy Jackson
St. Martin’s, Aug 3 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312565008

Mollycoddled Manhattanite Desiree Christian-Cohen abruptly feels the asphalt jungle of Kansas where she expects to find a nicer lifestyle in Honey Creek. Her new revelation even enables her to forgive her father for his transgression of coming out of the closet. However, the amber wave proves nastier than the Big Apple in many ways as bigotry is an acceptable practice, especially towards the “half-Jew”. She does meet Bobby McVicar, but even he makes her feel even more like a fish out of water on the Great Plains.

Doubts build up as she misses her family and friends back home. Meanwhile in New York, her mom Nina, her ailing grandfather Marvin, and their caretaker forge a family together built on trust and acceptance.

The prime story line in Kansas is interesting as the city slicker struggles with adapting to life on the Plains. Stereotyping of the local residents as bigots detracts from the impact of Desiree’s efforts to belong. The supporting subplot in Manhattan (New York that is) is much deeper as the reader understands what disturbs Desiree’s family. Character driven, Slicker is a fascinating look at a person seeking a fresh start but uses her sweet tooth to select the locale.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Star Island-Carl Hiaasen

Star Island
Carl Hiaasen
Knopf, Jul 27 2010, $26.95
ISBN 9780307272584

Singer Cheryl Bunterman alias Cherry Pye began her career as a fifteen year old at Jailbait Records. Besides her lack of any talent, Cherry cannot stop her addictions for sex, drugs, and booze. Her singing career seems tanked.

However, several people have a deep interest in Cherry’s career remaining afloat. Her mother Janet Bunterman, her producer Maury Lykes and her double Ann DeLusia like the money. That is why Ann is seen about the town while Cherry is in rehab. Also interested in Cherry are developer Jackie Sebago and paparazzo Bang Abbott, as each sees money to be made from the crooner who cannot sing. Bang kidnaps Ann thinking she is Cherry by mistake while the former Florida governor Clinton "Skink" Tyree, who fell in love at first sight with Ann or is Ann as Cherry plans to rescue his darling.

This is a superb satire that lampoons the celebrity frenzy that grips Americans. The story line rips the media for how easily they are suckered by spin doctors, and the tabloid reporters for stalking the famous even placing people in danger doing so while claming their First Amendment rights, and their readers for supporting the stalking. Also gutted is the celeb retinue and hanger-ons who are there when the money and fame are there, but vanish when the star novas. This is a winner as Carl Hiaasen leaves no prisoners in his version of “Fame”.

Harriet Klausner

Such a Pretty Face-Cathy Lamb

Such a Pretty Face
Cathy Lamb
Kensington, Jul 27 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758229557

She once was well over 300 pounds, but lost 170 pounds thanks in part from the fear brought on by a heart attack. However, thirty -something legal assistant Stevie Barrett is no longer sure who she is. Pondering what to do as mentally she still feels obese, Stevie decides that the only way to move on is to look back starting with the death of her mentally ill mother drowning her sister and the uncle who raised her though he loathed her.

As her cousins encourage her while they prepare a gala to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of their parents, Stevie knows she must face her uncle. She also wants to date her neighbor, quit her job to become an artist and a roller derby performer. However, first she must deal with the uncle who resented his poor orphaned niece.

Stevie is a super lead character who holds her tale together as she loses the weight she realizes she has not rid herself of her insecurities baggage; to do that she must face her uncle as the other person she would need to confront her mom is long dead. The scenes in which Stevie reflects on her life by herself or to a lesser degree with her cousin are powerful and gripping. When her uncle or her mom (in flashbacks) appears, they come across as caricatures though that is mostly because Stevie filters them through how she sees them. Readers will enjoy this deep contemporary character study as losing the physical weight is not enough; one must lose the emotional and mental weights too.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Wet Nurse's Tale-Erica Eisdorfer

The Wet Nurse's Tale
Erica Eisdorfer
Putnam, Aug 3 2010, $24.95
ISBN: 9780425234471

Growing up Susan Rose saw her mom serve as a wet nurse to the children of other women. She vows to be different. Susan works in a wealthy family’s house, but the master's son Freddie leaves her pregnant and alone. She comes home, but her son dies. Her only avenue of income is to do what her mom did to bring in money.

Susan lives a nomadic life nurturing other people’s babies while having no time to grieve her loss except at night. Susan meets a Jewish dentist and has a baby David with him. However, her father sells the infant. Stunned by her paternal betrayal, Susan travels to London to become the wet nurse to her baby. When she discovers an inconsiderate truth about her child’s adoptive family, she takes the baby and flees praying she finds her son’s dad in the Jewish community

Told from the perspective of the title character, The Wet Nurse’s Tale is an insightful look at a pragmatic individual who knows her bosom is her ticket. Although she allows her compassion to at times overrule her logic, Susan pulls no punches even when raped as she goes after what she wants. The secondary characters, her mom, her lovers, and the customers enhance a profound Victorian tale that focuses on how the lower class made a living anyway they could.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Jewel of St. Petersburg-Kate Furnivall

The Jewel of St. Petersburg
Kate Furnivall
Berkley, Aug 3 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425234235

In 1910 Valentina Ivanova is considered The Jewel of St. Petersburg aristocratic society. However, she does not want to be the top diamond as she is uninterested in being the image of the young paragon. Instead Valentina wants to become a nurse and prefers not to wed the chosen Count selected for her.

When she meets visiting Danish engineer Jen Friis, she falls in love, but her parents reject the non-Russian working class outsider. As the embittered squabble between the Duma and the Tsar heats up with the Bolsheviks fomenting more trouble, Valentina must choose between the people she love; her younger sister who needs had and her parents vs. Jen who wants to take her and their love child back to Denmark.

This prequel to Valentina Ivanova’s later tale in The Russian Concubine and her daughter’s saga as the Girl From Junchow describes her early days before the Revolution with a deep vivid look at a teetering tsarist Russia. The story line brings out the era while the love story of the Dane and the Russia is beautifully depicted as she as the title character who struggles with heart wrenching choices at a time her world is collapsing. This is a wonderful historical fiction novel.

Harriet Klausner

The Lacuna-Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna
Barbara Kingsolver
Harper, Jul 20 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780060852580

His father is an American who has nothing to do with him; his mother is a Mexican who sort of raised him, but parenting was not her gig. Thus early on, Harrison William Shepherd learned to take care of himself as he grew up in Mexico without the benefit of schooling. He found books and loved reading; self taught of course. He begins writing as an adolescent; claiming his work is that of Mexican notorieties like artists Rivera and Kahlo, and Russian Bolshevik exile Trotsky; eventually he meets some of his heroes.

When his hero Trotsky is assassinated allegedly by another Bolshevik, Harrison heeds the advice of Kahlo to flee for America to become a full time writer. He authors historical fiction while supporting the Communist Worker’s Movement in North America until 1951when the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities orders him to testify.

The Lacuna is a an intriguing historical epic that uses diaries and memoirs to tell the tale of the Communist movement in Mexico and the United States starting from the Great Depression until the McCarthy hearings. The story line is very deep as the audience sees into the souls of the two artists (and their works) as well as to a lesser degree Trotsky amongst other leading lights in the North American “heyday” of Communism. Although the pace is slow and never accelerates, the story line is insightful and in many ways cautionary as Barbara Kingsolver provides a powerful look at two decades in American and Mexican history that has reverberations with today’s recession.

Harriet Klausner

Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over-Belinda Acosta

Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over
Belinda Acosta
Grand Central, Jul 20 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446540520

In San Antonio, fourteen year old Celeste Sanchez arrives at the home of her Aunt Beatriz Sanchez-Milligan as the older woman, her husband Larry and their teen children Carlos and Raul celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. Beatriz is in shock as she tells her Aunt Beatriz that her mom a Mexican labor organizer Perla died. Aunt Beatriz takes her niece into her home though Uncle Larry has doubts as wherever Perla went trouble followed.

Beatriz ignores Larry’s concerns of a chip off the old block and what that will do to their kids. She wants to adopt her niece and throw Celeste a quinceanera gala. Deep inside her gut, Beatriz feels guilt for failing to stay in touch with her sister and though caring for Perla’s daughter is the right thing it does not abate her remorse. When El Paso reporter Josie Mendoza arrives with a final “present” for Celeste from her late mom, he implies to Beatriz her sister was murdered. Twenty-fives years of a strong marriage begins to shatter as Larry wants the teen out with his memory of his sister-in-law tainting his feelings; while Beatriz wants her niece as part of the family partly because of her memory of her sister tainting her feelings..

The second quinceanera coming of age family drama (see Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz) is a terrific tale that centers on the characters; in this case mostly the niece and her aunt serving as a surrogate mom. The three Milligan males and Celeste’s uncles (and their families) enhance the poignant passionate plot, but this is the bonding of three females as an aunt and niece grieve their loss yet also cement their love. The ending will leave readers with wet eyes.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Secret Eleanor-Cecelia Holland

The Secret Eleanor
Cecelia Holland
Berkley, Aug 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425234501

By 1151, the Duchess of Aquitaine is perhaps the most powerful female on the continent even before she marries elderly French King Louis VII. However, being the Queen of France fails to live up to the title as expected by Eleanor. In fact she is treated with scorn and feels she has lost some of influence rather than see it expand as she anticipated.

When he son of the Duke of Anjou Henry visits the royal court, Eleanor feels the younger man is her male counterpart especially since he has a strong chance of becoming the King of England. Although her husband has her constantly watched, Eleanor and Henry secretly meet and plot for her to dissolve her marriage to Louis and wed Henry.

Although Eleanor has been the star of biographical fiction (see The Captive Queen by Alison Weir, The Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy, and Eleanor The Queen by Nora Lofts) numerous times, Cecilia Holland provides a strong tale that focuses on her motivations. Although the key historical events are not new to sub-genre fans, readers will enjoy the latest Eleanor of Aquitaine fictionalized account as Ms. Holland affirms the two-time Queen set the stage for powerful females who follow her lead over the centuries

Harriet Klausner

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mothers & Other Liars-Amy Bourret

Mothers & Other Liars
Amy Bourret
St. Martin’s Griffin, Aug 3 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780312586584

Nineteen year old runaway Ruby Lavender finds an abandoned baby inside a trash can at a rest-stop. Assuming the parents were discarding the infant, she names the child Lark and takes her with her as her child.

Nine years later in New Mexico, Ruby works as a nail technician while raising her daughter as a single mom. Mother and daughter are contented as they have plenty of friends and support. Ruby even has a boyfriend; whose family adores her and especially Lark.

However, Ruby’s perfect world implodes when she reads in a tabloid about two parents whose baby was kidnapped nine years ago and they pray for a miracle. Ruby now knows her Lark was abducted not dumped. She must choose what is right for Lark though what this is remains nebulous except one choice will rip her motherly heart to shreds.

This is a character driven superb family drama starring a strong cast especially Ruby, Lark and the biological parents. Readers will empathize with the “adopted” mom who struggles with just what is right for her beloved daughter as she knows her mind cannot filter passed life without Lark. Although too much is piled on the heroine (more than the above), sympathetic fans will relish this profound look at Mothers & Other Liars.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trust-Kate Veitch

Kate Veitch
Plume, Jun 29 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452296350

College art teacher Susanna Greenfield is the poster person for sandwich meat. She is the peacemaker between her mother Jean and her born-again sister Angie; she is the peacemaker between her spouse Gerry the architect and their teenage children. Lately as she tries to recreate her art career, she is tired of being caught in the middle with the demands of her loved ones ignoring her needs whether they expect her to play tennis or take them somewhere. In fact she believes they scorn her as pathetic when all she wants is her art life back and fears it is too late as she no longer wants to be the responsible one holding the extended family together.

A car accident leaves the two sisters stunned with grief though Susana focuses on painting for her upcoming exhibit. Angie’s son Finn is fearful of his mother’s boyfriend from the Faith Rise Church, gospel-singing Gabriel while Susanna learns the truth about her monogamous marriage and Angie learns the truth about her boyfriend. Life seems to be falling apart for the siblings, but each shows strengths that neither expected they had.

Although the story line has a soap opera feel to it, the strong cast makes the tale worth reading. Susanna is an incredible individual as her children Stella-Jean and Sebastian would testify with Stella-Jean showing similar fortitude late in the novel. Angie is an addictive personality needing to belong. Whereas the two adult males are selfish and abusive though in radically different ways as Gerry is verbally disdainful of his wife while Gabriel is ugly to Finn. Fans will root for the two sisters to kick the men in their respective lives to the curb, but doubt either has the strength to do so in this entertaining family drama.

Harriet Klausner

The Charlatan’s Boy-Jonathan Rogers

The Charlatan’s Boy
Jonathan Rogers
Waterbrook, Aug 10 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780307458223

All young Grady knows about himself is he has always traveled with Perfessor Floyd Wendellson who proclaims to be the world’s greatest authority on “feechie life and habits”. The lad would like to know about his past with a strong need to belong, but no matter how hard he concentrates he remains clueless.

Their traveling con show across Corenwald has recently seen dwindling attendance as people no longer believe in the legends of the Feechie especially at the cost of a copper. The duo reaches rock bottom when the latest hoax to make the Corenwalders fearfully fascinated with the “Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp” works too well; leading to an enraged mob wanting to lynch the Perfessor and the Charlatan’s Boy. However, Floyd may be frightened, but he is also euphoric because during the dangerous chaos he found his first clue about his mysterious past and a new hope he will find blood kin.

Ironically though the Perfessor tells his con artist tales about the Ugliest Boy, etc. to the rubes, the novel’s story line is told by the uneducated but trained to play roles orphan. The lad makes the tale work as his obsession to find his family brings empathy to well written strange world. Fans who enjoy something dramatically different will appreciate a visit to Mr. Rogers’ magical neighborhood.

Harriet Klausner

The Pirate Queen-Patricia Hickman

The Pirate Queen
Patricia Hickman
Waterbrook, Aug 10 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400072002

For the sake of their three children Saphora Warren stayed married to her womanizing spouse plastic surgeon Bender. However, with the nest empty, she has had enough of his cheating so decides to leave him and their affluent lifestyle. Her plan is to let Bender remain on the affluent estate overlooking Lake Norman where they just did a shoot for Southern Living magazine; she will move to their dilapidated bungalow Oriental on the Outer Banks.

As Saphora begins her exit speech, Bender interrupts with two words: “I’m Dying.” She agrees to remain with him at Oriental though she also feels like a fool for her sympathy towards the father of her children. Paradise Lost becomes more crowded than Noah’s Ark when a horde of family members arrive and townsfolk keep dropping in on them. As Saphora seeks herself she finds inadequate time to do so; instead she asks God for a sign of divine guidance to help her find Paradise Regained.

This is a deep character study that focuses predominantly on Saphora who is a nurturing person though some readers might conclude she is a codependent for not just leaving her philandering cancer stricken husband. The cast makes the story line work as readers observe how Saphora deals with trauma vs. another family living on the Neuse River. Fans will relish this strong poignant drama.

Harriet Klausner

Sarah’s Christmas Miracle-Mary Ellis

Sarah’s Christmas Miracle
Mary Ellis
Harvest House, Aug 1 2010, $10.99
ISBN: 9780736929684

Sarah Beachy seems very contented living in her small Amish community in Ohio. She loves her family, has an interested beau Adam Troyer, and enjoys her work at the Country Pleasures Bed and Breakfast where Englishers from all over the state come to stay for a taste of the Amish.

Perhaps the only negative is her older brother Caleb left the People to join a construction company in Cleveland. Sarah wants Caleb home for Christmas after being away for over four years. This Thanksgiving she decides, over the objections of her parents, to go to the big city, find her sibling and persuade him to come home.

This is an exciting family drama as most of the tale follows the courageous heroine as a small fish in the big pond of Cleveland trying to find and convince her brother to come home. The story line is character driven and not just by Sarah as her Mamm prays to God to keep her children safe and bring them home while Adam struggles not to go after the woman he loves but instead places his faith in God and her. Not a romance by any stretch, and the Caleb situation is too simplified as one wonders “How you’re going to keep him down on the farm after he has seen” Cleveland.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Scattered Life-Karen McQuestion

A Scattered Life
Karen McQuestion
Amazon Encore, Aug 10 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 978193557063

Skyla is a nomad who meets Thomas at a Wisconsin Mexican restaurant where she is a waitress when she was hurt in a violent incident. He begins dating her, buys a home for them, and marries her although her mother-in-law Audrey disapproves of her. They have a little girl Nora.

Skyla loves having a home and a family, something she never had growing up. However, as Nora turns four, she feels stifled. When she meets her scatter brained new neighbor Roxanne, mother of five kids and a big mastiff, she makes her first friend outside of Thomas’ family. Skyla soon obtains a job at Mystic Books after meeting psychic Madame Picard. As her life blossoms with new friends, Audrey disapproves as does Thomas. However, Sklya refuses to give up either of her new buddies though life will soon hit home with what is friendship and love.

A Scattered Life is an unhurried developed story line that allows readers an extremely deep look inside the soul of key players especially the heroine. In spite of the relatively unrushed pace, the plot grips the audience from the moment the rambunctious new neighbors settle in and never slows down. The story line centers on the friendship between the new BFFs and other loving relationships notably a mother and her children, and spouses. Well written, readers will enjoy this profound melodrama as Skyla learns what matters in life from Roxanne who lives life to the fullest with plenty of zest as she insists You Can't Take It With You (Moss and Hart) the love you receive from and give to others as everyone needs to feel cherished now.

Harriet Klausner

Platinum-Aliya S. King

Aliya S. King
Touchstone, Jul 6 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9781439160251

Entertainment reporter Alex Sampson Maxwell has gained recognition for her coverage of some of the most prominent people of the past decades. She is engaged to single dad Birdie the rapper and ghostwriting the memoirs of notorious man-eating groupie Cleopatra “Cleo” Wright.

Cleo tells her tale of sleeping with over 90% of the rapper recording artists in the New York metropolitan area. Her approach to relating her sleeping prowess with a who’s who and more is through a novel Platinum. As Alex begins to write Cleo’s tell all “memoir”, she wonders if her Birdie slept with a toxic relationship breaker. At the same time Alex is working a magazine article The Secret Lives of Rapper Wives starting with Rapper Z’s spouse Beth (and their three kids with one coming),

The fun in this exciting contemporary drama is figuring out who the characters are in real life, which can detract from the well written story line focus on will fame spoil rappers (and Rock Hunter). Still Alex keeps the three prime subplots focused as the audience obtains a deep look at what goes on behind the closed door of the famous.

Harriet Klausner

Unfinished Desires-Gail Godwin

Unfinished Desires
Gail Godwin
Ballantine, Jul 27 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345483218

In 2001, Mother Suzanne Ravenel begins taping her memories of fifty plus years of teaching at Mount Saint Gabriel's School in Mountain City, North Carolina. Looking back at her time in Appalachian Mountains school, she has fond memories of some classes like that of ’74 and the 1930s when she attended the school as a student.

However, the class that sticks out in her head was the most horrific, 1951-52. The year of toxicity started with the arrival of ninth-grader Chloe Starnes, who was grieving her mother who had just died. Young Mother Malloy was assigned to the freshman class. Chloe’s cousin Tildy Stratton becomes her BFF. However, she is uninformed as to her manipulative cousin picking up her mom Cordelia’s vendetta against Mother Suzanne.

This is an intriguing character study that uses the memories of Mother Suzanne to tell the story of feuding people. The engine that drives the story line is Cordelia rather than Mother Suzanne; which adds to the depth the audience sees of the prime cast; years after the two key events that shaped their animosity occurred. Although too many tertiary players crowd the stage at times, Gail Godwin provides an interesting drama.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Lotus Quest: In Search of the Sacred Flower-Mark Griffiths

The Lotus Quest: In Search of the Sacred Flower
Mark Griffiths
St. Martin’s, Jul 6 2010, $35.00
ISBN: 9780312641481

Taeko-san sends to British highly regarded horticulturist Mark Griffiths three lotus seeds. Mr. Griffiths plants them in his garden as he has done with so many floras. They bloom beautifully for a day; in fact he felt they were the most beautiful plants he ever seen. Later, Mr. Griffiths learns that the seeds came from an anthropological dig in Japan and were astonishingly proven to be 3000 years old. Stunned he begins The Lotus Quest to understand how a relatively simple plant’s seeds survived three millennia and how the lotus became the legend it is. His travels take him to Egypt and India before he arrives at his ultimate destination the Chuson-Ji Temple in Japan.

Anyone who thought botany is boring will change their mind with this superb insightful look at the history of the Lotus. Well written and engrossing, history, science and gardening converge as Mark Griffiths lovingly and reverently tells the true tale of the Sacred Flower, from past to present in his wonderful memoir.

Harriet Klausner

His Last Letter: Elizabeth I And The Earl Of Leicester-Jeane Westin

His Last Letter: Elizabeth I And The Earl Of Leicester
Jeane Westin
NAL, Aug 3 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9780451230126

Growing up, Princess Elizabeth and Robert Dudley play together as each share a common bond of how fickle life can be in the court of her father King Henry VIII. As young adults, Princess Elizabeth became the Queen and Dudley her beloved “Robin”. Everyone expected them to marry, but she was fearful of having a spouse. Ironically that enabled him to have two other wives and many lovers though he would give all up if she married him. Angered by his women though she flirted with men, her jealous Highness at times wished otherwise as she loved her cherished Robin. Yet through all the political and personal chicanery, their love survived even after his death.

The story line is extrapolated from a deathbed love letter Sweet Robin wrote to his beloved middle aged “Virgin Queen” who chooses political sensitivities over personal desires. Although Elizabeth has been the subject of nonfiction and fictional accounts in books and movies, fans who relish historical biographic fiction especially of the British royalty will want to read Jeane Westin’s powerful look at the love between the Earl and his queen.

Harriet Klausner

Outside the Ordinary World- Dori Ostermiller

Outside the Ordinary World
Dori Ostermiller
Mira, Jul 27 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9780778328896

Landscape artist Sylvia grew up detesting her mother Elaine’s extramarital affairs as much as mom’s bouts of religious fervor. Sylvia had no empathy towards her cheating mom until recently.

Raising two children (Hannah and Emma) while teaching art at workshops, Sylvia is bored with her sexless marriage with Nathan, her failed painting career, and even with her two kids. When she meets Tai, father of a student of hers, she is attracted to him. As she considers to tryst or not to tryst, she looks back to her childhood when her mom combined affairs with self-righteous piety and her father's brutality that led to the final tragic schism.

Rotating viewpoint between Sylvia in the present and Elaine three decades ago, Outside The Ordinary World is an engaging character study. Sylvia has begun to appreciate what her mom went through as she considers an extramarital affair though turning deeply devout at the same time seems too hypocritical to her. Both women are flawed, but readers will somewhat empathize with mom, but not with the daughter. This strong family drama makes it seem history is son ready to repeat itself.

Harriet Klausner