Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Queen's Captive-Barbara Kyle

The Queen's Captive
Barbara Kyle
Kensington, Sep 1 2020, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758238559

The recent Wyatt rebellion was put down harshly by Queen Mary’s supporters. However, the monarch believes her younger half-sister Princess Elizabeth was the impetus for the revolt. Angry, Mary imprisons her sibling.

Learning in Antwerp what has happened to Elizabeth, Honor and Richard Thornleigh and their son Adam return to London to aid the beleaguered princess and to keep her from acting rash at a time indiscretion is the only means of surviving her older sister. . Honor takes a position as a laundress in Elizabeth’s household to help the young impetuous princess stay in control of herself. At the same time, her husband and her son work serendipitously but diligently to further the Protestant cause while Bloody Mary pushes the country deeper into a religious civil war. While Elizabeth and Adam are attracted to one another, Honor risks her life to save her family, her princess and her nation from disaster.

The thriller Thornleigh historical fiction saga (see The Queen’s Lady and The King’s Daughter) continues with Bloody Mary’s reaction to the failed Wyatt rebellion. In spite of the period having been done a zillion times (see the works of Carolyn Erickson and Alison Weir, for instance), Barbara Kyle keeps her account fresh and manages to throw a few terrific spins including the attraction between the Princess and Adam. Fast-paced yet loaded with descriptors that take the audience to mid sixteenth century England during the internal religious conflict, fans who cannot get enough Elizabethan will appreciate this strong tale of the future queen locked away by her step sister; the irony being she does likewise years later with another Mary.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Almost Heaven-Chris Fabry

Almost Heaven
Chris Fabry
Tyndale, Oct 1 2010, $13.99
ISBN 9781414319575

In Dogwood, West Virginia Billy Allman is considered a genius as well as an incredible mandolin player. However, as brilliant as he is with an IQ that would be in the troposphere, Billy lacks common sense when it comes to social interaction with people.

Still Billy who is very pious works diligently on making a successful radio station from his home using discarded spare parts as he lacks funding. Over the years he remains dedicated to his dream and diligent in his reverence of his Creator though he has been taken aback by the angry spiritual adversarial assaults on his soul and the ridicule by others that he wastes his gifts. Malachi the angel becomes a silent observer and soon an avid fan of Billy who has spent his lifetime choosing faith over materialism.

This is an interesting character study of a deeply religious person who chooses to honor God in his way through music though he faces all sorts of hardship and isolation with his endeavor and a belief that whatever he does ultimately turns into failure. Billy is a fascinating individual with a brilliance that the townsfolk feel should take him far, but he prefers scrounging for parts to create his radio station so that the West Virginia hills are alive with the sound of music dedicated to the Lord.

Harriet Klausner

Violence 101-Denis Wright

Violence 101
Denis Wright
Putnam, Oct 14 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780399254932

In New Zealand, fourteen year old Hamish Graham is brilliant but believes the easiest best solution to any problem is attack. He does so logically not out of impulse or temper and knows the consequences of being caught as well as right and wrong. His heroes are those who comprehend what violence can do; for instance Alexander the Great understood the basics of Violence 101 when he conquered the world as the Conqueror overwhelmed the opponents with force and guile while also making examples of these losers. Hamish uses Alexander’s philosophy as his own though he adapted it to modern times.

His latest violent act leads to Hamish being locked up at the Manukau New Horizons Boys’ Institute. The facility’s manager Helen Greenville directs Hamish to write a journal focusing on his life. He picks a fight with the inmates top dog Victor, earning respect for challenging the champ and for busting his opponent’s nose with a fork. Hamish's journal looks deep at his three idols Alexander the Great, New Zealand Captain Charles Upham and Maori warrior Te Rauparaha. He surprises himself when he begins to respect Terry the counselor and not shocking himself with his admiration of Toko the PE instructor who understands violence in sports. However, as he begins to comprehend his obsession, Hamish needs to be careful because others want to become the lead dog.

This is an amusing profound hyperbole that condemns society which encourages winning at all costs (steroids comes to mind) in sports, but also condemns those who take it beyond what is “acceptable”, which conveniently changes to defend an end justifying the mean. Told mostly through Hamish’s journals, readers will be spellbound by his belief in violence as this places H. Rap’s Brown’s commentary “Violence is as American (though in this case new Zealand) as cherry pie” with a nod to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Russell Wiley is Out To Lunch-Richard Hine

Russell Wiley is Out To Lunch
Richard Hine
Amazon Encore, Oct 12 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9781935597148

The Daily Business Chronicle Assistant Sales Director Russell Wiley wonders which will collapse first. He ponders whether the near bankrupt newspaper will file before his even more bankrupt marriage to Sam is filed. Making him unhappy at work is the new owner of the mega media company that includes the Daily Business Chronicle shopping cart magnate Larry Ghosh plans to shut down the failing paper.

Russell ponders how he will survive amidst the sharks who devour the unconfident for lunch. He knows the consultant needs scalps to prove his value and his attraction to a peer Erica who leaves him speechless (except below the waistline) whenever she is near. Worst of all is Cindy the survivor superstar at getting all the credit for success and Teflon for failure while doing nothing more than paint her nails. Deciding if need be to wear rubber underwear, Russell decides if he goes down it will be with a fight.

With a nod to the zany Office Space and the song Backstabber by the O’Jays, readers will enjoy Russell Wiley’s efforts to save his career; he has pretty much given up on his marriage. Filled with interoffice relationships, some of which feel forced, but most will remind the audience of a place where they have worked. Readers will root for Alan as he follows the advice of Playboy magazine that to hit a home run you need to swing the bat though that also could mean a strike out.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce

The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce
Hallie Rubenhold
St. Martin’s Griffin, Aug 17 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780312624163

In 1782 Baronet Sir Richard Worsley sues his wife's lover Maurice George Bisset for damages to his property when his friend in debauchery eloped with his wife. Richard demands an excessive amount in punitive money for what the man did to his "property", his spouse with “criminal conversation”. Forced to testify under oath though ironically the two males in her life treat her like an object and knowing she will be further ridiculed, Lady Seymour Worsley decides to ruin the reputations of her lover and her husband at the hearing.

This is a terrific historical that provides an incredible look at late eighteenth century English society as gossip and innuendos add fervor to the trial. Hallie Rubenhold explains that this case was so gripping that in spite of the American Revolutionary War still on-going, colonists like General Washington were spellbound with each new revelation and several artists including renowned portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds lampooned the participants as three fools. Feeling like it could occur today with how society wants more scandalous dirty on celebrities (Tiger Woods comes to mind), readers will rethink their notions of the Georgian aristocracy as this is a great account.

Harriet Klausner

Pearl in the Sand-Tessa Afshar

Pearl in the Sand
Tessa Afshar
Moody, Sep 1 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780802458810

In Jericho, Canaan Rahab grows up as a contented girl until her family becomes destitute. Though ashamed and humiliated by his actions, her desperate father turns innocent fifteen year old Rahab into a prostitute in order to feed the family. Rahab vows to face her harlot duty with valor and select those who can use her services. She is very successful at her vocation with plenty of wealthy patrons. In fact she is so good, she buys an inn abut to the city walls as her place of business.

When Rahab rescues two Israelite spies, they thank her for saving their lives by informing her that the Israelite army will attack Jericho and that God has told them how to breach the wall. In gratitude, the operatives direct her to place a red ribbon above her family door so that she and her kin are saved from the onslaught. The assault leaves the entire city dead except for Rahab and her family who seek to join the conquerors. Judah military leader Salmone is irate the spies made a deal with a prostitute because he fears she and her family will bring trouble and idolatry worship. However, Rahab shows her love for the Israeli God and soon the warrior realizes he loves and wants her as his wife. She loves him, but fears he will always reject her as a pagan prostitute.

This is an entertaining biblical romantic work of biographical fiction starring two wonderful lead protagonists (from the Book of Joshua) whose cross-starred love seems doomed. Their relationship starts rocky and continues to remain troubled even though they fall in love and marry. The pace is leisurely, but fits nicely in the tone of the story line and its strong message that it is not your birth but your actions in regard to God that redeems the soul as further accentuated (though not in this novelization) by the Old Testament story of their more famous daughter-in-law.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

She's Gone Country-Jane Porter

She's Gone Country
Jane Porter
5 Spot, Aug 23 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446509411

In New York City, as she nears forty, former model Shey Darcy believes she lives a terrific life with her photographer husband and their three teen sons. However, her idyll family ends when her spouse announce he loves someone else and leaves her and the kids for this man.

Shey takes her distraught adolescent children back to the Texas ranch she grew up on. Her controlling siblings welcome her and the boys though each want to protect their sister and their nephews. Soon after coming home, Shey finds work as a catalogue model. However, her mom demands the quartet scrub sinful Manhattan from their souls as she is a strict Southern Baptist who expects others to be as pious as she is. Her offspring struggle with adjusting to going country and the betrayal each perceives of their father; especially depressed is Bo. Finally, her first love former pro bull rider Dane Kelly wants back in her life.

Although She’s Gone Country lacks the emotional intricacy of the previous thirty-something tale (see Easy on the Eyes), this is an entertaining contemporary second chance at love tale. Shey is a wonderful lead with her can do attitude, which includes tying up in knots the former bull rider and ignoring her mother and siblings. Though much of the cast especially her family is stereotyped detracting from the potential interrelation poignant strife, fans will enjoy Shey’s coming home.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sourland-Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco, Sep 14 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061996528

Sourland is a super anthology that focuses on the down side of relationships with the typical Joyce Carol Oates’ themes of violence and loss leading to psychological traumas. This makes for a strong insightful collection with no losers. In "Pumpkin-Head", "Sourland," and “Probate” lonely susceptible widows having recently lost their protective mates and encounter an ugly new world order when males use them or the bureaucracy abuses them. In “Bonobo Momma”, Ms. Oates turns upside down her usual lethal male when a rapacious former model is the nasty player. In haunting “Daddy Lost”, mommy puts people to sleep at the medical clinic while daddy stays home after being downsized to watch over frightened little Tod. In “Honor Code”, she knows her life is before and after cousin Sonny or more descriptive before and after manslaughter. Though printed in a variety of magazines in similar form, with these sixteen short stories, Ms. Oates provides a profound look at the dark side of relationships with beasts feasting and “Beating” on the vulnerable.

Harriet Klausner

In a Heartbeat-Rosalind Noonan

In a Heartbeat
Rosalind Noonan
Kensington, Sep 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758241672

At four in the morning, Kate McGann is awakened by a phone call from Cross College in Syracuse. Her nineteen year old college student Ben was assaulted in his dorm room at the university. He lies in a coma after a brutal beating by an unknown assailant using a baseball bat. Kate and her husband Eli rush to Ben’s side, but have to wait to see him while he undergoes emergency surgery.

Detective Greg Cord leads the investigation. He believes the victim knew the perpetrator. Most of Ben’s skull is removed so that the swelling does not cause any other traumas. Eli cannot cope staying at the hospital so he leaves for home. Greg focuses on students especially players on the baseball team in which Ben was a highly regarded talent. Kate remains vigilant at her son’s side. She and the lead detective are aware of one another as an attraction exists. There are two members of the team who hated Ben; for taking a starting spot in the lineup from one of them and forcing the other to change position. Just when he thinks he might have Ben’s attacker due to strong circumstantial evidence, Greg has to let him go because the kid has an airtight alibi. The other suspect claims he was nowhere near Ben during the night in question. Relooking his probe from a fresh perspective, Greg starts anew but fears if his hunch proves right Kate’s heart will break.

In a Heartbeat is an excellent blending of a poignant family drama and a stirring
investigative mystery that fans of a police investigation and of mainstream fiction will appreciate. The secondary sidebar subplot between Greg and Kate adds a light touch to what is a very dark tale. The key characters are fully developed to the point that readers will, In a Heartbeat, want Rosalind Noonan to write a sequel.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 23, 2010

Her Daughter's Dream-Francine Rivers

Her Daughter's Dream
Francine Rivers
Tyndale, Sep 14 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9781414334097

In 1951 Hildemara Rose is back in the hospital suffering from tuberculosis and a fear she is dying. Her husband Trip told her mom Marta who has come to help with the children Charlie and Carolyn as well as take care of the house.

While Hilde remains in an isolated ward with other TB victims, her daughter and her mother bond. After several months away, Hilde returns home, but is angry that her Carolyn and Oma Marta have a special connection. The tension between mother and daughter grows over the next decade plus and impacts the granddaughter who believes she is the cause and decides in 1965 college is her escape. While Charlie joins the Marines, Carolyn attends Berkley. However, a tragedy destroys Carolyn’s sense of being and she flees into the counterculture. Two more years pass before she returns home to her parents with a daughter, May Flower Dawn who bonds with her grandmother. This leads to history repeating itself as a war between her mom and her grandma ignites, but Dawn plans to be the bridge not the divider between them.

The second Marta’s Legacy (see Her Mother’s Hope) completes the saga with a strong epic family drama that occurs over a half of a century. The ensemble cast is fully developed so that the audience will understand motives of each individual that sometimes lead to internal strife. Although Her daughter’s Dream stands alone, readers will appreciate Francine River’s powerful twentieth century duology.

Harriet Klausner

The Home For Broken Hearts-Rowena Coleman

The Home For Broken Hearts
Rowena Coleman
Gallery (Pocket), Sep 7 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439156858

Ever since her husband Nick died in a car accident last year, Widow Ellen Wood has struggled with moving on though she must care for her eleven years old son Charlie. Leaving her home is impossible as that is her safehouse from the deadly world at large. However, money has become an issue, but stepping outside remains impossible as she tries with her concerned caring sister Hannah.

When Hannah’s London coworker Sabine from Germany needs a place to live having left her husband, she suggests to her agoraphobic sibling renting out rooms in her large Victorian. Sabine, Allegra the romance novelist and Matt the journalist lease rooms from Ellen, who has doubts about bringing in strangers. However, Ellen begins to realize how cut off she has been and how much she is hurting her son. Soon Matt inspires her to take chances on life for her sake and that of Charlie. As family secrets become known, she opens the door, but the next step is gigantic.

The Home For Broken Hearts is a warm tender character study that focuses mostly on the grieving widow, but also goes deep into the souls of her family and boarders. That strong fully developed cast makes for a strong contemporary even with expecting the spins that occur. Rowena Coleman provides a profound tale that will have the audience wondering whether Ellen takes that humongous first step out the door.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse-James L. Swanson

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse
James L. Swanson
Morrow, Sep 28 2010, $27.99
ISBN: 9780061233784

On April 2, 1865, Confederate General Lee sends a telegram to President Jefferson Davis warning him the Yankee armies were heading to Richmond. Davis immediately stopped what he was doing and fled the capital by train. The next day the North took Richmond. Over the next twelve days the Northern military intensely searched for Davis proclaimed a traitor as the Confederacy imploded under the assault.

On the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Lincoln who was attending a play at the Ford Theater in Washington DC; other by co-conspirators assaults failed to kill the intended victims. Lincoln was pronounced dead the next morning while Wilkes fled the city. As the hunt for Wilkes intensified, the funeral process of President Lincoln began on April 19 in DC and from there by train until arriving in Springfield on May 3; millions watched the procession. Davis is called a co-conspirator murderer. Ironically while Lincoln became martyred for the ages; Davis once captured became martyred for the South's Lost Cause.

This is a fascinating comparison of the fates of two presidents in April 1865 as James L. Swanson intertwines their stories. The Lincoln segue is very passionate as the grief of mourners watching the train roll by will impact readers. The Davis segue is more exciting, but lacks the emotional intensity of the juxtaposed Lincoln piece. Enhanced by black and white photos, Bloody Crimes is a terrific historical account of two presidents although not as exhilarating as the superb Manhunt for Wilkes.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Running Around (And Such)-Linda Byler

Running Around (And Such)
Linda Byler
Good Book, May 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9781561486885

A highly successful Amish businessman, the Glick family patriarch decides he wants to become a farmer so he takes his wife and children over their objections and moves from Jefferson County to Cameron County near the lands owned by his father and brother-in-law. Datt’s daughters Emma and Mandy adapt quickly and are expected to marry soon. The third offspring, teenage Lizzie struggles with adjusting, as she detests housework and cleaning baby messes.

However, musings about eligible boys take a back seat when mam becomes ill and hospitalized. Moaning over her woes and frightened for her mam and for her way from home job, sixteen years old Lizzie has to become responsible as she has to help clean the house and accept a job as a maid to bring in money so that Emma can begin filling her hope chest. As these activities take time away from her love of fast horses, Lizzie is attracted to the outsider egg delivery man. Complicating her confusion about boys is her best friend Stephen implying he apparently wants more than just being buddies.

This is an entertaining first book of the Lizzie Searches for Love contemporary Amish saga. Lizzie is a fascinating lead who acts like many teens lamenting their station in life and wondering if she will meet her soul mate soon; her temper adds freshness to the sub-genre as she is far from a prim and proper miss. The deep insider look at an Amish community and family enhances the tale although the transitions between the present and flashbacks into the past feel abrupt without warning. Still Linda Byler provides a wonderful unique glimpse into a teen growing up Amish.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 20, 2010

For Time & Eternity-Allison Pittman

For Time & Eternity
Allison Pittman
Tyndale, Sep 1 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414335964

In 1850, just north of Kanesville, Iowa, Camilla Deardon hears the singing of those camped nearby her family’s dairy farm. She knows nothing of these Mormons, but recognizes their songs as those she sings at church. However, her parents forbid her making any contact with the outsiders; her mom going so far as to tell her to stay away from the kitchen window.

When she meets handsome Nathan Fox of the Mormon encampment, Camilla believes she is in love. He loves her too and vividly describes Zion in Utah. Though it hurts to break the Commandment of Honor Thy Father and Mother by disobeying them, she marries Nathan. They move to Utah and seem blessed with children, but Camilla cannot adapt to the Mormon way of life especially after her first male is born and sharing her spouse with her sister-wife. While she considers leaving her beloved husband and children, Nathan fears he lost salvation when he failed to get his Hawkeye wife to convert.

This is a profound Americana historical in which the fully developed characters over time challenge their belief systems and that of others. Readers will obtain a better understanding of the roots of Mormonism and why other Christian groups feared them and treated the members as pariahs. Allison Pittman provides a deep look at religion in mid nineteenth century America in Iowa and especially Utah.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Moon of Avalon-Anna Elliot

Dark Moon of Avalon
Anna Elliot
Touchstone (Simon and Schuster), Sep 14 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9781416589907

With the support of brutal Saxon warriors, perfidious Lord Marche sits on the throne of Britain. The usurped highly intelligent High Queen Isolde fears her kingdom is doomed unless she acts immediately, but needs strong allies as any other action would prove lethally rash.

High Queen Isolde still depends on her intrepid friend Trystan for protection from Marche’s myriad of assassins. A healer she turns to the smaller kingdoms and the Saxon King Cerdic as an ally though Isolde has doubts he will unite with her as he may have already accepted the usurper as a done deal. With Trystan at her side, Isolde searches for the elusive monarch. On the treacherous trek, she learns of the ordeal her companion faced when they were separated. Isolde hopes they can one day pledge their lives without worrying who is creeping up behind them with a knife.

The second Trystan and Isolde Arthurian saga (see Twilight of Avalon) is an entertaining tale starring two fascinating lead characters whose love for one another is put on hold as they focus on lining up allies to save their people from an abusive false ruler. Enchanting as Anna Elliot builds from the original legend, fans will enjoy the medieval political intrigue although romance readers might want the heroic duet to end their personal sacrifices and instead expedite their love for one another. This is a wonderful compassionate thriller in which the protagonists dodge an abomination and his odious horde.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Moon of Avalon-Anna Elliot

Dark Moon of Avalon
Anna Elliot
Touchstone (Simon and Schuster), Sep 14 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9781416589907

With the support of brutal Saxon warriors, perfidious Lord Marche sits on the throne of Britain. The usurped highly intelligent High Queen Isolde fears her kingdom is doomed unless she acts immediately, but needs strong allies as any other action would prove lethally rash.

High Queen Isolde still depends on her intrepid friend Trystan for protection from Marche’s myriad of assassins. A healer she turns to the smaller kingdoms and the Saxon King Cerdic as an ally though Isolde has doubts he will unite with her as he may have already accepted the usurper as a done deal. With Trystan at her side, Isolde searches for the elusive monarch. On the treacherous trek, she learns of the ordeal her companion faced when they were separated. Isolde hopes they can one day pledge their lives without worrying who is creeping up behind them with a knife.

The second Trystan and Isolde Arthurian saga (see Twilight of Avalon) is an entertaining tale starring two fascinating lead characters whose love for one another is put on hold as they focus on lining up allies to save their people from an abusive false ruler. Enchanting as Anna Elliot builds from the original legend, fans will enjoy the medieval political intrigue although romance readers might want the heroic duet to end their personal sacrifices and instead expedite their love for one another. This is a wonderful compassionate thriller in which the protagonists dodge an abomination and his odious horde.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat-Gwen Cooper

Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat
Gwen Cooper
Bantam, Sep 7 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385343985

Her vet asked Gwen Cooper if she would be willing to adopt a one month old blind stray cat. Gwen planned to say no as she had two other adopted felines living with her while she temporarily resided in a friend's bedroom, not making much money, and her relationship with her boyfriend just ended. She especially did not want to be labeled the cat lady. However, when she picked up the kitty, he purred and she was hooked. Homer, as she called him, moved with her six times, was there for her with more breakups while each time figuring out his new area. He taught her to love as he gave her his totally.

This is a terrific memoir mindful of Marley as Homer teaches Ms. Cooper what love is all about and how to live life with zest. Though I am biased as one of my cats went blind, this is an easy to read well written tale that not just cat lovers but readers who appreciate a well written inspirational autobiography will love.

Harriet Klausner

Chosen-Chandra Hoffman

Chandra Hoffman
Harper, Aug 24 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061974298

In Portland, Oregon, Chloe Pinter is a social worker and director of the Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program. Her current clients, the recipients wealthy Francie and John McAdoo and the impoverished donor birth parents Penny and Jason, have different demands of Chloe especially when the social worker notices the bassinet in their home. She fears they will not come together in this open adoption.

Chloe warns the McAdoo couple not to count their chickens before they are hatched as the adoption may not occur. Her admonition leads to a series of missteps that places the baby in jeopardy and has Chloe reconsidering the merits of open adoptions that she thought were the best way to exchange a child.

Chosen is a fascinating contemporary tale that focuses on the economics behind adoptions; as the impoverished donor couple struggle to make ends meet while the affluent pair can afford the child. The couples are overly stereotyped as the poor family (including Jason’s brother) are abusive and threatening while the wealthy pair is snooty nouveau riche. Ironically a third couple and Chloe are the sympathetic characters. Still in spite of the hyperbole of the exchange couples, Chandra Hoffman provides an interesting 360 degree look at how several people feel about adoption.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Starting from Scratch-Susan Gilbert-Collins

Starting from Scratch
Susan Gilbert-Collins
Touchstone, Aug 3 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439143162

Food has always dominated the Tschetter family. When the matriarch Vivian dies, her husband and four adult children toast their beloved with food that provides them with some comfort.

The youngest twenty-seven year old single woman Olivia, who just defended her dissertation, was the closest to their mom so she struggles the most with her departure. Olivia shared everything with her mother and not just their love of cooking. Although her dad and her siblings worry about her, Olivia returns to her childhood home and replaces her mom as the hostess at family get-togethers.

Starting from Scratch is a strong introspective family drama that is mostly seen through the eyes of Olivia. The death of the matriarch impacts her loved ones differently though all mourn their loss. The older siblings worry about their youngest sister who is the most like their late mom. Olivia’s “chats” with mom enable the reader to comprehend why she is cherished in death as she laws adored and loved in life. Ironically though food is a prime healing ingredient, the recipes feel intrusive as this is a great psychological character study primarily focusing mostly on grieving as a personal emotional reaction to the death of a loved one although there is also insight into the psychology of siblings. Susan Gilbert-Collins provides a discerning powerful tale.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Bridge of Peace-Cindy Woodsmall

The Bridge of Peace
Cindy Woodsmall
Waterbrook, Aug 31 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9781400073979

All her young life, her birthmark on her cheek has been the talk of the Amish community where Lena Kauffman was raised. Over time she learned to ignore the stares. Currently, she teaches at an Amish School in Dry Lake that demands strict adherence to the “old ways”.

Lena has problems with the board’s inability to bend for the better good of the students. She especially has problems with a troubled pupil, fifteen year old recently transferred Peter; who is the oldest and tallest student she ever had. She turns to her Englischer friend Samantha a school counselor for help. This alienates the school board who blames her and her new ways of teaching for her student’s rebellion of authority. However school board member Grey Graber commiserates with his lifelong friend the beleaguered teacher and her mutinous student as he feels trapped too in a marriage with a wife Elsie who kicked him out of her life.

The second Ada’s House Amish romance (see The Hope of Refuge) is a wonderful refreshing contemporary that makes a strong case that the Plain People have psychological problems just like the English do. The lead couple, his wife and her student is fully developed characters with emotional baggage and issues as Cindy Woodsmall provides a strong fresh tale bolstered by a profound underlying statement that faith helps, but does not necessarily relieve personal concerns.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Exclusive-Fern Michaels

Fern Michaels
Kensington Aug 31 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758227201

Affluent Toots Loudenberry anonymously buys the tabloid The Informer for her daughter Abby to run (see Scoop). To help Abby, Toots and the posse (Ida, Sophie, and Mavis) move from Charleston, South Carolina to Los Angeles. The four Magnolia State Golden Girls look forward to meeting the who’s who of Hollywood.

Toots succeeds in meeting a celeb except for one problem; the famous person is the ghost of the dead owner of the beachside mansion she bought; at least that is Mavis’ explanation. Meanwhile Ida meets Dr. Sameer and they seem to have hit it off. While chaos has come to Los Angeles, Abby struggles with turning the Informer around.

The BFF quartet makes for an amusing Southern invasion of Southern California. Humorous as havoc seems to follow everywhere Toots and company go (kind of like Lucy and Ethel), the story line lacks deepness as the woes of each of the ladies seem irrelevant to them and none stand out as the prime focus. Still, fans who enjoy a lighthearted best friends’ romp will appreciate the zany Scoop.

Harriet Klausner

Out Of The Shadows-Joanne Rendell

Out Of The Shadows
Joanne Rendell
NAL, Sep 7 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451231123

Clara Fitzgerald has temporarily put a halt to her career to support her longtime fiancé geneticist Anthony as he conducts research traveling around the country. Engrossed in his work, Anthony ignores Clara except for persuading her to conduct DNA testing to see if she is related to Mary Shelley the renowned author. Clara also conducts her own research into whether her family tree includes Frankenstein’s writer.

Clara asks her sister Maxie to join her quest and after meeting Daniel who introduces her to retired Shelley scholar Dr. Kay McNally, she asks the older professor also to assist her in finding the lost journals of the author of Frankenstein. Her work leads her to realize the danger Anthony is placing himself in, but he refuses to heed her warning. Instead, she moves on hopefully with a new love.

This is a terrific character driven tale that contains two subplots with the prime one being the contemporary romantic thriller supported by flashbacks throughout of a biographical fiction of Mary Shelley’s life. Clara is a strong academia who learns never to judge a book by its cover while seemingly extroverted Max hopes to one day come Out of the Shadows cast by her successful sister; with Kay as a sort of mentor, the three women bond. Obsessed with fame, Anthony ignores ethics for success while Daniel adheres to his moral values at the cost of success. With Mary Shelley rounding out the novel, fans will enjoy Joanne Randall’s thought provoking fiction wondering what barriers are there, if any, to genetic research.

Harriet Klausner

Come Again No More-Jack Todd

Come Again No More
Jack Todd
Touchstone, (Simon and Schuster), Sep 7 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9781416598497

Before and at the beginning of the Depression, Eli Paint lived for the love of money. Nothing, not a wife, daughter, or his grandchildren touched his heart. When his daughter dies from tuberculosis, Eli comes to the funeral although he is too late for her burial or for her life having forced her out as a pregnant teen. He meets his grandchildren for the first time with Emaline lecturing him for what he did to her mother. Upon retuning to Wyoming, Eli crashes his car. His housekeeper Juanita helps him recover and he declares his love for her.

Emaline marries boxer Jake; of whom she wants to live a lifetime on a farm with him. His personal issues leave her destitute. She leaves him and moves onto her grandfather’s ranch. When Eli’s first wife returns to the ranch with a six years old son he never knew he sired, Emaline adopts the child as her own. Jake persuades his wife to start over in Oregon.

Based on his family’s letters as is its predecessor Sun Going Down, Come Again No More is an engaging early twentieth century Americana that focuses on life during the Great Depression. With a strong cast of mostly the extended Painter family led by the patriarch and his granddaughter, this is a deep look at the struggles with failure, but they never go down for the count. Although at times the epic plot slows down too much, readers will enjoy this strong historical family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Divine Appointments-Charlene Ann Baumbich

Divine Appointments
Charlene Ann Baumbich
Waterbrook, Sep 21 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780307444721

In Chicago forty-seven years old Josie “Dragon” Brooks loves her work as a successful business consultant at Diamond Mutual who also enjoys being single as she can do what she wants in her personal life. No one does downsizing better than Josie, who is no purring pussycat when it comes to her favorite part of her job; as she has no concern for what happens to employees she kicked to the curb; that is why her nickname as the bottom line profit is all that matters. She makes Scrooge before the ghostly visits seem altruistic.

Out of nowhere, a snow globe shows up at her apartment. Suddenly her perfect cold life falls apart when people befriend her and one person even offers her love. As she examines her commitment phobia, Josie feels like Scrooge during the transformation.

The second Snow Globe whimsical second chance at life fantasy (see Stray Affections) is an engaging pleasant contemporary fiction. The vast support characters enable the readers to see deep inside the frozen heart of the Dragon lady to what made her icier than the pre melting tundra. However, the key element to the potential transformation of a Scroogette is even the queen of mean has redeeming qualities.

Harriet Klausner

Leaving Before It's Over-Jean Reynolds Page

Leaving Before It's Over
Jean Reynolds Page
Avon, Aug 10 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061876929

Over the objection of his wealthy family, Roy Vines married his second wife Rosalind. He cut off all ties to his family and he and Rosalind had two children who had never met their paternal grandparents, their father’s twin Uncle Mont or their step-brother Luke.

When his beloved wife becomes ill, Roy returns home to beg for money to save her life. He has no choice but to take college freshman Luke, who believes Roy abandoned him and his late mother, with him for the summer. Luke hates his father and Rosalind as he believes she caused him to desert his first wife and son. However, that summer Luke begins to learn the truth is much more complicated than his belief though he wonders if he will ever learn the entire truth.

This is an intriguing entertaining family drama that at times turns into a soap opera. The Vines are a fascinating brood especially the twins whose DNA is statistically identical yet are so different. However, the key to the tale is Luke as a confused teen finding he enjoys living in the loving household run by Roy and Rosalind. Fans will appreciate this solid contemporary climaxing with the twins confronting one another.

Harriet Klausner

The Countess And The King-Susan Holloway Scott

The Countess And The King
Susan Holloway Scott
NAL, Sep 7 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451231154

Katherine Sedley is the offspring of a hedonistic womanizer and an insane mother who insists she was the queen. With that type of heritage, everyone who knows of her peerage expects her to be an affluent lunatic.

Unperturbed, in 1675 Katherine comes to the court of King Charles II to serve as a lady in waiting. She and Charles’ younger brother James are attracted to each other and begin an affair. However, when Charles II dies, James becomes the monarch while Katherine is trapped in a web of deceit and avaricious intrigue.

This is an entertaining Restoration Era biographical fiction that brings to life the courts of Charles II and James II through the latter’s mistress. The support cast enhances the deep look at the Countess and the King, who come across as genuinely decadent and lewd. Sub-genre fans will enjoy this historical and should consider reading Susan Holloway Scott’s similar treatment of The French Mistress of Charles II.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lady in Waiting-Susan Meissner

Lady in Waiting
Susan Meissner
Waterbrook, Sep 7 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780307458834

After two decades plus of marriage, Jane Lindsay assumed she and her husband Brad would always be a couple. Thus when Brad walks out on her to move from Manhattan to Manchester, New Hampshire, she is stunned as she never even remotely saw it coming. With their son away at school, Jane struggles with the end of her emotionally comfortable life.

At her East Village antique shop, amidst a box filled with alleged relics sent by her English friend Emma Downing, Jane finds an old ring. On the inner band is etched a phrase in Latin with one English word: Jane. With a need to know more about the ring that came from a British estate sale, she investigates who the original Jane was. She soon learns about sixteenth-century dressmaker Lucy Day who worked for ill-fated innocent Lady Jane Grey; at a time when the country‘s tumultuous divide placed her in the deadly middle. Connected by the ring and their first name, Lady Jane and Manhattan Jane have more control over what they want out of their lives than either originally had thought.

This is an entertaining well written comparative analysis of two Janes; one a tragic aristocratic historical figure and the other a present day tragic middle class fictional figure. However, though centuries apart they share plenty in common as each thought they had no say in their lives, but soon learn they control their destinies by making choices. Their opportunity costs are high but obviously Lady Jane’s is much more. Fans will appreciate Susan Meissner’s strong parallel plots as the author makes the case that readers have choices that they should make and not let someone else dictate their picks even if they select the status quo.

Harriet Klausner

The Miracle of Mercy Land-River Jordan

The Miracle of Mercy Land
River Jordan
Waterbrook, Sep 7 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780307457059

During the Great Depression, daughter of a circuit preacher, Mercy Land leaves her safe and comfortable home in Bittersweet, Alabama although with the hard times that is not an easy thing to do for a man let alone a single young woman. Still she moves to Bay City, Alabama on the Gulf. There she becomes a reporter for the local newspaper working for Doc Philip.

Mercy and Doc find a strange atlas, but not of places. Instead it is filled with the maps of the lives of the residents of Bay City. Each time a person made a pivotal choice it is reflected in their personal map. Doc is euphoric as he believes he can rectify a terrible error while Mercy wants to fulfill the tome’s prophecy until a train arrives with her past on board.

This is a fascinating tale with an intriguing premise of having the ability to change your past. Readers will relish the diverse opinions between Doc looking back with an obsession to correct a pivotal error and Mercy looking ahead with an equally fixated desire to meet the book’s expectation. Fans will muse about what they would change and how will that impact their future as River Jordan provides an interesting whimsical historical.

Harriet Klausner

Baking Cakes in Kigali-Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali
Gaile Parkin
Bantam, Aug 31 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385343442

Angel and Pius Tungararza move from Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda as he has accepted a position at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. Angel becomes renowned for her cake baking and her nurturing as she raises her five grandchildren although she still grieves the deaths of her adult children.

Her Rwandan neighbors see her as a fellow African not tainted by the genocide; besides she is intelligent and caring. As Angel sells her cakes to them, her visitors ask for her advice on a myriad of subjects. Over tea, she provides her new friends and customers with sage assistance for free.

Pius will remind readers of Precious Ramotswe (see No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith) although she is not a detective; she helps her clients cope with their personal issues. Ironically, her clients are never developed beyond representing a complex ugly issue that they face to include the genocide, AIDs, abject poverty, official corruption, and homeless parentless children, etc. Yet with all the darkness attached to a country whose most famous accomplishment in the last century was the genocide, there is a sense of renewal and optimism.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Geography of Secrets-Frederick Reuss

A Geography of Secrets
Frederick Reuss
Unbridled, Sep 7 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781609530006

In Washington, DC, at the Top Secret Defense Intelligence Analysis Center Noel coordinates military actions in Afghanistan. However, a miscalculation leads to the errant bombing of a school. Stunned he blames himself for the deaths of the innocent as he ponders how would he react if his daughter at college in Virginia died due to a bureaucrat’s mistake. Adding to his overwhelming guilt, he has no one he can share his remorse with; not even his family or his supervisors. He ponders quitting as he heads to a security conference in Switzerland because a conscience is a handicap in his line of business.

Ethan the mapmaker has just learned of the top secrets of his father in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and afterward in Europe during the Cold War. He is stunned as his dad seems more like a spy than a diplomat as he had always believed. His revelation started in Switzerland at his dad’s funeral where he met an old friend of his father; a buddy he never knew existed. He hopes to learn more about his father’s espionage work. In Bern, he and Noel meet for the first time as one seeks to close a chapter of his life while the other seeks to open a chapter of his life; both enshrouded in secrecy.

Running on two character driven subplots, Frederick Reuss provides a terrific thriller as the lead pair approach secrets differently but with a similar desire. One has spent a lifetime hiding them but now has a desperate need to reveal them if he is to move on pass the tragic error; while the other has a desperate need to know the secrets his father apparently took to the grave. Written like a horizontal hyperbola with two foci connecting Noel and Ethan, readers will relish the aptly titled A Geography of Secrets.

Harriet Klausner

Tears of the Mountain-John Addiego

Tears of the Mountain
John Addiego
Unbridled, Sep 7 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781609530068

The townsfolk of Santa Rosa, California celebrate the centennial Independence Day. Among the people attending is Jeremiah McKinley who looks forward to spending time with his family and friends even as he muses over his past starting with the deadly trek decades ago from Missouri to Sonoma County.

However, the day of rejoicing takes a nasty turn when someone poisons Senator Morris in his hotel room. The law arrests Jeremiah’s innocuous mentor Professor Elijah Applewood. Making matters worse, Jeremiah, worried for his friend, finds his family has vanished even as notes begin to appear everywhere threatening him. When the Professor vanishes, the law arrests Jeremiah for abetting his escape. He must prove his innocence, find his missing family and friend, and uncover who the guilty person is before he is hung by the law.

This is a fascinating Americana tale as seen though the eyes of Jeremiah who has witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly in America yet retains his hope for the future especially for his family and friends that life will be better for them. Although the support cast feels somewhat stereotyped, readers will enjoy Jeremiah, who lives up to Three Dog Night’s opening line in Joy to the World. His action-packed amateur sleuth rave is one step ahead of a lynching as Tear of the Mountain is a wonderful western thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Simply Sara-Hilary Manton Lodge

Simply Sara
Hilary Manton Lodge
Harvest House, Sep 1 2010, $10.99
ISBN: 9780736926997

Sara Burkholder left her Amish family and community to room in the English world with Oregonian reporter Jayne Tate (see Plain Jayne) in Portland. Although Jayne initially was reluctant especially finding Sara hiding in her car trunk, she has become a willing and caring mentor, as has her friends. Sara’s brother Levi followed her to the big city with his heart insisting he continue to court Jayne, but he also seems to have adapted faster as she struggles with her adjustment though she has passed her GED. Still with Jayne’s encouragement, Sara learns to drive and buys clothing and makeup so she will fit in her new environs especially at fashion school she attends.

Sara is pleased to obtain a job at R.G. Cameron Books though the store manager Will Blythe makes her uneasy. However, not ready for romance, Sara flees back to Amish country believing her family especially her dad will reject her. As her doubts grow whether to return to her Amish lifestyle or continue to adapt to that of the English, Sara turns to God; only to wonder if the deity she grew up to respect is the same as those outside of her Amish community who pray to as diligently as she does

The Plain and Simple Sequel to Plain Jayne stars the sister of the male lead from the first novel and the book store manager who scowls at her to hide his out of control heart rate. Entertaining and fresh as this fine Amish romance’s setting is predominantly Englisher Portland instead of the Amish country, Simply Sara is simply stupendous.

Harriet Klausner

Reinventing Rachel-Alison Strobel

Reinventing Rachel
Alison Strobel
David C. Cook, Sep 1 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434767745

In SoCal, twenty-six year old Rachel Westing believes strongly that God failed her. Pious and a volunteer, she diligently has followed the word of the Lord for over two decades only to find her personal life imploding. Her fiancé Patrick is cheating and her parents Karen and Owen are divorcing.

On top of all that, Rachel questions whether she can turn to her Christian counselor Barbara who is so addicted to prescription pills, her mate will not let her drive. Angry and doubting that God even exists, Rachel quits on the lord, her family, her fiancé and her job. She leaves town to stay with her non religious successful childhood friend Daphne in Chicago, thinking that at one time she thought she would save her BFF’s soul, but now believes her pal might save her from her depression because God abandoned her.

The premise of a cradle Christian running from her devout roots to redesign herself under the tutelage of her secular friend leads to a fine character driven tale of faith. Rachel is terrific as she holds the inspiring story line together when she goes from true believer to doubting Thomas. Although the causes of her religious collapse seem minor compared to what happened to Job and others, inspirational fans will enjoy Reinventing Rachel.

Harriet Klausner

Hometown Ties-Melody Carlson

Hometown Ties
Melody Carlson
David C. Cook, Sep 1 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434764959

After failing to stay in touch with one another for years, the fiftyish four Lindas have reconnected. They attended elementary school in the same class starting in first grade at Clifden, Oregon. As they became BFFs, each agreed to use their middle names to reduce the Linda confusion. Now as each does their life over, they vow to help one another achieve their objective though success will prove difficult to even define.

Widow attorney Janie still grieves the death of her beloved spouse. Abby has not adapted to the empty nest syndrome as she has defined herself as a mother for ages. Painter Marley feels burned out as she cannot finish a canvas. Finally Caroline finds being her Alzheimer’s suffering mother’s caretaker extremely strenuous and testing as she has almost no life of her own anymore.

The second Four Lindas tale is an inspiring story based on the premise that a person can achieve so much to overcome what eats at their soul especially when we have loving people in our corner encouraging our fight. Although the plot is thin and it helps to better understand the quartet by reading the previous book As Young As We Feel, fans will relish Melody Carlson’s heartwarming concept that with faith and loved ones, a person can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 9, 2010

Todos Santos-Deborah Clearman

Todos Santos
Deborah Clearman
Black Lawrence Press, Jun 2010, $18.00
ISBN: 9780982520406

In Iowa, humiliated and disgusted with her wandering spouse Eliot’s womanizing, artist Catherine Barnes travels to Guatemala to get away from him while she begins her new picture book project. Their troubled teenage son Isaac, who flunked eighth grade, accompanies her to the Central American country.

Wondering how he will survive unwired for the month he is to spend in this back water land, Isaac works at his paternal Aunt Zelda's handicrafts store while Catherine seeks subjects for her new book in the Mayan village of Todos Santos in the mountains. Isaac does dumb things leading to an accident and his kidnapping. At the same time, the mountain villagers distrust the outsider who they fear will steal their babies. With the help of tour guide Oswaldo, Catherine handles the townsfolk hostility and Isaac’s disappearance.

This is an intriguing Ugly American tale of a mother and son in a foreign impoverished country. The cast is solid especially the indigenous population while the son grows up fast but his American mom appears a bit too detached from the swirl that engulfs them. Still the insight into Guatemala is super and a great twist re Isaac enhances a wonderful tale as readers will hope Catherine learns the intimacy of the “Pulsera” rather than just return to the American heartland to die a slow death of ennui.

Harriet Klausner

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove-Susan Gregg Gilmore

The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove
Susan Gregg Gilmore
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Aug 17 2010, $23.00
ISBN: 9780307395030

In Nashville, teenager Bezellia Grove knows her affluent family is dysfunctional mostly due to her shrewish sop of a mother but also somewhat due to a cowardly father. He hides at work while she tears into the help (Maizelle Cooper the maid and Nathaniel Stephenson the chauffeur), and her daughter as the affluent glamour image is what the matriarch thrives for. Bezellia turns to the Black employees for a sense of family and does her best to protect her younger sister Adelaide from mommy dearest.

In 1965 then fourteen years old Bezellia and Nathaniel's son Samuel are attracted to each other, but kept apart as unacceptable by their families for different reasons. Three years later, Bezellia visiting her maternal grandparents meets the farmer’s son wannabe singer Ruddy Semple; he also is from an unacceptable family but his whiteness makes him a few notches above Samuel. Bezellia goes to college as the family hits economic hard times and dark secrets surface.

This is an interesting look at the life of a white southern female as she struggles with her desires and what her heritage allows. Although the story line is overly fashioned with a zillion too many regional stereotypes that survive (in this novel) well into the twenty-first century, Bezellia’s internal conflict between her southern belle upbringing and her improper lifestyle makes for an overall fine saga. Susan Gregg Gilmore’s underlying premise is that we have come a long way since the 1950s thanks to pioneers risking their places (and lives) in society, but also have a long way left to journey, if equality is to become the de facto way of life.

Harriet Klausner

The Wishing Trees-John Shors

The Wishing Trees
John Shors
NAL, Sep 7 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451231130

One year may have passed since his beloved wife Kate died, but former executive Ian McCray has failed to move on with his life even knowing their tweener daughter Mattie needs him. Ian is stunned when he finds a letter written by Katie just before she died directing him to take Mattie on the tour of Asia that they had planned to go on to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Katie also informed her surviving spouse that additional letters are inside of film canisters; she implores him to leave them sealed; opening them one at a time as father and daughter reached different countries.

Although he wants to open all at once, he honors his beloved Katie by adhering to her instructions. The tour begins in Japan where the journey of Kate and Ian began when they fell in love. On the trek, Ian and Mattie try bonding, but neither can move beyond the glue that held the family together, Kate. The letters provide some solace but also remind father and daughter of how much they lost when his wife and her mother died.

This is an interesting look at grief as both Ian and Mattie struggle to connect when each paints their lost loved one as even more nurturing than Mother Theresa; Kate’s letters from the grave enhance that sense of an angelic paragon. The letters and Mattie’s drawings add to much sweetener to the family drama mix especially the latter. Still fans will appreciate the saga of a father and daughter struggling with the death of the loved one who made them a family.

Harriet Klausner

Saving Max-Antoinette Van Heugten

Saving Max
Antoinette Van Heugten
Mira, Oct 2010, $
ISBN: 9780778329633

Sixteen years old Max Parkmans suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome though he is rather high functioning. His single mom, Manhattan attorney Danielle, worries 24/7 about her son. However, her concern goes viral when he turns violent towards her and she learns he is using drugs; her fears go stratospheric when she reads his journal as his writings and musings are violent and suicidal while the accompanying art is fiercely worse. He has turned increasingly aggressive even hitting and bruising his mom.

Max’s doctor suggests Danielle enroll her teen in the Maitland Psychiatric Asylum in Plano, Iowa. She has doubts, but her qualms for her son overrides all else. However, after he is welcomed, the staff informs her Max suffers from horrific schizophrenic psychosis and that to help him she must stay away. Soon afterward, Max is arrested and treated as a competent adult standing trial in the murder of another patient, and his mom also arrested as an accessory to the homicide.

Saving Max will hook readers, especially the parents of a child on the Autism Spectrum. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the mother and her son arrive in Iowa and never slows down with several incredible realistic twists until the final courtroom denouement. Readers will understand how far Danielle will go to protect Max, but Antoinette Van Heugten’s medical-legal thriller is his story as he struggles with his relationships with others.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life-Don Brophy

Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life
Don Brophy
BlueBridge, Aug 1 2010, $24.95
ISBN: 9781933346281

Although Saint Catherine of Siena died in 1380, her “written” (dictated to scribes) work remains a key legacy of the Christian Church today. Plenty has been written about the spiritual Saint Catherine because her devotion to Christ was recognized as late as 1970 when she was declared a “Doctor of the Church”. However, Don Brophy provides a fresh perspective on her by providing readers with a deeper look at the medieval era in western Europe. Catherine was not just a deeply pious individual, she was also a pragmatic soul who advised and challenged leaders of countries and the papacy while also establishing a monastery. Thus the beauty of this strong biography is the profound glimpse of the mortal milieu of a highly spirited woman’s passionate “public” life as she dealt with kings and popes pleading with them to bring peace and prosperity to the masses. Saint Catherine was more than just a devoted follower of Christ as Mr. Brophy makes a strong case she also dedicated her life to influence the ruling class to do better by their subjects.

Harriet Klausner

Million Little Mistakes-Heather McElhatton

Million Little Mistakes
Heather McElhatton
Harper, Aug 10 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061133268

The reader has won $22 million in the Big Money Sucka! Lottery. Now we must choose how we will live and what we will do with the money. The choices are ours to make; as each time we select, second and third order effects occur. First we start with do we keep our jobs or not. If we quit our job, do we keep our current relationship or not? If we remain at work, do we hire a fund manager or not? Pressure mounts from loved ones as for instance Lanie needs a kidney transplant but that costs money.

This is a terrific interactive contemporary “do over” choose your own life as an adventure in which selections lead to other choices until that subplot is completed with fifty endings. Readers can then start over and choose a different thread; not all end happily. There are over a hundred possible story lines as this book is not intended to be great literature, but instead a fun diverting look (best perused over a couple of weeks) at how a person can make a Million Little Mistakes in which a fan can start over especially when and outcome ends sadly as some do (like marrying George Clooney).

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Good Daughters-Joyce Maynard

The Good Daughters
Joyce Maynard
Morrow, Aug 24 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061994319

On July 4, 1950 in New Hampshire, Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson are born at the same hospital. Ruth is the youngest of five sisters; whereas her father is a caring farmer who loves his girls including his “Hurricane baby”; her mother is distant. Dana wants stability as her parents drag her and her older brother Ray with them as they follow capricious dreams into one disaster after another. The families remain friends as once a year the Plank brood visits the wandering Dickerson clan regardless of where the latter resides for the moment. Artistic Ruth the romantic reunites with Ray in a haze of sex and drugs at Woodstock. Dana dreams of love with a woman as she becomes an agricultural student where she meets assistant Professor Clarice. As each woman settles into their career of an artist and a scientist, they dream of finding a loving mate and raising children, but also need to know the family link between their parents.

This is an intriguing drama that sweeps through the decades as told by the rotating perspectives of the “Birth” sisters. The fully developed cast enhances the appealing story line that owned by Ruth and Dana as fans will be swept up in their tales and like them with a need to know what connects two families. Joyce Maynard provides a brilliant baby boomer historical saga.

Harriet Klausner

The Life You've Imagined-Kristina Riggle

The Life You've Imagined
Kristina Riggle
Plume, Aug 17 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061706295

Still sarcastic Cami Drayton has come home to Haven though she prefers not to return to the house she hates where her alcoholic father resides and the man she loves Steve is distant. She must deal with an ugly family secret if she is to move on with her life.

Unlike the next generation including her daughter the hotshot Chicago lawyer, Maeve always has lived in Haven, but not because she cherishes the town. Instead she remains in the family home hoping that her husband will return to her; though he abandoned her and the family years ago.

Maeve’s daughter and Cami’s best friend at Haven High School, Chicago attorney Anna Geneva grieves the death of a dear friend and mentor August Canfield, but fails to cope with her loss. Needing the comfort of family and friends, Anna returns to Haven.

Finally Haven native Amy Rickart figuratively kills herself to be perfect. She has found her perfect match she believes in Paul Becker, but has doubts she is perfect enough as her childhood still haunts her with how imperfect she was and mentally assumes still is.

Rotating first person perspective though at times it is difficult to separate the voices of who leads a chapter, this is a well written and engaging character study as each woman looks back and wonders what if they made a different choice at a pivotal moment. Obviously character driven, the lives intertwine as the women must confront new decision-making life choice.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Follow Me-Joanna Scott

Follow Me
Joanna Scott
Back Bay Books (Little, Brown), Aug 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780316051682

In 1946 Pennsylvania, her older cousin seduces sixteen years old Sally Werner; when she has qualms he takes her anyway. She becomes pregnant and the family blames her. After giving birth to a son, an ashamed Sally runs away from home leaving her baby behind while following the Tuskee River.

Sally never stays in one town too long. Instead whenever the woman believes her past is catching up to her, she moves using new identities. However, when she has a second affair resulting in a pregnancy, Sally flees from the abusive father of her newest child Penelope; taking her daughter with her. As she enters middle age, she longs for a safe place to call home while her youngest wants to remain on the road.

This is a fascinating look at a female on the American road over six decades. The story line narrated by Sally’s granddaughter (and namesake) as Sally the younger tells readers that her grandma spent much of a lifetime running from her past and herself while her mom spent a lifetime running the road. The long and winding road is an obvious metaphor of life, which as in real life can prove repetitive, but worth traveling with the women as they wander the byways of America.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 2, 2010

Resurrection in May-Lisa Samson

Resurrection in May
Lisa Samson
Thomas Nelson, Aug 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9781595545442

In 1994, having just graduated from college, May Seymour feels lost as to what to do next with her life as she spent much of her academia as a party animal. When May stumbles onto a street drunk, septuagenarian farmer Claudius Borne hits her. He takes her to his farm near Harmony, Kentucky to heal. They become more than friends as she is the granddaughter he never had and he is the grandfather she badly needs.

A few months later, both are sad when May-May as he calls her leaves on a church a mission trip to Rwanda. When genocide erupts in the African nation, the United Nations begins to evacuate foreigners. May returns to what she considers home, Claudius and his Borne’s Last Chance farm. She becomes as reclusive as her beloved mentor until she learns Eli Campbell, her boyfriend from college, is on death row wanting to die.

This is an entertaining somewhat melancholy inspirational character study of an elderly male and a young female forming a strong relationship that each needs at a pivotal point in their lives. That warmth enables May to try to reach out to Eli in order to encourage him to embrace life and God with what time he has left. Although there is too many back stories detracting from the “present”, sub-genre readers will appreciate this realistic portrayal of joy and sorrow simultaneously as God works in mysterious ways.

Harriet Klausner