Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Object of Beauty-Steve Martin

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Bake a Perfect Life-Barbara O'Neal

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Rescue-Anita Shreve

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Transformation of Things-Jillian Cantor

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 24, 2010

City of Tranquil Light-Bo Caldwell

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

The Christmas Journey-Donna VanLiere

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Harry Potter Film Wizardry-Brian Silby

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Crown of Dust-Mary Volmer

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan-Roberta Gately

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Casting About-Terri DuLong

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Driving on the Rim-Thomas McGuane

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Compass Rose-John Casey

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bad Penny Blues-Cathi Unsworth

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Dog Stories-Diana Secker Tesdell (editor)

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

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

Harriet Klausner

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

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

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Emily of Deep Valley-Maud Hart Lovelace

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Occasional Torment-Bee Robb

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Midnight Clear-Kristi Astor

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

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

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

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

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

Harriet Klausner

Morning Glory-Diana Peterfreund

Morning Glory
Diana Peterfreund
Ballantine, Oct 19 2010, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345523938

Becky Fuller left Fairleigh Dickinson University to accept a job as a TV morning show producer at Channel 9 in New Jersey. Her goal is to one day be the senior producer of Good Morning, New Jersey. However, her climb to the top is caught in traffic when her boss Oscar fires her though he insists she is terrific.

However, Oscar sent her résumé to his friend Jerry at IBS in Manhattan, who hires Becky as producer of the lowest rated news show on the planet, Daybreak. She accepts and soon finds herself working with equipment from the prehistoric age and reporters who belong in a celebrity failure reality show. She learns there is a betting pool as to when she flees for the other side of the Hudson. Becky hires renowned newscaster Mike Pomeroy as a co-anchor with Colleen Peck, in what is a clash of the superegos. Mike rejects the fluff as not news as he refuses to interview pet psychics and is nasty towards Becky. She finds the producer of the only hard news show Adam Bonnet supportive although attracted to him she wonders about his motive. As the clock ticks on Daybreak and her dying career and even deader love life, Beck panics while trying to salvage her show.

Although journalistic romances have been done a zillion time (see the original movie this tale is based on and His Girl Friday), fans will enjoy the zany life of a producer struggling to survive today. Fans will roots for Becky to make it, but the odds are so poor Jerry has not even signed her to a contract. With a strong support cast starting with the battle of the network anchors, Morning Glory is a fun lighthearted Manhattan romp.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Skipping Christmas-John Grisham

Skipping Christmas
John Grisham
Bantam, Oct 26 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780440422969

After celebrating Christmas for years with their daughter, Luther and Nora Krank decide a holiday change is what they ought to do while their offspring is serving in South America with the Peace Corps. Neither of the Kranks particularly enjoys the holidays due to crassness and the frenzies of late shopping amidst a horde. They agree to Skipping Christmas this year by going on ten day cruise with the money they didn’t spend on the holiday.

They ignore charities and their neighbors who insist the lights and Frosty must go up. This year, they will be dining on a luxury ship rather than hosting a gala as they have done for years. However, the Kranks are about to learn an American lesson when it comes to Skipping Christmas as plans of mice and bah humbugs often go astray in late December.

This is a lighthearted entertaining reprint of John Grisham’s satirizing a capitalist Christmas. The story line is fun, but not anywhere near the excitement of the author’s legal thrillers. Still with a eggnog nod to It’s A Wonderful Life, fans who enjoy a warm holiday stocking yarn will want to learn how hard it is to simply skip Christmas.

Harriet Klausner

Wishin’ and Hopin’-Wally Lamb

Wishin’ and Hopin’
Wally Lamb
Harper, Nov 2 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061941016

Looking back over years to In December 1964 when Cassius Clay and the Beatles were kings, Felix Funicello, whose family’s claim to fame is being a third cousin to Mickey’s Annette, attended the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School in Connecticut. A fifth grader at the time, he, with the help of twice left back Lonny Flood, caused the meltdown (back then we said nervous breakdown) of their teacher Sisters Dymphna. At the time Felix, the smallest child in the fifth grade was going on Ronald Reagan’s TV show Ranger Andy as a Junior Midshipmen and his mom was participating in the TV Pillsbury Bake Off show.

The school is doing a Christmas play production while the newest student is Russian tomboy Zhenya Kabakova who competed with the boys in their sports like dodgeball and "bezbull." All the students assumed she is a Soviet spy. Felix who was ranked as the second best student knew he could never catch the #1 Rosalie Twerski because she worked the teachers. When his mom melted down on TV frightening the host Reagan, Felix vows to save the family honor. Looking like the comic strip character Dondi, he goes on Ranger Andy and tells a dirty joke that turns Reagan’s face red. However, it is the shenanigans involving the Christmas play that will go down in parochial school infamy.

This humorous hysterical historical tale targets two prime groups though other readers will appreciate the pranks too. Young adults will root for the feisty almost famous Felix and nostalgic boomers like me (elementary school student at the time) who know Annette by her first name and remember the Louisville Lip before he became Ali. Wally Lamb provides an engaging look at 1964, a pivotal year in American culture with the British invasion and our first environmentally conscious politician Lady Bird beautifying America. This is a winner.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Starlit-Lisa Rinna

Lisa Rinna
Gallery (Simon and Schuster), Oct 25 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9781439177617

In Los Angeles wannabe starlets, actresses Tally Jones, Sadie Fletcher, and Mandy Hogan, hope to make it in Hollywood, but a break seems out of reach until now for the three friends. Tally replaces Susie Sheppard on the hit show Dana Pont and stunningly the ratings boom. Super agent Josh Gold hires Sadie to work for him. Finally overly endowed Mandy obtains a position at Dandy Candy porn studios.

On the personal front, Tally dates amoral hunk medical thriller TV star Gabriel McNamara who teams up with her enemy Susie to try to sink her career while film producer Mac Carlton offers her his undying loyalty and love. Sadie marries her boss, but his drug habit destroys their relationship. Meanwhile Mandy becomes the glamorous queen of porn sleaze.

This is a fun Hollywood exposé in which the females are fully developed as assertive and anxious dealing with two dimensional powerful pathetic males. Fans will root for the BFFs and hiss at stereotyped despicable pair (Susie and Gabriel). With a nod to Jackie Collins, Lisa Rinna provides an entertaining look at the under side of Hollywood in which the amoral abuse the ambitious.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Virgin Widow-Anne O’Brien

The Virgin Widow
Anne O’Brien
NAL, Nov 2 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451231291

An Earl used to getting what he wants, Richard Neville decides his two daughters Anne and Isobel will wed the brothers of King Edward, Richard and Clarence respectively,. Outraged by the Duke of Warwick’s presumption, Edward disapproves. In turn a fuming Neville joins with Clarence to revolt against Edward. They lose leading to Neville and Clarence being declared traitors against the House of York. The Warwick clan flees across the Channel to France where they join the exiled Lancaster family.

Still ambitious, Neville pushes Anne as a worthy bride of Edward Lancaster. Anne still loves her former fiancé Richard, who stayed loyal to his sibling the king, which leaves them as star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the dispute. Still her father forces her to wed the rebellious sibling Edward with the war for the throne of England still going unabated.

This is an engaging biographical fiction work that looks closely at Anne Neville caught between the two sides of the War of the Roses. She is a puppet to her politically ambitious Kingmaker sire who forces her to wed the wrong brother in her mind; but later has a chance to marry for love when her first husband and her father die in the battle to replace the late Edward. With a more human perspective of Richard than Shakespeare’s version (the Bard wrote his plays with Queen Elizabeth I in mind if he wanted to keep his head), fans will enjoy this look at fractured England through the eyes of a key participant unwillingly pulled in several conflicting directions.

Harriet Klausner

Revenge of the Geek-Piper Banks

Revenge of the Geek
Piper Banks
NAL, Nov 2 2010, $9.99
ISBN: 9780451231345

Miranda Bloom is a genius who enjoys school. However, the brilliant Miranda feels this semester as a junior at Geek High will hurt. Her La Crosse playing boyfriend Dex McConnell (see Summer of the Geek for when they met) is going away to a boarding school in Maine.

Miranda turns to her two BFFs, Finn and Charlie, but they have problems too so she does not want to burden them with her depression. She becomes friends with reticent new student Nora Lee. However, that makes her more depressed when Nora seems to be on a quest to prove she is Miranda’s superior in anything and everything the latter does with acclaim. Still, her competitive juices flow as Miranda decides to teach this copycat that imitation is the highest form of flattery and can only achieve second place to the originator.

The fourth Geek High teen tale (see Geek High and Geek Abroad; neither read by me) is an intelligent entertaining entry as Miranda struggles with new personal, social and family issues not easily resolved without honest communication for instance the gender war between her two best friends each trying to pull her onto their side. Young adult readers will appreciate Miranda's success and failures as her attempts to reach out to the newcomer turns ugly (shades of Clueless) and family decisions by her have come home to roost while tennis looks almost as good as lacrosse.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mary Ann in Autumn-Armistead Maupin

Mary Ann in Autumn
Armistead Maupin
Harper, Nov 2 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061470882

Two decades have passed since Mary Ann left her husband and daughter in San Francisco for a TV career in New York. Meanwhile her ex-spouse Michael "Mouse" and Ben are married. Mary Ann's estranged daughter sex blogger Shawna is seeing professional clown Otto. Mary Ann\’s former landlady in San Francisco, octogenarian Anna Madrigal is still running wild.

As Mary Ann nears her sexagenarian birthday, she returns to the West Coast to inform Michael about some news she cannot share with anyone else. Staying at the cottage shared by Mouse and Ben, she finds solace in the garden as she relooks the errors of her life.

The latest Tales of the City (see Michael Tolliver Lives) is a terrific intelligent return to the Bay area twenty years after Mary Ann left and everyone moved on with their lives. The ensemble cast is full dimensional as Mary Ann in Autumn of her life is still seeking her muse, but with experience tries to rectify the errors of her youth whether any of those she hurt want her to or not. Like all of the Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin provides his trademark wit that affirms why this sagacious saga has had a TV miniseries based on it.

Harriet Klausner

The Sugar Mother-Elizabeth Jolly

The Sugar Mother
Elizabeth Jolly
Persea, Nov 9 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780892553624

Obstetrician Dr. Cecilia Page takes leave from her medical practice for a year in Europe on a fellowship grant. Her fifty-four years old husband Edwin, a professor, remains behind in Australia as he has commitments.

A milquetoast, Edwin meets the new neighbors, twenty-something Leila Botts and her outrageous mother. He is attracted to the younger Bott, but before he knows what happened, mother and daughter are locked out of their home. He invites them to move in with him. Mrs. Botts the elder suggests Leila serve as Edwin’s "sugar" mother, which, in between panting and forgetting he has a spouse soon to come home (that is if Cecilia does not extend again), but he acquiesces to the fantasy.

This is a reprint of a jocular 1988 character study of a middle age man going through a personal crisis while his wife is overseas. Edwin is a fascinating lead protagonist who will remind readers of the Tom Ewell character in the Seven Year Itch as the audience wonders what is running wild in his imagination and what is real as Leila is his Marilyn Monroe. Fans will appreciate this deep look at the serious significance of the basic human need for relationships, but done in the author’s Jolly satirical manner.

Harriet Klausner

Foxybaby-Elizabeth Jolly

Elizabeth Jolly
Persea, Nov 9 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780892553631

Trinity College hires novelist Alma Porch to teach a summer seminar at the school’s Better Body Though the Arts program. Her students are all overweight women wanting to lose weight. However, her first day at the college starts off with a bang when Miss Porch rams in the back of bus leaving her vehicle disabled and escape futile. She meets her roommate Mrs. Castle who cannot take a breath without talking about her darling three grandchildren; who after fifteen minutes Miss Porch loathes sight unseen. .

She introduces her class that seem to exclusively include gays and lesbians only to what Miss Porch believes will soon be a classic drama, "Foxybaby" that she is still writing, but insists the students perform. The story line focuses on a sandwich generation single mom on the run with her child and her father. Although her preference is classical music like punk and hard rock to accompany her play, school director Mrs. Peycroft and her friend Miss Paisley intrude.

This is a reprint of a 1985 character study that uses hyperbole to satirize relationships. The story line is an amusing Australian absurd musing on relationships between lonely souls. Although at times the need to connect with others is confusing due to extreme sublime understatement, Foxybaby is an intelligent humorous look at people’s basic needs to relate to others, but not always in a positive way.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Pursuit of Other Interests-Jim Kokoris

The Pursuit of Other Interests
Jim Kokoris
St. Martin’s Griffin, Oct 26 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780312650599

In Chicago Charlie Baker became the managing head of the ad firm because his predecessor died and he was the heir apparent after almost three decades in the business. Charlie is known for his temper and his political incorrect memos like his fat note. With the economy in free-fall, someone must take a hit so Charlie, notorious for frenetic management approach, is fired.

Fifty year old advertisers do not find work in a recession. Home more, Charlie thinks he can hide the loss of his annual 400K salary before bonuses from his neglected wife Donna and his teen son Kyle for now. However, Donna announces she is going to Maine while Kyle tells him they both know he was canned. He spends time at an outplacement center with other middle aged fired execs who he initially detests but soon along with the consultant counselor Ned Meyers he begins to appreciate them as refugees tossed aside by political and economic voodoo. As he begins to get close with his family, an opportunity surfaces for an exec position.

This is an amusing look at middle age unemployment of an executive used to getting his way. The story line is fast-paced and filled with humorous commentary, but the jocularity never turns scathingly satirical. Ergo in spite of an entertaining well written tale that readers will enjoy immensely, the audience also will muse on what could have been.

Harriet Klausner

Priceless-Olivia Darling

Olivia Darling
Dell, Oct 26 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780440245155

At London’s Ludbrook auction house, avaricious Nat Wilde and amorally ambitious Lizzy Duffy may have a boss subordinate relationship; in which each uses the other for personal gains. Meanwhile New York based Ehrenpreis auction house sends across the pond their number two art expert, morally ambitious Carrie Klein, to open up the London store.

Meanwhile in Cornwall, artist Serena Macdonald was eking out a meager living for her and her daughter Katie to barely survive as a portraitist paining family pets. When a neighbor dies, Serena meets her late friend’s youngest son Julian who knows Nat. Soon a simple mistaken error turns into a lucrative business when Serena displays her talent of being able to paint the works of the Old Masters.

This is a well written satirical contemporary with solid flawed characters. Priceless lacks the credibility of the author’s darling Vintage. With nods to the movies Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Art of Love but instead filled with avenging females (rather than Holly Golightly, or Dick van Dyke and James Garner), the story line is fun to read as the audience will wonder just who will be left standing on the streets of London and New York when the scam explodes.

Harriet Klausner

The Dove of Death-Peter Tremayne

The Dove of Death
Peter Tremayne
Minotaur, Oct 26 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312551209

In 670, married couple Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf sails home aboard the Irish merchant ship the Barnacle Goose after attending the deadly Council of the Cursed. Off the Breton Peninsular, pirates with a dove on their sail attack. In the pursuing melee, the masked apparent brigand leader known as the Dove of Death stabs and kills the captain Murchad and Fidelma’s royal cousin Bressal, who was the envoy of King Colgu of Muman. Fidelma and Eadulf leap from the vessel, but are fortunate when a monk at sea rescues them. He takes the pair to Hoedig Island.

On Hoedig, Fidelma vows to unmask the Dove of death so she as a law advocate can bring this murderer to justice. As she makes inquiries, other homicides occur and she soon fears her investigation has placed her and her husband in peril as the clues seem to tie the Dove and his killers to the local aristocratic host.

Once again, Peter Tremayne brings to life ancient times with his latest exciting Sister Fidelma mystery. The story line focuses on Fidelma’s investigation, but the audience also observes the problems the Irish religious orders have with the new Rule of Benedict that demanded rigid sexual abstinence; as that dictum went against several centuries of tradition. Fast-paced and loaded with action, fans of ancient mysteries will want to sail along side of Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf as they are detoured on their way home.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Golden Hustla-Wahida Clark

The Golden Hustla
Wahida Clark
Grand Central, Oct 19 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446178105

In New Jersey, just a few days after Nina’s younger brother D-Rock was killed, a check cashing scandal leaves Michelle dead and Peedie severely wounded. Nina flees but not before she takes two kilos of drugs from her from dealing former boyfriend. She sells the drugs so she has a stake to start over far from New Jersey, but leaves her three children back in the not so Garden State.

Nina moves to Decatur, Georgia where she becomes Alexis, a telemarketer selling magazines. The money stinks and the insults are worse. She ignores her pledge when she fled her home to go straight and accepts a sales position at slimy WMM (We Make Millionaires) Agency. There she sells a lottery like opportunity to win a fortune in gold coins. Local hunk cops are undercover while the FBI is conducting surveillance of WMM at a time the CEO orders a hit on a client’s nephew, who is asking questions.

This street lit stars a terrific noir anti heroine who is one step ahead of the law and the crooks with her other step sliding into a coffin or a cell. Men try to play her, as betrayal is the name of the game when a million dollars are at stake. The Golden Hustla is a strong thriller as the last man or woman standing may be dead too.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Spooner-Peter Dexter

Peter Dexter
Grand Central, Oct 25 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446540735

On December 6 1953, after two plus days in labor, the woman gives birth to twins. The handsome newborn is dead on arrival while the uglier one named Warren Spooner survived. The mother prefers her deceased child over her breathing offspring.

On the same day Congressman Rudolph Toebox dies too. His funeral is held at sea led by US Naval Commander Calmer Ottosson. Soon afterward Ottosson leaves the military and marries Spooner’s mom. This leaves Warren with superstar step-siblings while his talent is to anger folks who fume for hours after brief encounters. Spooner actually finds he has a talent as a baseball pitcher, but an elbow injury aborted his career. He lands a reporter’s job where he is universally loathed. Eventually with a bad cloud hanging over his head, he flees to Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington State. at the same that bad luck is Spooner’s only mojo his stepfather becomes a successful principal.

This is a humorous satire that lampoons sacred societal icons as nothing seems to go right for Spooner in his relationship with others starting with his birth and the death of his twin, and the success of his stepfather while the title character constantly fails. Although the dark graveyard jocularity at times overwhelms the cohesiveness of the story line, Peter Dexter provides his audience with a deep character study through a dirty lens that spoofs the American dream as a nightmare.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Fledgling Handbook 101-P.C. Cast and Kim Doner (illustrator)

The Fledgling Handbook 101
P.C. Cast and Kim Doner (illustrator)
St. Martin’s Griffin, Oct 26 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9780312595128

Ye who enter the House of Night will be welcomed as a new student and given The Fledgling Handbook 101 as a guide. Veteran vampires understand how difficult the conversion from sunlight to moonlight is. The guide provides the fledgling with an introduction to vampire life as an undead and the societal Maslow Hierarchy of surviving amidst the massive humans. There are treatises on vampire biology and history as the species traces its roots to Lilith. Included is a section on Nightkind Elementology, which is intended to help the newbie survive the terrors of the dark. A bit more experienced Fledglings like Zoey provides words of encouragement as they detail some of their adjustments. Finally a who’s who like Sappho and Shekinah provide words of inspiration.

Young adult fans of the series will appreciate the entertaining handbook enhanced by Ms. Doner’s colorful drawings as the newcomers are guided on what to expect as their body changes in a puberty-like twist. As Shekinah says: “Within chaos lies opportunity”; not for everybody as this entertaining reference guide is a companion piece to the saga by providing Fledglings and readers with increased opportunity of understand the world as Cast and less chaos.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Somewhere Along the Way-Jodi Thomas

Somewhere Along the Way
Jodi Thomas
Berkley, Nov 2 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425237724

Now almost eighteen years old, Reagan Trent moved to Harmony, Texas two years ago after hearing elderly nursing home resident Beverly Truman's stories about her hometown. There she found a home and a purpose to help other residents; as she was Welcome to Harmony even after her identity was discovered by “Uncle” Jeremiah Truman.

Loner Gabe Leary recovering from injuries suffered in an explosion saves Reagan’s life so she will do anything for him except leave him alone, which is all the man insists he wants. Lawyer Liz Matheson is attracted to Gabe, who conceals his pre explosion life. Reagan would like to hook up these two deserving souls. Finally there are her two best friends, Noah McAllen and Brandon, who each want more from her than friendship. However, Reagan’s co-worker at the Blue Moon Diner Edith and her abusive husband place Reagan in jeopardy as they did when she was first welcomed to town at the same her beloved Uncle Jeremiah needs his great-niece.

This is an entertaining sequel to Welcome to Harmony though it behooves the fan to read the previous novel to better understand how far key figures have come. The story line is obviously character driven as once again Jodi Thomas provides a deep look at modern day living (and hiding in the world of the Internet) in small town Texas.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Natural Born Hustler-Nikki Turner

Natural Born Hustler
Nikki Turner
One World (Ballantine), Oct 5 2010, $13.00
ISBN: 9780345523600

Desember Day comes home to hear her normally go with the flow mom Angie yelling at her latest husband, construction firm CEO Joe Livingstone for coming home drunk. Once gain, Desember vows to herself she will never depend economically on a three legged male; even Fame Marauder who she hated when they attended Carver Elementary School. Instead she will sell anything to achieve monetary independence.

Fame and Desember go to see the movie Dreamgirls, but leave early. They enter his car when shots are fired. He is critically wounded with a bullet to his lungs and rushed to a hospital fighting for his life. His mother Francine blames Desember and threatens to kill her. While Fame lies in ICU, Desember looks back on their relationship and wonders how they got to this point. Soon afterward she meets the paternal side of the family including her dad for the first time and learns that being a Natural Born Hustler is in the gene pool.

This is an entertaining street lit contemporary novella starring a fascinating chip off the old block (see A Hustler’s Wife and Forever A Hustler’s Wife). Although the ending sets up a sequel as much as a partial a finale to a strong urban tale, this character driven story line is fast-paced from the moment Fame is shot and never slows down as Desember (and readers) meets her roots and much more.

Harriet Klausner

The Tapestry Shop-Joyce Elson Moore

The Tapestry Shop
Joyce Elson Moore
Five Star, Nov 5 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594148996

In 1265 in Arras, France, twenties something Citizen Adam de la Halle is accused of helping people avoid paying their taxes. Although a king favorite for his chansons and satirical comedic plays, he still is found guilty and sent away from his city in exile for a few months. Upon his return to Arras, he knows his first action is to find the thieving hangman who took his money and much more from his soul.

Adam heads to Paris to study at the university, but is distracted when he meets courageous Catherine, daughter of a Tapestry shopkeeper. She is deeply pious while he feels the Church’s hypocritical intolerance towards Jews and Catha’s is unacceptable. When she joins the crusade to free the Holy Land, he must decide between joining his beloved or ending their relationship before it begins as he knows having been married that love failed him once before.

This is a great medieval biographical fiction of the author of the first known Robin Hood tale. The story line brings to life this key but little known author and performer who allegedly wrote the first non religious French mystical, Le Jeu Robin et Marion (circa 1280 approximately). Fans will feel they rode one of the tapestries to late thirtieth century France as Joyce Elson Moore provides a spotlight on an intriguing era in Arras and Paris as women went on Crusades and more so introducing to fans of historical literature a fascinating pioneering writer.

Harriet Klaussner

Annexed-Sharon Dogar

Sharon Dogar
Houghton Mifflin (Harcourt), Oct 4 2010, $17.00
ISBN: 9780547501956

In 1942, the Nazis continue to deploy the Final Solution. In Holland, brave Ditch hide Jews in their homes as the Nazis and local traitors hunt them down like animals. The van Pels and Frank families and others are hidden in an annex of an Amsterdam office building. Whereas optimist Anne keeps a dairy, fifteen years old Peter van Pels believes he is an artist with no canvas. He moans his fate. However, he also muses about God and observes his fellow rats scurry to survive. He thinks Anne is a child, but over the two plus years of intimate concealment, he begins to find he is attracted to her having moved on pass his infatuation with Liese. Over the next couple of years his interest changes as the Allies invasion of Normandy brings hope and a kiss of Anne makes him believe they and their fellow Jews have a future.

However, philosophical and mordant unlike Anne, his beliefs are affirmed when they are betrayed and taken away to various concentration camps. Now as he awaits death in 1945 at Mauthalsen concentration camp in Austria, he thinks back to the horrific war years when God chose to abandon his people.

This is a great historical fiction tale that uses The Diary of Anne Frank to tell the tale of life in the Annex from the perspective of Peter and limited historical record of what happened to him and the others (enhanced by Sharon Dogar) transported to deadly camps. Ms. Dogar captures the essence of Peter (at least from Anne’s viewpoint) and brilliantly fills in gaps especially in the last quarter of the book that makes up the Part 2 Diaspora. Except for the deniers, this is a super companion piece to the classic as the readers must never forget any ethnic cleansing even if it is painful to do so. Also for another perspective (based on NPR and not my read yet), the audience should consider Francine prose’s reflective look at Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife.

Harriet Klausner

World and Town-Gish Jen

World and Town
Gish Jen
Knopf, Oct 5 2010, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307272195

In her late sixties and on the anniversary of five decades in the United States, Widow Hattie Kong misses her late husband and her best friend who both died from cancer. A descendent of Confucius and a missionary, Hattie muses that since she used the same church, the same organist and the same crematory, she should have received a group rate discount; an American buy one get one free.

Two years since the dual burial, Hattie lives in Riverlake. There she meets an immigrant Cambodian family who live in an overly crowded trailer; patriarch Chhung survived Pol Pot though his first wife could not cope with a burial atrocity by the Khmer Rouge. Also in their neighbored is retired neuroscientist Dr. Carter Hatch. Hattie and Chhung’s teenage daughter Sophy becomes friends. Apparently Chhung, who met Sophy’s mother in a Cambodian concentration camp, relocated from the inner city to keep his adopted son Saran away from the gangs. Feeling all alone in American and unable to connect with his children as his son resents the abode in the burbs and his daughter becomes an evangelical Christian, a frustrated Chhung explodes while on the East Coast terror has come to America in the skies. Hattie feels a need to help Sophy and her family, but is unsure what to do.

The strong cast makes for a profound look at Asian immigrants at a time when Americans turn xenophobic. Hattie holds the character driven story line together as she finds a reason to live; she goes from “I’ll but lie and bleed awhile” to “Rising to Fight Again”. Gish Jen makes a strong case that in an ideal world, we would go way beyond just religious and racial tolerance to include harmoniously welcoming other beliefs, but this is not an ideal world as The Killing Fields, 9/11 and post 9/11 prove.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Day of Small Things-Vicki Lane

The Day of Small Things
Vicki Lane
Dell, Sep 28 2010, $7.99
ISBN: 9780385342636

In Dark Holler Appalachia in 1922, Miz Fronie is in her third day of labor whens she gives birth. With an acrimonious heart and a withered soul, she names her latest offspring Least and informs everyone that this child is mentally incompetent. Neglected for the most part by family especially her mom when Fronie is not abusive and ignored by neighbors, Least turns to the land for solace and forms an affinity that enables her to see what others ignore. However, she has one mentor, her beloved arthritic stricken Grandma Beck who teaches Least to be the most with her tales of their Cherokee ancestry and natural healing.

In the late 1930s Grandma Beck dies, leaving Least with sadness for her loss but happiness that her beloved relative will feel no more pain. She also must choose whether to marry a suitor who is a devout Christian; if she says yes she will give up her magical connection to the spirits that haunt Dark Holler. Finally in the sunset of her life, Least will have to stand up one last time to save a child and subsequently her world.

This is an enjoyable epic saga told in what reads like three somewhat interconnected novellas tied together by the land and by the protagonist; as The Least (1922-1938); Redbird Ray (1938) and Miss Birdie (May 2007) provide the audience with an engaging tale. Although the best entry is the profound first one as readers will observe how the child psychologically adapts to neglect from all but her beloved grandma Beck, the trio combines into a deep look at Appalachia through the eyes of the allegedly Least one.

Harriet Klausner