Saturday, January 30, 2010

I'm Still Standing-Shoshana Johnson with M. L. Doyle

I'm Still Standing
Shoshana Johnson with M. L. Doyle
Touchstone, Feb 2 2010, $23.99
ISBN: 9781416567486

In 2003 in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, six soldiers (including Jessica Lynch who became the prime celebrity of the incident) assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company were captured by the enemy during an ambush. One of those taken in the firefight was unit cook Shoshana Johnson, who became the first ever African-American female POW. After three plus weeks as a prisoner, moving from place to place, the marines rescued her and the others (except Lynch previously rescued).

The key to this memoir is how profound Johnson describes her ordeal during captivity and even more so as a sudden celebrity of sorts. She makes the case that her abductees were kind giving her medical aid to her ankles hit by bullets and fed and clothed her. Yet throughout she lived in fear as a Black woman POW in a country in which gender and race matter. After being freed, her fame left others angry and resentful so she left the military. With a strong conviction, Ms. Johnson and M.L. Doyle tear into her accusers that she and the others deserved being prisoners and were no heroes as they simply made a wrong turn. Well written with the predominance of the memoir being her POW 22 days and her PTSD that still haunts her since becoming free; fans of military chronicles will want to read I’m Still Standing.

Harriet Klausner

Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy

Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy
Dani Shapiro
Harper, Jan 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061826696

Raised by Orthodox Jewish parents in the New York City suburban part of New Jersey, Dani Shapiro gave up Sarah Lawrence to be a trophy girlfriend to an older married attorney though Lenny Klein is the stepfather of her BF. One call while she enjoys a San Diego spa changes everything into before and after. Aunt Roz tells her that her mom and dad were in a car accident; both are in ICU at Overlook Hospital in Summit; no one has called her father’s other daughter from his first marriage while a blizzard shuts down the airports. Uncle Hy tells has that her dad is in a coma and her mom may never walk again. Adding to her fears and suddenly found maturity is the blizzard has shut down the New York airports.

This is a fascinating heart wrenching memoir because the tragic incident proves a revelation for Dani Shapiro as no miracle saves the day yet she rises to the occasion with a maturity her family would not have believed she possessed prior to the accident. Readers will cry on at least two occasions re her father seeing her mother for the first time after the accident and her chat with her father in the cemetery obviously after his death. She realizes what her parents taught her about what matters in life and death is the truth.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stephenie Meyer: The Unauthorized Biography of the Creator of the Twilight Saga

Stephenie Meyer: The Unauthorized Biography of the Creator of the Twilight Saga
Marc Shapiro
St. Martin’s Griffin, Jan 2010, $12.99
ISBN 9780312638290

With the popularity of the Twilight saga - books and movies (aside to my niece Ashley – how many times have you read and seen Twilight?), it is not surprising to find an unauthorized biography of the author Stephanie Meyer. As he did with his J.K. Rowling bio, Marc Shapiro researches the literature and conducts interviews of peripherals associated with Stephenie Meyer. Although well written and fun to read, no major new revelation surfaces as most fans know that for instance the Twilight concept was created during a dream and the impact of the saga on Forks, Washington. Somewhat less known is the religious beliefs of this wife and mom writer. Still those fans ready to travel to Forks will enjoy this bio-lite.

Harriet Klausner

Petals From The Sky-Mingmei Yip

Petals From The Sky
Mingmei Yip
Kensington, Mar 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758241818

Thirteen year old Meng Ning fell into a well. She survived her ordeal, but also had a revelation that she was fated to be a Buddhist nun. Now an adult Meng has not yet taken her vows as her mentor encourages her to take some time and study abroad, which she does in Paris while her mother is horrified with her daughter’s decision.

At the Summer Buddhist Retreat, a fire places Meng in jeopardy until American Dr. Michael Fuller, who rescued her when her black-market monetary exchange proved counterfeit, carries her to safety. They become friends and companions. However, that ends when he proposes and she refuses as her dream is to be a nun not a wife. Although she changes her mind and accepts, she still wonders if she is making a mistake until a car accident opens her eyes.

This is an intriguing look at Buddhism in mostly Paris and Hong Kong; so there is a western flavoring. The story line is profound as Meng must choose between spiritual and mortal loves; while coping with pressure from others trying to influence her selection. Although Michael seems more like a stereotype of a westerner involved with an Asian woman whose belief system differs from his, fans will enjoy Petals From the Sky as Meng must determine the path her devotion leads her to.

Harriet Klausner

The Endless Forest-Sara Donati

The Endless Forest
Sara Donati
Delacorte, Jan 2010, $27.00
ISBN: 9780553805260

In 1824 the Sacandaga River overflows its banks flooding what had been Paradise, New York. The devastation is everywhere with no family immune from what is described as the hundred year flood. However, after the storm comes calm as people go about the business of surviving, caring for one another and hopefully rebuilding.

Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner are sad about the destruction but euphoric that their thirty years old daughter Lily accompanied by her husband Simon has come home from Italy. Also adding to their elation is their adopted daughter Martha is back in town too. However, following Martha to Paradise is her biological mother Jemima, who abandoned her daughter over a decade ago. A cruel woman, she apparently caused the end of her daughter’s engagement to Peyton. Lily’s twin brother Daniel offers to marry Martha, but though she no longer sees him as a sibling but much more she does not want a pity marriage. He does not either as he sees her as a wife not a sister. Neither does his brother Ethan who proposes to family friend Callie.

The final Bonner family historical saga is an interesting tale that provides readers with a glimpse of Upstate New York around the time James Fennimore Cooper was writing the Leatherstocking classics. The story line ties up major loose ends, but the key cast next generation pale next to the villainess who steals the show from the Bonner brood who seem two dimensional in comparison. Still fans will enjoy The Endless Forest.

Harriet Klausner

The Weight of Heaven-Thrity Umrigar

The Weight of Heaven
Thrity Umrigar
Harper, Feb 2 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061472558

Following the death of their seven years old son from meningitis, psychologist Ellie Benton persuades her spouse Frank that he should accept a position to run a HerbalSolutions factory in Girbaug, India as it will be easier to move past their grief if they leave Ann Arbor. He agrees.

In the small village, Ellie adapts rather easily working at a clinic while Frank remains filled with grief and drifts away from his wife. His only solace is tutoring his housekeeper’s son Ramesh, which is resented by the lad’s father Prakesh. Meanwhile Ellie and Frank are on different sides of the issue of the trees as she defends the locals’ use and he claims his company owns them under a lease agreement with the government. Investigative reporter Nandita meets Ellie and they become friends, which further alienates the American woman from her mate. Tragedy seems imminent as hostilities in the village over the trees grow.

This is an entertaining tale of two kindhearted caring people whose outlook is different; as one adjusts while the other turns into the Ugly American who can only buy friendship with a replacement local child. The story line is fast-paced for the most part although a flashback to the Benton courtship feels like unnecessary padding as it adds nothing since the audience knows the couple is educated and liberal until a year or so passes in India. Still readers will appreciate this fine tale as the Benton couple serve as a microcosm of capitalist interests with opposite directions in how each adapts to residing in Girbaug.

Harriet Klausner

Crazy Heart-Thomas Cobb

Crazy Heart
Thomas Cobb
Harper, Feb 2 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780060915193

At one time Bad Blake was a country-and-western superstar, but years of alcohol have taken its toll. In his late fifties, his best has long passed. Even his personal life has been a failure with four broken marriages and a son he has not seen in decades.

Bad once got Tommy Sweet gigs, but now the roles have reversed with the young superstar having Blake open for him. Reporter Jean Craddock meets Bad Black for an interview and they are attracted to one another. As they fall in love, her young son Buddy is the impetus for Bad to look up his son. That reunion like his entire life goes bad, but Bad moves on. Alone with Buddy, he loses his girlfriend’s son when he stops for a drink, which will cost him much more.

With a nod to A Star Is Born, this is a character study of a self-destructive person who failed to cope with fame and fortune. The slight story line focuses on Bad, whose irresponsible behavior adversely impacts those who care about him, but learn quickly the cost is too high as he drives them away with his out of control actions. Fans will enjoy Thomas Cobb’s bittersweet look into a Crazy Heart.

Harriet Klausner

Black Hills-Dan Simmons

Black Hills
Dan Simmons
Little, Brown, Feb 24 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780316006989

In 1876 following the battle of Little Big Horn, ten years old Sioux warrior Paha Sapa collects coup from the dead. However, on his last breath, the spirit of General George Custer leaves his dead body to enter that of Paha.

For the rest of his life, Paha heard Custer speaking to him inside his head. He also gained the uncanny ability to know someone’s past and future by simply touching them. For himself he has remained patient having seen what will occur to the sacred Black Hills in the 1930s. Thus in 1936, the septuagenarian who worked on the monuments begins his final days of atonement and exorcism with plans to blow up Mt. Rushmore as FDR arrives on a visit.

This is a refreshing super paranormal historical thriller that grips the audience from the opening battle locale until the final confrontation inside and outside of the lead character’s head. The story line is driven by Paha=Custer, but filled with plenty of action as events lead from Little Big Horn to Mt. Rushmore. Dan Simmons effortlessly switches from Ancient Greek and Dickensian mythologies to an American legend with this superb incredibly creative tale.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Mother Never Told Me-Donna Hill

What Mother Never Told Me
Donna Hill
Kimani, Mar 1 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9780373831432

Wanting to become a professional singer, Cora leaves her hometown Rudell, Mississippi for Chicago. There she obtains work for an affluent Caucasian family. However, their son rapes her so Cora fled for Rudell unaware she is pregnant.

In Rudell, she marries her childhood sweetheart David, but hell breaks out when their offspring is white. That girl Emma learned to pass as white to gain acceptance. In New York, she marries a Caucasian soldier, Michael who soon afterward is deployed overseas. Emma gives birth to a baby with black features. She sends her daughter Parris to Mississippi to be raised by her mom while fleeing for Europe. However, as an adult, her dying grandma informs Parris that her mom lives so she travels with her Nick to France in search of her biological mother.

Though the saga of an African-American passing as white has been done many times, What Mother Never Told Me is a fascinating tale that focuses mostly on the third generation’s search once she knows her “white” mom is alive. The cast is three dimensional as the three generations seem genuine especially their motives even if a reader disagrees with choices. Well written, the character driven story line grips the audience as Emma seeks her mom and she hopes her dad too.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Kindly Ones-Jonathan Littell

The Kindly Ones
Jonathan Littell
Harper, Feb 2 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780061353468

In France, Dr. Maximilien Aue decides to write his memoir focusing on his war experience years ago. Now with a family, Max muses about when he was SS, not only did he oversee and report on the mass murdering of Jews in the Ukraine, he proudly and gleefully participated. He gave tours pf Auschwitz and Birkenau and survived Stalingrad and Hitler's final bunker. His big philosophical spin back in the early days rivals the middle ages how many angels on a pin as he mused how many bodies makes a grave mass?

Looking back at what he considers his only failure, his tormented love for his twin sister, Una, who wants nothing to do with her Herr Doktor brother. Like much of his peers, he anticipated the end of the Third Reich so now what. He knew the Russians make the SS look gentle so he chose the West as Berlin burned.

This is not an easy read as Aue is all over the place with his wandering dialogue that at times meanders more than the River Mosel and often feels like a particular sequence is eternal. Adding to the difficulty of perusing his account is that Aue is not likeable and does not seek redemption; in fact his dissertation is a matter of fact chat of a brutal way of life and death. In other words he is still a cold psychopath concealing his past inside a middle class family. Throughout readers will ask how a culturally aware doctor could commit atrocities but Aue never responds beyond his casual that’s life, death and all the torture in between philosophy. Not for everyone, The Kindly Ones is a convoluted hard to follow essay that argues life is brutal, vicious and expendable with human predators hunting and torturing human prey.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Brigid of Kildare-Heather Terrell

Brigid of Kildare
Heather Terrell
Ballantine, Feb 9 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345505125

In Ireland desperately in need of money, the Sisters of St. Brigid plan to sell valuable ancient relics. They hire art appraiser Alexandra Patterson to evaluate their collection. Exhilarated with the assignment, Alex begins to catalogue the collection. However, she is stunned when she finds a beautifully scribed tome from apparently the fifth century. She wonders if this illuminated text could be the legendary lost Book of Kildare. Her colleague and former lover Trinity College Professor Declan Lamb supports her belief.

Apparently the Church, fearing the imminent collapse of the Roman Empire could take them down too, turn aggressive against anyone who may cause dissension. In that regard, Brother Decius travels to Gael to accuse Abbess Brigid of heresy. Once there he finds her faith as inspiring and asks her to let him scribe her tale to convert the Gael pagans.

As Heather Terrell did with The Map Thief, the author weaves a past and present duality into a delightful cohesive tale. The Brigid of Kildare subplot is a terrific look at the Church’s efforts to survive the collapse of Rome mostly told through the relationship between Decius and the title Saint. However, the modern day art sleuths fail to attain the same level of caring and passion that the ancient couple possesses especially Brigid’s efforts to bring the Gael to Christianity. Still fans will enjoy this fine thriller starring a woman whose belief was so strong she not just converted the locals, she persuaded the Roman to join her quest and leave readers admiring her.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Corner of the Universe-Rebbie Macintyre

A Corner of the Universe
Rebbie Macintyre
Five Star, Feb 2010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594148590

One week before her ailing mom died, Zoe and Cal married. She moves into his home where his grandma Hattie also lives. Soon afterward she miscarries. Three years later, now forty-one, Zoe is pregnant while Cal is never home as he works hard for the Mechen Medical Foundation trying to establish six clinics in Uganda.

They are going on a second honeymoon in two days when the twenty-one years old son he never met Seth Pruitt arrives. The couple delays their trip. Seth moves in though he plans to attend diving school in California soon. He treats the troubled eighteen year old neighbor Neva Reckart with scorn as she tries desperately to win his heart. Meanwhile Cal is increasingly distant as he is on the road with his beautiful assistant Melissa Delany while Seth turns increasingly belligerent towards Zoe and nasty towards adulating Neva.

This is an intriguing coming of age story, but it is not the tragic mentally incompetent Neva or the bullying Seth, but instead Zoe who realizes she has choices. The story line digs deeply into the four prime characters with the focus mostly on Zoe. Although at times the story line slows down due to the intense characterizations, fans will enjoy this well written extended family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Bird Room-Chris Killen

The Bird Room
Chris Killen
Harper, Jan 2010, $10.99
ISBN: 9780061905902

William is insecure when it comes to his girlfriend Alice. She is beautiful, sexy, and smart while he considers himself a loser. He has doubts she loves him though she insists she does. Will introduces his Alice to his extroverted friend Will the artist.

Meanwhile Helen, formerly known as Claire, claims to be an actress although she has never performed; instead she is a model for what increasingly seems to be a carrier in pornography over the net. Will the introverted non-actor looks back as to how his greatest relationship ends while Helen wonders if prostitution is her best bet.

This is not an easy read as the profound character driven story line is not just nonlinear, it is all over time with two key subplots starring Will and Helen respectively eventually merging with an unexpected spin. Chris Killian looks deeply into Internet relationships as cyber distance leads to increase isolation from needed personal contact, but instead creates a false sense of bonding in which no one has to give up any part of their soul. The Bird Room is depressing, but extremely well written as the dark side of the cyber communications and relationships are explored.

Harriet Klausner

Feisty Family Values-B.D. Tharp

Feisty Family Values
B.D. Tharp
Five Star, Feb 29010, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594148491

In the affluent Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, widow Regina Morgan-Smith lives like a queen with her close friend chef Tillie Dawson. Her passion is painting, which she has been successful at, but outside of that her life is run by routines.

That changes when her impoverished battered frumpy cousin Annabelle Hubbard arrives seeking shelter having been thrown out of the house of her adult daughter Lydia. Whereas Tillie warmly welcomes the bruised Annabelle, Regina detests the impact on her regulated life. Adding to her troubles is her late mom begins lecturing her and Tillie’s breast cancer returns. However chaos arrives in the form of Annabelle’s frightened three grandchildren (thirteen years old Peggy, twelve years old Ted and ten years old Megan) with the boy having a broken arm. With Mr. Pickles the kitten and two men entering the lives of Regina and Tillie, the elegant widow wonders how her set lifestyle was nuked so quickly.

Although obviously a soap opera with too many critical topics being explored like breast cancer, abused elders and children, abandonment, drug usage and sexagenarian romances, fans will still appreciate Feisty Family Values as each of the ensemble cast comes across as genuine. The story line is obviously character driven with the audience pondering whether regal Regina will kick everyone to the curb as encouraged by her mom’s spirit.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Omid’s Shadow-Hitchkass Hamekass

Omid’s Shadow
Hitchkass Hamekass
MM Books, Dec 2009, $18.00
ISBN: 9780984156726

In 1978, teenager Omid Mottahedeh and her three best friends distribute anti Shah Literature at school. The Savak catch one of them in the act and take her away. Her mom, University of Tehran Professor Azar Parham, knows her daughter is in trouble so over the objection of Omid arranges for her to live with her father Habib, his wife Carol and their twin sons in Wolcott, Connecticut. Shortly after that Ayatollah Khomeini overthrows the Shah to the elation of Omid who expects freedom and the despair of Habib who expects religious tyranny. As her mother vanishes, Omid knows her father is proven right by deadly events in Iraq.

In 2009 in Litchfield, Connecticut, Omid understands why her mom sent her away as she worries about her two daughters Hannah and Sayeh; more so the latter who is studying in Cairo. Unbeknownst to Omid or her spouse John, Sayeh has traveled to Tehran as the election for president occurs.

This is a super profound look at Iran through a sandwich generation expatriate whose mother dies for freedom in 1978 and three decades later her daughter is caught up with the cries for freedom. Readers will be spellbound with Omid’s struggles as she knows first hand the cost in blood for human rights. Hichkass Hamekass is a pseudonym that represents every mother, sister, and daughter who fight for their family yet also mindful of Ayatollah Khomeini declaring a fatwa on Salmon Rushdie. Although obviously with a human rights political agenda, fans will fully appreciate this strong family drama as Omid knows grief with what happened to her mom and their cause, and fears history is repeating itself.

Harriet Klausner

Uptown-Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant

Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant
Touchstone, Mar 2 2010, $14.99
ISBN 9781439137765

Two decades ago, Avery Lyons left her family and New York after a nasty argument. However, with the death of her mom in a horrible accident, Avery comes home to close her mom’s estate. Her friend Alicia tries to be there for her.

Dwight Dixon has oenership as CEO of the family properties. He has moved them to Harlem where he built Dixon Plaza on Central Park North. However, his dream is beset by major construction problems, delays and costs. Avery’s arrival reveals family secrets that their two families shared, which further devastate Dixon’s empire.

Although there are some stereotyping especially several key support players, the prime cast makes for a terrific urban family drama as secrets explode into the open threatening everyone. Dwight is terrific as an ambitious, successful and astute businessman wanting to bring something to the Harlem community though his aspirations have run into problems. Avery is ironically much more complex as she carries family baggage with her. Fans will appreciate this strong look at Central Park North due to a deep story line that makes the case solutions to problems whether they are family, community or borough not easy when people fail to find common ground.

Harriet Klausner

Not Art-Peter Esterhazy

Not Art
Peter Esterhazy
Ecco (HarperCollins), Feb 16 2010, $
ISBN: 9780061792960

In Budapest, the narrator knows his nonagenarian mom is ill, but still retains her incredible lust for living life to the fullest. He looks back over the decades to his childhood and early adulthood playing soccer. He recalls the Communist abuse towards his family due to their surname and his vivacious mom used soccer for her and her family to overcome the brutality from the State. She befriended the Hungarian players even knowing that at least one member of the team was an informant because that was a way of life under the Communists.

This is an odd well written but difficult to follow drama that reads sort of like a series of vignettes that tie together as a biographical fiction. The narrator looks back on his life and the most influential person in it over the decades, his mom and her life as helped her family survive the brutal regime through her soccer connections. Told in twelve short stories, Not Art is for fans of something totally different as Peter Esterhazy provides a deep look at Hungary under Communist rule and beyond through apparently a glimpse into his family history inside of the bigger soccer field.

Harriet Klausner

Beaded Hope-Cathy Liggett

Beaded Hope
Cathy Liggett
Tyndale, Mar 1 2010, $12.99
ISBN: 9781414332123

In Columbus Ohio, Gabrielle “Gabby” Philips, Heidi Martin, and Cassandra Albright have family issues that they must cope with. Still the trio and Heidi’s daughter seventeen year old Katie are going on a missionary trip to help people in Mamelodi, South Africa. Complicating the trip at least for mother and daughter is Katie is pregnant.

In Mamelodi the quartet meet women suffering from AIDS. Their future is short, painful, and grim. Yet each one is upbeat and filled with faith while not wanting any help from the Americans. As the four Buckeyes admire their hosts, they want to do something for them without insulting these proud women who make them realize how minor their issues back home are. They may have found a way to help without stomping on pride with the incredible community beadwork, a skill handed down from one generation to the next.

Beaded Hope is a terrific inspirational tale as the visitors learn so much about what is truly giving and living once they stop being the know it all Ugly Americans. The plot also focuses on the African AIDs epidemic. Although issues’ solutions are too simplified, fans will still cherish this fine tale as Nomvula and Tumi steal the hearts of Gabby and the readers.

Harriet Klausner

Her Mother’s Hope-Francine Rivers

Her Mother’s Hope
Francine Rivers
Tyndale, Mar 16 2010, $24.99
ISBN 9781414318639

In 1901 Marta Schneider leaves her family behind in Steffisburg, Switzerland as she refuses to tolerate her Papa’s abuse towards her frail Mama, older brother, younger sister and her. Instead she plans to make it as an independent woman. She travels to Europe and crosses the ocean to Canada. Eventually she purchases a boardinghouse. She meets kind hearted German engineer Niclas Waltert.

The pair marries, crosses the Atlantic and works hard together while raising in a nice California lifestyle their three children. However, Marta thinks their oldest offspring Hildemara Rose is more like her cowardly maternal grandmother than her. Still she is surprised when Hildemara insists she wants to serve as a nurse during WWII because Mama knows her oldest child never displays her independence; Hildemara wants to gain the respect of her idol, her courageous Mama Marta.

This is an interesting family drama that focuses on a Mama and her oldest daughter in the first half of the twentieth century. The two women are filly developed while Niclas and the other two children serve as solid support players enhancing the understating of Marta and Hildemara. Although too many of the major events of the decades are highlighted so at times overwhelm the cast, fans will enjoy this fine epic as courage comes in many differing ways.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Salinger-Henry Anatole Grunwald

Henry Anatole Grunwald
Harper, Jan 2010, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061852503

This is a reprint of an intriguing 1962 series of twelve round table essays exploring J. D. Salinger's life and contribution trying to determine whether the recluse was in the title of one topic a “Magician, Clubman or Guru”. Many boomers read this compilation while attending college English Literature class drawing conclusions re Salinger’s place in American literature history while appreciating his profound look at teen angst. Ironically, the editor Henry Anatole Grunwald died in 2005 while the reclusive nonagenarian author remains alive. Fascinating as Mr. Salinger has not published anything in over four decades and not interviewed in three, the entries feel somewhat dated yet well written and insightful nonetheless. Especially enlightening are the articles associated with “The Invisible Man” and “Holden and Huck: A Quest”. However, unlike Mark Twain, The Catcher in the Rye published in 1951 is Mr. Salinger’s only novel (although there were several well regarded short stories especially in the New Yorker magazine). Like the ducks in Central Park, Salinger continues to swim in a unique psyche of American literature pond with perhaps only Harper Lee somewhat nearby.

Harriet Klausner

In the Closet, Under the Bed-Lee Thomas

In the Closet, Under the Bed
Lee Thomas
Darkscribe, Jan 2010, $16.00
ISBN: 9780981863214

This super collection contains nine new stories and six previously published in the past decades. Each tale explores the mobsters In the Closet, Under the bed that people prefer remain hidden from family and friends especially sexuality. That hiding one’s inner desires inside the closet or under the bed hits home immediately with the first tale "All the Faces Change" when Tim learns life is a fairy tale with no happy ending unless you let your loved ones share all of you even when you are ashamed or fearful of revealing all to them; failure to do so means dying alone. This theme particularly with homosexual implications is key to these powerful psychological horror tales; for instance, the well written “Healer" and the exciting sexual asphyxiation tale "Dislocation". "Shelter" takes the spin into the erotic fantasy realm while "The Good and Gone" enters the erotic science fiction arena. Even the internet has closed closet doors. Readers will enjoy Lee Thomas' powerful compilation as the message throughout is simply to avoid the boogeyman In the Closet, Under the bed by coming out of them with your loved ones at your side; as you and they deserve the best of all of you if they truly are those who love you unrequitedly.

Harriet Klausner

The Prodigal Wife-Marcia Willet

The Prodigal Wife
Marcia Willet
Dunne, Jan 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312605308

Renowned TV gardening show host Jolyon accompanied by his beloved girlfriend Henrietta returns to the family estate the Keep that has been owned and occupied by Chadwicks for several generations, to celebrate a birthday with family. However, he is unaware that his mother, whom has not seen in about fifteen years, has come to the Keep to spend quality time with him. Jo’s father Henry and his stepmother Fliss worry how he will react to seeing the woman who abandoned him.

Maria feels alone since her spouse Adam died. She wants to make amends with her son as spending Christmas alone for the first time weighs heavy on her. Although Hal is receptive and Fliss kind, Jo refuses to believe his mother wants to end their estrangement; instead he assumes Maria wants a piece of his fame. Hal feels guilty for his role in the break-up as he never emotionally moved beyond his Fliss even after he was married to Maria and Henrietta struggles with the end of her parents’ marriage. Although constantly rejected by her son, Maria refuses to quit trying as she knows she failed Jo.

The latest Chadwick Family Chronicle (see Looking Forward, Holding On and Winning Through) is an engaging entry that focuses on Jo and Maria as the latter tries to atone for the hurt she caused to the former. The story line is character driven as the Chadwick family look back to events already showcased in the previous entries, but with new perspective especially at Maria who came across as an uncaring rat whenever mentioned in the earlier tales. Although the Christmas Tree ending provides some closure, it feels more of a set up for book five rather than a clean climax. Still fans of the saga will relish this fine entry.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 15, 2010

Alice I Have Been-Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been
Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte, Jan 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385344135

Octogenarian Alice Liddell Hargreaves leaves England on tour to receive honor from adulating American audiences. She finds the Americans nice though stunned that Alice of Wonderland is eighty and not eight. All were kind though disappointed with her age anyway except for some lad who offered her an oddity, chewing gum that one does not swallow, but just chews as if it came from Wonderland.

Alice muses on her life as a little girl when their neighbor Oxford Professor Charles Dodgson tells her and her sisters Ina and Edith stories in which she was the star. Over time after a dismal encounter with her hero Professor Dodgson falls in love with Prince Leopold, but she frets that he will reject her once he hears of her alleged indiscretions with the adult storyteller when she was a child. Years pass with the Great War intruding on Alice watching her three sons go off to fight and knowing most likely not all three will come home, but she is still remembered as That Alice.

This intriguing autobiographical fiction takes a deep look at the life of That Alice mostly through her eyes during three prime periods in her life. First and most influential (and almost half the novel) is as the preadolescent meetings with the stuttering Dodgson who makes her famous as That Alice. The other two periods are the royal romance and the WWI era. The gaps are filled with her looking back at events like her marriage to Hargreaves in 1880. However, throughout being Alice of Wonderland impacts her life as her highlight film occurs when she is a tweener in the late 1850s in Oxford. Fans will enjoy this tale that avoids the modern day moral posturing of concluding Dodgson was a pedophile though he still comes across as creepy weird.

Harriet Klausner

The Road to Devotion-Cameron Kent

Cameron Kent
Press 53, Nov 2009, $19.95
ISBN: 9780982576021

Two decades earlier, her mother died and now in 1860, thirty-four year old spinster Sarah Talton is burying her father, but cannot cry for him as she inherited or perhaps nurtured by him his iron determination to show no emotion. As the North Carolina dirt is paced on the coffin, she knows she must remain resolute for the sake of her twenty years old sister Rebecca who is hysterical but gets comfort from Dickens not Deuteronomy.

Near Winston, Sarah now runs the family farm and the slaves who work on it. To succeed as a farmer, Sarah must be even tougher than her hardened late dad as Civil War seems imminent, but still has to sell some acres and slaves. Landowner Braxton Smithwick covets Sarah, but when she meets Monsieur LeGare she finds herself in love though he does not speak anglais. When a bounty hunter dumps a battered runaway slave on Sarah, she takes the person in to heal them. Between these two people, Sarah begins to wonder about the truism of the lessons her father taught her re black skinned ignorant and the white man’s burden, which has been accentuated by neighbors she has known all her life who with hostility breaking out demand total obedience to the cause of the Confederacy.

This is a super historical that showcases the importance of constantly questioning one’s values as new experiences happen. The story line is fast-paced but driven by the powerful characters especially the siblings, their late dad, Braxton, LeGare and significantly Jacquerie the slave. Fans will relish this strong Civil War drama as the thirtyish Sarah learns the Road to Devotion is lined with “hope, grace, love and faith”.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Burning Times-Ron Rash

Burning Times
Ron Rash
Ecco, Mar 9 2010, $22.99
ISBN: 9780061804113

This superb intense twelve story collection focuses on the people of Appalachia who though impoverished refuse to give up their pride even as they seek a shimmer of happiness. The well written stories are very short with the longest being 30 pages; yet each goes deep baring the darkness of the soul with slight flickers of light that sputter allegorically.

Opening with “Hard Times” in which a Depression Era farmer’s wife insists the impoverished neighbors’ dog is stealing their eggs; when confronted the patriarch neighbor slices the throat of his canine to prove he was not the thief. Fishing for the felon proves shockingly successful. In sixteen pages, Ron Rash provides a cast of poor people struggling with survival but doing so with pride. That theme is throughout the anthology whether it is the young turning to meth “Back of Beyond” in which a pawn shop owner knows who the addicts are as they are his best customers including his nephew. “The Ascent” focuses on a tweener who makes a family with corpses in a crashed plane he finds. Whether he centers on the Civil War with “Dead Confederates” and “Lincolnites”, the Great Depression (“Hard Times”) or the present, Mr. Nash provides his readers with a profound look at the people of Appalachia where pride and hard work battle poverty and drugs.

Harriet Klausner

Mia the Magnificent-Eileen Boggess

Mia the Magnificent
Eileen Boggess
Bancroft, Jan 2010, $19.95
ISBN: 9781890862671

Mia Fullerton had been Mia the Meek, but became Mia the Melodramatic when she spent the summer at Little Tykes Theatre where she enjoyed acting on stage. Starting her sophomore year at St. Hilary’s, Mia considers whether she wants to try out for a part in the school’s production of the Music Man. She would no longer hesitate to go for a minor role, but her former boyfriend Tim, who cheated on her while visiting his grandparents in Maine, is a stage hand and her first boyfriend Jake is in the show.

Making matters more complicated for Mia is her efforts to obtain a driving license as Mr. Corrgian the janitor gives instruction. In her mini student driving lessons group are Jake and Tim. All this excludes her problems with her enemy Cassie and younger brother Chris. Finally her friend from the theatre camp Zoa the Gothic demands she be Mia the Independent.

Older elementary school students will enjoy Mia the amusing as she narrates her latest misadventures. In between horrific singing that probably has Meredith Willson cringing in his grave, Mia the Murphy has everything that could go wrong go wrong; yet she remains optimistic and clever while working the battlefields of school, crushes, driving and sibling.

Harriet Klausner

The Unnamed-Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed
Joshua Ferris
Little Brown, Jan 2020, $24.99
ISBN: 9780316034012

In Manhattan, successful attorney Tim Farnsworth thought he had beaten the Unnamed disease, but on a frozen wintry night he tells his beloved wife Jane that his walking addiction is back. He cannot stop himself from hoofing endlessly until exhausted to the brink of collapse. His second bout with the walking disease seems so much worse than the first trek. Jane tries to help him especially making sure he gets home safe though that proves almost impossible as his marches exponentially grow in time and distance. Their daughter Becka wants to keep as far away from her father whose ambulatory treks embarrass and frighten her.

Jane mentally struggles as the “caretaker” of Tim and Becka, but to avoid a breakdown she turns to alcohol. She finally falls apart when she learns she has cancer. Meanwhile, Tim’s marathons get longer and longer with no relief in sight so in spite of his attempts to help his wife and daughter with their issues, he is not there for the two women in his life who desperately need him.

Although Tim’s treks can feel a bit repetitive, each walk enables the audience to understand a different aspect of his family dynamics especially his relationships with his wife and daughter and to a lesser degree at the law firm. Fascinating though melancholy sad as seemingly Then We Came to the End of existence is the only path a person can travel. However, since an individual’s life is relatively short especially in terms of the age of the cosmos, each step on the journey needs to be lived and relished to the fullest even when everything is so gloomy and dark that death might be a consideration.

Harriet Klausner

Life As I Know It-Melanie Rose

Life As I Know It
Melanie Rose
Bantam, Feb 9 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780385343992

Jessica Taylor is walking her dog Frankie when the rain turned ugly with wind, lightning and thunder. She struggles to leave the Downs when a Labrador runs up to them. A man catches up to her and the two canines. He thanks her as his dog got loose and offers her a ride. She feels lightning strike her heart as Jessica falls in love at first sight; only lightning literally strikes her body leaving her dead.

Jessica awakens n a hospital in which everyone calls her Mrs. Lauren Richardson, wife to Grant and mother of four children (Sophie, Nicole, Toby and Teddy). The kids are well behaved, but Jessica feels their sadness as order is their life. She loves each of the children especially brain damaged Teddy and connects with Lauren’s sister Karen who she confides in that her memories are that of single in love Jessica Taylor and not that of mother and wife Mrs. Lauren Richardson.

On the surface Life As I Know It is a lighthearted romp that compares and a single career woman with a married mother. However, Melanie Rose’s contemporary is actually much deeper with a subtle profundity that stuns the audience even with knowing how the tale will end. The light touch enhances the sobering finish that will have readers understand the real intent is not comparing lifestyles, but instead making a powerful case that being a woman means sacrificing personal desires to make a better life for loved ones.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Burn-Ted Dekker and Erin Healy

Ted Dekker and Erin Healy
Thomas Nelson, Jan 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9781595544711

Salazar Sanso offers a deal to seventeen years old Gypsy Janeal Mikkado who feels like a fish out of water amongst her people as she hates the nomadic lifestyle of moving seasonally between California and New Mexico. He will help sponsor her lifestyle change in return for her stealing back some money her father possesses, which he insists will save her dad’s life. She agrees, but the plot fails. Impatient Sanso and his followers attack the kumpania encampment, burning it to the ground killing most of the Gypsies in the inferno.

Janeal, her boyfriend Robert and her best friend Katie survive though they are separated. Fifteen years later they meet with Janeal still haunted by how she acted betraying her father, family, and friends. Now, she has a chance for some atonement though she believes redemption is beyond her grasp.

Readers will enjoy this intriguing allegorical thriller with a fabulous late twist. The story line is character driven as the survivors struggle even fifteen years later with what happened on that gruesome day. Although the Christian parables are at times jammed into the plot too frequently, as they did with Kiss, Ted Dekker and Erin Healy provides an engaging contemporary character driven Christian thriller as surviving the fire does not mean surviving the Burn imprinted in your brain.

Harriet Klausner

Rebels and Traitors-Lindsey Davis

Rebels and Traitors
Lindsey Davis
St. Martin's, Jan 19 2010, $27.99
ISBN: 9780312595418

Gideon Jukes is a printer, but that does not stop him from joining London Trained Bands in support of Parliament fighting against King Charles Stuart. Juliana Lovell supports the monarch in the struggle. Gideon and Juliana are falling in love, but these are dangerous times for allies let alone defenders of opposing camps.

In 1649, Charles Stuart is executed and Oliver Cromwell takes charge of England. In 1657 his Protectorate collapses. Through these deadly civil war decades, Gideon and Juliana have each other in spite of others trying to divide these beloved enemies.

Rebels and Traitors is an entertaining historical epic that occurs over the mid seventeen century decade of the English religious civil war. Gideon is a terrific lead character whose role as a printer is more intriguing than his heroism as a musketeer. He brings to life the use of printed material as a propaganda means to support your side of a hostile debate. Although his relationship with Juliana seems overly forced to bring beloved enemy bedfellows together, Lindsey Davis moves from the first century Ancient Rome mysteries of private informer Marcus Didius Falco to the 1650s England epic tale to the delight of fans of historical sagas.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In My Sister's House-Donald Welch

In My Sister's House
Donald Welch
Ballantine, Feb 2 2010, $14.00
ISBN: 9780345501622

In Philadelphia, African-American Storm Morrison spent three years in prison. Upon being freed she wants her share of the inheritance from their late father Dutch, which includes his restaurant that her twin sister Skylar converted into a successful night club, Legends.

Although she vows to go as straight as her bookworm sibling, Storm runs into her cheating street punk boyfriend, DuBoy. He wants to start over with and demands she do too or else. However, she knows if she returns to him, she returns to the street and probably prison yet the temptation is great. Storm must choose between patching up her relationship with Skylar or destroying what her sister has made with Legends by taking her share and DuBoy, a mix that could only end tragically.

The key to this strong inspirational family drama is the support cast who enhance the realism of the plot and the readers understanding of the twins whose values seem so different at first, but in many ways are identical. Although some stereotyping detracts from the sense of contemporary urban foreboding that disaster is coming, fans will relish Legends as to forgive is human, but to redeem is divine.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Searching for Tina Turner-Jacqueline E. Luckett

Searching for Tina Turner
Jacqueline E. Luckett
Grand Central, Jan 27 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446542968

In Oakland, wealthy Randall and Lena Spencer and their two children seemed to live the perfect family life. However, Lena who gave up her photography career to support her business executive husband as he worked his way up and to raise their two kids feels lonely and unfulfilled. She persuades Randall to go to marriage counseling, but he quits rather quickly and warns her to shape up as she should be grateful to what he has done for her over the two decades plus of marriage ignoring what she has done for him.

While Randall is on a business trip, a fuming Lena reads Tina Turner's autobiography with her focus on the rock star’s life after kicking Ike to the curb. Knowing Randall is not the man she loved and married as he unsupportive but not physically abusive, Lena decides to call his bluff and they separate. The teens prefer affluence so they stay with dad; hurting her more that they chose materialism. She obtains a position at an art gallery and travels to France hoping to meet Tina, but instead runs into Harmon who dumped Lena for someone else years ago. They share sex and he proposes having always regretted his mistake even as Randall arrives to beg her come home.

Searching for Tina Turner is a charming interesting contemporary tale that looks closely at self actuation inside of family dynamics. The story line is driven by Lena, who ironically feels Randall does not listen to her needs while ignoring his side of the argument; just like he does hers. Although she never has to give up her luxurious lifestyle after leaving Randall (flying and staying in Nice, France cannot be cheap), readers will enjoy Lena’s quest to find her self starting with moving out and seeking out her muse.

Harriet Klausner

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet-Myrlin A. Hermes

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet
Myrlin A. Hermes
Harper, Jan 26 2010, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061805196

Horatio the scholar is a prideful intellect who enjoys debate at Wittenberg University. When he meets the impish, but darkly troubled student Prince Hamlet of Denmark, he feels passion for another person for the first time in his adult life. The royal is beautiful and Horatio desires him.

Wealthy merchant Baron de Maricourt hires Horatio to stage a play in honor of his wife Adriane, who has the hots for writers and performers. Horatio persuades Hamlet to perform as a young woman. The philosopher begins to author sonnets to his Hamlet, but Adriane wants him to write about her beauty. As the relational triangle forms, some unknown playwright named Will Shakespeare makes an unethical bid to win favor of Adriane as his muse and that of Hamlet too; angering Horatio that a no talented nonentity would dare to attempt to replace him.

Although some might insist a prequel to Hamlet is a tragedy, the aptly titled The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet makes for an entertaining tale. The story line is amusing as the lead triangle and the support cast (especially the cuckold spouse and the upstart bum wannabe bard) struggle with gender and sexual issues. The Hamlet citations are overused and abused, but overall fans will enjoy this tweaking of Shakespeare mindful that Tom Stoppard did likewise with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Once in a Blue Moon-Leanna Ellis

Once in a Blue Moon
Leanna Ellis
B&H, Mar 2010, $14.99
ISBN 9780805449884

While most of the world celebrated the Apollo 11 moon landing, nine years old Bryn Seymour grieved the death of her mom Jennifer. Four decades later, Bryn learns of some strange information re NASA and her late mother.

Needing to know the truth, as she begins to think perhaps NASA is concealing something about her mom, Bryn travels to Texas to confront Howard Walters, who knew her mother. She hopes he can and will tell her the truth about her mom’s death and perhaps NASA cover-ups. In Texas, Bryn and Howard’s son Sam are attracted to one another, but his dad’s conspiracy theory involving Jennifer may keep them apart.

Once in a Blue Moon is an intriguing tale of a woman who never came to grips with the sudden death of her mother forty years ago and now has a chance for closure if she can obtain the truth; that is if anyone living knows the truth as Howard spins a conspiracy tale. Falling in love was not part of her plan, but fate intervenes. Fans will enjoy this strong romantic mystery due to a powerful cast, which besides the late mother and her adult daughter and the two Walters includes the late 1960s Apollo mission teams.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Great Gamble-Gregory Feifer

The Great Gamble
Gregory Feifer
Harper, Jan 2010, $15.99
ISBN: 9780061143199

Anyone who has followed the historians’ perspective on the Bush-Obama war in Afghanistan knows the mountainous country has been considered a graveyard for outsiders. Before the Americans, the Soviets became engulfed in a nine-year war there that many say was a much greater factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union than Reagan’s build-up; as it exposed the weaknesses of the rag-tag nature of the Red Army. Using predominantly interviews with Soviet veterans and translations of released Russian information, Gregory Feifer provides an intriguing look at why the Russians’ felt they lost and believe likewise the Americans will too. In some ways the anecdotal glimpse of the war is overwhelming as there is so much material from so many vets. Yet ironically this deep look from mostly the perspective of Russian war veterans lacks two critical interrelated elements in light of today’s debate over whether the United States can win in Afghanistan. First why the Soviets felt they could win a protracted war when they issued rations stamped 1942 and second why did the Afghanistan resistance believe they could defeat one of the world’s two superpowers. Still this is an interesting account of the Soviet war in Afghanistan worth reading over several weeks.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How Good People Make Tough Choices-Rushworth M. Kidder

How Good People Make Tough Choices
Rushworth M. Kidder
Harper, Dec 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780688175900

This is a super reference that provides readers with pragmatic guidance on making ethical choices when often a less moral short cut is available. Mr. Kidder uses specific examples deciding right from wrong in which most frequently neither is absolute and rarely are they the solo options or obvious which is actually right and wrong. In some cases, the dilemma in choosing what your values scream at you is right, but doing so places you in an uncomfortable position when not doing what your gut feels is right would be noticed by only one person. Loaded with specific examples of having to choose (for instance, the example of worried parents talking to their child’s teacher about behavior when the child told the teacher a secret in confidence) makes this a winner. Even society and communities have difficult ethical choices between for instance the environment and energy or development and heritage as short term needs bump against long term goals. Sometimes the debate is personal and communal as is the case with abortion. How people look at the issues may change as for instance HIV when Magic Johnson told the world he had it and the economy influences decisions especially in recessions; still Mr. Kidder still feels strongly a person must eat or get their medicine while sticking to their personal values. Throughout Mr. Kidder makes this case to adhere to your personal values even when it hurts in the short run because you are being true to yourself, which in the long run will cause less pain to you. This is a strong guidebook due to the terrific pragmatic examples of making tough ethical choices.

Harriet Klausner

The Boleyn Wife-Brandy Purdy

The Boleyn Wife
Brandy Purdy
Kensington, Feb 2010, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758238443

In the Court of King Henry VIII, plain Jane Parker may be shy but she is not stupid as she knows she cannot compete with the beauty and glamour of the women who toss themselves at the monarch; yet for some unknown reason men seemed to desire her. She was uninterested in any of them beyond furthering her position at court until she meets charming George Boleyn. When Jane and George are directed to wed, he obeys without much passion while she is ecstatic.

However, she quickly realizes that his devotion is entirely to his sister emotive Anne. Not one to cry over what could have been, Jane waits for Anne who has become queen to self destruct. When the moment arrives, she betrays her cold husband and her sister-in-law accusing them of incestuous adultery, which both denied even as they were executed. She outlasts the next wife Anna of Cleves and gives her support to Anne's cousin Katherine Howard as Henry’s next wife. Jane arranges the trysts between Katherine and her lover Thomas Culpepper. However, when Henry learns he is cuckolded, he has his wife, her lover, and their go between executed.

The Boleyn Wife is an interesting work of historical fiction that provides a fresh look at the novelization of the court of King Henry VIII. Loathed by most historians as a false accuser and betrayer, Brandy Purdy brings a wider perspective of a jealous young wife who wanted the love of an uncaring husband, but learned she could not compete with her sister-in-law so she chose vengeance instead. Readers will relish this fine portrait of a “scorned” spouse whose reprisal against the Boleyn brood proved pivotal in the reign of Henry VIII.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 4, 2010

How to Make Love Like A Porn Star-Jenna Jameson

How to Make Love Like A Porn Star
Jenna Jameson
IT (Harper Collins), Jan 5 2010, $16.99
ISBN: 9780060539108

This autobiography is intelligent and insightful yet also carries an implied cautionary message about looking before leaping, but if you dare leap never apologize nor lose sight of your prime life dream even if it seems to be drifting further away. Perhaps the most famous porn star of the 1990s perhaps since Deep Throat, Ms. Jameson was a Vegas cheerleader with a cop for a father. At sixteen she met and fell in love with Jack the tattoo artist, whose uncle raped her. Feeling guilt and unable to tell her dad, Ms. Jameson moved in with Jack. One year later her résumé included stripper, drug user, nude model and porn film performer. Rather quickly in popular demand, she became the highest paid stripper and porn actress. Fascinatingly as she spiraled from one starring role to another, Ms. Jameson makes a strong case that her parents’ family values never left her; as her ultimate dream remained to have a loving family although her life had been a landslide of XXX. That is until she marries for the second time.

Well written in a choppy style with a variety of formats that befits the author’s life, readers will relish this entertaining yet morally uplifting memoir as Ms. Jameson instead of baring her body’s Private Parts bares her soul. She especially digs deep into her well endowed thriving career in spite of crack and other drug addiction, and horrific relationships. This is a fascinating autobiography that could have used an update since its original released in 2004 as readers will want to know what she plans to tell her twins when they are older about her career.

Harriet Klausner


Tonya Plank
Dark Swan Press, Dec 2009, $17.99
ISBN: 9780615280998

Sophie Hegel left Florence to attend Yale Law School although her shyness makes public speaking a combat sport. At school during a debate she met decade older Stephen. In early 2001 with the Towers still part of the landscape, she graduates and passes the New York State bar Exam. Sophie starts work at New York City’s Public defender Office and moves into Stephen’s Manhattan apartment.

Engaged to marry, they are having dinner together when she suddenly cannot eat or speak and barely can breath. Her throat feels stuffed by a ball the size of her fiancé’s fist. She remembers as a seven years old having the first time the fist blocked her throat when she, her sister and mom left their dad in California to move to the Arizona penitentiary city of Florence. Finally deciding to learn what her condition is, Sophie finds out she suffers from a psychosomatic illness Globus Sensate; a condition that makes it difficult to represent her Sing Sing clients in a court of affluence, but 9/11 will soon teach her what terror truly is as she walks down sixteen flights.

This is a terrific character study of a mid twenties woman struggling with a psychological disorder that attacks her physically at importune moments in a world and in her mind already out of control with unfairness. Whether it is Arizona, New Haven, or New York, Sophie struggles to survive feeling like an outsider; enabling her to empathize with her poverty stricken clients. Fans will root for this wonderful heroine who refuses to allow her delicate condition and her sense of not belonging from preventing her from doing her best for her indigent clients who face a system that scorns them as losers for being poor.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Culture Clash-L. Divine

Culture Clash
L. Divine
Kensington Dafina, Feb 2010, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758231116

At South Bay High in Compton, California, Jayd Jackson is upset with how the school ignores Cultural Awareness Day beyond platitudes. Used to taking charge, Jayd persuades her friends to form the African Student Union, which leads to outrage from racists.

Jayd also learns she loves driving but not just her vehicle; she enjoys racing cars though her Bayou grandmother Mama Lynn Mae wants her to ease off the accelerator of boys and not just hot rods. On the other hand her mom Lynn Marie telepathically encourages her daughter to take chances but to do so knowing the risk. Finally there is the Latino newcomer Emilio who shares her attraction as mama fears her beloved granddaughter is heading for a big hurt as the males in her life like Rah and KJ have done before.

The latest Drama High teen tale is a fast-paced entry that gives new hope that Mom and Jayd have found men who will not cause the big hurt that Mama anticipates will happen to both of them. The support cast is as always fully developed and filled with drama queens and kings who make life for the heroine interesting but complicated. Although newcomers would be better off starting with book one (see The Fight) to learn how far Jayd and the gang have come in this divine series, Culture Clash is another strong character driven story as L. Divine emphasizes successful relationships need nurturing and caring attention or they atrophy.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Brief Life-Juan Carlos Onetti

A Brief Life
Juan Carlos Onetti
Serpent’s Tail, Jan 1 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9781852429782

In Santa Rose, Brausen has mixed feelings about being the caretaker of his wife who has been ill for a long time. On the one hand he misses their caresses and kisses while on the other he feels guilt for being increasingly non-understanding and empathetic towards her.

To mentally survive, he has become a listening voyeur as he listens through the wall to the married couple next door making love. He fantasizes that it is he kissing the breasts, scar and long legs of Gertrudis. Over time that becomes not been enough; so in between the neighbors’ sexual trysts, he fills the void by creating the adventures of Dr. Diaz Grey in the make believe town of Santa Maria. Tired, Brausen seeks emotional escape from his all too lonely “brief life”.

This is a reprint translation of a super 1950 tale that remains relevant even more so today than when the late great Uruguayan author Juan Carlos Onetti wrote it. The story line is filtered through the battered mind of Brausen who emotionally, mentally, and physically is feeling the toll of his wife’s illness and has turned to neighbors serendipitously and his imagination for escape from reality. Readers will appreciate this cautionary tale in which Mr. Onetti almost six decades ago warned society to not ignore the plight of a family caretaker who will feel immense stroke level pressure; as it is easy to sympathize with the sick person but not the seemingly healthy individual caring for the long term ill loved one.

Harriet Klausner

A Lucky Irish Lad-Kevin O’Hara

A Lucky Irish Lad
Kevin O’Hara
Forge, Feb 2 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780765318039

In Ipswich, England on April 20, 1949, Kevin is born to Irish parents after giving his mom and the midwife fits as he refused to leave the comfort of the womb. His joining the growing family brood as the fourth of eight kicking the third off the milk bar until the fifth kicked him to the table. A neighbor blithely said the poor lad shares birthday with Hitler, but his mom remarked her son will redeem the date by making it his day rather than that of that devil. With five in hand and prospects poor in Ireland and Great Britain, dad took the family across the ocean to New England where three more children joined the brood. Kevin served in Nam, became a psychiatric nurse and married Felita Suarez while struggling with being an Americanized Irish Catholic.

Although there seems to be a zillion coming of age in the 1950s-1960s memoirs on the market (see Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis by McCourt, Little Boy Blues by Jones, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Janzen and Literary Life by McMurtrey, etc.) Kevin O’Hara refreshes his with witty humor. He states that his parents and siblings taught him the importance of health and family; as the latter needs to be there when the former is not. Interesting and well written, but not with anything unique, fans of autobiographies will enjoy. Mr. O’Hara’s memoir as he uses engaging anecdotes with intelligence and wit.

Harriet Klausner