Monday, January 31, 2011

Keep a Little Secret-Dorothy Garlock

Keep a Little Secret
Dorothy Garlock
Grand Central, Mar 21 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446540148

Charlotte Tucker grew up in her Aunt Louise’s boarding house in Carlson, Minnesota with no one her age. By 1939 with dreams of seeing the world, Charlotte moves to Sawyer, Oklahoma to run her own schoolhouse. She will live on the ranch owned by John Grant. Excited over the prospect of independence, Charlotte adjusts rather easily with becoming a Sooner.

However, questionable accidents start occurring at Grant’s ranch. The prime suspect is Charlotte’s friend Owen Wallace who accompanied by his sister came from Colorado after their mother’s death; he has a grudge against Grant. After their mom died, Owen and his twin sister Hannah searched for their father. They believe that man who raped their mom is Grant. As the war overseas beckons and the weather worsens, Charlotte refuses to believe Owen would attack Grant and remains convinced she is right when someone assaults her.

The sequel to Stay a Little Longer continues the adventures of Charlotte who has relocated to Oklahoma. The story line contains a fully developed cast of characters inside of an exciting suspenseful historical plot. However, it is rural Oklahoma coming out of the Great Depression just before America’s entry into WWII that makes this a winner as readers will “know we belong to the land; and the land we belong to is grand” (“Oklahoma” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II).

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who Is My Shelter?-Neta Jackson

Who Is My Shelter?
Neta Jackson
Thomas Nelson, Mar 1 2011, $14.9
ISBN: 9781595548634

In Chicago, Philip Fairbanks changed the locks on their penthouse kicking his wife Gabby to the street and sending their two children P.J. and Paul away; with her mother and a dog, she moved into the Manna House where she worked (see Where Do I Go? and Who Do I Talked To?). Gabby got her act together and now she, mom, the dog and her children live in a small apartment (see Who Do I Lean On?) together.

Meanwhile Philip recovers in a hospital after receiving a beating for non payment of his exorbitant gambling debt. His business partner is irate with him and his father disappointed with him. However, the biggest hammer to his gut is when Gabby and the kids visit him. Philip meets Will Nisson whose grandma is at the hospital. Will tells him that his grandma has been looking for her older sister for six decades, but has not given up hope. Philip misses Gabby and realizes how much he truly lost when he kicked her out. He wants her back, but she has moved on with a purpose at the House of Hope shelter for homeless mothers and kids.

The fourth Yada Yada House of Hope inspirational series is a wonderful tale in which Philip and Gabby ride separate escalators going in different directions, as she never lost faith even when he kicked her to the street and he never had faith even before he dumped her. Fans of the series will appreciate this fabulous story line as other subplots involving Will and his grandma, and Harry the cop, etc. add depth to a terrific entry. Perhaps the only caveat is that newcomers read the previous novels to understand how far Philip and Gabby have come.

Harriet Klausner

A Watershed Year-Susan Schoenberger

A Watershed Year
Susan Schoenberger
Guideposts, Mar 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780824948566

Lucy is stunned when her best friend thirty-three year old Harlan dies from cancer even knowing he would die soon. She thinks he will come out of his bedroom any moment to greet her as thirty-three years olds do not die from cancer. She struggles to move on but cannot accept his death especially when he seemed to get better but abruptly ended his experimental treatments in spite of her begging him not to quit. Her biggest regret was never telling him she loved him.

E-mails from Harlan that he arranged to be sent after he died begins to encourage Lucy; especially the one in which he insists she is perfect to raise a child. She ponders motherhood and decides out of homage to her cherished best friend to adopt. Lucy travels to Russia where she meets equally lonely physically and emotionally scarred four years old Mat. She adopts him and brings him back to America. Although he initially is extremely reticent and frightened, Mat and Lucy slowly form a caring bond as each heals emotionally due to the loving codependence on each other that they forge. However, Mat’s father Vasily arrives from Russia to bring his son home.

A Watershed Year is a warm inspirational character study in which the key players (including Harlan through his e-mails, a tape, and his beloved’s memories) seem real. Lucy is a terrific protagonist who holds the entertaining enlightening story line together as she grows from dependency on Harlan (even after he died) to a mothering dependency on Mat to finally becoming a mother when Vasily arrives. With a strong support cast, readers will appreciate this profound look at the convolution and metamorphosis of relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Good Man Is Hard to Find-ReShonda Tate Billingsley

A Good Man Is Hard to Find
ReShonda Tate Billingsley
Gallery, Mar 22 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9781439183502

Investigative journalist Ava Cole feels like she fell through the rabbit hole when the news magazine she works for shuts down. Instead of seeking a job, Ava is assigned to work for a sister publication, the National Star; a tabloid in which the story always comes first even before the safety of the reporter and the subject of the exposé.

Ava admits to herself she appreciates the upbeat accommodations her new position provides, but hates wallowing in the dirt. Her current assignment has her in Aruba to cover pop superstar India Wright's wedding. Her editor expects Ava to find the sordid filth on the bride and groom. However, Ava also finds romance with photographer Cliff and with India’s manager Julian; while hoping she is below the radar screen of some tabloid reporter exposing her triangular tryst.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find is an entertaining look at tabloid reporting of scandalous behavior’ which ironically as Ava knows she could be the story. The cast is solid especially Ava struggling with how far she feels she fell in the journalism world and the rejection of her long time former boyfriend. However, as she learns sex scandals sell while other investigative reporting apparently does not and that she needs two hunks to move passed her former hunk. Readers will enjoy Ava’s revelations as she fully comprehends the true meaning of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and even harder to retain.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts-Lucy Dillon

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts
Lucy Dillon
Berkley, Mar 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780425238875

At about the same time her decade long relationship ends, thirty-nine year old Rachel inherits her aunt's home, dog, and kennel. Not sure what to make of the will as she never expected the bequest, Rachel decides to move to her aunt’s home on the London outer perimeter.

She finds the kennel overwhelmed with rescued canines and her aunt’s neighbors to be friendly with each other and welcoming to the newcomer. Rachel decides to run the kennel as best she can though she knows nothing about dogs and sees good homes for her wards. Rachel meets divorce veterinarian George who is over the edge with his former wife who gave their children a puppy. Rachel befriends married Natalie who wants a baby but for now settles on coddling their “foster” dog. The kennel owner finds other nice people as she explains a house is not a home without a dog sharing the digs.

Mindful of the Groucho quip “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend; Inside of a dog it's too dark to read”, this is an enjoyable second chance at life as the beleaguered but happy heroine finds rescuing canines ironically saves her. This is Rachel’s makeover but the strong cast; canines included especially her roommate provide a warm contemporary tale that encourages the audience to learn what makes you happy and risk seeking it.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life From Scratch-Melissa Ford

Life From Scratch
Melissa Ford
Belle Bridge Books, Nov 24 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9781935661986

In her tiny New York apartment, she writes in her blog that June Cleaver, Martha Stewart and Mrs. C, etc. can cook while she can’t. Divorced from lawyer Adam the “stranger” she still loves, Rachel Goldman decides to learn how to cook in her small kitchen. Boiling and microwaving pre-fixed items do not count as Rachel plans to fry an egg without breaking the yoke.

As she writes in her blog about her failures that would have Cleaver hammering her with baking pins and her tiny successes, her blog becomes popular not as Best Kitchen or Best Food Blog but as Best Diarist. Still she focuses on one meatloaf casserole cooked evenly throughout instead of burnt to a crisp on the outside and so raw as to be dangerous to eat on the inside. She continues to teach herself with hopes that one day mom will allow her to cook the Seder and that Adam will learn what he lost especially since a man has shown interest in her.

Life From Scratch is an intriguing character driven tale of a woman needing to find something to affirm her self-worth; her choice is cooking as she starts from a zero base and uses her blog as a means to release her frustrations (and add humor to the recipe). Readers will enjoy the insightful yet jocular story line with its underlying message that Polonius advices his son Laertes (Hamlet) To thine own self be true"; especially telling loved ones your hopes and aspirations, but even more so your fears. Rachel learning to cook is a metaphor for readers to live even if it means beginning over Life from Scratch.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Year She Fell-Alicia Rasley

The Year She Fell
Alicia Rasley
Belle Bridge Books, Nov 15 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9781611940008

In Virginia at the second Rushmore Presbyterian Church, Brian Warrick shows Minister Ellen Wakefield O'Connor his birth certificate, which states the mother of Adam Paul Wakefield is Ellen. He explains further he was adopted by the Warrick couple. Ellen says she cannot be his biological mother as she was in Washington pregnant with her child Sarah, born only a few moths after she allegedly gave birth to Adam. However, she looks at a photo she has and though not knowing who the mother is, she knows who the father is; her husband Tom.

Confronted by his wife and his biological son, Tom refuses to divulge anything. The truth lies back home in Wakefield, West Virginia where Ellen, her sisters Cathy and Laura and their adopted sibling Teresa grew up in affluence surrounded by poverty. There is where Brian’s letter never made it to Ellen and there is where the mystery of how Cathy died that haunts her surviving siblings might be solved.

This is an engaging regional family drama in which keeping secrets cause more harm than revealing them would have done. The key cast members have diverse personalities especially the three surviving sisters (and to a lesser degree Cathy though her family filters). None of the secrets are difficult to figure out before the story line fully reveals them, which leads to a somewhat linear tale. Still fans will enjoy Alicia Rasley’s The Year She Fell as the Wakefield clan struggles with inconvenient truths.

Harriet Klausner

Drinking Closer to Home-Jessica Anya Blau

Drinking Closer to Home
Jessica Anya Blau
Harper, Jan 18 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061984020

In Santa Barbara, fifty-something Louise suffers a massive heart attack. She remains in a hospital in critical condition with her prime complaint being the lack of a cigarette or two hundred. Her husband Buzzy the lawyer promised Louise he would conceal her condition from their three adult kids, but could not as he needs them near for his sake.

Anna flies in from Vermont; leaving behind a spouse she cheats on due to a sex addiction to run their florist business and their infant. Portia, separated from her cheating spouse Patrick, arrives alone since their daughter Esme lives with her father’s lover. TV producer Emery and his boyfriend Alejandro also come from the East Coast; they hope to persuade his older sisters to donate their eggs so that they can raise a baby; they already have selected the chosen female bearer. The bickering horde invade Louise’s room causing havoc to the hospital’s rule keepers, which in turn elates Louise still a renegade hippie after all those years.

The insightful story line rotates focus from the present mostly at the hospital and the past in which each protagonist recalls incidents differently. Louise is the prime player who holds the strong quirky family drama together. Buzzy and the children have flaws that make each seen real and lead to fans empathizing with them; especially Portia who as the middle child became the mom when her older sister and their mother abdicated the role yet her daughter rejects her.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What The Heart Wants-Deborah Grace Staley

What The Heart Wants
Deborah Grace Staley
Belle Bridge Books, Aug 9 2010, $14.95
ISBN: 9781935661979

In rustic serene Angel Ridge, Tennessee, Lark “Candi Heart” Hensley plans to open up Heart’s Desire, lingerie and perfume parlor. She understands that some of the under five-hundred residents will object to her shop, calling it blasphemy; especially anyone who knows her heritage here in this hamlet believes she comes from allegedly enchantress witches seducing the menfolk.

However, her biggest problem with coming to the town of her ancestors is Sheriff Grady Wallace who she is attracted to and he fails to conceal how much he wants her. On the plus side is that Ferguson's Diner’s Dixie Ferguson likes the stranger with the odd name. However, as Candi and Grady fall in love while he tries to learn her secrets of why here that he believes she hides, someone wants her out of town with threats at her store, home, and as a pedestrian; to that unknown adversary a body bag is an acceptable means.

The third Angel Ridge romance (see Home for Christmas and Only You) is a fun contemporary regional romance with an engaging suspense subplot. The lead couple is a warm pairing of two people with a family history in Angel Ridge. Although the thriller element is tension-filled with national and local implications, that subplot serves more as an impetus to the courtship of Candi Heart.

Harriet Klausner

The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship-Lisa Verge Higgins

The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship
Lisa Verge Higgins
Five Spot (Grand Central), Jan 26 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446563512

Rachel Braun, Kate Jansen, Bobbie Jo Marcum, and Sarah Pollard were best friends forever, but three of the foursome did not expect forever to end abruptly with death. Not quite forty, Rachel the bravest of the quartet dies from cancer that she concealed from her BFFs. However, before her death, Rachel wrote letters to each of her buddies daring them to take on the challenge of their greatest fear.

Rachel directs house-mom Kate to rekindle the spark of her marriage with Paul that she doused to give her all to their three children. Doctors Without Borders nurse Sarah needs to win back the love of her life Colin who lives a zillion miles away in geography and lifestyle, but who she never moved on from; this requires risking her heart again so that win or lose she wins as she can love again. Jo the businesswoman avoids personal commitment like it’s the plague as she learned as a foster child; so single mom Rachel challenges her to raise her seven year old daughter Gracie with the grace she knows the woman has.

This well written contemporary buddy book contains plenty of depth as the premise of friends knowing you at times better than you want to admit makes for a strong tale. Rachel from her deathbed provides the impetus to her three BFFs to take risks as she insists you only live once and must make the best of your short time span. No final negative shockers though some spins end surprisingly, fans will enjoy the saga of the three surviving musketeers who understand that life is a risk but with friends who are “all for one and one for all” (Dumas) it can be fulfilling.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Bird House-Kelly Simmons

The Bird House
Kelly Simmons
Washington Square Press (Simon and Schuster), Feb 1 2011, $14.00
ISBN: 9781439160930

In Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, septuagenarian Ann Biddle knows her short term memory is failing her as she suffers from dementia. On the other hand her long term memory works better than ever as recalls in vivid detail her past; especially traumatic events. She knows everything about her daughter’s death and her failed marriage, for instance.

Her eight years old granddaughter Ellie asks for her help with a school project. Ann is excited, but knows her daughter-in-law Tinsley will interfere as she cocoons her daughter from hurts. As Ann and Tinsley war over Ellie, the child feels unsure what to do as she does not want to hurt either her mom or grandma but struggles with her older loved ones trying to control her relationship with the other.

The Bird House is a wonderful family drama that looks deeply at the relationship between three generations of women. The story line in some ways is a parable about the American family as Ann begins to understand nuances re her mom and grandma at war over her. For instance, the little girl concludes "A house divided against itself cannot stand" (Lincoln) and her loved ones created a governance “constitution” built on lies and secrets that led to remorse and regrets, but remains strong and positive. With three real people acting and reacting in genuine ways, Kelly Simmons provides a super relationship feud in which one family represents the national family.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Union Quilters-Jennifer Chiaverini

The Union Quilters
Jennifer Chiaverini
Dutton, Feb 22 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780525952039

In 1862 the men of Water's Ford, Pennsylvania join the Northern army leaving behind their loved ones. The women worry about the males but know the cause is just. They will do whatever they can to support the war and pray for the safe return of their beloved.

The Elm Creek Valley quilting bee members rally around one another. Constance Wright knows her husband Abel a freeman of color wants to free other slaves like he did when he bought her freedom though this time he will use his rifle even if the Union refuses to accept a black. Dorothea Nelson and Charlotte Granger worry about their educated spouses. A former schoolmaster Thomas Nelson takes with him his beloved Dorothea's Dove in the Window quilt. His brother-in-law Dr. Jonathan Granger leaves behind his pregnant wife Charlotte and their child. Gerda Bergstrom misses Jonathan who seems to have moved on from his first love while her brother Hans refuses to fight claiming he is a pacifist.

The latest Elm Creek drama (see The Aloha Quilt and A Quilter’s Holiday) is a strong fresh entry that gives readers a profound look at mostly abolitionists either fighting as volunteer soldiers for the Union Army or at home in Pennsylvania seeking ways in addition to prayers to help their loved ones at war. Readers will appreciate this superb Civil War entry though ironically for an Elm Creek tale the stich count is at an all time low.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Queen's Rival -Diane Haeger

The Queen's Rival
Diane Haeger
NAL, Mar 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780451232205

Fourteen years old Bessie Blount is part of the retinue of Queen Katherine of Aragon. However, the precocious teen catches the eye of Katherine’s wandering husband King Henry VIII. He wants her, which makes her an enemy of her employer.

The monarch and the teenager begin a tryst, which ends when she becomes pregnant; replaced by the Boleyn sisters. When she gives birth to a son Henry, her baby is removed from her care and she is forced to leave court. She marries her friend, Lord Gilbert Tailbois and has three children with him before his death makes her a widow. She dies from consumption when she is in her thirties.

The latest In the Court of Henry VIII historical thriller (see The Queen’s Mistake), Diane Haeger focuses on the life of Bess Blount who was Henry’s mistress when she was a teen only to be kicked aside when the Boleyn babes arrived at court. Ironically, their offspring is the only illegitimate that the lusty womanizing monarch recognized. Even with Bessie bringing freshness as a rarely used (if ever) character, the period has been the setting so frequently that fans of anything Tudor will find little fresh though "Bless 'ee, Bessie Blount” makes for an engaging biographical fiction anyway.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

All For One-Melody Carlson

All For One
Melody Carlson
David C. Cook, Mar 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434764935

In Clifdon, Oregon, the fifty-something four Lindas continue to be there for one another since they recently reunited after decades apart (see Hometown Ties).

Abby suffers from sleep deprivation because she keeps a vigil, watching over her husband of their-five years Paul, who suffered a heart attack recently. She has even neglected renovation of her Coastal Cottage B&B that she loves so her three friends led by Marley perform an intervention.

Caroline knows her mother belongs in a care facility as the Alzheimer’s has gotten worse. She is away from the house when a fire breaks out while a substitute care provider attends her mom. Severely burned her mom survives on life support that Caroline wants unplugged. The lead detective believes Caroline tried to kill her mom. While her boyfriend Mitch is overseas, her friends Abby and Marley investigate while Janie provides legal support. Her abusive brother arrives for the funeral with demands on his beleaguered sister.

Divorced Marley worries about her adult son Ashton who sounds suicidal and depressed. She brings him home where she prays her friends and her potential boyfriend Jack will welcome her gay son.

Janie’s boyfriend Victor is having second thoughts since his first wife and mother of his two adult sons Donna has moved into his home. Donna makes it crazily clear that they remain married under God’s law though she divorced him and remarried.

Although the four prime subplots move forward as expected, the third Lindas entry is a terrific Christian contemporary tale that focuses on several modern day social issues confronting the Church and society as a whole. Each is handled with the dexterity expected from Melody Carlson as All for One is a strong character driven drama.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Irish Princess-Karen Harper

The Irish Princess
Karen Harper
NAL, Feb 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451232823

For the first tens of her life, Elizabeth “Gera” Fitzgerald is happy as her family is caring and loving and the patriarch a powerful lord in Ireland especially in County Kildare. Her idyllic childhood ends when King Henry VIII who also rules over Ireland orders Lord Fitzgerald to give an accounting of his seditious activities. Fitzgerald’s denial is ignored as the monarch locks him away in the Tower where he dies.

The King proclaims the extended Fitzgerald family as traitors to the throne for their activities in support of a free Ireland; this leads to the execution without a jury of peers’ trial of Gera’s uncles, her older brothers and several other males. The family arrives in London to beg for clemency and pledge their loyalty to Henry. Raging, but concealing her feelings about the ruthless monarch, Gera plots to kill His Highness even if it means her execution. While feeling a sense of sisterly camaraderie with Henry’s estranged daughters and controlling her attraction to Lord Clinton as sixteen year old she marries Lord Browne to gain easier royal access; as Gera waits for the right moment to cut the royal throat as she doubts he has a heart.

This is a super Tudor biographical fiction of the “Fair Geraldine”, immortalized in a sonnet when she was ten years old. Her goals were killing Henry for murdering her family and to regain their noble standing stripped away by the ruler. The story line provides a fresh perspective to the deadly politics at the court of King Henry VIII starting with a terrific prologue as fans of the Tudor period will appreciate The Irish Princess who refused to back away from her own objectives.

Harriet Klausner

The Illumination-Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier
Pantheon, Feb 1 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780375425318

One night just like any other suddenly The Illumination miraculously occurs as any wound on any person suddenly shines with a glow. The light shows how battered and bruised humanity truly is; as no one remains illuminated-free. During the beginning of The Illumination, Carol Ann is in the hospital due to a sliced off thumb. During anesthesia she bites her inner mouth adding a second injury. After surgery she shares a room with Patricia who along with her husband Jason were in a car accident due to ice. Patricia gives Carol Ann a book of love poems Jason wrote to his spouse. The woman assumes her husband is dead so she gives the book to Carol Ann before she dies.

Jason wants to see Carol Ann. Soon afterward battered child Chuck Carter breaks into Jason’s home and steals his journal of love. He passes the journal to evangelist Ryan Shifrin who wonders about humanity’s mental and physical sufferings under a benign God. The love tome soon passes on to Nina Poggione.

This is a powerful tale that focuses on humanity’s pain and suffering yet with a glimmer of hope as Kevin Brockmeier uses six degrees of separation to make a case that mankind is always tied together with one another even if it is for evanescent moments. The key to this tale that in some ways reads more like a short story collection as the focus shifts to the current book bearer is that the six prime stars seem real as each suffers from mental and physical injuries yet like The Illumination, Jason’s book of love shines through tying each to one another. Character driven, readers will appreciate the Illumination into the collective soul of mankind.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 14, 2011

Home to Woefield-Susan Juby

Home to Woefield
Susan Juby
Harper, Mar 8 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061995194

Having lived her entire life in Brooklyn, twenty-four year old Prudence is euphoric to inherit a farm in Canada from a relative she never met as working the land has been her dream.. Celebrity blogger alcoholic Seth lives at home as a recluse with his mom embarrassed by an incident involving the drama teacher at the school he attended. Septuagenarian Earl lives on Woefield farm whose owner just died; he is stunned that a no brains and all mouth inherited the spread.

Prudence decides to host a strawberry social. She asks Earl the grump who should come; he ignores her question. Seth’s mom tosses him out and suggests he asks the newcomer if he can stay with her. Shocked he does and even more shocking she says okay. Prudence worries about the farm’s debt. At the social, guests are excited that she is a published author though it is only one panned novel; they ask for paid lessons. Sally Spratt asks if her daughter Sara’s prized chickens can stay on the farm for a fee as the little girl is a member of the Jr. Poultry Fancier’s Club. The bank will not float a loan until Prudence mentions converting to a treatment center with Seth as her first patient; the loan officer agrees of her niece can attend. When Prudence learns Earl’s younger brother Merle is a famous bluegrass player she concocts a plan to rescue the farm and several lost souls including her own.

The key ensemble cast, especially the four prime players, is all developed while the rotation of viewpoint gels nicely together; filled with wry humor, readers see similar incidents through different eyes. Although there is a morality issue as no one is punished for misbehavior, fans will enjoy Brooklyn bringing to rural Canada compassionate chutzpah.

Harriet Klausner

When We Were Strangers-Pamela Schoenewaldt

When We Were Strangers
Pamela Schoenewaldt
Harper, Jan 22 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780062003997

Growing up in the small village of Opi in Abruzza on the spine of Italy, Irma Vitale’s mamma always warned her never to leave. When Irma was sixteen, her mamma on her deathbed reminded her daughter that "If you leave Opi, you'll die with strangers." For the next few years after her mamma’s death, Irma heeded her dying advice, but after Carlo leaves for a place called Cleveland, her father turns increasingly to drink. Aunt Zia Carmello worried about her single niece with no reasonable male prospect to protect her from her father, gives Irma money to flee to family in America.

Twenty year old Irma hopes her sewing skills provide her employment as she sails on the Servia across the Atlantic as a young single unprotected female. Though scarred physically and emotionally from the crossing, she makes it to Cleveland where she obtains work in a horrific sweatshop. From the misery of Ohio she goes on to Chicago only to have the Great Fire destroy her dressmaking lifestyle and finally renews it in San Francisco with a precise needle that makes her much more. Her journey across the ocean and the United States enable her to meet fellow other immigrants seeking the American dream too

This is a well written timely reminder of the great wave of late nineteenth century immigrants coming to America to act on a dream like business mind ambitious Molly the Irish maid. The strong cast anchored by Irma’s odyssey provides a sense of the diversity that made America strong. Readers will enjoy this deep historical as Pamela Schoenewaldt opens the window to a world When We Were Strangers coming together though from diverse Old Countries to start anew.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Letters from Home -Kristina McMorris

Letters from Home
Kristina McMorris
Kensington, Feb 22 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780758246844

During the turmoil of WWII, Betty Cordell, Julia Renard and Liz Stephens become roommates in 1944 in Chicago. Each has different dreams about their future.

Betty plans to avoid the mistakes her mom made; she will only marry someone affluent. Julia has a fabulous offer to intern at a renowned fashion design firm, but declines the chance as she waits for her soldier fiancé to come home to marry him. Liz ponders whether she truly wants to be a professor married to a politician after briefly meeting soldier Morgan McClain at the USO; his interest is with Betty; he asks her to exchange letters with him while he is overseas but Liz does it by pretending to be Betty.

This is an engaging historical tale with a strong romantic underpinning. The key to the story line is the various background settings from Chicago to the European battlefields and a combat deployed field hospital in Dutch New Guinea; each brings alive the era in diverse ways. Fans will enjoy this fine WWII drama wondering how Morgan will react if he survives to come home to duplicity when the war is over.

Harriet Klausner

Emily and Einstein-Linda Francis Lee

Emily and Einstein
Linda Francis Lee
St. Martin’s, Mar 1 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312382186

They seem to live the perfect lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; few obtain entrance let alone an apartment in the Dakota Building, but his family’s old money provided the key. Sandy Portman is a businessman while his lover Emily Barlow is a book editor.

Their idyllic life together ends in tragedy as Sandy dies after being hit by a car. Even before he is buried, Emily learns her marriage was based on lies. Besides being evicted from the Dakota, she learns the vast duplicity of the husband she cherished. Before she can consider closure, she needs the truth as to who Sandy Portman was. Adopting a mangy dog she names Einstein due to his high intelligence as her companion, Emily begins her odyssey unaware that the mutt at her side is Sandy who cannot move on in the after life without atoning for his sins with his beloved whose soul is shattered further by what she learns about him.

Emily and Einstein is an engaging redemption tale starring a remorseful spirit-canine and a grieving heroine. The linear story line is fun to follow though lacks any shockers. Mindful of Spielberg’s Always, fans will enjoy Sandy’s efforts to save Emily’s soul from the destruction he caused to her.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Friday's Daughter-Patricia Sprinkle

Friday's Daughter
Patricia Sprinkle
Berkley, Mar 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780451232199

Teensie MacAllester is the sole caretaker of her ailing father, a state senator and college president. Thus when he dies she is hurt that he left the family home to all of his three daughters; as Teensie felt she earned the ancestral mansion without co-owners who were never there for their dad and he promised the abode to her.

Teensie was planning to convert the house into a nursing home. However, her siblings refuse; instead deciding to sell the place. Her nervy sisters also try to dictate how she should live her impoverished middle age existence. Instead though despondent and unemployed, she ignores her sibling shrews to accept a position as a home nurse to Native American farmer Tobias Jones, who suffers from hepatitis. Jones hires her even though he loathes the MacAllester clan for stealing his people’s land two centuries ago. Tobias and Teensie are attracted to one another, which angers her prejudicial siblings embellishing his already doubts about any MacAllester. However, Teensie proves her worth when she helps him care for three young recently orphaned Native American relatives.

This engaging southern family drama stars a woman who deferred her dreams for years to care for an autocratic father only to find in his death he betrayed her; as do her sisters who give her the option of being the family charity case care-giver or remain impoverished. Although the good, the bad and the ugly parody of Cinderella and her sisters detracts from the tale as that only accentuates the lack of MacAllester morals (except for the protagonist), fans will enjoy the lead female’s efforts to liberate herself from her annoying kin who excommunicate her when she chose to live with the enemy who also makes clear he distrusts her due to her roots.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Late For Tea at the Deer Palace-Tamara Chalabi

Late For Tea at the Deer Palace
Tamara Chalabi
Harper, Jan 18 2011, $27.99
ISBN: 9780061240393

Just after WWI Iraq remained Under British control, but the Chalabi family was one of the most powerful locals as they pushed for modernization. The author’s great-grandfather Abdul Hussein Chalabi was a key figure in the birth of a nation. In 1932, Britain granted Iraq its independence, which enhanced the influence and wealth of the Chalabi family as a monarchy is established. Between the World Wars, Baghdad become known as the Middle East’s Paris with the writer’s grandma Bibi leading the revival. Abdul’s son Abdul Hadi Chalabi became extremely rich with a deep connection to Britain especially during World War II. However, in 1958 the coup ends the Chalabi power as they are forced to flee the country. When Saddam took power, Ahmed Chalabi became the leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress in exile. Finally his daughter Tamara leaves England arriving in Baghdad for the first time in 2003.

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace is an excellent historical chronicle of Iraq through four generations of the Chalabi family. An historian, Tamara Chalabi provides a profound look at her country that she first stepped inside when she was in her late twenties though the tales from her family to her provided her a rich background. The exile years are not as fully developed as the preceding decades with the best segues of the family saga coming from Bibi’s extremely modern (eye opening) perspective that will leave readers to ponder what if.

Harriet Klausner

Secrets of Paris-Luanne Rice

Secrets of Paris
Luanne Rice
Bantam, Jan 25 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780553587838

In order to escape somewhat from the murder-suicide death of her father and take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity, Lydie and Michael McBride move to Paris on a cultural exchange program. The photographer stylist and her architect husband redesign a room at the Louvre.

Lydie and Bostonian expatriate Patrice d'Origny become friends as she does with Patrice’s Filipino maid Kelly. Meanwhile, Michael begins an affair with a French author Anne Dumas who is writing the biography of Mme de Sevigne. Patrice’s husband Didier hires Lydie to develop the new d'Origny Bijoutiers jewelry catalogue. As Lydie and Michael seem to drift further apart, each wonders if they can regain what they lost as Americans in Paris.

This reprint of a 1991 family drama predominantly focuses on Lydie, but also looks deep at Patrice and Kelly. The story line is character driven with little action as the themes of friendship, forgiveness and second chances are explored. Though the men and Anne are emaciated stereotypes, readers will enjoy Luanne Rice’s look into the souls of three women at key crossroads in their respective lives who will always have Paris.

Harriet Klausner

Letter to My Daughter-George Bishop

Letter to My Daughter
George Bishop
Ballantine, Jan 25 2010, $13.00
ISBN: 9780345515995

Laura the mom and Elizabeth the teenage daughter have a major argument over boys. Raging the fifteen years old Liz races out of the house after her frustrated mom slaps her. Upset and worried, Laura decides to write a letter to her daughter about how she as a teenage girl became a woman.

In 1969 in a small town Louisiana high school Laura and impoverished Cajun Tim Prejean were dating over the objection of her parents. Knowing their daughter rebelled against their authority with Tim as a token, they transferred Laura to a strict private Catholic school Sacred Heart for girls only. In spite of derision from her classmates over seeing a Cajun, Laura and Tim continued to exchange letters even after he is drafted and sent to Vietnam. However, she begins to question their relationship though she does not want to hurt her first love.

Putting aside the problem with a mom writing a novella sized letter while her daughter has just ran away in anger, fans will enjoy this mother-daughter relationship drama as Laura looks back at her teen years. Laura is an interesting protagonist as she wonders if she waited to late to tell her story starting with Tim and her parents sending her to school to end their relationship. Readers will enjoy Laura’s pearls of wisdom that she prays she can apply to her relationship with her daughter starting with simply two way communicating.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Not Without You-Jean Barrett

Not Without You
Jean Barrett
Five Star, Mar 9 2011, $25.95
ISBN 9781594149498

In 1991 news correspondent Kate Groen covers the Persian Gulf War. She loves her work, but is frightened when she is taken prisoner. Her spirits soar upon meeting prisoner of war US Army Lieutenant Efrem Chaudoir. They fall in love.

When they are freed, Efrem begins his plan to divorce his current wife Jackie who also wanted to end their marriage. He wants to be single so he and Kate can marry. However, his wife’s pregnancy keeps him married to a woman he does not love. Meanwhile in DC before she covers Kosovo, Kate meets kindhearted Gordon May who helps her move pass her lost love. Over the ensuing years, Kate and Efrem meet in various international hotspots like 1999 Kosovo and 2007 Afghanistan, but never seem to come together permanently even as their feeling for one another remains strong.

The star-crossed romance takes a back seat to the epic look at two decades of world events though the eyes of an army career officer and a journalist. Ironically both Kate and Efrem are a delightful pair when overseas at a hot spot. On the other hand when at home each comes across childishly resentful loathing their sacrifice for someone else though why they sacrificed never quite gels; for instance Jackie wanted a divorce too but gave up her desires for their child and besides by 1990s divorce even with kids involved had become commonplace. Still readers will enjoy Not Without You for its grand scale look at the crisis zones during the previous three Administrations.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pale Rose of England-Sandra Worth

Pale Rose of England
Sandra Worth
Berkley, Feb 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425238776

In a political marriage, Scottish Catherine Gordon and Lord Richard of Gloucester Perkin Warbeck marry. Catherine and Richard fall in love as she supports her spouse’s claim to the throne of England. Shockingly instead of her marriage leading to universal support of her husband being king as the offspring of the former late ruler Edward, in 1497 it leads to a civil war when the House of Tudor declares Richard a fraud and imposter.

Richard loses the war that keeps his rival Henry Tudor on the throne and Catherine as a royal prisoner is forced to serve in the demoralizing role of lady-in-waiting to the queen instead of being the king’s wife as she expected. Henry VII is attracted to her and acts on his desire though Catherine rejects his attempts. She only cares for her husband trying to keep him alive even if it means selling her soul to the devil sitting on the throne.

Although the War of the Roses has been the focus of much literature (Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War- The red Queen, and The White Queen), Sandra Worth provides a fresh perspective by showcasing the story line though the eyes of the loser’s wife. Lady Catherine makes the tale as she and Richard marry out of political expedience but their marriage of convenience becomes a love match. Readers who relish royal historical England will appreciate this engaging energetic look at the rise of the Plantagenet line to the throne from the side of those who lost.

Harriet Klausner