Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Uncoupling-Meg Wolitzer

The Uncoupling
Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead, Apr 5 2011, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594487880

At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Stellar Plains, New Jersey, drama teacher Fran Heller chooses the Ancient Greek classic Lysistrata as the play her students will perform. However the anti-war comedy has a strange effect on the town’s females. Just like in Aristophanes’ drama, the adult women and teen girls refuse to have sex with their male counterparts. Though in the Greek drama it was to end the endless Peloponnesian War; none of the Jersey women know why,

No exceptions to the sexual abstinence rule surfaces. The guys are stunned as their seductive efforts fail miserably. The women wonder where the passion went while the men wonder where the women went. All are unhappy as a spell has been cast leading to the Uncoupling of couples breaking up.

This is an intriguing sort of adult fairy tale look at female sexuality in the age of social media when people are living much longer. The story line is character driven by the couples struggling with frustration over unfulfilled basic needs although the female side is much more complicated. Readers will enjoy the New Jersey Housewives and other females starring in Mg Wolitzer’s modern day rendition of Lysistrata.

Harriet Klausner

Dangerous Pleasures-Fiona Zedde

Dangerous Pleasures
Fiona Zedde
Kensington, Feb 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780758217400

Her Yoga students and her lovers appreciate Mayson a lesbian. She enjoys her work as an instructor and relishes making love with various partners. Her best friend Renee a heterosexual struggles to move on beyond a divorce from her emotionally abusive husband. Her parents want her to date staid neighbor Grant who reflects his desire for her on his face (and other body parts), but she wants sex when she desires it with no strings. Mayson helps Renee arrange trysts with strangers until the latter finds the man who plays her like a violin virtuoso as she wants more from him.

Kendra meets Mayson and is instantly attracted to her. Mayson is somewhat curious about Kendra who openly displays her desire. Kendra pursues Mayson earnestly as she wants her. They begin a heated tryst that both enjoy. However, as Kendra sends her gifts and tries to take up her free time exclusively, Mayson realizes her lover demands more from her than she wants to give. While Mayson pushes back for some space, a hurt Kendra turns angry and jealous.

With a nod to the Douglas-Stone film Basic Instinct, aptly titled Dangerous Pleasures is a fabulous erotic relationship drama driven by the dysfunctional lead couple. How Kendra acts after feeling betrayed will stun readers but seems plausible. Though somewhat repetitive, Fiona Zedde provides an entreating contemporary cautionary tale warns the audience not to trifle with someone else’s heart.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier-Karl Bacon

An Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier
Karl Bacon
Zondervan, Mar 1 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 9780310322023

Although he loathed leaving his beloved wife Jesse Ann and their children back in Connecticut, Michael Palmer heeds the call of President Lincoln and enlists in 1862. However, he quickly finds himself detesting the deaths of friends and the incompetent leadership of the political hacks in charge of the soldiers who sit in the rear sending people to their death without a thought. Still he vows to do his duty even as his anger at the killings of his comrades has him thirsty for the slaying of Confederate soldiers.

At Gettysburg, Michael keeps score of those he shoots until a dying enemy holds aloft his family bible. Michael is stunned as realizes he had demonized the foe, but like him they have families praying for their return. After he helps the soldier with his final dying breaths by reading scripture to him, Michael takes the bible with him. When the war ends, he tells his Jesse Ann what he did to Mr. Augustus Wyatt of North Carolina. She persuades him to find the soldier’s widow in order to return to her the bible and pray she forgives his shattered soul.

This is an excellent historical tale with an insightful look at the 14th Connecticut Infantry through the eyes of Michael, who became immune to the death of the enemy as he no longer saw them as God’s flock. He also loses his faith in the Lord with the deaths of his comrades. Bloody as the battlefields were and still are, the aftermath of combat in the survivors grips readers. Perhaps those who use the war card as a first option should peruse An Eye for Glory to comprehend first hand the true cost to God’s children.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, February 25, 2011

Montecore-Jonas Hassin Khemeri

Jonas Hassin Khemeri
Knopf, Mar 8 2011, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307270955

Abbas left Tunisia to settle in Stockholm. Over eight years ago, he vanished. An email from Kadir of Tunisia to first time published novelist Jonas Khemiri offers an intriguing proposition. Kadir claims to have been Abbas’ best friend at a Tunisian orphanage while Jonas is Abbas’ adult son. The former wants to collaborate with a latter on Abbas’s biography.

Abbas came to Sweden without a krona to his name or an identity beyond orphan as he fell in love with a flight attendant. With money lent from Kadir, Abbas follows his beloved to Stockholm, where like a Cinderfella they marry and raise a family. However, the North African fails to adapt to life in Sweden and worse is unable to support his family as a photographer as xenophobic Swediot bigots vandalize his studio. Frustrated in his attempts to fit in while his son taunts him, he gave up and disappeared only to become world recognized as a superstar in New York.

This is an excellent look at modern Swedish society’s so called melting pot in which one prime ingredient is acceptable in the stew; though this could be just about anywhere with few true international cities. The story line is driven by Kadir and Jonas who share commentary on Abbas. However, what makes the novel superior is the Tunisian-Swedish dialect (incredibly translated into English by Rachel Willson-Broyles) as readers will believe Abbas is a real person whose journey from frightened child to world accolades starts in Tunisia, goes to Sweden and ends in New York.

Harriet Klausner

Spinning-Michael Baron

Michael Baron
The Story Plant, Apr 5 2011, $16.95
ISBN: 9781611880052

Twenty-nine years old Manhattan Mason, Brand and Partners executive Dylan Hunter seems to have everything. Women want him; his apartment is the best in New York; his work has made him the top gun and kept his plan to retire at forty viable. A friend of his Billie works at the same firm. She is the female Dylan, but because she is a woman society considers her a ruthless bitch who is ambitious and aggressive while applauding Dylan for the same tactics.

Dylan’s former girlfriend from his Chicago days a century ago, Diane has arrived accompanied by her three years old daughter Spring. She explains he is all she knows in the Big Apple as she plans to start anew. Diane asks if they can stay at his place for now; even he cannot understand why he said yes. Spring turns his life around as she draws on his perfectly painted walls, introduces him to the animals at the zoo and dines on a gourmet macaroni and tofu with cheese. When an accident occurs, Dylan continues to care for Spring by allowing some of the plates he spins in his previous hedonistic life to crash. He enjoys every minute with her; as does Billie, but knows the court will soon intervene.

This is an enjoyable extended family drama as Dylan and Billie learn what life is all about from a precocious (perhaps too precocious) little girl. The cast is solid especially the lead trio, but also those at the office, his best friend Jimbo and case worker Mrs. Eckleberg. Readers will enjoy this poignant tale as Michael Baron provides a deep message that to lead a fulfilling life, one must spin various plates including the care and nurturing of others.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, February 24, 2011

You Don't Love This Man-Dan DeWeese

You Don't Love This Man
Dan DeWeese
Harper, Mar 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061992322

Bank manager Paul is the father of the bride as his daughter Miranda will marry his former best friend Grant. The morning of the wedding Catherine at the bank calls Paul informing him they were robbed and the cops had arrived. Catherine tells him to enjoy his day as everything is under control; he wonders why call him if that is so.

When he learns Miranda is missing, Paul thinks back over two decades ago when he was with his then three years old daughter trick or treating only to lose her temporarily. He is frustrated by his ex-wife Sandra who is unconcerned as well as her brother Bradshaw of the big vocabulary. Paul tries to find his daughter just like he tried the first time she vanished. Adding to his bewilderment is learning the robber was the same thief who robbed the bank over twenty years ago.

You Don’t Love This Man is a terrific character study of a person who believes his life was futile but looks back anyway. This leads to Paul reexamining who matters and why to him and him to them. With a nod to It’s A Wonderful Life (without Clarence), readers will empathize with the protagonist who begins to understand relationships 101; as he concludes that having someone’s number in his cellphone does not mean they will answer his call.

Harriet Klausner

State of the Union-Douglas Kennedy

State of the Union
Douglas Kennedy
Atria, Mar 15 2011, $16.00
ISBN: 9781451602098

In 1969, eighteen years old Hannah Latham has A Special Relationship with her parents; dysfunctional. Her father is a radical activist protesting anything; while her mother is an artist with mental issues. To them she is a major disappointment as she ignores the rebellion of her peers against authority. Instead Hannah wants out of the frantic family soap opera; so she marries medical student Dan Buchan; becomes pregnant; and moves to rural Maine. She becomes a librarian-housewife until her father’s radical friend Tobias Judson arrives in Maine.

In 2003, Hannah feels her world imploding. Her college age daughter Lizzie vanishes after mentally breaking when she learns an inconvenient truth. Hannah’s BFF is dying so she cannot turn to her for solace as she must provide comfort. Finally Toby reappears on national TV as her secret transgression from over three decades ago becomes known to all.

This is a profound character study as Hannah learns sometimes you get what you wish for only to regret you made the wrong wish. Although the issues seem relatively minor, the cast is solid especially the lead female who on any page seems over the edge of the emotional cliff. Through Hannah and her cohorts, Douglas Kennedy takes a close look at the hypocrisy of family values; pointing out that values can be negative and cherry-picking convenient; for instance the previous indiscretions of a born again are ignored by his or her peers regardless of what they might have been.

Harriet Klausner

All Different Kinds of Free-Jessica McCann

All Different Kinds of Free
Jessica McCann
Bell Bridge Books, Apr 1 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9781453877814

Mr. Edward Prigg of Mill Green, Maryland arrived in York County, Pennsylvania seeking Margaret Morgan a free woman of color. He gets Constable McCleary to assist him in bringing back to her owner Margaret Ashmore a runaway slave, Margaret Morgan; she insists otherwise and that they were neighbors for years. Mr. Prigg also claims Morgan’s children belong to Ashmore. However since she was born free, she has no papers of manumission. Judge Henderson states in accordance with Pennsylvania statue Personal Liberty Law, the bounty hunter must prove with documents the claim. Mr. Prigg kidnaps Margaret and her children with plans to sell them at auction while her husband Jerry was making a delivery in Trenton. This is the beginning of the Morgan family ordeal as Margaret does the unthinkable for a colored person as she fights for her freedom through the court system ending in a decision in 1842.

All Different Kinds of Free is a super timely historical biographical fiction told mostly in the first person by the heroine as she works diligently to regain her freedom all the way up to the Supreme Court in 1842. Margaret makes the story line work as she refuses to give up her quest for the wrongful stealing of her freedom so that she can return to her family. Mindful of the current fervor over documentation vs. profiling, readers will understand why Jessica McCann’s insightful look at the blood, sweat and tears of a family trying to regain what was taken from them won the 2009 Freedom in Fiction Prize.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sins of the House of Borgia-Sarah Bower

Sins of the House of Borgia
Sarah Bower
Sourcebooks, Mar 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781402259630

In the year 5252 which the Christians call 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella give the Jews three months to leave. Many like the Sarfati family in Toledo decide to relocate to the city-states of Italy where the despotic rulers are tolerant towards Jews and wary of Ferdinand. The Sarfati father and his three sons move ahead to Rome where the patriarch helps finance Rodrigo Borgia efforts to become the next Pope. The females followed but the matriarch died before finishing the journey leaving her six years old daughter Esther travelling to Rome to join her father.

Almost a decade later Borgia as Pope Alexander VI returns the support he received from Sarfati by allowing Esther a chance to join his daughter Lucrezia’s retinue if she converts. Although Esther has doubts, her father convinces her to accept the terms. As Lucrezia marries Alfonso d'Este, Esther converts to Christianity and becomes a lady-in-waiting known as La Violante. Lucrezia thinks highly of La Violante and her cousin Angela Borgia becomes her friend; while Lucrezia's brother Cesare stirs her heart.

This is an engaging look at the Borgia family through the rosy colored eyes of an innocent individual who must adapt to a world of backstabbing deadly passion or die. Cesare owns the story line as he never allows his heart or soul get in the way of his machinations. Lucrezia pales next to her sibling; as she does not seem to measure up to her brother on the viciousness scale. Filled with betrayal, readers will enjoy the Book of Esther as La Violante tells how paradise was lost and regained when she learned to trust no one not even those she thought loved her.

Harriet Klausner

Galway Bay-Mary Pat Kelly

Galway Bay
Mary Pat Kelly
Grand Central, Feb 8 2011, $15.99
ISBN: 9780446697101

In 1839 in Ireland, Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly meet when he was swimming in Galway Bay just before she is to enter a convent. They fall in love and to the chagrin of her father, they marry. Though times are tough life is good for the couple as they survive like most Irish Catholics on pratties (potatoes).

However as the Protestant leadership cracks down economically on the Catholics, three bad crops in four years leave the young wondering whether it is time to leave to start over elsewhere. The Kelly couple moves to Chicago where his brother Patrick lives. There they begin a new life hoping to catch the vaunted American dream.

The scenes in Ireland are incredibly haunting as people are caught up in the avarice of others and want to change a bad situation; similar to the financial crisis now. The story line purposely simmers slowly so that fans of historical epics can taste what the key players are feeling over the years especially in Chicago. However, that also serves as a two edged sword as that leads to skipped decades and a horde of resilient expatriates. Still this nineteenth century saga provides readers with a deep look at the potato famine made worse by greed while celebrating five decades of Irish American life in Chicago.

Harriet Klausner

Dolci di Love-Sarah-Kate Lynch

Dolci di Love
Sarah-Kate Lynch
Plume, Mar 29 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452296756

In New York, business executive Lily Turner is stunned when she finds a photograph of a beautiful woman and two children. She concludes her perfect husband Daniel has a second family tucked away in Tuscany while she is childless.

Determined to confront Daniel and fueled by alcohol, Lily uses the internet to ascertain that Daniel’s secret other life is in Montevedova, Tuscany. She flies to Italy to confront her bigamist spouse. In Tuscan, the elderly sisters Violetta and Luciana give her a room above the bakery while also involving their peers in the Secret League of Widowed Darners who knit broken hearts with Lily their new client unbeknownst to the American. They feel she is perfect for Widower Alessandro who needs a good woman to mend his hurting heart. While failing to find Daniel, she meets his six years old daughter and easily falls in love with the child as if she was her mother and finds herself relishing a longer stay in Tuscany.

This is a warm how to mend a broken heart (Bee-Gees) contemporary tale that stars a hurt New Yorker and a strong Tuscan ensemble cast; ironically Daniel is off page more than on as he and his wife encounter one another late into the story line. Although an urbanite turning into a “rustic” has been used often, (see Summer in Tuscany by Elizabeth Adler starring a New Yorker), fans will enjoy this charming novel as the smell of the bakery fills the pages.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, February 21, 2011

Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988-Michael Palin

Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988
Michael Palin
Dunne, Mar 15 2011, $32.95
ISBN: 9780312682026

Michael Palin realized early in the 1980s that The Python decade (see Python Years: Diaries, 1969 1979) was for practical purposes over as each member was going in different directions with diverse projects. In 1983 they made their last film together (The Meaning of Life) and performed a few final performances as a zany team. However, those were final exclamation points as each Python moved on. Michael appeared in seven films during the decade without his crew including winning awards for his role in A Fish Called Wanda; though he worked with Python alumni Terry Gilliam’s on Time Bandits and Brazil. He wrote scripts and plays with the era beginning with the end of Python and ending with work on the documentary Around the World in 80 Days. Michael’s personal life with his family remains happy as he and his wife Helen raise their kids now becoming teens.

The second diary decade is an intelligent memoir that provides a profound look at the entertainment industry during the Reagan-Thatcher era and an equally powerful look at true family values through interrelationships between Mr. Palin, his spouse, their children and others. The author’s observations on the Reagan-Thatcher legacy then and now enhance a wonderful tome that at 680 pages is not for the casual tea sipping reader, but targets those who appreciate an insightful often jocular look at a decade through a Python lens. Fans of the group especially will want to peruse this fine memoir that takes no prisoners.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When We Were Friends-Elizabeth Joy Arnold

When We Were Friends
Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Bantam, Mar 22 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780553592528

Lainey and Sydney met as seven years old students in Newport News. They became best friends until high school when Sydney tormented Lainey. Eighteen years later, Lainey an artist and Sydney a saleswoman at Six of Swords Occult shop, meet. Sydney mentions her marriage to David McGrath is over. Lainey wants nothing to do with Sydney.

Over a week later, Lainey finds a bruised Sidney and her baby Jacqueline with her mom. Sydney fears for her baby if David gains custody of her as he burned Jacqueline on the back of her neck. She persuades Lainey to watch Jacqueline as she talks with David. Lainey tells her mom they will keep Jacqueline safe. Lainey is stunned when she sees an Amber Alert on TV with Sydney and David pleading for the return of their baby.

Lainey decides to chance prison to keep the infant safe from her abusive father. They drive to West Virginia where her car breaks down. Alex Connor rescues them. He is heading home to New Hampshire after attending a funeral. Her mom tells her to flee because Sydney was caught by the cops in a damaging lie. Lainey concludes once again Sydney loves herself more than anyone even her daughter.

The cast is fully developed with flawed characters, but though the story line is held together by Lainey, Sydney as the great manipulator owns the plot while the actions of the two former BFFs are over the top of Mt. Washington. A late but expected twist ties the tale together too smoothly in spite of a coda. Readers who ignore plausibility will enjoy this exciting thriller that asks how far you will go for a friend.

Harriet Klausner

Night Road-Kristin Hannah

Night Road
Kristin Hannah
St. Martin’s, Mar 22 2011, $27.99
ISBN: 9780312364427

In 2000, fourteen year old Lexi Baill learns she has family in Port George, Washington; her addicted late mom said they had none. She goes to live with her Great Aunt Eva who welcomes her to her trailer home.

Jude Faraday worries about her fourteen year old twins, popular Zach shy loner Mia. At lunch Lexi notices Mia alone and asks to join her. Mia warns her she commits social suicide but Lexi sits down with her. Mia invites her to her house while Zach is stunned as he is attracted to the new girl, but will not act on it as Mia needs friends.

Three years later, Mia and Tyler go to a dance, as Jude persuades Zach to take Lexi. At the dance, Zach and Lexi admit their attraction and begin dating. They go to a party with Zach the designated driver, but he gets drunk. On the way home, they have an accident. Mia dies; Zach is severely hurt; and Lexi breaks her arm. Lexi is convicted of vehicular homicide for driving under the influence and given 65 months. Her lawyer informs Zach that Lexi is pregnant. In 2010, Lexi is out of prison but needs to see Grace once before she leaves town. She is stunned as Grace is alone and unhappy. Angry Lexi files for partial custody.

The ensemble cast is fully developed while the character driven story line is well written. Although the transition in time in high school is difficult to follow and the underlying cause for the conviction over the top of the Space Needle, readers will enjoy this deep melodramatic family drama as the death of Mia turned her surviving loved ones into living dead.

Harriet Klausner

Reading Lips-Claudia Sternbach

Reading Lips
Claudia Sternbach
Unbridled, Apr 5 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9781609530372

The essays are somewhat related by the memoirs of kissing connections, but in fact more tied together by relationships. Using herself over the course of her life as the focus of her links with others, the fascination is how the other kisser relates to the author and why the kiss as types varie based on relational roles. A person stars in one essay, disappears for several decades only to finally reappear in a later entry. Subjects explored include a wide range of people as Ms. Sternbach discusses BFFs forever and not, her parents, three husbands, and her twin sisters. The birth of her daughter (spouse three) leads to serial kissing and the Lost Photos remind the writer of kisses before and after cancer surgery. Other topics include the kiss that never was adolescent ‘puppy” love that is a precocious contribution that later turns melancholy, the Hard Landing kiss from mom to ease the pain of a broken arm birthday bashes, summer camp, marriage and divorce. Some of contributions delve into taboo topics like rape and death, but there will always be a Teddy K willing to take a Second Chance kiss.

All of the degrees of separation are intense yet amusing, profound but also sarcastic especially when the author affectionately and humorously discusses her younger siblings. Readers will appreciate this fine relationship memoir as Ms. Sternbach earns a mental kiss from me for this charming collection.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Song for My Mother-Kat Martin

A Song for My Mother
Kat Martin
Vanguard, Apr 5 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781593156565

In Dreyerville, Michigan, Marly Hanson dropped out of high school as a junior to run off to Detroit with her boyfriend. She gave birth to Katie while the father of her daughter abandoned both of them. Marly finished school and made a nice life for both of them until Katie is diagnosed with brain cancer.

Receiving treatment, Katie begins to heal and makes a request of her mom. She wants to meet her maternal grandmother Winnie in Dreyerville. Although she wants to refuse, Marly takes Katie to meet Winnie. Although Winnie has been filled with remorse ever since her daughter ran away, Marly remains filled with rage at her mom. Katie observes her mom’s ire as do Winnie's neighbor Widower Sheriff Reed Bennett and his son Ham. Reed is attracted to Marly, but she rejects his overtures. Wise beyond her years, Katie tells Reed and Winnie not to give up on Marly.

The Return to Dreyerville (see The Christmas Clock) is a warm second chance at relationships drama. The cast is solid gold as three generations of Hansen females come together with two male Bennett’s only if distrusting Marly embraces her love for her mom, daughter, and the neighbor and his son. Kat Martin provides an engaging family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain-Margaret Irwin

Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain
Margaret Irwin
Sourcebooks, Apr 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781402229985

A religious zealot and totally dedicated to his nation Spain, Philip, King Consort knows he is to marry Princess Mary I. However, she mirrors him in terms of intelligence and beliefs. Instead he is attracted to his betrothed’s dynamic sister, the Protestant Elizabeth. He loathes his desire for his future sister-in-law, as she brings out carnal feelings he knows are unholy. Neither is aware of what awaits them and their nations in three decades.

At the same time they do their careful two steps, Robert Dudley is in love with Elizabeth. Obsessed with restoring God’s laws, Mary orders the Papal legate Reginald Pole, the great-nephew of Edward IV and Richard III to lead the reversal of the heresy her father Henry VIII caused. However, the brilliant Pole who knows overturning the Anglican heretical legacy would be a tribute to his late mom killed by the former monarch. However, he lacks the energy and ambition to take charge of the royal demand.

This is a reprint of the third young Elizabeth trilogy (see Young Bess: The Girl Who Would Be Queen and Elizabeth, Captive Princess: Two Sisters, One Throne) written in 1953. The story line has a historiographical feel to it as readers will see a different style and tone than in present day written Tudor novels. Still, fans of the era will appreciate the well written insightful look at three rivals competing for power at a time of intense turmoil.

Harriet Klausner

Sisters of Fortune: America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad-Jehanne Wake

Sisters of Fortune: America's Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad
Jehanne Wake
Touchstone, Apr 5 2011, $27.00
ISBN: 9780982792827

Affluent Maryland planter Charles Carroll signed the declaration of Independence as the only Catholic to do so. Two score and one decade after he signed, three of his granddaughters (Marianne, Bess, Louisa, and Caton) invaded London and took the country by storm in spite of being Catholic “colonists” and expected to wed the plantation owning crowd. Emily remained in North America where she married a Canadian heir to a large Montreal company John McTavish and managed the family Maryland properties. The trio quickly stormed the bastion of the Duke of Wellington who adored them and welcomed them into high society. He especially cherished Marianne who he could not marry so she wed his brother the Marquess Wellesley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Louisa married and became the Duchess of Leeds and a favorite of Queen Victoria; while Bess married an aristocrat but also made a fortune on the stock market.

This is a terrific historical biography that focuses on the four granddaughters of a little known Founding father. The quartet overcame bias by applying wit and intelligence that improved not just their lot but that of their families. Readers will enjoy attending the late upper crust soiree with the four Caton sisters as their guides. Photos and maps enhance a strong look at women who used their brains and beauty to make it in a man’s world.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bridge to Happiness-Jill Barnett

Bridge to Happiness
Jill Barnett
Belle Books, Jan 4 2011, $12.95
ISBN: E-book only

In San Francisco March Randolph and Mike Cantrell meet and fall in love. They marry, raise a family of four, and create a successful business together as she encourages him to take a chance on his dreams in the Sierras. Their efforts lead to snowboarding becoming popular sport.

Everything remains perfect even after three decades as a couple. Then in an instant, tragedy strikes with a wrong way driver. Traumatized and feeling all alone March can no longer look to the present or future for happiness; only the past gives her moments of joy though her friends and children had her strip her home of her beloved Mike. Yet she knows her loved ones have problems too as they need her to lead them back to living again, if she dares.

This is an entertaining profound family drama starring a strong cast but anchored by the matriarch. The Cantrells were golden for over thirty years when the gold ended with death leaving a mother unable to move forward from their grief. Jill Barnett eloquently makes a strong case that life goes on for the grievers as the inevitable death of one generation is replaced with the renewal of a new generation.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Race to Splendor-Ciji Ware

Race to Splendor
Ciji Ware
Sourcebooks, Apr 1 2011, $16.99
ISBN 9781402222696

In 1906 architect Amelia Bradshaw returns to San Francisco to take control of her late grandfather's Bay View Hotel adjacent to Chinatown. Amelia is stunned to find out that her heritage has been lost by her drunk of a father to J.D. Thayer in a poker game. She takes Thayer to court, but loses as women are legally unable to own property.

Disappointed with her dad and the law, Bradshaw obtains a position as a junior architect working for the first licensed female architect in the state’s history Julia Morgan. Her firm wins the contract to rebuild the earthquake damaged Bay View and Fairmont Hotels. This forces Bradshaw and Thayer to work close together as he has a goal for reopening his newly purchased Bay View; he wants to beat the first anniversary of the quake and open his doors before his rival the Fairmont does.

This is an exciting look at San Francisco just after the 1906 quake as readers observe a city filled with desperate people suffering from a lack of basic needs made worse by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The fast-paced story line also showcases the limited rights of women and that of Chinese workers. Readers will root for spunky Amelia as she refuses to allow man’s laws and the natural disaster to destroy her spirit. This is a great historical with an entertaining romantic subplot enhancing a look back at America in the first decade of the previous century.

Harriet Klausner

Minding Frankie-Maeve Binchy

Minding Frankie
Maeve Binchy
Knopf, Mar 1 2011, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307273567

In Dublin Stella is dying from cancer. She prays she lives long enough to give birth to the child she is carrying. Worrying about the raising of her infant, she informs alcoholic Noel Lynch that he is the father. He is confused as he does not have any recall of having sex with Stella, but admits he could have been in a drunken stupor, Noel has doubts he can deal with the responsibly of a kid when he cannot even take care of himself.

Noel’s cousin Emily from New York encourages him to stop drinking and to raise his daughter, Frankie born at St. Brigid's Hospital following the death of Stella. He joins AA, works diligently to be a good father and persuade Moira the social worker he will take proper care of his daughter; the latter proves the most difficult as the case worker has an agenda caused by her own unhappy childhood. Lisa the graphic artist moves into the home of father, daughter and visiting cousin, but also joins other residents of St. Jarlath's Crescent to help her host remain sober.

As always in a Maeve Binchy drama, there is much more going on than the prime focus as characters from previous novels reappear either to help Noel as a single dad or to tell their tale. The Irish neighborhood horde are the heart and Soul of Minding Frankie as they also mind Noel. Moira proves to be much more than a stereotype enforcer and Lisa has relationship issues, as does St. Brigid’s administrator Frank. These people and Noel contrast to Emily who does everything right for everyone else, but lives precariously through their lives. Fans will enjoy Ms. Binchy’s latest tour of Dublin as it takes a caring neighborhood to raise a child.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, February 14, 2011

Broken Promises-Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman

Broken Promises
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman
Ballantine, Apr 12 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780345524553

In 1861, President Lincoln asks Charles Francis Adams, the son and grandson of two presidents, to visit England on a critical espionage mission. Lincoln needs to know how England will react to the American internal conflict. Adams agrees to spy. As such, Charles and his son Henry travel to London.

At the same time Henry's friend from Virginia, medical student Baxter Sams, is at the Royal College of Surgeons. He is attracted to Julia Birch, daughter of Sir Walter Birch. Julia reciprocates his regard, but has issues with his being a slave owner whose brothers are fighting for the Confederacy. Charles and Henry learn the English are assisting the South in their war with arms and steel-clad warships. The blockade running Baxter returns to the States while Charles tries to prevent the English made warships from causing havoc on Northern shipping and ports.

Originally published as In the Lion's Den, Broken Promises is a terrific work of Civil War Era fiction that effortlessly merges the real account of Charles Adams with a romantic relationship subplot. Character driven as the audience sees deeply inside of the real personas (Charles and Henry); as well as the conflicting feelings that Englishwoman Julia has towards Baxter who she loves but loathes the inhumanity of owning people by him and his family. With just enough action to enhance the dysfunctional relationships, this is a wonderful Civil War drama.

Harriet Klausner

Sweet Jiminy-Kristin Gore

Sweet Jiminy
Kristin Gore
Hyperion, Apr 26 2011, $23.99
ISBN: 9781401322892

In Chicago, Jiminy Davis attends law school. In the summer she is putting in incredible hours as a legal intern. When a bike rider runs her over she decides it is time to leave. Based on his t-shirt, she chooses her grandma in Fayeville, Mississippi. African-American septuagenarian Lyn Water considers killing herself when her white employer seventy-one year old Willa Hunt asks her to come over to clean the house and get it ready for her granddaughter Jiminy.

Lyn’s great nephew Bo is in town to save money while studying for the MCAT. Meanwhile Jiminy finds her grandpa Henry’s diary; he died from an embolism when he was thirty-two. She reads a little only to learn a Jiminy and her father Edward were murdered in 1966, one year before Henry died. Jiminy and Bo meet and she asks him if Lyn ever married; he says yes but her husband and daughter died. They spend a lot time together, which helps her regain her confidence. Attracted to each other, Bo breaks it off with Jiminy out of fear for each of them and their families. Meanwhile she begins to investigate what happened in 1966 before asking Carlo Castaverde, a reporter at the Texarkana Greenhaven Gazette, who has solved seven of these Civil Rights Era abominations, for help.

The support cast (during the Civil Rights era and present) is solid bringing alive a small southern town struggling with its heritage. However, Jiminy is an interesting individual who forces everyone to look at what happened in 1966 that people want to ignore, she holds the story line together with her never forget attitude. Although the villains come across as weak, readers will enjoy this engaging regional tale as a deadly incident five decades ago that few want to talk about still causes a racial divide.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Little Princes-Conor Grennan

The Little Princes
Conor Grennan
Morrow, Jan 25 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061930058

In 2006 just before turned he turned thirty, Conor Grennan gave up his day job in Prague to travel around the world. When he reached Kathmandu, he stayed longer than he planned when he hesitantly volunteered to work at the Little Princes Children's Home. He feared he lacked the proper training to help the eighteen young residents; However as the kids hook him with their ability to bounce back from inhumanity horror, he is shocked to learn they are not war orphans as he thought they were. Instead these children were rescued from Golkka, a child trafficker with high level government connections, who conned their parents in Humla Province into believing that he could take their offspring to safety away from the warring Maoist insurgents who recruit the young by abduction. Conor “Brother” vows to take the kids home in spite of a brutal civil war, the Himalayas and the need for funding (he established Next Generation Nepal to raise money and awareness).

This is a heartening memoir that emphasizes a person who cares can nudge mountains to help others. Dramatic yet frantic, readers will enjoy Mr. Grennan’s quest, which as his friend Farid says affirms karma exists; as the author feels rewarded with giggles from a muted child and the happiness emanating from reunited families, but also led to his meeting his eventual wife Liz and his replacement as Country Director Anna. Mr. Grennan has achieved his pledge to “bring home the lost children of Nepal".

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Second Duchess-Elizabeth Loupas

The Second Duchess
Elizabeth Loupas
NAL, Mar 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425232151

In December 1565 powerful widower Alfonso d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, marries Austrian virgin Barbara. Although she has heard he murdered his first wife, the notorious Lucrezia of the de’Medici family, she figures her spouse will be a less of a hell than her sibling though she knows she is much older than the first wife and nowhere as pretty. Thus Barbara concludes the marriage is a means of escaping from the control of her brother Emperor Maximilian II and avoiding an undesirable stay at a convent of her sibling’s choosing.

Barbara enjoys living at the Ferrarese court, but detests the whisperers that her husband killed her defiant predecessor. She errs when she begins to ask questions at the court as those who want to rid the court of a rival for power gleefully inform the Duke and those in his inner circle that the Duchess is interrogating people. Fearing for her life as threats mount, Barbara investigates what happened to Lucrezia in an attempt to avoid joining the first wife in death.

With homage to Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess", Elizabeth Loupas writes a powerful Renaissance biographical fiction starring a brave intelligent heroine who walks on an extremely thin tightrope that is being shaken by wicked whisperers, avaricious adversaries and her harsh husband. Readers, even those who know the history of Barbara, will wonder whether her Alfonso will prove to be a widower maker in this delightful glimpse into the late sixteenth century court of Ferrara.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America-Les Staniford with Detective Sergeant Joe Matthews

Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America
Les Staniford with Detective Sergeant Joe Matthews
Ecco, Mar 1 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061983900

In July, 1981 in a Sears store in a Hollywood, Florida mall, six years old Adam Walsh vanishes. His frantic parents Reve and John worried about their son’s safety until two weeks later when Adam’s partial remains were found. In 1983, Jacksonville police arrested Otis Toole for arson and murder. He confessed and recanted his confession of killing a child. Over the years Toole continued to confess killing Adam, but also withdrew his confession though he knew details that only the killer would have known. Evidence was mishandled and vanished so he was never was charged with the little boys homicide. In 1996 Toole died in prison.

Although John and Reve became voices of advocating the rights of children and strong laws to protect the young, they never found closure with Adam’s death. Finally in 2006, they hired retired Florida police officer Joe Matthews, who was on the original inquiry, to look into the cold case murder of their son over two decades earlier. Matthews analyzed Toole’s confessions and other deviance. In 2008, Matthews and his team using modern technology determined who killed Adam.

This is not an easy read as John Walsh explains no one gets closure even with the case solved. Much of the true crime account faults the police for shoddy work, which can after awhile detract from the overall emotional impact of what the Walsh family emotionally went through (and still are going through) and the macabre riveting comments by Toole. This is a profound look at one of the key (and the first) “Abduction that Changed how America deals with crimes against children.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Angel Harp-Michael Phillips

Angel Harp
Michael Phillips
Faith Words, Jan 26 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 9780446567718

Six years ago when she was thirty-four years old, her husband died. Since his death, harpist Marie "Angel" Buchan realizes she has been drifting and not living, but turning forty is a rude awakening.

The Canadian decides to visit coastal Scotland on a vacation, but also takes her harp with her. She stops in Port Scarnose where she sits on a bench overlooking the sea and playing her harp. Enjoying her stay, she remains in the quaint village rather than travel to the other places on her itinerary. Marie feels alive for the first time since she became a widow. She makes friends with 12-year-old Gwendolyn; and when her three weeks are up she chose to stay to teach the eager tweener with talent to play the harp. Feeling magical, Marie has two men, Iain Barclay and Alasdair the Duke pursuing her, unaware this is not their first triangle. However, Marie feels like an angel who’s come home; as everyone in Port Scarnose seems happier whenever the Canadian widow and her protégé play for them.

This is a terrific inspirational second chance at life saga in which not just Marie but everyone she touches feels as if they are touched by an angel. Character driven (including the local vernacular; something I do not enjoy but enhances the sense of being in Scotland), readers will appreciate the Canadian’s uplifting whimsical escapades; mindful of Brigadoon without the town vanishing.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Born Under a Lucky Moon-Dana Precious

Born Under a Lucky Moon
Dana Precious
Morrow, Feb 8 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061876875

Jeannie Thompson grew up in Muskegon County, Michigan as the youngest of five siblings. Her family seemed to always land in one humiliating scenario after another. Even her high school sweetheart ended their engagement because he could not cope with the maniacal behavior of her family where granny ran naked in the streets. She fled at the first chance she had for Los Angeles. By 2006 she works as a troubleshooting executive at Oxford Pictures and dating renowned filmmaker Aidan. All is perfect until Aidan proposes.

Jeannie explains to him why they must not marry though she loves him. In 1986 her only brother Evan was getting married. When her sister Elizabeth called mom from California to announce their army sister Sammie married Chuck; mom decided a second wedding was in order with one week to go before Evan married. Jeannie insists frantic insane events are the norm for her family. Aidan deserves better, which she insists is the status quo. Aidan wants to marry her with her family in attendance. When he realizes she hides him from her nearby sisters, he vanishes.

This is an engaging amusing family drama as three potential weddings two decades apart are seen through Jeannie’s filter; color her world with humiliation. The ensemble cast is fully developed especially the Michigan musketeers as the family credo should be one for all and all for one though Jeannie has forgotten that tenet. Although there are too many subplots as each sibling and to a degree the parents have a tale to tell, fans will relish this precious tale that provides homage to the Kaufman-Hart play You Can't Take It With You.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Secret Lives of Dresses-Erin McKean

The Secret Lives of Dresses
Erin McKean
5 Spot (Grand Central), Feb 10 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446555722

Dora Winston majors in “vagueness studies”, which means in this case aimless time and space. She is attracted to her grad student boss at the coffee shop, but he ignores her outrageous flirting.

However, when a hospital informs Dora that her beloved grandma Mimi, who raised her, suffered a stroke, Dora returns home to Forsyth, North Carolina to be with her. Dora also takes over running Mimi’s vintage clothing boutique while her grandma heals. The two employees Gabby and Maux prove very helpful, but it is finding tidbits of Mimi’s life that excites Dora especially the stories about the dresses in the store. When Dora and Conrad, the contractor renovating the apartments above the store, meet, they find they are attracted to one another.

The three wise women are wonderful eccentric characters with much of what Dora and the readers learn of Mimi come from her dress tales. Conrad is fully developed too, but in some ways feels more like a genre requirement because the coming of age heroine needs a male lead. Like the rest of Dora’s journey from vague nothingness to relational enlightenment, the trek lacks evil witches and flying monkeys, but is still fun to accompany the amusing threesome guide the heroine down her yellow brick road.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Think I Love You-Allison Pearson

I Think I Love You
Allison Pearson
Kopf, Feb 14 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9781400042357

In 1974 in Wales, thirteen years old Petra doesn’t just think she knows she loves TV and rock star David Cassidy. Petra competed in the Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz contest but assumes she lost when she never heard from the sponsors. She and her best friend Sharon sneak off to London to hear Cassidy perform. In London, Petra meets Bill, author of The Essential David Cassidy Magazine.

In 1998, Petra is in a troubled marriage with a teenage daughter. When her mother dies, Petra finds proof that she won that contest twenty-five years ago with the prize being a trip to California. She contacts the magazine who invites her to Vegas to meet Cassidy. Petra and Sharon travel to Nevada where they meet Bill, a reporter covering the story for the magazine.

The insightful story line rotates between Petra and Bill as each along with Sharon sees Cassidy from a relatively different perspective back in the Partridge days and in the “present”. Character driven, fans will enjoy the profound look at hero adulation especially the diverse range between a teen fantasy to an adult reality. Although the teenybopper era is a bit slow, readers will hum "C'mon Get Happy"; as “Believe me, you really don't have to worry” (from I Think I Love You) because this is an enjoyable contemporary tale.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shadow Tag- Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag
Louise Erdrich
Harper, Feb 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061536106

In Minneapolis, the America family lives in a nice home. The father Gil is a famous Native American artist whose graphic model is his wife Irene the historian, an Ojibwa. The couple has three children (Florian, Riel and Stony). However, Gil has failed to break out of a stereotype while Irene slowly works on her dissertation on the painter George Catlin.

The assimilated middle class couple has hidden family issues. Gil, whose Native American father died in Nam, abuses their children while Irene ignores his nastiness behind the veneer of wine. She becomes active when she realizes he has been reading her diary. However, unlike her mother an AIM protestor who would have got in his face, Irene begins writing two dairies; the blue one she hides from Gil while in the other she describes an affair that does not exist to toy with her spouse who she believes betrayed her trust. As she strives to end their marriage, he vigorously wants to save it.

This is not an easy read as the adults emotionally torture each other at exorbitant costs to themselves and their three children. The character based story line of this psychological family drama contains three subplots: entries from Irene’s two diaries and a third person account of the dysfunctional family. Although profound, readers will have hard time empathizing with any of the America family, even the six years old youngest offspring, as none of the quintet seems to care what anyone else needs and for the most part there is never a truly happy moment.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Widow's Story: A Memoir-

A Widow's Story: A Memoir
Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco (HarperCollins), Feb 15 2011, $27.99
ISBN: 9780062015532

In February 2008, Ontario review Editor Raymond Smith was not feeling well so his wife of almost five decades noted author Joyce Carol Oates drove him to the Princeton Medical Center. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted as a patient. Both he and his spouse expected him to come home in a few days. Instead he developed an infection and died one week later.

This memoir is about Ms. Oates’ efforts to move on from the unexpected death of a loved one. Everything reminded her how alone she had become and how much she missed her beloved partner. Ms. Oates confesses she initially expected Raymond to appear any moment to help her with the physical and monetary impacts of his death. However, as she wept agonizingly slowly through the passes of grieving, she realized it is the little things in life that enabled Joyce Smith to survive the biggest tragedy she ever faced. This is an insightful first-hand look at grieving as Ms. Oates confirms grief is personally customized to the loving survivor.

Harriet Klausner

I Am The Chosen King-Helen Hollick

I Am The Chosen King
Helen Hollick
Sourcebooks, Mar 1 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 8781402240669

In 1043 Edward is crowned king of England. He is a weak monarch, but honors the loyal Godwinesson family, whose patriarch is the Earl of Wessex, by naming the son Harold as the Earl of East Anglia. After his father dies, Harold becomes the Earl of Wessex. As Harold rises in power, he remains in love with his hand-fast wife Edyth Swannhaels as his ambition in life is to be a good family man. However, unlike Harold, his avaricious siblings envy his success; while greedily demanding more power and wealth regardless of what happens to their people. His sister Edith marries one of his rivals to replace the late weak Confessor on the throne, William of Normandy as her ambition is to be queen, which coincides with his ambition to be king at any cost to others. Their brothers (Swegn and Tostig) see opportunity for personal advancement and riches with greedy William of Normandy on the English throne unlike if their blood remains the king. Confrontations are coming culminating at Hastings

This is a super historical fiction that provides for the most part a Saxon (predominantly that of Harold) focus to the two and a half decades between the coronation of Edward (over a century later known as the Confessor) to the Battle of Hastings. Readers obtain a glimpse into an educated people, not the barbarians easily defeated by the Normans. The cast is terrific though there is a bias towards Harold being heroic in life and death while William being savage. This Lost Kingdom – 1066 (see The Forever Queen) affirms that "to the victor go the spoils" including the history books that follow.

Harriet Klausner