Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil-Victoria Christopher Murray

The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil
Victoria Christopher Murray
Touchstone, Jun 7 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9781439194256

As she nears her fiftieth birthday, wealthy Shay-Shaunte knows what she wants as her special present. Until Shay-Shaunte offers one of her executive assistant, Evia Langston five million dollars for a weekend with the latter’s husband Adam. Stunned Evia says no thanks.

However, Evia knows her family could use the money as they are nearing financial ruin with the economy tanking. She also knows that when she and Adam exchanged vows in front of the Lord when they were seventeen, they pledged a faith based relationship to raise their kids in. Now Evia and Adam must choose between the she-devil serpent’s glittering offering to save the Langston’s Garden of Eden or trusting in God to take care of them and their children.

The immediate reaction is The Deal, the Dance, and the Devil is a gender bending version of Redford’s Indecent Proposal to Moore and Harrelson; but that is only at the surface. Instead this is a much deeper profound character driven tale as besides breaking one’s ethics for easy money and the example that sets for their children as well as destroying the trust between Evia and Adam. There is also an underlying religious issue throughout the engaging story line that will stun readers with a shocking twist at the final confrontation. Victoria Christopher Murray provides readers with a strong inspirational family drama as free will allows the Langston duo to choose between the devil’s easy money and the Lord’s pious path.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fairer than Morning-Rosslyn Elliot

Fairer than Morning
Rosslyn Elliot
Thomas Nelson, Apr 13 2011, $15.99
ISBN: 9781595547859

In 1823 in Rushville, Ohio, nineteen years old Eli Bowen proposes to fifteen years old Ann Miller without talking to her father, but she says no as she feels she is too young to marry him now. He is angry accusing her of deceit while she thought he was her selected future spouse when she turned eighteen. However Ann talks to her father a minister who says her late mom would want her to wait. Ann is angry with her dad who she feels directs her to wait in order for her to raise her two younger sisters (Susan and Mabel).

At the same time in Pittsburgh, teenage orphan Will Hanby becomes an indentured servant for five years to saddlemaker Master Good. He soon learns his boss is abusive.

In 1826 while Eli is seeing another woman, Minister Miller accompanied by his three daughters travel to Pittsburgh on business. There Ann and Will meet. She brings light and intelligence to his dark life. When the Millers return to Rushville, an energized Will take a stand when Good orders him to commit perjury in court. Instead after a beating he flees for West Virginia and prays for salvation, promising to help escaped slaves and wanting to head to Ohio to be with the woman he loves and prays she has moved passed her first heart entanglement while a raging Good pursues him.

This is a powerful historical fiction using real persona (the Miller family, Will and Good). The cast is super as they bring alive the Ohio Valley in the misnomer Era of Good Feelings. Fans will relish the Saddler’s Legacy as Rosslyn Elliot provides a profound early Americana thriller.

Harriet Klausner

What Happened To Goodbye-Sarah Dessen

What Happened To Goodbye
Sarah Dessen
Viking, May 10 2011, $19.99
ISBN: 9780670012947

Over two years ago in Tyler, Mclean Sweet’s parents divorced in an angry public war. She stayed with her restaurant consultant dad though she worshipped her mother before the split while her mom began a new family. Mclean no longer speaks to her mom. Instead since the schism, she and her father have moved four times as part of his job as an EAT INC consultant saving dying restaurants while his only true love is Defriese University basketball.

Four towns have allowed Mclean to try on a new personality in each one so she can conceal the shame of who she truly is. As dad tries to save Luna Blue, she wants to end their rolling stone existence and stay in Lakeview as she observes her neighbor Dave Wade the genius trying to pretend to be an average IQ geek.

Although mindful of the author’s Along for the Ride, Mclean makes the tale work as she brings angst with her anger towards her parents, her shame over the public humiliation of their split that makes her the divorce kid and her need to no longer be a rolling stone as she wants to gather the moss of belonging in high school. The support cast at Jackson High School, the Luna Blue and Lakeview enhance the story line targeting middle school of a teenager trying to finally move on passed the end of her previously perfect life.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jacob’s Return-Annette Blair

Jacob’s Return
Annette Blair
Sinful Moments Press, Apr 8 2011, $15.95
ISBN: 9781897562857

In 1881 Jacob Sauder left his Lancaster County Amish community following the funeral of his mother when his brother Simon informed him that the former’s fiancée Rachel wanted out of their engagement. Despondent Jacob moved away and Rachel married Simon.

After four years away he returns home a widower accompanied by his two years old twins Emma and Aaron whose mother died giving birth to them. He prays his family will welcome and love them though he sinned. Also Jacob knows it will be hard to see Rachel with Simon. His brother greets him with scorn telling him to leave as Simon is to be ordained a deacon. Soon after the return, Jacob and Rachel learn how devious Simon tricked both of them, but she must adhere to her vows even though her husband abuses her. Unable to remain idly on the sidelines while Simon’s abuse intensifies, Jacob confronts his sibling.

This reprint of a 1999 historical romance is an entertaining tale of redemption as the Amish society provides a strong backdrop to the tale of two rival brothers and the good woman between them. The story line is character driven with each key player having faults and flaws that make them seem real. Readers will enjoy this late nineteenth century Amish family drama as shunning the sinners competes with redeeming the sinners for the souls of Bishop Zook’s community.

Harriet Klausner

Vestal Virgin-Suzanne Tyrpak

Vestal Virgin
Suzanne Tyrpak
CreateSpace, Mar 6 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9781460943144

In ancient Rome, Vestal Virgins are selected when a girl is a preadolescent. At the temple they pledge to remain a virgin for the next three decades to properly serve the Gods. However, Vestal Virgins have rights other women do not as they own land and money. Most remain at the temple when their time as deity servants end because at forty they have no place else to go and know no other life.

Emperor Nero claims he is a god who can do anything he wants. Nero executes Marcus for treasonous acts including allegedly an assassination plot against the ruler in spite of his father being a senator. Nero summoned the traitor’s sister Elissa Rubria Honoria a Vestal Virgin to watch the execution. Despondent and irate, she vows vengeance. She loses her faith when her sister Flavia is violated and friends who she trusted turn out to be enemies who betray her.

Occurring during the reign of Nero (circa AD 63-64), the Vestal Virgin is a strong ancient Roman tale with a deep look at the pagan religions and the political scenario of a lunatic sitting on the throne. However, it is Elissa the Vestal Virgin who holds the story line together with her vendetta. Historical fiction readers will relish this powerful thriller that brings vividly to the armchair audience first century Rome.

Harriet Klausner

Sparrow Road-Sheila O'Connor

Sparrow Road
Sheila O'Connor
Putnam, May 12 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 9780399254581

Without an explanation, her mom Molly takes Raine with her as they move for the summer from Milwaukee to an artist retreat Sparrow Road overlooking Lake Michigan. Raine is upset that they are leaving beloved family especially Grandpa Mac behind while unsure why her mom apparently quit her job to take a position as cook and housekeeper.

She wonders about the relationship between her mother and the Sparrow Road caretaker Viktor, who greets her with strict RULES about no noise before 5:00 PM and leave the artists alone among others; and why her mother (and seemingly the other adults) never allows her to be alone. Diego the artist encourages her to write down her questions, which he says will help her figure out the answers. However, like all youngsters she begins to meet the other eccentric residents on Sparrow Road. Josie tells her about the orphanage that was once here. Other artists encourage her to open herself up to beauty, which she does somewhat, but still ponders about her mom and the “Iceberg” owner.

This is a charming relationship drama as mother and daughter love each other, but are frustrated with one another as well. Upper elementary school children will relish walking Sparrow Road with Raine as their guide; as she has so many questions in which answers lead to more questions.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sherry and Narcotics-Nina-Marie Gardner

Sherry and Narcotics
Nina-Marie Gardner
Future Fiction London, May 1 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9780982792827

From a wealthy Boston Brahmin family, Mary Cartwright has enjoyed the galas associated with the art world. Now in her late thirties, she lives in London having recently earned a Masters in creative writing that has led to a job at an online essay firm. She also is an alcoholic who intermittently attends AA sessions and needs the equivalent with the men she chooses.

After reading her on line profile, Jake Potter contacts Mary. Though he is married with a child, they exchange emails. She leaves London to be near Jake in Manchester. However, she is a stranger in a strange city and though close to her Jake, he belongs to another woman and a child. She is depressed and all alone.

The key to Sherry’s self destructive addictive behavior is the cold cities unwelcome to a stranger (echoing the Doors Tune People Are Strange), as London and Manchester (and indirectly Boston) come across as cold lonely cement jails for people without family or friends. Sherry has no social network beyond an occasional AA meeting and her fantasy. Not an easy read as the reader feels the gloom and doom while anticipating the crash. Mindful of Preminger’s movie The Man with the Golden Arm starring Sinatra based on Nelson Algren’s novel, Nina-Marie Gardner provides a profound but grim look at urban isolation even with the web’s social networks.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Story of Beautiful Girl -Rachel Simon

Story of Beautiful Girl
Rachel Simon
Grand Central, May 4 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446574464

In 1968 at the Pennsylvania State School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, developmentally disabled white female Lynnie and deaf African-American male Homan meet. They become friends although the abusive staff keeps the “inmates” apart and the pair has a communication issue. Lynnie and Homan escape, which enables her to give birth outside the brutal institution.

Knowing the school will hunt them down they leave their newborn with caring Widow Martha Zimmer who provided them with shelter on her farm. The school catches Lynnie, but Homan flees. For the next four decades, the two though separate thrive on their short time together while Martha decides what to do with the baby entrusted in her care.

This is a passionate character driven cautionary tale at a time when leaders propose cuts to health care reminding readers of how society locked away in institutions those with disorders as a cheap way to ignore those who need some encouragement and support to be independent. Readers will not have a dry eye as Homan named for homing pigeons and Lynnie expect to one day meet again and see their offspring and the kind widow who took them and their baby in.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories-Susi Wyss

The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories
Susi Wyss
Holt, Mar 29 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780805093629

In "Monday Born", twins Adjoa and Kojo left Ghana as migrant workers in the Ivory Coast in order to save as much as they can so they could come home to open a hair salon. By "The Precious Brother Salon, Kojo wants to make money fast so he considers a robbery of Adjoa's American employer, health worker Janice. Starring in "Names" and "Waiting for Solomon" is Foreign Service wife Ophelia, whose marriage lacks passion. Comfort’s husband Kwaku died six months ago as she flies from Accra to DC to see her son, his wife and their baby in “A Modern African Woman”. "Calculations of Risk" focuses on Comfort's white daughter-in-law who struggles with race and sex. Adjoa, Janice and Comfort meet in “There Are No Accidents" as each understands the impact of children. These nine tales focus strongly on the convergence of different people in various African countries (and one entry in DC). All the stories are strong as the female stars makes for a powerful look at relationships whose heart is Africa.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Coffins of Little Hope-Timothy Schaffert

The Coffins of Little Hope
Timothy Schaffert
Unbridled, May 3 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9781609530402

In Nebraska octogenarian widow Essie Myles writes the obituary column for her family-owned County Paragraph; as she has done for over seven decades under the byline S Myles. In fact she uses the same 1953 typewriter as she did years ago when she wrote her first obit, an essay on her late mom who died giving birth to her.

Essie notices how the press seems to be going nonstop and learns a New York publishing firm contracted the paper among other sources to print the final book in a popular YA series. Essie also learns from a neighbor Daisy that a photographer abducted the woman’s daughter Lenore. Essie investigates, but believes no crime occurred as she concludes Lenore went willingly with her boyfriend even as others accuse the mother of killing the daughter. However, the novel is leaked and the missing person report goes viral as Essie’s small town becomes the center of international news for fifteen minutes of distorted infamy.

This is a lay back satire that lampoons the country’s fascination with scandalous news; even when there is none to extrapolate as done with the disappearance of Lenore. The story line is so mellow, it is an anti-action tale not intended for everyone. Subtly mocking the voracious need for negative news, Timothy Schaffert provides a scathing attack on how we invent news made even more powerful by the gentle “much ado about nothing” Nebraska cast counter weighed by the international gotcha feeding frenzy.

Harriet Klausner

Fade to Blue-Julie Carobini

Fade to Blue
Julie Carobini
B&H, May 15 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780805448740

Suz Mitchell and her four year old son Jeremiah settle in Otter Bay, California as the single mom obtains a position at Hearst Castle and moves in with her older brother Gage who is engaged to Callie (see A Shore Thing). Her plan is for her and her child to start fresh while she prays her ex Len, who lingers behind bars, returns to God.

Also employed at the castle is her former boyfriend Seth Russo. She is surprised that feelings she thought dead prove they were only hibernating as she is attracted to Seth. He reciprocates and wants second chance with Suz. However, she knows Jeremiah must come first as the lad needs to adapt to his father in jail and he and his mom relocating. Complicating matters is Len is free from prison and coming for his family as if nothing happened as he knows his former wife only sees the best in people.

Fade to Blue is an insightful contemporary Christian Otter Bay relationship drama. The cast makes the tale work especially Suz-Q whose belief in the Lord will soon be tested. With a profound underlying message that you can pray for others but like that proverbial horse not make them drink the water of faith. Readers will appreciate this strong drama.

Harriet Klausner

Rivals in the Tudor Court-D. L. Bogdan

Rivals in the Tudor Court
D. L. Bogdan
Kensington, May 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758242006

In 1547 Thomas Howard sits in the Tower anticipating execution. He blames his mess on his wife Elizabeth, his mistress Bess Holland, his dolt of a daughter Mary, and especially his hothead son Henry. He reflects back to when Henry VII took the throne as his family’s fortune rose and fell fast due to royal wars. In 1495, he marries Henry’s sister-in-law Princess Anne though he is bit appalled that she is taller than him. However, they have several children but they all die young.

In 1503 Henry VIII sits on the throne. In 1509, Elizabeth Stafford arrives at court as a Lady-in-Waiting. Elizabeth looks forward to becoming a Neville, but instead her father arranges a marriage to widow Thomas. She is loyal to her spouse even when he takes Bess Holland as a mistress. However, as Elizabeth is Queen Catherine’s favorite, Thomas tries to return the family to the prominence of that short loved loftiness before the Battle of Bosworth in 1483 pushes forward Anne Boleyn to the king. At the same time Bess wants wealth and land even if it means destroying her lover.

The prequel to the Secrets of the Tudor Court is an engaging look at the era through the rotating perspectives of Thomas, Elizabeth, and Bess. Though none of the prime trio fully takes charge of the story line leaving it somewhat rudderless, Tudor era fiction fans will find fascinating the viewpoints of lesser players in a period in which it did backstabbing intrigue lead to the Tower.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bride’s House-Sandra Dallas

The Bride’s House
Sandra Dallas
St. Martin’s, Apr 26 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312600167

In 1880, seventeen year old Nealie Bent comes to booming mining town Georgetown, Colorado. Two men are attracted to the newcomer, miner Charlie Dumas and engineer Will Spaulding. Nealie turns to Will. They have an affair, but when she becomes pregnant, he leaves.

Dependable Charlie marries Nealie and they live in the Bride’s House. When Nealie dies giving birth to Pearl, Charlie raises her as if he is her biological father. No suitor is good enough for his girl as Pearl becomes Charlie’s business partner. However when she falls in love with Frank Curry, he cannot let go of the only reminder he has of Nealie.

This is an engaging family epic as three generations of females starting with Nealie seem to repeat similar relationship tragedies as if it is part of their DNA imprint. The cast in each era is fully developed as they bring alive that period and make what occurs seem genuine. The Bride’s House reads more like three novellas though the transition from one female lead to the next is smooth. Readers will enjoy staying at the charming Bride’s House where the hosts (Nealie, Pearl and her daughter Susan) have made into a warm home.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Appetite for America-Stephen Fried

Appetite for America
Stephen Fried
Bantam, May 3 2011, $18.00
ISBN: 9780553383485

This terrific historical biography starts off with quite a hook when drunken cowboys in 1882 meet Fred Harvey at his Montezuma Hotel and after a drink with the English expatriate and midnight breakfast come away with awe while wondering “Who the hell is Fred Harvey?” Stephen Fried provides a deep answer to the question of the pioneering entrepreneur who established the restaurant chain concept with his eating out facilities by railroad stations. As America changed, Fred Harvey modified his innovative Harvey Houses concept to include restaurants at National Parks with the Grand Canyon being the jewel. Even after he died his revolutionary business model survived. Well written, besides the radical change to the American service industry, the biography also looks back at the rest of the Fred Harvey story from his roots in England to the end of his company in the twentieth century. Stephen Fried provides a super spotlight on a key business mogul who began the change from the industrial manufacturing base to the service industry.

Harriet Klausner

The Mermaid Garden-Santa Montefiore

The Mermaid Garden
Santa Montefiore
Touchstone, May 3 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9781451624304

In 1966 in Tuscany, her mother dumps ten year old Floriana Farussi on her alcoholic father before leaving. Floriana falls in love with teenage Dante Bonfanti. He is amused by her élan for life. However as they grow up, each knows they are soulmates.

In 2009 in Devon, Marina and Grey Turner fear they will lose their Hotel Polzanze. They hire Argentine painter Rafa Santori to provide lessons to their guests. This proves successfully until Grey's miserable daughter Clementine arrives to the chagrin of her stepmother who knows her husband’s offspring mantra is misery loves miserable people. However, everyone has issues, which makes it unlikely that the artist and the daughter will connect in spite of being in love.

These two tales of young people in love at two locales over four decades apart deftly comingle into a cohesive entertaining story. Although straightforward in both eras, readers will feel they are walking the gardens of Tuscany and Devon accompanying the fully developed casts from both periods; as Santa Montefiore provides a wonderful warm character study of paradise found, lost and regained.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 18, 2011

On The Volcano-James Nelson

On The Volcano
James Nelson
Putnam, Apr 14 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 9780399252822

Born in 1858, now fifteen year old Katie MacDonald has lived her entire life with her widower father in an isolated forest on the high rim of a volcano; her mother died when she was two. In Katie’s entire life span, she has met two other people besides her dad; Dan a family friend and Lorraine the nurse who comes to stay with the MacDonald father and daughter for a few months periodically before moving on.

However, to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, Katie dressed as George accompanies her dad for the first time on his annual pilgrimage to Badwater. She meets two people; kind Deputy Sheriff Adam Summerfield and mean spirited Jess Starkey who attacks Katie. She fights back and escapes. The raging nasty punk vows to find her and enact vengeance his style. A few months later, Jess arrives at the volcano rim and jumps Katie. He starts to rape her, but her dad kills him. Others including her father soon die too as revenge becomes a norm until Adam gives her hope.

One thing leads to another in this intriguing young adult historical fiction as vengeance proves a strong motivator to find the MacDonald concealed homestead. Although Katie seems at critical times too mature for a sheltered naive teen, readers will enjoy her survival On the Volcano when her first trip to a town proves tragically devastating yet somewhat filled with hope.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Infamous Life The Autobiography of Mobb Deeps' Prodigy- Albert “Prodigy” Johnson with Laura Checkoway

My Infamous Life The Autobiography of Mobb Deeps' Prodigy
Albert “Prodigy” Johnson with Laura Checkoway
Touchstone, Apr 19 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9781439103180

This is an insightful autobiography that hooks the audience from the Introduction as Prodigy in a prison four hours from the city realizes he is just another inmate though a celebrity. From there Prodigy explains his family roots changed from musical affluence to the Queensborough projects where violent crime is the norm. For instance, Prodigy, who suffers from Sickle Cell Anemia, admits he committed a robbery to insure he met the code of high school which reminded me of the 1950s Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter. His family also knew crime first hand when his aunt a bartender was shot in Queens. When he became a famous rapper, blood money and drugs eventually led to prison. There he found out who his true friends are.

This is a timely fabulous memoir as Albert Johnson pulls no punches with his insightful look at his “infamous life” and at the civil war era of Hip Hop. Profound throughout Mr. Johnson lays bare his guts of thriving and dying in the concrete jungle of New York. Although too frequent use of the first person "I" pronoun at the start of sentences (even for an autobiography) feels a bit disjointing, readers will appreciate the honesty that Mr. Johnson provides in this deep gripping introspective memoir.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Silver Boat-Luanne Rice

The Silver Boat
Luanne Rice
Viking, Apr 5 2011, $25.95
ISBN: 9780670022502

Each of the sisters looks back at the family beach house on Martha's Vineyard with fond memories. They can track their roots to the Massachusetts colony as their ancestors were one of the first families to settle here. However, with mom’s death and the trio living far away and unable to keep the place as a vacation site, they know they must sell.

Thus the McCarthy siblings (Dar, Delia and Rory) come to Daggett's Way with sadness in their hearts. Adding to the despondency is the only offer comes from insufferable boors who plan to tear Dagget’s Way down and replace it with a despicable reproduction of a French chateau. Dar the manga graphic novelist wishes she had the power of her comic book heroine. Delia has other issues as she struggles with her son’s meth addiction that is also killing her relationship with her husband; reminding her of her Irish father Michael who vanished at sea years ago while insisting King Charles I gave his ancestors land within the Daggett acres.

This is an entertaining family drama as readers see the sadness of the three sisters who must give up their long time family heritage. The story line is insightful when the tale remains anchored on Martha’s Vineyard profoundly studying the impact of the loss of something sacred (not just the sisters as another character has confronted the same loss). When the siblings chase after an inane dream that even if they succeed accomplishes nothing, the plot loses its plausibility though one could argue this is a coping defense mechanism. Overall readers will enjoy the McCarthy sisters learning you truly cannot go home no matter how much you wish otherwise.

Harriet Klausner

A Turn In the Road-Debbie Macomber

A Turn In the Road
Debbie Macomber
Mira, Apr 26 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780778329831

Six years ago, Grant left Bethanne and their children (Andrew and Annie) for another woman. When his second marriage failed, he returned to his first wife asking for reconciliation. Bethanne has doubts she wants a second time with the man who hurt her with his cheating.

She needs to get away from Grant and Seattle to think about what she wants and not what he desires. Bethanne and her daughter Annie accompany her lonely former mother-in-law Ruth on a drive to Florida to attend her fiftieth high school reunion. There Ruth hopes to meet her teenage boyfriend Royce Jameson who she heard is alone too. Annie also has something to prove to her boyfriend Vance who left her to tour Europe for a year. The first stop on the cross country trek is Pendleton, Oregon where the widow Ruth wants to see her long time friend Marie. The three women help Marie at her diner. That is where Bethanne meets biker Max Scranton. They are attracted to one another, but everyone else pressures her to give Grant a second chance.

The latest warm Blossom Street saga (see Summer on Blossom Street) is a delightful tale as three generations of women, each lonely in different ways, seek companionship and solace . The cast is powerful as each of the lead ladies learn love hurts, but is worth the price.

Harriet Klausner

The Midwife’s Confession-Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife’s Confession
Diane Chamberlain
Mira, Apr 26 2011, $15.99
ISBN: 9780778329862

In Wilmington, North Carolina Tara, Emerson and Noelle have been BFFS for years. In fact Noelle the midwife helped her two buddies with the births of their children. She stopped midwifery last year to focus on the Babies program and seemed enthusiastic as she encouraged her buds and their teenage offspring to participate. So when Noelle, who appreciated living and inspired others to embrace life, commits suicide, Tara and Emerson are stunned especially when they read the strange unfinished confession.

Unable to cope with their friend's killing herself, the horrific confession, and the conclusion that they never knew the inner demons of their BFF, Tara and Emerson need to know the full truth. They begin a quest seeking the woman Noelle’s last letter was addressed to.

This is an intriguing look at the masks people wear to conceal traits, incidents or family they feel ashamed of from others. The three lead females and their families seem real as the viewpoints change especially between the BFF trio (flashbacks included). However, those changes in perspective add unnecessary confusion to a powerful twisting saga of why the midwife committed suicide.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 14, 2011

South of Superior-Ellen Airgood

South of Superior
Ellen Airgood
Riverhead, Jun 9 2011, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594487934

Gladys Hanson sends a sympathy card to Madeline Stone following the death of Emmy the woman who raised the latter. Madeline’s biological mother Jackie abandoned her when she was two years old and her late maternal grandfather Joe refused to raise her. Gloria also invites Madeline to move from Chicago to McAllister, Michigan to help her with her arthritic ailing sister Arbitus “Butte”. Although Gladys was Joe’s paramour, Madeline accepts leaving her job and boyfriend behind. Gladys proves unfriendly, but Butte makes her feel at home.

At the general store, Madeline meets pizza parlor owner Paul Garceau who also cooks at the nearby prison. The sisters argue over seeing the mothballed Hotel Leppinen they own as they have no money. Gladys sends Madeline to the hotel to get something. Madeline loves the hotel and thinks of possibilities. She goes to the pizza shop and asks for a waitressing job. Paul hires her. Gladys is upset but Butte is pleased with Madeline obtaining a job. Single mom Randi dumps Grey on Madeline at the pizza shop, but fails to return. Madeline takes Grey home with her. Later Madeline learns from Mary about her Great Uncle Walter who lives in a home for simple minded people; she visits him. As Madeline tries to renovate the hotel, she angers seemingly everyone except Butte; so considers leaving.

The key ensemble cast especially the heroine, her “great-aunts” and to a lesser degree her beloved is all developed while a sense of being in Michigan is a key element that anchors the plot. The reason Paul becomes angry with Madeline seems weak though critical. Still readers will enjoy South of Superior, as Madeline and the audience learn what family means.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Heartache Falls-Emily March

Heartache Falls
Emily March
Ballantine, Apr 26 2011, $7.99
ISBN: 9780345518385

Two years ago, Mackenzie Timberlake obtained his career objective when he became a federal judge in Denver. His wife for over two decades, stay at home to raise the kids Alison feels hammered by the empty nest syndrome when their last child goes off to college.

She becomes upset with her husband, who is never there for her. Ali accepts a job in Eternity Springs, Colorado. She leaves her stunned spouse behind to relocate. They live separately for several months as his schedule keeps him on the bench and her new lifestyle keeps her four hours away. Reconciliation increasingly looks impossible for this pair.

Contemporary fans who have not tasted the warm miracles of Eternity Springs (see Angel’s Rest and Hummingbird Lake) are missing a whimsical treat. The third wonderful entry focuses on middle age empty-nesters whose relationship in spite of love is in trouble due to neglect. Readers will appreciate the deep marital war in which it is easier to root for Ali-cat, but will enjoy, as Paul Harvey would say “the rest of the story.”

Harriet Klausner

The Last Time I Saw Paris-Lynn Sheene

The Last Time I Saw Paris
Lynn Sheene
Berkley, May 3 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780425240847

In 1940 as the Nazis are about to occupy Paris, Claire Harris flees Manhattan and her abusive war profiteering spouse Russell for France. She hopes her former lover Laurent can provide her with shelter, but he is unwelcoming. Claire lacks papers because some thief tossed her papers into the water, but she finds a job and a place to stay with Madame Palain the owner of a florist.

When the Nazis take over the city, Claire, out of necessity to obtain papers, joins the resistance. Her delivering flowers to German galas enable her to obtain information she passes on to her compatriots. Claire loves her adopted nation and begins seeing the city and surrounding area accompanied by English resistance agents and spy Thomas Harding Grey who she met at Laurent’s apartment. As she helps two females escape from Paris, someone betrays her leaving her forced to go to extreme measures to try to save herself and her loved ones from the Nazis.

Nazi occupied Paris owns this interesting WWII drama as the readers sees vividly what happened in the 1940s. The heroine’s early actions to desperately escape from her spouse seem inane as she flies from the East River to the French-Spanish border (she should have returned to Oklahoma although in fairness she believed she could never go home). With a nod to Dominique Lapierre’s Is Paris Burning? Readers will enjoy the American expatriate symbolizing Lady Liberty as she survives, loves and fights for freedom.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 11, 2011

Honey Grove-Genell Dellin

Honey Grove
Genell Dellin
Berkley, May 3 2011, $7.99
ISBN 9780425241530

After burying her mother Edie Jo, attorney Meredith Briscoe decides to stay for a while with her grandmother Lilah in Rock Springs, Texas. Lilah is euphoric with her granddaughter staying on her Honey Grove Farm as she regrets spending no time with Meri when she was growing up in Brooklyn.

Lilah prays that she and her granddaughter develop a loving relationship while Meri prays she finally has a place she can call home with her grandma. When Lilah is injured, Meri vows to do what it takes to save her grandma’s home. Caleb Burkett helps the two females while he conceals his ulterior motive; he wants Meri to remain in the Lone Star State at his side as he loves the newcomer and her feisty grandma, but wonders how he (and Lilah) will keep her on the farm after she seen New York?

This family drama is an enjoyable tale due to the various relationships including the connector of the late Edie Jo. Lilah and Meri are a delight as the regional and generational gaps seem wider than Texas. Readers will enjoy stopping in Rock Springs as in one corner is the battling Gran and the other is the battling granddaughter; while the late sandwich generation as a bias referee.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Ninth Wife-Amy Stolls

The Ninth Wife
Amy Stolls
Harper, May 10 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061851896

In 2005 DC folklorist Bess Gray is having a birthday party at her apartment. One of the attendees is fiddler Rory McMillan who thinks of his first wife he married as a teen in Ireland; they traveled to Boston to live. When he and Bess meet, they are attracted to each other. Bess’ former boyfriend Sonny arrives with his pregnant girlfriend Gaia. Rory leaves without saying goodbye.

Rory thinks about his second marriage. He did not want to go home to Dublin and she needed a man as a front. They never slept together as she was a lesbian who divorced him just after she graduated from college. He regrets he hurt his third wife who he met in a Toledo church parking lot over a fender bender.

Rory invites Bess to watch him play the fiddle. She accepts the date. Bess enjoys the performance by Rory and his partner Sean. They go to the National Cathedral where he kisses her. The pair begins a relationship, but he knows he owes her the truth about his eight marriages.

This is an engaging tale with an intriguing theme that for the most part is brilliantly executed as readers meet the merry wives of Rory. The lead couple is a strong pairing and the support cast enhances the story line except for the second half road show in which Gaia and Bess’ neighbor Cricket seem out of place. The elderly spousal abuse subplot brings a serious issue to the plot, but is somewhat muted after a powerful beginning. Still this is a profound look at degrees of togetherness as it is not first, fifth or eighth; it is the last wife that counts.

Harriet Klausner

The Stormchasers-Jenna Blum

The Stormchasers
Jenna Blum
Plume, Apr 26 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452297135

In 2008, Gail Nelson of the Wichita Medical Center Mental Health Clinic calls Minneapolis Ledger reporter Karena Jorge and tells her that her bipolar twin brother, Charles Hallingdahl was admitted to the hospital due to rapid bipolar disorder mood swings; he refuses medication. She has not seen or heard from her sibling except for photos of Tornado Alley storms in two decades as he left home when they were eighteen following a tragedy. She has searched for him since while he searched for the next storm.

Karena rushes from Minneapolis to Kansas, but the next morning after the call, Dr. Brewster tells her that Charles is gone. She joins the Stormchasers brigade that travels Tornado Alley while praying she finds her brother before he does something harmful to himself and others. She is attracted to storm tour guide Kevin Weibke, but is ignorant that he and Charles share a history.

This is a terrific family drama that uses storms as a metaphor for what happened twenty years ago and for what occurs inside Charles’ head. The romantic suspense mystery story line captures the reader’s attention from the moment hospital liaison Nelson calls and never slows down as several subplots past and present are explored though at times the flashbacks can be distracting. The Stormchasers is an engaging look at the story nature of people and relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Abigail's New Hope-Mary Ellis

Abigail's New Hope
Mary Ellis
Harvest House, Apr 1 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780736930093

In Wayne County, Ohio new resident Nathan Fisher calls midwife Abigail Graber to help his wife Ruth. Abigail asks who the physician is, but an angry defensive Nathan tells her to not lecture him for not having her see a doctor. Abigail calls Dr. Weller who is not there as she heads over to help Ruth. However, the pregnant woman hemorrhaged; while Abigail tries to stop the bleeding. Ruth dies but her new born son lives. The Sherriff’s Department arrests Abigail for involuntary manslaughter due to practicing medicine without a license.

Judge O’Neil sets bail at 500K, which means Abigail will linger in jail for a month awaiting her trial while her lawyer is state appointed. Still though confused, she knows she did the right thing as this was an emergency. Her sister Catherine arrives at the Graber farm to take care of the children. Working on the Graber farm is Isaiah, considered simple minded by everyone. However, Catherine, who is attracted to him, realizes Isaiah is intelligent but deaf.

This is a strong refreshing inspirational that has all the key players changing during the exciting story line. Although the manslaughter charge subplot is not new (see The Amish Midwife by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould), readers will appreciate this fine tale of an unlicensed Amish midwife in legal trouble with the Englisher jurisprudence system.

Harriet Klausner

Forever Summer-Alyson Noel

Forever Summer
Alyson Noel
St. Martin’s Griffin, Apr 26 2011, $9.99
ISBN: 9780312604394

“Laguna Cove”. Angry Anna loathes moving into the exclusive home of her movie producer father in Laguna Cove because her cheating mom is divorcing her dad to live with her boyfriend. She loathes leaving behind her boyfriend, her friends, and the diving team. Her dad is too busy to meet her at the airport so he sends his lackey Jake to do so. He introduces her to his friend Chris before dumping her at the house so he can surf. At school, she feels like the outsider except for Chris until she meets his friends. Chris becomes her boyfriend but Ellie loathes the newcomer though Anna is unsure why.

“Cruel Summer”. Seventeen-year-old Colby has made plans for the summer but those she proposes her parents disposes. They inform her she will spend the summer with her crazy Aunt Tally on a Greek island no one outside of Greece heard of. Instead she wants to remain the new BFF to the school’s coolest person Amanda and hang with hunk Levi. Colby joins her nutty aunt only to learn she has no cell phone service or internet access; and forget about a zillion channels – no TV. She begins to jot down her feelings of being exiled to a land before time in her "Cruel Summer" blog that she updates everyday at the nearby Internet café. She becomes confused about her feelings when she meets Yannis the teen islander.

These reprints of two summer high school tales are fun due to the well rounded lead females as Alyson Noel captures the essence of the belligerent bewildered teen; they each brings resentment, confusion, and vigor to the changes in their respective lifestyles caused by their parents. Readers will enjoy the worst and greatest summers in the lives of angry Anna and cantankerous Colby.

Harriet Klausner

Shadow Boxing-Karen Wiesner

Shadow Boxing
Karen Wiesner
Whiskey Creek, 2011, $17.95
ISBN: 9781611600131

Although Joshua and Justine Samuels have been married for eighteen years, she feels she does not know her husband nor him her. Justine concludes that in spite of almost two decades together, they share two common bonds: their love for their daughter Vashti and their faith in the Lord.

Looking back to when she was in high school while working and caring for her dying father, Justine recalls her only respite was time spent with her neighbor Joshua. When she became pregnant, both feared the reactions of their devout Christian families so they married and raised Vashti until now when she wonders if that is all there is their marriage. However, neither of her parents know how determined Vashti is to keep her family together. She signs up her mom and dad to partake in a mission in Mexico. They will either come back renewed in their marital vows and their belief in God or find their schism too great a leap of faith to overcome.

This Family Heirlooms inspirational family drama (see Baby, Baby) is a wonderful character driven tale that provides a profound look at a troubled marriage. The three Samuels are pious individuals, but in spite of the adults honoring their vows, their relationship appears at best dormant. Vashti intercedes praying to the Lord to guide her as she fears her family is going to split up due to the lack of real communication between her parents. Readers will appreciate this deep look at marital relationships though the mindsets of the Samuels’ trio.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Social Climber's Handbook-Molly Jong-Fast

The Social Climber's Handbook
Molly Jong-Fast
Villard, Apr 26 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345501899

By 2008, trader Dick Greenbaum and his wife Daisy sit on the top rung of the Upper East Side social status. The elite power couple resides in a million dollar Park Avenue apartment while their daughters attend the best private schools. However, the recession leaves Wall St. in jeopardy and the upper crust like the Greenbaum family in jeopardy of a rapid descent down the ladder.

Daisy refuses to allow their position to drop one iota. She needs to remove obstacles like her husband’s boss and his former mistress by any reasonable means that will take them out of the picture permanently. However, she is more concerned with two bloggers investigating the company's shady financial dealings. Neither expected Daisy to stalk them for a fitting demise to their blog. As the stock market collapses so do enemies of the Greenbaum family.

This is an engaging satire that lampoons the upper crust’s penchant at all costs (to others) to retain status. The story line is fast-paced once Daisy becomes a serial killer; though her victims simplify her choosing them as they are all amorally corrupt. Although much of the sting of the tale is abated by the victims’ moral bankruptcy and the not so deep focus into the exorbitance of the Let them eat cake crowd (overwhelmed by the murders), fans will enjoy the amusing Social Climber’s Handbook.

Harriet Klausner

Beyond the Bougainvillea-Dolores Durando

Beyond the Bougainvillea
Dolores Durando
Bell Bridge (Belle Books), Feb 15 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9781611940046

In 1924 in North Dakota, her widower father barters his sixteen years old intelligent daughter Mary Margaret for a piece of land. Thus Mary marries the much older Garrity, a drunk. Growing up abused by her father, Mrs. Marge Garrity expects more of the same just by a different abuser as she has no rights.

However, Marge refuses to trade down by allowing a new violent male to harm her. She flees the upper Plains for California. In Los Angeles, Marge struggles to survive as the great depression hammers America, but soon finds a welcome by those who constructed the Ruck-a-chucky Dam on the American River. There she also meets and is attracted to a Cherokee engineer working for Army Corp.

“We come a long way baby” is evident in this great historical fiction that through one of the best casts of the year. They bring alive the Women’s Suffragette movement and the Great depression. The key is that there is no supervillain only everyday flawed people trying to survive during hard times and nasty incidents made even more difficult for women without male protection and no rights. Nonagenarian Dolores Durando provides a marvelous timely look back with her epic debut tale of an era in which not so perfect (but beguiling) Marge tries to make it in a world that condemns women who left their male provider.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Queen by Right-Anne Easter Smith

Queen by Right
Anne Easter Smith
Touchstone, May 10 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 9781416550471

In 1423 when she was nine years old, Cecily Neville meets twelve years old Richard of York at her father’s Raby Castle. Both are raised in her family’s household and matched off in an arranged marriage in 1824. However their marriage proves to be one of endearing and enduring love. She accompanies him to Rouen where he becomes the governor general of France and she becomes friends with Joan, who informs her she will be the mother of kings. When King Henry VI suffers a breakdown and is unable to rule any longer, Richard returns home as the Protector. However, others seeing opportunity force him to flee to Ireland while his wife and children remain at Ludlow Castle. Holding the hands of her offspring, Cecily stares down the enemy until her husband returns to be named the heir to the throne.

Anne Easter Smith continues her look at the turbulent Plantagenet period (see The King’s Grave, A Rose for the Crown and Daughter of York) in this entertaining look at the monarch-maker (thirteen children with two becoming king). Bringing alive much of the fifteenth century through the heroine (she died at eighty) known for her brave stand during another of the civil wars of that era, fans will relish Queen by Right as the marriage of political convenience between the York and Neville families turns into an endearing enduring love match until his death in 1460.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 4, 2011

Glass Angels-Karen Wiesner

Glass Angels
Karen Wiesner
Whiskey Creek, Feb 23 2011, $18.95
ISBN: 9781611600094

In Peaceful, Wisconsin, three years ago Ryder Feldmann raped Samantha Samuels, daughter of a pastor who trusted the teenage juvenile delinquent. Although traumatized, Samantha enrolled in psychiatric classes in order to help victims of violent crimes. However, her faith has been shattered in the Lord and her trust in people’s kindness vanquished

Ryder’s older brother Kyle feels punished by his sibling’s violent assault. Kyle asked his beloved Samantha to marry him though he knew her father would object. The attack shattered his dreams as he knows anytime Samantha sees him, she sees Ryder too.

God works in mysterious ways as Samantha’s new office is in the same building as that of Kyle the divorce counselor. He prays this is not a deity joke as he wants a second chance, but realizes his Samantha has lost much of her spirit and almost all of her faith. She logically knows she must forgive her father for his negligence and Ryder for his assault, but cannot as she wonders if Glass Angels once shattered can heal; Kyle plans to glue the shattered pieces back together even if it takes his lifetime.

The fourth Family Heirlooms inspirational tale (see the “healing” of Foolish Games) is a terrific contemporary story starring a person whose belief system was shattered when her body was violated. Kyle is a strong counterpart to the courageous but tormented Samantha who has given up on God, her father, and her beloved as she trusts no one; not even the Lord who allowed the attack to occur. Readers will sympathize with the heroine’s emotional plight and empathize with the lead male’s hopes and frustrations as the only way she will heal is the impossible forgiving those she holds accountable.

Harriet Klausner

Against the Wind-Bodie & Brock Thoene

Against the Wind
Bodie & Brock Thoene
Summerside, Mar 29 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781609361082

By 1940, the Nazis control much of central Europe. Jewish violinist Elisa Lindheim Murphy and her American newspaper reporter spouse John Murphy accompanied by their three kids manage to flee Germany in 1937 and soon after leave Vienna for London. However, Britain does not prove much safer as the German Luftwaffe Blitz the country. Hitler’s invasion seems imminent as the Battle of Britain rages in the sky and at sea.

John and Elisa send their twin adopted eight years old sons Charles and Louis Kroenberger and their seventeen month old baby Katie to live in America with his parents. As the North Atlantic turns deadly, Elisa decides to escort Jewish children to the States. In late October 1940 a U-boat sinks the SS Newcastle. Elisa and others manage to get on lifeboats, but ten days later their prayers have not been answered. She knows young Connor with his tin whistle is a hero that future books will never know of and thinks if she had her violin she would play Kol Nidre to tell people how it felt when the torpedoes hit the refugee vessel.

The latest Zion Diaries (see The Gathering Storm) is a deep WWII drama as the battle of Britain may have been the finest hour, but for years this is one of Europe’s darkest eras. Bombing of civilian populations; sinking of ships with children; killing people for their religion, race or color are the norm. The story line grips the audience from the start as Elisa on a lifeboat writes her last will and never slows down. The Thoene team provides a compassionate poignant historical as a few brave but frightened people poke an index finger in Hitler’s eye.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Dashwood Sisters tell All-Beth Pattillo-

The Dashwood Sisters tell All
Beth Pattillo
Guidepost, Apr 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780824948740

Only their mom’s will would send sisters Ellen and Mimi Dodge on an English adventure together as the siblings have nothing in common except their disdain for one another. Their late mom Caroline was a devoted Janeite; for her daughters to inherit, they must spread her ashes in Hampshire. Thus the pair is in England with the mission to follow Jane’s trail and to read her sister Cassandra’s diary that discusses how they almost became estranged. Each has a different motive re the diary and its potential value if authentic.

They begin the walking tour with disdain as Mimi’s facial in London made them miss the bus. The Dodge sisters visit the Austen sites ending at Winchester Cathedral where Jane is buried. At each stop they leave some of their mom’s ashes. As others on the tour seem to know what they are doing including Jane, descendent Ethan and Ellen’s college crush, Daniel, the duet also begins to uncover secrets contained in Cassandra's diary that someone, probably on the tour, wants it to remain buried.

The third modern take of an Austen classic (see Jane Austen Ruined My Life and Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart) is a charming contemporary spin of Sense and Sensibility as Ellen and Mimi Dodge are obviously Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The story line is character driven with the diary insisting that the classic tale is based on the real road trip of the Austen sisters. Fans will enjoy the latest tribute to Jane as the Dodge sister’s foibles match those of the Dashwood Sisters who may match those of the Austen sisters.

Harriet Klausner

Swim Back to Me-Ann Packer

Swim Back to Me
Ann Packer
Knopf, Apr 5 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9781400044047

"Walk for Mankind". In 1972 in Stanford, shy and sorry eighth grader Richard Appleby meets new and weird Sasha Horowitz walking home from the school bus. She is rebellious and has an affair with a drug dealer while he remains reticent.

“Molten”. Fortyish Kathryn grieves the loss of her son Ben by playing his music.

“Jump”. Alejandro hides his affluence in order to work at a photocopy shop where his colleague Carolee wonders why the incompetent is not fired.

"Dwell Time". Lara’s first husband Adam was always notoriously late. Her second spouse Matt was always early. Now he is late for the first time in their relationship and Lara is worried something happened to him as this is out of character for him.

"Her First Born." In Eugene, Dean has never understood why his wife Lise remembers every little event involving her late child Jasper from her first marriage until she gives birth to his son Danny.

"Things Said or Done". Fiftyish Sasha looks back to when she met reticent Richard thirty five years ago when she was the one out of control and now when he has become the one out of control.

This excellent anthology consists of one novella (Walk for Mankind) and five shorts with each providing readers with an in-depth psychological look at the dynamics of relationships. The well-written bookend Sasha tales are especially discerning.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 2, 2011

We'll Have the Summer-Dutch Henry

We'll Have the Summer
Dutch Henry
Camel Press, Mar 11 2011, $15.97
ISBN: 9781603818377

In Arizona, Mary Holt’s doctor informs her and her husband Sam that she will be dead by the fall. She handles the news better than her distraught spouse. However, he plans to provide his wife a terrific final curtain call; while she plans to help her spouse move on once she has passed.

However, their final days are interrupted when spoiled troubled teenager Barbara Sherman arrives at their ranch with an injured horse. The Holt couple allows Barbara to move into their home while caring for the horse. As the three troubled people nurture one another and forge a family out of love and respect even knowing that soon Mary will watch over both of them from above and Barbara will return to her Mother and Phillip.

The key to this warm “family” drama is Dutch Henry avoids over sentimentality yet his three key characters (in addition to the horses) contain tenderness. Sam knows that last summer was special for Mary because her last riding student was spoiled but full of spunk. Readers will enjoy this well-written look at the end of life as three people and a horse come together for one last hurrah.

Harriet Klausner