Sunday, May 29, 2011

Summer Rental-Mary Kay Andrews

Summer Rental
Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin’s, Jun 7 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312642693

The three BFFs for over two decades rent a summer house in Nags Head on the North Carolina Outer Banks. Now in their thirties each has major decisions to make that they need their two buddies to be there for them. Ellis Sullivan drives down from Philadelphia where she just lost her job at BancAtlantic that meant her life to her. Maryn Shackleford flees her abusive spouse Don in New Jersey before he finally buries her; deciding to hide in Nag’s Head where her parents once took her seemingly a lifetime ago. Ty Bazemore owns the Ebbtide beach house he has rented to the thirty-something trio under his alter ego Mr. Culpepper; his first encounter with Ellis is a disaster at a time he is distracted about losing the house. The other BFFs Julia and Dorie arrive; Julia the model was living with Booker the photographer, but he took a DC job and wants more from their relationship. Dorie hides in shock that her beloved husband Stephen betrayed her. All five converge in a summer month of change at Ebbtide.

This is an entertaining character study of three females each at a major fork in their respective lives. Although Maryn brings suspense to the mix as an abused wife on the run from her husband, she changes the relational dynamics of the other trio too much. Filled with pathos, humor and romance, fans will enjoy the three musketeers seeking their groove in the Outer Banks.

Harriet Klausner

The Blackberry Bush-David Householder

The Blackberry Bush
David Householder
Summerside, Jun 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781609361167

On November 9, 1989 as Germans are shouting “we are one people” as the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down. At the same time in Elisabeth Hospital in Bonn, Linda from Rotterdam gives birth to Katarina as the father German Konrad is euphoric. In Zarzamora, California also at the same moment at a mountain hospital in Los Padres Forest, Janine gives birth to Michael’s son Joshua.

As years pass, Josh becomes a talented skateboarder trying to find a purpose in life. His frustrations with failing to do so make him angry as he believes he is a failure. Kati loves looking at old stuff, but meanders without purpose. Her frustrations are fueled by feelings of never pleasing her mother or anyone else except her grandfather. In 2011 they meet off Huntington Beach in what Angelo would have said is a soul cleansing transformation.

This is an entreating inspirational allegorical epic over several decades follows two people linked by the birth of freedom when the Wall came down. Character driven to include Angelo with his Behind the story asides, fans will relish this strong parable as The Blackberry Bush snares those filled with crippling phobias, fears and remorse in which heroic good deeds is the only escape. David Householder provides a wonderful thought provoking story line encouraging readers to go for their freedom from our personal mental cages.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 27, 2011

Break the Skin-Lee Martin

Break the Skin
Lee Martin
Crown, Jun 14 2011, $24.00
ISBN: 9780307716750

In Mt. Gilead, Illinois, police officers question skinny teenager Laney Volk who lives in a trailer with fellow Wal-Mart associate thirty-five-year-old Delilah Dade and Rose MacAdow. This is the second time they interrogate him over the course of a few months. While Delilah and Rose competed for the attention of singer Tweet, Laney liked band member Lester Stipp. When Tweet chooses Rose, Delilah rages.

In Denton, Texas, lonely tattoo artist Miss Baby hates men for using her but fantasizes that one day her prince will come. Although she knows better having been hurt frequently by strays, she takes in a stranger who says he suffers from amnesia. However, Lester could be lying about knowing his name as mendacity and lonely desperation link Texas and Illinois.

Break the Skin is a terrific tale that rotates between the women in Illinois and the woman in Texas; their bond is a deep Eleanor Rigby level of loneliness. Character driven by the four women whose catalyst for their respective behavior is the two band members, fans who relish an atmospheric thriller will want to read this dark ballad of human foibles.

Harriet Klausner

Pie Town-Lynn Hinton

Pie Town
Lynn Hinton
Morrow, Jun 7 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780062045089

Pie Town, New Mexico is a small melting pot in which resides three races intermingling as if everyone is family; this is especially so in support of wheelchair bound young Alex who suffers from spina bifida while his grandparents raise him.

One thing the locals detest is change as tradition means a lot to the residents. Thus the townsfolk do not greet their new parish priest Father George Morris with friendship; especially since he brought a hitchhiking female Trina with him. However when Alex openly welcomes them, the townsfolk consider him a barometer of people do like wise. The welcome mat is removed when tragedy strikes that even an angel could not prevent; as the townsfolk hold Trina culpable.

This is an engaging look at the three predominant subcultures that make New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. The lead triangle plus Alex’s grandfather the sheriff are solid protagonists but the plot is thin and the direction straighter than the Bonneville Salt Flats. Still fans will enjoy Lynn Hinton’s whimsical slice of life in the Southwest.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Good and the Ghastly-James Boice

The Good and the Ghastly
James Boice
Scribner, Jun 14 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9781416575443

It took centuries but the world has somewhat recovered from the global nuclear war. Now the thirty-fourth century has caught up to life in the early twenty-first century though there are some differences; for instance history and science texts praise Sarah Palin for her theory of natural selection and deer is the pet of choice.

However, in spite of the heritage of mass destruction wars back in the twentieth and twenty-first, hate remains a viable option. While VISA owns the world now as it did then, Adoranso Horater pushes for the final solution as he blames the Jews for the nuclear holocaust. At the same time Alvarez rules the mobs with an iron fist, a victim’s mother stalks and murders gangster and human sacrifices to the statue of the cat God Garfield is practiced. Soon the former Good and the forever Ghastly will confront one another.

The Good and the Ghastly is an engaging satire that rips into twenty first century values by extrapolating how the future will look at this era of phony hypocritical compassion. The story line is overall fun but the mocking of present day decisions by sound bites keeps the plot thin. Still readers who relish thought provoking lampooning will want to read the thirty-fourth century equivalent to Bill Mahler’ “New Rules” interpretation of Palinism.

Harriet Klausner

The Night Circus-Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern
Doubleday, Sep 13 2011, $26.95
ISBN: 9780385534635

Five years old Celia is an untrained psychokinetic. Her father Hector Bowen who performs for Le Cirque des Reves as Prospero the Entertainer is unaware of her existence until his daughter is dropped off. He realizes his daughter has incredible innate magical skill and decides to deploy her ability in a death match against an adversary: Alexander’s tyro magician Marco. The loser will die.

Celia and Marco are unaware that the outcome of their contest is death. However, their respective handlers failed to anticipate the two young mages as they grow up will fall in love. All bets are off as to how this power game will end as the puppeteers struggle to get their marionettes to perform the death duet not the love tango.

This excellent gripping historical thriller is a character driven tale with a paranormal element. The four participants in The Night Circus forge a fighting rectangle that turns into a perilous perfect square as the avaricious handlers want power and domination while the mentees want love. Fans will enjoy a night at the Erin Morgenstern’s circus wondering whether years of negative nurturing overcome tender naturing.

Harriet Klausner

The Mistress's Revenge-Tamar Cohen

The Mistress's Revenge
Tamar Cohen
Free Press (Simon and Schuster), Jun 7 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9781451632828

For five years Sally Islip and Clive Gooding had an affair until he broke it off. Upset, she begins to keep a journal addressed to Clive. To his chagrin she publishes her musings anonymously though all know who the overweight egomaniac male is.

As Clive is frustrated with his ex, he takes another blow to his portly gut when Sally becomes friends to his wife and adult children. Over the top Clive vows revenge. Meanwhile despondent Sally seems even gloomier each day while someone hacks into her email and sends ugly notes to her employers. Though it costs her a living, her dark depression keeps her fueled in her assault on Clive.

This is a very dark relationship drama that makes Fatal Attraction seem tame as obsessive compulsive disorder turns the loving obsession into the loathing obsession. Sally cannot stop herself while Clive has been hooked with a need to avenge what she has done to him. However, the cost to their respective extended families will soon come home to roost. Not for everyone, readers will wonder what the boundaries of revenge are.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Desert Gift-Sally John

Desert Gift
Sally John
Tyndale, May 18 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414327860

Married for almost a quarter of a century to her husband Jackson, Jillian Galloway feels they are the epitome of a strong healthy Christian marriage and family with a healthy adult son. She has become a popular speaker on the subject of healthy marriages and has written a book as well. Jill prepares for a book tour when Jack informs her he is tired of their relationship and wants a divorce.

Jill is stunned and in denial as she cannot believe he is unhappy and leaving her. She considers canceling the tour and spends time with her parents and her married sister and brother-in-law. Both couples seem contented leading Jill to look inside at herself and her relationship with Jack.

Desert Gift is an enjoyable family drama starring two caring individuals. He is a kind physician and she is a nurturing expert on marriages until her own implodes. Character driven, fans will appreciate this fine story as Jill goes through the phases of grief until she finally wonders what she did and could have done differently to nurture her relationship with jack before they tumbled down.

Harriet Klausner

She Makes It Look Easy-Marybeth Whalen

She Makes It Look Easy
Marybeth Whalen
David C. Cook, Jun 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780781403702

In Essex Falls Ariel Baxter is the mother of three rambunctious sons (eight year old Donovan, six year old Dylan, and four year old Duncan). She works hard at her family photography business while her husband's work schedule leaves them with little time between them. Her prime pet peeve is how cheap her spouse is as he saves for a monsoon.

The Miller family is the next door neighbor to the Baxter brood. To Ariel they are perfect. The matriarch Justine always dresses to perfection, the husband Mark insures the lawn is mowed and nice looking; the two daughters (Cameron and Caroline) are well behaved. Also neighbors are Betsy and Tom; he is Justine's former boyfriend. Ariel ignores single mom divorcee Erica as being impaired by not having a husband-father. Instead she emulates Justine the great organizer.

Intriguing, readers will relish this fine neighborhood tale as Ariel learns perfection is not quite easy to achieve especially usually at exorbitant personal costs. The ensemble cast is fully developed so that readers can compare their traits just as Ariel did when she concludes Justine makes it look easy. However, as she learns more about her perfect neighbor Ariel begins to appreciate the brown patchy grass seems greener in her yard. This is an entertaining look at images and role models as nobody’s perfect.

Harriet Klausner

The Sweetness of Tears -Nafisa Haji

The Sweetness of Tears
Nafisa Haji
Morrow, May 17 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061780103

The family of high school student Jo March is Evangelical Christian. However, she has doubts. Adding to her concerns is that she only recently found out who her biological father is. Her dad Sadiq is a Pakistani who met Jo’s mother Angela when she went on a soul searching trip years ago.

Now Jo seeks the truth and she hopes inner solace. Following in her mother’s footsteps by leaving home, she begins a sojourn to find her roots. This soon means also traveling to the Middle East for her paternal heritage.

The Sweetness of Tears is a complicated family drama that focuses on the convergence of religion, not all in a positive way as clashes and conflict occur in the name of God. The multifaceted story line is diverse as Nafisa Haji looks at the Iraqi War from various strife viewpoints. Yet Jo keeps the multiple plots focused in her quest to learn who she really is as she is the metaphor of peace between religions, cultures, genders and people of all types of backgrounds.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Joy for Beginners-Erica Bauermeister

Joy for Beginners
Erica Bauermeister
Putnam, Jun 9 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780399157127

In Seattle having won her battle with breast cancer, Kate tells her six friends that she plans to go whitewater rafting though she admits to figuratively needing rubber underwear. She challenges them to try something that they would not want to do; she assigns each of them a specific task. As each woman looks at achieving their respective daunting objective that forces them to look deep inside their fear zone, Kate believes they will gain much by overcoming their trepidations as she learned that life is persistently filled with challenges. Caroline, Daria, Marion, Sara, Hadley and Ava have great doubts about what their friend is demanding from them, but none wants to be the first to say no.

This is an entertaining inspirational tale in which purposely none of the seven women (and family members) including the catalyst Kate are developed beyond their particular quest and their relationship with others. This enables the message of conquering your fears by swinging the bat rather than not playing to remain the prime focus as the legitimate effort is in some ways more important than the achievement. Readers will enjoy this fine tale while pondering what demon we need to take on.

Harriet Klausner

Broken Wings-Carla Stewart

Broken Wings
Carla Stewart
Faith Words, Jun 3 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446556569

In Tulsa, Gabe and Mitzi Steiner have been married for six decades and enjoyed a wonderful singing pair during most of their time together. Recently Alzheimer’s has struck Gabe so the jazz duet no longer performs together.

To fill her time so as to avoid the anguish of watching her beloved Gabe slowly vanish under the weight of his illness, Mitzi volunteers as a "Pink Lady" at Tulsa County Hospital. She becomes upset when paralegal Brooke Woodson arrives at the ER; as she recognizes the signs of domestic abuse from when she was a victim of her papa’s rage as a child. Mitzi and Brooke form a sisterhood of sorts as each has suffered abuse with the younger woman the victim of the rages of fiancé.

This is an engaging tale held together by a strong female protagonist who knows first hand the ups and downs of life. The story line is terrific when it looks at the past and present of the Steiner couple who loved each other for six decades but now struggle with crippling Alzheimer’s. The plot loses some of its emotional potency when it turns to contemporary abuse as that segue feels forced, adds too much angst, and detracts from the super profound biography of Gabe and Mitzi as she understands the final curtain call is coming soon.

Harriet Klausner

One Summer-David Baldacci

One Summer
David Baldacci
Grand Central, Jun 14 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780446583145

In Ohio terminally ill Jack Armstrong prays to God that he lives to Christmas to be there for his wife and their three young children. However, his wife Lizzie dies in car accident on Christmas Eve picking up Jack’s medicine.

Lizzie’s mom Bonnie ships her three grandchildren to the separate homes of her adult children, sells her late daughter’s house and directs Jack to enter a hospice. Jack somewhat recovers his health as his illness goes into remission and picks up his kids. He moves to South Carolina where years ago Lizzie’s twin died; there he plans to raise his children as a single dad. Bonnie sues for custody.

This interesting family drama is insightful when the story line focuses on an ailing widower battling to keep his children with him. Bonnie is too much a villainous instead of a concerned grieving grandma worried about the well being of her late daughter’s children; while a romantic interest detracts from the tale of battling relatives. Still fans will root for Jack and his three children to make it in a world in which they learn the twists of life and death.

Harriet Klausner

Ten Thousand Saints-Eleanor Henderson

Ten Thousand Saints
Eleanor Henderson
Ecco (HarperCollins), Jun 7 2011, $26.99
ISBN: 9780062021021

In Vermont, Les grows pot and his significant other Harriet creates paraphernalia. The pair adopts Jude who shows signs of fetal-alcohol effects. When Jude is nine years old, Harriet catches Les cheating on her and kicks him out of their home. He vanishes.

In Vermont, Teddy’s white mother insisted his Indian father is dead. Now she deserts Teddy too. Teddy and Jude are best friends who enjoy skateboarding while high. On December 31, 1987, the two teens crash a party with fifteen year old coke head Eliza. They share cocaine and Teddy has sex with her. Afterward the two males try Freon, but Teddy dies from it. Meanwhile Eliza is pregnant. Jude moves to run down Alphabet City in Manhattan where Les arrives to take his adopted son with him. Teddy's 18-year-old brother Johnny though gay offers to marry Eliza so that the baby can remain with her mom and not discarded for adoption as demanded by the maternal grandmother of the unborn.

This is an engaging look at the late 1980s mostly from the perspective of the teens, but deftly avoids a nostalgia return through the amused adults who are awed, horrified and stunned by the beginnings of rapid change that will take the country into the virtual world. The characters are fully developed and different as the young come of age with Teddy’s death and Eliza’s pregnancy, and their parents struggle with what is right for their offspring who learn how fragile living is whether it’s in Vermont or Manhattan.

Harriet Klausner

The Little Women Letters-Gabrielle Donnelly

The Little Women Letters
Gabrielle Donnelly
Touchstone, Jun 7 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9781451617184

The Atwater sisters (Emma, Lulu, and Sophie) are descendants of Jo March (whose siblings are Beth and Amy). The trio believes they are radically different in personality. Emma the oldest is marrying soon while sassy Lulu feels lost and Sophie the youngest hopes to be an actress. Sophie moves in with Lulu and her roommate Charlie, who the siblings consider the forth sister.

In the family attic, Lulu finds Jo's letters. She reads them and is stunned how similar in attitudes and relationships she and her two siblings are to their great-great grandmother Jo and her two sisters. Lulu always thought she and her siblings were so different in outlook yet over a century and a half between the generations there is sameness in attitude between each of the two sets of sisters, as each one is feisty, independent and desiring love.

This is an entertaining contemporary rendition of Little Women as Gabrielle Donelly contends that modern female siblings are similar in outlook to the March sisters in spite of social networking and other advances in communication. The story line is extremely well done in the present and past although the transitions back and forth feel abrupt and bumpy. Even with six diverse personalities that can be difficult to keep track of who’s who, it is definitely worth the time reading The Little Women Letters as the Atwater sisters have much in common with their March ancestors.

Harriet Klausner

Wish You Were Here-Phillipa Ashley

Wish You Were Here
Phillipa Ashley
Sourcebook, Jun 1 2011, $9.99
ISBN: 9781402241444

While holidaying in Corsica, eight years ago Beth Allen met and fell in love with Jack Thornfield. He apparently felt the same way as he proposed and she accepted. Only he vanished without a word. Heartbroken, Beth returned home to England’s Lake District.

Beth obtains a position running the European Sector of Big Outdoors travel agency. She is euphoric as the job seems great and her family needs the income ever since her father was injured in an accident. However, her excitement collapses when she meets the CEO, Jack. Stunned Beth agrees to work there only if Jack agrees never to mention dumping her and their relationship is to remain strictly business only. Beth and Jack still have the deep feelings but he tries to adhere to her stipulations until she heads to Corsica. Jack accompanies her hoping the magic will give him a second chance.

This is an entertaining second chance contemporary romance starring a strong cast to include the lead antagonists, her family (her dad and sister Lou) and the office. Readers will want to know the reason he dumped her although the cause of Jack’s vanishing without a regard to Beth’s feeling as he owed her an explanation is weak for such a strong person. Still, fans will enjoy his attempts to regain the trust he nuked in vividly described Corsica.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bridge to a Distant Star-Carolyn Williford

Bridge to a Distant Star
Carolyn Williford
David C. Cook, Jun 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781434767035

At night in the Tampa Bay area during a horrific storm, the Wilder Wanderer freighter crashes into the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Soon afterward drivers failing to see the break to the bridge, drive into the tumultuous bay below. Families like those below will be impacted at what happened in Tampa Bay on that fateful stormy night.

Maureen Roberts, mother of two daughters, struggles with her oldest teenage Colleen. She also has issues with her spouse Bill and her belief in God. Needing time away Maureen tells Bill she will take their nursery school aged daughter Aubrey with her while her spouse and Colleen spend time together.

Charles and Fran Thomason are proud of their child, Charlie although their attitudes differ when it comes to him. When Charlie’s leg collapses during a soccer game, the trio struggles with what the Lord has brought to them.

While her parents are in Ethiopia, on a missionary visit, Michal McHenry attends biblical college. She is divided between keeping up the family missionary mission and doing something else. Michal visits her Aunt Sue in Florida seeking solace and advice after two incidents at school has shaken her foundation.

Based on the real “day the bridge fell” the author’s late son’s belief in God and with a nod to The Bridge of San Luis by Wilder, Bridge to a Distant Star is a poignant inspirational tale that focuses on three families struggling with what happened. Touching and tense even before the tragedy strikes, readers know what to expect yet are gripped by Carolyn Williford’s intense character driven tale.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sisterhood Everlasting-Ann Brashares

Sisterhood Everlasting
Ann Brashares
Random House, Jun 14 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385521222

As adults the four BFFs (Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget) have moved on to their separate ways around the globe though each misses the camaraderie (and traveling pants) they once had. From Australia the younger middle child Tibby sends airline tickets to her three pals to reunite in Greece at the family home of Lena, who resides in Rhode Island. Lena accepts as she ponders taking a second chance with Kostos who she left behind years ago. Like Tibby and Lena, New York City TV actress Carman stops planning her wedding to a frozen fiancé in order to join her sisterhood and Bridget, who lives with Eric in San Francisco, heads solo to the Mediterranean.

However, the reunion turns tragic when Tibby drowns. Mourning, the other three read letters she left behind that imply her death was not an accident. As each reaches out to the other while grieving their loss, none of them are as confident about the future anymore especially their friendship. Still they owe Tibby to try perhaps starting with a pants ritual.

This is a super realistic stunner from the opening act as the four girlfriends are adults with new relationships; in fact much of the poignant story line emphasizes that even BFFs move on as geography in spite of social networking is a deal breaker. Series fans will grieve along side the three remaining traveling pants females as the death of a loved on, especially unexpected, is difficult to accept; as we expect our Tibby to show up. Although there are no miracles, readers will appreciate the well written aptly titled Sisterhood Everlasting.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard-Belinda Roberts

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard
Belinda Roberts
Sourcebooks, Jun 1 2011, $9.99
ISBN: 9781402246937

In summer, the Bennet family goes on vacation to the English resort town Salcombe. The older daughters Jane and Lizzy love listening to their I-Pods, surfing, and seeing the latest fashion. The matriarch is ecstatic to learn that the house next door Netherpollock is owned by a rich single male Mr. Bingley who falls for Jane at first sight. Bingley is friends with William Darcy, owner of the luxurious yacht Pemberley.

Mr. Wickham tells Lizzy awful things about Mr. Darcy. She believes him because he speaks like a cultured gentleman while Darcy is surly and withdrawn, but is attracted to Lizzy. When he shows his feelings for her, she rejects him; Lizzy soon learns that Darcy is the gentleman and Wickham is the cad. Mrs. Bennet hopes Lizzy changes her mind because she wants the prestige of her daughters marrying wealth. When Darcy and Bingley leave, Jane and Lizzy are depressed believing they will never see their respective man again.

Although this is another of the zillion Jane Austen offspring, Pride and Prejudice in the twenty-first century is a whimsical amusing tale of misconceptions as the Bennet females learn to not judge a book by only its cover. The modern gizmos do not intrude on the classic theme of people concealing their feelings behind facades as the essence of the key cast remains consistent with the original intended characterization. Except for purists, Jane Austen fans will enjoy this contemporary rendition of timeless Pride and Prejudice.

Harriet Klausner

The Summer We Came to Life-Deborah Cloyed

The Summer We Came to Life
Deborah Cloyed
Mira, May 24 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9780778312918

The four friends spent many exotic summer vacations together since becoming BFFS as children. However, this year is different as Mina died after battling cancer. Shocked though expecting her buddy’s demise, Samantha retreats to Honduras; followed by her remaining friends Isabel and Kendra, and their parents to help her grieve.

Mina’s journal fails to bring solace to any of the trio though the entries highlight their attempts at saving her via astrophysics. When Samantha suffers a near-death experience, she meets Mina’s ghost who tries to comfort her. In a different universe, Samantha learns the relativity of perception as the eyes see what the mind allows. Bewildered, Samantha knows she must battle with her ghosts; just like her friends and their parents must do whether it is grief for the death of a loved one or survival of the Iranian revolution.

This is not an easy read as Deborah Cloyed encourages her audience to never give up the fight for life regardless whether the reader is religious or science bent. The story line feels somewhat like a scattergram, but Samantha’s journey of awareness keeps the tale focused on life after death.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 13, 2011

Queen Defiant-Anne O'Brien

Queen Defiant
Anne O'Brien
NAL, Jun 7 2011, $15.00
ISBN 9780451234117

Her father trained her to be more than a duchess. When he died Eleanor knew how fragile her possession of the Duchy of Aquitaine is due to her gender and her youth. She needs a powerful husband who she can manipulate. However, her arranged marriage by her father before he died, to French king Louis VII proves frustrating as he turns out to be too week to disobey the church. Her brazen attitude sits well in Aquitaine, but not amongst the royal priests, family and retinue. When she meets Henry Plantagenet, she decides to dump her French spouse for an English husband.

Although the story of Eleanor has been told a zillion times (see The Captive Queen by Alison Weir), Anne O’Brien provides a fresh perspective. Eleanor is intrepid as she challenges the church leaders who control her husband. Her request for an annulment is granted mostly to get this thorny rose out of a position of power and influence only she crossed the Channel and married into an even more powerful position due to her strong spouse. This is an engaging biographical fiction.

Harriet Klausner

My Name Is Memory-Ann Brashares

My Name Is Memory
Ann Brashares
Riverhead (Putnam), Jun 1 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9781594485183

In 2004 in Hopewood, Virginia Lucy heard the rumors about new student Daniel, but assumes it is all are trash talk because the new guy on the block behaves differently than the boys at high school. At the Senior Ball they kiss. He calls her Sophia and explains that they have loved each other in many lives since the sixth century. Lucy flees.

Daniel thinks back to that first time when he burned down the wrong cottage and killed her. He muses how during each reincarnation he searches for her, but their relationship always ends tragically. He keeps hoping that in one lifetime they will come together. In WWI Constance the nurse hid a letter to a future Sophia about her and Daniel

In 2006 Lucy attends college in Charlottesville. A psychic mentions Daniel to her, shaking her to the core. Needing the truth, she searches the Net and undergoes past life hypnosis. When she locates the letter, Lucy becomes a believer; but fails to find Daniel. Meanwhile his brother Joaquin who she married in a long ago life seeks to kill one and take the other.

This is an engaging reincarnation romantic triangle in which much of the tale is about Daniel looking back at previous intersections with Sophia including when he rescued her from her husband his brother. Late in the story line, the plot veers towards a confrontation thriller, which is what seems to be a set up for a sequel. The past lives are entertaining segues that give My Name Is Memory a sort of anecdotal short story feel, but the suspense which comes late hangs out there for the next book. Still this is an enjoyable look at relationships over the centuries.

Harriet Klausner

The Daughter of Siena-Marina Fiorato

The Daughter of Siena
Marina Fiorato
St. Martin’s Griffin, May 10 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780312609580

In 1723 Siena, Owlet Contrada leader Salvatore Tolomei informs his beautiful nineteen year old daughter Pia she will wed Vicenzo Caprimogo, son of the leader of the Eagle Contrada. Pia is mortified partly because she thought she would wed one of her own kind though few are eligible; and mostly because Vicenza and his father Faustino are vicious and abusive.

Pia pleads with her sire arguing a previous fiancée Benedetto did not fare well and besides an owl and an eagle do not mate. He refuses to budge on his decision. Stunned, Pia tries to understand why. She soon realizes her father and her betrothed’s father are part of "The Nine" contrada leaders conspiring to take over the city-state from the Governess Duchess Violante Beatrix de’Medici during the running of the second Palio of the summer.

The Daughter of Siena is a fast-paced historical thriller that brings to life the ward caste system that divided and ran the city, as well as the famous still running horse race. The story line is driven by the cast especially the two women who both know what is going on, feel they must act, and approach what they can do differently. Although some key premises are over the top of the Cathedral of Santa Maria, fans will enjoy this exciting early eighteenth century Italian tale as Marina Fiorato once again has escorted armchair readers to historical Italy (see The Glassblower’s Daughter).

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici-C.W. Gortner

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
C.W. Gortner
Ballantine, May 24 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9780345501875

In 1589, seventy year old Catherine de Medici looks back on her life as a king maker with sins to confess just like she insists everyone else. When she was ten years old she thought she was a witch as she has her first vision. When she was thirteen, the orphaned Catherine becomes engaged in an arranged marriage to Henri d'Orleans, brother of the ailing heir to the French crown. Although frightened about leaving her safe home in Florence, she journeys to France allegedly to meet her fiancé. Catherine quickly strikes a deal with Henri’s mistress Diane de Poitiers though she loathes the woman who occupies her spouse’s bed more than she does and applies the poison she brought with her discreetly.

Although loathed by her subjects as an outsider, Catherine becomes the power behind the throne when her husband becomes king. After Henri’s death, the widow insures three of her sons in succession sit on the throne. She continues to use her paranormal skills to abet her political acumen and her knowledge of poisons to keep her family on the throne.

Although the audience will have to leave their perceptions of the poison queen at the front cover, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is an enjoyable work of biographical fiction. Catherine argues that she is no different than everyone else who casts stones at her. Instead she insists she is just a protective mother of her offspring and her country. Although it is difficult to feel empathy to such a ruthless individual especially with her use of poison and her part in the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of the Huguenots, C.W. Gortner provides a unique perspective as he enables historical fiction readers to understand the viewpoint of Catherine de Medici.

Harriet Klausner

Summer in the South-Cathy Holton

Summer in the South
Cathy Holton
Ballantine, May 24 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9780345506016

In 1931 at the Purdy Funeral Home in Tennessee, Josephine Woodburn identifies the corpse of her brother-in-law Charles Woodburn. Sherriff Gillespie declares it an accidental drowning due to alcohol though the body was excessively battered, but no one challenges the powerful Woodburn clan.

In 1998, Ava Dabrwoski mourns the death of her mother though they were estranged. Former college classmate Will Fraser invites Ava to spend time with his great aunts at Woodburn estate where she can write her novel. She accepts as Ava met Aunts Josephine and Fanny at the college graduation where she learned Will had broken off his engagement.

Josephine, Fanny, the latter’s spouse Maitland and their neighbors Clara and Alice welcome Ava as they enjoy toddy time. Will kisses her, but she says to slow down as she has just come out of a bad relationship. Later she meets his cousin Fraser Baron. Over the next few weeks, Ava feels welcomed but has written nothing. Will remains patient but obviously wants Ava. They join Fanny and Mait at the cemetery where Ava leans that Fanny’s first husband was Charles Woodbridge who died during the Depression. Ava begins to learn her hosts’ family led a regional caste system and starts to novelize it.

The upper class world of the south during the Depression and in 1998 is fully described as seen through the eyes and ears of the outsider Ava the narrator. .The vividness of the two different eras at times slows down the tale though that sets the mood of a leisure Summer in the South. Although some elements seem to vanish; for instance a paranormal incident, readers will enjoy this engaging look at the south circa 1930s and over six decades later.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Freedom’s Stand-J.M. Windle

Freedom’s Stand
J.M. Windle
Tyndale, Jun 1 2011, $13.99
ISBN: 9781414314761

Jamil was a jihadist until he met Jesus Christ (see Veiled Freedom). He turned from violence to peace lover. In Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Jamil becomes a health worker trying to help those most impoverished. However, not all believe a former jihadist terrorist would turn into a caring healer.

New Hope relief worker Amy Mallory returns to Afghanistan after being home in the States for a while. She finds her organization has changed and not for the better. Amy fears for the dependents under her care as well as for her assistant Jamil.

In Kabul contractor security expert Steve Wilson tries to protect his assignment while also keep the peace inside the city as the upcoming elections divides and frightens the residents. Rioting and officialdom corruption has made the capital a dangerous place for a Special Forces soldier, but more so for an American female with little to no protection.

J.M. Windle continues her profound look at modern day Afghanistan as she follows the lives of three stars of Veiled Freedom. Character driven, readers observe life in a complex society. For instance Jamil rescues a child on fire only to flee for his life. Fast-paced and loaded with action, Ms. Windle catches the diverse essences of the Afghani people through her lead trio whose behavior while helping others in dangerous situations seem real.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Escape-Barbara Delinsky

Barbara Delinsky
Doubleday, Jul 5 2011, $25.95
ISBN: 9780385532773

Thirty two years old Emily Aulenbach seems to be living a good life in New York. She loves her husband James deeply and is employed as a lawyer at a prestigious firm where she is highly regarded and her spouse will soon be a partner in his firm. Emily constantly reminds herself she is fortunate. Still as she keeps saying how lucky she is, she goes home and packs. Emily drives away not stopping until she reaches Bell Harbor, New Hampshire.

A decade ago while at college, she spends a wonderful summer there and became close friends with her Vicki Bell and her brother Jude whom she had a torrid relationship with until he cheated on her. Emily left; severing all ties with the Bell siblings. Now she tries to heal the wounds she caused Vickie. She is staying at Vicki’s bed and breakfast while deciding about the rest of her life. She knows what she no longer wants to do, which is returning to the sterile, risk free and friendless life she had in NYC. However, James remains adamant about becoming a partner; a position hetoiled to achieve for years. Their marriage appears doomed.

As with all of Barbara Delinsky tales, the characters are the heart and soul of the novel. Escape is no different as gutsy Emily holds the tale together with her desperate flight from Manhattan though she loves and adores James. Fans will root for the couple to find a way to stay together, but it looks doubtful as neither side has room for compromise. Although the climax is simpl and realistic, this is a poignant look at lifestyles.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 6, 2011

Summer's End-Kathleen Gilles Seidel

Summer's End
Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Morrow, May 3 2011, $12.99
ISBN: 9780062004673

Fifty-eight year old Widow Gwen Wells (mother of two) and widower Hal Legend (father of three) meet at a community dinner and begin dating. Both are lonely as each was married for a long time to a spouse who died. Thus the two lonely souls soon marry.

However, their adult children have doubts about this merger. The two families gather at a lakeside cottage with plans to meet and mingle. No television is in this remote place in order to force the brood to comingle. Fighting and fussing, the kids are disappointed with their respective parent. Gwen’s thirty year old single lawyer daughter Holly has doubts. Hal's daughter Phoebe (mother of four) and his son Ian (father of three) have a difficult time accepting a replacement for their beloved mother while Gwen’s other offspring Jack is attracted to the third Olympic gold medal ice skater Amy.

This reprint of an engaging 1999 tale focuses on the mixing of two families due to the respective maternal and paternal leaders marrying. The ensemble cast (to include his grandchildren) comes together in a terrific summer of squabbling and bonding. Each person is different with flaws that make them seem real. Although there is no earth shattering tension, contemporary fans will enjoy Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s deep look at relationships when two families become one by Summer’s End.

Harriet Klausner

The Beach Trees-Karen White

The Beach Trees
Karen White
NAL, May 3 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780451233073

Not long after obtaining possession of a Katrina (don’t mention that name in the Gulf) ravaged beach house in Biloxi, Julie Holt leaves New York for the Gulf coast. Her late best friend Monica Guidry who died from congested heart failure gave custody of her five year old son Beau to Julie as she trusted her buddy to take care of her child.

Julie never learned why Monica fled her family but hopes they will welcome Beau. Elderly Ray Von Williams gives her a sealed box sent by Monica to her to give to Julie and tells her to go to New Orleans to Beau’s maternal great grandmother Aimee so they have a place to stay. Inside the box is a portrait by renowned Abe Holt, Julie’s great-grandfather. Aimee and his Uncle Trey welcome the New Yorker and her ward. Julie begins to learn what drove Monica from Biloxi though what she learns remains confusing. However, what she finds out reminds her of what happened to her family when she was twelve and her sister Chelsea was kidnapped.

The story line contains two subplots respectively told by the prime two females; Aimee in the 1950s and Julie in the present. The comparison between the Gulf through the eyes of the native in the 1950s and that of the Massachusetts born Yankee five years after Katrina will fascinate the audience. The mystery of why Monica cut off her family who Julie believes she cherished based on the stories she shared with her lacks suspense so it is not as interesting as the tour of the Gulf past and present from Biloxi to New Orleans.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Departures-Robin Jones Gunn

Robin Jones Gunn
Multnomah, May 3 2011, $9.99
ISBN: 9781601423467

“Now Boarding at Gate 10”. Having just graduated high school, Christy Miller is sad as her relationship with Todd ended. She, her parents and her thirteen year old brother travel to Brightwater, Wisconsin to celebrate her grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary. There she hooks up with her junior high school buddy (and her first crush) Matthew Kingsley who wants more than just a friendship with Christy.

“In the Event of a Water Landing”. Jana’s parents went to the cabin near Glacier National Park, Montana a week ago. Now Jana, her older brother Gregg, his friend Tim and her pal fifteen-year-old Sierra Jensen are to join her parents but an airline strike has hampered their plans. After struggling to arrive at their destination, Jana goes boy hunting while Sierra just wants to hang with the guys in a tomboyish way.

These two novellas focus on a few weeks in the teen years of Christy Miller (see A Time to Cherish, Sweet Dreams and A Promise is Forever) and Sierra Jensen (see Without a Doubt; With This Ring; Open Your Heart and Time Will Tell). Both are fun inspirational tales with a Minnesota airport connection that fans of either series will enjoy; especially the Miller crew who will recognize this particular Fourth of July referenced frequently.

Harriet Klausner