Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou -Steve Duno

Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou
Steve Duno
St. Martin’s Griffin, Jun 22 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312600495

In 1989 in Mendocino County, California, Steve Duno and Nancy Banks saw the wild Rottweiler puppies who were obviously the offspring of marijuana farm guard dogs. Out of the pack of feral canines came one dog who decided to change his life. Steve was prepared to leave the pup at the side of the road, but Nancy interceded. They took Lou as they named him with them. However, on that day in 1989 Steve was unprepared for how much Lou changed his life and that of so many others, dogs and humans alike. Starting with the Alzheimer’s elderly woman and next the yarn of the thread, Lou quickly won over the senior citizens. For sixteen years Steve and Lou were BFFs. With a nod to John Grogan's Marley and Me, Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou is a fascinating memoir that explores the special bond between a dog and their owner. Well written and filled with pathos and humor, as Steve understands he was Indian Jones’ sidekick; who leaves animal lovers musing that Lou’s writing his memoir First Human Chosen: The Extraordinary Life of My Pet Steve.

Harriet Klausner

Burnt Mountain-Anne Rivers Siddons

Burnt Mountain
Anne Rivers Siddons
Grand Central, Jul 19 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780446527897

In Atlanta, seventeen year old Thayer Wentworth is pregnant, but prenatal tests show that her unborn is severely malformed. Though she is heartbroken, she chooses an abortion. Thayer goes on to college where she meets and is attracted to extroverted storyteller Dr. Aengus O'Neill. They marry.

When Thayer's affluent grandmother dies, she inherits her incredible Atlanta home not far from Burnt Mountain’s Camp Edgewood where her father died in a car accident. She and Aengus take up residence in the luxurious mansion. However, he begins to recall upsetting memories from his childhood in Ireland that disturbs Thayer who fears her husband is losing his mind. At the same time she looks into has past at her mom and her first love Nick Abrams who broke her heart at Camp Sherwood Forest in North Carolina.

Burnt Mountain is an entertaining southern drama that fans of the author will enjoy. Thayer is an intriguing individual facing relationship issues. The story line is at its best when the focus is entirely on the heroine’s inner turmoil although too many subplots are left dangling. Still she has decisions to make even if happenchance assists her on the most critical. Although not Anne Rivers Siddons’s best work, readers will still appreciate touring the North Carolina Mountains with Thayer as their guide.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Last Letter from Your Lover-Jojo Moyes

The Last Letter from Your Lover
Jojo Moyes
Viking, Jul 7 2011, $26.95
ISBN: 9780670022809

In 1960, following a car accident that hospitalized her in a comatose sate, twenty-seven years old Jennifer Stirling wakes up. However, her injury leaves her with amnesia; she does not recall the accident that left her in her current condition or anything else.

Her Husband visits her almost every night and Jennifer knows in her heart she does not love this wealthy man who has made a fortune exploiting mining operations in the war ravaged Congo. When she finds a passionate haunting love letter from a "B" Jennifer knows the unknown author is her beloved. Still, she also struggles with what is acceptable behavior amongst her English social class in London.

In 2003, English journalist Ellie Haworth researches a story in her newspaper’s morgue when she finds a B letter to Jennifer. Feeling the love “B” had for his Jennifer, Ellie looks deep inside her heart to her grand passion as she tries to learn whether “B” and “J” had a happy ever after.

This is a charming relationship drama starring an incredible cast especially the two letter writers and the reporter who investigates their tale. Character driven, fans will relish this bittersweet romance as love proves not enough yet lasts forever in spite of time and place separation. Jojo Moyes provides a wonderful story that romanticists will relish.

Harriet Klausner

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb-Melanie Benjamin

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte, Jul 26 2011, $25.00
ISBN: 9780385344159

Her family encouraged dwarf Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump to stay out of the public’s eye so as to avoid the stares and other rude behavior. Unlike her beloved also dwarf sister Minnie who preferred to a reclusive life, Vinnie decided to prove an adult woman in a body under three feet tall could thrive. She joined P. T. Barnum’s freak show and married her dwarf peer General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the nineteenth century so covered that the Civil War took a back seat to the gala. This enable both to leave the troupe as the celebrity power couple toured the world meeting monarchs and presidents and other leaders. However, the cost of her being extroverted is the impact on her introverted sister.

This is an enjoyable biographical fiction tale that focuses on the "perfect woman in miniature" who becomes a superstar while belonging to the elite of New York high society. The best aspects of the tale are the triangle relationships between the General, Vinnie and Barnum although that limits insight into the title character’s global escapades and ignores her last four decades of life even with Vinnie’s superego being stratospheric. Still Vinnie’s lust for life makes for an engaging historical story as she tells her story with the world as her oyster.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Bells-Richard Harvell

The Bells
Richard Harvell
Broadway, Jun 28 2011, $14.00
ISBN: 9780307590534

In the Uri Valley in the Swiss Alps, Moses Froben was born in the belfry of a church. His deaf mom Adelheid rang the three loud bells that she could not hear. He was raised in that belfry with love and learned to listen to people by the sounds they make. The heartbeat of his mute mom would rise when she was excited. Moses listens while he wandered the village but all thought he was as crazy, deaf and mute as his mom. When Moses saves a life but reveals he can hear, Father Karl Victor assaults him and tosses the child into the River Russ.

Monks Nicolai and Remus rescue Moses and take him to the Abbey of St. Gaul. The choirmaster Ulrich realizes the lad has extraordinary talents and nurtures the voice by castrating the lad. The castrato meets heiress Amalia Duft. They fall in love, but though she remains his life inspiration, they have little hope of being together. His two monk friends enable Moses to become the toast of Vienna and the rest of Europe as a musico soprano Lo Suizzero.

This is an engaging historical “biographical” fiction as told by Moses’ “son” that life in late eighteenth century is a cruel place for the less fortunate. Though much darker the first act of the Bells reminds me of the modern day Oliver Twist movie August Rush; while the other two acts remain grim yet inspirational as Moses’ magically makes music. Although at times especially in act one the story line seems an overly emoting melodrama, readers will ring accolades to Richard Harvell who captures the tone of the good, the bad and the ugly of Europe.

Harriet Klausner

Incognito-Gregory Murphy

Gregory Murphy
Berkley, Jul 5 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9781101516560

In 1911 Manhattan, wealthy widow Lydia Billings hires affluent lawyer William Dysart to purchase five acres that abut her large estate on Long Island. He drives across the Queensboro but is delayed by a horse-car accident. When he arrives at his destination, William expects to see a farmer’s elderly widow but meets beautiful enigmatic Sybil Curtis. She informs him she will never sell.

Attracted to Sybil, William also admires her stand though wonders why his client and pressured non seller seem to loathe each other especially in light of his law firm ready to use political connection trickery and the ignorant press to further the cause of the bereaved widow of the infamous Henry Billings. As he investigates what happened to cause this animosity, his marriage to social climbing beauty Arabella unravels. He wants to make it on his salary while she prefers upper class status as offered with strings by his martinet father.

Incognito is a timely entertaining pre-WWI drama that focuses on the upper class manipulating the corrupt political, legal and financial institutions to better their lives at the cost to others. William as the only seemingly ethical person in his elite circle until he meets Sybil struggles with the expectations of others like the law firm partners, his father and his wife. Gregory Murphy fascinatingly implies with parallels from a century ago that the recent excesses of America’s elite may in the twenty-second century be labeled the neo Gilded Age.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, June 24, 2011

Off The Chain-Candice Dow

Off The Chain
Candice Dow
Grand Central, Jun 30 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446179539

As an undergraduate at Georgetown, London Reed developed her theory of relationships that is based on men like petting and praise as much as dogs do. London planned to attend veterinary school after graduation, but that failed to happen. Instead she becomes a dog walker with a college debt rivaling the Feds. Her mother believing being a canine companion is beneath her daughter and arranges for London to obtain a position working for Quinn Forester Senior Investment Banker William Thorne.

However, her admin position at Quinn Forester ends due to budget cuts. Instead Thorne offers a chance to make real money in the high end call-girl service that he and his wife have run lucratively for a decade and a half. He trains her and she makes quite a bit of cash for two hours with her first client the “King”. As London becomes a woman of choice, Thorne selects her to keep the business running when his spouse becomes deathly ill. Someone sells the sex story to a magazine that leads the FBI to the DC Madam London who has a choice tell all for five years of probation or plead client confidentiality and go to jail. Until her kennel burns, London is unaware of the second order effect of confession as an adversary wants her dead.

This is an entertaining look at the high priced DC call girl business. London is a terrific protagonist who along with her Johns keeps the story line focused on the activities of a woman of pleasure. Although a late happening feels contrite but thankfully dangling (like some of the protagonist’s customers), readers will appreciate the dog walker servicing the affluent on and Off the Chain.

Harriet Klausner

A Kingdom Divided-Alex Rutherford

A Kingdom Divided
Alex Rutherford
Dunne, Jul 5 2011, $25.95
ISBN: 9780312597016

In 1530 the Moghul Empire creator Emperor Babur dies. His twenty-three years old son Humayun is crowned the new Emperor. However, unlike his sire who was considered formidable by all, Humayun is considered weak by many in the inner circle because he is an opium addict and is a sex fiend with a vast harem though married to Hamida, and obsesses with an astrological dependency sated by his key advisor Sharaff the astrologer.

His three half-brothers (Kamrun, Askari and Hindal) unite to oppose him. Dishonoring his late father, Humayan and his army retreat from the wrath of the stronger forces of Bengal humble origin Sher Shah abetted by Kamrun the traitor. He remains in exile for years trying to regain his throne for himself and his heir Akbar until he realizes the Moghul Empire his father created for a thousand miles below Punjab is in peril.

The second Empire of the Moghul is an exciting historical thriller that continues the action from the first tale (see Raiders from the North). The story line is loaded with action especially the battle scenes and filled with a taste of life in the sixteenth century India subcontinent. Although one must wonder whether the opium warped his brain as Humayan meets the classic definition of insanity when he consistently forgives his siblings for their betrayal expecting their loyalty until the cycle repeats itself. Still fans of historical tales will enjoy team Alex Rutherford guiding readers through turbulent sixteenth century Asia.

Harriet Klausner

The Protector-Shelley Shepard Gray

The Protector
Shelley Shepard Gray
Harper, Jun 28 2011, $12.99
ISBN: 9780062020628

At school very tall Ella Hostetler dreamed that one day cute Loyal Weaver would court her though he never looked twice at the girl with glasses. When Ella’s father died, she took over running the farm as her mom was too ill to do so. None of the neighbors offered to help the mother and daughter and they never asked anyone. When her mom died, Ella decided to rid herself of her other beloved burden though she loved her mom and their farm.

Her friend Dorothy obtains a library position for Ella while Loyal buys her family farm. Loyal invites Ella to visit the farm to see what he has been doing to it. She wonders if he might be interested in her the Amish gangly wallflower who spent her youth helping her parents, which increases her self esteem even as Dorothy offers counter arguments.

The second Family of Honor tale is an engaging Amish community novel that Ella keeps focused as a unique intriguing protagonist who struggles with a lack of confidence when it comes to relationships and social interactions. The support cast is three dimensional especially the leads of The Caregiver return (with the health issue), Loyal supported by his extended family, and fascinating Dorothy; the latter is some ways steals the show (no giveaways). Readers will enjoy Ella finds her groove, maybe.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Conquistadora-Esmeralda Santiago

Esmeralda Santiago
Knopf, Jul 12 2011, $27.50
ISBN: 9780307268327

In Spain, Ana Cubillas dreams of living in Puerto Rico after reading the diaries of her sixteenth century ancestor who accompanied de Leon in the New World. Ana finds a means to cross the Atlantic when she meets twins Ramón and Inocente who inherit jointly a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. The brothers fall in love with her, but she marries Ramon in 1844. Soon afterward, she persuades the siblings the good life is at their Hacienda Los Gemelos plantation.

However, the island is not the tropical paradise of her dreams. As the American ideological divide heats up and threatens to boil into the Caribbean, she finds the oppressive heat unbearable and the feral land just outside the hacienda dangerously unwelcoming. Finally Ana is disturbed by the slave labor employed on her Hacienda. Still a romantic at heart, she sacrifices everything for her first and only love Hacienda Los Gemelos.

The underlying theme of this super mainstream story is similar to Esmeralda Santiago’s autobiography When I Was Puerto Rican, which focused on having a foot on the island and one in NYC; this enjoyable tale likewise has a foot in real Puerto Rico and whimsically in Ana’s romanticized Puerto Rico. Well written and very insightful, readers will relish this engaging mid ninetieth century look at Puerto Rico (and initially Spain).

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Birth of the Kingdom-Jan Guillow

Birth of the Kingdom
Jan Guillow
Harper, Jun 28 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061688638

Two decades ago Arn was exiled from his beloved Western Gotaland (see the Road to Jerusalem). For the twenty years he was away, Arn became a proud fierce Knight Templar who fought against his friend Saladin in a losing war (see The Templar Knight).

In 1192 with a plan to rebuild his Folkung Clan, affluent Arn returns home accompanied by Holy Land Christian and Muslim knights, doctors and artisans. He also hopes to find his lost love Cecilia and their daughter Alde. However, he finds his country devastated by clan combat. When he locates his Cecelia at a monastery, Arn wants to marry her, but this further divides his clan who already has doubts with the retinue he brought home with him.

The final chapter of the Crusades trilogy reads more like a historical tale that discerningly showcases life in incredible depth mostly in late twelfth century Sweden, but also deftly compares local customs to that of those in Arn’s Holy Land retinue. The action is muted as the detailed history rules the story line. Not for everyone even some fans who read the first two books in the epic; readers who prefer a profound sense of time and place will relish the slow paced Birth of the Kingdom.

Harriet Klausner

The Gap Year-Sarah Bird

The Gap Year
Sarah Bird
Knopf, Jul 5 2011, $24.95
ISBN 9780307592798

Lactation consultant single mother Cam Lightsey earns a living by assisting moms with their first days of motherhood. Cam feels strongly her relationship with her seventeen year old daughter Aubrey is rock solid. However, the first erosion to the rock occurs when clarinetist high school senior Aubrey quits the school’s marching band to spend time with her hero quarterback Tyler Moldenhauer. Tyler rescued Aubrey when she struggled with heatstroke.

Two days before Aubrey leaves for college, she vanishes. Frantic Cam panics over the safety of her offspring. She also faces the truth that her dreams for her daughter were her dreams. Unbeknownst to Cam, Aubrey, seeking freedom to be herself, has contacted her biological father who had joined a cult fifteen years ago.

Rotating viewpoint between mother and daughter, The Gap Year is an insightful tale as mom thinks how perfect her relationship with her teenage daughter is while the offspring thinks how caged she is. Both characters are fully developed as the reader obtains how each perceives their relationship. With a nod to the muses of Kahill Gibran’s The Prophet as the parent is the bow that must free the teenage child-arrow, readers will enjoy this cautionary family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Courageous-Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn
Tyndale, Aug 1 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781414358468

Nathan Hayes meets his two fellow police officers the day before he starts his job. When he returns from getting gas, he refuses to let the leader of the Gangster Nation steal his car. He uses heroic measures to defeat the gangster; not because the vehicle mattered but his son counts. Corporal Adam Mitchell and his partner Shane Fuller are impressed with the new member of the force. His partner is Deputy David Thompson who just completed his rookie year, but has much to learn from veteran Nathan.

Adam is drifting apart from his family especially his teenage son Dylan who does not share his dad’s interests. Tragedy strikes when Adam’s daughter Emily is hit by a car whose driver had cocaine and alcohol in his system. After talking to his partner, Adam starts to read the Word and realizes he has to get right with his son by setting an example just like Shane, David and Nathan need to as well. They sign a Resolution to be there for their children and despite near death experiences at the hands of criminals and the stress of their jobs, they become closer to their offspring by helping each other make better choices.

Religious faith is the bedrock of these four cops who become better people, husbands, fathers, and police officers by practicing what they preach. The camaraderie that arises between them is almost to strong to behold as they have each other’s back on duty and off. Although it is predominantly a family religious spiritual drama not for everyone, the elements of a police procedural keeps the story line somewhat anchored to the ground.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, June 20, 2011

40 Love-Madeleine Wickham

40 Love
Madeleine Wickham
Dunne, Aug 30 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312562755

In Bowdon, England, finance advisor Patrick Chance and his wife Caroline host a weekend of tennis with three other couples and their kids at their luxurious estate. Their daughter Georgina looks forward to the party. Wealthy Charles and Cressida Mobyn arrive with their nanny and their twin children; Patrick wants to sell him an investment package. PH.D. candidate Stephen and Anne Fairweather arrive with daughter Nicola who suffered a debilitating stroke and their son Toby. Finally Don Roper and his daughter Valerie also show up.

Patrick looks back to when he, Charles and Ella smoked pot until the latter two broke up as a couple. Patrick mentions his investment fund to Charles who says he has no money to invest. Patrick wants 100,000 pounds while Charles offers 5K as a friend. They are angry at each other while Stephen envies both. Patrick and Stephen talk about the investment. The former persuades the latter to take out a new mortgage to invest. Anne and Caroline chat like old buddies. Cressida opens a letter that shocks her. Ella arrives, which shocks Caroline and the others. Caroline lectures Patrick over conning Stephen who is a friend and cannot afford the investment. Charles and Ella take a walk. They have sex before Charles returns to the room he shares with his wife. He reads the letter and explodes in anger.

This contemporary British family drama is a timely reprint (written as Sophie Kinsella) of an entertaining character study in which the ensemble cast has different personalities and interrelationships solidly developed. Although there is too much angst, fans of family dramas will enjoy the four subgroups deal with relationship and financial crisis.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Butterfly Cabinet-Bernie McCall

The Butterfly Cabinet
Bernie McCall
Free Press (Simon and Schuster), Jul 26 2011, $22.99
ISBN: 9781451611595

In 1968 nonagenarian Maddie McGlade is a resident of the Oranmore Nursing Home in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. A decade ago she promised to tell her last charge Anna a story of when Maddie was a young housemaid at the Oranmore Castle in 1892. Now pregnant Anna wants to know what happened to the girl who was her Aunt Charlotte though long dead before she was born. She asks Nanny Madd, the last living person who was a witness to what led to the death of her aunt and the incarceration for much of a year of her pregnant grandma (carrying Anna’s mom).

Seven decades of concealing what happened led to the death of four yeas old Charlotte Ormond in 1892. Charlotte’s rigid mother Harriet the butterfly collector was accused and convicted of murdering her daughter. The nasty woman insisted it was an accident, but no one believed her as she was a strict disciplinarian of her child though like her daughter pinned inside a glass prison just like her butterflies.

Based on a true event, this super historical thriller rotates perspective from Maddie telling her side of what occurred and the prison diaries written by Harriet but kept by Maddie. The former nanny explains her fears including of falling back into abject poverty while arrogant Harriet explains her frustrations of going from one prison to another and if freed from jail back to her family prison. Readers will appreciate this wry intelligent suspense summed up nicely at the end by Maddie when she muses that the Russians and Americans are in space while the Irish cannot travel from Belfast to Derry without killing someone.

Harriet Klausner

Money Can’t Buy Love-Connie Briscoe

Money Can’t Buy Love
Connie Briscoe
Grand Central, Jun 27 2011, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446534840

Baltimore Scene magazine photographer Lenora Stone feels like a failure in her personal life especially when she takes pictures of the city’s upper crust, which she wants to join. Instead she is living pay check to pay check pushing off bills due in a condo not much bigger than a closet. Her boyfriend Gerald refuses to move their relationship to a more intimate level and her boss Dawna is on her case to do more starting with her shoot of Ray the landscaper.

Although Lenora knows Dawna meant pictures, she wants to do more personally with the hunk. When Lenora wins $5 million in the Maryland lottery, she believes her luck has changed and she will be the one in the photos. Gerald asks her to marry her and Lenora has an affair with Ray. However, she runs through her winnings in rapid time as she buys a mansion and opens a studio as well as other high-priced luxurious items. While her long time friends worry about Lenora’s changes, she kicks them to the curb seeking the rich and famous.

Although the plot is thin, readers will enjoy Connie Briscoe’s morality tale of a woman who learns the hard way that money cannot buy happiness if one allows the glitter of gold to dump one’s self worth values. Fans will dislike Lenora yet the talent of Ms. Briscoe is by the end, we will roots for the protagonist to discard her greed and regain her self worth. Mindful of pro athletes, fans will agree that Money Can’t Buy Love, but also realize micro economics is a key factor in self esteem and long time relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Restless In Carolina-Tamara Leigh

Restless In Carolina
Tamara Leigh
Multnomah, Jul 19 2011, $14.99
ISBN: 9781601421685

Thirtyish widow Bridget Pickwick-Buchanan lost her husband Bart four years ago, but has failed to move past the depression phase of the Five Stages of Grief. Overhearing their parents discuss their sad Aunt Bridge, her five years old nephew Miles and niece Birdie want to be “weally happy” beyond just being a tree hugger. Bridget kind of agrees, but first needs to sell the family’s luxurious North Carolina estate that contains an incredible mansion in the midst of hundreds of acres of forest as she and her relatives can no longer maintain the property.

She hopes to find someone who will leave the green in the forest, but has doubts she will achieve that sub-goal. Bridget targets Atlanta based green energy guru J. C. Dirk for purchasing her family acreage. However, he ignores her calls. Bridget visits him at his office, which angers Dirk until she tells him her family name. He drops everything in Georgia to go with her to the Tar Heel State. As the green developer and the green owner fall in love, J.C. knows he owes her the truth, but fears it will break both their hearts.

Restless In Carolina is a fascinating family drama as the grieving Bridget cannot even read the happily ever after of endings to fairy tales to her beloved nephew and niece. Her sister Bonnie makes a case that grief is customized but “contagious” since the depressed individual tends to make everyone in their circle depressed while being angry with God is okay but trusting in God is even more okay. Though the kids are too precocious, fans will relish Tamara Leigh’s powerful tale summed up by Birdie when she understands her Aunt Bridge suffers from a “constipated heart”.

Harriet Klausner

Untouchable-Scott O'Connor

Scott O'Connor
Tyrus, May 1 2011, $15.95
ISBN: 9781935562504

One year ago, Lucy Darby suddenly died. Her husband David who is used to working with death as crime cleanup technician cannot understand what happened to his healthy wife. Their school aged “Kid” Whitney also cannot comprehend what occurred to his mother.

Twelve months since the tragedy happened both still grieve. As he cannot move on, David has no idea how to help his son as he cannot help himself; thus the Kid remains mute since he lost his mother. Whitney only communicates through his notebooks. Meanwhile while David struggles with cleaning away violence, he is on the brink of a break down and perhaps insanity. The Kid, the target of bullies at school, believes when Y2K arrives, he will bring his still alive (in his mind) mother home soon.

Untouchable is a profound insightful tale of grief that asks what happens when a person fails to move through the Five Stages of Grief as defined by the Kubler-Ross Model but instead becomes locked deeper into one of the first steps. David seems Bipolar as he fluctuates between phases 2 Anger and 4 Depression but never moves into 5 Acceptance and for the most part skips 3 Bargaining. The Kid remains locked inside phase 1 Denial. Both are rapidly mentally and emotionally deteriorating. Not for everyone Scott O’Connor provides a powerful character study of a father and son failing to move on following the death of the loved one who was the family focus as grief is customized.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunset Bridge-Emilie Richards

Sunset Bridge
Emilie Richards
Mira, Jun 28 2011, $14.95
ISBN: 9780778312383

In Happiness Key, Tracy Deloche rents five seaside cottages to female tenants. Once affluent but now near broke, Tracy has never been happier as the leaser quintet has become her BFFs. She also has a hot relationship with lawyer Marsh Egan, a divorcee.

When she becomes pregnant, Tracy is shocked with her lover’s reaction as he seems unable to commit to her at a moment when she needs him to do so. At the same time, her buddy Janya Kapur adopts two orphaned children whose parents were murdered. As Marsh finally realizes what is disturbing Tracy, a hurricane hammers the Keys.

The latest visit to Happiness Key (see Fortunate Harbor) is an engaging contemporary tale filled with jocularity and friendship as the sisterhood has each other’s backs especially in the down times. Even Marsh recognizes the bond as he turns to the tenants to confirm his position and for backing too. Although the story line is somewhat slow-paced as Emile Richards drills deep into the psyche of her ensemble cast, fans of the saga will relish this warm relationship drama.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Ghost of Greenwich Village-Lorna Graham

The Ghost of Greenwich Village
Lorna Graham
Ballantine, Jun 28 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345526212

Eve Weldon left Ohio with dreams of finding traces of her late mom Penelope who lived in the Village before leaving New York to marry Gin in the Buckeye State. The newcomer rents an apartment in which the owner failed to inform her about the current occupant. Donald the ghost was part of the beat generation just like Penelope; he like her died young, but the late writer remains in his apartment that he shares with Eve.

Eve is euphoric when she obtains a script writing job for Smell the Coffee morning show. She soon understands that her position is in the ooze underneath the hierarchal ladder. Still she charms legendary designer Matthias Klieg, a colleague of Donald, who fell in love with the same woman. Eve is unsure whey she conceals from her roommate her mentee relationship with Matthias. Donald persuades Eve to help him complete his experimental stories that he is dying to see published.

This is a charming coming of age paranormal drama. The story line is character driven by the Buckeye, the ghost, the elderly designer, and their woman. Although Eve appears too naive of a country bumpkin (in the age of social media) readers will enjoy her mentoring in the arts with nostalgia for New York circa 1950s-1960s.

Harriet Klausner

What's Yours Is Mine: A Novel About Sisters Who Share Just a Little Too Much-Tess Stimson

What's Yours Is Mine: A Novel About Sisters Who Share Just a Little Too Much
Tess Stimson
Bantam, Jun 28 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780553386127

Thanks to her sister Susannah’s destructive behavior, Grace feared pregnancy. However, in her thirties, she suddenly hears her biological clock ticking away. She and her husband Tom decide to have a child. Fourteen months later and a cost of a ton of pounds, Dr. Janus informs Grace she can never conceive. Because of Tom's heart defect, adoption is also out. Strategic thinker Grace plots her next child campaign even as she almost abducts a baby.

In America, Homeland Security informs Susannah that she will be sent back to Great Britain. Between ex husbands, alcohol, drugs, and sex with anyone even when she was married, Susannah knows arguing is futile. When their mother Catherine suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves her comatose, Grace demands Susannah come home, which she does. In Oxfordshire, Susannah becomes a surrogate mother for her sister, but though pregnant she still drinks and sleeps with everyone. As she tries clean up, Grace and Tom head to divorce court with custody becoming an issue.

This is an interesting look at two sisters whose lifestyles are dramatically different yet in many ways the same as each tends towards obsessiveness bordering on destructive compulsion. Numerous medical crises become a gimmicky conflict resolution technique that severely detracts from the family drama as does a bit of whimsy involving their mom. Still fans will wonder how much is too much sharing between sisters.

Harriet Klausner

The Definition of Wind-Ellen Block

The Definition of Wind
Ellen Block
Bantam, Jun 28 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780440245766

The house fire in Boston left the lexicographer in intensive care while her husband and their four year old child died in the blaze. Thirtyish Abigail Harker relocated to North Carolina barrier island Chapel Isle where her late spouse spent many enjoyable summers growing up as the lighthouse caretaker (see The Language of Sand).

Eventually feeling welcomed by the islanders, Abby still struggles with her grief as summer and tourism arrive. Abby’s landlord asks her to act as a go between with renters, which she reluctantly agrees to do. The widow soon finds herself searching for hidden sea treasure of goldsmith Paul Revere on the sunken Bishop’s Mistress that delights the lexicographer and an arsonisr setting fires who frightens her. Finally there is Nat who she distrusts yet is attracted to him even as she feels guilt.

This entertaining islander contemporary focuses on Abby and her relationships with locals, tourists and a treasure hunter. The story line is super when the concentration is on the wonderful fully developed cast. The treasure hunt cleverly brings out the avarice gold fever in those who normally are unselfish but a touch of the paranormal enhanced by the Tim drama detracts from an otherwise strong character study.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Dog Who Came in from the Cold-Alexander McCall Smith

The Dog Who Came in from the Cold
Alexander McCall Smith
Pantheon, Jun 21 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307379733

In Pimlico, London wine merchant William French is shocked when an old acquaintance Angelica Brockelbank, whom he has not seen in years, arrives at his home Corduroy Mansions. She shocks him further when she explains she no longer manages a bookstore, but instead works for MI6. Her colleague needs a recruit to spy on the Russian spy ring. However, they just want French to escort his terrier, Freddie de la Hay to and from the job.

Other residents of Corduroy Mansions are dealing with issues too. New Age gurus believe that the estate of Terence Moongrove is the cosmological center. Literary agent Barbara Ragg is pushing publication of her book Autobiography of a Yeti that she insists was told to her by the title character.

The latest Corduroy Mansions satire is a lighthearted romp that lampoons the memoir/biography book publishing, skewers the homeland security espionage agents, and mocks the New Age crowd who has been around long enough to become the Old New Age crowd. While doing this through the foibles of the Corduroy Mansions' residents, Alexander McCall Smith turns Freddie into the hero as he lampoons the personification of animals without using an anthropomorphist trait. Although not as profound as The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street or the Isabel Dalhousie series, nonetheless Mr. Smith provides an engaging slice of life in London.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You -Louisa Young

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You
Louisa Young
Harper, May 31 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061997143

Upper class Peter and Julia Locke have an ideal marriage. However, WWI has Peter becoming a commanding officer fighting on the continent. Working class Riley Purefoy is taken in by the affluent upper middle class Waverly family. He dreams of marriage to their daughter Nadine, but WWI has him on the continent in Locke’s unit. Combat at the front changes both of them.

On the home front, Julia struggles without a man around telling her what to do. Her cousin Rose thrives with her volunteer work at the VA hospital. Nadine finds the war freeing her of the yoke of class imprisonment as she becomes a nurse. When the men come home, pre war relationships cannot be reconstructed.

This engaging historical tale focuses on the impact of WWI on class status and boundaries in Great Britain. The four lead characters are fully developed so that the reader understands the transition from before to during and after the war. Although the deep look at times leads to a slow pace, readers will appreciate Louisa Young’s belief that one outcome of the war to end all wars is the breaking down of progenitor class barriers.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why-Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why
Jay Asher
Razorbill, Jun 14 2011, $10.99
ISBN: 978595141880

The box outside his family home was addressed to Clay Jensen. Inside are seven audiotapes with numbers on them. Nothing else is inside. He plays the first tape in which Hannah Baker starts musing about herself. Hannah Baker committed suicide and on the tapes she recorded the Thirteen Reasons Why. Each of the “Baker’s dozen” on her list is to listen to the tapes before sending it on to the next culprit. If someone fails to meet her terms, Hannah has a public backup plan to embarrass those who led her to kill herself. Clay wonders why him as he was nice to her and she rejected him. Still he listens trying to learn why him before he forwards the tapes to Jennifer.

This is not an easy read for obvious reasons, but is handled deftly by Jay Asher. The story line rotates between Hannah’s telling her story and Clay’s attempts to figure out why she added him in the mix with the others who were nasty to her. Character driven, Thirteen Reasons Why makes a strong case for people to become involved especially with those who are down and need a friend; even if they reject your overtures try again and again for it takes a caring community to prevent the taking of one’s life.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Daughters of the Revolution-Carolyn Cooke

Daughters of the Revolution
Carolyn Cooke
Knopf, Jun 7 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307594730

In 1968 in Cape Wilde, New England, The Goode School welcomes only male offspring of affluent families. As racial and gender barriers are under assault, headmaster Goddard “God” Byrd refuses to allow the other weaker sex entrance to his school.

However, a double shocker occurs through a typo when fifteen years old Negro female Carole Faust receives a scholarship. The school faculty, alumni, family members and students are divided over the brilliant radical girl while God is in a 24/7 rage. At the same time, Goode alumnus Heck Hellman drowns leaving behind his wife Lil and their little girl Ev who no longer meet the school’s economic criteria.

This is a superb historical novel that focuses on the social unrest of the late 1960s with timely comparisons to the present. The cast is powerful as Carolyn Cooke insures the diverse opinions are handled with respect even that of God who may be an anachronism today but not then; as the author avoids caricatures. Satirically mocking the boomers whose good intentions reform has led to an outcome of the greatest economic division ever between the upper class and the rest in this country, Daughters of the Revolution reflects that the social reform movements of a past remain very relevant today.

Harriet Klausner

The Oregon Experiment-Keith Scribner

The Oregon Experiment
Keith Scribner
Knopf, Jun 17 2011, $26.95
ISBN: 9780307594785

Scanlon and Naomi Pratt changes coasts when they leave big city New York for small town Douglas, Oregon as he has a position as a professional mass movements especially radicalism. She had been a professional “nose” helping create perfumes until a car accident destroyed her gifted olfactory sense.

Three things occur after arriving in the Pacific Northwest that shakes up the Scanlon adjustment equilibrium. Naomi gives birth to their first child. Second she wakes up to the smell of mint as her nose is back. Finally Scanlon meets two radical locals at the Pacific Northwest Secessionist Movement, Clay and Sequoia. The former will turn the Pratt family life into a nightmare with his desires; while the latter will have Scanlon wanting her.

This is a great character driven profound look at idealism when a person confronts difficult to accept compromises that impact one’s values yet are pragmatic and for the larger populace fair as Keith Scribner turns Ayn Rand upside down and the Tea Party into coffee drinkers. The Oregon Experiment is a thought provoking tale as readers will ponder when concessions for the better good are acceptable.

Harriet Klausner

Maine-J. Courtney Sullivan

J. Courtney Sullivan
Knopf, Jun 16 2011, $25.95
ISBN: 9780307595126

In 1945, former Navy officer Daniel Kelleher won a bet with a former shipmate Ned. To pay his debt Ned gives Daniel land in Cape Neddick on coastal Maine. Daniel and his pregnant wife Alice raise a family and over time the Maine estate becomes their summer home.

In the present, Alice the widower has become a drunk who holds court as she has since the Great War on the Maine estate as her family arrives for the summer. She internally rages over Daniel’s death turning him into a martyr while their sexagenarian daughter Kathleen blames her for all their woes. Kathleen's sister-in-law Ann-Marie is an inane harmless doll belonging inside one of those dollhouses she collects. Finally there is the thirty something peacemaker, Alice’s pregnant single daughter Maggie whose mom wants her to come to grips over what a baby means.

The cast is powerful as each of the four women seem real and different though they possesses a guilt streak longer than the East Coast as if it is part of their DNA. Daniel comes alive through how the quartet perceived him. Although the plot is somewhat thin, readers will enjoy three generations of females coming together as each seeks solace and redemption, but with Daniel dead none know how to commence achieving their respective salvation.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Summer Garden-Paullina Simons

The Summer Garden
Paullina Simons
Morrow, Jun 21 2011, $16.99
ISBN: 9780061988226

Having survived the 1941 Nazi siege of Leningrad and Stalin’s brutal response, Tatiana and Alexander were kept apart but with WWII over they fled the Soviet Union. They reunite in the United States becoming Americans. Accompanied by their son Anthony the duo decided to stay in Arizona.

The couple struggles to overcome the reality of being strangers in many respects to one another. Still they believe they belong together. As they learn who each other is, Anthony joins the army to fight for his country in Vietnam. When Tatiana and Alexander learn Anthony is missing in action, the former Soviet officer travels to Nam to find his son and bring him home to his mother.

This is a fabulous finish to the strong romantic trilogy of the two Russian expatriates. Their post WWII drama in the States differs from the harrowing danger of surviving hostilities including from their homeland as now the tsuris is personal. As the couple deals with battle fatigue, matrimonial problems caused by their separation, and their son’s MIA status, readers will appreciate the end of their ballad as the Cold War becomes frequently heated. Using flashbacks, Paulina Simons provides an epic twentieth century saga (see The Bronze Horseman, and Tatiana and Alexander).

Harriet Klausner

Folly Beach-Dorothea Benton Frank

Folly Beach
Dorothea Benton Frank
Morrow, Jun 14 2011, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061961274

On the surface Cate Cooper seems to be living the American dream. She lives in a luxurious house, drives expensive cars and wears designer clothing. Since her two adult children left the nest, she has time to ponder her situation in which she has no one except her sister to share her feelings of isolation with; not her husband or her alleged friends who are her spouse’s clients.

Cate wishes for a different life. That is until her desire comes true when her husband dies. She is stunned to lose the house, the car and her friends. She learns he cheated his clients and cheated on her with a second family. Despondent and angry she visits her Aunt Daisy on Folly Beach, South Carolina where she hopes to figure out what happened to Cate Cooper, but never expected to connect to a dead woman who came here for solace back in the 1920s and 1930s.

Mindful of Karen White’s On Folly Beach, which also rotates between two eras, but Dorothea Benton Frank’s visit to South Carolina has its own uniqueness to the plot. The two subplots focuses on the lead women decades apart seeking to find themselves on a barrier island at a pivotal moment in their respective lives. Readers will enjoy this solid character study as Cate muses about what happened to her and her dreams while the one woman play starring Dorothy within the story line makes for a whimsical visit to South Carolina.

Harriet Klausner