Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Cottage at Glass Beach-Heather Barbieri

The Cottage at Glass Beach

Heather Barbieri

Harper, May 15 2012, $24.99

ISBN: 9780062107961

In the Boston area, forty years old Nora Cunningham knows she lives a charmed life as the wife of the youngest attorney general in state history and the mother of two precious children (seven years old Annie and twelve years old Ella). However, the magic ends when the media hounds her over her husband’s unfaithfulness. Nora, accompanied by her daughters, move to Burke’s Island, Maine where she lived as a little girl until her mom vanished.

Aunt Maire warmly welcomes her niece and grand-nieces to Glass Beach. Nora tries to keep a happy face for the sake of the girls, but one night alone on the beach she cries. A few days after her weeping fit, Nora finds fisherman Owen Kavanagh shipwrecked on the rocks. Her aunt Maire's friend Polly insists he is a selkie who was drawn by her tears. Nora thinks he is most likely a man running from personal tsuris. When her daughters go off on an adventure, Nora pursues them while she frets over their safety, her mom, her marriage and herself.

The Cottage at Glass Beach is a whimsical family drama starring a heartbroken protagonist struggling to regain her equilibrium. The entertaining storyline gets deep inside the soul of the heroine. Although the two children seem too mature way beyond their ages and adults treat them as emotional equals that seems implausible with things I (and I doubt anyone else) would not tell my adult child now let alone when he was a tweener or younger. Still this is an engaging tale of emotional healing as those she loves forces Nora to move past the infidelity that rocked her Boston Brahman world.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two Crosses-Elizabeth Musser

Two Crosses

Elizabeth Musser

David C. Cook, Jun 1 2012, $14.99

ISBN: 9780781405003

In 1961, twenty-one year old Gabriella Madison arrives in Castelnau, France as part of the Franco-American exchange program at the Church of Saint Joseph. Director Mother Griolet welcomes the forty-two young women.

After Mother Griolet dismisses the students, Gabriella and her housemate Stephanie rush over to their first class “Visions of Man, Past and Present” conducted in English and French by M. David Hoffmann. The young ladies tryto act mature with him as each assumed she is the perfect debutante for him which amuses the professor. However, he is stunned by his attraction to the red haired pupil wearing the Huguenot Cross as this Gabriella reminds him of a Raphaelite angel who shocks him that she knows Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man.” Gabriella is attracted to her literature professor but after offering to help at the orphanage she meets the little children, mostly victims of the Algerian war for independence. She finds herself challenging her Christian beliefs.

The reprint of the first Secrets of the Cross historical Christian thriller is a great opener starring a young woman who begins to question her faith as she learns more about the war and herself. A coming of age tale, readers will relish Gabriella’s growth as a woman who cares. With a warm regard to various religions, Elizabeth Musser provides a timely story of faith in the home front during the time of a violent war.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Safe Within-Jean Reynolds Page

Safe Within

Jean Reynolds Page

Morrow, Jun 12 2012, $14.99

ISBN: 9780061876943

Professor Carson Forsyth is dying from pancreatic cancer. He asks his wife of thirty years Elaine to take him back to her childhood home, a tree house overlooking Lake Riley, North Carolina. She would do anything for him so they leave Chapel Hill. Their twenty something son Mick comes down from Rhode Island to spend time with his dad and to be there for his mom.

Carson’s septuagenarian mom Greta hates her daughter-in-law whom she believes had an affair with Wallace Jamison, the son of her enemy. Greta refuses to recognize Mick as her grandson as she thinks he is Wallace’s child. When Carson dies, Greta refuses to sit with her family at the church or stand near them at the cemetery. Meanwhile Mick learns something from his teen years that shakes the dysfunctional family further while that also fosters his need to know why his grandma rejects him as she has since his birth.

This is an intriguing character study that uses short flashbacks (especially by an accepting Carson) to tell the backstory. The ensemble cast is fully developed but the insightful storyline belongs to the mother who holds a grudge that began before she met Elaine, the dying son’s only wish being reconciliation between his two beloved females for the sake of his son; and the wife who wants to continue distancing herself from her mother-in-law. Though keeping the secret of what happened between Wallace and Elaine seems like an exorbitant loyalty price in which the innocent pay the costs, with some metaphysical elements enhancing the plot, readers will relish this entertaining look at the impact of dying and death on the loved ones.

Harriet Klausner

A Place in the Country-Elizabeth Adler.

A Place in the Country

Elizabeth Adler.

St. Martin’s, Jun 19 2012, $25.99

ISBN 9780312668365

Following her divorce from her philandering husband, late thirty-something Caroline Evans, accompanied by her fifteen year old daughter Issy, leave cheating James in Singapore and move to Upper Amberley in Great Britain’s the Cotswold’s. Though broke, she finds the townsfolk warmly welcome mother and daughter as Carline obtains a job as a cook at a pub while Issy enters a prep school.

Issy resents her mother for ending their affluent lifestyle and taking her away from her beloved father. As Caroline begins to plan on converting a barn into a restaurant, James arrives but quickly vanishes. While Issy makes poor dangerous decisions, a homicide in Singapore threatens Caroline’s new sense of well-being.

This is an exciting family drama as the two Evans’ females try to find their groove halfway around the world but Asia comes to England anyway. The storyline takes a close look at accountability and responsibility inside of a taut romantic suspense thriller starring a mother learning how strong she really is and her confused teenage daughter.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Understory-Elizabeth Leiknes

The Understory

Elizabeth Leiknes

Bancroft, Jun 1 2012, $21.99

ISBN: 9781610880497

Twenty-nine years old Story Easton knows she is a total failure who recently has had a compulsion to break into homes at night in order to pretend to be someone else rather than her unremarkable life. She sleeps in their beds before sneaking out early in the morning.

Story enters the home of Martin Baxter, an author and botanist. She realizes he is very sad as his wife Katherine and their daughter Hope are dead. He once wrote “Once Upon a Moonflower” in which Hope was the narrator and star.

The next night Story enters the home of eight year old Cooper Payne and his therapist mom Claire who grieve the loss of his dad, her husband. Each night Claire reads “Once Upon a Moonflower” to her son while he holds a wooden umbrella. Story realizes there are people worse off than she is as Cooper considers ending it if he does not see the Amazon rainforest where the moonflower can be found by the time he turns nine. Story leaves later than usual but runs into Hans Turner, repairing the Payne door; he kisses her. Encouraged by an Ouija board, Story decides to help Cooper with his dream of visiting the enchanted land that Hope told. She starts her quest by contacting the author.

This is a fabulous whimsical tale starring an intriguing individual trying to succeed at something she believes is worthwhile, saving the life of a grieving child; for the first time in a long time, Story knows failure is unacceptable. The entertaining storyline is filled with irony, humor, pathos and a major coincidence that foster the concept that there are no degrees of separation as everyone is linked to everyone in some manner.

Harriet Klausner

The Newlyweds- Nell Freudenberger

The Newlyweds

Nell Freudenberger

Knopf, May 1 2012, $25.95

ISBN: 9780307268846

Twenty-something Amina Mazid (from Bangladesh) and thirtyish George Stillman (of Upstate New York) meet on She wants to escape the prison of her family while he wants a woman who does not play emotional games; they agree to marry. Amina comes to snowy Rochester in 2005 and struggles to adapt to her new home. They marry; she obtains a green card and attends college classes while also working at a nearby Starbucks. She finds an understanding friend in his cousin Kim.

However her three years with George are not perfect as their sex is unsatisfying, George becomes an unemployed engineer and she is upset that they still have not had that Muslim marriage he promised her. When she learns a dark secret that he hid from her, George agrees for Amina to go home to bring her parents to the states, but her father’s visa application is delayed. While she waits for approval, Amina finds herself back in the family melodrama that led to her fleeing to America while her former Bangladeshi beau Nasir aggressively demands she stay home with him.

This is an intriguing look at a young woman caught between her old world culture and her new world lifestyle. Amina is superb as she somewhat assimilates to the American way of life but never quite overcomes a quarter of a century nurturing that emphasized the obedience expected of females even when assaulted. George never quite comes into focus so that the heroine’s fish out of water in Rochester never quite gels as much as her time in Bangladesh. Still The Newlyweds is an engaging contemporary tale of cross cultures pulling a modern day woman in opposite directions.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Home-Toni Morrison


Tono Morrison

Knopf, May 8 2012, $24.00

ISBN: 9780307594167

After serving in the army in the Korean War, Frank Money returns home to Lotus, Georgia. Angry, he suffers from battle fatigue and combat injuries. He is not greeted as a war hero, but with racism due to the color of his skin.

Frank searches for his sister Cee as a family friend claims his sibling needs him or will soon be dead. When he went off to war, Cee was married but her husband left her. Now some doctor is experimenting on Cee; not if Frank can help it, but will she allow herself to fall back to her childhood haven that her big brother provided.

This is a fascinating historical family drama where the respective plights of Frank and Cee are critical but it is the changing relationship between the siblings that make for another great Toni Morrison novel. Frank leans his fierce protection of Cee never allowed her to mature to the point where she could protect herself. Now Cee tries to face issues while helping her brother confront the demons that he kept at bay with alcohol. The insightful storyline makes a strong case that the truth will set you free if you recognize what the truth is though you may never state what you believe the truth is.

Harriet Klausner

Stardust-Carla Stewart


Carla Stewart

FaithWords, May 15 2012, $13.99

ISBN: 9781455504282

In 1952 in Mayhaw, Texas, Georgia Peyton finds the note her Book of Knowledge encyclopedia salesman husband O’Dell left her in the sugar bowl. O’Dell informed her he left her and their two daughters (Rosey and Avril) because he found a woman who appreciates him. Two months later Georgia buries her runaway spouse whose body was found by the Zion.

Georgia was three years old when her parents left her at the Stardust Motel. Her Aunt Cora raised her while the motel owners Doreen and Paddy always welcomed her. O’Dell’s life insurance beneficiary is Fiona Callahan. Sheriff Bolander informs Georgia that Paddy died from cancer. She learns Paddy left the Stardust to her. Doreen fears for her great-niece who she loves like a daughter as running a highway motel is dangerous for a woman. Instead of selling the run down motel, Georgia decides to prove herself by making it successful. To her shock, Georgia’s grieving mother-in-law Mary Frances moves into one of the Stardust’s cabins. Korean veteran Peter Reese and his dog Sebastian stop at the Stardust and makes repairs. An ailing pregnant woman with a young daughter Bonnie arrives at the Stardust. The woman goes to the hospital while Georgia watches the child of the last woman she wants to help.

Putting micro economics aside, Stardust is an enjoyable historical starring a wonderful but besieged single mom whose motel is a magnet to a horde of tousled people. The motel has a metaphysical life of its own with its symbolic flickering lights while each resident is fully developed as each enhances the reader’s stay at the motel. Still this is Georgia’s tale as she muses to forgive or not forgive; that is the question.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Lola Quartet-Emily St. John Mandel

The Lola Quartet

Emily St. John Mandel

Unbridled, May 15 2012, $24.95

ISBN 9781609530792

A decade ago in Florida, the Lola Quartet gave their final jazz performance at school before going on their separate ways to achieve their aspirations. Following a plagiarism scandal Gavin Sasaki recently lost his journalism job in New York; he comes home to Sebastian, Florida with no hope for the future as his realtor sister Eilo offers a position dealing with foreclosed homes.

She tells her brother about seeing a ten years old child Chloe who looks like him and has the same surname as his former girlfriend Anna who vanished after stealing over a 100K from a drug dealer. While he searches for the truth re Chloe, Gavin seeks his three musical mates from their glorious days. Daniel has divorced twice while Jack and Sasha are addicts.

This is a strong character study as the idealism of youth being able to accomplish anything has turned into a realism of failure. The key cast is fully developed so that the reader understands that each has come a long way downward. Gavin’s investigation enhances the where are they now scenario though resolution is not as strong as the road getting there. With a nod to chaos theory (a photo of a tweener at foreclosure begins the odyssey), fans will enjoy this deep thriller as the memory of what we think was is so much superior to the reality of what we know is.

Harriet Klausner

Menage-Alix Kates Shulman


Alix Kates Shulman

Other Press, May 15 2012, $14.95

ISBN: 9781590515204

Mack and Heather McKay met at Yale. They fell in love and married. His success as a realtor turned them into the wealthy one percent and he built a LEED-certified “green” mansion in New Jersey where they raise their two kids with the help of a nanny. Heather feels left behind as she dreams of being an author but feels she brings nothing to the family. She also believes Mack is having an affair.

Meanwhile he is in Los Angeles for a tryst. When he meets Russian Zoltan Barbu, who suffers from writer's block, he invites the émigré to come to his New Jersey home in order to author a masterpiece. Heather wants the new houseguest and overly shows Zoltan her desire for him.

Menage is an entertaining droll look at the affluent American family as the McKay couple is collectors who each see Zoltan as an object they own. Breezy but timely with the inane controversy over Anne Romney’s work, fans will enjoy this family drama as over time relationships change.

Harriet Klausner

Beyond Hope’s Valley-Tricia Goyer

Beyond Hope’s Valley

Tricia Goyer

B&H Books, Apr 1 2012, $14.99

ISBN: 9781433668708

After her father moved the family to Montana (see Along Wooded Paths and Beside Still Waters), Marianna Sommer has returned to her hometown in Indiana to help her older brother and his pregnant Englisher fiancée with their wedding and the birth of their child. Marianna also prepares for her marriage to her long time beau Aaron Zook though her heart now belongs to Englisher Ben in Big Sky country.

However, Marianna struggles with the more rigid and stricter rules of her Hoosier Amish vs. the freedoms of Montana. Having doubts about Indiana and Aaron, secrets surface involving a child that cast even more hesitation by Mariana whether she belongs here or in Big Sky Country.

The third odyssey of Marianna is a warm intelligent Big Sky drama that focuses on the Amish culture; of which Tricia Goyer makes a strong argument that it is not as monolithic as most Englisher believe. The romance is a strong subplot, but this engaging intelligent tale belongs to the heroine who knows God has her back but like a doubting Thomasina wonders which path the lord prefers she travel.

Harriet Klausner

Saving Ruth-Zoe Fishman

Saving Ruth

Zoe Fishman

Morrow, May 1 2012, $14.99

ISBN: 9780062059840

Growing up in Alabama, Ruth Wasserman wanted to fit in, but being a curly haired junk food Jew made her stand out from the predominantly white Baptist students who she attended high school with. Making her feel even more of an outcast was her brother the golden one David was a popular soccer star. Because of her low self-esteem, Ruth escaped Alabama to attend college out of state where she lost a ton of weight to become unhealthily emaciated.

Following her freshman year in Michigan she comes home for the summer to work as a lifeguard and teacher of young children at the local pool alongside of David. However besides her food disorder, her sibling seems different and distant towards her even lost his thrill for soccer though he plays at school in Atlanta. Their parents fear the future relationship between them without their children at home. When Ruth rescues young Tanisha from drowning, instead of a heroine she is scorned and faces a lawsuit from angry parents over neglect. She also hides her sibling’s secret from everyone though she knows he is at fault for the delay by not being poolside. Finally there is David’s friend Chris.

This is a warm family drama starring a teenager who has spent her life feeling like a fish out of water, but proves she is a steel magnolia as she blossoms into a brave young woman performing difficult Balancing Acts between her family, her friends, Chris, her job and racial accusations. Fans will enjoy the trials and tribulations of Ruth who saves herself by reaching out to save others.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tracing Stars-Erin Moulton

Tracing Stars

Erin Moulton

Philomel, May 10 2012, $16.99

ISBN: 9780399256967

Known as the fish freak of Plumtown, Indie Lee Chickory has the uncanny ability to make faces of specific fish like the wounded mackerel and the trout pout. She has a pet golden Lobster Monty Cola who lives in a salt water pool just outside Indie Lee’s bedroom window.

Indie accidentally brings Monty to school, which embarrasses her older sister Bebe and leaves her friendless. Worse Monty has vanished. Indie tries to prove to her sibling she can fit in by working at the theater where her sister will soon perform. She and newcomer Owen Stone, exiled by his dad for a summer with his aunt, begin repairing a busted rowboat in search of Monty. However, Bebe informs her to dump Owen the loser or face elementary school as an ostracized pariah.

This is a wonderful upper elementary school fable starring a beleaguered heroine caught between different desires that fail to mesh cohesively for her. Using exaggeration with deft, Erin Mouton’s protagonist muses that if she is to be a loyal Chickory she must adhere to her sibling’s order and dump her friend, but she ponders if doing that would make her a lesser Chickory. Young readers will feel they are part of this fishing village as the adventures of Indie Lee make for a fun time in Plumtown.

Harriet Klausner

One for the Murphys-Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the Murphys

Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Nancy Paulsen Books, May 10 2012, $16.99

ISBN: 9780399256158

In Las Vegas, three hundred and eighty-four days ago, Carley Connors’s manipulative mom informs her that she is marrying her boyfriend Dennis. However, recently Dennis in a rage beat up twelve yeas old Carley’s mom leaving the woman in the hospital and the tweener in the foster care system.

Case worker Mrs. MacAvoy blathers on how lucky Carley is to be placed with the Murphy family. The child distrusts the seemingly pleasant kindhearted family. However, over time Carley comes to love her caring foster mother who along with her three kids and husband make sure she is welcomed as one of them as does her new BFF Toni. All is perfect until mom wants her daughter back.

This is a strong tweener contemporary drama starring a young girl who contrasts her two lifestyles. Carley is superb as she holds the storyline together with her slow acceptance that the Murphy quintet want her to stay as she struggles to accept they especially the matriarch love her as one of them. Although her wry asides at times seem too mature for her age, though one could argue her past aged her rapidly, tweeners will enjoy the heroine’s transition from no hope for the future to true believer in a wonderful future due mostly to one giving mom.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Venetian Curiosities-Donna Leon and Il Complesso Barocco

Venetian Curiosities

Donna Leon and Il Complesso Barocco

Atlantic Monthly Press, Apr 3 2012, $25.00

ISBN: 9780802120311

This is an interesting short story collection that retells some of the legendary tales of Venice. In addition to the shorts there are CD recordings of Vivaldi work with Riccardo Minasi conducting Il Complesso Barocco and accompanying illustrations predominately by eighteenth century artists Giovanni Antonio Canal and Pietro Longhi.

In “The Elephant Goes to Church” the title character was brought in for Carnival, but gets loose and causes trouble before seeking sanctuary in a church. The gambler bets “A Palazzo on the Turn of a Card.” The city leaders try to erase homosexuality by hireing “Prostitutes Working for the Good of the State.” In the seventeenth century, he was accused of treason, but his accusers learn the hard way with their executions that “The Truth Is What You Choose It To Be.” In “Diabolical Lust”, a popular sausage maker apparently uses a special ingredient in his squazzetto. Although the writings are too short as we would want more depth from the great Donna Leon, each entry is well written and provides a fascinating look at Renaissance Venice while the fabulous CD and the paintings enhance a delightful look at the mythos of Venetian Curiosities.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, April 13, 2012

Daughters For A Time-Jennifer Handford

Daughters For A Time

Jennifer Handford

Amazon Publishing, Apr 24 2012, $14.95

ISBN: 9781612182926

In Washington DC, Tim and Helen Francis own the Harvest restaurant. Thirty-five years old Helen desperately wants a child, but is depressed over never becoming pregnant. She has dreamed a child would make her complete ever since her mom died when she was fourteen years old and her dad Larry walked out on her and her twenty years old sister Claire; she even named her kid Stephanie. Whereas Claire wants nothing to do with their dad, Helen is more understanding that he let his grief cost him his children.

Though she knows she should not, she envies Claire who is a great mother, having learned when she took on her teenage kid sister, to her three years old daughter Maura. Helen reluctantly agrees with Tim that they should adopt. They go to China where they adopt Sammy. Her euphoria ends when she learns Claire has cancer.

Daughters for a Time is a profound look at an extended family stunned by a mother having died from cancer and daughter dying from cancer. The grief is palatable as the surviving loved ones struggle with their loss. For Larry and Helen this a double whammy while she also worries that she inherited the offending gene; Claire and her spouse Ross feels the same concern for Maura. Ross sums it up when he tells Helen his dad died when he was five and he remembers little about him except what his mom mentions; his grief is Maura will share that sense of inadequacy while his sister-in-law says they must never let that happen. Readers will appreciate this well written character study as grief is customized but a loving family helps each other move on.

Harriet Klausner

Lily of the Springs-Carole Bellacera

Lily of the Springs

Carole Bellacera

CreateSpace, Apr 10 2012, $16.99

ISBN: 9781470157715

In 1952 in Opal Springs, Kentucky, eighteen year old Lily Ray Foster has been raised by strict Southern Baptists. When she becomes pregnant, the father of her unborn Jake Tatlow, known as trash by the moral citizens, is forced to marry her. Jake gives his child a name, but has no plans to let a marriage trap him. Lily, who has loved her bad boy neighbors since they played in the woods as children together, believes she can change him and gain his love once their baby is born.

He joins the army and they, along with the baby, move to New Boston, Texas. Back in Kentucky, over the next few years, Lily tries to make her marriage work for her and for their two daughters. Instead Jake remains unfaithful and insulting. As the Eagle lands on the moon, Lily worries about her children and new rumors about her spouse.

This is an excellent family drama that focuses on the underbelly of the Happy Days fifties and rebellious sixties. Lily is a strong person while Jake is an immature individual who thinks with his lower head only. Fans will appreciate this look back to an era when the woman was blamed for all the marital problems as Carole Bellacera provides a deep historical novel.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Dog's Journey-W. Bryce Cameron

A Dog's Journey

W. Bryce Cameron

Forge, May 8 2012, $24.99

ISBN: 9780765330536

She was born as Toby; came back as Bailey; returned as Ellie; and finally now is Buddy (see A Dog’s Purpose). However, her human pet Ethan is dead two years and she knows her time is short with no chance of coming back as unrequited love for Ethan was the purpose for living.

However, Buddy observes Ethan’s family especially the mischievous infant Clarity, who gets into all sorts of trouble. The dog believes Ethan would want him to watch over her. He barked when she ate birdseed and jumps onto the pond when the child falls in. Instead of a hero’s welcome Clarity’s neglectful mom Gloria blames Buddy. More incidents occur until Gloria in a rage leaves with her daughter. However, Dr. Deb the vet informs Ethan’s weeping widow Hannah that it is time to put Buddy down.

To his euphoria, Buddy comes back years later as Molly. He believes he is Clarity’s destiny. The troubled teen adopts him, but Gloria goes nuts. Calling herself CJ, Clarity’s friend Trent takes Molly home. When animal control separates them, he knows not even her death will keep her from her beloved purpose.

Though similar in tone to A Dog's Purpose, A Dog’s Journey is a warm tale of how a canine even in death remains loyal to his or her human purpose. Whimsical, fans will relish Buddy-Molly, Max and Toby as they care for Clarity-CJ. There will not be a dry eye when Max returns to the farm where he recognizes the smells of Clarity’s paternal family. This continuation of the many lives of Bailey is an entertaining allegorical look at unrequited love.

Harriet Klausner

A Sweethaven Summer-Courtney Walsh

A Sweethaven Summer

Courtney Walsh

Guideposts Books, Feb 7 2012, $13.99

ISBN: 9780824945190

Suzanne, Jane, Lila and Meghan were best friends as children who shared a scrapbook/journal for starting in eighth grade for several years back in the late 1980s. Now Suzanne is dying from cancer and asks her twenty something daughter Campbell to see her to talk. When Campbell arrives she finds her mom dead. As she arranges the funeral she wonders what her mom’s final confession was going to be.

Campbell finds the 1987 scrapbook that reveals what her mom hid from her early teen BFFs. She learns who the Sweethaven Circle is from their scrapbooks. Jane hated her looks; Lila hated her mom’s indifference to her; and Meg said she felt like an outsider as the only nondrinker at a party. Then there is her mom’s bombshell back in the summer of 1987 when she broke the circle.

This is a warm sweet tale about friendship, redemption and how well you know someone. The four BFFs come across as real people either through scrapbook memories of the summer of friendship or their current family problems. However, in many ways this is Courtney’s tale as she seeks to learn who she is and gain some inner peace by helping her late mom redeem herself even in death. Fans will enjoy the character driven heartwarming visit to Sweethaven, Michigan.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wish You Were Here-Graham Swift

Wish You Were Here

Graham Swift

Knopf, Apr 17 2012, $25.00

ISBN: 9780307700124

Jack and Ellie grew up on neighboring farms. They also share in common losing their moms when young as his died and hers deserted her family. They marry and begin farming like their ancestors have done for years. When Jack's younger brother Tom turned eighteen he joined the army. They lose contact with him over the next decade. In the interim their fathers die and Ellie persuades Jack to sell the farm that is failing due to the Mad Cow hysteria and run a seaside vacation park she inherited.

The place is closed for the winter so they vacation annually in Caribbean. However, the British military informs Jack that Tom died in Iraq. He cancels their vacation to arrange his sibling’s funeral over her objection as she insists "The past is past and the dead are the dead" while he believes he owes homage to his sibling (and his parents) as he proclaims "all the things that had once been dead and buried had come back again." With each turning forty soon, he sits on his bed musing about life and death with a shotgun in hand waiting for his spouse to come home during a storm.

This is an intriguing profound relationship drama as the extrovert has no problems relaying her feelings about family members who desert their loved ones while the introvert hides his feelings about family. With little action and no one looking at an umbrella in the same way, Wish You Were Here is a thought provoking tale that increasingly digs deeper into the souls of the protagonists as each of the couple struggles with their different concept of family.

Harriet Klausner

An Unexpected Guest-Anne Korkeakivi

An Unexpected Guest

Anne Korkeakivi

Little, Brown and Company, Apr 17 2012, $24.99

ISBN: 9780316196772

In Paris, the British ambassador to France is ill with viral pneumonia at a time the permanent under secretary has come to France for a dinner in his honor. British Minister and number two man at the embassy, David Moorhouse informs his American wife of twenty-five years Clare that they will host the dinner for P.U.S. in their home. Without blinking Clare arranges dinner for a party of twelve while her spouse knows she will pull off the gala successfully.

While she is calm on the outside, inside she is a bundle of nerves made worse with the thoughts that their next stop is Ireland. As their younger son Jamie was suspended from boarding school on serious charges that could impact his dad’s diplomatic career, Clare’s Bostonian past has caught up with her when her aunt’s charity case Niall meets her. Before she met her husband, she loved Niall who used her as a mule in his free using any means Northern Ireland movement. An assassination of a highly ranked French official has the gendarmes looking at Niall, but she is his alibi if she comes forth and tells the authorities she saw him when the killing occurred.

This is a super character driven tale that brilliantly contrasts polished high level diplomacy with violent revolutionary fervor. The opposite poles to conflict resolution place Clare in the middle as she struggles with her ethics as to doing the right thing for Niall and David, which in her heart means hurting one of them and especially herself.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Book Lover-Maryann McFadden

The Book Lover

Maryann McFadden

Three Women Press, May 1 2012, $14.99

ISBN: 9780984867103

Ruth Hardaway has always loved books. Three decades ago she ran from tragedy to open up the Book Lover bookstore. Now her store is in trouble.

Since she was eleven years old, Lucinda Barrett now thirty-nine, dreamed of becoming a published author. However, her novel A Quiet Wanting has been rejected by the publishing houses. She self-publishes sending copies to bookstores including The Book Lover. Ruth and her employees love it while Lucy leaves David on a journey that ends at Ruth's house. The two women cut a deal; Ruth will sponsor the book and provide shelter in exchange Lucy will watch her new friend’s son, wheelchair bound Colin hurt in combat. With happiness within reach, fear leads to lies and disappointment.

The storyline starts slow as readers meet the key cast, but once that is done, the character driven novel turns into a wonderful relationship drama. Part of the fun is watching the book industry from the perspectives of an independent store owner and a rejected self-published writer. Other characters like the store’s staff, Colin, David and Ruth’s daughter Jenny enhance a fabulous aptly titled tale.

Harriet Klausner