Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Forgotten Queen-D.L. Bogdan

The Forgotten Queen

D.L. Bogdan

Kensington, Jan 29 2013, $15.00

ISBN: 9780758271389

Margaret Tudor understood early in her life that she was a pawn to help her younger brother the “treasured heir” Prince Henry especially when he sits on the English throne. Thus she accepts her fate as a young teen when her father King Henry VII arranges her marriage to King James IV of Scotland. To her amazement, Margaret loves her spouse and a country she grew up to believe were barbarians to the north. A decade together, they have a son who becomes king when James dies during a battle at Flodden Field against King Henry VIII. Her goal changed to insuring her son sits on the Scottish throne and she becomes entangled with the Earl of Argus.

The latest Tudor D.L. Bogdan historical (see The Sumerton Women) focus on the oldest sister of King Henry VIII. Margaret is a fascinating individual who does her duty, but adapts with each change in the stormy winds. Filled with vivid detail, readers will feel they are in late fifteenth and early sixteenth century England but mostly Scotland. Tudor fans will appreciate The Forgotten Queen whose legacy is her great-grandson’s Union of the Crowns when he became King of Scotland, England and Ireland.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

All That I Am-Anna Funder

All That I Am

Anna Funder

Harper Perennial, Jan 22 2013, $14.99

ISBN: 9780062077578

In 2001 in Bondi Junction, Australia Dr. Ruth Becker receives a FedEx package sent from Columbia University. Inside is a first edition of political poet Ernst Toller’s autobiography I am German with a note “For Ruth Wesemann.” Becker thinks back to the 1930s when she, her husband Hans, his best friend Berthold Jacob, Toller and his lover Dora Fabian resisted the Nazis.

Though her short-term memory reflects her age, Ruth recalls in detail what happened in the 1930s. Ruth and Toller were leftists with the playwright becoming head of the Bavarian Republic before the Nazis forced both and others to flee to London. In Great Britain, they were frustrated with their host nation’s refusal to acknowledge Hitler and so relocated in 1939 in New York where they lived in the Mayflower Hotel, which in 2001 is about to be demolished and the reason Ruth got the package.

This is a great historical fiction tale that uses real people who resisted the Nazis in the 1930s. The storyline rotates between Becker’s 2001 observations especially looking back in time and Toller’s 1939 narration. Filled with tension yet leisurely paced, readers will appreciate the courageous quintet and others as they passionately try to prevent Hitler and the Nazis from their extermination path.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Villa Triste-Lucretia Grindle

Villa Triste

Lucretia Grindle

Grand Central, Jan 22 2013, $14.99

ISBN: 9781455505371

In 2006 in Florence, Italy, Police Detective Allesandro Pallioti investigates the murder of a WWII “honored hero” Giovanni Trantemento. He soon learns someone is executing "honored heroes of the Resistance" with a bullet to their respective heads and symbolic salt poured into their mouths. Pallioti learns much more about the “honored heroes” who seemingly readapted to civilian life after the war ended and the motive for their murders when he finds Caterina Cammaccio’s war diary on Trantemento’s desk.

In 1943 Italians hear rumors that the country has signed an armistice and Bagdolio fled Rome. Caterina expects her oldest brother Enrico to come home from Rome and her fiancĂ© naval medic Lodovicio to return from Northern Africa shortly and soon after they will marry. However, as the family prepares for her wedding and her mom’s fiftieth birthday, the Nazis arrive. They take over Villa Triste where they incarcerate and interrogate partisans and their supporters while hunting Jews. Caterina’s sister Isabella resolutely supports efforts to force the Germans from Villa Triste.

Rotating eras between the 2006 investigation and the 1943-44 resistance, Lucretia Grindle provides a taut deft police procedural-historical blend. Readers will enjoy Pallioto’s inquiry as he copes with more than a serial killer; pondering “what happens when the statue on the pedestal comes crumbling to the ground” (Blessed Is the Rain by Brooklyn Bridge). The 1940s entries are also top rate, especially the diary, as the war arrives in Florence causing the upper class sisters and others to deal with the occupiers. Villa Triste is a strong thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Out Of Warranty-Haywood Smith

Out Of Warranty

Haywood Smith

St. Martin's, Jan 22 2013, $25.99

ISBN: 9781250003522

The medical profession universally agrees there is nothing wrong with fifty-something widow Cassie Jones except inside her head. One doctor after another concludes she is a hypochondriac though she complains about arthritis and counters their claims with her twenty-four surgeries and four joint replacements. Cassie desperately misses her late Tom for what they planned to do together in retirement. However, it is medical costs that are destroying her as she has too much income for Medicaid and too little income to pay her bills rejected by her Green Shield Health Insurance provider.

In Buckhead, Cassie meets COPD sufferer Jack Wilson at Doctor Shamlan Patel’s Fungal Institute office; neither likes the other. Dr. Patel tells Cassie she suffers from a rare genetic form of arthritis and an extreme allergy to yeast, mold and fungus. She cannot afford the cure and knows her Antichrist insurance will reject her claims. Cassie tries employment but finds only minimum wage jobs. Deciding she needs a husband with money, she tries dating; that proves worse than her employment opportunities. Her only hope is to marry the one-legged grouch she met in Patel’s waiting room as she needs his insurance and he needs her pristine abode since his farmhouse hoardes tons of dirt and whatever resides in filth.

Out Of Warranty is a biting satire that rips the American medical system through two captured customers. Cassie brings amusing caustic asides while Jack adds likable grumpiness though both at times become irritants (in fairness each stays in character). Mindful of Michael Moorer’s Sicko documentary with a deep storyline Obama could have used a few years ago, Haywood Smith lampoons the essence of the health system in which profit supersedes caring.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Scent of Darkness-Margot Berwin

Scent of Darkness

Margot Berwin

Pantheon, Jan 29 2013, $25.00

ISBN: 9780307907523

When Evangeline was a little girl growing up with a single mom in Brooklyn, her beloved grandma “Louisiana” Louise the aroma grandmaster taught her to appreciate the power of various scents. Eva enjoyed visiting Louise every summer in Cyril, New York where she learned about the power of perfumes like placing lavender under her pillow so she could sleep dreaming of her Prince Charming. When Eva turned eighteen, elderly Louise gave her a special gift of a scent customized for her.

Ignoring the accompanying warning that if she opens the vial, her entire life will radically change, Eva places a dab on her neck. Always a background shadow with others before she applied her personal scent, suddenly both genders is aware of her with intensity; even animals want to be her pets. Attracted to Gabriel the student, Eva is euphoric when he falls in love with her. However, strangers, acquaintances, friends, family and cats stalk her for a sniff and a touch. Frustrated with all the adulation, she doubts any of her worshippers care about the real Evangeline rather than just Eva’s scent. That is until Eva meets Michael the artist, who seems to ignore her irresistible aroma.

With an olfactory spin, Scent of Darkness is a wonderful coming of age Bayou fantasy in which a regretful Eva learns perhaps too late that sometimes a person receives what she wished for. Eva is a wonderful protagonist who finds out the hard way that being the “It Girl” magnet proves undesirable. If you enjoy something with a different enticing aroma than the usual sub-genre entry, you will want to read Margot Berwin’s engaging second tale (see Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire).

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Ambassador's Daughter-Pam Jenoff

The Ambassador's Daughter

Pam Jenoff

Mira, Jan 29 2013, $14.95

ISBN: 9780778315094

In 1919 “the war to end all wars” seems over as world leaders arrive in Paris to negotiate the peace treaty. Margo Rosenthal’s Papa Friedrich, the Jewish Oxford Professor and now a diplomat, attends the peace conference because her maternal Uncle Walther the industrialist supporter of the war insists family be at the table. Papa brings Margo with him to Paris; neither father nor daughter wants to come to France at this time.

Worried about her wheelchair bound fiancĂ© Stefan Oster left behind in Berlin, Margo runs into seething resentment by the Parisians towards Germans. As Margo adjusts to Paris, she meets the daughter of a Polish diplomat Krysia Smok the accomplished pianist, who knows her father’s writings on suffrage and introduces her to others debating the continent’s future. As Margo becomes invigorated by the free thinkers she encounters, she meets German Naval Captain Georg Richwalder who believes the National Socialist Party is his country’s savior. Put in the middle of rage to and from Germany as everyone except Wilson blames her hinterland for the war, Margot must decide between protecting her father, accused of stealing a top secret document, protecting her heart, and protecting her country.

Pam Jenoff’s latest early twentieth century historical (see WW II tales: The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife) provides a strong look at the end of a centuries old social class distinctions torn apart by WWI and at the resentment towards an increasingly upset Germany. Although there is too much improbable happenchance, fans will appreciate the not so peaceful Paris peace conference.

Harriet Klausner