Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Real Santa-William Hazelgrove

Real Santa
William Hazelgrove
Koehler Books, Oct 1 2014, $16.95
ISBN: 9781938467943

Fifty years old and now unemployed after S&G fired him; George Kroenfeldt feels he failed at life.  He knows he was not there for his older children (eighteen year old daughter Jamie and twenty year old son Jeremy) from his first marriage and not that much with his youngest with his second wife, tweener Megan.

Ridgeland Elementary fourth grade teacher Barbara Worthington responds to Santa Claus questions from her class as she has for four decades; which leads to her student Megan having doubts.  Her friend informs Megan that her older brother insists Santa Claus is not real as their parents pretend otherwise.  Megan asks her parents if that is true and when they say no, record him to place on YouTube when Santa and his reindeer land on their roof.

Jamie demands her dad give her an IPhone for Christmas while Jeremy wants a new car and their mom pushes him to sell their tiny home for a new one.  George says no to all three demands as money just got tighter.  However, he reacts differently to Megan’s query.  Though his plan will cost a fortune he does not have and he will need many people involved, George as Santa will land on the roof with reindeer.

The actions and reactions of the cast to George’s obsession to create a Real Santa in order for his daughter to believe make this a winner.  George knows he cannot afford this yet also believes he cannot afford not to do this though the cost in money and relationships is exorbitant.  The climax feels logically wrong, but emotionally right as William Hazelgrove authors a wonderful Christmas family drama. 

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Sudden Light-Garth Stein

A Sudden Light
Garth Stein
Simon & Schuster, Sep 30 2014, $26.95
ISBN: 9781439187036

As he nears his fortieth birthday, Jones Riddell separates from his wife Rachel.  For the first time since his father exiled him after the teenager’s mother Isobel died over two decades ago back in 1967, Jones, accompanied by his fourteen years old son Trevor, heads to his family mansion, Riddell House in Washington State; Trevor arrives for the first time.  Financially strapped Jones and his sister Serena want to sell the estate, but first they must remove their uncooperative father Samuel to a nursing home.  Though he is not mentally what he once was, Samuel refuses to leave his home where generations of Riddell’s have resided since they made a fortune in timber.

Trevor hopes his parents reconcile as he misses having both parents.  Meanwhile, fascinated by the estate and his ancestry, the teen learns about his paternal family when he finds the diary of his late great-Uncle Ben’s lover Harry and of the curse that began with Samuel’s avarice grandfather Elijah.

A Sudden Light is a fascinating family drama that looks closely at several generations of Riddell’s still residing, some as ghosts, in the mansion as told by Trevor assisted by timely spirits’ soliloquys.  Although at times Trevor’s narration seems to mature and accepting for his youth (in spite of a coda explanation) more insight into the hauntings would be welcome. This is an intriguing epic.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Promise Beth Wiseman

The Promise
Beth Wiseman
Thomas Nelson, Sep 30 2014, $15.99
ISBN 9781401685959

Teen cousins Mallory and Kelsey were more like sisters ever since they were born three days apart.  However, Kels is dying and in desperate need of a kidney transplant.  Extensive tests prove Mallory is the only match and she plans to donate a kidney to save the life of her BFF.

A dozen years later to fulfill a vow she made to her late cousin, Mallory informs her parents and her boyfriend Tate that she will donate a kidney to save the life of Majida, the daughter of her Pakistani pen pal Abdul.  Her three loved ones fear for Mallory’s safety in Lahore, but she stubbornly travels to Pakistan.  In country, Mallory reluctantly agrees to wed Abdul so Majida can come to America for treatment.

Back in the States, music teacher Tate worries about recently orphaned Verdell, a student who steals things from the bathroom and never practices the piano.  Though he wishes he could help the grieving child, he has no idea how; matters turn worse when he becomes temporary guardian. 

Mallory’s altruistic willingness to travel to dangerous Pakistan and also marry there seems nearly over the top of K2 for a rational person whose late cousin would call her nuts; in spite of the Afterward informing the audience her subplot is based on a real person.  The Promise is a fascinating inspirational as Tate deals with a troubled tweener and Mallory struggles to help Majida and escape her own captivity.  Both turn to God to guide them through their crisis.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cali-Deborah Frazier

Deborah Frazier
Deborah Frazier, Aug 22 2013, $9.00
ISBN: 9780578128795

Rita and Mike Evans are the perfect who fell in love in high school.  Both are excited with the birth of their first child; but especially the marine, a former quarterback, who looks forward to playing sports with his son.  However, Dr. Martin informs them their newborn has abnormalities in the genitals and recommends surgery to change the boy into a girl.  Reluctantly, Mike accepts the doctor’s recommendation and persuades his wife that their son is better off as a girl.

Over the next few years Cali is raised as a girl mostly by her loving mother; her dad, filled with guilt and doubt, kept reenlisting and volunteering for deployments.  Cali prefers competing against the guys and proves a better athlete than them.  She begins receiving hormone shots, but unaware what they are; as her mom refuses to tell her the big secret and her dad abandoned his family.  Cali also feels suicidal as she hates feelings of being a boy trapped in a girl’s body.  Meghan remains her only friend and anchor even after Cali confesses to her that her brain screams male.  Becoming a psychologist to help others with similar haunting issues as hers, twentyish Cali meets and marries kind Lance but she still feels trapped in the wrong gender.

Cali is a powerful psychological thriller that cautions parents to think of the long-term consequences on their newborn before agreeing to a sex change medical procedure.  Character-driven by the protagonist’s inner turmoil of a freak in the wrong body, Cali reminds readers that even loving decisions have second order effects and that doctors are people not gods; but mostly consider the future as much as the present.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Language Of Silence-Peggy Webb

The Language Of Silence
Peggy Webb
Gallery Books, Sep 9 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781451684810

In 1976 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Ellen Blair fears her husband Wayne.  To the rest of the world Wayne is a charming businessman; but inside their home he is violent having sent his wife to the hospital with accidents caused by her clumsiness.  Knowing if she does not flee soon, her spouse will one day kill the child she carries. 

Her Great Aunt Ruth Gibson encourages her to leave town just like Ellen’s grandmother Lola did five decades earlier.  Lola joined the Great Giovanni Bros/ Hogan & Sandusky Circus as a star tiger tamer to escape family violence.  When Ellen gets to the Haven House shelter, Wayne greets her with a beating he disguises as a car accident.  Her mom offers no hope as Josie insists Wayne is a good husband if Ellen could learn the Language of Silence.  When Ruth is hospitalized in Arkansas, Ellen insists on going to the Ozarks while Wayne demands they stay home to greet his visiting Japanese client.  Leaving Tupelo, Ellen joins the same traveling circus as her grandmother did but as a teacher with her favorite student being mute Nicky.  Ruth welcomes her niece, but soon sees visions of irate Wayne coming for his runaway spouse.  With Lola’s help, the female relatives flee for their lives from a psychopathic husband.

The Language of Silence is a profound tale that looks deeply at spousal abuse during the “Stand By Your Man” at any cost even your life era.  Ironically, Wayne believes in the sanctuary of his vows enhanced by his fists.  Although the ending seems over the top of the trapeze wire, The Language Of Silence is a wonderful second chance at life if you take the risk.

Harriet Klausner

The Goddess Of Small Victories-Yannick Grannec

The Goddess Of Small Victories
Yannick Grannec, Willard Wood (translator)
Other Press, Sep 9 2014, $26.95
ISBN 9781590516362

In 1980, the Institute for Advanced Study sends archivist Anna Roth to the Pine Run Retirement Home in Pennsylvania to persuade obstinate widow Adele Gödel to release the papers of her late husband, brilliant troubled mathematician Kurt.  Anna says she would like to catalogue the Nachlass so that those qualified can study it.  She also explains she reads the rarely used Gabelsberger shorthand; the style Kurt employed.

Adele tells the visitor how they met in Vienna and though several years older than Kurt with his mother’s reluctant approval they married.  When the Nazis annexed Austria, Kurt and Adele fled eventually arriving in America, but treated as enemy agents due to their accents.  While she did everything to make her disturbed mate’s life easier over the five decades together, for the first time Kurt, still distressed, found acceptance at Princeton because of his brilliant work.

This is an intriguing biographical fiction that focuses on the mentally tough widow and through her filter we see the great but mentally ill genius.  Although distracting from the fascinating main storyline, a well-written secondary subplot re the relationship between Adele and Anna further shows the strength of the older woman; as she encourages her visitor to be all she can be with what she wants out of life.  With real persona like Einstein; documented incidents (with footnotes) and events like the A-bombs and the Cold War to anchor time and place, readers will appreciate The Goddess Of Small Victories.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Front Seat Passenger-Pascal Garnier

The Front Seat Passenger
Pascal Garnier, Jane Aitken (translator)
Gallic, Sep 9 2014, $13.95
ISBN 9781908313638

After visiting his père in Normandy, Fabien Delorme returns to Paris to an empty house.  He actually is pleased though surprised his wife Sylvie is not home as their relationship has drifted apart.  Fabien soon learns that Sylvie and her lover Martial Arnoult died in a car accident in Dijon.

Instead of grief, Fabien obsesses over his spouse having a secret lover she concealed from him.  In Dijon to identify Sylvie’s corpse, Fabien notices a woman do likewise with Arnoult’s body.  Obviously he concludes she is Arnoult’s widow, Martine.  Ironically in spite of her cuckolding him, Fabien misses Sylvie who kept him anchored.  Thus he decides since Arnoult stole his wife, he will do likewise with the other man’s widow.  Stalking Martine, Fabien becomes part of her life and that of her companion.

The latest Gallic translation of a Pascal Garnier suspenseful French middle class tragedy (see Moon in a Dead Eye, The Panda Theory and How’s the Pain?) is another superb dark surrealistic novella.  Character driven by an unlikable but realistic three degrees of separation quintet, readers will appreciate the impact on their respective mates by the deaths of The Front Seat Passenger and the driver.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 8, 2014

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery-David P. Wagner

Death in the Dolomites: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery
David P. Wagner
Poisoned Pen, Sep 1 2014, $24.95
ISBN 9781464202728

Translator Rick Montoya leaves Rome for a skiing vacation in Campiglio.  However, when American banker Cameron Taylor vanishes while also at the ski resort, Inspector Luca Albani, aware of Rick’s assistance to the Tuscany police (see Cold Tuscan Stone), asks for his help.  Rick agrees to join the inquiry as long as it does not interfere with his R&R.

Several witnesses insist they saw Cameron head to the slopes, but none including his sister recall seeing him return to the lodge.  Meanwhile, someone wanting Rick to stay out of the investigation, attacks him while he skis and a lookalike is stabbed.  This plus the discovery of a corpse leads to Rick taking the case more seriously as he wonders who gains from murder.

The second Rick Montoya Italian investigation is an engaging whodunit though the Alpine cuisine supersedes the case and even the skiing.  Even though the mystery is shortchanged for much of the storyline by Rick’s vacation, Death in the Dolomites remains a well-written tale.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, September 5, 2014

Madame Picasso-Anne Girard

Madame Picasso
Anne Girard
Mira, Aug 26 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780778316350

In 1911, Eva Gouel rejects her family’s demand she marry Monsieur Fix.  Instead she flees for Paris where her only friend is Polish speaking Louis Vollard who changed her name to Marcelle Humbert.  To her elation, one of her goals is met when Madam Leutard hires her as a seamstress at the Moulin Rouge.  There she sees a powerful man sitting at the front of the dance hall but surprisingly no woman with him. 

Last night, after a fight with his beloved intoxicated mistress and primary model, Fernande Olivier the artist, Pablo Picasso went to the Moulin Rouge alone.  The next day, Louis and Marcelle visit the Petit Palais to see an exhibition.  Also there is the solitary man from the evening before, an up and coming Spaniard artist Pablo Picasso.  Eva becomes his insecure muse; but his Montmartre crowd prefers feisty artsy Fernande who they consider as one of them to the upstart outsider.  That same year Eva came to Paris, someone stole the Mona Lisa with Picasso considered a suspect.  A few short years later, as war explodes across Europe, Eva suffers from tuberculosis.

This is an excellent biographical fiction that brings to life mostly Paris when the City of Lights was the world’s cultural center during the years leading up to and the beginning of WWI.  Character driven by the triangular relationship between Picasso, Gouel and Olivier, subgenre fans will relish this vivid art historical.

Harriet Klausner

Thief Of Glory-Sigmund Brouwer

Thief Of Glory
Sigmund Brouwer
WaterBrook, Aug 19 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780307446497

In 1942, the Japanese successfully invade the Dutch East Indies islands.  On Java, the soldiers deploy the affluent adult males as slaves toiling on the Burma rail; while placing the left behind women and preadolescent children in prison camps.  Overnight, the son of a well-to-do Dutch headmaster, tweener Jeremiah Prins is burdened with keeping his mom and young siblings safe when his dad and older brothers are taken away.  He does his best, but the horrid conditions of the camps limit his options.  Still he tries while many others succumb to the nightmare.

Decades later, Jeremiah still searches for peace from those troubled times.  His journals help as do his loved ones, but those were times that tested him and still haunt him as he looks back and wonders what he could have done differently.

Thief Of Glory is a powerful historical that intensely describes “crimes against humanity” atrocities during WWII.  Character driven by Jeremiah and other victims; this thought-provoking tale reflects on Thomas Paine’s insight into another war as "These are the times that try men's souls."

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Winter Guest-Pam Jenoff

The Winter Guest
Pam Jenoff
Mira, Aug 26 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9780778315964

In 1940 in Biekowice, Poland the Nowak patriarch died in a cart accident while the matriarch was hospitalized with severe injuries.  Though acrimonious rivals with diverse opinions about the German invasion; the oldest children, twins Helena and Ruth take charge of their younger siblings (Michal, Dorie and Karolina) even as the Nazis blitzkrieg Poland.  

Though she knows she should ignore the wounded foreigner, Helena rescues Jewish American soldier Sam Rosen.  Initially telling no one about him she hides the paratrooper as he heals.  When Helena and Sam fall in love, jealous Ruth reacts with bitterness; while opportunistic neighbors plot against the family. 

The latest Pam Jenoff WWII Poland thriller (see The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat’s Daughter) is another excellent historical as readers obtain a vivid sense of life during the Nazi occupation.  The strong cast makes for a powerful drama enabling us to see the deadly era through the eyes of the five Nowak siblings (especially the diverse bias of the twins) and Sam.  As the truth fails to set them free, The Winter Guest is a fantastic 1940s war novel.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Benedict Bastard-Cate Campbell

The Benedict Bastard
Cate Campbell
Kensington, Aug 26 2014, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758292308

In 1923 Seattle, Dr. Margot Benedict continues to practice medicine at the Women and Infants Clinic.  Driven by Mr. Blake and accompanied by Nurse Sarah Church, Margot arrives at The Ryther Home to inspect the place before applying for government funds to assist the children’s home.  After being nasty towards Margot’s two Negro companions, Mother Ryther objects to the doctor’s insistence that she allow her and Nurse Church to vaccinate the orphaned or abandoned kids residing there.  When Margot meets the young charges, she is taken aback by a little boy who could have been her demented brother Preston’s twin (see Benedict Hall).

Stunned Margot seeks the truth while at the same time Bronwyn Morgan searches the city for her lost three years old son sired by Preston when she was sixteen.  As Margot seeks proof that she has an illegitimate nephew whom she hopes to take to Benedict Hall; she and her Pater visit psychopath Preston at the asylum where he is held in a drugged state; and family matriarch Edith brings Bronwyn into the home.

The third Benedict Hall historical family drama (see Hall of Secret) is an enjoyable glimpse at bygone era in which a changing America still feels the impact of WWI.  Now married to Frank, Margot keeps the interesting storyline focused as her inclusive beliefs remain decades ahead of her time.  Charlie’s paternity issue enhances Cate Campbell's entertaining glimpse of the Roaring Twenties in the Pacific Northwest.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Agincourt Bride-Joanna Hickson

The Agincourt Bride
Joanna Hickson
Harper, Aug 19 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 978000744697

In fourteen years of marriage to “Mad King” Charles VI of France, Queen Isabeau already has given birth to four boys and five girls when a sixth worthless female Catherine pops out.  Royal nursery boss Madame La Bonne is pleased that the fifteen years old Parisian baker’s daughter Guilliamette Dupain gave birth to a stillborn.  Given no choice, Mette becomes Catherine’s wet-nurse.

Over the years Princess Catherine keeps Mette at her side during her childhood and into adulthood.  Though a commoner, Mette guides the child through the chaotic courts of her insane father and her ambitious brother King Charles Dauphin; both whom plan to marry her off to forge an alliance.  The powerful Duke Philippe of Burgundy also has an agenda for this princess.  However, after the forces of Henry V win at the Battle of Agincourt, Catherine becomes either a greater asset or liability for the ambitious plotting to use her or get rid of her.  Only Mette, risking her life, protects her until the royal sibling must choose between two monarchs, her brother the French King and English King Henry V.

This is a vivid historical biographical fiction tale that brings to life early fifteenth century France (at court, in Paris and the countryside) and to a lesser degree England through the eyes of Catherine’s prime confident.  Though not for the casual reader as the storyline can be overwhelming in the depth of background, The Agincourt Bride is a very fresh entry in the often told tale of Catherine of Valois (see The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien and The Queen's Secret by Jean Plaidy).  The pleased audience will return for the continuation of Catherine’s saga (see The Tudor Bride; not yet published).

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 22, 2014

Incense & Peppermints-Carole Bellacera

Incense & Peppermints
Carole Bellacera
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 2 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781497355637

In 2011 Memphis, sexagenarian nurse Cindy Sweet receives a Facebook message from her fiancé Ryan Paul Quinlan, who allegedly died in Vietnam over four decades ago.  Stunned she thinks back to 1965 when idealistic Cindy voluntarily joined the military as a nurse assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh.  She faced death and maimed victims on her first day and every day afterward while serving in Nam.  Cindy still sees the face of her first dying soldier; a youngster from South Carolina whose last wish she could not grant.

Cindy also reflects on her first innocent love before she volunteered Gary McCartney; her passionate second in Nam with Ryan; and her calm final one with Sergeant David Ansgar whom mentored her as she adjusted to the frantic existence at the 24th.  Though encouraged by her husband David, this hesitant grandma must decide whether she wants to meet Ryan at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

This is a reflective Vietnam War tale starring an innocent growing up rather quickly when faced immediately with dying and severely wounded young soldiers; just the title (from the Strawberry Alarm Clock song) will remind boomers of the sixties furor.  Carole Bellacera provides a gripping storyline due to the support cast (patients and staff) who bring a timely haunting message that the cost of war is not just in combat dollars, but also the impact on those fighting and their loved ones; that lingers on for decades after the last soldier came home.

Harriet Klausner

Never Mind Miss Fox-Olivia Glazebrook

Never Mind Miss Fox
Olivia Glazebrook
Little, Brown, Aug 19 2014, $25.00
ISBN: 9780316242899

Martha and Clive met while attending Oxford.  He fell in love immediately and felt fortunate when he persuaded her to join his Barkes family Easter vacation in France.  Clive’s brother Tom’s special friend Eliot Fox joined them. 

After years away from England, Eliot Fox comes home to London.  One of her students Eliza Barkes informs her parents (Clive and Martha) that her piano teacher knows both of them.  Whereas Martha relishes the coincidence, Clive panics as Eliot was his series of indiscretions over the years.  Fearing she will expose his betrayal to his wife, Clive tries to keep the piano teacher away from her; but Eliot knowing the power she has over her occasional lover refuses to back away from the Barkes.

Appealingly rotating between the present relationships and past illicit trysts, this is an absorbing character study that looks at the impact an eccentric other woman has on her former lover and his family.  The quartet is three dimensional making the cause and effect of his cheating seemingly genuine.  Although the encounters over the years come across as well written but improbable happenchance, the trouble Miss Fox’s return to England causes to the Barkes’ seemingly happy family makes for an appealing novel.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Grand Design-Amber Stockton

A Grand Design
Amber Stockton
Abingdon, Aug 19 2014, $13.99
ISBN: 9781426773471

On a dare from her BFF Libby, Alyssa Denham entered the Bride Magazine contest to win a romantic getaway for two on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  Home to her grandma, Alyssa used to visit the island when she was a child until an incident shattered her heart and when her dad died she never returned.  When Bride informs Alyssa she won the vacation, she struggles with whom to take with her as she has no man in her life.  She sadly muses she can’t even find a date for the June weddings she attends; so persuades Libby to join her as the contest says “two” not “couple”.

The two BFFs delight in working with Alyssa’s grandma on an heirloom quilt and enjoy the Lake Huron island immensely especially since they have access to places outsiders are banned from visiting.  Meanwhile local Scott Whitman and Alyssa are attracted to each other, but her heart must let go of what happened several years ago to her and her family on Mackinaw Island so that their love can fill the vacuum.

The latest Quilts of Love inspirational (see A Promise In Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga and A Sky Without Stars by Linda S. Clare) is a warm coming of age contemporary in a wonderful setting starring a fascinating protagonist who spent years hiding in plain sight from what happened.  Although the romance is rather straightforward, Alyssa’s rapid maturity makes for an endearing tale.

Harriet Klausner

Bittersweet-Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough
Simon & Schuster, Aug 19 2014, $26.00
ISBN: 9781476755410

In Corunda, New South Wales, Australia, St Mark's Church of England Reverend Thomas Latimer sires twins (Edda and Grace) with his first wife, but their mom dies in childbirth.  The church rector mourns his loss, but soon marries his stern housekeeper.  Two years after the birth of his first children, Thomas sires another set of twin girls (Heather and Katherine).

By 1926, Thomas encourages his four young adult daughters to leave their home to attend the nearby new Corunda nursing school though each has different BHAGs in mind.  Edda wants to become a doctor though she understands the bias against female physicians.  Her twin Grace’s objective is more acceptable by Australian standards as she wants to be a wife and mother.  Tufts, as Heather’s siblings call her, wants freedom mostly from the demands of her parents.  Finally Kitty wants acceptance for her brain instead of her beauty.  Now as each begins their own unique adventure in independence, the quartet knows there are two sure things in life: death and through thick and thin they can always rely on her sisters to be there when it really matters.

Bittersweet is a great family epic that provides readers with a profound absorbing glimpse at Australia especially during the twentieth century decades between the World Wars.  Each of the lead sisters is fully developed but also possesses differing personalities and diverse desires as to what they want out of life.  As their respective lives bounce back and forth between sorrow, happiness and feelings in-between, the four siblings remain steadfast in their belief that they always have each other when the going turns ugly or simply Bittersweet regardless of distance and other relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Home To Chicory Lane-Deborah Raney

Home To Chicory Lane
Deborah Raney
Abington, Aug 19 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9781426769696

In Langhorne, Missouri, since their five children have left the nest empty, compulsive Audrey Whitman persuades her retired husband Grant to convert their home into a B&B though their adult offspring have doubts just like their dad has.  The children dislike the idea of strangers in their home and their father worries over their lack of experience and the long hours to run the place. 

On the day they open up Chicory Inn for business, their spoiled youngest daughter Landyn Spencer arrives with a U-Haul trailer attached to her car.  Landyn explains she left her husband of a few months Chase the artist for making unilateral decisions without consulting her.  She further explains to her parents she will stay at the family home and help by marketing the inn.  Meanwhile in New York, unsure what to do Chase remains mentally paralyzed that his wife left him without a word.

The grand opening of the Chicory Inn series is an enjoyable family drama with the Landyn and Chase relationship as the prime plot.  Though I doubt Grant would acquiesce to renovating their home to run an inn and would prefer more insight into the operational side of preparing, managing and operating the business, this is a warm second chance (if New York and Missouri communicate) Christian tale.

Harriet Klausner

Season Of The Dragonflies-Sarah Creech

Season Of The Dragonflies
Sarah Creech
Morrow, Aug 12 2014, $25.99
ISBN: 9780062307521

Serena Lenore found a rare flower overseas that she brought back to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  For decades since Lenore women have created an extremely expensive rare perfume from that flower to sell to selective clients though many want to be their customer.  This magical perfume they produce enables the chosen ones to succeed in whatever vocation they desire.  However, Lenore, Inc. may be in trouble as the key ingredient, that special flower, is nearing extinction and a troublesome individual begins an extortion scheme.

Additionally, current president Willow recently has shown her age as she suffers from amnesiac gaps.  Her daughter Mya, whose ambition has been to run the family company, begins to think the time for her to take charge is now; but hesitates as she does not want to hurt her mom.  Her opportunity becomes threatened when her only rival her sister Lucia, who never displayed the special Lenore talent, returns to the Blue Ridge Mountains after being away for years.  If the siblings compete, the firm dies; if they merge their skills the firm survives (for now) and may even thrive.

Season of The Dragonflies is a pleasant female family fantasy.  The women are three dimensional even with their special skills; as their troubled relationships and the impact on the firm is the prime storyline ingredient.  Though the perfume, its special potent flower and the chosen beneficiaries (with one notorious exception) are under-featured (suggest an anthology starring customers), this is an appealing drama.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Splintered Kingdom-James Aitcheson

The Splintered Kingdom
James Aitcheson
Sourcebooks Landmark, Aug 5 2014, $24.99
ISBN: 9781402286193

Tancred the Dinan Breton knight loyally fought for William of Normandy when he defeated Harold Godwineson at Hastings.  In spite of the victory, rebellion continued and in 1069 Tancred barely survived an ambush that left his Lord Robert de Commines dead.  Not long afterward his heroics earned him a title and land on the tumultuous Welsh border, and knights reporting to him (see Sworn Sword).

One year later, the land remains dangerous as English, Welsh and Viking foes of William forge an uneasy alliance to rid the land of the Normans.  Like his monarch, Tancred faces problems defending his recent gains especially from the marauding border Welsh.  Unlike the Conqueror, Tancred also has Norman “allies” who consider him an ambitious upstart needing to be destroyed before they fear he amasses more power including usurping theirs.  Thus he is sent to lead a suicide mission across the in Wales ostensive to put down Welsh raids and Saxon rebellion while conflicts explode in other parts of the kingdom.

The second terrific Tancred Conqueror era historical is a great thriller that brings to life the eleventh century bitter hostilities that remain heated several years after Hastings; war continues seemingly everywhere and the Normans were not undefeated in these battles.  Unlike most portrayals of the Conqueror’s knights being chivalrous and caring, the protagonist and his equally ambitious competitor for the same promotions Berengar seem genuine as their respective BHAGs realistically lead them to disregard second order effects especially innocent collateral damage. 

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Secrets Of The Lighthouse-Santa Montefiore

Secrets Of The Lighthouse
Santa Montefiore
Simon & Schuster, Aug 5 2014, $25.99
ISBN 9781476735375

Londoner Ellen Trawton feels choked by her lifestyle especially her pending marriage that she doubts she wants to happen.  With an obsessive need to flee her troubles and in search of a muse, the wannabe writer travels to her mom’s hometown Connemara, Ireland to stay with her Aunt Peg, whom she never met before this visit.  Ellen also meets the rest of her maternal family for the first time too.  She enjoys the quaint Irish town and begins to learn secrets about her mom including why she fled the picturesque coast and the rest of her Irish kin. 

Her strongest attachment is to the lighthouse that seems to call to her in spite of a death several years ago.  That is until Ellen meets reticent widower Conor Macausland; who mostly stays away from the town or hides in his castle to avoid the villagers as they believe he murdered his wife Caitlin.  As Ellen falls in love, she and Conor begin to see each other; but a jealous Caitlin cannot let go of her spouse.

Secrets of the Lighthouse is a fascinating paranormal family drama with an intriguing relationship triangle.  The cast is solid and the vivid location enhances the entertaining plot.  In many ways Caitlin steals the storyline from her mate and her rival as she tells the audience her tale of woe.  Although the climax seems too obvious, readers will remain spellbound throughout.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cancel The Wedding-Carolyn T. Dingman

Cancel The Wedding
Carolyn T. Dingman
Harper PS, Aug 5 2014, $15.99
ISBN: 9780062276728

Three years ago around the time her father died, Leo asked Olivia to marry him.  Last year around the time her mother died from cancer, they bought a house and moved in together, but delayed the wedding.  Now at dinner, Leo announces to Livie, her older sister Georgia, her brother-in-law and niece that he booked their wedding site and date.

Needing to escape and think whether she wants to marry Leo, Livie decides to fulfill her late mom’s wishes.  Her sibling refuses to go with her; so accompanied by her fourteen year old niece Logan, Livie drives to northern Georgia to scatter part of her mom’s ashes in the man-made Lake Huntley and the rest for burial in Huntley Memorial Gardens.  When Georgia calls to tell Livie she left her engagement ring behind; she stuns Gigi by telling her to hold onto it rather than ship it to her.  Reaching their destination, aunt and niece find the town of Huntley under the TVA created lake so Olivia turns to nearby Tillman seeking to learn and understand her mom’s secret life in the south but finds the official records under water too.  She obtains help from local newspaper owner Elliot and other residents while also wondering if she wants to marry Leo.

Cancel The Wedding is a fascinating Roots saga as the TVA buried the written records under the man-made lakes impeding the research done by Olivia.  Although Leo is an unnecessary throwaway excuse for the quest; the shocking revelations discovered by the heroine, her niece, and Elliot from several locals who either lived or had family residing in Huntley enhance an intriguing family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Kiss The Ring: An Urban Tale-Meesha Mink

Kiss The Ring: An Urban Tale
Meesha Mink.
S&S/Touchstone, Aug 5 2014, $14.99
ISBN 9781476755304

An out of control hellion as a teen on the streets of Newark; as an adult Naeema Cole has become a law abiding model citizen working at a neighborhood barbershop.  However, Naeema learns that four gangbangers hunted down like a rabies dog and murdered her fourteen year old son Brandon Mack who had been part of a bank robbing gang.  Filled with guilt as she gave him up for adoption knowing that as a wild unsweetened sixteen with no prospects she could not raise a child nor wanted too; she simply vows vengeance.

Naeema needs to get inside the gang, but cannot do so as her responsible adult self.  She needs to return to who she was just after her parents died when she was a wild tweener and teen, but a mature adult version.  Thus she becomes siren “Queen” stalking her child’s killers and, though attracted to the brutal chieftain, wants his head too.

The key to Meesha Mink’s powerful gritty urban thriller (see the author’s Real Wifeys series) is the protagonist who will remind readers of a modern day Scarlet Pimpernel as the heroine smartly struggles with good motives to keep the lifestyles of Naeema and Queen apart.  The gripping storyline is filled with depth due to each of the gangbangers boasting to the sexy seductress on what went down.  Kiss The Ring is a strong street lit avenging mama drama.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Last Conception-Gabriel Constans

The Last Conception
Gabriel Constans
Melange Books, Jun 21 2014, $12.95
ISBN: 9781612358765

Davidia and Mira Sikand pressure their single daughter Savarna to have a child because the spiritual progeny from their late founding cult leader must not die out and she is the last survivor able to conceive.  Savarna has no male prospects to sire a baby with her since unknown by her parents she is gay and thus has romantic relationships with females only. 

As the embryologist looks into the instinct for the strong need to belong to a family including procreating and what a family connotes, Savarna realizes she wants a monogamous relationship with Charley who reciprocates her love; they agree on raising a child that Savarna will birth.  Thus she tells her family she is gay and plans a life with a woman.  Her India-American parents accept Charley, but remain adamant that they need a biological grandchild.  Desperate, her grandmother arrives from India to persuade Savarna that she must give birth or thousands of years of heritage will expire with her.  When artificial insemination fails, the female couple decides to adopt, which alienates Savarna with her family who demand she keep trying.

This is a fascinating look at what a family is and why people need to belong and feel accepted by caring social groups (Maslow’s Hierarchy’s third tier).  Though why the intelligent Savarna knows so little about her family’s cult lineage until the demands begin is unsatisfactory explained, she drives the intriguing storyline as she tries to please her extended family (including the cult members), her mate and ultimately herself. 

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Put Your Diamonds Up-Ni-Ni Simone and Amir Abrams

Put Your Diamonds Up
Ni-Ni Simone and Amir Abrams
Kensington KTEEN, Jul 29 2014, $9.95
ISBN: 9780758288523

At Hollywood High, the four Pampered Princesses continue to compete for the ultimate throne of top diva.  London Phillips’s mom pushes her to become a model, but that means losing her shape and perhaps her billionaire BF.  Raging Spencer Ellington plots revenge against those she feel betrayed her while scheming to be numero uno; even as her mom gives her rival druggie Heather Cummings a new show.  Rich Montgomery fears she has lost the boy she loves due to her running around, but rationalizes there is always another male out there though she may lose a lot more this time.

The 3rd Hollywood High tale (see Get Ready For War) is an engaging entry as two generations of drama queens battle each other (and others) for the role of monarch.  Although the storyline is thin, the characters more than make up for it with their respective operational schemes that make Machiavelli seem more like a kindergarten kid than the Prince of strategy.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Oleander Sisters-Elaine Hussey

The Oleander Sisters
Elaine Hussey
Mira, Jul 29 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9780778316435

In 1969 Biloxi, ashamed by having a child out of wedlock, Emily plans to marry Larry so that her illegitimate son Andy has a dad; the biological father Mark died in Viet Nam.  Emily’s “Sis” senses something not right with her sister’s fiancé and distrusts him as a husband and father, but cannot prove her intuitiveness that her sibling is making a big mistake.  As she works hard helping her grandma at the family owned and run Sweet Mama’s Café, Sis resolutely plans to be there for Emily.

Their brother Jim returns from having served in Nam, but is not the same person he was before his military stint.  Instead he is emotionally damaged suffering from severe battle fatigue.  As always when it comes to her family Sis resolutely helps Jim as he struggles to readjust to being a civilian.  As Hurricane Camille devastates the Gulf, Sis learns family secrets; which leads her to ponder what she wants with her life beyond caring and protecting her beloved kin.

The Oleander Sisters is a reflective historical family drama that focuses on roles in relationships during an era of social upheaval symbolized by Camille storming a person’s self-worth comfort zone.  Character driven especially by the title protagonists, readers will cheer for Sis to become more than just everyone’s protector with a dash in her title and Emily to face difficulty with courage.  Although the storyline goes as expected (except perhaps Andy’s youthful endeavor culminating with a moon pie named for him), this is a magnificent Mississippi tale.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wayfaring Stranger-James Lee Burke

Wayfaring Stranger
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, Jul 15 2014, $27.95
ISBN: 9781476710792

In 1934 at his Grandfather Hackberry Holland’s East Texas ranch teenager Weldon Avery Holland meets Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow and two other people just after the bank robbers flee from their latest armed theft.  Their encounter ends with Holland attracted to Bonnie and his shooting at the four thieves driving away in their stolen vehicle.

A decade later at the Battle of the Bulge US Army Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland and Sergeant Hershel Pine are trapped behind enemy lines.  They survive and find Spanish resistance soldier Rosita Lowenstein hiding in an abandoned extermination plant.  When the war ends, Weldon and Lowenstein marry.  They and Hershel return home to Texas where they open up Dixie Belle Pipeline Company based on Nazi technology and the latter weds Linda Gail.  However, not all is smooth as unscrupulous investors using any means including amoral and illegal endeavors at their disposal want to control the successful firm and anti-Semites mount a malicious campaign to destroy Rosita.

Wayfaring Stranger is a superb mid-twentieth century historical that looks deeply at the ugly rapacious side of capitalism during an era of innocence in spite of the Depression and WWII; and realism that money flows up and sh*t trickles down.  Character driven by a strong cast, readers will root for ethical Weldon as he and his loved ones confront morally-challenged marauders who hide behind laws that they established to enhance their money begets money avarice; summed up by Jesse Ventura when he was a wrestler: “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!”

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sisters Of Treason-Elizabeth Fremantle

Sisters Of Treason
Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon & Schuster, Jul 8 2014, $25.99
ISBN: 9781476703091

In 1553, teenage Jane Grey became Queen of England with the death of King Edward VI, who selected her as his successor instead of his Catholic sister Mary. Nine days later, Mary overthrows Queen Jane and locks her in the Tower.  In 1554 Queen Mary beheads Jane.

Jane’s worried mother Frances rusticates since her two living daughters (Katherine and Mary) have legitimate claims to the English throne; but neither daughter pursues it out of fear of being publicly executed by bloody Queen Mary.  Instead each is cautious at court though flirty Katherine less so.  Meanwhile royal painter Levina Teerlinc tries to guide the sisters from stepping into an unintended brouhaha.  When Elizabeth replaces her late sister on the throne, the Grey siblings feel safer to follow love, but fail to comprehend their monarch’s wrath for not obtaining her approval.

The latest Elizabeth Fremantle’s Tudor biographical fiction (see Queen’s Gambit) brings an intriguing freshness through the cautious eyes of the late Lady Jane Grey’s two younger sisters and the artist trying to help them keep their heads.  Rotating perspective between the sisters and the painter, subgenre readers will gain much pleasure from this strong look at an era of cutthroat female power.  A bibliography is included, of which I suggest The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle (in fairness the only one I read) for those seeking nonfiction insight.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In The Field Of Grace-Tessa Afshar

In The Field Of Grace
Tessa Afshar
River North, Jul 1 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9780802410979

Her family scorns Ruth as the Great Disappointment because they needed a son not another female, much taller than her father; her four older sisters and her parents would not miss her and prefer she leave.  In the marketplace of Kir-hareseth, Ruth the Moabite meets widow Naomi of Bethlehem who complements her beauty including her height and her kindness.  Naomi’s two sons (Mahlon and Chilion) bring home from the field Orpah where they meet reticent Ruth.  Not long afterward, Ruth and Mahlon, and Orpah and Chilion wed.  Due to a famine, they decide to head back to Judah, but the two men die.  Naomi tells her widow daughters-in-law they should go home; Orpah does but Ruth vows to stay with the older woman to keep her safe.

In Judah Ruth works the field of widower Boaz who still misses his late wife Judith though she died five years ago.  Boaz protects the chosen daughter of his cousin from those who consider her an inferior Moabite, but increasingly his attraction to hardworking Ruth grows. 

This is a pleasurable rendition of the biblical tale of Ruth that provides a remarkable backstory of her life in Moab as a doormat unable to accept complements.  However; that fascinating premise proves a double edged sword as it adds perceptiveness, but also subtracts from her unselfish decision as the crap she receives is no worse than what she took as a child from her family.  Still biblical fiction fans will delight in Tessa Afshar’s wonderful portrayal of Ruth toiling with grace and faith in a field where most detest her being a foreigner.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Breakwater Bay-Shelley Noble

Breakwater Bay
Shelley Noble
Morrow, Jul 1 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9780062319142

Restoration Specialist Merielle Calder Hollis loves her work on the historical Newport mansions and adores her boyfriend Peter.  She expects her beloved Peter to propose on her thirtieth birthday bash at her grandmother’s home.  Instead of euphoria at her big 3-0 party, Meri takes two shots to the gut when Peter announces out of the blue that he accepted a summer internship at his uncle’s law firm on the West Coast and that she was adopted.

Peter’s abrupt betrayal hurts as he never been to law school and failed to mention to her what he planned until it was accompli.  However, that is minor compared to the adoption shocker.  Though she knows the Calder Hollis brood has always showered her with love, Meri feels a deep need to learn more about her biological family.  Meri starts with friend Alden Corrigan who has always been there for her.  He rescued her pregnant mother at sea before the young woman vanished once on the shore but not before she left behind precious.  

Breakwater Bay is a timely strong drama that looks closely at what a family is.  Although the Peter subplot feels out of place and unnecessary as Meri’s quest makes for a powerful story without his shtick; while the protagonist learns “blood is thicker than water; so's toothpaste” (Soupy Sales).

Harriet Klausner

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Saint- Tiffany Reisz

The Saint
Tiffany Reisz
Mira, Jun 24 2014, $14.95
ISBN 9780778316145

When Manhattan's renowned dominatrix Nora Sutherlin was teenager Eleanor Schreiber, her life was radically different.  Her single mom worked two jobs to feed and shelter them, but also was deeply religious and demanded her daughter obey the Lord.  On the other side of the spectrum, her felonious dad ran a car theft ring and chop shop.  Elle preferred her father’s flamboyant lifestyle over her mom’s pious poverty.

When the cops catch Elle breaking the law while helping her dad pay back a large sum of money he owes, the judge chooses probation leniency rather than juvenile detention.  Thus she must perform community service under the direction of Father Marcus “Søren” Stearns.  The motorcycle-riding Jesuit priest promises young Elle much more than just working off her sentencing.

The first Original Sinners: White Years tells the enjoyable back story of how Elle became Nora under the mentoring of Father Søren.  Well-written, series fans will enjoy the teen years though no revelations are added to what we know about The Big Apple’s top dominatrix and her well-endowed priest-teacher from Original Sinners: The Red Years dark BDSM erotica (see The Mistress, The Angel, The Prince and The Siren)

Harriet Klausner

No River Too Wide-Emilie Richards

No River Too Wide
Emilie Richards
Mira, Jun 24 2014, $14.95
ISBN 9780778316343

In Topeka, Kansas, Janine Stoddard flees from her long-time abusive husband Rex while their house burns.  Although it breaks her heart, Janine knows she must not visit her daughter Harmony or her grandchild Lottie for fear of Rex pursuing her and harming them.  Still the need to see her child once more and her nine-month old granddaughter for the first time grips Janine who ignores her brain telling her not to go to Asheville, North Carolina.

Advocacy group member Taylor Martin helps Janine settle safely while also praying that the three generations of females connect as she understands their estrangement caused by a battering man.  Also new in town is Alex, who has opened up a fitness salon.  He provides self-defense training for women, which is where he meets Taylor and Janine.  However, Alex accepts that once his secret becomes known, his growing relationship with Taylor will abruptly die; while Rex and the law threaten Janine’s renaissance.

This Goddesses Anonymous broken family drama (see One Mountain Away) is an engaging contemporary due to a strong cast (especially the three lead females) who enables the audience to look deeply at the extended impact of domestic abuse.  Character driven, fans will appreciate this warm second chance at family.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Tea Shop On Lavender Lane-Sheila Roberts

The Tea Shop On Lavender Lane
Sheila Roberts
Mira, Jun 24 2014, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778316183

In West Hollywood, Bailey Sterling caters actress Samba Barrett’s party.  Everything goes perfect until Samba falls to the floor and her actor boyfriend Rory Rourke says to call 911.  Samba insists they call the Star Reporter as she claims she ate something bad.  Her dream of being caterer to the stars is nuked by this phony food poisoning claim in which the Star Reporter claims Bailey tried to kill her rival for Rory’s love. 

In shellshock, Bailey heeds the advice of her older sister Cecily’s insistence she leave Los Angeles to return home to Icicle Falls, Washington where the townsfolk started a legal fund collection.  Cecily likes marrying-kind single father Luke Goodman and sleeping with-kind tavern owner Todd Black.  However, when Todd and Bailey meet, they are attracted to each other.  Sibling rivalry seems ready to boil over before Bailey and Todd announce plans for The Tea Shop On Lavender Lane.

The latest Life in Icicle Falls contemporary (see The Cottage On Juniper Ridge, Better Than Chocolate, What She Wants and Merry Ex-Mas) is an engaging lighthearted Sterling family drama.  Series fans will enjoy the antics of the fully-developed cast as love proves complicated in the Pacific Northwest.

Harriet Klausner