Friday, May 30, 2014

Empire Girls-Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan

Empire Girls Suzanne Hayes & Loretta Nyhan Mira, May 27 2014, $14.95 ISBN 9780778316299 In 1918 in Forest Grove, New York their mom died, leaving the older sister Rose in charge of the home while Ivy remained childishly unchanged. Over the next seven years, Rose’s resentment towards her sister grows immensely while Ivy detests her sibling’s prim behavior. When their dad dies, the twenty-something sisters are stunned to learn they are penniless. However the biggest shock is that even their home Adams House went to an older half-brother Asher that neither of the sisters knew existed before the solicitor mentioned him; apparently their dad searched unsuccessfully for his first born. With a photo of Asher in front of a New York City boarding house, the sisters head to Manhattan hoping to find their brother. They easily locate the building in Greenwich Village and obtain a room in the attic so they can ask the occupants questions about Asher. Everyone they talk to insists they never met Asher though the siblings believe they are being lied to. As the sisters in different ways struggle to acclimate to the city, they begin to unravel the truth. Empire Girls is an engaging Roaring Twenties family drama based on the premise of “How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway Jazzin around and paintin' the town” (from "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm" (Joe Young, Sam M. Lewis and Walter Donaldson). The storyline captures the essence of the era through the rotating changing eyes of the country bumpkin sisters. The cast purposely is stereotyped to enhance the post WWI celebratory euphoria; leaving fans to enjoy visiting speakeasies to drink illegal booze and dance alongside flappers, while learning the truth about Asher. Harriet Klausner

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Closed Doors-Lisa O'Donnell

Closed Doors Lisa O'Donnell Harper, May 20 2014, $26.99 ISBN: 9780062271891 On Rothesay west of the Scottish mainland, eleven year old Michael Murray lives in a new house that his Ma thanks Prime Minister Thatcher for building while his Da loathes the PM for caring only for the rich as he insists her excursion in the Falkland Islands proves. One day his Ma comes home with a severely bruised face. She tells her concerned son she fell while fleeing from a flasher. The tweener initially accepts this explanation, but as time passes something seems wrong because his Ma seems too depressed for just a bad tumble running from a naked pervert and his Da displays temper he never had before; their fights frighten the child. Knowing the only way a child can learn the truth from concealing adults is by clandestinely listening while they argue behind closed doors. He hears his irate Da insisting they tell the police what really happened because the townsfolk believe he physically abused his wife; while Michael’s Ma refuses as she does not want to become labeled a foolish victim who got what she deserved. Bewildered Michael struggles to know what changed the demeanor of his parents. Closed Doors is a tense Thatcher Era Scottish family drama in which a dark pivotal moment radically changes the relationship dynamics. Whereas the adults go out of their way to hide the incident from their son because they believe he is too young to deal with the harrowing truth; the lad goes out of his way to uncover what really happened to his Ma. Readers will empathize with Michael as his fear-driven imagination of the unknown running out of control wild; and his family poorly coping with victimization following a heinous assault. Harriet Klausner

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Black Lake-Johanna Lane

Black Lake Johanna Lane Little, Brown, May 20 2014, $25.00 ISBN 9780316228831 As his family has lived in isolated overlooking the Atlantic Dulough Castle, Ireland since it was constructed in 1857, John Campbell is heartbroken and feels like he betrayed his ancestors though he sought employment in nearby Donegal. He also thought of a flat in Dublin, but decided against dividing his family. Thus, unable to pay the exorbitant bills, John converts Dulough into a museum for tourists to visit. Depressed John, his grieving wife Marianne and their two mortified children (twelve years old Kate and eight years old Philip) move into a nearby cottage. The despondent foursome watches the renovations to what was home to the Campbell clan past and present; each change batters the current members’ psyches as none of them adapt to being banished from their home. The move was traumatic enough, but a more harrowing tragedy leaves the family on the brink of complete disintegration. Rotating perspective mostly between the Campbell’s (including past residents), this insightful leisurely-paced storyline looks deeply at voluntary displacement due to economics on a small scale. Readers will appreciate this profound, gloomy yet with a flicker of hope family drama; as the Campbell family feel lost in the wilderness. The audience extrapolates the Campbell sense of exile and loss to mass displacements by refugees forced to leave homes in combat zones and ethnic cleansing especially in the Middle East and Africa. Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monday Monday-Elizabeth Crook

Monday Monday Elizabeth Crook Sarah Crichton Books/FSG, Apr 29 2014, $26.00 ISBN: 9780374228828 On a hot day in August 1966 as the Mamas and the Papas sing Monday, Monday, Marine veteran Charles Whitman carries weapons to the top of the bell tower at the University of Texas at Austin. Using his high ground position as a sniper, he begins shooting at those on the plaza below; killing sixteen people and wounding over thirty more before the police shoot Whitman dead. Student Shelly Maddox watches a person she knows die near her while she is shot in the breast and arm. In class, Wyatt Calvert hears the shots and looks out the window to see the blood and gore. He calls his wife to tell her to stay where she is before rushing out, and joined by his cousin Jack, to rescue those injured including Shelly, but Wyatt takes bullets in his legs. That fatal day forges a bond between the cousins and Shelly; as each struggle with emotional traumas, and Wyatt and Shelly with physical scars. Over the next four decades, the trio finds their lives changing, but each knows that Monday Monday in 1966 remains the lethal pivotal moment that shaped who they became. This is a powerful epic that makes a strong case that survivors of a mass shooting never fully connect with others except for those who were there and never move; as even those like the cousins who displayed courage under fire remain haunted. Over forty years before the Virginia Tech tragedy, Elizabeth Crook captures the harrowing impact of the Texas Tower mass murders that becomes imprinted in the souls of those who lived through it and the loved ones of those who did not. Harriet Klausner

The BlondeAnna Godbersen -

The Blonde Anna Godbersen Perseus/Weinstein, May 13 2014, $26.00 ISBN 9781602862227 In the outer rim of Los Angeles County, due to a lack of funds, Norma Jean’s mother and “aunt” took in boarders. One of them Perry warns pretty but shy Norma Jean not to trust men and that one day soon he promises to teach her to defend herself from brutes. Not long afterward, Perry not only shows her how to use a gun; behind the scene he turns Norma Jean into the star actress, Marilyn Monroe. A dozen years after he launched her career, Perry comes to collect. He asks her to gather information on Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy, a rising political star. To sweeten the pot, Perry says he will arrange for Monroe to meet her father. Monroe leaves New York for Chicago, where she meets Kennedy at a restaurant. They begin an affair as he runs for and wins the White House. However, his ascendency changes Monroe’s mission into destroying the JFK presidency with the tryst and much more ending in Dallas. Although the premise of MM Soviet sleeper agent seems over the top of the Hollywood sign as the execution fails to come across as plausible, readers will enjoy The Blonde due to Anna Godbersen capturing the Hollywood-DC complex and the portrayal of lonely Marilyn Monroe. The support cast is solid (in both locales) while The Blonde, pretending to be a naive moron to hide her true intelligence, keeps the entertaining storyline focused even as Camelot takes a super hit. Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 19, 2014

Return To The Beach House- Georgia Bockoven

Return To The Beach House Georgia Bockoven Morrow, May 13 2014, $14.99 ISBN: 9780062195241 California beach house owner Julia hires her college bound teenage neighbor Grace to keep her property in tip top shape and take care of the renters. In June, Widow Alison and her college bound grandson Christopher arrive. Over the month, Christopher teaches Grace to ride horses and she mentors him on surfing while his grandma meets Kyle who makes her forget her decade long feeling of loneliness. In August, Danielle, Bridget, Carrie and Angie come to the beach house to spend time together. Danielle, Carrie and Angie are upset with Bridget for concealing she underwent chemo because each wanted to be there for her, but all vow to spend the month together renewing their friendships while revelations threaten to break their bond. Due to work commitments, war photographer Lindsey and wildlife photographer Matthew struggle to see each other though both desire this very deeply. They agree to spend January together at a beach house near Monterey with each believing this is a farewell finish to their affair and friendship. The Return To The Beach House is a fun sequel (see Beach House) as each of the entertaining three relationship dramas star fully developed cast members in engaging storylines that for the most part (with some revelatory exceptions) follow the anticipated path. Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 16, 2014

How’s The Pain?-Pascal Garnier and Emily Boyce (translator)

How’s The Pain? Pascal Garnier and Emily Boyce (translator) Gallic, May 13, 2014, $12.95 ISBN: 9781908313034 Elderly Simon Marechall has spent a lifetime as an exterminator, but knows killing vermin is a young person’s game. With bodily aches and much more persuading him it is time to retire; Simon has one last commission in Cap d'Agde to complete before he hangs up his guns permanently. When Simon becomes ill on the way to his final job, he stops in Val les Bains. He meets twentyish Bernard Ferrand as both sit on a bench. Bernard explains he is in town visiting his mom while on medical leave recovering from an accident that cost him two fingers at work. Simon hires Bernard to drive him to Cap d'Agde so he can complete his last mission though the exterminator also accepts he will die hopefully not before he closes out his last vermin contract kill. Readers will relish the late Pascal Garnier’s graveyard humorous dark French noir. The traveling companions are an odd coupling of a dying mentor instructing his young chauffeur that exterminator and vermin have multiple connotations. Fans will enjoy their road show as nothing goes in accordance with Simon’s farewell tour plan. Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 12, 2014

One Hundred Names-Cecilia Ahern

One Hundred Names Cecilia Ahern Morrow, May 6 2014, $15.99 ISBN: 9780062248633 Journalist Kitty Logan struggles with emotional trauma partly caused by her errors when she falsely accused Colin Maguire of sexual harassment. However, the brunt of her despair comes from the death of her beloved mentor and boss at Etcetera magazine Constance; though some also derives from her recent breakup with her boyfriend at a time she needed reassuring hugs not finger pointing condemnation. Etcetera magazine staff decides to pay homage to a beloved Constance with a special memorial edition. Kitty suggests they use Constance's special list of One Hundred Names to enable readers to see what they all saw in their heroine. Thus Kitty begins her quest to interview the list to learn who they are besides a database name and what Constance saw as their connection. She finds ordinary people, but cannot fathom why Constance kept this roster. This is an entertaining tale with a fascinating premise that ironically the audience figures out long before the protagonist. The individual stories are interesting vignettes, but Kitty, who keeps the storyline focused, comes across very shallow and unworthy of Constance’s belief in her. Still One Hundred Names is an intriguing drama as Kitty slowly begins to understand what made Constance considered great by so many people (including a depressed reporter) mourning their loss of a close friend. Harriet Klausner >

Saturday, May 10, 2014

All My Belongings-Cynthia Ruchti

All My Belongings Cynthia Ruchti Abingdon, May 6 2014, $14.99 ISBN 9781426749728 In Willow Lake, ashamed of the notoriety caused by what her reprehensible father did to her ALS-suffering mother that led to her testifying against him in court; twenty-seven year old Jayne Dennagee begs the nursing program director Patricia Connor to let her continue her studies. The nontraditional student explains that she understands money is tight in spite of her also working two jobs but her grades have been good. Instead Connor suggests that she start over somewhere far from her family. Her friend and mentor Geneva Larkin offers Jayne a job to help her beloved dying from Alzheimer’s sister Aurelia live to the fullest as long as possible in Oceanside. Accepting the position and using the name Becca Morrow, Jayne travels across much of the country. Becca likes her patient and is attracted to Aurelia’s businessman son Isaac Hughes, but expects nothing to come of her feelings for him. Her effort to reinvent herself falls apart beginning with her father pleading that he needs her and followed by Aurelia’s questionable death in which Becca is the prime suspect. She has no time to grieve her latest losses, which she assumes includes her BFF Geneva and the love of her life Isaac. All My Belongings is a strong inspirational drama that stars a person who feels like a modern day female Job being tested by God yet also finds the strength to embrace the Lord. Her role as caretaker brings out the emotional and physical rewards and stresses of work that can be simultaneously uplifting and down-spiraling. The romance feels in some ways unnecessary but also adds a third positive relationship (along with God and Geneva); as readers will relish this entertaining profound drama. Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Pearl That Broke Its Shel-lNadia Hashimi

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell Nadia Hashimi Morrow, May 6 2014, $25.99 ISBN: 9780062244758 In Kabul, three Afghan sisters (Shahla, Parwin and Rahima) are walking home from school when a boy on a bike stalks them. They lack male protection with the only man in their lives, their father, often away fighting the Taliban at the side of his Warlord Abdul Khaliq while also addicted to opium. Thus, they can no longer go off by themselves; school is over for them. Their spinster Aunt Khala Shaima tells her nieces the story of their ancestor Shekiba who worked the field alongside her father. Due to a cooking accident, her face was scarred so when her father died, she was placed with her family where they treated her with disdain and taunts until they sold her as a slave. Shekiba wore male garb when she was young because the acceptable bacha posh tradition allowed a young girl to cross-dress until she begins to turn into a woman when a family had no boys. Rahima follows Shekiba’s practice until her father offers her and her siblings in marriage to his Warlord and his cousins. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell is a profound look at acceptable Afghan customs through two blood relatives a century apart. The American influence proves limited in spite of constitutional changes to provide for women’s rights as it “Looks like nothing's gonna change; everything still remains the same” (Otis Redding’s "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay). With a strong support cast and terrific protagonists, fans will appreciate Nadia Hashimi’s deep comparative tale of female life in Afghanistan, at the turns of the last two centuries Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mom’s Night Out-Tricia Goyer

Mom’s Night Out Tricia Goyer B&H Books, Apr 22 2014, $15.99 ISBN: 9781433684821 Allyson tells her husband Sean that she is living her dream of being a stay at home mother to their small children, but though she cannot explain why she feels unhappy. He wisely says she never takes a timeout to pamper herself and suggests Allyson and her BFFs enjoy a Moms’ Night Out. Mother of twins, Izzy learns she’s pregnant; but instead of euphoria she is depressed. Izzy knows her husband Marco can’t cope with their two children so will take the news poorly of another rug rat. Izzy looks forward to a Moms’ Night Out. Pastor Ray’s wife Sondra hides her true feelings from her husband and his flock, and she thinks even herself. She believes her teenage daughter is the only who sees through her masquerade. Sondra looks forward to a Moms’ Night Out. The three amigas hit the town, but in spite of planning that the Pentagon would envy, nothing goes as expected starting with the wrong reservation date and Bridget’s baby Phoenix vanishing while inside a tattoo parlor. For the three stay at home amigos watching the kids during the Moms’ Night Out, nothing goes the way they thought it would. This novelization of the movie is an amusing yet at times profound look at family dynamics summed up by Allyson and Sean kissing passionately when one of the kids interrupt their interlude. Fans will enjoy this engaging lighthearted frolic; as Robert Burns wrote in To The Mouse: “the best laid plans of mice (moms) and men often go astray"; while in the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” (life). Harriet Klausner

Red Mansions-Cynthia Drew

Red Mansions Cynthia Drew Daniel & Daniel Publishers, May 5 2014, $15.95 ISBN: 9781564745576 At the turn of the century, following the Cossack burning of their Jewish village Lucava and murder of their parents for their dad’s seditious activities; teen Carsie Akselrod and her tweener sister Lila escape with help from disgraced Cossack Mikheladze and tavern owner Max Siegel. The siblings make it to New York living in the overcrowded Lower East Side and working at the Triangle Waist Company. Max joins them and marries Carsie (see City of Slaughter) who fulfills her dream by opening up a millinery shop and raising two daughters Sarit and Sophia. During WWI, Max joins the military and dies overseas. His grieving widow eventually marries wealthy Chat Nussbaum who becomes a loving stepfather to Carsie’s daughters while living in affluent Red Mansions. When the Great Depression devastates America leading to the closing of her shop, Jews like Carsie and her family are hit additionally hard because of their religion. Though it behooves the audience to first read City of Slaughter to learn more about Carsie’s Russian roots, Red Mansions can stand alone as an excellent historical fiction that focuses on a Jewish immigrant’s life in New York during WWI, the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Once again character driven by courageous Carsie as she watches loved ones suffer or learn they died along with her dreams, but still she holds her head up high as she tries be there for those she cares about. Harriet Klausner

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Pink Suit-Nicole Mary Kelby

The Pink Suit Nicole Mary Kelby Little, Brown, Apr 29 2014, $26.00 ISBN: 9780316235655 Kate came from the Great Island in Cobh, Ireland to work as a seamstress in Manhattan’s Chez Ninon Boutique, owned by upper crust Sophie Sonnard and Nona Park. The thirtyish Kate never comes out of the back room while sewing; as others do the fittings. Musing over how she only knows the Blue Book elite who buy her outfits if they are newsworthy photo famous enabling her to recognize her work. On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, who rarely accompanied her husband on these trips, are in Dallas when he is assassinated. Watching on TV, Katie recognizes The Pink Suit and other wardrobe items that she created for the widowed First Lady worn at that fatal event. Struggling to accept the tragedy due to the now iconic infamous Pink Suit haunting her; Katie’s boyfriend Patrick Harris the butcher wants to marry her. Instead Katie turns to what she knows about Jackie from the media to guide her through her grief. This is an intriguing historical that uses the JFK assassination to tell the tale of a working class immigrant creating the wardrobe of the rich and famous. The well-written storyline comes across as a biographical and historiographical fiction with entertaining tidbits like the extraordinary care that goes into what the First Lady wore in public and the enormous classes’ divide that seems more prominent today. Although major events of the tumultuous 1960s (except for the assassination) are ignored and the protagonist’s relationships (except to the Pink Suit and Jackie) are underdeveloped, readers will appreciate this entertaining slice of the rise and fall of Camelot through the eyes of a troubled seamstress. Harriet Klausner

Friday, May 2, 2014

Cottonmouth And The River-C.S. Fritz

Cottonmouth And The River C.S. Fritz David C. Cook, May 1 2014, $7.99 ISBN: 9780781410335 Ten years old Freddie Cottonmouth is lonely as his only friend for the last two years is the churning river where his parents left him. One day Freddie is astonished that the river is not moving and this stillness enables him to see the stones on the bottom for the first time. He notices a black egg floating towards him until it stops by him. When Freddie picks the egg up, the river begins flowing again. Freddie takes the egg home, but becomes afraid when he hears a noise inside his house. He meets an intruding Beast who introduces himself as Tug the Comforter who explains the egg grants wishes to Frederick the Reckless; the only stipulation is not to eat it. The egg allows Freddie to go on adventures over the next two weeks, but fails to grant the tweener’s ultimate wish. When Menson the Rat tells Freddie to eat the egg whole if he wants his deepest wish to happen, the child struggles between his heart’s desire and his pledge. Targeting the middle school audience, Cottonmouth And The River is an engaging fable that assumes its readers are intelligent by not dumbing down the moral message that a promise is important to keep even at the sacrifice of your greatest psychological need. The numerous B&W illustrations enhance a fabulous children’s story. Harriet Klausner