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 fiancĂ© 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 CafĂ©, 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