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 fiancĂ© 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