Monday, December 31, 2007

The English American-Alison Larkin

The English American
Alison Larkin
Simon & Schuster, Mar 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9781416551591

Twenty-eight years old Pippa Dunn is English to her bone marrow; she believes DNA would affirm that it is in her gene pool to make a proper cup of tea. So why does she feel like an outsider in the West London home of her adoptive parents, who she loves. She cherishes her sister too, but they are night and day.

However, Pippa discovers that her biological parents do not have Earl Grey running through her arteries; instead her mom is an artsy Georgia peach and her father is a politically astute DC business man. Pippa needs to meet Billie and Walt, whom she fascinates as people who will understand her unlike her adoptive prim and proper English family. When she meets them and gets to know them a bit, Pippa is disappointed as the reality fails to live up to her fantasy.

THE ENGLISH AMERICAN is a terrific insightful “biographical fictionalized account of the author’s one-woman show. The story line is superb when it focuses on Pippa’s inner thoughts on identity and belonging as the nature vs. nurture argument is debated inside her head. When the plot turns to a second chance romance between Pippa and Nick, that failed seven years ago because she was not ready; it loses some of its discernment because it diverts from the prime theme and besides his hyperbolic drama queen performance seems inane. Still Pippa makes for an insightful character who provides a strong focus between the DNA and the loving home.

Harriet Klausner

On Sparrow Hill-Maureen Lang

On Sparrow Hill
Maureen Lang
Tyndale, Feb 2008, $12.99
ISBN: 97814143467

England’s National Trust constantly makes job offers that would pay much more and provide greater prestige, but Rebecca Seabrooke prefers to remain manager of Hollinworth Hall. Part of it might be her lingering crush on the owner Quentin Hollinworth, but much is because she needs to prove to herself she can run the best historical site in the country without dependence on her father. Her efforts are paying off as the manor has received a prestigious nomination from the Featherby Education Award although she hopes that proves enough to keep his mother from having him shut the place.

An email arrives from West World Genealogy (WWG) in which they claim an American family wants to contact their English Hollinworth cousins as they possess an original 1852 diary belonging to Cosima Escott Hamilton, an ancestor of Quentin. Intrigued they visit the vault to find letters from that period written by Beryl “Berrie” Hamilton to Cosima. Meanwhile Dana Walker responds to Rebecca’s email via WWG; she claims she possesses Cosima’s journal brought to America by the Englishwoman’s youngest son Kip whom Dana says she is his descendent. As Rebecca and Quentin work on understanding his ancestors and hers who have serviced Hamiltons for twelve generations, they admit their love for one another, but his mother objects; besides Rebecca believes Lady Caroline is more suited for her employer.

Once again as Maureen Lang did with the deep family drama that focuses on Fragile X Syndrome and its impact on people (see THE OAK LEAVES), the author provides a powerful tale of two families during the Victorian and contemporary eras. In both periods the key characters seem genuine as comparisons of the aristocracy and their servicing class then and now between the times make for a fascinating drama. Whether it is Berrie opening up a school for the mentally retarded or Quentin’s mom grieving the coming extinction of the aristocracy due to McDonalds and the Internet, readers will appreciate the well written poignant ON SPARROW HILL.

Harriet Klausner

To Catch A Highlander-Karen Hawkins

To Catch A Highlander
Karen Hawkins
Pocket, Feb 2008, $7.50
ISBN: 9781416525059

Sophia MacFarlane understands the roguish Lord Dougal MacLean owns what was her former home until her wastrel father “Red” lost it gambling to earn money for a new roof rather than sell his late wife’s diamonds. Sophia obstinately is determined to get it back, but she has no concrete plan. She vaguely figures she must use her feminine wiles to con the upstart out of her home that in her mind he temporarily albeit legally possesses.

However Dougal is not going to allow some pretty lass to outsmart him; instead he raises the stakes of her challenge. Sophia knows she is down to her last gambit, her virginity in a winner take all card game; her plan is to risk a bluff if needed; his strategy is to call her bluff. The first kiss stuns the two players; the second leaves both in shock; because they begin to realize a house is not home without love.

TO CATCH A HIGHLANDER is an incredibly humorous historical romance as Sophia and Dougal try to out-con, out-lie and out-cheat one another. The story line is fast-paced as the stakes keep getting raised by the two players as nothing is sacred in their misadventures except their growing love for one another. After reading this wonderful battle of the sexes' tale, fans will revise how they look at games of chance as sometimes a win-win is possible.

Harriet Klausner

Pleasure Exchange-Cathryn Fox

Pleasure Exchange
Cathryn Fox
Avon, Feb 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780060898571

The extension of his research grant is on the line for scientist Sam York who is studying a female libido booster. However, he runs into problems when reporter Cat Nichols writes an article on his work. Feminists are outraged and protest his efforts.

Cat feels bad with what her article may have done to Sam, who was so cooperative with her. She has known him for a long time and dreams of making love with good neighbor Sam, but he seems uninterested. To make up for what she did to him, Cat volunteers to be his guinea pig and test his concoction. Sam accepts her offer as he dreams of making love with good neighbor Cat, but she seems uninterested.

As with the previous two “Pleasure Games” contemporary heated romances, (see PLEASURE PROLONGED and PLEASURE CONTROL) the story line feels like a modern day hotter version of the Grant-Rogers film Monkey Business. The change in the relationship between Sam and Cat make for a fun tale as they go from platonic close friends with secret desires to burning up the sheets. As Sam wonders if his female libido boosting experiment led to their sexual encounters or it could be something much more complex to recreate: love, Cathryn Fox provides a torrid romantic climax to her lighthearted pleasurable trilogy.

Harriet Klausner

Lured by Lust-Tania Picard

Lured by Lust
Tania Picard
Black Lace, Mar 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780352341761

Clara Fox knows she needs to set up the art gallery, but is distracted by the bouquet of flowers sent by her former lover Paul who wants a second chance. Clara misses the sex, but does not miss him as he was way too controlling out of bed. Besides being unhappy to hear from appalling Paul, she is peeved at her boss gallery owner Mr. Xavier, who remained in his office while she hung up the heavy paintings.

Her emails are the usual except for one titled Ms. X sent by a Mr. X. He seems to know her libido’s desires and needs, and her current state of ennui. She replies and soon they exchange sexually explicit emails. Clara is curious who he is and how this “Peeping Tom” knows her so intimately unless he is Paul. Bold, brassy, and brazen, she enters his sexual realm of kinkiness doing sexcapades like nothing she ever did before. Whereas Paul continues his assault on a second him on top chance, he seems pale next to her trysts with the mysterious Mr. X and his companions as Clara is not bored anymore.

The sex is in your face and about everywhere else in this ultra heated contemporary erotic romance that starts off with a heated email that burns a few thousand pixels and never takes a moment for the libido to catch his or her breath. Mr. X must be in the Guinness Book of Records for sustained up-man-ship yet defies the laws of male anatomy by having blood in both of he heads at the same time. Part of the fun is following Clara’s efforts to uncover who Mr. X is, but LURED BY LUST is just what the title says as explicit sex is the name of the game.

Harriet Klausner

Change of Heart-Jodi Picoult

Change of Heart
Jodi Picoult
Atria, Mar 2008, $26.95
ISBN: 9780743496742

Her spouse drove the vehicle with his wife June and their daughter Elizabeth inside when they were blindsided by a drunken driver; her husband died in the crash. Kurt Nealson, the police officer who pulled the two females out of the wreckage, became a frequent visitor of the widow and her offspring and eventually he and June married. Seven moths pregnant June hires carpenter Shay Bourne to make some needed home repairs. He kills her second husband and Elizabeth. At his trial, he is convicted and sentenced to state execution, but never explains why he committed the homicides.

Eleven years later Shay is on death row about to die as his appeals have run out. June’s daughter Claire needs a heart transplant and Shay offers his as their hearts are compatible. On the day he arrives in Concord in the 1-tier Secure Housing Unit strange things happen to those around him. He brings a bird back to life and a man with AIDS is miraculously healed while a piece of bubblegum turns out to be enough for every inmate.

His lawyer, who opposes the death penalty, works overtime to get Shay’s conviction changed so that they can use his heart. Crowds gather outside the prison wondering outside if the Messiah has returned and if so why inside a murderer.

Every book that Jodi Picoult writes seems to reach her audience on a primal level. There are things readers do not know about the homicides especially why Shay committed them or if he is a healer or a con artist. Readers want to believe he is the Messiah because there is something compelling about him in which those who know him insist he is not evil. The author evokes strong emotions and opinions from her fans as much as those displayed by Shay’s lawyer, June and Claire.

Harriet Klausner

Charley’s Web-Joy Fielding

Charley’s Web
Joy Fielding
Atria, Mar 2008, $26.95
ISBN: 9780743296014

Charley Webb has a column in the Palm Beach Post; she has two beautiful children sired by men she never intended on marrying. Her mother abandoned the family when she was eight years old leaving her to be raised by an angry acrimonious and emotionally abusive father. Since her mother came back into her life, her father refuses to speak to her ; her two sisters barely acknowledge her and her brother Brian is destroying himself with alcohol and drugs.

When she gets a letter from Jill Rohmer, who is on death row for kidnapping, torturing and killing three children, Charley arranges for her lawyer to arrange a meeting. He tries to discourage Charley, but she wants to meet the killer. After meeting Jill, Charley wants to write the woman’s biography; over the next month she spends time with Jill at the prison and on the phone. The only information that Jill refuses to reveal to Charley is the name of her accomplice whom she calls “Jack”. While she works with Jill, she receives a series of emails threatening her and her children. She turns to Alex whom she has become romantically involved with for help, but someone is watching her family waiting for the right moment to strike.

Charley has few friends because she has closed herself off emotionally to avoid hurt; she uses people as fodder for her column and knows there are may people angry at her, which leaves readers to wonder who threatens her kids to get at her. Joy Fielding is fabulous at writing psychological suspense with her latest being a strong affirmation of her skills. Although the threat to her children adds tension, the key to this powerful character driven thriller is Charley whose relational web is made up of people who loathe her before the Rohmer book; her writing the biography of a children’s’ killer adds more people who believe she is a despicable a-hole.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Sixth Wife-Suzannah Dunn

The Sixth Wife
Suzannah Dunn
Harper, Jan 8 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780061431562

Considered pragmatic by her friends especially the Duchess of Suffolk Catherine Brandon, twice widowed Katherine Parr became the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, a position not known for its longevity. Perhaps it was the experience gained from being wedded to two much older husbands, bur Katherine proved her practical nature by surviving four years with the elderly monarch until he died, making her unique as the Dowager Queen,. Within a few months of becoming a widow again, Katherine marries Thomas Seymour, whom she was in love with before Henry “exiled” him to Brussels so he could marry her; he since has returned to England and become a confidante of Princess Elizabeth. They have a daughter Mary, but was her last marriage a happy one ponders Catherine as Thomas seems more fascinated with the princess than his once royal wife?

This is an interesting biographical fiction novel that looks deep into the latter part of the life of Katherine Parr, mostly from just after she became a thrice widow. The story is told almost exclusively by Catherine looking back after Katherine has died in 1548 so lacks a historiographic counterpoint as the subject’s best friend distrusted her last ambitious husband, who she believed married the “Widow” for her political connections. One interesting side note is that the vernacular used is twenty-first century (explained why by Suzannah Dunn in an afterward) so that purists who prefer Shakespearean English should pass as the idioms are technologically modern; thou who find Shakespeare as “ye olde” English will appreciate the anachronism. Well written, THE SIXTH WIFE provides a fascinating slant on the Tudor age especially life near the top during the five years after Henry’s demise.

Harriet Klausner

Guarded Heart-Jennifer Blake

Guarded Heart
Jennifer Blake
Mira, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778324546

In 1844 New Orleans, Madame Ariadne Faucher pulls no punches when she informs renowned sword master Gavin Blackford she needs his expertise to kill someone. She further explains she wants him to tutor her in dueling. He is taken aback, but perhaps it is the wine he drank, the mystery of why and who she plans to kill, or her intriguing tall figure, but to his own shock he agrees to teach her.

As the teacher and student practice, an attraction ignites into passion. Ariadne learns more than just sword play as Gavin displays a high ethical code; Gavin learns she is much more than just a Lady as she is intelligent and athletic, but he still does not know who she plans to defeat. He tries to disuade her from her course though he believes his best student can beat most men, but love seems to be a weaker emotion than revenge.

The fourth Master of Arms historical romance (see ROGUE’S SALUTE, DAWN ENCOUNTER, and CHALLENGE TO HONOR) is a terrific addition to the exciting saga. The story line is fast-paced as the instructor and his prize pupil duel in two types of sword play. Fans will want to know whether the principled sword master persuades his prize pupil that love and family are more rewarding than vengeance or whether Madame will let her heart be consumed by hatred. This is a great work by master writer.

Harriet Klausner

Snowfall at Willow Lake-Susan Wiggs

Snowfall at Willow Lake
Susan Wiggs
Mira, Feb 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778324935

Fortyish international Attorney Sophie Bellamy has always wanted to help the less fortunate and has been successful at it. However, the cost of spending much of her life overseas has been personal; her marriage to Greg died and her relationships with her two children, twelve year old Max and New Paltz College student Daisy are dysfunctional and distant at best. The same holds true with her grandchild Charlie.

Following a nasty hostage misadventure at the Hague involving her work with the depressed people of Umoja in Africa, Sophie has come to wintry Avalon, New York to make amends with her offspring, which means getting on with her former spouse, his new wife Nina and her offspring (see DOCKSIDE for Greg’s tale). However, the first person she meets after the lake effect snow and ice caused her car to skid and crash is Dr. Noah Shepherd, a veterinarian. Sophie is attracted to him, but she did not come to Ulster County for romance; she came a second chance with her children; not understanding that a second chance with Max and Daisy can only come with Noah.

The Avalon Lakeshore Chronicles (see THE WINTER LODGE and SUMMER AT WILLOW LAKE) are always terrific family drama romances, but SNOWFALL AT WILLOW LAKE may be the best yet due to the complexity of the relationships. Sophie is an incredible lead protagonist who has given her heart to the less fortunate children in places like Africa’s Umoja, but has failed to connect with her children in Avalon as she has tried to protect them by excluding them from the horror she has witnessed. Fans of the series will fully appreciate this strong tale while newcomers will relish how inside a romance talented Susan Wiggs reminds her readers that many children around the world suffer needlessly.

Harriet Klausner

Sleep Softly- Gwen Hunter

Sleep Softly
Gwen Hunter
Mira, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778324646

ER Nurse Ashlee Davenport Chadwick either makes or finds a home on her family farm for retired K-9 dogs. Currently besides her college student daughter Jas, Big Dog, Cheeks, and Cherry live with her. They bring to her a smelly child's red sneaker, which she is about to toss in a game of fetch only she knows the odor reeks of “old death”. She looks inside and sees tissue. Although she knows it is dumb, she labels and protects the “evidence” as she has learned in her forensic courses. Hesitant as she does not want her peers at Dawkins County Rescue Squad nicknaming her, she still calls the Sheriff’s Department. Afterward Cheeks, an experienced tracker dog, takes her to the sight where she finds a toe.

Over the objection of the locals, Ashlee’s boyfriend, FBI Violent Crime Squad Coordinator Jim Ramsey of the nearby Columbia office, leads the investigation. He is already looking into a serial killer whose victims are young girls, which probably means Cheeks’ find fits his case. Soon they discover several young buried on or just off Chadwick land; making the family including Ashlee the prime suspect.

SLEEP SOFTLY is a tense exciting police procedural that readers will devour in one sitting. The story line is fast-paced especially when the culprit targets the heroine. The romance is kept somewhat on the back burner so that subplot does not intrude on an engaging whodunit. Mostly told from Ashlee's perspective, sub-genre readers will enjoy this suspenseful thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Victim- Gayle Wilson

Gayle Wilson
Mira, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780778323945

Sarah Patterson's life ended three years ago when someone tortured and murdered her beloved son Daniel. The police arrest Samuel Tate for that murder and others as they find concrete evidence in his van during a routine accident. However, Orleans Parish Criminal Court Judge Marlene Wexler, who always rules in favor of defendant’s rights in an exact interpretation of the law, throws out the “murder kit” that uniformed Police Officer Gateau found in Tate’s vehicle as the cop had no probable cause to search the van. She frees Tate.

As Tate leaves the courtroom, Sarah takes out a gun to kill him, but cop Mac Donovan prevents her from doing so; he warns her she would have been held on murder charges, but she says so what as she died three years ago. Tate smirks at her as he leaves by taxi.

Soon after that encounter, Sarah receives strange phone calls that she and Mac believe are from Tate, glorying in his freedom. Not long after that back door encounter, her former husband (the marriage ending when Danny died) is murdered. Once again Sarah and Mac feel Tate killed her spouse. Mac tries to protect Sarah while the FBI sets up a sting using her as bait to finally catch this diabolically clever serial killer; as they fall in love; she now has a reason to live.

VICTIM is a superb serial killer chiller that grips the audience from the moment the Judge frees Tate and never frees the reader until the final anticipated Bayou confrontation. The story line is action-packed with most scenes adding tension to this taut thriller. The cast is strong especially the lead couple and Tate. Although the romance seems out of place and reduces the spine tingling expectation of High Noon between a grieving mom and her son’s killer, fans will appreciate Gayle Wilson’s powerful novel.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Seduction-Kathleen Korbel

Dark Seduction
Kathleen Korbel
Silhouette Nocturne, Feb 2008, $5.25
ISBN: 9780373617814

Her older sister Nuala has escaped the wrath of their mother by accepting mortality and love (see DANGEROUS TEMPTATION). Queen Mab has written off her oldest daughter as an undesirable exile, but her anger is at her two other offspring. Her middle child Sorcha was guardian of the Coilin Stone that was part of the crown of the Tuatha de Dannen before it was stolen due to her neglect and her sister Orla enabled the Dubhlain Sidhe to steal the gem. The seer warns the queen that the Dubhlain Sidhe grows stronger with no feminist balance since they lost the Dearann Stone while the Tuatha de Dannen will turn much weaker as there will be no spring without recovering the two stones; eventually all on two realms will die.

Mab commands her daughter Sorcha to travel through the gate to England to retrieve the Dearann Stone so that can be used to barter for the Coilin Stone. In England, Sorcha meets Harry Beverly, who does not believe that the fae exist although he wonders if his attraction for her is magically based. As he comes around to believe, they learn a rival seeks the Dearann Stone for some dark purpose. The duo knows time is running out for everyone.

DARK SEDUCTION is a fabulous romantic fantasy starring a heroine who believes she is not worthy or capable and the mortal who brings her confidence in herself. The story is fast-paced with its world in jeopardy premise always at the surface even as the lead characters acknowledge their love for one another. Readers will believe in the Korbel realm where mythos species seem genuine while also knowing that Orla is out their on her mission.

Harriet Klausner

Happy Hour of the Damned-Mark Henry

Happy Hour of the Damned
Mark Henry
Kensington, Mar 2008, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758225221

There are two distinct zombie species. First there are the Breathers who just need to exhale on a person to convert them to the living dead and then there are those changed by a bite or scratch. In Seattle advertising executive Amanda Feral was riding an elevator when she was breathed on; when she next awakens she has no idea what happened to her. She is walking in confusion on when Gil the vampire stops her and explains to her what she has become. He further informs her that there is a world of the supernatural with stores and clubs for paranormal shoppers that mortals cannot see.

Horrified by her suddenly pale sickly complexion, Amanda breaks into a mortuary to obtain some make-up for the recently departed. There she meets fellow zombie Wendy seeking cosmetics too. At a HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED club, the two females meet Lisle the succubus who turns the twosome into the three supernatural musketeers. Though time has a different connotation, not long afterward Lisle sends a text message “help” to her two pals. They fear for their buddy who vanished immediate after hitting send. As they search for Lisle, Amanda and Wendy uncover a plot to turn the world into a zombie playpen by using a zombie virus. To prevent this from happening, they need to uncover the identity of the mastermind, a devilishly diabolical genius.

This chick lit urban fantasy is an amusing tale that lampoons chick lit urban fantasies. Amanda and Wendy come across as “Valley Girls” a la the 1980s movie Night of the Comet while Gil and Lisle add biting humor by satirizing vampire romantic thrillers. The plot is fun with its spoof of save civilization as we know it theme. Mark Henry provides an enjoyable tale in his opening salvo that will have readers who appreciate a lighthearted romp waiting for future happy hour stories.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Everybody Loves Evie-Beth Ciotta

Everybody Loves Evie
Beth Ciotta
Harlequin HQN, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780373772988

After the role of a lifetime as a Chameleon undercover agent in Vegas (see ALL ABOUT EVIE), the boss Milo Beckett hires fortyish character actress Evie Parish because he sees she has the “gift” needed to expose charlatans and grifts. Her bank president brother Christopher calls Evie to tell her the family needs her as their sexagenarian mom is acting strange with dance lessons and cashing in her war bonds worth six grand; especially since she don’t need the money; he thinks she has a boyfriend who is hitting on her for cash in a “sweetheart scam”.

Milo says he is working on a senatorial scenario in nearby Hammond so they can kill two birds with one stone as he will join her in the mommy caper. Arch Reese who enjoyed being Evie’s husband in Vegas and the after play follows Milo and Evie to Indiana as he feels protective of the newcomer and besides wants more action with her. In the Hoosier State, the triangle becomes involved with her estrange parents, the dance instructor and the senator and his wife as stings seem everywhere

The newest Evie underground caper is a lighthearted romp starring a spirited heroine and an eccentric support cast that seem to come out of Eerie, Indiana. Evie is terrific holding the zany plot together from the demands of the extended family, the senatorial scam, and her own sweetheart issues as she ponders Milo, Arch or both. Fans who appreciate a fun amusing frolic will appreciate Evie proving you can’t go home without scamming the locals.

Harriet Klausner

Beginner's Greek-James Collins

Beginner's Greek
James Collins
Little Brown, Jan 2008, $23.99
ISBN: 9780316021555

Holly and Peter meet on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and are immediately attracted to one another. At some inner level, they each know they met their life mate. Holly writes her phone number on a page from The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann and gives it him.

That night he goes to get the page, but somehow he lost it; he franticly searches but fails to find the key to his happiness. As he goes through the phases of grief, a sad Holly concludes her Peter did not feel the same way as she does.

A few years later she marries Peter’s best friend Jonathan while he and Charlotte agree to wed in a marriage of convenient losers as she also loves someone else. At the wedding ceremony of Peter and Charlotte; lightning strikes Jonathan, which leads to a comedy of relationship errors as the newlyweds, Holly and others try to get their just rewards.

This is an amusing chick lit romance in which one thing leads to another as if James Collins knocked down the first domino which than took several subplot paths knocking down other dominos. Peter and Holly are terrific as they try to move on from that fateful plane trip, but neither fully can because they know who the other is deep inside their heart. Readers will wonder whether they will get together and what about Charlotte in this fun Greek romantic “tragedy”.

Harriet Klausner

Death Was the Other Woman-Linda L. Richards

Death Was the Other Woman
Linda L. Richards
St. Martin's, Jan 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312377700

In 1931 Los Angeles cynical private investigator Dex Theroux runs a two person office. Whereas he does the leg work and takes the beatings, Kitty Pangborn runs the office and occasionally does safe field work. Dex is unsure why Kitty remains with him, as paying jobs are infrequent and he knows he is an alcoholic though with good cause.

Wealthy Rita Heppelwaite hires Dex to report on what her married boyfriend, Harrison Dempsey is doing. Thinking this is an easy case and needing help on surveillance, Dex brings Kitty with him. However, their prey proves to be someone else’s prey as the sleuth and his assistant finds the murdered corpse of Harrison. Dex wants to make money from his affluent client so he tells Kitty to say nothing about the dead body for now. Kitty is appalled by her boss’ disregard of the deceased so she defies Dex and calls the cops. However, to her shock she soon learns that Harrison is alive making her wonder what is going on.

With Madeline Carter on temporary hiatus, Linda L. Richards introduces readers to a new fascinating detective team in a fine historical mystery. The story line is fun, but not so much due to the mystery of Harrison and the corpse or depression Era L.A., but instead because of the bickering relationship between unethical Dex and the moralistic Kitty. They make the tale entertaining.

Harriet Klausner

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues-Blaize Clement

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues
Blaize Clement
St. Martin's, Jan 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312340933

Former Florida Deputy Sheriff Dixie Hemingway remains on administrative leave as she struggles with the deaths of her husband Todd and their daughter Christy. She earns a living as a pet sitter in Siesta Key, a barrier island off Sarasota, in an attempt to remain as far away from law enforcement as she can. Although she has not been as successful as she would have liked having recently been forced to kill an assailant.

Although she would prefer to hide in bed from the world for two reasons: that killing even if the Grad Jury ruled self defense and worse the loneliness of Christmas without Todd and Christy. However, she pushes herself to go to work and quit the self pity. At the gatehouse to a client’s mansion, Dixie spots a dead body. Deciding she wants nothing to do with a corpse, she leaves without informing anyone. However, whether it is guilt or concern over the mad scientist who owns the mansion, Dixie, in between caring for his pet iguana, investigates the homicide.

Readers will appreciate the third Dixie Hemingway whodunit (see CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT SITTER and DUPLICITY DOGGED THE DACHSHUND) as the reluctant former cop works a case that she would prefer not to get involved. Besides sleuthing, Dixie struggles with her feelings of guilt that she should not feel attractions for Police Lieutenant Guidry and attorney Crane. Thriller elements due to her client, the mad scientist not the iguana, enhance an entertaining mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Bring Your Own Poison-Jimmie Ruth Evans

Bring Your Own Poison
Jimmie Ruth Evans
Berkley, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425219058

Wanda Nell Culpepper is the waitress serving the Trevor Blakely bachelor party at the Kountry Kitchen in Tullahoma, Mississippi. Rumors abound that Trevor’s two wives died of suspicious “accidental” circumstances and that both of his spouses had large life insurance policies with him as the benefactor. At his gala, Trevor is a loudmouth, making ugly remarks about women especially his fiancée. When he reaches behind him, grabs a drink from a table and sips it; he suddenly dies.

The police assume he was poisoned with his younger brother Gerald as the prime suspect since he loves his future sister-in-law. While drunk at the party, Gerald picked up a vial containing a liquid. The police take him in for questioning. State Police officer Bill Warren heads the investigation; he believes Gerald did the MURDER OVER EASY crime as he had motive, means and opportunity. Bill tries to blackmail Wanda into signing a statement that she knows is false. She decides to conduct her own inquiry as Bill has convicted Gerald.

Life in a small Mississippi town especially in a trailer park turns interesting when the eccentrics are determined to help. In addition to her investigation, the heroine contends with a situation concerning her oldest daughter, come to terms with her feelings for Jack who wants to marry her, and keep his niece safe from a stalker. Wanda Nell assumes all this is a piece of cake as she is a waitress and deals daily with a lot worse. Character driven, BRING YOUR OWN POISON is an entertaining regional amateur sleuth.

Harriet Klausner

Cuts-Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon
Leisure, Mar 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843957525

In North Glen, Illinois in 1975, seventeen years old Albert Prince is looking forward to having sex with Betty, but he is shocked when she demands twenty dollars. He is six dollars short; she tells him to come back when he can afford her. He leaves outraged.

Albert knifes a stray dog, which gives him some sadistic pleasure. On a supermarket checkout line, he observes the address on a check of a female customer. Not long afterward, he breaks into her home and hides in the closet until a man and woman arrive; he knifes the male and begins cutting the woman ending the crescendo with a final plunge. He hitches a ride out of state and kills the driver. He seeks young attractive females so he can break into their homes and terrorize them with his knife before killing them. He ends up in California where he meets some people from a college. The daughter of one of the teachers was attacked by him in Denver. He is about to learn that California girls are nothing like the females he browbeat into doing what he demanded of them.

CUTS is a horror story that in spite of no supernatural element cuts deeply into the psyche of readers; sort of like the first Jaws movie did. The antagonist is an amoral cold blooded monster of the human kind who thinks nothing of torture and murder especially getting off when it occurs in the sanctuary haven of someone’s home. Richard Laymon’s thriller is very frightening because Albert seems plausible as he craves the slice and dice of a sexual snuff predator, knowing he will never change; the only prevention of his sick sexual slashing is to either kill him or lock him away forever.

Harriet Klausner

The Quest-Lindsay McKenna

The Quest
Lindsay McKenna
Silhouette Nocturne, Feb 2008, $5.25
ISBN: 9780373617807

The search continues for the gems that make up the Emerald Necklace. Two Tage Warriors for the Light and their soulmates have already successfully completed their missions (see UNFORGIVEN and DARK TRUTH). Archaeologists Kendra Johnson and Nolan Galloway of the Ecuadorian based Vesica Pisces Foundation are sent to work together to uncover clues to the whereabouts of the third stone.

The pair has a torrid history that ended in guilt and tragedy in which only his telekinetic power saved his life; both are wary but still in love. Besides these two Warriors for the Light, the evil Tupay send super villain Victor Guerra to follow them and if they succeed, kill them and take the gem as chaos on earth remains their objective and the jewel can help them achieve their strategic goal.

The third Warriors for the Light romantic suspense fantasy is an exhilarating entry that though the overall plot is similar in tone to the first two novels retains its own freshness due to the previous relationship between the lead couple. Nolan and Kendra were selected because their skills complement one another making achieving their quest a strong possibility; however their trek on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon left her younger sister Debbie dead and their relationship shattered. Thus both must overcome the ghost of her sibling if they are to succeed on the mission with a lethal adversary on their tale and perhaps forgive the past with their love for each other. Lindsay McKenna provides a deep entry in a strong saga.

Harriet Klausner

The Girl Next Door-Jack Ketchum

The Girl Next Door
Jack Ketchum
Leisure, Feb 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843960976

Suburban 1950s New Jersey is a great place to raise kids; just ask twelve year old David, who loves playing in his idyllic neighborhood where crime is nonexistent. Next door Ruth Chandler, single mother of David’s best friend Donny and two brothers, takes in two young distant cousins whose parents died in a horrific automobile accident. The older sister fourteen years old Meg seems to have fully recovered; the younger sibling Susan needs crutches and wears heavy metal braces on her legs while mentally she is totally broken.

David is immediately attracted to the lovely Meg and they begin meeting at places like "Big Rock”; they make a charming cute couple. Ruth lives in the past when she was the office manager of a large firm; she hates suburbia and being saddled with five children. She takes her growing rage out on her new charges, physically and mentally abusing Meg and Susan, especially Meg who reminds her of all she gave up to have kids. Her sons by omission support her actions. David also knows that Ruth is violent towards Meg, but though he loathes what she is doing, he is also fascinated by her dehumanizing the one person who reminds her how far she has fallen.

This reprint of a 1989 deep psychological study focuses on the watcher-narrator David who learns about abuse and helplessness when he fascinatingly observes the pain a human inflicts on another while neighbors ignore the truth. The story line hooks the audience from the opening line as a wizened David understands pain and never lets go as the serene middle class suburban neighborhood enables ugliness to hide behind the scene (mindful of the Kitty Genovese killing in 1964 Queens). This book also includes two short stories and an interview with Jack Ketchum, but cannot be considered padding since the novel is 340 pages. Readers will be shocked by the horror of customized violence that society chooses to ignore when it happens to THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Night Following-Morag Joss

The Night Following
Morag Joss
Delacorte, Mar 2008, $22.00
ISBN: 9780385341189

The woman is stunned to learn her spouse the handsome doctor is having affair. Distracted as she drives a winding back road, she fails to notice the woman on a bike in front of her as she comes out of a turn. The driver hits sexagenarian Ruth Mitchell, but instead of stopping, she drives away.

The police fail to find the culprit who murdered Ruth in a hit and run vehicular homicide. However, the driver knows what she did and how she fled the scene. She feels haunted by her action and guilty by her reaction. She begins to watch the victim’s husband Arthur from a distance. His raw grief rips her stomach further as he no longer cares about himself or anyone else. He cannot sleep as the nightmares wake him and he cannot take care of his home or himself. She serendipitously enters his home cleaning it. She becomes more brazen as she meets Arthur in person demanding he clean up his act, which he does as he believes a miracle has occurred; his Ruth has returned to him.

Two marriages were shattered with that car accident, but it is the aftermath that digs incredibly deep into the convoluted human condition that makes for a haunting complex psychological thriller. Arthur and Ruth seem real as they react shockingly similar to what connects them, the death of his spouse by her. Yet that almost identical response feels genuine and makes for a powerful saga of loss, deception, and redemption.
Harriet Klausner

Of All Sad Words-Bill Crider

Of All Sad Words
Bill Crider
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312348106

When C.P. Benton moved to Clearview, Texas he never expected his neighbors to run meth lab. Irate he informs Sheriff Dan Rhodes that his neighbors the Crawford brothers are cooking meth in their home. Besides doubting the accusation, Rhodes is busy with a homicide investigation, but promises Benton he will act on his complaint as soon as possible.

Rhodes cannot put it off any longer when the Crawford trailer explodes, killing of the siblings. The sheriff investigates only to find the brothers were cooking bathtub hooch not meth in the trailer. The surviving Crawford blames his late brother, but Rhodes arrests him anyway. However, when a second illegal still surfaces, Rhodes wonders what is going on that has turned Clearview into the crime capital of the Lone Star State.

The latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes police procedural is a superb small town amusing mystery. The fun in the tale is with the eccentric townsfolk whose antics keep Dan hopping as he mumbles humorous asides to the crime wave that is devastating Clearview. Bill Crider captures the essence of a tiny Texas town using irony and humor dryer than a martini to the delight of readers.

Harriet Klausner

Bone Machine-Martyn Waites

Bone Machine
Martyn Waites
Pegasus, Jan 15 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781933648354

In Newcastle, the body of the mutilated Ashley Malcolm was found in a burial ground. Her eyes and mouth were sewed shut apparently when she still lived and cuts are all over her body. DS Turnbull and DI Nattrass believe her boyfriend Michael Nell killed her, as he has a history of violence against women. Janine Stewart thinks otherwise although she knows her client is a flash tempered lout. She refuses to believe he would perform a ritual killing; if Michael murdered his girlfriend she would be battered not stitched. Michael also claims an alibi.

Janine hires Joe Donovan to affirm Michael's alibi. The case seems simple to Joe until he and his team start tracking the alibi. This leads them to an evil world where vicious thugs run a child-trafficking ring and a prostitution ring with kids as the merchandise. Shook to his core, Joe still wonders what happened to his six-year-old son who vanished three years ago and could have been for sale by these punks. Soon a second death occurs as the serial killing Historian taunts the cops with clues from the city’s heritage.

Though the culprit comes out of serial killer casting, BONE MACHINE is a tense gritty Noir that deeply explores human trafficking to the point that the hero and the Historian are left out much of the first half of tale. Readers who appreciate an extremely dark crime thriller that looks at the evil people do to those vulnerable is interred in their bone marrow will want to read the BONE MACHINE and other Donavan thrillers like MERCY SEAT, not reviewed by me.

Harriet Klausner

What Are You Wearing to Die-Patricia Sprinkle

What Are You Wearing to Die
Patricia Sprinkle
Obsidian ,Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780451223258

Hopemore, Georgia has its share of vicious crimes; usually Magistrate MacLaren Yarbrough is in the middle of the investigation to the horror and fear of her spouse Joe Riddle. This time when someone dies, Joe handcuffs her leg to her desk in Yarbrough Feed Sed and Nursery. A car went over the bypass bridge with Star Knight inside. At first the police think it is an accident until when they bring the vehicle up; the victim was beaten to death with broken bones and black and blue marks everywhere.

Star had her life together when she was pregnant but she became addicted again to crystal meth. The Sheriff knows there is a lab in the area, but can’t locate it. Star’s father Trevor demands custody of his grandson and they later learn Star was going tothe DEA to inform them who was running the lab with plans of going straight. MacLaren and others believes the meth lab operatives killed Star to prevent her from ratting them out. When another death linked to Star occurs, MacLaren tries to find the killer who ran the meth house, but the murderer remains free with plans to murder the nosy magistrate who ruined his business.

This is a poignant character driven police procedural that makes the case that amoral people can live in the open yet hidden anywhere even a pristine small town. Joe’s handcuffing his wife shows how much he cares and worries about her investigating activities, but unless he plans to do this 24/7, his scheme is doomed to fail as MacLaren’s soul is to uncover the truth. The inquiry is fun to follow, but it is the meth lab in a small town Georgia that makes this cozy feel real.

Harriet Klausner

Tomorrow’s World- Davie Harrison

Tomorrow’s World
Davie Harrison
Medallion, Mar 2008, $15.95
ISBN 9781933836355

The environmental disasters of the past century have taken their toll on the earth. However as a byproduct of the toxic wasteland, everyone lives in a computer controlled orb making the various hates like racism, religion, sexual preference obsolete. However, a new kind of bias has occurred between the “Name” natural born and the “Number” engineered lab rats.

Logipol policy is to assign a Name and Number as a police team to maximize the skills of both as the Name brings passion and dreams to a case while the Numbers bring superior mental and physical attributes. The brass assign “Name” cop Ben Travis and his partner “Number” cop Perfect Paula to investigate the death of Name plant dealer Douglas MacDougall. Paula believes he died from a self-induced drug overdose, more likely suicide than accident; Ben thinks otherwise as his gut screams homicide made to look like a suicide. The Name and the Number follow the clues trying to resolve their difference re the death of a Name.

Extrapolating the environmental trends of today into the next century Davie Henderson paints a dismal picture of a dying globe in this interesting science fiction police procedural. The story line is at its best when the Name and the Number argue the case; when the plot turns to the past global environmental disaster and its consequences, it loses steam as that feels more like a preacher shouting brimstone. Still this is a fine start of what looks like a solid twenty-second cop series in which hopefully Mr. Henderson explores the newest form of prejudice by looking into the relationship between the two cops.

Harriet Klausner

The Wrath of Zar-Shayne Easson

The Wrath of Zar
Shayne Easson
WestBank, Nov 2007, $24.95
ISBN: 9780978984014

Although they are brothers, Adan Caynne would choose flight while Dex would choose fight. Thus they are opposites with Dex wanting to become a warrior and Adan turning the other cheek because he has some inkling of his father’s former life as a Ches warrior who barely survived a demonic led assault.

Keeping his head buried in the sand, Adam is ignorant that a demon army is destroying Yannina. However, he becomes aware that something is wrong when his sibling vanishes and a neighbor Cadin brutally killed. Vowing to find and rescue his brother from whatever, Adan wonders if his father’s newly arrived fully armed visitors he never met before are involved with the recent events. However, his quest turns surreal when the Andar apprentice Hythe informs him he is the only hope to defeat the Demon Vayle and his horde destroying the guardian who imprisoned him. Soon others including Zar the dragon ally with him even as he insists he is not fighting demons or anyone for that matter.

This action-packed quest fantasy stars a wonderful reluctant hero, who has enough personal issues trying to remain stalwart on his personal hunt only to have an assortment of entities claim he’s the man. Readers will feel they are trekking alongside Adan and his band as they search for his twin while preparing for the larger mission of battling the invincible demon army led by a champion who chooses flight not fight. Shayne Easson provides readers with an outstanding opening adventure in his Demons of Destiny saga.

Harriet Klausner

The Ravening-Dawn Thompson

The Ravening
Dawn Thompson
Love Spell; Feb 2008; $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527271

After years away, Brotherhood warrior Milosh returns to the Hyde-White family manor in Cumberland, England to complete his long term quest of killing the lord of the evil vampires Sebastian. He is stunned with what he sees as the house is a ruin obviously destroyed by fire and his friends like Joss are gone. However, most shocking is the Gypsy living amidst the wreckage.

He demands Paloma explain why she hides in this cold dump. She tells him she took refuge in this forbidden place that no one visits anymore here praying and waiting in hope that someone would come to teach her the Blood Moon technique so she can control her blood lust thirst. Paloma further explains a shapeshifting vampire bit her. Milosh is further stunned as he realizes he wants Paloma, but must not allow her to become a pawn in his war with Sebastian who he assumes bit her. She makes it even more difficult to resist her when she offers her love, body and soul to him.

Decades since the events of early Victorian THE BROTHERHOOD and even more years since Regency THE BLOOD MOON, the final tale in the Chronicles of the Blood Moon Victorian vampire saga is a superb final confrontation between good and evil. The key to this excellent vampire romantic suspense is how Dawn Thompson keeps the feeling that the bad guy is going to win as the hero is distracted by love. THE RAVENING is vampire historical romantic suspense at its best.

Harriet Klausner

Shapeshifter-J.F. Gonzalez

J.F. Gonzalez
Leisure, Jan 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843959734

Lycanthropic Orange Coast College student Mark Wiseman controls his urge to kill when he shifts to a werewolf; he also hides his condition from everyone until he is caught changing by a security camera while working in the Tape Library of the Computer Operations of Free State Insurance.

The firm’s CEO Bernard Roberts lives for his work though he makes time even at his executive office for sex with his executive secretary Carol Emrich. He owns the videotape in which Mark is filmed shifting. The wealthy amoral mogul blackmails Mark into cooperating with his desires. He orders Mark to kill any board member supporting a merger that if agreed will lead to an audit and ultimately expose Bernard's embezzling of company funds. To further insure Mark cooperates, Bernard has evidence that links Mark to the bloody murders of the werewolf’s parents. Mark’s only hope for freedom resides with Carol whom he just met and can sense her attraction to him.

This is an entertaining fast-paced horror thriller in which readers initially will wonder whether the wolf will do the killings or not and whether Mark will ever be free from the malevolent Bernard. J.F. Gonzalez keeps the audience wondering how Mark will expedite himself from this mess once he decides not to kill Bernard at least for now. Though neither of the male leads showcases much in the way of any redeeming qualities as a survival of the fittest killer instincts rules; fans of in your face werewolf tales with plenty of gore will want to read this exciting story.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hard to Handle-Lori Foster

Hard to Handle
Lori Foster
Berkley, Feb 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425219720

Like all fighters in the SBC, Harley Handleman dreams of being the extreme fighting champion. However, though his record makes him one of the top contenders, he has had bad luck when it comes to fighting for the title. His latest setback is a dislocated elbow (see SIMON SAYS) that leaves him in need of rehab instead of a championship bout.

When Harley needs time away like to train or heal, he leases a cabin from life coach Anastasia Bradley. Although they have known each other for several years neither thought much beyond politeness until now. They are no longer two ships passing in the night since Anastasia has taken time off to heal mentally from a nasty client. As they fall in love though both try to avoid that feeling, all bets are off when someone tries to kill her. Harley knows she is his life mate as her safety comes before his upcoming title shot.

The third SBC romance (see CAUSING HAVOC and SIMON SAYS) is an entertaining contemporary tale due the changing relationship between the two likable lead characters. Harley and Anastasia now have the time to realize their attraction for one another. One late scene involving the couple arguing seems unnecessary and unresolved, but no one will care except nitpicking reviewers; as fans of Lori Foster will wonder if Harley will win the only prize greater than the SBC belt, the woman he loves.

Harriet Klausner

The Whiskey Killing-H.R. Williams

The Whiskey Killing
H.R. Williams
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146626

After midnight in Medford, Arkansas, a man carrying a 22 caliber rifle walks up to liquor store owner seventy two year old Edwin Mayhew and fires four point blank range shots into his chest. Before leaving Mayhew’s front yard, the killer pours whiskey onto his face. The victim’s older sister Lavonnie sees his corpse and calls the cops.

Medford Police Department CID Captain Billy Walker leads the murder investigation assisted by CID 2 Sergeant Cordelia Hull and CID 3 Bob Claggert. The obvious suspects are those with an interest in the town’s gambling as Mayhew was heavily involved with that. Billy and Cordelia start with Hawaiian Nightclub owner Earl “Uh Oh” Gilby who provides him three sharks wanting the action. However, the case meanders much more than just who will run the illegal gambling business as others die too; Billy works hard to eliminate the obvious until he realizes the killer waits for him.

Billy makes this police procedural so much fun to follow as he methodically seeks clues while training Cordelia; the latter enables the audience to better understand the logic CID 1 applies to the homicide. Filled with twists that occur just when it seems case solved, sub-genre fans will appreciate THE WHISKEY KILLING even if Billy never received admin time for justifiably killing crazy dangerous Eddie Partee.

Harriet Klausner

Leading Lady-Heywood Gould

Leading Lady
Heywood Gould
Five Star, Feb 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146480

Thieves Jerry Lang and Gloria Pavlich are doing one last caper before retiring. They are to steal a five million dollar painting “Self Portrait” by Isaac Leviathan from a private collector; then they will give it to their fence Albanian expatriate Hanif “Mittens” Gallega who will sell it. They succeed in taking the painting, but when they get to their hotel, thugs greet them. In the melee that follows, Jerry shoots one of his assailants, but watches his beloved leading lady vanish. He later learns he killed a cop and is convicted of such.

In prison, Jerry escapes four assassination attempts. His last one has him sharing a hospital room with a corpse that he uses to escape his incarceration. He is coming for Hanif while remaining unaware someone has assigned Delta Force Domestic Major Cliff Hartung to insure he does not get close to one of his agency’s “toys”. At the Casbah, Jerry meets college student dancer Letitia Hudson, who gets caught in the middle of a local war.

This exhilarating crime caper is not for the cozy crowd as Jerry, feeling guilt for accepting one last job over Gloria’s objection, proves quite efficient in dispatching enemies in a violent manner. The story line is fast-paced as Letitia becomes Jerry’s new LEADING LADY and Hanif his crash dummy. Although how Hartung and his two deadly soldiers fit into the plot comes very late with quite a revelation, readers will appreciate Heywood Gould’s wild Noir.

Harriet Klausner

Enchanting The Lady-Kathryne Kennedy

Enchanting The Lady
Kathryne Kennedy
Love Spell, Jan 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527509

In 1882 London, duchess-of-honor Felicity Seymour is worried that she legally will lose her inheritance as she lacks the magical gifts of her parents; Prince Albert’s rule states that no magic equates to no duchy. Lion shapeshifter Sir Terence Blackwell enjoys finding ancient relics, but also is a close friend of the Prince, who asked him to participate in the test of Felicity. She ignominiously fails, but Terence feels something was not right as he experiences a trace of relic-magic in use, which makes no sense.

Terence decides to court Felicity somewhat because he is attracted other; somewhat because he feels sorry for her as she is now a pariah like he is as a shapeshifter; and somewhat because what he believes destroyed her test is too similar to what killed his brother. He needs to know whether Felicity is the user or the victim of dark magic. However, Terence never expected to fall in love with her.

ENCHANTING THE LADY is a fantastic late Victorian romantic fantasy that casts a magic spell on the audience from the moment the heroine expects to fail her test and never let’s go until the final magical revelation. The story line is fast-paced with an underlying paranormal mystery that enhances the prime romantic plot; the fantasy elements provide a unique look at 1882 England as Kathryne Kennedy provides her readers with a wonderful thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Time Transit-Kay Austin

Time Transit
Kay Austin
Dorchester Shomi, Jan 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527158

In the twenty-second century TIME ROGUE Maude Kincaid is one of the best at insuring temporal rifts do not occur. On her last mission she met and was attracted to twenty-first century inhabitant Dr. Gil Gillespie, but knew nothing can come of her feelings. Instead his memories of her are deleted.

However, for whatever reason, perhaps love is too strong to erase, but Gil somehow remembers her. He is brought forward a century to her natural time, but learns she is to die in 2152. Meanwhile in Outskirt 13 of the sub-orbital tram station where it all began thirty or so rotations ago, Maude, having done her duty by eating a bullet in her gut to save CORE, her friends and the time line, is dying with no hope for help, thirteen miles from home. However, Maude never expected that her friends led by a frantic Gil refuse to allow her to die though they make unauthorized leaps through time as they believe they have all the time in the world to save her.

This sequel to the wild TIME ROGUES is a fabulous science fiction romance, in which dedicated heroes understand protecting the time line is more important than saving a friend, a loved one, or one’s self; that is until Gil makes a different plea to test time in order to save Maude. Gil and Maude are terrific protagonists who are ironically the ultimate star-crossed lovers as they have no time at all for one another yet all the time to try i they dare. Although the future world is never developed beyond the physics principals of time management, sub-genre fans will find this action-packed thriller worth the time to read it.

Harriet Klausner

The Accidental Werewolf-Dakota Cassidy

The Accidental Werewolf
Dakota Cassidy
Berkley, Feb 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425219300

Bobbie Sue Cosmetics saleswoman Marty Andrews works very hard to be the best. She is rapidly climbing up the ladder of success until she was bitten by a mutt while walking her teacup poodle. Now, she has lost control of her temper ready to literally bite off heads, her hair has darkened, and worse, she spots a tail.

Desperate she seeks the mangy mutt who bit her to learn what she caught since it is not rabies or mad cow disease. Instead Keegan Flaherty comes to her home to apologize for biting her. He insists he is a werewolf and not a mangy mutt who could not resist taking a nip of her; she assumes he is a lunatic albeit she agrees he is not a mangy mutt. He tries to convince her to join his pack, but she continues to believe he is a lunatic, albeit a hunk too. He struggles to persuade her that he can mentor her on life as a full moon howler, but would one trust a lunatic although considering she was almost a hundred percent vegan, she has become a meat lover especially blood raw and is no longer worried about clogged arteries.

This chick lit werewolf romance is a lighthearted romp starring a woman who has to revise her goal now that she has been bitten. The changing relationship between Marty and Keegan is humorously filled with double entendres that are sexually and wolfishly biting. Although the heroine’s asides distract from a fun story line, paranormal romance will enjoy Dakota Cassidy’s entertaining tale with an alpha twist.

Harriet Klausner

Miles in Love-Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles in Love
Lois McMaster Bujold
Baen, Feb 2008. $14.00
ISBN: 9781416555476

“Komarr”. Considered physically and mentally unfit for military duty any longer, Miles Vorkosigan is forced to leave the service he loves. However, his experiences obtain him work as a Barrayaran Empire Imperial Auditor handling top-secret special complicated cases with potential for far reaching damage. His current investigation is to learn whether a terraforming satellite that collided with an ore freighter near Komarr was deliberate as the planet is a hotbed of rebellion. To make his inquiry more difficult most Komarrans loathe his father, who brutally put down their last revolt. As he uncovers bribery and treason, Miles falls in love with the married enemy, Ekaterin Vorsoisson.

“A Civil Campaign”. Miles loves Ekaterin, but hesitates wooing her since he holds himself culpable as a widow maker when his actions led to her husband’s death; although he also rationalizes that her late spouse was corrupt. As he courts his beloved, his wacko clone brother Mark bugs him. Mark’s latest get rich scheme involves "butter bugs", but these cockroaches somehow got free and have infested their parents’ house. As he tries to exterminate the bugs, Miles is accused of murder. Still he never loses sight of his objective, marrying Ekaterin.

"Winterfair Gifts". Miles and Ekaterin are getting married at his family estate. One of his armsman, Roic, guards the Vorkosigan estate at night especially as the guests arrive for the nuptials. However, to his shock Roic is attracted to the dangerous Amazonian Sergeant Taura at a time when he cannot afford the distraction. Someone wants to kill Miles, Ekaterin or both.

These two novels and the novella that make up this omnibus collection are fabulous tales that showcase MILES IN LOVE. Each entry is humorous yet serious with the novella “Winterfair Gifts” refreshingly told mostly by Roic’s perspective. Lois McMaster Bujold is at her best with this trilogy.

Harriet Klausner

The Dreaming Void-Peter Hamilton

The Dreaming Void
Peter Hamilton
Del Rey, Mar 2008, $26.95
ISBN: 9780345496539

Fifteen hundred years have passed since the Commonwealth conspiracy occurred (see PANDORA’S STAR AND JUDAS UNCHAINED). Mankind ha prospered, but now humanity is divided once again. This time it is over the Void at the core of galaxy. A powerful sect the Living Dream has formed around Inigo the human who insists he dreams of the paradise world inside the Void. The star of his dreams is Edeard who Inigo believes lives inside the Void and is contacting him.

Inigo’s followers become the most powerful political and social force in the galaxy. Meanwhile the human clamor to enter the Void frightens the ancient species who somewhat understands and fears the unintentional consequences of entering the Void will trigger the Void’s concentric expansion until the galaxy is destroyed. When Inigo vanishes without a trace, Ethan takes over and announces a pilgrimage into the Void.

As expected, Peter Hamilton provides an extremely complex very entertaining futuristic science fiction that in some ways is quite simple as the story line focuses on two prime subplots. First there are Inigo’s dreams of Edeard’s young life as a teen member of the Eggshaper’s Guild to his rookie days as a junior constable in Makkathran; second there is the various reactions across the galaxy when Ethan announces the pilgrimage into the Void. Each holds up quite well as the key players, Edeard and Ethan seem real, which in turn makes the Void feel genuine. This is a great opening of the second act as fans return to the Hamilton galaxy fifteen or so centuries since we left following the events of PANDORA’S STAR AND JUDAS UNCHAINED.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rich Girl-Carol Culver

Rich Girl
Carol Culver
Berkley, Jan 2008, $9.99
ISBN: 9780425219157

Victoria Lee grew up in Hong Kong, but currently the teen lives in her family’s Mcmansion in San Francisco sans parents. She attends the exclusive Manderley Prep, but though her family is wealthy she feels like an outsider. Whereas most teens would love to be on their own, Victoria feels lonely as she has no friends at school and nothing at home. Worse than the fact that her parents want her to go Ivy while she wants to attend fashion school, she likes student Steve Heller, but he ignores her.

Gabe Thomas is confused as he has no scholarship yet his single mom a housekeeper pays his tuition to attend Manderley Prep. He wants to know how with his theory being that his unknown father is connected to the school. He likes Victoria as he sees her as a fellow outsider, but frowns on her efforts to join the in crowd since she was nominated to run for class treasurer as she plans the teen party of the century at her Mcmansion.

The second BFF teen tale (see MANDERLEY PREP) is an entertaining tale of a depressed lonely RICH GIRL trying to become popular at all cost. Victoria’s efforts to be in is compared to that of Gabe, who flaunts being out. Young adult readers will appreciate this fine character study of how far someone will go to satisfy the psychological need to belong.

Stuck in the Middle-Virginia Smith

Stuck in the Middle
Virginia Smith
Revell, Feb 2008, $13.99
ISBN 9780800732325

Joan Sanderson loves her sisters, but also is jealous of both them. Her older sibling Allie has started her own family and her younger sibling Tori has had early career success. Instead Joan feels STUCK IN THE MIDDLE of her sisters as a failure since her boyfriend dumped her and her job stinks.

However, moving next door is a young woman’s fantasy: a single hunk doctor. To her surprise, he is very religious, which gets her thinking about her lapsed beliefs. As she struggles to provide quality care to her elderly grandmother, Joan reassesses her feelings of abandonment that she blamed on her mother although her father was the one who left. With Allie as her ally and Tori as her rival, Joan tries to get the hunk next door to notice her, but at what cost to who she is.

The first of the Sister to Sister trilogy is a warm relationship drama as the three sisters seem real especially their sibling rivalries. The story line starts a bit slow to allow the audience to understand each of the sisters, but especially the star the middle child Joan. Fans have fully developed siblings who behave in a consistent manner, which leads to a fine inspirational chick lit tale that focuses on being one’s self when relating with others especially loved ones.

Harriet Klausner

A Vicky Hill Exclusive-Hannah Dennison

A Vicky Hill Exclusive
Hannah Dennison
Berkley, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425220481

After her parents fled the country because her father was a notorious jewel thief, Vicky Hill moves to the quiet town of Gipping-on-Plym where she lands a job as a reporter for the Gipping Gazette. She wants to cover the crime beat, but her adversary Annabel takes the plum assignments while leaving the newbie covering funerals. She intercepts an informer with a scrap for Annabel who tells her that he found three chickens in the town dump where he works drained of its blood and minus their legs.

Not knowing what to make of his story, Vicky covers the funeral of Sir Hugh Trewallyn when a handsome man crashes the somber ceremony and kisses the widow. Vicky also sees her landlady Mrs. Paultry sneaking around the mausoleum. She get the autopsy report, which states that Hugh was poisoned and chicken legs were found in his mouth. Vicky believes the bloodless chicken and the death of Trewallyn are linked so she investigates, but stumbles across secrets that some people will kill to keep them concealed.

This is an intriguing journalist investigative mystery because the heroine has such a vivid imagination that is not always anchored in just the facts. Vicky is an innocent sweet person whose naivety has her believe people are innately good in spite of her parents proving otherwise when they deserted her. She trusts everyone even her rival; their relationship is hilarious as Annabel goes to the sublime level of Ted Baxter (of the Mary Tyler Moore show) to keep her name on the front page and Vicky’s on the obit column. Fans will enjoy Hannah Dennison’s front page whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Turn Up the Heat-Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant

Turn Up the Heat
Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant
Berkley, Mar 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780425219478

Chloe Carter is preparing for her grad school exams and writing papers for her classes as she pursues a Masters degree in Social Work. She chose this subject in order to earn her inheritance from her late uncle who added caveats to his will. Chloe believes to her shock that she will be a good social worker because she likes helping people. She only wishes that her boyfriend Josh, the executive chef at his Bostonian restaurant Simmer was not working 12-14 hour shifts as she would like to spend more time with him.

One day Chloe visits Josh at Simmers only to find the corpse of waitress Leandra in the back of Owen’s fish truck. Apparently she was strangled by the strings of her apron. Owen is engaged to Chloe’s pregnant best friend Adrianna; she also knows him well enough to believe he is not a killer. However, the police label Owen as a person of interest because he lied about his accounts, the restaurants where he had them, and that he bought the camping truck when he told everyone it belonged to the company. Chloe theorizes who the killer is and almost becomes the next person on ice.

This is an excellent creative mystery due in part to the eccentric support cast that enhances the story line with an insider’s look at the kitchen of an upscale restaurant. The protagonist is a bright energetic person who treats her lover the way she wants him to treat her. Josh shows his feelings to Chloe every chance he gets, which endears him to the audience. At times poignant, while at other times humorous, TURN UP THE HEAT is a terrific whodunit repast.

Harriet Klausner

Bone Song-John Meaney

Bone Song
John Meaney
Bantam, Mar 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9780553385144

Four famous performers have been recently murdered in different countries. At least of the actor Sir Alyn Conolly made it to the morgue in Lorgonne, where an autopsy revealed toxic slivers that resolved left behind micro holes.

In Tristopolis the multiple incinerations of the dead serve the undead living by providing the "necroflux". The Police Commissioner is concerned with the upcoming appearance of opera singer Maria daLivnova at the Theatre du Loup Mort. He orders Police Lieutenant Donal Riordan to insure the diva is kept safe from an apparent deadly cult. However the dedicated courageous cop soon concludes that the cult’s necromantic success is fostered by those at the untouchable top of the government. He must find a way to stop those who kill the dead with impunity.

This is a fascinating police procedural urban fantasy in which "There are eight million stories in the Naked City” of Tristopolis; John Meaney introduced many of them but left them open. The Noir investigation is fun to follow and the paranormal species “living” above and under ground seem genuine, but it is the colorful dark description of the city that steals the show in this first of what looks to be a long running series.

Harriet Klausner.

Mine to Possess-Nalini Singh

Mine to Possess
Nalini Singh
Berkley, Feb 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425220160

In 2080 the war of attrition between the Earthlings and the Psy continues unabated with hot spots seemingly bursting everywhere as neither side trusts the other. Half breed Clay Bennett was raised by a human mother in the human slums without ever knowing the changeling leopard that sired him. Two decades ago as a youngster without a guiding pack he failed to learn how to control the animal instinct of his nature and caused a deadly incident that still haunts him even as he has dedicated his life since becoming a Dark River sentinel.

Thus when Clay sees half-breed Talin McKade for the first time in twenty years, he is euphoric. She was his best friend as a child before the incident devastated both their lives. Like Clay, Talin has dedicated her life since the incident that shaped them; she works at San Francisco's Shine Foundation helping needy children. Recently some of her kids have vanished only to return brainless; victims of Psy experiments to create a hive. As the half human half Leopard pair reunite and fall in love, they work together to try to protect the young from the heinous Psy experimentation.

The fourth Psy-Changeling tale, MINE TO POSSESS, is an excellent urban fantasy romance that stars two terrific half-breeds whose past contains warmth and friendship for one another, but also one shattering pivotal moment. There reconciliation is handled quite cleverly as they team up to save the children. The Psy is as insidious as ever; however to fully grasp the complex Singh saga, newcomers should read the previous three superb thrillers (see SLAVE TO SENSATION, VISIONS OF HEAT and CARESSED BY ICE).

Harriet Klausner

Secret Of The Dragon Eye-Derek Hart

Secret Of The Dragon's Eye
Derek Hart
iUniverse, 2007, $16.95
ISBN: 9780595429677

In the North Cornwall coastal town of Crackington Haven, twelve years old Gavin Kane enjoys his childhood playing make believe games with his best friend Emily Scott. However, Gavin knows his parents fear war is coming to England as the Nazis blitzkrieg their way across the continent. His dad knowing he will soon fight for his country shares time with his son; they read together a tale of about King Arthur and Thaddeus Osbert the dragon.

WW II hits home doubly so to Gavin as his father leaves to fight and he befriends a newcomer evacuee child Bunty who survived the Nazi bombing of Plymouth inside air raid shelters until he was transported to North Cornwall. The three children meet Thaddeus Osbert the dragon who begs them to provide him with sugar at a time rationing grips the country. When the Germans land a force near Crackington Haven seeking Excalibur, the three kids and their sweet-toothed dragon try to repel them and their flying ally.

SECRET OF THE DRAGON’S EYE is a superb WWII fantasy that hooks the audience in two ways. First the description early WWII England mostly through the eyes of Bunty makes for a vivid anchored historical. When Thaddeus enters their lives, the story line adds fantasy elements to it. Mindful of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire saga, readers who appreciate something different in their war novels will enjoy fine historical fantasy.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Stark-Edward Bunker

Edward Bunker
St. Martin's, Dec 2007, $23.95
ISBN: 9780312374945

In 1962 in Oceanview, Los Angeles, Ernie Stark knows he has done a lot of so called terrible things in his life, just ask any of his friends, if he had any, but the "two-bit hustler” has never ratted out on anyone. However, he finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place (or at least the ocean and the continent). The rock is abusive LAPD Detective Lieutenant Patrick Crowley who demands Stark help him catch small time Hawaiian drug dealer Momo Mendoza or else.

Giving Mendoza to the cop is the hard place as that means cutting off his own drug supply; not giving Mendoza over to the cop means several horrific beatings and doing time on trumped up charges. Adding to his concern is the way the mute Dummy watches him as Stark wonders if he is being paranoid or if Mendoza’s runner and perhaps enforcer, who did time for manslaughter, knows something. He has two days to do something, but how to out hustle a cop, a drug dealer, a killer and make it with Dorie Williams will require on hell of a scam.

Crime caper fans will devour this STARK historical tale (actually it was written in the 1950s) as everyone involved is playing a game of poker with scams, bluffs and calls being the norm in a winner take all environs. The key quintet bring alive the streets of early sixties Los Angeles as each seems genuine with personal motives and flaws. With a fabulous final Caddy spin, the late Edward Bunker provides a terrific DOG EAT DOG Noir starring cold nasty NO BEAST SO FIERCE as these players.

Harriet Klausner

The Chameleon's Shadow-Minette Walters

The Chameleon's Shadow
Minette Walters
Knopf, Jan 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307264633

On 24 Nov 2006 the convoy drives the highway that links Basra and Baghdad led by a Scimitar Reconnaissance Vehicle when roadside bombs explode. The destruction of the RV became a top DVD seller in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the commander of the RV, British Army Lieutenant Charles Acland survived the blasts with facial and brain injuries; everyone else inside died. Two days later the Light Dragoon Guards’ officer is flown unconscious to Birmingham, England to begin reconstructive surgery of his disfigured face.

Back home, Charles is filled with rage especially towards women, and rejects the facial surgery, but initially accepts the psychological treatment offered by Dr. Robert Willis. Charles is incredibly angry at his former fiancée Jen Morley who insists even before his war trauma he was a chameleon. To her he was a woman’s man; to his unit and his male friends he was a man’s man; to his mom he was the adoring son. Charles abruptly moves to London at about the same time a serial killer is murdering people. He remains reclusive and angry yet accepting. His rage at Muslims leads to a brawl in a bar with Pakistani-English and a rescue by a three hundred pound female lesbian weight lifter Dr. Jackson and the bar’s owner Daisy, who try to help him afterward.

This is an interesting look at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which the medical profession is unsure of whether Charles’ injuries changed his personality especially since Jen convinces them he hid his killer instincts behind a nice guy chameleon. Charles seems genuine and his two female saviors also, but it is the plot focused on whether he is a serial killer or not that grips readers. Although a late spin that answers the question of is he seems off kilter, fans of Minette Walters will enjoy this psychological thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Demons Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend-Victoria Laurie

Demons Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend
Victoria Laurie
Obsidian, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780451223418

Psychic Karen “Teek” O’Neal hires her friend M.J. Holliday and her Ghost Hunting associates computer guru Gilley Gillespie and Dr. “Delicious” Steven Sable for help. Teek’s fourteen years old niece Evie was attacked by a demon at the Northelm Boarding School she attends. The three Ghost Hunters agree to travel to the school off of Lake Placid, New York.

M.J. quickly learns the school bully is Hatchet Jack, but counseling him will not work as he is a demon who came through a portal she must locate if she is to send him to the hell hole he calls home. She also knows he is not going to cooperate like the ghost of the late police office Randy Donaldson did on their way up. Worse the school’s faculty, the dean, and Evie’s dad think she is either a psycho or a teen prankster while the dean thinks Evie’s aunt hangs around lunatics; which he assumes is probably where the kid gets her unbalance; M.J. expects hindrance from that quarter.

The follow up to WHAT'S A GHOUL TO DO? is an entertaining lighthearted paranormal thriller that grips the audience early on when M.J. assists lost soul Randy to move on and never slows down until the final nail is hammered home. This time Dr. Delicious is part of the investigative team from the onset rather than just a client as he was in the first entry. High school teens and up will appreciate the latest Ghost Hunter Mystery as M.J. and associates prove that DEMONS ARE A GHOUL’S BEST FRIEND, not.

Harriet Klausner

The Tea Rose-Jennifer Donnelly

The Tea Rose
Jennifer Donnelly
Dunne, Jan 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780312378028

In 1888 the Finnegans live in the London neighborhood Whitechapel. The family patriarch Paddy and his daughter Fiona work for corrupt tea merchant William Burton. Fiona wants much more than toiling for a crooked person while living in a slum. She saves her pence in hope of achieving her dream of marrying her beloved Joe Bristow and opening up a shop.

However, her dream turns nightmarish when Joe is forced to marry someone else; Burton arranges for a hitman to kill her dad in retaliation for Paddy supporting the development of a labor union; the Ripper murders her mother; and finally the corpse of her deeply depressed brother is found in the Thames, an apparent suicide. Fiona visits Burton to obtain some money for her father’s death, but instead hears the odious braggart lauding his killing of Paddy. Desperate especially to keep her other sibling five-year-old Seamie safe, she tries to obtain passages on a ship heading to New York, but fails until wealthy homosexually inclined Nicholas Soames pretends she is his wife. In America Fiona and Seamie live with their alcoholic Uncle Michael; she keeps his West Side grocery store open and soon becomes wealthy ironically working with tea; but revenge remains for her on the other side of the pond.

This is a reprint of a superb historical thriller that brings to life the underside of late Victorian London and Gay Nineties New York. The story line is fast-paced yet readers will feel they walk the gaslight streets of Manhattan and the Ripper dark cobblestones of Whitechapel by the Thames. Sub-genre fans will appreciate this wonderful late nineteenth century epic.

Harriet Klausner

Runemarks-Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris
Knopf, Jan 2008, $18.99
ISBN: 9780375844447

Five centuries have past since the battle of Ragnarok in which the gods lost and eternal winter became the norm. With the gods gone and allegedly no more magic existing, filling the leadership vacuum of the Middle World of the Nine Worlds is the Order, who rule with an iron fisted theocracy.

Maddy Smith born with a runemark on her palm knows some residue magic still exists. However the eight hundred villagers of Malbry in the Strond Valley region of the civilized Inland island scorn her because her “ruinmark” make them believe she is a witch. They would exile her except that their hamlet is on the edge of Red Horse Hill, a locale containing the pre-Ragnarok power. Thus they need the witch’s skills to control the goblin plague that comes with being so close to the ancient magic. Everything changes for the needed pariah when a traveler One-Eye enters the village. He recognizes her having a world destiny if she can believe in herself; he offers to teach Maddy in Faerie; she avidly accepts.

The biggest problem for parents with this excellent young adult Norse fantasy is their children will be so hooked with the Potter syndrome they will stay up several nights to read this wonderful five hundred plus page tale. The story line is fast-paced from the first rune to the last while the supportive cast is fully developed from Adam the Bully to the heroine’s family to the Devotees to the goblins Lucky and Sugar and Sack, etc. However, Maddy and to a lesser degree her mentor own this coming of age Middle World saga.

Harriet Klausner

The Vampire’s Kiss-Raven Hart

The Vampire’s Kiss
Raven Hart
Ballantine, Jan 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780345498564

Five hundred years old vampire William Thorne is tearing Europe apart searching for his vampiric wife and their son; he seeks them not out of some family love, as he does not; instead he knows they are evil and have kidnapped someone dear to him, Renee the powerful daughter of Melaphia the strongest voodoo priestess in the New World. Her daughter’s magical blood can cure ills that affect vampires and it is her mother’s blood that makes William stronger than vampires twice his age. When he learns they were in London, William asks his vampiric cousin to assist him on his quest.

Back at home in Savannah, Jack’s sire William is trying to prevent a backwater hillbilly werewolf clan from making crystal meth. The powerful alpha werewolf Seth is also trying to take them down in a pack fight while Jack’s love Connie struggles to accept that creatures of the night exist. Eleanor, who William converted into a vampire, begs him to free her from his wife and her mate even though she betrayed him by leaving with them shortly after he made her. William will free her, but only when Renee is liberated and unbound. His decision to let Eleanor survive proves a mistake because she slows down his quest to reunite with the child of his heart. An ocean away her mother uses her power to hurt her daughter’s enemies so that William can free Renee in what appears to be the first salvo in a war.

THE VAMPIRE KISS is a pulse thumping enthralling horror thriller filled with action to the nth degree. There are many revelations in this exciting story that will serve as future plots. This includes the supernatural species Connie belongs too and why Renee’s mother wants her soul on another plane of existence. Readers learn of the long term strategic goals of the Vampire Council of Dark Lords especially how they plan to interact with their sustenance, humans. However, it is the lead vampires, likable Jack with his self deprecating undead jokes and courageous William with his need to do right who make this a fine entry in spite of its overall transition story line.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, December 24, 2007

If Not Love-Kay Langdale

If Not Love
Kay Langdale
Dunne, Feb 2008, $23.95
ISBN 9780312367398

Sarah considers an affair with Harry, her husband Michael’s best friend. Kate thinks her husband Harry no longer desires her and is sniffing elsewhere so she turns to her mother for guidance. A widow Isobel explains to her despondent daughter that her marriage had issues of infidelity too as her husband Kate’s dad Robert had an affair with Martha. Isobel visits Martha at her nursing home where Robert’s mistress tells her that her four years as the other woman were the highlight of her life. Night nurse Shelia notices the sudden vim in her patient Martha and ponders her own virginal chaste marriage as she wed for convenience not love. Finally there is migraine sufferer Judith, whose husband Tom is kind and caring, but she has never let go giving up her son for adoption.

The six women have their own chapter with a final seventh denouement tying up their individual but somewhat connected entries. All six women seem genuine while the support family members enhance the deep look at each of the stars as readers learn why each one committed to a relationship especially IF NOT LOVE. To learn the Judith link requires reading this fine female British version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Harriet Klausner

Sin Club-Rachelle Chase

Sin Club
Rachelle Chase
Kensington Aphrodisia, Dec 2007, $12.95
ISBN: 9780758216519

“Jessie A Sinful Striptease”. Encouraged by Dr. Tommy “Love” Jones on his Wake-Up Bay Area radio show to join his Sin Club by being bold, brave, and brassy, Jessie Anderson heeds his advice. She performs “A Sinful Striptease” in a gazebo for the man she sees in the shadows whom she assumes is her Martin, but instead Nick Ralston comes to full alert when he sees her act.

“Sharice A Sinful Phone Call”. After Dr. Love coaxes her to take a chance, Sharice calls Shawn whom she is satiating over in her wet dreams. However, it is Jamal who answers her call, but stammering fails to correct her as to who he is. He is turned on just from her “Sinful Phone Call”, but fears once they meet he will need cold showers.

“”Alyssa A Sinful Proposition”. Heeding Dr. Love’s tenet to go out and get it, Alyssa James decides writing about sex in San Francisco in her blog is not the same as doing sex. At her friend’s business The Perfect Date Alyssa meets Tony Brooks, owner of several upscale bars, who cannot get past her breasts.

These are three heated erotic romances starring needy females on the prowl thanks to Dr. Love. Each meets the right male in weird situations. Fans will appreciate this fine anthology and demand more visits to the doctor of love.

Harriet Klausner

Freefall-JoAnn Ross

JoAnn Ross
Signet, Mar 2008, $7.99
ISBN 9780451223203

Having served in the Afghan War, former SEAL Chief Petty Officer Zach Tremayne returns to his hometown Swann Island, South Carolina; he hopes the barrier island will enable him to move past his recent appalling experience of seeing the deaths of his brothers in arms. Sabrina Swann also returns to her hometown Swann Island, South Carolina; she hopes the barrier island will enable her to move past the appalling deadly terrorist attack on the Florence, Italy Paradiso Angeli Hotel where she was a waitress.

Zach and Sabrina were teen sweethearts so with both coming home and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they naturally come together. As they help each other move forward, they begin to fall in love. However, the serene Swan Island of their youth is no more as a serial killer stalks, tortures and kills women with Sabrina in his sights.

The Coastal Carolina barrier island makes for a perfect setting for the first High Risk romantic suspense thriller. The romance is the more fascinating subplot as two walking wounded struggle to relate in spite of falling in love; as PTSD does not lead to trust; both knows the issues are inside them not their beloved. Although the serial killer element adds suspense and enables Zach to way too easily shed his PTSD crippling illness to try to save Sabrina, fans will enjoy the exciting FREEFALL with its unique romance.

Harriet Klausner

A Flaw in the Blood-Stephanie Barron

A Flaw in the Blood
Stephanie Barron
Bantam, Mar 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 9780553805246

In 1861 Windsor Castle, the Prince Consort Albert is dying from typhoid, a disease he has battled with for several months. His wife Queen Victoria of England is beside herself with grief as she wonders how she will survive and continue to rule her empire without him at her side; he has always been there for her and their children since they married two decades ago.

Victoria sends her royal coach for Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald to see her as she has need of his service. Twenty years ago when she was a shaky ruler of just a few years, he, as a legal clerk, exposed a murderous conspiracy intended to dethrone her. Fitzgerald accompanied by his ward Dr. Georgiana Armistead has no idea what her Highness wants of him, but when the coach containing them is attacked, he fears for their lives as he knows the assault was precisely planned by a royal insider. He refuses to risk their lives so he plans to hide the niece of the late Dr. Snow, physician to the Queen. However they are the prey of predators seeking a secret that goes back to his first royal encounter although he remains ignorant of that truth; if revealed those who want the queen deposed will have a perfect rationale at a time the grief stricken Victoria is too weak to fight back.

In many ways this exhilarating thriller is more a historical novel than a mystery. The audience obtains a taste of greater London at a critical time in the reign of Queen Victoria when the monarch is vulnerable. Fitzgerald keeps the tale focused with his realistic attempts to hide rather than die facing his unknown adversaries. Readers will appreciate Stephanie Barron’s fine mid nineteenth century Victorian suspense saga with nary an Austen or any Jane in sight.

Harriet Klausner

The Iron Tongue of Midnight-Beverle Graves Myers

The Iron Tongue of Midnight
Beverle Graves Myers
Poisoned Pen, Mar 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590582503

In 1740, German composer Karl Johann Weber invites renowned singer Tito Amato to play the lead in a new opera he is producing. Tito is euphoric although his brother in law Gussie Rumbolt points out the role of Tamerlano the lusty Mongol conqueror seems off note for a castrato, but Tito insists the exorbitant fee will cover any shortcomings.

Gussie, who also has been hired to paint scenes, accompanies Tito to the isolated Venetian Villa Dolfini where Weber is leading rehearsals in stark secrecy. That night as Gussie and Tito share a room in the villa, soprano Carmela Costa screams. The bloodcurdling screech wakes everyone up. Lying at her ankle is a corpse apparently beaten to death with a nearby clock pendulum. No one can identify the victim and a check of his pockets does not help as they are totally empty. They send for the High Constable Captain Forti, but he is away. As other midnight killings follow, Tito investigates not knowing when he made that decision his inquiries will turn introspectively personal.

The latest Baroque Mystery (see INTERRUPTED ARIA, PAINTED VEIL, and CRUEL MUSIC) is an excellent historical whodunit that uses an eighteenth century villa to serve as a sort of locked room. Tito is terrific as an amateur sleuth struggling with a case in which motive seems impossible to find since the first deceased is unknown. Besides an entertaining mystery, the story line brings to life the musical side of Venice and to a lesser degree Constantinople through the writings of Tito’s brother Alessandro. Readers will sing the praise of Beverle Graves Myers who makes a night at the opera fun.

Harriet Klausner

Confessor-Terry Goodkind

Terry Goodkind
Tor, Nov 2007, $29.95
ISBN: 9780765315236

After coming so far, Richard Rahl knows he must risk all to free his beloved wife Kahlan Amnell, who does not recall much of her past including her husband, from the destructive Emperor Jagang and his Imperial Order that has destroyed freedom like a CHAINFIRE encircling everything. Now the Order has reached the final destination of pandemic destruction the People's Palace.

Richard must escape, save his spouse and prevent the Order from completing its quest while knowing the Beast will assault his body and soul at almost every turn. His only avenue he sees is to forge a team to challenge the undefeated champions, the Emperor’s squad in a game of Ja'La dh Jin. If he wins the contest the females select the rewards; he does not want to dwell on losing.

Going into the final book of the Sword of Truth saga, the probability of Terry Goodkind wrapping up all his subplots from the previous ten tales is one in a googolplex, but the author seemingly has done so, but at a cost. The above is critical, but does not reflect most of what is going on from battles to campsites, to the siege, etc. At times the myriad of sidebars seem overwhelming and force a final sprint to the finish line. Still this is a powerful conclusion to what peels down to its core of a war between truth and deception with readers wondering will Richard succeed on his quest that is personal yet universal while breathlessly waiting the revealing of the final wizard’s rule.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Little Ray of Sunshine-Lani Diane Rich

A Little Ray of Sunshine
Lani Diane Rich
NAL, $14.00
ISBN 9780451222961

Emmy “EJ” James works the early night shift at the Quik ’n’ Go as a temporary means of making some money until she feels it is time to move on as she has for the past six years living in her Airstream motor home. However, with seventeen minutes left in her shift, two customers arrive. “Springfield tells EJ that “Ponytails” needs help as her car seems to have broken down. Ponytails informs EJ her name is Jess Szyzynski and she is an angel here to help her; EJ assumes another lunatic escaped from the asylum as she is no George Bailey in need of A Wonderful Life.

Digs Greene arrives to inform EJ that his dad Danny and her mother Lilly are getting married. Emmy thinks back to when she left in the middle of the night six years ago instead of marrying Dig’s older brother Luke. Although her mother is a nasty selfish piece of work while his father is a kind widower, EJ wants nothing to do with either family. Ponytails the angel thinks otherwise. To her bewilderment EJ drives home to confront Lilly.

The two romances especially between EJ and Luke is well done, but takes a back seat to the tale of Lilly trying to persuade her daughter she has changed due to the love and caring of a kind gentle man as her daughter’s distrust of her is bone marrow deep. The whimsical story line is driven by the complex interrelationships between the cast who seem real flaws and all. Whether Jess is an angel and where the Airstream ends up parked require reading this rich family drama filled with much more than just A LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE.

Harriet Klausner

Choosing Sophie-Leslie Carroll

Choosing Sophie
Leslie Carroll
Avon, Feb 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780060871376

Estranged from her wealthy father August deMarley for over two decades former burlesque dancer and club manager Venus learns he died by reading it in the Aspen newspaper. She informs her fiancé Tom Elliot she is going to New York for the funeral, but he need not come.

In New York, August’s attorney Cap Gaines explains that Livy as she is called by family since her name is Olivia inherits the minor league baseball team the Bronx Cheers who play their home games on City Island. However, August “deMiser” as his daughter knew him left a stipulation that she complete the circle; no one knows what he meant though Cap has an idea. The second stunner is a college age female almost her over six foot height who is at the reading. Cap introduces Livy to her daughter Sophie, whom she gave up for adoption twenty years ago. As biological mother and daughter try to forge a relationship, Livy hides her insecurities re Sophie, Tom and the team behind her towering height as she runs the Bronx Cheers hoping to make the playoffs for the first time; something dad never saw.

This entertaining relationship drama is a fabulous look at teaming in sports and in the “adoption triad”. Readers will enjoy watching Livy and Sophie struggle with bonding while her adoptive parents reluctantly but lovingly encourage them. Although Brooklyn, home to the minor league Cyclones seems a better choice of location as the Bronx has the Yankees, fans of an extended family drama will appreciate observing whether Livy hits a home run with her daughter, her team, and her fiancé or strikes out.

Harriet Klausner