Monday, March 31, 2008

She's On Top-Susan Lyons

She's On Top
Susan Lyons
Kensington Aphrodisia, Apr 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780758217035

Vancouver Clarinetist Rina Goldberg wants to get married to her soulmate, but has not found anyone to replace her first lover classical pianist Giancarlo Mancini, whom she has not seen in a decade; anyone who believes out of sight out of mind is a fool to Rina When she learns that Giancarlo in town, encouraged by her best friends (see CHAMPAGNE RULES and TOUCH ME), she decides to see if he is as interested in her as she is in him and to determine if the memory is as good as the real thing.

Now a music video director, Giancarlo has never forgotten the lovely Rina. When she calls him, he is ecstatic as he wonders if reality will match his fantasies. Both will soon know whether they belong together as each still dreams of what they had but let go due to career choices ten years ago.

The third Canadian Awesome Foursome tale is a fun entry like its predecessors can stand alone; though the first two stories are entertaining. Rina is fabulous as she is encouraged by the magic of love that has touched her pals Suzanne and Anne so she hopes to make music with the one she never forgot. Giancarlo is her equal when it comes to passion, intensity, intelligence, talent, and love. However will they be able make their relationship permanent or wait another decade as each has issues to overcome. Susan Lyons provides an awesome British Columbia second chance at love romance.

Harriet Klausner

Divorcing Dwayne-J.L. Miles

Divorcing Dwayne
J.L. Miles
Cumberland House, Apr 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9781581826500

Francine Harper muses how she met Dwayne at a pig-pull and married him once but divorced him twice as she relaxes in the Hall County, Georgia jail. She was arrested for killing their bed given to them by her daddy. Actually she was jailed for trying to shoot Dwayne and Carla the Peel ‘n Squeal stripper, who were fiddling around in her bed, but her three shots missed them and murdered the bed instead.

Francine thinks nothing of her murdering the bed as little disturbs her since an alligator crashed her wedding except the love of her life cheating on her. However the county’s District Attorney Warren Wilson plans to use criminal prosecutions of dangerous felons like Francine to get elected as the next governor. However, not one to sit idly by and be used by a political a-hole, Francine and her best friend Ray Anne Pickles conducts their own inquiries into the town of Pickville Springs, the Greenwich Village of North Georgia; that is in between her courtroom trial.

This amusing regional tale is a fun “grit-lit” story (per J.L. Miles) that readers will appreciate. Francine and Ray Anne go from the frying pan into the fire with each inquiry they make. The heroine’s asides provide the audience a deep humorous look at Northern Georgia as her insight is fun to follow especially when Hollywood invades Pickville Springs. Zany and over the top of the still recognized southern end of the Appalachia trail that actually extends into Alabama, fans will enjoy the antics of Francine as she is DIVORCING DWAYNE again.

Harriet Klausner

Eyes of the World-Rob Palmer

Eyes of the World
Rob Palmer
Leisure, May 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843956764

The election for the next President of the United States is two weeks away, but appears to be a historical one. Carolyn "Lynnie" Connor is leading comfortably in all the major polls and looks ready to become the first female president. Her spouse former naval chaplain "Saint Devon" is a popular individual as he does missionary work around the world; currently the future First Man is in Africa. The only thing that could derail Lynnie’s trip to the White House is a mega scandal. That possibility exists because of her affair with her childhood friend, who saved her life during a fire that killed his sister; her trysts with Michael "Mike" Stanbridge will not be forgiven by the voters as she is cuckolding her paragon of a husband.

Reverend Eve Tessmer has set up a "This Is Your Life" for Lynnie in her home town. She has arranged guest speakers to represent each phase in Lynnie's life, except for when she was in Arizona. Eve's friend Archibald "Archie" Pascoe takes some of the Arizona documents home to peruse in an effort to determine a suitable speaker. That same night someone kills Eve and takes her Arizona file except what Archie possesses. The police suspect Mike killed Eve. When someone tries to murder Archie, Mike knows he is the only target of the Feds for this attempted murder and an unknown assassin who he fears is working for a famous person he knows intimately.

With the obvious connections to the real election aside, this is an exciting thriller as a lone nobody becomes the focus of an assassin, the media, and law enforcement. Though somewhat over the top readers will enjoy the fast-paced EYES OF THE WORLD as Mike will remind the audience of Cary Grant's character psychiatrist Thorndike in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

Harriet Klausner

What Burns Within-Sandra Ruttan

What Burns Within
Sandra Ruttan
Leisure, May 2008, $7.99
ISBN 9780843960747

In Vancouver, British Columbia the three constables had worked a difficult case together last year that turned nasty; each tacitly agreed to not see one another as a means of forgetting how dysfunctionally they performed. Now Craig Nolan looks into a serial killer case; Ashlyn Hart seeks a serial arsonist; and Tain works on a serial child abduction investigation.

However, each soon realizes that the seemingly three different investigations connect. If they are to prevent the next rape, inferno and kidnapping from happening, they must work as a team, but emotions run deep as the memories of last years fiasco still burns in the professional souls of Nolan, Hart and Tain.

This is a terrific Canadian police procedural that starts off with three distinct cases and the cops having a shared history that each wants to forget; avoidance of the others is the psychological mechanism used, but out of sight out of mind fails them. When the cases intertwine none want to work with one another, but as professionals they know they must to prevent the horrros that have ouccured. Besides three lead police detectives, Sandra Ruffen merges her investigative subplots into an excellent police procedural.

Harriet Klausner

Dying Breath-Wendy Corsi Staub

Dying Breath
Wendy Corsi Staub
Zebra, May 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9781420101317

Her mother vanished when Camden Hastings was a child; soon afterward her sister committed suicide. Haunted by the losses, as a teen, Cam began seeing horrific visions of frightened children in danger.

Cam loves her husband Mike, but her demons have led to her having alcohol problem and other issues; they are separated. She hopes to save her relationship with Mike but plans to start over for the sake of their teenage daughter, Tess. However, on Long Beach Island off the Jersey shore, Cam sees the poster of a child who has haunted her recent dreams. She tries to be the Good Samaritan assisting the police only to have Tess abducted; she and Mike desperately try to find their child before it is too late.

This complex paranormal suspense thriller seems initially overwhelming as the myriad of subplots keep changing as does the prime player. Once the table is set by talented Wendy Corsi Staub (about a fourth of the way in) readers will appreciate the increasingly tense tale as the audience can feel the horror eating at Cam’s gut. She is a fabulous protagonist as she learns no good deed goes unpunished yet cannot ignore her visions partially because she was helpless when her sister died and her mother disappeared; fans will root for her as she and Mike struggle to save Tess.

Harriet Klausner

Sins of the Night-Devyn Quinn

Sins of the Night
Devyn Quinn
Kensington Aphrodisia, Apr 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780758220189

A century ago Adrien Roth was proud to be a Shadow Stalker who destroyed the Kynn. However, he failed at his task when he was captured by his enemy. They tortured him and he became one of them, a vampire who used sex with mortals as sustenance.

Loathing himself he plans to destroy Kynn chieftain Devon Carnavorn and the vampire’s new wife Rachel in what the former Shadow Stalker knows is probably a suicide mission. However, as he begins his quest, Adrien meets human Cassie Wilson, who somehow reinvigorates the soul he thought the Kynn killed when they brutalized and changed him. As they fall in love, he wants to come out of her shadows into the light of her warmth, but obstinately refuses to give up his quest for vengeance as he targets the Mystique Goth nightclub in Warren, California.

This exciting fantasy thriller returns the lead characters of SINS OF THE DEVIL, but this time they are the objectives of the lead male who sees them as his revenge and redemption. The story line is character driven as Adrien, already feeling somewhat schizoid between his former occupation and his current status, struggles with the thirst for bloody vengeance and love. Although some of the erotic scenes will turn off some readers especially when violent force is applied to a disinclined individual who says no. Devyn Quinn provides an interesting erotic vampire romantic suspense as fans will wonder whether Devon chooses Cassie or suicide.

Harriet Klausner

Something Magic This Way Comes-Edited by Martin H. Greenberg

Something Magic This Way Comes
Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Sarah A. Hoyt
Daw, Mar 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780756404727

This fantasy collection focuses on modern day magic in a world filled with technology and science, but as pointed out in the “The Power of Magic” introduction by Sarah A. Hoyt when our computers have “some inexplicable event” we say “Gremlins”. The entries are solid with no clinkers as expected by the top tier contributors Like Harry Turtledove and the Resnicks (Mike and Laura - separate stories). Irene Radford opens the anthology at the Beltane Renaissance Fair with the palm reader warning Gabrielle that her lifeline is broken three times and then abruptly cuts short in "More to Truth than Proof." Dave Freer ends the collection with his humorous “Regency Sprite” in which the trapped Fay cannot threaten nor offer reward to the drunken human. In between are well written tales such as a wife fleeing spousal abuse helping an elf fleeing hunters in Kate Paulk's "Raining the Wild Hunt". There are all sorts of entries in between as Carolina “Lighthouse Surfer” and his friends test “Orygun” waves and more in Daniel M. Hoyt’s East coast meets West Coast tale. Throw in “Houdini’s Mirror” by Russell Davis along with all types of magical species like Charles Edgar Quinn’s “The Star Cats" and locations like Esther Friesner’s “In a Dark Wood, Dreaming”. Fans will appreciate the wide cut of this fine magical compilation.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pretzel on Prozac: The Story of an Immigrant Dog

Pretzel on Prozac: The Story of an Immigrant Dog
Ellen Palestrant
Elusive Press, 2007, $12.95, 124pp.
ISBN: 9781587368417

Ellen Palestrant accompanied by her two dogs Pretzel and Bailey moved from South Africa to the United States. Whereas Bailey adapts to the long trek and shows no neuroses upon moving into his new home, Pretzel struggles with the journey and turns psychotic once he is in the United States. Everything disturbs Pretzel from noise to nearby people. He becomes depressed not wanting to do anything or eat and is anxious as every change in routine upsets him. Ms. Palestrant, worried about her beloved pet, turns to the vet for help. Thus PRETZEL’S ON PROZAC to help him psychologically with his mental issues. This helps normalize the canine and he remains normal even when he finally is withdrawn from Prozac.

This is well written often amusing “dogography” that canine lovers will fully appreciate. Although overall jocular, it is the deep look into a pet struggling with adjusting to new environs that makes PRETZEL ON PROZAC: THE STORY OF AN IMMIGRANT DOG worth reading, as animals have their neurosis too.

Harriet Klausner

Gemini Heat-Portia Da Costa

Gemini Heat
Portia Da Costa
Black Lace, May 2008
ISBN: 9780352341877

The Metropolis was already heated when Deana Ferraro attends the “Visions of Eroticism – the de Guile Collection instead of her identical twin sister Delia who is with slimy Russell. Deana realizes coming to this erotic exhibit is exponentially increasing her already over the top sexual frustration of going solo only. She places herself in the images raising her temperature higher than the melted sidewalks outside. Watching her “come” is the artist Jackson K. de Guile, who introduces himself as no talented Jake; she is Dee.

Jake proves an expert on the power of sex. He is the master and she is his obedient servant. He soon turns their S&M pleasures into a competing ménage a trois when Jake brings Delia into the game. Soon the siblings compete as rivals trying to out pleasure each other by winning Jake’s special rewards especially vying for his undivided lower head attention.

Erotic romance readers will enjoy this hot contemporary tale starring three full blooded in heat individuals who seemingly cannot get enough. The story line starts torrid and turns equatorial as Deana and Delia compete for the power of Jake who relishes controlling the twins in and out of the bedroom. This aptly named title showcases one of the sub-genre’s best at writing XXX dramas.

Harriet Klausner

Bulls Island- Dorothea Benton Frank

Bulls Island
Dorothea Benton Frank
Morrow, Apr 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061438431

Two decades ago in the Carolinas, Betts McGee and J.D. Langley met and fell in love. However, she has working class genes while his blood is aristocratic. Still they seemed to have overcome their class differences when they became engaged. However, that same night her mom dies in a car accident while his mom Charleston sophisticate Louisa rants about dumbing down the blue blooded DNA. Unable to cope with her future mother-in-law from hell while grieving, Betts leaves her family, J.D. and the Carolinas behind to start fresh in Manhattan. No one back home knows she left pregnant and raised a son Adrian by herself while doing quite well with depressed real estate.

However, her current assignment is in the Charleston area where she will work a land deal with unhappily married to Valerie local J.D. She would prefer to be prisoner of terrorists or the CIA, but Betts heads home to work the BULLS ISLAND deal with his firm Langley development. As she realizes she never stopped loving J.D., she continues to conceal the lie of omission from him, her family, and Adrian while J.D. knows he is married to the wrong woman.

Although the audience knows what to expect, Dorothea Benton Frank provides an engaging contemporary family drama that showcases the author’s skill as throughout readers will have doubts about the anticipated outcome. The cast is solid with the story line mostly told from the viewpoint of the lead female. Readers will enjoy this fine romance as everyone will wonder whether Betts is willing to take a second chance at love while eluding gatorzilla.

Harriet Klausner

1787-Sean Michael Bailey

Sean Michael Bailey
Five Star, Apr 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594146367

Computer guru, self made millionaire Matt Newton flies along with other Americans on Anytime Airways flight number 1787 from Kennedy Airport to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for some fun in the sun. However, hijackers take over the passenger section of the jet, killing an air marshal. They gain access to the cockpit when the pregnant member of the terrorists removes explosives from her uterus.

Military historian Anna Horowitz takes charge of the hostages as she warns them they must overcome the enemy or die as sheep. As they begin their counter surge, no one knows who will fly the plane if they succeed in taking it back; or whether Mexico or the United States will shoot down a rogue jet that is rumored to be carrying a nuke inside its cargo. Matt with his contact to his employees and Anna with her tactics knowledge are the only hope as far up in government and religious circles are people who want no survivors to tell anyone that the terrorists are not Middle Easterners as the news claims.

Readers who enjoy an exciting suspense thriller will appreciate 1787 although they will also wonder what could have been if Sean Michael Bailey stayed with his hijack techno premise and no external trimmings. The story line is fast-paced as it plays out in the southwest skies and in Brooklyn-Queens and over the vast communication networks. Fans of wild action thrillers will enjoy terrorists in the plane.

Harriet Klausner

Severance Package-Duane Swierczynski

Severance Package
Duane Swierczynski
St. Martin’s, May 2008, $13.95
ISBN 9780312343804

In Philadelphia CEO David Murphy gathers his seven underlings to a weekend business meeting at the 36th floor office. Once they gather together, David informs the septet that he has shut down the firm and more important to them he must kill them.

There is no escape as David has locked vacuum sealed tight all exits with some containing saran gas if opened and others just shut. All seven are stunned, but the least of them, Molly “mousy” Lewis pulls out a gun and shoots Murphy in the head.

Across the ocean in Scotland, two operatives keep in touch with their agent inside the finance firm Ania Kuczun. What the other six fail to realize as Ania begins her assignment is that she is Molly and the company they worked for was a top secret covert operations, but lost their usefulness so each employee must be eliminated.

This modern day, action packed espionage thriller salutes Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE as the employees learn that their SEVERANCE PACKAGE is death. The story line is fast-paced from the moment that David informs his subordinate there is no escape as they must die and never slows down until the final death spin.

Harriet Klausner

Holy Moly-Ben Rehder

Holy Moly
Ben Rehder
St. Martin’s, May 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780312357542

In Blanco County, Texas, Peter “Pastor Pete” Boothe hires backhoe operator Hollis Farley to clear the land for the construction of a mega church complex, a controversial project not warmly received by everyone. Hollis uncovers an Alamosaurus skull that if reported would halt construction until it can be determined whether the area is an archeological gold mine. However, someone shoots an arrow into Farley’s back and the fossil vanishes.

Red O’Brien learned from Hollis what he found and wants the valuable fossil. So does paleontologist Dr. Underwood, who based on pictures told Game Warden John Marlin the skull could be worth millions. Meanwhile Red persuades his roommate three-hundred pound Billy Don Craddock to seduce Farley’s sister, Betty Jean, as he assumes she is the most likely person to have the dinosaur skull. He also considers those in Pastor Pete’s inner sanction like the preacher’s cheating wife and his top lieutenant. On the other hand there are those working for dinosaur-lover Darwin Parker. While Red works his amateur sleuthing from all angles, he intrudes on Marlin’s official professional inquiry into what happened to Hollis though O’Brien sees the cops getting in his way.

This is a wild well written salute to avarice as just about everyone has a reason to claim the skull and will do what it takes to gain possession. The story line is fast-paced and filled with greedy twists as rivalries battle for ownership. Interestingly Marlin is the hero as he was in GUN SHY, but he shares top billing with Red, Paster Pete, and an assortment of people who spent too much time sniffing oil fumes or baking in the Texas heat.

Harriet Klausner

The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Ellen Datlow (editor)
Del Rey, Apr 2008, $16.00
ISBN 9780345496324

This sixteen story anthology runs the gamut of speculative fiction, which makes it in many ways a fresh throwback before themed restraints became the name of the short story game for especially fantasy and horror but to a lesser degree science fiction and alternate history too. The contributions are all well written with several spectacular entries. “Renaissance” readers will enjoy the compilation from the opening alternate history act (The Elephant Ironclads” by Jason Stoddard) to the closing collaboration “Prisoners of the Action” by McCauley and Newman and points in between. The tales include contemporary urban (“Ardent Clouds” by Lucy Sussex), fairy tale revision (“The Goosle” by Margo Langan), and an alternate historical fictional account of why “Sonny Liston Takes the Fall” in his bout with Ali then Clay by Elizabeth Bear. Sci fi is present with “Special Economics” in China by Maureen F. McHugh and changing urban geography too (“AKA St. Marks Place” by Richard Bowes). Barry Malzberg provides a change of pace with plenty of humor with his talking goat golem in “The Passion of Azrael”. With supernatural entries (“Jimmy” by Pat Cadigan and “The Lagerstatte by Laird Barron)) to round out the anthology, this is a strong refreshing all over the place collection though a strong alternate history (to include “Shira” by Lavie Tidhar) presence is throughout.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Locktender's House-Steven Sherrill

The Locktender's House
Steven Sherrill
Random House, Apr 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 9781400061532

In Greensboro, North Carolina Janice Witherspoon lives in her boyfriend’s apartment while he serves in Iraq. She prays everyday for his safe return, but her prayers are unanswered when her boyfriend, "Private Danks," dies in the war. Janice has no time to mourn her loss; as his family kicks her out of his apartment.

With no place to go, but in need of closure by seeing her beloved’s corpse, something she knows his relatives will never allow her to do, Janice drives to Dover where the dead military are snuck into the country. By the time she reaches Pennsylvania, Janice realizes she has lost her grip on sanity. She decides to take a respite and finds an abandoned Locktender’s House overlooking a canal lock. She soon meets rustic sculptor, Stephen Gainy; these two lonely people forge a relationship, but it is the voice and dulcimer playing of an eccentric evanescent eerie female she hears that has her dreaming again of life not death as Janice begins to explore her family’s tragic past at these locks at the beginning of the previous century.

This psychological suspense horror thriller takes its time to fully introduce the audience to Janice and through her memories Private Danks. Once readers understand how far Janice’s depression is driving her over the edge making the veil between reality and illusion vanish, we will appreciate Steven Sherrill’s superb setup that takes readers on a journey into the mind of a griever who is not allowed to grieve. This is an excellent character study of the cost of death turning survivors into the living dead who seem to make their own reality or then again perhaps the ghostly horrific past consumes energy to arise whenever tragedy leaves the present vulnerable.

Harriet Klausner

Killer Secrets-Lora Leigh

Killer Secrets
Lora Leigh
St. Martin's, Mar 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780312939946

His father, Diego Fuentes, a notorious drug cartel chief, has made everyone suspect whose side is former SEAL Ian Fuentes on? . However, although his handler has doubts about his loyalty, he is currently undercover seeking to prevent known terrorist Sorrel from concocting some evil plot against innocent people. Ironically even his father is unsure whose side Ian is on.

However, every recent indication affirms the belief that Ian has joined his dad. Only Homeland Security operative Kira “Chameleon” Porter believes otherwise as she has known Ian for years and plans to prove her attraction could not be for a drug dealer. In Aruba, the Feds, the Fuentes Cartel and Sorrel and his colleagues want Ian removed. Only Kira has his back.

Ian is a fascinating individual as no one fully trusts him, not his father or his handler; only Kira partially believes that he is on the good guys’ side, but she has doubts that her reasoning is tainted by love. Can a person who grew up with betrayal by loved ones and treacherous murder by family and friends as a norm still be human or has he been so demonized that he is a tundra psychopath? Kira’s upbringing is only slightly better, but still in deep negative numbers. Lora Leigh’s latest SEAL romantic suspense (see HIDDEN AGENDAS) is fast-paced and filled with action, but it is the uncertainty about the lead couple that makes this a strong thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet-Joanne Proulx

Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet
Joanne Proulx
Soho, Apr 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9781569474877

In 2002 in Stokum, Michigan, teenager Luke Hunter smokes pot with his friends in the basement of the house of Todd “Fang” Delaney’s never home parents when he makes a dark prediction. Luke claims one of them will not make it to school tomorrow because he will be hit by an out of state red van license plate BLU 369; Stan will go heads to head at 8:37 and lose.

Word quickly gets around that Luke predicted to the nth degree of accuracy Stan’s death. The media being in its usual uncaring frenzy state assault Stokum for information on the “Prophet of Death”. They stalk Luke and his frightened bewildered parents as the town has become an asylum for the certifiable especially amoral reporters. Luke sees more "death flashes" that soon become real; seven months of death horrifyg him as he wants to go back to his formerly mellow but somewhat cynical life. A prescription helps abate the visions even as religious fanatics try to intervene while a mom begs him to find his daughter when all he wants is his dream girl at school to say yes.

This is a fast-paced young adult contemporary paranormal thriller that focuses deeply on a previously bored teen whose 99.99% of his brain consisted of one icon: girls; suddenly he has the curse of seeing in graphic detail the death of someone soon. Thus Luke must cope with his unwanted psychic skills while avoiding the media, the religious nuts, the needy beggars, and even his family and friends whom he frightens. On top of that he is attracted to a girl who seems to reject him making him wonder if she fears his “gift”. ANTHEM OF A RELUCTANT PROPHET is a well written teen angst thriller that leaves some threads unanswered, which implies sequel to me.

Harriet Klausner

How the Dead Live-Derek Raymond

How the Dead Live
Derek Raymond
Serpent's Tail, May 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9781852427986

He knows the brass hates him as he is a British bulldog with no regard to his superiors, procedure, or the media when it comes to solving a case or for that matter keeping apolitically correct silence when some Home Office idiotic suit lectures. His boss can’t fire him because he is so successful, but tries to exile him whenever a remote area asks for help.

Thus for opening his mouth during a mandatory class, this Scotland Yard detective finds himself leaving London for tiny Thornhill village in Wiltshire to investigate a missing-person. Apparently Marianne Mardy vanished; her husband Dr. William Mardy has not reported her missing; no one has. Since the local police suffer from duck disease up their arse, he is sent to rusticate make that investigate a possible murder so that his boss can have some needed R&R make that the gossipers can rest easy. In Thornhill, the outsider affirms the local police are uninterested in what happened to Marianne. As he keeps digging, he runs into corruption and soon begins to comprehend what happened to Mrs. Mardy when he learns HOW THE DEAD LIVE, but has problems with insuring justice not legal mumbo jumbo truly occurs.

This is a reprint of the third Factory Scotland Yard thriller written by the late Derek Raymond (see HE DIED WITH HIS EYES OPEN and THE DEVIL’S HOME ON LEAVE; neither read by me). Written two decades ago, the tale is a terrific British police procedural Noir narrated by the unnamed detective who is as excellent at solving cases as he is at annoying his boss. Sub-genre fans will appreciate this engaging one sitting detective tale that exposes the underbelly that society pretends does not exist.

Harriet Klausner

Blood Brothers-Rick Acker

Blood Brothers
Rick Acker
Kregel, May 2008, $14.99
ISBN: 9780825420078

They are twenty-first century versions of Cain and Abel as brothers Karl and Gunnar Bjornsen have worked together for years building up Bjornsen Pharmaceutical; the former is the CEO and the latter is president. In a shocking move, Karl manages to have his sibling voted out as a company officer. The only setback with this betrayal is that Gunnar is the only person who knows how to create Neurostim, a miracle drug that makes people smarter, quicker, and stronger.

Karl sues his brother to force him to reveal how to produce the miracle elixir, but Gunnar counters by hiring lawyer Ben Corbin to make the case that criminal acts by his sibling makes him unfit to run the firm. Side effects show up during the test trials, but Karl keeps that concealed while Ben, his wife and his co-worker go to Norway to visit a Bjornsen subsidiary. They interview a scientist who has proof that Karl committed felonies to remove Gunnar from the company. However, an arsonist burns the building that contained the evidence destroying the documents in the inferno. Having also made a deal with the government, Karl seems indestructible as everything goes his way.

Part crime caper and part legal thriller with a supporting medical thriller foundation, BLOOD BROTHERS is an exciting thriller that demonstrates the talent of Rick Acker to keep fan interest throughout the plot. There is a lot of action in the exhilarating story line, but it is the characters that grip the readers especially fascinating is the good vs. evil fratricide war. Ben is determined as he fights for his client who he fully believes in.The war heats up as his wife gets shot while applying forensic skills to financial documents, and likable Gunnar who knows his brother is a ruthless dirty adversary, but tries to remain on the moral high road in spite potholes, detours, and obstructions.

Harriet Klausner

The Adoration of Jenna Fox-Mary Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Mary Pearson
Holt, Apr 2008, $16.95
ISBN: 9780805076684

The horrific accident left teenager Jenna Fox in a coma for over a year. When she awakens, she finds much of her memory has been wiped out like an etchosketch. What she recalls seems trivia as she can quote passages from poems but does not recognize her family or friends and has to take their word that she is seventeen years old Jenna Fox.

Her parents show her home videos of her childhood, but none of it looks familiar to her besides which it does not feel right. Slowly bits and pieces of her memory return until she realizes her parents’ biography of her life is false. She begins to piece together the horrific truth not understanding the danger that poses to her.

Although there are some questionable decisions made by Jenna’s parents that seem illogical once the audience realizes (along with the title star) what is going on, readers will be fully hooked into a one sitting thriller. Fans will appreciate Mary Pearson’s powerful drama as shocking disclosures that seem plausible keep spinning the story line in different direction than the reader thought. Using the secondary characters to reveal the truth to the audience and the heroine, Ms. Pearson provides a strong tense cautionary thriller that dually raises morality issues while entertaining readers with Jenna’s plight.

Harriet Klausner

Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction

Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction
Douglas A. Anderson (editor)
Ballantine, Mar. 2008
ISBN 9780345498908

The twenty-one short stories, poems, essays and other writings that make up this collection are considered by editor Douglas A. Anderson as the sub-title states The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction. Though this reviewer has some doubts about that assertion, the entries are well written and entertaining from a who’s who of literature (Dickens, Tolkien, Grahame, Stevenson, Wells, Potter, Clarke and Kipling, etc) even though the authors were in many case key players (no novels are included which in my opinion would be more likely to be influential). The contributions are excellent with the little notes prefacing them adding to the fun as Mr. Anderson explains the author’s link to C.S. Lewis. The anthology provides a glimpse into the science fiction-fantasy short writings that were out there prior to Narnia, written in the early 1950s. As he did with the equally delightful TALES BEFORE TOLKIEN, Mr. Anderson provides a strong, enlightening and fun to read compilation; hard to resist “a never before published story” The Wood That Time Forgot: The Enchanted Wood by Roger Lancelyn Green (Lewis’ biographer) that inspired THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bawdy Bedtime Stories-Joan Elizabeth Lloyd

Bawdy Bedtime Stories
Joan Elizabeth Lloyd
Berkley, Apr 2008, $14.00
ISBN: 9780425219447

These thirty-six petite short stories and two afterwards encourage readers to explore their sexual fantasies emphasizing role playing with their significant others. The tales are a few pages each with none over ten pages so serve more as entertaining guides and suggestions then erotica. In the Introduction Joan Elizabeth Lloyd explains that she wrote the anthology to foster communication between partners so that both can have their toes curled. Each entry promotes using one’s imagination while having sexual fun as the head is more important than the sex organs to obtain pleasure. Personal favorites included whimsical “Rewind Time”, “An Arrogant Ass Gets His” and the reminiscing (to me that is) “Nooner”. Whether one chooses to be a pirate, a cameraman and his subject, or that arrogant ass, these quickies are light fun to read. Now where did I leave that sex toy that ebbs and flows.

Harriet Klausner

Roommates Wanted-Lisa Jewell

Roommates Wanted
Lisa Jewell
Harper, Mar 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780061137471

In London, thirty-five year old shop girl Leah has lived across the street from Toby for years; although she has seen him about the neighborhood they have never met. Her long time boyfriend abandons her when she mentions marriage. Toby inherited his dilapidated Victorian mansion from his dad fifteen years ago; he rents rooms to loners although he finds them a pain in the butt.

Leah is walking outside when she finds long time Toby tenant Gus lying dead outside the mansion. Gus’ corpse serves as a matchmaker of sorts as Toby and Leah finally meet. Gus bequests to Toby his ailing cat and a lot of money with the pleading message to clean up his life and make something of him self instead of drifting through life. Toby decides to renovate the Victorian and kick out his assortment of tenants though he does not ask them directly to leave; he turns to Leah to assist him helping these sad losers renovate their lives.

This is an amusing yet deeply touching contemporary tale as Toby who gave up on life years ago as being too hard but now suddenly has a second chance. However to succeed he must rid himself of the fully developed eccentric renters. Although he rationalizes his caring nobility as selflessness, encouraged by lonely Leah, he tries to help the others get a life first; in his efforts he gets a life. ROOMMATES WANTED is a terrific character study of dissolution becoming idealism by feeling good about helping others enables the lead protagonist to “start living” again.

Harriet Klausner

Wild Nights!: Stories about the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway

Wild Nights!: Stories about the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway
Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco, Apr 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061434792

“Poe Posthumous; or The Light-House". Off Chile a lonely morose Poe kept a dairy while tending a lighthouse as its keeper even though he died a few months ago.

"EDickinsonRepliLuxe". In futuristic New Jersey, the mouse and the louse Krim couple buy an android of Emily Dickinson expecting poetry to brighten their lives, but instead the author finds them tedious and wants her freedom.

"Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish 1906". The famous author is being sued for his platonic relationships with teenage girls while his outraged adult daughter plans to testify against her father.

"The Master at St. Bartholomew's Hospital 1914-1916". Henry James does not want to enter the hospital ward filled wounded soldiers, but has no choice as he volunteered to help these “dear boys”.

"Papa at Ketchum 1961". Hemingway is planning his last word, suicide.

The concept is brilliant and the execution superb as each tale provides insight into five of America’s most famous authors. All her well written although the Clemens piece is by far the most disturbing and the Poe entry perhaps the weakest (still enjoyable). Fans of the American classics will relish this fine anthology as Joyce carol Oates proves a fabulous impersonator who emulates the writing styles of five of the greats.

Harriet Klausner

Janeology-Karen Harrington

Karen Harrington
Kunati, Apr 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9781601640208

In Texas Jane Nelson was a loving wife and mother when she suddenly drowned her two and a half years old son Simon and almost killed the lad’s twin sister Sarah. She is charged with the homicide, but found not guilty by reason of insanity. The prosecutor goes after Jane’s husband devastated Tom saying that he should have known what his wife was capable of doing and thereby failed to protect his children. He was not just an accessory; he by inactivity abetted the murder.

The media hangs Tom; his academic peers blame Tom, the public malign Tom. All need a scapegoat and the lunatic mom is considered too deranged whereas Tom is terific for the role. However, his lawyer Dave plans to make a reasonable doubt defense based on JANEOLOGY that insists her DNA has violence imprinted on it. Jane’s psychic relative, Mariah Hernandez assists the defense by looking into Jane’s past and that of her antecedents.

This is a fascinating legal thriller with some paranormal elements that is at its best when the focus is on an anguished Tom outside the courtroom. The story line is fast-paced and gripping as readers will want to know what caused Jane to kill her son and attempt to kill her daughter; Mariah’s visions provide insight into the motives though admittedly some readers will find that gimmicky. However, the big issue is having the DA force Tom to testify seems inappropriate as he has Fifth Amendment rights that allow his side to determine whether they want him on the stand or not. Still this is an interesting look at the causes and effect of a horrific act.

Harriet Klausner

The Outlander-Gil Adamson

The Outlander
Gil Adamson
Ecco (Harper), May 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780061491252

In 1903, nineteen years old Mary Boulton calmly grabs her husband’s rifle and fires killing him. The widow knows she cannot hang around not because she fears the law, but her abusive brother in laws would enact vengeance in their vicious style.

Mary flees across wintry isolated Idaho and Montana while knowing in her composed gut they pursue her. On her trek, she reflects on her unhappy but thankfully short marriage exacerbated by the dead child. As her deep depression enables her to remain eerily unruffled, she meets people along the way. First there is the Frontiersman who admits creeping civilization makes him depressingly feel like an anachronism; then there is the Reverend who treats her like an adored daughter. There are others some not as kind towards the itinerant female especially after a mining disaster that the locals feel she caused by being there. However, the worst is coming as the brothers are nearing and the Reverend wants to change their relationship to that of more of equal partners.

An allegory of a way of life that seems all but vanished, THE OUTLANDER is an excellent historical thriller starring a strong support cast, a spirited lead female, and a vivid picturesque setting. Readers anticipate High Noon is coming, but it is the trip to the final showdown that makes for a deep look at early twentieth century America in a remote part of the northwest.

Harriet Klausner

The Girl with No Shadow-Joanne Harris

The Girl with No Shadow
Joanne Harris
Morrow, May 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780061431623

Over four years have passed since Vianne Rocher got into a local brawl over the sale of her special chocolate confections declared as contraband by the Lansquenet, France clergy during Lent (see CHOCOLAT). Tired of the sweet war, Vianne repudiated the magic part of her recipe, changed her name to Yanne Charbonneau and seeking security, accompanied by her two daughters, teenage Anouk and infant Rosette, moved to Montmartre in Paris where she opened up a more mundane chocolaterie.

However, Yanne begins to understand the curse of motherhood as she wants her children safe, but Anouk rebels. Zozie de l'Alba obtains a job at Yanne’s Paris store, but soon Anouk is enchanted by the newcomer. Worried for her child, she has doubts about Zozie’s intentions; Yanne returns to her past as Vianne. She needs to use her magic to keep Anouk safe and to generate a special chocolate concoction but since it is Advent season the righteous frowns on her sweet creations.

This sequel continues the adventures of everyone’s favorite confectionaire (outside of perhaps Willie Wonka) who has become a die hard conformist out of fear for her daughters until forced out of fear for her oldest child to be a born again magician. The story line rotates perspective between Zozie, Yanne and Anouk while once again a major religious season is in the background causing problems for the non-conformist heroine. Readers will appreciate this strong tale with implications in today’s world; the story line focuses on the problems of fighting evil when the good side gives up its moral high road behaving more malevolent based on the end justifies the mean.

Harriet Klausner

Cruel Zinc Melodies-Glen Cook

Cruel Zinc Melodies
Glen Cook
Roc, May 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780451461926

TunFaire is a magical city where humans and other species like dwarfs, and trolls live and prosper. Magic is taken for granted and while not everyone possesses the skill, those that do think of it as just another one of their senses. Private investigator Garrett wishes he could stay in his warm cozy home with his non-human bookkeeper/servant the ratgirl. Also part of his household is The Dead Man, a Loghyr that sticks around after he died while telepathically communicating with those in Garrett’s house and the horde of hibernating pixies.

However, his client, wealthy brewmeister Max Weider needs his help concerning the World, a dinner theater he is trying to build. People are scared off by the gigantic bugs; ghosts that come and go and protection racketeers who are getting ready to name a price Max doesn’t want to pay. Garrett takes care of the racketeers, hires the rat people to exterminate the bugs and locates the teenagers who created the insects. That leaves him with the ghosts while the Dead Man, who obtained information he culled from the minds of visitors, believes something nasty was awakened by the bug infiltration. Garrett hopes a lullaby will put this unknown malevolence back to sleep.

The latest Garrett PI thriller is an excellent fantasy noir. The hero is smart, clever, and especially devious, but each mystery he tries to solve seems multilayered with complications. There is plenty of action, sly humor, and of course magical intrigue that ricochets with the audience from laughter to fear and back as this is one author who knows how to cook a reader’s gourmet repast. Glen Cook is a fantastic worldbuilder who makes his realm feel real to the readers.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, March 27, 2008

After Hours at the Almost Home-Tara Yellen

After Hours at the Almost Home
Tara Yellen
Unbridled, Apr 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9781932961485

JJ has relocated five times, but currently works as a cocktail waitress in Denver. Her first night at the Almost Home Bar and Grill, the place is packed as the Broncos are playing in the Superbowl. She struggles with customer orders as she finds the job overwhelming at least this first Sunday is; her hope is that this is an aberration caused by the football championship although the tips are excellent so she also hopes for more nights like this once she learns the job.

JJ also struggles to understand the employee dynamics that she knows is critical to her staying on this job a bit longer than her last six positions. She tries to comprehend the 360 degree relationships of each of her peers. For instance Widow Colleen has no place to leave her teenage daughter Lily so she takes her with her when she comes to the bar. Denny is ending a relationship while he and waitress Lena appear to be starting one as they huddle so cuddly together. Keith and bartender Marna plan to run away together.

This is an interesting character study that follows the employees and some of the regulars for one night, a special Superbowl evening, at the bar and grill. The story line switches perspective from the newcomer to the bartender, the teen and her mom, the male customer trying to sell a pick up to others. Though somewhat anecdotal, readers obtain a poignant look at how various people see their lives precariously through the football game in an intense one scene drama.

Harriet Klausner

The Duke Next Door-Celeste Bradley

The Duke Next Door
Celeste Bradley
St. Martin's, Apr 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780312939694

In 1815 their late grandfather Sir Hamish Pickering, disappointed in his daughters not marrying up, placed a stipulation in his will that has his three granddaughters jumping. The first of the trio to marry a duke inherits his fortune. The competing cousins started with the rustic vicar's daughter Phoebe, the elegant Deirdre and the too tall Sophie, but Phoebe is no longer a contender having fallen in love with a duke’s brother (see DESPERATELY SEEKING A DUKE).

Deirdre hones in on ducal heir, “The Beast of Brookhaven” widow Calder Marbrook known for women jilting him at the altar like Phoebe just did. Deirdre tells Calder the truth just not the whole truth as she figures that is her best chance of winning; Calder agrees to marry her. Soon afterward, Deirdre meets her new spouse’s young child Lady Margaret that she did not know existed; the stepdaughter from hell who does not want a new mama. Upset that her Beast was less than honest with her as he concealed his offspring for her, she wants out, but Calder wants Deidre as they play a sexual game of check and checkmate with one another.

The second Heiress Brides’ Regency romance is an entertaining often amusing historical. Deirdre is a terrific lead character as she wants the title to inherit the fortune, but wants love to come with her duke. She feels that is not asking too much although she reconsiders after meeting Meggie whether the money is worth it. Readers will appreciate their gender war enflamed by their love for one another and the brat.

Harriet Klausner

Aurelia-Anne Osterlund

Anne Osterlund
Speak, Apr 2008, $8.99
ISBN: 9780142405796

Most if not all of the people in Tyalt envy Princess Aurelia, heir to the throne; however, ironically Aurelia envies her countrymen. She knows being a royal means pampering, but also connotes responsibility to her country. Aurelia dreams of marrying for love not state with some husband who wants to be the next tyrant; while her father the king expects her to marry whomever he chooses makes the best political deal for Tyalt. She would like to travel the countryside free to explore without bodyguards every step of the way and without fear of embarrassing the throne.

However someone wants the heir removed. After a failed attempt on her life, the King enforces her protection and assigns the son of his former top operator, Robert to investigate the assassination attempt. Robert and Aurelia have been friends forever, but both hide their feelings for one another. However, Aurelia is not going to remain cloistered nor wait for her unknown adversary to try again. She feels only she can save herself so she risks her crown, her love, and her life to do so.

This is an exciting young adult historical fiction that cleverly uses references to anchor time (“The Age of Reason”) and place (other neighboring kingdoms) as Anne Osterlund enlighteningly avoids dumbing down by treating her audience with respect in regards to their intelligence. The courageous princess wants more out of life than tedious nobles fawning at her feet at boring parties. She soon learns that sometimes you get what you wish for when several assassination attempts occur. However, that just makes her even braver. Readers will appreciate Princess Aurelia’s rude awakening to the downside of royalty.

Harriet Klausner

Bewitching Season-Marissa Doyle

Bewitching Season
Marissa DoyleHolt, Apr 2008, $16.95
ISBN 9780805082517

In 1837 seventeen years old twins Penelope and Persephone Leland differ about their feelings about their debut season. Whereas Pen is euphoric looking forward to all the social activity especially with this being a coronation season in London; Persy prefers to stay at home bookishly studying magic under the tutelage of their governess, Ally. However, both react the same way when Ally vanishes without a trace in Kensington Palace; the sisters use their magical skills searching for her while Persy also overhears a seditious plot to keep Princess Victoria from being crowned Queen.

As she has in her mind and heart forever, Persy remained attracted to her neighbor Lord Seton, Lochinver, who only recently seems to have noticed her. However, finding beloved Ally comes first for her and for her sibling. The clues in balls and bashes lead to danger from traitorous conspirators who plan to use Ally’s magical skills to turn Victoria into their puppet.

Though targeting young adults, BEWITCHING SEASON is a alluring early Victorian historical with strong fantasy elements and some romance; older fans of the period will appreciate the fun story line as the magic in Marissa Doyle’s enchanting tale is how magic is treated as a skill young ladies must learn like knitting and playing the pianoforte. The twins are a delight as their personalities are vastly different on the surface with Pen being an extrovert and Persy an introvert, but inside they share courage and caring. The romantic subplot is kept for the most part in the background while the fantasy elements play more critical roles as they are the mechanism being used to control the soon to be queen. It is elementary that fans who enjoy an engaging historical with an invigorating fantasy foundation will want to read Ms. Doyle’s fine thriller.
Harriet Klausner

Succubus In The City-Nina Harper

Succubus In The City
Nina Harper
Del Rey, Apr 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780345495068

In Manhattan Lily the Succubus is having one of the best times of her long life as she finds men as easy pickings although she would like to get out of her Faustian deal with Satan that requires her to deliver him three studs a month as she would just like to fall in love with someone who loves her back. Still, she meets her quota with ease as she seduces the male with the lure of sex before turning them into ash.

Lily enjoys her work as the Accessories Editor at Trend magazine. When Lily meets private investigator Nathan Coleman, she thinks she finally has found love, but has doubts he reciprocates. Still even if he does she knows she owes him the truth about her nocturnal vocation, but doubts her Nathan will believe her unless she turns him to ash.

This is an entertaining chick lit romantic fantasy starring a chic succubus and the men in her life and the life in her men (paraphrasing Mae West). Lily is terrific as she seduces souls as a contractor working a war zone, jet setting Manhattan. Sub-genre fans will enjoy her lighthearted escapades as she tries to explain to Nathan that they are soulmates, but she is under an iron clad contract to Satan, inc.

Harriet Klausner

Armed and Magical-Lisa Shearin

Armed and Magical
Lisa Shearin
Ace, May 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780441015870

She was a good Seeker of objects and people and a fair sorceress, but a week ago Raine Benares was psychically bonded with the Saghred, a stone of immense power. It has boosted Raine’s existing powers and given her unnatural talent making her one of the most powerful magicians in the Seven Kingdoms. However it is an evil object that thrives on eating souls with the last soul it swallowed being Sacred Nikpon. Raine forced that action which is why she has a link to the stone and its seemingly zillion stolen souls over the centuries wherever she may be.

Right now Raine is on the Isle of Mid, home to the Conclave which polices magic users and hosts a highly regarded sorcerer’s school. Raine hopes someone on the island can separate her from the stone. However, there are factions on the Isle some of whom are malevolent and demand something from Raine starting with the original owner of the stone who razed cities, empires and anyone who got in his way. Raine finds her elven brethren want her for her new power while the goblins demand the stone. Everywhere she turns she finds someone threatens her and her loved ones as ethics do not apply to the people seeking the power of the stone.

Lisa Shearin has written a spellbinding fantasy that enables readers to believe in elves, goblins, and mages, oh my. The Shearin world seems real and that magic is a genuine skill thanks in part to the strong characterizations. There is plenty of partisan in fighting, intrigue, and action to keep readers turning the pages wondering what next will happen to the reluctant beleaguered heroine that is while debating her chances of surviving until the next assault occurs.

Harriet Klausner

Pilate: A Brutal Bible Tale-Steven Rage

Pilate: A Brutal Bible Tale
Steven Rage
Outskirts Press, Apr 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9781432717971

The Harbor is a crime filled, drug infested place. In that environs Pilate is a notorious drug dealer working for mob kingpin Herod. Over the past few months Pilate has failed to meet his assigned quota so his superior fires him and replaces him with an even more ruthless soul. He also has Mary Magdalene murdered. Pilate brings Mary to Immanuel, whose disciples insist she is the Christ. She raises Mary from the dead and kisses Pilate resulting in his remembering his past lives.

Except for his first life, Pilate was a vampire performing evil deeds during the Inquisition; during the California Gold Rush and he feasted while the plague devastated London. He kept on making the same errors and Immanuel knows her time has arrived to fulfill her mission on earth. Will Pilate betray her as he has done when she was Jesus or will he finally learn the eternal lessons?

This is not an inspirational work nor is it blasphemous (at least in my liberal mind). The story line uses biblical villains and places them reincarnated in the present where they repeat their evil deeds as they have done often in the past, but documented two millennia ago. Immanuel and the disciples with the exception of Judas, who finally remembers his first betrayal, are treated with respect and honor in this unique religious horror thriller. Steven Rage has written an enthralling tale that brings back the time Jesus walked Israel to his walking the present United States.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Every Good And Perfect Gift- Sharan K. Souza

Every Good And Perfect Gift
Sharan K. Souza
NAVPRESS, Apr 2008
ISBN: 9781600061752

Nearing forty, best friends Angel Gabby Whitaker Nevin and DeeDee McAllister-Kent feel they have lived great lives. Both married their college boyfriends and each couple decided on a DINK (Double income no kids) lifestyle.

However, DeeDee suddenly feels her biological clock running down as she desperately wants a baby. While DeeDee tries to become pregnant, Gabby wonders whether she should reconsider her decision to remain childless. DeeDee continues to fail to conceive, which begins to cause a strain between her and her spouse and between her and her best friend until DeeDee’s medical diagnosis shakes up everyone

This is a fascinating look at friendship between two people who never had differences until they tried to get pregnant. Gabby is the one tested especially when they learn what is wrong with DeeDee as she will need patience like she never needed with her best friend before. Sharan K. Souza explains that she modernized and gender changed the biblical bond between David and Jonathan as Gabby wonders why bad things happen to good people, but accepts this is God’s way and vows to the Lord she will be there for DeeDee.

Harriet Klausner

Daughters of the North-Sarah Hall

Daughters of the North
Sarah Hall
Harper, Apr 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780061430367

In the near future in the United Kingdom global warming has made this once proud place into wetlands. The climate change accompanied by a critical fuel shortage has led to the establishment of an abusive totalitarian rule. The Authority uses the guise of security to kill anyone who opposes them; they use fuel shortages to control population with enforced sterilization; they encourage drug addiction to keep the masses ignorant of their plight. If innocents are hurt so be it as collateral damage occurs.

The Authority sterilized Sister against her will. They made her work in a "New Fuel" factory in conditions that makes Dickens’ Victorian tales look like fairy tales. She is assigned cramped quarters. Sister wants out feeling that if she can make it to legendary Carhullan, an all-female commune she can survive. Run by Jackie Nixon with discipline to foster strengths, the paramilitary group is outlawed by the Authority who plans to destroy these Amazon rebels.

Although the ending is too obvious for such a complex thought provoking tale, readers will appreciate this powerful near future thriller that extrapolates from Katrina and the Christmas Tsunami. However, it is not the environmental disaster that holds the reader’s attention; it is the heroine and how she sees the world. Sister believes the Authority is evil from her position in the ooze below their food chain; she thinks of Carhullan as freedom fighters from her rising up their chain towards the top. Ironically she is unable to accept how similar the two groups are in their ruthless use of expendables to achieve their respective goals. With obvious comparison to the Mideast, DAUGHTERS OF THE NORTH is a terrific futuristic thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Make Room! Make Room!-Harry Harrison

Make Room! Make Room!
Harry Harrison
Orb (Tor), Apr 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780765318855

In 1999, New York City suffers from overpopulation as 35 million people live there. The country as a whole is also struggling with population issues. In that environs Chinese American Billy Chung lives in the floating slums of New York Harbor. During a food riot, Billy escapes with meat that he sells so that he can fund his effort to become a telegram delivery person. During a delivery, he finds an apartment that looks easy to break into, which he does. However the occupant is home and Billy kills "Big" Mike O'Brien.

Since O’Brien was connected, the overworked NYPD assigns Andrew Rusch to solve the case immediately just in case this was a professional hit. However, clues lead Andrew to believe Billy killed the victim. Meanwhile Andrew meets O’Brien’s girlfriend Shirl and soon she moves in with him and his roommate Sol. Billy flees to Brooklyn, where he finds sanctuary with Peter, a religious fanatic. Andrew finds and kills tracks Billy. Shirl is gone and the brass punishes him over the O’Brien case as their intended solution changed and he failed to keep up with that.

Apparently this novel was the basis for the movie Soylent Green. MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! is an interesting reprinting of a 1966 cautionary tale that using theories of Malthus and Ehrlich (“The Population Bomb”) which warned of the impact of overpopulation on the food supply and the environment. The story line stars everyday people trying to survive in a dying world with no hope for the future; in fact the only person with aspirations beyond his next meal is the young thief. Well written and exciting, part of the fun is to see how close Harry Harrison was in predicting the world of 1999.

Harriet Klausner

Button, Button-Richard Matheson

Button, Button
Richard Matheson
Tor, Apr 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780765312570

The twelve stories that make up this collection were mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s (the newest is 1970) but continue to be timely as they showcase a strong suspense horror author who remains renowned for his Twilight Zone twists affirmed by this anthology. The title story is a terrific tale of ethics vs. greed as a married couple possesses a device in which each time they press a button they receive $50,000, but a stranger dies. "Girl of My Dreams" stars a rat who abuses his naive girlfriend's psychic gift to make money; greed is one of the deadly sins in the Matheson world while the loss of innocence (“Mute”) is even deadlier. “No Such Thing as a Vampire” feels very Twilight Zone like. This superb anthology is top rate as the short stories are filled with everyday people with moral choices between avarice and ethics involved in scenarios beyond their normal existence; any moment Rod Serling will inform the audience they entered a world filled with imagination and much more.

Harriet Klausner

Elom-William H. Drinkard

William H. Drinkard
Tor, Apr 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 9780765317858

The People live a difficult but greateful life; they are thankful for Fire from the Goddess Shetow and the hunt mostly of the mighty mammoth who provide food and clothing. All of the tribe know their role in keeping everyone safe, men mostly as hunters and women mostly as gatherers and artisans. Geerna realizes it is time for her to become a woman. She anxiously waits at the Awakening Place not knowing what to expect when a light shines brightly on her; she begins a trek no member of the People has ever had to do before her.

Eons pass with People remaining the same. They abide by Geerna’s Law enforced by the Medora Council wise women until Shetow who chose Geerna to bring the covenant to the People demands they choose new champions. Those chosen must prove to their Goddess that the People remain worthy.

Although the ending is too simple, readers will appreciate this strong reflective look at the interrelationships placed upon people by an external force (think in terms of bringing democracy to Iraq vs. internally the royals bringing democracy to the Kingdom of Bhutan) vs. ages of tradition. The story line is fast-paced, but driven by the magnificent seven who ponder their places in society and with one another. Fans will appreciate William H. Drinkard’s thought provoking mythos.

Harriet Klausner

Baxter Moon Galactic Scout-John Zakour

Baxter Moon Galactic Scout
John Zakour
Brown Barn Books, Apr 2008, $8.95
ISBN: 97800976812692

Baxter Moon won a scholarship to the Galactic Academy of Scouts and he loves attending school there because he is training to be a pilot. Since mankind went into space, they met only one other humanoid race the blue skin Aquarians. The two races do not get along but each race has something they want so they decide to negotiate in a neutral sector.

Neither race hears from their delegates, so each accuses the other side of atrocities. To avoid an intergalactic war, Baxter and his team are ordered to the place where the delegates vanished to learn what happened. They are chosen because they are not certified to bear deadly arms. When they arrive at the location, they find mindless zombies, which mean they must destroy the cause before they too join the delegates.

John Zakour has written a fabulous science fiction thriller filled with humor, action, and tense decisions that could impact both races. The support cast who make Baxter’s team are fully developed and readers will enjoy their escapades especially GiS the brilliant bioengineered monkey and the extremely strong young lady Zenna. Hopefully this is the first in a new young adult outer space series because readers will adore Baxter.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mulberry Park-Judy Duarte

Mulberry Park
Judy Duarte
Kensington, Apr 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780758220158

Three years ago in Fairbrook, a suburb of San Diego, Claire Harper’s life ended when a hit and run driver killed her young son Erik. Since then she lost her faith in God and her marriage to Ron; she just passes through life as a living dead person because she never has gotten past the early stages of grief. Every day after work, Claire stops at Mulberry Park to jog for miles in an effort to be so exhausted she can sleep through the night, but her grief overwhelms her fatigue.

One evening as she runs, a pink envelop falls from a nearby tree. Claire picks it up to see a note inside written "To God From Analisa". The seven year old child begs God to care for her parents who are in Heaven with him. Although she no longer believes, Claire writes back hoping to help Analisa with her faith in the Lord. Soon they become pen pals although the child thinks God is responding to her; ironically the correspondence helps Claire return to life. As she comes back, Claire befriends the Mulberry Park regulars, whom she ignored since her son’s death as she realizes they need kind words, mental and physical hugs, chess opponents and more just like she does.

There are several other fully developed characters in the superbly written MULBERRY PARK that will touch the readers’ hearts as much as Analisa and Claire do as all needing companionship. The elderly chess player Walter is a great example of this as he plays by himself, but would love tutoring others in the game. With a heavenly nod that God does not need snail; or e-mail to read what is in one’s heart, readers will appreciate this strong character study that affirms people need people.

Harriet Klausner

Something Good-Fiona Gibson

Something Good
Fiona Gibson
Red Dress Ink, Apr 2008, $13.95
ISBN: 9780373895571

Jane Deakin is stunned when she sees her beloved husband Max cheating. Despondent as she never saw it coming, Jane moves out taking their five years old daughter Hannah with her.

A decade later, Jane and Max remain separated but legally married. She works in a childcare center but hopes to make a living with her stained glass hobby. Hannah wants to be an actress and has a crush on workshop peer Ollie. Max is seeing Veronica, a single mother with two teenage children, Zoe and Dylan. Jane, accompanied by her mom, daughter and Zoe, travels to Scotland to attend a stained glass workshop where Jane finally finds her groove.

The key to this well written extended family drama is the strong cast; everyone that matters seems real especially with how they interrelate with one another. For instance, Jane is a well behaved teen until Zoe mentors her on Minor Mutiny 101 while Zoe and Dylan have sibling rivalries; and Dylan and Jane are attracted to one another. Jane is terrific as the center holding the story line together even as she is falling in love with Conor the Scot, but it is the support characters who make SOMETHING GOOD out of Fiona Gibson’s fine contemporary romance.

Harriet Klausner

The January Girl-Goldie Taylor

The January Girl
Goldie Taylor
Grand Central, Apr 2008, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446179560

Although she grew up in horrific conditions that led to her fleeing home as a teen, Thandy Malone worked hard to obtain an education. When she got pregnant, Thandy was fortunate that a kind older man took her in and married her. However, he failed to inform her how he made his money until he was arrested for drug trafficking. He went to prison while Thandy and her daughter survived the streets.

Thandy picks herself up and becomes a successful asset acquisition attorney in Atlanta where she meets wealthy, married with children Dr. Jackson Gabrielle. They have an affair, but she feels uncomfortable being the other woman especially when he has two preadolescent sons at home and he keeps putting off the divorce blaming external circumstances though a decade has past since they first met. Thandy leaves Atlanta for Chicago as she believes he now has a third woman while spoiled Jack, used to always getting his way, follows the woman he loves.

This is an interesting character study that looks deep into what motivates the other woman. Thandy has a great career, a wonderful daughter, and being pretty with a charming personality could have any male, but why she chooses to be with Jack is beyond my comprehension. Jack is a liar, a double cheater (wife and lover), and an abusive manipulator with no redeeming personality trait. Still in spite of his being a louse loser outside of the operating room, THE JANUARY GIRL is a fascinating contemporary story.

Harriet Klausner

The Legacy-TJ Bennett

The Legacy
TJ Bennett
Medallion, Apr 2008, $7.95
ISBN: 9781933836362

In Electoral Saxony her attempt at freedom from her abusive adopted father the Schenk of Wittenberg Baron Marcus von Ziegler through marriage failed. For years after that futile effort, her dad kept her prisoner. Several years later in 1525 her father gives his daughter Baroness Sabina a choice to marry his chosen one or to remain chained in his rat infested dungeon.

Her hope lies with the reformer Martin Luther, who makes her believe that God will be there for her even as church officials are always bending their knees towards her father. Still she accepts her sire’s terms and agrees to marry widower commoner Wolfgang Behaim, a middle class printer. Her father blackmails Wolfgang into agreeing also if he wants his secret kept concealed. Neither wanted to wed one another and she prays she can get it annulled, but as she meets his kind family including a little girl praying for a momma, Sabina feels contented for the first time perhaps in her life. Meanwhile the peasants are irate with the baron who threatens to kill Sabina and her new family, whom she loves very much and each one of them reciprocate especially her reluctant husband.

This is an interesting sixteenth century Germanic romance due to the machinations of the Schenk as the audience as much as the lead couple needs to know why this pairing; the abusive Schenk is like a poker player hiding his hand until it is time to call. Sabina is a fascinating heroine who survives her father’s torture by following the inspirational rebellious preaching of Martin Luther. Fans will appreciate this engaging historical, which brings a fine romantic subplot enhanced by a spotlight on Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation.

Harriet Klausner

The Digital Plague-Jeff Somers

The Digital Plague
Jeff Somers
Orbit, May 2008, $12.00
ISBN 9780316022101

The System of Federated Nations hired professional hit-man Avery Cates who successfully derailed the plans of the Electric Church to turn people into zombie cyborg Monks. However Cates has no time to enjoy his victory because somehow mystifying assailants contaminated him with nanobots that kill anyone who comes near him, but these victims of his nanobot disease don’t stay dead; they turn into zombies.

His former client the System learns of Cates’ peculiar pariah condition and decides to catch him as the scientists and leaders wonder why he seems immune to the deadly nanobot’s disease. Somehow he is just a carrier. They plan to use his body to find a cure for the infection. Cates has no say in the matter even though he does not want to be a guinea pig.

The sequel to THE ELECTRIC CHURCH continues the science fiction Noir escapades of Cates who is everyone’s target once again. His first hand account of battling religious fundamentalists, nanotech zombies, research scientists, and an assortment of unclassified ilk make for a wild entertaining thriller. THE DIGITAL PLAGUE likes it predecessor belongs to the hero who is in more gun battles than John Wayne ever was.

Harriet Klausner

The Dragon in the Sea-Frank Herbert

The Dragon in the Sea
Frank Herbert
Tor, Apr 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780765317742

One of the five members of the Hell Diver subtug crew is a saboteur. Psychologist John Ramsay is assigned to join the team, as they steal oil from Cold War adversaries by tugging their purloined liquid black gold loot under water; his task is to uncover the identity of the traitor. He somewhat fears being well over a mile under the water while on this mission because if exposed he will be dead.

However, although he watches intently, the mission is in peril from the sabotage damage caused by one of them, but John remains unsure who he is. Soon he and three other crewmen are in trouble with no place to hide as the enemy has them in his sights. If they survive against this ruthless relentless stalker, John and the other three remain “Under Pressure” from the strength of the ocean that pounds away at their tin can. To live they must work as a team, but no one trusts anyone else as phobias bubble to surfaces of their minds.

This is a reprint of a 1956 thriller that seems timelier now than it did during the height of the Cold War with the concept of the morally superior West stealing oil from the East. The tale is about a covert operation reminiscent of the Bush invasion in which administration officials helped sell the war besides 9/11 links with the belief cheap easy access oil was around the corner once Iraq became a democracy. Although none of the crew, even the hero, seems much more than action figures, fans will appreciate Frank Herbert’s deep look at societal ethics.

Harriet Klausner

The Year of Disappearances-Susan Hubbard

The Year of Disappearances
Susan Hubbard
Simon & Schuster, May 2008, $22.95
ISBN: 9781416552710

Teenage Ariella "Ari" Montero is a half-breed vampire, who lives with her vampiric mother in Homosassa Springs, Florida which many vampires call home as they have their own shops, restaurants and other hangouts catering to the their needs. Ari is lonely as she has no friends so is elated to meet Autumn and Mysty. However, a van pulls up near where the three girls are walking together; Ari senses evil from the driver whose eyes contain no pupils. When Mysty disappears, the police and the XBC suspect Ari as the last known person to have been with her.

To escape from the suspicious townsfolk, Ari goes to Hillhouse College in southern Georgia. A bored Autumn comes to visit her. When Ari and her classmates go on a field trip; Autumn sneaks away to tour the campus. Ari and her classmates see a body in the swamp that turns out to be Autumn. She tells a powerful vampire leader that humans are taking pills that turn them into zombies like what happened to Mysty. Something must be done before vampire become the supreme species.

Even vampires are divided as to how they should relate to humans as some extremists believe mankind is cattle to their superior species using ruthless means to obtain easy sustenance. Politics and remorse are two lessons Ari receives at school, but she like her parents (her dad is a scientist) believes that peaceful co-existence between the species is possible and necessary. Although the heroine seems much more experienced than a young teen, vampire lovers will enjoy this cutting sequel to THE SOCIETY OF S.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, March 24, 2008

Return of the Wild Son-Cynthia Thomason

Return of the Wild Son
Cynthia Thomason
Harlequin SuperRomance, Apr 2008, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373714834

Hollywood screenwriter Nathaniel “Nate” Shelton returns to his hometown of Finnegan Cove, Michigan after two decades away because his father asked him to come. When Nate was eighteen, his father Harley was convicted of second degree murder and has spent twenty years behind bars, but is being paroled in five weeks. Nate prefers to stay away and is willing to find a home in California for his dad as the writer has kept his distance from his dysfunctional family. Still he agrees to convert the Lake Michigan lighthouse into his father’s new home.

Nate is attracted to Jenna Malloy, but will not act on it as his father killed her father years ago. Jenna is attracted to Nate, but will not act on it for the same reason and besides she wants the lighthouse he is renovating torn down as it is where his dad committed the homicide. Besides her family loathes his; hell his family hates their dad.

The sins of the father land on their offspring in the character driven contemporary romance RETURN OF THE WILD SON. The cast is solid as the town is exclusively anti Harley even his other son Mike. Fascinatingly he is not released until the end so the audience sees how everyone reacts to his upcoming parole while the romance between Jenna and Nate seems shaky. Fans will enjoy this fine tale from the moment Harley calls Nate until the final news conference announcing the filming of The Redemption of Nathaniel Stone.

Harriet Klausner

Baby Be Mine-Eve Gaddy

Baby Be Mine
Eve Gaddy
Harlequin SuperRomance, Apr 2008, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373714841

When police officer Maggie Barnes finds the abandoned baby she falls in love with the infant. She hopes to adopt baby Grace, but knows a single woman has little chance of success especially one in her dangerous line of work. She asks her best friend, attorney Tucker Jones to marry her so she can adopt the child.

He agrees out of friendship to marry her. However, one week after they exchanged I do, Tucker knows he loves Maggie and wants temporary removed from modifying his husband status. When the baby’s mom returns demanding the return of her child, Maggie is heartbroken but has no choice. Expecting to have separated from Tucker even before losing the child, she is stunned when he says he preferred they stay married. Maggie feels she cannot deal any longer with a platonic relationship with Tucker as she knows she loves him so she plans to end their relationship heartbroken for the second time. However Tucker refuses to give up on his wife; he just needs to persuade her he loves her and believes she loves him.

This is a fascinating contemporary romance starring two amiable individuals who are best friends and lovers. The story line is filled with angst especially when the biological mom returns for Grace as Maggie learns the risk of giving up one’s heart to a foster child. Tucker tries to be there for his beloved, but she has to go through a grief like cycle on her own. Fans will enjoy this fine tale of first comes marriage then comes love.

Harriet Klausner

Mothers of the Year-Lori Handeland, Rebecca Winters and Anna DeStefano

Mothers of the Year
Lori Handeland, Rebecca Winters and Anna DeStefano
Harlequin SuperRomance, Apr 2008, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373714827

"Mommy for Rent" by Lori Handeland. Preadolescent newcomer Dani Delgado needs to rent a mom for the upcoming Mother’s Day picnic in Kiwanee, Wisconsin or flee back to Florida. She and her dad baseball coach Scott meet and enchant Kelly Rosholt who reciprocates with her inane affectionate nicknames for them.

"Along Came a Daughter" by Rebecca Winters. Widow Abby Chappuis has never cut her hair since it is a memory of her late spouse Andre who loved her long tresses though they areunsuited for her French-Swiss restaurant Chez Andre. Abby hires almost sixteen Brittany Jakeman whose father Richard comes to the restaurant to “unhire” his daughter but he had not reckoned with the teen’s canine guardian angel old Buddy or with falling in love with her employer; Abby reciprocates.

"Baby Steps” by Anna DeStefano. Tyler Brooks is considering leaving his wife Lily because she cannot get past her failure at getting pregnant. However, her student Dakota teaches her that motherhood is much more than giving birth.

These are three warm contemporary tales starring fully developed characters who pay wonderful homage to moms.

Harriet Klausner

Cassandra’s Conflict-Fredrica Alleyn

Cassandra’s Conflict
Fredrica Alleyn
Black Lace, Apr 2008, $12.95
ISBN: 9780352341860

In London, her husband Paul Williams tells Cassandra she is frigid; that it her fault he is leaving her for Louise. When she says she has no prospects having never held a job, he coldly tells her not to sell her body as she will starve to death.

Not long afterward, Cassandra applies for a job as a governess to two small girls four years old Helena and two years old Christina, daughters of Austrian widower Baron von Ritter. However, as he offers her the position and she accepts, Cassandra is unaware that the previous governess Abigail was fired because she failed at the sex games, he and his mistress Katya play with the staff. She and her two little charges bond so when they are sent to Austria to visit their family, they are upset as they do not want to leave their governess behind. Although she misses the children whom got into her heart, Cassandra has little time to dwell on her feelings for her preschool companions as the Baron seduces her into joining the sexual games. Although she does not understand the rules, Cassandra has promised the two little girls she will be there for them when they return. She is the first governess with a non-selfish reason to win the sexual contests even as she does not grasp the rules that the Baron and his mistress keep changing.

This is a fascinating erotic character study that looks deep into the soul of the triangle formed when Cassandra replaces Abigail as companion to the girls. The Baron realizes the newcomer is different as Cassandra does not hide her warm motherly affection for the young girls; Katya sees her as another disposable servant for them to abuse. Fans will enjoy Fredrica Alleyn’s intriguing heated contemporary while wondering whether Cassandra will triumph especially since she holds a non-sexual ace in the hole.

Harriet Klausner

By Reason Of Insanity-Randy Singer

By Reason Of Insanity
Randy Singer
Tyndale, May 2008, $22.95
ISBN: 9781414316338

In Virginia Beach, The Tidewater Times reporter Catherine O'Rourke covers the homicide trial of Annie Newburg Hofstetter, accused of murdering her husband Richard in premeditated cold blood. Her renowned attorney Quinn Newberg uses the insanity defense of a woman pushed over the edge by physical and mental abuse. Thanks to weeping Juror 5, the case ends for now in a mistrial.

Over the next few months The Avenger of God has been kidnapping and murdering Tidewater residents whom the serial killer believes violated the Lord. Cat has some insider information, but when the court demands shereveal her insider anonymous law enforcement source to Detective Jamarcus Webb, she refuses and goes to jail making her part of the story. While behind bars, Cat begins to have distressing visions of these horrific crimes as if she was an eye-witness to the Avenger’s vigilante justice. She tells Jamarcus what she “sees” and he thinks she knows too much not to be the Avenger. The police arrest Cat who hires Quinn to defend her even though his approach means he assumes his client is guilty.

Filled with twists, this is a terrific legal thriller that grips the reader from the moment that Juror 5 ends the O’Rourke trial and never slows down as Cat prays that the Vegas legal magician can get her off the hook even if BY REASON OF INSANITY. The story line is fast-paced as Cat continues to get visions of the Avenger’s serial killings. Although a romantic subplot between lawyer and client is somewhat muted, it still feels forced yet Randy Singer as he did with THE CROSS EXAMINATION OF OLIVER FINNEY brings up timely jurisprudence issues as he provides a fascinating look at the insanity plea.

Harriet Klausner

Flight to Freedom-D.J. Wilson

Flight to Freedom
D.J. Wilson
Medallion, May 2008, $15.95
ISBN: 9781933836379

He is a wealthy attorney and philanthopist who has given millions to charities in his hometown. He lives in a beautiful home with a sweet wife and is looked upon as a hero by the adulating townsfolk. Of course all those who worship this paragon have no idea what really happens inside his home; a torture chamber of abuse Harland Jeffers pours on his spouse Montana. For a decade he beat her to the point she had broken bones yet never went to the hospital as he refused because such treatment might dim his image.

He taunted her with the fact that she killed her newborn baby girl when she took her out of the hospital on a cold night leading to pneumonia. He threatened to kill her if she ever left him and the one time she went to the police they just took her back to him, as she should be grateful to be married to the town’s leading citizen. One day he caught her going through a drawer that he has forbidden her to open; he went berserk. She took a gun out of that drawer and fired point blank range; she killed him. Even though she now resides in jail, Montana feels free for the first time in her life. Montana plans to plead guilty, but a kindhearted lawyer persuades her to stand trial and let the world see the real monster she killed in self-defense.

This is a poignant heart wrenching legal thriller starring a life long victim whose brother, father and husband abused her physically and mentally. Her naivety make her easy prey for these predators. Readers will empathize with Montana while hoping a jury will accept her self defense plea especially if justice is to occur. Although difficult at times to see until it is too late as the sociopath is often devious enough to hide their ugliness with public good deeds, D.J. Wilson makes a plea of her own that everyone must stay alert as abuse is an ugly crippler to family and society.

Harriet Klausner

Free Fall-Laura Anne Gilman

Free Fall
Laura Anne Gilman
Luna, May 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780373802678

In the twenty-first century, magic is not used by reciting spells, but by being able to channel current through their bodies. These adepts are called Talents and the non-human members of the Cosa Nostradamus are named Fatae. The Silence is a top secret private organization that protects the innocent from t abuses, but has become corrupted and believes the Talent and the Fatae must be eradicated.

Retriever Wren Valerie obtains objects for clients. She is separated from her lover Sergei the Null who can not channel current, but is addicted to it. If they make love and her current goes out of control, Sergei will die. He forgives her for their separation and hopes they can find a way back together. Meanwhile he uses his contacts inside the Silence to gather information for the upcoming confrontation with the magic users. Wren is in underground place for a meeting but it is really a trap and she is almost raped and killed by vigilante Nulls who label her as “it”. However she kills them instead and is determined to breach the fortress of the Silence in order to retrieve kidnapped children with Talent being brainwashed for use in some Silence operations. Sergei and Wren’s live-in cuddly demon P.J. plan to keep her safe as the three know something is not right with Wren.

This latest Retriever novel is one of the best tales in an exhilarating series due in part to the separation between Wren and Sergei. Readers see both sides prepare for the upcoming final battle with the current channel practitioners coming together to protect Magical Manhattan. Fans of fantasy and romantic fantasy will appreciate Laura Anne Gilman’s superb FREE FALL.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Strike Zone-Kate Angell

Strike Zone
Kate Angell
Love Spell, Apr 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527080

In Richmond, Virginia three years ago, Taylor Hannah broke her engagement to Rogue pitcher Brek Stryker as she needed to grieve the sudden death of her parents alone. She always felt that once she healed she could go home to heal what she broke off with her beloved Brek until now. Her sister sends the Thrill-seeker guide a clipping from the Virginia Banner announcing that Brek is engaged to marry Mayor Talbot’s daughter Hilary. Leaving Paris for Richmond, Taylor comes home for her Brek.

However, Brek wants nothing to do with the woman who humiliated him three years ago on their wedding day when she fled town even if she does outrageous stunts like being the mascot Rally to get his attention. Meanwhile relief pitcher Sloan McCaffery makes a pitch towards Taylor until he finds himself thinking of her sister Eve as he sits in the bullpen; neither sister wants anything to do with Sloan who wants to kiss her between the strikes if she will kiss him between the balls (paraphrasing Soupy Sales).

This is an excellent baseball romance in which two couples fall in love. Taylor and Brek are the prime show as she tries to prove to her beloved they still belong together like hot dog and mustard. Sloan and Eve almost steal home from the lead pair as their support subplot brings extra runs to the latest Rogue sports tale (see CURVEBALL and SQUEEZE PLAY).

Harriet Klausner

Bewitched-Sandra Schwab

Sandra Schwab
Love Spell, Apr 2008, $6.99
ISBN: 9780505527233

In 1820 it was obviously a magical mistake as she loves her relative, but turning her uncle’s house blue on top of changing the foundation into shaky giant chicken legs leads to Miss Amelia Bourne losing her powers and being exiled to London for the season. She meets several nice young men, but Amelia finds Sebastian "Fox" Stapleton too haughty of a rake. Both act polite towards one another, but each dislikes the other until they drink the spiked punch. Suddenly Fox and Amelia need one another with a deep passion.

They journey to his country estate, but Amy wonders why she went from total loathing to animalistic desire on one sip. She decides to check whether this is love or an illusion. As she investigates without her magic to help her, Amy relies on her knowledge and lore of the arts and her belief that Sebastian is honorable even if he thinks he is god’s gift to women, which she agrees he has a solid argument. However, a devious person has use for Miss Amelia as an expendable pawn in a revenge scheme while not wanting her to know the truth.

This is a fun often amusing Regency romantic fantasy in which spells go wrong leading to romance and love. The story line is lighthearted yet allows the audience to believe in a paranormal early nineteenth century London in which at least in the Schwab universe, magic works though not always for the good. Fans will be BEWITCHED by this enchanting charmer.

Harriet Klausner

Texas Loving-Leigh Greenwood

Texas Loving
Leigh Greenwood
Leisure, Apr 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780843956863

In 1889, Eden Maxwell has lived her young life in Texas Hill Country when a well dressed elderly Englishman arrives at the family’s Broken Circle ranch saying to her she looks just like her grandmother did fifty years ago. Alastair Davenport explains to the bewildered Eden and Isabelle that their late Aunt Deirdre was Isabelle’s mother not her aunt and he also claims that he is Isabelle’s father and Eden’s maternal grandfather. A stunned Isabelle accepts her birth dad’s invitation for her, her spouse Jake and Eden to come to London with him.

Alastair believes that Eden and second son Patrick Worledge would make a perfect match. However to her Texas mind, Patrick is too aristocratically English for her. Instead she falls in love with the older independent brother Edward the heir who is caught in marrying for money to save the Worledge family from ruin. Eden makes a faux pas involving legitimacy that costs Edward dearly, but when he comes to Texas to start over, she plans to be at his side every step of the way if he would only forgive her.

The final Cowboys historical romance is a fabulous ending to one of the best series over the last few years. TEXAS LOVING is a superb Victorian tale starring two likable lead characters and a strong support cast. Fans of the Greenwood saga will applaud the entire baker’s dozen summed up nicely by Jake: “If I had any idea this would be the results of your mother showing up on my ranch with her eight orphans from hell, I would have run all the way to new Mexico without my cows”. Thank goodness he did not although knowing Isabelle and her brood, they would have followed.

Harriet Klausner

Three Girls and Their Brother-Theresa Rebeck

Three Girls and Their Brother
Theresa Rebeck
Shaye Areheart (Crown), Apr 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 9780307394149

Claiming as a way to pay homage to the late great literary critic Leo Heller, the New Yorker magazine wants to do a piece on his three granddaughters and grandson. Their mom has the brain of a lifetime beauty queen who though has seen her prettier days still lives the glory through her daughters; she sees this as good publicity and the road to Hollywood. Their dad has not been around in ages so his opinion if he even has one does not matter.

The oldest eighteen year old Daria is rapturous as she sees this as her chance to become a supermodel. The middle daughter seventeen year old Polly is almost as elated. The youngest female fourteen year old Amelia is at best tepid as she does not mind the magazine piece as long as it does not greatly intrude on her lifestyle. The only male fifteen year old Philip does not trust the New Yorker as he believes they are being set up for an exposure worthy of the tabloids. However, mommy dearest ignores the concerns of her only son saying he is too male and too young to understand the opportunities for his sisters; she will do anything to get her daughters on Broadway or Southern California.

This is an amusing look at fame from four teens receiving fifteen minutes of it each. Especially enlightening is the insightful comparisons made by the youngest sibling as Amelia observes voluntary starvation as a norm of some vocations. Philip seems older than he is with his wisdom honed by survival skills as the lone bull; his observations re his mom and two older sisters are priceless. The other three females seem amusingly inane as all they can see is fame and fortune. Although a revenge subplot seems ridiculous as it deters from an otherwise superb family drama, fans will enjoy this powerful lampooning of the fame seekers.

Harriet Klausner

The Finder-Colin Harrison

The Finder
Colin Harrison
Farrar Straus Giroux, Apr 2008, $25.00
ISBN: 9780374299491

In New York City, someone is using insider information to make a financial killing buying and selling Good Pharma stock. An outraged billionaire warns CEO Tom Reilly to plug the leak and to take care of the culprit regardless of means or else. His paper notes delivered to Reilly even in Yankee Stadium frightens the CEO who must do something or face dire consequences from an unknown but obviously powerful stockholder.

Tom is unable at first to figure out who or how. Using a legitimate paper shredding outfit CorpServe as a guise, Jin Li has been selling company information that she provides to her brother Chen who trades stocks accordingly. A desperate Tom orders a ruthless wannabe to take care of the leak. In Brooklyn two twentyish female Mexican employees working for the shredding firm are murdered, but Li escapes not before she sees their horrific deaths. Her sibling and Reilly assume her former boyfriend Ray Grant not only helped her, he hid her probably in Brooklyn. Each side demands he reveals where she is. He has no idea but turns to his dying father, a former NYPD cop, to help him find Jin before he becomes an afterlife greeter welcoming his father.

This is an excellent crime thriller that grips readers as every trail converges on Li even an overseas stock market. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the two young Mexicans are killed in Brooklyn and never slows down as Tom, Chen and Ray understand the threats to their lives while each seek Li as the key to their safety. Fans of urban crime capers will appreciate this exhilarating action-packed thriller that never decelerates ending with a typhoon.

Harriet Klausner

The Moneylender of Toulouse-Alan Gordon

The Moneylender of Toulouse
Alan Gordon
St. Martin’s, May 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780312371098

In 1204 The Fools’ Guild knows that some of the Church’s more fanatical leaders want the Pope to disband them under the threat of declaring its members heretic. Especially vocal is the Bishop of Toulouse Bishop Raimon de Rabastens. The Guild whose mission is to prevent war send one of their top agents jester Theophilos and his family to blackmail the Bishop into retiring so that they can replace this adversary with a friendlier person.

Upon arrival in Toulouse Theophilos has no plan except to find a transgression he can use to force Raimon de Rabastens to resign. However, a scheme surfaces when the murdered corpse of moneylender Milon Borsella is found in a tanner’s pit; the victim and the Bishop engaged in a loud public argument just yesterday. Theophilos plots how to use the homicide when another murder occurs and Jordan the fool is arrested for the crime. Theophilos and his wife Claudia believe both murders lead back to the Bishop, but to prove it remains difficult.

The latest Fools’ Guild medieval mystery (see THE LARK’S LAMENT) is a terrific whodunit that uses a vivid look at early thirteenth century France to enhance the plot. The story line is fast-paced as the husband and wife team switch gear from their devious plot to force the Biship into resigning to proving their local compatriot is innocent. Filled with humor and a great whodunit, only a fool would pass on Alan Gordon’s excellent historical investigative tale.

Harriet Klausner

The Moneylender of Toulouse-Alan Gordon

The Moneylender of Toulouse
Alan Gordon
St. Martin’s, May 2008, $24.95
ISBN 9780312371098

In 1204 The Fools’ Guild knows that some of the Church’s more fanatical leaders want the Pope to disband them under the threat of declaring its members heretic. Especially vocal is the Bishop of Toulouse Bishop Raimon de Rabastens. The Guild whose mission is to prevent war send one of their top agents jester Theophilos and his family to blackmail the Bishop into retiring so that they can replace this adversary with a friendlier person.

Upon arrival in Toulouse Theophilos has no plan except to find a transgression he can use to force Raimon de Rabastens to resign. However, a scheme surfaces when the murdered corpse of moneylender Milon Borsella is found in a tanner’s pit; the victim and the Bishop engaged in a loud public argument just yesterday. Theophilos plots how to use the homicide when another murder occurs and Jordan the fool is arrested for the crime. Theophilos and his wife Claudia believe both murders lead back to the Bishop, but to prove it remains difficult.

The latest Fools’ Guild medieval mystery (see THE LARK’S LAMENT) is a terrific whodunit that uses a vivid look at early thirteenth century France to enhance the plot. The story line is fast-paced as the husband and wife team switch gear from their devious plot to force the Biship into resigning to proving their local compatriot is innocent. Filled with humor and a great whodunit, only a fool would pass on Alan Gordon’s excellent historical investigative tale.

Harriet Klausner