Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Accidental Light-Elizabeth Diamond

An Accidental Light
Elizabeth Diamond
Other Press,
ISBN: 9781590513019
2 Park Ave, 24th Floor, NY, NY 10016

As it was starting to get dark police officer Jack Philips is driving home when thirteen years old Laura Jenkins runs out of the blue into the road from behind a bus. He has no time to break and kills her. Although the inquest exonerates Jack, he cannot forgive himself as he goes over each second of the tragedy wondering what he could have done different; perhaps turning on his headlights. He remains traumatized as he sees Laura everywhere. He fears for his two daughters and thinks of his mom’s suicide when he was a teen. Unable to work Jack goes on medical leave and unable to talk to his wife Samantha his marriage crumbles.

Laura’s mother Lisa is as depressed as Jack is and ties her daughter’s accidental death to the heart attack that killed her father when she was about Laura’s age. Like Jack she sees Laura everywhere. She turns to psychics as she feels her daughter’s ghost is trying to reach her. Her spouse Derek ignores his wife’s pain. Instead he stalks his daughter’s killer. Jack wonders if the unhinged man is considering an eye for an eye while also pondering whether the teen’s ghost is real and trying to tell him something.

The key to the psychological ghost story is the aftermath on two families sharing an accidental tragedy. Both families deteriorate following the death of Laura although Sam and Derek are never developed beyond the roles of spouse and parent; on the other hand Jack and Lisa are full blooded grieving parents with similar past histories. Fans will wonder if Laura is actually there and if yes, why as Elizabeth Diamond provides a deep family drama that mixes the paranormal with the psychological.

Harriet Klausner

An Accidental Light-Elizabeth Diamond

An Accidental Light
Elizabeth Diamond
Other Press,
ISBN: 9781590513019
2 Park Ave, 24th Floor, NY, NY 10016

As it was starting to get dark police officer Jack Philips is driving home when thirteen years old Laura Jenkins runs out of the blue into the road from behind a bus. He has no time to break and kills her. Although the inquest exonerates Jack, he cannot forgive himself as he goes over each second of the tragedy wondering what he could have done different; perhaps turning on his headlights. He remains traumatized as he sees Laura everywhere. He fears for his two daughters and thinks of his mom’s suicide when he was a teen. Unable to work Jack goes on medical leave and unable to talk to his wife Samantha his marriage crumbles.

Laura’s mother Lisa is as depressed as Jack is and ties her daughter’s accidental death to the heart attack that killed her father when she was about Laura’s age. Like Jack she sees Laura everywhere. She turns to psychics as she feels her daughter’s ghost is trying to reach her. Her spouse Derek ignores his wife’s pain. Instead he stalks his daughter’s killer. Jack wonders if the unhinged man is considering an eye for an eye while also pondering whether the teen’s ghost is real and trying to tell him something.

The key to the psychological ghost story is the aftermath on two families sharing an accidental tragedy. Both families deteriorate following the death of Laura although Sam and Derek are never developed beyond the roles of spouse and parent; on the other hand Jack and Lisa are full blooded grieving parents with similar past histories. Fans will wonder if Laura is actually there and if yes, why as Elizabeth Diamond provides a deep family drama that mixes the paranormal with the psychological.

Harriet Klausner

The Scent of Sake-Joyce Lebra

The Scent of Sake
Joyce Lebra
Avon, Feb 17 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780061662379

In Kobe when her two year old brother Toichi died because she failed to watch him closely, Rie is filled with guilt. A few weeks later, her father Kinzaemon IX informs the grieving Rie that she is the “future of the Omura House”. Her interpretation of his simple statement defies societal beliefs. Instead of marrying the next sake brew master, as a woman entering a brewery sours the products, she decides she must save the House of Ohura. She detests her mother’s adage that a female must always live for the male by “killing the self”.

Her parents arrange her marriage to Johei in order for them to produce the next heir. However, she realizes her husband is an incompetent womanizer who will destroy the House of Ohura if left in charge. Rie vows their product White Tiger will be number one sake in Japan, which means defying the demands of her womanizing spouse to raise his children (with a geisha) and by tradition he take charge of the House of Ohura. Over the years she proves a superior business person and her diverse ideas make the House of Ohura strong; her father gives the official brewery seal to her not Johei.

This late nineteenth century Japanese tale focuses on the venerable sake brewing industry through four generations of a family. Rie is the link between her parents, her children and grandchildren as she holds the interesting story line together. What is fascinatingly is how she changes from warm and caring to cold and dominating towards family members. Only the sake eventually receives her warmth. Genre fans will appreciate this deep historical tale that provides insight into late nineteenth century Japanese culture and tradition through the eyes of someone who defies the norm.

Harriet Klausner

Murder In Four Parts- Bill Crider

Murder In Four Parts
Bill Crider
Minotaur, Feb 17 209, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312386740

In Texas the Clearview Community Barbershop Chorus musical director florist Lloyd Berry invites Sheriff Dan Rhodes to join as a baritone. Dan is shocked by the invitation as he knows he cannot sing worth saving his soul and so does everyone else including Lloyd knows that as a fact. However, he rejects the offer stating he is too busy with law enforcement.

Soon afterward while Dan searches for an apparent chicken eating gator, someone bashes in Lloyd’s head. He questions the chorus members and is taken aback by the amount of discord; the feuds are palatable leading Dan to wonder if one of the members killed Lloyd. Other incidents divide Dan’s time, but as he digs into Berry’s past, the sheriff finds several irate enemies with motives.

MURDER IN FOUR PARTS is overall a fun often amusing thriller although the prime investigation never accelerates though the trademark sidebar inquiries with the eccentric cast are humorous. Dan is his usual self as he takes his time to insure he is doing things right. Although not quite as exciting as past Rhodes tales (see OF ALL SAD WORDS and MURDER AMONG THE OWLS), the latest Sheriff Rhodes police procedural is an engaging amusing small town mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Hard to Handle-Karen Wiesner

Hard to Handle
Karen Wiesner
Whiskey Creek, Jan 2009, $14.95
ISBN: 1603134697

As part of the Network, Dez Luttino and Nova Granger have worked as part of a team that he led on several missions. However, his superior assigns Dez with a strange task as he has mentored her skills in the past. The Network leadership believes strongly that Nova can be one of their best operatives if she can gain one more skil; she must learn to trust her teammates. His seemingly impossible assignment is to get her to have faith in his being there for her.

This will prove his toughest assignment ever as Nova when she was five years old was raped by her father and his friends. Her childhood ordeal has proven doubled edged as she feels for the victims, but rejects closeness with any man even teammates on a mission. Dez begins his quest to earn the trust of a suspicious Nova. As he succeeds in reaching her heart, she reaches his too; they begin to fall in love. Sent on a mission to keep a father and daughter safe, Nova has doubts as the man they protect is pushing a law that allows marriage at any age. However she feels a strange affinity to the mute child until she learns the total truth about her mission and her beloved.

The eighth Incognito thriller is an exciting romantic suspense tale that digs deep inside the soul of an adult who suffered a childhood trauma that never left her and impacts her adult relationships. Filled with plenty of action, the story line is somewhat different than the previous magnificent seven due to Nova who brings plenty of psychological baggage with her on the mission. Karen Wiesner writes an excellent entry filled with angst and action.

Harriet Klausner

Afraid-Jack Kilborn

Jack Kilborn
Grand Central, Apr 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780446535939

Safe Haven, Wisconsin is a somewhat isolated town of under one thousand people with only one road in and out. Everyone knows everyone and law enforcement is handled by the Ashburn County Sheriff’s Office as needed.

Everything changes when a helicopter crashes in Safe Haven. Two of the occupants are dead, but not by the crash. The survivors leave on a Red Ops mission to find “Warren”. Bernie, Taylor, Santiago and Ajax are not just special ops soldiers; they are trained killers who enjoy torture. With a chip inside their respective heads to keep them focused and “Charge” to give them super skills, they begin destroying the idyllic pastoral town with the brutal murders. The town is cut off as firefighter Josh Van Camp calls Sheriff Arnold Streng about the helicopter crash. They are torturing and killing everyone they meet demanding information as to where is Warren until only Josh, Arnold, single mom Fran Stauffer with her young son Duncan and a runaway monkey stand in their way of finishing the mission with no witnesses left alive.

Although over the top (especially the latter half), fans will be hooked from the opening scene of this one sitting gory thriller. The action-packed story line starts off with blood and guts only to accelerate with more blood and guts flowing. The trained enhanced killers are sadistic and as nasty as one can imagine; they steal the show one intense bite at a time. Jack Kilburn provides a powerful exhilarating bloody thriller as a small town is being annihilated with sadistic military precision.

Harriet Klausner

Deadly Desire-Keri Arthur

Deadly Desire
Keri Arthur
Bantam, Mar 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780553591156

The supernaturals, especially the vampires and shapeshifters, have made themselves known to humans; and though they are not quite equal under human law, they have the Protectorate to police their kind especially if humans are in danger. Guardian Riley Jenson’s latest case involves finding a zombie killing people. She tracks the culprit to an abandoned overhang where it and two hellhounds are intently staring at a crow that is actually a shapeshifting sorceress.

While there she also meets werewolf bounty hunter Kye whose assignment is to kill the necromancer sorceress as a favor to a friend. During a fight, the crow escapes while the zombie and hellhounds are killed. Soon afterward several powerful ancient vampires are murdered with heads and feet severed; their safes are open and their contents missing. The girls they were with were killed by a zombie. Riley believes there is a link between the vampire executions and the dead girls and the sorceress. Rye stays at her side as they try to track down the crow; each step together enhances their attraction for one another. These unwanted feelings horrify both of them and distracts them enough for them to fall into a deadly trap.

Riley is a powerful hunter, but has met her equal in the as obstinate and ornery Kye. Her wolf might want him, but her heart belongs to the ancient vampire Quinn. The whodunit is cleverly developed to keep the audience guessing as to the crow’s prime identity and why zombies are killing vampires. Fans of this great urban romantic fantasy will appreciate the current tale and look forward to the next installment in Keri Arthur’s superb saga.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 30, 2009

Life Sentences-Laura Lippman

Life Sentences
Laura Lippman
Morrow, Mar 10 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061128899

Author Cassandra Fallows’ nonfiction work received critical acclaim and was best-sellers. Her venture into novels did okay, but not near the level of her memoirs of growing up in Baltimore in the turbulent 1960s or her revelations into her relationships; two failed marriages and a zillion affairs.

She considers writing a biography of her elementary school colleague notorious African-American Calliope Jenkins who two decades ago was accused of murdering her infant son. Jenkins has not answered one question on the infanticide charge. A Caucasian Cassandra looks up three African-American former classmates of both her and Jenkins in order to obtain their memories of her subject’s childhood. However, she is taken aback as their recollections are Grand Canyonesque apart from hers.

Allowing Tess Monoghan to take a well deserved breather but remaining in Baltimore, Laura Lippman provides a deep character study that focuses on the tricks of memories. The gap between what Fallows recalls from their school days vs. the three interviewees is oceanic in size as relativity of perspective surface. Readers will enjoy this strong psychological tale that spotlights the tricks the mind employs to conceal the negative memories; especially those in which the person is more a passive observer rather than directly actively involved.

Harriet Klausner

The Laws of Harmony-Judith Ryan Hendricks

The Laws of Harmony
Judith Ryan Hendricks
Harper, Feb 10 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061687365

Sunny Cooper grew up in a New Mexico commune. However, when she was eighteen, an accident killed her younger sister freaking out Sunny. Unable to remain at the commune, she fled in self-exile barely able to communicate with her mom Gwen.

Fourteen years later, Sunny lives in Albuquerque, but still has not moved past her grief and thus remains somewhat estranged from her mom; both somewhat impact her relationship with her boyfriend Michael as she hides part of her self from him. When Michael dies in a questionable accident, the cops interrogate her like she is a killer and like a zillion cockroaches creditors surface demanding payments of Michael’s enormous debt that she was ignorant existed. She flees to the commune, but mom remains the same out of touch happy hippie homemaker. Still needing escape, Sunny flees to Harmony on San Miguel Island off Washington State. However, her past follows her to the barrier island.

Sunny is the key to this intriguing character study of a person hammered by two tragedies in which she has obtained closure in neither. Whereas her mom wrote off her daughter’s death as the laws of nature have taken back her younger child, Sunny internalized it. As to Michael, no one will let her move on. Although the story line has too many sidebars that subtract from the focus of THE LAWS OF HARMONY, a deep psychological drama of a person struggling to cope with traumas in a world that will not allow her to do so.

Harriet Klausner

The Desires of Her Heart-Lyn Cote

The Desires of Her Heart
Lyn Cote
Avon, Feb 10 2009, $12.99
ISBN: 9780061373411

In 1821 twenty-five years old spinster Dorritt Mott fears her stepfather Mr. Kilbride is up to his usual no good, but this time her clenched gut expects the worst. She proves right when she learns he gambled away her family’s Belle Vista Plantation that he has lived off of while she ran it. Knowing he must flee from New Orleans, he informs his extended family they will leave for the Texas Territory where they can claim land and start over. Dorritt would like to go her own way, but knows her pampered mom and her spoiled sister Jewell whose fiancé dumped her need her.

Dorritt knows Mr. Kilbride is an amoral moron who will vanish at the first inkling of trouble; from what she knows of the trek from Louisiana to Texas it is very dangerous. She prefers to depend on wagon train half-breed scout Quinn and God than Kilbride. However, as her attraction for the half Cherokee grows, she learns once again a man cannot be trusted as he has business yes with Kilbride.

The opening Texas Star of Destiny tale is an interesting "Era of Good Feelings” Americana romance. Although Mr. Kilbride, his wife and Jewell are too stereotyped, Dorritt and Quinn are fully developed intriguing lead characters. Fans will relish this fine tale of a feisty female defying the expected role of a Louisiana aristocrat in life and in love.

Harriet Klausner

Can't Never Tell-Cathy Pickens

Can't Never Tell
Cathy Pickens
Minotaur (St. Martin’s), Feb 17 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312354442

In Dacus, South Carolina, seven year old Emma is somewhat bored while wandering around the fair fright house with her Aunt Avery while two teenage couples are also touring the place. However, the child’s ennui ends when the leg of a mannequin with a chainsaw separates; she realizes immediately as does her aunt that the limb is that of a human remain. The fright house is closed as the cops investigate the mannequin that turns out to be a mummified human.

The next day, Emma’s parents and Aunt Avery are attending a faculty picnic near Bow Falls when the wife of Professor Reimann falls into the waterfall. While the Fair’s owners have retained attorney Avery to help them reopen for the July Fourth holiday weekend, a friend of the professor asks her to file a life insurance claim since the grieving widower is too upset to do so. However, Avery also wants to know who the corpse in the fright house is though she leaves that to her assistant Shamanique to explore and who pushed Rinda into the falls.

The latest Avery Andrews legal cozy is a fun regional tale filled with some of the down home humor expected of a Cathy Pickens novel; starting with the two teen couples Amazonian girlfriends knocking the leg off the mannequin. The story line is not quite as fast and breezy as previous entries like HUSH MY MOUTH or HOG WILD but in some ways is much deeper as the audience obtains a profound look at financial fraud that is critical to the plot leading to a cautionary afterward.

Harriet Klausner

Double Minds-Terri Blackstock

Double Minds
Terri Blackstock
Zondervan, Feb 1 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9780310250630

In Nashville, Christian songwriter Parker James is highly regarded for her inspiring lyrics, but wants the chance to sing her songs. She knows pride is one of the seven deadly sins, but still hopes to have a chance. Still she does her best writing and working as a receptionist at Colgate Studios.

Parker is stunned when her brother Homicide Detective Gibson James text messages her to come to the studio. She learns that Belmont University student and an intern Brenna Evans was shot to death. Assisting her brother with his investigation, Parker wonders if she was the intended target as her work area as the studio receptionist is where the victim was killed; though she cannot fathom why someone would want her dead.

The superb whodunit adds deep excitement to a strong thought provoking Christian thriller with an apt title. Terri Blackstock provides an intriguing look at modern American Christian thought with dedicated believers struggling to adhere to scripture while also trying to make it in the wider world. Parker’s BFF Serene has a chance to break out beyond the relatively small pond of Christian music to that of the oceanic sized pop scene, but would need Parker to modify lyrics that would still remain inspiring yet take them outside scripture. This is Christian suspense at its best as Ms. Blackstock takes her readers outside their pious comfort zone.

Harriet Klausner

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn-Allison Goodman

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
Allison Goodman
Viking, Dec 2008, $19.99
ISBN: 9780670062270

Twelve years old Eon dreams of becoming one of the twelve apprentices Dragoneye, able to communicate with the energy dragons. He knows his chances are slim though he works harder than all his competitors. First he has limited sword capability due to a hand injury suffered years ago, which makes him fail at forms. Worse, he is not male. Females are forbidden from practicing Dragon magic. Twelve years old Eon has disguised herself as a lad as she is actually sixteen year old Eona.

To the shock of everyone attending the Rat Dragon competition, the Mirror Dragon, absent for over five centuries, shows up and stunningly picks the obvious least Eon. Still hiding her gender even from her close friends, Eona as Eon feels strongly she must save her nation. She has learned that a conspiracy of those who would dispose of the emperor for selfish gains exists; to prevent a calamitous change in leadership, Eon must learn how to use the power the Mirror Dragon has offered her as an apprentice.

Based on Chinese mythology, EON: DRAGONEYE REBORN is an exciting young teen fantasy thriller. Although the theme has been used often in books and movies, Eon is a terrific inspiring lead character who refuses to allow the handicap of a useless hand or a gender ban from keeping “him” from competing. However, Eon will learn that the biggest handicap is not physical, but the lack of knowledge as she as a he struggles to learn how to use the gift the Mirror Dragon gave. Fans of all ages will look forward to the concluding novel.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iodine-Haven Kimell

Haven Kimell
Free Press, Aug 2008, $24.00
ISBN: 1416572848

In Indiana, college senior Trace Pennington earns a “living” working at a farmhouse while attending school under the name of Ianthe Covington. .She excels at school, but is a life drop out. She may have run away from home but the abuse of her home and her mom’s church never left her in spite of an exorcism. Her only contact at home is Candy who insists both of them have had encounters of the first kind with aliens.

When Trace meets older sophisticated Dr. Jacob Matthias, she begins to have dark sexual dreams about having sex with him as a father substitute for her broken angelic dad. Trace intellectually knows this would be a mistake, but her increasing madness drives her to be what her dream lover wants her to be until she marries her professor who shapes her into his second faculty wife. As the insanity supersedes the increasingly rare intelligent clear moments, Trace whenever she lucidly remembers who she is also wonders what to do when he ever rejects her like he must have with his vanished first spouse.

This is not an easy book to read as Haven Kimell gets deep inside the head of a very disturbed female who opens the novel with a stunning “confession” and continues to dig deeper into the battered darkened psyche of the probably insane lead protagonist. Although this disturbing well written character study can turn overly melodramatic, readers who appreciate something radically different will want to read IODINE, the psychological story of an abused child who has become a mentally ill adult.

Harriet Klausner

Believe Me-Nina Killham

Believe Me
Nina Killham
Plume, Jan 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780452289765

While her husband the professor lives and works in Williamsburg as he has for the last two years, University of Maryland astrophysicist Lucy Delano raises their thirteen year old son Nicolaus Copernicus “Nic” Delano though dad sees him frequently. Lucy the atheist encourages Nic to ask questions on any topic as she insists none are stupid. However she has reconsidered her curiosity concept as lately Nic’s interests veer towards two taboo topics: girls and religion; not that he asks mom much on either.

Nic finds suburban Christianity comforting when he ponders the free will of selecting a brand of crunchy peanut butter from eight choices while at the same time a kid his age in Pakistan has his house fall on his head. The Christians may not be able to answer his five whys except in some mystical mumbo jumbo (which is not that different than mom's naturist big bang theory), but Mrs. Porter bakes good cookies that provide comfort while mom buys cookies. Lucy is concerned about Nic not so much that he admires the long legs of his babysitter, but because his teen rebellion is heretical as he studies God forbid the bible. Mom knows she cannot excommunicate her son, but the bible in her mind was written by the first fantasists. However both reconsider their beliefs when illness strikes.

The key to this debate over whether there is a god is the low-keyed family approach to the question rather than the extremes pounding theories as scientific proof or gospel. Nic makes the tale from the onset starting with his simple peanut butter question and his continual search for the truth. Although the support cast is to religiously “correct”, readers will appreciate Nic’s quest especially why would God turn his back on an ailing child of his as his mom and dad would never do that to him.

Harriet Klausner

The Triplets’ Rodeo Man-Tina Leonard

The Triplets’ Rodeo Man
Tina Leonard
Harlequin American, Mar 2009, $4.99
ISBN: 0373752547

With his father is in the Union Junction Hospital in need of a kidney transplant, rodeo star Jack Morgan returns home to the family ranch after being away for a decade due to an estrangement between them. The bronco riding champion and his dad have argued over his working the ranch vs. bronco busting.

Jack and Cricket Jasper, a deacon, meet for the first time in several years at the hospital. They are attracted to one another and enjoy an incredible night together. However, when she becomes pregnant carrying triplets, he offers to marry her. Shockingly Cricket refuses. She has loved Jack ever since she was a little girl, but assumes he wants to wed her now for the sake of their children; and besides she wants him to end his rodeo career before he gets hurt. Meanwhile Jack’s dad offers him a million dollars if he remains on the ranch for one year. Jack has some decisions to make starting with convincing doubting Cricket he loves her.

This is an intriguing contemporary romance starring a lead protagonist who is at a point in his life when he must choose. The plot is thin as it does not explore deep enough inside his head how pulled Jack is. Still fans will enjoy his efforts to reconcile with his dad, his brother, and the woman he loves carrying his offspring.

Harriet Klausner

The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas-Linda Warren

The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas
Linda Warren
Harlequin American, Mar 2009, $4.99
ISBN: 0373752539

Wealthy socialite Peyton Ross drives through Horseshoe, Texas like a bat out of hell; going at least twice the speed limit. The sheriff gives chase, but the spoiled brat accelerates as if the sirens were not blaring behind her. She is finally forced to pull over and is arrested for reckless driving as well as speeding.

The Judge is disgusted with Peyton’s nonchalant attitude. Frustrated and irate with her, she is fined and sentenced to two weeks of community service. The widowed Sheriff Wyatt Carson reluctantly gives his spare room to the recalcitrant woman to sleep as the town has no rooms to rent. Both detest the attraction between them especially the lawman as he feels guilty about betraying his high school sweetheart late wife Lori, who died six years ago. However, his eight year old daughter Jodi and her grandma think otherwise.

This is an enjoyable Texas two step romance as the attitudes of the three prime players change due to the influx of the new relationships between them. The character driven tale stars a strong support cast, but is owned by the lead couple and his daughter. Contemporary fans will enjoy this fine tale from the moment the sheriff arrests the party girl not realizing at that moment when she frustrates him with her cavalier attitude she captured his heart.

Harriet Klausner

Bahama Burnout-Don Bruns

Bahama Burnout
Don Bruns
Oceanview, Mar 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781933515205

Internationally famous and highly regarded rock critic and music journalist Mick Sever travels to the Bahamas where he will cover the story of the return of renowned Highland Studio in Nassau. The studio, known for mega-hits, burned down last year with an unknown corpse found amid the ashes. Although the arson and potential homicide remain unsolved, owners Jonah and Rita Britt have rebuilt it and are ready to launch their label again.

However, the renaissance is not going smooth as someone is sabotaging the effort. Rita believes the ghost of the victim who died in the fire is the current troublemaking culprit as a Sheryl Crow guitar has been smashed for who knows why and tracks are being erased. Following a murder of a band manager, Mick believes the saboteur-killer is human and begins to investigate before Highland Studio is sent to rock and roll heaven forever.

The fifth Bruns' Caribbean music mystery (see JAMAICA BLUE, BARBADOS HEAT and ST. BART'S BREAKDOWN ) is an entertaining whodunit filled with more spins than a 45 contains (no comment on age please). The story line is fast-paced from the moment Mick arrives on the Bahamas and never slows down as he seeks a motive for last year’s incident and the current events in the past of the studio and its owners. Fans will enjoy sleuthing with Sever as he tours the Bahamas.

Harriet Klausner

Zombie Queen of Newbury High-Amanda Ashby

Zombie Queen of Newbury High
Amanda Ashby
Speck, Mar 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780142412565

At Newberry High School, Mia Everett was on cloud nine as football star Rob Ziggerman had taken her out on a real date several times and asked her to go to the prom with him. However, lately she notices his attention has swung towards cheerleader Samantha Griffin who has made a play for her Rob. Samantha wants to be the Homecoming Queen and believes Rob is a sure shot as the King; thus he must be her date.

Mia panics that she is losing Rob so she turns to her hypochondriac best friend Candice Bailey who claims she has suffered from every disease no one heard of even leprosy from some remote part of the Amazonian Rainforest; she also knows where to find cures in Massachusetts. Candice takes Mia to her special “medical elixir store in a dark alley where they buy a love spell from five century old witch Algeria. Mia casts the spell and turns the student body into zombies who seem to worship her. However, Chase “New boy” Miller informs her that he works for the Department of Paranormal Containment and explains the student-zombies cherish her not to serve her but to serve her (nod to the Twilight Zone) as their first meal unless they can reverse her love spell.

ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEWBURY HIGH is an engaging humorous middle school fantasy in which the story line never takes itself seriously to the delight of the young audience. The pre-zombie support cast is purposely hyperbole to exaggerate their personalities similar to the film Never Been Kissed. The heroic trio is fully developed with Mia as the affable unconfident teenager; Candice as the likable nutty sidekick; and Chase as the professional by the book zombie hunter. With a nod towards Buffy, fans will appreciate their breezy amusing tale of zombie homecoming king and queen.

Harriet Klausner

Bite Me-Parker Blue

Bite Me
Parker Blue
Bell Bridge, Oct 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 0980245389

Val Shapiro is a teenager who is part succubus, but seven-eighth humans. All her life she has tried to suppress the demon she calls Lola as if it was a separate part of her. Two things appease Lola’s appetite: sex and the bloodlust of battle. Since she almost killed a boy she kissed, Val uses Lola’s bloodlust to fight vampires killing humans.

One night when she is fighting a vampire, she discovers her sister Jen has snuck in the back seat of her car. When they return home, their mother kicks Val out and forbids her any contact with Jen and her step-father agrees. Needing a job, Val obtains work with the Special Crimes Unit that deals with paranormal crime; executing vamps preying on humans. She is assisted by a sidekick dog who is a hell hound and who becomes her friend. She is partnered with Dan, a man she likes more than is safe for his well being due to Lola, but she is unable to dampen the sparks between them. They search for a vampire lair while the vampire Alejandro has started a movement to get humans to donate blood to a blood bank and they will be paid in cash or enthrallment. Val has to rescue Jen before she is turned and find her missing stepfather.

The heroine’s mom comes across like Cinderella’s stepmother, throwing out of her home the offspring she loathes to protect the daughter she loves. Jen’s father seduced her using his incubus powers and the woman has never forgiven him and struck back at him through a surrogate: his child. Teenagers will empathize with Val whose differences set her apart from her peers, but make her a strong SCU operative. Parker Blue provides an entertaining romantic supernatural thriller that fans of Stephanie Meyer will want to bite into the tale.

Harriet Klausner

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi-Aaron Allston

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi
Aaron Allston
Del Rey, Mar 24 2009, $27.00
ISBN: 9780345509062

The politicians are meeting in a summit on the planet Coruscant to discuss bringing the Imperial Remnant into the Galactic Alliance. Luke Skywalker is arrested at the instigation of Chief of Sate Natasi Dalaa for dereliction of duties. His protégé Jacen Solo turned to the dark side of the force and caused the Second Galactic Civil War when he became Darth Caedus. Dalaa wants to prosecute Luke for his failure to recognize Jacen’s turn to the dark because he believes Luke is accountable for the deaths caused by the war.

Luke pleads guilty because he knows the charges are true; he is excommunicated from every Jedi Temple and Coruscant for ten years. He will be pardoned if he can learn what turned Jacen. Jedi Knight Valin Horn has a psychic break that makes him believe everyone he knows is an imposter. The media captures his rampage and the public turns against the Jedi Order leading to restrictions on them. Han Solo, his wife Leia and their granddaughter go to the dying planet Kessel to find out why earthquakes are out of control; they find an underground tunnel complex filled with machines and energy forces that could destroy the orb. Luke and his son Jedi Knight Ben go to Dorin where Jacen studied the native use of the Force hoping to find a clue.

This is the opening act of a nine book saga in which the Jedi have fallen into disgrace as the government and the public believe they are not held accountable for their actions. There is plenty of action and the known characters stay true to their film personalities. Perhaps the only negative is eight books to go in this arc, but if they are anything like the first this will be one of the better Star War entries.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dream House-Valerie Laken

Dream House
Valerie Laken
Harper, Feb 3 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780060840921

Married couple Kate and Stuart Kinzler have enjoyed hanging on to their college lifestyle though they graduated seven years ago. However, as she closes in on thirty, Kate wants more than a rundown Ann Arbor apartment and all night parties. Reluctantly Stuart agrees it is time to commit to their relationship, but loathes such a permanent fixture like a house. With the help of her parents, they buy a fixer-upper; but are ignorant that almost two decades earlier in the summer of 1987 a murder occurred in their new abode.

As Kate dives into the renovation project, Stuart walks out of the home and her. Despondent over the apparent end of her marriage Kate keeps working on the house. She soon meets African-American Walker Price who grew up in her new home before going to jail as a teen for the homicide almost twenty years ago, and her friend Jay comes by realizing upon arrival he cleaned the house after the police finished their murder investigation.

This is a timely look at the American strategic vision of individual ownership as the house serves as the connection between four thirtyish adults. The link between the Kinzlers and Walker is obvious; however the tie to Jay is a major stretch that is asking a lot of the reader to accept. Still this is a deep character driven tale as Valerie Laken goes inside the underpinnings of owning one’s DREAM HOUSE with a strong look into the bonds that make effective nurturing relationships.

Harriet Klausner

Kept-Jami Alden

Jami Alden
Kensington Brava, Mar 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780758225474

Gemini Security is run by the Taggert brothers with the oldest Danny in charge and his younger twins Ethan and Derek top security operatives. The firm is hired by Emma Bancroft to provide security at a major gala. At the event Derek meets “Miss Thing” Alyssa Miles and afterward takes her home with him.

Still attracted to her, he later learns affluent Alyssa the party animal is the type of worthless female he loathes and the tabloids love. He is chagrined when her family hires his agency to protect them after Alyssa’s father and stepmother recently died in what the police believe is a murder-suicide. Danny assigns Derek with the 24/7 protection detail of Alyssa. However, as he begins to fall in love with his subject and her with her bodyguard, they begin to realize something is not right about the two deaths. Instead evidence surfaces that implicate the Van Weldt Jeweler business in illegal trafficking of “blood diamonds”.

The twin sequel to CAUGHT is a fabulous romantic suspense thriller starring a caring hero hiding his heart and a seemingly flit female who proves she is his equal once he gives her the chance. The cast is fully developed especially her family like her grandmother Grace Van Weldt who’s as cold as diamonds. Fans will enjoy the changing relationship between the lead couple as they fall in love while needing to know whether her family firm starting with her icy grandma is dealing in blood diamonds.

Harriet Klausner

Danger in a Red Dress-Christina Dodd

Danger in a Red Dress
Christina Dodd
Signet, Mar 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9789451226266

Personal nurse Hannah Grey’s last client died and his family accused her of unethical practices when they did not like the will though her share of $50,000 matched each of theirs. Her agency obtains work as a personal nurse to ailing Melinda Manly in remote coastal Maine.

Meanwhile Melinda’s playboy son Carrick hires surveillance expert Gabriel Prescott to video his dying mom and her new companion as he insists he fears for his mom’s life from associates of her late criminal spouse who stole and hid a fortune of money that everyone from dangerous felons to the law enforcement assumes she knows where the loot is. Gabriel hides from Carrick that they are half-brothers but accepts the job not realizing what the real danger is to him comes from what Hannah does to his heart.

This is a clever blending of the Prescott saga (see Lost Texas Hearts) and the Manly saga (see The Fortune Hunters) as Christina Dodd provides the audience with a strong romantic suspense that closes out two wonderful series for the price of one novel. The story line is fast-paced from even before Gabriel meets Hannah and takes off when they do meet. Fans will relish the Prescott-Manly merger.

Harriet Klausner

The Pain Nurse-Jon Talton

The Pain Nurse
Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen, Apr 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590586242

At Cincinnati Memorial Hospital, Pain Nurse Specialist Cheryl Beth Wilson finds the corpse of Dr. Christine Lustig in an isolated office. The CPD homicide detectives quickly suspect Cheryl Beth killed the victim because of her affair with the deceased’s spouse.

One of Cheryl Beth patients, just out of surgery removing a tumor on his spinal cord, former homicide cop Will Borders feels like he suffers from déjà vu when on his gurney heading back to his room he glimpses the crime scene. It eerily reminds him of the Mount Adams Slasher, who was caught, convicted and executed. Bed-ridden and in severe pain, he is unable to make the cops including his former partner listen to him. Instead Will directs Beth on investigating the crime while someone nearby watches her every move.

THE PAIN NURSE is an excellent refreshing investigative thriller starring a detective stuck in bed and his “legs”; mindful of Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhymes. The location plays a key part in this thriller as Jon Talton moves from Arizona (the Mapstone mysteries) to an Ohio hospital. Readers will feel empathy pain as Borders’ aches are that descriptive; on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being hurting at Mt. Everest levels, he is a 12. However, it is the recuperating patient and his pain nurse who team up as an unlikely investigative duet searching for a killer.

Harriet Klausner

Probable Claws-Clea Simon

Probable Claws
Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen, Apr 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590585641

Helmhold House for Wayward Cats owners Violet and Caro are stunned when a donated batch of kibble is laced with poison. Neither can believe someone could be that cruel yet they assume it was deliberate. When their pal freelance writer Theda Krakow begs to differ as she assumes it was an accident, they become upset with her for trivializing their concerns; she takes a quick look at the shelter’s processes to see what safeguards exists.

When her beloved cat Musetta needs a tooth brushing, she drops her off with the shelter’s vet. When she returns she find Musetta soaked in blood and the vet Rachel dead with a scalpel wound. The police suspect Theda who investigates the murder to clear her name and regain her hope of a permanent position at the Morning Mail. She assumes the motive involves an irate sociopath opposed to the shelter combining the poisoned food with the vet’s murder

Fans will definitely enjoy this fun cat caper. Musetta is not only the traumatized eye witness to the homicide, the feline wipes clean much of the crime scene as sticky red does not blend well with her tuxedo look. Cat fans will enjoy Theda’s inquiry into the PROBABLE CLAWS behind the homicide.

Harriet Klausner

Lone Star-Edward Ifkovic

Lone Star
Edward Ifkovic
Poisoned Pen, Apr 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590585870

In 1955 septuagenarian novelist Edna Ferber riding the success of her books is in Hollywood to work on the movie adaptation of her latest bestseller Giant. As the George Stevens’ directed movie is almost finished, rumors spread that one of the stars “Rebel Without a Cause” James Dean sired a child with unbalanced extra Carisa Krausse.

However, as the Warner Brothers studio worries about the negative publicity a child out of wedlock would bring, someone murders Carisa. The evidence points towards the volatile womanizing Dean as her killer. Though his ego is “So Big”, Edna likes the unique Dean who probably does not know that water exists outside of alcohol. With the help of actress Mercedes McCambridge, Edna investigates the homicide.

This engaging Hollywood historical mystery stars renowned novelist Edna Ferber who at first look is probably the last person to investigate a homicide. Starting with Edna and James Dean, the cast of Hollywood real people like McCambridge and Rock Hudson come to life. In fact the strong cast casts a giant shadow over the amateur sleuth prime theme. Still fans will enjoy Edna Gerber meets James Dean.

Harriet Klausner

Murder Takes a Cake-Gayle Trent

Murder Takes a Cake
Gayle Trent
Bell Bridge Books, Oct 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 0980245362

In Brea Ridge, Virginia is the owner of Daphne's Delectable Cakes that she makes out of her home. Daphne Martin delivers her pastry to her grouchy demanding customer Yodel Watson but she finds the woman lying dead on her sofa.

Soon afterward, Yodel’s daughter Annabelle calls Daphne asking for a favor. She wants the cake baker to find her mother’s diary and hold it for her until she arrives. She finds the diary that contains plenty of gossip about everyone in the small town including Daphne’s mother and sister. Daphne realizes that almost every resident had a reason to want Yodel dead and the diary burned if they knew it existed. Unable to resist investigating the claims re her family, Daphne finds herself in trouble with her kin and in danger from a killer who thinks her inquiry is focused on the homicide.

This is an entertaining amateur sleuth culinary cozy starring an obstinate baker who needs to know the truth about her mom, her sister, others and the murder. The breezy story line is fun to follow although fans will pick out the killer early on. Even with several cooking sleuths like Diane Mott Davidson “Goldy”, Daphne is a solid lead character as she follows the murder recipe one step at a time to the delight of sub-genre readers.

Harriet Klausner

Moonstone-Marilee Brothers

Marilee Brothers
Bell Bridge Books, Aug 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 9780980245349

The daughter of Faye, an impoverished single mom, Allie is living in her uncle’s trailer. Allie Emerson knows she is a classic klutz. However even for her this latest fiasco could not have been more unlucky short of breaking a bone. Standing on a ten foot ladder she is fixing a TV antenna on the trailer’s roof when she falls touching an electric fence before landing face first into cow pie. Though the dive would have been scored a 10 for its perfect landing right into the bulls-eye, Allie Blue Note believes she has nothing but bad luck

However, something weird happens to Allie besides Child Services stalking her and her mom. She suddenly has developed paranormal powers. Her friend Kizzy the witch gives her a moonstone to help her focus. However, as is the case with Allie, her luck turns all bad. The Trimarks now know she is the Star Seeker and need her removed to complete their evil plan starting with stealing her Moonstone. Allie turns to student Junior Martinez, a retired gangbanger for help even as her unknown stalkers abduct her mom and then her.

The first Unbidden Magic teen fantasy is a wonderful tale due to Allie. She is a terrific protagonist who holds the story line together in an optimistic way in spite of her belief that she is jinxed. The support cast like her mom and the Trimarks is weak and underdeveloped except as a major cause of her bad luck. Still young adult fans will appreciate her efforts to learn to use her power reminiscent of the Greatest American hero’s early days while the Trimarks stalk her and her unique choice pf a hero as her sidekick is a former gangbanger.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feelers-Brian M. Wiprud

Brian M. Wiprud
Minotaur (St. Martin’s), Mar 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780312388614

Morty Martinez is a specialized house cleaner; after someone dies, he cleans their house. However, he makes more money as a “feeler” searching for the hidden cache of loot senior citizens leave behind.

In Brooklyn, Morty is euphoric to find $800,000 lying around while he cleaned the house. However, his find comes to the attention of his peers who want more than just a cut; the information also reaches an angry former cop who believes the loot in Brooklyn belongs to him as he believes it is part of an armored car robbery. Finally, one of the thieves who has just left prison having gained the useful skill of an ice pick killer and he wants his money; Morty better give it to him or risk a flash temper stabbing. Everyone targets Morty who thinks he can become the gringo lover of Mexican senoritas if he can escape from New York in one piece.

This is an enjoyable suspense thriller mindful of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as everyone seemingly in the Big Apple wants a bite out of the anti-hero’s butt. The story line is fast-paced once Morty finds the loot and even faster is the underground gossip network. Brian M. Wiprud provides the audience with a terrific tale in which Morty may be dreaming of senoritas, but he can’t safely get to New Jersey.

Harriet Klausner

Corked by Cabernet-Michele Scott

Corked by Cabernet
Michele Scott
Berkley, Feb 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780425226445

In Napa Valley, Malveaux Estates manager Nikki Sands and owner Derek Malveaux are in love and plan to live together on the property. However, she is bit upset at a time she is overly busy to learn Derek’s gay brother Simon and his partner Mario have arranged for Guru Alan Sansi and his Source of Enlightened Elite (SEE) to conduct a seminar on the estate. Derek explains he needs the money while he also informs his beloved he is going to New York on business.

The SEE attendees arrive and Nikki realizes they have family conflict starting with the guru’s daughter Sierra and Japanese publisher Iwao Yamimoto who wants to become the SEE publisher and demands Alan look at a video he brought with him; Alan refuses. On the Napa Valley Wine Train, a drunken Sierra heads to the storage car to find more wine only to see the body of Iwao. Nikki contains the crime scene until Detective Jonah Robinson arrives. He warns her to not sleuth, but asks her to listen to the SEE members when they talk. She enlists Simon and Mario, but though Nikki tries to do no more than listen, she begins to sleuth.

Although the motive comes late and seems a bit weak, the latest Vintage Murder amateur sleuth (see MURDER UNCORKED and MURDER BY THE GLASS) is a lighthearted fun Napa Valley whodunit that goes well with red wine. The recurring cast is solid though Derek is conveniently across the country during the “not” investigation as he would have taken his beloved to task for her involvement. The SEE members especially the guru and his family are a fascinating crew as each has issues, especially the three adult children. Fans of the series will enjoy Nikki’s inquiry as she swears she is not investigating just assisting Robinson.

Harriet Klausner

Detachment Delta-Don Bendell

Detachment Delta
Don Bendell
Berkley, Mar 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780425224489

Lakota warrior Master Sergeant Charlie Strongheart is a member of the elite Delta Force Combat Applications Group (CAG). His current assignment is to assassinate a New York City cop on the streets of Manhattan. He succeeds in taking out James Rashad, but NYPD had a sting operation so the local police angrily capture Charlie as a cop killer. The cops are taken aback as they thought they were conducting surveillance of a drug deal, but are shocked to find a stinger missile inside Rashad’s vehicle. The next day Charlie is freed by the court.

The brass assigns Poke as Charlie is called by his unit with a dangerous mission. He and CAG “Funny Platoon” Sergeant First Class Fila Jannart, an Iranian-American, are to infiltrate Iran and terminate jihadist Davood Faraz Dabdeh, whose growing popularity alarms the Western intelligence agency as he claims Bin Laden is a coward and has no compunctions raping and killing female Muslims as well as any American. The difficulty of the mission is killing him without martyring him.

Don Bendell moves from his enjoyable Criminal Investigations Detachment series to the Delta Force CAG thriller, but retains the action-packed excitement while providing the audience intriguing background into his lead couple especially Charlie and what is even more fascinating is what occurs before a deployment. The story line is fast-paced from the New York scenario to the Fort Bragg gangbanging to Iran and never slows down while insuring Charlie and Fila are fully developed. Although a strong bias with an obvious good and bad characterization mindset leading to opposition characters like General Rozanski and the villains seem to be somewhat like caricatures with perversions, fans will relish DETACHMENT DELTA starring two real American heroes with intriguing deep rooted backgrounds especially the heroine.

Harriet Klausner

Choices Meant for Kings-Sandy Lender

Choices Meant for Kings
Sandy Lender
ArcheBooks Publishing, 2008
ISBN: 9781595072191

Evil sorcerer Jamieson Drake has hunted geasa mage Amanda Chariss since she was a little girl; his intention is to possess her. The Wizard Hrazon has helped keep Amanda relatively safe, but she knows that someday soon she must either kill Drake or he will succeed; if he wins her people the Onweald are in danger.

Drake procures the service of a Dragon who is also the human Juliette. She has her own agenda in which she needs Drake’s help for now. However, she plans to eliminate him when he no longer is useful. Julette travels to Lorendell to visit with King Vrel Wendan to foster her scheme to conquer the north; she wants his armies to join that of the Dreorfahn forces that support her. She also pushes the marriage between Jake Taiman and Tiaha Wold so her powers grow to the point of destroying Drake. Chariss as the Master Protector learns of Julette’s quest so she knows she must prevent the dragon-Goddess from conquering Onweald.

The sequel to CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS is an exciting Machiavellian epic fantasy as everyone seems to have secret agendas in order to gain power. The story line stands alone as this reviewer did not read the previous tale, but had no problems diving into CHOICES MEANT FOR KINGS though this is apparently the middle book of a trilogy. Fans who relish complex action-packed fantasy thrillers in which no one is quite like they first appear will appreciate Sandy Lender’s superb tale.

Harriet Klausner

Myth-Chief- Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye

Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye
Ace, Jan 27 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780441016877

Skeeve has found he dislikes retirement so decides to return to work. He expects to get his old job as the head of M.Y.T.H. Inc. once he crosses the office threshold. Thus Skeeve is shocked when Aahz refuses to give up the top gun position he took over after Skeeve left.

Everyone including the two combatants agree that they should compete for the position of boss. Skeeve and Aahz will work diametrically opposite on whatever case walks through the door next. Their mutual friends and allies fear the end of a long friendship and legendary in several dimensions partnership as only one can be MYTH-CHIEF.

This is an engaging entry in the long running saga as fans will rejoice that Skeeve has returned to Myth Inc. after he personally walked away. The story line as always is filled with wit and amusing sidebars as Aahz and Skeeve trade barbs in a sort “Anything you can do, I can do better” duet. However, when Skeeve turns reflective, his musings lack the intelligent jocularity of his debates with Aahz . Still fans of the Asprin-Nye myth saga will welcome the hero’s return to the fold.

Harriet Klausner

Maximum Ride: Final Warning-James Patterson

Maximum Ride: Final Warning
James Patterson
Vision (Little, Brown), Sep 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780316002875

The Feds want to control the Flock, so they offer a devious deal. They will provide the six teens with wings shelter and an education if they cooperate with the authorities. Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gasman and Angel consider the offer, but prefer not to be placed under a microscope by adults, who tend to try to harm them.

They flee before the Feds turn their offer into a prison like sentence. The Flock head to Antarctica figuring the isolated frozen continent should prove safe. Environmental scientists studying global warming’s impact upon the ice cap welcome the runaway teens. However the evil Director has replaced his failed Erasers with invincible mechanized soldiers. His plan is to sell the Flock for billions each to the highest bidder. Antarctica is no problem for him and his mechanical horde.

The fourth Maximum Ride is an exhilarating 200 proof action-packed middle school thriller. However the plot feels much thinner than the previous entries and somewhat disconnected. Still the Flock remains cool (and not just because of the climate) especially Max who quips his way from one fire to another even in Antarctica as he and his best buddies must save the world while eluding the Director and the Feds who have plans for THE ANGEL EXPERIMENT participants.

Harriet Klausner

Storm From the Shadows-David Weber

Storm From the Shadows
David Weber
Baen, Mar 2009, $27.00
ISBN: 1416591478

The Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom is at war and Rear Admiral Michelle Henke is in the middle of a pitched battle. On board her flagship the Ajax, Michele knows the Manticore Navy is losing the fight; she and others go to escape pods before blowing up her vessel so the technology does not fall into enemy hands. She wakes up in a Havenite medical facility before being sent to an island with other POWs. She is shocked to meet Haven President Eloise Pritchett.

Pritchett is willing to free Michelle if she agrees to no longer fight against them and if she passes on a message to Queen Elizabeth III for a summit meeting to discuss peace. After coming home, Michelle is sent to the Talbott Quadrant which is far from the war zone to patrol the newestt star systems of the Star Empire. On the planet Monica, Solarian ships were going to be used to remove Manticore from the new system, but a Manicoran captain destroyed their fleet. In the cluster New Tuscan which did not want to join the empire, they deliberately try to push the Manticorans into a war with the Solarian League. The peace talks end abruptly when the Havenites kill two high profile officials. No one understands that the Havenites, Manticorans, and the Soalarans are being cleverly maneuvered by a fourth party with plans to take over the stars once each group devastates one another.

Nobody writes better military outer space fiction starring heroic females than David Weber has consistently done for years. The protagonist is Michelle who is as honorable and courageous as Harrington is as her tale which fills in the blanks in the story arc and provides a differing perspective to AT ALL COSTS. Both are strong-willed and do what they believe is right regardless of what others might think. There is plenty of action and suspense leading up to the military engagements. Yet with so much going on, the cast is solid and most significant realistic as fans will consider whether the Weber mantle of greatness has moved the torch from Honor to Michelle proving there is life after a hero “falls”.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 26, 2009

Of Words and Music-Lynda Fitzgerald

Of Words and Music
Lynda Fitzgerald
Five Star, Mar 2009, $$25.95
ISBN: 9781594147760

Wealthy widow, sexagenarian Lilah Kimball has never recovered from when her late martinet spouse told their daughter Elizabeth to never come back if she marries beneath her. So when social worker Felicity Greenlea informs her that Elizabeth is dead three months ago from a car accident, she hides her grief; as she always prayed for a reconciliation. She also learns she has a twelve year old granddaughter Bethany Freemont whose father died two years ago after suffering with leukemia. Although she prefers to say no, encouraged by her best friend (and housekeeper) Marabet, Lilah agrees to temporary house the child until a paternal relative is located.

Lilah hides from Bethany who hates her grandmother for not being there for her mother. Marabet sees a chance for Lilah to regain her life lost fourteen years ago. However, her forty year old son Charles, a chip off the dictatorial block of his late dad, wants the brat gone. As Lilah and Bethany begin to bond playing the piano together, secrets from Athens and Atlanta haunt everyone.

This is an engaging redemption family drama as Lilah has a chance to indirectly fix the mistake of her life if she can take a chance on loving someone again. The cast is strong . Marabet is a terrific BFF who is there for her buddy, but refuses to pull punches. Bethany is a delightful charmer who goes from loathing to loving her grandma. Charles’ wife Lese goes from mouse to frightened lioness while Charles shows few if any redeeming qualities and fans will hiss him with what he did years ago to his mom and late sister. Although overwrought at times especially a late unnecessary runaway scene, fans will enjoy this fine character driven drama with a fabulous final twist that defines what a family truly is.

Harriet Klausner

Death and the Crossed Wires-Linda Berry

Death and the Crossed Wires
Linda Berry
Five Star, Mar 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594147470

The Ogeechee Baptist Church in Ogeechee, Georgia (population 3,000), has the flock excited that sixteen year old Crys Cleary is being baptized by the youth pastor Josh Easterling; even her grandfather Howard, who raised her, but is not noted for going to church, attends the ceremony. However, something happens and Josh falls into Baptistry. Bobby Turner takes charge of the scene until the EMT and cops respond. Josh is dead having been electrocuted by the microphone.

Police Chief Henry “Hen” Huckabee leads an investigation into what initially looks like a tragic accident. However, Officer Jerome Sharpe learns from his relative, an electrician that someone tampered with the device. The murder investigation makes no progress until Hen’s cousin Officer Trudy Roundtree suggests looking at the deaths of the teen’s parents and boyfriend.

This is an engaging small town Georgia police procedural in which the case goes nowhere beyond proving a homicide and not an accident occurred until Trudy persuades Hen to change the focus. The story line is action-packed but it is the cast starting with the police officer cousins, their family especially his mom-her aunt (no comment on nepotism), and the rest of the unit and the Ogeechee Baptist Church members that make the tale fun to read. They bring alive the eccentricity of a small town in which everyone seems to know everyone except someone has the dark secret of being a killer. The latest Hen-Trudy investigation (see DEATH AND THE FAMILY TREE and DEATH AND THE WALKING STICK) is an enjoyable Southern fried (literally) whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

The Hunted-Wayne Barcomb

The Hunted
Wayne Barcomb
Dunne, Apr 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780312370756
The child witnessed the murder. She testified in court explaining what she saw that she knows will haunt her forever. The killer is convicted and sent to prison.

Eighteen years later, New York homicide detective Frank Russo is the lead investigator into the homicides of several people. His inquiry seems to go nowhere though he believes a serial killer is the culprit. Frank soon learns that a convicted murderer sentenced eighteen years ago was recently paroled. He begins to change his theory re the current killings and wonders if that freed convict is on a rampage leading him to the person who sent the killer to prison.

Frank is a fabulous cop struggling in his failed personal life as much as he struggles with a case that is going nowhere. In many ways the deranged killer steals the show from Frank as the audience sees first hand how the killer was an abuse victim and that person’s efforts to not give in to the obsession to kill again. As Frank follows the few clues, he remains clueless to the identity of the culprit who lives a normal middle class life even as the killer's urging is to hunt down the cop chasing the killer. Though serial killer investigative thrillers have saturated the market, Wayne Barcomb's fine tale is a refreshing police procedural mostly because of the hunter and the HUNTED.

Harriet Klausner

A False Dawn-Tom Lowe

A False Dawn
Tom Lowe
Minotaur (St. Martin's), Apr. 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780312379179

Widower homicide detective Sean O’Brien left the Miami police department after promising his beloved late wife Sherri in a death bed promise he would give up criminal investigations. Sean packed his bags and accompanied by his dachshund Maxine leaves Southern Florida for rural Volusia County near the St. John's River.

He enjoys his quiet life with Max. One day while they hike through the nearby near
Ocala National Forest, he finds a badly battered Hispanic girl who he suspects was raped, dies in his arms. Volusia County PD detective Slater follows the book and considers the ex-cop as his prime suspect. Although he knows he is breaking his pledge to Sherri, Sean believes she would want him to investigate the homicide. His effort soon leads him to a Miami serial killer The Bagman, and with Police Detective Leslie Moor to human trafficking of migrant workers sold to the farms as slaves; to the pimps as hookers; or as cash crops harvesting organs to sell to transplant medical facilities.

This is an exciting investigative thriller starring a likable reluctant hero who enjoys his time away from the cement jungle, but feels a need to bring justice to the dead girl and to prove his innocence. The story line is action-packed though overwhelmed by the combo Bagman and slave trade; either would have sufficed. Still fans will enjoy Tom Lowe's exhilarating human trafficking tale.

Harriet Klausner

Haunt of Murder-P.C. Doherty

Haunt of Murder
P.C. Doherty
Minotaur (St. Martin’s), Feb 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780312359614

The travelers on their way to Canterbury stop at Maldon, Essex where rumors abound that ghosts and killers live. A debate breaks out whether there are spirits haunting the woods as some reject the concept of ghosts.

The Clerk of Oxford makes an anecdotal case in support of the paranormal. He tells the tale of his peer Ralph Mortimer the clerk of Ravenscroft who in 1381 was researching documents at Ravenscroft Castle in hopes of finding a clue that will lead him to Brythnoth's legendary treasured jeweled cross. So far he has been unsuccessful. Meanwhile he, his fiancée Beatrice Arrowner and some friends were on the greens by the castle celebrating May Day. However, Beatrice apparently fell from a parapet to her death. Shattered, the despondent Ralph believes she was murdered though his friends insist a tragic accident occurred. He vows to find Beatrice’s killer, but he will soon learn there is more to life than death as his beloved is fighting evil demanding her soul while she waits for her beloved to uncover her killer.

Perhaps the lead author of the medieval mystery (besides the Canterbury Tales, there are also the tales starring the Royal Clerk Hugh Corbett and Brother Athelstan), P.C. Doherty provides another terrific entry in his homage to Chaucer. The story line provides a deep window into the late fourteenth century through the eyes of the travelers while the investigation looks into whether Beatrice died from an accident or a homicide is cleverly devised. Fans will enjoy the latest entry in this fine medieval mystery series with an apparent touch of the paranormal (see The Carpenter’s Tale: THE HANGMAN'S HYMN).

Harriet Klausner

Rolling Stones-Robert A. Heinlein

Rolling Stones
Robert A. Heinlein
Baen, Mar 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9781416591498

The Stone family of seven consists of a grandma, two parents, three sons and one daughter living on the moon. The middle kids, teen twins Castor and Pollux, are tired of their bossy older sister and their nosy younger brother. They decide to make money as independent space traders by buying a vessel and flying to the Asteroids. Dad says no insisting they go to an earth bound school and get an education; but Grandma Hazel supports their daring scheme with one annoying (at least to the twins) modification; the magnificent seven band together on this solar system venture.

The entire family leaves their moon based home for Mars and beyond. The septet continually argues and has spats, but come together when emergencies arise. For instance the twins almost fail to leave Mars as they break the law angering the Martians when they tried to skip out on the import tax after selling bikes; Grandma Hazel saves their respective butts. When they reach the Asteroid Belt, Grandmother Hazel and the youngest Lowell vanish. The remaining Stones in a frenzy search for the missing pair.

This exciting middle school science fiction focuses on the family who fly the solar system together stay together. The seven Stones are each fully developed with unique characteristics. Their escapdes at their lunar home, on Mars, and the Asteroid Belt make for a fun trip through space. Young adult fans will get plenty of satisfaction from the reprint of Robert A. Heinlein’s ROLLING STONES.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Passion of Mary-Margaret-Lisa Samson

The Passion of Mary-Margaret
Lisa Samson
Thomas Nelson, Mar 10 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9781595542113

As explained by Aunt Elfi and grandma, the second Mary-Margaret was born in Baltimore when an evil entered a seminarian student who entered the first Mary Margaret not long after the crash on Wall St. As an aside the first was a by-product of the second’s grandmother and a tourist from Belgium. When the first died giving her soul to the second, grandma raised the child until she died when the second was eight years old. Aunt Elfi left for Tibet while the second attends St. Mary’s Convent School for Girls where she is on the fast track to becoming a religious sister of Christ.

However, Mary Margaret II meets the Locust Island Chesapeake Bay Lightkeeper’s carefree son Jude Keller; to her inner shame she is attracted to him and him to her; both hide their feelings although they become friends as she must fill grandma’s redemption destiny for her. Mary-Margaret completes her last assignment, a medical missionary task in Swaziland before taking her vows. Jude comes home too, bitter and troubled from his time on the mainland. Mary-Margaret finds she remains attracted to Jude and prays for guidance from the Holy Spirit of Jesus, who provides her with surprising pragmatic and worldly advice.

This is an excellent tale of redemption starring a quirky religious student, an acrimonious disturbed young man, and a terrific mystical modern rendition of Jesus providing help to Mary-Margaret. The story line is fast-paced though initially confusing between past and present partially because of the common first and Second names. Fans will enjoy this deep inspirational story as whimsical eccentricity turns redemption into a moving entertaining read.

Harriet Klausner

Kaitlyn Wolfe Crown Attorney-Jacqui Morrison

Kaitlyn Wolfe Crown Attorney
Jacqui Morrison
Lachesis Publishing, Jul 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 1897370148

Kaitlyn Wolfe’s police officer father was murdered in the line of duty when she was a child; the case was never solved. Growing up as a First Nations child, Kaitlyn was the victim of racial bullies who assaulted her physically and verbally for having a different skin color. One incident as a teen taught her much about societal abuse; she nearly died from a racial drugging, but the culprit only received a slap on the wrist probation. Lesson learned is skin color is a major determination when it comes to not so color blind justice.

She vows these and other perpetrators of de facto racism should pay for the cost they cause to their victims. Thus she becomes a crown attorney prosecutor in Vaughan, Ontario. Kaitlyn is working two cases in which the defense attorney is Maxine “Barracuda” Swayman, who kept the person who almost killed her as a teen out of jail. They argue in court over a murder case and a armed robbery case when a link to her father’s homicide surfaces.

KAITLYN WOLFE CROWN ATTORNEY is an intriguing well written Canadian legal thriller that in many ways is a character study of a young woman overcoming much to be a success. The story line purposely uses coincidence to test the heroine’s conflicting resolve as she must decide between a not color blind justice system and her personal values; additionally Jacqui Morrison takes a strong stance, at times overwhelmingly in the reader’s face, re the harm racism does to everyone. Fans will appreciate the heroic Kaitlyn Wolfe who constantly strives to overcome inequality and de facto racism to be the fairest Canadian crown attorney.

Harriet Klausner

Deadly Secrets-Leeann Burke

Deadly Secrets
Leeann Burke
Lachesis Publishing, Dec 2008, $14.95
ISBN: 1897370695

On the same day of the funeral of George Lafrance, the police inform his ward Roxanne St-Claire that someone murdered him. As Father Joe conducts the ceremony, Roxanne notices a young man at the funeral whose looks makes him most likely her beloved late foster father’s grandson whom she never met.

Renowned reclusive author Philippe Lafrance is in shock not so much from the death of his grandfather, but from never knowing he had been alive. He understands why his matriarchal family hid his grandfather and other secrets he has recently learned from him in order to keep him safe. Philippe knows someone murdered his father and his grandfather; he is probably next on the list having shown up at the funeral announcing his heritage to this unknown predator. When he and Roxanne meet at the funeral, each is stunned by their attraction for the other. However, both recognize the need to ignore their desire as catching a killer comes first; for him it is a matter of preservation while for her it is in honor of her cherished mentoring foster parent.

The key to this excellent romantic amateur sleuth novel is that the fully developed lead characters never lose sight of what is critical: finding the culprit before he or she makes their attempt to kill Philippe; the romance takes a necessary back seat to the suspense. The support cast is solid as Philippe and Roxanne investigate each suspect to fathom who the killer is. Fans will appreciate Leann Burke strong thriller as the identity of the killer is in plain sight yet almost impossible to pick out of the usual suspects.

Harriet Klausner

The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction

The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction
Gene Wolfe
Tor, Mar 17 2009, $27.95
ISBN: 9780765321350

This superb anthology lets the 31 tales sell the talent of the author to science fiction and fantasy readers; as the compilation jumps right into the stories. There are 14 from the 1970s; 11 from the 1980s; and 6 from the 1990s. Many are award winners and have appeared in the best of the year anthologies like "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" and “Petting Zoo”. This reviewer’s favorite in this superb collection is the related threesome: "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", "The Death of Dr. Island" and "Death of the Island Doctor"; my suggestion is skip around and read these three one after another. Fans will appreciate how wide Mr. Wolfe’s vision of a dark future is whether he writes a fantasy (see "A Cabin on the Coast") or a science fiction tale (see "The Fifth Head of Cerberus"); the road to hell can be “On the Train” or in a “Bed and Breakfast”. Regardless, the audience will quickly find out you can’t just read one (a night).

Harriet Klausner

A Magic of Nightfall-S. L. Farrell

A Magic of Nightfall
S. L. Farrell
Daw, Mar 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780756405397

Nessantico is the capital of the Holdings, but it is not as large as it once was. Firenzcia has broken away and other states followed forming the Coalition. Audric the ruler is two years away from his majority so continues to rule under the guidance of the Regent Serge Ca’Rudka. However, Audric is also falling into madness, as he imprisons the Regent while heeding the advice of an ancestor who the lad believes is giving him good counsel even though she is in a painting which he believes talks to him.

Sergei escapes heading to Firenzcia where Allesandra Ca’Vorl is manipulating events to enable her to achieve her goals. Allessandra was once a hostage is Nessantico because her father rejected her as his heir choosing her younger brother Fyyn. The lady has the assassin The White Stone carry out her plan for having the counsel place her son on the throne. The Westlanders in the Hellins were invaded by Nessantican forces; they push the outsiders from their country and invade the city. Alexandra wants her son to use his army to help Nessantico, but he has learned about her lies and murders so needs time to decide what to do.

The second Nessantico Cycle doesn’t suffer from the middle book syndrome as A MAGIC OF NIGHTFALL takes place twenty five years after the events of A MAGIC OF TWILIGHT. This gives the saga a feeling of freshness yet retains the innovative political intrigue. Each main character maintains their part of the story so that the audience sees a changing POV that makes for a fascinating read; for instance how different mother and son look at Nessantico. Based on a blending of medieval France, Florence, and Venice, this superb fantasy captures the betrayals even within families as Machiavelli would claim S. L. Farrell is more than just a great world-builder; he understand the essence of power is manipulating your opponents and allies to do your bidding.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Heart of Ice-Gregg Olsen

Heart of Ice
Gregg Olsen
Pinnacle Books, Mar 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 0786018313

Cherrystone, Washington sheriff Emily Kenyon investigates the murder of nine month pregnant Mandy Crawford whose husband Mitch, owner of a large car dealership, is her prime suspect. However, though she believes he killed his wife starting with her visit to the Crawford home just after he used bleach to clean their house, she lacks concrete evidence.

At the same time Mandy investigates the homicide; two men cause her extreme stress. First her former partner in the Seattle Police Department Chris Collier wants to marry her, but she has fears of commitment having failed at marriage once before; besides she worries about the impact a husband would have on her daughter Jenna. Serial killer Michael Barton is murdering sorority girls as he makes a cross country trip; his current target is Jenna.

HEART OF ICE is an intriguing police procedural mainly due to Michael whose history will fascinate the audience and bring him some empathy. He refreshes the typical serial killer theme, but also knowing him so well he makes him see less of a devil and more of a pathetic out of control human. Mandy is a terrific lead character worried about her daughter’s safety as Chris’ pressure becomes insignificant. Fans will enjoy the return to A COLD DARK PLACE.

Harriet Klausner

A Knife Edge-David Rollins

A Knife Edge
David Rollins
Bantam, Mar 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 0553805355

As the recovery ship Natusima waited, the Shinkai underwater research vessel is as deep any human had ever gone while exploring a Pacific trench off Japan. Dr. Hideo Tanaka and Professor Sean Boyle discover a frightening bacterium that each fear could devastate the planet. Soon afterward Tanaka is dead a victim of a shark attack.

Air Force Special Investigations Vincent Cooper is now assigned to the Department of Defense on DC. His on and off relationship with Anna Masters is off again as she feels he takes nothing serious; even when they worked together on THE DEATH TRUST case. However, he quickly found solace with a terific heated tryst with his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Clare Selwyn. The brass sends Vin to Japan to investigate the “accidental” death of the scientist. Before he finishes his Tanaka inquiry, as only the military could do he is assigned to investigate the parachute jump death of Master Sergeant Ruben "Wrong Way" Wright who became road kill in Florida; they served together in Afghanistan.

The frustrated Masters explains why the Vin Cooper CID procedurals are so much fun; he takes nothing serious as he quips and jokes even when facing deadly adversaries. In reality, Vin does believe his inquiries are usually important and tries to resolve them, but also feels strongly one can work diligently and hard, but have fun doing so. Fans will enjoy his antics in Japan, Florida and especially DC.

Harriet Klausner

City Without End-Kay Kenyon

City Without End
Kay Kenyon
PYR, Feb 2009, $25.00
ISBN: 1591026989

Earth agent Titus Quinn has arranged a shaky truce with the Tarig who still plot to destroy the Rose universe to strengthen their Entire universe. Both the Tarig Lords and Quinn are buying time as the former knows how deadly his nanotech weapons are and the latter knows how deadly the Entire universe is.

The Tarig believe they can use Quinn's estranged daughter Sydney known as Sen-Ni, born in their universe and whom he deserted years ago as their tool to get him out of the way; they fail to understand how deep Sydney’s hurt and anger towards her father is as she has her own scheme to get back at him. At the same time former earth agent Helice Maki has set in motion a seditious devious plan to rule the Entire by destroying her home planet’s universe the Rose. Desperately Quinn follows her across the Entire to thwart her ambition but is sidetracked when he finally meets his daughter.

The third Rose and Entire science fiction thriller contains a complex story line as so much is going on in the parallel universes (mostly in the Entire). The story line is action-packed as the players eventually converge in a supernova finish. Fans of the trilogy will appreciate this superb ending while newcomers need to start with a BRIGHT OF THE SKY followed by A WORLD TOO NEAR before CITY WITHOUT END; even those who read the previous entries will find the plot multifaceted and at times especially early on convoluted. This reviewer looks forward to rhe next book in the series.

Harriet Klausner

Blonde Roots-Bernardine Evaristo

Blonde Roots
Bernardine Evaristo
Riverhead, Jan 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781594488634

Doris, an English serf, had heard the horror tales of "Aphrikans" coming to the Gray Continent "Europa" to abduct people so she knows to be cautious though she also wonders if those tales are exaggerated. The daughter of generations of cabbage farmers soon learns the truth when Aphrikans arrive at the coast. They abduct numerous natives including Doris and take them across the vast ocean in substandard conditions to "Amarika." where they are sold into slavery.

Former slave runner, Chief Kaga Konata Katamba I buys Doris to work on his sugar plantation. No longer dirtying his hands, Bwana as he expects his property to call him has become part of the elite of polite society. Doris tries her best to avoid slave politics and obey her Bwana though she prays for a future as a free person. When an opportunity arises for her to escape bondage for freedom, Doris decides to take a chance though if caught the punishment is extremely severe as the normally jovial Bwana will not tolerate runaway property.

This is an intriguing thought provoking premise that turns history upside down though the theme has been used frequently in literature and movies for instance the film White Man’s Burden will hook fans from the onset. The profound story line compares the two lead characters to one another and though anecdotal leads to generalizing their traits as respective of their respective races. Can the seemingly dreary Doris survive outside of the protection of the Aphrikan’s burden while the witty seemingly intelligent Bwana relishes his responsibility as the “burden” keeper?

Harriet Klausner

Ulterior Motives-Mark Andrew Olson

Ulterior Motives
Mark Andrew Olson
Bethany House, Mar 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780764202759

He is an American blond haired blue eyes scientist working at Cal Tech; but at his heart he is a fervent Muslim fundamentalist who believes violence is the only answer the United States understands. He invented a potent toxic nerve gas that could wipe out husbands perhaps millions with a small dose. He calls himself Azzam the Younger named for Al-Qaeda’s patron saint. The successor to Bin Laden is Omar Niburi, who is in Pakistan when he is captured and taken by Americans.

They hope to torture the truth out of him as to where and when the gas will be released, but Niburi resists the efforts relying on his religious beliefs to comfort him. When the agents realize he is not going to break, they bring in civilian Greg Cahill, forced out of the FBI for killing a child. He became an evangelist minister preaching at prisons. The Feds hope he can reach Niraub’s soul and convert him to Christianity. If they succeed they believe he will tell them all. Greg detests the politics but wants to save this man’s soul; miraculously they connect. However a betrayal leads to the pair fleeing while trying to prevent the nerve gas tragedy from occurring.

GregCahill has done many ugly things in his life, but his conversion seems real and people like Niburi sense that he is a true believer now. He feels blessed to hear the voice of God and to witness angels taking a killer to heaven while protecting him and Niburi. This is also a psychological thriller where the protagonist, unaware who to trus,t turns to the one he can always trust Jesus, enabling him to forgive his transgressions. Mark Andrew Olson provides a deep inspirational supernatural thriller filled with messages without preaching.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 23, 2009

The King's Daughter-Barbara Kyle

The King's Daughter
Barbara Kyle
Kensington, Mar 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758225450

After being in exile due to her religious beliefs, Queen Mary sits on the English throne. Her strategic objective is cleanse England of her late father’s heresy; returning the country back to true Christianity and away from the abomination of Protestantism. Thus her first major act as queen is to marry Catholic true believer Prince Philip of Spain to forge a real Christian alliance.

As Mary leads a religious cleansing leading to her reputation as Bloody Mary, others plan her overthrow. For instance rebel Isabel Thornleigh wants to save the life of her father merchant Thomas rotting in a prison for allegedly being a Protestant. To do so she ignores her father’s plea for her and her mom to travel to Antwerp for religious freedom, ends her betrothal, and begins seeking a means of removing Mary from the throne before she marries Philip; and replace her with her half sister protestant Princess Elizabeth. She quickly realizes she is a dreamer with no hope of success until she meets Spanish mercenary Carlos Valverde. Their efforts and others lead to the failed 1554 Wyatt rebellion.

The follow up to THE QUEEN'S LADY is a terrific mid sixteenth century historical that brings to life the religious cleansing under the reign of Bloody Mary as well as the counter insurgency. The story line is fast-paced and filled with action using real events to focus the plot on; while also containing a strong lead female character caught up in the power struggle of the post King Henry era. The romance between Carlos and Isabel rightfully takes a back seat to the tumultuous times that sweep up seemingly everyone culminating in the failed Wyatt revolt.

Harriet Klausner

Stranger in Paradise-Jackie Griffey

Stranger in Paradise
Jackie Griffey
Five Star, Mar 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594147531

In Greenfield, Laura Carroll mourns the death of her beloved Aunt Sophie, who raised her like she was her daughter. Attorney M.C. “Mac” McKinley informs Laura, who he is attracted to, that her aunt placed in her will a condition that Laura was to go on a vacation for no less than two weeks. Reluctantly Laura agrees as she made a death bed promise to her aunt to carry out all the conditions of the will.

Laura travels to Isla Verde near Puerto Rico. There she meets Esteban Aguilar who speaks Spanish only. As they fall in love she extends her stay to thirty days. When he talks of sharing a casa, she accepts what she assumes is a proposal. However, after he tells her “Yo te amo”, he vanishes. When he fails to reappear, she goes home heartbroken unaware he hid the truth from her to keep her safe. He and his family are hacking a path through a Columbian jungle.

STRANGER IN PARADISE starts off as an intriguing contemporary romance that half way into the tale switches into a suspense thriller. The story line is at its best when the theme is pure romance on Isla Verde between two people finding love enables them to communicate even though they speak two different languages. When Esteban vanishes, the suspense feels a bit jarring and a second twist on Hawaii even more strident. Still fans will enjoy two STRANGERS IN PARADISE using love as their common language to discuss the present and future together.

Harriet Klausner

Broken Wing-Thomas Lakeman

Broken Wing
Thomas Lakeman
Minotaur, Mar 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9780312380229

In New Orleans the FBI assigns forty-something Special Agent Mike Yeager to go undercover as a rogue operative in order to gain insider access to the growing Barca mob. Mike thinks it is a small world as he once dated the chieftain’s daughter Sofia, who he deserted two decades ago to turn in her dad. Mike’s current task is to help the mobster expedite the sale of kidnapped Amrita Burke, whose husband was murdered during the abduction.

His actual task is to stealthily investigate who brutalized and killed British citizen Simon Burke and has offered up his wife Amrita up for bid. Mike meets with chieftain Emelio Barca and his half-son Grady, who agree to his working with them on the Amrita sale. However, his efforts to find her spouse’s killer and ultimately rescue Amrita take a personal spin when he realizes Sofia needs his help too.

The still devastated parts of the post Katrina city steals the show in this superb police procedural as neighborhoods have become urban wastelands. The hero quickly learns to trust no one, especially those who are supposedly his FBI support group, if he is to accomplish his mission and leave New Orleans alive. There is plenty of explosive action and double and triple crosses on all sides including the law as avarice and corruption greet Yeager everywhere he goes. He already has enough of a burden with remorse, guilt and psychological defense mechanisms loading him down before he arrives (see The Shadow Catchers), but the BROKEN WING undercover operative will quickly understand he is in the eye of the hurricane.

Harriet Klausner

Pain Killers-Jerry Stahl

Pain Killers
Jerry Stahl
Morrow, Mar 2009, $24.99
ISBN 9780060506650

Septuagenarian Harry Zell breaks into the home of former cop turned private investigator Manny Rupert. After knocking out the sleuth and reviving him, Harry hires Manny to investigate the claim of a nonagenarian San Quentin inmate who insists he is Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. Though he would prefer to decline the case, Manny needs the $10,000 fee to meet his debts including two ex wives demanding their checks.

To get inside the prison, Manny pretends to be a drug counselor; a job he figures he knows personally having been a user. He meets Mengele who provides seemingly personal accounts of scientific experiments on humans at Auschwitz and San Quentin while also hinting at advising pharmaceutical companies on his scientific method applied at Abu Ghraib and other American prisons around the world. As Manny struggles with determining whether the old man is senile with one hell of a dark imagination or the “Angel of Death”, he observes one of his former wives Tina frolicking with a prisoner. Thinking how charming his luck seems to run, she claims she is at the prison working for Manny. Harry wonders what is his client’s true agenda.

This intriguing premise takes a deep shot at the market corrects itself philosophy as Jerry Stahl ties big government especially the prison industry to big business as warehousing and experimenting on people in which the bottom line is everything. Social, political and economic issues are raised throughout that will have the audience ponder the reason behind the Bush administration belief that everything is top secret . The plot cleverly skews ethical restraints starting with the Mengele “scientific method” applied in modern times apparently by a consortium of CIA, DOD and big pharmaceutical firms. However, at times the psychology sessions with the ex-addict prisoners drag the tale from its basic theme of hyperbole satirizing the “Big Bush” vision of the world, fans who enjoy something different will appreciate Mr. Stah’s skewing.

Harriet Klausner

Nutcase-Charlotte Hughes

Charlotte Hughes
Jove, Feb 24 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780515145939

Psychologist Kate Holly is having a miserable week starting with the fact that her firefighting ex-husband Jay walked out on their first marriage counseling session. Although they still love one another deeply, she fears his occupation because her father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty; he is afraid of her job as some of her patients tend towards violence as proven by her need to find a new office after a nitro incident in her former shrink pad.

Her landlord is evicting her and she struggles to find a new location. Her ex-boyfriend, Dr. Thad Glazer asks her to join his practice, which a desperate Kate reluctantly accepts. Meanwhile she is worried sick about Jay who is dealing with a serial arsonist that can only mean more injuries from entering burning buildings. She councils a con man dating her secretary; works with a disassociative identity disorder person, and a teen accused of beating a collaborate press. Kate hopes Jay won’t get hurt chasing down the arsonist while fearing he is involved with Mandy; he hopes she won’t get hurt by one of her patients while fearing she is back with Thad.

Charlotte Hughes writes a very jocular and charming romantic suspense thriller filled with eccentric characters starting with the lead duo; supported by series regulars like her mom and secretary, Thad and Mandy and unconventional newcomers especially her patients. However with all these odd players, the zany story line is owned by Kate. She is tough as a shrew but vulnerable like a child; yet she is also strong but somewhat unconfident especially when it comes to dealing with the regulars in her life. Though the plot is thin, fans will enjoy this amusing zany tale starring an interesting individual.

Harriet Klausner

Sundays at Tiffany's-James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Sundays at Tiffany's
James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Grand Central, Jan 2009, $13.99
ISBN: 9780446199445

Born to affluence and fame, Jane Margaux grew up lonely with one exception. While her famous producer mother Broadway creates musicals and her father preferred spending quality time with his second wife in Nantucket, her only friend and companion is Michael, who provided her solace even if he was only imaginary. However, when she turned eight, Michael informs her he will no longer be with her though he will always be her best friend.

Over two decades later, Jane remains lonely even with a boyfriend and neurotic though she works for her mother. No one would believe she is Vivienne’s daughter as she is treated scornfully and horrifically. As Jane produces her first play based on her childhood with Michael, he returns bringing light into Jane’s dark life. They fall in love as each find their groove with one another; but Michael fears he will not be allowed to stay with his beloved as adults are not supposed to remember imaginary friends while she has never forgotten him especially since he left her once before.

This contemporary romantic fantasy is an enchanting tale in which Jane breaks the rules of imaginary friends by somehow always remembering her Michael. The story line effortlessly switches from preadolescence in which he is a sort of guardian big brother to her to and adult love story. Although the standard operating procedures of what an imaginary friend does and does not do and the laws of physics that govern the relationship between a child and their buddy are lacking so that the audience cannot fully appreciate the heroine’s breaking the barrier, fans will enjoy it happened to Jane.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Little Giant of Aberdeen County-Tiffany Baker

Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Tiffany Baker
Grand Central, Jan 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780446194204

The wagering was enormous as almost every townsfolk of Aberdeen bet on the size of the boy Lily Plaice was carrying because of how much the child stretched her stomach; this kid was going to be huge. Everyone feels remorse when Lily dies giving birth to a giantess, but more are upset because no one won the pool as the newborn outweighed the highest estimate. Her widower father blames Truly for killing his wife; to some degree her older sister pixyish Serena Jane does too. Finally their father dies as he lost the will to live. Truly and Serena Jane go their separate ways with the latter becoming a popular affluent beauty while the former a dirt poor ostracized farmer.

Bob Bob Morgan decides Serena Jane will be his wife and achieves his goal as expected of the latest runt of Dr. Robert Morgan’s. Truly loathes her brother-in-law who has always been one of her harshest abusers. However, after years of marriage Serena Jane decides enough with a loveless relationship; she flees town leaving behind Bob-Bob and their eight years old son Bobby. Bob-Bob blames Truly for driving away his wife. However, when she discovers she has healing talent after finding some herbal cures written by a nineteenth century witch-wife of the first Dr. Robert inside a Morgan quit, Truly begins to assert herself.

This is a unique superbly written character study of a truly scrumptious giantess and how those in a 360 circle around her treat her with scorn with two exceptions, outcasts like her. The story line is driven by Truly who takes her size as a matter of fact on the surface but inside the ridicule hurts her. Readers will appreciate this fine saga of a woman who is physically different.

Harriet Klausner

Cast the First Stone-Rebbie Macintyre

Cast the First Stone
Rebbie Macintyre
Five Star, Mar 2009, $25.95
ISBN: 9781594147463

In 1932 in Ludlodi, Colorado, fifteen years old Katherine Woodson explains to Coyote County Sheriff George Mallis that her bootlegging father Merle vanished after arguing with his business partner Parn Shannon. They have not found the corpse but the sheriff locks him up after accusing him of killing the missing father. It is obvious to the deputies and Parn’s sister that the sheriff has a deep grudge against Parn; George blames him and Merle for the deaths of his wife and child.

Deputy Roy Eastman persuades Parn’s widowed sister Trini Bates to use her dowsing skill to locate Merle. She succeeds finding his body at the bottom of a canyon. However, George not only remains steadfast in his belief Parn killed his partner; he finds a bloody knife in a woodpile by his prisoner’s cabin. As an angry but despondent Trini ignores her need to grieve her husband’s death eight months ago. She investigates Merle’s background convinced George killed him to gain control over east Colorado bootlegging, but evidence mounts against Parn, which impacts negatively on Trini’s dowsing skills. Still she fosters Katherine and her twelve year old brother Jake who has the mind of a five year old, and is taken aback to find Roy desires her even while someone else wants her dead.

Timely with the impact of the Depression on a person’s values vs. employment as Roy learns, CAST THE FIRST STONE is an engaging historical amateur sleuth tale. The cast is powerful running very deep as each provides a taste of life in the Rockies in 1932. The whodunit and related suspense are well written, but also enhance the sense of time and place for instance waiting for the traveling circuit judge to come to town as speedy trial is theory only; thus in many ways Rebbie Macintyre’s entertaining tale is more a historical than a mystery.

Harriet Klausner