Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Mental Floss History of the WorldErik Sass and Steve Wiegand with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur-

The Mental Floss History of the World
Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur
Harper, Oct 27 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061842672

This is a fun way to look at the history of the world (in 400 pages) as the mental Floss crowd provides their irreverent glimpse back in time and for a few pages the Great Bush Recession. With twelve chapters divided by eras, an appendix on Oh Canada and of course that Great Bush Recession, readers get a taste of chicken beer historical trivia. The reference tome includes chronological and locality asides, but mostly focuses on the who’s who of the past and who they are doing it to; and not just Europe and North America; as Chapter 4 aptly represents the book with its “There’s No Place Like Rome (Except China, Persia India, Mexico and Peru). Amusing and hip even when discussing pestilence, disease and war like how the great plague limited the great Justinian or that six battles on the western front in WW I resulted in at least 250,000 dead or there is a bit of land beyond the Hudson. Whether it is invoking divine approval by Sumerians, Persians, or Americans, this is an engaging look at the world’s historical foibles even during critical pivotal points missed by that much by the Third Estate (some things remain the same whether the coverage is the French Revolution, Imperialism in Africa or The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars). The Mental Floss History of the World provides as Paul Harvey would say “the rest of the story”. Did Abraham really give up that beach front property to his nephew?

Harriet Klausner

Red to Black-Alex Dryden

Red to Black
Alex Dryden
Ecco, Aug 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061803864

In 1999 Moscow, Russian FSB intelligence Colonel Anna, daughter of a KGB spymaster meets Finn, a British M16 operative who allegedly is a trade secretary, but everyone in the field knows his real vocation, which he does not bother to conceal. He is aware of who’s who like his peers are. He knows who Anna is and she knows who he is. Each is aware of the Putin “Plan”.

Finn arranges for his return to England where he retires; knowing full well the suspicious Russians will not believe he is out of the cold. Like Pavlov’s dogs, Putin’s KGB followers want to know what they deem a ruse so they send his former Muscovite lover Anna to seduce him in London in order to extract his high level Russian contact. Over the years the two spies make love and elude war as they dream of a life together without lies but eventually unravel a scheme to launder money that supports the Putin Plan.

The espionage scenes are incredibly terrific as the focus on international fiancés by the FSB will stun the audience as Alex Dryden enables the reader to look into Putin’s eyes and see a ruthless soul. The romantic subplot pales in comparison to the big picture schemes although watching two people in love lie to each other with the knowledge the other knows makes for an intriguing courtship. Although the writing at times feels stilted, readers will enjoy the frightening Red to Black as the audience obtains a deep look at a merciless Russia during the beginning of the Bush Administration.

Harriet Klausner

Hot As Sin-Bella Andre

Hot As Sin
Bella Andre
Dell, Oct 27 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780440245018

In a small Vail, Colorado café, television host Dianna Kelley meets her sister April who left home because her sibling was controlling and overprotective. Dianna wanted to make up for the years April was in foster care but she could not connect with her when April informs her she lives in a commune. Dianna explodes and April leaves; Diana drinks before driving and gets into an accident in which she is injured and the other driver dead.

In the Sierra Nevada range, firefighter Sam MacKenzie learns of Dianna’s injuries. Although a decade has passed since she miscarried and left him, he runs to her side. When they meet again, the sparks that remained simmering for years ignites into a passionate firestorm. However both remain wary of being hurt so each hides their deep feelings from the other. Dianna learns April was kidnapped by someone seeking revenge. Sam swears he will rescue her sister, but Dianna insists on accompanying him on the arduous trek into the Sierras. On the dangerous journey, they realize not just how much love they share, but rejoice in revealing how much love they have for one another. However finding and rescuing April and surviving remain the goal.

Bella Andre has written a heated second chance at love romantic suspense starring a hotshot firefighter and a TV talk show host; each brings fear to their fiery relationship. April adds to the mix as a gutsy individual not waiting to be rescued. She makes the tale’s thriller elements work with her courage and fortitude. Readers will relish this fine tale as April has choices to make and one wrong one could lead to her death.

Harriet Klausner

Crawlspace-Sarah Graves

Crawlspace
Sarah Graves
Bantam, Jan 2010, $25.00
ISBN: 9780553806809

Six years ago, everyone believed Randy Dodd died because there was plenty of evidence backing that belief. It also was assumed that Randy killed his wife Cornelia. His brother Roger, who was married to Cornelia’s sister, lost his spouse in an accident so he grieves all the tragedies that has hammered at his soul. Nothing altered these convictions until true crime writer Carolyn Rathbone and her assistant Chip Hahn arrive in Eastport, Maine to research the tragedy of the Lang sisters for a book she is writing.

Carolyn and Chip believe Randy is alive and is responsible for the deaths of both sisters as he wanted their inheritance. Randy is in town to access the money, but first kidnaps Carolyn with the intent to kill her because he simply enjoys murdering women.

Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree awakens to the realism her son Sam failed to come home last night and later discovers he was seen and recognized Randy. Sam is also the killer’s prisoner. Jake is determined to find out where Randy hides and rescue the writer and her offspring. With help from her step-brother, her best friend, her housekeeper and Chip, Jake begins her search. A clue from Roger assists them, but they remain ignorant that they are entering a trap until it is sprung.

Crawlspace is much more violent than the usual Home Repair amateur sleuth tales due to the predator; rather than a cozy this tale is more a suspense thriller. Readers ironically know Randy lives from the onset when the residents of Eastport sleep serenely at night because they believe he is dead. The story line is terrific with a great finish that will stun the audience used to amateur sleuth superheroes as fans will salute Sarah Graves with a strong grim entry.

Harriet Klausner

Starfire-Stuart Vaughn Stockton

Starfire
Stuart Vaughn Stockton
Marcher Lord, Apr 2009, $14.99
www.marcherlordpress.com
ISBN: 9780982104941

Being a low born Yangkuch in the Karn Empire, Rathe, has no future except to become a Saurian warrior; still Rathe dreams of becoming much more. His hope lies in being the best warrior. He works hard at training to be ready when his chance at success occurs.

However, his first assignment is routine so Rathe knows he cannot shine as his dreams of glory will wait. Still he does his best and works his way up the ranks based on a lie about saving a hatching from a Jerkrenak. On his next mission he finds an ancient artificial intelligence who says his name is Karey. She takes control of the female body of a scientist and firmly believes Rathe is her protector. However, Rathe and his unit are in mortal combat with the Herians and the fearsome Jerkranaks.

Pulled in two directions the hero is terrific as Rathe stars in a coming of age allegorical science fiction saga. The story line is fast-paced yet filled with references to the Karn Empire including its simplistic caste system that keeps low born like Rathe drowning in the ooze below the food chain though his “heroism” lifts onto the ladder. Devoid of humans in the entire novel, Stuart Vaughn Stockton provides a clever well written inspirational head biting thriller as salvation is within anyone’s grasp if they reach out of the darkness.

Harriet Klausner

The Dark Man-Marc Schooley

The Dark Man
Marc Schooley
Marcher Lord, Apr 2009, $13.99
www.marcherlordpress.com
ISBN: 9780982104934

In Texas undercover agent Charles Graves, the man with a thousand faces, is assigned to destroy the last remaining powerful Christian leader in the United States, Reverend James Cleveland. As he gathers evidence, Charles goes to arrest Reverend Cleveland, but suddenly hears voices in his head insisting he heed the message his target proclaims.

This turns Charles from a cynic to a believer in God. He quits his law enforcement position and works to protect James and the word against his former associates, which includes his father. However, the Dark Man from his past urges him to forget this Christian nonsense and take care of himself especially when his former comrades are searching to assassinate him as a traitor. Charles has to choose between standing up for God or standing up with the Dark Man who haunts his breathing.

This is a fascinating but grim future tale that has Big Brother (and Sister) watching you ready to prance and harass. Charles is a terrific conflicted protagonist pulled schizoid like in two directions. Although The Dark Man inside his head also appears inside other people’s brains abating the issue of the hero’s sanity, fans will relish this profound look at persecution as religious tolerance is unacceptable.

Harriet Klausner

Flesh Circus-Lilith Saintcrow

Flesh Circus
Lilith Saintcrow
Orbit, Nov 24 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780316035453

The Cirque de Charnu comes to Santa Luz although Jill Kismet would prevent them entry, but the compact these Hellspawn refuges live under does not give her that latitude. Still the hunter reminds the Ringmaster and the others of the sufferance rules of engagement and demands her hostage whom she rings. However, someone is even less tolerant than Jill and is killing the performers. Although sympathetic with the killer, Jill investigates fearing the murderer may be one of her colleagues.

The hunter also struggles with exorcisms linked to voodoo practitioners who are dying following the rites they perform. Zombie hordes are flocking to the city so between the Cirque and its death toll, the voodoo mage and its death toll, and the zombie needed death toll; Jill has no time for a rest.

The fourth Kismet Noir fantasy thriller (see Night Shift, Hunter’s Prayer, and Redemption Alley) is loaded with action and starring a kick butt heroine who from the opening scene until the final climax is donkey kicking seemingly every character in sight. Jill makes the tale as she is a hardboiled noir with a soft inside but not when it comes to protecting Santa Luz; in this case from the memories of the past causing havoc on the present.

Harriet Klausner

Elric In the Dream Realms-Michael Moorcock

Elric In the Dream Realms
Michael Moorcock
Del Rey, Oct 27 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 978-0345498663

“Fortress Of The Pearl". Lord Gho Fhaazi wants a position on the Council of Seven that rules over the city of Quarzhasaat, but he knows he needs help to overcome his rivals. He chooses Prince Elric of Melnibone as his tool to obtain the Pearl at the Heart of the World that will insure his spot on the council. To insure Elric cooperates, he poisons him using a slow acting agent in which he has the serum. Elric begins his escapades as the affluent class' minion the Sorcerer Adventurers try to prevent his success and eventually trap his mind inside that of a comatose teenage female, but with the Dreamthief to guide him through the Dream Realm, Elric continues his quest.

The novel above is half of Elric In the Dream Realms. It is one of his greatest early tales and makes the book worth reading. The short story “A Portrait in Ivory” is terrific also as the albino hero is confronted by his worst enemy, the mirror reminding him he should be known as Elric Kinslayer filled with remorse for Cymoril more so than Imrryr. The other entries like “Elric: The Making of a Graphic Novel”, the essay “Aspects of Fantasy”, and the background material of “Earl Aubec of Malodor”, etc. target die hard fans of Michael Moorcock only. Overall the fifth Chronicles of the last Emperor of Melnibone is an engaging look at Elric In The Dream realms.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Questionable Life-Luke Lively

A Questionable Life
Luke Lively
Beaufort, Oct 2009, $24.95
ISBN 9780825305214
http://www.beaufortbooks.com/

The job comes first to Philadelphia Trust & Guaranty banker Jack Oliver as he climbs the ladder of success. He ignores his wife Tina and two children Joshua and Jessica except when he needs them to promote his career. His friends are only buddies if they matter in his business life as does his colleagues.

When PT&G is purchased by the Merchants bank, Jack, twenty-seven years there and second highest in rank is stunned as he is kicked to the bottom of the food chain and maybe out the door if he is not careful. The stress and disappointment leads him to a hospital stay in which he learns who cares about him: no one as his family and his mistress fail to visit him. A friend John Helms introduces Jack to Benjamin “Benny” Price, the old-fashioned president of the small local Citizens Bank in Roanoke, Virginia, who hires Jack, but also mentors him on what matters in life even when Merchant Bank comes to town with its avaricious bottom line ledger.

This is an enjoyable inspirational drama that is It’s A Wonderful Life meets Scrooge in a modern but somewhat remote setting. The story line opens each chapter with poignant questions and related but somewhat clichéd citations, but the running theme throughout the plot is that it is never too late to change from a life evolved around the seven deadly sins to a caring loving person. Although the tale is obvious where it is going, readers will enjoy the journey.

Harriet Klausner

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books-Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books
Charles Dickens
Everyman’s Library (Knopf), Nov 14 2009, $18.00
ISBN: 97803072721754

This collection consists of the Charles Dickens’ Christmas Books, all written in the 1840s

A Christmas Carol (1843). Everyone knows the story of how Ebenezer Scrooge the miser got the Christams message from his late partner and the three ghosts.

The Chimes (1844). Porter Trotty Veck has no hope for the future on New Year's Eve until he hears the spirits of the chimes.

The Cricket on the Hearth (1845). John is much older than his wife Dot, but their marriage appears to be over when he finds evidence that makes him believe she cuckold him. John talks with the spirit of the Cricket on the Hearth whose chirping Dot says means good luck.

The Battle of Life (1846). Doctor Jeddler is a cynic, but his daughters' sacrifices for loved ones make him reconsider his scorn.

The Haunted Man and the Ghost (1848). Chemistry Professor Redlaw is tormented by his past until a ghostly twin arrives on Christmas Eve to make him forget his past; afterward any one who meets the professor also forgets their distress as he does with the Swidger and Tetterby families until Milly Swidger reverses the spell because of her goodness that comes out of a lost child

The reprint of Charles Dickens early Victorian Christmas stories will prove a delight for fans of the most famous entry, A Christmas Carol. The Cricket on the Hearth and The Haunted Man and the Ghost are somewhat similar in lessons learned to that of A Christmas Carol though with their own inspiring twists while The Chimes uses a spiritual advisor but spins quite differently. However, the most diverse is The Battle of Life, which has a rushed ending and no paranormal guru as it feels more like O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi,. This is a holiday winner as all five tales showcase the works of one of the greats of literature.

Harriet Klausner

The Disciple-Stephen Coonts

The Disciple
Stephen Coonts
St. Martin’s, Dec 8 2009, $26.99
ISBN 9780312372835

CIA Middle Eastern Operations chief Jake Grafton assigns his top operative Tommy Carmellini to work inside Iran as there is fear that maniacal fundamentalist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is close to having his finger on a nuclear trigger. The Iranian leader wants a holy war to the death with the west and he believes his side will win.

As Tommy watches and gathers information, he has Iranians supporting him; many fear Ahmadinejad’s legacy will be a stone age Iran. While Israel considers bombing Iran’s nuclear sites as it did Syria, Tommy’s efforts and that of his associates and his boss fail to prevent the madman from firing missiles throughout the Middle East under the guise of martyrdom. Tommy and Jake to try to deflect his assault of missiles, including some nuclear, that Iran has fired in order to stop WW III from occurring.

This is a tense thriller that places the stars of in what feels like a potentially realistic extrapolation of headline news with recent revelations re Iranian hidden nuclear developments. The story line is fast-paced starting with the opening sequence of the Israeli destruction of the Syrian nuclear plant as told to readers by a Russian adviser killed at the site and never slows down. Though obviously biased as the American heroes are hawk patriots (not the chicken hawk couch potato variety of send someone else); the action enables the reader to know who are allies and enemies as Stephen Coonts provides a super tale of vaporization while exposing Ahmadinejad’s fanatical background that goes back to even before the fall of the Shah.

Harriet Klausner

The Murdered House-Pierre Magnan

The Murdered House
Pierre Magnan
Minotaur, Nov 10 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312367206

He was raised in an orphanage and fought for the French during WWI. When the armistice ended the fighting, Seraphin Monge returns to his hometown in the Alps where he finds work as a road-digger. Two women Rose Pujol and Marie Dormeur are interested in the muscular Seraphin.

However, he also learns about his biological family. When he was three weeks old in Provence, someone murdered his parents, his grandfather and his two older brothers in their family home back in 1896. Three Herzegovinian losers were arrested, convicted of the brutal homicides and executed. With what he now knows Seraphin believes the visiting trio was convenient scapegoats to close a case and perhaps conceal the real culprit’s identity. At his family home La Burliere, the spirit of Seraphin’s mother demands he learns the truth. He tears apart the insides until he finds evidence that implies three leading citizens: Gaspard Dupin, Rose’s father Didion and Marie’s dad Celestat are the most likely killers. Seraphin plans vengeance, but someone else murders Didion and Celestat; and that person may be stalking Seraphin.

This is a strong post WWI historical mystery that brings to life two periods: the post war and the late Victorian Era in France. The cast serves only to support Seraphin on his quest for the truth that morphs into a thirst for vengeance. Obviously disturbed and haunted by the murders of his family whom he was too young to know and the opulence those who apparently got away with the act, Magnan is the only developed character as each new revelatory discovery shakes his bone marrow and leaves him further desiring blood. Fans will appreciate Pierre Magnan's third taut suspense thriller printed in the United States (see The Messengers of Death and Death in the Truffle Wood), as the audience will wonder what the seemingly maniacal Seraphin will ultimately do.

Harriet Klausner

Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy-Theodore Beale

Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy
Theodore Beale
Marcher Lord, Oct 2009, $12.99
www.marcherlordpress.com
ISBN: 9780982104927

Amorran Church noble scholar Marcus Valerius is part of a delegation traveling from the Republic to Elebrion to end the heated argument between church scholars whether elves have souls. The delegates know how complex the issue will prove without the threat of a holy war lingering depending on their decision, but each plans to do the right thing religiously regardless.

On the trek to the kingdom of the elves, Marcus becomes friends with the scornful Bishop Claudo and Father Aestus, and especially his new dwarf bodyguard. He also enjoys his time spent with the elf accompanying the delegation. In Elebrion, the monarch King Caerwyn throws a welcoming gala, but Marcus soon uncovers a seditious betrayal as he thinks of his Uncle Magnus’ warning before he set forth on the trek.

This is a terrific fantasy that uses the premise of Anatole France’s Penguin Island in a Tolkien like Holy Roman Empire. The story line is mostly told from the viewpoint of the young brilliant yet naive scholar as he learns so much about life and faith in the light of betrayal yet keeps his hope and belief high. Fans will enjoy Marcus’ adventures in the kingdom of the elves.

Harriet Klausner

By Darkness Hid-Jill Williamson

By Darkness Hid
Jill Williamson
Marcher Lord, Apr 2009, $14.99
www.marcherlordpress.com
ISBN: 9780982104958

Since he has no family to protect him, Achan Cham is an orphaned stray with fewer rights than that of a slave. He survives at Sitna Manor because he can feel what others think so he knows when abuse is coming and can elude it in spite having to drink the slave tonic. With no hope for a future except kitchen duty serving Lord Bathak and Prince Gideon, Achan is stunned when Sir Gavin a knight observes his uncanny skill of handling two bullies and selects him as a squire. He begins life as a squire being trained with hopes to become a Kingsguard Knight, something almost impossible for a stray to achieve. However, since he no longer takes the tonic, he begins to hearing voices that are driving him crazy.

To avoid a marriage to the prince she loathes, Vrell Sparrow hides out as a male stray. When she realizes what is happening to Achan with the bloodvoicing, as she has the same skill Vrell concludes he is the heir to the throne. However, before they can pursue what she learns, a wizard is aware of her bloodvoicing ability and sends henchmen to abduct her. Only Achan can save her if he believes in her mentally calling him for help.

Rotating perspectives between Achan and Vrell, BY DARKNESS HIS is a super coming of age fantasy thriller with an underlying inspirational message of the one voice of God is the light in any darkness. The story line is fast-paced from the onset and never slows down as the lead couple struggles to survive in a world filled with enemies whom mostly they do not know. Jill Williamson provides a strong sword and sorcery thriller starring two fully developed heroes and the mentor guiding them as villains search for them.

Harriet Klausner

The Prisoner-Carlos J. Cortes

The Prisoner
Carlos J. Cortes
Ballantine, Oct 2008, $7.99
ISBN: 9780553591637

In 2059, the voice at the Hypnos prison keeps informing the latest convicts to stay calm as they are put into a suspended animation state. Three lawyers Laurel Cole, Bastien Compton and Raul Osborne are put away in tank 913 that contains 136 official prisoners but Homeland Security hides four others from Congress.

Soon after they are put to sleep, operator Lukas Hurley wakes two of them up, but Bastien died in the process from cardiac arrest. He also awakens Eliot Russo who has been in the tank for eight years, which means he is insane. He is the cause of why the lawyers entered the facility as he is proof that the Hypnos firm and Homeland Security Federal Bureau of Hibernation are performing illegal detentions. The foursome escape through the sewers with Raul carrying Lukas. The prison is aware of their escape, but fails to prevent them from reaching Nyx Corporation where Dr. Floyd Carpenter helps them, but Nikola is coming for them as nobody escapes from the reach of the FBH.

This is an exhilarating futuristic science fiction thriller that extrapolates from America’s greatest growth industry during the Bush years: warehousing of prisoners to make the incarcerations more efficient and effective. The cast is solid but the most interesting is Nikola who adapts to every failure by not modifying the goal of recapture but by changing the action plan steps. Fans will enjoy this terrific cat and mouse tale while balking at the cost financially and emotionally of three strikes and you’re out.

Harriet Klausner

Exodus: The Ark-Paul Chafe

Exodus: The Ark
Paul Chafe
Baen, Nov 2009, $16.00
ISBN: 9781439133224

The earth was nearly extinct when the Ark was launched on a ten thousand year trek to another star system. However the desperate designers had not considered the mental state of those on board after centuries have passed since the chosen departure. Those descendants by Shipyear 3809 are clueless that they ride a humongous space ship. Instead the Prophetsy evolved as a terrorizing theocracy.

Although most people live in fear as slaves with a few masters, some of the oppressed remain mentally strong. Danil has spent his life in bondage, but believes the time to overthrow the brutal despots is coming and he plans to be part of the liberation. Annaya, the daughter of the ruler the Prophet Polldor, detests the primogeniture male only system that prevents her being next in line though she feels superior in every sense than the heir apparent her brother Olen. Her father plans to marry her to the best ally, but had not considered thedesire of his offspring to become the next ruler although only a male heir can become the next Prophet. Instead of a dutiful marriage Annaya plots to overthrow both her father and the Prophetsy itself. Olen agrees to support his sibling’s plan to overthrow their father, but assumes he will sit on the throne.

The exciting second Exodus science fiction (see Genesis) with a twisting nod to Macbeth is fast-paced though not quite faster than the speed of light. The theocratic two caste culture of ruling and slave classes on board the Ark is an entertaining look at societal development in an enclosed environment; a sort of island in space. The prime three protagonists are fascinating though none developed beyond their intense interrelationship with the other two. Still fans will enjoy riding along on Paul Chafe’s Ark several centuries of generations after the original pioneers left the doomed planet earth.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hot Spell-Michelle Rowen

Hot Spell
Michelle Rowen
Harlequin Blaze, Nov 2009, $
ISBN: 9780373795079

Paranormal Assessment and Recovery Agency psychic Amanda LaGrange hates her skill as she believes her father deserted the family when she was a child because he loathed her abnormal ability. Empathic Jacob Caine only recently learned of his uncanny talent and relishes using it to help others.

They are attracted to one another, but her self-loathing leaves them with no chance to explore a relationship between two people with extraordinary skills as she sees it as a curse and he believes strongly both of them have a special gift. Although she prefers not to work with him because she knows she wants him but distrusts relationships as men leave, they unite to investigate an alleged haunted house. There they meet two ghosts who were lovers in life, but murdered and trapped by a curse until someone frees them.

This is a fascinating paranormal romance as the modern day couple become "cursed" so must resolve the mystery of the ghosts to free themselves. The story lien is entertaining although Amanda’s constant self deprecation after a while turns into a super whine. Still fans will believe in ghosts and the ghostbusters as Michelle Rowan enahcnts her fans with a Hot Spell.

Harriet Klausner

It Happened One Night-Lisa Dale

It Happened One Night
Lisa Dale
Forever, Nov 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780446406901

Lana Biel dreams of seeing the world, but is devoted to helping her married sister Karin run their wildflower farm. Karin dreams of having a family but so far has not conceived. Lana ponders over living in Burlington and realizes she is not living her dream, but that of Karins’; she wants out without hurting her sibling but has no way to do so.

Lana becomes pregnant, but has doubts about raising a child especially as a single mom; besides she fears an infant will nuke her plans to leave Vermont. She turns to her best Eli Ward for advice as she has already ruled out an abortion. However, Eli has his own issue as he wants to tell Lana he loves her, but fears his revelation could result in the end of their friendship.

This is a fascinating Vermont contemporary extended family drama that is wildflower refreshed by the two sisters, who are realistic especially with their self indulgent whines (somewhat overdone with no cheese) making both of them not particularly likable. They make the tale as ironically Eli is a likeable player, but seems underdeveloped. Not an easy read, It happened One Night is a deep look at what happens to people when dreams are not fulfilled and even when they are.

Harriet Klausner

Christmas Diamonds-Devon Vaughn Archer

Christmas Diamonds
Devon Vaughn Archer
Harlequin Kimani, Nov 2009, $5.99
ISBN: 9780373861392

Her mother dumped her as a child on her grandmother who raised her with love. However, though beautiful and intelligent interior designer Paula Devine has a résumé of losers so has given up on a romantic relationship like that of her grandma whose husband proposed on Christmas.

Diamond jeweler Chase McCord misses his wife Rochelle who died two years ago. He hires Paula to redecorate a room in his home. However, before they meet formally, they encounter one another over cappuccinos in a cafe in Silver Moon, Washington which she, tired of trite males, rips his skin for staring at her. After he takes her down a peg or two, they meet formally in his office. As she works the renovation, they are attracted to one another, but he has doubts due to his feelings of deserting Rochelle and one of her ex boyfriends seems to have her on a string.

This is a fabulous holiday romance between a terrific female weary of the gender game and a wonderful somewhat fickle widower who is not afraid to exchange barbs. This pair makes a fine couple, but their respective pasts haunt them more than the ghosts visiting Scrooge. Readers will enjoy this fun tale as diamonds are a woman’s second best friend after the love of their life.

Harriet Klausner

Sins Of The Flesh-Caridad Pineiro

Sins Of The Flesh
Caridad Pineiro
Forever, Nov 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9780446543835

Musician Caterina Shaw is dying from brain cancer. She agrees to be a guinea pig in genetic experiments conducted by Dr. Raymond Edwards in a hope this may save her life; she has no other prayer. The experiments work, but also have a side effect. She has super human skills and lost much of her memory. When she is accused o murder, Caterina flees needing to learn the truth and how to control her new abilities.

Raymond hires mercenary Mick Carrera to capture and bring Caterina back to him so he can continue his experiments on her; he prefers her alive, but dead is acceptable. However, when Mick catches up to Caterina he finds he wants to help her; as he rejects the idea she could be a psychopathic killer. Instead he takes her to his sister vowing to keep his Caterina safe; unaware that diabolical Raymond has other less ethical operatives working the extraction.

Sins of the Flesh is an action-packed thriller that never takes a breath once Caterina accepts the radical experimental treatment. The story line is faster than the speed of light, but though Caterina is fully developed, Mick is not so the audience never fully understands his motive to become a mercenary (especially once we meet his family) or to not bring her in even if he likes her. Caridad Pineiro provides another one of her super romantic suspense thrillers as the heat is on.

Harriet Klausner

The Gatekeeper-Michelle Gagnon

The Gatekeeper
Michelle Gagnon
Mira, Nov 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778326724

FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones is part of an investigative team looking into the brutal murder US Senator Duke Morris. The prevalent theory to the motive for such butchery is that his death is tied to Morris’ highly visible role in ending illegal immigrants crossing into the United States; a warning of sorts to back off or else.

Kelly's fiancé former agent Jake Riley agrees to help the boyfriend of a co-worker. Someone abducted Randall Grant’s sixteen year old daughter, Madison.. The kidnappers’ demands are shocking and unacceptable; Jake needs to rescue the teen soonest or all hell will break out, Soon these obviously separate cases collide in a frightening domestic convergence at a mystical being the Gatekeeper who somehow has united the most despicable violent hate groups in America preparing them for the third American Revolution.

The third Jones FBI thriller (see Boneyard and The Tunnel) is a super action-packed tale that occurs in a pulse pumping short time frame of June 25 through July 4. Ironically for most of the time, the lead pair works on separate nasty investigations until they connect when it seems too late. Set aside time as this one grips you from start to finish with two incredible unexpected twists as Michelle Gagnon makes the Pogo case: “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us”.

Harriet Klausner

Ice-Linda Howard

Ice
Linda Howard
Ballantine, Nov 10 2009, $24.00
ISBN: 9780345517197

Gabriel McQueen drives up from North Carolina to spend the holidays with his family in Wilson Creek, Maine. The widowed soldier looks forward to time with “Gran”, his dad the sheriff and his son Sam. However, his father asks him to take a quick run up to the Helton family cabin to make sure Lolly Helton, who went up there to pick ups some items, but should have returned by now and is out of phone contact, is all right as a nasty storm is coming.

As Gabe muses back to his icy childhood rivalry with Lolly while driving to her cabin, she is in danger trapped by two irrational meth addicts. Gabe quickly assesses the situation on the ground and uses his military training and experience to extract Lolly from the house and the enemy. However, as covertness as he was, the two maniacal thugs go after them.

This is an exciting fast-paced romantic suspense with the frozen isolated location enhancing the perilous situation. Gabe is a terrific heroic protagonist although it is convenient to have his background in extraction and survivability under harsh conditions. Lolly still rips skins form him as he discovers how to melt the Ice and prevent further epidermis loss by kissing her. Although the addicts are stereotypes fans will enjoy Linda Howard’s quick by exhilarating survival of the fittest thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Under the Dome-Stephen King

Under the Dome
Stephen King
Scribner, Nov 10 2009, $35.00
ISBN: 9781439148501

In Chester's Mill, Maine Big Jim Rennie runs the small town through underhanded extortionist politics and illegal drug dealing. His son is a bully throwing his father’s influential weight at others. Few overtly counter this pair of leading citizens, but army veteran Dale “Barbie” Barbara and newspaper editor Julia Shumway lead the opposition.

Already somewhat isolated due to its location, an invisible dome suddenly falls over the entire remote New England village; dropped by the Overlords who live amongst us and have chosen this place apparently for one of their experiments. Things begin to happen rather quickly starting with the plane crash and the tractor explosion. Nothing can enter or leave. Over a short period of time the infrastructure begins to collapse and survival means enemies teaming up. Some claim this is God’s punishment and wait for the Rapture; others believe that Big Jim made a bad deal with his drug overlords, but some like short order cook Barbie insist it is something else. As conditions deteriorates rapidly, the townsfolk fail to unite; instead remain splintered into two major groups led by Big Jim who invokes marital law and Barbie who searches for who and why, and several smaller factions who mostly choose inaction using diverse rationale to defend their position.

This is a strong King thriller that returns the great horror author to his Stand roots of good vs. evil. Although somewhat stereotyped characters, fans will not care as morality takes center stage with the cast’s differences of opinions negatively impacting survival. Good vs. evil on a bigger stage looks inside as on the smaller platform of Chester’s Mill good vs. evil plays out in a reality version of survival.

Harriet Klausner

Breathless-Dean Koontz

Breathless
Dean Koontz
Bantam, Nov 24 2009, $28.00
ISBN: 9780553807158

After being a military sniper, Grady Adams lives in an isolated part of the Rockies where he works as a craftssman. One day in the forest he sees a strange light and knows musingly nothing will be the same. Grady observes two white creatures playing and knows they sense his nearness somehow. Frightened by what he has seen, he and his Irish Wolfhound Merlin race home.

At the same time on a horse farm, veterinarian Dr. Camilla Rivers is shook by what she sees. All the horses seem in some sort of trance as if they sense something big is coming.

Grady calls Cammy to come over to his house to look at something strange. The two creatures he saw in the woods make themselves at home in his cabin as Grady is entranced by them as they seem beautiful, pristine and pure. Cammy arrives and knows they are a different species. They name the pair Puzzle and Riddle. However Homeland Security learns of the existence of the due and come to confiscate them in order to test them. Conny and Grady refuse to allow the rendition of the odd pair, but remain unsure how to prevent it.

Animal lovers will especially relish Dean Koontz’s latest thriller that insists evil must be dealt with and can come in various forms; just because something new and different is found does not make them malevolent. Instead something familiar can be the wicked and those with ethics will step up to prevent the heinous from inheriting the earth. The creatures slowly reveal who they are to their adopted human pets, which makes Grady and Cammy even more resolute to keep them safe. With plenty of mysteries at the core of the exciting story line, Dean Koontz is at his best with this thought provoking thriller as the monstrosities are not always obvious.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan-Ali Eteraz

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan
Ali Eteraz
Harper, Oct 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061567087

Ali Eteraz was born in Pakistan but raised also in the United States where his family moved to when he was ten years old. His father prayed to Allah that if God granted him a male offspring, he pledged that son would be a servant of Islam. As a child he is taken to Mecca where is further pledged to God and attends the Madrassa Islamic school where teachers abuses the children in the name of Allah. Ali rebels as a teen, but also begins to embrace his religion. However, as he grows into adulthood, he begins to understand his religion is also a culture, but struggles with how strict should one adhere to scripture in a shrinking world?

This is a fascinating intelligent memoir that focuses on the author finding his identity in a western culture that thrives of individual freedom that on the surface seems contradictory to the dogma of religion, in Ali Eteraz case Islam, but could have been the other major religions too. Mr. Eteraz feels his niche is to fight from the pulpit the two extremes of Taliban-al Qaeda deadly extremism and the uninspired event worshipper. How he reached his conclusion is a terrific personal journey of the soul that is easy to follow and admire.

Harriet Klausner

The Good Plain Cook-Bethan Roberts

The Good Plain Cook
Bethan Roberts
Serpent Tails, Nov 1 2009, $15.95
ISBN: 9781846686658

In 1936 in rural Sussex affluent American widow Ellen Steinberg advertises for a cook at her new country home. Nineteen year old Kitty Allen, needing to find a place to stay, applies for the position and to her shock though she lacks any experience gets the job because of her résumé filled with lies.

Ellen expects Kitty to make whatever meal she orders for herself, her poet lover George Crane, her eleven year old daughter Geenie and George’s tweener daughter Diana. Her employer also insists on openness from everyone as she knocks down interior walls to affirm her beliefs. Ironically she hides her feelings of guilt re her husband’s death from her daughter. Meanwhile George begins writing bad poetry to Kitty while bewildered Geenie and confused Diana observe his actions with both unhappy about it. Geenie also blames Kitty for her inability to get the attention of her negligent mother. Like everyone else except perhaps Arthur the gardener, Kitty struggles with her place in this dysfunctional household.

Filled with symbolism of breaking down barriers to relationships in order to build stronger affinities, the aptly titled The Good Plain Cook is a terrific character driven historical nove; Kitty and the two children are innocents with the newcomer becoming an object of affection of the poet who sees her as his symbolic muse yet can’t seem to write poetry while his benefactor assumes he is writing an ode to their love; the kids are watchers of the adults using pretense to conceal feelings behind self built defense mechanism, which they emulate in differing manners as Geenie is overtly angry and Diana introvertly fearful. All five players are fully developed in this well written depression Era drama.

Harriet Klausner

Home For The Holidays-Sarah Mayberry

Home For The Holidays
Sarah Mayberry
Harlequin SuperRomance, Nov 2009, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373715992

Two years ago his wife died in an accident that left Joe Lawson alone to raise his two children by himself. He decides to relocate them from Sydney to Melbourne so his mom can help him and her grandchildren thirteen year old Ben and tens year old Ruby though his daughter fears mom will not be able to find them if they leave their home.

His neighbor is mechanic Hannah Napier, whose fiancé dumped her after falling in love with her sister. Hannah is terrific with his kids while he fantasizes about her being with him. She is attracted to the family next door, but plans to leave Melbourne to follow her dreams. Christmas looks like it will be cold, as it has been since their mom died, to the Lawson family.

This is an engaging second chance at love Australian romance with a solid support cast and strong likable lead protagonists each with relationship demons. The two young children are terrific as they have doubts about the move and their father falling in love; Ruby will remind the audience of Abigail Breslin in No Reservations with her fear of losing her mom forever. While Hannah fears being dumped again, Joe is afraid of losing someone else he loves and the impact on his kids of his wanting to make Hannah their mom. Fans will enjoy this fine contemporary as the cast makes for an entertaining tale.

Harriet Klausner

A Conflict Of Interest-Anna Adams

A Conflict Of Interest
Anna Adams
Harlequin SuperRomance, Nov 2009, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373783434

Dr. Maria Keaton testifies against a teenage client Griff Butler accused of murder in court, but his lawyer accuses her of having an affair with his client. She is suspended over the accusation of sexual misconduct. Her peers kick her to the curb and her reputation torn to shreds as she is temporarily barred from practicing psychiatry.

Maria turns to Judge Jake Sloan, who was hearing the Butler case. He has doubts about her professionalism, but quickly turns around convinced she is innocent except for being a good citizen. As they begin to fall in love, he pulls back when he learns she was his daughter Leila’s shrink.

A Conflict of Interests is a great contemporary romance as Anna Adams looks deeply at psychological issues, court proceedings, and extended family. Her mom and sister, and his daughter as well as Griff enhance the relationship between the lead couples as he is a control freak and she is an independent freak; their underlying respective philosophies of life are total opposites. Fans will relish Ms. Adams strong tale with a fabulous twist to the Butler case.

Harriet Klausner

Alaskan Renegade-Kate Bridges

Alaskan Renegade
Kate Bridges
Harlequin, Nov 1 2009, $5.99
ISBN: 9780373295685

In 1899 Victoria Windhaven provides nursing services to injured miners and others in the Skagway vicinity of the District of Alaska. Her work requires her trekking into some dangerous wilderness so a bodyguard is assigned to escort her.

Her current protector is Brant MacQuaid who jilted Victoria’s sister at the altar in St. Louis. He has been hired as her bodyguard and that of her associate medical student Cooper Sullivan as they tend to injured miners on Glitter Mountain. Victoria remains outraged with him and wishes someone else would escort her. He can feel the anger she emits at him, but refuses to allow anyone else replace him even the rival Philadelphian medical student as he needs her as his cover to capture a nasty felon besides being in love with her although keeping her safe comes first before the criminal and his desire.

This is another great Kate Bridges Alaskan Territory late nineteenth century police procedural romance. Fans will feel they are on Glitter Mountain assisting Kate and Cooper with the injured and observing the Mountie Brant as he gets his man (and more important his woman). Cooper is a strong likable support character who offers Victoria every quality trait she wants in a husband while Brant provides everything she detests in a spouse. Their spirited rivalry make for a fun historical.

Harriet Klausner

Apocalypse Happens- Lori Handeland

Apocalypse Happens
Lori Handeland
St. Martin’s, Nov 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780312366025

Hell has opened the portal to earth so warrior Elizabeth Phoenix heads to Los Angeles to close it before the Apocalypse Happens. However, as she battles to control her dueling nature, the leader of the light Liz is stunned as someone long dead is alive. Still she must prevent the Varcolacs half dragons from causing the ultimate eclipse that will plunge the earth into total darkness as the sun and moon will be destroyed. Sill even if she wins, Liz sentences many to death.

At the same she struggles with simply saving the world, she wonders about her relationships. Her former lover Jimmy Sanducci returns and her mentor Navajo shaman Sawyer seems to want her on a more personal level. Perhaps it is all her doomsday fighting, but she is unsure whether she trusts either of the men in her life.

The latest Phoenix Chronicles (see Doomsday Can Wait and Any Given Doomsday) is a gritty urban fantasy starring a kick butt heroine who finds her world turning uglier and darker as she has reached the point that she distrusts the two men in her life. Although at times the story line feels overwhelming to Liz and to the reader with so much going on, fans will enjoy her latest escapades as the heroine knows that even delaying doomsday does not prevent Apocalypse Happens.

Harriet Klausner

Three Days to Dead-Kelley Meding

Three Days to Dead
Kelley Meding
Dell, Nov 24 2009$7.99
ISBN-0553592866

Triad supernatural bounty hunter Evangeline “Evy” Stone is confused when she wakes up naked on a slab in the morgue. Worse yet she does not know who she is or why she fails to recognize her bruised body; that of Chalice Frost. Her only memory is that of her handler Wyatt Truman; so she must find him in a city of a half of million.

Wyatt explains he brought her back to life; her Triad partners long dead. She had been tortured, but died before she could explain what she learned of an alliance between The Bloods vampire gang and the Goblin horde. If true, humanity is dead. She also learns she has 72 hours to live in this body before dying again. Three days to find out if the unholy alliance is true and who killed her and her partners at a time when her former bounty hunter peers believe she had her two teammates murdered.

This is a terrific urban fantasy starring a fascinating lead protagonist back from the dead to complete a mission before she returns to the dead while her former cronies want her dead (talk about finding a life). The story line is fast-paced and vividly descriptive so that the audience will believe in this paranormal realm, but setting the physics of the Meding mythos somewhat detracts from the investigation by Evy-Chalice. Still Three Days to dead is an exciting first tale with a solid premise that should contain strong sequels.

Harriet Klausner

Spellbent-Lucy A. Snyder

Spellbent
Lucy A. Snyder
Del Rey, Dec 29 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780345512093

In Ohio, Jessie Shimmer and her lover Cooper are magic practitioners commonly called Talents. They come under the authority of the Circle who police witches to insure they remain insider the rules. The two go to the Grove in Taft Park to perform a spell chant that farmers are paying them to end a debilitating drought. The spell misfires and Cooper vanishes into an intradimensional portal that opened up. Cooper’s familiar Smokey returns to his true form of a dragon and tries to kill a demon, but Jessie stops the malevolence at the cost of an eye and an arm.

She awakens from her unconscious state to find Mr. Jordan, head of the Circle forcing her to sign a contract that orders her not to search for Cooper if she wants to remain as a legal member of the magic community. She refuses to sign so he places an anathema spell on her that repels Talents away from her. With the help of her familiar Palimpsest the ferret and Cooper’s half brother Warlock, she seeks the portal that leads to Hell; sheenter knowing the probability is that they will not return especially since Mr. Jordan makes the odds exponentially worse.

This opening act of a wonderful urban fantasy is filled with intrigue, romance and plenty of magic that blend together to make an enticing Spellbent tale. Lucy A. Snyder makes her realm feel genuine as she mixes a Donna Quixote - Joan of Arc heroine into a world that has a Lovecraftian feel to it. Jessie goes “willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause”(The Impossible Dream) with her courageous adorable sidekick Pal; each knowing if they fail they are condemned to remain in Hell for eternity while if they succeed they are condemned to live in a hell outside the Circle of their peers.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Art Student's War-Brad Leithauser

The Art Student's War
Brad Leithauser
Knopf, Nov 3 2009, $28.95
ISBN: 9780307271112

In 1943 Detroit eighteen years old passionate art student Bea Paradisio gets on the street car when a soldier on crutches offers his seat to her. Feeling a patriotic fervor, Bea wonders what she can do for the soldiers who risk their lives to make democracy safe for those back home. She begins to visit hospitals where the wounded heal or die; and starts sketching the patients so the soldiers can regain somewhat what they lost at war.

Bea knows the visits to the soldiers are as much for her mental health as it is for the G.I.s she meets. Her home is a mess of accusations and counterattacks. Her mentally unbalanced mom claims her own sister is trying to steal her husband Vico in spite of Grace being happily married. Her other break from her mom’s insanity is with art student Ronny Olsson, heir to greater Detroit’s largest drugstore chain. However, it is mathematician Henry Vanden Akker, whom she becomes a woman for as she knows he will not return from the war. Soon after learning Henry died in a plane crash, she catches the flu, but recovers to marry and raise a family.

This is an excellent historical tale that looks deep into the life of a woman on the home front during and after the war. Bea’s life during WWII is the more fascinating segue though the late 1940s are well written, but raising a family as important as that is lacks the utmost fascination the audience will have with the artist “returning” the faces to the injured soldiers. The Art Student’s War is a super 1940s drama as Bea shows women came a long way during WWII as an intricate part of “The Greatest Generation”, but afterward returned to more traditional roles
Harriet Klausner

The Beauty of Surrender-Eden Bradley

The Beauty of Surrender
Eden Bradley
Delta (Random House), Oct 27 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780553385588

“Serving the Master: Desmond and Ava”. In San Francisco submissive Ava Gregory seeks the trance state, but dominant Marina Marchant failed to get her Bottom to achieve that at the Pinnacle BDSM sex club. Marina introduces Ava to her Nawashi expert peer in the play of the Japanese Shibari erotic ropes Desmond Hale as her guru. They achieve more than just the ultimate in play as they fall in love. Although she overcomes her embarrassment of being a submissive that has limited her contact with her family in Seattle, he never overcame his need for control since his sister Nessie drowned when they were children. Love means ceding some control.

“Soothing the Beast: Marina and James”. Marina Meets James Cortez at a lecture she gives on Shibari erotic ropes techniques. He pleads with her to play him until he achieves the shadow place so he can get respite from his demons that haunt him after the horrors he seen as a reporter covering the ugliness of the world. She informs him she only plays with women, but his need persuades her though he is not a submissive by nature and prays with her on top will give him freedom from his nightmares. As they enjoy the bondage and more, their attraction turns to love, but she fears the emotion ever since her Nathan died from cancer four years ago.

These are two well written erotic romantic novellas that focus on the characters more than sex though there are several heated rope scenes. Fans of BDSM romances will relish both well written tales but also feel each one could have easily been novel length as Eden Bradley’s exploration of the relationships beyond just top-bottom play went deep and profound especially the fears of the dominants but the resolutions seem rushed for such profound tales.

Harriet Klausner

Lady Blue-Helen A. Rosburg

Lady Blue
Helen A. Rosburg
Medallion, Nov 1 2009, $7.95
ISBN: 9781605420639

After living on a cattle ranch in America eighteen year old Harmony Simmons arrives in London following the death of her parent. She moves in with her grumpy older sister Agatha who loathes her energetic sibling’s lust for life.

The two sisters ride a coach that is robbed. Soon afterward Lord Farmington Anthony Allen arrives with a ring he insists he found. Harmony recognizes him when she stares into his eyes, but says nothing about his vocation. He thanks her by kidnapping her. Soon afterward he liberates her, but his efforts to court her as Lord Anthony is nearly impossible because Warden Agatha watches her younger sister like a hawk and distrusts the aristocrat who conceals something seemingly sinister.

This an enjoyable historical romance starring an intrepid caring heroine, a mysterious aristocratic highwayman besotted with her from their first ignominious meeting but unaware she knows his eyes anywhere from that first encounter, and her ogre older sister. The story line is fast-paced, filled with a whimsical mirth as Helen A. Rosburg tantalizes the audience and “Lady Blue” with her romantic felon while Agatha seethes and plots to rid them of Anthony Allen, lord or not.

Harriet Klausner

Dying Scream-Mary Burton

Dying Scream
Mary Burton
Zebra, Dec 1 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9781420100280

The DUI shattered Adrianna Barrington’s life as she lost the baby she was carrying and her husband Craig Thornton never came out of the coma. Although the other driver drunkenly caused the accident, Adrianna went bankrupt to pay the medical bills; finally leading to her selling her family estate.

However, the buyer demands the family graveyard be relocated, but when the extraction begins, more bodies are found than should be there. Detective Gage Hudson investigates. Soon afterward three females who knew Craig vanish while Adrianna receives calls and cards from allegedly her dead husband claiming he misses his wife and will soon come for her.

This is a tense romantic suspense that grips the audience from the moment Adrianna receives an anniversary card from the grave. The story line is fast paced throughout with the “required” romantic subplot taking a needed back seat to the thriller elements especially that of a serial killer who either is her husband whom the beleaguered heroine interred though he is not in his coffin or something or someone else playing Craig’s life, but motive remains elusive. Dying Scream is a taut serial killer investigative thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Vintage Caper-Peter Mayle

Vintage Caper
Peter Mayle
Knopf, Oct 20 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780307269010

Hollywood entertainment lawyer Danny Roth cherishes his wine collection, insured for three million dollars. He is so full of pride over his vintage collection he boasts excessively about his vino darlings during a Los Angeles Times interview. However, Danny feels violated when someone who obviously read the article absconded with his wine collection.

Insurance agent Elena Morales hires her former boyfriend Sam Levitt, a wine connoisseur, to investigate the theft. He follows the trail to France where he teams up with insurance agent Sophie Costes, a wine and food gourmand. They soon track the purloined wine to Marseilles with billionaire wine collector Francis Reboul as the prime suspect behind the theft.

This is an amusing crime caper that will have readers toasting Peter Mayle with A Good Year French champagne. The story line is fast-paced and straightforward as the shortest distance between California and French Lessons is between Sam and the other players. With a solid cast, Vintage Caper is lighthearted fun as each key participant makes their play for the valuable vino with not one of them fully trusting any of the others.

Harriet Klausner

Wild Blue Under-Judi Fennell

Wild Blue Under
Judi Fennell
Sourcebooks, Nov 1 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9781402224270

When his father steps down as High Councilman, Rod Tritone knows his duty is to replace him running the Kingdom of Mer. However, the ruling Council directs Rod that before he assumes the position he will marry the lost daughter of Mer. Although he does not want to marry anyone nor go on land, Rod understands his people’s needs come before his desires.

He is given legs so he can walk with the landlubbers as his queen is on the surface in ironically land locked Kansas selling ocean tchotchkes at Therese’s Treasure Trove. Valerie Dumere scoffs at Rod’s instance that she is a hybrid human-mermaid as she has never had a tail nor can she even swim. However, when someone tries to kill her, Val knows something is not right, but still scorns her rescuer’s insistence that he lives under the sea.

The second Tritone brother Mer urban-oceanic romantic fantasy (see In Over her Head) is a terrific tale of the tail from the moment Rod arrives at the store knowing this can’t be Atlantis. Fans will enjoy the amusing banter between the disbeliever and the Mer trying to convince her to dive into the ocean as his mate while a predator wants her dead. This is a fun fantasy with readers wondering whether Val will there’s no place like home when you are loved by the one you treasure.

Harriet Klausner

Darkness Unleashed-Alexandra Ivy

Darkness Unleashed
Alexandra Ivy
Zebra, Nov 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 9781420102970

After centuries of torture, vampire Jagr escaped, but now prefers being alone with his only companion being books. However, his superior amongst the Guardians of Eternity Chicago clan of warriors Anasso Styx assigns him a mission that Jagr would like to reject, but knows he cannot. He is to find and escort back to their haven recently discovered pureblood were-sisters of Styx's wife Darcy (see Darkness Everlasting).

Regan Garrett spent a seeming lifetime being tortured by a nasty imp. Whereas she wants to enact vengeance she knows she also does not want to ever beholden to a male. Worse Regan recognizes her wannabe rescuer is not just a soul she lusts over, but much more. Meanwhile other folks want the pureblood for their nefarious schemes, forcing two tortured souls to decide between a loving team up or two solo acts.

The latest Guardians of Eternity urban romantic fantasy stars two intriguing lead characters who have tasted the worst of the Darkness tale, but now face something even more horrific considering their respective pasts: love. Neither wants it nor welcomes it, but both cannot ignore it as each is used to being alone rather than have a mate, a sister or a friend. They make the tale as love devastates their hermit existence while a horde want the pureblood, but Jagr would die before he allows any of them to harm his soul mate.

Harriet Klausner

Shades of Midnight-Lara Adrian

Shades of Midnight
Lara Adrian
Dell, Dec 29 2009, $7.99
ISBN: 9780440245261

In frozen Alaska, nineteen year old Teddy Toms returns to his family compound only to find everyone dead. A gigantic humanoid creature appears and kills him too.

Bush pilot Alexandra Maguire lands at the Toms compound to deliver supplies only to be greeted eerily by corpses with bite marks on them. She has seen these bite marks before when her mother and younger brother were murdered. Alex and her father tried to move on and get passes what the monsters did to her family by leaving Florida for Alaska. The pilot notices a gigantic footprint in the nearby snow, but says nothing to the authorities.

After seeing a clip of the carnage, the Order sends warrior vampire Breed Kade to investigate what appears to be a rogue in bloodlust. He has lived his entire life on his family’s Darkhaven estate to take care of his brother who has an uncontrolled violent streak. Kade thinks the predator is his brother Seth who has killed humans before, but he soon realizes that this massacre is the work of the Ancient other worlder who escaped captivity. Alex and Kade meet with each incredibly attracted to the other. She realizes as she falls in love there are good and evil Breed and her beloved must be the former as he risks his life for her. She leads him to a defunct mine where the evil Breed reside led by the malevolent grandson of the Ancient: Dragos.

The seventh Midnight Breed tale is a compelling action-packed thriller from the onset with the slaughter at the Toms compound. Both protagonists have demons to overcome as Kade fears he will turn out like Seth did and Alex fears loving a monster like the vampire in her nightmarish past. Lara Adrian provides her fans with a strong tundra romantic fantasy as the human and the vampire find love and death in the frozen wasteland.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Solemn Lantern Maker-Merlinda Bobis

The Solemn Lantern Maker
Merlinda Bobis
Delta, Oct 27 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780385341134

In the slums of Manila crippled Nena and her ten years old mute son Noland struggle to survive. She brings in money doing laundry while he and his friend Elvis sell paper lanterns they make from colorful paper.

With less than a week to Christmas a drive by shooting leaves an American dead and his wife badly hurt. Noland and Elvis witnessed the event and guide the woman to the former’s hut. As everyone searches for the missing American, Noland’s outraged mom rants at him proclaiming his good intentions will be the death of both of them.

This is a fascinating thriller that brilliantly looks at life in the Manila slums. The key cast members seem genuine as each reacts differently to Noland’s act of mercy. Thus this is a strong but cherished look at Philippine culture especially the gap between the impoverished and affluent. Merlinda Bobis uses the Manila setting on the international stage to tell a local tale of the indigent dreaming of making it western style while also schizoid loathing the west’s materialistic superiority; flaunted by aid that never reaches those in need yet enables the affluent to feel they are kind philanthropists. With a mystery re mother, son, and friend to enhance the family drama vs. the international situation, THE SOLEMN LANTERN MAKER is a tense winning novella

Harriet Klausner

Spinning Forward-Terri DuLong

Spinning Forward
Terri DuLong
Kensington, Nov 2009, $15.00
ISBN: 9780758232045

Fifty-two year old Sydney Webster has no time to grieve the death of her husband in a car crash. Instead she unceremoniously is tossed out of their house and finds herself overwhelmed by debt caused by her late spouse’s gambling addiction and to top off her woes, she is the recipient of their adult daughter Monica’s anger.

Her friend Alison invites Sydney to live at her bed-and-breakfast on Cedar Key, Florida. Needing to pay her bills, Sydney, using her hobby, opens a knitting shop to the chagrin of brusque Noah Hale, who wanted the property. While living on the island, Sydney who was adopted decides to seek out her biological parents after meeting the town grouch Sybile, who Alison agrees looks so similar to her that they must be related.

Spinning Forward is an intriguing tale of a woman who gave up her independence for comfort choosing to ignore her late husband’s peccadilloes. In some ways though. Sydney is over fifty, this is a coming of age or perhaps better described as a second chance coming of age saga. Although the romance seems more a requirement that feels unnecessary, the cast is super strong even the evanescent Miss Elly, but this is the unsinkable Sydney’s tale from start to finish.

Harriet Klausner

Alfred and Emily-Doris Lessing

Alfred and Emily
Doris Lessing
Harper, Oct 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780060834890

"Alfred and Emily: A Novella”. Alfred Taylor is a farmer who becomes affluent and marries a warm caring local. Ignoring the rage of her father, Emily McVeagh leaves town and goes to London where she becomes a nurse who marries a doctor. World War I never occurs so they never meet as a wounded soldier and a nurse.

"Alfred and Emily; Two Lives. Alfred Taylor was severely injured in combat on the continent. He was medically evacuated back to a London hospital. There he met Nurse Emily McVeigh. As he healed, they fell in love and got married. They move to Rhodesia after the war and have two children Doris and Harry, but their colonial farm fails.

This is a fascinating combo historical biographical fiction and a short biography. The novella is a terrific alternate history of the author’s parents while the biography provides a short guide to compare what if to what happened. Fans of the great author will appreciate this fine book although the fiction overwhelms the nonfiction as the latter is too minute for newbies and too repetitive for fans while the former provides an intriguing look at probably what would not have happened if the liberating of the masses did not happen because the mechanism WWI was never fought.

Harriet Klausner

The Recipe Club-Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

The Recipe Club
Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel
Polhemus Press, Oct 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9780982349205

Valerie “Valpal” Rudman and Lilly “Lillypad” Stone are like close sisters who are totally opposites. They became BFFs forever when they formed the Recipe Club when they were ten years old pen pals; as each letter required a recipe be included. Lilly is a classic extrovert hoping to make it as a singer; Valerie is the centerfold of introvert studying diligently to become a doctor. Over the years they remained friends through all types of family crisis until one incident devastated their friendship.

Over a quarter of a century pass with neither communicating with the other until Val’s mom dies from cancer and she sends Dear Lilly an email while Lilly’s mom Katherine the Great ran away. As they near fifty, Valerie and Lilly write to one another like they used to only using email. Both are stunned with what they learn that could split them apart again.

Using email letters to tell the tale of two women and their families, The Recipe Club is a strong character driven drama. The lead duet comes alive through their correspondence and provides enough insight into the support, mostly relatives, to enhance the loving relationship between BFFs. Although gimmicky with the mouth watering aptly titled recipes leading each chapter, fans will enjoy this fine story of friendship.

Harriet Klausner

Life on Top-Clara Darling

Life on Top
Clara Darling
St. Martin’s Griffin, Sep 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780312536947

Sophia Steele has just graduated from Boston College. The mathematics super brain has a master plan drilled down to the minutest level imaginable as she begins her new job in New York. She moves into her sister Bella Marie's Manhattan apartment while constructing a perfect financial portfolio to make her fortune. Things start off wrong when she arrives at Bella’s apartment and her sibling is not home. Sophia lets herself in and begins exploring though she admits to herself that her sister would call it nosy probing. When Sophia finds Bella’s stash of erotica, she is stunned as her sibling humiliates herself with her actions.

Bella enjoys being a Penthouse Pet. She enjoys the photos and especially the fantasies she indulges in. She knows her younger sister will learn the truth about her secret life but Bella is not ashamed as she enjoys her sexual life. Bella looks forward to mentoring the new college grad and the other newbies until she receives a shocker that matches that of her sister.

Based on the TV show, LIFE ON TOP is a fascinating look at two yuppie sisters with different plans as to how to make it in Manhattan. The older sibling uses her model perfect body and sex in the city while the newbie plans on her business degree and brains to achieve her goal. The latter modifies her plan. Readers will enjoy this somewhat over the top slice of making it in New York as a Penthouse Pet.

Harriet Klausner

The Mane Squeeze-Shelly Laurenston

The Mane Squeeze
Shelly Laurenston
Kensington Brava, Nov 1 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780758231666

Philadelphia street smart Gwen O'Neill is a hybrid shapeshifter of the lion-tiger combo. Suburban Lachlin "Lock" McRyrie is a calm purebred bear who is almost seven feet of muscle. These two are from opposite walks of life, but opposites attract at least in this case.

Gwen rejects their obvious desire for one another as she prefers the single life and also acts as protector to her loved ones. Besides which being inner city, she feels the burb is not strong enough for her. However, Lock shows his inner strength when someone commits hate-crimes trying to hurt his loved one Gwen apparently for being a hybrid.

The latest Mane urban romantic fantasy (see The Mane Event and The Mane Attraction) is a fabulous entry in a wonderful series. The story line is fast paced from the first meeting when the ferocious female basically growls at the gentle giant to get out of her heart and never slows down especially going over a mountain. Character driven by the lead couple and a nasty racist, fans will enjoy this fine tale while wondering whether the couple should buy Venetian blinds.

Harriet Klausner

Death Message-Mark Billingham

Death Message
Mark Billingham
Harper, Oct 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061432750

London Detective Inspector Tom Thorne looks carefully at the blurry photo that has been sent to him over his cellphone. The person looks dead though he cannot be sure. He has no idea who sent the picture, who the victim is, and who the killer is assuming it is not the transmitter.

Soon afterward, a second photo of a corpse arrives. More pictures of apparently dead people keep coming to Thorne on his cell. Thorne and his unit struggle with the lack of motive but begin to identify the psychopath; yet the deadly predator remains elusive sending more pictures of the recently deceased.

Fans of the Thorne police procedurals will welcome this strong entry as the DI struggles with a case in which the culprit mocks him with the Death Message. The key to this fast-paced investigative thriller is as always the support cast, mostly the cops working with Thorne, who make what could have been another taunting serial killer story line into a deep look at the personal side of the police working a tough case. Fans will enjoy Thorne’s latest case as the police try to end the reign of terror from a clever Grim Reaper.

Harriet Klausner

Midnight Fugue-Reginald Hill

Midnight Fugue
Reginald Hill
Harper, Oct 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061451966

Yorkshire police Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel has healed from the injuries he received when a perp tried to kill him. However, even as he is returning to work after a stint at the Avalon Clinic, one thing remains the same: he is still a grump.

However, even he is stunned when Gina Wolfe visits him with a personal request, as people avoid grouches not ask for a favor. Seven years ago her spouse Alex, a police officer was under an Internal Affairs investigation when he vanished; he was never found. Now as she is about to have him legally declared dead, she received a photo of Alex from a magazine looking very much alive. She asks Dalziel to investigate unofficially, which he does.

The latest Dalziel and Pascoe police procedural is an incredible accomplishment by Reginald Hill as there are numerous subplots, strong characterizations and a fast-paced at times humorous story line, which is typical of the series, but all this occurs in 24 hours. Just another day for Dalziel and Pascoe but great frenzy fun for fans as Midnight Fugue will be on the short lists for sub-genre book of the year.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Deck the Halls and The Christmas Thief-Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

Deck the Halls and The Christmas Thief
Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark
Scribner, Nov 3 2009, $17.99
ISBN: 9781439175675

Deck the Halls. California private detective Regan Reilley flies home to New Jersey to spend the holidays with her parents. Regan visits her mother, Nora a patient at the Manhattan Hospital for Special Surgery for a leg she broke tripping over a rug. At her mother's room, Regan also sees her father Luke, a funeral home owner, who quickly races off to attend the Goodloe funeral before going onto a dentist. However, Luke never makes his appointments as Petey the Painter and C.B. Dingle kidnap him for providing terrible financial advice. C.B. demands Nora send them one million dollars for the safe return of her spouse and his driver. Regan searches for her abducted father starting at the dentist's office where she meets local amateur detective Alvirah Meehan, who offers her help.

The Christmas Thief. Con artist Packy Noonan talked people into investing over 100 million in his phony shipping company, but though his confederates escaped Packy went to jail. After serving twelve years he heads to Stowe, Vermont to get the diamonds that are hidden in an eighty foot blue spruce tree belonging to his former employees Lenny and Viddy. He doesn't know the tree is heading to Rockefeller Center. Others head to Stowe like Alviah Meshim and Megan Reilly with a convergence about to occur.

These are reprints of entertaining lighthearted mystery collaborations of Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark. Each entry is fun as stars from the mother daughter authors’ solo books team up for the holidays. Although the underlying premises for the action are stretches, no one will care these are enjoyable Christmas suspense thrillers.

Harriet Klausner

The Ragged End of Nowhere-Roy Chaney

The Ragged End of Nowhere
Roy Chaney
Minotaur, Nov 10 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780312582531

Ronnie Hagan has just returned home to Las Vegas after spending time with the French Foreign Legion. However, his welcome home is a bullet to the head near Hoover Dam. His brother Bodo, a CIA Agent stationed in Germany, returns home for the first time in a decade to learn the truth about his sibling’s execution.

Bodo soon learns his brother came home with a wooden artifact the “Dead man’s Hand” that looks worthless yet apparently is priceless as several people want it. The operative wonders who would kill to possesses it and soon concludes a horde of nasty looking punks. As police detective John McGrath tells him to butt out, Bodo keeps digging, but the evidence makes no sense.

The Hagan brothers are a strong pair as the insight into Ronnie is through a back story that includes his French Foreign Legion service, which makes him the more fascinating but also slows down the pace; ironically the readers get to know his motivations though dead rather than his living sibling. The rest of cast consists mostly of predators, who the CIA operative has to interrogate using Chaneyian enhanced techniques. Although the suspense is limited by the look back at Ronnie’s life, fans will enjoy Roy Chaney’s solid thriller.

Harriet Klausner

The Mirror and the Mask-Ellen Hart

The Mirror and the Mask
Ellen Hart
Minotaur, Nov 10 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312375270

In Minneapolis, restaurateur Jane Lawless, owner of the Lyme House restaurant and the Xanadu Club, delays her plans for opening a third establishment due to the economy. Instead she accepts a job as a professional private investor working for her friend and sleuth A.J. Nolan. She also hires bartender Annie Archer to work at her Xanadu Club.

Annie explains to her new boss that she left Steamboat Springs, Colorado in search of her stepfather who vanished soon after her mom died in 1990 in Traverse City, Michigan. She asks Jane to find him, which Jane agrees to do, but becomes a tad upset to realize her client-employee omitted key facts and she wonders why. Meanwhile, Northland Realty VP Susan Bowman is murdered at the home she shares with her spouse Jack and her two children medical school student Curt and high school senior Sunny. As Jane digs, she increasingly fears for Annie’s life and anyone in her sphere especially Curt because she connects the two points Annie and Susan.

With Cordelia Thorn on a semi hiatus re her niece Hattie, Jane goes it alone as she investigates the almost two-decade old cold case of the disappearing stepfather. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Annie meets Jane while the two prime romantic relationships, Annie with Jane and Annie with Curt complicate a relatively simple plot. Although the prime investigation is somewhat limited, fans will enjoy the interactions between a strong cast who make for a fun Minneapolis mystery.

Harriet Klausner

The Gate House-Nelson DeMille

The Gate House
Nelson DeMille
Grand Central, Nov 3 2009, $14.99
ISBN: 9780446564236

Tax attorney John Sutter left Long Island and his then wife Susan after learning of her affair with their mob connected neighbor Frank Bellarosa, whom she killed ending tragically their tryst (see The Gold Coast). After being away for a decade, John finally returns to Long Island's Gold Coast to attend a funeral though the deceased has not quite died yet.

John wants to start over with Susan and in practicing law. He learns that Frank’s brutish son Anthony lives on the property next to that of Susan’s wealthy family. He also finds out that his former wife recently bought the cottage where they once lived when he thought all was right in his world. She is euphoric with his return, but he fears Anthony stalks Susan as justice failed the mob.

This sequel is an entertaining tale but requires the reader to accept John’s need to reconcile with Susan after ten years of avoiding her and America. The story line starts slow as the key players are reset so that the reader knows who they are, what motivates them and where they have been in the last decade. Although the audience can see the violent finish from as far away as Montauk Point, fans of the author will enjoy the return of Sutter, who has changed dramatically from his first starring appearance on the Gold Coast as he is sarcastic, somewhat acrimonious, and doubting the sincerity of Susan, yet obsesses over a second chance.

Harriet Klausner

The Hidden-Tobias Hill

The Hidden
Tobias Hill
Harper, Oct 2009, $141.99
ISBN: 9780061768255

In Metamorphosis, Greece in 2004 former Oxford student Ben Mercer feels his life is over as his marriage is dead and he works at a dead end meat grill restaurant with no future beyond serving diners since his Ancient Sparta thesis is dead just not interred yet. He admires the courage of the visiting five archeologists who fearlessly dig for what they want while he mopes and serves food. One of his heroes who he knew in England, Oxford Professor Eberhard Saurer tells Ben he is going on an excavation in Laconia where they hope to uncover Spartan ruins; when Ben pleads to join him, Eberhard just leaves.

Unable to resist, Ben follows Eberhard to Laconia called Lacedaemonia by the ancient Spartans who left little behind except mystery as to how so few controlled so many “Helot” slaves. Eberhard and his colleagues (Jason, Natsuko, Eleshchen and Max) perform one of the ancient Spartan rituals of the death hunt while emitting a superiority cockiness that Ben admires and would like to emulate if he was not so afraid. He soon learns of the Crypteia Hidden Ones’ fanaticism killing the helots like hunters stalking game and fears he may be the modern day game of the predatory fearsome five.

This is an exciting thriller that looks deeply into the amoral behavior of terrorists using an ethical cloak to defend their murderous beliefs. By bringing Sparta into focus in terms of terrorizing their neighbors through mechanisms like the Hidden hunt of the Helot and comparing this group to modern times using the five archeologists, Tobias Hill provides a profound look at a predator’s mindset, in the past and present. Although the flashbacks into Ben’s past enhance understanding of him, that track distracts from the bigger theme of how a stalker rationalizes in secret to him or her self the kill of the innocent.

Harriet Klausner

The Crisis-David Poyer

The Crisis
David Poyer
St. Martin’s, Nov 10 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780312544393

The western governments are very concerned with the civil war in Ashaara on the strategically important Horn of Africa. The constant fighting has sent the country into deepening destitution with shortages in sustenance life necessities in a place that was already overrun with abject poverty. If the spiral turns any worse, Ashaara could become a nation void of central authority and home to outlaws and Jihadists.

To prevent this horror from turning even more calamitous, the US Navy sends Commander Dan Lenson and his Tactical Analysis Group into the area to provide humanitarian aid to the besieged masses and to train a patrol squad in the Red Sea. With chaos the norm, Lenson and his unit realizes they cannot distribute the assistance without an infrastructure followed if successful by a force to weed out terrorists. However, what seems obvious to aid the forlorn proves complex and ugly as internal and external forces see the region as a ripe place for their specific agenda with people being damned.

The Crisis is a super thought provoking thriller that will have readers pondering ethical and logistical questions involving aid to nations desperately in need but lack the infrastructure to make proper distribution. The story line is fast-paced from the moment TAG and its leader receive the assignment, but really takes off in Africa when the team learns the boots on the ground dynamics of the situation is appallingly chaos. Alliance switch within a murmur and helping the indigent is impossible due to avarice of leaders who seek wealth or ideological and religious advantage over truly caring for the downtrodden.

Harriet Klausner

Tempted-P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Tempted
P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
St. Martin’s Griffin, Nov 2009, $17.95
ISBN: 9780312567484

In Tulsa, Zoey Redbird and her friends should be able to celebrate their victory with some R&R after they kicked the butt of High Priestess Neferet, the immortal Kalona and their horde of Raven Mockers. However there is no respite for the teen, as the danger remains extremely high. Her visions warn her to beware Kalona, but Zoey knows she is probably the only who can prevent the Immortal from destroying the world. Perhaps more difficult is the males in her life like Erik and Heath.

Stevie Rae has Johnny B and Dallas with her, but still works with Zoey while also hiding something from her. When Zoey finds a severely hurt Stevie Rae she saves her life. Still Zoey knows she delays the inevitable as she must risk all in a confrontation with Kalona while worried about those close to her heart.

The latest House of Night tale is a transition urban fantasy that spins Zoey and Stevie Ray into new directions. Rotating viewpoint between the two best buddies (and occasionally others), fan will enjoy this fun entry as Mama and Daughter Cast sets up new deadly tests for Zoey, Stevie Rae and company.

Harriet Klausner

Suicide Kings-George R.R. Martin & Melinda M. Snodgrass (Ed)

Suicide Kings
Edited by George R.R. Martin & Melinda M. Snodgrass
Tor, Dec 2009, $25.99
ISBN: 9780765317834

The People's Paradise of Africa (PPA) and Caliphate of Arabia meet in a battle that will determine whose vision of despotic rule in Africa will dominate. Whereas Prince Siraj has the superior military, the PPA leaders, siblings Dr. Nshombo and Alicia, own the Wild Aces though one key Wild Card Tom “Radical” Weathers increasingly is losing mental control of right from wrong. Even after his side wins the fight, the Radical gleefully continues his slaughter of enemy soldiers. Nshombo and Alicia believe they must eliminate Radical , who has gone insane with a berserker blood craving.

In the United States, Wally “Rustbelt” Gunderson worries about his friend Lucien being caught up in the war. He begs Jerusha “Gardener” Carter to accompany him when he sneaks into the war zone to rescue Lucien. At the same time Michelle “Amazing Bubbles” LaFleur comes out of her coma with help from a dream girl needing help to escape from a mass grave. Michelle and zombie Hoodoo Mama travel to Africa to rescue the dream girl who may not be real. As Prince Siraj blackmails Noel “Double Helix” Matthews to help him with a counter attack; the Wild Aces converge in Africa for a final confrontation.

The latest collaboration (see Busted Flushes and Inside Straight) is a royal flush in international fantasy that grips readers from the opening war in the Sudan until the final climax occurs. Much more than just what is described above happens in the action-packed thriller as the authors somehow keep their cast of a zillion superheroes and supervillains unique from one another. Fans will believe George R.R. Martin, Melinda M. Snodgrass and the other contributors have dealt the audience a royal flush straight with this terrific look at those with extraordinary powers, who for the most part want acceptance not fear from the NT (like a combo Watchmen and X-Men).

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Badass-Ben Thompson

Badass
Ben Thompson
Harper, Oct 27 2009, $16.99
ISBN: 9780061749445

The title will kick most people’s butts as BADASS is a not fiction, but a terrific forty entry short biographical accounts of some of the toughest warriors in history. The book is divided into four sections (Antiquities, The Middle Ages, The Age Of Gunpowder, and The Modern Era) with ten entries in each. The Antiquities and The Middle ages are fascinating for those who are lesser known like Julia “the black widow of Rome” Grippina and Indian Warlord Chandraguupta Maurya although the writings on Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, von Richtofen of Snoopy and music renown and Leonids of 300 Men fame are quite good. The other three sections contain some ass whippers from Napoleon to Pattern to Bruce Lee to Testa. All the entries are fun to read as gender and location is not a prerequisite to warriors entering a butt kicking battle in which the leader knows he or she will leave dead and maimed on the battlefield, but as Ben Thompson cites Mike Tyson with “I want your heart. I want to eat your children”. This is what makes a true BADASS and this biography an entertaining read as real persona like Wolf the Quarrelsome barbarian and Bhanbhagta Gurung the fearless Gurkha make this fun for the armchair warrior.
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Harriet Klausner

Instinctive-Cathryn Fox

Instinctive
Cathryn Fox
NAL Heat, Oct 2009, $14.00
ISBN: 9780451227942

Jaclyn Vasenty knows in thirty five hours her true inner self will be dead. She no longer run the wild side of life having sex with Brian and Kane who make her want to forget the obligation she owes her adopted parents Ben and Marie Vasenty who rescued her from Chicago transit and foster care. She would do anything for the her parents so if she is to become head of her family’s company Vasenty Cosmetics as they want, she must change her image from bad girl to corporate exec starting by saving one of the failing stores in aptly named Serene, New Hampshire,.

However, her thought of boring serene rustication proves false when night falls on the gated community. The wild come out in the dark as all types of paranormal walk the streets. However, Jaclyn can indulge her Instinctive wild side impulse with shapeshifting panther Slyck as he takes her on runs to a nirvana she never tasted before. As her libido goes stratospheric with the troposphere next, the paranormals are having intra species issues and Kane arrives to claim her.

This erotic romantic fantasy heats up New Hampshire with a variety of sexual trysts including the incredible sexcapades between the panther and his “Impulsive” feral female, a ménage a trois and FF. However, the key to the torrid tale is the belief that the variety of paranormal species exists because the in-fighting seems genuine mirroring real life. Still it is the torrid sex scenes that will arouse sub-genre fans to want more Eternal Pleasure in the erotic realm of the Fox.

Harriet Klausner

A Blue And Gray Christmas-Joan Medlicott

A Blue And Gray Christmas
Joan Medlicott
Pocket, Nov 10 2009, $19.99
ISBN: 9781416597353

At Covington, Max brings in a box containing letters and journals that had been buried until Frank Hays’ backhoe dug it up. He gives the box to the ladies (his wife Hannah Parrish Maxwell, Grace Singleton and Amelia Declose) believing they might enjoy the contents.

The authors were Tom a Confederate soldier and John a Union soldier left to die in a pit in 1864. One from he South and one from Connecticut, but elderly angel Miss Ella Mae nurses both of them and conceals them from bounty hunters seeking deserters. Feeling an affinity, to the past, the three Covington women try to bring together descendents of Tom and John.

Although refreshing and entertaining, the story line is too sugary especially in the present, but even in the last year of the Civil War, the sweetening feels out of place. Still the cast is solid especially the three Covington women and the three heroes of 1864 who come alive through their writings. With a strong refreshing premise, fans of the series will relish A Blue and Grey Christmas; others might find the glucose too high.

Harriet Klausner

Wyatt's Revenge-H. Terrell Griffin

Wyatt's Revenge
H. Terrell Griffin
Oceanview, Nov 16 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781933515533

Retired lawyer Matt Royal enjoys mellowing at his home in Longboat Key, Florida. The Vietnam vet prefers doing nothing of consequence and believes he earned it after years of trial by fire.

However, his idyllic life is interrupted when someone assassinates his friend Professor Laurence Wyatt, who like Royal was a trained killer, but became a gentle soul once he left the military. Their mutual friend Debbie the bartender and hacker does some data base mining for Royal who got a tip from the cops, but finds nothing of interest except Michael Ruperts who turns out to be a one trick ghost. Soon after Royal begins his inquiry, someone fire bombs his car and shoots at him. However, the persistent beach bum learns another Floridian professor working with Wyatt on a Vichy France study was also murdered. With his friends Jock Algren and Logan Hamilton as back up, Matt goes after the assailant trying to prevent him from learning the truth now and in WW II France; unaware the answers lie in Frankfort.

Although somewhat linear with no major twists, the foruth Royal thriller (see Blood Island, Murder key and Longboat Blues) is an entertaining tale as the hero gets shot at on two continents. The story line is fast-paced from the opening moment when a stunned Royal cannot believe someone splattered the brains of Wyatt and never slows down as Matt follows clues and dodges murder attempts. Fans will enjoy the lay back retiree proving he remains a trained killer.

Harriet Klausner
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Predators-Frederick Ramsay

Predators
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen, Dec 1 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590586846

The American State Department permits Earth Global CEO Leo Painter, his wife, stepson and other executives to travel to Botswana to negotiate with officials to allow his firm to extract minerals. He believes the mineral rich African country will prove profitable for his energy, mining and realty company. However several of his companions believe Leo is too old and ethical sot hey want to push him aside at the firm along with his spouse. He would like to rest but knows a respite means death from the human hyenas stalking him.

At the same time, Sekeo the elderly lion once ruled his pride with a strong alpha paw or two. However, he is not only turning weak with age, but suffers from HIV/AID, which compounds his health issues. The younger males want to replace him and challenges are coming all the time. He would like to rest but knows a respite means death from the lion hyenas (or the game ranger) stalking him.

With a darker look at human nature than Alexander McCall Smith's genteel "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" and Michael Stanley's Detective Kubu police procedural, Frederick Ramsay provides a super parable thriller as the king of the jungle rules fleetingly. The story line is fast-paced but it is the cast especially the parallel Leos who meet their respective Snows of Kilimanjaro Hemingway moments that makes for one of the year’s best glimpses at what drives the living.

Harriet Klausner

Desert Lost-Betty Webb

Desert Lost
Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen, Dec 1 2009, $24.95
ISBN: 9781590586815

In Scottsdale, Arizona private investigator Lena Jones works a night shift surveillance of a storage yard in order to catch vandals. She hears some odd noises outside of the facility so she goes to investigate. Lena finds the warm corpse of a woman wearing a calico dress that symbolizes she must be a “sister-wife” married to a polygamist.

Lena who dealt with the issue in the past (see Desert Wives) wonders why kill and dump the body here as the nearest known polygamist encampment is several hours to the north on the Utah line. Lena is unable to resist an inquiry as she has her own troubled past to urge her to investigate. She soon meets up with the Desert Los male teens kicked out of the various polygamist cults by the male elders who have no room for the young men. Lena keeps up her search for who and why in complex convoluted cult compounds.

This is a strong profound desert mystery that provides a deep look at the underbelly of polygamist incestuous lifestyles as the forgotten exiled are angry and bewildered lost boys who have not found a place in the greater society yet have not other place to go. The whodunit is well written enhanced by two personal subplots, but mostly serves as a vehicle as the author warns society of the lost boys dumped when they turn fourteen as surplus because “if a man can have ten wives, nine men will have no wives.”

Harriet Klausner

Flight of the Renshai-Mickey Zucker Reichert

Flight of the Renshai
Mickey Zucker Reichert
DAW, Oct 2009, $25.95
ISBN 9780756402730

King Griff of Bearn has no time to mourn the loss of his son Prince Arturo from a pirate assault as the menace on the Southern Sea has gown out of control. Likewise the Renshai who lost loved ones protecting the prince have no time to grieve as they are under assault too.

The Northmen have persuaded many in Erthyame that the Renshai stole their land from them. Pressure mounts on King Griff to make reparations starting with exiling the Renshai from the Westlands to the Eastlands at a time he needs their warrior skills to complement his Erthyane Knights. As the Northmen mounts attacks abetted by the organized pirates and Giants on the retreating Renshai, the sons of heroic Kevral Tainharsdatter try to bring leadership to the trek, but Saviar and Calistin Ra-khirsson and Subikahn Taesson have personal demons and issues to overcome as well.

This opening act of another Renshai chronicle is a terrific entry into the wonderful swashbuckling fantasy world of Mickey Zucker Reichert. The story line occurs about two decades after the last trilogy (see The Children of the Wrath)) ends and starst the next generation of heroes. Readers of the saga will fully relish the return to the Westlands and beyond as this is a fresh beginning to the third saga yet it contains all the sword and fantasy play fans expect.


Harriet Klausner

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble-Chris Hambleton

The Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Chris Hambleton
Outskirts Press, Aug 2009, $19.95
www.outskirstpress.com
ISBN: 9781432724696

When the Israelis reveal they have a rich reserve of oil in their land, the Russians are furious as that means other countries no longer need depend on them for supplies. They sponsor covertly Arab terrorists to sneak into Israel with nuclear bombs. The plans works as the nukes are launched from within the country, but Israel retaliates in kind. The world asks both sides to disarm and disengage, but Israel refuses. A coalition invades, but God intervenes and destroys the enemy of Israel.

Several months later, the so called aliens the Anshar arrive on earth to help mankind rise to the next step in evolution. People want this, but believers in the Christ know they are being conned by demons working for Lucifer. He raises up David Medine as the world ruler. Medine signs a treaty with Israel guaranteeing them the rebuilding of the Temple and seven years of peace. The Rapture occurs and Christian believers are brought up to Heaven. On earth Medine shows his true colors and the people of Israel flee to Petra for three and a half years. For Jesus to appear to take care of Medine and his allies the Sanhedrin that rejected Jesus as their savior two millennia must ask him to come to the world’s aid and accept Jesus as their Savior.

This fantastic yet chilling tale focuses on the Rosenberg family as their daughter Ruth vanishes in the Rapture, their son Saul is one the 144,000 who is given the gift of oration to preach the Word. Their other son took the mark and will never reach Heaven and their parents Jacob and Naomi gradually, after seeing the miracles, convert to Christianity. Comparisons are going to be made to the Left Behind saga as both adhere to the bible’s prophecy, but the details are described are sometimes radically different There is plenty of action with a potent message that avoids preaching as if readers are the choir, but instead uses Jacob’s problems during the end of days.

Harriet Klausner