Saturday, January 31, 2015

Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanger-V.C Andrews

Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanger
V.C Andrews
Pocket Books, Jan 27 2015, $7.99
ISBN: 9781476790626

In Charlottesville, construction company owner Burt Masterwood’s teenage daughter Kristin accompanied him to his latest job; inspecting twice burned down Foxworth Hall.  A fourth cousin on her late mother’s side to the lunatic Dollanger family who lived in the mansion, Kristin found the diary of oldest child Christopher.  She read his account of being locked away in the attic for years with his three younger siblings until one died and the survivors eventually escaped (see Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth).

Obsessed with the then teenage diarist, Kristin wonders if her school peers are right that she inherited the family insanity taint; especially with as her fixated fascination growing with every page.  However, her Dollanger passion seems harmless compared to her boyfriend Kane Hill’s preoccupation with the tragic family.  He wants to reenact the Dollanger incarceration by pretending to be Chris to Kristin’s Cathy and have sex with her while role-playing.

The second Christopher’s Diary entry continues the retelling of the Dollanger family drama but from the viewpoint of Christopher instead of Cathy.  The intense psychological thriller contains a present day lead couple as mentally disturbing as Grandma Dearest.  However, a radical departure from Cathy’s journals comes across as a shocking forced attempt at freshness that instead takes fans out of the storyline.  Those able to quickly embrace the change will enjoy the journal; while purists will suffer strokes.

Harriet Klausner

War of the Wives-Tamar Cohen

War of the Wives
Tamar Cohen
Mira, Jan 27 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9780778317487

When Simon Busfield died in what looks like a suicidal leap into a river, he left behind two widows, Selina and Lottie, without divorcing either.  The late bigamist’s wives are 180 degrees different in outlook.  The deceased’s first wife of twenty-eight years Selina is sophisticated and the queen of organize; while his other spouse of seventeen years Lottie is artistic and the queen of disorganize.  Selina arranges the funeral that Lottie attends when a stalker expresses his condolences for her loss.  Thus Simon’s two spouses and their respective offspring meet for the first time at his burial.

The widows are far from merry with the shocking news of their late husband’s infidelity.  As they struggles between denial and anger, Selina and Lottie share in common a need to know why he had two families and why he committed suicide if that is he actually took his own life.  To do so they must put aside their raging War of the Wives.  Thus the depressed widows bargain with each other to forge a détente in order to uncover the secrets of whom the man each spent years with truly was.

The intriguing storyline follows the Kübler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief while rotating the lead between the two wives in each phase.  The two families have more problems than Job and myriad of secrets than the CIA possesses; both elements at times overwhelm the overall fine tragicomic family drama.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Morning After The Night Before-Nikki Logan

The Morning After The Night Before
Nikki Logan
Harlequin KISS, Jan 15 2014, $5.99
ISBN: 9780373179138

At Broadmore Natale in London, Harry Mitchell lectures Izzy Dean on the quality of her latest report; claiming it is flat and dull unlike her earlier work.  She sulks out of his office, but calms down until his note re the Ice Age triggers her rage again.  Izzy quits.

With plenty of vino Izzy celebrates her freedom from obnoxious Prince Harry.  However, the next morning she wakes up stunned to find she shares the bed with the Australian hunk.  As amazed and mortified as Izzy is; Harry is equally astonished but secretly pleased though also flustered with the turn of the screw (apology to Henry James) their dysfunctional employer-employee (albeit former) relationship took.

This Flat in Notting Hill contemporary (see Sleeping With The Soldier by Charlotte Phillips) is a lighthearted romance in which the two bickering stars take their battle from the boardroom to the bedroom.  Although neither protagonist is likable as he is too formal and she is too easy to enflame, this is a pleasant “love and lust in the city that never sleeps” gender war. 

Harriet Klausner

The Reluctant Groom-Debbie Macomber

The Reluctant Groom
Debbie Macomber
Mira, Jan 27 2015, $7.99
ISBN: 9780778317418

“All Things Considered.”  Judd Matthiessen found Seattle stifling so he abandoned his wife Lanni and their now four-year old daughter Jenny to run off to Alaska and overseas.  However, the wanderer returned to the Forty-eight when his dying father asked Judd to bring his granddaughter to see him in Montana.  However, Lanni has no time for her runaway husband or his father with her realtor business booming and as a single mom (with a caring helpful sister) raising a child.  Realizing he made the error of his life when he chose to live up to his dad’s mantra that he was no good; Judd prays for a second chance with his wife and offspring.

“Almost Paradise.”  Twenty-one years old Sherry White desperately needs breathing room from her smothering stepmom Phyllis.  Without informing her dad or her stepmom where she plans to spend her summer, Sherry accepts a counselor position at a camp for intellectually gifted children expected to behave like adults.  Camp Gitchee Gumee director Jeff Roarke runs a tight ship with no staff hanky-panky and keeping the campers busy with learning activity.  Whereas Jeff named the camp after the Hawthorne poem, Sherry thought it was cute to use a children’s song.  Sherry just wants her seven wizards to have fun and her boss to break his no fraternization rule with her. 

These are reprints of two late 1980s romances though their themes are radically different.  All Things Considered is a typical second chance at love; while Almost Paradise provides the audience with how adults probably treated the brains of Scorpion when they were kids until Sherry proved “learning can be fun.”

Harriet Klausner

Happy Are The Happy-Yasmina Reza

Happy Are The Happy
Yasmina Reza
Other Press, Jan 27 2015, $20.00
ISBN: 9781590516928

In Paris “Robert Toscano” and his wife Odile argue at the supermarket over the tons of sugar products she placed in the cart for the children and the wrong cheese he purchased.  Odile’s tante Lycee Spanish Professor “Marguerite Blot” looks back over the years to when her now adult children were young and her fear of becoming lonely Madame Compain before the tall female companion and the dog joined the lonely woman.  Odile’s septuagenarian father “Ernest Blot” knows love or even companionship is not why his wife “Jeannette Blot” wants them buried together as even after death his spouse needs the gossips to believe the image of a happy couple.  Meanwhile “Odile Toscano” wonders when her husband became an anxious opinionated pest instead of the the delightful relationship that Lionel and “Pascaline Hunter” share (or not with their son Jacob institutionalized because he claims to be Celine Dion.

The 21 extremely short cleverly interrelated yet brilliantly independent vignettes provide the audience with a contemplative look at the good, the bad and the ugly in the various relationships the eighteen characters have forged.  Using everyday life in Paris as a backdrop, the cast desperately seeks affection in diverse ways; deals with loneliness even when residing with a spouse or other family members; and above all else insures the proper public image.  Amusing yet melancholy Yasmina Reza asks the Peggy Lee question:” Is That All There Is?” while spinning Jorge Luis Borges: “… Happy are the happy” except frequently the happy wear a clown’s smiling face to conceal the unhappy.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blood Wolf Dawning- Rhyannon Byrd

Blood Wolf  Dawning
Rhyannon Byrd
Harlequin Nocturne, Jan 1 2014, $5.75
ISBN: 9780373009367

Sayre Murphy and Cian Hennessey knew they were mates, but he ignored her until five years ago when he abruptly left her and their Bloodrunners Pack without an explanation.  Heartbroken and confused, Sayre became a hermit while Cian a wanderer without a home.

Though he sacrificed all he desired to keep his mate and his friends safe, depressed Cian concludes that his noble deed failed as his blood enemy threatens his beloved Sayre and the pack.  Thus he comes home to confront the nightmare that sent him packing and if he somehow survives the altercation, Cian doubts he will find confession good for his soul when he tells the truth to Sayre and the Bloodrunners.

The seventh Bloodrunners werewolf romantic suspense (see the “Last Wolf” trilogy, and the “Dark Wolf” quartet) is an action-packed second chance (if he survives his personal war and persuades his Sayre) at love paranormal.  A stunning key twist re why the lead male left the pack makes this High Noon tale entertainingly electrifying, but also feels out of place in terms of the overarching saga’s theme.

Harriet Klausner

Shark Skin Suite-Tim Dorsey

Shark Skin Suite
Tim Dorsey
Morrow, Jan 27 2015, $26.99
ISBN: 9780062240019

In Florida, Serge A. Storms kidnaps foreclosure paralegal Brook Campanella although she is unaware of being abducted as they share plenty of sex heading towards Key West,  Meanwhile the police hunt the pair in connection to a pair of recent murders.  Though Serge feels somewhat insulted as the TV news anchor barely mentions his twenty other kills, Brook faints.  The couple goes separate ways as each diligently but differently studies to become a lawyer.  Brook attends law school; on the other hand Serge assiduously watches legal thriller movies like Absence of Malice

Shapiro, Heathcote-Mendacious and Blatt hires Brook after she saves the home of Hilda and Vernon Rockford from the First American Bank foreclosure.  She sits as her second chair to equally inexperienced Shelby Lang on the Sheffield et al v. Consolidated Financial class action suit.  The institution robo-signed mortgages ignoring whether the person could meet payments, and when they failed to remit repossessed the home to resell it.  Judge Kennesaw Montgomery Boone makes it clear from the onset he believes corporations do no wrong; people do wrong.  However, neither the defendants nor the Judge factored in Brook’s secret weapon Serge.  With his sidekick Coleman, Serge interprets the law applying his unique methodology to insure justice is served except when Molly, in her distinctive appealing way, serves as judge and executioner.

The eighteenth Serge A. Storms thriller is a cutting satirical look at American corporatocracy economic system in which big government (in this case the courts) enables big business; which in turn enables Big Government, etc. in an exclusive symbiotic mutualistic system.  Fast-paced with the usual jocular irreverence (see Tiger Shrimp Tango), Serge and his teammates are at their American exceptionalism best.

Harriet Klausner

Shades of the Wolf-Karen Whiddon

Shades of the Wolf
Karen Whiddon
Harlequin Nocturne, Jan 1 2014, $5.75
ISBN: 9780373009374

Since her husband David died eighteen months ago in Afghanistan, grieving shapeshifter Anabel Lee receives visits from numerous ghosts except her beloved whom she desperately needs to see.  Already a pariah in Leaning Tree due to a dumb thing she did and her seemingly talking to herself, Anabel ignores the haunted spirits pleading with her to help them.

However, when ghost Tyler Rogers arrives, he seems different than all the myriad of previous spirits who have stalked her as he seems almost alive.  Additionally Tyler astonishes her by his actions; especially instead of the usual begging her to contact a loved one, he needs her to save his sister Dena held he claims by a serial killing warlock shifting Drakkor.  Tyler believes that Anabel possesses incredible paranormal power, but she denies it.  Still she agrees to help him starting with a visit to the police.  As they work together to save his sibling, they fall in star-crossed love because he is a ghost and she remains haunted by guilt re her late spouse.

With a nod to a paranormal romantic movie (nameless to not give away a critical late twist) from about a decade ago, Shades of the Wolf is a fantastic urban fantasy romance.  The ghost and the denier make a wonderful couple as they search for his sister while anticipating a butt stomping from their powerful evil adversary and wonder if their love is a heaven-sent Job like test or a cosmic joke from hell.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Running With Wild Blood-Gerrie Ferris

Running With Wild Blood
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Five Star, Jan 21 2015, $25.95
ISBN: 9781432829667

Three years ago someone murdered affluent teenager Juliet Trapp, but Atlanta Police failed to solve the case.  When Geoff Howard regains some of his alcohol-lost memories of that fatal night, APD Major Crimes Homicide Unit Detective Lieutenant Richard Lake asks his girlfriend, Child Trace CEO Moriah Dru, to investigate the cold case.  Richard explains the victim was a party girl who hung out with the Wild Blood Motorcycle Club bikers and her raped corpse was found near their club; additionally her wealthy father Sherman vanished after the IRS began sniffing into his lack of returns.

Dru interviews Howard who revised his statement re Juliet.  She also learns that Sherman probably were ashes stolen from a Chattanooga crematorium.  At the Winters Farm Academy Juliet attended, Dru realizes how much trouble the late spoiled brat caused yet the faculty adored her in spite of a close friend becoming paraplegic and her BFF Bunny is nowhere in sight.  With the Wild Blood approval, Lake and Dru ride with the bikers to Florida for Bike Week.  There she kills a sniper and struggles with an FBI agent who plans to use the gang to further his career.  Hit men target Dru who believes the key to solving the mystery resides with locating Bunny.

In her latest Dru-Lake Mystery (see Murmurs of Insanity and The Devil Laughed) Gerrie Ferris Finger provides a twisting tale filled with red herrings, a tremendous final spin and an enthralling support cast; held together by the leads especially Dru.  Armchair readers will enjoy visiting the Big A and riding from The Big Peach (or The Big Chicken) to Florida alongside the wild bunch bikers and the protagonists.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 26, 2015

Countermeasures-Janie Crouch

Janie Crouch
Harlequin Intrigue, Jan 20 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373698172

Scientist Megan Fuller felt good creating the Ghost Shell technology until she realized the fatal flaw in her logic.  She stopped her work and turned to the FBI, but the agent she contacted, Fred McNeil, betrayed her and their country.  Now the head of the DS-13 syndicate, Fred arranges to auction off Ghost Shell to the highest bidding terrorist.  Desperate the Feds plead with Megan to build a new gizmo that can destroy Ghost Shell.

Following a two week suspension for an altercation with his Omega Sector boss Dennis Burgamy (see Infiltration), Agent Sawyer Branson feels he remains under punishment when his superior assigns him to protect Megan while she works on a nullifier.  To prevent Megan achieving the neutralizer, Fred sends lethal operatives to kill the scientist.

The second Omega Sector romantic suspense focuses on the intrigue for much of the thrilling storyline.  The attraction between the leads is there from the onset as each shakes the other’s world but kept in check by both for personal and professional reasons.  Though the climax seems abrupt and it behooves the audience to read Infiltration first as Countermeasures is a direct sequel, Janie Crouch authors a tense thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Heart Of A Hero-Debra Webb and Regan Black

Heart Of A Hero
Debra Webb and Regan Black
Harlequin Intrigue, Jan 20 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373698134

Though they argue over his wearing shorts, CIA Specialists Director Thomas Casey (see Colby Agency: The Specialists - Bridal Armor by Debra Webb) hires Will Chase to work undercover as a letter carrier in Colorado due to a recent operation he did as a SEAL in Afghanistan.  Working in the Durango area of the Rockies, Will and sixth generation trail guide Charly Binali begin dating.  Though he hates lying to her re his identity, Will knows national security supersedes his desires.

Casey alerts his undercover agents that a Blackout Key cyber weapon that can breach any software program even ultra-top secret nuclear launch codes was stolen.  Meanwhile Reed Lancaster employs Binali Backcountry to lead him and his team into the mountains.  Clint Roberts and Charly escort the Lancaster contingent on the hike while Will aware of whom her customer is from Thomas’ alert follows with the added incentive besides insuring the safety of his country of keeping his beloved safe.

The second Specialists: Heroes Next Door (see The Hunk Next Door) romantic suspense is a taut drama that starts leisurely but shifts into hyperspeed once the backcountry trek begins and never decelerates until the anticipated Rocky Mountains’ final confrontation.  Ironically, the initial slow pacing enables the audience to believe in the realistic relationship between the protagonists.  Debra Webb and Regan Black provide an entertaining intrigue in which fans will feel they hike the trail with the guides and the lethal clients.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Stitch In Crime-Cathy Marie Elliott

A Stitch In Crime
Cathy Marie Elliott
Abingdon, Jan 20 2015, $13.99
ISBN: 9781426773655

In Larkindale, antiques store owner and Quilt-Without-Guilt member Thea James agrees to co-chair the town’s first “Legacy of Quilts” show.  At a soiree at the Wentworth mansion, textile expert Dr. Cottle fails to arrive as expected; and someone assaults Thea’s affluent elderly friend Mary-Alice Wentworth and apparently steals a diamond brooch from her.  As Dr. Wellman examines Mary-Alice, Thea interrogates newcomer Odette Milsap in an upstairs area she should not have been.  Soon after she finished her questioning, Detective Brewster arrives.

Meanwhile Mary-Alice’s family heirloom quilt Larkin’s Treasure quilt, rumored to be a treasure map, is on display at the Hastings McLeod Museum.  Thea plans to visits her injured friend, see the quilt, and run her shop; but when the other chair is never available to work on the event, she is stuck with everything.  Making matters worse, Thea’s BFF Renee, just back from Europe, acts mean-spirited towards her.  Finally Thea also gets embroiled in the investigation when the Larkin’s Treasure vanishes.

This is an enjoyable Quilts of Love (see Masterpiece Marriage by Gina Welborn and Quilted By Christmas by Jodie Bailey) cozy.  The heroine initially acts like a patsy, but with faith and her Uncle Nick’s support proves otherwise; slightly modifying I Am Woman by Helen Reddy: if she has to, she can do anything since she is strong and invincible.  Although the romance and the mystery are very light, A Stitch In Crime is an engaging life in a small-town novel.

Harriet Klausner

The Evil Deeds We Do-Robert S. Levinson

The Evil Deeds We Do
Robert S. Levinson
Five Star, Jan 21 2015, $25.95
ISBN 9781432829674

Two and half years ago in Los Angeles, a Grand Jury indicted Blue Pacific Records producers Roy and Lainie Davis Gardner for unlawful business practices due to his ties to organized crime.  Not long after that, someone kills Roy in front of their teenage daughter Sara.  With his death the charges against his wife were dropped, but her music career died too along with their house in Encino.

The cop on that case ruthless Harry Roman has become an Assistant District Attorney obsessed with putting Lainie behind bars for her hiring a hit on her spouse; though as she points out to him when he accosts her in a theater’s parking lot that if he had proof she’d be arrested not lectured.  Meanwhile ambitious political powerbroker Thom Newberry informs her that the ADA has a sworn statement that she contracted the hit on her spouse.  He offers Lainie an opportunity back into the music world and removal of the stalking ADA from her life.  In return, he demands Lainie obtain a file from influential Leonard Volkman.

This is an exhilarating action-packed suspense that grips the reader from the moment Roman waylays Gardner in the parking lot and throughout the taut storyline.  Though overly complicated with plenty of twists including a great climatic spin and rotating between the past and present, readers will wonder who will be left standing at the end.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad-George R.R. Martin

Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad
George R.R. Martin
Tor Books, Jan 13 2015, $15.99
ISBN: 9780765335586

This mostly reprint contains two new tales (in Peru for “Warts and All” by Kevin Andrew Murphy and Carrie Vaughn’s “Always Spring in Prague”) that blend in nicely with the original 1988 publication.  The premise focuses on the Wild Cards’ escapades during a UN and WHO sponsored world tour.  The key connectors are "The Tint of Hatred" by Stephen Leigh with the return of the Puppetman and “From The Journal Of Xavier Desmond” by Mr. Martin that include stopovers in places like AfghanistanThe first official stop of the "Stacked Deck" jet is Haiti where Ti Malice works his “Beasts Of Burden” (by John J. Miller).  In "Blood Rites" by Leanne C. Harper, Mayan psychic twins lead a revolt in Guatemala.  Other stops include meeting Nur-Al-Allah and the Gods in “Down By The Nile” by Gail Gerstner-Miller; Dr. Tachyon practicing medicine in Walton Simons’ “The Teardrop Of India”; an encounter in Australia with Wyungare who lives “Down In The Dreamtime” by Edward Bryant; and Lewis Shiner’s “Zero Hour” in which Fortunato saves a life in Japan.  There are also stops in Europe (see “Puppets” by Victor W. Milán where we encounter Mackie "Mack the Knife" Messer in Germany, and Melinda M. Snodgrass escorting fans to Versailles’ “Mirrors of the Soul”). 

This is an entertaining entry as fans meet influential (in future sagas) new Aces, Jokers and some entities difficult to classify in places around the world while holding up to the test of time even in Soviet Moscow (Michael Cassutt "Legends").  While the superb contributions highlight the Wild Cards world and introduce two major villains, this anthology would have been incredible with more focus on the newbies rather than those we know.

Harriet Klausner

A Murder of Clones: The Anniversary Day Saga-Kristine Kathryn Rusch

A Murder of Clones: The Anniversary Day Saga
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
WMG, Jan 13 2015, $18.99
ISBN 9781561466085

Fifteen years ago on Epriccom, the Eufasse Emir contacted the Earth Alliance with news that an enclave of humans resided near their territory.  The Earth Alliance’s Marshal Judita Gomez and her most experienced Security Squad deputies Kyle Washington and Shakir Rainger head to this Frontier habitable moon to investigate.  They send for recovery when they find corpses and with Eufasse permission continue the search for humans who, with the exception of three, choose death.  The evidence pointed to an internal human clone civil war.

In the present, terrorists attack the Moon in what the future will call the horrific Anniversary Day bombings.  Although not authorized to make inquiries, Marshal Gomez probes the lethal assaults and soon connects the amoral killers to her mission fifteen years ago on Epriccom. 

Filled with plenty of action, a deep cast and an intense philosophical ethical debate re what a human is; the third Retrieval Artist Universe: The Anniversary Day saga is a fantastic thriller as the audience obtains new perspectives re the pivotal tragedy.  Readers do not have to wait eight years for all the books to be released.  Instead of an annual publication, this excellent science fiction series is on a monthly schedule; having started last November and December with Anniversary Day and Blowback respectively, and Search and Recovery to follow in February.

Harriet Klausner

Nagasaki-Éric Faye

Éric Faye; Emily Boyce (translator)
Gallic Books, Jan 13 2015, $12.95
ISBN: 9781908313652

In a Nagasaki suburb, fifty-six years old meteorologist Shimura Kobo enjoys being a solitary man.  For instance, instead of occasionally joining his colleagues for drinks after work, the bachelor prefers no deviation from his daily routine, which means go home.

However, Shimura notices minute deviations to his orderly life, but assumes it is his imagination running wild.  One day he feels ill so he comes home early only to find proof that his paranoia is based on reality; someone drank half of his juice while he was at work.  Though he loathes to do so, Shimura changes his daily routine; instead of going home he take the tram to Hamanomachi to buy monitoring equipment so he can observe his kitchen from his office computer.  After setting up the camera in his kitchen, Shimura struggles to do anything at work but watch the monitor.  Seeing tiny differences in what he perceives he left in his kitchen to what he observes on his screen, the meteorologist rationalizes these are in his head until he witnesses the fruit juice thief.

Based on a 2008 event in Japan, this profound psychological novella with no action takes an insightful look at how two middle age people react to living alone.  Whereas Shimura thrives on a solo act; the house invader desperately seeks belonging (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs third level).  Selecting this house eventually makes sense to the audience. 

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Originator-Joel Shepherd

Joel Shepherd
Pyr, Jan 6 2015, $18.00
ISBN: 9781616149925

The human civil war between the Federation and League has left many casualties with the trend heading towards extinction.  Fearing for the species in spite of being a synthetic human loathed by purebreds, Federation Specials Ops GI Cassandra “Sandy” Kresnov and her comrades in arms try to avert another war,  However, the mass extermination of Cesta innocents by lunatics with Talee-implanted technology inside them leave hundreds of thousands dead and hostilities between the two major human groups heated.

In Tanusa, Cai the synthetic Talee investigates human use of his race’s ancient technology.  Cai cautions Sandy that his people nearly went extinct when they went down the same technological path the humans are following, and his people will exterminate anyone who they think might go that way to insure a lethal repeat does not happen.  Eluding the League and the Talee, the father of human synthetics, Renaldo Takewashi arrives in Federation space claiming that the implant in Sandy’s youngest adopted child Kiril will prevent the psychosis from happening.  Only his insistence is a major portion of what Cai warned Sandy has terrorized the Talee into taking action.

The sixth tremendous Cassandra Kresnov military science fiction (see Operation Shield and 23 Years on Fire) once again is a complex timely outer space thriller anchored by plenty of action and a strong cast, but also interweaves a deep look at real issues (like expanding rights to others).  Sandy makes the fresh storyline thrilling; as she faces conflicting dilemmas between being a grizzly momma protecting her cubs and as a GI defending a species that refuses to grant her or her peers the inalienable human rights they should have had regardless of origin but clearly earned in combat.

Harriet Klausner

Behind God’s Back-Harri Nykänen

Behind God’s Back
Harri Nykänen; Kristian London (Translator)
Bitter Lemon Press, Nov 18 2014, $14.95
ISBN: 9781908524423

In Helsinki, someone murders Jewish office supplies stores owner Samuel Jacobson in front of his home in Tammisalo.  Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit Chief Detective Huovinen assigns Detective Ariel Kafka to investigate the homicide because his subordinate and the victim are Jewish.  Ariel knew Samuel as the cop dated the victim’s daughter Lea when they were eighteen, but conceals that from his superior officer. 

As he and Detective Simolin go to the crime scene, Ariel knows Lea lives in Israel.  Neighbors inform the culprit was a cop.  They next question the widow Ethel who mentions her son Roni is in Lapland.  The cops also learn from her that her workaholic husband stayed home for three days in spite of not being ill; and that he obtained a loan from Baltic Invest Estonian bank through the law firm of Kafka & Oxbaum; owned by Ariel’s brother Eli and their second cousin Max.  As the inquiry internationally widens to include Israel’s Mossad and the Russian Mafia, a second similar murder occurs; thus the Finnish Security Police become involved.

The second Case for Ariel Kafka of Helsinki’s Violent Crimes Unit (see Nights of Awe) is a fabulous Finnish police procedural.  The lead protagonist may not be a practicing Jew, but feels strongly about keeping his race and Israel safe.  The multifaceted investigation follows subgenre standard procedurals but also contains red herrings and twists.  However, it is the close look into Finland’s small Jewish community, still distrustful of authorities even by those generations born decades after the Holocaust, that make for a complex terrific whodunit.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hot Blooded-Donna Grant

Hot Blooded
Donna Grant
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, Dec 30 2014, $7.99
ISBN 9781250060723

After two decades of estrangement, photojournalist Iona Campbell decides enough is enough.  She plans to come to Scotland to see her father.  Instead Iona arrives in time to bury her dad. 

Filled with guilt, realizing her perceptions totally wrong and obsessing over knowing who her late father was; Iona researches his life starting with his position as the Dreagan Industries estate caretaker.  Her quest leads to her to Dragon King Laith, who had given up on ever meeting a beloved mate until now.  As they fall in love, Laith must decide whether he can trust the outsider with secrets her father took to the grave.  Additionally Iona’s presence has an unknown adversary stalking her with her beloved Dragon King risking his life to protect her.

The latest Dark Kings Scottish romantic fantasy (see Darkest Flame, Burning Desire and Fire Rising) is an excellent entry as fans learn more about the centuries-long war while wondering if a rogue Dreagan or a Dark Fae targets the shocked heroine.  Laith is a magnificent male lead as he mentally debates the question whether to reveal or not to reveal while accepting that trust is the key foundation to building a permanent relationship.  Iona starts off as the stunned deer in the headlights, but adapts to what she learns about her late father and his friends while falling in love and at the same time not so simply trying to stay alive.

Harriet Klausner

Return to Exile-Lynne Gentry

Return to Exile
Lynne Gentry
Howard Books/Simon and Schuster, Jan 6 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781476746364

In present day Dallas, Dr. Lisbeth Hasting struggles to prevent a possible measles epidemic that already cost the life of a young mother.  As she waits for the arrival of CDC, Lisbeth sees a note with three stick figures written and drawn by her five years old daughter Maggie to Santa asking him to help her meet her daddy.  Lisbeth knows her child will never see her daddy becasue barrister Cyprianus Thracius resides in third century Roman controlled Carthage.

Since the love of his life returned to her time, Cyprian has lost everything that matters including his belief in Christ; he wants to die.  Instead family friend Ruth persuades him to marry her.  With pregnant Ruth at his side, Cyprian finds a purpose to live.  However, learning of her mate’s deadly fate, Lisbeth, accompanied by Maggie, returns to ancient Carthage only to find she left an apparent twenty-first century epidemic to enter the middle of a third century epidemic.

The second Chronicles of Carthage saga (see Healer of Carthage) is a thrilling time travel medical romance.  The storyline starts slow when the lead couple remains eighteen hundred years apart, but accelerates into hyperspeed once they reunite as they deal with a personal crisis and a terrible disease.  Although Maggie gets away with causing too many endangerment incidents (parental discipline is lacking), Return to Exile is a winner with a surprise late twist that sets up the next chronicle.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dying For The Past-TJ O’Connor

Dying For The Past
TJ O’Connor
Midnight Ink, Jan 8 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9780738742069

In Frederick County, Virginia police detective Oliver Tucker was killed in his home by an intruder.  However, instead of moving on, he investigated his murder (see Dying to Know).  His university archeology professor wife Angela and their dog Hercule know he remains with them, but his former partner Bear Braddock refuses to accept the evidence that Oliver still wants to work with him. 

Angela hosts a fundraiser to help the archeology department.  To his consternation, Tuck becomes jealous when affluent guest Mr. Carnation dances with his Angel until someone shoots and kills his spouse’s partner.  None of the guests, the cops including Bear or Tuck saw who pulled the trigger.  Also the donations vanished.  Tuck seeks a man in Al Capone style of dress who he observed earlier but apparently disappeared.  He soon meets gangster Vincent Calaprese who was killed in 1939 in the same house where Angela’s soiree was held. Vincent orders Tuck to return to him his journal that the Feds and the Russian mob want too.

The second Gumshoe Ghost Mystery is a twisting paranormal whodunit with some jocularity from Tuck’s interplay with the living deniers especially Bear.  The fabulous investigation is anchored by a human, ghost and canine characters; past and present.

Harriet Klausner

Gideon-Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon
Harper Voyager, Jan 6 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9780061687372

In rainy Seattle, Lauren Reardon grieves the death of her fiftyish father John less than a year after her mom Angela passed away.  Cremating him like they did her mom, Lauren goes to the family house to collect receipts that John’s financial advisor Frank Welles requested.  There she finds The Book Of Endor, written in Gideon, Illinois during the year of the Great Fire of 1871.  Inside is a photo of her dad as point guard for the Gideon team but his name is listed as Matthew Mullins and apparently he was a witch descending from generations of witches.

Confused she turns to her BFF Katie who in turn introduces her to Dilys the spiritual expert.  However soon after their meeting, Dilys dies in a car accident.  Needing the truth Lauren heads to Gideon where most people make it clear they want her to leave immediately.  The one exception to her unwelcome arrival is a malevolent spirit that has haunted the town with a thirst to rejoin the living since innocent Nicholas Blaine was burned at the stake in 1836.

Gideon is a taut horror tale, in which the supernatural seems natural due to the way the witches’ deploy their paranormal power, the vigilant deer in the headlights visitor, and especially Blaine’s obsessed spirit.  Filled with suspense and a critical historical anchor, subgenre fans will relish visiting this haunted town.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bad Blood-E.E. Smith

Bad Blood
E.E. Smith
Phoenix International, Feb 1 2014, $3.99 (E-book)
ISBN: 9780989935616

In 1947 following her misadventures in London where her high school crush and her client died (see Death By Misadventure), Discreet Inquiries private investigator Alexis Smith returns to Sacramento.  Her welcome home is her secretary Sandy on her desk while office boy Roger pursues a mouse, and an eviction notice.  Once the rodent is herded elsewhere, deceased Frank Faraday’s sister Monica Beck arrives.  She has three issues that make her confront Lexie over being the one her brother wanted to marry instead of his ex-wife Kate; seeing the couple die in England; and shipping back their ashes and his paintings to his family.  Monica’s father hires Lexie to trail his second wife to ascertain why she is behaving oddly.

As she resolves the Faraday affair, M15 orders Scotland Yard to investigate whether visiting St. Edmunds College Professor Dr. Gore is a Communist.  DCI Martin informs DI Harry Hawkins to get Alexis in for questioning as she knows the teacher.  Because she had gotten her boyfriend Harry in trouble with Martin, reluctantly Lexie crosses the pond.  Masquerading as a student taking Gore’s class, a stunned Lexie knows the teacher is not the man who taught her Forensics Science at Sacramento J.C.

The second Alexis Smith Discreet Inquiries contains two excellent extremely diverse historical mysteries.  The Faraday caper is a Sacramento cozy that showcases Lexie’s ability to uncover the truth and resolve the dilemma without destroying a family grieving the death of their favorite member.  The second case involves a kidnapping with potential global effect; but what makes it a tremendous stand alone is the profound look at people’s “better dead than red” reaction to Communism one year after Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech declared the Cold War.

Harriet Klausner

Angel in Armani-Melanie Scott

Angel in Armani
Melanie Scott
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, Dec 30 2014, $7.99
ISBN 9781250040404

Though he has a phobic fear of flying since a college incident, New York Saints baseball team co-owner Dr. Lucas Angelo hires Sara Charles as his helicopter pilot to take him back and forth between the Big Apple and the Florida Spring training camp.  Lucas quickly realizes he wants Sara in his personal life too by his reaction to flying with her; since instead of abject terror and out of control panic, he feels relaxed and attracted.

Sara is elated to have a new client as she hopes to save her family business, but detests her reaction to the hunk; as he is Manhattan old money and she is Staten Island working class.  As Lucas tries to persuade Sara that their different oils blend perfectly due to love, she has doubts that what they feel can last.

The second Saints baseball romance (see The Devil in Denim) is a nice sports tale highlighted by an All-Star couple.  Although the climatic resolutions of their problems feel abrupt like how a visiting team reacts to a walk off homerun, this is a pleasant class warfare contemporary.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Carousel Seas-Sharon Lee

The Carousel Seas
Sharon Lee
Baen, Jan 6 2015, $15.00
ISBN: 9781476736969

In sort of Maine but more accurately the Six Worlds’ Changing Land, Kate Archer the Guardian of the Land of Archers Beach, risks everything to free those otherworld badass felons incarcerated in the animals of the Fantasy Menagerie Carousel that she is the keeper.  Though she knows the Wise will be irate with her liberation, Kate assumes all those locked away have left earth.  Thus she believes she has time for her personal life starting with seeing the Guardian of the Gulf of Maine, Borgan. 

However, her assumption proves false as one of those she free stayed behind in the sea where she recalls that at one time she reigned there as a Goddess.  She has two goals: to regain her former regal status and to make Borgan hers.  When she kills goblins, the sea turns hostile to everyone living nearby starting with a massive jellyfish invasion and a sudden ceasing of waves.  She next attacks those her beloved cherishes like Kate, and challenges Borgan for control of Gulf of Maine.  The two guardians and other allies need to find a way to end her tyranny before this evil takes full control.

The third Archers Beach urban fantasy (see Carousel Sun and Carousel Tides) is a spellbinding contemporary filled with action and a caring heroine who learns that good intentions do not always lead to good outcomes.  This magical Maine thriller hooks the audience due to the fabulous lead triangle.

Harriet Klausner

Death In Nostalgia City-Mark S. Bacon

Death In Nostalgia City
Mark S. Bacon
Black Opal Books, Sep 23 2014, $12.99
ISBN: 9781626941748

In Arizona, retired Phoenix cop Lyle Deming drives a 1973 Dodge taxi in Nostalgia City; a town that targets baby boomer tourists with its authentic 1970s replication.  With two passengers, Lyle brakes at a stop sign when he notices a driverless vehicle picking up speed while heading towards him and his fare.  He accelerates though the runaway scrapes the back of his car.  Chief of Security Clyde Bates arrives to investigate what turns out to be murder when a firefighter finds a corpse.

Nostalgia City President septuagenarian Archibald “Max: Maxwell hires Lyle to investigate surreptitiously.  Max also persuades his former employee, well over six foot relations guru Kate Sorenson to leave Vegas for Flagstaff at a time when the press is all bad.  Although both have major personal issues, Kate and Lyle form a cohesive unit looking into the lethal occurrences.  When more deadly incidents happen, Lyle and Kate begin to believe investors with an insider quisling or two are sabotaging Max’s efforts; which leads them diagonally across the country to Massachusetts where they deploy methods a cop could never use.

The investigation engages the audience especially with a six foot plus female trying to be inconspicuous.  However, the exhilarating storyline belongs to Nostalgia City’s early 1970s theme that captures much of the era’s pop culture; especially baby boomers who heard "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan on AM and watched the first showing of the soaps and All in the Family

Harriet Klausner

Friday, January 16, 2015

Murder-Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough
Jo Fletcher Books, Jan 6 2015, $26.99
ISBN: 9781623658663

Several years have passed since police surgeon Thomas Bond turned to opium to dull the images of the Ripper and Torso victims (see Mayhem) although he still sees his once serene London as a nightmare.  His fears delayed Thomas telling the Torso killer’s Widow Juliana Harrington that he loves her; but feels the time is right to present his heart to her.  However, his paranoia that more vicious lunatics stalk the streets especially since he knows dormant Jack remains out there intensifies when visiting American Edward Kane shows him letters that the deceased Thames Torso Killer James Harrington sent him in the late 1880s.  Adding to Bond’s discomfit is the foreigner courts his beloved.

When several murders of children left floating in the Thames occur, the police believe Ripper is back though these are not the same demographics of his previous victims.  While the cops hope this time to catch the elusive slasher, Bond looks back at the evidence from the Thames Torso and the previous Ripper cases.  This leads him to what his rational mind rejected back in ’87 as unreal.

Once again using a genuine historical person to tell the dark sequel, Sarah Pinborough provides a taut late Victorian crime thriller with the same stunning Eastern European spin.  There is less focus on the victims than in the predecessor, as the early focus is more on the romantic triangle.  Like a magician Ms. Pinborough pulls away the comfortable cozy rug and replaces it with a very grim and gory Murder drama only to pull that rug away too leaving a stunned audience with an incredible unexpected climatic twist.

Harriet Klausner

The Empty Throne-Bernard Cornwell

The Empty Throne
Bernard Cornwell
Harper, Jan 6 2015, $27.99
ISBN: 9780062250711

Although a dozen years have passed since his father King Alfred the Great died, in 911 King Edward the Elder still hopes to achieve his dad’s dream of uniting all the Saxons under his rule.  However, achieving his aspirations seems impossible as Danish invaders and Viking raiders plague the land.  Adding to his fears of failure is learning that his staunchest supporter, his brother-in-law Mercia ruler Lord Æthelred, died in combat. 

Æthelred left no heir so several individuals claim his throne.  However, Æthelred’s widow Lady Æthelflaed has the most support to include that of her brother and many Mercians though whether the warriors will follow a female into war remains questionable.  She persuades the ealdormen lords to back her assertion though they fail to crown her.  Still with her greatest ally, her lover Uhtred the Pagan having her back, Æthelflaed leads the Mercian forces in combat against several adversaries.  However, the biggest threat to the Lady of Mercia’s rule comes from a betrayal from within.  At the same time wounded Uhtred falls in love with his healer Eadith.

The eighth Saxon Tale (see The Pagan Lord and Death of Kings) is a great entry as Bernard Cornwell transports his audience to early tenth century England.  The storyline is filled with action yet also brings to life the tumultuous times (is there any era not tumultuous?) through a fully developed deep cast; as once again Mr. Cornwell makes a strong case that the island could easily have become Scandinavian instead of Saxon.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Strands of Sorrow-John Ringo

Strands of Sorrow
John Ringo
Baen, Jan 6 2015, $25.00
ISBN 9781476736952

Having developed a vaccine, begun mass production, and inoculated the fleet; US Wolf Squadron chief Steven John Smith changes the mission emphasis from island hopping to a North American land invasion to take control of the continent from the insane diseased.  The deployment initially focuses on finding survivors on military bases in order to increase the trained warfighting force.  As such Chief of the Pacific Fleet Commodore Montana leads his ships in the San Diego area where he encounters unexpected obstacles like an active unmanned reactor.

However, as military personnel are liberated, the transition of bringing them into the zombie-fighting force leads to conflict between the pre-apocalypse and the new order.  Few if any career soldier or sailor accepts orders from teenage girls even if they are Commander Smith’s commissioned officer daughters and elite experienced anti-zombie warriors.  This political in-fighting slows down the efforts to take back America and if not resolved may end the world’s last hope.

The fourth Black Tide Rising apocalypse thriller (see Islands of Rage and Hope, To Sail a Darkling Sea and Under a Graveyard Sky) is an engaging military tale especially made fresh by John Ringo satirizing the internal war between old and new Navy.  Although over the top as the first daughters have become the equivalent of DC comics Wonder Girl, series fans will appreciate the Smith family and associates efforts to take back the United States.

Harriet Klausner

You’re So Fine-Kieran Kramer

You’re So Fine
Kieran Kramer
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, Dec 30 2014, $7.99
ISBN 978125009920

Lacey Clark’s Hollywood résumé was a string of bad movies and two former boyfriends.  A loner since her mom and stepfather never had time for her, Lacey surprisingly adopts Henry.  Knowing her failed time in Southern California is over, Lacey, accompanied by five years old Henry, moves into the lighthouse in Indigo Beach, South Carolina that her recent ex Callum leased for six weeks while he and her former boss are filming on location.

Superstar actor Beau Wilder has performed in several successful romantic comedies.  However, when his contract requires him to act in an indie, Beau expects several weeks of artsy torture.  Thus he temporarily leaves Los Angeles to reside in a lighthouse in Indigo Beach, South Carolina that he traded Laker tickets for with Callum.  Beau and Lacey are attracted to each other and he likes the child, but knows they deserve much more than he can offer them.  As he falls in love with mother and son, Beau gives them as much as he can.  However, morally his equal, Lacey accepts since she is a purebred GRITS while her beloved may be a product of the south but belongs in SOCAL; she must send him back to the other coast.

This pleasant romantic screwball comedy contains a serious element involving relationship phobia as the two adult leads have bad histories.  Like those madcap 1930s films, You're So Fine is over the top (of the lighthouse), but also flows with zany southern charm starring a Hollywood superheavyweight and a single mom whose most memorable film role was in Biker Aliens.

Harriet Klausner