Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cold Hearts - Sharon Sala

Cold Hearts
Sharon Sala
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $7.99
ISBN 9780778318309

In Mystic, West Virginia, Melissa Sherman takes her car to Paul Jackson’s garage for repair.  Paul muses to himself that he always liked Lissa who was his son Mack’s high school girlfriend; thus he stays open late to repair her vehicle.  After troubling auto parts dealer Freddie Miller to stay open so that he can get what he needs to do the job; Paul finishes the repair at eleven that evening.  Before he steps away from beneath the hydraulic lifted car; a friend enters the garage.  The newcomer releases the lift dumping Lissa’s car onto Paul. 

Mack comes home for his father’s funeral, but is stunned to learn that Lissa’s car killed him and that the lift was not broken; someone murdered his dad.  The police focus on a 1980 DUI tragedy as the motive since Paul is the second recent homicide victim (see Wild Hearts) with ties to that three-decade old vehicular accident.  At the same time, Mack and Lissa turn to each other for solace while each looks back to the miscarriage that ended their relationship.

The second entertaining Secrets And Lies romantic suspense uses the same theme as its predecessor: a modern day homicide police procedural tied to a cold case vehicular death and a contemporary second chance romance.  The storyline starts somewhat slow; but once the cast is set, rotating viewpoints between several players accelerates the plot into a tense hyperspeed mystery.

Harriet Klausner

Come Away With Me - Karma Brown

Come Away With Me
Karma Brown
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $14.95
ISBN 9780778318323

In a festive mood on Christmas Eve, Chicago newlyweds Tegan and Gabe Lawson look forward to the birth of their first child.  Gabe loses control of their car while driving over black ice.  Their unborn dies in the ensuing accident leaving extremely depressed Tegan blaming her husband for their loss.

Feeling guilty about their baby’s death; Gabe also worries about his beloved wife who threatens to end their marriage.  Believing reconnecting somewhat would ease their anguish and desperate to help his wife and himself; Gabe suggests they draw three locations from their “jar of spontaneity”.  Tegan wants to tell him to drop dead, but reluctantly agrees to visit Hawaii, Italy and Thailand. 

Come Away with Me is a fresh look at the impact on survivors from a personal tragedy.  The couple begins their journey stalled in the earlier phases of grief; as Karma Brown makes a profound argument that mourning a loss is customized and though a person moves on one never fully heals because you never fully forget.  This is a powerful emotional family drama.

Harriet Klausner

A Window Opens - Elisabeth Egan

A Window Opens
Elisabeth Egan
Simon & Schuster, Aug 25 2015, $26.00
ISBN: 9781501105432

Alice Pearse loves her life as a New Jerseyite wife, mother of three, dutiful daughter, year round dog walker, eternal children’s book fan, reading club member and part-time You magazine editor.  Her perfect world collapses when her husband Nicholas angrily tosses a laptop at the Manhattan legal firm where he works after failing to make partner.

Nicholas tries to put a positive spin to his unemployable situation in which no reputable firm will hire him after his “terrible twos” temper tandem when he explains to astonished, shocked Alice he always wanted to open his own practice, which he plans to do in the suburbs.  Realizing she needs full employment to pay the bills while her spouse struggles with his start-up, Alice catches a break when Genevieve Andrews hires at chic Scroll bookselling.  Initially her life looks even better than before her husband’s infantile meltdown, but her perfect job proves hellish instead and her mate turns increasingly to alcohol to numb his failures.

This witty, mirthful middle class satire mocks the American dream especially skewering the super suburban soccer-grizzly mom perception and the SCOTUS concept that as Mitt Romney states: “corporations are people”.  Although the pacing somewhat decelerates late in this fabulous family drama; since going full time employment while remaining full time (including on call) at home Alice (and her fans) feels like she fell through the rabbit hole.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 28, 2015

Feels Like Family - Sherryl Woods

Feels Like Family
Sherryl Woods
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $14.95
ISBN 9780778318408

In Serenity, South Carolina, she muses that perhaps it is seeing the happiness of her two best friends (see Maddie in Stealing Home and Dana Sue in A Slice Of Heaven) but divorce attorney Helen Decatur suddenly feels alone.  Her work always was enough, but now at forty two years old that reaction formation defense mechanism no longer works especially since her biological clock has abruptly set off alarms.  She decides to have a child, but has no one in her life to sire the infant.

If she was to choose, Helen would select pastry chef Erik Whitney as the father of her offspring.  The attraction between them is palpable as her buddies can sense it as well but he seems to ignore his feelings.  She begins a scheme to seduce the chef, but when she falls in love she realizes she wants to raise a family with him; Erik has personal reasons from his past to reject the love she offers that he so dearly craves.

This reprint of the 2007 third Sweet Magnolias tale is an enjoyable contemporary as series fans will delight in the often amusing witty repartee between Helen and Erik; who both have serious issues that surface while their relationship simmers before boiling.  The story line is entertaining due to the antics of the lead couple encouraged by Helen’s BFFs and their beloved mates. 

Harriet Klausner

A Little Bit Country - Debbie Macomber and Raeanne Thayne

A Little Bit Country
Debbie Macomber and Raeanne Thayne
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $7.99
ISBN 9780778318255

“A Little Bit Country” by Debbie Macomber.  Librarian and published author Rorie Campbell drives from San Francisco to Seattle to attend a writer's conference.  On a remote county road in Oregon, her car breaks down.  Stranded with no nearby motel vacancy, Clay Franklin invites Rorie to stay at his ranch while her vehicle is repaired.  Several days together leads to an attraction that shakes both of them up as he has a nice fiancée and she has a boyfriend back home.

“Blackberry Summerby RaeAnne Thayne. In Hope's Crossing, Colorado, single mom of two kids (Macy and Owen), a dog (Chester) and a pain in the butt mom (Ruth), Claire Bradford owns struggling String Fever beads shop.  She loves her town with the only blight being her ex Jeff with his new wife Holly.  Someone broke in to her shop in a robbery and also vandalized it by knocking the beads all over the floor and destroying the customized wedding dress of the mayor’s daughter.  New Police Chief Riley McKnight arrives at Claire's shop to investigate the fourth store robbery.  When he was in high school he had a crush on her that has continued secretly over the years even today.

The 1990 reprint of A Little Bit Country is an appealing country bumpkin-sophisticated urban romance that relies too much on happenchance.  The 2011 reprint of Blackberry Summer is an engaging police procedural romance due to the super supporting townsfolk.  Though I have doubts these novels belong together, these are two fine tales.

Harriet Klausner

Wildest Dreams - Robyn Carr

Wildest Dreams
Robyn Carr
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $8.99
ISBN 9780778317494

In Thunder Point, Oregon, single Vietnamese-American mom Lin Su Simmons works long hours as a nurse caring for ALS sufferer Winnie Banks; while she also raises her ailing teenage son Charlie.  Moving next door to the Simmons is world traveling triathlete champion and Neighborhood Club franchise manager Blake Smiley.  He became an endurance runner as a means of surviving a nasty neighborhood while a child.

Blake likes the mom and son next door and both feel the same way about him.  As Blake falls in love with both Simmons, they reciprocate.  However, Lin Su becomes angry and upset, even cursing in Vietnamese, and more protective of her child when she learns of the secret her new neighbor (and former love interest) and her son concealed from her. 

The ninth Thunder Point Oregonian romance (see One Wish and A New Hope) is an interesting family relationship drama that refreshingly focuses on an adopted Amerasian and those she loves.  Lin Su owns the storyline, but realistically is unsympathetic due to her understandably rigid, judgmental personality. 

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keeper’s Reach - Carla Neggers

Keeper’s Reach
Carla Neggers
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $24.95
ISBN 9780778317524

FBI agent Emma Sharpe is excited over a weekend retreat at the Sisters of the Joyful Heart in Heron’s Cove, Maine; as this was home when she was a nun.  However, instead of staying at her former abode, Emma decides to remain at the Rock Point home of her fiancé FBI agent Colin Donovan.

When Emma fails to arrive at his home and does not respond to his increasingly frantic calls, Colin fears the worst.  At the same time Emma’s disappearance frightens Colin; his brother Mike’s former military comrades in arms come to Maine to recruit him to join their Cooper Global Security company.  Among them, Mike’s former lover Naomi “magnet for trouble” MacBride explains she just arrived from England where she tracked the same art thief Emma pursued.  The siblings agree that all this coincidence adds up to Emma in trouble.

The fifth Sharpe and Donovan FBI romantic suspense (see Harbor Island and Heron's Cove) is an exciting action-packed thriller as the Donovan siblings and friends search for the missing loved one and those who dare abducted her.  Carla Neggers authors an awesome search, rescue and destroy storyline enhanced by a kick butt second chance romance.

Harriet Klausner

Starlight on Willow Lake - Susan Wiggs

Starlight on Willow Lake
Susan Wiggs
Mira, Aug 25 2015, $24.95
ISBN 9780778317951

In Avalon, New York, single mom of two young daughters (diabetic Ruby and older Cara) Faith McCallum struggles with insuring food is on the table.  Filled with despair, Faith feels she finally got a break when the Bellamy family hires her as an in-house caretaker for Alice; whose husband died in the skiing accident that left her an acrimonious paraplegic whose anger has driven off several health care employees and household staff.

Knowing she cannot run from this chance to better the lives of her children, Faith faces Alice’s rage head on while encouraging her charge to not just accept her paralysis but to live again.  Alice’s son Mason arrives at the mansion to insure a smooth transition so that he could avoid this place he detests and return to his preferable geographical electronic checkbook support to his mother and the Bellamy brood.  Whereas Faith’s courage re Alice deserts her when she meets Mason; he keeps rationalizing why he has not fled Avalon for Broadway. 

The eleventh Lakeshore Chronicles contemporary (see Candlelight Christmas and Return to Willow Lake) is a highly emotional family drama.  The cast is three dimensional especially caused by the dysfunctional dynamics of ire and angst.  The romance serves as an impetus into a profound look at the negative impacts of loss and anguish, and the healing of love and compassion.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bad News Cowboy - Maisey Yates

Bad News Cowboy
Maisey Yates
Harlequin HQN, Jul 28 2015, $7.99
ISBN: 9780373788538

Bad News Cowboy.”  In Copper Ridge, Oregon, Kate Garrett loves horses and playing cards especially with her brothers Eli (see Part Time Cowboy) and Connor (see Brokedown Cowboy), and their best friend Jack Monaghan.   Although she knows Jack extremely well to avoid flirting with this womanizer’s fire, Kate is attracted to him.  She convinces a reluctant Jack to mentor her on the art of romance.  Jack’s problem changes from avoidance to wanting to be the kid sister’s only beau.

“Shoulda Been a Cowboy.”  After being away from Copper Ridge for a decade and a half, Jake Caldwell comes home following the death of his estranged father.  Coffee shop owner Cassie Ventimiglia tutored Jake in high school, but concealed how much she wanted this bad boy.  Now he is her landlord, but her puppy love feelings still remain only more hopelessly adult.  Jake never told her how much her support meant to him and how much he adores her now, but plans to leave anyway.

The third Copper Ridge Garret romance is a fantastic contemporary as two support players prove they can deliver a wonderful romance.  Shoulda Been a Cowboy is the first hard copy printing of a delightful Copper Ridge e-book prequel.

Harriet Klausner

Tough Love - Lori Foster

Tough Love
Lori Foster
Harlequin HQN, Aug 25 2015, $7.99
ISBN: 9780373788484

Tough Love.”  Vanity Baker knows what she wants is MMA light-heavyweight Stack “The Wolf” Hannigan.  However, she also realizes to become his permanent she-wolf, Vanity has to overcome his aversion to commitment.  Hoping he will make a move, Vanity remained patient only outrageously flirting with her secret love for a few months.  When that strategy fails, she persuades him to accept a casual deal: if he escorts her to a family wedding, she will have no string sex with him.  Though the lessons learned growing up as part of a disturbed dysfunctional family prove difficult to overcome, Stack needs to convince Vanity he wants more than a friends with benefits relationship.

“Back to Buckhorn.”  Pet groomer Zoey Hodge left Buckhorn, Kentucky the first chance she had with no plans of returning except for short visits to see her mom.  When her mom becomes very ill, Zoey comes home to help her recover.  Firefighter Garrett Hudson loved Zoey’s wit in high school, but desires her even more now.  His mission is to persuade her that they belong together forever.

The third Ultimate (see No Limits and Holding Strong) is an enjoyable contemporary due to the fascinating protagonists plotting their respective next steps though ignoring a serious discussion when one is desperately needed.  Series fans will relish the first print copy of this pleasant Buckhorn e-book prequel even if the stars’ love overcomes their tsuris rather abruptly.

Harriet Klausner

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road - Abbie Bernstein

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road
Abbie Bernstein
Titan Books, May 19 2015, $39.95
ISBN: 9781783298167

Targeting fans of the post-apocalyptic movie and filled with so much detail this is not a quick read; but worth the time as this picturesque, incredibly complete book is one of the best companion pieces in recent years.  Fans will savor the location photos, paintings, sketches and other drawings, and architectural and vehicle designs, etc. that bring to life the originality and resourcefulness of the production crew.  Besides the usual appearances of the leads; the audience also obtains a glimpse of secondary and even tertiary characters, and desolate, usually deadly locales.  The arsenal is as impressive as the look at the characters and locations.  As expected in a Mad Max Road Warrior thriller, the various vehicles steal the show with kudos to the designers who succeeded in protecting the actors and stunt-performers while also insuring functionality and screen intensity.  Adding to this terrific tie-in is a short look back to the original 1980s Mad Max movies.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 24, 2015

Never Look Down: A Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery - Warren C. Easley

Never Look Down: A Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery
Warren C. Easley
Poisoned Pen, Sep 1 2015, $26.95
ISBN 9781464204661

Former Los Angeles prosecutor Cal Claxton enjoys his pro bono work offering legal aid out of his Old Town office to Portland, Oregon’s poorest.  Someone shoots and murders Claudia Borrego, the fiancée of Cal’s landlord, Hernando “Nando” Mendoza in the early predawn hours.  High school student and spray paint tagger Kelly “K209” Spence witnesses the homicide from her perch four stories above the crime scene.  Noticing Kelly high above, the killer fires at her, but she escapes. 

Realizing a graffiti artist probably saw the homicide; the cops, feeling for his grieving friend Nando Cal, and a bloody predator search for K209.  Trusting no one especially after the person she turned to is mutilated; staying above the fray Kelly eludes the police, the lawyer and the psychopath until desperate she turns to the least likely to betray her: Cal.

The third Cal Claxton Oregon mystery (see Dead Float) returns the hero to Portland’s street artist world (see Matters of Doubt) in which another young tagger (to the delight of the audience) affirms WC Fields’ mantra: "Never work with animals or children" as they own the story.  Fast-paced with twin senses of pending doom and deadly confrontation, readers will adore spunky Kelly as she deploys her mountain-climbing skills in an urban jungle to stay alive.

Harriet Klausner

Dark Places: A Red River Mystery - Reavis Z. Wortham

Dark Places: A Red River Mystery
Reavis Z. Wortham
Poisoned Pen, Sep 1 2015, $26.95
ISBN 9781464204241

In 1967 Center Springs, Texas, bored fourteen year old Pepper Parker persuades Cale Westlake to run away with her and join the Flower Children on the road to California.  At the same time her slightly older “twin” cousin Top Parker struggles with being a local misfit.

On a deadly night someone kills two businessmen and a hit and run leaves a farmer dead.  Instead of investigating the three homicides, Constable Ned Parker travels Route 66 to bring home his daughter Pepper and her companion.  Leading the murder inquiries, Sheriff Cody Parker hires Anna Sloan as a deputy to work the cases.  Her honed instincts lead Anna to the killers; but her gut fails to keep her safe from these predators on their Dark Places home turf.

The fifth Red River historical mystery (see The Right Side Of Wrong and Vengeance Is Mine) is a terrific suspense thriller that transports grateful fans to 1967 small-town Texas and Route 66.  The Parker brood has their hands filled between corralling the runaways, and capturing a vehicular homicide killer and the businessmen murderers.  Aptly named Dark Places, this is a superb period piece.

Harriet Klausner

Koko The Mighty - Kieran Shea

Koko The Mighty
Kieran Shea
Titan Books, Aug 25 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9781781168646

Though the VIP who issued the Ultimate Sanction Eliminator bounty on retired mercenary Koko Martsellar died (see Koko Takes a Holiday) it remains legally in place.  Still smarting over her last failed encounter with Koko, obsessed bounty hunter Jackie Wire arrives in the Sixty Islands to collect the fee.  Wire assaults Saloon Island owned by Koko and managed by the latter’s lover former sky-cop Jeddiah Flynn.  At a time when helpless Jeddiah suffers from a life threatening cut to his leg, Koko enables them to escape.  At the same time SI security Britch extorts money from an irate but helpless Wire.

During a horrific storm Koko, using a stolen vessel, barely manages to get them to a free zone where Sebastian and Dr. Corelle conduct experiments on willing supporters.  Realizing she has no choice as her lover needs medical attention or will die, Koko struggles to behave herself.  She becomes concerned when people vanish and recalls a teen die trying to escape the island fortress when they initially crashed here.  Meanwhile Wire knows where she took refuge and plots a robotic army attack; while their island hosts plan to test their experimental drug on perfect specimen Jedidiah but also remove Koko from their island paradise.

The second Koko twenty-sixth century science fiction is an exhilarating action-packed drama that cleverly uses a somewhat disguised Pacific Oceania islands as a wonderful backdrop.  Although over the top due to obsessed villains like the wired hunter and the mad scientists; readers will enjoy Koko’s outrageously entertaining escapades at a time when the heroine learns more about the tethering dangers of loving relationships (sans Flynn, Koko the Mighty is Koko the mighty invincible).

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Dungeon House: A Lake District Mystery - Martin Edwards

The Dungeon House: A Lake District Mystery
Martin Edwards
Poisoned Pen, Sep 1 2015, $26.95
ISBN 9781464203206

Two decades ago in coastal Cumbria, affluent Malcolm and Lysette Whiteley host their annual gala for friends and family at Dungeon House.  Instead of joy at their party, Malcom is disheartened from his business in trouble and irate at Lysette’s not very discrete affairs.  Her demand for a divorce sends intoxicated Malcom over the edge; he ponders whether to include their sixteen year old daughter in his murder-suicide.

Three years ago, fourteen years old Lily Elstone vanished while riding her bike.  That case turned cold until yesterday; fifteen years old Shona Whiteley failed to arrive at a friend’s sleepover.  Cumbria Cold Case Review consultant (and retired cop) Les Bryant briefs Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett and Detective Chief Maggie Eyre on the key link between the two teen disappearances: Lily’s father Gray was the accountant to Shona’s infamous great Uncle Malcolm.

The seventh Lake District police procedural (see The Frozen Shroud, The Serpent Pool and The Hanging Wood) is a fabulous investigation that deftly ties together a twenty-year old horrible tragedy, a cold case disappearance and a missing person’s inquiry.  Filled with terse suspense as Scarlett fears time is running out for Shona, Martin Edwards writes a terrific mystery anchored by a deep cast desperately searching for the missing teen.

Harriet Klausner

The Z Murders - J. Jefferson Farjeon

The Z Murders
J. Jefferson Farjeon
Poisoned Pen/British Library Crime Classics, Sep 1 2015, $12.95
ISBN 9781464204913

Riding the rails to foggy London, Richard Temperley increasingly becomes frustrated and angry at an elderly loud mouth when he is awake and even louder snorer disturbing the passengers.  Thus when his train arrives at atmospherically depressing Euston Station, Temperley feels relief as he assumes no more of this boor.  Since his flat is rented out for another week and not wanting to wake up his sister’s household at 5 AM, Temperley checks into a hotel just across from the station.  To his chagrin, the irritant John Amble goes there too.  Ample falls asleep in an armchair, but someone fires a shot through a window into his heart.

Police Detective Inspector James leads the investigation.  He finds a red metallic token shaped like the letter Z near the victim.  Like others at the hotel, James also questions Temperley, who conceals from the DI that a woman he earlier noticed vanished.  Though he cannot explain why even to himself, Temperley searches for the missing female.

Mindful of the 1959 Hitchcock film North by Northwest, this reprint of a thrilling 1932 suspense grips the audience from start to finish.  Although filled with too much happenchance, J. Jefferson Farjeon (see recently republished Thirteen Guests) provides a fun “historical” amateur sleuth starring foggy London, a bungling hero, a femme fatale damsel in distress and a diligent killer.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 22, 2015

One Breathless Night - Jo Leigh

One Breathless Night
Jo Leigh
Harlequin Blaze, Aug 18 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373798643

One Breathless Night” by Jo Leigh.  At a 007 New Year’s Eve party, Boston schoolteacher Jenna Delaney in horrid disbelief watches her long time fiancé kiss someone else at midnight.  Also observing the lip locks is storm chaser Rick Sinclair whose girlfriend is the other party.  Stunned, Jenna and Rick turn to each other for solace that leads to a geographical distant relationship though neither expects anything to come of it.

“Hard Knocks” by Lori Foster.  In Japan suffering a cut that required stitches and costs him an SBC main event fight, Gage “Savage” Ringer returns home to heal and further his relationship with Harper Gates.  In love with Gage, Harper assumes he did not miss her while overseas.  Still she decides a fling can’t hurt too badly.

The main event is an enjoyable Three Wicked Nights contemporary starring two likable rebounders though the storyline drags at times.  The SBC support romance is a paper copy reprint of an interesting SBC Ultimate (see Holding Strong and Tough Love) e-novella.

Harriet Klausner

Golden Earrings - Belinda Alexandra

Golden Earrings
Belinda Alexandra
Gallery Books, Aug 18 2015, $16.00
ISBN: 9781476790336

In 1975 France, estranged from her father Paloma lives with her Spanish grandmother Evelina while matriculating at the Paris Opera Ballet School.  Paloma stays focused on her goal until she fails to gain a ballet spot due to her anger at a bias selectee hurting her audition.  When she receives golden earrings that remind her of her ignored heritage in Spain, Paloma begins to search her Spanish roots before the ascendancy of the recently deceased Franco.

Her efforts lead to fascinating la Rusa; who in the 1930s was considered one of the greatest flamenco dancers ever; but at the top of her fame committed suicide.  To her shock, Paloma finds several people including her secretive grandmother rejoiced when la Rusa killed herself after being accused of betraying affluent Evelina and her family.  Hoping the truth will set her free, the more Paloma learns the more astonished she becomes; while obsessing over what really happened decades ago that impact her today.

This exciting epic historical focuses on Spain just before and during the 1930s Civil War and 1970s Paris (though there are other eras like 1909 Barcelona).  Ironically though Paloma and Evelina are ostensibly the stars, la Rusa owns the entertaining storyline past and even years after her death in the 1975 present.  The storyline starts slowly to enable readers to meet the players; once in first gear, the mystery and Spain’s mid twentieth century history make for an insightful engaging drama.

Harriet Klausner

A Crucible of Souls - Mitchell Hogan

A Crucible of Souls
Mitchell Hogan
Harper Voyager, Aug 18 2015, $25.99
ISBN: 9780062407245

Though he did his best to protect his loved ones from the bad men; in his last dying breaths Aldrich knows he failed to keep safe his mate Iselle and their child Nerissa.  Realizing Aldich died to give them time to escape, Iselle quickly concludes they cannot; she tells Nerissa to run like the wind while she delays their enemy so her offspring can get away.

Years later, the Sorcery Guild recognizes Caldan possesses a very rare high level crafting talent not seen in anyone’s lifetime.  Though not their usual student, nonetheless the orphan becomes an apprentice.  As he learns the hard way to fight; Caldan remains obsessively steadfast to learn the truth re his family, especially why they were brutally murdered.  Others, not inclined to train him, but rather use him have become aware of his existence.

The first Sorcery Ascendant Sequence is a thrilling coming of age epic fantasy with several additional subplots starring other key cast.  Although the main storyline goes totally as expected and the protagonist seems initially overly trusting “Sweet and Innocent” (Donny Osmond), this is a fine opening act.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, August 21, 2015

First Comes Love - Karen Wiesner

First Comes Love
Karen Wiesner, May 13 2015, $16.99
ISBN: 9781304898197

In Peaceful, Wisconsin, young teens Chad Feldmann and Winnie McBride have sex. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. To avoid the errors that most kids having kids do, Chad insists they remain celibate until they graduate and marry. Three years later, after the couple completes high school, they wed and raise their child Kally.

Winnie feels resentment towards her husband and daughter as she sacrificed much for them to become a family. As she works two jobs and takes care of little Kally, her disappointment is further fueled when Chad uses his college fund that his family banked for him to pursue his dreams. Chad knows he made foolish mistakes out of love and his constant fear his soulmate would leave him; but his recent actions to insure he can care for his two beloved females instead may fulfill his nightmarish prophecy.

The fourth fabulous Friendship Heirlooms series (see Forever And All That Jazz) star two wonderful protagonists as Chad and Winnie have love, a baby and marriage in that order, but apparently also a dying relationship. With a strong support cast (a trademark of Ms. Wiesner as for instance this lead couple were in the Family Heirlooms Series drama Glass Angels), fans will relish the return to Peaceful although what appears to be the end of a marriage.

Harriet Klausner

Clear By Fire - Joshua Hood

Clear By Fire
Joshua Hood
Touchstone, Aug 18 2015, $26.00
ISBN: 9781501105715

Anvil, the darkest American ops unit, performs the ugliest of missions; most of which are illegal under USA and international law.  In an Afghan village, even though he knows they’re innocent, contain no useful info re a local Taliban cell and face certain death once his squad leaves; Anvil team leader Colonel Barnes orders the assassinations of the “uncooperative”.  Almost all of his subordinates salute their boss and perform their duty; only Kane objects and refuses to participate.

Believing no solider declines a mission for any reason, Barnes orders Decklin to kill Kane.  While Kane flees to safety, Barnes accuses him of a village massacre.  His team has orders to kill the mass murderer.  At the same time, the mess in Afghanistan causes issues for national security adviser Cage just before his approval to deploy Operation Lion; releasing nerve gas in Damascus that will lead to a regional war.

With a nod to Lee Child's Jack Reacher, the first Search and Destroy thriller is 200-proof action from start to finish.  The key cast is underdeveloped and somewhat interchangeable in spite of gender or ethics as the hero, his only friend, a female task force unit chief, and the villains share the same (and only) mantra: blow them up before they blow you up.  Still Joshua Hood provides an adrenaline-charged opening act in which no one will look at a lighter in the same way.

Harriet Klausner

Zer0es - Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig
Harper Voyager, Aug 18 2015, $25.99
ISBN 9780062351555

In Midland, North Carolina Mr. Government abetted by two local football players grabs computer nerd Chance Dalton.  Hackers DeAndre Mitchell in Sausalito, Aleena Kattan in New York City, Reagan Stolper in Pittsburgh and Wade Earthman in Collban, Colorado are also kidnapped.  Enigmatic Typhon gives the five abductees a choice: work on his Top Secret NSA program or go to jail for several years without connectivity.

Though the quintet comes from vastly different reasons for hacking, each shares in common a big distrust of the government especially NSA; an even bigger wariness towards one another; and their biggest suspicion towards their handler.  Typhon assigns each with what appears to be separate hacking tasks, but the five begin seeing mission linkage; they realize failure to team up will eventually lead to their expendability either in instant death or longer term deadly rendition.  To have any chance of surviving after their usefulness ends, the frightened five seek an edge so investigate Typhon.

Even with easily guessing what major event will happen next and dealing with a cast rivaling a Cecil B. DeMille movie; Zer0es is an awesome action-packed thriller that never gives the reader a respite from start to finish.  The fearful flawed five struggle between personal desires and group need to learn the truth; while Typhon for the most part remains a conundrum in spite of the hackers’ efforts.  Suspense fans will want to join the quintet on this wild ride.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Be My Valentino - Sandra D. Bricker

Be My Valentino
Sandra D. Bricker
Abingdon Press, Aug 18 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781426711619

When Jessie Stanton’s husband Jack disappeared along with all their assets, she hired the only private investigator in Malibu that she could afford Danny Callahan to learn what the hell happened to her perfect fairy tale happily ever after life.  Accepting she didn’t know Jack, Jessie learns her spouse was not legally her husband and he was a con artist fleecing people (see On a Ring and a Prayer).

Though feeling beaten, she starts Adornments encouraged by Danny; who feels he owes Jessie as he recognizes her as his muse who reinvigorated him by example to get off the sands and back to work.  When Jack returns, he brings a second tsunami with him; since the FBI investigates his financial transactions extending by “marital” default into hers.  Though she likes Danny a lot and believes he reciprocates her deep feelings, Jessie has given up on loving relationships with males even expanding her doubts to include the Lord.  While her Louisiana grandfather prays for her; Jessie settles for being just friends (without benefits) with her Danny; even dressing him in formal ware for his undercover assignment.

The second Jessie Stanton tale is a fascinating Christian drama as the heroine, in spite of two devout religious males in her life, feels like a female Job with her not-husband being her serpent.  Grandpa’s back story and Danny’s clandestine gig add depth to an appealing storyline.  Though Be My Valentino comes across somewhat as a middle transitional book, readers will cherish the unsinkable Jessie. 

Harriet Klausner

Black Canyon Conspiracy - Cindi Myers

Black Canyon Conspiracy
Cindi Myers
Harlequin Intrigue, Aug 18 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373698578

Billionaire Richard Prentice held former TV news reporter Lauren Starling captive for six weeks.  After DEA agent and Ranger Brigade operative Marco Cruz rescued her; Richard successfully spun the tale that Lauren was a guest who wanted to stay and made up her fantasy of being his prisoner.

Marco knows the truth and fears that obsessed Prentice through some untraceable goon will come after Lauren.  He vows to protect her, but also believes ultimately the only way to keep her safe is to prove Prentice kidnapped her.  As the bodyguard and the damsel in distress fall in love, danger comes from unexpected sources, but diligent Marco remains adamant about Lauren’s safety and his gut belief that though obfuscated all roads lead back to Prentice.

The latest Ranger Brigade romantic intrigue (see Colorado Bodyguard, Lawman Protection and The Guardian) is an engaging thriller starring a likable lead couple who series fans adore and a diabolical affluent villain who readers detest.  Although over the top of Castle Peak, Black Canyon Conspiracy is a tense suspense.

Harriet Klausner

Tiffany Tumbles - Kristine Grayson

Tiffany Tumbles
Kristine Grayson
WMG Publishing, Aug 18 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781561466306

Tiffany VanDerHoven knows how fickle her father is when he fired the Fates; promoted her and her half-sisters (Crystal and Brittany) to replace them; and in turn canned the interims.  No longer residents of Mt. Olympus, thanks to the intervention with their father Zeus by Los Angeles-based Dr. Megan; each sibling resides in the United States with their moms and without their left behind magic.  Whereas Tiffany lives in Eugene with her mother Serena the Oregon University Professor of Greek and Mediterranean Studies; Crystal is in Manhattan; and Brittany exiled to some unheard of place with the unlikely name of Superior, Wisconsin.

Fearing she will not adapt without magic or her support sisters, Tiffany panics over attending Central HS as her knowledge of this vicious subculture comes from teen movies.  Serena explains to the principal that her daughter’s father had custody for fifteen years and home schooled her overseas.  On her first day Tiffany meets Josh and Jenna.  No one else thankfully talks to her; as she tumbles her way through mortal adaptation and liking Josh in spite of her dad’s program to end true love.  Meanwhile Dearest Daddy asks Tiffany to come home even if it is only during school vacations; while the Fates struggle to understand why she left.

An offshoot of the charming Fates "fractured fairy tales" (nod to Jay Ward), the first Interim Fates teen contemporary is a breezy humorous satire about fitting in by an outsider who fell from the top of the Pantheon to the bottom of an American high school.  Summed up by Serena explaining to her daughter the magic of aspirin, fans of the original series and young adults will appreciate Tiffany’s firsthand account of being Clueless.

Harriet Klausner

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Rancher’s Surprise Son - Christine Wenger

The Rancher’s Surprise Son
Christine Wenger
Harlequin Special Edition, Aug 18 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373659128

In Arizona, although she knows her affluent rancher parents would go into a rage over her visiting the neighboring Double M spread, Laura Duke asks thirteen year old Cindy Masters to watch her young toddler Johnny.  While the two females chat, Cindy’s brother Cody comes home after spending over three years in prison for killing his abusive stepfather Hank Lindy stunningly driven by Duke Ranch foreman Slim Gonzales.  Slim explains to Laura that following a visit from Cody’s mother Georgianna, her father arranged for the felon’s release.

As Slim drives Cody to see Laura’s dad, he tells his passenger that she married someone at college; but it didn’t last long though she had a child with this stranger.  Hurt that his beloved failed to wait for him and obviously lost faith in him, she turned to someone else.  Cody is further stunned when he recognizes the eyes of the almost four years old staring at him.

The fourth Gold Buckle Cowboys romance (see The Cowboy Code, How to Lasso a Cowboy, and Lassoed into Marriage) is an entertaining contemporary due to the wonderful West Side Story couple and a deep bench.  Although the final unnecessary denouement seems over the top of the Rincon Mountains, Christine Wenger authors a pleasant family drama.

Harriet Klausner

The Sword Of The South - David Weber

The Sword Of The South
David Weber
BAEN, Aug 4 2015, $27.00
ISBN: 9781476780849

In spite of the courage in the face of certain death displayed by the races of man, the great wizard and Last Lord of the Council of Ottovar, Wencit of Rum realizes his Light allies are losing the millennium war to protect Norfressa from dark sorcery.  Meanwhile on a stormy night in the Northern Empire of the Axe port Belhaden, a stranger enters a tavern owned by married couple, the Hradani Bahzell Bahnakson and the Sothoii human Leanna Bowmaster.  Though he has no money or memory of whom he is Bahzell welcomes him. 

While the amnesiac’s sits with a drink, Wencit comes to the bar.  As Bahzell has learned firsthand wizards tend to conceal important information from adults of races they perceive as children; he quickly assumes Wencit knows who this Kenhodan is.  The enemy assaults the bar, but the owners, the wizard, Blanchrach and their patrons successfully defend it.  Wencit persuades Bahzell and Kenhodan to begin a final quest to snatch victory from certain defeat.  As her father leaves, young Gwynna’s hybrid powers manifest.

Although years have passed in Bahzell’s realm (three years in publishing terms), readers will welcome the hero and his allies for what appears to be the final battle in the War God saga (see War Maid's Choice, Wind Rider's Oath, Oath of Swords and The War God's Own).  Filled with non-stop action and especially fantastic battle scenes, series fans will enjoy the beginning of the end (I think) though the storyline at times reads more like intriguing vignettes rather than an epic fantasy.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Death House - Sarah Pinborough

The Death House
Sarah Pinborough
Titan Books, Sep 1 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9781783298037

Anyone under the age of eighteen who tests positive is removed to prevent a pandemic among the young.  Like most of his mates, Toby welcomes the physical because he gets a day off; but is unprepared when authorities remove him from his family and banned from corresponding with them.

Toby’s new home is on a remote island where he meets other exiled defectives like Louis and Will in Dorm 4 of “Death House”.  The students discuss what they heard about the disease; each new comment frightens everyone in the room even the oldest and top dog Toby; though unlike his classmates he hides his fears.  They constantly “inspect” one another for any symptom.  Besides the 24/7 dread of the disease and protecting the weak from Jake the bully, depressed Toby struggles with tedium as the norm; emphasized by silent nurses led by the martinet Matron; teachers who demonstrate they do not care; and performing chores that mostly is busy work.  The arrival of jovial Clara lifts resentful Toby’s spirit.  

This is a tremendous character study; summed up brilliantly by Toby as a “Lord of the Flies” community worsened by insensible adults allegedly monitoring the children.  The key is that every child is portrayed uniquely; with each using different defense mechanisms to cope.  The lack of disease detail including understanding the need for Typhoid Mary isolation and the odd adult behavior strengthen the storyline as the audience sees the impact of how scared the children are of this unknown contagion in which death allegedly lurks around every corner, under beds and in closets.

Harriet Klausner

The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats - Mark Hodder

The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats
Mark Hodder
Pyr, Aug 11 2015, $18.00
ISBN: 9781633880528

After a journey to 2202 on the Orpheus, Sir Richard Burton, Algernon Swinburne and other survivors return to Victorian London knowing they must conceal what they learned.  However, crisscrossing through time leaves Sir Richard and his poet friend mentally confused; which they make worse when inadvertently they place consciousness into mechanized servants and compounded by one of their Orpheus allies selling out to the enemy.

As the gentlemen automatons attack humans, London has become a hellish nightmare.  Extremely depressed Burton gives up without a fight because he recognizes that their travel into the future and back was to prevent the unintended consequences they instead caused.  On the other hand ever optimistic Swinburne insists they need to try again and again if necessary to rectify what happened.

The sixth Burton and Swinburne steampunk Victorian (see The Return of the Discontinued Man and The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi) is a blistering finish to an awesome alternate historical series.  Fast-paced with non-stop action, the climatic Rise of the Automated Aristocrats uses the yin and yang friendship recurring theme to great use in this fabulous fable.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thirteen Guests - J. Jefferson Farjeon

Thirteen Guests
J. Jefferson Farjeon
Poisoned Pen/British Library Crime Classics, Sep 1 2015, $12.95
ISBN 9781464204890

Two passengers leave the 3:28 train at the Flensham Station.  When one of them John Foss twists his ankle stepping onto the platform, the other thirtyish widow Nadine Leveridge comes to his aid.  After a quick stop at a doctor, with help from servants she takes him to the nearby estate of Conservative politician Lord Aveling and his wife where she attends a weekend country party along with eleven other invitees and with Foss making it unlucky Thirteen Guests. 

The gala turns ugly when someone angrily smudges a painting of the Honourable Anne Aveling whose artist Pratt is at the event.  This is followed by the discovery of an unknown person’s corpse, a botched stag hunt, the killing of a family dog and the murder of a guest.  Police Detective Inspector Kendall leads the investigation.  He finds no one grieves in the slightest over the human homicides, but the host family mourns deeply the loss of their canine.  The DI is taken aback when some of the guests snidely respond to his questions with sarcasm.

This reprint of a 1936 leisurely-paced British Country House police procedural contains an engaging mystery due to a fascinating scandalous cast whose interplay makes for a droll insightful cozy.  J. Jefferson Farjeon wrote an intriguing still relevant period piece as the acceptance of de facto racism and social caste strata remain timely with the need for the Gay Rights and Black Lives Matter movements, and the 1% control of the economic-political complex.

Harriet Klausner

The Bones Will Speak - Carrie Stuart Parks

The Bones Will Speak
Carrie Stuart Parks
Thomas Nelson, Aug 11 2015, $15.99
ISBN: 9781401690458

In Montana, single mom Gwen Marcey mentally struggles with her recovery from breast cancer; her recent divorce that left their daughter Aynslee with her; and her termination by Ravalli County due to budget cuts and lack of contract work.  Those alone place her stress level in the troposphere, but her Great Pyrenees Winston while digging up the lawn uncovers a female skull.  She notifies Ravalli County Sheriff Dave Moore while, accompanied by Winston, follows a bloody trail to a rundown farmhouse where the unemployed forensics artist and her dog find severely tortured Missoula kidnap victim Mattie Banks.  Though injured by the killer running him over, Winston keeps the girl safe until Dave arrives.

Missoula PD claims jurisdiction encouraged by in-house forensic artist Wes Bailor.  Told to stay out of their investigation, Dave complies to focus more on a local supremacist plan to honor Hitler; Gwen refuses because when she first saw the victim she thought she saw her child lying in the farmhouse; Aynslee and Mattie could be sisters.  Soon the Missoula Police inquiry, the Ravalli County Sheriff’s white supremacist furor, and the plight of the two girls converge with Gwen and the killer as the foci.

The second Gwen Marcey forensic investigation (see A Cry From The Dust) is a tense Big Sky thriller that hooks the audience from the very early encounter in which Gwen and Winston meet Mattie.  Loaded with action throughout, but especially a harrowing climatic confrontation, and a frightening motive by a diabolical brilliant lunatic, fans will appreciate this electrifying drama.

Harriet Klausner

The Hunter Returns - David Drake and Jim Kjelgaard

The Hunter Returns
David Drake and Jim Kjelgaard
BAEN, Aug 4 2015, $9.99
ISBN: 9781476780559

Worried about the recent shortage of his tribe’s prime meat source bison and aware that the probable cause is the hunters’ overkill by a fiery mass pushing off cliffs, Hawk the Chief Spear Maker notices by accident a strange phenomenon.  Following up on his observation, he violates the tribe’s law on weapon-making when he creates a flexible device that shoots spears with greater velocity than a human can toss one.  When feral dogs attack the tribe; one breaks through the perimeter of hunters before mangling Willow’s thigh.  Women batter it to death; but five members die from the wild dogs’ assault.

The leaders exile Hawk for his unintended violation of the law and Willow for her crippling injury.  As the outcasts struggle to survive in a world filled with predators, their tribe also faces starvation due to a scarcity of meat.  The only source of sustenance is the women gathering fruits and vegetables.  Their only hope of survival resides with accepting Hawk and his weapons modernizations.

This reprint of David Drake’s 1990 expansion of Jim Kjelgaard’s young adult classic (see Fire Hunter) showcases the talents of both writers.  The remake keeps the Mr. Kjelgaard’s original content of two outcasts’ survival struggle in a deadly wilderness filled with prehistoric monsters; but adds Mr. Drake’s what happens to the tribe they left behind during hard times made more difficult without their visionary arms-maker.  Although my trade paperback copy lacks the awesome art by incredible Charles R. Knight (well worth visits to the Museum of Natural History in New York to see his prehistoric drawings), The Hunter Returns passes the test of time as the novel remains a wonderful thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Trap - Robert Tanenbaum

Robert Tanenbaum
Gallery, Aug 11 2015, $27.00
ISBN: 9781476793160

In Manhattan, raging Nazi fanatic Lars Forsling holds thirteen year old Jewish-Italian twins Zak and Giancarlo Karp, and elderly Goldie Sobelman prisoners.  Deranged Forsling blames the siblings’ father New York District Attorney Butch Karp for the death of his mom, who burned to death while smoking in bed; and also rants about their dark-skinned mother Ciampi the cop.

At the same time a nasty argument over the value of charter schools rage; as supporters claim it gives opportunities to those who have none; while opponents insist it is a phony gimmick to provide further advantages for those who do not need them.  An explosion kills three supporters including NYS legislature Rose Dubitsky.  After NYPD Detective Marlene Ciampi and others investigate the assassinations; Karp takes to trial the prime suspect.

The twenty-seventh Karp-Ciampi novel (see Tragic and Fatal Conceit) is the best entry in years since both fast-paced subplots come across as electrifying yet personal (the boys’ discussions re Bar Mitzvahs and reaching third base are priceless) and the debate over charter schools discerning.  In spite of Forsling’s fanatic lunacy being over the top of the Freedom Tower and the storyline straighter than the Bonneville Salt Flats, Trap is a terrific taut thriller.

Harriet Klausner

Soldiers Out Of Time - Steve White

Soldiers Out Of Time
Steve White
BAEN, Aug 4 2015, $15.00
ISBN: 9781476780726

In spite of the major find, their enemy Transhumanist’s data chip, at Richmond during the end of the American Civil War, Temporal Regulation Authority Commander Jason Thanou knows this is not a time to rest and pat each other on the back.  Instead, Thanou accepts the technological breakthrough is significant, but also believes the TRA must increase exponentially their efforts to take the time wars to their underground adversaries; whose strategic planning to turn humanity into deities and obedient monstrosities involves centuries not years.

While TRA operatives diligently pursue their foes seemingly everywhere in the galaxy and throughout time, Thanou and his team also uncover a terrifying Transhumanist’s BHAG that deployed the Observer Effect five centuries ago on a Goldilocks planet, astronomically HC-4 9701 III, but locally named Zirandkhu.  The fruition of their brilliant scheme becomes apparent in the 24th century.  After stopping in Zirandkhu, Thanou leads his unit to the British Indian Empire on earth during the Gaslight Era before heading back into space to once again confront their adversary.

Overall the fifth Jason Thanou Temporal Regulatory Authority science fiction (see Blood of Heroes, Sunset of the Gods, Pirates of the Timestream and Ghosts of Time) is a great twisting time travel thriller anchored by real persona.  Thanou and his squad are heroic in their efforts to prevent a devious, intense campaign from succeeding; which only makes the Tranhumanists’ deviant and violent behavior towards civilians feel unnecessary and obligatory seemingly only to paint them as 100 percent evil.

Harriet Klausner