Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Trading Christmas - Debbie Macomber

Trading Christmas
Debbie Macomber
Mira, Sep 29 2015, $9.99
ISBN: 9780778318293

Trading Christmas.”  Since her Harvard student daughter Heather is unable to visit her, widow schoolteacher Emily Springer decides to cross the country to see her in Boston although she is concerned over costs.  She arranges over the internet to swap houses with Harvard History Professor Charles Brewster who hates the Yuletide holidays.  To Charles' bah humbug chagrin Leavenworth, Washington including Emily's home comes out of a Christmas catalogue.  Meanwhile, Emily's friend Faith Kerrigan travels to Leavenworth to spend time with her while Charles' brother Ray travels from New York to Boston to spend time with him.  Adding to the mix-up is that Emily's daughter is in Florida.  As the two couples (Emily and Ray, and Charles and Faith) fall in love, each learns the real meaning of the holiday that miracles occur. 

“The Forgetful Bride.”  Even though they have not seen each other in two decades, Joseph tells everyone that Caitlin is his wife.  When she was eight and he ten, her older brother “witnessed” his sister and his best friend “marrying”.  Upset with Joe, Cait insists to him (and herself) she loves her boss Paul.  Joe says she loves him and on Christmas Day, he plans to kiss his bride.

With a plot similar to the 2006 movie The Holiday, though released earlier (in 2004), Trading Christmas is an uplifting holiday tale that uses coincidences to make the point that miracles exist when love blossoms.  The reprint of the 1991 Forgetful Bride is a “second chance” holiday romance, but Joe’s constant contention grows cold and Cait’s irritated reaction seems over the top of the Space Needle.

Harriet Klausner

Call Me Mrs. Miracle - Debbie Macomber

Call Me Mrs. Miracle
Debbie Macomber
Mira, Sep 29 2015, $15.99
ISBN: 9780778318484

Call Me Mrs. Miracle.”  Finley's Department Store heir Jake Finley and his owner dad Jacob never celebrate Christmas.  Unlike the jolly New York shoppers, father and son never forgot the tragedy that occurred two decades ago on Christmas Eve when Jake’s mom and sis died.  In Brooklyn, Holly Larson struggles with having her eight year old nephew Gabe living with her while her widower brother serves in Afghanistan and their parents provide medical assistance in Haiti.  Finley Department Store seasonal employee Emily "Mrs. Miracle" Merkle thinks Jake and Holly are a perfect match; she plans to live up to her nickname using a toy that Gabe wants as the matchmaker. 

“The Christmas Basket.”  Ten years ago, Noelle McDowell left her hometown of Rose, Oregon to go off to college, but secretly vowed never to return.  Noelle loved Thom Sutton, but as high school seniors, he failed to show up when they planned to elope.  She concluded that he wanted to humiliate her as part of the long running feud between their mothers.  The only thing that could bring Noelle back to Rose is her sister's wedding.  When Noelle and Thom meet at the town holiday dance, they realize the attraction remains between them and finally talk about that day. 

Even as the storyline goes as expected, the reprint of Call Me Mrs. Miracle (made into a movie) remains a lighthearted inspirational Miracle on 34th Street.  The reprint of The Christmas Basket is a warm second chance though the reason the leads failed to meet lacks needed depth.  Still these are two enjoyable holiday romances.

Harriet Klausner

The Beautiful Ashes - Jeanine Frost

The Beautiful Ashes
Jeanine Frost
Harlequin HQN, Sep 29 2015, $7.99
ISBN: 9780373779529

In heavy rain in Bennington, Vermont, Ivy, following her late parents’ trail that ended here in their accidental deaths, continues the search for her missing sister Jasmine and her sibling’s boyfriend Tommy.  She stops at an antique store where the proprietor Mrs. Paulson denies having seen the couple in the photo that Ivy shows her.  Just as Ivy envisions her latest weird hallucination of Jasmine, Mrs. Paulson hits her in the head with a picture frame.  Ivy escapes.

Back at her motel room, a stranger waiting for her warns Ivy she is going to have a bad night; not that her week has been good when Police Detective Kroger disrupts their discussion.  Instead of arresting the intruder, Kroger assaults him before attacking Ivy.  The trespasser Adrian rescues Ivy. 

The first Broken Destiny urban fantasy starts with the pedal to the metal and never slows down as Adrian escorts the beleaguered, brave and obstinate heroine into a world she never imagined existed while her sisterly quest expands exponentially.  Although Adrian’s “support” or lack of needs much more explanation as we wonder about his allegiance; Jeanine Frost’s opening act grips her fans from the fast-paced start to the climatic confrontation.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Santa Klaus Murder - Mavis Doriel Hay

The Santa Klaus Murder
Mavis Doriel Hay
Poisoned Pen British Library Crime Classics, Oct 6 2015, $12.95
ISBN 9781464204951

In Haulmshire County, three generations of the Melbury family, their professional staff and their servants arrive at Flaxmere to spend Christmas together.  However, the annual gathering proves fatal to the family patriarch Sir Osmond when someone shoots him in his study on Christmas Day.

Chief Constable Colonel Halstock leads the homicide investigation into the death of his overbearing, obnoxious neighbor.  As he considers every adult at the gathering a suspect, Halstock muses over what took so long for someone to kill Osmond.  After interviewing everyone and looking for clues at the crime scene, the only individual with opportunity is Santa Klaus who lacked a motive for murdering the victim.  As he continues to grill the family and seeks why, each interviewee keeps modifying their story.

An entertaining English Golden Age manor house police procedural, The Santa Klaus Murder is a wonderful whodunit due to a rigidly adhered to SOP-oriented lead constable who personally knows many of the suspects and the victim.  Character-driven, subgenre fans will appreciate this “historical” holiday homicide and want to read Mavis Doriel Hay’s other 1930s mysteries (see Murder Underground and Death on the Cherwell).

Harriet Klausner

Trouble on the Thames - Victor Bridges

Trouble on the Thames
Victor Bridges
Poisoned Pen British Library Crime Classics, Oct 6 2015, $12.95
ISBN 9781464204937

Depressed British Navy Lieutenant Commander Owen Bradwell returns to London believing his military career ended after the Admiralty brass sent him home on medical leave due to his recently occurred color blindness affliction.  The assigned doctor informs him his chance of recovery is 1 in a thousand; thus his career sunk. 

With the rise of the Nazis and their thirst for war, and checking with Bradwell’s former superior officer Captain Carmichael, British Naval Intelligence Captain Greystoke feels the LTC can be a valuable needed asset.  Because his new recruit personally knew the late treasonous Lieutenant A. G. Medlicot when both were stationed in China, Greystoke assigns him to infiltrate a German spy ring tied to the traitor.  American expatriate and Mayflower Club owner Mark Craig heads the espionage cell working along the Thames.  At the same time interior decorator Sally Deane tries to deal with Granville Sutton, who is blackmailing her sister Sheila and Craig.  After being hit on the head, Bradwell regains consciousness to find Sutton’s murdered corpse lying next to him.  He next meets Deane when she saves his life.

This reprint of a fine 1945 published spy vs. spy thriller is a likable pre-WWII drama.  Though a bit fluffy at times due to lighthearted banter that feels out of place, but also somewhat mindful of Agent Carter; Trouble on the Thames entertains the audience.

Harriet Klausner

In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward

In Bitter Chill
Sarah Ward
Minotaur Books, Sep 29 2015, $25.99
ISBN: 9781250069177

In 1978 Derbyshire, eight year old girls Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins walk to school when someone abducts them.  A few hours after the tweeners were snatched, Rachel is found alive in the nearby woods.  The kidnapper escaped and the other victim Sophie remained missing.

For the next three decades Sophie’s depressed mom Yvonne grieved her loss but always prayed for the safe return of her daughter until now when she abruptly commits suicide.  Deeply troubled by Yvonne’s death, Detective Inspector Francis Sadler wants to know what really triggered the mom to kill herself after suffering the loss for thirty years yet never gave up on her dream to hug her daughter.  DI Sadler assigns Detective Constable Connie Childs and her unit to relook the cold case.  They interview the reclusive survivor Rachel the genealogist, who insists she knows nothing.  When the strangled corpse of a teacher who taught at the kidnapped girls’ school in 1978 is uncovered, the cops and Rachel believe the perp is tying up loose ends.

This is an exciting British police procedural (and amateur sleuth) starring a solid cast who bring insight into women’s issues in the workforce and in the Peak District three decades apart.  Although readers will know the identity of the villain relatively early, thereby somewhat abating the cat and mouse tension; In Bitter Chill is a thrilling opening act.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Canyons - Samuel Western

Samuel Western
Daniel & Daniel Publishers, Sep 28 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9781564745743

In 1970 at the Ladderback Ranch in Idaho, University of California at Berkeley BFFs Eric Lindsay and Ward Fall go hunting accompanied by the former’s twin sister Gwen.  Ward starts to put away the shotgun, but accidentally fires a shot that instantly kills Gwen.

In 1998 on their Wyoming ranch, Ward’s three children fear him especially when he frequently drinks to numb his guilt.  His loving wife Lorraine tells him it is past time for his reconciliation with Eric.   Meanwhile in Southern California renowned songwriter Eric remains in a rage that has intensified over the last quarter of a century.  Encouraged by Lorraine, Ward invites Eric to their MK Ranch.  Eric arrives and soon the once best friends head out on a hunt though the visitor plans to kill his host.

This is an interesting relationship drama starring two former buddies with dissimilar personalities but share in common being haunted by the accidental death.  Ward and Eric seek atonement in radically different ways; whereas the rancher needs Eric to forgive him; the musician needs to kill his host in order to avenge his beloved sibling.  Samuel Western writes a profound contemporary rustic thriller as the audience wonders if either is coming home.

Harriet Klausner

Boxes - Pascal Garnier

Pascal Garnier; Melanie Florence (translator)
Gallic, Oct 13 2015, $12.95
ISBN 9781910477045

Refusing to believe his beloved spouse died in a terrorist bombing, Brice the artist is frustrated and angry with his wife Emma for not being with him when Breton Removals arrive to take their stuff from their Lyons home to their rustic place in Valence.  Several days alone in Valence with almost nothing unpacked except for a few necessities, increasingly depressed Brice still waits for Emma to join him. 

As days become weeks, Brice rarely comes to the village, which adds an aura of mystery to Le Misanthrope.  Eventually he meets Blanche who lives alone since her dad died.  Her attraction to the newcomer spurs him to restart his recently on hold life; unaware what Blanche likes most about Brice is how much he looks like her late father.

Once again Pascal Garnier authors a very dark and gripping French middle class tragedy that as always provides insight into the downside of human relationships (see The Islanders, The A26, The Front Seat Passenger, and How’s the Pain?).  Character-driven by the “spiritual” needs of the lead couple, appropriately titled Boxes haunts Monsieur Garnier’s fans.

Harriet Klausner

The Sea Beach Line - Ben Nadler

The Sea Beach Line
Ben Nadler
Fig Tree Books, Oct 13 2015, $15.95
ISBN: 9781941493083

Kicked out of Oberlin for drug abuse, Isaac “Izzy” Edel stays with his mom and accountant stepfather in New Mexico.  When he receives a letter from his estranged dad Alojzy the street schemer, Izzy ignores it though the ramblings shake him up.  Two days later a second post from a stranger Semyon Goldov arrives claiming Alojzy is dead.

With a need to know the truth about the alleged demise of his sire and learn more about his paternal post WWII Polish roots, Izzy heads to New York, the site of Alojzy’s book peddling business.  Moving into a storage unit, he begins his odyssey by taking over his dad’s Greenwich Village street books for sale business and works odd jobs for an Uzbeki gangster.  He meets Brooklynite Rayna who helps him on his quest, but the more Izzy finds out the more convoluted and confusing his father’s world proves.

The Sea Beach Line is a mesmerizing Jewish street lit odyssey starring an enigmatic individual who readers will at times despise and yet also adore.  The serpentine storyline merges Americanized assimilated Jewish mythos and the Talmud as the foundations of a confused young man’s search for who his father truly was.

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Fruitcake Murders - Ace Collins

The Fruitcake Murders
Ace Collins
Abingdon Press, Oct 6 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781426771897

In 1926 Chicago, musing over his two children’s diverse anticipation of the holidays with just a couple of days to Christmas; Jan Lewandowski leaves his home to walk to his small candy making factory.  On the way he looks into Lombardi’s Grocery and Produce where his fruitcakes are on sale; only to find none on display.  Angrily he enters the store to confront Lombardi but is greeted by the silence of the storeowner’s corpse.  CPD arrests Lewandowski, who insists he is innocent, but is executed for the murder of Lombardi.

Two decades later, WWII veteran CPD Detective Lane Walker investigates the murder of Ethan Elrod.  Chicago Herald reporter Tiffany Clayton arrives at the scene to interview Mr. Elrod only to learn from Walker he is dead.  As the cop and the journalist squabble over their history together, they separately and at times very reluctantly join forces looking into the homicides of several men; who have in common death by Lewandowski’s missing fruitcakes.

This quirky post WWII police procedural captures the essence of the classic 1940s murder mysteries while also making a strong case against the death penalty in the very state that analyzed its capital cases leading to a moratorium and eventually repeal.  Although the leads’ incessant bickering gets old fast, for the most part The Fruitcake Murders is outstanding especially when the focus is on the captivating converging cases. 

Harriet Klausner

Cold As Ice - M.K. Gilroy

Cold As Ice
M.K. Gilroy
Sydney Lane Press, Aug 3 2015, $15.00
ISBN: 9780991212477

At four in the morning in zero degree weather CPD Homicide Detective Kristen Conner plans to jog in Central Park on her last day in the city before returning home to Chicago.  At the same time that Kristen begins her ill-advised run, someone murders church deacon and family man Edward Keltto.  While his wife Nancy feels guilty over her plans to leave Edward, his delinquent intoxicated taxi driver Medved Kublanov sees his passenger airborne.  As she continues her jog, Kristen stumbles across dying Frank Nelson who she later learns from NYPD was on the Homeland Security Flying Watch list.

NYPD allows Kristen to go home at a time the Russian Mafia begins a killing spree in the Big Apple.  After attending a counseling session, Kristen returns to work only to learn an unknown assailant murdered her mom’s neighbor.  Meanwhile the Russians are coming to eliminate the potential Big Apple witness; collateral damage to the innocent like Kristen’s mom is acceptable.

With a much more complex plot than above, the third tense Kristen Conner police procedural “whale” (see Cuts Like a Knife and Every Breath You Take) is an electrifying confrontational whodunit.  NYPD Detective Barnes sums up the heroine when he asks Kristen who runs at four in the morning in zero degree weather.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, September 25, 2015

Everyone Has Their Reasons - Joseph Matthews

Everyone Has Their Reasons
Joseph Matthews
PM Press, Oct 1 2015, $24.95
ISBN: 9781629630946

In 1936, fifteen years old Polish-German Jew Herschel Grynszpan flees his homeland.  Though the trek was perilous, he makes it to Paris.  In 1938, Grynszpan calmly walks into the German embassy in Paris and assassinates a German consular official, Ernst von Rath.  The Nazi regime appears irate in public while condoning the mass slaughter of Jews in Germany in the infamous Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass response.  As the teen stands “trial” for murder; the Nazi propaganda machine blames Grynszpan and his abomination race for starting the European hostilities.  However, Grynszpan proves much cleverer than thought; forcing the Fuhrer to personally delay the trial until other means of extermination can be executed.

Combining the agreed upon (by historiographers) known facts with the protagonist’s fictional “letters” written to his appointed lawyer from his prison cell, this is a powerful historical drama mindful of Harlan Greene’s equally excellent “The German Officer’s Boy” (same lead).  This is a timely tale with immigration and intolerance issues, and wall solutions (reminiscent of the “successes” by the Maginot Line and the Great Wall of China) still in the forefront today.  Aptly titled Everyone Has Their Reasons is a tremendous pre WWII fictional account of a real incident used by propagandists to justify murder, torture, looting and destruction.

Harriet Klausner

Windfall - Brian Lutterman

Brian Lutterman
Conquill Press, Oct 1 2015, $15.00
ISBN: 9780990846130

In Los Angeles the case against allegedly corrupt Congressman Luther Shields heads to court when all hell breaks loose. The lead prosecutor Adam Rosenthal abruptly quits without notice claiming an offer he could not refuse.  The star witness to Shields accepting bribes from Defense contractor Pacific Technology Group; Lisa Darden vanishes without a trace.  Second prosecution chair paraplegic Pen Wilkinson learns Lisa is not in her Minneapolis home or answering her phone; and her sister, neighbors and friends insist they have no idea where she is.

Though lacking experience, Pen takes over the government lead due to her being the most knowledgeable on the corruption case in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  LAPD Detectives come to Pen’s house to question her as to her relationship with Celia Sims and where she was last night.  Someone murdered Celia on her former boyfriend (and Pen’s current significant other) James Carter’s boat “Alicia C”.  The police arrest James for Celia’s murder though Pen remains a viable suspect.  Threats mount on Pen as she diligently works the prosecution while trying to prove James (and herself) did not kill Celia.

The second Pen Wilkinson suspenseful legal thriller (see Downfall) is an exhilarating cautionary drama that builds suspense based on Lord Acton’s late nineteenth century observation "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".  Pen remains a super lead (even in her few pages as second chair) as she learns first-hand the meaning of President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address warning: “… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial (and Congressional) complex”.  

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sagan, Paris 1954 - Anne Berest

Sagan, Paris 1954
Anne Berest; Heather Lloyd (translator)
Gallic Books, Sep 15 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9781908313898

In 1954, teenage amies Françoise Quoirez and Florence Malreaux enjoy Paris.  Whereas Françoise is a bourgeoisie expelled from several schools, Florence is a drop out.  Françoise admires her BFF who as a Jewish child joined the French Resistance, but is rewarded by society as an outcast reminder of the atrocities that Vichy France prefers to forget.  Ironically Florence respects her BFF for fearlessly questioning French bourgeoisie society for de jure sexism in which women cannot work or own a bank account without male approval (she had to accept cash for winning a literary prize) and not so discrete racism for mistreatment of Jews.

To honor his late mom and her astonishing accomplishment on its Diamond Anniversary and her death ten years ago, Denis Westhoff commissions Anne Berest to write a special memoir in spite of the writer nee twenty-five years after the publication of Bonjour Tristesse.  Depressed due to her separation from the father of her child, Anne analyzes data and interviews those who knew Françoise before she became the great “scandalous” author of teen angst alongside of Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye)

This is an appealing fictional memoir that focuses on what happened in 1954 to transform bourgeois teen wannabe writer Françoise Quoirez into award winning author Françoise Sagan.  I found Ms. Berest’s personal tsuris and healing interesting but somewhat disruptive of the fascinating look at the metamorphosis of a teen into Sagan.  Still les lecteurs will appreciate this unique glimpse at an eventually influential writer just prior to her fame.

Harriet Klausner

Valley Of Decision - Lynn Gentry

Valley Of Decision
Lynn Gentry
Simon & Schuster/Howard Books, Sep 22 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781476746418

Several years have passed since Dr. Lisbeth Hasting left behind her beloved barrister Cyprianus Thracius in third century Roman controlled Carthage.  Both agreed to the separation to keep their daughter safe since his beloved offspring would be an Achilles’ heel for Cyprianus as the leader of the persecuted (by Rome) Christians.  Though she fiercely misses her mate, Lisbeth raises their child and uses her medical practice to control her sadness.

Disappointed with her mom’s lack of effort over the last decade to bring her daddy home; teenage Maggie’s paternal obsession leads her to take a radical course to persuade her father that his family (at least her as she doubts her mom cares) needs him.  In Carthage, Maggie finds her grandmother accused of murder, but her attempts at rescue leads to a riot.  The Proconsul demands the death of the troublemaking teen mastermind and her rebellious family.

The third Christian Chronicles of Carthage saga (see Return to Exile and Healer of Carthage) is a complex time travel family drama, but has a “déjà vu all over again” (the late great Yogi Berra) feel to the overarching theme.  Well written climaxing with a terrific unexpected but reasonable late twist, Valley Of Decision is a fine finish to a fabulous trilogy.

Harriet Klausner

Gestapo Mars - Victor Gischler

Gestapo Mars
Victor Gischler
Titan Books, Sep 22 2015, $14.95
ISBN: 9781783297351

His first action after being awakened from a two and half plus century stasis sleep is to puke on the shoes of the whining cry-lab nerd.  The other geek Glitter Tie begins to explain to Carter Sloan why he was awakened when they have contemporary superior operatives, but they are easily outed by all their implanted gizmos.  An explosion interrupts them; followed by GT committing suicide.  The jackbooted thugs enter the briefing room led by a frustrated captain who shoots three slugs into GT’s corpse before telling Mr. Sloan they came to rescue him from rebels. 

Tricking the rebels on Europa with a false success, Empire Internal Security Agent Armand escorts Sloan to their headquarters on Mars after the revived twentieth century man learns earthlings nuked the home planet into oblivion.  Sloan’s mission is to infiltrate the enemy by pretending to be a rebel asset so that he can assassinate the Brass Dragon’s daughter.

Over the top of Olympus Mons, Gestapo Mars is a gory science fiction that provides a macabrely absorbing satirical future.  While readers follow the bellicose bloody and sensationally sexual exploits of Sloan, his Nazis handlers are extrapolated caricatures of the 1940s variety (kept expecting them to dance to and sing “Springtime for Hitler” from the Producers).  Once again Victor Gischler authors an outrageously entertaining saga with an intriguing final spin.

Harriet Klausner

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine - Alex Brunkhorst

The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine
Alex Brunkhorst
MIRA, Sep 22 2015, $26.99
ISBN: 9780778317531

With the death of legendary Hollywood studio chief Joel Goldman, Los Angeles Times editor Phil Rubenstein, wanting a retrospective article, sends a low-level reporter Thomas Cleary to obtain quotes from the deceased’s fiftyish daughter Lily and other “guests”.  Rubenstein expects Cleary will fail re Lily who loathes journalists, but might get something useful from the intoxicated at Goldman’s Bel Air estate. 

Upon meeting the reporter, Lily likes his Milwaukee Catholic honesty.  To his astonishment, she asks Thomas to stay for dinner.  At the repast, Thomas meets VIPs and their mates.  They all like the Midwesterner and invite him to special events to boost his career.  When Thomas attends a fundraiser at the Duplaine estate, no one else is there except Matilda Duplaine.  Though meeting for the first time, they talk for hours; he likes her but she bewilders him.  As they begin clandestine meetings, Matilda realizes she must leave home for the first time ever in her life if she is to continue to see Thomas.  They go to Hawaii, but his curiosity gets the better of him as he seeks to solve the gilded enigma he loves.

The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine is a captivating Hollywood drama that reads like Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in a Jackie Collins setting.  Fans will empathize with Cleary who struggles with a desire to join the exclusive Hollywood club; yet also believes at the same time he is a minnow swimming amidst sharks.  However, it is the mystery of Matilda that keeps the audience’s attention because, like Cleary, we want to know more about her. 

Harriet Klausner

Fiction River: Recycled Pulp - John Helfers (editor)

Fiction River: Recycled Pulp
John Helfers (editor)
WMG, Sep 9 2015, $15.99
ISBN: 9781561466382

“The Revolt of the Philosophers of Fomalhaul” by Phaeda Weldon.  Raziel orders Aaron to kill the child or eternally fall from grace.

“Marvelous Contrivance of the Heart” by Cat Rambo.  Rosie hates Mike’s life-like dollhouse creations.

“The Flower of the Tabernacle” by Annie Reed.  The cop investigates a suicide at St. Bart Church.

“Lost in the Tarnished Cube” by Thomas K. Carpenter.  Vance chooses between foreclosure and a century of indentured servitude to a Dryad.

“Crypt of the Metal Ghouls” by Angela Penrose.  The teens enter the ancient ruins of Ghoulhouse only to learn how it got its name.

“The Imperfect Otter Empire” by Dayle A. Dermatis.  Depressed Alyse meets Matt at the otter exhibit.

“The Unknowable Mansion of the Night” by Sandra M. Odell.  The zombie bar refuses to serve the deadhead.

“The Portal of Wrong Love” by Dean Wesley Smith.  Front Desk Girl tells Poker Boy a couple vanished on the Strip.

“Sacred Poet from the Future” by Kelly Cairo.  To change the future, Robert came to the past.

“Swamp of the Prehistoric Clan” by Christy Fifield.  Hating their condo’s living conditions the “Fossils” revolt.

“The Magnificent Citadel” by Rebecca M. Senese.  Loathing schoolmate Tracy, Charlotte makes her vanish.

“Night of the Dancing Champions” by Kristine Katheryn Rusch.  In 1941 Gertie jitterbugged with a man who kept dancing even in death.

“The Delicatessen from Beyond the Monolith” by Lisa Silverthorne.  Cheating Brittany finds out her spouse the cop died on the job.

“Prism of the Crab Gods” by Kelly Washington.  Oval Soccer Ball, Lopsided Spiderman and Intertwining Hearts protect the frightened child.

“The Gleaming Crater” by Thea Hutcheson.  Willia, Janos the mage and Gymat the cat trek to learn why the Crogrom flee the Plains.

These enjoyable twisting short stories seem more like a stop in the Twilight Zone than pulp fiction.

Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dragon’s Promise - Denise Lynn

Dragon’s Promise
Denise Lynn
Harlequin Nocturne, Sep 1 2015, $5.75
ISBN: 9780373009534

Unlike his older brothers Braeden (see Dragon’s Lair) and Cameron (see Dragon’s Curse) who embraced their changeling wizard status, twentyish Sean Drake only wanted to be an ordinary human.  However, one year ago, reality changed Sean’s hopes when he shifted into a dragon for the first time.  Now he considers returning to his family Dragon Lair after years away. 

In a bar in the Detroit area, Sean’s inner dragon marks Caitlin St. George as his.  Though confused by their attraction they share a one night stand before going their separate ways.  Pregnant, Caitlin’s parents plan to give the baby away and marry her to a man who will control her worst urges.  When Nathan the wizard kidnaps their infant, a desperate Caitlin informs Sean that he sired a child who was abducted.  Avoiding Caitlin the dragon-slayer for distracting obvious reasons, Sean the dragon pursues Nathan in order to rescue his offspring and slay the abductor.

The third Drake romantic urban fantasy is a suspenseful super finish to the trilogy starring in this one the ultimate star-crossed lovers (her DNA demands fighting and slaying dragons like him and his to flight from her).  Lynn world once again seems real especially the Drake family tree, but it is the protagonists who make this a winner as natural enemies united by their save their baby quest and love.

Harriet Klausner

Canadian Wolf - Linda O. Johnston

Canadian Wolf
Linda O. Johnston
Harlequin Nocturne, Sep 1 2015, $5.75
ISBN: 9780373009527

Aware of the success of Alpha Force (see Loyal Wolf), Canada wants a home-grown team of shapeshifters to work on cases to similar those performed by this unique American military unit.  Thus the brass assigns Alpha Force Lieutenant Selena Jennay to help the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to create their own shapeshifting team led by purebred human Sergeant Major Owen Dewirter. 

Having had a dangerous experience with a shifter; the Canadian accepts the existence of the subspecies; but rejects the premises of changing without a full moon stimulus and retaining human cognizance in the beast form.  To quickly provide him with proof of assertions, Selena changes into her wolf.  Though he distrusts Selena and others like her, Owen insists on a real field test: rescue kidnap victims, catch their abductors and expose the traitor inside their team.  Falling in love was not part of the mission.

The latest Alpha Force police procedural urban fantasy romance (see Untamed Wolf and Undercover Wolf) provides newness with the international twist and the gender-bending lead couple.  Although the storyline starts somewhat slowly ironically due to the two fresh spins, the appealing leads and support cast make for an interesting romantic suspense.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teasing Her Seal - Anne Marsh

Teasing Her Seal
Anne Marsh
Harlequin Blaze, Sep 15 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373798674

Their current mission abruptly aborted, US Navy SEAL Lieutenant Commander Gray Jackson and his unit immediately head to Belize where they will go undercover at luxurious Fantasy Island.  Their new assignment is to capture a drug runner.  Gray obtains a position as a massage therapist.

Unemployed emergency room surgeon Laney Parker leaves behind her cheating fiancée and her former six days a week trauma job in San Francisco to go on her nonrefundable honeymoon alone at Fantasy Island.  When the masseur massages her, Laney and Gray think of heaven.  Neither expected much more than a heated fling, but love enters the equation.

This Uniformly Hot! (see Anne Marsh’s Wicked Secrets) contemporary is a heated romance, but never obtains the level of blazing scorcher anticipated from what readers learn early on about Fantasy Island (though hotter than Mr. Roarke’s version).  Still the audience will enjoy the mental and physical massages between the dazed doctor and the stunned SEAL as love leaves both fantasizing about happily ever after.

Harriet Klausner

High Country Hideout - Elle James

High Country Hideout
Elle James
Harlequin Intrigue, Sep 15 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373698615

Soldier Angus Ketchum lost a leg during his fourth tour in Afghanistan.  Covert Cowboys, Inc. hires the veteran though Angus cannot understand why Hank Derringer took on a Wounded Warrior as a field operative.  Sexagenarian Last Chance Ranch foreman CW Reinhardt contacted his military buddy Derringer to provide protection for his boss Widow Reggie Davis and her five years old son Tad because of increasingly dangerous occurrences.

Derringer assigns Ketchum, who worked on a Texas ranch, as an undercover cowhand at the Colorado Rockies spread protecting Reggie and Tad.  He meets the owner in the field when he rescues her from spooked cattle only to have her yell at him.  Reggie has no money to pay Angus, but hesitantly even after CW’s support, provides room and board for Angus and even more reluctantly his dog Ranger.  When the peril mounts, the veteran and the canine rise to the occasion to keep safe the woman and child they adore.

The seventh Covert Cowboys Inc. romantic suspense (see Navy Seal Newlywed) is a pleasant contemporary in which for much of the storyline the emphasis is on caring relationships.  There is action especially late in the plot, but the falling in love interplay between the Widow and the “One-Legged Cowboy” takes center stage. 

Harriet Klausner

Running Wild - Susan Anderson

Running Wild
Susan Anderson
Harlequin HQN, Aug 25 2015, $7.99
ISBN: 9780373788460

To escape temporarily from his overwhelming family, American Finn Kavanagh vacations in a small South American country El Tigre.  To wash away some of his travel frustrations he stops in a cantina in the capital Santa Rosa when the beautiful blonde strolls into the bar.  Stunned not only to see an apparent American female here, but even more astonishing is his desire for this stranger.

Magdalene Deluca arrived in her childhood home Santa Rosa searching for her missing missionary parents in spite of them practically abandoning her when she was a young teen.  Following her as she leaves the cantina, Finn rescues Magdalene from a kidnapping attempt.  He also joins her on her search and rescue mission; while the cartel targets her and by extension him.

Running Wild is an action-packed Amazonian romantic suspense starring two amiable leads (Finn was a support character in the Sisterhood Diaries) with polar opposite family issues.  Although the protagonists are too perfect especially the blending of their specific skills even as the romance supersedes the danger, readers will relish this “rumble in the jungle” (hard to believe forty-one years have passed).

Harriet Klausner

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Puppy Proposal - Katie Meyer

The Puppy Proposal
Katie Meyer
Harlequin Special Edition, Sep 15 2015, $5.50
ISBN: 9780373659180

Nic Caruso arrives in Paradise Isle, Florida to assess the locale as his family’s potential next mega resort.  When Nic rescues Murphy, a dog who lives up to his “legal” name, he also meets local veterinary technician Jillian Everett.

To his amazement, Nic finds Jillian so alluring that he ignores his mantra of family first.  She wants to believe he is her Prince Charming, but after a childhood of foster care Jillian distrusts everyone, but especially handsome charmers who always have a devious agenda.  While they fall in love; he knows the Caruso family construction project to lure tourists here will end his relationship with Jillian as her Paradise will become lost.  While he struggles between his close-knit family and the love of his life, Jillian remains a doubting cynic that anyone truly wants her permanently at their side.

This engaging contemporary stars two opposites in love and a page stealing matchmaking canine; and ably supported by a robust secondary cast (his kin and her two future book leads BFFs).  Though somewhat philosophically passive as the lead couple separately reflects back on their respective lives of with and without a loving family; the first Paradise Animal Clinic romance is a sunny delight.

Harriet Klausner

Miracle Drug - Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Miracle Drug
Richard L. Mabry, M.D.
Abingdon Press, Sep 15 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781630881184

Dr. Ben Lambert accompanied former American President David Madison on a South American fact-finding trip in order to select the best location for a new clinic.  In Colombia, an assailant enters Lambert’s hotel room and stabs the physician.  In disbelief Lambert dies moments later.

Dr. Josh Pearson replaces his late colleague as the retired POTUS’ personal physician at a time when Madison appears dying from an apparent unknown and seemingly untreatable disease.  Also deathly ill from the same contagion is the woman Josh loves, Nurse Rachel Moore.  The only potential cure is a drug the FDA disapproved usage of during the trial period.  At the same time that Josh struggles with ethics as the amount left of the disavowed yet hopefully Miracle Drug might not be enough to save one person if it even works; Ben's corpse mysteriously vanishes.

This electrifying medical thriller grips the audience from the opening Lambert murder sequence until the final confrontation with a killer and a killing disease.  Though too many happenchance moments occur that keep the hero ticking; Miracle Drug is a timely, cautionary suspense in which the worlds of politics, healthcare policies and applications, and religious dogma collide.

Harriet Klausner

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Killing Kind - Chris Holm

The Killing Kind
Chris Holm
Mulholland Books/Little Brown, Sep 15 2015, $26.00
ISBN: 9780316259538

The Havana-based Corporation mob sends Cuban hitman Javier Cruz to Miami to take out Edgar Morales for buying property in the slummy Goulds neighborhood with a plan to gentrify it.  Learning the hit former special ops officer officiously dead in combat Michael Hendricks and his partner the only other surviving member of his military unit wheelchair bound Lester determine Morales is ethical.  Thus Hendricks offers to murder Cruz if Morales pays the fee of ten times that of what the Corporation paid their professional.  Applying meticulous precision to avoid harming innocent bystanders, Hendricks executes the predator.

American crime syndicates become concerned with the phantom hitman killing hitmen.  Thus their Council commissions top gun Alexander Engelmann, whose kills include numerous collateral damage victims, to exterminate the pest.  As Engelmann researches his target to ascertain an Achilles’ heel like a former girlfriend or his brother in arms; FBI Special Agents Charlotte Thompson and Henry Garfield hunt both pros though differ in their opinions as to whom the “ghost” murders. 

Setting aside plausibility, The Killing Kind is a fantastic crime thriller starring the Good (Thompson), the Bad (Hendricks) and the Ugly (Engelmann).  The rival killers and Charlie in this cat and mouse drama are fully-developed while the appreciative audience anticipates a wild royal rumble climatic confrontation with no inclination as to whom will walk away from the final showdown.

Harriet Klausner

Three-Legged Horse - Russ Hall

Three-Legged Horse
Russ Hall
Five Star, Sep 15 2015, $25.95
ISBN: 9781432830656

A decade after the Civil War ended, cowhand Lucas Brent, Francis Gallagher the eastern dime novel writer (as Ben Blunt), Preacher, a fancy lady, teenager Justin Bodeau and his father ride the stage in Texas Hill Country when outlaws attack it.  The two company men, Justin’s dad and the fancy lady die during the assault.  Before leaving the robbers kill the horses and leave no water for those still alive.  The four surviving passengers begin an arduous trek in the barren isolated land when Comanche led by revenge-seeking Bent Feather capture them and tie them to the ground so they can die slow deaths from heat and dehydration.  Rangers rescue the men and take them to nearby Bentley.

In town the four go their separate ways with Justin finding his Aunt Sara Bolger who takes him in to live with her.  As the fifteen years old lad adjusts to his new home and studies the map his father possessed that allegedly shows the location of gold cached during the War Between the States, a cattle war heats up with hired professional gunslingers endangering everyone in and around town.

Returning to post Civil War Texas Hill Country (see Sagebrush Westerns- Bent Red Moon), Russ Hall provides a tremendous 1870s saga starring an intrepid teen supported by a solid cast who bring to life time and place.  Loaded with action from the opening stagecoach robbery and never easing off the accelerator until the final exciting climax; Mr. Hall transports genre fans to the era and locale; as we feel the dry heat stumbling alongside the survivors during their harrowing trek.

Harriet Klausner

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Twice Blessed - Barbara Cameron

Twice Blessed
Barbara Cameron
Abingdon Press, Sep 15 2015, $14.99
ISBN: 9781630881115

“Her Sister’s Shadow.”  Twins Katie and Rosie Stoltzfus have always done everything together.  Currently, they work at an Amish store and own Two Peas in A Pod selling canned vegetables and fruits grown in their garden.  They love and adore each other, but the more introverted Rosie wants some time away from “Her Sister’s Shadow.”  When she meets Jacob, Rosie feels he is the one; but doubts he notice her when Katie lights up the world.

“His Brother’s Keeper.” Twins Mark and Ben Fisher have two different personalities but both love their childhood friend Ruth.  Ben is heartbroken because he knows he is wrong to covet his bruder’s fiancée, but cannot stop himself from loving her.  When the brothers drive a buggy, a speeding truck heads towards them on their side of the road before crashing into them.  At the hospital Ruth identifies semiconscious Ben as her Mark; while the real Mark lies comatose.  Though he knows he should not, Ben fails to correct the mistake because selfishly he wants Ruth at his bedside.

These affable Amish holiday romances star two different sets of identical twins.  Even with straightforward and somewhat similar plots, readers will sing “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful …” (Let It Snow by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne); as Barbara Cameron warms her readers with Twice Blessed comfy Christmas contemporaries.

Harriet Klausner

Crystal Caves - Kristine Grayson

Crystal Caves
Kristine Grayson
WMG, Sep 15 2015, $15.99
ISBN: 9781561466351

Like her two BFFs (her half-sisters Tiffany (see Tiffany Tumbles) and Brittany) Crystal Chandler knows how fickle her father is when he replaced the Fates (for daring to disobey his latest amoral demand) with her and her siblings before firing them.  No longer residents of Olympus; each sibling resides with their moms in America without their magic and very limited contact with one another. 

Feeling lonely especially since her BFFs have loving moms who want them; her Mother calls her “The Unexpected Consequence of a Momentary Lapse of Judgment”.  Her stepfather ignores her; an “older” half-brother dubs her “The Unwelcome Visitor”; and three younger half-brothers fail to acknowledge her existence.  Her only nearby friends (extremely loose definition) are at the exclusive school she attends.  When she believes her shrink Megan failed her and that she does not belong with her maternal family, Crystal, who never decided anything, wants out of the agreement.  However she cannot go home to Mount Olympus without the three Fates’ intervention but her only hope to make contact is her fickle Father; which means owing him for eternity.

The second Interim Fates is an outstanding serious teen contemporary.  The protagonist is the poster child for the original Maslow’s Hierarchy as her biological, physiological and safety needs are met; but she lacks love and belongingness, esteem and self-actualization.  Thus the storyline focuses once again on an outsider who fails to fit in after her fall from the top of the Pantheon to the bottom of an American high school, but Crystal has no loving support system unlike Tiffany.  Crystal Caves is summed up in the immortal words of Yogi Bear: “…smarter than the average bear” but still don’t belong here (or anywhere).

Harriet Klausner

Monday, September 14, 2015

As Patient As Death - Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler

As Patient As Death
Karen Wiesner and Chris Spindler, Feb 2 2015, $9.99
ISBN: 9781925191066

In Falcon’s Bend, Wisconsin, cop wives Lisa Shasta and Melody Vincent are horrified by the spousal neglect by their outward charming new neighbor workaholic Jerome Boca who never seems to be home in spite of his terminal ill wife Eva dying from cancer.   Unable to ignore Eva’s plight and disregarding her husband Peter’s warning to mind her business and spend her time nurturing their recently adopted baby; Lisa decides to be there for dying Eva.

As Lisa befriends Eva, she begins to find out more about the relationship between the cancer stricken wife and her husband.  Especially frightening Lisa is the fact that twice-widowed Jerome collected on life insurance policies when his previous terminally ill wives died.  While Peter insists this is not a FBPD matter, Lisa keeps digging when Lisa abruptly announces miraculously she is in remission.

The fifth Falcon’s Bend mystery (see Romantic Notions and The Fifteenth Letter) is a twisting (even more than San Francisco’s Lombard Street), tense amateur sleuth that contains a viable but stunning climax.  Extremely difficult to put down for even a moment, the captivated audience (and Lisa) will want to know what really is going on with the Boca couple. 

Harriet Klausner

Earth Flight - Janet Edwards

Earth Flight
Janet Edwards
Pyr, Sep 8 2015, $17.99
ISBN: 9781633880924

Towards the end of the twenty-eighth century, mankind lives on over 1200 planets due to the ease in which 99.9% of humanity can use portals to instantly teleport amongst the myriad of orbs.  In spite of her recent incredible archaeological rescue in the ruins of what were once Manhattan and her astonishing military deeds, teenager Jaara Tell Morath remains handicapped by her immune system to stay permanently on Planet One with no basic human rights.  Her feelings of being a left behind second class citizen were heightened by her parents’ abandonment as a baby and called a Neanderthal ape all her life.

Hate crime attacks on the Handicapped increase dramatically.  At the same time working for the military, Jaara and her normal boyfriend Fian Andrej Eklund decipher a recently found ancient alien probe that proclaims a major threat to all humanity exists.  Jaara is the solo hope for a savior, but she must instantly teleport to a world far, far away from her earthbound home.  She accepts a life threatening experimental surgery to enable her to accomplish the mission.

The third Jaara futuristic middle school science fiction (see Earth Star and Earth Girl) is a fine fast-paced finish to a fascinating trilogy though this entry loses some of its social awareness (re the harmful effects of prejudice) with the operation that normalizes the heroine.  Tweener and young teens will enjoy the daring deeds of Jaara who refused to be stereotyped; and her supportive boyfriend who believes his beloved can do anything a Norm can do and more.

Harriet Klausner

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel - Stephanie Gayle

Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel
Stephanie Gayle
Prometheus Books/Seventh Street, Sep 8 2015, $15.95
ISBN 9781633880788

In 1997, following the shooting death of his partner by a dealer last year, NYPD Detective Thomas Lynch leaves his Big Apple job to accept the position of Idyll, Connecticut Chief of Police.  While off duty, a speeder interrupts Thomas’ sad reflection on Rick’s death.  Thomas pulls over the moving violator; but Leo Wilton of nearby Ashford hits on him.  They head to a dilapidated shack near Hought’s Pond; where Thomas and Leo disturb a young heterosexual couple making out.  Leo points out to the trespassers that his partner is a cop, which upsets Thomas as he prefers not advertising his badge when on a gay tryst.

On the Nipmuc Golf Course’s ninth hole, groundskeeper Cal Jackson finds a female corpse.  Thomas arrives at the scene and immediately sees the incompetence of his staff and the body of Cecilia North containing multiple gunshot holes.  The case turns personal when Thomas realizes the victim is the twentyish woman chased out of the cabin last night.  Fearing outing by either his almost sex partner or Cecilia’s, Thomas gingerly investigates the homicide while trying to remain in the closet.

The first solid Lynch police procedural is somewhat linear except for the chief’s desperate tactics to solve the case without being exposed.  Lynch is a unique protagonist whose sex addiction led to his lower head resolving the ticket; while his sexual preference cover-up obfuscates the investigation.  Idyll Threats reminds the audience how far much of society has come to accept LGBT First Amendment rights in less than two decades, but also cautions supporters that the cause is far from over as pockets of resistance remain.

Harriet Klausner