Archive for the ‘Mainstream Fiction’ Category

Ember Island-Kimberley Freeman

April 16, 2014

Ember Island
Kimberley Freeman
Touchstone, Apr 15 2014, $16.00
ISBN: 9781476743509

In 2012, highly regarded author Nina struggles with writer’s block of which she believes she knows the underlying cause that she conceals from everyone especially her agent Marla. She rationalizes to Marla that she needs to get away to complete her book. Although she knows her grandmother Eleanor’s house Starwater on Ember Island in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay suffered storm damage, Nina heads there to oversee the repair and hopefully complete her writing; unaware of what she will find there.

In 1891 Dorset, Matilda and Jasper marry but the ceremony turns tragic when her beloved grandpa dies. Grieving her loss, Tilly obediently follows her husband to the Channel Islands off of Normandy, but instead of solace and loving comfort in Guernsey she finds terror. Fleeing another trauma, Tilly arrives on Ember Island seeking inner serenity. There she becomes the governess to the prison superintendent’s daughter, Nell. Tilly diligently hides her past, but Nell observes everything and keeps journals that she hides all over the house.

Although there is a thematic similarity to Kimberley Freeman’s previous Australian novels (see Lighthouse Bay and Wildflower Hill), the three fully-developed key females provide a fascinating look at two women separated by over a century struggling with similar issues. Rotating the lead between Nina and Tilly, but linked by Nell, Ember Island is an engaging tale focusing on efforts regardless of the era to surmount heart-wrenching tragedy.

Harriet Klausner

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A Dark Song Of Blood-Ben Pastor

April 15, 2014

A Dark Song Of Blood
Ben Pastor
Bitter Lemon Press, Apr 15 2014, $14.95
ISBN: 9781908524300

In 1944 Rome, German Embassy Secretary Fraulein Magda Reiner falls from her apartment window to her death. Italian Police Inspector Sandro Guildi investigates although his superiors, fearing accusations of collaboration with the Nazis as the American military victory in Italy is assured rather soon, insist that National Confederation of Fascist Unions official Ras Merlo killed the now cremated woman.

As Guildi looks into the homicide, he begins to believe someone framed Merlo. Wehrmacht Major Martin Bora surprisingly reappears in his life to assist on the inquiry, which concerns the cop as he does not want to be associated with a German when the Americans take the city. Bora’s wife Benedikta arrives to inform him she filed for divorce as the war ended their five year marriage. While Bora feels gut punched though not shocked; at the boarding house where both reside Guildi meets and is attracted to Francesca Lippi. As the case turns even more complicated with additional killings and ties to the Vatican, Gestapo and other high ranking Germans; Rome increasingly turns violent with the Resistance mounting bolder assaults.

The third Martin Bora WWII drama (see Liar Moon and Lumen) is an intriguing historical that uses a police procedural to enable readers to look inside the heads of those in Rome at a time when the Nazi control is almost over. Suffering from physical ailments and PTSD, Bora feels ancient due to being divided between his moral sense of right and wrong, and patriotism; while Guildi also wants to do the right thing but fears the consequences. Readers will relish this entry in one of the best WWII series.

Harriet Klausner

A Dark Song Of Blood-Ben Pastor

April 15, 2014

A Dark Song Of Blood
Ben Pastor
Bitter Lemon Press, Apr 15 2014, $14.95
ISBN: 9781908524300

In 1944 Rome, German Embassy Secretary Fraulein Magda Reiner falls from her apartment window to her death. Italian Police Inspector Sandro Guildi investigates although his superiors, fearing accusations of collaboration with the Nazis as the American military victory in Italy is assured rather soon, insist that National Confederation of Fascist Unions official Ras Merlo killed the now cremated woman.

As Guildi looks into the homicide, he begins to believe someone framed Merlo. Wehrmacht Major Martin Bora surprisingly reappears in his life to assist on the inquiry, which concerns the cop as he does not want to be associated with a German when the Americans take the city. Bora’s wife Benedikta arrives to inform him she filed for divorce as the war ended their five year marriage. While Bora feels gut punched though not shocked; at the boarding house where both reside Guildi meets and is attracted to Francesca Lippi. As the case turns even more complicated with additional killings and ties to the Vatican, Gestapo and other high ranking Germans; Rome increasingly turns violent with the Resistance mounting bolder assaults.

The third Martin Bora WWII drama (see Liar Moon and Lumen) is an intriguing historical that uses a police procedural to enable readers to look inside the heads of those in Rome at a time when the Nazi control is almost over. Suffering from physical ailments and PTSD, Bora feels ancient due to being divided between his moral sense of right and wrong, and patriotism; while Guildi also wants to do the right thing but fears the consequences. Readers will relish this entry in one of the best WWII series.

Harriet Klausner

Driving Lessons-Zoe Fishman

April 13, 2014

Driving Lessons
Zoe Fishman
Morrow, Apr 8 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9780062059826

Married four years, Sarah and Josh hate the New York grind. When Josh receives an offer to teach at a small liberal arts college in Farmwood, Virginia the thirty-something couple agrees to accept the position, leaving behind Brooklyn and her marketing job.

Sarah hopes to find more to life while fearful of Josh’s desire for children. As terrifying to the native New Yorker is to raise a child, she is just as afraid to drive, though a necessity, for the first time in two decades since there is no public transportation. While Josh loves his job and is very contented with the area, Sarah feels lost as she cannot find work compensable to her experience and education. When her BFF Mona tells her she has cervical cancer that requires a hysterectomy which will leave her barren and perhaps lead to her boyfriend Nate leaving; Sarah returns to the city to be there for her. Back in the Big Apple, Sarah also spends time with her sister-in-law Kate and her new baby nephew Franklin. She notices the pair enjoys being together though the infant leaves his mom exhausted and even at times frustrated. By observing the euphoria and the heartbreak, Sarah knows she must conquer her phobias to achieve whatever she decides she wants out of life.

Though extensively Sarah’s tale, Driving Lessons is a profound look at three realistic flawed women with diverse fears as each thinks the others’ grass is greener (yes A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith). Character driven by the strong portrayal of the females, readers will enjoy Sarah’s sarcastic New York shtick journey to her awakening though her epiphany is expected even before she raced back to New York.

Harriet Klausner

Ten Thousand Things-John Spurling

April 13, 2014

Ten Thousand Things
John Spurling
Overlook, Apr 10 2014, $27.95
ISBN 9781468308327

While sitting on a cold stone floor waiting for judgment, septuagenarian Wang Meng knows the bad times are back as he muses on being arrested for suspicion of conspiracy due to his visiting the art collection of the late prime minister executed five years ago for the same charge he faces. He thinks back over the decades of his life when he ignored his wife’s harangue to better their lot by choosing painting landscapes and a low level bureaucratic job over using his direct family connection to the emperor. During those years Wang watched the once invincible Mongol Dynasty that he and his Great Family ancestry supported collapse into lawlessness until the rise of the Ming Dynasty brought order. Still with all the turmoil, Wang loves to paint nature, which led him to other artists, a teenage Buddhist novice, and White Tigress and her bandits who roamed the countryside.

This enchanting biographical historical fiction is a superb look at fourteenth century chaotic China through the eyes of a renowned influential artist. Though there is some action especially with what is happening in China, readers will appreciate more the sense of walking the mountains alongside of Wang Meng as he captures nature with his inks.

Harriet Klausner

Hotelles-Emma Mars; translated by Alexis Pernsteiner

April 12, 2014

Hotelles
Emma Mars; translated by Alexis Pernsteiner
Harper Perennial, Apr 8 2014, $15.99
ISBN: 9780062274175

In 2008 France, though she insists to herself this is temporary Annabelle drops her dreams of becoming a reporter because she needs money to pay for her mom’s exorbitant medical bills. Thus she becomes a high end paid escort Elle, who over the next year becomes an expert on pleasing men and on the best hotel rooms in town like those at the historical Hotel des Charmes.

When businessman David proposes marriage, Annabelle accepts as she believes her financial problems are over. However, David’s brother Louie turns out to be a client of Elle who uses blackmail to continue their arrangement. This leaves Elle filled with guilt not so much because of the tryst, but more because she loves the way her future brother-in-law pleases her sexually. At the same that she struggles with her desires and relationships with the siblings, someone sends her erotic notes describing her fantasies in detail.

Hotelles is a fabulous erotic romance due to the charmante belle femme and a wonderful unique tour of Paris at its seductive best. Subgenre fans will enjoy Annabelle’s arousal awakening as she finds herself engaged to one brother but turned on by the other.

Harriet Klausner

When The Cypress Whispers-Yvette Manessis Corporon

April 8, 2014

When The Cypress Whispers
Yvette Manessis Corporon
Harper, Apr 1 2014, $25.99
ISBN: 9780062267580

Now thirty-five years old, Daphne finds her once strong belief in the American dream shaken with the murders of her Greek immigrant parents in their Yonkers diner and the vehicular death of her husband by a drunk driver. Fleeing Westchester with her baby Evie, Daphne opens up a successful classy restaurant in Manhattan and recently became engaged to affluent Stephen the banker who approved her initial loan.

They agree to marry on the Greek island of Erikousa; where Daphne’s Yia-yia resides. The widow and her five year old daughter arrive on Erikousa early so that she can plan and arrange her marriage ceremony. However, as memories of loving her time on the island surface, Yia-yia tells her granddaughter and great-grand daughter classic myths in which Daphne feels an affinity to the beleaguered heroines. The only downers in Daphne idyllic return to Greece are her knowing her deceased loved ones would cherish being here; her discomfort with Yianni a Jewish friend of Yia-yia, whose family her grandma and other islanders saved from the Nazis; and fish out of water grumbling Stephen.

This is an entertaining though straight forward drama that looks at whether a second generation assimilated American can find her lost Grecian roots on a warm Greek island or is fated to an unhappy second marriage on a cold New York island . The fully developed single mom and her delightful grandma (mindful of a gender changing Zorba the Greek circa a century later) hold the storyline together. The key islanders are fascinating characters; while Evie behaves too perfect especially in spite of all the emotional tsuris in her young life and Stephen is stereotyped as a cold Manhattan suit.

Harriet Klausner

Paige Turned-Erynn Mangum

April 7, 2014

Paige Turned
Erynn Mangum
Think/NAVPRESS, Apr 1 2014, $14.99
ISBN: 9781612913223

In Texas Paige Alder loves her job as youth intern counseling younger girls. However, her work keeps her so busy that she has not helped her sister Preslee (see Paige Rewritten) or her BFF Layla (see Paige Torn) with their wedding plans as she promised both of them.

Feeling guilt over her lack of providing marital assistance especially since her nature insists she help others even at a cost to herself, Paige also knows her relationship with her BF Tyler remains shaky though she explained to him what he saw with her and her ex-boyfriend Luke. Beginning to have doubts, Paige wonders if Tyler conceals something from her that has nothing to do with Luke.

The third Paige Alder inspirational continues the warm look at a rule follower obsessed person who cannot “just say no” as this time she asks for divine intervention with her personal tsuris re Tyler. Although the entertaining storyline behooves the young adult audience to read the previous two entries in order to better understand the protagonist, series fans will appreciate aptly titled Paige Turned.

Harriet Klausner

Cavendon Hall-Barbara Taylor Bradford

April 6, 2014

Cavendon Hall
Barbara Taylor Bradford
St. Martin’s, Apr 1 2014, $27.99
ISBN: 9781250032355

Since the 1760s, the aristocratic Ingham brood has lived at Cavendon Hall in Yorkshire. For sixteen decades, the Swann family has been their loyal servants at the big house. In 1913 as WWI seems imminent, Lord Charles, his wife Lady Felicity and their six children reside at Cavendon Hall. Meanwhile Swann patriarch Walter is the Earl’s valet and his spouse Alice and their twelve year old daughter Cecily make fashionable clothing for the countess and their four daughters; matriarch Charlotte serves as the estate manager and her nephew Percy is the gamekeeper.

When a neighboring squire’s son Richard Torbett rapes Daphne, her irate parents want satisfaction until the Swann’s talk them out of causing a scandal that will harm sweet Daphne much more than the miscreant. When Daphne becomes pregnant, the plan’s goal remains to protect the innocent victim, but deployment changes to sending her to the continent. That is until family exile, second cousin Hugo Stanton the affluent tycoon, arrives and falls in love with Daphne leading to their marriage. Meanwhile other dangerous events caused by an angry adversary and ultimately the war leave both families wondering about the generations-old affinity between the two families.

This is an engaging Edwardian epic that explores the relationship between upstairs and downstairs families and compares their respective lives on the brink of WWI. The well-written fascinating storyline entertains the audience although the conflict is muted and the motive for the nefarious activity by the obvious villain never explored.

Harriet Klausner

The Ballad Of A Small Player-Lawrence Osborne

April 1, 2014

The Ballad Of A Small Player
Lawrence Osborne
Crown/Hogarth, Apr 1 2014, $25.00
ISBN 9780804137973

At one time a two-bit English lawyer, Doyle obsessively enjoys the near instant win or lose adrenaline rush of playing baccarat at the Macau casinos where one card could mean making a fortune or going broke. A scoundrel, Doyle obtained his original stake to play in the high cost game of chance by embezzling money from a trusting older client back home.

Doyle mostly was losing until recently when his luck changed as he began consistently drawing a “natural nine”. His success brings him celebrity status as compatriots begin calling him “Lord Doyle”. Ignoring the objection of call girl Dao-Ming who cares deeply about him while concerned with his gambling compulsion, Lord Doyle bets his recent winnings on one last draw at the baccarat table.

The Ballad of A Small Player is a fascinating look at gambling addiction played out in an intriguing Chinese environs. Character driven by Doyle and his gambling addicted peers like irate Grandma, this powerful look at obsession will remind readers of movies like The Man with the Golden Arm, The Lost Weekend and Owning Mahowny as the need to bet overwhelms personal ethics and common sense. With a shocking finish, Lawrence Osborne provides fans with a strong morality tale.

Harriet Klausner