Thursday, September 12, 2019

Where the Light Enters: A Novel by Sara Donati

Where the Light Enters: A Novel. Sara Donati. Penguin Publishing Group.  September 2019. hb, 672 pp.; ISBN: 9780425271827.

Dr. Sophie Savard and Dr. Anna Savard, Sophie’s cousin and best friend, want to start a medical school and hospital for disadvantaged women in the 1800s.  Both doctors are women of color and have had their past experiences of prejudice and suspicion.  Now, Dr. Sophie’s husband has died of tuberculosis in Europe and she has returned to New York.  She’s had plenty of condolences and her own memories in grief to now process.  But activities in the city quickly garner her interest and involvement. 

A number of deaths have occurred to women who were pregnant, went to a criminal doctor who punished them with surgery, infection and eventual death.  But now that doctor is gone and there are still problems.  The wife of a reputable banker has disappeared and another woman is found dead by very suspicious wounds which lead the investigators to believe the same type of murder has again occurred.  Dr. Anna’s husband, Detective-Sergeant Jack Mezzanotte, asks the cousins to consult on the investigation.  They agree to consult and gradually the story unfolds to show who the captors or kidnappers are and who has once again murdered.

This is a tough and tender story that will grip every reader who is interested in both medicine and crime.  The main characters are financially well-settled but still have enormous compassion for women who seek criminal doctors hoping to end pregnancies or illness.  Women who are mistreated have multiple reasons to seek illicit treatment and the Savard doctors believe education and compassion will change the horrific nature of these losses.  This is a timely subject as the nation is coping with the possibility of abortions becoming illegal as it was fifty years ago and earlier.  It is not too hard to realize that these dark days could become reality again and that there are even now numerous women, both health care professionals and regular women, who seriously are concerned about this issue.  Dr. Anna and her husband Jack, as well as Dr. Sophie stand for the protection of women’s rights.  This would be an excellent novel to use in a book club or to share in other contemporary issue discussions.

The topic is obviously well-research and is presented with all sides of the issues covered.  Sara Donati is a highly-skilled, creative and talented writer.  This, her latest novel, is highly recommended historical fiction!!! Enjoy the read!

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

The Vanished Bride.  Bella Ellis. Penguin Publishing Group.  September 2019; pb, 304 pp.; ISBN #: 9780593099056.

In between writing poetry, novels and stories, Charlotte, Emily and Ann Bronte are looking into a criminal matter.  They call themselves “detectors.” That means there’s no official police designation and no spy attachment.  The nicest part of this novel is that these are talented but ordinary sisters who have talents with weaknesses.  They quarrel with and pick on each other as sisters do but there is a deep abiding and protective love that is rock solid no matter what happens.  They grow up in a time when a woman is a possession and really has absolutely no rights of her own.  However, they are raised by a liberal pastoral father who teaches them otherwise and respects the decisions they make.  So when a friend of theirs, Maddie, tells of a horrible occasion where her mistress has gone missing and all that is left behind is a gross amount of blood all over her bedroom.  Maddie implies that the behavior of Mr. Chester is cruel beyond reason and comes close to being criminal.  So the three sisters decide to become sleuths and tell their father nothing of plans.

Bram, the sisters’ brother, is an enigma of a character in this story.  He helps them during the day and seems strongly supportive.  But his nights are full of drinking himself into oblivion and he seems aimless in life because of a lost love.  However, he does come through in all the right places where woman must be accompanied by a male.  All the characters who loved Mrs. Chester are warm and have nothing but good things to say about her.  So they also will do what they can to find this missing woman.

The solution to the mystery comes after numerous clues are provided with many different interpretations as to meaning and how they fit with the obvious plan. Mr. Chester has a hyperactive brain that imagines wrongs that lead him to jealous and cruel treatment of his brides and everyone else in the house.  Others try to protect the victims from Mr. Chester’s outrageous attacks.

However, the right people will be discovered and the criminal will pay for wrongs committed.  Overall, readers will be pleased with the detective-like activities of these three sisters who vow to do no wrong and always work on the right side of the law.  They are very good “detectors” and the reader hopes they will have other efforts published on their mystery talent skills.  Nicely done, Bella Ellis!

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Passengers by John Marrs

The Passengers: A Novel. John Marrs. Penguin Publishing Group.  August 2019. pb, 352 pp.; ISBN: 9781984806970.

Libby is part of a Vehicle Inquest Jury deciding who is to blame when driver-less vehicles in England are in accidents with driver-controlled vehicles or pedestrians.  The outcome angers her because the driver-controlled vehicles are always cleared.  Now Libby and we share a phenomenal nightmare.  Eight driver-controlled vehicles are hacked by an unknown enemy; each of the people in those locked vehicles are told they will die in two-and-a-half hours. 

Libby and her jury peers are told they must choose who must die and which single person be allowed to live.  This whole scenario is obviously pre-planned and set up as each person has many reasons to live but all have at least one horrendous part of background which would negate the innocence of his or her life.  The disclosure of each biography plus the revelation of dark secrets is equal in shock value to the participants, public social media audience and each reader.  One is married to a pedophile, one is married to a bigamist, one has a dead husband in the trunk of the car, one is an abused illegal immigrant, one is bent on suicide and more. 

The premise of the novel will eventually be explained albeit condemned.  This novel will force readers to think about the Artificial Intelligence (AI) behind driver-less vehicles and about the decision to grant justice or injustice on those who survive such collisions.  Jack, the MP running the Vehicle Inquest Jury, is motivated by personal greed and is very much part of decisions that are immoral and downright injustice.  His end in this plot is as frightening as the rest of the novel.

Catch up on your sleep before you begin this novel because you will be gripped by its hair-raising plot and unable to stop reading, even while the tension mounts over and over with each changing scene and challenge.  It’s important satire but also a warning that AI needs to be monitored, maintained and controlled because it’s not as objective and detached as it seems.  Science can be deleterious and damning if not examined and measured on how it affects individuals and the public within society. It has criminal possibilities as well as technological progress.  As in this novel, You Decide!

Mind-blowing plot, carefully crafted and a nail-biting, hair-raising story.  A truly thrilling read!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Perfect Son: A Novel by Lauren North

The Perfect Son: A Novel.  Lauren North. Penguin Publishing Group.  August 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781984803849.

How far will grief take over the mind and heart of its victim?  Tessa Clarke has just lost her husband in a tragic airplane accident.  Now at the beginning of this story, she wakes up in the hospital with a knife wound in her stomach and the realization that her son Jamie is missing.  The plot goes back to months before Jamie’s birthday and his disappearance.  Many have reached out to Tess in her grief but she remains totally incommunicado.  The only person to approach her is her late husband’s brother, Ian, who claims that he loaned Mark a huge amount of money that he needs repaid now.  Tessa is the Executrix of her husband’s will but hasn’t given any thought to a will or the future.

All of a sudden, Tessa finds some temporary relief in a visit from Shelly, a grief counselor, who herself lost a child and has been through this grief process.  She knows exactly what Tessa is thinking and feeling, and that is some small comfort as Tessa struggles to keep her head together for her son.  Jamie however has reverted to his former shy nature and fear of anything out of the normal occurrences of everyday.  He, however, also enjoys Sherry’s visits.

The story plays out and the reader discovers a mystery lurking that she cannot handle even though once it does play out forces her to wake up to how her grief is destroying her life and perhaps even forcing the loss of her son.  But that truth takes a while to evolve as it does.

Lauren North is a psychologist who knows the mind and hearts of her characters.  Thing tie up a bit pat by the end but it’s satisfactory to the reader who has been taking sides with the characters since this nightmare began.  Nicely crafted, Lauren North – a mysterious, touching and sincere read!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Ellie and the Harpmaker: A Novel by Hazel Prior

Ellie and the Harpmaker: A Novel.  Hazel Prior. Penguin Publishing Group.  August, 2019; pb, 336 pp.; ISBN #: 9781984803788.

Ellie on a wandering walk in the Exmoor country finds a Harpmaker Barn owned by Dan who creates Celtic harps that produce gorgeous music.  The story is narrated from the points of view of Ellie and Dan.  Dan is a sensitive soul who loves nature, the rocky pebbles that he uniquely places at the bottom of each harp he builds, and culture that is in touch with beauty. 

Ellie is married to Clive, a man who enjoys his work, football and food.  He loves Ellie but has no place in him for the loneliness she feels and her craving for expressing the beauty in the world she perceives.  However, all that is about to change as she meets Dan, receives a harp he has made and begins to take lessons which she loves.  But Ellie’s curiosity leads her into trouble as she perceives something in Dan’s life that he needs to know.  That in turn sets off Ellie’s conflict with Clive, who believes Ellie has been unfaithful to him.  Clive makes no accusations but stays cold and distant.

Meanwhile Dan is making friends with someone very close to him and a new life is beginning.  It is only when Ellie tells him that Clive has thrown her out that their future together becomes a happy, fulfilling reality.  Ellie now has the opportunity to become who she really is, allowing her inner world to blend with her Exmoor reality – a dream come true!

This is a lovely story of two people who must overcome who they are not to venture into a new possibility.  The conflicts are sad but develop as they must.  Some changes are painfully necessary for dreams to come true!  Delightful romantic, contemporary fiction!!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Life and Other Inconveniences: A Novel by Kristan Higgins

Life and Other Inconveniences: A Novel. Kristan Higgins. Penguin Publishing Group.  August 2019. pb, 448 pp.; ISBN: 9780451489425.

Genevieve London has had a successful life but a very unhappy one.  She lost her son Sheppard who suddenly disappeared and wasn’t found even after many years.  Then her husband died.  She raised her granddaughter Emma after the suicide death of Emma’s mother.  Emma became pregnant at 18 years old and gave birth to Riley, the joy of her life, but Genevieve threw Emma out of the house.

Emma hasn’t communicated with Genevieve once in many years but now receives a message to come as her grandmother is dying.  It’s a perfect time to go to Sheerwater, Connecticut as Riley is being harassed by so-called friends in High School. However, Emma thinks she owes her grandmother nothing and doesn’t want to seem like she’s waiting for Genevieve to die so she can inherit her fortune.  She finally agrees to go for Riley’s sake and let her daughter decide what she thinks about this relative she’s never known.

This then is the story of a family who will be reunited, get to know each other as they are in today’s world, and plan for a future.  It’s a lovely story with some very funny moments.  Riley and Genevieve get along and become very close and Genevieve puts up with Riley’s snappy retorts and frankly cold comments about the way Genevieve treats family.   Emma, on the other hand, finds work at a local home, where her sister Hope is a resident, and meets a man who’s trying to be a single parent of a daughter who’s a pro at throwing long, long tantrums.

The story is narrated from the perspective of each character which fills in details about the inner characters as well as some mysterious gaps for the reader.  This is a straight-from-the hip account in which the inner thoughts and feelings of each character stands out to form a complete story.  Genevieve is grateful for the presence of her family as she is gradually declining from brain cancer and has short and long periods of losing awareness of where and who she is, as well as about those around her.   The end is a surprise but a welcome one as relationships fall the way they will, without any false expectations!  Very nice tale skillfully presented!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Mirador: A Novel by James Jennings

Mirador: A Novel. James Jennings. Greenpoint Press.  August 2019. pb, 471 pp.; ISBN: 9780990619444. 

In the early 1990s the United States made an agreement with Canada and Mexico known as NAFTA or North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.  It was supposed to establish trade in which the Mexican common people would benefit as much as business owners and employees.  Nothing, however, changed. The peasants realized the deal was a sham and began to demonstrate and protest against the role of government and big corporations and insisted on the institution of democracy and free rights for all Mexicans including the majority of peasants who were literally being starved to death in poverty wages.  The military stepped up their vigilante behavior and began kidnapping protestors and peasants, who became known as victims or desaparecido or disappeared ones.

Nate and Sarah have been married for a short time.  Nate is a successful IT businessman and Sarah is a nurse.  A visiting pastor has been sermonizing in America and recruits Nate and Sarah to travel to Mirador in the State of Chiapas in Mexico.  Nate doesn’t really want to go but does so because he known Sarah will go without him and will not be swayed from her decision. He believes he must go to protect her.  Early in their journey, they meet soldiers of El Piton who are arresting indigenistas or Zapatistas, those who are rebelling and protesting.  They are peasants who have had enough of being kidnapped and killed.  The officer known as El Piton commits atrocities such as our young couple will experience.  It matters not whether one is Mexican or a foreigner for El Piton’s power is subject to no authority.  In a horrific scene, Nathan watches as El Piton kills his wife with a gunshot to the head after taunting her with questions of whether or not she believes in Jesus Christ.  One cannot truly believe this deed yet riveting pages describe the stages of Nate’s grief, sorrow, rage and confusion.  Finally, after burying his wife, he returns to Mirador, believing his grief has no boundary or end unless he continues to carry out the mission he and his wife initially agreed to complete.  Thus he begins setting up a website for the Zapatistas, widely promulgating the rebellious demand for freedom and democracy of the indigenistas.  He will pay the ultimate price and knows he will but believes that the mission is now larger than individual lives or motives.  It is unknown how many martyrs have been sacrificed to stop this now global mission but the War Against Forgetting is still active today and may be appreciated at or 

This novel is based on reality that must be known, appreciated and spread.  James Jennings is a writer thoroughly familiar with this cause for life and liberty and presents the reality in fiction in hopes of creating world-wide awareness and pressure to compel change and hope for those who have no other voice.  “Lust for life and a horror of losing it” fuel this movement. Highly recommended reading crafted with historical, social, military, economic and human rights details.  A MUST read for those who dare to hope for a better dream for the people of Mirador and elsewhere in Mexico!!!

The Chelsea Girls: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Chelsea Girls: A Novel.  Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group.  July, 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781524744588.

The Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan has a long history of being home for numerous famous writers, playwrights, authors, and artists of varying kinds.  After serving in the USO in Europe during WWII, Hazel Riley and Maxine Mead are staying there while preparations are ongoing for the opening of Hazel’s play Wartime Sonata.  It’s a play about the fierce loyalty and dedication of American soldiers during WWII.  Hazel has discovered she may not be a talented actress Like Maxine but Hazel definitely has a gift for writing and producing plays.  Maxine has become famous as a gorgeous and talented actress but her life is beleaguered by her boyfriend Arthur, someone who floats between being a great lover and abusive destroyer.  It’s Hazel who protects Maxine in her darkest moments and mistakes. 

However, all of this is about to be drastically changed with Senator Joe McCarthy’s program to out all Communist card-holders or supporters.  The FBI are suddenly following Hazel and many of the actors in her world.  Eventually Maxine mistakenly gives Hazel’s name to an FBI agent as just an associate of the Communist party years ago, but it’s enough to do irreparable damage!  Their friendship is tarnished forever.  Will it be possible to save Hazel’s brilliant play and career?

Fiona Davis depicts this time with details that elicit the same fear in the reader that these artists endured as investigations, interviews, and black lists moved forward relentlessly condemning those associated with a Communist association.  The resulting taint left a residual negativity that ruined careers, lives and relationships with no possibility of escape.  This is not one of America’s finest hours and Fiona Davis depicts the atmosphere and facts with stunning accuracy, right up to the tragically stunning end.  Hazel will endure but will never be the same again!

Well-told historical fiction by a highly skilled author that is a must read! 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Wizard's Choice by Maya Tyler

A Wizard’s Choice. Maya Tyler. Tirgearr Publishing.  July 2019. pb, 170 pp.; ASIN: B07SSVX7DQ.

Kurtis Warde has to make a choice – to live as a wizard or a human.  However, he feels very obligated to his grandfather, who has raised him and protected him from the evils of the feud of centuries between the Wizards and the Faeries.  Kurtis first meets Dee, a vampire, who introduces him to a world of phenomenal sex.  He is obviously besotted by her but she sees their initial sexual encounter as just that and no more.  Kurtis is haunted by the fact that he has no idea who his mother and father are but that is about to change.

He begins to visit Alina, a Life Coach, who has the gift of reading auras and spiritually connecting to her clients with her intuitive gifts of connection.  She quickly connects Kurtis to the fact that his ancestors were the Annunaki, beings from space who were the wizards and faeries of old.  This connection unleashes the continuation of the lethal feud between the two groups and previous spells of protection no longer protect Kurtis and Alina.

Kurtis will soon know his parents but may not be able to heal the strife from which his grandfather has been protecting him all these years. A wizard uprising led by the Bauer family began to cover their plans to overthrow the Delafontaines. Kurtis was related to the faeries who nearly annihilated the family who are actually ancestors of Alina.  This then is the story of how Kurtis will act to end the feud of centuries with the help of Alina and his family.

A Wizard’s Choice is an interesting read, a romance, adventure, thriller, and magical tale full of complex characters.  Modern technology is combined with ancient spells and magic to protect characters from the nonstop conflict.  The choice turns out to be so much larger than Kurtis or his grandfather had imagined! Rather than end on a definitive note, it is clear at the end of this novel that there will be more novels in this series (this is the second in the series, although it may be read as a stand-alone novel). Nicely crafted story, Maya Tyler!

If You Want to Make God Laugh: A Novel by Bianca Marais

If You Want to Make God Laugh: A Novel.  Bianca Marais. Penguin Publishing Group.  July 2019; pb, 448 pp.; ISBN #: 9780735219311.

It’s the late 1900s.  Nelson Mandela is about to become the first African President of South Africa, but apartheid is still very much rampant in the minds of white Afrikaan citizens.  Splinter rebel groups have fought for freedom for years; now some of those groups are out to wipe out all blacks.  In this time of new freedom and old prejudices, three women wind up living together.  Zodwa is a young pregnant woman whose failures have given her mother tremendous grief.  Her brother was part of the Inkatha Freedom Group and is considered dead but his body, living or dead, has never been found.  Now Zodwa will never achieve her dreams of being educated and free.

Two sisters, Ruth and Delilah, are seeking to fashion a life of agreement but past memories in both white women haunt the present.  Ruth was a stripper and prostitute who has been married and divorced three times.  Delilah was a convert to the Catholic faith and fell in love with a priest who later abuses her.  She has a son who becomes a priest and later dies under the dominance of his father.  Delilah would do anything to see her son and discover the truth about their separation.  Meanwhile Zodwa gives birth but her mother gives away the child.  By coincidence, she finds him and agrees to work for his foster parents, Ruth and Delilah.  All three live together with their funny bantering, highly sarcastic bickering and a sense of need that brings redemption to all of their lives.

If You Want to Make God Laugh is an uplifting, solid story that is crafted well and includes a huge segment of African history that has not been well-known up to now, the period of reconciliation led by Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the plague of HIV disease that led to an AIDS crisis.  Change is a process, not a miraculous moment or miracle.  Yet many miracles happen in this tale revealing tremendous violence, sexuality, romance, Church abuse, forgiveness and growth into a new life.  You will never forget this amazing story.  Bianca Marais is a writer to watch and relish with this novel and hopefully with what will follow! Congratulations on this story of relentless love and transformation!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Layover by David Bell

Layover.  David Bell. Penguin Publishing Group.  July 2, 2019; pb, 416 pp.; ISBN #: 9780440000877.

Midway through this memorable story, Joshua Field remembers the quote about the “unexamined life” is not worth living.  During the enfolding plot that follows, Joshua realizes that he has fallen into all of his choices without much independent reflection or decision-making. Thus, he is quite amazed at the words of the woman, Morgan, whom he meets at an airport, when she tells him to quit his job and do what he really wants to do.  She is appealing and evasive at the same time.  Her behavior indicates she is in trouble but after kissing him she tells him she will never see him again.

As Joshua continues, he decides to skip his flight and join hers but is totally flummoxed when she acts as if she never met him.  Later she calls and apologizes.  The story evolves to Joshua following her and learning that indeed she is in trouble.  That trouble involves her former work situation, being treated poorly and the theft of a valuable which she needs to pay for her mother’s hospice care.  Joshua truly grows to care for her but realizes she is as ephemeral as a passing cloud. However, for once, he doesn’t run away and commits to following this mystery through to its conclusion.

It also turns out that her former boss’s brother is more involved in this trouble than just a familial interest.  The discovery of a murderer will follow. 

By the time Joshua meets his father at the end of this account, they have a new relationship, one borne of truth and honesty. 

Layover is a fine mystery for all lovers of the genre and a multilayered approach about fulfilling one’s dreams!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Lions of the Sky by Paco Chierici

Lions of the Sky. Paco Chierici. Braveship Books. Copyright 2018. $26.99; hb, 292 pp.; ISBN: 9781640620674.

Being a Top Gun fighter pilot is not for the timid.  It’s fiercely difficult; that’s why these men and women are being tested and trained to be fighter pilots are going through real and simulated scenarios.  The action of lack of action can mean instant injury and/or death. Enter the cockpit of an F/A-18 Super Hornet and feel the force of gravity on take-off.  This team are not loners; they’re highly dependent on each other for survival.  Sam Richardson is the leader.  Sam’s dealing with a problem; he’s got two females in this latest division. He had become close to a former female pilot who died in an airplane crash.  The questions haunting Sam are did she cause the pilot error and was it because she was a weaker female pilot?  Sam has to unlearn that error in thinking because it so severely affects the current women being trained to fly in battle missions.  There are nail-biting scenes galore that are truly thrilling adventures that are so enjoyable.  Also one experiences many drinking sessions, sharing of meals, sharing of training – supportive and challenging, sad moments at funerals, gifting of hilarious and serious nicknames, on-shore leaves for officers and trainees, etc.  I absolutely loved this novel and learned so much during it.  The author is a real pilot with over 20 years of experience.  The conflict these men and women are getting ready for is a death-dealing one in the South China Sea where China is preparing to do battle with Taiwan and the Philippines over a slew of islands.  Not a training session – Paco Chierici knows how to depict the real deal!  Highly recommended historical fiction of the 21st century!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Off the Grid: A Mystery by Robert McGaw

Off the Grid: A Mystery.  Robert McCaw. Oceanview Publishing.  July 2, 2019; pb, 304 pp.; ISBN #: 9781608093618.

On the main island of Hawaii lie numerous fields of lava-strewn, barren ground that have destroyed almost all homes, buildings, and cars in the path of exploding volcanoes spread throughout the Big Island. The mystery begins when a tattered piece of cloth leads to the remains of a man who has obviously been tortured before he was murdered and then destroyed in a horrific explosion when a truck and car collide.  A blood-curdling scream is heard as Chief Detective Koa responds to the scene but is followed by an explosion that completely destroys the car which had held the screaming woman.  So begins the hunt for the planners of what quickly seems a planned murder of both victims.

Meanwhile, an election is looming for governor and one of the campaigner’s policies involves drastic cuts in the police department, including laying off one of Koa’s peers who lost his legs in a work-related criminal investigation.  Smithy is twenty-one months away from a pension, one Koa and their peers believe is well-deserved.  There’s also something strange about the way the would-be governor, the mayor and the head of the police are cozying up with each other that goes beyond the usual political machinations.

This then is mystery driven by seemingly insignificant but related past facts.  What is a former Navy Seal doing with spending hours growing variations of orchids.  What is his girlfriend, a former spy, doing with boxes of money that arrive regularly from China?  Who are the goons that try to insert themselves in the investigation supposedly on behalf of the CIA in Langley, Washington? 

Koa has his own secrets, ones that he has sublimated into a hunger for seeking justice wherever he finds it questioned or abused.  He does not brook fools or interference, even with supposedly patriotic or noble motivations.  The struggle will reach all the way back to the beginning of the Iranian nuclear arms policy and a number of American and Chinese spies involved in the Kosovo crisis of the 1990s. 

Koa has unbelievable but remarkable detective skills and leaves no stone unturned in his search for the truth and justice regarding these two murders.  He is well-connected and capable of making connections where others would fail to tread.  This is remarkable international thriller plot that will more than satisfy others who love to read this particular genre.  Injustice ranges from Indonesian killer goons to the top of CIA and Chinese politicians.  

Off the Grid is fine historical and mystery fiction.  Well done, Robert McCaw.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry by Richard Kirshenbaum

Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry.  Richard Kirshenbaum. St. Martin’s Press.  June, 2019; pb, 320 pp.; ISBN #: 9781250150950.

Two beauty industry icons are at war in both personal and entrepreneur affairs.  They are Josephine Herz and Constance Gardiner.  So what does it take to rise to such a level of rivalry and glamor?  This is their story, which includes their amazing ideas about beauty that went beyond popular ideas of how women could dress in the most attractive style possible and wear a fragrance to enchant everyone around the wearer. 

Josephine Herz is out to offer beauty salons where one could get a full-day spa treatment that would enhance one’s skin and hair appearance.  Her goal was to make women feel like royalty and to attract higher-end customers in society’s eyes.  She always hired the most talented staff including the African-American assistant, CeeCee, who stayed with her as brilliant aide and lover, until an ultimate betrayal (since being homosexual was illegal during the 1930s in America).  CeeCee then moved her talents to the competition.

Constance Gardiner’s business began with door-to-door saleswomen who were enabled to become their own part-time businesswomen, earning up to 40% profit.  They were highly skilled and trained sales personnel who knew how to make every housewife gradually open up to exposing what they had and what they needed.  Ultimately, they were convinced that the pretty colors and colorful shades of makeup would give them that extra “something” that would enliven their marriages or lovers. 

Each woman was ashamed of her origins and Josephine tortured by her failure to extract one sister from war-torn Poland.  Constance always wanted to be more than she was and defied the era’s anti-Semitic tendencies.  Pride and ego were everything and kept them moving forward despite the weaknesses they displayed in their choice of aides, friends and lovers.

Both women open salons around the world and monitor their success and occasional flaws.  After Josephine dies, the Gardiner business sues for a stolen mascara product – a la CeeCee – but in the end, Constance has to admit that their rivalry was actually a parallel journey to be toasted in victory!!!!

Richard Kirshenbaum has crafted an account of the best and worst in the lives of the beauty icons of the early twentieth century, sparkling with descriptions of their virtues and vices, their friends and rivals, their brilliant discoveries and their hatred of the competition’s successful development.  It’s a grand read which would make a phenomenal movie.  For those who love style, fashion, business, makeup, salons, and more, enjoy the dramatic ride of Rouge….

The Good Sister: A Novel by Gillian McAllister

The Good Sister: A Novel. Gillian McAllister. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright June 2019, pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539391.

Martha and Becky Blackwater are extremely close sisters.  However, all that closeness is blown to bits when Martha’s eight-week-old baby, Layla, is found dead while in Becky’s care.  Becky quit her job so become Layla’s nanny.  The death of Layla, though, exposes many aspects of Becky’s life that might be construed by the jury at the trial to indicate Becky was at fault.

The chapters are narrated by the Blackwater family, acquaintances, neighbors and others who knew both sisters.  The author does a marvelous job at depicting the thoughts and feelings of these narrators during the trial with a sensitive touch.  Martha is fraught with guilt about returning to work on the charity group she created plus guilt at leaving a daughter who suffered from reflux from birth and spent most of her awake time crying from discomfort.  Becky is overwhelmed with this new job but feels too guilty to admit it; instead, she descends into drinking too much and too frequently, to the point that her child Xander is frequently afraid of her.  Others see warning signs of danger, including yelling from Becky’s home at odd times of day and night.

The parents of both sisters are anxious but try to be supportive of both sisters.  They have lost a grandchild but love their children.  No one seems to know the truth of what happened, that is until the very end of the story.  It’s unforgettable when this secret is revealed.  All still have to learn to live with the loss and the aftermath in this breach of trust and love that almost destroys an entire family.

A memorable, finely-crafted novel, The Good Sister is a good read about relationships and what challenges do to them in the present and future.  It’s also a warning about making false assumptions from evidence that is highly subjective.  Every situation is unique and above-second-guessing.  Nicely done, Gillian McAllister!

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel.  Jeanne Mackin. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019; hb, 352 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101990544.

“Clothes…are moods, desires, the quality of our souls and our dreams made visible.”  Of color – “If blue is the color of paradox, and red the color of life and death and the passion between beginnings and endings, then yellos is the color what is most precious…of sunshine, of gold, of sins’ halos…the color of eternity…” and so much more.

Lily Sutter, overwhelmed by grief for her dead husband, visits her brother Charlie in Paris, France in 1938.  Charlie is in love with a married woman who want Lily to accompany them on their nights out in Parisian society.  German officers are a constant presence with war looming in the minds and hearts of everyone; however, they party, dine, and spend money galore knowing that drastic changes lie in the near future.  Lily will meet someone unexpected eventually but go through so many challenges and problems before that chance at love occurs.

Lily is invited by Elsa Schiaparelli to work for her as an artist who paints backgrounds for her designer shows each season.  Elsa and Coco Chanel are constant and virulent opponents in the world of fashion design. 

The two dominant themes running through every page of this delicious, sumptuous story are the beauty of fashionable clothing and designs and the unique personalities vying for superiority.  Sometimes that competition comes close to murderous disaster.  Anyone in love with color and clothes will fall in love with these sensual, rich descriptions of styles created to present a theme such as those of carnivals, seasons, astrology and so much more.  Colors are blended with brilliant jewels and scarves, handbags, hats, etc. to enchant the eye and shape of a wearer. The reader wants to see more from these two astonishingly talented fashion designers. So competitive are the designers’ introductory shows that scouts watch for anyone taking notes or making drawings to put in the press ahead of other writers. Lily’s artistic talents add brilliance to each collection.

Elsa is a rabid hater of fascism and Coco uses the ever-present Germans for what she later knows may be dire circumstances needing protection and survival. Heartbreak, however, follows for so many.  Elsa has an independent daughter, Gogo, who initially seems a spoiled brat but when necessary becomes Elsa’s greatest supporter and strength. 

The Last Collection… is glorious historical fiction superbly presenting character and personalities that each reader will remember for a very long time!

Irreversible Damage - The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series - A Novel by JL Ruiz

Irreversible Damage: The Katie Suarez Social Justice Series: A Novel. JL Ruiz. WPR Publshing.  May 2019. pb, 218 pp.; ISBN #: 9781889379944.

Katie, the heroine of this novel, is a Mexican-American raised by two Mexican lawyers in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.  This is her tragic and eventually positive story of how President Trump’s political campaign against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who are “Dreamers” has yielded horrific, tragic results for families, friends and acquaintances.  It all begins with the deportation of a Mexican for not having proper immigration papers, an act that destroys his family.  The author within this novel does a superb job of explaining how Mexicans began their history of high art and culture by the polices of Spanish invaders who ruined the reputation of Mexicans to less than second-class citizens.  This is the same attitudes and though processes that began in America under Trump, a program devised to portray Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers and criminals.  It’s a policy that was strengthened by false advertising in the news media and elsewhere.  It was cemented by Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona’s actions of deliberately arresting and deporting Mexicans.  It was approved by those who found these actions united their basest beliefs which now had public approval.  It turned people into prejudiced individuals who really didn’t need or use reason to confirm their biases.

Katie’s family became over fraught time riddled with argumentation and fragmentation.  A young man, Mark, is convicted of a sexual crime because of the prejudiced influence of a school bully.  Mark is murdered in prison and her parents wind up divorced because of the indescribable grief and fragmentation.  Katie’s school project is given a poor grade because the teacher cannot move past her own prejudices about the low status and behavior of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. 

This then is how Katie is first overwhelmed by phenomenal pain, anger and sad frustration but then rises up like a phoenix from the ashes of her tragic life to fight for unification of people despite their cultural diversity.  It’s an unforgettable story because it is so well-researched, accurate and truthful about the current state of Americans who have been fed a pack of false lies and biased news reports.  Katie becomes a lawyer who forms several anti-defamation groups.  We are all equal and deserve to treat and be treated in that reality; this is a must read for young adults and adults.  It should be mandatory reading in high schools and colleges.  Its accounts and educational advice will and should influence American government and politics today and in years to come!  Highly, highly recommended reading – MUST reading!  It is an American story about us all!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People.  Louise Candlish. Penguin Publishing Group.  June, 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451489142.

Lowland Avenue is an upper middle class street in a perfect neighborhood, where the residents get along and cherish the Sunday street rules which ban parking and establish a place where children can draw in the streets, ride bikes, skateboard and all in all play without fear of approaching danger from encroaching transportation.
But the peacefulness and perfection are about to disappear.

For Darren and Jodi, a young couple, move into the neighborhood.  Their noise of blaring rock music at all hours of day and night along with their car business manifest in dozens of cars and vans parked on the lawn and around the street immediately draw the ire and complaints of their neighbors.  Efforts at talking out the problem result in the hurling of foul language and angry diatribes. 

At first there are efforts to band together but it turns out that nothing being done is illegal. But the spreading of the neighborly hate is fast spreading through the internet and yielding some protesting articles in  a local newspaper.  However, all of this turns ugly very fast with no change looming on a street fast moving toward attitudes that could become very dangerous.

Finally, a disaster happens with the collapse of a scaffold for renovations and the death of a resident on the street.  Accusations fly and now it’s hard to figure out who is throwing legitimate protests and threats of a response and what turns out to be another death before the end of this riveting but virulently angry novel.

What is most amazing is how what starts out as a disagreement quickly destroys the peace of home owners, frays the tempers and marriages of some, and elicits a response that becomes criminal. Astonishing and violent story that doesn’t end soon enough!

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. Roselle Lim. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019. pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781984803252.

Natalie Tan returns home to Chinatown in San Francisco after the death of her mother or Ma-ma.  Her Mom was agoraphobic, never leaving her home until the day she died.  Her grandmother or Laolao was famous for the Chinese restaurant she successfully ran in Chinatown, cooking authentic Chinese dishes that fellow neighbors, families and visitors relished and which they sorely miss.  But the neighborhood is now in a crisis and in danger of disappearing with each bankruptcy or sale that occurs!  Natalie, however, has a rich and audacious dream, an achievable goal albeit fraught with immense challenges!

On opening the restaurant doors, Natalie is struck by the deteriorated condition of the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.  Her response? “A revered goddess shouldn’t be treated this way.” It’s clear that Natalie is rejecting her mother’s avid belief in ghosts and demons.  At the same time, a Chinese realtor is banging on the door, intensely and immediately trying to get Natalie to sell the restaurant.  Natalie is made of tougher stuff, although she certainly doesn’t realize it yet. 

Great food with beautiful music makes for a phenomenal combination that makes people, especially Chinese people, happy and successful.  A neighbor gives Natalie a book of Laolao’s recipes – not just any book of recipes but dishes that if cooked just right will bring healing and happiness to the person eating this blessed dish, whether it be of savory dumplings, scallion pancakes, succulent dishes with oysters and so much more.  Natalie also finds a picture of her grandmother and is told a prophecy that Natalie will do the same thing. 

This is the outrageous and oh so beautiful plot of this simple yet profound story, and Natalie sets about making it happen.  For those who are adventurous, the novel also holds recipes of the best of the dishes Natalie prepares.

And to add to the sparkling excitement of this venture is a romantic element for which Natalie is now ready. 

Some might say this is a simplistic story but the ideas behind the preparation of exotic and exquisite dishes, as well as familiar selections, is something desperately needed in these fraught and constantly challenging times.  Roselle Lim gets my vote of confidence for a lovely story that will capture the interest – and appetite – of many, many readers.  Oh, and would love, love, love to see more about Natalie in the future! Happy Reading and Eating because you will be hungry during this memorable read!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Dreams of Falling by Karen White

Dreams of Falling. Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2018; hb. 416 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451488411.

Ivy, Larkin, Margaret, Cecee, Bitty and a host of their former friends fill these pages with mysteries and secrets!

Larkin left Georgetown, South Carolina for New York nine years ago but gets a telephone call noting that her mother Ivy is missing.  While she is traveling home, Ivy is found, fallen through a rotted plank of a staircase in their old plantation home.  Close to the house are moss-covered trees in which one puts ribbons which are inscribed with one’s dreams.  There, the characters discover there are ribbons newly placed which hold mystifying messages or dreams. Who placed them there and what do the ribbon messages mean?

The plot in this latest novel by Karen White is simple and yet oh so complex.  Larkin obviously felt very insecure and incapable when she lived here as a child.  However, everyone else remembers her as a forward, more than capable and amusing child and teen, to the point that her strengths made others feel less capable and even inferior.  So the memories of her former friends emerge more as confessions, envy and slightly critical of her for leaving.  South Carolinian relationships seem quite binding and even at times slightly oppressive which adds to the mystery in each scene as it unfolds.

Ivy never recovered from losing Ellis, her first husband and deepest love; her artistic abilities and kindness to all are noteworthy.  Cecee is the preacher’s daughter who along with the others went on a phenomenal trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when a teen that changed her life forever.  Bitty, another artist, seems to be a follower but has her own past relationships and dreams that never quite unfolded as she wanted.

As the tales unfold about the past, will new romantic interests emerge?  Will Ivy come out of unconsciousness or not?  Larkin spends a great deal of time discovering things about her mother from other people.  As she talks to her unconscious mother in the hospital, Ivy is internally hearing it all and responding mentally.  Only when these dreams, scenes and discoveries are fulfilled in the way they must can each character truly let go of the past and embrace the present.

Dreams of Falling is another lovely story penned by the talented Karen White!  This is fine, interesting and endearing historical and contemporary fiction for all to thoroughly enjoy.  Nicely crafted and recommended reading!