Author: Chris Katsaropoulos
Publisher: Luminis Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-1-935462-27-9
Pages: 212
Price: $14.95

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Amelia Geist fell in love as a teenager, and has chosen to remain a virgin in honor of that love. Now an old woman, she pines for the man who left her so many years ago.

Tris Holloway, the man Amelia loved, is caught in an unhappy marriage and is nearing retirement. As he contemplates the years of his life, he can’t help but reflect on the innocent beauty of his time with Amelia.

Holly Schenck, a single mom and hairdresser, meets Amelia just before the older woman’s 50-year high school reunion. As she fixes Amelia’s hair for the event, she schemes to let this stranger babysit her girls so she can have another late night tryst with her bartender lover.

In Fragile, Katsaropolous weaves together these three lives. Using broken sentence fragments to lead the reader from one point of view to another, we see all three fragile beings trying to survive. As each is caught up in his or her own pain, the pain is somehow shared by the others, through the web of humanity.

In reading Fragile, it’s hard not to identify with the broken parts of our own lives. We see deeply into the lives of these three characters, through their thoughts and words. But somehow this web becomes twisted, as strange decisions are made and lives go in unexpected directions. Many unanswered questions remain at the end, as in life and death. But through it all, hope remains for a brighter future.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


Maria’s Tango

Author: Anna Barcos
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction
ISBN: 142510828-8
Pages: 325
Price: $21.97

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Maria has always wanted to be a famous tango dancer, so when Uncle Ruben offers to bring her to Hollywood, she jumps at the chance. She’s just turned 15, but she knows what she wants, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes.

What Maria doesn’t know is that Ruben has other plans for Maria – plans that include dancing in his brothel and turning tricks on the side. And when Maria meets the dashing Dario, her life is turned completely upside down.

Life seldom goes as we plan, and Maria learns this the hard way. Turning to alcohol, sex and drugs, she numbs her feelings and copes as best she can.

It’s hard not to feel for a girl who wants to follow her dreams, but at times Maria comes across as a selfish woman who always puts her own needs ahead of everyone else. Her careless actions hurt those she loves, and puts them very much at risk.

The first half of Maria’s Tango is well-written, but the second half seems jumpy and disjointed, much like Maria’s life has become. Though this story couldn’t have ended any differently, the last chapters felt somewhat out of place. Overall, it’s an interesting and disturbing read, but I felt it could have used a little more polishing before being published.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


Inside Out Girl

Author: Tish Cohen
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary fiction
ISBN: 978-0-06-145295-6
Pages: 317
Price: $13.95

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Rachel Berman has inherited her parents’ magazine, Perfect Parent, and tries to live up to its ideal. But even as she struggles with the idea of publishing articles about special-needs children, Olivia Bean shows up in her life. Olivia’s father, Len, has done the best he could in raising his daughter alone, and still struggles with her Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.

Rachel’s kids can’t believe their mother is dating the father of the weirdest kid in school, the one they call Inside Out Girl. But as this makeshift family gets to know each other, everyone finally comes to realize how special Olivia really is.

When Len faces a personal crisis, he turns to Rachel to be there for his daughter, and Rachel doesn’t disappoint him. And in the process she finally faces a skeleton that’s been haunting her from her own past

Tish Cohen has created a real and believable cast of characters. Heartbreakingly pathetic at times, Olivia is stubborn, funny, and hard not to love. Rachel’s kids, and especially Janie, show tremendous growth and maturity in accepting Olivia into the family. And Rachel learns it’s okay to not always be a perfect parent.

But in the end, it’s Len who will steal your heart as he does everything he can to take care of his daughter, and I couldn’t stop myself from crying as the story came to a close. Tish Cohen handles this sensitive subject masterfully, and I highly recommend this powerfully moving book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


Webs of Power

Author: Darlene Quinn
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Emerald Book Co.
ISBN: 978-1-934572-05-4
Pages: 369
Price: $24.95

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When big business deals are made, the usual players are men. Webs of Power explores the lives of three women affected when a business tycoon threatens to take ownership of a department store giant.

Paige Toddman has it all. Married to Consolidated’s West Coast Division CEO, she has wealth, prestige and time to explore her own interests. Until one day an unexpected surprise comes between her and her husband, threatening to end their marriage once and for all.

Ashleigh McDowell is engaged to the President, and they are about to embark on their new life together when the attempted takeover begins. Her father-figure is still a powerful player in the department store enterprise, and when his daughter and her husband begin to take determined steps against him, Ashleigh needs to protect him.

Viviana DeMornay craves the power that only comes from being associated with the best, and that means selling her soul to the devil – the very man who plans to take over the enterprise that currently employs her. How much of herself is she willing to give up to marry him?

These three fascinating women live through the emotional roller coaster of this takeover, supportive of their men, but caught up in their own needs and desires, as well. As the business deal winds to a close, will they find the happiness they seek?

Darlene Quinn has woven a captivating story that pulls you in, as the web closes in on Consolidated. Short, quick chapters keep the reader turning the page, wanting to see what happens next in these intricate negotiations. Suspenseful and well-written, Webs of Power is a compelling and enjoyable read.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


The Painter From Shanghai

Author: Jennifer Cody Epstein
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Genre: Biographical Fiction
ISBN: 978-0-393-06528-2
Pages: 416
Price: $24.95

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Pan Yuliang, one of China’s finest and most controversial painters, lived in the early part of the 20th century. Forced into prostitution when her uncle sold her to pay for his opium habit, she is later unexpectedly rescued by a man who comes to love her and make her his second wife. Though she is only a concubine, he treats her with love and respect, and encourages her to study painting, both in China and in France.

“…no matter how we long for the past, we are rooted in the present,” Pan Yuliang tells her husband, Pan Zanhua. Jennifer Cody Epstein brings this concept home to us in her use of present tense in telling Yuliang’s story. Based on the limited knowledge of the painter’s life, she has captured this turbulent time period in China, and some of the experiences she imagined Yuliang may have had.

The Painter From Shanghai pulls the reader into Yuliang’s life, sharing the horrors of Hall life, the joy in discovering her ability to paint, and the hunger and loneliness of her life in France. Though most of the public never understood her need to paint nudes, Epstein suggests her monsters were what produced her art. In creating beautiful female bodies on canvas, she may have been able to deal with the memories of offering her body in a way no fourteen year-old girl should.

Haunting, compelling, and masterfully written, The Painter From Shanghai invites the reader into Pan Yuliang’s world. Although this a work of fiction, you’ll feel you’ve had a glimpse into the life of this intriguing and talented woman.

Reviewer: Alice Berger


The Blankenschipf Curse

Author: Jim Murdock
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Infinity Publishing
ISBN: 0-7414-3812-7
Pages: 260
Price: $15.95

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Rube Winters knew he was cursed by the time he turned five years old. Despite this knowledge, there was no way to prepare for the unusual events that kept happening to him, and no way to prevent them.

His only consolation was in finding out his Uncle Billy was also cursed, when Uncle Billy shared the family secret with him. There was just one way to lift the curse, and Rube was determined to find it.

Rube’s misadventures are hilarious and kept me chuckling throughout the story. I especially enjoyed the antics of Moochie Dunlop, a most endearing character who plays a large role in Rube’s life.

The search to remove the curse leads Rube to The Source and a former college professor who has discovered the meaning of life and health. The principles this professor has uncovered could easily be applied to anyone’s life.

The Blankenshipf Curse is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. Its unique message will give the reader something to ponder in his or her own life. I highly recommend this book.

Reviewer: Alice Berger