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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Used to Know That: Civil War - Fred DuBose



Released April 2011

RD Trade Publishing

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I Used to Know That: Civil War offers a detailed look into facts regarding the Civil War. The book begins with the Antebellum Period and continues to the Civil War and the Reconstruction. Not only do you get a who's who of key figures, but you also get a glimpse into details usually skipped in history books, such as the types of clothing worn by certain people.

I hated history in school. It wasn't until I started reading books voraciously that I found myself fascinated with the past, the Civil War being a favorite time period. Reading I Used to Know That: Civil War helped me understand the events leading up to the war and the affects of the war and the country following the war. This really is a useful guide that students and adults alike will both enjoy and walk away having learned a lot.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

She Makes It Look Easy - Marybeth Whalen



Released June 2011

www.marybethwhalen.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Moving to a new neighborhood with three rambunctious boys isn't easy for Ariel Baxter. Her husband's new job means he's away on business trips frequently. Things pick up when her new neighbor Justine Miller befriends her.

Justine is seemingly perfect. Her house is organized. She bakes constantly. In fact, she makes everything she feeds her family. There's no packaged food at Justine's house. Soon Justine invites Ariel into her clutter-free world by setting Ariel up with her organizational book for managing everything.

Justine's not as perfect as she seems though. Her marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be. As Ariel soon learns, Justine doesn't really know a thing about friendship and certainly has flaws that force Ariel to realize who her true friends are.

I really enjoyed She Makes It Look Easy. I started reading it during a thunderstorm that had my cats freaking out in the wee hours yesterday morning and ended up spending the next 2.5 hours engrossed in the story. It's a shame that Ariel is so dependent on Justine because the reader quickly realizes what a manipulator she really is. Watching Ariel grow and realize her mistakes is refreshing.

I didn't read Marybeth Whalen's previous novel, The Mailbox. I've heard it is also fantastic and am tempted to find a copy. I know I'll love the writing style. She's definitely an author to watch.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blindsighted Karin Slaughter



Released June 2011

www.karinslaughter.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Dr. Sara Linton splits her days as a pediatrician and working as Grant County's coroner. She's forced to work closely with her ex-husband, Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver. Running late for lunch with her sister, Sara receives a cryptic postcard that brings back memories she'd like to forget. Brushing things aside, she heads to the local diner. There she stumbles upon a local professor named Sibyl Adams who's been raped and butchered. Sibyl dies in Sara's arms.

Sibyl's twin sister Lena happens to be a police officer. Despite his reservations, Jeffrey allows her to work the case under his supervision. When a second victim is found on Sara's car, they realize they're working with a serial killer who will stop at nothing.

I read lots of mysteries and love to try to guess the killer's identity before it's revealed. About half way through Blindsighted, I had the killer nailed. I admit I didn't know why at that point, but I did know who. Despite this, I was glued to the pages. I'm a fan of Kathy Reich's Temperance Brennan. I used to read Patricia Cornwell until she killed off a character I adored. I'm addicted to the show Bones, once I got past the huge difference between TV Bones and book Bones. Another guilty pleasure is the Canadian show DaVinci's Inquest. With that in mind, Karin Slaughter blew them out the water.

The sexual tension between Sara and Jeffrey is perfect. Sara hides a secret that the reader learns a ways into the book. This helps put the end of their marriage into perspective. I adored Sara's parents who couldn't be more supportive of her. Lena's a little tougher, but she has just lost her twin and takes it very personally. It's clear that Lena's going to face some challenges because her character is slightly combative.

I have three more Karin Slaughter books waiting in my pile and they're moving to the top. I don't want to wait to see what happens next!

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Family Table - John Besh



Released November 2011

www.andrewsmcmeel.com
www.chefjohnbesh.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Until I came across My Family Table, I thought I was the only person in the world who didn't enjoy the craze of cooking shows on television. The only show I will watch, and if I miss it I'm not heartbroken, is Alton Brown's Good Eats. I learned to cook by watching my mom and certainly by watching my grandmother. In both cases, they taught that family should eat together and that homecooking is always best.

In My Family Table, Chef John Besh teaches a few simple basics to have on hand so that no matter how busy, you can have a homecooked meal. I totally agree. I keep stock in the freezer, along with cooked chicken or beef that I can quickly throw into soups. We grow a garden and freeze as much extra produce as possible for the winter. Yes, it's time consuming, but it's well worth it.

Each chapter delves into harder recipes that cover everything from breakfast foods to desserts. Chapters open with a brief glimpse into Besh's life. I'll admit one local item threw me off. He mentions scuppernong preserves at one point and I was baffled. I've never heard of such a thing and ended up looking it up. I'm betting the closest I could get locally are wild concord grape preserves. I have wild grapes growing in my front garden, so once they produce enough, I'll simply make my own. Otherwise, I'm intrigued and plan to order some online because no store in this area carries it.

The very first recipe I'll be making is going to be perfect for this weekend. We have family coming for a cookout and hummingbird cake is something I've never tried. The recipe looks easy and will be perfect for a family gathering.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Welcome to Last Chance - Hope Ramsay




Released March 2011

www.hachettebookgroup.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

On the run from another troublemaker beau, Jane Coblentz hops on a bus heading to Last Chance, South Carolina. There she's welcomed into the town by an array of locals. However, her attraction to Clay Rhodes is definitely not something she wants or needs. She just wants to hide out and try to move on with her life, a life that's proven she's good at picking the wrong man.

Clay Rhodes is back in Last Chance to mend a broken heart. The last thing he needs is a woman obviously hiding something. His mother, owner of the Cut 'n' Curl salon, has other ideas.

Welcome to Last Chance is the first in a series about the Rhodes family. My understanding is that the books will each feature one of the three brothers, though I wonder if their sister will also get her story.

As for the story itself, I'm on the fence. I liked the small town. It felt homey and drew me in. Clay seemed like an idiot quite honestly. I don't want to give away spoilers, but he seems to lack a backbone and that bugged me. Jane's secret past also seemed a little over the top. When it reaches the climax, I really had found myself so disillusioned with events that I simply no longer cared.

Given that, I would like to return to the town of Last Chance. I liked the characters, but simply felt too much happened in the one story that it become tiresome. With a little less conflict tossed together, Welcome to Last Chance would have been a huge hit with me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Used to Know That Shakespeare - Liz Evers




Released May 2011

www.rdtradepublishing.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Are you studying Shakespeare in school or simply love his works? I Used To Know That Shakespeare is a must-have! I hated Shakespeare with a passion in high school, now I don't actually mind his plays. My biggest issue back then was the language. Teachers expected us to get it without issue, and I never did. Cliff Notes were my saving grace back then.

I Used To Know That Shakespeare breaks it all down into easy-to-understand summaries. The book starts with a biography of Shakespeare. It delves into all of his plays and sonnets, giving a summary that makes it simple to understand exactly what's going on. There's also a listing of key players and important quotes.

While this book won't help you pass intricate exams on Shakespeare's works, it does break the story down so that you know exactly what is going on. The author's easy-to-follow guide is written in a very user-friendly style that draws you into the book. When you've finished, you'll understand the basics and be prepared to read his plays or sonnets without fear.

Monday, May 16, 2011

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie




Reissued April 2011

www.harpercollins.com
www.agathachristie.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

"One little solider boy left all alone; he went and hanged himself and then there were none."

This poem about solider boys sets the stage for Agatha Christie's classic mystery And Then There Were None. In eighth grade, our English teacher assigned this book to our class and then let us watch the movie. I've never forgotten this story, also known as Ten Little Indians, because the twist ending is something I didn't see coming. This is where I learned the term "Red Herring" and developed a life-long fascination with mysteries.

And Then There Were None tells the story about ten strangers. Each person receives a letter from an old friend, or in some cases the letter is a job offer, inviting them to come to Soldier Island off the coast of Devon. When they arrive, they're told their host, U. N. Owen, has yet to arrive, but they're to make themselves at home. Each guest finds a poem in their room about ten soldier boys and the way they meet their fate. That night, a booming voice details how they are each responsible for a murder. By morning, two are dead, and the others start to panic because there must be a killer among them. The only way to prevent more deaths is by figuring out the murderer's identity.

I was excited to read And Then There Were None all these years later. As an adult, I definitely have more insight into the world of adults, and I've been to England now a number of times and know the area better. This definitely heightened the experience. One thing that amazed me is how the book still has a modern feel. It was written in the 1930s, before computers, cell phones, and modern electronic gadgetry. The personalities are the same as many people I know. You have Tony, the man who loves fast cars and racing around. There's Emily, the older woman who believes the youth lack morals. Put a cell phone in their hand today and they'd fit in perfectly.

If you've never read an Agatha Christie mystery, I highly recommend And Then There Were None. It's a great story filled with unexpected twists.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Inside - Brenda Novak



Released July 2011

www.brendanovak.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'll start by saying I really loved Inside, but the book also drove me crazy. It's one of those novels that keeps you on the edge of your seat hoping that everyone deserving a comeuppance has karma really get them.

Peyton Adams' father was killed in prison. Serving a five-year sentence for embezzling money to help her mother's fight against cancer, he was stabbed by another prisoner. It's his unnecessary death that's driven Peyton to become a determined deputy warden at Pelican Bay. Peyton is not happy with the new prisoner who's going to be joining the prison population. He's served years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

Virgil Skinner has spent plenty of time behind bars. Sentenced for killing his stepfather, Virgil's recently been released after evidence proved his innocence. The only reasons he's returning to a prison setting is to help law enforcement uncover who murdered a judge. In exchange, they will get his sister and her children into witness protection to keep her safe from the gang that wants Virgil punished.

Peyton is adamant that Virgil not be used as bait. Virgil is just as determined to save his sister from mistakes he's made. Soon sparks fly and Peyton's relationship with Virgil becomes personal. Keeping him safe isn't just a job duty any more.

It's apparent from the start that Brenda Novak did a lot of research for Inside. She makes note of it in her acknowledgments. The stark feel inside the prison comes through incredibly well. It also shows the determination and strength that Peyton has to perform this job on a daily basis. I really liked her character.

Virgil is also strong, though he does have his flaws. This makes him incredibly believable. He's been in jail since he was 18, so he's not really accustomed to dealing with relationships. His insecurity, despite his tough guy persona, was endearing. Together, I felt they made a very likable couple. They have many obstacles and those obstacles definitely had me wanting to smack a few characters around. I won't go into details though. Once you've started the book, you'll know exactly what I mean.

It's clear that this is the first book in a series. I'm hoping that Virgil's sister's story is next. The possible romantic angle between her and a former gang member could prove to be an intriguing story. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Original Sin: A Sally Sin Adventure - Beth McMullen




Released July 2011

www.hyperionbooks.com
http://bethmcmullen.com/

Years ago, I read a book series revolving around a stay-home mom who turned detective, but after a while the series grew stale and I gave up. I'm delighted with Beth McMullen's new novel. I hope she can keep this series going because it's a winner.

Original Sin introduces Lucy Hamilton. She's a busy mom to a typical three-year-old son. Her husband's a successful businessman, working to save the environment. Lucy's days are spent cleaning applesauce off walls and playing Matchbox cars, heading to the park or hitting the beach.  None of her current social circle know of Lucy's former life as a spy for United States Agency for Weapons of Mass Destruction. As a former spy, Lucy is extremely protective of her son and generally trusts no one.

After learning the enemy she thought was dead is very much alive and in San Francisco, Lucy's defensive mode kicks into overdrive. This time, her own life isn't the only thing she's worried about. She has a son and husband to protect.

Original Sin does bounce back and forth from past to present. As the story develops, the reader learns about Lucy's dealings with Ian Blackford and just how dangerous he truly is. Action towards the end of the book becomes non-stop and keeps readers on the edge of their seat.

As a stay-home mom, I found myself sympathizing with Lucy's character, particularly on the "mommy" front. I've spent just as many hours making forts, playing little cars and chasing kids around the yard. Being able to connect to the character that acutely was a nice change of pace. Plus, I think any mom can vouch that if your child is threatened, the Mama Bear does make a ferocious appearance. Add in nifty spy moves and it created a very enjoyable change of pace. For an exciting read, I definitely recommend Original Sin. I can't wait for the next novel.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Black Ties and Lullabies - Jane Graves




Released July 2011

www.hatchettebookgroup.com

Black Ties and Lullabies was supposed to be out in February (I read it in December, so the actual publication is a half a year away). The publishers opted to revamp the cover, so the release was delayed for a few months. I'll admit, I like the new cover better, but the wait is definitely going to disappoint Graves' fans. Given that tidbit, if any of the storyline is also changed with the repackaging, I apologize.

Bernadette "Bernie" Hogan is a no-nonsense bodyguard. She's former military and doesn't take crap from anyone. Jeremy Bridges is the CEO of a multi-million organization. Though he doesn't feel he needs protection, others do and Bernie is his bodyguard at the moment. The pair get along as well as oil and water.

Bernie's sick of Jeremy's repeat conquests and Jeremy's sick of Bernie's snide comments. Yet, during a robbery, they find themselves alone in Jeremy's panic room where a quick round of sex leads to an unplanned pregnancy.

Bernie doesn't believe Jeremy has what it takes to be the father she knows her child deserves. Jeremy sets out to prove her very wrong. Before you know it, the pair learns unexpected news and begin wondering if they've been wrong about the other. Could love really be in the air?

Black Ties and Lullabies is one of those romances that makes me feel all warm and cuddly. I tend to be a sucker for story lines with children as a driving force in a couple's union. This definitely fits the bill. The characters are strong and likable, though I did find myself annoyed with some of their decisions at times, but that's par for the course.

I loved some of the minor characters and really hope they'll return to other books in the future. Max, Bernie's friend and fellow bodyguard, is a delight. He's stoic, knows his place, yet is fiercely loyal to those he loves. I'd like to see more of him!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Texan's Promise - Shelley Gray




Released October 2011

www.abingdonpress.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

After her father died and her mother remarried, Vanessa Grant never dreamed she'd be unsafe. When her stepfather attacks her, Vanessa runs off to the barn. That's where Clayton Proffitt, Circle Z's foreman, finds her. When he hears her story, he knows he must take her as far away from the ranch as possible. Her wounds, both physical and mental, will never heal if she stays near her stepfather.

Clayton heads off to his sister's ranch with Vanessa in tow. When a friend announces that the best way to keep Vanessa safe is by marrying her, Clayton and Vanessa decide to marry. That may not keep her stepfather from hunting them down, but it offers Vanessa a level of protection because she now belongs to Clayton. With God's help, the pair may turn this tragic event into the basis for a long, happy marriage.

I've always loved historical western romances. A Texan's Promise is a great read. The story starts out with a bang and the tension rarely eases. Vanessa and Clayton both have their demons and watching them grow closer as a couple keeps the reader hooked.

A Texan's Promise also sets the stage for the Heart of a Hero series. I'm hoping Clayton's brother gets his own story, as well as Vanessa's brother. By the end of the novel, I was sad that my time with the couple had ended. I'd love to read more about the families and their trials as they try to find their way in the Old West.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sweets to the Sweet - Jennifer Greene



Released May 2011

www.jennifergreene.com
www.carinapress.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth


New mom Laura Anderson is on her way to the doctors to hopefully find answers. Her newborn screams constantly and Laura's convinced there's something horribly wrong. Distracted, Laura ends up running into a classic Austin-Healey.

Owen Reesling is instantly attracted to the single mom. Determined to be part of her life, Owen starts wooing her with chocolates from his company, as well as a helping hand with the baby. However, Laura's fear of entering another relationship has her pushing Owen away. Can he help her overcome her fears and take a chance on love?

Sweets to the Sweet was previously published under the name Jeanne Grant. Carina Press is reissuing Jennifer Greene's older titles as e-books. This isn't a long read, it's actually a little over 120 pages, yet the story is solid and never seems rushed.

If you enjoy series romances, Sweets to the Sweet pits a determined man against a hesitant woman. It's a fun story with the right amount of passion and a hero who definitely makes you wish there were more of him to go around.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Falling for the Nanny - Jacqueline Diamond



Released June 2011

www.harlequin.com
www.jacquelinediamond.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Now that she's bowed out of the force, Patty Hartman's busy working as a private investigator. She never expects to be reunited with her high school sweetheart, Alec Denny.

Alec needs Patty's help. His ex-wife is threatening to take their daughter out of the country despite the fact that he has full custody and she only has supervised visitation. He'll do anything he can to keep his daughter safe, even if it means spending most of their time under Patty's close watch. Soon, sparks ignite and the pair must look back at their teen romance and wonder if it was meant to be.

Anyone who's been reading the Safe Harbor Medical series has met many of the characters in Falling for the Nanny. Patty's ex-partner Leo and his fiancee Nora Kendall from Officer Daddy (Harlequin American Romance) get married in this latest offering. Other characters from past books also make regular appearances, so readers will catch up with the latest news from this fictional town.

I loved Patty's character. She's strong-willed and does things her way regardless of what others think. Candy bars for dinner cracked me up! Alec's daughter, Fiona, is a precocious child. It's enjoyable to see her reactions to the adults in her life.

There's a bit of a twist that caught me by surprise. I liked that aspect. With a solid romance and a bit of suspense added to the mix, readers should enjoy Falling for the Nanny. It's a quick read, but definitely an enjoyable one.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Friendship Bread - Darien Gee



Released April 2011


I recently reviewed Darien Gee's Friendship Bread for the Amazon Vine program. It's such a fantastic book that I just had to share it with RTR readers.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345525345

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Don't Breathe a Word - Jennifer McMahon



Released May 17, 2011

www.jennifer-mcmahon.com
www.harpercollins.com

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Don't Breathe a Word is a creepy, yet romantic tale involving fairies and family secrets. The opening introduces Phoebe, a young woman who lives near a town where a young girl disappears. Fifteen years later, Phoebe and the missing girl's brother, Sam, are in a steady relationship. Sam receives a clue that his sister is still alive. Soon, they're invited to spend time with Sam's cousin in a remote cabin, only they learn the person they're with is not Sam's cousin. A mysterious girl tells police Sam and Phoebe were holding her hostage, and the owner of the cabin denies they were staying there. Neither know what to make of the situation, but that's only the start of the strange occurrences that will reveal what really happened all those years ago.

Because Don't Breathe a Word is set in Vermont, it really drew me into the book. While Reliance is a fictional town, it's obviously based on Bristol. There really is a Lord's Prayer rock. The prayer was carved into the rock at the request of a man who, as a young boy, navigated tricky roads to deliver logs to sawmills. The rock was the point at which he knew he'd safely made his trip. When that boy became a doctor, he hired a carver to put the prayer into the rock. If you ever find your way to Bristol, I highly recommend visiting the rock and also the nearby Bristol Memorial Park Gorge. Kids can splash in the river near the picnic area, and then walk the trails to look at the cascading gorge.

Don't Breathe a Word is certainly creepy, but extremely mesmerizing. The relationships between the characters were strong, and I definitely liked Phoebe best. I'm not sure I loved the ending, but it does work.