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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homemade Haunting - Rob Stennett



Released March 2011

Rob Stennett
Zondervan

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

As a teen, I read a steady diet of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I adored their books and couldn't get enough. This led to me a local author, Joe Citro, and a lifelong fascination with horror novels.

Rob Stennett's Homemade Haunting is a little milder with a Christian aspect. After his mother's death, Charlie Walker stopped believing in God. After all, he spent hours praying that his mom would improve and she died anyway leaving Charlie's dad to raise their son alone. Now married, Charlie finds his lack of faith put to the test.

Charlie takes a hiatus from his teaching job to work on his novel. This means moving to a smaller home, but Charlie's wife and kids go along with the plan. When Charlie's research turns to a Ouija board, his wife is nervous and asks him to get rid of it, but he sneaks it to the basement and opens a whole world of demonic forces. Now to save his family, Charlie must turn to the God he doesn't believe in.

I won't put Homemade Haunting as being one of the creepiest books I've ever read. Stephen King holds that spot with his evil clown Pennywise from It. However, I did find myself entranced with the book and ended up reading it in one sitting. Homemade Haunting's first-person narrative draws the reader into the story and you really feel like you're part of the story as it unfolds in front of you. There's also a slight story-within-a-story feel with the novel Charlie is writing taking shape during the book. Quite honestly, I'd love to see that story published too because it's got great potential to be creepy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Go the F**k to Sleep - Adam Mansbach



Released June 2011

Adam Mansbach

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Go the F**k to Sleep is one of the year's funniest books. It's short and sweet, but it had me snickering from the first page. I know there will be some who completely misinterpret this as being a kid's book and become outraged, but it's clearly adult and offers a satirical look at both children's books and parenting. If you can't tell that it's for adults from the title, well then...

Ask any parent about what they loved about their infants, toddlers and young children and they'll give you a list of varying answers, but ask that same group what they hated and I guarantee bedtime rituals appears on that list. My son from the time he was three months felt that midnight to the crack of dawn were play times. Worse, he wouldn't nap in the day either, so why he was such a night owl baffled his pediatrician and my husband and I. Until he was eight months, I'd be the lucky winner who would have to be up with him. I know that between Eagles music, his favorite at that age, and my own silent chants of Go the F**k to Sleep those things were the reason I stayed relatively sane.

My daughter was better until at the age of 18 months she figured how to escape her crib and was also able to scale baby gates. We moved her to a twin bed and that led to difficulties getting her to stay in bed. Given all that, I know exactly how the couple in Go the F**k to Sleep feel!

The book is very short, just over 20 pages, but will make you laugh because you've been there. All I can say is it gets better!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Protector - Shelley Shepard Gray




Released July 2011

Avon Inspire
Shelley Shepard Gray

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

After her mother's death, Elle must sell the family farm. Her friend, Dorothy, offers to let Elle rent the other half of her townhouse and helps Elle land a job at the local library. Elle's thankful for her friend's help, but Dorothy's possessive nature is starting to concern Elle.

Loyal bought Elle's family farm and is proud of the work he's done restoring it. He's happy to show off his hard work to Elle and finds himself falling for her. However, the closer he and Elle become, the more determined Dorothy is to put an end to their friendship.

I missed The Caregiver: Families of Honor, Book One so I had to take time to get to know the characters. Elle's determination is impressive because Dorothy is just about as evil as they come. She's a real witch in this book and her character was not one I enjoyed.

I can't say this is my favorite Amish romance over the years, but it's enjoyable. I still think I preferred Shelley Shepard Gray's Seasons of Sugarcreek though. Given that, I'm wondering if it's the fact that I missed book one that doesn't make it stand out for me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bloom County: The Complete Library Volume I - Berkeley Breathed




Released October 2009

Berkeley Breathed
Idea and Design Works

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Once upon a time, syndicated comics were actually good. They weren't rehashed versions of the same strip released 20+ years earlier (i.e. Peanuts or For Better For Worse) or so pointless that it's puzzling why they even make it into the comic section. I'm talking the days of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes) (v. 1, 2, 3)--note to many of today's comic strip writers, Bill Watterson retired before his strips became stale and I can think of a good number who should have learned from him.

Back in those days there were three comics that my brothers and I fought over the comic section to read. That would be Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and Gary Larson's The Far Side. The rest of the comics, well we really could care less because they simply weren't as good.

I can't offer the review I'd hoped to offer because there's only a portion of the book released through NetGalley.com. However, I feel it's worth the trip back to a time when political messages and comics could go hand in hand and be funny. (Sorry Doonsbury, but I've just never enjoyed you.) For that reason, I urge readers to check out Bloom County and meet Steve, Opus, Milo, Cutter John, Bill the Cat, and the rest of the Bloom County crew as they poke fun at politics, media, and people of the world.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Faint Cold Fear - Karin Slaughter




Released June 2011 (Reissue)

Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Medical examiner/pediatrician Sara Linton is in the middle of another horrifying case. A young college student apparently jumped off a local bridge to his death and a suicide note is found at the scene, but something seems out of character for this kid to have really gone through with a suicide. When more suicide cases occur, Sara and her ex-husband chief of police Jeffrey Tolliver suspect the worst.

When Sara's pregnant sister is brutally attacked near one of the crime scenes, Sara's emotional state is pushed to the brink. Jeffrey and Sara must work together as fast as possible to find out who is behind these murders and why.

Karin Slaughter pulls no punches. First, her descriptions of the bodies are quite horrific and gory, but it's that detail that really makes the Sara Linton series stand out. If you have a weak stomach, be warned that the descriptions make it very easy to visualize the things Sara and Jeff encounter. As disgusting as some details were, it adds a strong dose of realism to the pages. Death isn't pretty, I learned that this past September when my aunt died. What Karin Slaughter does is presents the cases in the most realistic light possible. Like it or not, there's no glossing over with these books.

If you're familiar with this series, former detective Lena Adams now works for the college's security team. She does play an integral part in A Faint Cold Fear, but readers will be saddened to see just how out of control she's become.

While I did spend some time crying during portions of A Faint Cold Fear, I do think this is my favorite of the series so far. I'm now incredibly eager to read the next two books in my effort to catch up. If you like Kathy Reich's Temperance Brennan series or love Patricia Cornwell's books, Karin Slaughter is definitely going to rock your world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son - Vicki Courtney




Released June 2011

Vicki Courtney

Just a note that if you're looking for a guide to parenting boys that has a strong religious leaning, Vicki Courtney's new book may suit your needs.

5 Conversations Your Must Have With Your Son tackles subjects that some parents face -- pornography, pre-martial sex, masturbation, and overprotective mothers.  Much of the material and statistics within is quoted from other books and news articles. Overall, I wasn't thrilled with the message that if you're not pushing your son towards God, he's set up for failure. I think back to my friends. One friend stands out because her parents were strongly Catholic and pushed all children into every church class, program, and summer camp provided. If the child disagreed, they were severely punished. As a result, their daughter had sex for the first time at 13 and married an abusive older man at 17. I don't believe that pushing a child towards God is always the best solution.

Given that, it's not a book that I'd keep, but those who have stronger religious beliefs will likely enjoy the message provided.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Night, Two Heirs - Maureen Child




Released July 2011

Harlequin
Maureen Child

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth


Sadie Price kept a secret from Rick Pruitt for close to three years. Both Sadie and Rick's mother felt he'd be better off fighting a war if he didn't know he had twin daughters at home.

When Rick returns to Texas and finds out he has daughters, he's furious and wants Sadie to marry him. The problem is that Sadie refuses to marry for anything short of love and Rick's duty to his daughters isn't enough. Meanwhile, Rick isn't willing to fall in love but wants to prove to Sadie that love isn't the only thing that can keep a marriage from failing. It's a battle of wills between the pair.

One Night, Two Heirs is a quick summer read. I didn't find that the character's relationship was that sizzling. Rick's reasons against love were, quite frankly, pathetic, just as Sadie's anti-marriage reasoning was lame.  For two people who came off as being intelligent, I didn't buy their justification at all.

I'd love to say that One Night, Two Heirs blew me away, but it honestly wasn't my favorite Maureen Child romance. I loved the Fiends series involving Cassidy Burke and have enjoyed many of her series romances, so I was expecting to love her latest work. It wasn't a lousy read, but it wasn't one that made me say “Wow!” either. It was merely okay.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Free Kindle Download

Everyone loves freebies! Click on the picture and fill out the information and the Kindle download is yours for free. What a great way to start the weekend!


Sweet Possession - Maya Banks



Released April 2011

Maya Banks
Penguin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

It's no secret that I find erotic romances to be hit or miss. Some focus too much on the sexual aspect and ignore the plot. Maya Banks excels in this genre. She's my favorite erotic romance author and deserves every moment in the spotlight. Her stories are all about the plot and the erotic relationships come secondary making the stories the perfect blend of story and passion.

Someone is threatening Lyric Jones and her producer wants her safe. The pop star diva isn't easy to work with, she's opinionated, brazen, and has the attitude of ten princesses rolled into one. Connor Malone is not thrilled to be assigned as her bodyguard, but his father isn't about to take no for an answer.

After meeting Lyric, Connor can't help but admit there's an attraction, but he doesn't want a pampered princess in his life. Meanwhile, Lyric has never had a man treat her with disdain and she's not liking it. As sparks fly, Lyric starts to show a side of her that only serves to heighten Connor's attraction. Connor knows he can't take his eye off her security detail, so keeping his mind and hands off Lyric proves harder than he expects.

In terms of Lyric, I had to say there's a touch of all the pop divas rolled into one. Yet, I really found her character to be completely likeable. As she gets to know the men and women in Connor's life, many who have had their own story, Lyric becomes one of my favorite characters of all time. Connor's an alpha-male but his interactions with the women in his life definitely add a lighthearted feel. All in all, if you enjoy erotic romance, this is one of the best books of the year.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tender Loving Care - Jennifer Greene



Released April 2011

Carina Press
Jennifer Greene

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Tender Loving Care isn't a new book. Originally released in 1987 by Berkley Publishing under the name Alison Hart, the story does, at times, feel dated. Not that this is a bad thing, but the reader clearly sees the changes that have occurred in over the past two decades, particularly in terms of parenting styles.

When Zoe Anderson learns her best friend is dead, she's shocked, saddened. However, she has her godchildren to focus on. The four-year-old twins have been left in the care of her and Rafe Kirkland. It's been years since she's seen Rafe, but the spark is still there. Together, the pair must figure out what to do with two boys who do not fit in their busy work schedules, but who they can't send off to foster care either.

Soon a plan is hatched. Zoe will spend a few weeks at Rafe's Montana home caring for the boys while Rafe works. When that time period is up, they'll move to Zoe's Washington home and Rafe will stay home with the boys while Zoe goes to work. This will help them decide who is best equipped to become the boys' guardian.

Tender Loving Care is a sweet romance. It's just over 120 pages, so it takes little time to read. Fans of the shorter series romances from Harlequin or Silhouette will adore this look at Jennifer Greene's earlier work.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Witches of East End - Melissa De La Cruz




Released June 21, 2011

Melissa De La Cruz
Hyperion

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Quite simply, I'll just say wow! Melissa De La Cruz's entry into adult fiction proves she's going to give many paranormal authors a run for their money. The very first sentence, it's extremely long, struck me as being rather Dickens-ish. For those who find Dickens to be overly verbose and dull, De La Cruz is none of that, her writing is vibrant, exciting, and just doesn't let go.
 
Joanna Beauchamp is delighted her daughters have returned. Freya is sexy, self-assured, and knows what she wants from life and excels at her job in a local bar, while Ingrid is quieter, professional and loves her work at the town library. What the public doesn't know is that the Beauchamp women are witches.

During the Salem Witch trials, the three were saved by the Council but banished from every using magic again. Unfortunately, circumstances have pushed Freya and Ingrid to cast spells once more. When they do so without any repercussions, Joanna joins in. Freya creates a menu of love potions that helps save marriages and bring couples together. Ingrid uses her powers to help a co-worker who struggles with infertility. Joanna returns a man from death.

All is not well in North Hampton. A mysterious force is causing birds to die, people to become very sick, and others to act unlike themselves. When a local woman disappears, followed by the disappearance of the mayor, the Beauchamp women must figure out what is going on. This isn't easy because people in town are beginning to think the Beauchamps are behind the rash of disappearances and misdoings in town and the police are starting to join in on those suspicions. Joanna, Freya, and Ingrid fear the events at Salem are about to repeat.

Witches of East End is a magnificent summer read. Norse mythology helps shape part of this story with Loki and Balder playing a key role. My mythology is rusty, but the author does summarize the myth briefly. Those who want more depth will find a good article about Loki and Balder at About.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Marriage Carol - Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman




Released September 2011

Moody Publishers
Gary Chapman
Chris Fabry

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

With their marriage in a state of shambles, Marlee and Jacob Ebenezer head to their lawyer's office on Christmas Eve to sign divorce papers. They don't know how they'll tell their children, but they know they simply can't remain in a loveless marriage any longer.

On the way, their car slides off the road. Marlee awakens to find her husband missing and walks to the nearest house seeking help. There she meets an unusual man who helps her reflect about her past, present, and future while trying to figure out what she wants most from life.

A Marriage Carol is a spin on Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. It's short and sweet at just under 120 pages. Readers should have no problem reading through the story in one sitting.

At heart, I think the message in A Marriage Carol is strong and worthwhile to many couples. I'm always a little ill at ease when a book with a strong pro-marriage theme comes out. Many I've read, non-fiction particularly, are always written by singles who came from a failed marriage or have never even been married. In my opinion, that makes their message worthless because they really haven't experience the highs and lows and struggles to get back on track.

I've been married 20 years and divorce hasn't entered into our heads, so I like to think I know what I'm talking about. I do see situations where I think divorce is the best option and it was refreshing that Gary Chapman had his character point out abuse and infidelity. Many of the Christian books I read seem anti-divorce in any reason and that's where I disagree. I have a friend who was in an abusive marriage. She left when he pointed a gun at her. I am thrilled she finally gained the courage to file for divorce and get herself out of a dangerous situation.

In situations like that, I do believe leaving is the better option. However, many don't stop and think about the whole picture, they're too caught up in the "what if." That's what's done right in A Marriage Carol; Marlee's character really must think about her expectations and experiences rather than acting impulsively. It makes for a thought-provoking read that's followed up with book discussion questions that should make for interesting conversations.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kisscut - Karin Slaughter



Released June 2011 (Reissue)

Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Kisscut is the second novel in Karin Slaughter's series about medical examiner/pediatrician Sara Linton. Sara and her sister spend an evening at the local roller rink and Sara really needs to use the rest room but it's occupied by a couple of local teens. When they finally leave, Jenny, one of Sara's patients, bumps into her but rushes off without speaking to Sara. After touching the door handle, Sara realizes it's covered in a blood and finds a dead, mutilated baby in the toilet. Outside, Sara's ex-husband Chief of Police Jeffrey Tolliver battles with Jenny who is threatening to kill a local boy. When the Jenny begins to act on her threats, he's forced to shoot her.

Performing an autopsy on Jenny isn't easy for Sara, especially when she knew her so well. She finds no evidence that Jenny had given birth, but there are obvious signs she'd been raped. Worse, someone removed the girl's labia and sewed her vagina shut. Jeffrey and Sara must now uncover this horrible crime and find out what really happened to Jenny.


Kisscut is not for the faint of heart. It's gritty, gory, and incredibly realistic. To break up the tension, there's a romantic angle between Sara and her ex. They love each other but his indiscretions were too much for her to take. Now he wants a second chance and she really wants him in her life, but she's also hesitant because he once cheated. That angle will appeal to romance readers.

This is a spoiler if you didn't read Blindsighted, if you plan to stop reading! One of Jeffrey's detectives, Lena Adams was raped in the first book. Her sister was also murdered in that book. Lena's mental state is on the edge in Kisscut. The story also cuts away to her attempts to deal with the emotional and physical pain she's endured and her actions may very well put her job on the line.

One thing I love about Karin Slaughter's crime novels is that they are horribly realistic. Incredible detail goes into the book, as gruesome as it may be she captures the stark reality of the crimes.  There's a Canadian show I love called Da Vinci's Inquest - Season 1. The reason I love this show is that unlike CSI, not every crime is solved in one episode and DNA tests take weeks or months to come back. Some cases are never solved at all. It's sad but that's real life. There are thousands of cold cases out there where a killer got away. Karin Slaughter's books remind me of  Da Vinci's Inquest - Season 2 because nothing resolves easily. The tension builds up throughout the book and keeps you on the edge of your seat for that reason. As gruesome as the subject matter may be, I loved Kisscut just as much as I loved Blindsighted.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Ultimate Journey - Jim Stovall




Released June 2011

Jim Stovall
David C Cook Publishing

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Years ago, I found myself glued to a movie titled The Ultimate Gift. Since that time, The Ultimate Gift has become a favorite movie that I've watched numerous times. It stars Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), James Garner, and Drew Fuller. If you haven't seen it, it's a tearjerker but well worth every minute.

Apparently, The Ultimate Journey is the third part in the Ultimate trilogy. I missed The Ultimate Life (The Ultimate Series #2) along the way. In this third story, Jim Stovall's characters Jason and Alexia are married and heading off on their honeymoon. Along the drive, their limo driver joins them in reminiscing about Red Stevens.

For those unfamiliar with Jim Stovall's series, Jason is a spoiled jerk quite honestly. When his grandfather dies, Jason and assorted family members expect to inherit Red's fortune. Jason learns he will inherit plenty but only after passing a number of criteria. The spoiled Jason soon meets Alexia and her ailing daughter. Through them, he learns the true meaning of giving freely. This sets up the series.

In The Ultimate Journey, Jason and Alexia start to learn that life isn't about reaching a destination but in voyage that brings you there. Much of Red's past is brought up and it's full of ups and downs. Readers really get to know the younger Red and the trials he faced before his death. I won't say I liked it better than The Ultimate Gift because that story has a place in my heart. It's still a nice change of pace that's uplifting and definitely gives the reader food for thought.