Note to Readers

Roundtable Reviews receives many galley and ARC copies for review. Please understand that the finished copy may differ from the copies we have reviewed.

I have not received any compensation for writing this post other than a free digital or galley copy of the book. I have no material connection to the publisher, agent, or author whose book/s I am reviewing. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lake Eden Cookbook - Joanne Fluke




Released October 2011

Joanne Fluke
Kensington

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Fans of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson cozy mysteries rejoice because the Lake Eden Cookbook is being released on October 1st. The hardcover book contains favorite recipes from every book and a few new ones.

Even if you've never read the series, this is a cookbook first and foremost, but there's a story mixed into the pages. Every recipe has a history in Lake Eden and the characters stories, including a few secrets, are revealed along the way. Learn about Winnie's trip to the morgue or Andrea's first attempt at making Hannah's lemon meringue pie.

There are new recipes within the book. A sampling of them includes:

Razzle Dazzle Baked Brie
Bourbon Brownies
Herb's Herb Biscuits
Hannah's Chicken Salad
Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie

As usual, I went for one of the more absurd recipes to give it a shot. A couple years ago, I made Pork and Beans bread thinking there was no way it would be edible and it really was yummy. This time I went for the lobster bisque made using Campbell's condensed green pea soup and condensed tomato soup. Surprisingly, it works, though the 1/2 cup of sherry was too strong for me, it drowned out the lobster, so I'll make it again cutting it to 1/4 cup.




Wednesday, August 24, 2011

1105 Yakima Street - Debbie Macomber




Released September 2011

Debbie Macomber
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Debbie Macomber's latest Cedar Cove novel catches readers up with a few characters from previous entries. There's actually a few different stories going on in 1105 Yakima Street, but after a few chapters, I had no problem keeping track of the different plots. There's also a summary of the characters and relationships in the opening of the book to offer some guidance along the way. I've read some of the Cedar Cove series, but not all of it, so I relied heavily on that summary.


Things start off with Rachel Peyton leaving her husband Bruce and her step-daughter behind. Rachel's pregnant and Jolene's animosity and Bruce's unwillingness to take action have caused Rachel unneeded stress. Her blood pressure puts the baby at risk, so walking away is the best thing for Rachel and her unborn child. Bruce isn't quite as willing to let go, but Jolene is thrilled that she's won.

Olivia and her brother Will face a difficult choice when their mother forgets she's cooking a meal and the resulting fire destroys her kitchen. They realize she and her husband both need to be in an assisted living home, but convincing the couple of this will take some effort. Meanwhile, Will's ex-flame is getting married putting him in a bad mood and everyone knows that the perfect woman for Will is right in front of him, only he's too blind to see it.

Linc and Lori have their own issues. Lori's dad is sabotaging Linc's new business and continues to keep sabotaging things unless Lori comes to her senses and leaves him. Cut off from the family fortune, Lori and Linc must move to a smaller, less expensive home and cut all ties to Lori's family.

These are only a handful of the stories occurring within 1105 Yakima Street. Every character from past stories makes an appearance and has some kind of challenge to overcome. The writing is light with just the right amount of tension. Things set up nicely for the remaining book in this series set during Christmas. This second-to-last book is a fun summer read and one I am sure Debbie Macomber fans will love.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Playing Dirty - Susan Anderson



Released August 2011

Susan Andersen
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Ava Spencer suffered the utmost in humiliation when Cade Gallari made it clear he'd only slept with "the fat girl" as part of a bet. Now she's 10 years smarter and she's not about to fall to his charms again. She owns a mansion where he needs to film his latest documentary and she needs the money, but she will handle this as the business transaction it is and nothing more.

Unfortunately, Ava finds herself struggling to resist his charms. Cade wants to show Ava that he's truly sorry for his actions of the past, but he isn't sure what to do to get her to believe he never meant to hurt her. As his passion for Ava grows, he finds himself desperate to get her to forgive him so that they can have the future they deserve.

There is definite sizzle between Ava and Cade. I did, at times, find her rather whiny. She was overweight as a teen and cannot move on with her life. Per the book, she's a size 12 and turns men's heads, yet she still will not move on from the hurt caused by both her mother and Cade. For as strong a heroine as she seemed at times, her insistence on fretting over her weight seemed out of character. At one point, she shows up during filming wearing a tight fitting dress knowing it will drive Cade crazy. She clearly knows men like what they see, yet she still worries about her weight incessantly.

Ava has two best friends who co-own the mansion. As I read Playing Dirty, I found myself wondering if I'd missed previous books in this series. It turns out I had because Bending the Rules 2009) is Poppy's story and Cutting Loose (2008) is Jane's story.

There's also a secondary plot involving stolen jewels hidden within the mansion and a criminal desperate to find them. This minor plot adds conflict that I'm not sure was necessary to the story, but readers who enjoy romantic suspense may enjoy having this slight mystery to break up the interactions between Cade and Ava.

Playing Dirty is a fun romance. I wouldn't say it's a keeper for me, but it definitely did keep me reading from start to finish. I've read many of Susan Andersen's romances and this isn't a favorite, but her fans will certainly enjoy the last book in this Wolcott Mansion trilogy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

100 Yards of Glory: The Greatest Moments in NFL History - Joe Garner and Bob Costas




Released November 2011

Houghton Mifflin Hardcourt
NFL

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I won't even try to compare myself to my husband when it comes to football rules and trivia. He's been a diehard fan of the Patriots and the 49er's for decades. In the 20 years I've been married to him, I've learned a lot and I'm certain I have more to learn. 100 Yards of Glory proved that there are things I never knew about football and the men who've made a name for themselves playing this popular sport.

My foray into the world of football started with a game back in 1990 between the Saints and the Patriots when I worked for a travel agency. I surprised my hubby with tickets to the game and accommodations in the same hotel where the Saints were staying. Bobby Hebert and his teammates were the exact opposite of what I was expecting.  They were incredibly friendly, the picture of manners and compassion, and my nephew had the time of his life getting autographs. The Saints changed my opinion of professional athletes and I started following them from that point on. 100 Yards of Glory delves into details regarding the players, the teams and their coaches.

The book begins with an introduction by Joe Montana. While he's one of my husband's favorite players, I admit that my experience with Mr. Montana came from a song and dance number he did for a kid's show called Kangaroddy. I'm certain that's not how he wants to be remembered, but I'll never forget that one show. After that, the different dynasties (Patriots, Cowboys, 49ers, Steelers, etc.) are discussed starting with the Bulldogs in the 1920s. The book continues into NFL championships, unforgettable Super Bowl games, unbelievable plays and the best quarterbacks and coaches.

I learned a lot along the way. I'd heard of Johnny Unitas, but I never knew he was so tiny. Realistically, he was 30 pounds heavier than my size 0 daughter. This is only one of many things I learned about the players, the teams and the coaches. Diehard fans, like my husband, may find much of this material to be common knowledge (that is what my husband said when he read it), but for the newcomer, this is an amazing resource.




Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Write a Novel In One (Not-So-Easy) Lesson - Jacqueline Diamond




Released August 2011

Jacqueline Diamond

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

If you need a guide to help you get started on your novel, you cannot go wrong with Jacqueline Diamond's How to Write a Novel In One (Not-So-Easy) Lesson. First, the $2.99 price is more than reasonable, it's actually very, very inexpensive. For many readers, that's the price of the cup of coffee you get while scouring shelves for a book or two. Second, it's one of the warmest, most conversational writing guides I've ever seen.

If you don't know Jackie's work, let me attest that she has written dozens of novels in a variety of genres from category romances to paranormal and mystery to non-fiction. She has a way with creating characters that feel like friends. It's very rare that I don't fall in love with her heroes or want to be buddies with her heroines. She also teaches writing classes, so she is experienced in creating lessons anyone will understand and put to good use.

In How to Write a Novel in One (Not-So-Easy) Lesson, she clearly demonstrates exactly what you need to do to build a plot, create conflict and make your characters likable. It's not a long book, just over 50 pages, so it's not something you'll need to read for weeks. It's designed to get help you hone your skills and come up with a book that delights readers. In a nutshell, I highly recommend purchasing this very helpful writing guide.


Friday, August 19, 2011

You Are My Only - Beth Kephart




Released October 25, 2011

Beth Kephart
Egmont USA

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

*Note that this is a young adult novel, but I think many women will be able to relate to one of the characters and therefore think it would have a great market in women's fiction, so I'm posting the review here.

Let me start by saying I loved You Are My Only, but I'm not sure I'd qualify it as being young adult. I obviously read it as an adult, a parent, and my understanding of maternal bonds really helped with the impact this story has on the reader. I'm not sure a teenager will understand those parental bonds.

Emmy Rane became a mother just barely out of her teenage years. Her baby daughter is the only thing keeping her sane, as she deals with her marriage to an abusive man. One afternoon, she brings Baby outside to the swing and then realizes she left the blanket inside and runs quickly inside to retrieve it. When she returns, Baby is no where to be found.

Fourteen-year-old Sophie has spent her life moving from town to town with an overprotective mother who insists on homeschooling her. In their latest home, Sophie secretly befriends a boy and his whimsical aunts. Being part of the outside world, even if she must keep her activities hidden from her mother, Sophie starts to develop an independent streak. When her mother goes to work, Sophie's curiosity gets the best of her and she begins to unpack the boxes her mother says are forbidden to her. What Sophie finds changes her life.

You Are My Only is told through the two difference perspectives. Emmy side of the story tells of her desperation as she searches to find her baby. Sophie's side tells of a confined lifestyle where she's not allowed to be in the public eye. Her first 14 years have been spent hiding in houses and being told to hide whenever someone comes to the door. Readers know from the start that Sophie is Emmy's missing daughter, but it's still gripping watching Sophie learn about her past and following Emmy's tragic story because nothing comes easy for this young woman.

The writing style may take a little getting used to. Sophie's first-person account can be choppy at times with very short sentences, but realistically that is how many teens think. My own 14 year old is the queen of short sentence and frequent subject changes. To me, Emmy's side is unique. She tends to focus on specific details, such as her baby girl's yellow sock. Once her daughter disappears, she clings to that yellow sock. It's an honest reaction that any mother would feel in her shoes. I simply can't imagine how any woman copes after a child goes missing and I hope I never experience the pain because I believe it would be brutal.

You Are My Only is a gripping, powerful story. My only concern is that many teens may not truly understand or be able to sympathize with Emmy after her daughter disappears. As a result, I tend to think the book would have a much better market in women's fiction.

Monday, August 15, 2011

South of Salem - Janni Nell



Released June 2011

Janni Nell
Carina Press

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Janni Nell's South of Salem released in an e-book format in June 2011. This is my first foray into the series and it was incredibly enjoyable. The story isn't very long, it's under 200 pages, but it felt like a solid read and never felt rushed.

Allegra Fairchild is beckoned home to help her stepfather Steven, a politician from a wealthy Boston-area family. Allegra is not close to her mother or sister, they look down on her because of her work with the paranormal. However, when Steven appears to be possessed, Allegra's mother has no choice but to turn to her daughter for help.

Allegra soon determines that her stepfather isn't possessed, but he is haunted. People from his bloodline are killing themselves while sleepwalking and it's up to Allegra to find out why and put an end to it. With the help of her guardian angel, Casper, Allegra tackles another chilling case.

The family dynamics between Allegra, her mother and her pregnant sister are often alarming. Allegra's obviously a better person than I am because after just one of their snide comments, I would have left them to fend for themselves. Yet, as the story progressed, I found myself liking them and I enjoyed watching Allegra handle them.

There's a bit of a romantic element going on between Allegra and her guardian angel. The heavens frown upon any relationship between angel and mortal, so it will be fascinating to see how this aspect plays out over the series.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Books I Struggle to Review

From time to time, there are books that I struggle to finish reading. Usually, I can get through them without a problem. Friday, I tried so hard to get through a book, but I simply couldn't do it. As a result, I told the publisher I refused to post a review without being able to read the entire thing.

It is food for thought, however, I read hundreds of books per year and plenty of articles as an editor for online websites. I read all the time, so it takes a lot for me to not finish something. Yet, in this case, the book received incredible praise from reviewers. It makes me wonder why I couldn't get through it.

Years ago, I sat down to read a book that was a few months from being published. I adored the book and couldn't stop raving about it. Meanwhile, I saw lots of reviews from people and had lots of comments from even more who felt it was contrived.  That book, The Lovely Bones, went on to become one of my favorite books of all times. The movie wasn't my favorite, but oh well.

Another book I've loved that others hate, To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition. I kept my high school copy and reread it yearly. My English teacher was so delighted to have a student really connect with a book that he told me not to worry about giving it back, he'd happy replace it knowing he inspired a student to read a classic. The same is true of Earth Abides. We read that book the same year and often reread it. Yet, I talk to many friends and acquaintances who think those books stink and can't understand why I return to them time and time again.

Does anyone out there have this book? If so, I'd love to hear from readers who did love the book and see if I can figure out what made me dislike it so much. I can't be the subject matter, I have no problem with same-sex relationships. That leaves me to think it was the time period, but then I was born in the 1970s, so you'd think I'd like the trip back in time...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Never Enough - Lauren Dane



Released September 2011

Lauren Dane
Penguin

I know I've said this before, but I think readers need to know that erotica is the one genre that I find very hit or miss. Many stories I read seem intent on jumping right into the sex without building much of a plot. Lauren Dane is one of two erotic romance authors that I really enjoy.

Never Enough is another story in the series surrounding the Brown siblings. Brody Brown stepped in to raise his younger siblings after their parents' deaths. In Never Enough, Brody's younger brother Adrian finds his true love and learns a few surprises along the way.

Gillian Forrester adopted her drug-addicted sister's infant when she was just 21. Thirteen years later, Gillian is the only mother Miles knows and they have an incredible relationship. When Gillian's sister dies, she makes Gillian promise that she'll find Miles' father and tell him he has a son.

While Gillian fears that she could lose her son, she also intends to keep her promise. She tracks down rock star Adrian Brown and informs him he's a dad. The problem is that he's convinced she's just another groupie after his money. Adrian's siblings realize there's more to Gillian than he thinks and they encourage him to find out if he is, in fact, a father. Adrian isn't prepared to meet with Gillian, fall head over heels and want this ready-made family to last.

Never Enough is quite charming. The story focuses on Gillian and Adrian's growing romance, but the author also turns the focus to some of today's musicians. It's obvious who the author listens to as she writes, though I admit after seeing the lyrics to Etta James, I'm surprised the Muse remake wasn't on that list, it's awesome in my opinion.

The one thing I do dislike about erotic fiction plays a part here, but I realize the genre requires it. Given that, I still think authors can be erotic without coming up with every term in existence for the sexual organs. I've learned to tune the cruder terms out, and once you do that, this book really does take your breath away.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Soldier on Her Doorstep - Soraya Lane



Released July 2011

Soraya Lane
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Despite his military training preparing him for impossible situations, Alex Dane is as tortured a hero as you'll find. His family died when he was young leaving him to move from one foster home to another. He watched a close friend die in the field. Now he's at William Kennedy's home to deliver a bundle of personal items to William's widow. Alex's plan is to arrive, give his condolences and leave. However, William's wife, Lisa, has other plans.

Sensing that Alex has no where to go, she invites him to move into the cottage in her back yard. She needs someone to fix it up and her daughter, virtually mute since William died, seems to have taken a shine to Alex. Lisa hopes that Alex will get her daughter to talk openly again and maybe he'll start to feel at peace. What Lisa doesn't expect is to fall head over heels for the quiet man, but she does and she's confused if it's finally time to move on with her life as William would have wanted.

Soldier on Her Doorstep simply took my breath away. While I first wondered what kind of woman would invite a stranger into her home, Lisa's unique qualities come through clearly. It soon becomes apparent that she simply needs someone around because it's how she is. Sure, she's a little too trustworthy, but as her romance with Alex takes off, it was fun watching Alex be forced to come to terms with his past and realize that he was the only thing holding himself back.

As a category romance, Soldier on Her Doorstep is a quick read. It's under 200 pages and doesn't take long at all. Yet, it felt like a full romance packed with incredible depth and great characters. I read lots of Harlequin and Silhouette romances and Soraya Lane's latest brought tears to the eyes and left me feeling that "wow" factor that I love to get after finishing a romance novel.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An O'Brien Family Christmas - Sherryl Woods




Released October 2011

Sherryl Woods
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Readers head to Ireland for An O'Brien Family Christmas. I admit that having finished Susie and Mack's story, I was eager to join them on their honeymoon abroad. The O'Briens are not your typical family, so the entire family heads to Ireland with Grandma Nell leading the way.

If you're new to the series, you'll catch up quickly, but I highly suggest going back and reading past stories. Grandma Nell plays an important role in this family whether it is matchmaking or simply letting her children or grandchildren vent their frustrations. She's long been a favorite character. In An O'Brien Family Christmas, Grandma Nell is reunited with the man she left behind.

The main romance within the latest Chesapeake Shores novel involves Laila and Matthew. Laila's grown up with a domineering father who thinks her relationship with the much younger Matthew is bringing shame to her and her family's bank. After quitting her position with the bank, Laila also leaves Matthew because she's certain that it could never last.

As the O'Briens head to Ireland, they talk Laila into joining them. Matthew hopes he can prove that he's matured and ready for a serious relationship. Laila hopes she can avoid Matthew while in Ireland and simply enjoy a trip she's always dreamed of taking.

I won't say Laila's been my favorite character, as a grown woman, I really expected to see her stand up to her parents and follow her heart without a lot of fussing over what others might think. After a while, I came to see her viewpoint though and settled into the story.

An O'Brien Family Christmas is shorter than other Chesapeake Shores novels. At just over 280 pages, it's a quick read but also a satisfying one. All in all, it's a solid romance that opens doors for future romances.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Beach Lane - Sherryl Woods



Released June 2011

Sherryl Woods
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I've absolutely loved the Chesapeake Shores series, but for some reason I struggled with Beach Lane's opening. I started and stopped a number of times before I realized I just needed to get it over. Trying again, I went through the first chapter in a rush and then found myself completely absorbed in Susie and Mack's story.

Susie O'Brien and Mack Franklin have been friends for ages and the chemistry is clear, but the O'Brien family has had enough of their "just-friends" policy. They know the couple are well matched and need to take their relationship to the next level.

Things don't go as planned though. Mack loses his job and doesn't want to burden Susie with his loss of income. Meanwhile, Susie receives devastating news that leaves her facing the hardest challenge of her life. It's up to the O'Brien family to do some meddling to help this couple realize what they need most is the support of their true love.

Reader be warned, Susie's story will break your heart. My teens kept looking at me as though I was nuts. I read the pages with tears pouring down my face and just couldn't take a break. I had to know how things ended. The descriptions of Susie's challenges touched my heart, as well as reminding me of situations I've seen others face. Mack turned into one of my very favorite romance heroes and I can't wait for him to make follow-up appearances in other books. I honestly cannot wait for the next book in this series to come out. I already know it's going to take my breath away!