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, December 31, 2012

A Fresh Set of Eyes - Liz Strange



Released July 2012

Liz Strange
MLR Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The second novel in Liz Strange's David Lloyd Investigations series, A Fresh Set of Eyes is loosely based on the true story of the West Memphis Three. In this case, the mother of a boy jailed for a crime she is certain he didn't commit asks David to take another look into the murder that occurred ten years earlier. The three boys arrested for murdering young brothers have always proclaimed their innocence, yet they were arrested and found guilty despite there only be circumstantial evidence.

David looks at the case and agrees the investigation and resulting trial were shoddy at best, and a key witness was never found. Balancing his relationship with his case, David will not stop until he's uncovered the truth.

I liked Missing Daughter, Shattered Family, but I loved A Fresh Set of Eyes. If you've never heard about the West Memphis Three, it's a case worth looking at. There are two cases I've followed since my teens - that's one of them. I like the author's take on the case, and I enjoyed the outcome. I've also enjoyed watching David and his partner grow closer. All in all, this is a winner.

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book - Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch



Released December 2012

Guy Kawasaki
Shawn Welch
Nononina Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

First off, I'd like to thank the authors for dishing out a moment of truth. I'm members of a few writing forums, and there are so many people will tell a writer that it's easy to publish a book a month if you put your mind to it. While it is possible to self-publish a book a month, it won't be of quality. I've read hundreds of books over the years, and books that were rushed are always obvious.

The authors go on to say that there are bad reasons to write a book, and of all the horrible books I've read, many times, I've had the author tell me that their friends and family members LOVED the stories they tell at parties and urged them to write. It's nice to hear the author list that as a reason NOT to write a book. If you want an honest guide to self-publishing something worthwhile, you need to read APE: How to Publish a Book.

 Each chapter is clearly laid out and packed with vital information. Things start out with the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing and continue into e-books vs. print books. Obviously, the author's ties to certain companies lead to somewhat biased opinions on the equipment  you should use, I definitely disagreed with them in that chapter, but then that's because I'm just as biased about finding computers that use as few parts from FoxConn as is humanly possible and then have my son build it for me.

It then progresses into writing and editing your book. The advice there was spot on, and I would suggest before anyone writes a book, try a NanoWrimo competition in November to see if you can make the words just spew forth without wanting to stop and edit as you write. It's a good way to train yourself to simply write.

From there the chapters cover choosing a book cover, publishing, distribution, and marketing. They answer questions, sum up each chapter with things to remember, and give step-by-step details into how to convert and upload your document to an e-book site, using Amazon as an example. I personal have mixed feelings against Amazon. If you've read the article by Martin Bekkelund about DRM with Amazon, you'll know why.

APE is available in paperback and Kindle edition. I've included the link to the Kindle edition for one reason. The book is full of links and while they're included in the paperback version, I would say it's going to be a pain for people who have multiple links to look at. With the e-book, you can at least click the links. That said, I am disappointed that the e-book is only available with Kindle. I have and prefer my Nook. It looks like after 90 days of exclusivity with Amazon, they'll branch out, but in three months, with the number of books I read, I'll likely have moved on.
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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Magic Moment - Angela Adams



Released December 2012

Angela Adams
Crimson Romance

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Magic Moment shares the tale of Chase Donovan and Laura Roberts. Laura is the bookkeeper at Chase's father's company, until she's interrogated by the FBI, and suddenly resigns. Chase is unaware of any of this until he finds Laura bound and about to be raped and murdered by men who state they're acting on his father's orders. Unwilling to believe his father would be behind such a heinous crime, Chase offers to keep Laura safe while they figure out what is going on.

Soon, Chase realizes that his father may be involved in shady dealings. The only way he can think to keep Laura safe is by having her marry him and announced she's pregnant. Chase knows his father's always wanted a grandchild, and this may be the only way to buy enough time to figure out what is happening.

I have to admit, I liked Magic Moment more than I first thought I would. There were aspects of the story that I found highly implausible, such as Laura insisting that she not be taken to the hospital after she's kidnapped, beaten, and almost raped, definitely molested, by the two men. That Chase went along with it was odd to me, there could have been internal damage or brain injuries from the beating that required immediate attention. But, it's a fictional story, so I went along with it.

As the story progresses, there are really no surprises. Just a relationship between two people dealing with incredible circumstances who somehow find love despite all. It's a pleasant story that's not too long, not too short, and offers plenty of sizzle as things progress.



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Broken Promises - Donna M. Zadunajsky



Released June 2012

Donna M. Zadunajsky

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Broken Promises starts with the first person view of someone, the reader has no clue at this point, who is in a mental institution for some crime, you don't know what really occurred. All the readers knows is that the person did something to free a friend from an abusive relationship.

The story then backtracks to the life of Clare, her daughter, and her abusive, alcoholic husband. When Clare's husband announces he wants to start anew in Naples, Florida, where he's closer to his parents, Clare hopes this will be the start of a new life with the man she loves. These parts are told in the third person, but there are segments when the original narrator jumps back in. His or her identity is not revealed until the end of the book, and that does keep you guessing.

The rest of the story focuses heavily on Clare's relationship with her husband, who is abusive, a drunk, and a cheater - Clare knows all three. While I did find the book gripping, it also bothered me. My best friend is just ending her second abusive marriage, so I realize women all over the world fall into that pattern, but I've never understood how smart women fall for these men's tricks. Clare seriously seemed too intelligent to put up with her husband's crap and it drove me nuts that she stayed with him, even when she knew that he was nothing but trouble. When a "friend" of Clare's suddenly shows up, having moved south to follow Clare, and now wants to live with Clare and her family, as an intelligent woman, I would have been suspicious of her actions. Clare willingly played along though. I find it simply maddening.

Readers know that all of my reviews are based on "is it worth the price." In this case, I'm not sure I'd be happy paying the asking price of $15.95, $12 if you order through Amazon. The $9 Kindle price is better, but I'd honestly look for this one used. It's good, but it's not keeper material to me.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Burn Zone - James K. Decker



Released February 2013

James K. Decker
Roc

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

With humankind headed for disaster, an alien race called the Haan helped save everything, but the truth is that they've saved little. Sam Shao discovers the truth when her adoptive father is arrested and leaves behind key to what the Haan are plotting. There's a biological weapon set to go off and kill everyone within the Burn Zone.

Sam and her father have been surrogates to Haan infants for years, so she knows more about this alien race than many. Sam sets off to rescue her dad, but some Haan are hot on her heels and want her silenced. One of the Haan, Nix, is given orders to assassinate her, but he realizes she was his surrogate and acts as her protector instead. It's up to Sam to save the human race, but she's just one young woman, and it may take a miracle.

I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of science fiction. One of my biggest issues is the names that writers always give their alien characters, they're never easy to pronounce. I did run into that issue with The Burn Zone, but the storytelling was so gripping that I found myself no longer caring.

There's a touch of romance to the story between Sam and one of her friends. The relationship between Nix and Sam is touching. The evil Haan certainly make you dislike them. In the end, everything pulls together to create a fluid, riveting tale of good versus evil. This is a wonderful story and one that is apparently first in a series, so there's certainly more to come.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Capitol Hill - Jayne J. Jones and Alicia M. Long



Released September 2012

Jayne J. Jones
Alicia M. Long
Beaver's Pond Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

This has to be the most refreshingly honest and funny book I've read in quite some time. Capitol Hill introduces Alison Amundson, a young woman from South Dakota who's landed her dream job as an aide to a senator . Alison's first day as a Capitol Hill staffer doesn't go well when she gets stuck behind a group of students making her late to her first day of work with Senator Anders McDermott III. Things don't get much better from there.

Soon, Alison learns that her $24,000 a year paycheck means she'll be woken at odd hours with requests like "Get me the contact information for Kim Kardashian," all after working 13 hour days. The job is non-stop demands, some achievements, and lots of being blamed, even if she wasn't in the wrong. Yet, when it's announced that the senator is running for president, Alison's job becomes more demanding, and to her even more worthwhile.

I know Capitol Hill has to have been written long before Mitt Romney came into the picture, but there were times when he's who I envisioned. From the misspelled press release (pubic instead of public) that had me thinking of Romney's "Amercia" to the comments that tick off women, it could have been a page out of Romney's campaign. The authors also state who they worked for in the back of the book, so it's simply a coincidence, funny nonetheless.

I waited until after the election to start this book because I was sick of politics well before September hit. Too many negative ads, phone calls, etc., so the book simply lacked any appeal. I'm glad I waited. I've seen campaigning from another angle now, and laughed many times along the way. This is an excellent book and one I'm so glad I took the time to read.
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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Zen Diet Revolution - Martin and Philippa Faulks



Released January 2013

Martin Faulks
Philippa Faulks
Watkins Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Zen Diet Revolution is more than a diet book/self-help guide, it helps you change how and what you eat. Instead of throwing yourself into another diet where you follow a rigid plan and then add things as the weeks pass, you learn how to reduce your food intake, learn to make healthier choices, and feel better about your self in the long run.

Unlike many diet books, you instantly connect with Martin Zen. He's been overweight and struggled through many failed diet attempts before realizing he could use his training in Zen Buddhism to help him success. She shares those tips with the reader. The book also has a handful of recipes you can use, including handy foil pack dinners where clean up is minimal leaving you time to enjoy a favorite Yoga routine, Tai Chi, or whatever exercise works for you.

I happened to read two diet books back to back, so I found myself comparing the two along the way. I really like the recipes in The Zen Diet Revolution. I also enjoyed the opening where I got to "know" the authors. The writing after that is a little more technical than the other, so that detracted me a little. Overall, I can see this becoming a book that really helps people change their thinking process about food, if they can stick with the book and really follow the helpful advice.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

The S Factor Diet - Lowri Turner



Released January 2013

Lowri Turner
Watkins Publishing Limited

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

At the time of this review, Amazon does not have a listing for The S Factor Diet. It is available via Amazon UK.

The S Factor Diet takes a look at four critical hormones found within the body that can cause you to gain weight. The hormones are: Adrenals, Dopamine, Leptin, and Serononin. After explaining these hormones, there are self-assessments and then recipes for you to use.This isn't a long, boring guide. I found it very personable and straight to the point. Once I hit the diet plans and recipes, I was eager to get started.

Dessert, especially around my period, is a weakness, I admit it. Chocolate especially, so the serotonin-rich mocha cheesecake was a must try and definitely the right thing! In fact, many of the recipes excited me. I can't really get started until I have enough money to do a true grocery trip to get all of the items I need. Once I do, I'll really be putting the diet guide to the test.

It's kind of a shame that the U.S. Amazon doesn't have it listed. I really enjoyed reading and testing out the recipes. I've known for years that my serotonin levels are low, I never thought about dopamine though, and after taking the self-assessment quizzes, I'm definitely well over 30 on serontonin and came in at 30 for dopamine. Having that knowledge will help me start creating menu plans on my own that I know my family will love and that boost serotonin and dopamine levels.
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Indiscretion - Charles Dubow



Released February 2013


William Morrow

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Summers in the Hamptons seem like a dream come true for many. Author Harry Winslow and his wife Madeleine are one of the area's power couples - Harry for his talent and Madeleine for her beauty and amazing culinary skills. It's at one of their gatherings that Claire meets Harry, Madeleine, their young son, and Madeleine's best friend Walter Gervais.

The Winslow's embrace Claire openly and draw her into their lives. By the time the summer ends, they're off to Italy on a grant for Harry's next book. Claire, however, doesn't want the summer to end.

Indiscretion is narrated by Walter, a man who knows the story but wasn't there for all of it. I liked that aspect, it drew you into the story but left a bit of mystery with the "what happens next." By the time you reach the conclusion, you've definitely formed a strong bond with the characters and don't see things coming.

What I did find odd is that I liked Claire. Realistically, she's not the most likable character, yet I still felt myself drawn to her and almost understanding of some of her actions. As I read the story, I felt it had a bit of the edge that the television show Revenge has, only it's not truly along the same lines. It's that allure of the elite in the Hamptons and wanting to be part of them.

Indiscretion isn't your typical novel. It's part romance, part general fiction, and a whole lot of real life drama that's handled in a very honest way.



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Monday, November 19, 2012

Better Than Chocolate - Sheila Roberts



Released October 2012

Sheila Roberts
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Sheila Roberts' Better than Chocolate builds up the setting for what could be a very long, satisfying series. Welcome to Icicle Falls, a quaint town where everyone knows each other, and Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company is one of the towns largest employers. When Samantha Sterling learns her step-father ran the company virtually into the ground, she's floored. Worse, the bank is calling in their note and if she can't come up with the payment by the deadline, she'll lose the company that her great-grandmother founded.

Samantha heads to talk to the new bank manager, Blake Preston, but he's less than helpful. With her sisters help, they decide the key to success is to host a chocolate festival in their town before the deadline hits. It's going to be tough, but Samantha doesn't want to lose everything her family has built and put dozens of workers out of jobs in an already tough economy.

Blake hates not being able to help Samantha, but his new job requires him to be tough. If there was another way to help the Sterling family, he would. Pressures on from his boss, and he's at a loss how to show Samantha that he truly does care about her business.

Sheila Roberts does more than create a romantic story in Better Than Chocolate, she creates a town where there are many other characters deserving of their own romance. I fell in love with this town and would love to have been part of the chocolate festival. The romance between Blake and Samantha does at times feel like an afterthought. The key focus on the story is getting the town set up and then figuring out ways to help Samantha save the company. There's focus on Samantha, her grieving mother, and her sisters.

Once it's clear that Samantha and Blake do have feelings, it was well into the book and from that point on, things regarding their romance seemed rushed to me. I'd almost say the majority of this book is more women's fiction than true romance for that reason.

One of Samantha's sisters fights a possible romance with a single dad, and that's the story that really caught my interest. I certainly hope the author gives him a chance in a future book. I adored Luke and his precocious daughter, so I really want to see him again.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Deborah Reardon's Blue Suede Shoes



PRESS RELEASE:

Deep in the woods of Wisconsin, Little Mary Martin has been missing for five weeks. Thirty-one year old Clare Paxton opens the door to her childhood friend Derek and his discovery. Little 4-year-old Mary Martin had been missing and all that was left were her articles of clothing and a large pool of blood. Having interrupted her criminal psychology degree for her mother's feigned illness, Clare's unending questioning of her own life's choices is heightened by this tragedy. Clare embroils herself in the investigation because of her personal mistrust of Mary's parents while romantically conflicted with the Chief of Police.

Blue Suede Shoes is an engrossing criminal drama that takes dramatic twists and turns in a small Wisconsin town that has been torn apart by tragedy. Clare, a woman with an unfinished dream of leaving behind her hometown, finds herself drawn into the investigation of a young girl’s murder after her lifelong friend Derek finds a critical clue. From that point on, secrecy, gossip, suspense, and betrayal lead the narrative to its fast-paced, climactic ending.

Deborah Reardon’s first novel does an excellent job of examining life in a small town where there can be no true secrets. Gossip, suspense and betrayal weave a tangled web for the residents of the often-unnoticed town of Danfield, Wisconsin. As tabloid media coverage and paparazzi haunt family homes and polarize the population, rich connections between characters and an ever-looming presence of suspicion carry this crime drama and make it a page turner for all readers.

About the Author:

Deborah Reardon dabbled in writing through out her youth. She took a hiatus from working in the banking profession and decided to pursue a more rigorous approach to her writing. Reardon was uniquely inspired by the Wisconsin writing community where she lived when she began writing the manuscript for Blue Suede Shoes. Today, living in Texas, Reardon is working on the sequel to Blue Suede Shoes.
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Life of Pi - Yann Martel



Released October 2012 (Reissue)

Yann Martel
Mariner Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Life of Pi is reissued just in time for the movie release. This story shares the tale of Pi Patel, short for Pisces, a zoo keeper's son. Pi's raised in India, but his father decides to move the family to Canada. When the freighter they're on sinks, Pi finds himself stranded in the ocean on a lifeboat that also carries a orangutan, hyena, zebra, and tiger named Richard Parker. What follows is Pi's account of their journey through shark-infested waters that spans almost a year. 

I admit, I struggled, really struggled with the beginning of Life of Pi. The build up to the shipwreck took too long given the philosophical feel to this novel. I don't do philosophical well I'm afraid, and that's not the authors fault. Once the actual story took place, I was hooked. I loved seeing what happened next. Now that I'm done the book, I can't wait to see the movie, though I admit I have reservations because every preview I've seen just shows Richard Parker. I've seen nothing of the rest of the animals.

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Heron's Cove - Carla Neggers



Released August 2012

Carla Neggers
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Colin Donavan and Emma Sharpe, both FBI agents, first met at the Sisters of Joyful Heart in Maine. Their relationship is blossoming, but Colin, as an undercover agent, heads off on an assignment and disappears. His family is worried and Emma, too, has concerns after receiving a phone call alerting her to his danger. When Colin does return home, Emma wants to relax, but the presence of a Russian jewelry designer changes things. Tatiana Pavlova wants Emma's help because someone wants to steal a prized collection and they'll stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

I had a hard time settling in with this story, and I'm pretty sure I know why. I never read the first book in this series, and I felt like I was tossed into the middle of a relationship. Given that, I highly recommend reading the first book, Saint's Gate, before starting Heron's Cove.

That said, I have always loved Carla Neggers' novels. The setting for Heron's Cove really struck me. It's a fictional Southern Maine town, but it's so true of areas like Ogunquit. I've been there so many times that it's like a second home. The feel of the Irish pub really rang true for me. The salty air and chilly October breeze, I could feel and smell them as I read.

I would like to read Heron's Cove again, once I've worked my way through Saint's Gate. I have this feeling that had I met the characters in the beginning, I would love this novel rather than like it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader - Bathroom Readers' Institute



Released October 23, 2012

Bathroom Reader

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader books have been a mainstay in many bathrooms for the past two decades. I know, I've visited many friends' and relatives' houses and found one of the books sitting near the toilet. That's what the books are for, informative, often humorous reading in the one place where you have all the quiet you need for reading.

Uncle John's Fully Loaded 25th Anniversary Bathroom Reader is the latest, lengthy collection of true stories, trivia, and facts you'll be able to tuck away. I learned a lot reading this book, and I spent a good portion of the time laughing out loud too. There is a ton of information presented. You can learn who was originally slated to star in the blockbuster Alien movie series that eventually starred Sigourney Weaver. Find out how many hairs are on the average human's body. Discover exactly how Apple got started and how much some of the companies earliest investors lost by backing out of a business model they felt was doomed to fail. Read stories about typos that truly changed the intention of headline stories. You'll also find current bloopers like Mitt Romney's "Amercia."

Each category has "short," "medium," and "long" stories so that you never have to leave a story unfinished. Topics range from Bathroom Lore and Stage and Screen to Forgotten History and Toys and Games. There are dozens of categories and topics.

This is a must-have and the perfect present for any teen, man, or woman. This is not a gender-specific book. It's a great addition to every bookshelf or bathroom. In fact, I think I'll be ordering a few copies to give to many of the people in my family who are hard to shop for.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

He's No Prince Charming - LuAnn McLane



Released October 2009

LuAnn McLane
Signet

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Most romance readers know that the stories tend to get formulaic. Boy meets girl, discord occurs, boy and girl go their separate ways, then they reunite after deciding they're being ridiculous. He's No Prince Charming tries to avoid that for the most part, and that's what really hooked me.

Dakota Dunn's lived the life most people only dream about. She was a pop star at 16, and now years later, her label's dumped her, and it's time to start anew. She heads to her family's lakeside marina/fishing camp to see if she can come up with what music higher-ups want - an edgier, take no prisoners country sensation.

It's in the fishing retreat that Dakota meets Trace Coleman. He's a former rodeo champ who has a few chips on his shoulders. He's been managing Willow Creek Marina and Fishing Camp and is shocked to find the pop princess in her family's cabin. Sparks fly and Dakota knows that she wants Trace in her life, but he's been burned before and isn't really sure a celebrity will be willing to stick around for the long haul.

There is plenty of romantic tension between Trace and Dakota. What I loved is that Dakota knew what she wanted and wasn't going to take no for an answer. Trace, like many guys, is simply overjoyed to have a passionate, sexy woman after him, so he goes with the flow. You might think that makes for a boring premise, but I found just the opposite. Because there were few silly arguments, the story focused simply on building the romance and turning those first sparks into a believable relationship. I loved that.

There's a secondary story involving the camp's fishing guide, Grady, and the cook, Sierra. They've harbored a secret crush on each other for years, and Dakota decides to take Sierra under her wing and make sure Sierra gets what she wants too. That romance is also fun to watch develop, though it didn't overtake Dakota and Trace's romantic story.

In the end, this is a fun romance that I easily read in one sitting. It's not long or complex. It's sweet, simple, and leaves you with the warm, fuzzy feelings that a romance novel should impart.






Friday, November 9, 2012

Before Meds After Meds - Duane Law, L.Ac.



Released September 2012

Duane Law, L.Ac.


Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I think this book review needs to go into a bit of my history. I offer high praise to Duane Law, L.Ac.'s Before Meds After Meds and hope everyone dealing with anxiety or depression gives it a try.

When it comes to anxiety and depression, my take is that most of the medical profession still has a long way to go. Granted, it's been more than ten years for me and I hope doctors have become a little smarter, but my story is pretty clear and very scary. I had my first panic attack in bed when my daughter was two years old. I went to the ER where we were convinced I was having a heart attack and after an EKG showed what I call a "skip a beat," they put me in the ICU saying I was likely correct. I waited 12 hours to have a cardiologist look at me. He said there was nothing wrong and sent me home and told me to see my usual doctor.

I did that and she put me on Toprol XL saying that since I was a stay-home mom and unlikely to be under any stress, I had a condition known as supraventricular tachycardias. Toprol made me sluggish and weight gain became an issue, but she said I needed it, and I trusted her being a doctor and all. After more than a year on Toprol, the attack returned after both my father and father-in-law were diagnosed with cancer less than a month apart. I was sent to a cardiologist who found nothing wrong again, other than the skip-a-beats I've had since childhood, and he added digitalis to the mix. When digitalis didn't work, he told me to try a calcium channel blocker, Cardizem. I ended up in the ER a day later with a blood pressure of 70/40 and dropping.

It's at that point that I gave up on traditional doctors and went online. I found panic disorder and went to a specialist who helped me wean off the medications I'd been on, it took six months. I learned to change my diet, take supplements, and use Bach's Rescue Remedy if the stress got to be too much. That changed my life.

Many of these are the same techniques discussed in Before Meds After Meds. Duane Law discusses fasting to clear the system, changing your diet, and adding supplements to your daily regimen. He also gets into Yoga and meditation (I've found Tai Chi to be most helpful), aromatherapy (I highly recommend lavender), and massage and/or acupuncture. I know many of these methods work. I'm living proof of it. I just wish a book like this had been available 10 years ago!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Offers from Premier Digital Publishing

This in from Premier Digital Publishing:

Feel that chill up your spine? It’s Premier Digital Publishing’s November Killer Thriller Promotion! Indulge your darkest thriller needs with a huge collection of our Thriller and Suspense titles. Choose from historical WWII fiction with spies and Nazi’s and Third Reich rising in Ib Melchior’s “Sleeper Agent”, horror and action at 30,000 feet in Charlie Charters’ “Bolt Action”, the don’t ask don’t tell killer suspense of Lucian K. Truscott IV’s “Army Blue”, Fiona McIntosh’s hard-boiled Scotland Yard  DCI who is hunting a trophy-taking serial killer in “Beautiful Death”, Ken Bruen’s deadly heist in “American Skin”, and Ozzie Cheeks’ “Claws” a killer carnivore catastrophe and so many more.


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Monday, November 5, 2012

New Book Helps Empower Women Through The Art Of Self-Pleasure

Devi Ward’s debut novel "Shake Your Soul-Song! A Woman's Guide to Self-Empowerment Through The Art of Self-Pleasure” will be released on November 5, 2012.

LOS ANGELES, CA (October 15, 2012) – Devi Ward, an internationally recognized sex expert, personal coach, and dance instructor, announced today that her debut novel "Shake Your Soul-Song! A Woman's Guide to Self-Empowerment Through The Art of Self-Pleasure” will be released on November 5, 2012.

“What I offer to you in this book is medicine,” says Devi Ward. “I share with you the tools that I myself have used and continue to use, to cultivate a deeply aware, intimately connected, and truly loving relationship to my sexuality, sensual pleasure, and the song of my soul.”

“We live in a culture that teaches us to fear, ignore, and repress our sexuality. Women are largely uneducated about their full pleasure-potential, and are discouraged from exploring their own unique style of healthy sensual expression,” says Devi. Shake Your Soul-Song presents the idea of using pleasure as a path to self-empowerment and soul connection.

Devi is known for her non-judgmental advice, understanding, and openness. In her book, she uses candidness to make the sometime awkward subject of sex, comfortable and fun.

“Shake Your Soul-Song is written as a guidebook to support you in reawakening to the pleasure, joy, and sensual connection already residing within. I focus on giving practical, effective and enjoyable methods to develop pleasure in your everyday life,” says Devi.

Having been sexually molested as a child, Devi helps heal women who have had painful sexual experiences to overcome any barriers holding them back and reach their true potential for sexual pleasure.

“I recommend approaching this book as a journey of self-discovery,” says Devi.

In "Shake Your Soul-Song!” Devi teaches The 4 Principles of Pleasure, which are Physical, Sexual, Emotional, and Spiritual. Each of The 4 Principles of Self-Pleasure uses practical and fun tools designed to effectively connect, heal, awaken, and transform every woman’s heart, body, mind & soul.

"Shake Your Soul-Song! A Woman's Guide to Self-Empowerment Through The Art of Self-Pleasure” is currently available for pre-sale. Order your copy for only $11.99 at http://femininemergence.ca/the-art-of-self-pleasure-for-women/.

Devi has been on a path of Sensual Awakening and Spiritual Embodiment since 1993. She became a Monk of The Ishaya Order in 1999, and practiced The Ishayas’ Ascension Meditation until 2008, when she took refuge with Lama Tashi Dundrup, and became a Vajrayana Tantrika, in the Shangpa Kagyu Lineage. She is a Certified Tantric Healer and International Authentic Tantra Educator.

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Love Unscripted - Tina Reber



Released January 2013

Tina Reber
Simon and Schuster

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Love Unscripted was not what I was expecting. First, this is probably the longest romance I've had in a long time. There was no short and sweet speed to Tina Reber's book. At over 700 pages, there was plenty of time to get to know the characters, learn about their fears and strengths, and even meet a number of the minor characters. This is part of a series, so I loved really getting to know Ryan and Taryn. Second, it paints a complete, and pretty detailed image, of the life of a celebrity. I know paparazzi are shameless, but I never thought of how bad fans can be. Yet, when you think about, with celebrities like Adele getting sent death threats against her newborn child, some fans are really that horrid.

Taryn Mitchell is a prosperous business woman. She is a partner in her friend's catering firm, she is part owner of a few wineries, and she owns her own pub in Rhode Island. When Ryan Christensen ducks into her bar one day to escape some overzealous fans, she never expects to fall head over heels for him.

Taryn's been hurt before. Her last boyfriend/fiance turned out to be a cheater. Other guys have been no better. The last thing she needs is to become embroiled in a romance with a man who is desired by many, including A-list actresses who make it very clear that he's out of Taryn's league.

Ryan wants Taryn to be part of his life, but he's been burned before too. Can this A-list actor and a woman from a quiet coastal town survive the media frenzy to follow?

Love Unscripted had me hooked from the start. I think many women can only imagine what it's like to fall in love with a star. (I've had a crush on Johnny Depp for as long as I can remember - since the day I laid eyes on him in Nightmare on Elm Street and then 21 Jump Street.) Yet, I know I'd never survive that lifestyle. Watching Taryn's resolve grow, crumble, and grow again comes off as very realistic. She certainly had her moments when I wanted to smack some sense into her, but I also understood her hesitance.

I've read Tina Reber's Q&A on if she is an actress using a pseudonym, and apparently she's not. My hat is off because her research proves she took her time learning everything she could about the life of a celebrity and the bodyguards hired to keep them safe. I can't say I have first-hand insight on the matter, but I do remember when my sister-in-law was a volunteer at a local hospital, Robert Redford's daughter gave birth to a child. Keeping his arrival to meet his new grandchild low-key took some doing. It's really a shame that there are people out there who make their money becoming little more than a parasite.

I'm not sure where this series will lead, but I'm eager to find out. I can't wait to see what happens next in Taryn and Ryan's story.






Saturday, November 3, 2012

Far From Perfect - Barbara Longley



Released October 2012

Barbara Longley
Montlake Romance

Montlake Romance is a new line from Amazon. I recently reviewed Barbara Longley's Far From Perfect for Amazon Vine and wanted to mention it over here. If you enjoy contemporary romance and really love character-driven romances, you need to check this book out. My review appears in Amazon.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton



Released October 2012

Kate Morton
Atria Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

To me, The Secret Keeper isn't just another run of the mill offering, this is a truly amazing piece of fiction that kept me guessing, and even then I didn't see the ending coming. It spans decades and shares the story of two women trying to make the most of the hand they've been dealt.

She's just 16 when Laurel Nicolson spies a strange man approach her mother and call her by name. Laurel is horrified when she sees her mother stab and kill that man. Police come and Laurel shares her account, but she leaves out the one detail that the man called her mother by name. This wasn't a random stranger, not the stranger police and family assumed he was.

Fifty years pass and Laurel, now an actress, returns to her family's farm for her ailing mother's 90th birthday. Laurel mother's memory is fading, and she often calls for people she knew long ago and never told her family about. Laurel decides now is the perfect time to unravel what really happened so many years ago. Looking through old pictures her mother had locked away is the first step into revealing her mother's hidden past.

Set in England in three time periods, The Secret Keeper flows effortlessly between past and present. The novel starts in the 1960s with Laurel witnessing the crime. For the rest of the book it switches between the WWII era and present day with the story focusing on either Laurel or her mother, Dorothy.

The setting itself reminded me of my mother's own childhood. She was young in WWII, but remembers things like food rations, and I've heard some stories of my grandmother's experience in Birmingham during the war with bombing occurring far too frequently. It wasn't until my own adult years that I learned of one bombing that broke open a wall so that the basement of a factory was flooded. A dance was being held that night for the workers in the basement and my grandmother at the last minute opted not to go. That decision saved her life.

The Secret Keeper presented a very emotional, gripping story that tops my list of memorable reads. This would make for excellent book discussions, especially as you try to unravel the truth alongside Laurel.




Thursday, November 1, 2012

Help Your Kids Get Better Grades - Gary E. Howard




Released June 2012

Gary E. Howard

Book Review by Jen Beams

As we began our first steps into the world of education, we quickly found that there is no manual for learning. Gary E. Howard has attempted to give one in Help Your Kids Get Better Grades.

The book is perfectly styled for middle school students and some high school freshmen. Therefore, I find the title to be improper. Howard writes his book to a student and so it should be titled as such. Also, school is not all about grades. They are important and they are helpful when it comes to applying to college and to jobs. As I read the book I found that his goals were more centered around organization and learning skills. A letter on a paper will not help you in a college course, only the organization and content you take away from a class will.

Secondly, the book is out of date. Howard states that students should only have three computer skills; to send and receive email, to use a search engine, and to type a report on a word processor. In today’s
world, students, even in middle school, use computers for much much more. The basic computer skills of a 7th grader should include making power point presentations, citing sources, computer research skills and understanding, and Internet safety along with those skills Howard stated. Howard also presents the anecdote explaining that schools no longer have lockers because of drug problems. I have yet to visit a high school or middle school without lockers. Most students need both in order to survive the day without breaking their backs with text books. Finally, Howard covers only three different learning styles when in fact there are nine now defined.

Howard also endorses quick study guides and guessing. Quick study guides, the sheets you can buy from Staples on certain courses are generally not helpful. They offer information that sometimes contradicts that of the teacher and sometimes not everything the course requires you to understand. This doesn’t mean that either set of information is wrong, but it’s much better to stick with the teacher’s information as it is their class. Guessing is never a good idea. Teachers use assessments to better understand where students are
in their understanding. Guessing can give the false impression that a student knows the material when they might not. I’m not suggesting that students should leave answers blank, but there’s a big difference between following intuition and just plain guessing.  Students should be taught to do their best on a test but not to place their education in the hands of “lady luck”.

Howard does give many valid and helpful tips for studying and note-taking, though it would be more beneficial to list alternative ways to take notes and to study. Howard suggests that all notes should be taken in one note book and later organized into master binders. I personally found it more helpful in middle and high school to have small binders assigned to each class I was taking in which I would keep all of my notes, homework assignments, papers, and assessments for that specific class.

I recommend parts of this book as a reference for ideas and strategies to all middle school students and parents of struggling students. Howard’s study and organization tips can be helpful to many, but I wouldn’t advise putting faith into everything the book says.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

School Struggles - Dr. Richard Selznick



Released August 2012

Dr. Richard Selznick
Sentient Publications

Book Review by Jen Beams

One of the largest controversies we face today results from the question of; how much help do we need to give our children? At what point do parents step in? When should a child see a psychologist? If a child refuses to learn, is there something wrong with that child? Why can’t he or she just focus in class? Dr. Richard Selznick gives opinions on all of these questions in his book School Struggles.

At first glance, the book appears to be mostly generalizations and broad categories of good kids and bad kids. Dig a little deeper and you find a plea to parents to take action in their child’s learning, for teachers to individualize learning, for each child to be watched carefully so that they do not fall in the “cracks” of our educational system. He gives examples of real situations and snap shots of parents’ and children’s minds. He tells the reader exactly what to take away from the reading, providing for easy summarized reading, perfect for the busy parent or teacher.

As an education student, I highly recommend School Struggles to any parent and every teacher. It gives a solid look into the minds of children with diagnosed disorders, disabilities, and even those who are considered “average.” One solution, though it may work for some, does not work for all. He outlines the “cracks in the foundation” of our education system. Education is worked too much like a machine, where
children fit a specific mold and are treated as such. Where testing is the best and only way to determine intelligence, which is defined only by academic skill, and learning of social skills is a responsibility left to the children.

All of the great educational theorists I’ve read about, all of the text books I’ve been assigned to study agree with Dr. Selznick that we need to individualize learning, and we need to treat our children with respect and care in order for them to learn and develop. Dr. Selznick puts it into a language and organization that is
quick and easy reading, yet chuck full of knowledge, experience, and helpful insight.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Operation Snow - John Koster



Released September 2012


Regnery History

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Deep down, Operation Snow is a look at the events leading up to, during, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. What it comes down to is the author's look at a conspiracy theory that delves into the possibility that Harry Dexter White, a chief monetary expert who apparently was also working as a mole for the Soviets, helped the Soviet Union get Japan to attack the U.S. rather than Russia.

The theory was based partly in an RAF airman's claims that "the war was not exactly as depicted in textbooks" and the experiences of the author's Japanese wife who grew up in the devastation that followed Hiroshima. The author also read many journals and biographies of the key players in this conspiracy. Including Vitalii Pavlov's, second in command of Soviet espionage operations for the NKVD (pre-KGB), book about Operation Snow.

John Koster's Operation Snow does bring up an interesting point, and one that the evidence does seem to corroborate. Whether it is the real truth, I can't say, but then it's definitely food for thought.

I'm not a history buff. A high school teacher ruined that for me. Given that, I hardly paid attention to the history books, because anyone who dared disagree with the teacher's opinion received less than stellar grades. It's not how it should be, but that's just how that teacher was. I'd love to see his reaction to Operation Snow!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Live Chat Tonight at 7 p.m. EST **Moved to Monday 11/5

Chat with Dr. Richard Selznick at the Parenting Allies Facebook page tonight. Providing, of course, you have power as many of us in the northeast are being impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

https://www.facebook.com/parentingallis

For more information about Dr. Selznick's books, visit his site or Amazon:




My Enemy's Tears: The Witch of Northhampton - Karen Vorbeck Williams



Released October 2012

Karen Vorbeck Williams
WheatMark

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

My Enemy's Tears is a fictional account of what transpired between two women in 1600s New England. The Bliss family left everything behind and moved to New England in order to avoid the king's rising taxes. For Mary, her brothers, and her baby sister, this meant giving up a life of relative wealth and starting over in a house that was too small, in a family that struggled to make ends meet among the Puritans.

Eventually, Mary was hired out to the Lyman family where she worked as a maid while receiving the training she needed to become a proper young woman. Soon Mary befriends the Lyman's daughter, Sarah, and the two become close. When Sarah's father and then her mother dies, Mary decides to return home, an act that Sarah takes personally, thus ending their friendship.

Years later, both women are married. Jealousy takes over and one of the women accuses another of witchcraft. What happens next will shape both of their lives forever.

I admit, I struggled with the start of this book. The build up to their lives in New England took a while to reach a point where I was truly hooked. They do a far bit of moving around, but once they were settled and lived in the same community, I was hooked. I couldn't wait to see what would happen with the pair and ended up wasting an entire morning and afternoon reaching the final part.

If you are at all interested in the historic witch trials or simply want to experience life in a Puritan community, read My Enemy's Tears. Some of the characters are maddening for sure, and I'm thankful I live in today's world, but it was gripping while I experienced it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Within Reach - Sarah Mayberry



Released August 2012

Sarah Mayberry
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

What should be a joyous day turns into a tragedy, and it leaves Angie Bartlett without a best friend and Michael Young without the love of his life.  Trying to raise his children alone isn't easy, so when Angie's studio is broken into, Michael has the perfect solution, she can move into the studio he'd built for his wife, Billie. That way, the children have the"aunt" they adore nearby, she can help out with school and daycare schedules, and she's in a safe location and can focus on her jewelry making.

Neither Angie nor Michael expect to find their friendship expand into something else. One thing is certain, Angie is certain having a fling with her best friend's husband is not okay, and Michael's just as convinced that hooking up with his late-wife's best friend is wrong. Now if they could get their emotions to listen.

Within Reach was a touching book. I did tear up from time to time, as I could understand Angie and Michael's hesitance, but at the same time, I knew they were a perfect match. From the start, right when things start to take a turn at the beginning with Billie's death. That came unexpectedly and the impact was immense.

As a Harlequin, the book is shorter at under 300 pages. This does push things into high gear, but the story feels complete. A lot of time lapses in the first few chapters, and then the romance gets into high gear. This does rush the grieving process along, but it didn't bother me. I loved Within Reach and feel it's one of the best Harlequin romances this year.




Monday, October 22, 2012

Driving the Saudis - Jayne Amelia Larson



Released October 2012

Jayne Amelia Larson
Simon and Schuster

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Actress Jayne Amelia Larson landed a few roles, but not enough to manage the cost of living in California. As a result, she took a job working as a chauffeur thinking it would be a glamorous way to meet Hollywood's elite. She never imagined she'd spend seven weeks driving Saudi royalty around Los Angeles.

What follows is her account of those weeks where she learned a little about their culture, lifestyles, and views of America as she escorted princesses, nannies, servants, and a hairdresser around the city. Her treatment as the only woman among dozens of drivers is also delved into, as clearly Middle Eastern men view women differently.

Driving the Saudis isn't a book I'd typically pick up, but it surprised me. It could have been a tell-all, and at times it does delve into their wasteful spending, etc., but overall it simply offers a personal glimpse into the cultural differences. In addition, it's told in a way that the reader can relate to. It's simply an enjoyable tale that certainly makes me happy I live in America.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

We Got to Play Baseball - Gregg Olson and Ocean Palmer



Released December 2011


Strategic Book Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

We Got to Play Baseball is a collection of 60 stories from past and current professional baseball players. Some stories made me chuckle, while others brought tears to my eyes. I admit, things were off to a rocky start with the first couple of stories that annoyed rather than intrigued me. After reading these two stories, I feared everything would be tales of juvenile pranks that I personally felt were too much. However, those two stories ended that type of prank and what followed were the stories I'd expected to find.

There are a number of stories that I could talk about, but a handful really touched me in some way. Probably top of the list is Jeff Brantley's recollection of being underground at Candlestick Park when the San Francisco earthquake hit. He managed to get up to the field to find his wife without realizing in the process the concrete walls had chewed his hands up, and then they still had the bay to cross to make sure their young daughter was okay. I apologize for some of the schmucks in the world who took Gregg Olson's slump so personally that they felt it was okay to continually destroy his mailbox. I read with horror the tale of Doug DeCinces' experience tossing the ball with 12-year-old Cal Ripken, Jr. only to have some idiot teenager start using them for target practice.

There are prank stories too that didn't bother me because they were done in good humor and didn't harm innocent bystanders, such as a hotel maid who then had to clean up a trashed room or a women knocked to the ground by a water balloon lobbed from the top of a Boston hotel. Ken Griffey, Jr's steak dinner bet with Lou Pinella or filling a team's water cooler with salt water. Those are amusing recollections.

In the end, We Got to Play Baseball captured the personal stories fans of the sport don't often see. With baseball season about to come to an end, this is the perfect way for fans to fill their time until spring training kicks back in. I'm not a big baseball fan, in fact, in my house I'm both a "football widow" and a "baseball widow." I can see this being a story my husband will be eager to sit down and enjoy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Missing Daughter, Shattered Family - Liz Strange



Released September 2011

Liz Strange
MLR Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Private investigator David Lloyd finds himself challenged both at home and on the job. His struggles with his partner are a distraction. He wants Jamie to stop being so secretive about their relationship, but Jamie isn't quite ready to come out to his family. It's David's latest case that really is posing problematic. He's become very involved in finding a young woman, Stella, who's disappeared. The police aren't doing much as Stella is an addict and a prostitute, but Stella's mother wants to know what happened to her. David's determined to unravel the truth.

David knows how the police works, he was on the force for years until a homophobic attack left him injured. He got out of the force and now focuses solely on his work as a private detective. As he starts delving into Stella's world, it becomes clear that someone does not want the truth revealed. Vandalisms, threatening phone calls, and physical threats are all trying to keep David from finishing his job, but he's not about to give up. He'll do what it takes to find out what happened to Stella.

Missing Daughter, Shattered Family is the first book in the David Lloyd series. It's a good balance of David's home life with his partner and his time spent on the job. That balance of personal history and job details provides the reader with a complete look at who David is and what he believes in.

 I admit to being a bit of an armchair sleuth. I grew up on a steady diet of Nancy Drew and later dozens of authors, classic and new. I did figure out part of the mystery very early into David's investigation. Usually, I find that distracting because I know the majority of the outcome. This time, knowing in advance drew me in because I wanted to see certain characters get their comeuppance.




Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sultry With a Twist - Macy Beckett



Released October 2012

Macy Beckett
Sourcebooks Casablanca

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Over the years, I've read many new authors and only one has grabbed my attention the way Macy Beckett has. I adored Sultry With a Twist. While the premise isn't dramatically unique, the characters are what makes this romance stand out. I fell in love with the town of Sultry, and I'm so glad that she's returning to the town for future novels. I'd be heartbroken if she left Trey single!

In Sultry With a Twist, June Augustine is about to open her own trendy bar in Austin when she gets some unexpected news. There's an outstanding warrant for her in her former hometown, Sultry, and until that is cleared up, she can't have her liquor license. She's shocked because she's never broken the law. Her only option is to go clear that matter up immediately. When she arrives, the judge, a family friend, informs her she can either serve time in jail or stay in Sultry for a few weeks and complete community service. Opting for the latter, she's stuck in Sultry for a while.

June never imagines she'll run into the former love of her life, Luke Gallagher. Luke broke her heart, and she's not certain she can stand to remain near him for a month. Especially when she learns that his non-profit is one of the two on her list of community service options. June still loves Luke, and this time she's determined to take her grandmother's advice and show him that love isn't just a fantasy.

Luke and June had tough lives, and the author makes that very clear from the start. As they start to explore their childhood friendship and teen romance from an adult viewpoint, it's fun watching them battle with desires while trying not to become the talk of the town in this area where many of the older adults are highly religious. The laughter, tears, and smiles I shed while reading this book certainly put this one on my keeper shelf.

I've learned that there are two more books to come. I can't wait to see what happens next with Trey, Luke's right-hand man, and then to find out who is the hero/heroine in book three.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Blood Line - Lynda La Plante



Released October 23, 2012

Lynda La Plante
Bourbon Street Books

Detective Anna Travis struggles to move past her boyfriend's murder. Emotional breakdowns occur without warning, and that can make it hard to focus on her latest case. A court employee's son disappears and he's convinced his son has been murdered. Anna wants Missing Persons to handle the case, but her supervisor, James Langton, urges her to investigate. When a bleached section of carpeting is found under furniture, Anna starts to fear the worst. Finding the body doesn't seem possible, so it's going to take steadfast detecting to unravel the truth.

Blood Line is the first Anna Travis novel I've read, and I think not having read prior books reduced some of the impact I could have felt. I found myself wondering what exactly happened with Anna's boyfriend, and none of it was really summed up other than knowing he'd been murdered.

That aside, I was stunned with the opening. The detail and passion in that first chapter blew me away. As you become witness to a brutal beating, you can almost feel the blows; they're that detailed. That hooked me, even if I wasn't always certain how the relationships between characters were formed. There seems to be a connection between Anna and James, but it seems pretty limited for now. I suppose it's being built slowly over time. I'll have to keep reading to find out.




Thursday, October 4, 2012

Presenting Readerpedia

Publishing house Cascada Productions, in collaboration with Green e-Books, has licensed and released the first-ever Readerpedia® edition of an eBook for the Kindle platform. Wayward Son, which takes its readers on an epic sweep through millennia of ancient history, is now even more compelling with Readerpedia®.  




What is Readerpedia®? Readerpedia® is a creative way to enhance your e-Book. At its essence, Readerpedia® is a glossary that is "embedded" and "in context" to your novel. This allows a reader to navigate seamlessly between specific words and their relevancy to the novel. The reader's experience is enhanced due to the author's ability to communicate additional information when necessary.

The Readerpedia® edition of Wayward Son contains over 100 hot links to embedded Readerpedia® entries, containing succinct textual and/or graphical descriptions of the colorful historical people, places, things and events. 

Wayward Son tells the story of Cain who, because he has killed his brother Abel, is destined to become a restless wanderer on the earth. The story covers eons of time, as Cain does not age, a fictional twist on the protective "mark" God has placed on him. Wayward Son takes the reader back in time where epic adventures in Egypt, Greece, China and Rome collide with modern-day intrigue and suspense. Witness the incredible story of the world's original Wayward Son.

Wayward Son is the first of many books to have this new program. Please watch this new video to see Readerpedia in action.



The book, Wayward Son, available for .99 on Amazon.com for a limited time,  is the first book to have Readerpedia.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Spy in a Little Black Dress - Maxine Kenneth



Released October 2, 2012


Grand Central Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Spy in a Little Black Dress is the second novel in the CIA/Jackie Bouvier (Kennedy) series. I missed the first, so I may have missed some backstory, though I don't think I missed too much. What's painted within the book is speculation on what her life may have been like working for the CIA, something I never knew about.

 In Spy in a Little Black Dress, Jackie heads to Cuba where her mission is to check out Fidel Castro, and see exactly what he's like. Her trip isn't quite as easy as it seems when she faces kidnapping, tracking down a murderer, and even trying to solve the mystery behind a treasure she stumbles upon in an old diary. While this seems like a lot to handle, it's just another job for the well-trained CIA operative.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. I did get caught up in her world, as many well-known names make appearances - JFK, Hemingway, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Fidel Castro, etc. As for the actual espionage, I often found myself drifting because it just wasn't holding my attention fully. I think partly because I just can't imagine the Jackie Kennedy I learned of in history class as being a CIA operative. That's no fault of the authors, however, it's simply a part of history that's completely new to me. I think the other aspect is that I was born after Kennedy was president, so I have no recollections of the woman before and during the presidency and assassination. For that reason, some of this book seemed more like a history lesson than a novel, and I hated history in school.

Given that, I did love the writing in Spy in a Little Black Dress. It's fast-paced and often witty. I often found myself snickering at the things Jackie said or thought. Given that, for someone more in tune with the times, I think this would become a must-read and a keeper.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Year Up - Gerald Chertavian



Released July 2012

Gerald Chertavian
Viking

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

College graduates in many areas struggle to find jobs after graduation. Facing college loan payments, these young adults find themselves on shaky ground and unemployment rates remain high, and many older, more experienced workers are flooding the market. Students who simply cannot afford college are in a more precarious position as many employers simply won't touch a resume if a college isn't listed. A Year Up is an ingenious program that helps these students learn essential job skills so that they can hit the ground running.

A Year Up discusses how students can get ahead, especially if college is out of reach.  The foundations of this handy guide started with the group, Walk for Opportunity, a workforce development program the author founded in 2000. Instead of being a true self-help guide, Gerald Chertavian's book uses personal accounts of students who have completed the Year Up program. It details where they came from and what they've achieved. That personal touch makes this book incredibly easy to read.

Personally, I think every high school student and even their parents need to read A Year Up. When my teen was searching for a college he could afford, he ended up going with a local technical college that had a 100% job placement rate for the field he wants to get into. His friends and teachers ridiculed him for choosing a technical college over a prestigious university given his SAT, AP, and ACT scores, but money was a primary concern. He stuck with what he could afford after four years, worked as hard as he could to land scholarship funds, and now he's into his freshman year and loving everything about college. Armed with the education he's receiving and tips from A Year Up, I think he'll be in good shape four years from now.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

That Thing Called Love - Susan Andersen



Released August 2012

Susan Andersen
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I'd love to say I adored That Thing Called Love, but the truth is I tossed it aside far too many times. It was a story with a plot that would usually grab me and hold me entranced, but something was lacking. I never really connected with Jenny, Jake, or even Austin. In fact, there were times I thought all three of them needed a smack upside the head. It's been a long time since I struggled to finish a book, but sadly That Thing Called Love took me a while to complete.

Jenny Salazar has been a big sister to Austin since toddlerhood. When Austin's grandparents took her in and gave her a chance, she became a dedicated employee and virtual family member. After they die and leave Jenny as temporary guardian to their grandson, her goals are to file for custody. She never expects Austin's long-absent father to suddenly reappear, but that's exactly what Jake Bradshaw does.

What's worse is that Jake plans to take Austin across the country with him. The boy Jenny loves like a brother may be leaving her life forever, and she's not happy about it. She can't fight Jake though because he is Austin's blood relative. With that in mind, Jenny decides to help Austin adjust to this dramatic change.

I'm a sucker for single-parent story lines and really that's what is found in That Thing Called Love. I never connected with any of the characters. Austin is rude, which teens can be sure, but his grandparents spoiled him and that makes him a billion times worse. Jenny's not much better. I'm a parent, and if my kids were lucky enough to own their own expensive power boat, there's not a chance they'd be going out on the bay alone, not even with all the training and safety equipment in the world. They'd never be allowed to talk to another adult like Austin does, and he certainly wouldn't be manipulating me on a regular basis.

Jake ran away from his son and hasn't matured much over the years from what I could see. How a man who hadn't seen his son in over 10 years figured his son would happily go along with a cross-country move, away from friends and really the only family he knows, is beyond me. How he could be so blind to the hurt he was causing Jenny was equally baffling. Bottom line, Jake is an idiot.

In the end, I just didn't like the characters and that led to the big issue. I honestly didn't care if they ever got together or not. By the end of the book, I was simply glad to be done. If anything, I was more intrigued with Jake's half-brother, Max. Max is the only character I really liked in this book. Max really is the only reason I'll eagerly read other books in this series.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Peaches for Father Francis - Joanne Harris



Released October 2012

Joanne Harris
Viking

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I never read Chocolat, nor did I read the follow-up to that book, The Girl with No Shadow. I have, however, watched the movie Chocolat dozens of times, so I know the story well. 

Peaches for Father Francis finds Vianne faced with a challenge. A letter arrives from beyond the grave. Armande Voizin is dead and wants Vianne to return to Lansquenet knowing that the town needs Vianne again. Armande urges Vianne to return to the town and put flowers on her grave and help herself to the peaches from her peach tree. Vianne seems happy with her daughters and Roux living on a houseboat in Paris, but the call of Lansquenet is too much to ignore, so she, Anouk, and Rosette return with Roux opting to stay behind.

Vianne's return is certainly timely, and it's clear the town is not doing well. In the eight years since she left, the "river rats" have left, but in their place came Muslim families who set up a school in the old Chocolatier. Someone's burned it down and Father Francis, the same man who battled Vianne over her chocolates, is blamed for the fire, only he swears he didn't do it.

As Vianne gets to know the Muslims and also revisits old friends, a second mystery rears its head. Josephine, a woman who Vianne saved from an abusive husband, has an eight-year-old son. Vianne's shocked to learn her friend never told her she had a child. Vianne is pretty certain that that boy is Roux's, but she needs proof to confirm her suspicions.

This third book in the Lansquenet series really dives into the secrets people have been keeping and returns to the intolerance the French townspeople show towards any outsiders, just as they did with Vianne and her daughter years ago. The writing is lyrical and really pulls you in. I found myself heartbroken that it did come to an end. I really would like to move to this little town and enjoy the tight-knit community, something that seems to be vanishing here in the U.S. as people work longer hours and stay inside to do chores on days off.

If, like me, you've only watched the movie and missed the first book, there are things that don't quite fit. The movie is set in the 1950s, so I was a little shocked at first when the book was talking about cell phones and Facebook. You simply have to remember the movie does have its differences.