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Friday, May 31, 2013

Pros of Prozac: A Faith-based Memoir - Beca Mark



Release Date - March 2013

Beca Mark
CTL Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Pros of Prozac is a heartfelt guide to one woman's experiences with anxiety and depression. Beca Mark doesn't gloss her experiences. She shares them with honesty and great detail. Her memoir isn't long at just over 120 pages, but it does cover a lot of her personal experiences, as well as those of some of her friends and family members.

Obviously, the book is about Prozac and how it changed her life. She makes it clear that she is not a doctor, she's simply sharing her experience. I found the book was very easy to read, filled with personality, and surprisingly enjoyable, especially given my experiences with anxiety medications and beta-blockers.

While I'm glad that Prozac worked for the author, I had a completely different experience. Therefore, I do state that anyone considering seeking help talk to a doctor, specifically one that specializes in depression and/or anxiety. My doctor first tried beta-blockers. On those I gained a lot of weight because I had no energy. Things crashed around me after seeing a cardiologist as a precaution and he upped the dosage, which put my blood pressure dropped from 120/70 to 70/40 in a matter of hours.

On the generic form of Prozac, I couldn't function. I was told things would get worse before they improved, and they certainly did. I couldn't sleep, became paranoid about everything, was very sluggish all the time, and after three weeks with no improvement, I'd had enough. In my case, seeing a therapist and going through sessions learning positive self-talk was far more beneficial. It's been 10 years since I was weaned off all medications, and I'm much happier this way.

Every case is different, and while I did enjoy Pros of Prozac, what the author experienced and what I went through were opposite ends of the spectrum. I do recommend reading her experiences, and then work with a specialist to find out what works for you.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Lake House - Marci Nault



Release Date - May 2013

Marci Nault
Gallery Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I love books that grab you and keep you riveted from the first to the final page. That's exactly the kind of experience The Lake House offers. I admit to being saddened when it came to an end though because it meant my time with the residents of Nagog was over.

Victoria Rose grew up in the tight-knit lakeside town known as Nagog. She was one of the elite and with like her friends, she found herself falling in love with one of the local boys. The problem was that Victoria had aspirations of seeing the world, something her mother and even some of her friends simply couldn't understand. When she moved on, she became an outsider and was alienated by many, even during times of tragedy.

Heather Bregman seems to have it all. A job that takes her all over the world and a relatively wealthy fiance. What people don't see is how Heather's fiance is incredibly controlling and demands she do what he want, not what her heart wants. Ready to take control of her life, Heather purchases a lake home in Nagog and expects to fit right in.

The senior residents of Nagog are not ready for change. They don't want outsiders in their town, and they're definitely not ready to welcome Victoria Rose back with open arms. While Heather struggles to fit into a community full of senior citizens, she receives friendship from Victoria who is more than happy to have someone on her side for a change.

I admit that reading the first chapter left me wondering how well I'd be able to relate to a group of senior citizens, especially those who feel it was perfectly acceptable to treat others cruelly. I admit, there were some characters that I could have lived without because their behavior simply wasn't as Christian as they claimed to be. Sadly, I live in a small community and know that there are many out there who are just like Sarah and Evelyn.

The more I read, the more I loved it. I started reading while lounging in one of the Adirondack chairs on my deck and soon hours had passed and I was still hooked. I couldn't stop reading until I was done.

The Lake House is an engrossing read. Bring it to the beach or outside and enjoy a little escapism to a community that I certainly hope Marci Nault revisits!


Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy! Volume 1: Grant Morrison, Darick Robertson, Richard P. Clark, Tony Avina, and Simon Bowland



Release Date - May 2013

Grant Morrison
Darick Robertson
Richard P. Clark
Tony Avina
Simon Bowland
Image Comics

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Nick Sax lost his job as a cop and now makes a living as a hit man. His problems with alcohol become the least of his issues when a hit goes wrong and both the mob and police are hot on his tail. Worse, there's a flying blue horse named Happy that keeps appearing to Nick saying that a little girl desperately needs his help. Nick knows one thing, as much as he wants Happy to disappear, Happy is equally determined to get Nick to save the day.

There are things I loved about Happy! and many of them extend beyond the actual story. Nick Sax is a dark man with many issues and many skeletons in his closet. In panels with Nick, the mood is captured perfect with darker drawings. Then Happy arrives and the little horse brings in bursts of color.

The drawings are amazing. They can be quite bloody from time to time, but that fits the story. This is not a pretty story and Nick is a smart, yet cunning killer who gets the job done when he has to. Images of brains being blown out must have taken the creators hours to draw. The talent shines through.

The story is just as good. It is definitely a crime story with a dark feel.I can't say I liked Nick at first. He's a killer and a drunk and I do have issues with people who drink excessively. I've seen them ruin far too many families. Happy adds humor that helps lighten the mood from time to time, but one things starts to become clear, Nick truly does have a human, emotional side and when it came into play, I really became attached to his character.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Dandelions on the Wind: The Quilted Heart Series - Mona Hodgson



Release Date - February 2013

Mona Hodgson
WaterBrook

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Set in Missouri, following the Civil War, Mona Hodgson's Dandelions on the Wind is a short novella that is extremely affordable and a quick, sweet read. At under $2 for the Kindle edition, it's not going to drain your wallet.

Rutherford "Woolly" Wainright left his infant daughter behind when his wife died during childbirth. He figured his mother-in-law would do a better job raising the baby than he would while he was grieving. After fighting in the war, he returns four years later hoping for a new start.

Maren Jensen accepted a job with Elsa Brantenberg after her intended husband decided she was lacking as a mail-order bride. Elsa and her granddaughter became Maren's family, and Woolly's return forces her to consider moving back to her home country, Denmark.

Obviously, feelings between Woolly and Maren begin to take shape, but Maren's been burned before. Woolly's fresh out the war where he's spent year's grieving the loss of his wife. Neither is certain that romance is in the cards.

Dandelions on the Wind is very short, just over 110 pages. It's summed up nicely, but I do have to say that at times things did seem rushed. Not that there was a way around it given the novella's short length, but I wished for more growth of each character and their relationship.

I liked the novella, but I really wish it had been a full-length book so that each character was fully developed and the relationship had time to grow rather than feeling rushed along.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Favor - Megan Hart



Release Date - June 25, 2013

Megan Hart
Harlequin/MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

During her rebellious teen years, Janelle Decker is sent to live with her grandmother. In her grandmother's care, she develops a strong relationship with both her grandmother and the neighborhood boys - Gabe, Andy, and Michael Tierney. It's Gabe that Janelle falls in love with, but tragedy strikes and Janelle goes away feeling she is to blame for that tragedy. Despite her self-blame, she doesn't know the entire story of events leading up to the tragedy.

Twenty years later, Janelle learns that her elderly grandmother has a brain tumor and is opting against treatment. She leaves California with her 12-year-old son and moves into her grandmother's home to become an around-the-clock caregiver. She soon finds that two of the Tierney boys, Gabe and Andy, still live next door with their ailing father. Janelle's given a second chance to find love with Gabe, but he's so cold and distant that she's not sure he still even cares. As she gets to know Andy and Gabe again, the truth about the events that drove her away begins to unravel.

The Favor isn't quite a romance, but there certainly are romantic leanings. What did strike me as the strength in this book is the relationship between Janelle and her grandmother, Nan, and Janelle's role as a parent, especially as she watches her son make many of the mistakes that drove her to her grandmother in the first place. The family dynamics keep you involved and rooting for all of the characters. There's also the realistic portrayal of Janelle becoming the primary caregiver to the woman who raised her. She's frustrated by how poorly Nan is on some days, and Nan is equally frustrated by her limitations.

I read The Favor in one sitting. It grabbed me and kept me metaphorically glued to the pages. I've read some of Megan Hart's erotic romances, so this was definitely a change of pace, and a memorable one at that.




Monday, May 20, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard - Susan Crandall



Release Date - July 2013

Susan Crandall
Gallery Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Long-time readers know that To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time. When I first received an email notifying me of the upcoming release of Whistling Past the Graveyard, I eagerly honed in on the comparison of this novel to Harper Lee's classic. I was excited to read Susan Crandall's latest. I've read and really enjoyed a few of her Warner Forever releases, so I already knew I loved her writing. Whistling Past the Graveyard is a bit different though, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

Starla Claudelle is almost 10 and longs to go to Nashville, Tennessee. Her mother moved there to become a singer, and other than cards and letters Starla hasn't seen her mom in years. Her dad works on oil rigs, so she lives and is cared for her her grandmother, a no-nonsense women who expects Starla to act like a lady. Starla wants to stay on her grandmother's good side because the Fourth of July festivities are coming up and being grounded and unable to attend the fireworks show is the worst punishment Starla can imagine.

When Starla sees the town bully harassing a local handicapped girl, Starla steps in and breaks his nose. Her grandmother could care less about what he was doing, she simply sees this as another bad choice by Starla and grounds her. Starla decides to sneak out and attend the Fourth of July events anyway. Unfortunately, one of her grandmother's friends catches her, so Starla makes the rush decision to run away and head to Nashville to live with her mom.

On the road, Starla meets a young black woman who is hiding a white baby. This is the 1960s, so Starla knows that something is wrong, but Eula is friendly enough. Soon, Starla, Eula, and the baby are on the run. Starla quickly learns that things are not always as they appear, and she also learns quickly that her complaints about life are nothing compared to the racism that Eula faces every day.

I can see why there are comparisons to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Starla has that same level of innocence and what I call the "call it like you see it" attitude. I loved Starla's character as a result. The story is gripping and the setting simply comes alive thanks to the author's descriptive writing. I started the book while my husband's ball game was on and found myself unwilling to stop reading until I'd finished the final page.

I admit the 1960s are before my time. I know from classes and text books that racism was clearly not pretty, but Starla and Eula's adventures make it very clear in a way that will be hard to forget. Whistling Past the Graveyard is an excellent choice for book clubs and those looking for a gripping novel to keep them on the edge of their seat.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Mourning Hours - Paula Treick DeBoard



Release Date - June 25, 2013

Paula Treick DeBoard
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Nine-year-old Kirsten Hammerstrom watches as her older brother, Johnny, enters into his first serious high school relationship. At first, Kirsten has a level of adoration for the girl, Stacy Lemke, but soon things change. Stacy becomes almost obsessive with Johnny. Kirsten spies the pair fighting shortly before Stacy disappears during a snowstorm. As Johnny was the last person with Stacy, he immediately becomes a suspect. The resulting investigation and public scrutiny threatens to tear Kirsten's world apart.

The Mourning Hours doesn't really have much in the way of romance, but it is packed with emotion and a suspenseful storyline. The family dynamics play an important role in this story with Kirsten, her sister, her brother, and parents all trying to decide who they can trust. As the town begins turning on the family, things become unbearable for most and no one is certain what really happened that night. Even the reader is left in the dark until the ending.

I found The Mourning Hours to be completely addicting. The plot is tight and moves along swiftly. I loved the honest portraits of each character. They could all be your friend, your sibling, or a neighbor. Even the suspicious neighbors came off as genuine.

If you want a book that's part-mystery and part-general fiction, this is a great choice.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Joy-Worthy: A Mother's Guide to More Joy, Less Stress and No Guilt - Julie McGrath



Release Date - November 2012


The Joy Source

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Every mother is different, so the benefit you get out of Joy-Worthy may well be different to what I experienced. When I had my kids, I gave up a career to raise them. Some of my friends scoffed, but in the end, I have straight A students. We get along well. They never turned to drugs or went through a rebellious phase. Sure, I sacrificed a lot, but it's worth it.

In Joy-Worthy, the author gives clear examples on how to increase the joy in your life. She covers every topic from feeling no shame if breastfeeding doesn't work for you to enhancing your sex life. I definitely appreciated her honesty when it came to sexual activity, though there were also aspects I disagreed with. I'd never have rushed for a quickie when my kids were outside. If my kids were outside, I was out supervising them because it's too easy for a stranger to drive up and snatch kids, especially when you live where the police need more than 30 minutes to reach your home.

I do agree that every mom needs an outlet. Your kids suffer if you're not happy. I wholeheartedly agree with most of the tips and exercises within the book, and certainly feel it's a worthwhile gift to give yourself or the mom in your life.

Friday, May 17, 2013

As Twilight Falls - Amanda Ashley



Release Date - May 2013

Amanda Ashley
Kensington/Zebra

Book Review by Bob Walch

 
Kadie Andrews is traveling across the country photographing ghost towns. Then one day she gets a little too far off the beaten track and discovers Morgan Creek. This quaint little place doesn’t appear on any map and is decidedly a bit eerie. 
 
It doesn’t take Kadie long to realize there is something a little off about the few people who reside here. And when the sun sets Morgan Creek takes on a decidedly sinister air.
Unable to flee, Kadie finds herself a captive guest of the community who is interested in attracting new blood to the settlement. When Rylan Saintcrow enters the picture, this attractive young woman finds herself drawn to this compelling man who desires her for a number of reasons. 
 
Having stumbled into the lair of vampires, Kadie Andrews finds herself a very conflicted woman. On one hand she wants to escape while she still can, but on the other hand there is Rylan Saintcow, a gentleman has some very beguiling attributes! 
 
If vampire romances are your thing, you’ll want to sink your literary teeth into this novel and follow Kadie Andrews’ transformation into someone who risks everything for true love!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Notes of a Tourist on Planet Earth: Being a Collection of Hilarious Essays, Poems, and Ponderings About the Human Species - J.D. Smith



Release Date - March 2013

J.D. Smith
Cassowary Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Notes of a Tourist on Planet Earth takes a look at the absurdity in life. From the author's ponderings on St. Fu to the truth found in "Pre-Flight Announcement," J.D. Smith touches on some things in life that simply do prove to be humorous, if not a bit too true.

While not everything made me snicker, the list of dishes you wouldn't find at DisneyWorld - Hakuna Fritatta or Mickey Mousse to name just a couple - definitely brought a smile to my face.  Finally, the collection of "Parting Words, or Maxims for Our Time" were definitely sound and humorous.

All in all, while some of the poems and essays didn't have me snickering, many more did. For that reason, I say this is a great collection to have on hand for days when you simply need something uplifting to make you forget about the things that put you in a bad mood.




Monday, May 13, 2013

Unbridled: A Memoir - Barbara McNally



Release Date - March 2013

Barbara McNally
Balboa Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

For more than a decade, Barbara McNally was the perfect wife, perfect hostess, and perfect mother, but along the way she lost track of who she really was. After having an affair, her marriage is over. Needing to rediscover who she is, she takes a page from her late grandmother's life and heads off to Ireland in search of herself. There, she rediscovers the vibrancy she lost along the way and starts to make the changes needed to find herself.

As much as I dislike cheating within a marriage, I understood where Barbara McNally was coming from. I, too, gave up a career almost 20 years ago to raise my kids. Thankfully, my husband lets me do my thing online, so I have my identity writing for various online sites.

In Unbridled, she does go on an amazing journey through Ireland and later Jamaica. I think many readers will sympathize with her and the choices she makes - right or wrong.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Great Escape - Susan Elizabeth Phillips



Release Date - April 2013

Susan Elizabeth Phillips
William Morrow

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Long-time readers of Susan Elizabeth Phillips will recognize many of the characters in The Great Escape from First Lady and Call Me Irresistible. Readers met Lucy Jorik in First Lady, when she was a scrappy teen trying to survive the streets and keep her sister safe. They saw Lucy again in Call Me Irresistible when Lucy fled from her impending wedding leaving her friend Meg to smooth everything over, only Meg started to fall for the fiance that Lucy left at the altar.

The Great Escape details Lucy's escape from Lucy's point of view. Readers learn where Lucy goes and how she struggles to figure out how to get back in her family's good graces after running away from her wedding. Little does she know, the bad boy, Panda, she hitches a ride with has his own secrets.

I really disliked Lucy for letting Meg take the brunt of everyone's anger in Call Me Irresistible, but I found myself liking her character best of all in this book. She is witty, tough, and definitely the ideal match for Panda.

There's a secondary romance in The Great Escape. Once settled in the lake house, Lucy discovers a neighbor's kid, Toby, watching her. After Toby's grandmother dies, a former friend of Toby's mother, Bree, becomes his new guardian. She has her own issues dealing with events of the past, all related to Toby's parents. Bree's back and trying to keep a low profile, but a man from her past wants to make it known that he's always loved her.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sleight of Hand - Phillip Margolin



Release Date - April 2013

Phillip Margolin
Harper

Book Review by Bob Walch

If you remember Dana Cutler from Philip Margolin’s very successful Washington Trilogy ( Executive Privilege, Supreme Justice and Capitol Murder), then you’ll be delighted that the feisty, private investigator is back on the job. 
  
Dana seems to be spread a little thin here but, as you’ll see, the two cases she is working on do eventually merge. First there is the search for a stolen relic, a medieval scepter that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Dana is hired by a mysterious Frenchwoman to track it down but comes to the conclusion this may be just a wild goose chase.

A more immediate concern is the problem posed by slick attorney Charles Benedict. A bit of a chameleon, Benedict is an accomplished amateur magician and a very discrete professional hit man for the Russian mob. Benedict has framed a client who hired him to handle a murder case and the slippery lawyer is convinced he can use his magic to pull off the perfect crime.

Naturally Dana stands in the way of this feat and she has no intention of letting this talented psychopath get away with this very bizarre plot. 
 
The partial inspiration for this latest Margolin thriller comes from the Dashiell Hamett classic, The Maltese Falcon. The quirky cast of characters and the “quest” theme here are reminiscent of the Sam Spade classic.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Once Upon a Gypsy Moon: A Memoir - Michael Hurley



Release Date - April 2013

Michael Hurley
Center Street

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Michael Hurley hit rock bottom after cheating on his wife, going through a painful divorce, and being voted out as partner in the law firm where he'd spend dozens of hours a week working. This all led to Hurley's decision to fix his sailboat, Gypsy Moon, and sail for two years from Maryland to the Caribbean. Things were not always easygoing, true of any adventure, and he reaches many emotional milestones along the way. Once Upon a Gypsy Moon is the account of his voyages.


Some of the details of the boating were a little over my head and made for drier reading. Thankfully, this is mainly in the fifth chapter when he talks about the repairs and why he opted for "hanked-on headsails" vs. "roller furling." It's a short chapter though. Mainly, I found the chapters where he focuses on his reflections or the people he meets along the way to be far more valuable.

Throughout Once Upon a Gypsy Moon, the author details his past and present with a very honest voice. He makes it clear that he screwed up his marriage and never asks for sympathy, something I find refreshing. I've read a few too many memoirs where the authors do not seem to get that they are responsible for their downfalls -- from drug addicts who say their friends and family should have forced them to stop to unfaithful spouses who blame their wives or husbands for not making them stay. Michael Hurley's honesty made this book enjoyable and made me appreciate his story so much more.




Friday, May 3, 2013

A Plain Scandal: An Appleseed Creek Mystery - Amanda Flower



Release Date - February 2013

Amanda Flower
B&H Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

A Plain Scandal is the second entry into the "An Appleseed Creek Mystery" series. Chloe Humphrey is immersing herself in the lives of her Amish friends, but it's not always easy. When someone beings targeting the Amish and cutting off their hair or beards, Chloe starts looking into the crimes. It isn't long before she comes across a body and is thrust into another perplexing mystery.

Meanwhile, Chloe is also torn by a growing movement to shun the family who treat her like one of their own. If remaining part of their family puts their status within the Amish community at risk, she really can't keep participating in their gatherings. But, how do you turn your back on a family that's become a strong part of your life?

A Plain Scandal kept me guessing. I thought I'd figured it out, but only part of my guess was correct. I do like mysteries that are not easily solved. The immersion of the Amish people adds to the story. Having Chloe's roommate and friends within the Amish community adds insight into the struggles the Amish face with their religion and the world around them.

I missed the first book in this series. While I wish I'd read it now so that some aspects were a little clearer, I never felt lost while reading A Plain Scandal.