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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Get Your Kids Hiking - Jeff Alt



Release Date - May 2013

Jeff Alt
Beaufort Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun is a handy book for parents of young children who enjoy being outdoors and active. It's pretty comprehensive and small enough to fit into your backpack or bag when you're on the go.

Each section is divided by the child's age. It starts from infancy and works up the teen years. There are sections on foods to pack, safety tips, checklists for necessary supplies, and even tips on hiking with a special needs child.

I wish everyone would read this book, kids or not, before hitting the trails. I live close enough to Mount Mansfield and sections of the Long Trail that I've hear stories of rescues through the year. While some hikers are prepared for the elements, far more are not. It does get tiring hearing of another hiker was unprepared and put the rescuers lives at risk by not knowing simple safety tips.

This is an outstanding book for parents and a must-have for any family that goes hiking or would like to start going on hikes together.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Three Little Words - Susan Mallery







Release Date - July 30, 2013

Susan Mallery
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

How I love my trips to Fool's Gold. Susan Mallery's created a town I'd love to be part of. The friendly faces, neighbors knowing neighbors, and a collection of stores and boutiques that make you want to spend time outside of your home. It's a far cry than my rural town and something I'd love to be part of.

Three Little Words features the rather hunky sounding Ford Hendrix, a former Navy SEAL who got through his service thanks to the letters Isabel Beebe kept sending him. Ford was once engaged to Isabel's sister. Isabel, then 14 and in love with Ford, was shattered when her sister dumped Ford for his friend. She wrote letters to him through high school and college never knowing if he was getting or reading her letters.

Fast forward 14 years. Isabel lives in New York City, but returns home to Fool's Gold to run her late grandmother's bridal store until her parents return from a much needed vacation. With five months away from the city, she has time to get over the hurt of her failed marriage and prepare for a new business venture. She never expects to bump into Ford or have him ask if she'll be his pretend girlfriend. She has no idea why she agrees, but soon she finds herself liking her new role.

Ford's mother is doing everything she can to make sure her bachelor sons find romance. When she starts to play matchmaker, Ford decides to tell her he has a girlfriend in order to get her to back off. What he doesn't expect is to start falling for Isabel. Falling in love is not an option for Ford, no matter what his heart is trying to say.

Three Little Words is actually a two-for-one romance. Not only do you get to watch Ford and Isabel battle their growing feelings, but Ford's brother, a single dad, also finds himself falling head over heels for Ford's co-worker, a military woman with a rough background. This made it feel like you got a bonus! I can't wait to see how things are going for both couples in future Fool's Gold romances.





Sunday, July 28, 2013

Half as Happy - Gregory Spatz



Release Date - April 2013

Gregory Spatz
Engine Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Half as Happy is a collection of short stories from Gregory Spatz. There are eight stories in all, and each is as mesmerizing as the next.

1. Any Landlord's Dream is about a couple who are grieving the loss of their infant son. They decide to rent a one-story home that's been vacant for quite some time. That new home may be what it takes for them to overcome their loss and find solace in each other once again.

2. Happy for You starts with a mother being woken up by her adult son's phone call. He needs her Easter recipes. That starts her down a path remembering the highs and lows of her life.

3. A man's lost everything close to him in No Kind of Music. First, his mother died. Next, it was his father-in-law, which was shortly followed by his wife leaving him for another man. It's his passion for classical music that seems to keep him going.

4. Luck finds Herb Zackowsky and his wife taking an Alaskan cruise. It's there that he spies a man he cannot believe is on the same ship.

5. The Bowmaker's Cats shares the tale about a local bowmaker, proud owner of cats, that no one has ever seen. Soon, the bowmaker disappears too leaving those who buy his bows to wonder what happened.

6. In A Bear for Trying Karl wants to stand out from his twin brother, but they share a connection that only twins can understand.

7. Half as Happy involves a man who is becoming increasingly frustrated by his wife's extreme weight loss.

8. Finally, String tells the tale of boys whose mothers are sisters. Their father fled when he learned he'd impregnated both women. Thes boys push their luck when they pull a prank that goes horribly wrong.

Each story in Half as Happy is to be savored. The writing is descriptive and creates strong imagery. The characters, all with flaws, come to life on the pages. There isn't one story that stands out over another, all have appeal. It's simply a stunning read that is easily broken into sessions over a span of days or read all at once. When you're done, most of the stories stick in your head and have you eager to talk about them with others. That makes this an excellent choice for online discussion groups and library reading clubs.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Waiting for Sunrise - William Boyd



Release Date - January 2013

William Boyd
HarperCollins

Book Review by Bob Walch

If Lysander Rief thought he had problems before he went to Vienna in 1913, while seeking psychological help for an odd sexual problem, it was nothing compared to the quandary he was in when he left the city. The English actor met Hettie Ball, a high strung sculptor, in the doctor’s office and one thing led to another. 
 
When Hettie gets pregnant she claims Lysander raped her and he is arrested. Facing a scandalous trial, the actor manages to escape the authorities with the help of some folks at the British Consulate.

Now fast forward and Lysander is back in London and has resumed his stage career when the war breaks out. Since he speaks flawless German, Lysander becomes a translator for internees but the intelligence service quickly enlists him to work for them. 
 
Having little choice in the matter because of the affair in Vienna, Lysander agrees since it appears to be “pay back” time. He is sent to Geneva to locate a traitor and there he again encounters his Viennese lover.

As the plot thickens, the British spy finds he’s reliving the past as he pursues a stranger who has some disturbing connections to his own family’s past. He’ll need all his acting skills and some of what he learned in Vienna to accomplish this assignment and also cope with a few ancestral ghosts he encounters.

Set against the cultures and customs of Edwardian England and Hapsburg, Austria, this many faceted novel contains some curious twists that will keep the reader riveted to the story until its surprising end. And, yes, Sigmund Freud does make a cameo appearance as one might expect in a tale of this ilk.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Rant on Lazy Students

I received a post for moderation that will never get posted, but I wanted to take the time to single out this anonymous poster.

Book reports are something required of you in school. We've all written them. Many of us, from my generation, probably relied heavily on Cliff Notes, what you call Spark Notes today. I know Cliff Notes got me through Shakespeare. Other classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, I simply loved reading that book, so I never needed them.

So to get a post of you whining how my book "review" didn't help you, you've simply made me laugh. If you honestly think I feel bad for you that you could not glean enough from one of my reviews in order to write your book report, guess again. Reviews aren't reports, there is a huge difference. Suck it up, read the book, and do your own work.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Girl Who Married an Eagle - Tamar Myers



Release Date - April 2013

Tamar Myers
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

Based on an event from the author’s own life, this is the tale of two young women, one American and the other African. Julia Elaine Newton leaves her home in Ohio to volunteer in a mission in the Belgian Congo. The beautiful young American ends up teaching in an all-girls boarding school that has become a refuge for native runaway child brides.

A far cry from her experiences in a small Mid-western Bible college, Julia is about to experience a culture she really isn’t prepared for and she’ll be working with individuals with some interesting ideas about white people. 
 
Buakane is a young girl who has run away to avoid marriage to a tribal leader named Chief Eagle. As the youngest and newest wife of the chief, tradition demands that Buakane will be buried alive with the man when he dies and she fears that event will come sooner rather than later. She doesn’t relish the idea of a premature death, so she runs from it. 
 
As she attempts to protect this young woman from her vindictive would-be husband, Julia comes to terms with a culture she is learning about through trial and error. Along with Cripple, her native servant, and a few other adults, Julia must protect Buakane and the rest of the school’s girls as Congolese independence nears. Realizing where his child bride is, Chief Eagle is determined to exact his revenge on her protectors and claim his property. As power is about to be turned over to the natives, this becomes a serious threat and one Julia must meet head on.

An atmospheric novel with plenty of colorful characters and cultural nuances Western readers should appreciate, The Girl Who Married an Eagle is a riveting read which also exhibits an entirely new dimension to Tamar Myers’ fiction.

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's a Boy (The Camdens of Colorado) - Victoria Pade



Release Date - August 2013


Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Heddy Hanrahan quit her job after the death of her infant daughter and husband. She's since launched a bakery specializing in cheesecakes, but business isn't going as well as she hoped. Things take an interesting turn when a hunky man comes into her shop, toddler in tow, and doesn't seem to know the first thing about handling a child.

Lang Camden never expected to find out that a one-night stand resulted in him becoming a father. After the two-year-old boy's mother hands him over to social services, they test the four potential dads, and Lang's DNA is the match. Despite using birth control, he's an instant dad and doesn't have the first clue about parenting, especially not with a rambunctious toddler.

Lang's at Heddy's bakery to make her an offer. His family wants to market and sell her cheesecakes exclusively through their stores. The Camden's wronged Heddy's family in the past, so he's certain this will not go over well. Meanwhile, Heddy loves Lang's offer, but given the past, she fears this offer is too good to be true. As she spends more time with Lang and his son, she finds herself fearful of what is happening both on the business and personal front. She can't allow herself to forget the tragic events that took her family, but how can she ignore what her heart is saying?

It's a Boy is such a touching story. I felt for all characters. The issue is that the book ended long before I was ready. I now know that I need to find the other books in the series and start catching up with all of the Camden's. I also hope that there is plenty to come with frequent views into the lives of Heddy and Lang.

I do enjoy finding that special Harlequin novel that draws me in and keeps me wanting more. And, that's exactly what Victoria Pade's story did.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bending Toward the Sun - Mona Hodgson



Release Date - April 2013

Mona Hodgson
Waterbrook Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Emilie Heinrich never expects to reunite with a childhood friend, Quaid McFarland, and feel a deep, immediate attraction. While Quaid fought in the Civil War, he matured and turned from a lanky teen into a man that has Emilie questioning her decision to avoid romance and spend all of her time working in her father's general store.

The more Emilie gets to know Quaid, the more smitten she becomes. Having any semblance of a courtship will not work out, however. Her very strict German father is determined that this Irishman is not the right man for his daughter, and he'll do everything in his power to make sure that their renewed friendship never ensues into a courtship.

I can't say I thought much of Emilie's father. I know times were different, but I still find it annoying. I really liked Quaid and to have a man judge him because he's Irish and not holding a job you find suitable never seems very Christian to me.

Bending Toward the Sun is the second in the Quilted Heart series. These are short stories, so character development is rushed because of the shorter length. Given that, I do wish these were longer stories. By the time I'm finding a flow with the story, it's over.

Maren and Wooly from Dandelions on the Wind appear in this second novella, so the reader does get to catch up with them. Given that, I'm sure there will be much more Emilie and Quaid in the third novella, Ripples Along the Shore.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Unseen - Karin Slaughter



Release Date - July 2013

Karin Slaughter
Delacorte Press

Book Review by Bob Walch

Their relationship has become a little strained of late, and the fact that Will Trent, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, and Dr. Sara Linton, his lady love, are now on a collision course probably won’t help matters.

Will has gone undercover to get in with a lowlife drug dealer in Macon, Georgia. At the same time, Sara has been drawn to the city by the death of her stepson who was gunned down in his own home. Not the first time violence has struck her family in this manner, Sara blames Jared’s wife, a detective, for what has happened.

Without ever really realizing it, Sara is involved with the same situation that has brought Will to town and that is going to lead to some serious problems as danger swirls around both of these individuals.

Karin Slaughter has been called one of the best crime writers in the country and this thriller with its twists and shocking revelations is up to her usual standards. This story of shifting allegiances and conspiracy not only blurs the lines between good and evil but it also makes for a captivating read.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Banks of Certain Rivers - Jon Harrison



Release Date - March 2013

Jon Harrison
Lake Union Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

In one moment Neil Kazenzakis' world is torn apart. He's attending a conference and brings his wife and son with him. During the presentation, a medical chopper lands in the resort's acreage and someone is whisked away. Soon police officers inform Neil that his wife's finger got stuck on a grate at the bottom of the resort's pool. She's alive but not in good shape.

A few years pass. Neil's wife remains unresponsive in a long-term care facility. His son's acclimated to the tragic events after much-needed counseling. The two visit her as often as possible and remain active in the school where Neil teaches and his son is soon to graduate.

Neil has his secrets though. He's been seeing his ailing mother-in-law's home care nurse regularly. Neil isn't sure how to tell his son that he's fallen in love. His son finds out around the same time a video is released of Neil that threatens his job, friendships, and relationships. Neil suddenly finds himself struggling to find his footing in a town that seems adamant that he's a horrible person and with a son who suddenly wants nothing to do with him.

The Banks of Certain Rivers is emotional, engaging, and hard to put down. There are mistakes Neil makes that had me cringing, but he's human with a lot on his plate. When it comes to summer reads, this is a very touching novel. I shed a few tears at the end and definitely felt like every moment reading the book was time well spent.



Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Last Kind Words - Tom Piccirilli



Release Date - April 2013

Tom Piccirilli
Bantam

Book Review by Bob Walch

There’s not much to like about the Rands. The members of this clan of petty criminals have made a name for themselves but it wasn’t until Collie Rand went off the rails and killed eight people that the Rands made the big time.

Now Terry Rand, a smooth pickpocket and lock man, has been called home by his older brother. Facing the death penalty for his killing rampage, Collie claims that one of the murders was not of his doing. He insists the real killer is still out there somewhere and wants Terry to find the culprit.
 
Why he is willing to honor the request of a relative he abhors is a mystery, but Terry acquiesces. Drawn back into the schemes and lives of a group of folks he doesn’t really care for and ran away to escape, Terry is about to make some startling discoveries about his family. Some skeletons are better left buried, but it looks like a lot of the Rands’ dirty laundry is about to be aired.

One of the more inventive family sagas you’ll find in crime writing, this slightly bizarre, offbeat tale and occasionally humorous story will keep you reading because you probably haven’t come across a clan quite like this since the Corleones in The Godfather.



Friday, July 12, 2013

Everyone Says That At the End of the World - Owen Egerton



Release Date - April 2013

Owen Egerton
Soft Skull Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

There is good and bad with Everyone Says That at the End of the World. First, the writing is excellent and drew me in. I couldn't put this book down. I needed to know what was happening and how the story was going to progress. That said, there were so many characters introduced that I started to get lost. I had to keep notes to know who each person was while I became accustomed to their different stories.

In Owen Egerton's novel, earth is an asylum and it's being shut down. This leaves the inhabitants that range from Milton and his dad, a man who believes aliens are entering their world to a couple expecting their first child, and they have mixed feelings. There's even a hermit crab who appears to be the Lord.

The opening grabbed my attention. As more characters were introduced, I started to lose my footing. Then the book took a decidedly Christian/philosophical turn, and I stumbled a bit. However, I kept reading and soon grew to really enjoy the story, the message, and each character. I still think that Milton was my favorite, so I did find myself most eager to see how things turned out for him.

Everyone Says That at the End of the World is a totally different read. If you're looking for something that's unlike anything you've read before, this is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Imperfect Pairings - Jackie Townsend



Release Date - May 2013

Jackie Townsend


Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Imperfect Pairings is the winner of the 2013 Indie Reader Discovery Award for Chick Lit. I, personally, am not sure I'd classify the novel as chick lit. When I think of chick lit, I think of light and humorous. With Imperfect Pairings, Jamie and Jack/Giovanni's relationship was often turbulent and rather morose.

Jamie is a business woman in America. She heads to Italy with her beau, Jack, not expecting him to suddenly change. In Italy, she comes second to his family. His mother doesn't seem overly impressed by her, she struggles to fit in due to the family's structure, and there's a bit of a language barrier too.

Soon, the couple are forced to explore their relationships and their very ideas of family. When Jack left for the U.S., he left behind his destiny on the family's vineyard. Once he's back, his passion for the land grows and Jamie becomes uncertain of her place with the family or even with Jack for that matter.

The book does come to life with vivid details of Italy. From time to time, Italian phrases pop up, and my knowledge of French helped me a little with the translations, but usually I had to skip them and hope the Italian wasn't essential to the story.

I honestly wasn't sure I liked either character, yet as the book progressed, I found myself involved in their stories, plus those of the cousins, and kept reading. In the end, I am very glad I stuck with it. Despite their differences, the romance between Jack and Jamie is touching and satisfying.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Unsinkable Herr Goering - Ian Cassidy



Release Date - March 2013


Cassowary Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I have to say, I was a little confused by The Unsinkable Herr Goering. Per the description, it comes off as kind of a "histories mysteries," with the truth revealed about Hitler's deputy's suicide. As I started reading it, it became clear that this is really a satirical look at the man's greed and penchant for cross dressing.

In The Unsinkable Herr Goering, readers meet the man as he travels to the ambassador's house. He's clearly uncomfortable, dressed in silk stockings with lacy suspenders holding them up. The story progresses with comical episodes like Goering's trip to the ambassador's bathroom. What the story really comes down to, however, is that Goering plans to get out of Germany with his family and prized possessions. Finding transportation that can carry everything is a little more troublesome. From there, readers are treated to a farcical look at what really happened to Goering, and the attempts of the men who were supposed to stop his escape.

I had a galley copy, so I know there were editing mistakes, and that's perfectly acceptable. However, when looking at a supposed final copy on Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, I still see that the spelling "Goering" is used, but there are other times where it is spelled "Goring." While both spellings are correct, I'd expect to have one spelling used consistently throughout the book. Hopefully, future edits of the book catch and fix that issue.

I think your enjoyment of The Unsinkable Herr Goering is going to depend on your tastes. I found myself truly disliking Herr Goering, understandable given the man's nature, and therefore struggled with the book. I realize now that it was a satire, but knowing what he really did in life, I couldn't move past that to find humor in what he did. Instead, I often found myself disinterested and ready to give up.

There is certainly humor in this story, and I think that will appeal to many. In fact, I can see my brothers and husband, all diehard Monty Python fans, really enjoying this book. I, however, simply don't get the humor in Monty Python either, and that makes me think I simply am not a good fit for Ian Cassidy's novel.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Forever, Interrupted - Taylor Jenkins Reid



Release Date - July 9, 2013

Taylor Jenkins Reid
Washington Square Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

It is a very, very rare occasion that a book makes it to my keeper shelf. Mostly, my keeper shelf is home to cookbooks, To Kill a Mockingbird, Earth Abides, a collection of E.E. Cummings poetry, and The Stand. Taylor Jenkins Reid pulled off an incredible feat and put her book on my shelf.

In little more than six months, Elsie Porter meets the man of her dreams and falls head over heels. The meet by chance at a local pizza parlor, go on a date the next night, and never again want to be alone. Soon, Ben Ross moves in with her, they elope, and they prepare to live happily ever after.

Exactly nine days after they get married, Ben heads off to the store to get Elsie the Fruity Pebbles she is craving. A truck crashes into his bicycle and he's dead. Elsie, obviously, is shattered.

At the hospital, Elsie meets her mother-in-law, a woman who doesn't know her Elsie exists and certainly isn't happy to learn that he married without telling her.

Forever, Interrupted takes place in the past and in the present. Events start with the accident and then go back and forth as Elsie faces both happy and sad milestones. Presented in this manner actually helped me out. I shed many tears reading this story, and also found myself feeling warm and fuzzy as their romance emerged.

I read this book in one sitting and soon found myself returning to the beginning to read it again. It was that inviting and fulfilling. It's really rare to find such a gem of a novel. I can't imagine losing my own husband after 22 years of marriage. Being part of Elsie's life for even a few short hours did teach me that life goes on, even when you don't think it possible.


Monday, July 1, 2013

We Are All Birds - Geoff Gray



Release Date - March 2013 (Reprint)


Cassowary Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

After Sheldon Wirth's relationship comes to an end, he's hit with news of another tragic situation. His best friend, Dent, has a rare disease that affects the bone marrow, one the doctors are saying is a precursor to cancer. When Dent disappears, leaving the country to see some of the world, Sheldon is left behind. He struggles to maintain his job and possibly even his sanity, all while trying to hook back up with his ex and reconnect with Dent before its too late.

The witty, often sarcastic narrative in We Are All Birds certainly had me chuckling from time to time. This book is nothing like I've read before, characters meandered at their pace, learning from life as they went.

Given that, there were also times when I struggled with the book. I think it's partly that the characters were younger than I, so I see things differently to them. That made it hard to understand some of their decisions. In the beginning, I couldn't understand behaving in a hospital setting in the manner that Sheldon does. It seemed juvenile to me, and that's why I feel it was an age/maturity thing.

Still, the humor at other times kept me drawn to the story. If you're looking for something unique, something that draws you in and bounces from touching to absurd with no warning in between, We Are All Birds is a must.