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Friday, December 27, 2013

To Tuscany With Love by Gail Mencini



Release Date - November 2013

Gail Mencini
Capriole Group

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Bella's mother is concerned with her daughter's involvement with her new friends, especially when their latest protest leads to Bella spending a night in jail. In hopes of straightening Bella out, her mother scrapes together enough money to send Bella to Florence, Italy, for one summer. In Italy, Bella soon meets the seven strangers she will be spending her summer with. It isn't long before friendships are forming, potential relationships are taking place, and Bella's world is changed.

Thirty years later, Bella receives an invitation inviting her back to Italy. She soon heads off to reunite with the people she'd tried so hard to leave in the past, but with whom she wants to "set the record straight."

To Tuscany With Love does an exceptional job drawing the reader in to the Italian setting. I wanted very much to be right there with the characters. The story shifts from present to past and back again for the characters, but I didn't find the shifts jarring, which can happen in some books. So I appreciate the clear changes from past to present, timed perfectly so that the shifts fit the story.

If you're looking for women's fiction with an amazing setting To Tuscany With Love is a solid choice. The story is good, characters are enjoyable, but the setting was the star to this reader.



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy New Year, Baby Fortune! by Leanne Banks



Release Date - December 17, 2013

Leanne Banks
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Single mom Stacey Fortune Jones is happy enough raising her daughter and living with her parents, but she still longs for more. When she suddenly notices neighbor Colton Foster, she can't believe that after all these years, she's finding her best friend's brother attractive. She's known Colton since she was a kid, so how can she be falling for him now?

Colton is equally stunned to find himself falling for Stacey. After all, if he starts any relationship with her, he's not just getting a girlfriend, he's becoming a father-figure to a six-month-old girl. He's not sure he's ready to be part of an instant family, yet he can't ignore his growing feelings either. What's a guy to do?

Happy New Year, Baby Fortune! is a sweet romance where there's not a lot of conflict, but there is a relationship that slowly grows as the couple tries to decide what to make of their developing feelings. It's the perfect fit for a break between cookie batches and moments when you simply want something uplifting to sweep  you away for a while!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Death of Nightingale by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis



Release Date - November 2013

Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Soho Crime

Book Review by Jessica Maguire


Believing that content, happy characters make boring stories, Danish authors Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis bring readers colorful characters and a gripping, twisting storyline in Death of a Nightingale.

Natasha Doroshenko has gotten herself into quite a mess. A Ukrainian mail order bride with a Danish fiancee, Natasha is convicted of his murder. Pursued by the police, she runs. To make matters worse, Natasha already has a sordid past that has the Danish secret service as well as Ukrainian special agents trailing her.

Nina Borg is a Danish Red Cross nurse familiar with Natasha since they once worked together. Nina helped protect Natasha from her fiancee when he was abusive. Despite his abuse, Nina just cannot picture Natasha as a murderer.  

Nina and Natasha's lives are further intertwined in an effort to protect Natasha's daughter. Natasha, already an escaped convict, is attempting to kidnap her child from state custody. The deeper Nina gets involved with Natasha and her daughter, the more she realizes she really knows nothing about her former co-worker or her sordid past.

Does this story sound intriguing yet? Well, there are more characters intertwined in the story, more plot twists, and even more intrigue. But to find out, you'll just have to pick up a copy of this book and get cozy. Happy reading!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Serpentine Affair by Tina Seskis



Release Date - August 2013

Tina Seskis
Kirk Parolles

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Once a year, a group of former college friends join up for an annual reunion. Few understand why they even bother getting together anymore. They've all moved on, have families of their own, and rarely get along. Each woman also harbors secrets and this makes this year's reunion particularly difficult.

There's Sissy, a woman whose husband died from melanoma that was diagnosed right after their honeymoon. Camilla, the organizer of the annual reunion, who pushes the woman to attend every year. JoAnne harbors a secret about events that happened to her when they were all in the U.S. one summer. Juliette's bossy husband is definitely not liked by many in the group. Natasha knows her husband is cheating on her with one of her supposed friends. Siobhan seems to be the quietest in the group, at first anyway, but even she is hiding an explosive secret.

A Serpentine Affair then winds its way between past and present to reveal the secrets these women are all hiding. Leading to an ending you just do not see coming.

I admit, I had to get out a notebook at first because there are so many characters. As the story bounces from past to present and back, I had to keep notes to stay on top of things. That never detracted from the story though. I was intrigued with just about every character, short of Melissa who I grew tired of really fast, especially during the whole muesli scene. But the fact that I hated her so much says a lot for the author's talents at making a character seem real.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

OMG. That's Paleo? by Juli Bauer



Release Date - February 2013

Juli Bauer
Scribe Publishing Company

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

In my day job, I write blog posts for some very busy doctors who read my work that I've researched by reading some rather complex medical journal articles. They often make comments about what I didn't get right, and then I learn as much as I can for the future from those comments. As a result, I am a little more in tune to the medical industry than the average person. One thing I do know is that the medical world differs on the true benefits of the Paleo diet. Most are for it, IF you add whole grains to your diet and don't forgo all dairy because most people do not get enough calcium.

OMG. That's Paleo? intrigued me because the author does follow the Paleo principles, but she's not afraid to tweak things to make them interesting. Seeing chocolate in some of her recipes surprised me, especially when some chocolates contain dairy, but after looking at one recipe in particular, I was drooling.

The recipes in OMG. That's Paleo? all follow the general veggies, lean meats, no flours or refined sugars rule. In place of flour, you rely on a lot of coconut flour or almond meal/flour. I wasn't even more than a few recipes in when I found my first "I have to make that" recipe for a ground chicken meatloaf. By the time I hit desserts, my list of needed ingredients was huge. The chocolate, caramel, coffee bars look amazing and will be the first recipe I test.

Even if you're not following the Paleo diet like me, there are still some excellent recipes and outstanding photos that will draw you to this cookbook.




Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan



Release Date - November 2013

Sarah Morgan
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Jackson O'Neil left his family's Vermont ski resort and spa and found his way in the world. Now, his father is dead and the resort is struggling. Jackson returns home to try to turn things around, despite his grandfather's disapproval.

One of the first issues where Jackson and his grandfather butt heads is over the hiring of one very lovely Kayla Green, an expert in marketing. To win his grandfather over, Jackson asks Kayla to come stay at Snow Crystal for exactly one week and find out what makes the resort so magical.

Kayla hates Christmas, so a trip to a remote Vermont cabin sounds ideal. While people gather to celebrate the holidays, she plans to quickly interview the O'Neil family and then hide in the log cabin for the rest of the week. She never expects for them to take her under their wing as a member of the family, and she's definitely not enjoying all the attention.

There's one other hurdle Kayla faces. She's finding herself becoming far too attracted to Jackson. Kayla does not do warm and fuzzy romances, but something about Snow Crystal is starting to melt her heart, so she must work extra hard to keep her defensive wall up!

 I'm a Vermonter, born and raised here, so I always find myself interested to see how authors portray the state. This was more intriguing to me because the author is in the UK, and my mother, when she moved to Vermont many years ago, wasn't prepared for the difference in attitudes, weather, or even driving on the wrong side of the road. I have to thank Sarah Morgan for not falling prey to what many authors do and make Vermonters have unusual accents. I've read far too many books where Vermonters apparently say "ay-yup" in every sentence, and that's simply not true.

Because I'm a Vermonter, I went into this being a little more critical than the average reader. The author gets a lot of the atmosphere right. Weather in Vermont is hugely unpredictable. We were at temperatures of 70 just a few weeks ago, and suddenly we're in a cold snap of teens with snow coming down rapidly. We're even being told to expect single digits by the end of the week. Even dressing in layers isn't enough to keep you warm.

There were parts where I disagreed such as Vermonters not locking doors. Due to years of increases in drug-related burglaries, we do lock doors when going out or at night, even if it is just for a quick walk around the block. Snow Crystal is fictional, so you won't find towns of this nature. Stowe or Jeffersonville (Smuggs) are probably the closest given the details about being near Mount Mansfield, but these towns spread out enough that you won't find that everyone in the town knows one another. I know people in both areas, and they definitely keep doors locked.

Despite my overly critical nature, I loved Sleigh Bells in the Snow. It was an emotional, heart-felt read. It sets the stage for the other two O'Neil brothers to find romance, and I can't wait to catch up with Jackson and Kayla in those future novels.

A Christmas to Remember Anthology by Jill Shalvis, et. al.



Release Date - December 2013


Kristen Ashley
Molly Cannon
Marilyn Pappano
Hope Ramsay
Jill Shalvis
Grand Central Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

A Christmas to Remember features five novellas by some of romance's most popular authors. Each novella is followed by a snippet of one of the  author's upcoming releases.

First up is Jill Shalvis's Dream a Little Dream, a story I felt was one of two standout novellas in the collection. Readers revisit  Lucky Harbor where firefighter Ian is dismayed when a call brings him to the apartment complex where Melissa, the woman he loves, is trapped. He wasn't there when his sister died, and he can't take another death. While he's able to get her out, she's severely injured and Ian fears he may not get the chance to finally tell her how much he loves her. This is a sweet story and revisiting Lucky Harbor was a treat!

Kristen Ashley's Every Year didn't appeal to me as much. I have a feeling I was missing an awful lot of backstory in this one. Tabby knows her "man" Shy and his brother Landon struggle with the holidays, so a trip to her father's home isn't a comfortable event for them. Hopefully, her father, his young wife, and their two young children will show Shy and Landon about the true joy the holiday's bring. I also got tripped up with the reference to Tyra in some places and then Ty-Ty in others, it took a bit to figure out that was the same person. Finally, it's a personal thing but I just didn't like Tabby's references to Shy as being her "man" rather than husband, lover, etc. A lot of it, I think, is that they are part of a motorcycle club, and apparently are a bit of a rougher crowd, not my thing.

Silent Night is Hope Ramsay's contribution and my favorite novella in this holiday romance anthology. Maryanne is evicted from her apartment and has no where to go for the holidays. She's hoping an older cousin she has in Last Chance might be willing to take both Maryanne and her infant son in to the old family farmhouse, even if Maryanne hasn't spoken to the cousin since she was six years old. Unfortunately, Maryanne arrives at the wrong farmhouse and isn't sure what to make of the owner, Daniel. He's harboring his own pain and Maryanne and her infant may be just what he needs to turn the holidays around.

Molly Cannon offers Have Yourself a Messy Little Christmas. Linc is an accountant whose filing system may not be the most organized. As a result, his mother hires a professional organizer to help him get the family home in shape before Linc's parents arrive for the holidays. Linc isn't fond of the idea of having someone messing with his stuff, but the sexy Dinah is enough to change his mind that maybe some changes are very, very good.

Finally, Marilyn Pappano's A Family for Christmas was my third favorite. Jared moves to a small town to become the pediatrician, despite his parents' objections. There he meets a single mom, Ilena, whose husband died in the war while she was pregnant. Ilena finds herself attracted with the pediatrician and loves how he is with her six-month-old son, but she can't enter into a relationship with a man who may not be in town for good.

The stories in this anthology are all hit or miss. Two really grabbed my heart and had me a little teary eyed at the end. Marilyn Pappano's didn't quite get to me the same way, but it was good. The other two were merely okay to me. Based on that, I think it's a worthwhile read, if you go in with the expectations that you may not be thrilled with each story.

Each author does have a chapter from an upcoming novel too. I skipped those over because I hate getting into a story and then having to wait to find out how it ends. Those chapters added a lot to the length of the novella. After cutting them out, the book only took me a little over an hour of non-stop reading to complete.



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by Raeanne Thayne



Release Date - November 2013

Raeanne Thayne
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

While Dylan Caine, a wounded veteran, is happy cooping up in his cabin and avoiding the people of Hope's Crossing, his reclusive nature is about to get tossed aside. While joining his brother in a local tavern, he comes to the rescue of Genevieve Beaumont, daughter of the mayor and general woman who likes everything to be picture perfect. Genevieve starts a fight over some Christmas music and ends up assaulting a district attorney in the process. Soon, Genevieve and Dylan are ordered to 100 hours of community service.

The last thing Dylan wants is to have to work for Wounded Warrior's, a charitable organization that hits a little too close to home for him. On the other hand, Gen seems to fit right in. Despite his misgivings, Dylan finds himself finding solace in their new work arrangements, and it isn't long before his heart is yearning for someone he can never have.

I've read other Hope's Crossing novels and have really enjoyed them all. Fans of past novels will catch up with characters in Christmas in Snowflake Canyon. If you're new to the series, this book does stand alone, though you may find yourself yearning to read the other characters' stories.

Dylan is clearly stand-offish, due to the injuries he suffered in the war. Gen is nothing like you'd expect. The town has her labeled, and she's doing everything in her power to show people that she is not like her snobby mother and demanding father.

Paired together, Dylan and Gen make for a completely unusual, yet fitting couple. I liked how their differences complimented each other, and watching them realize they were in love was definitely a treat. Add in a Christmas setting, just in time for the holidays, and this book is a winner.




Friday, December 13, 2013

Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson



Release Date - April 2013

Nicola Upson
Harpercollins

Book Review by Bob Walch

The fourth novel in this series featuring mystery writer Josephine Tey joins the famed writer with another literary/film luminary, Alfred Hitchcock. It is Tey’s fortieth birthday and she is celebrating at the village of Portmeirion, Wales. The famed director is up to his old tricks. He loves playing practical jokes, but the murder of an actress and some other individuals casts a solemn pall over the festivities.

Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, who is present for the Tey celebration, investigates but pretty much draws a blank. 
 
Flash forward 18 years and Penrose discovers that three women have been murdered on the Hollywood set of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. There’s a connection, quite obviously, to the previous crimes in Wales and it’s up to Penrose and Tey to sort everything out to make sure justice is served in this case that spans a two different time periods.

If you delight in clever British period mysteries that take time to develop and feature a cast of eccentric characters, this well plotted whodunit will be much to your liking. Nicola Upson took a risk making a real life, legendary crime writer the central figure here but she’s done a fine job resurrecting this grande dame of the Golden Age of detective fiction.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Book News: Coaching for Caregivers by Yosaif August




Yosaif August inventor of Bedscapes and co-author of Help Me To Heal is back with a new book, Coaching for Caregivers. Learn more about Yosaif August at Yes to Life Coaching.


6 Tips for Embracing Caregivers at Holiday Gatherings
Yosaif August 2013
august@yestolifecoaching.com


Holidays increase stress for everyone, especially caregivers. A new APA study found that more than 6 out of 10 Americans report significantly more stress during the holidays (Here's the link.)

Caregivers need to find ways to manage their stress this holiday season and family and friends can use their holiday gatherings to help them do this. But first they need to open the door to a conversation with the caregiver about how they are doing. Here are tips for them to get this conversation going and allowing the love and support to flow.

1) Begin a respectful, productive conversation with the caregiver without invading their privacy.
Find a private time and place and ask permission to discuss their caregiving situation. For example: “I want to check in with you about how caregiving is going and (not but!) I don’t want to intrude. Can we talk?” There’s no guarantee about how this inquiry will land and what kind of response you’ll get; however, respecting their space by asking for permission to speak about this is a love and support in its own right.

2) Agree about whether this conversation – or part of it - is confidential or not.
This is important in engendering enough trust that the person feels safe sharing what is truly going on for them.

3) Ask questions about the caregiver's well-being and be a good listener.
This conversation is about being truly present. The best way to see if your help is desired or even appropriate is by your attentively listening and not being too quick to get into problem solving. Ask one or two broad and general questions and then let it happen. For example: “Tell me how it’s going.” “What’s it like for you these days?” “I so much admire all of what you’re doing; how are you managing to do it?”

4) Honor and affirm the caregiver for their generosity, perseverance, and commitment. 
Caregiving is one of the most generous acts we can ever be called upon to do – even if we are doing it ambivalently , reluctantly, resentfully, out of sense of guilt etc. We are being called upon to put another’s needs ahead of our own and to be willing to interrupt other priorities we are tending to in our lives. It also calls upon other qualities that may indeed reflect our deepest held values. In fact, it calls upon these even if we’re doing if for some of the less noble reasons I mention above. So, if the spirit of the conversation permits it, offer some affirmation of the way you see that person truly walking their values in the ways they are caregiving.

5) Explore ways to share the care and be part of the caregiver's circle of support.
If the conversation goes in this direction, ask what you could do in the following week that would lighten their burden in a practical way. You might offer to have a follow up conversation soon to find some follow up ways of helping – directly and also in helping them strengthen their network of support.

6) Offer to help them explore the possibilities of using a caresite.
Caresite is a term I’ve coined for the free websites that are available on the web to help famiIy caregivers let people know what is going on, what they need, when/how they need it, and also to receive loving affirmations and prayers from people who care about them. The most popular caresites are Caring Bridge, Lotsa Helping Hands and CarePages. If this prospect sounds intriguing to them, set up a time to sit by their side and do some exploration of these caresites on the web. Let them know if you would be willing to help them choose and set up a caresite or help them find someone else who can do it. (The current experts these days seem to be people who are 12 years old!).

My big message this holiday season? This all about relationship and connection. Caregivers can not do this alone. You can use the warmth of your holiday gathering to open up the healing possibilities that are right in front of you.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hunted by Elizabeth Heiter



Release Date - December 31, 2013

Elizabeth Heiter
Harlequin/MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

For one of the last books I read in 2013, I have to say I am overjoyed I chose Hunted to close out the year. I could gush over this book for hours and still have a load to say! Not only is Hunted a gripping, powerful read, but it's one that will have at least one other book in the series, so my time with the characters is not coming to an end. This is really only the beginning! If you're a fan of Criminal Minds, do yourself a favor and go pre-order Elizabeth Heiter's debut now!

Evelyn Baine's experience as a criminal profiler with the FBI may not be lengthy, but she's one of the best at her job. As a result, she's called in to profile a serial killer who is raping, torturing, and burying women up to their necks deep in the forest. Evelyn is puzzled. Most serial killers put their victims on display, but this killer is looking for areas where people rarely go.

Because he is not following usual patterns, Evelyn struggles to come up with a solid profile that investigators can use. The clock is ticking. The Burier is on the hunt for his next victim and Evelyn has not escaped his attention.

I love psychological suspense. Unlike many books where I can pick out the guilty party, this book is set up so that there is no possible way. I loved that! I learned things as Evelyn did, which is a real treat in a suspense or mystery novel. From start to finish, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see if she could catch him.

There's a secondary plot, too. The reason why Evelyn got into criminal profiling goes back to her childhood. Her best friend was abducted and never found. Evelyn keeps the case file close by, determined to unravel the truth. It looks like this case is going to be more prominent in the second book in Elizabeth Heiter's Profiler series. I cannot wait for the release of Vanished in 2015!




Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie



Release Date - July 2013

Sophie McKenzie
St. Martin's Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Eight years ago, Geniver "Gen" Loxley suffered a stillbirth that still haunts her. Years of fertility issues have kept her from becoming a mom. She's shocked one day when a woman appears on her door step and tells her that her child wasn't stillborn at all and that Gen's husband was the mastermind behind the ruse.

Uncertainty with knowing who to trust and who is lying, Gen accepts the help of her husband's friend and begins investigating the truth. While she may not know who to trust, Gen does know one thing, if her daughter is out there, she will find her.

I always find it funny what draws a person to a book. In my case, I'd forgotten my Nook and whipped into the local library to get something to read while waiting for my daughter outside of her high school. The font used for the book spine is what caught my eye. After reading the inside jacket, I checked the book out and went on my way. I am so glad Close My Eyes did catch my eye.

For me, the writing was incredibly addicting. The more I read, the more I had to know if my gut instincts were correct. And, they were, but while I had the guilty person correct, the reasoning behind it was not what I expected. I loved that twist, no matter how deranged.

The ending, without going into spoilers, it fits so well. The entire case isn't one that deserves an easy solution, but in this case, it definitely left me thinking "wow." When I was done, I was already intrigued in finding more by this new-to-me author.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing James McParland by Beau Riffenburgh



Release Date - November 14, 2013


Viking

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Not only does Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing James McParland delve into the life and times of James McParland, but it also gives great insight into the Molly Maguires and the Pinkertons. I'm not a big fan of history, but something about Pinkerton's Great Detective drew me in and kept me reading.

If you're not familiar with James McParland, like me, he was an Irish native who moved to the states when he was in his 20s. He became one of the best known Pinkerton agents, one who was responsible for infiltrating the Molly Maguires, investigating the assassination of Idaho's Governor Steunenberg, and bringing about the conviction of the person behind a $320,000 theft of gold from a smelting company in San Francisco.

Pinkerton's Great Detective certainly has its merits. It is a riveting piece of history, but there were sections that moved a little slowly. I found myself fighting an urge to skip over pages in order to get back to the pacing I preferred. This could well be due to my general lack of enthusiasm for history, however. In the end, what I did feel is that the details provided in this biographical account show exactly how devoted James McParland was to his work and just how far he'd go to make sure a criminal was brought to justice. For history buffs, it's a book they will want to read.