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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie



Release Date - June 24, 2014

Stacy Henrie
Grand Central Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

During WWI, some states set forth laws banning the use of the German language or teaching German in schools. That's the premise in Hope at Dawn.  Anti-German sentiments run strong in Iowa, and it's those sentiments that land Livy Campbell a teaching job in a small community not too far from her parents' farm in Hilden. When the current teacher is fired and jailed for teaching German to her German-American students, Livy takes over and is unaware how untrusted she will be with the area families. Her only saving grace is the friendship of Friedrick Wagner, a German-American man who is the older brother to a couple of her students.

Friedrick is in a tough spot. His father is dying, his step-mother is doing all she can to care for him, and Friedrick had to give up college to return to the family farm to keep things running. As his feelings for Livy develop, he finds himself torn. Both he and Livy deal with suspicions from both sides, but can they turn their backs on their developing feelings?

Human nature never fails to sadden me. History classes in my generation glossed over any of the cruelty we dished upon our own citizens. It wasn't until my adult years that I learned of the internment camps set up for Japanese Americans in WWII. Now, I'm learning that we were just as horrible to German-Americans in WWI. I guess it isn't surprising that we did treat people of Middle Eastern descent so horribly after 9/11, and in many areas, some people still are suspicious of anyone who looks Middle Eastern. It's just really sad that we look at race first.

In Hope at Dawn, both characters are memorable and likable. Friedrick is doing all he can to keep his family farm going and care for his siblings and parents. Having to prove his patriotism by purchasing war bonds, when he has no money left, and ensure no one in his family reverts to the German language becomes a huge part of his life. It was maddening to watch him struggle so unfairly. Livy has her own issues. Two of her brothers are overseas fighting against the Germans, so she understands the fear and suspicion being cast on the German-Americans, yet she doesn't always agree. As she spends more time with Friedrick, you get to see her character grow.

By the end, I was thrilled I'd chosen Hope at Dawn as my beach read for the first part of my week in Maine. It was gripping, romantic, and definitely eye-opening.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid



Release Date - July 2014

Taylor Jenkins Reid
Washington Square Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Taylor Jenkins Reid burst onto the scene with her very poignant Forever, Interrupted. Now she's back with a book that I found equally touching. In this one, I found a little more of myself, and that one made it even more memorable, enjoyable, and occasionally brought on the tears with its touching prose.

After I Do takes a look at a marriage more than a decade after the couple marries. Lauren and Ryan had instant chemistry and the beginnings of a very happy marriage while they were still very young. Now, 16 years later, they fight all the time, can never agree on anything, and neither is happy. They decide to separate for an entire year, with one rule, they cannot communicate during this year apart. 

While Lauren first questions what on earth they are doing, she soon begins to find that she is her own person. Her journey of self-discovery is clearly what she needs and soon has her wondering if the 19 year old who fell in love with and married Ryan is truly the person she was meant to become. Is true love really forever, or is that something the fairy tales whip up?

I loved this book. One thing that is present is that a marriage does take work and anyone who thinks differently is in for a shock. After 23 years of marriage, the 21-year-old me really had no idea how being with the same person day in and day out isn't what the fairy tales portray. Watching Lauren come to realize little truths along the way was refreshing.

After I Do is not a depressing book like you might expect given the subject matter. In fact, I found it very lighthearted and refreshing. The book spirals from the start of Ryan and Lauren's romance to the little things that led to their unhappiness. Then it moves on to their new lives apart and the joys and sorrows they face there too. I really, really liked this book and again find myself eager to see what Taylor Jenkins Reid dishes up next.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf



Release Date - June 24, 2014

Heather Gudenkauf
Harlequin/MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Ellen Morse, a social worker who has helped remove many children from neglectful parents. Rushing to help two girls whose mother is being assaulted, she makes a tragic mistake that leaves her reeling and puts her future on the line.

Jenny Briard's grown up moving from location to location as her father finds new jobs and loses them just as quickly. Something happens and Jenny ends up alone. She winds up miles from her hometown, scared, and struggling with this new environment. One thing is for certain, Jenny will not go back to foster care. When a kindly woman takes her in and presses Jenny to reveal the truth, Jenny is terrified of what will happen. When she falls under Ellen's radar, both Jenny and Ellen face the consequences of choices they've made and the realities of the world around them.

Little Mercies grabs the reader's attention and never lets go. I was drawn from the start and needed to get to the outcome, so it made for a very late night. I've read Heather Gudenkauf's novels before and this one is the best yet.

The tagline of the book "ripped from the headlines" is accurate. There was a case involving a hospital CEO many years ago that mirrors what happened to Ellen almost exactly. I remember that case and wondered "how on earth could something like that happen." Now I've seen it from the other side and finally understand.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee



Release Date - June 17, 2014

Linda Francis Lee
St. Martins  Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

If you only read one book this year and are a fan of women's fiction, The Glass Kitchen is the book to buy. This book is earning its well-deserved spot on my keeper shelf.

After her husband gets her best friend pregnant, divorces her, and then drags his feet on paying her the money he owes, Portia Cuthcart finds herself moving all the way from Texas to New York City. It's in Manhattan where she finds herself becoming entangled with the widower who lives upstairs. Portia spent many years as a politician's wife, hiding her special powers that come to life when she cooks. Now that she's single, it may be time to focus on the one thing she excels at - cooking.

Gabriel Kane's wife died, leaving him to raise his two daughters. When his younger daughter pushes him into hiring Portia to cook their meals, he hesitates, but burned oatmeal is a bit of a wake-up call, so he caves. Hiding his increasing passion for this quirky woman isn't as easily solved.

Everything about The Glass Kitchen deserves praise. Start with Linda Francis Lee's characters. These are not run-of-mill people. They have serious issues holding them back. They find fault in themselves, even if that fault  is not deserved. From Gabe's moodiness to his daughter Ariel's stubbornness, I wanted to embrace this family. Portia and her sisters also have their own challenges, but they have a strong bond that helps them get through the rough times. What I wouldn't have given to sit at the table when they share a meal!

The chemistry between Portia and Gabe is also endearing. They know they are falling for each other, but both have been hurt and struggle to balance their desires with logic. I liked that. When they do realize they cannot ignore their feelings, I was cheering.

The final aspect of this book involves the structure. Each section of the book is part of a six-course meal. Recipes are even included. Linda Francis Lee ties all of the story together with specific foods, and to me that was a unique touch that made this book even more endearing. It's an excellent read, and one I expect will be spotted on many beaches this summer.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Art of Arranging Flowers by Lynne Branard



Release Date - June 2014

Lynne Branard
Berkley Trade

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Art of Arranging Flowers is really all about time. It's about time passing, often more quickly than we like. Add into that a memorable heroine who left law school for a complete career change after the death of her sister. Ruby is a florist with amazing skill at transforming flower arrangements into the words the sender most wants to say.

With 20 years under her belt, her friends really want to see Ruby stop focusing on saving or kick starting others relationships and find true love for herself. As months pass and seasons change, Ruby's town also sees much change, and there is hope on the horizon as Ruby finds herself attracted to the town's new veterinarian, a precocious young boy enters her life, and a former astronaut begins showing Ruby that there is more to her life than the town and her florist shop.

Nothing about The Art of Arranging Flowers moves quickly. But, that's a really good thing. I found myself drawn into the town. Ruby, at times, reminded me an awful lot of my own hometown's florist, and I found myself taken back to her flower shop and the joy I had in there as a young kid, then a teen, and finally as a bride-to-be. I found myself wanting to be part of Ruby's town.

By the end, I had cried, laughed, cheered, and sighed with the chapters in not only Ruby's life, but also of the young boy who comes to her, the astronaut who takes her out on her first date in ages, her friends who were finding their own way in the world, and especially the stuttering man who was falling head over heels for the librarian, yet was too afraid to say the words. This is a fabulous story that leaves you feeling many emotions.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone



Release Date - May 2014

Pia Padukone
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Karom Seth should have been with his entire family on Poompuhar Beach when a giant wave took their lives, but he'd stayed behind to finish his college exams.  On the tragic day the Twin Towers collapsed due to an act of terrorism, he'd claimed he was sick in order to skip class. Since then, Karom takes great risks in order to escape the guilt he feels for surviving while everyone else he loves died. His girlfriend, Gita, is scared for him, but uncertain how to help him move on. Gita and Karom travel to India to visit her grandmother. Her grandmother hides her own secrets, and it is her wisdom that may be the answer Karom has been seeking.

The detail that went into the writing in Where Earth Meets Water is almost poetic. The vivid imagery and strong characters drew me in. At the same time, I did struggle a bit at first because I couldn't figure out what was going on with the grandmother. Once I reached the point where that was explained, the book became hard to put down.

While this is a Harlequin MIRA release, it is not the usual romance that I expect of them. This story has appeal with young and older readers, and I think many men will enjoy it too. It's more contemporary fiction than a romance.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Last Savanna by Mike Bond



Release Date - August 2013

Mike Bond
Mandevilla Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Ten years ago, there were hundreds of thousands of elephants in Africa. Today, there are approximately 5,000. The number of rhinos have also plummeted from thousands to just a few, and the western black rhino was declared extinct in 2013. All because the value of their tusks or horns are valuable to poachers. Those are real facts, and they play a big part in The Last Savanna.

 Ian McAdam, a former SAS officer, joins a friend who has been asked to form a team to hunt down poachers who are killing the last of Africa's elephants. McAdam's friend has helped him numerous times, so he agrees. As they set off to find and stop the poachers from more senseless killings, they learn archaeologist Rebecca Hecht, a woman McAdam once loved, has been kidnapped by the same Somalian poachers. Now, McAdam must save both the woman from his past, keep his team safe, and stop the poachers from killing more animals.

I won't say that The Last Savanna is an easy read. It really isn't. As it's so detailed and honest, it is often gruesome and hard to take. I had hard time getting a feel for McAdam's character too. He is a tortured hero, his wife's left him, and with the jumping around at first and introduction of numerous characters, it took a while for me to find my groove.

That said, the scenes that really gripped me were the ones done from the animals' perspectives. When the female lion, hunted and killed her prey, I was drawn to the story. When she had to defend her meal from a male, I wanted to cry for her. When the poacher entered the scene, again, I found myself siding with the animal. The same happened when the elephants were being poached. Mike Bond does a superb job getting into the animals' minds.That is reason enough to get a copy of The Last Savanna.




Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Baby For the Doctor by Jacqueline Diamond



Release Date - May 2014

Jacqueline Diamond
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Anya Meeks, a surgical nurse at Safe Harbor, never expected to end up pregnant. It's the last thing she wants. She practically raised her siblings for her parents, and parenthood is definitely not in the cards. Yet, one night of passion with Dr. Jack Ryder, despite her being on birth control pills, leads to an unexpected pregnancy.

When Jack learns Anya is pregnant, he wants to convince her that they'd make great parents. He's always been drawn to her, and he just needs her to realize that he's serious. He wants to make her part of his future and raise their baby together. Getting through to her isn't as easy as it seems.

I've been reading the Safe Harbor series by Jacqueline Diamond since the beginning. This town feels like home, and I love seeing where each character is now. Jack is one of my favorites. Despite his childhood, he is convinced he can be a better parent than his mother was, and he does truly love Anya, he just needs her to see that.

The bottom line is if you want a feel-good romance that's perfect for a quick read while you lounge on the beach or your back patio, A Baby For the Doctor delivers. I loved watching Anya evolve, and I really loved watching Jack do everything in his power to show her that she was letting her experiences as a teen overpower what her heart was trying to tell her.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Hangman by Stephan Talty



Release Date - May 2014

Stephan Talty
Ballantine

Book Review by Bob Walsh

 
Serial killer Marcus Flynn sent chills through the residents of North Buffalo as he preyed on their teenage daughters. Nicknamed “The Hangman”, Flynn was caught and sent to prison. Now he’s escaped during a prison transfer and the reign of terror has started again.
Detective Absalom “Abbie” Kearney has been assigned the case and leads the manhunt to find and again put The Hangman behind bars. Matching wits with the crafty and elusive predator is going to be a challenging task. As Abbie soon discovers, it may be necessary to step outside the law to stop Flynn. 
 
First introduced in Talty’s Black Irish, homicide cop Abbie Kearney has captured the attention of a group of avid readers who enjoy fast paced crime thrillers. She’s been lauded as “the most intriguing new suspense protagonist” to come along in recent memory. 
 
This second novel featuring the fetching cop is as good if not better than Abbie’s debut. This is a character you’ll certainly want to follow as she makes her mark in crime fiction.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller



Release Date - June 3, 2013

L. Alison Heller
NAL Trade

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Paige Reinhardt, a marriage counselor, is finding herself in a spot many of her clients face. Her husband, a lawyer, has been suspended and he claims he has no idea why. As days progress, he becomes more and more secretive, and Paige becomes concerned that he is lying to her. Where does that leave their marriage?

Meanwhile, Paige is thrown another dilemma. After two decades away, her sister Sloan has returned. Paige hasn't seen her sister since Sloan was shipped off to rehab at the age of 16. Paige must stumble her way through the hurt she felt when Sloan went away and never returned, all while trying to figure out what  is going on with her marriage.

The Never Never Sisters is told from Paige's perspective, but her mother's diary entries also fill chapters. I enjoyed Paige's story and really enjoyed watching her grow through the story. Perhaps it is me, but I wasn't surprised when the big secret involving her husband is revealed. I saw that coming. That did leave me feeling a little disappointed, but by that point, I no longer really cared, I wanted Paige to focus on herself and her sister. That, to me, is the true heart of this story.