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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Basil Instinct by Shelley Costa



Release Date - June 24, 2014

Shelley Costa
Pocket Books

Book Review by Jessica Maguire

Eve and Maria Pia Angelotta are back in the second installment of Shelley Costa's mystery series. This time Maria Pia finds herself summoned to be a member of Belfiere, a secret society of female chefs. As part of the induction into the society, Maria Pia, like all Belfiere members, must get a “B” tattooed on her wrist.

While Maria Pia is busy with Belfiere, granddaughter Eve finds herself teaching a cooking class to troubled youths. However, one of her students is not like the rest. Georgia Payne shows interest and skill in the kitchen and Georgia is soon a sous chef at Miracolo, the Angelottas’ restaurant.

It does not take long, however, before "the prosciutto was about to hit the fan." Eve finds Georgia dead in the restaurant the day that Maria Pia is set to host a grand  dinner for Belfiere. Not wanting to ruin Maria Pia's dinner, Eve decides to hide Georgia's body until after the dinner. But then Georgia goes missing!

Making matters worse, Eve's cousin Landon goes missing as well and is considered a suspect in Georgia's death. The intrigue continues when Eve finds the remains of the Belfiere “B” tattoo on Georgia's wrist. Just who is Georgia and did she die trying to escape the crazy chefs of Belfiere?

Find out and pick up this gripping and engaging mystery full of action and surprise twists. And before you start reading, turn to the back of the novel to find a delicious recipe for Gorgonzola and Spiced Walnuts in Port Wine Syrup and enjoy a delicious treat while you lose yourself in the world of Miracolo. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taste of Beirut by Joumana Accad



Release Date - September 2014

Joumana Accad
HCI

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but when I was young, I lived outside San Francisco for a couple years. There, my parents raised us to try every cultural cuisine put in front of us and decide if we liked it or not. Apparently, I brought joy to the owners of a Japanese restaurant as I would delight in everything they fed me. My kids were raised the same way, and there are few cultures where they do not find the food enjoyable.

While I've had Turkish, Greek, and even African cuisine, Lebanese is something I don't see in my area. Taste of Beirut makes it possible to enjoy a sampling of Lebanese at home.

After glancing through the more than 175 recipes, I found several to try. The dumpling-like creations filled with different fillings are first on my list, especially the sfeeha that are filled with a spicy meat mixture and pine nuts. The issue is finding the ingredients. Sumac is something I adore, but it's impossible to buy without ordering it online and paying shipping.

The cookbook starts with a look at the common ingredients, then delves into appetizers, sauces, salads, entrees, and even desserts. The cuisine is suitable for vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters alike. There are many yogurt-based sauces, but others rely heavily on tahini. Each recipe has instructions that anyone should be able to follow, and there are pictures to show you what the dish looks like.

Taste of Beirut is a solid cookbook. I can't wait to start cooking!

The City by Dean Koontz



Release Date - July 2014

Dean Koontz
Bantam

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

It's been a number of years since I've read a book by Dean Koontz. The City is definitely a change of pace, straying from the horror I knew him for, and delving into a part paranormal, part coming of age, and strong suspense. I do have mixed feelings. It took me a bit to get into the book. Eventually, the slow opening turned into a riveting novel that I couldn't put down.

Coming from a line of musicians, Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk was almost destined to be a musical great. His father walked out on him when he was just eight months old, but returned later on. While Jonah's mother was a talented singer, Jonah's dreams involved the piano. Dreams his father would squash, until a mysterious woman calling herself Miss Pearl came into his life. He soon learned to play piano and play it very well.

This is not the only thing Miss Pearl showed him. He had two very realistic dreams that would play an important part in Jonah's future. A future that would change not only Jonah, but his family and the friends he makes along the way.

The characters are what makes The City so gripping. Jonah is a smart little kid. His grandfather has a spirit that I loved, and his mother seemed like the kind of mother many kids wish they could have. When Jonah's father appears, there definitely is a more somber tone. Eventually, Jonah meets a neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka, who is linked to Jonah by the arrival of a more threatening neighbor Fiona Cassidy/Eve Adams. Fiona happens to be one of two characters that Jonah first discovers in the dreams he has.  Even Miss Pearl, a mysterious woman who tells Jonah to count her as being "the soul of the city", is intriguing. With the story bringing each of these characters to life, I ended up enjoying the build up and conclusion of Dean Koontz's latest. It's different but definitely memorable.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dog Park by Laura Caldwell



Release Date - July 29, 2014

Laura Caldwell
Harlequin/MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

When I first began reviewing, the one thing my editor told me was to only reveal the plot as is found in the first three or four chapters. Going beyond that she said can give away spoilers. The problem with this general rule of thumb is that so much more happens in The Dog Park, there are really three or even four plots at play, but I'll stick to the basic premise.

Jessica Champlin and her ex-husband Sebastian share custody of their dog, a mini labradoodle named Baxter. It's Jessica's time with Baxter, and they're doing their favorite thing. She takes Baxter to a nearby dog park. Her life changes on the way home. Baxter ignores her command and takes off running for young child. What she doesn't realize is that Baxter senses trouble and saves the young girl's life.

Soon, a video of Baxter saving the girl from the path of truck goes viral and Jessica's life is turned upside down. As a stylist for people, she never expected the collar and leash she'd made Baxter to gain the attention of the world, and requests begin pouring in. As Jessica and Baxter both become celebrities, they must prepare for additional changes their lives take as the weeks and months progress.

Most readers associate MIRA books with romance, and that is present in The Dog Park, but it's a little later to appear. In fact, there are two potential relationships in play, but I won't discuss them as they do not really come into play until later. The book does focus heavily on Baxter and Jess's lives, however, with a few surprises throw in. As a result, I found myself enjoying the story, but also curious at times as to when the true romantic angle was going to come into play.

In the end, The Dog Park was a pleasing read, but the actual romance played second fiddle to Baxter and Jessica's adventures, if you can truly call "adventures" and not "hurdles."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg



Release Date - March 2014

Janet Evanovich
Lee Goldberg
Bantam

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I didn't read the first novel in the Fox & O'Hare series. Despite that, I didn't feel lost at any point, so that's always a good sign. The Chase was most everything I hoped for. There's plenty of action and plenty of humor.

Special Agent Kate O'Hare partners with con artist Nick Fox to retrieve a priceless bronze rooster that was stolen from the Smithsonian 10 years earlier.. Chinese authorities are heading to the U.S. to pick up this artifact, and the U.S. government doesn't want to hand them a fake.

Nick knows who has the rooster, a former White House chief of staff (Carter Grove), but getting it back must be handled very carefully. Carter runs a prominent private security firm and also knows some top secret information about the government's black ops, information they cannot afford to have leaked.

Lee Goldberg wrote for three of my favorite shows: The Glades, Monk, and Psych. His Monk novels have always impressed me. As for Janet Evanovich, most readers know her best for her Stephanie Plum novels. I also read most of those novels, though I admit the constant Joe vs. Ranger love triangle grew tiresome, so it's been years since I've picked up a book from that series.

I was eager to see what a writer collaboration between Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg would bring forth, and it wasn't disappointing. My issue ended up being that Kate's father was too reminiscent of Stephanie Plum's grandmother, and Nick came off as a bit of Ranger with a touch of Joe. They didn't feel unique.While there was more action in The Chase, the romantic sparks and humorous antics of her father felt too similar to me.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer



Release Date - July 2014

Lydia Netzer
St. Martins Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

While I loved the premise, How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky fell short of my expectations. It's not a bad book, it's just disjointed enough that I struggled to keep up with the story of George and Irene.

George works for the Toledo Institute for Astronomy and works to find a link between the stars and God. Irene left Toledo and her drunk mother years ago, but after creating a black hole, she accepts a position back in Toledo with the same institute where George works. What they don't know is that their mothers orchestrated a plan before they were born to have them become soul mates, though they were raised separately after reaching their toddler years. They cannot ignore the attraction they have for one another.

The topic is interesting, but there were segments of the story that I simply couldn't connect with, so I found it to easy to put the book down. Irene's current boyfriend and his fascination with an RPG was one of those storylines. I simply didn't care enough and kept itching to skip those sections. I also struggled, at first, with the flashbacks to the mothers of George and Irene, though those become more intriguing as I continued reading.

In the end, How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky was just okay. I was not left with the feeling of "wow" that I want to get from the books I read. Yet, I also did need to keep reading to see how it all turned out. I'd say if I used a rating system, this book would get a solid three out of five.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham



Release Date-September 2013

Harry Bingham
Bantam

Book Review by Bob Walch

It was a sad story but not that uncommon. A drug addicted prostitute was found dead in a squalid house, murdered by an unknown assailant. What makes the case a bit more interesting is that the platinum credit card of a very wealthy man is found at the crime scene. 
 
Although he’s also been dead for a while, the authorities want to know what the tycoon’s connection with this woman was. Taken on face value, did she receive or take the card for services rendered or is there more to the story?

It is up to rookie Welsh Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths to delve into this mystery and find an answer. Over-intense and intuitive, Fiona has earned a reputation as being a bit odd at police headquarters in Cardiff, Wales, but, no matter, she is intent in learning all she can about the victim and her young daughter who was also found dead at the scene of the crime.

Before she is finished, Fiona will uncover secrets about this community that might be better left buried and her own past will be open to public scrutiny.

This marks Harry Bingham’s American debut and his protagonist for this captivating series will certainly find a comfortable place among the legions of U.S. mystery fans who can’t get enough British whodunits.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Robogenesis: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson


Release Date - June 2014

Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

One of the hardest things I face when reviewing a book is dealing with a sequel when I didn't read the first book. That's the case with Robogenesis. This is a time when I felt I really needed to have read the series from the start.

Robogenesis takes place after a war between alien intelligence (AI), specifically the mastermind behind it all, Archos 14, and humans. Some of the survivors return for this new book sharing the story of what happens next. Not only are they trying to rebuild the world, but there are issues presenting themselves that threaten mankind's existence. The part-human, part-robot creations of Archos 14 aren't happy with things and there's a new robotic creature proving to be a big threat. What's to become of the world is truly undecided.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Cormac (human), Mathilda (half-human, half-robot), and Lark Iron Cloud (a zombie-like robot). Having no prior knowledge of the battles they faced in Roboapocalpyse, I felt lost. That ended up being a shame because the writing itself was exquisite. It was really descriptive and flowed seamlessly from one scene to the next.

I'd like to give Robogenesis another chance, but I'm going to do so after reading the first book in the series.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Jack Strong: A Story of Life After Life by Walter Mosley



Release Date - July 29, 2014

Walter Mosley
Open Road Media

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I know Walter Mosley's writing from his Easy Rawlins series. His other work is new to me. Jack Strong: A Story of Life After Life was probably the best choice I could have made when it comes to discovering his science fiction/fantasy work. As this is a novella, it was short enough to give me a taste, yet intriguing enough that I find myself curious to see if he develops this character into a new series.

Jack Strong isn't just a man, he's a patchwork man made up of the parts of dozens of different people. Each of these people have unfinished business and Jack becomes the vessel for which they can see things come to fruition. In his dreams he hears the 86-year-old grandmother who longs for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He dreams of the plots created by an Indian/Goan against another caste. There's a woman feeling freed by an affair she's having. A racist proud of beating a man of another color. Someone facing amputation and death. Finally, a man on death row.

For now, Jack seems to have been inhabited by Lance Richards, a man who was killed for skimming money from a casino. He soon meets Tom Grog, a member of the Convocation who is here to help him get adjusted to his new life. But, there are others watching him, and he has no idea who or why. All Jack knows is that he has souls trapped in him begging to have him fulfill their final wish.

Jack Strong ends on a note that convinces me this is just the first of many stories. While very short at under 40 pages, the novella does a great job of introducing the main characters and setting up Jack's future. I was hooked and can't wait for more.






Friday, July 18, 2014

A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman



Release Date - July 15, 2014

Ellen Sussman
Ballantine Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

No family is perfect. Everyone has secrets, fears, and misgivings they keep hidden. This is very true of the characters in Ellen Sussman's latest novel - A Wedding in Provence.

Brody, a widower, and Olivia, a divorcee, are throwing caution to the wind and getting married. This 50-something couple feel they're better prepared for marriage now and plan an intimate wedding at Olivia's friend's inn on the Mediterranean coastline in Cassis, France. While it seems impossible to imagine anything going wrong in this idyllic spot, Olivia and Brody soon find themselves wondering what they've gotten themselves into.

Olivia's friend and husband (the inn owners) are the first to display signs of trouble when a woman shows up and causes serious tension between them. Next, Olivia's oldest daughter, Nell, arrives with a stranger on her arm, a man she just met on the plane. Olivia's younger daughter, Carly, shows up without her long-time beau, and it's clear that something is amiss there, too. Even Brody's mother is having personal issues that distract her from the upcoming wedding. As Olivia and Brody try to plan their dream wedding, they cannot help but also feel obligated to fix everything that is going wrong around them.

There are two things that surprised me with A Wedding in Provence. The first was the length. At under 200 pages, I often find stories of that length feel rushed. I never experienced that with Ellen Sussman's novel. It feels complete. The second was how drawn I was to each character. I could see the naivety of some, sensed exactly what was happening with others before they even knew it, and really couldn't wait to see Olivia and Brody get married. As dysfunctional as some of the characters were, they felt real, like family.

This ended up being a memorable read that left me feeling incredibly satisfied and very happy I picked it to review. I get a lot of books and requests for review, and I'm learning to be a little more selective, and I am very, very glad I didn't overlook this gem!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight



Release Date - July 29, 2014

Anouska Knight
Harlequin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Holly Jefferson has made it two years following her husband's tragic death, but she still cannot figure how to move on. She focuses her attention on her bakery and her sister's pregnancy, but things go haywire when Ciaran Argyll enters her world.

Ciaran's former step-mother hires Holly to make and deliver a cake to Ciaran's dad. From the moment he sees her, he wants to know her better. Something draws him to her. In his world of woman who want to get to know him only for his family's money, Holly is a breath of fresh air.

With Holly battling her demons of moving on, and Ciaran uncertain that there is a woman out there that can look him and not see dollar signs, the two must decide if falling in love is worth the potential risk.

Since You've Been Gone is packed with just enough humor to keep things light. The characters are memorable, especially Holly's baking assistant who I wouldn't mind seeing in future novels. The relationship between Holly and Ciaran. I loved it. The misunderstandings they have were a bit of a pain, but conflict always finds a way into romance novels, so it wasn't unexpected. I really like that the characters didn't dwell on the subject for weeks or months, a common trend with some romances. The focus of this novel is with the main characters and whether they can overcome their own personal demons. With British wit driving the narrative, I really enjoyed the read.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter



Relelase  Date - June 24, 2014

Karin Slaughter
Delacorte Press

Book Review by Bob Walch

They come from totally different backgrounds but Kate Murphy and Maggie Lawson end up partners on Atlanta’s Police Force. Maggie comes from a dysfunctional law enforcement family, her uncle and brother are cops, while Kate, whose husband was killed in Vietnam, crew up in a sheltered, wealthy Jewish household. 
 
It is 1974 and not only are the two women facing hostility within a department that isn’t ready to accept women officers, but a serial killer has gunned down five of their colleagues and Atlanta’s finest are out for blood.

Although they are not included in the official man hunt, Kate and Maggie are determined to follow their own instincts and see if they can solve the case. It doesn’t take Maggie long to realize that members of her own family are going to be key players in what unfolds here. Also we’ll discover that Kate is, unwittingly, being stalked by the killer and that adds another personal element to the thriller.

A volatile situation that involves misogyny, racism, homophobia and corruption, Cop Town is Karin Slaughter’s first standalone novel. Her long time fans will not be disappointed by this compelling story that introduces two unforgettable women. I seriously doubt that this will be the only time we meet these two characters. A sequel would obviously be in order if not a brand new series. Karen Slaughter has created a team here that rivals Cagney and Lacey as well as Rizzoli and Isles so why not capitalize on them?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Millionaire Affair by Jessica Lemmon



Release Date - June 24, 2014

Jessica Lemmon
Forever (Grand Central)

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

He's been burned before, so love is the last thing on his mind. She's just out of a relationship where she paid a very dear price, and she's ready to show the world that she can just have an affair without falling head over heels in love. It should be so easy, but both Landon Downey and Kimber Reynolds may have bitten off more than they can chew.

When Landon realizes he cannot balance babysitting his six-year-old nephew with running his company, he takes his sister's advice and calls Kimber Reynolds, his sister's friend, to become a nanny for the week. Landon and Kimber met when he was in college and she was 16, so they are not complete strangers, but neither is prepared for the intense attraction they feel. Kimber's ready to prove to everyone that she can have a sizzling affair and walk away, so she and Landon agree to a no-strings affair that will satisfy their needs without leading to any long-term romance. That ends up being easier said than done when both begin to fall head over heels.

There are things I truly loved about The Millionaire Affair. First, there is no huge conflict between Landon and Kimber. Even when complications occur, the author strays from having it become a huge teary-eyed, name calling event that some authors lean towards. Landon and Kimber remained adults throughout the entire story. I loved that. Second, though this is part of a series, I never felt lost having not read the other books. The Millionaire Affair stands alone, thought it did leave me curious to check out the previous couples' stories.

In respect to things I didn't like, they were minimal, and basically involved the exes on both sides. I understand why Kimber's ex played a part in the story, but honesty, I would preferred not to have to experience his smarmy attitude. He's plain annoying. My dislike of him, however, is easily overlooked as he is not in the story often.

If you're after a heated romance where the focus really is on building a relationship, this is a great choice.




Saturday, July 5, 2014

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian



Release Date - July 8, 2014

Chris Bohjalian
Doubleday

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Chris Bohjalian is a well-known name in Vermont, and he gained national attention when Oprah Winfrey chose his novel Midwives as an Oprah book selection. For Vermonters, Chris had been writing for far longer, as a columnist for the Burlington Free Press. His daughter Grace was born not too long after my first child, and I enjoyed and found myself empathizing with his experiences as a new parent. When it comes to his fiction, some I haven't liked, while others I've loved, and Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a definite love it!

A nuclear reactor melt down in the Northeast Kingdom greatly changes 16-year-old Emily Shepard's life. Both her mom and dad worked at the nuclear plant and both are now dead. With the Northeast Kingdom evacuated, Emily ends up on the streets fending for herself and eventually a 9-year-old boy she comes across. She's suddenly forced to make tough decisions, all while knowing people blame her father, allegedly an alcoholic, for the meltdown and also make it clear in one confrontation that the blame will carry to Emily since she's the only surviving family member.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands starts in the present and then goes back and works up to Emily's life before the meltdown and after the meltdown. While it does jump around a bit, it is always clear what time frame she's in. She's a tough kid, though she may act impulsively from time to time (what teen doesn't?), and her struggles are often heartrending. The topic of the nuclear plant is a touchy one in Vermont, and I snickered at comments made by Emily about how she wondered what the anti-wind turbine people thought of wind power now.

I believe Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is being marketed as general fiction, but I am certain that teens around Emily's age will love this story, too. Therefore, I recommend it also as teen fiction.




Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes



Release Date - July 1, 2014

Jojo Moyes
Pamela Dorman Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Jojo Moyes burst onto the U.S. bestseller charts with her poignant Me Before You. I'd heard of the book, but I haven't read it. Therefore One Plus One is my introduction to Jojo Moyes writing. What an introduction it was!

Jess is the mother to a math-whiz daughter, step-mom to a boy whose mother and father both abandoned him, and barely scraping to get by working as a bartender by night and cleaning houses by day. When her daughter is given the chance to attend a private school, Jess is told she just needs to come up with the other 10 percent of the tuition. Jess's ex balks saying he is still struggling to find work, so that leaves her to come up with the money by herself. A once-in-a-lifetime math Olympiad contest comes up, but Jess must get her daughter to Scotland in a matter of days. With no car and no money, that isn't as easy as it seems.

Enter Ed. He's a business owner, comfortably wealthy, but dealing with  an insider trading scandal. The last thing he wants is to trek across the U.K. with two kids, a smelly dog, and a woman he hardly knows. Yet, that's exactly what he agrees to do, and it's a choice that might save him.

Hands down, this is a book I will read, read again, and then re-read yearly. Jess has it hard. Her kids also have it hard no thanks to a neighborhood bully. Ed is the character I least expected to like, yet I found myself enamored. By the time, I was involved in all of their lives, I did not want to put the book down. Actually, I didn't put the book down, and that led to a very long night and little sleep.

One Plus One is told from the viewpoint of Jess, Ed, and both children. It gave excellent insight into everyone's fears and hopes. I laughed with them, shed a number of tears, and when it was over, I felt like I was leaving friends behind Bottom line is this book is one for the keeper shelf, and I'm heading to my library to see if her other books are available.