Note to Readers

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for providing many of the books you see reviewed here.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Welcome to Crossroads, Texas: Setting for Ransom Canyon

Jodi Thomas brings a new community to life in her August 2015 release titled Ransom Canyon. A number of characters get to tell their story in this atmospheric romance of sorts. There is a prequel that also came out in August, but at 50 pages, Winter's Camp sets things up at the Kirkland ranch and Ransom Canyon completes them.

Staten Kirkland does what his father did not do. Staten runs the family ranch, while his father is busy being a Washington politician. Staten loves his work, he loves his ranch, and it's always been the perfect distraction for Staten. You see, Staten's wife died years ago, and that tragic loss was followed by the death of Staten's son. The only thing keeping Staten from breaking down is his relationship with his deceased wife's best friend, Quinn.

Quinn's loved Staten for as long as she can remember. Being Staten's shelter in the storm is enough for Quinn. After all, she is being chased by her own demons.

Also earning his place in Ransom Canyon is Yancy Grey. Released from prison, Yancy is ready to start anew, but his first day out isn't ideal. Someone steals the backpack filled with the only belongings he has. When the elderly residents of Crossroads, Texas, take Yancy under their wing. He finds himself with friends, a job, a place to live, and a community that's making him feel like he's finally found a home. As he develops feelings for a local nurse, Yancy's past comes back and threatens all he's gained.

Finally, there's Lucas Reyes. All he wants is to earn enough money to go to college and follow his dreams. Saving the sheriff's daughter wasn't in the cards, nor was letting a peer take all the credit. Lucas doesn't care though, that one night has changed his life.

Throughout this MIRA release, you'll get to know each of these characters, as well as a number of other townspeople. I grew to love the town, and I definitely became fond of each character. Yancy is probably my favorite as he had the most to lose.

I've been a fan of Jodi Thomas for years, and I've enjoyed many of her historical and contemporary romances. This one had romantic aspects, but there was so much more to it. A bit of mystery, a touch of action, and characters I definitely want to see in future novels.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sophie Littlefield - The Guilty One

I loved author Sophie Littlefield's House of Glass and Garden of Stones. Her August 2015 Gallery Books release, The Guilty One, is another thought-provoking novel.

Housewife and mother Maris never expects her world to turn upside down. Since her daughter's murder, her marriage is done. Her sister is expecting her to move in, but Maris doesn't know what she wants. Getting through each day is a challenge enough. When the father of the young man who allegedly killed Maris's daughter calls her from the Golden Gate Bridge, Maris drives to the bridge to stop him from killing himself.

This kicks Maris into action. She leaves her home, heads out on her own, and ends up in an area that's nothing like people would expect of her. She also ends up befriending people who are not people Maris would usually associate with. As she spends time with this new crowd, in a new area, Maris is able to find herself.

I cannot say I liked The Guilty One as much as I liked House of Glass, but it is equally thought-provoking and had me wondering how I would handle that situation. I cannot imagine having to pick up the pieces if I was in Maris's shoes, or from the other POV, as the alleged murderer's father. Both are tough situations. One thing became certain, Sophie Littlefield has now intrigued me with three books, and she's clearly an author I need to pay attention to.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Debut from Andria Williams

The Longest Night (January 12, 2016) is the debut novel from Andria Williams. It's set in the 1950s, which makes it historical to me, but to some it may be a blast from the past. Paul and Nat Collier leave San Diego for Idaho Falls. There, Paul will work at a local nuclear plant, while Nat is to raise their daughters and become part of the military community. It isn't long before Paul realizes the issues with the plant and, perhaps more troubling, the knowledge that he's supposed to keep it quiet.

When Paul is sent to the Arctic for confronting his superior, a pregnant Nat is left in Idaho Falls with no real friends and two young girls to care for. When her car breaks down, she befriends a local mechanic, something definitely frowned upon in this era, so Nat is forced to keep her meetings with Esrom secret.

As The Longest Night ended up being a study of the times and what was expected of Paul, a military member, and Nat, a headstrong woman. Nat simply cannot understand why women cannot be adventurous and why it's so wrong for a man and woman to be friends without it meaning something more. I liked that. I actually appreciated Nat's character,and thought of how some things have changed so much, but some things never change. I was friends with my neighbor in the 1990s, and I'd hear comments about how unnatural it was for a single dad and married woman to be close friends. It was more that we were both home during the day with our kids. It didn't have to mean anything untoward, yet people tried to make more of it than was there.

Andria Williams' debut novel isn't a book I expected to like as much as I did. The setting is well developed. I felt as though I was part of this community. I also liked the characters and the issues they all face. With the touch of history, intriguing characters, and sense of impending doom with the reactor, this book kept me reading well into the night.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Holidays

Hope everyone has a happy holiday season. Plenty of merriment, time with loved ones, and relaxation.

Those of us in the east are having a snow-free, very warm Christmas. First time I've ever gotten my idea of what winter should be like. for those who miss it, here's a picture from last year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jackie Bouchard's Rescue Me, Maybe

Released in August 2015, Rescue Me, Maybe shares the tale of Jane Bailey. Newly widowed, Jane is embarrassed to say that it's her beloved beagle she misses more than her husband. She's hiding that she fell out of love with him some time ago. Her mother-in-law takes over the funeral, doing things Ryan would have hated, and Jane doesn't have the energy to fight. The loss of her beagle has left her empty.

Philadelphia was Ryan's plan, so Jane's heading back to San Diego where her friends and former life are. She agrees, albeit a bit begrudgingly, to stop in Prescott, Arizona, and help run her aunt and uncle's bed and breakfast while they go across country. Two things happen. One, during her trip, Jane finds a beautiful stray, even though a replacement dog is the last thing she needs. Two, Jane finds herself enjoying Prescott, even if the guests are generally pains in the butt and the hunky handyman next door is getting on her nerves. As much as she finds herself fitting in, she knows this is only a temporary stop.

I enjoyed this book, In fact, when my pets woke me up at 1:30 a.m., I opted to finish it rather than try to go back to sleep. This is always a good sign. I liked Jane, though her mother-in-law was an unbearable character who drove me batty. I liked Jane's father-in-law, and really enjoyed the people she becomes friends with in Prescott. By the time the book ended, I wasn't really ready for it to end and hope Jane might find herself in another book in the future as I'd like to know how she's doing.

Jackie Bouchard gets one thing so perfectly that I found myself snickering. Some of the guests who barge into Jane's kitchen struck me as very realistic. In fact, a few of them reminded me of a situation I witnessed. My husband and I went to our favorite restaurant for our anniversary. The couple next to us started complaining to the waiter that the man was lactose intolerant, so they needed a list of ingredients put into the mashed potatoes because he really wanted mashed potatoes and refused to have the rice or baked potato. The waiter did an amazing job stating there was butter and sour cream in the mashed, and the guy threw a fit saying he wanted mashed and that the chef should make a dairy-free batch for him. This same couple then went to the salad bar, got their salad, and returned. The man had taken the creamy peppercorn dressing (white and creamy) and hoped their was no dairy in it. At that point, we knew he was being a jerk. In the book, Jane gets some equally frustrating guests. I loved one scene and cheered her on!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bricking It: New Novel from Nick Spalding

Imagine inheriting a large farmhouse in the British countryside. Now imagine finding the house is in horrid condition. That's exactly what happens to brother and sister Dan and Hayley Daley. They never knew their grandmother owned a house. They also have no idea how they'll be able to sell it in the state it's in. When Hayley learns renovating the house will drastically raise the amount they can sell it for, she and Dan start the tedious path of home renovations.

Along the way, Dan and Hayley begin working with a quirky architect with little to no fashion sense, a contractor who isn't as he seems, and even the host of a popular television series involving home renovations. There's even a mystery cow that comes and goes and finds herself in the oddest of places.

Nick Spalding dishes up humor, as well as a dose of the harsh realities that come with home building and renovations. I'm not sure I'd count this as a keeper, but it was definitely a humorous, enjoyable read while it lasted.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Summer on Lover's Island - Cute Romance That Left Me With One Minor Complaint

Maine may not be my home, but it should be. Yearly trips to Bailey Island, Saco, Ogunquit, Wells, or York have been going on for as long as I can remember. I love it there and always feel sad when it's time to leave. Donna Alward's Jewell Cove novels always take me back to the coast, even if I'm not really there. The setting in Summer on Lover's Island is just part of this romance's allure.

Lizzie Howard's fast-lane lifestyle has gotten the best of her. She's in Jewell Cove to temporarily take over for her best friend Charlie who is weeks away from giving birth. As one of the town's two doctors, Charlie knows a replacement is necessary and she thinks Lizzie is perfect for the job. Lizzie, however, is used to the fast pace of an ER, so this is only temporary.

The other doctor at the family practice, Dr. Josh Collins, proves to be a tempting way to spend her personal time. Lizzie knows she's playing with fire, after all her last relationship with a doctor didn't work out well. However, Josh brings out a side of Lizzie that is exciting, new, and definitely enticing. Can she keep her career and romance separate this time?

For the most part, I enjoyed watching Lizzie and Josh, both haunted by their past, cope with a growing relationship bordering on a word they'd never dared embrace - love. There are sneak peeks into the lives of other Jewell Cove characters, such as Jess (Treasure on Lilac Lane), Charlie (Christmas at Seashell Cottage) , and Abby (The House on Blackberry Hill).

Despite this, I found myself bothered by one detail. At a gathering, Lizzie discusses the circumstances involving one patient's medical issues. For someone who was on leave from the ER where she worked, I would have expected her to be overly cautious with her medical career. Discussing a patient with others is against HIPAA privacy laws. When she started discussing her patient in front of all Josh's extended family, I was a little stunned, even if this was a fictional book. It made me a little disgusted with her character and Josh's too. I kept reading, but by that point, I'd lost respect for this fictional character and that was enough to make what could have been an excellent read into just an okay one.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Release Date - January 5, 2016

Marieke Nijkamp
Sourcebooks Fire

Book Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

This Is Where It Ends is completely heartbreaking, yet I could not put it down. It's a work of fiction, but it's also so real that it seems ripped from the headlines. As the parent of a teenager, I cried for each and every character in this book. I am also so thankful that the two lockdowns my teen's high school had to do ended up being minor situations.

It starts as any typical high school morning begins. Students show up, albeit begrudgingly for some, and head to the auditorium for a school assembly. They know the principal's speech, many seniors can recite it verbatim. No one expects to finally be dismissed, only to find the doors locked and a shooter among them. Trapped, these kids now face the most horrific event of their lives.

Told from the viewpoint of the shooter's sister, the shooter's ex-girlfriend, the shooter's sister's best friend, and the brother of that best friend, readers get an incredible perspective into the events as seen through their eyes. The sister and her best friend are trapped in the auditorium. The best friend's brother skipped and broke into the principal's office and knows what's happening but has no idea if his sister is alive. There's the ex-girlfriend who is on the track team and is on the track practicing with the coach and other runners.

There are actually two other voices, one is the daughter of a school teacher who is posting as the events occur and there are the Tweets from the news media who are trying to get any students to talk to them about what's going on.

There's another book I read on school shootings that stayed with me: Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes. I found This Is Where It Ends to be just as good, if not better. Marieke Nijkamp drew me in with the different perspectives, and she definitely did an outstanding job capturing the shooter. There are times my heart broke for him, but at the same time, what he was doing was so wrong, I couldn't help but hate him.

The other characters showed such strength while also dealing with the intense fear from the situation they were in. Each of these characters become real to me, and I couldn't stop reading. I simply had to know how things ended up, because one thing was clear, with the mentality of the shooter, no one was safe.

This Is Where It Ends is such a powerful novel. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book, along with a box of tissues, and be prepared for an emotional roller coaster ride!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Catherine Ryan Hyde - Ask Him Why

Catherine Ryan Hyde, perhaps best known for her bestseller Pay It Forward, has a new release from Lake Union Publishing/Amazon. December 15th's release spends a little over a decade looking at one young man's actions and the effect is has on a family.

Ask Him Why tells the story of Ruth, a 15 year old, her 13-year-old brother Aubrey, and their older brother Joseph. Joseph is serving overseas in Baghdad when a decision he makes thrusts everyone in his family into the media and tears the family apart. This one action leads to series of events that will change Ruth and Aubrey's lives forever.

Some books grab you with the setting, and others do with the characters. In this case, it is the situation that kept me hooked. The exact details into the decision Joseph makes is really kept secret for some length of time, so there's that to keep you reading. It's the family dynamics that I found most absorbing. This isn't a likable family for the most part and Ruth cues the reader to this early on with her statement about how they convinced themselves they were ever together in the first place.

The book takes place in two time periods. The time surrounding Joseph's unforgivable act while in the military and then a decade later when Ruth is now a mother and can look at things from a different point of view. I found myself enjoying the present far more than the past. Perhaps because at that point, the adults that ticked me off in the first place where mostly absent from the story.

This brings me to how the story left me feeling. That's the difficult aspect. I wasn't as taken with the characters in Ask Him Why as I have been with the characters in past Catherine Ryan Hyde novels. I had a harder time connecting with anyone in this story, and as a result, I just didn't find it as mesmerizing. It's good, but not one that will have me thinking about it months from now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nine Lives: One Unique Town and One Troublesome Death

Wendy Corsi Staub is back with the debut of a new mystery series. After her husband dies, Bella Jordan and her young son have no choice but to pack up and head for Chicago to live with Bella's late husband's mother. Their trip takes a bit of a detour thanks to car problems, and Bella and Max end up in the small New York town of Lily Dale, a town populated by mediums.

In Lily Dale, things seem too good to be true. Bella is offered a job managing a local inn, as the owner's mysterious death has left everyone reeling. With no one to take over the inn during the town's busy season, they need Bella. Her son's already made a friend, the inn's pregnant cat seems to have bonded with him, and this offer does seem too good for Bella to pass up, so she accepts. It quickly becomes apparent that Leona's death was no accident, and the killer's not done yet.

Nine Lives did keep me guessing. I had the killer pegged wrong, and that's something I do enjoy. Many mysteries do not fool me, so I'm left feeling a little let down because I solved it long before the authorities. In this case, I had my suspicions but they led me down the wrong path.

Quirky characters fill the pages of this Crooked Lane Books October 2015 release. There's Bella, a woman a little afraid of her own shadow after her husband's death. The men Bella meets make for great romantic potential in future books. Even the cat is developed into a bit of an enigma. Combine the characters with the charming town of Lily Dale, and it makes for a fun cozy mystery. Can't wait for the next.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Meet Dahlia Moss in Max Wirestone's New Novel

I'm not big into the online MMORPG world, though I know many who are. In Max Wirestone's The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, meet Dahila Moss, a quirky 20-something who's down on her luck. She can't land a job, her boyfriend dumped her for another woman, and she has no money for rent. Dahlia's currently living with her eccentric friend and trying desperately to get back on her feet.

Enter Jonah. He approaches Dahlia at her friend's party and offers her $2k if she'll find who stole the Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing from him in the online game Kingdom of Zoth. It's a weird request, but Dahlia needs the money. When Jonah turns up dead, Dahlia's offered even more money by his parents to arrange a virtual service in the game. Soon the lines of game and reality blur as the killer used a replica spear to kill Jonah and she's determined to find out who and why.

Max Wirestone's novel came out in October 2015, so you'll find it in stores selling Redhook's titles and online now.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Horror Anthology - Seize the Night by Kelley Armstrong et al

Seize The Night: 
New Tales Of Vampiric Terror
By Christopher Golden, ED.
Gallery. 97814767830930

Reviewed by Jessica Maguire

You're not ready to pack away the thrills, chills, and terror of Halloween just yet? Not to worry. You may have to pack away the decorations and work off that leftover candy, but the terror will continue when you pick up Seize The Night.

Seize The Night is a delightfully scary collection of short stories sure to delight and terrify. Featured authors include Laird Barron, Dana Cameron, Michael Koryta, and many more.

I typically do not enjoy vampire and other horror stories. I find them to be usually too bloody with little substance. However, much to my delight, I find the stories in this anthology to be intelligent, thought provoking, and scary. To me, the scariest stories leave something to my imagination, and that is what these stories do.

My favorite story of the bunch is “Up In Old Vermont”, written by Scott Smith. The creatures terrorizing the Vermont countryside are left to be mysterious, as is the absolute fate of the protagonist, Ally. Sure, she confronts a horrific fate, but the end result isn't spelled out in detail, leaving the imagination to take over.

In reading this collection I have come to realize the power of my creative imagination. The beauty of these enjoyable stories is that they leave room for the reader's imagination to roam freely and take over, and that, perhaps, is the scariest aspect of all.    

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I Don't Walk to Talk About It - A Touch Predictable, Yet Still Very Satisfying

Jane Lovering's latest entry to her Yorkshire Romances series brings readers into the heart of an area that is near and dear to me. It's the area where my own Mum grew up and where many relatives still live. The setting of I Don't Want to Talk About It intrigued me. In fact, the characters did too. The only downfall is that I knew what was going on from a few chapters in, so one of the big surprises wasn't much of a surprise at all.

Her boyfriend (Dan) gave an ultimatum that Winter Gregory couldn't face - him or her twin sister. With that, she packed up her things and rented a cottage in a small village in Yorkshire. There, she hopes to finish the work on her new book without Dan in her way. The problem is that in addition to being her boyfriend, Dan is also Winter's editor.

While photographing gravestones, Winter is interrupted by a precocious young girl whose mother died. Scarlet seems desperate for a female role model, and Winter admits she's intrigued by Scarlet's uncle Alex, so she begins spending time with the eight year old. Soon, Winter finds herself falling for Alex. Despite, this, Winter really hasn't had the closure she needs with Dan, and it's going to take more focus than Winter believes she has to decide which path to choose.

The big secret that led to the breakup between Dan and Winter wasn't much of a secret to me. I did find it pretty predictable. That said, I loved Scarlet's character. She's a smart, albeit emotionally damaged little girl that I wanted to take under my wing. I also liked Alex who is trying his best, but his own emotional struggles get int he way. Then there is Winter, who again is likable, and I found myself hoping that she could come to terms with her past and move on with Alex. I really liked Alex and Winter together.

There are still surprises in store for the reader. This may have strong romantic leanings, but there's a lot of character study involved. I ended up enjoying every page of this Choc Lit novel and am so glad I read it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison

Release Date - December 2015

Mette Ivie Harrison
Soho Crime

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Linda Wallheim is the wife of a Mormon bishop. She's raised her sons, she assists in their community as needed, but her evening is not off to a great start when she gets into a slight argument with a neighbor and fellow Mormon. Later, Carl Ashby is found dead, and that's when things really take a weird turn. Linda soon learns that Carl was, in fact, born a woman.

With police doing all they can to find Carl's killer, Linda delves into the case herself. The Mormon church's higher-ups may be trying to keep the entire case hush-hush and make it go away, but Linda feels she owes Carl and his family more. She is determined to unravel the events leading to Carl's death.

I had a friend in high school who was Mormon, and I never knew that the coffee she drank was against her religion. That tidbit is something that stuck with me as I read His Right Hand. The details into Linda and her community's way of life are intriguing, but what I really loved was that the author did not shy from the transgender Carl. The writing was honest, touching, and I appreciated the forthright nature.

This is not the first Linda Wallheim mystery, but it did stand alone for me as I was unfamiliar with the series. I was hooked pretty quickly too. It's a touch cozy mixed with some real grit that made me enjoy every minute of the metaphorical ride.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mandy Baxter Kicks Off the Holidays With a Billionaire Rancher Book

The name Mandy Baxter immediately brought to mind the character from Tim Allen's hit TV show, but this Mandy Baxter has an appealing series that kept me wanting more.

Nate Christensen wants nothing from his late father. Not the family business and certainly not a dime of his money. He's also had it with woman who are after his family's money. Enter Chloe Benson. Chloe desperately needs money to keep her charitable organization afloat, but after meeting Nate, she doesn't have the heart to ask him for a donation. She's immediately attracted to him.

After a passionate night together, Chloe's convinced Nate might be Mr. Right. That definitely creates a problem with getting the donation she needs. She knows he hates everything about his family's money, but is it possible to prove to Nate that he can have it all?

Every ounce of Holidays With a Billionaire screams - this isn't going to go over well. Yet, despite knowing that Chloe was walking on thin ice, I found myself really liking her character and wanted her to get Nate to see the light. The spark between them was immediate, and I was rooting for them. Obviously, as is true in any romance, there is going to be the conflict, but I appreciated that the author brought it up and didn't dwell on it for chapters upon chapters. 

For a holiday romance, this one from St. Martins Paperbacks is a goodie. It's not too long, the chemistry is there, and I am eager to read more in the Billionaire's Club series.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Taste of Sake: An Exercise in When You Just Dislike the Characters

There's one thing that always kills a book for me and that's disliking the characters. Number one of my list of complaints come characters who have a good thing in front of them, but they are apparently too blind to see it. That's my problem with A Taste of Sake.

Lyrical Shine - October 27, 2015

With a gorgeous setting, everything is set for Sauvignon St. Pierre's vineyard wedding. Her sisters, Merlot and Chardonney, are just as excited as she is. However, the crash landing of a helicopter rushes the ceremony. The St. Pierre sisters' father didn't quite nail his landing, sending his surprise guest to the hospital. Turns out he had an affair with a Japanese woman that produced one more daughter - Sake.

Sake grew up always on the move and rarely in a good situation. She's tough, not thrilled with her situation, and definitely annoyed that her one true friend, her dog, isn't allowed at the St. Pierre estate. That's where realtor Bill Diamond comes in. He's the only person Sake's met in this new setting that she trust to care for her dog. Bill also becomes the person Sake beckons every time she needs something. As Bill quickly learns, there's more to Sake than meets the eye.

I just couldn't develop any attachment to Sake. To me, her choices of words were obnoxious. Her attachment to a man that gets her into trouble with the law made little sense. And, her attitude was equally annoying. Her father was trying to do right and help her achieve success, but she didn't seem to care. Bill's slightly better, but I couldn't see his attraction to Sake, and the dog was not enough to me to bring them together. I had to force myself to keep reading, and that's never a good sign.

Heather Heyford's latest release is clearly part of a series. I haven't read any of the previous novels in the Napa Wine Heiresses series. And as fair as I try to be, I can't say after reading A Taste of Sake, that I have any urge to read the others. I have to chalk up this book as a miss and hope readers out there have better luck with it than I do.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chilling European Mystery: Mark Edwards' Follow You Home

In a chilling mystery by Mark Edwards, readers are taken on a frightening adventure across Europe. While I remained on the edge of my seat, there were definitely moments when I wondered why on earth they didn't spill their story when they reached an embassy. That's definitely impacting my overall thoughts when it comes to the book review.

June 2015 Release from Thomas and Mercer

Daniel and Laura are madly in love. Before returning to their London home where they plan to settle down and raise a family, they decide to travel around Europe and have the experience of a lifetime. Things go south in Romania when they meet another couple. Opting to take the couple up on their offer to wake them up at their stop, Daniel and Laura sneak into an empty sleeper cabin and take a nap. When they wake up, their belongings, including their passports, are gone. The female from the other couple acts as a translator when the guard comes through looking for tickets, but the trio end up getting kicked off the train in the middle of nowhere.

What Daniel and Laura end up seeing in a house in the woods ends up destroying their relationship. They've also vowed to never speak of the events in the woods. When their friends start dying and stalkers seem to be watching them, Daniel and Laura are forced to face up to the events from Romania, if they can survive that long.

I cannot deny that Follow You Home keeps you on the edge of your seat and rooting for the couple. That said, I couldn't understand why they didn't speak up once they were with the British consulate and getting travel papers to get back to London. Logically, that's what I would have done.

The big mystery regarding the events they witnessed were revealed over time. I wasn't shocked by what they'd witnessed and one of the bigger revelations wasn't that surprising to me. However, even with these minor niggles, I still kept reading and had a really good time seeing how things turned out in the end.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cozy Mysteries: One of My Secret Indulgences

Alibi Release Date - November 17, 2015

Cozy mysteries are an indulgence of mine, so it's not surprising that I am always eager to review a new entry to the genre. Caroline Fardig's Death by Decaf is a fun addition to the world of cozy mysteries. If you are a fan of Joanne Fluke, Diane Mott Davidson, or Jessica Conant-Park (all my favorites), check out the first novel in Caroline Fardig's A Java Jive Mystery series.

Juliet "Jules" Langley may not have made much of her music career, but she was very proud of the cafe she owned with her fiance. When he takes all of her money and runs off with her waitress, Jules is forced to return home to run a long-time friend's coffeeshop. Her first day doesn't go well. She fights with the head chef and then finds his body in the shop's dumpster.

With the police considering her their prime suspect, Jules decides to start investigating the case in her spare time. Soon, she's making enemies and up to her neck in trouble she just didn't need.

There's the mystery in Death by Decaf, but there's also the start to a romantic triangle between her best buddy and a dark and mysterious bad boy who frequents the cafe. Add a dose of Pete's grandmother, a sassy elderly woman who definitely doesn't act her age and adds dashes of humor, and this book is a clear winner.

The only thing Death by Decaf is lacking are the recipes that culinary-themed cozy mysteries usually have. I found myself craving coconut chocolate chip cookies to go with my morning latte. That's not enough to keep me from wanting to read future Java Jive books.

Friday, November 6, 2015

One Nor'Easter Changes Lives in This Holiday Romance

A St. Martin's Paperbacks October 2015 Release

Here's another Christmas romance to get you in a holiday mood. The small town of Jewell Cove is in the midst of a Nor'Easter and Officer Todd Ricker is out patrolling the snowy roads to ensure no one is stranded. He does come across a stranded traveler and brings him to the only inn that might have room left. By the time Todd and his new passenger arrive at Evergreen Inn, he cannot get home either, so innkeeper Lainey Price offers to let him spend the night on her sofa in her carriage house.

The pair have known each other for a long time, and Todd's never given Lainey the time of day. Todd may still be a hottie, but Lainey no longer cares. Christmas is here, and Lainey has other things on her mind anyway. And, none of her plans involve having any holiday spirit or attempting a second chance at love.

Christmas at Evergreen Inn is a holiday novella. It's short and sweet and really won't take many readers more than an hour or two to finish. I love the novellas that come out at this time of the year. They fit perfectly in between cooking tasks, gift wrapping, and holiday excursions.

I liked Todd's character. Lainey's was a little less enjoyable, only because she lingered on her past too much, and I'm the type that would have been like "It's your loss, I'm moving on!" When a heroine lingers and mopes, I find myself annoyed.

This is the second Jewell Cove novel I've read. The setting is my favorite part of these romances. I love this town and can't wait to return.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Disillusioned Hero Meets Determined Caregiver Heroine and Loses His Heart

Harlequin/MIRA September 2015 Release

Have you seen Hilary Swank's emotional movie You're Not You? In essence, Emmy Rossum's character in that movie reminded me a bit of Faith McCallum in Susan Wiggs' new novel.

Faith is a widowed mom of two girls and her late husband's medical bills have left her struggling to get by. Her older daughter, Cara, dreams of colleges that Faith could never afford. Her younger daughter, a very precocious child, has Type 1 Diabetes, a condition that also drives up their living expenses. Faith applies for a job caring for a quadriplegic and is stunned to get the job, even after completely missing the interview.

Mason Bellamy needs to find his mother a caregiver so that he can get back to his life in Manhattan. He bought his mom a lavish manor in the Catskills, had it fixed up to suit her needs, but she's burning through caregivers like crazy. When Alice tumbles down the stairs just before Mason's brother is heading out of state for training and his sister is set to begin a fellowship in Paris, Mason must return home until he knows she's getting the care she deserves.

From the moment he comes across Faith, Mason is enamored. She's perfect for his mother. In addition, he finds himself drawn to Faith and her daughters. Yet, Mason is engaged and ready to settle down and start life as a married man.

I've loved Susan Wiggs' novels for a long time. Starlight on Willow Lake jettisons to the top of my favorite Susan Wiggs book. I loved Mason and his whole family. Faith and her daughters were gems. The setting is magical, and their romance never seems trite or rushed. With this book completed, I am eager to round up other novels in The Lakeshore Chronicles series. I'm also crossing my fingers that the author returns to give Cara her own story.

- Tracy

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Christmas Romance Book Review: Home For Christmas (Sanctuary Island)

St. Martin's - October 2015

I've been spending the past few weeks really studying SEO due to a job change. One thing I've learned is that following a strict format when it comes to articles and blogs is not ideal. Given that, I'm switching things up and skipping a more formal look.

Christmas is around the corner, and that means the rush of Christmas novels is hitting stores. Lily Everett's Home For Christmas takes readers to a place near and dear to my heart, the eastern coast.

Libby Leeds rarely has to go out of her house. She's content with her job as a newspaper columnist, but she hides a few secrets. First, she's not happily married as she claims. Second, she cannot cook. Third, she doesn't live on Sanctuary Island, her family's home. After her parents died in a tragic accident, Libby left the island to live with her uncle, and she hasn't seen her grandfather since.

When her publisher informs her that she is going to host a warm, cozy Christmas for a wounded soldier and his daughter, Libby panics. She's told she will have to fake it or lose her job. Her grandfather welcomes her back, but can she pull off the rest of her lie as easily?

From the time I can remember, family vacations to coastal Maine, New York, Connecticut, or New Hampshire have been a yearly event. Sanctuary Island is set off the coast of Virginia, but I can imagine it feels much like our stay on Bailey Island in Maine. I highly recommend a stay on Bailey Island for an amazing getaway. The setting in this novel was a huge bonus and made the story so much better.

I liked Libby. Owen, well there are mixed feelings there. I found him a little hypocritical. I won't go into details, but all I could think in one section of the novel was "practice what you preach." While I liked him with Libby, I had a hard time truly liking his character for some of the novel.

Summed up, I liked Home For Christmas, but it took time getting past Owen's ignorance. That won't keep me from checking out other books in the series. I fell in love with Sanctuary Island from the very start!

- Tracy

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Heartsong Cottage by Emily March

Release Date - November 3, 2015

Emily March
St. Martins

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Heartsong Cottage is apparently the 10th entry into Emily March's An Eternity Springs Novel series. I swore I'd reach others, but I cannot find reviews, so I'm questioning myself. The town and some of the characters definitely seemed familiar to me.

In this latest entry, which does stand alone, Daniel Garrett is still reeling from the tragic death of his son and then the suicide of his wife. He left the police force and works as a private investigator specializing in missing children. Shannon O'Toole is also reeling, though her grief stems from the death of her fiance and the secret she's been hiding for far too long.

Shannon and Daniel become attracted to one another, but their pasts threaten any kind of future together. Can they overcome their fears and find true love once again?

For me, Heartsong Cottage was a little slow going in terms of building any meaningful relationship. I liked both characters, but as Shannon's secret started coming out, I couldn't help but question why she felt the need to hide it from him. In her shoes, I would have been upfront, but I guess that's just me.

Once the couple found their footing, I loved their interactions. The witty, at times, banter, the conflict as they dealt with their pasts and the potential for a new start. It all came together into a beautiful romance that left me with a tear in my eye and smile on my face.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ninja Baby by David Zeltser with Illustrations by Diane Goode

Book Release - November 3, 2015

David Zeltser
Diane Goode
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Here's a perfect choice for preparing your child for a new sibling. Ninja Baby tells the tale of Nina. From the moment of her arrival, Nina was something special, a real ninja. She's mastered many powerful ninja skills, including making herself seem invisible to mastering the art of hand-to-hand combat during diaper changes.

One day, Nina's not the only kid in the house. Her parents bring home the Kung Fu Master who is skilled in making adults carry him at all times and getting adults to ooh and ahh over him with a single look. Nina wants to know what makes this Kung Fu Master so powerful. She's determined to master his skills.

The touches of humor and doses of what it's really like being a parent make this a winner in my book. I definitely remember the speed at which a diaper change could go horribly, horribly wrong with the quick move of a little hand. I also remember, more than once, looking for a crawling baby who disappeared the minute I turned my back - usually finding them under the table or desk. Those segments of the book had me snickering.

Meanwhile, young children will love the illustrations, the situations this ninja and Kung Fu master get into, and the story itself. I definitely think this is a great addition to any bookshelf.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

Release Date - November 2015

Camille Pagan
Lake Union

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences hooked me and hooked me hard. Right off the bat, I was angry, sad, and hopeful for Libby Miller, the story's heroine. On the same day her doctor tells her she has a rare, tough-to-beat cancer, she learns a terrible secret about her husband, one that shatters their marriage.

With little hope, Libby rents a cottage in Puerto Rico and sets off on a journey to live her final days in glorious fashion. The last thing she expects is to find the potential to start a brand new life surrounded by new friends and a man who would do anything to win her heart.

I loved Libby's story. Despite everything that's thrown her way, she approaches it with a fierce honesty that had me rooting for her. She's vibrant, courageous, and incredibly likable. The story itself has a touch of romance and lots of humor. It's a feel-good story that left me craving more.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hot Toy by Jennifer Crusie

Release Date - October 2015

Jennifer Crusie
St. Martins

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Short and sweet, Hot Toy is perfect for filling in time between holiday baking sessions and errands, The thing with Hot Toy is that it is really short. It's a novella that appeared in 2006's Santa Baby anthology. I read it in half an hour.

Trudy is determined to get the hot toy of the season for her nephew, especially knowing his lousy father promised the boy and then put no effort into finding one. Not only is this toy turning out to be impossible to find, but Trudy's former date, a man who never called her again, shows up seeking the exact same toy. Miracles do occur and with some determined searching, Trudy finds one toy left, but that leads to more chaos than she could ever imagine. Chaos that threatens to put her in the middle of a major investigation.

Jennifer Crusie's story contains plenty of humor, sparks of romance, and lots of fun. It's just so short that it seemed over and done before it really ever began. I ended up wishing I could have more time with Trudy, her family, and Logan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Release Date - July 2015

Amanda Panitch
Random House

Book Review by Jessica Maguire

I'm guessing that young adult readers, ages 14 and up, will enjoy this novel as much as I did. Lucy Black is an interesting and intriguing protagonist. Sure, she's just an ordinary teenager, living with her parents, going to school, and catching the eye of the school's hottest guy. Or so it seems.

Nothing in this novel turns out to be quite what it appears to be. Lucy didn't start out life as Lucy. In another time, another place, she was Julia Vann and Julia had twin brother. But a tragedy left Julia an only child.

Just as Julia is finally getting used to being Lucy and getting settled into her new life, a person from her past shows up and starts following her. Lucy is terrified and wants to know why this figure from her past has returned.

But what is Lucy so scared of? What horrible secrets does her past hold? I won't tell you! But what I will tell you is that it may not be what you think and the truth will leave you intrigued and surprised.

This well written, intelligent, psychological thriller was one I finished in one sitting; I just couldn't put it down. Little clues here and there brought out my inner sleuth as I tried to figure out what Lucy's dark secrets were and how the story would play out. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories by Craig Johnson

Release Date - October 27, 2015

Craig Johnson

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Longmire fans who have already binged on the latest season and all the books will be delighted by this collection of stories from the sheriff's life. Wait for Signs features a dozen short stories based on Walt's past and present, and each one is a delight.

I admit I only discovered Longmire this summer, and I binge watched every season, including season 4. The chemistry between the characters is sublime. Those same relationships carry through in the books, though there are differences between the television show and the books. I found those differences easy to adjust to, however, so it wasn't that big a deal.

With a dozen short stories, it didn't take long to work my way through Wait for Signs. While I could mention them all, I wanted to focus on my favorites.

Hands down, Ministerial Aid was my favorite story in the collection. This story captures the very essence of what I find so endearing with Walt. Let's just say I snickered when he taught the county a lesson on the price of a stamp vs. gas. When he was called in on a rather unusual case during his travels, I couldn't stop reading. Once finished, I read it again because it was that good.

Slick-Tongued Devil is another story that I really enjoyed. It captures Walt's wit, as well as his kindness. He's a lot nicer in this tale than I would have been given the circumstances. It takes place after his wife's death and involves a Bible salesman who has Martha's Bible order.

What happens when a car of Hasidic Jews forget to pay for their gas is not as you would expect. Walt understands forgetting to pay once, but these guys cannot seem to get it right. Walt's got his hands full in High Holidays.

I laughed so hard during Messenger. Put together a group of hungry bears, an owl, and an outhouse, and you're in for a gem.

All of your favorite characters are in Wait for Signs. Catch up with Henry Standing Bear, Vic, and Cady, as well as with Walt. Fans won't want to miss this one, and it's a great way for newbies to get to know Walt.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chaos Theory by M. Evonne Dobson

Release Date - February 2015

M. Evonne Dobson
The Poisoned Pencil

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Chaos Theory is the first in a teen mystery series featuring 17-year-old Kami, her best friends, and a "bad boy" who was sent away after his sister overdosed. In addition, Kami's beloved grandmother died, and that's left Kami reeling. She sees the opportunity to figure out what really happened to Daniel's sister and clear Daniel's name.

There are things I loved about Chaos Theory. Each of the characters was well developed and likable. Yet, I often found myself questioning the reality. As a parent of a 19 year old, there's no way at 17 that I would have let her put herself in harm's way to go undercover and find a drug dealer. I just can't imagine parents like Kami's agreeing to that.

That said, that's not something that most teens will think about when reading this story. I think it will have great appeal with readers who are looking for a modern day, slightly edgier Nancy Drew.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Content, Inc. by Joe Pulizzi

Release Date - September 2015

Joe Pulizzi
McGraw-Hill Education

Content marketing is something I have spent years doing. Not for myself, but I work with website design and management firms to create SEO content for their sites. Therefore, I was interested to hear what Joe Pulizzi, CEO of CopyBlogger, had to say. First off, I love his approachable, honest writing style. That drew me in.

The book is broken into eight main parts:

  • Starting the Journey
  • The Sweet Spot
  • The Content Tilt
  • Building the Base
  • Harvesting Audience
  • Diversification
  • Monetization
  • Next-Level Content

Most of his advice is spot on and I learned a thing or two along the way. Personally, I prefer working with another company, so I'm happy where I am. But if you want to do it all yourself, this is a must-read business guide. I found myself taking notes along the way, especially with guides to helpful calendar apps and programs, I've yet to find one I love, so I stick to Google's calendar, but I don't love it.

There are times I disagree with what is said, but that's all part of human nature. Google's algorithm changes haven't always brought the best content to the top. As someone who spends day in and day out researching material, I can say that Penguin and Panda brought some real duds to the top. For example, one site that comes up in the top five when I search "hotel reservations" comes up with a site that until recently was filled with 301 errors and even today the blog is a blank page. That's not useful to me, yet Google thinks it is. I've often found that researching in Yahoo after looking in Google often leads to better results.

For anyone in SEO writing, content marketing, and even working as a blogger, Content, Inc. is still a valuable tool that you should have in your permanent collection.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Undertow by Michael Buckley

Release Date - May 2015

Michael Buckley
HMH Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

At 16, the last thing any teen needs is to fear her entire family being arrested. For Lyric, that is her biggest fear. The world she's living in isn't the world that used to be, not since a huge number of sea people called Alphas, came out of the ocean at Coney Island and prove to be the biggest threat the world has ever faced. Even worse, the President has made it clear that this new race will be allowed into schools, and that's not going over well.

Things couldn't possibly get more dangerous, until Lyric is forced to befriend the Alpha prince attending her school. Now taunted by her peers for being a "fish lover," she does what she can to do what she's been told to do without getting killed by the humans who are most adamantly against Alphas being part of their community. When she begins falling for Fathom, she realizes that she's in way over her head, and there may be no way to stop things.

I am not usually a sci-fi/fantasy kind of gal, but I loved this book. It was a definite luxury to me to stay in bed until almost 8 a.m. while reading, but I couldn't stop. I loved Lyric's strength, and enjoyed every page where she and Fathom were forced to spend time together.

Undertow has multiple layers when it comes to the plot. There is the fear between humans and the unusual Alphas, many of whom have knife-like bones that they can push from their skin at any given moment. There's the racism layer with humans refusing to allow this new race to be part of their community, even if it means causing mayhem in the process. Then there is Lyric's best friend who is in an abusive situation and needs Lyric to keep her both sane and safe. Finally, you do have the friendship and budding romance between Lyric and Fathom, and I really enjoyed how realistic that was.

This is the first book in a series, so don't expect everything to be summed up by the end of the book. I was definitely left wanting to know more and see how things would play out in both Coney Island where the action takes place and the rest of the world.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Jeanne Willis and Joel Stewart

Release Date - May 2015

Jeanne Willis
Joel Stewart
Candlewick Press

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon offers an unusual “take” on traditional familiar nursery rhymes. Where most readers might see just a child’s nursery rhyme, Jeanne Willis envisions a medical emergency, which means that in this picture book the Storyland ambulance and medics must rush to the scene to take care of the characters with bumps and bruises.

For example, when the cow tries to jump over the moon, she trips and falls, grazing her knees and chipping a hoof. Then there’s a little mishap involving Rock-a-Bye -Baby. The wind breaks the branch she is rocking on and Baby and her rocking bed falls into a compost heap. She isn’t hurt, fortunately, but the infant now needs a bath.

And so it goes. Humpty Dumpty takes a fall and Little Boy Blue is taking a nap when a stack of hay topples over onto him. It seems to be just one thing after another, but the ambulance crew is always able to take care of the problem.

Granted this is a silly extension of some classic tales, but young readers will probably think this is a hilarious book; so if it can elicit some laughter, all the better! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

If the Shoe Fits by Sandra D. Bricker

Release Date - May 2013

Sandra D. Bricker
River North

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

If the Shoe Fits is meant to be a take of the classic Cinderella tale, but it has a bit of a twist that makes it unique. Prince Charming in this case is a mystery man. Julianne is on her way to court when she almost hits the car in front of her, and before she knows it, some tall, handsome man is running into the road to rescue a dog that's just been hit. She's certain he could be her knight in shining armor, but he's in his truck and driving away before she can even process things. All that's left behind is the man's tool box and one work boot.

Will has been Julianne's best friend since they were 10. He's fallen for her, but she considers them friends and business partners, nothing more, nothing less. As much as Will would love to be so much more to Julianne, her new goal is to find the mystery man and prove that he is Mr. Right. Much to Will's dismay, it may well be time to move on with his life and get over the only woman he has truly ever loved.

As much as I love romances, I had tried and failed to read If the Shoe Fits many times. Julianne's quest to find Mr. Right came off as too perfect, with her focusing on his looks so hard that she really failed to see at just about any point that the man could well be a dud. Will dotes so much at times that I had to wonder about him too. There comes a point where you have to realize that if someone doesn't want you, you need to move on. Will seemed to be missing the big "move on" hint, even when he had other potential love interests.

My biggest niggle in the story was another lawyer who deems herself Julianna's nemesis. She suddenly appears, and I couldn't figure out why. Leave her out of the book and there still would have been plenty of conflict between Will and Julianne. I didn't like her, couldn't see why she was integral to the story, and therefore I struggled to stay interested.

In the end, this is not my favorite romance. It had potential, but I never cared enough for the characters to be avidly reading. In fact, it was the potential romance between Julianne's mom and Will's dad that ended up being the reason I kept going.

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Endless Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

Release Date - October 13, 2015

Cynthia Ruchti

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

An Endless Christmas kicks off my start to the holiday reading season. This is a very quick-to-read, heartwarming tale of love, family, and the holiday spirit.

Meeting her boyfriend's entire family in one shot is stressful enough, but Katie never expects Micah to propose to her as soon as they walk in the door. Surrounded by strangers, Katie has to break Micah's heart and tell him no.

Surprisingly, Katie still finds herself taken into Micah's family's home and treated to one of the most memorable holiday seasons ever.

This is a charming story, though it did turn a little too preachy for my own personal tastes a couple of times. It is a religious novel, however, so I can't blame it. I just have this thing with having religion thrown into the story in a manner in which it pulls me from the story.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Woman With a Secret by Sophie Hannah

Release Date - August 2015

Sophie Hannah
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

Thanks to the Internet you can create a fantasy world and relationships with individuals you never expect to actually meet in a face to face situation. For Nicki Clements this provides the opportunity to enjoy a secret life quite different from the one she lives with her husband and children.

Nicki’s online email “connection” is with a man who wants her to share a secret or two she’s never divulged to anyone else. Perhaps because of the anonymity of the situation or because she has an urge to unburden herself , Nicki agrees. Granted this is perhaps not a sound idea, but once the emails begin flying back and forth, Nicki is hooked and becomes quite candid with information that’s been locked away for quite some time.

Then disaster strikes in a way Nicki never imagined. She is arrested for the murder of her correspondent, a man she has never met face to face. Although she isn’t guilty of this crime, Nicki’s secrets and deceptions are now about to be laid bare for everyone to see.

As the police try to get to the bottom of this intriguing crime it becomes obvious that although the principal suspect may not be guilty of the homicide she is charged with, there are things in her past that make her far from being an “innocent” bystander.

The nature of secrets is questioned in this psychological thriller that underscores that everyone has a secret or two that should not be shared with anyone no matter how compelling the reason may be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd

Release Date - October 6, 2015

Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Kids

There's something to be said about a children's picture book that captures both an artistic and educational aspect. The text sizes and simple word choices make it easy for a child to read without even knowing they are reading. Words like "big" and "bear" are paired with illustrations that clearly demonstrate exactly what those words are. This makes it an ideal choice for the child just learning to read.

The artistic nature is what impressed me just as much. The author/illustrator sticks to three colors in Big Bear Little Chair - red, white, and black. The white and black may combine to form gray, but generally those are the three colors you'll find. It becomes very pleasing to the eye and made this book stand out. Usually, I'd say if my children were still little, this would be a definite addition to my shelf. In this case, I can say that my daughter who is studying graphic design at Champlain College took the book as a demonstration on how you don't need to have a lot of color to make something really pop.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Release Date - August 2015

Barbara Taylor Sissel
Lake Union Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

A devastating fall left Lauren Wilder with injuries and a dependence on pain killers. Numerous counseling sessions later, Lauren believes she has ended her dependency on these drugs, but memory lapses often have her doubting herself. All of this becomes a focal point when Lauren almost hits a young man while driving. She stops to make sure he's okay, and his response, while slightly unusual, makes her call the police to do a welfare check. When she spies him getting into the car with a woman he clearly knows, she thinks all is okay.

Days later, Lauren learns the young man is missing, and she's the last person police can confirm he spoke to. Lauren's memory gaps become alarming to her. As police start eyeing her as a suspect, she urgently looks into the case on her own to discover the truth behind everything she saw that day and what really happened to Bo Laughlin.

Crooked Little Lies is general fiction, perhaps better categorized as women's fiction, but there is also a strong element of mystery to it. I did feel an urgency to unravel what happened to Bo. The issue became the subplots. So much is going on that I felt it often distracted from the mystery I wanted to explore. Lauren and her husband are on the verge of bankruptcy, so some chapters would focus more on their arguments. There are the snippets with Lauren's sister and her troubles. The character I probably liked most, Bo's sister, also tended to stray a bit from the disappearance, leaning more towards her work, her possible romance with a local man, and even her car troubles.

I'd find myself skimming through the sections to get back to the mystery regarding Bo. That part of the story had me hooked from the very beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed Bo's mystery the most.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Check Out These Action-Packed Board Books

Release Date - September 2015

Betsy Snyder
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I Can Play and I Can Dance are two new releases from Betsy Snyder. These board books have holes where parents and their children can put their fingers to act out the action taking place on the pages. Whether they're dancing the ballet, showing off their disco moves, kicking a soccer ball, or running a race, little fingers keep moving with each page.

Illustrations are bright and colorful, definitely something kids and their parents will appreciate. The story itself is enjoyable with easy phrases for beginning readers and not too many words that children will become bored before the story ends. Purchased separately or as a set, these books are ideal for children who are nearing the age where they are ready to read.

Peek-a Boo! by Nina Laden

Release Date - August 2015

Nina Laden
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Small and very sturdy, Peek-a Boo! is the latest toddler/board book by Nina Laden. The narrative is very short and ideal for the target age group - preschoolers. Plus, it's perfectly timed for the arrival of Halloween that's just a few weeks away.

Ghosts, bubbling cauldrons, jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treaters, and more take place in this book. Each page begins with the words "peek-a" and then embraces what is behind the cut out, all while celebrating autumn's and Halloween's typical decor. Celebrate the season with this gem that's perfect for the child who is just about ready to start reading.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

Release Date - September 29, 2015

Virginia Baily
Hatchette Book Group

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

WWII is affecting so many, and for Chiara Ravello, it's destroyed much of her family, leaving her to care for her sister, a girl prone to seizures. Her plan is to flee Rome and go live away from the battles in her grandparents' country home.

Chiara's world changes when she spies a mother and her young son being pushed onto trucks bound for concentration camps. Chiara announces that boy belongs to her sister and takes him from his mother. The plan to spare his life works, but her sister and even the boy are resentful of her actions.

Move forward to the 1970s in Wales. Sixteen-year-old Maria is floored when she learns the father she knows isn't her father at all. Her actual father is an Italian named Daniele Levi. Maria contacts the woman she believes was a landlady to her real father, Chiara Ravello, and wants to know as much about her father as she can get from Chiara.

Early One Morning is one of those books that fascinated me, but was also not easily read in one sitting. It required some processing to think about what I'd read and decide how I felt about it. I liken it to the difference between drinking something like a Bud and then switching to something with far more depth, like a complex IPA. You just can't rush it.

Time, history, and human emotions all have a part in Early One Morning. This ended up not being a book I could rush. Best put, it's a book meant to be savored and reflected upon.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pattern of Lies: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd

Release Date - August 2015

Charles Todd
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

On leave and back in England, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford finds that a short visit to the home of a former patient, Mark Ashton, turns into another crime investigation for the amateur sleuth.

The Ashtons owned a gunpowder mill in a village in Kent that mysteriously blew up, killing over 100 workers. Now two years later, the family is having to deal with the threatening behavior of the locals who blame the Ashtons for the disaster. Things get even more critical when the head of the household, Philip, is arrested and charged with causing the explosion.

Bess has stumbled into a hornet’s nest of intrigue but knows that her friend’s parents are not to blame for what happened. Someone has decided to not only turn the locals against the family but also makes sure someone goes to prison for the accidental explosion.

The answer to who is seeking revenge lies back in France and as Bess tries to track down the person who may hold the answer to why this is happening, she places her own live in jeopardy. A couple of murders underscore the fact that Bess is getting too close to uncovering the truth and her hidden adversary has set his sights on silencing Beth too.

Set during the First World War, the atmospheric suspense stories in this series have generated a lot of interest. A growing group of avid readers are finding these well written novels with their engaging characters quite enticing and definitely worth following.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

Release Date - April 2015

Henry Turner
Houghton Mifflin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Billy Zeets helped catch a serial killer and he's ready to share his story. The teenager pilots every moment of Ask the Dark, sharing his insight into the things he saw, the people he knows, and the lifestyle he leads, like it or not.

I adored Billy. The mom in me wanted to hug him, the reader in me was engaged from the start. Billy's mom died, and he's a handful to say the least. To keep his dad from losing the family home, Billy takes any odd job he can find, skips school regularly, and winds up in the path of a killer. You'll be avidly reading to find out everything you can about Billy and the things he faces.

Geared for teens, the language used is brutally honest and very gripping. This is a great start to a series I cannot wait to keep reading.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sunday Dinner: Coming of Age in the Segregated South by Ann Boult Walling

Release Date - July 2015


Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I admit that my draw to Sunday Dinner: Coming of Age in the Segregated South was mainly for the old-time recipes. I love to cook, but it's the recipes handed down from my grandmother that are the most cherished. I hoped I'd find the same joy from Sunday Dinner.

Author Ann Boult Walling shares her own family recipes and stories in this memoir. At first I feared the recipes I'd hoped for were absent, but they are given at the end of the book, there is not an abundance, but there are recipes I can't wait to try, such as peach preserves, scalloped asparagus, and "White Salad."

The majority of this memoir shares the author's family stories from the early history of her grandmother's home, including photos, to the 1950s when segregation ended. Photos are scattered throughout, along with very touching stories.

That said, I've often wondered how far interest in a story will stretch. I'm by no means a history buff, so my interest in the story beyond the recipes became limited. The stories are engaging, but as a northerner who grew up well after segregation, I didn't really feel connected to the time or location. If you enjoy history, however, I do think you'll love every moment of Ann Boult Walling's memoir.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fishbowl: A Novel by Bradley Somer

Release Date - August 2015

Bradley Somer
St. Martin's Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The protagonist in Bradley Somer's Fishbowl is quite surprising. Ian is a goldfish, and he's about to plummet out of a 27th story window. As he rockets to the pavement below, he spies the lives of the people living in Seville on Roxy, an apartment building.

There's Connor Radley, Ian's owner. Connor seems to have it all, yet having it all doesn't seem to be enough for him. His girlfriend, Katie, and his lover, Faye, are in his thoughts the day Ian leaves the safety of his bowl. Herman, a homeschooled boy of 11, believes in time travel. Claire is an agoraphobic sex phone operator. She hasn't left her apartment in years and has no intention on opening the door when someone knocks at it. Garth is a construction worker with a secret. Petunia Delilah is on bed rest in the final trimester of her pregnancy and stress is the last thing she needs, yet it seems to be exactly what she's facing.

Each of these residents of Seville on Roxy is going to find they may live separate lives, but they all have ties that will bring them close to another over the course of the day. What becomes of each resident becomes increasingly important as the story progresses. For a read that I wasn't sure what to think of at first, I quickly became hooked.

Of all the characters, I do think that Petunia Delilah became my favorite. That woman is tough as nails. I also really enjoyed and empathized with Claire. I've dealt with agoraphobia and it can be incredibly crippling. I'd say she just about equals Petunia's grit.

If you're looking for something a little different, something with a touch of romance, suspense, mystery, and humor, Fishbowl: A Novel is exactly right. I'm so glad I read it and got to know each and every resident of Seville on Roxy.