Saturday, March 26, 2011

Already Home - Susan Mallery

Released March 29, 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Every once in a while, I come across a galley that completely mesmerizes me. I start reading thinking I can fill a little time while waiting at the high school and end up hoping my son and his friend take a little longer than usual. I want to keep reading until I finish the very last word. Already Home is one of those books that hooked me from the start.

Jenna Stevens is fresh out of a divorce and ready to move on with her life. The biggest problem involves self-doubt. Her ex spent so much time shooting down her creativity, that she's convinced she's a failure. Why she opted to spend her savings on a small store is beyond her. She wants to make a go of this boutique kitchen shop, but she fears she's in over her head.

Meanwhile, Jenna has new problems looming in the distance. She was adopted by loving parents and has never had an urge to find her birth parents. When they suddenly appear in her life, she's not sure she's ready. Worse, the seem intent on taking over as her parents. Torn between the family she loves who urge her to get to know her birth family and pressure from her new parents, Jenna isn't certain how to proceed.

Back at the store, Jenna hires a young woman, Violet, who has retail experience. Violet may have the key to turn Jenna's store into a thriving business, but she too has her insecurities. When Violet meets the man of her dreams, she wonders if she really deserves him? Is he really the best thing for her?

Soon, Jenna and Violet form a fast friendship. Violet's never had a family and longs for what Jenna has. Jenna has too much family and wishes it was easier. Both of them begin to learn things about themselves and how family can be key to survival in difficult times.

Don't make the mistake I did. Have Kleenex handy when you start to read. I sat in my car with tears streaming down my face. Worse, it wasn't just at the ending of the book. I started tearing up after only a few chapters. Susan Mallery's novel is highly emotional and definitely tugs at the heart strings.

I adored Jenna, despite her weaknesses. I also found myself really liking Violet. She's tougher, as a matter of survival. Add in some minor characters, all who play important parts in Jenna and Violet's life, and you become a part of this small town and really wish the story would continue forever.

There are a myriad of topics in Already Home. Emotional and physical abuse play a part in the story. There's also the struggle with finding  your birth family and the insecurity that causes with the family who raised you. This is only the start. There's so much happening within the story that you become so involved that time flies. It's beautifully written and definitely one of the best books I've read this year.

I'm thrilled that Susan Mallery will be returning to this Texas community with her Knitting Diaries anthology. Hopefully, she'll catch up on the characters in Already Home.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dance Lessons - Aine Greaney

Released March 30, 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

After her husband's tragic death, teacher Ellen Boisvert bumps into one of his Irish friends. She soon learns that much of her relationship with Fintan was based on a lie. Confused by his deception, Ellen decides to spend summer vacation in Ireland and unravel the truth.

In Gowna, Ellen finds his mother living on a quiet farm. The woman is not easy to get along with, but Ellen's determined to learn why Fintan claimed his mother was dead. During her time in Ireland, she's also able to confront her relationship with Fintan and come to terms with her own past.

Dance Lessons progresses fluidly, albeit slowly, through past, present, and even future. This is not a fast paced story, nor do I think it should have been. There are some surprises thrown in along the way. Readers learn more about Fintan, but also of the relationship between him and Ellen. There is lots of depth to their relationship that Ellen slowly reveals to her mother-in-law Jo.

Jo is a piece of work. I wanted to hate her, but given the situation, it's kind of hard to do so. I'm not going to give any spoilers, but read the book and you'll definitely understand.

All in all, Aine Greaney's Dance Lessons is a perfect choice for book groups. There's plenty to talk about and the setting is amazing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Driftwood Cottage - Sherryl Woods

Released March 29, 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Realizing that the man she loves will never marry her, Heather Donovan moves out of their apartment. She settles in Chesapeake Shores, where she is able to start her own quilting shop, and set up a nice life for herself and her one-year-old son. With her ex's family living close by, she figures she'll have the emotional support she needs and the chance to start over.

Connor O'Brien is not thrilled that Heather left. They love each other and their son, so why does marriage matter? He's determined to convince her that they can live happily ever after without rings on their fingers or a marriage certificate in hand.

There is far more to this story and some of it is hinted at in book blurbs found online and on the back of the book. Given that, I don't want to delve into those aspects because they occur well past the first half of the Driftwood Cottage.

Driftwood Cottage is the fifth novel in the Chesapeake Shores series. I really wish I'd read the previous novels, but I'm now determined to find them. There's a lot of other stories I want to read in detail. Sherryl Woods does offer snippets into the past, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity. I really think I need to read them all in order to really get to know the family. Her writing captures the reader. Pacing moves nicely and switches from Heather and Connor's story to sub-plots involving minor characters fit in without interrupting.

I enjoyed Heather and Connor's romance. There were times I wondered how on earth they managed to get a one year old to sit still for fishing trips, but that's really doesn't detract from the story at all. It was more jealousy on my part because my one year olds didn't sit still for anything!

Now that I'm done Driftwood Cottage, I can't wait to see what happens with the rest of the unmarried couples. There are still many stories that could come out of this charming Maryland town.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch - Tim Wakefield

Released April 2011

Reviewed by Dave Farnsworth

Red Sox are my team. I've been cheering them on since childhood, which comes down to more than 40 years. Throughout those decades, I've seen many amazing players -- Yaz, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs to mention a few. Tim Wakefield is another player that's impressed me, though I admit I've also been known to question some of his pitches.

Knuckler: My Life with Baseball's Most Confounding Pitch puts it all into perspective. Games where I questioned why he wasn't pitching as well finally made sense. Fans tend to see only the baseball aspect and not always take personal matters into consideration. From the start of the book, Wakefield talks about how he started pitching the knuckleball. He wanted to play baseball. He wanted to bat, run the bases, and such. It was a pitch he toyed with for fun, yet it's become one of his notable achievements. That one pitch turned him into an exciting pitcher and major contributor of the team.

During one of the seasons when I did spend time yelling at the television because of his pitching, there was so much more to the story. His wife was having issues during her pregnancy. They couldn't hear the heartbeat. I've been there. It definitely weighs on your mind and disrupts everything else. I feel like a bit of a jerk now for all my frustration because I know how hard it is to focus on your work when the doctor says there may be a problem. For me that's what Knuckler came down to, it puts perspective on more than just the game and pitching. It paints a side of Tim Wakefield that I failed to stop and consider. I really respect him for getting out there and doing his best job no matter what.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Softly and Tenderly - Sara Evans & Rachel Hauck

Released January 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Country musician Sara Evans pens her second novel with help from author Rachel Hauck. The second novel in the Songbird series continues Jade Benson's story

Jade and Max are happily married, or so it seems. Jade's continual struggles with fertility put a strain on their marriage. Max wants to try again, but Jade's been through a number of painful miscarriages and wants to take a break. As if this isn't enough, Jade walks in on her father-in-law and finds him half undressed with another woman. Worse yet, Jade's mother-in-law is with Jade when his cheating is discovered. Also, Jade's mother isn't going to survive her battle with leukemia and asks Jade to take her home to die. That's a triple whammy of negative events putting stress on Jade.

Jade's at her breaking point. Yet, life doesn't want to stop throwing curveballs. Someone drives into the front of Jade's store causing insurance battles as they try to rebuild. But, the worst is yet to come. Jade learns Max slept with his former fiancee, Rice, during his bachelor party. A child resulted from that one-night stand. When Rice dies in a plane crash, Max must step up and fight for custody of his son. Jade is furious that Max cheated on her and despondent over the loss of her friend. Jade decides now is the time to take her mother home. She's hoping that being home will help her deal with all these troubling events.

Softly and Tenderly is a great piece of fiction. I didn't read the original story, so I did feel like I'd missed some background. For that reason, I suggest reading the books in order. A lot is thrown at Jade all at once. I'm not sure I liked that, but it can happen. Her reactions to the stress in her life is very genuine. I'd want to run away too!

Watching Jade deal with each crisis as it occurs certainly makes for some interesting discussions. If you have a reading group, I highly suggest this novel. The ending leaves a lot open. I'm definitely curious to see how everything ends in the final book.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus - Sonya Sones

Released April 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'm just over 40 and yet I connected with The Hunchbank of Neiman Marcus' main character on many levels. I don't know if I'm thrilled someone else has many of my thoughts and feelings, or if I'm sad that I'm getting older. Anyone with teens getting ready to leave the nest will definitely find a friend in Holly.

Holly is a writer with a serious case of writer's block and a looming deadline. Her baby is about to head off for college. Her mom fell, requiring hospitalization, and is now on steroids and suffering from 'roid rage and dementia. Plus, the hot flashes she's suffering now that menopause is hear are maddening. Top it all off with a husband who drives her crazy.

I can't relate to the menopause issues yet. However, I have that same husband who can open the fridge and ask if we have any milk, even though it's sitting right there in front of him. I share her bewilderment there. I also have a son who is heading off to college in the next year and a half. I have a daughter who is about to start high school, so she won't be far behind. And, I've definitely dealt with the struggle of trying to meet writing deadlines when the words just won't come. Worse, I've even looked up past boyfriends on Facebook just for kicks when I should have been working. For those reasons, I definitely related to Holly.

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is written as a book of prose. It makes you laugh one minute and then tear up the next. Each verse relates a little more of Holly's life. Some are a few pages long, while others are simply a few words. As a result, you blink and the book is over. It goes by that fast. There's definitely an entire novel here, more than 400 pages, but it flowed so smoothly that I was done in a couple hours.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Minding Ben - Victoria Brown

Released April 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

At the age of sixteen, Grace Caton leaves her family in Trinidad behind and heads for the Big Apple. There, Grace is to live with her cousin, only her cousin never arrives at the airport to pick her up. Young and in an unfamiliar area, Grace is forced to fend for herself.

Two years pass, and the novel really truly begins. Grace is now 18 and finds employment with a Jewish family. While Grace doesn't mind Ben, the young boy she's in charge of, or Ben's father Sol, it's Ben's mother, Miriam, who drives Grace batty. Miriam demands everything and offers little in return, not even the tiniest hint of friendship. Not even Grace's pay is worthwhile. However, the promise of a sponsorship allowing Grace to remain in America is her driving force.

When she's not working, Grace lives with an impoverished family. Sylvia, mother to three children, demands just as much of Grace as Miriam. Pot-smoking, unemployed Bo also lives in the house. Add to everything  else the news from home about Grace's ailing father, and it's apparent that Grace's stress levels must be through the roof. Finding it hard to stand up for herself is Grace's weakness, but just how much can she take?

I'm stuck at how I really feel about Minding Ben. The writing lured me in and kept my attention from start to finish. However, I simply kept reading to see if Grace would develop a backbone and tell everyone off. Miriam and Sol's treatment of Grace is deplorable. I read most of the book with tension flaring because of the demands Grace continually put up with. I realize it was her age and culture leading the way, but I'd really wanted to see her lash out.

There were a few issues that niggled at me. Minding Ben starts with Grace heading to New York City. She arrives and is waiting at the airport for her cousin. No one shows up, and bam that chapter's over. Suddenly, two years have passed with no explanation into what happened. Grace now lives with Sylvia, Bo, and three children. I couldn't figure out who Bo really was. I first thought he was the father of Sylvia's kids, only that wasn't right, so then I assumed he was Sylvia's brother, but I wasn't sure. Some of this is cleared up much later in the book, towards the ending. Some is never answered. The reader can assume what happened to Ben's former nanny, but despite the build up, no one ever reveals the truth.

The unanswered questions will pose great fodder for book group conversations. I definitely think there is plenty within these pages that could lead to interesting discussions.

Amazing Crayon Drawing with Lee Hammond - Lee Hammond

Released March 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'm going to sum this up pretty easily. If you have any interest in art or crayons, rush out and buy Amazing Crayon Drawing. Lee Hammond's work is fascinating. The book breaks down the art of creating art using a box of crayons.

One thing I've always loved is a new box of crayons. When my kids were little, I'd buy two boxes, one for them and one for me. That way, I didn't have to deal with broken, dull crayons. Crayons still fascinate me. The range of colors is amazing. .

However, I'm about as un-artistic as they come. Sure, I can draw a simple shape, but that's the total of my skills. Bringing depth into a drawing is something I simply cannot handle. Therefore, I'm amazed by many of today's artists. I have one particular favorite named Julian Beever If you have never seen his breathtaking drawings, I highly urge you to go to his site and check them out. When I started reading Amazing Crayon Drawing, I felt that same rush of amazement. Lee Hammond's talent with crayons is very impressive. She made it look so easy that I decided to give it a go. In the end, I created amazingly realistic bricks, a pretty impressive peach, and then gave up when it came to animals or faces.

Amazing Crayon Drawing with Lee Hammond contains step-by-step instructions. There's also an acetate grid in the back to help you create the more detailed drawings. Best of all, she goes into thorough detail into using the crayons to create the sheen and shadowing that occur in nature. With those techniques, your artwork really comes to life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Apple a Day - Caroline Taggart

Released March 2011

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

An Apple a Day: Old-Fashioned Proverbs--Timeless Words to Live By looks at some of the popular proverbs used every day. You've likely heard the majority of the phrases within this book. A few may be new to you. However, you may not know the origins of these proverbs. Caroline Taggart takes an in-depth look at them all offering insight and phrases with similar meanings.

Caroline Taggart's book is a very easy read. It takes little time to read it front to back. Or, you could read one quote per day and really let the phrase and meaning sink in. The format is simple to follow, everything is alphabetical. Plus, you're likely to have a number of "Oh, that's why..." moments. I know I did.

One that really caught my attention, I heard many times following the tragic rape and murder of a girl in my high school -- "Whom the gods love dies young." The phrase was the work of an Ancient Greek playwright. Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" is virtually the same thing. Meanwhile, I'm always baffled by the statement because Mother Teresa at 87 was certainly not young, and she portrays the very essence of being "good."

If you get into etymology, An Apple a Day is a must-own. It's not going to take up tons of room on your shelf. Plus, you're going to learn some interesting tidbits along the way.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Someone's Watching - Sharon Potts

Released February 2011

Robbie Ivy is shocked when her estranged father returns. She hasn't seen him in decades. In fact, she's resented him for many years for abandoning both Robbie and her mother. Her mother's since passed on, but Robbie's not about to forgive and forget. Then he drops a bombshell. Robbie has a half-sister and Kate is missing.

Despite her feelings for her father, Robbie cannot turn her back on a sister she's never met. When the friend Kate was with turns up dead, Robbie fears she may be too late. She dives into the disappearance not knowing if she'll ever have the chance to meet her younger sister.

This is the first Sharon Potts novel for me. I'm guessing from the storyline and characters that Robbie and her friend Jeremy appeared in a previous novel. After looking it up, I found I was right. They were characters in In Their Blood: A Novel. Given that I missed their introduction, I was still able to follow along, though I think I need to go back and experience the pair from the start.

As for the mystery in Someone's Watching, I can't say this is my favorite mystery of all time. There were aspects I didn't see as being highly realistic. Every bartender I've ever known has been very good at reading people. Yet, it seems that Robbie has a very hard time realizing that her boyfriend is nothing but bad news. After the first "meeting" with him, I knew he was a jerk. I started to wonder if I maybe missed a bit into her character's flaws by missing the first novel. While I still enjoyed the story, I just didn't love it as much as I'd hoped.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Guilt by Association - Marcia Clark

Released April 20, 2011

Many people will immediately recognize the name Marcia Clark. If not, think back to OJ Simpson's murder trial. Ms. Clark was lead prosecutor.  Guilt by Association is her debut fiction novel.

I honestly can say I wasn't certain what to expect. I admired her work on the Simpson trial, even if the outcome enraged some and delighted others. However, moving from lawyer to author doesn't always work out. I've read amazing books by lawyers turned authors and I've read a few duds. Usually, the duds are so filled with legalese that I can't stay focused. Knowing that, I am thrilled to say that Guilt by Association falls into the "amazing" category.

Realistically, there are two stories at play in Clark's Guilt by Association. Assistant D.A. Rachel Knight works for L.A.'s Special Trials Unit. This group of attorneys handle high-profile and challenging cases. Her latest case involves the rape of a teenage girl whose father is a prominent L.A. doctor. The police have a suspect and the girl's father wants him arrested and found guilty ASAP. The problem is the girl denies the suspect is her rapist. Rachel must wade through the evidence to unravel what really happened that night.

This is only one case consuming Rachel's every move. One her way home one night, she comes across a crime scene. She learns a close friend and fellow prosecutor is dead, victim of a murder-suicide that makes her friend look like a pedophile. Due to her relationship to the deceased, Rachel's office is not authorized to investigate. However, that doesn't mean she won't sneak around in an effort to clear her friend's name.

The entire book flawlessly covers both of these cases. Sometimes, I find books with two strong plots end up losing my interest in one storyline. This time, I had to closely follow every word because I was hooked in both of them. Halfway through the book, I was telling my husband that he really, really needs to read this book. It's one I highly recommend.

Rachel's strengths and weaknesses are clear. She becomes extremely likable within just a few pages. Plus, there's a romantic angle as Rachel begins to move on from her failed marriage. For those who enjoy a dose of romance in their mystery or suspense novel, Guilt by Association really delivers. I, for one, can't wait to read more about Rachel and her friends in future novels. Hopefully, there will be future novels featuring this legal unit.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sweetest Thing - Jill Shalvis

Released April 2011

The second entry in Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor series shares Tara's story. If you missed the first book, Simply Irresistible, click here.

Years ago, seventeen to be exact, Tara gave up a baby. She's never forgotten her child, but she knows that she made the best choice possible. At seventeen, she was not ready to be a mother. Now that she's been reunited with her then boyfriend, Tara's definitely not looking to have him back in her life. She wants to focus on opening the new bed and breakfast with her sisters and get to know them better.

Regardless, sparks ignite between Tara and Ford. Things are definitely bound to soar to new heights, until Tara's ex-husband comes to town. Logan's taking time off from NASCAR and not willing to give up without a fight. Tara's now stuck with two men battling over her and indecision as to what she really wants from her next relationship.

The Sweetest Thing does not disappoint. There are some surprises along the way. Tara's tough and doesn't back down from her own thoughts and fears easily. Yet, the more I read, the more I enjoyed the softness that Ford and Logan could pull from her. When she let down her guard, it was a real treat.

It's clear from The Sweetest Thing that Chloe, the youngest sister, is going to be fun. I can't wait for book three. Plus, I feel there's the potential for a fourth book if Jill Shalvis decides to go a few years into the future. I certainly hope she does!

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...