Friday, September 30, 2011

Heartstrings and Diamond Rings - Jane Graves

Released October 2011

Jane Graves
Hachette Book Group

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Alison Carter is sick of failed relationships. After her latest beau suggests they add her friend to their bed, Alison gives up. She decides to spend some money and rely in the services of a highly-recommended matchmaking service.

Brandon Scott's grandmother died leaving him in control of her matchmaking business. Brandon knows real estate, not dating, but he needs the money to make a down payment on an old warehouse. He knows the area is prime for apartments. He decides to play role of matchmaker and collect as much money as possible before anyone realizes he's a fraud. What he doesn't expect is to find himself falling in love with his very first client.

Now that Brandon has fallen for Alison, he's stuck. If he admits he's a fraud, he'll lose his money. If he continues setting her up on matches, he may lose the only woman who's ever set his heartstrings humming.

Heartstrings and Diamond Rings is another great entry into Jane Graves' titles. I liked both Alison and Brandon, but I admit that it was Alison's friend Heather (Tall Tales and Wedding Veils) who really had me snickering. She's definitely one to call it as she sees it and that means no holding back where Brandon's concerned. I also really enjoyed Alison's father because he is brutally honest. It's refreshing to have characters really speak their minds.

This is a fast, fun read that is certain to keep you entertained.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Used to Know That: Geography - Will Williams

Released June 2011

Reader's Digest

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

My teens sat on the front deck with me as I started reading I Used to Know That: Geography. While my husband and kids are know-it-all's when it comes to geography, my days of a travel agent help me out some, but all of the Eastern European countries baffle me. I simply know too little about them to be even close to accurate at guessing their locations, capitals or physical features. This good is a godsend for anyone who struggles to know some of these important facts.

I Used to Know That: Geography is broken into helpful sections that include each continent, rivers, oceans, maps, population counts and other important facts. We spent hours drilling each other on the capitals of countries throughout the world or even those in the United States. We struggled to name the ten largest seas. While they guessed Black Sea, it is on the list but in the tenth spot, South China Sea is in fact the largest. I'm still not convinced that the Gulf of Mexico counts as a sea though. We also went into the nicknames of all the states to see who could match them.

It is the state nicknames where I lost a little faith and have something to teach the author and the book's editor/s or fact checkers. Vermont comes from the French words Vert + Mont = Green + Mountain. The state's nickname is NOT "The Great Mountain State," it is the GREEN Mountain State. I was disappointed that that mistake slipped through. In the end, it made me question if there are other inaccuracies within the book because with more than 750,000 copies sold, there are some people who are now either questioning what they learned in school or wandering around with incorrect information.

I would have loved to give this book high praise and tell everyone to rush out and buy it, but that slight doubt on how many other errors might be within the material bothers me. It's such a great book, but to have found an error of that magnitude is discouraging.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Heart of Evil - Heather Graham

Released July 2011

Heather Graham

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'd like to say I cared about the characters in Heart of Evil or that they drew me into the story, but quite honestly this is the first time I've really disliked one of Heather Graham's books. If I hadn't been reading it for review, I wouldn't have finished it. As is, it took me two months to finally reach the ending, and that really is disappointing.

Following her father's death, Ashley Donegal of Donegal Plantation, is in charge of this year's Civil War reenactment. She never imagines the event will end up with her finding the body of one of the reenactment's actors. When other people disappear, it becomes clear there is a deranged killer on the loose, one who is targeting those closest to Donegal Plantation.

Jake Mallory is being plagued by horrific dreams involving Ashley, a woman he once loved. When he the Krewe of Hunters, a special crimes investigations unit that looks into paranormal angles, are called in to investigate a death at Donegal Plantation, he knows this will reunite him with the woman who turned him away years ago. Upon arriving in the town, he's welcomed by the ghost of a woman who obviously needs his help.

As Jake and Ashley work together, they learn that events from the Civil War era are definitely behind the current murders. Can they solve the crime before the killer targets Ashley?

I expected a lot from Heart of Evil but it really fell short. There are too many characters and none of them seem to be fleshed out well enough for the reader to form any connection. The plot ambles on and quite honestly it reached a point where I eagerly anticipated the killer again because the killer seemed to be the only character to give off any strong emotion. When Jake and Ashley decided to give their relationship another go, I didn't care. It's simply sad to not care about anyone in a novel.

The storyline is okay and definitely has some strong points, but overall, it moved slowly and until I reached pages in the range of the 270's nothing seemed to compel me to keep reading. By that point, the book only had about 100 pages left.

I read a galley copy that hopefully received editing before the print version hit stores. In a few areas, I had to go back and reread sections because the character's name suddenly switched in the middle of a scene. Given that, I went into Barnes and Noble last weekend to compare the version I had with the final copy and sure enough those same inaccuracies appear in the paperback release. When paying $8 for a book, the reader should have to struggle to keep track of which character is really speaking.

Heather Graham's fans may want to consider reading a snippet of the book before purchasing it. It's not the worst book I've ever read, but it's definitely not a strong example of the author's writing. Nothing about it compels me to read other Krewe of Hunters books.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Plugging Into Real Worship - Andrew P. Logan, Sr.

Released January 2007

Xulon Press

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

In Plugging Into Real Worship, Pastor Andrew Logan explains the importance of regular worship.  Many know that my experiences as of late stink quite frankly. I worked for a church daycare as a teen and loved that pastor, he was down to earth and treated everyone with respect. I remember going to a service in another church and learning that the pastor "welcomed" each new female member of his church in a very intimate way, as a teen I was horrified to learn that he'd slept with most everyone in the church over the age of 18. As an adult, I've sampled a few churches and they seem very high school cliquey. It's a major turn-off.

The last time I went, my husband had been forced to work overtime for four weekends in a row and, at the time, we had one car making it hard for me to drive five miles to the church. After his four weeks of mandatory OT, we went to church. The pastor's wife sat in front of us and whispered to her friends, "Oh, look, the sinners decided to show their faces today. I don't know why they bothered." This was followed by a round of giggles and stares. We never returned. I know I'm not the only person out there who is disillusioned with religion because of situations like this. Therefore, I read Plugging Into Real Worship guardedly because it seems to me that some of our religious leaders are not very Christian at all.

I immediately enjoyed Pastor Logan's honest, straightforward nature. The writing style is friendly and engaging. It's not overly long like so many non-fiction books I've read. The brevity keeps you reading. The subject matter is broken into "reasons" and each is clearly presented. "Reasons" include:
  • God Demands It
  • Worship Expresses Gratitude
  • Worship Prepares us for Sanctification
  • Worship Brings Compassion and Mercy
  • Worship Provides Protection and Victory
  • Worship Invites God to Meet With Us
  • Worship is a Heavenly Transaction
  • Worship Closes the Door to Sin and Iniquity
  • Worship Blesses Others Around You
  • Worship is the Way to a Fruitful Life
  • Worship Brings Healing and Deliverance
  • Worship Brings Ordination for Service
Passages from the Bible help demonstrate each point giving clear imagery into situations where disobeying God's commands cost someone dearly and how worship saved them.

I was delighted to see that Pastor Logan included a section on things a pastor shouldn't do. It's short, but something that I think needs to be said. All in all, there are some good lessons to be learned from Plugging Into Real Worship, so don't overlook this one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Long Trail Home - Vickie McDonough

Released October 2011

Vickie McDonough
Moody Publishers

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Abandoned by her immoral father at the age of 12, Annie is overjoyed when she comes across The Wilcox School for the Blind. She fakes her blindness in order to finally have a loving home. Seven years later, Annie hides the truth from everyone except the woman who took her in because if the truth came out, they could lose everything they've established over the years. Caring for the blind children is all that matters to these two women.

Riley Morgan left his home after his younger brother's death to fight in the war. Knowledge that his fiancee was awaiting his return kept him going. He hasn't been home in years and is shocked when he learns Native Americans slaughtered his parents and destroyed much of the only home he's ever known. Wounded, he heads off to visit his fiancee only to learn while he was at war she married another man. He ends up at the Wilcox School for the Blind where he becomes their handyman in exchange for room and board.

It doesn't take long before Riley and Annie fall in love. However, he's already had one woman lie to him and Annie isn't sure how he'll react when he learns she is not blind. Is love in store for these two?

I really enjoyed Long Trail Home. There is some underlying conflict with the school, but that takes backstage to the developing relationship with Riley and Annie. Like any couple, they have things they need to work on, but unlike many romances where I feel the conflict drags on too long, I found the issues in their romance were handled at a very realistic pace. That made the story completely enjoyable.

As the end of the book neared, I simply wasn't ready for it to end. I really wanted to keep going and see what happened next. Kudos to the author for drawing me in and keeping me entranced from start to finish.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vampire Art Now - Jasmine Becket-Griffith & Matthew David Becket

Released September 2011

Jasmine Becket-Griffith

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I can't draw. I'm great at doodles, but ask me to draw a person and trust in the fact that you'll get someone with hands the size of their head, legs that are misshapen with knees the size of a bread loaf and eyes that look seriously deformed. Yet, art fascinates me. I adore Monet and Renoir, basically anything to do with the Impressionists.

Given that, I eagerly dove into Vampire Art Now because while some of it is rather grotesque and frightening, it's art. (I must apologize to my daughter who was engrossed in her history homework when I walked in and showed her the images of some very creepy looking dolls, thus making her jump about four feet in and air as she screamed. Sorry I laughed, but the look on your face was hilarious.) For anyone who buys this book, they're in Chapter 4: Graveyard Grotesque.

In a world fascinated with vampires, Vampire Art Now is going to impress many readers, movie enthusiasts and even TV fanatics. If you watch True Blood, have read or seen Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books and movies or go back to the roots with Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi and Nosferatu, you'll really enjoy this art book.

The collection of drawings, photographs, paintings and sculpted items are broken into a number of categories:

  • The Aristocracy & Victoriana
  • Vampiric Vixens
  • Contemporary Goth and Urban Undead
  • Graveyard Grotesque
  • Vampire Hunters and the Hunted
  • Undead in the Darkroom
  • Cartoons and Comics
  • Bloodlust and Bittersweet Romance
  • Dracula and His Disguises
  • Gothic Quarters

The book closes with a listing of the artists who contributed their art for this project. The directory includes websites, emails and the works of art appearing in the book. When you're looking at the art, each piece includes a description into the history or idea behind the artistic work. It's incredibly thorough and, at times, pretty creepy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Night Strangers - Chris Bohjalian

Released October 2011

Chris Bohjalian

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I grew up on a steady diet of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Eventually, I progressed to a local horror author Joe Citro. I've read Chris Bohjalian's newspaper column for years and read Midwives years ago, though I'm not sure if I liked how things panned out. I've laughed at some of his stories and been deeply touched by others. Given that, I wasn't sure if he could pull off horror.

The Night Strangers is a story that really hits home, mainly because I live two miles from the lake where the plane crashes. I have National Guard planes regularly flying over my house for training, we see coast guard helicopters from our back yard when they're either performing their job or training and we line up well with Plattsburgh's airport and see those planes fly overhead year round.  Just down the road near a golf course in Milton, there are a number of geese who make their summer home in a small pond. They always are in the road, wandering the homeowner's yard or flying in huge numbers after getting spooked. I know the area and know how many Canadian Geese are in the area and that makes the story very personal.

Shortly after take off from Burlington International, Captain Chip Linton finds his plane in serious trouble. He flies into a number of geese destroying the engines. He opts to make a landing on Lake Champlain because it's August, the water is warm and it's the safest option. As long as he keeps the plane level, it will be a perfect landing. Unfortunately, a ferry turns away sharply creating a wave that causes the plane to flip and 39 passengers die.

To start fresh, Chip, his wife Emily and their twin daughters Garnet and Hallie move to an old Victorian in New Hampshire. In the basement, Chip comes across a door that is sealed tightly with exactly 39 bolts. As if this isn't creepy enough, the town has taken an unusually disturbing shine to the twins. These men and women, who call themselves "herbalists," spend as much time as possible with Garnet and Hallie and are always bringing food to the Linton's home. At first, it seems innocent enough but then Chip and Emily begin to wonder if there is something more going on.

The Night Strangers is a ghost story. It's also a mystery with strong paranormal leanings. The setting fascinated me because I knew many of these places. My grandmother lived in Barnet, I have relatives in St. Johnsbury and have been over to the White Mountains in NH many times. Having a familiar setting added to the ambiance. I loved that aspect.

What I didn't love was the naivety of some of the characters. I realize Chip was recovering both mentally and physically from his crash. Emily was trying to hold her family together. The twins being 10 were immature. However, as the "herbalists" continued their creepy ways, and they are creepy, I really wanted to see Emily take action. As a mother, I would have been concerned over the attention to my children way before Emily showed any concern. I struggled a bit with her character because she seemed far too accepting.

I'm really not sure what to make of The Night Strangers. I didn't hate it, but it is not my favorite book either. Yet, I couldn't stop reading it because I had to know how things ended. I do suggest reading the author's Sunday column in the Burlington Free Press though. I think it is among his best work.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What I'm Currently Reading

One of the books I'm currently reading (I always have more than one book going at a time) is taking me a little longer than I planned. Mainly because I'm halfway through the story and still haven't decided if I really like it.

I've been a fan of Chris Bohjalian's Burlington Free Press column for years. His daughter Grace was born shortly after my son. I remember spending countless Sunday mornings reading his column eagerly as I nodded and agreed with his take on parenting vs. mine. Our kids are now learning to drive at almost the same time, the only difference is while my son wasn't in a hurry to learn to drive, my 15-year-old daughter was begging to get her permit the same day she turned 15. Thank God it was Labor Day and offices were closed!

I admit I like The Night Strangers so far but I'm also struggling because I just don't get it. There are things going on that leave me baffled as to how some people can be so blind, but I don't want to stop reading either because I need to know that the characters in the book smarten up at some point. Maybe I'm just more protective of my kids because I work from home and they're rarely out of my sight...

The other book I'm reading grabbed me from the start and it's been a struggle to know which book to read. Bohjalian's book is on my Nook and far more convenient to take outside while enjoying the crisp autumn air. Sandra Brown's Lethal is definitely gripping though, it's just bulkier to carry around. Brown fans MUST buy this book though. I was hooked from the first sentence.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Borders Going Out of Business Sale

For anyone with a Borders in their area, the final week of the going out of business sale is in full swing. I went into our Burlington, Vermont, location yesterday and was amazed to find a CD I'd been looking for for $4. Needless to say, I was extremely happy. Everything, including the furnishings, are priced at 70 to 90 percent off. Our location had tons of books left.

As for the CD, Seasick Steve is a blues musician I came across on the BBC show Top Gear. He was on showing off the guitar he made from old hub caps. He's quite fascinating and has one of the saddest stories I think I've ever heard, so I'm happy he's gaining a following.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Surgeon's Surprise Twins - Jacqueline Diamond

Released October 2011

Jacqueline Diamond

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Bailey Wayne's pregnancy is advancing faster than she expected. Since agreeing to be a surrogate for her older sister, Bailey's been forced to pay her medical bills because her sister and brother-in-law are waiting to finish a huge deal before they have cash flow. In exchange, they're letting Bailey live rent-free in an investment property.

Bailey is shocked when Dr. Owen Tartikoff shows up at her house planning to move in. He's co-owner but sharing the house with a doctor who goes out of his way to be miserable to his staff isn't Bailey's idea of fun. Unfortunately, she has no other option, she can't afford rent and her bank account is drained leaving her without cash for medical appointments either.

Owen has his own secrets. His brother and sister-in-law never told Bailey that they asked him to donate sperm. When he agreed, he didn't know a surrogate was involved. The more he time he spends with Bailey, the more he comes to love her. When he learns she has no money left for medical doctors and that they've been making her pay the bills, he insists on performing a prenatal check and ultrasound for free.  That's all it takes for him to realize that giving up his children will not be easy, especially when he's falling in love with their mother.

The Surgeon's Surprise Twins is another offering from the Safe Harbor series. If you've been following the series, you'll enjoy catching up with previous characters. If you're new, Owen and Bailey's story does work as a stand-alone novel.

I was expecting to really dislike Owen. His character has been horrible in previous novels, yet I really grew to admire him. Bailey I've always liked, but her sister, Phyllis, is a piece of work. I really hope she disappears from future stories because she's just a nasty person. Jacqueline Diamond does excel at creating characters you either love or hate. If Ms. Diamond decides to include Phyllis in a future novel, I'll be curious to see if she can make her likable given her actions and attitudes throughout this book.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Everything We Ever Wanted - Sara Shepard

Released October 2011

Sara Shepard

Harper Collins

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth for the Amazon Vine Program

I've read a few of my daughter's "Pretty Little Liars" books, and find Sara Shepard  to be very good at creating characters I either love or hate. That's the thing, I expected to feel passionately about the characters in Everything We Ever Wanted and it simply fell short.

The story revolves around a dysfunctional family living in Philadelphia. The story switches back and forth between the different characters' points of view, but it's easy to keep track of who is speaking.

Sylvie Bates-McAllister's grandfather founded Swithin School and now she heads their board. When she receives a 9 p.m. phone call informing her that her adopted son Scott is suspected of leading a hazing incident that killed a young boy, Sylvie's world is ripped out from under her. She immediately calls her other son, Charles, to relay the news and ask for a family meeting to discuss the situation.

Charles does not get along with his younger brother. In their teens, an incident between the two led to the breakup of Charles and his girlfriend. He's never quite forgiven his brother. Worse, Scott bounces from job to job, barely made it through Swithin and seems to have no motivation to do something with his life. Scott seems content living off the family's money. All of that makes Charles really resent Scott.

Charles's wife, Joanna, isn't sure of her place in the family. All she knows is that she finds herself attracted to Scott and the more Charles pulls away from her, the more she comes to rely on Scott for friendship and support.

Quite honestly, so much of this book was unnecessary. If Sylvie had simply taken the time to talk to her sons open and honestly, she could have learned the truth from the very beginning. She came off as a very lousy mother. The same goes for the problems between Charles and his brother and Charles and his wife. I reached points where I wanted to grab each character and tell them to sit down, talk about their feelings and move on. However, that would have ended the story after a couple chapters, so I realize things had to drag on.

For me, the book didn't move quickly. Things seemed to drag on far longer than necessary. By the time I reached the ending, I never felt that I'd connected with any of the characters and simply didn't care how things played out. That's never a good sign.

I suppose for readers who really enjoy dysfunctional families who seem to have no skills at discussing their issues with one another, Everything We Ever Wanted may be a great choice. I'm really sad that I didn't enjoy this book as much as I have the author's young adult novels.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two I Didn't Finish for Reasons I'll Explain

I'd expected a quiet summer with a son preparing to narrow down his college options and a daughter finding work babysitting. That didn't happen, nor did the promises that they'd do the majority of the housework and laundry so that I had more time to work. I've been working a lot for sites like Populis Creates, Wikio and Demand Studios, as well as writing and editing for a few companies on Amazon MTurk and setting up a writing team for a new editorial position with an online web directory.

Given that, I have two books I'd started reading and meant to finish so that I could get the reviews posted, but the publishing companies took the ebooks down this week and I've only half read them. I thought I had 60 days, but apparently they'd only given me a 30 day license, so my bad.

Given that, I'd like to promote them anyway.

Jill Marie Landis writes romance novels and I've always loved Come Spring and Summer Moon. I was eager to read her new mystery Mai Tai One On. I was a few chapters into the book, so I have no idea how it ends. What I do know is that the beginning was enthralling.

Em Johnson runs her uncle's tiki bar because her divorce left her finances in bad shape. Things go haywire when the body of a man is found in their luau pit. Worse, the dead man is not one of Em's or her uncle's favorite people. When the investigation looks at her uncle as a possible suspect, Em decides she needs to try to unravel the mystery.

T. Marie Benchley's  Once Wicked Always Dead was a different story. I'd tried to start reading it but just couldn't get into the story. It sounds great - a woman's parents die, she learns her husband is having an affair, so she leaves her jet-set lifestyle and heads to Montana to run her family's ranch. Things aren't much better there because developers want the land and will do anything to drive her away.

It sounds right up my alley, but after a number of attempts to get past the first chapter, I had to switch to something else for a while. I'd hoped that a break might be all I needed, but now I'll never know.

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...