Friday, August 30, 2013

Memoir Review: Mr. Joe - Tales from a Haunted Life by Joseph Barnett

Release Date - August 2013

Bettie Youngs Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Mr. Joe: Tales From a Haunted Life is a memoir written by an elementary school janitor who's seen ghosts for decades, since his grandfather's funeral. It is non-fiction, so readers need to be aware it is a true story.

As a memoir, the story covers many chapters and layers of Joseph Barnett's life. Readers learn about his relationship with an alcoholic parent, his close bond to his grandparents, the loss of his grandfather, his own failed marriage and entry into the world of being a single parent, and losing his job and having to start over as a school janitor.

Having read the title and blurb, I was expecting a story filled with ghost stories. In this case, many of the ghosts are his own life experiences. As a result, the book ended up feeling like a chat with a close friend. It was light, fun, and a book easily read in just a few hours.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chick Lit/Romance Review: The Star Attraction by Alison Sweeney

Release Date - May 2013

Allison Sweeney

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Much of The Star Attraction is set in a place where I've visited, though it's been years, and is about as far from my own hometown as you can get. Set in L.A., the book shares the story of Sophie, a Hollywood publicist, who has just about everything a woman could want. Her long-time beau is a hottie, and she's just been signed on to represent Billy Fox, one of Hollywood's most attractive stars.

Representing Billy means lots of social events and evenings out with Mr. Gorgeous himself. Things go astray when Billy's personal attention causes a few too many flutters. Sophie is suddenly on the verge of losing the man she adores, the job she loves, and the lifestyle she's grown accustomed to.

While the book is set in L.A. amidst warm, sunny days, I did find it funny that we're rolling into autumn here, some trees are already starting to show signs of their fall foliage, and I know it's only a matter of time before the winds become chilly and the snow starts to fly. Reading The Star Attraction actually had me longing for an extended summer.

I found myself pleasantly surprised. I can't say I watch anything with Alison Sweeney in it, but I do know who she is. Her book turned out to be addicting. I wanted to see if Sophie would cling to life she knew (I was thinking a touch of a Paul Rudd for Mr. Investment Banker) or throw caution to the wind and end up in arms of a man I pictured as a bit of a southern Bradley Cooper. Sweeney wrote with such detail that creating visual images of the characters was not very hard.

More so, I actually became so addicted that I couldn't stop reading. High school let out, and I was silently willing the clock to click back an hour, have the students run in reverse going back into the school, and give me the time I needed to finish savoring every word before driving my daughter home. It's really that good a story.

Given that, I am certainly hoping that this is not the actress's only foray into fiction writing. I'm dying to see more from her!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mystery Book Review: Question of Honor by Charles Todd

Release Date - September 2013

Charles Todd
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

The memory of a horrendous crime, the murder of five people, resurfaces when a dying soldier on the battlefields of France tells nurse Bess Crawford that the man responsible for the crimes and thought to be dead is still alive.

Not only is this unwelcome news a shock, but Bess also takes some time off while on leave to investigate to see if there is any truth to the dying man’s claim.

Years earlier when Bess was living in India while her father served in the military, one of his officers was accused of committing a series of murders in England and India. Lieutenant Wade, the supposed murderer, tried to flee and disappeared trying to reach Afghanistan. Bess’s father has had to live with the thought that one of his trusted men was a disgrace to his uniform.

Now, a decade later, Bess is going back to the English village where three of the killings took place. While many locals think Wade was innocent, the present owner of the house where the crime took place believes otherwise. He also thinks Bess’s father had something to do with helping Wade flee the country.

The inquisitive English nurse may well regret ever digging into this closed murder case for there are some secrets here that will shake her to her very core. Not only is Wade still alive, as Bess was told, but she’ll learn what his real story is.

Another remarkable story in this well written historical mystery series, A Question of Honor is a thoughtful read with an exceptionally well fashioned cast of characters.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Between You and Me - Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

Release Date - June 2013

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
Simon & Schuster

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Wow, just wow! Do I have mixed feelings about Between You and Me. I loved most of the story and also wanted to throw the book through the window and call it done. This makes for a tough review.

Cousins Logan and Kelsey Wade were thick as thieves until the day Kelsey's parents suddenly packed up and left without Logan really understanding why. Years later, Logan turns 27 and is invited to reunite with Kelsey, now a major star.

Soon, Logan is offered the chance to become Kelsey's assistant. It's a job Logan can't pass up. It also gives her the perfect view into Kelsey's unpleasant, paparazzi-laden existence, a life her parents seem unwilling to let her escape.

I loved The Nanny Diaries, so I had really high hopes for Between You and Me. Instead of finding any humor in the story, I found myself depressed. This story really just is a retelling of what stars like Britney Spears face. In fact, the story is just a retelling of Britney's story. The tug-of-war to please fans, paparazzi always hot on your heels to catch you doing something wrong, and parents who look at you like a meal ticket and can't wait to get their hands on your money. I felt bad for Kelsey. I loved the first half of the book, hated the second, and then felt cheated at the end. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but the ending came far too quick and I'm certainly unhappy with how things panned out. If I'd known how the authors planned to end things, I would have never bothered reading it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Thursday Morning Breakfast (and Murder) Club - Liz Stauffer

Release Date - June 28, 2013

Liz Stauffer
Sartoris Literary Group

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Every week, women in Mount Penn gather for breakfast and their weekly club meeting. Lillie Mae Harris, leader of the club, is overly concerned for another member, Clare Ballard, who they all suspect is being abused by her husband, Roger. Meanwhile, Lillie Mae gets dragged into another situation when another club member learns her grandson has been arrested in a nearby town. The young man insists the drug charges are absurd and that he's been set up. In addition to the local drug dealer (Carl Lewis), one person he suspects is Roger Ballard.

When Lillie Mae finds Carl's body while hiking in the woods and Roger disappears, all fingers point Roger's way. Soon, Roger's body is found too and Clare confesses. Lillie Mae is convinced Clare is covering for someone and plans to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, the women of the breakfast club may be targets. Lillie Mae needs to work fast if she's going to keep her town safe.

There is a lot going on in Thursday Morning Breakfast (and Murder) Club. Over the years, I've read a lot of mysteries, and crime drama is a favored TV genre too. I don't know if the story was just predictable or if I'm just too clued in to the obvious suspects, but  I had the real killer pegged long before the "twist" ending. Given that I had it figured out, a lot of the red herrings seemed pointless to me.

The women in Mount Penn are older and that might be why Lillie Mae came off as overly judgmental from time to time, especially in the beginning. I loved seeing Clare put her in her place, she needed it.

I love cozy mysteries, they've long been a favorite genre. I had high expectations for Liz Stauffer's novels, and maybe that's where I went wrong. The story is good, but figuring out the ending long before it came left me feeling let down when the killer was revealed. I could have stopped reading once I'd solved the case and not have missed much.

With that in mind, if you are an avid mystery reader and a bit of an armchair detective, I don't see this one being challenging. If you're newer to the mystery realm, it's a great choice with a fun setting.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper - James Carnac

Release Date - September 2013


Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

After the death of S.G. Hulme-Beaman, an unpublished manuscript containing the supposed autobiography of one James Carnac was found in Hulme-Beaman's possessions. With no way to know if the autobiography was Hulme-Beaman's work or truly the admission of the man behind the Jack the Ripper murders, it is left to the reader to decide if this book is fact or fiction.

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is definitely detailed. There are aspects of Carnac's life that fit with my image of the killer. He supposedly knows facts about the killings that were never revealed. The story is gripping and definitely kept my interest, but in the end, there really is no way to know if this supposed autobiography closes the case. It also doesn't really shed any light on who James Carnac was.

The story behind this "autobiography" seems odd, too. Hulme-Beaman, creator of popular children's character "Larry the Lamb," was supposedly given the manuscript to publish when Carnac died. Hulme-Beaman removed sections he felt were gruesome, wrote a foreword, and then never published it. It supposedly sat untouched until a museum curator purchased a number of Hulme-Beaman's things in 2008, and then sat on this autobiography until 2009 when he had it published overseas.

In the end, I recommend The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper, but I have strong doubts that this is more than a very imaginative piece of fiction.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Paris Deadline - Max Byrd

Release Date - October 2012

Max Byrd
Turner Publishing

Book Review by Bob Walch

It is the Jazz Age of the 1920s and Toby Keats may well be the only American working in Paris who doesn’t know Hemingway. No matter, though. Toby relishes his quiet life after serving in the Great War. But unfortunately this calm existence is about to change radically when he discovers an automaton dubbed Vaucanson’s Duck. 
Containing a small gyroscope that a number of people are interested in because it could be the key element in creating unmanned rockets, Toby’s new plaything becomes the center of a nasty struggle to see which group of baddies” can capture it. 
From the Left Bank to the prehistoric caves of southern France, the chase is on and the winners will possess technology that will tilt the next European conflict in their favor. 
Rich in historical detail, The Paris Deadline is a fun read and a nice diversion from more traditional suspense novels.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jenny Rat - Martin Simons

Release Date - January 2013

Martin Simons
Amazon Digital Services

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Challenging is a good word for my feelings towards Jenny Rat. One the one hand, the writing is mesmerizing, the characters are incredibly well developed, but then I reach that point where my mothering instincts kick into overdrive. I wonder why on earth the social services department do what they do. As Jenny Rat takes place in Australia, maybe there are legal differences at play, that's all I can think.

Michael, 28, is very shy and keeps to himself. He's an architect and works from home. Outside of occasional work meetings, his only interaction with other adults is his weekly visit from a prostitute. One night, he finds a freezing, battered young girl in the drainage ditch in front of his home. Despite his prostitute's warnings, he brings the girl inside and tends to her until the ambulance arrives.

From the start, Michael can't get the young girl out of his mind. He heads to the hospital where he soon becomes instrumental in getting her to reveal details of her past that allow social workers to identify her. Michael soon learns that the young teen was sexually abused by her father, her mother turned her into a prostitute, and Jenny's suffered from more abuse than one could imagine. It isn't long before Jenny's social worker tells Michael that he must decide what role he will play in Jenny's future. This leaves him with a tough decision to make.

Jenny, having been molested and raped for much of her life, even if she calls it love in the case of her father, is very sexual. I was honestly shocked when the social worker agrees, even knowing that Jenny has made passes at Michael, to let Jenny live with him. Granted Jenny needed a stable home, but even when she learned Michael and Jenny were sharing a bed, she still agreed to let Jenny stay there. That was just too creepy for me, and it made it very hard to keep reading.

As the back of the book states, the story then progresses into Jenny's transition to school and the events that would forever shape Jenny and Michael's lives. I don't want to delve too much into this, because I really don't want to give away spoilers. But, my bottom line was that I was sufficiently disgusted with Michael by this point and lost interest in the story. It's a case of my morals outranked the brilliant writing and emotionally-charged characters, and I just couldn't get past the "ick" factor of a grown man becoming sexually attracted to a teen he'd taken in to his home saying they would be like brother and sister.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home - Nick Zukin and Michael Zusman

Release Date - September 2013

Kenny & Zuke's
Andrews McMeel Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Burlington, Vermont, lacks a good Jewish deli. We had one, for a short while anyway, but it shut down not too long after it opened. I truly miss the pastrami hash with rye and soup and sandwich deal that came with a steaming bowl of matzo soup and a sandwich with far more pastrami than bread. Having a good cookbook is the next best thing, and that's exactly what The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home accomplishes. It has recipes for me to test out, and first on my list is going to be the homemade pastrami.

In addition to narrative by Nick Zukin, co-owner of Kenny & Zuke's, and Michael Zusman, a state court judge and food writer, the cookbook is packed with recipes. There are recipes for bagels, bialys, latkes, blintzes, breads, meats, and much more.

There were certain recipes that caught my eye and made it to the top of my "must-make" list. The aforementioned pastrami is one, but the sourdough starter, zucchini latkes, and potato salads also topped that list. In fact, grilled chicken with one of the potato salad recipes is on the menu tonight.

If you need a solid Jewish cookbook that has a good mix of all your favorites, The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home is perfect.

Monday, August 5, 2013

White Trash Beautiful - Teresa Mummert

Release Date - July 2013

Teresa Mummert
Gallery Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Growing up with a single mom and now living with a devoted boyfriend may sound like a dream come true, but for Cass Daniels its a living hell. While her boyfriend used to be her everything, his addition to drugs has turned him into an abusive, dangerous man. Her mother is no better, always looking for the boyfriend to supply her next fix. Cass is saving up to get out, but she needs to have enough money for both her and her mother.

When Tucker White enters the diner where Cass works, she never imagines she'll be swept off her feet. He seems too good to be true. When she learns he's the lead singer of a rock band, she's convinced that there is nothing between them that could ever be permanent. After all, he's got money, she's scraping to get buy, and no one wants trailer trash in their life. Tucker, however, wants to prove to Cass that she's got it all wrong.

White Trash Beautiful wasn't at all what I expected. Cass certainly had her struggles and not much of a support system to turn to. Tucker has his own demons and is determined to show Cass she's worthwhile of his attentions, no matter who he is. The pairing of these two kept me involved in the story.

I did find myself wishing, at times, that Cass was a little stronger. I know it's common for an abused woman to feel as though she deserved it, but Cass never seemed to show that side, yet she never called police to have Jax removed. She kept dreaming that one day he'd returned to the boy she once loved. She pays the ultimate price for those convictions, but I really wish she'd been tougher.

I had problems with the novel too. While Cass's story is painted with extreme clarity, Tucker's background is glanced at, but never truly established. I'm hoping he'll be more prominent in the next book. The ending was also rushed, and while I know there is another book in the works, I still hated how fast everything came together. It just didn't match the rest of the story's pacing.

In the end, I still enjoyed the story and am eager to read what happens next between Tucker and Cass. White Trash Beautiful does keep you wanting more.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reese's Leap: An Island Mystery - Darcy Scott

Release Date - 2013

Darcy Scott
Maine Authors Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Having slept wrong the night before, I was dealing with one of the worst lower backaches I've ever had. I never in a thousand years thought a book would be the cure. I started reading Reese's Leap and couldn't put it down. Before I knew it, it was dinner time, then it rapidly progressed to bedtime, but I was too hooked to stop reading. Suffice it to say, I had Darcy Scott's book next to the bed and didn't move this morning until I'd read the last page.

Once a year, a group of women gather and enjoy a week together on a remote Maine island without the benefit of modern conveniences. Adria Jackson owns the 200-acre retreat, and she and her friends use this time to refresh, catch up, and enjoy being away from it all. They never expect to be in danger.

Gil Hodges doesn't expect to end up on Mistake Island. He accompanies his friend there, but the plan is to stay the day and then let the women enjoy their retreat. When the guys get fogged in, they're stuck on the island overnight. By morning, there's a stranger on the island, and he's made it clear that no one is leaving the island until he gets what he wants. Gil and his friend are now stranded with no radio, boats, or even a viable source of water. The stranger's made sure of it.

Using his skills as a botanist, Gil must figure out how to keep this stranger calm while also figuring out how to give him what he wants when what he's after doesn't exist.

I liked Gil. He's definitely a bit of a player, but his concern over the women was touching. He's also pretty smart when he needs to be. By the time I was done reading the mystery, I was intrigued and have to go back and read the first of Gil's stories - Matinicus.

The mystery really isn't baffling. I had it figured out, but that didn't keep me from wanting to read every page. The writing is fluid, engrossing, and swiftly paced.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Take Me Back - Kelli Maine

Release Date - June 2013

Kelli Maine
Forever Yours

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Take Me Back is a very short read. It's just under 100 pages, so you'll easily read through it in an hour or two. It's also a novella connected to Taken By Storm. I'd never read that romance, so I did feel that I was missing some background into the characters.

There's a ghost on Turtle Tear Island that is very determined to get its message through. Rachael DeSalvo is pretty sure she knows what the ghost wants, but she can't figure out how to make the ghost's wishes come true. Her obsession with this situation has her pushing her true love Merrick Rocha away. She can't lose Merrick, but she also wants to make sure this ghost's last wish is granted.

With its gothic feel, I can see the Take Me Back becoming a favorite, especially with followers of the Give & Take series. The writing takes a little getting used to. It's told from first-person and second-person viewpoints (lots of "I" and "you", which while great in SEO writing, is a little jarring in fiction. I loved the story, and by the end I admit I'm curious and want to read the other books and novellas in this series.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

 Release Date - October 25, 2022 After his dad's death, Adam Stillwater and his mom do everything in their power to keep the family...