Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Release Date - June 2014

Helen Walsh

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I knew the premise of The Lemon Grove going in. Jenn, the main character, and her husband Greg have been married for over a decade and Jenn sees the magic is waning. Regardless, they head off to a charming Majorca village for their annual vacation. This time, Greg's daughter is bringing her boyfriend, despite Greg's unease.

I admit, I was fooled here. Greg's daughter (Jenn's stepdaughter) is not as old as I was expecting. Emma is 15. They don't trust her to live alone when they head out to Majorca before her, they have her stay with her grandmother, yet it's okay if she brings a boyfriend on the trip and flies alone with him.

Would I let my 18-year-old daughter bring her boyfriend along on a family vacation? Yes. Would I have let her when she was 15? Never! Now, the characters are British, so there is a difference. At 15, British kids are finishing up school and can then progress to continuing education, but I stop and think of my cousins at that age, and all still were not in that kind of relationship until they were at least 17. I admit, even if this bias is unfair, I started disliking characters early on. Emma is spoiled and whiny. Greg is easily twisted around Emma's finger. Nathan is creepy. Jenn is just not enjoyable either.

This leads to the true plot of the story. Once Emma and her boyfriend arrive, he turns out to be a bit of a perv and definitely into Jenn. Jenn is fascinated with Nathan and begins to cross boundaries, all while trying to keep her attraction to Nathan from gaining the attention of Greg or Emma.

The setting of The Lemon Grove is gorgeous. The author captures Majorca beautifully. That's about where I found the book to be worthwhile. Jenn is late 30s, Nathan is 17, and the relationship between them repulsed me.

I've seen reviewers rave over this book. I really can't. Maybe it's the mother in me thinking that if my neighbor, who was Jenn's age when my son was 17, tried to seduce my son, I'd have her arrested. It's no different than if an almost-40-year-old man tried to seduce my daughter. I'd be in court pushing for castration!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dollbaby: A Novel by Laura Lane McNeal

Release Date - July 2014

Laura Lane McNeal
Pamela Dorman Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Liberty "Ibby" Bell is only 12 when her mother drops her off at her grandmother's New Orleans home. Ibby is grieving the tragic death of her father and isn't happy that she's moving in with a woman she's never met. Fannie isn't a typical grandmother, however, and soon Ibby finds herself embraced in a home where nothing is to be expected.

Fannie has her secrets and regrets. Despite her demeanor, she adores Ibby and loves that she has a part of her son with her. Along with Fannie are her cook, Queenie; Queenie's sassy, somewhat strong-willed daughter, Dollbaby; and Dollbaby's daughter,who is just about Ibby's age.

As Ibby gets to know her new family, she still longs for her mother, who simply doesn't seem to want to return. The story progresses into a coming-of-age story for Ibby in which she learns family secrets, the things that have shaped Fannie's life, and the changes in the world around her as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement shape a nation.

Dollbaby is a novel I won't soon forget. I thought I had Fannie's secret figured out early on, but while I was close, I wasn't right. Though that mystery is a part of the story, the real focus is on the relationships that build and change as Ibby progresses from an uncertain 12 year old into a young woman. It's a fabulous read and one I am very glad I didn't overlook.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

Release Date - June 2014

Alafair Burke

Book Review by Bob Walch

Incarcerated for nearly two decades for the serial murders of six women, Anthony Amaro is about to have his case revisited. A recent killing of a psychotherapist has raised some serious questions about Amaro’s case. Now two investigations are delving into the past to see if there has been a serious miscarriage of justice.

On one hand there’s Carrie Blank, whose half-sister was supposedly killed by the imprisoned man. She joins a legal team formed to exonerate Amaro only because she wants the real killer uncovered and this may be the best way of doing so.

NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher along with her partner, JJ Rogan, are also assigned to the case to reassess the first investigation to see if and where it went off the tracks. 
As these two quite different groups of individuals delve through the conflicting pieces of evidence, they’ll be drawn to Carrie Bank’s hometown where some unexpected surprises await them.

This is another episode in the Ellie Hatcher series, but Carrie Blank is such a strong personality that she nearly steals the show. Burke says that as she was writing this novel Blank “wouldn’t recede into the background” . The reader will probably be happy that this uppity character didn’t play the secondary role she was originally assigned!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eyes on You by Kate White

Release Date - June 24, 2014

Kate White

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Former Cosmopolitan editor in chief, Kate White's been writing bestselling fiction novels for a number of years. If you haven't discovered her books, give them a try. Eyes on You is probably my favorite to date.

Robin Trainer is working her way up the ladder. She's co-anchor of a new television show and her new book is bringing in many sales. Despite all the good things happening in her life, someone has it out for her.

It starts as a threatening note and progresses to slashed book covers, a dead water beetle left in her coffee, a drugged brownie, and an ominous Barbie with its eyes scratched out. Robin suspects it is a jealous co-worker, but soon the tables turn and the powers that be decide that Robin is doing it to herself. She knows she's being framed, but no one seems to believe her. Not knowing who she can trust, Robin must figure out who wants her out the way.

I predicted who the culprit was early on, so that aspect of Eyes on You was not a surprise. Yet, even knowing who was behind everything, I was still addicted. The story moves at a fast pace, and I found myself eager to see Robin's reaction when she figured it out. I won't say this is a challenging mystery, but with a variety of interesting characters and relationships, I enjoyed every minute.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams

Release Date - July 2014

Amanda Kyle Williams

Book Review by Bob Walch

Meticulous planning goes into his abductions. He stalks and patiently waits before he strikes. Then he holds his victims for an inordinate length of time before he kills them. This is the sociopath Keye Street, a ex-FBI profiler and private investigator, has gone to a town 90 miles outside of Atlanta to find. 
The remains of teenage girls have been found in the woods outside the town and the local authorities led by Sheriff Ken Meltzer, have agreed that some outside assistance and expertise would be in order.

As Keye tries to connect the sparse pieces of evidence, a third girl goes missing. Now the stakes are much higher; in fact, this almost appears to be a challenge. “Stop me if you can but time is running out!” might well be the killer’s taunt.

As she works Keye has an uncanny feeling that she is being watched by more than just the local law establishment. She also has to gear her investigation up drastically and figure out who the madman is before another teen lies dead in the woods.

Amanda Kyle Williams’ fiction has been called “addictive” and her previous “Stranger” novels have been called “powerfully human” as well as “brutally funny” and she’s been also lauded for creating stories with “delicious final twists”. All these accolades certainly apply to this latest captivating thriller.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Release Date - August 26, 2014

Susan Elizabeth Phillips
William Morrow

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Susan Elizabeth Phillips latest novel is definitely one I'm glad I didn't miss. It has a gothic feel, at times reminding me a bit of Jane Eyre and other times reminding me of Wuthering Heights, yet there's also a splash of Rebecca thrown in. In the end, Heroes Are My Weakness was addicting and lured me away from my work so that I could get the the bottom of things.

Heroes Are My Weakness features Annie Hewitt, a ventriloquist who returns to her mom's island cabin in the heart of winter, not a good time to be in Maine. With her mother's death, it's up to her for Annie knows the terms of the cabin have always been that they must reside in the cabin for 60 days a year, or they lose ownership.

Theo Harp once held Annie's heart, but that was long ago. His cruel act when they were teenagers proved the kind of man he actually was, and he's not one she wants to be around. When she learns Theo resides in a neighboring house, she's not at all pleased.

It's soon apparent that someone wants Annie off the island. Is Theo up to his usual tricks or is something more sinister at hand?

There's a touch of spookiness to Susan Elizabeth Phillips latest novel. It also has a romance that sizzles and a setting that put chills up my spine. She's long been a favorite author, and this novel, while a bit different because of the gothic feel, was one of her best.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry

Release Date - June 24, 2014

Patti Callahan Henry
St. Martin's Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Eve Morrison owns her own letterpress company and her husband owns a thriving electronic magazine. Together, they are a well-known couple in Savannah, Georgia, a couple that many long to associate with. Outward appearances are not always accurate.

One night, Eve is working when police stop by to say her husband and sister were in an accident. Her sister is in a coma with swelling of the brain, her husband is saying her sister was drunk and grabbed the wheel. When doctors say her sister's blood tests were clear of any alcohol or drugs, Eve is confused. Why is her husband lying? Eve's teen daughter is another issue. She's rebelling against everyone, except Eve's sister, and now with Willa in the hospital, everything seems to be unraveling. It's time for secrets to be revealed, and for Eve to decide what the future will hold for her family.

The Stories We Tell is a solid story with a touch of mystery, a little romance, and lots of family dynamics blended together. I started it, couldn't put it down, and then cheered as Eve took control of the situation. She's tough, likeable, and determined. As she came across new facts, I also enjoyed trying to unravel truth from lies. It's a great read, and one that leaves me convinced it's time to put Patti Callahan Henry on my list of authors not to miss. If you haven't read any books by Patti Callahan Henry, I high recommend The Stories We Tell and last year's And Then I Found You.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The People Inside by Ray Fawkes

Release Date - August 13, 2014

Ray Fawkes
Oni Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The People Inside is a unique graphic novel. It's one that delves away from the typical plots I see - superheroes, monsters, other worlds, or Anime. Instead, it takes a look at the relationships couples face from the meeting their eyes meet to the final moment when a relationship comes to an end. With each relationship, the different men and women learn more about what really defines them, whether it is the children they have, the love they have for one another, or realizing the moment has come when they are better off alone.

Award-winning artist and writer Ray Fawkes earned high praise with his 2012 release One Soul. Like The People Inside, it focused on relationships and humanity. I missed that one, but I'm glad I took the time to read his latest. I found myself drawn to some couples, as I knew what they were going through. Others, I found myself hoping they would realize what they truly needed. Either way, I was drawn to each story.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Sweet Spot by Stephanie Evanovich

Release Date - July 8, 2014

Stephanie Evanovich
William Morrow

Chase and Amanda, the couple focused on in The Sweet Spot, apparently gained their popularity in Stephanie Evanovich's Big Girl Panties, a book I never read. Therefore, the couple were completely new to me, as was the author.

At the start of The Sweet Spot, Amanda owns a popular restaurant and is a little taken aback when Chase, a star ball player, chooses her restaurant. He quickly becomes fixated with Amanda and keeps returning until she agrees to go out on a date with him. As Amanda soon learns, Chase doesn't like being disappointed. His disappointment comes with a cost, one that shocks Amanda to the core at first. A scandal eventually hits and Amanda must decide if being involved with a celebrity is worth the media attention.

The Sweet Spot is not what I expected. I loved the romance between Amanda and Chase at first, but eventually as Chase's true nature comes to light, I really didn't like him. His caveman-like attitudes and enjoyment of doling out full-blown thrown her over his knees spankings annoyed me. His urgency to have Amanda drop everything, including her business, and join him on the road. I really, really didn't like him. By default, I didn't like Amanda for putting up with him and not kicking him to the curb. From that point on, I wanted the original couple back. The smart, sassy Amanda, and the overly romantic Chase who was doing all he could to prove his romantic nature.

Bottom line, while I'm no prude, I really couldn't take the change in Chase that went from Mr. Romance to Mr. Going to Spank You Whenever I Deem You've Been Naughty. That blew the whole story for me.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Virgin by Radhika Sanghani

Release Date - August 5, 2014

Radhika Sanghani
Berkley Trade

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

From time to time, I come across a book that is so refreshing I can't help but read it in one sitting. I ended up taking part of the afternoon off from my editing work so that I could finish Virgin in one sitting.

Ellie is 21, about to finish college, and not thrilled that she's still a virgin. Her first experience at the age of 17 ended badly, without ever going anywhere. She decides her goal before graduation is to lose her virginity.

What follows is an honest, often hilarious look at the things women go through, the perceived attitudes about virginity and sex, and even friendships. I was laughing out loud when Ellie decided to groom her pubes. That was the start of a book that had me laughing, agreeing, and definitely nodding along with parts of it. I think every women out there has experienced some of the things Ellie experiences.

It's the honesty that appealed to me. Romance novels have a huge market in today's world, and I know of many women, even some men, who enjoy reading them, myself included. However, the dream men you find in romance novels are so far from the types of men out there. The author herself brings it up when Ellie and her friend discuss how their perceptions of romance were shaped at a young age by watching Disney movies where the princess finds her prince charming and lives happily ever after. If you've ever had similar thoughts and are ready to see what dating and romance are really like, pick up a copy of Radhika Sanghani's Virgin and get ready for a real feel-good read.

Friday, August 8, 2014

I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy

Release Date - June 17, 2014

Jennifer Murphy

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Twelve-year-old Picasso Lane's life changes when her father is murdered. As is true of most murders, her mother is the first prime suspect,  but that changes when police find her father had not one but three wives. Any one of them could have done it. As Piper and her mother bond with the lead detective, Piper slowly starts to unravel the things she knows regarding the murder and the secrets her father had been keeping.

I Love You More is quit addicting. It's told from three viewpoints: Picasso, the Wives, and Detective Kyle Kennedy. There is one more viewpoint, that of Picasso's father, but it comes into play much later and only one time, so I won't focus on it.

 From the first page, I was hooked. I delve into any mystery novel to see if I can solve it before the detectives, and in this case, I was right, yet the author still threw a curve that I didn't see coming. I do love the element of surprise in a mystery and this one definitely surprised me.

Part romance, part coming of age, and a whole lot of mystery, I Love You More is a gripping summer read that left me craving some time at the ocean setting where some of it takes place.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Expecting by Ann Hamilton

Release Date - July 2014

Ann Hamilton

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

"What makes a book impossible to put down?" I came across that post on my Facebook feed yesterday and instantly knew the answer. There must be an immediate connection to one or both main characters. Ann Hamilton nailed it with her debut, Expecting.

 It's likely you already know some of Ann Hamilton's other work. She's an award-winning writer, director, and producer who's worked on shows like Thirtysomething, Party of Five, Gray's Anatomy, and my current viewing addiction, Haven. Her debut novel takes readers into the world of Laurie and Alan.

After struggling to become pregnant, Laurie miscarries multiple times. With the help of a fertility doctor, Laurie is pregnant again, but her and Alan's world is torn apart when they learn there was a mix up with the sperm. Laurie is carrying another man's baby.

Alan is not handling the news well, and Laurie's insistence on finding out who the donor is isn't sitting well. That donor, a college student, is just as surprised as Alan. Alan is already handling the news poorly, and Laurie's determination to get to know the sperm donor may be the thing that tears their world apart.

I've had two miscarriages, one at four months and the other at a month, so I knew what Laurie was feeling during those chapters. I don't care what anyone tells you. Whether it is the words I'll never forget that come from your OB/GYN's mouth - "Be thankful you miscarried, otherwise your baby would have been retarded or defective in some way." - to people's "You became pregnant once, so you'll do it again." My thoughts toward miscarriage fall into the line of tell someone "Sorry" and then say nothing more. My empathy for Laurie made this book feel very personal. I was drawn to her character and couldn't put the story down.

 Expecting is an emotional story. It had me tearing up at times, smiling at others. One thing is clear. This is a book that is hard to put down and captures the frustrations, joy, and pain that comes with pregnancy or the attempt to become pregnant.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Release Date - July 29, 2014

Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin's Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Fortune Hunter is a fictional story based on Austria's Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), wife of the much older Emperor Franz Joseph and her friendship with Captain Bay Middleton, a man she hires as her pilot. Bay is a skilled horseman and suitor of Charlotte Baird, a wealthy heiress who honestly loves Bay. When the Earl of Spencer invites Sisi on his famous hunt, Bay is asked to go along. His growing relationship with Sisi could destroy the relationship he has with Charlotte, as well as impact many others at the same time.

While many women fawn over royalty, I grew up in a household where my mom always pointed out the rules Royals must obey. What many in the media and forums count as a stuffy attitude, it is how Royals are raised to behave. Given that, I've never seen the fascination with Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth, and the recent generations. Based on that, I struggled quite a bit with The Fortune Hunter.

I liked Charlotte, and didn't mind Bay at first, but Charlotte's brother and the quest to find her a suitable husband worthy of her fortune. I hate that level of control. I realize it is how the system works for Royals, but it's obnoxious to me. I just wanted to see Charlotte and Bay have their chance without intervention.

When Sisi entered the story, I started to get overwhelmed. The focus strayed from what I was enjoying. At that point, I really had to struggle to finish it. I ended up having to walk away from it, and come back, repeatedly. In the end, it just wasn't my cup of tea so to speak. The writing was good. The dialog suited the time. The historical accuracy was off, but the author admitted she was taking liberties, so I was okay with that. In the end, too many characters became the downfall for me.

Learn more about Daisy Goodwin's books and news by following her on Facebook.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Matter of Mercy by Lynn Hugo

Release Date - August 2014

Lynn Hugo
Blank Slate Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

A Matter of Mercy is based loosely on a court case involving landowners along the coast and the men who farm the sea for clams and oysters. Using that basis, author Lynn Hugo spins a romantic suspense tale that I found had its ups and downs.

Caroline (CiCi) Marcum, grew up in Wellfleet, became a teacher, and ended up ruining her life. When her husband asked for a divorced, Caroline had a drink, got in the car, and hit a woman as she was getting her son out of the car. The young boy didn't survive and Caroline went to jail for DUI. She's back in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Home to care for her dying mother.

Rid is one of a line of sea farmers. Despite what his grant may say, Rid and his friends are being sued by a rich landowner. The landowner claims he owns the land where Rid grows and harvests his oysters and that makes the grant invalid. Sea farming is the only career Rid has, and it's one that many generations of his family has held.

It isn't long before CiCi and Rid notice each other, and that causes many complications. Rid believes CiCi to be another of the rich landowners who might jump on this lawsuit. CiCi hides her own secret from Rid. Working through their issues isn't easy, but if the couple are to have any chance at a life together, they have to get through them.

I loved the detail Lynn Hugo put into the aspect of growing and harvesting oysters. The details provided made for fascinating reading. The lawsuit added to the tension, but I wished it had been more fleshed out. When the resolution comes, it seemed too easy. Readers never even get to meet this evil landowner who is suing the sea farmers.

As for CiCi's predicament, I had more issues with that. Her storyline involves meeting the mother of the child she killed, being stalked by someone who wants her out of the picture, and then there is the issue she has with Rid. I don't want to give out any spoilers, but as the mystery behind her stalker comes to light, I again felt cheated. At that point, I simply wondered if anyone in this town was capable of acting like an adult, other than CiCi's mother and her mother's respite nurse.

Yet, despite my issues with the story, I felt compelled to keep reading. I loved the setting, the pace was excellent, and the descriptions drew me in. For that reason, I really do recommend A Matter of Mercy.

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...