Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle

Release Date - September 2014

Kimberly Belle
Harlequin MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Sixteen years ago, Gia Andrews left her hometown. She escaped the gossip and scorn that resulted after her stepmother was allegedly murdered by her father. Now he's dying and Gia's been given the responsibility of staying with him in their family home until he dies.

With little help from her siblings, Gia faces her fast and discovers there are things never revealed during the court hearings. Is her father really guilty or has someone else been walking free for years? As she forms a relationship with the town bartender, Gia decides to unravel the truth behind the murder and try to forge a life of her on in a town that scorns her entire family.

The buzz for The Last Breath started building prior to the book's release date. There's good reason. Gia's story is told from both her stepmother's side, back in the past, and then Gia's side in the present. Readers, therefore, are given insight into things that the characters don't, yet the mystery involving the murder remains a mystery until the very end. I thought I'd figured out the killer's identity very early into the book, and I was wrong. I wasn't even close. That doesn't often happen when I read a mystery, so it was very refreshing.

With a well-balanced mix of mystery, romance, and suspense, I found The Last Breath to be a thoroughly memorable read. I'm intrigued to see more from Kimberly Belle in the future!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Swan Point by Sherryl Woods

Release Date - August 2014

Sherryl Woods

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

After her husband blatantly flaunted his affairs in front of her and then her children, Adelia Hernandez had enough and divorced him. Now she's the owner of a somewhat run-down home, but after renovations, she knows this will be the perfect place to start anew. She's been promoted to manager of the clothing boutique where she works, and she's ready to tackle this new world of being a single mom.

Gabe Franklin left Serenity after a turbulent youth. He's back, without plans to stay, and then Adelia catches his eye. The last thing he needs is to start a permanent relationship, but the Sweet Magnolias in town feel differently. They think Gabe is exactly what Adelia needs in her life, and vice versa. He never expected this one woman and her children to be the one thing he seems to need most.

Swan Point is the next novel in the Sweet Magnolia series. I've not read the others, but apparently that doesn't matter. This book worked well as a stand-alone novel.

I liked Adelia and her children, Gabe I was iffy on, but once I warmed up to his character, I really enjoyed watching him evolve and realize that the town he thought he hated might be the one place he could really call home. Their relationship doesn't bloom quickly, instead it moves at a realistic pace for a single mom who's been hurt before.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One of Us by Tawni O'Dell

Release Date - August 2014

Tawni O'Dell
Gallery Books

Book Review by Bob Walch

Dr. Sheridan Doyle is the go-to guy in Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s office when there’s a situation that the forensic psychologist’s expertise can deal with. A local celebrity of sorts, Doyle’s public image is at odds with the real man beneath the slick veneer. 
Raised in a blue-collar mining town, Danny Doyle was a bookish child plagued by panic attacks, bullying and a family history he’s never been able to completely put behind him.
Now Doyle is back in his hometown and the trip turns into a busman’s holiday when he discovers a dead body on a walk one day. The corpse is by the infamous gallows where long ago a band of rebellious Irish miners was executed.

Ironically, the dead man is related to the wealthy mining family responsible for the miners’ deaths a century ago. Helping out the local law enforcement officials, Doyle uses his skills to create a profile of the killer but in doing so he comes precariously close to revealing some hidden truths about his own family and his youthful past.

A gripping tale that offers plenty of surprises, One of Us is a quick read but don’t be surprised if you discover the story lingers long after you’ve finished the final chapter.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Release Date - July 2013

Jojo Moyes
Penguin Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Ever since reading One Plus One, I've been trying to get my hands on every Jojo Moyes book I can. My journey through her past novels starts with Me Before You. If I had the money and status, this book would become a movie, which I've learned is in the works as I type this. It's powerful, honest, and oh so very emotional.

Louisa Clark's family depends on her income. Her father's job looks like it may be coming to an end, her sister is a single mom and trying to return to college, and her mother spends her time looking after Louisa's grandfather. When Louisa loses her job at a local cafe, the family is terrified of the mounting debt and loss of income.

While she'd love to take time off and figure out what to do, she has to help out. She accepts a temporary position as the caregiver to Will Traynor, a dynamic man left a quadriplegic following a horrific accident. Will's given up and not easy to get along with, but for some reason, Louisa is able to reach him and soon they become good friends.

Soon, Louisa discovers the real reason her job is to last six months. Will has decided that life isn't worth living and plans to end his life. His mother desperately wants to show him that he's wrong, and she thinks Louisa is the right person to prove it to him. The clock's ticking and Louisa is determined to make Will see that he still has a meaningful life ahead, one that might possibly include her.

Oh boy did I cry. This book is so powerful, so emotional, that I was crying like a baby. Me Before You isn't just a one or two Kleenex book, have the entire box in hand.

Choices both Louisa and Will must make are not made lightly or without serious consideration. There were times I wanted to stop reading, it was becoming almost too painful, but I also couldn't put it down. I was drawn into their lives and had to see how it ended. In the end, this confirms that Jojo Moyes skyrockets to the top of my favorite author list for good reason.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Oleander Sisters by Elaine Hussey

Release Date - July 2014

Elaine Hussey
Harlequin MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

"Sis" Blake put her life on hold following a tragic car accident. She's raised her siblings, with the help of her grandmother. Now her sister, a single mom, is about to marry a man that Sis does not believe is all he makes himself appear to be. Her brother's returned from the war, missing one leg and unwilling to leave his room. To top it off the biggest hurricane in history is barreling towards their Mississippi town. Secrets are starting to come out, and Sis must keep her own sanity while also trying to keep her family from crumbling apart and safe from this storm that is looking worse with every passing hour.

The Oleander Sisters is a charming southern tale that delves into topics like teen pregnancy, abusive relationships, the trauma of the Vietnam War, and a heavy dose of southern cooking. Sis's grandmother owns a cafe, so a portion of the story takes place in that cafe.

I liked Sis, though I also felt for her having to keep secrets and putting her own life on hold. Her reactions to those around her came off as very human and honest. Given that this was set in the 1960s, I understood the choices her sister made and also appreciated her strength and determination to do what was best for her son. Even Sweet Mama, Sis's brother, and Beulah, the woman who helped Sweet Mama raise them, are likable characters.

As much as I enjoyed the story, there was one aspect that I really missed. Perhaps it is in the final copy of the book, but all the discussion about the Amen Cobbler, I really expected to find a recipe at the end. In the copy I reviewed, it was lacking. Given that, I'm going to have to take one of my own cobbler recipes and see if I can't come out with my own version of this decadent peach and cherry cobbler that received regular mention throughout The Oleander Sisters.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman

Release Date - September 2014

Faye Kellerman
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus have moved closer to their adult children and foster son in upstate New York. Peter’s new job with the Greenbury Police Department is a bit of a drag after Los Angeles. Also his new partner, a former Harvard student with plenty of attitude, has made the transition even more onerous.

Just when he’s seriously questioning the wisdom of the move Peter is given a case that begins with a cemetery break-in but escalates quickly into something far more sinister.
A mausoleum featuring Tiffany panels has been broken into and fakes substituted for the valuable originals. Next a female student at a posh local college is murdered.

Suddenly Decker is no longer bored with his new job. In fact as he and his partner begin checking out the academic set to find the killer they stumble upon dark secrets, international intrigue involving Russia and a group of ruthless individuals who will destroy anyone or anything that stands in the way of allowing them to achieve their sinister ends. Rina and Peter will have to call upon all their past experience as the collaborate on this convoluted but fascinating case that involves much more than just homicide. 
Of the more recent novels in this long running series, Murder 101 is at the top of the list and ranks way up there with the best Faye Kellerman has written to date.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Rachel Knight Series by Marcia Clark

Marcia Clark. It's a name many people instantly recognize due to her ties to the O.J. Simpson trial in the 1990s. She's also the author of an exciting legal thriller series about D.A. Rachel Knight.

Usually, I would review these books separately, but as there is a fourth book in the series that will be getting it's own review in the near future, I decided to put these three together.

In the series first book, Guilt by Association, Rachel is disheartened to come across a crime scene. Her associate and friend Jake is found dead in a seedy motel. He's holding pornographic images of a teen boy, the same teen boy who is also dead in the same motel room. Rachel cannot believe for one minute that Jake is that type of person, but how well did she really know him?

The second book in the Rachel Knight series, Guilt by Degrees, starts with the murder of a homeless man. This man was bleeding out on the streets while dozens of people walked over or past him. A man is in jail for the murder, but Rachel's not convinced he's the murderer. Her investigation leads to another murder, the murder of a police officer months earlier, and soon she realizes the two murders may be connected.

The third book, Killer Ambition, begins with the murder of a prominent Hollywood director's daughter.  When evidence leads to the director's close friend, a Hollywood talent manager, Rachel begins her quest to uncover the truth.

If you watch or have ever watched shows like The Good WifeCanterbury's Law, Harry's Law, or even Drop Dead Diva, you'll want to read the Rachel Knight series. While each has it's own strengths and weaknesses, the one theme that remains true with the shows and books is that at the heart of the series is a strong-willed female attorney. They have their share of problems, but their dedication to their job is unmatched. That's what I like about Rachel Knight. She's human, but her goal is always to win her client's case.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce

Release Date - August 2014

Graham Joyce

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

When he was very young, David Barwise's father took him to the beach. There, tragedy struck and David's life changed drastically. Now, he's a college student and despite his mother and step-father's wishes, David returns to Skegness to work at a summer resort. As a "greencoat," David spends his days judging sandcastle competitions, handling lighting for the nightly performances, and generally doing whatever is asked of him.

It's a summer of change for David. While at the beach, he spies a man and a young boy. Trying to get them involved in activities leads nowhere, and soon realizes they may not be alive at all. Is he seeing ghosts?

There's far more to The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit. David begins to fall for a cleaning lady who has an overly protective, if not abusive, husband. He is also torn by his growing attraction to a young woman whose heritage (her mother is from Guyana), while she's beautiful, racism is high in '70's Britain, and David quickly grows tired of hearing people putting any biracial person down. It doesn't take long before you understand the truth behind the ghosts and get pulled into David's world where tempers soar in politics, relationships, and life itself.

I won't deny that the setting drew me in. I've spent time in Bridlington and Hull, both north of Skegness, so I know the allure of those coastal towns. Skegness appeared no different. Yet, it was soon David, the ghosts, and the other workers in this resort that kept me hooked. It's a different genre for me, but one that I am happy I read.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Surprise Triplets by Jacqueline Diamond

Release Date - September 2014

Jacqueline Diamond

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

As a fertility counselor, Melissa Everhart spends her days discussing pregnancy with her patients. Melissa is pregnant, too, with triplets no less. She's about to embark on a new life as a single mom. While she loved her husband, his random announcement that he had a vasectomy led to their divorce. She wants a family of her own, and she will let nothing get in her way. Now her ex is back in her life, part of the team at Safe Harbor.

Melissa soon discovers that her former sister-in-law is in trouble, and he's now the guardian of his young niece. For a man who never wanted kids, he's doing an amazing job. As the former couple spend more and more time together, Melissa begins to wonder if Edmond deserves a second chance.

If you've read any of the Safe Harbor romances, you know that the doctors, nurses, and administrators in this medical center are more like a tight knit family than a group of characters. I was happy to get reunited with characters from previous novels, and it was fun seeing Melissa's pregnancy developing. There is some conflict in this novel that I could have done without, but I also knew it was coming, so it wasn't a huge shock.

One of the nicest things about The Surprise Triplets and other books in the Safe Harbor Medical Romance series is that the books stand alone. You don't have to have read others in order to get what is going on. Given that, I recommend reading more than one to get to know the characters and the struggles and joys they've faced. Here is to hoping that Lucky is next!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

God Doesn't Love Us All the Same by Nina Guilbeau

Release Date - May 2014

Nina Guilbeau
Juania Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

God Doesn't Love Us All the Same bounces between past and present. It all starts with Janine Harris. She's about to leave work when she realizes she locked her wallet in the bank vault. She has no money to get home.  While wandering the streets, she comes across a homeless woman, Vera, and wonders how did Vera get to where she is today.

After inviting Vera to join her for a cup of coffee while she waits for her sister, Janine begins to learn of Vera's tragic upbringing. Vera's start in life was rife with tragedy and the harsh realities of racism, abuse, and murder would be obstacles that she alone needed to overcome.

I loved Vera's story. I admit at times errors in the story would catch my eye and pull me from the story, but I still wanted to know if Vera could forgive herself. These errors ranged from a situation with Vera where a guy was "pushing his ... deeper and deeper into his mouth." That should have been "her mouth," (pg. 164) and I'm surprised editing overlooked it. Another example (pg. 37) is "...district was very calmon Sundays, just tourist mostly-shopping and visiting landmarks." The paperback's price of $13.99 is a little much to ask given these and other errors I came across while reading.

That issue aside, Vera's life story is the reason I highly recommend this book. Janine was a bit of a whiner to me, but Vera stole the show.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning

Release Date - January 2014

Diane Daniels Manning

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Benny is a young teen with mild autism who dreams of two things. He wants his mom to become part of their family again, and he wants a dog. Despite his dreams of becoming a dog owner, his father and stepmother seem happy to say no.

At 70, Bess Rutledge is ready to demolish her poodle kennel. This last litter will end her long-running business, and she'll no longer raise and train poodles for dog shows. All of that changes when she meets Bennie. He lights a spark that has her thinking maybe her dream of making it to the Westminster competition doesn't have to just be a dream anymore. Despite all, Bess is still reluctant and Benny must find a way to break through the walls she's erected.

Almost Perfect is set in an area I know well. I have an aunt and uncle in West Redding, so I've spent many spring vacations at their home. It was fun to go back in time to when the Danbury Fair operated, now the area is covered by a huge mall with a carousel that my kids love. Knowing the setting was one reason I was drawn into the story.

I'm also very familiar with Westminster. I used to watch it yearly, though Almost Perfect did go into some of the detail involved in getting dog to rank highly enough to make it into that show.

There were things that bothered me about the story. Bess and Benny initially meet and that starts a connection. Then the plot takes a weird twist and Bess's prize poodle is stolen right in front of her. I never understood the real importance of this mystery in terms of the overall plot. It seemed extraneous.

There's a secondary plot involving a growing relationship between Benny's therapeutic school's principal and Bess's son. Again, it didn't seem like this plot was really critical.

Benny's family also have their place in the story, and after a few chapters, I decided their only purpose was to make me want to climb into the book and smack some sense into all of them.

I did enjoy the main portion of Almost Perfect, but when it would switch to one of the other plots, I found myself repeatedly wondering why this other storyline was so necessary. I ended up quickly glimpsing at those sections to get back to the main part of the story.

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...