Friday, December 26, 2014

Vanished by Elizabeth Heiter

Release Date - January 2015

Elizabeth Heiter
Harlequin MIRA

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Vanished is the second book in Elizabeth Heiter's Profiler series.  The first novel, Hunted, is a book I remember well. I ended 2013 reading that compelling novel, so it's fitting that I happened to choose Vanished as one of the books to end 2014 with. I definitely did not find myself disappointed with the second book in this series!

Evelyn Baine and her best friend, Cassie, were abducted almost two decades ago. Evelyn somehow escaped, but her best friend wasn't so lucky. The disappearance has weighed heavily on Evelyn and is a key motivation for her work as an FBI profiler. When the Nursery Rhyme Killer returns 18 years later, Evelyn twists her boss's arm to make sure she is there to help try to bring the killer down. It's unlikely Cassie is still alive, but Evelyn wants justice for herself, for Cassie's parents, and most importantly for Cassie.

Once again, I couldn't put Elizabeth Heiter's novel down. MIRA is known for romantic suspense, and this is an exceptional offering. There is a touch of romance, but mostly it's the criminal profiling work that kept me glued to the pages. I'm a huge fan of the television show Criminal Minds, and this book definitely is a solid choice for fans of that show.

Monday, December 22, 2014

No Weddings by Kat and Stone Bastion

Release Date - September 2014

Kat & Stone Bastion

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

No Weddings was a change of pace when it comes to romances. Cade Michaelson is a bar owner and college student working towards his master's degree. With his sisters urging him on, he agrees to their little venture of adding party planning to their business. One that he insists will not have anything to do with weddings. With that plan in mind, he knows the cakes made by Hannah Martin are the best for their clientele, but Hannah's "ice princess" attitude isn't something he looks forward too. He's had his problems with women and he's quite happy with one-night stands, or so he thinks.

Before he knows it, Cade gets talked into letting Hannah cook for him in exchange for advice on growing her bakery. Those dinners turn into more than Cade could have every imagined.

Now here is the thing with No Weddings, the book is told from Cade's point of view. That's not typical in romance novels. Cade is definitely an alpha-male type, all about the quest and conquer and not about the emotional ties. For me, that made him a little unlikeable in the first part of the book. Hannah is a tough cookie. Despite her "ice princess" status, I really liked her from the start. She does what she knows is best for her and won't let anyone or anything get in her way. When the banter between Cade and Hannah kicked in, I was hooked.

No Weddings is the first in a series, so readers looking for everything tied up in a nice package will not find it here. I expected a little more closure than I got, but the authors are clever because now that they have me hooked I have to read the others if I want that closure.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Burning Girl by Lisa Unger

Release Date - November 25, 2014

Lisa Unger
Simon and Schuster

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The second short story in Lisa Unger's Whisper Series, The Burning Girl skips forward a few years in the future. It's been 10 years since Eloise Montgomery's husband's and daughter's deaths. She's teamed up with Ray, the detective from the first Whisper Series story, and is now working as a psychic in his private detective company.

A couple of things have been weighing heavily on Eloise's mind. A trusted friend and mentor tells her her psychic abilities have come from her family, which leads Eloise to start questioning who she really is. It also leads to the discovery that Eloise's own granddaughter has those psychic abilities. There's also the appearance of a burning girl who Eloise's granddaughter and Eloise's mentor both say is dangerous and Eloise needs to get her to go away. Eloise isn't so sure and feels she needs to find out what this angry girl is trying to tell her.

This sets the stage for the second book in the series that I am really growing to love. I do have complaints. I wish the stories were longer. Just as I'm settling in, the story is coming to a close. I would love to see the Whisper Series become a full-length novel. I would also like to backtrack a bit and see Eloise's progression over the past few years, rather than suddenly skipping ahead a full decade.

That said, Lisa Unger's writing is fluid, and I really like her characters. I am eager to keep seeing where Eloise's cases take her.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

Release Date - December 2014

Christopher Fowler

Book Review by Bob Walch

As Raymond Land, the chief of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, explains, the individuals he oversees don’t follow the usual investigative procedures most crime investigators do.
We’ve had things going on here I could never put in official reports. You know they always say there’s a fine line between genius and madness? Well. Here the line gets rubbed out.”

Never was this more true than in this latest installment of the popular series. In Bryant & May and The Bleeding Heart, Christopher Fowler has the unorthodox crime solving unit transferred over to work under the jurisdiction of the City of London. 
This might represent a small geographical area where blue collar crime is more common than the type of more bizarre cases Arthur Bryant, John May and their colleagues handle, but, don’t worry, they’ll manage to find something suitably odd to deal with.

In fact, in this instance grave robbery, murder, and the kidnapping of the venerable ravens that call the Tower of London home all mix together for a very entertaining and amusing puzzle that will once again allow Bryant and May to showcase their singular investigative techniques. 
The most eccentric and eldest of the investigative team, Arthur Bryant may be slowing down physically but his mind is still working just fine, thank you, and he demonstrates his ability to think outside the box in this case. 
Bryant must deal with an old nemesis who makes him very uneasy, but he’s able to rein in his own fears to deal with this extremely strange but dangerous individual. Where the other detectives don’t see clues or connections between suspects, Bryant does.
Explaining to Land how he operates, Bryant says, “You do not understand the nature of our work… It’s wool-carding. Kept apart, people are fundamentally decent and mean well, but when they’re put together they get themselves into terrible knots. Our job is to disentangle, clean and reweave the fibers of social life to produce a continuous cord suitable for processing.”

This investigation with its numerous twist, turns and unexpected revelations will not only keep even the most jaded mystery fan reading, but it will elicit a few chuckles along the way as well. 
Some readers see the Bryant and May series as a CSI version of Grumpy Old Men with a little Dickens toss in for flavoring. I won’t disagree with that assessment. Christopher Fowler has carved a unique niche in the annals of crime fiction for his memorable cast of characters and he has discovered a very large and appreciative following of readers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sweet Damage by Rebecca James

Release Date - December 2014

Rebecca James

Book Review by Bob Walch

It appeared to be the perfect arrangement. Tim Ellison will receive a room that is close to his work and his favorite surfing location. In return, he has to keep an eye on the reclusive owner of the house, Anna London.

Although she’s just into her twenties, this mysterious, withdrawn young woman has some major issues that keep her in a self-imposed exile in her grand home.

As Anna begins to reveal bits and pieces of her past, her boarder becomes quite smitten by the delicate beauty but then strange things begin happening in the house. Obviously there’s something not quite right here (actually terribly wrong might be more accurate), and Tim must decide if he wants to remain here to uncover what’s happening her. Is Anna in danger or is she the cause of the mayhem?

Rebecca James’ debut, Beautiful Malice, was much praised and attracted readers in her native Australia and abroad. This second psycho-mystery that delves into love, friendship and betrayal in a modern Gothic setting is as entertaining and engrossing as its predecessor. The young writer has another bestseller on her hands!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

Book Release - January 2014

Mark Levine
Bascom Hill Publishing Group

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Over the years, I have read numerous books on publishing, and I have to say that Mark Levine's handy guide is definitely one to own. He's honest, very thorough, but doesn't bog you down in details that make the reading dull.

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing covers everything you need to know about publishing your book. He starts with a discussion of vanity printing vs. self-publishing. This is a very important place to start as I've received many books over the years that were clearly written to appease an author's vanity, particularly when it comes to memoirs or autobiographies that really would never interest more than the author's family.

The guide continues through hiring editors and graphic designers to create the cover of your book, understanding a contract, finding a publishing house to use for your self-published book, and even delves heavily into the traits of a reputable vs. a poor company to choose. If you go back enough to remember all of the PublishAmerica authors who were disgruntled with the entire process, you'll understand why it is so important to do your research.

Mark Levine's guide also covers marketing your book. One thing I felt was missing in this section involved the section on getting book reviews. This has been a topic of choice among reviewers recently. There should also be a section on gracefully handling a negative review. Some authors cannot seem to do this. One recent author took to every site or newspaper who would print her scorn against reviewers who dared give her book less than four of five stars. The insults that came flying from her mouth were astounding. She's not the first either, I've had two authors, one self-published and one published with a big publishing house, send me threats via the email for publishing negative reviews. I know of another book blogger who had an author send her a box full of feces. Perhaps the author could cover gracefully handling negative reviews in the future.

If you're considering self-publishing, I definitely think you need to purchase The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, read it from cover to cover, and then get started.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Shadow Heart and Fire Heart by Pamela Taeuffer

Release Date - February 2014

Pamela Taeuffer
Open Heart Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

While I'm not exactly sure on the target readership for Shadow Heart and Fire Heart, the first two books in the Broken Bottle series, I would say this is new adult and geared towards the older teen. The main character is 17 and the man who wants to capture her heart is 24.

Nicky Young has grown up dealing with her alcoholic father for far too many years. After her sister is raped by a group of older boys, the family seems to spiral completely. Now 17, Nicky throws herself into plans to apply and hopefully get accepted into Stanford, and the cheer team she and her friends decide to form for a local baseball team.

It is in this cheer team that Nicky catches the eye of Ryan Tilton, a 24-year-old baseball player who is tired of one night stands and wants to find a woman of substance that he can give his heart to. Nicky seems to meet everything he wants in a woman, but she's underage and her family circumstances have jaded her to an extent. If Ryan wants to win her heart, he's going to have to be very, very careful.

Nicky has had a very rough life and that weighs heavily on her emotional growth. Physical maturity is one thing, but emotional is another and the adult in me was crying out that this kid was no where near ready for a relationship. Nothing is firmed up in the first book, so the storyline continues into the second book, Fire Heart

As much as I wanted to connect to Nicky and her story, I just couldn't find what I needed. I wondered how much of my dislike for the story stems from the fact that I'm the mother of an 18 year old and wouldn't want her anywhere near a baseball player, especially with the conversations the team mates had about the girls on the cheer team. Given that, I never found myself really liking Ryan.

I tried to go back to my own teens and the books I read. I think if I was younger and hadn't been in my own lasting relationship and had more insight into what really makes a relationship last, I would have fallen for Ryan and Nicky's story.  The chemistry is there, but Nicky's immaturity and Ryan's age just never fit well for me.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Whispers by Lisa Unger

Release Date - October 27, 2014

Lisa Unger
Simon and Schuster

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Whispers is a very, very quick read. If you're busy with holiday cooking and errands, this is an ideal short story to fill in a short amount of time. Per my Kindle, with my reading speed, it took me just 13 minutes to read this very short story.

Eloise Montgomery's day is starting off as normal. Her younger daughter is up and ready, but her other is doing as many teens do and dragging her feet. She stays in bed well after the alarm and begrudgingly gets ready and comes down for breakfast. In the end, Eloise wishes she had more time as both her husband and oldest daughter are killed in a head-on collision.

After the family's accident, Eloise begins having psychic visions. Not sure what to do, she knows she must act on her visions, as they could be what police need to save victims or solve crimes, even if it is all frightening to her.

This short story sets the premise for additional stories in The Whispers series. Each looks like it will be a very short read, one that fits in perfectly with waiting for an appointment, filling in a gap while holiday treats bake, or simply a quick story before drifting off to sleep at night.

As The Whispers was really short, it seemed that character relationships and development were rushed. I hope more depth is explored in the future. I liked this story, but I think I would have loved it had it been longer.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Buried by Shelley Coriell

Release Date - November 2014

Shelley Coriell

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

It all starts with a desperate phone call. State prosecutor Grace Courtemanche never expects to hear a girl on the other end, one who has been buried alive and is begging for Grace to find her before it's too late. Refusing to give up hope on a girl who may or may not be telling the truth, Grace turns to the one man she hoped never to see again and one who has suddenly returned to town, her ex-husband.

Hatch is an FBI agent, one of the esteemed Apostles. If anyone can help unravel this crime, it's Hatch. Grace never expects to find herself facing the fact that she still in madly in love with him. He's only in town after learning a brief affair led to a son he never knew existed, and once he's done getting this boy on the right path, he plans to leave again. Can a wanderer change his very nature? Add in a cunning killer's plot and unfinished business between Grace and Hatch, and The Buried becomes very hard to put down.

Chemistry between Grace and Hatch is undeniable, but I really liked The Buried for the interactions between Hatch and his very headstrong son. The relationships formed in this novel are not always easy, but they are engaging. The investigation into the killer plays a whole other part. The killer comes off as very clever, very sadistic, and definitely in it for the game. It's hard to predict the killer's identity, so it kept me on the edge of my seat until the end.

This is the second book in the Apostle series. If you missed the first, The Broken, you really don't need to read it to understand The Buried. However, I did read it and loved that book just as much as this one, so I highly recommend it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Meet Wisdom Man

 We can learn much from the Aboriginal people and Aboriginal Elder, Banjo Clarke, whom Camilla Chance writes about in her award-winning book, Wisdom Man.
Like the white culture in the United States that had enslaved, colonized and controlled the black man, so we have the story of Banjo Clarke, Aboriginal Elder, whose Aboriginal culture in Australia was in much danger of destruction by the white man. What we find in each of their histories is that it takes a few generations to bring some sense into the powers that be to accept all colors and cultures and learn from them, not destroy them.
Banjo is a symbol of kindness and compassion and how not to give up on humanity. In this book he teaches us all how to be kind to one another and accept people for who they are, not what color they are.
Camilla Chance became close friends with Banjo Clarke approximately thirty years ago. They became such good friends that he and his family gave permission to tape Banjo as he talked about the history of his life and his country and all that he had gone through, with the hopes that these tapes would be written into a book to share with the world. As a result Camilla Chance has written this amazing book about an amazing man, Banjo Clarke, Wisdom Man.
This was a man who endured and witnessed decades of discrimination and hardship, yet as Banjo says in the book about hatred and anger: “Them things leave you in a flash if you see someone destitute or crying out for help.” He also came to accept that part of life was being lied about, but he found a way around that one too: "If you meet everybody openly, expecting to be friends for life, you're stronger than all the liars -- easy."
The book was on the best-seller list in Australia, and an Australian documentary made about it was nominated for a Humanitarian Award. Its author Camilla Chance was also the first non-Aboriginal to receive the prestigious Unsung Hero Aboriginal Award for her dedication and work for the Aboriginal people. In addition, the book has also won award here in the USA for best Multicultural work.

A Life Intercepted: A Novel by Charles Martin

Release Date - September 2014

Charles Martin
Center Street

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

For the past 12 years, Matthew Rising has spent time in prison for a crime he knows he didn't commit, but the evidence was insurmountable. Now that the one-time football star has been released, he has one goal. He wants to find his wife, a woman who seemingly disappeared after his trial.

While Matthew knows returning to his hometown is not going to lead to a warm welcome, it's the place where he knows he must start his search. He soon comes across his wife and learns she's mentoring a teen with a very bright future in football. If Matthew coaches him, he'll violate the terms of his release, but he cannot turn his back on Audrey or this gifted teen.

A Life Intercepted: A Novel is a very emotional read, so you may want to have tissues in hand. Author Charles Martin travels back and forth over the span of time to show the development of Audrey and Matthew's relationship and also the present day relationships between Audrey, Matthew, and Dee. The changes in time came fluently, so I never had a hard time keeping up with what era I was in.

For me, the outcome of the novel, specifically who it was that set Matthew up, was pretty clear from the start. That aspect of A Life Intercepted was slightly frustrating. I wanted to climb into the book and smack the guilty party upside the head. That said, the author did a great job of making me that interested in the characters and the situations they faced.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn by Dean Koontz

Release Date - October 2014

Dean Koontz
Center Street

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Known for his suspense/horror stories, Dean Koontz mixes things up with his latest book, Ask Anna: Advice for the Furry and Forlorn. His golden retriever takes center stage in this title, offering advice to dogs in need. Throughout the book are photos of dogs, including Anna. It's a whimsical book, perfect for those moments when you just want to unwind.

Dog lovers are going to thoroughly enjoy Anna's witty responses to questions that range from dealing with a dog owner to the incessant urge to chew everything. It's a change of pace, but one that is well worth the price as every penny of the proceeds from Ask Anna go to Canine Companions, an organization that pairs service dogs with men and women dealing with disabilities.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Spectrum by Alan Jacobson

Release Date - October 2014

Alan Jacobson
Open Road Media

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Karen Vail is back. This time decades pass as she tracks a ruthless serial killer who is leaving bodies throughout New York City. The story begins with a family who is targeted by the mafia, forcing them to flee into the shadows to avoid more tragedy. Jump forward in time and Karen's starting out her long career and is assigned to a homicide in which the killer carves a specific pattern into the back of each victim's head.Two decades pass while Vail chases leads and tries to target a killer who is getting closer and closer with each step she takes.

In Spectrum, there is a lot of jumping back and forth between eras. While these jumps are thoughtfully laid out, it does require the reader to shift back and forth frequently. I found it took a bit of time to get into that rhythm, but it's worth settling in. It gives exceptional insight into Karen Vail, which is helpful if you are new to the series or it's been a while since you've read the last book.

Throughout the novel, I found myself angry for so many characters. Getting so emotionally involved definitely showcases the author's talent at drawing the reader in. While I'd figured out the killer's identity long before Vail (which is easy given the way the book is set up), I still needed to read every word to see how everything would turn out.

In the end, I found myself thinking of Karen Vail as being very much like the lead female detective in one of my favorite British shows, Life on Mars. There is the same sexism that she must fight, and she does so in very real, honest ways.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Way of Tea and Justice by Becca Stevens

Release Date - November 2014

Becca Stevens
Jericho Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Way of Tea and Justice blends tea recipes, a historic look at tea and its uses, and then the foundations of a community/tea cafe dreamed up by Reverend Becca Stevens. Thistle Farms Cafe helps women who have been abused, addicted, and prostituted.

Blended throughout this book are stories of the survivors whose lives have changed because of Thistle Farms Cafe. There are also in-depth looks at the way teas are used, how they are grown, and what differentiates one tea from another. The benefits to teas are discusses, the manner in which they are properly brewed, and their impact on society over the centuries.

I come from a long line of tea drinkers. My mom's British, so tea was a normal beverage in our household. The recipes in The Way of Tea and Justice were a bonus in addition to the women's tales. As I read the recipes, there was one thing that I did want to mention. There is a recipe for a Rwandan Black Tea. In this recipe is a note about adding St. John's Wort for an uplifting tea. I did feel a caution should be mentioned about using St. John's Wort if you are on birth control pills. I recently took my 18 year old to discuss going onto birth control pills with her doctor and he never mentioned to her that St. John's Wort interacts with birth control. She doesn't use St. John's Wort, but I was kind of surprised he didn't bring it up, nor did our pharmacist. I feel this is important for women to know.

With that said, I think anyone who loves tea and wants recipes with a decent background into this popular drink, this book is delightful. It's also a great gift idea for the holidays. This book, some teas, and a tea set would be ideal for any tea lover.

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...