Sunday, June 28, 2015

Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Cafe by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Release Date - April 2015

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
Linden Tree Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I loved Tilia Klebenov Jacob's Wrong Place, Wrong Time. Give that, I was eager to read Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Cafe. Sadly, I didn't find this one anywhere near as appealing or enjoyable.

Eden Rose owns the Serve You Right Cafe and her employee, Emet First, has a bit of a past that, for some, makes him a less than desirable character. Emet served almost 10 years in prison, but he's thriving at the coffee shop and is making many friends. Unfortunately, the brother of the woman he just dated is determined to ruin Emet's life, and Emet has to carefully watch his every move if he wants to stay out of prison.

Let's start with the fact that it was supposed to be a romantic novella. It is a short read at just about 200 pages. As for the romance, I just didn't see much basis at all for a romance. There was a date that led to the possibility of a romance, but it really just kind of stopped at that point. I'd say it is more of a cross of general fiction and suspense with a small dose of potential romance.

The characters are okay, but none of them grabbed me and made me want to know them more. There's the flighty old couple in the park that really didn't seem to have huge importance in the story. Eden Rose is okay, but just okay so that's not a strong selling point. Mercey, Emet's date, seems far too ignorant given her education. She seems smart enough to know her family is toxic, yet she's stuck around for far longer than she ever should have. Then there is Emet who I feel is the strongest character of the bunch, just topping Mercey's brother, another strong character, albeit one that I simply couldn't stand.

In the end, this is one of those books that I could take or leave. It's not horrible, but certainly nothing I'd want to read again.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

First Time in Forever: A Puffin Island Novel by Sarah Morgan

Release Date - February 24, 2015

Sarah Morgan
HQN Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

She's lost her job, her long-time boyfriend dumped her, and the cherry on top is that her estranged half-sister is dead and made Emily Donovan guardian to a six year old. Emily wants nothing to do with a child. She's not cut out to be mommy material, but right now, her focus is getting the child to safety. As Emily's half-sister was a Hollywood starlet, the paparazzi are hot on Emily's heels. Keeping Juliet away from their prying eyes is her number one concern.

Taking up her friend's offer of a summer cottage on Maine's Puffin Island, Emily hopes the little girl will be safe. She never expects to gain the attentions of a local business owner, Ryan Cooper. It isn't long before Juliet (now called Lizzy for her safety) is longing for a solid family life with Ryan and Emily living happily ever after. Emily, however, is just out of one bad relationship and wants nothing to do with another one.

I love the Maine islands, so the setting was an instant hit with me. Emily is likable, once you get to know the reasons why she fears the water and children so much. Ryan is also likable, though I found Lizzy was the show stealer. She calls it as she sees it, and I always like having a precocious child egging hesitant characters along.

First Time in Forever is a charming romance that did leave me wanting more. There was the hint of a story to come between Lizzy and a set of twins that I am curious to see if the author meant to cover in later novels, or if I'm simply reading too much into it. There are also Emily's friends who should be getting their own romances. Plus, the mother of the twins and town ice cream parlor owner deserves her own story too.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Full Tilt by Rick Mofina

Release Date - February 2015

Rick Mofina

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

When teens come across a woman on fire, police never expect the case to take a very dark turn. In the hospital, the badly burned, dying woman tells the lead detective "there are others." Soon enough, a second body is found. What appears to be a murder-suicide becomes a journey into a madman's mind as more bodies appear.

For journalist Kate Page, the case becomes a priority. Two decades earlier, Kate's parents died. She and her sister were with foster parents when the car they were traveling in went off the road and into the river. Kate's sister was never found. Now, her sister's necklace has turned up at the first crime scene. Her gut instinct that her sister survived now seems to have validity. As police refuse to share more information, Kate decides to look into the murders, the disappearance of a girl who would have been around her sister's age, and see if she cannot unravel the truth.

From the moment I began Full Tilt, I was hooked. The story is mostly Kate's, but there are chapters were you get to see into the killer's mind and even some of the victims' insight from time to time. The suspense keeps you on your toes, and while it's apparent who the killer is, the fun in this story comes from the characters trying to outsmart him.

Along the way, there were a few decisions made that I didn't understand. I couldn't get how police or Kate were blinded to things that jumped right out at me. However, they were never enough for me to lose interest.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond

Release Date - June 2015

Laura Nicole Diamond
She Writes Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Following the tragic death of her infant daughter, Sarah Shaw is lost. Though, years later, she has two sons, she cannot move past the loss of her daughter. She walks a thin line between depression and trying to cope with being a wife and mother. One day, she spies a homeless woman pushing a stroller. The urge to help this woman becomes overwhelming, even if it means keeping a secret from her husband. When the young, homeless mother needs help, Sarah realizes how far she will go to help a virtual stranger, no matter what the consequences may be.

Shelter Us is told entirely from Sarah's point of view. This makes it easy for the reader to identify with Sarah and the choices she makes. It's definitely a roller coaster ride of a story. You may agree with Sarah's decisions or you may not, but you'll definitely get why she does the things she does.

On a more personal level, I lost a baby when I was 16 weeks along in my pregnancy. I got Sarah's grief. While my baby was not one I could hold and had spent quality time with, I know the feeling of loss and how long it lingers. For the record, 23 years later, I still think about that baby. It does leave a bit of a hollowness, and I fully got Sarah and really loved her story.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The James Beard Cookbook by James Beard

Release Date - March 2015 (Reissue)

James Beard
Open Road Media

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

James Beard was a talented chef, if you did not already know. If you haven't picked up any of his cookbooks, you're doing yourself an injustice. Personally, I think anyone who cooks should have a copy of The James Beard Cookbook. It's a comprehensive cookbook that covers every category possible and offers more tips than you could ever imagine.

The James Beard Cookbook is ideal for beginners, as it covers the basics like cooking an egg, which anyone should be able to do. It covers measurements, the equipment you should have in your kitchen, and important terminology. It goes into harder cooking techniques, too, such as cooking crepes or squabs. You'll find recipes for everything: meats, vegetables, desserts, appetizers, soups, breads, salads, fruits, seafood, dressings, and sauces.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

Release Date - June 23, 2015

Patti Callahan Henry
St. Martins Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I've read other Patti Callahan Henry books and loved every second of them. With The Idea of Love, I admit I struggled a bit more. However, given my past experiences with her books, I kept reading because I knew I was missing something.

Hunter Adderman, aka Hollywood screenwriter Blake Hunter,  is in a small coastal South Carolina town posing as a writer of history books. His last couple of movies were flops, and he's trying to find that one idea that screams blockbuster.

Ella Flynn, a local salesperson, spins a tale with Hunter/Blake about being a widow. She says her husband drowned trying to retrieve her hat that fell into the ocean. The truth is that her husband left her for her best friend's sister, but she'd rather have people believe she's a widow.

As the two get to know each other, they continue spinning their lies. They figure this is a brief romance, but soon enough they question if they really know what love is and if a relationship built on lies has any hope at being the real thing.

From the start, with all of the lies they tell each other, I started to question if I even cared if Hunter/Blake and Ella found their happily ever after. Ella seemed far too naive, especially in her place of work, and Hunter, well suffice it to say I really didn't like him.

Yet, as I kept reading, I started warming up to them. By the end of the book, I was glued to the pages. The problem remained getting there. For a good half of the book, I really didn't care and would have easily rated this book a two, two and a half. By the time I finished The Idea of Love, I had completely turned around. This is a very touching tale, but it's one that you are going to have to stick with it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery

Release Date - July 7, 2015

Lara Avery

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

She had the best of intentions. Kelsey Maxfield and her identical twin sister Michelle seem to have it all. Kelsey is a talented dancer, captain of her high school's dance team, and girlfriend to a college student. Michelle is a talented artist, a bit more of a rebel, and dating Peter, a young man who is about to be deployed. Kelsey's world shatters when Michelle dies in a car accident.

When letters from Peter arrive, Kelsey realizes she needs to tell him the truth. One night, when he calls Michelle, Kelsey sits down in front of the computer to reveal Michelle's death. However, she cannot bring herself to do it. Especially not when Peter says Michelle is the reason he's able to keep going. Instead, Kelsey begins to pose as Michelle, knowing someday she'll have to break his heart and tell the truth.

A Million Miles Away is a gripping read. While the reader knows what Kelsey is doing is wrong, it's hard to blame her. In her shoes, I think many would find it impossible to break the young soldiers heart when he's in the middle of a war. I leave it to the reader to see how it plays out. If you like young adult romances, you're going to be really hooked in this story.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell

Release Date - July 7, 2015

David Bell

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

It's just supposed to be a shopping trip. Nick Hansen is picking up the typical bachelor fare when he sees a woman who looks exactly like his former girlfriend, a woman who died in a tragic fire. He calls her name, and the woman drops everything she's carrying and runs off. Nick is stunned. Worse, police arrive the next morning to question him. The woman is dead, and Nick's name and address were found in her pocket.

Now the prime suspect in a baffling murder, With police focusing on him, he teams up with a college friend to discover the truth. Could his girlfriend possibly have survived the fire? If so, why has she remained hidden for 20 years?

Somebody I Used to Know is a book I read in one sitting. I had to know. I had my suspicions on what was really going on, though I was wrong, but it was still a delightful mystery that kept me on my toes. Nick's a really nice guy, that is clear from the start. I didn't like one of the former college friends, but Laurel, the woman who helps him investigate, is also likable. Those two make a great team and definitely helped keep me hooked.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Boo by Neil Smith

Release Date - May 2015

Neil Smith

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Boo is just 13 when he dies. He's always had a weak heart, so his death is understandable. He doesn't remember much of it. He was at his locker, studying the periodic table as usual, and the next thing he knows is he is in a strange bed, learning he is dead and in "Town," a place where all 13 year olds go when they die.

Town is an unusual place. He soon learns that everyone lives in their own realm filled only with people of the same age. As he settles in, another of his classmates appears with shocking news. Together, they set off to unravel the truth about their deaths.

So many books have a similar plot, and this can make it hard to get into some books. Boo is so unique that I dove in and couldn't stop reading. It's part teen fiction, part paranormal perhaps, but there's also the perplexing mystery regarding how the boys died that was the main attention-getter for me.

I definitely loved every minute of Boo and will be adding the author to my watch list!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Love and Miscommunication Contest

Back in May, I reviewed a fun book that I know has gotten a bit of buzz. You can read that review here: Love and Miss Communication

Now that you've read the review, go get Your own copy of Love and Miss Communication. You could be one of ten lucky winners to win your own Louis Vuitton business card holders!

Enter Here

Of course, there has to be rules.

Winners enter by Tweeting, Instagraming, or posting (Facebook) their favorite line from the book. Winners will be announced on July 3rd.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Luna Luna by Sam Ryan

Release Date - July 2013

Sam Ryan
Hazel Mitchell
Mascot Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

One night, young Roshi awakens to find the moon is much larger, much more colorful, and much lower in the sky than usual. Quietly, he tiptoes outside, gets his net, and sets off to capture the moon. Catching the moon is not quite as easy as he imagined, however.

Luna Luna is a cute children's book. It has some more challenging vocabulary for the advancing reader, such as words like "beckoned," "triumph," or "whither." But, with the pictures and length, I think it would be a great option for a child who is learning to read.

The illustrations are striking and capture the soothing feeling that a moonlit night does bring to many. Paired with the story, this is a book I'm glad I discovered and recommend it to parents and their children.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton

Release Date - April 2015

Nancy Atherton

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

It's been a while, but I have read a couple books from the Aunt Dimity series in the past and really enjoyed them. My aunt, however, was a huge fan and read the series over and over. I've always liked the thought of having much of the series revolve around the magical conversations between Lori and Aunt Dimity. I also know and love the appeal of life in a small British town, after all, my mom and her sisters all came from a tourist town on the North Sea coastline.

There's something weird going on in Finch. Cottages that are up for sale are sitting empty for far too long. Lori Shepherd cannot understand why, and with some gentle prodding from Aunt Dimity, she's going to look into it. After meeting a charming recluse who calls himself the Summer King, Lori is enamored. It isn't long, however, before she begins to suspect that this charming, friendly recluse, along with the help of a local realtor, may be part of the reason the area homes are just not selling.

In the latest, Aunt Dimity and the Summer King, Lori's definitely changed. Her newborn daughter has definitely changed her. At first, I liked the change, but soon I was sick of it. All of the... my perfect husband loves changing his perfect daughter's diapers. My daughter is perfect. My twin sons are perfect. My husband is perfect. My life is perfect. Did I mention how perfect my daughter is? I'm all for boasting about your kids. I know I certainly have. However, having it mentioned on almost every page got tiring.

There was another thing that started to bug me. Lori's father-in-law is preparing for his marriage in this book. They're all awaiting, stressfully might I add, the arrival of his sisters. I get how annoying they are to the family, but if they're really that bad and causing so much stress, why invite them at all? I wanted to love this latest book, but the truth is that all of the baby scenes and moaning about the aunts grew tiresome.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon

Release Date - May 2015

Frann Preston-Gannon

Book Review by Bob Walch

Here’s a simple board book for youngsters just beginning to discover the joy of turning pages and looking at picture books. Large, colorful illustrations of sea creatures are featured in this counting book that only goes up to “five”.

First, the child will discover a large Blue Whale followed by two green sea turtles and three Grey Dolphins. Finally there are four seahorses and five starfish plus a concluding page of a school of small fish.

This book will work nicely with children up to about the age of two or perhaps three who are ready to identify the pictured critters as well as beginning counting. I like the book because the pages are easy for little fingers to turn so the youngster can begin to get a feel for handling a book without adult assistance.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Delights & Prejudices by James Beard

Release Date - March 2015 (Reissue)

James Beard
Open Road Media

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Here is the cookbook that I'll be happy to say is my choice for "best of" so far in 2015. Yes, this is a reissue, but I'm betting many readers and cookbook addicts have missed it over the years. Delights & Prejudices is more than a cookbook, it's a story, a look at a man who made a name for himself in the culinary world. It's a book that I will be buying for my keeper shelf.

Part memoir, part cookbook, Delights & Prejudices shares Beard's recounts of his childhood. His mother's roles as cooks for area hotels and her progression to eventually owning her own hotel. He also discusses Let, his mother's Asian chef, a woman who helped raise him. Many of the recipes he shares in the cookbook/memoir are Let's recipes.

There are things that really hit home with me while reading Beard's book. First, I totally agree with him that home fries are something that should be so easy for chefs to make, yet so many completely botch them. I cannot count the number of times I've had breakfast in a restaurant and left really disappointed by the home fries. There are other things I learned, such as in his recipe for chicken salad - he separates the chicken and then starts the dark meat first and adds the white meat second.

There's one recipe that really stood out and is my goal for a weekend meal. The Drunken Roast of Pork sounds amazing. It sits in a marinade for a number of hours before it is roasted, and then that same red wine marinade is used to form the gravy. Yum!

Other stand-out recipes include crumpets (far superior to English muffins if you ask me), Parker House rolls, and his Paella recipe. If you want a solid collection of recipes and to learn more about chef who is world-renowned, Delights & Prejudices is a must!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

Release Date - January 2015

Matthew Reilly
Gallery Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

When anything says something along the lines of "in the tradition of Jurassic Park," you're going to have my attention. The book and movie are among my favorites and something I made sure to own. With The Great Zoo of China, I get the comparison, but there really is no comparison beyond the "creatures we didn't know existed now exist and are about to prove mankind a thing or two."

China's kind of tired of living in the United States' shadow, and they've finally found the thing they need to get them noticed - dragons. Dragons are real and they're about to put them on display for the world. Before the world can see them, however, a group of VIPs are asked to come tour the new "zoo" for themselves. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

There's the premise in a nutshell. Does it deliver? Yes. I actually found myself engrossed, but it never gripped me the same way Crichton's Jurassic Park did. It's a good story, but not something I'd put on my keeper shelf. I think one part of it was my connection with the characters. I fell in love with Alan Grant and his protective nature. I never connected the same way with CJ, a National Geographic writer. She's likable, but not someone I'll remember months from now.

All in all, I think how much you get from The Great Zoo of China is going to depend on how steadfast a fan you are of the Jurassic Park novel and movie. With my passion for Crichton's book, it's really kind of hard to move on to something of a similar theme and not hold it to a higher standard. I admit I really wanted to be wowed, and while the writing was solid, the characters just never thrilled me as much.

As Waters Gone By by Cynthia Ruchti

Release Date - May 2015

Cynthia Ruchti
Abingdon Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Living on a remote island on Lake Michigan seems to be exactly what Emmalyn Ross needs. Her husband's in jail, her dreams of becoming a mother are in tatters, and all she wants is to start anew in a place that no one knows her. She sells their home and turns her focus to restoring a waterfront hunting cottage.

It's on the island that Emmalyn begins to realize what she really wants. With the guidance of the quirky owner of Wild Inn and Cafe, Emmalyn's new life begins to take shape. And it's about to lead her down paths she never imagined.

First, this novel has Christian tones, which I wasn't aware of until I was into the book. I liked the characters, but I was baffled as to why Emmalyn's dreams of becoming a mother were over just because of what her husband did to wind up in jail. That's a key theme in the book and one I could never quite wrap my head around. Despite that niggle, I still found myself glued to the story.

I think a good portion of my enjoyment in this story comes from the setting and the inn's owner, Boozie, was probably my favorite character. I wouldn't mind seeing Boozie get her own story in the future.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Stuck in the Passing Lane by Jed Ringel

Release Date - June 1, 2015

Jed Ringel
About Face Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

In Stuck in the Passing Lane, author Jed Ringel recounts his attempts at dating following his divorce. Rather than fall into the same patterns that led to his lengthy, yet failed marriage, he goes outside his comfort zone and begins dating women the newly-single Jewish man would usually avoid. Sometimes it leads to some very humorous moments that will have readers snickering.

Honestly, I found myself less entranced with the dating trials and tribulations than with Jed's interactions with his daughters. It was those moments when I found myself feeling emotionally involved in the story. Perhaps, my disinterest in the dating aspect was because I'm happily married and have been for almost 24 years, so I just haven't been in Jed's shoes for a long, long time.

In the end, I feel that Stuck in the Passing Lane will appeal to those who understand the ins and outs of dating in today's world. I, however, simply liked his moments as a father far more.

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...