Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

Release Date - September 29, 2015

Virginia Baily
Hatchette Book Group

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

WWII is affecting so many, and for Chiara Ravello, it's destroyed much of her family, leaving her to care for her sister, a girl prone to seizures. Her plan is to flee Rome and go live away from the battles in her grandparents' country home.

Chiara's world changes when she spies a mother and her young son being pushed onto trucks bound for concentration camps. Chiara announces that boy belongs to her sister and takes him from his mother. The plan to spare his life works, but her sister and even the boy are resentful of her actions.

Move forward to the 1970s in Wales. Sixteen-year-old Maria is floored when she learns the father she knows isn't her father at all. Her actual father is an Italian named Daniele Levi. Maria contacts the woman she believes was a landlady to her real father, Chiara Ravello, and wants to know as much about her father as she can get from Chiara.

Early One Morning is one of those books that fascinated me, but was also not easily read in one sitting. It required some processing to think about what I'd read and decide how I felt about it. I liken it to the difference between drinking something like a Bud and then switching to something with far more depth, like a complex IPA. You just can't rush it.

Time, history, and human emotions all have a part in Early One Morning. This ended up not being a book I could rush. Best put, it's a book meant to be savored and reflected upon.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pattern of Lies: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd

Release Date - August 2015

Charles Todd
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

On leave and back in England, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford finds that a short visit to the home of a former patient, Mark Ashton, turns into another crime investigation for the amateur sleuth.

The Ashtons owned a gunpowder mill in a village in Kent that mysteriously blew up, killing over 100 workers. Now two years later, the family is having to deal with the threatening behavior of the locals who blame the Ashtons for the disaster. Things get even more critical when the head of the household, Philip, is arrested and charged with causing the explosion.

Bess has stumbled into a hornet’s nest of intrigue but knows that her friend’s parents are not to blame for what happened. Someone has decided to not only turn the locals against the family but also makes sure someone goes to prison for the accidental explosion.

The answer to who is seeking revenge lies back in France and as Bess tries to track down the person who may hold the answer to why this is happening, she places her own live in jeopardy. A couple of murders underscore the fact that Bess is getting too close to uncovering the truth and her hidden adversary has set his sights on silencing Beth too.

Set during the First World War, the atmospheric suspense stories in this series have generated a lot of interest. A growing group of avid readers are finding these well written novels with their engaging characters quite enticing and definitely worth following.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

Release Date - April 2015

Henry Turner
Houghton Mifflin

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Billy Zeets helped catch a serial killer and he's ready to share his story. The teenager pilots every moment of Ask the Dark, sharing his insight into the things he saw, the people he knows, and the lifestyle he leads, like it or not.

I adored Billy. The mom in me wanted to hug him, the reader in me was engaged from the start. Billy's mom died, and he's a handful to say the least. To keep his dad from losing the family home, Billy takes any odd job he can find, skips school regularly, and winds up in the path of a killer. You'll be avidly reading to find out everything you can about Billy and the things he faces.

Geared for teens, the language used is brutally honest and very gripping. This is a great start to a series I cannot wait to keep reading.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sunday Dinner: Coming of Age in the Segregated South by Ann Boult Walling

Release Date - July 2015


Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I admit that my draw to Sunday Dinner: Coming of Age in the Segregated South was mainly for the old-time recipes. I love to cook, but it's the recipes handed down from my grandmother that are the most cherished. I hoped I'd find the same joy from Sunday Dinner.

Author Ann Boult Walling shares her own family recipes and stories in this memoir. At first I feared the recipes I'd hoped for were absent, but they are given at the end of the book, there is not an abundance, but there are recipes I can't wait to try, such as peach preserves, scalloped asparagus, and "White Salad."

The majority of this memoir shares the author's family stories from the early history of her grandmother's home, including photos, to the 1950s when segregation ended. Photos are scattered throughout, along with very touching stories.

That said, I've often wondered how far interest in a story will stretch. I'm by no means a history buff, so my interest in the story beyond the recipes became limited. The stories are engaging, but as a northerner who grew up well after segregation, I didn't really feel connected to the time or location. If you enjoy history, however, I do think you'll love every moment of Ann Boult Walling's memoir.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fishbowl: A Novel by Bradley Somer

Release Date - August 2015

Bradley Somer
St. Martin's Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The protagonist in Bradley Somer's Fishbowl is quite surprising. Ian is a goldfish, and he's about to plummet out of a 27th story window. As he rockets to the pavement below, he spies the lives of the people living in Seville on Roxy, an apartment building.

There's Connor Radley, Ian's owner. Connor seems to have it all, yet having it all doesn't seem to be enough for him. His girlfriend, Katie, and his lover, Faye, are in his thoughts the day Ian leaves the safety of his bowl. Herman, a homeschooled boy of 11, believes in time travel. Claire is an agoraphobic sex phone operator. She hasn't left her apartment in years and has no intention on opening the door when someone knocks at it. Garth is a construction worker with a secret. Petunia Delilah is on bed rest in the final trimester of her pregnancy and stress is the last thing she needs, yet it seems to be exactly what she's facing.

Each of these residents of Seville on Roxy is going to find they may live separate lives, but they all have ties that will bring them close to another over the course of the day. What becomes of each resident becomes increasingly important as the story progresses. For a read that I wasn't sure what to think of at first, I quickly became hooked.

Of all the characters, I do think that Petunia Delilah became my favorite. That woman is tough as nails. I also really enjoyed and empathized with Claire. I've dealt with agoraphobia and it can be incredibly crippling. I'd say she just about equals Petunia's grit.

If you're looking for something a little different, something with a touch of romance, suspense, mystery, and humor, Fishbowl: A Novel is exactly right. I'm so glad I read it and got to know each and every resident of Seville on Roxy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Desert God: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Wilbur Smith

Release Date - October 2014

Book Review by Bob Walch

Wilbur Smith’s novels set in ancient Egypt have appealed to readers who enjoy visiting the time period and relish action packed adventures. This latest effort, though, is a mixed bag.

Taita, a former slave and adviser to the Pharaoh, narrates this lengthy story which will revolve around preserving the kingdom by destroying the Hyksos army and forming an alliance with Crete.

An extremely egotistical hero, you’ll get the sense that Taita is the sole protector of the empire and its very continued existence rests entirely on his shoulders. That may well be true, but one tires of being continually reminded of the fact!

Although there’s plenty of action in this historical adventure you’ll have to withhold judgment of its protagonist and some of his associates because, all in all, these are not very attractive or likable individuals.

If you’ve read Smith’s previous novels you might wish to give this one a try, but new readers may not have the patience to put up with the inflated ego of the central character. The reviews of  Desert God have been all over the spectrum but there are more negative and lukewarm reactions than extremely positive ones.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Art of Crash Landing: A Novel (P.S.) by Melissa DeCarlo

Release Date - September 8, 2015

Melissa DeCarlo

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Her mother's dead. Her latest relationship is over. Mattie Wallace isn't sure where to go or what to do next. With her trash bags in tow, she heads to her step-father's trailer, but he's dealing with his own things and Mattie knows she cannot stay with him forever, especially not when she's pregnant and has no job, no money, and no clear future. When she learns her grandmother is dead and that Mattie is the only heir, she heads off to Gandy, Oklahoma, to talk to the lawyer who keeps calling her.

In Gandy, Mattie learns that the mother she knew was not at all the woman who grew up here. Mattie becomes determined to unravel the truth and find out what happened in Gandy that changed her mother from a vibrant, music-loving teen to a woman who clearly could not keep herself together.

The Art of Crash Landing is Melissa DeCarlo's first novel, and it's definitely one I am so glad I did not miss. Though Mattie makes some horrible decisions, it's hard to find fault with her, especially as you begin to learn more through flashbacks. I found myself rooting for her, even when the town seemed to hold things against her for wanting to know about her ancestors.

There's a touch of romance in the novel, though it never takes center stage. This is clearly a book that is geared for women and one about finding yourself. It's brutally honest and very emotional. I really enjoyed every moment.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

Release Date - August 2015

F.H. Batacan
Soho Crime

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Smaller and Smaller Circles begins with the discovery of a boy's body. He's been found in Payatas, a dump where people live and survive on what they can find. The teen has been murdered in a most disturbing fashion, and he's not the first. Other male teens are meeting similar fates. Father Saenz, a forensic anthropologist, and Father Lucero, a psychologist, are asked to help stop the killer.

At times very gruesome, Smaller and Smaller Circles is definitely gripping. It took me a few chapters to settle in to who the characters were, including the killer whose voice is also heard. The setting (Philippines) is so very well written. I felt like I was there. The characters were equally appealing, particularly Father Saenz. He's the type of guy I wouldn't mind inviting to dinner for the conversations that I know would happen.

In the end, the only bummer is that I pegged the killer relatively early in the book. It seemed very headline story to me. That wasn't enough to keep me from finishing the novel, but I do hate when I'm able to peg the killer early on.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Superhero Comic Kit by Jason Ford

Release Date - September 2015

Laurence King Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Inspiring a kid's creativity should be any parents' goal. Therefore, I  highly recommend Jason Ford's The Superhero Comic Kit. There are 10 comics within this 80-page book. Each comic starts with a story and one of Jason Ford's superheroes. The rest is for children to imagine.

Starting with the superhero, children are told to color the hero, given instructions to help them draw the hero, and then create their own characters and finish telling the story. It's a stunning book, one that I immediately recommended to my son's girlfriend. She's a teacher of children with special needs, and her students love activities of this nature. If her students like it, I'm game to buy half of the copies she needs, and I'm pretty sure I can get friends to get the rest.

I highly recommend The Superhero Comic Kit to anyone who wants to spur a child's imagination. My only hope is that additional books of this nature will be released for the child who needs a little guidance with the art and storylines.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The After House by Michael Phillip Cash

Release Date - September 2014

Michael Phillip Cash

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Her marriage is over, her husband's moved on with his new family, but his abusive tendencies have Remy Galway moving her daughter to the coastal town of Cold Spring Harbor. The moment she moves into her 300-year-old house, Remy senses there is something lurking within the home. When someone, perhaps something, begins targeting her home, Remy is left to wonder just what she's gotten herself into.

The After House is a ghost story told from the perspective of the ghost. It takes place in two time periods, present day and back when Captain Eli, the ghost, was away from home on his whaling ship.

Any thoughts of this being a horror novel, as I first though, were quickly tossed aside. This is a paranormal with a touch of romance. It's a fun read, though there were things I couldn't figure out. I liked Captain Eli a lot. The two ghosts watching over him, however, seemed unnecessary to me. I liked Remy, though she seemed a little naive, and her daughter Olivia was a precocious gem.

In the end, I did enjoy Captain Eli's story and, by connection, Remy's too. It's not a long read, I had it finished in an hour, but it is a great escape from the stresses of life.

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...