Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hot Toy by Jennifer Crusie

Release Date - October 2015

Jennifer Crusie
St. Martins

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Short and sweet, Hot Toy is perfect for filling in time between holiday baking sessions and errands, The thing with Hot Toy is that it is really short. It's a novella that appeared in 2006's Santa Baby anthology. I read it in half an hour.

Trudy is determined to get the hot toy of the season for her nephew, especially knowing his lousy father promised the boy and then put no effort into finding one. Not only is this toy turning out to be impossible to find, but Trudy's former date, a man who never called her again, shows up seeking the exact same toy. Miracles do occur and with some determined searching, Trudy finds one toy left, but that leads to more chaos than she could ever imagine. Chaos that threatens to put her in the middle of a major investigation.

Jennifer Crusie's story contains plenty of humor, sparks of romance, and lots of fun. It's just so short that it seemed over and done before it really ever began. I ended up wishing I could have more time with Trudy, her family, and Logan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

Release Date - July 2015

Amanda Panitch
Random House

Book Review by Jessica Maguire

I'm guessing that young adult readers, ages 14 and up, will enjoy this novel as much as I did. Lucy Black is an interesting and intriguing protagonist. Sure, she's just an ordinary teenager, living with her parents, going to school, and catching the eye of the school's hottest guy. Or so it seems.

Nothing in this novel turns out to be quite what it appears to be. Lucy didn't start out life as Lucy. In another time, another place, she was Julia Vann and Julia had twin brother. But a tragedy left Julia an only child.

Just as Julia is finally getting used to being Lucy and getting settled into her new life, a person from her past shows up and starts following her. Lucy is terrified and wants to know why this figure from her past has returned.

But what is Lucy so scared of? What horrible secrets does her past hold? I won't tell you! But what I will tell you is that it may not be what you think and the truth will leave you intrigued and surprised.

This well written, intelligent, psychological thriller was one I finished in one sitting; I just couldn't put it down. Little clues here and there brought out my inner sleuth as I tried to figure out what Lucy's dark secrets were and how the story would play out. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories by Craig Johnson

Release Date - October 27, 2015

Craig Johnson

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Longmire fans who have already binged on the latest season and all the books will be delighted by this collection of stories from the sheriff's life. Wait for Signs features a dozen short stories based on Walt's past and present, and each one is a delight.

I admit I only discovered Longmire this summer, and I binge watched every season, including season 4. The chemistry between the characters is sublime. Those same relationships carry through in the books, though there are differences between the television show and the books. I found those differences easy to adjust to, however, so it wasn't that big a deal.

With a dozen short stories, it didn't take long to work my way through Wait for Signs. While I could mention them all, I wanted to focus on my favorites.

Hands down, Ministerial Aid was my favorite story in the collection. This story captures the very essence of what I find so endearing with Walt. Let's just say I snickered when he taught the county a lesson on the price of a stamp vs. gas. When he was called in on a rather unusual case during his travels, I couldn't stop reading. Once finished, I read it again because it was that good.

Slick-Tongued Devil is another story that I really enjoyed. It captures Walt's wit, as well as his kindness. He's a lot nicer in this tale than I would have been given the circumstances. It takes place after his wife's death and involves a Bible salesman who has Martha's Bible order.

What happens when a car of Hasidic Jews forget to pay for their gas is not as you would expect. Walt understands forgetting to pay once, but these guys cannot seem to get it right. Walt's got his hands full in High Holidays.

I laughed so hard during Messenger. Put together a group of hungry bears, an owl, and an outhouse, and you're in for a gem.

All of your favorite characters are in Wait for Signs. Catch up with Henry Standing Bear, Vic, and Cady, as well as with Walt. Fans won't want to miss this one, and it's a great way for newbies to get to know Walt.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chaos Theory by M. Evonne Dobson

Release Date - February 2015

M. Evonne Dobson
The Poisoned Pencil

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Chaos Theory is the first in a teen mystery series featuring 17-year-old Kami, her best friends, and a "bad boy" who was sent away after his sister overdosed. In addition, Kami's beloved grandmother died, and that's left Kami reeling. She sees the opportunity to figure out what really happened to Daniel's sister and clear Daniel's name.

There are things I loved about Chaos Theory. Each of the characters was well developed and likable. Yet, I often found myself questioning the reality. As a parent of a 19 year old, there's no way at 17 that I would have let her put herself in harm's way to go undercover and find a drug dealer. I just can't imagine parents like Kami's agreeing to that.

That said, that's not something that most teens will think about when reading this story. I think it will have great appeal with readers who are looking for a modern day, slightly edgier Nancy Drew.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Content, Inc. by Joe Pulizzi

Release Date - September 2015

Joe Pulizzi
McGraw-Hill Education

Content marketing is something I have spent years doing. Not for myself, but I work with website design and management firms to create SEO content for their sites. Therefore, I was interested to hear what Joe Pulizzi, CEO of CopyBlogger, had to say. First off, I love his approachable, honest writing style. That drew me in.

The book is broken into eight main parts:

  • Starting the Journey
  • The Sweet Spot
  • The Content Tilt
  • Building the Base
  • Harvesting Audience
  • Diversification
  • Monetization
  • Next-Level Content

Most of his advice is spot on and I learned a thing or two along the way. Personally, I prefer working with another company, so I'm happy where I am. But if you want to do it all yourself, this is a must-read business guide. I found myself taking notes along the way, especially with guides to helpful calendar apps and programs, I've yet to find one I love, so I stick to Google's calendar, but I don't love it.

There are times I disagree with what is said, but that's all part of human nature. Google's algorithm changes haven't always brought the best content to the top. As someone who spends day in and day out researching material, I can say that Penguin and Panda brought some real duds to the top. For example, one site that comes up in the top five when I search "hotel reservations" comes up with a site that until recently was filled with 301 errors and even today the blog is a blank page. That's not useful to me, yet Google thinks it is. I've often found that researching in Yahoo after looking in Google often leads to better results.

For anyone in SEO writing, content marketing, and even working as a blogger, Content, Inc. is still a valuable tool that you should have in your permanent collection.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Undertow by Michael Buckley

Release Date - May 2015

Michael Buckley
HMH Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

At 16, the last thing any teen needs is to fear her entire family being arrested. For Lyric, that is her biggest fear. The world she's living in isn't the world that used to be, not since a huge number of sea people called Alphas, came out of the ocean at Coney Island and prove to be the biggest threat the world has ever faced. Even worse, the President has made it clear that this new race will be allowed into schools, and that's not going over well.

Things couldn't possibly get more dangerous, until Lyric is forced to befriend the Alpha prince attending her school. Now taunted by her peers for being a "fish lover," she does what she can to do what she's been told to do without getting killed by the humans who are most adamantly against Alphas being part of their community. When she begins falling for Fathom, she realizes that she's in way over her head, and there may be no way to stop things.

I am not usually a sci-fi/fantasy kind of gal, but I loved this book. It was a definite luxury to me to stay in bed until almost 8 a.m. while reading, but I couldn't stop. I loved Lyric's strength, and enjoyed every page where she and Fathom were forced to spend time together.

Undertow has multiple layers when it comes to the plot. There is the fear between humans and the unusual Alphas, many of whom have knife-like bones that they can push from their skin at any given moment. There's the racism layer with humans refusing to allow this new race to be part of their community, even if it means causing mayhem in the process. Then there is Lyric's best friend who is in an abusive situation and needs Lyric to keep her both sane and safe. Finally, you do have the friendship and budding romance between Lyric and Fathom, and I really enjoyed how realistic that was.

This is the first book in a series, so don't expect everything to be summed up by the end of the book. I was definitely left wanting to know more and see how things would play out in both Coney Island where the action takes place and the rest of the world.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Jeanne Willis and Joel Stewart

Release Date - May 2015

Jeanne Willis
Joel Stewart
Candlewick Press

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon offers an unusual “take” on traditional familiar nursery rhymes. Where most readers might see just a child’s nursery rhyme, Jeanne Willis envisions a medical emergency, which means that in this picture book the Storyland ambulance and medics must rush to the scene to take care of the characters with bumps and bruises.

For example, when the cow tries to jump over the moon, she trips and falls, grazing her knees and chipping a hoof. Then there’s a little mishap involving Rock-a-Bye -Baby. The wind breaks the branch she is rocking on and Baby and her rocking bed falls into a compost heap. She isn’t hurt, fortunately, but the infant now needs a bath.

And so it goes. Humpty Dumpty takes a fall and Little Boy Blue is taking a nap when a stack of hay topples over onto him. It seems to be just one thing after another, but the ambulance crew is always able to take care of the problem.

Granted this is a silly extension of some classic tales, but young readers will probably think this is a hilarious book; so if it can elicit some laughter, all the better! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

If the Shoe Fits by Sandra D. Bricker

Release Date - May 2013

Sandra D. Bricker
River North

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

If the Shoe Fits is meant to be a take of the classic Cinderella tale, but it has a bit of a twist that makes it unique. Prince Charming in this case is a mystery man. Julianne is on her way to court when she almost hits the car in front of her, and before she knows it, some tall, handsome man is running into the road to rescue a dog that's just been hit. She's certain he could be her knight in shining armor, but he's in his truck and driving away before she can even process things. All that's left behind is the man's tool box and one work boot.

Will has been Julianne's best friend since they were 10. He's fallen for her, but she considers them friends and business partners, nothing more, nothing less. As much as Will would love to be so much more to Julianne, her new goal is to find the mystery man and prove that he is Mr. Right. Much to Will's dismay, it may well be time to move on with his life and get over the only woman he has truly ever loved.

As much as I love romances, I had tried and failed to read If the Shoe Fits many times. Julianne's quest to find Mr. Right came off as too perfect, with her focusing on his looks so hard that she really failed to see at just about any point that the man could well be a dud. Will dotes so much at times that I had to wonder about him too. There comes a point where you have to realize that if someone doesn't want you, you need to move on. Will seemed to be missing the big "move on" hint, even when he had other potential love interests.

My biggest niggle in the story was another lawyer who deems herself Julianna's nemesis. She suddenly appears, and I couldn't figure out why. Leave her out of the book and there still would have been plenty of conflict between Will and Julianne. I didn't like her, couldn't see why she was integral to the story, and therefore I struggled to stay interested.

In the end, this is not my favorite romance. It had potential, but I never cared enough for the characters to be avidly reading. In fact, it was the potential romance between Julianne's mom and Will's dad that ended up being the reason I kept going.

Friday, October 9, 2015

An Endless Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

Release Date - October 13, 2015

Cynthia Ruchti

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

An Endless Christmas kicks off my start to the holiday reading season. This is a very quick-to-read, heartwarming tale of love, family, and the holiday spirit.

Meeting her boyfriend's entire family in one shot is stressful enough, but Katie never expects Micah to propose to her as soon as they walk in the door. Surrounded by strangers, Katie has to break Micah's heart and tell him no.

Surprisingly, Katie still finds herself taken into Micah's family's home and treated to one of the most memorable holiday seasons ever.

This is a charming story, though it did turn a little too preachy for my own personal tastes a couple of times. It is a religious novel, however, so I can't blame it. I just have this thing with having religion thrown into the story in a manner in which it pulls me from the story.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Woman With a Secret by Sophie Hannah

Release Date - August 2015

Sophie Hannah
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

Thanks to the Internet you can create a fantasy world and relationships with individuals you never expect to actually meet in a face to face situation. For Nicki Clements this provides the opportunity to enjoy a secret life quite different from the one she lives with her husband and children.

Nicki’s online email “connection” is with a man who wants her to share a secret or two she’s never divulged to anyone else. Perhaps because of the anonymity of the situation or because she has an urge to unburden herself , Nicki agrees. Granted this is perhaps not a sound idea, but once the emails begin flying back and forth, Nicki is hooked and becomes quite candid with information that’s been locked away for quite some time.

Then disaster strikes in a way Nicki never imagined. She is arrested for the murder of her correspondent, a man she has never met face to face. Although she isn’t guilty of this crime, Nicki’s secrets and deceptions are now about to be laid bare for everyone to see.

As the police try to get to the bottom of this intriguing crime it becomes obvious that although the principal suspect may not be guilty of the homicide she is charged with, there are things in her past that make her far from being an “innocent” bystander.

The nature of secrets is questioned in this psychological thriller that underscores that everyone has a secret or two that should not be shared with anyone no matter how compelling the reason may be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd

Release Date - October 6, 2015

Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Kids

There's something to be said about a children's picture book that captures both an artistic and educational aspect. The text sizes and simple word choices make it easy for a child to read without even knowing they are reading. Words like "big" and "bear" are paired with illustrations that clearly demonstrate exactly what those words are. This makes it an ideal choice for the child just learning to read.

The artistic nature is what impressed me just as much. The author/illustrator sticks to three colors in Big Bear Little Chair - red, white, and black. The white and black may combine to form gray, but generally those are the three colors you'll find. It becomes very pleasing to the eye and made this book stand out. Usually, I'd say if my children were still little, this would be a definite addition to my shelf. In this case, I can say that my daughter who is studying graphic design at Champlain College took the book as a demonstration on how you don't need to have a lot of color to make something really pop.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Crooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Release Date - August 2015

Barbara Taylor Sissel
Lake Union Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

A devastating fall left Lauren Wilder with injuries and a dependence on pain killers. Numerous counseling sessions later, Lauren believes she has ended her dependency on these drugs, but memory lapses often have her doubting herself. All of this becomes a focal point when Lauren almost hits a young man while driving. She stops to make sure he's okay, and his response, while slightly unusual, makes her call the police to do a welfare check. When she spies him getting into the car with a woman he clearly knows, she thinks all is okay.

Days later, Lauren learns the young man is missing, and she's the last person police can confirm he spoke to. Lauren's memory gaps become alarming to her. As police start eyeing her as a suspect, she urgently looks into the case on her own to discover the truth behind everything she saw that day and what really happened to Bo Laughlin.

Crooked Little Lies is general fiction, perhaps better categorized as women's fiction, but there is also a strong element of mystery to it. I did feel an urgency to unravel what happened to Bo. The issue became the subplots. So much is going on that I felt it often distracted from the mystery I wanted to explore. Lauren and her husband are on the verge of bankruptcy, so some chapters would focus more on their arguments. There are the snippets with Lauren's sister and her troubles. The character I probably liked most, Bo's sister, also tended to stray a bit from the disappearance, leaning more towards her work, her possible romance with a local man, and even her car troubles.

I'd find myself skimming through the sections to get back to the mystery regarding Bo. That part of the story had me hooked from the very beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed Bo's mystery the most.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Check Out These Action-Packed Board Books

Release Date - September 2015

Betsy Snyder
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I Can Play and I Can Dance are two new releases from Betsy Snyder. These board books have holes where parents and their children can put their fingers to act out the action taking place on the pages. Whether they're dancing the ballet, showing off their disco moves, kicking a soccer ball, or running a race, little fingers keep moving with each page.

Illustrations are bright and colorful, definitely something kids and their parents will appreciate. The story itself is enjoyable with easy phrases for beginning readers and not too many words that children will become bored before the story ends. Purchased separately or as a set, these books are ideal for children who are nearing the age where they are ready to read.

Peek-a Boo! by Nina Laden

Release Date - August 2015

Nina Laden
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Small and very sturdy, Peek-a Boo! is the latest toddler/board book by Nina Laden. The narrative is very short and ideal for the target age group - preschoolers. Plus, it's perfectly timed for the arrival of Halloween that's just a few weeks away.

Ghosts, bubbling cauldrons, jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treaters, and more take place in this book. Each page begins with the words "peek-a" and then embraces what is behind the cut out, all while celebrating autumn's and Halloween's typical decor. Celebrate the season with this gem that's perfect for the child who is just about ready to start reading.

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...