Thursday, December 31, 2015

Welcome to Crossroads, Texas: Setting for Ransom Canyon

Jodi Thomas brings a new community to life in her August 2015 release titled Ransom Canyon. A number of characters get to tell their story in this atmospheric romance of sorts. There is a prequel that also came out in August, but at 50 pages, Winter's Camp sets things up at the Kirkland ranch and Ransom Canyon completes them.

Staten Kirkland does what his father did not do. Staten runs the family ranch, while his father is busy being a Washington politician. Staten loves his work, he loves his ranch, and it's always been the perfect distraction for Staten. You see, Staten's wife died years ago, and that tragic loss was followed by the death of Staten's son. The only thing keeping Staten from breaking down is his relationship with his deceased wife's best friend, Quinn.

Quinn's loved Staten for as long as she can remember. Being Staten's shelter in the storm is enough for Quinn. After all, she is being chased by her own demons.

Also earning his place in Ransom Canyon is Yancy Grey. Released from prison, Yancy is ready to start anew, but his first day out isn't ideal. Someone steals the backpack filled with the only belongings he has. When the elderly residents of Crossroads, Texas, take Yancy under their wing. He finds himself with friends, a job, a place to live, and a community that's making him feel like he's finally found a home. As he develops feelings for a local nurse, Yancy's past comes back and threatens all he's gained.

Finally, there's Lucas Reyes. All he wants is to earn enough money to go to college and follow his dreams. Saving the sheriff's daughter wasn't in the cards, nor was letting a peer take all the credit. Lucas doesn't care though, that one night has changed his life.

Throughout this MIRA release, you'll get to know each of these characters, as well as a number of other townspeople. I grew to love the town, and I definitely became fond of each character. Yancy is probably my favorite as he had the most to lose.

I've been a fan of Jodi Thomas for years, and I've enjoyed many of her historical and contemporary romances. This one had romantic aspects, but there was so much more to it. A bit of mystery, a touch of action, and characters I definitely want to see in future novels.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sophie Littlefield - The Guilty One

I loved author Sophie Littlefield's House of Glass and Garden of Stones. Her August 2015 Gallery Books release, The Guilty One, is another thought-provoking novel.

Housewife and mother Maris never expects her world to turn upside down. Since her daughter's murder, her marriage is done. Her sister is expecting her to move in, but Maris doesn't know what she wants. Getting through each day is a challenge enough. When the father of the young man who allegedly killed Maris's daughter calls her from the Golden Gate Bridge, Maris drives to the bridge to stop him from killing himself.

This kicks Maris into action. She leaves her home, heads out on her own, and ends up in an area that's nothing like people would expect of her. She also ends up befriending people who are not people Maris would usually associate with. As she spends time with this new crowd, in a new area, Maris is able to find herself.

I cannot say I liked The Guilty One as much as I liked House of Glass, but it is equally thought-provoking and had me wondering how I would handle that situation. I cannot imagine having to pick up the pieces if I was in Maris's shoes, or from the other POV, as the alleged murderer's father. Both are tough situations. One thing became certain, Sophie Littlefield has now intrigued me with three books, and she's clearly an author I need to pay attention to.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Debut from Andria Williams

The Longest Night (January 12, 2016) is the debut novel from Andria Williams. It's set in the 1950s, which makes it historical to me, but to some it may be a blast from the past. Paul and Nat Collier leave San Diego for Idaho Falls. There, Paul will work at a local nuclear plant, while Nat is to raise their daughters and become part of the military community. It isn't long before Paul realizes the issues with the plant and, perhaps more troubling, the knowledge that he's supposed to keep it quiet.

When Paul is sent to the Arctic for confronting his superior, a pregnant Nat is left in Idaho Falls with no real friends and two young girls to care for. When her car breaks down, she befriends a local mechanic, something definitely frowned upon in this era, so Nat is forced to keep her meetings with Esrom secret.

As The Longest Night ended up being a study of the times and what was expected of Paul, a military member, and Nat, a headstrong woman. Nat simply cannot understand why women cannot be adventurous and why it's so wrong for a man and woman to be friends without it meaning something more. I liked that. I actually appreciated Nat's character,and thought of how some things have changed so much, but some things never change. I was friends with my neighbor in the 1990s, and I'd hear comments about how unnatural it was for a single dad and married woman to be close friends. It was more that we were both home during the day with our kids. It didn't have to mean anything untoward, yet people tried to make more of it than was there.

Andria Williams' debut novel isn't a book I expected to like as much as I did. The setting is well developed. I felt as though I was part of this community. I also liked the characters and the issues they all face. With the touch of history, intriguing characters, and sense of impending doom with the reactor, this book kept me reading well into the night.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Holidays

Hope everyone has a happy holiday season. Plenty of merriment, time with loved ones, and relaxation.

Those of us in the east are having a snow-free, very warm Christmas. First time I've ever gotten my idea of what winter should be like. for those who miss it, here's a picture from last year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jackie Bouchard's Rescue Me, Maybe

Released in August 2015, Rescue Me, Maybe shares the tale of Jane Bailey. Newly widowed, Jane is embarrassed to say that it's her beloved beagle she misses more than her husband. She's hiding that she fell out of love with him some time ago. Her mother-in-law takes over the funeral, doing things Ryan would have hated, and Jane doesn't have the energy to fight. The loss of her beagle has left her empty.

Philadelphia was Ryan's plan, so Jane's heading back to San Diego where her friends and former life are. She agrees, albeit a bit begrudgingly, to stop in Prescott, Arizona, and help run her aunt and uncle's bed and breakfast while they go across country. Two things happen. One, during her trip, Jane finds a beautiful stray, even though a replacement dog is the last thing she needs. Two, Jane finds herself enjoying Prescott, even if the guests are generally pains in the butt and the hunky handyman next door is getting on her nerves. As much as she finds herself fitting in, she knows this is only a temporary stop.

I enjoyed this book, In fact, when my pets woke me up at 1:30 a.m., I opted to finish it rather than try to go back to sleep. This is always a good sign. I liked Jane, though her mother-in-law was an unbearable character who drove me batty. I liked Jane's father-in-law, and really enjoyed the people she becomes friends with in Prescott. By the time the book ended, I wasn't really ready for it to end and hope Jane might find herself in another book in the future as I'd like to know how she's doing.

Jackie Bouchard gets one thing so perfectly that I found myself snickering. Some of the guests who barge into Jane's kitchen struck me as very realistic. In fact, a few of them reminded me of a situation I witnessed. My husband and I went to our favorite restaurant for our anniversary. The couple next to us started complaining to the waiter that the man was lactose intolerant, so they needed a list of ingredients put into the mashed potatoes because he really wanted mashed potatoes and refused to have the rice or baked potato. The waiter did an amazing job stating there was butter and sour cream in the mashed, and the guy threw a fit saying he wanted mashed and that the chef should make a dairy-free batch for him. This same couple then went to the salad bar, got their salad, and returned. The man had taken the creamy peppercorn dressing (white and creamy) and hoped their was no dairy in it. At that point, we knew he was being a jerk. In the book, Jane gets some equally frustrating guests. I loved one scene and cheered her on!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bricking It: New Novel from Nick Spalding

Imagine inheriting a large farmhouse in the British countryside. Now imagine finding the house is in horrid condition. That's exactly what happens to brother and sister Dan and Hayley Daley. They never knew their grandmother owned a house. They also have no idea how they'll be able to sell it in the state it's in. When Hayley learns renovating the house will drastically raise the amount they can sell it for, she and Dan start the tedious path of home renovations.

Along the way, Dan and Hayley begin working with a quirky architect with little to no fashion sense, a contractor who isn't as he seems, and even the host of a popular television series involving home renovations. There's even a mystery cow that comes and goes and finds herself in the oddest of places.

Nick Spalding dishes up humor, as well as a dose of the harsh realities that come with home building and renovations. I'm not sure I'd count this as a keeper, but it was definitely a humorous, enjoyable read while it lasted.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Summer on Lover's Island - Cute Romance That Left Me With One Minor Complaint

Maine may not be my home, but it should be. Yearly trips to Bailey Island, Saco, Ogunquit, Wells, or York have been going on for as long as I can remember. I love it there and always feel sad when it's time to leave. Donna Alward's Jewell Cove novels always take me back to the coast, even if I'm not really there. The setting in Summer on Lover's Island is just part of this romance's allure.

Lizzie Howard's fast-lane lifestyle has gotten the best of her. She's in Jewell Cove to temporarily take over for her best friend Charlie who is weeks away from giving birth. As one of the town's two doctors, Charlie knows a replacement is necessary and she thinks Lizzie is perfect for the job. Lizzie, however, is used to the fast pace of an ER, so this is only temporary.

The other doctor at the family practice, Dr. Josh Collins, proves to be a tempting way to spend her personal time. Lizzie knows she's playing with fire, after all her last relationship with a doctor didn't work out well. However, Josh brings out a side of Lizzie that is exciting, new, and definitely enticing. Can she keep her career and romance separate this time?

For the most part, I enjoyed watching Lizzie and Josh, both haunted by their past, cope with a growing relationship bordering on a word they'd never dared embrace - love. There are sneak peeks into the lives of other Jewell Cove characters, such as Jess (Treasure on Lilac Lane), Charlie (Christmas at Seashell Cottage) , and Abby (The House on Blackberry Hill).

Despite this, I found myself bothered by one detail. At a gathering, Lizzie discusses the circumstances involving one patient's medical issues. For someone who was on leave from the ER where she worked, I would have expected her to be overly cautious with her medical career. Discussing a patient with others is against HIPAA privacy laws. When she started discussing her patient in front of all Josh's extended family, I was a little stunned, even if this was a fictional book. It made me a little disgusted with her character and Josh's too. I kept reading, but by that point, I'd lost respect for this fictional character and that was enough to make what could have been an excellent read into just an okay one.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Release Date - January 5, 2016

Marieke Nijkamp
Sourcebooks Fire

Book Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

This Is Where It Ends is completely heartbreaking, yet I could not put it down. It's a work of fiction, but it's also so real that it seems ripped from the headlines. As the parent of a teenager, I cried for each and every character in this book. I am also so thankful that the two lockdowns my teen's high school had to do ended up being minor situations.

It starts as any typical high school morning begins. Students show up, albeit begrudgingly for some, and head to the auditorium for a school assembly. They know the principal's speech, many seniors can recite it verbatim. No one expects to finally be dismissed, only to find the doors locked and a shooter among them. Trapped, these kids now face the most horrific event of their lives.

Told from the viewpoint of the shooter's sister, the shooter's ex-girlfriend, the shooter's sister's best friend, and the brother of that best friend, readers get an incredible perspective into the events as seen through their eyes. The sister and her best friend are trapped in the auditorium. The best friend's brother skipped and broke into the principal's office and knows what's happening but has no idea if his sister is alive. There's the ex-girlfriend who is on the track team and is on the track practicing with the coach and other runners.

There are actually two other voices, one is the daughter of a school teacher who is posting as the events occur and there are the Tweets from the news media who are trying to get any students to talk to them about what's going on.

There's another book I read on school shootings that stayed with me: Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes. I found This Is Where It Ends to be just as good, if not better. Marieke Nijkamp drew me in with the different perspectives, and she definitely did an outstanding job capturing the shooter. There are times my heart broke for him, but at the same time, what he was doing was so wrong, I couldn't help but hate him.

The other characters showed such strength while also dealing with the intense fear from the situation they were in. Each of these characters become real to me, and I couldn't stop reading. I simply had to know how things ended up, because one thing was clear, with the mentality of the shooter, no one was safe.

This Is Where It Ends is such a powerful novel. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of this book, along with a box of tissues, and be prepared for an emotional roller coaster ride!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Catherine Ryan Hyde - Ask Him Why

Catherine Ryan Hyde, perhaps best known for her bestseller Pay It Forward, has a new release from Lake Union Publishing/Amazon. December 15th's release spends a little over a decade looking at one young man's actions and the effect is has on a family.

Ask Him Why tells the story of Ruth, a 15 year old, her 13-year-old brother Aubrey, and their older brother Joseph. Joseph is serving overseas in Baghdad when a decision he makes thrusts everyone in his family into the media and tears the family apart. This one action leads to series of events that will change Ruth and Aubrey's lives forever.

Some books grab you with the setting, and others do with the characters. In this case, it is the situation that kept me hooked. The exact details into the decision Joseph makes is really kept secret for some length of time, so there's that to keep you reading. It's the family dynamics that I found most absorbing. This isn't a likable family for the most part and Ruth cues the reader to this early on with her statement about how they convinced themselves they were ever together in the first place.

The book takes place in two time periods. The time surrounding Joseph's unforgivable act while in the military and then a decade later when Ruth is now a mother and can look at things from a different point of view. I found myself enjoying the present far more than the past. Perhaps because at that point, the adults that ticked me off in the first place where mostly absent from the story.

This brings me to how the story left me feeling. That's the difficult aspect. I wasn't as taken with the characters in Ask Him Why as I have been with the characters in past Catherine Ryan Hyde novels. I had a harder time connecting with anyone in this story, and as a result, I just didn't find it as mesmerizing. It's good, but not one that will have me thinking about it months from now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nine Lives: One Unique Town and One Troublesome Death

Wendy Corsi Staub is back with the debut of a new mystery series. After her husband dies, Bella Jordan and her young son have no choice but to pack up and head for Chicago to live with Bella's late husband's mother. Their trip takes a bit of a detour thanks to car problems, and Bella and Max end up in the small New York town of Lily Dale, a town populated by mediums.

In Lily Dale, things seem too good to be true. Bella is offered a job managing a local inn, as the owner's mysterious death has left everyone reeling. With no one to take over the inn during the town's busy season, they need Bella. Her son's already made a friend, the inn's pregnant cat seems to have bonded with him, and this offer does seem too good for Bella to pass up, so she accepts. It quickly becomes apparent that Leona's death was no accident, and the killer's not done yet.

Nine Lives did keep me guessing. I had the killer pegged wrong, and that's something I do enjoy. Many mysteries do not fool me, so I'm left feeling a little let down because I solved it long before the authorities. In this case, I had my suspicions but they led me down the wrong path.

Quirky characters fill the pages of this Crooked Lane Books October 2015 release. There's Bella, a woman a little afraid of her own shadow after her husband's death. The men Bella meets make for great romantic potential in future books. Even the cat is developed into a bit of an enigma. Combine the characters with the charming town of Lily Dale, and it makes for a fun cozy mystery. Can't wait for the next.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Meet Dahlia Moss in Max Wirestone's New Novel

I'm not big into the online MMORPG world, though I know many who are. In Max Wirestone's The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, meet Dahila Moss, a quirky 20-something who's down on her luck. She can't land a job, her boyfriend dumped her for another woman, and she has no money for rent. Dahlia's currently living with her eccentric friend and trying desperately to get back on her feet.

Enter Jonah. He approaches Dahlia at her friend's party and offers her $2k if she'll find who stole the Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing from him in the online game Kingdom of Zoth. It's a weird request, but Dahlia needs the money. When Jonah turns up dead, Dahlia's offered even more money by his parents to arrange a virtual service in the game. Soon the lines of game and reality blur as the killer used a replica spear to kill Jonah and she's determined to find out who and why.

Max Wirestone's novel came out in October 2015, so you'll find it in stores selling Redhook's titles and online now.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Horror Anthology - Seize the Night by Kelley Armstrong et al

Seize The Night: 
New Tales Of Vampiric Terror
By Christopher Golden, ED.
Gallery. 97814767830930

Reviewed by Jessica Maguire

You're not ready to pack away the thrills, chills, and terror of Halloween just yet? Not to worry. You may have to pack away the decorations and work off that leftover candy, but the terror will continue when you pick up Seize The Night.

Seize The Night is a delightfully scary collection of short stories sure to delight and terrify. Featured authors include Laird Barron, Dana Cameron, Michael Koryta, and many more.

I typically do not enjoy vampire and other horror stories. I find them to be usually too bloody with little substance. However, much to my delight, I find the stories in this anthology to be intelligent, thought provoking, and scary. To me, the scariest stories leave something to my imagination, and that is what these stories do.

My favorite story of the bunch is “Up In Old Vermont”, written by Scott Smith. The creatures terrorizing the Vermont countryside are left to be mysterious, as is the absolute fate of the protagonist, Ally. Sure, she confronts a horrific fate, but the end result isn't spelled out in detail, leaving the imagination to take over.

In reading this collection I have come to realize the power of my creative imagination. The beauty of these enjoyable stories is that they leave room for the reader's imagination to roam freely and take over, and that, perhaps, is the scariest aspect of all.    

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I Don't Walk to Talk About It - A Touch Predictable, Yet Still Very Satisfying

Jane Lovering's latest entry to her Yorkshire Romances series brings readers into the heart of an area that is near and dear to me. It's the area where my own Mum grew up and where many relatives still live. The setting of I Don't Want to Talk About It intrigued me. In fact, the characters did too. The only downfall is that I knew what was going on from a few chapters in, so one of the big surprises wasn't much of a surprise at all.

Her boyfriend (Dan) gave an ultimatum that Winter Gregory couldn't face - him or her twin sister. With that, she packed up her things and rented a cottage in a small village in Yorkshire. There, she hopes to finish the work on her new book without Dan in her way. The problem is that in addition to being her boyfriend, Dan is also Winter's editor.

While photographing gravestones, Winter is interrupted by a precocious young girl whose mother died. Scarlet seems desperate for a female role model, and Winter admits she's intrigued by Scarlet's uncle Alex, so she begins spending time with the eight year old. Soon, Winter finds herself falling for Alex. Despite, this, Winter really hasn't had the closure she needs with Dan, and it's going to take more focus than Winter believes she has to decide which path to choose.

The big secret that led to the breakup between Dan and Winter wasn't much of a secret to me. I did find it pretty predictable. That said, I loved Scarlet's character. She's a smart, albeit emotionally damaged little girl that I wanted to take under my wing. I also liked Alex who is trying his best, but his own emotional struggles get int he way. Then there is Winter, who again is likable, and I found myself hoping that she could come to terms with her past and move on with Alex. I really liked Alex and Winter together.

There are still surprises in store for the reader. This may have strong romantic leanings, but there's a lot of character study involved. I ended up enjoying every page of this Choc Lit novel and am so glad I read it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison

Release Date - December 2015

Mette Ivie Harrison
Soho Crime

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Linda Wallheim is the wife of a Mormon bishop. She's raised her sons, she assists in their community as needed, but her evening is not off to a great start when she gets into a slight argument with a neighbor and fellow Mormon. Later, Carl Ashby is found dead, and that's when things really take a weird turn. Linda soon learns that Carl was, in fact, born a woman.

With police doing all they can to find Carl's killer, Linda delves into the case herself. The Mormon church's higher-ups may be trying to keep the entire case hush-hush and make it go away, but Linda feels she owes Carl and his family more. She is determined to unravel the events leading to Carl's death.

I had a friend in high school who was Mormon, and I never knew that the coffee she drank was against her religion. That tidbit is something that stuck with me as I read His Right Hand. The details into Linda and her community's way of life are intriguing, but what I really loved was that the author did not shy from the transgender Carl. The writing was honest, touching, and I appreciated the forthright nature.

This is not the first Linda Wallheim mystery, but it did stand alone for me as I was unfamiliar with the series. I was hooked pretty quickly too. It's a touch cozy mixed with some real grit that made me enjoy every minute of the metaphorical ride.

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...