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Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd

Release Date - January 2015

Charles Todd
William Morrow

Book Review by Bob Walch

If you have been a fan of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries by Charles Todd, you’ll want to get a copy of the latest installment entitled A Fine Summer’s Day.

While the previous novels have followed the Scotland Yard detective after his return from World War I, this one takes us back to before the war. The young detective has just decided to propose to the woman with whom he is deeply in love, and while they make plans for their future together, Ian also becomes involved in a murder investigation that keeps him focused on a series of crimes across England.
As the war clouds gather across the English Channel, this could well be the detective’s last case before duty calls and he joins the army. Meeting local resistance in his investigation and realizing this idyllic summer may just be the proverbial “calm before the storm”, Ian has much to think about. And, as you’ll see, some of what will happen to the young man in the military is set in place at this time.

There have been over fifteen novels already published in this popular series, but to fully understand Ian Rutledge you must read A Fine Summer’s Day. Also, if you are not familiar with this character, this would be the perfect time to make his acquaintance.   

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shattered Secrets by Karen Harper

Release Date - September 2014

Karen Harper

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Tess Lockwood was just six years old when she was kidnapped. While she somehow managed to escape, her memories of the kidnapping are still vague. She never remembered enough to help police capture her abductor, and ten years later, another young girl vanished in the same manner.

Now that Tess is back in Cold Creek to sell her mother's home, she is disheartened when another girl disappears. It's been 20 years since Tess was kidnapped, and police are hopeful Tess might be able to remember enough now that she's home to help solve these kidnappings.

Gabe McCord, the sheriff's son, is now the sheriff. The day Tess was kidnapped, he was the one responsible for watching her. He's never forgiven himself. It's his goal to bring the missing girls home safe, and that means working closely with Tess, a woman he cannot help but admit he's growing very fond of. Will he be able to get Tess to remember in time to help the latest little girl?

Realistically, there is a lot going on in Shattered Secrets. The main storyline follows the kidnappings and Tess's fragmented memories. The romance between her and Gabe is there, but it's not the key element. That's why I will say this book leans more towards being a mystery than a romantic suspense.

There's a minor story involving a local commune that some of Tess's family is part of. Tess wants desperately to spend time with her cousin and her cousin's children, but she's treated like an outsider. She becomes convinced this commune is not the pleasant place her cousin makes it out to be. That storyline ends up falling flat with me, enough that I wondered why it was ever mentioned in the first place. Perhaps it will return in the other two novels and start to make sense?

I usually enjoy Karen Harper's novels, but in the end Shattered Secrets was a miss. I never felt a strong attachment to either character. I'd pegged the kidnapper really early. There were aspects that seemed tossed in for no reason. And, there were questions I had that were left unanswered. Shattered Secrets ended up just being an okay, nothing special kind of book for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Good Health, Good Life by Joyce Meyer

Release Date - December 2014

Joyce Meyer

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Joyce Meyer, Bible teacher/TV and radio host, offers incredible insight into improving your health, body, and mind in Good Health, Good Life. This 12-step plan breaks down into:

1. Asking for God's help
2. Learning to love yourself
3. Changing your metabolism
4. Fitting in exercise
5. Learning to eat balanced meals
6. Drinking plenty of water
7. Avoiding overindulgence
8. Satisfying your spiritual hunger
9. Reducing stress
10. Embracing the right goals/visions
11. Laughing at pitfalls and obstacles
12. Taking responsibility for yourself

Each step is a chapter that branches out into subtopics, such as altering your metabolism by ensuring your eat breakfast, getting enough sleep, and hydrating with water throughout the day. Some of these may be common sense to you, but you may learn from other snippets of information.

I find that now is the perfect time to put all, or even some, of Joyce Meyer's steps to work. This is the time most slack off the resolutions they made just a few weeks ago. I also think that if you take the lessons/keys one at a time rather than trying to fit them all in, you'll have much better success. I'm focusing just on the reducing stress for now. That is one of the biggest stumbling blocks I have because of work, life, and then the hurdles thrown my way, like last winter's failed septic or this year's broken water heater.  One step at a time is the best way to work with Good Health, Good Life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sea Air by Jule Meeringa

Release Date - February 24, 2015

Amazon Crossing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The premise of Sea Air, given the back cover blurb, is supposed to be Nele falls in love with a mysterious, much older man during a North Sea getaway. The single mom quickly falls in love, but then her ex, a doctor, reenters the picture making her question who is the right man for her.

That said, I found the return of the ex was mostly glanced over. The real heart of this romance is the battle of wills as Nele, age 35, is certain that Mathis, 60, is Mr. Right, but he's more hesitant and isn't convinced that a 60-year-old man is what Nele, mom to an energetic, precocious 7-year-old, needs in her life.

The settings used in Sea Air made me feel like I was there at the North Sea. The author does well painting the coastal region in her novel. My issue became that I liked the setting more than the characters. Nele seems to jump from man to man, giving her heart away fully each time. Not once does she seem to stop and thing about the effect all of this "I'm in love and want him in our lives" have on her daughter.

 That led to another concern. How much of Sea Air was lost in the translation? The book was originally written in German and is part of Amazon's line of books that take a foreign book and translate it into English. After five years of French, I know how easily some of the emotion can get lost between the original language and the English language. Perhaps, the German version would have had more emotional appeal and pull me in better. As was, I just never connected to any of the characters.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Stories of Hard Science Fiction - Edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi

Release Date - December 2014

Tor Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Carbide Tipped Pens pays tribute to a sci-fi writing group that Ben Bova and Eric Choi were part of a couple decades ago. The focus of this book is on sci-fi stories wrapped around a specific aspect of technology. As there are 17 stories in all, which is a little much to cover in one review, I read this collection and then sat back to see which stories really stood out for me after time passed. These are the ones that still linger in the back of my mind.

The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever is a short story by Daniel H. Wilson. In this story, readers meet a single dad, who is a scientist, and he finds the end of the world is coming. His parental love kicks in as he rushes to keep his daughter as safe as he can during the resulting apocalypse.

Ben Bova's Old Timer's Game takes a look at baseball and where it can go. Anyone who follows baseball knows all about the scandals of steroids, but what happens if newer medical treatments and technologies suddenly change a player's endurance and strength?

Skin Deep is a story by Leah Petersen and Gabrielle Harbowy that delves into a new use for tattoos. This newer tattoo technology has the power to treat any allergy, but at what cost?

In Eric Choi's She Just Looks That Way, the hero decides to undergo a procedure that will erase emotions connected to his memories. He doesn't want his memories to go away, but he wants to move past a serious attraction he has to a woman he knows. Will the outcome be everything he hoped?

This is only a small sampling of the stories found within Carbide Tipped Pens. Some delve into the things many think of when thinking about science fiction - robots, other planets, and others take things we know and love like Shakespeare, the romance between famous characters like Romeo and Juliet, and put them in a new situation or setting.

Whether you're looking to find a new sci-fi author or simply want to read a selection of short stories, Carbide Tipped Pens is an intriguing collection that definitely makes you think about the world and technology surrounding you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

Release Date - January 20, 2015

Amanda Eyre Ward
Ballantine Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

After six-year-old Carla's mother left her children behind and headed to the U.S., young Carla has been the primary caregiver to her twin brothers. Her hopes are that her mother will return to Honduras for them or send for them to join her. Two things happen that start to change Carla's mind. One of her twin brothers is whisked away by strangers and then her grandmother dies. It's clear to Carla that she and her brother must flee their town and make the dangerous, illegal trip to Texas.

Meanwhile, in Texas, Jake and his wife Alice are prominent restaurant owners who are madly in love, but at the same time, know something is missing from their lives. Alice is a breast cancer survivor, and Jake has always been supportive of her, but it just doesn't feel like it's enough.

The Same Sky: A Novel is told from the viewpoints of both Carla and Alice. The chapters alternate and make it very clear as to who is speaking. Much of the story is really an in-depth look at how one person can have it all and still not feel it is enough, while someone from a completely different background would like only to survive to live another day.

I savored every page, wanting to know what happened next, what realizations the characters would come to. By the end, I did find myself upset that the book came to an end. I wanted more of this very emotional, very poignant look at life, love, and happiness.

Monday, January 12, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Release Date - January 2015

Jennifer Niven

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

There are a few things I can say about All the Bright Places with a level of certainty. First, this book is amazing, not easy, but amazing. Second, it's not surprising Hollywood has noticed the story's potential for becoming a blockbuster movie and has already cast Elle Fanning. Third, it's going to be a while before I get over Finch and Violet.

Finch and Violet meet in the six-story bell tower on their high school campus. Finch, referred to as his peers as "the Freak," knows why he's up there, but Violet is a popular girl, everyone loves her, and Finch knows one thing, she's terrified. He talks her down from the ledge and then covers for her by saying she went up to stop him from jumping. With her reputation intact, Violet is free to go on with her life, but that one event changed both her and Finch. They begin working on a class project that involves touring their area, seeing sites they've never visited before.

Thus begins an unusual, refreshing friendship that will forever change both teens.

Clearly from the opening, suicide and suicide prevention have their place in this book. I hate saying it, but most readers will know someone or know of someone who has killed him or herself, thought about it, or attempted it. Statistics are too high for this not to be true. Sadly, I know more people than I really should, be it either personally or as someone my kids or siblings knew. Given that, the emotional tug-of-war within this story is captured magnificently by Jennifer Niven.

Violet and Finch go through tremendous growth in All the Bright Places. They start out uncertain of the world around them, of who their true friends are, and learn, mainly by leaning on each other, that there is joy to be found if you simply take the time to look. Yet, with every page, every minute, I found myself learning more and more about these characters. I cried, I snickered, I cried some more, and I found myself wanting to hug my own kids after finishing this book. This is definitely a Kleenex-needed book and one that I think will make an exceptional movie.