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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

God Doesn't Love Us All the Same by Nina Guilbeau

Release Date - May 2014

Nina Guilbeau
Juania Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

God Doesn't Love Us All the Same bounces between past and present. It all starts with Janine Harris. She's about to leave work when she realizes she locked her wallet in the bank vault. She has no money to get home.  While wandering the streets, she comes across a homeless woman, Vera, and wonders how did Vera get to where she is today.

After inviting Vera to join her for a cup of coffee while she waits for her sister, Janine begins to learn of Vera's tragic upbringing. Vera's start in life was rife with tragedy and the harsh realities of racism, abuse, and murder would be obstacles that she alone needed to overcome.

I loved Vera's story. I admit at times errors in the story would catch my eye and pull me from the story, but I still wanted to know if Vera could forgive herself. These errors ranged from a situation with Vera where a guy was "pushing his ... deeper and deeper into his mouth." That should have been "her mouth," (pg. 164) and I'm surprised editing overlooked it. Another example (pg. 37) is "...district was very calmon Sundays, just tourist mostly-shopping and visiting landmarks." The paperback's price of $13.99 is a little much to ask given these and other errors I came across while reading.

That issue aside, Vera's life story is the reason I highly recommend this book. Janine was a bit of a whiner to me, but Vera stole the show.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning

Release Date - January 2014

Diane Daniels Manning

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Benny is a young teen with mild autism who dreams of two things. He wants his mom to become part of their family again, and he wants a dog. Despite his dreams of becoming a dog owner, his father and stepmother seem happy to say no.

At 70, Bess Rutledge is ready to demolish her poodle kennel. This last litter will end her long-running business, and she'll no longer raise and train poodles for dog shows. All of that changes when she meets Bennie. He lights a spark that has her thinking maybe her dream of making it to the Westminster competition doesn't have to just be a dream anymore. Despite all, Bess is still reluctant and Benny must find a way to break through the walls she's erected.

Almost Perfect is set in an area I know well. I have an aunt and uncle in West Redding, so I've spent many spring vacations at their home. It was fun to go back in time to when the Danbury Fair operated, now the area is covered by a huge mall with a carousel that my kids love. Knowing the setting was one reason I was drawn into the story.

I'm also very familiar with Westminster. I used to watch it yearly, though Almost Perfect did go into some of the detail involved in getting dog to rank highly enough to make it into that show.

There were things that bothered me about the story. Bess and Benny initially meet and that starts a connection. Then the plot takes a weird twist and Bess's prize poodle is stolen right in front of her. I never understood the real importance of this mystery in terms of the overall plot. It seemed extraneous.

There's a secondary plot involving a growing relationship between Benny's therapeutic school's principal and Bess's son. Again, it didn't seem like this plot was really critical.

Benny's family also have their place in the story, and after a few chapters, I decided their only purpose was to make me want to climb into the book and smack some sense into all of them.

I did enjoy the main portion of Almost Perfect, but when it would switch to one of the other plots, I found myself repeatedly wondering why this other storyline was so necessary. I ended up quickly glimpsing at those sections to get back to the main part of the story.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Release Date - June 2014

Helen Walsh

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I knew the premise of The Lemon Grove going in. Jenn, the main character, and her husband Greg have been married for over a decade and Jenn sees the magic is waning. Regardless, they head off to a charming Majorca village for their annual vacation. This time, Greg's daughter is bringing her boyfriend, despite Greg's unease.

I admit, I was fooled here. Greg's daughter (Jenn's stepdaughter) is not as old as I was expecting. Emma is 15. They don't trust her to live alone when they head out to Majorca before her, they have her stay with her grandmother, yet it's okay if she brings a boyfriend on the trip and flies alone with him.

Would I let my 18-year-old daughter bring her boyfriend along on a family vacation? Yes. Would I have let her when she was 15? Never! Now, the characters are British, so there is a difference. At 15, British kids are finishing up school and can then progress to continuing education, but I stop and think of my cousins at that age, and all still were not in that kind of relationship until they were at least 17. I admit, even if this bias is unfair, I started disliking characters early on. Emma is spoiled and whiny. Greg is easily twisted around Emma's finger. Nathan is creepy. Jenn is just not enjoyable either.

This leads to the true plot of the story. Once Emma and her boyfriend arrive, he turns out to be a bit of a perv and definitely into Jenn. Jenn is fascinated with Nathan and begins to cross boundaries, all while trying to keep her attraction to Nathan from gaining the attention of Greg or Emma.

The setting of The Lemon Grove is gorgeous. The author captures Majorca beautifully. That's about where I found the book to be worthwhile. Jenn is late 30s, Nathan is 17, and the relationship between them repulsed me.

I've seen reviewers rave over this book. I really can't. Maybe it's the mother in me thinking that if my neighbor, who was Jenn's age when my son was 17, tried to seduce my son, I'd have her arrested. It's no different than if an almost-40-year-old man tried to seduce my daughter. I'd be in court pushing for castration!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dollbaby: A Novel by Laura Lane McNeal

Release Date - July 2014

Laura Lane McNeal
Pamela Dorman Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Liberty "Ibby" Bell is only 12 when her mother drops her off at her grandmother's New Orleans home. Ibby is grieving the tragic death of her father and isn't happy that she's moving in with a woman she's never met. Fannie isn't a typical grandmother, however, and soon Ibby finds herself embraced in a home where nothing is to be expected.

Fannie has her secrets and regrets. Despite her demeanor, she adores Ibby and loves that she has a part of her son with her. Along with Fannie are her cook, Queenie; Queenie's sassy, somewhat strong-willed daughter, Dollbaby; and Dollbaby's daughter,who is just about Ibby's age.

As Ibby gets to know her new family, she still longs for her mother, who simply doesn't seem to want to return. The story progresses into a coming-of-age story for Ibby in which she learns family secrets, the things that have shaped Fannie's life, and the changes in the world around her as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement shape a nation.

Dollbaby is a novel I won't soon forget. I thought I had Fannie's secret figured out early on, but while I was close, I wasn't right. Though that mystery is a part of the story, the real focus is on the relationships that build and change as Ibby progresses from an uncertain 12 year old into a young woman. It's a fabulous read and one I am very glad I didn't overlook.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

Release Date - June 2014

Alafair Burke

Book Review by Bob Walch

Incarcerated for nearly two decades for the serial murders of six women, Anthony Amaro is about to have his case revisited. A recent killing of a psychotherapist has raised some serious questions about Amaro’s case. Now two investigations are delving into the past to see if there has been a serious miscarriage of justice.

On one hand there’s Carrie Blank, whose half-sister was supposedly killed by the imprisoned man. She joins a legal team formed to exonerate Amaro only because she wants the real killer uncovered and this may be the best way of doing so.

NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher along with her partner, JJ Rogan, are also assigned to the case to reassess the first investigation to see if and where it went off the tracks. 
As these two quite different groups of individuals delve through the conflicting pieces of evidence, they’ll be drawn to Carrie Bank’s hometown where some unexpected surprises await them.

This is another episode in the Ellie Hatcher series, but Carrie Blank is such a strong personality that she nearly steals the show. Burke says that as she was writing this novel Blank “wouldn’t recede into the background” . The reader will probably be happy that this uppity character didn’t play the secondary role she was originally assigned!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Eyes on You by Kate White

Release Date - June 24, 2014

Kate White

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Former Cosmopolitan editor in chief, Kate White's been writing bestselling fiction novels for a number of years. If you haven't discovered her books, give them a try. Eyes on You is probably my favorite to date.

Robin Trainer is working her way up the ladder. She's co-anchor of a new television show and her new book is bringing in many sales. Despite all the good things happening in her life, someone has it out for her.

It starts as a threatening note and progresses to slashed book covers, a dead water beetle left in her coffee, a drugged brownie, and an ominous Barbie with its eyes scratched out. Robin suspects it is a jealous co-worker, but soon the tables turn and the powers that be decide that Robin is doing it to herself. She knows she's being framed, but no one seems to believe her. Not knowing who she can trust, Robin must figure out who wants her out the way.

I predicted who the culprit was early on, so that aspect of Eyes on You was not a surprise. Yet, even knowing who was behind everything, I was still addicted. The story moves at a fast pace, and I found myself eager to see Robin's reaction when she figured it out. I won't say this is a challenging mystery, but with a variety of interesting characters and relationships, I enjoyed every minute.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Don't Talk to Strangers by Amanda Kyle Williams

Release Date - July 2014

Amanda Kyle Williams

Book Review by Bob Walch

Meticulous planning goes into his abductions. He stalks and patiently waits before he strikes. Then he holds his victims for an inordinate length of time before he kills them. This is the sociopath Keye Street, a ex-FBI profiler and private investigator, has gone to a town 90 miles outside of Atlanta to find. 
The remains of teenage girls have been found in the woods outside the town and the local authorities led by Sheriff Ken Meltzer, have agreed that some outside assistance and expertise would be in order.

As Keye tries to connect the sparse pieces of evidence, a third girl goes missing. Now the stakes are much higher; in fact, this almost appears to be a challenge. “Stop me if you can but time is running out!” might well be the killer’s taunt.

As she works Keye has an uncanny feeling that she is being watched by more than just the local law establishment. She also has to gear her investigation up drastically and figure out who the madman is before another teen lies dead in the woods.

Amanda Kyle Williams’ fiction has been called “addictive” and her previous “Stranger” novels have been called “powerfully human” as well as “brutally funny” and she’s been also lauded for creating stories with “delicious final twists”. All these accolades certainly apply to this latest captivating thriller.