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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Legacy - Katherine Webb



Released August 30, 2011

HarperCollins
Katherine Webb

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The Legacy is a gripping story that kept me hooked from start to finish. This is unusual for me because I usually grow tired of stories that frequently switch from past to present and back. The story begins more than a century earlier with a young, desperate woman leaving her baby where she knows a group of gypsies will take him in. This starts the basis for a long hidden secret that changes the lives of many women.

Erica and Beth Calcott return to Storton Manor for the first time since their eleven-year-old cousin Henry vanished. Erica was eight at the time and remembers little about that day, but she knows it changed their family's lives forever. After their very cruel grandmother dies, Erica and Beth inherit the estate and spend the holidays there to decide what to do with the house neither of them want. At the same time, Erica hopes facing the past might be what it takes to get her sister to overcome the depression that led to a suicide attempt. Erica is certain that Beth's depression goes back to Henry's disappearance.

The story winds between Erica and Beth in the present day and their great-grandmother in the early 1900s. Readers are privy to information that Erica is trying to unravel. As there are really two stories at play, I found myself reading eagerly to find out what happened in each era. I was fascinated with the hardships each woman faced and by the end of the story wished it would keep going.

The Legacy was released in the U.K. in 2010, but it's being made available to U.S. readers. It's a fascinating story that will keep many readers up into the wee hours.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Summer Reunion - Kasey Michaels et. al.



Released July 2011

Kasey Michaels
Sarah Mayberry
Teresa Southwick
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I love anthologies where one central theme is followed but each author gets to take her own spin on the events and situations. That's the case in A Summer Reunion. Sisters Peggy Longwood and Victoria "Tory" Fuller were separated as young girls when their parents died in a tragic car accident. As their parents had no living relatives, the girls and their brother were put into foster care and eventually adopted by different families. Decades later, the sisters find each other and learn that their baby brother has since died, but a family reunion is planned to bring all of their blood relatives and adoptive families together.

Peggy plans an elaborate event in her coastal home. With her sister by her side for the first time in decades, Peggy's ready for an amazing reunion. There's one problem, in addition to having a broken leg making it hard to move around, Peggy's kidneys are failing for unknown reasons and she's waiting on a miracle.

In Kasey Michaels' story titled "All Our Yesterdays," Tory's daughter locates and contacts her birth father. Tory never told her ex-boyfriend that she was pregnant, she simply walked away and moved to the other side of the country. He wants to get to know his daughter, his grandchildren and possibly reunite with the only woman he's ever loved.

Sarah Mayberry's story stole my heart. In "All Our Todays," Peggy's daughter Laurie is stunned when her ex-husband of two years sends her a puppy. The last thing she needs to complicate her already busy life is a puppy, but he's not answering his phone and Peggy has a feeling his fling has ended and he wants to come home. Once she arrives at her mother's beachfront estate, Laurie is shocked to find an instant attraction to one of her mother's guests. Adam Hunter was Peggy's late brother's business partner and he's there to share pictures and stories of the brother/uncle they never really knew. Laurie and Adam hit it off but with Adam living in Australia and Laurie in the U.S., can they make a relationship work?

Finally, Teresa Southwick's novella "All Our Tomorrows" focuses on Peggy's son David. After his fiancee called it quits, David moved into his mother's guest cottage and threw himself into his work. Peggy's physical therapist Kinsey has been in love with David for years. Having to share the guest cottage won't be easy, especially when it becomes clear to Kinsey that David simply doesn't return her feelings.

All three stories move smoothly with a fast pace and great chemistry between the characters. While I really loved Kasey Michaels' and Sarah Mayberry's stories, I found Teresa Southwick's story a little less gripping. I think my biggest issue is that David is obviously scarred and dealing with something and when it's finally revealed, I was a little surprised at how quickly he suddenly got over it. I've never been in his shoes, so maybe I'm simply ignorant to the emotional healing process after something like that, but it just seemed far too easy a resolution to me.

Despite that one issue, I did enjoy A Summer Reunion. It's a great beach read and one that most romance fans will enjoy reading more than once.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Journey - Wanda Brunstetter




Released April 2011

Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The Journey is the first book in Wanda Brunstetter's Kentucky Brothers series. I started reading this thinking I was coming into a series well under way, so it was surprising to see it's the first. The author throws a few punches along the way making it stand out from most Christian novels. Most readers will find themselves stunned by a couple of the twists and turns.

In The Journey, Titus Fisher is heartbroken when his long-time girlfriend up and leaves Amish country for a new, exciting life in California. After Phoebe begs him to join her and he tells her he's not interested in leaving the Amish way of life, he accepts a job in Pennsylvania helping out in a family-run wood shop. There he is stunned to meet the owner's daughter who closely resembles Titus' ex-girlfriend.

While he first acts cold and almost hateful towards Suzanne Yoder, Titus soon comes to find that she's nothing like Phoebe. As his feelings grow, he begins to wonder if Suzanne is the woman God intends Titus to marry. Just as he's getting use to his new life, Phoebe realizes she misses him and reappears saying she's ready to marry.

The pacing of the story kept me involved, but there are a number of characters. Titus's mother and father were married before Titus came along so he has a number of half-siblings, full siblings and their wives and children. There is a family tree in the front of the book to help things along, but for the first couple of chapters, I found it difficult keeping up with the who's who aspect. Then the story does make frequent jumps from Kentucky to Pennsylvania and back, so you have to remember which sibling is in each state.

My only other complaint is the frequent use of Penn-Dutch/German terms. It almost came across as though the author threw them in simply to show off some of the terminology. I didn't see that the terms added much to the story at all, in fact I often found them to be distracting.

I still enjoyed the story and look forward to the next chapter in the Kentucky Brothers' lives.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark - Glenn Stout

Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year

Released October 2011

Houghton Mifflin
Glenn Stout
Red Sox

Reviewed by Dave Farnsworth

It's no secret that the Red Sox have been my favorite sports team. My enthusiasm for this team dates back to the 1960s with Yaz, right into the 1970s with Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, and Luis Tiant to name a few. I groaned along with many fans when Bucky Dent scored his three-run homer and groaned when Bill Buckner missed a ground ball. The Red Sox have been my team for many decades so I was excited when my wife announced there was a history of Fenway coming out in the fall.

I'm not much of a reader. I don't mind reading, but few books really capture my attention. Fenway 1912 was different. The writing is gripping and really captures the historical aspects that went into the construction of the park right up to the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007. It's packed with information that even diehard fans may not know. I know I learned quite a bit in the process.

Red Sox fans need to read this book. It's great to read up on some of the older players and learn more about where they went after their baseball careers. That's another aspect that surprised me because one player, Ray Collins, came from and spent much of his post-MLB life in the same town where I work and I'm shocked the town doesn't honor him in some way.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quick-Fix Vegan - Robin Robertson



Released October 2011

Robin Robertson
Andrews McMeel

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Owner of the site Global Vegan Kitchen, Robin Roberston's latest cookbook introduces quick and easy vegan recipes. You don't have to be vegan or vegetarian to appreciate the recipes within Quick-Fix Vegan, there are great side dishes, starters and main entrees found within.

As soon as I started reviewing the book, I knew I had to make the homemade vegetable stock. The recipe is simple, made with things I always have on hand, and was something I could make in the Crock Pot. Once done, I let it cool and put it into freezer containers. It's a great reward for just a few minutes work. Cooking the stock is the only thing that takes time and for the bulk of that time, you leave it alone to simmer.

I also rushed out to get the ingredients for the Oriental cold noodles that make a delicious peanut butter/hoisin sauce and then add broccoli and sauteed tofu. Because I'd made a tofu-chocolate pie earlier in the week, (Check out Alton Brown's Moo-less Chocolate Pie, swap the honey for agave nectar and you have a vegan-friendly version) I omitted the sauteed tofu. Everyone in the house loved this salad, so I highly recommend it.

I'm definitely not vegan or vegetarian, however our teen daughter dabbles in vegetarianism, so once or twice a week, I do strictly vegetarian meals. If she ever wants to go all the way, that will be fine, but for now, she does love boneless chicken and a variety of seafood. She loves soy, but I limit her intake of soy milk, tofu and soy beans. I know a vegan. She'd been vegan since her teen years and lived on essentially on soy-based cheeses, soy burgers, tofu and soy beans.  In her 30s, she learned she had breast cancer. There was no family history of breast cancer and her doctor then asked how much soy she consumes. In her case, it was with virtually every meal, and the phytoestrogens in soy mimic estrogen. I definitely advise that you talk to a nutritionist or your doctor to determine how much soy is too much. 


Overall, if you're vegan, vegetarian or simply love cookbooks, I think Quick-Fix Vegan is a must-have!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Faces of Hope 10 Years Later: Babies Born on 9/11 - Christine Pisera Naman




Released August 2011


HCI

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The follow-up to Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11 finds the youngsters born on that tragic day sharing their illustrations and thoughts on what they will do to make the world a better place.This book is dedicated to Christina Taylor Green, the young girl who was killed in the tragic Arizona shootings that severely injured Representative Gabrielle Gifford.

Each state is represented by the child born on 9/11 that appeared in the first book. Included are a snapshot of the child, though on my advanced copy the children's pictures were no more than a black box so I can't comment on any of those images. Each child also drew a picture and it's clear to see that there are some budding artists among them! Following that is the thing that child plans to do to make the world a better place. Dreams range from becoming president to helping battle for world peace.

This is a poignant collection, especially for those who were old enough to remember the events of 9/11 or were affected personally by the horrific acts of terrorism. Released just in time for the 10 year anniversary, this is a collection that will touch many hearts.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Count Down to Love - Julie Ford




Released July 2011

Julie N. Ford
Cedar Fort

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

When her fiance fails to show up for their lavish wedding, Kelly Grace Pickens is both heartbroken and desperate. She now has a huge bill to pay and Kelly Grace knows her career as a songwriter/country star is in the toilet since her fiance also happened to be her business manager. In a moment of desperation, Kelly agrees to fill in as one of the bachelorettes on her cousin's reality TV show.

Kelly is out of her league on Count Down to Love. She's simply there to make money fast to pay off her wedding debts. She never expects to be drawn to the bachelor or get caught up in the competition. But now that she has, can she keep Dillon or will her past heartbreak keep her from readily giving her heart away?

Count Down to Love is a gentle romance with great chemistry between Dillon and Kelly. This is a Christian romance so don't expect steamy sex scenes because you simply won't find them here. Kelly's virtues actually made the book more appealing in my opinion. Having her ditch conventions and the typical antics of reality stars was a refreshing change of pace. The other bachelorettes are realistic in terms of the types of women you do see on reality TV. I still think all reality shows have ruined the television and loved that Kelly continually ignored the producers cries for more drama and more heat. I wish that happened more.

I can't say this was my favorite romance of all times, but it was enjoyable. It's not a book that would make it to my keeper shelf, but it is a book that I think is suitable of a trip to the pool or beach for a couple hours of entertainment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Skyward - Mary Alice Monroe




Released June 2011

Mary Alice Monroe
Mira Books

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

There was something so familiar about Mary Alice Monroe's Skyward. My first goal before starting this review was to find out if this was a reissued novel. I knew the plot, right down to the ending. Sure enough, this is a reissue. It was originally released in 2003.

Harris Henderson operates a sanctuary for injured birds of prey. His wife, a drug addict, abandoned both Harris and their daughter years ago, breezing in and out of their lives when she pleases. When Harris's daughter, Marion, collapses while shopping, she's rushed to the ER where Harris learns she has diabetes. Knowing he can't manage her required care alone, Harris hires a live-in nanny to help out.

Ella Majors quit her hospital job after seeing another child die unnecessarily. She hopes working as a private nurse/nanny to five-year-old Marion will give her a chance to move on. Ella never expects to fall madly in love with Marion's father and find herself becoming a mother to the young girl. However, there are uphill battles that both Ella and Harris face if they're going to make their relationship last.

I'm a huge fan of Mary Alice Monroe's novels. She writes with a poignancy that few authors capture. Her settings and characters come to life. When blended with the emotional plots, it's hard not to get wrapped up in the entire story from start to finish. As I read, however, it became clearer and clearer that I'd read the story. One point stuck out and that's when I was certain I'd read this book before. The author gives her Vermont character a dialect that really isn't heard in much of Vermont. It's really the old Vermont farmers that use words like "ayup." I've lived here for 39 years and the only times I've ever heard that word spoken was in a radio commercial for Vermont wood stoves or when I was in a small Maine town on vacation. It shouldn't bother me, but I really don't like being stereotyped as a state full of people who talk like that.

Regardless, I enjoyed Skyward just as much this second time around. Even though I knew the key points and knew what happened in the end, I still had fun getting caught up in Harris and Ella's story.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Summer We Came to Life - Deborah Cloyed




Released June 2011

Deborah Cloyed
Mira

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

It supposed I should start right off by saying it took me two months to get through The Summer We Came to Life. I loved the premise, but the delivery really just didn't work for me. The intertwined story lines distracted me to the point where I'd have to put the book down.

The story involves a group of women who have always vacationed together to some exotic destination. Since they were girls, they've spent a part of every summer vacationing together as a mix of girls and parents, but a death has drastically changed Samantha Wheeland's thoughts. She and Mina were closest and Mina's death (cancer) has shocked Samantha to the core. Instead of staying with those who love her, Sam took off to Central America. On top of everything else, Sam's rich boyfriend has proposed and she's not sure what to make of it. It's some of the women's mothers who push Sam into going to a beach house in Honduras.

Mina's other friends also struggle with their grief. For Isabel, she becomes a workaholic and then loses her job leaving her stunned. Kendra also works away the grief, but soon discovers she has a problem that cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, their mothers use this time to share their stories of love and loss in hopes of helping them face their problems head on.

In Honduras, each woman comes to terms with Mina's death by being around those who loved her most. As she reads Mina's diaries and receives signs from Mina, Sam starts to consider the choice she faces. When another tragedy strikes, Sam is finally forced to confront her choices and decide if marriage is right for her.

I expected to really love this book. It's extremely rare that I pick up a Mira and not fall head over heels in love with the story. In this case, I understood Sam was grieving, I lost a loved one myself last fall, and found her gloomy attitude hard to take.

Surprisingly, it was the mother's stories that really grabbed me. I loved hearing about Jesse's husband and her struggles to flee a male dominated world with her daughter. I equally enjoyed Lynette and Cornell's story involving their bi-racial relationship in the 1960s. Those stories were fascinating and I wish they'd gone into much more depth. Had the book focused just on them, I would have loved every word.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Only Yours - Susan Mallery



Released September 2011

Susan Mallery
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Montana Hendrix's day takes an unusual turn when one of the dogs she's working with takes off on a lively romp through the hospital. She catches up with the dog in the burn ward where she receives a thorough scolding by Simon Bradley, a top surgeon known for his expertise treating pediatric burn cases.

When Simon's burn patient responds to the dog, he realizes he needs to look into Montana's work with therapy dogs. Working closely with Montana, Simon can't help but notice that Montana fills his every thought, but a horrific event from Simon's childhood has convinced him that love doesn't exist. Is Montana the woman who can teach Simon that love does exist and is exactly what he needs?

It's usually a given that if I read a Susan Mallery novel, I'm in for a treat. Only Yours is perhaps the best story I've ever read by this romance author. I loved every word of Montana and Simon's story. Simon's definitely a wounded hero, but Montana is the perfect counterpart because she's tough as nails and very obstinate. This is not the first book in the series and somehow I missed the first, but I will definitely be remedying that. If you're looking for a sizzling character romance, you will not want to miss Only Yours.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Man From Tennessee - Jennifer Greene



Released June 2011 (Reissue)

Jennifer Greene
Carina Press

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Man From Tennessee is not a new book. It was originally released in 1983 under the pseudonym Alison Hart. It's been reissued in e-book format by Jennifer Greene. At $4.49, you can't go wrong with these series romance reissues.

Five years ago, Kern married Trisha in a hurry and brought her to his country home. She never felt that she fit in and eventually fled her marriage and the country life. Jump forward five years and Trisha is stuck returning to Tennessee with Kern's mother in tow. Seems Kern's been injured in an accident and needs his mom. The kicker is that Kern and Trisha never divorced and the feelings they have are just as real now as they were then.

I usually love Jennifer Greene's romances, but Man From Tennessee just didn't appeal to me. Trisha was too combative and for whatever reason, even after she abandoned him, Kern kept holding on to hope. After five years, I would think he would have some bitterness, yet nothing phases him. Meanwhile, Trisha keeps trying to dodge both Kern and her feelings for him. If she hasn't filed for divorce in five years, you'd think she would have been a little smarter about knowing there had to be a reason for her reluctance. The story became a bit of a cat and mouse game with Kern continually trying and Trisha continually running away.

Because the story costs just over $4, I'd still recommend it, especially to Jennifer Greene fans. It's definitely not one of my favorite stories, but towards the ending, I did find myself enjoying the outcome.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Lake - Banana Yoshimoto



Released May 2011

Melville Publishing House
Banana Yoshimoto

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

A portion of the proceeds of Banana Yoshimoto's The Lake go to Japan Disaster Relief. That alone makes this a book readers should seriously consider purchasing because the lasting effects of the earthquake are ongoing and new earthquakes occur regularly even if the media doesn't offer as much coverage of that area now that the initial event has passed.

In The Lake readers meet Chihiro, a young woman who grieves the loss of her mother. Living in Tokyo and trying to establish herself as an artist, she soon spies a neighbor across the way and they form a romance that grows slowly. The woman realizes that Nakajima must have endured some traumautic event in his childhood, but she cannot figure out what it is or how she can help him move on. That is until he brings her to a friend's house on lake. There's she starts to unravel his past and is shocked to learn what really happened to him.

The Lake is a very short book of just 200 pages. It doesn't give a lot of time to really get to know the characters. By the time, I found them growing on me, the story was over. That said, the writing was very mellow and almost soothing. This isn't a story that rushes to the conclusion, it drifts merrily on its way throwing in surprises every now and then. That made the writing really stand out as being unique. As a result, I liked the story, but I can't say I loved it. Yet, I still think this is a story that will have people talking.