Book Talk Tuesday: BURDEN OF PROMISE

Today the disclaimer goes upfront: I know the author, Ralaine Fagone, personally. I didn’t know her when the events she describes in her book took place. I met her some years after when she began to write about the murder, arrests and trials. She joined a local writers’ group I was part of and she had a column in a magazine. The group critiqued Ralaine’s columns, then later, when she decided to write a book, she joined another group who helped her. I also did some editing for her, as well as proofreading and copyediting. Also, Ralaine furnished me with a free digital copy of the finished book for this review. So, since I strive to be “fair and balanced,” I want to put all those caveats out here.


Fresno, California has a few claims to fame/infamy. It’s on the way to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. The Underground Gardens. Raisins. Home of some pretty good sports teams (National Championship Women’s Softball, National Championship Men’s Baseball, as well as NFL players Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Derek Carr, Lorenzo Neal, Ryan Matthews, …). Searing summer temperatures. A satirical 1980s mini-series starring Carol Burnett, modeled after Falcon Crest and Dynasty. And the Acid Lady Murder.

In 2003, Ralaine’s son, James, was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of his former employer’s estranged husband. Larissa and Tim Schuster were separated and fighting over custody of their son, Tyler, as well as property. Although no longer working at Larissa’s lab, James still helped Larissa by house-sitting and hanging out with twelve-year-old Tyler.

When Tim disappeared, Larissa was questioned and released. James was also questioned, but not released because he confessed to … well, here is where things get murky. Did he confess to the murder? The police and prosecutors say yes. James says he didn’t know Larissa planned to murder Tim and he thought they were going to retrieve some of Larissa’s property. He says he confessed to helping her rob Tim, then he got pulled into being an accomplice when the robbery escalated to murder. Tim’s body was put into a barrel and acid from Larissa’s lab was poured in to destroy the remains.

Ralaine walks the reader through her feelings during that time. Her devastation at the arrest. Her horror at the details of the murder. Also, the months leading up to the arrest, when James’ life took a radical departure from the path he’d been on. As a Christian, Ralaine raised her children to follow God and His precepts, trusting that if she did that, God would keep His end of their “bargain,” and her children would be “good,” and stay out of trouble, and have happy lives. With James’ arrest, all her beliefs about God, faith, and her church came under scrutiny. And not all survived intact.

The reader will experience Ralaine’s emotions. She is honest and vulnerable. The book is more than the story of the Fagone and Schuster families and the murder and trials. The book is part memoir, part true-crime story, part Christian Living, but totally compelling.


Ralaine is offering a free print copy of BURDEN OF PROMISE to a blog reader who comments below. Tell me about a time you were shocked and saddened by a story in the news.

 

 

Book Talk Tuesday: SISTERS BY CHOICE

I love opening new books by my favorites authors and a new book by Susan Mallery qualifies in every way.

SISTERS BY CHOICE is her newest and it’s my favorite read of the year so far. We return to Blackberry Island, off the coast of Washington state, in Puget Sound, and spend time with three cousins.

Sophie has just returned to the island to rebuild her cat toy/supplies business after a fire destroyed it in Southern California. She ignores helpful suggestions that she let her employees do their jobs while she does hers. She’s the one who grew the company singlehandedly. She’s the one who knows the company better than anyone else. She’s the one who works tirelessly for the company. She’s also the one who threatens the future of her beloved company by her dogged determination to do it all.

cover-sisters-by-choiceKristine loves life as a homemaker, her husband, and their three sons. She also loves her side career baking the cookies and brownies she sells to local tasting rooms, even as she dreams about opening her own bakery. Because her husband isn’t supportive, Kristine keeps those dreams to herself. Until the perfect location becomes available. Then Kristine may have to choose between her family and her own dreams.

Twenty-year-old Heather skipped going to college off the island to stay home and take financial care of her indolent and demanding mother. She feels trapped and resentful. Sophie bringing her business to Blackberry Island means Heather can quit two of her part-time jobs for one full-time job with the cat toy company. But as Heather learns about business and real life, she also learns she has to take care of herself before she can take care of anyone else.

Mallery writes romance and women’s fiction. SISTERS BY CHOICE is women’s fiction, with a dash of romance. Sophie is determined to stay single, but she meets a man who is just as determined that they deserve a future together. Kristine and her husband have a happy marriage on the outside, but when Kristine shares her dreams, it turns out they have some deep issues that need to be worked out.

I enjoyed seeing all three women grapple with their problems and emerge stronger and with better lives than they thought possible at the beginning of the book. They were cousins, but they support and love each other as sisters should.

I love this book and highly recommend it!


I received a free copy of this book, but that did not induce me to review it favorably.

Book Talk Tuesday on a Thursday: THE STORY OF US

It’s a twofer this week. Because I have a review already scheduled for next Tuesday, and I don’t want to let this one go another week.

THE STORY OF US is a charming tale that would be a perfect Hallmark Valentine’s movie. Oh wait! It is a Hallmark Valentine’s movie!

TSOUJamie Vaughn owns the perfect bookshop, True Love books, in the perfect town, Waterford, Oregon. Okay, maybe life isn’t perfect. The downtown business district has been losing stores and a redevelopment company is poised to swoop in and buy up the area, closing her shop. And she’s on a romantic hiatus. Her heart just can’t seem to get over her high school boyfriend who broke up with her when he left for college across the country while she stayed in Oregon for school. Her most recent sort-of-boyfriend took a job in Texas. He asked her to move with him, but she couldn’t leave her bookstore.

Sawyer O’Dell has to nail this next job and he’ll be offered a permanent position with the company. No more freelancing and living out of a suitcase. If only it didn’t mean returning to Waterford, where he graduated from high school and left behind his high school girlfriend. They were too young to be that serious, so he knew it was for the best, even if it hurt and even if he’d never met anyone else who made him feel like Jamie did. So he has to get this bid accepted. His design for the business district redevelopment is good and he knows he can sell the business owners on it.

Except he hadn’t counted on running into Jamie as soon as he arrives back in town. And he hadn’t counted on her determination to save her shop–and the business district.

The plot of THE STORY OF US is somewhat formulaic. This is a Hallmark romance, after all. We know how it’s going to end. But that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. There’s a lovely secondary plot about Jamie’s friend, Lucy, and Sawyer’s friend, Rick.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, and I can whole♥edly recommend it.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but it did not induce me to review it, either favorably or not.

 

 

 

Book Talk Tuesday: Hid From Our Eyes

It’s been a long time since we visited with Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne in Millers Kill, New York.

But the wait is worth it!

HidFromOurEyesHid From Our Eyes has three time lines with characters appearing in both the present and past. Spencer-Fleming handles this plot device well and I wasn’t confused about where (or when) we were.

The three time frames have a death in common: a young woman, clothed in a new “party” dress, without a purse, identification, or shoes and no visible wounds or way to tell how she died, or how to identify her. Of course, medical science has come a long way and the present day crime scene and body yields more answers than those in the past.

 

And Russ just happened to be a suspect in one of those past murders.

As usual with this series, the murder-solving is only part of the story. Clare and Russ are new parents, adjusting to their baby. Clare is fretting that her drug and alcohol abuse before she knew she was pregnant may have impacted the child. There’s a referendum coming before the township that may put Russ out of a job. Hadley Knox’s ex is bringing a lawsuit against the town, claiming that former officer (and Hadley’s former on-again/off-again boyfriend/lover), Kevin Flynn, planted drugs that got the ex arrested. Flynn left Millers Kill to take a job with the Syracuse PD and he’s working undercover in Millers Kill.

So there’s plenty in this story to keep you turning the pages.

The solution is neat and makes sense, even if you don’t see it coming. Hid From Our Eyes is an excellent mystery in the “Fair Play” tradition of Margaret Maron and Louise Penny.

I hated waiting over six years for it (and hope I don’t have to wait another six years for the next installment), but I loved the story. I highly recommend it! Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a little longer. I got an advance copy. The book won’t be available until April. 😦


I received a free Advanced Reader Copy of this book via NetGalley. It did not induce me to review it either negatively or positively.

Book Talk Tuesday: Fatal Flashback

I love well-written suspense and Kellie Van Horn’s Fatal Flashback did not disappoint. The suspense is tight, the characters are real, the romance is sweet, and the setting is unusual but felt just right.

FFAshley is reporting for duty as a ranger at Big Bend National Park in Texas when she finds herself in deep water–literally. She’s been thrown into the Rio Grande with no memory of who did it or why.

Logan Everett is a ranger, still reeling from the death of a trainee ranger three months ago and the abandonment of his almost-fiancee five years ago. He fights his attraction to Ashley, especially since she’s clearly hiding something.

As Ashley’s memory creeps back, she and Logan search for a crime ring operating inside the park. They don’t know who they can trust, except for each other. Logan also trusts God, but Ashley doesn’t. She can’t remember why, but she knows God abandoned her.

I loved this fast-paced story. Ashley’s memories returned at a realistic pace, just as they would to someone with a head injury. The clues were doled out fairly. The romantic tension built organically, just the way I like it.

I highly recommend this book!


I received a free copy of this book from the author. This did not influence my review, nor did it induce me to review the book.

Book Talk Tuesday: An Everyday Hero

There are so many good things to say about An Everyday Hero, Laura Trentham’s latest in her Heart of a Hero series. The story pulled me in from the first page. The characters are believable and I cared about them. The peeks inside the psyche of a soldier and survivor are realistic.
EHGreer Hadley has moved back to Madison, Tennessee after failing to make it in Nashville. She’s drifting and wondering what to do next. Ally Martinez is a grieving and angry teenager matched with Greer for some court-ordered music therapy. Emmett Lawson is a grieving and angry veteran. He lost more than a leg overseas.
Greer has no intentions of getting involved with Ally nor Emmett, but she can’t let either one drown in their grief.
Emmett is struggling with a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt and isn’t interested in letting anyone get close enough to help. But somehow Greer sees past his anger, calls him on his attitude, and stirs him off the front porch.
I love how Greer and Emmett are almost mirror images of each other. Greer is afraid of failing again, so she solves that by determining never to perform. Emmett is afraid to feel any emotion and is intent on keeping everyone, even his parents, angry at him, as if that is his just penance. Greer and Emmett can see the other’s issues and point them out, but then realize their own shortcomings.

Greer is also making progress of a two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort with Ally. But when Ally has a crisis, it takes Greer and Emmett together to help her.

I loved this story and highly recommend it!

It will be released Feb. 4, 2020, but is available for pre-order now.


I received an advance copy of this novel through NetGalley for review purposes.

Book Talk Tuesday: THE UNLIKELY LIFE OF MAISIE MEADOWS

I spotted this book on NetGalley, the website that makes advance copies of books available to reviewers. The title and the description captured me and even though I was drowning in books to read for contests and reviews, I clicked to request it. My request was granted and I’m so glad. Jenni Keer’s second novel, THE UNLIKELY LIFE OF MAISIE MEADOWS is a charmer.

maisieMaisie Meadows, the youngest in her family, is a bit OCD, a bit in love with her boss, and a bit obsessed with reuniting her far-flung and feuding family.

By the end of Chapter Two, Maisie has a new job, new bosses, and no boyfriend. And she’s grateful her two new bosses are a couple so she won’t be tempted to date either of them, in spite of the fact that her pulse seems to ratchet up whenever she sees or touches one of them.

There’s a touch of magic in the story. And it aligns with Maisie’s desire to get her family–if not reunited–at least speaking to each other, and/or in the same room, at the same time.

To say any more about Maisie’s job, the magic that follows her, her relationships with all her co-workers would give away too much of the story.

Keer created fully realized characters who could be my friends. Or my daughters’ friends. 🙂 The story is well crafted, although readers will know well before Maisie figures it out, the truth about her bosses and co-workers. But that’s easily forgiven, given the fun story.

I enjoyed this book a lot and highly recommend it!


I received a free advanced review copy of this book via NetGalley.