Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of the Year Round Up

I'm often asked - do you have a favourite book? Or, what was your favourite book this year?

I can never pick just one - I read across many genres and can never single one out. (Goodreads tells me I read 150 books this year - 46,990 pages.)

How about you? Can you pick just one stand out read for 2013? No? Well, here's a list of the 'best' books of 2013 from a variety of sources. Have you read any on the lists?

The Globe and Mail (Canada) Top 10 of 2013
Goodreads Best of 2013
Amazon.ca Best Books of the Year 2013
Amazon.com Best Books of the Year 2013
The New York Times Best Books of 2013
Kirkus Reviews Best of 2013
Publishers Weekly Best of 2013
National Post (Canada) Favourite Books of 2013
NPR's Guide to Best Books of 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Cockroaches - Jo Nesbo

I've been a fan of  Norwegian author Jo Nesbo's Detective Harry Hole series from the first North American release. But, sometimes, the order of publication in North America does not match the original release/writing date.

Last year saw the N.A. release of the first book The Bat. It was great to read the first book and discover the 'origins' of Harry. (my review) And the second Harry Hole book, Cockroaches, is newly released.

The Norwegian ambassador in Thailand has been found dead in a known brothel. It's definitely murder, but that won't play well in the papers. Just back from his surprising success in helping the Aussies solve a case, Harry finds himself volunteered to head to Thailand to help the local force close the case.

Fans of Nesbo know what a conflicted soul Harry is. It's revealing to read the first books in this series and see the origins of the character as Nesbo fleshes him out. As well, there are glimpses into Harry's life that help to explain his addictive and self destructive tendencies.

But, Harry's sense of justice and unerring desire to ferret out the truth seems to override everything else - often to his own detriment. What the higher ups want is this embarrassing event quietly put to bed. That's not what Harry wants.
Nesbo paints a disturbing portrait of Thailand with his settings and characters. Nesbo inserts social commentary into his books that is always thought provoking. In Cockroaches, it's hard to find a player who isn't corrupt or has nothing to hide.

Nesbo's writing keeps the reader feeling unsettled and unsure of what will happen next. I hate predictable plots and Nesbo kept me guessing. (He usually does)

I've read some negative reviews of these earlier books. I think it's important to remember that the character is still evolving in these first books. Speaking for myself, (and having enjoyed all of the later Hole books), I've really enjoyed these early glimpses into a crime series I really enjoy. Definitely recommended.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Cross and Burn - Val McDermid

Val McDermid's latest book is the eighth entry in her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series. Cross and Burn picks up a few months after the ending of The Retribution. (my review)

The series is set in England. Tony Hill is a clinical psychologist who assists the Bradfield Police Department with profiling. He's good at his job...."he understood them because he had come within a hair's breadth of being them." Carol Jordan is a Detective Chief Inspector with Bradfield. They've made a spectacular team professionally. And they're slowly building a personal relationship as well.

Or were.....their last case ended with catastrophic results. Carol has left the force and retreated from everything. Tony is functioning, but barely. And their unit has been disbanded. But, when someone starts targeting women who look like Carol, they must put differences aside to stop a killer.

McDermid grabbed me from the opening pages. It is the killer who has the first chapter....

'He woke every morning with a prickle of excitement. Would today be the day? Would he finally meet her, his perfect wife? He knew who she was, of course. He'd been watching her for a couple of weeks now, growing used to her habits, getting to know who her friends were, learning her little ways. How she pushed her hair behind her ears when she settled into the driver's seat of her car. How she turned all the lights on as soon as she came home to her lonely flat. How she never ever seemed to check in her rear-view mirror."

Creepy! McDermid cuts back and forth between the investigation and the killer's point of view. His chapters are deliciously chilling.

McDermid is a master of the police procedural. The plots in McDermid's books are devious, dark and gritty. But for this reader, it is the characters that draw me back time and time again. I truly had no idea where McDermid could take this series after the ending of the last book. In Cross and Burn it is DC Paula McIntyre who takes the lead role. I enjoyed seeing another recurring character fleshed out. But Tony and Carol's storyline is the one that intrigues me the most. It's real and raw - I sometimes feel like an interloper, inadvertently intruding on someone's private conversations and grief.

The title comes from a quote by David Russell...."The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn."

The last few pages put a close to this case, but leaves the door wide open for the next installment - one I'll eagerly be awaiting.

Although you can read any of this series as a stand alone, I heartily recommend starting at the beginning - it's a must for crime lovers. A television series - Wire in the Blood - is also based on these characters.
Read an excerpt of Cross and Burn. You can find Val McDermid on Twitter. And on Facebook as well.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day - Not a Book Post!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! On Boxing Day today, I thought I would share with you my other favourite thing to do besides reading. Quilting! Here's what I made for my good friend Julia for Christmas this year. We have shared many a cup of tea over the years!

Over the Counter #194

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Maybe you're travelling this week. Here are a couple of travel guides - but with a bit of a difference.....

First up was Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys: 101 Skills and Experiences to Discover on Your Travels from Lonely Planet.

"You know the question’s coming: what did you do on your holiday? Master the experiences in Cooks, Clowns and Cowboys and you can reply:

I created a perfume in France.
I danced the flamenco in Seville.
I mixed the perfect martini in New York.
I earned my cosmonaut stripes in Russia.
I rode with cowboys in Argentina.

Saddle up for a new you, and come back from your travels with more than just a suntan."

Next up was Off Track Planet's Travel Guide for the Young, Sexy and Broke.

From the publisher, Running Press Books:

"This all-encompassing travel guide features approximately 100 exciting destinations like Buenos Aires, Brazil, Columbia, Greece, and Thailand, and everything college students, grads, and those in their twenties and thirties want to know about them, including: the cities with the craziest sex shops; the best places to get a tattoo; where to check out some amazing street art; why you should try fried bugs; the best clubs to party until dawn; and much more. Broken into three parts, the first section focuses on what to do and where: food, fashion, music, sports, sex and partying, and more. The second half of the book dives into practical tips and advice on budgeting, hostels, and transportation, and the third section offers great ideas about extending your stay. Entertaining and informative, this lively guide also includes fun charts and graphs and 100 to 150 full-color photos throughout."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catch your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,"

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Wishing you and yours the very best of this holiday season...

Merry Christmas!


A Christmas Hope - Anne Perry

Historical author Anne Perry always puts out a Christmas novella. And I've made it a point to pick up every one since she began in 2003.

This year's entry is A Christmas Hope. Perry again plucks a character from one of her full length novels and gives them centre stage for Christmas.

London, England 1868. Wealthy socialite Claudine Burroughs is middle-aged and childless, trapped in a loveless marriage. She has found great joy and purpose in working in Hester Monk's street clinic for women.

While at a Christmas gathering for the upper classes, a young prostitute is brutally attacked on the patio. Claudine attends to her, much to the dismay of her husband and shock of the other guests. Who is this young woman? Why was she there? And why does the story of the three young men found with differ from the story of the man who claims he was trying to save her. Claudine decides that her own sense of well-being depends on finding the truth - despite what it might cost her...and others.

As always, Perry has penned another lovely period piece that is perfect for a one sitting read. She sets the atmosphere perfectly. But it is the dialogue that I enjoy the most. The social mores and the hidden real meaning behind the word that are said aloud. I love the detecting skills used in this time period. Woven throughout it all are a sense of faith, hope and love.

A Christmas Hope was just as I expected - another perfect entry for my holiday reading.  Read an excerpt of The Christmas Hope.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Kissing Christmas Goodbye - M.C. Beaton

M.C. Beaton is the queen of British cozy mysteries. She has a number of long running series. My favourites are the Hamish MacBeth books.

But when Kissing Christmas Goodbye was recently returned at the library, I thought it would make a great seasonal listen for the drive back and forth to work. This book is the 18th entry in Beaton's Agatha Raisin series.

Agatha is a sharp tongued, opinionated private eye with her own detective agency in the Cotswolds. Christmas is coming and Agatha is focused on holding the perfect Christmas dinner, inviting her ex and winning him back. But when Agatha receives a letter from a wealthy widow Phyllis Tamworthy asking Agatha to suss out which one of her family members wants her dead, it piques her interest. She heads to a holiday dinner with the woman and her family. And yes, one of them is guilty.....

Cozies are all about the characters and setting. Beaton has created a wonderful character in Agatha. I liked the addition of a new young female detective to the firm - she gives Agatha a run for her money.  I appreciated revisiting with characters from past novels - it's like settling in with old friends. The mystery isn't overly complicated, but it's the journey to the whodunit that is the most fun.

I quite enjoyed listening to this book rather than reading it. Penelope Keith was the reader and she was absolutely perfect. She perfectly captured the character of Agatha with her British accent and very expressive reading.

This was a perfect light-hearted cozy for the Christmas season. Read an excerpt of Kissing Christmas Goodbye.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winner - The Purchase

And the lucky winner of a copy of The Purchase by Linda Spalding is:


Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. After that time a new winner will be chosen.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Bliss - Mary Kay Andrews

Mary Kay Andrews is an author whose books have passed over my library counter many times. But I had yet to read one. That changed with her latest release - Christmas Bliss. I snapped up the audio version when it came in - it's the time of the year when I love to read seasonal stories.

Andrews sets the story in Savannah, Georgia with two recurring characters featured in three previous 'Savannah' novels - Weezie Foley (an antiques dealer) and her best (and very pregnant) friend Be-Be Loudermilk. Weezie is set to be married on Christmas Eve, but her fiancée Daniel has been working in New York as a guest chef. Weezie decides to surprise him with a visit, leaving the rest of the wedding planning to her over the top friends and mother. Be-Be and Harry (baby daddy) are facing lots of changes in their lives as well.

Andrews writing style is light, breezy and chock full of southern charm. Christmas Bliss was a perfect holiday listen for the trip back and forth to work this week. Troubles are easily solved, there's a strong sense of family and friendship and despite setbacks you just know everything will work out fine - just in time for Christmas.

What I really liked however were Weezie's junk store tales of treasure and finds.  I too love pawing though old boxes at junk stores, auctions and flea markets. When reading about Andrews, I discovered the reason Weezie's junking  is so lovingly detailed. From Andrews's bio on her home page... "As a lifelong “junker” the author claims to know the location of every promising thrift store, flea market and junkpile in the southeastern United States, plus many parts of Ohio.

Kathleen McInerney was the reader. She had a lovely, gentle voice with a sweet Southern accent. I thought she really captured the setting and characters well. Listen to an excerpt of Christmas Bliss.

Great literature? No. Fun, fluff read to set the mood the week before Christmas? Yes!  Read an excerpt of Christmas Bliss.

Fans of Fannie Flagg's southern novels would enjoy Mary Kay Andrews. You can find Andrews on Facebook and on Twitter.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Over the Counter #193

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Yep it's cute animal stories week.....

First up was Unlikely Loves: 43 Heartwarming True Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland.

From the publisher, Workman Books:

"Unlikely Friendships is the phenomenal New York Times bestseller that’s spent 44 weeks on the list and has 615,000 copies in print. It’s struck a chord with media, from CBS This Morning to USA Today, and Temple Grandin has praised it as “amazing. It shows the power of friendship.” Now its author, Jennifer Holland, who writes about animal relationships with insight, compassion, and a fine narrative touch, explores animal attachments that, in human terms, can only be called love.

Packed with beautiful, breathtaking full-color photographs, Unlikely Loves is a celebration of love between species. Here are stories of parental love, like the Dalmatian who mothers a newborn lamb—a lamb that just happens to be white with black spots! Stories of playful love, including the fox and the hound who become inseparable. And stories of orphaned animals who have found family-like ties in unexpected combinations, like the elephant who’s bonded with sea lions, goats, and other animals in her walks around the Oregon Zoo.

Ms. Holland has interviewed scientists, zoologists, and animal caretakers from around the world, tracking down firsthand sources and eyewitnesses. The stories are written with journalistic integrity and detail—and always filled with the author’s deep affection for her subjects."

Next up was A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen.

From the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books:

"The Instant New York Times Bestseller!

James is a street musician struggling to make ends meet.
Bob is a stray cat looking for somewhere warm to sleep.
When James and Bob meet, they forge a never-to-be-forgotten friendship that has been charming readers from Thailand to Turkey.
A Street Cat Named Bob is an international sensation, landing on the bestseller list in England for 52 consecutive weeks and selling in 26 countries around the world. Now, James and Bob are ready to share their true story with the U.S. in this tale unlike any you’ve ever read of a cat who possesses some kind of magic.
When street musician James Bowen found an injured cat curled up in the hallway of his apartment building, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London, barely making enough money to feed himself, and the last thing he needed was a pet. Yet James couldn't resist helping the strikingly intelligent but very sick animal, whom he named Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining that he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.
Perfect for fans of Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog and Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat That Changed the World, this instant classic about the power of love between man and animal has taken the world by storm and is guaranteed to be a huge hit with American fans as well."
(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catch your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bellman and Black - Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield's award winning, debut novel - The Thirteenth Tale, was a lovely, atmospheric 'ghost' story. Her second novel is Bellman and Black.

Set in the past in England, Bellman and Black opens with young William Bellman launching the perfect slingshot volley - unexpectedly hitting it's target - a young rook. (a member of the crow family) That seemingly innocuous event forever marks young William's life. It isn't even an event he remembers. But he is afraid of birds.....

Initially seen as a bit of a ne'er do well, young William finds his place in the world, successfully moving into a family business, marrying and having a family. But misfortune enters William's life as friends and family members die. And at each funeral William sees a mysterious man in black. A man with whom he eventually  partners with in a new venture - a funeral emporium.  Bellman and Black.

I was very much looking forward the this second novel. But, I found myself somewhat disappointed. The story is slow to evolve, with much detail included in building both time and place. I did find the historical details included interesting, but I wanted more. I wanted something to happen. The man in black is mysterious, but there isn't enough of a build-up to the final reveal for me to be even remotely chilled.

The role of rooks in history, myth and lore is discussed at the beginning of many chapters. Paying attention to that precluded any surprises that came with the final chapters.

British cover versions of this book have added the sub-title of "A Ghost Story". This was not included on the North American cover. And wisely. While it's eerie, it doesn't cross into ghost territory in my opinion. Instead I found myself thinking of Poe's The Raven and Hitchcock's The Birds. (But not near that level of fright) See the publisher's trailer below for how they chose to market the book.

Good, but not great for this reader. I found I was too easily able to put the book down.  However, Setterfield's prose are excellent - I would pick up the next book by this author.  Read an excerpt of Bellman and Black.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Perfect - Rachel Joyce

Rachel Joyce's debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was an international bestseller. It was one of my top reads for 2012. (my review)

Her second novel is Perfect.

1972 England. Twelve year old Byron and his friend James are incredibly bright young men - their parents have earmarked them for great things and have set them on a path to their perfect destiny. But when James hears about two seconds being added to the global clock as a result of a leap year, he worries. And worries.

" Two seconds are huge. It's the difference between something happening and something not happening." Byron, his mother and younger sister are driving in the car when something does happen - something that changes everything in Byron and James's lives forever.

"It was all because of a small slip in time, the whole story. The repercussions were felt for years and years. Of the two boys, James and Byron, only one kept on course. Sometimes Byron gazed at the sky above the moor, pulsing so heavily with stars that the darkness seemed alive, and he would ache - ache for the removal of those two extra seconds. Ache for the sanctity of time as it should be."

Joyce cuts her narrative between 1972 and present day, where we meet Jim, wiping down tables in a supermarket café.

"He has spent his adult life in and out of care. Years have passed, and some of them he can't even remember. After treatment he could lose whole days; time was merely a selection of unconnected empty spaces. Sometimes he had to ask the nurse what he had eaten that day and if he had been for a walk. When he complained about memory loss, the doctors told him it was his depression. The truth is, he found it easier to forget."

Oh, how do I even begin to describe how much I loved this book. I raced through the first few chapters, then forced myself to put it down - I didn't want it to end too quickly. But I was inexorably drawn to the story of James and Byron, past and present. How was Joyce going to connect the two? What happened - what was going to happen? And I put the book down because I was afraid. Afraid of what would happen to Jim. His attempts to cope and his thoughts had me in tears. Jim captured me much as Harold did in Joyce's first book. And then there's a small glimpse of what could be....if only....

The title figures into so much of the book. The boys are expected to be perfect, as are their parents, their lives, their surroundings et al. And when it breaks down, the drive to perfection still lurks, insidiously stealing from the lives of everyone.

I thought I had everything figured out going into the last pages of the book, but was pleasantly caught off guard by the ending that Joyce chose. Not what I saw coming at all.

Joyce's exploration of the human spirit is by turns heart breaking and life affirming. Perfect is an eye opening testament to both the frailty and the resilience of the human spirit and the power of redemption.

Perfect is a five star read for me and one of my top books of 2013. Absolutely recommended. Read an excerpt of Perfect.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pies Sweet and Savory from the DK Gift Boutique

 I came into an abundance of apples in the fall - I now have enough applesauce and apple pies to feed a small army. I'd had my fill of pies by the time I wrapped the last one up for the freezer. But recently I picked up Pies Sweet and Savory from DK Canada. It's one of the great titles in their 30% off Gift Boutique promo that runs until Dec. 24th 
And I discovered a wealth of new recipes - and knowledge. I'm a pretty basic cook - I've been
using a basic lard pie dough forever and for everything. I had no idea that there were so many variations of dough recipes - sweet pie dough, hot water pie dough, puff pastry, strudel, cobbler, gluten free and more! Lots and lots of colour photos and clear instructions make me feel pretty confident about my abilities to try new methods. There are great ideas (and photos) of decorative edges as well.
But what was fantastic was the wealth of ways to serve up a pie. Recipes have been included from around the world. When I think of pies, I think of traditional dessert pies. Pies Sweet and Savory is much more than that.
The table of contents at the beginning makes it easy to find a recipe for what you're looking for - and with the choice of sweet or savory. (Vegetarian selections included as well)
  • Top Crust,  Double Crust, Cobblers/Crumbles, Individual Pies/Tartlets, Quiches and Savory Tarts, Sweet Tarts, En Croutes and Layered Pies, Tartes Tatins , Potato Topped Pies
I've bookmarked more than one recipe I want to try - Raspberry Tartlets and Goat Cheese Tartlets may be making an appearance on New Year's Eve. But before that - I have found a great recipe to use up  the turkey leftovers from Christmas. Individual turkey pot pies! Freeze and  they'll be perfect for supper on the nights I have to work.
As with all Dorling Kindersley books, the book is well laid out and easy to read. Recipes are on one page, with ingredients in one column and instructions in another. Serving, prep and cook time are noted at the top. I am a visual learner - I so appreciate the colour photographs.
As the introduction says..."Ideal for novice home cooks to experienced chefs, this book contains a mixture of both old favorites and new classics for all." Sweet and Savory is a cookbook I will definitely be putting to good use.
Here's a look inside - and two recipes to try. Herby Feta Filo Pie and Banana and Nutella Crumble Tartlets. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winner - Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

And the lucky winner of a copy of Mrs.Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, courtesy of Dutton Books is:

Tammy Cuevas!

Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. After that time, a new winner will be chosen. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways.

Winner - The Christmas Angel

And the lucky winner of a copy of The Christmas Angel by Jane Maas, courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books is:


Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ten Lords A-Leaping - C.C. Benison

It's Christmas time again! Time for the newest Tom Christmas mystery from C.C. Benison, that is!  The latest entry in this wonderful cozy mystery series - Ten Lords A-Leaping - is newly released.

At the end of the last book - Eleven Pipers Piping (see a theme here?) - Father Christmas, the vicar of the small English village of Thornford Regis had organized a sky diving fundraiser for the church's much needed new roof. 

Eggescombe Hall, the country home of the Earl of Fairhaven, has been offered up as the venue. Not every one is feeling charitable though. Two of the Leaping Lords get into a tussle thousands of feet in the sky....and one Lord's parachute fails to open. What was supposed to have been an afternoon's event is extended when one of the Earl's cousins is found murdered in the labyrinth. Father Tom, his daughter Miranda, housekeeper Madrun and many assorted 'peers of the realm' are ordered to stay put by the local constabulary until they determine 'whodunit'.

Benison opens the book with one of Madrun's chatty letters to her mother. I adore these letters - Madrun's misspelled words, crossed out sentences and her view on what's going one. Subtle clues are also dropped into her missives. And some of it is just plain fun....

"We talked on a bit, PC Widger and I. Turns out his mother-in-law is a cousin once removed of Tilly Springett's late husband who used to farm near Thornford you remember. Anyway his mother-in-law is a lady golf ball diver (ret'd). She would dive into the water traps at the golf course all over the West Country and sell the balls she found! So nice to have a chat with someone about something normal!"

But the real draw is the main character Tom. He's not a stuffy old parson poking about, but instead is a younger, handsome widower who comes across as very human and very real. His own wife's killer was never found. He's doing the best he can to raise his eleven year old daughter. (who is just as curious and  loves a set of novels featuring a French girl detective) In Ten Lords A-Leaping, Tom makes a decision based on loneliness and desire. But will that decision have an impact on discovering who the real murderer is? I appreciate that Tom's character and persona are being developed more and more from book to book. Subtle clues about Tom's biological parents are dropped and I'm sure this thread will likely appear in a further book.

His calm and gentle manner is comforting and more than a bit of good advice is usually shared. Tom has a knack for eliciting information. I must say though, he has a propensity for stumbling across dead bodies!

There are many, many players in this latest mystery - I found myself quite glad that Benison provided a family tree as an appendix, as I referred to it often in the beginning. We're kept guessing as to the identity of the killer - no one seems to be able to tell the truth at Eggescombe Hall. Everyone is determined to keep their own secrets. Half truths, outright lies and omissions cloud the journey to the killer's identity. Benison cleverly inserts an unsolved mystery from the previous book into the plot of this one. Ten Lords A-Leaping had an Agatha Christie feel to it - with the estate on lock down and the killer most likely one of those within the walls

Picking up the latest Father Tom mystery has become one of my Christmas reading traditions. Benison has set us up for the next in the series through Madrun's latest letter to her Mum. A Hollywood actress with ties the village will be directing the Drama Society's latest play - Nine Ladies. This reader will be waiting eagerly for next year's release - and the return to the village as a setting.

Definitely a recommended series. Established fans will want to add Ten Lords A-Leaping to their collection. New readers - treat yourself and start from the beginning with Twelve Drummers Drumming.

Read an excerpt of Ten Lords A-Leaping. You can keep up with C.C. Benison on Facebook and on Twitter.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Over the Counter #192

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Well, Christmas baking season is upon us, so cookbooks are this week's them. Desserts and treat recipes to be precise - one from the US and one from Canada!

First up was The Secret Lives of Baked Goods: Sweet Stories and Recipes for America's Favorite Desserts by Jessie Oleson Moore.

From the publisher, Sasquatch Books:

"Have you ever wondered where the ideas for baking red velvet cupcakes, brownies, birthday cake, Girl Scout cookies, and other dessert recipes came from? Discover the history behind America's most popular and nostalgic desserts with popular CakeSpy blogger and self-proclaimed "dessert detective" Jessie Oleson Moore. Moore has put her sweet-sleuthing skills to work uncovering the fascinating histories and tastiest recipes for America's favorite sweets, including whoopee pies, chocolate chip cookies, Baked Alaska, and New York cheesecake. From romantic musings on how desserts got their names to sugar-fueled scandals, these classic recipes and photographs are guaranteed to offer food for thought and leave you with plenty of room for dessert."

Next up was The Complete Chocolate Book by The Canadian Living Test Kitchen.

From the publisher:

"Is there a sexier food than chocolate? Even its Latin name - Theobroma cacao - means "food of the gods." Is it any wonder this ingredient captivates our imaginations, year after year?

But chocolate can be a finicky ingredient -- it can break, or seize, and it needs gentle handling to turn out right. That's why the pros in The Canadian Living Test Kitchen have collected their best Tested-Till-Perfect chocolate recipes in their new book, The Complete Step-by-Step Chocolate Collection. Alongside pages and pages of decadent, luscious recipes, they've shared what the pros know about cooking with chocolate, and more than 100 step-by-step shots to guide you though the cooking process. It couldn't be easier to be a chocolatier at home.

Chapters focus on the varied, wonderful textures of chocolate treats. Craving an ooey-gooey caramel-topped cake? A dark, chewy brownie? A crispy, crunchy cookie? These and many more recipes await you in the pages of this book. So dig in and treat yourself!

Chapters Include:
1. Gooey (sticky-topped cakes, squares, cookies)
2. Creamy (sauces, puddings, mousses, fondue)
3. Crunchy (cookies, tarts, pastries)
4. Chewy (cookies, brownies, yeast breads)
5. Melty (truffles, candies)
6. Crumbly (tarts, shortbreads, pastries)
7. Chilly (frozen treats, ice cream)
8. Cakey (moist/dense cakes, quick breads, cake-like brownies)"

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catch your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Hidden Holiday Blog Tour - Catherine McKenzie

Still looking for gift for the book lover on your list? Canadian shoppers - here's a great suggestion... Hidden by Catherine McKenzie. ( US readers - you can preorder your copy - to be released in April 2014)

I never know what to expect when I start one of  Catherine's books - all four have been completely different reads. What I do know is that I'm going to enjoy it.

What if you died unexpectedly? What if there were secrets you were keeping? What would happen then....

"...we all lie about things. Little things, big things. We all keep stuff hidden. And the longer you're with someone, the more stuff there is like that..."

McKenzie explores that premise in Hidden. Jeff Manning is struck and killed by a car one night. This unexpected loss leaves two women grieving - his wife Claire.....and his co worker Tish.

Hidden is told in those three voices, with Jeff recounting his life with his wife and his...relationship... with Tish. We are privy to Claire's grief and her memories of their life together. And we get to know Tish and her family as well. (Sharp eyes will be able to tell whose chapter it is by the font used in the first line)

McKenzie's exploration of the dynamics of these relationships is incredibly well drawn. The sense of grief both women feel is palpable and beautifully written. My heart broke for Jeff's son Seth as he attempted to deal with his father's death. I initially expected to dislike Tish, given that she is 'the other woman'. But is she? When is a line crossed? I found my thoughts on each character and their choices changing with every new chapter and revelation revealed.

Although the main focus is these three characters, Catherine also explores the relationships between family members, friends and workmates as well. Tim and his brother Jeff have one of the most difficult of all. McKenzie does an impressive job writing from a male perspective. Actually, it was all impressive. I was caught up in the story and characters from the first page. The ending caught me totally unawares - and had me rethinking what I had read.

Catherine McKenzie has written a very real, insightful and powerful novel exploring the complex and complicated relationships that shape our lives. This would be a fantastic selection for a book club - Catherine has come up with a set of questions sure to start a great discussion.

Another fantastic novel from a very talented author. I can't wait to see what she comes up with for book number five! (This review originally posted June 28/13)

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practises law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels, Spin, Arranged and Forgtotten, are all international bestsellers. Her fourth novel, HIDDEN, was released in June, 2013 in Canada and in Spring 2014 in the US. Her novels have been translated into French, German, Czech, Slovak and Polish. And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots. You can find Catherine McKenzie on Twitter and on Facebook.

Check out the Savvy Reader tour for more reviews.
And the E-book is on sale for $4.99 until Dec 31/13.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Purchase - Linda Spalding - Guest Post AND Giveaway

Linda Spalding's brilliant (and award winning) novel, The Purchase, released last year in Canada. I absolutely loved it - you can read my review here. It's now available in the US and is definitely recommended.

"In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience. Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction."

Linda was kind enough to stop by for a guest post today and share the personal connection to her novel.....

"I’d like to introduce you to some people I know quite well. One of them, Daniel Dickinson, was my grandfather’s grandfather and he survives today in a book I wrote – a novel – about something terrible that happened to him. Or, you might say, something terrible that he did. Daniel’s wife had died in childbirth in 1798, leaving a new baby and four young children. They were a Quaker family living in Pennsylvania and Daniel, desperate for help, married a young girl, who happened to be a Methodist. (She had come to work in his house while his wife was confined to childbed.) But the marriage outraged the Quaker community of Brandywine because Daniel had married outside the faith. The elders then voted to disown him – a combination of shunning and excommunication that left him without resource. Poor Daniel felt he had no choice but to leave his little town - his friends, his home, his children’s school, his work - and he set off for the wilderness of far away southwest Virginia, where land was almost free. His new wife was not much older than his eldest daughter, Mary, and the two girls disliked each other from the start. Who can blame them? Mary was well brought up, full of family pride and a sense of her own self-worth. She was used to nice clothes and books and needlework while Ruth was uneducated, illiterate and unmannerly, having been raised as a orphan in a poorhouse.

Daniel, Mary, Ruth. These three characters are central to the first half of the story. Later the younger siblings grow into their own troubled stories, their own rebellions and searches that grow out of Daniel’s terrible mistake. Daniel, who is a strict abolitionist, has betrayed his own beliefs and purchased a young slave boy named Simus.

Daniel must live with what he has done, falling deeper and deeper into a lifestyle he cannot condone or sustain, and his children are also corrupted. I once thought of calling the book The Sins of the Fathers, but of course there are childish sins as well. Daughter Mary becomes the best friend and protector of Bett, a runaway slave girl, until their relationship is frayed by Mary’s exploitation of Bett. (The two young slaves, Bett and Simus, are not merely victims. They are fully formed characters with their own complex stories and points of view.)

Daniel’s sons turn against him and the youngest daughter, lovely Jemima, brings shame to the family and suffers for it.

Did I mention murder? Oh, but that is part of the plot, so I won’t go into it here. It is the people of the story who live on in the pages of The Purchase - my ancestors, my inventions, my dearly beloveds - fixed in time but still working through each and every circumstance and tragedy of their lives." Read an excerpt of The Purchase.

"Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes The Follow (Canadian title, short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize, and published in the US as A Dark Place in the Jungle), Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize), and Who Named the Knife. She has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine."

Thanks for stopping by Linda! And if you'd like to read this wonderful book, I've a copy to giveaway! Simply leave a comment to be entered! Open to US only, closes Dec 21/13.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Christmas Angel - Jane Maas - Review, Recipes and Giveaway!

My Christmas tree has been up for a week now. I love sitting by the lights at the end of the night and settling in with a Christmas story.

The Christmas Angel by Jane Maas was a perfect little one night read.

Maas opens her story with Owen Thomas in 1875 Wales. Sure that he's found the woman he wants to spend his life with, he carves her a beautiful wooden angel, who will be the crowning glory of their Christmas tree. The Thomas family tree is always outside - 'where it can look up to God."

But Owen's plans don't turn out the way he had hoped. Maas moves the story of The Christmas Angel to the next generation of the Thomas family, seeing us through five generations and the return of the Christmas Angel to her home.

I enjoyed the historical figures and their stories the most. I think I could have quite happily lived in simpler times. It's a nice reminder in these busy times that it's not always what you can buy, but instead time spent with loved ones and family traditions, that are truly memorable. I found myself stopping to think about our traditions as I was reading. Each of the generations has their own chapter, connecting to the next until the end serendipitously meets the beginning.

Maas weaves a lovely, sentimental tale of family, fate and love that will warm your heart on a cold winter's night. Fans of Debbie Macomber and Richard Paul Evans would enjoy tale. (Note that there are religious tones and views to this story.) Read an excerpt of The Christmas Angel. You can find Jane Maas on Facebook.

One of the traditions of the Thomas family was baking cookies - lots and lots of cookies - "enough to
last until Easter." One of my family's favourite cookie recipes are 'Aunt Jessie's cookies'. Now I'm sure these are known by a number of other names, but I love them because they're quick, easy, delicious and freeze well.

All you'll need is a bag of butterscotch baking chips, a bag of semi-sweet chocolate baking chips, chow mein noodles and some salted, skin-on spanish peanuts. Melt the baking chips together over a double boiler, then quickly stir in the noodles and peanuts. Spoon on to a wax covered baking sheet, refrigerate and ta-da! Yep, that simple. The picture doesn't really do them justice - they are quite good - and addictive. 

Here's a recipe for one of the cookies made in The Christmas Angel - Jammie Dodgers.

And thanks to the lovely folks at Thomas Dunne Books, I have a copy  of The Christmas Angel to giveaway! Simply leave a comment to be entered. U.S. only. This one's short and sweet -ends Dec 15/13.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Film on Friday #7- The Deflowering of Eva Van End

The seventh entry in the Film on Friday series is The Deflowering of Evan Van End . This is the feature film debut of Dutch Director Michel ten Horn.

The Deflowering of Eva Van Endwas an official selection for over ten film festivals.

Eva quietly announces at the family dinner table that a German exchange student will be staying with them for two weeks. No one listens to or hears what Eva has to say. Her father is oblivious, her mother preoccupied and her older brother is focused on his own life. Her other brother is unfocused - stoned most of the time.

The first few scenes were both funny and poignant. The family situation is not that unbelievable. I felt incredibly sad for Eva - brilliantly played by Vivian Dierickx. She's awkward, overweight, ostracised at school and ignored at home.

When Veit (Rafael Gareisen) arrives, he is a blond god, seemingly good at everything and anything and uncannily able to target what each family member seems to need.

But, although this film has been described as a dark comedy and the cover art seems to support that view, I found that it took a more serious tone than I initially imagined it would.

Veit is the catalyst that triggers upheaval and great change within this dysfunctional family. Secrets are revealed, scabs are picked off and change is inevitable. All for the good? Well, I think each viewer would have a different answer. As the film ended, I wondered about Eva's place in her family - things have changed, but it is still not spelled out. But the last group shot is telling.  ten Horn also uses a 'falling star' metaphor to great effect.

After the film, while reading the liner notes, I discovered that the idea for this film sprang from ten Horn's own experience with a German exchange student. Makes me wonder which bits are truth.

One of the addition short films included is Basta - ten Horn's film thesis, that specialized in animation. The Deflowering of Eva Van End also has a bit of an animation feel to it. There are many short shots that showcase what the director wants us to see, then quickly cuts away. As the film picks up speed in the last twenty minutes, the cutaways multiply. We know what is happening to each family member and are just waiting to see how those moments will come together and what it means for the Van End family.

The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a strangely moving, quirky film. Bits of it are squirmy, bits are sad, bits are affirming, but as a package it's very, very watchable. I quite enjoyed it.

  • Netherlands / 2012 / Dutch, English & German with English subtitles / 98 min

  • As mentioned, there are two short films included, both directed by ten Horn. I didn't enjoy Basta at all. Perhaps it was the style (slightly macabre Whoville tone with no real dialogue) or the material, but it was a miss for me. The second, Arie, was quite good.  A realistic view, rather than the animated style is more appealing to this viewer. And I liked the idea - an old man's pet bird dies, but with an unexpected ending)

    Thursday, December 5, 2013

    Over the Counter #191

    What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner. Well, I have to tell you - I wasn't looking forward to what I packed for lunch this day. Or really any day lately - it seems I keep packing the same thing over and over again....

    First up was Beating the Lunchbox Blues: Fresh Ideas For Lunches on the Go by J. M. Hirsch.

    From the publisher Simon and Schuster:

    "Longing for more than yet another limp salad? Tired of tussling with the kids over junk food lunch kits? Sounds like you’ve got the lunch box blues. J. M. Hirsch has the fix.

    But it isn’t a cookbook. Because when it comes to lunch, nobody has time to break out a recipe to bang out a brown bag special. Busy people need lunch ideas. Lots of them. And those ideas need to be healthy, fast, easy, affordable, and delicious.

    That’s what Beating the Lunch Box Blues is—an idea book to inspire anyone daunted by the daily ordeal of packing lunch. Jammed with nearly 200 photos and more than 500 tips and meals, this book is designed to save families time, money, and their sanity.

    Whether you want to jazz up a grilled cheese, turn leftover steak into a DIY taco kit, or make pizza “sushi,” Hirsch has it covered. And because the best lunches often are built from the leftovers of great suppers, he has also included 30 fast and flavorful dinner recipes designed to make enough for tomorrow, too. Crazy good stuff like short ribs braised in a Rosemary-Port Sauce, Hoisin-Glazed Meatloaf, and kid-friendly classics such as Turkey Sloppy Joes and American Chop Suey.

    With ideas this easy and this delicious, there’s no reason to let the lunch box blues get you down."

    And maybe a home made muffin for break time?

    Moufflet: More Than 100 Gourmet Muffin Recipes That Rise to Any Occasion by Kelly Jaggers.

    From the publisher Adams Media:

    "You'll Love This If:

  • You love baking desserts
  • You enjoy gourmet muffins
    In this muffin cookbook, you'll find enough gourmet muffins to entertain your every tastebud. Whether you're looking for the perfect side for a special dinner or a delightful dessert to end your soiree, the scrumptious ingredients in these recipes are sure to leave you wanting more.

    You and your guests won't be able to resist nibbling on sweet and savory muffins like:
    Ascarpone Pound Cake, Pepper Jack Chorizo, Double Shot Espresso And Many More!"

    (Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catch your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    The Absence of Mercy - John Burley

    John Burley makes his fiction debut with The Absence of Mercy.

    In the small Ohio town of Wintersville, Dr. Ben Stevenson wears two hats - that of the town doctor and when needed, that of the medical examiner.

    But rarely is he called to examine violent deaths - Wintersville is a place where the neighbours all know your name - and a lot of times, your business.

    Who then could be responsible for the frenzied attack on a local teenager that left him dead in a field? Suddenly, folks are locking their doors and keeping their kids close. That goes double for Ben. His older son was friends with the slain boy.

    Ben becomes more involved with the investigation, especially when another attack occurs - and the victim is found barely alive.

    Burley explores the reaction to such a crime through the townsfolk, most notably the teenagers in town and through Ben's eyes - both as a father and a coroner. This is a lot of the focus of the book, as there are not a lot of clues to follow.  Instead, things ratchet up a notch when the killer's identity becomes known. While I was not overly surprised at this turn, it did raise some interesting questions. I was surprised at where Burley chose to take his story after that - it was a nice twist.  I'm not sure if I liked the ending, but again it wasn't nice and tied up with a bow. I like that. And I liked this debut by John Burley - I would pick up his next book without hesitation.

    Burley's background is in medicine. This background certainly gives the medical scenes a ring of authenticity. But, after a few lengthy descriptions it also had me skipping further explanations - they were filled with too much 'technical' jargon.

    The title? "The same was true for the absence of mercy – not because mercy was something such individuals chose to withhold, but because it was a faculty they simply did not possess." Chilling.

    Read an excerpt of The Absence of Mercy. You can find John Burley on Facebook and on Twitter.

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Don't Want to Miss a Thing - Jill Mansell

    Things are getting busy with life lately (and I've been spending a lot of time with murder mysteries!) so I decided I needed a nice light, fun, feel-good, read. And I knew just the author to pick up! Jill Mansell always delivers a wonderfully warm chick lit read.

    Don't Want to Miss a Thing is her latest North American release.

    I was surprised in the first pages - this time 'round we have a male lead character. Dexter is a 'player' - he's got the looks, the money and no lack of female company in London. When his older sister Laura gives birth to her daughter Delphi, Dex falls in love for the first time in his life. Then the unthinkable happens - Laura dies. With no partner she names Dex as Delphi's guardian. Dexter is hesitant - he just doesn't believe he can raise this little girl...but he loves Delphi dearly.

    He decides to permanently move to his weekend home in a small village in the Cotswolds. His new neighbours welcome him to the community and next door neighbour Molly offers to help out with Delphi. And could there be a little spark between Molly and Dex? The village is full of wonderfully warm, real, eclectic characters, each with their own story - and their own romantic entanglements.

    Mansell's characters range from teenagers to older adults and those in between. Each  one is wonderfully drawn. Every reader will find a character that they can identify with and root for. It's impossible not to be drawn into their world and their lives. You begin to imagine yourself sitting on the stool in the local café, catching up on the local gossip.

    Mansell is a master of the rom com story. Although we have lots of will they, won't they, near misses and close encounters, we know that in the end, things will turn out just as we want them to. (But Mansell still injects a dose of reality with some of the situations.) Really, who doesn't love a happy ending. And with Jill Mansell, the trip to that happy ending is oh, so enjoyable!

    Don't Want to Miss a Thing was a wonderful, warm read - a perfect get away from it all tale filled with love and laughter.  Absolutely recommended. Read an excerpt of Don't Want to Miss a Thing.
    You can keep up with Jill Mansell on Facebook and on Twitter.

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    Dead Man's Time - Peter James

    Peter James's latest book Dead Man's Time is the ninth entry in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series.

    I had read the first four or five books in this series, but hadn't picked up one lately.

    Dead Man's Time opens with a scene from 1922 - a scared young boy is witness to his mother's death and his father's disappearance in New York. The only thing left to him is his father's broken watch and a list of names and numbers.  Fast forward to 2012 England. The boy is now ninety five. That same watch has been tucked away in his sister's safe for all those ensuing years until a brazen daytime robbery occurs. A robbery that seems to be more than just a grab for the valuable antiques and paintings in the home, for the existence of the watch is known to very few. The thieves aren't content with their looting - they also murder the old woman.

    Roy's team is called in to investigate. James has created a solid, enjoyable police procedural. I always enjoy the team atmosphere of British crime solving and the piecing together of clues. Grace's team is ever changing, but some old standbys are still with him. James gives this supporting cast personality - they come across as real and believable.

    Grace bases his storyline on actual historical events - the Irish gangs and politics of 1920's New York. I did find this quite interesting and hopped on to the internet to check out some of the details - notable The Dead Rabbit Gang. However, I did find parts of the plot a bit of a stretch. Grace's need to travel to New York seems unbelievable, as do his actions while there. The subplot involving a criminal from Grace's past seems overdone. And I found the thugs in England to be clichéd in both dialogue, descriptions and actions. As I mentioned, I haven't read the last three or so books, but one thing hasn't changed or been resolved . Grace's ex wife Sandy has been hanging in the background for long enough - hopefully this is the end of her and her storyline. Grace does include a good personal storyline with Grace's role as a new father.

    Dead Man's Time was a solid read, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this series to those who enjoy British police procedurals. But it wasn't a standout for me. 3.5/5

    Read an excerpt of Dead Man's Time. You can find Peter James on Facebook and on Twitter.

    Sunday, December 1, 2013

    Winner - The Theory of Opposites

    And the lucky winner of a copy of The Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch is:


    Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. After that time a new winner will be chosen. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways.

    Winner - The Alligator Man

    And the lucky winner of a copy of The Alligator Man by James Sheehan, courtesy of Center Street Books is:


    Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. After that time a new winner will be chosen. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways.