Monday, November 30, 2015

Keeping Christmas - Dan Walsh

Dan Walsh's new (and timely) book is Keeping Christmas.

I love reading Christmas fiction in the weeks leading up to December 25th. Keeping Christmas was especially timely for me.

Judith and Stan Winters are empty nesters. But, for the first time, none of their three children can make it home for the holidays - Thanksgiving or Christmas. This affects Judith greatly - she has no interest in putting up a tree, listening to Christmas music or any of their usual traditions. Stan is not as affected - but he is worried about Judith as weeks go by and she is still uninspired - and depressed. Supportive friends Betty and Barney are also concerned.

Walsh has penned a story with it's roots in reality. It is incredibly hard to celebrate when family is scattered across the country. (Personally I thank goodness for Facetime!)

Through Judith's story, Walsh explores finding your Christmas spirit despite disappointments, finding new ways to celebrate and connect and thinking of others.

"What he did say was for those who loved the holidays to be mindful of those who found it harder to celebrate, and to do what they could to cheer them up. And he urged those who struggle to try to keep their minds on the 'reason for the season' rather than focusing on all the things that tend to bring them down during the holidays." Good words to take to heart.

Without giving much away, Keeping Christmas is also a love story and an exploration of friendship and family.

Keeping Christmas won't overly surprise you - the plot is somewhat telegraphed. What it will provide is food for thought, perfect for contemplating the coming holidays and how each of us can reach out and share the Christmas spirit.

It's a quick, easy read, at just over 200 pages. A heartfelt, heart-warming read, with a bit of a fairy tale ending.  Read an excerpt of Keeping Christmas.

Friday, November 27, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #81

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true. 
 But you can like one cover version better than another.....

US cover
UK cover
Lisa Gardner's new book Find Her releases in February 2016. I've enjoyed her writing and will most likely pick this one up too. Now let's talk covers...The US cover is on the left and the UK cover is on the right. No contest for me this week - I am not a fan of the disjointed face on the US cover at all. So UK for me this week - although it's not a standout either. Do you plan on reading Find Her? Which cover do you prefer? You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature
 at A Bookworm's World.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Over the Counter #291

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? I've given up processed sugar, but looking at cookbooks satisfies my sweet tooth... or eye?...

First up is Get Your Bake On: Sweet and Savory Recipes from My Home to Yours by Brian Emmett.

From the publisher, Simon and Schuster:

"Cook up some delicious, down-home goodness with this cookbook of more than seventy-five sweet and savory recipes from Brian Emmett, grand prize winner of CBS’s The American Baking Competition.

In 2013, Brian Emmett burst onto the culinary scene with his charm, confidence, and superior baking and cooking skills on season one of The American Baking Competition. He won over the hearts of Americans nationwide, who watched this enthusiastic husband and father immerse himself in his passion—and, ultimately, take home the illustrious title of “Top Amateur Baker.”

Now, in Get Your Bake On, Brian shares over seventy-five recipes that leave no doubt as to why he was crowned champion on the show. This cookbook encompasses a hearty mixture of The American Baking Competition favorites, brand-new concoctions, and Emmett family recipes passed down through generations. Staying true to the show’s theme, there are plenty of sweets: From miniature tarts to his famous Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookie, Brian’s baked goods are sure to satisfy even the most demanding of sweet tooths. But Get Your Bake On also features a strong savory element with classic, feel-good recipes such as Sunday Brunch Strada and Beef Chili with Buttermilk Cornbread.

So grab a spoon, America—Brian’s back, and he’s ready to dish!"

Next up is Milk Bar Life: Recipes and Stories by Christina Tosi.

From the publisher, Clarkson Potter:

"Go off the clock with Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar as she bakes one-bowl treats, grills with skills, and embraces simple, nostalgic—and often savory—recipes made from supermarket ingredients.

For anyone addicted to crack pie®, compost cookies®, and cake truffles, here are their savory counterparts—such as Kimcheezits with Blue Cheese Dip, Burnt Honey–Butter Kale with Sesame Seeds, and Choose Your Own Adventure Chorizo Burgers—along with enough make-at-home sweets to satisfy a cookie-a-day habit. Join Christina and friends as they cook their way through “weaknights,” sleepovers, and late-night snack attacks to make mind-blowingly delicious meals with whatever is in the pantry.

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come 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, November 25, 2015

Splinter the Silence - Val McDermid

Splinter the Silence is the newest (and ninth) entry in Val McDermid's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series. (one of my favourite crime/detective series)

Splinter the Silence picks up a few months after the end of the last book Cross and Burn. (my review)

After a catastrophic case, ex-DCI Carol Jordan left the force and took refuge in restoring her dead brother's home. She's also taking refuge more and more in excessive drinking. Criminal psychologist and profiler Dr. Tony Hill is worried - very worried about Carol. Fate - and Tony - intercede and maybe, just maybe Carol has the chance to again prove why she's a brilliant DCI.

McDermid opens Splinter the Silence with the antagonist's thoughts...(and I was hooked immediately)

"Weekends were best. It was easy to avoid working then. So it was easier to watch the women he was interested in. Mostly they didn't go to work then either, so he had a chance to observe their routines and work out the best way to kill them."

McDermid uses a very current issue as the basis of her plot - on line bullying by trolls. Tony isn't looking for a case, but a recent spate of suicides just feels wrong to him. "Years of working alongside Tony had instilled in her an understanding that odd was often where the answers started." Familiar recurring members from previous books are assembled as they attempt to reunify as a team and discover if the deaths are suicide - or murder. Of course, as readers we know the answer but the thrill is in following the team's progress.

McDermid's plotting is always inventive and she is a master of the police procedural. 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. I enjoy each and every player, but it is 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. Their relationship progresses two steps forward and one step back. Stacey is given a louder voice in this outing and the addition of two new players looks promising for future entries.

Splinter the Silence is brought to a satisfying end...but then McDermid throws in one last twist guaranteed to whet the reader's appetite for the next book in this absolutely wonderful series. Highly recommended.

Although you can read any of this series as a stand alone, I heartily recommend starting at the beginning with  the first book, The Mermaids Singing. A television series - Wire in the Blood - is also based on these characters. You can find Val McDermid on Twitter and on Facebook as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stranger Child - Rachel Abbott

Stranger Child is the fourth book in Rachel Abbott's DCI Tom Douglas series.

I only discovered this series and author recently when I listened to the third book, Sleep Tight. I enjoyed Abbott's lead character and plotting and wanted to see what was next for Tom.

In Stranger Child, David Joseph lost his first wife and daughter in a car accident six years ago.  His wife was killed - but his six year old daughter Natasha simply disappeared. Seven years on, David is married again to Emma and has a new baby boy.

And then one day, when Emma is in the kitchen, a teenager appears behind her - and doesn't say a word. Could it be......Tasha? It is. But she won't speak, won't say where she's been and why she was able to simply reappear. While her father is overjoyed to see her, she makes Emma very, very nervous. David seems satisfied with not knowing, but Emma decides to contact her old friend DCI Tom Douglas.

I really liked Emma as a character. David - not so much. My thoughts on Natasha changed and evolved as the book progressed. Abbott manipulates the listener well, adding another piece, another revelation as the book progresses.

Abbot has penned an ambitious plot, with many twists and turns and lots of action.  I was completely caught up in wondering about the last seven years of Tasha's life. There were a few plot points that stretched credulity for me  - David not immediately calling the police when his daughter returned, no one taking her to the doctor and a few more. But.....the story is absolutely a page turner. I had my suspicions on the outcome, but was only proved partially right. Some previous loose threads from a secondary plot in Sleep Tight are tied up in Stranger Child. Well, not quite 100% - the door is open for the next entry in this series. I'll be listening.

The reader was Lisa Coleman, a different narrator from book three. I quite liked Coleman's voice. She has a strong, matter of fact kind of tone to her speaking voice. She easily conveyed male and female characters with her voice - I thought her characterization of each was distinct, suited and was easily identifiable. Coleman has a nice little gravelly undertone to her voice that is pleasant to listen to. My one suggestion would be to stick with one reader going forward to build continuity in future books.  Listen to an excerpt of Stranger Child.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Lake House - Kate Morton

Kate Morton has done it again - her latest release, The Lake House, is an absolutely fantastic read.

I was hooked from the opening page...

1933. "Back when it first happened she'd considered confessing, and perhaps, in the beginning, she might have. She'd missed her chance though and now it was too late. Too much had happened: the search parties, the policemen, the articles in the newspapers pleading for information. There was no one she could tell, no way to fix it, no way they would ever forgive her. The only thing left was to bury the evidence."

What happened? Who is speaking?

Morton again employs a then and now narrative from 1933 to the current 2003. (I love this format - but it keeps me up very late reading 'just one more chapter'!)  One of the main characters is writer Alice Edevane, who pens "crime novels reviewers liked to describe as 'psychologically taut' and 'morally ambiguous whydunits' as much as they were whos or hows." But, the greatest mystery in Alice's life is what happened to her wee brother Theo in 1933. Alice now makes her home in London, but still owns the Edevane family's Cornwall country house, unlived in for over seventy years. Detective Sadie Sparrow is on forced leave from the London force and retreats to her grandfather's home in Cornwall. While on a run, she stumbles across the abandoned estate deep in the woods.

Delicious, delicious premise!

Morton transports us back to 1933, a time of innocence, a time of  stricter social mores, a time where duty and responsibility took precedence, a time where 'things' were kept quiet and secrets were born. Morton's description of the country estate, Loeanneth, the rooms, the halls, the grounds - and the lake house, were vivid and detailed, creating a rich backdrop for the events that take place. And in seventy years, we see the estate through the eyes of Sadie. The grounds seem to echo and exude the memories of the family and its past glory. "Something niggled about this place. An odd feeling had come over her since she'd climbed through the gate, an inexplicable sense of things being not quite right."

The characters were just as richly drawn. I had a strong mental image of every character, no matter how minor their role. (I must admit to Alice being my favourite.)

And then there's the plotting. Brilliant. The past is slowly revealed in the 1933 chapters, with bits and pieces being added as the book progresses. Morton has the reader thinking one way, then changes direction with each new revelation added. In the present, that same past is being just as slowly uncovered. The reader is lucky enough to be privy to both stories - we know more that Alice and Sadie. Or do we? I was quite sure I could predict where and what the endgame would be - and I'm happy to say I was wrong. Along with the intensely intricate plot Morton has woven, a secondary theme of mothers and motherhood is explored.

As Sadie says..."there was nothing as thrilling as unravelling a puzzle, particularly one like this..." The Lake House is absolutely, positively recommended - it's one of my fave reads for 2015. Read an excerpt of The Lake House. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #80

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true.
 But you can like one cover version better than another.....

US cover
UK cover
Tami Hoag's latest in the Kovac and Liska series releases in January in the US and March in the UK. The US cover is on the left and the UK cover is on the right. Both covers have a 'cold' feel that seems to suit the title. Different leaves. The font and style on the UK cover is more 'dangerous' looking and suggest a crime novel more than the US cover. But I'm not a fan of the purple. US for me this week. What about you? Will you be reading The Bitter Season? Which cover do you prefer?
You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature
 at A Bookworm's World.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Over the Counter #290

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? A pair of solitary memoirs....and sight...

First up is Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper By Caroline Woodward.

From Harbour Publishing:

"In 2007, Caroline Woodward was itching for a change. With an established career in book-selling and promotion, four books of her own and having raised a son with her husband, Jeff, she yearned for adventure and to re-ignite her passion for writing. Jeff was tired of piecing together low-paying part-time jobs and, with Caroline’s encouragement, applied for a position as a relief lightkeeper on a remote North Pacific island. They endured lonely months of living apart, but the way of life rejuvenated Jeff and inspired Caroline to contemplate serious shifts in order to accompany him. When a permanent position for a lighthouse keeper became available, Caroline quit her job and joined Jeff on the lights.

Caroline soon learned that the lighthouse-keeping life does not consist of long, empty hours in which to write. The reality is hard physical labour, long stretches of isolation and the constant threat of de-staffing. Beginning with a 3:30 a.m. weather report, the days are filled with maintaining the light station buildings, sea sampling, radio communication, beach cleanup, wildlife encounters and everything in between. As for dangerous rescue missions or dramatic shipwrecks—that kind of excitement is rare. “So far the only life I know I’ve saved is my own,” she says, with her trademark dry wit. Yet Caroline is exhilarated by the scenic coastline with its drizzle and fog, seabirds and whales, and finds time to grow a garden and, as anticipated, write.

Told with eloquent introspection and an eye for detail, Light Years is the personal account of a lighthouse keeper in twenty-first century British Columbia—an account that details Caroline’s endurance of extreme climatic, interpersonal and medical challenges, as well as the practical and psychological aspects of living a happy, healthy, useful and creative life in isolation."

Next up is The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude by Howard Axelrod.

From the publisher, Beacon Press:

"Into the Wild meets Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—a lyrical memoir of a life changed in an instant and of the perilous beauty of searching for identity in solitude

On a clear May afternoon at the end of his junior year at Harvard, Howard Axelrod played a pick-up game of basketball. In a skirmish for a loose ball, a boy’s finger hooked behind Axelrod’s eyeball and left him permanently blinded in his right eye. A week later, he returned to the same dorm room, but to a different world. A world where nothing looked solid, where the distance between how people saw him and how he saw had widened into a gulf. Desperate for a sense of orientation he could trust, he retreated to a jerry-rigged house in the Vermont woods, where he lived without a computer or television, and largely without human contact, for two years. He needed to find, away from society’s pressures and rush, a sense of meaning that couldn’t be changed in an instant."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come 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, November 18, 2015

Midnight Sun - Jo Nesbo

Midnight Sun is the second book in Jo Nesbo's Blood on Snow series.

What ties these two together is The Fisherman, crime kingpin of Oslo. Jon worked for The Fisherman selling drugs and other 'special' jobs as needed. Except Jon couldn't do it - he couldn't kill. So now he's run to a remote village at the top of Norway where the sun never sets. And he took along drugs and money that weren't his to take - and The Fisherman wants it back....

A local woman, Lea, and her son Knut, give Jon shelter in an old hunting cabin. But after a few days of the sun never setting, the flat unending landscape and being alone in the small cabin, he craves people - and alcohol. So he heads to the village....

Nesbo's description of the village and the landscape creates an sense of otherworldly isolation that mirrors what Jon is feeling. The eclectic residents and their behavior keeps both Jon and the reader wondering what could happen next.

Even though Jon, aka Ulf, is a 'bad' guy, he's a bad guy with a good streak and a conscience. The reader can't help but hope that he escapes those after him and that maybe, just maybe, he's got another shot at a good life. Sami culture and the Laestadian religion are woven into the story - redemption is a major theme and plays a part in more than one character's life.

I love the noir, staccato pace of Nesbo's writing - think of a Tarantino movie put to print. For me, another great read from Nesbo. Read an excerpt of Midnight Sun.

(I have no idea if Nesbo will ever resurrect Harry Hole - but I do miss him.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to Be Brave - E. Katherine Kottaras - Review, Excerpt AND Giveaway

How to Be Brave is E. Katherine Kottaras's debut novel.

In her senior year of high school, Georgia's mother dies - and one of her dying wishes is that Georgia live life bigger. And so the Live Life list is born - including entries such as get high, skip school, go skinny-dipping, ask a certain boy out, kiss that boy, trapeze lessons and more.

"Today's the day to start all over. Today's the day to start living for her"

While I don't agree with all the items on Georgia's list, I applaud the attitude and intention - try everything, do anything you want - without imposing other's attitudes and judgments on yourself. But I believe you need to do those things for yourself, not others.

At first glance, I thought this would be a light-hearted YA novel as the items on the list were checked off. But, Kottaras tackles some heavy subjects - grief, loss, drug use, depression, friendship, bullying, self-esteem, body image and more.

While I quite liked Georgia as the main character, I wasn't as sold on her 'bestie' Liss. Her actions in the second half of the book disappointed me. Many of the other supporting characters were somewhat cliched - the geeky, perfect guy, the mean girl cheerleaders, the quirky teacher who champions the overweight but talented student et al.

Flashbacks and memories about Georgia's mother and her life are quite heartbreaking. And only reinforce that we need to grab life and enjoy every day. I enjoyed the 'poetic' feel of many of these recollections.

Overall, I thought How to Be Brave was a good debut novel - see for yourself in the excerpt below. Or check out the book trailer. And scroll to the bottom to enter the giveaway. 

"This is what it was like:

I didn’t want you to come. I didn’t want you there. 

The day before school, the very first year, 
we waited in line for my schedule.

They stared. Those in line around us— 

the other girls and their moms, 
 the ones who were my year, who were never my friends— 
They saw how you were big, planetary, next to them. 
 Next to me.

The girl in pigtails, someone’s sister,

asked: Is there a baby inside? Her mother, red now, whispered in her ear.

But the girl didn’t mind:
Oh, so she’s fat.

The other girls, the ones who were my year 
who were never my friends—they laughed at you, quietly. 
At me.

Her mother said she was sorry, so sorry, 
And you said: It’s fine. It’s fine. 
But it wasn’t.

You squeezed my hand, and then to the girl in pigtails, 
you said: I am big, yes. But I am beautiful, too
And so are you.

Her mother pulled her child away. 
She left the line and let us go first.

I didn’t say: You shouldn’t have come.
I didn’t say: I don’t want you here.

But I also didn’t say: I love you. 
Or: Thank you for being brave.

Later that night, I cried: 
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to face them. 
And every year after.

You’d look at me like I was that girl, 
and you’d say, as though it were true: 
You are possibility and change and beauty. 
One day, you will have a life, a beautiful life. 
You will shine.

I didn’t see it. I couldn’t see it, 
not in myself, 
not in you.

Now, it’s not like that anymore. This is what it’s like: It’s quiet in our house. Too quiet. Especially tonight. The day before my first day of senior year. The A/C hums, the fridge hums, the traffic hums. I’m standing at my closet door, those old knots churning inside my stomach again. I don’t want to go tomorrow. I need to talk to her. Instead, I’ve done what she always did for me the night before the first day of the school year. I’ve picked out three complete outfits, hung them on my closet door. It’s a good start, I guess.

Outfit #1: Dark indigo skinny jeans (are they still considered skinny if they’re a size 16?), drapey black shirt, long gold chain necklace that Liss gave me, and cheap ballet flats that hurt my feet because they’re way too flat and I hate wearing shoes with no socks.
Outfit #2: Black leggings, dark blue drapey knee- length dress (draping is my thing), gold hoop earrings that belonged to my mom, and open-toed black sandals, but that would mean a last-minute half-assed pedicure tonight. A spedicure, if you will.
Outfit #3: A dress my mom bought for me two years ago. The Orange Dress. Well, really more like coral. With embroidered ribbons etched in angular lines that camouflage my flab. Knee-length (not too short/not too long). Three-quarter-length sleeves (to hide the sagging). It’s perfectly retro. And just so beautiful. Especially with this utterly uncomfortable pair of canary-colored peep-toe pumps that belonged to my mom. I begged her for the dress. I made her pay the $125 for it. I knew my parents didn’t have the money, but I couldn’t help crying when I saw myself in the mirror. It fit (it’s a size 14), and I think she saw how pretty I felt because I did feel pretty for the first time, so she charged it.
But I’ve never worn it.
The day after, she went into the ER, her heart acting up again.
She needed another emergency stent, which meant more dye through her kidneys, which meant dialysis a few weeks later, which meant the beginning of the end of everything.
I never put it on after that.
It’s just so bright.
So unlike everything else I wear.
I could wear it tomorrow. I could.
And if she were here, she would tell me to.
I really need to talk to her. It’s just so quiet in this house."
How To Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.

Credit: Emily Mae Marie
"E. Katherine Kottaras is originally from Chicago, but now she writes and teaches in the Los Angeles area. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine and teaches writing and literature at Pasadena City College. She is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a full handstand, or 3) writing. She now lives in Los Angeles where she's hard at work on her next book." You can connect with E. Katherine Kottaras on her website, find her on Facebook, as well as on Twitter.

If How To Be Brave sounds like a book you'd like to read, I have a copy to giveaway courtesy of St. Martin's Griffin. Open to US and Canada. Ends Nov. 28/15. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review AND Giveaway - The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge - Charlie Lovett

Have you started your holiday reading yet? No? Well, here's one to add to your list - The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge by Charlie Lovett. (And I have a copy to giveaway as well as a bonus book!)

You read that right - further adventures. Lovett imagines what might have occurred after Scrooge was visited by the three ghosts and changed his outlook on Christmas - and life - in Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol.

Well, Scrooge is celebrating year round - wishing everyone he meets a Merry Christmas each day of the year. But those who benefitted from Scrooge's change of heart twenty years ago have also lost their way. Partner Bob Cratchit is a workaholic, nephew Freddie ignores the plight of those around him and Scrooge's creditors can't see the human side of his largess, only the debts. So one summer's day, Scrooge calls upon the ghosts to help them as they did him so many years ago.

Lovett writes in the style of Dickens (sometimes employing phrasing and referencing Dickens' other works) to recreate the tenor, tone and message of A Christmas Carol.

The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge is a lovely reminder that "...scores and hundreds understood the ways of wealth and money and even of philanthropy, but their hearts lacked the true wealth of love, of family, of Christmas joy, which, he now saw, might have been theirs all the year round."

The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge is a quick little one night read - here's an excerpt.  Guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit - hopefully year round! You can connect with Charlie Lovett on his website as well as on Facebook and on Twitter.

And thanks to Viking Books, I have a copy of The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge AND A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to giveaway to one lucky reader. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends November 28/15.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #79

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true.
 But you can like one cover version better than another.....

US cover
UK cover
When this series first came out in 1994 I absolutely adored it - the books were just plain fun to read. The 22nd entry in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series has released next week. I admit I haven't kept up with them - they just grew repetitive for me. And really - just pick one and be done with it - Ranger or Joe. The US cover is on the left and continues the styling that the previous US covers have employed. The UK cover on the right is a little too busy for me - but I do appreciate a good tag line - Queen of Kick-Ass Crime is kinda fun. What about you - are you reading this series? Which cover do you prefer this week? You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature at A Bookworm's World.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dispatches from Pluto - Richard Grant

From where? Richard Grant's newly released book is Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta.

Grant is an adventure writer  who "has rafted down uncharted African rivers and fled from bandits in Mexico's Sierra Madre" and documented his adventures in his two previous memoirs. But this time the adventure is in Pluto, Mississippi....

Grant and his girlfriend Mariah decide to leave their tiny apartment in New York City  - and they end up buying an old plantation house in the Mississippi Delta. They can grow their own food and become self sufficient - right? It'll work....

With both humour and pathos, Grant documents that first year in Pluto - learning to garden, hunt, avoid snakes, varmints and patching up the house. I found their transition from city dwellers to country folk absorbing, but it is the people they meet that truly make the book so fascinating. Generous neighbours, blues legends, eclectic characters and even Morgan Freeman populate the pages of Dispatches From Pluto. Grant's comfort zone is pretty wide - he seems to quite enjoy new experiences and new people.

Grant could not have written these 'dispatches' without touching on race relations and poverty in this Southern state. Grant's keen observations are thoughtful, sensitive and honest.  The description of Delta culture was captivating and compelling.

Dispatches From Pluto is definitely a recommended read. Read an excerpt of Dispatches From Pluto.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Over the Counter #289

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? It has been noted that I am perhaps more partial to dogs than cats. (Okay it's true....) In the interest of equal time and space, here's two for the cat lovers out there....this week's selections are from a coming soon list.

First up is Shake Cats by Carli Davidson.

From the publisher, Harper Design:

"The fur flies in this irresistible third installment in the bestselling Shake series by popular pet photographer Carli Davidson, featuring adorable and hysterical color photographs of more than sixty cats caught mid-shake.

Pet photographer Carli Davidson has enchanted readers around the world with her adorable photographs of man’s best friend in Shake and Shake Puppies. Now, she turns her lens on felines in this sweet and heartwarming volume that is pure catnip for cat lovers.

Shake Cats includes more than 130 gorgeous, highly detailed color pictures of felines in mid-shake. Like its predecessors Shake and Shake Puppies, it showcases a charming double-page layout—each spread features two images of the same cat placed side by side to capture the unique movement of the shake. Inside, fans will find a roster listing the names, ages, and breeds of cats photographed. Davidson also provides outtake images of her shoots with the cats, a short, insightful description that explains her process, and information about animal rescue to encourage people considering a new cat to choose a rescue animal.

A truly incomparable book—as beautifully designed as it is humorous—Shake Cats is the ultimate gift for every cat lover."

Next up is Felines of New York by Jim Tews.

From the publisher, Simon and Schuster:

"Featuring more than 100 photos and quotes from cats in America’s most glamorous city, Felines of New York exposes the furry underbelly of New York City’s most glamorous, self-important residents.

Where New York humans are accomplished, interesting, thoughtful, creative, and even sometimes tragic figures, the cats are simply cats. They do not stand in line for brunch, or have season tickets to the Met, or go indoor-rock climbing in Brooklyn. They do not shop at thrift stores or nibble finger sandwiches at the Russian Tea Room. And they certainly do not give a flying f*ck about the Yankees.

No, the felines of New York bathe, purr, bask languidly in the sun, and occasionally cast baleful glances at the humans who provide them food and shelter. They are proof that behind every New Yorker, there lays a cat just waiting to destroy their IKEA futon and then eat their faces off when they die."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come 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, November 11, 2015

Smoke - Catherine McKenzie

I've been a fan of Catherine McKenzie from her first book. She's just released her fifth novel - Smoke. Each of the previous four books have been completely different reads - I never know what to expect when I start one of her books. But what I do know is that I'm going to enjoy it.

Elizabeth fought wildfires as a profession for over ten years, travelling to where she was needed. Its taken a toll on her personal life though. So, now she stays put, living with her husband in a quiet mountain town in the Rockies. Instead, she works as an investigator for the town's attorney. But when an out of control fire threatens the entire town, her skills as an arson investigator are called into play again.

Elizabeth's ex-friend Mindy is also worried about the fire. She knows something is 'off' with her teenage son - and has been for quite a while. And whether or not she wants to admit it, she wonders if he might have had something to do with starting the fire.

Smoke is told in alternating chapters from both women. I really enjoy dual narrative novels - a second look at a same event and/or two stories that will intersect farther down the road as more is revealed.

Although the fire is the stage for the novel, there's much more to Smoke. The personal lives of Elizabeth and Mindy are explored - motherhood, friendship, love, marriage and secrets. While Elizabeth is the 'lead' character, I found myself more drawn to Mindy. I didn't like Elizabeth's secret keeping from her husband - and her justification for those choices. Mindy has made some questionable choices as well, but I was more inclined to forgive her. Her 'redemption', if you will, appealed to me more. McKenzie does a great job of creating a 'mean girls' group that Mindy hangs out with. (But I do want to know what happened to the siphoned library money?) The petulant and aggressive teens are also well drawn.

The mystery of who started the fire runs through the entire book of course. I did have the 'whodunit' sussed out before the end, but quite enjoyed the journey to the final reveal. The fire, the methods used to fight it and the mindset of a firefighter were well researched and believable.

I'm always intrigued by cover choices and titles. I'm not overwhelmed with this cover, but the title made me think of the old adage - "Where there's smoke, there's fire." And its applicable in so many ways to much of the plot line and many of the characters in Smoke.

Smoke is another engaging, easy read from McKenzie. Those who enjoy contemporary women's fiction with a touch of mystery will enjoy Smoke. Get a sneak peek - read an excerpt of Smoke.

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels, Spin, Arranged, Forgotten and Hidden, are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages, including French, German, Portuguese, Turkish, Slovakian and Czech. Hidden was also a #1 Amazon bestseller and a Digital Bookworld bestseller. She has also published a novella, Spun, which is a sequel to Spin. She is currently at work on her sixth novel, which is expected to be published in 2016. Visit her online at her website, on Facebook  and on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

'The 33' opens Fri., Nov. 13 - Prize Pack Giveaway

From Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures comes the untold true story of “The 33.”

I remember following this story on the newscasts and praying that the miners would be rescued...

..."In 2010, the eyes of the world turned to Chile, where 33 miners had been buried alive by the catastrophic collapse of a 100-year-old gold and copper mine. Over the next 69 days, an international team worked night and day in a desperate attempt to rescue the trapped men as their families and friends, as well as millions of people globally, waited and watched anxiously for any sign of hope. But 200 stories beneath the surface, in the suffocating heat and with tensions rising, provisions—and time—were quickly running out.

A story of resilience, personal transformation and triumph of the human spirit, the film takes us to the Earth’s darkest depths, revealing the psyches of the men trapped in the mine, and depicting the courage of both the miners and their families who refused to give up.

Based on the gripping true story of survival—and filmed with the cooperation of the miners, their families and their rescuers—“The 33” captures the never-before-seen actual events that unfolded, above and below ground, which became nothing less than a worldwide phenomenon.
The international cast is led by Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”), James Brolin, and Lou Diamond Phillips, with Bob Gunton and Gabriel Byrne. The cast also includes Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuñez, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviño, Adriana Barraza, Kate Del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Elizabeth De Razzo and Naomi Scott."

Get a sneak peek in the video clip below and you can see more about the movie

I have a promotional T-shirt for the film along with a flashlight to give away – kind of the perfect item to offer as a memento of a movie about miners. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US and Canada, no PO boxes please. Ends Nov. 21/15.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Giveaway - A Small Indiscretion - Jan Ellison

 Jan Ellison's debut novel A Small Indiscretion was released at the beginning of this year. It has received great reviews and been chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 Editor’s Pick, San Francisco Chronicle Book Club pick, and has received wonderful reviews from USA Today, Flavor Wire, The Rumpus and many more.

If you've missed it first time round, no worries. The paperback releases at the top of next year. But - I have a signed copy to giveaway to one lucky reader now!

From the publisher, Random House:

"Fans of Everything I Never Told You and The Girl on the Train will devour this page-turning literary debut about a harrowing coming-of-age and a marriage under siege from O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison.

At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.

After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.

With the brilliant pacing and emotional precision that won Jan Ellison an O. Henry Prize for her first published story, A Small Indiscretion announces a major new voice in suspense fiction as it unfolds a story of denial, obsession, love, forgiveness—and one woman’s reckoning with her own fateful mistakes." Read an excerpt of A Small Indiscretion.

"Jan Ellison is a graduate of Stanford University and San Francisco State University’s MFA Program. She has published award-winning short fiction, and was the recipient of a 2007 O. Henry Prize for her first story to appear in print. Her work has also been shortlisted for Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Northern California with her husband and their four children. A Small Indiscretion is her first book." You can keep up with Jan Ellison on Facebook and on Twitter.

Sound like a book you'd like to read? One copy to giveaway - open to US, no PO boxes please. Ends November 21/15. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, November 7, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #78

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true.
 But you can like one cover version better than another.....

US cover
UK cover
There's been a lot of pre-pub marketing for Dean Koontz's forthcoming book Ashley Bell. I haven't read a Koontz book in a while, but the whole 'Who is Ashley Bell' campaign caught my eye. The US cover is on the left (releases Dec 8/15) and the UK version is on the right (releases Jan 14/16) Well, it's a no brainer for me this week - I'll go with the US cover. It leaves a little more to the imagination. The UK cover is just too much - the bees put it over the top for me. What about you? Do you read Dean Koontz? Are you planning to read Ashley Bell? Which cover to you prefer?
You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature
 at A Bookworm's World.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Film on Friday #45 - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I'm not sure why, but there's a plethora of 'dying teen' movies being made. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is recently released from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. It's based on the novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews.

Greg Gaines has worked hard at blending in, going unnoticed and being on good terms with all the different groups at his high school. Oh, and he makes quirky little films with his 'co-worker' Earl. He's coasting along just fine. Until his mother insists he spend time with Rachel who is battling cancer. They really don't know each other very well....but things change as he and Rachel become unlikely friends. Greg is forced to confront the truths that Rachel lays out - about both herself and him.

Great casting! Thomas Mann is wonderful as Greg - his glib banter and self-deprecating manner hide his lack of confidence. The connection between him and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is absolutely believable. Cooke masterfully underplays her role - any louder or affected would not have worked. I must admit that Earl (newcomer R.J. Cyler) kinda stole the show for me. Again the relationship between Earl and Greg really works. Molly Shannon as Rachel's mom brought me some Saturday Night Live flashback moments. Jon Bernthal plays teacher Mr. McCarthy. Although his appearance is quite different, I still had a hard time not associating him with his Walking Dead role.

Now you might think that the plot would veer off into doomed dying girl teen romance territory. And I thought it was going to as well. Not so. Instead, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl explores friendships on many levels, coming of age, loss, love and more. Humorous, sad, quirky. An indie kind of take on what seems to be a newly recurring style of 'teen' film.

Cinematically, I found some of the long lens and fish eye shots took away from the movie for me. I started focusing on whether or not that staircase could truly be that steep instead of the dialogue happening. But, movies play a large role in Greg's life and the film, so I can understand why director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon would add some artistic touches. (Now this is just me, but I really didn't enjoy Greg's movies - and while Greg's final film has it's moments, I wasn't blown away)

All in all, I enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - winner of the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Have a peek at the trailer below.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Depraved Heart - Patricia Cornwell

I started with the first book (Postmortem) in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series way back in 1990 when forensic mysteries were becoming popular. Her latest release, Depraved Heart, is the 23rd entry in this series.

Now, I must admit, I just haven't enjoyed the last few books - they seemed mired in extraneous detail and became repetitive. But I was willing to give this latest a go. And up front, I want to say, I did enjoy Depraved Heart.

Scarpetta and Marino are at the scene of what appears to be the accidental death of a wealthy young woman when a video link appears and starts playing on Kay's phone. Although her policy is to never interrupt a scene investigation with personal calls, she is powerless to stop watching. The video is a twenty year old video of her niece Lucy - and her then lover Carrie Grethem. Grethem was thought to be dead, but surfaced in the last book and attempted to kill Kay. It looks like she's back and still determined to wreak havoc with Kay and her family.

"The FBI placed the niece I raised like a daughter into a psychopathic monster's care, and that decision changed the course of our lives. It has changed absolutely everything."

Depraved Heart picks up two months after the abrupt ending of the last book, Flesh and Blood. Readers who have kept up with the Scarpetta books will have a better understanding of this perpetrator and plotting.

One key element of Depraved Heart is the concept of 'data fiction'. "It's what can happen if we're so reliant on technology that we become completely dependent on things we can't see. Therefore we can no longer judge for ourselves what's true, what's false, what's accurate, what isn't. In other words if reality is defined by software that does all the work for us, then what if this software lies? What if everything we believe isn't true but is a facade, a mirage?"

 I was fascinated - and somewhat disturbed - with this notion. (I thought of how much time I spend online...) Are the videos (yes there's more than one) true? Or false? Is Benton lying to her? Who and what can she believe and trust? The reader sees the entire book unfold through Scarpetta's eyes and thoughts.

Marino is a perennial favourite of mine and this time Scarpetta seems to be a little kinder towards him. For the life of me, I have no idea why she stays with Benton. Lucy just annoys me, but I think there's more of a forthcoming story with her new partner Janet.

The book takes place during a twenty four hour period. The book moves along quickly as Kay and Marino attempt to deal with both their latest case - and the apparent danger to Lucy.  The tension is palpable as everyone's actions and motives are called into question. I was easily caught up in the story and possibilities. Cornwell does weave an intricate plot, one I appreciated. (But one glaring omission by investigators, that is mentioned and is part of the final whodunit, will be caught by sharp eyed readers.)

The title? "Legal definition of Depraved Heart - 'Void of social duty and fatally bent on mischief.' Mayes V. People, Illinois Supreme Court. 1883."

The ending leaves the door open for a continued story in this vein. Although I quite enjoyed this latest entry more than the last few, a wee bit of me thinks it's time to end this ongoing storyline and give readers a fresh mystery and investigation next time 'round. Read an excerpt of Depraved Heart.

"Patricia Cornwell is recognized as one of the world’s top bestselling crime authors with novels translated into thirty-six languages in more than 120 countries. Her novels have won numerous prestigious awards including the Edgar, the Creasey, the Anthony, the Macavity, and the Prix du Roman d’Aventure. Beyond the Scarpetta series, she has written a definitive book about Jack the Ripper, a biography, and two more fiction series. Cornwell, a licensed helicopter pilot and scuba diver, actively researches the cutting-edge forensic technologies that inform her work. She was born in Miami, grew up in Montreat, North Carolina, and now lives and works in Boston." Find out more about Patricia at her website, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here. And more about Patrica Cornwell's research for this book can be seen in the video below.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Over the Counter #288

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? This week it's book clubs.....

First up is The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley.

From the publisher, Viking Books:

"A daring journalist goes behind bars to explore the redemptive power of books with bikers, bank robbers, and gunmen.

An attack in London left Ann Walmsley unable to walk alone down the street, and shook her belief in the fundamental goodness of people. A few years later, when a friend asked her to participate in a bold new venture in a men’s medium security prison, Ann had to weigh her curiosity and desire to be of service against her anxiety and fear.

But she signed on, and for eighteen months went to a remote building at Collins Bay, meeting a group of heavily tattooed book club members without the presence of guards or security cameras. There was no wine and cheese, no plush furnishings. But a book club on the inside proved to be a place to share ideas and regain a sense of humanity.

For the men, the books were rare prized possessions, and the meetings were an oasis of safety and a respite from isolation in an otherwise hostile environment. Having been judged themselves, they were quick to make judgments about the books they read. As they discussed the obstacles the characters faced, they revealed glimpses of their own struggles that were devastating and comic. From The Grapes of Wrath to The Cellist of Sarajevo, Outliers to Infidel, the book discussions became a springboard for frank conversations about loss, anger, redemption, and loneliness.

The Prison Book Club follows six of the book club members, who kept journals at Walmsley’s request and participated in candid one-on-one conversations. Graham the biker, Frank the gunman, Ben and Dread the drug dealers, and the robber duo Gaston and Peter come to life as the author reconciles her knowledge of their crimes with the individuals themselves, and follows their lives as they leave prison. And woven throughout is the determined and compassionate Carol Finlay, working tirelessly to expand her program across Canada and into the United States.

The books changed the men and the men changed Walmsley, allowing her to move beyond her position as a victim. Given the choice, she’d forsake the company of privileged friends and their comfortable book club to make the two-hour drive to Collins Bay."

And this next one is actually a DVD - but just as fascinating.

Book Club: The Adventure of a Lifetime.

From Indican Pictures:

"Book Club takes viewers on an emotional and personal journey through the lives of eight American women, bonded by a book club formed 70 years ago. At a time when social standards prohibited married women from continuing their careers, a group of women decided to use their book club to keep up with what was going on in the world. What they didn’t anticipate, were the poignant words of the authors uniting them not only for these monthly gatherings, but binding them together for the journey of a lifetime."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come 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, November 3, 2015

Poles Apart - Terry Fallis

Poles Apart is the fifth novel from best-selling and award winning author Terry Fallis.

Blogs are de rigueur reading nowadays. I must admit I read and follow many, many blogs on widely varying topics. (And thank you you're reading this one!) Some bloggers share personal details, but others choose to remain anonymous. Such is the case with the blog that is at the center of the plot in Poles Apart.

Eve of Equality is a new feminist blog that becomes an overnight success when it posts a story on the owner of a chain of 'high-end' strip clubs that are opening up across the country. Why would the author not acknowledge their success? Television shows, radio hosts, newspaper articles and even a book deal await this feminist movement advocate! Well, the author happens to be a man named Everett Kane, who truly is an ardent feminist. But who will take a man's writing on feminism seriously?

As Everett attempts to keep his identity private, there are others just as determined to find out who he is. Everett's location choice for his new apartment is a great comedic plot device. It also brings in a great cast of supporting players and a romantic possiblity. Everett is in Florida to help his father recover from a stroke. Dad is a unique personality with some good lines, as is the recuperating feminist pioneer also in residence at the home.

The dialogue is great fun, witty and smart and the characters are all a little left of centre -  you can't help but mentally cheer for them. The plotting is somewhat telegraphed but is great fun. But mixed within this comic tale are many grains of truth. Everett's blog posts, musings and beliefs can all be read and taken quite seriously as they contain many valid points.

Poles Apart is another witty, charming read from Terry Fallis, again underscoring whey he has earned the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour more than once. Although No Relation remains my favourite Fallis book, I quite enjoyed Poles Apart. Read an excerpt of Poles Apart. Or visit Terry Fallis on his website and listen to him read the book. You can also find Fallis on Twitter.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Improbability of Love - Hannah Rothschild

The Improbability of Love is Hannah Rothschild's debut novel.

The Improbability of Love is actually a painting - although the title can be applied to many of the relationships in the book. Annie's fourteen year relationship has ended, she is a talented chef, but works for two sketchy art dealers, her mother is a life long alcoholic and her attempts to find friends - and love - have fallen flat. When she comes upon a dusty little painting in a junk shop, she just likes the way it looks. She has no idea that it's a lost masterpiece. But others who spy her with it are aware.....the cast of art collectors, art dealers and art thieves is large and eclectic.

Rothschild has a keen eye and wit, skewering the art world with tongue firmly in cheek.  I suspect insider knowledge has much to do with this - Rothschild is Chair of the Trustees of the National Gallery - UK.

Her character are all richly drawn and fleshed out. The art aficionados were by turns evil, funny and desperate. (Some readers may find this cast too large) It's impossible not to fall in love with Annie and hope that she does indeed find happiness and love again.  But the character I enjoyed the most came out of left field - the painting itself has a sardonic voice - and memories. Through those recollections we learn the provenance of the picture and the details of the man who painted it.

Annie is a talented chef, using food as her empty canvas. Rothschild's description of Annie's meals and their inspiration mirror her evocative descriptions of the paintings and art history used throughout the book. Both were equally fascinating for me.

Clever, very clever, is the first description that springs to mind in describing this book. Those looking for a literary art novel with a distinctly satiric tone mixed with history, romance, dodgy dealings and more, will enjoy The Improbability of Love. Read an excerpt.