Thursday, April 24, 2014

Over the Counter #209

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Family memoirs this week.

First up was She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brockes.

From the publisher, Penguin:

"A chilling work of psychological suspense and forensic memoir, She Left Me the Gun is a tale of true transformation: the story of a young woman who reinvented herself so completely that her previous life seemed simply to vanish, and of a daughter who transcends her mother’s fears and reclaims an abandoned past.

“One day I will tell you the story of my life,” promises Emma Brockes’s mother, “and you will be amazed.” Brockes grew up hearing only pieces of her mother’s past—stories of a rustic childhood in South Africa, glimpses of a bohemian youth in London—and yet knew that crucial facts were still in the dark. A mystery to her friends and family, Paula was clearly a strong, self-invented woman; glamorous, no-nonsense, and frequently out of place in their quaint English village. In awe of Paula’s larger-than-life personality, Brockes never asked why her mother emigrated to England or why she never returned to South Africa; never questioned the source of her mother’s strange fears or tremendous strengths.

Looking to unearth the truth after Paula’s death, Brockes begins a dangerous journey into the land—and the life—her mother fled from years before.

A beguiling and unforgettable journey across generations and continents, She Left Me the Gun chronicles Brockes’s efforts to walk the knife-edge between understanding her mother’s unspeakable traumas and embracing the happiness she chose for her daughter."

Next up was They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson.

Also from Penguin:

"After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks.

Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated, extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets. The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future."

(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!)
"[A] courageous, clear-sighted book, which shifts between memoir and elegy as it examines the persistence of family secrets and the fragile interface between innocence and knowledge ...  Brockes handles her toxic material with a lightness of touch that navigates skillfully between tragedy and bleak comedy... [Brockes's mother] did not need to leave her daughter a gun in the end. Her real bequest to Brockes was the psychological freedom to be able to confront the past without inhibition, and to take straight aim at it. The gun is this book." --The Guardian (UK)

"She Left Me the Gun is quite simply an extraordinary book. In the hands of any halfway decent author, this would be an incredible story: a mother with a mysterious South African past who arrived in England in her early twenties with a beautiful antique handgun and a mission to forget who she used to be. In the hands of a writer as gifted as Emma Brockes, it’s basically the perfect memoir: a riveting, authentic tale elegantly told.'  --Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"Full of intellect and feeling and dartlike expression. It’s one of those memoirs that remind you why you liked memoirs in the first place, back before every featherhead in your writers’ group was trying to peddle one. It has the density of a very good novel... As you do with the best writers, you feel lucky to be in Ms. Brockes’s company throughout She Left Me the Gun. She is mugged; her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and swastika-wearing bikers roar up. She never loses her composure... This is a grim story, but it’s also a love story."--Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"An exemplary family history and immensely brave... Brockes’s descriptions of South Africa and her newly discovered family (towards whom she is loyal and generously affectionate) are astute and, one feels, tempered by the tightly coiled wayward nature of the freshly grief-stricken. It makes the slow pace of the revelations all the more honourable and heartfelt. The result is a wise, tender letter of love to a mother and her incredible sense of love and ­necessary self-sufficiency." --Helen Davies, Sunday Times (UK)

"This soul-searching tale is a shocking trail of murder, violence, incest and betrayal that leaves her both shocked and proud ... Emma Brockes writes with dry humour and a refreshing lack of sentiment as she unravels the complex family ties that have become twisted into a difficult and at times almost impenetrable web of hidden suffering." --Daily Express (UK)

"The riveting memoir about how a prizewinning British journalist reclaimed her mother's traumatic past... The story of Brockes’ quest to understand her mother’s past is powerful on its own, but the backdrop against which most of the narrative unfolds—a country with its own history of rapacious violence—makes the book even more poignant and unforgettable."

“This astonishing, unsettling book examines the relationship between knowledge and love. Vigorously unsentimental, deeply absorbing, and written with fierce wit, it is an unstinting look at what it means to be innocent, at any stage of life, and how obsessively we all seek and avoid the many faces of truth.”
     —Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree and The Noonday Demon

“A beautiful, wise book. It deals with some of the grimmest aspects of human experience, but it is also one of the most genuinely uplifting works I have read in years. Emma Brockes’s superb, clear-eyed narration is an object lesson for any aspiring memoir writer. She Left Me the Gun deserves to become a classic.”
     —ZoĆ« Heller, author of The Believers and Notes on a Scandal

“Emma Brockes sets out on a delicate journey to uncover a secret locked in the heart of her own family’s darkness. A harrowing tale of murder and incest emerges, unfolding by stages in this utterly compelling psychological memoir.”
     —John Berendt, author of The City of Falling Angels and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Emma Brockes is the author of What Would Barbra Do?: How Musicals Saved My Life, which was serialized on the BBC. She writes for the Guardian’s Weekend magazine and has contributed to the New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle. She lives in New York City.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Frog Music - Emma Donoghue

I studiously avoided reading any reviews or mentions of Emma Donoghue's latest release, beyond the publisher's synopsis. I knew Frog Music would be brilliant and I wanted to discover and savour the book with no spoilers.  I spent every spare minute for two days devouring Frog Music. And, just as I knew I would - I loved it.

Donoghue returns to the past in Frog Music, taking us back to San Francisco in the sweltering summer of 1876. A summer that also sees a smallpox epidemic hit the city.

French born Blanche makes her living as a burlesque dancer, supporting herself, her lover and most often her lover's companion as well. And if she sometimes does more than dance? Well...."She never exactly intended to be a soiled dove (that curious euphemism), but neither can she remember putting up any real objection. She stepped into the life like a swimmer entering a lake, a few inches at a time."

Blanche seems to be happy with her life, until the day she literally runs into Jenny Bonnet and discovers that "this is the friend Blanche has been waiting a quarter of a century for without even knowing it".  Neither knows that this chance meeting will end in Jenny's death. (No spoilers faithful readers - this happens in the first few pages of the book) Blanche is determined to find out who killed Jenny, even as her own life spirals out of control.

That's the bare bones premise of Frog Music, but there is so much more to the book. Donoghue deftly explores sexuality, love, parenthood, friendship, feminism, abuse and more in a richly detailed setting. And it's a good whodunit as well.

Blanche is a complicated character. She seems oblivious to how she is being used, yet has occasional flashes of clarity. My thoughts on her changed as the book progressed. At first, I didn't engage with her and viewed her quite dispassionately. But as I read further, I was quite sad at her self-deception, then sorry for her as more of her life was revealed, disappointed with some of her choices, then happy as she began to take charge of her own life and by the end was mentally urging her forward, hoping for the ending I wanted.

It is much easier to define how I felt about Jenny. I loved her - her joie de vivre, her happiness, her curiosity, her engagement with those around her and the world. The supporting characters also elicited strong reactions from this reader - particularly Blanche's lover Arthur - whom I despised.

Donoghue slowly plays out the story of Blanche and Jenny in now and then chapters, with a little more revealed each time, sometimes in a single phrase or sentence, connecting the events of those six weeks.

Donoghue's descriptions of time and place had me vividly imaging myself in the heat, the dirt, the dust, the clamour, the colours, the grit and the fear that was 1876 San Francisco.

I had to really stop myself from flipping ahead to see the final pages. I desperately wanted to know who the killer was and where Blanche would end up. I have to say, the murderer was not who I thought it might be. Donoghue plants many red herrings along the way.

The title is clever as 'frogs' and music figure many ways into the novel. Donoghue has compiled a collection of the songs quoted in the book. There are smatterings of French phrases and words throughout Frog Music as well - a glossary is also included.

But what is most fascinating is that Frog Music is based on fact. The time, the players and the events are all real. Jenny Bonnet was murdered - but the case was never solved. "Then, again, the explanation Frog Music offers of this still unsolved murder is only an educated hunch, which is to say, a fiction." Here's a link to Donoghue's list of sources used to write Frog Music."

I enjoy everything that Emma Donoghue writes, but I have to say my favourites are her historical books - a story taken from a bit of history and woven into a tale of what was and what might have been. Definitely recommended. Read an excerpt of Frog Music. You can keep up with Emma Donoghue on Facebook and on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Under a Silent Moon - Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes writes crime thrillers - darn good crime thrillers. I've read and really enjoyed her previous three books and was eager to get my hands on her latest - Under a Silent Moon.

Haynes's first three books have been stand-alones, but the publisher's blurb lists Under a Silent Moon as the first in a new series.

The protagonist is Detective Chief  Inspector Louisa Smith. Louisa leads her first murder case when a young woman is found dead in a small village. The case doubles when another woman is found dead nearby, in what looks to be a suicide. And there more than geographical connections between the two women. Can the crime be a simple as a murder-suicide? Nope......

Haynes lays out a meticulous trail for the reader to follow as Louisa and her team struggle to make sense of the conflicting clues and information they gather. Connections and tendrils are there - as readers we know a bit more than the police. And a single little sentence lets us see what might happen. I was quite tempted to peek at the last few chapters 'just to see', but managed not to. And really, you wouldn't want to spoil this deliciously plotted thriller by reading out of turn. Haynes kept me guessing as to who the guilty party might be for quite awhile.

I love British crime novels. The solving of the crime is done with step by step police work rather than guns drawn and blazing. It is this aspect that I really enjoy and  Haynes does a phenomenal job. Her job as a police intelligence analyst brings so much authenticity and detail to all of her books. (The case documents of the crime in Under a Silent Moon are included as an appendix) And for those who want more, Haynes has written a great post on the technicalities of Under a Silent Moon.

The secondary storyline in Under a Silent Moon revolves around the personal lives of the team, notably Louisa. This was a great introduction to a team I hope to see more of. But, the private lives of the team figure significantly into the main plot as well.

I really enjoyed Under a Silent Moon. It was clever, authentic and a real page turner. I can't wait for the next book from Haynes! Read an excerpt of Under a Silent Moon.

"Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. She is the author of three previous novels: Human Remains, Dark Tide, and Into the Darkest Corner, which was selected as Amazon UK's Best Book of 2011. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son." You can find Elizabeth Haynes on Facebook and on Twitter.

See what others on the TLC book tour thought - full schedule can be found here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reaching - Judy Ann Sadler

Every so often, I have to make some hard decisions - what books to donate or giveaway- as my bookshelves can only hold so many.  But the ones I don't 'cull' are the shelves with the children's books. And in fact, I add to it every so often. Yes, my kids are grown and gone - but one day I'll  be a grandmother. I can't wait to read to and share books with someone small again.

Reaching by Judy Ann Sadler is a wonderful picture book that I've recently added to that bookcase.

Judy Ann Sadler's story is presented in rhyming couplets easily flow off the tongue. When I read them out loud, I found myself using a sing song cadence that would make it easy for a small one to remember and join in with on subsequent readings.

The story is perfect for a family experiencing the addition of a baby to their family. And it's one that can be read over and over to that new baby as he or she grows. I really like that Sadler included everyone from grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and pets in the story of Baby. And that all of them are reaching out.

The words themselves are not set straight in straight lines on the page, rather they're set in an arch, lending movement to the words. The rhymes are full of action words as well - hugs, kisses, tickling, dancing and of course reaching, that can be incorporated into an interactive reading of the book.

Susan Mitchell's illustrations are lovely. The colours are soft, warm and appealing. The faces of the characters are friendly and engaging. The backgrounds provide lots of other 'things to see' that children will recognize from their own lives.

I've just finished hiding Easter treats for my baby. And yes, he's in his twenties now. I'll watch as he easily reaches to find some in the high spots (he's six feet tall) and remember when I had to make sure they were all in low hiding spots where he could easily see them. And when he kisses me good-bye, he'll be the one reaching down.

Reaching is a beautiful picture book with a sweet story and charming pictures. It's one that will be waiting on my bookshelf.....
Age range 1-3 years. 32 pages.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Giveaway Winners!

And the winner of a copy of Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates's is:


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And the winner of a copy of The Accident by Chris Pavone is:

Daniel M!

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And last but not least, the winner of a copy of The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley is:


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Thanks to all who entered. Check the sidebar for other ongoing giveaways!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Dying Hours - Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours is the eleventh book in Mark Billingham's Detective Inspector Tom Thorne series  - one of my favourite crime series.

The Dying Hours picks up right where the last book (The Demands) left off. Thorne closed the case, but not by the book. Over the last twenty five years, Thorne has bucked authority, ignored orders and operated by his own set of rules. But, it has finally caught up to him - he's been knocked back down into uniform and off his beloved Murder Squad.

Called to an apparent suicide, Thorne's radar 'tickles the back of his neck'. Something is 'off' and he asks the higher ups if it could be investigated further. His suspicions are brushed off, as is Thorne. More than brushing off really. There are many in the department who have it in for Thorne - and this demotion gives them every opportunity to put him in his place.

"The lecture about making choices, the gleefully sarcastic comments about what had happened in that newsagents five months before. The line that had stung more than anything else - Stop playing detective."

But we know Thorne is right - Dying Hours opens with a chilling prologue from the killer. A person with a list of names and a goal. As the book progresses, there are further chapters from this person. As a reader we know what they've done. And we're just hoping someone takes Thorne seriously.

The Dying Hours was an excellent crime novel on so many levels. Billingham's plotting is always inventive, dark and devious, designed to keep the reader wondering - and up late at night. The procedural details of the investigation always fascinate me.

But it is Thorne himself that makes this series such a standout. I'm always a sucker for 'buck the system' characters and Thorne is a prime example. But in this latest, he has to stop and ask himself some hard questions. What about his relationships? With his girlfriend and her son, with colleagues, with friends, with superiors? What is he willing to sacrifice in his pursuit for answers and justice? Who can he trust?

The Dying Hours kept me captive for an entire day when I was off sick. A riveting read is probably some of the best medicine one can ask for. Read an excerpt of The Dying Hours. The last line of the book did nothing but whet my appetite for number twelve - The Bones Beneath - due out in North America in June of this year. You can find Mark Billingham on Facebook.

Who else reads Mark Billingham? “Billingham is one of the most consistently entertaining, insightful crime writers working today.” — Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Over the Counter #208

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Hmm, must have been before break, I was thinking about fruit this week.

First up was Put 'em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

From Storey Publishing:

"A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling
With simple step-by-step instructions and 175 delicious recipes, Put ‘em Up will have even the most timid beginners filling their pantries and freezers in no time! You’ll find complete how-to information for every kind of preserving: refrigerating, freezing, air- and oven-drying, cold- and hot-pack canning, and pickling. Recipes range from the contemporary and daring — Wasabi Beans, Cherry and Black Pepper Preserves, Pickled Fennel, Figs in Honey Syrup, Sweet Pepper Marmalade, Berry Bourbon, Salsa Verde — to the very best versions of tried-and-true favorites, including applesauce and apple butter, dried tomatoes, marinara sauce, bread and butter pickles, classic strawberry jam, and much, much more."

Next up was Dehydrating Food: A Beginner's Guide by Jay and Shirley Bills. I actually had a dehydrator given to me and have yet to use it, so I did sign this one out!

From Skyhorse Publishing:

"With the easy-to-follow, step-by-step directions here, anyone can have fun, save money, and create delicious meals by dehydrating food. Learn the basic methods—sun drying, oven drying, net bag, and commercial food dehydrators—before moving on to drying herbs for tea, making your own tasty (and healthier) jerky, and so much more. Also included is a section on the nutritional benefits of drying food. With 164 recipes ranging from breads to desserts, soups to pies, and cereals to entrees, Dehydrating Food is a book for anyone who is interested in learning how to save money and create delicious meals by drying their own food."

(Over the Counter is a regular weekly 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!)