Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beware This Boy - Maureen Jennings

I know Maureen Jennings's name. I know she's Canadian. I know she's an award winning author. I know that the television series The Murdoch Mysteries is based on her best selling historical detective series. (I've watched every episode - and season six starts in January '13.) But, I have never physically read a book by Jennings.....until now....and I wish I had done so sooner!

Her latest novel is Beware This Boy - the second book featuring Detective Inspector Tom Tyler. The setting is England in 1940 -  and the war has begun.

Tyler is called in to Birmingham to investigate a fatal accident at a munitions factory. But, is it an accident? As he questions the staff, he begins to think not. A young American film maker may not be who he says he is. Could one of the staff have their own agenda? Are there conspirators amongst them? In addition to Tom's inquiries, there are secondary storylines involving an AWOL soldier, his family and more. But all have ties to the factory in one way or another.

There are many characters populating this book, but each personality serves a purpose and is richly and distinctly drawn. Every one has their own story, yet plays a larger part in the overall plot. The Abbott family was a standout for me - especially nurse Eileen. I quite like Tom and his quiet, thoughtful manner of investigation.

The time period is beautifully captured as well. The stalwart attitudes, courage, the sense of duty, the politeness and social mores of the day but the dark side of war as well. Living day to day with bombing, rationing, uncertainty, death and loss.

The 'whodunit' is not overly complicated and we're privy to more knowledge than Tom early on, but this really didn't matter. It was Jennings's characters and storytelling that were standouts for me.

Beware This Boy was a rich, full, satisfying read all 'round on so many levels. Definitely recommended. Read an excerpt of Beware This Boy. Although this is the second book of a trilogy, I was able to enjoy Beware This Boy on its' own. There were allusions to a past case, but it didn't detract from this story. If anything, it only encouraged me to hunt down the first book - Season of Darkness.

In the author's notes, Jennings shares the origins of the title.

"The title of this book is from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. When the Ghost of Christmas Present appears to Ebeneezer Scrooge, he reveals two wretched children who have been sheltering inside his robe. They are the children of Man, says the Spirit.  'This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of both of them...but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased."

I'm not sure if there are more books using this time period as a setting lately or I'm just discovering them.  (Anne Perry, Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear) But I am really enjoying them. If you do as well, put Jennings on your list. Beware This Boy was also the inspiration for the television series The Bomb Girls.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Over The Counter #138

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Cooking with and for kids. But, not just for kids - as I riffled through the pages, I found lots of recipes I'd like to try! You might find some ideas to try over the holidays.

First up was Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh and Easy Recipes by Catherine McCord. One Family. One Meal.

From the publisher William Morrow:

"Every parent knows how difficult it is to get to get kids eating happily and healthily. Catherine McCord has the answer: Weelicious! Creator of the wildly popular blog Weelicious.com, Catherine, who honed her cooking skills at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education, strongly believes in the “one family/one meal” idea—preparing a single, scrumptious meal the entire family can sit down and enjoy together rather than having to act as “short order cook” for kids who each want something different. In Weelicious, she offers dozens of recipes and tips for creating quick, easy, healthy, and fun food that moms, dads, and young children of any age will absolutely adore—from the most persnickety infants to the pickiest grade-schoolers.
More than just a cookbook, Weelicious is the ultimate cooking bible for families—a resource that will stand the test of time as the family grows! "

Next up was Everyday Kitchen for Kids by Jennifer Low.

From the publisher Whitecap Books:

"What’s the best way for children to learn about the variety and value of food? By getting into the kitchen and making all their favourite dishes themselves.

Everyday Kitchen for Kids
, the follow-up to the award-winning, international bestseller Kitchen for Kids, helps children do just that. With a chapter on organizing the kitchen, a glossary of methods and ingredients, and 100 all-new recipes, all featuring kid-friendly cooking methods, Everyday Kitchen for Kids is the cookbook for encouraging kid power in the kitchen.
And with Everyday Kitchen for Kids it’s “safety first” all the way. None of the methods call for sharp knives, stovetop cooking or small motorized appliances. All the recipes are kid tested and approved, and accompanied by a full-colour photograph.
With this book, no longer will children have to ask an adult: “Please, can you make . . .?” Adults will be saying to children: “Wow! You made this?!”
 
(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 27, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan's debut novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, is one of those titles I wouldn't normally have picked up. But there has been lots of buzz about this debut, so I wanted to give it a try. The publisher's blurb intrigued me...

"A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore."

And it was the hole-in-the-wall bookstore description that clinched the deal. I love used bookstores! There are treasures just waiting to be found on every shelf.

Clay Jannon is downsized from his web design job and in order to pay the rent, he takes a job as a night clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. There aren't many customers and the ones he does serve are decidedly...different. They have an agreement to borrow books - old, obscure volumes on towering shelves accessible only by ladder. Being a curious sort (and with lots of time on his hands) Clay decides to try and figure out what these 'customers' are doing. Is the bookstore a front for something else?

I chose to listen to Sloan's book and I'm glad I did. For me, some books are just better enjoyed listening and this was one of them. The reader was Ari Fliakos. His voice was perfect for Clay - young, kinda hip and engaging. He provided different voices for all the supporting characters as well. The old and female characters were believable. Fliakos's interpretation of Sloan's prose was excellent.

Listen to an excerpt of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

How to describe the book? It's an adult adventure story with fantasy elements I would say. There are lots of 'bookish' references that had me running to check facts online. (And funnily enough, Google does play a part in the book.) Lots of fun, quirky characters let us play out that 'what if you really discovered a secret code in a dusty, mysterious bookstore' game with Clay and his pals. An enjoyable, entertaining listen for this reader.

Read an excerpt of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blood Line- Lynda La Plante

I read my first Lynda La Plante books earlier this year when I devoured the first three books in the Prime Suspect series featuring Jane Tennison. At the end of that review I made a note to check out her other series featuring Detective Anna Travis.

And I'm glad I did! I picked up Blood Line - the latest - released by Harper Collins's new crime imprint - Bourbon Street Books.

Anna is the new Chief Inspector for London's murder squad. Watching closely over her shoulder is her boss - and former lover - Superintendent James Langton. Anna is still dealing with the death of her fiancee and Langton is not sure she is up to the job. He gives her a missing persons case to follow up on - not a murder. Alan Rawlins has been not been seen for eight weeks. His father is pushing for an investigation, but his live in girlfriend doesn't seem too concerned. No one has a bad word to say about Alan, but there's something just 'off' about the whole situation.  As Anna grows more determined to prove Langton wrong about her abilities, she starts to question her own investigative instincts.

Anna reminds me of the Jane Tennison character. Both are strong but flawed characters trying to prove themselves in their chosen profession. They're emotionally wounded, but driven to achieve results. La Plante combines her mystery with excellent character building. The supporting cast members are all just as interesting and not all of them are 'pretty'. The personal and professional tension between Anna and Langton continues to build, with the door left open for this story to continue in future books.

I enjoy British mysteries for the pacing - a lot of them are slower and much more procedural bound, instead of rushing in with guns blazing. I feel like we're right with Anna as she puzzles through the case. And La Plante has penned an excellent plot. I had my suspicions numerous times throughout the book, but until the last few chapters I was never really one hundred percent sure 'whodunit'.

An excellent read for me. LaPlante is now firmly on my 'must read' mystery/thriller list. Read an excerpt of Blood Line.

'Lynda La Plante’s fourteen novels, including the Prime Suspect series, have all been international bestsellers. She is an honorary fellow of the British Film Institute and a member of the UK Crime Writers Awards Hall of Fame. She runs her own television production company and lives in London and East Hampton, New York.' You can find Lynda La Plante on Twitter. See what others on the TLC tour thought. Full schedule here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Notorious Nineteen - Janet Evanovich

I used a rare three days off last weekend to get all of my Christmas decorations up. And at the end of the day, I thought I just needed something fun to read by the twinkle of my newly hung lights.

My choice? The latest in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich - Notorious Nineteen. (For those of you unfamiliar with these books - it is indeed the 19th book!)

Stephanie is still working as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in New Jersey. Her trusty sidekicks Lula (a one time self described 'ho ), office manager Connie and her Grandma Mazur are still by her side. But not too close  - Stephanie seems to be a magnet for trouble - notably for destroying cars.

The rent is due, so Stephanie is happy to get a skip that could pay her big bucks. A local retirement home owner has embezzled millions from the facility. He went into the hospital for emergency surgery, then vanished - along with the money. Detective Joe Morelli is also looking into the case. Security expert Ranger has hired her to watch his back at a wedding for one of his staff. (A horrible pink dress is involved.) And Steph seems to growing quite attached to a Tiki statue that may or may not be giving her advice. All in all, a typical day in the 'Burg.

And yes, the sexual tension is still there - between Steph and Ranger......and Steph and Morelli. Although, Evanovich does let Stephanie have some thoughts about her future in this book. Marriage? It might be time for Steph to make a decision. And Evanovich too - the last few books are virtually copies of themselves with the names of the skips changed.

But, the Plum books are fun to read. They're light-hearted and won't tax your brain. The whodunit isn't overly difficult to figure out, but it's the journey there that's enjoyable. And we all could use a good chuckle.

Reading these books is like a bowl of your favourite candy - you keep dipping your hand in, knowing what to expect, but you still enjoy every mouthful. (Yes, there was some Christmas candy involved in my reading...) And of course there is the burning question.....who would you pick? Morelli or Ranger? I'm kinda leaning towards Ranger.....

Read an excerpt of Notorious Nineteen. You can find Evanovich on Facebook and on Twitter.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Over the Counter #137

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner. More memoirs - this time with a focus on women....

First up was Becoming Sister Wives - The Story of an Unconventional Marriage by Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn Brown. (I was quite surprised to find that the Browns are the stars of "popular TLC reality program - Sister Wives.")

From the publisher Simon and Schuster:

"In many ways, the Browns are like any other middle-American family. They eat, play, and pray together, squabble and hug, striving to raise happy, well-adjusted children while keeping their relationship loving and strong. The difference is, there are five adults in the openly polygamous Brown marriage—Kody and his four wives—who among them have seventeen children.

Since TLC first launched its popular reality program Sister Wives, the Browns have become one of the most famous families in the country. Now Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn reveal in their own words exactly how their special relationship works—the love and faith that drew them together, the pluses and pitfalls of having sister wives, and the practical and emotional complications of a lifestyle viewed by many with distrust, prejudice, even fear. With the candor and frankness that have drawn millions to their show, they talk about what makes their fascinating family work, addressing the topics that intrigue outsiders: How do the four relationships differ? What effect does a polygamous upbringing have on their children? What are the challenges—emotional, social, or financial—involved in living this lifestyle? Is it possible for all four sister wives to feel special when sharing a husband—and what happens when jealousy arises? How has being on camera changed their lives? And what’s it like to add a new wife to the family—or to be that new wife?

Filled with humor, warmth, surprising insights, and remarkable honesty, this is a singular story of plural marriage and all the struggles and joys that go with it. At heart, it’s a love story—unconventional but immediately recognizable in the daily moments of trust, acceptance, forgiveness, passion, and commitment that go into making one big, happy, extraordinary family."

Next up was American Gypsy by Oksana Marafioti.

From the publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

"A vivid and funny memoir about growing up Gypsy and becoming American"Fifteen-year-old Oksana Marafioti is a Gypsy. This means touring with the family band from the Mongolian deserts to the Siberian tundra. It means getting your hair cut in “the Lioness.” It also means enduring sneering racism from every segment of Soviet society. Her father is determined that his girls lead a better, freer life. In America! Also, he wants to play guitar with B. B. King. And cure cancer with his personal magnetism. All of this he confides to the woman at the American embassy, who inexplicably allows the family entry. Soon they are living on the sketchier side of Hollywood.

What little Oksana and her sister, Roxy, know of the United States they’ve learned from MTV, subcategory George Michael. It doesn’t quite prepare them for the challenges of immigration. Why are the glamorous Kraft Singles individually wrapped? Are the little soaps in the motels really free? How do you protect your nice new boyfriend from your opinionated father, who wants you to marry decently, within the clan?

In this affecting, hilarious memoir, Marafioti cracks open the secretive world of the Roma and brings the absurdities, miscommunication, and unpredictable victories of the immigrant experience to life. With unsentimental perfect pitch, American Gypsy reveals how Marafioti adjusted to her new life in America, one slice of processed cheese at a time."

(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 21, 2012

The Walnut Tree - Charles Todd

Fans of the mother/son writing team known as Charles Todd will want to add this 'holiday tale' to their Christmas reading list.

I have only recently discovered Todd's WWI novels featuring Bess Crawford - a British World War I army nurse - but quickly became a fan of the series. Todd again explores WWI with a new character.

Lady Elspeth Douglas of Scotland is in France, visiting her fiancee, when war breaks out in 1914. She finds herself stranded, but decides to make herself useful, helping out with the wounded. It is on the battlefield that she comes across old friend Captain Peter Gilchrist. Lady Douglas decides to do her part for the war effort and become a nursing sister - known only as Elspeth Douglas. (Bess makes a cameo as a flatmate.)

Todd weaves a wonderfully rich, atmospheric story of love lost and found, duty, honour, loyalty, and the mores of the time period.

I chose to listen to The Walnut Tree and really enjoyed the reader - Fiona Hardingham. She employs a very proper British accent to narrate that conjures up the time period perfectly. Her Scottish accent for Elspeth was excellent and never faltered. I had a quite definite picture of Elspeth painted in my mind, much of it gleaned from Hardingham's interpretation. Other characters were easily differentiated as she has a quite a versatile voice.

Those looking for a mystery similar to Bess's books won't find it here. (But Elspeth is just as strong minded as Bess!) Instead it's a lovely little historical (and romantic) holiday tale, perfect for a night's read by the tree. Fans of Anne Perry's Christmas tales will enjoy The Walnut Tree.

Listen to an excerpt of The Walnut Tree.   Read an excerpt of The Walnut Tree.

You can find Charles Todd on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Racketeer - John Grisham

John Grisham's last book - The Litigators - was one of my favourites by this award winning author. (my review) I was pretty excited to read his latest - The Racketeer.

Racketeer: "A person who commits crimes such as extortion, loansharking, bribery, and obstruction of justice in furtherance of illegal business activities."

Malcolm Bannister is a former attorney, currently serving time in the Frostburg, Maryland prison camp for money laundering. Trouble is, he swears he's innocent - he just picked the wrong client. License gone, wife gone, everything he had - gone. Five years into his sentence, he may have found a way out. He knows who killed Federal Judge Raymond Fawcett, found dead in his cabin retreat beside an empty safe. Can he bargain the killer's name for his freedom? And what about what was taken from the safe? There's a lot of people after that knowledge...

I love 'heist' and 'sting' type movies such as Ocean's Eleven. Grisham weaves his own take on the heist scenario with The Racketeer. And it's a great piece of storytelling. This is still a 'legal' thriller to a degree, but I think Grisham just had a lot of fun with this one. It's not a serious book, but an entertaining tale.

As he says in the author notes at the end: " The Racketeer is indeed a work of fiction. Accuracy was not deemed crucial. Long paragraphs of fiction were used to avoid looking up facts."

I chose to listen to this book. J.D. Jackson was the reader and his voice was perfectly suited to the main character. Macolm changes his speech patterns at one point and I did find the slower pace a bit annoying. I just wanted the story to move along.

The only reason I'm giving this a four instead of a five is that there was just something about Malcolm I didn't like. He's the one we should be rooting for, but I found him to be pompous and cocky. I never did feel sorry for him. Did he get what he deserved? In his eyes, yes. In mine - not really. I almost felt sorry for the 'bad guy'. I don't know that it was Malcolm's place to mete out judgment. In the end he's no better and his protestations of innocence at the beginning of the book are moot.

Still, I quite enjoyed it. Not his best, but entertaining nonetheless. Read an excerpt of The Racketeer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giveaway - Cold City - F. Paul Wilson

Are you a Repairman Jack fan? (Stephen King is president of the Repairman Jack Fan Club!) Do you want to get to know this 'fix-it' man?

F. Paul Wilson is releasing three prequel books. It's a must have for established fans and a great opportunity for new readers to meet Jack.

Cold City is the first of those prequels. From the publisher Tor Books:

"The first of three Repairman Jack prequels, revealing the past of one of the most popular characters in contemporary dark fantasy: a self-styled “fix-it” man who is no stranger to the macabre or the supernatural, hired by victimized people who have no one else to turn to.

We join Jack a few months after his arrival in New York City. He doesn’t own a gun yet, though he’s already connected with Abe. Soon he’ll meet Julio and the Mikulski brothers. He runs afoul of some Dominicans, winds up at the East Side Marriott the night Meir Kahane is shot, gets on the bad side of some Arabs, starts a hot affair, and disrupts the smuggling of preteen sex slaves. And that’s just Book One."

Repairman Jack is one of the most original and intriguing characters to arise out of contemporary fiction in ages. His adventures are hugely entertaining.”
—Dean Koontz
Repairman Jack is one of the greatest fictional characters created by any thriller writer in the past half century. If you haven’t discovered him and his world yet, what a fabulous, extraordinary,
and electric reading experience awaits you.”
—Douglas Preston, cocreator of the Pendergast novels
 
If this sounds like a book you'd like to own, just leave a comment to be entered. One copy up for grabs, open to US only, ends Dec 2/12. You can find Wilson on Facebook as well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Trial of Fallen Angels - James Kimmel Jr.

The Trial of Fallen Angels is James Kimmel Jr.'s first fiction book.

Brek Cuttler awakes in a train station. She's sitting on a bench in  her favourite 'power lawyer' suit. The station is deserted. Her suit is covered in blood. She is sure she is dreaming when a man comes along and welcomes her to Shemaya. She struggles to remember who she is and what she was doing before she arrived at this station. Inevitability, she discover that the man Luas is right - she is dead. And she has a job to do in Shemaya....

"You don't think God would allow souls to face the Final Judgment alone, do you? Even murderers on earth have a lawyer to represent them, and the outcomes of those trials are only temporary. The stakes are higher here, dear. All of eternity."

As Brek begins presenting the memories of the dead,  she begins to realize that the acts and events of each person have also played a part in her own life and are part of her own final choice and presentation.

Kimmel explores the themes of justice and forgiveness in The Trial of Fallen Angels with a keen eye and much thought. Kimmel has presented his philosophical viewpoints cloaked in a mystery. When this book was pitched to me for review, I wasn't fully aware of how much emphasis was placed on spirituality. I felt that the characters were used only a vehicle to carry the message, so I never really bought into Brek. As God is the Judge, this is somewhat limiting for believers of other faiths or non believers, although I do think Kimmel's views are extremely intriguing and applicable to anyone.

So while it was an interesting read, I did find it slow in parts and ended up skimming by the end to get to the conclusion.

 Kimmell "is a lawyer and advocate who focuses on the intersections of law and spirituality and law and psychology."

The Trial of Fallen Angels would be an excellent selection for a book club, sure to engender lots of discussion. Read an excerpt of The Trial of Fallen Angels.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Hollow Man - Oliver Harris

The Hollow Man is Oliver Harris's debut novel and the first release from Bourbon Street Books - Harper Collins' new imprint.

I loved the opening chapters and introduction to Detective Constable Nick Belsey. "The earth was cold beneath his body,. His mouth had soil in it and there was a smell of blood and rotten bark." Has he been attacked? In an accident? Well, yes, but Nick himself is the car wreck. He has a drinking problem, a gambling problem and at this point no possessions and no home. Once he remembers what he did last night, will he have a job?

He heads off to his station and is given an apparent suicide to investigate in a wealthy area of London. Nick finds the body and sends it on it's way to the morgue.  With nowhere to stay that night he decides to sleep in the dead man's house. And eat his food, drink his booze, wear his clothes and drive his car. As he looks in the life of (wealthy) dead Alexei Devereaux, Belsey decides to take his money as well. After all, there's no family and it will be a fresh start for him somewhere else.

"It takes the average person twelve months to discover that their identity has been stolen. That was for the living. If this was what he was doing, stealing Devereaux's identity, then it gave him some time. He felt ready to pick up where Devereaux had left off. If he was gong to be born again it would be nice to be someone rich."

But many, many others have their eye on Devereaux's business as well. Taking over Devereaux's life won't be as easy as Nick first thought. Things are getting complicated. Complicating them more is Nick himself. He's also driven by his own desire for answers. So he starts to work the investigation. Unofficially of course.

Nick is the quintessential anti-hero. He's crooked, selfish and self serving. And I couldn't help but like him. For he's also very clever and does have some soft spots. I really enjoyed the way he insinuated himself into situations, finagled what he wanted or needed and bamboozled others. A true wolf in cop's clothing. But, I found myself rooting for him, hoping he gets away with it.

I'm unfamiliar with the setting of North London, but Harris did a good job of bringing his setting to life. The plotting is complex and involved, with many twists and turns. My only complaint would be the reveal of Devereaux's master plan - I found it a bit of a let down and somewhat unbelievable.

The Hollow Man is the first book in the Nick Belsey series. I'll be curious to see where Harris can take this character after this first outing. Read an excerpt of The Hollow Man.

"Oliver Harris was born in north London in 1978. He has a first-class degree in English Literature and an MA in Shakespeare Studies from UCL, and an MA in creative writing from UEA. He has worked in clothing warehouses, PR companies and as a TV and film extra. More recently he assisted with research in the Imperial War Museum archives, and continues to act as a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. Oli is currently finishing pursuing a PhD on antiquity in the work of Jacques Lacan at Birkbeck’s London Consortium, and in the last few months has presented papers on obscenity at the Hayward and on conspiracy theories at Ghent’s Vooruit Arts Centre. He loves travelling, especially in cold places."You can find Oliver Harris on Twitter.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Over the Counter #136

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner?

Muffin Tin Chef by Matt Kadey. As I eat supper at work 1-2 times a week, I thought these 'little' ideas would freeze and travel well. Especially the mini mac and cheese!

From the publisher, Ulysses Press:

"Do you know the muffin pan? Most people think they do, but just wait! With faster baking times to keep cooks on schedule, smaller portion sizes to keep waists trim, and a tasty appearance to keep guests impressed, the recipes in Muffin Tin Mania make for miniature versions of all one’s favorite treats. From curry asparagus frittatas and Swiss chard quiches to salmon lentil cakes and butternut squash souffl├ęs, these are perfect finger foods, kids’ party snacks, or unique dinner treats. Muffin Tin Mania provides step-by-step recipes and color photos to help create mini dishes that can’t fail. It suggests useful tips and tricks on avoiding burnt, dried out, or “stuck” meals, as well as advice on necessary materials for making muffin-sized magic. The author, a registered dietitian, is an expert on packing maximum flavor into miniature portions to ensure that everyone is healthy, happy, and satisfied."

(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 13, 2012

Eleven Pipers Piping - C. C. Benison

Aha! I know what you're thinking - it's another Christmas book review. Well....yes and no.

The main character is Tom Christmas - a vicar in England - you could refer to him as Father Christmas. The book is set during the winter. And the title - well, the first book in this series was titled Twelve Drummers Drumming....(my review) And if you're looking for a great book for the reader on your Christmas list this year, Eleven Pipers Piping would be a really good choice.

But no matter what, C.C. Benison's latest book is a wonderful, well written, cozy mystery, perfect for reading anytime. (Although by the twinkle of the Christmas lights on my tree seemed fitting.)

Widower Father Tom has been the vicar of the English village of Thornford Regis for a few years now. He's been asked to give the blessing at the local Robbie Burns dinner. But when of one of the members of the The Thistle But Mostly Rose South Devon Pipe Band goes missing and is later found dead, Father Christmas again finds himself in the thick of things. For it seems that one amongst them might be a murderer.....

Eleven Pipers Piping opens with the daily letter that Father Tom's housekeeper Madrun writes to her mother. These letters are full of gossip, speculation and Madrun's take on the goings on in the village. (I quite enjoy them.) Father Tom is very circumspect with what his parishioners tell him - he's known to keep confidences to himself, but Madrun's knowledge sometimes proves useful. His young daughter Miranda is enamored of a fictional French Nancy Drew character and her observations have also been of help to her father.

Thornford Regis reminds me of one of those English village displays you'd see on a mantle at Christmas - a tea room, the church, the local meeting hall, the corner store, the manor house and more. Benison has populated his village with quite an eclectic cast of characters, providing us with a wealth of choices for whodunit. (He's also thoughtfully provided a Cast of Characters reference at the beginning of the book) Each reader will find a favourite in this cast of many.

Christmas is a wonderful protagonist whose character has more depth than just the local curious reverend. His personal story is ongoing, believable and engaging. His demeanor and dialogue are pitch perfect.

I thought I had figured out the culprit early on, but there are lots of red herrings and my initial hunch was proven wrong. The strength of this series is in the characters, setting and interactions among the population of the village. Those who enjoy cozy mysteries will love Father Tom and his congregation.

And there's more to come - Father Christmas is planning a charity skydive to raise money for the new church roof.....in Ten Lords A-Leaping...watch for it in 2013 - I will be!

Read an excerpt of Eleven Pipers Piping.

You can find C.C. Benison on Twitter and on Facebook.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Carly's Voice - Arthur Fleischmann with Carly Fleischmann

There have been many fiction books released that feature an autistic protagonist - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend and just recently Love Anthony. I've read all three and really enjoyed them. Each author has brought their own 'version' of Autism and Autism spectrum to the written page.

But Arthur Fleischmann and his daughter Carly Fleischmann bring more than an imagined protagonist to the written page. Carly's Voice is an absolutely riveting memoir recounted by a father and his autistic daughter.

Arthur and his wife Tammy are overjoyed when they give birth to twin daughters. With son Matthew their family is complete. Taryn meets her milestones and thrives.....but, Carly doesn't. Carly is non verbal and severely autistic. What follows is an exhaustive tale of appointments, diagnoses, therapies, frustrations, and more. (Mom Tammy is fighting cancer as well.) I just could not even begin to fathom what the Fleishmanns went through. Arthur and Tammy are tireless advocates; determined to do whatever they can to help their daughter.

"Carly has autism. Three short words must suffice to explain a tome of weird behaviours and limitations. It's a shorthand for Carly-is-different-she-acts-in-odd-ways-she-loves-taking-off-her-clothes-especially-if-what-she-is-wearing-has-a-spot-of-water-on-it-she-likes repetitive-motion-like-that-of-a-swing-she doesn't speak. We didn't know what Carly knew and what she was incapable of knowing. She made odd movements and sounds and covered her ears when it was noisy. She cried often. And she never, ever stopped moving. Never."

And, in one of those 'what if we hadn't' moments....Carly types...Help Teeth Hurt. Although Carly was able to point to pictures for what she wanted, no one had any idea that she was able to communicate in this fashion.  And at last Carly has a voice - she is finally able to 'speak'. But Carly's story doesn't end there - her fight to control her body, her desire to live like any other teenage girl, her family's dedication to helping Carly be the best she can be is an ongoing, uphill battle. And you won't believe the places it's take her....so far.

"What keeps us moving forward? Sometimes its just inertia. But we keep sight of Carly's dream to be accepted. She wants to live life fully, accomplish great things, and not be pitied. She just wants to be understood. What else can we do? We get up in the morning when the alarm goes off. And never accept 'no' or maybe."

I really couldn't put the book down. I was so humbled and inspired by Carly. As I type this up using all of my fingers, I am struck by the image of Carly labouriously typing one letter at a time with one finger while trying to control her body's spasms.

Carly is an inspiration to all, but especially to those who are living with, coping with or touched by autism. For those who haven't got a clue - it's an eye opener. Highly recommended.  You can find Carly on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Read an excerpt of Carly's Voice: Breaking Through Autism.

"I am an autistic girl but autism doesn't define who I am or how I'm going to live my life." Carly.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winner - Forgotten - Catherine McKenzie

And the TWO lucky winners of a copy of Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie, courtesy of William Morrow are:


1. Sharn 3960
2. DarcyO

Congratulations! You're going to love it! I've contacted you by email for your mailing addresses. Please respond within 72 hours.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Other Woman - Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan is an  award winning investigative reporter for a television station for Boston, Massachusetts. She has also turned her talents to fiction writing and has won numerous accolades for her four books. After all, she's writing what she knows - reporting and investigation. So I eagerly picked up my first book by this author - her latest - The Other Woman.

Jane Ryland was a television reporter, fired when she refused to reveal a source and cost the station a million dollars. Now she works for a newspaper. But the drive is still there to uncover the 'big' stories. And she thinks she's found it in the final days of the senate race. A mysterious woman is appearing at every rally for the governor.  At the same time her cop friend Jake (or as she refers to him - Jakey) is investigating the deaths of a number of young woman. Is it a serial killer? Could there be a connection between the two 'cases'?

I never read other reviews until I've written my own. And I've discovered I'm in the minority on this one. It was an okay listen, but never really engaged me fully. I listen back and forth while driving to work and honestly found my attention wandering during the last few discs. Much of the story seemed to be repeated - there were multiple phone calls and texts that I found interminable, discussions rehashed and more. I truly think Ryan dragged out the story - it could have been two discs shorter for me.

The reader was Ilyana Kadushin. Kadushin has an excellent voice - rich and resonant. She also read the Twilight series. And that was the character I associated her voice with - a teenager.  Her breathless delivery didn't suit an investigative reporter character. She really didn't have a different voice for each of the characters and at times I was hard pressed to figure out who was talking. You really had to listen the the "Tuck said, Jake said" cues.

I never really bought into the Jane Ryland character.  Her cutesy references (Jakey and Janey) and daydreaming about her married boss (Hot Alex) lessened her and I had trouble taking her seriously. I found Jane's dialogue amateurish given her profession and Jake as a detective was the same.

Given the number of 'big name' blurbs that promoted this book, I thought I would love it too. Sadly,I didn't. Read or listen to an excerpt of The Other Woman.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Over the Counter #135

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Memoirs this week. First up was Bright Lights, No City by Max Alexander. Subtitled: An American Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan. How could I not want to stop and look at this one!

From the publisher Hyperion Books:

"The hilarious story of two brothers, a truckload of batteries, and a brilliant plan to bring light—and new business opportunities—to Ghana.
At age forty-seven, Whit Alexander, the American cofounder of the Cranium board game, decided to start a new business selling affordable goods and services to low-income villagers in Ghana, West Africa. His brother, Max, a journalist, came along to tell the story. Neither of them could have anticipated just how much of an adventure they’d find there.
In Ghana, Whit’s initial goal is to market a high quality rechargeable AA battery for off-grid villagers. If successful, he planned to grow a larger for-profit business based on those batteries: creating a trusted African brand that would provide life-enhancing products, services, and jobs, without relying on charity.
Ghana, however, presents extraordinary challenges, and the brothers wage daily battles against deadly insects, insane driving conditions, unspeakable food, voodoo priests, corrupt officials, counterfeiters, and ethnic rivalries on their way to success. From signing up customers who earn a few dollars a month at most to training employees with no Western-style work experience, the brothers quickly learn that starting a business in Africa requires single-minded focus, a sense of humor, and a lot of patience.
Along the way, Whit and Max relive their own childhood, bickering across the African bush and learning a great deal about Africans as well as themselves. Irreverent, hilarious, and ultimately inspiring, Bright Lights, No City challenges accepted notions of charity; shows the power of broadening your horizons; and suggests that there is hope and opportunity in Africa."


Next up was Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington. Subtitled: An American Family's Journey in China.

From the publisher Overlook Press:

"When all-American Aminta Arrington moves from suburban Georgia to a small town in China, she doesn't go alone. Her army husband and three young children, including an adopted Chinese daughter, uproot themselves too. Aminta hopes to understand the country with its long civilization, ancient philosophy, and complex language. She is also determined that her daughter Grace, born in China, regain some of the culture she lost when the Arringtons brought her to America as a baby.

In the university town of Tai'an, a small city where pigs' hooves are available at the local supermarket, donkeys share the road with cars, and the warm-hearted locals welcome this strange looking foreign family, the Arringtons settle in . . . but not at first. Aminta teaches at the university, not realizing she is countering the propaganda the students had memorized for years. Her creative, independent (and loud) American children chafe in their classrooms, the first rung in society's effort to ensure conformity. The family is bewildered by the seemingly endless cultural differences they face, but they find their way. With humor and unexpectedly moving moments, Aminta's story is appealingly reminiscent of Reading Lolita in Tehran. It will rivet anyone who is thinking of adopting a child, or anyone who is already familiar with the experience. An everywoman with courage and acute cultural perspective, Aminta recounts this transformative quest with a freshness that will delight anyone looking for an original, accessible point of view on the new China."

(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 6, 2012

A Walk in the Park - Jill Mansell

It seems like there has been nothing but rain, rain and more rain lately. So, I decided that yet another rainy day was the right time to pick something light and fun to read. Jill Mansell's latest book - A Walk in the Park - was the perfect antidote for all that rain.

Lara was just sixteen when her father kicked her out of the family home, but her stepmother had a hand in that decision. So she left Bath, England without a word to anyone - not her best friend Evie or her boyfriend Flynn. Lar never told Flynn the secret she had been hoping to tell him that night.....that secret is now eighteen years old and her name is Gigi.

When her father dies, Lara returns for the funeral, where the family solicitor delivers shocking news. The home she grew up in was not her father's house. Instead it belonged solely to her deceased mother and ownership now passes to Lara. Gigi has taken to Bath and decides they should move into the house. Lara has her doubts, but agrees.

You can see it coming, can't you? Yes, Lara does run into Flynn again....

And from here on in Mansell weaves another humourous, heartwarming tale full of charming, quirky characters, missed cues, missed communications and missteps.

As always, it's impossible not to love the lead character in Mansell's novels. Lara is just the kind of person you'd love to have as a best friend. I enjoyed the lead character being a little older this time round.  But Jill involves all demographics in her stories. A Walk in the Park also touches on older love, same sex relationships and friendship. But all of the characters have some traits in common - they're warm, funny, loving and well, just plain nice. The kind of people you'd love to surround yourself with. Mansell allows to escape into a world where although, not nice things sometimes happen, happy ever after endings do win out after all. (The philanderer was even hard to hate!)

Yes, you know everything will turn out the way you want it to in the end, but that never detracts from my enjoying each and every page. If you're looking to lose yourself for the day in a modern fairytale of sorts, pick up the latest from my absolute favourite chick lit author - Jill Mansell. You won't be disappointed! Read an excerpt of A Walk in the Park. You can find Jill on Facebook and on Twitter.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gone - Randy Wayne White

Randy Wayne White created his Florida marine biologist character Doc Ford back in 1990. Twenty some years and nineteen books later, Doc and his pal Tomlinson are recognized as iconic additions to the mystery genre. (The original book Sanibel Flats was named as one of the American Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as one of the Hundred Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century)

White writes what he knows - Florida and fishing. White takes a departure from the Ford novels to introduce us to a great new character - Hannah Smith - in his newest book Gone. I found this character fascinating as she is written as a descendant of the legendary Florida Smith women - Sarah, known as the Ox Woman and Hannah, known as Big Six.

Our Hannah is the fourth generation. She works as a fishing guide in the Gulf Coast and Sanibel Island area, having inherited the business from her late uncle. She also inherited an almost defunct private investigation agency. One of her regular charter customers, Mr. Seasons, is aware of this and asks Hannah to look for his missing niece Olivia. Seasons believes her local connections and tenacity will be of benefit.

Gone takes us into the dark side of the Florida wealthy and their pleasures - and those who prey upon them. Descriptions of the area, the fishing, the people and settings are detailed and really bring the book to life. The plot is quick and suspenseful, with lots of action. (and I can actually see this as a action flick with bikinis and rum drinks)

Hannah is a character I know I'm going to like even more as her story continues. She's honest, forthright, resourceful - and big and strong like her ancestors. Her weakness seems to be in knowing her own self - she is only now beginning to see that she is also a beautiful woman. My only complaint about Gone would be the amount of time White spent emphasizing this point - it grew a bit tiresome. Hannah's personality was also a bit uneven - unerringly sure of herself at one point, then fussing over a new blouse and bra. I'd much rather see the strong Hannah. The supporting characters are all a bit different as well - I did enjoy her gay best friend Nathan and her mother's attempts to thwart an ugly house construction. But again, they also placed too much emphasis on Hannah's love life (or lack of it).

Doc Ford does make a cameo 'appearance'. Gone was a great vehicle to introduce us to Hannah. I'm sure the rough edges will be smoothed out by the next book and I look forward to seeing where White takes Hannah next - and if Doc is in the mix as well. Read an excerpt from Gone. You can find Randy Wayne White on Facebook.

(And watch for the next Doc Ford thriller coming out March 5, 2013- titled: Night Moves)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Winner - The Gemini Virus

And the lucky winner of a copy of The Gemini Virus by Wil Mara, courtesy of Forge Books is:

Myra!

Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours.
 

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Christmas Garland - Anne Perry

Yes, it's a Christmas book review! (Only 52 sleeps!)

I've been a fan of Anne Perry for a long time. She writes the most wonderful historical novels. Her William Monk mystery series remains my favourite. Although I have missed a few of her books over the years, I have never missed reading the annual Christmas novella she's been writing since 2003.

This year's book - A Christmas Garland - takes us to  1857 India. It is a few days before Christmas, but things are not peaceful in Cawnpore. The Indians are rebelling against the rule of the East India Company.  Lieutenant Victor Narraway is a young soldier, only nineteen, but with a year in India under his belt already. When his superior officer calls him in to tell him he must defend a medical orderly accused of murder he is stunned - he has no formal law training at all. But the orderly swears he is innocent. Can Narraway save him from the hangman's noose in the few days he's been given?

Make yourself a pot of tea, turn on your reading lamp and settle in for another deliciously atmospheric tale from Perry. Her detailed descriptions bring historic events and settings to life. Narraway is a character I recognize from the Thomas Pitt mystery series. It was a treat to see him at a much earlier stage of his life. The opposing counsel is just as well drawn, albeit it in a negative light. The language and tone of the time are captured in Perry's dialogue - the horrors of war, the sense of honour and duty.

And into this slim volume, Perry manages to weave together a good mystery (I missed the conflicting clue) with a sense of hope and the human spirit. Reading Perry's annual Christmas book has become a tradition for me. And for those readers who haven't sampled Perry's writing yet, it's a great introduction.  Read an excerpt of The Christmas Garland.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Uninvited Guests - Sadie Jones

I chose to listen to Sadie Jones's latest book - The Uninvited Guests. I was glad I did, as the book had the feel of a radio play to me.

1912. A rambling old manor in England. It is the night of Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday. Preparations have been made and guests invited. But a nearby railway accident results in the house and party acquiring many more guests from that crash. The family is able to stow most of them away in the morning room. But one gentleman brashly joins the family at their dining table. And his presence takes the night into darker territory in more ways than one....

Jones captures the "I daresay old chap" attitude and dialogue perfectly. Kate Reading was the reader. I had a bit of an issue with her voice at first as I had recently listened to her read another book that I didn't overly enjoy. I had to separate that character from this book. However, she is an excellent reader. She has a British accent, but one that is easily understood. She enunciates very clearly and has a different way of placing emphasis on certain words by either drawing them out or biting them off. She portrayed both male, female and child roles with very different (and believable) voices, matching them well to the characters.

The first three quarters of the book is character driven. Jones excels at manipulating her characters and our reactions towards them. Things change rapidly as the night goes on and so do our players. I quite enjoyed this dark interplay. However I can only describe the last quarter of the book as, well - odd. I wasn't exactly surprised at the direction the story took - there were enough allusions to guess. But what had me scratching my head were some of the things that did happen  - they seemed forced into the story for I'm not sure what reason. (I know I'm being a bit obtuse but I don't want to provide spoilers) I had enjoyed the book up to this point, but felt let down with the end run Jones chose.

I still enjoyed this as a good listen, but not as much as I had hoped to.

Listen to an excerpt of The Uninvited Guests.