Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Over the Counter #463

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? I've eaten a lot of Jell-O salads in my day......

The Jell-O Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom.

From Little, Brown and Company:

"A “gorgeous” (New York Times) memoir that braids the evolution of one of America’s most iconic branding campaigns with the stirring tales of the women who lived behind its facade – told by the inheritor of their stories.

In 1899, Allie Rowbottom’s great-great-great-uncle bought the patent to Jell-O from its inventor for $450. The sale would turn out to be one of the most profitable business deals in American history, and the generations that followed enjoyed immense privilege – but they were also haunted by suicides, cancer, alcoholism, and mysterious ailments.

More than 100 years after that deal was struck, Allie’s mother Mary was diagnosed with the same incurable cancer, a disease that had also claimed her own mother’s life. Determined to combat what she had come to consider the “Jell-O curse” and her looming mortality, Mary began obsessively researching her family’s past, determined to understand the origins of her illness and the impact on her life of Jell-O and the traditional American values the company championed. Before she died in 2015, Mary began to send Allie boxes of her research and notes, in the hope that her daughter might write what she could not. Jell-O Girls is the liberation of that story.

A gripping examination of the dark side of an iconic American product and a moving portrait of the women who lived in the shadow of its fractured fortune, Jell-O Girls is a family history, a feminist history, and a story of motherhood, love and loss. In crystalline prose Rowbottom considers the roots of trauma not only in her own family, but in the American psyche as well, ultimately weaving a story that is deeply personal, as well as deeply connected to the collective female experience."

(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, January 15, 2019

The Accidental Beauty Queen - Teri Wilson

I was looking to take a break from my usual murder and mayhem and listen to something light, fluffy and fun. Teri Wilson's newest novel, The Accidental Beauty Queen, was the perfect fit.

Charlotte loves her job - she's an elementary school librarian. Her identical twin Ginny has made beauty pageants her life's work so far. She's desperate to win the one elusive crown she's never been able to claim - Miss American Treasure. This is the last year for a chance before she ages out. When she suffers an allergic reaction to a face mask, she refuses to opt out. Instead......yup, you guessed it.....she asks her identical twin Charlotte to step in until she can participate. Which Charlotte reluctantly does.....

I really liked Charlotte as a lead character. (And not just because she loves books and all things Harry Potter!) She's warm, funny and personable. I enjoyed her inner dialogue as she attempts to navigate the world of pageants - and more. The relationship with her sister, her family - and that judge on the panel. (And I laughed when I read the name of that judge - Grey Beckham - conjure up any mental images?) But most importantly - Charlotte herself.

The Accidental Beauty Queen was fun for me. I always enjoy the yes/no/maybe so of a rom-com read. I enjoyed Wilson's spin on this and the unique setting. Not being familiar with pageants, I was surprised that the upper age limit for participation does indeed include those in their late twenties.

Joy Osmanski (a perennial favourite of mine) was the reader. It's hard to explain, but her voice is fun and lively. Her reading is very expressive and she absolutely captures the tone of the book. Her voice matched the mental image I had created for Charlotte. It's clear, easy to understand, well enunciated and pleasant to listen to. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Accidental Beauty Queen.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Giveaway - Everything Here is Beautiful - Mira T. Lee

The new paperback edition of Mira T. Lee's highly praised debut novel - Everything Here is Beautiful - releases January 15/19 - and I have a copy to giveaway to one lucky reader!

What's it about? From Penguin Books:

"A dazzling novel of two sisters and their emotional journey through love, loyalty, and heartbreak.

Two Chinese-American sisters - Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. Lucia impetuously plows ahead, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.

Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again - but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans - but what does it take to break them?

Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone - and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all." Read an excerpt of Everything Here is Beautiful. Book clubs - there's also a reading guide.

"Mira T. Lee’s work has been published in numerous quarterlies and reviews, including The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, and Triquarterly. She was awarded an Artist’s Fellowship by the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2012, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. She is a graduate of Stanford University, and currently lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is her debut novel." You can connect with Mira T. Lee on her website, like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

And if you'd like to read Everything Here is Beautiful, enter to win a copy using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US only, ends January 26/19.

Friday, January 11, 2019

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #245

- 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
Anthony Horowitz is such a talented, clever writer. I really
enjoyed the first book (The Word is Murder) that featured Detective Daniel Hawthorne. Horowitz has written himself in as a character in the books. The second book is The Sentence is Death. The US cover is on the left and the UK cover is on the right. Both covers follow the look of the first book's cover. Red is prominent in both, as befits a murder mystery. But, I find myself more drawn to the simplicity of the US cover. It is less busy, but more effective. I like that drip from the paintbrush. So, an easy choice for me this week - US. Which cover do you prefer? Any plans to read The Sentence is Death?
You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Mansion - Ezekiel Boone

Ezekiel Boone gave me the heebie jeebies with his Hatching trilogy. (Spiders, giant spiders....) He returns with a new creepy thiller called The Mansion. And it's really quite timely....

Shawn and Billy were programming partners as young men. They created Eagle Logic - a brilliant system. But Shawn walked away with all the money when Billy walked away with Emily - Shawn's girlfriend. Billy hasn't fared so well - he's a recovering alcoholic, he's in debt and he and Emily are arguing. When Shawn offers up the chance to resurrect one of their failed projects - and pay Billy handsomely - he takes the job. They'll work out of Shawn's isolated mansion. And the project? It's named Nellie. And Nellie is "a next-generation computer program that can control a house’s every function."

And I'm not giving away much when I say you can see the possibilities can't you? And the realities from current news stories of technology gone wrong.....

The main plot didn't really surprise me. Boone takes a bit of a long path to the actual scary stuff. The tale is fleshed out with lots of detail and back story. A bit too much in my opinion. I wanted to get to the good stuff with Nellie. I think if I had read a physical copy, I might have been skim reading some of those passages.

But....I chose to listen to The Mansion and I quite enjoyed the audio version. In great part to the narrator. George Newbern is a perennial favorite reader of mine. He has the most expressive voice and brings an author's work to life with his inflections, timber and tone. His voice is clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. He changes things up for each character and it is easy to know who is speaking. Another five star performance for Newbern. Listen to an excerpt of The Mansion.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Over the Counter #462

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Well, it's more snow than rain in my part of the world right now...

Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature Hardcover by Marion Rankine.


From Melville House Books:

"Humans have been making, using, perfecting, and decorating umbrellas for millennia — holding them over the heads of rulers, signalling class distinctions, and exploring their full imaginative potential in folk tales and novels.

In the spirit of the best literary gift books, Brolliology is a beautifully designed and illustrated tour through literature and history. It surprises us with the crucial role that the oft-overlooked umbrella has played over centuries — and not just in keeping us dry. Marion Rankine elevates the umbrella to its rightful place as an object worthy of philosophical inquiry.

As Rankine points out, many others have tried. Derrida sought to find the meaning (or lack thereof) behind an umbrella mentioned in Nietzsche’s notes, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote essays on the handy object, and Dickens used umbrellas as a narrative device for just about everything. She tackles the gender, class, and social connotations of carrying an umbrella and helps us realize our deep connection to this most forgettable everyday object — which we only think of when we don’t have one."

(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, January 8, 2019

The Perfect Girlfriend - Karen Hamilton

My reading kind of dropped off over the holidays. The TBR pile is teetering, but I've seen so many teasers about Karen Hamilton's debut novel, The Perfect Girlfriend, that I decided to jump it to the front of the queue. And I pretty much finished it in a day.....

Let me introduce you to Juliette....

"Waiting. That's what I do, a lot of waiting. And thinking...." She's thinking (obsessively) about her ex boyfriend Nate.

"I hope he appreciates the lengths I've gone to, just to save us - everything will fall into place." What has she done? Taken a job that puts her into Nate's world. And Nate is not the only one in her sights. "Revenge is a dish best served cold, and mine is going to be frozen."

Oh my gosh, Juliette's thinking is so...so...off. She has a long term plan that will get her what she wants and in her eyes, what she deserves. And the path she maps to that end is frightening. Just when I thought Juliette couldn't possibly do any else, she does. I applaud Hamilton's plotting. I adore not being able to predict where a story is going to go. And with Juliette, there was no predicting. What a character! There were also two twists that I didn't anticipate and that I thought were quite clever.

I leave you with one last piece of advice from Juliette...

"If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they're yours. If they don't, make them."

Karen herself worked for many years as a flight attendant and her descriptions and settings reflect that. I'm hoping Juliette isn't drawn from reality! Psychological suspense fans, put this one on your list for sure! Read an excerpt of The Perfect Girlfriend.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Mystery of Three Quarters - Sophie Hannah

The latest Hercule Poirot mystery is The Mystery of Three Quarters. Sophie Hannah is now penning this iconic series, with the blessing  and permission of Agatha Christie's estate. And this reader thinks she does a good job of it,

London, England 1930. After a pleasant lunch out, Hercule returns home to find not one, but two angry people. They're angry about the letter Poirot has sent them, accusing them of the murder of Barnabas Pandy. Neither of the visitors knows Pandy. The trouble is - either does Poirot. And he most certainly did not send any letters.

Those familiar with Poirot will recognize his habits, mannerisms, speech, deduction process (beware the typewriter with the faulty 'e') and more. What missing for me is Captain Hastings. He has been replaced with Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool, whom we met in previous Sophie Hannah Poirot books. I've been on the fence about him. He serves as the obligatory sidekick and foil for Poirot, but has a lesser role in this book than the previous. Who I am quite taken with is Fee, the waitress at Poirot's favorite bakery. I hope this character continues to grow in future books.

I really enjoy the 'old style' of  solving mysteries - the deductions, reasoning, following the clues, interviews and that seemingly innocuous clue tucked into a paragraph along the way. Christie - and Hannah - force the reader to pay attention. And I always enjoy that final 'reveal', uncovering the whodunit and how Poirot got there.

 Those looking for a book written as Agatha Christie won't find it in Closed Casket. But those looking for a classic mystery written in the style of Christie will enjoy this book. I did. Read an excerpt of The Mystery of Three Quarters.

Friday, January 4, 2019

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #244

- 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
Canadian cover
I keep hearing about The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton and it is most definitely on my TBR list. I ended up finding four (!) covers to choose from this week. The US cover is on the top left and the Canadian cover on the top right. I am more immediately drawn to the plane interior image. There's a what I assume is a female flight attendant, given the premise of the story. "She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him. I find the Canadian cover a bit bland. The cover blurbs are from authors I enjoy, so that alone would have me picking it to peek inside. But the white blouse and half face shot is just meh for me. An easy choice for me this week - US cover. What about you? Any plans to read The Perfect Girlfriend? Which cover do you prefer?
You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks by Sarah Pekkanen

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen had a bestseller with last year's The Wife Between Us. They're back with a new psychological suspense novel titled An Anonymous Girl.

Jessica is in need of money - she's covering a lot of her parent's expenses. When she learns of a psychological study that pays, she signs up. She takes the initial survey and is invited back for more sessions by the never seen Dr. Shields. The questions grow increasingly invasive, but the pay also rises. And then Jessica is asked to do even more....

"Your loyalty has been methodically cultivated. You have been paid thousands of dollars for your services. You have received carefully curated gifts. Your emotional state has been attended to; you have received the equivalent of intensive therapy sessions for free. You belong to me."

An Anonymous Girl is told from two viewpoints - Jessica's and Dr. Shields. And yes, the phrase 'cat and mouse game' definitely applies here.

My pragmatic nature made me question Jess's continued acceptance of the increasing nature of the 'tasks' assigned by Dr. Shields. (What would you do for needed cash?) But, I just went with it and got caught up in the ever increasing spiral between the two.

And I'm going to leave it there - I don't want to give away where the plot goes. You need to discover that for yourselves! Read an excerpt of An Anonymous Girl.

And a quick comment on the cover. The Wife Between us had a very similar look. This cover almost duplicates it - wonder if it's going to be a 'trademark for this talented duo?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Over the Counter # 461

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

American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment by Shane Bauer.

From Penguin Press:

"New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2018. A New York Times Notable Book.

A ground-breaking and brave inside reckoning with the nexus of prison and profit in America: in one Louisiana prison and over the course of our country’s history.

In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an exposé about his experiences that won a National Magazine Award and became the most-read feature in the history of the magazine Mother Jones. Still, there was much more that he needed to say. In American Prison, Bauer weaves a much deeper reckoning with his experiences together with a thoroughly researched history of for-profit prisons in America from their origins in the decades before the Civil War. For, as he soon realized, we can’t understand the cruelty of our current system and its place in the larger story of mass incarceration without understanding where it came from. Private prisons became entrenched in the South as part of a systemic effort to keep the African-American labor force in place in the aftermath of slavery, and the echoes of these shameful origins are with us still.

The private prison system is deliberately unaccountable to public scrutiny. Private prisons are not incentivized to tend to the health of their inmates, or to feed them well, or to attract and retain a highly-trained prison staff. Though Bauer befriends some of his colleagues and sympathizes with their plight, the chronic dysfunction of their lives only adds to the prison’s sense of chaos. To his horror, Bauer finds himself becoming crueler and more aggressive the longer he works in the prison, and he is far from alone.

A blistering indictment of the private prison system, and the powerful forces that drive it, American Prison is a necessary human document about the true face of justice in America."

(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, January 1, 2019

Giveaway - The Martin Chronicles

Let's start off 2019 with a great giveaway! The Martin Chronicles by John Fried releases January 8/19 and I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader!

From Grand Central Publishing:

"A powerful and heartfelt coming-of-age novel that follows Martin Kelso as he grows up in 1980's New York and faces the magic of first experiences, as well as the heartbreak of hard-won life lessons.

Martin Kelso’s comfortable world starts to change at the age of eleven. Girls get under his skin in ways he never noticed before. His cousin Evie, who used to be Marty’s closest confidante–the one who taught him the right way to eat a pizza and how to catch tadpoles - has grown up into a stranger, mysterious and unpredictable. Marty and his best friends once inhabited fantasy worlds of their own making, full of cowboys and cops and robbers, where the heroes always won the day. But now, as neighborhood kids are attacked on their walk to school, they find themselves wanting to play a new game that better prepares them for real life.

As life changes quickly and Marty feels less secure with himself, the difference between games and reality, friend and foe, and right from wrong becomes much more difficult to distinguish. At the same time, this new world offers possibilities as exciting as they are frightening.

This poignant debut perfectly captures the intense emotion, humor, and earnestness of young adulthood as Marty, age eleven to seventeen, navigates a series of life-changing firsts: first kiss, first enemy, first loss, and, ultimately, his first awareness that the world is not as simple a place as he had once imagined." Read an excerpt of The Martin Chronicles. And you have to listen The Martin Chronicles playlist - classic rock!

"John Fried teaches creative writing at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He received his MFA from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers. His short fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including The Gettysburg Review, North American Review, and Columbia: A Journal of Arts and Literature. Prior to teaching, he was a magazine writer and editor in New York, and his work appeared in various publications, including The New Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, New York, Time, and Real Simple." You can connect with John on his website and follow him on Twitter.

If you would like to read The Martin Chronicles, enter for a chance to win a copy using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US and Canada. Ends January 12/19.