Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Off the Tourist Trail - Dorling Kindersley Books

More delicious armchair travel! But with a twist this time. Off the Tourist Trail explores 'unexpected travel alternatives'. The authors of this book are the many travel writers who have contributed to the Eyewitness Travel books that DK publishers.

The format is pretty unique - alternatives to well known attractions, journeys, natural phenomenon and more such as Stonehenge, Niagara Falls and more are presented -up to six specifically related suggestions and up to 45 additional recommendations.

Many of the 'well-known' attractions were new to me, so I had just as much fun reading about them. But the off the beaten track destinations are amazing. Our world is so full of extraordinary sites and events. Many of them, I will never get a chance to see, so I enjoy travelling from my armchair. Each destination has a description along with practical information - getting there, where to stay, best time of the year to visit and a direct web address. ( I stopped many times to hop on the computer)

Of course, I always have to check out the Canadian suggestions. I was thrilled to see that Nova Scotia's Evangeline Trail was presented as an alternative to driving the old Route 66 in the US. We actually drove this trail this past summer and yes, it was pretty stunning. We took the train out to the East Coast to start, so I was interested to see the section on alternatives to the famous Orient Express train. The Canadian from T.O. to Vancouver is listed -  a trip I'd like to undertake. As was the Viking Trail in Newfoundland, an suggestion in the Great Journeys section.

I've focused on North America, but there are mostly world wide suggestions. The Camino de Santiago has attracted literally hundreds of thousands of walkers, but there are alternatives - a pilgrimage to Rome being one of them.

I'm always drawn to the small islands found as specks on maps and globes. I wonder at the people who live there and what their lives are like. I had never heard of the tropical Fernando de Noronha Islands, suggested as a substitute for the Galapagos Islands, but I'd sure love to visit!

This coffee table sized book is printed on glossy stock and filled with lots of sharp, clear photos. Perfect for an armchair getaway. Peek inside.

Bill Bryson wrote the forward for Off the Tourist Trail. He speaks about the book in the video below.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer - Michelle Hodkin

Resident teen blogger Ella is back with a book that she calls 'outrageously exciting.'

"I am ignoring my Spanish homework to let the world know they need to drop everything and go find a copy of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. Now. Oh. My. Gawd, it is good. Beyond the quality of the world-building and witty repartee, the actual storyline is mind-blowing. I don't even know how to begin explaining how hard waiting for the sequel will be. The insane-twist/inevitable-ending high has yet to wear off. I have no idea what's going on, and I really, really want to know.

If my giddy glee doesn't convince you, check out the cover. How cool is it? Also, it has an awesome title. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. So foxy. So fitting.

The story is about Mara Dyer falling apart after she survives being trapped under a collapsed building (that turns out to have been an ABANDONED INSANE ASYLUM!!!! I know, right? Don't worry, that's the only cheese in the book) The accident killed three of her friends, but she remembers nothing. The book starts as she wakes up from a three day coma, and struggles to remember the events surrounding the accident. Not long after, she starts having insane and spooky hallucinations of the dead kids, and other eerie things. Creepy, but so, so good. I spent half of the book laughing out loud, and the other half looking over my shoulder, or falling off my couch when my cat meowed or did something equally terrifying. I don't know what I would have done with myself if Mara's story ended here. Never left my room again, because I'm too freaked about the outside world, probably.

Now stop reading Luanne's blog, and go get a copy, before everyone else gets theirs!" Get a head start - read an excerpt of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.

Oh boy, that's a resounding recommendation Ella! As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts on some great YA reads with us. Now....get back to your homework......

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree - Ann Weisgarber - Review AND Giveaway

I broke my own rule while reading The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber - I flipped forward and read ahead. And then went back to slowly enjoy the story of Rachel DuPree. I became so invested in her trials and tribulations that I had to know what was going to happen next.

It's 1917 and a terrible drought has struck the Badlands in South Dakota. Rachel DuPree, her husband Isaac and their children are struggling to survive this latest hardship. For Isaac, there is no question - he will prevail. His goal has been the land all along and he will not give up. But Rachel is struggling. She's given birth to seven children, lost two and has another on the way. When Isaac lowers one of her girls down the well to get what little water remains, it seems to be a breaking point. Rachel questions her life, what is best for her children and her relationship with the man who is her husband.

In flashbacks we learn how Isaac and Rachel came to be homesteaders in this brutal environment. Rachel is a cook in a boarding house. While she believes she is in love with the dashing son of the owner, Isaac sees it as a business proposition - Rachel can apply for another 160 acres of land from the Homestead Act.

"I stared until my eyes blurred. It was so big. All that land and sky, all that openness; there was no end to any of it. It made me feel small. It gave me a bad feeling. I didn't belong; this place called for bigger things than me."

Weisgarber has written a story rich with emotion, detail and history. Relationships are explored - that of Rachel and her husband, the sense of belonging and homesickness. The history of settlers in this area has been explored, but not really from the point of view of black settlers. Rachel faces predjudice from many sides - that of 'upper class' blacks, whites and the native Americans as well. Isaac's view of the natives was an eye opener - he bristles at his treatment at the hand of whites, yet considers himself above the natives. I really enjoyed the physical details of everyday life and what it took to stake a claim - the dreams, the hopes and the aspirations. The setting is a character in the book as well, the wind, the dust and the grit almost tangible in Weisgarber's descriptions.

I think I enjoyed this book so much as the character of Rachel reminded me of Addy Shadd, the protagonist in one of my favourite books - Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens. The strength it takes to move continually forward despite unforgiving odds. The pleasure of finding joy amongst the troubles. The courage to make difficult decisions. And the determination to keep going.

As Rachel says: "I admired the feel of a book. I opened the book and held it to each girl's nose. I alwasy believed that smelling the pages of a book took a person into the story." I lost myself in Rachel's story. Read an excerpt.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree would make for a fantastic book club selection. Check out what other bloggers on the TLC tour thought. And thanks to the publisher Penguin Books, I have a copy to giveaway. Open to US and Canada, ends Dec. 18. Simply comment to be entered.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winner - Sanctus - Simon Toyne

And the lucky winner of a copy of Sanctus by Simon Toyne is:

Christa @ mentalfoodie

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

A month away!

Well it's offically a month before Christmas today! (Yes, my tree is already up.) So, I thought I would share a few Christmas book ideas with you today.

Peterson's Holiday Helper

“How to recapture those blissful holidays of yore? What’s the secret? I searched and searched and –after a whole hour on the Internet– I found the answer: liquor.”

Yes, says Valerie Peterson, the antidote to holiday stress is, quite simply, to keep good spirits in you. Whether you need to ease the friction at the Thanksgiving table, dull the guilt of smashing one of Great-Grandmama’s heirloom Christmas ornaments, or take the bite out of a New Year’s Day hangover, the collection of cocktails and tips in Peterson’s Holiday Helper will keep you afloat. With festive, original concoctions (such as Pilgrim Sangria and the Ginerous Regift) as well as time-honored classics (Mulled Wine and Eggnog), Peterson administers easy and delicious pick-me-ups for holiday humbugs and soothing calm-me-downs for the inevitable celebratory crises.

Whatever your seasonal malady, Peterson’s Holiday Helper has the cure:
In addition to tasty and therapeutic cocktails, Peterson’s Holiday Helper is filled with vintage photographs and holiday ephemera that capture the jolly old days, as well as helpful tips to further your merry frame of mind. With easy instructions for making basics such as simple syrup and infused vodka, along with more than fifty scrumptious recipes, Peterson’s Holiday Helper will help you maintain that old-fashioned feeling of peace and tranquilization–er, tranquillity–for the entire season."

A Christmas Vigil by Anne Perry
"In these two holiday mysteries set in Victorian London, Christmas comes with a helping of magic and murder.
A CHRISTMAS PROMISE - Three days before Christmas, in London’s East End, thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps encounters eight-year-old Minnie Maude Mudway, freezing and alone. Only the day before, someone murdered Minnie Maude’s Uncle Alf and made off with his rag-and-bones cart—as well as with Charlie, the beloved donkey who pulled it. Now, Grace and Minnie Maude set off to rescue Charlie. But the path that Uncle Alf had taken to his death was not his regular route, and in his cart, the children are told, was a dazzling golden casket that could very well be a Pandora’s box of evil or a shining prize of hope.
A CHRISTMAS ODYSSEY - Ten days before Christmas, James Wentworth feels not joy but grief. His reckless son, Lucien, has been lured into a world of drugs and wild passion. Wentworth’s only hope, he believes, is his old friend Henry Rathbone, who volunteers to search for the wayward young man with the help of two new companions—Squeaky Robinson, a reformed brothel-keeper, and Crow, a mysterious slum doctor. As this odd trio gathers clues about Lucien’s disappearance on London’s dark streets, they find themselves on a mission whose outcome they cannot begin to guess."

The Onion Presents: Christmas Exposed

"Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without impulse-priced holiday gift books—and now The Onion has unleashed its award-winning team of investigative journalists upon the genre. Christmas Exposed features more than one hundred shocking tales of Secret Santas, shopping mall mayhem,
dysfunctional family dinners, and much, much more."

Twelve Drummers Drumming by C. C. Benison

"Introducing a series utterly perfect for cozy fans of Alan Bradley, Alexander McCall Smith, and Louise Penny. The Reverend Tom "Father" Christmas, the newest vicar of Thornford Regis, an idyllic rural town in England, turns detective when one of his parishioners turns up dead in a drum, and everyone in town seems to have something to confess. Tom Christmas came to picturesque Thornford Regis with his young daughter to escape the terrible experience of losing his wife in the city. Her murder sent him packing to the bucolic and charming town, where violent crime isn't supposed to happen and the greatest sin is supposed to be nothing a member of the clergy can't handle. Then, at the town fair, a woman is found murdered. Tom soon learns that everyone in Thornford Regis has a secret to hide--infidelity, theft, even past murders. Twelve Drummers Drumming showcases a lovely place to live and/or die, and marks the debut of a planned twelve-book mystery series featuring the brilliant Father Christmas." See my review here.

Martha Stewart's Handmade Holiday Crafts

"Join Martha Stewart for a celebration of handcrafted holidays all year-round! New Year’s – Valentine’s Day – Easter – Mother’s Day – Father’s Day – Fourth of July – Halloween – Thanksgiving – Hanukkah – Christmas.

Let Martha inspire your creativity with the most beautiful crafts. The 225 handmade projects include cards and greetings, decorations, gifts and gift wrapping, tabletop accents, party favors, and kids’ crafts, as well as more holiday-specific activities, such as egg-dyeing, pumpkin carving, and tree trimming. Each idea is sure to make the holidays more festive—and memorable. " Watch for my review next week!

"Canadian Living The Complete Christmas Book is the ultimate holiday planner, with everything you need to have the perfect holiday season: essential recipes for family gatherings or intimate holiday entertaining dinners; gifts to make for family and friends; décor projects for all around the house; fun projects in the kitchen; and holiday crafts for the whole family to make. With countdowns and work plans, helpful cooking tips and step-by-step photos, Canadian Living The Complete Christmas Book is the one-stop guide to having your best Christmas ever."

Nigella Christmas comprises reliable, practical, easy-to-follow recipes and inspiring and reassuring advice, presented in a gorgeous package that will make this the ultimate gift to yourself, your family and friends.

Nigella Christmas will surely become an all-time perennial favourite, the book we will all reach for – for minimum stress and maximum enjoyment – at holiday season.

Recipes include everything from Christmas cakes and puddings to quick homemade presents (cookies and chutneys); food to cook and freeze ahead; oven slow-cooking; “hero” ingredients; as well as party food and drinks. And, of course, exciting and inspiring variations for the Main Event – from traditional turkey, festive ham and special trimmings; to a Swedish or Polish Christmas à la Nigella; to a vegetarian Christmas feast."

Hope that gave you some ideas! (29 days....)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Over the Counter #85

This week's Over the Counter offering didn't actually pass over my library counter and under my scanner. But in a way it has - we come across the oddest things used as bookmarks in books returned to the library (cutlery, wrapped condoms, credit card statements, photos, tickets, letters and I've heard a rumour from another branch that involved a chicken leg.) Forgotten Bookmarks by Michael Popek is one I'd love to read.

From the publisher Perigee Books:

"It's happened to all of us: we're reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a four-leaf clover. Eventually the book finds its way into the world-a library, a flea market, other people's bookshelves, or to a used bookstore. But what becomes of those forgotten bookmarks? What stories could they tell?

By day, Michael Popek works in his family's used bookstore. By night, he's the voyeuristic force behind, where he shares the weird objects he has found among the stacks at his store.

Forgotten Bookmarks is a scrapbook of Popek's most interesting finds. Sure, there are actual bookmarks, but there are also pictures and ticket stubs, old recipes and notes, valentines, unsent letters, four-leaf clovers, and various sordid, heartbreaking, and bizarre keepsakes. Together this collection of lost treasures offers a glimpse into other readers' lives that they never intended for us to see."

(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 23, 2011

Heat Rises - Richard Castle

I don't watch a lot of television, so I really wasn't aware of who Richard Castle is. Nathan Fillion portrays this character, who is an author, on the tv show Castle. Now, on this series, Castle is an award winning author with numerous books to his credit. To further promote the television series ABC tv actually published Castle's last three books - all which have landed on the New York Times bestseller lists! Although it is obvious there is a ghost writer, ABC sticks the story that Castle is the author. With me so far?

Anyhow, I chose to listen to my first Castle book in audio format. Heat Rises follows Detective Nikki Heat and her team as they hunt down the killer of a parish priest in New York - in a bondage club. The closer she gets, the more it appears someone doesn't want the case solved - and that someone might be a cop.

Johnny Heller is the reader. Initially I was surprised that a male reader was chosen for what is essentially a female protagonist lead role. He does differentiate between the characters and having gotten quickly used to his tone, I was able to visualize each character. Heller has a distinct gravelly voice that is quite atmospheric and adds much to the book.

The plot of Heat Rises is good, with lots of twists, turns and action. The dialogue is quite humourous - lots of short snappy quips make this a fun book too. And of course a helping of romance. Overall, a very entertaining listen. Listen to an excerpt of Heat Rises. There's even a reading group guide available.

So, I'm working backwards here - I'm going to have to check out the television program now that I've read the books. Definitely an intriguing and very clever premise that works.

You can find author Richard Castle on Facebook and on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Puppy That Came for Christmas - Megan Rix - Q&A AND Giveaway!

I'm thrilled to welcome author  Megan Rix to A Bookworm's World today. She was gracious enough to answer a few questions about her latest book The Puppy That Came for Christmas. Make sure you enter for a chance to win a copy!

You’re quite a diverse/ prolific writer. What does your writing day look like? My day starts early - usually at around 6 but occasionally 5.30am. Ian gets out of bed and our two dogs, Traffy and Bella, jump on (if they’re not already there.) Traffy’s the star of my first memoir 'The Puppy that Came for Christmas' and Bella’s our latest addition and just one year old.

Ian brings me up a mug of coffee before he leaves for work andif it’s still dark outside (like it is now) I usually do some longhand writing in bed while the dogs snooze if I’m lucky and play boisterously on the bed if I’m not.

Coffee drunk I take Traffy and Bella to the river which is close by. We usually walk there for about an hour and meet up with dog and human friends. When we get back we all have breakfast and then I get down to writing at my desk in front of the computer. At around 12-00 we're all usually getting a bit stir-crazy so we head off for another walk - usually in the opposite direction along the river bank.

And then I'll do a few more hours of writing in the afternoon while Bella and Traffy have a snooze on the bed. (Very occasionally I'll join them and it’s heavenly!) I stop writing for the day any time between 4 and 6pm when Ian comes home from work. I don’t usually do any writing once he's back as it's nice to have some family time before it starts all over again the next day!

I've heard that there may be a second memoir in the works? Can you tell us anything about it?
Currently I’m working on 3 different books: ‘Traffy at Two’ (working title) my second memoir about Traffy and Helper Dogs, ‘Cat Magic’ (written as Ruth Symes – it’s the fourth in the Bella Donna series of children’s novels – the first three have just been sold to China – can’t wait to see them in Chinese!) And last but not least - my first children's novel written as Megan Rix, published by Puffin, and coming out in the summer of 2012. It’s called ‘The Great Escape’ and is about 3 pets who narrowly escape death in World War 2 and cross the country meeting Winston Churchill on the way (he was a huge cat fan) to be reunited with their evacuated owners. I loved doing the research!
I swap between the books as the mood takes me. Sometimes I set myself targets like writing 1000 words a day. I think targets are good to have for motivation - but at the moment my deadlines are all looming so I don’t have time to think I'm not in the mood today - I just have to get on with it!

What's actually involved in taking in a dog to train?
A lot of patience and a lot of love.

What types of disabilities are they being trained for?
Helper Dogs are mainly to work with people with limited or no mobility but often they have extra training to cater to an individual’s specific needs.

Have you kept in touch with the dogs you 'fostered'?
Yes I have – Emma got to be a bridesmaid at her disabled partner’s wedding this year and Freddy’s still the life and soul of his new family. I’ve written about them in ‘Traffy at Two’.

Are you still involved in any way?
Very much involved – although Traffy’s now a therapy dog rather than a demo dog.

Why do you think animal memoirs seem to be all the rage lately?

I don’t know but I love reading them – so long may they continue! Read an excerpt of The Puppy that Came for Christmas.

Thanks for stopping by Megan! You can find Megan on Facebook and on Twitter.

Now while we can't offer up a puppy for giveaway, we've got the next best thing - a copy of The Puppy that Came for Christmas. Open to US and Canada, simply comment to be entered. Closes Dec 11.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Informationist - Taylor Stevens

When Taylor Stevens' debut novel The Infomationist came out last year, I was aware of the buzz, but never got around to picking it up. Well, this New York Times bestseller is newly released in trade paperback, so I picked it up - and had a hard time putting it down. Wow - what a non stop thriller!

Vanessa Michael Munroe grew up in Africa, rebelling against the upbringing her missionary parents envisioned for her. Instead she made her own way, creating her own niche as an 'informationist'. Her 'unique' set of skills make her sought after by corporations and private clients. But her latest client is looking for more than information. He wants Vanessa to look for his stepdaughter, who vanished four years ago while travelling through Africa. Although it's not really her kind of case, he's offering a lot of money, so she says yes.

What made it hard to put down? I loved the character. Her past is alluded to in the beginning and only really fleshed out as the book progresses. I wanted to know more about her. It was fantastic to have such a kick a** female protagonist, one who can hold her own in almost any situation. Over the top? Maybe - but a delicious piece of escapist reading.

What I also enjoyed was having a setting outside of North America. I was initially surprised by Stevens' choice until I learned a bit more about the author herself. She has lived in many of the countries she writes about and more. Stevens was born into the infamous Children of God cult and went where she was sent until she escaped when she was 28. Much of the Moore's emotions and conflicts seem to be pulled from Stevens' reality. What makes The Informationist even more impressive is that Stevens has a formal education level of grade six.

When reading  The Informationist, I started to picture Vanessa Michael Moore as Angelina Jolie. If you enjoyed Jolie in the roles she played in Tomb Raider and Salt , you would really enjoy this character. Or if you're looking for a female Jack Reacher character. The next book in this series The Innocent is due out Dec 27th. Stevens will be drawing on her own past again - Vanessa is on the hunt for a child being hidden by a cult. This reader will be definitely picking it up! Read an excerpt of The Informationist.

You can find Stevens on Facebook and on Twitter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sweetly - Jackson Pearce

Resident teen blogger Ella is back to share her thoughts on Sweetly by Jackson Pearce. (Seriously - that's a creepy cover!)

A modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel, with a few twists. Ansel and Gretchen just got kicked out by their stepmom. Their dad died a few years ago, and their mom didn't last long after Gretchen's twin was kidnapped by a 'witch' when they were little. They decide to start over on the East Coast, and pick a town at random. Half an hour away from the end of their cross-country  trek, the car breaks down, and they have no cash. Luckily, an attractive young choclatier needs help with a few home repairs. Nevermind that she lives alone in a candy coloured house in the middle of the woods. Have a piece of her candy, breathe in the smell, it'll take care of your worries. Those girls who disappear every year after the chocolate festival? Don't worry about it. Pure coincidence it's her event they disappear after. Just don't go in the forest, 'kay? And ignore the sea shells that keep showing up everywhere.
This book was pretty good. It wasn't scary, per se, just quite eerie at times. There was just this delicious feeling of dread for most of the second half, and though it was kind of predictable, I was still managed to be shocked when it all came together. I will never smell chocolate or look at a sea shell the same way again, and I'm terrified to go hiking. The witches were very creative, though they got kind of weird at the end. Good weird, though. I'm pretty sure this is in the same world as Sisters Red (which I haven't read), but it didn't really mention anything from the first one.

Read an excerpt of Sweetly. You can find Pearce on Facebook and on Twitter.

As always, thanks Ella for sharing your thoughts on some great reads!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Over the Counter # 84

My library is right across the road from one of the busiest malls in the city....and the Christmas shopping rush seems to be on already. So Malled by Caitlin Kelly definitely caught my eye this week as it passed over my library counter and under the scanner.

From the publisher, Penguin:

"One woman's midcareer misadventures in the absurd world of American retail.

 After losing her job as a journalist and the security of a good salary, Caitlin Kelly was hard up for cash. When she saw that The North Face-an upscale outdoor clothing company-was hiring at her local mall, she went for an interview almost on a whim.

Suddenly she found herself, middle-aged and mid-career, thrown headfirst into the bizarre alternate reality of the American mall: a world of low-wage workers selling overpriced goods to well-to-do customers. At first, Kelly found her part-time job fun and reaffirming, a way to maintain her sanity and sense of self-worth. But she describes how the unexpected physical pressures, the unreasonable dictates of a remote corporate bureaucracy, and the dead-end career path eventually took their toll. As she struggled through more than two years at the mall, despite surgeries, customer abuse, and corporate inanity, Kelly gained a deeper understanding of the plight of the retail worker.

In the tradition of Nickel and Dimed, Malled challenges our assumptions about the world of retail, documenting one woman's struggle to find meaningful work in a broken system."

And at the other end of the spectrum, a memoir far from the mall - Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill.

From the publisher, Greystone Books (co- published with The David Suzuki Foundation) :

"A treeplanter’s vivid story of a unique subculture and the magical life of the forest.

Charlotte Gill spent twenty years working as a tree planter in the forests of Canada. During her million-tree career, she encountered hundreds of clearcuts, each one a collision site between human civilization and the natural world, a complicated landscape presenting geographic evidence of our appetites. Charged with sowing the new forest in these clear-cuts, tree planters are a tribe caught between the stumps and the virgin timber, between environmentalists and loggers.

In Eating Dirt, Gill offers up a slice of tree-planting life in all of its soggy, gritty exuberance, while questioning the ability of conifer plantations to replace original forests that evolved over millennia into complex ecosystems. She looks at logging’s environmental impact and its boom-and-bust history, and touches on the versatility of wood, from which we have devised countless creations as diverse as textiles and airplane parts.

Eating Dirt also eloquently evokes the wonder of trees, which grow from a tiny seed into one of the world’s largest organisms, our slowest-growing “renewable” resource. Most of all, the book joyously celebrates the priceless value of forests and the ancient, ever-changing relationship between humans and trees.
(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 16, 2011

Awkward Family Pet Photos - Mike Bender and Doug Chernack

I featured Mike Bender and Doug Chernack's New York Times bestseller Awkward Family Photos way back in Over the Counter # 20. It truly was a laugh out loud book.

They're back with their latest collection - Awkward Family Pet Photos.  All the photos have been sent in by the pet owners (and really every pet you can think of is covered) themselves. Some are accompanied by a short note setting the scene. Others - well some pictures speak for themselves....

Now, I am a devoted pet owner myself - I'm a dog person. I do have many photos with myself and my pups, but I've never taken a formal portrait with them. The studio posed photos had me laughing out loud. I wonder what the photographer thought when one family had a picture of their four children taken - each one with their pet snake.

The candid photos are the best though. Pets are indeed part of our families and their willingness (most of the time) to go along with some very dubious costumes, situations and settings make for some great memories. And with Christmas around the corner, make sure you take a photo as you put that reindeer headband on your dog or take your chinchilla to visit Santa. And then you can submit your photo to the Awkward Family Pet Photo website ! You can find them on Facebook as well.

Really, if you need a chuckle, (or a gift for that 'what do you buy' person on your list) pick up either of these (awkward) books! Have a peek inside.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The World's Must-See Places - Dorling Kindersley Books

This is the time of the year I love browsing for beautiful coffee table books for gifts. (and for me!)

The World's Must-See Places is perfect for armchair travellers and history buffs. This book covers man made monuments and structures, not nature's must see places.

The index is broken down into continents and then sub divided into countries. There were two listed in Canada, so this was my first stop. I was thrilled to see that I had visited both - the CN Tower in Toronto and the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica in Montreal. 2/100 so far!

Many of the American entries were somewhat predictable - The White House, Empire State Building and  Statue of Liberty etc, so I hopped across the ocean to explore Africa. It is the structures that I've never heard of that fascinate me the most. The mosques of Morocco and Mali were amazing - each completely different - one a marvel of bronze, granite and onyx, the other a mud and brick edifice no less beautiful.

The castles and cathedrals of Europe have always appealed to me. Our history here in Canada is so young, but many of these structures date from the 1100's!

Each entry features a sidebar with details specific to the feature and a timeline on the bottom with key dates. Actual pictures and descriptions surround a 3D cutaway of the architecture.

As with all Dorling Kindersley books, the layout is clean, easy to read and appealing. Their use of colour, detail and glossy stock make their books a joy to peruse. Peek inside.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review AND Giveaway - Running Away to Home - Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson and her husband Jim have a good life in Des Moines, Iowa. Two great kids, careers, house, friends - the American Dream. But they had another dream as well - " to escape to the place where we could live simply with our kids." But where could that be? Jennifer's family was originally from Croatia. And that, they decide, is where they will escape to for a year. Jennifer does a short reconnaissance mission in her ancestral hometown of Mrkopalj, returns to the US and less than a year later, they're on their way.

I thought Running Away to Home was such a neat idea - and something I would have liked to do when I was younger (I would have headed to Ireland myself). To have really chucked it all for a year, packed up two young children to just explore, learn and live takes courage and an adventurous spirit.

Wilson doesn't pull any punches in this memoir. It's not all smooth sailing - their planned accomodations go awry and Jennifer is actually the one who has trouble fitting in with village life. Her husband Jim seems to seamlessly integrate himself into daily life. "You haven't tried to fit in! You're hanging back. You're trying to figure everything out before you actually enjoy this. I don't think the point is to figure anything out. I think your time is better spent getting to know people." Once she takes her husband's words to heart, things go better for Jennifer. She starts to relax and just 'be'. Once she starts to interact and join in, her experience is enriched.

The book is written from Jennifer's point of view, with Jim and the children's thoughts added by her. I would have enjoyed reading from Jim's perspective as well. I enjoyed 'meeting' many of the 800 residents of Mrkopalj and learning of daily life, history and customs of the area. I did find a little too much of the story devoted to Robert - the owner of the home they end up living in, although they depend on him for much of what they need during their time in Croatia.

Did the Wilsons find what they were looking for? The subtitle of the book is "Our journey to Croatia in search of who we are, where we came from, and what really matters." I think the time spent together as a family was invaluable. I would have liked to see a postscript - what happened on their return to the US? Did they return to their jobs? What changed as a result of this trip? Pictures would have been nice as well, but you can view the trip album on Wilson's website.

I enjoyed the honesty of Wilson's writing, learning more about Croatia and the thoughts and possiblities her adventures sparked in this reader. Read an excerpt of Running Away to Home. A reading group guide is also available. You can find Wilson on Facebook and on Twitter.

And thanks to the lovely folks at St. Martin's Press, I have a copy of Running Away to Home to giveaway. Open to US and Canada. Simply comment to be entered. Ends Dec. 10.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Litigators - John Grisham

Well, I had great plans to jot down some notes and quotes to share with you about John Grisham's newest book - The Litigators. Yeah, that didn't happen.... because it ended up being a non stop read for me - I picked it up on a Sunday morning and turned the last page late (late) that night.

I was hooked from the opening pages. David Zinc has toiled away at a prestigious law firm in relative obscurity for the last five years. Until the morning he realizes he can't do it anymore and walks away. And lands at the firm of Finley & Figg -  ambulance chasers, divorce court specialists and anything else they can make a buck at. Although Wally and Oscar refer to the office as a 'boutique firm', they are anything but - Wally has just placed an ad for the firm on local bingo hall cards.

When Wally gets wind of a potentially big case involving a big name cholesterol drug. It seems folks taking it are suffering heart damage and even death. If they can find a few cases of their own and ride on the coat tails of the big players in a mass claim action suit, they could all be rich. It seems simple enough......and that's enough of the plot given away.

What made The Litigators a non stop read? The characters for sure. Wally and Oscar's tactics are cringe worthy, their actions walk a fine line between working for the law and breaking it, but you just can't help rooting for them in this David and Goliath fight. David is eminently likable as well. He is sense and reason, but with a new found freedom since escaping the big firm drudgery.The personal storyline involving his wife Helen also added much to the book.

It seems like Grisham has a lot of fun writing The Litigators - there is a sly sense of humour underlying the entire book. I laughed out loud many times at the situations and dialogue. It was eye opening to see the legal maneuvering  - much of the machinations involving the drug companies and lawyers gave me pause and made me wonder how much of it is fact. Quite frightening actually.

The Litigators is by far one of Grisham's best in my opinion (and I've read them all) An absolutely entertaining page turner that will be a well deserved best seller!

Read an excerpt of The Litigators. Or listen to an excerpt. You can find Grisham on Facebook. ( And the law firm of Finley & Figg as well!)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Over the Counter # 83

Microworlds by Margherita Dessanay and Marc Valli caught my eye this week as it passed over my library counter and under my scanner. I'm fascinated by miniatures. When I was small I wanted to live with The Borrowers in their tiny mouse world.

From Laurence King Publishing:

"Miniatures make us relive the world from the perspective of our childhood, a time when the world was populated by toys and figurines. Miniaturized worlds seethe with narrative potential, intricate story lines, suspense. They offer a disquieting experience of distance, and artists often use it to explore very contemporary feelings of alienation, displacement and estrangement.

This book reveals how all kinds of visual artists (contemporary artists, street artists, photographers and even product designers) are using miniatures and miniaturized worlds in order to create startling situations and memorable images. The small people and small worlds featured give us a new sense of perspective, transporting us to a new dimension where we can find enchanted new cities, where people make homes out of pumpkins or go diving into breakfast bowls.

Microworlds is a fascinating collection of images for anyone intrigued by these miniature, imagined worlds."

(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 9, 2011

I am Half-Sick of Shadows - Alan Bradley

 I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley arrived in my mailbox early last week. I looked at it and put it down, determined to save it for reading closer to Christmas. Looked at it again the next day and hid it under a couch cushion. But to no avail as I knew it was there and I just couldn't wait until December to devour the latest in the Flavia De Luce series.

For those of you unfamiliar with this utterly delightful series, I'll give you some background. It is 1950. Flavia is eleven years old and lives with her father and two older sisters in the crumbling old family home in Bishop's Lacey, England. Flavia has a penchant for cooking up chemical concoctions in the chemistry lab in the far off east wing. She considers herself on par with the local constabulary and often offers her assistance.

"While I could still become quite excited by recalling how I had dyed my sister Feely's knickers a distinctive Malay yellow by boiling them in a solution of lead acetate, followed by a jolly good stewing in a solution of potassium chromate, what really made my heart leap up with joy was my ability to produce a makeshift but handy poison by scraping the vivid green verdigris form the copper floatball of one of Buckshaw's Victorian toilet tanks."

Flavia's father has struggled with the upkeep of Buckshaw. He has reluctantly agreed to host a film crew over the holidays. Film star Phyllis Wyvern is in attendance and offers to be the star in a fundraiser to be held at Buckshaw. The entire village troops to the mansion, but are snowed in. And when a dead body is found, any one of the attendees could be the murderer...
And of course, since it's happening right under her nose, Flavia must jump in. "In my eleven years of life I've seen a number of corpses. Each of them was interesting in a different way, and this one was no exception."

I absolutely adore the character of Flavia! I've said it before and I'll say it again...."Flavia is one of the most endearing, captivating, curious, beguiling, precocious characters I've ever discovered in the pages of a book." I love her thought processes and inner dialogue. She is so old and yet still so young. Her attempts to puzzle out the identity of the murderer are at odds with the little girl concocting a super sticky glue to capture Saint Nick on the chimney and prove to her sisters that he is indeed real.

Although the murder plot line is good,  for this reader, it is the characters that Bradley has created that capture and hold my interest the most. I love the quirky inhabitants of the village, the sparring sisters and how we learn a little bit more with each book about some of them. This time around we get to learn more about the enigmatic and mysterious Dogger - Buckshaw's man of many hats.

What is the appeal of an eleven year old protagonist for adult readers? Well, for this reader, it's the chance to vicariously relive my missed opportunities to become Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy. And honestly, you can't read any of the books, without smiling and chuckling.

You can see my reviews of the first three Flavia books - 1, 2 and 3.  I can't wait for the next book in this planned six book series - Seeds of Antiquity. Highly, highly recommended! Maybe Saint Nick will leave a copy at your house this year!

Keep up with all things Flavia at her fan club! Read an excerpt of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sanctus - Simon Toyne - Review AND Giveaway

Modern day Turkey - the city of Ruin. Above the city of Ruin is The Citadel - a mountain enclave that houses a group of monks named the Sancti who have protected their secrets for thousands of years. And suddenly one day high on a mountain above The Citadel is a man, standing with his arms outstretched - in the shape of a cross. The world sees him....and sees him fall. And to another group who have been patiently watching the Sancti for hundreds of years as well, it is the sign they have been waiting for.

One group is determined to protect their secrets as much as the other group wants them exposed to the world. Caught up in the conflict is journalist Liv Adamson, the sister of Samuel, the fallen monk.

I enjoy conspiracy thrillers and with Sanctus, Simon Toyne has penned a thoroughly entertaining one. I liked that the two main protagonists were female for a change. There's lots of action and although the plot line is not new, Toyne has put his own twist on it. The promise of discovering what the mystery sacrament was kept me turning pages til the very end. Some plot points seemed a bit far fetched - most notably the reason that the sect did not discover that Samuel had a living relative. But you know, I really wasn't looking for a hard and fast fact based read when I picked up Sanctus.  What I did get was what I expected - an entertaining read. Readers with strong religious beliefs may not enjoy Toyne's alternative views. But fans of James Rollins, Steve Berry and of course, Dan Brown will enjoy it.

Sanctus is the first in a trilogy. I am very curious as to where Toyne will take the characters after the last 40 pages of Sanctus. I'll be picking up the second volume. Sanctus has been translated into 17 languages and will be published in 27 countries!  Read an excerpt of Sanctus or listen to an excerpt. You can find Toyne on Twitter and on Facebook.

And if you'd like a chance at the first book, I have a copy of Sanctus to give away courtesy of William Morrow Books. Simply leave a comment to be entered. This one is open internationally. Ends Saturday, November 26 at 6 pm EST.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Revisionists - Thomas Mullen

When I first started to read  The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen, I immediately thought of the film/novel The Adjustment Bureau . Although there are similarities in the beginning, The Revisionists takes the story much farther, questioning many things in our society, but the ultimate question is - does the means justify the end?

Operative "Z" is from the future - a time they call the Perfect Present. His job is to make sure that things progress as they should - marching towards the Great Conflagration the marks the beginning of the Perfect Present. But others, known as hags (historical agitators) are also working - but to alter events and therefore change history. Although he is supposed to leave no trace of having been there,  Z finds himself involved with Tasha - a young lawyer whose brother died in Iraq while serving in the military. As she questions the government's role in his death, Z begins to question his own society and sacrifices in fulfilling the role he has been assigned. An almost parallel story is of Leo, a disillusioned operative who also questioned his role in the CIA and left under cloudy circumstances. He too see a chance for redemption when he offers to help a young Indonesian woman escape her tyranical employers.

Although The Revisionists falls under the sci-fi umbrella, I really found the time travel aspect to be a vehicle for an exploration of what is happening in the world now and what the future may hold for the global village. The characters's explorations of their own beliefs, emotions and actions will provide many questions readers will find themselves asking.

I read the ending more than once, as I think it could go several ways.  I quite enjoyed the uncertainty Mullen left me with. This was definitely a different read for me.

Read an excerpt of The Revisionists.  You can find Mullen on Facebook or on his blog.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Darkness All Around - Doug Magee

I read and reviewed Doug Magee's debut novel Never Wave Goodbye last year. He's back with his newly released second novel Darkness All Around.

Risa's husband Sean disappeared eleven years ago, leaving her to raise their son Kevin alone. Risa moved on, after having Sean declared dead, marrying Alan, a friend they both knew. Except.... Sean's not dead. He's returned to town, determined to turn himself in - for murder. Risa's best friend Carol was killed eleven years ago and Sean believes he did it...or did he?

Sean's memory is suspect - he suffers blackouts from alcohol abuse coupled with a brain injury. As Sean remembers bits and pieces, we slowly piece together what might have happened eleven years ago. But Magee is tricky, populating his novel with many possiblities, keeping us guessing until the end. Risa remembers the past as well and is torn between protecting her son and supporting her new husband but also remembering the love she once felt for Sean.  Darkness All Around is a mystery but also explores of the emotions of the characters, adding another layer to the story.

A new genre heading perhaps -  the thoughtful thriller. Read an excerpt of Darkness All Around. A reading group discussion guide is also available.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Over the Counter #82

Well, Monday's review was about knitting, so it was no wonder that Susie John's books caught my eye this week as they passed over my library counter and under my scanner. First up was Knitted Vegetables and not far behind was Knitted Fruit. (Others in the series include Knitted Fast Food, Tasty Knits - desserts -  a veritable smorgasbord)

From the publisher Search Press:

"You do not need an allotment to produce this abundant crop of vegetables – just needles, yarn and a little knitting know-how. Ranging from everyday carrots and peas to more exotic chili peppers and artichokes, you can whip up a whole basketful of fun novelty knits in the time it takes to do your shopping! This book, in the popular Twenty to Make series, provides twenty handy 'recipes' for knitting vegetables, and numerous variations and alternative ideas. The projects are small, self-contained and relatively quick to complete. These knitted vegetables would make good novelty gifts: make one or two for friends, or a whole basketful to sell at a fete or bazaar. They would also make ideal ‘play food’ for children. Best of all, they are fun to make.

"Create a fruit basket your friends will never forget! These novelty knitting projects range from quick and easy to more challenging, and cover apples, pears, mangoes, grapes, cherries and more – there's even a banana to unzip. This fun and inventive book provides knitting patterns and instructions to make twenty knitted pieces of fruit. Why not have a go at making yourself a fruit display that'll remain fresh forever? These novelty knitting projects range from quick and easy to more challenging, and cover apples, pears, mangoes, grapes, cherries and more – there's even a banana to unzip."

(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 1, 2011

Mr. Fox - Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi's first novel, Icarus Girl, was published when she was only eighteen. Mr. Fox is Oyeyemi's fourth novel and the first for this reader.

I don't often read a novel more than once. With Mr. Fox, I did - because I felt I really didn't 'get it' the first time around. I don't think I would have grasped the concept without the publisher's blurb to l guide me initially. From Hamish Hamilton Canada:

" ... concerns Mr. Fox, who does devilish things to the heroines of his stories. When his imaginary muse—the gorgeously offbeat Mary Foxe—conjures herself one sunny afternoon and confronts him about his dark denouements, things take an unexpected turn. Mary challenges Mr. Fox to join her in stories of their own devising, and their romances put our villainous writer through his paces, exploring every facet of love."

But, I did fall in love with Oyeyemi's storytelling. She skillfully takes fantasy and folklore, reworks and retells them with a magical bent. There are nine such stories and I thought many of them could have been expanded and stood alone as a novel. I enjoyed each story as a separate piece. And this is where the rereading came in for me. I had to go back after finishing the book the first time and reread it again, taking a deeper look at the connections, the nuances and the delicate thread hidden under the surface tying all of it together. And I think I could probably read it a third time and discover more. Oyeyemi is a very talented writer - her language and turns of phrase are unexpected and fresh.

Mr. Fox is not for those looking for a quick read, but more for those looking to challenge their thoughts on love and relationships. Read an excerpt of Mr. Fox.

Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria in 1984 and raised in London. She is the author of three novels: The Icarus Girl, which was completed before her nineteenth birthday; The Opposite House, which was nominated for the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; and White is for Witching, which was nominated for a 2009 Shirley Jackson award and won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award. She is also the author of two plays, Juniper’s Whitening and Victimese.

Check out what others on the blog tour thought: (And this great interview with NPR)