Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Susanna Kearsley - Q and A!

Susanna Kearsley's new book The Firebird releases today! (Watch for my review coming soon.) But in the meantime I am thrilled that Susanna was able to stop by for a quick Q and A!

You've won numerous awards in many different genre areas - the 2010 Romantic Times Book Reviews Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction novel for The Winter Sea, and a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from the Canadian Crime Writer’s Association for Every Secret Thing. The Firebird is an interesting mix of history, romance, mystery and the paranormal/supernatural. Do you have a favourite genre? How do you choose
or decide the direction/focus each book will take?

 I just tell a story. Genre isn’t really something I consider at the start of a book, it’s a label that’s more useful to the people at the other end, the publishers and booksellers and readers who are looking for a certain type of book. My reading tastes are wide and eclectic—Jules Verne and Kurt Vonnegut rub shoulders with Jack Higgins and Rumer Godden on my bookshelves—but my favourite books often combine elements of mystery, history, romance and adventure. I’m especially fond of the novels of Nevil Shute, for example, which today would be very difficult to squeeze into any one genre. So while I’m writing I don’t give much thought to how the finished story will be labelled—I just concentrate on making it the best that I can make it, and let others decide where it ought to be shelved in the bookstore.

You've worked as a museum curator. I worked for many years in a living history museum as well. I've always been fascinated by the story behind an object that has survived for hundreds of years or of an abandoned house - what stories the walls could tell. Is there any time period in particular that you would like to visit?

I’ve always been fascinated by Scottish and English history, and in the past few years, with all the research I’ve been doing for my books, I’ve developed an increasing interest in the first part of the 18 century. It was a time of great political upheaval, scientific discovery and advancement, and social change, and I think it would be an exciting time to have been alive. Apart from which, having had the chance to “meet” some of the actual historical characters who feature in my novels, through the letters and the journals they have left behind, I’d love to have the chance to truly meet them, face to face.

What does your writing day look like? How do combine that with being a mom?  What book is on your nightstand now? Anything else you'd like to share with my readers?

My kids are both still in elementary school and I bring them home for lunch, so the time I have available for writing during the day is confined to a couple of hours in the morning, and another couple in the afternoon, and even this must sometimes be given over to other things, whether it be writing-related business or running errands. Once the kids come home, it’s mostly family time till after dinner, when if I’m lucky I can steal a bit of extra time for writing. It’s a balance, and not always a perfect one, but it’s really no different than what any other parent must do, whether they work outside or inside their home. On my nightstand at the moment I have Deanna Raybourn’s latest book, A Spear of Summer Grass, which I’ve just started reading and am enjoying very much. I don’t know that I have anything else to share, but I’d certainly be interested to know what book your readers have right now on their nightstands ? I’m always on the lookout for new reading material! And thank you so much for inviting me here.

Thank you Susanna for stopping by! You can find Susanna on Tumblr or on Twitter or on Facebook! Or check out this quick author spot on You Tube.

 Curious about The Firebird? Here's a synopsis from the publisher, Simon and Schuster Canada:

"Whoever dares to seek the firebird may find the journey—and its ending— unexpected.

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images, glimpses of those who have owned it before. It’s never been a gift she wants, and she keeps it a secret from most people, including her practical boss Sebastian, one of London’s premier dealers in Russian art.

But when a woman offers Sebastian a small wooden carving for sale, claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof. Sebastian believes that the plain carving—known as “The Firebird”—is worthless. But Nicola has held it, and she knows the woman is telling the truth and is in desperate need of the money the sale of the heirloom could bring.

Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than hers. With Rob to help her “see” the past, she follows a young girl named Anna from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia. There, in St. Petersburg—the once-glittering capital of Peter the Great’s Russia—Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption . . . an old story that seems personal and small, perhaps, against the greater backdrops of the Jacobite and Russian courts, but one that will forever change their lives."

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Time of My Life - Cecilia Ahern

I've quite enjoyed previous books of Cecilia Ahern. I picked up her latest North American release The Time of My Life without even a glance at what it was about.

"Dear Lucy Silchester,
You have an appointment for Monday, May 30, 2011.
Yours sincerely,

Lucy's life has been in shambles since she split from the absolutely perfect Blake. She's living in a tatty bedsit, has a ho-hum job and her relationship with her family is somewhat rocky. She's aware of it...

"My life needed me. It was going through a tough time and I hadn't been paying enough attention to it. I'd completely and utterly ignored my life. And now it had written to me, summoned me, and there was only one thing for it. I had to go and meet with it face-to-face."

And here's where I had a (more than a) little trouble getting into the book.  Ahern has literally personified Life. Lucy's life appears as an actual person - his sole 'job' is Lucy's life.  Lucy's family has signed off on this intervention. This is never really explained, but written as though we already know about such a thing.

I found the first 75-100 pages of The Time of My Life a bit of a slog. Lucy lies. So much of her inner dialogue is presented and then capped off with 'I lied'. So, I thought I had started to put together a picture of this character in my mind just to have it snatched back - more than once. The first part of the book also suffers horribly from lengthly descriptions and run on sentences.

"So in the initial stages I carried that hurt and anger and pity around with me and, due to circumstances I may reveal at a later date, got fired from my respectable job that paid well, but to be able to tell people why I got fired I'd have to tell them why I got fired and I couldn't do that because after so much time it would just frankly be weird to admit a lie of that magnitude, so I told everyone I quit and then the rest of my life fell into its own new place following a bunch of big fat lies." Big breath.

I am glad I persevered as the chick lit elements I was looking for, and expected, did appear and I started to enjoy the book. Ahern cleverly uses a wrong number to great effect. I ended up liking Life as a character. Wrong number Don also grabbed me. Sadly, I never felt the same attachment to Lucy.

Love lost, love found, misunderstandings, missed cues, redemption and reclaiming one's life all play a part in The Time of My Life.

I'm still an Ahern fan, but have enjoyed some of her other titles more. Read an excerpt of The Time of My Life.

"Before she embarked on her writing career, Cecelia Ahern completed a degree in journalism and media communications. At 21, she wrote her first novel, P.S. I Love You, which became an international bestseller and was adapted into a major motion picture, starring Hilary Swank. Her successive novels—Love, Rosie; If You Could See Me Now; and There’s No Place Like Here—were also international bestsellers. Her books are published in 46 countries and have collectively sold more than 10 million copies. She is also the cocreator of the hit ABC comedy series Samantha Who?, starring Christina Applegate. The daughter of Ireland’s former prime minister, Ahern lives in Dublin, Ireland." You can find Cecelia Ahern on Facebook.

See what other on the TLC book tour thought. Full schedule can be found here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Winner - Glow - Jessica Maria Tuccelli

And the lucky winner of a copy of Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli, courtesy of Penguin Books is:

Martha Lawson!

Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways!

Friday, April 26, 2013

No Way Back - Andrew Gross

New York Times best selling author Andrew Gross is back with his latest thriller - No Way Back.

Wendy Gould makes a mistake one evening - with results that she cannot even begin to imagine. Sitting in a hotel bar one night, she makes a fateful decision to go upstairs with a man she's just met. She come to her senses and decides to leave......and that's when armed men enter the room. And shoot the man. Wendy's an ex-cop and her old training kicks in. One of the intruders isnt' leaving. She goes home to her husband and confesses. But things spiral out of control when Wendy is painted as the bad guy, not a witness and suddenly the agencies that should be protecting her are now hunting her.

Lauritzia Velez is a much loved nanny. But when she and her charges barely escape death at a local mall, she knows she has to leave. For Lauritzia know the shooters were after her.....

Two women on the run. And their paths will cross. How could their stories be connected?

This is the kind of story I love - innocent person in the wrong place at the wrong time, now forced to rely on their own set of survival skills to come out the other side. Andrew Gross has mixed it up this time by going with female protagonists - a welcome change. Interestingly, Gross based Lauritzia's storyline on an actual event - the case of Edmond Demiraj.

Gross has again written a book chock full of cliffhangers, twists, turns and non stop action.  Suspend disbelief and enjoy. This one is perfect escapist reading, ready to be tucked into the summer beach bag. Read an excerpt of No Way Back.

The reader for the audio version was Lorelei King. She was an excellent choice - her voice was hugely expressive and captured the tone of the book easily. Listen to an excerpt of No Way Back.

Fans of James Patterson will already know Andrew Gross's name - they have co authored six bestsellers together. You can find Andrew Gross on Facebook.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Over the Counter #160

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? The Fairy House Handbook by Liza Gardner Walsh.

When I saw the title, I immediately thought of The Cottingley Fairies. But really....... who's to say they don't exist.....

From the publisher Down East Books:

"The popularity of fairy houses has soared and building these diminutive structures has become a fun pastime for children and adults. Equal parts how-to and whimsy, the Fairy House Handbook is a fun craft and lore book that guides readers on how to go about building a fairy house. Topics covered include selecting a site, what tools and materials to use, and many ideas on details and accessories you can add to your fairy house. Also included are bits of fairy lore, fairy dos and don’ts, and fairy wisdom. Written for children, or anyone with a child’s heart, and filled with color photographs, the Fairy House Handbook is sure to pique anyone’s sense of wonder."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Untold Damage - Robert K. Lewis

Untold Damage is the debut novel of Robert K. Lewis and is the first in a planned series.

Lewis's protagonist is Mark Mallen - an ex undercover cop. His job was to infiltrate the drug trade in San Fran. Problem was, he was a little too good at blending in.....he was turfed from the force and has been living in a heroin haze for the last four years.

But, when his friend Eric Russ from his rookie days on the force is found dead with Mallen's name in his pocket, old instincts are reawakened. Determined to beat the needle and find out what happened to his friend, Mark starts investigating on his own.

Lewis is setting the scene for his series in Untold Damage. Much of the story focuses on Mallen's past, his path to his current station and his struggle to remain clean. Although, I do question the portrayal of an addict who thinks he can drink with no problems. Perhaps this will be fodder for future books.

Mark is a good lead character. I liked him and was rooting for him, both in his personal struggle and in his determined search for his friend's killer. I will be interested to see where Lewis takes him in the next book - Critical Damage, due out in April 2014.

Lewis has done a great job setting the scene in the underbelly of San Francisco with lots of dark, gritty descriptions. The Cornerstone Bar is particularly bleak.

Lewis is obviously a fan of crime fiction and he has incorporated all the right elements for a good mystery/detective tale.  But some of them seemed formulaic and in need of some polishing.

For example - Mallen meets up with Gato while he's detoxing in jail. This chance meeting leads to a  friendship where Gato is willing to 'take care' of things for Mark and supply him with guns. I just never bought this instantaneous friendship. At one point Mallen compares Gato and himself to Spenser and Hawk. (Robert Parker's iconic characters) "He told Gato where he was and Gato told him he was on his way. He sat there for a moment, feel a little like Spenser for Hire, and Gato was steadily turning into his Hawk."  Gato seems to appear when a gun or a ride is needed and although his own family troubles are hinted at he never really achieves the depth needed to carry off the sidekick role. This relationship seems very convenient and one sided, but may change in the next book.

The character of cop Oberon Kane is better fleshed out -  I think we'll see more of him in future books. The bartender at the Cornerstone has possibilities as well. Other references to Starsky and Hutch (1975), Serpico (1973) tend to date the author and may be missed by younger readers.

"Being undercover was everything he'd ever thought it would be: exciting, dangerous as f***, and way cool. It was like being Serpico, and he had to admit...he loved it."

I found some of the syntax, language and pacing used to be a bit awkward and stilted. I did read from an advance reader's copy, so some of this may have been corrected in the final cut.

Bottom line - Untold Damage was a solid debut and a good intro to a character I think has a future - as does Lewis. 

"Robert K. Lewis (Bay Area, CA) has been a painter, print maker, and a produced screenwriter. He lives with his wife, his guitars, and a trio of moody ghosts. Untold Damage is his first novel." You can find Robert on Facebook, on Twitter and at his blog.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dear Lucy - Julie Sarkissian

Dear Lucy is Julie Sarkissan's newly released debut novel. I can't imagine being a first time author waiting for readers' reactions to your work. So Julie, let me say right from the top - I knew from the first few pages that I was going to love it.

Lucy has trouble communicating with the world.

"What's the matter with you?
I know that question.
What's the matter with you?
When someone asks you that question, there is no answer."

Lucy has been sent by her Mum mum to live on a farm with Mister and Missus. She knows she must never leave the farm or Mum mum won't know where to find her. Lucy is mostly happy on the farm - she likes collecting the eggs from the chicken coop. Samantha's family has sent her to the farm as well  - to await the birth of her illegitimate child. And with Samantha, Lucy has found her first and only friend. When Samantha gives birth and the baby disappears, Lucy knows what she must do.

"A family, they are there from the beginning of each other." She has to find the baby for Samantha.

Although she cannot read, she takes Samantha's journal and a helper on her quest - Jennifer the chicken. Yes, a chicken, who plays a major role in the book - and has a pretty big personality.

Lucy captured my heart from the beginning. Her view of the world is so innocent, so logical and so hard for others to understand. I could see danger and heartbreak coming as I turned pages and I just wanted to protect her. Samantha's story also captured my emotions, but in a different way. Sarkissian has a magical way with words.

"Sometimes there are people that you use words to say good-bye because you are going to separate from them. But other times there are people that you say good-bye to with words but inside your heart you never say good-bye to them. Mum mum is one of those people. There is a thread and the thread is so long that it lasts forever. Your heart is tied to one end of the thread and your mother's heart is tied to the other end. So really it's not a good-bye. No matter how far away you go, you never have to say good-bye."

I fell in love with Lucy and her outlook. ("And I liked to wave. That is how branches dance with the wind.") But Missus - well, she's a whole 'nother story. Sarkissian employs multiple narrators, telling the story of Dear Lucy in alternating chapters. I always enjoy this method of storytelling. There's a delicious tension in seeing the same events from different perspectives. Or having a piece of information that one of the characters doesn't.

Sarkissian has woven an addicting story, but she also deftly explores the theme of motherhood from many viewpoints.

Dear Lucy is a unique, beguiling, captivating read that I devoured in a day. This is a title I'll definitely be recommending to everyone and I'll be eagerly awaiting the next novel from this fresh new voice.

Fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time would love this title.  Read an excerpt of Dear Lucy. Book clubs - there's a reading guide.

Monday, April 22, 2013

'Earthly Pleasures' with DK Canada

Well, I've bought my seeds, mapped out this year's plan for the vegetable garden and have some perennials in mind for the front of the house. The only thing  holding me back is Mother Nature. Yes, we have had snow this week! So, nothing to do but read some great 'outdoor' books! DK Canada is having a great promotion right now - they're offering 30% off on a great selection of titles in their "Earthly Pleasures Boutique"

"Each of these titles offers you a chance to stop and appreciate the wonderful planet that we call home. Make the world a better and more sustainable place for every living creature with organic primers or exercise your love of the outdoors with our gardening books filled with terrific tips and ideas for those with a green thumb. There's also a selection of children's books that showcase the natural world and ways to make a difference."

Well, the first one I settled in with was The Canadian Gardener's Guide - Everything You Need to Know to Create and Care for Your Garden. Edited by Lorraine Johnson.

And did it live up to that subtitle? You bet!  Right from the basics - what hardiness zone I live in, treating the soil, planning your veggie garden, starting seeds inside or choosing healthy plants already started. There's a page devoted to every vegetable (herbs and fruit too) filled with growing tips, varieties, disease information and lots and lots of pictures! This is why I love DK books so much. The information is always laid out in a clean, easy to read format and always accompanied by clear, colour photographs. There's an excellent chapter on plant diseases, complete with photos that is going to make it much easier to figure out what's gone wrong this year. (And the solutions are detailed too!)

I've been very focused on vegetable gardening for many, many years. But I'm finally starting to think about doing more with flowers and shrubs. I'll be honest - I really don't know what I want, but have been daydreaming over all the pretty pics! There are excellent chapters detailing fencing, patios, pathways and .....a pond. I think I would really like to put in a pond - I love the sound of water.

This is just a fantastic resource book - and I love that it's specifically for Canada! Recommended. Sneak peak here.

Ready, Set, Grow! is an absolutely fantastic book for anyone with children or working with children. I found lots of fantastic ideas for children's programs at the library!

Again, the basics are all here - in clear layouts easy for children to read and follow. And as always, accompanied by detailed, colour photos. But what I loved were all the different (over 30!) gardening projects you can try.

Start your seeds in fun, green containers - pots made out of newspaper. Plant a windowsill garden using empty juice boxes, old pop bottles. Make beautiful 'punched tin' butterflies out of tinfoil pie plates. Make a tee pee out of tall growing runner beans. And, there are kid friendly recipes to make using the veggies you've grown. The sunflower face on the cover is a fun craft - they've paired it with a painted container.

Another excellent resource book! Have a sneak peek inside!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Giveaway - The Honey Thief - Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman

The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman has just been released. And thanks to the great folks at Viking Books (an imprint of Penguin), I have a copy to giveaway to one lucky reader.

From the publisher:

"This enchanting novel of interwoven legends burns with both gentle intelligence and human warmth.

This extraordinary book, derived from the long oral tradition of storytelling in Afghanistan, presents a mesmerizing portrait of a people who triumph with intelligence and humor over the oppressions of political dictators and an unforgiving landscape.
A musician conjures stones to rise in the air and teaches his art to a mute child. Master Poisoner, Ghoroob of Mashad, has so perfected his craft that it is considered an honor to die from his meals. These are stories of magic and wonder in which ordinary people endure astonishing extremes in a world of bloodshed and brotherhood, miracles and catastrophes.

With lyrical wit and profound simplicity, The Honey Thief reveals an Afghanistan of greater richness and humanity than is conveyed in newspaper headlines; an Afghanistan not of failure and despair, but of resilience and fulfillment." A book club guide is also available.

And a conversation between the two authors gives you a bit more:

"In “The Behsudi Dowry,” the character of Hameed is thought to be foolish and absentminded for his love of books. His parents can see no value in reading fiction. How was reading literature for pleasure viewed in your household and community growing up?
Najaf: In Afghanistan, only a few very educated people read books other than the holy books. If my brothers or my father or my mother had seen me reading a novel, they would have thought I was insane and would have called a doctor or a mullah to fix me.
How did you become interested in the narrative of the refugee?
Robert: At the time I first met Najaf, the Muslim refugees who were arriving in Australia on ramshackle boats were being characterised as criminals and terrorists in the press. This demonisation suited the politics of Australia just after 9/11 (or“11/9” as it is known here). It struck me that something vile was happening in my country—something that I might look back on in years to come and think, “Why didn’t you say something?” I wrote Najaf’s story as a way of saying something. The friendship we formed led to Najaf telling me more and more about the culture of the Hazara. The stories in The Honey Thief are, in a way, the backstory of Najaf’s life told in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The themes discussed throughout The Honey Thief—the importance of love, work, hope—are universal, crossing all kinds of boundaries of culture, faith, geography, and socioeconomic status. What is your hope for this book? More broadly, what role do you believe literature can play in uniting people across borders?
Najaf & Robert: Stories like those in The Honey Thief make a small difference here and there to the sympathy for people who are struggling through life. Literature cannot change people’s hearts completely. Just a little. A little is okay. We must remember that if stories that honour courage and enjoyment of life could suddenly change everything, then another book that teaches distrust and hatred might also change everything back. People don’t read stories like those in The Honey Thief in order to have their eyes opened. They read them for enjoyment; for pleasure. If it happens that some readers feel that they have gained more than enjoyment, that’s a good thing. We hope that readers will enjoy this book in the same way that they enjoy fresh food cooked by someone who loves good food. We hope that people will smile as they finish each story and say, “Well, that was wonderful!” "
Sound like something you'd like to read? Simply leave a comment to be entered. Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends Sat, May 11/13

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Over the Counter #159

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Hot and cold biographies this week....

First up was White Fever by Jacek Hugo-Bader. Subtitled: A Journey to the Frozen Heart of Siberia.

From the publisher Counterpoint Press:

"No one in their right mind travels across Siberia in the middle of winter in a modified Russian jeep, with only a CD player (which breaks on the first day) for company. But Jacek Hugo-Bader is no ordinary traveler. As a fiftieth birthday present to himself, he sets out to drive from Moscow to Vladivostok, traversing a continent that is two and a half times bigger than America, awash with bandits, and not always fully equipped with roads. But if his mission sounds deranged it is in keeping with the land he is visiting. For Siberia is slowly dying — or, more accurately, killing itself. This is a traumatized post-Communist landscape peopled by the homeless and the hopeless: alcoholism is endemic, as are suicides, murders, and deaths from AIDS. As he gets to know these communities and speaks to the people, Hugo-Bader discovers a great deal of tragedy, but there is also dark humor to be found amongst the reindeer shepherds, the former hippies, the modern-day rappers, the homeless and the sick, the shamans, and the followers of ‘one of the six Russian Christs,’ just one of the many arcane religions that flourish in this isolated, impossible region."

Next up was A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi by Aman Sethi.

From the publisher W.W. Norton:

"An intimate portrait of an invisible man—a powerful story of one man’s life that contains multitudes.

Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of friends to life through their adventures and misfortunes in the Old Delhi Railway Station, the harrowing wards of a tuberculosis hospital, an illegal bar made of cardboard and plywood, and into Beggars Court and back onto the streets.

In a time of global economic strain, this is an unforgettable evocation of persistence in the face of poverty in one of the world’s largest cities. Sethi recounts Ashraf’s surprising life story with wit, candor, and verve, and A Free Man becomes a moving story of the many ways a man can be free."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Forgotten - David Baldacci

David Baldacci is one of my favourite authors to listen to. I find that his suspense novels translate well into audio format. His book, The Forgotten, is the second to feature John Puller, and was no exception.

John Puller is a Special Agent with the US Army - he's the guy they sent out to investigate crimes against the nation. But this time it's personal. A cryptic letter from his aunt sends Puller to Paradise, Florida to check on her welfare. But when he arrives, she's dead. The death is ruled accidental, but something is just off with the town and the cops. Puller decides to stick around a little longer and investigate on his own time. A lot of folks aren't too happy with that.....

Baldacci writes great suspense. His novels are almost always based on the good vs. evil premise with our protagonist determined to make it right. And just as many prepared to stop him. There's lots of flag waving, duty, honesty and loyalty contained within the storyline. The plotting is believable (and had me checking out abandoned oil rigs on the Internet) Lots of action and a little bit of romance add up to an entertaining listen. Jack Reacher fans would enjoy this character.

The words and the plot are the backbone, but the delivery of those words can make or break an audio book for me. Baldacci's books use two excellent readers. Ron McLarty is one of the best. He has a rich, resonant voice that is hugely expressive. He easily brings to life the character of John Puller, strong and full of purpose.  In Baldacci's books, McLarty is often paired with a female reader - Orlagh Cassidy. She too has a very expressive voice that is sharp, clear and easy to understand. She has a good Southern accent, although her Latin accent was not as believable. The two of them seem to have a good chemistry. The other thing I enjoyed were the sound effects and music - these made the book more of a listening experience and enhanced the story. Listen to an excerpt of The Forgotten. Or, read an excerpt of The Forgotten.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards - Kristopher Jansma - Review AND Giveaway

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is Kristopher Jansma's debut novel.

I always take the time to read the dedication pages before I begin to read a book. I was intrigued by this entry....."If you believe that you are the author of this book, please contact Haslett &Grouse Publishers (New York, New York) at your first convenience."

We meet the narrator when he is eight years old and has just written his first story, while waiting in an airport's Terminal B for his mother to finish work. We follow the young man to college in  his quest to become a writer. It is at college that he meets Julian - a gifted, yet unstable young man. And Julian's friend Evelyn - who will forever be 'the one' for him. The one he writes for, the one he desires, the one he will never have.

The book is divided into two sections - What Was Lost and What Was Found. The first half almost reads like it is Jansma's own road to publication, with the names changed. One piece of advice to the young writer is "Tell all the truth but tell it slant" - a line from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The second half is on a slant - the names change and the narrator assumes the persona of Julian - the more successful of the two. The book is a collection of short stories, of books within books and filled with literary references and asides. For me, it had a distinct Fitzgerald feel - specifically Gatsby.

I enjoyed the first half much more than the second. Jansma explores lies and truth and the weaving of both into fiction. "These stories are all true, but only somewhere else." The second half caught me off guard with some abrupt switches - and I didn't like the narrator as much as I did for the first half. Throughout it all, we are left to wonder - what is the truth and what is fiction. I did adore the ending.

I had just finished watching a movie called The Words, in which a writer claims another man's work as his own - to critical acclaim, when I picked up this book. The movie was about the need to produce a work that will be recognized and will stand after the author has passed. The desire to capture the words, to make people feel the work. Jansma has captured that same desperate pursuit with his narrator and in doing so, has captured us as well.

This is a book that deserves more than one reading - there are layers and themes I know I have missed - connections, references and more, not captured the first time around. Read an excerpt of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards.

You can find Kristopher Jansma on Twitter and on Facebook. Want to know more about Kristopher - check out this Q&A.

Thanks to Viking Books, I have a copy of this wonderful to giveaway! Open to US and Canada, no PO boxes please. Simply leave a comment to be entered. Ends Sat. May 4.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Swimming at Night - Lucy Clarke

"People go travelling for two reasons: because they are searching for something, or they are running from something."

That quote is an excellent introduction to Lucy Clarke's  novel - Swimming at Night.

The opening pages introduce us to Katie - who has just received news that her younger sister Mia is dead. Mia took off six months ago to travel the world. The police say she committed suicide in Bali, but Katie cannot accept that verdict. When the police return Mia's backpack, Katie discovers Mia's travel journal inside. Impulsively, she decides to travel in Mia's footsteps, hoping to find some answers.

Clarke tells the story of these two sisters in alternating chapters. This format consistently grabs me - I always want to read just another chapter to see what happens next.

Clarke explores relationships in Swimming at Night - friends and lovers but most significantly - that of the sisters. Each sister remembers their childhood, their growing up years and their relationship as adults. Katie is the sensible, stable sister - Mia is the wild child. With every chapter, Clarke drops a few more hints as to what triggered the rift between the two.

"She hadn't told him about the terrible argument she's had with Mia. She hadn't told him of the hateful, shameful things she'd said. She hadn't told him about the anger and hurt that had been festering between them for months. She hadn't told Ed any of this because there are some currents in a relationship between sisters that are so dark and run so deep, it's better for the people swimming on the surface never to know what's beneath."

Excerpts from Mia's journal exposes even more - lies, secrets, hopes, dreams and - more clues as to what really happened to Mia.

I'm sure Clarke must have a sister - her exploration of this often complicated dynamic rings true. Both of the sister's narratives were equally compelling and well written. Certainly, I stopped more than once to consider my own relationship with my own sister. Clarke is an avid traveller herself and this showed in the lush descriptions of settings of Australia and Bali. Water is used very effectively as a metaphor for many aspects of the sister's relationship.

Definitely a recommended read - and especially for book clubs. A reading group guide is available. Read an excerpt of Swimming at Night.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Winner - The Bible on Blu-ray

And the lucky randomly chosen winner of a Blu-ray copy of The Bible, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, is:


Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Thanks to all who entered. Check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways!

Winner - Happy 5th Blogiversary Giveaway

And the randomly chosen lucky winner of the annual Blogiversary giveaway is:
No reply - next up is Jessica!
Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. Again, thank you to everyone for following along these last five years! Here's to another five!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Giveaway - Glow - Jessica Marie Tuccelli

I have a great giveaway for you today, thanks to the great folks at Penguin Books......Glow by Jessica Marie Tuccelli.

What's it about? From the publisher:

"October 1941. Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind her in Washington, D.C., lie the broken pieces of her parents’ love story—a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County, and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century. Told in five unforgettable voices, Glow reaches back through the generations, from the eve of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, where slave plantations adjoin the haunted glades of a razed Cherokee Nation. Out of these characters’ lives evolves a drama that is at once intimately human and majestic in its power to call upon the great themes of our time—race, identity, and the bonds of family and community."

Lushly conceived, cinematically detailed, and epic in historical scope, Glow announces an
extraordinary new voice in Southern fiction."

"Jessica Maria Tuccelli spent three summers trekking through northeastern Georgia, soaking up its ghost stories and folklore. A graduate of MIT with a degree in anthropology, she lives in New York City with her husband and daughter. Glow is her first novel."

Sound like a book you'd like to read? Simply leave a comment to be entered. Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends Sat. April 27/13

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Over the Counter #158

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Animal Hats by Vanessa Mooncie. I wish I was talented enough to make some of these, but knitting is not my forte. Anyone asking - I'm partial to the bunny....

From the publisher, Taunton Press:

"A cuddly kitty cat…a sweet panda with distinct black and white spots…a cute little rabbit with floppy ears. No, you’re not visiting a petting zoo—these are some of the adorable animal hats you can learn to knit with Animal Hats! Featuring patterns for 15 knit hats in a host of critters—including a chicken, frog, penguin, pig, monkey, and more—this pint-sized book packs a punch in the easy-to-do, fun-to-knit category. You can even learn how to add a fleecy lining for extra warmth and coziness. Yes, animal hats like these are hot, and with these clever patterns, knitters of all skill levels can create endearing hats to wear, to give, and to garner all kinds of compliments."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Andalucian Friend - Alexander Soderberg

The Andalucian Friend is Alexander Soderberg 's debut novel.

Sophie Brinkmann is a widowed nurse, living a quiet life with her fourteen year old son Albert. She's a good nurse, often spending extra time with some of her patients. Hector Guzman is one of those. There's an attraction between the two and they continue meeting up after Hector is released from hospital. But, there is much more to Hector than meets the eye. He and his father head up a Spanish (Andalusia) crime family. They're in a drug war with a German criminal organization. That's enough of the plot to get you started. And I couldn't even begin to explain the rest - it gets quite involved with many characters and plot lines.

Don't get me wrong - I like intricate, complicated plots that challenge. But, I've had this book on the go for a few weeks - I pick it up, I put it down. For me it was overly busy and dense and just didn't grab me like I wanted it to.  I was curious as to the ending, so I did finish it. But I just felt tired by the time I tuned the last page, not satisfied.

Sophie as a lead protagonist wasn't plausible for me. I never 'bought' her relationship with Hector, her acceptance of the criminal filled world she's entered or the ending - completely over the top and even more unbelievable. The supporting cast of criminals were pretty stereotypical -  think bad guys on a crime show. Who, although grievously wounded, soldier on. Car chases, things going kaboom and a drug addicted cop.

I've since discovered that Soderberg did work as a scriptwriter and script editor before penning this first book in a planned trilogy. And that made sense - while I was reading I had thought 'this feels like a Guy Ritchie move'. In fact, the author says that "the idea for The Andalucian Friend began as a TV plot." I think this would have made a great action film, but it didn't translate well to book form for this reader. Film rights have been sold.

Read an excerpt of The Andalucian Friend.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lifetime - Liza Marklund

Liza Marklund's latest book Lifetime is the seventh book featuring newspaper reporter Annika Bengtzon.

Stockholm, Sweden. Police Officer Nina Hoffman is on patrol when a shots fired call comes in. Nina and her partner race to the scene - only to find that the victim is another cop - and his wife Julia is lying beside him, covered in blood. Worse still - their four year old son is missing. Julia swears there was someone else in the apartment. Nina is sure her friend and former co worker could not do such a thing. Or could she....? Annika knows both women  - she did a story on them years before. The high profile case is a story worth investigating.

This is the third book I've read by Marklund and I've enjoyed every one. Annika is a complicated protagonist - she's headstrong, impulsive and plunges headlong into her stories. She trusts her instincts and hunches and follows them regardless. But her personal life is in a shambles - she herself is suspected of a crime and her marriage is falling apart. Although I've heard some other readers remark that this secondary storyline muddies the waters of the main plot, I disagree. I quite like seeing the two sides of Annika's life personal and professional.  Both story lines held my interest equally.

Annika's investigation leads to more questions and links to the past, with the path to answers and resolution anything but straight. Marklund keeps us guessing about Julia until the very end. And the end was a lovely 'gotcha'. Marklund brings the setting to life as well, with descriptions that underline the gritty tone of the mystery.

This is an excellent series with a character I quite like. Definitely recommended. I'll be watching for the next in the series. You can find Liza Marklund on Facebook .

Winner - Bristol House - Beverly Swerling

And the lucky winner of a copy of  Bristol House by Beverly Swerling, courtesy of Viking Books is:


Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for other great giveaways.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Guilty One - Lisa Ballantyne

The Guilty One is Scottish author Lisa Ballantyne's debut novel.

Ballantyne's premise is based on headlines we're all seen in newspapers - horrible, inexplicable crimes - children murdering children.

Solicitor Daniel Hunter is called to take on the defense of eleven year old Sebastian. The charge is murdering his eight year old neighbour in a playground across from their homes.  Initially reluctant, Daniel changes his mind after interviewing Sebastian. The boy reminds him of himself at that age.. Sebastian's home life is less than idyllic. Daniel's was downright turbulent - until a steadying hand entered his life. But still, there is something a bit off about the boy....

Ballantyne tells the story in alternating chapters from Daniel's viewpoint - past and present. As he seeks to defend Sebastian, we slowly but surely relive his own childhood. But could Daniel be letting his own emotions and experiences cloud his judgement? This is an effective technique - curiousity had me wanting to read just one more chapter....

I enjoyed Daniel's backstory very much. Minnie, the woman who takes on the young Daniel, was an absolutely wonderful character. Ballantyne does an excellent job depicting a child trying to cope with anger, loss and grief. The more we read of Daniel's story, we realize that he has not truly ever put those days behind him. He is still carrying around much anger and guilt.

But, the present day chapters dealing with the trial just didn't seem as 'fleshed out' to me. Although we get some details regarding Sebastian's home life, they are never really explored. Sebastian as a character is well drawn - his comments, thoughts and mannerisms all paint a picture of a disturbed, creepy child. But does that make him guilty?

The trial scenes were well done, but the middle of the book seemed to drag a bit, with some ground seeming to be covered over and over again.

Ballantyne explores guilt with every character in mind - in addition to our two lead characters - the parents, neighbours and society all hold a degree of blame. The Guilty One is a disturbing comment on today's society.

However, I was somewhat disappointed with the ending - it was almost predictable, as was the 'revelation' of Daniel's story. Still, I thought this was a really good debut. Read an excerpt of The Guilty One.

"Lisa Ballantyne was born in Armadale, West Lothian, Scotland and was educated at Armadale Academy and University of St Andrews where she studied English Literature. She spent most of her twenties in China, working in
international development, education and latterly for small English and Chinese magazines. She speaks Mandarin. She returned to the UK in 2002, to work in higher education, most recently for University of Glasgow. She lives in Glasgow. This is her first novel." You can find  Lisa Ballantyne on Facebook and on Twitter.

See what others on the TLC Book Tour thought. Full schedule can be found here.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Winner - Virus Thirteen

 And the lucky winner of a copy of
courtesy of Tor Books is:
Kelly B!
Congratulations. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for other great giveaways!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Helsinki Blood - James Thompson

James Thompson's last book Helsinki White, left me wondering if I wanted to follow the Inspector Kari Vaara series any longer. (my review) I wasn't too sure if I liked the direction Thompson was taking Vaara. But, curiosity got the better of me, so I picked up the fourth book - Helsinki Blood.

Vaara is trying to recover from the gunshot wounds he sustained solving his last case. He's in unbelievable pain, and self medicating with drugs and alcohol. His mental state is still suffering due to  from the brain tumour surgery that left him unable to feel emotions. His wife has left him, taking their infant daughter with her. And the people he stole from  - they want revenge. His home and family are targets. Vaara has no choice but to fight back. And Vaara fights dirty. For Vaara is a dirty cop, albeit with good intentions.  And of course, he calls on his black ops crew - the duo known as Sweetness and Milo, also both police employees.

"Milo, Sweetness and I are three such men. Brothers in arms. Brothers in blood. Each of us bound to the others by the knowledge that only we can count on ourselves not to kill one another. We did our jobs too well, observed no limits, not even legal boundaries, and served justice instead of our masters."

What follows is a dark, disturbing thriller that was difficult to put down. The prose are brutal, bloody and stark. The characters are cold and vicious. But there is still some of the old Vaara there, seeking justice for the those unable to protect themselves and protecting his own at all costs. The inclusion of a plotline about an abducted young Down's woman seemed to be added to the book to showcase this facet of Vaara.  The level of corruption, unrest and racism is frightening - I'm not sure I would ever want to visit Finland. But,  Kentucky native Thompson, has made Finland his home for over fifteen years. He includes much social commentary in his plots, touching on many current events.

Vaara is a hard character to define. He's a dangerous, ruthless man, but on the flipside does have a moral compass. We're just not too sure where its pointed right now. This latest book has hooked me again and I'll be waiting for the fifth installment in this series - Vaara's story is far from over. Thompson is Scandinavian noir at it's best.  Read an excerpt of Helsinki Blood.

I would suggest starting from the beginning of the series to fully appreciate Vaara's story. However, Thompson does provide enough back story that you could read this as a stand alone.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Over the Counter #157

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

First up was Doo Wop: The Music, The Times, The Era by 'Cousin Brucie' Morrow with Rich Maloof.

From the publisher, Sterling Publishing:

The spirit of the doo wop era, captured in spectacular visuals! This landmark volume by radio legend “Cousin Brucie” Morrow--now in paperback--not only revisits the gorgeous, lilting harmonies of unforgettable doo wop favorites, but also traces music, politics, art, architecture, and popular culture from doo wop’s 1940s roots up into the sixties. Much like the best-selling title Hippie, chapters are filled with priceless memorabilia from the period, including duotone and full-color archival photography, posters, album covers, newspaper articles, magazine covers, lyrics, and more.

 Next up was Retro-dos by Carmela Melecio.

From the publisher, Author House:

"I have put together this step-by-step book on creating some of my hair styles. I promise that “Retro-dos” will lead you in your quest to master the skill of retro hair styling. These styles will take you a few times to master, it takes patience and practice, but then you can create whatever your imagination lets you."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Chalice - Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, The Crown, released last year. (my review) Newly released is the second book in this series, The Chalice.

The Crown introduced us to Joanna Stafford, a novice nun, in 1537 Tudor England. I was immediately captured by the character of Joanna in this first book, as well as Bilyeau's use of this time period as her setting.

The Chalice picks up where The Crown left off (but new readers would be able to start with this book - a flashback chapter provides the needed background)

It is a year later and the country is being torn apart by a power struggle between the King and the Church. Despite wanting nothing more than to live a quiet life, Joanna discovers that she herself must play a role in determining the outcome in the clash between Henry VIII and the Church. Her role in the country's future was foretold by a seer when she was still a young novice. And that seer also predicted that Joanna would hear two more prophecies from two other sages.

Bilyeau has again proven what a stellar researcher she is. I am not overly familiar with this time period and often found myself heading to the computer to follow up on characters and historical facts. Bilyeau has done a fantastic job of weaving a fictional tale and the past together. The time period, the settings and the descriptions are just as much a character in the story as is Joanna. The prose are rich and full, immersing the reader in this tumultuous time period.

Joanna continues to be a character that intrigues me. She is torn between her loyalties - to her country, her King, her family and her church. But in The Chalice she is also forced to look at her own desires - she has fallen in love. She is a stubborn, courageous woman determined to do what she must. Can this young woman truly alter the course of history or her own destiny?

"Destiny. There is a destiny one creates. And there is a destiny ordained."

Bilyeau weaves together history, adventure, intrigue and yes, romance to create a second tale that historical fiction fans will love. I look forward to the the next book in this series - Joanna's story is far from finished.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Criminal Enterprise - Owen Laukkanen

I devoured Owen Laukkanen's debut novel The Professionals last year - it was one of those page turning thrillers that I love. (my review)

And you always wonder after such a strong debut, can the author repeat that success? I have to tell you, Laukkanen did - and actually, I think he did an even better job with this second novel - Criminal Enterprise.

Carter Tomlin is one of those guys living the 'good life'. Beautiful family, good job, big house, big car, all the toys and more. Until the economy takes a downswing....and Carter's job is no more. But, all the bills are still his. And he has a lifestyle to maintain for his family. With the pressure to keep up the fa├žade, Carter does the unthinkable. He robs a bank. And then another.

And then "It wasn't just about the money anymore. Not even close. It was about the excitement, the power, the quick jolt of electricity he felt when the pretty tellers wilted at the sight of his gun.....It was power. Control. Robbing banks filled the void while he pad off his mortgage. And nobody had figured him out."

Someone is trying to figure it out though. Laukkanen brings back the two protagonists from his first book - FBI Agent Carl Windermere and Minnesota BCA detective Kirk Stevens. I was really glad to see this pair return - I really liked them both. They're opposite in personality and each brings a different outlook and set of strengths  to the table. And there's a delicious tension between the two.

The plotting is tantalizingly clever, with several twists that had me nodding my head in appreciation many times. The ending of one chapter just fueled me to quickly start the next. From Carter's thoughts to the progress of the cops on his trail, the storyline just grabbed me and didn't let go.  Note: make sure to start this book when you've got a full day to yourself - you won't want to put it down.

Suspense novels are one of my favourite genres and Laukkanen has firmly planted himself on my must read author list. Fans of  authors Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay would love Laukkanen. So does John Sandford, who provided a cover blurb: " Laukkanen is slam-bang brilliant." I wholeheartedly agree! Read an excerpt of Criminal Enterprise.

You can find Owen Laukkanen on Facebook and on Twitter.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Giveaway - Bristol House - Beverly Swerling

It's no joke! I've got another great giveaway for you, dear readers. Thanks to the great folks at Viking Books, I have a copy of Bristol House by Beverly Swerling to giveaway. (watch for my review in the near future.) The release date for this brand new title is April 9/13. Here's your chance to win a copy!

What's it about? From the publisher, Viking Books:

"In the tradition of Kate Mosse, a swiftly-paced mystery that stretches from modern London to Tudor England.

In modern-day London, architectural historian and recovering alcoholic Annie Kendall hopes to turn her life around and restart her career by locating several long-missing pieces of ancient Judaica. Geoff Harris, an investigative reporter, is soon drawn into her quest, both by romantic interest and suspicions about the head of the Shalom Foundation, the organization sponsoring her work. He’s also a dead ringer for the ghost of a monk Annie believes she has seen at the flat she is subletting in Bristol House.

In 1535, Tudor London is a very different city, one in which monks are being executed by Henry VIII and Jews are banished. In this treacherous environment of religious persecution, Dom Justin, a Carthusian monk, and a goldsmith known as the Jew of Holborn must navigate a shadowy world of intrigue involving Thomas Cromwell, Jewish treasure, and sexual secrets. Their struggles shed light on the mysteries Annie and Geoff aim to puzzle out—at their own peril.

This riveting dual-period narrative seamlessly blends a haunting supernatural thriller with vivid historical fiction. Beverly Swerling, widely acclaimed for her City of Dreams series, delivers a bewitching and epic story of a historian and a monk, half a millennium apart, whose destinies are on a collision course."

Sound good to you? Simply leave a comment to be entered! Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends April 9/13.