Friday, February 28, 2014

Worthy Brown's Daughter - Phillip Margolin

In the early 1980's lawyer Phillip Margolin stumbled upon a case from an Oregon file dated 1844. The case stayed with him over the years and "I was so inspired by this story that I began thinking about writing a novel loosely based on it."

Nearly thirty years later, he did. Margolin's latest release is Worthy Brown's Daughter.

Matthew Penny, a young lawyer in mid 1880's Oregon, is hired by former slave Worthy Brown. His master freed Worthy, but reneged on his promise to also free Worthy's young daughter Roxanne. Penny takes the case. Margolin also mixes in a secondary storyline involving a crooked judge and a gold digger. The two plots do have a connection - the headstrong woman who captures Penny's interest.

I chose to listen to Worthy Brown's Daughter. The reader was Jason Culp. Culp has a clear speaking voice that is easy to listen to. He does provide lots of inflection, accenting actions and emotions. But I did have a hard time with the voices he provided for some characters - notably the females and black characters. They seemed overdone and overwrought. But this could simply be the dialogue that Culp is reading from. I thought some of Margolin's scenes and dialogue were over sensationalized. This detracted from what was otherwise  a solid storyline.

Margolin has done his research - the legal system of the time is accurately portrayed. It was fascinating to think that this was an actual case.

From the publisher's website: "Worthy Brown's Daughter is a compelling white-knuckle drama about two broken men risking everything for what they believe in." Not quite for this listener. I found it to be entertaining, but nowhere near white-knuckle territory. Listen to an excerpt of Worthy Brown's Daughter.

Margolin is a prolific author, having penned many legal thrillers. Fans of James Patterson would enjoy Margolin's style of writing.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Over the Counter #202

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Oh it's nostalgia this week!

First up was Everything I Need to Know I Learned from A Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow.

From the publisher, Random House:

"A humorous "guide to life" for grown-ups! One day, Diane Muldrow, a longtime editor of the iconic Little Golden Books, realized that, despite their whimsical appearance, there was hardly a real-life situation that hadn't been covered in the more than 70-year-old line of children's books—from managing money, to the importance of exercise, to finding contentment in the simplest things. In this age of debt, depression, and diabetes, could we adults use a refresher course in the gentle lessons from these adorable books, she wondered—a "Little Golden guide to life"? Yes, we could! Muldrow's humorous yet practical tips for getting the most out of life ("Don't forget to enjoy your wedding!" "Be a hugger." "Sweatpants are bad for morale."), drawn from more than 60 stories, are paired with delightful images from these best-loved children's books of all time—among them The Poky Little Puppy, Pantaloon, Mister Dog, Nurse Nancy, We Help Mommy, Five Pennies to Spend, and The Little Red Hen. The Golden greats of children's illustration are represented here as well: Richard Scarry, Garth Williams, Eloise Wilkin, J. P. Miller, and Mary Blair, among many others. Sure to bring memories and a smile, this book is a perfect gift for baby boomers, recent grads, lovers of children's literature—or anyone who cherishes the sturdy little books with the shiny cardboard covers and gold foil spines!"

Next up was Toy Time by Christopher Byrne.

From the publisher, Three Rivers Press:

"What was your favorite childhood toy?

Do you have fond memories of fighting unseen enemies with your G.I. Joe action figures, demolishing fleets of vehicles with your Tonka Toy Trucks, or Karate-chopping imaginary street thugs with your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

What about carefree summer afternoons counting ticks on your Skip-It, scooting around the neighborhood on your Big Wheel, or soaring down your backyard  Slip 'n Slide?
Still a little bitter that your parents never let you have a  Nerf Super Soaker, or a Barbie Dream House? Did you prefer to unleash your inner artist with your Etch a Sketch, or your inner chef with your Easy-Bake Oven? Did you like to challenge your friends to  a rousing game of Mousetrap, or did you prefer to get tied up in knots over a round of Twister?

In Toy Time! you’ll be reunited with all these classic toys and more.  No matter when you grew up, or what types of play ignited your imagination, Toy Time! will take you on a journey of rediscovery, allowing you to relive those carefree, innocent, and fun-filled days of childhood.

Charming, playful, and full of photos of vintage toys, Toy Time! is an exploration and celebration of the toys that roused our imaginations, shaped our memories, and touched our lives."

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Road to Reckoning - Robert Lautner

It was the cover blurb on the cover of  Robert Lautner's book, Road to Reckoning, that compelled me to pick it up....."Those who love True Grit will love this."

1837 New York City. Thomas Walker and his father (formerly a spectacle salesman) strike out on the road West to sell a new product - guns. Specifically,  Samuel Colt's new improved 'revolving gun'. They have samples to show and Thomas has a wooden replica as well. Walker Sr. is a gentle man, not one overly familiar with guns or violence. It is inevitable that others would want and simply take the guns. But what is also taken Walker Sr.'s life. Leaving young Thomas alone to fend for himself....until he hooks up with Henry Stands - a man more than familiar with the use of guns.

It is Thomas in his older years who narrates the tale of his youth.

"I, to this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve."

Young Thomas is old beyond his years, yet still a child. Lautner wonderfully describes  the relationship between Thomas and his father, making it all the more heartbreaking when it is cut short. The relationship between Stands and Thomas is just as moving. Stands as a character leapt off the page for me. The prose are spare, but Thomas's observations and thoughts are compelling. The Road to Reckoning is filled with adventure and action as well. And Lautner's descriptions of time and place set the tone perfectly. The history of firearms and Colt's fledgling revolver was also very interesting.

Lautner has written a Western coming of age tale set on the rough roads and towns of a young America. And yes, it is very similar in tone to True Grit. But definitely worth a read. (And it would make a great movie)  Read an excerpt of Road to Reckoning.

(I was surprised to see that Lautner is not an American author - rather he lives in Wales.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Giveaway - Evening Stars - Susan Mallery

Thanks to the lovely folks at Harlequin Mira Books, I have a copy of Susan Mallery's
 newest book- Evening Stars - to giveaway!
Simply leave a comment to be entered.  Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends March 15/14.
Want to know more? Check out the conversation with Susan Mallery about Evening Stars below!

Tell us about your newest novel, Evening Stars. Essentially, Evening Stars is the story of two sisters who have to learn to let go of others' expectations in order to claim the life they each want. Nina practically raised Averil because their mom took "flaky" to a whole new level. Nina gave up her dream of going to medical school—breaking up with her first love in the process—so she could put Averil through college. But now Averil's back home, dissatisfied with her career and her marriage. How can Averil be unhappy, Nina wonders, after everything Nina did for her? Then Nina's first love moves home to Blackberry Island, and he wants her back. Suddenly, she has the chance to reclaim the life she thought she wanted all those years ago, but at the same time, she's being tempted by a much younger fighter pilot who also has his eye on her. Evening Stars is a sometimes painful, often humorous story of moving past regret and reaching for your dreams. My hope is that readers will finish the book with a happy sigh of satisfaction and a new determination to play an active role in their own lives.

What inspired you to begin writing women’s fiction stories, after focusing on your popular contemporary romance novels? Romances are relationship stories, and so are my women's fiction novels—they're simply about different relationships. The relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives… I consider my women's fiction novels, such as Evening Stars, to be a natural extension of the books I've written for years. And because I think love is essential, romance still plays a big role in each of my women's fiction books.

In Evening Stars, who is your favorite character and why? The character I identify with most strongly is Nina because I share her sense of responsibility for the people I love. As women, we often put a burden on ourselves to take care of everyone in our lives, whether they want us to or not. We want them to make choices that we think will make them happy, and it's physically painful to us when they behave in what we perceive as self-destructive ways. The lesson that Nina had to learn—and one with which I still sometimes struggle—is that she can't make choices for anyone but herself. And ultimately, the choices she makes will determine the life she lives.

Tell us a little bit about younger sister Averil. Averil is a good person who has found herself in the uncomfortable position of living someone else's dream for her life. She went to school where Nina thought she should go. She lives where Nina thought she should live. She likes her job as a magazine writer but isn't fulfilled by it. She loves her husband but finds herself lying to him about being ready to try for children. She isn't happy, but she doesn't know why, and she doesn't know what she wants. Averil has to go backward—move home to Blackberry Island—before she can move forward. The bonds of sisterhood and family are strong themes featured in Evening Stars.

 Do you have any siblings, and in what ways are your own family relationships similar or different to the Wentworth’s? 'm an only child of only children, so not only do I not have any siblings, I don't have any cousins. I think this is a big part of the reason why "finding family" is a theme that recurs in many of my books. I've created my own family through marriage and by developing close, lifelong friendships. Many of my characters are in similar circumstances, building a family by choice, rather than by birth. Nina and Averil's relationship was very interesting to me. They are sisters, yes, but in a very real way, they also have a mother/daughter relationship. They're only four years apart, but when Nina was twelve and Averil was eight, their mother began to leave them alone for weeks at a time while she traveled. So Nina was the one who was responsible for paying the bills, getting dinner on the table. And Nina is the person against whom Averil feels compelled to rebel. They love each other, but they have to restructure their relationship.

Your descriptions of Blackberry Island are beautiful and inviting, both in the book and at What was your inspiration behind the setting? I live in Seattle, and there are several picturesque islands in the Puget Sound nearby. Blackberry Island isn't modeled after any of them specifically, but it certainly was inspired by them. Blackberry Island is within commuting distance of Seattle, but in terms of pace of life, it's a world away. Most people travel to Blackberry Island via ferry, though there is a bridge to the mainland, as well. The island is dotted with wineries and fields of daisies. Readers who want to learn more about Blackberry Island's history or see pictures can visit the website. Romance also plays an important role in Evening Stars, as Nina unexpectedly finds herself juggling two very different and equally exciting men.

Were there any challenges to writing two heroes and deciding which one would claim her heart? I'm a one-man woman, so it was challenging for me to put myself in Nina's shoes and date two men. It was challenging for her, too! I mean, how do people handle that kind of thing smoothly? I have no idea. I'd be completely overwhelmed. Nina's dating dry spell had lasted for years, and suddenly, she has not one but two men romancing her. While it's exciting, it's also very nerve-wracking. And, might I say, pretty hysterical at times. The biggest challenge for me was to try not to telegraph to readers which man—if either—Nina will decide upon. I want readers to take the journey along with her, and I'll be very interested to hear whether they think Nina made the right decision.

Do you have a favorite scene from Evening Stars?Many. One that comes to mind takes place in Chapter One. Nina's car has broken down, and it's pouring rain—which it often does in the Pacific Northwest. She's in a cellular dead spot on the island, so she can't call for help. She has no choice but to walk home in the rain. In her Betty Boop nurse's scrubs, make-up running, wet hair hanging limply into her face, thighs chafing as she trudges down the muddy road… she's not exactly looking or feeling her best. Which, of course, means that this is when her first love will come back into her life. Dylan has never looked better. Naturally. Isn't that just like a man? He's a doctor, driving a new car that costs more than Nina makes in a year, and he offers her a ride. Nina keeps walking. Makes me laugh every time I think of it! I hope it'll make readers laugh, too. In that moment, I am 100% on Nina's side. I love her!

Describe your ideal writing space. How does it compare to where you usually write? My ideal writing space is quiet, filled with light, and my little dog is nearby. I bounce ideas off of her, and she approves them all very enthusiastically. She's not discerning, but she is encouraging. I'm fortunate to have an office where I write, so unless I'm traveling, I write in my ideal environment. I have a very exacting writing schedule. In order to meet my many deadlines, I need to do everything in my power to nurture my creative needs.

Can we look forward to more Blackberry Island stories in the near future, or are you working on any new exciting projects? Evening Stars is the final book in the Blackberry Island trilogy, but it does lead readers toward a new series I'll begin in 2015, set in Mischief Bay, California. That's where Averil and her husband live, so readers will get a small introduction to Mischief Bay in Evening Stars. On the romance front, I'll release three Fool's Gold books in paperback this year—When We Met, Before We Kiss, and Until We Touch—plus an ebook novella, Yours for Christmas.

You can find Susan Mallery on Facebook and on Twitter.

Giveaway - The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards - Kristopher Jansma

Kristopher Jansma's debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards was released in hardcover last year (my review reprinted below) and releases in paperback today. Thanks to the great folks at Viking Press I have a copy to giveaway to one lucky reader. Simply leave a comment to be entered. Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends March 8/14.

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.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Deep Winter - Samuel W. Gailey

Deep Winter is Samuel W. Gailey's debut novel.

Gentle giant Danny has lived in Wyalusing, a small town in Northern Pennsylvania, for his entire life.  An accident has left Danny with brain injuries, but he has made a small place for himself. And he tries to lead a small life as he is the target of taunts and bullying and has few friends.  But Mindy, the waitress who serves him breakfast every morning, is an exception. She has only treated him with kindness. Danny walks to her trailer on her birthday to deliver a gift - only to find the local sheriff's deputy, Sokowski, already there. And Mindy is dead.

The reader knows early on who has killed Mindy. But the race is on - will the killer be caught? Or will Danny take the fall?

There are few likable characters in the book. Sokowski is one of the nastiest antagonists I've read in a while. Many of the 'good' characters are flawed in some way as well. Gailey's characters were quite vivid I quickly turned pages. The reader cannot help but react to each one.

Indeed the whole town seems dismal, dreary and defeated. "Gailey was raised in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania (population 379), which serves as the setting for his debut novel."  The setting definitely had a ring of authenticity. The blizzard that envelopes the town serves to further isolate the town and the drama playing out.

 Deep Winter is told from multiple points of view - the killer, Mindy, Danny and more. I found this highly effective as it only heightened the tension. The reader is aware of what's going to happen next - or think we are. Gailey knows just when to end a chapter - ensuring I had to read just one more and then another before turning off the light for the evening.

 Gailey has worked as a screenwriter and Deep Winter read like a movie for me. (Quentin Tarantino sprang to mind.) It's grim and gritty and not recommended for gentle readers. But it was a page turner for me. There's been a new genre label bandied about - "grit lit" or "rural noir". Deep Winter is a great example of this style. Read an excerpt of Deep Winter.

You can find Samuel W. Gailey on Facebook and on Twitter.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Film on Friday #10 - Watchtower

The tenth entry in the Film on Friday series is Watchtower from Turkish director Pelin Esmer. As with all Film Movement releases, it is an official selection or winner at multiple film festivals.

Nihat has taken a job as a fire warden, scanning the forest from an isolated tower high in the mountains. From the opening scenes, with his walk, his facial expressions and more, he telegraphs a sadness, a loss. The viewer senses that he wants to be alone, that this isolated job will let him escape somehow.

Seher is a young woman who has taken a job as a bus hostess and is living in a small room at the rest stop. Her loneliness is also telegraphed with few words. She looks through pictures, picks up the phone to call someone, leaving only a vague message. Again, the viewer just knows that there is more to her story - that the bus stop is for her an escape as well.

Nihat comes down the mountain for supplies and stops for tea at the restaurant. It is inevitable that the two meet. Each is indeed hiding something and their lives reluctantly become intertwined. We discover the reason each has retreated from life and watch as their lives are inexorably drawn together.

There is little dialogue in Watchtower, rather it's the silence that speaks volumes, underlining the theme of isolation. The use of walkie talkies by the fire wardens was an effective device to underscore Nihat's isolation and the need to connect, to unburden, to share and to be part of a society.

The background of the film is spectacular. The views from the watchtower are breath taking. I wonder if the house used was an actual warden station or if it was built for the film? I quite liked it and pictured myself living at the top of the mountain!

I watched the ending more that once, deciding if it was what I wanted. And it was. This is one of my favourite films so far, one I would easily recommend. 2012 / Turkish with English subtitles / 100 min

As always, there's a short film included as a bonus. This time it's a 17 minute film from Greece called The Foreigner. A small village needs to up their population in order to keep receiving services from the state. When a tourist wanders into town, they try to convince him to stay. This short was excellent! A full story played out in very short time, with a fun plot, an excellent lead and beautiful scenery as well. ( I think I could live here as well!)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Find Momo - Andrew Knapp

Yes, it's Thursday and it's usually Over the Counter day - where I showcase books that catch my eye as they pass over the library counter and under my scanner. Find Momo by Andrew Knapp is ordered for my library, but I happened to get my hands on one ahead of time.

Who is Momo you ask? Well Momo is Andrew's border collie. And he just happens to like to hide. And he sits really still while Andrew takes a picture of him. Lots of pictures. Andrew started sharing them with his Instagram friends.....who shared them with their friends.... who shared it with.... and in a few weeks there were more than 50,000 followers! Blogs and news outlets picked up the story as well.

"Watching the photos go viral was fascinating. Maybe it's the photography, or maybe it's the game of hide-and-seek. I would hope it's a mix of the two."

Andrew is a very talented photographer. His choice of backgrounds for the Momo photos are eye catching before you even begin to look for Momo. And looking for Momo is fun - and not as easy as you would think in some photos.

Find Momo is just one of those quirky books you can't help but read. And enjoy. If you liked finding Waldo, you'll love finding Momo. The little tidbits that Andrew shares about Momo are fun and Knapp himself is pretty interesting. Check out his website. And I would love to take a road trip on backroads with my dog as well!

Knapp posts a new photo everyday on or you can follow along on andrewknapp on Instagram as well. (Peek inside Find Momo)

Now, I must admit I have a bias.....I too have a border collie. Abby is getting on in years - she's twelve now. But she is still light on her feet, appearing where you least expect her to. She's the best listener in the world and her big brown eyes are so expressive. And like Momo, she's a head tilter - I do think it's a Border Collie thing. So what would this post be without a shot of Abby?

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Good Luck of Right Now - Matthew Quick

Matthew Quick's last novel The Silver Linings Playbook was turned into an award winning movie.

His newest book The Good Luck of Right Now gives us another wounded protagonist to root for.

Bartholomew Neil is nearing forty when his mother dies from cancer. Having never held a job, lived on his own and with no friends, he is unsure of what to do next. He starts to puzzle things out in letters written to actor Richard Gere. (Mom's favourite) These missives are heartbreaking in their honesty.

" I get sidetracked easily by interesting things, and for this reason, people often find it hard to converse with me, which is why I don't talk very much to strangers and much prefer writing letters, in which there is room to record everything, unlike real-life conversations where you have to fight and fight to fit in your words and almost always lose."

Bartholomew and his mother were faithful church goers and he does find some solace from parish priest Father McNamee. But he's not too sure about his grief counsellor Wendy, although they do set a life goal for Bartholomew - to have a drink with a friend in a bar. What Bartholomew would really like to do is meet the Girlbrarian at the library he frequents every day.

Bartholomew is a great believer of Synchronicity by Carl Jung. Some might call it coincidence or destiny. Bartholomew's mother had her own twist on it - "For every bad thing that happens, a good thing happens too - and this was how the world stayed in harmony." Whatever way you choose to look at it - Bartholomew's life seems to be full of coincidences that may help him find his place in the world.

Quick has written another great book full of decidedly quirky characters and odd situations. I'm not sure why, but I am drawn to characters that are outside of the mainstream view of life. Their struggle to fit in and find a place for themselves. Most of all, it is their optimism, their steady one foot in front of the other, their acceptance of everyone that appeals to me. Bartholomew embodies all that.

As he says..."Well, if there weren't weird, strange and unusual people who did weird things or nothing at all, there couldn't be normal people who do normal useful things, right?"

The Good Luck of right now is an unusual narrative told from a decidedly different character - one that you shouldn't spend too much time analyzing or trying to fit into a mold. The situations and connections are just as different - but who's to say they couldn't happen? Just go with it - and see where Bartholomew ends up.  I quite enjoyed The Good Luck of Right Now - maybe it was meant to land in my mailbox?!

(PS There's one scene in the library involving a patron viewing questionable material - I was laughing out loud. As a employee of a public library, I can tell that Quick did not exaggerate this scene!)

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

Matthew Quick is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, which was made into an Academy Award-winning film, and the young adult novels Sorta Like a Rock Star, Boy21, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. He is married to the novelist-pianist Alicia Bessette. You can find Matthew Quick on Facebook and on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Bear - Claire Cameron

I love to read. And I read a lot. I only choose books I know I'm going to enjoy. But every so often, there's that book that goes beyond that enjoyment feeling - one that absolutely grabs you, has you tingling with anticipation knowing there's an amazing story just waiting within the pages, one that you can't wait to tell others about.

Well, I'm telling you - The Bear by Claire Cameron is one of those books. I literally could not put it down. Twenty pages in, I just knew I wasn't going to bed early that night.

In October of 1991, a pair of campers was attacked by a bear in Algonquin Park, Canada. "There is no clear reason for what happened other than a hungry bear decided to take a chance on a new source of food." Author Cameron was a counsellor at a summer camp at Algonquin that year as well. "The Bear is based on my memories of and research into this bear attack. I added the kids."

Yes, kids. The Bear is told through the eyes and voice of five year old Anna. She and her two year old brother Stick, are the survivors of an attack that kills their parents - and leaves them alone in the vast wilderness that is Algonquin.

As adults, we know what is happening and what they should do, but Anna is only five and has limited skills, knowledge and experience to draw on. It is frightening and heartbreaking to imagine this truly happening - the confusion, the questions, the fear and the loss. Cameron does a truly fantastic job of bringing this to the page with Anna's voice. Through her memories, thoughts and senses (smell and touch are very important to Anna) we come to know the children, the family's life, the parents and their love for Anna and Stick. Anna draws on her memories time and time again as she struggles with what to do.

The Bear is told in a 'stream-of-consciousness', non-linear format that was highly effective and heightened the tension.

Emotional, unsettling, gripping and gut-wrenchingly good.  Highly, highly recommended. Read an excerpt of The Bear.

"Claire Cameron grew up in Toronto and studied at Queen's University. She led canoe trips in Algonquin Park and worked as an instructor for Outward Bound, teaching mountaineering, climbing and white-water rafting in Oregon. She lived San Francisco and London, UK, until moving back to Toronto, where she now lives with her husband and two sons. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, National Post and The Millions. Her first novel, The Line Painter, won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service and was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Crime Writing Award for best first novel. Visit the author at

You can find Claire Cameron on Facebook and on Twitter.

Monday, February 17, 2014

North of Boston - Elisabeth Elo

North of Boston is Elisabeth Elo's debut novel. She introduces us to a unique protagonist in this literary mystery -  Pirio Kasparov. Pirio is the child of Russian immigrants and heir to the perfume dynasty started by her parents. She's also a bit of a rebel, taking chances and sometimes leaping without looking.

Pirio is helping Ned, the father of her best's friend's child, on his lobster boat when they are hit by a tanker and she is plunged into the freezing ocean. Against all odds, she survives four hours in the frigid water. Ned is not so lucky. And the tanker leaves the scene.

Pirio is determined to find out who killed Ned. She begins investigating on her own - and it takes her places she could not have foreseen and circles back to her own past. The Navy is also interested in Pirio's ability to withstand the cold water.

I must admit to feeling torn on North of Boston. I thought that Pirio was an interesting character, but I'm not sure I ever really liked her.  Pirio is quite sure of herself and her abilities, but I ended up feeling like she was too full of herself. The ability to withstand cold water seemed to be a convenient way to introduce a plot machination later in the book. I expected more to happen with the Navy, but perhaps it will in the next book as Elo is going to reprise Pirio and the supporting cast.

North of Boston is aptly described as a literary mystery, rather than a detective or police procedural. (Quite frankly, the ending was more than a bit coincidental and unbelievable.) Elo works many elements into her plot - families, children, parents, lovers, addictions, business, perfumes, social commentary on the fishing industry, environmental issues and more. A few too many for this reader as the story just seemed way too busy. As North of Boston is a debut with a planned sequel, perhaps this busyness was simply to establish her characters and their lives.

The standout character for me was Ned's young son Noah. His ability to cope and his curious nature made me want to rescue him. His mother Thomasina, her addictions and her partying just got tiresome. Pirio's interaction and relationship with Noah as well as her father Milosa were very well portrayed.

Elo provides excellent information and commentary on perfumes, scents as well as environmental problems. Elo's description of time and place were very well done. She is a talented wordsmith, but North of Boston was just an okay read for me.

Read an excerpt of North of Boston. You can find Elisabeth Elo on Facebook and on Twitter.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Giveaway Winners - The Eye of God

The three winners of a copy of The Eye of God by James Rollins, courtesy of Harper Collins are:

1. Nancy
2. Tessa
3. Karen B

Congratulations! I've sent emails asking for your mailing addresses. Please respond within 72 hours. Thanks to all who entered. Check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways.

Giveaway Winner - Perfect

And the lucky winner of a copy of Perfect by Rachel Joyce, courtesy of Random House is:


Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. After that time a new winner will be chosen. Thanks to all who entered - check the sidebar for ongoing giveaways.

Giveaway Winner - The Vanishing

And the lucky winner of a copy of The Vanishing by Wendy Webb, courtesy of Hyperion Books is:

Susan O!

Congratulations! I've contacted you by email for your mailing address. Please respond within 72 hours. After that time, a new winner will be chosen.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Over the Counter #201

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? This week is memoirs - from the world of sports.

First up was Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson.

From the publisher, Harper Collins:

"One man's odyssey into the brutal hive of the national football league
This is not a celebrity tell-all of professional sports. Slow Getting Up is a survivor's real-time account of playing six seasons (twice as long as the average NFL career) for the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos.

As an unsigned free agent who rose through the practice squad to the starting lineup, Nate Jackson is the talented embodiment of the everyday freak athlete in professional football, one of thousands whose names go unmentioned in the daily press. Through his story recounted here—from scouting combines to preseason cuts to byzantine film studies to glorious touchdown catches—even knowledgeable football fans will glean a new, starkly humanized understanding of the daily rigors and unceasing violence of quotidian life in the NFL.

Fast-paced, lyrical, and hilariously unvarnished, Slow Getting Up is an unforgettable look at the real lives of America's best twenty-year-old athletes putting their bodies and minds through hell."

Next up was Anchorboy: True Tales from the world of Sportscasting by Jay Onrait.

From the publisher, Harper Collins:

 10) Jay was beaten up by an MMA fighter on live television
 9) Interviewing Will Ferrell can be a harrowing experience
 8) Jay once ruined a perfectly good pair of underwear on Christmas Eve
 7) Failing as a stand-up comedian can lead to a job in broadcasting
 6) Jay ran a marathon to get a ticket for the 2010 men’s Olympic gold-medal hockey game
 5) Jay was sexually harassed at TSN by a senior citizen every day for ten years
 4) Jay appeared as the Phantom of the Opera on national television
 3) Jay was entertained nightly by free live sex shows throughout university
 2) Jay was single-handedly responsible for Winnipeg’s second NHL team being called “The Jets” (he claims)
 1) Running around in a full-body unitard at the London Olympics is a bad idea
 All this and more awaits you inside ANCHORBOY!"

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Circle of Wives - Alice LaPlante

I loved Alice LaPlante's award winning debut novel - Turn of Mind. It was a mystery told through the eyes of woman in the throes of Alzheimer's disease.

Her newest book A Circle of Wives is another mystery that keeps us guessing. Who is telling the truth? Who can be believed?

Renowned and wealthy surgeon Dr. John Taylor is found dead of an apparent heart attack. But when an autopsy reveals suggestions of foul play, the case is handed over to Detective Samantha Adams. This is her first serious case.

The immediate suspect is of course the person closest to the victim - in this case, Taylor's wife Deborah. Or perhaps it's his other wife MJ?  When a newspaper runs a story on the doctor's death, that's when MJ discovers Taylor's bigamy. And then a third wife pops up.

"What's going on is the inaugural meeting of John Taylor's spouses, says Deborah. Would we qualify as a coven? A harem? What is the term for a group of wives? Circle. We are a circle of wives."

Was it one of his wives who ended Dr. Taylor's life? Which one of them hated Taylor enough to kill him? Did one of the wives suspect he had more than one spouse?

LaPlante tells her story from the viewpoint of each of the wives as well as Samantha, the detective.

LaPlante has written an excellent mystery. But just as good are the character studies of each main player. They all have reasons to want John dead and each has their own secrets to keep. LaPlante fleshes them out, leaving us to ponder just which one of them is capable of murder and cunning enough to get away with it. I quite liked Samantha as a protagonist. Her struggle to be taken seriously, her dogged determination and her own personal life provided a great secondary story line.

Another thoroughly enjoyable read from LaPlante. Read an excerpt of A Circle of Wives.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Winter People - Jennifer McMahon

It seems to be things that go bump in the night week for me! Jennifer McMahon's latest book is The Winter People.

I love the dedication.....

" For Zeila. Because one day, you wanted to play a really creepy game about two sisters whose parents had disappeared in the woods ..... Sometimes it just happens."

And that's exactly what happens. Ruthie and Fawn live with their mother Alice in West Hall, Vermont on a hardscrabble farm near a rocky ridge known as The Devil's Hand. When Alice disappears without a trace, the girls search the house for clues - and come upon a diary hidden under the floorboards. The diary is from 1908 and belonged to Sara, a former resident of the house. What Ruthie reads seems impossible. But again, there have always been rumours and legends about Devil's Hand. And people do go missing.....

McMahon weaves her story through past and present as the girls search for their mother and we catch up by reading Sara's diary from 1908.

"She's one of the winter people. The people who are stuck between here and there, waiting. It reminds me of winter, how everything is all pale and cold and full of nothing, and all you can do is wait for sparing."

I really enjoyed the build up of the story and found it hard to put down - I wanted to know what had happened and what was going to happen. But I found one of the final characters involved in the ending overdone and the conclusion was a little too predictable and somewhat familiar. (Think Pet Semetary) For me, this somewhat detracted from what had been a good horror/ghost story up until then. Of the two narratives, I preferred Sara's from 1908. It was scarier and more atmospheric.

Still, The Winter People kept me turning pages on a dark winter night. Entertaining, but not my favourite McMahon book. (Island of Lost Girls is my fave)  Read an excerpt of The Winter People.

You can find Jennifer McMahon on Facebook.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Mist in the Mirror - Susan Hill

I'm a dedicated fan of Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler detective series. but it was only on looking at the author's website that I realized she was the author of The Woman in Black - a classic ghost tale that has been made into a stage play (opened in 1989 and is still running) as well as a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Vintage Books has been re-releasing some of these earlier works. Last year, I enjoyed The Small Hand and Dolly. (my review) The latest reissue is The Mist in the Mirror.

Sir James Monmouth is an aged member of a gentleman's club in London. After a night's discussion of ghosts by some members, Sir James passes a young member "an account of certain - events."

The events are from Monmouth's life. After travelling the world for many years, following the footsteps of an explorer named Vane, Sir James decides to head back to England. He proposes to write a book about Vane.  But almost immediately on his arrival, he begins seeing a young boy  - a boy no one else sees. And everywhere he turns, he is warned against pursuing his book.....

The reader of Monmouth's story "intended to read for an hour at most, expecting drowsiness to overtake me again, but I became so engrossed in the story that unfolded before me that I rapidly forgot all thought of the time, or my present surroundings."

As did this reader. Hill writes the most delicious stories - atmospheric with slow building tension that increases with every page turned. And all accomplished without overt gore and violence. Just wonderfully wrought words that slowly build time, place and tension with every page. Dusty libraries, forgotten rooms, glimpses of things from the corner of one's eye, suspicious townsfolk and more.....

Novella sized at 224 pages, The Mist in the Mirror was a good read for a snowy winter's night. Read an excerpt of The Mist in the Mirror.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Gods of Guilt - Michael Connelly

The Gods of Guilt is the fifth entry in Michael Connelly's 'Lincoln Lawyer' series featuring Mickey Haller.

Mickey Haller is a lawyer who doesn't have a bricks and mortar office - instead he works out of his Lincoln town car.

Haller's life is on the downswing - his bid for District Attorney blew up in his face, his daughter won't see him or speak to him and he's hurting for money.

Mickey gets a call from the jail from an Andre - he's been told to call Haller if he ever needs a lawyer. Andre is accused of killing 'Glory Days' - a prostitute from Mick's past  - one he thought he had saved from 'the life'. The kicker? It's Gloria who told Andre to call Haller. Andre is adamant he didn't kill Gloria and Haller takes the case - out of a sense of guilt.

Connelly turns in another solid legal thriller. Haller in the courtroom is great fun as are his somewhat questionable methods. Likable recurring character make an appearance, with one making a final bow. Connelly expands on Mickey's personal life that makes the character all the more real.

I pick up every Connelly knowing I'm going to enjoy it. The one thing I didn't like in this novel was Haller referencing the movie made about him. I would have liked to keep reality and fiction separate. Other than that The Gods of Guilt was eminently readable and definitely entertaining. Read an excerpt of The Gods of Guilt.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Over the Counter #200

What books caught my eye this week as they pass over the library counter and under my scanner? This week, it's biographies by women authors.

First up is Chickens in the Road: An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor by Suzanne McMinn. (And I could so see myself living this way!)

From the publisher, Harper Collins:

"Suzanne McMinn, a former romance writer and founder of the popular blog, shares the story of her search to lead a life of ordinary splendor in Chickens in the Road, her inspiring and funny memoir.

Craving a life that would connect her to the earth and her family roots, McMinn packed up her three kids, left her husband and her sterile suburban existence behind, and moved to rural West Virginia. Amid the rough landscape and beauty of this rural mountain country, she pursues a natural lifestyle filled with chickens, goats, sheep—and no pizza delivery.

With her new life comes an unexpected new love—"52," a man as beguiling and enigmatic as his nickname—a turbulent romance that reminds her that peace and fulfillment can be found in the wake of heartbreak. Coping with formidable challenges, including raising a trio of teenagers, milking stubborn cows, being snowed in with no heat, and making her own butter, McMinn realizes that she’s living a forty-something’s coming-of-age story.

As she dares to become self-reliant and embrace her independence, she reminds us that life is a bold adventure—if we’re willing to live it.  Chickens in the Road includes more than 20 recipes, craft projects, and McMinn’s photography, and features a special two-color design."

Next up was I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia by Su Meck with Daniel de Vise.

From the publisher, Simon and Schuster:

"What would you do if you lost your past? In 1988 Su Meck was twenty-two and married with two children when a ceiling fan in her kitchen fell and struck her on the head, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury that erased all her memories of her life up to that point. Although her body healed rapidly, her memories never returned. Yet after just three weeks in the hospital, Su was released and once again charged with the care of two toddlers and a busy household.

 Adrift in a world about which she understood almost nothing, Su became an adept mimic, gradually creating routines and rituals that sheltered her and her family, however narrowly, from the near-daily threat of disaster—or so she thought. Though Su would eventually relearn to tie her shoes, cook a meal, and read and write, nearly twenty years would pass before a series of personally devastating events shattered the “normal” life she had worked so hard to build, and she realized that she would have to grow up all over again.

 In her own indelible voice, Su offers us a view from the inside of a terrible injury, with the hope that her story will help give other brain injury sufferers and their families the resolve and courage to build their lives anew. Piercing, heartbreaking, but finally uplifting, this book is the true story of a woman determined to live life on her own terms."

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Giveaway - This Is Not An Accident: Stories - April Wilder

Thanks to the generosity of Viking Books, I have a copy of April Wilder's brand new collection of stories - This Is Not An Accident - to giveaway!

From the publisher:

"From a truly distinctive voice brimming with wicked humor, tales of the little disasters that befall and befuddle us.

April Wilder’s characters (some normal, some less so) have this in common: they are spiraling (or inching) toward self-destruction. An almost poetic range of disasters are sought out and savored in This Is Not an Accident, from bad romance to iffy adoption decisions to unsteady liaisons with animals and dolls; from compulsive driving to compulsive written correspondence with oneself.

A house sitter hides among poets in Salt Lake City after his canine charge dies tragically. A grandma’s boyfriend holds backyard barbecue under siege—with the kids as his pint-sized guards. The world of these slightly off-centre individuals is similarly off by a few degrees. But by the end, we realize it’s not as far off as we would like to think: this is modern American life. What Wilder captures is not a dark side, but rather the side we all know well and hide from others, and ourselves. In the tradition of Wells Tower and Jim Shepard, This Is Not an Accident signals a bold new voice and delivers the kind of insanely incisive moments only a master of the human condition can conjure." Read an excerpt of This Is Not An Accident.

Photo by Alex Adams
April Wilder is a former Fiction Fellow from the Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, Wisconsin. Her short fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Zoetrope, McSweeney’s, and Guernica Magazine. She holds a BS in math/actuarial science from UCLA, an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and a PhD in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah (with a doctoral focus on “narratives of the absurd”). Wilder lives in the Napa Valley with her daughter.
If this sounds like a book you'd like to read, simply leave a comment to be entered. Open to U.S. only, no PO boxes please. Ends February 23/14

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Start Here Diet - Tosca Reno with Billie Fitzpatrick

Well, we're already into the second month of 2014. Did you make resolutions for this year? Were they health related? And how's that going?

Personally I don't like the word resolution - I like the word change instead. And yes, I did start making some changes. I've had Tosca Reno's newest book - The Start Here Diet -  for a month now. It's taken me that long to get to the final pages. Not because I haven't enjoyed it, but because I've been reading some chapters over and over again before I move on the next section.

Reno gives us much more than a diet plan or a list of foods to eat. Her own journey is detailed in the introduction. Reno (mom to four) lost seventy pounds after age forty and shares her knowledge in this book. 

"I hope that sharing my experience and my journey to a healthy weight will inspire you to travel the same road - the road to happiness with the way you look and feel..."

From the first pages, she asks the reader to take a real look at why they overeat. In depth, personal and perhaps uncomfortable.  But " be truly successful in reshaping yourself is to find the why first. " These are the chapters that I read more than once.

And then down to concrete information.

How about this question? What is the one food that you can't live without?" Or think you can't live without or in moderation. Chances are it is fatty, salty, starchy or sweet. Oh, yes I have one. Tosca offers us ways to change that 'go-to' food into something healthier.

Move a little. Those New Year's resolutions are often quite extreme. Join a gym. You might have done that - but are you still going? How about working up to it slowly? I loved these suggestions. They "incorporate movement into activities you already  do - just do them smarter." There are three lists - 25 everyday activities, 25 five easy movements and 25 sport like activities. The idea is to go from not moving to moving a little and so on. It was pretty easy to work these into everyday life.

Reading labels, shopping tips and list, Reno's meal plans, recipes and suggestions on how to stay on course comprise the second half of the book. I've not read any of Reno's books before and I'm now curious about the Eat Clean Diet as well.

For me the biggest takeaway of The Start Here Diet was the first half  - taking a good hard look at yourself, your life and your eating habits. Read an excerpt of The Start Here diet.

You can find Tosca Reno on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Kept - James Scott

The Kept is James Scott's debut novel - and it has firmly established him as a author to watch.

1897. Upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell trudges home to the isolated farmhouse that houses her husband and five children. But, as she draws closer everything is silent - no noise, no smoke, no light. They're all dead, save one - twelve year old Caleb.

Caleb, who sleeps in the barn, who is not comfortable with the scriptures his father lives by.....and who saw the men who killed his family.

"Caleb feared she saw his guilt, but hoped she saw how he'd changed. He would defend them, he would find those men and he would kill them for what they'd done to his family."

Caleb was a brilliant character. It was him I became invested in. His forced entry into adulthood was hard to watch, yet impossible to turn away from. His thoughts, his unerring goal and his path there were heartbreaking.

Elspeth is a complex character as well. The opening lines of the book are hers.

"Elspeth Howell was a sinner. The thought passes over here like a shadow as she washed her face or caught her refection in a window or disembarked from a train after months away from home. Whenever she saw a church or her husband quoted verse or she touched the simple cross around her neck, while she fetched her bags, her transgressions lay in the hollow of her chest, hard and heavy as stone."

I was intrigued by the isolated setting and the veiled references to the past. Elspeth's sins, and her past are slowly revealed as the book progresses - not in statements, but in a deliciously slow manner through memories and flashbacks.

There are a number of secondary characters that are equally well drawn. And like Elspeth and Caleb, also searching. For a sense of belonging, for acceptance, for family, for wealth, for power, for revenge, for vengeance, for the will to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Scott is a brilliant wordsmith. He prose easily capture the starkness, grittiness, the violence and the hard life that Caleb leads.  But  the tendrils of hopes, dreams, desires and love are also captured. Scott's descriptions of time and place were just as evocative. I trudged through the cold with Elspeth and Caleb (actually quite easy to imagine as it's -25C. (-13F) outside right now) and saw 'civilization' for the first time through Caleb's eyes.

I really enjoyed The Kept. I had no idea where Scott was going to take his story. I appreciate being unable to predict where a narrative will wend. I did read the ending more than once, just to make sure I understood what Scott was saying. And a few more times to see how I felt about it. It's fitting - even if it's not what I would have wanted to have happen.

Hauntingly bleak and beautiful. And recommended. Those who enjoy Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis's True Grit would really enjoy The Kept.

"James Scott was born in Boston and grew up in upstate New York. He holds a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA from Emerson College. His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, American Short Fiction, and other publications. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and dog. The Kept is his first novel."  
                                    You can find James Scott on Facebook.

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