Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Art of Crash Landing - Melissa DeCarlo

Oh, do you ever get that delicious little frisson of excitement when you read the first few chapters of a book and realize you've stumbled across what is going to be a really, really good read? Melissa DeCarlo's debut novel, The Art of Crash Landing is one of those books - I absolutely loved it!

Mattie Wallace is 30 years old. And pregnant. And homeless. And broke. Screwing up her life is nothing new for Mattie. She's a bit (well maybe a bit more than a bit) of a train wreck. When she finds out that she has inherited her grandmother's house in Gandy, Oklahoma it's a bit of a surprise - Mattie had no idea she had a grandmother. Her alcoholic mother never mentioned where she grew up or that her own mother was alive. With nowhere else to go, Gandy is the the direction she steers her mother's old Malibu.

"There was a time when I believed my whole life stretched before me, rich with promise. Now? Not so much.

But when she arrives in Gandy, no one really wants to talk about her mother. And the ones that do paint a very different picture from the mother Mattie grew up with.

Where to start. First off, I really didn't like Mattie at all in the first few chapters. She's abrasive, manipulative and self serving. Or is that just a way to protect herself from hurt and disappointment? As the book progresses, there are glimpses into the Mattie beneath that exterior. And I found myself soundly in Mattie's corner, hoping she can find the promise in life again. "Sometimes my entire life has felt like one long exercise in lowering my expectations."

Gandy is populated by a varied and eclectic cast of characters, many who are just as prickly as Mattie, yet oddly compelling. So many of them appealed to me  -  one was Fritter the librarian. (And as someone who works in a library, I found myself laughing out loud at some library scenes that were spot on) But I think that Queeg, Mattie's stepfather, is my favourite. His quiet, understated, unfaltering love for Mattie is moving.

As Mattie continues to ask questions around town about her mother, the  mystery deepens. What happened thirty five years ago to her mother? From the girl Gandy knew to the single woman who gave birth to Mattie? And as Mattie pursues answers, she also remembers her Mom - and the reader learns more about both women.

DeCarlo kept me completely off balance as I read - I had no idea where the story was going to go and many of the character's revelations were so unexpected. Her plotting is fresh, original and just so darn good.

The Art of Crash Landing is absolutely one of my favourite reads for 2015. Read an excerpt of Crash Landing.

Melissa DeCarlo was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and has worked as an artist, graphic designer, grant writer, and even (back when computers were the size of refrigerators) a computer programmer. The Art of Crash Landing is her first novel. Melissa now lives in East Texas with her husband and a motley crew of rescue animals. Find out more about Melissa at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dance of the Bones - J.A. Jance

Picking up the latest J.A. Jance book is like settling down on the porch to catch up on the latest with an old friend. That latest is her new book, Dance of the Bones. And the old friends? Well, this is the 22nd book for J.P. Beaumont and the 5th book featuring members of the Walker family.

Detective Brandon Walker is retired as is Special Investigator J.P. Beaumont. 1600 miles separate them, but a cold case from 40 years ago, brought to light with new evidence from The Last Chance group will have them working together. Faithful Beaumont fans, take note - Brandon has the lead role in this novel.

Prospector Amos Warren and his partner Big Bad John Lassiter had a violent argument in a bar full of witnesses. When Warren's body is found, it is Lassister who is convicted. Except - we know who the real killer is  - the opening prologue details Warren's death. The reader is along for the ride as the two men try to track down the real murderer. Knowing 'whodunit' early on did not detract at all from my enjoyment of the book.

Readers not familiar with the Walker clan and their friends may find the first few chapters a bit busy - there are many characters and the relationships go back many years. (Dr. Lani Walker is my favourite) But, Jance does provide enough backstory that the reader will be quickly brought up to speed.

The Walkers live in Pima County, Arizona. Every chapter opens with lore and legends from the Tohono O'odham, people of the desert, that mirrors much that is happening in the book. I really enjoyed these and the way that Jance wove First Nations culture into her book.

Jance's mysteries are not cozy, but they're not difficult overly difficult to suss out either. For me, it is the characters that draw me to Jance's writing. It's comfortable and comforting to reconnect with characters I've enjoyed over the years. And I'm always curious as to their lives will evolve from book to book. This melding of two series with a new cold case group may provide many opportunities for other crossovers. Read an excerpt of Dance of the Bones.

J. A. Jance is the New York Times bestselling author of the J. P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, the Ali Reynolds series, and five interrelated thrillers about the Walker family, as well as a volume of poetry. Born in South Dakota and brought up in Bisbee, Arizona, Jance lives with her husband in Seattle, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona. You can connect with J.A. Jance on her website, like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

Giveaway - The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks

Historical fiction fans, have I got a great giveaway for you today!! Geraldine Brooks's newest novel, The Secret Chord, releases October 6/15 and thanks to Viking Books, I have a copy to giveaway to one lucky reader!

What's it about? From the publisher:

"A rich and utterly absorbing novel about the life of King David, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of People of the Book and March.

With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Times bestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans." Read an excerpt of The Secret Chord.

"Geraldine Brooks is the author of four novels, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Marchand the international bestsellers Caleb’s Crossing, People of the Book, and Year of Wonders. She has also written the acclaimed nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Her most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing, was the winner of the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Christianity TodayBook Award, and was a finalist for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz." You can connect with Geraldine Brooks on Twitter, like her on Facebook as well as on her website.

If you think you'd like to read The Secret Chord, I have one copy to giveaway. Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends Oct 10/15. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

The Dogs - Allan Stratton

Our selection librarian at work highlighted Allan Stratton's latest YA novel The Dogs, as one to watch for in the coming months. I just finished it - and I agree - it was good! (Sourcebooks Fire is giving away two copies - the entry link is at the end of the post)

Cameron and his mom are always moving - on the run from Cameron's Dad. Their latest home is an old farmhouse, one that has a dark history. And that history seems to be reaching into the present....can Cameron trust what he thinks he's seeing? Can he trust what his Mom has told him about his Dad? And what's that he seeing out by the barn......

Stratton has created a great teen protagonist in Cameron - he's believable in his thoughts and actions.  Stratton expertly builds the tension slowly as Cameron questions what he's seeing and what is really happening. The reader has just as many questions - because it could all be in Cameron's mind. Is he mentally ill? Is his mother lying? Or could it possibly be real?

All the right elements are in place for a suspenseful read - old house with a sealed attic, moldering boxes in the basement that hint at the previous occupants, a taciturn old farmer next door, rumours and urban legends all add up to a spooky read.

Those who read YA fiction will enjoy The Dogs. It is at the younger end of the spectrum as Cameron is only fourteen.  (But this adult reader was completely caught up from first to last page.) Stratton tackles a number of serious issues throughout the book as well - mental illness, domestic abuse and bullying in an thoughtful and age appropriate manner.  Read an excerpt below or online.

"I go up to my bedroom. It’s at the top of the living-­room stairs, next to a small bathroom and near the big room over the kitchen. That’s the room Mom thought I’d pick, and I would have, except for the trapdoor in the ceiling. It’s sealed up with nails and paint. When I saw it, I asked Mom what she thought was up there.
“An attic.”
“Yeah, but what’s in it?” I pictured a dried-­up body, half eaten by mice. I mean, who seals up an empty attic? Anyway, that’s why I didn’t choose the big room. If I don’t see the hatch, it’s easier not to think about what’s on the other side.
The bedroom I picked came with an oak desk, a wooden chair, a night table with a lamp, and a metal-­frame bed. The mattress is new, unlike the wallpaper, which is stained and peeling along the seams near the window. Under the peels are layers of older wallpaper, one with little orange canaries on it. The window over my desk is the one good thing about my room. Looking out, I can see the barn with the fields all around and the woods in the distance. At night, the stars and the glow of the porch-­lamp light up bits of the barn and the first row of cornstalks.
I start to do my homework. Pretty soon, though, I’m looking out the window, watching the stars come out and trying to forget my life. I wonder who all are staring up at the moon right now. Are they wondering the same thing?
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch something moving by the barn. When I look, it disappears. Wait. There it is again at the cornfield. Some movement, some thing.
I count to twenty. Nothing. I relax. Then—­did that stalk move? I turn off my light so whatever’s out there can’t see in.
It’s probably just a breeze.
Or Mr. Sinclair. Or Cody and his gang.
Don’t be nuts. If it’s anything, it’s an animal. A coyote or a dog.
The dogs. I close my curtains. If I don’t look out, whatever’s there will go away. But I can’t not look. I sneak a peek. Nothing. Wait. By the barn. Is that a boy?
I blink. The boy is gone.
My eyes scan the barn. There’s a missing board up in the loft area. The more I stare, the more I think I see the boy staring back at me from the shadows behind the hole. He’s maybe ten, very pale, and he’s wearing one of those old Davy Crockett hats with the raccoon tail hanging from the back. Are those freckles on his cheeks?
Don’t be crazy. The barn’s too far away to see stuff like that.
The face disappears. I stare till I see double. The face swims back into view.
This is too weird. I close my eyes and try to clear my head by thinking about the bus and the Cheerios between Benjie’s teeth. When I open my eyes, everything’s normal. There’s no face. Nothing. Just the night.
And that’s how it stays.
I close my curtains, get ready for bed, and crawl under the covers. I hate the way I scare myself. It’s always the same and it’s always stupid. And the scared-­er I get, the more I talk to myself, which is even stupider.
Besides, even if there was a boy in the barn, what’s scary about that? Maybe he just likes exploring places like I do. Still, it’s weird he’s on our property, especially so late. I wonder where he lives. Who says he lives anywhere? Who says he’s real? What parents let a kid that young wander around at night?
Mom knocks on my door. “Cameron?”
“May I come in?”
I know she wants to give me a good-­night hug, but I told her to stop it when I was twelve, so she just stands in the doorway. “I know you didn’t mean anything. You’ve had a hard day. I’m sorry I overreacted.”
I hate it when she’s all understanding. It makes me feel like an even bigger jerk. “That’s okay. Mom, I really am sorry.”
“I know.” She pauses. “’Night, then. I love you.”
I want to say the l-­word back, but I feel dumb, so I just say,
“You too.”
Mom closes the door. I go to turn off my lamp and get flashes of Mr. Sinclair and the dogs and the kid I maybe saw in the barn. What’s out there in the dark, circling the house when we’re asleep? What could be out there?
I leave the light on."

Allan Stratton is an internationally published playwright and author. His awards include a Michael L. Printz Honor Award, multiple ALA picks and the Independent Publisher Book Award. You can connect with Allan Stratton on his website.

Sourcebooks Fire is giving away two copies of The Dogs by Allan Stratton. Enter using their Rafflecopter form below.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Star War Reads Day - Coming soon.....October 10th!

Have you got Star Wars Reads Day IV marked on your calendar? No? Well, its happening October 10/15. Not sure what it is? Well, its "a celebration of a galaxy far, far away and the joy of reading".

"DK is excited to be a prominent part of this annual global event that celebrates reading and all things Star Wars. With over 2,000 bookstores, libraries, and school participating across North America in 2014, this year's edition of Star Wars Reads Day is shaping up to be even bigger and better than ever."

DK has some great suggestions for you in their Star Wars Reads Day Boutique, including their new books - Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Force Awakens Stickerscapes.

And that's not all - DK has also created a special Star Wars Reads Day Page! There are downloadable activity sheets for kids, including word searches and colouring sheets.

The official Star Wars Reads Day site can be found here. Look for an event happening in your local bookstore or library! And may the Force be with you!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #72

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true.
But you can like one cover version better than another.....

US cover
UK cover
I love Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York and check it out everyday on Facebook. I'm really looking forward to Humans of New York: Stories coming out in October of this year.The US cover is on the left and the UK cover is on the right. I'm going with the US cover this week, hands down. I find it interesting that different portraits were chosen for each version. And I get that the words are the focus, but I don't like the faces covered up on the UK cover. Do you plan to read Humans of New York: Stories? Which cover do you prefer? You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature at A Bookworm's World.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A False Dawn - Tom Lowe

A False Dawn is the first book in Tom Lowe's Sean O'Brien series.

O'Brien was a police detective in Detroit, but with the death of his wife, he follows through on a promise he made to her. Quit the force and build a new life. He plans to fix up a cabin on backwater stretch in Florida. And live peacefully. It's a good plan until he discovers a dying young woman who whispers to him just before she dies......Well, once a detective, always a detective. O'Brien immerses himself in the search for who the girl was - and who beat her to death.

Lowe has created a strong, likable character in O'Brien that the listener can root for. I do like that he wasn't always right and made mistakes. There's a wealth of supporting characters. I was intrigued by a mysterious man named Joe Billie who appeared in the first few chapters - and then disappeared until his cameo in the final wrap up. Dave and Nick at the marina were engaging characters. I did find the 'bad guys' a bit cliched. Max the dog was a great addition to the cast.

The plot is ambitious and far reaching and on the dark side. (Fair warning to gentle listeners - there are some graphic scenes and strong language.) I had to suspend disbelief that the FBI would let a retired detective take such a leading role.

The Florida setting was well described and painted vivid mental images.

Listening to an audio book is a different experience than reading the novel. We tend to hear every detail - details we may have glossed over with a printed copy. My peeve was O'Brien's similes - even in stressful situations he's got something to compare. By the end they were simply annoying.

A False Dawn is a good first book and I would listen to another. (There are now five books in the series)

The reader, Michael David Axtell, was quite good. He has a clear, resonant voice with a little gravelly undertone that matched the mental image I had created for the character. He interpreted the book well, matching his inflection to the scenes. Listen to a sample of A False Dawn.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Over the Counter #282

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Two books for the knitters in the crowd today....

First up is Arm Knitting by Mary Beth Temple.

From the publisher, Design Originals:

"There's a new craze sweeping the knitting world. Arm knitting is the fun way to make a gorgeous, chunky-knit scarf in only 30 minutes, using your arms instead of knitting needles. Why not try it out? This book makes it so easy to whip up simple and stylish scarves, cowls, wraps, and capes. Knitting expert Mary Beth Temple shows you how to master basic arm knitting techniques, with clear instructions and step-by-step color photos. She offers 15 original projects arranged by level of difficulty. You can get started making something beautiful immediately, and then advance to more ambitious creations as your skills increase. Arm knitting is the quickest way there is to knit a fashionable scarf, and you can do it anywhere. All you need are your own two hands, a few skeins of bulky yarn, and a half-hour to spare. Before you know it you'll become an expert arm knitter, and you'll be right on trend, too!"

Or perhaps you want to use two hands and no arms? How about Geek Knits by Joan of Dark, AKA Toni Carr.

From the publisher, St. Martin's Griffin:

"Are you ready to embrace your inner geek? This fun and fashionable compendium of knitting patterns definitely leans toward the Dark Side--but who says the Dark Side can't be chic and colorful, too? With projects ranging from easy to advanced, there's something here for everyone: sci-fi geeks, dice rollers, and fantasy enthusiasts alike. And if you're less into the culture and just need something unique to hold your comic book collection, author Joan of Dark has that covered, too.

Inside you'll find fun and funky projects modeled by some very familiar faces, including René Auberjonois of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and his Blue Box Scarf, John Carpenter and his Asylum Comic Book Cover, and George R. R. Martin with his trusty knitted Dire Wolf!

Whether you consider yourself aligned with the Chaotic Good or take a more Neutral Evil approach to life (and knitting), Geek Knits has everything you need to dress the part."

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Girl in the Woods: A Memoir - Aspen Matis

Aspen Matis's newly released memoir, Girl in the Woods, had me captivated from first page to last.

From the book's cover: "On my second night of college, I was raped. Shattered and alone, I fled to the Mexican border and headed north through 2,650 miles of desert and mountains to Canada, walking the height of America in search of home. This is the story of how my recklessness became my salvation."

More and more, we hear and read stories of walking as a form of therapy and healing. And I agree - walking clears the brain and allows time to think. The physicality of walking such a distance through so many climates is truly overwhelming and simply remarkable.

Matis led a sheltered childhood, allowing her mother to make many of her decisions, including dressing her (up until she was sixteen) Yet, on the other hand, she had attempted other solo extended hikes by lying to her parents about where she was. She purposely found a college a great distance from her childhood home to try and find her own footing. But she is unprepared in many ways, both mentally and emotionally for what life away from home will bring. And as the introduction says - the second day there....

I found the first few chapters of Girl in the Woods so compelling and couldn't put the book down. I couldn't wait to see where this walk wold take Aspen - both figuratively and literally. Real life is so unpredictable. Does Matis make choices that everyone would agree with? Absolutely not. Some of those choices put her life in danger - more than once. But, the courage to attempt such a journey has to be applauded. That journey is not just physical - Girl in the Woods is a 'coming of age' story for Matis as she struggles to shed her passivity and find her own footing in the adult world. A large part of that is dealing with the rape and her own sexuality.

The descriptions of the trail, the people and the scenery were detailed and vivid and had me imagining what it would be to do such a walk. But this couch potato will continue to live vicariously through others who share their stories. Inevitable comparisons will be made to Cheryl Strayed's Wild. The two women's walks were at different points in their lives and their journeys reflect that.

I am fascinated with memoirs - the baring of someone's personal life for public consumption - and criticism. I can't criticize someone's choices and life - I can only say thank you for sharing. Does Matis find her happy ending?  Yes - "the trail has shown me how to change" - and no - but that's another story. Isn't that life though? Moving ahead one step at a time, never quite knowing what's around the next bend. Girl in the Woods was an excellent read for me. Read an excerpt of Girl in the Woods.

Aspen Matis now lives in Greenwich Village, where she's finishing her degree at The New School and working on a novel. You can connect with Aspen Matis on her website as well as on Twitter and find her on Facebookand on Instagram.

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Giveaway - The Lower Quarter - Elise Blackwell

“Blackwell has created a vibrant amalgamation of mystery, classic noir, erotica . . . . An artful, gritty love story, eulogy, and survivor narrative for the city of New Orleans post-Katrina.” Kirkus (Starred review)

Did that quick review of Elise Blackwell's just released novel, The Lower Quarter, grab your interest?

Here's more from the publisher, Unbridled Books:

"As residents begin to return to New Orleans after Katrina, the discovery of a mysterious body reopens the investigation into a long-missing European painting, leading four lives to intersect and be forever altered.

In her studio in the Lower Quarter, Johanna restores paintings by aspiring artists and even those rare, valuable pieces by the famous. The work restores her, too. She needs to believe in reinvention, having escaped the brutal world of sex trafficking, from which she was saved by Clay Fontenot, a disreputable, massively wealthy young man from an old New Orleans family. Marion bartends to pay the bills. If times are rough, she hires herself out as a dominatrix, which introduces her to Clay. She’s had disappointments in her young life, and loss, so she doesn’t let herself think much about her situation. But she does think about her love of painting, about possible futures.

Elizam, an art thief, is out of prison on a fancy work release program. His employer asks him to find a missing painting that they believe is in New Orleans. In this hot, fragile, broken city, he sets out to return a painting because he must. No way is he going back to jail. And so begins The Lower Quarter, a page-turner about crime, art, violence, and renewal—of a city, of hearts, of paintings, of hope."

"The Lower Quarter is a beautifully written book. Elise Blackwell’s work has always been intelligent, nuanced, and finely wrought, but The Lower Quarter is her best novel yet: a mesmerizing story of art, resilience, and life after catastrophe." — Emily St. John Mandel

"Elise Blackwell is the author of five novels: Hunger, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, Grub, An Unfinished Score, and The Lower Quarter. Her work has been translated into several languages, and her books have been named to numerous best-of-the-year lists, adapted for the stage, and served as the inspiration for a Decemberists’ song. Originally from southern Louisiana, Elise has lived in assorted far-flung places and currently resides in South Carolina with her husband, the novelist David Bajo, and their daughter, Esme. New Orleans remains her favorite city in the world." You can connect with Elise Blackwell on Twitter as well as on Facebook.

If your interest is piqued, I have a copy of The Lower Quarter to giveaway, courtesy of Unbridled Books. Open to US and Canada, no PO boxes please. Ends Oct. 10/15. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes: A Short Story - Karin Slaughter

I am eagerly awaiting the release of Karin Slaughter's next book, Pretty Girls. (Sept 29/15) Okay, hopping up and down. And then I discovered this new short story from Slaughter - Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes - a quick fix for the short term. And even better - it's the prequel to Pretty Girls!! (Squee!)

Athens, Georgia 1991. University of Georgia. Although Julia's family lives in town, she has chosen to live on campus - and "reinvent herself, be the person she had always wanted to be: strong, confident, happy, content..." But she's a bit worried too - five weeks ago another young, beautiful girl went missing. And now Julia is obsessed with her disappearance. She pitches it as a story to her journalism prof and her research only serves to ramp up her interest - and her anxiety...." All those pretty girls. All missing. Or taken. Or being kept. Or maybe their bodies just hadn't been found."

Slaughter is a master of building suspense. I found myself tensing up in my chair, not wanting to keep reading, afraid of what was going to happen. But, of course I kept going. As a reader, we're totally caught up in Julia's fears, warning her "no, don't do that...." But as with all good suspense stories (and scary movies) our protagonist goes ahead and does it anyway......And I'll leave you with that - watch for my review of Pretty Girls! You can connect with Karin Slaughter on Facebook

Saturday, September 19, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #71

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true. 
But you can like one cover version better than another..

UK cover
US cover
Here's another one I'm looking forward to! Robert Crais' new entry in the Elvis Cole/Jo Pike series releases in November in the US but not until January in the UK. It'll be worth the wait. The US cover is on the left and the UK cover is on the right. Although both covers are set at night, font colours and general idea is the same. But, I find the US cover a little dark. The dog is in both shots.... Hmm, I'm going to go with the UK cover this week. Which cover do you prefer? Do you plan to read The Promise?
You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature at
A Bookworm's World.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Over The Counter #281

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? All about eating this week....

First up is Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday.

From the publisher, Ecco Press:

"A journalist and blogger takes us on a colorful and spicy gastronomic tour through Viet Nam in this entertaining, offbeat travel memoir, with a foreword by Anthony Bourdain. Growing up in a small town in northern England, Graham Holliday wasn’t keen on travel. But in his early twenties, a picture of Hanoi sparked a curiosity that propelled him halfway across the globe. Graham didn’t want to be a tourist in an alien land, though; he was determined to live it. An ordinary guy who liked trying interesting food, he moved to the capital city and embarked on a quest to find real Vietnamese food. In Eating Viet Nam, he chronicles his odyssey in this strange, enticing land infused with sublime smells and tastes.

Traveling through the back alleys and across the boulevards of Hanoi—where home cooks set up grills and stripped-down stands serving sumptuous fare on blue plastic furniture—he risked dysentery, giardia, and diarrhea to discover a culinary treasure-load that was truly foreign and unique. Holliday shares every bite of the extraordinary fresh dishes, pungent and bursting with flavor, which he came to love in Hanoi, Saigon, and the countryside. Here, too, are the remarkable people who became a part of his new life, including his wife, Sophie."

A feast for the senses, funny, charming, and always delicious, Eating Viet Nam will inspire armchair travelers, curious palates, and everyone itching for a taste of adventure."

Next up is Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City by Elizabeth Minchilli.

From the publisher, St. Martin's Griffin:

"Elizabeth Minchilli has been eating her way through Rome since she was 12 years old. Eating Rome, based on her popular blog Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, is her homage to the city that feeds her, literally and figuratively. Her story is a personal, quirky and deliciously entertaining look at some of the city's monuments to food culture. Join her as she takes you on a stroll through her favorite open air markets; stop by the best gelato shops; order plates full of carbonara and finish the day with a brilliant red Negroni. Coffee, pizza, artichokes and grappa are starting points for mouth-watering stories about this ancient city. Illustrated with Minchilli's beautiful full-color photos and enriched with her favorite recipes for Roman classics like vignarola, carciofi alla romana and carbonara, Eating Rome is the book that you want if you are planning your first trip to Rome or if you have been to Rome a dozen times. And even if you just want to spend a few hours armchair traveling, Elizabeth Minchilli is the person you want by your side......"

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Giveaway - Quicksand - Carolyn Baugh

I've got a wonderful giveaway today for those of you who love thrillers and mysteries - Quicksand: A Nora Khalil Novel. This is the first in a new series from Carolyn Baugh.

From the publisher, Forge Books:

"Officer Nora Khalil is used to navigating different terrains. As part of a joint task force set up by the Philadelphia Police Department, the FBI, and the local sheriff's offices, she works to keep Philly's mean streets safe from gang violence, while trying to honor the expectations of her traditional Egyptian-American family. She can hold her own against hardened murderers and rapists, and her years as a competitive runner ensure that no suspect ever escapes on foot.

Nora tries to keep her professional and personal lives separate, but when a mutilated body is discovered in a tough section of town, Nora must rely on both her police training and her cultural background to find out whether this is another gang-related killing or the grisly evidence of something even darker and more disturbing." Read an excerpt of Quicksand.

"I’ve spent twenty-five years acquiring ninja Arabic skills, and that ability has allowed me access to worlds not everyone gets to tread. I wanted to pay homage to some of the tough level-headedness I’ve found in so many of the women I’ve come to know.” —Carolyn Baugh on her motivations to write Quicksand."

"Carolyn Baugh holds a Master's and a Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in Arabic and Islamic Studies. She is currently Assistant Professor of History at Gannon University, where she is director of the Women's Studies Program. In addition to various scholarly articles, she is the author of The View from Garden City." You can connect with Carolyn Baugh on her website.

If Quicksand sounds like a book you'd like to read,I have a copy to giveaway,courtesy of Forge Books.Open to US and Canada, no PO boxes please. Ends Oct 3/15. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

No Cure For Love - Peter Robinson

As a die-hard Peter Robinson fan, I was excited to see that No Cure For Love was being re-released on the 20th anniversary of the first publication. I've read all of the Inspector Banks series and the recent stand-alones, but this is one title I had never gotten my hands on.

A great prologue sets the tenor for No Cure For Love. Actress Sarah Broughton has received yet another letter from a decidedly unbalanced and dangerous 'admirer'. Detective Arvo Hughes of the LAPD Threat Management Unit is contacted by Sarah's agent. Sarah herself doesn't seem as worried as her agent - and Arvo. Until an offering is left on the beach outside her home. And Arvo discovers that Sarah has a past she's not keen to talk about. The threats escalate as does the action and mystery. (This plot could be set in today' world given the rise of society's celebrity worship)

"...he also knew that all the statistics in the world can't protect you from the random element, the unpredictable, the one that just doesn't fit. Call him the psycho, as Joe had, or the serial killer, whatever you want, but know that he will take all you think you know, believe and understand, and turn it inside out right in front of your eyes before ripping it to shreds." Robinson has created a downright frightening antagonist.

Arvo is such a great character! I can see bits of Banks in him. Arvo is a movie fan ('50's sci-fi), instead of music. But he too is just as engaging a character - more than capable and tenacious on the job, affable but vulnerable in private. I enjoyed his partner Maria as well and the give and take between her and Arvo.

This is early Peter Robinson. I can see definitely see a difference between current works and this past book. His style has matured and is now one of the best mystery series out there. However, I do have to say that I enjoyed this book. Sarah is an actress on a television police drama. Picture t.v. cop shows from twenty years ago and you'll have the feel of No Cure For Love. The whodunit is excellent - there are some references to the final reveal that sharp readers will catch.

Twenty years have passed - is Arvo still on the job? Still in the same unit? (Goodness knows, stalkers abound) Could we maybe have an update - a new book featuring Arvo? Maybe a cross pond tale with both Banks and Hughes? Hmmm, sounds good to me! I'm quite pleased to have added No Cure For Love to my collection. Read an excerpt of No Cure For Love. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Giveaway - The Mystery of the Lost Cèzanne - M.L. Longworth

Hello mystery readers! I've got a wonderful giveaway for you today - The Mystery of the Lost Cèzanne is the fifth entry in M.L. Longworth's  Verlaque and Bonnet mystery series. (But can be read as a stand-alone!)

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

"The fifth entry in this acclaimed series finds Verlaque and Bonnet investigating a murder and the provenance of a mysterious painting.

Like Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, M. L. Longworth’s enchanting mystery series blends clever whodunits with gustatory delights and the timeless appeal of Provence. The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne adds a new twist by immersing Antoine and Marine in a clever double narrative that costars Provence’s greatest artist.

A friend in his cigar club asks Antoine to visit René Rouquet, a retired postal worker who has found a rolled-up canvas in his apartment. As the apartment once belonged to Cézanne, Rouquet is convinced he’s discovered a treasure. But when Antoine arrives at the apartment, he finds René dead, the canvas missing, and a mysterious art history professor standing over the body.

When the painting is finally recovered, the mystery only deepens. The brushwork and color all point to Cézanne. But who is the smiling woman in the painting? She is definitely not the dour Madame Cézanne. Who killed René? Who stole the painting? And what will they do to get it back?" Read an excerpt of The Mystery of the Lost Cèzanne.

For a great introduction to the Verlaque and Bonnet series, you can listen to NPR’s “Morning Edition” / “Crime in the City” profile of M.L. Longworth from last summer: “Mystery Writer Weaves Intricate Puzzles in Sleepy French Town”. NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley praises Longworth’s mysteries, which “plunge you into a languid world of epicurean pleasures and good living.”

Photo: © Marcus Lyon and The Glassworks
"M.L. Longworth has lived in Aix-en-Provence since 1997. She has written about the region for The Washington Post, The Times (U.K.), The Independent (U.K.), and Bon Appétit Magazine. She is the author of the Verlaque and Bonnet series, as well as of a bilingual collection of essays, Une Américaine en Provence. She divides her time between Aix and Paris, where she teaches writing at NYU’s Paris campus." You can connect with M.L. Longworth on her website.

If The Mystery of the Lost Cèzanne sounds like a book you'd like to read, I have a copy to giveaway to one lucky reader. Open to US only, ends Sept. 26/15. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Zig Zag Girl - Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths writes one of my favourite series - the Ruth Galloway mysteries. Having devoured the last one, I was resigned to a least another year 'til the next. And then....I discovered that she has started another series! The Zig Zag Girl is the first in the Magic Men Mysteries.

Post WWII England in 1950 is the setting. Detective Edgar Stephens is assigned to a horrific crime. A young woman's body is delivered to the station - in three pieces in three boxes. And Stephens can't help but be reminded of a magic trick - The Zig Zag Girl. Now, why would he be reminded of that? Well, Stephens was part of a covert team during the war that used tricks and deception to discombobulate the 'Jerrys".

Stephens has kept his distance from the unit in the years following the war. But this murder and his investigation inevitably reunite him with the Magic Men. Notably Max Mephisto - the inventor of the Zig Zag Girl trick.

What I absolutely love about Griffith's books are her characters. They're appealing, unusual and engaging. Each has a rich background and personality - I liked them immediately and look forward to seeing them again. Edgar and Max each have a voice in the Zig Zag Girl, so we get a view from each of their perspectives.

What I also liked was that the mystery has to be solved the 'old fashioned way' - without the use of cell phones, computer databases and modern technology. Instead we're along for the ride as Stephens and Mephisto follow the clues and connections, making their own deductions.

Griffiths uses misdirection, one of a magician's tricks, to keep the mystery going, sending the reader's suspicions in the wrong direction.  (But clever readers will suss it out) The setting is fascinating - the world of variety shows and magicians was fun and full of detail.

The Zig Zag Girl was a great introduction to a new set of characters - this reader will be looking for the second in this series. (But Ruth is still my favourite!) Read an excerpt of The Zig Zag Girl.

And the inspiration for this new series? There truly was a group of camouflage experts in WWII called the Magic Gang. And Griffith's grandfather also was on the variety circuit as a comedian. You can connect with Elly Griffiths on Twitter.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover #70

- You can't judge a book by its cover - which is very true. 
But you can like one cover version better than another.....

US cover
UK cover
Michael Connelly's new book, The Crossing releases this fall and it is most definitely on my must read list. The US cover is on the left and the UK cover is on the right. So, at first glance, I thought they were identical. Closer inspection reveals different fonts, font sizes and colours - and a trestle that is coming or going. The UK is certainly bolder, but it's a bit too sepia toned for me. So this week I'm going with the US cover. Which cover do you prefer? Do you plan on reading The Crossing? You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover is a regular Saturday feature at A Bookworm's World.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Film on Friday #41 - Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Truth Be Told (and a giveaway!)

Nothing warms you up like a feel good movie on a rainy day. And Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Truth Be Told is guaranteed to warm your heart.

I had a chance to have a sneak peek, but don't worry, you haven't missed it - it premieres on Sunday, September 13th at 9pm E/PT /8C on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

In today's world of electronic communication, it's becoming increasingly rare to receive letters. But the four characters of this series have a dedication to the written letter. They're US postal employees who work in the Dead Letter Office. Think of them as postal detectives (POstables), dedicated to "tracking down intended recipients of deliverable mail. Their missions take them out of the office and into an unpredictable world where redirected letters and packages can save lives, solve crimes, reunite old loves and change futures by arriving late but somehow always on time."

This time it's a partially burned letter with only fragments left to piece together and some grains of sand. The team manage to find the recipient, but take things a bit further when they're asked to find the sender. As Norman says "Some letters deserve special attention."

Signed, Sealed, Delivered stars Eric Mabius (Oliver), Kristin Booth (Shane), Crystal Lowe (Rita) and Geoff Gustafson (Norman). The four have great chemistry between them. But, there's an added bit of chemistry between two pairs. I thoroughly enjoy watching the budding, genuinely caring relationships evolving. The personal lives of the characters often have tie-ins to the letters. This time, it's Oliver's life - his father returns after a fifteen year estrangement. Family, fatherhood and faith - and unconditional love are all explored in this timely, inspiring, uplifting movie.

I love the Dead Letter office set itself - I think I'd love working there, piecing together clues and making those connections happen.

Hallmark movies just make me wish the world could be like this - especially today, September 11th. If you're looking for a family friendly movie with lots wholesome, inspirational themes and values - this series is for you.

You can keep up with the cast on Twitter: @HallmarkMovie, @Eric_Mabius, @kristintbooth, @RealCrystalLowe, @geoffgustafson, @TheRealGregoryH, @MarthaMoonWater, #POstables

This series will remind you of Touched By An Angel. And that's because Martha Williamson is the executive producer of both series! And thanks to Martha, I have some swag from Touched By An Angel to giveaway to a fan. *A small silver picture frame that was given as a gift by Martha to the Touched By An Angel crew during the series’ production *A vintage novel based on the series *Classic Touched By An Angel themed greeting cards that include a CD single of a song from the show *A Touched By An Angel logo pen. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.

Watch a preview of Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Truth Be Told below. And watch for the next movie with the POstables - Signed Sealed Delivered: The Impossible Dream will air on Sunday, October 4 at 9pm ET/PT, 8C on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. (I'll be watching!)

Film on Friday #40 - Little Glory - Review AND Giveaway

I love indie films - they don't cater to the masses and you just never know what gems you'll find.

My latest indie watch is Little Glory starring Cameron Bright (Twilight Saga), Hannah Murray (Game of Thrones) and young Isabella Blake-Thomas.

Bright (Shawn) and Blake-Thomas (Julie) play siblings living with a widowed, abusive, alcoholic father. When he suddenly dies, Shawn is sure he can raise Julie on her own, counting on his father's life insurance policy. Their Aunt Monica is just as sure that Shawn can't raise Julie and sues for custody.

Of course, the viewer wants Shawn to step up and take charge. But despite his proclamations that he can do it, he falls short over and over again. And the viewer despairs - and begins to despise Shawn for his selfishness and the hurt that he causes to Julie. And he does some pretty crappy stuff. Bright plays the part well - he's absolutely believable as a swaggering young punk. (There's a wee bit of an Elvis-like smolder in the eyes, don't you think?) Blake-Thomas was really good as Julie - she gives a strong performance as a kid used to navigating the moods of her male relatives, but needing and craving more from life. The one role I had trouble embracing was that of Jessica, Shawn's girlfriend. I found their initial meeting oddly awkward and unconvincing. Her attempts to be enigmatic just seemed stilted and somewhat foolish. I never really bought into their relationship. The supporting cast of Shawn's friends were perfectly played - vulgar, rude, arrogant and one of them is downright dangerous.

Balancing the ugly out are some poignant moments as both siblings grieve for their mother. And there are bright spots as Shawn does step out of his immature, self-absorbed state and interacts positively with Julie -  and you hope that it sticks......

Little Glory is another take on 'coming of age' from writers John Engel and François Verjans and Director Vincent Lannoo.  I had thought things would play out as I expected, but a nice little twist was thrown in at the end.

The movie is set in a worn out working class neighborhood and is shot in somewhat sepia tones in the beginning, echoing the tiredness of it all. The soundtrack was quite good. Take note that this film is unrated - there are a few disturbing scenes.

Have a sneak peek at the trailer below. And if you think you'd like to watch Little Glory, I have a copy to giveaway courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment. Enter using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US, Canada and International. Ends Sept. 26/15.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Over the Counter #280

What books caught my eye this week as they pass over the library counter and under my scanner? This week it's pictorials - from the animal world....

First up is We Animals by Jo-Anne McArthur

From the publisher, Lantern Books:

 "Drawn from a thousand photos taken over fifteen years, We Animals illustrates and investigates animals in the human environment: whether they're being used for food, fashion and entertainment, or research, or are being rescued to spend their remaining years in sanctuaries. Award-winning photojournalist and animal advocate Jo-Anne McArthur provides a valuable lesson about our treatment of animals, makes animal industries visible and accountable, and widens our circle of compassion to include all sentient beings."

Next up is Dragonflies by Pieter Van Dokkum.

From the publisher, Yale University Press:

"Almost without our noticing, dragonflies dart through our world, flying, seeing, hunting, mating. Their lives are as mysterious as their gossamer wings are beautiful. In this book Pieter van Dokkum reveals many of the dragonfly’s secrets, capturing the stages of this striking insect’s life cycle in unprecedented close-up photographs. He documents scenes of dragonfly activity seldom witnessed and rarely photographed.

The book begins on a moonlit summer night, when an alien-looking larva crawls out of the water and transforms into a fully formed dragonfly. In the following chapters we witness dew-covered dragonflies sparkling in the morning sun, then a pair of mating dragonflies moving through the air in a twelve-legged, eight-winged dance. In the final chapter, one generation dies as the next prepares to leave the water and begin its own winged journey. Each stage is documented through van Dokkum’s inquisitive lens and accompanied by information on various species of dragonflies and damselflies, their metamorphosis, and their ecological importance as insect predators."

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Those Girls - Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens returns with her fourth novel, Those Girls.

Three sisters go on the run to escape their abusive father. Their truck breaks down in a small town. And two young men offer to help them get it fixed and they know a ranch where they can pick up day work for cash. Huh huh - you got it - trouble ahead signs should be flashing neon.

There's just no nice way to couch this - the girls are held captive and raped repeatedly. Then they escape and reinvent themselves. And eighteen years later one of them goes back!? And guess what happens....

I was disappointed with this latest from Stevens. I found it to be overly graphic, sensationalized and it seemed to borrow heavily from recent headlines in Canada, capitalizing on violent crimes against women.

Though the characters go through horrific events, I never connected with them - I found then flat and one dimensional. There's no doubt about the 'bad' guys - they're also one dimensional and hackneyed.

The saving grace of this book is the love between the sisters and their desire to stick together. But honestly, they make some really asinine and frankly unbelievable decisions.

Did I finish it? Yes, I was strangely compelled to see it through to the end - I was still flabbergasted that part two of this book was a repeat of part one - with another generation reliving the same story.

A miss for me. If you're so inclined, here's an excerpt of Those Girls.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

BabyLit - Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

My interest in children's books has been reignited since becoming a Grandma. We're still in the board book stage. I've just come across the BabyLit series which combines classic literature and a learning opportunity to wee ones in board books.

The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Taking inspiration from Frances Hodgson Burnett's story, Adams and Oliver have produced a colorful garden within the pages of this sturdy little book. The artwork is bright and vibrant, sure to catch a little one's eye. Each flower is named and recognizable. The opposite page has a quote about each flower surrounded by line drawings of the same. My only concern is that the 'words' page is a wee bit dull compared to the artwork page.

The Secret Garden is a wonderful way to introduce a baby/toddler to flowers and colors. Peek inside The Secret Garden.

And now that we've worked on colors, how about some language with Don Quixote: A Spanish Language primer, also by Jennifer Adams with art by Alison Oliver.

The basics of this classic tale of a brave Spanish knight are illustrated in bright, bold drawings. The same picture with slight changes is English on one side and Spanish on the opposite. Man, books, armor, horse, lady, windmills, friend, castle, goat and bed are the featured pictures and words. And isn't that the story in a nutshell?! Phonetic pronunciations for both English and Spanish speaker is on the back cover. Have a sneak peek inside Don Quixote.

From the BabyLit site: "With the timeless popularity of classic writers like Lewis Carroll, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare, BabyLit® is a fashionable way to introduce your toddler to the world of classic literature. At BabyLit, we believe in the power of reading. Why? Because books take us places. Good places. And when we read with a child, we go places together. It’s more than just reading. It’s learning. It’s experiencing. It’s growing. If a million copies of our books encourage just one parent to read with their child, we will have succeeded. And printed a lot of books."

These two will making the trip with Grandma to read with my little guy this weekend!