20 September 2014

Review: A Man Called Ove | Fredrik Backman

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Ove is a cranky and seemingly bitter old man, missing his late wife and without purpose in his life. He's a stickler for the rules (no cars in the residential area), stubborn (won't turn the heaters up in winter because it's too expensive) and resolute about what is right and wrong. Oh, and he loves his SAAB.

Everything changes though when a family move in next door and Ove's routines are completely shattered when pregnant Parvaneh takes an immediate interest in him.

Ove is a practical man, and his gruffness and short temper are endearing (and sometimes funny), making it hard not to like him. Some of the stories from his past are amusing, some heartbreaking and it was interesting to watch events and people shape his character over the years. I especially liked the backstory between Ove and Rune (a neighbour, former-friend and fellow member of the Resident's Association).

A Man Called Ove is based in Sweden and translated - extremely well - into English.  Fellow reviewers have admitted that Ove's story brought them to tears, however I wasn't as deeply moved. I found A Man Called Ove an enjoyable read and think it will be popular with readers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

16 September 2014

Review: This Is A Book | Demetri Martin

I love a good stitch-inducing laugh, and Demetri Martin is one of my all time favourite comedians. I had the pleasure of seeing him live in Melbourne a few years ago and laughed so hard it hurt.  As well as being an amazing entertainer, I was also struck by his observations on the mundane as well as the bigger themes in life.

This Is A Book is Demetri's first book and is a collection of all sorts of jokes, short stories, poems, graphs, sketches and even palindromes.

If you can't see Demetri Martin live then This Is A Book is the next best thing although of course doesn't include Demetri's musical talent and on-stage presence.

Every year I check the Melbourne International Comedy Festival program in the hope of seeing Demetri Martin's name included in the list of international comedians and live for the day I can see him on stage again.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

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Excerpt from This Is A Book by Demetri Martin

08 September 2014

Review: Tidying Up Art | Ursus Wehrli

Last year I read The Art of Clean Up - Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli, and this is his earlier offering, Tidying Up Art.

Again we see Wehrli breaking down (in this case an image or famous artwork) and re-organising it so that it's neat and tidy.

Many of the artworks chosen were examples of modern art, abstract art and cubism and while these were entertaining, to be honest, I would have preferred some more selections over a wider selection of styles.

Nevertheless, Tidying Up Art did make me smile and ponder his work for some time, although it didn't make me laugh out loud the way The Art of Clean Up did.

Having enjoyed this series so much, and admiring Wehrli's technique, I've since discovered that there's a term for what he does and it's called knoll or knolling.
Knolling is the process of arranging like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organisation.  
In fact, you can see this 'method' of organisation everywhere as soon as you start to look.  Have you heard of knolling? I love it!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
Example of the knolling method of organisation
The image above is an example of knolling, you can check out more here: 5 Amazing Examples of Knolling Photography.

06 September 2014

Review: The Tournament | Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly is a block-busting Australian author known for his larger than life, action-adventure novels, like Ice Station and Templehowever his latest offering, The Tournament, is a little different.

Set in 1546, The Tournament is the story of young Bess (future Queen Elizabeth I) who flees the plague with her tutor Roger Ascham, to travel across Europe to Constantinople to attend a chess tournament.  The tournament is being hosted by Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Lands of the Ottomans in order to determine the chess champion of the known world.

Dignitaries and chess players from all empires are in attendance and what takes place on this journey will have repercussions for Bess for the rest of her life.  They may even shape her beliefs and impact her rule when she ascends the throne.

The Tournament reads like a medieval murder mystery, of which I've read plenty and tend to enjoy.  I love reading fictional accounts of the life of Elizabeth I and this is the first I've read that focusses purely on her life as a youngster in her formative years.

This is also the first book I've ever come across that contains a warning at the beginning. In the warning (written by the author himself), Reilly recommends that this book be read by mature readers [only] as it contains subject matter of an adult nature.

In a time where sex sells and near naked bodies appear in advertisements, music and television everywhere, I admire Reilly for his firm beliefs about what is acceptable - and what is not - for young readers.  The adult content mentioned is of a sexual nature, and involves sexual practices of the day not unfamiliar to historical fiction set in this time period, but I just can't help but respect Reilly for his stance.  More authors should do the same.

If you love chess you'll love The Tournament, but even someone as unfamiliar with the game as myself was not lost (or bored) by the game commentary.  Essentially a crime novel, The Tournament kept me engaged and was a great read.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

If you enjoy a good medieval murder mystery, check out the Hugh Corbett series by Paul Doherty (I've read all 17 of them) or Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom.

Click here to buy your own copy of The Tournament from Boomerang Books; which is where my copy came from :)

04 September 2014

Review: Flesh House | Stuart MacBride

Stuart MacBride is the legendary Scottish crime writer behind the protagonist Detective Sergeant Logan McRae, and Flesh House is the fourth in the series.

I fell in love with Stuart MacBride after seeing him in an interview some time ago.  He made me laugh and was instantly likeable, so I decided to read one of his many novels (14 at last count).  I settled on Flesh House because the plot sounded interesting and it was one of the higher rating novels when I added it to my TBR list.  

So, how was it?

Flesh House was very dark and much more than I was expecting in terms of the nature of the grim murders and the subject of cannibalism.  I do have the stomach for dark crime and sometimes horror, particularly if there's an interesting character flaw or a different perspective on humanity but this was a little too much for me.

When reading Flesh House, I was unexpectedly grossed out at times and repulsed by the killer's (known as the flesher) opinions and treatment of fellow human beings.  But I guess that was the point.

There were some memorable characters and DI Steel was definitely one of them - a tough, chain-smoking, foul mouthed, ass kicking lesbian that didn't seem to do much work.  Set in Aberdeen, there were flashes of humour and I enjoyed the newspaper montages scattered throughout the novel.

Perhaps I should have selected a different novel, but I'm interested to know how you decide which book to read when approaching a new author with a considerable backlist.  How do you choose?

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

Click here to buy Flesh House from Boomerang Books

27 August 2014

Interview with Tom Rob Smith, author of Child 44 and The Farm

Author Tom Rob Smith
Photo credit: James Hopkirk
Tom, thanks so much for your time and for joining me at Carpe Librum. I recently read The Farm, and wow! I was thoroughly gripped from the very beginning, and exclaimed out loud 3 times during the novel I was so entranced by your writing. Are you surprised by its success? (Published earlier this year and already the film rights have been sold).
Thanks, I’m really pleased you enjoyed the novel. The notion of surprise is a hard one to unpick. The truth is you never know how a book is going to be received by readers. You hope they’ll respond positively and connect with the material. You work hard to try and achieve that reaction but in the end, it’s out of your hands, so there’s always an element of surprise.

Without any spoilers, have you found the majority of your readers side with one particular parent?
I’m amazed by the variety of different reactions. This connects to your previous question, readers have such incredibly contrasting feelings, it’s quite remarkable to me, and fascinating.

Given the inspiration for The Farm was based on real events in your own family, how have your parents responded to the novel and upcoming film?

They’ve supported it – they read all the drafts, they were at the launch, and my mum is coming with me to the book fair in Gothenborg. The novel is a work of fiction, and all the characters are my creations, so the only intersection with reality is the concept of whether to believe your mum is insane, or your dad is a criminal.

I’m really looking forward to watching The Farm when it comes to the big screen, how much involvement will you have on the project? Will you be involved in any of the casting decisions?

This time round, I’m going to be involved.

Where do you do most of your writing and when do you do your best work?
In my study, but I’ve recently bought a very thin new laptop and I quite like working in public spaces now, it makes me view the writing in a different light, which is useful.

I’m very much a morning writer, I start early, if I’m not at my desk by 6.30AM I feel the day has got off to a bad start.

Do you listen to music when you write or do you prefer silence? Do you have a messy workspace or do you prefer a clutter free environment for writing?

I work in silence, mostly, but if I need to write in the afternoon, or evening, I’ll use music. My study is very tidy, but not obsessively so.

After falling in love with The Farm (your latest release), I read your debut novel Child 44 and the first thing I noticed was the different writing styles. Was this intentional or a result of the contemporary nature of The Farm versus Stalinist Russia in Child 44?

The big shift was from a third person narrative to a first person narrative, from a voice that the reader trusted emphatically, to a voice the reader questioned. But sure, the change in setting and the movement from historic to contemporary will have played a big part too.

Can you tell us about the research you undertake? What is some of the more unusual resource material you've consulted or research you've undertaken?

There’s nothing particularly unusual about my research, I just read a lot of books, as much as possible. The travel is useful too, but I would place all my emphasis on the importance of books, far more than the internet, which is full of brief extracts, bullet points, but for the internet, a few pages of text looks long, when in fact, it wouldn’t even be enough to constitute an introduction to a book. 

Did you buy these books or borrow them from the library? Do you prefer paper or e-books?
I bought them, even though I had very little money at the time, because I wanted to make a psychological commitment to finishing the novel [Child 44]. I’m glad I did, because they now sit on my shelves, and I feel a sort of connection to them. 

I much prefer hard copies of books, partly because I love having them on bookshelves. E-Books are spectacularly convenient though, particularly when traveling. 

Child 44 has been translated into 36 languages, is a major bestseller and quickly attracted the interests of Ridley Scott. It’s due to hit the big screen in April 2015 and I was wondering if your script to screen success is due to your experience and background in TV and screenwriting. What do you think?

I think writing in any medium helps writing in other mediums, even when they’re very different forms. Writing, for me, is about story and character and that’s true for novels and screenplays.

With regards to the movie of CHILD 44, I actually saw it recently for the first time, and it’s sensational. The love story is incredibly powerful and moving, the whole movie is beautifully directed, and there are some amazing sequences. The cast really couldn’t be any better, in my view. Sounds like we're in for a treat!

I noticed Noomi Rapace (who played Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) has been cast as Raisa in Child 44 the movie. Did you ever have particular actors in mind when writing the novel, given you first pitched the idea as the basis for a movie?

I didn’t, actually, in fact, I’m often quite vague about the appearance of a character, except where it’s relevant to the plot.

What’s your first love now, books or TV and movies?

I couldn’t possibly rank them!

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m actually in the middle of researching my new novel: it’s something epic after the tight, claustrophobia of THE FARM. But I’m always cautious about discussing my new novels, ideas are fragile, and they need protecting until they're fully formed.

Do you have any literary influences?

Every book I’ve ever read is an influence, but if I was being more helpful, I’d point to writers who are great with narrative, Conrad and Orwell, for example.

I am happiest when…?
Writing. That might sound unbelievable, or glib, but I suspect it to be true, maybe there’s something wrong about that, I’m not sure. It’s probably the only time I feel completely at ease.

What's next? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m finishing the final rewrites on a television mini-series called LONDON SPY, a contemporary thriller, which goes into production in a few weeks. Five episodes, for the BBC.

Thanks so much Tom! I really appreciate your time, and look forward to seeing your books on the big screen.  Best of luck with the new novel.

Click here to buy a copy of The Farm 
Click here to buy a copy of Child 44

21 August 2014

Review: Child 44 | Tom Rob Smith

Tom Rob Smith burst onto the scene in 2008 with his debut novel Child 44, which has gone on to sell millions of copies and win a host of awards.

Set in Stalinist Russia, Leo Demidov is a popular and loyal agent for the MGB, the State's Security Force.  The state controls everything, from where you live to the food you eat and conditions are bleak.  Anyone can be sent to the gulag or executed on the spot for the most trivial of infractions and many are arrested and tortured.

In performing his duties, Leo comes across the death of a boy found naked on a set of train tracks.  Convinced he has been murdered, his family are desperate for the state to investigate, but Leo must convince them otherwise.  Why? There's no crime in Russia.  The citizens have everything they need, so there's no need to commit any crime.  In fact, to suggest otherwise is a crime against the state.

Leo soon learns of similar cases across the country and becomes convinced Russia has a serial killer.  Unfortunately his superiors won't listen, and Leo must decide whether to risk his life (and that of his parents and wife) to investigate or turn a blind eye and live.

The serial killer in Child 44 is based on the true crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, a Russian man convicted of 52 murders (committed between 1978-1990) and otherwise known as the Rostov Ripper.

The introduction to Child 44 takes place in a time of famine, and Smith's powers of description are impressive.  The writing style is completely different compared to his latest novel The Farm (a contemporary thriller) which I've been recommending to anyone who reads.

Further evidence of its success, Child 44 is coming to the big screen next year in the hands of the legendary Ridley Scott and I can't wait.  

Check out my interview with author Tom Rob Smith.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!