04 September 2015

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson

Available in August 2015
RRP $29.99
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Background / Blurb
For nearly five years I have wanted to write something about the surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu: about his paintings, one of which hangs in a little restaurant in Melbourne, and about his disappearance, which is still a mystery. But this is probably not going to be the book I imagined. Nothing has quite worked out the way I planned.

With the small inheritance he received upon his father's death, Miles has come to Europe on the trail of the Romanian surrealist, who disappeared into a forest in 1967. But in trying to unravel the mystery of Bafdescu's secret life, Miles must also reckon with his own.

Faced with a language and a landscape that remain stubbornly out of reach, and condemned to wait for someone who may never arrive, Miles is haunted by thoughts of his ex-girlfriend, Alice, and the trip they took to Venice that ended their relationship.

Uncanny, occasionally absurd, and utterly original, Fever of Animals is a beautifully written meditation on art and grief.

Click here to read a FREE EXTRACT of Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson.

Author Bio
Miles Allinson is a writer and an artist. He was born in Melbourne in 1981, and has a Bachelor of Creative Arts and a Postgraduate Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne, as well as a Masters of Fine Arts (Art in Public Space) from RMIT. 

Fever of Animals is his first novel, and won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2014.


03 September 2015

Review: Children Who Have Lived Before - Reincarnation Today by Trutz Hardo

The title of this book is self explanatory, Children Who Have Lived Before is about reincarnation and in particular about children who remember their past lives. 

Cases where children say things like "you're not my real mum" or "why am I a girl this time?" and "I have a husband and 3 children in the town of XYZ, take me there." In some cultures this is acceptable and their cases are verified by testing the children's knowledge of the previous life (as with the Dalai Lama). 

However in other cultures their behaviour is ignored, often discouraged and sometimes even punished.

This is a topic I'm very interested in, and one that gives me goosebumps when I hear a good story. A Facebook friend recently posted that her son walked past her dancing with her husband in the kitchen, rolled his eyes and said: "I really hated that dancing back in 1896." Creepy huh?

Many of the cases in Children Who Have Lived Before were interesting, and it certainly seemed as though the children in question were tested. They were asked to identify the house they once lived in, their parents and loved ones by name, even down to objects they owned and the things that had changed in the environment around them. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about birthmarks often relating to injuries from their previous incarnation.

The main gripe I have with this book though (and why I won't be rating it highly) is that it quoted so heavily from the investigative work done by Dr. Ian Stevenson, and the majority of cases used were more than 30 years old. For a book published in 2005 I expected the content to be a little more current.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

31 August 2015

Review: The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster * 

The Taming of the Queen is about the life of Kateryn Parr, the sixth and final Queen of King Henry VIII.

Told in the first person by Kateryn (the story begins in 1543 with a widowed Kateryn soon to become Queen), the reader is swept away to the court of King Henry VIII in the expert hands of historian and author Philippa Gregory.

Technically the 7th in the Tudor Court series, The Taming of the Queen can easily be read as a standalone as Gregory uses her expertise to ensure you never lose track of the characters; something other authors of the genre often fail to do. 

Religion was the driving force at the time as King Henry's support for the Papists and the Reformers continues to waver back and forth, leaving the people of England unsure where the King's faith truly lays. This creates a dangerous and deadly environment at court, and Kateryn does her best to steer clear of any trouble.

Kateryn is painfully aware of the ghosts of Henry's previous wives (the King has buried four wives after all) and does an incredible job of staying alive; desperate to learn from the mistakes of the queens before her and living with constant fear and uncertainty.

The Taming of the Queen offers a magnificent portrait of Henry VIII at the latter stages of his life, suffering from ill health and some say paranoia. Kateryn brings the young royal children to court, (Prince Edward, Mary I, Elizabeth I) and she really brings the family together in a royal first. We see her influence on young Mary and Elizabeth, and knowing what will happen later on in their adulthood gives this period more meaning.

This image of Princess Diana at Princess Charlotte's
christening, is similar to the family portrait
commissioned by King Henry VIII where he
ordered that Kateryn Parr be replaced by the
image of his late wife, Jane Seymour
The cover of the novel (above) shows part of a family portrait commissioned by King Henry VIII, the sitting and unveiling of which is included in the novel. At the unveiling, Kateryn is shocked and hurt to see she has been replaced by the late Jane Seymour, beloved Queen who died in childbirth after giving Henry his male heir (Prince Edward). I knew that including a deceased person in a painting or portrait was done and not shocking at the time, but seeing this through Kateryn's eyes really upset me, and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. How would we react if this happened today?

Then I remembered that I had seen this recently, in a photograph of the late Princess Diana looking at Princess Charlotte on the day of her christening. This image was photoshopped but I found it really moving, and perhaps King Henry was chasing or seeking this same sentiment in 1545.

I had at least two Henry VIII inspired dreams while reading The Taming of the Queen and am still thinking about it weeks after I finished reading the final pages. 

The Taming of the Queen is expertly written and easily one of my favourite books of the year.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

30 August 2015

Winner of the Salt Creek giveaway announced

Thanks to all those who entered last week's Friday Freebie, and went into the running to win a copy of Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar (thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia & Picador).

The giveaway was popular with 24 individual entrants, most of which qualified for multiple entries after subscribing by email, following on Google Connect or sharing on Twitter and Facebook etc. With these additional entries the total number of competition entries was 68.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Friday 28th August, and the winner was drawn today:

Congratulations Odette!!
Congratulations Odette, you'll receive an email shortly letting you know about your win and requesting your postal details, after which you'll have 5 days to provide a valid postal address.

I'd like to thank Pan Macmillan Australia for providing the giveaway, and all of you who entered, shared and tweeted. If you missed out this time, please enter my current giveaway here and try your luck again.

28 August 2015

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt

Available August 2015
RRP $29.99
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Today's Friday Freebie is the opportunity to WIN a print copy of Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt. See below for details.

A deeply compelling and poignant story that, like the novels of Pat Barker or Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, dramatises the tragic lessons of war, the significance of belonging and of memory - without which we become lost, even to ourselves.

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. Injured and confused, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, and so sets out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past and himself.

His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe. Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany. 

When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. No one is as he remembers, not even himself - how can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?

Author Bio
Jason Hewitt is a novelist, playwright and actor. He was born in Oxford, and lives in London. He is the author of The Dynamite Room and Devastation Road.


26 August 2015

Review: Signora da Vinci by Robin Maxwell

Robin Maxwell is one of my favourite historical fiction authors and she's written about some famous and influential female figures from history, including: Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.

Signora da Vinci is told from the perspective of Leonardo da Vinci's mother, Caterina. We begin in 1452, when Caterina gives birth out of wedlock to Leonardo. Her heart is broken when her lover's family refuse to accept the match and rip Leonardo from her arms to raise in their - more noble - family.

Caterina is an apothecary after her father, who is a well-travelled, well-read and respected man in their little town of Vinci in Italy. When her son becomes a man, he moves to Florence and Caterina wishes to see him. Not being able to travel alone (as a woman) and fearing recognition from Leonardo's father, she disguises herself as a man and changes her name to Cato.

Her disguise works and the novel really takes off from here. Lorenzo de' Medici becomes Leonardo's patron and Cato one of his closest friends.

Signora da Vinci is filled with art (the great Botticelli is also a character), religion (including the making of the Shroud of Turin by Leonardo) alchemy and the pursuit of knowledge, however forbidden it might be. 

Cato is invited to join The Platonic Academy and I thoroughly enjoyed his deception and the insights Caterina was able to get from carrying herself as a man. I also have a new appreciation for the portrait of the Mona Lisa, but no spoilers here.

Not much is really known about Leonardo's mother Caterina, and so when reading Signora da Vinci you will enjoy it more if you suspend your disbelief and just dive in. It's fair to say that a number of liberties have been taken with dates and events, but the period has been well researched and this is a fun 'what if' read.

My Rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

24 August 2015

HFVBT Guest Post: Costuming the Modern Day Swashbuckler from J.M. Aucoin, author of Honor Among Thieves

J.M. Aucoin is an historical fiction writer and I'm pleased to host him on his Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour today. He's the author of Honor Among Thievesa gripping tale of daring sword-play and political intrigue in 17th Century France.

What makes this author stand out from the rest though, is that he loves fencing and creating his own historical costumes. He doesn't just just write historical fiction, he lives and breathes it!
Author Bio
Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. J.M. Aucoin is the product of when a five-year-old boy who fell in love with reruns of Guy William’s Zorro grows into a mostly functional adult. He now spends his time writing swashbucklers and historical adventure stories, and has an (un)healthy obsession with The Three Musketeers.

When not writing, he practices historical fencing, crafts historical outfits, and covers the Boston Bruins for the award-winning blog Days of Y’Orr. For more info visit J.M. Aucoin’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and YouTube.

Author J.M. Aucoin, designs and makes his own costumes

Guest Post: The Sword & the Needle - Costuming the Modern Day Swashbuckler

Anyone who knows me knows how big of a swashbuckler fan I am. Zorro. The Three Musketeers. Captain Blood. Pirates of the Caribbean. If it’s a book or movie with someone wielding a sword, there’s a good chance I’ll love it. I’ve been like that as wee lad, watching reruns of Zorro starring Guy Williams on the Disney Channel. I must’ve gone as Zorro almost every year for Halloween as a kid.

Author J.M. Aucoin
Of course, not much has changed in the decades since then. I just have a slightly bigger budget and a finer appreciation for natural fabrics. And as much as the flashing steel glinting heroically in the moonlight caught my captivation as a small child, the clothing of 17th Century also caught my attention. The leather gloves, wide-brim hats with impressive plumes, bucket boots, spurs. Seriously. Who wouldn’t want to dress like these guys?

It’s this 17th Century cavalier/Musketeer look that I go for when I’m making my own garb. Along with writing historical adventure novels and piratical short-stories, I also sew and fence in the Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s been a perfect place to let me live out my childhood dreams.
J.M. Aucoin on the left, photo by Scott Tollefson.

Garb making for me has the added challenge of making sure it passes the SCA “armor” requirements. I won’t bore you with the details; just know that the clothing we wear while fighting also doubles as armor should a sword break (which is extremely rare) and then hit us. 

Like most things I do, I decide to jump in the deep end when I first started learning to sew. Most people would maybe start off with something simple like a sewing a winter scarf or maybe a puffy shirt. A handkerchief even. But being an “all or nothing” type guy, I decided I wanted to make myself a cassock and a 1630s-style doublet.
J.M. Aucoin’s first sewing projects.
Photo by Tricia Augustine Sobo.

A 100+ buttons later the cassock was done. Soon thereafter I had myself a fancy doublet. Having some go-to movies definitely helps pass the time when you’re hand sewing 100 buttons. Pretty sure I can quote Man in the Iron Mask from start to finish. 

I’ll admit, I had the good fortune of my fiancee, Kate, being an amazing costumer herself, and patient enough to teach me how make my own stuff. There were a lot of “Did I pin this correctly?” before running it through the machine. There were even more long nights with a seam ripper and rage quitting for a few days. A project isn’t official unless I’ve thrown it across the room in disgust, and Kate’s talked me off the ledge from abandoning it.

There are few things I take into consideration when making myself “fight ready” garb. The first being range of motion. I’ve used some doublet patterns that didn’t scale well in the armhole, which lead to restrictive moments, the clothing pulling at weird spots, and seems ripping. Limited motion isn’t exactly what you want when someone’s flashing 3.5’ of steel at your face.

So a lot of my doublets — especially some of the first ones I made — were sleeveless. Makes for full range and a little more breathability. And sometimes you just want some simple garb to fight to wear when fighting in the mud.

The second thing I think about is comfortability/heat levels. I worry a little less about this than mobility since I know I’m going to be sweaty fencing regardless of what I wear. Sword fighting isn’t a neat & tidy business, after all. But I’m not going to wear my thick brocade doublet and full-length wool cassock lined in silk when it’s 90 degrees out and humid as hell out… at least, I won’t do that again… I learned my lesson… kinda.
Real men wear lace

Lately, I’ve decided to up my garb game some more. Been looking at extent examples for inspiration and seeing some of the details used to adorn clothing in the 1600s. What type of trim they use and where they put it on their doublets and breeches. Clothes make the man, as they say.

I’m far from an master tailor. I’m a competing costumer, but I’m merely a novice in terms of researching historical clothing. There’s always something new to learn, something new to try. In the past year I’ve started adding the lace falling bands and hand falls to my doublets, giving that extra splash of dashing rogue that captivated me as a kid. A silk sash to show off an officer’s rank and a sense of valor. I’ve even drafted my own spur leather pattern and learned the basics of molding and finishing a cavalier hat (tip: it’s all about the plumes).

If you told me 10 years ago that I would be making my own clothing and some of it would be made of lace, I’d probably die of laughter. And yet here we are.

Adventure always awaits.
When not sewing or swashbuckling, J.M. Aucoin writes historical adventure novels. His debut full-length novel Honor Among Thieves is available in paperback and for KindleTo keep up with his swashbuckling adventures, visit www.JMAucoin.com.

For more on historical fencing or to follow J.M. Aucoin’s historical costuming projects, visit TheTavern Knight’s BarracksFor more on his cosplay, please visit his Deviantart page.

Check out the other stops on this blog tour below.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 24
Kick Off & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Guest Post at Carpe Librum

Tuesday, August 25
Spotlight at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Wednesday, August 26
Spotlight at Book Babe
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Thursday, August 27
Review at Book Nerd
Excerpt at Boom Baby Reviews

Friday, August 28
Guest Post at Back Porchervations
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Saturday, August 29
Spotlight at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Sunday, August 30
Excerpt at The Never-Ending Book

Monday, August 31
Review at Genre Queen

Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books