27 October 2014

Review: The Universe Doesn't Give a Flying Fuck About You | Johnny B. Truant

The Universe Doesn't Give A Flying Fuck About You by Johnny B. Truant is a FREE e-book, currently available in the Kindle store or on iBooks.

It's a motivational kick in the pants for those who need a reminder that time is short, and to go out and get what you want, instead of being crippled by doubt, fear or lack of motivation.

Truant has a great sense of humour and no nonsense attitude and as the title might suggest, his work includes some swearing, but if this doesn't bother you, you'll enjoy gems like this:

"If you knew how small you are and how short a time you have to do what you can, you wouldn't waste time watching five fucking hours of TV a day." Page 11

And this, from page 18:
"You might write something and nobody might read it. You might build it and nobody might come. You could fail and ruin your life. You could take a chance and end up looking really, really stupid. Boo-fucking-hoo."


Highly recommended for those needing a pep up, motivation or a slap in the face, The Universe Doesn't Give A Flying Fuck About You by Johnny B. Truant is FREE and only 26 pages long. C'mon, you can do it!

My rating = ****
Carpe Librum!

22 October 2014

Book Tour & Guest Post: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

* Copy courtesy of the Reluctantly Charmed book tour hosted by Simon and Schuster *

Today is the last stop on the Reluctantly Charmed book tour, and I'm pleased to host author Ellie O'Neill here on Carpe Librum today.

Blurb
It’s Kate McDaid’s birthday and she’s hoping to kickstart her rather stagnant love-life and career when she gets some very strange news. To her surprise, she is the sole benefactor of a great-great-great-great aunt and self-proclaimed witch also called Kate McDaid, who died over 130 years ago. As if that isn’t strange enough, the will instructs that, in order to receive the inheritance, Kate must publish seven letters, one by one, week by week.

Burning with curiosity, Kate agrees and opens the first letter – and finds that it’s a passionate plea to reconnect with the long-forgotten fairies of Irish folklore. Instantly, Kate’s life is turned upside down. Her romantic life takes a surprising turn and she is catapulted into the public eye. As events become stranger and stranger – and she discovers things about herself she’s never known before – Kate must decide whether she can fulfil the final, devastating step of the request . . . or whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t... 

Click here to read a free excerpt (first 23 pages) of the novel, or buy a copy from Boomerang Books.

My Review
I've learned not to trust a book by it's cover, and nowhere is this point more valid than Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill. Pitched as having the 'warmth of Monica McInerney and the charm of Bridget Jones', I'd never have picked up Reluctantly Charmed if it weren't for the invitation to join the virtual book tour being hosted by Simon and Schuster and being offered an ARC of the novel.

Far from being a beach read or chick lit novel, I found Reluctantly Charmed to be a dark mystery that definitely held my attention. The romance is subtle, the protagonist Kate is very likeable and the plot is original and believable. I flagged each of the letters as they appeared in the novel (and were subsequently published on the web by Kate) and couldn't wait to read the final letter and the instructions it contained.

I enjoyed the darkness and fear associated with Irish folklore and the mention that some Irishman still try to please the fairies by fulfilling superstitious beliefs. Author Ellie O'Neill tells me more in her guest post below.

Reluctantly Charmed was the most unexpected and surprising read of the year for me and reinforces the lesson that if you generalise and make snap judgements about a book, you could be missing out on a rewarding reading experience. I'm glad I didn't miss this one.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!


I recently had the opportunity to ask author Ellie O'Neill some questions and here is her response.

Guest Post from Ellie O'Neill
It is true that at one point in Ireland, a long time ago roads would have to be re-routed rather than go through a fairy fort.  The belief was strong.  But it’s an old belief going back a few generations. It doesn’t belong to modern Ireland.  However I do love the stories and the fairy world but I’m not a folklorist, just a person who had a superstitious granny that lead to me investigate the fairies more.  Because these stories are folklore, they fall into a grey area, there’s no right or wrong answer, there’s only perceptions of right or wrong.  I cover off most of what I actually know in Reluctantly Charmed, and any first hand recollections I have of them are from years ago and a little bit fuzzy if I’m honest.  A few things seem to be agreed on, from what I can tell anyway and I’ll do my best to explain.  


Author, Ellie O'Neill
A fairy tree is generally considered to be a white thorn tree or a Hawthorn tree, they are large bushes and have a white flower.  It is bad luck to cut one down or dig one up, because it is believed that often fairies live there.  Sometimes offerings are placed on these trees and they’re called a Wishing Tree.  There’s quite a famous tree at the Hill of Tara in County Meath that is covered in ribbons, gifts and wishes, quite a beautiful tradition really, and worth a look if you find yourself in that neck of the world.   

As a kid I remember a fairy ring being literally any circular formation in a field, so if they were a ring of mushrooms, or stones, or just that the grass was different and formed a circle that was a fairy ring.  The criteria for a fairy ring to exist, was that it had to be naturally formed and to have been there for a very long time.  I do remember seeing them when I was younger, and my siblings and I would dare each other to step into one, and make up stories as to what would happen if you did.  But we never did, we were too scared, you would be cursed by the other world and in our head that was anything from imminent death to never finding true love.  It wasn’t worth the risk.  As an adult I have learned that a fairy ring is considered to be more of a stone formation, but again one that has been formed in nature.  At one stage there were literally tens of thousands of these in Ireland.  These are now protected monuments and there is a fine if they are destroyed – but who would be brave enough to do that?  

There is a great article written on this topic, Irish skepticism and beliefs, which appeared in The Examiner, a national paper in Ireland, two years ago.  It’s very interesting and should answer a lot of your questions a lot better than I can!

Truly fascinating, thanks so much Ellie!

20 October 2014

Review: Baudelaire's Revenge | Bob Van Laerhoven


* Copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Pegasus Books and Edelweiss * 

Blurb
It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.

As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and seances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire's controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet's exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind's Perfume. Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III.

A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.

My Review
Here's a fact I didn't know, Charles Baudelaire was a French poet and lived from 1821 to 1867.  Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven is essentially a historical fiction crime novel, featuring Commissioner Lefevre and his 'wingman' Bouveroux investigating a spate of murders; the killer leaving snippets of Baudelaire's poetry on the body three years after the poet's death.

Despite the exciting and promising premise, unfortunately Baudelaire's Revenge never really took off for me. My first problem was that there was simply too much character background and research inserted into the novel for little reward or purpose.

Here's an example:
"Her collarbone reminded the commissioner of the willowy skeletons of tiny mammals on exhibit at the city's natural history museum."  Page 56

Another reason I didn't enjoy the novel were the frequent and unnecessary references to modern times. The writer goes out of his way to make sure the reader knows that although we're reading a novel set more than 140 years ago, it is an era of new technology and change for the characters.

Here's an example from Page 99:
"The owner of the house had followed the modern trend and built a toilet detached from the rest of the house." 

Any lover of historical fiction will know that the characters are at the cutting edge of change and modernity without being reminded, however Van Laerhoven uses the term 'modern' at least 19 times in 268 pages which slowly began to grate on my nerves.

The last sticking point I had was with some of the descriptions, check out this one from page 56: 
"...cushions under her belly so that his penis, its head the size of a plump radish, could penetrate..."

Just ridiculous. However in order to balance the criticism, I'd like to share my favourite quote from the novel, which appeared on Page 147:
"I remember its corridors better than the faces of those who walked them."

Lines like this were a blessing, but what really kept me reading was the character born with a tail. Abandoned at a convent, she was the most exciting character of the novel, and when I began to read the story from her perspective I was thoroughly entertained. If I had my way, I'd lose Lefevre and Bouveroux completely and read the entire life story of this character (name withheld to avoid spoilers).

Baudelaire's Revenge didn't conclude satisfactorily and ultimately was a disappointing read for me. Such a shame.

My rating = **

Please don't take my word for it though.


Watch the Book Trailer

Buy the Book


About the Author
Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991 and has written more than thirty books in Holland and Belgium. The context of his stories isn't invented behind his desk, rather it is rooted in personal experience. As a freelance travel writer, for example, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2005. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar to name but a few.
Author Bob Van Laerhoven

During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF - Doctors without frontiers - in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Van Laerhoven was the first writer from the Low Countries to be given the chance to speak to the refugees. His conversations resulted in a travel book: Srebrenica. Getuigen van massamoord, Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder. The book denounces the rape and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. He also concludes that mass murders took place, an idea that was questioned at the time but later proven accurate.

All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven's rich and commendable oeuvre, an oeuvre that typifies him as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, books for young adults, theatre pieces, biographies, poetry, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles... He is also a prize-winning author: in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best thriller of the year with his novel De Wraak van Baudelaire, Baudelaire's Revenge.

For more information please visit Bob Van Laerhoven's website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Baudelaire's Revenge Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, October 6
Review at Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, October 7
Review at Shelly's Book Shelves

Saturday, October 11
Guest Post at The True Book Addict

Monday, October 13
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Tuesday, October 14
Spotlight & Giveaway at Booklover Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 15
Guest Post at The Writing Desk

Friday, October 17
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews

Saturday, October 18
Review at With Her Nose Stick in a Book

Monday, October 20
Review at Carpe Librum

Wednesday, October 22

Spotlight & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, October 23
Review at Bookish

Friday, October 24
Spotlight at Historical Tapestry
Guest Post & Giveaway at Bookish

16 October 2014

Review of The Secrets of Casanova & Interview with the author Greg Michaels

* Copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours * 

Blurb
Loosely based on the life of Jacques Casanova, The Secrets of Casanova is a rich, lush novel of love, sex, family, ambition, intrigue, and adventure. Set in Paris of 1755, Casanova's luck is fading and his past is shoving up against his present with potentially disastrous consequences. What price must he pay to uncover a treasure of inestimable value? What hearts must he break along the way? Casanova's will and destiny collide again and again in this riveting historical fiction that brings to light a man of great passion and not a few secrets.

My Review
I didn't know anything about the real life of Casanova going into this novel, apart from knowing he was a ladies' man in Europe a couple of hundred years ago.

Out of money and unable to return home to his beloved Venice, Casanova and his valet Petrine (great character) seek refuge with Casanova's brother. Always on the lookout for a patron, out of money and a social climber, Casanova takes off on an adventure in an effort to solve a riddle and seek a treasure worth more than money; which is where the novel really takes off.

The Secrets of Casanova is a fictional account of Casanova's life, and while it takes some liberties with the facts, many of the events and people Casanova met and interacted with (including Voltaire and Pope Clement XIII), actually took place.

Not surprisingly, there are several sex scenes throughout the novel, however Michaels has painted Casanova as a giving and generous lover; perhaps that's what made him attractive to the ladies...

Michaels includes many words and events that piqued my interest along the way, and I was frequently leaving the tale to learn more, the events just too interesting to ignore. One such event was the Lisbon earthquake, which I learned was a real event that took place in 1755 and killed anywhere between 10,000-100,000 people.

Here's my favourite quote from the novel, which gives you an indication of the author's writing style:
"But then Frenchmen are relatively polite. They, for instance, step around a starving peasant. The Russians? They slay the peasant, slice open his belly and shove their feet inside to warm their toes."   Page 131

Unforgettable and bursting with imagery! I recommend The Secrets of Casanova for lovers of historical fiction, and those wishing to embark on a refreshing and exciting adventure story. (You can read a free excerpt here).

My rating = ****

Interview with author Greg Michaels
Greg, thanks so much for stopping by at Carpe Librum as part of your tour with HF Virtual Book Tours. Can I ask, when did your personal interest in Casanova begin?
Author Greg Michaels
Thanks for having me, Tracey. My interest in Casanova began a few years ago when a biography by John Masters popped into my hands. A bright turquoise cover is hard to ignore. (LAUGHS). After reading the first few pages, I was mesmerized.

Many people, after finishing my novel, The Secrets of Casanova, have told me they didn’t know Casanova was a real human being; I was ignorant of that fact until the John Masters’ book enlightened me. And once it did, there was no going back. This Casanova guy—well, he lived one extraordinary exploit after another.

According to Wikipedia, Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798) was: “by vocation and avocation, a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, pimp, gourmand, dancer, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, and writer.” It almost sounds too outlandish to be true. What research did you undertake to find out more about this intriguing man?
Wikipedia actually omitted a few other hats that Casanova wore: duelist, entrepreneur, adventurer—to name just three. Oh, and let’s not forget lover! One might say that was a preoccupation of his.

Your use of “outlandish” is certainly appropriate. Casanova’s life was so often over the top, that people thought his autobiography - published long after his death - was mostly lies and hyperbole. Then, slowly, nineteenth-century scholars began to unearth police records, personal letters, memoirs, etc.; they came to the conclusion that 95% of what Casanova recorded was true!

For my research I read Casanova’s twelve-volume autobiography several times. Whew! I delved into diverse sources about Casanova: from Erica Jong, Arthur Symons, J. Rives Child, to Ezra Pound.

Beyond that, I digested a few dozen books on gambling, ships, carriages, Voltaire, Christianity, Gnosticism, architecture, 18th century Europe, Freemasonry, Horace, swordplay, Jerusalem, Venice, outerwear and underwear. Heck, like many historical fiction authors, I loved the research. Beguiling.  It was sitting down to write that scared the pantaloons off me. (LAUGHS.) Your research of the clothing really came through for me, I wished there were sketches so I could see exactly what they were all wearing at different times.

At the end of The Secrets of Casanova, you tell your readers that your fiction is ‘made up of exaggeration and fabrication” and not to: “take any of this book as factual; it is fiction.”  Not knowing much at all about Giacomo Casanova going in, I was surprised to find later that many of the people he met in your novel and many of the events actually took place. How did you decide what to include and what to leave out or fabricate?
I won’t talk too much about the book—don’t want spoilers, you know—but now and again certain characters, historical dates, geographical places—were modified to serve my story. Although there’s a basis in fact for most of the events and people in The Secrets of Casanova, by book’s end it seemed to me that a fair number of details had been altered.
At the same time, however, I felt I’d captured some of Casanova’s complex personality and I wanted people to see the flesh-and-blood dissolute genius, not just the legendary womanizer with whom we may be familiar.

My editor, Cynthia White, understood my dilemma and so, after much gnashing of teeth, we decided the best solution was the simplest: we added the “everything is fiction” disclaimer while gently pointing out some of the historical origins of the novel, as well as suggesting that folks read Casanova’s autobiography to learn how this paradoxical man lived the adventure called Life.
Portrait of
Casanova (source)

In your personal opinion, do you think Casanova was a womanizer or a romantic?
I define a romantic as “someone in love with love.” Knowing that we could build a case for either label, I would choose to describe Casanova as a romantic.

Yes, it’s no secret that his many romances often played out in brief, dramatic episodes, but I take him at his word when, in his autobiography he wrote “. . .without love [my italics], this great [seduction] business is a vile thing.”

I believe this statement of his—and here’s a reason why: Casanova was a hedonist, living his life to satisfy his senses. He was a creature of feelings. What better feeling than to regularly convince yourself that you’re infatuated or in love with a woman you desire? Jacques Casanova, the hedonist, consistently did that. Is that being in love with love? I think so. And that makes him a romantic. And that’s how I portray him in my book.

I was very grateful to be reading the e-book version of The Secrets of Casanova, because I used the dictionary function many times to check the meaning of words like: venery, primogeniture, fauteuil, peruke, argent, madrigal, sedulous, poetaster and riposted to name a few. Have you an impressive vocabulary or did you come across these gems in your research?
Impressive vocabulary. (LAUGHS.)  NOT! (LAUGHS AGAIN.) But seriously, words are an actor’s tool; I learned to relish words acting in Shakespeare’s plays. That’s carried over to writing and often when I discover “exciting words” during research, I keep them.

And since you asked…it felt important to add a “sophistication” element to the book. In Casanova’s time, people were more into language than in our culture; as an author I wanted to capture the times as best I could. The $10 words helped. 

Lastly, a touch of authenticity was inserted in the book by using words and phrases in Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian. I presumed that in the eighteenth-century, Europeans would have heard a multitude of languages.

All of these writing choices, I felt, could help immerse the reader in a different time and place. And isn’t that one of the reasons people read historical fiction? Do I use these $10 words in my everyday conversation? No. But I’m happy to raise the literary bar for myself and for the readers of The Secrets of Casanova. Hope my language choices don’t come across as pompous. (Don't worry, they didn't).

I read that you have a Degree in Anthropology and have done some serious acting, including one of my favourite TV shows of all time, The X-Files. How has this life experience helped you write about Casanova?
Yes, I’ve done a lot of serious acting. And a lot of silly acting too. (LAUGHS)
But as for life experience, well, my three loves - anthropology, acting, and writing - are all about observing and studying people in one way or another. (Coincidentally, my name “Gregory” means “observant” in Latin). Observing people, and then building truthful characters from those observations, whether in a book or onstage - well, the creative processes are similar - so my background in acting informed my writing, I’m sure.

Besides that, it’s pretty significant that as a theatre actor I’ve had the privilege to interpret great playwrights onstage; I’m thrilled to have “rubbed shoulders” with colossal writing talents like Shakespeare, Pinter, Rostand, and Chekov.

Now if you’re a younger author and don’t have a lot of life experience, you’re still in luck. A fertile imagination can work as a substitute.
Greg Michaels was an actor on
one of my favourite TV shows
of all time, The X-Files
I’ve also got to ask, what was it like to be on the set of The X-Files?
Tried to assassinate Agent Scully. (That’s a fun way to start your acting day!) Instead, I missed Scully with my gunshot, got my leg blasted, and ended up killing Agent Pender. Gosh, as a professional actor I felt bad: the young guy playing Pender had a recurring role on X-Files - and I was the one that ended his paychecks.

I recall David Duchovny rehearsing his “acceptance speech” to me - and asking my honest opinion. He was to attend the Screen Actor Guild Awards ceremony the coming weekend. In retrospect, I may have offered too pointed a critique, but the good news is that it added fire to our adversarial [onscreen] relationship - trying to kill each other on a passenger-laden 747 that is in crash mode.

One other memory…I’d done quite a few TV shows before X-Files but I was stunned to see how much money the producers had for their production. For example, the Art Director rented a “prop” plane: a whole 747 fuselage that was outfitted with a hydraulic system that rocked, rolled, and swivelled that plane - to look as if it were going into a tailspin.
To intensify the dramatic [onscreen] action, the passengers, the extras - were directed to scream bloody-murder. Before every scene, before every take with David Duchovny, my blood curdled. But what great fun for an actor!

Especially when, at the finale, I get sucked out of the plane by a UFO. After that, I avoided UFO’s for some time. Sensible idea and wow, what an experience.

I am happiest when…?
There’s a part of me that’s a dedicated “nester.” I can be pretty darned domestic. To that end, my wife and I enjoy throwing small dinner parties at home. Surrounded by antique bookcases, clocks, and a striking mantelpiece, we often feel that we’re in the middle of a safe and familiar forest. When, at the dinner party, the wine and the conversation are flowing, the fireplace is crackling, and the laughter is genuine, there’s a conviviality that I truly treasure. These moments with my wife, sons, and friends are my happiest…and make me darned grateful.

What are you reading at the moment?
Please, Pretty Lights by Ina Zajac is my current read. Good, good writing by Ms. Zajac. The story is a young woman’s drug-infested descent into a world of strip bars, music, and love. A great psychological study that paints a contemporary demi-monde. Yep, there’s another one of those $10 words! Maybe I do have an impressive vocabulary. (LAUGHS)
One of Greg's favourite
books is The Last of the
Mohicans
by James
Fenimore Cooper

Can you share some of your favourite books and authors?
There are so many that I’ll voluntarily confine myself to historical fiction. The Last of the Mohicans is one of my favs. I read it as a boy and then as a man. When you’re aware of the actual history on which it’s based, it gives you the shudders.

Talking contemporary authors, Robin Maxwell is one of my favorites. Her writing is personable, bright, easy-going, informed. A real pleasure to read. Especially like her Mademoiselle Boleyn. Then there’s Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies. Wow! The Jack Kerouac of historical fiction, if you ask me. Powerful work.

I also enjoy Michelle Moran’s work, especially Madame Tussaud. She took on great challenges in that book and tackled them with gusto.  

I noticed in your Acknowledgements section that Robin Maxwell (one of my favourite authors) played a significant part in encouraging and inspiring you to write Casanova.  How did this come about, and do you have any other literary influences?
I discovered Robin Maxwell’s The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn in the 90’s; since then I’ve read five or six of Robin’s books. Exhilarating prose. Flowing sentences that take you on a ride. And fine, fine storytelling.

Robin and her husband Max became mentors who offered inspiration, discipline, a business sense, and encouragement at every stage of the writing process. Robin has taught me about the profession of writing from a number of perspectives.

Two other terrific writers, whose books I admire and enjoy, were gracious with their time and critiques: C.W. Gortner and Gillian Bagwell. Can’t thank them enough.

What's next?  Do you have anything in the pipeline at the moment? 
I have an outline for the next Casanova book, there’s just no telling when I’ll finish the manuscript. I’m a slow-poke, what can I say? I like to savor writing as much as I savor reading.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I’m very glad that The Secrets of Casanova won the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction. The judges were librarians and, personally-speaking, I look at librarians and authors as “keepers of the language.” So, to me, it was a true honor that librarians chose my book for their award.

Oh yes, one final, final thing. My publicist threatens to spank me if readers don’t flock to the website: Greg-Michaels.com.  Please don’t let this grown man get a spanking! Well, we can't have that can we? Please visit Greg's website for more information, and thank you so much for your time today Greg.

About the Author
After receiving his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, a chance experience thrust Greg into a career as a professional actor and fight director. To date he's acted in over fifty theater productions, more than forty television shows, and choreographed dozens of swordfights for stage and screen. In The Secrets of Casanova, Greg again proves his skill at telling a theatrical story. He lives with his wife, two sons, and Andy the hamster.

For more information you can like The Secrets of Casanova Facebook Page, follow Greg Michaels on Twitter, or click here to visit other stops on the blog tour.

Buy the Book

10 October 2014

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal | Mary Roach

I love getting my science on, and reading the cleverly named Gulp - Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach recently enabled me to do just that.

Mary Roach takes the reader through the entire digestive process, from smell, taste, saliva and what happens in the stomach to noxious flatus and the colon.

The science of the human body is explained and discussed in layman's terms with a sense of humour and case studies that often left me gagging for more.

I absorbed many nuggets whilst reading Gulp, here's a taste:

Colds and flus aren't spread by drinking from a sick person's glass. They're spread by touching it. One person's finger leaves virus particles on the glass; the next person's picks them up and transfers them to the respiratory tract via an eye-rub or nose-pick.  Page 121-122

Nasal regurgitation (when drinking milk and it comes out of your nose) is more common with children, because they are often laughing while eating and because their swallowing mechanism isn't fully developed. Page 139

According to one competitive eater: "Flavour fatigue sets in after three to five minutes; beyond that point everything is more or less equally revolting." Page 192

A grazing cow can produce a hundred gallons of methane a day, vented, as stomach gases typically are, through the mouth. Page 228.  I didn't know that they were vented through the mouth, I thought they were emitted as gas!!

Roach lifts the lid on the production of pet food, the purpose of saliva and more (you'll be shocked to learn how much saliva you swallow in a day). I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. Gulp is a funny, educational and thought provoking read that takes a good look at the gross and the taboo inside the human body and I loved it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

All puns in this review were intentional. Buy your own copy of Gulp from Boomerang Books.

07 October 2014

Review: The Lady of the Rivers | Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers is the third in The Cousins' War series by Philippa Gregory, following on from The White Queen and The Red Queen; although chronologically it can be read first. 

The Lady of the Rivers begins in France in 1430 and is about the life of Jacquetta of Luxembourg. The White Queen is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, (who meets and marries King Edward IV) while in The Lady of the Rivers we learn all about Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta.

After being widowed by the Duke of Bedford, Jacquetta becomes a very close friend of Margaret of Anjou, King Henry VI's Queen.

The novel contains all of the intrigue, danger, alliances, betrayals, sieges and power for the throne that thrilled readers (and myself) in The White Queen, at the same time chronicling the life of a fascinating woman in history. During her lifetime, Jacquetta gave birth to 14 children (amazing that she survived), outranked every other lady at court (apart from her friend the Queen) changed allegiances from the House of Lancaster to the House of York, was trialled for witchcraft and later saw her daughter become Queen. In the novel she is portrayed as being loyal to Margaret of Anjou and a devoted and loving wife to her second husband, Richard.

The magic and gift of foresight learned and inherited from Jacquetta's Great Aunt play a small role in the novel yet provide a wonderful backstory to the magic in The White Queen. (It was one of my favourite aspects of the novel, and really sets it apart from any other historical novel covering the War of the Roses).

My only wish when reading any novel by Philippa Gregory is that I could retain (and later recall) 100% of the historical information imparted along the way. The White Queen was made into a successful and TV series, and I also hope her other novels in the Cousins' War make their way onto the big screen as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining and engaging novel and was instantly caught up in this most fascinating period in our history all over again. The next in the series is The Kingmaker's Daughter and I can't wait to read it.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

26 September 2014

Review: Jane | Robin Maxwell

Jane is the seventh book I've read by Robin Maxwell, who enjoys writing fictional accounts of the strong and sometimes forgotten or overlooked women of history.

I'm sure most readers will have a basic understanding of the Tarzan story: English child grows up in the wilds of Africa to become Tarzan of the Apes, as told to us by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. Ashamedly, I haven't read this classic, probably put off by the comics and cartoon spin offs I came across as a kid. I felt safe in the hands of Robin Maxwell though, and so it was that I embarked on the story of Jane - The Woman Who Loved Tarzan.  

Jane Porter is a budding paleoanthropologist and the only female enrolled in the Cambridge University medical program.  Her father is a scientist and explorer and together with a guide, they put together an expedition and head to Africa in pursuit of fossilised remains of the missing link species.

I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected depth to the story, although it has to be said that the first third of the book - concerned with planning the expedition to Africa - was slow going compared to the excitement of the story when Jane reaches Africa. My favourite parts were when Jane and Tarzan were learning to communicate with each other. 

Jane is intelligent, capable and a woman ahead of her time, and far more than just Tarzan's love interest. Maxwell's writing shows a deep respect for the original work and in fact Jane has been endorsed by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate.

The ending of Jane cleverly makes reference and fits in with the original Tarzan of the Apes, inspiring most readers to pick up the classic and find out more.

My rating= ***

Carpe Librum!