21 October 2016

Review: The Embroidered Home by Kelly Fletcher

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Embroidered Home by Kelly Fletcher contains a collection of contemporary embroidery designs to decorate the home.

Broken down into categories like bold, country, vintage, festive (and more) this is an easy and enjoyable read.

The stitch directory in the beginning of the book is helpful and contains diagrams useful for beginners and the more experienced stitcher.

Each project comes with easy enough to follow instructions and the highlight of the book, stunning photographs.

However, the gardening tool roll and the picnic blanket strap resulted in this reviewer deducting a full star from my original rating. The impracticality of a gardener rolling up their tools in a linen embroidered tool roll or picnic goers rolling their blanket and strapping it into a holder with a handle so that they could carry it was too much for me to believe.

At a price point of $45AUD, I think Embroidered Home by Kelly Fletcher will make a beautiful gift for a loved one, but the everyday crafter or reader may prefer to borrow a copy from their local library.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

16 October 2016

Review: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

Having enjoyed Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh so much earlier this year, I was keen to read Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen.

Sarah Andersen comes across as a somewhat shy and reclusive cartoonist and illustrator with a great sense of humour (often self-deprecating) and I enjoyed her collection of work here.

Adulthood is a Myth can be read in a single sitting, however I preferred to enjoy a few pages at a time and space it out rather than reading it all at once.

Here's just a taste of her style and sense of her humour.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

13 October 2016

Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Wonder is an historical fiction novel set in 1850s Ireland written by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room.

Nurse Elizabeth Wright is sent to a small village in Ireland to monitor the condition of Anna, a young girl who claims to live on the love of God alone; not needing food or water in order to survive. Is it a hoax or is Anna a Saint in the making? 

So begins a two week continual 'watch' of the eleven year-old girl, shared with Sister Michael. Nurse Wright begins her task expecting to uncover a fraud, but things aren't as they seem. Anna is deeply devout and as such the novel contains a lot of religious content and context, all offset against Nurse Wright's struggle to comprehend Anna's spiritual devotion.

A fictional story inspired by the true case history of fasting girls in the 1800s, I was glad to learn more about this phenomenon. I did want to know more about the nun Sister Michael and even a chapter or two from her perspective would have added to my enjoyment of the novel.

On the other hand, I could easily have done without the character of the journalist in The Wonder - although I could somewhat appreciate his purpose - that relationship was superfluous to the story in my opinion. (In fact, the journalist is responsible for the deduction of a full star in my star rating below).

Claims this novel is a psychological thriller are misplaced in my opinion. The Wonder is certainly a compelling mystery, but the nature of the 'watch' and the religious content means the pace works steadily towards the denouement.

I recommend The Wonder to historical fiction readers and if you enjoy the work of Hannah Kent, I think you'll like this one too. It certainly has one of my favourite book covers of the year.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

09 October 2016

Review: Ink and Bone - The Great Library by Rachel Caine

The Great Library of Alexandria was the greatest and most significant library in the world, however 2000 years ago the library and thousands of priceless scrolls were destroyed by fire.

In her novel Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine has imagined a world where the Alexandria Library wasn't destroyed and remains a prominent force in society.

For some reason, I mistakenly thought this book was an historical fiction novel, and it took me a while to adjust my expectations to what I consider to be a YA fantasy novel.

With students going through a somewhat gruelling selection process to become a librarian, it had a very YA / Harry Potter vibe.

Ink and Bone has automatons and alchemy and book lovers will no doubt enjoy the references to 'the library' but will need to keep an open mind with regard to the world-building.

Ink and Bone is the first in a series of more than 3 books, however the world-building just wasn't what I was expecting and I never really felt 'at home' so I won't be continuing any further with the series.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine is recommended for fans who enjoyed the dark side of Harry Potter and YA fantasy.

My rating = **1/2

Carpe Librum!

02 October 2016

Review: The World as 100 People - A Visual Guide to 7 Billion Humans by Aileen Lord

The World as 100 People - A Visual Guide to 7 Billion Humans by Aileen Lord is an interesting concept. Viewing the world of 7 billion people represented by just 100 has enabled Lord to analyse all kinds of statistics.

Full of easy to read infographics covering such topics as economics, health and education, the information is boiled down to the basics and percentages.

I love stats and was keen to read this, but disappointed to find no background on the data she used or how she formulated her results.

The simplistic nature of The World as 100 People makes it a quick and easy flick thru but for me it failed to make any kind of impact. Perhaps I need an 'adult' or expanded version?

Appropriate for all ages.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

28 September 2016

Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent was a sensation a few years ago and readers who loved it will also enjoy her latest novel The Good People. Despite being set in different countries, both novels are set in the early 1800s and contain Hannah Kent's ability to conjure and describe the landscape, lifestyle and superstitions of the time.

Set in Ireland in 1825, in a small rural community full of Gaelic superstitions and folklore, the novel is essentially about the lives of Nance (an elderly healing woman) and the recently widowed Nora.

Incredibly evocative, the lives of these two women intersect and slowly build towards a climax that demonstrates just how little control women had over their lives at the time.

Inspired by a true event in history (just as Burial Rites was), Hannah Kent's signature writing style creates a dark and fearful atmosphere that had me worrying for Nance.

Here's a quote from Page 257:
"Sean knocked the feathers out of Peter. Punched him everywhere except the roof of his mouth and the soles of his feet, as I heard it. Brought him down into the mud and stomped the face of him so that, once the men had dragged Sean off - swinging all the while - the bellows boy was out in the yard, picking teeth like flowers."

Another memorable quote from Nance on Page 261:
"Sean Lynch has been against me for long years. If I had it in for him, he'd have been pissing bees and coughing crickets long before now."

I just love the visual of picking teeth like flowers and coughing crickets. In January 2014 I wondered if Burial Rites was a one-off (based on her intense personal connection) and if Hannah Kent could throw herself with equal abandon into another novel. A few years on and she's answered my question without doubt. The Good People is just as descriptive and emotive as her award winning debut, I just didn't find the actual story as engaging or all-encompassing.

Recommended for readers of historical fiction.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Reading The Good People better prepared me to understand several episodes in the TV series Outlander, which dealt with faeries and changelings. Without this historical novel under my belt, I wouldn't have understood half of what was going on.

27 September 2016

Guest Post by Bram Connolly, author of The Fighting Season about reading and military fiction

Author Bram Connolly
Today's guest post is from Bram Connolly, author of The Fighting Season where he takes the reader deep into an authentic world of high-intensity combat few have experienced. Having served in the Australian Army for 20 years, he knows firsthand about war, mateship, violence and survival.

Here Bram Connolly explores how the realities of war are portrayed in books, the nature of military fiction, and how reading gave him a tactical advantage. Over to you Bram.

The very first book I can remember being given to read was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Written in 1820, this book sparked my interest in early British history. Thinking back, it was also when I realised that an author could take a reader on a journey. The images that played out in my head had been conveyed by someone in a different place and time. This concept of time travel for the reader forms the basis of how I write now.

It would be safe to say that English was the only subject I took seriously at school. There were some great books on the reading list: Animal Farm and 1984 (George Orwell), The Call of the Wild (Jack London), and All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque). The fact that I still joined the Army after reading All Quiet on the Western Front proves that its brutal lessons were lost on me. I came to understand the realities of war some twenty years later.

In my last few years in the military, the operational tempo increased. The imperative was for me to read books that directly supported my main goal: winning on the battlefield and bringing my soldiers home. The following books were crucial in my development as a Special Forces officer.

1. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahedeen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War by Lester W. Grau 
This is mandatory reading because history does repeat. Understanding how the Mujahedeen operated and learning about what the Russians endured was crucial in knowing how the Taliban would respond to us being there too. Grau has written over a hundred academic papers and his research was thorough and probing. It’s safe to say that this book gave me an advantage tactically on the battlefield.

2. On Killing and On Combat by LTCOL Dave Grossman
These two books are essential reading for any leader who intends to take men in to battle. The psychology of how to kill is important to understand, but conversely the psychology of dealing with men after they have killed is crucial for their long term wellbeing. These books served as the basis for the lessons I developed to help inoculate my soldiers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Time will tell if it was effective. As a platoon we went to great lengths to ensure we discussed the events that took place on the battlefield and to contextualise the actions we had to take in order to survive.

These books have influenced how I go about my business now.

Finally, I believe there are two types of stories in the genre of military fiction. Both have their place and I am not espousing one over the other; that’s up to the reader’s taste or mood at any one time.

First, there is the escapism of well-written and well-researched second-hand accounts created in the mind of the author. This style of book is full of Hollywood explosions, complex combat scenes where everything and anything is possible and the characters are designed to be loved and loathed. Then there is authentic military fiction that brings intimate knowledge about the tactics, weapons and explosive effects and raises questions of morality. This is witnessed truth, raw and realistic. 

Given my military background coupled with my area of academic study, I see the latter style of authentic military storytelling as my responsibility. The books that I have read in the past, some that I still treasure, have been a major influence in how I now go about this.

Happy reading,

Bram Connolly
(Click here to read an excerpt of The Fighting Season).

Author Bio
Bram Connolly joined the Australian Army as a seventeen year old and rose through the ranks to retire from Special Forces as a Major in 2011. In a distinguished twenty-year career (over fifteen years in Special Forces) Bram was deployed to Somalia, East Timor (twice) and Afghanistan (twice). In 1997 Bram was selected on Australia’s first course for service as a commando. In 2002 he was selected on the first course run for domestic counter terrorism outside of the Special Air Service Regiment. He spent five years as an operator in the Tactical Assault Group and was the Officer in Charge of Selection for Special Forces before departing from service life. Bram was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for leadership in battle in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Bram Connolly is now a writer and stay-at-home dad to his two sons and recently completed a Bachelor’s degree in international relations, majoring in societies and peace studies. He lives in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where his wife works as a human resources executive for a global company.