26 May 2015

Review of War Diaries: A Nurse at the Front - The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton

I read War Diaries: A Nurse at the Front - The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton in the lead up to ANZAC Day last month and it certainly was a meaningful preparation in the lead up to the centenary.

Blurb
This, the first in a series of four unique War Diaries produced in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum, will tell a story that is rarely heard: the experiences of a nurse working close to the Western Front in the First World War. 


Incredibly, Edith Appleton served in France for the whole of the conflict. Her bravery and dedication won her the Military OBE, the Royal Red Cross and the Belgian Queen Elizabeth medal among others. Her diary details with compassion all the horrors of the 'war to end wars', including the first use of poison gas and the terrible cost of battles such as Ypres, but she also records what life was like for nurses and how she spent her time off-duty. 

There are moments of humour amongst the tragedy, and even lyrical accounts of the natural beauty that still existed amidst all the destruction. 

My Review
Reading Edith's diary entries gave me a glimpse into the life of a nurse at the Western front including her living conditions in France and the hospitals and medical centres she worked in.

Edith's accounts are filled with touching observations, intimate moments with patients, her efforts to honour the dead and write to the families of her patients as well as comments about the conflict and her thoughts about the enemy and German patients she was ordered to treat. 

She also records important holidays and milestones and the ways in which the medical staff and soldiers celebrated them (Christmas) and kept up their morale with skits and concerts.

An overarching theme throughout Edith's diaries is an amazing appreciation for mother nature and the passing of the seasons. Amidst the death and destruction going on around her, it was surprising to learn that Edith enjoyed nothing more than 'tramping about the landscape' and was deeply in touch with her surroundings. While other nurses preferred to go into town and go shopping during their rare hours off, Edith always preferred to take tea somewhere quiet or go for a swim in the ocean.

Her writing is indicative of the time which I thoroughly enjoyed (our language and phraseology has changed so much in the last 100 years) and I was charmed by her delightful sense of humour and admired her strength of character.

Since the publication of these diaries, much work has been done by Edith's ancestors and fellow historians to formally identify as many of the patients mentioned in Edith's diaries as possible; an impressive feat of research in my opinion.

I thoroughly recommend reading Edith Appleton's war diaries, and for more information, you can visit the website created by Edith's great nephew here, A Nurse At The Front.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

22 May 2015

Review: Looking for Alibrandi | Melina Marchetta

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House*

I received this gorgeous hardcover edition of Looking For Alibrandi from Random House last year, as part of their National Book Bloggers Forum (NBBF14) and finally got around to reading it last month.

For those who don't know, Looking For Alibrandi was written by Australian author Melina Marchetta and published in the early 1990s. 

Based in Sydney, it's essentially a YA coming of age novel focussing on teenager Josephine (Josie) Alibrandi as she attends a Catholic school on scholarship, falls in love, argues with her mother and grandmother, meets her father and decides her future.

Considered a modern Australian classic, I enjoyed Josie's sense of humour and Marchetta's ability to capture the character of an Italian nonna so very well.

I'd recommend Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta for YA readers of either gender.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

20 May 2015

Get your FREE copy of The Countess' Captive by Andrea Cefalo here

Earlier this year, I enjoyed reading The Fairytale Keeper and the author Andrea Cefalo has just let me know that her sequel, The Countess' Captive is now FREE on Amazon.
Download FREE

Blurb
From award-winning author of The Fairytale Keeper comes another masterful, historically-set retelling of Grimm's fairytales. The Countess' Captive combines Grimm's fairytale characters with real historical settings to a tale that leaves readers wondering where fact ends and fiction begins. 

During March of 1248, Adelaide Schumacher-affectionately called Snow White-has lost so much: her mother, her possessions, and now her home. Adelaide hates abandoning her home city, her family’s legacy, and her first love-Ivo. More than anything, she hates her father growing closer to her mother’s cousin-Galadriel. Adelaide plots to end their tryst before her fate is sealed, and she never sets foot in Cologne again.

But good and pious can only get Galadriel so far.  Never again will she be destitute. Never again will she be known by the cruel moniker-Cinderella. Never again will someone take what is rightfully hers. No matter what it takes.

Click here to download The Countess' Captive for FREE, available until 23 May 2015.

Carpe Librum!

18 May 2015

Review: The Museum of Literary Souls | John Connolly

The Museum of Literary Souls is an enjoyable novella with an enticing premise: when a book becomes very popular and is read by thousands, this can bring the main characters to life.

Mr. Berger prefers the company of books, and after an uneventful career as a Closed Accounts Registrar, and never marrying, he retires to the English countryside with his books.

However, Mr. Berger sees a person he thinks looks like a famous character from a book, and following her leads him to the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository.

I loved the character of Mr. Berger, and the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository is every booklover's dream! With that aside, I just wished The Museum of Literary Souls was longer. 

I'm confident there's enough content in this story for author John Connolly to make it a novel, and I'm sure many readers would love to join Mr. Berger and explore the Book Depository further.

Great read, great price (less than $2 for the ebook), and brilliant concept, but only three stars because I was disappointed by the brevity.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

12 May 2015

Review: The Embroiderer by Australian author Kathryn Gauci

* Copy courtesy of the author * 

It's 1972, and Eleni is summoned to her dying aunt's bedside in Athens. Her aunt wants to come clean about Eleni's family history and recounts a shocking life, full of secrets, loss, war, betrayal, death, love and espionage.

The tale takes us as far back as 1822, during the The Greek War of Independence, and essentially follows one particular family and their efforts to survive the conflicts, keep their business going and stay alive in turbulent times.

My understanding of these conflicts is not as comprehensive as it should be, and reading The Embroiderer was a great way to learn about the battles, invasions and wars in Greece from the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832) through to the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).

Readers who enjoy reading historical fiction based around real historical conflicts will enjoy reading The Embroiderer, and will definitely learn more about Greece (and WWI) in the process.

The contents of a senior family member's journal at the end of the novel took the number of characters I could follow just a little too far, and I longed for a briefer method of learning what lay in her journal. I also wished for more time to linger on the details of the family business of embroidery and couture fashion during the period, my main attraction for this novel.

Having said that, if you have an interest in Greece, or are of Greek lineage yourself, you are bound to fall in love with The Embroiderer.

In conclusion, here's an excerpt from the blurb that sums up the novel really well: Set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, The Embroiderer is a gripping saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

About the Author
Kathryn Gauci was born in England, and studied textile design, carpet design and technology. After graduation, Kathryn spent a year in Vienna before working as a carpet designer in Athens for six years.

Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years and The Embroiderer is her first novel; a culmination of her love of design and travel, and her years living and working in Greece – a place she is proud to call her spiritual home.

07 May 2015

Book cover and blurb announced for The Lake House, new novel by Kate Morton

I'm a huge fan of bestselling Australian author Kate Morton, and I'm so excited today because Allen & Unwin have just sent out a media release containing the blurb and Australian front cover for her new novel The Lake House.

Blurb
An abandoned house... After a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police and retreats to her beloved grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall. There she finds herself at a loose end, until one day she stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

A missing child... June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. For Eleanor, the annual party has always been one of her treasured traditions, but her middle daughter, Alice, sixteen years old and with literary ambitions, is especially excited. Not only has Alice worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night sky, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great they leave Loeanneth and never return.


An unsolved mystery... Seventy years later, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past and seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape...

The Lake House will be released here in Australia on 31 October 2015 and I can't wait to read it!

It's an exciting day here at Carpe Librum!

04 May 2015

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde

As a lover of literature, it's hard not to notice the many great quotes from Oscar Wilde. Here's a few to refresh your memory:
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” 
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”  
“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
Despite my admiration of his intellect, I've never actually read any of Oscar Wilde's work, and thought it best to remedy that this year. So it was that I picked up the beautifully designed Penguin edition of The Picture Of Dorian Gray, the only novel ever written by Oscar Wilde.

I'll admit I was a little apprehensive in the beginning, (what if Wilde is too high-brow for me?) but that was soon put to rest as early as Page 3 when Lord Henry says:

"But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are!"

I knew then I was safe in expert hands, and continued willingly discovering this once offensive text. We all know the premise (so I won't waste time recounting it) but what I was surprised to learn was that the sins Dorian Gray gets up to are never really expanded upon. His cruel treatment of lovers is there for all to see, but his sexual exploits are only ever alluded to, never described in full. What a pity.

There are countless homoerotic scenes - particularly between Lord Henry and Dorian Gray - but there is never any evidence to suggest they were ever together or even whether they loved each other. Lord Henry clearly loves Dorian for his youth and beauty, and in my opinion Dorian admires Lord Henry's ideals and freedoms, but that's as much as we ever really know for sure about them.

I was looking forward to reading a gothic horror story of sorts, taking me through the slow degradation of Dorian's soul - reflected in the portrait - however The Picture of Dorian Gray often read like an essay; the character of Lord Henry a mouthpiece for Wilde's own thoughts on society, religion, youth and beauty.

In summary, I enjoyed the writing immensely, the plot less so and I'm left to wonder what Oscar Wilde would write about if he had the freedom to write for us today. He was shocking in his time, would he shock us still now? I think he would.

My rating = ***


Carpe Librum!