31 January 2017

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman hardly needs any introduction to the reading public. This British author has received a swag of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal for The Graveyard Book amongst a host of others. Neil Gaiman is an inspirational speaker, and phrases of his ('make mistakes' and 'make good art') have stuck with me throughout the years. His New Year wishes are inspirational and I admire his writing and creativity.

I give you this glowing introduction because I've finally read The Graveyard Book and didn't fall in love with it as much as I wanted to. Don't you hate it when that happens?

It's about a young boy who escapes his house the night his family is murdered and wanders up the street and into a graveyard. After much discussion, the ghosts in the graveyard agree to raise him as their own and so the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins.

This is a fantasy novel for children and the young at heart however the accompanying illustrations by Dave McKean left me wanting more. I enjoyed Bod's interactions with the graveyard residents; especially when the engraving on their headstone was repeated in the text after their name appears. For instance:

- Doctor Trefusis (1870-1936, May He Wake to Glory) from Page 96
- Thackeray Porringer (1720-1734, son of the above) from Page 174
- Portunia (They Sleep to Wake Again) on Page 186

I absolutely loved this! The setting in Highgate Cemetery (West) in London added to my enjoyment because this is a famous cemetery and entry today is via guided tour only. How cool is that?

Overall, this was a good read, but my adoration for the author didn't extend to a love for The Graveyard Book. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but that's okay.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

More great news for fans of Neil Gaiman is that The Graveyard Book is going to be made into a film with Ron Howard as Director.

27 January 2017

Review: The Girl Before - A Novel by JP Delaney

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Girl Before is due for release next month and was a thrilling read. Written by JP delaney (which is a pen name by the way), it's set in a house designed by renowned architect Edward Monkford. 

The minimalist house at One Folgate Street is ahead of its time, monitoring the health and wellbeing of the occupant via the use of an electronic bracelet and a programme called Housekeeper.

To live there, tenants must sign a detailed contract and agree to comply with a tonne of rules specifying what they can and can't do in the house. No clutter and no books, for a start. (Are you kidding me? Obviously I couldn't live there). Oh, and they need to agree open the house up to architect students every once in a while.

Told from the point of view of two female tenants - Jane in the present and Emma in the past - the history of the house and the mysterious accidental death of Emma begin to unfold at a satisfying pace. The house provides a luxurious yet somewhat creepy big brother kind of setting and the portrayal of perfectionist/control freak architect was original.

The Girl Before is recommended for architects, interior designers and those who love a good thriller.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

18 January 2017

Bless This Mother-Effing Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Kutthroat

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Bless This Mother-Effing Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Kutthroat is a short and entertaining collection of subversive cross stitch. Subversive cross stitch is usually a phrase or unexpected statement designed to shock the viewer. (That's my take on it anyway). It's about challenging the status quo and the unexpected that makes it funny.

Accompanied by floral motifs or a decorative border, the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security - perhaps expecting a quaint vintage piece of handiwork - until they read the phrase, which isn't in keeping with the design at all.

Katie Kutthroat (that's her badass alter ego) opened an Etsy shop in 2008 and her success grew from there. This collection contains the images printed on perforated pages (with a patterned reverse) so you can tear them out and frame them or send one to a friend. If you're looking for the patterns you'll need to visit her Etsy shop Needles and Pins.

Phrases in the book include: Suck it up Buttercup, Mo Money Mo Problems and They Hate Us Because They Ain't Us to name a few. Most of the pieces contain adult language and offensive content and I'll admit I didn't find all of them funny, just as I wouldn't love every design in any other book, subversive or not.

I read my copy as an e-book and I think reading the physical book will add a lot more to your enjoyment. I've included a photo of two of my favourite designs from her book below, hope you enjoy.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Credit: Bless This Mother-Effing Home by Katie Kutthroat 
Credit: Bless This Mother-Effing Home by Katie Kutthroat 


16 January 2017

Winner of To The Sea by Christine Dibley announced

Thanks to a record number of entrants who entered my giveaway last week to win a copy of To The Sea by Australian author Christine Dibley. Entries closed at midnight on Thursday 12 January and it was exciting to see just how popular this giveaway was, with over 106 entries received. The winner was drawn today, so big drum roll and congratulations to:
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Congratulations Shannon, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide me with your mailing address. Thanks again to Pan Macmillan Australia for the prize.

Carpe Librum!

15 January 2017

2017 Challenge Sign-Ups

I'm signing up to the following three reading challenges in 2017, and I look forward to discovering some great reads.
  • Aussie Author Challenge 2017 
  • 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge 
  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2017 
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The Aussie Author Challenge 2017 is hosted by Booklover Book Reviews and I've decided to sign up for their Kangaroo level again.

Here are the challenge requirements:
- Read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors;
- At least 4 female and 4 male authors;
- At least 4 new authors (to me);
- A minimum of 3 genres

If you want to join me, you can participate in the challenge via Facebook, GoodReads or Google+ (you don't need a website or a book blog to participate).
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I'm signing up for the Franklin level of the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge and will need to read 10 books by Australian women and review at least 6 of them to successfully complete the challenge.

If you want to join me, you can participate in the challenge by reading a nominated number of books without having to review any of them.

Sound good? 


Click here for more details.
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The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2017 is hosted by Passages to the Past and I've decided to sign up for their Renaissance Reader level this year. 

I will need to read 10 historical fiction novels to successfully complete the challenge and I've already chosen a few I'm sure to enjoy.

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You can follow my 2017 challenge progress here and I look forward to discovering some great reads this year. Do you have any reading goals this year?

Carpe Librum!

13 January 2017

Top 5 Favourite Books of 2016

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Favourite Books of 2016 in the order I read them.

1. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Read in January (courtesy of NetGalley), this is a story about twin girls who swap identities for fun. Things begin to go wrong though when one of the sisters refuses to change back.

The novel explores themes of identity and mental illness, and the impact the change has on one of the sisters in particular, making for a suspenseful and sometimes disturbing read.

2. The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
Read in February (courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia), I instantly felt this book was written for me. Noah has nightmares, repeatedly begs Janie for his real mother and keeps asking when he can go home. Nobody can tell Janie what's wrong with her son despite visiting a whole host of specialists.

The novel covers themes of identity, death, mental illness, re-incarnation and children who may (or may not) be able to remember their previous life. An overarching theme of a mother's love for her son drives this story.

I loved this book and Sharon Guskin is my favourite debut author for 2016.


3. Watership Down by Richard Adams

I only read one classic in 2016 - which is unusual for me - but Watership Down was an absolute delight to discover.

Published in 197
2 and set in the South of England, Adams creates a world where rabbits can talk and each warren of rabbits has their own culture. Primarily an adventure story, the rabbits face danger from men and animals and leave their home in search of a safe environment in which to build a new warren and live in peace.

Featuring snippets of rabbit mythology and occasionally including tales told by storyteller rabbits (rabbits love to listen to stories), I thoroughly enjoyed the themes of leadership, sacrifice, freedom and peace that underpin the various stages of this adventure story.

I was sorry to hear Richard Adams passed away in December 2016 and I'm so glad I read this masterpiece.

4. Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly
Read in August and set in London during the late 1500s during the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Dark Aemilia has it all: Shakespeare, plague, sorcery, witchcraft, witty dialogue, great writing and hot sex scenes. Everything I love in a book!

Brilliantly written and based on a real person, Aemilia was 
England's first female poet and was thought to be Shakespeare's dark muse. 

Dark Aemilia is for lovers of historical fiction, witty dialogue, Shakespeare and the darker side of London in the 16th Century.

5. Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Read in August (courtesy of Simon & Schuster) and set in 1501, this is a story of three sisters, Margaret Tudor, her younger sister Mary and her future sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon. All three sisters will become Queens in their own right - of England, Scotland and France - and we see their lives unfold and overlap through the eyes of our narrator, Margaret Tudor.

Themes of sibling rivalry, envy, greed, betrayal and the pursuit of true love run throughout the novel as does the importance of delivering a male heir. Miscarriages and failure to produce an heir causes grief and angst for the sisters, and -unexpectedly for the modern reader - competition between them. Henry VIII's overarching influence over each of the women is also evident.

Philippa Gregory is swiftly becoming my favourite author. One of her books made it into my 2015 Top 5 list and this time I wanted to nominate two of her books for this list, which says it all.

Have you read any of the books in this list? What was your favourite book of 2016?


Carpe Librum!

11 January 2017

Review: The Countess - A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory by Rebecca Johns

Some of you may know of the Blood Countess or the Countess Dracula, the most prolific female serial killer of all time. Born in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1560, she was accused of killing hundreds of young women and some accounts say she murdered up to 650 victims.

When she was eventually caught and faced trial in 1609, she was walled up in a tower in solitary confinement until her death five years later in 1614. It was said Bathory bathed in the blood of her victims to preserve her beauty, but where does fact end and folklore begin?

Author Rebecca Johns attempts to address this in her fictionalised account of Elizabeth Bathory's life in her historical novel The Countess.

Johns takes us through Bathory's childhood growing up in a noble family in 16th Century Hungary, and walks us through her life in a first person narrative. We see her mature from a young girl and face fear, self-doubt, loneliness, love, heartbreak, loss, grief, anger and frustration.

Johns paints a clear picture of the responsibilities of a Countess to run several households and the disappointment and betrayal Bathory feels when her maidservants steal from her or sleep with her husband. Bathory beats them and many of them die, and we get a unique insight during all of this with privileged access to her - albeit fictionalised - thoughts.

What The Countess doesn't do (and cannot do) is respond to, answer or address the accusations Bathory ever bathed in blood. Many of these myths and accounts of Bathory occurred long after her death and it's difficult to address in a fictionalised account of an historical figure, but perhaps this could have been accomplished by a Author's Note at the end.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory's life and crimes have inspired countless artists to reference her in novels, comics, stage plays, operas, songs, TV shows, movies, and even video games. (Don't believe me? Check it out on Wikipedia).

I enjoyed this account of Bathory's life in The Countess, but I finished reading it with a feeling her crimes had been blown out of all proportion, and she wasn't the devil incarnate. Perhaps that was the point all along.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

09 January 2017

Review: Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else - The Stories Behind Australia's Weird and Wonderful Place Names by Eamon Evans

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

If you like strange place names and ever wonder how towns, cities, streets and places get their names, then Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else - The Stories Behind Australia's Weird and Wonderful Place Names by Eamon Evans is for you.

Organised by state and then alphabetically by place name (which is handy), this is a light-hearted look at place names in Australia and their origin and history.


Written in a laid back and casual style, Evans tries to bring humour to every page and occasionally it falls flat. At times it felt as though he were writing a book to appeal to Dads for Father's Day; often mentioning place names like Wanka Creek (QLD), Mount Breast and Mount Little Dick (VIC) for a laugh or shock value but without an accompanying story behind their weird names.

Contained amongst these were the more interesting entries that ignited curiosity, like Haunted Bay and Hell's Gates in Tasmania, Cannibal Creek in Queensland or Coffin Bay and Dead Mans Pass in South Australia. Some of their origins were fascinating, others unexpected, but all in all they were entertaining and informative.

Here's a few of the aboriginal place names and meanings:

  • Nimbin in New South Wales means 'a very small man', page 53
  • Jinnerbeeker in Western Australia means 'bad feet', page 191
  • Oodnadatta in South Australia means 'smelly water', page 233

My favourite place name in the book was - unsurprisingly - a place called Bookmark in South Australia. Mentioned on page 218, Evans tells us the name is a 'slightly odd corruption of 'pukumako', meaning 'flintstone axe'. Now that's interesting!

Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else is recommended reading for those with an interest in Australian geography and history and place names (obviously). If you enjoy base humour, that's great, but if you don't, just skip those entries to get to the good stuff.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

07 January 2017

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 Incomplete

A year ago I signed up for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 hosted by Passages to the Past. I committed to the Medieval level and had to read a minimum of 15 historical fiction novels by 31 December 2016.

Unfortunately I fell one book short of my goal, but here's what I read:


1. The Secret Heiress | Luke Devenish
2. The Golden Day | Ursula Dubosarsky
3. Precious Things | Kelly Doust
4. Falling Angels | Tracy Chevalier
5. The House Between Tides | Sarah Maine
6. Dark Aemilia | Sally O'Reilly
7. Three Sisters, Three Queens | Philippa Gregory
8. The Good People | Hannah Kent
9. The Wonder | Emma Donoghue
10. Beyond the Orchard | Anna Romer
11. Southern Ruby | Belinda Alexandra
12. The Better Son | Katherine Johnson
13. The Kingmaker's Daughter | Philippa Gregory
14. The Countess: A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory | Rebecca Johns

Despite failing to complete the challenge, I think I'm going to sign up again in 2017 as historical fiction remains my favourite genre.

Anyone want to join me?

Carpe Librum
!

05 January 2017

WIN a copy of To The Sea by Australian author Christine Dibley

RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Australian author Christine Dibley has written a stunning saga set on the sweeping coasts of Tasmania and Ireland. Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Alice Hoffman, To The Sea is lyrical, evocative and deeply engrossing.

Blurb
On a clear summer’s day, Detective Inspector Tony Vincent answers a call-out to Rosetta, an idyllic Tasmanian beach house. Surrounded by family and calm waters, 17-year-old Zoe Kennett has inexplicably vanished.

As four storytellers share their version of what has led to this moment, they weave tales which span centuries and continents. But this is a missing persons case and to solve it Tony needs facts, not fiction: how will such fables lead him to Zoe and to the truth?

As his investigation continues, he is slowly drawn into a world where myth and history blur, and where women who risk everything for love must pay the price through every generation.


Author Bio
Born in outback New South Wales, Christine Dibley arrived in Tasmania thirty years ago and has been held there by that strange bond islands weave around their inhabitants. Christine resigned from her position as a CEO in the health industry four years ago to pursue full time writing and To the Sea is her first novel.


Giveaway

02 January 2017

Aussie Author Challenge 2016 Completed

I enjoyed the Aussie Author Challenge 2016 last year and completed the highest level in the challenge.

I had to read and review at least 12 titles by Australian authors; at least 4 female and 4 male authors; at least 4 new authors (to me) across a minimum of 3 genres.

Here's what I read for the challenge:
1.  Missing | Melanie Casey
2.  I'll Go Home Then; It's Warm and Has Chairs - The Unpublished Emails | David Thorne
3.  All These Perfect Strangers | Aoife Clifford
4.  The Secret Heiress | Luke Devenish
5.  The Golden Day | Ursula Dubosarsky
6.  Precious Things | Kelly Doust
7.  The Twisted Knot | J.M. Peace
8.  Out of the Ice | Ann Turner
9.  The Falls | B. Michael Radburn
10. The Good People | Hannah Kent
11. The Troubles Keeper | Susan May
12. Beyond the Orchard | Anna Romer
13. The Tao Deception | John M. Green
14. Southern Ruby | Belinda Alexandra
15. Roger Rogerson | Duncan McNab
16. The Better Son | Katherine Johnson
17. Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else | Eamon Evans

Have you read any of the books listed above? I'm looking forward to participating again in 2017 and will be signing up soon.

Carpe Librum!