29 March 2011

Review: The Mysterium by Paul Doherty

The Mysterium by Paul Doherty book coverI've been following Paul Doherty's medieval mystery series featuring Sir Hugh Corbett for many years now, and his latest novel, The Mysterium is 17th in the series.

Set in London in 1304, Hugh Corbett is engaged by the King to investigate two murders which occur shortly after the fall from power of Walter Evesham, Chief Justice. Evesham himself is soon found slain, and it seems a ghostly assassin is on the hunt with Corbett close behind.

The Mysterium is the name of an assassin who stalked London long ago and many believe he has returned; or is this the work of a new killer?

Doherty is an expert in transporting the reader to medieval London; I was able to experience the smells, sights and sounds as if I was almost there. I definitely felt cold reading this novel too, it seems every character was cold at some point.

This was another great stand alone medieval mystery with Corbett revealing his findings at the end in ordered and thorough detail. Very satisfying for the reader who enjoys finding every loose end tied up. I'd recommend this book to any historical fiction fans, and fans of the crime genre who don't mind going back in time a few hundred years.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
24 March 2011

Review: The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski book coverThis non-fiction book is a treat for bibliophiles but could prove a bit of a bore for the average reader. In The Book on the Bookshelf, author Henry Petroski takes an in depth look at the development of books and the humble bookshelf over the centuries including: scrolls and codices, illuminated texts and the modern paperback.

I enjoyed tracing the history of book storage across history, and particularly enjoyed learning more about the practice of chaining precious books to desks in libraries and reading rooms. When chained books were first shelved vertically, they were shelved with their spines facing inwards as the spine was the weakest point of the book and not suitable for attaching the chain mechanism.

What to do then when there were too many books and not enough space? This question continues to plague the modern day librarian, and Petroski takes us through the many advances in technology and engineering throughout history addressing this very problem.

Historically, natural light was pivotal in the design of libraries and you can often identify the library in a historic building by the construction of their windows. With the advent of the printing press, books became more prolific and the nature of their bindings began to change. Petroski also discusses the changes in various materials such as: parchment, papyrus and paper.

At the end of the book, Petroski provides at least 21 different ways to shelve books. I'm most interested in shelving books by colour, as demonstrated in my favourite bookish picture (left). I'd love to have a wall of shelves and try this for myself, but this photo and many more like it will have to sustain me for the moment.

The Book on the Bookshelf is full of historical gems and
interesting bookish facts and I'd recommend it to dedicated bibliophiles out there who are interested in a little history.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
21 March 2011

Review: The Crime of Huey Dunstan by James McNeish

The Crime of Huey Dunstan by James McNeish book coverI was so excited when I stumbled across this book last year. Firstly because it was written by a Kiwi author and set in New Zealand, secondly because it was about a character with the surname Dunstan and thirdly because it was pitched as a 'literary masterpiece'. I've just finished it and unfortunately I don't agree that The Crime of Huey Dunstan is a literary masterpiece.

The book is narrated by Ches, a blind psychologist specialising in traumatic cases, but now retired. Ches is reflecting on the past and the case of Huey Dunstan, accused of killing another man in cold blood.

Ches is brought in as a consultant at first - prior to the trial - but the case keeps gnawing at him and he can't seem to let it go. Ches delves into the concept of buried memory whilst also trying to gain Huey's trust and dig deeper into his past.

It was interesting and impressive to learn just how independent Ches was, despite his blindness and I enjoyed the snippets about his marriage and the in-jokes between them.

For some reason I thought this novel lacked a solid structure. There were moments of beautiful writing and character insight, however it lacked the punch that crime novels usually deliver. I enjoyed the NZ setting though, and I'm determined now to read more work by our literary neighbours.

In summary, I had such high expectations for this book that I couldn't help be disappointed after reading it.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
10 March 2011

Review: Gift of the Gob by Kate Burridge

Gift of the Gob by Kate Burridge book coverKate Burridge is an Australian Professor of Linguistics and Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History is her third book. This is an educational, insightful, amusing and light read covering several interesting categories, some of which include: Slanguage on the move, Shocking words, Word origins, Pronunciation on the move and many more.

It was fascinating to learn how the meaning of a word can change over time, as well as the pronunciation. The book includes the origin of particular words and phrases and even included the word I hate most at the moment, irregardless.

I enjoyed reading the section on blended words such as cocacolonization and affluenza. I was also introduced to the official/non-official term the pullet surprise (misheard Pulitzer Prize) which many of us would recognise as the outcome when song lyrics are misheard. My favourite section of the book included the long forgotten phrases describing culinary activities such as: frushing a chicken and unlacing a rabbit.

The most disturbing find was that there is an increasing number of Australians using the expression 'Collingwood is versing Essendon' instead of versus. Younger generations when hearing the use of the word versus are mistaking it for verses, and using it accordingly - although incorrectly. I sincerely hope this doesn't take off, although since finishing this book I have heard this pronunciation at least twice, ugh!

Gift of the Gob takes a look at the language of the past and where the English language is taking us in the future, both here and abroad. My only criticism is that the book is screaming out for an Index or Table of Contents at the beginning. I was continually flicking through the book to find this or that and a Table of Contents would have been very handy.

I thoroughly recommend this to anyone with a love of words or interested in the quirky words, phrases, spellings, pronunciations and origins of our English language. This book would be perfect on any coffee table, and is fantastic to dip into from time to time but is not too much to read in one hit. Enjoy.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
07 March 2011

Review: To the Tower Born by Robin Maxwell

To the Tower Born by Robin Maxwell book coverThe disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483 has captured the attention of historians for hundreds of years, and the mystery has never been solved.

What we do know is that following the death of King Edward IV, his eldest son Edward was placed in The Tower of London (which were then luxurious royal apartments) for his own protection prior to his coronation. He was later joined by his younger brother, Prince Richard.

Whilst in the Tower it was discovered that the marriage of their parents - King Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville - was illegitimate; King Edward was already married at the time. This made the births of the Princes illegitimate, and their Uncle Richard (the late King's brother) was crowned King Richard III. The Princes then disappeared and it was long assumed King Richard III was responsible for having the young boys murdered and their remains disposed of within the Tower.

Robin Maxwell tackles this famous mystery in To The Tower Born - A Novel of the Lost Princes, and successfully manages to build on these historical facts, taking the reader back to the era and providing a convincing account of what 'could have happened'. An alternate outcome if you will.

Told in alternating chapters from two different narrators, we get to know the young Princes prior to the events leading to their demise. The novel is rich in history and exposes the plotting and politics of those hungry for power in England, and those who will do anything to lay claim to the throne.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction novel, and am already a huge fan of Robin Maxwell's work, especially The Queen's Bastard, and The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.

I would recommend this to any reader interested in delving into a well written novel featuring the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, or who is keen to learn more about the politics of the House of York in the period prior to the Tudors.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!