31 December 2012

Review: Crimeson by Justin Gardner

Crimeson by Justin Gardner book coverCrimeson is the true story of Justin Gardner's life. Growing up in the gritty suburb of Sunshine in Melbourne, his father had a penchant for gambling and violence and home life was never stable.  Consequently, Justin was shoplifting and committing crime from a very young age.  By age 14 he was no longer going to school or living at home; instead he was doing and selling drugs and later associating with men depicted in the notorious Australian Underbelly TV series.

By the age of 22, Gardner was a broken man, suicidal, depressed and spending hours every night plotting to kill a man for revenge.  It was at the moment of his deepest, darkest despair that he called out to Jesus, and his life was changed from that moment on.  Gardner was able to find a reason to live again, turn his life around and is now giving back to the community in his work as a senior pastor in a suburb in Melbourne, Victoria.

Crimeson delivers Gardner's childhood history in an honest no-nonsense first person narrative.  However part of me wondered whether Gardner's tone was bragging a little when it seemed to be lacking a little remorse or shame in certain sections.  Perhaps this is because as a teenager, Gardner was lacking it himself, although I am also wondering whether the author has intentionally adopted this tone to make the novel attractive to YA readers - perhaps beginning to face some trouble of their own - in order to deliver the Christian message contained within.  The choice of front cover does tend to support this theory.

However what was missing in Crimeson was how the Underbelly crime figures - referenced a few times in the book - and others within the crime network, reacted to Gardner's sudden withdrawal from the scene.  Did they make threats?  How did Gardner sever his ties with these dangerous people?

Gardner is now leading a fulfilling life giving to others, bringing people to Jesus and seeing 'the lost found and the found crowned' page 172.  He tells us much about his dark past and his current work for the Church and his love of God's word, however I would have enjoyed reading much more about his transition, and the challenges he faced within.

Many readers will find Crimeson inspiring, however I just wanted more.  

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
28 December 2012

Review: The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was by Rose Plummer with Tom Quinn

The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was by Rose Plummer with Tom Quinn book cover
Rose Plummer was born in 1910, had a very poor upbringing and entered service as a maid at the age of fifteen. The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was is her own story of this time as told to Tom Quinn.

Rose isn't shy about including everything, the full extent of the poverty experienced in childhood, sharing a bed with her siblings, an outdoor toilet with her neighbours and petty theft to get by.

In adulthood she doesn't hold back from telling us about her flirting with soldiers in the park (which made me giggle) and the butler spit polishing the silver which the 'family' then used to eat their dinner with.

These are personal highlights, however the majority of the book enlightens the reader about domestic service during this period; how the hierarchy of servants was structured, the delegation of tasks, what food each level of servant generally ate and the perks for each.

Rose shares her personal story of entering service, her first house, then moving on to a bigger house and how it differed in terms of work. She also provides commentary on the impact of the second World War on domestic service and the changing opinions in society with regard to women in service and indeed her own feelings on this.

What is achingly clear is that the work of a maid was backbreaking and tough, and the expectations of the families of the time or Mistress of the House do seem to us to be harsh and cruel now.

I've always had a fascination for the 'life below stairs', but since the highly successful TV series Downton Abbey, there seems to be an abundance of books on the topic of servants, their duties and life experiences, enabling me to explore this further. If you're a fan of the series like me, then The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was is a great book to satisfy your own desire for more information on this part of English history.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
25 December 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

I'd like to wish all booklovers, bibliophiles, bookish nerds and casual readers a very Merry Christmas this year.  Thanks for your continued readership during 2012 and I hope you'll  share this site with others who enjoy books and reading in 2013.

Have a wonderful and special Christmas day with your family and loved ones, and of course I hope there is a book or two under the tree for you.

Carpe Librum!
22 December 2012

Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by Cormac McCarthy book cover
One way or another, the majority of the population will by now have come across American author Cormac McCarthy's hugely successful post-apocalyptic novel The Road, whether you have read it or not.  

In 2007, The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 2009 The Road hit the big screen as a major film featuring actor Viggo Mortensen.

When a book gets too trendy it turns me off a little, but it's clear that The Road has now become an American classic and received much acclaim from all over the world. I knew I'd have to face it sometime, and now I have.

What is clear from early on, is that the two main characters aren't assigned names; they are instead referred to in the narrative as: they, the boy, Papa, he, we, us etc. Also absent from the book are any quotation marks to denote dialogue.

These two writing devices alone create a lean writing style in keeping with the post-apocalyptic setting the father and son find themselves in, the cause of which is never fully explained.  The situation is grim, starving in a land of ash, but the boy's pure heart add simple beauty to the page and balance the devastating story of survival.

I can understand why so many readers were touched by The Road, and furthermore why it has been embraced by environmentalists as a moving example of what could happen if we continue to treat the planet with complete disregard.  The thought is horrific.

For me though, it was a good read, but it didn't change my life, or influence me to go and buy copies for all of my friends and family.  I'm looking forward to watching the movie now though and am interested to hear your thoughts. Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think? Did The Road deserve the Pulitzer?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
20 December 2012

Review: Life Below Stairs - True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney

Life Below Stairs - True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney book cover
Life Below Stairs - True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney is a fabulous little book rich in detail about the life of servants in the Edwardian period, 1901 - 1910.

The book is broken down into the following chapters to cover the different segments of a servant's work in their master and mistress' house:

  1. Social Background
  2. Household Structure
  3. Pay and Conditions
  4. A Day in the Life of a Country House
  5. Toil and Technique
  6. Special Occasions
  7. Code of Conduct
  8. Hiring and Firing
  9. The High Life
Here's a brief selection of interesting tidbits I learned from Life Below Stairs:
  • Footmen increased in value with every inch in height as the liveried uniform was considered to look smart on the taller man.  An extra premium was paid for two who were similar in stature and appearance.  Page 44
  • In order to go into service, a maid had to have her own uniform of a print dress, a black dress and several white aprons. Coming from poor backgrounds, as well as workhouses and orphanages saving up for these garments was no mean feat and most would have to work in part-time jobs for two years to make the money. Page 61
  • Beauty products such as cold cream could be bought or mixed at home and were made from a variety of ingredients including lanolin, almond oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, white wax, witch hazel and spermaceti - a wax obtained from the head of a sperm whale. Page 107
  • Constitutional expert Alastair Bruce explains: 'The dining room chairs may have a back on them but the back is for the footman to push in and out and not for them to rest their backs on at any time.' Page 118
At less than 200 pages, Life Below Stairs is a light, enjoyable and educational read and I thoroughly recommend it to fans of the TV series Downton Abbey, and anyone with an interest in what life was really like for servants in England.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
12 December 2012

Review: Caught In The Crossfire by Matina Jewell

Caught In The Crossfire by Australian author Matina Jewell is an incredibly personal and courageous memoir.  Growing up near Byron Bay, Matina spent her weekends swimming, surfing, riding horses and playing team sports including volleyball, going on to play her first national titles when she was just thirteen.  Matina even travelled to China to play volleyball for Australia and decided she wanted a career where she could travel and continue to learn about other cultures around the world.

Initially wanting to pursue a career in physiotherapy, Matina joined the Australian Defence Force Academy after High School, and began her training as an Officer in the Army.  After graduating she spent time in the Solomons and the Middle East, and in 2004 was selected for a prestigious role with the United Nations.  Prior to taking up her UN posting she took the opportunity to learn Arabic, a decision that later saved her life.

In July 2006, Matina was close to finishing her posting at Patrol Base Khiam in Lebanon, when war broke out.  Matina was seriously injured whilst leading a convoy of armoured vehicles to safety.  Shortly afterwards, her unarmed UN team mates - who had become like brothers to her - were killed when PB Khiam was hit by an aerial bomb, despite their requests to evacuate.

Matina’s evacuation to Australia was a nightmare, and she later learned the full extent of her physical injuries, including fractured and crushed vertebrae.  Matina suffered from survivor guilt and battled severe depression, being achingly honest in her memoirs.  However Caught In The Crossfire is an inspirational story, as Matina eventually finds the inner strength to turn her life around and find a way to honour and commemorate her fallen comrades.  It’s also a love story as the love and support of her boyfriend at the time Clent, proves pivotal; he literally travels halfway around the world for her.

I also loved the QR codes, enabling me to watch the footage interspersed throughout the book, very high tech for the time it was published.

Matina has had an incredible physical and emotional journey to get to this point and hers is a story that must be read to be believed.  (Imagine being dropped from an ambulance with an already broken back for instance!) You can find out more about this remarkable woman by visiting her website matinajewell.com

I think all Australians should read this informative, shocking and engaging memoir that is Caught In The Crossfire by Matina Jewell.  It's also inspiring for those struggling to recover from debilitating physical and emotional pain; Matina shows us all that it is indeed possible to turn your life around and start living with purpose again.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
10 December 2012

Review: Back From The Dead: Peter Hughes' Story of Survival and Hope After Bali by Patrick Lindsay

Back From The Dead: Peter Hughes' Story of Survival and Hope After Bali by Patrick Lindsay book cover
October this year - 2012 - marked the 10 year anniversary of the Bali bombings. A total of 202 people were killed, 88 of which were Australian.  

With this 10 year milestone in mind, I wanted to read some material related to the event and turned to Patrick Lindsay's biography of Peter Hughes, in Back From The Dead - Peter Hughes' Story of Survival and Hope After Bali.

Peter Hughes was interviewed (you can watch the interview on YouTube) in hospital immediately after the bombing and despite his obvious burns and poor physical condition he diverted attention away from himself with his: 'I'm alright, there's plenty of people worse off than me' attitude. It was this attitude that made an impression on the memory of many Australians and ensured Peter was to become irrevocably linked to the Bali bombings.

In fact Peter was so badly burned and his face was so swollen that he was mistaken for a Maori rugby player and his own son watching the interview footage didn't recognise him.

Patrick Lindsay introduces us to Peter, his son Leigh, a few of Pete's friends and takes us back to Bali before the bombings to step us through the planning of the devastating terrorist act. Leigh kept a diary during his Dad's hospitalisation and excerpts are incorporated throughout the book which make for very real and confronting reading. Lindsay has also interviewed Pete's mates and fellow survivors of the bombings and included their survival stories as well.

Back From The Dead is inspirational and deeply moving. Reading it makes you feel proud to be Australian as you read about medical staff pulling together and volunteering during the crisis, the incredible journalism and of course Pete's fight for life, dying and coming back to life three times.

There was one particular segment that really stuck with me though, when Pete is talking about being bathed twice a day by the nurses, and how they had to be cruel to be kind on page 219:
"...But I knew that they had to do it and a lot of time they were crying because they were doing it, you know, you could see it in their faces.  They weren't happy doing it but they had to block it out. The nurses were just incredible people."
Amazing and inspirational for anyone suffering from chronic pain or a setback. Surprisingly Peter Hughes doesn't harbour bitterness, anger or a desire for revenge over the Bali bombings and makes a brilliant role model for many Australians. Thoroughly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

Click here to read the interview Patrick did with Carpe Librum.
05 December 2012

Review: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff book cover
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is a book for booklovers, bibliophiles and those nostalgic for the days of letter writing. It is a collection of letters initiated by Helene Hanff living in New York to a second hand bookshop in London called Messrs Marks and Co.

Commencing in October 1949, Helene mentions that she is a poor writer and that she cannot find the books she wants in New York, and that the ones she can find are "grimy, marked-up school boy copies." She sends her wish list and a budget, and so begins a 20 year correspondence.

Writing back and forth with Frank Doel and requesting volumes, Helene's wit comes across loud and clear and is immeasurably enjoyable for any booklover. Sending parcels during times of rationing and shortages in London, Helene become very popular with the staff at the store, and an amazing relationship builds up over the years.

When Frank passes away after a 20 year correspondence, Helene was inspired to write a book, including some of their letters; with the family's approval of course. She fulfils a long held dream to travel to London to promote the book and keeps a diary during her stay. Her diary was published as The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - her nickname during her stay - and this edition of 84 Charing Cross Road includes The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street at the back.  

I loved reading the letters for their historical and literary worth and their wit and humour was very uplifting. Here's an example from a letter Helene sends to Frank dated February 9th 1952: 
  i could ROT over here before you'd send me anything to read. i oughta run straight down to brentano's which i would if anything i wanted was in print.
 You may add Walton's Lives to the list of books you aren't sending me. It's against my principles to buy a book I haven't read, it's like buying a dress you haven't tried on, but you can't even get Walton's Lives in a library over here. You can look at it. They have it down at the 42nd street branch. But not to take home! the lady said to me, shocked. eat it here. just sit right down in room 315 and read the whole book without a cup of coffee, a cigarette or air."  Page 45
I heartily recommend 84 Charing Cross Road to those who love books, second hand bookshops and letter writing. This book was made into a film in 1987 starring Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins and I'm looking forward to watching that next. Has anyone seen it?

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
02 December 2012

Winner Announced: Secret Keeper Giveaway

Kate has won this autographed copy of The Secret Keeper
by Australian author Kate Morton
The Carpe Librum Secret Keeper Giveaway closed on Friday 30th November and received many entries.

There were two ways to enter, so thanks to those who entered on the blog and shared their favourite book by author Kate Morton and those who submitted their entries via email and shared the secrets they've been keeping.  They made for great reading!

All names were written down on a piece of paper and folded in half, so that the names remained 'secret'.  The folded secrets were then thrown up and the one to land closest to Kate Morton's latest release The Secret Keeper was deemed the winner of this giveaway.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the winner of the Carpe Librum Secret Keeper Giveaway, and the winner of a proof copy, signed by Kate Morton is...... Kate!  I know it sounds funny, but a follower of the blog by the name of Kate left a comment and her secret name landed right on top of the book, so: 

Congratulations Kate! 

Please email me your postal address, and it will give me great joy to post the autographed book out to you.  Again, thanks to all those who entered, thanks to Allen & Unwin for the proof copy and happy reading.

Carpe Librum!

P.S. It is now 1 February 2013, and Kate is yet to claim her prize and I can't track her down to inform her of her win.  Kate, I do hope you are reading this, please make contact by midnight Friday 8th February 2013, or I'll have to draw another winner.
29 November 2012

Review: Heresy by S.J. Parris

Heresy by S.J. Parris book cover
This is the cover design
on the book I read
We first meet our protagonist Giordano Bruno on the privy, reading a forbidden text in a monastery in Naples in the 1500s.

Unfortunately he is discovered, and Bruno's unabated desire for forbidden knowledge and the alleged sin of pride makes him a target for the Inquisition and he is forced to flee Naples. 

On the run for years, he agrees to go to Oxford in 1583 to work as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham to root out traitors to Queen Elizabeth I.  Those practising Catholicism must do so in secret, and it is feared that there are plots to assassinate the Queen in order to return England to the Catholic faith.

However there is soon a bloody murder in Oxford and others tragically follow. Bruno begins to investigate, not knowing whether the murders are related to a treasonous plot or the work of a bloodthirsty member of the University.

I love this cover
design though, which
do you prefer?
Not trusted due to his status as an outsider, Bruno runs into his fair share of difficulties and this is further complicated by his own private and secret mission to use the opportunity in Oxford to track down an extremely rare manuscript.

Heresy is an excellent historical fiction novel, and the reader is able to gain a wonderful sense of being in 1500s Oxford. In fact, I was in London at the time of reading the novel, and twice visited Oxford while reading this book. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading these pages, having just visited these locations and being able to picture the places and scenes precisely as they were described. It really added to my reading pleasure.

Heresy is the first in the Giordano Bruno series of books by S.J. Parris, of which - at the time of this review - there are three:

  1. Heresy by S.J. Parris
  2. Prophecy by S.J. Parris
  3. Sacrilege by S.J. Parris
I have the next book in the series on my shelf already, Prophecy, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

28 November 2012

Review: Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer audio
Only Time Will Tell is the first audiobook I've listened to in years, and it was part of the in-flight entertainment offered on my recent overseas trip.

It has a playing time of 12 hours 30mins compared to a page count of 400 pages which was interesting and is also the first in a series called Clifton Chronicles with the next called The Sins of the Father.

The story follows the life of Harry Clifton, beginning with him as a young boy from a working class family in the 1920's, living with his Mum, believing his Father died in the war. His beautiful singing voice doesn't go unnoticed and earns him a scholarship in an elite boy's boarding school where he becomes best friends with a boy from a wealthy family which changes the course of both families forever.

This is a family saga, with family secrets gradually revealed in a careful and delicate way.  I've read other family saga novels that seemed to have a quicker pace but this could have been because I was reading the stories and not listening to them; it was hard to tell.

There weren't any great twists or big reveals that caught me off guard or characters that I absolutely fell in love with, although there is a very likeable character Jack Tarr who dispenses some wisdom throughout Harry's journey.

All in all, a likeable tale, but not one that will linger in my memory for long.

What about you, do you listen to audiobooks? I've heard they're great to listen to in the car and are popular now with truckies. I remember listening to The Silence of the Lambs audiobook many years ago and it was quite chilling. What was the last one you listened to and do you have any recommendations?

My rating = **1/2

Carpe Librum!
26 November 2012

Interview with Robert Mwangi, author of A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1

Author, Robert Mwangi
It gives me pleasure today to bring you my interview with Robert Mwangi, author of  A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1, recently reviewed on Carpe Librum where I gave the debut novel set in Kenya, 4 stars.  Click here for the review.

Robert, can you tell us what was the hardest part of writing A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1?
Free writing is easy because you put your head down and let the fingers do the talking.  Editing is the hardest part about writing. When I was writing this book, I was forced to cut out chapters that were too close to home and some of these chapters were fantastic. It hurt to discard them. The other hard thing to write was the last chapter. I mean at what point do you decide that okay, this is a great ending, that this is a point that will make a reader go like ‘wow!’ It’s a tough question.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Many a times I find myself on YouTube browsing songs on my desk computer. And then I come across a song that makes me go very still. I hit the replay button, again and again. It gets dark outside but I don’t notice. I hit replay again. And then suddenly, the music stops and I jump up and turn on the lights. I rush into the kitchen and make a cup of tea. And then I get back on the computer and start typing furiously. The music has stopped but actually, its still playing in my head. I free write for almost an hour. And then I save and exhale. I don’t edit until a day or two later.

Much of A Whisper In The Jungle takes place outdoors, do you ever like to write outside?
In ancient times, our ancestors were guided by their innate connection to their spirit. Life was about deep listening and acting accordingly. They called it the teaching of the hollow bone and it goes like this.
If you find an old bone in the woods, it has been cleaned out by insects or animals and appears to be pristine. The insides are absolutely smooth. When you become a hollow bone, you have no ego, no doubts, no pride. Just humility. The spirit can now come straight to you and straight through you. You read a book clearly or type on a laptop without pause. 
How do you become a hollow bone? For me, I go to the woods or a quiet park. I see the children and the dogs running: the couple taking a walk, the girl reading a book under a tree. Some people close their eyes to clear their minds, I don’t. 

I look at the serene scene around me and it clears my mind, I ground myself and breathe my spirit into my body. I listen with my heart. And then I write, not on a laptop but in my head. I write a whole story in my head and when I get home, I quickly rewrite it on the computer. 

Given that you were born in Kenya, but now live in America, do you consider yourself a Kenyan author or American author or just a writer?
We shouldn’t put labels on ourselves because it only limits the height of our achievement. Fly like a bird and write about the whole world: from Africa to Paris to Saudi Arabia. Having said that, it’s also important that we recognise our writing strength and its mostly going to be that innate thing inside us that we write about without doing research. That’s who we are. 

Are there any current writers in Kenya that you'd like to mention?
I grew up reading Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s books. He is the best writer in Kenya and the genius of his work is in the simplicity of his writing. When I became an adult I read the books again and realised that all Ngugi had done was tell the stories of his generation from the bottom of his heart. Charles Dickens says that: "a writer who is natural has fulfilled the rules of art".

This book has resonated
 with Robert since
 he was 16yrs of age
What authors have inspired you over the years?
Frank Peretti's book The Present Darkness has resonated with me since I was 16. I read my mum’s Danielle Steel books as a kid and most romantic stories I tell are founded from that basic reading. Lately, the descriptive writing of John Hart and Clive Cussler have inspired me immensely. 

What is the sequel to A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1 called?  When is it due to be published?
The American Journey is the name of the sequel and will be published - God willing - in Africa sometime in 2013. Here's a synopsis:
An African boy undertakes an amazing journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and against all odds tries to find his place in a 21st Century world, without betraying the people he loves and without losing his own identity. 
I wrote this book thinking about a village boy in the darkest corner of Africa. I want this book to be a guideline for him; that when his time comes to take the reigns and curve his own destiny, then he will be ready because of this book. Through romance and adventure, A Lion in America 2 blurs the margins between the old and the new world. 

Anything else you'd like to add?
Yes. If you have a dream, go for it. Other people who have tried and failed will try and dissuade you. Don’t listen to them. As for writers, write because it makes you happy. Marianne Williamson says that: "we are to do only that which is psychologically and emotionally imperative for us to do."   www.robert-mwangi.com

Thanks for those inspirational words Robert, and best of luck publishing the sequel!
20 November 2012

Review: Worst Case by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Worst Case by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge book cover
Worst Case is the 3rd book in the Detective Michael Bennett series penned by James Patterson in collaboration with author Michael Ledwidge.

Book 1: Step on a Crack
Book 2: Run For Your Life
Book 3: Worst Case
Book 4: Tick Tock

I somehow missed the second in the series - Run For Your Life - however Worst Case can be read as a stand alone, and doing so didn't impact my enjoyment of the novel.

Detective Bennett is assigned a kidnapping case in his hometown of New York when a rich kid is kidnapped and held hostage. What is strange though is that the hostage taker isn't making any ransom demands.

The case escalates when the body is dumped and another child of a wealthy family is abducted. FBI Agent Emily Parker is also assigned to the case and together they work to catch the serial killer while his motive remains a mystery.

Worst Case is fast paced and while you think you're following a basic crime plot, the ending was impressive and well thought out. This is a very solid crime novel from Patterson and worth the read.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
14 November 2012

Giveaway: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Here's me with author Kate Morton
I was lucky enough tonight to attend a Dymocks event at the State Library of Victoria tonight where Aussie author Kate Morton was in conversation about her writing process and research process for her new novel The Secret Keeper.

After the interview, Kate took questions from the audience and then graciously took to the foyer to sign books for the bookish fans in a long queue that snaked back into the venue.

Kate Morton signing another fan's book
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton book coverI was close to the front and after telling Kate she was one of my favourite Aussie authors, she signed two copies of The Secret Keeper for me along with my old favourites: The Forgotten Garden and The Shifting Fog (The Distant Hours having been loaned to a friend of a friend).

Here's the best news: I am giving one of the signed copies of The Secret Keeper away here on Carpe Librum!  This is a proof copy* too which makes it rare and a great keepsake for book-lovers.  

How to Enter
There are 2 ways you can enter:
 - Leave a comment below and tell me which of Kate Morton's books is your favourite, or
- Send an email and tell me what secret you've been keeping.

The giveaway closes on Friday 30th November 2012, good luck everyone!

*The proof copy is courtesy of Allen & Unwin, so many thanks to them.
12 November 2012

Review: A Whisper in the Jungle - A Lion in America 1 by Robert Mwangi

* From author for review *
A Whisper in the Jungle - A Lion in America 1 by Robert Mwangi book cover

I receive many requests from authors to review their books, however when I received a request from debut author Robert Mwangi to review his novel A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1 set in Kenya, it arrived at the perfect time. I had plans to travel to Kenya within a few weeks and I just couldn't say no.  I was already reading the Lonely Planet guide to Kenya and was keen to balance out my reading and  A Whisper In The Jungle delivered that and more.

My Synopsis
The story opens with two brothers James and Isaac who live in a mud hut with their mother in a village at the base of Mt. Kenya.  James' brother goes missing in an event that haunts the villagers and from which James never truly recovers.  Years go by and James continues to pursue his love of soccer and which takes him to boarding school in the city of Nairobi.

But while on holiday in his village, his childhood sweetheart goes missing in the same way as his brother and James enters the forrest to search for her and face his past, whatever the consequences.

My Review
I enjoyed  A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1, in particular the last third of the novel where James goes in search of the missing village girls.  The danger, suspense and tension builds, and it is here that the reader is given a real insight into the African customs and old ways of village life.  The author also paints a clear picture of the natural landscape and the creatures and wildlife within it.

There is a clear theme running throughout the novel of the customs and traditions of the past clashing with popular Western culture.  The characters in the novel have different views and James makes an interesting observation on paying tribute to his ancestors but also doesn't have all the answers on the best way to incorporate tradition into the future.  The author has done a great job of allowing the reader to consider all of the ideas and issues in an easy to digest manner without being preached to.

 A Whisper In The Jungle - A Lion in America 1 - as the title suggests - is the first part of a two-part story, and there is a sequel to follow.  It will be interesting to see where James goes next and how his story and development progresses, although a small part of me will miss his time in the village.

This book will appeal to fans of soccer, as soccer forms a large part of James' life at boarding school.  It'll also appeal to anyone interested in Africa or those wanting to visit from the comfort of their lounge chair.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Click here to read an interview between Carpe Librum and author Robert Mwangi.
17 October 2012

Review: Sensing Murder by Nicola McLoy

Sensing Murder is a popular TV show in New Zealand that airs in Australia on Foxtel and author Nicola McLoy has written a book by the same name which covers cases which have aired on the TV show and provides background on the show itself.

For those that haven't watched the show, each episode centres around a real unsolved murder or missing person's case in New Zealand.  The Sensing Murder team consists of psychics and private investigators who work together to try to unearth new facts on these cold cases.  The show has won several awards and is one of the most watched TV programs in New Zealand.

If you're a skeptic, it's fair to assume you probably won't enjoy the program however many of the cases have been featured on the show as a result of requests from victim's families and legitimate information (including suspect names, addresses, descriptions, car registrations etc) have been provided by the psychics.  Some of this information has been verified by Police or friends and family of the victims but other details have provided breaks in the case files for Detectives and Police, and in some cases have needed to be bleeped out.

As a fan of the show myself, I enjoyed reading Sensing Murder, which is an extension to the program. This certainly isn't a book for everyone, and admittedly it has a limited target audience, although those interested in true crime might also enjoy reading the cases.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
13 October 2012

Review featured on Mamamia Book Circle

I was excited to learn that one of my favourite Australian book celebrities Cheryl Akle is now leading Mamamia Book Circle.  Every month Cheryl will be chatting to authors and talking about new release books as well as old favourites.

In the first episode, Cheryl spoke about the novel Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba, a book I reviewed for The Circle on Channel 10 before they were taken off air.  A couple of weeks ago Cheryl asked on Twitter for reviewers to send in their reviews of Beneath the Darkening Sky for 'something special' she was working on and I obliged; not knowing what it might be.

Well, I got a nice surprise while watching Episode 1 of The Book Circle, when Cheryl read an excerpt from a review from Tracey, woohoo!!!  What an absolute thrill!

You can watch the full episode below in which 4 books are briefly discussed, or jump to the Beneath the Darkening Sky section which begins at 7:05secs; my review is read out at 8:22secs.


10 October 2012

Review: Color - A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

Color - A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay book cover
I've always been fascinated about the origins of colour, and in Color - A Natural History of the Palette, author Victoria Finlay travels the world in her search for the origin and birthplace of colors and dyes.

I wasn't interested in the author's personal travelogue, so I initially had the intention of skipping over any boring parts and jumping straight to the facts about the colours which are conveniently broken down into the following chapter headings:

  1. Ochre
  2. Black and Brown
  3. White
  4. Red
  5. Orange
  6. Yellow
  7. Green
  8. Blue
  9. Indigo
  10. Violet
What I found surprising was that there were no boring bits!  Finlay has managed to keep herself out of the book for the most part, and the stories that were included were historically relevant to the colour being discussed and I didn't end up skipping a single paragraph.

Finlay's passion for color and dyes are clear early on, but far from boring the reader her enthusiasm is infectious and I found myself becoming quite excited when she found her first indigo plant or saw a purple field of saffron crocus (used for the color yellow) for the first time.

Some of my favourite facts include:
  • Red was made from the blood of the Cochineal insect, which lives on a cactus leaf
  • The colour yellow was made from saffron, harvested from the saffron crocus flower, however only 3 strands of saffron are collected from each flower.
  • In 1775, arsenic was used to create a color called Scheele's Green.  It took until 1880 for people to realise that the wallpapers and paints using this green (and other paints containing arsenic) were killing people and making others very sick.  e.g. a cat had become covered with pustules after being locked in a green room.
  • Purple is the colour that has been most legislated about over the longest time in history.
  • Purple has been a regal colour for centuries and one form of purple was made from shellfish and worn by emperors of Ancient Rome.  Finlay writes that those who wore it "probably left a cloud of garlicky, fishy smells in their wake," and that perhaps it was the "scent of power" at the time.  What a thought!
I learned so much about the history of colour, dyes, art, art forgery, culture, events in history and trade across many countries and different time periods in the world's history.  Everything from a secret green used on ancient Chinese porcelain to the colour blue used to dye English police uniforms in the 1960s was covered, all of which I found fascinating and easy to digest in Finlay's conversational writing style.

I thoroughly recommend Color - A Natural History of the Palette to readers who enjoy art, culture, history, non fiction and have a natural curiosity about the colours around us; great for trivia nights too!

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!