28 January 2012

Review: The Blood Countess by Tara Moss

I've been a fan of Tara Moss for quite a while now, watching her interview other famous authors on Tara Moss in Conversation, watching her on Tough Nuts - Australia's Hardest Criminals, and following her comments on Twitter.

So you might be surprised to learn The Blood Countess is the first Tara Moss book I've read. The reason for my hesitation until now was the fear I might not enjoy her work as much as I enjoy her in the mediums mentioned above, and that it could damage the high regard in which I hold her. 

I needn't have worried. I deliberated before settling on The Blood Countess, and I must confess I was a little influenced by the front cover.

Pandora English moves to New York City to live with her eccentric Great Aunt Celia and pursue her dream as a writer with a fashion magazine. Her Aunt lives on the top floor of a gothic revival style Victorian building located in Spektor, in Manhattan. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to the history and description of the mansion, and I share Tara's enthusiasm for gothic architecture and Victorian influence.  I was keen to learn more about the building, it's history and it's architect Edmund Barrett, the founding member of the Global Society for Psychical Research. My interest was piqued but the plot moved on, and I almost felt like Tara was teasing the reader with a whiff of what could be interesting enough for another book altogether!

The fashion angle in The Blood Countess is something largely outside my normal reading patterns; another reason why I chose this novel over one of Tara's many crime novels. However I was relieved to find that the writing wasn't dripping in fashion lingo, nor would I categorise this novel as 'chic lit' (which I detest). The Blood Countess by Tara Moss is a light and enjoyable read with a likeable main character in Pandora English and a supernatural undercurrent.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
25 January 2012

Keep Calm and Read On

Whenever I look at my TBR (To Be Read) pile or feel overwhelmed by the number of books out there I want to read, I have to remind myself that I can only read one page at a time.

I saw this poster today, 'Keep Calm and Read On' and it made me smile.  I thought it was a timely reminder for all book-lovers at the beginning of the year who may have set ambitious reading goals for themselves; if you keep calm, keep your head down and press on, you can get there.  

Those of you who enjoyed the extra reading time over Christmas, remember you don't have to stop when the holidays are over.   I do the majority of my reading in bed before sleep, in waiting rooms before appointments or on public transport.  Where do you do yours?  Where can you find time for the activities you love doing?  What can you do without?

When people tell me "I don't have time to read," what they're really saying is that they prefer to spend their time doing something other than reading.  If reading is important enough to someone, they'll put it at the top of their priority list, and find time for that activity.  Of course, some of us wish we could read more, but that's only natural.  As for me, I don't wish I could spend more time reading, I wish that in the time I spent reading, I could get through more books.

At the moment I'm reading: Words You Thought You Knew - 1001 Commonly Misused and Misunderstood Words and Phrases by Jenna Glatzer while watching the Australian Tennis Open.  It's the perfect book to read during the ads and quieter moments of each match.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas, so please feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.  But, let's Keep Calm and Read On.

Carpe Librum!
22 January 2012

Review: Literally the Best Language Book Ever - Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again by Paul Yeager

Literally the Best Language Book Ever - Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again by Paul Yeager book cover
I reserved this book from the library with plans to leave it on the coffee table over Christmas for everyone to dip into and enjoy; it's just that type of book.

Sadly I didn't get it in time, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Yeager has divided his book into chapters, some of which include: Illogical Words and Phrases, Excessively Trendy Words and Expressions, Inarticulate Language and more.

I was shocked to find that I was guilty of committing one of his offences in the very first chapter, Grammar Errors.  I didn't know this, but firstly, secondly and lastly is poor grammar, as first, second, and last are already adverbs and therefore don't need the additional -ly added.  I've always done this, and I'll probably forget this rule and do it again.  And this was only on page 3!

However; after this chapter I laughed at the cliches and phrases, buzz words and double speak that irritate the author, and found myself wanting to read out every second entry to whoever was near.  At the end the author also included the phrases that annoy and irritate his wife which was amusing.

Literally the Best Language Book Ever - Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again is a great book to share with others, with short sharp entries, a sense of humour and a light approach.

Highly Recommended.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
17 January 2012

Interview with Andrew Hudson, author of Drift

Andrew Cyrus Hudson
Andrew Hudson is the author of Drift, and put his current novel writing aside for a few minutes to participate in an interview.

Thanks for joining us Andrew, when did you know you wanted to be a writer? 
I'm not one of those people who dreamed of being a writer since I was four. But I always wanted to be a storyteller. There was a time in my life when I wanted to write movie scripts. Then another time when I wanted to make video games and another time when I wanted to write songs. 

As far as writing books go, it was actually during the early part of my college years. Like I said, I always wanted to tell stories but it never occurred to me to write novels. Then I took a class in 20th Century English and had a wonderful professor (Professor Kramer). Long story short, I got into writing prose (starting with short stories) and learned in that class that a story is much more than simply having a good idea.

In your novel Drift Travis Benson was a music producer and you mention bands like Pearl Jam and Guns 'N' Roses.  Do you personally like these bands?  Do you listen to music when you write?
I think in some ways it was an unconscious nod to the later part of my high school years and the beginning of my college years. When I first started college, I wanted to be a music producer and I was into bands like Pearl Jam and Guns N' Roses. Not to say that Travis Benson is similar to myself but a lot of the music such as the Foo Fighters were a huge influence on the story.

Actually, I don't listen to music when I write. I have a hard enough time focusing on one thing, let alone two things at the same time. Although music definitely is a way for me to tap into a creative well and set the tone for things.

When do you do your best work?
There isn't any rituals I need to do or places I need to go in order for me to do my best work. All it needs is three factors. One, is that I have to have a good night's rest. Two, is that I have to be in a good mood. And three, is that the passage needs to be emotionally engaging for me. The last factor is the hardest because I can't control it. Some passages are emotional while others are simply a necessity to the story. But when I do find something that grips me and I'm in a good mood, then I try to ride that wave as best I can.

Recently Australian author Tara Moss Tweeted that she used the program Scrivener to assist in her novel writing.  What tools or program/s do you use as a writer to manage your manuscripts?
Actually, I'm pretty unorthodox with my manuscripts. I write the first draft in longhand with notebooks and pens and then write the subsequent drafts on Microsoft Word (which is the easiest to send to a formatter or editor). The only time I use a special program is Movie Magic Screenwriter for scripts or comic books. However, now that you mention it, I might give Scrivener a look.

You mentioned to me that Stephen King was one of your biggest influences; can you tell us some more about this?  Did he influence your writing in Drift?
My two favorite elements in a story are characters and character relationship, which is why Stephen King is one of my biggest influences. It's not about the horror as it is about the characters in his stories and how their horrific circumstances change the characters and their relationships (The Stand is a good example of that). Not to mention that On Writing was very helpful in teaching me how to write a novel/short story.

I never said to myself "Hmm...I think I'll write a Stephen King story today" when I sat down to write Drift. And I think there's a lot of other influences and styles to where I feel comfortable enough to say that it's not a Stephen King tribute. However, there are similar elements such as characters being affected by a violent circumstance, a small town, and how the story is just as much about the internal struggles as it is about the external struggles. Not to mention that I was reading a lot of Stephen King novels during that time.

What are some of your other favourite books/authors?
Even though he's not an author, John Hughes is perhaps my biggest influence. I love his films (Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueler's Day Off, Home Alone, etc.) and his characters. My other favorite authors are Philip K Dick, Bret Easton Ellis, Neil Gaiman, you can check out my Goodreads Profile for more favorites.

Recently I've read L.A Confidential by James Ellroy which I loved, Cancelled by fellow indie author Elizabeth Ann West. Plus, I've really gotten into Jay McInerney's works, which I'm sure will be influential with my third novel.

What are you working on now?
I'm writing a science-fiction collection of short stories called Strange Happenings that will hopefully be released mid May. It's kind of science-fiction but most of it takes place during the present day and is Twilight Zoneish.

Then there's the second novel I'm working on (near the end of the second draft as of this interview) called Poem for the Wolves. It's twice as long as Drift and is epic in scope (even though the events of Poem for the Wolves cover about a month and a half). This one's going to be action packed and will contain a lot of poetry. Hopefully it'll be ready to be published mid December or early January 2013.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks for interviewing me. Aside from giving a shameless self promotion I'd also like to recommend comicattack.net, which is the site I occasionally review for and is filled with awesome people. 

Also, if anyone wants to contact me to give/receive book recommendations, ask questions, or talk about anything else, you can contact me at ahkirbyzook@gmail.com

Thanks Andrew, and thanks for being my guest.
16 January 2012

Review: Drift by Andrew Hudson

* From author for review*

Andrew Hudson's debut novel Drift, opens with a murder, then moves to introduce Travis Benson, who seems a little stressed in his marketing role with hints to a major incident or trauma in his past.

Travis soon takes his bosses advice to take some time off and sets off across the country in his truck, although the reader is not sure where.  Hudson does a fantastic job here of building suspense and I think it would be fair to say that for the first half of the book I enjoyed following Travis and was really keen to unearth the trauma in his recent past.  Suspense is the major driver here.

Self-published as an e-book, it was certainly obvious to this reader that the novel lacked the expert editing and polish from a publishing house.  Typos and errors can be skimmed over, such as: "And where there any passersby? No." on page 211.  However, the use of the word 'skeptics' in relation to hiding a car in the following sentence also on page 211, was a little odd: "Branches and pines hid it out of site, keeping it at bay from skeptics' eyes."

Having said that, Hudson's writing of a character's suicide note within the novel was so deep and moving, I would go so far as saying that it was one of the most touching and intimate letters I've seen incorporated in a novel.  

Ultimately I enjoyed reading Drift, the suspense was real and I enjoyed the backstory of the killer; one of the best parts of the novel.  It was a relief to read a book like this after the heaviness of The Name of the Rose, however I can't give Drift a higher rating than The Name of the Rose.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
13 January 2012

Review: The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name Of The Rose by Umberto Eco book cover
Well, it took 3 1/2 weeks, but I finally finished Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and I've got to admit, it was pretty heavy going. Set in 1327, the tale is narrated by Adso of Melk, a young German monk who accompanies his master, William of Baskerville to a prosperous and wondrous abbey in Italy.

Upon arrival, William is asked by the Abbot to put his powers of observation to work and investigate the death of a monk in the abbey.

Meanwhile, the abbey is home to one of the richest libraries in the land, which is off limits to everyone in the abbey except for the librarian and assistant librarian. Adso and William are keen to unlock the secrets of the labyrinth library, as more monks turn up dead in what appears to be the work of the devil.

What made The Name of the Rose so heavy going for me were the religious discussions and scholarly debates in between the narrative outlined above. The monks discussed whether or not Jesus lived in poverty, whether laughter is a sin and the histories of various sects were discussed in such detail that I found it difficult to follow at times.

There were also frequent latin words and phrases without translation or footnotes, scattered throughout the book; almost one on every page. This was incredibly frustrating and I often felt I was missing out on key information at important junctures.

Having said all of that, I enjoyed the main plot, especially the adventures in the library (now there's a surprise). The Name of the Rose frequently appears on Top 100 and Must Read book lists and I'm glad I've finally read it, however Umberto Eco made me work as a reader and I could certainly tell that this was an Italian to English translation.

Those of you who have seen the 80s movie The Name of The Rose with Sean Connery playing the role of William and Christian Slater playing Adso, will know how the movie ends, however even knowing the ending didn't ruin the reading experience for me.

I was so glad to get to the end though, I can't honestly give it more than three stars.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
12 January 2012

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2012 was hosted over at the Historical Tapestry blog again this year.

There were several levels in the challenge for readers to choose from: 

  • Out of my comfort zone = 2 books
  • Daring and curious = 5 books
  • Struggling the addiction = 10 books
  • Undoubtedly obsessed = 15 books
  • Severe bookaholism = 20 books
I decided to choose 'Struggling the addiction' and challenge myself to read 10 historical fiction books in 2012.  

Here is a list of the books I read and reviewed for the challenge:
1. The Name of the Rose | Umberto Eco
2. The White Queen | Philippa Gregory
3. The Light Between Oceans | M. L. Stedman
4. The Turn of the Screw | Henry James
5. The Red Queen | Philippa Gregory
6. The Car Thief | Theodore Weesner
7. Thursday At Noon | William F. Brown
8. Bitter Greens | Kate Forsyth
9. Only Time Will Tell | Jeffrey Archer
10.Heresy | S.J. Parris
06 January 2012

New Year and Reading Pleasures

My TBR pile
Well, 2012 has arrived, and I've been thinking about my year of reading in 2011. I fell just short of my goal to read 60 books, bugger! My original goal when I set out in January was 55 though, so when I achieved that I increased it to 60, so I guess from that perspective I should be happy. My final tally was 57 books and a total of 19,035 pages read; a personal best!

I was lucky enough to receive some books under the Christmas tree this year, and picked up 3 more on the weekend at a book sale where all books were $4.95; a bibliophile's dream wouldn't you agree? So I thought I'd share a photo of my TBR (To Be Read) pile with you, as it appears at the beginning of the year. Two in the photo are competition winners from 2011, and I have 3 additional ebooks from authors to add to the pile. Lots of reading pleasure to look forward to in 2012.

Have you set yourself any reading goals for the year ahead?  I am going to try to read 60 books again this year, so wish me luck. What reading pleasures or new releases are you looking forward to this year?  

That's my four bucks!