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!
04 October 2012

Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes book cover
Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a slim book at only 163 pages and I had high hopes as I turned to the first page.

Essentially this is a book about ageing and reflecting back on one's life with the hindsight and wisdom of age. Tony is the narrator of The Sense of an Ending, and in the 1960s he has a relatively idealised vision of his future while attending school with his intellectual and cocky school friends who enjoy exchanging witty banter. After an unsuccessful relationship with girlfriend Veronica, Tony and his close friends eventually lose touch as they disband to different universities etc.  

Forty years later, after becoming a father and going through a divorce, Tony receives news that puts him in touch with Veronica again. The news and subsequent revelations force him to reflect on his life and how it has turned out and how it might have been.  

Tony also begins to face the fact that he is closer to death now and making preparations himself to leave the world soon and considers the legacy he wishes to leave.

Reading The Sense of an Ending for me was like listening in on the private thoughts of a stranger and while interesting, I didn't find them that revolutionary or groundbreaking. I couldn't help but wonder if I would have felt different if I were reading this as a baby boomer or if I'd have been more touched by his reflections if I'd been reading this at a later stage in my own life? Unfortunately I don't think so.

Clearly the literati and booklovers the world over fell in love with The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, but it just wasn't the book for me. If it swept you away, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
02 October 2012

Review: Blackwater Moon by B. Michael Radburn

Blackwater Moon by B. Michael Radburn book cover
* From Publisher for review * 

Blackwater Moon is a brand new release (published 1 October) written by Australian author B. Michael Radburn.  Regular readers of Carpe Librum will remember my interview with Radburn in August of this year following my review of his debut novel The Crossing set in Tasmania.

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Blackwater Moon for review from Pantera Press and please believe me when I say I was blown away!  I wish Blackwater Moon had been Radburn's debut novel; it was rich in plot and characters and daring in a way I rarely see from Aussie authors.

Andy Walker is a young boy from a turbulent home growing up in a relatively small town when we meet him, and he is soon changed.  There is a strong element of crime in the novel while the reader also follows Andy through his teen years, early adulthood and into manhood.

I thought I knew what the climax was building towards early on in the novel and pretty much thought I had the plot 'sussed' but boy was I wrong!  Blackwater Moon is dark but also beautiful and the author isn't afraid to write characters out that in other novels would be best supporting characters for the duration of the book. In Radburn's hands, these characters (e.g. a likeable policemen) make way for others who come in and quickly take their place in the reader's hearts; it's daring but it works!

Blackwater Moon seemed to have different phases where Andy Walker was moving through his life and each was rich with content and feeling with the shadow of the past lurking beneath.  It was filled with suspense and I was eager to find out what would happen next.  I also enjoyed Andy's personal reflections and his character development as he worked through the trauma of his past and life's hurdles from that time on.

I thoroughly enjoyed Blackwater Moon, and I hope B. Michael Radburn continues to write in this style going forward.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!