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.