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.