31 July 2013

I'm in the Top 1% of Reviewers on GoodReads!

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm in the top 1% of reviewers on GoodReads!

This is a significant achievement considering there are currently more than 20 million members of GoodReads! If you're a member of this brilliant site for book-lovers, then come and check out my profile.

If you're not a member and you love books and reading then join now; it's the biggest and most popular website for book-lovers in the world.

Carpe Librum!

30 July 2013

Interview with Wanda Wiltshire, author of Betrothed

Author Wanda Wiltshire
It gives me pleasure to welcome Wanda Wiltshire to Carpe Librum today.  Wanda is the Australian author of Betrothed, a YA fantasy romance novel, published by Pantera Press this month.

I heard in an ABC interview recently that you only started writing 4 years ago, what gave you the confidence to begin?
Knowing it was what I was meant to do. Until a few years ago I was just dreaming my way through life, feeling like I didn’t fit and doing my best to be unconcerned by it. Then something happened that threw my world into chaos and began the most challenging time of my life – the kind of time that makes you question the meaning of it all. Eventually my questioning led me to God. It was quite literally like walking out of the storm and into the calm. Soon I realized that if He created me, then it had to have been for a purpose. It was a light-bulb moment. With no idea what that purpose might be, I asked Him to reveal it to me. Three little words came directly to my mind – ‘Write a book.’  I argued for a while, believing it far too big for me, but that quiet voice was insistent. Later that day I went to my daughter and said ‘God’s telling me to write a book.’ She rolled her eyes and said, ‘Whatever, Mum,’ but joined me in trying to come up with an idea. We came up with nothing. So that night I went to bed and prayed. ‘God, I hear you, but if you want me to write a book you’d better send me something because I’ve got nothing!’ The next morning, in that hazy time between sleeping and waking, Betrothed slipped into my mind. 

What was the hardest part of writing Betrothed?
I can’t say there was anything hard about writing Betrothed, but it was time consuming. It took around eight or nine months to complete the first draft which sat at around 126,000 words. I tucked it away and took it out six months later after I’d written the end on my second book. Then the real work on Betrothed began – all the editing and refining. 

Do you plan your writing in advance or does it unfold as you go?
With Betrothed, there was no planning at all. The story was given to me beautifully presented and complete – a gift. Even the characters came ready named and alive to me! As I wrote, it was almost as though the wrapping was being slowly peeled from the parcel as small details and surprises were revealed to me! With subsequent books, I have done a little planning, often in the form of notes which frequently get lost never to be found again.

When do you do your best work?  Where do you do most of your writing?
I do my best work when I begin early in the day – the earlier the better. Sometimes when I sit down to write at five or six in the morning, it’s nothing for me to still be going at midnight! But, if I procrastinate much beyond midday I’m lost and usually only endure til 6pm or so. I have an eight year old and need to be accessible to him, so I write in the family room. Although nowhere near as ideal as the lonely cottage by the sea of my dreams, it works well enough.

Why do you think the Young Adult (YA) genre is so popular at the moment compared to 10-15 years ago?
Hmm … The popularity of Harry Potter might have something to do with it. I clearly recall the criticism adult lovers of the first in J. K. Rowling’s series endured. These days however, it’s common to see older people reading books written for a younger audience. I’m not sure how accurate it is but I heard the target age for YA is now 13 – 55! With a greater number of people reading YA books, it stands to reason a greater number of people would choose to write them too. I love well written YA. It possesses a freshness and innocence lacking in adult literature.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading Jane Austen’s, Persuasion – again. As always, I’ve been left wanting more!

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I love books that pull me quickly into the story. They also must make me feel deeply and create a vivid picture with as few words as possible.  My favourite authors are genius at this and include Anne Rice, Melina Marchetta, Maggie Stiefvater, Markus Zusak and Jane Austen. These five all combine compelling story with exceptional writing – the winning combination. (I'm a big fan of Anne Rice too!)

Do you buy your books or borrow them from the library? Do you prefer paper or e-books?
The library doesn’t work for me. I can rarely find the book I’m after and when I manage to, I usually end up with a fine for not returning it on time! Nor do e-books appeal. I’m way too forgetful and disorganised. Within a month I would leave my kindle somewhere and lose my entire collection in the space of a moment! So, when I want a book, I borrow from a friend or go to the bookshop and buy the paper kind.

The Enchanted Wood
by Enid Blyton was
one of Wanda's most
loved childhood books
Do you have any literary influences or want to mention any books that had a significant impact on your life?
I think every book a writer reads has the potential to influence his or her writing in some way or other, almost as though each book contains a lesson – what to do or what not to do. This has been true for me anyway. 

As for impacting my life, I would have to say that when I was young, books in general saved me from loneliness. I was an awkward child but if I had a book, I had a friend. Enid Blyton was my favourite author, The Enchanted Woods, my most loved book. It taught me the possibility of a more exciting world and ignited a lifelong love of fairies and fantasy!

I understand Betrothed is the first in a six book series, what’s the next book called? What can you tell us about it?
The next book in the series is called Allegiance. Readers can expect to be surprised. They can expect to be caught up in a whirlwind of twists and romance and revelation. They can also expect to spend a lot more time in Faera, discovering the beauty, customs and challenges of this magical world. 

Anything else you'd like to add?
Only, thanks for having me, Tracey!

You're more than welcome, and thanks so much!
27 July 2013

There is Nothing New Under the Sun: How Historical Fiction Illuminates the Present by J.L. Spohr

I'm proud to introduce a guest post today from writer J.L. Spohr, author of Heirs & Spares.  Today she'll be sharing her thoughts on How Historical Fiction Illuminates the Present; I hope you enjoy her insights!

I’d always thought historical fiction would be boring – like someone took the literary version of a bedazzler to history textbooks. And who cares about the past anyway? A bunch of crusty white men in various forms of tights. Yawn. But then I read Gore Vidal’s Lincoln.  All of a sudden I started to consume anything to do with the Civil War (thank you Ken Burns!) and minored in history in college. To this day, my favorite reads are historicals (and yes, I’m unabashedly lumping classics like Dickens, Austen, and Tolstoy in here too).  So it’s no surprise that when I started to write my own novel, Heirs & Spares, it was set in 1569. 

But loving historical fiction’s not just an escapist longing to the days where men were gallant, women wore fabulous clothes, and everyone had a horse. Digging deep into the past shines a light on our present. The old adage “history repeats itself” is an old adage because it happens. Sometimes we see this in families when the toddler has the same wonky grin as grandpa, and less pleasantly when cruelty is passed through generations. We see it globally, not only in repetitive wars (let’s not be a downer), but also in the sad fashion mistakes of the 80’s rearing their very ugly heads. Debbie Gibson hat anyone?  People, acid washed denim was horrid then. It is still horrid now. Please…just, please. But I digress. 

Even if history doesn’t repeat precisely as the past, we can still use it as a lens to better understand current events. Take for example, the new royal baby Prince George of Cambridge. Some may mock all the fervor swirling about, but many a woman used to lose her standing — if not her head — without the requisite boy and heir. When it boils down to brass tacks, Anne Boleyn was killed because she couldn’t give Henry a son. Now, nobody would’ve lopped off Kate Middleton’s head if the prince was a princess (since they passed the new royal succession law – phew!), but part of why we are glued to our televisions is because today’s royals carry the mantel of the past. A past that teams with scandal and sex and betrayal and violence and world-shaking events. And who wouldn’t want to read about that? 

People ask me if I do a ton of research. Actually, probably three tons, but I have a dirty little secret: the one constant that never changes, no matter what period one writes about, is human nature. While the context and content may, the motivations of love, greed, envy, hope, lust, power, safety, and wanting a really tricked-out ride (be it horse or car) that drive my characters in fictional Troixden—these motivations have carried forth the human race for as long as we’ve been stumbling around. And it is those motivations, in the hands of the powerful, that change the course of our present and our future. 

So will this Prince George, like monarchs of England before him, change the face of history? Odds are probably not, but one never knows. Even one hundred years ago, people didn’t think America would be the super power that it is. Fifty years ago, a person of color would never have been allowed to run for, let alone win, the White House. Ten years ago, who would’ve thought we’d all be cramming ourselves like sausages into Spanx? And who would have thought we’d see chartreuse in the Gap again, oh, excuse me “neon kiwi?” I’m still waiting for Esprit to make tote bags again, but while I wait, I’ll be plunging back a few hundred years to help me enjoy the next 100.  

Author J.L. Spohr
J. L. Spohr is the author of Heirs & Spares and several short stories. 

An incurable Anglophile, she turned her attention to historical fiction and fictional monarchies after studying the Reformation in graduate school. 

She is an ordained minister and lives with her brood in Seattle. 
26 July 2013

Review: Heirs & Spares by J.L. Spohr

Heirs & Spares by J.L. Spohr book cover
* From author for review *

Heirs & Spares is an historical fiction novel, but setting it apart from others in the genre is the fact that the setting is fictional. Set in 1569 during the reign of Elizabeth I, the main character Lady Annelore is based just north of France in a place called Troixden; a place which doesn't exist in real life.

It took me until 3/4 of the way through the novel before I realised it was complete fiction; Lady Annelore and King William weren't real characters from history, and I wish so much I'd known this at the beginning.

Generally historical fiction takes real characters from the past and the author plots a tale around them. Of course there are fictional characters as well, however in the case of Heirs & Spares there are no true historical figures in the direct plot, linking the tale to the past.

If I review Heirs & Spares as a fiction novel, I would comfortably say it was a good and entertaining read. For regular readers of historical fiction though, this was light in terms of court intrigue, betrayal and general action. Having recently read The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner probably ruined my complete enjoyment of Heirs & Spares, simply because it was so rich with plot, court activity and intrigue, betrayal, love and action.

Perhaps I'd recommend Heirs & Spares to YA readers of historical fiction, providing a gentle introduction to life at court during this period, two very likeable characters in Annelore and William and a pleasing romance.

Heirs & Spares is FREE for Kindle download today in honour of the new Prince George.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Stay tuned for a guest post by J.L. Spohr on "Tying Historical Fiction to Current Events" which I'm thoroughly looking forward to; particularly with the recent arrival of Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge!
18 July 2013

Review: Property of a Lady by Sarah Rayne

Property of a Lady by Sarah Rayne book cover
* From author for review*

Property of a Lady is the first in a series of ghost stories written by one of my favourite authors Sarah Rayne, featuring characters Nell West and Michael Flint.

Michael Flint is an academic living in Oxford and is asked by friends based in the USA to look at an old house they've just inherited.  When Michael sees Charect House, he becomes interested in its history and stumbles across a mystery that goes back generations.

Michael enlists the help of local antiques dealer Nell West who is buying back the original furniture belonging to the once grand house, and the two begin to dig into the past together.  Nell's daughter is having terrible nightmares about a man with no eyes, the same dream that is terrorising the daughter of his American friends.

Property of a Lady is a modern day ghost story with characters employing straight forward sleuthing techniques to get to the bottom of the tragedies that occurred inside Charect House several generations ago.

Together they discover letters, diaries and other source material that is expertly drip fed into the story in a believable fashion and at just the right time.  The connections and mysteries take Michael and Nell to a prison, and to an asylum both of which give the novel a creepy ghostly feel, but mostly it's about unravelling sad tragedies of the past.

I read Property of a Lady at lighting pace, and from a reader's perspective felt it was perfect in every way.

But, decide for yourself!  You can read the first chapter of Property of a Lady here.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
12 July 2013

Review: Dragonclaw: Book One of the Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth

Dragonclaw: Book One of the Witches of Eileanan by Kate Forsyth book cover
I received my signed copy of Dragonclaw: Book One of the Witches of Eileanan in a competition being run on author Kate Forsyth's website earlier this year.

I absolutely adored her novel Bitter Greens and thoroughly enjoyed The Wild Girl, and so came to Dragonclaw (the author's first published novel) with high expectations.

I knew before turning the first page that Dragonclaw is a YA fantasy novel, however in the very beginning when two witches are discussing the events of the land in front of an open fire, I found I had no idea what they were talking about and even wondered if I'd missed a book.  I felt lost until I realised that the main character is feeling the same way, and the reader isn't supposed to have knowledge of the events being discussed.  It was after this scene that I was able to let myself fall completely into the story.

My signed copy of
Dragonclaw by Kate Forsyth
Dragonclaw is a rich tale full of witches, magic and dragons, and it isn't long before our protagonists are on a significant quest.  There is much backstory to learn and Kate does a great job of drip feeding it into the plot although I was hungry for more.  It was clear midway through the book that their quest would take them beyond book one of this series in much the same way that readers of Eragon realise they're settling in for a great journey a few hundred pages in.

My favourite part of the book were the few scenes with the dragons; I found their characteristics and view of human life fascinating and I hope they appear again later in the series.  In summary, I recommend Dragonclaw to readers who enjoy fantasy novels and quest-driven plots where good and evil must battle for control of the realm.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

The complete series contains the following novels and they all rate above 4 stars on GoodReads:

  • The Witches of Eileanan (The Witches of Eileanan 1) 
  • The Pool of Two Moons (The Witches of Eileanan 2) 
  • The Cursed Towers (The Witches of Eileanan 3) 
  • The Forbidden Land (The Witches of Eileanan 4)
  • The Skull of the World (The Witches of Eileanan 5) 
  • The Fathomless Caves (The Witches of Eileanan 6) 
  • 05 July 2013

    Review: Books Do Furnish A Room by Leslie Geddes-Brown

    Books Do Furnish A Room by Leslie Geddes-Brown book cover
    No surprises here why a book-lover and book-blogger like myself would pick up a book called: Books Do Furnish A Room by Leslie Geddes-Brown. For the pictures of course!

    This beautiful coffee table type book is broken down into chapters along the lines of functionality and rooms of the house. There are some interesting interior design tidbits disbursed amongst a great deal of logical information and it makes for good reading.

    It must be said that the hero of Books Do Furnish A Room though are the stunning photographs that feature on each page. The owners of the bookshelves and gorgeous libraries are mostly well to do, designers or architects, although I guess these are the types of people an author would come across when sourcing photographs of beautiful bookshelf designs and home libraries.

    Books Do Furnish A Room is the perfect book for book-lovers to dip into and I enjoyed drooling over the various styles of bookshelves and dreaming about the day I have that much space for all of my bookish treasures.

    My rating = ****

    Carpe Librum!

    Sneak peak inside Books Do Furnish A Room by Leslie Geddes-Brown
    03 July 2013

    Review: One Zentangle A Day - A 6-Week Course In Creative Drawing For Relaxation, Inspiration, And Fun by Beckah Krahula

    One Zentangle A Day - A 6-Week Course In Creative Drawing For Relaxation, Inspiration, And Fun by Beckah Krahula book cover
    For those of you who have never come across the art form called Zentangle, here's a definition: 
    "Zentangle is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns."  (Source: zentangle.com).
    In this beautifully illustrated book One Zentangle A Day, Beckah Krahula shows the reader step-by-step how to create and draw the many zentangle patterns used in this relaxing art form.

    Drawing in this way is said to be a meditative experience, and furthermore: "studies show that this type of activity increases mental retention, stimulates creativity, improves one's mood, can be calming during stressful situations, and can be used as a tool for anger management." Page 9

    Traditional Zentangle shape
    All you need to get started is a pen and a piece of paper, and you can decide to upgrade to better felt pens and nicer paper if you really want to get into Zentangling as a hobby.  The possibilities are endless.  

    I found the instructions in this book super simple to follow, which was extremely important as I cannot draw to save myself.  Each pattern has a name and you can see these patterns used by other Zentangle artists the world over. This is what differentiates Zentangle from mere doodling.

    Here are some Zentangle creations from the internet to give you a better appreciation of this beautiful artwork.

    Zentangle bookmark
    Zentangle book spines
    I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this art form, and have completed a few Zentangles myself now.  It's a world I would love to lose myself in if I had the time, but I just can't give up my bookish pursuits.  If you'd like to explore this artform online, I discovered Tangle Patterns which is a comprehensive site dedicated to Zentangle, and you can visit author Beckah Krahula's own blog here.

    My rating = *****

    Carpe Librum!