31 December 2013

Completed Aussie Author Challenge 2013

I had such fun participating in the Aussie Author Challenge 2013 and completed it, exceeding my challenge by 8 books!

Here's what I read throughout the challenge:

1.  The Secret Keeper | Kate Morton
2.  The Internet is a Playground | David Thorne
3.  Exit Wounds | John Cantwell
4.  The Devil's in the Detail | Matthew S. Wilson
5.  Chasing Odysseus | S.D. Gentill
6.  The Wild Girl | Kate Forsyth
7.  The Trusted | John M. Green
8.  The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery | Jane Nicholas
9.  Get Well Soon! My (Un) Brilliant Career as a Nurse | Kristy Chambers
10. Betrothed | Wanda Wiltshire
11. Dragonclaw - The Witches of Eileanan | Kate Forsyth

Additional books I read for the challenge:
13. King of the Cross | Mark Dapin
14. Sweet Damage | Rebecca James
15. Cloudstreet | Tim Winton
16. The Melbourne Book - A History Of Now | Maree Coote
17. Life's A Journey - The Adventure Continues | Ken Duncan
18. Beauty's Sister | James Bradley
19. Murder in Mississippi | John Safran
20. Written On The Skin: An Australian Forensic Casebook | Liz Porter

I love to support Aussie authors wherever I can, and this is the perfect reading challenge for discovering new and exciting authors, and re-visiting old books as well.

I've accepted the 2014 Aussie Author Challenge and signed up for another 12 books.  If you want to find out more or join in the fun, just click here.

Carpe Librum!

Completed Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2013

It was a close call, but I've successfully completed the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2013. The challenge was hosted by My Reader's Block and the aim was to read only books purchased prior to 1 Jan 2013.

I successfully climbed Pike's Peak by reading the following 12 books:
1.  The Secret Keeper | Kate Morton
2.  The Internet is a Playground | David Thorne
3.  Exit Wounds | John Cantwell
4.  Chasing Odysseus | S.D. Gentill
5.  Alex Cross's Trial | James Patterson
6.  The Drawing of the Three | Stephen King
7.  Prophecy | S.J. Parris
8.  O, Juliet | Robin Maxwell
9.  Cloudstreet | Tim Winton
10. Oliver Twist | Charles Dickens
11. 11.22.63 | Stephen King
12. Written On The Skin: An Australian Forensic Casebook | Liz Porter

This challenge was so successful that my to-be-read (TBR) pile is now nicely under control.  The minimum challenge for 2014 is 12 books, and given I don't have that many on my shelf right now, I won't be participating in this challenge again next year.

It certainly doesn't mean you can't though, just click here for the details, and I may re-join everyone in 2015.

Carpe Librum!
30 December 2013

Review: Written on the Skin - An Australian Forensic Casebook by Liz Porter

Written on the Skin - An Australian Forensic Casebook by Liz Porter book cover
Written on the Skin - an Australian Forensic Casebook was a gift from a family member, and I was lucky enough to receive a copy personally autographed by the author (pictured below).

Australian journalist and writer Liz Porter has written a forensic non-fiction book full of Australian crime cases; some of which are well-known (e.g. Bali bombings and the Jaidyn Leskie case) and others readers won't be familiar with.  

Porter has broken down the cases into subject headings including: Reading the Blood, Reading the Bones, Reading the Crime Scene, Reading the Teeth and so on, for a total of 10 chapters.

Signed copy of Written on the Skin by Liz Porter
Signed copy of
Written on the Skin
This was an intuitive way to learn more about forensic science and how specialists in each field (entomologists, odontologists, DNA specialists, pathologists, chemists, document examiners and handwriting experts) conduct their work.

Porter selected cases from different time periods in Australia to enable a better understanding of how forensic science has changed and improved over the years.

I didn't realise until now just how vital the state of Victoria was in solving Australian crime.  "Victoria is home to two nationally pre-eminent forensic establishments: the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) and the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre (VPFSC)." Pages xiii and xiv.

"Both the VIFM and VPFSC are leading teaching institutions... and the VIFM is widely considered to be the leading institute of its kind in Australasia and, with its state-of-the-art facilities, among the best in the world." Pages xiii and xiv.

There are some confronting topics and real-life crimes described in Written on the Skin, so the reader will need to have the mental fortitude to get through some of this material.  (I broke up the content by reading another book alongside this one).

I highly recommend Written on the Skin to fans of true crime and those with an interest in the sciences.  Viewers who enjoy TV shows like CSI will learn how crime scenes are really investigated and processed.  Younger readers deciding on a future in forensic science may also find Written on the Skin an informative and educational read. 

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
29 December 2013

Interview with Jen Campbell, author of Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops

Author, Jen Campbell
Jen Campbell is the author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and works in an antiquarian bookshop called Ripping Yarns in London.  Jen managed to find time amongst the Christmas rush to answer a few questions for Carpe Librum.

Thanks so much for your time Jen.  Are you ever surprised by the success of your book: Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops?
Absolutely! 'Weird Things...' actually became a series of books by accident. They were initially blog posts, that then went viral, so it still makes me smile when I see 'Weird Things...' sitting at a counter in a bookshop.

When did you fall in love with books?  Did you grow up in a bookish home?
I loved reading when I was a child (I still do, obviously). I remember my dad reading Roald Dahl books to me every night before bed. I spent a lot of time in hospital when I was young, so books were my escape-route. Particular favourites were Ballet Shoes, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Green Smoke, The Indian in the Cupboard, The Doomspell Trilogy. I'd best stop myself, otherwise we'll be here for a while...

Working at Ripping Yarns antiquarian bookshop in London, what are some of the most exciting or memorable books to have passed through your hands?
Oh, so many. My favourites aren't necessarily the really old ones, but books with wonderful inscriptions in the front. Books with histories, and souls.

What would you like the general public to know about antiquarian bookshops? 
Antiquarian bookshops help reunite people with their childhood. We help track down half-remembered stories; books where the customer can only remember the colour of the cover and the name of the main character. It can be a very personal business, and I love it.

What's the most valuable book you have in the store at the moment?
We keep our most expensive books off-site, but we have a particularly interesting set of books from the 1700s, on etiquette.  Wow, I'd love to see those!

Tell us about your love of poetry.
I started writing poetry before I wrote anything else, and I feel a strong connection with it. I think of poems as strange objects in jars. You can capture whatever you like, and everyone who examines it sees something slightly different.

Do you write your poetry on a computer/laptop or by hand in a journal or notebook?
I tend to write poetry on a computer; poetry is about constant editing so I find it an easier to work that way.

What would you tell readers to encourage them to read more poetry?
Don't be scared of it. Don't think of poetry as something you were forced to read at school. There's no right way to read it. There are no wrong answers. Have a go.

Jen is currently reading
Vow by Rebecca Hazelton
What are you reading at the moment?
Right now I'm reading Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, Vow by Rebecca Hazelton, and Awake In the Dream World by Audrey Niffenegger.

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I love Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood, Murakami... I adore Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy... and I fell in love with Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. 

Poetry-wise I like Liz Berry, Emily Berry, Melissa-Lee Houghton, Katharine Kilalea... again, I could go on.

I understand you have a non-fiction book coming out in 2014 called The Bookshop Book; can you tell us what it's about?
The Bookshop Book is a history of books and bookselling, a look at interesting bookshops around the world, and thoughts from authors and customers about what bookshops mean to them. 

Authors on board include Audrey Niffenegger, Ian Rankin and Jacqueline Wilson, and I'm looking at bookshops underground, in forests, in houses, on cattle farms... all over. The unusual, historical, beautiful, and simply weird. I'm excited about it.

Are you working on a novel as well? How's that coming along and what can you tell us about it?
The novel is on the back-burner at the moment, as I have a tight deadline for the non-fiction book above. I can say that it's dystopian, and for grown-ups. But that's all I can let slip right now.

Sounds really interesting.  Anything else you'd like to add?
Readers can find me on my Website, on Twitter or on Facebook.

Thanks so much for your time Jen, and best wishes for the release of The Bookshop Book!

Completed 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I'm happy to announce I've completed the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by Historical Tapestry blog.

This year I signed up for the Renaissance Reader level to read 10 historical fiction books and ended up reading 14, details of each below:

1.  The Secret Keeper | Kate Morton
2.  Redemption on the River | Loren DeShon
3.  Chasing Odysseus | S.D. Gentill
4.  The Wild Girl | Kate Forsyth
5.  Alex Cross's Trial | James Patterson
6.  Prophecy | S.J. Parris
7.  Seduction | M. J. Rose
8.  A Great and Terrible Beauty | Libba Bray
9.  The Confessions of Catherine de Medici | C.W. Gortner
10. John Saturnall's Feast | Lawrence Norfolk

Additional books I read for the challenge:
11. Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages | Vanitha Sankaran
12. O, Juliet | Robin Maxwell
13. The Signature of All Things | Elizabeth Gilbert
14. The Daylight Gate | Jeanette Winterson

I've signed up again to participate in 2014 by reading 15 historical novels this time.  You don't have to read that many though, you can read as little as 2 books; anyone want to join me?

Carpe Librum!
27 December 2013

Review: The List Of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt

The List Of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt book cover
I'll admit I was influenced by this book cover, anyone else love it too?  The eye-catching button design prompted me to check out the blurb and I was glad I did.

The List of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt is translated from French and is set in a provincial town in France.  It's the story of Jocelyne, middle-aged and married with two adult children who runs her own dressmaking shop.  Jocelyne faces a turning point in her life though when she unexpectedly wins $18M in the lottery.

Should she tell anyone she won the millions?  Should she cash in the cheque? The win forces Jocelyne to reflect on what she really wants in life, and she writes a list of her desires.  She re-writes the list at the end and it's quite interesting to see what's changed.

I won't give any of the story away, you'll just have to read it to find out.  The List of My Desires is a wonderful little hardback book, and I was grateful for the chance to imagine it was me who'd won the lottery.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
21 December 2013

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2014

I had a great time taking part in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge in 2013, and even managed to exceed the number of books I signed up for!

Historical Tapestry is hosting the challenge again next year and it'll be running from 1 January - 31 December 2014.

I've decided to challenge myself a little further, and have signed up for the Medieval level.  This level requires the participant to read 15 historical fiction books throughout the year.

Anyone can participate, so if you want to join me, just click here to find out more.

Carpe Librum!

Aussie Author Challenge 2014

I had a great time participating in the Aussie Author Challenge this year, and have decided to participate again in 2014.

The reading challenge is hosted by Jo at Booklover Book Reviews and runs from 1 January 2014 – 31 December 2014.

Anyone can participate in the challenge and there are a number of levels you can choose from (1, 3, 6 or 12 titles).  I've chosen the Kangaroo level, details below:

- Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors
- At least 4 authors to be female
- At least 4 authors to be male
- At least 4 authors are to be new to me;
- At least 6 fiction and at least 2 non-fiction
- And at least 3 titles first published in 2013 or 2014

You'll be able to follow my progress from next year on my Challenges page.

Anyone want to join me?

Carpe Librum!
18 December 2013

Review: Beauty's Sister by James Bradley

Beauty's Sister by James Bradley book cover
Beauty's Sister by James Bradley is a Penguin Special, an e-book developed for commuters to read on a long trip or readers to enjoy in one evening.

Did you know that Penguin have different colours for their front covers depending on the genres?  

Here's a breakdown of the Penguin Livery: 
  • Orange - Fiction
  • Dark blue - Memoir
  • Yellow - History
  • Pink - Cookery
  • Turquoise - Contemporary nonfiction
There you have it! Now, back to the story.

Beauty's Sister is a re-telling of the well-known fairytale Rapunzel.  Fairytales have been popular for the last couple of years, however this tale is told from the point of view of Rapunzel's lesser known sister, Juniper.  

There is a witch and a tower in this tale of jealousy and relationships, and Beauty's Sister is a very quick and easy read. I'd love to have seen James Bradley write this as a full-length novel, but as a Penguin Special it's tantalisingly compact and entertaining.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

For another fabulous Australian re-telling of Rapunzel, you must check out Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth; one of my absolute favourite reads of 2012.

15 December 2013

Review: 11.22.63 by Stephen King

If you can suspend your belief about time travel then you will enjoy this offering from Stephen King, 11.22.63.

Essentially it's about Jake, an American teacher in 2011 who discovers he can travel back in time to 1958 and after some careful consideration, sets out to prevent the assassination of JFK in 1963.

11.22.63 is part historical fiction and part science fiction in a unique combination of genres that only Stephen King can successfully achieve.

I have to admit that 11.22.63 is the most enjoyable novel set in the late '50s and early '60s I've ever read and the meticulous research King undertook in order to write this novel makes for a convincing and realistic atmosphere.

Jake's observations of the time period and the differences are very amusing and educational at the same time.  The consequences of time travel and changing the future are addressed through the characters and the ending was extremely satisfying although perhaps not the 'happily ever after' some readers might be seeking.

A thought provoking novel and highly entertaining, King fans will love 11.22.63 and those who don't enjoy his supernatural and paranormal themes, should definitely pick this one up.  An interest in the assassination of JFK will add to your enjoyment.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
12 December 2013

Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was published 175 years ago in 1838 and there's no doubt it's an enduring classic.  Most people know Oliver Twist is an orphan and of course his well-known request for "more".

I don't know why it's taken so long for me to read Oliver Twist, perhaps because I didn't really enjoy Great Expectations.  Having said that, I fell in love with Oliver Twist and am now a true Dickens fan.

Rather than share some of the plot (which most people know one way or another), allow me to share some of my favourite quotes/excerpts.

On considering sending young Oliver to sea on page 20: "the probability being, that the skipper would flog him to death, in a playful mood, someday after dinner, or would knock his brains out with an iron bar, both pastimes being, as is pretty generally known, very favourite and common recreations among gentlemen of that class."

Page 52, regarding Oliver's drowsy state: "There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your senses wrapped in perfect unconsciousness.  At such times, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing, to form some glimmering conception of its might powers, its bounding from earth and spurning time and space, when freed from the restraint of its corporeal associate."

Page 176, this had me laughing for ages: "Unembellished by any violence of gesticulation, this might have seemed no very high compliment to the lady's charms; but, as Mr Bumble accompanied the threat with many warlike gestures, she was much touched with this proof of his devotion, and protested, with great admiration, that he was indeed a dove."

I could go on, but I hope that's enough to influence you to give Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens a try if you haven't before. The language was such a delight, I couldn't do it justice by reading it at my normal pace, and really had to slow right down to savour his words and his writing.

I savoured being amongst the pages and recommend Oliver Twist to all who appreciate the English language.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
11 December 2013

Carpe Librum Surpasses 100,000 Hits

Carpe Librum has now surpassed 

100,000 hits!!

I'm so excited, this is a major milestone!  I'd like to thank all regular Carpe Librum readers and followers; without your support this couldn't have been possible.  

I'd like to take this opportunity to ask what you'd like to see here on Carpe Librum in the future.  Would you like more giveaways or do you have a particular book you'd like reviewed.  Feel free to leave your suggestions and feedback below and I'll do my very best to accommodate your input.

In the meantime, I look forward to bringing you more book reviews, author interviews and bookish news in the months and years ahead!

Happy Reading to you all!!

09 December 2013

Review: The Art of Clean Up - Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli

The Art of Clean Up - Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli book cover
I loved the work of Ursus Wehrli as soon as I saw it.  He takes every day settings and objects, and breaks them down, grouping the items in columns according to a new order.

The order could be determined by size, colour or any number of factors, but it's very amusing to see what he does with objects in a bowl of fruit salad (demonstrated on the cover, left) or a car park full of cars.

I love the way this artist thinks, and by looking at his work I really appreciate his way of seeing the world and the effort he sometimes goes to in order to achieve his re-ordering of the world.  

Here's an example of his work:
Bunch of flowers, before Ursus Wehrli

Same bunch of flowers 'tidied up' by Ursus Wehrli
I won't spoil the book by including any more examples, but you I'm sure you get the gist.  A fabulous, funny and clever book I recommend for all ages.  I think kids in particular will enjoy emulating the Wehrli style.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
06 December 2013

Review: Murder In Mississippi by John Safran

* From The Reading Room for review *

John Safran is a household name in Australia, known for stirring the pot, tackling awkward and controversial subjects, causing strife and making us laugh.

My favourite John Safran creation would have to be the Not The Sunscreen Song, a parody of Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrman.

So, after being a fan of his documentaries and funny antics (such as getting a fatwa put out on Rove) I was very interested to learn John Safran had turned his hand to writing.  Murder In Mississippi is Safran's first book and it's a true crime story.

Safran was lured to Mississippi after the murder of a white supremacist in the deep South by a young black man.  A year earlier, Safran had spent a couple of days with the white supremacist in a prank for his series Race Relations.  Shocked that he'd been murdered, Safran (a fan of true crime and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood) went to the US to find out more.

Safran meets many white supremacists, the killer's family, lawyers and various other people connected to the murder case.  He finds himself in some unusual situations and even develops a relationship with the killer.  John is fair in his approach to what he thought would be a race motivated case, finding instead something altogether different.

Murder In Mississippi is very readable, even if this is your first true crime book.  Safran raises some ideas and points of view for examination and reflection and is clearly a deep thinker.  He is not afraid to say what he thinks and has the courage to go where few of us would dare venture.  Perfect for book clubs and those looking to sink their teeth into something meaty over Christmas; you can't go wrong!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

After reading Murder In Mississippi, I had the opportunity to participate in a Google Hangout hosted by The Reading Room this week.  Along with 3 others, I was able to chat with John Safran about his book amongst other things.  The interview was watched live and is recorded below.  I hope you enjoy it; I had a blast!