26 September 2014

Review: Jane by Robin Maxwell

Jane is the seventh book I've read by Robin Maxwell, who enjoys writing fictional accounts of the strong and sometimes forgotten or overlooked women of history.

I'm sure most readers will have a basic understanding of the Tarzan story: English child grows up in the wilds of Africa to become Tarzan of the Apes, as told to us by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. Ashamedly, I haven't read this classic, probably put off by the comics and cartoon spin offs I came across as a kid. I felt safe in the hands of Robin Maxwell though, and so it was that I embarked on the story of Jane - The Woman Who Loved Tarzan.  

Jane Porter is a budding paleoanthropologist and the only female enrolled in the Cambridge University medical program.  Her father is a scientist and explorer and together with a guide, they put together an expedition and head to Africa in pursuit of fossilised remains of the missing link species.

I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected depth to the story, although it has to be said that the first third of the book - concerned with planning the expedition to Africa - was slow going compared to the excitement of the story when Jane reaches Africa. My favourite parts were when Jane and Tarzan were learning to communicate with each other. 

Jane is intelligent, capable and a woman ahead of her time, and far more than just Tarzan's love interest. Maxwell's writing shows a deep respect for the original work and in fact Jane has been endorsed by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate.

The ending of Jane cleverly makes reference and fits in with the original Tarzan of the Apes, inspiring most readers to pick up the classic and find out more.

My rating= ***

Carpe Librum!
20 September 2014

Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Ove is a cranky and seemingly bitter old man, missing his late wife and without purpose in his life. He's a stickler for the rules (no cars in the residential area), stubborn (won't turn the heaters up in winter because it's too expensive) and resolute about what is right and wrong. Oh, and he loves his SAAB.

Everything changes though when a family move in next door and Ove's routines are completely shattered when pregnant Parvaneh takes an immediate interest in him.

Ove is a practical man, and his gruffness and short temper are endearing (and sometimes funny), making it hard not to like him. Some of the stories from his past are amusing, some heartbreaking and it was interesting to watch events and people shape his character over the years. I especially liked the backstory between Ove and Rune (a neighbour, former-friend and fellow member of the Resident's Association).

A Man Called Ove is based in Sweden and translated - extremely well - into English.  Fellow reviewers have admitted that Ove's story brought them to tears, however I wasn't as deeply moved. I found A Man Called Ove an enjoyable read and think it will be popular with readers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
16 September 2014

Review: This Is A Book by Demetri Martin

This Is A Book by Demetri Martin book cover
I love a good stitch-inducing laugh, and Demetri Martin is one of my all time favourite comedians. I had the pleasure of seeing him live in Melbourne a few years ago and laughed so hard it hurt.  As well as being an amazing entertainer, I was also struck by his observations on the mundane as well as the bigger themes in life.

This Is A Book is Demetri's first book and is a collection of all sorts of jokes, short stories, poems, graphs, sketches and even palindromes.

If you can't see Demetri Martin live then This Is A Book is the next best thing although of course doesn't include Demetri's musical talent and on-stage presence.

Every year I check the Melbourne International Comedy Festival program in the hope of seeing Demetri Martin's name included in the list of international comedians and live for the day I can see him on stage again.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Excerpt from This Is A Book by Demetri Martin
08 September 2014

Review: Tidying Up Art by Ursus Wehrli

Last year I read The Art of Clean Up - Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli, and this is his earlier offering, Tidying Up Art.

Again we see Wehrli breaking down (in this case an image or famous artwork) and re-organising it so that it's neat and tidy.

Many of the artworks chosen were examples of modern art, abstract art and cubism and while these were entertaining, to be honest, I would have preferred some more selections over a wider selection of styles.

Nevertheless, Tidying Up Art did make me smile and ponder his work for some time, although it didn't make me laugh out loud the way The Art of Clean Up did.

Having enjoyed this series so much, and admiring Wehrli's technique, I've since discovered that there's a term for what he does and it's called knoll or knolling.
Knolling is the process of arranging like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organisation.  
In fact, you can see this 'method' of organisation everywhere as soon as you start to look.  Have you heard of knolling? I love it!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
Example of the knolling method of organisation
The image above is an example of knolling, you can check out more here: 5 Amazing Examples of Knolling Photography.
06 September 2014

Review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly is a block-busting Australian author known for his larger than life, action-adventure novels, like Ice Station and Templehowever his latest offering, The Tournament, is a little different.

Set in 1546, The Tournament is the story of young Bess (future Queen Elizabeth I) who flees the plague with her tutor Roger Ascham, to travel across Europe to Constantinople to attend a chess tournament.  The tournament is being hosted by Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Lands of the Ottomans in order to determine the chess champion of the known world.

Dignitaries and chess players from all empires are in attendance and what takes place on this journey will have repercussions for Bess for the rest of her life.  They may even shape her beliefs and impact her rule when she ascends the throne.

The Tournament reads like a medieval murder mystery, of which I've read plenty and tend to enjoy.  I love reading fictional accounts of the life of Elizabeth I and this is the first I've read that focusses purely on her life as a youngster in her formative years.

This is also the first book I've ever come across that contains a warning at the beginning. In the warning (written by the author himself), Reilly recommends that this book be read by mature readers [only] as it contains subject matter of an adult nature.

In a time where sex sells and near naked bodies appear in advertisements, music and television everywhere, I admire Reilly for his firm beliefs about what is acceptable - and what is not - for young readers.  The adult content mentioned is of a sexual nature, and involves sexual practices of the day not unfamiliar to historical fiction set in this time period, but I just can't help but respect Reilly for his stance.  More authors should do the same.

If you love chess you'll love The Tournament, but even someone as unfamiliar with the game as myself was not lost (or bored) by the game commentary.  Essentially a crime novel, The Tournament kept me engaged and was a great read.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

If you enjoy a good medieval murder mystery, check out the Hugh Corbett series by Paul Doherty (I've read all 17 of them) or Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom.

Click here to buy your own copy of The Tournament from Boomerang Books; which is where my copy came from :)
04 September 2014

Review: Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride book cover
Stuart MacBride is the legendary Scottish crime writer behind the protagonist Detective Sergeant Logan McRae, and Flesh House is the fourth in the series.

I fell in love with Stuart MacBride after seeing him in an interview some time ago. He made me laugh and was instantly likeable, so I decided to read one of his many novels (14 at last count). I settled on Flesh House because the plot sounded interesting and it was one of the higher rating novels when I added it to my TBR list.  

So, how was it?

Flesh House was very dark and much more than I was expecting in terms of the nature of the grim murders and the subject of cannibalism. I do have the stomach for dark crime and sometimes horror, particularly if there's an interesting character flaw or a different perspective on humanity but this was a little too much for me.

When reading Flesh House, I was unexpectedly grossed out at times and repulsed by the killer's (known as the flesher) opinions and treatment of fellow human beings. But I guess that was the point.

There were some memorable characters and DI Steel was definitely one of them - a tough, chain-smoking, foul mouthed, ass kicking lesbian that didn't seem to do much work. Set in Aberdeen, there were flashes of humour and I enjoyed the newspaper montages scattered throughout the novel.

Perhaps I should have selected a different novel, but I'm interested to know how you decide which book to read when approaching a new author with a considerable backlist. How do you choose?

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!