31 December 2014

Completed Aussie Author Challenge 2014

After publishing my review of Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey today, I've now officially completed the Aussie Author Challenge 2014.

Here's what I read and reviewed throughout the year:
1.  Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers | Ramona Koval
2.  Burial Rites | Hannah Kent
3.  Hindsight | Melanie Casey
4.  Hades | Candice Fox
5.  just_a_girl | Kirsten Krauth
6.  Through The Cracks | Honey Brown
7.  Is It Just Me? | Chrissie Swan
8.  Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage | Mark Tedeschi
9.  Craven | Melanie Casey
10. What Came Before | Anna George
11. Dancing on Knives | Kate Forsyth
12. Allegiance | Wanda Wiltshire
13. Reluctantly Charmed | Ellie O'Neill
14. The Tournament | Matthew Reilly
15. Skinjob | Bruce McCabe
16. Jasper Jones | Craig Silvey

Additional books read for the challenge:
17. The Great Zoo of China | Matthew Reilly

There are some really great books in this list and it was a pleasure to read and review all of them. Here's to more great Aussie books in 2015.

Carpe Librum and Happy New Year!

Review: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey was the last book I read for the Aussie Author Challenge 2014 and it was a great read.

Set during the summer of 1965 in the small mining town of Corrigan in WA, Charlie is a 13 year old boy who loves to read and isn't too good at sport. His best friend Jeffrey Lu loves to play cricket and lives across the road.

Jasper Jones of the title is the town outcast with an alcoholic father and is the scapegoat for petty crime in the community. Jasper appears at Charlie's window one night asking for his help. Charlie follows Jasper to a secluded clearing in the bush, and what he sees there changes his life forever.

What Charlie sees in the clearing is revealed early (for which I was very grateful) and the mystery that follows is still enough to keep the plot moving at great speed.

The dialogue between Charlie and best friend Jeffrey made for hilarious reading and plenty of laugh out loud moments in between the seriousness of the story. Even though Jeffrey was a supporting character rather than the main focus of the plot, he was by far my favourite character and I greatly looked forward to his appearances in the story.

Jasper Jones is a coming-of-age story with a distinct Australian feel and I can definitely see why it has won several awards. Highly recommend and definitely an Australian author to watch.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librumi!
29 December 2014

Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly book cover* Copy from Pan Macmillan for review *

The Great Zoo of China is bursting with action, and just when you think nothing else could possibly happen, it does. The main character is Dr. CJ Cameron and she visits the zoo with a senior media contingent on behalf of National Geographic magazine.

CJ is a brilliant character and I revelled in her intelligence, common sense and ability to act quickly in deadly situations; definitely a protagonist I could get behind. China is admired for their ability to build vast cities and conceal government secrets, and the great zoo of the title is truly a sight to behold. The writing is extremely visual and my only wish (apart from reading the book) was to be able to watch a movie version. 

Of course there isn't one, so I did the next best thing and revisited the movie Jurassic Park just to get a fix of monsters on a grand scale. I'm sure this reference will be a compliment to author Matthew Reilly, given it's one of his favourite books.

The Great Zoo of China is a rollicking ride but it's also a gorgeous hardcover edition with maps and diagrams scattered throughout the pages to keep the reader on track and completely oriented.

I have to say my favourite segments of the novel were CJ's dialogue with Lucky. I won't say any further, but when you read it, you'll know exactly who I'm talking about. I like like Lucky.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Price $39.99
26 December 2014

Sign Up For Aussie Author Challenge 2015

I'm still reviewing the remaining books for the 2014 Aussie Author Challenge but am already turning my head to next year.

Today I'm signing up for the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 run by Booklover Book Reviews, and the objective of the challenge is to showcase the wonderful diversity of writing produced by Australian authors.

If you want to join me and read more books by Aussie authors, you can take part via Facebook or Google+ (you don't need a website or a book blog to participate).

I'm committing to the Kangaroo level and here are the guidelines:

- Read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors;
- At least 4 female and 4 male authors;
- At least 4 new authors (to me);
- At least 6 fiction, 2 non-fiction and a minimum of 3 titles published in 2014 or 2015.

I'm looking forward to supporting and discovering new Aussie authors next year, who's with me?

Carpe Librum!

20 December 2014

Completed 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge

This year was the first time I participated in the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge and I really enjoyed it. I signed up for the Franklin level (highest level) where I had to read 10 books and review at least 6 and I ended up achieving that and more.

Books read and reviewed for the challenge include the following:
1.  Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers | Ramona Koval
2.  Burial Rites | Hannah Kent
3.  Hindsight | Melanie Casey
4.  Hades | Candice Fox 
5.  just_a_girl | Kirsten Krauth
6.  Through The Cracks | Honey Brown
7.  Is It Just Me? | Chrissie Swan
8.  Craven | Melanie Casey
9.  What Came Before | Anna George
10. Dancing on Knives | Kate Forsyth
11. Allegiance | Wanda Wiltshire
12. Reluctantly Charmed | Ellie O'Neill

I read some great books as part of this challenge and I'm looking forward to participating again next year. Did you read any books by Australian Women Writers this year?

Carpe Librum!
19 December 2014

Sign Up for Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015

The year is drawing to a close soon and it's always around Christmas time that I turn my mind to next year's reading challenges.

In 2015 I plan to return to the Mount TBR Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block, and am signing up for Pike's Peak where I will need to read 12 books owned prior to 1 January 2014. 

I've also joined the Mount TBR 2015 group on GoodReads, and will no doubt enjoy following the progress of other readers and bow down in awe of those climbing Mount Olympus and reading 150+ books.

I'm looking forward to getting stuck into my To-Be-Read (TBR) pile and if you want to join me, just click here. You don't need a blog to take part and it's a great motivator to get through the books already on your bookshelf or your tablet.

Carpe Librum!
18 December 2014

Review: Deadlight Hall (Nell West / Michael Flint #5) by Sarah Rayne

Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne book cover
* Copy from author for review *

Deadlight Hall is the fifth novel in the Nell West and Michael Flint series of novels from author Sarah Rayne, and is due for release next year.

The cover is probably the best in the series and certainly sets the tone for a creepy mystery involving a set of twins. I'm a sucker for stories about twins and this one takes place during WWII with Michael taking the lead investigative role after being asked by a colleague for advice.

I enjoyed seeing the two characters Nell and Michael draw even closer, although I was surprised to find my favourite part of the novel was when Nell was considering and making plans to expand her antiques shop. I don't know why, but I really enjoyed seeing her work out if she could afford it and what she might do with the additional space.

I was relieved to find the required visits to the sinister building (in this case Deadlight Hall) were fewer than in previous books, and also relieved that Beth (Nell's daughter) and Wilberforce took more of a back seat this time.

Having said all of that, I did find myself yelling at Michael to download the torch app on his smart phone and use it to light up the scary basement or to use as a reading light when it began to get dark. On that note, it'd be great to see Michael and Nell making the most of some of the more modern forms of research online to uncover the dusty past. I recently discovered a website that contains the names and details of all AIF solders to have fought in WWI, and it's amazing how much effort is being dedicated to digitising the past.

The conclusion of Deadlight Hall saw all of the loose threads in the mystery neatly tied up, but unfortunately I found the ending just a little too complete or perfect for my taste. 

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
10 December 2014

Review: Adventures in Stationery - A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward

Adventures in Stationery - A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin * 

I love stationery, and I absolutely adored reading Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward recently.

Ward's love of stationery is infectious, and I frequently lost myself researching his favourite shops, and discovering websites dedicated to various forms of stationery.

Every time I picked up this book, I had to have my tablet handy, just so I could look up images of the items described: the Blackwing 602 pencil, Pink Pearl eraser, different paper clip shapes and more. I enjoyed many trips down memory lane, remembering the kinds of glue I used in primary school (clag, PVA and remember these?) to the different types of white out used in high school (liquid paper bottle, the correction pen and who could forget the thinner!).

Adventures in Stationery is funny, entertaining and educational, and I loved reading about the invention of sticky notes, how Scotch tape got its name and even that 3M was originally known as the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing company. If you've never understood the meaning behind staple sizes then this is the book for you.

Here is just a small selection of my favourite discoveries in Adventures in Stationery:
Page 78 - the term foolscap, "used to describe a sheet of paper 13.5" x 17"... derives from the 'fool's cap' watermark...introduced in the middle of the fifteenth century."
Page 100 - "a ferrule is the metal sleeve holding the eraser in place." 
Page 115 - before there were erasers or rubbers, "the preferred method for removing pencil lines was to use stale bread." 
Page 213 - "When Blu-Tack was originally developed, it was white in colour, but the blue colouring was added after concerns were raised that children might think it was chewing gum and attempt to eat it."
Finally, Ward's mention of the use of skeuomorphic design by software designers to replicate an object's physical characteristics in another form (for instance, making the icon for the 'cut' function in MS Word look like a pair of scissors) blew my mind.

Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward was an absolute joy to read and even the book itself is a treasure with an attractive hard back design featuring paper clips, drawing pins and pen lids. Perfect, right?

Highly recommended for stationery lovers everywhere!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

RRP $24.99

P.S. Now tell me, do you have a secret stationery addiction? I'll confess I buy more stationery than I use, and keep 'saving' stuff because I don't want to use it. What's yours?
08 December 2014

HFVBT Blog Tour & Review of Libby Morgan: Reunion by Leah Zieber

* Copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours *

Coming from a long line of seamstresses, Libby has yet to sew anything more than the rudimentary button or hem, but on a visit to Connecticut she learns more than just how to sew patchwork. 

Set in 1855 New England and London, this tender story, Libby Morgan: Reunion, follows tenacious Elizabeth (Libby) Jane Morgan through her thirteenth summer of new adventures at home and abroad. She is given a birthday gift of sewing tools and fabric, as well as old family letters to use as templates for making her first quilt. Her decision to first read the letters results in questions that only her Grandmother Morgan’s stories can answer—stories of true love, horrible loss and family connections to London nobles. 

Her keen eye and inquisitive nature draws her family into a mysterious investigation that tests their faith, challenges their ability to forgive, and results in a resurrection and reunion of lost hearts.

My Review
Libby Morgan: Reunion is set in 1855 and is a coming-of-age story suitable for YA and Middle Grade (MG) readers. It's what I would call a 'clean read' and would even recommend it to mature readers from the age of 10. Libby is the lead character who learns to sew from her Grandmother and Mother, both accomplished sewers in their own right. 

I'll admit, the subject matter of quilting lured me into this novel, and it will certainly appeal to a wide range of readers also interested in the topic. Using the paper from old letters as a pattern to sew into her quilt was intriguing but also broke my heart - who cuts up old family letters just to use the paper? But paper is rare in New England during this period and so they're happy to do it.

During the process of reading each letter before cutting them up, Libby learns about her family's past and a nice little mystery is unravelled. All in all, Libby Morgan: Reunion was a nice little read to cleanse the palate between more demanding novels.

My rating = ***

02_Leah Zieber AuthorAbout the Author
Leah A. Zieber is a quilt historian and quilt maker from Temecula, California, specializing in American quilt history and reproduction quilts from the nineteenth century. Her quilts have been exhibited across the country in quilt shows, museums and historical societies and were most recently published in Stars: A Study of 19th Century Star Quilts. Leah has worked closely with Southern California collectors, cataloging, managing, and independently researching their textile collections. Her own collection of antique quilts and related textile items spans one hundred and eighty five years, and she shares her knowledge of American quilt history using her collection in lectures and workshops. Libby Morgan: Reunion is her debut novel and the first in her American Heritage Quilt Series.
03 December 2014

Review: Little Rhymes for Little People by John Stewart Westlake & illustrated by Sophie Scahill

*Copy from publicist for review *

Little Rhymes for Little People by Australian writer John Stewart Westlake contains 21 rhymes beautifully illustrated by the talented Sophie Scahill and is suitable for readers aged between 3-7 years of age.

Each rhyme is about a different kind of animal and their behaviour, for instance: possum, piglet, seal, elephant and giraffe, just to name a few. 

My favourite illustration was of the giant tortoise in the rhyme called Walking Slowly. There are a few words that will challenge kids in these rhymes that read more like poetry than the snappy and sing song rhythms of a Dr. Seuss poem.

Little Rhymes for Little People by John Stewart Westlake is a charming little read for youngsters and a great stocking stuffer this Christmas.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
01 December 2014

HFVBT Blog Tour and Review: The Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon #1) by Mel Starr

The Unquiet Bones by Mel Starr book cover
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

Hugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, he feels no real calling - despite his lively faith - and he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris and then hanging his sign in Oxford. Soon after, a local lord asks Hugh de Singleton to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cesspool. 

Through his medical knowledge, Singleton identifies her as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith. The young man she loved - whom she had provoked very publicly - is quickly arrested and sentenced at Oxford. 

But this is just the beginning of the tale. The story of Singleton's adventure unfolds with realistic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, romantic distractions, and a consistent underlying sense of Christian compassion.

My Review
The Unquiet Bones is the first in a series of five books so far featuring Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. After achieving his bachelor's degree, deciding not to take holy orders, surviving the plague and studying abroad in Paris, in 1363 we find Hugh de Singleton setting up his own surgeon's office in Oxford.

After impressing the Lord of Bampton Castle, Hugh is offered a permanent position as the only surgeon in town and is soon asked to inspect a set of human bones for cause of death. His keen observations that a murder has taken place sets the scene for a charming medieval murder mystery.
Author Mel Starr does a terrific job of making the reader feel like they're really in the 1360s, and the glossary at the beginning was marvellous. Despite being a fan of the genre (particularly the work of Paul Doherty) some of these terms were new to me and added to my overall reading experience. For example, I had no idea that a fewterer was the keeper of the Lord's kennel and hounds.

Here are two of my favourite quotes from the novel:
"It was not the first or last time I found that uncomfortable honesty was a tree which might bear agreeable fruit."  Page 34
(Character talking about his own nose on Page 47: "To a masculine face, anyway. It seems to depart my brow properly, but then takes a right turn, as if my nostrils were trying to direct my attention to some event on the dexter side. It is inherited. My father viewed the world across a nose of similar size and bearing. My father was also bald." Page 47
All in all, I enjoyed the murder mystery second to details of the medical maladies Hugh saw to in the town of Bampton and the remedies he used. Personally, I would have preferred more focus on his surgical and medical skills and less on his investigation, however that's just me.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

About the Author
Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating with a MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970, he taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years, thirty-five of those in Portage, where he retired in 2003 as chairman of the social studies department of Portage Northern High School. Mel and his wife, Susan, have two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Winner Announced: How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love by Louis Efron

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway to WIN a copy of How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love by Louis Efron, we had some wonderful dream jobs mentioned.

Entries closed last night, and author Louis Efron chose the winner, so congratulations go to:


Congratulations Nay, Louis decided he would like to be the second customer at your Parisian Cafe (after me of course).

Please email me with your postal address by midnight Friday 5 December and Louis will send your book to you directly.

And, if you didn't catch it in the original post, here's a message from author Louis Efron to the entrants: Thank you all for the wonderful entries!!! I wish you all your dream jobs in 2015! I also hope my book will make the journey a bit easier for the winner! ;-) Thanks, again!