28 September 2016

Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

The Good People by Hannah Kent book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent was a sensation a few years ago and readers who loved it will also enjoy her latest novel The Good People. Despite being set in different countries, both novels are set in the early 1800s and contain Hannah Kent's ability to conjure and describe the landscape, lifestyle and superstitions of the time.

Set in Ireland in 1825, in a small rural community full of Gaelic superstitions and folklore, the novel is essentially about the lives of Nance (an elderly healing woman) and the recently widowed Nora.

Incredibly evocative, the lives of these two women intersect and slowly build towards a climax that demonstrates just how little control women had over their lives at the time.

Inspired by a true event in history (just as Burial Rites was), Hannah Kent's signature writing style creates a dark and fearful atmosphere that had me worrying for Nance.

Here's a quote from Page 257:
"Sean knocked the feathers out of Peter. Punched him everywhere except the roof of his mouth and the soles of his feet, as I heard it. Brought him down into the mud and stomped the face of him so that, once the men had dragged Sean off - swinging all the while - the bellows boy was out in the yard, picking teeth like flowers."
Another memorable quote from Nance on Page 261:
"Sean Lynch has been against me for long years. If I had it in for him, he'd have been pissing bees and coughing crickets long before now."
I just love the visual of picking teeth like flowers and coughing crickets. In January 2014 I wondered if Burial Rites was a one-off (based on her intense personal connection) and if Hannah Kent could throw herself with equal abandon into another novel. A few years on and she's answered my question without doubt. The Good People is just as descriptive and emotive as her award winning debut, I just didn't find the actual story as engaging or all-encompassing.

Recommended for readers of historical fiction.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Reading The Good People better prepared me to understand several episodes in the TV series Outlander, which dealt with faeries and changelings. Without this historical novel under my belt, I wouldn't have understood half of what was going on.
27 September 2016

Guest Post by Bram Connolly, author of The Fighting Season about reading and military fiction

Author Bram Connolly
Today's guest post is from Bram Connolly, author of The Fighting Season where he takes the reader deep into an authentic world of high-intensity combat few have experienced. Having served in the Australian Army for 20 years, he knows firsthand about war, mateship, violence and survival.

Here Bram Connolly explores how the realities of war are portrayed in books, the nature of military fiction, and how reading gave him a tactical advantage. Over to you Bram.

The very first book I can remember being given to read was Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Written in 1820, this book sparked my interest in early British history. Thinking back, it was also when I realised that an author could take a reader on a journey. The images that played out in my head had been conveyed by someone in a different place and time. This concept of time travel for the reader forms the basis of how I write now.

It would be safe to say that English was the only subject I took seriously at school. There were some great books on the reading list: Animal Farm and 1984 (George Orwell), The Call of the Wild (Jack London), and All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque). The fact that I still joined the Army after reading All Quiet on the Western Front proves that its brutal lessons were lost on me. I came to understand the realities of war some twenty years later.

In my last few years in the military, the operational tempo increased. The imperative was for me to read books that directly supported my main goal: winning on the battlefield and bringing my soldiers home. The following books were crucial in my development as a Special Forces officer.

1. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahedeen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War by Lester W. Grau 
This is mandatory reading because history does repeat. Understanding how the Mujahedeen operated and learning about what the Russians endured was crucial in knowing how the Taliban would respond to us being there too. Grau has written over a hundred academic papers and his research was thorough and probing. It’s safe to say that this book gave me an advantage tactically on the battlefield.

2. On Killing and On Combat by LTCOL Dave Grossman
These two books are essential reading for any leader who intends to take men in to battle. The psychology of how to kill is important to understand, but conversely the psychology of dealing with men after they have killed is crucial for their long term wellbeing. These books served as the basis for the lessons I developed to help inoculate my soldiers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Time will tell if it was effective. As a platoon we went to great lengths to ensure we discussed the events that took place on the battlefield and to contextualise the actions we had to take in order to survive.

These books have influenced how I go about my business now.

Finally, I believe there are two types of stories in the genre of military fiction. Both have their place and I am not espousing one over the other; that’s up to the reader’s taste or mood at any one time.

First, there is the escapism of well-written and well-researched second-hand accounts created in the mind of the author. This style of book is full of Hollywood explosions, complex combat scenes where everything and anything is possible and the characters are designed to be loved and loathed. Then there is authentic military fiction that brings intimate knowledge about the tactics, weapons and explosive effects and raises questions of morality. This is witnessed truth, raw and realistic. 

Given my military background coupled with my area of academic study, I see the latter style of authentic military storytelling as my responsibility. The books that I have read in the past, some that I still treasure, have been a major influence in how I now go about this.

Happy reading,

Bram Connolly
(Click here to read an excerpt of The Fighting Season).

Author Bio
Bram Connolly joined the Australian Army as a seventeen year old and rose through the ranks to retire from Special Forces as a Major in 2011. In a distinguished twenty-year career (over fifteen years in Special Forces) Bram was deployed to Somalia, East Timor (twice) and Afghanistan (twice). In 1997 Bram was selected on Australia’s first course for service as a commando. In 2002 he was selected on the first course run for domestic counter terrorism outside of the Special Air Service Regiment. He spent five years as an operator in the Tactical Assault Group and was the Officer in Charge of Selection for Special Forces before departing from service life. Bram was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for leadership in battle in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Bram Connolly is now a writer and stay-at-home dad to his two sons and recently completed a Bachelor’s degree in international relations, majoring in societies and peace studies. He lives in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where his wife works as a human resources executive for a global company.
25 September 2016

Winner of The Cleanskin by Laura Bloom announced

Thanks to those who entered my international giveaway last week to win a copy of The Cleanskin by Laura Bloom. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 23rd September and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations goes to:
Congratulations Veronica, you'll receive an email shortly and will have 7 days to provide me with your postal address. If you're in Australia, you'll receive a print copy and if you live overseas, you'll receive an ebook. I'd like to thank The Author People for this prize.

Carpe Librum!
23 September 2016

Review: The Troubles Keeper by Susan May

* Copy courtesy of the author *

Rory Fine has the ability to lift the worries and concerns of a person just by touching them. A handshake or the briefest touch can leave people feeling lighter, happier and as if their troubles have just disappeared. In fact, Rory takes those troubles and stores them away in his mental attic until he can dispose of them later. What a guy!

What do you think a man with this type of gift would do for a living? Counsellor, doctor or emergency worker springs to mind. Nope, Rory drives a bus and uses his gift to alleviate the worries and concerns of his regular passengers; and they love him for it.

One day Rory picks up a negative energy, something dark and powerful, and that's where The Troubles Keeper by Australian author Susan May really kicks off.

Reminiscent of Dean Koontz, I was far more interested in Rory than the thrilling circumstances he finds himself drawn into, and would have been happy to learn more about him and his youth given the chance. The character reminded me a little of the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz, where I'm always more fascinated by his gift than what he 'gets up to' in each book. I wanted to stop and sift through the troubles Rory takes from people and was somewhat reluctant to be pulled into a thrilling ride to pursue the owner of the dark energy.

The Troubles Keeper has a touch of everything to keep the reader entertained throughout, including elements of crime, science fiction, the paranormal and the age-old motivators of love and revenge. Recommended for fans of Dean Koontz and Stephen King.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
16 September 2016

Friday Freebie and Blog Tour for The Cleanskin by Laura Bloom

RRP $26.99 AUD
*Copy courtesy of The Author People * 

Today's Friday Freebie is part of the The Cleanskin blog tour, so be sure to check out the next stop on the tour on 18 September over at Reading, Writing and Riesling.

I needed someone I could trust. Someone others would trust. Someone with no criminal record. With no previous involvement. A cleanskin. Someone to come over, do the job, and go home …

Some days, even Halley can’t find the person she once was. She’s changed her name and no one – least of all her husband and son – knows of her past. No one except Aidan, who turns up one day in her small Australian town and shatters the fa├žade she’s built so carefully.

Aidan is on a mission. But why is he still taking orders from his brother in an English jail – at the cost of his own happiness?

When Aidan forces Halley to face what she’s done, what they discover not only changes their understanding of what happened back then, it changes everything now.

Laura Bloom deftly goes to the dark heart of The Troubles to explore the lingering damage wrought by sectarian conflict on communities, families and individuals. Based on real events, The Cleanskin is a story of intense human relationships with a cast of flawed and entirely believable characters.

Author Bio
It’s the people traditionally left out of the frame who interest Laura the most, as well as what happens after what would be the climax in many stories. A couple reuniting after the war, in In The Mood; a woman who has changed her name and started a new life, only to find her old life catching up with her, in The Cleanskin; what happens when you break up with the perfect person, in Choosing Zoe.

Laura grew up in Sydney and has travelled widely, including living for spells in Germany, India, the UK, and – as a baby – in New Guinea, which is where she began her love affair with the subtropics, and where she later received possibly the world’s smallest traditional tattoo.

Laura’s novels have been shortlisted for the NSW Literary Awards, the ABC Fiction Prize and the Young Australian Readers’ Awards and published in France, the US and the UK. She now lives in a small subtropical town near Byron Bay with her chosen family, including her godson and her son – who has autism. 

This giveaway has now closed.
15 September 2016

Review: The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes - Nature by Rebecca Jones

RRP $14.99 AUD
Published May 2016
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Colouring Book of Cards and Envelopes - Nature by Rebecca Jones has got to be one of the most beautiful books I've received for review this year.

Containing 24 cards and envelopes to colour, this book is so cute I didn't want to tear out a single card from the perforated pages. Eventually I did of course, and took great care to colour one in and give it to a loved one (who enjoyed the personal touch).

Illustrated by Rebecca Jones and printed on high quality paper, each card and envelope has the illustration quality of Secret Garden that adults and youngsters will enjoy colouring. 

This little treasure is perfect for stationery lovers as well as readers and budding artists of any age who love to colour in and add that personal touch for a loved one. For those on a budget, I'd like to point out that each card (with envelope and sticker seal) costs only $0.63 cents each. What a bargain!

C'mon, you know you want one.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

12 September 2016

Winner of The Fence by Meredith Jaffe announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win a copy of The Fence by Meredith Jaffe. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 9th September and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations goes to:
Amanda B
Congratulations Amanda, you'll receive an email shortly and will have 7 days to provide me with your postal address. Pan Macmillan Australia will mail your book out to you and I'd like to thank them for this prize.

Carpe Librum!
08 September 2016

Review: Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Australia *

It's 1501 and Margaret Tudor (sister to the future Henry VIII) is our narrator in Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory.

The sisters in the title are Margaret Tudor, her younger sister Mary and her future sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon. All three sisters will become Queens in their own right - of England, Scotland and France - but it's how they get there that kept me enthralled. 

In fact, after the first page I knew this was going to be a 5 star read and was already mourning the fact it was going to end too soon for my liking.

Three Sisters, Three Queens is primarily a story of sibling rivalry, envy, greed and the pursuit of true love. The importance of delivering a male heir and subsequent miscarriages is the cause of much angst and grief for the sisters, but also competition between them. 

Secret weddings, betrayals and invasions take place and Henry VIII's overarching influence over each of the women is evident. When the women are in his favour, his attention and support is like the sun, and when he turns his back on Margaret, it almost costs her life.

I'm confident Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory will make it into my list of Top 5 Books for 2016. It's the perfect entry point for YA readers looking to dip their toe into historical fiction who may not know where to start. As well as offering a completely new perspective on the rule of Henry VIII and for me a welcome introduction to Margaret Tudor and her life in Scotland.

Incredibly accessible, the history of the early 1500s unfolds in this novel like a TV drama series, leaving me wanting to binge-watch episode after episode, or in this case, chapter after chapter. Brilliant!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
02 September 2016

Friday Freebie to WIN a copy of The Fence by Meredith Jaffe

RRP $32.99
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Fence is a quick-witted dramedy of domestic discord between two new neighbours. Click here to check out the free reading group notes and enter below for your chance to win a print copy.

Gwen has lived on Green Valley Avenue all her adult life. Here she brought her babies home, nurtured her garden and shared life's ups and downs with her best friend and neighbour, Babs. So when Babs dies and the house next door is sold, Gwen wonders how the new family will settle into the quiet life of this cosy community.

Frankie has high hopes for the house on Green Valley Avenue. More than just a new home, it’s a clean slate for the mother who has moved her brood from Sydney's inner city to the leafy north shore street in a bid to save her marriage.

To maintain her privacy and corral her wandering children, Frankie proposes a fence between their properties, destroying Gwen’s lovingly cultivated front garden.
To Gwen, this as an act of war.

Soon the neighbours are in an escalating battle about more than just council approvals, where boundaries aren’t the only things at stake.

Author Bio
Meredith Jaffé is a writer and occasional book critic and regularly chairs panels, presents workshops and interviews fellow authors for various literary events and writers' festivals.

As a keen believer in the power of literacy, Meredith volunteers at The Footpath Library where she manages their annual EPIC! writing competition for school children. She is currently working on her next novel in between riding her horses and enjoying farm life with her family on the beautiful NSW south coast.

This giveaway has now closed.