31 October 2016

Review and Blog Tour: Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer

Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer book cover* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Today I'm participating in the blog tour for Beyond the Orchard by Australian author Anna Romer, author of Thornwood House.

Lucy Briar has arrived home in turmoil after years overseas. She’s met her fiancĂ© in London and has her life mapped out, but something is holding her back.

Hoping to ground herself and find answers, Lucy settles into once familiar routines. But old tortured feelings flood Lucy’s existence when her beloved father, Ron, is hospitalised and Morgan – the man who drove her away all those years ago – seeks her out.

Worse, Ron implores Lucy to visit Bitterwood Estate, the crumbling historic family guesthouse now left to him. He needs Lucy to find something – an old photograph album, the very thing that drove Ron and his father apart.

Lucy has her own painful memories of Bitterwood, darkness that has plagued her dreams since she was young. But as Lucy searches for the album, the house begins to give up its ghosts and she is driven to put them to rest.

And there, held tightly between the house, the orchard and the soaring cliffs, Lucy uncovers a long-hidden secret that shattered a family’s bond and kept a frightened young girl in its thrall ... and Lucy discovers just how fierce the lonely heart can be.

My Review
Beyond the Orchard is an historical novel with dual time frames, a crumbling estate called Bitterwood (great name right?) and family secrets of love, grief and guilt to discover.

Distinctly Australian, I loved the early references to places in Melbourne I instantly recognised, including: Dandenong Road, Elsternwick, Prahran, Geelong and the Great Ocean Road. It certainly gave me a buzz to see Lucy visit these familiar places.

However what hampered my enjoyment further was the sheer number of character points of view combined with the multiple different time frames. Looking back, I counted at least four time periods (1917/1918, 1929/1930, 1977 and 1993) at least five different character perspectives and the manuscript of a fairytale entwined with the story. This was just too much for me.

With all of this going on, the fairytale didn't work for me, the romance didn't interest me and I found it hard to accept the ending. (Peace? I don't think so! Not a spoiler, but hopefully those on the blog tour who have read it will know what I'm referring to here.) 

The strongest part of the novel by far was the story of Orah, and I would have preferred to read her story over that of Lucy unravelling her family history at Bitterwood any day. Orah was a fascinating character who really came alive on the page. Her rescue had me gasping in suspense and I found her story moving and definitely memorable.

I haven't read Thornwood House, so I can't compare it to this, but Beyond the Orchard will appeal to readers of Australian fiction and fans of Kate Morton.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Check out the next stop on the blog tour here on 2 November.

25 October 2016

Review: Atlas of Improbable Places - A Journey to the World's Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough & Alan Horsfield

Atlas of Improbable Places - A Journey to the World's Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough & Alan Horsfield book cover
* Copy courtesy of Murdoch Books *

The Atlas of Improbable Places - A Journey to the World's Most Unusual Corners by Travis Elborough is a stunning hardcover book with maps from Alan Horsfield.

This collection of deserted islands, subterranean secrets and bizarre and strange locations around the world is broken down into categories, including: Deserted Destinations, Architectural Oddities, Floating Worlds, Otherworldly Spaces (my favourite) among others.

The lack of colour photographs often had me seeking more information online, however some of the highlights of the book for me included the following places:
  • Slab City in California, USA (squatter metropolis)
  • Battleship Island, Japan (deserted mining settlement)
  • Oradour-sur-Glane, France (village abandoned since WWII)
  • Wittenoom, Western Australia (asbestos town)
  • The Kingdom of Redonda, Caribbean (uninhabited island)
  • Poveglia Island, Italy (former plague quarantine island)
  • Aokigahara, Japan (the demon forest)
With such a stunning cover and dust jacket (complete with gold foiling), not to mention the beautiful cartography end papers, I'm at a complete loss as to why the photos are black and white. Colour photographs would have enhanced this Atlas ten-fold and their absence is the only reason I'm giving a rating of 4 stars instead of 5 stars.

Atlas of Improbable Places is recommended for readers curious about the world around them and the strange impact humans have on their environment. Also recommended for those who enjoy travel, geography and history. Great coffee table book too.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
21 October 2016

Review: Embroidered Home by Kelly Fletcher

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Embroidered Home by Kelly Fletcher contains a collection of contemporary embroidery designs to decorate the home.

Broken down into categories like bold, country, vintage, festive (and more) this is an easy and enjoyable read.

The stitch directory in the beginning of the book is helpful and contains diagrams useful for beginners and the more experienced stitcher.

Each project comes with easy enough to follow instructions and the highlight of the book, stunning photographs.

However, the gardening tool roll and the picnic blanket strap resulted in this reviewer deducting a full star from my original rating. The impracticality of a gardener rolling up their tools in a linen embroidered tool roll or picnic goers rolling their blanket and strapping it into a holder with a handle so that they could carry it was too much for me to believe.

At a price point of $45AUD, I think Embroidered Home by Kelly Fletcher will make a beautiful gift for a loved one, but the everyday crafter or reader may prefer to borrow a copy from their local library.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
16 October 2016

Review: Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

Having enjoyed Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh so much earlier this year, I was keen to read Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen.

Sarah Andersen comes across as a somewhat shy and reclusive cartoonist and illustrator with a great sense of humour (often self-deprecating) and I enjoyed her collection of work here.

Adulthood is a Myth can be read in a single sitting, however I preferred to enjoy a few pages at a time and space it out rather than reading it all at once.

Here's just a taste of her style and sense of her humour.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

13 October 2016

Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Wonder is an historical fiction novel set in 1850s Ireland written by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room.

Nurse Elizabeth Wright is sent to a small village in Ireland to monitor the condition of Anna, a young girl who claims to live on the love of God alone; not needing food or water in order to survive. Is it a hoax or is Anna a Saint in the making? 

So begins a two week continual 'watch' of the eleven year-old girl, shared with Sister Michael. Nurse Wright begins her task expecting to uncover a fraud, but things aren't as they seem. Anna is deeply devout and as such the novel contains a lot of religious content and context, all offset against Nurse Wright's struggle to comprehend Anna's spiritual devotion.

A fictional story inspired by the true case history of fasting girls in the 1800s, I was glad to learn more about this phenomenon. I did want to know more about the nun Sister Michael and even a chapter or two from her perspective would have added to my enjoyment of the novel.

On the other hand, I could easily have done without the character of the journalist in The Wonder - although I could somewhat appreciate his purpose - that relationship was superfluous to the story in my opinion. (In fact, the journalist is responsible for the deduction of a full star in my star rating below).

Claims this novel is a psychological thriller are misplaced in my opinion. The Wonder is certainly a compelling mystery, but the nature of the 'watch' and the religious content means the pace works steadily towards the denouement.

I recommend The Wonder to historical fiction readers and if you enjoy the work of Hannah Kent, I think you'll like this one too. It certainly has one of my favourite book covers of the year.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
09 October 2016

Review: Ink and Bone - The Great Library by Rachel Caine

The Great Library of Alexandria was the greatest and most significant library in the world, however 2000 years ago the library and thousands of priceless scrolls were destroyed by fire.

In her novel Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine has imagined a world where the Alexandria Library wasn't destroyed and remains a prominent force in society.

For some reason, I mistakenly thought this book was an historical fiction novel, and it took me a while to adjust my expectations to what I consider to be a YA fantasy novel.

With students going through a somewhat gruelling selection process to become a librarian, it had a very YA / Harry Potter vibe.

Ink and Bone has automatons and alchemy and book lovers will no doubt enjoy the references to 'the library' but will need to keep an open mind with regard to the world-building.

Ink and Bone is the first in a series of more than 3 books, however the world-building just wasn't what I was expecting and I never really felt 'at home' so I won't be continuing any further with the series.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine is recommended for fans who enjoyed the dark side of Harry Potter and YA fantasy.

My rating = **1/2

Carpe Librum!
02 October 2016

Review: The World as 100 People - A Visual Guide to 7 Billion Humans by Aileen Lord

The World as 100 People - A Visual Guide to 7 Billion Humans by Aileen Lord is an interesting concept. Viewing the world of 7 billion people represented by just 100 has enabled Lord to analyse all kinds of statistics.

Full of easy to read infographics covering such topics as economics, health and education, the information is boiled down to the basics and percentages.

I love stats and was keen to read this, but disappointed to find no background on the data she used or how she formulated her results.

The simplistic nature of The World as 100 People makes it a quick and easy flick thru but for me it failed to make any kind of impact. Perhaps I need an 'adult' or expanded version?

Appropriate for all ages.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!