31 January 2018

Review of How to Draw Cute Stuff - Draw Anything and Everything in the Cutest Style Ever! by Angela Nguyen

* Copy courtesy of Murdoch Books *

I can't draw. At all. So it shouldn't come as a shock that I've always admired those who can. In How to Draw Cute Stuff: Draw Anything and Everything in the Cutest Style Ever! artist Angela Nguyen shows the reader how to draw a variety of cute subjects from people, animals and food to other household items.

Thanks to the phenomenal success of Kawaii - the Japanese culture of cuteness - the popularity of all things cute doesn't seem to be fading any time soon. The ability to draw cute stuff can be utilised in a variety of ways: happy mail, doodling, bullet journals etc. and I was hoping to put some of these newfound skills to good use.

The subjects are all cute, there's no doubting that, but many of the things being drawn are quite detailed and - in my opinion - beyond the skills of a beginner. Perhaps readers with basic drawing skills will be able to draw a policeman, ninja, eagle, tiger, school bus or helicopter by following the instructions, but I certainly wasn't able to.

My favourites from the book did include the smiley face expressions, houses, and the puffer fish. (Loved that puffer fish!) The difficulty level of the majority of items exceeded my own skills as a beginner and I'm sorry to say I couldn't attempt many of them.

It is for this reason I'm giving the book 3 stars.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
29 January 2018

Review: Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome is one of my favourite books of all time and even recalling it now makes me chuckle. Having read it back in 2011, I thought it was high time to explore more from this eccentric and witty author, so I picked up Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. Big mistake. Huge.

Do you ever worry you'll spoil your love for a book if you read another by the same author and it's a drag? When I read a dud by an author I revere, it inevitably diminishes my overall opinion of their work and it happens more often than I'd like.*

Unfortunately, this was one of those times and I just didn't enjoy Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. There were moments of humour and cleverness, but by the end I was left wishing I'd never picked it up.

As a reader, I was greedy to recreate the magic of Three Men in a Boat where I should have been content to leave it as a standalone reading experience beyond compare. Have I learned my lesson though? Probably not.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

* Which is why I'm reluctant to read anything else by John Williams, author of Stoner.
21 January 2018

Review of How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life by Ruth Goodman

Ruth Goodman is one of my favourite historians, and I've enjoyed watching her in the following documentary series: Tudor Monastery Farm, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm and Full Steam Ahead.

In How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life, Ruth covers every stage of the day: sleeping, when to rise, washing, dressing, breakfast, education, dinner, men and women's work, leisure time and activities, supper and bedtime.

Goodman packs a punch into these 300 pages and her experience as a living historian is impressive. I especially enjoyed the social etiquette section, and in particular the section about walking and posture. Goodman says that today we can guess someone's nationality from their gait, and in the Tudor period you could guess someone's occupation from the way they walked.

"Ploughmen were described as having a 'plodding' gait, slow and deliberate, while shepherds were renowned for their light and springy step, striding out across the hills." Page 91

Ruth goes on to outline the preferred posture of the era and even touches on the differences wearing ruffs and lace cuffs made to posture and bearing. I'd never considered ruffs other than presuming they'd be uncomfortable to wear, and discovered that they significantly effected the way the wearers stood, ate and held themselves.

I also learned that starching a ruff can take an entire day and a white ruff was a versatile item of clothing thanks to the use of coloured starches. Yellow ruffs were worn, pale pink ruffs were worn by young boys, and blue starched ruffs were popular until they became associated with prostitutes and Elizabeth I declared that "no blue starch shall be used or worn by any of her Majesty's subjects." Page 78.

How To Be A Tudor is full of interesting tidbits like this and I enjoyed them all. Did you know that a middle class woman could be wearing 1000 pins at any one time? And these pins are still being found in the Thames? Wow!

I thoroughly recommend How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life by Ruth Goodman to readers with an interest in history, fashion, England and the Tudor period.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
15 January 2018

2018 Reading Challenge Sign-Ups

I'm excited to sign-up for the following three reading challenges this year.

  • Aussie Author Challenge 2018
  • 2018 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
  • 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

The Aussie Author Challenge 2018 is hosted by Booklover BookReviews and I'm signing up for the Kangaroo level again. This means I'll need to read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors.

To successfully complete the challenge, at least 4 titles must be written by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 of the 12 titles must be new to me authors. I'll also need to read across a minimum of 3 genres.

You don't need a blog to join in, you can follow along on Facebook and Twitter. For more details, click here.

I'm signing up to the Franklin level of the 2018 Australian Women Writer's Challenge this year and will need to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge.

The challenge is run by writers and volunteers and encourages readers to discover more books by Australian women.

Participants can can join in on Facebook and GoodReads.


I'm signing up for the Renaissance Reader level of the 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge again this year, hosted by Passages to the Past. 

I will need to read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the challenge and it could be a stretch, so wish me luck.

You can follow my challenge progress here and I look forward to discovering some ripping reads during the year. Let me know if you're participating in any of these challenges in the comments below.

Carpe Librum!
11 January 2018

Review: The Commando - The Life And Death Of Cameron Baird, VC, MG by Ben Mckelvey

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Australian writer Ben Mckelvey has done a great job telling the reader about the life of Cameron Baird, VC, MG in The Commando - The Life and Death of Cameron Baird, VC, MG. With the help and blessing of Cameron's parents Kaye and Doug Baird, Mckelvey gives us an insight into the life of Cameron Baird, killed in action in Afghanistan in 2013.

Posthumously awarded the 100th Victoria Cross, Cameron Baird, VC, MG is one of Australia's most decorated modern soldiers. Mckelvey takes the reader back to Cam's childhood as a talented young football player, joining the Australian Army and his career as a soldier.

Here's a quote from Page 46:
"When building a modern soldier, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) prefers to start from a somewhat razed foundation, so in their early days at Kapooka the recruits can do no right. No matter how they make their beds, clean their bathrooms or fold their uniforms, they will have done it incorrectly. There will be punishments, and very loud vocal objections at their ineptitude. They are not permitted to contact their family or friends for the first week, though they are encouraged to write letters to loved ones back home."

And on Page 47:
"This is all part of ADF strategy. After an initial burst of harsh discipline, recruits are allowed to progress their skills, and to take pride in their development. This is when Cam began to feel a love of soldiering that rarely dampened ever after."

I easily related to this, having joined the ADF earlier than Cam and survived the rigorous Officer training at ADFA to go on and serve in the Royal Australian Navy. 
Prior to reading this biography, the name of Cameron Baird lived in my mind alongside those other greats of the Australian Army, Ben Roberts-Smith and Mark Donaldson, but now I have a sense of the man, the son and the soldier and what made him a hero. 

According to the CO of 2 Commando Regiment, Cam "will never be forgotten by his regiment, his Army or his nation." In writing this biography, Ben Mckelvey is helping to make sure of it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
09 January 2018

Top 5 Books of 2017

Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison Weir cover book coverHere are my top 5 books of 2017, in the order I read them.

1. Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) by Alison Weir

Alison Weir's unique take on the life of Anne Boleyn in Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession took me by surprise and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in June, courtesy of Hachette Australia. The novel covers Anne's upbringing in French court and the powerful women she served there, right up to her execution at the order of the King. 

The reason this made my top 5 list was largely due to the end of the novel. Weir was able to create an incredibly moving 'end' that was unexpectedly emotional and even a little upsetting. It's unlike me to be moved to tears reading a book, but this was close.
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin book cover

2. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

I read The Four Tendencies in September (courtesy of Hachette Australia) and I'm still thinking about and applying the theories in my everyday life. It's for this reason The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin easily earned a place on my Top 5 books this year. 

Since reading the book I've been able to recognise the four tendencies in others and have reaffirmed my status as an Obliger. I rarely re-read books, but this is one I can easily see myself returning to for a refresher.

3. A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf book cover
2017 was the first time I tackled anything by the great Virginia Woolf, and I'm so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed Woolf's provocative and powerful writing in this novel length essay, and unexpectedly found myself laughing in some parts and inspired in others. Reading it in May, I readily imagined A Room of One's Own as a successful TEDTalk and reading it put to rest any fear that Virginia Woolf was too literary for my reading tastes. 

I usually try to include a few classics in my TBR pile but unfortunately this was the only one I read in 2017. I hope to do better in 2018.

4. Need To Know by Karen Cleveland

Need To Know by Karen Cleveland book cover
Penguin Random House UK outdid themselves in their marketing for espionage thriller Need to Know by Karen Cleveland in 2017. It arrived in a classified envelope containing a redacted mission, cool ID pouch, and advanced reading copy with phrases printed on both page edges. It was the most exciting book pitch ever and the book definitely delivered on its promise. 

For someone who doesn't read spy novels, I was lured in by the pitch and rewarded with a highly entertaining read. Cleveland spent 8 years as a CIA Analyst and Need to Know is being released on 25 January 2018.

5. Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper book cover
I was nervous to read Force of Nature after the roaring success of The Dry by Jane Harper but I needn't have worried. Courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia, Force of Nature is an absolute ripping read and I think I enjoyed it even more than The Dry if that's at all possible. 

Read in November on holiday in Queensland, this was a highlight on my reading calendar and I'm proud to list a book by an Aussie author in my Top 5 List this year. (The last Aussie author to make it on my top 5 was Markus Zuzak with The Messenger in 2015).

Have you read any of the books in my top 5 list? What was your favourite read in 2017?

Carpe Librum!
07 January 2018

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2017 Completed

In 2017 I participated in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Passages to the Past. To successfully complete their Renaissance Reader level I needed to read 10 historical fiction novels and I just scraped it in.

Here's what I read:
1. The Hidden Thread | Liz Trenow
2. Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession | Alison Weir
3. The Shadow Land | Elizabeth Kostova
4. Tin Man | Sarah Winman
5. A Column of Fire | Ken Follett
6. City of Crows | Chris Womersley
7. The Last Tudor | Philippa Gregory
8. The Last Hours | Minette Walters
9. She Be Damned | M.J. Tjia
10. Lincoln in the Bardo | George Saunders

Have you read any of these books? I just managed to finish the final book before the year ended, but given historical fiction is still one of my favourite genres, I'll definitely be signing up again in 2018.

Carpe Librum!
05 January 2018

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was the buzz book of 2017 and now I understand why. It's essentially the story of President Abraham Lincoln's grief at the tragic passing of his son Willie to typhoid fever and is different to any book I've read before.

The historical novel is written in an entirely original format and the story is told in two alternating methods or styles. The first being a collection of snippets from a variety of historical sources (referenced at the end), while the second appears as observations and conversations from ghosts in the cemetery where Willie's remains are interred.

I've read other epistolary novels - where the book is made by bringing together letters, diary excerpts and so on - but this was so much more. Both methods took some getting used to, but ultimately produced an entirely new reading experience for me. I expect this literary format and writing style will be emulated by writers in the years and decades ahead in an attempt to recreate the magic on the page.

The majority of the story takes place in the bardo; a Tibetan term for the Buddhist state between death and rebirth, a kind of purgatory or limbo. The ghost characters don't realise they're dead, and ignore the clues - calling their coffins a 'sick-box' and yearning to get back to their lives. Slowly Willie's presence begins to change their outlook and the entire cemetery is affected by what happens, courtesy of Lincoln's love for his son.

President Lincoln's grief and loss were palpable and the observations from history and supernatural characters moving. I can't begin to imagine the level of research Saunders conducted into Abraham Lincoln and the civil war in order to collect and bring those excerpts together to tell this story, but it's impressive to say the least.

This is a book about grief and the afterlife as much as it is about love, and I understand why Lincoln in the Bardo won the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
03 January 2018

Review: She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia

* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *

It's 1863 and Heloise Chancey is an amateur sleuth in London. An ex-courtesan with a penchant for investigation, Heloise puts her skills to work after at-risk women are murdered in Waterloo at a troubling rate.

This is a debut novel for Australian author M.J. Tjia and is the first in the Heloise Chancey historical crime series.

Quick and easy to read, She Be Damned was a great end-of-year read and helped me successfully complete my historical fiction reading challenge.

Having said that, the romance angle seemed a little unrealistic for the time period - despite Heloise's past as a courtesan - and was a turn off for me.

She Be Damned by author M.J. Tjia is recommended for those who love to discover new Australian authors and enjoy reading historical crime fiction. (Love that cover!)

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!