31 December 2018

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander and JK Rowling

I listened to the audio book of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them read by Eddie Redmayne in the car on the way to Sydney for Christmas this year. The book is nothing like the movie of the same name. What I found instead was a meta fiction style text book from Hogwarts Library written of course by the talented JK Rowling in the guise of Newt Scamander.

Published in 2001, this is a guide book to the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe. After an introduction about the differences between beings and beasts and then being acquainted with their different danger levels we progressed through an A-Z of magical creatures.

JK Rowling's imagination really knows no bounds, and while the description for each beast was creative, informative and sometimes amusing, it was ultimately a dry read. I also think something was lost in the audio experience, as I've seen other readers who enjoyed the illustrations and margin notes from Ron Weasley that obviously weren't available in the audio production.

Overall, this was a great way to break up the monotony of the long drive, but didn't add all that much to my enjoyment of the Harry Potter series.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge Completed

I successfully completed the Renaissance Reader level of the 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year hosted by Passages to the Past.

Last year I barely scraped it in, but this year I comfortably read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the challenge, plus an additional 4 for good measure.

Here's what I read:

1. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
2. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
3. Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir
4. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
5. Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
6. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

7. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
8. A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
9. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
10. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
11. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
12. Melmoth by Sarah Perry
13. The Corset by Laura Purcell
14. Tombland by C.J. Sansom

I'm looking forward to participating again in 2019 so stay tuned for my sign-up post.

Carpe Librum!

30 December 2018

Australian Women Writer's Challenge & Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2018

It's been a record breaking reading year for me and I've completed all three of my reading challenges. Two of them are Australian, so I thought I'd wrap them both up together here.

2018 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
To complete the Franklin level of the 2018 Australian Women Writer's Challenge, I had to read 10 books and review 6 of them. I outdid myself this year and read and reviewed the following 15 books:

1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
2. The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton
3. The Flying Optometrist by Joanne Anderton
4. Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
5. Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones
6. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
7. A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
8. The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady
9. Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner
10. Always With You by Debbie Malone
11. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
12. Paramedic by Sandy Macken
13. Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
14. Stalked by Rachel Cassidy
15. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2018
For the Aussie Author Challenge I had to read and review 12 titles by Australian authors across a minimum of 3 genres. At least 4 titles had to be by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 had to be new (to me) authors. I smashed the reading challenge this year and read the following 26 books:

1. The Commando - The Life and Death of Cameron Baird, VC, MG by Ben Mckelvey
2. Hangman by Jack Heath
3. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
4. Pentridge: Voices from the Other Side by Rupert Mann
5. The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton
6. The Flying Optometrist by Joanne Anderton
7. Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
8. Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones
9. Cicada by Shaun Tan
10. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
11. Australia's Most Unbelievable True Stories by Jim Haynes
12. A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
13. The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady
14. Scrublands by Chris Hammer
15. Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
16. The Nowhere Child by Christian White
17. Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner
18. Always With You by Debbie Malone
19. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
20. Long and Winding Way to the Top by Andrew P Street
21. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
22. Paramedic by Sandy Macken
23. The Girl on the Page by John Purcell
24. Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
25. Stalked by Rachel Cassidy
26. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

What books by Aussie authors did you enjoy this year?

Carpe Librum!
20 December 2018

Review: Book Love by Debbie Tung

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Book Love by Debbie Tung is a graphic novel containing comics depicting everything there is to love about books. Rather than a linear story, this is a collection of images celebrating all things bookish, including: reading physical books, enjoying ebooks, browsing bookshops, borrowing books, smelling books and all manner of lifestyle related scenarios involving books and reading.

The artwork is appealing and the black and white illustrations are all postcard quality. I can easily see them being converted into bookmarks, t-shirts, tea towels and more and I'd certainly purchase some for myself. A cursory search tells me the author has an Etsy shop, so that's promising.

Book Love by Debbie Tung is best read a few pages at a time. While it can easily be read in a single sitting, I think it's best enjoyed at a slower pace. I recommend Book Love for bookworms, librarians, bibliophiles, readers and booklovers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
13 December 2018

Review: The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Legend has it that if the ravens at the Tower of London should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom. It is the responsibility of the Ravenmaster and his team to ensure this never happens. Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London and this is his memoir.

In The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Christopher takes the reader through his daily routine and introduces us to each of the ravens. He describes the birds, their personalities, pecking order, quirks and many anecdotes demonstrating proof of their incredible intelligence. He explains the characteristics of ravens, what makes them different to crows and how he manages to keep them happy and healthy at the Tower.

In addition to his duties as Ravenmaster, he also gives us an idea of what it's like to give tours of the Tower in his role as Yeoman Warder: learning the tour script, fielding questions and being photographed hundreds of times a day.

To qualify as a Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London, applicants need to have served in the military for a minimum of 22 years with an unblemished record. Christopher lives with his wife in the Tower and is one of many ceremonial guardians of the Tower. He
 is a corvid enthusiast having previously known nothing about birds, and I found his writing style easy going and informative without being dry.

Incorporating the history of this great fortress (which is fascinating to me), the author also includes the history of ravens in literature and art and the folklore and myths surrounding them. In talking about the association between ravens and death, Christopher writes:

"Their reputation for feasting on flesh was soon matched by a reputation for feasting on souls: people used to say that ravens would sit on the roof of a house of the dead and the dying and wait for the soul to come up the chimney so they could gobble it down." Pg 221

I met the Ravenmaster when I visited the Tower of London in October 2012, and wanted to ask him a million questions at the time. Fortunately he was able to answer all of my questions in this memoir which was a pleasure to read. I especially enjoyed reading about his involvement in the poppy exhibition Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibition in 2014.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
06 December 2018

Review: Absolute Proof by Peter James

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Ross Hunter, Investigative Journalist learns there may be absolute proof of the existence of God and decides to investigate. Under serious threat from several organisations who seek the evidence Ross is gathering, Absolute Proof has been compared to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I loved The Da Vinci Code so decided to give this a go, however the only connection I could see was the concept of Jesus Christ's DNA being passed down to the present day. Despite the hieroglyphics on the cover, there are no puzzles or riddles to solve here. In fact, Ross's trip to Egypt was brief and hieroglyphics didn't factor in the story at all so I have no idea why they grace the cover.

Peter James is a bestselling author who has written a tonne of books but this was my first time reading his work. I found Ross's character to be a little irritating at times and I soon grew weary of wading through the endless descriptions of scenery and mundane tasks. Ross's ruminations also took up too much space and only served to recap his thoughts on the goings on; which is boring if you're the sort of reader able to keep up with what's happening.

And the ending? Where do I start? The ending left far too many unanswered questions. It was ambiguous and anti climactic and I expected more from an award winning author who has sold more than 19 million books. Absolute Proof was a meandering novel with some interesting points about religion but the unresolved ending left me underwhelmed and unlikely to seek out any of his other novels.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
04 December 2018

Review: It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Roll the dice. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I love playing board games and It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan was a good read.

All the expected games are there: Chess, Backgammon, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Cluedo, Pictionary and Monopoly and much more. I appreciated reading the history behind the formation of these games and learning about new - to me - ones.

The section on war games was interesting, however I was surprised and secretly excited to hear mention of The Ungame and Scruples.

I enjoyed reading about the evolution of my favourite game Monopoly, however was embarrassed to learn it was created in the USA first. I played the British version and ignorantly believed the American game board was the 'inferior' version. Whoops!
"By 2016 [Monopoly] had sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. It is, by far, the bestselling branded board game ever created and no other game, except maybe chess, has so imprinted itself on the world's collective consciousness." Page 95
I also enjoyed learning about the formation of Simon & Schuster. Richard Simon was at his aunt's house for dinner in 1924 and she asked if there was a collection of cross words she could buy for her daughter.
"Together with his friend Lincoln Schuster, Simon founded a publishing company called Simon & Schuster" to publish a collection of cross word puzzles. The book became a sensation and "Simon & Schuster was on its way to becoming one of the biggest book publishers in the United States". Page 155
I read It's All A Game during Non Fiction November (hosted by A Book Olive) and it left me wanting to play boardgames again. Unfortunately I don't have any willing participants close by so now I'm playing Backgammon on Board Game Arena. My profile name is Carpe_Librum (naturally) if anyone wants to play.

Roll the dice.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!