15 February 2019

Review: Threads of Life - A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle by Clare Hunter

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I've been enjoying cross stitch for many years now and while it will always remain secondary to my passion for books and reading, it's an activity I thoroughly enjoy. I find it relaxing and rewarding to watch a piece take shape, stitch by stitch and thread by thread.

After seeing some ecclesiastical needlework and medieval tapestries at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year, I was keen to learn more about the history of needlework. Threads of Life - A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle by Clare Hunter was a great place to start.

Packed with historical fact - sometimes a little too much - Threads of Life certainly does attempt to take on the history of the world.

I enjoyed learning more about the Bayeux Tapestry, the stitching completed by Mary, Queen of Scots and WWI soldiers suffering from PTSD. I was stunned to read about the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones® Tapestry, and put the book down to watch the 30 minute coverage of the entire tapestry on YouTube. It was impressive and I hope to see it one day.

In fact, I often had to stop reading to go and look up certain artworks and artists like Mary Delany, Mary Linwood and more. I dearly wished the publisher had considered including photographs of any sort to complement the content within. Needlework is such a visual art and without any photographs or sketches (colour or black and white) I felt the book was lacking.

Threads of Life is recommended for readers interested in any of the ways needlework has been used to communicate a message, create desirable artwork, delineate between the rich and the poor, raise women out of poverty, provide captives with hope and the damaged a way to heal.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

14 February 2019

Literary Map for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is here and to get you in the mood Global English Editing has compiled this epic literary map showcasing the most romantic books from around the world.

Although I don't read a lot of it, romance continues to be one of the world's bestselling genres and whilst you may already know some of the books listed, hopefully there'll be a few new ones to discover.

Do you have a favourite book on the map? Are any of the books mentioned languishing on your TBR pile? If you want more info on the books, Global English Editing provide a brief synopsis of each story here.

Happy Valentine's Day!
100 Iconic Love Stories From Around the World

08 February 2019

Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

RRP $29.99 AUD
Published 4 February 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Familiars by Stacey Halls is an historical fiction tale featuring Fleetwood Shuttleworth in the time of the Pendle witch trials of 1612. Based on real characters from history in Lancashire England, Fleetwood is 17 years old, married and and pregnant again after failing to carry her three previous pregnancies to term.

Fleetwood is mistress at Gawthorpe Hall and meets Alice Gray, a wise woman and midwife. Alice agrees to help Fleetwood deliver her baby safely but soon finds herself swept up in accusations of witchcraft.

Despite being fiction, I love that the characters, locations and events in The Familiars were based on historical fact. It was a fascinating insight into the period and the characters and I was instantly caught up in their stories. Fleetwood and Alice depend on each other for survival and their plight highlights the limitations placed on women at the time and the ridiculous accusations - and fear - of witchcraft.

If that wasn't enough, The Familiars is a physically stunning book. I adore the cover design with bronze foiling, forest foliage and the spot UV noose that encircles our main character. The title page and map immediately dropped me into the time period and the images of the fox and sprigs of lavender throughout the novel kept the level of enchantment full to overflowing.

It's not often that an unsolicited book from a publisher results in a five star reading experience, but The Familiars by Stacey Halls is an exception to the rule. I absolutely loved it!

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

04 February 2019

Review: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Many of you will remember that The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma was one of my favourite books in 2015 and I couldn't stop talking about it. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and I was disappointed when it didn't win. Since then, Chigozie Obioma has been busy writing An Orchestra of Minorities and you can imagine how excited I was to read this; just holding it filled me with giddy anticipation.

Our main character Chinonso is a young poultry farmer living in Nigeria and his story is narrated by his chi or guardian spirit. The novel is bursting with Igbo cosmology and Chinonso's chi has come to plead the case of his host before 
Chukwu, Creator of All at the magnificent court of Bechukwu, in Eluigwe. In telling his host's story to the court, we learn about Chinonso and the foreshadowing that his life is is about to undertake a tragic turn.

Chinonso is a poor farmer and after thwarting Ndali's suicide attempt, they fall in love. Ndali is educated and from the upper classes and her family vehemently oppose the match. This is a powerful story of love, heartache, misfortune and tragedy and covers a multitude of topics, including the westernisation of Nigeria, the disparity between classes, the notions of revenge and forgiveness and the complexities of love.

The entire book is narrated by Chinonso’s chi, who is testifying to the ‘elders/spirits’ on behalf of his host because of a crime he may have committed. The chi goes into great detail to paint the picture leading up to the event, however by the end of the book we’re left completely hanging. We learn about the event that was foreshadowed early in the book, however we never learn the outcome for Ndali or Chinonso.

What I found even more baffling is that we never hear a response from the court of elder spirits to the testimony provided by Chinonso's chi. There is no judgement - or response - provided at all. Given the chi’s testimony (the book) goes into so much detail about Chinonso’s life, to have the entire situation completely unresolved at the end of 500+ pages was quite a shock.

In fact, I was so rattled that I asked the publisher if I was missing something, or if there was going to be a sequel. I received the following info which I think is worth sharing here: It is purposefully ambiguous and intended to play upon the reader’s mind. Fiction, much like life, has no easy, neat and tidy, resolution.

I understand messy and ambiguous endings, but this story was cut short before we found out where it was going to end up. I was looking forward to the wisdom of the elder spirits and Chukwu, but sadly this never came.

Ultimately, An Orchestra of Minorities was just too open-ended for me and the lack of a conclusion greatly affected what had been a 4 or 5 star read until that point.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!