28 March 2020

Review: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini book cover
I did it! I finally read Inheritance by Christopher Paolini and in doing so, also achieved the following:

  - Read the book that's been on my bookshelves the longest (9 years, eek!)
  - Participated in the March of the Mammoths read-a-thon for the first time by reading a book longer than 800 pages within the month of March.
  - Finished a series I began back in 2011.

This YA fantasy series began with Eragon, continued with Eldest and Brisingr and concluded with Inheritance. Set in Alagaesia in a world of dragons and dragon riders, magicians, elves, dwarves and epic battles, this series felt a little like Lord of the Rings.

I was thankful for a comprehensive re-cap at the beginning of Inheritance as part of the reason I'd been putting it off was the worry I might not be able to remember what was going on. This concern was quickly allayed and I was plunged straight back into Eragon and Saphira's world. The action was immediate and the conflicts were detailed and gruesome. The dangers and challenges ahead for the characters drew me back into the world of Allagaesia and the fight against the rule of Galbatorix.

At 860 pages in length, Inheritance was a chunkster that took me two weeks straight to get through and definitely qualified for the March of the Mammoths reading challenge. Despite its length, the action was maintained throughout and I was satisfied with the ending of the series.

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini was a highly entertaining read in a genre I don't tend to read often. With my recent enjoyment of this and Strange the Dreamer, perhaps this should change in the future. 

I can highly recommend the Inheritance Cycle series and am of the opinion it stands up well to being read in today's climate.

My Rating:

25 March 2020

Book covers that remind me of other covers

I see many book covers during the course of my day while browsing publishing catalogues and answering emails or during my leisure time perusing GoodReads and other bookish blogs and online haunts. In my digital and bookshop travels, I often notice similar trends in cover design. Sometimes a book cover will remind me of other covers and I thought it would be interesting to collate and share a couple of them here just for fun.

You should know I haven't done any research on whether these covers were designed by the same designer, released by the same publisher, or indeed which book was released first. This is just a surface level observation on cover trends in the publishing industry.

Firstly, these silhouette covers were the starting point for this recent bout of similarities. These titles are: Jane In Love by Rachel Givney, Followers by Megan Angelo and The Body Politic by Brian Platzer.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
L-R: Jane In Love by Rachel Givney, Followers by Megan Angelo & The Body Politic by Brian Platzer
The next pair of titles (Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen & Akin by Emma Donoghue) grabbed my attention due to the archway on the cover. I'm certain there's another recent release with this feature too but I can't seem to remember it. If you know what it is, please let me know in the comments section and put me out of my misery. Akin is on my TBR so I'll be getting to this in due course.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
Akin by Emma Donoghue & Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen
I thoroughly enjoyed The Foundling by Stacey Halls whereas The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge has been on my TBR for sometime, so I noticed when her new release was published. The similarities between these two stunning covers (The Foundling by Stacey Halls and Deeplight by Frances Hardinge) was striking and instantly appealed to me.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
The Foundling by Stacey Halls & Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
Finally, I wanted to share an example where the primary image chosen formed the basis of the similarity. In this case, the sardine tin featured on the bestselling cover of Normal People by Sally Rooney shows up in a re-release of Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
Normal People by Sally Rooney & Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane
What do you think of these covers? Do you think one is more reminiscent of another? Do you notice trends in cover art within certain genres? It's well known that certain genres have distinct cover designs that are supposed to attract readers who love that specific genre. I haven't included any from the crime genre but trust me, there are plenty of examples.

Sometimes these cover similarities might speak to readers about what the book contains in a 'if you liked that, you'll love this' kind of way. At any rate, it's something I will no doubt continue to take notice of and might choose to share again in the future.

Carpe Librum!

20 March 2020

Review: The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

The overriding impression I have after listening to the audiobook of The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie is an overwhelming admiration for her narration. Her voice, intonation and way of speaking is simply mesmerising. If you listen to a sample you'll see what I mean immediately.

The Erratics is a memoir about the Canadian Australian author's ageing parents and the struggle she and her sister face when her mother ends up in hospital with a broken hip. The author lives in Australia and unfortunately her mother lives in Canada and is a nasty piece of work. After a years-long estrangement, the sisters arrive at their parent's house in Alberta to find their father has been isolated and very poorly treated.

Despite the dysfunctional family setting, Laveau-Harvie manages to include breathtaking descriptions of the landscape and environment as well as scatter dark humour and incredible insight throughout the novel. I also enjoyed her writing.
".. because I do not carry a lot of my past. My sister carries it for me, her foot in the bear trap of our childhood unable to extricate herself no matter how hard she pulls." Chapter 16
Here's an example of her dark humour:
"My sister’s partner leaves the room at some point and strides down the wide hallway to inspect the elevator my mother takes to the lobby every morning to buy her newspapers and flowers. My sister’s partner is a handy person and wishes to inspect the elevator doors to see if there’s any way to rig them to open onto a void when my mother pushes the button." Chapter 20
And my favourite quote from the book:
“Scratch me and you get grief. It will well up surreptitiously and slip away down any declivity, perhaps undermining the foundations but keeping a low profile and trying not to inconvenience anybody.
Scratch my sister at your peril however, because you’ll get rage, a geyser of it, like hitting oil after drilling dry, hot rock for months and it suddenly, shockingly, plumes up into the sky, black and viscous, coating everything as it falls to earth.
Take care when you scratch.”
Having opened with so much praise for The Erratics, I need to disclose that it jumped around for me quite a lot and the end result felt a little jumbled. She cleverly addresses the reader now and then, but I often felt confused about which point in time we were in.

In addition, the reader was only ever given the tiniest of glimpses into the mistreatment the author, her sister and their father suffered at the hands of their mother. We are never privy to the full extent of the family estrangement or even why the author's mother was the way she was.

At the end of The Erratics I was left wanting more answers and disappointed about not getting them or being able to reach an understanding about the family dynamic. Perhaps Laveau-Harvie didn't have the answers herself, or perhaps it was too painful for her to commit them to paper.

Nevertheless, The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie won The Stella Prize in 2019 and was an enjoyable, yet unusual read.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

16 March 2020

Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Inspired by true events, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave begins with a sudden and horrific storm that drowns forty fishermen from the seaside village of Vardo, in Norway. It's the year 1617 and the storm leaves the women grieving and having to fend for themselves.

Maren is 20 and lost both her brother and father in the storm. Her intended also drowned, her brother's wife is pregnant and she lives with her mother in the remote coastal village.

Eighteen months after the storm, Commissioner Cornet is sent to Vardo in response to fears the island is host to Lapps - or the Sami people - who aren't practising the approved religion of the time. The Commissioner's new wife Ursa has been raised in a house of means in Bergen and their posting in Vardo comes as a complete culture shock. The Commissioner has been given a mission to root out any evil that resides in Vardo however Ursa is focussed on making a new friend in Maren.

The story unfolds from the perspectives of both Maren and Ursa as we begin to learn about the women and develop empathy for their individual plights. Religion, superstition and belief play a big role in The Mercies and the blurb doesn't hide the fact the book is inspired by the 1621 witch trials in the region.

This historical fiction novel is dark and full of foreboding from beginning to end. The harsh and unforgiving landscape along with the tough living conditions put me in mind of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

The Mercies is a novel about grief, loss, friendship, survival, relationships (good and bad), suspicion, religion and accusation. It's a bleak novel but it's also a tender novel about the importance love and hope.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

08 March 2020

Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees by Laline Paull book cover
I love bees. It's hard not to. They're crucial to the environment and the pollination of many flowers, fruits and vegetables. They produce honey and beeswax and if I didn't live in the city, I fancy I'd like to own and tend my own beehive.

The Bees by Laline Paull is the tale of one bee's life in her hive and I was chuffed to receive it as a Christmas gift in 2018. Flora 717 is born a sanitation bee, but she doesn't quite fit in due to her bigger body and ugly features. She has other skills though and learns to be a productive member of the hive.

You might imagine a bee's life is dull, but we follow Flora 717 around all of the departments of her hive and learn the tasks each of her fellow hive members undertakes. Each bee knows their duty and they're united by the hive mind and their love for the Queen or Mother bee. Scent plays a key role in Flora's life and in the book, with scent and smells appearing on almost every page as it forms a critical part of Flora's communication with other bees and the environment around her.

It's not a spoiler to disclose that Flora 717 also talks. While I generally don't like novels with talking animals, this one falls into the same category of books as Watership Down which manages to successfully bridge this divide. However, if you have a problem with bees exhibiting other human like behaviour - curtseying, praying and using their 'hands' - then this might not be for you.

It was a joy to follow Flora 717 as she fulfilled her various duties, tried to understand her place and make a valuable contribution to the hive. I enjoyed learning about the waggle dance, the making of honey, the laying of eggs and all manner of bee activities through Flora's eyes and longed to know more about bees in general.

Much happens throughout the book as the bees move from crisis to crisis and the action never stops. This book can also be read on a deeper level, with ample references to an overarching hierarchy and religion governing the bees. Themes of purpose, leadership, devotion, duty, sacrifice, deformity, class, age and gender are all explored through the activities within the hive and this made for an interesting and unique read.

You can buzz on over and read a FREE SAMPLE of The Bees by Laline Paull and decide for yourself.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 March 2020

Review: The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The Foundling by Stacey Halls book cover
RRP $39.99
Published February 2020
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Set in London in 1754, Bess Bright makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her illegitimate newborn baby at the Foundling Hospital in London, promising herself that she will come back to claim her daughter as soon as she can. Years later, Bess returns only to find her daughter has already been claimed, by her. So begins the mystery of The Foundling by Stacey Halls.

Stacey Halls has done it again. The Familiars was set in 1612 around the Pendle witch trials and was an absorbing read about two women from different classes coming together to help one another. Somehow, Stacey Halls has managed to effortlessly set another tale about two women from different classes 150 years later in Georgian London without missing a beat. The Foundling has been written in such a unique storytelling style that from the first page of The Foundling I knew immediately I was in expert hands once again.

Here's an example of her writing from Page 119:
"With the excess of Christmas behind and spring a way off, it was a dull, dead period, a time of hibernation and renewal, in which to reintroduce good habits, turn mattresses and repair wigs."
In addition to being an engaging historical mystery, The Foundling by Stacey Halls is also an absolute delight to hold in the hand. With a stunning cover design with spot UV and metallic foiling on the front and back, the edition I have is the floppy kind with nice big font and delightful chapter markers to indicate the character's perspective about to unfold. I recall remarking on the beauty of The Familiars too and the design team have outdone themselves again here. I enjoyed seeing The Foundling on my bedside table and will be sad to shelve it along with my other 5 star reads where I won't be able to admire the cover on a daily basis.

There's been much praise for Stacey Halls, however I don't agree with Cosmopolitan that Halls is 'The new Hilary Mantel'. She is nothing like Mantel and I believe the comparison builds an inaccurate association in the minds of potential readers. If I had to characterise Stacey's writing, I'd say it was a meeting of the minds between Philippa Gregory and Diane Setterfield.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Foundling by Stacey Halls. It had all of the ingredients I love in an historical fiction novel and I highly recommend it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

02 March 2020

Review: Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe by Sali Hughes

Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe by Sali Hughes cover
I'm a monarchist and fortunate to be born during the era of the longest reining monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. In Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe, author Sali Hughes takes a look at Her Majesty's fashion over the last nine decades, including her jewellery and accessories.

I thoroughly enjoyed this little read and all of the trivia it contained. Many designers are mentioned, Royal warrants explained and much more. Learning the Queen's outfits were all weather tested and logged to avoid any repetition of an ensemble and that she won't wear shoes that have a heel higher than 2.25 inches was interesting.

The Queen's ladies-in-waiting are said to: 
"travel with spare tights, sewing kits and lavender-scented cloths in case of extreme heat." Page 54
The rumoured contents of the Queen's handbag from Page 120-121 are:
"Small camera; family photos; compact and lipstick (usually by Clarins or Elizabeth Arden); suction mounted bag hook; ironed and folded bank note for any church service collections; crossword clipped from newspaper for any idle moments; mints; reading glasses; fountain pen; small silver make-up case given to her by Prince Philip and a mobile phone for calls to grandchildren."
I enjoyed learning about the often political and cultural meaning behind the Queen's fashion and jewellery choices, indicating advanced research and preparation for every event and Royal engagement. I especially enjoyed her choice to wear a brooch given to her by the Obamas when meeting President Trump, and to wear the EU colours of blue and gold when attending the State Opening of Parliament post Brexit referendum.

Another factor contributing to my enjoyment of this little hardback gem was the fact that I submitted a request for my library to purchase this book and they did! It now has to be returned because there's a nice little queue of readers waiting to get their hands on it next. How fun!

Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes is an interesting read with great photographs to study in detail and will appeal to a variety of readers of any age.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★