29 September 2020

Review: Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch book cover
Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist, how cool is that?

In Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language, Gretchen McCulloch observes just how fast internet language has changed and how quickly it continues to move and evolve. Internet slang and jargon varies by generation, country, location, friend group and more and I honestly don't know how internet linguists can keep up. 

I enjoyed Gretchen's thoughts on new words from Chapter 8:
"Any one of us can coin a word or compose a sentence that has never been said before. And it now exists in the language as soon as we utter it. Whether it winks in and out for a single moment or whether it catches on and endures in the minds of people yet unborn."
In Because Internet, Gretchen casts a detailed linguistic eye over digital communications and interactions from the early beginnings of the internet in chat rooms like IRC and discussion boards, to the evolution of text messages, MMS, emojis, memes and GIFs.

I was surprised to find I didn't know the difference between emoticons and emojis (emoticons can be represented by the keys on your keyboard, and emojis are pictograms that could include images of flowers or a slice of cake). And while listening to the chapter on emoji and internet gestures, I realised I don't know what many of the hand gestures actually mean.

I chose to listen to the audiobook for this title and loved the chapter that discussed the use of repeating letters to add emphasis and I do this a lot! I can't seem to recall what this is called and can't flip back through the book to find it which is soooooooo annoying! (See what I did there?) For this and other reasons (the section on emoticons come to mind) I really think this would have been better read in print.

I enjoyed the author's observation on changing language from Chapter 8:
"When you lay a book down and come back to it, you expect all its ink to stay where you left it. But the only languages that stay unchanging are the dead ones."
After reading Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch, I've learned that it's pointless to lay down rules for language on the internet; who is going to follow them? It's also an impossible task to comprehensively record internet language in its entirety at any given point in time.

The best we can hope for is a bird's eye view and Gretchen McCulloch has certainly given me that.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

Available from Booktopia

23 September 2020

Review: The Bushfire Book - How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden, illustrated by Chris Nixon

The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden and illustrated by Chris Nixon book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Bushfires are a real threat in Australia and I was excited to see the recent release of a children's book to educate young kids about the dangers. The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden and illustrated by Chris Nixon is a reassuring book for children.

With a vibrant colour palette and bright artwork, the colour scheme and style evoked the landscape artworks of fellow Australian artist Fred Williams. I'm not sure if there's a legitimate influence there or whether it's an artistic coincidence, but I related well to the uniquely Australian illustrations and the chosen colour palette.

I was less sure about the inclusion of entire pages of typography for such young readers.

The inclusion of the fire danger ratings indicator was a terrific choice, however I was hoping for some content around preparing your house for bushfire season. Things like clearing gutters, cutting grass, cleaning up twigs and leaf litter etc. are tasks children can often help with however there was no mention here of how to prepare your house ahead of bushfire season.

Also absent was the concept of leaving early; wearing long sleeves, pants and closed shoes when the fire danger is high and putting a wet cloth over your nose and mouth to help you breathe if the air is smoky.

Ultimately, The Bushfire Book seemed to focus on awareness and reassurance, while leaving the preparedness to another time. I'm not sure if it was decided the content would be too distressing for kids, but the page highlighting that we don't need to be scared, with one character asking: "what if my house burns down?" seemed far more confronting to this reader.

Nevertheless, The Bushfire Book contains some very important resources at the end and a bonus pull-out poster which was a nice touch.

Parents and teachers looking to educate children on all facets of bushfire awareness will need to look elsewhere, but this is a great place to introduce the topic of how bushfires begin and start the conversation.

I suspect this Australian title will be popular in schools, libraries and homes ahead of the 2021 bushfire season and you can read a FREE extract here.

Stay safe and Carpe Librum!
My Rating:

Available from Booktopia
21 September 2020

Guest Review: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

My TBR keeps growing and I'm sure you can all relate. This week fellow booklover Neil Béchervaise reviewed Fair Warning by Michael Connelly for Carpe Librum. Fair Warning is set in the Harry Bosch universe and is the third book in the Jack McEvoy series. What did you think Neil?

After 23 Harry Bosch novels leading to his continued activity beyond retirement and another half dozen exploring the vagaries of journalism, it didn’t seem likely that Michael Connelly could possibly have much more to say about the machinations of the Los Angeles crime scene. I’m sure I already know every highway, traffic jam and notable building, every movie studio and coffee shop from Hollywood to Long Beach. But wait!

When journo Jack McEvoy, now working for the [real] independent news company ‘Fair Warning’, links the brutal murder of a recent female companion with the increasing popularity of DNA testing, the conflict between news and crime investigation come into sharp focus. The social role of DNA testing to identify ancestors or even existing family links is examined and issues of anonymity are highlighted; the moral/ethical dilemma of withholding evidence versus informing the public of a clear and present danger is McEvoy’s dilemma. As he reflects, “I didn’t like going to my editor, my boss, and saying I didn’t know what to do next. An editor wants confidence. He wants to hear a plan that will lead to a story”.

As more murdered women are discovered, Jack links DNA tracing requests with a single testing company selling information but he is powerless to investigate. American FDA regulations do not yet cover the use of genetic information but McEvoy is on the trail of a ‘big’ story, perhaps a serial killer. It could be the making of ‘Fair Warning’. It will restore his confidence in his profession because, “Most of the time, journalism is simply an exercise in reporting on situations and occurrences of public interest. It is rare that it leads to the toppling of a corrupt politician, a change in the law … When that does happen, the satisfaction is beyond measure."

All the markers of the successful Connelly novel are here, the plot twists, the unrequited love for former FBI agent Rachel Walling, the eternal coffee shops and traffic jams, the ethical dilemmas and, most importantly, perhaps, the argument for independent and unimpeded reportage in the public interest.

Yeah, yeah. It is all very familiar, comfortable even, but … it has become increasingly relevant in this time of media funding cuts, Wikileaks trials, and the persecution, even assassination, of journalists seeking to present the realities of those worlds that most of us can never see.

Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise September, 2020.

Neil's Rating:

Available from Booktopia
18 September 2020

Review: One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One by Ruth Ware book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

One by One by Ruth Ware is one of my most anticipated titles of 2020, after The Turn of the Key was a five star read last year and instantly made it onto my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. I was surprised to see her back with a new release so quickly, however I've since learned Ruth Ware is a prolific writer and has released one book a year since 2015. (Clearly I have some catching up to do and I'll probably start with The Death of Mrs Westaway published in 2018).

Set in a French ski resort in the Alps, work colleagues from a British tech company arrive at a chalet for a corporate getaway. As well as skiing, they need to make an important decision regarding the future of their popular music streaming app Snoop.

The reader is immediately introduced to quite a large cast of 10 Snoop characters and two chalet staff, however Ware cleverly reinforces who's who multiple times, so eventually the characters 'stick'.

It's not long before an avalanche interrupts their plans and what transpires from there is a locked-room mystery of sorts. I haven't read any Agatha Christie (shame on me?) however I do know that Ruth Ware's writing has been favourably compared to Christie's several times.

While I can't comment on that, I did notice a subtle reference to Christie's And Then There Were None by one of the characters in One by One, and note the nod to Christie's novel in the very title of this book.

Enjoying One by One on its own merit and relishing the tension as guests were slowly picked off, I contemplated drawing a diagram on a whiteboard to establish the whereabouts of each person in order to confirm their alibi. Deciding to stay in bed and keep reading instead - thereby forfeiting this ability to methodically refine my list of suspects - I surrendered to the ride.

I'm pleased to report there were some great action scenes at the end and the big 'reveal' was well done.

One by One was completely different to the creepy and gothic feel of The Turn of the Key and I love that Ruth Ware is able to construct such different plots and circumstances with very different characters.

One by One by Ruth Ware is a stand-alone mystery crime thriller that feels very modern, and I think it's going to be popular with fans.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

Available from Booktopia
15 September 2020

Review: To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I don't usually like books set in space. As a consequence, I rarely read books set in space. In fact, I can think of only three books set in space that I've thoroughly enjoyed.* So where do I get off picking up an epic science fiction novel set in space that comes in at an impressive 880 pages? What can I say? Christopher Paolini made me do it!

This year I finished the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and when I learned To Sleep In A Sea of Stars was Paolini's first novel for adults, I requested an advance copy from the publisher immediately; such is my faith in his writing. I considered that if anyone could lure me into an interstellar battle to save humanity and hold my attention, it was Paolini. Thankfully I was right and I loved this chunkster!

Published today, To Sleep In A Sea of Stars kicks off very quickly with Xenobiologist Kira Navarez conducting a routine survey mission on a planet ahead of a planned colonisation. Kira finds an ancient alien relic and the action doesn't stop from that point on. There is always something happening with the only respite being when the crew are in cryo or recovering from their last skirmish.

I really enjoyed the pace and the character growth, and here's an example from Page 486:
Falconi: "So stop blaming yourself."
Kira: "I can't seem to help it."
Falconi: "Bullshit. The truth is you don't want to. It makes you feel good to blame yourself. You know why?"
Kira shook her head, mute.
Falconi: "Because it gives you a sense of control. The hardest lesson in life is learning to accept that there are some things we can't change."
The history and world building in the novel were very convincing and I enjoyed the introduction of different species and their back stories. My favourite character of the entire book was Itari and I adored the conversations between Kira and Itari. Thinking of them now brings a smile to my face.

Throughout the entire novel I was fully immersed in the world of battleships, cryo tubes, laser blasters, skinsuits, orbital rings, docking hubs and ship minds and I never felt like an impostor.

Travelling FTL (faster than light) didn't phase me, alien technology didn't confuse me and not once did I want to be 'spaced' out of the book. (That's when you're jettisoned out of an air lock to your inevitable death).

Since finishing the book, I've noticed that an enterprising Spotify user has created a playlist to listen to while reading the book. I've been enjoying it this week and it's fantastic. Just search for the book's title on Spotify to find the playlist.

Another thing I enjoyed about To Sleep In A Sea of Stars was the Afterword and Acknowledgements section where Paolini shares with the reader the way in which this novel came to life. The project ups and downs, multiple re-writes and detailed research over the course of many years, gave me an even greater appreciation for the depth and scope of the book, and respect for the author for not rushing it.

To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini is a whopping epic science fiction novel bursting with adventure and I loved it! It even gave me pause to re-consider my reading tastes when it comes to science fiction and space operas and you can't ask for more than that.

Highly recommended!

Carpe Librum!
My Rating:

* Those books are: The Martian by Andy Weir, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Available from Booktopia
12 September 2020

Review: Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams by Charlie Morley

Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams by Charlie Morley audio cover
I've been lucid dreaming for years. If you don't know what it means, basically lucid dreaming is when you become aware that you're dreaming. Sometimes during a lucid dream, the dreamer has the ability to manipulate their dream to achieve a desired outcome. Have you ever woken from a bad dream and wanted to 'go back in' and fix it? Perhaps change the outcome for a happy ending? Or have you woken from a very pleasant dream and tried to get back to sleep to continue the story or dream experience? That's lucid dreaming.

And you might be interested to know that Albert Einstein, Charles Dickens, Thomas Edison, Stephen King, Nikola Tesla and Salvador Dali are - or were - lucid dreamers.

Charlie Morley is somewhat of an expert on lucid dreaming with a number of books on the topic. I first learned of his abilities and teachings when listening to Sleeping with Baddiel by Geoff Jein, which I gave one star in my review.

In Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams, Charlie introduces the reader to several techniques to start lucid dreaming and the book kicks off from there. I thought I was an experienced and capable lucid dreamer, but it turns out I'm still a beginner. Apparently there's sooooo much more to lucid dreaming and I've only been scratching the surface.

Charlie researches the history of lucid dreaming around the world and across different cultures. He highlights the different ways in which it can be used to heal trauma, and advance spiritual awareness. And interestingly, he has practiced with and interviewed experts in the field from Eastern and Western philosophies.

Lucid Dreaming Made Easy is essentially a science self-help book and it can be heavy going at times. It's chock full of references to other dream scientists and religions practicing lucid dreaming, and will give the enthusiastic reader plenty of jumping off points to explore the topic further.

Some of the exercises and tips began to make me feel as though I was in the movie Inception and I don't think I'll ever aspire to the lofty heights of lucid dreaming that I now know exist.

However after listening to this audiobook, I am attempting to exercise greater control over my lucid dreams. Instead of continuing or changing an existing dream, I'm trying to choose a new topic altogether and form a dream directly from my imagination. I haven't been successful yet, but I'll keep on trying; until I fall asleep that is.

As Charlie says: "follow your dreams and dream on dreamers."

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

08 September 2020

Review: Spirited by Julie Cohen

Spirited by Julie Cohen book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Post-mortem photography has always fascinated me. Popular in the Victorian era, grieving family members sometimes had photos taken of their loved ones after death to preserve their memory. You might have seen photos like this of the dearly departed resting in their coffins. However, families also posed the deceased in seated and sometimes even standing positions (with the aid of broomsticks and ropes) in order to have individual and family portraits taken. These photographs became treasured keepsakes and formed part of the fascinating mourning process during the Victorian period 1837-1901.*

After the recent disappointment of a TV program set in 1880s Dublin called Dead Still which centres on a mortuary photographer - it was the comedy angle that killed any hopes of this becoming a new favourite - I was all the more primed to read Spirited by Julie Cohen which promised to deliver on this intriguing subject matter.**

Spirited is an historical fiction novel featuring two women set in 1850s Victorian England during the time of spiritualism. Viola is an amateur photographer in a complicated marriage and grieving the loss of her father, and Henriette is a spirit medium with a mysterious past.

I was engrossed by Henriette's story and could easily have dwelled in a book solely focussed on her character. However the reader is also privileged to learn about Viola's husband Jonah and the reasons he remains haunted by his experiences in the Siege of Delhi in 1857.

Each of these characters is struggling with some form of grief when we meet them, and their separate search for meaning seems to unite them. Photography was a great way to illuminate the relationship between Viola and Henriette while unintentionally highlighting the line between science and religion.

Spirited by Julie Cohen is an atmospheric novel with some beautifully tender moments. It touches on the spiritualism movement of the time, contains multiple love stories and explores the different ways in which people process trauma and grief, perceive cultural differences and struggle for female agency.

Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

* For more on mourning etiquette in this period, you might want to check out my review of Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold.
** Feel free to recommend any books on post-mortem photography you think I might like in the comments section below.

Available from Booktopia 
05 September 2020

Guest Review: How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Fellow neighbour, bibliophile and retired academic Neil Béchervaise is back for another guest post. We've been in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne for 5 weeks now and reading up a storm. Here's Neil's review of short story collection How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa. Over to you Neil!

Let me confess from the outset that ‘the short story’ is not my favourite ouvre. However, I was seduced by the title of this book and launched into it before I realised that it was, indeed, a collection.

Who has not pondered the vagaries of ‘The English language’? When ‘ph’ becomes ‘f’ in physical but ‘ps’ becomes a mere ‘s’ if we get psychological; when ‘is’ is pronounced ‘eye’ in island! Well, I had to discover how to pronounce ‘knife’, at least.

This fascinating, frequently gruelling and sometimes just downright heart-rending selection of episodes comes to its readers through the eyes of a Laotian refugee. From her early childhood towards old age; from seeing her father disappear under the surface of the river they are crossing in pursuit of ‘freedom’ to experimenting with the difference between love and sex at age 70, the stories are always engaging. Many of them are also deeply challenging to what most of us, probably, would see as ‘the norm’.

The unconscious racism of the children at school when the author struggles to find out how to pronounce ‘knife’ is both topical and humbling. Her humiliation when no-one at home could speak English despite her father doing his best to help - but only making matters worse - and her not yet confident enough to ask any classmates brought tears to my eyes. Some years later, doubting her own personal beauty, as so many teenagers girls do, she seriously contemplates having ‘a nose job’. Fortunately, her workmates, and her lack of money, dissuade her from proceeding as they see more and more failed surgeries creating terrible results.

The stories in this collection are sometimes uplifting, sometimes heart-breaking. The resilience of the refugees, essentially unsupported and battling to come to terms with cultural, language and even dietary differences in their new homeland make for compelling reading. 

I can only hope that Thammavongsa has many more stories to tell because I, for one, will be waiting for them. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise August, 2020.

Neil's Rating:

02 September 2020

Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

After deciding she doesn't want to live anymore, Nora Seed finds herself in the midnight library of the title. Here, she meets a librarian who explains that the library is the place between life and death. The vast bookshelves extend as far as the eye can see and each book represents a different life she's led.

Nora has many regrets in her present (or root) life and she now has the freedom to choose from the infinite number of books before her. By exploring the different books/lives, Nora has the opportunity to discover what her life would be like (at this present age) had she made different choices.

Throughout this process, Nora arrives at certain realisations about life, relationships, choices, regrets, happiness, love, success, ambition and more. I particularly enjoyed Nora's love (and sometimes study) of philosophy that pops up throughout the book in some form or another.

Matt Haig does a wonderful job explaining parallel lives in an easy to understand manner and I believe this book would be a great choice for book clubs who enjoy engaging in existential discussions.

These ideas have already been explored in books and movies before, however I believe Haig takes it a few steps further and is uniquely qualified to do so. In his memoir Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig openly shared his struggles with severe depression and panic disorders. I believe The Midnight Library is a manifestation of his personal journey and an attempt to help others as well as provide much for readers to contemplate.

Reading The Midnight Library also reminded me a little of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho in that both characters are searching for a meaningful and fulfilling life with the assistance of a guide/librarian and the reader benefits from their exploration and subsequent realisations.

Just as in How To Stop Time, The Midnight Library is a combination of genres and could easily be defined as fantasy or science fiction while remaining rooted in the contemporary world we all know.

I thoroughly enjoyed this heartwarming book.

Carpe Librum!
My Rating: