23 July 2021

Review: The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird

The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird book cover
I can't tell you how much I adored this book. Reading The Emporium of Imagination was like sending nourishing warm hot chocolate straight to the soul.

The Emporium of the title is a shop, and Earlatidge is the store's custodian. The shop travels the world to where it's needed and at the start of the book, it's opening in the small town of Boonah. When it magically appears, and the shopkeeper has been found, the store will sell vintage gifts to revive broken dreams, repair relationships, ease grief, soothe broken hearts and more.
"The Emporium is a bustle of a place. People come and go. Some see magic everywhere. Other people see less magic and more a commonplace shop selling quirky vintage wares. It depends on what they expect to see. A person looking for the impossible will find it. One who isn't cannot." Page 215
Set in Boonah in Queensland, this book contains magical realism and even the streets named after weeds seem wonderfully magical. Who wouldn't want to live in Milk Thistle Street, Ragweed Place and Mustard Hedge Road?

Early on in the novel, we learn Earlatidge is gifted with:
"a sight and senses that others don't possess. He can hear other people's grief, an ability that is not only auditory, he can also see those moments as clear as motion pictures in his mind. Often, he can smell the event. Hear the sounds. Sometimes he can taste or even feel things relating to their sadness. He will use this gift to understand people's sorrow and extend invitations to visit the Emporium..." Pages 6-7
The Emporium of Imagination is an incredibly uplifting and life affirming novel delivering messages about regret, lost opportunities, guilt, smothered dreams, love, loss, sorrow, grief, duty, hope, redemption and more to the reader. The Emporium is able to provide just what each customer needs at that point in their life to heal and I think the book does the same for the reader. Some character backstories will resonate more than others, but all are heartwarming and moving.

While touching on such important and deep themes, the novel somehow manages to be quite funny in parts, and I loved the dialogue between the brothers. It's also incredibly creative and I haven't experienced that level of stimulating imagination on the page since reading and falling in love with Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor in 2019. That book easily made my Top 5 Books of 2019 list and I'm positive The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird is going to be on my Top 5 Books of 2021 list. That's how much I enjoyed this book.

Tabitha Bird is an Australian author, and this is the first book I've read of hers, however you better believe that her debut A Lifetime of Impossible Days is now on my TBR pile.

The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird was an absolute highlight of my reading year so far and I highly recommend it. (You can read a FREE extract here).

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

20 July 2021

Review: Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu & Bei Lynn

Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu & Bei Lynn book cover
* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *

I love children's books about libraries, and this offering written and illustrated in Taiwan was a real treat. Leilong the Library Bus is written by Julia Liu, illustrated by Bei Lynn and translated by Helen Wang. Leilong is a clumsy yet loveable brontosaurus dinosaur, and the story begins when Leilong's friends take him to the library for story time.

Leilong finds that he's too small to enter the library and he and the children must decide what to do. My favourite illustration is Leilong's expression when he is pushing and squeezing and trying to fit through the small door; it really made me chuckle.

This picture book is a celebration of libraries and storytelling in general and manages to show how children can be brought together and yet transported by stories. I also enjoyed seeing Leilong's desire to learn more about himself and other dinosaurs by reading dinosaur books.

Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu and Bei Lynn is recommended for readers aged 3 years and above and the observant reader will find much to enjoy in the background of the illustrations.

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My Rating:

18 July 2021

Review: Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies & Frances Gies

Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies & Frances Gies book cover
Life in a Medieval Castle
was originally published in 1974 and reissued in 2015, and was used by the author George R. R. Martin as a primary resource when writing his A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the legendary A Game of Thrones adaptation is based. Authors Joseph Gies and Frances Gies were both historians and published many books focussed on medieval history and the Middle Ages, before the married couple passed away in 2006 and 2013 respectively.

I learned a great deal reading this non fiction title which was broken down into many chapters, including 'The Castle Comes to England', 'A Day in the Castle' and 'The Castle at War'. I will say that the black and white photos were terrible and I could hardly make out what was pictured, which is disappointing given the opportunity to include better photography in the reprinting stage in 2015. This is best rectified by having Google Images at your disposal while reading, which is how I enjoyed this title.

There's nothing better than getting down into the nitty gritty of everyday life, and I knew that castle floors were strewn with rushes and herbs which were regularly replaced, but this quote from Erasmus in the book was gold. Erasmus observed that often under the rushes lay:
"an ancient collection of beer, grease, fragments, bones, spittle, excrement of dogs and cats and everything that is nasty." Page 60
Gross! It was interesting to learn on page 76 that the medieval feminine ideal was "blonde, delicate, fair-skinned, boyish of figure." That was a bit of a surprise, although I guess it's not that different to the lean and flat chested ideal in women's fashion in the 1920s.

I love learning about the different roles in households from different eras, and discovered that the role of butler (or bottler) originally worked in the buttery where beverages were kept in butts or bottles. A completely new job title to me was the pantler, who was the servant in charge of the pantry and the bread. I also enjoy identifying surnames that survive today that originate in the duties the person once would have held, like: Archer, Baker, Carter, Cook, Cooper, Chandler, Gardener, Knight, Miller, Smith, and Thatcher to name a few. Joseph Gies and Frances Gies were able to introduce me to a few new ones in Hayward, who was in charge of the haie, and repairing the hedges and fences; and the Woodward, who had charge of the lord's woods and was elected by his fellow villagers.

The descriptions of the food eaten in the period set the taste buds watering, although I don't think I'd like this dish:
"In addition to roasting and stewing, meat might be pounded to a paste, mixed with other ingredients, and served as a kind of custard." Page 112
The authors managed to take the reader through many facets of the medieval castle, focussing on Chepstow as their case study or best example. I think they best summarise the appeal of castles and castle ruins to tourists and wannabe tourists like me in their following conclusion to the book:
"In Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere, with the aid of a guide or a guidebook and some imagination, one can stand in the grassy bailey and re-people the weathered stone ramparts and towers and the vanished wooden outbuildings with archers and knights, servants, horses, and wagoners, the lord and lady and their guests, falcons and hunting dogs, pigs and poultry - all the unkempt, unsafe, unsavoury but irresistibly appealing life of the thirteenth century." Page 224
Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies is recommended for readers with an interest in history, castles (obviously) the Middle Ages and the medieval way of life.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

12 July 2021

Review: The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Don't you love it when a book takes you completely by surprise? Usually when I see a cover design for a book with a butterfly and flowers on the front, it usually indicates the novel isn't going to be for me. I received an unsolicited copy of The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac from the publisher back in January and it sat on my 'maybe' pile for a few months before I decided to give it a go. Boy was I wrong, I loved this!

Ellie is a social media influencer and avid gardener suffering from agoraphobia. Living in a granny flat behind her parent's home in the English countryside, she makes a living from her sponsored gardening posts on her highly successful Instagram account EnglishCountryGardenista.

I was interested to get to the root cause of Ellie's agoraphobia and when I did, I found I was fascinated by the topic and spent a few nights Googling post-revolution Romania. I remember the shocking footage that emerged in the 1990s showing the terrible living conditions within the orphanages in Romania and it was interesting to explore in this novel what might become of a child raised there.

Offsetting this dark beginning to Ellie's life, her gardening career was a sheer delight to read about and despite not having a green thumb, I really enjoyed following her around the garden and reading her Instagram posts in the book. Those hashtags were a great touch! And the dialogue between Ellie and young Oscar really warmed my heart.

Ellie's struggle to work through her agoraphobia reminded me a little of Amy in Everything Is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray; another case of 'don't judge a book by its cover just because it has flowers on it'. Lesson learned? Maybe not, but these books were definitely two exceptions to my 'rule' this year and both were impressive five star reads.

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac was a terrifically enjoyable contemporary novel with moments of character insight and inspiration and I was willing Ellie through as she lost her way and dusted herself off again.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

09 July 2021

Review: How to Be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs by Dr Jess French & Sol Linero

How to Be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs by Dr Jess French & Sol Linero book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Dr Jess French is a vet, zoologist, naturalist and entomologist and has drawn on her experience and love of animals to produce this children's picture book, How To Be A Vet and Other Animal Jobs.

Beautifully illustrated by Sol Linero, Dr French provides a wide range of jobs that involve looking after animals. I think kids will really enjoy learning about the different types of vet (as I did) and the subjects you need to study at school if you'd like to become a vet.

The recommended reading age for this book is 6-9 year old readers, however I worry that a 6 year old might find a few of the themes in this book upsetting. How To Be A Vet addresses the fact that some vets have to do very upsetting jobs, including post-mortem examinations and visiting slaughterhouses where animals are killed for meat to check that the animals are treated well. One of the animal jobs is an RSPCA inspector who investigates cases of animal cruelty. While I know kids at that age are aware of where their food comes from and the importance of looking after animals, these jobs in particular caught me off guard amongst the delightfully colourful illustrations and gave me pause.

Having said that, Dr French really delivers on the sheer variety of jobs available for people who love looking after animals, ranging from lab technicians, animal trainers, groomers, wildlife rehabilitators, scientists, rangers and plenty more!

How to Be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs by Dr Jess French and Sol Linero is educational and recommended for more mature young readers who might like to work with animals when they grow up.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

05 July 2021

Winners of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald Announced

Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald book cover

Thanks to the readers who entered my giveaway last week to win one of two copies of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald. Everyone answered correctly in that Nancy Business is the gripping, heart-warming and hilarious sequel to The Nancys.

The giveaway closed at midnight last night, and the winning entries were drawn today. Congratulations to:

Andrea & Rosemary

Congratulations Andrea and Rosemary! You've both won a copy of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald valued at $29.99AUD thanks to Allen & Unwin. You'll each receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win.

Carpe Librum!

04 July 2021

Review: A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn

A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn book cover
* Copy courtesy of Transit Lounge *

A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn has a premise that immediately hooked me in. In 2001, Lucie was an intern at a New York law firm having an affair with a married man. Martin was planning on leaving his wife to be with Lucie but after heading off to the World Trade Centre on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, she never saw him again and grieved his loss deeply.

Twenty years later, Lucie is working at a prestigious law firm in London when she receives a note:
"At last I've found you. A shock I'm sure. But in time I'll explain. Martin"
Woah! That was it, I was completely hooked and had to read this book. In January this year, I read The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren and was haunted by this secret: "Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I'm dead."

I've since learned that people have been known to use a natural disaster or major incident as an opportunity to disappear, essentially faking their own deaths in order to start a new life somewhere else. This still fascinates me, so how timely to come across this debut novel exploring the possibility of just that. Does Lucie have a stalker or is Martin really back from the dead after faking his own disappearance?

Set in London, New York and Sydney, Lucie's career situation, friendships and her casual love interests propel the story along making it very readable.

A Voice in the Night is a domestic thriller with a few twists and turns that I definitely didn't see coming. Ultimately, I wanted the story to go a certain way and it didn't, so for that reason, it wasn't a full five star read for me. A Voice in the Night by Australian author Sarah Hawthorn is a solid debut for domestic thriller fans.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

* This review is featured by Twinkl in their blog about the latest must-read books. See more recommendations and get involved at Book Lovers' Top Picks For Your 2021 TBR List.