27 October 2021

Review: Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras

Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras is a stunning collection of historical photographs of Melbourne, spanning from the very earliest photographs from the mid 1880s right through to the mid 1990s. For some readers, Old Vintage Melbourne will be a trip down memory lane, while for others it's the chance to see the city of Melbourne as their parents or grandparents did.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking my time to observe the development of the city and the establishment of the iconic buildings we recognise today. I also enjoyed studying the detail of the various pedestrians in some of the photos and wondering about their lives. Some were completely unaware a photograph was being taken while others brazenly stare at the camera in awe or curiosity. These photographs give us a rare glimpse of everyday life in Melbourne, as in the photograph of 'Bourke Street Pedestrians' c. 1880 by John Henry (Page 39).

This collection is annotated and organised chronologically and I especially loved the 'Then and Now' comparison photos, in which the site of an historical image is photographed again today to allow the viewer to compare the images and notice what has changed during the intervening years. Being able to study photographs of Southbank prior to its significant redevelopment and the eventual establishment of the building where I'm living right now was a real highlight.

I also enjoyed spotting the signage and advertisements painted on the buildings and store fronts through the years, and it reminded me of Nick Gadd's love of ghost signs (see my interview with this Melbourne author here).

Old Vintage Melbourne encourages the reader to reflect on the inevitable passage of time, the remarkable evolution of Melbourne and the marvellous architecture this great city has to offer. On the flip side, it also highlights the tragic loss of some of the most enchanting and attractive buildings in Melbourne all in the name of progress in the 1960s and 1970s. It made my heart ache to see photographs of glorious buildings only to learn they've since been torn down. The Federal Coffee Palace was located at 555 Collins Street and opened in 1888, but this beautifully grand building was tragically torn down in 1973. Another architecturally pleasing building was the Camberwell Post Office, built in 1890 and demolished in 1963. If you know the Witches in Britches building at 84 Dudley Street in West Melbourne, the Camberwell PO had 10 times the gothic charm and its loss is a tragedy.

Seeing Flinders Street Station decked out for the royal visit of Queen Elizabeth II in February 1954 was impressive, and it must have been a sight to behold with the banners and the upper dome decorated to resemble a crown. Wow! 

Impeccably produced, Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras is presented in a large hardback format enabling a better view of the photographs within. I enjoyed my time within its pages immensely and finished reading with a renewed respect and appreciation for Melbourne's heritage. 

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

24 October 2021

Review: Naked by David Sedaris

Naked by David Sedaris audiobook cover
Fresh on the heels of listening to Calypso by David Sedaris, I went back in time to a collection of his essays published in 1997 entitled Naked. This is a very short audiobook coming in at just over 3 hours and I got through it quite quickly.

Sedaris' caustic humour is back, as are the family interactions and dynamics. David Sedaris' sister Amy was involved in recording the audiobook and acts out some of the dialogue mentioned in the stories. I imagine this would have been a terrific collaboration between the two siblings (Amy is an actor) however the volume of her contributions were way too loud and jarringly contrasted with her brother's smooth delivery. As a consequence, I found myself regularly adjusting the volume and being taken out of the stories each time she spoke.

The title essay (Naked) is a story about the author's weekend stay at a nudist colony and was very enjoyable. I'm still enjoying Sedaris' sardonic take on the world and am listening to Me Talk Pretty One Day next.

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22 October 2021

Review: Noni the Pony Counts to a Million by Alison Lester

Noni the Pony Counts to a Million by Alison Lester book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

It's an absolute pleasure to review a Noni the Pony book here on Carpe Librum. Author Alison Lester lives in South Gippsland in regional Victoria and her picture books for kids are in every bookshop, library, school, child care and day care centre in Australia. I look forward to reading this with my niece and nephew just as soon as we can travel freely out of Melbourne Metro.

In Noni the Pony Counts to a Million by Alison Lester, Noni travels around the district with her friends, counting the number of animals, insects, fish, cars and more as they go.

This is a celebration of Australian flora and fauna and the glorious illustrations work well to highlight the delightful rhyming story.

Noni the Pony Counts to a Million by Alison Lester is bound to become another treasured Australian children's classic. Highly recommended for all ages.

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21 October 2021

Review: How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? by William Poundstone

How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? by William Poundstone book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *

I have a background in HR and still offer interview coaching services, so when I saw Bloomsbury were publishing a book about interview questions, I requested a review copy right away. How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? And Other Perplexing Puzzles from the Toughest Interviews in the World by William Poundstone offers a comprehensive look at the evolution of the interview, including: psychometric testing, behavioural interview questions, work sampling, personality testing, video and group interviews.

Employers always strive to employ interview techniques that are most predictive of job performance by a potential candidate, and many of the logic puzzles and brain teasers posed by companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google are an attempt to gain insight into the problem-solving abilities and creative thinking styles demonstrated by job seekers.

The author then goes on to present a whole heap of interview questions used by some well known US companies, as well as providing a working knowledge of the answers and a solid explanation of how a candidate should go about answering these types of questions.
"A hammer and a nail cost $1.10, and the hammer costs one dollar more than the nail. How much does the nail cost?" Page 111*
At times, reading How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? by William Poundstone was akin to reading a maths or statistics text book, and I expect it will be most useful to the dedicated job seeker looking for some insight and keen to prepare for any eventuality. Those readers would do well to check out another book I read on the topic this year, #EntryLevelBoss: a 9-step guide for finding a job you like (and actually getting hired to do it) by Alexa Shoen.
"For what it's worth, a 2013 study by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano reported that reading literary fiction improved performance on an emotional intelligence test that included recognition of facial expressions. It's possible that reading about richly realized fictional characters primes readers to be more attuned to clues about other people's emotions." Page 107
Book lovers already know that reading every day builds vocabulary, improves comprehension, enhances brain connectivity and emotional intelligence, but it's always nice to see this recognised in other areas of science and study. From what I can tell, How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? seems to be an up to date account of the job seeker's experience in America informed by the accounts of job seekers who have applied for roles with these top tier organisations.

I suspect that here in Australia, we are yet to encounter these interview puzzlers on a regular basis, but if the US job market has taught us anything with the increasing popularity of recorded job interview videos, this will soon follow. How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? is a good read and I enjoyed putting some of these questions to my husband.

*Feel free to send me your answer and I'll let you know if you were right or not!

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

17 October 2021

Review: Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *

Having thoroughly enjoyed Never Have I Ever last year, I thought I'd give Joshilyn Jackson's newest domestic thriller Mother May I a try. When the novel opens, Bree is happily married to a lawyer, they have three kids and a nice house. Life is great, until her infant baby boy is kidnapped.

There have been many thrillers of a similar nature released in the last few years, all posing the same question for the reader, 'how far would you go to protect your family?' I received Mother May I unsolicited from the publisher, but based on the strength of my own 5 star review for Never Have I Ever, I thought there's every chance this could be one of the best of the sub-genre.

I liked our protagonist Bree, and thankfully she didn't make any stupid or groan inducing mistakes when the kidnapper, an old woman who looks like a witch, gets in touch to tell Bree how she can get her son back.

Themes of motherhood, guilt and revenge dominate this book, and I enjoyed this character insight from well into the book.
"The mind revises... As time passed, events became mutable. People justified their actions, and the more shame they felt about a memory, the more they chewed it over, fretting and defending and editing, until they could live with it." Page 227
I think that's very true, and perhaps if I was a parent myself I would have found Bree's predicament more frightening. Mother May I was an enjoyable read, but nowhere near as gripping and engaging as Never Have I Ever, which was a clear standout for me last year. Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson is recommended reading for those who enjoy domestic noir and domestic thrillers.

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11 October 2021

Review: Calypso by David Sedaris

Calypso by David Sedaris audiobook cover
I'm new to David Sedaris and despite being well aware of his many books and essay collections, this is the first time I've dipped a toe into his literary ouevre, and let me tell you, this guy makes me laugh! Calypso is a collection of essays published in June 2018 and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him narrate the audiobook.

Sedaris is a humourist (which I've learned is different to a comedian) and he shares his observational humour and revelations of varying degrees of importance about a range of topics, but largely including his family, upbringing with five siblings, ageing of his parents (and himself), and comments on society.

I loved the quirky family jokes and insights and each essay is delivered in an intelligent, yet self deprecating and insightful way that often made me laugh out loud or chuckle to myself. His wry sense of humour certainly isn't for everyone, and I was only too aware of Sedaris' white privilege shining through in many of his stories. That said, Sedaris seems to be extremely self aware in a way that made it easy for me to let this go and just enjoy the ride. Besides, who can hate on a guy for his white male privilege when his hobby is picking up litter by the side of the road.

There were many moments I stopped to repeat a phrase or enjoy a sentence again, like this one from half way through the book.
"There was never any problem making conversation with my mother. That was effortless. The topics springing from nowhere, and we'd move from one to the next in a way that made me think of a monkey gracefully swinging through the branches of a tree." Chapter 11, 3 hours and 20 minutes remaining
Employing a droll sense of humour and acerbic wit, Sedaris successfully maintains the balance between serious topics, like the death of his sister by suicide, to lighter moments like toilet troubles or the engagements he has with readers in the signing line of his shows. (I'd love to see him perform live if he comes back to Melbourne).

I enjoyed Calypso by David Sedaris so much that I've decided to go back to some of his earlier work and continue listening. Have you read any David Sedaris, seen him on talk shows or even perform live? Do you enjoy his sense of humour? If so, I'd love to hear about it. In the meantime, I recommend his work with caution. I don't know if I'd have enjoyed Calypso quite so much if I'd read his work instead of listening to it, and his humour is an acquired taste. But I can't get enough, so take from that what you will.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

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06 October 2021

Review: The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous book cover
I loved reading The Au Pair by Emma Rous in 2019, and I was really excited to read The Perfect Guests this year, hoping for more buried family secrets, plot twists and flawed characters.

In 2019, Sadie is a struggling actress and receives an invitation to play a role at a murder mystery event at Raven Hall. In 1988, Beth is a 14 year old orphan sent by her aunt to Raven Hall to be a companion to a girl the same age, Nina.

The dual narrative in The Perfect Guests keeps the story flowing although I preferred Sadie's coming-of-age timeline at Raven Hall and the sinister undertones in the complex relationships between the characters.

I was worried the murder mystery setting might have been to cliche for my liking, but it totally worked and was the perfect platform for the 'reveals' at the end. I didn't guess at any of the character connection reveals or twists, and they were cleverly written and satisfying to uncover.

Just as in The Au Pair though, the cover design for The Perfect Guests wasn't representative of the novel for me. It's a scene from the book, however the UK cover design totally nails the atmosphere and setting and I wish this had been the cover chosen for the Australian market.

Raven Hall almost feels like a separate character, and once again, the author was able to bring the manor house and grounds to life in the way Stacey Halls does in Mrs England, and other authors like Laura Purcell and Kate Morton do that keep me coming back for more.

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I can highly recommend it.

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