Post-Natal Exhaustion and Creepy House-guests: The Hours Before Dawn…

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the hours before dawn

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin is a psychological thriller based upon those oft hideous first months of sleeplessness, exhaustion and physical and mental barrenness that can follow the birth of a child.   The book was first published in 1959 and won the Edgar Award in 1960 for best mystery novel.  We received a copy via Netgalley for review as Faber & Faber have reissued the book.  We are so glad we came across this novel because even as the attitudes and situations depicted in the book are clearly of their time, I have yet to come across a book that so flawlessly transcends social change to appear as relevant and likely today as ever.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Louise would give anything – anything – for a good night’s sleep. Forget the girls running errant in the garden and bothering the neighbours. Forget her husband who seems oblivious to it all. If the baby would just stop crying, everything would be fine.

Or would it? What if Louise’s growing fears about the family’s new lodger, who seems to share all of her husband’s interests, are real? What could she do, and would anyone even believe her? Maybe, if she could get just get some rest, she’d be able to think straight.

In a new edition of this lost classic, The Hours Before Dawn proves – scarily – as relevant to readers today as it was when Celia Fremlin first wrote it in the 1950s.

Although the book is a mystery with a psychological focus, Fremlin deals with the events with a remarkable sense of dry wit.  I initially thought that the book might be a bit dreary in tone, dealing as it does with an exhausted new mother, but Fremlin’s writing is incredibly enjoyable and droll and I couldn’t help having a bit of a giggle at certain wry observations.  This really helped carry the book and was part of the reason, I suspect, that I got through this one in a couple of chunky sittings.

The descriptions of the life of a stay-at-home mother with multiple children and a new addition are so absolutely spot on that it is obvious that Fremlin knows whereof she speaks.  Indeed, this edition features an introduction that describes how Fremlin based the story on her own experiences with one of her children.  The walking-dead exhaustion, the scrutiny of judging members of the public, the feeling that one must certainly be losing one’s mind when sleeping and nursing upright in a kitchen cupboard seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do to avoid waking the household during a night feed will be familiar to anyone who has ever had to live with and care for an infant who is a difficult sleeper.

Similarly, contemporary readers will recognise people of their acquaintance in Mark, Louise’s “man of the house” husband, who seems to have little idea why Louise can’t keep it together on less than three hours of sleep a night, and the family’s neighbours who are by turns nosy, complaining and downright outrageous.  There are a few bits of the book that are “of the period” such as the moments when the mothers in the story are quite happy to leave their unattended infants for hours on end to attend to some other task or errand, but overall, the situations faced by Louise and new mothers of today are remarkably similar.

The psychological thriller aspect of the story relating to the family’s lodger, the mysterious Ms Vera Brandon, unfolds slowly and almost as an afterthought in Louise’s hectic, chaotic life.  This is somewhat made up for in the end however, with an action-packed and sinister denouement that features danger, death and daring escapes.

I thoroughly recommend this as the perfect pick for a fun and creepy holiday read, although it may not be wise to pick it up just now if you are a new mother.

I’m going to submit this one for the Popsugar Challenge under category #29: a book with an unreliable narrator.   You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for the year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Greenglass House

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TBR Friday

I’m struggling to keep the momentum up this last month for the Mount TBR Challenge 2017, but I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve finally knocked over Greenglass House by Kate Milford which has been on my TBR list since I pre-ordered it in 2014.  Never mind that it took two years to arrive, but that’s another story.  Let’s crack on.

greenglass house

Ten Second Synopsis:

Milo and his parents are settling in for Christmas at their historical inn when a collection of strangers arrive unannounced for a prolonged stay. At first it seems the travellers aren’t connected but after Milo and his friend Meddy begin investigating, it appears that all of these disparate people are at Greenglass House for the same reason.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Technically since mid-2014, physically since October 2016.  See below for details.

Acquired:

I first put this on pre-order at the Book Depository back in mid 2014, when it was originally released.  I put the pre-order on the paperback, which was releasing in the middle of 2015 because I’m cheap and  I figured I could wait that long.  Then the release date got pushed out to September of 2015.  I was tetchy, but accepted this.  THEN the release date got pushed out to September 2016!  It arrived in October 2016.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

Because it only arrived seven months ago.  Obvs.  Also, it’s quite hefty, so I had to find make time to fit it in.

Best Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  The mystery is drawn out and is also quite cerebral, since the players in the mystery are confined to one house in bad weather.  The story does has some echoes of the golden age of crime fiction about it, but since no crime has been committed (at least at first), it also has the feel of a fun, imaginative adventure game.  I’ve heard it compared to The Westing Game and there is definitely a similarity in the plotting, but Greenglass House doesn’t have the urgency or high stakes of that book and so is a bit cosier overall.
  • Tabletop roleplay gaming is a big feature of the story, with Milo and Meddy taking on characters as they solve the mystery.  Milo’s blackjack/escaladeur character, Negret, allows Milo to think outside the box and take risks that Milo himself normally wouldn’t, while Meddy’s Sirin, a scholiast, or invisible angel type character has a great significance to the story that didn’t strike me until close to the end of the book.
  • Because there are only two child characters in a house of adults, the book avoids annoying middle grade tropes and gets down to brass tacks as the kids use all their cunning and game-smarts to uncover the adults’ secrets.
  • The adult characters tell stories throughout the book, so we are treated to stories within the greater story and you can be sure each of these stories drops some clues about the adults who tell them and secrets they might be hiding.
  • The story, house and myths about the area feel like they could really be true, which adds a sense of realism to the magical realism.
  • Milo’s parents are ordinary people – hooray!  It’s so rare to have parents in middle grade stories that are (a) present (b) completely normal (as opposed to being gods, magicians, spies or generally not what their children think they are) and (c) involved in their child’s life.  I also liked that Milo is adopted, which plays something of a role in the story, but isn’t the big clincher – just a part of who he is.
  • The book is set at Christmas, but has very little to do with Christmas, and so is a perfect choice for when you want that Christmas time feeling without having to actually read about Christmas.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • Greenglass House is a hefty, prolonged mystery.  That means that the pacing is quite slow and discoveries are rationed out over the course of the book.  While I enjoyed the read and was absorbed throughout, I won’t be picking up the sequel straight away.  I’ll need some time to decompress before I become sucked into the second mystery in the series.
  • There is a twist toward the end of the book that I didn’t see coming and although I came to terms with it reasonably quickly, I felt a little betrayed that the author had taken such a route when the rest of the book seemed so authentic and grounded (barring the smugglers, strangers, thieves, spies and customs officials).  I’ll have to wait and see how it pans out in the second book before I make too many judgments though.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

Yes, because it is highly unlikely that I would have ever borrowed such a hefty book from the library.  To balance that out though, I’m not sorry I had to wait so long before getting to it.

Where to now for this tome?

The permanent shelf…for now.

I’m also submitting Greenglass House for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in category #35: a book set in a hotel.  You can check out my progess toward all my 2017 challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Shouty Doris Interjects during…Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

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Shouty Doris interjects

We’re seeing less and less of Doris lately, but I’m happy to say that everybody’s favourite grouchy ill-tempered opinionated granny  person is joining us today to discuss Into the White: Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz.  It’s a re-telling in narrative non-fiction style of Scott’s ill-fated mission to be the first to reach the South Pole and we received our copy for review from Allen & Unwin.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Together, they have taken on the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success; never giving up, and never giving up on each other.

This is the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica and the memorable characters, who with a band of shaggy ponies and savage dogs, follow a man they trust into the unknown.

Battling storms at sea, impenetrable pack ice, maneating whales, crevasses, blizzards, bad food, extreme temperatures, and equal measures of hunger, agony and snow blindness, the team pushes on against all odds.

But will the weather hold? Will their rations be adequate? How will they know when they get there? And who invited the Norwegians?

Into the White will leave you on the edge of your seat, hoping against hope that Scott and his men might survive their Antarctic ordeal to tell the tale.

into the white

Into the White: SCott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April, 2017.  RRP: $14.99

I only knew the bare bones of this tale of epic adventure –

Shouty Doris interjects

Epic idiocy, you mean.

Yes, welcome back Doris.

As I was saying, before reading this book I only knew the absolute basics of Scott’s mission.  Actually, to be honest, I only knew about the very ending bit, with Oates’ famous, “I’m going out for a walk” quote and Scott’s subsequent death from hunger and exposure-

Shouty Doris interjects

His death from the crushing weight of his own egotism, you mean.

Thanks Doris.

…so finding out about the events leading up to the bit I knew about was both fascinating and completely baffling.

Shouty Doris interjects

There you are, you got to the nub of it in the end.  

So you agree with me, then, that this is essentially a story about a group of blokes on a boys’ own adventure who were supposed to be undertaking proper scientific research but decided to pick out pack ponies based on the colour of their hides?  Doesn’t sound very scientific to me, deary, and look where that got them!  Dead in the snow.  Them AND their unscientifically chosen ponies!

Yes Doris, I do have to agree with you there.  There was a certain sense of frustration that characterised this story right from the very beginning, although this had nothing to do with the writing of the story and everything to do with the facts.  The very first page tips you off, in case you know nothing about the mission, that Scott’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, but to discover the bizarre, avoidable and beginner-level mistakes that were made on the journey –

Shouty Doris interjects

by a third-time Antarctic adventurer no less…

-Quite! – made reading this feel like wading through snowbanks while wearing a wet-suit and flippers and dragging a massive box of rocks behind you.

 

Shouty Doris interjects

Enough of this shilly-shallying.  

Let’s cut to the chase.  

If you want to spend 250+ pages scratching your head, shouting “Turn back you imbeciles!” and hoping everyone gets sucked into an ice chasm, before finding out that it was all for nowt as the Norwegians beat them to it, this is the book for you.

I will admit that I did end the book wondering why Scott’s epic failure has been so lovingly recorded while Amundsen’s story – the leader of the Norwegian expedition that started closer, covered less dangerous terrain, and ultimately resulted in the first flag-planting at the South Pole – has been ignored.

Shouty Doris interjects

It’s because people like to read about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off.  It’s called Schadenfreude.

You may be right there, Doris.

To focus on the actual writing for a moment, as opposed to the historical event itself, while I found the information quite interesting, the narrative style felt a tad detached for my liking.  This may have been deliberate, in that it certainly contributes to the atmosphere of a long, fruitless slog toward ultimate failure and death, and also allows the reader to avoid becoming too attached to characters that will eventually die, but all in all reading this felt like more of a history lesson and less like something I would read for enjoyment at times.

The book contains chapter heading illustrations throughout and also features actual photographs from the expedition in the centre.  These were a great touch and added the needed link with the reality of the conditions under which the expedition was labouring to bring the story to life a little more.  At the end of the book a collection of appendices includes short descriptions of Scott’s prior attempts on the South Pole alongside Earnest Shackleton, as well as as Shackleton’s later, unsuccessful Antarctic mission.  A short section on Amundsen’s expedition is included here too, which I found most interesting.

If you know any young history buffs in the upper middle grade and YA age bracket –

Shouty Doris interjects

Or people who enjoy a good dose of Schadenfreude, while reading about people dying in horrible conditions with their toes frozen off…

-you might recommend Into the White.  I can’t say I really loved reading it because although the story itself contains plenty of action and setbacks that should have kept me interested, I got caught up in the epic folly of so many of the decisions that were made along the way that resulted in the men’s deaths.  And I just can’t get over their whoppingly unscientific choice of pack pony.

Any final thoughts, Doris?

Shouty Doris interjects

Needed more women in it to tell the blokes how ridiculous they were being.

Thanks for that Doris.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge under category #14: a book involving travel.  You can check out my progress toward all my challenges for this year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Unexpected Top Book of 2017 Pick: It’s All A Game

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I can honestly say that today’s book came out of left field as a Top Book of 2017 pick, andI never expected to be so absorbed and engaged by a book about the history of board games.  We received It’s All A Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to  Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification?

In It’s All a Game, British journalist and renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.

it's all a game

Upon reading the blurb for this one you may, as I initially did, think, “Hmm.  That sounds mildly interesting”.  On picking up the book and reading the introduction, which discusses the decline and rise of board game shops and cafes in various major cities around the world you might say to yourself, “How quaint! I wasn’t aware of those!”  And by the end of the second chapter, having read about the ancient game of Senet and the history of Chess, you would be forgiven for ignoring friends, family and important duties in your pursuit of further knowledge about the history of board games.

This book was bizarrely absorbing.

I struggled to put it down.

Since I finished it I have been pondering and planning how to (a) acquire more board games and (b) seamlessly integrate board game playing time into the lives of the fleshlings of the dwelling.

Honestly, this book is bizarrely, weirdly, totally absorbing.

I could not have predicted any of the fascinating and useful (for trivia nights, if nothing else) information about the creation of various board games.  Did you know Chess originated in India?  That Monopoly began its life as a game promoting the evils of capitalism?  Were you aware that the Japanese used table top board games to plan and role play the bombing of Pearl Harbour?  That rigged board game sets were sent to Allied prisoners of war in World War II in order to provide prisoners with tools they would need for escape?  That Cluedo originally had a bunch more characters?  That one of the most famed board game makers in America suffered from crippling paranoia that workers might leak developments in the factory?

I bet you didn’t.

I certainly didn’t, which is why I found this in-depth examination of board game playing and its social history endlessly fascinating.  The book is divided into chapters dealing with either specific board games (Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, The Game of Life, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit are all included, amongst others) or some aspect of society that has been influenced by the use of board games (the use of table top military manouvring games, the development of electronics and new forms of playing surface in board games, the rise of games for adults and “adult” **wink, wink** games, how characters or elements of games were switched to appeal to their cultural context).  The chapters have sections that are almost written in a narrative nonfiction style as the stories of the game inventors (and frequently their loss of expected fortune) are recounted.  Surprisingly, the stories often involve backstabbing, theft of intellectual property and not quite the number of rags to riches tales as you might expect.

What was most surprising, and inspiring, was the observation that board games and their variations are seemingly in high demand again as more people begin to look for non-screen-based ways to connect with family and friends.  If you have any interest at all in popular culture and the playing of board games, I highly recommend giving this book a read – mostly because I want to see whether it really is as endlessly fascinating as I experienced it – but also because by reading it, we might all kick-start a revolution toward face to face experiences again.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through (Aussie) Middle Grade: The Turnkey…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

Today I’ve got the final book in my recent run of World War II related reads, with The Turnkey by Aussie author Allison Rushby.  We excitedly received this one from Walker Books Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Flossie Birdwhistle is the Turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie must ensure all the souls in the cemetery stay at rest. This is a difficult job at the best of times for a twelve-year-old ghost, but it is World War II and each night enemy bombers hammer London. Even the dead are unsettled. When Flossie encounters the ghost of a German soldier carrying a mysterious object, she becomes suspicious. What is he up to? Before long, Flossie uncovers a sinister plot that could result in the destruction of not only her cemetery, but also her beloved country. Can Flossie stop him before it is too late?

turnkey

The Turnkey is a solid, original and intriguing tale that has the perfect blend of mystery, history and paranormal activity.  Flossie is the Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery in London, a job which involves ensuring that the dead interred in the cemetery remain – for the most part – peacefully at rest.  With the Blitz causing chaos every night, Flossie seeks solace in visiting some of the other Turnkeys in London’s major cemeteries.  On a midnight sojourn to St Paul’s Cathedral – a favourite thinking spot – Flossie encounters a ghost who shouldn’t, by the laws of the afterlife, be there (never mind that he’s dressed in the uniform of a Nazi SS Officer) and is drawn into a mystery that could tip the scales of the war in favour of the Nazis.

Flossie is an immediately likable character and throughout the story demonstrates her resilience, courage in adversity and compassion for those in difficult situations.  The Nazi officer, who we discover has an unexpected link to Flossie herself, is suitably evil and frightening, and each of the Turnkeys that we meet has his or her own personality, quirks and in some cases, secrets.

I always love books for young readers that aren’t set in schools.  Apart from the fact that being school-less allows the author to neatly avoid all those boring, repetitive, school-bully-based tropes, the non-school setting also makes books for young readers more accessible and interesting for grown up readers.  Such was the case with The Turnkey.  In fact, I kept forgetting that Flossie was meant to be twelve years old – albeit a reasonably long-dead twelve years old – such was the adult appeal of the novel. I love a good set-in-the-Blitz story also and the mix of bombed out London with the atmospheric cemeteries really worked to give a sense of the never-ending clean up and rescue operations that coloured that particular time in London’s history.

The pacing of this story was spot-on, with no filler material included to slow things down.  Reveals came at regular intervals with just enough new information to spur the reader on to discover the next twist in the ghostly Nazi’s plans.  I was impressed with the way the author managed to maintain all the threads of the story without losing the quality of each along the way.  By the end of the book the reader gets to experience the paranormal aspect of the Turnkeys working together (plus some patriotic and enthusiastic ghostly members of the Chelsea Pensioners Hospital), a journey into Churchill’s war rooms and the war rooms of the Nazis, a glimpse into the reality of those living and dying in the rubble and shelters and hospital wards of London during the Blitz, and a fantasy element featuring ancient artifacts.  None of these separate plot threads felt forced or tacked on and taken together they added greatly to the originality and atmosphere of the novel.

The only thing that could have made this book better – as I say with pretty much every book, everywhere – would be pictures.  I remember seeing a documentary or something on the Chelsea Pensioners and their red jackets and it would be awesome (and instructive for younger readers) to see some images of these iconic characters, as well as some images of the actual cemeteries or London during the Blitz for example.  There is a little author’s note at the back with some historical information and it was nice to see that the author had also consulted that seminal of cemetery-related tomes, Katherine Arnold’s Necropolis: London and its Dead.  **I read this ages ago and thought I was amongst a select few, but it keeps popping up as a reference authors have used for lots of fiction books that I’ve come across.  Give it a read if you feel inclined.**

 

I’m fairly sure that this is intended as a standalone novel but I would be interested in seeing what happens next for Flossie.  Given that she’s dead and doesn’t have to age or experience the changes of growing up, it would be cool to see a progression of historical/fantasy/mystery novels featuring the Turnkeys of London’s major cemeteries in different time periods up to the present.  I’d read them, anyway!

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly World War II fiction and you can’t go past a paranormal twist I would definitely recommend hunting down The Turnkey.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Get Well Soon: A Five Things I’ve Learned Review…

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.aaaaand a Top Book of 2017 Pick!

top-book-of-2017-pick-button

Today’s book is all about death and disease and as such, you wouldn’t necessarily think it would be all that enjoyable to read.  You would, however, be wrong.  Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright is a massively accessible nonfiction book with a conversational tone and enough humour to keep the (in some places) quite terrifying content, readable.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A humorous book about history’s worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop. She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her. Then more. In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague. In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they’ve suffered from. Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering. With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.

get-well-soon

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright:

1. The incredibly deadly Spanish Flu didn’t actually originate in Spain.

2. No matter what the disease, it never does anyone any good when a stigma is attached to those who carry it.

3.  Having a plague that makes you dance non-stop for hours (or days) at a time may sound like fun, until your bones start protruding through your skin just as “Blame it on the Boogie” comes on.

4. Indulging in an illicit romp with a lady of the night is all fun and games until  your nose (and probably hers also) falls off.

5. People actually queued up at one time in history to allow a madman to drill holes in their skulls, in the hope that it would provide a cure for their assorted maladies.

I can’t remember when I last giggled so much while reading about infectious disease as I did while reading this book.  In terms of making nonfiction books accessible, Wright has done a bang-up job here with a narrative style that is light – but never makes light – despite content that can result in some pretty sobering reading.  The humour in this book is almost a necessary vent for the anger and sadness and bafflement some readers may experience while finding out about the ways in which some very sick people – as well as the people who tried to help them – were treated at various points throughout history.

The book covers various plagues in separate sections and includes famous plagues, such as the Black Death, Spanish Influenza, and Polio, alongside lesser known ailments such as the dancing plague mentioned in the blurb, the “plague” of lobotomies orchestrated by William Jackson Freeman III and the plague of Encephalitis Lethargia, which results in the loss of any kind of emotion or motivation and leaves sufferers, in some cases, like living corpses.  Part of the focus of the book is on how authorities and others dealt with these diseases when they first appeared and how this action or inaction affected the disease’s spread.  It’s fascinating to see how the work of some individuals and groups to gain evidence for the causes of certain diseases – cholera being a case in point – was pooh-poohed (pardon the pun) by the authorities and scientific community even in the face of growing numbers of people contracting the disease.

I suspect this book won’t necessarily cut it for those hoping for a scientific look at plagues and their causes, but for the casual reader and those interested in social responses to medical disasters, the book will provide enough information to be going on with.  The style of writing feels like narrative nonfiction, in part because of the way in which the author has highlighted the individuals involved in the outbreaks of each specific disease.  While the use of the term “heroes” to describe these people feels a bit twee to me, I appreciate the fact that these people should be acknowledged and possibly lauded as household names more than they usually are.

My favourite part of the book was the section dealing with Spanish influenza, simply because of the dastardly bad timing that meant this disease came to prominence at the same time as World War 1, leading to catastrophic breakdowns in communication between authorities and the general public that, had this been different, could have saved many lives.  Looking back on the content, I was mildly disappointed that the Ebola virus was not included in the list of diseases, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

If you, like me, enjoy reading about major global disasters in a style that won’t freak you out too badly or exacerbate general feelings of anxiety about the state of the world, this would definitely be one to add to your TBR.

Oh, and I’m adding this to my  Colour Coded Challenge as well.  Check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Brick History: A Read-it-if Review

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read it if NEW BUTTON

Today’s Read-it-if Review is for a nonfiction title that will be an absolute winner with anyone who has ever been a fan of Lego and its uses.  We were excited and more than a little grateful to receive a copy of Brick History: Amazing Historical Scenes to Build From Lego by Warren Elsmore from the good folk at Allen & Unwin.  Rather than keep you waiting any longer (which is as painful as stepping on a Lego brick), we’ll get stuck in with the blurb from Allen & Unwin’s website:

From the dawn of time to the first civilizations, we look at the events which took place over the course of the first millennium; events which shook the world and changed the course of history.

Using LEGO bricks, artist Warren Elsmore and his team recreate stunning historic scenes, from the beginning of life in the pre-historic era right through to the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Brick History is a celebration of humanity and its achievements, and of moments in time that changed the course of history. To faithfully recreate each scene or image, Warren uses only standard LEGO bricks-and a lot of imagination! Choosing the right piece, color or orientation is crucial to this process, enabling the models to reflect the spirit of the time through these iconic plastic bricks.

As the book walks through history, the LEGO recreations draw from a 60-year history of the toy itself and tie into many of the company’s most popular themes. In this way, Brick History reveals the adaptability of LEGO to its full extent.

Whether you are a fan of LEGO, interested in world history, or just fascinated by the use of LEGO as a modeling medium, this book promises to take you on a fascinating journey into the past and around the globe.

brick history
Read-it-if:
* you are a teacher looking for the kind of book for your classroom library that will have your students tearing each other’s eyes out in an attempt to be the first to lay hands on it during silent reading time
* you have always wanted to know how to make round shapes from square bricks 
* you find learning historical facts and dates interminably boring and would prefer that such events were jazzed up with hilarious Lego head facial expressions
* you’ve ever considered creating a tiny working model of an orrery, depicting the process by which the Sun, moon and earth orbit one another, but were stymied due to a lack of easy to follow pictorial instructions
* you really freakin’ love Lego
What an awesome concept for a book!  We were palpably excited on seeing this title come up in the catalogue and couldn’t wait to flick through its attractive, easy-to-hold, fully illustrated format when it arrived.  This is going to be a no-brainer success for anyone, young or old, who enjoys Lego.  Obviously, the focus of this book is on historical events, but we were surprised (and delighted) to note that in between the historical depictions are instructions on how to make various related items, including but not limited to, a tiny model of the RMS Titanic, the aforementioned orrery, an Egyptian shadow clock and a brickish representation of Mahatma Gandhi.
The choice of these DIY models is inspired, because many feature building techniques that the run-of-the-mill Lego enthusiast may not have previously encountered, including how to create curves using straight bricks, and methods of building that allow for multiple changes in colour in a limited space, for instance.  I can imagine young builders really getting stuck into this title and developing their building skills quite quickly, before going and showing off to their friends.  The beginning of the book also features some handy notes on how to take photos of your completed models to show them off in their best light.
The only problem I had while reading is that the historical events selected here are very America and Euro-centric. Obviously, in covering everything from the Big Bang onward in a finite amount of pages, there has to be some subjective selection regarding what gets put in and what gets left out.  I was disappointed though at the lack of events from outside Europe and the US.  For Asia, India and Oceania as a whole, we are only treated to six events out of seventy-six and of these, only the construction of the Terracotta Army and the handover of Hong Kong back to China (itself a Euro-dominated event) are depicted as a double page spread; the rest are given in instructional format.  Africa is only represented in the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa and again, only in an instructional format, rather than as a historical scene.  Other readers may not even notice this, but I would have liked to have seen a broader scope of human history represented here.
Despite that small disappointment, this is still a ripping tome that will have adventurous builders busting out their obscure brick pieces and getting to work.  I’d definitely recommend grabbing this one for your permanent shelf while I seek out the already-published titles in Elsmore’s series: Brick City, Brick Wonders, Brick Vehicles and Brick Flicks.
Until next time,
Bruce