15 January 2019

Review: Dead Heat by Peter Cotton

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

When I learned Dead Heat by Australian author Peter Cotton was set in and around Jervis Bay and an AFP Detective would be liaising with a senior intelligence officer from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), I was hooked. Most readers here won't know this, but I served in the RAN and attended many courses at the 'nearby naval base' HMAS Creswell mentioned in the blurb. Naturally I thought this book would be an awesome cross-over between my love of books and Australian crime writing and my own personal history.

Unfortunately it contained far too many inaccuracies and inconsistencies and was a disappointing read for me. Here are some examples.

A Commander on Page 52 is described as having 'four gold stripes on each shoulder' and wearing 'five lines of ribbons on the right side of his chest.' 

It's clear to me the author hasn't done enough research. Firstly, a quick online search would have shown the author - and the proofreader or editor - that a Commander has three stripes and a Captain has four. Secondly, medals and ribbons are worn on the left side of the chest, not the right. Furthermore, Australians don't have rows or lines of ribbons, that'd be the Americans.

If that wasn't enough, our main character calls him Captain on the very next page. Argh! There were also several inaccuracies surrounding the landscape and terrain of the area.

Unfortunately, these errors continue all the way through the novel. A sailor mentioned on page 140 is called Sergeant on page 151. What the hell? Now we're confusing the Army and the Navy? Here's another tip: a Lieutenant going about his daily duties would not be 'dripping in gold braid' on page 227.

I'm of the firm opinion that this author would benefit from reading a couple of novels by fellow Aussie writer Matthew Reilly who is able to write the kind of fast-moving action scenes and military interactions Cotton seems to be striving for here.

The setting at Jervis Bay is what originally drew me to this book. The plethora of elements in the plot, including: aboriginal land rights, unrest in Indonesia, bikie gangs in the desert, nuclear weapons, Navy, AFP and spooks were just excessive and didn't gel together. 

It's always a pleasure to read a new-to-me Australian author, but sadly Dead Heat fell short for me. Dead Heat is the second in the Detective Darren Glass series and it can easily be read as a stand alone.

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!

11 January 2019

Review: 2,024 QI Facts To Stop You In Your Tracks by John Lloyd

RRP $24.99 AUD
Published October 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

2,024 QI Facts To Stop You In Your Tracks by John Lloyd, James Harkin and Anne Miller is the seventh and final book based on the British TV show QI. This is the largest in the series and the completion of the author's seven year plan to create an archive of 10,000 interesting facts.

Here are some of my favourites from this one:

"There are more than 180 tonnes of rubbish on the Moon." Page 78

"A pluviophile is someone who loves rainy days." Page 71

"Hotmail is so named because it contains the letters HTML: it was originally HoTMaiL." Page 136

"People suffering from plague may not enter a library in the UK." Page 139

"The Queen is a fee-paying member of the Jigsaw Puzzle Library." Page 140

"Dinosaurs were living on Earth before Saturn got its rings." Page 225

"The mysterious green code that begins all the Matrix movies is in fact recipes for sushi." Page 238

"When astronaut Sally ride first went into space in 1983, NASA engineers asked if 100 tampons would be enough to last her a week." Page 254

"A zoilist is someone who gets pleasure from finding fault." Page 365

"Crytoscopophilia is the urge to look through the windows of someone's house as you pass by. " Page 365

Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed checking the facts on the QI website by entering the page number and exploring some of the facts further. It's very easy to dip in and out of and made for a pleasant and easy read over the festive season. 

This final book in the series is perfect for trivia buffs, inquisitive kids, curious adults and everyone in between.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Check out my reviews of the other books I've read in the series:
1,339 QI - Quite Interesting - Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop
1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted

09 January 2019

2019 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

I had a terrific year of reading last year and nailed all of my reading challenges in 2018 so I'm excited to sign-up for the same three reading challenges in 2019:
  • Aussie Author Challenge 2019 
  • 2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge 
  • 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 

The Aussie Author Challenge 2019 is hosted by Booklover BookReviews and I'm signing up for the Kangaroo level again. This means I'll need to read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors.

To successfully complete the challenge, at least 4 titles must be written by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 of the 12 titles must be new to me authors. I'll also need to read across a minimum of 3 genres.

You don't need a blog to join in, you can follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

I'm signing up to the Franklin level of the 2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge this year and will need to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge.

The challenge is run by writers and volunteers and encourages readers to discover more books by Australian women. 

Participants can can join in on Facebook and GoodReads.

I'm signing up for the Renaissance Reader level of the 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge again this year, hosted by Passages to the Past.

I will need to read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the challenge.

You can follow my challenge progress here and I look forward to discovering some new favourite authors during the year.
Let me know if you're participating in any of these challenges in the comments below.

07 January 2019

Top 5 Books of 2018

2018 was an excellent reading year for me and I read a new personal best of 72 books, 20 of which I gave 5 stars. This made the selection of my Top 5 Books of 2018 quite difficult, but with so many great books to choose from it was a good problem to have.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2018 in the order I read them:

1. Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Annie Spence is an experienced librarian and writes a variety of witty and engaging letters to different books in Dear Fahrenheit 451. Some books she can't stand, others were all-time favourites as well as quirky and obscure books she discovered while weeding the stacks.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in May (courtesy of Allen & Unwin) and found myself laughing along with her, agreeing with some of her comments and rushing to look up books that were new to me. I relished her clever sign offs at the end of each letter and her creative nod to the Dewey Decimal System.

Thoroughly original and full of bookish humour, I’ve been recommending Dear Fahrenheit 451 widely, making it an easy choice for my Top 5 list.

2. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell 

The Peacock Summer by Australian author Hannah Richell is the perfect historical fiction novel replete with a crumbling mansion/estate that has seen better years. The novel is a story about family, secrets and regrets unfolding in a dual narrative and I just loved it!

The pacing was perfect without any dull periods and the writing was so atmospheric I could almost hear the peacocks in the garden and trace my finger through the dusty rooms. I flew through this in July (courtesy of Hachette) and felt as though it was written just for me. Don't you love it when that happens?

3. The Girl on the Page by John Purcell
This was the most surprising read of 2018 for me and the first of its kind on my Top 5 Books list. The Girl on the Page has everything: a setting in the publishing industry, ageing and eccentric authors, bestselling authors, publishing personalities, editing and proofreading, manuscripts aplenty, sex, ambition, literary debate and tragedy.

The plot contains intelligent debate on literature versus bestselling fiction and the writing is punchy, sexy, witty and entertaining. I read this in October (courtesy of Harper Collins) while on a cruise and I'm hanging out to see what Australian author John Purcell writes next.

4. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Reading Once Upon a River was like sitting at the foot of a legendary storyteller on a wild and stormy night. Set in the 1800s on the river Thames, the story starts at an ancient inn at Radcot called The Swan. The identity of a girl found drowned in the Thames is the mystery gently driving this atmospheric novel forward, and the elements of myth and folklore kept me glued to the page. 

Just like the river itself, the story meanders along at times, sometimes appearing deep and dark and others sparkling with insight or forging destructive new paths.

I read this in October (thanks to Penguin Random House Australia) while in London which further enhanced my enjoyment. Once Upon a River is dark and gothic and reads like a fairytale re-telling at times. It was one of my favourite reads of 2018 and I was giddy with excitement when Diane Setterfield thanked me for my review.

5. The Corset by Laura Purcell 

Sometimes you just know when a book you've read is going to be your favourite book of the year. So it was with The Corset by Laura Purcell.

This Victorian gothic thriller unfolds in alternating chapters by two female narrators, a wealthy and charitable woman with an interest in phrenology, and a prisoner named Ruth awaiting trial for murder. Before her arrest, Ruth was a seamstress and claims her needlework has the power to kill.

The Corset is an absolute masterpiece with so many elements I enjoy in a book: secrets, friendship, Victorian England, needlework, gruesome hardship, betrayal, revenge, redemption, hope, poison and mystery. These elements in the Victorian setting and gothic atmosphere enhanced my enjoyment tenfold and I really didn't want this to finish.

It did draw to a close though and the subtle twist at the end made me gasp and is one of the most satisfying endings I can remember reading. The Corset is an intelligent, riveting and engaging story and I enjoyed every stitch on every page. Infinite thanks to Bloomsbury for my favourite book of the year.

I'm really happy with the variety in my Top 5 Books of 2018, and also glad to have two Australian authors in my Top 5 list. If I could add one more to my favourites list, it would have to be Hangman by Jack Heath. This was a ripping read and I'm looking forward to the next in the series in 2019.

Have you read any of the books in my top 5 list? What was your favourite read in 2018?

Carpe Librum!

03 January 2019

Review: Tombland by C.J. Sansom

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Set in 1549, Tombland by C.J. Sansom is the 7th in the Matthew Shardlake series of historical fiction novels but can easily be read as a standalone. Shardlake is asked by the Lady Elizabeth (yep, the yet to be crowned Elizabeth I) to investigate the murder of a distant relative.

Matthew Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer and is investigating the murder with his assistant and friend when they're caught up in the peasant rebellion in Norwich. Being of the gentlemen class they're taken captive and need to use their wits to stay alive.

I didn't know anything about this country-wide peasant rebellion led by Robert Kett during the time of Edward VI, 2 years after the death of Henry VIII. I learned that the rebels sought to overthrow the landlords and address their unlawful and unjust practices and at the end of the novel, Sansom writes that it was a "colossal event that has been much underplayed." Page 806

Tombland is a chunkster of a book coming in at 866 pages, but with the last 66 pages containing an essay, acknowledgements, end notes and bibliography this was an enduring but rewarding book. The writing is excellent, the history and characterisation was top notch and I enjoyed the dialogue immensely. Here's an example:
"God's pestilence, lad, how on earth should I know? I have no idea." Page 34
The cursing was amusing, with contributions like: "God's bones", "God's blood" and "shut your clack box." That one was so immediately evocative and amusing, it's stayed with me. Shardlake is a memorable character too, his condition and how it is perceived in the mid 1500s as well as how the lifestyle of the period impacts his health was infinitely interesting.

My advice? Don't let the size of Tombland by C.J. Sansom put you off picking this one up. It was a 5 star read for me the entire way and I came to think of it alongside the ilk of Ken Follett.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

31 December 2018

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander and JK Rowling

I listened to the audio book of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them read by Eddie Redmayne in the car on the way to Sydney for Christmas this year. The book is nothing like the movie of the same name. What I found instead was a meta fiction style text book from Hogwarts Library written of course by the talented JK Rowling in the guise of Newt Scamander.

Published in 2001, this is a guide book to the magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe. After an introduction about the differences between beings and beasts and then being acquainted with their different danger levels we progressed through an A-Z of magical creatures.

JK Rowling's imagination really knows no bounds, and while the description for each beast was creative, informative and sometimes amusing, it was ultimately a dry read. I also think something was lost in the audio experience, as I've seen other readers who enjoyed the illustrations and margin notes from Ron Weasley that obviously weren't available in the audio production.

Overall, this was a great way to break up the monotony of the long drive, but didn't add all that much to my enjoyment of the Harry Potter series.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge Completed

I successfully completed the Renaissance Reader level of the 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year hosted by Passages to the Past.

Last year I barely scraped it in, but this year I comfortably read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the challenge, plus an additional 4 for good measure.

Here's what I read:

1. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
2. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
3. Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir
4. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
5. Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
6. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

7. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
8. A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
9. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
10. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
11. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
12. Melmoth by Sarah Perry
13. The Corset by Laura Purcell
14. Tombland by C.J. Sansom

I'm looking forward to participating again in 2019 so stay tuned for my sign-up post.

Carpe Librum!

30 December 2018

Australian Women Writer's Challenge & Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2018

It's been a record breaking reading year for me and I've completed all three of my reading challenges. Two of them are Australian, so I thought I'd wrap them both up together here.

2018 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
To complete the Franklin level of the 2018 Australian Women Writer's Challenge, I had to read 10 books and review 6 of them. I outdid myself this year and read and reviewed the following 15 books:

1. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
2. The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton
3. The Flying Optometrist by Joanne Anderton
4. Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
5. Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones
6. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
7. A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
8. The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady
9. Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner
10. Always With You by Debbie Malone
11. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
12. Paramedic by Sandy Macken
13. Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
14. Stalked by Rachel Cassidy
15. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2018
For the Aussie Author Challenge I had to read and review 12 titles by Australian authors across a minimum of 3 genres. At least 4 titles had to be by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 had to be new (to me) authors. I smashed the reading challenge this year and read the following 26 books:

1. The Commando - The Life and Death of Cameron Baird, VC, MG by Ben Mckelvey
2. Hangman by Jack Heath
3. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
4. Pentridge: Voices from the Other Side by Rupert Mann
5. The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton
6. The Flying Optometrist by Joanne Anderton
7. Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
8. Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones
9. Cicada by Shaun Tan
10. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
11. Australia's Most Unbelievable True Stories by Jim Haynes
12. A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer
13. The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady
14. Scrublands by Chris Hammer
15. Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
16. The Nowhere Child by Christian White
17. Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner
18. Always With You by Debbie Malone
19. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
20. Long and Winding Way to the Top by Andrew P Street
21. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
22. Paramedic by Sandy Macken
23. The Girl on the Page by John Purcell
24. Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
25. Stalked by Rachel Cassidy
26. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

What books by Aussie authors did you enjoy this year?

Carpe Librum!

20 December 2018

Review: Book Love by Debbie Tung

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Book Love by Debbie Tung is a graphic novel containing comics depicting everything there is to love about books. Rather than a linear story, this is a collection of images celebrating all things bookish, including: reading physical books, enjoying ebooks, browsing bookshops, borrowing books, smelling books and all manner of lifestyle related scenarios involving books and reading.

The artwork is appealing and the black and white illustrations are all postcard quality. I can easily see them being converted into bookmarks, t-shirts, tea towels and more and I'd certainly purchase some for myself. A cursory search tells me the author has an Etsy shop, so that's promising.

Book Love by Debbie Tung is best read a few pages at a time. While it can easily be read in a single sitting, I think it's best enjoyed at a slower pace. I recommend Book Love for bookworms, librarians, bibliophiles, readers and booklovers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

13 December 2018

Review: The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Legend has it that if the ravens at the Tower of London should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom. It is the responsibility of the Ravenmaster and his team to ensure this never happens. Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London and this is his memoir.

In The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Christopher takes the reader through his daily routine and introduces us to each of the ravens. He describes the birds, their personalities, pecking order, quirks and many anecdotes demonstrating proof of their incredible intelligence. He explains the characteristics of ravens, what makes them different to crows and how he manages to keep them happy and healthy at the Tower.

In addition to his duties as Ravenmaster, he also gives us an idea of what it's like to give tours of the Tower in his role as Yeoman Warder: learning the tour script, fielding questions and being photographed hundreds of times a day.

To qualify as a Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London, applicants need to have served in the military for a minimum of 22 years with an unblemished record. Christopher lives with his wife in the Tower and is one of many ceremonial guardians of the Tower. He
 is a corvid enthusiast having previously known nothing about birds, and I found his writing style easy going and informative without being dry.

Incorporating the history of this great fortress (which is fascinating to me), the author also includes the history of ravens in literature and art and the folklore and myths surrounding them. In talking about the association between ravens and death, Christopher writes:

"Their reputation for feasting on flesh was soon matched by a reputation for feasting on souls: people used to say that ravens would sit on the roof of a house of the dead and the dying and wait for the soul to come up the chimney so they could gobble it down." Pg 221

I met the Ravenmaster when I visited the Tower of London in October 2012, and wanted to ask him a million questions at the time. Fortunately he was able to answer all of my questions in this memoir which was a pleasure to read. I especially enjoyed reading about his involvement in the poppy exhibition Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibition in 2014.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

06 December 2018

Review: Absolute Proof by Peter James

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Ross Hunter, Investigative Journalist learns there may be absolute proof of the existence of God and decides to investigate. Under serious threat from several organisations who seek the evidence Ross is gathering, Absolute Proof has been compared to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I loved The Da Vinci Code so decided to give this a go, however the only connection I could see was the concept of Jesus Christ's DNA being passed down to the present day. Despite the hieroglyphics on the cover, there are no puzzles or riddles to solve here. In fact, Ross's trip to Egypt was brief and hieroglyphics didn't factor in the story at all so I have no idea why they grace the cover.

Peter James is a bestselling author who has written a tonne of books but this was my first time reading his work. I found Ross's character to be a little irritating at times and I soon grew weary of wading through the endless descriptions of scenery and mundane tasks. Ross's ruminations also took up too much space and only served to recap his thoughts on the goings on; which is boring if you're the sort of reader able to keep up with what's happening.

And the ending? Where do I start? The ending left far too many unanswered questions. It was ambiguous and anti climactic and I expected more from an award winning author who has sold more than 19 million books. Absolute Proof was a meandering novel with some interesting points about religion but the unresolved ending left me underwhelmed and unlikely to seek out any of his other novels.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

04 December 2018

Review: It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan

RRP $24.99 AUD
Published by Allen & Unwin
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Roll the dice. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I love playing board games and It's All A Game - A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan was a good read.

All the expected games are there: Chess, Backgammon, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Cluedo, Pictionary and Monopoly and much more. I appreciated reading the history behind the formation of these games and learning about new - to me - ones.

The section on war games was interesting, however I was surprised and secretly excited to hear mention of The Ungame and Scruples.

I enjoyed reading about the evolution of my favourite game Monopoly, however was embarrassed to learn it was created in the USA first. I played the British version and ignorantly believed the American game board was the 'inferior' version. Whoops!

"By 2016 [Monopoly] had sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. It is, by far, the bestselling branded board game ever created and no other game, except maybe chess, has so imprinted itself on the world's collective consciousness." Page 95

I also enjoyed learning about the formation of Simon & Schuster on page 155:
Richard Simon was at his aunt's house for dinner in 1924 and she asked if there was a collection of cross words she could buy for her daughter.
"Together with his friend Lincoln Schuster, Simon founded a publishing company called Simon & Schuster" to publish a collection of cross word puzzles. The book became a sensation and "Simon & Schuster was on its way to becoming one of the biggest book publishers in the United States."

I read It's All A Game during Non Fiction November (hosted by A Book Olive) and it left me wanting to play boardgames again. Unfortunately I don't have any willing participants close by so now I'm playing Backgammon on Board Game Arena. My profile name is Carpe_Librum (naturally) if anyone wants to play.

Roll the dice.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

29 November 2018

Review: The Corset by Laura Purcell

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I'd give this 6 stars if I could, and with 4 reading weeks left in the year, I'm also fairly certain The Corset by Laura Purcell is going to be my No 1. favourite book of the year.

An historical fiction novel, The Corset is essentially a Victorian gothic thriller. Told in alternating chapters by two female narrators, Dorothea is a wealthy and charitable woman with an interest in phrenology, and Ruth is a prisoner awaiting trial for murder.

Dorothea visits Ruth in prison with the intention of measuring and monitoring her skull for her phrenology studies but is soon interested in Ruth's story. Before her arrest, Ruth was a seamstress and she claims her needlework has the power to kill.

The Corset is an absolute masterpiece with so many elements I enjoy in a book: secrets, friendship, Victorian England, needlework, gruesome hardship, betrayal, revenge, redemption, hope, poison and mystery. These elements in the Victorian setting and gothic atmosphere enhanced my enjoyment tenfold and I really didn't want this to finish.

It did draw to a close though and the subtle twist at the end made me clutch at my chest and gasp and is one of the most satisfying endings I can remember reading. The Corset is an intelligent, riveting and engaging story and I enjoyed every stitch on every page. If you enjoyed Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (book or the mini series) then this is for you.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. You can read my review of Laura Purcell's debut novel The Silent Companions here.

26 November 2018

Review: Sh*t Towns of New Zealand by Anonymous

RRP $22.99 AUD
Published by Allen & Unwin October 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *
New Zealand has a special place in my heart, but Sh*t Towns of New Zealand contains some real laugh out loud moments and I enjoyed reading it.

The anonymous author raised a few suspicions at first (who is she/he?) but these are soon forgotten as you discover their views on the crappy towns and suburbs in New Zealand. There's a lot of 'taking the piss' going on.

Here's a snippet to set the scene from the section about Auckland on page 23:

"Iconic Landmark: The Sky Tower, a casino-owned structure shaped like a giant hypodermic needle as a tribute to the homeless junkies who sleep beneath it."

They're right too, the tower does look exactly like a hypodermic needle. Bwahahahah!

Several entries had me rushing off to Google to fact check (Shrek the Sheep, the Nick Smith squatting statue) and one of my favourites was the small town of Bulls on page 95. According to the author:

"Some time ago, some bright spark decided the best way to compensate for Bulls' blatant boringness was for every business in town to be christened with a bull-related pun. Cop shop? Const-a-Bull. Pharmacy? Dispens-a-Bull. Public toilets? Relieve-a-Bull. Brothel? Shag-a-Bull. Doctors? Cure-a-Bull. Abortion Clinic? Dispos-a-Bull."

I don't know about you, but I love this kind of pun and reading about this place made me want to visit the town of Bulls right away.

I did have a few criticisms though and thought this contained way too many references to STDs and teenage pregnancies. Some of the slights on locations seemed a little repetitive at times and readers should know
 it contains a lot of adult content.

Sh*t Towns of New Zealand is a great gift book or stocking stuffer for Kiwis and those with a  fondness for the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Kia Ora.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

22 November 2018

Review: Elevation by Stephen King

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Set in legendary Castle Rock, Elevation is a great little novella about resident Scott Carey. Scott seems to be losing weight on the scales but his body remains unchanged. He weighs the same no matter what he's holding or wearing, but manages to feel lighter and lighter as time goes on and his weight decreases.

Elevation follows Scott's short journey as his weight gradually decreases and he begins to reflect on his life. Will his weight reach zero? What's going to happen?

Scott's relationship with his two neighbours and his friend Dr Bob Ellis are the star of this story and I just loved the dialogue between them. Stephen King has a talent of being able to capture everyday life in an often poignant way, and Elevation has it in spades despite the brevity of the story.

Elevation contains a nice feel good message about tolerance and getting along in a small town, but definitely isn't a horror story.

"Good Discussion!"

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

19 November 2018

Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

It's very possible The Lost Man is my new favourite novel by Australian bestselling author Jane Harper. Set on a huge cattle station in outback Queensland, this is the story of the Bright family dealing with the unexpected death of their son and brother Cameron. Cameron was found 10kms from his car and died of dehydration and exposure with the family left to wonder what happened.

At its heart, The Lost Man is a stand alone family drama but you'd be mistaken if you thought this fell into the genre of farm lit. The Lost Man is a dark mystery set against one of the harshest landscapes in Australia. Jane Harper's writing evokes an unforgiving landscape and the sheer isolation is frightening at times.

The characters include members of the Bright family, town locals and two backpackers and the author has captured their personalities effortlessly. 

The Lost Man is full of tension as well as insight into how these families make a living off the land. The Bright family are prepared for any hazard while out working on the property. This makes Cameron's death even more mysterious; why would he leave his car full of supplies and succumb to the elements?

I recommend The Lost Man by Jane Harper to mystery, thriller and crime readers everywhere. It's a brilliant read!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

14 November 2018

Review: Stalked - The Human Target by Rachel Cassidy

* Copy courtesy of Rockpool Publishing *

As the subtitle of Stalked - The Human Target by Rachel Cassidy indicates, this book contains Stories of people pursued by stalkers and the devastating effects on their lives. For the most part, this was an informative and educational read and contained information on what constitutes stalking and harassment, case studies and information from subject matter experts.

I wasn't expecting bullying and harassment to feature as much as stalking but the inclusion made sense when explained. From the mention of David Letterman and Madonna in the synopsis, I was expecting to read about more famous cases than those included in Stalked.

In an attempt to provide balance, the author included the perspective of a stalker convicted for his crimes. However the interview didn't go anywhere near far enough in my opinion. Given this was the only first person perspective of stalking from the perpetrator's point of view, I wanted to know more. Did he regret his actions, did he ever feel the urge to stalk again, and how did the time drain of obsessive stalking impact his life. How did he keep it secret.

Given that I was left wanting more information on the topic of stalking, the appearance of 9 pages of author acknowledgements at the end of a 178 page book seemed over the top. One of the stalking victims (Mark Wilson, former judge of Dancing with the Stars) was given 4 pages to list his own acknowledgements and the combined 13 pages was excessive.

On the flip side, the resources list at the end was comprehensive and no doubt will be helpful to some readers. I'd recommend Stalked by Australian author Rachel Cassidy for anyone dealing with bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment or stalking.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

12 November 2018

Review: Melmoth by Sarah Perry

RRP $29.99
Published October 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

An historical fiction novel set in Prague with a supernatural element, Melmoth by Sarah Perry held so much promise for me. Unfortunately this highly anticipated read left me feeling a little underwhelmed by the end.

Our main character Helen is riddled with guilt and living an ordinary life when she is given a manuscript and told about Melmoth. Melmoth the witness is a tall woman dressed in black with bleeding feet condemned to walk the earth forever. She’s the loneliest being in the world and tries to lure the guilty to wander the earth beside her.

Despite the awesome premise, some of the gothic tropes in this novel soon became repetitive and therefore lost their power to move me. For instance, there were so many jackdaws (crows) throughout the novel that their appearance quickly lost their 'creep factor'.

The best parts by far were the 'stories within the main story' in the form of the manuscript, letters and documents. They contained information across time from other people who had encountered Melmoth and these encounters and backstories made for interesting reading.

I particularly enjoyed uncovering the reason behind Helen's guilt and belief she must suffer for the sins of her past and I could easily have dwelled in her tale much longer. However her overarching story failed to hold my interest.

Exploring themes of redemption, guilt and perhaps even loneliness, Melmoth will appeal to historical fiction lovers who enjoy dark and mysterious stories.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

10 November 2018

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

Reading Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield was like sitting at the foot of a legendary storyteller on a wild and stormy night. I was in expert hands, hung on every word and instantly fell into the story being told.

Set in the 1800s on the river Thames, the story starts at an ancient inn at Radcot called The Swan. At the time, if you wanted music, gambling or brawling you could visit a number of other inns, but the specialty on offer at The Swan was storytelling.

The stories told were passed down through generations, from the battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 to more recent times and anywhere in between. Some of the stories had alternate endings or different beginnings, but the locals who frequented the inn loved to tell them and loved to listen to them being told.

It's in this setting that a man stumbles in one night dripping with river water and a young girl in his arms. She is dead and he is close to it, but hours later she comes back to life. Those present struggle to comprehend what has happened and who she might be.

The girl's identity is the mystery gently driving this atmospheric novel forward, and the elements of myth and folklore kept me glued to the page. And just like the river itself, the story meanders along at times, sometimes appearing deep and dark and others sparkling with insight or forging destructive new paths.

Diane Setterfield is a favourite author of mine, having adored The Thirteenth Tale in 2006 and her writing style has only improved since then; if that's even possible. I loved being addressed by the author occasionally as 'dear reader' and although it's not a new construct, it works perfectly here. It reminds the reader the novel is just another 'story being told' and builds on the layers of stories already being told at The Swan.

Once Upon a River is dark and gothic and reads like a fairytale re-telling at times. It's definitely a serious contender for my Top 5 Books of 2018. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield is available in December 2018.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. I learned after reading this that The Swan Inn and Radcot Bridge are real locations and are just as I imagined. In fact, Radcot Bridge was built around 1200 and claims to be the oldest crossing of the river Thames. This, together with the fact that I read this while in London further added to my enjoyment.

08 November 2018

Interview with Sandy Macken, author of Paramedic - One Woman's 20 Years on the Front Line

Author, Sandy Macken
Sandy Macken is the author of Paramedic - One Woman's 20 Years on the Front Line and she joins me today to chat about her memoir, her career as a paramedic and her reading habits.

Thanks for joining us Sandy. What was the most challenging part of writing your memoir Paramedic? I wanted to give the reader the opportunity of walking with me step by step through some of the toughest jobs I have faced. I had to completely immerse myself in the thoughts and feelings of every single moment in order to achieve this. 

One particular chapter was so stressful in the writing and editing that my hands would become sweaty and my nervous system become quite activated. (Can you guess which one? lol) So I had to pick and choose the right times to do the writing, because I knew that it would be a bit of a ride for me. Along with the challenge would come the gratitude, for the peace and good health I was enjoying, so it was both "bitter sweet" and that is the point of the book; to inspire that balance of heart and mind of both our challenges and the blessings that often hide among them.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to become a paramedic? Know that the job will grow your soul and that can be hard work but well worth it. Strive to keep an open heart.

What training do you need to undertake in order to become a paramedic? What are the different levels/titles/ranks you progress through?
Nowadays most people come in after a three year degree in paramedicine. The levels progress from trainee to qualified paramedic. There is then a competitive application process for those wishing to further specialise. There are various specialisations including "Intensive Care" which the stories in the book reflect. Other areas of specialisation include Extended Care and aeromedical as well as Special Operations which is similar to a rescue role.

What do you wish the public knew when it comes to receiving treatment from a paramedic or calling an ambulance? 

A calm environment and honest answers is helpful. There is really good medical advice given through the triple zero number.

What are the most common mistakes good samaritans make when giving first aid before an ambulance arrives on the scene? 

I probably don't see most of them. Simple helpful measures and timely calling for an ambulance is best.

Have you ever delivered a baby?
Been there a few times! A job that always raises the heart rate. I helped a woman give birth on a bench seat outside hospital at 5.00am on a cold winter morning. That was the day I learned that it is possible to give birth sitting upright on a chair. And that birthing women are completely awesome.

Do you ever need to go to court as part of your job?
Yes, I have taken the stand a few times. It isn't a regular occurrence, but I have been called as a professional witness, mostly for violent crimes.

Do patients you’ve assisted ever ask to meet and thank you down the track? How do you feel about meeting patients you saved?
Yes. It is AMAZING to meet the patients. I have had a couple of experiences that were quite beautiful. What really struck me is how different a person looks when they are close to clinically dead. That experience is something that I take with me forever too, so to meet that person, whom I had the privilege of helping in such a dramatic way for me has been incredibly moving and sometimes part of a healing journey too. It is often a great success, to preserve life for someone. The gift for me is that incredible sense, that life is so precious.

What’s your favourite way to unwind after a difficult shift?
Swim in the ocean. It has a cleansing effect second to none. It lifts my spirit.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Books that educate and inspire me.

What are you reading at the moment?
Our baby is five months old, so reading time since her birth has been a shared delight. We are reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett.

What was the last truly great book you read?
I have to say The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A classic tale that teaches me something new every time I read it. Another one I read to my daughter.

Thanks for joining us Sandy and for all the good work you do in the community. Paramedic is published by Rockpool Publishing.

05 November 2018

Review & Extract: Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater

Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia
RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Lauren Chater is an Australian author who loves to read and bake and has been blogging about her love of baking and decorating cookies at The Well Read Cookie for the last three years. In her latest book, Lauren brings her love of books and cookies together in Well Read Cookies - Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature.

This scrumptious hardback is full of Lauren's favourite reads paired with cookies iced and decorated to reflect the theme or focus of the book. There are a variety of books represented, with children's books, classics and contemporary novels included and the decorated cookies are mouth-wateringly delicious.

Lauren includes the reasons she loves each of the 60 books chosen and also talks a little about each of the cookie designs. I thoroughly enjoyed the unique pairing of literature with creative and whimsical cookie designs and it made me hungry for biscuits and books all at the same time.

I'm lucky enough to be able to share with you three of my favourite cookie/book combinations, so please enjoy them below.

Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia 
RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Why are children so obsessed with books about food? From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Possum Magic, food and literature continues to be an utterly magical combination. What is it that makes us go gaga for Suessian green eggs and ham and dreamy Sendak-style aeroplane doughnuts? Psychologists suggest food is associated with memory, so perhaps when parents read to children from picture books which feature fantastical feasts and pleasant picnics, a love of food is absorbed along with the language.

Nowhere is this combination of edibles and idioms more apparent than in Eric Carle’s classic tale of gluttony and greed, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Brimful of fruit, condiments and sweets, it’s the ultimate guide to a week’s worth of overeating, but it’s also a lesson in growth and transformation.

The compulsion of the caterpillar to consume everything in sight is an instantly recognisable childish trait. The mere whiff of a pickle takes me straight back to my school days, and whenever the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘cake’ are mentioned together, I find myself reaching for the fridge – because, as everyone knows, the perfect accompaniment to a Matilda-style Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake (thank you Roald Dahl) is a slice of Swiss cheese.

When I was making these hungry caterpillar cookies, my children offered very helpfully to cut the holes out of the ‘fruits’ instead of what they usually do, which is squirt the icing straight into their mouths. I recommend using the bottom of an icing tip to get a good-sized hole and piping an outline around the hole first before you flood so that the icing doesn’t drip down inside. You’ll need a 1.5 mm tip for the caterpillar’s details.

The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia 
RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater
Many people see passenger liners as places of transit, a bridge between the old world and the new. This unique experience takes a tragic twist in Armando Lucas Correa’s novel, which chronicles the ill-fated journey of the transatlantic liner St Louis through the eyes of a young Jewish girl, Hannah Rosenthal. 

Fleeing the persecution of the Nazi regime in 1939, Hannah and her parents join others on board the ship, expecting to disembark in Cuba, but their excitement quickly sours as the ship is turned away from that port, and every other, and the liner soon becomes a floating crypt. Correa pays tribute to those poor souls in this sobering story about war, hope and the human condition.

Of all the passenger liner tragedies in popular culture, the best known is of course the White Star’s Titanic but the success of Correa’s book has recently thrown light on the forgotten passenger ship St Louis. A German ocean liner, she set out in May 1939 and soon became embroiled in a political and humanitarian crisis when Jewish passengers fleeing the Holocaust were denied entry at every port.

With an eye to the recent horrors in Syria, Correa’s book seems more relevant than ever and, cute cookies aside, it’s one that everyone should read to prevent such a tragedy ever occurring again. These liner cookies were made using a custom cutter but any steamship cutter will do.
Outline and flood the bottom section first in black icing.
Outline and flood the top half in bright white icing once the bottom has dried.
Use grey icing in a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 mm tip to add the decorative stripes and the windows.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater
Published by Simon & Schuster Australia RRP AU$24.99
Photography © Lauren Chater
Not many people have much sympathy for Jay Gatsby, the brooding anti-hero of Fitzgerald’s moody commentary on America’s loss of innocence. He’s the kind of guy we love to read about but would find intolerable if he rolled up outside in his Merc. He’s the ultimate creepy ex-boyfriend, hanging around to remind you what you missed out on. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole Gatsby aesthetic: the flappers, the prohibition booze, the vacuous parties on Long Island paid for by Daddy’s trust-fund. There’s a delicious opulence and decadence in the book (especially the party scenes) that makes me want to cut my hair into a bob and Charleston ’til dawn. But then Fitzgerald throws in the contrast of the slum areas outside Rhode Island and exposes how one-sided the whole business is; desperate depression on the one hand, filthy opulence on the other. Both Nick Carraway (useless enabler) and Jay Gatsby (hopeless dreamer) really rub me up the wrong way.

Daisy, on the other hand, is a girl after my own heart. Unlike Gatsby, who tries to mould himself into some kind of unreachable ideal, Daisy goes straight for the Cartier and doesn’t feel a bit bad about it. She never apologises for who she is or what she wants. Is it her fault Gatsby puts her on an impossibly high pedestal? Not at all! It might be unfashionable, but make like a mint julep and be a Daisy; throw your troubles to the wind and let some man do the worrying for you.

I think Daisy would appreciate these flapper girl cookies with their oh-so-chic wink and stylish cloche hats. Don’t forget to add a dash of edible gold to embellish your decorations!

Recipe for Vanilla Sugar Cookies (Makes around 16)
250g unsalted butter, softened                            1 egg
1/2 tsp salt                                                           1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence                                           6 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/2 tsp baking powder

Place softened butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and mix until smooth and light in colour (about four minutes).
STEP 2 Add in vanilla essence and beat in egg, until combined.
STEP 3 Slowly beat in the baking powder and flour, one cup at a time. After two minutes or so of beating the dough should start pulling away from the edge of the bowl and form a lump. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface.
STEP 4 Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least four hours.
STEP 5 Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut out desired shapes. Place them on flat baking trays and put in freezer or the fridge for at least 20 minutes before baking to preserve shape.
STEP 6 Bake each tray for 18 minutes, turning halfway to ensure consistency.
STEP 7 Allow to cool completely before decorating.

You'll definitely need a cup of tea and a biscuit when devouring Well Read Cookies by Lauren Chater. If you want more, feel free to turn the oven on, whip up a batch of sugar cookies and check out my interview with Lauren about her debut novel The Lace Weaver.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!