19 September 2017

Review: City of Crows by Chris Womersley

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

City of Crows by Chris Womersley is historical fiction (my favourite genre) and contains some of my favourite tropes in a novel: witchcraft and the plague.

Set in late 1600s France, City of Crows is essentially a story of survival. Charlotte, recently widowed and trying to save her son from the plague and Monsieur Adam du Coeuret, a prisoner assigned to the galleys for his crimes are both seeking freedom from their harsh lives.

I'm not sure whether I should have picked this up straight after reading Ken Follett's A Column of Fire, as it could have dampened my enjoyment of Womersley's tale somewhat. Follett is an historical fiction writing wizard and in the shadow of that great tome, City of Crows failed to reach the heights I was hoping for.

A satisfactory and entertaining story, the City of Crows of the title is Paris and I absolutely love the cover art, don't you? Knowing the characters are based on real people and historical facts certainly added to my enjoyment and appreciation of the research involved. In a different world, I would have liked to have stayed with Charlotte and followed her journey through life for the next 50 years - without the involvement of Adam.

This is my first novel by the Australian author Chris Womersley, and reading it has made me determined to seek out his award-winning novel Bereft in the future.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

14 September 2017

Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

A Column of Fire is the third in the Kingsbridge series, the first two of which have been instant 5 star reads for me. Just like The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, A Column of Fire can be read as a stand alone, although fans of the series will notice the occasional nod to the past and the characters who built the cathedral or the bridge etc.

It's 250 years since World Without End and A Column of Fire begins in our favourite town of Kingsbridge although spends little time there throughout the 750 pages. Instead the scope is extended as far as France and Spain to take in a global and politically charged plot that reads more like a Philippa Gregory novel.

Set between the years 1558 - 1606 and the reign of Elizabeth I, the novel captures the political turmoil of the time and the religious debate between Protestants and Catholics. The cover art features a ship and the scenes involving the Spanish Armada were some of the best I've ever read on the topic in historical fiction.

However, where I mourned the ending of World Without End and wanted it to continue forever, I was at peace with the ending of A Column of Fire.

Follett cleverly reminds the reader of the relationship between characters (and who's who) and I imagine if you put the book down for a few weeks, you could easily fall back into the story despite the complexities. Naturally I would never put down a Ken Follett novel and in fact I maintained a strictly monogamous reading schedule until I'd finished this great chunkster of a book.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

11 September 2017

Review: Beyoncégraphica - A Graphic Biography of Beyoncé by Chris Roberts

* Copy courtesy of Murdoch Books *

For an unauthorised and unofficial biography, Chris Roberts has managed to assemble an informative and satisfactory biography of Beyonce here. 
Bound in a very attractive hardback edition, Beyonce's epic rise to fame unfolds in a combination of stunning photographs, intricate infographics and chronological chapters.

Her time with Destiny's Child is covered well, and I was keen to learn more about her hard work ethic and the success of her early days.

Beyonce's romance and subsequent private marriage to Jay-Z is included as is the release and success of all of her albums. Beyonce's world tours are covered and her extensive philanthropic work is also mentioned.

Many of the infographics were unexpectedly detailed and a few were a little difficult to work out at first. My favourite infographic of the book showed how much it costs to maintain Beyonce's body per year and the amount of money she spends on her hair was out of this world. (Particularly given I had just received a haircut that cost me $27).

The photographs are impressive and definitely capture Beyonce's beauty and allure as an icon for feminism and girl power around the world.

In summary, I recommend Beyoncégraphica - A Graphic Biography of Beyoncé by Chris Roberts to fans of Beyonce and her back catalogue of music; those interested in the music industry; readers with an interest in feminism and music, and those curious about the rise and influence of celebrity in our society.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

30 August 2017

Author Lee Cockburn on how her career as a Police Sergeant has informed her writing

Author Lee Cockburn has worked for Police Scotland for sixteen years and today she is joining me as part of the Clink Street Publishing Blogival to tell us how her experiences as a Police Sergeant have informed her writing.
Lee Cockburn, author

Author spotlight
The rules with being in the police are that the content of my novels must be fiction, the procedures are real, those that are common knowledge for the public, they can look them up if they want; those that are permitted to be read of course. The characters are all fictional too though, their stunning beauty and near perfection are simply not real, but a very pleasant thought for the reader and the crimes and scenarios are purely fiction too.

Saying that, I have seen many horrible things in the course of my duty, numerous deaths, as police attend all deaths in the city, whether they are the result of a crime or not. Some peaceful, some premature, some not noticed, all of which are unpleasant in their own way. Some deaths are horrible to see and cannot be unseen, their untimely end clearly not chosen. I feel the pain for their families, their sadness, those that loved them, the pain they go through when the fateful message is passed. Premature death of any kind is always a tragedy, young lives taken too soon, their families devastated at the loss, and as a police officer, every single death affects me in some way or other, whether it was expected or not and I have to deal with that, be able to put it in a place where it wont affect me again.

My characters are beyond evil, severely deranged, sadistic serial killers or wired wrong in their desires, sickening to all but their own kind, people that you cannot relate to, because their make up is so damaged, their personalities are not normal and you would have to question yourself if you could relate to them?

I have seen violence and brutality, tragedy, suffering, fear and terror, dominance and control, all of which appear in my novels, although the level of evil and violence portrayed in my books is more often seen in that of real life serial killers from the USA. I don’t know why I have taken things up a level in my writing, probably to make the books more frightening, thought provoking and fear inducing, they are meant to be borderline horror thrillers. Saying all that, Devil’s Demise and Porcelain Flesh of Innocents have true heroes and heroines, good people willing to fight and wont be beaten by evil or control, and other characters that are truly decent genuine folk that stand up for right and wrong. My books portrait good versus evil, and in my opinion, good should always win over evil, even though it sometimes takes a while, karma is real.

Regarding the characters, I can see a little of myself in Taylor, not quite as striking or efficient, but in my early years, a little flirtatious, I made a few mistakes and suffered the consequences, and I have definitely learned through experience.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever write a book, far less three, but now that I’ve started I just want to write exciting, gritty, frightening books that have a little passion thrown in to give the reader a little respite from the horror, books that make you want to read on, feel a little frightened or warm inside, either way, hopefully you wont be able to put it down. 

Blurb for Porcelain: Flesh of Innocents
Detective Sergeant Taylor Nicks is back and in charge of tracking down a sadistic vigilante, with a penchant for torturing paedophiles, in this unsettling crime thriller by a real-life police sergeant.

High-powered businessmen are turning up tortured around the city of Edinburgh with one specific thing in common — a sinister double life involving pedophilia. Leaving his ‘victims’ in a disturbing state, the individual responsible calls the police and lays bare the evidence of their targets’ twisted misdemeanours to discover, along with a special memento of their own troubled past — a chilling calling card. Once again heading the investigation team is Detective Sergeant Taylor Nicks, along with her partner Detective Constable Marcus Black, who are tasked not only with tracking the perpetrator down but also dealing with the unusual scenario of having to arrest the victims for their own barbarous crimes. But with the wounded piling up the predator’s thirst for revenge intensifies and soon Nicks discovers that she is no longer chasing down a sinister attacker but a deadly serial killer.

Vivid, dark and deeply unsettling
Porcelain: Flesh of Innocents is the perfect next read for serious crime and police thriller fans.

Author Bio
Lee Cockburn has worked for Police Scotland for 16 years including as a police sergeant in Edinburgh for 7 years and also as a public order officer. Before joining the force, she played for Scotland Women’s rugby team for 15 years, and also swam competitively for 12 years; successfully representing Edinburgh in the youth Olympics in Denmark in 1984. 

Lee lives in Edinburgh with her civil partner Emily and their 2 young sons. Her first book Devil’s Demise was published by Clink Street Publishing November 2014. Follow Lee Cockburn on Twitter.

29 August 2017

Review: 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson is a fantasy novel for middle grade readers about a 12 year old boy called Henry who discovers hidden cupboards in the walls of his attic bedroom.

With the help of one of his cousins, Henry soon discovers the cupboards of varying shape and design are portals to other places.

This intriguing premise led me to borrow this from the library, however unfortunately the novel didn't live up to my expectations. The protagonist sharing the same name as the town (Henry) and a cousin by the name of Henrietta created unnecessary confusion for no discernible gain.

The first in a series of at least three books, 100 Cupboards was a good read but not a stand out.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

24 August 2017

Interview with Debbie Malone, author of Never Alone and Clues from Beyond

Today I'm excited to be interviewing Australian author and psychic medium Debbie Malone. In 2013, Debbie was Australian Psychic of the Year, and she continues to use her gift as a psychic, clairvoyant and medium to assist Police and bring peace to loved ones. This year I read and reviewed her books Never Alone and Clues From Beyond - True Crime Stories from Australia's #1 Psychic Detective.

Thanks for your time Debbie and for joining me on Carpe Librum. For those who haven’t read your books Never Alone and Clues From Beyond, what can you tell us about your six near death experiences (NDEs)?
I had my first near death experience at the age of 3 when I had bronchial pneumonia. 
My next NDE was at 13 when I had my appendix out. I had a complication with the anaesthetic and my heart stopped. I remember floating up to the ceiling of my hospital room watching as the doctor and nurses came in with oxygen and a heart monitor to try and bring me back. Initially, I thought that I had been dreaming. It wasn't until the following morning the doctor came in to tell me what had happened to me.
Debbie Malone, author

I had another 4 NDEs in my late 20s - early 30s due to numerous illnesses and operations. I have a reaction to anaesthetics. So when I have operations I now need to warn the doctors.
The most memorable NDE was when I was in 1997. I had to undergo a major operation and I had a vision that I was going to die. I had a will made out the night before just in case and I warned the doctors of my fears. At the time they thought I was just overly anxious. It wasn't until after the operation that things began to wrong. I was placed on a morphine drip for pain and I had an allergic reaction which caused my heart to stop.

The journey I went on from this experience is something I will never forget, to this day just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I found myself travelling through time and space at great speed, it was like I was an astronaut without a craft or a spacesuit. I felt myself being lifted up and becoming a part of the universe. I could see all of the stars and planets up close as though I was in outer space. I was drawn into a black hole and then I began to move even faster than before. I came out of the hole and was once again amongst the stars. I felt like I was on some kind of rollercoaster, I was thrown up and down and felt a lot of shaking. Once again I was taken into the black hole that turned into a large tunnel with a pinhole of light at the end. I was drawn closer and closer to the end of the tunnel when I found myself in a beautiful meadow.

In the meadow there was a small privet hedge that was about 1/2 metre high. There was gate in the middle of the hedge that was open and two beings were standing there. Before me was a line of other people who were being greeted by the beings as they waited to go through the gate. On the other side of the hedge were groups of people who all looked very happy to be there. At the time I remember feeling a familiarity of the people I saw on the other side of the hedge, the love that I felt from these people is something that is difficult to describe.

When it was my turn to go through the gate the beings told me that I couldn't come through as it wasn't my time. They told me to turn around and as I did I looked down and saw my husband and three children pointing up at the sky. At the time my daughter was 1, my two sons were 3 and 7. One of my boys asked "where is Mummy?" and my husband said that "Mummy isn't coming back as she is in heaven now". At this point I felt myself falling very rapidly back to the earth. I suddenly woke feeling the nurse frantically shaking me and trying to revive me. Thankfully, I did return and I can still be a part of my beautiful family's lives. Since that day I have always been drawn to the night sky as it feels like home. The movie Contact is the best way for me to describe what I saw when I died.

The title of your memoir is Never Alone, how do you tune out spirits or are you truly never alone?

As I am constantly connected to the spirit world, I choose to tune out by listening to music as this is a way to block out the constant voices. I am very blessed to also be connected to angelic presences that I find to be comforting in my everyday life.

Do you pick up messages for those around you in every day life? (Shopping, meeting up with friends and family?)
Yes, I do pick up messages constantly in everyday life. It can be quite off putting when I am in a store and the deceased loved one of the shop assistant tries to get a message through. If I feel that the person is open to receiving the message I will pass it on to them. However, sometimes I just want to go shopping and not be tuning in and constantly at "work". If people know what I do they are constantly asking me "what or who are you seeing around me?" It can be quite challenging as people don't understand that I need to have a life and not be constantly tuning in.

Do the messages you receive ever place you in a moral dilemma, or do you feel obligated to pass on all information to loved ones?
I take my job very seriously. I have a lot of responsibility placed on me by both the living and the dead. I am honest and open about the information I receive. I always pass messages on in a positive light. Part of my work is about helping loved ones find closure and to allow them to heal from their loss.

Can you tell the difference between spirits who have transitioned and those who have gone into the light? If they haven’t transitioned are they in peace?
I can tell the difference between spirits who have gone to the light and those who have not. Sometimes a spirit may not go to the light because they feel they have unfinished business, they may feel that they died too early or they may have died in a tragic manner and are not really aware that they are dead. A spirit who is earth bound has a much heavier and sadder energy than a spirit who is in the light. Part of my job is to assist those who have not transitioned so they can also find peace and continue with their spiritual journey.

I read you can help spirits transition and go into the light, do you feel obligated to try and do this wherever you can? Or have I just been watching too many episodes of Ghost Whisperer?
Yes, I do assist spirits to transition into the light. I feel part of my job as a medium is to be of assistance to others whether they be alive or deceased.

You mention in Never Alone that you believe ‘some outcomes are predestined’. What can you tell us about that?
From my own NDEs I have come to realise that there are times in our lives that are "entry" and "exit" points. These points in our lives are when we could meet the love of our life or we could lose the love of our life. It can be a time when we could die in an accident or leave the earth early or we may have a near miss where we are allowed to stay. These cycles in our life were chosen by our soul before we came to the earth. Each of these cycles are a part of our spiritual journey. What is most important to remember is that nothing is set in stone. We do all have free will and it is up to us as to what experience or event we choose to go through in life.

What happens to the spirits of the perpetrators of crime? (Page 284 of Never Alone)
The spirit of the perpetrator of a crime, can choose if they wish to go to the light and face their karmic journey. While other perpetrators sometimes choose to stay amongst the negative realms of the spirit world, due to fear or retribution of what they have done.

You mention in Clues From Beyond that residual energy can be left behind in homes when they’re sold. What were the health problems in the house you mentioned on Page 185?

The current owners of Dorothy Davis' old home have suffered from many health issues. I don't want to go into details.

I have a question from a Carpe Librum reader: you’ve worked on several famous Australian cold cases, have you ever received messages from spirit on the whereabouts of missing boy William Tyrell?
I have been asked about William Tyrell many, many times. William's disappearance is an extremely sad case. I have not been asked by police to assist. It is important to remember there are 1000s of missing and murdered people in Australia and throughout the world. I am only one person and I donate my time to working on cases as well as working full-time as a medium and an author. There is not enough time in the day for me to assist on every case. I only put my time and energy into cases where the information will be utilised by the relevant officers.

What’s the significance of the medallion you wear around your neck?
The pendant I think you are talking about is the one with feather and the word believe. This is a piece of jewellery I designed myself. It is my mantra. To believe is to acknowledge that life lives on and that anything is possible. The feather represents the signs from above that many of us receive from our loved ones and guardian angels.

What are you working on next?
I have a new set of Guardian Angel Reading Cards and a new book (yet to be named) both coming out in May next year.

Thanks Debbie, I'll be sure to check out your book next year. Visit Debbie's website for more info.

22 August 2017

Review: Sex, Lies, and Handwriting by Michelle Dresbold

Is handwriting analysis a science or not? Is it legit or is it bullshit? Many believe it's a pseudo science despite it being used to solve many crimes, but I wanted to decide for myself. After reading Sex, Lies, and Handwriting - A Top Expert Reveals the Secrets Hidden in Your Handwriting by Michelle Dresbold, I'm convinced that it's definitely legit.

The direction your writing slants, whether your letters have lead in strokes or even how hard you dot your 'i's' are all clues to your personality, character and even your upbringing. It's fascinating really.

The case study of the ransom letter in the JonBenet Ramsey case was riveting (and proves it was written by JonBenet's mother Patsy) as was the analysis of many famous signatures. I'm not sure I believe the analysis right down to the weapon strokes, and I don't think I'll be able to remember all the strokes to look for, but I enjoyed seeing how handwriting analysis can prove a signature is forged or how writing can be proven to have come from the same person.

I also enjoyed the case studies and exercises provided in the book, and it certainly made me look at my own writing in a whole new light.

Recommended reading for skeptics, forensic enthusiasts and readers of true crime.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!