24 April 2014

Review: Working Stiff - Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner | Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley*

Judy Melinek, M.D spent two years working and training as a Forensic Pathologist at the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Working Stiff is her memoir of this period in her career.

Melinek takes us through many real cases, including: accidents, murders, suicides, death from natural causes and more.  She worked the sorting tables throughout the September 11 recovery and gives a touching yet harrowing account of the process of finding human remains, cataloguing them and returning them to family; anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones.

Working Stiff reads like an intimate conversation with Melinek.  Every time I had a question, she answered it, and it felt like she was telling me about her work as we passed the time on a long car trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Judy's husband T.J. Mitchell has an English degree from Harvard and is a stay-at-home Dad.  Why he's listed as a co-author on Working Stiff is beyond me.  Presumably Mitchell read and edited many drafts of Working Stiff for his wife while it was being written, but don't many partners and spouses do this?  He even had his own acknowledgements, argh!!

This was a minor sticking point though, and I thoroughly recommend Working Stiff - Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner to those who enjoy forensics and are genuinely interested in the work of Medical Examiners.

Best memoir of the year for me!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

22 April 2014

Please vote for me in the Best Australian Blogs 2014 People's Choice Award

For the first time ever, my site, Carpe Librum is a Nominee in the Best Australian Blogs 2014 Competition.

The competition is run every year by the Australian Writers' Centre and blogs of every genre are nominated (e.g. books and reading, cooking, travel, sport etc.)

I've never asked you to vote for me before but it would mean the world if you voted for Carpe Librum in this competition.  Voting is open now and closes on Monday 5 May at 5pm.  There are 962 blogs in the running, but they're listed alphabetically so it's super easy to find Carpe Librum.

Please click here to vote online for Carpe Librum, and any other favourite bookish sites you follow and show your support for Australian blogs.

Thanking you in advance and happy voting!

16 April 2014

Review: Jane Austen: Her Complete Novels in One Sitting | Jennifer Kasius

I received this adorable little volume (smaller than a post-it note) as a gift from my nephew.  He lives in the UK, making this little gift even more special.

Surprisingly for a book-lover, I haven't read any Jane Austen yet, and I was keen to find out more in Jane Austen - Her Complete Novels in One Sitting by Jennifer Kasius.

I started taking this book to appointments (physio, OPSM etc.) and it certainly drew attention from others, but it took me well over one sitting to get through it.  

Broken down with lists of characters and summary of plot, this little gem covered six Austen novels.  The novels were all about romance, marrying within your station and the plot summaries expounded incredibly dull novels.

As a result of reading Jane Austen - Her Complete Novels in One Sitting, I'm no longer keen to read Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, both of which have been on my TBR list for over 3 years.  This being the case, I think this miniature book has failed to pique my interest as a reader, but I will always love it for sentimental reasons, and think of my gorgeous nephew whenever I see it.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

14 April 2014

Review: Through The Cracks | Honey Brown

Advanced copy of Through The Cracks
by Honey Brown
* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room and Penguin Australia *

After reading and reviewing a handful of 3 star rated books, I can't tell you the feeling of relief and expectation picking up an advanced copy of Honey Brown's new thriller Through The Cracks.

Without a doubt the hero of the book is Adam Vander, growing up with an extremely abusive father in suburban Sydney.  Made to feel unwanted and different, his home life shifts when Adam becomes old enough and strong enough to fight back.  His life is flipped on its head though when he meets Billy.

Through The Cracks is a psychological thriller written by one of Australia's best writers in the genre, Honey Brown.  Through The Cracks peers into the dark corners of child abuse, and shines a light on the scum and their motivations for cruelty against children.

Although the subject matter is dark, much is left to the reader to imagine; there is no depravity for depravity's sake.  I read 
Through The Cracks during the week Daniel Morcombe's killer was sentenced and this certainly influenced my reading of the novel.  It made me understand that although this is a novel, unfortunately there are depraved pedophiles in our community and we need to do everything we can to protect our children.

So, how does it end? Well, I'll leave that for you to discover, but I can tell you the revelation about Adam's identity was so well written I'd recommend this novel based on that 'twist' alone.

Highly recommended for fans of crime and psychological suspense and readers who love reading Australian authors.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

N.B  Through The Cracks will be published at the end of this month.

02 April 2014

Review: The Silversmith's Wife | Sophia Tobin

* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room *

Set in 1792, The Silversmith's Wife takes place in London's Berkeley Square and is Sophia Tobin's first novel.

Pierre Renard is an ambitious silversmith found by the night watchman with his throat slashed and his belongings stolen, much to the shock of his wife Mary.

I was immediately drawn to The Silversmith's Wife with its gorgeous cover and the hope of finding out more about the night watchmen of London during this era.  When I read At Day's Close - A History of Nighttime by A. Roger Ekirch I was enthralled by the 'night watch' whose job it was to patrol the streets, apprehend criminals or thieves, watch for signs of fire and call out the time.

The night watchman in The Silversmith's Wife was a dark and intriguing character, but I was just begging him to call out the time or an 'All's Well' but sadly he never did.

However, what I did find was a story centred around Mary and a few central characters in what I would call a character based (rather than action based) whodunnit.  It was interesting (and frustrating) to read how Mrs Renard was treated - both as a wife and a widow - and the several characters who had motive to kill the pompous Pierre Renard.

The Silversmith's Wife captured the life and times of London in the 1790s very well although I would have loved more detail on the art of making and producing the pieces of silver described in the novel.

Readers are not left hanging in this whodunnit with a timely confession at the end that I didn't see coming.  An enjoyable read.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

28 March 2014

Review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste | Valerie Martin

Historical Fact
The Mary Celeste was a merchant ship and on 5 December 1872 it was discovered abandoned in calm waters in the Indian Ocean and sailing towards the Strait of Gibraltar.

There was no sign of the crew despite plenty of food and water on board and no signs of foul play; although one of the lifeboats was missing.  The crew's personal belongings and valuables were undisturbed and their disappearance is one of the greatest maritime mysteries in the world.

When I first learned about the publication of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin, I was over the moon ecstatic!  The mystery of the Mary Celeste has fascinated me for years and I couldn't wait to find out how the author would tackle the mystery.  Would she provide an answer to the mystery? Would she suggest pirates, mutiny, drunkenness or some other calamity? I couldn't wait to find out and my expectations were sky high.

My review
This isn't a novel about the Mary Celeste so much as a novel about characters related to the crew members of the ship.  Those expecting a novel documenting the ship at sea with the climax of the crew's disappearance and perhaps subsequent enquiry are in for a major disappointment.  

We hear from Sarah, the Captain's wife aboard the Mary Celeste at the time of the ship's demise.  We also hear from Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned a make believe account of the Mary Celeste a few years after the mystery, heightening the popularity of the maritime mystery and increasing his own notoriety.

The novel includes a great deal about spiritualism of the era, spearheaded by renowned medium and clairvoyant Violet Petra who is being investigated by reporter Phoebe.  Violet's lifestyle and lonely existence was fascinating however I was frustrated by the weak link to the Mary Celeste.

I also read The Ghost of the Mary Celeste during the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 which further heightened my senses for the mysterious and unexplained.  

The ill-fated Mary Celeste
Despite this historical novel being very well researched it failed to meet even my modest expectations.  I've since concluded that I was yearning for a different book; one that hones in on the mystery, the ship's curse and takes the reader through their version of what happened.

As such, it pains me to admit, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste was an average read for me.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

26 March 2014

Review: Big Brother | Lionel Shriver

Pandora is a successful businesswoman, married to Fletcher and step mother to his two children.  In the last few years Fletcher has become a health nut, heavily into cycling. Meanwhile Pandora loves to cook and once ran her own catering business so Fletcher's aversion to food is getting on her nerves.

Pandora's brother Edison is a jazz musician and when she learns he's been experiencing a run of bad luck she agrees to let him stay with her family for a while.  When Pandora arrives at the airport to pick him up she's shocked to find her once handsome brother is now morbidly obese and can barely walk.

Fletcher (health fanatic) and Edison (foodaholic) inevitably clash and what ensues is a fascinating look at family dynamics, social etiquette and relationship loyalties.

Check out this blurb excerpt from GoodReads:

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.  Source: GoodReads

I was gripped by the characters and the plot although there was an overload of jazz content at times, forgivable because it's all Edison talks about.  Lionel Shriver had me in the palm of her hand until an unexpected turn towards the last quarter of the novel.

Without spoiling it, the change in direction left this reader feeling betrayed and a little cross.  Would I recommend Big Brother to other readers after this?  Maybe not, but am I glad I read it? Definitely.  This swing in my enjoyment levels makes it hard for me to give Big Brother a star rating, but I've settled on 'good read'.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!