12 August 2018

Review: The Name of Death by Klester Cavalcanti

RRP $29.99 AUD
Published 24 April 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Klester Cavalcanti is a top investigative journalist in Brazil and The Name of Death is the result of more than seven years spent interviewing the Brazilian hitman guilty of killing 492 people.

Told in a narrative non-fiction style, Julio Santana is 17 years old when his story opens with his first 'kill' in 1971.

What unfolds from there is a true crime account of Santana's life which is informative, eye-opening and sad. What I found immensely frustrating though was a jump in the timeframe of 20 years or so, which means we missed an important part of his life which included meeting and marrying his wife and having children.

Julio Santana's story then finishes in 2006 with no update to tell the reader what he's been up to these past 12 years.

These major gaps in Julio Santana's life made his story feel disjointed, and having been so invested in his teenage years, I wanted to know how he was living his life now.

The Name of Death by Klester Cavalcanti is recommended for fans of the true crime genre.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

07 August 2018

Review: The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady

RRP $29.99 AUD
Published 24 April 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I can totally understand why The Yellow House by Australian author Emily O'Grady won The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award this year. Just, wow!

The Yellow House is narrated by ten year old Cub and we soon get to know her twin brother Wally, older brother Cassie and her Mum and Dad through her eyes. Cub's late Grandfather Les is known to have committed terrible crimes in the past and their family is still carrying the scars generations later.

Superbly written, the setting, characters and dialogue are uniquely Australian in a refreshing and down to earth style I haven't seen before. Here's an example from page 12:

"Her hair was almost the colour of Cheezels, ..."

And an earlier example from page 11:

"She held on to Mum's elbow, which I knew would embarrass Mum because her elbows were dry as scones."

The novel is incredibly evocative of growing up in rural Australia, complete with swimming in the dam, buying lollies from the local shop and riding bikes to school.

The Yellow House is an exploration of family dynamics, loyalty and secrets through the eyes of the youngest child. It's also a novel about community grudges and whether evil can be inherited or not.

Although the novel has a resolution of sorts, I was left with at least 20 questions at the end and wanting to know more. The novel is narrated by Cub so I guess we're left with what she has managed to figure out, leaving many aspects of the relationships between the characters and several events unanswered. I'm still thinking about it days after finishing it. Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

01 August 2018

Review: A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

* Copy courtesy of Ventura Press *

Science fiction meets historical fiction in A Superior Spectre by debut Australian author Angela Meyer.

In the near future Jeff is dying from an un-named medical condition and seeks solace to suffer and die alone in his shame. But he's not completely alone, as he takes a companion android and a piece of technology that allows him to see through the eyes of a person in history. Jeff is an unlikeable protagonist, and I didn't warm to him or his plight at all but I think that's the point.

Jeff forms a connection with Leonora, a young woman living in the Scottish Highlands who is slowly becoming a woman and is sent to live with her Aunt in Edinburgh. We experience Leonora's life through Jeff's experiences and I found her chapters the most compelling.

I have to disagree with the promotion for this novel as blending “the historical richness of Outlander with the powerful dystopian feminism of Margaret Atwood”.

I don't see anything of Outlander in this novel. There is no romance between the characters, and if anything, Leonora believes she is cursed or possessed when she becomes aware of Jeff's presence. The only tenuous link between the two is time travel, but our protagonist doesn't actually time travel, he just witnesses chunks of time in Leonora's life. Outlander travels back in time to Scotland in the 1740s, and Leonora is living in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1860s, so this comparison is misleading.

I also didn't find this novel to be dystopian or feminist so have no idea why it's being compared to the writing of Margaret Atwood. My guess is that this novel is hard to categorise or pigeonhole and that's a good thing. It should be able to stand on its own and comparing it to popular works in this way actually does the reader a disservice.

Being a fan of historical fiction, I wasn't surprised to find myself wrapped up in Leonora's story and wishing she had a book of her own. I was fascinated by the group of like-minded people Leonora stumbles across and definitely wanted more of this. I could easily have done without Jeff and his selfish behaviour, although the android assistant/companion aspect was interesting. 

A Superior Spectre is recommended for readers interested in a science fiction meets historical fiction mash-up.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

31 July 2018

Blogging for the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival

I'm beyond excited to announce that I'm one of the bloggers for the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival this year. It was such a thrill to be asked to write about my top 5 reads for the MWF18, along with five other Melbourne based bloggers. My article was published today, and you can read it here, or enjoy reading it below.*

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba
Majok Tulba fled his Sudanese village and came to Australia in 2001 at the age of 16, unable to read or write but a natural storyteller. In 2012 Majok published Beneath the Darkening Sky; a fictionalised story of what might have happened if he’d been forced to become a child soldier. It was an incredibly moving read and this month his second novel When Elephants Fight has been published. 

Before picking this up or seeing Majok at the festival, I recommend reading Beneath the Darkening Sky first. You will definitely be inspired.

Floating Gold: The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Natural Substance in the World by Christopher Kemp
Marine biologist Micheline Jenner is an expert on whales and has a book out called The Secret Life of Whales. Before seeing Micheline at the Festival, I recommend you read Floating Gold by Christopher Kemp. 

I’ve always been fascinated by whales and ambergris in particular; the waxy substance found only in the intestines of sperm whales. Ambergris is incredibly valuable and is used as a fixative in the perfume industry. Reading Floating Gold will enhance your knowledge of whales, after which you’ll be primed to enjoy a session with Micheline Jenner.

The Long and Winding Way to the Top: Fifty (or so) Songs That Made Australia by Andrew P Street
I love music, and I’m currently reading The Long and Winding Way to the Top by Andrew P Street in readiness for the Festival. The author has selected 50 or so songs that made Australia and has carefully researched each one, presenting them in chronological order. 

I’ll admit not knowing every song listed, while rushing off to listen to old favourites with renewed zeal and appreciation for their back stories. We all have an opinion on music, so be sure to read this prior to his event so you can decide if he got it right or not.

Signs From Spirit: Inspiring True Stories from the Afterlife by Mitchell Coombes I love reading books by psychic mediums including: Lisa Williams, Allison DuBois, Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh and John Edward. I’ve also read books by Australian mediums – including Debbie Malone – and this year I learned about renowned Australian psychic medium Mitchell Coombes. 

Mitchell comes from a long family line of psychics, gave his first reading aged just three. I want to read his latest book Signs From Spirit and will be trying to get along to Mitchell’s event to experience his amazing work with spirit in person.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 – A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to Her Books by Annie Spence
If you’re reading this, you’re obviously a dedicated bookworm, booklover and bibliophile. My favourite bookish book this year is Dear Fahrenheit 451. Annie Spence is an experienced librarian and this is a collection of letters to books as well as cleverly curated booklists for all occasions. 

I instantly fell in love with Annie’s witty and natural writing style and you don’t need to have read the books mentioned in order to enjoy it. Although Annie isn’t appearing in this year’s program, I chose this book because it’s guaranteed to invigorate and energise your love of books and writing across all genres, the perfect preparation for a writers festival.

* This blog article was originally published on the Melbourne Writers Festival blog on 31 July 2018 and the festival is on from 24 August - 2 September 2018.

27 July 2018

Review: Lies by TM Logan

RRP $29.99
Published June 2017
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Published a year ago now, Lies by TM Logan was a brilliant psychological thriller and I ripped through it. Joe is happily married and his son spots his wife's car entering a hotel car park on their way home. Joe follows on impulse to surprise her, but soon discovers his life is based on a web of lies.

Joe Lynch is a terrific protagonist and I was cheering him on as he made smart choices and really felt for him when he let his heart rule his head. The pace is quick and the situation unfolding was tense which compelled me to keep reading and reading.

The novel was a 5 star read for me up until the very end and I guess it's fair to say I wasn't entirely happy with the denouement or the 'big reveal'. I didn't see it coming which was refreshing and couldn't see it ending any other way, but still wasn't 100% satisfied with the way it all turned out.

Lies by TM Logan was a gripping read and I recommend it to crime and thriller fans everywhere. Author TM Logan has already released his next novel 29 Seconds and it's available now.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

23 July 2018

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I can't tell you how much I loved this book. I wasn't sure it was for me, but I'm soooo glad I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineI know I'm late to the party; this debut by Gail Honeyman was published last year and has won several awards, including the 2018 Costa Debut Novel Award.

Eleanor is a troubled and solitary woman in her late 20s with a complex past and few social skills. Working in an office job, she has a set routine and her interactions with others were often cuttingly funny (she has no filter).

Eleanor struck a chord with me on the very first page and I can't think of a single character like her in all my reading history. I was cheering her on from the sidelines and revelled in her small victories along with way. Her unintentional wit and view of the world made her endearing and at other times my heart ached for her loneliness and dark past.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a brilliant novel and I highly recommend it. The film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon so fingers crossed Eleanor comes to the big screen soon.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. If you have any suggestions on the perfect actress to play Eleanor Oliphant in the movie adaptation, let me know in the comments below.

18 July 2018

Review: Australia's Most Unbelievable True Stories by Jim Haynes

RRP $22.99 AUD
Published 27 June 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Australian entertainer, broadcaster, historian and recipient of the Order of Australia Medal in 2016, Jim Haynes has a new offering in Australia's Most Unbelievable True Stories.

The book is broken down into four distinct parts:
- Stranger Than Fiction
- Royal Visitors Beware!
- Lest We Forget
- Those Magnificent Women and Men

My favourite story in the entire book was the non-fatal shooting of Prince Alfred in Sydney in 1867 and the colourful detail from the Sydney Mail newspaper at the time. It had me in absolute stitches. I'd never heard of the incident and I'm sure to re-visit this in the future, it's just so outlandish and funny.

However I didn't find the sections in the Lest We Forget part of the book to be 'unbelievable' true stories and found the military history heavy going. I was under the impression this was a humourous and light read, but the history is thorough and obviously well researched.

Having recently read and thoroughly enjoyed 1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted (another Allen & Unwin title), the stories here felt a little too long and some of them were just interesting, not unbelievable.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

12 July 2018

Review: The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

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

Lillian marries Charles Oberon at the age of 26 and becomes mistress of Cloudesley, a manor house in the Chilterns. Now quite elderly, Lillian's story unfolds in a series of flashbacks.

Maggie comes back to Cloudesley to care for her Grandmother Lillian and is forced to face the repercussions and shame of her own actions a year or so ago.

I flew through The Peacock Summer and felt as though it was written just for me. Don't you love it when that happens? The pacing was perfect without any dull periods and the writing was so atmospheric I could almost hear the peacocks in the garden with Lillian and trace my finger through the dusty rooms along with Maggie.

The Peacock Summer is definitely for fans of Kate Morton and those who enjoy historical fiction. Highly recommended. I'm just sad it's over.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

06 July 2018

Review: 1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson & James Harkin

RRP $17.99AUD
Published 24 April 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

All 1,342 facts in this book come from the BBC show QI and it was a very enlightening, informative and entertaining read. I read their earlier book 1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop in 2015 and it was just as engaging.

I loved being able to check the references for the facts online by visiting the QI website and entering the relevant page number. Despite sometimes slowing down my reading progress, I just had to know more about some of the facts listed in the book. Here are some of my favourites:

Making all the chain mail for The Lord of the Rings wore the costume designers' fingerprints away. Page 18

Each archer at the Battle of Agincourt had three arrows in the air at any given moment. Page 48

From 1850 to 1880, over 3,000 English women died after their skirts caught fire. Page 54

Tartle is an old Scottish word for the moment of panic when you're about to introduce someone and realise you've forgotten their name. Page 126

Roald Dahl, Noel Coward, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Harry Houdini and Christopher Lee all worked as spies. Page 163

121 bell-ringers were killed by lightning in Germany between 1750 and 1783, due to a belief that church bells drove away storms. Page 250

1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted is the perfect book to take with you in your handbag/manbag/backpack or briefcase and is super easy to read when you want something engaging to occupy a few minutes.

Highly recommended for trivia buffs, know-it-alls and curious readers of all ages.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

03 July 2018

Review: The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse is an epic tale of a family in mid 1500s France set against the backdrop of the civil unrest between the Catholics and Huguenots.

This is quite a hefty tome coming in at over 580 pages and while I don't mind a chunky read every now and again, I did find this one a little too long. I wanted the main character to spend more time at her father's bookshop and felt a little robbed when that was just a kicking off point to her story.

Containing a mystery and a love story amongst the turbulent political setting, the writing was evocative but sometimes a little repetitive (e.g. the word pernicious appears twice on page 123). The period seemed to be excellently researched though and those with an interest in the French Wars of Religion will thoroughly enjoy this historical fiction novel.

Overall I found it a good but slow moving story with the convergence of the characters at the end a little unrealistic. The Burning Chambers is the first in a series with the second novel The City of Tears due for publication in 2020. I'm pretty sure fans of Ken Follett will enjoy this series.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

28 June 2018

Review: The Story of Shit by Midas Dekkers

* Copy courtesy of Text Publishing *

I have a casual interest in the human body (two months ago I reviewed The Wonder Down Under) and when I learned there was a book about the personal, cultural, scientific, historical and environmental aspects of shit, I was hooked.

The Story of Shit is by biologist and writer Midas Dekkers and was translated from Dutch to English by Nancy Forest-Flier. Dekkers was able to impart a lot of interesting information on the topic, however it came along with wayyyyy too much emphasis on the joy of defecation and the underrated nature of human excrement.

Just some of the irrelevant and distasteful opinions shared included: defecating being not too dissimilar to childbirth, defecation should be revered in the same way a person appreciates a fine meal, the disappointment in not being able to detect the messages in dog faeces and so on.

The inclusion of two thoroughly inappropriate comments in relation to female genitalia definitely cost this book a star or two. Here's the first one, you be the judge.

"Everyone guards their throat like a virgin guards her vagina. Whether it's dubious food or a dubious guy, it's all about preserving the body's integrity. Forcing something unpleasant on someone bears a suspiciously strong resemblance to rape. The most important difference is that there's a set of teeth behind the lips of the mouth which victims of sexual assault might have found helpful - behind their other set of lips, of course." Page 9 

What the actual hell was that?

While there were some informative sections of the book (the section on disgust was memorable, and the historical section describing enema parties in the French court during the time of Louis XIV was excellent) the final chapter was so offensive it made me regret the time I spent reading this book. I don't say this lightly either, see below.

"How a tongue can end up in an anus is anybody's guess." Page 247

"The penis seems to have been created for penetration of the rectum. It's shaped like a turd and has approximately the same dimensions." And this: "A man is lucky. He has a penis and an anus, which means he can mount and be mounted." Page 248

"Anyone who appreciates the fun of sex automatically discovers the pleasures that shit and pee have to offer." Page 249

Ummm, no they don't. I'll grant you that some do, but if Dekkers is that turned on by faeces, perhaps he should have written a different book. I thought The Story of Shit was desperately in need of its own enema via a few rounds of serious editing. It's not often I take issue with a translation either, but I did notice several occasions where the translation let the author down.

Ultimately, The Story of Shit by Midas Dekkers was a crap read; pun intended. The interesting and informative content of the book was quickly overshadowed by inappropriate content and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Those curious can read the entire first chapter in a generous sample here.

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!

26 June 2018

Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Children's Books *

This children's picture book by Shaun Tan is about Cicada, who is employed in an office as a data entry clerk and is under-appreciated and bullied in the workplace.

I instantly felt for Cicada and was astonished at how quickly I became caught up and invested in his work/life circumstances. The illustrations and minimalist accompanying text are simple yet surprisingly moving. This is an exploration of bullying within the corporate environment and I think many readers - regardless of age - will readily identify with the themes of loneliness, belonging and transformation.

The only reason this wasn't a five star read for me was the ending. I just didn't get it! I've read it over and over and just don't understand why they laugh at the end.

Shaun Tan is an acclaimed Australian creator of picture books for children and Cicada is his latest release. This delightfully presented hardback contains moving artwork and splendidly evocative end papers and Cicada is a character I won't forget any time soon.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

21 June 2018

Review: Geek Ink - The World's Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists and Intellectuals from the creators of Inkstinct

Published 1 March 2018, RRP $32.99AUD
Imprint: Race Point Publishing
* Copy courtesy of Murdoch Books *

I love tattoos and while I only have one, I've been considering the acquisition of another for quite a while. I'd love to celebrate my love of literature in the form of a tattoo, but can never settle on a quote or image I love enough to have inked on my body. So it was with high hopes that I picked up a copy of Geek Ink by the creators of Inkstinct.

As the title suggests, it's full of The World's Smartest Tattoos for Rebels, Nerds, Scientists and Intellectuals, so I thought it'd be right up my alley and full of tattoos to fall in love with.

The artist bios in the front were fantastic, although the repeating design on the lead page was a little frustrating given the visual nature of the book and the quality of the artwork and photographs inside.

In my opinion, there wasn't anywhere near enough variety in the style and genre of gallery tattoos. Having said that, if you were looking for a Star Wars or Harry Potter inspired tattoo, you'd be overwhelmed with choices, with a total of 23 Star Wars tattoos and 14 Harry Potter tattoos featured throughout the book.

The primary reason for disappointment though was the complete lack of a section for quotes or script tattoos. There was a Literature chapter that contained only 6 tattoos and there was only one quote tattoo in the entire book. And you guessed it, it was a quote from Star Wars

Geeks, nerds and intellectuals love their quotes, so to include a tonne of botanical and geometric tattoos to the complete exclusion of the written word was a real let down for me. In fact, the Animals chapter included an entire section for Proboscidea (elephant) tattoos that took up the same amount of space in the book as the entire Literature section.

Geek Ink clearly has a wealth of talent all over the world to choose from, but I'd have preferred more variety in the artwork presented in this collection.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

18 June 2018

Review: Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones

* Copy courtesy of HarperCollins Australia *

Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones is an Australian novel that accurately depicts the dialogue and country lifestyle in a small town in a way that often reminded me of a Tim Winton novel. Set one year after a bushfire devastated the small mountain community, Ache is about family, community, grief and recovery. The regeneration and recovery of the environment and wildlife is just as important as that of individual community members. Readers will also enjoy the way in which main character Annie's vocation as a vet is incorporated in the story.

I loved the setting of the novel, the juxtaposition of country and city and the individual growth and development of the main characters, however, being a primarily character-driven novel it did leave me wanting a little more from the plot.

Eliza Henry-Jones is a talented and accomplished writer living in the Yarra Valley in Victoria and with a new YA novel out this year called P is For Pearl, has certainly made her mark.

I recommend Ache for any reader wanting to discover an uplifting and uniquely Australian novel and explore life in a rural community recovering from a trauma.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

12 June 2018

Interview with Ged Gillmore, author of the Bill Murdoch Mystery series

Australian author Ged Gillmore
Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming Australian author Ged Gillmore to Carpe Librum. Ged is the author of the Bill Murdoch Mystery crime series. 

Welcome Ged, and congratulations on publishing the third novel in your Bill Murdoch Mystery crime series. For readers who haven’t read your books yet, how would you describe the series?
I’d say it’s a very Australian cross between hard-boiled noir and classic crime novel. I love Murdoch’s bitter pommie cynicism, but a lot of readers seem drawn towards the Aussie optimism of his unlikely sidekick Davie Simms.

What can you tell us about your writing process? Where do you do most of your writing? Do you plan your novels in advance or does the narrative unfold as you go?

I work at my desk at home, which takes real self-discipline when there can be so many distractions. I’m a huge planner. That’s my favourite part of the process actually – working out who would do what to whom, how and why. But within that the writing has to be organic. It really is amazing the way a character or a story line can suddenly surprise you and yet make complete sense. Just like life really.

As a crime writer, what’s the strangest research you’ve undertaken?
The honest answer would be a complete spoiler for Base Nature I’m afraid, but anything to do with guns gets you in touch with some, er, ‘interesting’ people very quickly. It’s actually quite shocking how easy it is, when you’re in the States, to get your hands on some pretty powerful weaponry. Not nice. I prefer the autopsy sites that tell me in detail what would and wouldn’t happen if someone was, for example, run over. I used to work for the police in Britain and nothing can compare with that of course. I saw some stuff there that I wouldn’t believe if I heard described.

I love the photo of you (above) standing in front of a well-stocked and somewhat chaotic bookshelf. What kind of books will we find in there?
Yes, I love an eclectic mix of books. On my shelves you’d typically find a range of intelligent and well-written page turners. Books you want to finish because of more than just the plot. Lots of John le Carre, Peter Temple, Alan Furst, Sarah Waters, Eric Ambler, Graham GreenAnd a guilty pleasure or two: Raffles and Sherlock Holmes. 

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just started The Woman In The Window. Very impressed by AJ Finn’s early hooks and slow burning questions. The trouble with being a crime writer, though, is that you notice the little details which later on have to be important or they would have been edited out. Unless, of course, he’s fooled me…

What is your secret reading pleasure? 
I could happily read nothing but Alan FurstJohn le Carre and Raymond Chandler again and again and again…

What was the last truly great book that you read? 
The Power by Naomi Alderman. Clever, thrilling, a great concept, raised lots of important questions, and very shocking.

What book do you wish you’d written?
Whatever book I’m currently working on. Then it would be done! But I’m a big admirer of Barbara Kingsolver. The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favourite books. If we’re talking crime, then anything by Raymond Chandler. Or for smart thrillers, The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre is passionate and persuasive.

What's next? Do you have anything in the pipeline at the moment?
I’m currently working on a stand alone spy thriller.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just a huge thank you for having me and please let your readers know I’m always happy to chat on Instagram. And, if there are any budding writers out there, Just Do It. A writer is a person who writes - there is no other definition.

Thanks for joining us Ged and good luck with your stand alone thriller. Find out more about Ged Gillmore at his website www.gedgillmore.com 

06 June 2018

Review: Dear Fahrenheit 451 - A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to Her Books by Annie Spence

RRP $24.99 AUD
Published 12 March 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I have a new author crush and it's Annie Spence, the librarian and author behind Dear Fahrenheit 451 - A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to Her Books.

Presented in a sublime Demy sized hard cover (216mm x 135mm) with a sublime soft touch / super matt lamination dust jacket, this hardback is a sheer pleasure to hold in your hands. You might even want to stroke it as you admire the stunning gold on black design, but you certainly won't want to stuff it into your handbag or backpack. Anyway, back to the book.

Annie Spence is an experienced librarian and here she writes a variety of letters to different books. Some are her favourite books of all time, others she can't stand and some she discovers while weeding the stacks. The letters are witty and engaging and I 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.

The chapters at the end were just as inspiring and included 'Good Books with Bad Covers', 'Books That Lead to More Books' and 'Books for the Lazy, the Lively, the Long-Winded, and the Lethargic' to mention just a few. I also adored the list of excuses to avoid social outings so you can stay home and read.

Thoroughly original and full of bookish humour, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the perfect read for any book-lover and I'm recommending it to bibliophiles everywhere. Seek it out at your local bookshop and I challenge you not to fall in love with it and buy a copy for yourself or a loved one.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

02 June 2018

Review: Giftwrapped by Jane Means

I love to wrap gifts and presents at Christmas but I wouldn't say I was terribly good at it. I love paper and stationery, gift tags, washi tape and ribbon, and never fail to drool over the wrapalicious tutorials and giftwrapping how-to videos online.

There's also the joy of wrapping a gift I've carefully chosen and looking forward to the time the recipient opens and - fingers crossed - enjoys what they find inside. It's so exciting and my favourite part of Christmas.

When I saw Giftwrapped: Practical and Inventive Ideas for All Occasions and Celebrations by Jane Means on sale at a discount store, I couldn't resist. It's the sort of book I love to flip through and the photographs are wonderful. The book is full of mood boards and inspirational techniques, as well as some instructions on how to achieve the same results yourself at home.

Jane Means used to be a florist and this skill makes her a mean wrapping machine, and is no doubt the reason behind her success as a professional wrapper for celebrities, Royals and big name department stores. If only I had a tenth of her talent, I'd be set.

My only criticism is the repeated referral to using expensive accessories like silk scarfs, costume jewellery or wallpaper remnants. I don't know about you, but here in Australia it's expensive stuff to buy. I would have liked advice on how to use foil wrapping paper and how to tszuj tissue paper like a boss florist.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

28 May 2018

Review: Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader

* Copy courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers *

Book of Colours is an historical fiction novel by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader and is set in London's Paternoster Row in the 1320s. A noblewoman has commissioned the creation of a book of hours - a decorated medieval manuscript - and the novel is about the stationer's shop lucky enough to secure the valuable commission and the people who illuminate the pages.

This book was right up my alley as I've always been fascinated by illuminated manuscripts and amazed when precious documents like these survive the centuries and ravages of time.

Sometimes a book comes along at the right moment and at the time I was reading Book of Colours I was also undertaking an online course about England in the time of Richard III. I was completing a unit called Books, Literacy and Printing which included some amazing information on medieval scripts and illuminated manuscripts which greatly enhanced my enjoyment of this novel.

Some of you might remember I reviewed Robyn Cadwallader's first novel The Anchoress back in 2015 and her skill in bringing a period of history to life in vivid detail is repeated here. Art lovers will enjoy the intricacies of illuminating the manuscript, the myriad choices regarding decoration and borders and the processes involved to produce each of the colour pigments used in the delicate work.

The novel is also about the political turmoil of the time, and the importance of books like these to assist in prayer.

Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader satisfied my curiosity with regard to the creation of illuminated manuscripts and I highly recommend it.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

23 May 2018

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is about A.J. Fikry who owns and lives above a bookshop on an island. Containing ample references to books and authors, this has been a favourite of book-lovers since it was released in 2013, but I only had a lukewarm response to it.

At times it read like a cozy mystery (baby left in the bookstore) and I didn't really care terribly much about A.J.'s journey through life, finding the supporting characters of Maya, Amelia and the Chief far more compelling.

The highlight for me was when A.J. tells a new sales rep what kinds of books he likes. He finds it easier to tell her what he doesn't like, and it really cracked me up. I enjoyed reading it several times over.
“Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be - basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful - nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, you needn’t tell me about the ‘next big series’ until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Above all, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I’ll sell on Mother’s Day.”
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is recommended for book-lovers and anyone who has ever nurtured a desire at some point to live in a bookshop. Let's face it, that's most of us isn't it?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

21 May 2018

Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

It's been a while since I've read a good gothic ghost story and The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is just what I needed.

The historical novel opens with Elsie in a mental institution, mute and driven crazy by the events that took place at her late husband's estate. She is encouraged to remember what happened by her treating Doctor, and the reader is privy to her re-telling.

Elsie arrived at The Bridge in 1865 as a widow, only to bury her husband in the local churchyard before he had a chance to renovate the crumbling property for her arrival.

Alternating between Elsie in the mental institution trying to remember the horror that lead to her being committed, are diary entries from 1635 written by the previous mistress of the household at The Bridge.

The silent companions of the title are dummy boards (flat paintings on wood shaped to look like real people) which were a 'thing' in Victorian England. Painted to look real, they were employed as decoration or perhaps even to trick or frighten visitors. In this novel Elsie finds them behind a locked attic door and they soon take on a sinister nature, inexplicably turning up in various parts of the house, and re-appearing even after being burned to ashes.

Stories in both time periods (1800s and 1600s) are captivating and the isolated setting and gloomy atmosphere adds to the tension in this Victorian ghost story. I should also mention that I'm in love with this stunning cover and I'm reluctant to shelve the book because I won't be able to enjoy the cover design anymore.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is a stimulating and spooky gothic ghost story and I highly recommend it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

16 May 2018

Review: Bring Me Back by B A Paris

* Copy courtesy of (and published by) HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Books *

Bring Me Back by B A Paris begins with a cracking start and I was immediately drawn into this thriller mystery. Finn's girlfriend Layla disappeared on holiday in France 12 years ago and now Finn is in a relationship with her sister, Ellen.

The question for the reader is whether Finn is guilty of killing Layla or whether she was abducted. When we finally learn the truth, I realised that the character's behaviour up until that point was purposefully misleading. A guilty/innocent person wouldn't behave the way Finn did, and I find intentional misdirection like this slightly irritating.

In the middle to end of the novel I thought there was too much of the second character POV and those sections could have been edited down to improve the pace.

The killer 'twist' at the end was actually a disappointing denouement for me, and I definitely wasn't 'buying it'. I mean, HOW could he not know? It felt like a weak explanation and certainly not in keeping with the cracker beginning and promising plot.

Overall, Bring Me Back was an enjoyable mystery that peaks at the beginning and slowly moves down from there. If it had maintained the level of writing at the beginning, this would easily have been a contender for Top 5 reads of the year. Unfortunately it didn't.

Recommended for crime readers, those who like Russian nesting dolls and reading about relationships between sisters.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Click here to read a FREE sample