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

09 May 2018

Review: Jane Seymour The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir (Six Tudor Queens III)

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Jane Seymour - The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir is the third novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, but just like the previous two, it can easily be read as a stand alone. The book begins in 1518, when Jane is just 10 years old, and takes us through her life, her stations at court, her relationship with Queen Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, falling in love with King Henry VIII and Queen Anne's eventual demise.

Jane is haunted by Anne Boleyn's execution and is acutely aware of the precarious nature of her position at all times. She doesn't challenge Henry and the King seems to love her kind and gentle nature. Jane is a dutiful wife and Queen and works hard to restore the Princess Mary to her rightful place at court.

Jane's family are hungry for power, favour and positions making them no different from the Boleyns. Suffering several miscarriages, Jane is eventually able to give her husband the son he has yearned for - and broken with the Church for - although as we know, it will eventually cost Jane Seymour her life.

Exceptionally written, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this historical fiction account of Jane Seymour's life and didn't find it as provocative as Anne Boleyn - A King's Obsession. It's incredibly unusual for me to give a five star rating to two novels in a series back-to-back, but here it is. It might even be a first, and rightly so; Alison Weir is beginning to emerge as one of my favourite historical fiction authors.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

07 May 2018

Winner of If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win a signed copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken. The combined interview and giveaway turned out to be one of my most popular posts this year. Entries closed at midnight on Sunday 6th May 2018 and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:
Sarahmary will receive an email with the details and will have 7 days to provide her mailing address. Thanks again to Australian author Tim Hawken for donating the prize, you can check out his website here timhawken.com

Carpe Librum!

04 May 2018

Review: The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

What a funny little book! The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent is translated from French and is a short book that packs a punch. Our main character Guylain Vignolles works in a book pulping factory despite loving books. He retrieves a few pages from the machine every day and reads them aloud to commuters each morning on the 6.27am train.

That's the concept, but this quirky little book is really about Guylain's life and two people in it. A friend who lost his legs in an accident at the mill is on a quest to track down every copy of a book printed using the paper pulp produced the day he lost his legs. I loved this relationship between the two men but it was only briefly touched on given the brevity of the book.

The second person - and the highlight of the book - is someone Guylain's never met; the owner of a USB left on the train one morning. The USB contains diary entries from a lavatory attendant and Guylain is moved enough by her writing and her daily observations to track her down. The writing in Julie's diary entries is the real driver of the book, easily eclipsing the other sub-plots and eccentric characters.

I've never read a book like The Reader on the 6.27, and it could easily have been a short story containing just the USB discovery and Guylain tracking down Julie. I recommend this for booklovers and Francophiles; and at only 195 pages in length it won't take you long to read it. Definitely a little something different.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Thanks to Andrea for lending me her copy.

01 May 2018

Interview and Giveaway for If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken

Author Tim Hawken
Today I'm chatting with Australian author Tim Hawken, author of the Hellbound trilogy and If Kisses Cured Cancer, published today. Thanks for joining us Tim.

Tell us about your New Adult novel If Kisses Cured Cancer, and was it inspired by personal experience?
This was by far the longest writing process I’ve had to go through for a novel. It was like trying to wrestle with a ghost you just can’t pin down. The whole thing took almost five years from start to finish, where my previous books were a year at most. Part of that is because while I was writing it, my wife was going through cancer therapy. There was definitely a lot of inspiration drawn from that - her diagnosis was what helped form the idea for the book. I used a lot of the raw emotion, but also the strange silver linings and unexpected funny moments you experience when going through something like that. While the novel is definitely fiction, that ‘write what you know’ route has ended in something I’m really proud of.

What was the hardest part of writing If Kissed Cured Cancer?
Personally it was drawing on those tumultuous emotions you feel when in love with someone who has a terminal illness. It’s tough reliving the first time you found out, or the uncertainty of whether they’ll survive, even if it is weaving that into a different scenario.
RRP $30.00 AUD

Professionally it was the editing process. Because it’s a more personal novel, I found it hard to let things go, where previously I could be really ruthless with parts that weren’t working. I was fortunate to work with a brilliant editor Dmetri Kakmi on that part, which really helped pinpoint the things to ditch and things that needed further exploration. I also wanted to make sure there was some humour in there. That’s how I cope with shitty situations, so it felt right. Plus, who wants to read something that just makes you feel depressed? Not me. Finding that balance was a tough one. You want to give the subject its due, but also keep things entertaining and interesting.

How does journalism differ from writing a novel?
With journalism you’re trying to tell a story using the facts. With fiction you’re trying to tell the truth using a story. You also have more chance to dance and play with ideas when writing novels, where normally with journalism you’re doing your best to be short, snappy and concise.

Having written the Hellbound trilogy (a dark fantasy/horror series), how did you manage the transition from writing horror to something more lit based?
It was surprisingly hard. Characters and psychology are obviously important in speculative fiction, but plot is what often drives the story forward. You’re always looking to twist and turn, excite and terrify. Literature is more people focussed, which can sometimes feel like you’re being boring. I found myself constantly trying to throw physical conflict into scenes which called for a more subtle approach. A concealed knife doesn’t belong where a cutting secret will do.

When do you do your best work? Where do you do most of your writing?
I do my best work in the morning. I’m normally freshest then. Having said that, I won an award for a short story a few years ago that I started writing at midnight, because I couldn’t sleep during a full moon. So, maybe it’s just when I’m focussed and the ideas are running.

I mostly write in my office at home. If I’m traveling, I find planes are a great place to get things done without the distraction of the internet, or ringing phones, or my kids wanting something to eat.

What are some of your favourite books/authors? 
God, so many. Literary fiction, I love True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and Shantaram by Gregory David-Roberts. Haruki Murakami is also great. I like his blend of the real and the imaginary. 

Spec fiction, I love almost anything by Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Ursula K Leguin. I’ve got a massive soft spot for Harry Potter and The Hobbit. There’s an absolutely amazing short-story collection by Angela Carter called The Bloody Chamber that’s perhaps the most stunning example of prose I’ve ever read. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and pick it up. 

Sounds great, I might add it to my TBR. What are you reading at the moment?
Right now I’m listening to Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft on Audible. It’s great drifting into another world when you’re hanging out the washing, or doing the dishes.

Do you have a favourite bookshop in Western Australia?
Hmmm that’s a tough one. There are so many good local stores. I’d have to say Planet Books in Perth though. They have a well-curated range of spec fiction, graphic novels and lit fiction all under one roof.

What book have you always meant to read and haven’t got round to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?
I’ve tried to read In Search of Lost Time by Proust a couple of times, but stopped. It’s such a beast of a story and I find the start boring. It’s lauded by a lot of people as the greatest work ever written, so I’m determined to get through it one day. I’m embarrassed that I don’t seem to have the patience (or maybe intelligence) to see what other people are seeing. I’m sure I’ll try again in a few years.

Your book If Kisses Cured Cancer is published today, so what’s next?
Next is focussing on a tour of book launch events this month, to help raise funds for Love Your Sister. We’ve organised some craft breweries to sponsor the nights, so it’s all about books and beers for breast cancer. If you’re in Victoria, WA or on the Gold Coast there will be one coming to a town near(ish) you.

After that, I have a horror film project I’ve been talking about with Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek, The Final Hours, Snakes on a Plane). I’ll either be diving into the script for that, or starting a new novel. Watch this space. 

Wow, that sounds amazing! Wolf Creek was terrifying. Anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re interested in some exclusive content around If Kisses Cured Cancer - like a companion playlist and behind-the-scenes on the cover design - head to timhawken.com and sign up to my newsletter. You’ll also get a free eBook version of the first book in the Hellbound Trilogy as an added bonus.

Also, Carpe Librum is giving away a signed copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer to one lucky Carpe Librum reader (in AUS & NZ) this month. Follow the prompts below and enter to win.

Thanks for joining us Tim, and who can resist a free book, right? Congrats on the release of If Kisses Cured Cancer and for joining us at Carpe Librum today. Readers can enter below for a chance to win a signed copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer and be sure to visit Tim's website for a free ebook copy of Hellbound.


26 April 2018

Review of The Wonder Down Under - A User's Guide to the Vagina by Nina Brochmann & Ellen Stokken Dahl

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Wonder Down Under - A user's guide to the vagina by medical students Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl sets out to educate and inform women about sexual health and dispel any misconceptions readers may have. With a clever cover design, The Wonder Down Under achieves this in a relaxed and informative manner although I did have a few concerns with it.

Primarily, I have a major issue with the title. Very early on in the book (page 8 to be precise) the authors point out that the majority of people refer to female genitalia as the vagina, when in fact, it should be referred to as the vulva; as the vagina is only one part of the genitalia. However, the authors then perpetuate the misnomer in the very title of this book. Sorry ladies, but you can't have it both ways!

The medical students are based in Oslo in Norway, and this book is a response to the success of their blog and is translated from Norwegian. The translation was very good, but it's worth noting that many of the stats they refer to are for Norway or the region. 

The authors provide many reassuring notions and take a lot of care to point out every woman is different but normal and sexual health shouldn't be embarrassing but they undo all of their goodwill with the section title of: Discharge, Periods and Other Gore. Gore? What the hell? This might have been a translation error or just an extremely poor choice of words, but it definitely bothered me. This offensive section title grouped six chapters together, and therefore featured at the top of the page for 28 pages. Not good.

The book includes chapters on a multitude of topics - including a comprehensive section on contraception - however there is nothing on menopause. I'm not sure why this was left out when there was time for a few pages on genital mutilation and intimate surgery, but I'm hopeful this information will be added in a future re-printing of the book.

An informative read for young women (and men).

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

23 April 2018

Winner of Honey Farm Dreaming by Anna Featherstone announced

Thanks to those who entered my bee-autiful giveaway last week to win a copy of Honey Farm Dreaming by Anna Featherstone. Many of you wanted to win this one, and entries closed at midnight on Friday 20 April 2018. The lucky winner was drawn today, and congratulations to (drum roll):
Diana will receive an email with the details and will have 7 days to provide her mailing address. Thanks again to Australian author Anna Featherstone for donating the prize, you can check out her website here www.annafeatherstone.com.

Carpe Librum!

19 April 2018

Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I was so excited to finally get around to reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley this year, but I'm sad to say I didn't enjoy the book AT ALL! It largely came about thanks to a read-along hosted by Noveltea Corner, but let me explain why I loathed reading this.

With a classic as well-known as Frankenstein and having watched various adaptations in TV shows and movies, I thought I knew the basics of the story and how it was written. Turns out I was in for quite a shock.

I've never met such a miserable, self-centred and morbidly depressed character in all my reading life. Victor Frankenstein is an unlikeable character and I wasn't expecting the complicated web of nested narratives implemented to tell the story. The narrator is on a ship writing a letter to his sister, telling her about a person he met (Victor Frankenstein) who conveys his story about creating a daemon. Then we hear the creature's story, as told to Frankenstein, relayed to our narrator and re-told in a letter to his sister. If you thought that was confusing, I agree. At times I almost felt like I was lost in the movie Inception.

Here's another surprise: there is no 'lightning bolt' to animate Frankenstein's creature. In fact, the moment the creature is brought to life happens so quickly you could easily miss it, and one of the other readers participating in the read-along did just that.

Frankenstein is immediately horrified and mortified when he lays eyes on his abominable creation but he 'runs away' and is relieved to find his creation isn't there when he returns with a friend. Why wasn't he curious about where his creation went? Why didn't he destroy his research and dismantle his lab equipment? I found his denial incredibly frustrating.

But this sets the scene for the entire book, which is essentially about Frankenstein's remorse at creating the being and I wasn't buying it. He takes no action to control the situation, he leaves his family in danger and indulges in his self-induced melancholy, remorse, internal torment and inaction to the point of illness; time and time again.

Of course, the creature is unhappy and lonely and asks Frankenstein to create a mate for him. When he refuses and the creature kills his love interest, my heart leapt at the hope the book was going to redeem itself. Surely the creature will force Frankenstein to make him a companion from the corpse of his lost love, but this didn't happen. Perhaps it's my warped 21st Century mind that jumped to this conclusion - it'd be the ultimate revenge for the creature - but it was clearly a lost opportunity for the author in my opinion.

The final insult came when Frankenstein was on his deathbed and asked our narrator to finish the job of tracking and killing the creature. Are you kidding me? He should have done it himself!

I will say the writing is terrific at times, and I did enjoy the phrase 'catalogue of sins' in this quote from the monster on Page 223, although the average reader will find the language quite lofty:
"When I run over the frightful catalogue of sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness."

Although Frankenstein is a short book, it bored me senseless. It might have been groundbreaking in its time, but it doesn't hold up to today's standards. It's kind of like Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but thankfully much shorter.

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!