29 June 2017

Review: The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger is an enjoyable crime/thriller novel - with one of the best covers this year - featuring two protagonists: Zoe and Claudia.

Zoe experienced a traumatic home invasion as a child and Claudia was assaulted in her own home as an adult. Both women recovered from their trauma in different ways and their paths will eventually meet in an unexpected way.

The Red Hunter had me at 'Claudia takes on a crumbling old house with a home restoration project' and it didn't disappoint.

Told from multiple points of view, I did find it a little confusing at first until the characters and their lives cemented themselves in my mind, but the pages started flying when Zoe's backstory was revealed and a mystery surrounding a missing amount of money began to emerge.

Dealing with themes of justice and revenge, The Red Hunter is a quick and entertaining stand alone novel. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as Ink and Bone, which means I'll have to give it 3 stars, but it's a solid 3 stars and I'd recommend it to fans of the crime, mystery and thriller genres.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

22 June 2017

Review: Clues From Beyond - True Crime Stories from Australia's #1 Psychic Detective Debbie Malone

* Copy courtesy of Rockpool Publishing *

Australian author Debbie Malone is a psychic, clairvoyant and medium and was the 2013 Australian Psychic of the Year. She can receive visions from the living and the dead, the past, present and future, and convey messages to loved ones. 

As if this isn't enough, Debbie has also assisted Australian Police with missing persons cases and murder investigations for more than twenty years. Despite having been on several TV shows, I first saw Debbie when she worked on the TV show Sensing Murder so I was understandably keen to read her book. (Love that show*).

In Clues From Beyond - True Crime Stories from Australia's #1 Psychic Detective, Debbie shares her insights on several well-known cases in Australia and it makes for gripping reading.

If you're going to read Clues From Beyond, (or books like it), it's important to know that psychics often aren't able to solve a case on their own. Just as a case isn't solved with DNA alone, or police surveillance alone, a psychic detective is just one of many resources involved in solving a case. On page 8, Debbie herself says: "I am an investigative resource who can be utilised by police to pick up information that may provide new lines of inquiry in an unsolved crime." I think readers need to keep that in mind when reading books like these.

Debbie's insights are remarkable and I enjoyed the format chosen for the book and the cases she writes about. When reading about the case of Kerry Whelan, I was incredibly frustrated, (as I'm sure Debbie is too) that Detectives won't/haven't searched underneath Bruce Burrell's shearing shed for the remains of Dorothy Davis because it was outside the scope of the case she was on. They were looking for the remains of Kerry Whelan during which time Debbie received this information and it wasn't acted upon. Argh! I just want someone to dig up that shearing shed damn it! 

After reading Clues From Beyond I definitely wanted to know more about Debbie and her gift as a spirit medium, so I'll be reading her memoir Never Alone: A Medium’s Journey soon. I'm also looking forward to an interview that could be on the cards, so fingers crossed for that one.

Clues From Beyond is recommended for readers of the true crime genre and those with an interest in psychic detectives and the work they do.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. * You can read my review of Sensing Murder by Nicola McLoy here.

20 June 2017

Review: Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

In her introduction to Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook, Julie tells us this book is inspired by her wish to provide a collection of family recipes and favourites for her sons when they leave home.

In her words, Julie says: "It's a collection of everything I think is important to know in order to be able to nourish yourself and the people you love; it's the recipes that bring back childhood memories for myself and my kids; it's the little bits of kitchen wisdom that have been handed down through generations, or passed on from friends, or discovered by accident or through trial and error. It's the book I want my boys to have for when they have families of their own."

In my opinion, Julie has achieved this and more and I'm eager to try her recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies as soon as I can. Yum! If you haven't already seen the recipe extracts from Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook here on the blog, check them out again below:

I always like to know what the end result from a recipe should look like (and more specifically what I'm aiming for) so I would have preferred more photos of the finished dishes throughout the book. Having said that, at 300 recipes and attractively-bound, it's already a hefty tome so I understand the decision to include more recipes than photos.

Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook is a terrific collection and I recommend it to home cooks everywhere.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

18 June 2017

Top 5 favourite things about Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

My Top 5 favourite things about Prince Lestat by Anne Rice:
  1. My copy is signed by Anne Rice (wow!)
  2. The cover art is divine and contains everything I love in cover design.
  3. An appendix includes a complete glossary of characters and their chronology from the Vampire Chronicles series. This was extremely helpful and a joy to read through.
  4. A second appendix includes a brief summary of every book in the Vampire Chronicles series. I relished re-visiting my favourite books again in this succinct format and it definitely made Prince Lestat accessible to new readers who may not have read all the previous novels in the series.
  5. It ended.
I'm a huge fan of Anne Rice's writing so I was devastated to find I didn't enjoy reading Prince Lestat. I even took a break, hoping I was just in some kind of bizarre reading funk, but I just couldn't find the same reading pleasure I usually find in her pages.

The plot contains chapters from different vampires as they begin to face a crisis threatening their kind and while I should have been thrilled to read about old favourites again, the cause uniting them was a bore. There were too many stylishly dressed vampires, too many marble fireplaces, too much classical music and too much love and affection for my liking.

My signed copy
All of this made the denouement seem sudden and exciting and I'll definitely read the next in the series for completeness. I already have a copy of Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis and I'm hoping that Lestat's investigations of the lost realms of Atlantis will be a return to the Anne Rice I've come to know and love. Sadly, this just wasn't it for me.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

P.S. I recently watched an episode of The Book Show hosted by Mariella Frostrup where guests were asked to name the fictional dinner they'd most like to attend. Without a doubt, mine would be the Christmas celebration in The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice. This was a good reminder that she is still my favourite author of all time.

16 June 2017

Blog Tour & Guest Post: See You In September by Charity Norman

Published by
Allen & Unwin
See You In September by Charity Norman is a 'dazzling, gripping new novel about a young woman lured into the clutches of a doomsday cult'.
Here's a teaser: It was supposed to be a short trip—a break in New Zealand before her best friend's wedding. But when Cassy waved goodbye to her parents, they never dreamed that it would be years before they'd see her again.

In today's guest post, author Charity Norman provides some more information on The Cult Leader's Manual, a fictional pamphlet referred to in See You In September

Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour below. 

The Cult Leader’s Manual
    In See You In September, I included a fictional pamphlet called The Cult Leader’s Manual: Eight steps to Mind Control. I originally had twelve steps, but that broke up the flow of the story so I edited them! The precise strategy varies, but these techniques in some form are used by all kinds of outfits: military interrogators, terrorist groups, destructive cults - even abusive partners.

    There’s a common pattern. A group will identify a new recruit, often someone who’s vulnerable at that moment. Then they’ll love-bomb them, showering a cascade of affection and acceptance. At this stage everyone is smiling, joyous, demonstrating that their way of life has made them happy. It’s basically advertising, and they are salespeople.

    The true belief system may be revealed only gradually. Many groups introduce rigid rules and discipline, even a new vocabulary; they demand that the recruit gives up their money and their autonomy, even abandoning their own families. There may be restrictions on sleep and nutrition. Many such groups have a self-proclaimed, charismatic leader who expects absolute loyalty.

    It was upsetting to read about the vicious abuse that’s gone on in some organisations. I remember a harrowing video about a destructive cult, in which a mother described being forced to belt her own toddler. That was the moment she realised she had to get out – but she was still traumatised, years later.

    It isn’t always about religion. I came across someone who lost their family member to a group that claimed to provide couple therapy. ‘Therapy’ involved group sex, and the surrender of their savings and their freedom to a controlling leader. It was the opposite of therapeutic. It destroyed their marriage and their lives. As the family member said, you never think it could happen to you – until it does.

See You In September by Charity Norman is a powerful story of family, faith and finding yourself. It's an unputdownable new novel 
published by Allen & Unwin and is available now, RRP $29.99. 


12 June 2017

Winner of Rebecca Cantrell's Collector's Edition Box Set announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win a hard copy of A Trace of Smoke (the first in the The Hannah Vogel series,) as well as the ebook version of The Hannah Vogel Box Set: Books 1-3 (Collector's Edition). Entries closed at midnight on Friday 9 June and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:
Paul Groves
Congratulations Paul, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. Your prize will be mailed directly to you from 22 Literary and I hope you enjoy the series.

Carpe Librum!

08 June 2017

Review of Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn - A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I've always been interested in the life of Anne Boleyn (and her daughter Elizabeth I) and have read about her from the pens of several authors including: Robin Maxwell, C.C. Humphreys and Philippa Gregory. I've also watched many documentaries, movies and TV shows about Anne Boleyn, including: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Tudors and Wolf Hall to name a few, and I'm currently watching The Six Wives of Henry VIII with Lucy Worsley.

Alison Weir is an established and popular historian and 
Anne Boleyn - A King's Obsession was my first historical fiction novel of hers. We follow Anne's upbringing in French court and the powerful women she served, including Margaret of Austria, Henry VIII’s sister in France Queen Mary and later Queen Claude

This was easily my favourite part of the book and an aspect of Anne's life often overlooked or glossed over in other books and media. Although the rape of her sister in the French court and later at the English court was shocking to me and I'm not quite sure where the history stops and the fiction begins with regard to these events.

I'll admit I was struck by Weir's different take on Anne Boleyn and found the differences difficult to adjust to in the beginning. Weir presents Anne as never truly loving Henry as I've always imagined she did and instead being motivated by power. She describes her as having a sixth fingernail on her little finger (not an extra finger) although on further investigation, I found this description to be the more accurate one. Just a further example of how Anne Boleyn has been mythologised and portrayed over the centuries since her death.

Eventually I was able to surrender myself to Weir's narrative after I left my preconceived ideas at the door and ended up enjoying her novel immensely. Despite already knowing how Anne Boleyn died, and having read about and seen the scene play out in many genres, the author was able to create an incredibly moving 'end' and one that I found unexpectedly moving and even upsetting.

Alison Weir is clearly a huge talent in the genre of historical fiction and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future. Given this is the second novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, I know I'll be spoiled for choice.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

05 June 2017

Interview with Craig Wilcox, author of Badge, Boot, Button - The Story of Australian Uniforms

NLA Publishing
Craig Wilcox is an Australian historian and author of Badge, Boot, Button - The Story of Australian Uniforms, a book I reviewed last month. Craig is based in Sydney and joins me for an interview on the blog today.

Thanks for joining us Craig, I really enjoyed reading your latest book. Can you tell us how or when you became interested in uniforms?

While painting model soldiers as a teenager in the 1970s. Thirty years later, the editor of the Australasian volume of the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion asked me to write an entry on all kinds of uniforms. But I was already thinking about how this colourful species of costume signals deep changes in our society, in governments and businesses, in official taste.

Have you ever worn a uniform yourself?
At school, of course. And, in a sense, in my first job while still at school, as an extra with the Australian Opera Company. I was kitted out as a dragoon in black and acid yellow for a 1976 production of Bizet’s Carmen.

Author, Craig Wilcox

What was it like working at the Australian War Memorial?A privilege whenever it wasn’t, like every job, drudgery. In fact it was so good I worked there twice. The wonderful collection of relics, artworks and manuscripts was a gift in itself. There was an important mission, to understand a great collective experience and deep personal trauma and to remind the public of both. Uniforms were, and are, a neglected part of the Memorial’s collection and its imagination. There’s so much the place could do with these treasures.

What uniform would you most like to see in real life?
It’s a toss-up between one of the odder confections once worn by the Bolivian army and any bog-standard example of the millions of pairs of red trousers manufactured for French infantrymen from 1829 to 1914. But I want to hold them and examine them, not just see them.

Is the re-enactment scene active in Australia? If so, what can you tell us about it?I’m lucky that Brad Manera, Australia’s most articulate and interesting reenactor, is a friend of mine. He tells me reenactment isn’t embraced here as enthusiastically as it is in Europe and the United States, but there’s still an extraordinary range of clubs and societies around. The largest have memberships in the hundreds. One, called the 73rd Regiment of Foot, reenacts the experience of the original regiment’s 1st battalion in NSW from 1810 to 1814, but it’s also interested more broadly in the Napoleonic period in the Australian colonies and overseas. Seventy of the club’s members, Brad included, journeyed to Waterloo in Belgium in 2015 to bring the battle alive on its bicentenary. 
That's great to hear and I'm pleasantly surprised to discover we have active re-enactment groups here in Australia. (Anyone reading this who might be interested, seek them out and get involved).

Next, I have a question from a Carpe Librum reader: Does it annoy you when watching films and drama documentaries when the uniforms aren't accurate yet there is a "historical military adviser" in the credits?
Don’t get me started. On the one hand, I really can’t see why you’d go to the trouble of creating costumes and not get them right - it just isn’t that hard. On the other, thinking about the question more broadly, Shakespeare didn’t give a damn getting the past right when he imagined Julius Caesar or Henry V, and if he had we’d be hugely poorer today. Historical license taken for a genuine reason, or in the hands of a master, is a good thing.

Here's another question from a Carpe Librum reader: Why do women still wear tricorn hats in the Royal Australian Navy?
The tricorn was worn by women in Britain’s Royal Navy during the first world war, a visual reference to the felt hats worn by many men in the eighteenth century including by naval officers. It migrated to Australia’s navy as easily as many other British uniform items. Its survival today, against the trend for eliminating feminised items of uniform, is probably due to a belief it’s a traditional headdress, a symbol of the wearer - a powerful obstacle to change throughout the history of uniforms.

What kind of treasures in the form of vintage uniforms do you think the average household has squirrelled away? How should we preserve uniforms?
I’ll take a random sample by looking in my own attic. There’s my grandfather’s whistle and lanyard from his time as a second world war warrant officer. There are reels of cotton thread stolen by my grandmother from a uniform factory she worked in while my grandfather went to war. There are medals too, earned by a neighbour and somehow passed to me. None of this quite rates as vintage, though. Brad Manera assures me “there are still remarkable treasures in people's homes”, and he mentions one Sydney family pulling from their wardrobe “the uniform their great-grandfather had worn home from France in 1919.” The best way to preserve a uniform is to get advice from a conservator in a large museum. Before that advice arrives, store it in the dark and away from damp, dust and insects, and don’t try to clean it until you’ve spoken to the conservator. On the other hand, show your treasure to as many people as you can. When no longer wanted or if damage threatens, call your state museum and arrange to give others the joy and the responsibility of looking after it.

What are you reading at the moment?

The latest numbers of the New York Review of Books and the New Left Review, a 1990s textbook compilation of Chinese writing over the past three thousand years, and a uniform book, of course - Richard Brzezinski’s and Richard Hook’s The Army of Gustavus Adolphus: Infantry, published by Osprey in 1991.

What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?
A book that I’m hoping will expand our sense of frontier fighting in early colonial Australian history into the southwest Pacific. It will follow the sometimes violent push by whalers, sealers, traders, missionaries and officials out from Sydney and Hobart into New Zealand and beyond from there 1790s to the 1840s.

Thanks so much for joining us Craig and sharing your expertise on uniforms. I'm sure my Carpe Librum readers will enjoy seeing their questions answered and good luck for your next book.

02 June 2017

Friday Freebie to WIN Collector's Edition Box Set by Rebecca Cantrell

Today's Friday Freebie is also part of the Rebecca Cantrell blog tour. Enter below to win a hard copy of A Trace of Smoke (the first in the The Hannah Vogel series,) as well as the ebook version of The Hannah Vogel Box Set: Books 1-3 (Collector's Edition). This prize pack is valued at $34.00AUD.


This Collector’s Edition features three novels of the Hannah Vogel Series (A Trace of Smoke, A Night of Long Knives and A Game of Lies) as well as a never-before seen short story The Cigarette Boy, unavailable anywhere else.

In A Trace of Smoke it’s 1931 and crime reporter Hannah Vogel is writing under the male pseudonym Peter Weill. As a widow she’s used to doing what she must to survive. When she decides to investigate her brother’s death she finds herself caught up in scandal leading directly to a powerful leader in the Nazi party, and responsible for a five-year-old orphan whose birth certificate names her dead brother. Further complicating matters are her evolving feelings for Boris Krause, a powerful banker whose world is the antithesis of Hannah’s. Fired from her job and on the run from Hitler’s troops, she must protect herself and the little boy who has come to love her, but can she afford to find love for herself?

A Night of Long Knives finds Hannah hiding in Bolivia with her young ward, Anton. She seizes an offer from a newspaper to cover the journey of a Zeppelin from South America to Switzerland, particularly as it will allow her a rare opportunity to meet with her lover, Boris. When the Zeppelin is diverted to Germany, she knows she’s walked straight into a trap, just as The Night of Long Knives—the purge headed by Himmler after Hitler supplanted the SA with the SS—has begun.

Rebecca Cantrell
A Game of Lies brings Hannah back to Berlin to cover the 1936 Olympics. At least, posing as travel reporter Adelheid Zinsli, lover of SS officer Lars Lang, that’s her cover story. Rather, she’s collecting Nazi secrets from Lang and smuggling them back to Switzerland. When her mentor collapses at her feet, Hannah must scramble to create a cover story, particularly as she is surrounded by former colleagues who could identify her. The cover-up drives a deeper wedge between Hannah and Lars. To ensure her safety, Hannah must decide whom to love—and whom to trust—before her true identity is revealed.

In the brand-new short story The Cigarette Boy, Hannah’s brother, sexy cabaret star Ernst Vogel investigates the murder of the club's cigarette boy, he chases down several suspects, including a high-ranking Nazi who may save his life or take it.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell has published sixteen novels in over ten different languages. Her novels have won the ITW Thriller, the Macavity, and the Bruce Alexander awards. They have been nominated for the GoodReads Choice award, the Barry, the RT Reviewers Choice, and the APPY award.

Fluent in German, she and her husband and son just moved back to Hawaii from Berlin.


Carpe Librum!

30 May 2017

Review: Fatal Crossing by Lone Theils

* Copy courtesy of Bonnier Publishing *

Nora Sand is a tough-going journalist based in London who collects vintage suitcases when she's not interviewing war criminals and covering international conflicts. When she purchases a second-hand suitcase and finds a bunch of hidden photos of young girls, Nora unwittingly stumbles onto the cold case of two missing girls. Lulu and Lisbeth disappeared on a ferry ride to London in 1985 and were never seen again, and as Nora begins to use her journalistic skills to investigate the cold case, she begins to unearth new evidence.

Fatal Crossing is a good slow burn mystery and was inspired by the true story of an American serial killer who stalked and photographed his victims before killing them.

Nora is a strong female protagonist with plenty of great qualities and has a lot in common with the author. But the romance thread irritated me and I rolled my eyes every time Nora tried to clear her head of Andreas. The continual references to her dirty washing riled me up until I wanted to reach into the book and do her damn laundry for her. On the flip side, the relationship Nora has with her boss (and her nickname for him) was amusing and very 'real world' and her working relationship with Pete was warm and genuine.

Fatal Crossing has been translated from Danish, and while the translation was smooth enough, I did bristle at the overuse of the word chubby to describe several female characters in the book.

Fatal Crossing is already a bestseller and will be popular amongst readers who enjoy Brit crime and Scandinavian and Nordic noir.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. I just love the author's name, don't you?

25 May 2017

Review: The Pumpkin Cookbook, 2nd Edition by DeeDee Stovel

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley and Storey Publishing *

The Pumpkin Cookbook - 139 Nutritious Recipes for Year-Round Enjoyment by DeeDee Stovel is a gem for those who love pumpkin and those who'd like to incorporate more pumpkin into their cooking and baking repertoire.

The Pumpkin Cookbook contains a tonne of recipes (139 in fact) in a variety of categories although I was surprised to find so many recipes calling for canned unsweetened pumpkin in their list of ingredients. Very interesting.

Some of my favourite recipes included:
- Roasted carrot and pumpkin soup
- Roasted corn pumpkin chowder
- Roasted potato pumpkin salad
- Golden pumpkin corn pudding
- Pumpkin cornbread
- Pumpkin doughnut muffins
- Traditional pumpkin pie
- Graham cracker pumpkin tannies
- Surprising pumpkin-orange cheesecake
- Pumpkin rice pudding
- Pumpkin panna cotta
- Pumpkin fudge

I'm a visual person and while there are a number of stunning photographs throughout the book, I would have preferred more photographs of the finished dishes in place of photos of pumpkins and autumn scenes. The fact that there's no photo to accompany the recipe for Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins seems an absolute tragedy to me.

The Pumpkin Cookbook was a delicious read and will be published on 25 July.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

(P.S. I reviewed an ebook copy of this book and realised just now that it has since expired. This means I'm unable to go back and trial any of the recipes or even look at them again. What a shame and just a little harsh in my opinion).

22 May 2017

Review: Past The Shallows by Favel Parrett

I know I'm a bit late to the party, but I've just read Past The Shallows by award winning Australian author Favel Parrett.

Set in a small town on the coast of Tasmania, Harry and Miles live with their father; an abalone fisherman bitter and angry after the loss of his wife. Harry and Miles are largely left to fend for themselves and try their best to stay out of their father's way.

Miles and their older brother Joe enjoy surfing and feel at one with the sea, while Harry - the youngest - is afraid of the water. 
Parrett loves to surf and her personal knowledge and love of surfing is evident within the pages.

Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012, Past The Shallows is a coming-of-age story about brotherhood. It's a slim novel and very easy to read with short chapters and large font. On the flip side it's a haunting and often sad story.

Harry was easily my favourite character although I did want to know more about George Fuller.

I borrowed my copy from the library and was excited to discover it was signed by the author (see right). Highly recommended and a worthy contribution to my Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum

P.S. Those who enjoyed The Better Son by Katherine Johnson will enjoy this and vice versa.

18 May 2017

Review: A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

I've finally read a book by Virginia Woolf and it was a sheer joy. A Room Of One's Own is a novel length essay that was originally given as a series of lectures to women at Cambridge University in 1928. The theme was 'women and fiction' and Woolf examines women writers in history, their various successes and failures and themes of gender inequality and education. A Room Of One's Own is a feminist text and still very much relevant today.

Woolf concludes that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," and sets out to prove why. What added to my enjoyment is that I couldn't help but read it in her voice thanks to my frequent listening of the only recording of Virginia Woolf's voice available on YouTube.

I was instantly gripped by her writing style on page 1, but reading the following description of a dinner on page 18 had me laughing and wishing I could be in her presence.
"Prunes and custard followed. And if anyone complains that prunes, even when mitigated by custard, are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in misers' veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are people whose charity embraces even the prune. Biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core. That was all." Page 18

Towards the end of her essay (remember it was a lecture given at a women's college) she calls on members of her audience.
“Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” Page 103

On page 106, she proclaims to give her peroration (don't worry, I had to look it up too): "Young women, I would say, and please attend, for the peroration is beginning, you are, in my opinion, disgracefully ignorant. You have never made a discovery of any sort of importance. You have never shaken an empire or led an army into battle. The plays of Shakespeare are not by you, and you have never introduced a barbarous race to the blessings of civilization. What is your excuse?" You can read the rest here.

Woolf's writing is provocative and powerful and I enjoyed the ready access to her meandering thought processes as well as the ups and downs of her discoveries, statements and opinions.

Reading her work almost 90 years after Virginia Woolf penned these words, I had the distinct feeling she was giving me a TED Talk about women and fiction. The TED Talk format is enormously popular - and a favourite of mine, I'll confess - and I'm certain that if 
A Room Of One's Own was marketed as a TED Talk it would reach and inspire an entirely new audience.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Thank you to my neighbour for lending me his copy.

16 May 2017

Recipe Extract: Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook - Chicken and Cheese Strudel

I'm back with the second recipe extract from Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook
thanks to the generosity of Hachette Australia. The second recipe I chose to share with you is a chicken and cheese strudel. My mouth is watering from just typing the recipe name.

Chicken and Cheese Strudel
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: about 40 minutes
Serves 6 

1 tablespoon olive oil
800 g chicken thigh fillets, cut into 3 cm cubes
200 g button mushrooms, sliced 
3 cloves garlic
Chicken and Cheese Strudel
Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook
2 tablespoons plain flour
11⁄4 cups milk
1 tablespoon Dijon or French mustard
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground white pepper 
1 cup grated tasty cheese
2 sheets frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
4 shallots (spring onions), finely sliced

1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large, heavy-based frypan over medium-high heat and brown half of the chicken. Remove to a bowl and repeat with another teaspoon of oil and the remaining chicken. The chicken only needs to have some golden colour; it doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through at this stage.

2. Heat the remaining oil in the pan and sauté the mushrooms and garlic until the garlic is fragrant and translucent, and the mushrooms are a light golden colour. The mushrooms will release liquid as they cook, so continue to cook until this liquid evaporates.

3. Return the chicken to the pan and sprinkle the flour over the top. Stir to coat the chicken. Stir in the milk, 1⁄4 cup at a time, allowing the sauce to cook and thicken between each addition. When all the milk is added, bring the sauce to a simmer and stir in the mustard, salt, pepper and two-thirds of the cheese. Simmer for a few minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place 2 sheets of puff pastry on a sheet of baking paper on a large cutting board. Brush 1 cm of the edge of one sheet with a little beaten egg, and overlap another sheet over it. Press the edge to join the sheets together into a large rectangle. Turn the rectangle so it is vertical on the bench. Using the back of a butter knife or a skewer, make faint lines on the pastry to divide it into equal thirds lengthways. Cut off the top two corners of the large rectangle to form a point. At the base of the large rectangle, cut a square out of the left and right thirds of the pastry. It should now resemble the shape of a big straight Christmas tree.

5. On the left and right thirds of the large rectangle (not the middle third), make incisions about 1.5 cm apart, following the angle of the upper point of the pastry and going to each edge. These will form your pastry braids for the strudel. Once the pastry is cut, lift it, still on the baking paper, onto a large baking tray.

6. Place the cooled chicken mixture along the middle third of the pastry, stopping short of the pointy and square-cut end. Sprinkle with the sliced shallots and the remaining cheese. Fold the pointy end over the chicken mixture, then fold the square end of the pastry over. Then, alternating from left to right, fold the strips of pastry over the chicken mixture. It will look a bit like a braid. Brush liberally with egg and bake for 20–25 minutes or until a deep golden brown. This is lovely served hot or at room temperature.

Doesn't this sound delicious? Looking at the photo, I can almost smell the chicken and pastry. YUM.

Carpe Librum!

Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook ($39.99) published by Hachette Australia.

11 May 2017

Review: Badge, Boot, Button - The Story of Australian Uniforms by Craig Wilcox

* Copy courtesy of NLA Publishing *

Having worn a military uniform myself, I'm very interested in the way in which they distinguish the different services, establish authority, unify employees across a variety of industries as well as identify schools and sports teams alike.

Badge, Boot, Button - The Story of Australian Uniforms provides a detailed and well-researched overview of how Australian uniforms have changed and evolved over time. Written by Australian historian Craig Wilcox and covering uniforms from 1788 to the present, there's something to capture the interest of any reader. 

I enjoyed reading about the red shoulder capes (called a tippet) worn by nurses and was fascinated to learn that nurses could spend an hour a day ironing and starching their uniforms. Only those working the night shift were given a reprieve, because the starched uniforms were too noisy and could wake the patients.

The history of the iconic slouch hat is included, as is the baggie green hat beloved by cricket fans and players. The evolution of the AFL uniform is covered and despite not being interested in football, I found it interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed the section on the Sydney Olympic volunteer uniform and the ever increasing competition in some corporate sectors.

Relevant snippets from newspaper articles were incorporated into the text and gave a real insight into how these uniforms were received by the public - or at least the media - at the time. There's a distinct focus on military uniforms, although that's not terribly surprising given Wilcox worked at the Australian War Memorial.

If you're still not sure this book is for you, here's an excerpt from the blurb:
Over the centuries, uniforms have played an important part in Australian history, from the landing on Gallipoli to the High Court decision on the Mabo case. They've made soldiers and firefighters braver; humiliated convicts; empowered sporting heroes; both liberated and shackled women and made corporates fashionable.

If you have any questions for Craig Wilcox about any kind of Australian uniform, let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for my upcoming interview with him.

Update: click here for my interview with Craig Wilcox.
My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

08 May 2017

Review: Built on Bones - 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death by Brenna Hassett

RRP $19.99
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I've always had an interest in archaeology. I don't mean fossils and dinosaurs, but the remnants of recent civilisations and those long buried and forgotten. When a new plague pit is discovered on a construction site or the long lost remains of Richard III were located in a supermarket carpark, I'm going to be there to read about it.

As the title suggests, Built on Bones by Brenna Hassett takes a look at 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death. As an archaeologist she specialises in the human skeleton to look at whether the move towards an urban lifestyle results in an earlier death than the foragers and nomads of history. Hassett looks at the changes in skeletons - and teeth in particular - which provide plenty of interesting tidbits and conclusions.

A highlight for me was on Page 49, where Hassett explains that with the move to agriculture and 'slurpable foods,' there was less work for our jaws, therefore less muscle, and as a consequence our jaws and faces have shrunk in size. This explains a great deal of the dental crowding and associated problems we see today.

I enjoyed learning more about the history and symptoms of urban diseases including syphilis, smallpox, leprosy and TB and Hassett also piqued my interest on Page 153 when she wrote about the practice of burying criminals in embarrassing positions.

Ultimately though, Built on Bones was a whole lot more academic than I was expecting. For a complete novice it was tough going at times and quite scientific. What made this somewhat harder were the infuriating footnotes on every other page. The majority of the footnotes were jokes and comic asides which kept drawing me away from the text and disrupting my rhythm. Well, why didn't you just ignore them I can hear you ask. Well, I couldn't ignore them because occasionally there would be an absolute gem* I didn't want to miss, so I had to persevere.

Built on Bones by Brenna Hassett is recommended for armchair archaeologists, scientists, doctors, medical professionals, historians and devotees of Darwinism.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

* Brenna shared the case of the Rising Star Cave, where a call-out was made for skinny and small archaeologists able to squeeze through a gap in a cave just 18 centimetres wide to excavate a collection of hominid fossils. Wow.

06 May 2017

Recipe Extract: Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook - Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding

RRP $39.99
I'm currently reading Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook by well-known Master Chef winner Julie Goodwin and Hachette Australia has kindly given me permission to share two of my favourite recipes from her book. 

Today, I can share a delicious looking pudding you can make with hot cross buns. I can't wait to try this as soon as hot cross buns hit the shelves again in January.

Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding
Prep time: 10 minutes + 20 minutes standing time 
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves 8 

Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook

Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding
300 ml thickened cream 
300 ml milk
6 eggs, beaten
3⁄4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
6 hot cross buns
Cream, for serving

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream, milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract.

2. Cut the hot cross buns in thirds crossways.

3. In a 20 x 25 cm baking dish, arrange slices of bun to cover the base. Pour over the egg mixture to just cover the slices. Add another layer of bun slices and cover with egg mixture again. Place the last of the bun slices on top. Pour the remaining egg mixture evenly into the dish. Stand for 20 minutes before baking to allow the custard to soak into the bun.

4. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the pudding for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm, with cream.

This sounds positively delicious, yum!

Carpe Librum!

Julie Goodwin’s Essential Cookbook ($39.99), published by Hachette Australia.

04 May 2017

Blog tour and review: The Hidden Thread by Liz Trenow

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley & Sourcebooks *

The Hidden Thread is a breathtaking novel about the intricate craft of silk and the heartbreak of forbidden love.

When Anna Butterfield's mother dies, she's sent to live with her uncle, a silk merchant in London, to make a good match and provide for her father and sister. There, she meets Henri, a French immigrant and apprentice hoping to become a master weaver. But Henri, born into a lower class, becomes embroiled in the silk riots that break out as weavers protest for a fair wage.

My review
The Hidden Thread is an historical romance novel set against the backdrop of the silk trade in 1760s London and the silk riots of the period.

Anna moves to London following the death of her mother to find a suitable match and Henri is a young silk weaver apprentice. The romance that soon - but slowly - develops between them crosses the boundaries of class but readers can expect a 'clean read.' In fact I often felt as though I was reading a YA or MG novel.

The most interesting aspects of the novel for me were definitely the silk designs and imagining the damask patterns described in seamstress Miss Charlotte's dress shop. I also desperately wanted to see Henri's masterpiece of silk weaving, having had the pattern designed, woven and completed throughout the course of the novel. I dearly wish the design had been used to form the cover; now that would have been perfect.

The Hidden Thread also ignited my interest in seeing the silk weaving looms described in the novel at work, and references at the end for those wanting to learn more would have been a very welcome addition.

The Hidden Thread is recommended for YA readers and those looking for a light-hearted historical romance novel with a happy ending.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

01 May 2017

Review: The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest

RRP $17.99 AUD
(Out now)
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I'm a little late to the party but I just finished reading The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest and boy, does she have a way with words.

The prologue (entitled Leaving) was a face-slapping first encounter with a contemporary poet and I immediately understood the hype surrounding this young English poet and rapper.

In The Bricks that Built the Houses, Tempest has chosen/created two characters from contemporary London and given us their gritty backstory, including their innermost thoughts, hopes and aspirations.

Rich in language and character, the novel is also bleak in its depiction of life in the lower classes of London. The novel contains themes of drugs, youth, loneliness and hope and often forces the reader into deep reflection alongside the characters on all manner of topics.

Tempest has a unique talent to capture a person/character in a few words with enough realism that I felt as though I'd seen them myself somewhere before. Then they just seem to fade into the background of the story once again. Here's a perfect example from page 95 and one of my favourites from the novel:
"Pete sits down and watches an older guy - a few teeth missing, dirty face, long hair, scars mess his skin up like piss lines in a sandpit. He's got a cap on, can in his pocket." Page 95
Having heaped so much praise on her language and prose, I do need to confess that the ending was a real disappointment for me. I'm not sure how I wanted it to end, but after investing so much in the characters and being so impressed by the writing, I just wanted 'more'.

I believe Kate Tempest is a writer of her generation and I'm certain she will continue to generate jaw dropping and influential material across all of her creative outlets (novels, plays, poetry and the spoken word) in the future. Definitely one to watch.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

26 April 2017

Review: Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters!

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Guinness World Records (GWR) books are a household name and almost need no introduction at all. GWR continues to move with the times and their latest book Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters! is proof of that and a collection like no other.

With entertainment categories that include: Watch, Browse, Read, Play, Go and Consume, there is definitely something for everyone. Obviously I enjoyed the Read section the most, particularly the most expensive children's book sold at auction (the handwritten copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling bound in leather and mounted with silver and moonstones). I also enjoyed finding out the highest earning author and Top 10 kids' book villains.

I always enjoy seeing other people's collections and there is plenty to satisfy in Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters! The Browse chapter has a bunch of online stats and info including memorable memes, most viewed videos and most viewed wiki pages. I will say that some of the coloured font boxes were too dark and made reading the text inside them a little difficult at night. 

Other than that, there is a variety of information in Guinness World Records 2017: Blockbusters! to pique the interest of any reader regardless of age. Recommended for kids, libraries, schools and more.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

19 April 2017

Review: The Possessions: A Novel by Sara Flannery Murphy

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Edie works at the Elysian Society and meets grieving clients for a one-on-one consultation. In the consultation she takes a lotus pill which enables her to channel the client's loved one from 'the other side'. Edie remains completely oblivious during the process, while the spirit of the deceased takes over her body and is able to communicate with their loved one in a bizarre reunion of sorts. Think husbands connecting with wives, mothers connecting with sons and so on.

The concept is unique and exciting, however The Possessions is about the impact Edie's work has on her and the consequences when she becomes obsessed with Patrick, a distraught widower.

I was desperate to know more about what happens during the consultations but instead it's left to the reader's imagination. This was akin to a 352 page tease although I recognise that the magic could have been lost had the author decided to lift the curtain on what happens between the parties during the consultations.

Instead we are left to unravel the mystery of the death of Patrick's wife Sylvia and enjoy the author's stunning writing style. Her prose often made me stop in my tracks just to enjoy the beauty of her words.

The Possessions is a haunted love story with themes of grief, memory and sense of self interwoven through the pages and you will be left wanting more. Recommended.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

11 April 2017

Winner of A Presence of Absence by Sarah Surgey and Emma Vestrheim announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win a print copy of A Presence of Absence by Sarah Surgey and Emma Vestrheim. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 7 April and the winner is....
Carol @readingwritingandriesling
Congratulations Carol, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. Your prize will be mailed directly to you from the authors.

Carpe Librum

06 April 2017

Review: Rattle by Fiona Cummins

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Rattle by Fiona Cummins is a solid debut with an original premise, a great cover and a catchy tag line. Unfolding from several character perspectives, Detective Sergeant Fitzroy is investigating a missing child case in London and soon realises it's more complex than she first suspected.

Having three characters with surnames all beginning with the letter 'f' was a little confusing in the beginning. I wasn't sure whether it was intentional or coincidence (in which case it should have been changed) or an 'in joke' which should have been explained in the author's acknowledgements etc.

Almost every character was overtired and needed a shower - which was understandable given the circumstances they were in - but chapter after chapter it became repetitive and same/same. What did interest me and kept the pages turning quickly was the pathology of the killer and his collection.

I don't agree with the promo that the killer in Rattle is a psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter, but he was certainly unique; which is often difficult to accomplish in this crowded genre. A great debut and an author to watch.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!