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!

04 April 2017

Guest review by Grace Harris - There May be a Castle by Piers Torday

Reviewer Grace Harris
Today I have the pleasure of welcoming 8yo bookworm Grace Harris to Carpe Librum. She loves books (including the Harry Potter series) and enjoys reading all kinds of stories. 

Grace recently read There May Be A Castle by Piers Torday and was kind enough to review it for us.

Review By Grace Harris
This is an interesting book, which you would not want to put down!  

There May Be a Castle is about how a boy named Mouse who after a terrible car accident, uses his imagination to get into a world of wonder. A world of imagination where he has to find the castle before the pink knight destroys him. A world of MAGICAL CREATURES and more.

Mouse is scared, but he will have to do his best and rely on his friends Nonkey and the robot dinosaur to get through. So begin a quest with Mouse and his friends in a world of wonder. 

Available from Hachette Australia
I really liked this story, it was easy to read and funny, even silly in some parts. I recommend this book to children. You could read it to younger children, from 4-8 or let the older kids read it. 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Grace's rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Thanks so much for your review Grace, hopefully other readers will enjoy this one as much as you did.

31 March 2017

Giveaway & Blog Tour for A Presence of Absence by Sarah Surgey and Emma Vestrheim

RRP $20.00 AUD
* Copy courtesy of the authors *

Welcome to the blog tour and giveaway for A Presence of Absence by literary reviewer and freelance writer Sarah Surgey and Nordic film critic and owner of Cinema Scandinavia, Emma Vestrheim.
Their novel A Presence of Absence is BritCrime meets Nordic Noir and you can win a print copy by entering below. Good luck! And don't you just love that cover!
(For more info on the book, the authors or the other stops on the blog tour visit their website www.theodenseseries.com).

About the book
The Odense Series is a new Nordic Noir/Brit Crime series that blends humanist stories and family drama with gritty crime in the central Danish city Odense.

British detective Simon Weller escapes the fallout from the recent suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke and heads out to her home city of Odense. But once there he is paired up with a local detective, Jonas, who is also about to hit rock bottom in his home life and they must overcome their differences and personal problems to try and catch one of the worst serial killers Odense has seen in many years.

The case takes them back into past decades as history starts catching up with some of the local inhabitants.

When Simon realises that his wife’s suicide may not be all it seems and her name appears in the case, his integrity within the case is compromised, how far will he go to find out the truth of Vibeke’s past and hide it from his already troubled police partner?

Back home in London Simon’s family are struggling with their own web of lies and deceit and the family is falling apart.

With one family hiding a dark secret, the whole case is just about to reach breaking point.


27 March 2017

Winner of the Birthday Giveaway is announced

Thanks to all the well wishers who entered my birthday giveaway last week. It seems many of you are also celebrating birthdays this month. There were more than 100 entries in total but the most popular book in the giveaway by far was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I had so much fun watching the books you chose and of course reading your lovely comments. Three entrants chose the option 'surprise me' in the giveaway which I definitely wasn't expecting. Wow!

Entries closed at midnight last night and I wasted no time drawing the winner today. A big birthday congratulations to:
Congratulations Christy, you've won a brand new copy of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee thanks to HarperCollins Publishers Australia. You'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. Thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate my birthday; this was so much fun I'll be sure to run it again next year.

Carpe Librum!
Winning book!
Birthday giveaway

25 March 2017

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

"Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks; when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one."

We've all heard the rhyme about Lizzie Borden. In 1892 she was tried and acquitted in Massachusetts for murdering her father and stepmother with an axe.

See What I Have Done is the fictionalised tale of Lizzie Borden by Sarah Schmidt and is hitting the shelves in a very big way this month.

Emma and Lizzie are sisters with a smothering, symbiotic relationship that crowds every page. The family is somewhat dysfunctional and the claustrophobic relationship between the sisters compounds this.

Lizzie was frustrating but that's the point. Their relationship together is somewhere between sisterly love and outright obsession.

The book is brimming with envy and loathing between the sisters and even though this is what creates the toxic family environment, reading it left me feeling icky and unclean. With every page I touched I felt as though I was slowly acquiring a layer of grease that wouldn't wash off afterwards.

I commend Schmidt for making me experience such discomfort, but in the end the novel just didn't work for me.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

20 March 2017

March Birthday Giveaway

It's my birthday this week (hooray) and I'm feeling generous so let's have a giveaway!

Just choose one of the 13 books pictured (right) and enter using the form below. Easy.

Entries close midnight Sunday 26th March 2017 so please enter and help me spread the birthday bookish cheer :-)

16 March 2017

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a contemporary YA novel by Stephanie Oakes based on the Grimm fairytale The Handless Maiden and was published a few years ago. Minnow Bly is living in a religious commune in the woods with her family under the faithful guidance of their Prophet. Yep, you guessed it, it's a cult novel; or should that be a novel set in (or about) a cult? 

The Kevinian inhabitants of 'the Community' have forsaken their old lives but Minnow doesn't believe the ways of the Prophet and is desperate to escape him at any cost.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly 
is told in first person narrative while Minnow is incarcerated in juvenile detention and covers themes of love, faith, coming-of-age, crime, repentance and hope.

I'll admit, the cover art is what first drew me to this book although the meaning of the
 title continues to elude me. I don't recall m/any significant or sacred lies in the story, but it's possible I missed them. I wouldn't call her story lies, rather a slow unfolding of what happened at the commune that led to Minnow being incarcerated.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is an enjoyable contemporary YA read, and it was good to tackle something a little different for a change. I hope you do the same from time to time.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

09 March 2017

Review: Into the Darkness - The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk by Robin Bowles

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Into the Darkness by Robin Bowles is a true crime book looking at The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk.

In December 2010 Phoebe bled to death in the garbage room of the Balencea apartment building on St Kilda Road in Melbourne, after falling 12 floors down the rubbish chute. The autopsy and police investigation concluded Phoebe committed suicide however her family refused to believe the findings.

Melbourne based author Robin Bowles attended the Inquest into Phoebe's death and brings the case to light in this book Into the Darkness.

Having lived in an apartment building for 10+ years, the case details surrounding the building security at Balencea, access fobs, CCTV, rubbish disposal, visitor access, concierge and Owners Corporation were fascinating to me. I currently live on the 18th floor of an apartment building and have a similar rubbish chute to the one at Balencea. I just can't believe anyone would willingly climb into a rubbish chute. In fact, just the thought of climbing into its claustrophobic, dirty darkness is hard to fathom. The only conclusion I can reach is that someone else put her into the chute to dispose of her.

There is much speculation about Phoebe's boyfriend Ant Hampel and his behaviour after Phoebe's death was nothing short of bizarre.

The only reason I cannot give Into the Darkness five stars in this review (other than the insensitivity of rating true crime in the first place) is that the author Robin Bowles inserts wayyyyyy too much of herself into the text.

The first hint of this appears before the Prologue when she lists her dog Miss Deva in the index as her Sleuthing Companion. The list includes all the people named in the book (Handsjuk and Hampel family members, friends, Police, Detectives, health professionals etc) so that the reader can use it as a reference. (And I did, many times). But listing her dog makes an absolute mockery of the list.

On page 88 she tells us her husband thinks she's a bleeding heart. (Who cares?) On page 109 Bowles leaves the Inquest early because "there wasn't much more of interest to me." On page 150, Bowles looks forward to a break because her hand hurts from writing and then has dumplings for lunch. On page 175 Bowles is grateful when the day concluded because she has writer's cramp.

Bowles also described each of the witnesses in an interesting style, here's one from Page 211: "He looked a bit like one of those actors who play the Swedish detective Kurt Wallander, with a greying beard a bit like kiwi fruit skin." (What the hell?)

Bowles even attempts to investigate the case herself by testing the security at Balencea and questioning the owner of the phone repair shop. Bowles isn't a detective and this was highly irregular, bordering on inappropriate.

I wish an editor had removed every instance when Bowles referred to her boredom, discomfort, writer's cramp or tiredness. I have no doubt that attending the Inquest every day was emotionally and physically draining for her, and as a reader we automatically respect her dedication. However, when her comments are read alongside the details of Phoebe's death and her family's obvious grief, it comes across as terribly insensitive.

Bowles had me gripped with her account of Phoebe's case and investigation into her death and I wish she'd stuck to bringing Phoebe's case to light and highlighting the injustice/s of the legal system. Every time she referred to herself I was rudely jerked from the case and began to resent it.

Ultimately, I'm grateful to have read Into the Darkness - The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk and to have learned more about Phoebe's life and her tragic death. 
I don't think we can ever be certain as to who was responsible for Phoebe's untimely death, however I'll never believe she willingly climbed into that rubbish chute. Not without leaving a single fingerprint. Never.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

03 March 2017

Scorn: The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History by Matthew Parris

RRP $24.99
Published November 2016
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I don't recall using a highlighter to mark passages in a book since I was at University, but Scorn - The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History by Matthew Parris is that kind of book.

Here are some of my favourite quotes included in the collection:

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian. Denis Wholey, Page 9

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowldege of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Terry Eagleton, Page 27

For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. Winston Churchill, Page 107

His argument is as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death. Abraham Lincoln on Stephen A. Douglas, Page 189

He's so dumb he couldn't tip shit out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel. Lyndon Johnson on Gerald Ford, Page 196

That's like saying the veterinarian and the taxidermist are in the same business because either way you get your dog back. Joseph Lieberman on the suggestion that he shared many of the views of George W. Bush, Page 198

Thank you for the manuscript; I shall lose no time in reading it. Benjamin Disraeli's standard reply to authors who sent him unsolicited copies of their books, Page 227

My favourite poem is the one that starts 'Thirty days hath September' because it actually tells you something. Groucho Marx, Page 259

I loved these quotes, and there are plenty more in the book I couldn't include for obvious reasons, however I took issue with the author's admission that others did the heavy lifting for him. By his own admission, two helpers gathered a 'mountain from which I have assembled this personal molehill of an anthology'. I don't know about you, by why aren't their names on the cover?

He also contrived quotes involving himself; a self indulgence that should have been squashed somewhere along the route to being published.

Consequently, the author's readiness to let others do the majority of the work for him reduced my enjoyment of this collection. In addition to that, his arrogance to include several quotes about himself further diminished my enjoyment. If you can overlook both of these flaws, Scorn
 by Matthew Parris is an enjoyable read and a book you'll want to share with others.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

24 February 2017

Review: Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Pitched to readers as an extraordinary, controversial and explosive debut, Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land is a psychological suspense novel with an exciting premise.

Annie's mother is a serial killer and the only way she can stop her mother from killing is to go to the police. Her mother is arrested and Annie begins a new life as Milly while awaiting her mother's trial for multiple counts of murder. Will Milly end up like her mother or will she break free from the cycle of violence?

It's an excellent premise and concept for a crime novel and when I read the blurb for the first time it sounded entirely fresh and I was excited to read it. Unfortunately for me it didn't quite deliver.

The beginning of the novel started off with a bang and I was instantly drawn in, but it just didn't maintain the heightened level of engagement, although I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps the novel needed to begin a week prior to Annie going to the police in order to experience the horrors she went through and for the reader to feel just how much of a menace her mother was.

Perhaps the novel didn't go deep enough or wasn't dark enough.

The relationship Milly develops with her new foster sister was absolutely fascinating and I would have enjoyed exploring that a little further and a little deeper. This relationship created more menace and suspense than the relationship with Milly's mother which should have been the driver for the novel.

Overall, Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land is a good read and I'm confident it'll be enjoyed by many crime fans in the months ahead.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

20 February 2017

Review: The True Story of Guns N' Roses - Last of the Giants by Mick Wall

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I've been a fan of Guns N' Roses since my teenage years and their music formed the basis of the soundtrack of my adolescence. I enjoyed reading Slash's self-titled autobiography in 2011 but when I heard Mick Wall was writing a book on the band, I was eager to read it. 
Mick Wall has written about other bands including: Metallica, AC/DC, Prince and Led Zeppelin - to name a few - and seems to have an acute understanding of the industry.

In The True Story of Guns N' Roses - Last of the Giants, Wall introduces the reader to each member of the band and then shows us how their paths converge and the band we know as the original line up of Guns N' Roses was formed. Their time living together in the 'hell house' was shocking and informative and it was interesting to learn about the slow and steady rise of their first album Appetite for Destruction. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover just how popular and successful they were.

Wall goes into great detail about the managers and staff around the band, contracts, concerts and tours and of course background on each of the songs. The inability of the band members to handle their fame and new found wealth is discussed as is the effect drugs had on Duff and Slash, almost killing them, and in Slash's case, killing him 5 times. 

Wall documents the gradual decline of the band and the impact Axl's behaviour had on each of the band members. Steve Adler's drug habit and eventual firing from the band is covered as is Izzy Stradlin's eventual resignation.

Axl's perfectionism and controlling behaviour is discussed - with a few surprises - as is the way in which he slowly took over control of the band until he was the last original member left. We learn about the new/replacement members of the band and the formation and success of the 'new line-up.' My favourite tidbits in the book were on page 178 and 228 and provided insight as to who wrote which songs. Little known facts such as You Could Be Mine was originally recorded during the Appetite for Destruction sessions made for interesting reading.

Reading The True Story of Guns N' Roses - Last of the Giants in the lead up to attending their Not in This Lifetime Tour earlier this month was the best preparation possible and gave me a better appreciation of just how far they've all come. I thoroughly recommend The True Story of Guns N' Roses to fans of their music all over the world.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

17 February 2017

Book vs. Movie: The Light Between Oceans

In 2012 I reviewed The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, giving it 5 stars. I enjoyed exploring the moral dilemma faced by the young married couple living on remote Janus Island post World War I. Tom is seeking refuge after the war and applies for the job of lighthouse keeper on Janus Island off the coast of Australia. He meets and marries Isabel and together they try to start a family; albeit unsuccessfully. When a baby in a boat washes ashore, they're faced with a moral dilemma and the repercussions of the dilemma weigh heavy on them both.

When I learned the book was being made into a film, I was excited and hopeful the movie would successfully capture the stunning scenery and communicate the isolation. I needn't have worried. I thoroughly enjoyed the film - and the cinematography in particular - and recognised a few well-known Aussie actors amongst the cast members. It's a slow and atmospheric movie exploring love and grief, so those looking for action and adventure will need to look elsewhere.

In this case I maintain the book was better, but the movie was a solid and true translation of the novel and was entertaining on the big screen. You don't need to have read the book to enjoy the movie.

Carpe Librum!

10 February 2017

Winner of Last of the Giants - The True Story of Guns N' Roses by Mick Wall announced

Thanks to the dedicated Guns N' Roses fans who entered my giveaway to win a copy of Last of the Giants - The True Story of Guns N' Roses by Mick Wall. Entries closed at midnight on Wednesday 8 February 2017.

The most popular favourite song was Sweet Child O' Mine, however the entrant who said Sheryl Crowe's version was 'stunning' is mistaken. Now, onto business. The winner was drawn today, so big drum roll and guitar solo for the winner:
Drew Fuller
Congratulations Drew, you'll receive an email shortly and will have 7 days to provide me with your mailing address. Thanks again to Hachette Australia for the prize.

Carpe Librum!

03 February 2017

Friday Freebie to WIN a copy of Last of the Giants - The True Story of Guns N' Roses by Mick Wall

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *
RRP $32.99 AUD

Have you got a Bad Obsession? Do you love to read in The Garden or do you prefer to read in bed listening to November Rain? You're going to need a little Patience because I have a One In A Million opportunity for you to WIN a copy of Last of the Giants - The True Story of Guns N' Roses by Mick Wall. You're Crazy if you miss this giveaway because It's So Easy to enter. Just fill in the form below and tell me your favourite GNR song; just Don't Cry if you miss out.

I finished reading my review copy yesterday and it was an excellent insight for fans, especially in the lead up to their Australian tour later this month. Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

A major, definitive biography of Guns N' Roses by the man who was very much a part of what remains the most iconic rock story of the last three decades.

Many millions of words have already been written about Guns N' Roses, the old line-up, the new line-up. But none of them have ever really gotten to the truth. Which is this: Guns N' Roses has always been a band out of time, the Last of the Giants. They are what every rock band since the Rolling Stones has tried and nearly always failed to be: dangerous. At a time when smiling, MTV-friendly, safe-sex, just-say-no Bon Jovi was the biggest band in the world, here was a band that seemed to have leapt straight out of the coke-smothered pages of the original, golden-age, late-sixties rock scene.

'Live like a suicide', the band used to say when they all lived together in the Hell House, their notorious LA home. And this is where Mick Wall first met them, and became part of their inner circle, before famously being denounced by name by Axl Rose in the song Get in the Ring.

But this book isn't about settling old scores. Written with the clear head that 25 years later brings you, this is a celebration of Guns N' Roses the band, and of Axl Rose the frontman who really is that thing we so desperately want him to be: the last of the truly extraordinary, all-time great, no apologies, no explanations, no giving-a-shit rock stars. The last of his kind.


31 January 2017

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman hardly needs any introduction to the reading public. This British author has received a swag of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal for The Graveyard Book amongst a host of others. Neil Gaiman is an inspirational speaker, and phrases of his ('make mistakes' and 'make good art') have stuck with me throughout the years. His New Year wishes are inspirational and I admire his writing and creativity.

I give you this glowing introduction because I've finally read The Graveyard Book and didn't fall in love with it as much as I wanted to. Don't you hate it when that happens?

It's about a young boy who escapes his house the night his family is murdered and wanders up the street and into a graveyard. After much discussion, the ghosts in the graveyard agree to raise him as their own and so the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins.

This is a fantasy novel for children and the young at heart however the accompanying illustrations by Dave McKean left me wanting more. I enjoyed Bod's interactions with the graveyard residents; especially when the engraving on their headstone was repeated in the text after their name appears. For instance:

- Doctor Trefusis (1870-1936, May He Wake to Glory) from Page 96
- Thackeray Porringer (1720-1734, son of the above) from Page 174
- Portunia (They Sleep to Wake Again) on Page 186

I absolutely loved this! The setting in Highgate Cemetery (West) in London added to my enjoyment because this is a famous cemetery and entry today is via guided tour only. How cool is that?

Overall, this was a good read, but my adoration for the author didn't extend to a love for The Graveyard Book. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but that's okay.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

More great news for fans of Neil Gaiman is that The Graveyard Book is going to be made into a film with Ron Howard as Director.

27 January 2017

Review: The Girl Before - A Novel by JP Delaney

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Girl Before is due for release next month and was a thrilling read. Written by JP delaney (which is a pen name by the way), it's set in a house designed by renowned architect Edward Monkford. 

The minimalist house at One Folgate Street is ahead of its time, monitoring the health and wellbeing of the occupant via the use of an electronic bracelet and a programme called Housekeeper.

To live there, tenants must sign a detailed contract and agree to comply with a tonne of rules specifying what they can and can't do in the house. No clutter and no books, for a start. (Are you kidding me? Obviously I couldn't live there). Oh, and they need to agree open the house up to architect students every once in a while.

Told from the point of view of two female tenants - Jane in the present and Emma in the past - the history of the house and the mysterious accidental death of Emma begin to unfold at a satisfying pace. The house provides a luxurious yet somewhat creepy big brother kind of setting and the portrayal of perfectionist/control freak architect was original.

The Girl Before is recommended for architects, interior designers and those who love a good thriller.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

18 January 2017

Bless This Mother-Effing Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Kutthroat

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

Bless This Mother-Effing Home: Sweet Stitches for Snarky Bitches by Katie Kutthroat is a short and entertaining collection of subversive cross stitch. Subversive cross stitch is usually a phrase or unexpected statement designed to shock the viewer. (That's my take on it anyway). It's about challenging the status quo and the unexpected that makes it funny.

Accompanied by floral motifs or a decorative border, the viewer is lulled into a false sense of security - perhaps expecting a quaint vintage piece of handiwork - until they read the phrase, which isn't in keeping with the design at all.

Katie Kutthroat (that's her badass alter ego) opened an Etsy shop in 2008 and her success grew from there. This collection contains the images printed on perforated pages (with a patterned reverse) so you can tear them out and frame them or send one to a friend. If you're looking for the patterns you'll need to visit her Etsy shop Needles and Pins.

Phrases in the book include: Suck it up Buttercup, Mo Money Mo Problems and They Hate Us Because They Ain't Us to name a few. Most of the pieces contain adult language and offensive content and I'll admit I didn't find all of them funny, just as I wouldn't love every design in any other book, subversive or not.

I read my copy as an e-book and I think reading the physical book will add a lot more to your enjoyment. I've included a photo of two of my favourite designs from her book below, hope you enjoy.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Credit: Bless This Mother-Effing Home by Katie Kutthroat 
Credit: Bless This Mother-Effing Home by Katie Kutthroat 

16 January 2017

Winner of To The Sea by Christine Dibley announced

Thanks to a record number of entrants who entered my giveaway last week to win a copy of To The Sea by Australian author Christine Dibley. Entries closed at midnight on Thursday 12 January and it was exciting to see just how popular this giveaway was, with over 106 entries received. The winner was drawn today, so big drum roll and congratulations to:
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Congratulations Shannon, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide me with your mailing address. Thanks again to Pan Macmillan Australia for the prize.

Carpe Librum!

15 January 2017

2017 Challenge Sign-Ups

I'm signing up to the following three reading challenges in 2017, and I look forward to discovering some great reads.
  • Aussie Author Challenge 2017 
  • 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge 
  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2017 

The Aussie Author Challenge 2017 is hosted by Booklover Book Reviews and I've decided to sign up for their Kangaroo level again.

Here are the challenge requirements:
- Read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors;
- At least 4 female and 4 male authors;
- At least 4 new authors (to me);
- A minimum of 3 genres

If you want to join me, you can participate in the challenge via Facebook, GoodReads or Google+ (you don't need a website or a book blog to participate).

I'm signing up for the Franklin level of the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge and will need to read 10 books by Australian women and review at least 6 of them to successfully complete the challenge.

If you want to join me, you can participate in the challenge by reading a nominated number of books without having to review any of them.

Sound good? 

Click here for more details.

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2017 is hosted by Passages to the Past and I've decided to sign up for their Renaissance Reader level this year. 

I will need to read 10 historical fiction novels to successfully complete the challenge and I've already chosen a few I'm sure to enjoy.

You can follow my 2017 challenge progress here and I look forward to discovering some great reads this year. Do you have any reading goals this year?

Carpe Librum!

13 January 2017

Top 5 Favourite Books of 2016

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Favourite Books of 2016 in the order I read them.

1. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Read in January (courtesy of NetGalley), this is a story about twin girls who swap identities for fun. Things begin to go wrong though when one of the sisters refuses to change back.

The novel explores themes of identity and mental illness, and the impact the change has on one of the sisters in particular, making for a suspenseful and sometimes disturbing read.

2. The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
Read in February (courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia), I instantly felt this book was written for me. Noah has nightmares, repeatedly begs Janie for his real mother and keeps asking when he can go home. Nobody can tell Janie what's wrong with her son despite visiting a whole host of specialists.

The novel covers themes of identity, death, mental illness, re-incarnation and children who may (or may not) be able to remember their previous life. An overarching theme of a mother's love for her son drives this story.

I loved this book and Sharon Guskin is my favourite debut author for 2016.

3. Watership Down by Richard Adams

I only read one classic in 2016 - which is unusual for me - but Watership Down was an absolute delight to discover.

Published in 197
2 and set in the South of England, Adams creates a world where rabbits can talk and each warren of rabbits has their own culture. Primarily an adventure story, the rabbits face danger from men and animals and leave their home in search of a safe environment in which to build a new warren and live in peace.

Featuring snippets of rabbit mythology and occasionally including tales told by storyteller rabbits (rabbits love to listen to stories), I thoroughly enjoyed the themes of leadership, sacrifice, freedom and peace that underpin the various stages of this adventure story.

I was sorry to hear Richard Adams passed away in December 2016 and I'm so glad I read this masterpiece.

4. Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly
Read in August and set in London during the late 1500s during the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Dark Aemilia has it all: Shakespeare, plague, sorcery, witchcraft, witty dialogue, great writing and hot sex scenes. Everything I love in a book!

Brilliantly written and based on a real person, Aemilia was 
England's first female poet and was thought to be Shakespeare's dark muse. 

Dark Aemilia is for lovers of historical fiction, witty dialogue, Shakespeare and the darker side of London in the 16th Century.

5. Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Read in August (courtesy of Simon & Schuster) and set in 1501, this is a story of three sisters, Margaret Tudor, her younger sister Mary and her future sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon. All three sisters will become Queens in their own right - of England, Scotland and France - and we see their lives unfold and overlap through the eyes of our narrator, Margaret Tudor.

Themes of sibling rivalry, envy, greed, betrayal and the pursuit of true love run throughout the novel as does the importance of delivering a male heir. Miscarriages and failure to produce an heir causes grief and angst for the sisters, and -unexpectedly for the modern reader - competition between them. Henry VIII's overarching influence over each of the women is also evident.

Philippa Gregory is swiftly becoming my favourite author. One of her books made it into my 2015 Top 5 list and this time I wanted to nominate two of her books for this list, which says it all.

Have you read any of the books in this list? What was your favourite book of 2016?

Carpe Librum!

11 January 2017

Review: The Countess - A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory by Rebecca Johns

Some of you may know of the Blood Countess or the Countess Dracula, the most prolific female serial killer of all time. Born in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1560, she was accused of killing hundreds of young women and some accounts say she murdered up to 650 victims.

When she was eventually caught and faced trial in 1609, she was walled up in a tower in solitary confinement until her death five years later in 1614. It was said Bathory bathed in the blood of her victims to preserve her beauty, but where does fact end and folklore begin?

Author Rebecca Johns attempts to address this in her fictionalised account of Elizabeth Bathory's life in her historical novel The Countess.

Johns takes us through Bathory's childhood growing up in a noble family in 16th Century Hungary, and walks us through her life in a first person narrative. We see her mature from a young girl and face fear, self-doubt, loneliness, love, heartbreak, loss, grief, anger and frustration.

Johns paints a clear picture of the responsibilities of a Countess to run several households and the disappointment and betrayal Bathory feels when her maidservants steal from her or sleep with her husband. Bathory beats them and many of them die, and we get a unique insight during all of this with privileged access to her - albeit fictionalised - thoughts.

What The Countess doesn't do (and cannot do) is respond to, answer or address the accusations Bathory ever bathed in blood. Many of these myths and accounts of Bathory occurred long after her death and it's difficult to address in a fictionalised account of an historical figure, but perhaps this could have been accomplished by a Author's Note at the end.

Countess Elizabeth Bathory's life and crimes have inspired countless artists to reference her in novels, comics, stage plays, operas, songs, TV shows, movies, and even video games. (Don't believe me? Check it out on Wikipedia).

I enjoyed this account of Bathory's life in The Countess, but I finished reading it with a feeling her crimes had been blown out of all proportion, and she wasn't the devil incarnate. Perhaps that was the point all along.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

09 January 2017

Review: Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else - The Stories Behind Australia's Weird and Wonderful Place Names by Eamon Evans

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

If you like strange place names and ever wonder how towns, cities, streets and places get their names, then Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else - The Stories Behind Australia's Weird and Wonderful Place Names by Eamon Evans is for you.

Organised by state and then alphabetically by place name (which is handy), this is a light-hearted look at place names in Australia and their origin and history.

Written in a laid back and casual style, Evans tries to bring humour to every page and occasionally it falls flat. At times it felt as though he were writing a book to appeal to Dads for Father's Day; often mentioning place names like Wanka Creek (QLD), Mount Breast and Mount Little Dick (VIC) for a laugh or shock value but without an accompanying story behind their weird names.

Contained amongst these were the more interesting entries that ignited curiosity, like Haunted Bay and Hell's Gates in Tasmania, Cannibal Creek in Queensland or Coffin Bay and Dead Mans Pass in South Australia. Some of their origins were fascinating, others unexpected, but all in all they were entertaining and informative.

Here's a few of the aboriginal place names and meanings:

  • Nimbin in New South Wales means 'a very small man', page 53
  • Jinnerbeeker in Western Australia means 'bad feet', page 191
  • Oodnadatta in South Australia means 'smelly water', page 233

My favourite place name in the book was - unsurprisingly - a place called Bookmark in South Australia. Mentioned on page 218, Evans tells us the name is a 'slightly odd corruption of 'pukumako', meaning 'flintstone axe'. Now that's interesting!

Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else is recommended reading for those with an interest in Australian geography and history and place names (obviously). If you enjoy base humour, that's great, but if you don't, just skip those entries to get to the good stuff.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

07 January 2017

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 Incomplete

A year ago I signed up for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 hosted by Passages to the Past. I committed to the Medieval level and had to read a minimum of 15 historical fiction novels by 31 December 2016.

Unfortunately I fell one book short of my goal, but here's what I read:

1. The Secret Heiress | Luke Devenish
2. The Golden Day | Ursula Dubosarsky
3. Precious Things | Kelly Doust
4. Falling Angels | Tracy Chevalier
5. The House Between Tides | Sarah Maine
6. Dark Aemilia | Sally O'Reilly
7. Three Sisters, Three Queens | Philippa Gregory
8. The Good People | Hannah Kent
9. The Wonder | Emma Donoghue
10. Beyond the Orchard | Anna Romer
11. Southern Ruby | Belinda Alexandra
12. The Better Son | Katherine Johnson
13. The Kingmaker's Daughter | Philippa Gregory
14. The Countess: A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory | Rebecca Johns

Despite failing to complete the challenge, I think I'm going to sign up again in 2017 as historical fiction remains my favourite genre.

Anyone want to join me?

Carpe Librum

05 January 2017

WIN a copy of To The Sea by Australian author Christine Dibley

RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Australian author Christine Dibley has written a stunning saga set on the sweeping coasts of Tasmania and Ireland. Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Alice Hoffman, To The Sea is lyrical, evocative and deeply engrossing.

On a clear summer’s day, Detective Inspector Tony Vincent answers a call-out to Rosetta, an idyllic Tasmanian beach house. Surrounded by family and calm waters, 17-year-old Zoe Kennett has inexplicably vanished.

As four storytellers share their version of what has led to this moment, they weave tales which span centuries and continents. But this is a missing persons case and to solve it Tony needs facts, not fiction: how will such fables lead him to Zoe and to the truth?

As his investigation continues, he is slowly drawn into a world where myth and history blur, and where women who risk everything for love must pay the price through every generation.

Author Bio
Born in outback New South Wales, Christine Dibley arrived in Tasmania thirty years ago and has been held there by that strange bond islands weave around their inhabitants. Christine resigned from her position as a CEO in the health industry four years ago to pursue full time writing and To the Sea is her first novel.


02 January 2017

Aussie Author Challenge 2016 Completed

I enjoyed the Aussie Author Challenge 2016 last year and completed the highest level in the challenge.

I had to read and review at least 12 titles by Australian authors; at least 4 female and 4 male authors; at least 4 new authors (to me) across a minimum of 3 genres.

Here's what I read for the challenge:
1.  Missing | Melanie Casey
2.  I'll Go Home Then; It's Warm and Has Chairs - The Unpublished Emails | David Thorne
3.  All These Perfect Strangers | Aoife Clifford
4.  The Secret Heiress | Luke Devenish
5.  The Golden Day | Ursula Dubosarsky
6.  Precious Things | Kelly Doust
7.  The Twisted Knot | J.M. Peace
8.  Out of the Ice | Ann Turner
9.  The Falls | B. Michael Radburn
10. The Good People | Hannah Kent
11. The Troubles Keeper | Susan May
12. Beyond the Orchard | Anna Romer
13. The Tao Deception | John M. Green
14. Southern Ruby | Belinda Alexandra
15. Roger Rogerson | Duncan McNab
16. The Better Son | Katherine Johnson
17. Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else | Eamon Evans

Have you read any of the books listed above? I'm looking forward to participating again in 2017 and will be signing up soon.

Carpe Librum!