13 December 2017

Review: Nevermoor - The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Jessica Townsend is the hottest debut Australian author at the moment and the writer of Nevermoor - The Trials of Morrigan Crow. Nevermoor is a fantasy novel for young and young adult readers and contains elements of magical realism, without the wands and spells.

Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide and consequently she is fated to die on the next Eventide, which happens to be her 12th birthday. Being born on the most unlucky day of the year means she is cursed. Morrigan knows she is going to die on Eventide and unfortunately her birthday is fast approaching, but just when all seems helpless, she escapes to a new place called Nevermoor.

Nevermoor takes off from the first page with instant world-building and it took me a while to 'get into it' to be honest. But once I began to relax into the world of Morrigan Crow, I could settle in and enjoy her adventure.

When I saw the cover (yellow font on a blue background and the presence of umbrellas), I worried that Nevermoor was going to be a Mary Poppins / Harry Potter / Peter Pan rip off. Fortunately my suspicions were swiftly allayed, so don't jump to the same inaccurate conclusions I did. Sometimes judging a book by its cover can be a mistake.

Nevermoor is already achieving amazing milestones in Australian publishing and 20th Century Fox has purchased the movie rights. Nevermoor is aimed at middle grade readers (aged 8-12) but is highly recommended for those who enjoy a young coming-of-age novel and the magic and creative whimsy of the Harry Potter series. It's the first in a series for young and old readers alike.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

11 December 2017

Celebrating 1,000,000 views!

Today is cause for some serious celebration. (Crowd goes wild!)

I've finally surpassed 1,000,000 views here on Carpe Librum!

From humble beginnings way back in 2005, and with a different name (My Four Bucks) I still remember the excitement of achieving just 30 views/hits in a single month. I'd check my stats daily and it was thrilling to see it rise. (Tragic, I know).

Since then, I've kept at it and in November 2011 I was celebrating 13,000 total views and in June 2015 celebrated my 10 Year Blogiversary. I now enjoy an average of 10,000 views per month and am spoiled for choice when it comes to publisher catalogues.

A huge thank you to each and every one of you reading this for making my dreams come true. I hope you've been able to discover some great reads along the way, win a giveaway or perhaps even dodge a dud book now and then thanks to my vetting it for you.

I'll never tire of reading and reviewing here at Carpe Librum, and I'm so grateful to be able to share my love of books with you. If you have any suggestions on how I should celebrate this milestone, let me know in the comments below.


Carpe Librum!

07 December 2017

Review: The Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute

The Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute is a graphic novel about the day-to-day experiences of a park bench. It's a simple premise, but interestingly, there is no text used in the artwork at all. I've since learned graphic novels like this are called wordless or silent graphic novels.

This is my first time reading a wordless graphic novel but Chaboute makes it surprisingly easy to follow the story arc. There are happy, sad, curious and mundane things that happen on, at and around the park bench and the reader is able to follow along with relative interest.

The Park Bench is an entertaining reading experience and has definitely cemented my view that graphic novels should play a part in everybody's reading at one stage or another. I've always been of the opinion that adults who say they don't read, just haven't found the right book or genre yet.

What graphic novels have you enjoyed?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

05 December 2017

Review: The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Rosamund Young is first and foremost a farmer and runs Kite's Nest Farm in the Cotswolds. She's been observing animal behaviour since 1980 and began to notice that cows are intelligent animals with personalities as diverse as our own.

In The Secret Life of Cows, Rosamund shares anecdotes about her animals, their behaviours and interactions in a personable and chatty manner.

Every cow on her farm is given a name and Rosamund knows the complete family tree of all the cows on her farm. They play games, babysit, hold grudges and grieve. Her cows are able to communicate and let her know if another cow in the herd is hurt, and are surprisingly adept at problem solving. They also love to be groomed, who knew?

I was interested to learn cows will seek out food according to their needs, (willow if they have an injury or stinging nettles when pregnant) highlighting and reinforcing the need for organic farming practices.

Presented in an attractive little hardcover reminiscent of a clothbound classic, The Secret Life of Cows would make a lovely gift this Christmas for animal lovers, hobby and full-time farmers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

01 December 2017

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Many readers worried Australian author Jane Harper couldn't top her award-winning debut novel The Dry, but I'm here to tell you she has! Force of Nature is a ripping read and just as full of thrilling suspense as The Dry. The end of each chapter unapologetically forces you to continue onto the next, with a freshly stoked desire to find out what happens.

Force of Nature can easily be read as a standalone, however it does feature the same main character AFP Officer Aaron Falk. This time Falk is investigating the case of a missing person, lost in the bush during a corporate team building and camping retreat. Each of the five female staff members on the retreat have their own problems and the conflict that grows and festers between them was expertly written.

Jane Harper captures the menacing and unforgiving wilderness of the Australian bush with such precision, that several scenes reminded me of the 1886 oil painting Lost by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin.

I'm recommending Force of Nature to readers everywhere and it's certainly been a highlight on my reading calendar this year.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE extract here.

29 November 2017

Winner of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas announced

Thanks to those who entered my blog tour giveaway to win a print copy of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas. Entries closed at midnight on Monday 27 November 2017 and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:
Congratulations Fay, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. Endeavour Press will send your prize out to you directly and I hope you enjoy it.

Carpe Librum!

27 November 2017

Review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Sleeping Beauties is a collaboration between father and son, and is written seamlessly. Stephen King and his son Owen have teamed up to explore what happens when the women in the world succumb to a sleeping sickness. But there's always one exception to the rule and Eve doesn't fall victim to the illness. Is she the devil or their saviour?

Women fight to stay awake, but when they eventually fall asleep they're quickly covered in a cocoon of gauzy web-like substance. The book eventually explains this, but as in Under The Dome, the novel is more about what happens to the people left behind and how they react. There were many unanswered questions by the end, but I think you just need to 'go with it' - as in Cell and UR - and give yourself over to the premise.

Told in multiple points of view from many many characters in the town of Dooling in West Virginia, the plot unfolds quite rapidly over a relatively short period of time. Much of the story takes place at a women's prison which King writes very well and some readers will enjoy the parallels to other novels in the King canon.

Sleeping Beauties unashamedly and unapologetically raises and explores the issue of gender politics, clearly - in my opinion - siding with the women. Some feminists are likely to find themselves nodding along, while it wouldn't surprise me if this irked a few readers; me included.

The climax of the book for me took place at the prison, and this scene is begging to be played out on the big screen. The multiple points of view and rolling action does make for a massive tome though, and Sleeping Beauties comes in at 700+ pages. At the end of the day, it's a hefty read and I think it would work better as a movie or TV mini series. With the recent success of Stephen King adaptations, this has a good chance of happening.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

16 November 2017

Review: Ghosts of the Tsunami - Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

After reading Richard Lloyd Parry's essay entitled Ghosts of the Tsunami in the London Review of Books, I instantly became obsessed with getting and reading his book, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone. Parry was living in Tokyo at the time of the earthquake and spent six years as a foreign correspondent visiting and reporting from the tsunami disaster zone.

Shocking facts about the Japanese earthquake on 11 March 2011*
- It was the biggest earthquake ever to have struck Japan, and the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology.
- It knocked the earth 10 inches off it's axis.
- It moved Japan four feet closer to America.

Shocking facts about the tsunami that followed*
- The tsunami killed 18,500 people.
- At its peak, the water of the tsunami was 120 feet high.
- The earthquake and tsunami caused more than $210 billion of damage, making it the most costly natural disaster ever.

I didn't know that the Japanese honour their dead ancestors in the form of household altars and memorial tablets. When these were destroyed in the tsunami, the subsequent grief and bereavement was about so much more than the immediate loss of life. The tsunami destroyed memorial books and tablets containing the names of generations of ancestors and even 
ripped open cemetery vaults and scattered the bones of the dead

Without their memorial tablets, and important family items, survivors weren't able to honour their ancestors. Entire families lost in the tsunami left nobody behind to honour them and their ancestors. The disaster left a population in deep grief and a feeling that the souls of thousands of ancestors had been suddenly 'cut adrift'.

Parry interviewed hundreds of survivors and many of their experiences are in this book. He tells how survivors "spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural. They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns."

I was hoping to read more about these encounters and the way in which the nation and individual communities dealt with the sudden loss of 18,500 souls. Stories like this one: "A fire station that received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway, prayed for the spirits of those who had died - and the ghostly calls ceased."

However it soon became clear that Parry's overwhelming focus was going to be the story of the children at Okawa primary school. Tragically, the teachers did not evacuate the children to higher ground, despite having more than enough time to do so before the tsunami struck. Parry documents the parent's grief, the search for their children's remains (often lasting years), the process of pursuing the school and government for answers, right through to class legal action; quite unusual for Japan.

Reading Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone was incredibly informative, factual and shocking but at the same time heart wrenchingly tragic.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, the threat of earthquake and tsunami is constant. Parry tells us that in 2012: "a new study concluded that an earthquake and tsunami originating in the Nankai Trough could take 323,000 lives along the south-central Pacific Coast." He also says that "it is generally assumed Tokyo will be shaken by an earthquake powerful enough to destroy large areas of the city......that will kill many tens of thousands of people."

I hope this doesn't happen during my lifetime, although the Japanese seem as prepared as they can be for the inevitable. Until then, this generation will continue to wade through their grief and loss the best way they know how.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

* These facts have been extracted from the book.

13 November 2017

Blog tour giveaway: WIN a copy of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas

* Copy courtesy of Endeavour Press *

Today is the beginning of the Illusion blog tour thanks to Endeavour Press and to celebrate, I'm running a giveaway from 
13 - 27 November. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas (not currently available to buy in Australia!) priced at $9.99USD. Enter below for your chance to WIN.

RRP $9.99USD
London, 1873. Returning home from his travels with a stowaway named Kayan, Walter Balanchine is noted for the charms, potions and locket hanging from his neck. Finding his friend Tom Winter’s mother unwell, he gives her a potion he learned to brew in the Far East. Lucid and free from pain, the old woman remembers something about Walter’s mother.

Walter is intrigued, for he has never known his family or even his own name – he christened himself upon leaving the workhouse. Living in a cemetery with his pet panther Sinbad to keep the body snatchers away, word soon spreads of his healing and magical abilities and he becomes a sought after party performer.

During one of Walter’s parties, Tom is approached by Tamara Huntington, who reveals she is being forced to marry a man she does not love. Will he and Walter come to her rescue? Try as they might, sometimes all the best intentions in the world can’t put a stop to a bad thing, and she is soon married off to the cruel Cecil Hearst.

Drama and tragedy ensue, and Walter keeps his distance from Tamara. That is until her stricken brother-in-law Daniel requires his magical healing, and he is forced back into her life. With secrets beginning to emerge, Walter finds his mother may be a lot closer to home than he realised…

Filled with mystery, magic and larger than life characters, Illusion will keep you guessing until the very last page. 

Author Bio
Stephanie Elmas was born in Hong Kong but spent most of her childhood in Bristol. Having worked as a head hunter, she taught English in Japan before returning to University to complete an MA in Victorian fiction. It was here that she developed her interest in the dark dangerous world of Victorian sensation writing. After the success of her first novel, The Room Beyond, Elmas has returned to write the tale of the early life of East End mystic and illusionist Walter Balanchine. When she is not writing, Elmas teaches secondary school English and juggles a chaotic household in Surrey.


10 November 2017

Review: Need To Know by Karen Cleveland

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House UK *

I don't typically read spy novels (in fact, if I see the word espionage in a blurb I usually run a mile) but Need to Know by Karen Cleveland is an espionage thriller and I absolutely loved it!

Main character Vivian Miller is a working mother with four children and a perfect husband, but something soon happens to change all that. Need To Know is believable, fast paced and reads like a domestic thriller. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about when I could get back to it, which is a ready indicator of a great book.

It's hard to believe this is a debut novel from the author, but when I learned she had spent 8 years as a CIA Analyst, I understood why I'd been in such competent hands. Karen Cleveland knows what she's talking about.

The pitch for this book was the best I've seen from a publisher in more than 11+ years of reviewing and I was instantly hooked. Arriving in a classified envelope containing my redacted mission and an ID pouch, my advanced reading copy also had phrases printed on the page edges (see below). It's my favourite review copy in distant memory and the novelty made me excited to read the book and I wasn't disappointed.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland will be released on 25 January 2018 and I highly recommend it. Even if you don't think spy thrillers are for you; this novels breaks through the genre in a new and surprising way.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum

08 November 2017

Review and look inside: Upside-Down Dogs by Serena Hodson

* Copy and extract courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Upside-Down Dogs by Serena Hodson is a collection of photographs depicting a variety of dogs - yep, you guessed it - upside down. A multitude of poses and backgrounds make this a very enjoyable coffee table book for all ages.

Serena Hodson is a NZ born photographer now living in Brisbane Australia and is also the author of Dogservations.

I have no idea how Hodson encourages the dogs to relax and let their 'guard' down in order to photograph them upside down. Her photographs seem to capture moments of fun and relaxation as well as expressions of curiosity and wonder as each dog's personality shines through.

There's an index at the end providing each dog's name and breed, and flicking back and forth all the time was a little tiresome. I'd much prefer the information to be subtly located on each page, but that's just me.

Upside-Down Dogs is the perfect gift for dog lovers and animal lovers everywhere.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

Now for a sneak peak inside the book, thanks to Hachette Australia.

Page 50: Oakey, Corgi
Page 53: Harry, Lhasa Apso

Page 78: Katee and Ruby, Pug

06 November 2017

Review: The Seventh Circle by Rob Langdon

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Seventh Circle - A former Australian soldier's extraordinary story of surviving seven years in Afghanistan's most notorious prison by Rob Langdon is a tough read. Here's the intro:

'I was arrested on Thursday 9th July 2009. On Wednesday I'd quit my job, killed a man and set his body on fire. I was sentenced to death. I'm not a good man, but I am an honest one. This is my story.'

It was hard to read about Rob Langdon's incarceration, and while his resilience is an inspiration, he was fucked over in so many ways that this reader was more often than not furious while reading it. Working as a security contractor in Afghanistan, his former employer deserted him and the number of people who took advantage of the situation - or stole his stuff, thinking he was as good as dead - was exasperating. What scum! Originally sentenced to death and then to a term of 20 years, Rob experiences the full gamut of emotions, but there were a few rays of light in those who stuck by him, helped him stay sane and eventually secured his freedom.

The following quote from Page 16 encapsulates his seven year ordeal better than I can:
"The prison was a hell on earth, as I will attempt to show in these pages, but I'm afraid my words will never be up to the task of conveying the filth, the danger, the uncertainty, the noise, the stench, the hopelessness, the barbarity, the cheapness of life, the random violence, the anguish, and the sheer fucking boredom that I had to wade through day after day, more than two thousand days and nights, in what should have been my prime."

I'm not sure this is a book I would recommend to another reader. It's the kind of memoir you discover on your own given the content and it's definitely a personal reading choice. You'll need a strong stomach for a start and it may suit readers with an interest in the military and the conflict in Afghanistan.

It's always hard to give a rating to this kind of memoir. It's about human endurance and survival, but also about the politics of Afghanistan which many readers will find shocking and abhorrent. 
Having said that, I'm glad I read The Seventh Circle by Rob Langdon and admire the resilience of this Australian.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. You can read a FREE extract here.

02 November 2017

Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Last Hours by Minette Walters is an historical novel set in Develish, Dorsetshire in 1348 as the black death begins to spread throughout the counties. I've long been fascinated by the plague and so an historical fiction novel about the plague was a match made in heaven.

Lady Anne of Develish tries to protect her serfs (200 of them) from the plague by taking steps in sanitation and care of the sick that was unusual at the time. At 555 pages, it's a significant and compelling read and I soon became engrossed in the plot. But the ending!

I was rolling along with the story, happily invested in the characters and looking forward to the conclusion until a sudden and unexpected ending and the surprise that a sequel is coming in October 2018. What?

The Last Hours didn't end on a cliffhanger, but perhaps I could have handled it better if it was. Instead, the book felt severed and the ending rudely wrenched from my hands with just a vague hint of what's to come in the sequel.

Knowing this is the first novel for Minette Walters in 10 years, I wonder if the original manuscript was too long and the publisher or editor decided to divide it in two. This would explain the illogical end point and the feeling of being wrenched prematurely from the story with a 12 month gap until the next book.

This was heading towards a 5 star rating, but I just can't get over the ending. What a shame. Needless to say I'll be first in the queue for the sequel next year.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

31 October 2017

Review of Paperless Post

Many of you know I have a thing for stationery, and love to send family and friends a card for birthdays, Christmas and special occasions. I think sending something in the mail in the form of snail mail or happy mail is a cheerful and fun thing to do to brighten someone's day. So when Paperless Post asked me to trial their online stationery platform, I was excited to accept.

Nothing beats a physical card, but sending e-cards with Paperless Post is a much cheaper and quicker way of communicating with friends and family, and there's no chance your card will be lost in the mail.

I loved choosing from the wide range of cards and spent quite a bit of time selecting the colour of envelope, the design of the envelope liner (so much fun!), the stamp, postage mark and viewing background. The designs are attractive and modern and there seem to be an endless number of combinations. Users are guaranteed to come up with something unique to their event or recipient. And did I mention it was fun?

If you've ever used Moonpig, this is like Moonpig on steroids! There are options to create events, address lists and track your recipient activity. Recipients can send you a message back if they want to, and it's all collated in your dashboard. You can even track RSVPs, and I imagine this would be an easy and fun way to organise the office Christmas party.

There doesn't seem to be a way to set your country of origin, so the tracking dates and times didn't correlate with my activities in the dashboard.

I didn't see an option to schedule the sending of a card on Paperless Post, but I assume there must be a function somewhere to allow you to choose the date and time your card is sent. However, being in Australia and the times not matching up, this could a little be problematic for some users.

You can email yourself a preview of the card, but it says “your recipient’s name will go here” so you can’t see exactly what it’ll look like to your recipient.

The verdict
While Paperless Post - and platforms like it - may very well be the way of the future, I think I'm going to continue sending physical cards and notes for now; barring the occasional event where this method of delivery has it's advantages.

Carpe Librum!

30 October 2017

Winner of 3 illustrated books from User Design announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win a collection of 3 illustrated books from User Design valued at $44.00AUD. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 27 October and the lucky winner was drawn today. Congratulations:
Mary Preston
Congratulations Mary! 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 by User Design and I hope you enjoy the books.

Carpe Librum!

26 October 2017

Review: Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Despite Sophie Hannah's success as an internationally bestselling crime writer with a bunch of books under her belt, Did You See Melody? is the first of her books I've read, and I loved it!

Cara has left her family and booked herself into a 5 star resort to spend time on her own and contemplate a big life decision. On check-in though, she finds a man and girl already in her room. Cara later believes the girl she saw might be missing girl Melody, whose parents are serving life sentences in jail for her murder.

Did You See Melody? is a stand alone novel and sped along at a great pace. For a crime novel, it had a very contemporary and light feel and definitely doesn't fall into the dark and dangerous crime genre with flawed detectives and disturbed serial killers.

Taking place primarily in a spa resort, reading it definitely made me want to book my next holiday. My favourite character was Tarin Fry, a side character and fellow guest at the resort with super sharp wit and entertaining observations.

Did You See Melody? was a rollicking read and I really enjoyed the fresh plot. I'm so excited to discover a great new-to-me author with such an accomplished back catalogue of books to discover. Highly recommended.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

23 October 2017

Review: Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing by Daniel Tammet

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Every Word Is A Bird We Teach To Sing - Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language is a collection of essays by Daniel Tammet. Daniel is an autistic savant with synaesthesia and his love of language and words intrigued me enough to pick up this book and find out more.

What I learned quickly was that Daniel Tammet is a little out of my league. His collection of essays takes an almost academic look at language and meaning, and I wasn't prepared for just how many languages he would reference; narrowly thinking this book would be primarily about the English language. I later learned Tammet is a polyglot and has mastered 10 languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh, the majority of which are referred to in this book.

Most interesting essays
An Englishman at L'Academie Francaise was about the group of people assigned the task of refining the French dictionary. This felt like a glimpse into another century, so to discover this is still happening today was a thrill.

My favourite essay was Talking Hands, which was essentially about ASL. I didn't know that the persons's stance - leaning forward, leaning back or to the left/right - also added meaning to sign language and I just loved this essay.

I enjoyed A Grammar of the Telephone, which was all about how the emerging technology of the time inspired a new way for people to begin a conversation and talk to each other without the cues of body language.

Least enjoyable essays
Translating Faithfully was about translating the Old Testament and Conversational Human looked at whether chatbots will ever sound truly like 'us'.

Most impressive essay
OuLiPo is the essay title, but also a "loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques." (Wikipedia) While writing about these writers, Tammet does so without ever using the letter 'e'. It was amusing and easily the most impressive piece of writing in the collection.

I recommend this book to those with an interest in linguistics. Those with a love of the English language might find themselves a little out of their depth in some of the essays but there's no reason why you can't pick and choose which essays to read. It will be well worth the effort.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

20 October 2017

Friday Freebie: WIN 3 illustrated books from User Design

* Copies courtesy of User Design *

Today's Friday Freebie giveaway is a collection of 3 illustrated books from User Design valued at $44.00AUD.

The Journey of Larks
The Journey of Larks is played with language, words, illustration and typographic shenanigans. (RRP $13.50 AUD)

A picture-led book (no text) story about one day in the life of somebody. (RRP $13.50 AUD)

Explains the functions and correct uses of 21 of the most used punctuation marks. It is humorous, fully illustrated using real life scenarios and is for a wide age range (young to ageing) and intelligence (emerging to experts). (RRP $17.00 AUD)

If you enjoy graphic illustrations, cartoons, punctuatio
n and writing, this collection is for you.

Enter Giveaway

Carpe Librum!

17 October 2017

Review: The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

The Last Tudor is the story of the three Grey sisters, Jane, Katherine and Mary, cousins to Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor. Beginning in 1550, the story unfolds from each sister's point of view in three separate sections, giving us uninterrupted access to their lives.

Jane Grey is the eldest and a steadfast Protestant and was made Queen of England for just nine days. Katherine is the polar opposite of her sister and plans to enjoy the trappings of her station as cousin to the Queen of England.

Mary Grey is the youngest of the three sisters and was said to be a little person, or a dwarf. She is largely overlooked and serves her cousin Elizabeth I faithfully, but like her sister Katherine, she falls in love and seeks only to be happy. Queen Elizabeth I is portrayed as a vain and jealous Queen, reluctant to let any of her ladies marry, and in the case of the Grey sisters, to prevent the birth of a Tudor heir.

Drawing on real letters and historical fact, The Last Tudor has been impeccably researched and as a fan of Philippa Gregory's writing, I have come to expect nothing less. I was most interested in the life of Mary Grey but the threat of treason and death accompanied the lives of all three sisters.

I highly recommend The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory to readers everywhere. It's just a shame this is her final novel based on the Tudor family.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

15 October 2017

Review: Bullet It! by Nicole Lara

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I've been using a bullet journal for 3 years now and while I have the basics down pat, I'm always keen for ideas on how to beautify my journalling. Bullet It! is written and illustrated by Nicole Lara, an artist and enthusiastic bullet journaller.

Nicole has created a Notebook for planning your days, chronicling your life and creating beauty, but doesn't do much to teach newcomers the art of the bullet journal. Why is a dot grid so useful? What kind of lists can you make? What are the symbols for tasks? How do you mark off a completed task or migrate it to the next day? How do you set up an index? What else can you do?

Instead, Bullet It! provides decorated pages for you to write in with prompts along the way, for example: What makes you happy? Why? and How could you overcome your weaknesses? While the responses might make a nice diary entry, it doesn't fit with my idea of a bullet journal, which centres around organising.

What I loved:
The banners, flags, arrows and header ideas were fantastic and I'll definitely be making an attempt to incorporate some of these into my current bullet journal. The perforated pages were a great idea, and while I'm reluctant to pull pages out of a book, I know many readers will.

What I didn't enjoy:
There was a heavy focus on doodling and 3 pages of how to doodle ice-creams felt like overkill. Similarly, 3 step-by-step doodle instructions for how to draw a retro camera and 2 for hot air balloons seemed to detract from the bullet journal concept.

What was missing:
I would have liked more info on bullet journal basics, how the author uses her bullet journal and how to incorporate other materials like stickers and washi tape.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

09 October 2017

Winners of Soon by Lois Murphy Announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win 1 of 3 print copies of literary thriller Soon by Australian author Lois Murphy. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 6 October and the lucky winners are:
Robin Dawson, Delores and Pam Swain
Congratulations guys! You'll each 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 publicist for Transit Lounge and I hope you enjoy this debut thriller.

Carpe Librum!

05 October 2017

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley & Penguin Random House UK *

I loved The Martian by Andy Weir so much it made my Top 5 list for 2014. Since then, I've been looking forward to his next novel, and watching Matt Damon in the film adaptation of The Martian managed to sustain me in the meantime.

Fast forward to late 2017, and the wait is over! Artemis is coming out next month, but unfortunately it's nothing like The Martian. Artemis is about a young woman living in a settlement on the moon. The Martian is about a man stranded on Mars. Sound similar?

They're both set in space, they both have a lot of science, but where Mark Watney is hilarious, Jazz is not. The science in The Martian is critical to the character's survival. In Artemis, the science centres around a heist.

I didn't warm to the character of Jazz at all. Her one liners and jokes weren't funny and I just didn't care enough about her welfare or what she was doing. Where I was laughing on every other page and marvelling at the science while reading The Martian, I was longing for Artemis to end.

I'm understandably disappointed, as this was a long awaited release I was really really looking forward to, but if you loved reading The Martian, do yourself a favour, and give Artemis a miss. The magic just isn't there.

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!

29 September 2017

Friday Freebie: WIN 1 of 3 copies of SOON by Lois Murphy

RRP $29.95AUD
* Copy courtesy of Transit Lounge *

Today's giveaway is your chance to win 1 of 3 print copies of literary thriller Soon by Australian author Lois Murphy.

An almost deserted town in the middle of nowhere, Nebulah’s days of mining and farming prosperity – if they ever truly existed – are long gone. These days even the name on the road sign into town has been removed. Yet for Pete, an ex-policeman, Milly, Li and a small band of others, it’s the only place they have ever felt at home.

One winter solstice the birds disappear. A strange, residual and mysterious mist arrives. It is a real and potent force, yet also emblematic of the complacency and unease that afflicts so many of our small towns, and the country that Murphy knows so well.

Partly inspired by the true story of Wittenoom, the ill-fated West Australian asbestos town,
Soon is the story of the death of a haunted town, and the plight of the people who either won’t or simply can’t abandon all they have ever had. With finely wrought characters and brilliant storytelling, it is a taut and original novel, where the people we come to know and those who are drawn to the town’s intrigue must ultimately fight for survival.

Author Bio
Lois Murphy has travelled widely, most recently spending six years exploring Australia in a homemade 4WD truck, working mainly in small or remote towns, before settling in Darwin for a number of years. She has won a handful of prizes for her writing and the majority of Soon, her first novel, was written while living in a caravan park in Carnarvon. Lois currently lives in Melbourne, Victoria.


26 September 2017

Review: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I loved reading The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin and was fascinated by the four tendencies she has outlined in her book. In no particular order they are: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner and Rebel. You can take the quiz for free and determine your own tendency; but I'm an Obliger. And it makes so much sense to me. Here's why.

According to Gretchen:
- Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
- Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
- Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense; essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
- Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

I'm an Obliger, which is why I've thrown so much energy into my volunteer work; I have a committee and members who depend on me. But when it comes to my own personal goals, these are frequently set aside in order to do something for somebody else first.

Luckily Gretchen covers the strengths and weaknesses of all four tendencies, how to get along with others and understand why we make the choices we do. Reading this book has confirmed that I need to attach external accountability to my own personal goals and inner expectations in order to succeed. This might require a little creativity, but I'm willing to give it a go.

I had great fun reading The Four Tendencies and recognising myself and others in her descriptions and real life scenarios. Highly recommended to anyone wanting to know themselves better or improve relationships with their loved ones, kids and colleagues. An amusing and informative read.

What's your tendency?

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

19 September 2017

Review: City of Crows by Chris Womersley

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

City of Crows by Chris Womersley is historical fiction (my favourite genre) and contains some of my favourite tropes in a novel: witchcraft and the plague.

Set in late 1600s France, City of Crows is essentially a story of survival. Charlotte, recently widowed and trying to save her son from the plague and Monsieur Adam du Coeuret, a prisoner assigned to the galleys for his crimes are both seeking freedom from their harsh lives.

I'm not sure whether I should have picked this up straight after reading Ken Follett's A Column of Fire, as it could have dampened my enjoyment of Womersley's tale somewhat. Follett is an historical fiction writing wizard and in the shadow of that great tome, City of Crows failed to reach the heights I was hoping for.

A satisfactory and entertaining story, the City of Crows of the title is Paris and I absolutely love the cover art, don't you? Knowing the characters are based on real people and historical facts certainly added to my enjoyment and appreciation of the research involved. In a different world, I would have liked to have stayed with Charlotte and followed her journey through life for the next 50 years - without the involvement of Adam.

This is my first novel by the Australian author Chris Womersley, and reading it has made me determined to seek out his award-winning novel Bereft in the future.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

14 September 2017

Review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

A Column of Fire is the third in the Kingsbridge series, the first two of which have been instant 5 star reads for me. Just like The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, A Column of Fire can be read as a stand alone, although fans of the series will notice the occasional nod to the past and the characters who built the cathedral or the bridge etc.

It's 250 years since World Without End and A Column of Fire begins in our favourite town of Kingsbridge although spends little time there throughout the 750 pages. Instead the scope is extended as far as France and Spain to take in a global and politically charged plot that reads more like a Philippa Gregory novel.

Set between the years 1558 - 1606 and the reign of Elizabeth I, the novel captures the political turmoil of the time and the religious debate between Protestants and Catholics. The cover art features a ship and the scenes involving the Spanish Armada were some of the best I've ever read on the topic in historical fiction.

However, where I mourned the ending of World Without End and wanted it to continue forever, I was at peace with the ending of A Column of Fire.

Follett cleverly reminds the reader of the relationship between characters (and who's who) and I imagine if you put the book down for a few weeks, you could easily fall back into the story despite the complexities. Naturally I would never put down a Ken Follett novel and in fact I maintained a strictly monogamous reading schedule until I'd finished this great chunkster of a book.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

11 September 2017

Review: Beyoncégraphica - A Graphic Biography of Beyoncé by Chris Roberts

* Copy courtesy of Murdoch Books *

For an unauthorised and unofficial biography, Chris Roberts has managed to assemble an informative and satisfactory biography of Beyonce here. 
Bound in a very attractive hardback edition, Beyonce's epic rise to fame unfolds in a combination of stunning photographs, intricate infographics and chronological chapters.

Her time with Destiny's Child is covered well, and I was keen to learn more about her hard work ethic and the success of her early days.

Beyonce's romance and subsequent private marriage to Jay-Z is included as is the release and success of all of her albums. Beyonce's world tours are covered and her extensive philanthropic work is also mentioned.

Many of the infographics were unexpectedly detailed and a few were a little difficult to work out at first. My favourite infographic of the book showed how much it costs to maintain Beyonce's body per year and the amount of money she spends on her hair was out of this world. (Particularly given I had just received a haircut that cost me $27).

The photographs are impressive and definitely capture Beyonce's beauty and allure as an icon for feminism and girl power around the world.

In summary, I recommend Beyoncégraphica - A Graphic Biography of Beyoncé by Chris Roberts to fans of Beyonce and her back catalogue of music; those interested in the music industry; readers with an interest in feminism and music, and those curious about the rise and influence of celebrity in our society.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

30 August 2017

Author Lee Cockburn on how her career as a Police Sergeant has informed her writing

Author Lee Cockburn has worked for Police Scotland for sixteen years and today she is joining me as part of the Clink Street Publishing Blogival to tell us how her experiences as a Police Sergeant have informed her writing.
Lee Cockburn, author

Author spotlight
The rules with being in the police are that the content of my novels must be fiction, the procedures are real, those that are common knowledge for the public, they can look them up if they want; those that are permitted to be read of course. The characters are all fictional too though, their stunning beauty and near perfection are simply not real, but a very pleasant thought for the reader and the crimes and scenarios are purely fiction too.

Saying that, I have seen many horrible things in the course of my duty, numerous deaths, as police attend all deaths in the city, whether they are the result of a crime or not. Some peaceful, some premature, some not noticed, all of which are unpleasant in their own way. Some deaths are horrible to see and cannot be unseen, their untimely end clearly not chosen. I feel the pain for their families, their sadness, those that loved them, the pain they go through when the fateful message is passed. Premature death of any kind is always a tragedy, young lives taken too soon, their families devastated at the loss, and as a police officer, every single death affects me in some way or other, whether it was expected or not and I have to deal with that, be able to put it in a place where it wont affect me again.

My characters are beyond evil, severely deranged, sadistic serial killers or wired wrong in their desires, sickening to all but their own kind, people that you cannot relate to, because their make up is so damaged, their personalities are not normal and you would have to question yourself if you could relate to them?

I have seen violence and brutality, tragedy, suffering, fear and terror, dominance and control, all of which appear in my novels, although the level of evil and violence portrayed in my books is more often seen in that of real life serial killers from the USA. I don’t know why I have taken things up a level in my writing, probably to make the books more frightening, thought provoking and fear inducing, they are meant to be borderline horror thrillers. Saying all that, Devil’s Demise and Porcelain Flesh of Innocents have true heroes and heroines, good people willing to fight and wont be beaten by evil or control, and other characters that are truly decent genuine folk that stand up for right and wrong. My books portrait good versus evil, and in my opinion, good should always win over evil, even though it sometimes takes a while, karma is real.

Regarding the characters, I can see a little of myself in Taylor, not quite as striking or efficient, but in my early years, a little flirtatious, I made a few mistakes and suffered the consequences, and I have definitely learned through experience.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever write a book, far less three, but now that I’ve started I just want to write exciting, gritty, frightening books that have a little passion thrown in to give the reader a little respite from the horror, books that make you want to read on, feel a little frightened or warm inside, either way, hopefully you wont be able to put it down. 

Blurb for Porcelain: Flesh of Innocents
Detective Sergeant Taylor Nicks is back and in charge of tracking down a sadistic vigilante, with a penchant for torturing paedophiles, in this unsettling crime thriller by a real-life police sergeant.

High-powered businessmen are turning up tortured around the city of Edinburgh with one specific thing in common — a sinister double life involving pedophilia. Leaving his ‘victims’ in a disturbing state, the individual responsible calls the police and lays bare the evidence of their targets’ twisted misdemeanours to discover, along with a special memento of their own troubled past — a chilling calling card. Once again heading the investigation team is Detective Sergeant Taylor Nicks, along with her partner Detective Constable Marcus Black, who are tasked not only with tracking the perpetrator down but also dealing with the unusual scenario of having to arrest the victims for their own barbarous crimes. But with the wounded piling up the predator’s thirst for revenge intensifies and soon Nicks discovers that she is no longer chasing down a sinister attacker but a deadly serial killer.

Vivid, dark and deeply unsettling
Porcelain: Flesh of Innocents is the perfect next read for serious crime and police thriller fans.

Author Bio
Lee Cockburn has worked for Police Scotland for 16 years including as a police sergeant in Edinburgh for 7 years and also as a public order officer. Before joining the force, she played for Scotland Women’s rugby team for 15 years, and also swam competitively for 12 years; successfully representing Edinburgh in the youth Olympics in Denmark in 1984. 

Lee lives in Edinburgh with her civil partner Emily and their 2 young sons. Her first book Devil’s Demise was published by Clink Street Publishing November 2014. Follow Lee Cockburn on Twitter.

29 August 2017

Review: 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson is a fantasy novel for middle grade readers about a 12 year old boy called Henry who discovers hidden cupboards in the walls of his attic bedroom.

With the help of one of his cousins, Henry soon discovers the cupboards of varying shape and design are portals to other places.

This intriguing premise led me to borrow this from the library, however unfortunately the novel didn't live up to my expectations. The protagonist sharing the same name as the town (Henry) and a cousin by the name of Henrietta created unnecessary confusion for no discernible gain.

The first in a series of at least three books, 100 Cupboards was a good read but not a stand out.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

24 August 2017

Interview with Debbie Malone, author of Never Alone and Clues from Beyond

Today I'm excited to be interviewing Australian author and psychic medium Debbie Malone. In 2013, Debbie was Australian Psychic of the Year, and she continues to use her gift as a psychic, clairvoyant and medium to assist Police and bring peace to loved ones. This year I read and reviewed her books Never Alone and Clues From Beyond - True Crime Stories from Australia's #1 Psychic Detective.

Thanks for your time Debbie and for joining me on Carpe Librum. For those who haven’t read your books Never Alone and Clues From Beyond, what can you tell us about your six near death experiences (NDEs)?
I had my first near death experience at the age of 3 when I had bronchial pneumonia. 
My next NDE was at 13 when I had my appendix out. I had a complication with the anaesthetic and my heart stopped. I remember floating up to the ceiling of my hospital room watching as the doctor and nurses came in with oxygen and a heart monitor to try and bring me back. Initially, I thought that I had been dreaming. It wasn't until the following morning the doctor came in to tell me what had happened to me.
Debbie Malone, author

I had another 4 NDEs in my late 20s - early 30s due to numerous illnesses and operations. I have a reaction to anaesthetics. So when I have operations I now need to warn the doctors.
The most memorable NDE was when I was in 1997. I had to undergo a major operation and I had a vision that I was going to die. I had a will made out the night before just in case and I warned the doctors of my fears. At the time they thought I was just overly anxious. It wasn't until after the operation that things began to wrong. I was placed on a morphine drip for pain and I had an allergic reaction which caused my heart to stop.

The journey I went on from this experience is something I will never forget, to this day just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I found myself travelling through time and space at great speed, it was like I was an astronaut without a craft or a spacesuit. I felt myself being lifted up and becoming a part of the universe. I could see all of the stars and planets up close as though I was in outer space. I was drawn into a black hole and then I began to move even faster than before. I came out of the hole and was once again amongst the stars. I felt like I was on some kind of rollercoaster, I was thrown up and down and felt a lot of shaking. Once again I was taken into the black hole that turned into a large tunnel with a pinhole of light at the end. I was drawn closer and closer to the end of the tunnel when I found myself in a beautiful meadow.

In the meadow there was a small privet hedge that was about 1/2 metre high. There was gate in the middle of the hedge that was open and two beings were standing there. Before me was a line of other people who were being greeted by the beings as they waited to go through the gate. On the other side of the hedge were groups of people who all looked very happy to be there. At the time I remember feeling a familiarity of the people I saw on the other side of the hedge, the love that I felt from these people is something that is difficult to describe.

When it was my turn to go through the gate the beings told me that I couldn't come through as it wasn't my time. They told me to turn around and as I did I looked down and saw my husband and three children pointing up at the sky. At the time my daughter was 1, my two sons were 3 and 7. One of my boys asked "where is Mummy?" and my husband said that "Mummy isn't coming back as she is in heaven now". At this point I felt myself falling very rapidly back to the earth. I suddenly woke feeling the nurse frantically shaking me and trying to revive me. Thankfully, I did return and I can still be a part of my beautiful family's lives. Since that day I have always been drawn to the night sky as it feels like home. The movie Contact is the best way for me to describe what I saw when I died.

The title of your memoir is Never Alone, how do you tune out spirits or are you truly never alone?

As I am constantly connected to the spirit world, I choose to tune out by listening to music as this is a way to block out the constant voices. I am very blessed to also be connected to angelic presences that I find to be comforting in my everyday life.

Do you pick up messages for those around you in every day life? (Shopping, meeting up with friends and family?)
Yes, I do pick up messages constantly in everyday life. It can be quite off putting when I am in a store and the deceased loved one of the shop assistant tries to get a message through. If I feel that the person is open to receiving the message I will pass it on to them. However, sometimes I just want to go shopping and not be tuning in and constantly at "work". If people know what I do they are constantly asking me "what or who are you seeing around me?" It can be quite challenging as people don't understand that I need to have a life and not be constantly tuning in.

Do the messages you receive ever place you in a moral dilemma, or do you feel obligated to pass on all information to loved ones?
I take my job very seriously. I have a lot of responsibility placed on me by both the living and the dead. I am honest and open about the information I receive. I always pass messages on in a positive light. Part of my work is about helping loved ones find closure and to allow them to heal from their loss.

Can you tell the difference between spirits who have transitioned and those who have gone into the light? If they haven’t transitioned are they in peace?
I can tell the difference between spirits who have gone to the light and those who have not. Sometimes a spirit may not go to the light because they feel they have unfinished business, they may feel that they died too early or they may have died in a tragic manner and are not really aware that they are dead. A spirit who is earth bound has a much heavier and sadder energy than a spirit who is in the light. Part of my job is to assist those who have not transitioned so they can also find peace and continue with their spiritual journey.

I read you can help spirits transition and go into the light, do you feel obligated to try and do this wherever you can? Or have I just been watching too many episodes of Ghost Whisperer?
Yes, I do assist spirits to transition into the light. I feel part of my job as a medium is to be of assistance to others whether they be alive or deceased.

You mention in Never Alone that you believe ‘some outcomes are predestined’. What can you tell us about that?
From my own NDEs I have come to realise that there are times in our lives that are "entry" and "exit" points. These points in our lives are when we could meet the love of our life or we could lose the love of our life. It can be a time when we could die in an accident or leave the earth early or we may have a near miss where we are allowed to stay. These cycles in our life were chosen by our soul before we came to the earth. Each of these cycles are a part of our spiritual journey. What is most important to remember is that nothing is set in stone. We do all have free will and it is up to us as to what experience or event we choose to go through in life.

What happens to the spirits of the perpetrators of crime? (Page 284 of Never Alone)
The spirit of the perpetrator of a crime, can choose if they wish to go to the light and face their karmic journey. While other perpetrators sometimes choose to stay amongst the negative realms of the spirit world, due to fear or retribution of what they have done.

You mention in Clues From Beyond that residual energy can be left behind in homes when they’re sold. What were the health problems in the house you mentioned on Page 185?

The current owners of Dorothy Davis' old home have suffered from many health issues. I don't want to go into details.

I have a question from a Carpe Librum reader: you’ve worked on several famous Australian cold cases, have you ever received messages from spirit on the whereabouts of missing boy William Tyrell?
I have been asked about William Tyrell many, many times. William's disappearance is an extremely sad case. I have not been asked by police to assist. It is important to remember there are 1000s of missing and murdered people in Australia and throughout the world. I am only one person and I donate my time to working on cases as well as working full-time as a medium and an author. There is not enough time in the day for me to assist on every case. I only put my time and energy into cases where the information will be utilised by the relevant officers.

What’s the significance of the medallion you wear around your neck?
The pendant I think you are talking about is the one with feather and the word believe. This is a piece of jewellery I designed myself. It is my mantra. To believe is to acknowledge that life lives on and that anything is possible. The feather represents the signs from above that many of us receive from our loved ones and guardian angels.

What are you working on next?
I have a new set of Guardian Angel Reading Cards and a new book (yet to be named) both coming out in May next year.

Thanks Debbie, I'll be sure to check out your book next year. Visit Debbie's website for more info.