18 August 2017

Carpe Librum has a facelift and a new logo

My site is undergoing a much needed facelift and it might take a little time to get things 'just right' so I thank you in advance for your patience.

I'm also pretty excited to be launching my new logo, woohoo!!!
I hope you like the fresh new look with further tweaks and changes to come. What do you think of the new logo? Love it, hate it or not sure? Leave your comments below and of course, Carpe Librum!

15 August 2017

Review: After I've Gone by Linda Green

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

After I've Gone is the first Linda Green novel I've read and with an enticing premise, it easily surpassed all my expectations.

Jess Mount finds out she has 18 months left to live, if her Facebook newsfeed is to be believed. Her newsfeed seems to have jumped ahead 18 months and she can see posts from family and friends mourning her death. How can this be?

Jess is an intelligent and sensible protagonist and reacts precisely how I would in this situation. Don't worry, there's no 'cringe-worthy' moments here.

The story takes off on the first page and never lets up. Jess has a backstory that is alluded to and slowly revealed, as does Lee, her new love interest. These plot lines - together with the point of view of her Mother-In-Law Angela - kept the novel motoring along and I was riveted.

The story has a very contemporary feel and thanks to a few real world references and social media posts, very current. Jess tries to change her future, but you'll have to read the novel to find out if she can change it for good or if she's forced to accept her fate. 

I have no hesitation recommending After I've Gone by Linda Green to those who enjoy crime fiction and domestic noir. I loved it!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum

10 August 2017

Blogival Guest Post: Joe Treasure on writing The Book of Air

I'm participating in the Clink Street Publishing Blogival 2017 this month, and am proud to introduce the following guest post by Joe Treasure. Joe says that after writing The Book of Air, he understood why he’d been writing and explains why.

Writing and the accidental discovery of meaning 
You might think that before embarking on a novel a writer would have a story to tell. For me it’s never been that definite. For my first two novels I’d written the opening chapter before I began to think about what might develop from there. I’m sure other writers have this experience. A glimpse of a scene can be enough to get you started, a chance encounter, a moment of conflict, a distinct setting coloured by a mood or an atmosphere. Once you’ve got that on paper you can begin to see what direction it’s pointing in. 

With The Book of Air, what I began with was less concrete even than that. There was the familiar impulse to write, strengthened by the confidence that two published books had given me. I had a vague sense that I should attempt something more ambitious. I’d been impressed by The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s brilliant futuristic satire on the oppression of women under a Biblically inspired tyranny. This powerful modern myth stirred me to think beyond the ordinary.

Meanwhile I’d long been interested in books that take off from classics. I love the idea of interacting creatively with an established story, to subvert or reimagine it. In her justifiably celebrated Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys drew Rochester’s mad wife from the shadows and allowed her to tell her own story, a Creole heiress married off and forcibly relocated, finding herself locked up in an isolated house, increasingly neglected by her husband. Since that was published in 1966, giving voice to marginalised characters in 19th novels has become a familiar device and I didn’t feel I had anything fresh to say in this form. Besides, I wanted more freedom than a historical novel would allow me. I was drawn to a futuristic setting.

And so I began imagining a community that has constructed itself around the close study of a novel. In a way, any novel would do – the randomness is the point. The community, having elevated this book to a unique status, is unaware that it’s just a made-up story, one of countless books, whose purpose is to give pleasure. I considered various novels. But I returned to Jane Eyre because it’s so well-known and its central drama is so strong and elemental. To emphasise the randomness I would give the community two other books, each completely different in kind – a children’s picture book and a technical manual from which they can derive no coherent meaning.

But still all I had was an abstraction – not a story, not even a single character – until I heard Agnes’s voice, as she responds for the first time in her life to the impulse to write about herself. Hidden away in the corner of an attic, she has found a mysterious object, recognisably a book, but not a book because there are no words in it, none until she writes them. From the first moment, she is aware of the strangeness of what she is doing and the danger of it. She is fifteen, on the verge of adulthood. Her story will be about secrecy and self-discovery, oppression and rebellion, friendship and love. It will explore her experience of growing up and challenge the limits of the community she has been born into.

As I worked on it, other questions came up. How had this community come into being? Why this house, these cottages, this farmland? Why these books and no others? And why this isolation? I thought of Jason, a man of our own time, waking from a fever, surprised to find himself still alive having survived a virus that has killed so many others. He has left London in chaos and retreated to his country house, the very house where Agnes will begin her journal in the distant future. He has two stories to tell, what led up to this moment – the collapse of society as he has always known it – and what will follow from it – the struggle to survive and find a new way of living among a handful of strangers.

I had no idea until I began writing that these were the stories I wanted to tell. And I found, when I was done, that certain preoccupations had emerged. How do communities form and what makes a community oppressive or benign? How are collective memories kept alive? What is the connection between the experience of loss and the urge to create, both of which seem essential to being human?

Blurb - The Book of Air
Retreating from an airborne virus with a uniquely unsettling symptom, property developer Jason escapes London for his country estate, where he is forced to negotiate a new way of living with an assortment of fellow survivors.

Far in the future, an isolated community of descendants continue to farm this same estate. Among their most treasured possessions are a few books, including a copy of Jane Eyre, from which they have constructed their hierarchies, rituals and beliefs. When 15-year-old Agnes begins to record the events of her life, she has no idea what consequences will follow. Locked away for her transgressions, she escapes to the urban ruins and a kind of freedom, but must decide where her future lies.
Joe Treasure

These two stories interweave, illuminating each other in unexpected ways and offering long vistas of loss, regeneration and wonder. 

The Book of Air is a story of survival, the shaping of memory and the enduring impulse to find meaning in a turbulent world.

About Joe Treasure
Joe Treasure currently lives in South West London with his wife Leni Wildflower. As an English teacher in Wales, he ran an innovative drama programme, before following Leni across the pond to Los Angeles, an experience that inspired his critically acclaimed debut novel The Male Gaze (published by Picador). His second novel Besotted (also published by Picador) also met with rave reviews. 
Visit Joe's website or follow him on Twitter.

08 August 2017

Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Tin Man by Sarah Winman is about the relationship between Ellis and Michael, and what happens when Ellis meets 'the one' in Annie. The first part of the book unfolds from the perspective of Ellis, and it's a slow, quiet and personal reflection on the past while revealing his present loneliness and grief.

The second half of the book is narrated by Michael under the guise of writing a journal, which didn't work in my opinion.

The narrative in both sections jumped around in time and despite a handful of helpful chapter headings, I never fell into the flow of the novel. I understand that when we reflect on the past, our memories drift around from decade to decade, but in this case I wanted the author to lead me down a more chronological path.

While on the topic of writing style, Sarah Winman doesn't use quotation marks in Tin Man. I always find this style of writing irritating, and while I have seen it work in other novels (Cloudstreet for instance), sadly it was just confusing here.

The atmosphere of Tin Man reminded me of one of my favourite books of all time, Stoner by John Williams, but where Stoner succeeds in its perfection, Tin Man falls short. The ending left many things undone, including what happens to Ellis. 

Tin Man is receiving a lot of hype at the moment, and I understand why readers are being moved by the story - some even to tears - but it was just too disjointed for me. 

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

03 August 2017

Review: Wrap It In A Bit Of Cheese Like You're Tricking The Dog by David Thorne

I've been enjoying David Thorne's wacky sense of humour for years now, so I was really excited to receive an autographed copy of Wrap It In a Bit of Cheese Like You're Tricking the Dog for Christmas last year.

Containing more essays than emails, the laughs continued, just not at the same rate of knots (i.e. on every page). The work conversations are hilarious and there was another logo design that had me chuckling and remembering the logo shenanigans in his previous books.

Readers looking for a little more depth in the writing will enjoy this offering, however in terms of laughs, it didn't make me want to read out every exchange, as I wanted to do when reading The Internet Is A Playground (5 stars) and I'll Go Home Then; It's Warm and Has Chairs (5 stars).

This collection of essays and emails is highly recommended for readers familiar with David Thorne's work, but if you're wanting to dip your toe into his wildly entertaining world, you should begin with The Internet Is A Playground. I remain a dedicated fan though and will continue to read whatever he puts out. Unless it's a book full of his cat panels, lol!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

28 July 2017

Review: Camino Island by John Grisham

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

It's been a long time since I've read a novel by John Grisham, but Camino Island was the perfect book to bring me back to his work. Starting with a flawless and well-planned heist and the theft of five of F. Scott Fitzgerald's original manuscripts from Princeton University, the FBI is hot on the trail of the thieves.

With a plot centred around stolen manuscripts, a suspect who owns a bookshop and surrounds himself by a quirky group of local writers, I certainly felt myself in good hands and familiar territory.

Camino Island is an enjoyable and entertaining read, and perfect for readers who are sick of wading through crime novels with ever-increasing body counts and violence.

Told from the perspective of an undercover wannabe author, there's no sign of the flawed FBI agent or an edge of your seat race-against-time thriller to raise the blood pressure. Camino Island is located safely on the reading scale somewhere between cozy crime and crime thriller and was an enjoyable read. Recommended for book-lovers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

26 July 2017

Review: The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

* Copy courtesy of GoodReads Giveaway and Text Publishing *

Elizabeth Kostova is the author of one of my favourite books of all time, The Historian. Despite releasing The Swan Thieves in 2010 (which I didn't read), it was with some trepidation and high expectation that I picked up her 2017 release, The Shadow Land after winning a copy in a GoodReads giveaway.

I love the cover design and the 450+ pages promised to be a juicy read, but sadly it didn't live up to my expectations. The plot device is interesting: set in Bulgaria, the female protagonist accidentally picks up a bag containing an urn of ashes and then attempts to track down the owner.

The book definitely picked up in the entertainment stakes when the owner of the urn's contents was revealed and his life and time in a detainment camp was brought to light in the first person. That section of the book was incredibly moving and inspirational, but I didn't care much for the protagonist, her new friend and her obsession with the urn's owner, so all in all it wasn't the ripping yarn I was hoping for. 

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

24 July 2017

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

I know I'm late to the party but I just finished reading The Dry by Jane Harper and can honestly say it is worth the hype. 

Despite having a copy for 11 months (thanks to my GoodReads Melbourne catch-up in August last year) and watching it win the Indie Book of the Year, Indie Book of the Year Debut Fiction for 2017 and ABIA Book of the Year, I've only just read The Dry now. It happens to the best of us doesn't it? Great books lingering in our TBR pile for too long.

Well, it's no secret this is a debut Australian crime fiction novel and other readers agree it's fantastic. Having grown up in a small country town myself, I found the rural setting, the characters and the dialogue instantly Australian and recognisable without being cliche or over the top. The writing is flawless and it's hard to believe this is a debut novel.

Rumours are that The Dry will make it onto the big screen thanks to Reese Witherspoon, but until then, you can read the first chapter of The Dry by Jane Harper here

I can highly recommended The Dry and Jane Harper is definitely an Aussie author to watch. I'll be lending it to my Dad next while waiting with baited breath for the next in the series, Force of Nature.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

20 July 2017

Guest Post: Patti Miller - author of Writing True Stories - on whether memoirs are more popular than novels

RRP $34.99 AUD
Published by Allen & Unwin
In today's guest post, Patti Miller, award-winning memoirist, nonfiction writer and author of Writing True Stories is going to explore whether memoirs have become more popular than the novel.

Is memoir more popular than the novel? It’s a question that implies a rather jealous inter-genre competition between the novel and memoir to be the ‘favourite’, the most admired. It’s a notion I’ve always rejected. Even though I have spent the last almost 30 years writing and teaching memoir and non-fiction, to me, the novel and memoir, along with poetry, essays and drama, are equally beloved.

Historically, there has been a shift in attitudes towards various genres. In the 18th century, poetry and essays had a higher standing than the novel, which was looked down upon as a rather frivolous form. But I suspect the question is not really about standing or value, but about the cold hard facts of sales figures. Which genre sells most?

There’s been an explosion in memoir publications since the 1970s, particularly in memoirs by ‘ordinary’ people, i.e. people not already famous for something else. But ‘ordinary’ is a misnomer, because most of memoirists who sell hundreds of thousands of books, have had extraordinary lives. According to Hachette Australia publisher, Sophie Hamley, certain memoirs such as Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee and Deng Adut’s Songs of a War Boy have spectacular sales, much higher than literary fiction sales.

But if popular memoir is compared to popular fiction, then the figures even out. Literary memoir sells about the same as literary fiction - I should add that the terms ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ are not usually applied to memoir, but the distinction clearly exists. There are literary memoir such as Caroline Baum’s Only, where the language and sensibility are central, and there’s Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life – published in 1981 and still one of the highest selling books in Australia, 800,000 at last count - where story and character are central.

But I suspect both kinds of memoir appeal to readers for the same reasons. Fundamentally, despite our various evils, human beings want to relate and feel with others – we are empathetic – and memoir gives us direct access to the feelings of others in a way that is perhaps more mediated in novels.

Also, we want to know how others have survived hardship so that we may learn how to do it ourselves – the triumph of the human spirit over adversity is probably the strongest single theme in any best-selling memoir.

And finally, we are sticky-beaks – we are curious about what it is like to be someone else, especially when they have lived a life very different from ours – a movie star or call girl or child soldier.

What is it like to have lived your life? To me, that’s the most interesting question. It is why, I, at least, like to read memoir.

Thanks so much for your insights Patti. Writing True Stories is Patti's guide to writing autobiography, memoir, personal essay, biography, travel and creative nonfiction. Click here for more info.

Carpe Librum!

18 July 2017

Review: Never Alone by Debbie Malone

* Copy courtesy of Rockpool Publishing *

Having read and enjoyed Clues From Beyond by Debbie Malone last month, I picked up Never Alone this month hoping to learn more about Debbie and her psychic gift and certainly wasn't disappointed.

In case you don't know, Debbie Malone is a psychic, clairvoyant and medium and was the 2013 Australian Psychic of the Year. She started to see spirits after experiencing six near-death experiences (NDEs) and Never Alone takes the reader through her life from the time she experienced her NDEs and started seeing dead people, to when she began using her gift to help victims of crime.

Debbie's experiences working with Australian law enforcement are equally frustrating and rewarding and reading Never Alone is a great introduction to understanding Debbie's psychic talents.

Debbie says:
"Being a medium can be a very rewarding vocation but at times it can be hard to cope with the responsibility of having knowledge but not being able to do anything about it. I have come to realise that I am only the messenger and it is not my place to save every person that I get a vision about. I think some outcomes are predestined - however, that doesn't take away my frustration and pain when I feel that I haven't done enough to help someone in need". Page 193.

Debbie's gift seems like both a gift and a curse, and I admire her strength for continuing to put herself out there; never charging for working with Australian police departments. The cases she works on seem to haunt her (see what I did there?) but jokes aside, I'm not so sure I'd be able to handle myself with the same strength and equanimity she does.

I have a personal reading with Debbie Malone in September and I'm really looking forward to that, but in the meantime, stay tuned for my upcoming interview with Debbie very soon. If you have any questions you'd like to ask, feel free to leave them in the comments below or email me if you want to submit them privately.

I highly recommend reading Never Alone, and while Clues From Beyond can be read as a stand-alone, I'd begin with this one.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

12 July 2017

Review: Farmageddon in Pictures - The True Cost of Cheap Meat by Philip Lymbery

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Farmageddon In Pictures - The True Cost of Cheap Meat - in bite-sized pieces is a confronting read with a very important message to consumers.

Philip Lymbery shines a light into the darkest corners of mega farming and I was shocked to learn just how dire it all is. I think the average consumer is aware of issues like caged animals, the overuse of anti
biotics and pesticides, water shortages and the decline of bees around the world. But there's so much more wrong with the factory farming industry I wasn't aware of or hadn't considered.

  • Factory farmed animals consume 1/3 of the world's cereal harvest. (Pg 10)
  • Waste from mega-dairies and factory-farms is ruining the environment and polluting the water.
  • Industrialised pollination is now a 'thing', where bees are commercially bred and transported elsewhere to pollinate crops.
  • Approximately 100 billion farmed fish are produced around the world each year, but it takes 3 tonnes of wild fish to produce 1 tonne of farmed salmon. (Pg 46 & Pg 81).
  • Trout farms don't give fish enough space to swim around and they're packed in so tight, it's the equivalent of 27 trout sharing the same bathtub.
  • Today's chickens have a lot more fat because they can't move around, and you'd have to eat 4 whole factory farmed chickens to get the same nutrients you would have got from a single chicken in the 1970s. (Pg 84)
Farmageddon In Pictures is full of shocking statistics and pictograms to help the reader digest the information while some of the photos used appeared amateurish and too dark. The author subtly encourages the reader a few times to alter their diet to consume less meat and I can't blame him when he's seen the problems first-hand, but it did ruffle my feathers a little. I guess I don't like being told what to do and would prefer to reach my own conclusions and initiate change on my own.

Farmageddon In Pictures is a slightly depressing read due to the nature of the content, but optimistic in encouraging consumers to change their buying and usage habits with a chapter at the end focussing on solutions and positive change. It's also an important read and more consumers need to know where their food comes from and the cost it has on the environment.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

10 July 2017

Winner of Lovesick by Jean Flynn announced

Thanks to those who entered last week's giveaway to win a copy of Lovesick by Australian author Jean Flynn and shared their suggestions for how to cure lovesickness in the comments. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 7 July and the winner was drawn today. A hearty congratulations to:
Congratulations Daniella, 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 XOUM Publishing and I hope you enjoy this contemporary romance novel.

Carpe Librum!

05 July 2017

Review: Forgotten by Nicole Trope

* Copy courtesy of GoodReads giveaway and Allen & Unwin *

Forgotten by Nicole Trope is a fast-paced race against time to find baby Zach after his mum Malia left him asleep in the car while she ducked in to a shop to buy milk. This is mentioned in the blurb, so don't worry it's not a spoiler, but the suspense quickly builds in the search for Zach.

Unfolding from multiple points of view, Detective Ali Greenberg is a realistic and likeable character while elderly nosy parker Edna is a terrific character. Edna lives in a lively boarding house and I really enjoyed her chapters.

Many readers will find Malia's harried career mum character very relatable and her reaction to Zach's disappearance heartbreaking. The disintegrating dynamic between Malia and her husband is explored and was also well-portrayed.

Despite knowing who took Zach, Trope is still able to create palpable tension and has produced a gripping read here. With short chapters and large font, I sped through Forgotten to reach the conclusion and I'm pleased to say it was a satisfying ending.

Nicole Trope is an accomplished Australian author with six previous novels under her belt although this is my first time reading one of them. I can highly recommend Forgotten and I'm very tempted to read The Boy Under The Table next.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

30 June 2017

Friday Freebie: WIN a print copy of Lovesick by Jean Flynn

RRP $29.99AUD
* Copy courtesy of XOUM *

Today's giveaway is a witty contemporary romance novel by debut Australian author Jean Flynn.

Beth is an absolute wreck. She is certain that she has some kind of disease — a fatal one, most likely. She is also very single and quite keen on her (boss) colleague, Dr Brendan Roberts. He seems to fancy her, too — well, until The Morning After.

Beth knows it’s time to sort out her messy life, but she has no idea where to start.

Enter Shane — a slightly dishevelled forklift driver. He may not be suave or wealthy, but he does laugh at Beth’s jokes and remember how she likes her coffee. Plus, the more they hang out, the healthier she feels.

But when Shane suddenly cuts off all communication, Beth starts to think there’s no such thing as The One, and she decides to stop being slapdash and move on. Only life is never that simple, and Beth must take a chance if she hopes to find the cure to her ills.

Lovesick is a big-hearted romance about getting sick, getting better and taking risks.

Author Bio
Jean Flynn was born in Melbourne and currently lives in Ballarat, Victoria. She teaches creative writing at Federation University and Lovesick is her first novel. 

Carpe Librum!

29 June 2017

Review: The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

22 June 2017

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

* Copy courtesy of Rockpool Publishing *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

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

20 June 2017

Review: Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

18 June 2017

Top 5 favourite things about Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

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

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

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

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

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

16 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12 June 2017

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

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

Carpe Librum!

08 June 2017

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

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

05 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Author, Craig Wilcox

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

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

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

02 June 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Carpe Librum!

30 May 2017

Review: Fatal Crossing by Lone Theils

* Copy courtesy of Bonnier Publishing *

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

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