19 April 2018

Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!

16 April 2018

Review: She's Not There by Joy Fielding

RRP $19.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

With a premise ripped straight from the headlines, 2 year old Samantha Shipley goes missing from her hotel room one night while her parents are dining in a restaurant down below.

Whether a coincidence or intentional, the premise of She's Not There by Joy Fielding was so very reminiscent of the real world disappearance of Madeline McCann, that I was instantly hooked.

Fifteen years later, Samantha's mother Caroline is struggling to cope while the press continue to hound them and the pressure of the disappearance has torn their family to shreds. Out of the blue, Caroline receives a call from a girl who believes she might be Samantha.

She's Not There was an absolutely gripping psychological thriller and I enjoyed getting to the truth of who Samantha was. The family dynamics seemed genuine and Caroline was a likeable character. I especially enjoyed the real-life inspiration for Caroline's mother and the mention of her in the author's acknowledgements: "...without mentioning my very own long-deceased grandmother Mary, my father's mother and as miserable a woman as ever walked this earth. She was the inspiration for Grandma Mary, and while this novel is unquestionably a work of fiction, many of the quotes attributed to her came straight from her mouth." Wow! This made me love the book even more.

As well as being chock full of suspense, this is also a mystery/whodunnit, so it will appeal to a wide range of readers. The only reservation I have is the cover; I didn't see the relevance to the story at all.

She's Not There was my first time reading Joy Fielding so what a thrill to discover she has a huge back catalogue. I'll admit I did allow myself at times to believe this could be the story of Madeline McCann, and perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

13 April 2018

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Honey Farm Dreaming by Anna Featherstone

RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of the author *

Today's giveaway is a memoir by Australian author and small farmer Anna Featherstone. Honey Farm Dreaming is a memoir about sustainability, small farming and the not-so simple life. 
It includes organic balm recipes, secret farmhouse recipes and tips on how to make a bee hotel and attract bees to your garden. Enter below for your chance to win a copy.

A farmyard full of animals, thousands of tourists in the garden, a hundred backpackers in the house, millions of bees in the air - and one family. What could possibly go wrong?

When Anna and Andrew move their young family to a farm the future is uncertain. All they know is what they feel - a desire to become contributors not consumers. City folk, they are starting from scratch 'not knowing how to make anything, grow anything, fix anything or really do anything'.

Ten years on, and the 90-acre farm transforms from a bland grass paddock to something that is energetic, vibrant, ethical and beautiful. The farm becomes home to honey and native bees, and a multitude of plant and animal species; it lures thousands of visitors all seeking a slice of idyllic farm life to enrich their souls and, sometimes, their social media feeds. Meanwhile, Anna feeds her own soul, becoming a passionate producer of honey, herbs, handmade medicinal balms and other farm-made goods, recipes for which are included in this book.

It's called 'living the dream', but is it? Discover more about the 'good life' and enjoy a good laugh from this entertaining, engrossing memoir in which author Anna Featherstone lays bare what it's like to follow your dreams and to find success, failure and finally understanding along the way.

Author Bio

Anna Featherstone has spent more than a decade small farming where she's made mistakes, balms and a life with her family. Their small but productive farm has won state and National tourism awards for its agritourism offering which included a farmstay. Anna thinks about the environment a lot, loves growing Chinese Raisins, turmeric and tulsi and is a balm-maker, bee lover, writer and speaker. Her first book, co-authored with Andrew Campbell is Small Farm Success Australia: How to Make a Life and a Living on the Land. Visit her website for more: www.annafeatherstone.com


11 April 2018

Winners of The Flying Optometrist children's book giveaway announced

Thanks to those who entered my children’s book giveaway last week to win 1 of 2 copies of The Flying Optometrist by Joanne Anderton, illustrated by Karen Erasmus. Entries closed at midnight on Sunday 8 April 2018 and the winners were drawn today. Congratulations to our two winners:
Kate & Nicole
Both winners will receive an email today with the details and will have 7 days to provide their mailing address. I hope your little readers will enjoy this Australian picture book courtesy of NLA Publishing and keep on reading.

Carpe Librum!

09 April 2018

Interview with Lauren Chater, author of The Lace Weaver

Author Lauren Chater
It gives me great pleasure to introduce Australian author Lauren Chater to Carpe Librum readers today. Lauren is the author of The Lace Weaver published with Simon & Schuster this month.

Thanks for joining us at Carpe Librum Lauren. Firstly, can you tell us about your debut novel The Lace Weaver?
My debut novel The Lace Weaver has just been released by Simon & Schuster. It’s an historical fiction story set in Estonia in WW2 about two very different young women fighting to survive and preserve the legacy of traditional knitted lace passed down through their families. It’s a book I’m obviously very passionate about. I hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I’m very interested in the role the weaving of gossamer lace shawls takes in your novel, can you tell us more about it? Is it true they are so fine they can be passed through a wedding ring?
It is indeed true that they can be passed through a wedding ring. The yarn used to make gossamer (or to be more specific, Haapsalu) shawls is very fine and soft. At the height of their popularity, around the early 1900’s, the shawls were used to promote Estonia's culture and heritage. The Tsar bought one for his wife and the screen actress Greta Garbo was given one as a gift, in the hope that she would wear it. An American gentleman actually had plans to hire a group of Estonian knitters and take them to America to make shawls for his department store. Alas, successive world wars put an end to his plan. The women still knit shawls in Happasalu, though. There is a shop and a museum there where you can see them being made and purchase one for yourself.

I read that you were inspired by an old book you found on Estonia knitting and shawls. What captured your interest?
I work in a library and one day while I was shelving in the craft section, I stumbled across a book about Estonian lace knitting. Curious, I opened it up and read a bit more. The book not only contained details on how to make the shawls but also the history of this small Baltic country which had been occupied by many larger nations. As I got deeper in, I sensed there was an amazing story waiting to be told.

Have you been tempted to try any of the techniques yourself? 

I have tried my hand at knitting but I must admit, I’m not very good at it! It requires a lot of practice and patience, both of which I don’t have since much of my time is occupied with writing and trying to improve my craft in that area. In another lifetime, I think I would have been a knitter. I’d love to devote a few years just to mastering it. Maybe I’ll put it on the bucket-list for when I one day retire!

If you hadn’t seen that book, do you think you would still have written a book yourself?
I doubt I would have written The Lace Weaver if I hadn’t come across that craft book. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t know a lot about Estonia when I first start researching. It’s been a long journey to try to understand the culture and the language, as well as the history of a country which is rich in folklore and tradition but which has faced lots of hardship. Estonia did not regain its independence from Russia until 1991, so there are still many stories there needing to be told. 

What research did you need to carry out during the writing of The Lace Weaver?
Apart from reading many, many books by both Estonians and about Estonians, I traveled to the Baltics in 2015 and spent a lot of time visiting the places mentioned in my book. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful guide who took me to some unusual places, like a bunker in the forest where the partisan fighters lived until they were killed by Russian authorities, and an old derelict factory called Kreenholm (translated: The Island of Crows) which is one of the settings in The Lace Weaver. I also spent some time at the Estonian archives in Sydney, sourcing material and interviewing women who were both knitters and story-tellers. Many of the stories they told me have ended up in the final version of my book.

What’s it like working in a library now that you’re a published author? Does it change things?
I haven’t actually worked a shift for a little while at the library, since I’ve been very busy writing my next book! But the library staff are completely and utterly wonderful. I’ve been so lucky to have them support me all through the process of writing and editing. They’re all coming to the book launch, too. I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier bunch of people to work with. 

What book is on your bedside table right now? 

I currently have an advanced copy of Natasha Lester’s forthcoming book The Paris Seamstress on my bedside table; I’m nearly finished and it was as wonderful as her others. I’m also reading The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. A bit behind the times with that one, but I only recently saw the film and decided I had to read the source material. It’s so moving and yet there’s so much hope that people can find acceptance. I love that about it. 

Do you have a secret reading pleasure you’d be willing to share?
I’m not secretly enjoying reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time to my son and daughter. It’s delicious to watch the way their eyes light up when we read the bits about the Hogwarts feast (they clearly take after me in their love of food) and also really wonderful to hear them laugh in all the right places. It’s been one of the best moments of parenting so far. I kept all my original copies too so they are getting the full ‘noughties’ experience. I have a friend who purposely did not read the series when the books were first released, because she wanted to savour reading them together with her kids for the first time. I’m afraid I couldn’t go that far! 

I read that your next novel is going to be called Gulliver’s Wife. What is it about?
My second novel Gulliver’s Wife, retells the story of Gulliver’s Travels through the eyes of Mary Burton, his long-suffering wife. It’s set in 18th Century London, so a world away from The Lace Weaver but there are some similar threads running through the story about the nature of women’s work, the capacity of women to support and nourish each other during times of hardship and the power of love to heal. I’m halfway through the first draft it now and I love it.

Wow, that sounds really interesting. Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks for sending me your questions! Your blog looks like a wonderful resource for readers and writers. Good luck with your next read!

Thanks so much Lauren! Congratulations on the release of your debut novel and good luck writing the rest of Gulliver's Wife.

05 April 2018

Review: The Hoarder by Jess Kidd

RRP $27.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Do you ever see a book cover and just 'know' it was designed for you? I'm in love with the cover - and title - of The Hoarder by Jess Kidd, and the wallpaper design with the sinister burn mark in the centre dings all of my bookish bells.

In The Hoarder by Jess Kidd, Maud has been brought on to look after Cathal Flood and clear his old house of rubbish and refuse. Cathal is a reclusive and grumpy old man living in a run-down mansion packed with clutter, mementoes and secrets; all of which are threatening to overwhelm him.

The Hoarder is a mystery novel at heart with a mystery surrounding Cathal's family and the disappearance of Maud's sister in childhood. 

Maud is a terrific character and her no-nonsense approach with her client was an absolute joy to read. The inclusion of a little magical realism in the form of the 'saints' Maud could see was interesting, but not altogether necessary to the plot in my opinion. I didn't quite understand why she could see and talk to saints but not to the ghosts of the departed. 

I did enjoy the character of Maud's friend and neighbour Renata though, who could easily command a book of her own. However, the mystery surrounding Maud's sister wasn't resolved to my satisfaction, leading to the deduction of 1/2 star in my rating.

All in all, I adored reading The Hoarder and often found myself thinking about the cantankerous old man and looking forward to the time when I could pick up the book and continue the story.

My rating = ****1/2

Carpe Librum!

02 April 2018

Guest Post: Game Of Thrones is more like real life than you know by Charles Purcell

Author Charles Purcell
Today I welcome Charles Purcell, former SMH journalist, freelance writer and author to tell us why Game of Thrones is more like real life than we know. Over to you Charles.

It’s the biggest question in the book world: when is the last instalment of George R. R. Martin’s multi-million-selling epic series A Song Of Ice And Fire coming out? Sadly, it probably won’t be released until 2019 – the same year the last series of the hit TV adaptation hits our screens. (No spoilers that way, see.)

Martin himself will be glad when it’s published; finally, his devoted fans will stop harassing him. Yet one of the ancillary questions to the GOT saga must be – just how realistic is Game Of Thrones? How true does it cleave to the brutal ancient world that inspired it? The short answer is … pretty real. And the long answer, once you remove the obvious obstacles – dragons, dire-wolves and magic – from the equation? It’s possibly as long as one of Martin’s sprawling epics.

Whole university courses have been devoted to the study of Game Of Thrones and its links to the real-life medieval era. But we don’t have to sit for six months in the halls of Harvard for an answer, we can wrap it up in 10 salient points.

1. GOT is inspired by England’s real-life War Of The Roses
George RR said that Game Of Thrones harks closest to England’s famous 15th-century feud.

2. The War of the Roses featured duelling houses
Like all the struggling for power between houses such as the Lannisters and Starks, the War Of The Roses was about the battle between House York and House Lancaster. They had cool house sigils, too: House York was a white rose, while Lancaster a red rose.

3. The fighting was unbelievably bloody
Think the Battle of the Bastards was savage? Just listen to this description of the Battle Of Towton, described as the most barbaric ever on English soil: “On Edward’s orders, no mercy was shown in victory. Skulls later found on the battlefield showed the most horrific injuries: faces split down the bone, heads cut in half, holes punched straight through foreheads. Some men died with more than 20 wounds to their head: the signs of frenzied slaughter by men whipped into a state of barbaric bloodlust.

4. You win or you die
Insurrections, rebellions and plots to overthrow the king and/or queen were common in English history. If you won, you got to sit on the metaphorical Iron Throne. If you lost, you were sent to the Tower Of London, en route to losing your head. Mankind has been at war for some nine-tenths of recorded history … so the constant fighting in Game Of Thrones isn’t atypical by any means.

5. Life was short and brutal
Rape, pillage and murder were never far away for the oppressed, largely illiterate medieval peasants, who had to swear their allegiance to a lord like in Game Of Thrones. If you were lucky, you got a just and fair lord like Ned Stark: too bad if you got someone like “Old Flay ’Em Alive” Roose Bolton instead.

Like then (and, some would argue, today), the legal system favoured the rich and powerful, who often employed their own punitive forms of justice.

Knowledge of medicine was extremely primitive. You could die from tooth problems, stepping on a nail, being crushed by a horse, being eaten by wolves or any number of viruses or illnesses (medieval greyscale?) for which there was no explanation.

The church was a comfort for many: but, as Tyrion once lamented, there was no god of “tits and wine”. Incidentally, the average life expectancy was under 35 … which is longer than many of the characters of GOT have lived.

6. Food and housing was basic
Peasants lived in huts. Tradesmen lived in slightly better huts. Merchants possibly owned houses with real bedding instead of hay or rushes. Castles and holdfasts were used extensively by the nobility, either for war or as ancestral homes.

The food was also terrible – largely plant based with the occasional meat offering – which is why The Hound loved his chicken and why someone like Hot Pie would have been worth his weight in gold. Take the number of calories you eat in a day and then cut them in half. On the plus side, everyone drank a lot of beer; mostly because you couldn’t trust the water, but also because it was fun.

7. Social classes were rigid
Despite the outliers of Littlefinger and Varys – men who rose above their humble origins by their intelligence and cunning – there wasn’t a whole of lot of social mobility in medieval times. If you were born a peasant you tended to stay a peasant. Intermingling with the lower classes was frowned upon, along with any resulting high-born bastards. Well-born ladies like Sansa were brought up to marry well, even to evil shits like Joffrey. In a world where power was inherited and might was right, the one place a man of humble birth could rise was on the battlefield. People like The Mountain would be rewarded by their Lords … but wouldn’t be expected to turn up to court too often.

8. Some GOT characters were inspired by real people
The Dothraki. Are they Huns? Mongols? Or, as more recently suggested, Scythians? George R. R. has said that the Dothraki are an “amalgam of a number of steppe and plains cultures… seasoned with a dash of pure fantasy”. Robert Baratheon is said to be inspired by fellow usurper overthrower Edward IV, while Tywin Lannister is a dead ringer for scheming moneybags Warwick the Kingmaker.

9. Some of the most memorable scenes in GOT were inspired by real life

When he was captured by the Parthians, the Roman general Crassus supposedly had molten gold poured down his throat to symbolise his thirst for gold. Viserys had a molten crown poured over his head to symbolise his desire for power; a lust so strong he was potentially willing to let the entire Dothraki army rape his sister if they could give him a real crown.

The Red Wedding doffs a bloody cap to the Glencoe Massacre, where 38 members of Clan Macdonald were killed by their “hosts”. Could The Wall be inspired by Hadrian’s Wall? You be the judge.

10. GOT depicts the eternal drama: the human heart in conflict with itself 
Family or realm? Love or duty? Mercy or brutality? Yesterday’s leaders wrestled with the same existential dilemmas we wrestle with today. And, of course, the feelings Game of Thrones evokes in us are very real indeed.
Charles Purcell is a freelance writer and published author, and you can check out his military thriller Game Of Killers: The Spartan now as an ebook or paperback.

28 March 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Flying Optometrist by Joanne Anderton

Published 1 April 2018, RRP $24.99
* Copy courtesy of NLA Publishing *

This children's picture book was inspired by a true story and chronicles the adventures of The Flying Optometrist as he travels to remote communities in a little red plane to provide eye-health care to the people who live there. Written by Australian author Joanne Anderton, The Flying Optometrist is delightfully illustrated by Karen Erasmus.

The story is charming and I enjoyed the Aussie setting and lingo. I think this is a great introduction for primary school aged children to understand what it's like to live in the outback and the importance of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. 

There's some great info at the back of the book on the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and a section on the author's father; the inspiration for the book. There really is a flying Optometrist in Australia.

Enter below for your chance to win a copy of 
The Flying Optometrist for yourself or the little reader in your life.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

25 March 2018

Review: Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter is a crime novel and despite being ninth in the Robert Hunter series, can easily be read as a stand alone. I'm new to this author and I was impressed by the tight writing and crime-solving he's got going on.

Robert Hunter is the star of the show - so to speak - and is an impressive main character. He has a PhD in Criminal Behaviour Analyses and Biopsychology and after turning down the role of FBI Profiler at the National Centre for the Analysis of Violent Crime, he joined the LAPD.

Working in the LAPD Homicide Special Section, Robert Hunter is assigned to a specialised unit called Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. This means he oozes qualifications and experience all of which make him a kick ass crime fighter with a reputation for catching bad guys guilty of terrible crimes.

Hunter and his partner team up with the FBI to catch an elusive serial killer and the clues and messages left by the killer keep the story moving swiftly. The graphic nature of the crimes are offset by a good sense of humour, with Hunter's partner Garcia delivering many sarcastic one liners that made me chuckle. Here's one of my favourites from Hunter's boss:

"Every time you have one of your hunches, Robert, we need to brace ourselves for a shit storm, and this is already starting to look like a hurricane." Page 71

Gallery of the Dead by Chris Carter is highly recommended for fans of the crime fiction genre.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

21 March 2018

Review: The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

In Sydney in the early 1900s, an astonishing number of babies were found abandoned and discarded in the waterways of Sydney. It's hard to imagine, but many were also left in parks and public areas - some alive - in the hope members of the public would find and look after them. This raised complex questions about women's health and the shame of unwanted pregnancies and babies born out of wedlock.

The Suitcase Baby by Tanya Bretherton is the true crime case of one such baby, who washed up in a suitcase on a beach in Mosman, Sydney in 1923. The mother (Sarah) was identified through some fantastic old school detective work, and Bretherton follows the case through the Sydney legal process, subsequent media circus and court of public opinion.
The author sets the scene well, with plenty of background on the accused before her crime of infanticide. At times I did find a liiiittle too much of the author inserting herself - or fictionalising events - that occasionally jerked me out of the investigative tone.

I'd have preferred more info on other similar cases, given there was an abundance of baby deaths in this period. 

"In December 1913 the unofficial count of baby cadavers (in less than two years) came to fifty-nine: on average, one (...) every fortnight for two years straight." Page 123

Bretherton explains that the majority of the babies were unidentified which makes this task extremely difficult and all the more tragic. I would have liked more photos of the two accused women other than those featured on the cover; assuming there are any of course.

I would also be curious to compare the stats with today's crime rates for abandoned babies and infanticide. Now that 100 years have passed (hard to believe the 1920s were a century ago) it'd be interesting to know if society is doing a better job of caring for underprivileged women facing unwanted pregnancies today. I certainly hope so.

In closing, my reading of The Suitcase Baby shed light on a shocking crime in Sydney's history and an underlying tragedy I knew nothing about, and for that I'm grateful.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

18 March 2018

Review: The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

A book about a woman whose job it is to restore graves and bring forgotten and overgrown cemeteries back to life? Yes please! Oh, and she can also see ghosts? Hell yes! I give you The Restorer by Amanda Stevens.

Amelia Gray has her own blog and is called the Graveyard Queen for her knowledge of graves and cemeteries and her expert work restoring them. 

This is the first in the Graveyard Queen series, and I had high expectations that unfortunately came crashing down for two reasons.

Firstly, the romance. There was wayyyy too much romance in this novel for my liking, and in particular the forbidden attraction Amelia has for Devlin.

Secondly, Amelia quickly becomes caught up in a murder investigation in a cozy mystery kind of way, that was supposed to keep the story moving but wasn't required in my opinion.

The Restorer is a gothic read that was smothered with a romance and murder investigation when I would have been happy to read an entire book about Amelia just doing her job. Her father's rules for living, cemetery restoration and living amongst ghosts were fascinating but quickly shoved aside in favour of the above. With such a promising premise, what I ended up with was a relatively dull paranormal romance.

I won't be continuing the series.

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!

15 March 2018

Review: Pentridge - Voices from the Other Side by Rupert Mann

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Pentridge Prison was a hulking and menacing structure of bluestone walls and guard towers and operated as a prison in Melbourne for 150 years. In 1997 it was closed and since then parts of the prison have been demolished and the developers have moved in to revitalise the area.

In an effort to preserve the history of Pentridge as much as possible before it was made unrecognisable by developers, Rupert Mann undertook a 5 year project to capture the testimonies of former staff and inmates. Pentridge - Voices from the Other Side is the result and contains personal stories from a variety of people alongside many photographs of the now deserted and run down prison.

I enjoyed reading the 14 interviews with former prisoners and staff, however some of them were understandably heavy going and required a good interval of time before I was ready to move on to the next one.

Given Rupert Mann is a photographer, I was expecting the photographs to be of better quality and composition. However when I learned he didn't have permission to photograph Pentridge, it became clear he was probably trespassing, short of time and therefore unable to take the equipment he might have liked.

Included in the back of the book was a breakdown of each of the divisions at Pentridge - including purpose, capacity and floor plan - which would have been better served at the front of the book.

Ultimately I'm thankful to Rupert Mann for preserving the history of Pentridge in these interviews and wish Pentridge had been preserved as a museum. Pentridge - Voices from the Other Side by Rupert Mann is an important book and recommended for readers of history and true crime and fans of abandoned places photography. Yes, it's a thing.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

12 March 2018

March Birthday Giveaway Winners Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my March Birthday Giveaway and left lovely comments with their entry to wish me a happy birthday. Entries closed at midnight last night, and I had fun reviewing the answers and drawing the winners this afternoon. I decided to select two winners this time so without further ado, congratulations go to..... drum roll....
Kerri & Mish Farrugia
Kerri, has won a brand new copy of Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer thanks to Hachette Australia. Mish opted for the 'surprise me' option, so I'll be checking in with her about that.

Both winners will receive an email today with the details and will have 7 days to provide their mailing address. I think my birthday giveaway is one of the most fun giveaways to organise, so I've decided to run it again next year. What do you think? Anything you'd like me to do differently next time? Let me know in the comments and keep on reading.

Carpe Librum!
Birthday giveaway

09 March 2018

Review: Beauty In Thorns by Kate Forsyth

Beauty In Thorns is the latest offering by one of my favourite Australian authors Kate Forsyth, renowned for her fairytale re-tellings. I went into this believing Beauty In Thorns was going to be loosely based on the sleeping beauty fairytale. Wrong!

What I discovered instead was a fascinating look at the lives of a group of successful artists known as the Pre-Raphaelites, which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ned Burne-Jones and William Morris. Yes, William Morris of the medieval inspired wallpaper designs and tapestries. I've long admired his designs so it was a pleasant surprise to find him in this novel.

Joining the young artists in the mid 1850s, the novel covers the next 50 years of their lives, including their dreams and aspirations, work with various muses, struggles and successes, love and heartbreak and in many cases their physical or mental decline and subsequent death.

The women in the novel (some beginning as an artist's muse) were equally important to the story and I enjoyed watching their lives unfold within the group as well. Naturally I was most interested in the life, love and work of William Morris and through this book learned that he was an incredibly industrious man. He left an enormous legacy and body of work in all manner of fields, including writing - poetry, essays and translations - textile designs, fabric dyeing, embroidery, stained glass window designs and tonnes more. I think I'm primed to read a book on William Morris next; any suggestions?

My ultimate wish after reading Beauty In Thorns was that the cover incorporated some kind of reference to the art and poetry that was so very much part of the novel. By the end of the book I understood the reference to sleeping beauty - being one of the major series of paintings by one of the main characters - but to me the novel was about all of the artists and their families. I would much prefer to see one of their paintings on the front than a stylised woman that could be any one of the muses or wives in the novel. I guess I'm saying I have an issue with how this was marketed but the writing and the story was a pleasure to read; even if I did have to put the book down to look up various paintings along the way.

I highly recommend Beauty of Thorns by Kate Forsyth to fans of historical fiction and anyone with an interest in art and beauty.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

05 March 2018

Review: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I just disembarked from a hell of a turbulent thriller. The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton was a gripping read and a scary insight into what happens when a relationship goes wrong. Juliette is obsessed with her pilot ex-boyfriend Nate and becomes an airline steward in order to win him back.

Juliette has serious baggage and if you're a male reader then consider this a horror novel. The lengths Juliette goes to in an effort to win Nate back were entertaining at first, then bothersome, 
then troublesome before spiralling into downright crazy! You definitely don't want to come across a character like Juliette in real life. Ever!

I admired Juliette's energy and determination but couldn't help wanting her to shift focus and 'move on'. It's only when the heart of her fixation was revealed that I really began to understand her.

The duties and lifestyle of airline crew featured prominently throughout the novel and I enjoyed this fresh and unique setting way more than I expected.

I was utterly gripped by The Perfect Girlfriend and for heightened pleasure, I recommend you read this on a plane with your boarding pass as a bookmark. Arm the doors and cross check people, and get ready for an exhilarating take off and surprise destination.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

02 March 2018

March Birthday Giveaway

It's my birthday in March and I want to celebrate, so let’s have a giveaway! Last year's birthday giveaway was my most popular giveaway for the year, so let's do it again.

Just choose one of the books pictured (right) and enter using the form below. The winner will win their choice of book. Depending on the number of entries, I 'may' decide to choose a second winner.

Entries close midnight Sunday 11th March 2018 so please enter and help me spread the birthday bookish cheer :-)

Carpe Librum!

27 February 2018

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Beginning in 1969 New York, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a family drama with an enticing premise: four siblings are told by a gypsy psychic the day they will die. The concept immediately conjures a host of questions. Do the siblings believe the prophecy? Do they ignore or accept the prediction? What are the predictions? Do they vary from child to child? Do any of the siblings confess their 'date'? Does knowing the date change the way they'll live their life? These are all questions I was keen to find answers for and with one of the best covers I've seen this year, I was eager to start reading The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.

Following on from the prologue where the predictions take place the book is split into four parts, one for the life of each sibling. What develops is a good literary novel about a Jewish family in America covering the siblings' generation as well as that of their parents and subsequent children, but it didn't go where I wanted it to. My questions were eventually answered, but the information was slowly drip fed into the book in a measured writing style.

I think I'm partly to blame for not enjoying this novel as much as I should have. When I heard the premise I was instantly reminded of the premise of The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma and wanted to relive the startling impact the premise in that book had amongst the siblings. (That the eldest brother would die at the hands of one of his brothers). It was one of my favourite books in 2015 and I wanted to experience that reading magic again here.

In the end, The Immortalists deals with many interesting themes, including fate and destiny and our ability - or inability - to escape it or change it.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

23 February 2018

Review: Hangman by Jack Heath

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Australian writer Jack Heath is an established YA author living in Canberra and Hangman is his first adult novel in my new favourite series featuring anti-hero Tim Blake. 

Blake is a despicable investigator contracted to the FBI as a last resort to solve crimes other FBI agents cannot. A psychopath with a dark secret, Blake's assistance comes with a steep price.

Recipe for Hangman by Jack Heath
Step 1. Take the pace of any James Patterson or Matthew Reilly novel.
Step 2. Add a gruesome yet likeable protagonist; like Dexter from Jeff Lindsay.
Step 3. Make him an anti-hero you can root for like Joe from You by Caroline Kepnes but without the sex.
Step 4. Add a measure of cannibalism from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
Step 5. Combine with the shock factor of Stephen King's writing.
Step 6. Bake for 376 pages and your novel will be ready.
Step 7. Consume Hangman in as few sittings as possible.
Step 8. Enjoy every morsel.

Reading Hangman was a guilty pleasure and I found myself getting behind Blake and hoping things turned out in his favour despite his proclivities. It isn't for the squeamish though, so if you can't handle a little gore this fast-paced crime thriller isn't for you.

Jack Heath has created an extraordinary and original character in Timothy Blake, and I can't wait to read his next book. Hangman has already been optioned for television by the ABC in USA so I'll be keeping an eye out for that too. Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

20 February 2018

Review: West Cork by Sam Bungey & Jennifer Forde

* Copy courtesy of Audible *

West Cork is a true crime podcast series investigating the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland 20 years ago. Sophie was a French film producer and was killed while on vacation alone in West Cork, Ireland just before Christmas in 1996.

Journalist Sam Bungey and Documentary Producer Jennifer Forde investigate the case over the course of 13 episodes including multiple interviews with prime suspect Ian Bailey.

The case was incredibly layered and complex and I was impressed by the logical approach the investigators took in outlining the various aspects of the case and somewhat flawed investigation by the Guards; Ireland's Police Force. Bungey and Forde gained an enormous level of access to Ian Bailey, primarily due to the fact Bailey seems to like the attention. He's a narcissist guilty of domestic violence who loves the spotlight a little too much, but is he a killer?

This was my first time using Audible and I was utterly gripped by the listening experience and the true crime investigation. It was the audio equivalent of binge-watching Making a Murderer on Netflix.

By the conclusion of the final episode I was left wanting more, but I guess that's inevitable in a case that is still active and technically unsolved. I'm interested to know who Bungey and Forde think is responsible for murdering Sophie and what they hope will happen now the case is gaining international recognition. (It's already a significant and well-known cold case in France and Ireland). I hope Sophie's family get justice soon.

West Cork is compelling listening and is recommended for listeners, viewers and readers of true crime.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

18 February 2018

Winner of The Bookworm by Mitch Silver announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway to win a print copy of The Bookworm by Mitch Silver last week. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 16 February 2018 and the answer was ‘an old leather bible’. 
The winner was drawn today and congratulations go to:
Congratulations Tien, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. The prize is courtesy of Wunderkind PR & Pegasus Books and they’ll send your prize to you directly.

Carpe Librum!

14 February 2018

Review: How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs - The Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits by Melanie Mühl & Diana Von Kopp

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I was keen to read How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs - The Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp in order to conquer some of my bad habits and recognise what's really going on in my body.

Much of the information wasn't new to me, and the chapters just touched on interesting topics without delving deeper. The chapters skimmed over topics providing the reader with a tempting and tantalising teaser without investigating further.

Printed in large font and generously spaced, this was a quick and easy read, and regularly quoted other references and books. The comprehensive chapter by chapter bibliography at the end was welcome.

I was hoping for the next level understanding and unfortunately I didn't manage to get it here. Perhaps this is just a book to whet the reader's appetite (see what I did there) but for real insight into what we buy and what/how/why we eat, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Here are a few of my favourite nuggets from the book:

  • Haagen-Dazs ice cream is not made in Denmark. It's made in America and has been given a Scandinavian name to make it sound like a premium product. (Page 11)
  • The Swedish delicacy surstromming is "fermented herring with an odour so awful and overwhelming that it can make you faint when you open the tin." This reminded me of a video I once saw of a family trying to eat it and I was subsequently lost in a YouTube vortex watching others trying to eat it and failing. (Page 100)
  • If your waiter at a restaurant is overweight, diners are more likely to order more food. (Page 139)
  • Apparently the sucking action from drinking a milkshake through a straw has a calming and soothing effect. "It changes the consistency of the milkshake in the mouth, where a small amount of liquid meets with a larger amount of air. The result is a pleasantly creamy sensation." So that's why I love milkshakes! "The act of sucking is also associated with pleasure, reassurance, and satiation." (Page 168)
  • The introduction 250 years ago of knife and fork has changed the formation of our mouths and we have since developed an overbite. The art of separating food with the use of our incisors (clamping down on the food and pulling) has been lost and consequently the top row of teeth no longer needs to meet the bottom. (Page 213)
These were fascinating tidbits, and if the book had more of them throughout, I would have enjoyed it more.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

12 February 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Some fast facts about The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn:
- The book has been sold in 38 territories around the world
- It's being adapted into a movie by Fox 2000 Studios

In this psychological thriller the main character is Anna Fox, child psychologist now agoraphobe who hasn't left her New York townhouse in almost a year. She's an alcoholic who stalks her neighbours online and spies on them through her windows until she sees something shocking.

I notice this is being compared to The Girl on a Train, but I only agree with that so far as the main character has a drinking problem, sees something and can be unreliable but that's as far as it goes. I like Anna and was cheering her on whereas Rachel made me groan out loud in frustration.

I seem to enjoy agoraphobic characters and it was no different here. It was fascinating to see how Anna struggled with her condition and what she does to fill in her time while still trying to remain useful to society.

There were a few twists and turns at the end that had me speeding through the pages and all in all this was an exciting and unpredictable read. 
Fans of old black and white films will love the cinema references and parallels between this novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window.

I enjoyed this more than The Girl on a Train and think it's going to be a fantastic thriller movie when it hits the big screen.

My rating = ****1/2

Carpe Librum

P.S. Read a FREE sample of the novel here.

08 February 2018

Review: The Little Bullet Book - Be Gorgeously Organized by Dave Sinden

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

For readers who have always wanted to try their hand at keeping a bullet journal, The Little Bullet Book - Be Gorgeously Organized by Dave Sinden is a great place to start. It's full of prompts and customisable weekly and monthly planners and checklists to fill in yourself that will teach you the basic elements of bullet journalling.

There are task trackers (my favourite) as well as methods for establishing and outlining your goals and ways in which to work towards achieving them.

This bullet journal can be started at any time and isn't date specific. In fact, there are no dates mentioned whatsoever, only prompts for weeks and months. A ready-made index is also helpful.

I liked the idea of making a list of things you're grateful for and I know it's a popular trend on social media but there's something to be said about writing it down and keeping it private that could make all the difference in your own personal development and growth.

All in all, a nicely presented journal containing pages full of prompts and suggestions that can easily be filled in no matter the time of year or stage of life. This is for anyone who wants to be better organised.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

06 February 2018

WIN a print copy of The Bookworm by Mitch Silver

RRP $25.95USD
* Copy courtesy of Wunderkind PR & Pegasus Books *

Europe, 1940: It’s late summer and Belgium has been overrun by the German army. Posing as a friar, a British operative talks his way into the monastery at Villers-devant-Orval just before Nazi art thieves plan to sweep through the area and whisk everything of value back to Berlin. But the ersatz man of the cloth is no thief. Instead, that night he adds an old leather Bible to the monastery’s library and then escapes.

London, 2017: A construction worker operating a backhoe makes a grisly discovery―a skeletal arm-bone with a rusty handcuff attached to the wrist. Was this the site, as a BBC newsreader speculates, of “a long-forgotten prison, uncharted on any map?” One viewer knows better: it’s all that remains of a courier who died in a V-2 rocket attack. The woman who will put these two disparate events together―and understand the looming tragedy she must hurry to prevent―is Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion Larissa Mendelova Klimt, “Lara the Bookworm,” to her friends. She’s also experiencing some woeful marital troubles.

In the course of this riveting thriller, Lara will learn the significance of six musty Dictaphone cylinders recorded after D-Day by Noel Coward―actor, playwright and, secretly, a British agent reporting directly to Winston Churchill. She will understand precisely why that leather Bible, scooped up by the Nazis and deposited on the desk of Adolf Hitler days before he planned to attack Britain, played such a pivotal role in turning his guns to the East. And she will discover the new secret pact negotiated by the nefarious Russian president and his newly elected American counterpart―maverick and dealmaker―and the evil it portends.

Oh, and she’ll reconcile with her husband.

Check out Mitch Silver's website here: www.mitchsilverauthor.com

Giveaway - closes midnight Friday 16 February 2018

05 February 2018

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt has been on my radar for years so I was happy to borrow a copy from a friend and find out for myself why it's on so many Top 100 lists.

Published in the 1990s and set in Hampden College in Vermont, the story is narrated by college student Richard Papen and is essentially the story of what happens to him and his five fellow classics students. On the first page of the Prologue we learn one of them has been murdered.

Richard is on a scholarship but his fellow students have wealthy backgrounds and they're all studying Ancient Greek under the exclusive tutelage of a Professor who will only take a limited number of students on at any one time. The novel is peppered with quotes in Greek, and the students are intelligent, rich and somewhat entitled which gives the book an altogether snobbish undertone.

The narrator was irritatingly elusive and I wasn't quite sure if this was the point. The novel provided a penetrating character analysis of the friends without ever giving us a clear picture of the narrator and I'm still not sure why. Each of the characters was flawed and unlikeable in their own way and their behaviour was sometimes detestable. I'm just talking about their everyday behaviour here, not the fact that they murdered one of their friends.

Given I had little to zero understanding of the classics references contained within the book, I was relieved to discover I could easily follow the mystery through to a satisfactory ending. Although I was left wanting to know more about Henry's past and what happened in the woods.

Ultimately, this was a grudging read and a slow-burn. There's much to admire in the writing and the research is impressive, but it just didn't ring my bell. If I wanted a college setting with inspiring references to classic literature and a tragic death I'd turn to Dead Poets Society.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

31 January 2018

Review of How to Draw Cute Stuff - Draw Anything and Everything in the Cutest Style Ever! by Angela Nguyen

* Copy courtesy of Murdoch Books *

I can't draw. At all. So it shouldn't come as a shock that I've always admired those who can. In How to Draw Cute Stuff: Draw Anything and Everything in the Cutest Style Ever! artist Angela Nguyen shows the reader how to draw a variety of cute subjects from people, animals and food to other household items.

Thanks to the phenomenal success of Kawaii - the Japanese culture of cuteness - the popularity of all things cute doesn't seem to be fading any time soon. The ability to draw cute stuff can be utilised in a variety of ways: happy mail, doodling, bullet journals etc. and I was hoping to put some of these newfound skills to good use.

The subjects are all cute, there's no doubting that, but many of the things being drawn are quite detailed and - in my opinion - beyond the skills of a beginner. Perhaps readers with basic drawing skills will be able to draw a policeman, ninja, eagle, tiger, school bus or helicopter by following the instructions, but I certainly wasn't able to.

My favourites from the book did include the smiley face expressions, houses, and the puffer fish. (Loved that puffer fish!) The difficulty level of the majority of items exceeded my own skills as a beginner and I'm sorry to say I couldn't attempt many of them.

It is for this reason I'm giving the book 3 stars.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!