27 May 2022

Friday Freebie and Review: Blobfish by Olaf Falafel

Blobfish by Olaf Falafel book cover

* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *


It's been a while since I've reviewed a children's picture book, but I just couldn't resist Blobfish, just look at his cute little face!


A heartfelt and humorous adventure from the bottom of the sea and beyond, following one fish on an epic journey.

Deep, deep, deep under the sea … lives Blobfish! Blobfish loves telling jokes, although he has no one to share them with, so he sets off on an adventure to find a friend. But sometimes friends turn up in the most unexpected places, even at the bottom of the ocean. This heartfelt and humorous story gently introduces children to themes of friendship, belonging and the issue of plastics in our oceans.


Blobfish is a sad and lonely little fish who has no friends and sets out to find one. His journey is heartfelt and I was surprised when he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. There's an important message here about rubbish, plastic and the ever increasing problem of plastic polluting the ocean, but presented in a way that even 3yo readers can understand.

Written and illustrated by Olaf Falafel (a nom de plume) Blobfish is recommended for 3+ readers and will be released on 1 June 2022.

My Rating:
Carpe Librum giveaway image for Blobfish by Olaf Falafel


Please enter below (or complete the entry form here) for your chance to win a copy of Blobfish. Entries are open to AUS & NZ only and the giveaway closes at midnight AEST on 5 June 2022. This prize is valued at $27.99AUD.

26 May 2022

Review: Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose by Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose by Alison Weir book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose is my sixth book by Alison Weir, and astonishingly (or not) they've all been five star reads.... including this one!

Elizabeth of York was the first Tudor queen and was born in 1466. Thanks to reading a number of books by Philippa Gregory over the years - namely The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Lady of the Rivers - I was reasonably familiar with the Houses of Lancaster and York and of course the War of the Roses. Given the number of Richards, Elizabeths and Henrys of the period, I was grateful for this foundational knowledge and able to relax immediately into the story.

The novel begins in 1470, when Elizabeth is just 4 years old and takes the reader through to her death from childbed fever (or post partum infection) in 1503. It should be noted that Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose is a standalone historical fiction novel, and unconnected to her Six Tudor Queens series. In following her life, the novel does seem to take the same chronological structure as her Tudor Queens novels, and could easily be read alongside any of the novels I've linked in this review.

The reader gets a great sense of Elizabeth, and her portrayal by Jodie Comer in the historical drama miniseries The White Princess, in addition to Michelle Fairley's portrayal of Lady Margaret Beaufort, were both firmly in my mind as I was reading.
"I will be Queen of England! I care not whether I hang, burn or drown in the attempt, for otherwise my life is not worth living." Page 220
The novel covers the disappearance and potential murder of the two Princes in the Tower in 1483, a case from history that still fascinates historians today. The Princes were Elizabeth of York's younger brothers and I enjoyed exploring this topic in To The Tower Born by Robin Maxwell back in 2011. Alison Weir has her own take on Richard III and what transpired in the Tower of London, which is very different to Philippa Gregory's version of events. However, it should be said that a centuries old unsolved disappearance lends itself to multiple interpretations and I enjoyed Alison Weir's here.

The future King Henry VIII is one of many children born (yes, Elizabeth of York is the mother of Henry VIII) and we see him grow as a charming young boy at the periphery of this novel, only to lose his brother Arthur to the sweating sickness in 1502. When Elizabeth dies Henry is just 12 years old, so it was comforting to know what happens to him and his siblings long after the book concludes. No cliffhangers here!

As in her previous books, Weir's writing in Elizabeth of York was evocative and I managed to keep up with the various betrothals, alliances, rebellions, pretenders, usurpers, treasonous plots, royal progresses, betrayals and executions.

Researching in preparation for this review, I just learned that Elizabeth of York - The Last White Rose is the first in a new series by Alison Weir called Tudor Rose. As I write this, there are a further two books planned and the series will be about a mother (Elizabeth of York), a son (Henry VIII) and a daughter (Mary I); a series spanning three generations. I can tell this is going to be an epic series and I'm eager to keep reading. Will the next one continue the 5 star streak? Let's see.

My Rating:

22 May 2022

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover

I was nervous about reading this. On the one hand, I was an early reader of The Martian and it turned out to be one of my favourite reads that year (2014). Then there was Artemis, the most disappointing read of 2017. Weir's third book Project Hail Mary was either going to be a stellar return to his earlier form, or another blazing disappointment. I'm pleased, relieved and excited to report that Project Hail Mary is a triumphant return to form for Andy Weir and I loved it!

Further enhancing my reading enjoyment was the fact my husband read this before me, so I could enjoy sharing the plot developments and favourite dialogue moments which we're still doing now! (Sad, amaze!)

Project Hail Mary is a science fiction space thriller, with many elements similar to those in The Martian; our main character Ryland Grace finds himself alone on a spaceship and part of an impossible mission. The early stages of the novel contains an element of memory loss (I usually avoid the amnesia trope like the plague) however thankfully it doesn't last long.

There are plenty of problems on the ship and complications with the mission and Grace uses all of his knowledge and resources to navigate his way through them. We also get flashbacks to his time on Earth before the launch which reminded me a little of a Matthew Reilly novel.

Project Hail Mary was published a year ago now and if you plan to read it at some stage and don't want any spoilers then close this tab or email now.... because what I loved most about this book was..... the main character's interactions with another being. Yep, you read that right. I'll always think of Project Hail Mary as Rocky's book.

If you loved the movie Arrival, this is for you.

My Rating:

11 May 2022

Review: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter book cover

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter sounds right up my alley. Dark and subversive versions of fairy tales and legends told in the gothic tradition? Sign me up! I was so confident I would fall in love with this collection of short stories, I used a Christmas gift voucher to source a stunning little hardback edition back in January 2019. Since then, it's been sitting on my shelves while I enjoyed the anticipation of an automatic 5 star read within my reach. Recently I decided I was in the mood for some short stories - which doesn't happen often - and it was finally time to enjoy the collection. Sadly, I was quite disappointed.

The writing is superb, there's no doubt about that. And I'll never look at a cat or a ham bone in the same way again after this description from the Puss-In-Boots story:
"I went about my ablutions, tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats, one leg stuck in the air like a ham bone; I choose to remain silent. Love? What has my rakish master, for whom I've jumped through the window of every brothel in the city, besides haunting the virginal back garden of the convent and god knows what other goatish errands, to do with the tender passion?" Page 114 Puss-In-Boots
Saving this quote to include in my review and re-reading it again now, I'm once again stunned that this wasn't a great reading experience. I'm going to be giving this collection 3 stars, but how is that even possible with writing like this?
"It is winter and cold weather. In this region of mountain and forest, there is now nothing for the wolves to eat. Goats and sheep are locked up in the byre, the deer departed for the remaining pasturage on the southern slopes - wolves grow lean and famished. There is so little flesh on them that you could count the starveling ribs through their pelts, if they gave you time before they pounced. Those slavering jaws; the lolling tongue; the rime of saliva on the grizzled chops - of all the teeming perils of the night and the forest, ghosts, hobgoblins, ogres that grill babies upon gridirons, witches that fatten their captives in cages for cannibal tables, the wolf is worst for he cannot listen to reason." Page 186 The Company of Wolves
As you can see, Carter's writing is thought provoking and often made me stop to reflect. That was certainly the case when reading the last story in the collection about a girl raised by wolves:
"Like the wild beasts, she lives without a future. She inhabits only the present tense, a fugue of the continuous, a world of sensual immediacy as without hope as it is without despair." Page 202 Wolf-Alice
There's much to dissect in this relatively short collection, but I'm certain that many of the fairytale references went way over my head. Angela Carter died in 1992, so thankfully I don't have to worry that she'll ever see this review and disapprove of my meagre criticisms, but geez, how many hyphens and semi colons do you need? At one point I put the book down to Google 'angela carter semi colons' and was reassured to find I'm not the only reader who finds it a tad excessive.

I loved the writing style in The Bloody Chamber and even relished having to put the book down to expand my vocabulary by looking up a new-to-me word. However, I found the stories to be a little too obscure for my overall enjoyment. While reading this, I made a note that if I'd been studying it in a university setting, breaking it down and analysing the literary references cleverly contained within, I'd be writing a completely different review.

Read in isolation though, I enjoyed the language and the gothic undertones on every page, but overall, this collection never took me to the dizzying literary classic heights I had expected to reach.

My Rating:

06 May 2022

Review: The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters was such a joy to read. Expertly researched and wonderfully written, the book opens in Dorset in 1642 and finishes there seven years later in 1649. Those who know their history will recognise this period as the English Civil War that raged in England from 1642 - 1651 between the Royalists (who were for the King having absolute rule) and the Parliamentarians.

Jayne Swift of the title is an unmarried woman who uses her many skills as a physician to provide medical treatment to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. Remaining neutral throughout, despite coming from a seemingly Royalist family, it's impossible not to love Jayne. Her skill in providing medical treatment for all kinds of maladies, including battlefield surgery was remarkable.

In fact, Jayne reminded me of Lady Anne of Develish from The Last Hours by Minette Walters. I can't believe I read that almost 5 years ago in November 2017! Notwithstanding, that was set 300 years earlier and The Swift and the Harrier is a stand alone novel.

The Harrier referred to in the title is a person who crosses paths with Jayne a number of times over the years, but don't worry, this isn't a romance driven novel. There are other characters I warmed to throughout the book and I was rooting for their safety amongst the ever changing politics surrounding the civil war.

A personal reading highlight I'll take with me after reading The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters was the absolute pleasure in seeing praise from Theresa Smith (Theresa Smith Writes) and Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse) featured in the first few pages. They're both fantastic Australian book bloggers and I know how much of a thrill it is, so I hope they're both proud to be included in this fine book.

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters is highly recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse, C.J. Sansom or Ken Follett and you can read the first 19 pages for free on the publisher's website

My Rating:

29 April 2022

Review: A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister

A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister audiobook cover

After reviewing a book about death, I thought my reading schedule could do with a little lightening up and what's the opposite of death? Life of course, but also sex!

Listening to the audiobook for A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister is akin to watching an episode of Embarrassing Bodies; it was informative and educational and I enjoyed the creator's cheeky sense of humour.

Covering subjects like: aphrodisiacs, condoms, douching, impotence, menstruation, orgasms, pubic hair, self care, sex work, sex dolls, STDs, Viagra and vibrators, Lister manages to dispel several myths from the Victorian era, shine a light on stereotypes and attempt to debunk some long held views.

Given my previous reading experience and interest in history, there wasn't much in this book I didn't already know and I didn't find any of the content curious. Had I read this at the age of 20 though, I would have had an entirely different reading experience. I would have found the etymology of the 'C' word incredibly illuminating for a start and seized on the slang terms for areas of the body readily.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the author's writing style, like this example in the chapter about the history of the clitoris and the discovery that the G spot was actually the C spot all along:
"...like a kind of clitoral Scooby Doo ending to a debate that has raged throughout medicine for centuries." Chapter 3
A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister is recommended for fans of Ruth Goodman and Bill Bryson and the audiobook narrated by the author herself was a great listen.

Further reading suggestions:
- The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl
27 April 2022

Review: Sundial by Catriona Ward

Sundial by Catriona Ward book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

It's almost a year ago since I read The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward and gave it 3 stars in my review, so I was a little surprised to receive her latest release, Sundial. With its stunningly menacing and striking cover design, how could I refuse? Sundial is completely different however somehow just as messed up as The Last House on Needless Street. Both novels are literary horror with a gothic touch, however Sundial introduces a level of science fiction to the mix.

Set deep in an isolated area of the Mojave desert, mother of two girls Rob is worried about the safety of both of her daughters. Callie is afraid of her mother and acting strangely by collecting tiny animal bones. Rob's relationship with her husband is strained and in an effort to sort out their family problems, Rob takes her eldest daughter back to her childhood home for some one-on-one time together.
"Everyone has one story that explains them completely. You are very special, because you have two. They used to be mine, and I passed them down to you." Page 276
Here the reader learns about Rob's childhood which begins to inform the behaviour of the other family members. This is a slow burn, disturbing and unsettling read with a hostile undercurrent. You might expect a high body count in a literary horror novel, but this isn't a bloody read. Sundial is psychologically troubling and will force you to consider what you might do if faced with some of the character's choices.

There are some clever moments in passing, however my favourite moment was on page 162 when Rob entered the code 112263 to open a lock. Did you pick it too? (Sorry, couldn't resist). This is the title of a Stephen King book 11.22.63 and the date JFK was assassinated. I'm not sure if Ward is a JFK or King fan, but it was definitely a fun easter egg to find.

Sundial by Catriona Ward is a gothic literary horror novel about motherhood, sisters, and nature versus nurture and isn't for the faint at heart.

My Rating:

24 April 2022

Winners of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's giveaway to win one of two print copies of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater. Everyone answered correctly and the 17th century silk dress that inspired this book was indeed found in a shipwreck. You can read my five star review of the novel here.

The giveaway closed at midnight AEST on Sunday 24 April 2022, and the winners were drawn today:

Congratulations Julia Proud & Mary G2E

Congratulations Julia & Mary! You've each won a copy of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater valued at $32.99AUD thanks to Simon & Schuster. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win, and I hope you enjoy your prize.

Carpe Librum!
Carpe Librum image of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater
23 April 2022

Review: All the Living and the Dead by Hayley Campbell

All the Living and the Dead: A Personal Investigation Into the Death Trade by Hayley Campbell book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Death is an interesting topic and one we will all eventually come to know first hand. It's a taboo topic in some circles, and too painful to discuss in others but like Hayley Campbell, it's always been of interest to me. As a kid, I remember a photograph I saw in a book of an adult who had died in their armchair as a result of spontaneous combustion. The idea that a body could catch fire or burst into flames at any moment was a frightening discovery and probably the first time I'd seen a photo of a dead body.

In our everyday lives, we're regularly shielded from death and that's something Hayley Campbell wants to change. In an attempt to understand how workers in the death industry cope with the demands of their job and why they chose their vocation in the first place, Hayley Campbell met a range of interviewees in order to produce All the Living and the Dead: A Personal Investigation Into the Death Trade.

In her book, Campbell interviews a funeral director, director of anatomical services, death mask sculptor, disaster victim identification, crime scene cleaner, executioner, embalmer, anatomical pathology technologist, bereavement midwife, gravedigger, crematorium operator and an employee from the Cryonics Institute. The variety of people and jobs was well rounded and each employee provided a new aspect to consider.
"I have met funeral directors who tell me they could not handle the gore of an autopsy, a crematorium worker who could not dress a dead man because it is too personal, and a gravedigger who can stand neck-deep in his own grave in the day but is scared of the cemetery at night. I have met APTs in the autopsy room who can weigh a human heart but will not read the suicide note in the coroner's report. We all have our blinkers on, but what we block out is personal to us." Page 230
In her research, Campbell accompanied staff on their duties and began to experience moments that would stick with her for the rest of her life. While trying to understand how staff manage to cope with the trauma that comes along with their chosen careers, the author found herself accumulating instances that would later qualify as giving her PTSD. As she discusses the most disturbing account of her time - assisting in an autopsy of a baby - Campbell realises that she has immersed herself so deep into the research that she is now processing the kind of trauma that regular staff in the industry have to deal with.

After reading the chapter about the crime scene cleaner, I was tempted to suss out his instagram profile after Campbell's descriptions of his posts there. I quickly fell into a deep dark social media hole for 20 mins until my levels of fear, disgust, repulsion, sorrow, compassion, sympathy and frustration at much of the needless carnage were depleted. I definitely don't recommend it and yet it confirmed I'm unsuitable for that job.

Just as Campbell felt weighed down by what she learned and experienced, I too began to feel heavy and had to set this book down for a few weeks before returning to it. The overuse of hyphens throughout the writing also slowed me down a little.

On a lighter note, there was much to inspire the reader, and when I returned to the book I enjoyed this passage in particular:
"Thinking about death and the passage of time is part of tending a garden. You put things in the ground knowing they might fail. You grow things knowing they will die with the frosts six months from now. An acceptance of an end and a celebration of a short, beautiful life is all tucked up in this one at. People say gardening is therapeutic, that putting your hands in soil and effecting change on the world makes you feel alive and present, like something you do matters even if it's only in this one terracotta pot. But the therapy runs deeper than physicality: from the start of spring, every month is a countdown to an end. Every year, the gardener accepts, plans for and even celebrates death in the crisping seed heads that sparkle with ice in winter: a visible reminder of both an end and a beginning." Page 237
I enjoyed All the Living and the Dead by Hayley Campbell, however most telling were probably the number of books from the further reading section that I’ve read on this subject over the years:
Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold
- Not Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, but I have read Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty
Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry
- Stiff by Mary Roach
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In conclusion, I admire Hayley Campbell's courage to shine a light on the often unknown world of death workers and the death industry. It's not until we face a natural disaster ourselves that we'd ever learn of the existence of Kenyon, or undergo problems with a pregnancy to be introduced to a bereavement midwife. I think it's important to better understand and appreciate the death workers within our community and thank them for the very important work that they do.

My Rating:

Other books on the topic of death and the death industry you may want to explore:
Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training by Tom Jokinen
Death is But a Dream by Christopher Kerr
Working Stiff - Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

The following is now on my list thanks to this book:
- Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

Other books already on my radar as being of interest:
- Personal Effects: What Recovering the Dead Teaches Me About Caring for the Living by Robert A. Jensen
- CSI Told You Lies: Giving Victims a Voice Through Forensics by Meshel Laurie

20 April 2022

Review: What Makes Us Tick by Hugh Mackay

Continuing with the theme of self discovery and personal reflection and exploration, it was time to return to the great Australian psychologist and social researcher Hugh Mackay for some more words of wisdom. Listening to What Makes Us Tick: Making Sense of Who We Are and the Desires that Drive Us by Hugh Mackay was an enlightening experience this month.

In this book, Mackay describes the ten desires that drive us, and is careful to point out that a person may be driven by one or more of these desires at any one time. He also goes on to say this is by no means a complete list.
What Makes Us Tick: Making Sense of Who We Are and the Desires that Drive Us by Hugh Mackay audiobook cover

Here are the 10 desires:

The Desire to Be Taken Seriously
The Desire for My Place
The Desire for Something to Believe In
The Desire to Connect
The Desire to Be Useful
The Desire to Belong
The Desire for More
The Desire for Control
The Desire for Something to Happen
The Desire for Love

When reflecting on each of these topics and listening to the author explaining them, I found unprompted examples surfacing from people in my life, those in the media or even people from history who were so driven by one or more of these desires to the point of detriment to those around them.

Mackay covers each of the desires within a separate chapter, and while each can be read on their own and in any order, exploring them all was a worthwhile endeavour. Seeking to understand why others behave the way they do, and what desire/s might motivate them to make the decisions that guide their lives is well worth pursuing.

I can identify two or three desires from this list that motivate many of my own thoughts and actions, those being The Desire to Be Useful, The Desire for Control and The Desire for Love. What about you?
For more by this author, check out my review of The Inner Self by Hugh Mackay.

My Rating:

18 April 2022

Giveaway: The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater


I trust you've been enjoying the Easter break and spending time with loved ones, and I hope you found some time for a little reading as well. I love adding to your growing TBR piles, so today I'm giving away 2 print copies of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater valued at $32.99AUD each thanks to Simon & Schuster. I gave it 5 stars in my review and you now have the chance to pick up a copy for yourself. The giveaway is open to AUS and NZ entries only and entries close midnight on Sunday 24 April 2022. Click here to enter, or enter below. Good luck!
Carpe Librum blog tour image for The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater


Jo Baaker, a textiles historian and Dutch ex-pat is drawn back to the island where she was born to investigate the provenance of a 17th century silk dress. Retrieved by local divers from a sunken shipwreck, the dress offers tantalising clues about the way people lived and died during Holland’s famous Golden Age.
The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater book cover

Jo’s research leads her to Anna Tesseltje, a poor Amsterdam laundress turned ladies companion who served the artist Catharina van Shurman for one season at her property outside the Hague. The two women were said to be close, so why did Anna abandon Catharina at the height of her misfortune? And was the dress a gift or did Anna come by it through less honest means? Jo is determined to find out, but as she delves deeper into Anna’s history, troubling details about her own past begin to emerge, disrupting the personal narrative she has trusted for sixteen years.

On the small Dutch island of Texel where fortunes are lost and secrets lie buried for centuries, Jo will finally discover the truth about herself and her connection to the woman who wore
The Winter Dress.


This giveaway has now closed and the winner will be announced soon.

13 April 2022

Review: Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth

Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth book cover

In Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth, the main character can read minds and after a career in the military and the CIA is now a private consultant to the very rich. What could possibly go wrong?

A backlist title published in 2017 it was a pleasure to finally pick this up after purchasing a copy back in 2018. My initial curiosity surrounded how the author would communicate the mind reading skill to the reader. Secondly, how convincing (or not) this might be. I was pleasantly surprised to read a convincing account of mind reading and how it might impact a person with this ability.
"I know what you're thinking. Most of the time, it's not impressive. Trust me." Page 1
Our character goes by the name of John Smith (of course he does), and he often sheds light on the complex nature of his gift. He knows if a person means him harm and can take action beforehand. There are also unintended consequences of being able to read minds, as this quote early on in the book demonstrates:
"One of the many other downsides to being a telepath: knowing instantly and with certainty when you've acted like an asshole. I broke into her private life to score a cheap point, which is a lot worse than the countless guys who snuck a look down her blouse when they thought she wouldn't notice." Page 43
Smith is hired by Everett Sloan to get close to his billionaire rival in attempts to right a wrong, but not all is as it seems. Sloan can't read minds, but he has plenty of resources at his command, as does Sloan's rival, and the action is non stop.

Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth is a satisfying thriller with a refreshingly different angle I hadn't pursued since reading the Shadows series by Kay Hooper featuring a team of FBI Agents made up of psychics and those with special abilities.

Overall, a good read!

My Rating:

11 April 2022

Extract: What She Said - The Art of Inspiring Action Through Speech by Monica Lunin

What She Said - The Art of Inspiring Action Through Speech by Monica Lunin book cover

* Courtesy of the author and Wiley *


Speeches are made around the world every day, however some speeches resonate with us long after they were made and have brought about great social change. Today I'm pleased to bring you an extract from What She Said - The Art of Inspiring Action Through Speech by Monica Lunin.

I've chosen to share 'the lady's not for turning' speech made by former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when addressing the Conservative Party in Brighton, UK in 1980. There's no denying Thatcher was quite the orator, no matter your politics.

About the Author

Sydney-based author Monica Lunin is a communications expert, speaker and writer. She is the co-owner of MOJOLOGIC, a consultancy that specialises in developing the skills of communication, influence and leadership. Monica Lunin has curated and analysed 40 of the greatest speeches made by a diverse group of strong and empowering women throughout history to create What She Said - The Art of Inspiring Action Through Speech.


In October 1980, Margaret Thatcher delivered a lengthy (40-minute) speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, UK. She had a lot to say to her fellow party members and provided much to analyse, but this phrase lives on in infamy: ‘the lady’s not for turning’. A twist on The Lady’s Not for Burning, a 1948 play by Christopher Fry about a witchcraft trial, perhaps this phrase is so memorable because it is rather enigmatic and, therefore, interesting.

The mention of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s name will provoke a reaction from most people who have even a little bit of political awareness. This was certainly true in the time she was in power but seems to have evolved into an even deeper legacy of divisiveness. Ideology notwithstanding, Thatcher’s attainment of the top job and the years she held her position were unprecedented, and they remain a standout achievement for a woman in leadership.

Thatcher was known as a committed conservative. Her policies were almost always polarising, but we all knew, and still know, what she stood for. The ‘Iron Lady’ rarely indulged concepts of the left and remained steadfast in her convictions throughout her tenure and her lifetime.

When Thatcher delivered the speech extracted here, she had been in power for about a year and, in that time, unemployment had risen from 1.5 to 2 million people. In addition to facing opposition from the Labour Party and the public, she was also fending off criticism from within her own party. Some conservatives opposed Thatcher’s radical free-market policies. She was under fire.

In this speech - particularly her declaration of strength - Thatcher signals her commitment to the policy she has set in motion. Indeed, most of the speech is about arguing for and defending her strategy. These are words intended to demand the respect she deserves, and encourage her allies to hold the line.

What She Said

"Most of my Cabinet colleagues have started their speeches of reply by paying very well deserved tributes to their junior ministers. Now at Number 10, I have no junior ministers - there’s just Denis [Thatcher] and me, and I could not do without him. I am, however, very fortunate in having a marvellous deputy who is wonderful in all places at all times in all things - Willie Whitelaw.
… When I am asked for a detailed forecast of what will happen in the coming months or years, I remember Sam Goldwyn’s advice: ‘Never prophesy, especially about the future.’ Nevertheless — Nevertheless —

[Heckler interjects.]

Never mind - it’s wet outside. I expect they wanted to come in. You cannot blame them; it is always better where the Tories are. And you - and perhaps they - will be looking to me this afternoon for an indication of how the Government sees the task before us and why we are tackling it the way we are.

… It was Anthony Eden who chose for us the goal of a ‘property- owning democracy’. But for all the time that I’ve been in public affairs that has been beyond the reach of so many who were denied the right to the most basic ownership of all - the homes in which they live. They wanted to buy. Many could afford to buy. But they happened to live under the jurisdiction of a Socialist council, which would not sell and did not believe in the independence that comes with ownership. Now Michael Heseltine has given them the chance to turn a dream into reality. And all this, Mr Chairman, and a lot more, in seventeen months. The Left continues to refer with relish to the death of capitalism. Well, if this is the death of capitalism, I must say it is quite a way to go.

But all this will avail us little unless we achieve our prime economic objective: the defeat of inflation. Inflation destroys nations and societies as surely as invading armies do. Inflation is the parent of unemployment. It is the unseen robber of those who have saved. No policy which puts at risk the defeat of inflation - however great its short-term attraction - can be right. Our policy for the defeat of inflation is, in fact, traditional. It existed long before Sterling M3 embellished the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, or ‘monetarism’ became a convenient term of political invective.

… If I could press a button and genuinely solve the unemployment problem, do you think that I would not press that button this instant? Does anyone imagine that there is the smallest political gain in letting this unemployment continue, or that there is some obscure economic religion which demands this level of unemployment as part of its ritual?

… So what can stop us from achieving this? What then stands in our way? The prospect of another winter of discontent? I suppose it might.

But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of commonsense. If it is not, we shall not be diverted from our course.

To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase the ‘U’ turn, I have only one thing to say. ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.’ I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas, and also to those who are not our friends.

… I have always known that that task was vital. Since last week it has become even more vital than ever. We close our Conference in the aftermath of that sinister Utopia unveiled at Blackpool. Let Labour’s Orwellian nightmare of the Left be the spur for us to dedicate with a new urgency our every ounce of energy and moral strength to rebuild the fortunes of this free nation.

If we were to fail, that freedom could be imperilled. So let us resist the blandishments of the faint hearts; let us ignore the howls and threats of the extremists; let us stand together and do our duty. And we shall not fail.

How She Did That

Handle the hecklers
Early in Margaret Thatcher’s speech, she faced an interruption from the floor. This came from a protester who had breached security and entered the hall, shouting ‘Power to the workers. Tories out!’

Thatcher used this as an opportunity to ad lib a retort:

Never mind - it’s wet outside. I expect they wanted to come in. You cannot blame them; it is always better where the Tories are. And you - and perhaps they - will be looking to me this afternoon for an indication of how the Government sees the task before us and why we are tackling it the way we are.

Her response shows a certain level of comfort in her position at the podium. While her speech was no doubt fully prepared, such off-the-cuff refutations are a sign of oratorical skill.

Thatcher was no comedian but this technique of pausing midstream to directly engage with a heckler is something you might see in a comedy club. Sometimes you can gain more ground by facing off than by raising your voice over the dissenters and refusing to be interrupted. Thatcher saw an opening for a joke and she took it.

Choose your moment. If interruptions persist, you may need to take them on directly. Look out for opportunities to win support and release the tension with a touch a humour.

Use metaphor
Typically, Margaret Thatcher is light on the use of metaphor. And this speech is no exception. Her persona is pragmatic and her rhetoric is generally aligned to that identity. However, Thatcher indulges sparingly in this particularly effective rhetorical flourish, which certainly enhances the speech.

She refers to the potential for ‘another winter of discontent’ but then disputes this metaphor, going on to say,

But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding. And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of commonsense. If it is not, we shall not be diverted from our course.

This is a deft, if slightly out of character, use of rhetorical flair. The lesson here is to make the most of your chosen metaphor. Thatcher combines here seasonal metaphor with a literary allusion and adds a bit of poetry. And in her characteristic thoroughness, she satisfyingly closes the loop. This small flourish makes the speech memorable.

Recognise the contribution of others
In highlighting the successes of the party, Margaret Thatcher is diligent in mentioning those involved by name. She begins by thanking her husband, Denis Thatcher, and mentions her deputy, Willie Whitelaw. In the full version of the speech (see Sources), she also mentions the budget created by Geoffrey Howe, and then goes on to share the limelight with multiple players, including Jim Prior, Keith Joseph, David Howell, John Nott and Norman Fowler. She also acknowledges Michael Heseltine, Anthony Eden, Lord Carrington - and the list goes on.

This speech is just one example of hundreds delivered by Thatcher in her many years in politics. It is a good example of her ‘speechcraft’ - in which she uses the podium, as all politicians must, to reiterate and reinforce her platform, to whip up support among her own party and knock back her opponents.

Observing the arc of Thatcher’s poise and presence is also interesting. If you were to watch the speeches from her early years in politics, you would see a very different style. A similar commitment to learning and practising the craft will benefit you and what you seek to achieve, now and in the long term.

Edited extract from What She Said: The Art of Inspiring Action Through Speech (Wiley $29.95) by Monica Lunin.


I hope you were inspired by this speech and managed to gain some insight into the force that was Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Is there a speech from history that has inspired you?

09 April 2022

Review: What's Your Enneatype? An Essential Guide to the Enneagram by Liz Carver & Josh Green

The Enneagram of Personality, or Enneagram (pronounced enn-ee-uh-gram) has been around for centuries and is a model containing nine interconnected personality types. Each of the personality types is referred to as an Enneatype, and they're represented in an enneagram nine-pointed shape.

What's Your Enneatype? An Essential Guide to the Enneagram by Liz Carver & Josh Green describes these nine Enneagram types, and encourages the reader to identify their own type and recognise the types of people close to you. Represented by a series of colours and numbers in the book, it's hoped the reader will go on to use this knowledge to better know themselves, understand and improve their relationships and continue to grow as an individual.

So, what are the nine personality types? Here they are:
What's Your Enneatype? An Essential Guide to the Enneagram by Liz Carver & Josh Green book cover

Type 1: The Improver/Reformer/Perfectionist
(Life Strategy: "I must be perfect and do what is right.")

Type 2: The Helper/Giver/Be-friender
(Life Strategy: "I must be helping, caring, and needed.")

Type 3: The Performer/Achiever/Actor
(Life Strategy: "I must be impressive and look accomplished and successful.")

Type 4: The Romantic/Artist/Individualist
(Life Strategy: "I must be understood uniquely as I am.")

Type 5: The Observer/Investigator/Theorist
(Life Strategy: "I must be knowledgeable and equipped.")

Type 6: The Loyalist/Skeptic/Doubter
(Life Strategy: "I must be secure and safe.")

Type 7: The Enthusiast/Optimist/Epicurean
(Life Strategy: "I must be enjoying myself and avoiding pain.")

Type 8: The Challenger/Protector/Advocate
(Life Strategy: "I must be strong and outside the control of others.")

Type 9: The Peacemaker/Mediator/Reconciler
(Life Strategy: "I must maintain peace and calm.")

Would you believe I was able to identify the enneatype of others before feeling confident of my own? I've been doing some soul searching, and I think I'm a Type 1. According to the authors:
"Enneagram Ones are focussed, hardworking, precise, detail-oriented people who operate from a strong sense of personal ethics. Some Ones are perfectionistic, but all are principled, focused and critical. They carry a heavy load on their backs, weighed down by a strong sense of personal integrity, a sense of responsibility, and a focus on a higher purpose. Ones love people deeply, and they are sensitive of others. Much of their senses of fairness, objectivity, and ethics are rooted in their love for others." Page 26
The authors also go on to say:
"A One's motivation has to do with right and wrong. They want to have integrity and be ethical. They want to correct mistakes, avoid blame and criticism, and even be beyond criticism." Page 28
Warning signs include extreme pride, a rigid mindset and being stressed by mess. All of this rings true for me, and I'll be trying to implement what I've learned about my personality type. This includes working on managing my expectations of myself and others and realising I don't have to right every wrong I come across. Phew, that's going to be hard work!

I'm a complete beginner on this topic and this is the first book I've read about Enneagrams so I'm not going to compare the content of this book to other information out there about the Enneagram or Enneatypes. However, I did find some of the elements within the book quite complex and didn't assimilate all of the information on offer; the wings and subtypes were a little much.

Nevertheless, self awareness and understanding why we think and act the way we do is powerful knowledge, and something that comes with age and maturity. However, since reading The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, I've learned that self awareness and personal growth can be fast tracked with the right tools by exploring books like these and being open to self scrutiny and reflection.

In trying to ascertain which type my husband is, I was reminded of the many personality constructs - like the Myers-Briggs and the DiSC model - and that this kind of social science is akin to an academic sorting hat.

Many reading this will have undergone some kind of personality test in the past for work purposes. I've done a few as part of team building and bonding exercises in different workplaces over the years. But I'd love to know, do you find any value in personality tests? Do you know your enneatype? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Reading What's Your Enneatype? An Essential Guide to the Enneagram by Liz Carver & Josh Green has given me food for thought and much to chew over.

My Rating:

07 April 2022

Blog Tour: The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater blog tour schedule

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


Lauren Chater is a talented Australian author and it's an absolute pleasure to be part of the digital blog tour celebrating the release of her latest historical fiction novel The Winter Dress.


Jo Baaker, a textiles historian and Dutch ex-pat is drawn back to the island where she was born to investigate the provenance of a 17th century silk dress. Retrieved by local divers from a sunken shipwreck, the dress offers tantalising clues about the way people lived and died during Holland’s famous Golden Age.

Jo’s research leads her to Anna Tesseltje, a poor Amsterdam laundress turned ladies companion who served the artist Catharina van Shurman for one season at her property outside the Hague. The two women were said to be close, so why did Anna abandon Catharina at the height of her misfortune? And was the dress a gift or did Anna come by it through less honest means? Jo is determined to find out, but as she delves deeper into Anna’s history, troubling details about her own past begin to emerge, disrupting the personal narrative she has trusted for sixteen years.

On the small Dutch island of Texel where fortunes are lost and secrets lie buried for centuries, Jo will finally discover the truth about herself and her connection to the woman who wore The Winter Dress.

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater book cover

I love an historical fiction novel based on an element from history or a true story and we certainly have that here. In 2014, a big storm hit off the coast of Texel, clearing away layers upon layers of sand and mud from a known 17th century shipwreck. Texel is located off the coast of the Netherlands north of Amsterdam, and this natural event created an unexpected opportunity to explore the shipwreck known as the Palmwood wreck. Many items were recovered by divers, including a remarkably preserved 17th century silk dress.

Textiles are rarely recovered from shipwrecks and garments from this era rarely survive, so for this silk dress to survive on the bottom of the Wadden Sea for more than 350 years is quite extraordinary. 

The news of this incredible discovery travelled around the world and inspired Lauren Chater to imagine the woman who wore the dress. As a result, the seeds for The Winter Dress were well and truly sewn. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

Our main character Jo Baaker is a textiles historian and an interesting woman in her own right. In her words:
"One of the reasons I chose to pursue dress history was because I wanted to bear witness to the creation of textiles that simply won't be around in fifty years. The garments deserve better and so do the people who wore them." Page 155
Jo is astonished when she learns about the discovery of the dress in the book and I couldn't help but cringe alongside Jo when she hears how the dress was transported and hosed down by local divers trying to get the worst of the mud off. Eeeek!!! Jo is captivated by the dress and is honoured to be part of the curating process, desperately wondering about the life of the woman who once wore it.
17th century silk dress from the Palmwood wreck
The real silk dress
Source: www.archaeology.org

The Winter Dress is a dual narrative and the author takes us back in time to Amsterdam in 1651 where we meet Anna Tesseltje on the last day of her old life. Anna's family have fallen on hard times, and after starting work as a laundress, her brother secures her a position as a companion to artist Catharina van Shurman.

Meanwhile, Jo finds herself caught up in the excitement of the discovery in Texel and the lurking professional competition made me grind my teeth while my heart ached for the choices Anna faced in her timeline.

Expertly researched and beautifully told, this is a well woven and alluring story with a lustre between the pages you're not likely to forget.

A total of 100 signed boxed proofs of The Winter Dress were produced for Australia and New Zealand and as a member of this blog tour, I was lucky enough to receive one of these special editions! It's such a wonderful bookish touch that appeals to we booklovers and bibliophiles and is a pleasure to house on my bookshelves.

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater is engaging and the author's enthusiasm to imagine and reveal the owner of the dress is contagious. This is a story about grief, love, loss and discovery and is highly recommended for fans of Kate Forsyth, Tracy Chevalier, Kayte Nunn, Philippa Gregory, Kate Morton; and of course if you enjoyed Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater, you'll love this!

My Rating:

Carpe Librum image of the signed and limited boxed edition of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater
Carpe Librum image of the signed and limited boxed edition of The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater
04 April 2022

Review: Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson book cover

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House *

Absolutely brilliant! And to use the words of Jane Harper when interviewing Aussie author Benjamin Stevenson for Dymocks recently, "What a triumph!!"

Ernest Cunningham (Ernie) is a self-published writer who publishes how-to books for readers learning to write a crime novel. Naturally he reads a lot of crime novels himself, and when the book opens Ernie's on his way to a family reunion in the Australian high country. Things are tense in the family and he's on the outer, with references to being the primary reason his brother went to jail.
"Without seeming too interested, I tried to read my mother's expression. It was unfamiliar to me, so I figured it must have been warm and welcoming." Page 93
In a surprising opening, our narrator - aptly named Ernest - breaks the fourth wall to inform us he's a truth teller and he promises to tell the truth (or at least the truth as he knew it to be at the time) about what happened at the reunion. Breaking the fourth wall happens when a character or narrator addresses the reader or audience directly. I've just started watching a British crime series called Annika which does this, as does Markus Zusak in The Messenger and of course Charlotte Bronte, famously in Jane Eyre.

Ernie insists he won't be an unreliable narrator and even provides a list of rules from one of his books at the beginning of this one while encouraging the reader to hold him to account.

This isn't the only time he addresses the reader, there are plenty of side notes and easter eggs for the attentive reader to collect and enjoy along the way. Ernie often foreshadows events to come that somehow ratchet up the tension and pace without spoiling a single thing. At one point, a character vomits, but our narrator stops to point out, that 'no, she isn't pregnant.' Ernie hates how a woman throwing up in books or on the big screen is almost always a pre-cursor to finding out she's pregnant. I hate that cliche too and boy does Stevenson tear this one - and others - down in this novel.

Bodies start piling up at the family reunion and we begin to learn the back stories of each of the family members and how they were responsible for killing someone. This refreshingly modern mystery novel is inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, but don't be fooled by thinking that it'll be old fashioned or contrived.

Witty, fresh and unique, there are also plenty of funny moments and Stevenson's background as a comedian ensures humour is deployed throughout the novel.
"You're a fantastic surgeon, Sofia. Marcelo trusted you with his shoulder, and he needs that for slamming his fist on the table dramatically in court. That's like operating on Beyoncé's voice box." Page 127
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson is meta fiction of the very best kind, and the author has produced a set of characters to remember in the Cunningham family. I loved the Aunt in charge of organising the reunion with her spreadsheet.
"And I know I glossed over the fact that there's a freaking library with a fireplace in the building (which happens to be where I will solve the damn thing)." Page 79
Despite telling us where he'll solve the crime, the page numbers for each of the deaths and more, the thrilling narrative drives the pace forward and had me questioning everyone! Brilliant plotting left this reader impressed and recommending this widely.

In terms of reading experience, this is like reading The Martian by Andy Weir, you read a little, you chuckle, you marvel and read some more, racing to the end. I read and reviewed Greenlight recently and still have the second in the series to look for Either Side of Midnight, but wowee, the author has certainly signalled his arrival in the Australian crime fiction hall of fame with Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone.

I already know this is going to be in my Top 5 Books of 2022 list and you can read a FREE extract here.

My Rating:

30 March 2022

Review: The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs was a sublime read containing tantalising descriptions of food, and life below stairs during 1800s England. The Language of Food tells the untold story of Eliza Acton, a poet at heart and author of Britain's first cookery book for domestic readers. Modern Cookery for Private Families was published in 1845 and author Annabel Abbs has given the reader a fictionalised account of Eliza Acton's life.

Told from two perspectives, that of Eliza and a housemaid by the name Ann Kirby, the reader is soon swept into a world where the kitchen is the centre of the household.
"And it seems to me that the kitchen, with its natural intimacy, is more conducive to friendship and love than any other room in the house. The steady indeterminate pattern of days spent there, the heady unforgettable smells, the warmth and succour of its confined space." Page 317
Female agency is a strong theme throughout the book, not surprising given the period and our two lead characters, but I celebrated the manner in which both characters seemed to follow their calling despite feelings of obligation and family responsibility laying elsewhere.

Eliza Acton was a poet in real life and the author has spared no effort in imagining the world of food, spices and cooking through the eyes of a poet and a woman who didn't even know how to boil an egg when she first ventured into a kitchen.

The writing is deliciously suggestive but also funny on occasion, as in this observation from Ann Kirby early on in the novel:
"Mrs Thorpe has a bosom so ample you could trot a mouse on it." Page 43
Modern Cookery for Private Families was the first cookery book to provide a detailed list of ingredients, precise quantities and cooking times for each recipe in a format we still follow today. Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was published in 1861 well after Eliza Acton's and it is now known that Mrs Beeton plagiarised hundreds of Acton's recipes for the collection. Not only that, but Mrs Beeton stole recipes from other cookery books as well, and knowing that now, I wish she wasn't held in such high esteem. A pox on her book!

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is definitely a book to savour, but be prepared to salivate as you visualise and imagine the dishes being tested, prepared and devoured. Abbs provides phrases to roll around your tongue and plenty of description so you can immerse yourself in the sensual writing and imagine yourself in the character's shoes. I particularly related to Ann Kirby, and enjoyed this section describing the first three days of her employment by Miss Eliza Acton:
"For three days, Miss Eliza gives me instructions and I follow them to the letter. I scrape the sugar from its loaf, scrub the vegetables of mud and insects, scour the sink with sand and spread the tea leaves for drying. I fetch water, and firewood, and fish from the market. I slice and sift and grate and pluck. I stoke and sweep and black the range. I wash and dry and polish. And when I get a second to myself, I eat. I eat pie crusts burnt to a crisp and fit only for the pig. I drink cream that has curdled and is intended for the cat. I steal spoonfuls of over-salted sauces so that my tongue withers in my mouth. I eat the leftovers and lick the cooking spoons and even wipe my tongue around the batter basin. I cannot help myself for my insides are gnawed half to death from years of hunger and I've never seen so much food." Pages 83-84
I always know I'm reading a great book when I want to recommend it to friends before I've even finished it and that was certainly the case here. The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is an absorbing historical fiction novel for those who love the poetry of food, the magic of a kitchen and anything to do with cooking, baking, chopping, saucing, stirring or tasting food. Highly recommended!

My Rating:

24 March 2022

Review: The Tens by Vanessa Jones

The Tens by Vanessa Jones book cover

* Copy courtesy of the author *

Do you ever just feel like reading a book about a cult? It's been a while since I last visited a cult behind the safety of a well written narrative, but Australian author Vanessa Jones convinced me to give her latest novel The Tens a try.

Main character Sophie has recently been suffering from terrifying nightmares and she's seeing a therapist to help her work through some issues. After her husband leaves her, Sophie's world begins to fall apart and she relies more and more on her therapy. Sophie is the classic unreliable narrator and her behaviour becomes more worrying as time progresses.

A few errors and typos (like mignon instead of minion page 174) jolted me out of the storyline, and the occasional mixed tense broke the tension as my reading stumbled over the inconsistencies. The dynamic between Sophie and Abigail wasn't realistic enough for me and left me unconvinced. I'm certain that with a better editing process, these issues will be improved and the story will benefit greatly as a result.

I've been watching a lot of crime shows lately (Broadchurch, Troppo, Wire in the Blood) and it occurred to me while reading it, that The Tens would make a great screenplay for one of these programs. I later learned the author is also a screenwriter, so that makes perfect sense.

The Tens by Vanessa Jones is a solid thriller with Australian flair that is recommended for crime and thriller readers and fans of Aussie domestic noir. There's even a playlist that accompanies the novel which is fun!

For more great novels featuring cults, check out my reviews of the following:
Hive and Rogue by A.J. Betts ★★★ & ★★★
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray ★★★
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes ★★★
The Nowhere Child by Christian White ★★★★

My Rating:

22 March 2022

Review: Revelations in Air by Jude Stewart

Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell by Jude Stewart audiobook cover

Like sleep, smell has interested me for as long as I can remember. I've always had a keen sense of smell and I set out to learn more about the process of olfaction when I started listening to Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell by Jude Stewart.

The author's choice to break down fragrances and smells into the following groups was a novel approach:

Flowery & Herbal
Sharp & Pungent
Salty & Nutty
Tingling & Fresh

These creative categories provided a neat structure for exploring smell by learning more about a number of fragrances within each group. In taking this approach, the author describes the smell to the reader while also delivering an overview of the item being discussed. This resulted in a 'micro history' of fragrances like jasmine, hot chocolate, tobacco, truffles and cash to name a few.

The audiobook is narrated by Gabra Zackman, and her tendency to sometimes over pronounce or over-emphasise words and phrases began to grate on my nerves after a while. I suspect the poetic nature of some of the descriptions begged to be acknowledged, but I found it off-putting.

An unavoidable limiting factor when reading or learning about smell is that the reader can't smell the thing being described. Of course, for this book, you could assemble the items according to the table of contents, but usually readers don't have that advantage. The author does a terrific job describing certain scents like: cinnamon, durian, stinky cheese, freshly sharpened pencils, frankincense, new car, new baby or old books, and being familiar with these items I could quickly relate.

However fragrances like ambergris, petrichor, skunk, truffles and melting permafrost left me frustratingly unsatisfied and stubbornly wishing I could smell these in the real world, despite their detailed descriptions.

Stewart makes some observations I wanted her to explore further, like this one about line-dried laundry. Why doesn't washing that's hung outside in cities smell like pollution or absorb the smells of the heavily populated streets below? I'd like to know why my apartment doesn't smell like the scented candles I burn every night when I come home from a few days away.

Stewart also had an engaging section about vanilla as the base of all flavour, and the contrast between white and black, with the seeds being black, but perception that vanilla is white. I'd never considered that vanilla was its flavour and instead always considered it as the base flavour, especially with respect to ice-cream.

I also enjoyed the chapter discussing 'Smell as Emotional Time Travel' but somehow still wanted more. The exercises in the book were promising, although acknowledging and noticing smells is already a regular part of my existence, noting smells multiple times an hour. It was a timely reminder that many people don't notice or acknowledge the presence of smells within their immediate environment.

Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell by Jude Stewart is recommended to non fiction readers who enjoy micro histories and whiffing out information relating to our sense of smell.

For more on ambergris, you can check out my review of Floating Gold: The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Substance in the Natural World by Christopher Kemp as well as my interview with the author.

My Rating: