05 July 2022

Review: The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth book cover

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House *

It feels like an abundance of historical fiction set in WWII has been published in the last 5 years and I'm close to reaching my saturation point, but made an immediate exception for one of my favourite Australian authors Kate Forsyth.

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth is an historical fiction novel set during WWII in Crete, an island of Greece. Our protagonist Alenka Klothakis is a local and part of the fierce resistance mounted by the Cretans against the German invasion in 1941. The 11 day Battle of Crete (in which 11,000 soldiers and civilians were killed and injured) was expertly written and I cheered the locals as they attacked and killed as many of the German paratroopers as they could with whatever they had to hand. Alenka offers to help the Allied Forces in a makeshift hospital:
"Alenka soon understood why. She had never seen such pain and suffering before. On every side men held out pleading hands, some weeping. She carried buckets of water in and stinking bedpans out, rolled bandages till her hands ached, scrubbed blood off floors, boiled surgical instruments in one pot and soup in another, and held the hand of one poor young man till he died." Page 96
Australian soldiers Teddy and Jack were compelling characters and their relationship with Alenka and other members of the resistance drove the story forward in a unique way. I think readers will love Jack and while Teddy was much less likeable, his motivations throughout the war were - unfortunately - all too realistic.

This was a five star read but for two quibbles. The first was the way in which the novel began which is both a compliment and a minor quibble. The beginning was so magical and evocative I wanted to stay there. Forever. Instead I was wrenched unwillingly into Alenka's adolescent years and the seemingly sudden beginning of the war. The transition from Alenka's childhood memories straight into the war seemed way too quick for me and out of step with the pace set in the opening few pages. Perhaps I was so keen for another book like Bitter Greens (my all time favourite novel by Kate Forsyth) that my mind raced away in an unrelated direction and I resented leaving Alenka's Yia Yia behind after just meeting her.
"Yia-Yia knew many stories of gods and heroes, giants and nymphs, and the Three Fates who spun and measured and cut the thread of life. Many of Yia-Yia's tales were strange and terrible. A girl who was turned into a tree. A woman cursed with snakes for hair. Another whose tongue was cut out and who could only tell her story by embroidering it upon a cloth. The story Yia-Yia told most often, though, was that of the minotaur in the labyrinth, for it was the mythos of Alenka's home, the ruins of the palace of Knossos in the island of Crete." Page 3
Can you blame me for wanting to read a book of Yia-Yia's telling after that paragraph on the opening page? The second quibble comes towards the end of the novel and I can't mention much without potentially spoiling it for others. Suffice to say, a main character acts completely out of keeping with the circumstances and her choices seemed incredibly simplistic and uncharacteristic after what she had endured during the German occupation.

Now that's off my chest, let me tell you The Crimson Thread is the perfect title for this novel, and I loved the references to embroidery and the thread of fate stitched throughout the pages. The way in which embroidery was used to record and exchange messages, and as a respite from the Nazi occupation was inspiring. I know the author started to embroider in preparation for writing this book and it clearly shows. I love to cross-stitch and picking it up again after an unplanned but lengthy hiatus recently, my heart was warmed any time a stitch was sewn in the book.

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction; even those wary of 'another' WWII novel.

My Rating:


29 June 2022

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi QC

Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi QC book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster & Reading, Writing and Riesling *

In 2014 I read Eugenia, A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage by Mark Tedeschi QC and it was so good, the book went on to make my Top 5 Books in 2014 list. Mark Tedeschi is an Australian Barrister and the former Senior Crown Prosecutor for NSW and I've been looking forward to reading more from him since then. Naturally I was excited to enter the competition hosted by Carol over at Reading, Writing and Riesling and even happier to win it! (I host many giveaways here on Carpe Librum but seldom win any).

Missing, Presumed Dead covers the disappearances of Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan, both middle class women from Sydney who had only one thing in common, they both knew Bruce Burrell. In the late 1990s, both women were kidnapped and subsequently killed by Burrell. In the case of Kerry Whelan, Burrell sent the victim's husband a ransom note and Detectives found a checklist of kidnapping tasks in his personal papers. The remains of the women were never found, but Burrell was sentenced to life in prison on the grounds of the circumstantial evidence presented to the court. It's a fascinating case and it gripped the headlines in Australia at the time and proved that a suspect can be charged with murder, even in the absence of blood, a body or any human remains.

Tedeschi worked on the case and his legal insights were invaluable. Burrell didn't testify at his trial, but Tedeschi expands his examination to include the questions he WOULD have asked Burrell if he had testified at trial. That in itself was refreshingly unique and I haven't seen that done in true crime before.

I read the print copy alongside the audio and found the narrator Stephen Briggs a little too dramatic for my tastes, given this was true crime and not a suspense thriller. Briggs also didn't convey the voice of Tedeschi at trial very well either. My only other gripe was wondering why Kerry Whelan appears on the cover alone when this story is also about the death of Dorothy Davis. Why exclude Dorothy Davis from the cover when the byline claims this is 'the double murder case that shocked Australia.'

Burrell died in prison in 2016 and frustratingly never disclosed the location of his victim's remains, causing untold anguish for the families. I hope he rots in hell, but Missing, Presumed Dead is a real eye-opener and is recommended for readers of true crime and Australian legal history.

My Rating:


26 June 2022

Review: Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham

Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham book cover
After reading Death of a Typographer and interviewing the author Nick Gadd last year, he mentioned that his interest in typography grew out of his friendship with Stephen Banham. Stephen Banham is a Melbourne typographer who designed the cover of Death of a Typographer and I can only imagine the awesome conversations these two have had about font and typography. A little research at the time informed me that Banham published a book in 2011 about typography and signage in Melbourne, so I added Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham to my TBR.

Since then, more recent reads have included Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras*; Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol.1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams; Adrift in Melbourne - Seven Walks with Robyn Annear; and Northside - A Time and Place by Warren Kirk, so you could say there's a little bit of a Melbourne history theme going on. And I hope you still remember my fond review of Christmas in Suburbia by Warren Kirk.

Fortunately my library had a copy of Characters and I eagerly set out with a keen eye to learn more.
Banham takes the reader on a visual and typographic exploration through Melbourne over time, covering signage, advertising, architecture and design.

Many of the stunning photographs included were taken by Warren Kirk** and reveal storefronts, shop sides and skylines long lost from view. A variety of advertising was discussed and there was a constant relationship between typography, signage and design being reinforced in the book. I particularly enjoyed this quote a little more than half way into the book:
"What does typotecture tell us? Above all, it indicates an architectural commitment to permanence, both civic or commercial. Such investment is now rare. We live in the era of privatising civic infrastructure, corporate headquarters readily moved for economic advantage elsewhere, while the constant renaming of sports stadiums and other large infrastructure reflects the transient nature of sponsorship deals. And with the passing of this age of permanence, signage and architecture forms become more temporary, portable or even modular in nature. What the readymade tilt-slab wall is to architecture, vinyl lettering is to signage. Both indicate an economic reluctance to invest in a longer-term sense of place. And with this goes a sense of collective memory." Page 189
Some notable inclusions in the book were the Coles Book Arcade (I never tire of hearing about this infamous store and relished the new info here) and I loved the section on the many public clocks. Naturally the Nylex clock and the Dimmey's clock were mentioned alongside historical photographs, and I was surprised to learn the floral clock on St Kilda Road has been around since 1966. I thought it was much younger than that.

Banham revealed new typography I'd never noticed, like the zigzag of M's along the Myer glass awning in the Bourke Street Mall and I'm sure I'll be more observant now having read this book. Thanks to Nick Gadd, I appreciate the appearance of ghost signs and watching the demolition of a brick building recently, continue to wonder at the 'hands who laid or made them'.

Many of the signs and locations mentioned were within easy walking distance of where I live, including the NGV and the Shrine of Remembrance, and I especially enjoyed learning about the red bracket on the Melbourne Recital Centre in Southbank.

The chapter entitled Absence contemplated the evidence left behind when signage is removed, and how you can often still see the ghost of the message that once occupied that space. I couldn't see the beauty in the photographs included as they represent failure, change and the impermanence of things to me. The author talks about erasure and renewal and it's a process within cities that's painfully evident in the struggle to retain our heritage buildings.

I will say Characters - Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography by Stephen Banham is more about signage, advertising, architecture and design than it is typography, but I didn't mind one bit. If you're interested in history, social history, architecture, advertising, signage or design, this is for you.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:



* A follow up to Old Vintage Melbourne entitled Old Vintage Melbourne 1960 - 1990 by Chris Macheras is coming out in October 2022.
** Warren Kirk has a new book coming out next month, a copy of which is on its way to me right now and will be reviewed here soon.
24 June 2022

Review: Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer

Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I've read and reviewed all three of Chris Hammer's novels in the Martin Scarsden series (Scrublands, Silver and Trust) so it was refreshing to read a new stand alone novel from this beloved Aussie author. I should note that my copy arrived last year along with a signed book plate and letter from the author thanking me for participating in the blog tour for Trust. The letter also acknowledged the work book bloggers do to champion books and inspire people to read more. During the many lockdowns in Australia and abroad, authors weren't able to attend book launches, festivals or signings and the importance of book reviewers has been touchingly recognised here. This was such a wonderful gesture by the author and the publisher that I felt it was worthy of another mention here. Now, onto the book!

Located in a fictional town in outback NSW where the elements will literally kill you, Finnigans Gap is full of opal miners and men intent on making their fortune. Ivan is a Homicide Detective from Sydney who draws the short straw to travel to Finnigans Gap and run a murder enquiry. Nell did 2 years as a copper in Finnigans Gap and has been recalled from her station in Bourke to assist Ivan.

It was a surprising choice to have Martin Scarsden popping up in the background of this novel as a somewhat disgraced journalist who caused a lot of trouble in the media. It was an interesting choice and I'm not sure I saw the point; other than a cool cross-over. Perhaps it's a story seed for the next Scarsden novel? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Hammer does do an excellent job of describing the environment and surrounds at Finnigans Gap, and even though it's winter at the moment, I almost started sweating along with Ivan as he navigated his way around the place. Having said that, I did think there were too many in depth character reflections and too much observational nature writing for me and I was impatient for the story to keep plowing on.

Ivan and Nell keep digging and quickly discover that the mining culture is cut throat, town politics are heated and secrets abound. The whodunnit/whydunnit murder mystery played out well, but the ending was a little convoluted for me. The characters are mining for opals and this reader was mining for pearls or gold nuggets and I suspect we all walked away with a little less in our pockets at the conclusion of Treasure & Dirt than we expected. Isn't that the miner's way?

Recommended for fans of intelligent Aussie crime fiction with a distinctly Australian outback setting and clear sense of place.

My Rating:


21 June 2022

Winners of Black River by Matthew Spencer Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my book giveaway last week to win 1 of 5 print copies of Black River by Australian author Matthew Spencer. Black River is set during a long, burning summer in Sydney and everyone answered correctly. Phew!

We had a huge number of entries coming in until the cut-off at midnight AEST on Sunday 19 June 2022. Congratulations to the following 5 winners:

Bev, Megan Schollar, Richard Harrison,
Tamara Lamb & Kylie


Congratulations to our winners! You've each won a copy of Black River by Matthew Spencer valued at $32.99AUD thanks to Allen & Unwin. The winners will receive an email from me shortly informing them of their win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.

They will receive their prize direct from the publisher and I hope you all enjoy this thriller.

Carpe Librum!
Carpe Librum image to promote giveaway for Black River by Matthew Spencer

17 June 2022

Review: The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas audiobook cover

The Killer Across the Table is written by retired FBI Special Agent and Criminal Profiler John E. Douglas and narrated by Jonathan Groff. During his distinguished career, John Douglas interviewed a slew of serial killers including: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson, and began trying to understand their motives. In working out what made them tick, how they selected their victims, what their childhood and upbringing was like and what drove them to commit such heinous offences, Douglas became one of the first criminal profilers.

John E. Douglas is a figure of great renown in the world of true crime and his work has even crossed the divide to entertainment on the big screen. Douglas inspired two characters from one of my favourite TV shows Criminal Minds (namely Jason Gideon and David Rossi) and it was Rossi I had in mind as I was listening to this. Douglas is also the inspiration for the main character in Mindhunter, another terrific FBI profiling show set in the US. Given his notoriety, I guess it's hard for the author to remain humble and the struggle is evident. You could argue his cockiness is hard earned and well deserved but his arrogance occasionally took me out of the cases I was learning about.

And then there was that gushing interview at the end of the audiobook. The narrator Johnathan Groff interviews Douglas at the end of the book, and it's the first time the two have ever spoken together. I found this very strange. Why wouldn't an author want to interact with the person selected to narrate their book? Wouldn't it assist in the creative process and make for a better end result? Nevertheless, the interview is 16 mins of Groff gushing and 'fan-girling' with glowing praise for Douglas that was enough to make me simultaneously roll my eyes and gag. As a reader, I dearly wish they'd had that conversation in private and then recorded Groff interviewing Douglas about the book!

The author's accomplishments speak volumes and his work no doubt laid the foundations of criminal profiling as we know it today. I'm sure his pioneering work with serial killers has gone on to save the lives of many potential victims. So why begrudge him a few bragging rights? Perhaps because the subject matter is so serious that when we glimpse his own sense of self-importance, it sours the experience. It's hard to maintain the admiration in the face of such pride and arrogance.

And where was the editor in this excerpt?
"If they had, his name would have almost certainly stood out. Not because of anything having to do with his purchase of a motorcycle.... But because Todd Kohlhepp was a registered sex offender and that should have aroused enough interest at least to bring him in for an interview." Chapter 22
Surely, if you're writing about heinous crimes and paedophiles, you'd avoid using the word arouse in the same sentence. Wouldn't you? This lack of attention to detail and indulgence shown to the author somewhat lessened my enjoyment of his book.

The Killer Across the Table covers four cases: Joseph McGowan, Joseph Kondro, Donald Harvey and Todd Kohlhepp and thankfully takes great pains to ensure no glorification whatsoever of the crimes or the perpetrators. Victims are treated with respect and reverence as the cases are broken down by Douglas. It was frightening how ordinary these men were - one a high school teacher, another was a hospital orderly - yet their ability to fit in to society in order to continue carrying out their crimes was the stuff of nightmares.

The Killer Across the Table by John E. Douglas is recommended for true crime readers and those with an interest in psychology, criminal psychology, profiling and criminal profiling.

My Rating:


14 June 2022

Review: Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie book cover

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

I was hooked by page 2 of this Australian crime thriller Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie. Lexi Winter is a tough, kick ass character with the skills of a hacker and she's willing to navigate the depths of the dark web to find the worst of the worst. Working as an escort, Lexi embraces her vigilantism in her off time by trapping perverts online and turning paedophiles over to the authorities. I didn't get on with Devil's Lair by Sarah Barrie several years ago, but Unforgiven is completely different! 

Set on the NSW Central Coast, Detective Finn Carson and neighbour Dawny were especially memorable characters, and the complex and complicated relationship and backstory between Lexi and Detective Inspector Rachael Langley kept the narrative driving forward.

Barrie's writing style and sense of humour on the page often reminded me of Jack Heath's style and I hope she continues writing in this vain; especially with fun descriptions like this:
"I cast a quick glance at my next-door neighbours' place just to be sure. I avoid the Parkhursts the way others might avoid an unflushed hospital toilet. Their place is as old and boring as everyone else's, but they lord it over our dismal little community like royalty and hate me with a passion. Probably because I go out of my way to annoy them whenever I can be bothered." Page 61
My only criticism would be a few too many character POV changes throughout the novel which made it feel like it jumped around a little. Of course, this also contributed to the quick pace but the character connections and relationships could be a little confusing at times.

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie is highly recommended for crime fiction fans of: Jack Heath, Jane Harper, Chris Hammer, Candice Fox, Sarah Bailey and Emma Viskic. It seems we're in the midst of another Aussie crime fiction boom and the books just keep on coming! How lucky we are.

My Rating:


10 June 2022

Win 1 of 5 copies of Black River by Matthew Spencer

Carpe Librum image to promote book giveaway for Black River by Matthew Spencer..

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

INTRO

Today I'm giving away 5 print copies of Black River by Australian author Matthew Spencer thanks to the generous folk over at Allen & Unwin. The total prize pool is valued at $164.95 and entries are open to readers in Australia and New Zealand. Entries close at midnight AEST on Sunday 19 June 2022. Enter here or enter below for your chance to win the best thriller you'll read this year!

BLURB

A long, burning summer in Sydney. A young woman found murdered in the deserted grounds of an elite boarding school. A serial killer preying on victims along the banks of the Parramatta River. A city on edge.

Adam Bowman, a battling journalist who grew up as the son of a teacher at Prince Albert College, might be the only person who can uncover the links between the school murder and the 'Blue Moon Killer'. But he will have to go into the darkest places of his childhood to piece together the clues. Detective Sergeant Rose Riley, meanwhile, is part of the taskforce desperately trying to find the killer before he strikes again. Adam Bowman's excavation of his past might turn out to be Rose's biggest trump card or it may bring the whole investigation crashing down, and put her own life in danger.

Taut, suspenseful and utterly compelling,
Black River is the best thriller you'll read this year.

GIVEAWAY

This giveaway has now closed and the 5 winners will be announced soon.


08 June 2022

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I was here purely for the octopus. But wait, let me back up a little. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt isn't my usual fare. It's an uplifting, faith restoring domestic mystery with a happy resolution at the end. I usually don't have the patience for regular characters living their regular lives, however the idea of Marcellus the octopus being one of the three main characters intrigued me enough to hook me into this light and breezy read.

Let me be clear though, if you can’t handle talking animals this isn’t a book for you. I hated Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (1 star) a few years ago with the exception of the sections narrated by Lily the dog. But I loved Watership Down by Richard Adams (5 stars) and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (5 stars), so I've had a reasonably mixed but largely positive reading experience with animal narrators.

In Remarkably Bright Creatures, Tova is widowed and cleaning at the aquarium way beyond her retirement years just to have something to do. Cameron is a douche bag determined to track down his biological father, and Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus counting his days in captivity in the aquarium where Tova works.

There are a few mysteries for Tova and Cameron in the novel, and slowly but surely our characters move towards each other and the truth unfurls. Cameron got on my nerves immediately and I almost put the book down I was so annoyed with his attitude and life choices. Marcellus easily stole the show and I thoroughly enjoyed his chapters.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt is recommended for those seeking a feel-good, light and easy contemporary beach read.

My Rating:


06 June 2022

Blobfish Giveaway Winner Announced

Carpe Librum image to promote the giveaway of Blob Fish by Olaf Falafel

Thanks to those who entered my children's book giveaway last week to win a copy of children's picture book Blobfish by Olaf Falafel. And it's true, Blobfish loves telling jokes!

Entries closed at midnight on Sunday 5 June 2022, and Blobfish helped me select the winner. Congratulations to:

Kirsten

Congratulations Kirsten! You've won a copy of Blobfish by Olaf Falafel valued at $27.99AUD thanks to Walker Books Australia. You'll receive an email from me shortly informing you of your win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.

You'll receive your prize direct from the publisher and I hope you have a young reader in mind to enjoy this with.

Carpe Librum!


03 June 2022

Review: The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

In 1518, hundreds of people from Strasbourg started dancing uncontrollably without resting, sometimes for days on end. It was a medieval dancing plague where people danced until their feet bled and beyond, some of them literally danced themselves into an early grave. What compelled these people living in what we now call France to dance to their deaths? Why did they start? And why - or how - did they stop? Was it demonic possession? Fungus in their bread? Religious fervour? It's a mystery that's always fascinated me.

Now, Kiran Millwood Hargrave has given us The Dance Tree; an historical fiction novel about the dancing plague. Yes please!! I was so onboard for this, wondering what a skilled author would do with such unexplainable phenomena.

Set in Strasbourg in 1518, the author did an excellent job depicting the town, homes and livelihoods of the residents. Much of the novel put me in mind of the start of Devotion by Hannah Kent, the beginning of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and The Familiars by Stacey Halls. The bare living conditions, the importance of religion in the community, the lack of agency held by the female characters and their resilience and sheer determination are elements I've enjoyed exploring in the past.

Here, our main characters are Lisbet, Ida and Nethe and they're each making the best of their circumstances. Lisbet is a homemaker desperate for children and some of my favourite parts of the novel were passages where Lisbet tends to her beehives, her greatest passion in the world.

The tree of the title is a special and sacred place, as we learn early on:
"She’d recognised it instantly for what it was: a dance tree. A doom tree. A relic of the pagans who had their churches open under God." Page 39
The tree isn't crucial to the story, however it's significant to Lisbet and soon becomes a type of safe haven. When the women begin dancing in public, rumours quickly spread but Lisbet wants to see for herself.
"Why do you think those women dance? Because there is no earthly way to be saved. You and Mutter [Mother] have told me enough times - Strasbourg is sliding Hellwards. And we women, we bear the brunt. We are bred or banished, and always, always damned. Prayers cannot help us, the priests will not help us." Page 153
The Dance Tree is inspired by true events, and just as in The Mercies (inspired by true events in a different country a century later in 1617), the author offers valuable information on the events contained within the novel in her Author's Note at the end.

The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and I can't wait to find out what event in history she'll write about next.

My Rating:


30 May 2022

Review: CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie

CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie book cover

I walk past the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) in Melbourne almost every other day, and I never stop wondering what goes on in there. With the Coroner's Court of Victoria on the other side of the complex, there is usually a number of hearses, funeral home vehicles, ambulances and other nondescript vehicles coming and going from VIFM on any given day.

After the Bourke Street attack killed six people and injured 27 pedestrians in 2017, I learned that one of the VIFM staff members frequented the same (awesome) local day spa as I did. I purchased a candle in store for the staff member to say thank you from the community for the difficult work they do. Hearing the feedback later on that it 'made their day' was comforting, but I still wondered at the mental fortitude required to work in that field and perhaps the mental and emotional toll it presumably took to do so.

When I read the blurb for CSI Told You Lies by Meshel Laurie, I thought this might be my chance to find out:
"CSI Told You Lies is a gripping account of the work of the forensic scientists on the frontline of Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations. They are part of the team at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne. VIFM is a world-renowned centre of forensic science, and its team members have led major recovery operations over the years, from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires to the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014." (From the blurb).
It sounded like this was going to be a unique opportunity to find out more about these silent heroes in our community and what they do at VIFM. Unfortunately, this isn't really that kind of book.

Meshel Laurie is an Australian comedian, radio host, author and true crime podcaster and I enjoyed her narration of CSI Told You Lies. Laurie has a genuine interest in true crime and a natural talent for interviewing subjects about their work as she interviewed forensic pathologists, homicide detectives, defence barristers and victims’ families for this book. She takes the reader back in time to tell us about the Flinders Street Extension where bodies were taken for identification and analysis. Various cases are mentioned (David Hookes, Nicole Patterson, Eurydice Dixon and more), and various staff members and experts (and their careers) are included, however I wasn't taken on the VIFM tour I'd hoped and expected to go on.

The end result was more like a discussion of cases and people, not unlike retired NSW Homicide Detective Gary Jubelin's podcast I Catch Killers where he talks shop with fellow detectives which makes for interesting listening. Just as I enjoyed I Catch Killers, I did enjoy CSI Told You Lies, but it wasn't what I was seeking.

On completion, I also became a little confused about the title, and the reference to CSI. This book wasn't structured to show the flaws and misconceptions created by the vast range of shows by the CSI media franchise to come out of the US. They always depict a likeable cast of characters fighting crime with science, but this wasn't a myth busting book at all. Rather, a look over Meshel Laurie's shoulder as she pursues her interest in true crime, and tries to seek meaning in it all in an effort to honour the victims.

Recommended for readers of Australian true crime, fans of true crime podcasts and those with an interest in forensic science.

My Rating:


27 May 2022

Friday Freebie and Review: Blobfish by Olaf Falafel

Blobfish by Olaf Falafel book cover

* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *


Intro

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!

Blurb

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.


Review

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

Giveaway

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



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