15 March 2023

Review: The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges

The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

In January 2022 I attended the Doll House: Miniature Worlds of Wonder exhibition at Como House in Melbourne which featured over 40 dollhouses from the 1890s to the present day. The dollhouses in this exhibition were front and centre in my mind while reading this delightful debut novel by Audrey Burges.

The premise of The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone instantly captured my imagination. Myra Malone of the title is a reclusive blogger who writes from her attic in Arizona about the Mansion; a miniature dolls' house given to her by a loved one. Myra is an online sensation with thousands of subscribers and fans who enjoy her blog posts about the Mansion, the rooms and their decoration and subsequent redecoration. Fans send her items hoping they'll be featured in one of the rooms and Myra has cultivated a safe and fulfilling existence for herself.

The house is a huge hinged trunk with brass buckles and originally belonged to her step grandmother Trixie. The descriptions of the Mansion in the novel were so detailed I could easily visualise the structure.
"It's hinged, by the way." Lou pointed to brass buckles on the house's backside, shut tight. Myra already knew. "It opens up like a clam on its side, and there are little rooms on hinges inside, too - it kind of unfurls. Damnedest thing I've ever seen." Page 18
More than just a dollhouse, the Mansion has a touch of magic Myra has never understood but which she associates with the original owner Trixie. Sometimes Myra can hear music coming from the Mansion and rooms in the house can suddenly appear or disappear without warning.
"The Mansion is a miniature house - some might say a dollhouse, but please don't, it takes slights very personally - in an eclectic architectural style that embraces Victorian and Gothic influences, as well as a few other mishmashed elements thrown in just for the hell of it." Page 99
We're soon introduced to Alex who works in his father's furniture business and he's a likeable character. However Alex is shocked beyond belief when he inadvertently stumbles across Myra's blog because the Mansion looks exactly like his house! Why does Myra Malone have a miniature model of his house and a replica bedroom with his furniture inside?

The plot is driven by a mystery surrounding the original owner of the Mansion and I enjoyed the dual timelines and touch of 'other'. The novel cleverly incorporates Myra's blog posts to tell some of the story (as in the quote from page 99 above), although I did find the connection between the characters across time a little hazy at times, but thankfully it became clear.

Presented in a delightfully designed cover, and containing a very light romance with strong generational links, I fell in love with this uplifting, feel good tale.

Highly recommended!

P.S. If you're into miniatures, check out my review of Dolls' Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood by Halina Pasierbska.

P.P.S In writing this review, I've just discovered that the exhibition I mentioned (Doll House: Miniature Worlds of Wonder) is now an online immersive experience. Organised by the National Trust, you can find out more here.

My Rating:

08 March 2023

Review: Sorry, Sorry, Sorry - The Case for Good Apologies by Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy

Sorry, Sorry, Sorry - The Case for Good Apologies by Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy audiobook book cover

Apologies are complex. A well-worded apology can soothe hurt feelings, save a failing relationship or repair one, while a bad apology can exacerbate the situation or end up causing further insult. Hopefully we've all been recipients of a good apology and remember how it made us feel. I can still remember an unexpected apology at a reunion once that blew me away and healed a hurt I'd long since forgotten I even had. I've also been the recipient of terrible non-apologies, some of which still make my blood boil if I pause to think of them again.

Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy are the brains behind SorryWatch, a website dedicated to analysing apologies in the news, media, history and literature. They 'condemn the bad and exalt the good' and it's easy to spend an age on their website, browsing everything from sports apologies and political apologies, to bropologies and true crime apologies.

Together, Ingall and McCarthy have published Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies in an attempt to educate the reader on what constitutes a good apology and the pitfalls to avoid delivering a bad one.

Some highlights on the do's and don'ts of apologising include apologising without rehashing past insults, like: "I'm sorry I criticised your terrible new hairstyle".* Another pitfall to avoid was the 'sorry you', for example "well I'm sorry you keep forgetting our anniversary". Time was also spent on avoiding the 'if' and 'but' apology: "I'm sorry if I made you feel that way", or "I'm sorry, but I never meant to offend anyone".

Attempts like: "anyone who knows me knows I'm not a racist / homophobe / insert slur here" also indicate efforts to dodge responsibility or accountability for our actions. These always sound like weasel words to me, but now I have a clearer understanding of why they never sound like genuine apologies.

In Chapter 3 (Sorry If, Sorry But, Sorry You: Things Not to Say), I learned about performative utterances. A performative utterance is a statement where the words are the action, like "I insist" or "I promise" or "I swear". "I'm sorry" is a performative utterance and saying it feels like an admission of wrongdoing. This makes us feel uncomfortable and we often don't want to admit fault, especially if we don't believe we've done anything wrong. Just ask any 4yo. Another strategy is the sarcastic apology: "well sorry for not checking with you first, I guess nobody's perfect," is a passive aggressive apology.

I do believe public apologies have changed over the decades, with PR companies and spin doctors writing statements and apologies that address an incident, event, oversight or mistake while not directly admitting any fault. Sorry, Sorry, Sorry includes some interesting examples of bad apologies like this from CEOs, police officials and politicians. I listened to the audiobook, which meant I was unable to visually enjoy the apology bingo tables that frequently accompanied the text. Since finishing the book though, I'm recognising lame apologies all around me, with plenty of 'sorry if' and 'I regret' and 'it was never my intention' examples.

No doubt we've all delivered a range of apologies that have missed the mark ourselves. So, how do we do better?

Here's the SorryWatch approach:
1. Use the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologise.”
2. Say specifically what you’re sorry for.
3. Show you understand why the thing you said or did was bad.
4. Be very careful if you want to provide explanation; don’t let it shade into excuse.
5. Explain the actions you’re taking to insure this won’t happen again.
6. Can you make reparations? Make reparations.

Sounds simple enough doesn't it? When the topic of the apology is emotive, or the insult very grave, it can be hard to take the six steps outlined above. Fortunately I wasn't reading Sorry, Sorry, Sorry - The Case for Good Apologies by Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy in preparation for a huge apology in my own life, but we can all improve the interactions we have with people, and I don't think I'll ever stop wanting to do that.

Sorry, Sorry, Sorry - The Case for Good Apologies by Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy was an informative read and met the requirement for the Non Fiction 2023 Reader Challenge prompt for relationships.

*All examples in this review in italics are my own.

My Rating:

05 March 2023

Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett book cover

I was on holiday recently and put the word out to see if there were any fellow Aussie reviewers who'd like to do a buddy read for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's always fun to read a classic with a buddy so you can chat about it, but it turned out many of us have had this book sitting on our shelves for far too long!

Joining me in the buddy read was: Veronica Joy - The Burgeoning Bookshelf,  Ashleigh Meikle - The Book Muse (with her Grandmother's copy), Claire - Claire's Reads and Reviews and Suzie Eisfelder - Suz's Space. We were also joined by Andrea and Liz over on GoodReads. Thanks to you all for joining me, it was loads of fun!

When reading The Secret Garden, a few words caught me by surprise, including the frequent use of the words 'fat' and 'ugly'. As I write this, the media is full of articles about the censorship of Roald Dahl's books. While it's a shock to see words you wouldn't ordinarily read in children's dialogue published today, it's a timely reminder that this book was published more than 100 years ago in 1911. I don't think publishers should be attempting to apply today's sensitivity standards retrospectively to a book published so long ago and I do hope The Secret Garden is safe from censorship in the future. That said, onto the book!

Precocious young Mary is orphaned in India and sent to live with her Uncle in his English mansion on the moor. Spoiled and sickly, Mary is a sour faced young brat who slowly starts to turn her lonely little life around. One of the first people Mary meets is the gardener Ben Weatherstaff, and the scenes between him and Mary in the beginning were sublime:
'Tha' an' me are a good bit alike,' he said. 'We was wove out of th' same cloth. We're neither of us goodlookin' an' we're both of us as sour as we look. We've got the same nasty tempers, both of us, I'll warrant.' Page 45
Published in 1911, Mary's story has gone on to become a children's classic, so I'm going to be reviewing this story in full, with spoilers. If you are sensitive to spoilers and have yet to read the book, and honestly believe you'll do so one day, and that you'll remember the spoilers in this review, and readily recall I was the one who did that to you, then please close this tab.

Misselthwaite Manor has more than a hundred rooms, all of which are out of bounds until Mary covertly discovers a young boy also living in the house. The big family secret is that Colin is ill and bed bound and vulnerable to the most terrible tantrums. The children are cousins and both have had a privileged and indulgent upbringing as only children while also experiencing loss. Colin's mother is dead and Mary has recently lost both of her parents. The coming together of Mary and Colin was my favourite part of the book.

Both characters realise they're lonely and decide to become friends, despite a few false starts. The children begin enjoying each other's company which is a surprise to them both.
"And they both began to laugh over nothing as children will when they are happy together. And they laughed so that in the end they were making as much noise as if they had been two ordinary, healthy, natural, two-year-old creatures - instead of a hard, little, unloving girl and a sickly boy who believed that he was going to die." Page 168
Colin is ill and believes he'll die, making everyone's life a misery until he befriends Mary and meets her friend Dickon. Mary tells Colin there's nothing wrong with him and convinces him to get out of bed and outside in a wheelchair to live life and experience nature. Mary has discovered a secret garden and together with Dickon, the trio seek to bring it back to life.

The secret garden of the title is the walled garden where Colin's mother died, after which it was locked and abandoned for 10 years until a robin shows Mary the door and the key. As the children overcome their vast differences in class to help bring the garden back to life, Mary blossoms into a thoughtful and caring young girl, and Colin grows to believe he will live and is determined to show everyone he can walk again!

The entire time this is going on, Colin's father (Mary's uncle) is away on business, and I was worried he would return any minute and go ballistic about the garden, which was off limits. This created a sense of dread as eventually household members discover the children's secret and join the plan for Colin's big reveal moment.

Dickon's mother is the Mrs Weasley of the book and Mary and Colin gravitate toward her generosity of spirit and maternal love in the same way a sunflower follows the sun.

It's clear to the reader that the driving force behind Colin's recovery is the relationships between each of the characters - which boils down to love - as well as the garden, but Colin refers to it all as 'magic'. The author seems to have combined the laws of attraction, the power of positivity, and worship of nature to produce the essence of the 'magic'. To ask for your heart's desire, you just need to chant in a prayer like fashion and all the characters pull together to aid in Colin's restoration.

The 'magic' becomes a symbol or marker for nature, love and faith that is immediately obvious to mature readers, but innocuous for young children in the same way The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis does. The young characters in the novel reminded me of Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter and if you loved that, then you'll definitely enjoy this.

I love a good makeover, and in The Secret Garden we have three! Mary's transformation is the first to begin, then the garden is discovered before change is afoot to restore it to its earlier magnificence. Colin's recovery is the most radiant of makeovers, as he goes from being a spoiled, hysterical hypochondriac who thinks he's dying to a confident and enthusiastic young man, respectful of his elders and kind to all staff with the desire to carry out scientific experiments and live life to the fullest!

If you're a fan of up-lit (uplifting literature), feel good stories about nature as medicine and the power of friendship then The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett will enchant you.

My Rating:

04 March 2023

Review: On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King book cover

My first impression after reading On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, is just how hard the author has worked to get where he is today. Many readers know Stephen King was raised by his single Mum and grew up poor, but he also worked his arse off from a very early age doing all kinds of jobs; working in a laundry and washing sheets being one of them.

I enjoyed the stories he shared of his childhood antics with older brother David, and in recounting his upbringing, I'm reminded just how old King's references are. His US centric pop culture references are decades before my time, and his love of old movies and books lead me to suspect that even those within his immediate generation might miss a few titles here and there. This is a memoir as much as a treatise on the craft of writing and it was an enjoyable read.

There's a tonne of advice in here for aspiring and established writers, like this:
"Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." Page 56
King is a powerhouse and an absolute work horse, even when the writing isn't going well:
"Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position." Page 82
Stephen King is incredibly relatable, and this is a conversational how-to from a willing mentor rather than a dry rule book or style guide from a fusty professor.

The author is up front about his years of addiction although few lines are dedicated to it. His wife Tabitha King is an established author in her own right, and together with family members staged an intervention. There is no pity party and no excuses. Eventually King got clean, but it was a hard road to sobriety. Throughout his life, Stephen King has dedicated his all to his writing, and after receiving more rejections in his career than we can possibly imagine, started seeing success. He soaked up every piece of advice along the way and readily shares lessons large and small with the reader.
"What follows is everything I know about how to write good fiction. I'll be as brief as possible, because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don't spend actually doing it. I'll be as encouraging as possible, because it's my nature and because I love this job. I want you to love it, too. But if you don't want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well." Page 163
There are some basic rules on grammar, but above all, King's message is that you learn by reading and by doing. By writing.
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut." Page 164
When reading, watching or listening to author interviews - or conducting them for Carpe Librum - I'm always surprised when a writer says they don't have time to read. Some say they're too busy writing, or they don't want to be accused of plagiarism or stealing another person's work, but I'm not buying that. Some writers choose to read a different genre from their own while working, or switch to non fiction or the reverse if applicable. I agree with the author, if you want to improve your vocabulary and writing style, you must read and you must write. You must evolve. There are some helpful examples of good writing and bad writing, and I was able to learn a lot from these comparisons.
"In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling." Page 207
Yes! This explains how King can make a 500 page novel such a page turner. He isn't vain or 'self indulgent' and believes in cutting content that isn't necessary.

Hit by a van while out for his regular walk in 1999, I was reminded of just how lucky King was to survive the accident. King's injuries included a collapsed lung; 4 broken ribs; a spine chipped in 8 places; hip fracture (his lap looked sideways); broken left leg (in 9 places); broken right knee cap and a scalp laceration that took 20-30 stitches. I was interested in the author's recovery from multiple surgeries and subsequent rehab but didn't learn if he has any residual injuries or ongoing chronic pain.

Like me, King reads 70-80 books per year, and this 2012 edition of On Writing includes two lists comprising more than 180 books he personally recommends. King is generous with his time and praise for his peers but I was surprised to find how few I've read.

Known to fans and members of the publishing world as the King of Horror, he's also the King of Persistence. This is a recommended read for those interested in the man or his craft.

My Rating:

27 February 2023

Review: Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville book cover

I didn't get on with Moby Dick at University. I was far more interested in reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett at the time and found Herman Melville's writing to be inaccessible and a tiresome bore. Melville is a classic American writer though, and 20 years on I thought I'd give him a second chance by reading Bartleby, the Scrivener.

This is a short story narrated by an elderly lawyer about the office politics where he works. Here's a little about him in his own words:
"I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men's bonds and mortgagees and title deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man." Page 6
Our narrator has a legal firm in an office on Wall Street in New York, and the novella begins with an overview of his two employees. These character studies of Turkey and Nippers were insightful and Bartleby of the title is a new hire and addition to the team that doesn't pan out well.

We learn that Bartleby is very good at his job as a Clerk, but when asked to do a specific task or run a particular errand he doesn't want to do, he responds with "I prefer not to".

The modern reader can immediately relate and no doubt knows someone in their own circle of friends, family or work colleagues just like Bartleby. Bartleby's attitude of passive resistance and the fact that he'd 'prefer not to' do as he is instructed wound me up immediately and was instantly relatable.

Published in 1853, it was surprisingly reassuring to know that people haven't changed that much over the intervening decades and century. The staffing problems faced in the workplace 170 years ago resonate immediately with the modern reader today.

Bartleby soon causes our narrator great tribulation, and while the narrator remains unnamed throughout the novella, his plight is compelling. There are chuckle worthy moments of dialogue and inner reflection as our lawyer attempts to navigate his way out of his problem with varying degrees of success. I wanted to shout out suggestions to him which is a sure sign of evocative writing, however I did wish for a different ending.

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville is a timeless novella about office politics and in 2019 it featured on the BBC News list of the 100 Most Inspiring Novels. I'm not sure I'd agree it's inspiring, but it's certainly an accessible entry point for readers of Herman Melville.

You can access the novella for free on Project Gutenberg

Of course you might 'prefer not to' and that's okay too.

My Rating:

23 February 2023

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow book cover

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a young adult urban fantasy novel about adventure, stories, portals, travel and change. I knew I was going to be in safe hands very early on when our narrator quotes her father on Page 2:
"If we address stories as archaeological sites, and dust through their layers with meticulous care, we find at some level there is always a doorway. A dividing point between here and there, us and them, mundane and magical. It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between worlds, that stories happen." Page 2
And that's precisely what happens here. Our narrator is young January Scaller and her life changes forever when she finds a door at the age of seven. January is a difficult child with an absent father, and was given a number of nursemaids, who soon quit their position. Here's a robust character description of a new nursemaid from our narrator:
"The newest one [nursemaid] was a German immigrant named Miss Wilda, who wore heavy black woolen gowns and an expression that said she hadn't seen much of the twentieth century yet but heartily disapproved of it thus far. She liked hymns and freshly folded laundry, and detested fuss, mess, and cheek. We were natural enemies." Page 16-17
Don't you just love that? I can picture Miss Wilda perfectly, and even more, I want to read about all the ways they disagreed. Growing up as the ward of Mr William Cornelius Locke - a self-made almost-billionaire and chairman of the New England Archaeological Society - January lives in a mansion full of antiques and rare collectibles, yet is restless. She doesn't interact with anyone her own age, with the occasional exception of Sam, the son of the local grocer.
"I used my most grown-up voice, as if I had never once chased him across the lawn howling for his surrender or fed him magic potions made of pine needles and lake water." Page 33
This is an historical fiction adventure story, and like many great adventure stories before it, there's a book and on finding it, the reader - along with January - is plunged into the story of young Adelaide:
"Standing beside her grandmother's deathbed, woolen dress still smelling of black logwood dye, Ade had felt the way a sapling might as it watched one of the old forest giants come crashing magnificently to rest: awed, and perhaps a little frightened. But when Mama Larson's final breath rattled from her ribs, Ade discovered the same thing the young sapling would have: in the absence of the old tree, there was a hole in the canopy above her." Pages 97-98
Early on it was difficult to separate the stories of Ade (Adelaide) and January in my mind, and the third person narration was briefly confusing, but thankfully it improved as the novel progressed. Harrow's exquisite writing more than compensated for the flow, and I marvelled at her ability to convey so much in just one sentence:
"She took another gulp from the brown glass bottle and muttered herself into silence, complaining about rich folk, young folk, nosy folk, Yankees, and foreigners." Page 338
The Ten Thousand Doors of January reminded me of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor a little, in the shared coming of age quest of sorts that leads to danger, adventure and eventually self discovery. The existence of portals that lead to other worlds isn't new in fiction, and I've enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and more recently Fairy Tale by Stephen King.

In this particular portal fantasy novel, the doors represent change and characters very quickly decide whether that change is good or not. The doors create an inevitable 'leakage between worlds' (the author's words, not mine) which includes people and objects travelling between them. My mind was racing at this point, imagining how this theory could apply to some of the mysteries in our own world as we know it. Perhaps the Voynich manuscript came from one of these worlds, who knows?

Naturally, this gives rise to themes of ethnicity and multiculturalism, as does the idea of preserving each world in its current state and slowing or preventing the use of doorways to freely travel. Younger readers will take this at face value, while mature readers will see how these attitudes and prejudices are reflected in our history and in our present.

I'll leave you with one last quote I hope you might like:
"Those of you who are more than casually familiar with books - those of you who spend your free afternoons in fusty bookshops, who offer furtive, kindly strokes along the spines of familiar titles - understand that page riffling is an essential element in the process of introducing oneself to a new book. .. It might smell expensive and well bound, or it might smell of tissue-thin paper and blurred two-color prints, or of fifty years unread in the home of a tobacco-smoking old man. Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unsolved mysteries. 
This one smelled unlike any book I'd ever held. Cinnamon and coal smoke, catacombs and loam. Damp seaside evenings and sweat-slick noontimes beneath palm fronds. It smelled as if it had been in the mail for longer than any one parcel could be, circling the world for years and accumulating layers of smells like a tramp wearing too many clothes." Pages 22-23
I just love that quote! I recently learned that bildungsroman is a term used to describe a coming of age story; thanks to Sam for that little pearl. This book was a gift for Christmas and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is a bildungsroman for those who prefer their reading material to be full of adventure and fantasy with a touch of historical fiction. 

Highly recommended. 

My Rating:

08 February 2023

Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro book cover

I enjoyed The Remains of the Day, the story of an ageing butler reminiscing about serving Lord Darlington between WWI and WWII, while Klara and the Sun was an interesting science fiction novel about artificial intelligence. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2015, however it was a disappointing read for me. Australian author Ben Hobson recently shared his love for this book but wondered why so many readers didn't enjoy it. Here's why.

This is the story of Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple in a fictional post-Arthurian Britain where people across the land suffer from forgetfulness and a type of collective amnesia. The pair set off on a quest to find their son and discuss the mist causing the memory loss with others they meet along the way. What I found instantly irritating and relentlessly repetitive was the overkill with regard to the characters using each other's names ALL the time. Axl calls Beatrice princess and it drove me up the wall. I've flipped to a random page to share an example with you:
"It can wait till the morning, Axl. It's not even a pain I notice till we're speaking of it." "Even so, princess, now we're here, why not go and see the wise woman?" Page 55
Stilted dialogue aside, The Buried Giant is a post-Roman fantasy with touches of Tolkien complete with pixies, ogres and even a dragon. Intergenerational conflict is an important topic in the novel with the hatred and distrust between the Saxons and the Britons sure to resurface if the memory dampening mist is dispersed. Axl and Beatrice contemplate whether it's better not to remember at all if there's a risk the traumatic memories of war and genocide could come tumbling back with the years of separation, love and loss.

I might have cared for all of this - the vicious cycle of hate and violence and the hopelessness of war - but the overarching narrative was unclear. I was unable to decipher the meaning of the ogres or the purpose of the pixies; if indeed there was any. Did they represent foreign powers? The mixed tense was often confusing and what was that about the black birdlike hags/women? Is the boatman death? Or does the island represent death? Or am I wrong on both counts? The mysteriously omniscient narrator who revealed themselves at the end (I think?) as part of a frustratingly ambiguous ending only served to increase my ire.

It would seem I don't belong to the literary 'in crowd' for whom this was written, but in my opinion, there was too much expectation on the reader to pick up on the hidden meanings, subtext and literary devices that must be holding this up. If I have to work hard in order to figure a book out, then it needs to deliver, otherwise the reading joy ebbs away and that's what happened here.

If you've been following Carpe Librum for any length of time, you'll know I'm not a fan of an ambiguous ending, and boy do we have a doozy here. Published in 2015, and with many of you having no doubt read this before me, I think I can safely ask... What do you think happened at the very end? After being questioned, did they stay together or not? Did Axl? Or didn't he? Someone put me out of my misery, quick!

After reading The Buried Giant, I think Ishiguro and I are done for now.

My Rating:

06 February 2023

Confluence Giveaway Winners Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway last week to win 1 of 2 signed copies of Confluence by Gemma Chilton. It's true, Gemma is from Southern Tasmania and everyone answered correctly. Entries closed at midnight last night and the lucky winners were drawn today. Congratulations to:

Lindsay & Pam Swain

You've both won a signed copy of Confluence valued at $24.99AUD thanks to the author. You will receive an email from me shortly and will have 7 days to provide your postal address and preferred inscription from Gemma. You'll then receive your prize direct from the author so I hope you enjoy! 

02 February 2023

Review: The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson

The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Snake Island by Ben Hobson was a ripper read in August 2019 and it made it onto my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. I had the pleasure of interviewing the author as well, which you can check out here.

Ben Hobson is back with his new book called The Death of John Lacey which will always be special to me, because guess what? I'm mentioned in the praise section with an excerpt from my Snake Island review! It's so exciting when this happens and I predict I'll never tire of the thrill. What an honour! Now, onto the book.

The Death of John Lacey is set in the Ballarat goldfields of colonial Australia and Hobson cleverly avoids any flack for the inherent racism some of his characters possess. The author is clear at the beginning that his writing is true to the period but understands readers might find the views of his characters abhorrent and unacceptable by our contemporary standards. It's a shame authors need to stipulate that they don't share the views of their characters, but better safe than sorry.

The book is set in 1847, 1853 and 1870 but begins in 1847 with Ernst James Montague and later his brother Joe Montague. These early pages reminded me of the last half of Devotion by Hannah Kent, although on reflection, I guess that shouldn't come as a shock. Both books were written by Australian authors and set in 1800s Australia for a start. Furthermore, the interactions between the new settlers and the indigenous population were interesting, engaging and sensitively handled and the landscape was incredibly evocative in both novels.

I would happily have dwelt here in Ernst's entire life story and I was deeply invested in the life he was living with his father as they tried to eke out a living from the land. Meanwhile, Ernst's mother was bitterly homesick and longed to return to her homeland. Unfortunately things don't go to plan but that's where we leave them.
We're then introduced to the Lacey brothers in 1853, but I couldn't make space for them as I was left wondering what happened to Ernst and Joe. We join them again later, but having been robbed of the aftermath of their earlier circumstances the connection to them as characters was lost.

When we meet him, John Lacey - of the title - is a formidable man on a power trip and not a character the reader is likely to care too much about. John has a brother Gray and while we spend some time in their story, I was indifferent to their plight.

The Death of John Lacey is divided into seven parts, during which time we get a glimpse of the lives of brothers Ernst and Joe Montague, brothers Gray and John Lacey and Father Gilbert Delaney. While Hobson brings all of the plot threads together in the conclusion, I found myself not caring too much about any of the characters; their demise or their salvation. But perhaps that was the point. It was a deplorable time in history and Hobson has given us some pretty heartless characters to despise.

John Lacey isn't an important or compelling character in the novel and his death didn't seem to be the focus of the book. As a result, I found myself puzzling over the title and wondering at its significance other than providing a logical starting and finish point for the overall narrative.

Historical fiction is my favourite genre, although I'll admit reading very few books set in colonial Australia. This is just a personal reading preference and I wouldn't have picked this up if it wasn't for the fact that Hobson absolutely blew me away with Snake Island. The Death of John Lacey is completely different and props to the author for his ability to write two completely different books and deploy a different writing style for each. I know it's a minor point, but I don't enjoy it when authors, editors or publishers decide to do away with punctuation for dialogue, but such is the case here and it definitely diminished my reading pleasure.

Covering themes of race, faith, greed, violence, ambition, law and order and the value of human life, there is much here to get stuck into. The writing is distinctly Australian, the landscape evocative and there were some great character insights, like this one from Father Gilbert:
"Gilbert understood that all death was like this, having presided over so many. There was always great wailing and sorrow, but in the end, after the dying had been done, there was pragmatism, and great relief in the work it required. Even so, he could not help but picture Joe's face as each nail was struck and the thought of Christ crucified on the cross and how those nails might sink into flesh." Page 242
The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson is recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction set in the goldfields of Australia, fans of Ned Kelly or bushranger fiction and readers who love a good western but won't get snooty when there is no dialogue punctuation. Ben Hobson is clearly an Aussie talent to watch and I can't wait to see what he turns his pen to next. Guaranteed I'll be there to be an early reader.

My Rating:

30 January 2023

Review: The Phantom of the Opera Companion

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion book cover

I absolutely love everything about the musical production The Phantom of the Opera: the gothic setting; the music; the operas within an opera and of course the cleverly constructed and often overlapping lyrics are just sublime. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion contains the original screenplay and reading it enhanced my already existing appreciation of the musical.
“Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera: a mystery never fully explained.” Page 62
I recently attended Opera Australia’s production of The Phantom of the Opera at the State Theatre in Melbourne four times and it continues to raise the hair on the back of my neck and give me goosebumps every, single, time.

I've always struggled to describe the sheer majesty of the title song and the "duuuuuun, dun dun dun dun dunnnnnn!" that reverberates into your chest. In this companion edition I'm pleased to have finally found a description from the screenplay that sums it up in just three words:
"The porters whip off the canvas. The auctioneer switches on the chandelier by igniting a huge battery. There is an enormous flash and the thunderous organ overture begins." Page 62
It's the thunderous organ overture which never fails to move me or ignite my senses. Reading the screenplay in full for the first time provided a new angle from which to appreciate Andrew Lloyd Webber's brilliance. The clever word play and poetic rhythm of the lyrics deliver tongue twisters one moment while other times the lines seem to trip off your tongue in sheer delight. Take the following example from Christine. Even if you don't know the circumstances or accompanying tune, the words are lyrical and seem to dance together in a way that makes my brain feel like warm, sticky caramel:
"Twisted every way, what answer can I give? Am I to risk my life, to win the chance to live? Can I betray the man who once inspired my voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice? He kills without a thought, he murders all that's good... I know I can't refuse, and yet, I wish I could. Oh God - if I agree, what horrors wait for me in this - the Phantom's Opera...?" Page 125
I'm well aware that my enjoyment of this book is inexplicably connected to my love of the opera itself, but it's as though my mind enjoys picking over the lyrics and melodies and revisiting their uniqueness over and over. It then seeks to deliver snippets to me throughout the day in 100 little ear worms and sudden and tuneful outbursts without provocation. Perhaps the Angel of Music haunts me just as it does Christine...

Often the characters' lines will overlap and I was able to read all of the lyrics in the screenplay for the first time here. Sung and read together, they create a swirling sphere of linguistic pleasure that seems to envelope my brain in a sweet fog of words and music that ignites my soul and won't let go.

The musical is multi layered (like the movie Inception) with plays within the play and even makes fun of industry cliches and stereotypes in the caricature of Carlotta and the swooning lovesick and overly protective leading man Raol. There's also a clear sense of humour throughout, one of my favourites being "and what is it that I've meant to have wrote, written?" The stage production in Melbourne was exquisite and the scenery was mesmerisingly clever with performers and the set continuously transforming and defying any attempt to understand how it all works. The interactions between Andre and Firmin are absolute highlights for me, and I loved reading their 'notes sequence'.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion is a book I'll never part with and I'm so glad I now have my own ready reference to all of the lyrics. The lyric I'm trying to learn by heart at the moment is the following from Masquerade:
"Flash of mauve ... Splash of puce... Fool and king ... Ghoul and goose ... Green and black ... Queen and priest ... Trace of rouge ... Face of beast ... Faces ........ Eye of gold ... Thigh of blue ... True is false ... Who is who? ... Curl of lip ... Swirl of gown ... Ace of hearts ... Face of Clown." Page 111
Were you able to read it through without stumbling? Are you also a Phantom tragic? I'd love to know. It could be another decade before I have the chance to “close my eyes and let my spirit start to soar” once again, but now that I have the screenplay - in addition to the Original London Cast recording from 1987 - I'll be able to re-visit the Music of the Night any time.

Highly recommended!

My Rating:

27 January 2023

WIN 1 of 2 Signed Copies of Confluence by Gemma Chilton

Carpe Librum Confluence giveaway image


Gemma Chilton is an Australian journalist and editor based in southern Tasmania and she's giving Carpe Librum readers the chance to win 1 of 2 signed copies of her debut novel Confluence. Each winner will receive a print copy of Confluence valued at $24.99AUD signed by the author along with a personal inscription of their choice.

Gemma's writing has appeared in numerous publications including Australian Geographic and Tracks magazines. Confluence is a gritty and raw contemporary mystery and the giveaway is open to AUS & NZ entrants only. Enter below before midnight AEST Sunday 5 February 2023 and good luck!


Twenty years ago, 10-year-old Liam's father left to go fishing in the early morning dark and never came home. Now Liam is living an unhappy life in Sydney, having an affair with the married woman upstairs, haunted by the ghosts of his childhood. When he gets a call about his mother's health, he quits his dead-end job and returns to his childhood home near the ocean - ostensibly to help her, but really to wrestle with his own memories and his demons. Weaving between the past and present, Confluence is a gritty and raw contemporary mystery about time, memory, love, loss and intergenerational trauma, through the lens of one family’s tragedy.


This giveaway has now closed.

20 January 2023

Review: The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

I know it's early days yet, but it's just possible that The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell has gone straight from being one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2023, to being one of my favourite reads of the entire year. I absolutely adored this!

Set at the Mercury Theatre in Victorian London, Miss Jennifer Wilcox accepts a job offer from Mrs Dyer, the wife of the Mercury's owner. Fallen on hard times - the cause of which is revealed later - Jennifer must provide for her family and despite being brought low by her circumstances, eagerly accepts the position of dresser. Jennifer will need to make and mend all of the costumes, style hair and organise the accessories for the leading actress at the Mercury.

Unable to refuse and eternally grateful for the position of dresser to Lilith Erikson, Jennifer soon learns there's more to the situation. Mrs Dyer explains that her husband has been bewitched by the woman, and Jennifer is to keep a close eye on her. The reader is thrust straight into the social politics of the theatre, and additional meaning and nuance is communicated in the different plays the characters stage throughout this historical fiction masterpiece.

Reading The Whispering Muse put me in mind of City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert but I suspect that's only because I haven't read too many novels set in a theatre. The books are set in different countries and eras - 1940s New York and Victorian London - however the leading lady there (Celia) was just as awful as Lilith. In fact, my favourite quote from City of Girls works perfectly for Jennifer and Lilith too!

You see, Lilith Erikson is a vain, ambitious and arrogant woman, intent on attaining recognition for her prowess on the stage at any cost. And I really mean ANY cost and our protagonist is soon fed up with her behaviour and seeming obsession with a cursed pocket watch.

Looking over at Lilith at a gathering, Jennifer observes:
"She would have been arresting in her fashionable black evening gown, were it not for her sour expression. She looked like she'd sucked on a lemon. Her discomfort cheered me more than the champagne." Page 64
The Whispering Muse is being promoted as a gripping tale of obsession, superstition and ambition, set against the atmospheric backdrop of Victorian London and the description is spot on!

Enriching my reading experience was the fact that I was also reading Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion. At the time of writing, I've attended the show in the State Theatre in Melbourne a total of 4 times, with my final attendance last night! This allowed me to enter a theatre environment and watch the cast and goings on with fresh eyes. What must it be like back stage, what are the relationships between the actors, what really happens in the dressing rooms and costume wardrobes?

I'll be reviewing it soon, but the Companion also describes the set design, history of the show and the creation of the music, making it a perfect yet unintended and equally gothic companion to The Whispering Muse.

This is an atmospheric novel about class, ambition, loyalty, envy, power and obsession and I was truly gripped as I flipped the pages to witness the slow destruction of certain characters. Jennifer experiences conflicting loyalties between Mrs Dyer and Lilith and her determination to avoid becoming collateral damage in their war made for compelling reading.

In addition to the drama unfolding between the characters, the theatre setting, the backstory of the pocket watch and suspicious and deadly accidents at the Mercury, the little nods to the era (young Bertie with a bad foot pasting together matchboxes to earn his keep and his older brother working in a hat factory) were the icing on this creepy Victorian cake.

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell is a gothic triumph!

My Rating:

16 January 2023

2023 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

I was sorry to learn that the Aussie Author Reading Challenge came to a close at the end of 2022 after 13 years. I'd like to thank Jo from Booklover Book Reviews for her time and generosity in managing this challenge year after year. It has been a consistent touch point for many Australian bloggers and authors and we're definitely going to miss it Jo!

This year is going to be light on for reading challenges. I'm aiming to read 75 books again in 2023 and will be actively participating in the following challenges throughout the year, so wish me luck!

2023 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

I'm signing up for the Non Fiction 2023 Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out. I'm going for the Nonfiction Nibbler level and will need to read and review 6 books from any 6 listed categories. 
Non Fiction 2023 Challenge logo

The categories are:
1. History
2. Memoir/Biography
3. Crime & punishment
4. Science 
5. Health
6. Travel
7. Food
8. Social Media
9. Sport
10. Relationships
11. The Arts
12. Published in 2023

2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Fiction 2023 Challenge logo
Hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader, I've signed up to complete the Renaissance Reader level again this year. For this I'll need to read 10 historical fiction books to complete the challenge.

Have you set any reading goals for 2023? Do you enjoy reading challenges or do they create too much pressure? I'd love to know.

14 January 2023

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden book cover

Set in a bitterly cold winter in a small medieval village in Russia, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is full of Russian fairytales and folktales. The villagers have been making offerings to the household spirits for generations and are wary of what dwells in the dense forests.

However the arrival of a new priest from Moscow changes the household completely as magic is essentially outlawed and the Christian Priest Konstantin is intent on purging devils and witches from the town.

The villagers are forced to choose between their Christian beliefs and salvation or their mystic traditions of old and certain damnation.

Unfortunately for our protagonist Vasya, Konstantin is frighteningly effective:
"His voice was like thunder, yet he placed each syllable like Dunya setting stitches. Under his touch, the words came alive. His voice was deep as rivers in spring. He spoke to them of life and death, of God and of sin. He spoke of things they did not know, of devils and torments and temptation. He called it up before their eyes so that they saw themselves submitting to the judgment of God, and saw themselves damned and flung down.
As he chanted, Konstantin pulled the crowd to him until they echoed his words in a daze of fascinated terror. He drove them on and on with the supple lash of his voice until their answering voices broke and they listened like children frightened during a thunderstorm. Just as they were on the verge of panic - or rapture - his voice gentled." Page 149
Vasya knows the harm that will come if the old traditions aren't upheld and risks her life to save her family despite their distrust of her abilities. Vasya's connection with horses was one of my favourite elements of the book, and reminded me of Poison Study by Maria V Snyder.

According to her father Pyotr, Vasya is destined for either marriage or a convent and she vehemently wants neither. Convinced the villagers are in trouble, Vasya will do anything for agency over her life:
"I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man's servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me. Please." Page 367
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is a coming of age story and a tribute to storytelling and fairytale. I really enjoy a novel that blends historical fiction in a tale inspired by folkore so if you enjoy books by Kate Forsyth or Naomi Novik, you'll love this.

It's difficult to believe this is the author's debut with descriptions like this one:
"The winter half of the house boasted huge ovens and small, high windows. A perpetual smoke trickled from its chimneys, and at the first hard freeze, Pyotr fitted its window-frames with slabs of ice, to block the cold but let in the light. Now firelight from his wife's room threw a flickering bar of gold onto the snow." Page 13
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is the first in the Winternight trilogy, and I look forward to reading The Girl In The Tower next.

My Rating:

11 January 2023

Review: Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia

Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I'm a blogger, reviewer, editor, proofreader, sole trader and sometimes lone ranger, so you could say I'm the target audience for Copywrong to Copywriter - A Practical Guide to Copywriting for Small Businesses, Small Organisations, Sole Traders, and Lone Rangers by Tait Ischia.

My success over the years has been directly proportional to the work I put in and the standards I set for myself. Like most, I'm always striving to learn more and improve my work and in reading Copywrong to Copywriter I was hoping to learn some new tricks, re-visit old ideas and see if content writing has changed much over the years.
"When someone first realises they need a copywriter, they might have any number of services in mind. They may be looking for web writing, journalism, scriptwriting, product naming, headlines, ad campaigns, concept development, user personas, information architecture, content audits, copy editing, proofreading or complex content strategies.
They might also require intricate knowledge about esoteric subjects, a sophisticated understanding of highly technical industries or years of experience in marketing, advertising, brand strategy or public relations." Page 13
The author goes on to say: "while the foundations of copywriting are simple, they quickly give rise to many complexities." Page 13

If you're expecting or hoping this book will delve into the above services and explain what they are and how they vary, you won't find it in this slim offering. At less than 100 pages, this is a very brief look at copywriting and instead offers an insight into setting a strategy, finding the right voice, identifying your audience and some basic grammar rules. I'm certain that the author could have written a 500 page manual on copywriting that explored each of the services mentioned above in addition to the complexities they give rise to which would no doubt make a thoroughly informative read. (Which I'm totally down for by the way).

Having completed a Bachelor of Arts in Literature, Associate Diploma in Management, Diploma of Business and Certificate in Professional Writing, this overview was old territory for me. I've been reviewing and blogging here at Carpe Librum for almost 18 years now and while I've moved beyond the basics, this short refresher was still worth my time.

Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia is best suited to those embarking on a career or hobby that involves communicating information to an audience. It might be a blog, an Instagram or Etsy account, intranet or company website. At the very least, this is an easy to follow introduction to copywriting by an accomplished Australian author that will provide a solid foundation that may lead to a deeper exploration down the track.

My Rating:

10 January 2023

Top 5 Books of 2022

In 2022 I read a total of 75 books and as always, it's difficult to curate a Top 5 list. Over the course of the year, a total of 19 books were 5 star reads for me in a nice healthy mix of genres. I'm proud to announce there are three Australian authors in my Top 5 list which covers a range of genres, including poetry, crime and crime thriller, science fiction and middle grade.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2022 in the order I read them:

1. The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem by Amanda Gorman

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman book cover
I was incredibly moved by Amanda Gorman's address at President Biden's Inauguration on 20 January 2021. Gorman was the youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history and she made an impression that reverberated around the world.

I read a stunning hardback copy of The Hill We Climb exactly a year to the day of the Inauguration event and was still moved by her words. Gorman eloquently delivers a message of promise and hope and The Hill We Climb is an inspiring read.

If you haven't heard, watched or read The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman, I heartily recommend you do. It'll be the best 6 mins or 27 pages you'll ever experience.

2. Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson book cover
This was an immediate favourite! In a surprising opening, our narrator - aptly named Earnest - breaks the fourth wall to inform us he's a truth teller. He promises to tell the truth about what happened at his family reunion and insists he won't be an unreliable narrator; encouraging the reader to hold him to account.

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 is on his way to a family reunion in the Australian high country where things are tense and he's on the outer.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson is refreshingly unique meta fiction of the very best kind, with brilliant plotting that left this reader impressed and recommending this widely.

3. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover
Project Hail Mary
is a science fiction space thriller and turned out to be a triumphant return to form for Andy Weir and I loved it! With elements similar to those in The Martian, our main character Ryland Grace finds himself alone on a spaceship and part of an impossible mission.

Further enhancing my reading enjoyment of this stellar novel was the fact my husband read this before me, enabling us to share the plot developments and favourite dialogue moments which we're still doing many months later! (Sad, amaze!)

I'll always think of Project Hail Mary as Rocky's book and he's now one of my favourite characters of all time.

4. Runt by Craig Silvey

Runt by Craig Silvey book cover
This was a sheer delight to read and is aimed at his youngest reading audience yet. Annie Shearer is eleven years old and lives in a small country town called Upson Downs. Her parents run a sheep farm and Annie is never without her leather tool belt, causing some kids to think she's a little odd. I warmed to Annie instantly and cheered when she made a friend in the stray dog of undetermined pedigree, Runt.

Scavenging from bins, Runt was all alone in the world until he met Annie. Together they share a unique bond and Annie enters them both into an agility course at the local show.

Every chapter book needs a villain and Silvey gives us two: the Collector who lives on the hill and buys up properties and a fellow competitor in the world of canine agility courses, Fergus Fink.

With illustrations by Sara Acton, Runt by Australian author Craig Silvey is brimming with little life lessons and subtle morals along the way creating an uplifting, heartwarming and comforting read for all ages. I'm especially looking forward to hearing how my young nephew enjoys it later this year.

5. Headcase by Jack Heath

Headcase by Jack Heath book cover
by Jack Heath is a crime thriller with a refreshing difference and it delivered on all of my bloody hopes and dark expectations. Starring my favourite fictional cannibal Timothy Blake, this is the fourth instalment of the series which shows no sign of slowing down.

Blake has teamed up with CIA handler Zara who is a force to be reckoned with. Blake finds himself in therapy (hence the Headcase reference), yet he remains a charismatic anti-hero.

Headcase is an entertaining and finely crafted bloody mess with kick arse female characters, clever plots, skilful subterfuge, electrifying tension and tantalising riddles at the beginning of each chapter.

Recommended for fans of crime thrillers, I eagerly gave the first two books in the series to my nephew for Christmas and can't wait to hear how he gets on with Blake and Thistle. (Also super proud of the mention in the praise section for Hunter).

Special mention to The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The number of references that have come up since I finished reading this have made it the classic that keeps on giving and I'm so glad I finally made time to read it. I wonder which classic will be the stand out in 2023...

What was your favourite book in 2022? Have you read any of these or plan to?

Carpe Librum!

06 January 2023

Review: Just One Thing by Dr Michael Mosley

Just One Thing - How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life by Dr Michael Mosley book cover

Dr Michael Mosley is very easy to listen to and I've watched quite a few of his documentaries, however surprisingly, this is my first time reading any of his - many - books. Just One Thing - How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life presents simple and easy changes you can make daily that will have significantly positive impacts on your overall health and wellbeing.

Each 'thing' is grouped according to the time of day Dr Mosley recommends you try the activity, although naturally they can be done at any time. The categories are: Early Morning, Breakfast, Mid-Morning, Lunchtime, Afternoon and Evening.

There are 30 'things', and some of my favourites were: Sing, Stand on One Leg, Exercise Less But More Often, Eccentric Exercise, Take a Nap, Stand Up, Dance, Learn A New Skill and of course Read!

I was surprised to read about the benefits of eating beetroot (who knew) and enjoyed learning that the temperature decrease that happens after a warm bath mimics the body's natural drop in core temperature prior to sleep. This is why Doctors always recommend a hot bath 90 minutes before bed to aid sleep.

I've decided the just one thing I'll try and do more of this year is Stand Up. When we sit for prolonged periods, many of our body's functions go into sleep mode, including our metabolism! I think we all recognise that a sedentary lifestyle and sitting for prolonged periods is terrible for our health.
"Emerging evidence suggests that unless you are doing 40 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise every single day, you cannot undo the damage that sitting causes. And even worse, if you sit for long periods each day, you could be decreasing the benefits of any exercise you do." Chapter entitled Stand Up
Instead of harping on the negatives, Dr Mosley highlights the benefits of standing for a few minutes at least once every hour. I find it quite easy at night time to watch two episodes of a favourite show back to back without moving on the couch, but since I started standing more often and interrupting this period of slothing and relaxing, I have noticed an improvement. The author points out that standing up helps us maintain muscle strength, bone density and blood sugar levels and while I'll never go so far as to work at a standing desk, I am able to make small improvements and changes.

Just One Thing contains 30 bite sized topics which are very easy to consume. I recommend listening to this in small doses and coming back later to revisit any specific chapters that take your fancy or require a quick refresher.

Any time is a good time to begin a new habit or learn more about the body, but December / January seems - to me at least - to be the ultimate time of year for this type of book. One of my favourite quotes at the moment is "Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits" from Atomic Habits by James Cleary, and trying any of these 'things' from Just One Thing by Dr Michael Mosley will improve your health and wellbeing. 

My Rating:

04 January 2023

Review: I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka

I Will Always Write Back - How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch book cover

I still remember the joy of having pen pals as a teenager, and the premise of I Will Always Write Back - How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda and Liz Welch appealed immediately.

In 1997, Caitlin Alifirenka was in her seventh-grade English class when she was asked to choose a place from a list of countries for a pen pal program the school was embarking on. Whilst other class mates chose countries like Germany and France, Caitlin wanted something different. Living in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, 12 year old Caitlin decided to choose the last country on the list, Zimbabwe. Although she had travelled outside the USA, Caitlin didn't know much about Africa and took great care when deciding how to begin her letter.

A few months later, Martin Ganda was a top student in a very poor part of Zimbabwe when his teacher entered the room, excitedly announcing the class had received pen pal letters from America. There were 10 letters and 50 students and it was immediately apparent many students would miss out. Luckily for Martin, his high scores in a recent test meant he was in Group One, and each high achieving student in the group received a pen pal letter.

In I Will Always Write Back, we learn about Caitlin and Martin in alternate first person POV as well as through the letters they exchange and I enjoyed seeing their friendship blossom. While other pen pal friendships soon petered out after a few letters, Caitlin and Martin remained pen pals for years, despite the oftentimes prohibitive cost of postage for Martin.

Their relationship begins to change both of their lives for the better and I enjoyed following each of their accounts through the years. I did have to take a break for a few weeks as I found myself struggling with the humungous economic and demographic gap between them and growing nervous about what would happen to Martin.

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka is a real feel good book that will hopefully inspire you to be more generous with your time - and money - and be aware of your own unique privilege.

Caitlin's family deserve a standing ovation for their support of Martin and his family, and I found myself in deep admiration for Caitlin's Mum's ceaseless efforts to seek a scholarship for Martin. Talk about above and beyond, wow!

If you need a story to inspire you or lift your spirits - don't they call that Up Lit now? - then this is for you. Special thanks to my friend closer to home, Diana, for lending me this book. She and I enjoy exchanging snail mail and she knew I'd love this as much as she did.

My Rating:

01 January 2023

Historical Fiction Challenge 2022 Completed

Happy New Year! Historical fiction remained one of my favourite genres last year and I enjoyed participating in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2022 hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.

I had to read 10 historical fiction books to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the challenge.

Here's what I read: 
2022 Historical Fiction Challenge logo
10. The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt

Additional books I read for the challenge:
11. The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell
12. Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory
13. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
14. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (reviewing soon)

I read some splendid historical fiction novels last year and I'm looking forward to signing up again in 2023. 

Anyone planning to read some historical fiction in 2023? I'm hanging out to read The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell and it may just be my first historical fiction read for 2023.

Carpe Librum!