09 August 2022

AViVA Winners Announced

Thanks to all of the Outsiders (AViVA fans) who entered my giveaway last week to win 1 of 2 signed double packs of Self/Less and Relentless by Australian author and artist AViVA. Relentless is out today and it's time to announce the winners.

Entries closed at midnight last night and the winners were drawn today. Congratulations to (drum roll):

LeeW and Dr Aurion!!

Congratulations! You've both won a signed double book pack valued at $39.98AUD thanks to Pan Macmillan. You will receive an email from me shortly, and will have 7 days to provide your postal address and preferred inscription. You'll then receive your prize direct from the publisher so I hope you enjoy! 

For those who missed out, I'm currently running a giveaway for Framed by John M. Green, so feel free to enter if you're in the mood for a 'gripping art heist thriller'.

Carpe Librum!

08 August 2022

Review: Saved by the Siesta by Brice Faraut

Saved by the Siesta - The Great Benefits of a Little Nap by Brice Faraut book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I'm fascinated by the topic of sleep and never tire of talking about sleep, sleep habits, dreams and the science of sleep. Saved by the Siesta - The Great Benefits of a Little Nap by Brice Faraut and translated by Eric Rosencrantz is a compact read and promises to be an 'expert guide on the art and science of napping', something I haven't explored before.

Faraut is a neuroscientist and spends much of the book establishing the benefits of night time sleep in order to highlight the problems when a patient doesn't attain a full night's rest; or worse, begins to accrue a sleep debt. He also outlines the different sleep needs we have from the cradle to the grave, so the reader's age will be a factor to consider when reading this book.

I enjoyed the reminder about the nasal cycle (learned when reading Breath - The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor):
"One such clock controls the alternation of our nasal cycle and, much to the detriment of the quality of our sleep and for reasons long unknown to us, makes us roll over every 60-90 minutes from one side of our bodies to the other, namely the side with the currently congested nostril." Page 16
I had a head cold this week, and it's these periods when we become more aware of the nasal cycle. I've read before that during sleep our brains cleanse toxic substances away, however I didn't know that
"the space between our billions of brain cells increases by 60 per cent during sleep." Page 43 Apparently our brain is contracted and curled in upon itself when at full capacity, but when we sleep it relaxes and dilates to its full volume, enabling the cerebrospinal fluid to drain the toxic metabolites away from the brain twice as fast. No wonder we can feel groggy when we wake up or stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The section describing how a lack of sleep causes increased sensitivity to pain rang true for me as someone with a chronic pain condition. The less sleep or rest I have, the worse the pain levels. The author acknowledges that those with chronic pain find it harder to sleep in the first place, which in turn makes their pain more difficult to endure, creating sleep debt and reinforcing a negative spiral. That's where naps come in. According to the author:
"Napping might also turn out to be useful in relieving pain caused by fibromyalgia." Page 132
While this wasn't news to me, it may be enlightening and helpful to readers new to the topic.

The author provides a brief overview of many sleep studies conducted around the world, some of which he was involved in, however much of the content will be too scientific for many readers. Faraut points out the numerous ways in which not getting enough sleep - or working night shift - takes its toll on the body in terms of reaction times, memory, mood and general health to the longer term effects and even cancer.

Faraut then goes on to recommend different nap durations at different times of day that will directly address a patient's concern, e.g. to improve memory performance, have a long nap with 'deep stage-three slow wave sleep to eliminate parasitic information and REM sleep.' However given the variables already presented, the reader almost needs a slide rule, calculator and health questionnaire to figure out precisely how to apply the advice to their unique set of circumstances. When I take a nap, I'm usually recovering or recuperating, not preparing for something, but how normal is this? What about you? Do you nap in advance?

I was interested to learn about the 'correct body positions' for napping but lying on your back or sitting at a reclined angle was deemed best, without mention of side or stomach sleeping which was disappointing. The 'ideal time of day' to nap varies greatly on your existing sleep habits, health status, work practices, sleep patterns and circadian clock. If I am older and rise later than you, then the best time for each of us to take a nap will vary. See what I mean about the slide rule?

I agree with the author in his conclusion that it's more important to get a proper night's sleep in the first place, but as we know, life isn't perfect. I also agree with the author that:
"We need to change our view of sleep and put paid to the misconception that sleeping's a waste of time, opportunities, and money." Page 141
More and more patients experiencing sleep problems and insomnia are glued to their devices, too razzed up to sleep and with a FOMO preventing them from disconnecting or being able to relax and let it all go. I'm a strong proponent of the curative and healing benefits of sleep and appreciate the benefits of a nap first hand. It's often my preferred method of recovery however I wasn't able to learn anything new here to supplement previous reading.

I'll leave you with some closing words from the author:
"What is certain, on the other hand, is that taking a nap every day to offset our sleep debt is a natural and beneficial medication. From morning to mid-afternoon, the variety of possible nap durations, from 10-90 minutes, depending on our availability, age, and needs, makes it a judicious and formidable weapon for reinforcing not only our metabolic, hormonal, immune, somesthetic, and cardiovascular functions, but also our alertness, cognitive performance, memory, mood, empathy, and creativity." Page 144
Saved by the Siesta - The Great Benefits of a Little Nap by Brice Faraut is recommended for readers new to the science of sleep looking to unlock one of the body's most basic yet crucial functions.

My Rating:

05 August 2022

Giveaway: Framed by John M. Green

Framed by John M. Green book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *


Australian author John M. Green is no stranger to Carpe Librum. I interviewed John back in 2012 after reading and reviewing The Nowhere Man and Born to Run. I attended the book launch for The Trusted in 2013 and also ran a giveaway when I reviewed The Tao Deception in 2016. Back then, Anne Hutton was the lucky winner, but who will be our winner this time around?

John's latest thriller Framed is out this month and I've teamed up with Pantera Press to run a giveaway to celebrate. Framed is a 'gripping art heist thriller', so enter here or below for your chance to win a copy. Entries are open to those with an address in AUS and close at midnight AEST Sunday 14 August 2022. Good luck!


When art conservator JJ Jego spots a long-lost masterpiece through the window of a luxury apartment, she’s drawn into a dark web of intrigue, deception and murder.

JJ spies what she believes is a priceless Van Gogh. Except it can’t be … that painting, Six Sunflowers, was destroyed during World War II. She also glimpses what looks like a Rembrandt, one stolen in the infamous 1990 robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston.

JJ sets out on a mission to discover if these works are fakes or genuine. But when she gets in too deep, she is forced to seek help from her estranged father, a Sydney detective.

From the pubs of Belfast to the boardrooms of Monte Carlo and the shores of Sydney Harbour, this gripping art heist thriller exposes a shadowy underworld where JJ crosses paths with a global organised crime empire in her pursuit to solve some of art history’s biggest mysteries.
Carpe Librum giveaway image for Framed by John M. Green


04 August 2022

Review: The Lady Di Look Book by Eloise Moran

The Lady Di Look Book - What Diana Was Trying to Tell Us Through Her Clothes by Eloise Moran book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Princess Diana is one of the most famous women in my living memory and her legacy continues today, more than a quarter of a century after her death. There is a revival in Lady Diana inspired fashion choices and I find it interesting that many of the women following the trend were born after she died in 1997. Perhaps Princess Diana is to this generation what Marilyn Monroe is to me, a captivating icon of a not too distant era. Princess Diana's public and private life were scrutinised in life and continue to be analysed after death and yet a fresh perspective via her wardrobe choices and fashion statements was too appealing to resist.

Eloise Moran is a fashion journalist and her Instagram account @ladydirevengelooks is so successful, we are now lucky enough to view her work in this collection, The Lady Di Look Book - What Diana Was Trying to Tell Us Through Her Clothes.

Beautifully presented in a wonderful hardcover, this collection showcases many styles and fashion choices as Moran documents Diana's life with her accompanying essays. As the author admits, Moran was only 5 years old when Princess Diana died in 1997 and came to look up to her as a fashion icon much later, after experiencing her own breakup. I think there's a lot of theorising and projecting going on by the author - and the rest of the world - when it comes to imagining what Lady Diana was thinking or feeling in these photographs but aren't we all guilty of that? I know I am.

This book has been described as a 'smart visual psychobiography' and I'm not embarrassed to admit I didn't know what this was. Apparently a psychobiography is a biography that aims to understand an historically significant individual through the use of psychological theory and research. I wonder if The Lady Di Look Book is my first psychobiography. I think it'd be fun to find out so I'll need to go back through my reading list. In the meantime, if you know any you think I might like, please recommend them in the comments section.

If you enjoyed this review, you might also enjoy my review of Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe by Sali Hughes. It seems I have developed an interest in the fashion of the Royal family and I'd love Eloise Moran - or Sali Hughes for that matter - to produce a book about the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton.

If you're an anglophile, photographer, fashion guru, influencer or history lover (wow, this book appeals to many different audiences) then I highly recommend this.

Thanks to the publisher, you can also Look Inside before deciding to read this for yourself.

My Rating:

01 August 2022

Giveaway & Interview with AViVA

Australian author AViVA


It gives me great pleasure to welcome AViVA to Carpe Librum today! An internationally successful YA author, musician and fellow Australian, AViVA joins me today to celebrate the upcoming release of Relentless on 9 August with a giveaway and Q&A!

Pan Macmillan is providing two signed double packs of Self/Less and Relentless for 2 lucky Carpe Librum winners, enter below.


Thanks for joining us AViVA! Let’s start with an easy question first. Young fan Bridgette loves your music and would like to know if AViVA is your real name?
Yes it is!

Being an internationally successful musician with more than 3 billion global streams of your music at last count, how do you balance the competing demands on your creativity for music and writing?
I find the only way to get everything I need to get done is by having routine, rituals, and structure. I get up early every morning (around six AM) and go to bed early, when I can. On tour it is hard to get to bed early but getting up early is almost essential because that is when I get my best work done, while my brain is fresh and not being filled with all the other tasks of the day.

Can you tell us a little about your YA book Self/less and the new sequel Relentless?
Relentless by AViVA book cover
SELF/LESS is about a girl named Teddy who has grown up in a city where everything is tightly controlled and maintained by the governing body – the Metropolis City Council. She is on the cusp of becoming an adult in the society. She learns some secrets about her families past and discovers some lies from her city. The world she grew up in is devoid of self-expression or creativity and she soon discovers that that isn’t the case for everybody when she discovers the Underground.

In RELENTLESS we continue following on with Teddy as she makes new friends and ends up back in the city, and learns that the cities lies run further and deeper than she could have ever imagined.

Do you need to be in a different environment or headspace to compose and write music or work on a manuscript? Do you immerse yourself in writing and then turn to music, or do you like to do both interchangeably?
I write books very differently to how I write music. When writing melodies and lyrics, I like to go in completely free of mind and with very little ‘pre work’ other than a stimulus word, or an idea of what I want the song to be about. Once I’m in the studio I just go with my intuition and where the song takes me.
When I’m writing books, I like to spend time writing an outline first, it’s impossible to achieve such a large body of work if you don’t know where you’re going. That isn’t to say that I never change what I thought originally, or completely go on a tangent, but before I start writing I like to have an outline so at any point, if I feel lost or overwhelmed, at least I have a ‘map’ that I can check in on — so no excuses to have writers block and ‘not know’ what to do next!

Is there much overlap between the fans of your books and fans of your music?
My fans are very enthusiastic about all my creative works, which is something I am so grateful for. I’m not sure how many fans have read the book, it would be impossible to know, and I don’t know how many new people have found my music through the writing, but the two mediums inform each other, and the world of the story has always been threaded through visually as well as sonically and of course with the themes of self-expression and creativity!!
Self/Less by AViVA book cover

Your community of fans are known as outsiders. When did you start feeling like an outsider and why are books and YA series about outsiders so popular?
I think we all feel like Outsiders at different times in our lives, there are always those occasions when we don’t feel like we fit in. It is a universal experience yet when we're in the thick of it, it feels like no one else might understand. Anything that helps us understand difficult feelings and emotions makes us feel better, seen, understood or even less alone. I have felt those feelings at times throughout my life because often as an artist and creative person you can think differently to other people — you have to, that is what makes artists dreamers, and it is what makes the art possible. So yeah, I think it’s because we all crave being understood, and the idea that other people feel like outsiders too, makes us feel less alone.

Has the pandemic changed your reading or writing habits in any way?
I am a voracious reader — I like to read a lot and fast, when I’m in a groove I can read a book or two a week, but that changes depending on what I’m working on. If I’m writing a first draft, I try not to read so much because I don’t want to pollute my ideas — I try to get the draft out without reading anything, which is hard because I LOVE TO READ. Once a first draft is done, I go back to my reading schedule which is whatever I like whenever. I will only ever read three books at the same time (if that.) One on paper or my kindle, one audio book and one non-fiction.
Like I said before I get up early and start work early, this means writing or editing (never both at the same time, one or the other depending on deadlines) then business and admin. Once all that’s done I’m free to read (YAY), keep writing/ editing or doing something else creative like sewing and other crafts I enjoy while listening to an audio book. I’m a creature of habits and comfort and keeping this as my general routine (even when away) helps keep me sane and keep my creative well full.

Can you tell us about your other creative pursuits and how you nurture your creativity?
Everything I do is to try and feed my creativity. I read a lot and write my music and books, but I also enjoy a variety of other creative pursuits. I enjoy filling my mind with things that inspire me — it’s a difficult word ‘inspire’ because people often assume that what inspires me will automatically inspire them and that is rarely the case. I look to art, music, nature and from there think about how I’m moved emotionally. Then I pour those feelings into art making in all its forms. I sew clothing, quilts and dolls. I love taking photos and spending time in my garden as much as possible (when I’m at home). I knit and crochet too — my favourite crafts to take when I travel! I go through waves of watching tv or films. When I do watch, it’s only an hour or so a day and that usually bores me after a week or two, so I go back to my art studio and tinker making miniatures, sewing or making mixed media art while I listen to an audio book — that is my favourite way for me to nurture my creativity. Letting my mind wander and just playing!

Do you have a favourite book or series; other than LOTR? I heard you're a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and learned how to speak Elvish. That's so cool!
A Gateway to Sandarin by David Salo book cover
I have forgotten most of what I knew, but when I was fourteen (I think) there was a book on Tolkien’s Sindarin language (A Gateway to Sindarin by David Salo) at my local library and it was ‘reference’ only so I went every day in the school holidays and would pour over it for a couple of hours hand writing notes. This was before phone cameras could easily take photos, or I might have snapped a few pics and not had to go in.
Luckily one of the library ladies noticed I was the same person who had been requesting the book, so she made an exception and let me borrow it for a while.

That was her mistake, because I have a terrible problem where once I take the library book home, it’s nigh impossible for me to get it back (on time … they do get back eventually!) Luckily no one else had requested the book so when it finally got back all was well and my mind was full of inspiration and my heart was full of joy!! Too bad the returning problems didn’t and now I am self-banned from library cards.

That's quite the ban! So, what are you reading at the moment?
I am just about to start The War of Two Queens which is the last in the series From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout.

The cover designs for that series are stunning! I understand you enjoy fantasy and science fiction and loved your interview with bestselling author Jay Kristoff. Is there an Australian book or series you believe deserves more attention or you wish was more widely read?
The War of Two Queens by Jennifer L. Armentrout book cover
I LOVE fantasy and science fiction. They and all their sub genres are my favourites but not the only genres to read in.
One author I have been reading and who has inspired me is Isobel Carmody. Her works are so vivid, and I think that she is recognised as one of Australia’s best fantasy authors so maybe it isn’t the right pick for the questions, but I think if you haven’t read any of her works, that should be remedied. The Obernewtyn Chronicles is the series that I think I first read of Isobel’s.

What’s next? Are you working on a book to follow Relentless?
I have written the first draft for the next book in the series, but currently my attention is all on the first draft for a new series I am working on. It’s a secret project with a whole new world, new characters, and new adventures. I’ve shared a little with my Patrons and they’re going to be first to find out the details of what’s next with this secret project!

Sounds fun, anything else you’d like your fans and readers to know?
Only that they can reach me on socials @thisisaviva pretty much everywhere. I’m always talking about what I’m up to, and I love hearing from readers and fans, so tag me!

Thanks so much for your time AViVA! Enter below for your chance to win a signed AViVA double back containing Self/Less and Relentless.
Carpe Librum AViVA Giveaway


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

30 July 2022

Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear audiobook cover

Keen to put an end to a newly formed self-sabotaging habit, I listened to the audiobook of Atomic Habits by James Clear. Despite being advertised quite heavily on GoodReads these last few weeks, I'm sure I wasn't influenced by the Amazon advertising, was I? I strive to keep my reading free from hype and targeted marketing, but can we ever be sure our reading choices are 'pure'? I digress.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear didn't manage to offer this reader anything new. Having read many self help books over the years, and experienced varying degrees of success and failure in goal setting and habit tracking in the past, I was surprised to find I was doing better than I thought.

I started a new walking habit during lockdown that has now 'stuck' for two years and I also track my performance against an exercise physiology program which has enabled me to make greater progress.

I've been keeping a food diary since 2018, and on habit tracking, Clear says:
"Those who kept a daily food log lost twice as much weight as those that did not. The mere act of tracking a behaviour can spark the urge to change it." Chapter 16
If you haven't experienced this yourself, the mere act of being accountable to someone, knowing a person other than yourself is going to look at your results - or lack thereof - can be its own form of motivation. I'm a person who definitely needs to be held accountable (and I learned this reading The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin), but as Clear says, tracking can become its own kind of reward as you see the progress. This is so true!

Despite being familiar with the topic, in Atomic Habits, James Clear sometimes delivers the material in seemingly new and refreshing ways, like this pearl:
"Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits".
This makes things crystal clear, doesn't it? If you have a habit of reading before bed every night, then you're more likely to read a number of books in a month or year. If you are a shopaholic, or have a habit of spending more than you earn, or eating more than you burn, then you won't be able to save up for a home deposit and are likely to be carrying some extra weight.

I loved this insight from James Clear on finances and wish all school leavers were taught this when they entered the workforce:
"Saving money is often associated with sacrifice, however you can associate it with freedom rather than limitation if you realise one simple truth: living below your current means increases your future means." Chapter 10
Basically, if you change the habit, you will change the outcome. If you have a desired outcome, you can set goals and create habits to help you achieve them. Sounds simple and I'm still learning, but I WAS able to kick a newly formed habit that was getting out of control. But perhaps it wasn't the book that helped me achieve that, but the intention I set that by the time I finish reading this book, I will stop that bad habit. Interesting to consider, isn't it?

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear is recommended for readers new to the topic. If you have a favourite book about habits, I'd love you to recommend any further reading on the topic. You can also check out my review of Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin.

My Rating:

27 July 2022

Review: The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd book cover

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd is an historical fiction novel about the Batavia. Nine year old girl Mayken is aboard the flagship Batavia, built by the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam in 1628. The ship is on her maiden voyage to Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies in what we now call Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Batavia was an impressive ship carrying three hundred passengers and in a 10 year project starting in 1985, a full size replica of the ship was built using the same materials and methods employed in the early 17th century. Similar to the Titanic, it's heartbreaking to know that the Batavia sunk on her first voyage.

Steward Jan Pelgrom (a character based on a real person on the voyage) tells our protagonist Mayken more about the ship and about what happens in the belly of the ship or 'The Below World':
"First of all there's the gun deck. Where sailors bicker and curse, eat and sleep and the ship's barber lops off legs. Where the cook's galley gets hotter than Hell and the rats the cats can't catch grow big enough to steal babies. The orlop deck below that is for cows and soldiers. And below that, there's the hold." Page 13
Meanwhile, in 1989 we meet nine year old Gil, sent to stay with his Grandfather on a remote fishing village off the coast of Western Australia. Gil is struggling to fit in and understand his place in the world, while surrounded by fishermen and scientists searching for remains of the Batavia wreckage and fragments from the survivor's settlement that followed.

The island is remote and hostile and Gil is haunted by stories of a ghost girl.
"Gil has a watched sort of feeling. He reassures himself that his room is too small for any quantity of ghosts, unless they can overlap. But then the dead can't harm you; it's the living you should fear. The ghosts ought to make themselves useful and go out and haunt the veranda in case Roper returns." Page 93
I love Gil's sense of humour and applaud the writing style. Mayken is curious and friendly and makes many friends on the voyage. She likes to explore the ship when she can and here she is asking her favourite old sailor (Holdfast) if he has any stories:
"The old sailor obliges. He tells the sleepy child stories of cursed ports and blood-red roses, of the gunner's beautiful daughter, of love knots and promises. His words are snatched up and hauled away by the wind, which picks up as the ship ploughs on through the night." Page 157
While brief, this particular relationship between Mayken and Holdfast was incredibly touching and I also enjoyed the interactions between Mayken and the kitchen boy. However the journey continues on for months and the crew and passengers become restless as their health begins to suffer without fresh food.
"As is the way with souls confined, tempers fray and flare, ill-spoken words fester, coincidences become intrigues. Minds seethe with resentment and revenge like the worms in the water barrels.
As the ship spoils, so does the air between the people." Page 163
At one point, Mayken becomes justifiably emotional and the writer's expertise in making the reader feel every part of her anguish was clear on the page:
"She doesn't want to be calm. She wants to tear the ship apart, rivet by rivet, bolt by bolt, drag the caulking out with her teeth, lever up the boards with her fingernails. She wants to swing off the shrouds screaming and rend the main sail. Instead, she sleeps." Page 196
If you know your history - and even if you don't - you soon discover that the Batavia is going to come to grief off the coast of Australia and I REALLY didn't want to read about what happened afterwards. Approximately 40 people drowned in the wreck, but the rest were able to swim, float or paddle ashore. Worried a rescue wouldn't arrive in time, a savage fight over rations and scrabble for power amongst the survivors led to the cold blooded murder of many men, women and children in a series of atrocities. This made for hard reading, but these scenes were interspersed with some lighter moments with Gil which carried me through.

Gil isn't shipwrecked but he's facing his own hardship as he comes of age with a Grandfather who seems emotionally unavailable but trying to do his best. In fact it reminded me of Sam and Vic's relationship in Honeybee by Craig Silvey.

I loved Gil's thoughts on karma:
"Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people; that is the law of karma. Good deeds get rewarded and bad acts get punished. Help someone out, you'll win the lottery. Steal from a shop, a bird will shit on your head. Sometimes you'll get bad karma for something you don't do, like not helping an old lady who falls down in the road. In a few days, a month, or a year, a hole will appear in your pocket and your wallet will fall through it. That's karma." Page 259
Love it! Gil is so endearing and his thoughts and observations often made me smile. I especially loved the scenes featuring his pet tortoise and the link that connected Gil to Mayken was a nice touch.

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd reminded me of Devotion by Hannah Kent and The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews, so if you enjoyed either of those historical fiction novels, you'll enjoy this one too. The writing for both narratives and time periods in The Night Ship was seamless and moving. In the past I reviewed The Hoarder and Things in Jars by Jess Kidd, but didn't quite reach the lofty heights of a five star review. I think this time she has earned that additional star. Highly recommended!

My Rating:

25 July 2022

Winners of Once Upon A Camino announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway last week to win 1 of 5 signed print copies of Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson. This was an international giveaway so we had heaps of entries and I'd like to welcome all new subscribers.

Entries closed at midnight last night and the author helped me choose the winners. Congratulations to the following winners:

Michele Douglas, Diana, Cousin Phil, Ash & Claire Woods!!

Congratulations to each of our five winners! You've won a signed copy of Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson valued at $32.99AUD thanks to the author. The winners will receive an email from me shortly, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address and their preferred inscription. You will receive your prize direct from the author and hope you enjoy Tom's journey.

For those who missed out, I'll be sharing a combined giveaway and interview with AViVA next and a giveaway for Framed by John M. Green next month. If you'd like more details, all dates are on my Giveaways page so please come back and enter if you see anything you like.

Carpe Librum!
Carpe Librum image promoting giveaway of 5 copies of Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson

21 July 2022

Review: Westography by Warren Kirk

Westography by Warren Kirk book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Originally published in 2016 this is a re-release of Westography by Warren Kirk with the addition of new photographs from this Melbourne based photographer. I missed Westography when it was first released, and picked up his work with Northside followed by Christmas in Suburbia. The chance to go back and see his work focussing on the suburbs of West Melbourne was enticing and ultimately a rewarding experience.

Commencing with a terrific introduction by Helen Garner, we soon step back in time to yesteryear or through the rabbit hole to the 1950s, or is it the 1970s? Kirk takes us inside homes and businesses, as well as including streetscapes, shop frontages and more in this collection. Many of the subjects photographed were proud Western Bulldogs fans, and several homes featured include their owners' unquestionable support for their beloved AFL team.

Kirk seems to have a keen interest in the social history of Melbourne and preserving life as it was in the home and in the workplace 'back in the day'. When that period actually was is not defined, but as the reader we instantly relate, his photographs remind us of the homes we lived in or visited when we were young, the workplaces we glimpsed or the front yards we walked or drove past on our way somewhere.

The photographs are timeless and could have been taken anywhere in Australia and I suspect Warren Kirk's entire body of work will become more and more treasured as time marches on and these places are slowly erased from history.

I'd love to know how Kirk finds so many spaces little changed by the passing years and the relationships he establishes as part of his work. The subjects appear comfortable and at ease in their surroundings which can be difficult when posing for a happy snap let alone someone of Warren Kirk's calibre. How does he meet them, enter their personal space and put them at ease? Seeing the end result is only part of the story for me, and I wanted more. I made the same complaint observation when reviewing Northside, and I still wish Kirk's photographs included a caption, or even the year they were taken. Instead the reader must do all of the work imagining and wondering about the subjects and their lives with nothing to go on but the name of the suburb.

I remember my excitement learning about an apartment in Paris that had been locked up and undisturbed for 70 years, and marvelling at the lucky souls who entered those rooms and took the photos that quickly went around the world. We all wondered at the circumstances surrounding the apartment and how it remained undisturbed and unchanged for so long. Compared to a phenomenon like that, it's equally exciting to discover contemporary houses and rooms that have been actively lived in and enjoyed but look precisely as they did 30, 40 or 50+ years ago. Both instances provide a looking glass into the past and remind us of the passage of time. I also enjoy viewing abandoned photography for this same reason.

While enjoying this nostalgic collection, I realised with a jolt that I recognised two personal items in people's homes; an art deco lamp that looks exactly like my Mum's and a kitchen board by Christopher Vine Design that sits on a kitchen bench I frequent in Sydney. It's proof that the longer you look, the more you'll see.

Westography by Warren Kirk is recommended for those who enjoy photography and readers with an interest in social history. If you'd like a sneak peek, the publisher has shared a flick through of sorts on YouTube and I encourage you to check it out. Highly recommended.

My Rating:

15 July 2022

Giveaway (5 copies) & Review of Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson

* Copy courtesy of the author *
Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson book cover

Nine years ago, I interviewed Melbourne based author Matthew S. Wilson about reading, writing and his debut novel at the time, The Devil's In The Detail. Since then, Matthew has been working hard on his next masterpiece and has re-emerged from years of research with a compelling adventure story set in Spain.

Today marks the release of Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson and to celebrate, Carpe Librum is giving away 5 copies signed by the author. This is an international giveaway and entries close at midnight AEST Sunday 24 July. See below to enter. 


So, what did I make of it? I enjoyed it! Once Upon A Camino is about Tom and his journey on foot as a pilgrim along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Tom is a successful white collar worker in London in love with his girlfriend Ana. He decides to fly to Spain in order to ask for her family's blessing to marry, but Ana's grandfather wants him to prove his love for her. What happens next is an unexpected series of events as Tom agrees to walk the Camino so he can propose to Ana.

Along the gruelling journey, Tom meets fellow pilgrims and they share their stories and motivations for making the same trek. The setting reminded me a little of a modern day take on The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (there's even a Knight!) and I really enjoyed it.

Inspired by his own trek along the Camino in 2010, Once Upon A Camino is thoroughly researched and gave me an insight into Spanish history I hadn't encountered before. Unfolding from multiple character points of view and comprising an element of historical fiction, Once Upon A Camino is a story about love, courage, friendship, regret, fate and destiny and was beautifully told.

My Rating:


Tom, a 28-year-old investment banker, lives a successful life in London with his girlfriend, Ana. Intending to propose, he flies to Spain, seeking her family’s blessing. But his plan runs aground when Ana’s grandfather, Tito, insists the union cannot proceed until Tom walks the Camino de Santiago, an 800-kilometre pilgrimage across Spain.

‘A man would walk across a country without hesitation for the love of his life, no?’

Upon commencing the Camino, Tom’s plans further unravel – his backpack mysteriously disappears, and his phone loses its signal. And when all the other hikers seemingly vanish, Tom makes a discovery that changes everything. Suddenly pursued by the authorities, Tom’s only path home to Ana is alongside a motley band of pilgrims bound for Santiago – among them a reclusive fisherman named Fernando, who carries his own dark secret.

Once Upon a Camino is a novel about time. It focuses on past regrets and untrodden paths. It’s a story of friendship and connection, of following your heart, despite your better judgement. It’s written for those who’ve walked the path to Santiago and others who simply enjoy life’s unpredictable journey and the strangers we meet along the way.
Carpe Librum image promoting giveaway of 5 signed copies of Once Upon A Camino by Matthew S. Wilson


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

13 July 2022

Review: Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies book cover

I don't know what I just read. Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies is presented in a series of vignettes and is about a girl called Pearl. Each right hand page (in my copy) is a vignette from Pearl's young life, headlined by a brief chapter heading or title on the opposite page. This makes for a quick read, but the vignettes are heavy and force you to consider what's really going on.

Pearl is a troubled girl and I found myself wondering if she's a sociopath, psychopath or suffering from antisocial personality disorder. Perhaps she's just evil? The author's lyrical writing style put me immediately in mind of Sundial by Catriona Ward, in her ability to create an incredibly creepy young girl. When reviewing Sundial earlier this year, I wrote that it was a 'slow burn, disturbing and unsettling read with a hostile undercurrent' which readily applies here.

The prose in Reasons She Goes to the Woods is spellbinding, and Pearl's visits to the woods are full of evocative nature writing which did well to offset some of the tougher scenes. Meanwhile, there is a constant underlying feeling of menace and mounting dread about what Pearl will do next.

Some of Pearl's childhood antics are relatable, and I especially enjoyed the eating competition:
"I will choose two items of food for each of you, she explains, you have to eat them without throwing up. They all think this is a great idea, and start boasting to each other about how they are never, ever sick." Page 133
Pearl chooses a 'blob of corned beef and a teaspoon of cough medicine for Fee', while the kids load up the spoon for Pearl:
"Soon the big spoon is towering with, among other things, a soft sprout, peanut butter, a slick of Vick's rub, a prune and a crumbled stock cube." Page 133
I could totally relate to this game, although in my day it was a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of Vegemite or a full glass of water. What fun!

Published in 2014 and going on to win various awards, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies is literary horror and while the writing is spectacular, I can't say I enjoyed reading it. The lack of dialogue punctuation and page-long paragraphs certainly irritated and Pearl is a sensual and disturbing character. Those who remember watching The Good Son (starring Macaulay Culkin) will be shocked to find Pearl is even worse.

I borrowed Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies from the library and I'll be glad to send it down the return chute and on to the next reader intrigued by the sinister yet alluring blurb.

My Rating:

09 July 2022

Review: The Biscuit Book - The History of a Very British Indulgence by Lizzie Collingham

The Biscuit Book - The History of a Very British Indulgence by Lizzie Collingham book cover

I love biscuits and every time I opened this book I wanted to eat one. The Biscuit Book - The History of a Very British Indulgence by Lizzie Collingham is naturally full of biscuits, sponge fingers, biscotti, shortbread, macaroons, crackers, digestives, pretzels, rusks, scones, wafers, waffles and much much more.

This is a serious history book that focuses on the origin of particular biscuits, the production and manufacturing of biscuits, the distribution of biscuits, the effect of class and the conditions of workers employed in biscuit factories.

There's quite a lot on the history of sugar, and while you might assume this to be dry, Collingham provides many interesting sweet morsels like this one:
"During the seventeenth century, treacle replaced honey in gingerbread. Treacle is the English name for the molasses or sweet uncrystallised syrup that drains out during the production of sugar as it slowly crystallises into a solid mass. From the 1650s, raw brown muscovado sugar from Britain's new sugar colony in Barbados flooded the London sugar market, and by 1692 there were 38 sugar refineries in the capital, processing the brown sugar cones into white refined sugar. A by-product was plenty of cheap molasses." Page 58-59
To find out what they did with all of that molasses, you'll have to read the book.

Did you know that biscuits with aniseed and caraway seeds were thought to aid digestion and give the consumer fresh breath? Thankfully aniseed and caraway seeds fell out of favour with the French influence of citrus zest for flavourings and the author covers many more cases like this where various countries and cultures have influenced or adopted certain biscuit recipes. Collingham takes us beyond country or culture of origin to explain the how and why those particular items rose to favour in the first place.

This includes describing the origin of biscuit names as they arise in the text, and explaining the continental confusion between biscuits, crackers and cookies:
"What confuses us today is terminology: what the English would now call biscuits, the Americans call crackers or cookies; what the English think of as scones, southern Americans call biscuits. This confusion can be unravelled by tracing the introduction of Dutch bakery traditions into the Americas." Page 86
Further on, the author goes on to explain that:
"the American use of the terms cracker and cookie are the result of a far more straightforward Americanisation of Dutch words." Page 91
Collingham also provides a detailed and thorough history on the evolution of ship's biscuits and hardtack and outlines just how crucial they were to explorers, travellers, traders and of course the war effort. The twentieth century production of biscuits during the two world wars and the produce shortages that preceded and followed them are also covered in great detail, but I'll admit finding these sections somewhat hard going.

Bakers, cooks and home chefs will appreciate the many recipes included throughout, and I was astounded (okay, that's probably the wrong word, perhaps horrified?) to read that many of the original biscuit recipes required hours of whisking.
"But it was the invention of the metal whisk to replace the bundle of twigs used to beat confections in the still room that marked a big step forward in biscuit making. Seventeenth-century instructions specified that at each stage of the process the biscuit dough had to be beaten for at least two hours. In the 1760s, [Elizabeth] Raffald suggested that a mere half an hour with the far more efficient metal whisk was sufficient for each stage, thus reducing the beating time from 6 to 1 1/2 hours." Page 102
Imagine being the person whisking away for hours and if you're a servant, not even being able to taste the fruits of your labour. A detailed history of production, design and distribution of the biscuit tin was fascinating and reading about the many uses for them around the world was an eye opener.

I will say The Biscuit Book - The History of a Very British Indulgence is heavily focussed on war and the effect on biscuits and vice versa, and when I learned the author had published The Taste of War: World War II and The Battle for Food and The Hungry Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World, it became clear that this is the author's area of specialist interest and expertise.

Those looking for a brief history on some of their favourite biccies (Australian slang) like Jaffa Cakes, Kit Kats, Jammie Dodgers, Wagon Wheels, Ryvita and Marie biscuits will find it here, however be prepared to learn way more than anticipated along the way. 

The Biscuit Book is recommended for history buffs and biscuit lovers while other readers may find this a little dry and stale.

My Rating:

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: