21 September 2020

Guest Review: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

My TBR keeps growing and I'm sure you can all relate. This week fellow booklover Neil Béchervaise reviewed Fair Warning by Michael Connelly for Carpe Librum. Fair Warning is set in the Harry Bosch universe and is the third book in the Jack McEvoy series. What did you think Neil?


After 23 Harry Bosch novels leading to his continued activity beyond retirement and another half dozen exploring the vagaries of journalism, it didn’t seem likely that Michael Connelly could possibly have much more to say about the machinations of the Los Angeles crime scene. I’m sure I already know every highway, traffic jam and notable building, every movie studio and coffee shop from Hollywood to Long Beach. But wait!

When journo Jack McEvoy, now working for the [real] independent news company ‘Fair Warning’, links the brutal murder of a recent female companion with the increasing popularity of DNA testing, the conflict between news and crime investigation come into sharp focus. The social role of DNA testing to identify ancestors or even existing family links is examined and issues of anonymity are highlighted; the moral/ethical dilemma of withholding evidence versus informing the public of a clear and present danger is McEvoy’s dilemma. As he reflects, “I didn’t like going to my editor, my boss, and saying I didn’t know what to do next. An editor wants confidence. He wants to hear a plan that will lead to a story”.

As more murdered women are discovered, Jack links DNA tracing requests with a single testing company selling information but he is powerless to investigate. American FDA regulations do not yet cover the use of genetic information but McEvoy is on the trail of a ‘big’ story, perhaps a serial killer. It could be the making of ‘Fair Warning’. It will restore his confidence in his profession because, “Most of the time, journalism is simply an exercise in reporting on situations and occurrences of public interest. It is rare that it leads to the toppling of a corrupt politician, a change in the law … When that does happen, the satisfaction is beyond measure."

All the markers of the successful Connelly novel are here, the plot twists, the unrequited love for former FBI agent Rachel Walling, the eternal coffee shops and traffic jams, the ethical dilemmas and, most importantly, perhaps, the argument for independent and unimpeded reportage in the public interest.

Yeah, yeah. It is all very familiar, comfortable even, but … it has become increasingly relevant in this time of media funding cuts, Wikileaks trials, and the persecution, even assassination, of journalists seeking to present the realities of those worlds that most of us can never see.

Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise September, 2020.

Neil's Rating:

Available on Booktopia
18 September 2020

Review: One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One by Ruth Ware book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

One by One by Ruth Ware is one of my most anticipated titles of 2020, after The Turn of the Key was a five star read last year and instantly made it onto my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. I was surprised to see her back with a new release so quickly, however I've since learned Ruth Ware is a prolific writer and has released one book a year since 2015. (Clearly I have some catching up to do and I'll probably start with The Death of Mrs Westaway published in 2018).

Set in a French ski resort in the Alps, work colleagues from a British tech company arrive at a chalet for a corporate getaway. As well as skiing, they need to make an important decision regarding the future of their popular music streaming app Snoop.

The reader is immediately introduced to quite a large cast of 10 Snoop characters and two chalet staff, however Ware cleverly reinforces who's who multiple times, so eventually the characters 'stick'.

It's not long before an avalanche interrupts their plans and what transpires from there is a locked-room mystery of sorts. I haven't read any Agatha Christie (shame on me?) however I do know that Ruth Ware's writing has been favourably compared to Christie's several times.

While I can't comment on that, I did notice a subtle reference to Christie's And Then There Were None by one of the characters in One by One, and note the nod to Christie's novel in the very title of this book.

Enjoying One by One on its own merit and relishing the tension as guests were slowly picked off, I contemplated drawing a diagram on a whiteboard to establish the whereabouts of each person in order to confirm their alibi. Deciding to stay in bed and keep reading instead - thereby forfeiting this ability to methodically refine my list of suspects - I surrendered to the ride.

I'm pleased to report there were some great action scenes at the end and the big 'reveal' was well done.

One by One was completely different to the creepy and gothic feel of The Turn of the Key and I love that Ruth Ware is able to construct such different plots and circumstances with very different characters.

One by One by Ruth Ware is a stand-alone mystery crime thriller that feels very modern, and I think it's going to be popular with fans.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


Available on Booktopia
15 September 2020

Review: To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I don't usually like books set in space. As a consequence, I rarely read books set in space. In fact, I can think of only three books set in space that I've thoroughly enjoyed.* So where do I get off picking up an epic science fiction novel set in space that comes in at an impressive 880 pages? What can I say? Christopher Paolini made me do it!

This year I finished the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and when I learned To Sleep In A Sea of Stars was Paolini's first novel for adults, I requested an advance copy from the publisher immediately; such is my faith in his writing. I considered that if anyone could lure me into an interstellar battle to save humanity and hold my attention, it was Paolini. Thankfully I was right and I loved this chunkster!

Published today, To Sleep In A Sea of Stars kicks off very quickly with Xenobiologist Kira Navarez conducting a routine survey mission on a planet ahead of a planned colonisation. Kira finds an ancient alien relic and the action doesn't stop from that point on. There is always something happening with the only respite being when the crew are in cryo or recovering from their last skirmish.

I really enjoyed the pace and the character growth, and here's an example from Page 486:
Falconi: "So stop blaming yourself."
Kira: "I can't seem to help it."
Falconi: "Bullshit. The truth is you don't want to. It makes you feel good to blame yourself. You know why?"
Kira shook her head, mute.
Falconi: "Because it gives you a sense of control. The hardest lesson in life is learning to accept that there are some things we can't change."
The history and world building in the novel were very convincing and I enjoyed the introduction of different species and their back stories. My favourite character of the entire book was Itari and I adored the conversations between Kira and Itari. Thinking of them now brings a smile to my face.

Throughout the entire novel I was fully immersed in the world of battleships, cryo tubes, laser blasters, skinsuits, orbital rings, docking hubs and ship minds and I never felt like an impostor.

Travelling FTL (faster than light) didn't phase me, alien technology didn't confuse me and not once did I want to be 'spaced' out of the book. (That's when you're jettisoned out of an air lock to your inevitable death).

Since finishing the book, I've noticed that an enterprising Spotify user has created a playlist to listen to while reading the book. I've been enjoying it this week and it's fantastic. Just search for the book's title on Spotify to find the playlist.

Another thing I enjoyed about To Sleep In A Sea of Stars was the Afterword and Acknowledgements section where Paolini shares with the reader the way in which this novel came to life. The project ups and downs, multiple re-writes and detailed research over the course of many years, gave me an even greater appreciation for the depth and scope of the book, and respect for the author for not rushing it.

To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini is a whopping epic science fiction novel bursting with adventure and I loved it! It even gave me pause to re-consider my reading tastes when it comes to science fiction and space operas and you can't ask for more than that.

Highly recommended!

Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:


* Those books are: The Martian by Andy Weir, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Available from Booktopia
12 September 2020

Review: Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams by Charlie Morley

Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams by Charlie Morley audio cover
I've been lucid dreaming for years. If you don't know what it means, basically lucid dreaming is when you become aware that you're dreaming. Sometimes during a lucid dream, the dreamer has the ability to manipulate their dream to achieve a desired outcome. Have you ever woken from a bad dream and wanted to 'go back in' and fix it? Perhaps change the outcome for a happy ending? Or have you woken from a very pleasant dream and tried to get back to sleep to continue the story or dream experience? That's lucid dreaming.

And you might be interested to know that Albert Einstein, Charles Dickens, Thomas Edison, Stephen King, Nikola Tesla and Salvador Dali are - or were - lucid dreamers.

Charlie Morley is somewhat of an expert on lucid dreaming with a number of books on the topic. I first learned of his abilities and teachings when listening to Sleeping with Baddiel by Geoff Jein, which I gave one star in my review.

In Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams, Charlie introduces the reader to several techniques to start lucid dreaming and the book kicks off from there. I thought I was an experienced and capable lucid dreamer, but it turns out I'm still a beginner. Apparently there's sooooo much more to lucid dreaming and I've only been scratching the surface.

Charlie researches the history of lucid dreaming around the world and across different cultures. He highlights the different ways in which it can be used to heal trauma, and advance spiritual awareness. And interestingly, he has practiced with and interviewed experts in the field from Eastern and Western philosophies.

Lucid Dreaming Made Easy is essentially a science self-help book and it can be heavy going at times. It's chock full of references to other dream scientists and religions practicing lucid dreaming, and will give the enthusiastic reader plenty of jumping off points to explore the topic further.

Some of the exercises and tips began to make me feel as though I was in the movie Inception and I don't think I'll ever aspire to the lofty heights of lucid dreaming that I now know exist.

However after listening to this audiobook, I am attempting to exercise greater control over my lucid dreams. Instead of continuing or changing an existing dream, I'm trying to choose a new topic altogether and form a dream directly from my imagination. I haven't been successful yet, but I'll keep on trying; until I fall asleep that is.

As Charlie says: "follow your dreams and dream on dreamers."

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


08 September 2020

Review: Spirited by Julie Cohen

Spirited by Julie Cohen book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Post-mortem photography has always fascinated me. Popular in the Victorian era, grieving family members sometimes had photos taken of their loved ones after death to preserve their memory. You might have seen photos like this of the dearly departed resting in their coffins. However, families also posed the deceased in seated and sometimes even standing positions (with the aid of broomsticks and ropes) in order to have individual and family portraits taken. These photographs became treasured keepsakes and formed part of the fascinating mourning process during the Victorian period 1837-1901.*

After the recent disappointment of a TV program set in 1880s Dublin called Dead Still which centres on a mortuary photographer - it was the comedy angle that killed any hopes of this becoming a new favourite - I was all the more primed to read Spirited by Julie Cohen which promised to deliver on this intriguing subject matter.**

Spirited is an historical fiction novel featuring two women set in 1850s Victorian England during the time of spiritualism. Viola is an amateur photographer in a complicated marriage and grieving the loss of her father, and Henriette is a spirit medium with a mysterious past.

I was engrossed by Henriette's story and could easily have dwelled in a book solely focussed on her character. However the reader is also privileged to learn about Viola's husband Jonah and the reasons he remains haunted by his experiences in the Siege of Delhi in 1857.

Each of these characters is struggling with some form of grief when we meet them, and their separate search for meaning seems to unite them. Photography was a great way to illuminate the relationship between Viola and Henriette while unintentionally highlighting the line between science and religion.

Spirited by Julie Cohen is an atmospheric novel with some beautifully tender moments. It touches on the spiritualism movement of the time, contains multiple love stories and explores the different ways in which people process trauma and grief, perceive cultural differences and struggle for female agency.

Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:



* For more on mourning etiquette in this period, you might want to check out my review of Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold.
** Feel free to recommend any books on post-mortem photography you think I might like in the comments section below.

Available on Booktopia 
05 September 2020

Guest Review: How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Fellow neighbour, bibliophile and retired academic Neil Béchervaise is back for another guest post. We've been in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne for 5 weeks now and reading up a storm. Here's Neil's review of short story collection How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa. Over to you Neil!


Let me confess from the outset that ‘the short story’ is not my favourite ouvre. However, I was seduced by the title of this book and launched into it before I realised that it was, indeed, a collection.

Who has not pondered the vagaries of ‘The English language’? When ‘ph’ becomes ‘f’ in physical but ‘ps’ becomes a mere ‘s’ if we get psychological; when ‘is’ is pronounced ‘eye’ in island! Well, I had to discover how to pronounce ‘knife’, at least.

This fascinating, frequently gruelling and sometimes just downright heart-rending selection of episodes comes to its readers through the eyes of a Laotian refugee. From her early childhood towards old age; from seeing her father disappear under the surface of the river they are crossing in pursuit of ‘freedom’ to experimenting with the difference between love and sex at age 70, the stories are always engaging. Many of them are also deeply challenging to what most of us, probably, would see as ‘the norm’.

The unconscious racism of the children at school when the author struggles to find out how to pronounce ‘knife’ is both topical and humbling. Her humiliation when no-one at home could speak English despite her father doing his best to help - but only making matters worse - and her not yet confident enough to ask any classmates brought tears to my eyes. Some years later, doubting her own personal beauty, as so many teenagers girls do, she seriously contemplates having ‘a nose job’. Fortunately, her workmates, and her lack of money, dissuade her from proceeding as they see more and more failed surgeries creating terrible results.

The stories in this collection are sometimes uplifting, sometimes heart-breaking. The resilience of the refugees, essentially unsupported and battling to come to terms with cultural, language and even dietary differences in their new homeland make for compelling reading. 

I can only hope that Thammavongsa has many more stories to tell because I, for one, will be waiting for them. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise August, 2020.

Neil's Rating:

02 September 2020

Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

After deciding she doesn't want to live anymore, Nora Seed finds herself in the midnight library of the title. Here, she meets a librarian who explains that the library is the place between life and death. The vast bookshelves extend as far as the eye can see and each book represents a different life she's led.

Nora has many regrets in her present (or root) life and she now has the freedom to choose from the infinite number of books before her. By exploring the different books/lives, Nora has the opportunity to discover what her life would be like (at this present age) had she made different choices.

Throughout this process, Nora arrives at certain realisations about life, relationships, choices, regrets, happiness, love, success, ambition and more. I particularly enjoyed Nora's love (and sometimes study) of philosophy that pops up throughout the book in some form or another.

Matt Haig does a wonderful job explaining parallel lives in an easy to understand manner and I believe this book would be a great choice for book clubs who enjoy engaging in existential discussions.

These ideas have already been explored in books and movies before, however I believe Haig takes it a few steps further and is uniquely qualified to do so. In his memoir Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig openly shared his struggles with severe depression and panic disorders. I believe The Midnight Library is a manifestation of his personal journey and an attempt to help others as well as provide much for readers to contemplate.

Reading The Midnight Library also reminded me a little of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho in that both characters are searching for a meaningful and fulfilling life with the assistance of a guide/librarian and the reader benefits from their exploration and subsequent realisations.

Just as in How To Stop Time, The Midnight Library is a combination of genres and could easily be defined as fantasy or science fiction while remaining rooted in the contemporary world we all know.

I thoroughly enjoyed this heartwarming book.

Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:

30 August 2020

Guess How Much I Love You winner announced

Thanks to those who entered my children's book giveaway last week to win a limited edition of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram.

Entries closed at midnight on Friday and Little Nutbrown Hare helped me select the winner. Congratulations to:

Sharah McConville

Congratulations Sharah! You've won the giveaway valued at $16.99AUD thanks to Walker Books Australia. You'll receive an email from me shortly informing you of your win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.

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

Carpe Librum!
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram book cover
27 August 2020

Review: The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins Australia *

DS Cormac Reilly is back after his last outing in The Scholar. Still in Ireland, it's now 2015 and he and Peter Fisher are part of a skeleton crew left to man the station when a kidnapping report comes in. Fisher makes a subsequent number of unenviable decisions and the repercussions see him sent from Galway to a station run by his overbearing father. (This isn't a spoiler, it's in the blurb).

The Good Turn introduces the reader to Fisher's back story and I enjoyed learning a little more about his upbringing and family background in Roundstone. Fisher makes the most of his situation by turning his investigative skills to a local double murder while simultaneously trying not to clash with his father.

Back in Galway, Reilly is left battling internal politics and suspected corruption while trying to pursue the child abduction case and salvage his relationship with Emma.

Fisher is the real star of The Good Turn and the shift in focus was a welcome surprise. I enjoyed the multiple story threads and appreciated the way in which they came together in the end.

There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged and guessing and I really enjoyed this latest addition to the Cormac Reilly series. I do hope there'll be another from this talented Aussie author.

Highly recommended and you can read a FREE sample here.

Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:

25 August 2020

Review: Look Evelyn, Duck Dynasty Wiper Blades. We Should Get Them by David Thorne

Look Evelyn, Duck Dynasty Wiper Blades. We Should Get Them by David Thorne book cover
I've been enjoying David Thorne's sense of humour and reading his books for years now. See my reviews of his previous books below:

The Internet Is A Playground - 5 stars
I'll Go Home Then, It's Warm and Has Chairs - 5 stars
Wrap It In a Bit of Cheese Like You're Tricking the Dog - 3 stars

And I have two more on my shelves waiting to be read:
- That's Not How You Wash a Squirrel
- Walk It Off, Princess


I love his quirky sense of humour, his office antics and run-ins with family members, neighbours and anyone else unlucky enough to come across his path.

Look Evelyn, Duck Dynasty Wiper Blades. We Should Get Them is another collection of stories and anecdotes, many of which relate to his childhood. It was published back in 2014 (I know, I'm a little behind, but they're expensive to purchase from the USA so I save them for birthdays and Xmas) and GoodReads has plenty of existing reviews from readers shocked at how dramatic Thorne's childhood upbringing was.

Now, I don't for a minute believe any of his stories are actually true. I think he's like most comedians, comedy is his job and these email chains, graphic design stories and office antics have been created for the reader's - and presumably the author's - enjoyment.

However, what I didn't appreciate was the sheer number of references to overweight women in this collection. After finishing this book, I went back to check I wasn't over-reacting and made the following notations:

Fat, page 17
Normal weight, page 20
Heifer, page 26
Heifer and reference to Weight Watchers, page 37
An entire story around a large girl and her weight, fat references pages 48-50
Large woman, page 76
Chubby girl, page 101
Huge heifer, page 104
Chubby girl, page 118 and 119
Large woman, page 136
Fat wives, page 165
Fat multiple times, page 174
Fat wife, page 179

Without the ability to ask the author, I'm not sure if Thorne is using creative licence in an attempt to further his unlikable persona in the pursuit of entertaining the reader. If so, then it falls flat. If not, then it's just irritating and bordering on offensive.

With Thorne's humorous and clever story-telling abilities, I assumed he was above petty fat shaming like this and it just didn't sit well with me. Some of the content was very funny and quite enjoyable but these reappearing references dampened my enjoyment.

This was a disappointing read and I hope his next collection is a return to his earlier form.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

23 August 2020

Review: Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett

Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Dr Xanthe Mallett is back after Cold Case Investigations with a look at solved criminal cases where there is reasonable doubt attached. Dr Mallett looks at miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions where police bias, false confessions, dodgy eyewitness statements and ineffectual science has lead to the wrong person being convicted for a crime.

Given Dr Mallett's position as an Australian Forensic Anthropologist and Criminologist, I assumed we'd start by looking at Lindy Chamberlain's case given the 40 year anniversary of baby Azaria's death. While Dr Mallett does touch on the Chamberlain case in her Introduction, I couldn't help but be disappointed Sue Neill-Fraser's case doesn't rate a mention in her book.* 

Having said that, Dr Mallett clarifies early on that there is an unfortunate abundance of wrongful convictions she could have included:
"For every case I have included there are 100 others I could have chosen, which would have highlighted the same failings and errors that led to an innocent person going to prison." Page 17
In Reasonable Doubt, Dr Mallett provides a detailed look at 6 cases of wrongful convictions and manages to make reference to a range of other cases and examples throughout the course of the book; many outside of Australia.

As in Cold Case Investigations, Dr Mallett includes Expert Inserts to expound on certain elements of the law, investigative process or science to better inform the reader. Of these, I found the section on forensic linguistics to be the most interesting. However, it should be noted that regular consumers of true crime - books, podcasts or documentaries - will already be quite familiar with the content found in these segments.

Reasonable Doubt was an interesting read however the author lost me at the end when she drew a connection between being isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic and trapped at home for our own safety having very little contact with the outside world to being in prison. Umm, no. They're not even vaguely in the same category.

The one thing I do agree on though is a mutual respect and admiration for the work done by those volunteering for innocence initiatives like The Bridge of Hope Foundation based in Melbourne. They do incredible work and the dedication required to work on a case for years without a breakthrough is mind blowing.

My major 'takeaway' from this book was Dr Mallett's overview of the Lawyer X case. I'd seen it all over the news but due to a general lack of interest, had never taken the time to find out exactly what the fuss was all about. Now that I have a general understanding of Nicola Gobbo's transgressions, I'm now equally disgusted with the parties involved.

Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett is recommended for true crime newbies and those interested in the wrongfully convicted, and precisely how miscarriages of justice can take place within our criminal justice system.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


* For more on Sue Neill-Fraser's story, you can check out my review of Death on the Derwent by Robin Bowles.
21 August 2020

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of children's book Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney book cover
It's Friday freebie time and today we're celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram. This delightful bedtime story is for children aged 3 years and above, and I have a limited edition print copy to give away thanks to Walker Books Australia. Click here to enter, or enter below.

Blurb

"I love you right up to the moon – AND BACK!"
Sometimes, when you love someone very, very much, you want to find a way of describing just how much you treasure them. But, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare discover, love is not always an easy thing to measure!


Since its publication in 1994, children and parents worldwide have cherished the heartwarming tale of Little Nutbrown and Big Nutbrown Hare so much that it has become one of the most enduring bedtime classics of our time.

Giveaway

This Carpe Librum giveaway has now closed and the winner was announced here



17 August 2020

Review: Written In Blood by Chris Carter

Written In Blood by Chris Carter book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Written In Blood by Chris Carter is the next in the Robert Hunter series, and just like the others, it can be enjoyed as a stand alone.

In this outing, Angela Wood is a skilled pickpocket and gets more than she bargains for when she steals a bag containing the diary and journal of a killer. He wants it back at all costs and it's up to Robert Hunter and Garcia to catch him before he hurts anyone else.

Despite the length coming in at just under 500 pages, Carter's trademark fast pace and intelligent plotting make this a quick read.

It came as a complete shock however when I read the moving dedication at the beginning of the book. I didn't know about the death of his partner Kara last year and was moved by the fact he chose to share his dedication to Kara and include all those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. I later learned that Carter barely managed to overcome his crippling grief and depression to finish this book and my heart goes out to him.

I'm happy to say that as a reader and reviewer, I saw no signs that this book was affected by the author's grief and loss. To his credit, Written In Blood is just as gripping as the previous two in the series (Hunting Evil and The Gallery of the Dead) and was actually a five star read for me.

Highly recommended for fans of crime fiction.

Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:

13 August 2020

Review: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *


Written by Australian Kathleen Jennings, Flyaway is a novella full of stories within stories, delivered in a shroud of myth, legend, folklore and superstition that kept me guessing.

Our protagonist Bettina has a mysterious past and she's determined to find out what happened to her brothers - and herself - several years ago.

Set in outback Australia, the beautiful writing, evocative descriptions and imagery brought the once familiar landscape to life in a new and eerie light. The rural area was both peaceful and menacing, the town a haven for a close knit community as well as a place seething under the surface with fear and mistrust.

A combination of urban fantasy and magical realism, Flyaway is full of mysterious disappearances, creatures that lurk in the shadows and a slight otherness that you can never quite put your finger on.

The structure, lyrical prose and fairytale elements reminded me a great deal of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. And just like that book, I enjoyed the writing, the world building and stories within stories, but I was never confident of maintaining a full and clear picture of what was actually happening at any given time.

Presented with an exquisite cover design and french flaps, Flyaway is a gothic Australian fairytale that might just penetrate the pages into your subconscious.

After letting this book settle in my mind, I realised I feel the same way about this as I do The Starless Sea. I loved it but there were definitely elements of reader confusion and matters unresolved. For instance, I wanted to learn more about Bettina's mother and her own transformation during the intervening years.

Nevertheless, Flyaway is a smashing literary debut by Kathleen Jennings and I'm sure awards will follow.

Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:

11 August 2020

Winner of The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay announced

The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay book cover
This might be the most popular giveaway on Carpe Librum ever! It would seem more readers than ever were keen to enter this bookish giveaway for the chance to win a copy of The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay and escape the pandemic for a while. I'm in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, so I hear you.

The answer to the giveaway question was Freya & Pearl, however some of you fell for my misdirection and chose Ginny & Hermoine. While they're both excellent characters from the Harry Potter series, I had to discount those 13 entries.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Sunday and the winner was drawn today. Drum roll!

CONGRATULATIONS: EBONY ZUIDLAND


You've won a print copy of The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay valued at $32.99AUD. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details and Penguin Random House Australia will send out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaways coming soon.

Carpe Librum!

09 August 2020

Review: Find Your Light by Belinda Davidson

Find Your Light by Belinda Davidson book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *


Australian Belinda Davidson is a psychic, an empath, and a medium and has been working as a professional intuitive and spiritual coach and mentor for more than 20 years. In Find Your Light, Belinda takes us through the discovery of her psychic gift and the traumatic years through which she tried to find her way.

She eventually began working with people and delving into their past lives as a way to heal the problems they were experiencing in this one (health, relationships, money etc) but soon her work began to focus on chakra healing.

When I first learned about Belinda Davidson's work as a professional medical intuitive working with doctors and medical practitioners, my first thought was that I desperately wanted to make an appointment with her. I've been struggling with a chronic pain condition for years now and wanted to know if she could help me. It was a bitter blow to learn Belinda no longer does individual readings and sessions and instead her career has evolved to encompass teaching others to do the same type of work.

In the second half of her book, Belinda guides the reader through the basics of chakra healing and wellbeing and describes how she has used her ability as a medical intuitive to help people heal their bodies with chakra healing.

Until now, I've only had a very basic awareness of chakras, but for some reason I've never been interested enough to find out more about them. Find Your Light is the perfect book for newbies (like me) and I read Belinda's patient stories with a keen interest. However, given her ability as a ghost whisperer to communicate with people who are stuck or trapped on the earth plane (Page 276) I found myself wanting to learn more about this. And in particular, why Belinda decided not to work in this area. This felt like a missing piece of the story and the only reason this book didn't earn a full 5 stars from me.

Since finishing the book a week and a half ago, I've been doing a chakra cleansing meditation every night. I now know the seven chakras and their associated colours and plan to continue the meditation process. I haven't noticed any changes in my body yet, but if I stop now, I'll never know for sure.

Find Your Light is a memoir, spiritual journey and self-help book combined and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Skeptics can skip this one, but those with an interest in exploring the energy centres of the body and one woman's psychic ability to heal others will find this an absorbing read.

Carpe Librum!


My Rating:

P.S. For more book reviews about psychics and mediums*, see below: 
- Walking in Light by Kelvin Cruickshank
- We Are Their Heaven by Allison DuBois
- Secrets of the Monarch by Allison DuBois
- Never Alone by Debbie Malone
- Always With You by Debbie Malone
- Clues From Beyond by Debbie Malone
- Sensing Murder by Nicola McLoy
- Life Among the Dead by Lisa Williams
- The Survival of the Soul by Lisa Williams
- When Ghosts Speak by Mary Ann Winkowski
* I've also read books by authors Sylvia Browne, John Edward and James Van Praagh, however that was before I started writing reviews.

06 August 2020

Review: You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster

You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster is a great Australian mystery thriller. Alice and Noah each have a troubled past but when they meet in Thailand, they seem to have an instant connection and a whirlwind romance ensues. Alice is escaping her dark past back home in Australia by teaching English in Bangkok. Noah is on a short holiday enjoying a brief respite from the family restaurant and the upcoming inquest into the disappearance of his older brother's girlfriend Lizzie years earlier.

With two mysteries to be solved, I was keen to learn Noah's and Alice's backstories in equal measure. Thankfully only a little time is spent on the budding romance between the two characters before events in their lives drag them back to the harsh reality and the pressures they've been avoiding.

As the inquest begins, the reader is left to speculate on what happened to Lizzie. Long held secrets are slowly revealed by all characters and the tension steadily builds towards a dramatic ending with an unexpected conclusion.

I enjoyed the dual settings in Thailand and the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney in addition to the relatability of the characters. Lizzie's fate came as a complete surprise and I certainly didn't see it coming. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. Feel free to check out my review of All That Is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster.

04 August 2020

Giveaway for The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay

The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay book cover
Published 4 August 2020 
Penguin Random House
Australia RRP $32.99AUD
To celebrate today's publication of The Sister's Gift by Barbara Hannay, I'm running a giveaway thanks to Penguin Random House Australia. Enter below (or click here) for your chance to WIN a print copy of this family drama valued at $32.99AUD. Entries close midnight Sunday 9 August, good luck!

Blurb

Two sisters, one baby and the best of intentions...

As a vibrant young woman with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of her, Freya grants her sister, Pearl, the ultimate gift of motherhood. But this comes at a hefty price – an unexpected rift in her family and the loss of the man she loves.

Decades later, Freya is divorced, childless and homeless, at rock bottom after losing everything she's worked for. When her estranged niece, Billie, offers sanctuary, managing the family restaurant on beautiful Magnetic Island, Freya can hardly refuse.

Billie has never understood the tension between her mother and her aunt and now, with a newly broken heart, she is nursing a family secret of her own. All three women come together under the tropical Queensland skies, but can they let go of past regrets, or will old tensions tear them further apart?

By an award-winning, bestselling author, this is a moving and inspiring novel set in a stunning location about choices and consequences and the redemptive power of love.

Giveaway


This giveaway has now closed and the winner has been announced.

Carpe Librum!
 
31 July 2020

Review: Katheryn Howard - The Tainted Queen (Six Tudor Queens V) by Alison Weir

Katheryn Howard - The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Katheryn Howard - The Tainted Queen is the fifth novel in the Six Tudor Queens series by British historian Alison Weir. I've been following the series for years now and each book can be read and enjoyed as a stand alone.

We join Katheryn Howard at age seven in 1528 and follow her short life in a first person narrative all the way until her death in 1542. She falls in love with several men in her youth, and I desperately wanted Katheryn to be more discreet and discerning while at the same time recognising the folly of youth and the overwhelming urges of desire.

Katheryn's life unalterably changes when she's selected by family and powerful men driven by political aspirations to court King Henry VIII. As we know, Katheryn goes on to become the King's fifth wife (hence the fifth book in the series) and I cringed when her past kept coming back to haunt her. Despite knowing the outcome, I was still moved by her decline in Henry's favour and her ultimate execution.

I eagerly awaited the scene that takes place at Hampton Court Palace when Katheryn breaks free from her guards and runs down a corridor towards the Chapel Royal screaming for mercy from the King. The scene in the book exceeded my every expectation and I felt a chill reading it. It is said the ghost of Katheryn Howard can be felt in this corridor and some visitors report feeling a chill or hearing screams. The corridor is now known as the 'haunted gallery' and it was a highlight of my visit to Hampton Court Palace in 2018.

This, together with my imagining Katheryn as portrayed by Tamzin Merchant in The Tudors series only added to my reading enjoyment.

Given Katheryn was just 21 when she died, I wasn't expecting such a well rounded and 'full' novel, but I really shouldn't have been surprised. In Alison Weir's expert hands, I was transported back to the 1500s and given another chance to participate as an observer in the dramatic Tudor court.

I thoroughly enjoyed Katheryn Howard - The Tainted Queen and recommend it to readers with an interest in the Tudor period; even if you've read about the characters elsewhere. There's only one more to come in this series Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife and there's no doubt it's going to be one of my most anticipated releases in 2020.

Carpe Librum!

See my reviews of previous novels in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir:
Anne Boleyn - A King's Obsession (Book II)
Jane Seymour - The Haunted Queen (Book III)
Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets (Book IV)
 
My Rating:


24 July 2020

Review: Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Amy Whey and her best friend Charlotte are hosting book club at Amy's house when newcomer Roux arrives unannounced and bringing trouble in her wake. Magnetic and charming, Roux makes an instant impression and many of the women present fall under her 'spell.' Amy is happily married with everything to lose, so when Roux threatens her, it kicks off a battle of wits and a gripping chain of events.

I loved this domestic thriller by Joshilyn Jackson. Never Have I Ever is full of secrets, guilt, betrayal and mind games, and it also shines a light on the power of friendship. Amy is a brilliant protagonist and I quickly found myself rooting for her at every stage as she engages in a psychological fight with Roux for power and control.

Never Have I Ever was sent to me unsolicited by the publisher last year and when I picked it up to 'give it a go' I certainly didn't expect to be immediately engaged, find myself thinking about the story during the day, giving it 5 stars and recommending it to others. I love it when that happens! This book exceeded every expectation, and delivers a real wallop.

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson is a ripping read, domestic noir at its best and I highly recommend it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

22 July 2020

Review: This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay audiobook cover
My latest foray into listening to non fiction via audiobook is This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay. Recommended by my friend Andrea and narrated by the author himself, Adam Kay is a retired Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and these days he's a writer and comedian.

In This is Going to Hurt, Kay shares a series of diary entries from his time working for the NHS in 2004 - 2010. These diary entries include brief patient stories and observations about his work as a junior doctor. Some of the entries were sombre, some funny, some interesting, some educational and all were entertaining in their own way.

I enjoyed the fact this audiobook can be listened to in short or longer chunks of time; whichever suits the listener/reader. It was easy to stop between diary entries for the day and a relief not having to wait for the end of a chapter to do so.

Living in Australia, I don't have any direct experience with the NHS but Kay paints a frustrating picture of the demands on junior doctors and the bureaucracy of the system at large. He also evokes enormous admiration for the medical community in a time when respect for doctors, nurses and medical staff couldn't be greater. They're both on the front line and the last line of defence in this Coronavirus pandemic and we depend on them for our very lives.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay was enjoyable and funny with an underlying message about the state of the NHS that is especially relevant today.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★