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



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:
★ ★

16 July 2020

Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen book cover
This was my first time reading Jane Austen and if it wasn't for the buddy read organised and hosted by Theresa Smith, who knows when I would have made time to read Pride and Prejudice. What I discovered was a slow-burn 'enemies to lovers' literary romance novel. The prose was intellectually stimulating, full of satire and sarcasm and I enjoyed the clever put downs like this one.
"Sir William Lucas, and his daughter Maria, a good humoured girl, but as empty-headed as himself, had nothing to say that could be worth hearing, and were listened to with about as much delight as the rattle of the chaise." Page 154
These provided amusing moments however the novel is also slow going. I found it contained all of the expected observations on the class system, inheritance, love, marriage, lack of female agency and the power and control men have over their wives and families. What I wasn't expecting were the realisations about family and how we can find ourselves embarrassed and even ashamed by the ones we love the most.

The highlight of this classic for me was the witty and cutting dialogue between the characters throughout the novel; sometimes in the form of letters. It was easy to admire the vocabulary and turns of phrase and wish for the ability to converse just like that.

Reading Pride and Prejudice 200 years after its publication in 1813 is bound to highlight just how much has changed in the intervening years but how people are essentially the same. Now, when a woman is feeling low about an interaction with someone, she might plug in her earphones, put on her favourite Spotify playlist and go for a run or a drive so she can stew on the situation and ruminate some more. It's the same for Elizabeth Bennet, as we see in this example.
"Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections." Page 214
I purchased a lovely faux leather Penguin Classics edition of Pride and Prejudice for this buddy read and while I greatly enjoyed participating in the discussions and the knowledge gained from finally reading this classic, ultimately it felt like homework with scattered reading rewards throughout and a sense of accomplishment at the end.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

14 July 2020

Review: Subterranean by B. Michael Radburn

Subterranean by B. Michael Radburn cover
* Copy courtesy of Atlas Productions *

Aussie author and Carpe Librum favourite B. Michael Radburn is back with Subterranean; a story about a woman on the run after leaving an abusive relationship and a homeless Army veteran living in the abandoned train tunnels beneath Sydney's streets. Cassie is being pursued by twins hired by her husband who put me immediately in mind of the twin brothers Leonel and Marco Salamanca from Breaking Bad.

Daniel is trying to recover from the physical and emotional trauma experienced in Afghanistan and when these two flawed characters meet, the reader can't resist hoping they will find a way to help each other.

Subterranean is a novella and a quick read, however the presentation in smaller format paperback, large font and with the inclusion of several illustrations gave me the immediate impression this was a YA novel. This stand alone novella can easily be read by a YA audience, but it's a confusing presentation of an adult novella in my opinion. The shadowy cover design captures the feel of the story perfectly and I could easily have done without the illustrations and large print.

As with his Taylor Bridges series, Radburn does an excellent job of bringing Australian characters to life and describing the Australian landscape. In Subterranean he convincingly captures Sydney's urban and underground environment and the pips of the ABC Radio News broadcasts were a very nice touch.

Highlighting the plight of our own homeless veterans and the lack of services from the Department of Veterans' Affairs in this novella was an added bonus and as a fellow veteran, I hope this helps shine a light on this important and ongoing issue.

However, Subterranean's ending was the real highlight for me. It was an unexpected climax I didn't realise we were working towards and which provided a very satisfying end to the story. A great read!

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

P.S. Check out my reviews of the following books by B. Michael Radburn:
- The Crossing
- Blackwater Moon
- The Falls

10 July 2020

Interview with Kayte Nunn, author of The Silk House

Author Kayte Nunn
Author Kayte Nunn
Today I have great pleasure in welcoming Australian author Kayte Nunn to Carpe Librum. Kayte has written The Botanist's Daughter, The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant and The Silk House and was kind enough to join me here today and answer a few questions about her latest book The Silk House, her interest in witchcraft, what she's reading next and what she's writing now.

Thanks for joining us Kayte. As I write, Melbourne is in lockdown. Have the events of this year had an impact on your reading and writing? If so, have they had a positive, negative or neutral effect?
Certainly to begin with they had a negative effect as I was so distracted that I couldn’t concentrate properly on writing or editing – a final read-through of The Silk House took me twice as long as it normally would have done. Then, both my daughters were doing school at home for a month or so and that was rather distracting. However, since then, where we live at least, things have settled into a new normal (for which I am very thankful and know we are very lucky) and I’m just trying to get on with things and not watch too much news coverage.

How different was the publication and release of your new novel The Silk House compared to last year's release of The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant?
Very different – normally I would visit bookshops in Sydney and Brisbane and meet booksellers and do a number of events at which I would meet readers. However, this year my events are online, so I can do them without leaving home! I am missing the interaction with readers – it’s harder to gauge their reactions in a crowded Zoom event – but the upside is that more people are able to access these events. I hope in future years that there might be a mix of the two.

I hope so too. The cover design for The Silk House is absolutely stunning and I just love the byline: Weaving. Healing. Haunting. It immediately drew me in. What can you tell us about the cover design process for this novel?
Thank you! I’m very fortunate that my publisher, Rebecca Saunders, involves me at the beginning of the process, so we investigate different angles and discuss what might work and what not. It’s then a process of refinement to arrive at the final cover. I was once a magazine editor, and briefing and deciding on covers – and cover lines – was one of my favourite parts of the job, so it’s nice to be able to continue that with my books!
The Silk House by Kayte Nunn cover
Published by Hachette Australia

What research did you undertake to enable you to successfully bring England - the silk weaving industry and life as a housemaid - in the late 1700s to life on the page?
There is a restored silk merchant’s house in the town where I grew up, so being able to see that was invaluable in imagining the practicalities of life in those times. I also did a great deal of general reading about life in 18th century England, and particularly as it pertained to servants and an emerging merchant class, and also about the silk weaving industry in Spitalfields at that time.

Did the botanical knowledge gathered and obtained in the writing of The Botanist's Daughter help you with Rowan's knowledge of herbalism and the medicinal properties of plants in The Silk House?
Somewhat. I did further research about the medicinal properties of plants, even finding out what books on herbal lore would have been available then.

What is it about herbal lore and apothecaries we readers find so fascinating? Could Rowan really have found all of those plants growing in her local area? Were apothecaries required to maintain client confidentiality? Tell us more.
I think anything with unusual properties is fascinating, particularly if it can be found growing wild and only someone with the right knowledge can unlock its power.

I made sure that the plants Rowan finds were all native to that part of England at the time, to the best of my ability. I love the sound of plants native to England – cuckoo pint, medlar, foxglove, etc so it was a pleasure to include them. Finally, I would imagine that it would have been in an apothecary’s best interests to be discreet about his customers.

In The Silk House, we learn in the blurb that a 'length of fabric woven with a pattern of deadly flowers will have far-reaching consequences for all who dwell in the silk house.' Do you believe an item can be - intentionally or un-intentionally - imbued with evil or bad luck?
If I really think about it logically, probably not, but then I am also a fairly superstitious person, so who knows?

I enjoyed that our main character and history teacher Thea Rust is researching persecution ideologies and witchcraft in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. Can you share a little about your own interest in witchcraft?
It developed as I wrote this book and began to research women accused of witchcraft in Wiltshire, of which I discovered there were quite a few, and notable cases. As part of my history A’Level (many years ago now) I undertook a project based on research of my choosing at the local records office – how I wish I had known about the women tried and often killed for being witches then, for I surely would have chosen that as my project!
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell book cover
Read an extract here

What book/s is on your bedside table at the moment?
A huge pile, but notably Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and Joanna Nell’s soon-to-be-released The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home.

I'm looking forward to reading Hamnet too! Is there a book release you're looking forward to or a book you'd like to read before the end of the year?
I’m craving a bit of glamour and escapism, particularly as travel is off the agenda at the moment, so I can’t wait to get my hands on Kevin Kwan’s Sex and Vanity.

I've read that you're almost always working on multiple projects at a time. Can you share anything about your next novel with us?
I’ve finished the structural edit of a book for next year, set in Burma during the Second World War and Ireland leading up to New Year’s Eve 1999.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I hope my readers love The Silk House as much as they did my previous two books – with each book I write I try my hardest to write a better, more compelling, page-turning story.

Thanks so much for your time Kayte! I certainly enjoyed The Silk House and I'm really looking forward to reading your next book.


08 July 2020

Review: My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley

My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley book cover
* Copy Courtesy of Harper Collins *

I'm not a good cook and neither is my husband, so you won't often see me reviewing cookbooks. But there's something special about the down to earth approach of fellow Aussie Hayley Maudsley's approach to cooking that really appeals to me. I'm not the only one either.

A rural Mum living in Queensland, Hayley's no nonsense and no fuss approach to cooking and baking has made her an online sensation and her Facebook group My Smoko Break has 140,000 followers at last look. This success and popularity has lead to the compilation of more than 200 of Hayley's recipes into this handy book, also called My Smoko Break.

Hayley is instantly likeable and her easy going attitude to cooking and cleaning really comes through in her book. Living on a property, she doesn't have regular access to a supermarket and has to 'make do' often. Far from limiting her options, Hayley has come up with a whole host of work arounds, and readily shares them with the reader. From how to make sour cream, self raising flour and condensed milk, to which foods can easily be frozen and defrosted, I remain impressed by her ingenuity. I live in the city with easy access to an IGA, but I still enjoyed her tips and tricks.

I decided to attempt one sweet and one savoury recipe from My Smoko Break and I started by baking the Custard Slice from page 177 that was so delicious we were nearly fit to bursting before deciding to leave the rest until the next day. I then made the Creamy Sausages from page 134 and freaked out when I realised I was making a roux. Next on the list to try is the Yoghurt Slice and the Condensed Milk Biscuits. (Okay, now I'm hungry).

Given how rarely I read cookbooks and the fact I'm not a Mum, I did find the arrangement of recipes a little difficult to navigate. The recipes are broken up into the following chapters: breakfast, smoko, lunch, plate mates, dinner, dessert, school lunchbox, harvest, cooking with kids and occasion. I'm used to flipping to a cakes/slices/biscuits or breakfast/main/dessert section but Hayley has divided these recipes by purpose rather than by sweet/savoury. I've never seen this before and I'm sure it works well for the target audience, but I just found it disorienting.

When drooling over Hayley's recipes, I dearly wished there had been photos to accompany some of the recipes. I understand the limitations when it comes to printing and publication, but being a novice in the kitchen, I really would have benefited from some photos of what the dish is supposed to look like on completion.

Ultimately I finished My Smoko Break feeling inspired. Inspired to cook more and inspired to use some of her household tips and tricks. I enjoyed her stories and highly recommend My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley to rural and urban cooks, novices and accomplished home cooks. There is something for everyone here.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

06 July 2020

Guest review: Hodgepodge: How to Make a Pet Monster by Lili Wilkinson, illustrated by Dustin Spence

Hodgepodge: How to Make a Pet Monster by Lili Wilkinson, illustrated by Dustin Spence book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin 6 July 2020
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Hodgepodge: How to Make a Pet Monster by Lili Wilkinson is a children's book for readers aged 7-10. Illustrated by Dustin Spence, my junior reviewers Sophie and James Harris were lucky enough to review an early copy. What's it about and what did they think?

Blurb

A fantastically readable, gloriously funny and highly collectable new junior fiction series.

I'm Artie. I'm eleven years old.
I do not believe in ghosts, or monsters.
I do believe in science.
I also believe that my step-sister Willow is kinda terrifying.

Willow and I found a weird old book in the attic of our new house. It's called the Big Boke of Fetching Monsters.
And it tells you how to make your own monster.
But that's impossible.

Carpe Librum junior reviewers inspired by Hodgepodge by Lili Wilkinson
Reviewers Sophie & James Harris
making a Hodgepodge together

You DEFINITELY can't make a monster, because MONSTERS DO NOT EXIST.


Sophie Harris (10 years old)

I read this book with my 7 year old brother James. I really enjoyed doing the voices of the characters and we had a really good laugh together. I found it easy to read, it is probably for the 7-8 year old bracket depending on their reading ability. 

We pretended that we were making this into a movie, it was a lot of fun. I am looking forward to the next one. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars! (So….. secretly I really liked it too, but this is his review).

James Harris (7 years old)

I loved reading this book with my sister. I really enjoyed it. It was really funny and easy to understand the story. The main character Artie likes science and tries to cook up a Hobgoblin with his step sister Willow, but they get the recipe all wrong because they don’t have all the right ingredients. So they use what they can find and make a Hodgepodge monster instead (and he farts a lot!) 

They have lots of adventures trying to keep Hodgepodge a secret from the adults! It made me laugh all the way to the end. I really can’t wait to read the next book – when they make the Flummox instead of a Phoenix!

I give it 4.5 Monsters on the Monster scale (that’s really good).

James & Sophie's Rating:

01 July 2020

Fellow Reviewers Share Their 2020 Mid Year Favourite Books

Just like that and we're in the second half of 2020! Can you believe it? This time last year I asked some of my favourite reviewers to share their 2019 Mid Year Favourites and it was so much fun I'm doing it again. This year I'm pleased to introduce three new reviewers and I hope you'll be tempted by their favourite books of 2020 so far.
____________________________________________________________________________

Veronica Joy

I’m Veronica, book lover and reality TV watcher. I blog at The Burgeoning Bookshelf or you can find me on Twitter. My original reading preference was the fantasy genre but since joining Goodreads in 2011 my reading has expanded to include historical fiction, women’s fiction, crime and some young adult. Since having grandchildren I have added children’s books to my list and I love reading with them. When I’m not reading you will probably find me watching some cringe worthy reality TV show. It’s been extremely difficult to knock my mid year favourites for 2020 down to two books. But here they are.

House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon book cover
House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon
House On Endless Waters is set in present day Amsterdam. Yoel, a well known author, travels from Israel to Amsterdam to promote his latest book. He is reluctant to go as he has promised his mother that he will never return to the place of his birth. A chance visit to the Jewish Historical Museum brings him face to face with his past and sets off a roller coaster of emotions that will keep Yoel in Amsterdam until all his questions are answered.

The story is told in a unique dual timeline where the author has included both timelines in one narrative. The historical part being Yoel’s thoughts on the book he is writing on his mother’s life and this is blended with the story as if it is happening in real time.

This was a heart-wrenching story of the lengths many had to go to to protect their family. You can read my full review here.

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox book cover
How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox
How It Feels to Float is an own voice story of teenager Biz’s life with mental illness. Biz lost her father when she was young and this had a major impact on how she saw the world and how she saw herself.

This is a story of intergenerational mental illness with themes of friendship, sexuality, grief and depression it will pull at your heart strings. Fox adds elements of magical realism and it blurs between what is real and what is not. The story is, at times, hectic and mixed up much like I can imagine Biz’s mind would be.

I do hope Biz’s story helps people understand a little more about living with mental illness not only from the sufferers point of view but also from those that love and support them. You can read my full review here.
____________________________________________________________________________

Bree Testa

I’m Bree and I’ve been blogging at 1girl2manybooks for over 10 years now. I originally started blogging as a way to get back into reading after having my first baby. I read quite widely with strong connections to romance, YA and contemporary fiction. It’s been a personal challenge of mine to read more non-fiction in the last couple of years as well and I quite often use fiction books to leapfrog into non-fiction. For me, the perfect day is a new book and endless cups of tea!

Choosing just two books that are my favourites from 2020 so far was always going to be a hard task and I did spend quite a lot of time thinking about it. In the end I decided to go with one non-fiction and one fiction.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller book cover
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
My first book is Know My Name by Chanel Miller. This is a memoir, written by the victim of a sexual assault case that “went viral” when her victim impact statement was published in its entirety on Buzzfeed, under a pseudonym. The letter was shared and viewed millions of times and Chanel Miller chose to take back her identity by writing this book, presenting her side of the story. It’s a very frank and honest account and details the difficulty in prosecuting sexual assault cases, even when there are witnesses, like in this one. It’s a look at the way in which victims are portrayed vs the perpetrator, the aggressive lines of questioning and the things that defense attorneys will focus on: a victim’s drinking, dress style, motives for being at a party.

This is a hard read - and I fully concede that it’s not a book everyone will be able to explore. It’s a difficult, distressing topic and at times I found myself feeling extreme anxiety whilst reading it, even though I knew the outcome of the case. It’s brutal, raw, agony at times but it’s also thoughtful questioning and a critique of not just the process of reporting a sexual assault but also the sentencing laws and even the definition of ‘rape’. Read my full review on my website.

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke book cover
The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke
My second book I decided to go with The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke. This was the sort of book where it looked like I’d enjoy it based on the feel/description but I had no idea how much I was going to love it. This book took me on the most unexpected journey of twists and turns. It’s such a beautiful story, about a song written, left behind, picked up and shared around the world by a variety of people who each put their own special twist on it. It comes to mean many things to many different people. It brings people together, it is the cause of people coming into each other’s lives.

I loved the way the author chose to tell the story, which feels a bit disjointed at first but as you settle into it, becomes the perfect way to see the impact on so many people. This is the sort of book that takes you through a whole range of emotions, gives you things to grieve over but then later on, things that make you laugh and feel warm and fuzzy inside. There are so many layers to this story, it’s fantastic. I know it’ll be the sort of book that stays with me for a long time. Read my full review on my website.
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Claire Louisa

I’m Claire Louisa, I’m an avid reader and reviewer, an art therapist and sometimes artist. I read a wide variety of genres and am always willing to try something new. I read a lot of historical fiction, my favourite is Australian historical fiction. I also read a fair bit of erotica, romance, LGBT romance and contemporary fiction. My reviews can be found at Claire’s Reads and Reviews, on Facebook or Instagram. I also am the Speculative Fiction Round-up Editor for Australian Women Writers Challenge which is not a genre I read a great deal myself, but I do enjoy seeing what is out there and expanding my reading to include some of the great books I get to showcase.

This year has been a bit all over the place as far as reading goes, I’ve been through a bit of a slump, as have many people, but I’m hoping I’m on my way back to devouring books. I’ve had a couple of stand-out reads this year but I’m going to pick two historical fiction novels that I found hard to put down.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams book cover
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
The first is The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. I read this via The Pigeonhole which breaks books up into staves and sends you one each day, which was frustrating in a way because I wanted to keep reading, but it allowed me to really savour this novel.

This book is now firmly on my list of top 10 books for 2020, it was an interesting, emotional and powerful novel, covering so many subjects. It is a beautiful and engaging book and I had no idea where the story was going to lead me, right through to the end, Pip Williams never failed to surprise me. There were parts where I was silently begging her not to take me where I thought we might be going, and from the other readers' comments, as we read, I wasn't alone in this. There were also parts that caused me anger, grief, happiness, and so many other emotions, but I have to admit that the final stave had me in tears more than once.

Pip Williams has a way with words, her ability to convey what people are thinking or feeling, to describe a situation or the environment, to put words themselves into context was remarkable and beautiful. There were so many lines I'd have loved to have pulled out and shared. You can read my full review on my blog.

The Scottish Boy by Alex de Campi book cover
The Scottish Boy by Alex de Campi
My next choice is The Scottish Boy by Alex de Campi. I truly loved this novel, it had intrigue, romance, and sex galore as well as fighting and dirty politics as was consistent with the time of 1333. An LGBT historical novel set in the 1300s, a time I knew nothing about, and a time I am glad I didn't live in. It was certainly a violent time with wars going on for land and titles continuously, as well as plots to take France or Scotland or for France to take England, so much scheming going on I don't know how anyone, especially Edward III slept at night.

Harry is young and eager to become a knight, he has very little idea of what this truly entails only having fought and trained in tournaments. Turning up just after a fight he was hoping to be in, he is pulled into a scheme he has no understanding of, but which will change his life completely.

The book spans many years, many plots and intrigues and Harry has to learn who he wants to be and who he can truly trust. There are some surprising alliances formed and I really enjoyed the way I was at times not sure where everything was leading and how it was going to end up. Read my full review on my blog.

____________________________________________________________________________

Huge thanks to Veronica, Bree & Claire for their contributions and for being part of this mid year Carpe Librum collaboration.

I was super happy to see so many Australian authors make the list and 
I hope you enjoyed the variety of recommendations. I've had my eye on The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams so it was great to see it on Claire's list. Have you read any of the books featured? What caught your eye?

Carpe Librum!

26 June 2020

Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

The Silk House by Kayte Nunn book cover
* Courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Silk House is an historical fiction novel by Australian author Kayte Nunn with a gothic mystery at its heart that unfolds in dual narratives. In the present, Australian history teacher Thea Rust takes up residence in Silk House, located in Oxleigh in the British countryside. She's in charge of the first intake of female students in the exclusive boarding school nearby and she will reside in Silk House along with the students.

We go back in time to the 1760s where the house is owned and occupied by a silk merchant and his family and bolts of silk are sold from the shop at the front of the building. Young Rowan Caswell is hired as a maid and we follow her as she settles into the household, her talent for making the odd tincture soon in high demand. Mary-Louise Stephenson is a talented artist living in London who dreams of becoming a silk designer.

The lives of these three women begin to intersect and overlap as they weave a delightfully engaging and haunting tale for the reader.

I love historical fiction that includes: an old building with character and perhaps a murky history; strong female characters; boarding schools; life below stairs; whispers of witchcraft; secrets waiting to be unearthed and a window into the past. I became heavily invested in Thea and Rowan's stories and enjoyed both narratives equally.

Rowan's determination and spirit reminded me a little of Alinor from Tidelands, and if you're a fan of Laura Purcell (in particular The Silent Companions or The Corset) or The Familiars by Stacey Halls I think you'll love this.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Silk House by Kayte Nunn and looked forward to picking it up again every night, admiring the stunning cover design and re-joining Rowan and Thea. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. Check out my review of The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant Kayte Nunn.

23 June 2020

Review: The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott book cover
* Copy Courtesy of Text Publishing *

The opening few chapters of The Rain Heron by Australian author Robbie Arnott are absolutely sublime. A seamless blend of fable and fairytale, the reader is introduced to the existence of the mythical rain heron. This story forms Part 0 of this slim novel, and we meet our main character Ren, at the beginning of Part 1.

Ren is an older woman living the life of a recluse on a mountain. She manages to eke out a meagre living and seems happy until she learns soldiers are coming. The location of the mountain or the road trip that follows is never specified, but the descriptions of the changing landscape are so vivid I could almost smell the pine trees.

Part 2 begins on the coast and another extraordinary story emerges. A reverence for living in harmony with the ocean is threatened when an outsider approaches and tries to learn the secrets of the ink fishermen.

The characters in both stories are brought together in a clever way and we resume our interest in the rain heron.

The Rain Heron contains elements of magical realism in an easily digestible format that caught this reader by surprise. It's hard to define, sometimes reading like dystopian, at other times feeling like horror and at all times exquisitely written. It is also mythical, literary and confronting with plenty of tension and some terrific character growth. My only criticism would be the lack of punctuation for dialogue. Fortunately this didn't hamper my enjoyment of the first part of the novel and I was able to follow the dialogue during the rest of the story without too much trouble, but it was a minor distraction.

I've heard The Rain Heron described as an eco-fable and parable and I wholeheartedly agree. I felt a real love of nature in both the mountainous and coastal settings and a clear concern about our environment bubbling along in the background of the story, also falling into the genre of climate-fiction.

The Rain Heron is hard to categorise, difficult to define but easy to love. It is literary fiction at its very best and I found it moving and highly original. And Australian! Robbie Arnott is an author to watch.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. Check out the first few chapters in this FREE extract.

17 June 2020

Review: The Innocent Reader - Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide

The Innocent Reader - Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Debra Adelaide is an Australian author and editor of more than 16 books and an Associate Professor in Creative Writing. It's fair to say she knows a lot when it comes to the art of writing - and reading for that matter. In this collection of essays, Debra reflects on her love of reading and her long and successful writing and teaching career in Australia.

Debra's enthusiasm for books and learning is infectious and I could relate to much of the content. Her passion for literature shines through as she looks back at her discovery of reading, formative reading years and later teaching years. She also includes a handy reference section at the end of each essay, listing all of the works mentioned.

Part memoir and part love letter to literature, Debra freely offers priceless advice for students, writers, reviewers and readers. I particularly enjoyed her essay about the ethics of reviewing entitled The Front Line and this quote:
"Besides, the job of the reviewer is to review the book, not to worry about how what they might say will either further or impede its author's career." Page 182
The Innocent Reader - Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide is a great resource for emerging writers; seasoned writers; wannabe editors; expert editors; teachers and of course every kind of reader there is. As Debra says:
"There can never be too many books, or too many writers. Or too many readers, or too. much reading." Page 166
And of course I wholeheartedly agree.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

12 June 2020

Review: Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $29.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey is the third book in the Gemma Woodstock series by this talented Australian author. Gemma is a Detective Sergeant and when we catch up with her she's living in Sydney and in a relationship with former work colleague Mac.

This all changes when she's drawn back to Smithson and faced with a personal tragedy. Gemma is quick to volunteer to investigate the disappearance of a 15yo girl and the murder of her boyfriend in the NSW coastal town of Fairhaven and takes her son Ben with her on the case to buy some thinking time. While I didn't agree with Gemma's decision to take a case in order to escape her grief and problems (how does this best serve the relatives of the missing and murdered?) neither did any of her family members. Making a decision like that on the day of the funeral and wrenching your son away from all he knows seemed reckless, selfish and irresponsible.

Despite this, I was relieved to discover Gemma had matured quite a lot since the series began with The Dark Lake - and continued with Into the Night - and didn't ruffle my feathers as often as she did early on.

Fairhaven has its fair share of nefarious activities past and present and Gemma doesn't waste any time digging into everybody and everything. The local characters were engaging and the crimes held my interest.

Where the Dead Go can be read as a standalone and is the best book of the series so far in my opinion. Highly recommended. You can read the opening chapters on the publisher's website.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

10 June 2020

Review: The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I love a spooky mansion, crumbling manor, run down estate - or in this case museum - in dire need of a revamp, restructure or makeover. Buildings with history, character and a few good secrets suck me in every time, and together with this beautiful cover design I couldn't resist The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris.

Cate is still mourning the loss of her husband Richard four years on from his death and can no longer afford to live in London. She and her son Leo move to her husband's family home which happens to be a run down Victorian era museum in the town of Crouch-on-Sea. Hatters Museum was founded by Richard's grandfather and houses valuable taxidermy exhibits, however the museum is running at a loss and is at risk of closure.

Richard didn't talk about his family much, but Cate slowly learns about her son Leo's inheritance and the childhood Richard experienced at the property.

My favourite character of the novel by far was the museum; I could readily imagine the grounds and gardens, the exhibits, the domed library and old portraits hanging on the walls. Leo was an unexpected delight and I thoroughly enjoyed Cate's relationship with her son. The scenes with Leo were touching and insightful and well written.

In stark contrast, too much time was spent on Cate's growing relationship with Patch in my opinion, and it began to get on my nerves. I'm not embarrassed to admit the name Patch was a little irritating too.

The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris isn't a creepy, spooky novel, nor does it delve into the past in a dual narrative style I've come to associate with this kind of 'sea-change' inheritance trope. Instead, it's a feel-good contemporary story about relationships, family, depression, loss, parenthood and legacy. An enjoyable read.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

02 June 2020

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern cover
When I started reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, I was full of expectation and excited at the prospect of participating in another buddy read.

Almost immediately I was drawn in by the stories within stories, the fairytale vibe, the evocative writing and incredible imagery. The secret society, underground libraries and corridors full of books and manuscripts as far as the eye could see reminded me of past favourites, including Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. For these reasons and more I was certain I was in for a real treat and possibly a new favourite.
"Do you believe in the mystical, the fantastical, the improbable, or the impossible? Do you believe that things others dismiss as dreams and imagination actually exist? Do you believe in fairy tales?" Page 440
Strictly speaking, fantasy is usually outside of my comfort zone, and there were several story elements that seemed to go nowhere. However I had complete confidence the author would bring the threads together by the end somehow in an astonishingly impressive and rewarding way for the dedicated reader.
"I’m here to sail the Starless Sea and breathe the haunted air." Pg 234
The descriptive writing propelled me through the layers of story and I continued to sail the starless sea with our characters as they opened doors, collected keys, read stories, got lost and then found themselves again. Unfortunately the shine started to wear off at around the midway point for me.
"But most of the memories are stories. Pieces of them. Blind wanderers and star-crossed lovers, grand adventures and hidden treasures. Mad kings and cryptic witches." Page 89
The disparate stories and threads did come together in the end, but in a way I found unbelievable, unrealistic and a little confusing. If the structure of the novel had been based a little more in reality with less fantasy elements, this might have remained a 5 star read for me. Unfortunately it went down a path I'm unskilled at following, regardless of how determined I was to keep pace.
"We are all stardust and stories." Page 373
So, how do I rate a book with extraordinary and evocative writing, a world I desperately wanted to know more about but an ending that didn't deliver? If I give 5 stars for the writing and 3 stars for the story and ending, I think a 4 star rating overall sounds fair.

I wasn't alone in my disappointment, with many of the buddy readers having just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and finding this one lacking the same magic (pun intended). It's very possible I might enjoy The Night Circus more than this, so I've added it to my TBR.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

29 May 2020

Review: Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
March 2020 RRP $29.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I haven't had a five star read for two months but thankfully the spell was broken when I picked up Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. (Published under the title Eight Perfect Murders in other countries).

Here's the premise. Bookshop owner Malcolm Kershaw wrote a blog post several years ago about perfect murders in fiction. He lists his choices for the 'cleverest, the most ingenious, the most foolproof murders in crime fiction history'. The resulting blog post is titled Eight Perfect Murders.

Years later he's tracked down by an FBI agent who believes a killer is currently making their way through Malcolm's list and re-enacting the murders.

Located in Boston, Malcolm's Old Devils Bookstore predominantly sells mystery books and there are plenty of characters who could be the killer. This feels like a real cosy mystery as Malcolm tries to work out who could be behind the murders.

There are plenty of books referenced and lots of bookish content throughout this that I just adored. You don't need to have read any of the books on Malcolm's list however the murders in each book are discussed so there are plenty of spoilers if that's something that worries you.

Rules For Perfect Murders is a thinking reader's cosy mystery with a literary tilt that will appeal to all booklovers in my opinion. Highly recommended!

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

27 May 2020

Bloggernomicon - The Book Muse

The Book Muse logo
We've been in lockdown for many weeks now but some of us are still reading, reviewing and blogging despite the chaos going on in the world at the moment. Today I'm pleased to welcome Ashleigh Meikle to the blog in the continuation of my Bloggernomicon series. Ashleigh's blog is called The Book Muse.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Ashleigh and thanks for being part of Bloggernomicon. When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
I started reviewing books in about 2014 when I did an internship with Pantera Press. It was a search for bloggers for new release Akarnae, that got me started, and from there, I’ve built relationships with various authors, publishers and publicists, as well as reviewing books I buy.

How many books (on average) do you read each year?
Oh wow, this is a tough one to answer – probably at least 100, across a broad range of genres, for reviewing, personal reading for my work as a quiz writer. It does fluctuate and some years I do read more than others. I do focus on review requests, work books and my choices before the unsolicited ones and sometimes the unsolicited ones don’t get read – which I hope is okay, given how many books I get sent.

How many books do you have on your TBR?
At least ten to twenty – I have about six or seven review books; some I’ve bought and some that the authors in my Isolation Publicity series sent me. Some of the review ones were unsolicited so I’m tossing up whether to review them, and they’ve had release dates moved too.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
I think starting my isolation publicity series – I love being able to provide Australian authors with a platform to talk about their books they’ve been releasing or working on during the pandemic, and I’ve had quite a good response. Some of my favourite interviews are coming up and I can’t wait to share them.

Do you have a favourite publicist or publisher you enjoy dealing with?
So many – but I think the publicists who work with the kids’ books – or any who are passionate about what they do and the books they’re publicising, and the ones who respond to what I do enthusiastically. It makes it enjoyable to know how well I am doing and being able to help them in these hard times. However Tijana and Tina from Puffin are really good to deal with, as is Sonia from Bloomsbury, who just loves everything I do for the books she sends me and what I do for the Harry Potter books.
Ashleigh Meikle - The Book Muse
Ashleigh Meikle hanging out
with her mate Sir Winston

Do you use bookmarks? Do you have a favourite one or collect them?
Yes to both! I have a box full of various bookmarks that I use all the time. It can be very hard to choose which one to use at times!

Have you ever been pressured to give a positive review or had an author question a review of yours?
Never questioned – but often self-published authors who don’t read my review policy about the genres and formats I accept have tried to pressure me into reviewing their work or told me that their book does fit into my blog and tried to contact me several times to get me involved. Since then, if a request doesn’t give me the right information or tells me they’ve received X amount of 5 star reviews on Goodreads so they think I’d enjoy it, I delete instantly these days – not enough time to fight!

When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
Definitely giving me all the relevant information I ask for on my policy and respecting whether or not I have time. Also, keeping in mind that what I do read and not assuming that just because I have reviewed a broad range of things, doesn’t mean I’ll always review everything. Sometimes people assume I’ll read something on my DO NOT READ genre list and still request that I do it – and either don’t respond to my polite decline or respond with pressure to read it. I think respecting what a blogger reads as well as their time and the fact that we do this for free is key to requesting a review is something that can work in an author’s favour. I’d also say not complaining about a couple of average or positive reviews works in your favour as an author too – I don’t need to know how many starred reviews you got to make my decision – your book’s premise should speak for itself.

What’s the most intimidating book on your bookshelf?
For me? I’m intimidated by those unsolicited books or obligation books that I’m just given as gifts because I feel like I have to read them – and I’ve given up on one because it was poorly edited. What do I think people would be intimidated by on my shelf? Chaucer or Shakespeare, or my books about rebel women. Some people find some of what I read very intimidating at times. Of all the books on my shelf, I am more intimidated by the prospect of trying to hold some of them rather than the act of reading them. If I had to choose one, I am sort of intimidated by Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene – it’s a brick of a book I need to get my head around holding.

You're not kidding, that one is 1200+ pages long! Do you have any blogging goals for 2020?
To get on top of my requested books at least. I’m less worried about ones I didn’t request, so they get shunted to the side. I’m also trying to read more Australian authors, in particular many more Australian Women Authors and to read as diversely as I can - which largely depends on where and if I can access all those books. There are many reasons for the above, but my main reason is I think Australian authors need our support more than ever now, and I think Australian authors tell wonderful, and diverse stories in many ways.

Thanks so much for participating in my Bloggernomicon Ashleigh. I also enjoy reading and supporting Australian authors and participate in two reading challenges every year if you want to check them out. I hope you achieve your reading goals.

25 May 2020

Review: Torched by Kimberley Starr

Torched by Kimberley Starr book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *

Set in Victoria's Yarra Valley, Torched by Australian author Kimberley Starr is essentially about the relationship between Phoebe and her son Caleb. Phoebe is the Principal at the local Primary School in Brunton and her son Caleb is accused of starting a bushfire that raged through the district, burning everything in its path. Many people lost their lives, properties and livestock were destroyed, yet Caleb won't talk about what happened.

The locals in Brunton blame Caleb for their losses and Phoebe and Caleb's lives subsequently fall apart. As the court date draws closer, Phoebe is desperate to learn the truth.

I found myself a little annoyed with Caleb's character as he insisted on withdrawing into his artistic gothic persona and providing only vague responses to the allegations made against him. Phoebe is an equally flawed character and I thought way too much time was spent on her warring thoughts about her son and her insomnia.

The climax builds as the reader swings back and forth on whether Caleb is guilty or not until the final denouement. In contrast to most readers, I found the most exciting and compelling part of the book were the scenes that took place during the bushfire. The scenes featuring Phoebe were absolutely gripping and completely captured the horrors of an immensely powerful Australian bushfire. I felt the heat and Phoebe's fear, and I'd even go so far as to say it was as good as the bushfire scene in Scrublands by Chris Hammer.

Unfortunately, this level of writing isn't maintained throughout the novel. After the fire has been extinguished and the investigation begins, I was less moved by the rest of Phoebe and Caleb's story.

Overall, Torched is a good Australian mystery with a topical subject at its heart and a solid character study of a troubled mother son relationship.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

22 May 2020

Review: Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr

Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr audiobook cover
A fellow reviewer recently pointed out that I read a lot of books on death and I suppose I do. Sleep and death - the eternal sleep - are two topics I've always been interested in but exploring them in audiobooks is a relatively new experience. It has nothing to do with the current pandemic sweeping the world; death happens every day.

In Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr, the author takes us through the experiences of patients in palliative and hospice care. Dr. Kerr interviewed more than 1,400 patients for this study and shares individual patient experiences with the reader, some of which were moving.

What might seem to family members as delusions, visions or signs of a patient losing their grip on reality, Kerr believes is proof of a process of dying his patients share and which brings them enormous comfort and relief at the end of their life.

Each patient is different but they often see loved ones long gone from this world who appear to encourage them to pass on into the next. Themes of forgiveness and grace are common, as is a reluctance to leave loved ones behind.

If you're a skeptic or you don't believe in life after death, this book won't change your mind; nor does it set out to. It's not that kind of book. It's for those who may have some experience with the passing of a loved one, or a general curiosity about the dying process and the often unexplained experiences that go along with it.

Will Death Is But a Dream bring comfort to those with a terminal illness, or facing the decision to admit a loved one to a hospice? I'm not sure. What is clear after listening to these various stories is that love unites us all. No matter what kind of life we have lived, our departure may vary, but love in all its forms remains the primary concern until - and beyond - the last breath.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★