24 May 2019

Review: Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

Into the Night by Sarah Bailey cover
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Into the Night is the second in the Gemma Woodstock crime series by Australian author Sarah Bailey. I was really hoping Gemma would get her act together in this one, but on page 2 she arrives to the first homicide of the book after just one hour's sleep having left the bed of a stranger in a hotel room. Her body aches for rest, she tastes wine on her breath and sex is still fresh on her skin (page 2). Surely the dead deserve better than this?

Gemma is now based in Melbourne and living in the inner city near the corner of Little Collins and Exhibition Streets. She has left her partner Scott and their son Ben in Smithson NSW and rarely goes home to see them. She drinks and sometimes goes to a hotel bar to pick up a stranger for sex. Gemma often turns up to work hungover or having had very little rest and I just wanted to scream. 

I can handle a flawed and promiscuous character, (The Girl on the Page by John Purcell immediately comes to mind) but I just wanted more of Gemma's exceptional detective work to counterbalance her self-destructive behaviour.

Working with Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet, they're leading a team to solve the high profile murder of a local Aussie actor starring in a Hollywood movie being filmed in Melbourne.

The bustling city of Melbourne was the real star of Into the Night in my opinion and Sarah Bailey does a great job of capturing the mood of the people and the urban setting. The crimes being investigated kept my interest and the nature of the suspects (actors, actresses, filming crew, PR people etc.) made for a refreshing cast of characters and definitely set it apart from The Dark Lake.

Into the Night is recommended for readers who enjoy police procedurals and crime novels within an Australian setting. The next in the series, Where The Dead Go is due for release in August 2019.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

21 May 2019

Review: Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein book cover
* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *

Small Spaces was published in April 2018 and this debut novel by Australian author Sarah Epstein created quite a stir when it hit the shelves. A young adult psychological thriller for readers aged 14+, it was longlisted and shortlisted for no less than six awards. I missed the buzz last year, but thought it was time I picked it up.

Set in Port Bellamy NSW, our protagonist Tash Carmody was eight years old when she witnessed her imaginary friend Sparrow, lead six year old Mallory Fisher away from a local carnival. Mallory was missing for a week before she was discovered wandering through the bush 40 kms from where she was last seen. Mallory never spoke again and the Fisher family - along with Tash's friend and classmate Morgan - soon moved away.

After much therapy to help her deal with the problems she was having back then, Tash is now a teenager and at peace with the fact Sparrow was never real. Interspersed with transcripts of Tash's sessions with a child psychologist, she's doing much better now and is looking forward to a future in photography when she finishes Year 12. Unfortunately things begin to spiral when the Fisher family move back to Port Bellamy. Tash begins to see Sparrow again and develops feelings for Morgan.

Small Spaces contains a number of mysteries for the reader: what happened to Mallory Fisher? Did she wander off or was she abducted? Was Sparrow an imaginary friend, or was he real? Was he responsible for what happened to Mallory?

These questions made a compelling mystery and a gripping thriller but I was surprised by the level of darkness and danger at this reading age. Offset this with a contemporary coming-of-age element, I thought I had my suspect pegged but was happy to be proven wrong in a convincing reveal at the end.

All questions were answered in a satisfactory conclusion that had been building slowly throughout the novel. I did have to suspend my disbelief at some of Tash's actions throughout the novel and the level of autonomy she was given in the circumstances. It wasn't anything of major significance, but enough to prevent me giving this a full 5 stars.

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein is definitely worthy of the swag of award nominations and will suit young adult readers wanting a dark psychological thriller featuring a teenage protagonist coming to terms with her past.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE extract here.

17 May 2019

Review of Little Gestures by Mari Andrew & Bookish Happy Mail

Little Gestures by Mari Andrew
Allen & Unwin RRP $24.99 AUD
Available in May 2019
I love stationery as well as sending and receiving snail mail or happy mail. Anything that makes you happy to receive it is happy mail.

Little Gestures: Cards For Any Occasion by Mari Andrew (courtesy of Allen & Unwin) is a delightful collection of 50 postcards presented in a cute little hardback book format complete with tabs to identify different occasions. The postcards are divided into a range of categories, including: thank you, congratulations, birthday, just because and empathy. 

The illustrations and artwork are appealing and the sentiments are heartfelt. I just know I'll enjoy sending these out into the world.

Bibliophile - An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount notecard setBibliophile - An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount is an incredibly successful collection of artwork with Jane's vibrant and instantly recognisable style. I particular like her carefully curated bookstacks and when I learned she had released a collection of notecards and envelopes showcasing various different book collections, I had to buy it immediately. When you combine a love of books with stationery, you get bookish stationery!

In fact, you could easily frame these cards or pin them to an inspiration board, they're so captivating. To be honest, I don't know if I can physically write in them, but here's hoping. I have a number of journals that are 'too nice' to use but life is short and I should just use up all my stationery so I can buy more! Right?

When I was a teenager, I loved writing notes to friends and sending letters to pen pals. Later, I sent letters home and now I enjoy sending cards and happy mail to friends and loved ones. If you'd like to receive a card, postcard or note from me - or know someone who needs a lift - feel free to email me or leave a comment below and I'll pop something in the post.

When was the last time you sent something nice in the mail to a loved one?

My rating for both products = *****

Carpe Librum

P.S. If you love snail mail and stationery, check out my review of Snail Mail: Rediscovering the Art and Craft of Handmade Correspondence by Michelle Mackintosh.

14 May 2019

Review: Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets (Six Tudor Queens IV) by Alison Weir

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets is another brilliant addition to the Six Tudor Queens series by historian Alison Weir. This is the fourth historical fiction novel in the series and is the story of Anna of Kleve, or Anne of Cleves as most of us know her.

The Author's Note is quick to inform the reader that Anne of Cleves actually signed her name 'Anna'. She also tells us that Henry VIII came to refer to her Anna, informing her decision to refer to her as Anna in this novel. Furthermore, Kleve is the German name of her town and Duchy, while Cleves is the anglicised form. Therefore, in order to be historically accurate, Anna should be referred to as Anna von Kleve. Who knew?

In this historical fiction imagining of her life in the 1500s, Weir has provided an alternate history for Anna of Kleve and I predict it will be a polarising one for fans of Tudor history. I was open to an alternate storyline and wasn't scandalised by what the author has proposed here. Besides, historians can't be 100% sure about the secrets of a life lived in the 1500s - especially when it comes to women - as so little was recorded and much less has survived the ravages of time.

What is agreed, is that there has been much speculation that at the time of wedding Anna of Kleve, King Henry VIII was suffering from impotence. It has been posited that the reason the King didn't consummate their marriage is that he couldn't muster the will.

My favourite episode from The Tudors TV show is the night after King Henry is supposed to have consummated his marriage with Anna of Kleve. Cromwell asks the King: “How does your Majesty like the Queen?

He replies: “Surely My Lord, I didn’t like her very much before and I like her much worse now. She is nothing fair and she has evil smells about her. And I know she’s no maid because of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens. So I had neither the will nor the courage to prove the rest. I have no appetite for unpleasant airs. I left her as good a maid as I found her.

In the Author's Note, Alison Weir tells us more about what was actually said, and it wasn't much different. 
On the morning after his wedding night, the King told Thomas Cromwell: "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse, for I have felt her belly and her breasts, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid, which so strake me to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters."
For weeks afterwards, he made similar complaints to others, saying he "plainly mistrusted her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her belly and breasts and other tokens", and stating, "I have left her as good a maid as I found her." Page 488
Of course, much has also been made of the portrait of Anna of Kleve painted by Hans Holbein and whether it was a true representation or not. This is also covered in the novel, as is the possibility King Henry didn't find Anna attractive as she wasn't skilled in dancing or playing music, which was much desired in a lady of her status at an English court.

Prior to reading Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, my knowledge extended only as far as the King having their arranged marriage annulled and Anna being known from then on as the King's Beloved Sister. I've always admired that Anna seemed to deem it safer to acquiesce to King Henry's demands than to protest.

In Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, we stay with her beyond this turning point in her life all the way through until King Henry's death in 1547 and her own death a decade later in 1557. I enjoyed reading and learning about the rest of her life, which I hadn't explored in fiction until now.

The proposed love affair between Anna and her cousin is bound to cause controversy, however the author makes a good argument for the relationship in her Author's Note.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this series and am already looking forward to the next one. No doubt it'll be the story of Catherine Howard and I know I'll be in Alison Weir's expert hands once again.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

See my reviews of previous novels in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir:

10 May 2019

Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

A psychological thriller set in a research laboratory? Featuring two highly successful and ambitious women? I'm in!

Kit and Diane were best friends in high school, but after Diane shared a deeply personal secret with Kit they drifted apart. Both girls were driven and ambitious and each pursued careers in medical research.

Kit is now working for one of the best female bosses I remember coming across in fiction, and it isn't long before Diane pops up in her life again; headhunted and recruited by her boss.

The novel is told from Kit's perspective with 'flash backs' to her teenage years and friendship with Diane. I thought Give Me Your Hand was going to be a thriller about Kit and Diane duking it out for a position or promotion, viciously competing with each other with dire consequences for one of them. Give Me Your Hand wasn't this and in fact was so much more.

Research at the laboratory is being conducted into Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of PMS that includes physical and behavioural symptoms. I'd never heard of PMDD, so you could say this thriller was also educational.

I will say that the cover art doesn't adequately convey the setting of the novel in my opinion. I'd have preferred a white cover with out of focus laboratory and perhaps a smashed beaker with blood spattered around. Knowing they're researching PMDD, the blood has a double meaning. Furthermore, so much of the novel takes place in and around the lab that this was my mental image of the novel as I was reading it.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott is a gripping psychological thriller and I really enjoyed it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

07 May 2019

Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson

Boxed by Richard Anderson book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Australian author Richard Anderson is a farmer from NSW and his experience of life on the land really shines through in his second rural crime novel Boxed. It's a no nonsense mystery thriller with an interesting premise and fast paced plot.

Dave Martin is a farmer beaten down by circumstances. His wife has left him and he's been neglecting his farm in favour of rattling around his run down house and drinking. Dave likes to order cheap tools online to kill the time but he starts to receive boxes in the mail that he didn't order.

The mystery of the boxes and the action that ensues really drives the novel forward and I was quickly caught up in the plot. Growing up in a rural community myself, I could totally relate to the farming district Dave lives in and his movements around the place and interactions with friends and family were 100% authentic Australian.

Boxed is for readers who enjoyed the Aussie settings in A Time to Run or The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace, The Dry by Jane Harper or Scrublands by Chris Hammer. These are crime novels set in rural Australia from the perspective of a Police Officer, AFP Officer and a journalist all actively investigating crimes. However, Boxed is from the perspective of a bystander who finds himself in a lot of trouble and we the reader, then follow the choices he makes and the consequences of those decisions.

I really began to feel for Dave, and praised and cheered for him when he made a smart decision and cringed in worry for him when he didn't.

Reading Boxed marks the end of a 5 book Australian author binge for #AussieApril (and the two Australian reading challenges I participate in) and it's time to get back to some international authors.

I thoroughly recommend Boxed by Richard Anderson to crime and mystery lovers everywhere and will be keen to check out his next book.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

03 May 2019

Review of A Lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley and thoughts on Short Story Collections

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I don't read many short story collections. However, when an advance copy of Chris Womersley's first collection of short stories arrived bringing promise of 'twenty macabre and deliciously enjoyable tales', I decided to give it a go.

The majority of the stories in A Lovely and Terrible Thing were told in first person, and included characters of both sexes and a variety of ages, family demographics and socio-economic situations. Living in Melbourne I enjoyed the references to my city within the stories and recognised many of the settings.

By far my favourite of the collection was The Deep End. It was just such a brilliant short story and everything I love about the genre. It was tense with a sense of foreboding and had a terrific surprise ending I did NOT see coming.

On the flip side though, Crying Wolf had such a devastating ending as to make me cross. The story was building to a climax and instead of giving the two main characters an other-worldly mind blowing ending, Womersley tears it away from the reader at the very last moment by way of a selfish act by one of the characters. 

Perhaps this was done in an effort to show how easily lost opportunities can plague our lives and how close we can be to life changing events without the slightest hint of their existence or magnitude. Either way, I felt thoroughly robbed by the ending.

The other stories in the collection didn't really illicit much of a reader response from me and felt middle of the road. 
Perhaps this means short story collections aren't my thing or I need to read more of them.

Out of interest, I had a look back at my reading history and identified that I've only read six short story collections to date. Not a good track record really.


I can see a definite pattern here, and that's the fact that I've followed some of my favourite fiction authors (eg. Stephen King) into their short story collections. I picked up the collection edited by Neil Gaiman as a 'taster' of sorts and read the Rushdie for University.

While I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of short story collections yet, I do have some on my TBR pile that I'm looking forward to:
  • Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology by Danielle Binks
  • The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue
  • The Brothers Grimm: 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
  • The Turning by Tim Winton
In summary, A lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley contained one outstanding short story, one infuriating one and eighteen others that were a solid read.

Do you enjoy short story collections? What would you recommend?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Check out my review of City of Crows by Chris Womersley

30 April 2019

Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey book cover
Set in Smithson NSW at the height of summer, a young teacher by the name of Rosalind Ryan has been found dead. Rosalind is a popular teacher at the school, and has been killed after the successful opening night of the school play Romeo and Juliet. Her students and teachers adore her and can't understand why anyone would want to harm her.

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is assigned to the case, despite the fact she went to school with the victim. Gemma is a terrific Detective, however I just didn't like her. She is having an affair with her work partner Felix and if that's not enough, Felix is married with kids, so both characters are cheating on their spouses. I really hate that.

Gemma's inner reflections on her adulterous behaviour was irritating and I didn't like how she treated her spouse Scott. Gemma is incredibly self-absorbed and seemed more concerned with her own desire for Felix than solving the case or caring for her son Ben. I get the whole flawed character angle, but Gemma was too unlikeable for me.

The lake of the title features well throughout the novel and made for a refreshing Australian rural backdrop to the plot. The mystery of who killed Rosalind and left her in the lake covered in red roses was a good one and was closely tied up with Gemma's dark past. However my favourite parts of the novel were the inter-office goings on with Gemma, her boss and other personnel in the office. The Aussie setting and realistic interactions really resonated with me and I could easily see this on the big screen.

The Dark Lake was a solid debut and a smashing success when it was released in 2017. It also won several awards, including the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Crime Debut and the 2018 Ned Kelly award for Best First Crime. I missed the hype then and am only reading this now thanks to my local library.

It's always good to catch up on a much loved Australian novel and I have the next in the series Into the Night on my shelf to read in May. I'm really looking forward to it and crossing my fingers Gemma gets her act together in this one. I'd like to see more of her awesome detective work and less of her pursuing her own lustful desires at the expense of her family.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

27 April 2019

Review: Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer

Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

As the cover suggests, Under The Midnight Sky by Australian author Anna Romer is a dark mystery novel set in Australian bushland.

Abby lives in a small township called Gundara and has a dark past. She's a journalist for her local newspaper and is obsessed with the murders that took place in Deepwater Gorge many years ago. Her personal level of involvement in the crimes is the first mystery of the novel.

Reclusive author Tom Gabriel has purchased a ramshackle country manor known as Ravensong, and recently moved to the area to work on his new book. Abby wants to interview Tom for the newspaper and despite his aloof and gruff demeanour, they strike up a friendship of sorts. When Abby discovers a hidden room in an attic at the top of his house, they begin to pool their resources and investigative skills to get to the bottom of several mysteries before them. This includes the case of a current girl who may have gone missing.

Under The Midnight Sky is a mystery novel that could just as easily be called crime or rural crime. The Australian setting and relaxed dialogue made the novel feel instantly relatable.

The alternate time periods (present and 1940s-1950s) were handled well, although I did struggle at first with the numerous character perspectives. We had first person perspective from Abby, first person diary entries from another character and third person perspectives from Tom, Lil and Joe. Not to mention third person perspective from the missing girl and perhaps others I've missed. There was no indication at the beginning of each chapter as to which character we were with and I really had to concentrate to follow the plot threads.

Under The Midnight Sky is a dark mystery full of secrets, family trauma, sibling love, burgeoning love, obsessive love and enduring love. Themes of memory and family are also explored with a significant reveal at the end. The slow burn romance that developed between two characters started off well, until he called her 'hon' which made me cringe.

Under The Midnight Sky was an engrossing read but is losing a star because two bodies weren't re-homed/re-buried at the end.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S See my review of Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer.

24 April 2019

Dig, Dump, Roll Children's Book Winners Announced

Thanks to the young at heart who entered my children’s book giveaway last week. Up for grabs were 2 copies of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock thanks to Walker Books Australia.

Entries closed on Sunday 21 April and I drew the winners today. Congratulations to:

Sarah & Renae!!
Congratulations Sarah & Renae! You've each won a copy of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton valued at $24.99AUD. I’ll be sending you both an email shortly with the details and Walker Books Australia will be sending out your prizes directly.

Carpe Librum!

21 April 2019

Review: Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor cover
I haven't been this impressed by an author's imagination and world building since reading my first Harry Potter. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a Young Adult fantasy novel and not what I typically read. However, when I read that the main character Lazlo Strange, a war orphan with an active imagination comes to work in a great library after being raised in a monastery by monks, I was keen to pick this up.

Strange was the surname given to all foundlings in the Kingdom and he was given to the monastery as a baby during war time. Strange grew up fascinated by stories and obsessed with the mysteries of the lost city of Weep.

At the age of 13, Strange was asked to deliver some manuscripts to the Great Library of Zosma but never went back. Strange felt instantly at home amongst the manuscripts and scrolls and was taken on as an apprentice. The descriptions of the Great Library of Zosma were incredible and I longed to walk through the Pavilion of Thought and scan the shelves. Imagine the Citadel in Game of Thrones and you can't go wrong.

"The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between." Page 14
"Shelves rose forty feet under an astonishing painted ceiling, and the spines of books glowed in jewel-toned leather, their gold leaf shining in the glavelight like animal eyes." Page 15
The writing is atmospheric and transported me from the first page, here's the description of a kiss from Page 421:
"A first kiss… [it’s like]… finding a book inside another book. A small treasure of a book hidden inside a big common one - like… spells printed on dragonfly wings, discovered tucked inside a cookery book, right between the recipes for cabbages and corn. That’s what a kiss is like, he thought, no matter how brief: It’s a tiny, magical story, and a miraculous interruption of the mundane."
Strange the Dreamer is overflowing with the most amazing writing that made me feel as though I were immersed inside a fairytale. Full of magic, gods, alchemists, scholars, myths and legends, Laini Taylor swept me so far away that I felt I wasn't reading at all. I was very much part of Lazlo's world and accompanying him on his adventures.

Strange the Dreamer is the first in a duology and an absolute certainty for inclusion in my Top 5 Books of 2019. The best part? I have the sequel Muse of Nightmares on my shelves ready to be enjoyed.

Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

17 April 2019

Review: My Book (Not Yours) - Lento and Fox by Ben Sanders

My Book (Not Yours): Lento and Fox by Ben Sanders cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Children's Books *

Australian author and illustrator Ben Sanders lives in Ballarat, Victoria and is best known for being the artist who designed all of the characters on the Natural Confectionary Co. packets. (How's that hey?) Here he brings his artistic talent and creativity to create My Book (Not Yours): Lento and Fox.

Lento the sloth wants to tell us a story, but first he needs a little nap. Meanwhile, Fox wants to be the lead character in the book and swoops in to steal the show.

Lento and Fox then engage in a little tomfoolery and hijinks in an attempt to claim the book for themselves. Their mischief making is reminiscent of sibling rivalry and definitely made me smile.

The illustrations are bright and engaging, and there is very little text. You can see the artistic process and watch Ben Sanders illustrate several of the pages from the book in a short video on YouTube.

My Book (Not Yours) is quick and easy to read with the littlies and is a lot of fun. Readers are asked to decide if they support Team Lento or Team Fox and I'm definitely #teamlento. I love the sloth!

Who wins? You'll have to read the book to find out. Available in June 2019.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Don't forget to enter my children's book giveaway.

15 April 2019

Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson cover
RRP $39.99 AUD
Published April 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Time for another thriller and this month I read Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson. Hen and husband Lloyd move into a new house in Massachusetts and soon meet their next door neighbours, Matthew and Mira at a block party.

When they accept an invitation to their house for dinner, Hen thinks she sees something suspicious in Matthew's study and she begins to suspect him of murder. However, Hen could be an unreliable narrator; she has depression and is on medication and could just be having another one of her turns. Will anyone believe her? Is she losing her mind, or is there a dangerous killer living next door, already stalking his next victim?

I worried early on this was going to become another The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins with a main character that isn't trusted by others due to their addiction or mental health problems. Thankfully the author took us right up to that point and then jolted us into a refreshingly new direction.

There was a minor 'twist' of sorts at the end and to be fair I didn't see it coming. It wasn't earth shattering or mind blowing but it made for an unpredictable ending just the same. I also enjoyed reading from the perspectives of both Hen and Matthew.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson is an enjoyable domestic thriller of merit.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

12 April 2019

Children's Picture Book Giveaway of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, Illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton cover
RRP $24.99 AUD, Age range 2+
Walker Books Australia
Win 1 of 2 copies of children's picture book Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, Illustrated by Brian Lovelock in this week's giveaway. Please enter below for your chance to win thanks to Walker Books Australia.

What’s at work? Here’s a clue:
It will clear the ground for you.

Bulldozer! Coming through!

This is the follow-up to Roadworks that will delight tiny truck enthusiasts. It's an engaging, interactive text that asks readers to guess what kind of vehicle is at work. Visual clues alongside the text help ensure that our readers are challenged but can still be successful with their guesses. In the end, the vehicles work together to build a surprise.


10 April 2019

Review: Treasure Palaces - Great Writers Visit Great Museums Edited by Maggie Fergusson

Treasure Palaces by Maggie Fergusson book cover
RRP $22.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

In a further attempt to clear out my toppling unsolicited TBR pile, I finally picked up Treasure Palaces edited by Maggie Fergusson last month. This is a series of essays by authors writing about the museums they treasure and it was published in December 2016.

Originally published as a series in Intelligent Life called 'Authors on Museums', writers were asked to return to a museum that had played a significant role in their life and write about the experience.

Maggie Fergusson took over the commissioning of the series after its establishment by Tim de Lisle, and at the end of the series a total of 38 essays had been published. Here Fergusson has curated the best 24, and I enjoyed reading them.

A particular highlight for me was Tim Winton's essay on the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) entitled 'Spurned No Longer', which began with his first visit as a scruffy nine year old boy, initially refused entry because he was barefoot. The NGV was an icon for me in my teenage years, and I'd never have imagined living less than 500m from the grand entrance on St Kilda Road many years later.

What I did find interesting was the inclusion of art galleries in this collection of essays, which raised the question: "what's the difference between a gallery and museum?" A little online digging informed me that a gallery is where you can see the art with a view to purchasing it, which makes me wonder if the NGV is suitably named after all.

Another highlight in the collection was the essay by Aminatta Forna about The Museum of Broken Relationships, and not because I've been there, but because I've read about it. (See below).

Treasure Palaces edited by Maggie Fergusson was an enjoyable read, however it was often interrupted as I went to seek out the artworks being referenced within the essays. There are no photographs or images of exhibits included in the text and this would certainly have enhanced my reading experience if there had been.

Recommended for armchair travellers, art lovers, bookworms interested in learning about treasured authors and non fiction readers with an interest in art and science.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. For more museum inspired reviews, check out the following:

08 April 2019

Review: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

* Copy courtesy of HarperCollins Australia *

Irish born Australian author Dervla McTiernan is the bestselling author of The Ruin. Released last year, The Ruin was wildly successful and in fact was one of the five bestselling Australian crime novels of 2018. A year on, and The Scholar is the second in the series to feature DS Cormac Reilly.

Set in 2014 in Ireland, DS Cormac Reilly is still recovering from events in The Ruin, but rushes to the scene of a hit and run when his girlfriend Dr Emma Sweeney phones for help. Cormac begins by identifying the victim, investigating the nearby university and the apparent links to the insanely rich family who fund the research lab where Emma works. Cormac soon finds himself with a conflict of interest and doubts about his girlfriend's involvement in the case.

I read The Scholar as a stand alone (not having read The Ruin), but in doing so I suspect I missed out on some important character development involving Cormac's colleagues and the set up of the complex relationship between Cormac and Emma.

In spite of this, I found a well structured atmospheric crime novel with classic whodunnit and whydunnit themes for the reader to untangle as they follow the investigation.

Cormac Reilly is a likeable protagonist, and fans of the series will be pleased to know the next instalment is due for publication in 2020.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

02 April 2019

Winners of the Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019 Announced

Thanks for all of the birthday wishes and to everyone who helped me celebrate by entering my Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019 last week. Looking at the stats (approximately 100 entries), the most popular book in the giveaway was The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.

This was equalled by an astonishing 18% of entrants who selected the ‘Surprise Me’ option. I included this for a lark one year and was amazed when the winner was a ‘surprise me’. I’d be too nervous to let others choose for me, but it appears many of you are adventurous and daring in your reading and I ought to take note. Now down to bookish birthday business.

I was inspired to draw two winners again this year, and (drum roll):

Lobroo won Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham
Kathryn won Home Fires by Fiona Lowe

A hearty congratulations Lobroo & Kathryn! I’ll be sending you each an email shortly with the details.

I’m looking forward to bringing you a children's picture book giveaway soon with a chance to win a copy of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock. If you want to see giveaway dates as soon as they're locked in, you can check my Giveaways page.

Carpe Librum!

Carpe Librum Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019

30 March 2019

Review: The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker

The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker book cover
I'm not very handy in the kitchen, but love using my slow cooker to prepare easy meals that produce leftovers for the following night. Having zero talent in the kitchen, the title of The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker definitely appealed to me and after borrowing a copy from my library, I soon realised I'd be needing my own. That never happens!

I started reading this last year, but wanted to wait until I'd tried some of the recipes before writing my review. The most popular recipe so far has been the Pulled Pork (Burgers). I serve mine with mash and with just two of us it lasted for several dinners and lunches. It was also an incredibly cheap meal to produce which also has its advantages.

I don't know about you, but when a slow cooker recipe asks me to start by browning meat in a frypan, my eyes roll and I swiftly move on. If I was going to brown meat in a pan, then I may as well cook it there. I'm happy to say only one of the recipes in this book begins this way and I was relieved.

The worst or most unsuccessful recipe so far (for me) was the Hawaiian BBQ Chicken. I just didn't like the texture of the chicken and won't be putting whole chicken breasts in the slow cooker again.

I'm still looking forward to trying out the following recipes from the book: Beef Stroganoff, Easiest Roast Beef Ever, Country Chicken Casserole, Fiesta Chicken and Potato and Leek Soup. Yum!

Kim McCosker is the author who wrote 4 Ingredients and I just found out she's an Australian author too! How did I miss that?

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

27 March 2019

Review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths cover
* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths is a gothic cozy murder mystery with literary leanings and I really enjoyed it.

The story is told from the perspective of three main characters, teacher Clare, daughter Georgie and DS Kaur. Clare is a literature teacher with a passion for the work of gothic writer R.M. Holland. Clare teaches at Holland House, Talgarth High School, the building where the reclusive R.M. Holland lived and wrote The Stranger.

When Clare's friend and colleague Ella is found dead, clues seem to point to the well known ghost story by R.M. Holland, The Stranger.

Set in rural England, this is a classic whodunnit with plenty of literary references. I enjoyed the alternate perspectives of daughter Georgie and DS Kaur's investigative process.

The Stranger Diaries is an enjoyable cozy murder mystery with plenty of potential suspects and I enjoyed the gothic undertones and satisfying conclusion. The inclusion of the short story The Stranger at the end was a bonus.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

25 March 2019

Interview with Jack Heath, bestselling Australian author of Hangman and Hunter

Author Jack Heath, Credit Ben Appleton
Australian author Jack Heath
(Photo credit: Ben Appleton)
Jack Heath lives in Canberra and is the bestselling author of more than 27 acclaimed fiction titles for middle‐grade and YA readers. His books have sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide and been translated into several languages. First published as a teenager, in the course of his research Jack has trained with firearms, performed street magic, visited morgues and prisons, travelled through eleven countries and read only books by women for a year. Heath’s debut into the adult crime genre, Hangman, was a huge success with rights sold across the globe as well as TV option.

A hearty welcome to Carpe Librum Jack! Congratulations on the release of Hunter, the second in the Timothy Blake series, and thanks for including an excerpt of my Hangman review in the praise section. I was ecstatic when I read it and it’s a thrill to interview you today.

Tell me, do you have anything in common with your cannibal protagonist, Timothy Blake?
Much more than I like to admit. I’m a nail-biter, I lie too easily, and I’m prone to a cynical or even nihilistic worldview. I regularly swear off meat (or coffee, or alcohol, or social media) only to indulge at the very next opportunity. Unfortunately, Blake has strengths that I don’t share. He’s observant. Brave. Cunning. He has a good memory. In fairness to me, though, I never ate anybody.

Hangman by Jack Heath cover

Hunter by Jack Heath cover
How do you balance Blake’s dark proclivities with the need to make him likeable?
I’m always walking a tightrope, trying to shock the reader as much and as often as possible without compromising their affection for Blake. Readers are willing to forgive him because he’s so skilled, because he has suffered so much, because he feels so guilty about his sins, and because the people he eats are mostly as bad as he is. Thistle helps make Blake likeable, too. She brings out the best in him, and he would do almost anything for her.

What was your inspiration for the character of FBI Agent Reese Thistle? She’s such a great character, and how did you come up with such a brilliant name?
I wish I could take the credit for the name! It was my wife’s idea. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but the more I wrote, the more it seemed to suit her. She started out, like most of my characters, as just a plot device. In Hangman I needed a counterpoint to Blake—someone who had suffered as much as he had, but hadn’t turned into a monster, and therefore made him morally culpable for his crimes without even knowing about them. But the more backstory I gave Thistle, the more human she became. She’s harder to write than Blake, but I’ve been able to borrow from my own experience to make it easier. Thistle has my taste in—and knack for—music, my history of troubled relationships, my obsession with my job, and my fondness for The X-Files.

Oh, I love The X-Files! Are there any plans to write a crime novel based in Australia? Is the Timothy Blake series set in Texas because (unlike Australia) they have capital punishment, thereby giving Blake access to death row cadavers?
When I was younger I knew the USA mostly from TV, so I thought of it as violent, corrupt, lawless and desperate. Whereas Australia seemed like a pretty nice place, perhaps because I was a middle-class white male living in Canberra. So I set my crime novel in the United States because that seemed more convincing to me at the time. Now I have a more nuanced view of both countries, so I’d like to write a crime novel set in Australia, but not right now. It would look like I was chasing the trend kickstarted by Jane Harper and ably accelerated by Chris Hammer, Sarah Bailey, Emma Viskic and Benjamin Stevenson. People love Blake and his noir distortion of Texas, so my plan is to keep doing that.

I’ve noticed that since the launch of Hunter, you’ve been incredibly generous with your time responding to reader reviews on social media and websites like GoodReads. In fact, the only other Australian bestselling author I’ve seen thank individual readers on such a grand scale is Kate Forsyth. Do you enjoy the publicity and engaging with readers on multiple platforms? Or are you secretly waiting for the time you can bunker down with your writing again?
It wouldn’t be much of a secret if I told you! I’m a bit of a social media addict, so chatting with readers gives me the excuse to log on. Their feedback is very useful in shaping future books, and it makes me happy that they seem so excited to hear from the author. But I feel that social media is an unhealthy distraction from my writing and editing. So I’m looking forward to when the publicity dies down and I can focus on what I really enjoy. Kate Forsyth, by the way, is generous both online and off. We first met at a festival, when I had literally zero dollars in my bank account because the preemptive charge for incidentals at the hotel had cleaned me out. With no other way to pay for food, I was so hungry. Kate convinced her publisher that I—again, a stranger—was a rising star, and they shouted me an amazing dinner at a very fancy restaurant.

Is it true you have a weak stomach and once fainted reading a book by Paul Cleave?
Fainted and vomited. In public. Not a pleasant experience, but very memorable. Words have power! People don’t believe this story, because Hangman and Hunter are so gruesome. But every murder I write makes me a little less squeamish, a little less afraid. Writing is therapy for me. I recently made it through Paul Cleave’s new book Trust No One without losing consciousness, and was very pleased with myself. Maybe I was better prepared.

What’s with the riddles at the beginning of each chapter in Hangman and Hunter?
Blake has a side-hustle slash money-laundering scam solving riddles for cash. Hangman was full of riddles, and my agent suggested putting one at the start of each chapter. I themed them, so a clue to each riddle is hidden within the chapter that succeeds it. This turned out to be a great idea—readers always tell me how much they love the riddles! They’re infuriated if they can’t work out the answers, though.

No way! I never noticed the riddles were themed or that each chapter has a clue. I'm going to have to go back and check now. Having written more than 25 books now, what’s your favourite part of the writing/publishing process?
Every stage of the process—daydreaming, outlining, writing, editing, proofreading, promoting—has its joys and its frustrations. These days my favourite part tends to be the final proofread. That’s when you can see the book as a reader will and marvel at how well it all came together, despite the clumsy, fragile process that led here. I’m proofreading my thirtieth book now—LIARS: Lockdown—and while I’m making plenty of notes, I’m also loving the ride.

Do you have any writing rituals?
If I’m struggling, I go to my local café and sit at the same table, if it’s available. I put my headphones on even if I’m not listening to music. I have a perfectly good office at home, but I spend more than $2,000 per year at that café, and it’s worth it. I can get more done in an hour there than in three hours at home.

What’s your secret reading pleasure?
I try to read as diversely as possible, in terms of genre, era and the background of the author. I also try to avoid bestsellers, knowing that everyone else is reading them too, and fearing that I will start to write like everyone else. I even try to limit myself to reading only one book per author, so I can discover as many writers as possible before I die. But my guilty pleasure is the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child. I’ve read more than twenty of them, maybe all of them. I don’t even know why.

One book per author is something I do too but for a different reason. If a book is an average read I'm unlikely to read anything further from that author given there are so many great authors/books out there waiting to be discovered. However, if I adore a book, then I keep an eye out for their next one. What are you reading this month?

I just finished Home by Harlan Coben and Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood. Now I’m reading The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers, and next will be Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Two by Tom Taylor.

Do you have a favourite bookshop in Canberra?
I used to work at Dymocks Belconnen before my writing career really took off—which it did in part because of the support they gave me. I still love the store, and I go in at least once a week.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I just had a quick look, and Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi is probably the one which would seem most out of place. Then again, the main character is a psychopath, so maybe it’s exactly what you’d expect.

What's next for Timothy Blake?
I just submitted an outline for another Blake book, this time with a more remote, claustrophobic setting. An Agatha Christie-ish limited-suspects whodunnit type thing. If the publisher goes for it, I’d hope to have it written by the end of the year and published in 2020.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks, but I have to get back to proofreading!

Thanks Jack, and fingers crossed your outline is given the stamp of approval. I'm sure I'm not alone in needing another Timothy Blake taste fix next year. Find out more about the author at jackheath.com.au and read a sample chapter of Hunter here.

21 March 2019

Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019

Carpe Librum 2019 Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway
It’s my birthday in March and other than deciding I’m going to start reading Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor, I’m also excited to bring you another bumper birthday stack giveaway. Hip hip hooray!! Historically this has been my most popular giveaway in any given year so let's do it again.

You might be wondering where the books in this 'fat stack' come from. I'm fortunate enough to receive a number of unsolicited books from publishers each month and there's just no way I can get to them all. In some cases, they're also not for me. So to celebrate my birthday I'm sharing this curated stack of books with you.

To win the book of your choice from the pile, just select your favourite using the embedded form below or click here to go straight to the form. Simple as that! 

Depending on the number of entries, I may decide to choose a second winner. (Let's face it, I probably will).

Entries close midnight AEST Sunday 31 March 2019 so good luck and I hope you'll help me spread the birthday bookish cheer 😊