17 February 2020

Bloggernomicon - Lost in a Good Book

I'm proud to welcome my second Bloggernomicon interviewee today. Amy Brownlee’s book blog is called Lost in a Good Book and her byline is: Read, Review, Recommend. It's a pleasure to welcome her to Carpe Librum today.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Amy and thanks for being part of Bloggernomicon. When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
Lost in a Good Book logo
I started reviewing books in January 2012 on the blog, maybe a bit before then on Goodreads. When I decided to create the blog I made up a list of possible names, probably all terrible if I could remember any of them, but I ended up with Lost in a Good Book because I loved the name so much and it seemed perfect for what I wanted to express on the blog. It was serendipitous too because at the time I had started reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and one of the books in the series is Lost in a Good Book which ended up being my favourite of them all.

When I started working as a librarian in 2015 it allowed me to find some fantastic books to read I may never have picked up and getting to share them with a wider audience has been very satisfactory, especially when people tell me they’ve started reading a book because they have read my review. It makes it all worthwhile in a way, even though I was happily doing this blog when no one was reading it.
How many hours (on average) do you spend working on your blog each week?
If I am incredibly organized it can be almost none if everything is beautifully scheduled, but that’s rare. I might spend maybe 10 hours a week? Especially if I am scheduling and writing reviews or rearranging things and doing stuff behind the scenes.

How many books (on average) do you read each year?
It used to be 80 but the last few years it has increased so I’m reading 150 or more.

How many books do you have on your TBR?
Goodreads tells me it is 640 but it is probably more. I think the ones on that list I am realistically never going to read makes up for the ones I do want to read that I haven’t gotten around to adding on there.

How do you organise and keep track of your reviewing commitments?
In the beginning I was a lot more organised with a chart and order to what I needed to read requested books whereas now I am slack in that aspect but more organised in my scheduling. I have a yearly calendar and have a colour code for the days I need a post to go up and label what kind of post it is whether it is a special event, a blog feature post or normal post. I have coloured all the days for the year that need a post and then I override that with another colour when I have a post done for that particular day. That way I can see a whole year and see which days have posts done and which days I still need to fill. I still haven’t found the balance to get my requests that organised but I am trying to make it work.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
I was able to review a debut book for one of my favourite musicians, Voltaire, and I got to interview him about his writing and how his music influenced his writing style. It was an incredible moment and seeing people share their favourite lines and paragraphs of the review was brilliant, especially since I was still starting out with my blog it was a great confidence boost.

What’s your most popular blog post? What can you tell me about it?
It’s actually a strange one; a few years ago I dedicated a month celebrating the book series His Dark Materials which was turning 20. My most popular post comes from one where I explored the characters from the first book The Northern Lights. I have no doubt many are from school searches or other research quests but I hope that one post gets them reading the many others I did about that series at the same time, or onto another part of my blog.






When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
If it is a Young Adult or set in Australia I will probably agree to read it.

Have you ever been pressured to give a positive review or had an author question a review of yours?
In my first year blogging I had an author question my review. She tried to explain why I was wrong and explain the things I hadn’t understood/she hadn’t made clear then asked me to amend my review now that I knew the story better. I’ve had a good run since, maybe only a couple authors who wanted a better explanation than my review why I only gave the stars I did but other than that I’ve been pretty lucky.

What are 3 words that tell you immediately a book is for you?
Slightly cheating on spelling but “Fairy tale retelling.”

What’s your most anticipated new release for 2020?
The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson.

Do you have any advice for reviewers interested in starting a book blog?
The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard book cover
Amy loved this book so much she was
 inspired to create a book blog
Just do it. Honestly. I started this because I had read a book that was so perfect I had to share it with as many people as possible and wider than just Goodreads (The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard FYI). 

If you want to share your thoughts about books or bookish things then find a platform that works for you and make it your own. I started on another host site which was a nightmare but found my home on Wordpress. Even if it takes some time to find your feet (took me over five years to really get my groove) then that is ok because you will learn a lot as you go. Follow blogs who are posting things you like and see how different people do it and get ideas if you are stuck, but diving in and writing about whatever you like and however you like will make the blog your own and you can grow with it.

Thanks so much for the advice and for participating in Bloggernomicon today Amy.

13 February 2020

Review: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic book cover
* Copy courtesy of Echo Publishing *

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is the second in the Australian crime series featuring Caleb Zelic. Deaf since childhood, Caleb is still recovering from the events in Resurrection Bay. His private investigation business is a mess, his relationships are strained and he's struggling with nightmares and flashbacks. Then a young woman tracks him down and begs for his help.

He begins to investigate and with a little help from Tedesco (my favourite character in the series) he starts to uncover a string of crimes in his hometown of Resurrection Bay.

Occasionally the second in a series can fall short of the first, but this definitely isn't the case here. In fact, I'd go so far as to say And Fire Came Down was better than Resurrection Bay. The plot was more engaging and complex, the tension was tighter, the danger was greater and the writing was better.

Caleb's hearing difficulty and use of sign language with several of the characters is my favourite part of this series. Caleb's relationship with his brother Ant was another aspect of the book I really enjoyed and I hope they work things out.

I'm really glad to have caught up with the series and look forward to following Caleb into recently published Darkness for Light. Highly recommended for fans of Australian crime.

My Rating:

10 February 2020

Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert was a 5 star read for me in 2013, so I was eager to find out what her next book was going to be about. Released in 2019, City of Girls is set in 1940s New York and is about a young woman who works in a theatre and socialises with glamorous showgirls.

I made the mistake of assuming this was going to be an overtly feminine story in a setting I couldn't relate to and one that didn't interest me. So when I received a copy for review in mid 2019 it languished on my TBR pile.

I decided to give City of Girls a chance in January and figured the writing would at least hold my attention. Woah! I tumbled into Vivian Morris' story immediately and the setting was unexpectedly seductive. The plot had me entranced, Vivian's character development was completely unexpected as was the abundance of sex!

The deep personal revelations were incredibly moving and I found myself in the expert hands of Elizabeth Gilbert once again. I should have known better. Besides, Gilbert made the study of mosses riveting so I should have guessed she would wave her writing wand over the theatre scene of 1940s New York and produce a dazzling set of characters. Here are two quotes in particular I enjoyed.
"It's not difficult to compliment people in order to try to win their affections. What is difficult is to do it in the right way. Everyone told Celia she was beautiful, but nobody had ever told her she had the carriage of a trained ballerina. Nobody had ever told her she had a face made for her times." Page 118
And another.
"We'll be fine. She and I respect each other, which makes up for the fact that we dislike each other. Or, rather, I respect her. So that's something we share, at least. We have an excellent relationship based on a deep history of profound one-way respect, and plenty of it." Page 150
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is highly recommended for historical fiction lovers. This is not chick lit, this is not a romance novel. It's not a war novel either. It's a deep exploration of one woman's life, her sexual desire and the inner and outer expectations of those around her. It's a coming-of-age novel about choosing a different path. The reader will enjoy witnessing Vivian's personal growth and internal realisations and I found it very incredibly moving in parts.

My Rating:

07 February 2020

Guest review and giveaway of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald

Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald book cover
Today I have the pleasure of introducing a new guest reviewer. 10 year old Sophie Harris loves reading all types of books, but is a huge fan of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter and The School For Good and Evil series. Some of you might remember her older sister Grace's reviews of There May Be A Castle by Piers Torday and Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend back in 2017. 

The Harris family love to read and it's a real pleasure to welcome Sophie to Carpe Librum as she shares her review of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald. Thanks Sophie!

Guest Review by Sophie Harris

I was so lucky to receive a copy of the latest Judy Moody instalment to review. This Judy Moody book was one of the best Judy Moody books yet! Judy and Stink are in a book team called the “Bookworms” and they have to compete against a team called the “Fake Moustache Defenders” in a competition.
Sophie Harris with her copy of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald courtesy of Walker Books Australia, Carpe Librum.
Sophie Harris with her review copy of
Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by
Megan McDonald courtesy of
Walker Books Australia

I really liked it because it features different books like Harry Potter and The Treehouse series in the competition. I would recommend this book for people who like quizzes and you can even answer the questions along with Judy Moody, which was really fun. Well written and easy to read, I would recommend this book for early readers and children 4-11 who just like a good laugh. I rate this book 4 and a half stars, or as Judy would say 4 and a half books!

Sophie's Rating:

Blurb

Books, books, books! Judy, Stink and friends are preparing for the UBER-awesome Book Quiz Blowout! The fifteenth title in the Judy Moody series is jam-packed with book references and a nail-biter of a competition.

Judy Moody is in it to win it. The Virginia Dare Bookworms are reading up a storm to prepare for the book quiz. Judy’s trying out all kinds of tricks: from hanging upside down like Pippi Longstocking to teaching herself to speed read The Princess in Black; even Stink has covered a cape in sticky notes to help him remember all the answers! They may have super reading skills, but who knows when a serious case of brain freeze will strike! Will the Bookworms be as cool as cucumbers or freeze up on the big day?

Giveaway

Walker Books Australia are offering Carpe Librum readers the chance to win one of two print copies of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald valued at $9.99AUD each. The giveaway is open to AUS & NZ entrants, so enter below for your chance to win this children's book for readers aged 8yo+. This giveaway has now closed.

Carpe Librum!

05 February 2020

Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic book cover
Emma Viskic burst onto the Australian crime writing scene back in 2015 and I'm just catching up now. Winning a bunch of awards, Resurrection Bay is the first in the series featuring Caleb Zelic.

Caleb has been deaf since childhood and has learned to adapt by lip reading, closely observing his surroundings and by actively interpreting other key signs and signals. Caleb is an investigator and runs his business with an ex-cop by the name of Frankie.

Caleb is such a fresh and unique character I immediately warmed to him. Caleb's deafness is very much part of who he is and reading about him and the danger he soon finds himself in really helped me to understand the challenges those hard of hearing inevitably face every day.

I can't recall a character like him in crime fiction, perhaps with the exception of John Stefanovitch; a New York cop confined to a wheelchair after being shot and left for dead in the 1989 novel The Midnight Club by James Patterson.

I found myself invested in Caleb way more than the plot, and knew early on this was a series I would continue reading. There's plenty of action, tension and diversity as well as Aussie references and recognisable settings in this debut.

I've already read the next in the series - And Fire Came Down - which I believe is better than this one, which has directly informed my rating below. I'm giving it 3.5 stars rounded down. Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic is highly recommended for crime fiction fans.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

31 January 2020

Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (Photo Credit: Carpe Librum)
Photo Credit: Carpe Librum
Nothing much happens in A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, so why did I fall in love with it? It's not the first time this has happened either. Stoner by John Williams is the slow moving story of an ordinary man and it was such an exquisite portrait of his life that it instantly became an all-time favourite of mine.

Violet Speedwell is the protagonist in A Single Thread and in 1932 she is reeling following the painful loss of her brother and fiance in WWI. Violet decides to leave home and try to make it on her own in Winchester. Life is tough for surplus women and Violet does her best to get by and carve out a life of joy for herself.

While admiring the architecture of the local cathedral, she comes across the work of a group of broderers and decides she'd like to make a kneeler. It will be a permanent reminder of her life when she too is gone.

I've often shared Violet's thoughts that when I die, there will be no lasting evidence I was ever here. One of the reasons I love looking at architecture, paintings and needlework is that I can wonder about the hands that painstakingly created these precious objects from the past and imagine the lives their creators lived. I'm sure the desire to create something that might just outlive me was a small part of the reason I started stitching in the first place. Creating a tangible gift for a loved one with your own hands is something special and Violet wants to do this too.

This combination of historical fiction and stitching - along with the unexpected inclusion of bell ringing - was a sure sign I was going to enjoy this novel.

Adding to my reading experience was the fact I suggested this book for a monthly book club on GoodReads called A Stitcher's Book Club. A couple of us read A Single Thread at the same time and I'm sure this added to my overall reading enjoyment.

Containing themes of family, duty, responsibility, post-war culture, grief and expectations of women in society, A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier was a real feel good read and I heartily enjoyed it.

For more, check out my review of The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier and Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

29 January 2020

Bloggernomicon - Proud Book Reviews

Proud Book Reviews logo
I'm proud to welcome the first official Bloggernomicon interviewee today, Anthea Proudfoot. Based in Melbourne, Anthea's book blog is called Proud Book Reviews and her byline is: expanding my library one book at a time. It's a pleasure to welcome her to Carpe Librum today.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Anthea 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 on April 1st 2018 because I wanted to keep track of what I thought of all the books I was reading. Thankfully my partner (Rick) helped me out with the name coz I'm really shit at naming things! I told him I wanted it to represent me but also make it clear it was about books and he came up with Proud Book Reviews since my last name is Proudfoot (no, I'm not from the Blackfoot tribe but my family is mentioned in Lord of the Rings!).

How many books do you have on your TBR? (Virtual and/or physical)
In physical books I have I think 30-40, but virtual I have like 1500+ free books on BookBub. Kinda why I needed to start a blog to remember what all these new books were about and which ones I loved enough to want to reread!

How do you organise and keep track of your reviewing commitments?
I've been using Trello since I started to get more tours approved and author requests in the later part of 2018 and have started using a whiteboard calendar this year. Trello I use to keep track of whether a book has been committed to, ready to be read, reading, needs a review written, artwork needs to be made/received, is ready to be scheduled, scheduled, published etc. Then I archive them once I've copied the review to the appropriate sites. My whiteboard just has what I'm reviewing/writing on what day so I can visually see how busy I am and where I have space so I don't go crazy requesting too many tours/ARCs.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a book blogger?
I have two. My first is the first author review request after just 3 months of blogging. Adrianna Gavazzoni asked me to review her debut book even though I felt like NO ONE knew who I was. I now need to get her 4th book which was released in November 2019. My other achievement was the first time I could see that at least one person had visited my site every day for 30 days. I'm super proud of that coz it meant people were finding my little corner of the internet and were liking what I had to say enough to keep coming back 😀

What's your most popular blog post? What can you tell me about it?
Hahaha yeah... My most popular post is called "Pottermore inconsistencies - did you see them?". Basically I wrote this up after watching Fantastic Beasts - Crimes of Grindelwald because there were a few things that even my semi-oblivious partner picked up didn't make sense after we'd binged all the Harry Potter movies. I just had to put it out there and I guess people liked it and had something to say too which is cool.

Do you have a favourite publicist or publisher you enjoy dealing with?
She's not really a publicist, but Rachel from Rach Random Resources is amazing. She works so hard to bring great books on tour and it really shows. She makes sure you have the book and all the artwork etc with plenty of time to read and set up your reviews. I also want to give a shout out to Harper Collins Digital, who started pre-approving me for books on NetGalley after they noticed how many of their books I'm getting, loving and reviewing.

Do you spend money on your blog?
Anthea Proudfoot - Proud Book Reviews
Anthea Proudfoot - Proud Book Reviews

Yes. I pay for the domain name, web hosting (My Zuver, I love their support service and they are based in Australia which is awesome) and page builder (Elementor Pro). I try not to pay for anything else though since I'm not making any money.

When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
Having read about me, my review policy etc so they get a sense of what I'll like. For instance, I just had an author submit a review request and he was able to quote information on my website and say why he thought I'd enjoy his book. Taking the time to see that I've liked similar books, (OMG the people who ask me to review YA when I've explicitly said I don't take requests for that genre annoys me!) and having taken 5 minutes to look at my site just warms my heart and butters me up. Makes it much more likely I'll say yes!

Do you use any of the reading statistics spreadsheets out there? Do you make any specific reading goals around trackable criteria?
I've just started to this year. I found out about them a couple of months into 2019 and my OCD wouldn't let me start a spreadsheet that's meant to track a year when I was going to have a few months missing. I've actually combined two spreadsheets I liked the look of and made further modifications to make it suit me. You can find out more in my "2020 - The Yr to Come" post. My goals were more to read one book a week and to read more sci-fi and books from my TBR pile (both trackable with my spreadsheet).

Name something you'd like to achieve in the world of reviewing and blogging about books.
I would LOVE to be mentioned on a book cover ANYWHERE! I see people noted there and until last year I always thought they were paid critics, but I found out last year that they can be regular book bloggers too so I would love to be one of those people! Preferably for an author who I've read and worked with previously because then I've built up a relationship with them. It'd be even better if it was an Aussie author coz I feel like they don't get as much love as the US and UK based authors.

Thanks so much for participating in Bloggernomicon Anthea. Being a fellow Melbournite, I do hope you can join us at the GoodReads catch-up next month.


25 January 2020

2020 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

It's the beginning of a new decade and I'm going to start as I mean to go on, by continuing to challenge my reading choices. I'll be participating in my regular three reading challenges as well as adding a new yearly challenge to the mix. Here's what I'll be participating in this year:
  • 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
  • 2020 Aussie Author Challenge
  • Book Bingo 2020
  • 2020 Historical Reading Challenge
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2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

Aiming for the Franklin level of the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge this year I'll need to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge. The challenge is run by writers and volunteers and encourages readers to discover more books by Australian women.

You don't need to review the books in order to participate either. You can just nominate a particular number of books to read for the year in order to join in. Check out the sign up details here.

Some of the books I'm planning to read for the challenge are:
- A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
- Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
- You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster
- Devil's Lair by Sarah Barrie

2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge
2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge

I'm participating in the newly created Emu level of the Aussie Author Reading Challenge this year. I'll need to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 10 are female, 10 are male, and at least 10 are new-to-me authors. Hosted by Jo from Booklover Book Reviews I'll also need to read from at least 4 different genres.

Some of the books I'm planning to read for the challenge are:
- A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
- Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
- Shark Arm by Philip Roope
- Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater

Book Bingo 2020

Book Bingo 2020

Hosted by Theresa Smith Writes, Mrs B’s Book Reviews and The Book Muse, this is my first year participating in Book Bingo. To complete the challenge, I need to read and review a book from each of the 12 bingo squares. Check in is every second Saturday of the month and I'll be sharing my progress over on the Facebook page.

1. Themes of culture
2. About the environment
3. Set in a time of war
4. Themes of inequality
5. Prize winning book
6. Set in a place you dream of visiting
7. Themes of crime and justice
8. Friendship, family & love
9. Set in an era you'd love to travel back in time to
10. Themes of politics and power
11. Coming of age
12. A classic you've never read before

2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I love historical fiction and will need to read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year.
2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Hosted by Passages to the Past, you don't need a blog to participate either, you can join in on Facebook or GoodReads. Check out the sign up details for more info.

Some of the books I'm planning to read for the challenge are:
- City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater



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You can follow my progress on my Challenges 2020 page as I make my way through these challenges and let me know if you're participating in any reading challenges this year. Have you set any reading goals or targets for 2020? I'd love to hear about them.

Carpe Librum!

23 January 2020

Introducing Bloggernomicon - An ongoing series of interviews with book bloggers and reviewers

Carpe Librum Bloggernomicon - An ongoing series of interviews with book bloggers and reviewers
Today I'm excited to launch Bloggernomicon - An ongoing series of interviews with book bloggers and reviewers.

I realised I enjoy learning about fellow book bloggers and reviewers almost as much as reading about favourite authors so I thought I'd devise a platform by which I could get to know them a little better. I've come up with a selection of 30 questions to choose from and have at least 22 book bloggers and reviewers keen to participate in this new series of interviews here on Carpe Librum.

I thought it was only fair to launch Bloggernomicon by setting the example and answering some questions myself first. So, here we go.

When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
I started my blog in 2005 and it was originally called My Four Bucks, because I always seemed to have more than 2 cents to contribute. In August 2012 I re-branded to Carpe Librum, a name aptly chosen by my husband who drinks and names things.

How many hits does your blog receive each month?
I've received an average of 11,400 hits per month over the last 12 months.

How many books do you have on your TBR? (Virtual and/or physical?)
I have 78 physical books at home to be read, a virtual TBR on GoodReads of 117 and a Maybe shelf on GoodReads of 105 books. Those on the Maybe shelf are books I think I'd like but haven't decided or committed to yet. If I add them together, I have 2.5 years worth of reading on my TBR. Not bad, but I'm very fussy and selective about what I add.

How do you organise and keep track of your reviewing commitments?
I use a spreadsheet to track all review requests and unsolicited books I receive, with dates and notes. I keep a few email folders for correspondence and record the books I request from publishers in Outlook Notes. I then keep a list of all blog posts I want to write (reviews, giveaways etc) in my bullet journal.

I use the private notes function on GoodReads for each book to record title specific information (e.g. requested on x date, received on x date from x publisher etc) so I can stay organised. Books I've requested always receive first priority, then unsolicited books and those from my own backlist jockey for position.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
The launch of my logo in 2016 and reaching a million hits in 2017 were both super proud moments for me. I was on cloud nine for weeks both times. Being asked to be a blogger for the Melbourne Writer's Festival two years running was a major highlight and something I'm very proud of.

Does your blog make money?
Unfortunately no.

What book have you had on your TBR the longest? How long has it been there?
I've had Inheritance by Christopher Paolini on my bookshelf waiting to be read since.... 22 June 2011. Eeeek!

What are 3 words that tell you immediately a book is not for you?
Zombies, espionage and virus.

What are 3 words that tell you immediately a book is for you?
Twins, mansion, secrets.

If you could improve one thing on your blog, what would it be?
I'd love to increase my email subscribers. Having 11,000+ hits per month is fantastic, but having dedicated email subscribers who want to read your posts when they pop up in their busy inboxes gives me immense joy.

What's your most anticipated new release for 2020?
That's easy, The School of Glass by Bridget Collins. The Binding by Bridget Collins was in my Top 5 Books of 2019 list so I can't wait to read her new novel. I haven't even seen the blurb yet so I have no idea what it's about but I hope it's another masterpiece.

Name something you'd like to achieve in the world of reviewing and blogging about books.
I've had the pleasure of being mentioned in an author's acknowledgments and praise section of a book on a few occasions and that's always a huge achievement so I'd like to continue receiving that level of recognition. It's such a buzz every time and maybe I'll make it onto the back cover one of these days. I know some of my fellow bloggers have achieved this so it's definitely possible.

I hope you'll enjoy Bloggernomicon and are as excited as I am about the series. I'm pleased to announce the first interviewee is Anthea Proudfoot, author of Proud Book Reviews. Stay tuned!

21 January 2020

Review: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn cover
* Copy courtesy of Bookstr and Atria Books in 2017 *

Spencer Quinn (pseudonym for Peter Abrahams) is better known for his Chet and Bernie mystery series of books featuring a canine narrator and private investigator.

In The Right Side, Quinn has created a stand alone novel about LeAnne Hogan, an Afghanistan war veteran coming to terms with life after the Army. LeAnne suffers from PTSD and physical ailments as a direct result of her service in Afghanistan, including the loss of an eye and permanent scars on her face.

Recuperating and receiving psychiatric treatment in Walter Reed Military Medical Centre, I found it hard to genuinely warm to LeAnne. Written in the third person, she's abrasive, full of anger and confusion and comes off as abrupt and uncaring. I did enjoy the bond she formed with her roommate Marci though and wanted this to continue longer that it did.

After losing Marci, LeAnne recklessly abandons her treatment and goes rogue as a mystery begins to take over the plot. I found the constant jumps in the timeline a little confusing and some of the elements of her emotional state seemed unrealistic to me but fine for the general reading audience.

Dog lovers will enjoy the appearance of a dog later in the novel and while I'm not a dog person, I couldn't help but enjoy their interactions. LeAnne and the dog have a special connection and bond that was evident on the page and made me laugh out loud several times.

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn contains themes of duty, honour, sacrifice, survivor's guilt, anger, betrayal, recovery, healing and love. I just wanted more.

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

17 January 2020

My Top 10 Books of the Decade (2010 - 2019)

This list is my own personal top 10 favourite books of the decade. This list has been drawn from the books I've read during the last ten years, and isn't a list of the best published books of the decade. Each book chosen has stood the test of time in my own personal reading experience. Some were new releases, some were backlist and some were published decades (or in one case more than 100 years) ago.

Here are my Top 10 Books of the Decade (2010 - 2019) in the order I read them:

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton book cover

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

A dual narrative historical fiction novel about a 4yo girl abandoned on a ship bound for Australia in 1913.

Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Published in 1889, this Penguin Classic is about a trip up the Thames river by three men and is an absolute hoot.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

An historical fiction fairytale retelling of Rapunzel full of passion, love, hardship, revenge and redemption.

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

A uniquely Australian novel about two families. Incredibly memorable and moving.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I don't read much science fiction but this was MacGyver in space with an awesome sense of humour.

Stoner by John Williams

A deeply honest portrait of an average man told with such care and beauty that the ending brought a tear to my eye.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

The only non fiction book of the list, I learned a lot about myself and others in this book and still think about it every few days.

The Corset by Laura Purcell

A Victorian gothic thriller about secrets, friendship, needlework, gruesome hardship, betrayal, revenge, redemption, hope, poison and mystery with an ending that made me gasp.

The Binding by Bridget Collins book cover

The Binding by Bridget Collins

A combination of fantasy and historical fiction about the art of binding memories into a book.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

A young adult fantasy novel about a boy who grows up in a library and is obsessed by the mysteries surrounding the lost city of Weep.

Thoughts?

Wow, what an eclectic list! What are your thoughts? It was great to see three Australian authors on the list and a good combination of genres represented. 

An honourable mention should go to one of my favourite authors Philippa Gregory. Two of her books were included on my Top 5 books of 2015 and 2016 respectively, but she just missed out on making it onto my Top 10 Books of the Decade. 

Have you read any of the books on my Top 10 list?

Carpe Librum!

15 January 2020

2019 Reading Stats

I love hearing about the reading stats of others and it's been a while since I've shared my own so here we go. 2019 was a record breaking year of reading for me. I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms and I'm sure this was directly responsible for my increased reading results.

I read a new personal best of 75 books in 2019.

Gender

Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Gender
Gender never influences my reading choices but I continued to track my reading by gender in 2019. 69% of the books I read were written by female authors, 26% by male authors and 5% by more than one author. I was surprised to have read predominantly female authors and I will aim to have more balance in 2020. I'd like to make the point that my participation in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge has no influence on my choosing to read more women than men.

Author

I also find it interesting to track whether an author is new to me or not and in 2019, 71% of the authors I read were new to me, meaning the remaining 29% of books I read were by authors I've read before.

Genre
Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Genre

What did I read? Historical fiction formed the greatest portion of my reading at 20%; not surprising given it's my favourite genre. Non fiction formed 12% of my reading for the year which I'm very happy with.

Fiction and crime fiction formed 30% of my reading - 15% each respectively - and next was true crime which formed 7% of my reading.

Source

In 2018, review books from publishers, publicists and authors formed 79% of my reading while books I owned formed 13% and books borrowed from friends or the library constituted the remaining 8% of books. I began 2019 wanting to read more from my own TBR pile, so how did I do? Review books formed 75% of books read in 2019 so I managed to achieve a small reduction which is good. I also managed to increase the owned books I read to 21% and I can see a visual reduction in my physical TBR as a consequence which is fantastic.

In 2020, I aim to read at least one of my own backlist books every month. (E.g. not a new release or review book).
Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Books Per Month

Carpe Librum 2019 Reading Stats Pages Per Month

Monthly stats

You can see a corresponding trend in the two graphs above between books read per month and pages read per month. May was my best reading month of the year in terms of both number of books read and number of pages read with August being the worst.

Reading

On average I read 73 pages per day in 2019 and managed to get through one book every 5 days. I know I could read more if I went to bed earlier, but that's always the challenge isn't it? The average book length for me was 357 pages.

Ratings

In 2019 I gave 12 books a rating of 5 stars. This equates to 16% of my total reading and is considerably lower than 27% in 2018. My average star rating for the year was 3.5 stars and I'm quite happy with that because it means when I give a book a 4 or 5 star rating, it definitely stands out from the rest.

Giveaways

In 2019 I ran 9 giveaways and enjoyed giving away $360 worth of books and prizes. I'm already organising the first giveaway for 2020 and you can keep track of events on my giveaways page.

Tracking

It was my second year recording my data in the stats spreadsheet provided by Portal in the Pages and I look forward to using it again in 2020. Sophie provides the spreadsheet free of charge every year for booklovers to use and personalise and it's a lot of fun to track your reading habits and achievements.

Feel free to check out my Reading Year in Review on GoodReads too, where you'll see everything I read in a snapshot. Otherwise I'm looking forward to another productive year of reading. Do you track your reading stats?

Carpe Librum!


10 January 2020

Review: A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski

A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Women's literature isn't a favourite genre of mine, so when I received A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski for review back in June 2018, I wasn't in any particular hurry to get to it. An intriguing premise and beautiful cover held promise I might enjoy this, but I haven't picked it up until now in a concerted effort in 2020 to try and reduce my unsolicited TBR pile.

Mature female characters Adele, Ros, Simone and Judy have belonged to an online book club for years but have never met face-to-face. When Adele agrees to house-sit a property in the Blue Mountains, she decides on a whim to invite the other three women for a bookclub getaway. All four women are facing different challenges in their lives, and accept the invitation for different reasons.

The trip will be about rest, recreation and reading. Each woman is to bring along a book for bookclub that tells the group something about themselves and enough copies for all participants to read. Taking it in turns, the women will read a book a week and discuss one each Sunday, hence the title, A Month of Sundays.

Once I was able to keep the characters' lives straight in my head, I warmed to the setting and social interaction between the women quite quickly. Their book discussions were my favourite part of the novel - naturally - and their growing friendships were a 'feel good' guilty pleasure.

The problems each of the characters were dealing with were of interest, despite the fact that the women were at least two decades or more older than me. The familiar Australian setting of the Blue Mountains was also a plus.

A Month of Sundays by Australian author Liz Byrski is a novel about ageing, the joy of reading and the importance of deep and meaningful friendships. It was an unexpected delight to read and I can highly recommend it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 January 2020

Top 5 Books of 2019

I read a new personal best of 75 books in 2019, however only 12 books earned a 5 star rating. Having fewer 5 star reads did make the selection of my Top 5 Books of 2019 a little easier, however I'd like to reiterate this list has been drawn from the books I read in 2019; they weren't all published in 2019.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2019 in the order I read them:

1. The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding by Bridget Collins cover
This was one of my most anticipated reads for 2019 and I loved it. In this world, books are forbidden and the profession of bookbinder is akin to that of a witch. A binder has the power to take a traumatic memory - or series of memories - and erase it from a person's mind by binding it into a book. Those suffering grief and trauma often seek the services of a binder, despite being shrouded in superstition and plagued by prejudice.

I enjoyed reading about Emmett's apprenticeship to Seredith and was pleasantly surprised to learn Collins is an amateur bookbinder herself. Her experience in this field clearly shines through.

The Binding is a combination of fantasy and historical fiction or historical fiction meets urban fantasy and I loved that it contained hints of folklore and myth whilst remaining rooted in reality.

2. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor cover
This is a Young Adult fantasy novel and I haven't been this impressed by an author's imagination and world building since reading my first Harry Potter.

Our main character Lazlo Strange is a war orphan raised in a monastery and library by monks. He has an active imagination, grew up fascinated by stories and comes to work at the Great Library of Zosma. Strange is obsessed with the mysteries of the lost city of Weep and is determined to find out what happened there. Perfect premise right?

Full of magic, gods, alchemists, scholars, myths and legends, Strange the Dreamer is overflowing with the most amazing writing that made me feel as though I were immersed inside a fairytale.

3. Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir cover
Historical fiction author Alison Weir is no stranger to my Top 5 book lists, two years ago she featured in my Top 5 Books of 2017 with Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession and she's done it again. Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets is the fourth in the Six Tudor Queens series and is the story of Anna of Kleve, or Anne of Cleves as most of us know her.

In this historical fiction imagining of her life in the 1500s, Weir has provided an alternate history for Anna of Kleve. It is well known Henry VIII had their arranged marriage annulled and Anna was known from then on as the King's Beloved Sister. However Alison Weir takes us beyond this turning point in her life all the way through until King Henry's death in 1547 and Anna’s own death a decade later in 1557.

Thanks to Hachette Australia for this copy, I eagerly await the next in the series due to be published in 2020, Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen.

4. Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Snake Island by Ben Hobson cover
A bitter dispute between the Cahills and the Moore family drives this fast-paced crime thriller. Set in regional Victoria where I grew up, the feud is fuelled by small town gossip and a sense of family loyalty by both families.

The situation goes from bad to worse, others get caught up in the mess and I was on edge the entire time wanting to know what was going to happen.

Each of the characters is flawed in their own way and each made decisions that either failed to halt the crisis or added fuel to the fire. Each character was memorable and realistic as they explored the often complex relationships between fathers and sons as well as themes of duty, forgiveness, regret, retribution, the cycle of violence, familial love and legacy.

Snake Island by Ben Hobson (courtesy of Allen & Unwin) was a terrific rural thriller and you can read my interview with the author here.

5. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware book cover
This is gothic domestic noir meets creepy psychological thriller and I absolutely loved it. The novel starts with a live-in nanny (Rowan) accused of being responsible for the death of one of the children in her care at Heatherbrae House in a remote area in Scotland. The novel is her account of the events.

Heatherbrae House is a newly renovated smart house and is run via the use of a smart app. Previous nannies haven’t stayed long and things begin to go wrong in the house fairly early on. The writing is perfectly paced with an unexpected juxtaposition of the old and new parts of the house leading to a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (thanks to Penguin Random House Australia) had an ending that took my breath away and made it an instant addition to my Top 5 list for the year.
_________________________________________________________________________________

Have you read any of the books on this list? What were your favourite reads in 2019?

Carpe Librum!

01 January 2020

Review: Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin

Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin cover
RRP $19.99 AUD
Published November 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

After the demonstrably successful Fucking Apostrophes in 2016, Simon Griffin is back with Fucking Good Manners. December is the perfect time of year for a laugh. Everyone is busy, it's hot and hectic and there's quite a bit of argy bargy when it comes to Christmas shopping and being considerate of others. Griffin acknowledges that we can ALL do better when it comes to our manners and sets out to demonstrate.

Chapter headings like public transport, driving, public toilets, queuing, the workplace and social media give the reader an accurate picture of what will follow.

Griffin quickly identifies many of our pet hates when it comes to dealing with others (family, friends, workmates and strangers) and in doing so, inspires us to do better. The author uses his sense of humour to shed light on every day issues and just like Fucking Apostrophes, he frequently makes me laugh in doing so.

In fact, I was reading this book in a hospital waiting room and cracked up when I got to this part:
"The business world is full of ugly acronyms, obscure abbreviations and bullshitty jargon, generally designed to make people feel more intelligent than they are. It started with thinking outside the box, putting ducks in rows and hitting the ground running, but each workplace has its own unique set of bullshit buzzwords. Forget about running things up the flagpole and touching base and getting the ball rolling and peeling back the fucking onion. Stop wasting people's time with this gibberish and start using some plain fucking English." Pages 135 & 136
It was the classic cliche of laughing while reading in a public space, but this really did happen! A few old people were sitting across from me and were glowering but too bad, their loss.

However, the best part of the book came at the end while reading the Acknowledgements when I recognised my name mentioned in the thanks section. This immediately elevated this to a 5 star reading experience, but I need to stay true to the rating I'd already settled on in my mind before I lost my shit seeing my name printed in another book.

Fucking Good Manners by Simon Griffin is a funny book with instant appeal for readers of all ages. It does contain the 'f' word on every page though, so use your discretion. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!


My Rating:

30 December 2019

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge & Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2019

Two reading challenges close to my heart (because they're both Australian and are run by some of my favourite bloggers) are the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge. I successfully completed both challenges again this year and thought I'd wrap them up together.

2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

To complete the Franklin level of the 2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge I had to read 10 books and review 6 of them. I improved on last year's tally of 15 books and read the following 21 books:
Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2019 logo

1. The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker ✭✭✭1/2
2. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan ✭✭✭
4. Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer ✭✭✭
5. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
6. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein ✭✭✭✭
7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
8. The Accusation by Wendy James ✭✭✭✭1/2
9. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ✭✭✭✭
10. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose ✭✭
11. Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford ✭✭✭
12. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ✭✭✭✭
13. Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett ✭✭✭
14. Hide by S.J. Morgan ✭✭✭✭
15. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean ✭✭✭
16. Hive by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
17. Rogue by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
18. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ✭✭✭✭
19. Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ✭✭✭
20. The Choke by Sofie Laguna ✭✭
21. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper ✭✭✭

Aussie Author 2019 Challenge

For the Aussie Author 2019 Challenge I had to read and review 12 titles by Australian authors across a minimum of 3 genres. 4 titles had to be by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 had to be new (to me) authors. I improved on last year’s number of 26 and read the following 30 books:
Aussie Author Challenge 2019 logo

1. Dead Heat by Peter Cotton ✭
2. Hunter by Jack Heath ✭✭✭✭✭
3. Green Is The New Black by James Phelps ✭
4. The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker ✭✭✭1/2
5. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan ✭✭✭
6. Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer ✭✭✭
7. My Book (Not Yours) by Ben Sanders ✭✭✭
8. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
9. Boxed by Richard Anderson ✭✭✭✭
10. A Lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley ✭✭✭
11. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein ✭✭✭✭
12. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
13. The Accusation by Wendy James ✭✭✭✭1/2
14. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ✭✭✭✭
15. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose ✭✭
16. The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins ✭✭✭
17. Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford ✭✭✭
18. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ✭✭✭✭
19. Snake Island by Ben Hobson ✭✭✭✭✭
20. Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett ✭✭✭
21. Silver by Chris Hammer ✭✭✭
22. Hide by S.J. Morgan ✭✭✭✭
23. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean ✭✭✭
24. Sh*t Towns of Australia by Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole ✭
25. Hive by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
26. Rogue by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
27. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ✭✭✭✭
28. Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ✭✭✭
29. The Choke by Sofie Laguna ✭✭
30. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper ✭✭✭

As you can see, I had a prolific reading year in 2019 supporting Australian authors and publishers with some fantastic titles in the mix across a variety of genres.

I'll be signing up for both challenges again in 2020 and sign-up pages are already open so visit the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and 2020 Aussie Author Challenge pages for more info.

Carpe Librum!


29 December 2019

Review: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice book cover
Prince Lestat by Anne Rice was a disappointing read for me in 2017, which has made the next in The Vampire Chronicles series - Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis - a real worrisome presence on my TBR. Given to me for Christmas in 2016, it even made my Intimidating Books on My Bookshelf post for Boomerang Books back in May 2018.

Reviewing this post recently, I realised I was yet to tackle any of the books from the list and decided Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis was the easiest and most accessible. And I'm so glad I did. Anne Rice has returned to form and the storyline has moved quickly on from the stagnancy of the previous novel. What a relief.

The history behind Amel's beginnings were unexpected and the revelations about Atlantis were engaging. The overall message about the creation of mankind as we know it allowed Rice a particular slant on things which didn't involve religion and was therefore a refreshing take on humanity as we know it.

Our favourite vampires were present in the novel and once again we heard from some of them in alternating chapters. I don't mind admitting I found the complex relationships between fledglings and makers and their overlapping histories a little difficult to keep up with at times, but fortunately Rice continually reminds us of their connections to one another.

I enjoyed hearing about Marius's efforts to create a constitution to govern the blood drinkers and I hope to learn more about the rules established for the court in future books. Speaking of the court, classical music was played - and mentioned - every night at the Chateau and the observations about dress were present on every page. That said, there did appear to be a little less description in favour of a tad more action this time around which was welcomed.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice cannot be read as a stand alone, but the good news is the next in this series was published in 2018 and is called Blood Communion (Book 13). I've decided to continue with the series and look forward to reading it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★