15 January 2021

WIN a signed copy of Dead Regular by Harry Colfer

Dead Regular by Harry Colfer book cover
* Copy courtesy of the Author *

Paramedics are incredible people and Australians are lucky to have such a reliable ambulance service in our states and territories. Brisbane paramedic Harry Colfer (a nom de plume) has published his debut novel Dead Regular, and is giving Carpe Librum readers the chance to win a signed copy. Dead Regular is a murder mystery set on the streets of Brisbane full of suspense and dark humour. Sound good?

Enter below (or click here to enter) and good luck!


Catching a serial killer won’t be easy when nobody suspects murder…

One thing is stopping Jono from loving his job as a paramedic. It’s not the blood and gore, nor the vomiting drunks, not even the seemingly endless rolling shifts. It’s the overbearing management. He’s a competent clinician who always does the best for his patients, but petty bureaucracy and red tape never fail to fire him up.

Despite this disaffection, Jono won’t ignore the fact that several ambulance ‘regulars’ have been turning up dead. Each death in itself seems innocent enough, but the sudden mounting body count raises his suspicions. Is it just a coincidence, or has someone decided to clean up the city? What’s more worrying is that Jono appears to be the only one who cares.

Author Bio

Harry Colfer is the pseudonym of an experienced paramedic who lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. Although his stories are totally fictional, his writing style is very realistic and he maintains a healthy level of paranoia with respect to his anonymity.

To date he has published twenty short stories in the Ambo Tales From The Frontline series and plans to write another twelve, one for each of the thirty-two AMPDS codes, the system used worldwide to categorise emergency calls. He has also written Beneath Contempt, the sequel to Dead Regular, which will be available in 2021.


This giveaway is for a signed print copy of Dead Regular for AUS & NZ entrants valued at $16.99AUD, and a print copy for international entrants. Enter below and good luck!

13 January 2021

Guest Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


Today guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise shares his thoughts on Letters From Berlin by Australian author Tania Blanchard, an 'unforgettable tale of love, courage and betrayal inspired by a true story.'


Berlin, 1943.

As the Allied forces edge closer, the Third Reich tightens its grip on its people. For eighteen-year-old Susanna GΓΆttmann, this means her adopted family including the man she loves, Leo, are at risk.

Desperate to protect her loved ones any way she can, Susie accepts the help of an influential Nazi officer. But it comes at a terrible cost – she must abandon any hope of a future with Leo and enter the frightening world of the Nazi elite.

Yet all is not lost as her newfound position offers more than she could have hoped for … With critical intelligence at her fingertips, Susie seizes a dangerous opportunity to help the Resistance.

The decisions she makes could change the course of the war, but what will they mean for her family and her future?

Neil's Review

Facto-fictional, ‘based on fact’ and even historical, the family history of the Jewish/Australian migrant has become one of the more popular genres deriving from World War II. Letters From Berlin moves a step further to include both the self-seeking Nazi official, the resistance fighters and the impact of the Russian incursion from the east.

The resulting amalgam offered by Tania Blanchard provides a deeply satisfying and moving account of family life and relationships in Germany from comfortable pre-Nazi times into early Communism with a rather more tenuous bridge to Australian reflection on a time past but not forgotten.

Blanchard tracks the decline of a land-holding family from benevolent innocence through brutal terror to tormented realisation of the unrelenting brutality of both the Nazi and succeeding Communist regimes in East Germany. Adoption as a trail from loss and a path to survival feature heart-rendingly in some of the more powerful scenes while the sweetness and the bitterness of love blend with the impact of jealousy to link survivors towards an unexpected resolution.

Letters From Berlin invokes the power of the hand-written letter as a memory record and as an historical tracer to times irrecoverable. It evokes tears of anger and tears of distress so that, ultimately, it provides an opening into a world seldom mentioned, a world of the farming gentry of Germany during World War II and, on that most satisfying level, a good read.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

12 January 2021

2021 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

It's great to start the year with a clean slate of reading challenges and the giddy anticipation of another awesome year of reading ahead. Today I'm signing up for the following year long challenges in 2021.

2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge logo
2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

This year I'm aiming to complete the Franklin level of the 2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

To complete the challenge I'll need to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to be successful. The challenge is run by writers and volunteers and encourages readers to discover more books by Australian women.

Social media tags: #AWW2021 @auswomenwriters 
Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021 logo

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021

Hosted by Jo at Booklover Book Reviews, I'm signing up to complete the Emu level of the challenge. 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. I'll also need to read from a minimum of 4 genres. Last year I almost didn't achieve the criteria to read 10 books by male Australian authors, so will start early to be more mindful of my selections.

Social media tags: #AussieAuthor21 @BLBookReviews

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge logo

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Hosted by Passages to the Past for the last few years, Marg at The Intrepid Reader is once again hosting this Historical Fiction Reading Challenge in 2021. I'm aiming to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the challenge which is to read 10 historical fiction books.

Social media tags: #histficreadingchallenge @MargReads

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This will be my second year participating in the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge and this time I'm aiming for the level of Nonfiction Nibbler. Hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out, I'll need to read 6 books from the categories below in order to complete the challenge.

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge logo
Social media tags: #2021ReadNonFic @bookdout

1. Biography
2. Travel
3. Self-help
4. Essay Collection
5. Disease
6. Oceanography
7. Hobbies
8. Indigenous Cultures
9. Food
10. Wartime Experiences
11. Inventions
12. Published in 2021


You can follow my progress over on my Challenges 2021 page and feel free to let me know if you're participating in any reading challenges this year.

Carpe Librum!

11 January 2021

Top 5 Books of 2020

I had a little difficulty coming up with this list of my favourite books for 2020. In the past I've been proud of the fact that my Top 5 lists have included a combination of review titles, classics and backlist books. This year my shortlist contained only review books. It's not that I didn't read any great 5 star books from my backlist TBR (I'm looking at you Inheritance by Christopher Paolini) but they just didn't make the cut.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2020 in the order I read them:

1. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert book cover
I've been sharing my Top 5 Books since 2014, but if I'd started a year earlier then The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert would definitely have made that list.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is about a young woman in 1940s New York who works in a theatre and socialises with glamorous showgirls. I made the assumption this wouldn't be anywhere near as good as The Signature of All Things and went into it expecting an overtly feminine story unlikely to hold my attention. I was so wrong!

In my review, I explain this isn't a romance novel or chick lit. 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 and I enjoyed witnessing Vivian's personal growth and internal realisations and found it incredibly moving in parts.

2. The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The Foundling by Stacey Halls book cover
After the success of The Familiars, the premise and stunning cover design of The Foundling by Stacey Halls drew me in immediately.

Set in London in 1754, Bess Bright makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her illegitimate newborn baby at the Foundling Hospital in London, promising herself she will come back to claim her daughter as soon as she can. Years later, Bess returns only to find her daughter has already been claimed, by her.

This intriguing premise and the unique storytelling style let me know I was in expert hands once again from the very first page. Stacey Halls was able to bring every aspect of Georgian London to life and I greatly enjoyed it.

3. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott book cover
The opening few chapters of The Rain Heron by Australian author Robbie Arnott were absolutely sublime. I fell in love with the seamless blend of fable and fairytale as I was introduced to the mythical rain heron.

What follows from there is a literary eco-fable, with elements of magical realism in a dystopian setting. There's plenty of tension and some terrific character growth and I felt a real love of nature in both the mountainous and coastal settings featured in the book. There's a clear concern about our environment bubbling along in the background of the story, adding climate-fiction to the number of genres this slim novel falls into.

My reading enjoyment was enhanced even further when my sister read the book and we were able to discuss it. What joy!

4. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett book cover
This prequel to The Pillars of the Earth was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it didn't disappoint. It came in at a whopping 817 pages and begins in the year 997AD with an introduction to our main character Edgar the Boatbuilder.

Themes of good and evil feature throughout the book and the everyday harsh conditions of farmers, bakers, merchants and priests were expertly written.

Once again my reading enjoyment was enhanced when my Dad began reading his own copy and we were able to discuss the goings on and enjoy the great reveal close to the end of the book.

5. Hideout by Jack Heath

Hideout by Jack Heath book cover
This gritty and bloody crime series featuring a cannibal consultant by the name of Timothy Blake is my favourite Australian crime series, and Hideout was a highly anticipated release in 2020.

Blake is an intelligent, clever and oddly funny anti-hero, and the reader can't help but hope he succeeds in his endeavours, despite knowing about his gruesome proclivities. Blake thinks quick on his feet and is only too aware of his flaws. However, he continues to struggle with his inner demons in the series; wanting to be a better person yet readily identifying with the bad guys.

The unexpected plot developments make this dark and grisly series uniquely refreshing and I can't wait until the next bloody instalment.

Hangman just missed out on my Top 5 list back in 2018, so the inclusion of Hideout on this list does redress that a little.

That's it! What do you think of my list? What was your favourite read in 2020? 

07 January 2021

Review: Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd

Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd book cover
This was so much fun! Death of a Typographer is a geeky font lover's crime novel written by talented Australian author Nick Gadd and is unlike anything I've read before. Set in Melbourne, our main character Martin Kern has typomania and an unusual sensitivity to bad font. Martin uses his skills to solve typographical crime (brilliant, right?) but when a local printer is murdered, he's drawn to investigate the death of the title along with journalist Lucy Tran.
"Like all journalists, she used fonts daily, but it had never occurred to her to wonder where they came from or who made them. It was like peering through a microscope and discovering that a glass of clear water was teeming with life." Page 70
Death of a Typographer is full of clever font references but you don't need to know much about font in order to enjoy the jokes. I'm sure there were some I missed, but that's all part of the charm.
For instance, I loved the description of the world of Dark Type (Dark Web) on page 185 as containing: font anarchists, urban type guerrillas, swash junkies, glyph hackers, psychotypographers, punk calligraphers, cryptosymbolists and anarcho-punctuationists.

In this cozy mystery, amateur sleuths Martin and Lucy put their investigative skills to use in order to get to the bottom of a series of murders and determine if there really is a secret font designed by the reclusive - and possibly deceased - Dutch designer Pieter van Floogstraten. Is he a genius? Is he crazy?
"There's something about a life spent fiddling with serifs and glyps that can addle the brain. They call it 'font rot'. The history of type is littered with madness, destruction and death. Remember Cobden Sanderson? Tossed all his type into the river Thames to stop anyone else from using it." Page 184
This reference to T.J. Cobden-Sanderson was my favourite moment of the book, having learned about the legend of Dove Type while reading Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem in October 2019.

Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd is an entertaining read, with a fresh slant (get it?) on the cozy crime genre. Highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

05 January 2021

Guest Review: Beowulf - A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf - A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *


Beowulf is an epic poem that is approximately 1,000 years old. Written in Old English, it has been translated many times, with varying interpretations of the text a result of the condition and notations that have been made to this medieval manuscript across the centuries.

Scholars don't know the original title of the poem or the identity of the author, but the story is set in Scandinavia and there is only one copy, which is housed in the British Library.

Hundreds of translations of Beowulf have been made over the years, and today Scribe Publications is publishing a new feminist translation by Maria Dahvana Headley. Retired academic and Carpe Librum guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise decided to take on this classic, and shares his thoughts on the translation below.

Neil's Review

…a radical new verse interpretation … which brings to light elements never before translated into English”. So reads the cover blurb. But wait, there’s more. In the publisher’s words, Headley presents “A new, feminist translation”.

As you can see, before I have even cracked the covers, I am troubled. Deeply troubled. Having suffered the torment of a high school initiation into the wonders of this oldest surviving example of Olde English, I am suspicious. Am I embarking on a radical interpretation or a feminist translation? So, what is the difference between an interpretation and a translation? And “… elements never before translated into English”? Well! Really? This is surely a challenge enough for any reader.

So the radical interpretation begins:
“Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of Kings? In the old days everyone knew what men were”. 
What?? A feminist translation begins with an address to “Bro”? About “what men were”? Now I will have to keep reading.

Headley’s new translation/interpretation of Beowulf does present some significant challenges. It’s address to “Bro” certainly flags the beginning of a story but it also screams that the audience is male – and all thoughts of what feminism has come to mean fly out the window. Nevertheless, as the story progresses, the author’s style begins to imprint itself on the narrative. The sheer poetry lifts the reader into a realm that is both familiar and even enlivening. The alliterations, some familiar, some strikingly original and some effectively translated help draw out the ironies, help intensify the agonies and underscore the ecstasies. Occasional couplets challenge the reader to remain conscious of the poetic rendering of the tale and amplify Headley’s pursuit of a style which was “meant to be shouted over a crowd of drunken celebrants” (p. xvi) because Beowulf is “not a quiet poem”. Rather, it is “a living text in a dead language”.

All of which would seem to suggest that the radical new, feminist Beowulf is a predictable successor to all of those which have come before. Not so, however. Headley has resurrected that ‘living text’ from its dead language to create an essentially gripping new tale. 

The rise of young Beowulf is an epic and familiar story. It is the story of many famous leaders who performed amazing feats in their earlier years, rose through rank and fortune to lead their nations and died in one last fight too far for the very same challenge that won their reputation in the first place.

Beowulf reports the killing of monsters, wanton, wicked creatures who destroy the fabric of peaceful society. Beowulf earns the mortal enmity of Grendel’s mother, a warrior woman as capable as Beowulf himself, by killing the young man. That he defeats her in her attempt to obtain revenge is a matter of good luck rather than good management. God is with him on the day.

The role of God in Beowulf offers evidence of the impact of Christianity in Norse/English lore, legend and mythology; as the role of fire-breathing dragons in starting life-destroying fires may remind us of how bushfires are started by lightning strikes (from evil spirits in the sky?). Managing fires, managing desperate politically and religiously inspired terrorism like 9/11 are not new stories, from the Sicarii Zealots of the first century AD to the Fenians then bin Laden and beyond, we are familiar with the fight to keep society safe. 

Headley has updated Beowulf, made the language accessible and, for this reader at least, revived an interest in the origins of mythological beasties. She may also have finally produced a version of Beowulf that is accessible to school students.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

03 January 2021

2 Aussie Reading Challenge Wrap Ups for 2020

The final two reading challenge wrap ups for 2020 are the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and the 2020 Aussie Author Challenge. I successfully completed both challenges, as you'll see below.

2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

In 2020, I was attempting the Franklin level of the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and needed to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge. Here's what I read:

2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
1.  A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
2.  Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
3.  And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic
4.  The River Home by Hannah Richell
5.  The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
6.  Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
7.  Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater
8.  Torched by Kimberley Starr
9.  Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey
10. The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide
11. The Silk House by Kayte Nunn
12. My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley
13. You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster
14. Find Your Light by Belinda Davidson

2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge

I chose to attempt the newly created Emu level of the 2020 Aussie Author Reading challenge and had to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors. At least 10 of the books had to have female authors, 10 had to be written by male authors and at least 10 had to be authors I've never read before. I also needed to read from at least 4 different genres.

Here's what I read:
2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge
1.  A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
2.  Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
3.  And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic
4.  The River Home by Hannah Richell
5.  Shark Arm by Philip Roope & Kevin Meagher
6.  The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
7.  Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
8.  Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater
9.  Mammoth by Chris Flynn
10. Torched by Kimberley Starr
11. Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey
12. The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide
13. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
14. The Silk House by Kayte Nunn
15. My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley
16. Subterranean by B. Michael Radburn
17. You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster
18. Find Your Light by Belinda Davidson
19. Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
20. Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett
21. Look Evelyn Duck Dynasty Wiper Blades. We Should Get Them by David Thorne
22. The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan
23. The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden, illustrated by Chris Nixon
24. The Survivors by Jane Harper
31. Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd


It was a close call on completing the Aussie Author Reading challenge, but I was pleased to meet all of the criteria for both challenges by year's end.

Sign ups for the 2021 challenges are already underway, so I'm looking forward to joining in again this year. Do you find reading challenges spur you on to read more widely? Or do they add extra pressure to your reading choices? I'd love to know.

Carpe Librum!

31 December 2020

Review: Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin book cover
The Four Tendencies
by Gretchen Rubin is one of my all time favourite non fiction books and it changed my way of thinking and introduced me to a framework I still refer to every day.

So when I saw Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin appear on the shelves of the free little library I started in my apartment building, I snatched it up.

This time of year is a natural time for reflection on the year that is drawing to a close and of course we turn our minds to the year ahead. I've been able to introduce a new healthy habit in 2020 and it's been a great success, but I'm still striving to introduce more good habits and eliminate unhelpful habits as I continue to make my way through life, just like everybody else.

I did find the author inserted a lot of herself into this book and her self righteous attitudes and approach to healthy eating and exercise did begin to grind on my nerves. The offer to buy her sister a treadmill desk was generous, but the fact that she didn't get one for herself because she didn't have room screamed: "do as I say, not as I do". Constant references to low carb eating and trying to get her family members to do the same was fine on the page - okay, I'll admit, it was a little bit annoying - but I imagine it would be irritating in real life.

While Better Than Before didn't offer me any groundbreaking insights about habits and it didn't inspire any earth shattering breakthroughs, it was a good read. In order to understand yourself better, improve relationships with others and work out what makes you tick, I still recommend The Four Tendencies.

If you're trying to break an old habit or start a new one in 2021, I wish you every success. Happy New Year and of course happy reading!

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

30 December 2020

Review: The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin

The Home Edit Life - The Complete Guide to Organizing Absolutely Everything at Work, at Home and On The Go by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I love planning and organising and I believe I do a pretty good job organising my life, tasks and all the associated admin that comes along with it. Why then, is my office a mess? I think it's because I have too much 'stuff' and unfortunately the Marie Kondo approach of 'sparking joy' didn't work for me.

Introducing organising duo Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin. With a successful Instagram following in excess of 4 million, this power couple has been organising celebrity spaces and sharing their drool-worthy results on social media. The success of The Home Edit has led to a popular show on Netflix and they've become household names.

The Home Edit Life - The Complete Guide to Organizing Absolutely Everything at Work, at Home and On The Go by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin is their second book and it was an absolute joy to read.

Colourful and presented in a beautiful hardcover, the authors combine a self-help approach with snippets of their own organising preferences and business experiences. Unfortunately this includes quite a bit of name dropping and being Australian many of the celebrity names were unknown to me, but I'm generally not interested in that kind of stuff anyway.

As you might gather from the cover, the authors advocate organising by colour and using colour to organise. They use the acronym ROYGBIV to indicate the order the colours should go in: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Even the book is organised according to colour!

For those new to their approach, the process begins with editing your stuff, then organising your stuff, and lastly sorting it into groups that suit your needs. This often results in storage in a variety of containers and displays in order to make items easy to see and access.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is the perfect time to read a self help book and a time when my thoughts turn to planning for the year ahead, setting up my bullet journal and thinking about any goals I might want to accomplish.

According to Shearer and Teplin, you can either have the thing or you can have the space, and I think that's what I need to focus on when it comes to my bookshelves. When they're double stacked and books are shoved in any which way, I don't end up enjoying them as much as I should. To enjoy my favourites, I need to cull. Then come the excuses: but the free little library downstairs is full, I'll save some for friends when I see them, what if someone wants to borrow a particular book, and surely it'll pain me too much to box them up and just give them to the op shop in one big hit?...Eeek!

Reading The Home Edit Life did make me want to edit my bookshelves and arrange them to their best advantage. However, I decided to start with something smaller to begin with and the bathroom cupboard under the sink is looking amazing, IMHO!

The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin is recommended for readers needing a little - or a lot - more organisation in their lives, those who enjoy looking at photos of artfully organised and aesthetically pleasing cupboards, drawers and shelves and of course, fans of the Netflix show.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

29 December 2020

In 2020…My Life in Books

In 2020…My Life in Books
I saw Shelleyrae from Book'd Out celebrate her Life in Books for 2020 and it was a lot of fun so I thought I'd take on her challenge. 

The idea is to select a book you've read in 2020 which fits each of the prompts below.

2020 was the year of: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

In 2020 I wanted to be: The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide

In 2020 I was: (a) Rebel Without a Clause by Sue Butler

In 2020 I gained: A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski

In 2020 I lost: Trust by Chris Hammer

In 2020 I loved: Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes

In 2020 I hated: Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein

In 2020 I learned: Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

In 2020 I was surprised by: Where The Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

In 2020 I went to: The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

In 2020 I missed out on: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

In 2020 my family were: Spirited by Julie Cohen

In 2021 I hope: Death is But A Dream by Christopher Kerr

If you'd like to do this challenge, please consider yourself tagged. Feel free to leave your answers below or come back and provide a link to your post so I can check out your 2020 in books. 

Carpe Librum!

28 December 2020

4 Reading Challenge Wrap Ups for 2020

I'm a little behind on my reading challenge wrap ups, but I've been reading up a storm this year. In this wrap up, I'm going to check back in on the following four reading challenges I participated in this year.

- Non Fiction November 2020
- Book Bingo 2020
- 2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge
- 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Non Fiction November Wrap Up

How was your Non Fiction November? Here are the non fiction titles I read during the month. Unfortunately A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters was a DNF for me at 26% as it just wasn't holding my interest. It happens.

- Sh*t Moments In New Zealand Sport by Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole
- Northside: a time and place by Warren Kirk
- The Ultimate Bucket List: 50 buckets you must see before you die by Dixe Wills
- Underland by Robert Macfarlane
- Nodding Off by Alice Gregory

I finished reading the last two books on this list in December which is why this wrap up is late.

Book Bingo 2020

This was my first time participating in the Book Bingo 2020 reading challenge hosted by my bookish friends Theresa Smith Writes, Mrs B’s Book Reviews and The Book Muse. To successfully complete the challenge, I had to read and review a book from each of the following 12 bingo squares: 

1. Themes of culture (And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic)
Book Bingo 2020 reading challenge image
2. About the environment (The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott)
3. Set in a time of war (To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini)
4. Themes of inequality (Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater)
5. Prize winning book (The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie)
6. Set in a place you dream of visiting (The Midnight Library by Matt Haig)
7. Themes of crime and justice (Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett)
8. Friendship, family & love (A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski)
9. Set in an era you'd love to travel back in time to (Spirited by Julie Cohen)
10. Themes of politics and power (Katheryn Howard - The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir)
11. Coming of age (The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley)
12. A classic you've never read before (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

This challenge isn't being run in 2021, but it was really fun to take part in this year.

2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

As you know, I love reading the odd non fiction book and mid way through the year, I decided to jump on board and join the 2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae over at Book'd Out. In order to complete the Know-It-All level of the challenge, I had to read one book for each of the categories below.

2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

In order to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Passages to the Past, I had to read 10 historical fiction novels. Here's what I read:


It was a lot of fun participating in these four challenges throughout the year and I was very pleased to successfully complete all of them. Soon I'll be wrapping up the last two reading challenges I participated in this year: the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and 2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge. 

In the meantime, let me know if you participated in any of these challenges or if any of the books mentioned above take your fancy. Are you thinking about reading challenges for 2021 or is it too soon?

Carpe Librum

24 December 2020

Review: Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Underland by Robert Macfarlane book cover
Last Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a glorious hardcover of Underland by Robert Macfarlane from a family member for Christmas. I picked it up for Non Fiction November this year and it didn't disappoint.

I was struck immediately by just how physical Macfarlane's exploration of the landscape has been over the years. A skilled and experienced mountaineer, in Underland Macfarlane pays homage to the underground mountains and crevices below the surface of the earth that have equal attraction for those wanting to conquer and explore.

Early in the book, Macfarlane sets the scene for what is to follow, pointing out that the underland has been feared and revered for thousands of years.
"...The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.....Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save." Page 8
Underland is broken down into three parts: Britain, Europe and the North, with individual chapters flowing from there covering different sites; each of which can be read as a self-contained essay.

Reading Underland, I'm not ashamed to say I was frequently freaked out, encountering hidden cave systems, maelstroms and whirlpools, glacier moulins (down which our author descended!!) and more. Sinkhole anyone?
"The mouth of the sinkhole is twenty feet across at its widest point. To look into it is to feel the beckoning lurch of an unguarded edge." Page 214
I wasn't aware of many of the geological features the author visits, and often put the book down to research a particular site or phenomenon. Have you heard about Hell's Gate in Turkmenistan for instance?

The creation of the 'Door to Hell' or 'Hell's Gate' occurred in 1971 after a drilling rig punctured a natural-gas cavern in Turkmenistan. The powers that be decided to ignite the gas and burn it off and it was expected to take a few weeks, but the fire is still burning today!

As well as learning more about geology and the environment, I was also angered by the damage done by humans to the earth that is out of sight to the public. We know about the storage of nuclear waste deep underground, but I didn't know that in the mining of potash for example, million dollar machinery that is too expensive to retrieve when it has broken down is abandoned within the mine in dead end tunnels. It is then left to the passage of time for the halite (or salt) to reclaim the tunnel and bury the equipment. What on earth will future generations make of these strange fossils? It left me grinding my teeth and is definitely 'up there' with the horrors of space junk and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Underland includes quite a lot of nature writing and environmental observations and is a book to be enjoyed at a slow and meandering pace. I read a chapter every few days as I made my way through the book, following Macfarlane all around the world, from glaciers to cave systems and forests. 

Here's an example of his nature writing from Chapter 4 entitled The Understorey where he writes about the woodland in Epping forest in London.
"I realise I can trace patterns of space running along the edges of each tree's canopy: the beautiful phenomenon known as 'crown shyness', whereby individual forest trees respect each other's space, leaving slender running gaps between the end of one tree's outermost leaves and the start of another's." Page 99
Such beautiful writing that leaves the reader with a renewed respect for nature. On the other hand, the chapter on the catacombs of Paris actually gave me nightmares. 

I've always been fascinated by the catacombs and the re-location of millions of remains from the Les Innocents cemetery in 1786 to the abandoned limestone mines beneath Paris in a process that took many years. Macfarlane explores the catacombs with an 'off book' guide and their journey through spaces so tight he had to turn his head and crawl along on his belly dragging his backpack with his foot, gave me the absolute creeps. Readers with claustrophobia be warned.

What did come as a surprise, was the knowledge that in the 1820s, the quarry voids in the catacombs were used to grow mushrooms, and "by 1940 there were some 2,000 mushroom farmers working underneath Paris." Page 141.

Underland is full of remarkable insights into myths and legends, science and history and despite wishing the publisher had included some colour photos throughout the text, it was an engaging read. I even discovered a new genre of fiction along the way which was unexpected. Subterranean fiction, go figure!
"A subgenre of subterranean fiction flourished in the 1800s, in which the Earth's crust and mantle were frequently imagined as riddled with tunnels, often leading down to a habitable core." Page 308
Underland by Robert Macfarlane is non fiction, nature writing meets travelogue. It is a book that forces the reader to slow down and consider the passage of deep-time and is highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

21 December 2020

Review: The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

The Binding by Bridget Collins was a reading highlight in 2019 and I loved it so much it made my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. As soon as I learned a new book The Betrayals was being published in 2020, it immediately became one of my most hotly anticipated books of the year. I even placed a pre-order so that I could enjoy the limited edition signed hardcopy with gold foiling and sprayed edges from Waterstones.

I can't remember the last time I pre-ordered a book but I also requested a review copy, so desperate was I to get my hands on this as soon as it came out. I hoped The Betrayals would whisk me away into another magical bookish world and deliver a repeat five star reading experience. 

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins is hard to define. It reads like a college style campus novel, taking place as it does in an all male academy called Montverre located in a remote and mountainous countryside. At times it felt like a combination of Dead Poets Society with a dash of the Harry Potter series (for the Hogwarts setting and syllabus, not the magic).

However, it's also kind of dystopian as the oppressive party politics of the day are different to our own, with a growing lack of tolerance for those of a particular faith that begins to infiltrate the academy.

The students are there to study the grand jeu which is a series of movements that flow together to form a performance of intellectual expression. Students study mathematics, music and a tonne of arcane subjects that definitely gave me Harry Potter vibes. Students spend months writing and practising their grand jeu and compete with each other to achieve the highest marks.

Leo Martin is a politician and our protagonist, and at the beginning of the book he finds himself ousted from the political party and sent to Montverre in disgrace. The narrative also includes diary entries and scenes from Leo's time as a student at the academy and secrets and old heartbreaks from that time are gradually revealed.

There is plenty to admire about the grand jeu, but of course it's up to the reader to imagine the movements and the overall impact of the performance on the audience. In my mind, it took the form of an intellectual Tai chi, but that's because I lack any further imagination.

This is a coming-of-age romance novel set in an undetermined time and location that straddles multiple genres, including historical fiction, urban fantasy and dystopian fiction. The character struggles were real but the academy setting was the real highlight, with secret passages, countless windows, attic spaces, hidey holes and oh, those libraries! 

However, by the end of the last page, I wasn't able to relive the magical five star reading experience that was The Binding. Perhaps it's an unfair comparison, but when you've greatly enjoyed a special book, it does create a certain level of hope and expectation for whatever is to follow from the author.

What is certain, is that The Betrayals by Bridget Collins is a glorious book that I will look at lovingly on my shelves in years to come. Not only for the stunning book cover design that is easily my favourite of 2020, but for the promise it contained. You can read a FREE sample here.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

18 December 2020

Guest Review: A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *


A Testament of Character is the tenth book in the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries by Australian author Sulari Gentill. Set in the 1930s, Rowland Sinclair is an artist and a gentlemen, and guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise had this to say about the book.


In fear for his life, American millionaire Daniel Cartwright changes his will, appointing his old friend Rowland Sinclair as his executor.

Soon murder proves that fear well founded.

When Rowland receives word of Cartwright’s death, he sets out immediately for Boston, Massachusetts, to bury his friend and honour his last wishes. He is met with the outrage and anguish of Cartwright’s family, who have been spurned in favour of a man they claim does not exist.

Artists and gangsters, movie stars and tycoons all gather to the fray as elite society closes in to protect its own, and family secrets haunt the living. Rowland Sinclair must confront a world in which insanity is relative, greed is understood, and love is dictated; where the only people he can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a passionate sculptress.

Neil's Review

Sometimes we forget, sometimes we never knew, that the United States of today, the land of dreams and extremes, of bullying, racism, capitalism, unionism and film stars, is nothing new. It is, after all, the spawning ground of Raymond Chandler, Errol Flynn, Randolph Hearst and the Ku Klux Klan. Sulari Gentill’s 10th novel featuring Australian Rowland Sinclair, however, brings the realities of 1935 east coast America into unexpected and graphic focus.

Appointed executor to the will of his former Oxford classmate and lifelong friend, Danny Cartwright, Rowley and his team travel to Boston, Massachusetts and land, quite predictably, in trouble. Danny’s homosexuality and murder offer an immediate and compelling justification for Gentill’s historical backgrounding. Between the rise of the Italian gangster mobs, the bitterness of family inheritance disputes, burgeoning anti-semitism in the shadow of rising Nazism and the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929, it is a rich and timely location for a novel that affords more than a nod to the noir fiction of the period.

Utilising her familiar leavening of local newspaper extracts from the period to introduce, anticipate or lubricate her plot development, Gentill’s team of Australians sleuth their way, sometimes violently, towards the expected resolution. In transit, they encounter flaming family jealousies, bitter broken romances and brutally homophobic efforts to suppress the realities surrounding Danny’s will.

The role of corruption in law and politics, the employment of the asylum to contain embarrassing relatives, the reluctance of Americans to engage with growing international tensions are all too familiar but absolutely engaging in Gentill’s hands. In this probably ‘post-Trumpian’ period, A Testament to Character appears prescient but we have had four years to become accustomed to the extremes. 

This novel reminds us that there is little that is new – in fact any more than in fiction.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

16 December 2020

Spotlight: Gen Z - Kickstart Your Future by Simon Walter


During lockdown this year, I'm proud to announce I was busy editing a non-fiction manuscript for a writer and actor in the UK. Simon Walter's book Gen - Z Kickstart Your Future is now finished and it's my pleasure to share it with you today in this special spotlight. Read on to find out how to download your free copy of the book.

So, what's it about? It's a non-fiction self-help book designed to help young people build happy and successful futures by employing some simple strategies we can all learn from. Check out the blurb.


Has COVID-19 screwed you over?
Was your education interrupted or your exams cancelled?
Have you felt unimportant and overlooked by society?

You are not alone.

The pressure on young people was high before COVID-19, now it's through the roof! The good news is, you can reduce the pressure by changing the way you look at life. In this book, you'll learn that by applying some simple techniques, you can shape your own future.

Simon Walter enjoyed success in the world of investment banking for 25 years before having a realisation and deciding to follow his heart in the field of acting.

With Simon's help, you'll determine what you have to offer the world and how to harness your individuality. By the end, you'll have the confidence to punch COVID-19 in the face and move on.

Are you ready?

In Gen Z - Kickstart Your Future, Simon shares many no-cost tips, tricks and hacks that you can employ as you begin the next leg of your journey in an uncertain world. Simon is passionate about reducing pressure and anxiety for Generation Z and wants them to succeed in whatever they choose to do next.
Simon believes the world's future success lies on the shoulders of young people and aims to equip them with the tools they will need to succeed.

Let's do this together.

Author Simon Walter
Simon Walter

Message from the author

"It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Tracey on my book Gen Z – Kickstart Your Future and she was an invaluable resource when it came to editing, proofreading and suggesting content for my book. Without Tracey I would be nowhere near the finished and published book I would love to share with you today. Tracey has shepherded me through the world of booklovers and reviewers and thanks to her I’m now a member of GoodReads. I’d love to connect with you there or on any of my social media channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).

To say thank you to Tracey, I’d like to invite all Carpe Librum readers to be the first to take advantage of my free promotion on Amazon and download my book before 20 December 2020. I hope you enjoy it and learn something along the way."

Access your copy of the book

Thanks Simon! Click here to access and download your free e-book copy of Gen Z - Kickstart Your Future, available on Amazon from today until 20 December 2020. 

Enjoy, feel free to spread the word and don't forget, Carpe Librum!

14 December 2020

Review: Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Alice Gregory

Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Alice Gregory book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Do you sleep well? I love talking about sleep and it's been a few months since I last read a book about one of my favourite non fiction topics. It was great timing then when a copy of Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Professor Alice Gregory arrived in the mailbox, and I decided to pick it up for the Non Fiction November reading challenge.

The author approaches sleep by breaking it down by age, beginning with babies, children and teenagers, moving on to adults and new parents and finishing up with older adults together with some hints and tips.

In this manner, the author touches on a number of interesting topics along the way like sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding and night terrors etc. however they weren't covered in any great detail.

Where Splitting by Amanda Ellison went into considerable medical detail to the point of being too scientific for this reader, Nodding Off was the opposite. It touched on fascinating topics like sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome, but didn't provide enough information, leading me to put the book down and search elsewhere in order to satisfy my curiosity.

Regular Carpe Librum readers will know one of my favourite sleep topics is the fact that human beings used to sleep twice in one night, experiencing a period of wakefulness between the first and the second sleep. I was surprised - and pleased - to see Alice Gregory quoting from one of my favourite books At Day's Close: A History of Nighttime by A. Roger Ekirch when discussing this topic. But given she's an expert in the field of sleep and has been researching sleep for almost twenty years, I was disappointed she didn't have anything further to add on the phenomenon.

Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Alice Gregory is recommended for readers new to the topic of sleep and those seeking a general overview about that which is crucial to our health and well-being, sleep. Do you sleep well?

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

09 December 2020

Review: Hideout by Jack Heath

Hideout by Jack Heath book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Guess who's back? Timothy Blake is back in Hideout, the third novel in this fantastically gritty and bloody crime series written by Australian author Jack Heath. We first met Blake in Hangman when we learned he was a cannibal working as a consultant with the FBI. In Hunter, we found him providing body disposal services for a crime lord and Hideout kicks off immediately after the closing events in Hunter.

Blake starts out with nothing to lose. Torn up by the loss of his love interest FBI Agent Reese Thistle, he's determined to stick it to a bad guy and disappear. Instead, Blake quickly finds himself in a perilous undercover situation which challenges his morals and his will to survive.
"I'm being paranoid. A common problem. Once you've done enough bad things, it's impossible not to imagine them being done to you." Page 52
The tension and action is palpable and Heath has taken Blake's character farther than I ever imagined. It's this unexpected plot development that makes this dark and grisly series so uniquely refreshing.

Blake is an intelligent, clever and oddly funny anti-hero, and the reader can't help but hope he succeeds in his endeavours, despite knowing about his gruesome proclivities. Blake thinks quick on his feet and is only too aware of his flaws. However he continues to struggle with his inner demons in the series; wanting to be a better person yet readily identifying with the bad guys.

This is my favourite Australian crime series of all time and author Jack Heath has certainly outdone himself again. Wow, what a talent! But the best part of Hideout was knowing the direction Blake might take in the future and I'm so ready for it.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating: