19 January 2022

Review: Vanished by James Delargy

Vanished by James Delargy book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Vanished by James Delargy is a thriller set in outback WA with an engaging premise. The Kane family move to an abandoned mining town in WA with their six year old son Dylan, but soon the entire family disappears. What happened to them?

This was an intriguing enough premise to draw me in and the mystery kept me plowing through the book to find the answers. The family choose the least run down cottage in the town and try to make the most of their circumstances by engaging in a home improvement project.

The novel unfolds from multiple character perspectives, with each of the parents Lorcan and Naiyana in the past and Detective Emmaline Taylor investigating their disappearance in the present. Both Lorcan and Naiyana have their reasons for leaving family and friends behind in Perth so there's plenty to keep the plot moving.

The fictional abandoned mining town of Kallayee is located in the Great Victoria Desert, and Delargy does an exceptional job of bringing the remote location and the desolate landscape into sharp focus. The writing is also compelling, and I especially enjoyed this insight into the despicable nature of some elements of humanity.
"The unspoken had been uttered, leaving a bitter taste. It was disgusting. It was horrible. And now that it was out in the open, it was a possibility." Page 315
Vanished by James Delargy is highly recommended for fans of Jane Harper or Chris Hammer.

My Rating:

12 January 2022

Guest Review: Snotlings - The Boogie Monster by Tarryn Mallick

* Copy courtesy of the author *

James Harris reading Snotlings by Tarryn Mallick with Xena the warrior chicken
James Harris

Junior guest reviewer James Harris has been reading up a storm over the holidays and discovered a new favourite Australian author. Snotlings - The Boogie Monster by Tarryn Mallick and illustrated by Nahum Ziersch is a laugh out loud thriller starring boogers and germs for children aged 7-12 years. I'll let James tell you all about it as he 'picks out' the best parts πŸ˜†

James' Review

Lucky for me Tarryn Mallick saw a review that I did on Carpe Librum and asked me to review her new book Snotlings. So it sounded really awesome - a whole world of boogers up someone’s nose, what's not to be excited about?

Firstly, it came in the mail. I never get mail so that was really exciting. And it was in a cool box, with a magnifying glass and some trading cards that were a bit like PokΓ©mon cards, but were from the characters in the book. SO cool. And it was signed by the author and I was one of the first ever children to read the book! And there was 40 tiny pictures of snotlings to find in the book, which was fun to use the magnifying glass for. So I wanted to start this book straight away (but Mum made me finish the one I was reading first).
Snotlings - The Boogie Monster by Tarryn Mallick book cover

There is this boy called Jackson, who is a kid about my age who NEVER vacuums his room (which sounds like me..!). He has a booger collection in his room, and one day he picks his nose and sees the booger move. So he uses a magnifying glass to look at it and finds a little warrior named Flick. This opens up the story about a whole world inside his nose where there is a war going on. There is good guys (the snotlings who have really cool names like Flick, Loogie, Crust, Goober) who live in Stickly Castle, and the bad guys (Mucuszar and his army of germs). And then they come out to the real world and try to destroy it by turning them into nose picking zombies. Jackson and his friends have to stop this all from happening, and explain it to the adults.

I liked this because it was funny and was easy to imagine the world because it painted a clear image in my head of the world up Jackson’s nose. I really hope there will be a book 2 because I think it has a lot of potential and this book has already based the story so well, it would be easy to jump into a new story of the snotlings.

I give it 5 snotballs out of 5 (and totally worth picking your nose for….)

James' Rating:

10 January 2022

2022 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

Sign ups for the 2022 reading challenges have been open for weeks now, but I like to sign up when I've finished wrapping up the previous years' challenges and reviews.

In 2022, I'm aiming to read 75 books and will be participating in the following 3 reading challenges:
  • Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022
  • 2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge
  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022
If you're wondering why I'm not participating in the Australian Women Writers' Challenge for the first time in 9 years, the challenge has now ended. For more info, see my wrap of the challenge.


Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022
Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022 logo

Last year I just managed to achieve the Emu level (24 books) of this challenge, but have decided to slip back to Kangaroo level this year.

Hosted by Jo from Booklover Book Reviews, I'll need to read and review 12 books by Australian authors, of which at least 4 are female, 4 are male, 4 are new-to-me authors and at least 3 genres are covered.

You don't need a blog to join in, and you can follow along on Facebook, Twitter or GoodReads.

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This challenge is hosted by fellow Aussie book blogger Shelleyrae at Book'd Out, and I'm signing up for the Nonfiction Nibbler level.

For this I'll need to read and review 6 books from any of the following categories:
2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge logo
1.  Social History
2.  Popular Science
3.  Language
4.  Medical Memoir
5.  Climate/Weather
6.  Celebrity
7.  Reference
8.  Geography
9.  Companion to a podcast
10. Wild Animals
11. Economics
12. Published in 2022

Any suggestions? You can also participate via Goodreads, LibraryThing, Instagram or Twitter

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022 logo
Hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader, I've signed up to complete the Renaissance Reader level again this year.

For this I'll need to read 10 historical fiction books to complete the challenge and I'm already putting together a mental list of all the books I want to read.

You can follow my progress during the year on my Challenges 2022 page.


What are your reading goals for 2022? Are you participating in any reading challenges? Do reading challenges motivate you to read more widely? I'd love to know.

Carpe Librum!

09 January 2022

Review: John Safran Vs The Occult by John Safran

John Safran Vs The Occult by John Safran cover

The last book for 2021 helped me achieve my reading goals, given that I needed one more book by an Australian male author in order to complete my Aussie Author reading challenge. (See what else I read here).

In John Safran Vs The Occult, Australian satirist John Safran explores his interest in religion, expanding his research to include witchcraft, black magic, satanism and the occult.

If you're expecting to learn more about what these practices are and their brief history, this isn't that book. Rather, Safran researches and then investigates current cases and crimes specifically attributed to witchcraft, black magic, satanism and the occult and takes the reader along for the experience. This makes for an individual case perspective rather than an analysis of these practices as a whole.

Written before the pandemic and published in 2019, Safran travels to Los Angeles, Texas and Vanuatu, and even meets a Muslim woman seeking an Islamic exorcism in his hometown of Melbourne.

Originally published as an Audible Original, Safran's unassuming personality and genuine interest in people and their beliefs enables him to get locals to open up and talk to him. I'll admit I got lost in the sea of people in Vanuatu and the myriad ways in which they were connected to the case, but hearing directly from the people being interviewed via excerpts was definitely a highlight. Safran's interview techniques build trust and rapport and listening to the stories it's clear the interviewees trust Safran to represent them honestly and with respect.

John Safran Vs The Occult is a solid introduction to the author's research style, varied fields of interest and unique delivery. As always, Safran manages to find the lighter moments and there are many chuckles along the way.

For more, you can check out my review of Murder In Mississippi by John Safran or check out my Google Hangout with him in 2013.

My Rating:

07 January 2022

Review: At Home - A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

At Home - A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson audiobook cover

British author Bill Bryson's enthusiasm for history is contagious and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to At Home - A Short History of Private Life

In this offering, Bryson looks at the history of private life by breaking down our domestic lives and examining them through the lens of the rooms contained within the Victorian parsonage in which he lives.*

Read by the author in his instantly recognisable delivery (now a favourite audiobook narrator alongside Hugh Mackay and David Sedaris) the book contains 19 chapters including: The Study, The Attic, The Bedroom, The Scullery and Larder, and The Nursery to name a few.

My favourite chapter by far was The Stairs, as I'm fascinated by just how dangerous and deadly the stairs were in households. The stairs used by servants and domestic staff were steep, cramped, and often included steps of uneven height. This was a disaster waiting to happen for staff rushing up and down stairs countless times a day, and was the cause of many accidents and deaths.

The role of clergy and their subsequent decline was interesting, although Bryson seemed to deviate from his own structure on occasion to expound on other tangential topics of interest. Finding the majority of the content presented interesting, I didn't mind this at all, however some readers might.

Informative, educational and entertaining, I can highly recommend At Home - A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson and will check out more of his works in the future.

*And yes, I just broke a personal rule never to use the word 'lives' and 'lives' in the same sentence, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention.

My Rating:

05 January 2022

3 Reading Challenge Wrap Ups for 2021

It was close, but I successfully completed all of my reading challenges during 2021 and read 75 books in total. You can see my wrap up of the Australian Women Writer's Challenge here and a list of all the books I read in 2021 here.

How did I go and what did I read?

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This was my second year participating in the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out and I completed the Nonfiction Nibbler level. For this, I read 6 books from the categories below in order to complete the challenge.
2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge logo

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021

Hosted by Jo at Booklover Book Reviews, I successfully completed the Emu level of the challenge to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors, of which at least 10 are female, 10 are male, and 10 are new-to-me authors. I also had to read from a minimum of 4 genres. 
Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021 logo

1. My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips
2. The Reach by B. Michael Radburn
3. Peanut Butter - Breakfast Lunch Dinner Midnight by Tim Lannan & James Annabel
4. Chromatopia - An Illustrated History of Colour by David Coles
5. The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn
6. The Paris Affair by Pip Drysdale
7. Tussaud by Belinda Lyons-Lee
8. Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz
9. Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol. 1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams
10. The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald
11. A Voice In The Night by Sarah Hawthorn
12. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
13. The Inner Self by Hugh Mackay
14. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence
15. Nineteen Days by Kath Engebretson
16. As Swallows Fly by L. P. McMahon
17. Noni the Pony Counts to a Million by Alison Lester
18. Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras
19. Devotion by Hannah Kent
20. Christmas in Suburbia by Warren Kirk
21. The Housemate by Sarah Bailey
22. Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra
23. Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath
24. John Safran vs The Occult by John Safran
Have you read any of the books mentioned above?

I'm already thinking ahead to this year's reading challenges and have promised myself not to cut it so fine again on the Australian male author component of the Aussie Author challenge. I said that last year too, didn't I? 

How was your reading in 2021? Did you achieve what you wanted to?

04 January 2022

Review: Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath

Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Disgraced athlete Elise Glyk finds more than she bargains for when trying to locate her missing bother Callum by posing as a private investigator in Jack Heath's latest crime thriller, Kill Your Brother.

You know from the title going in that Elise is going to have to confront her loyalties head on at some point, but knowing this doesn't detract from the tension and the action that builds and explodes on the page. The reader also knows from the blurb that Elise is going to be caught by Callum's captor and imprisoned alongside him, but in no way is this a spoiler. Trust me, you won't be able to predict what happens next.

Having loved Heath's Timothy Blake series (Hangman, Hunter and Hideout), I'm pleased to report that the author is just as skilled at writing kick-ass female characters as he is penning kick-ass male ones. Elise is a brilliant and resourceful protagonist with a refreshing and unique background and I was rooting for her all the way.

The sibling dynamic between Elise and Callum was layered and entertaining and the setting in Warrigul in Victoria was a refreshing surprise and a stroke of genius from this Canberra based author.

Kill Your Brother is the latest high octane crime thriller from Jack Heath and it's a ripper of a stand alone novel. Highly recommended! (You can read a free excerpt of the first 24 pages of the book here).

My Rating:

01 January 2022

Top 5 Books of 2021

It's time to reflect on my year of reading in 2021 and select the best 5 books from a total of 75 titles read this year. Last year my Top 5 list contained only review titles, and this year I'm pleased to return to a more balanced mix. Two of the books in the following list were sent to me for review, with the remaining three coming from my own TBR pile. Once again, historical fiction dominated the list and I was proud to include Australian author Tabitha Bird in the cut.

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Books of 2021 in the order I read them:

1. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell book cover

For some reason I now regret, I didn't request a review copy of Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, but after seeing so many of my trusted book bloggers falling in love with this story, I had to jump on board.

Hamnet is an historical fiction novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet in 1596, and in particular how his wife Agnes and family deal with the loss. Shakespeare is never named in the book (not once!) and while the book is about his family, it's not all about him.

You don't need to know anything about Shakespeare in order to enjoy this novel. It's essentially the story of a 16th century family and the way in which they cope with life's choices and challenges and I was absolutely blown away by the evocative writing.

2. Mrs England by Stacey Halls
Mrs England by Stacey Halls book cover

This was one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2021 and I was thrilled when it delivered on all of my hopes and expectations. Ruby May is a qualified nurse from the Norland Institute in London and accepts a position at the isolated Hardcastle House looking after three children from the family of wealthy mill owners Charles and Lilian England.

Mrs Lilian England keeps strange hours, doesn't interact much with the children and doesn't involve herself in the running of the household while Mr England is friendly, relaxed and approachable and it's soon clear who really runs the house. Mrs England is a slow moving gothic tale, with Ruby's past carefully revealed and the relationships between the characters slowly evolving.

The ending made me gasp and I thoroughly enjoyed discussing it with other readers on GoodReads and social media. This is the second year in a row Stacey Halls has made my Top 5 Books of the year list, what will she write next?

3. The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac
The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac book cover

This book was a complete surprise. Ellie is a social media influencer and avid gardener suffering from agoraphobia. Living in a granny flat behind her parent's home in the English countryside, she makes a living from her sponsored gardening posts on her highly successful Instagram account EnglishCountryGardenista. I was interested to get to the root cause of Ellie's agoraphobia and when I did, I found I was fascinated by the topic and spent a few nights Googling post-revolution Romania.

Offsetting this dark beginning to Ellie's life, her gardening career was a sheer delight to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed following her around the garden and reading her Instagram posts in the book.

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac was a terrifically enjoyable contemporary novel with moments of character insight and inspiration and I was willing Ellie through as she lost her way and dusted herself off again.

4. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird book cover

Set in Boonah in Queensland, this book contains magical realism and reading it was like sending nourishing warm hot chocolate straight to the soul. The Emporium of the title is a shop, and Earlatidge is the store's custodian. The shop travels the world to where it's needed and at the start of the book, it's opening in the small town of Boonah. When it magically appears and the shopkeeper has been found, the store will sell vintage gifts to revive broken dreams, repair relationships, ease grief, soothe broken hearts and more.

The Emporium of Imagination is an incredibly uplifting and life affirming novel delivering messages about regret, lost opportunities, guilt, smothered dreams, love, loss, sorrow, grief, duty, hope, redemption and more to the reader.

Written by Australian author Tabitha Bird, I loved sharing this with a family member and it was a highlight of my reading year.

5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab book cover

Adeline LaRue is born in France in 1691, and at the age of 23, her family decide to marry her off but she refuses to be 'gifted like a prize sow to a man she does not love, or want, or even know'. In sheer desperation to avoid this fate, Adeline prays with every fibre of her being. A spirit of the woods eventually answers and Addie explains she wants to be free and doesn't want to belong to anyone. In making a deal, her soul is cursed.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is a character driven story about how Addie comes to terms with her curse and learns to navigate life now that she is forgettable. Addie is invisible, unable to leave a mark on the world or even say her own name. The unexpected ache of losing her family and everyone she's ever known is tough.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is full of evocative writing and passages that made me pause and reflect on the past, the present and the future and ponder what really matters in the world.

So, there you have it! What do you think of my list? What was your favourite read in 2021?

30 December 2021

In 2021...My Life In Books

In 2021...My Life in Books - image by Shelleyrae Book'd Out

Celebrating my life in books was so much fun last year I decided to do it again in 2021 thanks to Shelleyrae from Book'd Out.

The idea is to complete each of the prompts below by selecting a book you've read during 2021.

2021 was the year of: The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
In 2021 I wanted (to be have): The World at My Feet by Catherine Isaac
In 2021 I was: A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn
In 2021 I gained: Silence by John Biguenet
In 2021 I lost: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence
In 2021 I loved: Christmas in Suburbia by Warren Kirk
In 2021 I hated: Dust by Michael Marder
In 2021 I learned: How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman
In 2021 I was surprised by: Gory Details by Erika Engelhaupt
In 2021 I went to: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
In 2021 I missed out on: The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren
In 2021 my family were: Elsewhere by Dean Koontz
In 2022 I hope: Everything is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray

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 2021 in books.

27 December 2021

Review: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

A book set in an independent bookshop in Minneapolis, with a ghost? Sign me up!! Louise Erdrich is a native American author and Pulitzer Prize winner and The Sentence is my first time reading any of her work.

All Souls' Day is a day for commemorating and honouring the dead, and The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day in 2019 and takes us through a year of bookshop employee Tookie's life, ending on All Souls' Day in 2020. Tookie is a likeable native American character although her backstory didn't seem (to me) to chime with the direction of the story. Here's a sample of her voice though:
"I have a dinosaur heart, cold, massive, indestructible, a thick meaty red. And I have a glass heart, tiny and pink, that can be shattered." Pages 251-252
The reader accompanies Tookie as she navigates this troublesome year, but there's no real sense of an overarching purpose to what we're reading. The issues are up to the minute current, however the 'year in the life' seemed to be the only unifying story arc.

Having said that, there are many quotable moments in The Sentence and there's much here for book lovers to get excited about. Daily tasks in the bookshop, interesting and compelling customers, reading references we can all relate to (many of us have our own 'hard stack' and 'easy stack' of books waiting to be read), book lists (catnip for readers) and the overall power of books and stories for people navigating the Black Lives Matter movement or enduring isolation and lockdowns in the midst of a pandemic.

I loved Tookie's description of one of her customers she refers to as Dissatisfaction:
"By way of the fact he was impossible to please, Dissatisfaction was one of my favourite customers. He was always in a hurry and wanted me to drop everything. He is one of the cursed, a Tantalus, whose literary hunger perpetually gnaws but can never be satiated. He has read everything at least once. As he began reading capaciously at the age of six, he is now running out of fiction. I love the challenge of selling books to him and tried first, as usual, to interest him in history, politics, biography. I knew he would not accept anything but fiction, but this was a chance for him to vent anxiety over what he might read next. He snarled and swatted aside my factual offerings." Pages 97-98
Despite these gems, overall, I guess I felt disconnected from this free form narrative. I generally prefer more structure to my plots than 'here's what Tookie experienced in a crazy year we've all recently experienced from a thousand different perspectives'. Naturally Tookie's perspective is different from my own, but perhaps I just couldn't engage with Tookie on the deep level many other readers seemed to have reached while reading The Sentence.

I really think books like The Sentence will improve with age and distance from the events it covers. Readers in 20-30 years who don't have a living memory of the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and the beginning of the pandemic will be reading with interest, while I read in recognition.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

20 December 2021

Review: Never by Ken Follett

Never by Ken Follett book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Carpe Librum readers will know I'm a fan of Ken Follett's historical fiction Kingsbridge series which began with The Pillars of the Earth, but the author has also written many successful thrillers across his illustrious writing career. Never is his first contemporary novel in over a decade though, so naturally I was keen to check it out.

Never by Ken Follett is a political thriller about the beginning of World War III and a whopper of a book coming in at 815 pages. In a complex plot that doesn't blame any one country for the escalations, the narrative is populated by various characters located around the world. The actions of these characters inform the plot and the tension slowly builds as each person narrates their role in a much bigger series of events. Major powers are involved and the situation realistically begins to snowball out of control.

Never could be called an espionage thriller or a spy thriller, but it also serves as a timely warning that despite a leader's best intentions, international politics is a dangerous game. In typical Follett style, the author had me looking up new-to-me words throughout the novel, (bellicosity on page 5 and vituperation on page 145)* but not so often as to spoil the rhythm of the book.

I'm not a huge fan of political thrillers, but I always enjoy Ken Follett's deeply layered storytelling and detailed character arcs and put my complete trust in him from page one. Fortunately I was rewarded by the close of this expertly researched - yet very long book - with a surprisingly enjoyable ending. Highly recommended.

* Bellicosity is an inclination to fight or quarrel, a warlike or hostile manner or temperament. Vituperation is verbal abuse or language that is full of hate, or angry criticism.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

19 December 2021

Guest Review: Spacecraft by Timothy Morton

Spacecraft by Timothy Morton book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *


It happens to the best of us.... we pick up a book with the hope of being transported, yet it completely fails to take off. We're coming to the end of my series of Object Lessons reviews thanks to Bloomsbury Australia, and in this installation, guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise shares his reading experience of Spacecraft by Timothy Morton.

Neil's Review

For those who have enjoyed the complexities of Edmund Husserl’s early twentieth century Phenomenology and Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction from a half-century later; for those who delighted in the antics of The Muppets and then in Star Wars, Star Trek, et al, Morton’s near-encounters with spacecraft may be an inimitable intellectual challenge. Those, on the other hand, who entered the pages of Spacecraft expecting to be informed and engaged may be rather disappointed.

Morton’s passion for the philosophical underpinnings of space science fiction allows him to wander at warp speed from Han Solo and Chewbacca to Princess Leia, Kermit and Miss Piggy; from a depthy deconstruction of the infinity contained within Dr Who’s most definitely finite TARDIS to the garbage which is the Millennium Falcon.

Considerably more excited by the potential for the space through which spacecraft might travel or, borrowing from Einstein’s relativity theories in which space might travel past the spacecraft, Morton’s exploration manages to introduce the sexual implications of an object being drawn into a largely incomprehensible body. Touching on the nipples of the spacecraft, the gunnery turrets and the control centres, Spacecraft explores political imperatives - fascism, Marxism, imperialism – as he draws on Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Beckett’s Endgame to illustrate the philosophical machinations of his apparent heroes, the authors and their on-screen characters.

Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft added little to my understanding of spacecraft as I thought I understood them. Instead, it offered a complex polemic that will be quite familiar to disciples of Derrida, Foucault and Irigaray in which the intension of the author may always present a challenge for the reader.

Spacecraft will probably appeal to those who have sought to make sense of that complexity which is space by studying the film and television depictions of a world from which all boundaries have been removed, all identifiable positions contested and all relativities absorbed into a commercial singularity most easily understood from the viewpoint of a droid, or maybe a muppet.

As Morton observes in his closing fusillade:
“It’s something to think about now that we are literally ‘after the end of the world,’ [because] “America never was a country, never did achieve escape velocity from slavery and property.” Page 111
As one reviewer has observed, Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft takes the best part of a whole day to read – but it is not until the end that the political angst is fully revealed. And by that time, the spacecraft has departed – or maybe it has been left behind, garbage, until it is reclaimed for another purpose, perhaps.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

15 December 2021

Australian Women Writer's Challenge 2021 Wrap Up and Wind Down

I've been participating in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge since 2014, however this year it was announced that the challenge is wrapping up permanently. From 2022 onwards, the focus will shift to lesser-known Australian women writers of the 19th and 20th Century which is largely outside my reading choices but I wish everyone well in their reading adventures.

Needless to say I'll greatly miss striving to meet my challenge requirements every year and engaging with all of the lovely reviews and reviewers participating in the challenge each month. Fortunately the Facebook group will continue to celebrate the works of contemporary Australian women, so I'll try to engage more regularly over there.

I'd like to thank the many volunteers across the years who gave freely of their time to host, edit and wrap up the various categories of the challenge for eager readers and participants like me who greatly enjoyed the regular content hitting their inbox. A special thanks to Theresa Smith who has become a friend to me over that time and whose dedication to AWW I have admired.

In 2021, I was attempting the Franklin level of the 2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and needed to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge. I'm pleased to say I successfully completed the final year of the challenge (phew!) and here's what I read: 
Australian Women Writer's Challenge 2021 logo

9. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
10. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Additional books read for the challenge:
11. Nineteen Days by Kath Engebretson
15. Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra

Last year I read 21 books for the challenge, so this number is a little down on previous years. Time permitting, I'd like to try and read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and Adrift in Melbourne by Robyn Annear by the end of the year, but we'll see how I go.

Carpe Librum!

14 December 2021

Review: Hunger - A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger - A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay book cover

Does it make sense to follow the review of a recipe book with a memoir about body image and being overweight? Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn't, but I can promise it was a sheer coincidence that my reading choices overlapped in this way.

In Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, author Roxane Gay reflects on the struggles she has with her weight, stemming from a vicious sexual assault at a young age. The author shares intimate details about her mental and physical health, fat phobia and the daily hassles and humiliations she endures due to her size.
"This is no way to live, but this is how I live." End of Chapter 59
As a reader in Australia who struggles with their weight, I was hoping to gain some insight or new angle on weight gain and body image from a bestselling author, professor and social commentator. However, Roxane Gay's experiences as a tall (1.91m), bisexual American woman of Haitian descent are nothing at all like mine. I realised half way through that I had entered into this memoir with a fixed agenda instead of the intention to learn about another person's battles and demons.
"The bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes." Chapter 62
Roxane Gay is raw and unapologetic in an endearing way and bares her soul in this memoir. Her struggles with confidence and self worth were well written yet hard to read and as a society, there is much we should be ashamed about. After finishing Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, it's clear we have a long way to go in learning how to treat one another.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

08 December 2021

Review: Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra

Modern Slow Cooker - 85 Vegetarian & Vegan Recipes to Make Your Life Easy by Alyce Alexandra book cover

I love my slow cooker, and when looking for some inspiring new recipes, discovered Modern Slow Cooker - 85 Vegetarian & Vegan Recipes to Make Your Life Easy by Australian bestselling author - who has her own line of kitchen accessories - Alyce Alexandra. I'm not a vegan or a vegetarian but 85 slow cooker recipes that make my life easy? Yes please, I'm salivating already!

The first recipe I tried from this collection was the Harissa-Spiced Creamy Carrot Soup from page 53. I love soup, and prior to reading this book, I hadn't tasted or even heard about harissa paste. Alyce Alexandra explains that it's:
"... a concentrated fiery concoction made from blended peppers, oil and spices. While it is traditionally used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, [the author] finds a small amount does great things for almost any cuisine." Page 34
I followed the recipe precisely, but the flavour was a little intense for my untrained palate and I'd be using far less next time. I'm not a good cook, but the carrot soup was tasty and lovely with crusty bread.

There was great variety in the recipes on offer and next up I'm going to try a sweet recipe. If it works, I'll be sharing it with the family at Christmas time. No spoilers though πŸ˜‰ 

What's your favourite slow cooker recipe? For another slow cooker recipe book by an Australian author, check out my review of The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

06 December 2021

Review: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Jake is a creative writing teacher suffering from self doubt and writer's block following the enormous success of his debut novel. When one of his students has a killer idea for a book, Jake is jealous and waits for the inevitable sensation when the student's bestseller hits the shelves. Years later, Jake learns his student died unexpectedly before finishing his novel (not a spoiler, it's in the blurb) and he faces a moral dilemma.

What follows from there forms the basis of The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz and it's an exciting thriller for writers, published authors, aspiring authors, librarians, booksellers, storytellers, readers, bibliophiles and creative types.
"Stories, of course, are common as dirt. Everyone has one, if not an infinity of them, and they surround us at all times whether we acknowledge them or not. Stories are the wells we dip into to be reminded of who we are, and the ways we reassure ourselves that, however obscure we may appear to others, we are actually important, even crucial, to the ongoing drama of survival: personal, societal, and even as a species." Page 61
Interspersed amongst the goings on are excerpts of Jake's bestselling book, offering us a neat view into his dilemma and eventually the origin of the trouble that eventually follows. Because of course there's going to be trouble.

The Plot will definitely appeal to readers and I enjoyed seeing the many authors mentioned throughout the book. The list of shamed writers on page 76 was a highlight:
"Then he would be relegated to the circle of shamed writers forever and without hope of appeal: James Frey, Stephen Glass, Clifford Irving, Greg Mortenson, Jerzy Kosinski..." Page 76
Of course, then I had to stop reading so I could go and find out the juicy details of the literary scandals attached to the authors mentioned, only being familiar with James Fry.

The Plot is an exploration of the role writers have in telling a story, the duty and responsibility of authors to tell a story well lest the spark of inspiration drift away to alight on the pen or keyboard of a more disciplined and deserving writer.

It's clear to me that the author Jean Hanff Korelitz has given a lot of consideration to the nature and creativity of the writing process, the elusive source of inspiration and the troubling loss of it and the moral dilemmas and complexities of plagiarism and theft.

An entertaining read for booklovers, highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

29 November 2021

Review: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is my fourth outing with David Sedaris this year, and like the others, I listened to the audiobook of this collection of autobiographical essays. Published back in 2004, the author is a lot less likeable in this collection as he chooses to share many unflattering aspects of his life and personality. These clashed with the picture I was building of him in my mind and his choice to take drugs and bludge off his parents made me cringe. While of course I respected and appreciated his candour, I found myself longing to get back to his clever recollections and personal revelations.

David Sedaris' storytelling qualities are all here and his family dynamics are mined for material, but Sedaris seems to be tempting the reader to disapprove of his behaviour.

I enjoyed his observational wit and droll sense of humour, but I didn't find this collection as strong as his others, so this is where I'm going to leave David Sedaris for now.

The author's latest book A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003–2020) was published last month, however I think I'm going to let his previous works 'settle' a while before considering whether or not to continue exploring his material. Have you read A Carnival of Snackery? What did you think?

For more, you can check out my reviews of Calypso, Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

24 November 2021

Guest Review: Echoes of War by Tania Blanchard

Echoes of War by Tania Blanchard book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


Guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise is back to share his review of Echoes of War by Australian author Tania Blanchard.

Neil's Review

Having focused her earlier novels on events deriving from her father’s German family (see review of Letters from Berlin), Blanchard’s latest work introduces her mother’s Italian heritage.

Pre-WWII Calabria is a complex rural setting; a farming community sitting on the edge of a tectonic plate at the toe of Italy, it is severely affected by earthquakes and tsunamis. Its politics are confused between the demands of the local mafia and those of corrupt government officials. More immediately, conflicted memories of WWI and the rising influence of Mussolini’s fascist ideal of a revived Roman empire have been sparked by Italy’s brutal north-African conquest of Abyssinia in 1935.

Echoes of War is a powerful novel about powerful women; women emerging from the archaic traditions of mindless male domination to challenge their assigned status and strive towards more independent futures. Their paths, need it be said, are not easy. Teenaged Giulia enrages her father by insisting on being allowed to study herbal medicine which, despite its trailing connections with witchcraft, is still widely accepted across their community. Younger sister, Paola has a strong sense of purpose in improving the performance of the family farm while their brother and his two best friends join the army and are quickly disenchanted with the brutality of war.

Prevented from running away to join the Red Cross, Giulia is persuaded to spend time in a convent where, it transpires, she can indulge her passion for learning herbal medicine from a highly respected monk. Returning with strong recommendations of her suitability as a healer, and with the support of her mother, aunt and sister, Giulia once more infuriates her father with what he sees as her wilfulness. In a rage he determines that she will be tamed in an arranged marriage to a widowed fisherman, Massimo. Fortunately, Massimo is both amazingly solicitous and patient. He supports her passion for healing and encourages her practice across the community.

As Mussolini joins with Hitler and the war becomes ever more brutal, a massive earthquake and its ensuing tsunami wipe out the coastal fishing town and wartime conditions further impact the community. When their father is recalled into active service, Paola’s business and farming acumen support the family. Giulia’s friendship with her brother’s friend, Stefano, develops with their shared interest in healing. As Stefano, now with the army medical corps and studying medicine, observes:
“…the potential of combining … the ancient and the modern, the knowledge with the practical. Surely that’s best for the patient.” Page 209
Prior to the introduction of penicillin and in the absence of formal psychological practice, Giulia and Stefano work together, when they can, to provide meaningful medical assistance in both war damaged towns and in the battle zones of both partisan and military forces.

The role of the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, as both a criminal organisation and as an anti-fascist political influence suggests a level of stability for a corruption-dogged society which, otherwise, might develop into a modern democracy. As it is presented, however, Blanchard’s apparently loving and supportive Don is shown to be as much a victim of his inheritance as he is a perpetrator of its continuance. Both a powerful humanitarian force and an increasingly influential criminal, his role remains conflicted and his impact on the community remains ambiguous as the population migrates, to America, to Canada, to Australia.

Blanchard’s latest novel is far more recognisable as a history of family than some of her previous works. Its connections between family, religion, and medicine/healing are both engaging and, at times, challenging. Her connection of the region with its ancient Greek and Byzantine roots provides an interesting insight into Mussolini’s obsession with reclaiming ‘lost empire’. More importantly perhaps, it helps to explain the determination of those who remain to restore the stability they have sought since the region, once called Magna Graecia, was settled in the 8th Century BC.

Echoes of War is a powerful evocation of a time, a place and a cultural vision which provided a significant boost to Australia’s population and its development as a multi-cultural destination of choice for refugees – both voluntary and choiceless. In closing, this novel reminds its readers that almost all of us are ‘boat people’.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

19 November 2021

Review: The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

The Housemate by Sarah Bailey book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Successful Australian crime writer Sarah Bailey is back with a standalone thriller, The Housemate. Olive Groves is a journalist in Melbourne and worked on the housemate homicide case nine years earlier. Elements of the case remain in question when new evidence comes to light that will shake things up.
"Secrets tend to come out eventually, whether they are forced into the light kicking and screaming, or simply float to the surface. The pulsing momentum of unfinished business can be strong." Page 45
Oli has a few annoying habits (like stubbing out her cigarettes wherever she pleases) but is a compelling character and I enjoyed her relationship with younger colleague Cooper, who is at the forefront of developing a true crime podcast. The dynamic between hardened and experienced Gen Y journalist Oli when paired with enthusiastic millennial Cooper was entertaining, and mirrored the struggle and contrast between traditional media and the rise of the podcast.

Taking place between Melbourne and the Dandenong Ranges, I was caught up in the pressure cooker environment of being the first to break a story or publish a new lead and the consequences for inaccurate copy in this high pressure journalistic setting.

Sarah Bailey is the author of the bestselling Gemma Woodstock trilogy The Dark Lake, Into the Night and Where the Dead Go and I have no hesitation recommending The Housemate for those looking for a way into this author's work and those seeking a break from the standard police procedural.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

17 November 2021

Review: Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies

Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I'm a self-taught PowerPoint user and have been using it for years to create presentations for everything from a new client pitch, product launch, life in review (funeral), community event or family trivia night.

Russell Davies has created PowerPoint presentations for the likes of Nike, Microsoft and Apple and has become the go-to guru for all things PowerPoint. In this book, Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint, Davies shares his tips for creating and delivering an engaging presentation.

This isn't a book for those wanting to learn how to use the program and doesn't contain any specific instructions. Instead, it provides a lot of well-rounded guidance around how to put together an effective presentation. What should you consider when starting work on a presentation? How do you engage your audience and hold their attention?

True to his word, not only is Davies able to present well, he's also highly engaging as a writer as well. In fact, I had to keep stopping to look things up mentioned in the book. Highlights include the PowerPoint slide outlining the situation in Afghanistan that was so confusing, US military General Stanley McChrystal declared "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war."

I also enjoyed the insight into the preparation process Steve Jobs employed in order to achieve his now famous presentations. Summary? He practised every day for 3 months. In fact, Davies says you should:
"Spend one hour preparing for every minute you'll be presenting." Page 213
As an aside, I loved learning about tricolons (a rhetorical term that consists of a series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses) such as the Olympic motto of Faster, Higher, Stronger or the byline for Rice Bubbles Snap, Crackle, Pop. A molossus contains three short words, like: Yes We Can and an epizeuxis is the repetition of words, like location, location, location. Fascinating right?

With quotes from business people and examples from a range of industries, there's something in here for everyone, from small business owners to aspiring leaders, speech makers, executives and office workers around the world.

Delivered with a great sense of humour and a light and breezy approach, Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies is an endlessly interesting and entertaining book and I highly recommend it.

Next slide please!

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

14 November 2021

Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris audiobook cover
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is a witty collection of essays, primarily focusing on the author's time in France. I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the content focus on speech and language that this collection had to offer.

In one of the essays, Sedaris shares what it was like to have a lisp when he was younger and the experience of speech therapy. Later in life, Sedaris moves to Normandy in France with his partner Hugh, despite not knowing the language. Taking French lessons, Sedaris made me laugh out loud every time he shared his meagre knowledge of French and the reactions from locals.

My absolute favourite quote from the collection came when he called a plumber to come and fix their toilet. In trying to describe the problem, and struggling with the gendered nature of many items in the French language, he says:
"My toilet, she cry much of the time." (Chapter 22)
Sedaris goes on to describe his experience at the dentist and compares the health systems of France and the USA. Much of the content here is chuckle-worthy and entertaining and the satirical humour is again on show.

For more, you can check out my review of Calypso and Naked. In the meantime, I'm already listening to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, but suspect I'll be slowing down on my Sedaris streak soon.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating: