01 July 2020

Fellow Reviewers Share Their 2020 Mid Year Favourite Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

26 June 2020

Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

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

23 June 2020

Review: The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

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

17 June 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

12 June 2020

Review: Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

10 June 2020

Review: The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

02 June 2020

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

29 May 2020

Review: Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

27 May 2020

Bloggernomicon - The Book Muse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 May 2020

Review: Torched by Kimberley Starr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

22 May 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

19 May 2020

Guest Review: The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

I'm a huge fan of Lucy Worsley. She's an historian, TV presenter and Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and I've watched almost all of her documentaries. Her latest book The Austen Girls explores the life of Jane Austen from the perspective of her nieces and I knew I'd need some help reviewing it.

Luckily for me, Sophie Harris came to the rescue. Here are Sophie's thoughts on the book.


Guest Review by Sophie Harris

Once again I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a book to review for Carpe Librum. This time it was the historical fiction The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley.

This book taught me about the 1800s and how women were treated differently than men. I didn’t realise how restricted women were and couldn’t go anywhere without being escorted and they didn’t have jobs. I realised this book said a lot about how Jane Austen had to keep her identity secret in books not even her book hungry niece knew what books she wrote!
Sophie Harris holding The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
Sophie Harris holding her copy of
The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
Published by Bloomsbury

I like the descriptions of things such as how they wore puffy dresses and bonnets and had dances and engagements! And how people had to take a carriage and young ladies being escorted to go out. I found the language was a little challenging (Lucy Worsley uses words like anonymity) but that is also because I haven’t read a historical fiction book before.

This is not my usual choice of book, and I found it challenging to finish. But I did enjoy it and I would recommend it for tweens or young adults (or even normal adults). Lots of historical details and descriptions to make me realise how lucky women are in today’s society. I give it 3.5 stars.

Sophie Harris Age 10

Sophie's Rating:
★ ★

Thank you so much for your review Sophie! For me, reading a book like this without having read one by Jane Austen was a little bit cheeky but totally doable. As Sophie points out above, this novel is aimed at a younger reading audience and may even serve as an entry point to entice younger readers to move on to read Pride and Prejudice or Emma in the future. 

Reading The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley mostly reminded me that I really need to get to at least one of her classics before the decade is through. I'm with Sophie on the rating though. This was a 3 star reading experience for me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★


15 May 2020

Guest review: Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver by Chris Hammer cover
I reviewed Silver by Chris Hammer back in October 2019, however in the recent lockdown I've been lending some books to my neighbour and fellow bibliophile, retired academic Neil Bechervaise. When Neil shared his thoughts on Silver with me, I wanted to share his insight with you too. Thanks Neil!

Murder, corruption, professional jealousy and loosely bent laws. Now what else could we expect from a coming-of-age novel set in a coastal New South Wales village as it drags across its 563 pages of essential hurdles from rural farmland to 21st century tourist mecca? Well, of course, there’s suicide, infidelity, drugs, a swami of mixed origins, a criminally over-protective mother, a drunken, grieving father and an illegal immigration racket to bring in the immigrant backpackers.

It can be argued that Chris Hammer’s second novel, shortlisted for the 2020 ABIA awards, is a complex whodunnit with a poetic depth of understanding of grief and an almost mischievous focusing on the interaction of police and press when the going gets tough.

In brief, when former journalist cum author, Martin returns to Port Silver, the town of his childhood to live with his new partner, the stunningly beautiful Mandy, he walks through the door and, being an experienced journalist, steps carefully over a corpse, stabbed in the back and still bleeding across the floor. Finding no pulse, he phones the ambulance and then the police. Hands now bloodied, he looks up to see Mandy sitting in shock on the sofa, her hands similarly bloodied.

Setting out to clear Mandy (Mandalay Blonde), the chief suspect, Martin embarks on an increasingly complicated search for the real killer. Exposing a plot to buy otherwise unusable waterfront land for development, Martin slowly reveals the truths of his own unhappy childhood, the relationship between a fake swami, a scam providing backpackers with drugs and visas for sex and silver (dollars) and a former surf champion, now running a wellness centre.

The story can only get more complicated, the landscape requiring a map of the town and surrounds (printed at the start of the novel) to reveal the tortuous twists in the tracks that Martin must follow and the paths his newly revealed relatives routinely ride to peddle their illegally harvested marine life.

At times elegantly written, at times poignantly puzzled and at times starkly savage, Silver provides a satisfying trail of corpses, a revelation of real estate corruption and crime in a small-town that is building towards a vastly different future. How the internationally experienced journalist will regain and maintain his reputation while supporting his new mate, Mandy and her baby son in this rural backwater remains a story to be revealed.

I found the novel to be overlong, at times, overwritten and generally over-complicated. Despite this, by the time the story really begins to claim its reader’s attention (at about page 300), the character of the town and the natures of the major protagonists is fairly clear. Some unexpected revelations and complications are yet to be revealed but the pages of description of the town, its history and its current state of development have taken effect. The denouement will be disposed in a few final pages and the reader will be able to surface from the shark-plagued swamp that edges the town to breathe another thriller.

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise May, 2020

Neil's Rating:
★ ★

Carpe Librum!

13 May 2020

Review: Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is an historical fiction cozy crime mystery. Now that's a mouthful! Set in 1851, Mrs Laetitia Rodd is a widow in her 50s who earns her living as a very discreet private investigator.

The wandering scholar of the title is the estranged brother of Jacob Welland, and on his deathbed suffering from consumption, Jacob hires Mrs Rodd to find him.

Even though this is the second book in the Laetitia Rodd mystery series and I hadn't read the first (The Secrets of Wishtide) I was still able to read and enjoy this as a standalone.

It was also easy to imagine this as a TV series on the big screen, as Mrs Rodd jumps in and out of carriages, converses with Inspector Blackbeard from Scotland Yard and talks her way into crime scenes and drawing rooms in an attempt to solve the mounting crimes.

As an aside, this novel also put me in mind of She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia as this was set in London in 1863 and also featured a female sleuth.

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is recommended for readers who enjoy a cozy crime mystery within an historical setting.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

11 May 2020

Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

If It Bleeds by Stephen King cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

If It Bleeds is the latest release by Stephen King and is a collection of four short stories, which include:

  • Mr Harrigan's Phone
  • The Life of Chuck
  • If It Bleeds
  • Rat

My favourite in this collection was the first, Mr Harrigan's Phone. King has a magical way of writing kids that gets me every time. This time our protagonist wasn't in a group of misfit kids riding around on bikes, but a solitary type hired by the rich retiree up the road to read to him. It was such a terrific story, it was easily my favourite of this collection.

Having started so strongly, the others were okay in comparison.

The title story If It Bleeds is actually a novella which is a sequel to The Outsider published by Stephen King last year. Even if you haven't read The Outsider, you should still be able to make sense of the case Holly Gibney of Finders Keepers is pursuing.

Rat was about a writer whose life long ambition was to write a novel and reminded me a little of Jack Torrance in The Shining.

I watched a discussion between Stephen King and fellow bestselling author John Grisham recently where King mentioned that he enjoys writing short stories and when he writes one he puts it away, and then every so often he'll 'gather them together' for another collection like this.

I've enjoyed a number of his collections over the years (see below) and have every reason to hope this won't be his last.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Full Dark, No Stars
Just After Sunset

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

06 May 2020

Review: Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin cover
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin begins when eleven year old Marcus is sent to live with his eccentric Great Aunt in South Carolina after the death of his mother. Aunt Charlotte is a reclusive artist with a drinking problem and Marcus is welcomed into her little house on the beach. Marcus is an extremely bright and considerate boy who was likeable - if not 100% believable - from the very first page.

Aunt Charlotte is divorced and well known in the area for painting a tumbledown house known by locals as Grief Cottage. Located within walking distance, Marcus takes to visiting the ruined cottage every day where he becomes a little obsessed with the story of a nameless family (including a young boy) who went missing during a hurricane fifty years earlier.

Marcus and Aunt Charlotte both have secrets from their past and as they get to know each other, they begin to trust one another. Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin contains a number of mysteries, including the identity of Marcus's father, the truth of Charlotte's childhood trauma and the ghost of the boy lost during the hurricane.

After spending so much time with Marcus in the summer of his 11th year, the great leaps forward in time towards the end of the book felt incredibly out of place. I wouldn't have minded another 50-100 pages to follow Marcus on his first day at the new school, through to his Aunt's passing, embarking on his chosen career and other key moments in life. Instead these milestones and events were completely skipped over, and we suddenly catch up with Marcus in his late twenties early thirties which was a real jolt.

There was a nice mystery solved at the end of the book, but the timing of it felt contrived and poorly revealed without much explanation. Handled more skilfully, this could have been an incredibly moving 'reveal' but instead it was ill-timed and just fell flat for me.

Marcus, Aunt Charlotte and family friend Lachicotte were wonderful characters but I felt robbed of a suitable ending to their individual and collective stories.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

29 April 2020

Review: Mammoth by Chris Flynn

Mammoth by Chris Flynn book cover
* Copy courtesy of University of Queensland Press *

Mammoth by Australian author Chris Flynn is like nothing I've ever read before, or likely to read again for that matter. Our narrator is a 13,000 year old extinct mammoth by the name of Mammut. It does sound crazy, but it also strangely works. The reader learns that as the bones or fossils of an animal (extinct or not) are unearthed, their consciousness returns to them and they can communicate.

Yep, you heard me right, this book has a cast of talking fossils. They talk amongst themselves by telepathy as they listen to Mammut's story of his life on earth and subsequent revival after his bones were discovered, dug up and sold.

I enjoyed the easy dialogue between the different creatures and their accents based on when and where they were unearthed and the humans they could listen in on. And boy did they have some things to say about we hominids.

What I didn't enjoy was the lack of punctuation for any of this dialogue. I was chatting with another booklover about this very thing last week, and it's an incredibly hard feat to pull off dialogue without punctuation. Unfortunately it slowed me down here and I frequently had to backtrack to find out who was speaking.

I enjoyed the majority of Mammut's story, however some parts of his story were too detailed and failed to hold my interest while others had me entranced. I wanted to learn more about the other fossils in the conversation, however I recognise the book wouldn't have been called Mammoth if that were the case.

Originality is hard to come by these days, and I take my hat off to Australian author Chris Flynn, because he's certainly achieved it here.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

27 April 2020

Winner of Prey by L.A. Larkin Announced

Thanks to all of those in lockdown who took part and entered my giveaway last week to win a copy of Prey by L.A. Larkin. It was great to be part of the online blog tour. The giveaway closed at midnight last night and the winner was drawn today.

Congratulations: Karen


You've won a print copy of Prey by L.A. Larkin valued at $23.95AUD. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details and the author will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaways in 2020.

Carpe Librum!
Blog tour PR tile for  Prey by L.A. Larkin

24 April 2020

Review: Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty book cover
RRP $29.99AUD
Published September 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty has a premise that hooked my interest early on. In a train station on platform seven, a man has decided to commit suicide. He is watched by Lisa Evans and she knows what he plans to do because she did the same thing just 18 months earlier.

Lisa is our protagonist and she is a ghost in the afterlife, haunting Peterborough Railway Station with little memory of what happened or why she's there. Lisa enjoys watching the train station employees and the commuters come and go until the man's suicide triggers a series of events and the clearing of cobwebs in Lisa's memory.

The majority of the novel is Lisa recalling the lead up to her death and how she ended up in her current state. I don't tend to enjoy the amnesia trope on a good day and I found this part of the novel unconvincing.

Despite the creepy premise and terrifically spooky cover, Platform Seven reads more like a domestic noir novel and could easily have been marketed very differently.

The narration style put me in mind of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, as did the internal musings about life after death in general. I enjoyed Lisa's observations and feelings about some of the staff members however I was disappointed when the reader was denied one particular 'visit' I had been anticipating.

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty is a good domestic noir novel.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

20 April 2020

Review: Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein

Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein book cover
I've always been interested in every aspect of sleep, so I was easily tempted by this free audiobook on Audible, Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein.

Comedian David Baddiel is an insomniac with many sleep related problems and a lifetime of experience trying to fix them. In Sleeping with David Baddiel, he discusses them with sleep expert Dr. Guy Leschziner over the course of 6 chapters/episodes in an attempt to learn more about sleep and how to get more of it.

Unfortunately for me, I didn't learn anything new here. I was already very familiar with the topics discussed and they never seemed to delve into any detail.

However, what frustrated me the most was the seemingly complete lack of commitment shown by David Baddiel to attempt much of what was suggested to him by Dr. Guy.

Baddiel freely admits he has always identified as an insomniac and I suspect he isn't motivated enough by his poor sleep patterns to ditch this identifier and make any significant changes to his habits.

While Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein didn't have much to offer, I can happily point readers in the direction of three other books which were much better.
Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein is recommended listening for those who know very little about sleep hygiene and sleep disorders and those seeking a surface level examination of the main subjects.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★ ★

17 April 2020

Giveaway of Prey by L.A. Larkin

Prey by L.A. Larkin book cover
Published by Clan Destine Press
RRP $23.95 AUD
Welcome to the online blog tour for Prey by Australian author L.A. Larkin. Published by Clan Destine Press on 22 April, you can enter my giveaway below for your chance to win a copy of Prey valued at $23.95 AUD. We all need something good to read at the moment, right?


Blurb

Olivia Wolfe is a journalist who travels the world exposing heinous crimes. She has more enemies that most.

When her anonymous source is murdered, Wolfe must unravel the terrible secret that connects a series of gruesome murders. But powerful people want her stopped.

Betrayed and isolated, Wolfe is hunted by a faceless killer. Can she stay alive long enough to expose the shocking truth?

Four murders. Four countries. One terrible secret.
Prey by L.A. Larkin PR tile

Giveaway

This giveaway has now closed.