17 July 2019

Review: The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley is an historical fiction novel told in dual timelines from multiple character perspectives. It's a multi-generational family saga set in Suffolk and contains several mysteries and a few secrets.

Posy Montague is our main character and we meet her at the age of 70 when she is living in the enormous rundown family estate Admiral House, her adult children having moved away.

One of Posy's sons is an antiques dealer and I really enjoyed the little insight we get into his occupation and business.

As we get to know Posy and changes in her family start to happen, we go back in time to Posy's childhood and her father's service in the war. We get a glimpse of Posy's life at university and how she fell in love and eventually married.

The modern timeline features Posy and her children and their various family goings on, which include domestic themes of: friendship, love, parenthood, career, adultery, divorce, domestic violence and grief.

Coming in at more than 600 pages, The Butterfly Room is a very character-driven novel that moves forward inch by inch, conversation by conversation. This person drives to that house, has a conversation. Next day, this person phones that person, travels up from London etc. What kept me engaged throughout the domestic drama were the two mysteries and the hint of a few family secrets that were worth uncovering. (I managed to correctly guess one of them - which never happens - and incorrectly guess the other, so that surprise was satisfying).

After the 400 page mark I started to pick up on a number of repetitions that proved mildly irritating. The repeated use of phrases of endearment like 'my darling girl' and 'my darling boy' were used by different characters way too frequently. While some originated from the same family members - thereby somewhat understandable and thereby excusable - others weren't.

I also noticed that many of the characters had a habit of talking to themselves aloud in full sentences. These sentences were printed with the use of dialogue punctuation which seemed strange and while I can believe one character might do this, I couldn't believe that many characters would possess this personality trait.

When it comes to the title, I'm not quite sure The Butterfly Room was the best title for this generational family saga. A butterfly room does feature in the novel, but it could be perceived as a teaser or a spoiler. I'd have preferred a title capturing the magnificent property that unites all of the characters, that of Admiral House. Riley did a wonderful job of evoking the gardens and property in a way that really made it come to life and was the star of the novel for me.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, family sagas and romance at all stages of life. Fans of Kate Morton, Hannah Richell, Anna Romer and Sarah Maine will feel at home with Lucinda Riley's The Butterfly Room.

My Rating:

15 July 2019

Winner of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman Announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway to win a copy of Trails in the Dust by Australian author Joy Dettman as part of the blog tour organised by Pan Macmillan.

The giveaway closed at midnight last night and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations:

Kylie H

Congratulations Kylie! You've won a copy of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman valued at $32.99. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and Pan Macmillan will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more chances to win.

Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman book cover

12 July 2019

Buddy Read of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier book cover
I'm excited to announce I'm co-hosting a buddy read with Theresa Smith of Theresa Smith Writes next month.

We'll be reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier in the first week of August to coincide with the original publication date back in August 1938.

A modern classic and an international bestseller that has never been out of print, Rebecca is a gothic novel set in the fictional estate known as Manderley. 

You might have heard the famous opening line: 
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
If you want to join us in this buddy read, then feel free to leave a comment below. The official start date is Sunday 4 August 2019 and we'll be reading through to finish the buddy read by Sunday 11 August.

We'll be discussing the novel as we go over on the Page by Page Book Club with Theresa Smith Writes Facebook group. You can also join in on Twitter using the hashtag #rebeccabuddyread and tagging myself (@Carpe_Librum1) and Theresa (@TessSmithWrites).

Everyone is welcome to join in and I'm really looking forward to visiting Manderley next month.

Carpe Librum!
09 July 2019

Review: Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford

Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Justine Ford is a big name when it comes to true crime in Australia. She's a journalist and author of five books. One of these is The Good Cop - The True Story of Ron Iddles, Australia's Greatest Detective which was adapted into a series for the Foxtel channel and for which Ford was the Executive Producer. I absolutely loved the series and my respect for Police Detective Ron Iddles, OAM (retired) is unending.

This is my first foray into Justine's written work though and I enjoyed reading Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls. Justine covers cold case missing persons and unsolved murders in Australia all the while encouraging the reader to help find a missing person or catch a killer. I knew about 2 of the 13 true crime cases included, those being the outback mystery of what happened to Paddy Moriarty and missing Army Officer Sean Sargent.

Justine's experience on Australia's Most Wanted is evidenced in her approach to this work. This collection of true crime cases encourages members of the public to come forward and help Police solve the cases and bring justice and some measure of comfort to the families.

Generous rewards are now on offer and both Justine Ford and Ron Iddles firmly believe the answer is out there and that someone always knows something. With the passage of time, relationships and allegiances change, which may result in a person with information coming forward to claim the reward in return for critical information about the case.

In addition to the true crime cases mentioned, Justine has also included six profiles throughout the book focussing on people dedicating their lives to investigating and solving crime in a variety of vocations. Readers will recognise Rachael Brown, the journalist behind the highly successful podcast Trace and will enjoy hearing from a forensic anthropologist and criminologist, a criminal psychologist and more.

Presented with a stunning cover with jigsaw piece design and embossing on some of the pieces to emphasize the nature of finding missing pieces of information in order to solve a crime, I do wish the publisher had invested more on the overall production of the book. There are many photos throughout the book and they're all in black and white. And we're not talking glossy black and white paper either. They're included on the regular print paper.

Black and white images and designs are also used to differentiate the profiles from the main body of the text, however it gave me the overall impression I was reading a newspaper. Given the author's desire for the reader to pay close attention to the cases on the off chance they can offer critical information, I'd have thought colour photographs would be essential.

Justine Ford is determined to help solve cold cases in Australia and I applaud her efforts to ensure the victims and their families aren't forgotten. Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford is recommended reading for true crime and history enthusiasts.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
06 July 2019

Blog tour and giveaway for Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman

Today I'm excited to be participating in the Pan Macmillan blog tour for Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman. Born in country Victoria, Joy Dettman is an accomplished Australian author. Trails in the Dust can be enjoyed as a stand alone so enter below for your chance to win a print copy for yourself or a loved one.

Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman book cover
Pan Macmillan
RRP $32.99 AUD
After many tumultuous years spent grappling with the past, Jenny Hooper might have expected her latter years to be the best of her life, and they are - until tragedy strikes. Left floundering in a house full of memories, not all of them good, Jenny knows a reckoning is in order.

But it won't be easy. History is beginning to repeat itself for Jenny's adopted daughter, Trudy, who finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship. Jenny and her older daughter, Georgie, can only stand by and watch as Trudy's life implodes.

Meanwhile, half a world away in the UK, Cara and her husband Morrie nurture a devastating secret that keeps them at arm's length from Jenny.

But most of all, Jenny wants to renew contact with the beloved son she lost decades before when she was at her lowest ebb. Only that, and having the chance to tell him the truth about what happened, will give her peace. But is it too late?

This giveaway has now closed and the winner will be announced soon.
03 July 2019

Review: Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

We're all familiar with book to movie adaptations (and each have our favourites) however we rarely see the reverse, the movie to book adaptation. Yet that's what we have here.

The 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro and won 3 Academy Awards. Now he's teamed up with bestselling author and illustrator Cornelia Funke (Inkheart trilogy) to produce this dark fantasy novel Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun.

Set in 1940s Spain, Ofelia and her pregnant mother are forced to move in with her new husband Vidal, an evil man serving as a Captain in the Spanish Army. Vidal and his soldiers are charged with capturing the rebels in the forest intent on disrupting and undermining the Francoist dictatorship.

Ofelia is unhappy in her new surroundings and clings to her books for solace. She is obsessed with fairytales and the story takes off when she sees a real fairy in the forest and is given a set of tasks to do as part of a quest.

This is a dark fairytale for adults that is overflowing with fable, folklore and fairytale, including the following familiar tropes: the evil stepfather, the lost princess, a magical book, an enchanted forest, a quest, magical animals, a maze, good versus evil and more.

I immediately fell in love with Ofelia and really felt for her plight. My reading experience was further enhanced by the haunting illustrations that brought the magical realism of the story to life. And don't you just love that cover?

There is real violence here, although viewers of the movie and readers of the original Grimms' Fairy Tales won't be surprised. Despite this, Ofelia's bravery and heart shine through and the side stories of witches and curses were well placed and added further layers to the story.

I haven't seen the movie, but after enjoying the novel so much it's definitely going on my list.

Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke is a spellbinding read and highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
01 July 2019

Review: The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins

The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins book cover
We join Radford in England in 1962 when he is sent to Goodwin Manor, a home for troubled boys. The boys aren't required to disclose the events leading up to their arrival at Goodwin Manor, but I hoped their backstories would be slowly revealed throughout the novel. Alas, this isn't the case. In fact, we don't even get the backstory of the main character, Radford.

I was ready for a bootcamp style campus novel for delinquents and troublemakers, but Goodwin Manor is not a structured boarding school environment with a schedule designed to turn bad boys good again. Instead it offers the boys an opportunity to work through their issues via the process of friendship.

I adjusted my expectations and began to hope for an inspiring novel about wayward boys desperate for learning and mentorship reminiscent of Dead Poet’s Society, however didn't find that either.

As we observe the boys interacting with eachother and Radford becoming friends with West, I desperately wanted to give the school some structure. Teddy's oversight felt painfully inadequate and I wanted to crack out a timetable of lessons and chores for the boys. The seemingly complete lack of any regime irked me, but was that the point?

I wished there had been more inspiring adult figures in the lives of the boys at Goodwin Manor and I also wanted to see what happened when one of the boys returned home. Furthermore, I desired evidence of an improvement in the behaviour and wellbeing of the boys who'd spent the most time at Goodwin Manor.

Unfortunately, the reader is deprived of character backstories and thereby any evidence of individual growth, development or recovery. There was also much that was never explained. How did the boys get the money for cigarettes and booze and what was with the chicken coop?

The Everlasting Sunday is a literary novel by an Australian author that has won a swag of awards (see below). It's a coming-of-age novel about friendship, self, rejection, love, grief and hope but ultimately I found it too wanting for my tastes.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Thanks to Theresa Smith for the copy generously given in a giveaway.

Awards include:

  • SHORTLISTED: Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
  • SHORTLISTED: UTS Glenda Adams New Writing Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2019
  • LONGLISTED: The ALS Gold Medal for Literature
  • The Australian's 'Top 10 Australian Books of 2018'
  • Australian Book Review's '2018 Books of the Year'
  • The Age / Sydney Morning Herald's 'Books of the Year 2018'
  • Good Reading Magazine's 'Top 10 fiction titles of 2018'
  • Au Review's 'Best 16 Books of 2018'
26 June 2019

Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a gothic mystery set in a fen in Edwardian Suffolk surrounded by folklore, superstition and legends. The ancient manor house of Wake's End near the hamlet of Wakenhyrst has been Maud's home for the past 50 years where she's lived as a recluse. Maud's story is closely connected with that of her father, historian Edmund Stearne and the mystery of the crime he committed in 1913.

The reader is taken back in time to Maud's childhood and her overbearing father's increasing obsession with 15th Century mystic Alice Pyett. A medieval Doom painting is discovered in the nearby Church and Edmund is affected by the artist's depiction of the Last Judgement. Maud discovers her authoritarian father's diary and we interpret the content along with Maud as she tries to figure out what's happening.

I can understand why some readers will find Wakenhyrst a slow read, but that's what builds the tension. Gothic tension takes time, and Paver does an excellent job of allowing the reader to see every single stage of Edmund's decline.

I enjoyed the overall setting of Wake's End, including the members of the household and the superstitions of the local people about the fen. Secrets and the sins of the past are also present, as is a feeling of otherworldly goings on. Paver does a brilliant job of setting the scene and I especially enjoyed the reference to Quieting Syrup on page 246:
Nurse hated her for pointing out that as Quieting Syrup is a mixture of black treacle and opium, it is hardly advisable to give it to a four-year-old.
I fell into Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver with immediate gusto, and the early chapters gave me the same bookish shivers I had at the beginning of The Binding by Bridget Collins. I love the cover art and animal lovers will enjoy knowing that the magpie on the cover has a role to play in the novel.

When we've reached the climax of the story and finally get back to the present, the ending seems hastily wrapped up in comparison to the slow burn of the rest of the novel. I found this quite jarring and wanted a little more time with Maud.

I thoroughly recommend Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver for fans of historical fiction and gothic suspense novels.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. If you enjoy gothic novels or want to find out what makes a novel gothic, check out my list of Gothic Tales To Read for more info.
21 June 2019

Review: Something to Live For by Richard Roper

Something to Live For by Richard Roper book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Andrew is a loner working for the Council in the UK. He's a member of the Death Administration department dealing with deceased estates in the event a person dies without a next of kin. Andrew and his colleagues are responsible for searching the property for proof of family or friends and the funds to cover funeral expenses. If none can be found, the burden falls to the state.

Andrew is a model train hobbyist and his regular job and loner lifestyle made him instantly relatable and irresistibly likeable. Andrew's job is fascinating and the first thing that attracted me to this book, but after reading a few pages there was plenty to keep me engaged.

I loved Andrew's online interactions with his fellow model train enthusiasts and the general office banter and relationships also gave me cause to smile and nod along. I wasn't expecting to find much to laugh about, but Something to Live For often made me chuckle to myself, here's an example from Page 30:
Consequently, his living space was looking not so much tired as absolutely knackered. There was the dark stain where the wall met the ceiling in the area that masqueraded as a kitchen; then there was the battered grey sofa, the threadbare carpet and the yellowy-brown wallpaper that was meant to suggest autumn but in fact suggested digestive biscuits.
I can see why parallels are being drawn between this and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: both characters are loners and both have some socialisation issues - albeit to different degrees. But this is lighter, less dramatic and therefore seemingly more real.

The only reason Something to Live For by Richard Roper wasn't a 5 star read for me was that it had a touch of the 'cringe factor' for me. The cringe factor is hard to describe, but here it came in the form of a lie Andrew told his work mates that had managed to snowball in the ensuing years. This kind of situation makes me cringe and while it made perfect sense for the character and the plot arc, it nevertheless prevented this from becoming a 5 star read for me.

This book is being published with a different title overseas (How Not To Die Alone) but I think the Australian title strikes the better chord and is more in keeping with the overall message of the novel. A moving and uplifting read, highly recommended.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
17 June 2019

Winner of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare Announced

Thanks to those who entered my Cassandra Clare giveaway last week to win a copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market thanks to Walker Books Australia.

Entries closed yesterday and I drew the winner today. Congratulations to:

Michael Potter

Congratulations Michael! You've won a copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare valued at $27.99AUD. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and Walker Books Australia will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more chances to win on 6 July when I'll be giving away a copy of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman.

Carpe Librum!

14 June 2019

Review: Hunting Evil by Chris Carter

Hunting Evil by Chris Carter book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I haven't seen this done before, but in an author's note at the beginning of Hunting Evil, Chris Carter advises readers that while Hunting Evil is the tenth novel in the series featuring Robert Hunter, it doesn't follow on from the ninth novel in the series, Gallery of the Dead. Instead, Hunting Evil is a sequel to the sixth novel in the series, An Evil Mind.

This information put me into an immediate spin, as I hadn't read the sixth novel in the series. I procrastinated a while about whether I needed to go back and read An Evil Mind first, but after learning it wasn't at my local library I decided to forge ahead and try it anyway. Thankfully I was able to piece together enough of the back story that I didn't experience any obvious problems with the plot.

Robert Hunter is head of the LAPD Ultra Violent Crimes Unit and in the beginning of the book his nemesis Lucien Folter has escaped from prison. Lucien is the most dangerous serial killer the FBI has ever known and three years ago he was locked away in solitary confinement in a high security prison. In an effort to study him, protocols were regretfully relaxed, Lucien has escaped and he has unfinished business with Robert.

What ensues is a dark psychological crime thriller with plenty of suspense and a considerable body count. Robert Hunter's qualifications (PhD in Criminal Behaviour Analyses and Biopsychology) and experience are put to the test as he leads a taskforce set up to track down Lucien. However, Lucien was also one of the brightest students to ever graduate from Stamford Psychology University, so it isn't easy to stay one step ahead of his evil plans.

Garcia's sense of humour in Gallery of the Dead wasn't evident here, which was a minor let down. Notwithstanding, Hunting Evil is a hard hitting crime thriller, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you can get away with reading it as a stand alone.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
11 June 2019

Review of The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose book cover
Allen & Unwin
RRP $27.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose won the Stella Prize in 2017 and has been sitting on my TBR pile since receiving an unsolicited copy way back in August 2016.

Marina Abramovic's installation in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010 was called The Artist is Present, in which Marina sat at a table and members of the public would sit opposite her and maintain eye contact without speaking. Marina did this for 75 days - a total of 736 hours and 30 minutes - from March to May that year and sat across from 1,545 sitters. She did this without moving, and without water, meal, or toilet breaks all in the name of art.

With the permission and blessing of several people involved (including Marina) Australian author Heather Rose has created a narrative around the exhibition and peopled it with several characters captivated by Marina’s performance.

Unfortunately I didn't form any connections with the characters and the decisions of the main character Levin grated on my nerves. The pace is slow, the characters introspective and not much really happens. I did give this literary novel the time and space it needed to take root, but it still failed to move me.

I also found the writing style a little jarring. We're given multiple character perspectives in what I presume to be the third person. However, there was also the occasional presence of what I think was an omniscient narrator. I had no idea 'who' this was supposed to be and it was never explained. Was this supposed to be an all-knowing muse? The 'muse' didn't seem to 'belong' to a specific character but hovered ghost-like over some parts of the novel without any rhyme or reason and certainly no resolution. Just to complicate matters, the ghost of Marina's mother also made several appearances in the novel.

The title of the book is presumably a play on the location of the exhibition (Museum of Modern Art) and this literary novel will appeal to readers with an interest in exploring the meaning of art and how performance art can impact an audience.

Reading a book long after the buzz has died down can be an advantage. I like to think I'm not influenced by awards hype or bestseller lists, and the fact that I didn't enjoy this book puts me squarely in the minority here. Distance from the hype can offer a different reading perspective and I wonder if some of the readers giving this 5 stars found themselves swept away by the meteoric rise of the book at the time. I just didn't get it.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
10 June 2019

Carpe Librum Celebrates 1000 Posts

I've now published 1000 posts since starting this blog back in 2005 and this is officially my 1,001st post! To mark this significant milestone, I'm in the process of making a few changes here at Carpe Librum.

I joined several blogging networks this year in an effort to improve my blogging skills and have definitely seen the benefits of addressing several gaps in my blogging knowledge.

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash
It's an ongoing learning curve, so I just want to say thank you for sticking with me as I continue to learn and improve. I'm completely self taught and have made some significant changes over the years. Some you might recall include: a name change to Carpe Librum and my own URL (2012), launching my first logo (2016), celebrating 1,000,000 views (December 2017) and this year migrating my email subscribers to MailChimp. As I continue to learn and tweak things behind the scenes at Carpe Librum, my success continues to improve and I expect to surpass 1,200,000 website views this month.

What you definitely won't see is the appearance of annoying pop-up ads or ads showing up in my reviews or featured on my sidebars. I hate seeing that on other sites and will continue to resist the urge to pollute my page with ads to earn advertising dollars.

If you'd like to see more - or less - of a particular kind of post, feel free to send me your feedback any time.

There is still plenty more I need to learn, but hopefully you'll see a change with the arrival of a new overall look and feel in the next few weeks. Those technically minded might be interested to know some of the behind the scenes tasks include: fixing hundreds of broken links, adding alt properties to images, learning about and improving my Domain Authority and learning how to use Google Analytics and Google Console.

Wish me luck.

Carpe Librum!
07 June 2019

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare

Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare cover
RRP $27.99 AUD
Published June 2019
Walker Books Australia
Fantasy lovers will be very familiar with Cassandra Clare, whose novels have sold more than 36 million copies worldwide. Cassandra Clare is the author of the bestselling Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices, The Bane Chronicles, The Dark Artifices, The Shadowhunter’s Codex and Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a major movie and Shadowhunters is airing on Netflix.

Thanks to Walker Books Australia, you can win a print copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare below. Good luck!

A collection of all eight Ghosts of the Shadow Market stories, along with two brand new ones, about characters from Cassandra Clare's internationally bestselling Shadowhunters series.

The Shadow Market is a meeting point for faeries, werewolves, warlocks and vampires. There the Downworlders buy and sell magical objects, make dark bargains, and whisper secrets they do not want the Nephilim to know. Through two centuries, however, there has been a frequent visitor to the Shadow Market from the City of Bones, the very heart of the Shadowhunters. As a Silent Brother, Brother Zachariah is sworn keeper of the laws and lore of the Nephilim. But once he was a Shadowhunter called Jem Carstairs, and his love, then and always, is the warlock Tessa Gray. 

Follow Brother Zachariah and see, against the backdrop of the Shadow Market’s dark dealing and festival, Anna Lightwood’s doomed romance, Matthew Fairchild’s great sin and Tessa Gray plunged into a world war. Valentine Morgenstern buys a soul at the Market and a young Jace Wayland’s soul finds safe harbor. In the Market is hidden a lost heir and a beloved ghost, and no-one can save you once you have traded away your heart. Not even Brother Zachariah. The series features characters from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, Infernal Devices, Dark Artifices and the upcoming Last Hours series.


This giveaway has now closed and the winner was announced here.
05 June 2019

Review: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is a terrific historical fiction novel from Australian author Kayte Nunn. Unfolding in dual timelines (1950s and 2018), the story is told from three character perspectives: Rachel (Marine Scientist), Esther Durrant (of the title) and Eve, looking after her grandmother in London.

It has to be said that I'm not usually a fan of romance novels or a great love story, but somehow Kayte Nunn tricked me by writing such a compelling historical fiction novel about a woman committed to a mental asylum by her husband in the 1950s, that the romance elements kind of snuck up on me.

Esther Durrant is a young mother committed to a private hospice by her husband with the very best of intentions for her care and recovery. It's 1951 and Esther is outraged when she finds herself trapped at Little Embers, which seems to be little more than a mental asylum. She has no choice but to surrender to the treatment being offered to her and the other patients in residence; men suffering shell shock and PTSD from the war.

Rachel takes up her new research post in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast and soon comes across the isolated island location of Little Embers. It's there that she discovers a number of incredibly moving letters secreted away in an old suitcase. (Although by the end of the novel, there's never an explanation for why the suitcase wasn't 'sent on' as planned).

In London, Eve is taking care of her grandmother - a retired mountaineer - and helping to write her memoir. These three storylines intertwined exceptionally well with just the right amount of time spent with each character.

The location was vividly described and I enjoyed the remote locality and the rugged wilderness of the Isles of Scilly in both timelines. However I'm not convinced the cover accurately conveyed the content or feel of the novel for me. Perhaps an image of the mental asylum on a remote island with a pair of hiking boots next to the door step would have encompassed the feel of the novel better for me. I also have no idea why there’s a butterfly on the cover.

The promo for this novel promises it will appeal to readers who love Elizabeth Gilbert and Kate Morton. I heartily agree with this. However, I'd go one step further to say that Kayte Nunn achieves her story in a far more compact and precise way than Elizabeth Gilbert did in The Signature of All Things and managed the timelines far better than Kate Morton did in her last novel The Clockmaker's Daughter.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is highly recommended for historical fiction fans; even those who don't typically enjoy a romance.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
31 May 2019

Fellow Reviewers Share Their 2019 Mid Year Favourites

As the end of the financial year draws near, I always find myself thinking about my reading year so far. What have been the stand out books so far in 2019? I thought I'd ask some of my fellow Australian reviewers about their favourite mid year reads and share them with you below.

Carol Seeley

My name is Carol and I share my book reviews at Reading, Writing and Riesling or you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. I am an eclectic and voracious reader. My favourite genre is crime fiction (and occasional true crime) however I like to keep my reading habits “fresh” and mix up my readings with a little taste from most other genres. My favourite authors (in no particular order) are: Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Mark Billingham, Michael Robotham, J M Green, Anna George, Candice Fox, Sara Foster, Sulari Gentill, and Wendy James… I have recently discovered Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie crime series (if you haven’t already you must read this) and the debut by Suzanne Daniel, Allegra in Three Parts (a contemporary read that you should add to your TBR), I love discovering new authors. 

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3) by Candice Fox coverI prefer to read a physical book but appreciate the value of an ebook when I am travelling – in our caravan when on holidays or on other long journeys. I live in a rural area and like listening to the occasional audio book on long car trips. I hope you enjoy the two books I have chosen as outstanding reads of 2019 to date.

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3) by Candice Fox
Candice Fox is a very talented and versatile writer. I think that Gone by Midnight is her best work that I have read thus far. Crocodiles, swamps and a missing child are the perfect ingredients for an eerie, macabre, pulse-raising read. I love a character driven narrative and this read is filled with quirky, empathetic main characters. Flawed, damaged, gritty, strong and mostly honest, Fox’s protagonists are never boring. 

Amanda Pharrell has a murderous past (no spoilers here), she is socially awkward and speaks her mind, loudly, and often with unintentional hilarity. Amanda loves cats and has fabulous investigative skills and when teamed up with ex-cop Ted Conkaffey, who has been falsely accused of heinous crimes, these two social outcasts achieve the near impossible – solving mysteries and creating interesting alliances (and enemies) whilst somehow managing to heal a few of their own wounds.

The Little Girl on the Ice Floe by Adelaïde Bon book cover
This is a complex narrative – Fox subtly exposes the intricate emotions and complexities of relationships, both broken and those newly forming. Despite the gruesome truths exposed in this mystery it was a read that did not dwell on the violence and mayhem but satisfyingly concluded with hope. A great read. You can read my full review on my website.

The Little Girl on the Ice Floe by Adelaïde Bon, Ruth Diver (Translator)
This memoir packs a punch hitting you with all the big emotions – anger, grief, sadness, incredulity and ultimately with hope – and those are just the reader's responses to the horrific, depraved, calculated sexual assault on an innocent child, Adelaïde Bon.

Adélaïde Bon is a remarkable woman. Her story, though at times very difficult to read, is one of a life reclaimed, of personal strength, courage and growth; a story that will move you to tears and anger…it will move you, of that I have no doubt. It will open your eyes to the situations and feelings of so many silent broken adults and children (your capacity for empathy will also be bolstered by reading this incredible story) and by sharing her story perhaps this will help someone you know to begin their path to healing.
Unapologetically honest, it is a MUST read. This is an outstanding memoir, it has such power that its effect will remain with you for a lifetime. I do not hesitate in recommending this book to you. Want to know more? Read the full review on my website.

Theresa Smith

Writer, avid reader, keen reviewer, book collector, drinker of all tea blends originating from Earl Grey, and modern history enthusiast. I enjoy reading many genres but have a particular interest in historical fiction. I am the Historical Fiction Editor and team coordinator with the Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can find me and all of my book related news and reviews at Theresa Smith Writes, or on Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter.

This year has seen some terrific new releases, and to pick just two top reads so far was a real challenge. It should come as no surprise that the two books I've selected are historical fiction, but genre is the only thing they have in common. These two books couldn't be more different to each other, or to anything else I’ve read this year, hence them making the final cut.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo book cover
First up is The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo. The Night Tiger was most likely always going to be a winner for me, but honestly, even with my love of tigers taken into consideration, along with a keen interest in colonial Malaysia (Malaya), I still didn’t anticipate that I would adore this novel as much as I did. It’s brilliant. 

Yangsze Choo writes with such a candid warmth, conjuring up the atmosphere of 1930s colonial Malaya to the point where you are almost experiencing it for yourself. Her characters are uniquely rendered, so memorable, and the plot of this novel! It’s so unique, a merging of history, culture, and spiritualism, all woven together into this mystery that comes about from a series of seemingly random, yet at once connected, deaths. The Night Tiger is a truly unforgettable novel, one I hope will be immortalised for all time, never out of print and always available to readers young and old. You can read my full review on my website.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson 

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson book cover

Next is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. This novel merges two uniquely fascinating histories plucked right out of the wild Kentucky mountains. The dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse librarians born of Roosevelt’s New Deal Acts, and the true and gentle historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky. 

I’ve never read a novel that has taken the reader so deeply into a hidden history before, and done it with such a depth of understanding for the area being written about. Starkly beautiful in its prose, confronting and desperately painful to comprehend. That it’s so deeply grounded in truth just made it all the more profound. Cussy’s story made my heart hurt, yet despite the grim reality punctuating every single scene throughout the novel, hope sparked in the most unlikely of places. It’s an incredible novel. One of the best I’ve read. You can read my full review on my website.

Annie McCann

I am Annie McCann and I am based in Sydney, Australia. I am the founder of a network of readers called Read3r’z Re-Vu that just celebrated their 10th year in April 2019. I am an avid reader, blogger and emerging writer and you can connect with Read3r'z Re-Vu on Twitter or Facebook. I love YA and fantasy fiction, particularly stories that are inspired by mythology and culturally infused. I am passionate about multicultural diversity particularly in books and when I’m not doing any of that I’ll either be binging on my favourite TV shows: Grimm and The Big Bang Theory or embarking on long distance walks of up to 28km. 

Here are my two favourite books of 2019 so far.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal book cover
An idle mind is the devil’s playground…
The epic debut from the Sands of Arawiya series set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, a gripping story of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

I heard about this book a year ago and I purposely took my time to read this slowly so I really could really immerse myself in the intricate world of Arawiya. What drew me in was the ancient Arabian world, a strong female character, djinn and ifrit – elements of an epic Arabian inspired tale. The world building in the first quarter of the book did take a bit of time as the world of Arawiya is complex and made up of 6 main lands or kingdoms or sectors that we learn about as we learn about our characters however it was still very engaging. The landscape brought back vivid memories of the Arabian desert from my visit to Arabia a few years ago so this book is a personal love for me also. The characters really came to life in my mind from their clothing to their dining to their housing. This book is very clever and lyrical with multiple story lines blending together so eloquently and I came to care for the characters we met – particularly Zafira and Nasir. Zafira is the Hunter, Nasir is the Prince of Death. With epic plot twists luring me deeper and deeper into the story with a cliffhanger ending, I am invested in this series. You can read my full review on the website.

The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder

The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder book cover
I have been a fan of Maria’s work for some time. All of her books are great but I have to admit, this is a personal favourite. I guess this is due to personal taste in the books I love to read. The setting of this book reminded me of an amazing TV documentary called “Cities of the Underworld”, a show that takes us on a journey back in time to the ancient cities in the Middle East and the Cradle of Civilisation that have since been built up over time. 

I loved the flow of the book being a lot of dialogue and how easy it was to grasp this new world and terminology. I also enjoyed how the characters lived below ground as the sun was too incredibly hot and they have to travel up and down levels to simply move around. What made it interesting is different levels proved to be treacherous for various reasons. I enjoyed Shyla as a character, her job was mesmerising being able to read maps and ancient scrolls as a job but I loved her undying loyalty to her friend that was her motivation to set out on a dangerous journey to retrieve the stolen eyes of Tamburah. Her endurance and her strength made her a likeable character in my view. Her connections between Rendor and Banqui were also very interesting. 

Some of the scenes reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which made it even more exciting to read. I feel this book really stands out from the other series I have read by Maria V. Snyder as I adore books that have an easy flow to read with and have an Arabian desert feel to it, this book has earned a special place with my book loves of 2019. This is will be published in June 2019 and you can see the full review on my website.

Wow, thank you so much Carol, Theresa and Annie for sharing your favourite reads with us. I loved the variety in your selections. You gave us recommendations from crime, translated memoir, historical fiction and fantasy genres and I'm sure you've convinced a few readers to pick up some of these titles. I haven't read any of these but I have enjoyed novels by Candice Fox and Maria V. Snyder in the past. Thanks again for being part of this mid year Carpe Librum collaboration.
29 May 2019

Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

The Accusation by Wendy James book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

I can't believe this is the first time I've read any Wendy James. The Accusation by popular Australian author Wendy James was domestic noir meets psychological thriller and I really enjoyed it.

Suzannah Wells is an ex soapie star and now the local drama teacher at Enfield Wash, NSW. Ellie Canning is an 18 year old kidnapping survivor who is in the media spotlight after escaping her female captors. Suzannah is accused of the crime and the book drives the reader towards the truth. Is Suzannah guilty or innocent of the crime?

I've gotta be honest, I was constantly flipping from character to character and then back again, each time certain I'd worked out who was responsible for Ellie's kidnapping. And it's safe to say I won't be making a great detective anytime soon because I didn't guess who the perpetrator was, or their motivations for the crime.

I've been reading quite a few Australian authors this year and Wendy James is right up there with the best. Her writing style is polished and engaging, no doubt coming from having written and published seven books prior; although this is a stand alone.

The story is told from two character points of view, with excerpts of a later documentary of the case dotted between the chapters. There's a clever use of news reports and social media in The Accusation to ratchet up the tension as Suzannah's character is torn to shreds.

I later discovered in the Author’s Note that The Accusation is based on the real 18th Century English mystery known as the Canning Affair. This is a modern day re-telling of the mystery and after learning about it online, I gained a new appreciation for what I’d just read.

If you enjoy a thrilling 'whodunnit' without a murder, then The Accusation by Wendy James is for you. Lovers of domestic noir and psychological thrillers will also find plenty to keep the pages turning. Highly recommended, and you can read a FREE SAMPLE here.

My rating = ****1/2

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Is it just me, but does the cover art evoke a little of The Handmaid's Tale vibe?
27 May 2019

Review: Beyond The Pale - Folklore, Family and the Mystery of Our Hidden Genes by Emily Urquhart

Beyond The Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of Our Hidden Genes by Emily Urquhart book cover
Albinism is a rare genetic condition where pigment fails to form in a person's skin, hair and eyes. Those with albinism suffer from poor vision and sensitivity to the sun, often developing skin cancer.

When Emily Urquhart gave birth to a daughter with albinism in 2010, her life took an unexpected turn. Living in Canada, Urquhart set out determined to learn everything she could about the condition, and the implications for her daughter's health and wellbeing in the years to come. Beyond the Pale is Urquhart's memoir of this period of discovery and as the blurb says, it is part memoir, part cultural critique, and part genetic travelogue.

Urquhart consulted a myriad health professions and attended the NOAH (National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation) conference in the USA. She travelled to Africa to meet children with albinism and hear about their traumatic experiences first hand.+

Urquhart is a folklore scholar and journalist and I was very interested in reading about the superstition and folklore surrounding albinism in different cultures and across time. Unfortunately there just wasn't enough and given this was the primary reason for my reading, I was deeply disappointed.

The last section of the memoir covered Urquhart's efforts to map her family tree and trace the albinism gene back through the generations. She shares all the ins and outs of her family tree and I quickly lost interest in this geneology deep dive.

In hindsight, I think I'd have been better off spending 30 minutes learning about albinism online, rather than reading this specialised memoir. It really wasn't for me.

Recommended reading for:
- memoir lovers
- parents who have a child with albinism
- those with an interest in geneology

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

In Tanzania, 1 in every 1429 babies born have albinism and the population believes those with albinism have magical powers. As a consequence, those with albinism are often hunted and their body parts are sought after for use by witch doctors to heal the sick. Tragically, it is sometimes the family members who offer their children to the albino hunters in return for money. Not something Urquhart's beautiful daughter Sadie will ever have to worry about.
24 May 2019

Review: Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
21 May 2019

Review: Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE extract here.
17 May 2019

Review of Little Gestures by Mari Andrew & Bookish Happy Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating for both products = *****

Carpe Librum

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