18 September 2019

Review: What We Did in Bed - A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley & Yale University Press *

I'm fascinated by sleep, so when I saw What We Did In Bed: A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani was available on NetGalley it was a no-brainer.

This non-fiction gem contains a history of beds through time, including changes in beds from the Egyptian Pharaohs all the way to the modern age. Sleeping habits are discussed, including bed sharing amongst family members and travelling strangers and co-sleeping with children.

Dreams, sex, childbirth and death are all activities that happen in bed and are given much consideration within the text.

Futons, reed mats, raised beds, beds on ropes, bundling boards, truckle beds, pallet beds, waterbeds and inner spring beds are all covered with interest. Deathbeds and funerary couches were a highlight, as were the seemingly excessive bedding layers required to make a Victorian era bed.

It was fascinating to learn medieval Europeans slept at an angle partially upright, and that the witching hour was first recorded in 1883 and took place between midnight and 4.00AM.

I enjoyed reading about famous people who required very little sleep, including Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Napoleon. Modern day 'short sleepers' include Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

However, I was most pleased to discover What We Did In Bed included one of my favourite sleep related topics: segmented sleep and the fact that we used to sleep in two four hour chunks with a gap of wakefulness in between. The author of one of my favourite books At Day’s Close - A History of Nighttime by A. Roger Ekirch was referenced together with his thoughts on biphasic sleep.

Authors Fagan and Durrani explain on page 4:
.. a practice known as segmented sleep that seems to have been commonplace before electric light turned night into day. People slept for, say, four hours, after which they would awaken and spend time having sex, analyzing dreams, praying, doing chores, meeting friends, or committing crimes and other devilish deeds, and then return to bed for another four hours or so.
Here an interesting quote about bed design from page 4:
By Tutankhamun's time, around the mid-fourteenth century BC, the basic design of the bed (as we would recognize it) was well established, albeit slightly higher at the pillow end and with a footboard to prevent the sleeper from sliding off.
And I enjoyed this tidbit from France during the reign of the Sun King from page 158:
At Versailles a valet always sat inside the wooden enclosure around the king's bed because the court was concerned about sorcery. An enemy of the monarch could sprinkle spell-carrying mixtures on the bed that could endanger the occupant.
In conclusion, there was plenty to bookmark and highlight during the reading process, but I'm not convinced the title accurately sums up the content. Perhaps 'A Horizontal History' might have been more accurate. While the book did cover sleep, dreams, sex, childbirth, illness and death, there wasn't enough focus on other recreational activities that we engage in right now whilst in bed. I guess I was left wanting more.

What We Did In Bed: A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in beds and sleep across history.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

16 September 2019

Review: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Set in London in 1850, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is a Victorian tale of art, aspiration and obsession. Twins Iris and Rose work in a shop selling handmade porcelain dolls, Iris painting their faces and hands and Rose making their fine detailed garments. Iris dreams of becoming an artist and a chance encounter with a Pre-Raphaelite painter changes her life forever.

Louis Frost is bewitched by Iris' unique beauty and asks her to model for him in exchange for drawing and painting lessons.

Meanwhile, a taxidermist by the name of Silas has also noticed Iris' beauty and begins to obsess about her. He is a collector and a sinister character that wants Iris for himself. His fixation drives the threat the entire way through the novel.

All of the characters are swept up in the excitement of the upcoming Great Exhibition of 1851, each of them seeking to have an item accepted for display.

Dickensian London really comes to life on the page in The Doll Factory. With mentions of turtle soup, street urchins and the vivid hustle and bustle, Macneal was able to transport me back in time so convincingly I could almost smell the street litter.

What caught me by surprise, was that the art sub-plot was reminiscent of Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth. If I'd known how much the plot centred around art, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Great Exhibition, I might have postponed reading this for a year or two. Having read and enjoyed Beauty in Thorns in March last year, the overlap in setting and subject matter seemed to hinder my enjoyment of The Doll Factory. Definitely not the fault of the author, just a misstep in my own reading schedule.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is recommended reading for those who enjoy their historical fiction dark and Dickensian with a splash of art.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

13 September 2019

Giveaway and Interview with Rebecca Bowyer, author of Maternal Instinct

Rebecca Bowyer bio photo
Rebecca Bowyer
Today I'm welcoming Australian reviewer, book blogger and debut author Rebecca Bowyer to Carpe Librum. Maternal Instinct is coming out next month and I couldn't resist asking Rebecca a few questions. Be sure to enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a copy.


How long have you been reviewing books at Story Addict?
I've been publishing reviews on Story Addict for 2 years, but I've been reviewing books on other websites since 2013.

How many books do you review a year and what’s your favourite genre? 
I had to look this one up to check! In the past 12 months I've reviewed 57 books. My favourite genre is speculative fiction, which is also what I write. I'm a sucker for anything that imagines what our world might look like in the future. I also love historical and literary fiction with a smattering of contemporary fiction. Plus the occasional memoir.

What made you decide you wanted to be an author? 
I wanted to be an author when I was a kid. I always loved to tell stories and was constantly writing fragments on scraps of paper.

In my early 20s I gave up on my dreams completely. I decided NOT to be an author. By then I’d had a short story published in a local literary journal and had attempted to write an angsty romance novel and a pretty terrible fantasy novel. I think I got about 10,000 words in to each and gave up. My primary creative outlet became music. I sang with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus and then the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Nearly 10 years later I rediscovered my love of storytelling, this time as a parenting blogger. As a stay-at-home mum on maternity leave, I was increasingly frustrated by the lack of value placed on parenting in our society. My attempts to explain myself were met with comments such as, “But you are valued,” and “Parenting is a privilege”. I needed a way to explain what I meant and I found the best way to do that was to show, rather than tell. So I created a world, in my novel Maternal Instinct, where parenting is actually fully valued, including in an economic sense.

Once I started writing fiction I found I loved it and wanted to keep going. The genesis of the story was anger and frustration but the characters took on lives of their own and told a story I hadn't foreseen.

Was writing a novel harder or easier than you thought?
Both. While I’m writing and the words are coming and the characters are demanding to be heard, it’s easy. I just type up what they’re telling me. But when life gets louder, or I’m exhausted, it’s harder to find the space to hear them and the time to write it all down.

Do you think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage to have so much experience reviewing before becoming a published author yourself?
Absolutely an advantage. Reviewing forces me to read deliberately and thoughtfully, analysing what it is I do and don't like. It also introduced me to other authors. I highly recommend book reviewing to any budding authors.
Giveaway prize valued at $29.99AUD

If you had 30 words to convince a reader to read your book, what would they be?
[Year] 2040: Parenting is a highly valued profession but your own children are taken at 6 months. Maternal Instinct combines the style of Big Little Lies with themes similar to The Handmaid’s Tale.

How has the transition from blogger and reviewer to published author been?
Novel writing is neither better nor worse than any other kind of writing. I don’t see it as a transition. To me, publishing a novel is simply an addition to the other writing I do - reviews, articles, technical, content. It’s simply on a much larger scale and with much, much longer timeframes.

Do you have any literary influences?
Every book I’ve ever read has influenced me, so I’ll say ‘yes’ to this question. I’m not sure I can name just a few influences.

What’s your secret reading pleasure?
As a book blogger, all my reading pleasures are quite public these days. I’m not ashamed of anything I read. I’ve enjoyed everything from Solzhenitsyn to Twilight. I love great writing but I love immersive stories even more and am happy to overlook less than brilliant prose in favour of a great story.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein. It’s as incredible as everyone says it is.

When I’m not reading, writing, or reviewing I’m…working at my day job as a Digital Experience and Strategy lead. In English that means ‘write good words for websites and make sure they’re all in the right spot’. I’m also spending as time as much time as possible with my young family.

What are your writing or publishing plans for the future?
I’ve almost finished the first draft of my next novel, Time Thief. Its premise is based on my own fantasy of wanting to be able to literally buy time, especially in the context of being a parent in the paid workforce. How nice would it be, to take a pill that gives you 4 whole hours to yourself, to do whatever you want, without anyone bothering you?

I’ve also had a few requests from readers for a sequel to Maternal Instinct (for which I am extremely grateful!). I do have a few thousand words started on a sequel, but I’m going to finish Time Thief before I go back to it.

Thanks so much Rebecca! You can check out Rebecca's website for more info and enter the giveaway below to win a copy of Maternal Instinct along with a complimentary bookmark.


Blurb for Maternal Instinct
Australia 2040. No child lives in poverty and every child is safe. But at what cost?

19-year-old Monica never wanted a baby but the laws require her to give birth twice before she can move on with her life.

Now that her first son, Oscar, has arrived she’s not so sure she wants to hand him over to be raised by professional parents: the Maters and Paters.

When Monica turns to her birth mother, Alice, for help, she triggers a series of events that force Alice to confront her own dark past. Alice must decide – help her daughter break the law, or persuade her to accept her fate and do what’s best for the nation’s children?

11 September 2019

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

This book is sheer perfection! The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is gothic domestic noir meets creepy psychological thriller and I absolutely loved it.

Rowan applies for a nanny position at Heatherbrae House that sounds too good to be true. Based in a remote area in Scotland, the position offers a generous salary and luxury accomodation in a newly renovated smart house. Her architect employers are the busy parents of four children and Rowan is hired as their live-in nanny.

The novel starts with Rowan accused of being responsible for the death of one of the children and the novel is her account of the events. The writing is perfectly paced with an unexpected juxtaposition of the old and new parts of the house leading to a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.

Heatherbrae House is run via a smart app, and when things begin to wrong Rowan isn't sure if the app is malfunctioning or someone is trying to scare her. Previous nannies haven't stayed long in the position, adding to the mystery.

It has been said that The Turn of the Key is a tribute or a nod to the classic The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. In that novella, a governess is sent to a gothic home to look after two children, there may or may not be ghosts and one of the children dies. In the case of The Turn of the Key, there may or may not be ghosts and a nanny is charged with the murder of a child in her care. While it isn't that different to the fate of the governess in James' horror tale, the writing style is poles apart.

I read The Turn of the Screw in 2012 and wasn't overly impressed, however The Turn of the Key had me by the throat the entire time. If you weren't wowed by the Henry James classic, don't let it put you off this modern take, as Ruth Ware is easily the better writer of the two.

The Turn of the Key has an ending that made my heart lurch as my mind comprehended the consequences of what I'd learned. The ending reminded me a little of the one in The Corset, and it was the magnitude of the implied repercussion that left me breathless.

Ruth Ware is definitely a new favourite author and I'm excited to discover some of her other books in the future. She's written In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway so there's much to look forward to. Have you read any of these titles? Which one should I read next?

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware could be one of my favourite books of the year. Highly recommended and you can read an extract here.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 September 2019

Review: Cold Case Investigations by Dr Xanthe Mallett

Cold Case Investigations by Dr Xanthe Mallett book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I've been on a true crime watching, listening and reading spree these past few months and the latest offering is Cold Case Investigations by leading Forensic Anthropologist Dr Xanthe Mallett. Seven Australian cold cases were selected for this collection and Dr Mallett takes us through each case.

The Wanda Beach murders, the disappearance of the Beaumont children, the abduction of William Tyrrell and the identity of Mr Cruel are well known cold cases in Australia. It is hoped that bringing light to these cases and keeping them in the public eye will eventually lead to a break through.

What surprised me were the other three cases chosen for the book, in which the offenders have already been identified, captured and prosecuted. In particular, I refer to the chapters on Ivan Milat, Daniel Holdom and Ashley Coulston. In these cases, the offender has been sentenced but the author postulates that further cold cases and missing persons could be attributed to these incarcerated offenders. Whilst I have no doubt these perpetrators probably have committed crimes unknown to police, I wouldn't classify them worthy of focus in a book of cold case investigations. If the victims are unknown, how can they be cold cases? Perhaps this is a new category of crime victim worthy of further exploration and its own book.

In addition to these main chapters, Mallett includes sections entitled Forensic Science Explained in shaded and bordered sections reminiscent of Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford, also published by Pan Macmillan Australia this year. These sections cover forensic techniques involved in investigating cold cases and include topics like DNA, fingerprinting and blood groups. These sections would be informative and helpful for early readers of true crime, however for seasoned readers like me it was overkill*.

Even viewers of the odd TV crime show would be familiar with the science included here and the opportunity to inform the reader of more detailed forensic techniques was lost. I would also presume that the kind of reader picking up a book like this will already possess this kind of foundational knowledge.

Towards the end of the book, there's a section entitled 'But have you ever heard of these missing children?' Here Mallett mentions the disappearance of 11 month old Darren Shannon in 1973, and 19 month old Rahma El-Dennaoiui in 2005. On page 252, the author says:
"A number of journalists have likened Rahma's case to that of Madeleine McCann, but I bet most people would not know Rahma's little face if they saw it."
And she's 100% right, I wouldn't! So why not set things right and include a photo of her in the book? Why publish two photos of well-known missing toddler William Tyrrell and then neglect to educate the reader by including a photo of Rahma?

Dr Xanthe Mallett has had a fascinating - and impressive - career as a forensic criminologist, university lecturer, forensic practitioner, television presenter and now published author. Here she has tried to shed light on Australia's darker side of crime and ultimately seek justice for the victims and their family. I can't help thinking she may have been able to achieve more given the opportunity to expand on the cases, however there is every hope someone reading this book may come forward with information.

Cold Case Investigations by Australian author Dr Xanthe Mallett is recommended reading for those new to the true crime genre and those unfamiliar with solved and unsolved homicide cases in Australia.

Carpe Librum!

* See what I did there?

My Rating:
★ ★

30 August 2019

Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Outsider by Stephen King is essentially a crime novel with a light supernatural twist. An eleven year old boy is brutally murdered in Ohio and Detective Ralph Anderson investigates.

The meticulously gathered evidence - including DNA, fingerprints and witness statements - all points to much loved local coach Terry Maitland, however he has an air tight alibi for the crime.

The first half of the novel was a tightly written exciting crime investigation that I was very much enjoying. The arrest scene and the disturbance at the court house was action packed and reminded me that King writes an excellent crowd scene. In fact, I was instantly reminded of the supermarket riot scene in Under the Dome.

However, as the supernatural element was slowly introduced, the story began to lose my interest. I enjoyed the dusty and hot scenes in Texas and it made for a pleasant change in surroundings, but I wasn't gripped by the gravity of the suspect being pursued.

There was a significant crossover with the Detective Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King that I wasn't expecting but which fit in nicely with the plot. The trilogy includes: Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch and while I haven’t read any of these novels, (I’ve only watched the TV adaptation of Mr. Mercedes) the crossover was very well done.

Despite a strong start, I did find The Outsiders to be a tad repetitive and slow at times and definitely thought it could have been edited down another 50-80 pages or so.

I'd recommend The Outsider by Stephen King to die hard SK fans and readers reluctant to read his horror or supernatural thrillers but looking for an easy way 'in' to the bestselling author's oeuvre. Having said that, I think The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are far better entry points.

My Rating:
★ ★

23 August 2019

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier book cover
This month it was my pleasure to co-host a buddy read with my bookish friend Theresa Smith. A number of eager bibliophiles joined us and together we read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Theresa created a space for us to discuss the novel via an online event on her book club Facebook page which elevated the buddy read to a 5 star reading experience for me. I won't be giving the book 5 stars though.

Rebecca was published in 1938, therefore this review is going to unashamedly contain spoilers, so beware.

It's clear from the prologue that our narrator is in some form of exile, haunted by what happened at Manderley several years ago. The narrator is a young female protagonist, and we begin when she is the paid companion of Mrs Van Hopper, on holiday in Monte Carlo. There she meets recently widowed Maxim de Winter and they strike up a friendship.

The age difference between the couple is significant and when Maxim proposes marriage it catches our protagonist off guard. Faced with the alternative of accompanying her employer to New York and continuing her life as a paid companion, she accepts Maxim's proposal and becomes Mrs de Winter. After their honeymoon they return to Maxim's ancestral home, the infamous Manderley.

Mrs Danvers is the stern housekeeper at Manderley and resents the arrival of the new Mrs de Winter. Maxim's late wife Rebecca still very much overshadows Manderley and our protagonist cowers at her memory. It's true she is nothing like Rebecca, who was renowned for her beauty, her accomplishments and bigger than life attitude. There is an underlying feeling of unease and unrest during this part of the novel that I enjoyed very much. Mrs de Winter is almost haunted by Rebecca and can feel her presence everywhere. I enjoyed these gothic elements immensely.

Our protagonist is shy, reserved and extremely sentimental. She continually daydreams, imagining the past, present and future in long internal monologues available to the reader. She lacks confidence, suffers from low self esteem and is constantly comparing herself to Rebecca and coming up short.

Our protagonist learns Rebecca took her boat out one night and was never seen again. Maxim identified her body washed up on the shore months later, and which now rests in the family crypt. However when a boat runs aground, the remains of Rebecca's yacht are discovered, along with a body locked in the cabin.

The body is Rebecca's and consequently Maxim confesses to our protagonist that he never loved Rebecca. He tells his new wife Rebecca manipulated people into loving her, however she was a bitterly cruel woman, unfaithful and vindictive, living behind the facade of a dutiful wife. He confesses that he was goaded to kill her after Rebecca told him she carried another man's baby and was going to force Maxim to raise it as the heir to Manderley.

We expect our protagonist to be horrified and repulsed to find her husband murdered his first wife, but her only reaction is relief! Her only care is relief that her husband never loved Rebecca and loves her instead. Ugh! This was the last straw for me and any respect I had left for our protagonist evaporated.

An inquiry is held and Rebecca's death is ruled a suicide. Rebecca's cousin and the ever faithful Mrs Danvers appear to disagree and suspect Maxim to be responsible for her death. On their way back from London, Maxim and Mrs de Winter find Manderley in flames and the novels ends.

Given the slow pace of the rest of the novel, the ending seemed sudden and left me with plenty of unanswered questions. Who started the fire? Was it Mrs Danvers, the cousin or both of them? Why would Mrs Danvers want to destroy Manderley when she loved it so much? Was anyone injured in the fire? What of Frank and the other house servants we came to care about? Were charges laid? Why did Maxim leave Manderley and exile himself and his wife overseas when his name had been cleared?

It seemed to me our narrator escaped one relationship as a paid companion in favour of another as Maxim's companion. Their union was an odd one, and the age difference wasn't the only concern. It seemed Maxim wanted any kind of company and she just wanted to be loved. There was no evidence of any physical love or meeting of the minds going on here.

The writing is flawless, descriptive and evocative, however many of the readers in the buddy read found it heavy going, as I did. Here's a charming example from Chapter 2, I just loved the phrase 'healthy irritation'.
How I blessed those solid, flannelled figures, for in a few minutes his face had settled back into repose, the colour had returned, and he was deriding the Surrey bowling in healthy irritation.
The fact that we never learn our protagonist's name was clever but simultaneously irritating. I'm presuming our narrator remained nameless to indicate she doesn't have a strong sense of self/identity, however the narrative achieves this quite comfortably. She only acquires an identity when she becomes Mrs de Winter. Throughout the novel, I began to form the opinion that this was an attempt by the author to demonstrate her writing superiority in a 'look what I can do' kind of way. And in writing this review, I began to appreciate how difficult this must have been.

Having read Rebecca I can now understand why it is an enduring classic. There's the writing of course, but the fact that one of the main characters was a murderer without being a villain must have been quite a shock at the time. This would have been a major twist of sorts, and learning Rebecca's true nature would have been another unexpected revelation to readers.

Nowadays, there are plenty of examples of an anti-hero or likeable villain, (You by Caroline Kepnes and Hangman by Jack Heath are the first to spring to mind) and a tonne of unreliable narrators mean we're less likely to be shocked by this kind of revelation now.

Having had time to let my thoughts settle, I believe my enjoyment reading Rebecca stemmed from co-hosting and participating in the buddy read. The ability to swap thoughts and share reactions created a reading kinship that was so much fun. (You can read Theresa's thoughts on Rebecca here). I also enjoyed the satisfaction and joy that comes from reading a classic you've been meaning to get to for years.

When I separate out the reading experience, I actually found the novel to be a solid three star read for me. I didn't like the protagonist, I wasn't shocked when we learned Maxim killed Rebecca and the ending left me with unanswered questions.

Of course, I can see how Manderley (which I later learned was based on a real property) has inspired the creation of a host of family estates, gothic mansions and manor houses in fiction since publication in 1938 and I understand why Rebecca has never been out of print. It's a modern classic and I suspect this won't change.

My Rating:
★ ★

Carpe Librum!

16 August 2019

Review: The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan book cover
RRP $29.99AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan has the best premise I've read all year. Can a man live for 7 years underground without seeing another human face?

It's 1792 and Herbert Powyss is a rich middle aged bachelor living in Moreham House in Herefordshire. Powyss enjoys reading scientific papers and cultivating rare plants and vegetables in his vast gardens and greenhouses. He is essentially a man of leisure and learning.

Seeking mention in the scientific journals he reads and the accolades he dreams will follow, he devises an experiment, converts the cellar beneath his house into a fine set of apartments and places the following advertisement.
A reward of 50 pounds a year for life is offered to any man who will undertake to live for 7 years underground without seeing a human face: to let his fingernails grow during the whole of his confinement, together with his beard. Commodious apartments are provided with cold bath, chamber organ, as many books as the occupier shall desire. Provisions will be served from Mr Powyss's table. Every convenience desired will be provided.
To his disappointment, the advertisement attracts just one applicant. John Warlow is a rough labouring man who drinks, beats his wife Hannah and has trouble putting food on the table for his six children. He claims he won't miss seeing anybody for 7 years and is fixated on the guarantee of 50 pounds a year for life if he stays the duration of the experiment.

Warlow enters his lavishly furnished apartments in 1793 and is due to come out in the new century, 1800. Although semi-literate, Warlow is asked to write a regular journal and has ready access to as many books as he wants. There is a dumb-waiter that will provide food, wood, candles and other supplies.

Written in the third person with chapters focussing on different characters, we're given insight into Powyss, Warlow, Hannah (Warlow's wife) and several of the household servants. I definitely enjoyed Warlow's chapters the most. His thought process and experiences were transfixing and I longed to know what he was up to. 

Ironically, these same thoughts quickly begin to plague Powyss as he too becomes fixated on Warlow's existence just a few floors beneath his sumptuous library. Powyss assuages his guilt by reminding himself Warlow is a willing participant and focussing on how the money from his experiment is transforming Warlow's family.

I was eager for the experiment to work and for each of the characters to 'play their role' without messing it up. Unfortunately, accomplished author Alix Nathan had other plans. Powyss's experiment doesn't quite go to plan for a variety of reasons, and it reminded me just a little of the experiment failing in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

It was exciting to learn in the Author's Note that the author had based her novel on a real advertisement she stumbled across in the Annual Register from 1789 to 1814, and specifically the volume for 1797. 

Presented in a small hardback volume with a beautiful cover and stunning endpapers, I was easily transported back in time in this gothic exploration of solitude, scientific learning, mental anguish, transformation, love, penance and regret.

If you're at all intrigued by the premise, then The Warlow Experiment is for you. Highly recommended for historical fiction readers and fans of the gothic genre.

My Rating:

14 August 2019

Interview with Ben Hobson, author of Snake Island

Author Ben Hobson
Author Ben Hobson
It's my great pleasure today to interview Australian author Ben Hobson. Ben is currently on a book tour promoting his latest release, crime thriller Snake Island. Set in Yarram (South Gippsland) and encompassing the townships of Alberton and Port Albert, locals in the area will love the realistic setting and convincing characters. Ben took some time away from his hectic book tour to answer some questions for Carpe Librum.

Thanks for joining me Ben. Is it true you started the creative process for Snake Island by writing the plot down on cue cards?
I actually started the creative process while driving down to Victoria to visit my sick Aunty, who was in hospital. While driving through the night I decided to try and plot a novel! When I eventually made it back to QLD I did write down the entire plot on cue cards. Because Snake Island is far more plot-heavy than To Become a Whale, my first novel, I really had to make sure I had the plot down well before putting pen to page.
Snake Island by Ben Hobson book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin

What was your favourite scene to write in Snake Island?
This is a tough question without giving too much away! I actually think one of my favourite scenes is between Reverend William Kelly and Vernon Moore in the Anglican church. I feel I was really able to articulate a lot of what the novel was about while sticking to the characters, and not just putting words in their mouths. It took a lot of goes to get that scene to feel authentic.

Do you have any writing routines? Neat or messy desk? Do you need background noise or prefer to write in silence?
When I'm writing I aim to write 1,000 words a day. I don't care if they're good words, or bad words, they just need to get written. This normally takes me around half an hour to an hour. And I try to write at night. I normally write in front of the television or wherever I can rest a laptop on my lap. I'm really not fussy.

While editing this novel, though, I did have some of the Snake Island Soundtrack on in the background! It really inspired me to keep myself tonally consistent.

I understand you’re a school teacher, how did your students react to the news you’re now a twice published author?
They ask a lot of questions about how much money I make! I think some of them googled me. Hopefully they're impressed!

Tell us about the word jelspiration and who inspires you?
Hah! I love this word. Jelspiration was coined by writer Sarah Bailey, but it describes those moments wherein you feel equally discouraged and encouraged all at once, on account of somebody else's art. I feel like that when I read Cormac McCarthy. I marvel at his writing and know I'll never equal him, but at the same time I'm encouraged to try!

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
Cormac McCarthy is definitely one of my favourite authors, and his novel The Crossing is something I aspire to. I really love Australian novellist Rohan Wilson, too. Richard Flanagan, too. I love these mythic feeling stories. For some reason they feel more authentic to real life for me.

What are you reading at the moment?
The Revolution of Man by Phil Barker book coverRight now I'm reading five things at once! Main one though is The Revolution of Man by Phil Barker. I'm talking on a panel with Phil on fatherhood for Brisbane Writers Festival. It's a very interesting read about the current state of masculinity in Australia.

Do you have a secret reading pleasure?
Not sure it's secret, but I do love reading Michael Connolly. His books are reliably fun and interesting!

What was the last book to really move you?
Again, another Brisbane Writer's Festival book: Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. A beautiful novel about a lovely young man. It made me really take the time to value my children, which is something I love being reminded to do more of.

What’s the best book you've read so far this year?
Oh man, tough question! Probably Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. I know that's one a lot of people are talking about, but it really is very good. It's a bit of a masterclass in how to plot without feeling plotty.

What's next? What’s your next writing project?
I'm in the very early stages of writing something about the worst guy I can possibly come up with in a clash with the best guy I can come up with. So I'm really enjoying exploring their relationship.

That sounds exciting. Anything else you'd like to add?
Not that I can think of.

Thanks so much for your time Ben, and good luck with the rest of your book tour! Visit Ben Hobson's blog for more background on how Snake Island came to be.

12 August 2019

Review: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory is my most anticipated new release for 2019 and I was excited to get my hands on it. Set in England 1648, this is a brand new series from one of my favourite historical fiction authors.

In this new series, Philippa Gregory is going to be tracing generations of the same family through their lives beginning in 17th century England, and following them all the way to Europe and the United States. Spanning more than two centuries, this series will show how regular, everyday women shape history. Hell yes! Called the Fairmile series, it all starts with Tidelands.

Alinor lives in poverty with her two children, having seemingly been abandoned by her abusive fisherman husband. Struggling to scratch together a living, Alinor is a midwife and uses her skills with herbs to heal the sick and injured in her district. She also works at the nearby mill with her daughter, and earns money where she can.

Alinor describes how she makes a living on page 27:
I'm a midwife. I used to have my licence, when the bishop was in his palace and could grant a licence - before he was thrown out and ran away. I can draw a tooth and set a bone, cut out a sore and heal an ulcer, but I do nothing else. I am a healer and a finder of lost things.
Descended from generations of wise women, Alinor is constantly treading a fine line between healing and helping and being accused of witchcraft by locals who love to gossip. With her husband missing feared drowned, Alinor is in the unenviable position of being neither a widow nor a wife and is forced to take counsel from her brother.

Set against the backdrop of English Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, news of these political issues is slow to reach the mire. Alinor's fortunes begin to change when she aids a young gentleman in hiding even though she suspects he is working to save the King. Meanwhile, Alinor's daughter falls in love with a wealthy farmer's son and they long to be together; despite Alinor having no means to raise a dowry.

The concept of class and station is a prominent theme in Tidelands, making it seemingly impossible for Alinor or her daughter to marry for love. The lack of rights for women was not a shock, but was still hard to read and the obvious difference between those in poverty and those from wealthy families was clearly apparent. I found this excerpt from the character of James (the young Royalist) on page 189 most revealing:
He shivered with distaste. He felt that he could not bear the ugliness of these people's lives on the very edge of the shore, with their loves and hates ebbing and flowing like a muddy tide, with their anger roaring like the water in the millrace, with their hatreds and fears as treacherous as the hushing well. .... James's shudder told him that he wanted nothing to do with any of them. He wished himself back with his own people, where cruelty was secret, violence was hidden, and good manners more important than crime.
I largely came to love Philippa Gregory's writing via her Plantagenet and Tudor novels however she has left the Tudor courts and the wars of the roses behind. Whilst I enjoy reading about monarchs and famous women from history, Gregory is equally able to convincingly write about the everyday lives of regular people in England at the time. Fishermen, farmers, and millers populate the cast of characters in Tidelands and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the rhythms of their lives and how they eked out a meagre wage. I was also inspired by just how hard Alinor and her daughter work to save for her dowry and their hardships reminded me how fortunate I am.

There was plenty of foreshadowing going on in the novel though and I just knew something was going to go terribly wrong. Feelings of foreboding permeated the writing and it was almost a relief when events started to take a turn for the worse.

Knowing this was the first of a series I felt Tidelands had a very fitting ending. It wasn't a cliffhanger but a clear separation preparing the reader for a future direction. I'm definitely eager to follow the Fairmile series and find out what happens next. Tidelands is recommended for readers of historical fiction and fans of Ken Follett will enjoy the beginnings of this generational family saga rooted in English history.

My Rating:

05 August 2019

Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Snake Island by Ben Hobson book cover
RRP $29.99 AUD
Published 5 August 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Having grown up in Gippsland, the title of Ben Hobson's novel Snake Island immediately grabbed my attention. Snake Island is a real island that sits off the coast of southern Victoria. Uninhabited, it covers about 35 square kilometres and has been used by farmers, bushwalkers and tourists. Australian author Ben Hobson is now based in Queensland but grew up in regional Victoria in the 1990s. He has expertly used this district as the setting for a fast-paced crime thriller that had me from the get go.

Vernon Moore's son Caleb is doing time in a minimum security jail nearby for domestic assault. Vernon and his wife haven't seen their son since his incarceration, both believing he needs tough love.

Sharon Wornkin is a Policewoman in the service of the local crime family, the Cahills. Brendan Cahill and his family grow marijuana and sell it to guys from Melbourne who travel to their district to collect the packaged product. The Cahill family are secretive and carry a lot of sway in the town with many residents afraid to speak out against them.

Things kick off when Vernon learns Brendan Cahill has assaulted Caleb in jail. Vernon's paternal protective instincts kick in and he'll do anything to get Brendan to back off and leave his son alone. This crisis swiftly unites the Moore family and they're forced to respond.

Fuelled by small town gossip and a sense of family loyalty by both families, the situation goes from bad to worse. Others get caught up in the feud and I was on edge the entire time wanting to know what was going to happen.

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

I was able to recognise several places in the rural landscape by their descriptions alone and this added to my reading enjoyment. The novel moved towards a tense and action-packed finale that left me pondering the motives and lives of those living alongside us.

Snake Island by Ben Hobson is a terrific rural crime thriller. And for those of you wondering, there are no snakes. If you enjoyed Scrublands by Chris Hammer or Boxed by Richard Anderson, this is for you.

My Rating:

01 August 2019

Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor coverStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is one of my favourite books of the year so far and Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to this Young Adult fantasy duology.

The story picks up right where we left off in Strange the Dreamer and I was immediately thrust back into the world of Zosma and into Weep with Sarai and Lazlo. Early on I felt there was way too much time spent on the romance between Lazlo and Sarai and I longed to get back to the action of the previous novel.

The action soon returned and we begin to learn more about the history of the Mesarthim and the gods, Lazlo's origins, Minya's back story and so much more. The writing is of the same calibre as the first in the series, and I especially enjoyed this description from page 227:
She had seen horrors hidden in a biscuit tin and planted under a seedling so the roots would grow around it and hold it fast. The mind is good at hiding things, but there's something it cannot do: It can't erase. It can only conceal, and concealed things are not gone. They rot. They fester, they leak poisons. They ache and stink. They hiss like serpents in tall grass.
Despite great writing, I'll admit I did start to feel a little out of my depth as the rest of the world building fell into place and the full scope of Weep's place in the world/s came to light. The use of powers by the godspawn and the revelation of the purpose behind the nursery in the citadel led me to the realisation this is a complex fantasy novel with lashings of magical realism. Muse of Nightmares doesn't have the same general appeal to readers as Strange the Dreamer and I wasn't anywhere near as entranced or gripped by the narrative.

As the title suggests, this sequel is about Sarai who is the muse of nightmares, with the ability to enter the dreams of a sleeping human or godspawn. I wasn't as interested in her story as Lazlo's and I'm sure this contributed to the fact this wasn't another 5 star read for me.

Themes of love, obsession, race, power, revenge and redemption were explored by the characters, with some succeeding and others failing. I wasn't left with any questions and all characters were neatly wrapped up by the end of the novel in a satisfying conclusion. 

Several times the author alluded to the fact something was 'another story' so I wouldn't be too surprised if Laini Taylor returned to this universe in the future. There is more to explore but if she doesn't, I think readers can finish this duology satisfied in the ending.

My Rating:

29 July 2019

Review: The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins Australia *

"My parents didn't seem the sort of people who would end up killing someone." The opening line of The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen had my immediate attention and I found the voice of the main character compelling.

Born to average middle class parents, Augusta Hope lives at 1 Willow Crescent in Hedley Green. Augusta reads the dictionary for fun and couldn't be more different from her twin sister. Studying the globe and the names of all the countries, Augusta decides Burundi has the most beautiful sounding name and sets out to learn all she can about it.

Parfait lives in Burundi and we hear about his life amidst poverty and civil unrest in Africa intermittently between Augusta's chapters. The alternating chapters are expertly linked and connect well despite the characters living disparate lives.

This is a coming-of-age story and Augusta yearns to leave Hedley Green and live the life of a gypsy she reveres in a book of fairytales. Family tragedies complicate matters as Augusta navigates her way through life as best she can. Parfait is also struggling and wants to escape the bloodshed in Burundi with his siblings to Spain.

Spain features quite heavily in this contemporary novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed the focus on words and language by both characters throughout the story.

Comparisons are being made to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman but I don't think the comparison is a good one. Augusta is her own character and while highly intelligent, she is able to socialise well with others. There are no comical social faux pas here.

This is a story about the dynamics of family, the love between siblings, suburban life and a middle class upbringing in England. It's also about the meaning of home, tragedy, grief, regret, loss and love. 

The Other Half of Augusta Hope is a solid debut by Joanna Glen and I highly recommend it.

My Rating:

19 July 2019

Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House *

It's in Brittany, France in 1788 that we meet our heroine of The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth. Viviane is the daughter of the Marquis de Ravoisier and she has grown up without a mother at the Chateau de Belisima-sur-le-lac. Viviane is an aristocrat and is thankful her overbearing, gambling father is absent most of the time, living at the court of Versailles.

Viviane is a likeable character and a free spirit, always making herself useful, tending to the sick and injured tenants of her father's land and tramping around the countryside with her three legged dog Luna when she can escape the attentions of her Great Aunt. She doesn't enjoy the privilege her rank provides and would much rather horse about with her milk brother Pierrick.

After a vicious storm, Viviane's father commissions an English gardener David Stronach to construct a beautiful garden at the chateau. With a shared interest in herbs and plants, slowly but surely they begin to fall in love.

Their class divide soon becomes apparent and David is lucky to escape alive when her father returns. He has racked up a considerable gambling debt and Viviane is betrothed to his friend in order to settle the debt. The lovers are separated, Viviane believing David was killed in his escape, David believing Viviane has betrayed him and married for position, title and favour.

The Blue Rose then follows the separate lives of Viviane and David in a period of significant social and political upheaval in France. The French Revolution begins in 1789 and to be an aristo (aristocrat or high born) is a death sentence in some cases.

Meanwhile, David embarks on a British diplomatic journey to Imperial China on an errand on behalf of Sir Joseph Banks.

Throughout their struggles, their love endures and both plights are brought into startling focus in alternate chapters. Covering themes of: love, class, duty, civil war, exploration and the clashing of cultures this is an historical fiction novel you can really sink your teeth into. This is a bloody time in France's history and the author doesn't shy away from the brutality, bloodlust and cruelty of the time.

It's clear from Viviane's experiences that an incredible amount of research has been undertaken by Kate Forsyth. Despite so many bestselling novels, she hasn't written about this period in history before, but you wouldn't know it from the ease from which this tale seemingly emerges.

My only complaint was that the ending seemed a little perfectly timed, but it's a very small criticism in an otherwise evocative and enjoyable historical fiction novel.

The Blue Rose by Australian author Kate Forsyth is recommended reading for historical fiction devotees, romance readers and Francophiles.

Click here to read a FREE extract.

My Rating:

18 July 2019

Blogging for the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2019

I'm so excited to share with you that I was invited to collaborate with the Melbourne Writers Festival again this year and I am one of their Bloggers & Digital Storytellers! Exciting isn't it?

This year's theme is 'When We Talk About Love' and I was asked to pen 'An Ode to A Tome', a love letter to three books written by authors appearing at the festival.

My letters were to Noni the Pony Rescues a Joey by children's book author Alison Lester, The Everlasting Sunday by debut novelist Robert Lukins and The Nowhere Child by crime author Christian White.

This was so much fun and you can check out the blog post here.

Carpe Librum!

The Nowhere Child by Christian White Melbourne Writers Festival

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!