21 October 2019

Review: Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Circus *

Mudlarking is the act of searching or scavenging in the river mud at low tide seeking items of value. Modern mudlarks forage in the mud in search of items from history - regardless of value - and it's amazing what they find. I saw the River Thames in person for the first time in 2012 but it's always been fascinating to me as a repository of history.

Author Lara Maiklem is a proud London mudlark and shares her finds in Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames. First, some interesting facts about the Thames from the book.

Facts

"...the height between low and high water at London Bridge varies from fifteen to twenty-two feet [and] it takes six hours for the water to come upriver and six and a half for it to flow back out to sea." Page 3
"The tides today are higher than they have been at any time in history." Page 13
"... in 1957, the Natural History Museum declared the Thames 'biologically dead' ... A campaign to clean up the Thames began in the 1960s and by the end of the 1970s the river was considered to be 'rehabilitated'. It is now cleaner than it has been in living memory and supports over 125 species of fish." Page 259

Finds

In Mudlarking, Lara Maiklem takes us down the river from Teddington to the Estuary and the open sea in a combination of memoir, archaeology, science and history in a narrative non-fiction style of writing. She tells us her preferred method of searching the river bed and banks is to kneel with her 'nose barely inches from the foreshore' where she completely immerses herself in the task.

One of my favourite finds from the book was the legend of the Doves Type. A bookbinder by the name of Cobden-Sanderson tipped 500,000 pieces of lead type into the river at Hammersmith. Following a dispute about the ownership of the type with Emery Walker, he bequeathed the type to the River Thames between 1913 - 1916 and mudlarks have been searching for them ever since. Such a fascinating story.

In January 2018 I thoroughly enjoyed How To Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman and the tidbit that pins from this era are still being found in the Thames today. Maiklem expands on the humble pin on page 86 and I was transfixed by her words. She tells us pins accumulate and wash together in tangled metallic nests and that pins are one of her favourite treasures to find because they're so ordinary.

History

I also enjoyed the London Bridge chapter, particularly the information about old London bridge.
"The old bridge was built with nineteen arches of varying widths and wide piers... which created a virtual barrier across the river, impeding its flow and trapping the tide." Page 145
I had no idea the construction of the old bridge slowed the water to such an extent the river froze over in harsh winters. I knew about the festivities that took place when the Thames froze over in the 1600s but wasn't aware that it doesn't do so now because these obstructions were removed when the old bridge was demolished.

Turning to more recent history and how did I not know about London's Riveria known as Tower Beach?
"The half-moon of soft yellow sand that forms a gentle hill in front of the river wall and peters out to shingle towards the river, is all that remains of 'London's Riviera', 1,500 barge-loads of Essex sand that was spread over the foreshore to create a public beach in 1934." Page 165
Apparently Tower Beach was a great success and in 1935 approximately 100,000 people came to 'holiday' beside the Thames. What a sight this must have been.

Memoir

From the very beginning, Maiklem tells the reader just what mudlarking means to her:
"I have carefully arranged meetings and appointments according to the tides, and conspired to meet friends near the river so that I can steal down to the foreshore before the water comes in and after it's flowed out. I've kept people waiting, bringing a trail of mud and apologies in my wake; missed the start of many films and even left early to catch the last few inches of foreshore. I have lied, cajoled and manipulated to get time by the river. It comes knocking at all hours and I obey..." Page 3
Armed with this information on just how much this obsession controls the author's life, I formed the opinion she'd make an unreliable friend and frustrating partner but is no doubt a highly experienced mudlarker.

However she makes mention several times throughout the book that she won't share specific locations. By omitting them the reader can join the dots on their own (or not), but openly stating she won't share the locations made her seem arrogant in my view.

Here's an example:
"I have two American plantation tokens, both of which I found within a few feet of each other (I'm not saying where), and several years apart." Page 203
What's the point? Trust me, her finds are fascinating enough (buckles, coins, leather shoes, buttons, clay pipes, beads, ink pots and more) and I don't think anyone would expect her to disclose her secret locations.

Another thing that irked me was her belief that a portion of the shore had been taken away from her. When telling the reader about nets of stones placed against the river wall in Greenwich in an attempt to prevent erosion, she says:
"My special patch has been covered up, ... and half an hour on every tide has been taken away from me." Page 248
I'd like to tell the author 'your special patch isn't yours and so it can't be taken away from you'. Losing access may be a sore point, but have gratitude for the access you do have and what you managed to find there in the past. While Maiklem acknowledges the perils of erosion, she notes that it also washes out treasures for mudlarks to find.

Conclusion

On a lighter note, Maiklem has a marvellous ability to bring history to life. She uses her imagination to breathe life into the objects she unearths and I enjoyed this immensely.

However, I wish there had been photographs to accompany the text. So much of what the author shares with us has a visual component and I felt this was missing in Mudlarking. The only saving grace is that Maiklem has an awesome Instagram account and I was able to go there to see photographs of some of her finds.

In summary, I adored learning more about the history of the River Thames, I was gripped by every item the author discovered and researched but I could happily have done without the memoir aspect with no sense of loss at all.

Recommended reading for amateur and professional historians and genealogists; archaeologists; aquaphiles; environmentalists; museum lovers and the curious.

My Rating:
★ ★

18 October 2019

Friday Freebie: WIN a goodie bag from Stormbird Press

Today I've teamed up with the lovely folk from Stormbird Press, a not-for-profit indie Australian publisher. They publish fiction and nonfiction that defends nature and empowers communities through the power of story. Today they're offering Carpe Librum readers the chance to win a goodie bag chock full of bookish treats to promote Tales from the River - An Anthology of River Literature.

Blurb

At a time when wild rivers are imperilled, Tales from the River presents a timely collection of river literature from twenty-one authors exploring our vital relationship with rivers and how they shape our lives. 

Featuring original writing by award winning authors, and exciting new voices in eco-literature, each writer draws on their wisdom, compassion, and ecological consciousness to create a range of dramatic and timely stories. 

The stories are grouped by eco-regions, showing that connections with rivers also exist across space. The book asks: How do we stop the terrible decline of our wild rivers? We protect what we love, by standing together on the bank of a river.
Stormbird Press prize valued at $83.93AUD


Prize

Valued at $83.93AUD, the Stormbird Press gift bag contains:
  • One signed copy of Tales from the River ($32.95)
  • Bookmark ($2.50)
  • 2 eBook gift cards ($19.98)
  • Tote bag 35.6 x 35.6 x 7.6 cm ($25.00)
  • Fridge magnet $3.50

Enter below for your chance to win.

Giveaway



13 October 2019

Participating in Non Fiction November 2019

I love reading non fiction and last year I learned about the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge hosted by one of my favourite Booktubers, A Book Olive.

It's just been announced again and this year will be my first time officially participating. Here are some of the titles (listed alphabetically by author) from my TBR I'm thinking of reading:
  • The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide
  • Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold
  • The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery by Catherine Bailey
  • Gothic by Fred Botting
  • Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles
  • Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox
  • The Royal Art of Poison: Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman (already started reading)
  • Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
  • Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem (reading now)
Have you read any of these books? Are you interested in reading any of them or doing a buddy read together?
I went back to see what I've read so far this year, and it's quite a lot! Here are the non fiction titles I've read so far in 2019 in chronological order:
Remember, non fiction doesn't have to be dry. It can include true crime, cookbooks, self help and more.

Let me know if you want to join me for Non Fiction November and what you'd like to read to celebrate this sometimes under-represented genre. You can find out more on TwitterGoodReads or YouTube.

Carpe Librum!

10 October 2019

Review: Bone China by Laura Purcell

Bone China by Laura Purcell cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

A gothic Victorian novel about consumption, grief and folklore set on the wind ravaged cliffs of Cornwall? Yes please! The Corset by Laura Purcell made my list of Top 5 Books of 2018 last year, making her latest novel Bone China my most anticipated release of the year. And I loved it!

Hester Why is a lady's maid and nurse running from her past when she applies for a post at Morvoren House in Cornwall. Her mistress Miss Pinecroft is seemingly affected by a stroke and in poor mental and physical health.

Hester slowly uncovers the mysterious workings at Morvoren House and the reader gains some insight into her previous positions. We're then taken back in time 40 years to when Miss Pinecroft assisted her father Dr Pinecroft in the attempt to find a cure for consumption. Ministering to prisoners under their care on the proviso their freedom would be assured upon recovery, Miss Pinecroft and her father could have no idea what was in store for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple plot lines however Hester's previous positions as lady's maid were the most gripping.

The forbidding landscape and gothic setting of Morvoren House combined with the local Cornish folklore created a menacing and creepy atmosphere, making this perfect for an October read.

Bone China by Laura Purcell was a highly enjoyable gothic historical fiction novel and although it didn't achieve the dizzying heights and absolute brilliance of The Corset, it certainly kept me in suspense the entire time and I highly recommend it.

Laura Purcell is now an automatic must-read author for me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. You can read my review of Laura Purcell's debut novel The Silent Companions here or my favourite novel of hers The Corset.
03 October 2019

Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver by Chris Hammer book cover
Published 1 October 2019
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Bursting onto the scene in August 2018, Scrublands by Australian author Chris Hammer was a bestseller. I predicted it would go on to win awards and I was right. Now, seasoned journalist Martin Scarsden is back in the much hyped sequel Silver.

Martin has finished writing his book about the dramatic events at Riversend and moves with his girlfriend back to his hometown of Port Silver. No sooner does he arrive than his girlfriend is a suspect in the murder of an old school mate and the story begins.

The victim runs the local real estate company and the plot contains a complex series of proposed developments and land sales that required me to continually flick back to the delightful map of the township at the front of the book.

Port Silver really shines here. While Riversend was a dusty, hot town in the grip of drought, Port Silver is a coastal town, fresh with retirees seeking a sea-change and delicious fish and chips.

Being back in his hometown after so many years away brings up painful memories for Martin and the reader learns more about his tragic past in flashbacks. These include revelations about his father and I really enjoyed learning more about Martin's backstory.

Coming in at 563 pages, Silver is a hefty read and in my opinion there was too much description. The pace of the novel often slowed as Martin observed his surroundings and contemplated nature while I was urging him to 'get on with it'. As in Scrublands, Martin does a lot of driving from place to place in his investigations in an effort to uncover the truth, and this started to wear thin too.

Apart from the initial murder, something happens further into the book that highlights the seedy underbelly of the town and really lifted the tension. However by the time Martin uses his journalistic skills to get to the bottom of it all - which includes his return to paid journalism - the thrill lost a little of its edge for me.

The property development mystery wasn't able to hold my interest through the various computations and variations and I soon lost interest there too.

In my opinion, Silver can be read as a standalone, but readers familiar with Scrublands will receive greater enjoyment from Martin's backstory. Scrublands is a whydunnit and Silver is a series of multiple whodunnits which I'm sure will find a deserved place on the Australian crime shelves of dedicated readers.

My Rating:
★ ★

29 September 2019

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig book cover
Allen & Unwin
Published 2017 (RRP $29.99AUD)
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Tom Hazard ages slowly. In fact, despite the appearance of a middle aged man, Tom is well over 400 years old. His medical condition has been both a blessing and a curse through the centuries and How To Stop Time by Matt Haig explores part of this life in all its pain and beauty.

Tom is subjected to fear and suspicion from those who begin to notice he doesn't age and he must move and change identities every eight years or so. The dangers he faces change with the times, but whether it be an accusation of witchcraft or the fear of being kidnapped and subjected to laboratory tests by big pharma, the threats to his life are ever present.

Falling in love is the biggest risk of all and the reader shares some of Tom's bittersweet memories of heartbreak and loss.

Published in 2017, How To Stop Time is a real clashing of genres. It's historical fiction meets science fiction with a dash of time travel resulting in a unique tale of endurance and the ability to adapt over time. It was this theme of history and the passage of time experienced by one individual that appealed to me the most.

In the Vampire Chronicles, bestselling author Anne Rice openly explores the relative success - or failure - of her characters to survive and adapt to the changes in technology, religion, culture, conflict and displacement over time. This constant learning and adaptability make a person wise and sometimes intuitive, and this was the case for Tom too.

What I didn't enjoy was the casual name dropping of well known figures from the past, so the novel loses a star for including interactions with Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I readily acknowledge this may be a highlight for some).

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig is recommended for historical fiction fans looking for a fresh angle on the past and science fiction readers looking to dip their toe into another genre.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

24 September 2019

Winner of Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway to win a copy of speculative fiction novel Maternal Instinct by Australian debut author Rebecca Bowyer. The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 22 September 2019 and the winner was drawn today. Drum roll......

Congratulations Denise Ackers!!


Congratulations Denise! You've won a copy of Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer along with a complimentary bookmark as pictured below. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and the author will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and please click here to learn more about upcoming giveaways.

Carpe Librum!
Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer with bookmark
Giveaway prize valued at $29.99AUD


18 September 2019

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

What We Did in Bed by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani book cover
* 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

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal book cover
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.


Interview


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.


Giveaway

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?

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

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: