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!
01 July 2019

Review: The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

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

Awards include:

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

Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

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

Review: Something to Live For by Richard Roper

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
17 June 2019

Winner of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare Announced

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

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

Michael Potter

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

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

Carpe Librum!

14 June 2019

Review: Hunting Evil by Chris Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
11 June 2019

Review of The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
10 June 2019

Carpe Librum Celebrates 1000 Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish me luck.

Carpe Librum!