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!

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!

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!

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Fellow Reviewers Share Their 2019 Mid Year Favourites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

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

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

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson 

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

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

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

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

Here are my two favourite books of 2019 so far.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

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

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

The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder

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

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

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

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

Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****1/2

Carpe Librum!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

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

Review: Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Review: Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE extract here.

Review of Little Gestures by Mari Andrew & Bookish Happy Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating for both products = *****

Carpe Librum

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

Review: Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets (Six Tudor Queens IV) by Alison Weir

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets is another brilliant addition to the Six Tudor Queens series by historian Alison Weir. This is the fourth historical fiction novel in the series and is the story of Anna of Kleve, or Anne of Cleves as most of us know her.

The Author's Note is quick to inform the reader that Anne of Cleves actually signed her name 'Anna'. She also tells us that Henry VIII came to refer to her Anna, informing her decision to refer to her as Anna in this novel. Furthermore, Kleve is the German name of her town and Duchy, while Cleves is the anglicised form. Therefore, in order to be historically accurate, Anna should be referred to as Anna von Kleve. Who knew?

In this historical fiction imagining of her life in the 1500s, Weir has provided an alternate history for Anna of Kleve and I predict it will be a polarising one for fans of Tudor history. I was open to an alternate storyline and wasn't scandalised by what the author has proposed here. Besides, historians can't be 100% sure about the secrets of a life lived in the 1500s - especially when it comes to women - as so little was recorded and much less has survived the ravages of time.

What is agreed, is that there has been much speculation that at the time of wedding Anna of Kleve, King Henry VIII was suffering from impotence. It has been posited that the reason the King didn't consummate their marriage is that he couldn't muster the will.

My favourite episode from The Tudors TV show is the night after King Henry is supposed to have consummated his marriage with Anna of Kleve. Cromwell asks the King: “How does your Majesty like the Queen?

He replies: “Surely My Lord, I didn’t like her very much before and I like her much worse now. She is nothing fair and she has evil smells about her. And I know she’s no maid because of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens. So I had neither the will nor the courage to prove the rest. I have no appetite for unpleasant airs. I left her as good a maid as I found her.

In the Author's Note, Alison Weir tells us more about what was actually said, and it wasn't much different. 
On the morning after his wedding night, the King told Thomas Cromwell: "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse, for I have felt her belly and her breasts, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid, which so strake me to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters."
For weeks afterwards, he made similar complaints to others, saying he "plainly mistrusted her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her belly and breasts and other tokens", and stating, "I have left her as good a maid as I found her." Page 488
Of course, much has also been made of the portrait of Anna of Kleve painted by Hans Holbein and whether it was a true representation or not. This is also covered in the novel, as is the possibility King Henry didn't find Anna attractive as she wasn't skilled in dancing or playing music, which was much desired in a lady of her status at an English court.

Prior to reading Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, my knowledge extended only as far as the King having their arranged marriage annulled and Anna being known from then on as the King's Beloved Sister. I've always admired that Anna seemed to deem it safer to acquiesce to King Henry's demands than to protest.

In Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, we stay with her beyond this turning point in her life all the way through until King Henry's death in 1547 and her own death a decade later in 1557. I enjoyed reading and learning about the rest of her life, which I hadn't explored in fiction until now.

The proposed love affair between Anna and her cousin is bound to cause controversy, however the author makes a good argument for the relationship in her Author's Note.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this series and am already looking forward to the next one. No doubt it'll be the story of Catherine Howard and I know I'll be in Alison Weir's expert hands once again.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

See my reviews of previous novels in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir:

Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

A psychological thriller set in a research laboratory? Featuring two highly successful and ambitious women? I'm in!

Kit and Diane were best friends in high school, but after Diane shared a deeply personal secret with Kit they drifted apart. Both girls were driven and ambitious and each pursued careers in medical research.

Kit is now working for one of the best female bosses I remember coming across in fiction, and it isn't long before Diane pops up in her life again; headhunted and recruited by her boss.

The novel is told from Kit's perspective with 'flash backs' to her teenage years and friendship with Diane. I thought Give Me Your Hand was going to be a thriller about Kit and Diane duking it out for a position or promotion, viciously competing with each other with dire consequences for one of them. Give Me Your Hand wasn't this and in fact was so much more.

Research at the laboratory is being conducted into Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of PMS that includes physical and behavioural symptoms. I'd never heard of PMDD, so you could say this thriller was also educational.

I will say that the cover art doesn't adequately convey the setting of the novel in my opinion. I'd have preferred a white cover with out of focus laboratory and perhaps a smashed beaker with blood spattered around. Knowing they're researching PMDD, the blood has a double meaning. Furthermore, so much of the novel takes place in and around the lab that this was my mental image of the novel as I was reading it.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott is a gripping psychological thriller and I really enjoyed it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson

Boxed by Richard Anderson book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Australian author Richard Anderson is a farmer from NSW and his experience of life on the land really shines through in his second rural crime novel Boxed. It's a no nonsense mystery thriller with an interesting premise and fast paced plot.

Dave Martin is a farmer beaten down by circumstances. His wife has left him and he's been neglecting his farm in favour of rattling around his run down house and drinking. Dave likes to order cheap tools online to kill the time but he starts to receive boxes in the mail that he didn't order.

The mystery of the boxes and the action that ensues really drives the novel forward and I was quickly caught up in the plot. Growing up in a rural community myself, I could totally relate to the farming district Dave lives in and his movements around the place and interactions with friends and family were 100% authentic Australian.

Boxed is for readers who enjoyed the Aussie settings in A Time to Run or The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace, The Dry by Jane Harper or Scrublands by Chris Hammer. These are crime novels set in rural Australia from the perspective of a Police Officer, AFP Officer and a journalist all actively investigating crimes. However, Boxed is from the perspective of a bystander who finds himself in a lot of trouble and we the reader, then follow the choices he makes and the consequences of those decisions.

I really began to feel for Dave, and praised and cheered for him when he made a smart decision and cringed in worry for him when he didn't.

Reading Boxed marks the end of a 5 book Australian author binge for #AussieApril (and the two Australian reading challenges I participate in) and it's time to get back to some international authors.

I thoroughly recommend Boxed by Richard Anderson to crime and mystery lovers everywhere and will be keen to check out his next book.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Review of A Lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley and thoughts on Short Story Collections

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I don't read many short story collections. However, when an advance copy of Chris Womersley's first collection of short stories arrived bringing promise of 'twenty macabre and deliciously enjoyable tales', I decided to give it a go.

The majority of the stories in A Lovely and Terrible Thing were told in first person, and included characters of both sexes and a variety of ages, family demographics and socio-economic situations. Living in Melbourne I enjoyed the references to my city within the stories and recognised many of the settings.

By far my favourite of the collection was The Deep End. It was just such a brilliant short story and everything I love about the genre. It was tense with a sense of foreboding and had a terrific surprise ending I did NOT see coming.

On the flip side though, Crying Wolf had such a devastating ending as to make me cross. The story was building to a climax and instead of giving the two main characters an other-worldly mind blowing ending, Womersley tears it away from the reader at the very last moment by way of a selfish act by one of the characters. 

Perhaps this was done in an effort to show how easily lost opportunities can plague our lives and how close we can be to life changing events without the slightest hint of their existence or magnitude. Either way, I felt thoroughly robbed by the ending.

The other stories in the collection didn't really illicit much of a reader response from me and felt middle of the road. 
Perhaps this means short story collections aren't my thing or I need to read more of them.

Out of interest, I had a look back at my reading history and identified that I've only read six short story collections to date. Not a good track record really.


I can see a definite pattern here, and that's the fact that I've followed some of my favourite fiction authors (eg. Stephen King) into their short story collections. I picked up the collection edited by Neil Gaiman as a 'taster' of sorts and read the Rushdie for University.

While I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of short story collections yet, I do have some on my TBR pile that I'm looking forward to:
  • Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology by Danielle Binks
  • The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue
  • The Brothers Grimm: 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
  • The Turning by Tim Winton
In summary, A lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley contained one outstanding short story, one infuriating one and eighteen others that were a solid read.

Do you enjoy short story collections? What would you recommend?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Check out my review of City of Crows by Chris Womersley

Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey book cover
Set in Smithson NSW at the height of summer, a young teacher by the name of Rosalind Ryan has been found dead. Rosalind is a popular teacher at the school, and has been killed after the successful opening night of the school play Romeo and Juliet. Her students and teachers adore her and can't understand why anyone would want to harm her.

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is assigned to the case, despite the fact she went to school with the victim. Gemma is a terrific Detective, however I just didn't like her. She is having an affair with her work partner Felix and if that's not enough, Felix is married with kids, so both characters are cheating on their spouses. I really hate that.

Gemma's inner reflections on her adulterous behaviour was irritating and I didn't like how she treated her spouse Scott. Gemma is incredibly self-absorbed and seemed more concerned with her own desire for Felix than solving the case or caring for her son Ben. I get the whole flawed character angle, but Gemma was too unlikeable for me.

The lake of the title features well throughout the novel and made for a refreshing Australian rural backdrop to the plot. The mystery of who killed Rosalind and left her in the lake covered in red roses was a good one and was closely tied up with Gemma's dark past. However my favourite parts of the novel were the inter-office goings on with Gemma, her boss and other personnel in the office. The Aussie setting and realistic interactions really resonated with me and I could easily see this on the big screen.

The Dark Lake was a solid debut and a smashing success when it was released in 2017. It also won several awards, including the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Crime Debut and the 2018 Ned Kelly award for Best First Crime. I missed the hype then and am only reading this now thanks to my local library.

It's always good to catch up on a much loved Australian novel and I have the next in the series Into the Night on my shelf to read in May. I'm really looking forward to it and crossing my fingers Gemma gets her act together in this one. I'd like to see more of her awesome detective work and less of her pursuing her own lustful desires at the expense of her family.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Review: Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer

Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

As the cover suggests, Under The Midnight Sky by Australian author Anna Romer is a dark mystery novel set in Australian bushland.

Abby lives in a small township called Gundara and has a dark past. She's a journalist for her local newspaper and is obsessed with the murders that took place in Deepwater Gorge many years ago. Her personal level of involvement in the crimes is the first mystery of the novel.

Reclusive author Tom Gabriel has purchased a ramshackle country manor known as Ravensong, and recently moved to the area to work on his new book. Abby wants to interview Tom for the newspaper and despite his aloof and gruff demeanour, they strike up a friendship of sorts. When Abby discovers a hidden room in an attic at the top of his house, they begin to pool their resources and investigative skills to get to the bottom of several mysteries before them. This includes the case of a current girl who may have gone missing.

Under The Midnight Sky is a mystery novel that could just as easily be called crime or rural crime. The Australian setting and relaxed dialogue made the novel feel instantly relatable.

The alternate time periods (present and 1940s-1950s) were handled well, although I did struggle at first with the numerous character perspectives. We had first person perspective from Abby, first person diary entries from another character and third person perspectives from Tom, Lil and Joe. Not to mention third person perspective from the missing girl and perhaps others I've missed. There was no indication at the beginning of each chapter as to which character we were with and I really had to concentrate to follow the plot threads.

Under The Midnight Sky is a dark mystery full of secrets, family trauma, sibling love, burgeoning love, obsessive love and enduring love. Themes of memory and family are also explored with a significant reveal at the end. The slow burn romance that developed between two characters started off well, until he called her 'hon' which made me cringe.

Under The Midnight Sky was an engrossing read but is losing a star because two bodies weren't re-homed/re-buried at the end.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S See my review of Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer.

Dig, Dump, Roll Children's Book Winners Announced

Thanks to the young at heart who entered my children’s book giveaway last week. Up for grabs were 2 copies of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock thanks to Walker Books Australia.

Entries closed on Sunday 21 April and I drew the winners today. Congratulations to:

Sarah & Renae!!
Congratulations Sarah & Renae! You've each won a copy of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton valued at $24.99AUD. I’ll be sending you both an email shortly with the details and Walker Books Australia will be sending out your prizes directly.

Carpe Librum!

Review: Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor cover
I haven't been this impressed by an author's imagination and world building since reading my first Harry Potter. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a Young Adult fantasy novel and not what I typically read. However, when I read that the main character Lazlo Strange, a war orphan with an active imagination comes to work in a great library after being raised in a monastery by monks, I was keen to pick this up.

Strange was the surname given to all foundlings in the Kingdom and he was given to the monastery as a baby during war time. Strange grew up fascinated by stories and obsessed with the mysteries of the lost city of Weep.

At the age of 13, Strange was asked to deliver some manuscripts to the Great Library of Zosma but never went back. Strange felt instantly at home amongst the manuscripts and scrolls and was taken on as an apprentice. The descriptions of the Great Library of Zosma were incredible and I longed to walk through the Pavilion of Thought and scan the shelves. Imagine the Citadel in Game of Thrones and you can't go wrong.

"The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between." Page 14
"Shelves rose forty feet under an astonishing painted ceiling, and the spines of books glowed in jewel-toned leather, their gold leaf shining in the glavelight like animal eyes." Page 15
The writing is atmospheric and transported me from the first page, here's the description of a kiss from Page 421:
"A first kiss… [it’s like]… finding a book inside another book. A small treasure of a book hidden inside a big common one - like… spells printed on dragonfly wings, discovered tucked inside a cookery book, right between the recipes for cabbages and corn. That’s what a kiss is like, he thought, no matter how brief: It’s a tiny, magical story, and a miraculous interruption of the mundane."
Strange the Dreamer is overflowing with the most amazing writing that made me feel as though I were immersed inside a fairytale. Full of magic, gods, alchemists, scholars, myths and legends, Laini Taylor swept me so far away that I felt I wasn't reading at all. I was very much part of Lazlo's world and accompanying him on his adventures.

Strange the Dreamer is the first in a duology and an absolute certainty for inclusion in my Top 5 Books of 2019. The best part? I have the sequel Muse of Nightmares on my shelves ready to be enjoyed.

Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!