31 October 2020

Sample Chapter for Trust by Chris Hammer

Published by Allen & Unwin
I'm back as promised with the second half of the Allen & Unwin blog tour to celebrate the launch of Trust by Chris Hammer this month.

Today I'm sharing a chapter sample with you, so scroll down and enjoy reading the Prologue of Trust.

Prologue


THE REALISATION SWELLS WITHIN HIM, LIKE A BIRTHING. IT'S HAPPENING RIGHT now, today, in this moment of time, in this sliver of history. After months of gestation—after all the connections and the cultivations, all the plotting and the intrigues, all the threats and the blackmail— it’s this simple. He’s going to get away with it. The files are downloading, faster than he could ever have imagined, transcribing the guilt, the corruption, the criminality, all neatly packaged, all digitised, all pre-digested, pouring from the computer through a supposedly disabled USB port onto the bright blue thumb drive, encryption broken, the truth laid bare, the drive itself hidden by nothing more than his bravado and a takeaway coffee cup. He stands and looks around, his mind electric but his exterior calm, the consummate actor. The consummate spy. He smiles—but, then, he is always smiling.
    The trading floor is a hive of activity, brokers swarming, abuzz with corporate fervour and personal ambition, banks of monitors alive with bonds and equities and derivatives and exchange rates, all fluid, all flickering, all demanding their attention. Simply by standing still, he’s rendered himself invisible. No one is looking at him, no one cares about his monitor, they’re all focused on their own ephemera: numbers and charts and transactions; losses, margins and gains. He feels he is the only point of stillness, the cyclone swirling about him, that he alone possesses the perspective to know what is truly happening across these epochal seconds. It completes his victory; carried out in plain sight, the audacity of it, his own subterfuge disguised by the bank’s own much larger deception. It will make the retelling all the better; this will be the making of him, the stuff of legends. He catches a reflection of himself, only slightly distorted, in the surface of a golden wall panel. He’s pleased with what he sees: hair bouffant, face tanned, eyes bright and teeth even. He likes his face; everyone likes his face. It’s a likeable face. More importantly, it’s a trustworthy face. 
    The transfer is almost done. He lifts the coffee. It tastes excellent. Through the windows of the office tower, he can see the perfect Sydney day, blue and white, the sun pouring benevolence across the skyline, harbour alight, as if the city itself approves the righteousness of his actions. 
    He looks back to the computer, startled to see it’s finished. Already. He blinks, savouring the moment, this tipping point, this culmination. If nothing else, he’ll miss the bank’s state-of-the-art tech, so much faster and efficient than the antiquated systems at his real workplace. He sits. Quickly, he imposes his own encryption on the thumb drive, then runs a purpose-built program to cover his tracks. It takes mere minutes. Then he ejects the drive, pockets it and logs off. Done.
    ‘Early lunch?’ he asks, pausing at the cubicle of Raff, the shift supervisor—the one person he knows won’t accept his invitation.
    ‘Sorry. Bit under the pump,’ says Raff, not lifting his eyes from
his screens. ‘Maybe later in the week.’
    ‘No worries,’ says Tarquin, grinning at his colleague’s predictability. ‘I’ll be an hour or so. You want anything?’
    ‘No. Brought my lunch in.’
    ‘Okay, see you, then.’
    And Tarquin Molloy walks away, his gait confident, as always; his eyes shining, as always; his smile every bit as generous and unflappable as on his first day here. But inside, his stomach is churning and his mind is bubbling with what he has achieved. 
    He enters the lift, hits the button for the lobby, for glory, taking one last look across the trading floor as the doors begin to close, the curtains falling on the final scene. He commits it to memory, for the recounting. Then, at the last, an arm reaches in, forcing the doors open. Tarquin Molloy beams at the newcomer, a tall man, thin and dressed in a vintage suit of coarse brown wool. The doors ease shut.
    ‘Morning,’ says the gentleman, inviting engagement.
    ‘It certainly is,’ he replies. And to Tarquin, he does look like a gentleman. The suit is three-piece, of heavy cloth, as if it’s been transported from somewhere in the mid-twentieth century, immaculately maintained despite its age. There is a patterned kerchief in the suit’s breast pocket and a Legacy badge on its lapel. The man’s face is long, as is his hair, oiled so it stays in place behind his ears. The hair oil, or something, has a pleasant aroma in the confined space. The smell, like the suit and the man’s demeanour, is old-fashioned. His complexion is touched with sepia. A smoker, thinks Tarquin. Old for a trading floor.
    ‘California Poppy,’ says the man.
    ‘Sorry?’
    ‘The hair oil. California Poppy.’
    ‘It smells very nice.’
    ‘Thank you,’ says the man genially. One of his teeth has a gold cap. ‘Hard to come by nowadays.’
    The lift shudders to a halt, but the doors don’t open. They’re stuck between floors.
    ‘That’s strange,’ says Tarquin.
    ‘You don’t know the half of it,’ says the man in the brown suit. He unbuttons his coat and withdraws a revolver. A six-gun, a prop from a Western, a massive thing, matt black and menacing, its handle inlaid with pearl shell. Tarquin’s stomach plummets and his mind begins to reel. The muzzle is pointed at his chest.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Blog tour tile for Trust by Chris Hammer

30 October 2020

Participating in Non Fiction November 2020

I had a great reading month for Non Fiction November in 2019 and I'm planning on participating again this year. Hosted by A Book Olive, you only need to read 1 non fiction book to participate in the challenge, or try to read a little more non fiction than you ordinarily would.

I'm also participating in the year long 2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge hosted by fellow Aussie Shelleyrae over at Book'd Out.

Reflecting on my reading so far this year, I was surprised to discover I've read 8 more non fiction books than this time last year.

Here are the non fiction titles I've read so far in 2020, listed in chronological order:
Underland by Robert Macfarlane, The Ultimate Bucket List by Dixe Wills and Sh*t Moments in New Zealand Sport by Rick Furphy & Geoff Rissole book covers
Now, onto the challenge. Here are some of the titles (listed alphabetically by author) I'm thinking of reading for the challenge:
  • Sh*t Moments in New Zealand Sport by Rick Furphy & Geoff Rissole (currently reading)
  • Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol.1 by Helen Goltz
  • Nodding Off: The Science of Sleep from Cradle to Grave by Alice Gregory
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Northside by Warren Kirk (currently reading)
  • Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
  • Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
  • Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
  • The Ultimate Bucket List: 50 Buckets You Must See Before You Die by Dixe Wills
Have you read any of these books? What do you think I should read first?

Let me know if you'll be joining in and feel free to share your favourite non fiction read so far this year.


28 October 2020

Guest Review: The Abstainer by Ian McGuire

The Abstainer by Ian McGuire book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


Guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise is back to share his thoughts on The Abstainer by Ian McGuire; an historical fiction novel set in 1860s Britain and America.

Blurb

The rebels will be hanged at dawn, and their brotherhood is already plotting revenge.

Manchester, 1867: Stephen Doyle, an Irish-American veteran of the Civil War, arrives from New York with a thirst for blood. He has joined the Fenians, a secret society intent on ending British rule in Ireland by any means necessary. Head Constable James O'Connor has fled grief and drink in Dublin for a sober start in Manchester, and connections with his fellow Irishmen are proving to be particularly advantageous in spying on Fenian activity. When a long-lost nephew returns from America and arrives on O'Connor's doorstep looking for work, O'Connor cannot foresee the way his fragile new life will be imperilled - and how his and Doyle's fates will be intertwined.

In an epic tale of revenge and obsession, master storyteller Ian McGuire once again transports readers to a time when blood begot blood. Moving from the gritty streets of Manchester to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, The Abstainer is a searing novel in which two men, motivated by family, honour and revenge, must fight for life and legacy.

Neil's Review

From Theobald Wolfe Tone’s 1791 An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland through the Irish Rebellion of 1798 to the potato famine which led to mass migration to America and Australia in the early 1800s, British government response led to increasing bitterness and organised reaction by the Catholic Irish in England. Against this background, McGuire’s latest novel, set in the late 1860s in Manchester offers an intriguing insight into the difficulties faced by Irish immigrants into England.

That the brutal meting out of punishment on the presumption of guilt should have generated long-standing hatred for the British and their justice system is unsurprising. It is a hatred that still underpins fears of anti-British terrorist threats, of IRA bombings and radical political extremist groups.

The return of an Irish extremist, Stephen Doyle, from America to organise revenge for the hanging of Fenian colleagues forms the basis for The Abstainer but it is the role of the Irish police officer, James O’Connor in the Manchester constabulary that provides a counter-balance of interests which ignite the plot.

Antagonism against O’Connor because he is Irish makes it difficult for him to enlist the informers he needs to expose the Fenian revenge conspirators. The closeness of the Fenians, equally, make infiltration almost impossible. Infiltration, nevertheless, is achieved and, predictably, it leads to the death of the spy.

So far so good, we may say. At this point, however, things begin to change. An even more prejudiced London policeman is brought in to oversee investigation of the attempted murder of the Manchester mayor. O’Connor is jailed on trumped up charges because he is Irish and witness to an incident in which Doyle shoots O’Connor’s off-sider but allows him to live.

In short order, Doyle flees back to America and O’Connor follows him. This shift allows McGuire to expand Doyle’s back-story, offer a brief account of on-going classist brutality, anti-black racism and coal-mining in Pennsylvania. Saving a brutalised young boy from further beatings at the mine, O’Connor travels to the farm he was brought up on, kills his step-father and, in turn, is killed by Doyle. Got it? I had some trouble here too. 

The story ends with the boy, having travelled to San Francisco (an amazing feat on tattered feet) is educated and converted to Christianity. Proselytising on a street corner to an uncaring crowd of passers-by, the boy fills in the gaps in the latter section of the novel by telling how he was saved by O’Connor, before moving off into a slum alley to live out his degraded life in denial. But maybe that is what, after all, it was all about. 

You can seize this book at Booktopia.



Neil's Rating:


26 October 2020

Winner of Trust by Chris Hammer announced

I TRUST you all enjoyed entering my giveaway to win a copy of Trust by Chris Hammer last week. Thanks to everyone who entered and identified the main character of the series to be journalist Martin Scarsden.

Entries closed at midnight last night and I drew the winner this morning. Congratulations to:

Lois Laird


Congratulations Lois! You've won a print copy of Trust by Chris Hammer valued at $32.99AUD as part of the Allen & Unwin blog tour. You'll receive an email from me shortly informing you of your win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.
Trust by Chris Hammer book cover

You'll receive your prize direct from the publisher and I TRUST you'll enjoy this great Aussie crime novel.

For those who missed out, I'll be posting a chapter sample from Trust on 31 October, where you'll be able to read the prologue for free, so be sure to stay tuned for that.

Carpe Librum!



23 October 2020

Review: Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler

Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Sue Butler is a lexicographer and some of you might remember my review of The Aitch Factor - Adventures in Australian English back in 2015. Much has changed since then. Sue Butler was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2018 and is better able to share her views on the English language now that she's no longer constrained by her position as Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary. The astute among you will also notice a name change from Susan to Sue.

Butler's observations are as keen as ever and early on in her new - and cleverly titled - book Rebel Without A Clause, she shares her hopes with the reader as follows:
"...however, I would hope that my swings from tolerant to outraged are measured and balanced. Otherwise I will have become that creature of strident language purity, the pedant." Page 4
Trust me, Sue Butler is in no danger of becoming a pedant, and in fact is far more tolerant than I am about many of the topics she explores.

There are a tonne of words and phrases that make me cringe and shiver, but I was surprised to read that Sue Butler is no longer bothered by the word 'agreeance'. Just typing it and seeing the red squigly line shouting 'this word is wrong' makes me clench my teeth. According to Butler, an agreement is a piece of paper whilst being in agreeance and reaching agreeance is a state of mind. Tell you what though, I'll never be in agreeance that this is a word. We should stick to agreement having two meanings, just as declaration does.

Butler quickly moves on to the shift from saying 'bored with' to 'bored of', possibly because we say we're 'tired of' something. When I hear someone saying 'bored of' it really rankles and I have no idea why. Funny isn't it?

Rebel Without A Clause is full of tidbits like this you'll want to discuss with others, so I don't recommend reading this when everyone else is asleep. Do you pronounce bruschetta as bru-shet-ta or brus-ket-ta? See what I mean?

On page 138, I learned that the plural of cactus isn't cacti. Butler makes the point that the word cactus was borrowed by the Romans from Greek, so the plural should really be cactapodes. But I can't see anyone changing, can you?

I loved the chapter on Inventing New Words, (like babelicious) and a new word I was thrilled to learn about was xenofiction.
"Xenofiction adds the prefix xeno- meaning 'foreign' to fiction to create a new genre of science fiction in which the alien or mystical beast is telling the story from their point of view." Page 145
How cool is that? I must keep an eye out for this word in the wild.

My only problem with this perfectly titled, beautiful little hardback book about words and language is the poor quality of the paper. The quality of the pages the text is printed on seems completely out of sync with the striking cover design, and there's quite a lot of bleed through of ink from page to page from the chapter headings. I did find myself wondering whether this was the result of COVID interrupting the usual book production process, but nevertheless, it was a slight let down. I can certainly imagine this will be a wonderful little stocking stuffer this Christmas.

Rebel Without A Clause by Sue Butler is full of surprising, amusing, entertaining and informative moments and I thoroughly enjoyed the short, sharp chapters on a variety of topics, words, phrases and linguistic tangles.

Enjoy it for yourself and check out a FREE EXCERPT.

Highly Recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.



My Rating:


21 October 2020

Review: Splitting - The Inside Story on Headaches by Amanda Ellison

Splitting - The Inside Story on Headaches by Amanda Ellison book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Did you know that stripes and horizontal lines like those in venetian blinds can trigger migraines? Me neither, it's fascinating isn't it?

I started listening to the audiobook of Splitting - The Inside Story on Headaches by Amanda Ellison and I wasn't expecting it to be funny, but found myself chuckling quite often. 

Here's an example from Chapter 2 - Brain Freeze:
"This pain lasts as long as it takes to regulate your blood flow. Usually by 10 (or maybe more) seconds after you have introduced the offending cold intruder to your buccal cavity (otherwise known as your mouth; 'shut your buccal cavity' stops any argument, period. You're welcome!) you will feel normal again." Page 20
And another from Chapter 3 - Sinus, Sensation and Snot:
"If you get to watch the television while you are sitting in the dentist's chair, I can predict two things. The first is that you are not with my dentist, and the second is that you will need less numbing agent because your brain doesn't feel pain as much because your attention is diverted." Page 48
However, once the author started to get down into the nitty gritty of her subject, I had to pick up the paperback and apply myself.

Amanda Ellison goes into quite some detail here about what is happening in the body during a headache and a migraine, and how they're different. She also goes into the various types of headaches and migraines, theories which have been proposed in the past and the current medical science in this field.

However, I'm not ashamed to admit that much of the science and biology was a little over my head. Try as I might, I was unable to achieve more than a general understanding of what she was explaining.

I'd say Splitting by Amanda Ellison is for readers familiar with medicine, biology or science or who have a serious interest in the body and human health. I was interested in the subject matter but outgunned here by the science; through no fault of the author I might add.

My key takeaways from reading Splitting are that headaches and migraines are far more complex than I had imagined. Sure, there are de-hydration headaches as well as stress or anxiety induced headaches and migraines. Other times they can be the result of hormones or genetics and can even come down to whether or not you have an hyperactive visual cortex.

Amanda Ellison has been incredibly thorough and Splitting - The Inside Story on Headaches is a deep dive into the subject of headaches and migraines. I believe it would be of most interest to sufferers for whom these events are debilitating. Some chapters may not be applicable, but it could give the reader seeking relief a new avenue to consider in consultation with their Doctor.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.



My Rating:


19 October 2020

Winner of How To Break Up With Friends by Dr Hannah Korrel announced

It seems friendship is a popular topic, so thanks to all those who entered my giveaway to win a copy of How To Break Up With Friends by Dr Hannah Korrel. One entrant believed this book was 'a guide to being the worst friend possible' which would be a terrible book by the way. This was the wrong answer, because clearly this is a 'guide to ditching crappy companions'.

I drew the winner of the giveaway today and congratulations to:
How To Break Up With Friends by Dr Hannah Korrel book cover

Meg

Congratulations Meg! You've won this giveaway valued at $24.99 AUD thanks to Ventura Press. You'll receive an email from me shortly informing you of your win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.

You'll receive your prize direct from the publisher and I hope it gives you the courage to let crappy friendships go and the motivation to strengthen and nurture existing friendships that make you feel great. Good luck.

Carpe Librum


16 October 2020

Giveaway and Review: Trust by Chris Hammer

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Trust by Chris Hammer is the third book in the Martin Scarsden series and I'm proud to be part of the online blog tour for the release. I'll be posting a sample chapter on 31 October, but today I'm reviewing Trust and launching a giveaway for AUS & NZ entrants. Details below.

Review

We catch up with Martin Scarsden some time after the events of Silver and life is great for him and his girlfriend Mandy and her son Liam.

Events kick off quickly with Mandy's unexpected kidnapping and the action takes the characters to Sydney. Martin is focussed on finding Mandy whilst also being drawn into the apparent murder of his friend and journalism mentor.

What transpires from there is a plot chock full of fraud, corruption, power and blackmail involving a secret society of Sydney's elite: comprising lawyers, politicians and highly successful businesspeople. Martin and Mandy find themselves in the thick of it as they try to get to the truth of several whodunnits.

I was pleased to see evidence of Martin's character growth from Silver and Scrublands and a relaxation of his 'get the story at any cost' attitude from earlier in the series.
"Trust, Martin, the most valuable commodity any journalist can possess." Page 265
The setting in Sydney was instantly recognisable with a handful of memorable side characters and I could easily visualise this on the big screen as a journalistic / police procedural.

This crime thriller feels very up to date with several references to the bushfires, coronavirus, quarantine and Australia's economic recovery which was refreshing.

I thoroughly enjoyed Trust and crime fans will love this homegrown Aussie crime mystery.

My Rating:


Blurb

Trust by Chris Hammer book cover
Published 13 October 2020
Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 AUD
She breathes deeply, trying to quell the rising sense of panic. A detective came to her home, drugged her and kidnapped her. She tries to make sense of it, to imagine alternatives, but only one conclusion is possible: it's the past, come to claim her.


Martin Scarsden's new life seems perfect, right up until the moment it's shattered by a voicemail: a single scream, abruptly cut off, from his partner Mandalay Blonde.

Racing home, he finds an unconscious man sprawled on the floor and Mandy gone. Someone has abducted her. But who, and why?

So starts a twisting tale of intrigue and danger, as Martin probes the past of the woman he loves, a woman who has buried her former life so deep she has never mentioned it.

And for the first time, Mandy finds denial impossible, now the body of a mystery man has been discovered, a man whose name she doesn't know, a man she was engaged to marry when he died. It's time to face her demons once and for all; it's time she learned how to trust.

Set in a Sydney riven with corruption and nepotism, privilege and power, Trust is the third riveting novel from award-winning and internationally acclaimed writer Chris Hammer.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Giveaway


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

14 October 2020

Bloggernomicon - Knowledge Lost

It's October and Melbourne is still in lockdown, however I'm pleased to welcome Michael Kitto to the blog in the continuation of my Bloggernomicon series of interviews. Michael's blog is called Knowledge Lost.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Michael. When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name? 
Michael Kitto - Knowledge Lost
Michael Kitto - Knowledge Lost
I was never a reader when I was younger, it was in 2009 when everything changed. It was all thanks to a Triple J radio show called The Culture Club with Craig Schuftan, which got me interested in learning more about art, literature, and philosophy. I had to learn more, so I started reading his book Hey! Nietzsche! Leave Them Kids Alone!, which lead me to read Frankenstein and that was when I became addicted to reading and needed a place to post my thoughts.

The title Knowledge Lost was adapted from the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. I decided on this title to symbolise the fact that there is so much to learn and so much knowledge out there that previously was lost to me.

What’s your most popular blog post? What can you tell me about it?
Surprisingly, the post that has the most hits on my blog is an art post called Nec Spe, Nec Metu (Without Hope, Without Fear), which I posted in 2010. Which is about Caravaggio and his motto in life. I am not sure why that gets so much attention but maybe people are just looking up Caravaggio or Nec Spe, Nec Metu trying to learn more about him and his life philosophy. 

Are there any reviewing clichés you’d like to see less of?
I am a cranky old man but review however you want to review. We all have our own opinions, I just hate when a book review is just a synopsis, I don’t want to read about the plot, I want to read what people got out of the book. Tell me what resonated with you about a book, and the themes that keep running through your brain. I am a fan of literary theories, so if you talk about psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, post-colonialism, and so on, you have my attention. I once did a post on Twilight where I briefly explained the book using different theories.

Do you have any advice for reviewers interested in starting a book blog?
Just start, I think book blogging is great and I love the visual representation of how much I have changed as a reviewer and a reader. My older posts are not great, but I think it is a great way to see the growth you have made over time. Also, when you get older, you might forget what you thought of books you read in the past, so it is useful to have a reminder.

Have you ever been pressured to give a positive review or had an author question a review of yours?
I will not go into what happened, but I was once told by an author that I read their book wrong because I didn’t like it. This novel used real life people as characters and I never agreed with the way they were portrayed. But it is a good reminder that we are reviewing books to record our own feelings about a book, we are not here to please an author.

When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
That is easy. When I first started my reading journey, I was a literary explorer, trying all different genres and styles. I have found that I love books from around the world, so if you tell me a book has been translated, I am instantly more interested in reading it. Who knows, my taste might change in the future but for now I want to read books from around the world.

Do you use any of the reading statistics spreadsheets out there? Do you make any specific reading goals around trackable criteria?
I have a reading spreadsheet, which I started in 2009 and I love keeping track of my journey. I can tell you that in my reading journey so far, I have read 1225 books. I track all sorts of stats, like I know that 65% of my reading has been by male authors (even if 75% have been by women this year) and that 35% have been books in translations (75% this year). For a while I didn’t care about those statistics, but it is so easy to see imbalance.

If you could improve one thing on your blog, what would it be?
I would improve myself, but that is the beauty of the blog. I can see just how much I have evolved as both reader and writer. I hope to continue to grow and that my blog continues to reflect that journey.

Name something you’d like to achieve in the world of reviewing and blogging about books
I would love to be known as a literary critic, I love reading and want to continue to grow in my skills of criticism, and I hope that pays off. I am passionate about literature and my literary taste is different to many others, I want to continue promoting the joys of reading books from all around the world.

Do you have any blogging goals for 2020?
My main goal was to get back into the habit of writing regularly. I think I lost my passion and I regret not having reviews on so many books that I have read in the past. Recently I posted about the importance of book reviews, for me, having a recorded review of books I have read in the past really helps refresh my memory of my thoughts. 

Thanks so much for participating in Bloggernomicon Michael. I love the sound of your reading spreadsheet and thanks for being such a champion for translated fiction.


12 October 2020

Guest Review: Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan

Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Circus *

Today I'm proud to introduce another guest review from Neil Béchervaise. Today he's reviewing Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan.

Blurb

Ana and Connor have been having an affair for three years. In hotel rooms and coffee shops, swiftly deleted texts and briefly snatched weekends, they have built a world with none but the two of them in it.

But then the unimaginable happens, and Ana finds herself alone, trapped inside her secret.

How can we lose someone the world never knew was ours? How do we grieve for something no one else can ever find out? In her desperate bid for answers, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor's wife Rebecca.

Peeling away the layers of two overlapping marriages, Here is the Beehive is a devastating excavation of risk, obsession and loss.

Neil's Review

Deviation from the standard prose form of the novel is going to ring alarm bells for many readers. Unsurprisingly then, the open form poetic structure, the free verse of Sarah Crossan’s Here is the Beehive creates an initial sense of uncertainty. Her paean to unrequited love, the bitterness of her narrative and her apparent lack of concern with the sketchiness of her characters do little to alleviate this concern. However, expectations based on literary form, character development and pre-determined emotional responses can be misleading. Not all couples live happily ever after.

Crossan’s exploration of the illicit love affair between estate lawyer, Ana, and her married client, Connor, is clearly prejudiced. Connor’s refusal to abandon his family, his accidental death and Ana’s infatuation with the grieving yet apparently unsuspecting widow, Rebecca, suggest an almost psychotic response to her own loss. Yet the responses are all too real. Her lover’s brother is aware of the relationship while her own teacher/husband, Paul, and her friends and colleagues are not. Unsurprisingly, Ana’s three year love affair is leading inevitably towards her own marriage break-up. So what?

Despite his unwillingness to commit, Connor insists to Ana that he loves her. His reluctance to admit this to Rebecca and leave the family behind, however, render Ana increasingly isolated. Returning from one of her many illicit ‘trips away’, she admits to a fellow traveller that she is lonely; her growing despair summarised in her observation, “I had taken many photos to prove I had been somewhere”.

Only too commonly, Christmas brings the story to its unhappy climax. The stoically grieving Rebecca, seeing Ana near Connor’s gravesite can probably put two and two together while the long-suffering Paul finally leaves off his school marking to listen to what may be Ana’s confession.

Sarah Crossan’s tale is too mundane to stand as a prose novel but, with the removal of the inevitable descriptive padding and redundant minor character development, it becomes one woman’s compelling emotional romantic roller coaster.

Ana’s life is not simple, it does not flow smoothly. Her love story is neither linear nor evenly appealing. No-one is to blame more than any other for the predicament she finds herself in. Being torn apart through her own determination, it is her children’s beehive song, probably the most openly loving sequence in the novel, that counts her life down towards that sense of abandonment which festers in the heart of too many marriages.

It takes a little while to recognise that this is not a romantic novel. Instead, it is one woman’s narration of a love story gone wrong. Accepting that realisation, the expectations implicit in reading the typical romantic novel fly away. The prejudices surrounding Ana’s life dissolve and the sparsity, even the unpredictability, of the free form poetry that give this story its power and its appeal become the reason it is so compelling.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


Neil's Rating:


09 October 2020

Giveaway and Review: How To Break Up With Friends by Dr Hannah Korrel

How To Break Up With Friends by Hannah Korrel book cover
Published October 2020
RRP $24.99AUD
* Copy courtesy of Ventura Press *

Today I'm giving away a copy of How To Break Up With Friends - From Friendsh*t to Friendsplit by Australian Neuropsychologist Dr Hannah Korrel. This is a guide to ditching crappy companions and I found a few hard truths in this little gem. Dr Korrel does a great job of explaining what a good friend is, how to set boundaries, highlighting misnomers about friendship and telling us how to let go of toxic friendships.

The most powerful lesson for me were the four elements of friendship: trust, support, affection and respect. I was able to assess previous friendships and immediately identify which of these elements were lacking and how it ultimately resulted in a drifting away or ending of the friendship.

In pointing out the reasons we hang on to friends who don't treat us well, I'd have liked Korrel to include fear of losing a shared history and the fact many of us maintain friendships for sentimental reasons.

I have to say I didn't enjoy the endearments throughout the text (friend, dear reader, bud, baby etc), but I expect that's my age talking.

The exercises and reflections were very useful although I found myself writing additional break up messages. The suggested break up messages seemed a little too 'safe' for my liking. I wanted to see suggestions like: '...you continue to disrespect me and I just don't think our friendship is working out.' Besides, after going to the trouble to lay down boundaries, why not explain precisely why you've decided to end the friendship? Making excuses that you don't have the time or effort to invest in the friendship sounds like a cop out to me. It might be handy in some situations but surely some friends deserve to hear the truth.

The approach: "I can't discuss this right now, I need to deal with my mental health," is completely foreign to me and again, I suspect I'm showing my age as a Generation X reader.

Readers who have experienced friendship or relationship problems in the past may gain additional insight into where it all went wrong by reading How To Break Up With Friends by Dr Hannah Korrel. 

For those who have never confronted a friend over their poor behaviour and have felt powerless to stop friends treating them badly, this is a must read! It will empower you to ditch your toxic friend and re-invest that time somewhere else.

Enter below for your chance to win a copy.

My Rating:


BLURB

We all have that one friend.

The one who expects the world, but never remembers your birthday. The one who constantly ditches your dinner plans when you’re already halfway to the restaurant. The one who leaves you feeling exhausted, used and completely emotionally battered.

Why do we let these people into our lives? When is their friendship actually friend-shit? How do we dump these crappy companions?

This is the no-bullshit, essential guide for anyone devoting their precious time and energy into maintaining friendships with toxic friends. Using activities, truth bombs, and real-life examples, neuropscyhologist Dr Hannah Korrel will help you to identify the bad friends in your life, understand what true friendship should look like, learn how to attract the best people, and become the best friend you can be yourself.

GIVEAWAY

This giveaway has now ended.


You can seize this book at Booktopia.





06 October 2020

Review: The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Survivors by Jane Harper book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Australian author Jane Harper has become a household name in the crime fiction genre. Bursting onto the scene with rural sensation The Dry, she followed up her award winning success with Force of Nature set in Victoria and headed to outback Queensland for The Lost Man. In her latest release The Survivors, Jane Harper takes the reader to a small town on the Tasmanian coastline.

In Evelyn Bay we're introduced to a cast of characters in a coastal setting that will be instantly recognisable to Australian readers. As in previous books, it's the setting that shines brightest. I think Jane Harper writes Australian locations exceptionally well and they're a pleasure to occupy between the pages.

Kieran is our main character and he returns to town for a visit and receives a mixed reception. He isn't warmly welcomed by everyone and it becomes clear he was responsible for a tragedy on the day of the big storm. What happens from there is a slow slow burn mystery with a few obvious red herrings.

As Kieran remembered certain events, the flashbacks became a little confusing. Not contained within their own chapters or unfolding in a clearly defined present/past format, the memories were included within the chapter and I found this style a little confusing and it disrupted the flow.

I enjoyed the dual meaning of the title with The Survivors referring to an artwork at the base of the cliffs commemorating lives lost and saved in a shipwreck long ago whilst simultaneously applying to the survivors of the more recent storm, who carry the tragedies of that day with them still.

A present day crime brings those tragedies kicking and screaming to the surface as the reader tries to get to the bottom of what happened to Bronte and what took place on the day of the storm.

While The Survivors didn't reach the dizzy heights of perfection of The Lost Man for me, the second half of the book did end strongly. The Survivors by Jane Harper is a stand alone recommended for fans of Aussie crime who enjoy a good mystery.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.



My Rating:


01 October 2020

Review: The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

When I heard Ken Follett was writing a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth, I couldn't believe it. The Kingsbridge books are such a terrific and iconic series, I found myself resisting a prequel. I worried that a prequel could dilute the overall quality of the series if it wasn't done well. Even worse, if it was done poorly it could tarnish my view of this epic series. I needn't have worried though. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett is a masterpiece of historical fiction and I loved it!

Set in 997AD, I was quickly pulled into the lives of our main characters and became invested in their circumstances. Ken Follett does an incredible job of immersing the reader in the happenings and lives of a household, village or town, making you genuinely care for their individual and collective welfare and prosperity.

Edgar the boatbuilder was an immediate favourite and of course, there are the ever present themes of good versus evil in terms of holy members of the church or righteous merchants and farmers on the one hand and greedy and ambitious men - regardless of their station - grasping for power on the other. 

The harsh conditions of the poor and the everyday lives of farmers, bakers, priests and more enriched my enjoyment as well as my knowledge of the time period and the danger of Viking raids. (Previously informed by shows like The Last Kingdom and Vikings).

The Evening and the Morning contains strong and smart female characters that I loved and loathed in equal measure, whilst admiring the skilful ways in which they navigated the dominance of the men in their lives. Themes of marriage and inheritance were present as were issues of marrying for love, convenience or enhancement.

Coming in at more than 800 pages, I enjoyed the deep characterisation this level of scrutiny allows, throwing up gems like this from page 197:
"And, Edgar reflected, Dreng's parsimony outweighed his malice."
Familiar themes of class and society were explored, although my favourite parts of the novel occurred when hard work and determination finally overcame hardship and steady progress was made. What a simple yet complicated joy!

Being a prequel, clearly this takes place prior to the commencement of the construction of the cathedral, but did so in such a logical and gentle way as to provide a perfect foundation for The Pillars of the Earth. (Pun intended). And when I read the words King's Bridge for the first time, I was deeply moved.

Just as in World Without End and A Column of Fire, The Evening and the Morning can be enjoyed as a standalone, however the reader familiar with the series will gain so much more in the experience.

And while I hardly ever re-read a book, I am now very tempted to revisit The Pillars of the Earth.

With the prequel published this month, the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett now looks like this:
(Kingsbridge #0) The Evening and the Morning, published 2020
(Kingsbridge #1) The Pillars of the Earth, published 1989
(Kingsbridge #2) World Without End, published 2007
(Kingsbridge #3) A Column of Fire, published 2017

All in all, The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett was a mighty and engaging read and a worthy addition to the series. Highly recommended!

You can seize the book from Booktopia


My Rating:


29 September 2020

Review: Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch book cover
Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist, how cool is that?

In Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language, Gretchen McCulloch observes just how fast internet language has changed and how quickly it continues to move and evolve. Internet slang and jargon varies by generation, country, location, friend group and more and I honestly don't know how internet linguists can keep up. 

I enjoyed Gretchen's thoughts on new words from Chapter 8:
"Any one of us can coin a word or compose a sentence that has never been said before. And it now exists in the language as soon as we utter it. Whether it winks in and out for a single moment or whether it catches on and endures in the minds of people yet unborn."
In Because Internet, Gretchen casts a detailed linguistic eye over digital communications and interactions from the early beginnings of the internet in chat rooms like IRC and discussion boards, to the evolution of text messages, MMS, emojis, memes and GIFs.

I was surprised to find I didn't know the difference between emoticons and emojis (emoticons can be represented by the keys on your keyboard, and emojis are pictograms that could include images of flowers or a slice of cake). And while listening to the chapter on emoji and internet gestures, I realised I don't know what many of the hand gestures actually mean.

I chose to listen to the audiobook for this title and loved the chapter that discussed the use of repeating letters to add emphasis and I do this a lot! I can't seem to recall what this is called and can't flip back through the book to find it which is soooooooo annoying! (See what I did there?) For this and other reasons (the section on emoticons come to mind) I really think this would have been better read in print.

I enjoyed the author's observation on changing language from Chapter 8:
"When you lay a book down and come back to it, you expect all its ink to stay where you left it. But the only languages that stay unchanging are the dead ones."
After reading Because Internet - Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch, I've learned that it's pointless to lay down rules for language on the internet; who is going to follow them? It's also an impossible task to comprehensively record internet language in its entirety at any given point in time.

The best we can hope for is a bird's eye view and Gretchen McCulloch has certainly given me that.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


Available from Booktopia

23 September 2020

Review: The Bushfire Book - How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden, illustrated by Chris Nixon

The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden and illustrated by Chris Nixon book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *


Bushfires are a real threat in Australia and I was excited to see the recent release of a children's book to educate young kids about the dangers. The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden and illustrated by Chris Nixon is a reassuring book for children.

With a vibrant colour palette and bright artwork, the colour scheme and style evoked the landscape artworks of fellow Australian artist Fred Williams. I'm not sure if there's a legitimate influence there or whether it's an artistic coincidence, but I related well to the uniquely Australian illustrations and the chosen colour palette.

I was less sure about the inclusion of entire pages of typography for such young readers.

The inclusion of the fire danger ratings indicator was a terrific choice, however I was hoping for some content around preparing your house for bushfire season. Things like clearing gutters, cutting grass, cleaning up twigs and leaf litter etc. are tasks children can often help with however there was no mention here of how to prepare your house ahead of bushfire season.

Also absent was the concept of leaving early; wearing long sleeves, pants and closed shoes when the fire danger is high and putting a wet cloth over your nose and mouth to help you breathe if the air is smoky.

Ultimately, The Bushfire Book seemed to focus on awareness and reassurance, while leaving the preparedness to another time. I'm not sure if it was decided the content would be too distressing for kids, but the page highlighting that we don't need to be scared, with one character asking: "what if my house burns down?" seemed far more confronting to this reader.

Nevertheless, The Bushfire Book contains some very important resources at the end and a bonus pull-out poster which was a nice touch.

Parents and teachers looking to educate children on all facets of bushfire awareness will need to look elsewhere, but this is a great place to introduce the topic of how bushfires begin and start the conversation.

I suspect this Australian title will be popular in schools, libraries and homes ahead of the 2021 bushfire season and you can read a FREE extract here.

Stay safe and Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:

Available from Booktopia
21 September 2020

Guest Review: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

My TBR keeps growing and I'm sure you can all relate. This week fellow booklover Neil Béchervaise reviewed Fair Warning by Michael Connelly for Carpe Librum. Fair Warning is set in the Harry Bosch universe and is the third book in the Jack McEvoy series. What did you think Neil?


After 23 Harry Bosch novels leading to his continued activity beyond retirement and another half dozen exploring the vagaries of journalism, it didn’t seem likely that Michael Connelly could possibly have much more to say about the machinations of the Los Angeles crime scene. I’m sure I already know every highway, traffic jam and notable building, every movie studio and coffee shop from Hollywood to Long Beach. But wait!

When journo Jack McEvoy, now working for the [real] independent news company ‘Fair Warning’, links the brutal murder of a recent female companion with the increasing popularity of DNA testing, the conflict between news and crime investigation come into sharp focus. The social role of DNA testing to identify ancestors or even existing family links is examined and issues of anonymity are highlighted; the moral/ethical dilemma of withholding evidence versus informing the public of a clear and present danger is McEvoy’s dilemma. As he reflects, “I didn’t like going to my editor, my boss, and saying I didn’t know what to do next. An editor wants confidence. He wants to hear a plan that will lead to a story”.

As more murdered women are discovered, Jack links DNA tracing requests with a single testing company selling information but he is powerless to investigate. American FDA regulations do not yet cover the use of genetic information but McEvoy is on the trail of a ‘big’ story, perhaps a serial killer. It could be the making of ‘Fair Warning’. It will restore his confidence in his profession because, “Most of the time, journalism is simply an exercise in reporting on situations and occurrences of public interest. It is rare that it leads to the toppling of a corrupt politician, a change in the law … When that does happen, the satisfaction is beyond measure."

All the markers of the successful Connelly novel are here, the plot twists, the unrequited love for former FBI agent Rachel Walling, the eternal coffee shops and traffic jams, the ethical dilemmas and, most importantly, perhaps, the argument for independent and unimpeded reportage in the public interest.

Yeah, yeah. It is all very familiar, comfortable even, but … it has become increasingly relevant in this time of media funding cuts, Wikileaks trials, and the persecution, even assassination, of journalists seeking to present the realities of those worlds that most of us can never see.

Highly recommended!

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise September, 2020.

Neil's Rating:

Available from Booktopia
18 September 2020

Review: One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One by Ruth Ware book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

One by One by Ruth Ware is one of my most anticipated titles of 2020, after The Turn of the Key was a five star read last year and instantly made it onto my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. I was surprised to see her back with a new release so quickly, however I've since learned Ruth Ware is a prolific writer and has released one book a year since 2015. (Clearly I have some catching up to do and I'll probably start with The Death of Mrs Westaway published in 2018).

Set in a French ski resort in the Alps, work colleagues from a British tech company arrive at a chalet for a corporate getaway. As well as skiing, they need to make an important decision regarding the future of their popular music streaming app Snoop.

The reader is immediately introduced to quite a large cast of 10 Snoop characters and two chalet staff, however Ware cleverly reinforces who's who multiple times, so eventually the characters 'stick'.

It's not long before an avalanche interrupts their plans and what transpires from there is a locked-room mystery of sorts. I haven't read any Agatha Christie (shame on me?) however I do know that Ruth Ware's writing has been favourably compared to Christie's several times.

While I can't comment on that, I did notice a subtle reference to Christie's And Then There Were None by one of the characters in One by One, and note the nod to Christie's novel in the very title of this book.

Enjoying One by One on its own merit and relishing the tension as guests were slowly picked off, I contemplated drawing a diagram on a whiteboard to establish the whereabouts of each person in order to confirm their alibi. Deciding to stay in bed and keep reading instead - thereby forfeiting this ability to methodically refine my list of suspects - I surrendered to the ride.

I'm pleased to report there were some great action scenes at the end and the big 'reveal' was well done.

One by One was completely different to the creepy and gothic feel of The Turn of the Key and I love that Ruth Ware is able to construct such different plots and circumstances with very different characters.

One by One by Ruth Ware is a stand-alone mystery crime thriller that feels very modern, and I think it's going to be popular with fans.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


Available from Booktopia
15 September 2020

Review: To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I don't usually like books set in space. As a consequence, I rarely read books set in space. In fact, I can think of only three books set in space that I've thoroughly enjoyed.* So where do I get off picking up an epic science fiction novel set in space that comes in at an impressive 880 pages? What can I say? Christopher Paolini made me do it!

This year I finished the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and when I learned To Sleep In A Sea of Stars was Paolini's first novel for adults, I requested an advance copy from the publisher immediately; such is my faith in his writing. I considered that if anyone could lure me into an interstellar battle to save humanity and hold my attention, it was Paolini. Thankfully I was right and I loved this chunkster!

Published today, To Sleep In A Sea of Stars kicks off very quickly with Xenobiologist Kira Navarez conducting a routine survey mission on a planet ahead of a planned colonisation. Kira finds an ancient alien relic and the action doesn't stop from that point on. There is always something happening with the only respite being when the crew are in cryo or recovering from their last skirmish.

I really enjoyed the pace and the character growth, and here's an example from Page 486:
Falconi: "So stop blaming yourself."
Kira: "I can't seem to help it."
Falconi: "Bullshit. The truth is you don't want to. It makes you feel good to blame yourself. You know why?"
Kira shook her head, mute.
Falconi: "Because it gives you a sense of control. The hardest lesson in life is learning to accept that there are some things we can't change."
The history and world building in the novel were very convincing and I enjoyed the introduction of different species and their back stories. My favourite character of the entire book was Itari and I adored the conversations between Kira and Itari. Thinking of them now brings a smile to my face.

Throughout the entire novel I was fully immersed in the world of battleships, cryo tubes, laser blasters, skinsuits, orbital rings, docking hubs and ship minds and I never felt like an impostor.

Travelling FTL (faster than light) didn't phase me, alien technology didn't confuse me and not once did I want to be 'spaced' out of the book. (That's when you're jettisoned out of an air lock to your inevitable death).

Since finishing the book, I've noticed that an enterprising Spotify user has created a playlist to listen to while reading the book. I've been enjoying it this week and it's fantastic. Just search for the book's title on Spotify to find the playlist.

Another thing I enjoyed about To Sleep In A Sea of Stars was the Afterword and Acknowledgements section where Paolini shares with the reader the way in which this novel came to life. The project ups and downs, multiple re-writes and detailed research over the course of many years, gave me an even greater appreciation for the depth and scope of the book, and respect for the author for not rushing it.

To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini is a whopping epic science fiction novel bursting with adventure and I loved it! It even gave me pause to re-consider my reading tastes when it comes to science fiction and space operas and you can't ask for more than that.

Highly recommended!

Carpe Librum!
 
My Rating:


* Those books are: The Martian by Andy Weir, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Available from Booktopia
12 September 2020

Review: Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams by Charlie Morley

Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams by Charlie Morley audio cover
I've been lucid dreaming for years. If you don't know what it means, basically lucid dreaming is when you become aware that you're dreaming. Sometimes during a lucid dream, the dreamer has the ability to manipulate their dream to achieve a desired outcome. Have you ever woken from a bad dream and wanted to 'go back in' and fix it? Perhaps change the outcome for a happy ending? Or have you woken from a very pleasant dream and tried to get back to sleep to continue the story or dream experience? That's lucid dreaming.

And you might be interested to know that Albert Einstein, Charles Dickens, Thomas Edison, Stephen King, Nikola Tesla and Salvador Dali are - or were - lucid dreamers.

Charlie Morley is somewhat of an expert on lucid dreaming with a number of books on the topic. I first learned of his abilities and teachings when listening to Sleeping with Baddiel by Geoff Jein, which I gave one star in my review.

In Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - A Beginner's Guide to Waking Up in Your Dreams, Charlie introduces the reader to several techniques to start lucid dreaming and the book kicks off from there. I thought I was an experienced and capable lucid dreamer, but it turns out I'm still a beginner. Apparently there's sooooo much more to lucid dreaming and I've only been scratching the surface.

Charlie researches the history of lucid dreaming around the world and across different cultures. He highlights the different ways in which it can be used to heal trauma, and advance spiritual awareness. And interestingly, he has practiced with and interviewed experts in the field from Eastern and Western philosophies.

Lucid Dreaming Made Easy is essentially a science self-help book and it can be heavy going at times. It's chock full of references to other dream scientists and religions practicing lucid dreaming, and will give the enthusiastic reader plenty of jumping off points to explore the topic further.

Some of the exercises and tips began to make me feel as though I was in the movie Inception and I don't think I'll ever aspire to the lofty heights of lucid dreaming that I now know exist.

However after listening to this audiobook, I am attempting to exercise greater control over my lucid dreams. Instead of continuing or changing an existing dream, I'm trying to choose a new topic altogether and form a dream directly from my imagination. I haven't been successful yet, but I'll keep on trying; until I fall asleep that is.

As Charlie says: "follow your dreams and dream on dreamers."

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


08 September 2020

Review: Spirited by Julie Cohen

Spirited by Julie Cohen book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Post-mortem photography has always fascinated me. Popular in the Victorian era, grieving family members sometimes had photos taken of their loved ones after death to preserve their memory. You might have seen photos like this of the dearly departed resting in their coffins. However, families also posed the deceased in seated and sometimes even standing positions (with the aid of broomsticks and ropes) in order to have individual and family portraits taken. These photographs became treasured keepsakes and formed part of the fascinating mourning process during the Victorian period 1837-1901.*

After the recent disappointment of a TV program set in 1880s Dublin called Dead Still which centres on a mortuary photographer - it was the comedy angle that killed any hopes of this becoming a new favourite - I was all the more primed to read Spirited by Julie Cohen which promised to deliver on this intriguing subject matter.**

Spirited is an historical fiction novel featuring two women set in 1850s Victorian England during the time of spiritualism. Viola is an amateur photographer in a complicated marriage and grieving the loss of her father, and Henriette is a spirit medium with a mysterious past.

I was engrossed by Henriette's story and could easily have dwelled in a book solely focussed on her character. However the reader is also privileged to learn about Viola's husband Jonah and the reasons he remains haunted by his experiences in the Siege of Delhi in 1857.

Each of these characters is struggling with some form of grief when we meet them, and their separate search for meaning seems to unite them. Photography was a great way to illuminate the relationship between Viola and Henriette while unintentionally highlighting the line between science and religion.

Spirited by Julie Cohen is an atmospheric novel with some beautifully tender moments. It touches on the spiritualism movement of the time, contains multiple love stories and explores the different ways in which people process trauma and grief, perceive cultural differences and struggle for female agency.

Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:



* For more on mourning etiquette in this period, you might want to check out my review of Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold.
** Feel free to recommend any books on post-mortem photography you think I might like in the comments section below.

Available from Booktopia 
05 September 2020

Guest Review: How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Fellow neighbour, bibliophile and retired academic Neil Béchervaise is back for another guest post. We've been in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne for 5 weeks now and reading up a storm. Here's Neil's review of short story collection How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa. Over to you Neil!


Let me confess from the outset that ‘the short story’ is not my favourite ouvre. However, I was seduced by the title of this book and launched into it before I realised that it was, indeed, a collection.

Who has not pondered the vagaries of ‘The English language’? When ‘ph’ becomes ‘f’ in physical but ‘ps’ becomes a mere ‘s’ if we get psychological; when ‘is’ is pronounced ‘eye’ in island! Well, I had to discover how to pronounce ‘knife’, at least.

This fascinating, frequently gruelling and sometimes just downright heart-rending selection of episodes comes to its readers through the eyes of a Laotian refugee. From her early childhood towards old age; from seeing her father disappear under the surface of the river they are crossing in pursuit of ‘freedom’ to experimenting with the difference between love and sex at age 70, the stories are always engaging. Many of them are also deeply challenging to what most of us, probably, would see as ‘the norm’.

The unconscious racism of the children at school when the author struggles to find out how to pronounce ‘knife’ is both topical and humbling. Her humiliation when no-one at home could speak English despite her father doing his best to help - but only making matters worse - and her not yet confident enough to ask any classmates brought tears to my eyes. Some years later, doubting her own personal beauty, as so many teenagers girls do, she seriously contemplates having ‘a nose job’. Fortunately, her workmates, and her lack of money, dissuade her from proceeding as they see more and more failed surgeries creating terrible results.

The stories in this collection are sometimes uplifting, sometimes heart-breaking. The resilience of the refugees, essentially unsupported and battling to come to terms with cultural, language and even dietary differences in their new homeland make for compelling reading. 

I can only hope that Thammavongsa has many more stories to tell because I, for one, will be waiting for them. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise August, 2020.

Neil's Rating: