29 May 2020

Review: Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
March 2020 RRP $29.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I haven't had a five star read for two months but thankfully the spell was broken when I picked up Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. (Published under the title Eight Perfect Murders in other countries).

Here's the premise. Bookshop owner Malcolm Kershaw wrote a blog post several years ago about perfect murders in fiction. He lists his choices for the 'cleverest, the most ingenious, the most foolproof murders in crime fiction history'. The resulting blog post is titled Eight Perfect Murders.

Years later he's tracked down by an FBI agent who believes a killer is currently making their way through Malcolm's list and re-enacting the murders.

Located in Boston, Malcolm's Old Devils Bookstore predominantly sells mystery books and there are plenty of characters who could be the killer. This feels like a real cosy mystery as Malcolm tries to work out who could be behind the murders.

There are plenty of books referenced and lots of bookish content throughout this that I just adored. You don't need to have read any of the books on Malcolm's list however the murders in each book are discussed so there are plenty of spoilers if that's something that worries you.

Rules For Perfect Murders is a thinking reader's cosy mystery with a literary tilt that will appeal to all booklovers in my opinion. Highly recommended!

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

27 May 2020

Bloggernomicon - The Book Muse

The Book Muse logo
We've been in lockdown for many weeks now but some of us are still reading, reviewing and blogging despite the chaos going on in the world at the moment. Today I'm pleased to welcome Ashleigh Meikle to the blog in the continuation of my Bloggernomicon series. Ashleigh's blog is called The Book Muse.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Ashleigh and thanks for being part of Bloggernomicon. When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
I started reviewing books in about 2014 when I did an internship with Pantera Press. It was a search for bloggers for new release Akarnae, that got me started, and from there, I’ve built relationships with various authors, publishers and publicists, as well as reviewing books I buy.

How many books (on average) do you read each year?
Oh wow, this is a tough one to answer – probably at least 100, across a broad range of genres, for reviewing, personal reading for my work as a quiz writer. It does fluctuate and some years I do read more than others. I do focus on review requests, work books and my choices before the unsolicited ones and sometimes the unsolicited ones don’t get read – which I hope is okay, given how many books I get sent.

How many books do you have on your TBR?
At least ten to twenty – I have about six or seven review books; some I’ve bought and some that the authors in my Isolation Publicity series sent me. Some of the review ones were unsolicited so I’m tossing up whether to review them, and they’ve had release dates moved too.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
I think starting my isolation publicity series – I love being able to provide Australian authors with a platform to talk about their books they’ve been releasing or working on during the pandemic, and I’ve had quite a good response. Some of my favourite interviews are coming up and I can’t wait to share them.

Do you have a favourite publicist or publisher you enjoy dealing with?
So many – but I think the publicists who work with the kids’ books – or any who are passionate about what they do and the books they’re publicising, and the ones who respond to what I do enthusiastically. It makes it enjoyable to know how well I am doing and being able to help them in these hard times. However Tijana and Tina from Puffin are really good to deal with, as is Sonia from Bloomsbury, who just loves everything I do for the books she sends me and what I do for the Harry Potter books.
Ashleigh Meikle - The Book Muse
Ashleigh Meikle hanging out
with her mate Sir Winston

Do you use bookmarks? Do you have a favourite one or collect them?
Yes to both! I have a box full of various bookmarks that I use all the time. It can be very hard to choose which one to use at times!

Have you ever been pressured to give a positive review or had an author question a review of yours?
Never questioned – but often self-published authors who don’t read my review policy about the genres and formats I accept have tried to pressure me into reviewing their work or told me that their book does fit into my blog and tried to contact me several times to get me involved. Since then, if a request doesn’t give me the right information or tells me they’ve received X amount of 5 star reviews on Goodreads so they think I’d enjoy it, I delete instantly these days – not enough time to fight!

When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
Definitely giving me all the relevant information I ask for on my policy and respecting whether or not I have time. Also, keeping in mind that what I do read and not assuming that just because I have reviewed a broad range of things, doesn’t mean I’ll always review everything. Sometimes people assume I’ll read something on my DO NOT READ genre list and still request that I do it – and either don’t respond to my polite decline or respond with pressure to read it. I think respecting what a blogger reads as well as their time and the fact that we do this for free is key to requesting a review is something that can work in an author’s favour. I’d also say not complaining about a couple of average or positive reviews works in your favour as an author too – I don’t need to know how many starred reviews you got to make my decision – your book’s premise should speak for itself.

What’s the most intimidating book on your bookshelf?
For me? I’m intimidated by those unsolicited books or obligation books that I’m just given as gifts because I feel like I have to read them – and I’ve given up on one because it was poorly edited. What do I think people would be intimidated by on my shelf? Chaucer or Shakespeare, or my books about rebel women. Some people find some of what I read very intimidating at times. Of all the books on my shelf, I am more intimidated by the prospect of trying to hold some of them rather than the act of reading them. If I had to choose one, I am sort of intimidated by Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene – it’s a brick of a book I need to get my head around holding.

You're not kidding, that one is 1200+ pages long! Do you have any blogging goals for 2020?
To get on top of my requested books at least. I’m less worried about ones I didn’t request, so they get shunted to the side. I’m also trying to read more Australian authors, in particular many more Australian Women Authors and to read as diversely as I can - which largely depends on where and if I can access all those books. There are many reasons for the above, but my main reason is I think Australian authors need our support more than ever now, and I think Australian authors tell wonderful, and diverse stories in many ways.

Thanks so much for participating in my Bloggernomicon Ashleigh. I also enjoy reading and supporting Australian authors and participate in two reading challenges every year if you want to check them out. I hope you achieve your reading goals.

25 May 2020

Review: Torched by Kimberley Starr

Torched by Kimberley Starr book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *

Set in Victoria's Yarra Valley, Torched by Australian author Kimberley Starr is essentially about the relationship between Phoebe and her son Caleb. Phoebe is the Principal at the local Primary School in Brunton and her son Caleb is accused of starting a bushfire that raged through the district, burning everything in its path. Many people lost their lives, properties and livestock were destroyed, yet Caleb won't talk about what happened.

The locals in Brunton blame Caleb for their losses and Phoebe and Caleb's lives subsequently fall apart. As the court date draws closer, Phoebe is desperate to learn the truth.

I found myself a little annoyed with Caleb's character as he insisted on withdrawing into his artistic gothic persona and providing only vague responses to the allegations made against him. Phoebe is an equally flawed character and I thought way too much time was spent on her warring thoughts about her son and her insomnia.

The climax builds as the reader swings back and forth on whether Caleb is guilty or not until the final denouement. In contrast to most readers, I found the most exciting and compelling part of the book were the scenes that took place during the bushfire. The scenes featuring Phoebe were absolutely gripping and completely captured the horrors of an immensely powerful Australian bushfire. I felt the heat and Phoebe's fear, and I'd even go so far as to say it was as good as the bushfire scene in Scrublands by Chris Hammer.

Unfortunately, this level of writing isn't maintained throughout the novel. After the fire has been extinguished and the investigation begins, I was less moved by the rest of Phoebe and Caleb's story.

Overall, Torched is a good Australian mystery with a topical subject at its heart and a solid character study of a troubled mother son relationship.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

22 May 2020

Review: Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr

Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr audiobook cover
A fellow reviewer recently pointed out that I read a lot of books on death and I suppose I do. Sleep and death - the eternal sleep - are two topics I've always been interested in but exploring them in audiobooks is a relatively new experience. It has nothing to do with the current pandemic sweeping the world; death happens every day.

In Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr, the author takes us through the experiences of patients in palliative and hospice care. Dr. Kerr interviewed more than 1,400 patients for this study and shares individual patient experiences with the reader, some of which were moving.

What might seem to family members as delusions, visions or signs of a patient losing their grip on reality, Kerr believes is proof of a process of dying his patients share and which brings them enormous comfort and relief at the end of their life.

Each patient is different but they often see loved ones long gone from this world who appear to encourage them to pass on into the next. Themes of forgiveness and grace are common, as is a reluctance to leave loved ones behind.

If you're a skeptic or you don't believe in life after death, this book won't change your mind; nor does it set out to. It's not that kind of book. It's for those who may have some experience with the passing of a loved one, or a general curiosity about the dying process and the often unexplained experiences that go along with it.

Will Death Is But a Dream bring comfort to those with a terminal illness, or facing the decision to admit a loved one to a hospice? I'm not sure. What is clear after listening to these various stories is that love unites us all. No matter what kind of life we have lived, our departure may vary, but love in all its forms remains the primary concern until - and beyond - the last breath.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

19 May 2020

Guest Review: The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

I'm a huge fan of Lucy Worsley. She's an historian, TV presenter and Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and I've watched almost all of her documentaries. Her latest book The Austen Girls explores the life of Jane Austen from the perspective of her nieces and I knew I'd need some help reviewing it.

Luckily for me, Sophie Harris came to the rescue. Here are Sophie's thoughts on the book.


Guest Review by Sophie Harris

Once again I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a book to review for Carpe Librum. This time it was the historical fiction The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley.

This book taught me about the 1800s and how women were treated differently than men. I didn’t realise how restricted women were and couldn’t go anywhere without being escorted and they didn’t have jobs. I realised this book said a lot about how Jane Austen had to keep her identity secret in books not even her book hungry niece knew what books she wrote!
Sophie Harris holding The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
Sophie Harris holding her copy of
The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
Published by Bloomsbury

I like the descriptions of things such as how they wore puffy dresses and bonnets and had dances and engagements! And how people had to take a carriage and young ladies being escorted to go out. I found the language was a little challenging (Lucy Worsley uses words like anonymity) but that is also because I haven’t read a historical fiction book before.

This is not my usual choice of book, and I found it challenging to finish. But I did enjoy it and I would recommend it for tweens or young adults (or even normal adults). Lots of historical details and descriptions to make me realise how lucky women are in today’s society. I give it 3.5 stars.

Sophie Harris Age 10

Sophie's Rating:
★ ★

Thank you so much for your review Sophie! For me, reading a book like this without having read one by Jane Austen was a little bit cheeky but totally doable. As Sophie points out above, this novel is aimed at a younger reading audience and may even serve as an entry point to entice younger readers to move on to read Pride and Prejudice or Emma in the future. 

Reading The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley mostly reminded me that I really need to get to at least one of her classics before the decade is through. I'm with Sophie on the rating though. This was a 3 star reading experience for me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★


15 May 2020

Guest review: Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver by Chris Hammer cover
I reviewed Silver by Chris Hammer back in October 2019, however in the recent lockdown I've been lending some books to my neighbour and fellow bibliophile, retired academic Neil Bechervaise. When Neil shared his thoughts on Silver with me, I wanted to share his insight with you too. Thanks Neil!

Murder, corruption, professional jealousy and loosely bent laws. Now what else could we expect from a coming-of-age novel set in a coastal New South Wales village as it drags across its 563 pages of essential hurdles from rural farmland to 21st century tourist mecca? Well, of course, there’s suicide, infidelity, drugs, a swami of mixed origins, a criminally over-protective mother, a drunken, grieving father and an illegal immigration racket to bring in the immigrant backpackers.

It can be argued that Chris Hammer’s second novel, shortlisted for the 2020 ABIA awards, is a complex whodunnit with a poetic depth of understanding of grief and an almost mischievous focusing on the interaction of police and press when the going gets tough.

In brief, when former journalist cum author, Martin returns to Port Silver, the town of his childhood to live with his new partner, the stunningly beautiful Mandy, he walks through the door and, being an experienced journalist, steps carefully over a corpse, stabbed in the back and still bleeding across the floor. Finding no pulse, he phones the ambulance and then the police. Hands now bloodied, he looks up to see Mandy sitting in shock on the sofa, her hands similarly bloodied.

Setting out to clear Mandy (Mandalay Blonde), the chief suspect, Martin embarks on an increasingly complicated search for the real killer. Exposing a plot to buy otherwise unusable waterfront land for development, Martin slowly reveals the truths of his own unhappy childhood, the relationship between a fake swami, a scam providing backpackers with drugs and visas for sex and silver (dollars) and a former surf champion, now running a wellness centre.

The story can only get more complicated, the landscape requiring a map of the town and surrounds (printed at the start of the novel) to reveal the tortuous twists in the tracks that Martin must follow and the paths his newly revealed relatives routinely ride to peddle their illegally harvested marine life.

At times elegantly written, at times poignantly puzzled and at times starkly savage, Silver provides a satisfying trail of corpses, a revelation of real estate corruption and crime in a small-town that is building towards a vastly different future. How the internationally experienced journalist will regain and maintain his reputation while supporting his new mate, Mandy and her baby son in this rural backwater remains a story to be revealed.

I found the novel to be overlong, at times, overwritten and generally over-complicated. Despite this, by the time the story really begins to claim its reader’s attention (at about page 300), the character of the town and the natures of the major protagonists is fairly clear. Some unexpected revelations and complications are yet to be revealed but the pages of description of the town, its history and its current state of development have taken effect. The denouement will be disposed in a few final pages and the reader will be able to surface from the shark-plagued swamp that edges the town to breathe another thriller.

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise May, 2020

Neil's Rating:
★ ★

Carpe Librum!

13 May 2020

Review: Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is an historical fiction cozy crime mystery. Now that's a mouthful! Set in 1851, Mrs Laetitia Rodd is a widow in her 50s who earns her living as a very discreet private investigator.

The wandering scholar of the title is the estranged brother of Jacob Welland, and on his deathbed suffering from consumption, Jacob hires Mrs Rodd to find him.

Even though this is the second book in the Laetitia Rodd mystery series and I hadn't read the first (The Secrets of Wishtide) I was still able to read and enjoy this as a standalone.

It was also easy to imagine this as a TV series on the big screen, as Mrs Rodd jumps in and out of carriages, converses with Inspector Blackbeard from Scotland Yard and talks her way into crime scenes and drawing rooms in an attempt to solve the mounting crimes.

As an aside, this novel also put me in mind of She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia as this was set in London in 1863 and also featured a female sleuth.

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is recommended for readers who enjoy a cozy crime mystery within an historical setting.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

11 May 2020

Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

If It Bleeds by Stephen King cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

If It Bleeds is the latest release by Stephen King and is a collection of four short stories, which include:

  • Mr Harrigan's Phone
  • The Life of Chuck
  • If It Bleeds
  • Rat

My favourite in this collection was the first, Mr Harrigan's Phone. King has a magical way of writing kids that gets me every time. This time our protagonist wasn't in a group of misfit kids riding around on bikes, but a solitary type hired by the rich retiree up the road to read to him. It was such a terrific story, it was easily my favourite of this collection.

Having started so strongly, the others were okay in comparison.

The title story If It Bleeds is actually a novella which is a sequel to The Outsider published by Stephen King last year. Even if you haven't read The Outsider, you should still be able to make sense of the case Holly Gibney of Finders Keepers is pursuing.

Rat was about a writer whose life long ambition was to write a novel and reminded me a little of Jack Torrance in The Shining.

I watched a discussion between Stephen King and fellow bestselling author John Grisham recently where King mentioned that he enjoys writing short stories and when he writes one he puts it away, and then every so often he'll 'gather them together' for another collection like this.

I've enjoyed a number of his collections over the years (see below) and have every reason to hope this won't be his last.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Full Dark, No Stars
Just After Sunset

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

06 May 2020

Review: Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin cover
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin begins when eleven year old Marcus is sent to live with his eccentric Great Aunt in South Carolina after the death of his mother. Aunt Charlotte is a reclusive artist with a drinking problem and Marcus is welcomed into her little house on the beach. Marcus is an extremely bright and considerate boy who was likeable - if not 100% believable - from the very first page.

Aunt Charlotte is divorced and well known in the area for painting a tumbledown house known by locals as Grief Cottage. Located within walking distance, Marcus takes to visiting the ruined cottage every day where he becomes a little obsessed with the story of a nameless family (including a young boy) who went missing during a hurricane fifty years earlier.

Marcus and Aunt Charlotte both have secrets from their past and as they get to know each other, they begin to trust one another. Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin contains a number of mysteries, including the identity of Marcus's father, the truth of Charlotte's childhood trauma and the ghost of the boy lost during the hurricane.

After spending so much time with Marcus in the summer of his 11th year, the great leaps forward in time towards the end of the book felt incredibly out of place. I wouldn't have minded another 50-100 pages to follow Marcus on his first day at the new school, through to his Aunt's passing, embarking on his chosen career and other key moments in life. Instead these milestones and events were completely skipped over, and we suddenly catch up with Marcus in his late twenties early thirties which was a real jolt.

There was a nice mystery solved at the end of the book, but the timing of it felt contrived and poorly revealed without much explanation. Handled more skilfully, this could have been an incredibly moving 'reveal' but instead it was ill-timed and just fell flat for me.

Marcus, Aunt Charlotte and family friend Lachicotte were wonderful characters but I felt robbed of a suitable ending to their individual and collective stories.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

29 April 2020

Review: Mammoth by Chris Flynn

Mammoth by Chris Flynn book cover
* Copy courtesy of University of Queensland Press *

Mammoth by Australian author Chris Flynn is like nothing I've ever read before, or likely to read again for that matter. Our narrator is a 13,000 year old extinct mammoth by the name of Mammut. It does sound crazy, but it also strangely works. The reader learns that as the bones or fossils of an animal (extinct or not) are unearthed, their consciousness returns to them and they can communicate.

Yep, you heard me right, this book has a cast of talking fossils. They talk amongst themselves by telepathy as they listen to Mammut's story of his life on earth and subsequent revival after his bones were discovered, dug up and sold.

I enjoyed the easy dialogue between the different creatures and their accents based on when and where they were unearthed and the humans they could listen in on. And boy did they have some things to say about we hominids.

What I didn't enjoy was the lack of punctuation for any of this dialogue. I was chatting with another booklover about this very thing last week, and it's an incredibly hard feat to pull off dialogue without punctuation. Unfortunately it slowed me down here and I frequently had to backtrack to find out who was speaking.

I enjoyed the majority of Mammut's story, however some parts of his story were too detailed and failed to hold my interest while others had me entranced. I wanted to learn more about the other fossils in the conversation, however I recognise the book wouldn't have been called Mammoth if that were the case.

Originality is hard to come by these days, and I take my hat off to Australian author Chris Flynn, because he's certainly achieved it here.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

27 April 2020

Winner of Prey by L.A. Larkin Announced

Thanks to all of those in lockdown who took part and entered my giveaway last week to win a copy of Prey by L.A. Larkin. It was great to be part of the online blog tour. The giveaway closed at midnight last night and the winner was drawn today.

Congratulations: Karen


You've won a print copy of Prey by L.A. Larkin valued at $23.95AUD. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details and the author will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaways in 2020.

Carpe Librum!
Blog tour PR tile for  Prey by L.A. Larkin

24 April 2020

Review: Platform Seven by Louise Doughty

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty book cover
RRP $29.99AUD
Published September 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty has a premise that hooked my interest early on. In a train station on platform seven, a man has decided to commit suicide. He is watched by Lisa Evans and she knows what he plans to do because she did the same thing just 18 months earlier.

Lisa is our protagonist and she is a ghost in the afterlife, haunting Peterborough Railway Station with little memory of what happened or why she's there. Lisa enjoys watching the train station employees and the commuters come and go until the man's suicide triggers a series of events and the clearing of cobwebs in Lisa's memory.

The majority of the novel is Lisa recalling the lead up to her death and how she ended up in her current state. I don't tend to enjoy the amnesia trope on a good day and I found this part of the novel unconvincing.

Despite the creepy premise and terrifically spooky cover, Platform Seven reads more like a domestic noir novel and could easily have been marketed very differently.

The narration style put me in mind of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, as did the internal musings about life after death in general. I enjoyed Lisa's observations and feelings about some of the staff members however I was disappointed when the reader was denied one particular 'visit' I had been anticipating.

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty is a good domestic noir novel.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

20 April 2020

Review: Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein

Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein book cover
I've always been interested in every aspect of sleep, so I was easily tempted by this free audiobook on Audible, Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein.

Comedian David Baddiel is an insomniac with many sleep related problems and a lifetime of experience trying to fix them. In Sleeping with David Baddiel, he discusses them with sleep expert Dr. Guy Leschziner over the course of 6 chapters/episodes in an attempt to learn more about sleep and how to get more of it.

Unfortunately for me, I didn't learn anything new here. I was already very familiar with the topics discussed and they never seemed to delve into any detail.

However, what frustrated me the most was the seemingly complete lack of commitment shown by David Baddiel to attempt much of what was suggested to him by Dr. Guy.

Baddiel freely admits he has always identified as an insomniac and I suspect he isn't motivated enough by his poor sleep patterns to ditch this identifier and make any significant changes to his habits.

While Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein didn't have much to offer, I can happily point readers in the direction of three other books which were much better.
Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein is recommended listening for those who know very little about sleep hygiene and sleep disorders and those seeking a surface level examination of the main subjects.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★ ★

17 April 2020

Giveaway of Prey by L.A. Larkin

Prey by L.A. Larkin book cover
Published by Clan Destine Press
RRP $23.95 AUD
Welcome to the online blog tour for Prey by Australian author L.A. Larkin. Published by Clan Destine Press on 22 April, you can enter my giveaway below for your chance to win a copy of Prey valued at $23.95 AUD. We all need something good to read at the moment, right?


Blurb

Olivia Wolfe is a journalist who travels the world exposing heinous crimes. She has more enemies that most.

When her anonymous source is murdered, Wolfe must unravel the terrible secret that connects a series of gruesome murders. But powerful people want her stopped.

Betrayed and isolated, Wolfe is hunted by a faceless killer. Can she stay alive long enough to expose the shocking truth?

Four murders. Four countries. One terrible secret.
Prey by L.A. Larkin PR tile

Giveaway

This giveaway has now closed.


14 April 2020

Review: Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater

Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Set in London in the early 1700s, Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater is the fictionalised story of Mary Burton Gulliver. Mary's husband Lemuel is the main character in Gulliver's Travels, a novel written by Jonathan Swift and published in 1726.

Instead of reading about Lemuel Gulliver's sea journeys and adventures, we read about Mary's experiences on the home front. When Mary receives word her husband's ship has sunk and he is presumed dead, she is forced to eke out a meagre living as a midwife in order to support her two children. The novel covers the time in the novel that Lemuel is shipwrecked in Lilliput and when he finally makes it home three years later, his return throws Mary's life upside down.

Lemuel is a straight up unlikeable character and I found myself constantly hoping Mary would take a stand against the actions of her husband. As a consequence, I was often frustrated and disappointed when she wasn't able to assert the rights I enjoy as a 21st century woman of privilege. The relationship between Mary and her teenage daughter Bess was just as crucial to the story.

I haven't read Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift but it certainly didn't impede my enjoyment of Gulliver's Wife in any way.

Australian author Lauren Chater does a terrific job bringing Wapping to life on the page and I learned a lot about midwifery practices in the 1700s which was an unexpected bonus. I enjoyed Mary's struggle and attempt to protect her children against the dangers of poverty, while continuing to seek purpose and validation in her work as a midwife.

Gulliver's Wife by Australian author Lauren Chater is a terrific historical fiction novel and I can highly recommend it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


P.S. For more, check out my review of Well Read Cookies - Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature by Lauren Chater.
07 April 2020

Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales audiobook cover
Leigh Sales is a well-known journalist here in Australia and she's received many awards for her contributions to journalism and her work on the ABC. Having spent years reporting on all manner of breaking news stories, Sales began to wonder how people coped with the life altering experiences and traumatic events and losses she was reporting on. She recognised her role as a journalist was to report often tragic and heartbreaking news, whilst acknowledging that the people she was interviewing were often in the midst of their own private nightmare and sometimes even the worst day of their lives.

Sales draws on events ripped straight from Australian headlines that more often than not, began as an ordinary day, informing her title of choice.

Sales interviews Walter Mikac about the Port Arthur Massacre, Stuart Diver about his rescue in Thredbo and subsequent losses and fellow author Hannah Richell about the drowning death of her husband Matt. She speaks to victims and survivors from all walks of life who have faced all manner of traumatic situations from accidents to natural disasters and acts of terrorism. She asks the tough questions about fear, fate, loss, trauma, death, grief, resilience, recovery, healing and hope in an effort to understand how we can better support those going through these events and perhaps even how to prepare ourselves for that one in a million moment.

Leigh Sales has no problem admitting her own shortcomings as a journalist and her fears about delving into the deep and meaningful with those in our community who have had the misfortune of suffering a great loss in some of the most unexpected and newsworthy of ways.

In listening to the audiobook from the library, my only complaint was that I wanted more depth in her research on the topic and I could hear her swallow throughout the entire recording which was very distracting.

Her insights are interesting and informative and while I was already very familiar with the stories of her interviewees, I did find the author's exploration of them moving. The interview with former Prime Minister John Howard was inspiring and I found myself wondering how he would lead us in our current COVID-19 crisis.

Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales is full of empathy and is a successful attempt by the author to delve deeper into human nature and our resilience to the unthinkable. In 2019, Leigh Sales received the Walkley Book Award for Any Ordinary Day but for me it was a three star read. Recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

02 April 2020

Review: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is an historical fiction meets dystopian fantasy whodunnit crime mash-up that straddles multiple genres.

Readers of historical fiction - or history - will immediately recognise the English setting during the 1500s, along with the slightly veiled references to Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and other historical figures despite their altered names. This combination of historical fiction and fantasy made it hard for me to know what was based on historical fact and what was pure fiction so I decided early on to 'let this go' and just enjoy the story.

What I did know for certain was that sin eaters were real. In fact, the author tells us at the beginning of the book that sin eaters existed in parts of Britain until roughly a century ago.

Our protagonist May Owens is a starving 14 year old orphan in gaol for stealing a loaf of bread. Fearing the worst, May is caught by surprise as she is sentenced to become a sin eater.

The duty of a sin eater is to attend the dying and hear a recitation of their sins. A food is then assigned to each sin and upon the person's death, the sin eater will attend a service to effectively 'eat their sins' thereby allowing the soul of the deceased to ascend to heaven. If a person dies without confessing their sins, then default sins are chosen on their behalf.

The process of absolving the dead and dying and taking on their sins means May is shunned by the very community that depends on her for absolution. The sin eater may only speak while carrying out her duties and must wear a collar with an 'S' so everyone may recognise her, reminding me of The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The opportunity to explore the life of a sin eater in fiction was irresistible and I was rewarded with an unexpected murder mystery. I enjoyed the list of sins and their corresponding foods at the beginning and admired May's determination to put the knowledge gathered at the bedsides of the dead and dying towards uncovering the truth.

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is definitely a genre mash-up but it was also a thoroughly entertaining read. Recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

28 March 2020

Review: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini book cover
I did it! I finally read Inheritance by Christopher Paolini and in doing so, also achieved the following:

  - Read the book that's been on my bookshelves the longest (9 years, eek!)
  - Participated in the March of the Mammoths read-a-thon for the first time by reading a book longer than 800 pages within the month of March.
  - Finished a series I began back in 2011.

This YA fantasy series began with Eragon, continued with Eldest and Brisingr and concluded with Inheritance. Set in Alagaesia in a world of dragons and dragon riders, magicians, elves, dwarves and epic battles, this series felt a little like Lord of the Rings.

I was thankful for a comprehensive re-cap at the beginning of Inheritance as part of the reason I'd been putting it off was the worry I might not be able to remember what was going on. This concern was quickly allayed and I was plunged straight back into Eragon and Saphira's world. The action was immediate and the conflicts were detailed and gruesome. The dangers and challenges ahead for the characters drew me back into the world of Allagaesia and the fight against the rule of Galbatorix.

At 860 pages in length, Inheritance was a chunkster that took me two weeks straight to get through and definitely qualified for the March of the Mammoths reading challenge. Despite its length, the action was maintained throughout and I was satisfied with the ending of the series.

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini was a highly entertaining read in a genre I don't tend to read often. With my recent enjoyment of this and Strange the Dreamer, perhaps this should change in the future. 

I can highly recommend the Inheritance Cycle series and am of the opinion it stands up well to being read in today's climate.

My Rating:

25 March 2020

Book covers that remind me of other covers

I see many book covers during the course of my day while browsing publishing catalogues and answering emails or during my leisure time perusing GoodReads and other bookish blogs and online haunts. In my digital and bookshop travels, I often notice similar trends in cover design. Sometimes a book cover will remind me of other covers and I thought it would be interesting to collate and share a couple of them here just for fun.

You should know I haven't done any research on whether these covers were designed by the same designer, released by the same publisher, or indeed which book was released first. This is just a surface level observation on cover trends in the publishing industry.

Firstly, these silhouette covers were the starting point for this recent bout of similarities. These titles are: Jane In Love by Rachel Givney, Followers by Megan Angelo and The Body Politic by Brian Platzer.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
L-R: Jane In Love by Rachel Givney, Followers by Megan Angelo & The Body Politic by Brian Platzer
The next pair of titles (Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen & Akin by Emma Donoghue) grabbed my attention due to the archway on the cover. I'm certain there's another recent release with this feature too but I can't seem to remember it. If you know what it is, please let me know in the comments section and put me out of my misery. Akin is on my TBR so I'll be getting to this in due course.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
Akin by Emma Donoghue & Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen
I thoroughly enjoyed The Foundling by Stacey Halls whereas The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge has been on my TBR for sometime, so I noticed when her new release was published. The similarities between these two stunning covers (The Foundling by Stacey Halls and Deeplight by Frances Hardinge) was striking and instantly appealed to me.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
The Foundling by Stacey Halls & Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
Finally, I wanted to share an example where the primary image chosen formed the basis of the similarity. In this case, the sardine tin featured on the bestselling cover of Normal People by Sally Rooney shows up in a re-release of Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
Normal People by Sally Rooney & Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane
What do you think of these covers? Do you think one is more reminiscent of another? Do you notice trends in cover art within certain genres? It's well known that certain genres have distinct cover designs that are supposed to attract readers who love that specific genre. I haven't included any from the crime genre but trust me, there are plenty of examples.

Sometimes these cover similarities might speak to readers about what the book contains in a 'if you liked that, you'll love this' kind of way. At any rate, it's something I will no doubt continue to take notice of and might choose to share again in the future.

Carpe Librum!

20 March 2020

Review: The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

The overriding impression I have after listening to the audiobook of The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie is an overwhelming admiration for her narration. Her voice, intonation and way of speaking is simply mesmerising. If you listen to a sample you'll see what I mean immediately.

The Erratics is a memoir about the Canadian Australian author's ageing parents and the struggle she and her sister face when her mother ends up in hospital with a broken hip. The author lives in Australia and unfortunately her mother lives in Canada and is a nasty piece of work. After a years-long estrangement, the sisters arrive at their parent's house in Alberta to find their father has been isolated and very poorly treated.

Despite the dysfunctional family setting, Laveau-Harvie manages to include breathtaking descriptions of the landscape and environment as well as scatter dark humour and incredible insight throughout the novel. I also enjoyed her writing.
".. because I do not carry a lot of my past. My sister carries it for me, her foot in the bear trap of our childhood unable to extricate herself no matter how hard she pulls." Chapter 16
Here's an example of her dark humour:
"My sister’s partner leaves the room at some point and strides down the wide hallway to inspect the elevator my mother takes to the lobby every morning to buy her newspapers and flowers. My sister’s partner is a handy person and wishes to inspect the elevator doors to see if there’s any way to rig them to open onto a void when my mother pushes the button." Chapter 20
And my favourite quote from the book:
“Scratch me and you get grief. It will well up surreptitiously and slip away down any declivity, perhaps undermining the foundations but keeping a low profile and trying not to inconvenience anybody.
Scratch my sister at your peril however, because you’ll get rage, a geyser of it, like hitting oil after drilling dry, hot rock for months and it suddenly, shockingly, plumes up into the sky, black and viscous, coating everything as it falls to earth.
Take care when you scratch.”
Having opened with so much praise for The Erratics, I need to disclose that it jumped around for me quite a lot and the end result felt a little jumbled. She cleverly addresses the reader now and then, but I often felt confused about which point in time we were in.

In addition, the reader was only ever given the tiniest of glimpses into the mistreatment the author, her sister and their father suffered at the hands of their mother. We are never privy to the full extent of the family estrangement or even why the author's mother was the way she was.

At the end of The Erratics I was left wanting more answers and disappointed about not getting them or being able to reach an understanding about the family dynamic. Perhaps Laveau-Harvie didn't have the answers herself, or perhaps it was too painful for her to commit them to paper.

Nevertheless, The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie won The Stella Prize in 2019 and was an enjoyable, yet unusual read.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

16 March 2020

Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Inspired by true events, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave begins with a sudden and horrific storm that drowns forty fishermen from the seaside village of Vardo, in Norway. It's the year 1617 and the storm leaves the women grieving and having to fend for themselves.

Maren is 20 and lost both her brother and father in the storm. Her intended also drowned, her brother's wife is pregnant and she lives with her mother in the remote coastal village.

Eighteen months after the storm, Commissioner Cornet is sent to Vardo in response to fears the island is host to Lapps - or the Sami people - who aren't practising the approved religion of the time. The Commissioner's new wife Ursa has been raised in a house of means in Bergen and their posting in Vardo comes as a complete culture shock. The Commissioner has been given a mission to root out any evil that resides in Vardo however Ursa is focussed on making a new friend in Maren.

The story unfolds from the perspectives of both Maren and Ursa as we begin to learn about the women and develop empathy for their individual plights. Religion, superstition and belief play a big role in The Mercies and the blurb doesn't hide the fact the book is inspired by the 1621 witch trials in the region.

This historical fiction novel is dark and full of foreboding from beginning to end. The harsh and unforgiving landscape along with the tough living conditions put me in mind of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

The Mercies is a novel about grief, loss, friendship, survival, relationships (good and bad), suspicion, religion and accusation. It's a bleak novel but it's also a tender novel about the importance love and hope.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating: