11 November 2019

Review: Him by Clare Empson

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia competition *

Him by Clare Empson begins with Catherine driven mute by earlier events. I was intrigued by the premise and wondered what triggered her to withdraw so far into herself. As the novel jumps back and forth in time, the events that lead to the mutism four months previously are slowly but surely brought to the surface.

Catherine and Lucian fell in love at university, their relationship was relatable and their mutual infatuation believable. Welcomed into Lucian's elite circle of friends, their unexpected breakup took a toll on Lucian and the reason behind it is one of the novel's mysteries.

Told in a multitude of timeframes: now, 4 months earlier, 15 years earlier and from the perspectives of both Catherine and Lucian, the narrative did feel somewhat jumpy and disjointed as a result.

I didn't feel terribly invested in either of the main characters and found the supporting characters to be either vacuous or vulnerable. Their rich lifestyles may interest some readers, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes at their behaviour (now and then) and sense of entitlement.

While I had very little empathy for Catherine, I did care for one of the characters and found her unique story quite moving. Catherine's mutism almost frustrated me as much as it did her husband, and the big 'reveal' or denouement wasn't really worth the reader investment or the build up in my view.

Him is a story of obsessive love, lies, secrets and regrets populated by wealthy young people battling addictions and depression trying to find real love.

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

08 November 2019

Review: The Confession by Jessie Burton

The Confession by Jessie Burton cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

The Confession by Jessie Burton is a dual narrative story about three women, Elise, Constance and Rose. Elise and Constance are lovers in the 1980s and in the present day, Rose seeks answers about her mother Elise, who left when she was a baby.

Constance is a successful author, and the reader is given an insight into her career during the 1980s and her life as a reclusive writer in the present day. Rose devises a ruse to meet Constance and drill her for answers about her mother.

The Confession is my first time reading Jessie Burton and I was gripped by her writing. (Oh and the cover design is stunning!) Essentially a story about love, purpose, motherhood, relationships, choices, secrets and regrets, the narrative kept me turning pages as the confession of the title drew nearer.

Of the three characters, Constance was easily my favourite. Her life was deeply compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed her personality. Rose I liked the least, the ruse and her dishonesty being part of it, but I also found her aimlessness a little irritating.

While I enjoyed the story and the writing, the unresolved ending prevented this from being a five star read for me. While Rose says she's moving on, the book ends with her still searching for answers. (I hope that's vague enough to avoid any spoilers). This was frustrating and coming so soon after another unresolved ending - in The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean - the frustration was compounded. I need more answers people!

Once the 'high' of the confession - or conversation - I'd been waiting for during the entire book was over and I spent a few days reflecting, the effect wore off. If you love a mystery and a deep and meaningful tale of women finding their way in life, then The Confession is for you. I'll definitely keep an eye out for more from Jessie Burton.

My Rating:

05 November 2019

Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Australian author Felicity McLean has been incredibly popular this year. It begins when our narrator Tikka returns to her suburban home in Sydney. There she's forced to recount the summer of 1992 and the disappearance of the Van Apfel girls during their school concert.

Tikka Molloy was eleven years old at the time and the Van Apfel family (with three daughters) were neighbours. Tikka and her older sister were friends with the Van Apfel girls and their disappearance shocked the local community at the time.

The writing is evocative and atmospheric, and managed to capture Tikka's childhood with every ice cream, school project and ride in her parent's car. Even the simplest scenes like walking to school or a sleepover took me right into the heart of the story while also making me feel incredibly nostalgic.

I enjoyed the coming-of-age elements and the descriptions of the girls, including the dynamics between the two families and the sibling relationships between them.

Where I had a few issues however is that the story is not linear.

Similarities have been made to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and I can see why. The Lisbon girls (from The Virgin Suicides) and Van Apfel girls are both raised in strictly religious households. The narrators in both novels are haunted and slightly obsessed by the loss of the girls.

Similarities have also been drawn to Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay in that several girls disappear into the Australian bush in the harsh summer and only one comes back. While comparisons like these do attract interest to the book and presumably boost sales, these links are somewhat tenuous in this case.

What made this a 3 star read for me was the unresolved ending. I can guess what led up to the girl's disappearance but this is never confirmed. The details of their disappearance are unsolved in the beginning of the book and remain so at the end which drove me nuts.

I'm also not okay with people withholding information from the police, even years after an event.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean is recommended reading for those who enjoy an Australian coming-of-age novel with a mystery at its heart.

In the spirit of 'if you like this, you'll also like this' fans of this novel should check out The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady.

My Rating:
★ ★

01 November 2019

Review: Hide by S.J. Morgan

Hide by S.J. Morgan cover
*Copy courtesy of the author & Midnight Sun Publishing*

Hide is Australian author S.J. Morgan's first adult novel and it's a thrilling read.

It's 1983 in Swansea, South Wales where we first meet Alec Johnston. A somewhat flawed character who doesn't quite know what to do with his life, Alec is sharing a flat with bikies, Minto, Stobes and Black. (Great names right?)

The overbearing Minto has a girlfriend Sindy and while Alec knows he should mind his own business, he can't help but be drawn in by Sindy's vulnerability and the situations she finds herself in. Try as he might, Alec just can't seem to get out from under the gaze of his bikie housemates; Minto in particular.

Alec seeks help from his parents who live in Cardiff and are easily the most memorable fictional parents I've encountered in a long time. I was definitely rooting for the parents the whole way; perhaps even more so than our protagonist Alec at times!

What develops is a slow burn domestic noir which ramps up the tension as the short punchy chapters progress. The action moves to Australia (not a spoiler, this is in the blurb) and the novel develops into a crime thriller which kept me turning the pages.

Ultimately, I would have liked more information on Sindy and a watertight ending but the conclusion was a satisfactory one, just the same.

With an atmospheric cover design which accurately conveys the trouble ahead for Alec, I believe Hide will appeal to crime fans who enjoy a good domestic thriller.

I'll be running a giveaway on 22 November alongside an interview with the author S.J. Morgan so stay tuned for a chance to win your own signed copy of Hide.

My Rating:

29 October 2019

Winner of Stormbird Press giveaway announced

Many of you entered my giveaway last week which was great to see. Up for grabs was a goodie bag from Stormbird Press chock full of bookish treats valued at $83.93AUD to promote Tales from the River - An Anthology of River Literature.

The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 27 October 2019 and the winner was drawn today. Drum roll......

CONGRATULATIONS LIZ HARRISON!!


Congratulations Liz! I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and Stormbird Press will send your goodie bag to you directly.

Find out about the upcoming giveaway on 22 November over on my Giveaways page.

Carpe Librum!
Stormbird Press goodie bag
Stormbird Press prize pack

25 October 2019

Review: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank cover
* Copy courtesy of Harlequin Australia *

October is the perfect time to read a spooky ghost story. I live in Australia and even though the weather is heating up and daylight savings has begun, I'm still in the mood for a creepy read. Booklovers are engaged in Halloween themed reading challenges and spooky readathons all around the world and it's hard not to be tempted. A talented writer should be able to give their reader the chills no matter the weather or reading environment and debut author Anita Frank has certainly done so here.

Set in England in 1917, The Lost Ones takes place during World War I, when many were grieving the loss of a loved one; be it a son, sibling, spouse or sweetheart.

Stella Marcham is no different. She is grieving the loss of her fiance and is asked to visit her sister Madeleine at Greyswick. Madeleine is pregnant and grieving the loss of an early pregnancy while claiming to hear crying at night.

Greyswick is located in the country and is the classic imposing creepy country mansion. Complete with stern housekeeper and servants quarters, the house conveys quite a gothic presence throughout the novel. In addition to this, the overbearing male characters in the novel dismiss Stella and Madeleine's claims with the excuse they are paranoid and you guessed it, hysterical!

The Lost Ones is a ghost story about grief, family secrets, legacy, class, healing and hope.

Readers concerned about ridiculous ghostly encounters needn't worry here. The supernatural element of the story is subtle and you could easily read this as a haunting historical fiction with a mystery that needs to be solved.

If that doesn't entice you, the cover art is simply superb. How can you resist?

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. For more gothic fiction reviews, check out my list of Gothic Tales to read.

21 October 2019

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

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

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

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

Facts

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

Finds

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

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

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

History

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

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

Memoir

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

My Rating:
★ ★

18 October 2019

Friday Freebie: WIN a goodie bag from Stormbird Press

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

Blurb

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

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

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


Prize

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

Enter below for your chance to win.

Giveaway

This giveaway has now closed.

13 October 2019

Participating in Non Fiction November 2019

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

10 October 2019

Review: Bone China by Laura Purcell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

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

Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating:
★ ★

29 September 2019

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

24 September 2019

Winner of Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer announced

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

Congratulations Denise Ackers!!


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

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

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


18 September 2019

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

What We Did in Bed by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani book cover
* Copy courtesy of NetGalley & Yale University Press *

I'm fascinated by sleep, so when I saw What We Did In Bed: A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani was available on NetGalley it was a no-brainer.

This non-fiction gem contains a history of beds through time, including changes in beds from the Egyptian Pharaohs all the way to the modern age. Sleeping habits are discussed, including bed sharing amongst family members and travelling strangers and co-sleeping with children.

Dreams, sex, childbirth and death are all activities that happen in bed and are given much consideration within the text.

Futons, reed mats, raised beds, beds on ropes, bundling boards, truckle beds, pallet beds, waterbeds and inner spring beds are all covered with interest. Deathbeds and funerary couches were a highlight, as were the seemingly excessive bedding layers required to make a Victorian era bed.

It was fascinating to learn medieval Europeans slept at an angle partially upright, and that the witching hour was first recorded in 1883 and took place between midnight and 4.00AM.

I enjoyed reading about famous people who required very little sleep, including Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Napoleon. Modern day 'short sleepers' include Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

However, I was most pleased to discover What We Did In Bed included one of my favourite sleep related topics: segmented sleep and the fact that we used to sleep in two four hour chunks with a gap of wakefulness in between. The author of one of my favourite books At Day’s Close - A History of Nighttime by A. Roger Ekirch was referenced together with his thoughts on biphasic sleep.

Authors Fagan and Durrani explain on page 4:
.. a practice known as segmented sleep that seems to have been commonplace before electric light turned night into day. People slept for, say, four hours, after which they would awaken and spend time having sex, analyzing dreams, praying, doing chores, meeting friends, or committing crimes and other devilish deeds, and then return to bed for another four hours or so.
Here an interesting quote about bed design from page 4:
By Tutankhamun's time, around the mid-fourteenth century BC, the basic design of the bed (as we would recognize it) was well established, albeit slightly higher at the pillow end and with a footboard to prevent the sleeper from sliding off.
And I enjoyed this tidbit from France during the reign of the Sun King from page 158:
At Versailles a valet always sat inside the wooden enclosure around the king's bed because the court was concerned about sorcery. An enemy of the monarch could sprinkle spell-carrying mixtures on the bed that could endanger the occupant.
In conclusion, there was plenty to bookmark and highlight during the reading process, but I'm not convinced the title accurately sums up the content. Perhaps 'A Horizontal History' might have been more accurate. While the book did cover sleep, dreams, sex, childbirth, illness and death, there wasn't enough focus on other recreational activities that we engage in right now whilst in bed. I guess I was left wanting more.

What We Did In Bed: A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in beds and sleep across history.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:


16 September 2019

Review: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal book cover
Set in London in 1850, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is a Victorian tale of art, aspiration and obsession. Twins Iris and Rose work in a shop selling handmade porcelain dolls, Iris painting their faces and hands and Rose making their fine detailed garments. Iris dreams of becoming an artist and a chance encounter with a Pre-Raphaelite painter changes her life forever.

Louis Frost is bewitched by Iris' unique beauty and asks her to model for him in exchange for drawing and painting lessons.

Meanwhile, a taxidermist by the name of Silas has also noticed Iris' beauty and begins to obsess about her. He is a collector and a sinister character that wants Iris for himself. His fixation drives the threat the entire way through the novel.

All of the characters are swept up in the excitement of the upcoming Great Exhibition of 1851, each of them seeking to have an item accepted for display.

Dickensian London really comes to life on the page in The Doll Factory. With mentions of turtle soup, street urchins and the vivid hustle and bustle, Macneal was able to transport me back in time so convincingly I could almost smell the street litter.

What caught me by surprise, was that the art sub-plot was reminiscent of Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth. If I'd known how much the plot centred around art, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Great Exhibition, I might have postponed reading this for a year or two. Having read and enjoyed Beauty in Thorns in March last year, the overlap in setting and subject matter seemed to hinder my enjoyment of The Doll Factory. Definitely not the fault of the author, just a misstep in my own reading schedule.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is recommended reading for those who enjoy their historical fiction dark and Dickensian with a splash of art.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

13 September 2019

Giveaway and Interview with Rebecca Bowyer, author of Maternal Instinct

Rebecca Bowyer bio photo
Rebecca Bowyer
Today I'm welcoming Australian reviewer, book blogger and debut author Rebecca Bowyer to Carpe Librum. Maternal Instinct is coming out next month and I couldn't resist asking Rebecca a few questions. Be sure to enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a copy.


Interview


How long have you been reviewing books at Story Addict?
I've been publishing reviews on Story Addict for 2 years, but I've been reviewing books on other websites since 2013.

How many books do you review a year and what’s your favourite genre? 
I had to look this one up to check! In the past 12 months I've reviewed 57 books. My favourite genre is speculative fiction, which is also what I write. I'm a sucker for anything that imagines what our world might look like in the future. I also love historical and literary fiction with a smattering of contemporary fiction. Plus the occasional memoir.

What made you decide you wanted to be an author? 
I wanted to be an author when I was a kid. I always loved to tell stories and was constantly writing fragments on scraps of paper.

In my early 20s I gave up on my dreams completely. I decided NOT to be an author. By then I’d had a short story published in a local literary journal and had attempted to write an angsty romance novel and a pretty terrible fantasy novel. I think I got about 10,000 words in to each and gave up. My primary creative outlet became music. I sang with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus and then the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Nearly 10 years later I rediscovered my love of storytelling, this time as a parenting blogger. As a stay-at-home mum on maternity leave, I was increasingly frustrated by the lack of value placed on parenting in our society. My attempts to explain myself were met with comments such as, “But you are valued,” and “Parenting is a privilege”. I needed a way to explain what I meant and I found the best way to do that was to show, rather than tell. So I created a world, in my novel Maternal Instinct, where parenting is actually fully valued, including in an economic sense.

Once I started writing fiction I found I loved it and wanted to keep going. The genesis of the story was anger and frustration but the characters took on lives of their own and told a story I hadn't foreseen.

Was writing a novel harder or easier than you thought?
Both. While I’m writing and the words are coming and the characters are demanding to be heard, it’s easy. I just type up what they’re telling me. But when life gets louder, or I’m exhausted, it’s harder to find the space to hear them and the time to write it all down.

Do you think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage to have so much experience reviewing before becoming a published author yourself?
Absolutely an advantage. Reviewing forces me to read deliberately and thoughtfully, analysing what it is I do and don't like. It also introduced me to other authors. I highly recommend book reviewing to any budding authors.
Giveaway prize valued at $29.99AUD

If you had 30 words to convince a reader to read your book, what would they be?
[Year] 2040: Parenting is a highly valued profession but your own children are taken at 6 months. Maternal Instinct combines the style of Big Little Lies with themes similar to The Handmaid’s Tale.

How has the transition from blogger and reviewer to published author been?
Novel writing is neither better nor worse than any other kind of writing. I don’t see it as a transition. To me, publishing a novel is simply an addition to the other writing I do - reviews, articles, technical, content. It’s simply on a much larger scale and with much, much longer timeframes.

Do you have any literary influences?
Every book I’ve ever read has influenced me, so I’ll say ‘yes’ to this question. I’m not sure I can name just a few influences.

What’s your secret reading pleasure?
As a book blogger, all my reading pleasures are quite public these days. I’m not ashamed of anything I read. I’ve enjoyed everything from Solzhenitsyn to Twilight. I love great writing but I love immersive stories even more and am happy to overlook less than brilliant prose in favour of a great story.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein. It’s as incredible as everyone says it is.

When I’m not reading, writing, or reviewing I’m…working at my day job as a Digital Experience and Strategy lead. In English that means ‘write good words for websites and make sure they’re all in the right spot’. I’m also spending as time as much time as possible with my young family.

What are your writing or publishing plans for the future?
I’ve almost finished the first draft of my next novel, Time Thief. Its premise is based on my own fantasy of wanting to be able to literally buy time, especially in the context of being a parent in the paid workforce. How nice would it be, to take a pill that gives you 4 whole hours to yourself, to do whatever you want, without anyone bothering you?

I’ve also had a few requests from readers for a sequel to Maternal Instinct (for which I am extremely grateful!). I do have a few thousand words started on a sequel, but I’m going to finish Time Thief before I go back to it.

Thanks so much Rebecca! You can check out Rebecca's website for more info and enter the giveaway below to win a copy of Maternal Instinct along with a complimentary bookmark.


Giveaway

Blurb for Maternal Instinct
Australia 2040. No child lives in poverty and every child is safe. But at what cost?

19-year-old Monica never wanted a baby but the laws require her to give birth twice before she can move on with her life.

Now that her first son, Oscar, has arrived she’s not so sure she wants to hand him over to be raised by professional parents: the Maters and Paters.

When Monica turns to her birth mother, Alice, for help, she triggers a series of events that force Alice to confront her own dark past. Alice must decide – help her daughter break the law, or persuade her to accept her fate and do what’s best for the nation’s children?

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

11 September 2019

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

This book is sheer perfection! The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is gothic domestic noir meets creepy psychological thriller and I absolutely loved it.

Rowan applies for a nanny position at Heatherbrae House that sounds too good to be true. Based in a remote area in Scotland, the position offers a generous salary and luxury accomodation in a newly renovated smart house. Her architect employers are the busy parents of four children and Rowan is hired as their live-in nanny.

The novel starts with Rowan accused of being responsible for the death of one of the children and the novel is her account of the events. The writing is perfectly paced with an unexpected juxtaposition of the old and new parts of the house leading to a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.

Heatherbrae House is run via a smart app, and when things begin to wrong Rowan isn't sure if the app is malfunctioning or someone is trying to scare her. Previous nannies haven't stayed long in the position, adding to the mystery.

It has been said that The Turn of the Key is a tribute or a nod to the classic The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. In that novella, a governess is sent to a gothic home to look after two children, there may or may not be ghosts and one of the children dies. In the case of The Turn of the Key, there may or may not be ghosts and a nanny is charged with the murder of a child in her care. While it isn't that different to the fate of the governess in James' horror tale, the writing style is poles apart.

I read The Turn of the Screw in 2012 and wasn't overly impressed, however The Turn of the Key had me by the throat the entire time. If you weren't wowed by the Henry James classic, don't let it put you off this modern take, as Ruth Ware is easily the better writer of the two.

The Turn of the Key has an ending that made my heart lurch as my mind comprehended the consequences of what I'd learned. The ending reminded me a little of the one in The Corset, and it was the magnitude of the implied repercussion that left me breathless.

Ruth Ware is definitely a new favourite author and I'm excited to discover some of her other books in the future. She's written In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway so there's much to look forward to. Have you read any of these titles? Which one should I read next?

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware could be one of my favourite books of the year. Highly recommended and you can read an extract here.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 September 2019

Review: Cold Case Investigations by Dr Xanthe Mallett

Cold Case Investigations by Dr Xanthe Mallett book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I've been on a true crime watching, listening and reading spree these past few months and the latest offering is Cold Case Investigations by leading Forensic Anthropologist Dr Xanthe Mallett. Seven Australian cold cases were selected for this collection and Dr Mallett takes us through each case.

The Wanda Beach murders, the disappearance of the Beaumont children, the abduction of William Tyrrell and the identity of Mr Cruel are well known cold cases in Australia. It is hoped that bringing light to these cases and keeping them in the public eye will eventually lead to a break through.

What surprised me were the other three cases chosen for the book, in which the offenders have already been identified, captured and prosecuted. In particular, I refer to the chapters on Ivan Milat, Daniel Holdom and Ashley Coulston. In these cases, the offender has been sentenced but the author postulates that further cold cases and missing persons could be attributed to these incarcerated offenders. Whilst I have no doubt these perpetrators probably have committed crimes unknown to police, I wouldn't classify them worthy of focus in a book of cold case investigations. If the victims are unknown, how can they be cold cases? Perhaps this is a new category of crime victim worthy of further exploration and its own book.

In addition to these main chapters, Mallett includes sections entitled Forensic Science Explained in shaded and bordered sections reminiscent of Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford, also published by Pan Macmillan Australia this year. These sections cover forensic techniques involved in investigating cold cases and include topics like DNA, fingerprinting and blood groups. These sections would be informative and helpful for early readers of true crime, however for seasoned readers like me it was overkill*.

Even viewers of the odd TV crime show would be familiar with the science included here and the opportunity to inform the reader of more detailed forensic techniques was lost. I would also presume that the kind of reader picking up a book like this will already possess this kind of foundational knowledge.

Towards the end of the book, there's a section entitled 'But have you ever heard of these missing children?' Here Mallett mentions the disappearance of 11 month old Darren Shannon in 1973, and 19 month old Rahma El-Dennaoiui in 2005. On page 252, the author says:
"A number of journalists have likened Rahma's case to that of Madeleine McCann, but I bet most people would not know Rahma's little face if they saw it."
And she's 100% right, I wouldn't! So why not set things right and include a photo of her in the book? Why publish two photos of well-known missing toddler William Tyrrell and then neglect to educate the reader by including a photo of Rahma?

Dr Xanthe Mallett has had a fascinating - and impressive - career as a forensic criminologist, university lecturer, forensic practitioner, television presenter and now published author. Here she has tried to shed light on Australia's darker side of crime and ultimately seek justice for the victims and their family. I can't help thinking she may have been able to achieve more given the opportunity to expand on the cases, however there is every hope someone reading this book may come forward with information.

Cold Case Investigations by Australian author Dr Xanthe Mallett is recommended reading for those new to the true crime genre and those unfamiliar with solved and unsolved homicide cases in Australia.

Carpe Librum!

* See what I did there?

My Rating:
★ ★

30 August 2019

Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Outsider by Stephen King is essentially a crime novel with a light supernatural twist. An eleven year old boy is brutally murdered in Ohio and Detective Ralph Anderson investigates.

The meticulously gathered evidence - including DNA, fingerprints and witness statements - all points to much loved local coach Terry Maitland, however he has an air tight alibi for the crime.

The first half of the novel was a tightly written exciting crime investigation that I was very much enjoying. The arrest scene and the disturbance at the court house was action packed and reminded me that King writes an excellent crowd scene. In fact, I was instantly reminded of the supermarket riot scene in Under the Dome.

However, as the supernatural element was slowly introduced, the story began to lose my interest. I enjoyed the dusty and hot scenes in Texas and it made for a pleasant change in surroundings, but I wasn't gripped by the gravity of the suspect being pursued.

There was a significant crossover with the Detective Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King that I wasn't expecting but which fit in nicely with the plot. The trilogy includes: Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch and while I haven’t read any of these novels, (I’ve only watched the TV adaptation of Mr. Mercedes) the crossover was very well done.

Despite a strong start, I did find The Outsiders to be a tad repetitive and slow at times and definitely thought it could have been edited down another 50-80 pages or so.

I'd recommend The Outsider by Stephen King to die hard SK fans and readers reluctant to read his horror or supernatural thrillers but looking for an easy way 'in' to the bestselling author's oeuvre. Having said that, I think The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are far better entry points.

My Rating:
★ ★

23 August 2019

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier book cover
This month it was my pleasure to co-host a buddy read with my bookish friend Theresa Smith. A number of eager bibliophiles joined us and together we read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Theresa created a space for us to discuss the novel via an online event on her book club Facebook page which elevated the buddy read to a 5 star reading experience for me. I won't be giving the book 5 stars though.

Rebecca was published in 1938, therefore this review is going to unashamedly contain spoilers, so beware.

It's clear from the prologue that our narrator is in some form of exile, haunted by what happened at Manderley several years ago. The narrator is a young female protagonist, and we begin when she is the paid companion of Mrs Van Hopper, on holiday in Monte Carlo. There she meets recently widowed Maxim de Winter and they strike up a friendship.

The age difference between the couple is significant and when Maxim proposes marriage it catches our protagonist off guard. Faced with the alternative of accompanying her employer to New York and continuing her life as a paid companion, she accepts Maxim's proposal and becomes Mrs de Winter. After their honeymoon they return to Maxim's ancestral home, the infamous Manderley.

Mrs Danvers is the stern housekeeper at Manderley and resents the arrival of the new Mrs de Winter. Maxim's late wife Rebecca still very much overshadows Manderley and our protagonist cowers at her memory. It's true she is nothing like Rebecca, who was renowned for her beauty, her accomplishments and bigger than life attitude. There is an underlying feeling of unease and unrest during this part of the novel that I enjoyed very much. Mrs de Winter is almost haunted by Rebecca and can feel her presence everywhere. I enjoyed these gothic elements immensely.

Our protagonist is shy, reserved and extremely sentimental. She continually daydreams, imagining the past, present and future in long internal monologues available to the reader. She lacks confidence, suffers from low self esteem and is constantly comparing herself to Rebecca and coming up short.

Our protagonist learns Rebecca took her boat out one night and was never seen again. Maxim identified her body washed up on the shore months later, and which now rests in the family crypt. However when a boat runs aground, the remains of Rebecca's yacht are discovered, along with a body locked in the cabin.

The body is Rebecca's and consequently Maxim confesses to our protagonist that he never loved Rebecca. He tells his new wife Rebecca manipulated people into loving her, however she was a bitterly cruel woman, unfaithful and vindictive, living behind the facade of a dutiful wife. He confesses that he was goaded to kill her after Rebecca told him she carried another man's baby and was going to force Maxim to raise it as the heir to Manderley.

We expect our protagonist to be horrified and repulsed to find her husband murdered his first wife, but her only reaction is relief! Her only care is relief that her husband never loved Rebecca and loves her instead. Ugh! This was the last straw for me and any respect I had left for our protagonist evaporated.

An inquiry is held and Rebecca's death is ruled a suicide. Rebecca's cousin and the ever faithful Mrs Danvers appear to disagree and suspect Maxim to be responsible for her death. On their way back from London, Maxim and Mrs de Winter find Manderley in flames and the novels ends.

Given the slow pace of the rest of the novel, the ending seemed sudden and left me with plenty of unanswered questions. Who started the fire? Was it Mrs Danvers, the cousin or both of them? Why would Mrs Danvers want to destroy Manderley when she loved it so much? Was anyone injured in the fire? What of Frank and the other house servants we came to care about? Were charges laid? Why did Maxim leave Manderley and exile himself and his wife overseas when his name had been cleared?

It seemed to me our narrator escaped one relationship as a paid companion in favour of another as Maxim's companion. Their union was an odd one, and the age difference wasn't the only concern. It seemed Maxim wanted any kind of company and she just wanted to be loved. There was no evidence of any physical love or meeting of the minds going on here.

The writing is flawless, descriptive and evocative, however many of the readers in the buddy read found it heavy going, as I did. Here's a charming example from Chapter 2, I just loved the phrase 'healthy irritation'.
How I blessed those solid, flannelled figures, for in a few minutes his face had settled back into repose, the colour had returned, and he was deriding the Surrey bowling in healthy irritation.
The fact that we never learn our protagonist's name was clever but simultaneously irritating. I'm presuming our narrator remained nameless to indicate she doesn't have a strong sense of self/identity, however the narrative achieves this quite comfortably. She only acquires an identity when she becomes Mrs de Winter. Throughout the novel, I began to form the opinion that this was an attempt by the author to demonstrate her writing superiority in a 'look what I can do' kind of way. And in writing this review, I began to appreciate how difficult this must have been.

Having read Rebecca I can now understand why it is an enduring classic. There's the writing of course, but the fact that one of the main characters was a murderer without being a villain must have been quite a shock at the time. This would have been a major twist of sorts, and learning Rebecca's true nature would have been another unexpected revelation to readers.

Nowadays, there are plenty of examples of an anti-hero or likeable villain, (You by Caroline Kepnes and Hangman by Jack Heath are the first to spring to mind) and a tonne of unreliable narrators mean we're less likely to be shocked by this kind of revelation now.

Having had time to let my thoughts settle, I believe my enjoyment reading Rebecca stemmed from co-hosting and participating in the buddy read. The ability to swap thoughts and share reactions created a reading kinship that was so much fun. (You can read Theresa's thoughts on Rebecca here). I also enjoyed the satisfaction and joy that comes from reading a classic you've been meaning to get to for years.

When I separate out the reading experience, I actually found the novel to be a solid three star read for me. I didn't like the protagonist, I wasn't shocked when we learned Maxim killed Rebecca and the ending left me with unanswered questions.

Of course, I can see how Manderley (which I later learned was based on a real property) has inspired the creation of a host of family estates, gothic mansions and manor houses in fiction since publication in 1938 and I understand why Rebecca has never been out of print. It's a modern classic and I suspect this won't change.

My Rating:
★ ★

Carpe Librum!

16 August 2019

Review: The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan book cover
RRP $29.99AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan has the best premise I've read all year. Can a man live for 7 years underground without seeing another human face?

It's 1792 and Herbert Powyss is a rich middle aged bachelor living in Moreham House in Herefordshire. Powyss enjoys reading scientific papers and cultivating rare plants and vegetables in his vast gardens and greenhouses. He is essentially a man of leisure and learning.

Seeking mention in the scientific journals he reads and the accolades he dreams will follow, he devises an experiment, converts the cellar beneath his house into a fine set of apartments and places the following advertisement.
A reward of 50 pounds a year for life is offered to any man who will undertake to live for 7 years underground without seeing a human face: to let his fingernails grow during the whole of his confinement, together with his beard. Commodious apartments are provided with cold bath, chamber organ, as many books as the occupier shall desire. Provisions will be served from Mr Powyss's table. Every convenience desired will be provided.
To his disappointment, the advertisement attracts just one applicant. John Warlow is a rough labouring man who drinks, beats his wife Hannah and has trouble putting food on the table for his six children. He claims he won't miss seeing anybody for 7 years and is fixated on the guarantee of 50 pounds a year for life if he stays the duration of the experiment.

Warlow enters his lavishly furnished apartments in 1793 and is due to come out in the new century, 1800. Although semi-literate, Warlow is asked to write a regular journal and has ready access to as many books as he wants. There is a dumb-waiter that will provide food, wood, candles and other supplies.

Written in the third person with chapters focussing on different characters, we're given insight into Powyss, Warlow, Hannah (Warlow's wife) and several of the household servants. I definitely enjoyed Warlow's chapters the most. His thought process and experiences were transfixing and I longed to know what he was up to. 

Ironically, these same thoughts quickly begin to plague Powyss as he too becomes fixated on Warlow's existence just a few floors beneath his sumptuous library. Powyss assuages his guilt by reminding himself Warlow is a willing participant and focussing on how the money from his experiment is transforming Warlow's family.

I was eager for the experiment to work and for each of the characters to 'play their role' without messing it up. Unfortunately, accomplished author Alix Nathan had other plans. Powyss's experiment doesn't quite go to plan for a variety of reasons, and it reminded me just a little of the experiment failing in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

It was exciting to learn in the Author's Note that the author had based her novel on a real advertisement she stumbled across in the Annual Register from 1789 to 1814, and specifically the volume for 1797. 

Presented in a small hardback volume with a beautiful cover and stunning endpapers, I was easily transported back in time in this gothic exploration of solitude, scientific learning, mental anguish, transformation, love, penance and regret.

If you're at all intrigued by the premise, then The Warlow Experiment is for you. Highly recommended for historical fiction readers and fans of the gothic genre.

My Rating: