31 December 2014

Completed Aussie Author Challenge 2014

After publishing my review of Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey today, I've now officially completed the Aussie Author Challenge 2014.

Here's what I read and reviewed throughout the year:
1.  Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers | Ramona Koval
2.  Burial Rites | Hannah Kent
3.  Hindsight | Melanie Casey
4.  Hades | Candice Fox
5.  just_a_girl | Kirsten Krauth
6.  Through The Cracks | Honey Brown
7.  Is It Just Me? | Chrissie Swan
8.  Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage | Mark Tedeschi
9.  Craven | Melanie Casey
10. What Came Before | Anna George
11. Dancing on Knives | Kate Forsyth
12. Allegiance | Wanda Wiltshire
13. Reluctantly Charmed | Ellie O'Neill
14. The Tournament | Matthew Reilly
15. Skinjob | Bruce McCabe
16. Jasper Jones | Craig Silvey

Additional books read for the challenge:
17. The Great Zoo of China | Matthew Reilly

There are some really great books in this list and it was a pleasure to read and review all of them. Here's to more great Aussie books in 2015.

Carpe Librum and Happy New Year!

Review: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey was the last book I read for the Aussie Author Challenge 2014 and it was a great read.

Set during the summer of 1965 in the small mining town of Corrigan in WA, Charlie is a 13 year old boy who loves to read and isn't too good at sport. His best friend Jeffrey Lu loves to play cricket and lives across the road.

Jasper Jones of the title is the town outcast with an alcoholic father and is the scapegoat for petty crime in the community. Jasper appears at Charlie's window one night asking for his help. Charlie follows Jasper to a secluded clearing in the bush, and what he sees there changes his life forever.

What Charlie sees in the clearing is revealed early (for which I was very grateful) and the mystery that follows is still enough to keep the plot moving at great speed.

The dialogue between Charlie and best friend Jeffrey made for hilarious reading and plenty of laugh out loud moments in between the seriousness of the story. Even though Jeffrey was a supporting character rather than the main focus of the plot, he was by far my favourite character and I greatly looked forward to his appearances in the story.

Jasper Jones is a coming-of-age story with a distinct Australian feel and I can definitely see why it has won several awards. Highly recommend and definitely an Australian author to watch.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librumi!
29 December 2014

Review: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly book cover* Copy from Pan Macmillan for review *

The Great Zoo of China is bursting with action, and just when you think nothing else could possibly happen, it does. The main character is Dr. CJ Cameron and she visits the zoo with a senior media contingent on behalf of National Geographic magazine.

CJ is a brilliant character and I revelled in her intelligence, common sense and ability to act quickly in deadly situations; definitely a protagonist I could get behind. China is admired for their ability to build vast cities and conceal government secrets, and the great zoo of the title is truly a sight to behold. The writing is extremely visual and my only wish (apart from reading the book) was to be able to watch a movie version. 

Of course there isn't one, so I did the next best thing and revisited the movie Jurassic Park just to get a fix of monsters on a grand scale. I'm sure this reference will be a compliment to author Matthew Reilly, given it's one of his favourite books.

The Great Zoo of China is a rollicking ride but it's also a gorgeous hardcover edition with maps and diagrams scattered throughout the pages to keep the reader on track and completely oriented.

I have to say my favourite segments of the novel were CJ's dialogue with Lucky. I won't say any further, but when you read it, you'll know exactly who I'm talking about. I like like Lucky.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Price $39.99
26 December 2014

Sign Up For Aussie Author Challenge 2015

I'm still reviewing the remaining books for the 2014 Aussie Author Challenge but am already turning my head to next year.

Today I'm signing up for the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 run by Booklover Book Reviews, and the objective of the challenge is to showcase the wonderful diversity of writing produced by Australian authors.

If you want to join me and read more books by Aussie authors, you can take part via Facebook or Google+ (you don't need a website or a book blog to participate).

I'm committing to the Kangaroo level and here are the guidelines:

- Read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors;
- At least 4 female and 4 male authors;
- At least 4 new authors (to me);
- At least 6 fiction, 2 non-fiction and a minimum of 3 titles published in 2014 or 2015.

I'm looking forward to supporting and discovering new Aussie authors next year, who's with me?

Carpe Librum!

20 December 2014

Completed 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge

This year was the first time I participated in the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge and I really enjoyed it. I signed up for the Franklin level (highest level) where I had to read 10 books and review at least 6 and I ended up achieving that and more.

Books read and reviewed for the challenge include the following:
1.  Speaking Volumes - Conversations with Remarkable Writers | Ramona Koval
2.  Burial Rites | Hannah Kent
3.  Hindsight | Melanie Casey
4.  Hades | Candice Fox 
5.  just_a_girl | Kirsten Krauth
6.  Through The Cracks | Honey Brown
7.  Is It Just Me? | Chrissie Swan
8.  Craven | Melanie Casey
9.  What Came Before | Anna George
10. Dancing on Knives | Kate Forsyth
11. Allegiance | Wanda Wiltshire
12. Reluctantly Charmed | Ellie O'Neill

I read some great books as part of this challenge and I'm looking forward to participating again next year. Did you read any books by Australian Women Writers this year?

Carpe Librum!
19 December 2014

Sign Up for Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015

The year is drawing to a close soon and it's always around Christmas time that I turn my mind to next year's reading challenges.

In 2015 I plan to return to the Mount TBR Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block, and am signing up for Pike's Peak where I will need to read 12 books owned prior to 1 January 2014. 

I've also joined the Mount TBR 2015 group on GoodReads, and will no doubt enjoy following the progress of other readers and bow down in awe of those climbing Mount Olympus and reading 150+ books.

I'm looking forward to getting stuck into my To-Be-Read (TBR) pile and if you want to join me, just click here. You don't need a blog to take part and it's a great motivator to get through the books already on your bookshelf or your tablet.

Carpe Librum!
18 December 2014

Review: Deadlight Hall (Nell West / Michael Flint #5) by Sarah Rayne

Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne book cover
* Copy from author for review *

Deadlight Hall is the fifth novel in the Nell West and Michael Flint series of novels from author Sarah Rayne, and is due for release next year.

The cover is probably the best in the series and certainly sets the tone for a creepy mystery involving a set of twins. I'm a sucker for stories about twins and this one takes place during WWII with Michael taking the lead investigative role after being asked by a colleague for advice.

I enjoyed seeing the two characters Nell and Michael draw even closer, although I was surprised to find my favourite part of the novel was when Nell was considering and making plans to expand her antiques shop. I don't know why, but I really enjoyed seeing her work out if she could afford it and what she might do with the additional space.

I was relieved to find the required visits to the sinister building (in this case Deadlight Hall) were fewer than in previous books, and also relieved that Beth (Nell's daughter) and Wilberforce took more of a back seat this time.

Having said all of that, I did find myself yelling at Michael to download the torch app on his smart phone and use it to light up the scary basement or to use as a reading light when it began to get dark. On that note, it'd be great to see Michael and Nell making the most of some of the more modern forms of research online to uncover the dusty past. I recently discovered a website that contains the names and details of all AIF solders to have fought in WWI, and it's amazing how much effort is being dedicated to digitising the past.

The conclusion of Deadlight Hall saw all of the loose threads in the mystery neatly tied up, but unfortunately I found the ending just a little too complete or perfect for my taste. 

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
10 December 2014

Review: Adventures in Stationery - A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward

Adventures in Stationery - A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin * 

I love stationery, and I absolutely adored reading Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward recently.

Ward's love of stationery is infectious, and I frequently lost myself researching his favourite shops, and discovering websites dedicated to various forms of stationery.

Every time I picked up this book, I had to have my tablet handy, just so I could look up images of the items described: the Blackwing 602 pencil, Pink Pearl eraser, different paper clip shapes and more. I enjoyed many trips down memory lane, remembering the kinds of glue I used in primary school (clag, PVA and remember these?) to the different types of white out used in high school (liquid paper bottle, the correction pen and who could forget the thinner!).

Adventures in Stationery is funny, entertaining and educational, and I loved reading about the invention of sticky notes, how Scotch tape got its name and even that 3M was originally known as the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing company. If you've never understood the meaning behind staple sizes then this is the book for you.

Here is just a small selection of my favourite discoveries in Adventures in Stationery:
Page 78 - the term foolscap, "used to describe a sheet of paper 13.5" x 17"... derives from the 'fool's cap' watermark...introduced in the middle of the fifteenth century."
Page 100 - "a ferrule is the metal sleeve holding the eraser in place." 
Page 115 - before there were erasers or rubbers, "the preferred method for removing pencil lines was to use stale bread." 
Page 213 - "When Blu-Tack was originally developed, it was white in colour, but the blue colouring was added after concerns were raised that children might think it was chewing gum and attempt to eat it."
Finally, Ward's mention of the use of skeuomorphic design by software designers to replicate an object's physical characteristics in another form (for instance, making the icon for the 'cut' function in MS Word look like a pair of scissors) blew my mind.

Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case by James Ward was an absolute joy to read and even the book itself is a treasure with an attractive hard back design featuring paper clips, drawing pins and pen lids. Perfect, right?

Highly recommended for stationery lovers everywhere!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

RRP $24.99

P.S. Now tell me, do you have a secret stationery addiction? I'll confess I buy more stationery than I use, and keep 'saving' stuff because I don't want to use it. What's yours?
08 December 2014

HFVBT Blog Tour & Review of Libby Morgan: Reunion by Leah Zieber

* Copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours *

Coming from a long line of seamstresses, Libby has yet to sew anything more than the rudimentary button or hem, but on a visit to Connecticut she learns more than just how to sew patchwork. 

Set in 1855 New England and London, this tender story, Libby Morgan: Reunion, follows tenacious Elizabeth (Libby) Jane Morgan through her thirteenth summer of new adventures at home and abroad. She is given a birthday gift of sewing tools and fabric, as well as old family letters to use as templates for making her first quilt. Her decision to first read the letters results in questions that only her Grandmother Morgan’s stories can answer—stories of true love, horrible loss and family connections to London nobles. 

Her keen eye and inquisitive nature draws her family into a mysterious investigation that tests their faith, challenges their ability to forgive, and results in a resurrection and reunion of lost hearts.

My Review
Libby Morgan: Reunion is set in 1855 and is a coming-of-age story suitable for YA and Middle Grade (MG) readers. It's what I would call a 'clean read' and would even recommend it to mature readers from the age of 10. Libby is the lead character who learns to sew from her Grandmother and Mother, both accomplished sewers in their own right. 

I'll admit, the subject matter of quilting lured me into this novel, and it will certainly appeal to a wide range of readers also interested in the topic. Using the paper from old letters as a pattern to sew into her quilt was intriguing but also broke my heart - who cuts up old family letters just to use the paper? But paper is rare in New England during this period and so they're happy to do it.

During the process of reading each letter before cutting them up, Libby learns about her family's past and a nice little mystery is unravelled. All in all, Libby Morgan: Reunion was a nice little read to cleanse the palate between more demanding novels.

My rating = ***

02_Leah Zieber AuthorAbout the Author
Leah A. Zieber is a quilt historian and quilt maker from Temecula, California, specializing in American quilt history and reproduction quilts from the nineteenth century. Her quilts have been exhibited across the country in quilt shows, museums and historical societies and were most recently published in Stars: A Study of 19th Century Star Quilts. Leah has worked closely with Southern California collectors, cataloging, managing, and independently researching their textile collections. Her own collection of antique quilts and related textile items spans one hundred and eighty five years, and she shares her knowledge of American quilt history using her collection in lectures and workshops. Libby Morgan: Reunion is her debut novel and the first in her American Heritage Quilt Series.
03 December 2014

Review: Little Rhymes for Little People by John Stewart Westlake & illustrated by Sophie Scahill

*Copy from publicist for review *

Little Rhymes for Little People by Australian writer John Stewart Westlake contains 21 rhymes beautifully illustrated by the talented Sophie Scahill and is suitable for readers aged between 3-7 years of age.

Each rhyme is about a different kind of animal and their behaviour, for instance: possum, piglet, seal, elephant and giraffe, just to name a few. 

My favourite illustration was of the giant tortoise in the rhyme called Walking Slowly. There are a few words that will challenge kids in these rhymes that read more like poetry than the snappy and sing song rhythms of a Dr. Seuss poem.

Little Rhymes for Little People by John Stewart Westlake is a charming little read for youngsters and a great stocking stuffer this Christmas.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
01 December 2014

HFVBT Blog Tour and Review: The Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon #1) by Mel Starr

The Unquiet Bones by Mel Starr book cover
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

Hugh of Singleton, fourth son of a minor knight, has been educated as a clerk, usually a prelude to taking holy orders. However, he feels no real calling - despite his lively faith - and he turns to the profession of surgeon, training in Paris and then hanging his sign in Oxford. Soon after, a local lord asks Hugh de Singleton to track the killer of a young woman whose bones have been found in the castle cesspool. 

Through his medical knowledge, Singleton identifies her as the impetuous missing daughter of a local blacksmith. The young man she loved - whom she had provoked very publicly - is quickly arrested and sentenced at Oxford. 

But this is just the beginning of the tale. The story of Singleton's adventure unfolds with realistic medical procedures, droll medieval wit, romantic distractions, and a consistent underlying sense of Christian compassion.

My Review
The Unquiet Bones is the first in a series of five books so far featuring Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon. After achieving his bachelor's degree, deciding not to take holy orders, surviving the plague and studying abroad in Paris, in 1363 we find Hugh de Singleton setting up his own surgeon's office in Oxford.

After impressing the Lord of Bampton Castle, Hugh is offered a permanent position as the only surgeon in town and is soon asked to inspect a set of human bones for cause of death. His keen observations that a murder has taken place sets the scene for a charming medieval murder mystery.
Author Mel Starr does a terrific job of making the reader feel like they're really in the 1360s, and the glossary at the beginning was marvellous. Despite being a fan of the genre (particularly the work of Paul Doherty) some of these terms were new to me and added to my overall reading experience. For example, I had no idea that a fewterer was the keeper of the Lord's kennel and hounds.

Here are two of my favourite quotes from the novel:
"It was not the first or last time I found that uncomfortable honesty was a tree which might bear agreeable fruit."  Page 34
(Character talking about his own nose on Page 47: "To a masculine face, anyway. It seems to depart my brow properly, but then takes a right turn, as if my nostrils were trying to direct my attention to some event on the dexter side. It is inherited. My father viewed the world across a nose of similar size and bearing. My father was also bald." Page 47
All in all, I enjoyed the murder mystery second to details of the medical maladies Hugh saw to in the town of Bampton and the remedies he used. Personally, I would have preferred more focus on his surgical and medical skills and less on his investigation, however that's just me.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

About the Author
Mel Starr was born and grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating with a MA in history from Western Michigan University in 1970, he taught history in Michigan public schools for thirty-nine years, thirty-five of those in Portage, where he retired in 2003 as chairman of the social studies department of Portage Northern High School. Mel and his wife, Susan, have two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Winner Announced: How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love by Louis Efron

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway to WIN a copy of How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love by Louis Efron, we had some wonderful dream jobs mentioned.

Entries closed last night, and author Louis Efron chose the winner, so congratulations go to:


Congratulations Nay, Louis decided he would like to be the second customer at your Parisian Cafe (after me of course).

Please email me with your postal address by midnight Friday 5 December and Louis will send your book to you directly.

And, if you didn't catch it in the original post, here's a message from author Louis Efron to the entrants: Thank you all for the wonderful entries!!! I wish you all your dream jobs in 2015! I also hope my book will make the journey a bit easier for the winner! ;-) Thanks, again!
26 November 2014

Book Blast & Giveaway: How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love by Louis Efron

How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love - a journey to purpose, fulfilment and life happiness is a no fluff, highly effective, step-by-step guide to discovering your life’s purpose, finding a career you love, and living a life of intense fulfilment each and every day.

Do you love your job? Your current career? Your life? Or do you go to work feeling disengaged, uninspired or maybe even dreading the day?

In How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love, Efron reveals how to find purpose, fulfilment and more happiness in your career and life.

His distinct self-discovery process helps you create new excitement and vigour in your current job and career. If you're ready for change, he'll help you find new direction that brings you in alignment with your purpose and goals.

Through his proven process, you'll make job and career decisions for the right reasons, plus look at life options from uniquely different angles.

If you're feeling unfulfilled, uninspired, or disengaged in your job, career or life, or battling low self-confidence, this is definitely the book for you. Start your 30-day+ challenge today (included inside) and begin to proactively design the fulfilling, engaging life you desire and deserve.

To Enter: leave a comment below in answer to the following question: If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Eligibility: international, open to readers from any country
Entries close: midnight Sunday 30 November, enter as many times as you like (must be a different answer each time)
Winner: the winner will be chosen based on entries received

Good luck!

About the Author
Louis Efron is a contributing writer for Forbes and Huffington Post, an award-winning Fortune 300 human resources executive, theatrical director, entrepreneur, charity leader and founder of The Voice of Purpose at LouisEfron.com

How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love is Louis’ first book and he hopes to inspire people to find their purpose, become more fulfilled and make positive changes in their lives.
24 November 2014

Review: Dolls' Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood by Halina Pasierbska

Dolls' Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood by Halina Pasierbska book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

After reading about a rich heiress who collected dolls and doll houses in Empty Mansions, it seems only fitting that I should read Dolls' Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood by Halina Pasierbska so closely afterwards.

The V&A of the book title refers to the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the V&A Museum of Childhood is a branch of that museum, with both of them located in London. The author Halina Pasierbska was curator of Dolls' Houses and Toys there and in publishing this book is sharing years of knowledge and expertise in the magical world of dolls' houses.

There's something special about seeing the objects and furnishings of everyday life shrunken to a miniature size. The detail in replicating a couch, fireplace or cooking pot can be crude or detailed beyond belief, and they are all just begging to be played with.

History tells us dolls' houses were used as a teaching aid for servants and children of the household to learn how a house was to be organised and run, so that everyone knew their place and their role in the home. Dolls' houses from centuries ago capture life as it was at the time, and now serve as an historical snapshot into domestic life and the lifestyle of the occupants. 

Dolls' Houses from the V&A Museum of Childhood was written to compliment an exhibition at the museum and contains photographs and descriptions for some of the museum's oldest and most precious houses all the way up to the present day. My only complaint reading this book was that there weren't enough photographs for my liking. I really wanted more, and perhaps this interest would only be satiated by being present at the exhibit, but as a reader half a world away, I wanted to gain as much as I could from both the content and the colour photographs.

While many children will enjoy 'flicking through' this book, it will really appeal to mature readers, collectors, or wannabe collectors.

Highly recommended.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

RRP $32.99
23 November 2014

Winner Announced: Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell Jr

Thanks to everyone who entered my Empty Mansions giveaway, entries closed at midnight on Friday 21 November and it's time to draw the winner (drum roll):

Hols24 chose Melbourne as the best location for a luxury mansion. Here's her entry: 

Melbourne. Probably in Brighton near the beach. Then I could have huge luxury parties with French champagne and oyster stations and we could dance the night away in my grand ballroom. The views over the water would be breath taking and I would hire my mansion out for functions like weddings and other grand parties.

Congratulations Hols24, please email me with your postal address by midnight Friday 28th November and I'll send your prize to you right away; a brand new copy of Empty Mansions - The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Thanks again to all those who entered and to Allen & Unwin for supplying the prize. 

I'll be running another book giveaway soon, so stay tuned and Carpe Librum!
19 November 2014

Review: A Vision of Fire (Book One of the Earthend Saga) by Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review * 

Renowned child psychologist Caitlin O'Hara is a single mum trying to juggle her job, her son, and a lacklustre love life. 

Her world is suddenly upturned when Maanik, the daughter of India's ambassador to the United Nations, starts having violent visions. Maanik's parents are sure that her fits have something to do with the recent assassination attempt on her father - a shooting that has escalated nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan to dangerous levels - but when children start having similar outbursts around the world, Caitlin begins to think that there's a stranger force at work. 

With Asia on the cusp of nuclear war, Caitlin must race across the globe and uncover the supernatural links between these seemingly unrelated cases in order to save her patient - and perhaps the world.

My Review
I've been a fan of actress Gillian Anderson for many many years, beginning with the epic TV Show The X-Files. I went on to enjoy her portrayal of Miss Havisham in BBC's Great Expectations her roles in Bleak House and The Crimson Petal and the White and she's simply brilliant in the TV show Hannibal as Hannibal's psychotherapist.

When I heard she was teaming up with author Jeff Rovin to write a sci-fi thriller called A Vision of Fire, I was really excited.

The book starts off with a very international feel, with one of the main characters being the daughter of the Ambassador to India currently engaged in peace talks. This wasn't really essential to the main plot but added depth and suspense later on. So did the fact that the protagonist Caitlin O'Hara has a deaf son, I really enjoyed his small role and their interactions together.

There's the discovery of an artefact, which for me was the most exciting part of the novel and I would have loved to read more about this set of characters.

The first half reads as a well-written thriller and it was hard not to see Gillian Anderson as the character Caitlin in the novel. She's smart and intelligent and great at her job. The second to last third of the novel is where things really move into the supernatural themes that made The X-Files so popular. It's not that Anderson and Rovin are using themes or ideas from the show - theirs is all new material - but the explanation for the fits and visions the young characters are having is pretty 'out there', and won't appeal to all readers. In fact the climactic scene almost reads as if it were a dream (I'd love to know which of the co-authors was the primary contributor here) and felt like the scene was transcribed from memory rather than created as fiction. Strange.

I'm pretty sure there's nothing out there at the moment (in the thriller genre anyway) quite like A Vision of Fire and it's exciting to see Gillian Anderson published as an author. The ending leaves room for a sequel and this novel is Book One of the Earthend Saga, so I guess I'll be staying tuned for the next one.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
11 November 2014

Review & Giveaway of Empty Mansions - The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell Jr

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin for review *

Until I came across Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr, I had never heard of Huguette Clark and her story intrigued me right away.

With a fortune of almost $300 million dollars, this shy and reclusive American heiress spent the last twenty years of her life cooped up in a hospital room, despite being perfectly healthy.

An eccentric woman who gave $30 million dollars in gifts to her nurse and wrote cheques to others almost every day, Huguette had a love of cartoons and often watched The Smurfs and The Flintstones.

Huguette was a musician and painter at heart and owned many priceless artworks including paintings by Degas and Renoir. She also collected hundreds upon hundreds of dolls and dollhouses. Huguette owned several magnificent homes, although hadn't stayed in some of them for decades.

When Huguette Clark died at the age of 104, 19 family members tried to get their hands on her money. Paul Clark Newell Jr is a relative of Huguette and together with Bill Dedman bring us the details of this amazing woman and her life in Empty Mansions - The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.

A fascinating read which had me diving for Wikipedia to see what her dolls or mansions looked like, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Empty Mansions. If my snippets above piqued your interest at all, you'll love this one too. See below for details on how to WIN your own copy.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

Giveaway Details
To enter: to WIN your very own print copy of Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, valued at RRP $32.99, answer this question: if you could own a luxury mansion in any city in the world, where would it be? Leave your answer in a comment below to earn one entry.

Additional entries:
- Follow Carpe Librum on Google Friend Connect or subscribe by email for 3 additional entries (each)
- Follow @carpe_librum1 on Twitter for 2 additional entries
- Tweet this for 2 additional entries: I just entered to WIN a copy of #EmptyMansions by @BillDedman thanks to @carpe_librum1
- Share this article on Facebook for 1 additional entry
- 1 automatic additional entry for all existing Twitter, email and Google Friend Connect followers

Eligibility: only those with an Australian postal address are eligible to enter.

Closing date: entries close at midnight on Friday 21st November and the winner will be drawn using random.org and announced here. The winner will have 5 days to claim their prize or another winner will be drawn.

Good luck everyone!
09 November 2014

Top 5 Best Books Read In 2014

As the year is beginning to come to a close, I'd like to list the top five books I've read this year, in the hope it'll inspire others to discover them or give them as gifts for Christmas etc.

It wasn't hard to compile this list. First I looked at the all books I'd given 5 star ratings to, and from there looked for the ones I found myself telling others about.

Here's my Top 5 Books Read in 2014 listed chronologically, in the order they were read.

1. Eugenia, A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage by Mark Tedeschi QC
Eugenia, A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage by Mark Tedeschi QC book cover

In this true crime book, Australian author Mark Tedeschi, AM QC uses his extensive legal experience to take the reader through the life of Eugenia Falleni. Born a female in New Zealand in 1875, Eugenia decided to live her life as a man, dressing as a man and going by the name Eugene. In 1898, she moved to Newcastle and began her life here in Australia as a male.

Living under different names, Eugenia successfully married twice and lived every aspect of her life as a man, including conducting intimate relationships with women who had no idea of her true sexuality. In Sydney in 1920, Eugenia's life took a turn for the worse when she was charged with murdering her first wife, Annie Birkett.

I read Eugenia in April, and it's in my Top 5 list because I found myself talking about her case with others and her story really shook me.

2. Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes book cover

In May, I stayed awake reading until 5am, completely engrossed in the psychological thriller Into The Darkest Corner by ex Police Intelligence Analyst turned author, Elizabeth Haynes. The characters were compelling, the fear palpable and the suspense chilling. I was creeped out by the simplest of things (a button, a cutlery drawer) testament to just how far I was drawn into the story.

The plot was tightly crafted, the OCD angle fascinating and I really flew through the pages to find out what was going to happen.

I went on to have the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Haynes about her novels Into The Darkest Corner and Human Remains and it was great fun. You can read our interview here.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian by Andy Weir book cover

In June I read the funniest book of the year, The Martian by Andy Weir. The Martian is a science fiction novel about NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who finds himself deserted on Mars following a failed mission. His engineering and problem solving skills will make the difference between death or survival and Watney maintains a wicked sense of humour; evidenced in his online diary.

The Martian is laugh out loud funny and an absolute gem and I still remember his best jokes five months later. I'm always thrilled when I find out another friend is reading it and I keep recommending it widely.

4. The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
The Farm by Tom Rob Smith book cover

In July, the book I couldn't stop talking about was The Farm by Tom Rob Smith. With a brilliant opening scenario, (who would you believe, your mother or your father) the book was easy to talk about and I yelled out loud when the lead character decided which parent's version of events to trust.

Inspired by The Farm, I then went on to read Child 44 and to become the first Australian blogger to interview Tom Rob Smith here. Definitely one of the highlights of my year. Click here to find out for yourself.

5. The City by Dean Koontz
The City by Dean Koontz book cover

I've read at least 29 books by Dean Koontz, and easily consider him one of my favourite authors, despite never giving him a five star review. All that was set to change in July when I read his latest offering. The City is the coming-of-age story of nine year old Jonah Kirk growing up in the 1960s. It's a story of fate, luck, tragedy, family and love with a light touch of the paranormal and it's what I've been waiting to read from Koontz for years!

In The City we are given a glimpse into the life of one young boy, and the influence of his guardian, Miss Pearl and the unforgettable Mr. Nashioka, a humble tailor.


Have you read any of these novels? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment, or share some of your own favourite reads from 2014.

Carpe Librum!
04 November 2014

Review: Skinjob by Bruce McCabe

Skinjob by Bruce McCabe book cover
* Copy courtesy of Random House Books *

Skinjob is an exciting techno-thriller set in the near future from debut Australian author Bruce McCabe. Daniel Madsen is our protagonist; a Federal Agent with a small handheld lie detector unit, called to join the task force after a bombing in downtown San Francisco.

The target of the bombing was a brothel (called a dollhouse) where patrons pay to spend time with lifelike sex robots; called skinjobs because of their lifelike skin.

Skinjob includes the political landscape of the world McCabe has created, and features a religious movement that's more like a giant advertising machine than a church. The New Christian Organization of America (NeChristo) is a suspect in the bombing due to their protests against Dreamcom - the manufacturers of the skinjobs. 

NeChristo directly transmits their daily podcasts to their millions of followers by use of G-rings (cross-shaped earring that acts as a receiver and earpiece). A scary thought indeed. The descriptions of the NeChristo headquarters showed incredible imagination by the author and I wouldn't be surprised if his words inspired an architect or two in the process. I'd definitely want to visit!

Starting out as a self-published novel before being picked up by Bantam Press (Random House Books), McCabe's writing is unexpectedly polished and tight, and gives the impression of an experienced writer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thriller, with more to offer than just crime, action and suspense. There's much to consider here and the reader is entertained in the process.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
02 November 2014

Review: Pen & Ink - Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald & Wendy MacNaughton

Pen & Ink - Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald & Wendy MacNaughton book cover
* Copy from Allen & Unwin for review * 

I've noticed more and more people seem to have tattoos these days, and although I've had mine for more than 16 years, I might be thinking about getting another one.

Whether I do or not, I always enjoy looking at other tattoos and of course pondering the stories behind them. Isaac Fitzgerald is the editor at BuzzFeed Books and has put together a book of tattoos from people from all walks of life and the personal stories behind each one.  Illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, the result is Pen & Ink: Tattoos & The Stories Behind Them.

I'll admit it was unusual to read a book about tattoos without colour photographs of the artwork, but I'll admit a certain pleasure seeing the drawings of the art instead; no trouble with poor lighting or distractions from the human canvases.

Pen & Ink: Tattoos & The Stories Behind Them would make a great Christmas gift.

My rating = ***1/2

Pen & Ink: Tattoos & The Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald and Wendy MacNaughton is available from 1 November 2014, RRP $29.99.