28 March 2014

Review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

Historical Fact
The Mary Celeste was a merchant ship and on 5 December 1872 it was discovered abandoned in calm waters in the Indian Ocean and sailing towards the Strait of Gibraltar.

There was no sign of the crew despite plenty of food and water on board and no signs of foul play; although one of the lifeboats was missing.  The crew's personal belongings and valuables were undisturbed and their disappearance is one of the greatest maritime mysteries in the world.

When I first learned about the publication of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin, I was over the moon ecstatic!  The mystery of the Mary Celeste has fascinated me for years and I couldn't wait to find out how the author would tackle the mystery.  Would she provide an answer to the mystery? Would she suggest pirates, mutiny, drunkenness or some other calamity? I couldn't wait to find out and my expectations were sky high.

My review
This isn't a novel about the Mary Celeste so much as a novel about characters related to the crew members of the ship.  Those expecting a novel documenting the ship at sea with the climax of the crew's disappearance and perhaps subsequent enquiry are in for a major disappointment.  

We hear from Sarah, the Captain's wife aboard the Mary Celeste at the time of the ship's demise.  We also hear from Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned a make believe account of the Mary Celeste a few years after the mystery, heightening the popularity of the maritime mystery and increasing his own notoriety.

The novel includes a great deal about spiritualism of the era, spearheaded by renowned medium and clairvoyant Violet Petra who is being investigated by reporter Phoebe.  Violet's lifestyle and lonely existence was fascinating however I was frustrated by the weak link to the Mary Celeste.

I also read The Ghost of the Mary Celeste during the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 which further heightened my senses for the mysterious and unexplained.  

The ill-fated Mary Celeste
Despite this historical novel being very well researched it failed to meet even my modest expectations.  I've since concluded that I was yearning for a different book; one that hones in on the mystery, the ship's curse and takes the reader through their version of what happened.

As such, it pains me to admit, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste was an average read for me.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
26 March 2014

Review: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Pandora is a successful businesswoman, married to Fletcher and step mother to his two children.  In the last few years Fletcher has become a health nut, heavily into cycling. Meanwhile Pandora loves to cook and once ran her own catering business so Fletcher's aversion to food is getting on her nerves.

Pandora's brother Edison is a jazz musician and when she learns he's been experiencing a run of bad luck she agrees to let him stay with her family for a while.  When Pandora arrives at the airport to pick him up she's shocked to find her once handsome brother is now morbidly obese and can barely walk.

Fletcher (health fanatic) and Edison (foodaholic) inevitably clash and what ensues is a fascinating look at family dynamics, social etiquette and relationship loyalties.

Check out this blurb excerpt from GoodReads:

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.  Source: GoodReads

I was gripped by the characters and the plot although there was an overload of jazz content at times, forgivable because it's all Edison talks about.  Lionel Shriver had me in the palm of her hand until an unexpected turn towards the last quarter of the novel.

Without spoiling it, the change in direction left this reader feeling betrayed and a little cross.  Would I recommend Big Brother to other readers after this?  Maybe not, but am I glad I read it? Definitely.  This swing in my enjoyment levels makes it hard for me to give Big Brother a star rating, but I've settled on 'good read'.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
23 March 2014

HFVBT Book Blast & Giveaway: One Thousand Porches by Julie Dewey

HF Virtual Book Tours is thrilled to introduce you to author Julie Dewey's historical novel One Thousand Porches!

A heart warming story about family, love, and perseverance, One Thousand Porches chronicles the lives of tuberculosis sufferers and their family members at a sanatarium in Sarnac Lake, NY. A beautiful story that is meant to inspire and uplift readers through the cast of characters that are genuinely kind human beings, readers have called One Thousand Porches "illuminating" and "historically significant". Down the Kindle Ebook for FREE on March 20th!

One Thousand PorchesIn celebration of the release of One Thousand Porches we are giving away 2 paperback copies and a $25 Amazon Gift Card.

One Thousand Porches
by Julie Dewey

Publication Date: November 1, 2013
Formats: Ebook, Paperback

Set in the majestic yet untamed Adirondack Mountains of New York more than a century ago, an extraordinary story unfolds about a little known town called Saranac Lake.

The town is home to a man with a disease known as consumption, white plague, or as some called it, the red death. It is here that Doctor Edward Livingston Trudeau finds a hopeful cure for tuberculosis in the form of open air. Trudeau’s patients vary in age, gender, class, and race, but they have one thing in common. They must all choose to embrace life, even in the face of death, if they wish to heal at the Sanitarium.

Christine, a woman at the helm of her family, has already lost two children to the dreaded plague. But when her daughter, Collette, contracts the disease, she is determined to keep her alive. Venturing into unknown territory, Christine risks her own health and that of her unborn child, as well as her marriage, to help her daughter seek a cure that to many is absurd. Christine embarks upon a life-changing journey as she moves from caregiver to patient. In the face of adversity she must find the courage to sustain herself. When Lena, a factory worker and mother of three, begins coughing up blood she is faced with a decision no mother wants to make. She either stays with her family and risks her own death, or leaves her loved ones behind while she goes off in hope of a cure at the Sans. Big Joe, once a strong man for a traveling circus, seeks a quiet place to live out his final days in hiding. When he is sent to the Sanitarium, he is terrified to learn he will be housed with fellow circus performers for he is a hunted man. Gaunt and thin, he can only hope no one from his past recognizes him in his current state. Little Amy, a six year old child, must care for her entire family of seven, all whom are afflicted with different forms of plague. When she is diagnosed with a very rare form herself, she is sent to the Sanitarium and put under the care of Dr. Trudeau. Alone and afraid, Amy faces her fears and allows herself to dream of a future.

With a cast of characters so vivid, One Thousand Porches is a heart warming and engaging story that will instill hope and faith in even the most pessimistic reader.

Read an excerpt

Chapter 1 Pittsford, NY 1885

The sputum most likely crossed the hearth of our large country estate in Pittsford, New York on the scalloped hem of my favorite green velvet dress. The flattering ensemble with the well fitted bodice and bustle below my waist in the back. I was told this by my husband, James Lyndon, who made me watch while he set the garment to burn in our grate, the embers coursed thru the fabric destroying the residue left from a lungers hacking.

Consumption was a poor man’s disease, it was inconceivable that it gained entry into our pristine home miles outside the village by any other means. James had no one else to hold responsible for his son’s suffering so the burden of blame was mine in his eyes. I had ventured into town for groceries and fabric, as well as lunch with the ladies several times over the course of the month. I dare not remind my husband, but he ventured far more places than I did.

My husband could not bear witness as his sons flesh was consumed, his lungs gurgling and dissolving as he gasped and choked for air. All Henry’s strength and will were sapped from his body as he withered away in isolation. His soul leaving us for heaven mere weeks before his 18th birthday celebration this October. I was given no choice but to accept the guilt that Henry would never attend college, or marry and have children. James placed the blame squarely upon my shoulders and defiantly closed me out from our bedroom and from his affections, punishing me for the death of our first born son.

Typically solid and stoic to a fault, James became maniacal for a short time immediately following Henry’s death. Frenzied, he set off on a tirade where he emptied gown after gown from my closet along with dress coats, shoes, scarves and gloves, immersing them all in the raging blaze to be destroyed. James wasted no time, and stormed through the house ripping sheets and pillowcases off beds, kitchen aprons from hooks and even the old fraying rags under our sink that we stored for cleaning, were all set to burn.

“James, I beg of you, you cannot burn our entire wardrobes, we will have nothing left!” I screamed in a panic, trying to get through to him, but knew I could not be heard for his empty eyes did not meet mine but instead flickered across the house, leaping from object to object in search of anything else he missed, telling me in short, he was momentarily insane.

Amidst my pain and suffering I took great measures to prevent the bacteria from infecting the rest of us, beginning with scouring the house daily to an immaculate state until my fingers cracked and bled. In the evenings my gentle daughters slathered my hands, one finger at a time, with petroleum jelly and wrapped them in strips of cotton in order to heal. All of my remaining dressing gowns, the ones set aside to be tailored that James missed as he ransacked the place, as well as Collette’s and Emma Darlings were hemmed to mid-calf so as not to risk contact with the ground. Lucas and Daniel, our two remaining boys wore trousers that did not drag but I feared the disease and their fathers instability so intensely now that I made them take off their shoes on the porch and wipe the soles with rags dipped in boiling water the moment they got home from school. Then the rags were burned in our outdoor fire pit.

We were told the disease could lay dormant for months or years even, causing even more panic, and so the fires raged and our old shifts were ripped to make rags to use for boiling and cleaning purposes.

The disease known as consumption, white plague, the red death, or tuberculosis was especially harmful to anyone with an already compromised immune system, such as our Collette with her weakling lungs. It was spreading like wildfire across the nation and was being touted as the most fatal disease known to man, far surpassing typhoid and scarlet fever in its death toll. Taking nearly one in every seven Americans or four hundred souls daily. It took no prejudice in who it afflicted either. The elderly as well as children, men and women, black and white, poor and wealthy were disposed of but most often it was young adult males in the prime of their life, like our Henry, falling prey.

Doctors were perplexed by the spread of the disease, some believed it was developed based on the patient’s constitution, either physiologically or psychologically and therefore didn’t believe it could be spread. Along the same lines other scientists and researchers believed it to be hereditary and therefore took no precautions against it. Still others thought it was airborne spread from spitting, coughing, laughing, sneezing, and even talking. It was thought it could also be transferred from bodily fluids such as pus and bowel discharge. Doctors encouraged everything from wearing beards for the men to prevent the germ from entering their orifices, to eating nothing but diets rich in meat and dairy.

“I tell you Christine, this disease is contagious. We must be vigilant over our hand washing, and we shall each bathe nightly in separate water.” James spoke to me through his fog of grief.

Julie DeweyAbout the Author

Julie Dewey is a novelist who resides with her family in Central New York. Her daughter is a singer/songwriter, and her son is a boxer. Her husband is an all-around hard working, fantastic guy with gorgeous blue eyes that had her falling for him the moment they met.

In addition to researching and writing she is an avid reader. She is also passionate about jewelry design and gemstones. She loves anything creative, whether it be knitting, stamping, scrapping, decoupaging, working with metal, or decorating.


To enter to WIN one of the following prizes, please complete the Rafflecopter form.

2 – Paperback copies of One Thousand Porches
1 – $25 Amazon Gift Card

Giveaway will run from March 17-28. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on March 29 and notified via email.
Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
17 March 2014

Review: Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

A sculptor of the macabre. A sorcerer of wax. A criminal. A runaway.

Set in Florence blighted by corruption and austerity, Secrecy is a tour de force of whispered pleasures and startling revelations.  It is a scintillating, breathtaking read from a novelist at the height of his powers.

My thoughts
With a blurb like that, I was hanging out to read Secrecy by Rupert Thomson and picked up a copy for just $8.00 in a book sale.

Such a magnificent premise: an artist working in wax in Florence in the 1690s, obsessed with the plague and making wax figurines depicting the suffering of the human race.  His dark matter attracts the attention of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who asks him to create a commission that is daring, never been done before and could cost the protagonist his life.

Somehow, the novel just didn't 'get there' for me.  If anything, I felt as though Thomson was holding back dark aspects of character in case it made the protagonist unlikeable.  I was also holding out for a scene featuring the Grand Duke with his commission that never took place.

Such a disappointing read when I was looking forward to it so much.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
11 March 2014

Congratulations to the Winner of the just_a_girl Giveaway

Thanks to all those who entered my just_a_girl giveaway this month, there were some creative internet handles and author Kirsten Krauth enjoyed reading through all of your entries.
Mary Preston has won
this signed copy of
just_a_girl by
Kirsten Krauth.

It gives me great pleasure to announce the winner is....

Mary Preston

If Mary were a young teenager communicating in an online chat room today, her internet handle or nick name would be Angel Wings. Mary has been entering my giveaways for a long time so it's wonderful to see her name come up!

Mary, please email me your postal address by midnight Friday 21 March* and I'll send your autographed copy of just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth (pictured right) to you - along with introductory letter - right away.

* (If I don't receive your postal address by midnight 21 March a new winner will have to be drawn).

Happy reading and Carpe Librum!
07 March 2014

Review: The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley attracted my attention by its presence on so many 'books about books' or 'books for booklovers' lists that I decided to give it a go.

Roger Mifflin is the owner of a second hand bookstore, aptly named 'The Haunted Bookshop' because he is haunted by the ghosts of the books he hasn't read.  Sadly, this is where the brilliance ended for me.

There were many opportunities during the slim novel for Mifflin to spout on about the importance and art of the bookseller, the significance of books and reading and his belief that if only the population would read certain (mentioned) books, there would never be another Great War in the world.

Incidentally, I only realised after finishing The Haunted Bookshop that it was published in 1919.  This was a complete surprise to me as it truly felt like an historical fiction novel, not one written almost 100 years ago.

Mifflin mentions so many books and written works throughout The Haunted Bookshop that I alternated between feeling illiterate and ignorant and believing the protagonist (if not the author himself) was a bit of a snob.

I did however, enjoy the following quote immensely:

"It saddens me to think that I shall have to die with thousands of books unread that would have given me noble and unblemished happiness."  Pages 153-154

I also learned two new words on page 202:
  1. bibliosoph is 'someone who knows about books.'
  2. Bibliomania is 'an excessive fondness for acquiring and possessing books'.

Despite these pearls, the novel's sole purpose seemed to be giving a voice to Roger Mifflin and his world of books and bookselling.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
03 March 2014

Review & Giveaway: just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

* From author for review *

just_a_girl is like no other book I've ever read.  Written by Australian author Kirsten Krauth, it's been described as: "Lolita with a webcam" or "Puberty Blues for the digital age," and now that I've read it, I'd have to agree.

Set in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, just_a_girl is about fourteen year-old Layla, her religious mother Margot and a stranger on the train, Tadashi.

Layla is provocative, daring, reckless and a tease.  (The scene involving a Chup a Chup on a train has haunted me, and I don't think I'll ever look at one the same way).  At times I didn't like Layla's provocative and promiscuous behaviour and at other times she made me laugh out loud or hot under the collar.  She was both naive and mature at the same time, and the writing in her chapters was fast-paced and chock full of YA language.

Contrastly, Layla's mother Margot has no idea what her daughter is up to, and is primarily occupied with her Church and pastor.  Her sentences are long and wistful, and it's clear she hasn't recovered from her divorce after learning her husband was gay.

Tadashi has seen Layla on the train, and the reader is given a glimpse of his lonely and solitary life.  We soon learn that he is purchasing a companion doll (or Love Doll) from Japan to have a relationship with.  The chapters narrated by Tadashi were fascinating, and I could easily have spent the entire novel with him on his personal journey.

Not since reading Tim Winton last year, have I come across an author so eager to break the usual rules regarding dialogue and grammar, but Krauth does it successfully in just_a_girl, and it works.

Unlike other novels, just_a_girl doesn't seem to be heading towards a point in time or a particular event.  The author switches between the lives and perspectives of the three protagonists with seemingly no overarching plot set to crash together.  There is an overlap of consequences between Layla and her mother, and Layla and Tadashi at the end, but I'll leave that to the reader to discover on their own.

just_a_girl  is confronting and shocking and contains teenage sexual activity.  If I had a teenage daughter I'd be terrified after reading this debut novel from Kirsten Krauth, but perhaps that's the point.

I'd like to add a personal caveat to my star rating if I may: I would recommend  just_a_girl for readers aged 16 and over.  The novel isn't restricted by the publishing industry, it's just my own personal suggestion.

My rating = ****

Thanks to the generosity of Kirsten Krauth, I have an autographed copy of just_a_girl to give away to one lucky Carpe Librum reader.
Autographed copy of
just_a_girl by
Kirsten Krauth
up for grabs!

To enter: just_a_girl is an internet handle, alias or nickname. To enter this giveaway, what is/was your own internet handle or what would it be if you were a young teenager communicating in an online chat room today?

Eligibility: this giveaway is open to those with an Australian postal address only.
Entries close: midnight, Monday 10th March 2014.

Winner: will be chosen by random.org and announced no later than midnight Friday 14th March 2014.  The winner has until midnight Friday 21st March to make contact and provide a postal address.

Additional entries: those who Tweet about this giveaway (or RT), sign up to follow Carpe Librum by Google Friend Connect or via email after this post will receive an additional entry in the competition.  (Make sure you mention this in your comment/entry).

Good Luck everyone and thanks to Shelleyrae from Book'd Out for the introduction to Kirsten!

N.B. I forgot to mention that just_a_girl contains the most amazing description of a woman giving birth that I've ever read/heard.  It had me puffing at the end!