29 May 2014

Review: Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

This isn't the cover from my Kindle
edition, but is a much better
representation of the book
When I finished reading this book (at 5am in the morning mind you), I immediately wanted to give it 51/2 stars, that's how good it is.

Into the Darkest Corner is the debut novel from Elizabeth Haynes.  She has worked in the UK as a Police Intelligence Analyst and is now an accomplished author with four books to her name.

In this one, Catherine is the protagonist and the novel is divided into two perspectives: Catherine's life a few years ago, partying with friends and falling in love with a handsome man called Lee, and Catherine now, living in fear with severe OCD and trying to recover from an abusive relationship.

It's hard to believe Into The Darkest Corner is a debut novel, it's expertly written and Haynes does a marvellous job creating tension and building up to the climax of revealing exactly what happened to Catherine.

The steps Lee takes to subdue and control Catherine - and later to scare her - are incredibly clever and creepy, and I began to understand Catherine's obsession with checking doors, locks and windows.  Her OCD is a great part of the book, and an aspect of the main character's personality I found thoroughly fascinating.

With such an engaging plot, I was a little concerned that the ending might not be a satisfying one, but I needn't have worried.  Haynes gives the reader an ending that lives up to the rest of the book, and one that had me spooked.  It was brilliant!

I recommend Into The Darkest Corner to all readers who enjoy a psychological thriller and a good scare.  A warning though: you will be compelled to continue reading long after your 'bed-time' and may end up checking your locks more than once.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
27 May 2014

National Book Bloggers Forum Sydney 2014

The first National Book Bloggers Forum was held in Sydney last week, hosted by Penguin Random House.  I wasn't able to attend but I was extremely lucky to score one of the blogger goodie bags (pictured below) given to each of the 30+ attendees.
Generous book haul from Random House Australia
The book bag contained the following books (top left to right) as well as lovely little extras like note cards, bookmarks etc:

Skinjob by Bruce McCabe
The Wrong Girl by Zoe Foster
Murder in Mississippi by John Safran
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
Stoner: A Novel by John Williams

Thanks go out to Random House Australia for the books and goodies, and for hosting such a great blogger forum.  Shelleyrae from Book'd Out attended and posted a great write-up here.  Here's hoping I can make it next year!

Carpe Librum!
25 May 2014

New Partnership with Boomerang Books

I have some exciting news to share.  I'm thrilled to announce that I've partnered up with Boomerang Books and have joined their small team of bloggers.  What does this mean?  I'll now be posting new articles (still focused on books, reading, author interviews and giveaways) over at the Boomerang Books Blog.  

What does this mean for Carpe Librum?  Nothing here at Carpe Librum is going to change, I'll still be bringing you a variety of book reviews, and the occasional author interview and giveaway.  I've also become a Boomerang Books affiliate, which means I'll be including a link to purchase the book I'm reviewing from the Boomerang Books site, and any sale as a result of your click-thru will mean I receive a small commission.

Writing for Boomerang Books is great for my profile, and I hope you'll join me by supporting this Australian owned and run company.  You can check out my first blog post for them here.
24 May 2014

Review: Pure by Andrew Miller

Pure by Andrew Miller is set in the 19th Century and takes place amidst Les Innocents, the oldest cemetery in Paris.  In 1875, the cemetery has been closed to burials for 5 years because it is overflowing with corpses and emitting a foul stench that permeates the air and taints anything growing in the ground nearby.

Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a young Engineer employed by the Minister to demolish the Les Innocents Cemetery and relocate the human remains to a secondary site outside the city of Paris.  (The location is known to us now as the Catacombs of Paris).

Jean-Baptiste struggles with the morality of the project and where to find men willing to carry out the dark task of disturbing the final resting place of thousands of Parisian occupants.  

Pure is rich in a sense of place and I really felt as though I were in Paris with the protagonist.  The descriptions of the church, the charnel houses, the graveyards and the massive organ inside the church were so evocative I was quick to build a clear picture in my mind of this grisly yet soulful place.  So much so, that when I stopped reading Pure to do some private reading about Les Innocents, the sketches were exactly what I'd pictured in my mind.  The cemetery had been operating from the middle ages until 1780, and was said to contain the remains of 2 million people.
The Holy Innocents' Cemetery, ca.1550.
The true historical nature of the subject matter is the real hero here, and it's no surprise that Pure won the Costa Book Award in 2011 for "Best Novel" and "Book of the Year."  Despite the dark content, there are several opportunities to smile throughout the novel, and here's one I'd like to share from page 51:
"He must read, work, think. He...pulls close the candle and opens his copy of Buffon's Histoire Naturelle Volume II. A piece of pale straw is his bookmark. He frowns over the  page. The taxonomy of fish. Good. Excellent. He manages an entire paragraph before the words swim away from him in black, flickering shoals..."
I loved that quote, and hopefully it gives you an insight into Andrew Miller's writing style.  Pure is not a book for everyone, it's gruesome and confronting and the smells alone might be enough to deter a brave reader, but it covers a fascinating event in history and one this reader definitely didn't want to shy away from.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

19 May 2014

Review: Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent

Stunning cover design, 
don't you think?
For some reason, I've always been fascinated by the Victorian traditions of mourning: black crepe, hair brooches, mourning jewellery, funeral etiquette and the list goes on.  (Here's a great summary of Victorian mourning etiquette from author Tracy Chevalier).

When I heard about the lead character in Christine Trent's Lady of Ashes, I just knew I had to read this book.

Set in London in 1861, Violet Morgan is married to Graham Morgan, of Morgan Undertaking.  Contrary to the social expectations of the time, Violet performs all of the duties of an undertaker; a position usually performed by men alone.  

There was plenty of funeral and mourning etiquette sprinkled throughout Lady of Ashes, but unfortunately I always 'noticed' when Trent was dropping more of her research into the tale.  Having said that, I didn't mind so much because I couldn't get enough of it.

What I did mind was the storyline about the American Civil War.  When immersing myself in Trent's gripping world of undertaking in misty London, I couldn't raise any interest in the American Civil War, which unfortunately became an important part of the plot.  The Trent Affair is also significant to the plot regarding Graham Morgan, and I couldn't understand the relevance until it became clear that the author had personal ties to this event in history.  Ultimately it explained Graham's behaviour in the novel but there could have been so many other ways to accomplish the same outcome and keep the entire story set in London.

The unexpected appearance of Queen Victoria was a very welcome addition and I was often prompted to research aspects of her life with Prince Albert (Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha), so interesting was her portrayal in the novel.  The architecture was incredibly evocative and I was happy to lose myself in this time and place; researching the buildings and locations in my own time.

The scenes in Lady of Ashes featuring Violet preparing a corpse for funeral were tender and gripping at the same time, the highlight of the novel for me.  (Oh, and her friend with the messy dressmaker shop).

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Click here to buy this book from Boomerang Books
16 May 2014

Review: Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz

Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz is book #4.5 in the Odd Thomas series.  It has been released in two ways, firstly in three volumes (#4.1, #4.2 and #4.3) and secondly collated in one volume or novella, which is what I read.

Odd Interlude follows straight on from Odd Hours, but don't worry if you don't remember the plot line (or haven't read it), the gaps are cleverly filled in for the reader along the way.

In this adventure, Odd travels a short distance to Harmony Corner where he senses evil and stops to help the citizens being held against their will.  
Annamaria is Odd's travel companion and plays a minor role in Odd Interlude.  I was keen to find out more about her, but perhaps that will come in the next book.

I was surprised there were no bodachs in the story (shadowy entities that flock to a person or area prior to death or disaster), but hopefully they'll reappear in Odd Apocalypse, the next in the series.

I've been following Odd Thomas since the very beginning of the series which is concluding this year with Saint Odd, due to be published in December 2014.  Of course, there's also the Odd Thomas movie, which was released in 2013.  Has anyone seen it or read the books?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Here's the complete series of Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz (not including graphic novels):
Book #1     Odd Thomas
Book #2     Forever Odd
Book #3     Brother Odd
Book #4     Odd Hours
Book #4.5  Odd Interlude
Book #5     Odd Apocalypse
Book #6     Deeply Odd
Book #7     Saint Odd
13 May 2014

Review: 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
* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room Advanced Reading Copies & Giveaways Program *

Born a female in New Zealand in 1875, Eugenia Falleni decided to live her life as a man, dressing as a man and going by the name Eugene. In 1898, Eugenia moved to Newcastle and began her life here in Australia as a male.

Living under several 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.

Author Mark Tedeschi, AM QC uses his extensive legal experience to take the reader through Eugenia's life, including upbringing, move to Australia, work, love life and the murder trial.

Reading about Eugenia Falleni's life was fascinating but to learn the extent she had to go to in order to keep her sexuality a secret was just heartbreaking.  When her secret was revealed she suffered harsh judgements from the public and the press was terribly cruel, calling her the man-woman.

Records from the day are referred to including: court transcripts, media articles, police reports and public records.

What I liked least about Eugenia were the brief introductory paragraphs at the beginning of significant chapters.  Historical details were provided in these paragraphs to 'set the scene' for the reader and provide an overview of what else was taking place in the world at the time.  This was completely unnecessary and a minor interruption to the flow of Eugenia's story.

What I liked most about Eugenia was the detailed follow up at the end of the book.  Various locations in Sydney had been referred to in the book including residences, places of work and public spaces and at the end Tedeschi provides an update on each of the locations and their status today.  He also provides extensive updates on the major figures in Eugenia's life (of which I was less interested) but this follow up was extremely satisfying and incredibly interesting.

In conclusion, Eugenia, A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage by Mark Tedeschi QC is an incredible and engrossing read with plenty of life lessons to learn along the way, and I highly recommend it.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
09 May 2014

HFVBT Book Blast: Puritan Witch by Peni Jo Renner

Puritan Witch by Peni Jo Renner book coverHistorical Fiction Virtual Book Tours (HFVBT) presents  Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, a fictionalised account of one Puritan family’s ordeal during the witchcraft hysteria of colonial Massachusetts. When Rebecca Eames makes one careless utterance during a verbal attack on her family, she is falsely accused of witchcraft. After her fate is decided by three magistrates, Rebecca must endure a prison sentence during which she and her fellow captives have no choice but to valiantly struggle to find humanity and camaraderie among dire conditions. 

Peni Jo Renner is the direct descendant of Rebecca Blake Eames, one of over 150 innocent people accused of witchcraft during the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692. Rebecca Eames is her ninth great-grandmother.

Publication date: September 2013, in e-book, hardcover and paperback.

Blurb: On a cold night in 1692, two young girls are caught up in the divining games of a slave woman-and then begin to act very strangely when the game goes wrong. Suddenly, Salem Village is turned upside down as everyone fears that witches may be involved. Six months later, as news of the girls' strange behavior becomes known, fear and suspicion overwhelm a nearby farming community, pitting neighbors against neighbors and turning friends into enemies. When Rebecca Eames makes one careless utterance during a verbal attack on her family, she is falsely accused of witchcraft. After her fate is decided by three magistrates, Rebecca must endure a prison sentence during which she and her fellow captives have no choice but to valiantly struggle to find humanity and camaraderie among dire conditions. In this novel based on a true story, a woman wrongly imprisoned during the seventeenth-century witchcraft trials comes full circle where she must determine if she can somehow resume her life, despite all she has endured.

Praise for Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames
"Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames is a story of the fear, suspicion, and accusations as they permeate the surrounding communities. The narration was exquisite, really painting a picture in my head and bringing to life the language of the Puritans much better than it usually is done. I loved that it was based on a true story and that the story really expands on a piece of the darkest of American history. Such a cool read!" - Katelyn Hensel, Readers' Favorite

Elegantly written, meticulously researched, and historically accurate, the author’s work rings true. … Renner’s vast talent as a writer is enhanced by the fact that she’s telling the story of her own family, completely captivating from beginning to end.” - Kelly Z. Conrad, award-winning author of Shaman

In the colonial-era tale Puritan Witch, the plight of Rebecca Eames and her family plays out against the backdrop of one of the most intriguing periods in American history.” - Julie Castillo, writer and editor

Author, Peni Renner
About the Author
Peni Renner is the author of Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, an award-winning historical novel based on the true-life account of Peni's 9th great grandmother.  The book is Renner's first published work, and follows Eames' life and struggles in 1692 Massachussetts during the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Writing historical fiction has always been a lifelong dream of mine. I was discouraged for many years after receiving multiple rejection slips, and turned to other creative outlets like crocheting, quilting and cross-stitch for many years. Then I met a 3rd cousin of mine online who is also into geneology and history. She told me we shared a common ancestor who was involved in the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692, and her story had never been told. My love of writing was rekindled and I began to research this ancestor, Rebecca Blake Eames. In August of 2012 I had the privilege of visiting her grave in Boxford, Massachusetts.

After months and months of research, writing, rewriting and revising, Puritan Witch came into being, featuring a lovely sketch done by my sister-in-law, Jane Sisk.

I have several other story ideas I am working on at the moment, all pertaining to interesting ancestors my 3rd cousin has introduced me to.  For more information please visit the Puritan Witch Facebook Page. You can also follow Peni Jo Renner on Twitter.

Click here to find out more about the Puritan Witch book blast being hosted by Historical Fiction Book Tours.
08 May 2014

Review: Is It Just Me? Confessions of an Over-Sharer by Chrissie Swan

I fell in love with Chrissie Swan while watching my first series of Big Brother way back in 2003. She always made me laugh and I dearly wished to know her and be lucky enough to call her a friend. I expect this will be the same for many Australians.

Chrissie Swan is funny, instantly likeable and a down to earth career woman, frequently making self deprecating jokes and awesome references to the 1980s.^

When I learned Chrissie Swan was releasing a book, I instantly added it to my TBR pile. I hadn't read any of her weekly columns in Sunday Life and quickly learned that Is It Just Me? Confessions of an Over-Sharer comprises all of her Sunday Life columns.

As such, Is It Just Me? is a grouping of self-contained chapters set a week apart in Chrissie's life; each tackling different topics. Chrissie brings her usual humour and talent for getting to the crux of an issue to her writing in an engaging and readable style.

Not only is Chrissie Swan a successful career woman, Mum, radio announcer and columnist, she's now a published author too. She's an inspiration to me and I highly recommend Is It Just Me? Confessions of an Over-Sharer to other readers. I think you'll find it light, funny and insightful at the same time.


My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

^ My favourite quote from Chrissie happened on air during the 3PM Pick-Up show and I forget the context now but in relation to either having a good time or a fun gathering, (something like that) she said: let's / we can "rip out the Ratcat" which had me in stitches. Few people will remember the Australian band Ratcat, but her references (this one and countless others) make me extremely nostalgic.
01 May 2014

Review: A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland

A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Blurb Excerpt
In this passionate and heart-wrenching debut novel by Irish writer Mark Mullholland, we meet Johnny Donnelly — an intense young man who is in love with books, with his country, and with the beautiful Cora Flannery. But in his dark and secret other life he shoots British soldiers: he is an IRA sniper.

With a review like that, you can't go wrong can you? IRA sniper who is in love with books and his country?  I couldn't wait to read my advance copy, but sadly, A Mad and Wonderful Thing just didn't get off the ground for me.  Upon reflection, I think I can pinpoint it to one or two things in particular.

The style of dialogue used by Mulholland in this debut novel just grated on my nerves, and purely because of the overuse of character names.  Here's an example from page 45:
'Just a guess.'
'Just a guess, Johnny?'
'Yes, Cora. Just a guess.'

And page 55:
'What is your plan, Johnny?'
'I don't have a plan, Cora'

People don't talk like that, and Mulholland does try to break up the repetitiveness of the Johnny and Cora dialogue by interchanging their surnames but it doesn't work.  I know it's a relatively minor point but it kept distracting me and hampering my enjoyment.

Moving on.  I definitely got a sense of Ireland in the novel, with many places, song lyrics, poems and Irish history mentioned throughout and lovers of Ireland will relish this.  However Mulholland uses the characters to argue the case for and against the IRA in such an obvious and clunky way that I couldn't really connect with the character's standpoint.

Every now and again you come across a book with an awesome blurb that just doesn't deliver and sadly that happened for me here; but I'm just one reader.  Having said that, A Mad and Wonderful Thing is rating exceptionally well on GoodReads, so if you read it and fall in love with with this debut novel from Ireland, I'd love to hear from you.

Recommended for fans of Ireland and Irish folklore.

My rating = *

Carpe Librum!