27 July 2014

Review & Giveaway: Craven by Melanie Casey

Craven by Melanie Casey book cover
*Copies courtesy of Pantera Press *

Craven by Melanie Casey is the second in the series to feature Cass Lehman, and follows directly on from Hindsight.

Just a reminder that Cass has retrocognition, and when she occupies the space where a person has died, she experiences a detailed vision of their death and in particular how they died.

In Hindsight, Cass worked closely with Detective Ed Dyson using her gift to capture a serial killer, however their budding relationship hasn't survived into Craven.

Since then, Cass has left home, started a new job and is living in the city of Adelaide looking for a fresh start.  Cass makes a welcomed new friend in Claire however she's also acquired a creepy stalker and soon needs to call on Ed for his assistance.

I loved the character development in Craven and in particular seeing Cass achieve her independence and leave the protective cocoon of her family.  It was also refreshing to discover (along with Cass) more about her gift and how she can use it.

In summary, Craven can be read as a mystery and crime novel and has an unmistakeable Australian feel.  I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in Cass' life once again and I really hope there's another planned in the series.

My rating = ****

You can WIN your own copy of Craven by Melanie Casey.

To enter: comment below and tell me where you would go (or places you'd avoid) if you had Cass' gift of retrocognition.

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

Entries close: midnight, Sunday 3 August 2014.

Winner: I'll be using random.org to select the winner and posting the results here on the blog.  The winner will have until midnight Sunday 10th August to make contact and provide a postal address.

Additional entries: any of the following will give you an additional entry in the competition:
- follow Carpe Librum on Twitter
- Tweet or retweet the giveaway on Twitter
- follow Carpe Librum via Google Friend Connect
- follow Carpe Librum via email
- Share this giveaway on Facebook
(Make sure you mention this in your entry/comment below)

Good luck and feel free to share the competition with your friends and family for more chances to WIN.
25 July 2014

Review: What Came Before by Anna George

What Came Before by Anna George book cover
* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room and Penguin Random House *

What Came Before is the debut novel from Anna George, a Melbourne based author with a background as a lawyer.

Set in suburban Melbourne, this novel about love and domestic violence has one of the best opening lines I've read all year, and it certainly sucks you in from the beginning:
“My name is David James Forrester. I’m a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife.  This is my statement.”
This psychological thriller is told in flash back sequences by David's wife Elle Nolan, as she is floating above her broken body, a victim of domestic violence.  We also hear David's perspective as he panics and tries to grapple with his foul deed.

What Came Before is an interesting and slightly disturbing insight into a seemingly normal relationship and it's steady decline.  Knowing the ending doesn't detract from the plot, and I think it's a good warning for those finding themselves in a troubled relationship.

My only problem was that I recently read Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, which is a hard hitting account of domestic violence that was a brilliant read (I wanted to give it 51/2 stars it was that good).  What Came Before was more subtle, but after reading Into The Darkest Corner two months ago, I can't help comparing my reading experiences.

If you're looking for a psychological thriller set in Australia or in Melbourne, then I highly recommend What Came Before.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
21 July 2014

Winner Announced: Murder In Mississippi by John Safran

Thanks to those who entered my true crime competition to WIN a copy of Murder In Mississippi by John Safran, the competition has now closed.

Entrants left comments sharing the true crime book they'd most like to read in the future, perhaps containing a crime not yet solved.  There were many entries, and I was surprised by how many cases were decades old.

Without further ado, congratulations to the winner: 

Katrina Morris!

Congratulations Katrina, please email me with your postal address by midnight Sunday 27th July and I'll send your prize to you right away; a brand new copy of Murder In Mississippi by John Safran.

Thanks again to all those who entered. I'll be running another book giveaway soon, so stay tuned and Carpe Librum!
18 July 2014

Review: The City by Dean Koontz

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

I've been reading books by Dean Koontz since the mid 1990s and have read 29 in total, reviewing and rating 16.  Of those 16 rated novels, the average star rating for them all is 3.06.  

The reason I'm sharing these stats is to demonstrate my ongoing enjoyment of these novels, and although I've given plenty of 4 star ratings, I've never given a Koontz novel 5 stars..... until today.

The City is the coming-of-age story of nine year old Jonah Kirk growing up in the 1960s, told by his older self.  Jonah is a young musical prodigy who loves to play the piano and lives with his mum on the fourth floor of an apartment building.

The city of the title comes in the form of the mysterious Miss Pearl, who gives Jonah advice at important times in his life and seems very otherworldly.  She tells Jonah that she is the city and all it's people and she looks over Jonah.

Jonah's father has left the family, and he befriends his Japanese American neighbour Mr. Nashioka and together they discover a fellow neighbour is up to no good and her actions could have grave consequences.  Jonah builds incredible relationships with Malcolm (who lives across the road) and his relationship with Mr. Nashioka was deeply moving.  

The City is 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! There are no monsters or great battles between good and evil, and no dog central to the plot.  But what is offered is 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.

This is easily the best Dean Koontz book I've ever read and I recommend it highly!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
17 July 2014

Interview with Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into The Darkest Corner and Human Remains

Thanks so much for joining us at Carpe Librum Elizabeth, it’s such a pleasure to have you.
I read in your bio that you’re a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) and have participated many times to commence or continue a manuscript.  What is it about NaNoWriMo that motivates you? Is it the timeline, the network of writers?
It’s both, and other things besides. When a friend first introduced me to NaNoWriMo in October 2005, I was excited by the concept straight away. It almost gave me permission to take writing seriously for the first time, and I’ll always be grateful for that. All of my published novels originated during November and I find it difficult to write at other times of the year. I always respond best to a deadline, but I think even more than that, it’s the element of competition and teamwork. In our region we have developed good friendships and everyone is very supportive when it comes to encouraging the word count.

Elizabeth Haynes
Your debut novel Into The Darkest Corner was a gripping read and I was absolutely mesmerised by the character with OCD, Catherine.  What was your inspiration for her? Do you have first hand knowledge of anyone with OCD?  (I haven’t looked at my cutlery drawer the same way since).
Without wishing to make light of what’s a very distressing condition, I think we are all somewhere on a spectrum which begins with little superstitions and runs all the way to being debilitated by obsessions and compulsions. I remember counting steps when I was a child, trying to make good things happen by being extra-diligent with certain rituals. I think for many people these little quirks tip over into OCD when they suffer some kind of trauma; when you lose control over fundamental aspects of your own life it’s not difficult to see how exercising control over the little details can begin to provide some comfort. 

Beyond my own awareness of it, a very good friend who is a clinical psychologist recommended me some good books with first-hand accounts of those who suffer from OCD, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which Catherine also experiences.

I note that the film rights for Into The Darkest Corner have been sold; do you know when it might be coming to the big screen?  Are you planning to be involved in the script or filming process?
It’s incredibly exciting that the option for Into the Darkest Corner sold really quickly to Revolution Films. I’ve become good friends with Tinge Krishnan, who is directing and writing the script for it too. Tinge completely gets what I was trying to do with the book, and it’s important to both of us that the message behind it isn’t dumbed down by the process. It may take a long time for all the pieces to slot into place but if it all comes together and is filmed I will be thrilled.

Can you tell us more about your time working as a Police Intelligence Analyst?  Are you still working for Police?
I think being an analyst really helped me make the transition from office worker to writer! It’s a job that requires creative thinking as well as attention to detail, as the analyst has to interpret intelligence in order to recommend the most effective use of police resources. I’ve always thought it would be possible to write an entire book using police documents; as evidence comes in, you build up more of the story of what actually happened when an offence was committed.

I took a career break from the police in order to write; sadly that’s come to an end now, but it does mean that I’m writing full time. Luckily I still have good friends in the police service who can check I’ve got things right.

I recently read Human Remains, and the protagonist Annabel is a civilian working for the Police in an analysis role.  Is her character inspired by your own experiences?
Yes, in quite a few ways. The job Annabel does is pretty much exactly the role I had as an Area Analyst, looking at things like burglary, criminal damage and vehicle crime and trying to spot patterns in offending behaviour. There are many analytical roles, not just in the police but further afield in the military, financial and retail services, for example. In the current economic climate analysts are often performing more than one role, and Annabel ends up working for the Public Protection Unit doing reports on sex offenders too. 

In Human Remains, Annabel receives the daily Chief Constable’s Report, and notices from that the apparent increase in her local area of people dying alone and not being found for some time. This was inspired by a real report that goes to certain officers daily, giving details of significant events over the past twenty four hours, including any unexplained or sudden deaths. We would see such cases fairly regularly – people being found in a state of advanced decomposition – and I found myself wondering what I’d do if I analysed these incidents and noted a sudden sharp increase. Would anyone be able to investigate, given that no apparent crime had been committed? And what could possibly be the cause? The whole plot came out of that idea, including the character of Colin – who may or may not be directly responsible for all these people remaining undiscovered in their homes.

Can you tell us about the research you undertake? What is some of the more unusual resource material you've consulted or research you've undertaken?  (Human Remains contains much scientific information).
I ordered a book on forensic biology for Human Remains and opened it to start my research, full of good intentions. About a minute later I put the book down, carefully removed my glasses (because I have terrible eyesight) and went through the book covering all the images with sticky paper. I can read the most gruesome details about decomposition but I cannot bear to look at it, as I’m really squeamish!

That was pretty straightforward, though. My second book, Revenge of the Tide, is about a former pole dancer who leaves her old life behind to renovate a Dutch barge, a houseboat. For that book I took pole fitness classes so that I got a sense of how physically strenuous pole dancing is. Even after six weeks I only ever got to the most basic of moves. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can invert.

What can you tell us about your writing area?  I read in your bio that you used a second hand typewriter from the age of 13; do you still have it? 
You know, it may well be in my Mum’s house somewhere. I hope it is. It was supposed to be portable but it weighed the same as a small car.

These days I have a writing shed in the garden (which is small, so the shed takes up half of it). I have everything I need in there – a coffee machine, laptop, music and company in the shape of my Spanish rescue dog, Bea. If I find myself procrastinating too much I go to a coffee shop which usually helps my focus. I think it comes from so many years working in an open-plan office, it’s easy to be distracted when you’re on your own.
Elizabeth recommends
The Night Watchman
by Richard Zimler

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished two excellent books – The Second Footman by Jasper Barry, about intrigue, love and machinations above and below stairs in 19th Century France; and The Night Watchman by Richard Zimler, about a most unusual detective uncovering corruption at the highest level in contemporary Portugal. Both of them very highly recommended.

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I’ve always loved reading crime, and I have particular favourites that I will always buy as soon as a new book comes out. These include John Harvey, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Mo Hayder and Stuart MacBride. They are all geniuses and I am, and will remain, in awe of them.

Do you have any literary influences?
I was influenced by studying Literature at A level and University (I studied English, German and Art History), and realised the beauty and perfection of good writing whilst reading Jeanette Winterson, T S Eliot, Orwell, D H Lawrence and countless others. The trouble with that was that these writers became god-like to me; as much as I loved writing myself, it felt like what they achieved with their words was on a completely different, and insurmountable, plane to what I was doing with my hefty little typewriter. As a result I never even considered the possibility of publication one day for myself, and never bothered to show anyone what I was writing.

I am happiest when…?
…I am about to start a new story in November! So full of promise! So intriguing, too. By that point in the year I will have an idea of what I’m going to write, without planning it. There will be some challenge or mystery that I will investigate during the writing process. But before it all starts I find the excitement building, because I want to find out what happens and the only way to do that is to write it.

What's next? Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I am editing my fifth book, which is the second in a police procedural series – the first book in the series is called Under a Silent Moon and it came out earlier this year. After that, I have an idea of the third book which I will write in November. I also have a couple of books half-finished, which are different genres and therefore a bit experimental for me. I am easily bored so I use these projects to dip in and out of, until the inspiration returns for the main book I’m working on. Occasionally I write a bit of fan fiction, too, just for fun.

What would you like to tell your readers?
If you want to write, go right ahead and do it. Don’t let anyone, including your own inner voice, tell you not to bother. Write because it’s fun, and if you’re enjoying the process then the results will be better too.

I’m always trying to recruit people to write more; because it almost feels like a hobby you have to permit yourself to do. It feels very self-indulgent to go off and write for a few hours, but it shouldn’t be. I think more readers would be writers too but they stop themselves because there is this pressure to be a ‘good’ writer. I don’t think any successful author was ‘good’ when they first started. The successful authors are the ones who just wrote and wrote because it was fun, and sooner or later it turned into a career when they weren’t paying attention.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Just to say thank you so much for asking me these fabulous questions! It’s a great honour to be asked to do something like this, and I’m most grateful. 

Thanks so much Elizabeth!  Click on these links to buy Into The Darkest Corner and Human Remains from Boomerang Books.
13 July 2014

Review: Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz

Odd Apocalypse is the fifth book in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz and follows directly on from Odd Interlude.

Odd and his pregnant companion Annamaria, are staying at Roseland Estate by invitation of the billionaire owner.  Staying in the guest tower Odd gets the feeling that something isn't right and soon discovers a boy who needs his help.

With less horror and more science fiction, Odd Apocalypse is a good story, but I can't help but feel (as Odd does) the inevitable pull to the end of the series; and possibly Odd's life.

My favourite quote from the book which demonstrates the Koontz style and sense of humour is an excerpt as follows:
"The chef was intent upon adding to a pile of eyes on the cutting board beside the sink, where he was blinding several pounds of potatoes before peeling them."

With the final book in the series - Saint Odd - due out in December 2014, I've been making good progress through the series this year.  To be honest though, I would only recommend reading Odd Apocalypse if you've been following the series.  It would be unsatisfying to read it in isolation.

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
11 July 2014

Review: Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

After being absolutely captivated by Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes recently, I wanted to enjoy more of her writing and picked up Human Remains soon after.

Human Remains is considerably darker than Into The Darkest Corner, and bears no resemblance to her debut novel; which is a pleasant and refreshing discovery in the world of books.

This time the protagonist is Annabel, a female Police Analyst who begins to notice an exceeding number of decomposing bodies being discovered in their homes.  In each case, the deceased had slowly withdrawn from society before they died and wasn't missed.

The novel is told from the perspectives of Annabel and Colin (sociopath and bad guy) as well as short segments from the deceased themselves.  This makes for a fascinating read that really kept me on the edge of my seat.

It's clear the author has studied the science of human decomposition and Neuro Linguistic Programming (no more for fear of spoilers) in order to write the villain's first person perspective, and it's done extremely well.  Colin is a despicable man and his methods of suggestion and persuasion are downright scary.

Human Remains delicately raises the point that we no longer know our neighbours and aren't as friendly as we once were.  The main reason for this is probably personal safety, but while reading Human Remains I couldn't help but reflect on these topics.

Human Remains is a real page-turner and a great crime novel with a difference.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Exciting news, I'll be interviewing the author Elizabeth Haynes here on Carpe Librum soon, so watch this space.
09 July 2014

Giveaway: Murder In Mississippi by John Safran

WIN a copy of Murder in Mississippi
by John Safran
I thoroughly enjoyed Murder In Mississippi by John Safran and now you have the chance to enjoy it too.

John Safran is a fan of true crime, so for your chance to win, you'll need to comment below and tell us which crime you'd be interested in reading about.  This is a hypothetical question, so think about crimes that haven't been solved yet that you'd like to learn the truth about.

I'll start things off by sharing that I'd love to read a true crime book about the Beaumont children and learn their whereabouts.

I'd also like to read a true crime book about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, if indeed there was a crime at the heart of the mysterious disappearance.

Up for grabs is a brand new copy of Murder In Mississippi by John Safran for one lucky Carpe Librum reader.

To enter: comment below and tell me which true crime book you'd like to read (see explanation above).

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

Entries close: midnight, Sunday 20 July 2014.

Winner: I'll be choosing the winner based on your responses. The winner will have until midnight Sunday 27th July to make contact and provide a postal address.

Good luck to you all and feel free to share the competition with your friends and family for more chances to WIN.
05 July 2014

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

*Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

The Martian by Andy Weir is the best science fiction novel I've read in years; probably since giving Eifelheim by Michael Flynn 4.5 stars in 2009.  (Click here to read that review).

The martian of the title is NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who finds himself deserted on Mars following a failed mission saw his team depart the planet thinking him dead.

Mark's skills and knowledge as an engineer paired with his incredible problem solving ability leads to all kinds of schemes in his attempt to survive.  His observations and sense of humour is 'laugh out loud' funny and I found myself wanting to read out snippets and share the humour with anyone who was around.

I adored the level of science in the novel and while there was a lot, it was explained in layman's terms and I certainly didn't feel out of my depth -  not being a science fiction devotee.

There's an element of MacGyver in the novel and if you enjoyed the TV show, then you'll definitely fall in love with the ingenuity of Watney in his lonely predicament.

The only downer was the ending.  Clearly when you're in love with a book you don't want it to end, however that aside, I did feel The Martian ended a little abruptly and prematurely.  I wanted to know more about 'what happened after' and while I'd like to think there was going to be a sequel, I really don't think there will be.  The story definitely ends, but I was left wanting to linger a little longer.

I recommended this book to my husband, and it's the first book in 10+ years that we've both enjoyed; no doubt due to the overlap of our interests and plentiful humour. I've just learned that Twentieth Century Fox optioned the film rights and that Matt Damon might play the protagonist, Mark Watney.  Wow, I can't wait for this one!

It's a no-brainer for me to give The Martian 5 stars and I recommend it widely to a range of readers; especially to those who don't browse the science fiction shelves often.  This is a pure gem and a funny and entertaining read. (And there are no aliens, just in case you were wondering).

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!