30 July 2015

Review: The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

As soon as I heard there was an Australian novel written from the perspective of an English medieval anchoress, I was hooked.

For those needing a refresher, an anchoress is the female version of an anchorite - a person who chooses to retire from the world and devote their life to prayer. Instead of becoming a monk or nun though, they choose to be permanently enclosed in a small cell-like structure usually built against a church. They stay there for life and in doing so, sometimes achieve saint-like status. 

The Anchoress by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader takes place in England during the twelfth century when seventeen year old Sarah decides to withdraw from her village and devote her life to worship.

In reading this richly detailed, medieval fiction novel, I wanted to know how a young woman could make such a life-changing and permanent decision, and perhaps more importantly, why.

My questions were answered, and my curiosity regarding the day-to-day life of an anchorite was satisfied too. Prior to reading this novel, I had no real idea about the conditions and routines of these holy men and women, and I was fascinated to learn just what they endured.

My only problem with The Anchoress was a disappointing ending. Having started so strongly, I was deeply invested in Sarah's spiritual and physical journey and I wanted to follow her until her death. I don't think it's a spoiler to say this wish wasn't fulfilled and I don't mind admitting I felt robbed of decades of experience and a deeper look at the long-term impact of the enclosure on Sarah's mind and body.

For the first 3/4 of the novel, I was sure this was going to be an easy 4 star rating for me, but unfortunately the ending left me wanting much much more, hence the three stars. Having said that, I have no hesitation in recommending The Anchoress to anyone whose interest was piqued reading the second paragraph of this review; just don't expect to be in for the long haul.*

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

* The quality of writing in this novel is easily up there with a Ken Follett epic, and I can't help but wonder whether the likeness to the era and subject matter left me disappointed when it wasn't a 1000 page epic. Interesting, let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with my favourite quote from the novel (14% of the way in):
"A few words from me won't touch your grief, and nor should they. Tend your grief like hard ground, and wait. One day, something will grow; there won't be an answer, but you will see you've found a way to live, and to live with death."
28 July 2015

This week's book haul - 6 books in 2 days

Latest book haul - received yesterday and today

I love getting books in the mail, but wow, I think six books in two days is a new personal record for me. I thought I'd share them with you, so from top to bottom, we have:

1. Captives by Angela Meyer, received from Inkerman & Blunt along with 3 stunning bookmarks just for liking their FB page.

2. A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens. Purchased from Boomerang Books using vouchers earned by writing for their blog. Love these clothbound editions from Penguin!

3. All The Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman, won in a competition hosted by Booklover Book Reviews. Thanks Jo!

4. The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney, courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia. When I finish reading this one, I'll have an opportunity to interview the author.

5. Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt, courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

6. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, courtesy of Simon & Schuster. I can't wait to read this one, it's about Kateryn Parr and is available to the public next month.

I usually read 1-2 books per week, so this haul will take a while to get through, and will definitely boost my TBR pile. If you're interested in any of the books pictured above, just click on the titles with hyperlinks for more info.

What are you reading this week?

Carpe Librum!
27 July 2015

Review: The Book of Speculation: A Novel by Erika Swyler

* Copy courtesy of The Reading Room * 

Simon is a librarian living in his family home on the edge of a cliff, his mother drowned when he was young, and Simon believes his father passed away afterwards from grief.

One day Simon receives an old manuscript on his doorstop, sent to him by an antiquarian bookseller, but he has no idea why.

As Simon begins to read the manuscript we find ourselves following an old American travelling carnival in a dual narrative, with Simon bringing us back to the present.

I enjoyed the chapters taking place within the carnival in the 1800s, and found Simon's chapters far less entertaining. 

About halfway through the novel I began to be annoyed by several repetitions:

- Simon's house falling into the sea due to erosion, this was referred to way too much, and I couldn't help but be annoyed with Simon for his lack of care
- continual references to tarot cards, both within the carnival and by Simon's sister 

The curse was mildly interesting, but the reason for the curse was explained over and over as if the author was afraid the reader wouldn't 'get it'. In the very same fashion, the steps Simon takes to counter the curse (and the result) was over-explained to the extent that it became redundant and a waste of words.

With such an exciting blurb, I was disappointed that the last third of the book kept going on and on and sadly it just ate away at my earlier enjoyment. Such a shame.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
26 July 2015

Winner of Princess Diaries XI: Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot Announced

Thanks to all those who entered the Meg Cabot giveaway last week to WIN a copy of Princess Diaries XI: Royal Wedding.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Friday 24th July, so without further ado, the winner is........
Catherine Goldfinch!
Congratulations Catherine, you'll receive an email shortly letting you know about your win and requesting your postal details.

I'd like to thank Pan Macmillan Australia for providing the giveaway, and I hope to be bringing you another giveaway again soon.

Carpe Librum!
22 July 2015

Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

This book was ah-mazing! There, I've said it, You by Caroline Kepnes is going to be in my Top Favourite Books of 2015, I'm sure of it.

Joe works in a bookstore and falls in love with a customer, Beck. He stalks her on social media and becomes obsessed with her, going to extraordinary lengths to control her life without her even realising it. 

Joe is the sole narrator and we experience their relationship through his eyes in such a light-hearted (and often amusing) manner that it's easy to forget that what he's doing is an invasion of privacy and against the law.

This is uber creepy, and should make us all think twice about what we share on social media and be aware of our online footprint. What sends shivers up your spine though is just how matter of fact and upbeat Joe's activity is. You isn't a dark and foreboding novel in the way that Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes is (another crime thriller with a creepy stalker); however it still packs a punch, trust me.

One minor word of warning though. When I was about half way through the novel, I was hoping - and perhaps even expecting - the narrator to shift and give the reader Beck's point of view. I was so convinced of an impending twist similar to that in Gone Girl, that I was surprised and disappointed when it didn't happen.

What I realised later though, was that You works so much better from Joe's perspective, and I'd wasted too much effort trying to anticipate the plot developments before they happened. So, let me set you straight, there is no twist in You. There doesn't need to be; this story is creepy and thrilling enough on it's own and doesn't need any tricks from the author to set it apart from those within the genre.

You by Caroline Kepnes is easily the best psychological crime thriller I've read in ages, and I can't wait to read the next in the series Hidden Bodies and follow Joe into his next obsession.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
20 July 2015

Review: The Aitch Factor - Adventures in Australian English by Susan Butler

If you've ever been interested in the history of words and phrases in Australian modern English (as well as the development of new ones), then The Aitch Factor by Susan Butler is the book for you.

Susan Butler began working at the Macquarie Dictionary as a Research Assistant in 1970 and is the current Editor; being uniquely situated to offer decades of experience on all manner of topics relating to the English language as it is spoken here in Australia.

I found myself laughing at some of the entries and observations, and Butler's sense of humour definitely shines throughout on almost every page.

She discusses the subtle differences in language between the states and territories, as well as touching on regional words and slang, which I found very entertaining.

One of Butler's roles at Macquarie is to collect new words (like firescape*), and determine when they should be added to the dictionary. Words like binge-watching, dental-tourism and facepalm seem self-explanatory and clever constructs and indicate an ever changing use of slang and buzz words.

What I found most shocking though, was Butler's stance on the apostrophe. I agree that the humble apostrophe is largely misused these days, but she believes we can do without it completely. I'd hate to see this happen, but what do you think? 

The Aitch Factor is a great read for word lovers and trivia buffs the world over.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

* Firescape means: to arrange the features of a garden (or other area of land) in a way that inhibits the spread of fire. Who knew? Source.
17 July 2015

WIN a copy of Princess Diaries XI: Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

Available July 2015
RRP $19.95
Meg Cabot is the bestselling author of the Princess Diaries series, the most popular YA series in all the land.

To celebrate the July release of the 11th adult instalment, Princess Diaries XI: Royal Wedding, I've teamed up with Pan Macmillan Australia for your chance to WIN a print copy.

From Meg Cabot, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Princess Diaries series, comes the very first new adult instalment, featuring the now grown-up Princess Mia!

Royal Wedding follows Princess Mia and her Prince Charming as they plan their fairy tale wedding - but a few poisoned apples could turn this happily-ever-after into a royal nightmare. 

About the Author
The Princess Diaries series continues to be phenomenally successful fifteen years since its first publication. After topping the US and UK bestseller lists for weeks and winning several awards, Meg Cabot was crowned the 'reigning grande dame of teenage chick lit' by The New York Times Book Review. Two films produced by Disney based on the series have been hugely popular throughout the world.
15 July 2015

Review: Stoner by John Williams (possibly my favourite book of the year)

Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House*

Stoner by John Williams is possibly my favourite book of 2015. It's the story of William Stoner, who is born into a poor farming family with little means. Touchingly, his father suggests that he attend University to study agriculture in the lead up to taking over the family farm.

Whilst at University, Stoner unexpectedly falls in love with literature and decides to put his agricultural studies - and the family farm - aside to become an academic. His relationship with his uneducated parents suffers as a result of this choice and his once close bond with them begins to fade.

We follow Stoner as he commences what will be a quiet and underwhelming career as a university academic, although his rivalry with a colleague gives way to some of the funnier parts of the novel.

His marriage is a failure and his relationship with his daughter is painful, and throughout the novel I longed for Stoner to shout or put his foot down and make a stand to improve his home life.

This is a deeply honest portrait of an average man, living an average and sometimes depressing life, but it's told with such care and beauty that I really was swept away.

I finished reading Stoner a few weeks ago and the final paragraph still makes my chest ache with sadness (similar to the ending of Cloudstreet, the one difference being I didn't cry this time, but it was close).

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

* I received this novel from Random House last year, as part of their National Book Bloggers Forum (NBBF14) and if it wasn't for this, I don't know if I'd ever have discovered Stoner on my own.
13 July 2015

Interview with J.M. Peace, author of A Time To Run

J.M. Peace author
J.M. Peace is the author of A Time To Run
J.M. Peace is the author of A Time To Run, and is stopping by Carpe Librum today on her Australian book blog tour.

Hi Jay, and thanks for joining me. Being a serving member of the Queensland Police Service, I’m interested to know how your colleagues have reacted to the news that you’re now a published author. Do they pay you out? Have any of them read A Time To Run, and did they like it?
No one’s giving me a hard time at this stage, mostly because no one really knows it’s me. I’m not sure if there’s going to be a conflict between being a cop and being a writer so I’m just pretending it’s not me. And I will continue to deny it for as long as possible. 

I have had an article that I wrote about policing pop up in my personal Facebook newsfeed, shared by police friends of mine who didn’t know that it was me who wrote it. That made me smile. 

The main character in A Time To Run is a cop named Sammi who’s kidnapped and whose disappearance is investigated by Detective Janine Postlewaite. I instantly admired both women for their independence and determination, and in Sammi’s case her clear thinking. Did you relate to one character more than the other?
Sammi is essentially a younger, smarter, better-looking version of me. I wrote her scenes by asking myself, “What would you do in this situation?” Janine, on the other hand, is an amalgamation of a couple of detectives who I know and have a lot of respect for. 

The majority of your novel takes place in the Australian bush and you made it feel so real, I was wondering if you wrote any of it outside in order to capture the essence of the outdoors so well?
No, but it’s an interesting question. Maybe I should start? I do love being outdoors. I’ve done a lot of hiking and I always try to be observant wherever I am.

I thought your novel had incredible pace, and the action kept the story moving swiftly along. It almost had the pace of a James Patterson novel; do you have any literary influences in the crime or thriller genre?
One of my favourite crime writers is Joseph Wambaugh. He was a serving police officer (in the US) when he wrote several of his novels. Although American police culture is slightly different, I love the anecdotes he peppers through his novels, and it all rings true to me.

Thanks, I might have to check him out. Can I ask what you're reading at the moment?
At the moment, I have Stephen King’s On Writing half-finished on my bedside table. It has dust on it by now. It was pushed aside in favour of Tell Me Why by fellow Aussie crime writer, Sandi Wallace. But I have been so busy with writing that I am not getting much reading done at all. 

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
My all time favourite is Lord of the Rings. Epic imaginative storytelling at its finest. I am not fussy with books. I’ll read pretty much anything that comes through my hands – books friends have written, anything my mother has finished with, something someone chooses for my birthday. If a book was good enough to be published, it’s good enough for me.

Do you have a secret reading pleasure that you’d like to share with us?
I love Dr Seuss. I initially wanted to be a children’s book author and tried (unsuccessfully) to channel him. I love word play. It’s a joy to read his stories out loud. It’s just lucky I have children as an excuse to do this. So what do you know about tweetle beetles…?

What's next? I heard there’s a sequel planned, what can you tell us about it?
The sequel was finished a couple of months ago. I’m currently wading through an extensive structural edit of it. It’s set in Angel’s Crossing and follows up with Sammi as she returns to work. She attends a suicide, but the further she investigates, the more secrets she uncovers.

Oooh, that sounds really good. Anything else you'd like to add?
I’m a little stunned by all the support and encouragement I’ve received from people like yourself, who are willing to take the time to read and talk about my book. Thank you so much to everyone for taking an interest in my story. I’m humbled. And delighted.

You're very welcome and thanks for your time Jay. Best wishes for the rest of the blog tour; I really enjoyed A Time To Run, and I’m sure many other readers will too.
09 July 2015

Review: Six Degrees - The Power of Attraction Connects Us All by Honey Brown

* Copy courtesy of Jane Curry Publishing re-branded as Ventura Press *

Let me tell you, this book is HOT HOT HOT!

Six Degrees by bestselling Australian author Honey Brown is broken down into six (hot) stand alone stories; each one a tale of sexual attraction involving different characters.

Each setting has a uniquely Australia feel about it and the chapter headings give readers a good indication of what lies ahead.

Chapter headings in Six Degrees are:
  • Threesome
  • Two Women
  • Older
  • Younger
  • Two Men
  • First Time
Each of the main characters are connected to each other by one event in their past, and I enjoyed following the breadcrumbs as their six degrees of separation (as I liked to think of them) were gradually revealed.

I have to tell you, each of these chapters/stories are very sexy and definitely made for 'hot under the collar' reading! The blurb mentions this novel is the author's first time venturing into rural romance, but I have to disagree; rural romance is never this raunchy!

Six Degrees by Honey Brown is available 1 August 2015, and I heartily recommend this well-written, exciting and racy novel to readers looking to spice up their bookshelf / life (wink wink nod nod, just turn the page).

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
04 July 2015

Blog tour and review of A Time To Run by J.M. Peace

A Time To Run by J.M. Peace book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *
A Time To Run is a tense crime thriller set in the Queensland bush featuring a cop-turned-victim and a Wolf Creek-style killer.
I'm really pleased to be part of this blog tour to promote A Time To Run by Australian author J.M. Peace.

A Time To Run is a police procedural written by a serving Australian police officer and is a fast-paced novel with action on every page.

The events in the book take place over a single weekend and this was such a tight and quick read, I found myself finishing it in record time.

What I enjoyed most of all though was the quick-thinking and problem-solving skills displayed by the victim Sammi. A police officer herself, Sammi is horrified to find herself drugged and kidnapped, but doesn't panic. Instead, she switches on her 'cop senses' and does everything she can think of to stay alive.

Sometimes when I'm reading a crime novel, I think to myself: "oh no, why don't you do this," or "that's stupid, that'll never work." This doesn't happen in A Time To Run, here I was continually thinking: "ohhhh, what a great idea" and "oh, I didn't think of that."

There is a real sense of the Australian outback in the novel and two smart and tough characters to get behind, Sammi and Detective Janine Postlewaite. A Time To Run is a debut novel for J.M. Peace, and fans of the crime and thriller genre will love this Australian offering.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Blog Tour
Check out the next stop on the #atimetorun blog tour, over at Reading, Writing and Riesling on Monday 6th July and check back here at Carpe Librum on 13th July for an interview with the author J.M. Peace
01 July 2015

Review: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

The Enchanted is a haunting and beautiful novel by Rene Denfeld, set in a maximum security prison in America. The narrator is a reclusive inmate on death row who manages to escape the harsh confines of his cell within the pages of his books.

The prison is corrupt and the living conditions are awfully harsh, which makes it even more surprising that our narrator is able to find so much beauty in what we take for granted every day.

As well as his observations on prison life, we also learn a little about some of the other inmates and staff, including: an inmate named York, the warden, a fallen priest and a death row investigator he calls 'the lady'.

We are shown prisoners who long for the release of death and those who fear death and will do anything to escape the finality of the prison oven. I found it bleakly fascinating to read about the lengths men will go to to satiate their desire for pleasure and power and the impact a lack of physical touch has on a human being.

The Enchanted is not a novel with a message about the death penalty or prison conditions, rather it's an enchanted look at love, an absence of love, abuse, violence, guilt, evil and magic.

Here's a quote from Page 3:
"Inside, the lies you tell become the person you become. On the outside, sun and reality shrink people back to their actual size. In here, people grown into their shadows." 
Author Rene Dunfeld has worked as a death penalty case investigator herself, and this experience shows in her intimate portrayal of inmates and the prison system. The inmate narrator in this literary novel is mute, which adds a further dimension to the story.

I'm confident The Enchanted will make my Favourite Reads of 2015 list, and highly recommend it to a variety of readers. It's almost impossible to believe this is Rene Dunfeld's first novel, (because it seems almost perfect) but I hope to read more from her in the future.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!