30 December 2015

Completed Aussie Author Challenge 2015

I successfully completed the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 hosted by Booklover Book Reviews and had to read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors; (at least 4 female and 4 male authors; at least 4 new authors; at least 6 fiction, 2 non-fiction and a minimum of 3 titles published in 2013 or 2014).

I actually read 18 books for the challenge, in the following order:

1.  Wild Wood | Posie Graeme-Evans

2.  Looking for Alibrandi | Melina Marchetta
3.  The Embroiderer | Kathryn Gauci
4.  A Time To Run | J.M. Peace
5.  Six Degrees | Honey Brown
6.  The Anchoress | Robyn Cadwallader
7.  The Aitch Factor - Adventures in Australian English | Susan Butler
8.  The Beast's Garden | Kate Forsyth
9.  Sweet Wattle Creek | Kaye Dobbie
10. Swimming To The Moon | Robert Drewe
11. The Patterson Girls | Rachael Johns
12. The Lake House | Kate Morton
13. The Olmec Obituary | L.J.M Owen
14. The Sting - The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe's Killer | Kate Kyriacou
15. The Messenger | Markus Zusak
16. Musings from the Inner Duck | Michael Leunig
17. All That Is Lost Between Us | Sara Foster (reviewing in January 2016)
18. Australia's Most Murderous Prison: Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail | James Phelps

What Aussie books did you discover or enjoy this year? Click here if you want to join in next year.

Carpe Librum!

Top 5 Favourite Books of 2015

It's the end of another reading year, and I thought I'd share my Top 5 Favourite Books of 2015 with you. Here they are, listed in the order I read them.

1. Stoner by John Williams

Read in July this year, I flagged it then as possibly my favourite book of the year, and I wasn't far wrong.

Stoner 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 was completely swept away.

The final paragraph still makes my chest ache with sadness six months later and I'll always cherish this book. Interestingly I haven't recommended though, perhaps because it won't be a book for everyone.

2. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

Read in August (courtesy of Simon & Schuster) 
The Taming of the Queen is about the life of Kateryn Parr, the sixth and final Queen of King Henry VIII. Told in the first person by Kateryn (the story begins in 1543 with a widowed Kateryn soon to become Queen), I was transported to the court of King Henry VIII in the expert hands of historian and author Philippa Gregory.

Technically the 7th in the Tudor Court series, I heartily enjoyed The Taming of the Queen.

3. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Read in September (courtesy of Scribe Publications) and shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, I had a complete author crush on Chigozie Obioma after finishing his debut The Fishermen.

Set in 1990s Nigeria, I found myself telling others about the captivating premise: four brothers are given a prophecy from a local madman that the eldest will die at the hands of one of his brothers.

The impact of the prophecy on each of the brothers and their family is the essence of the novel, and it held me spellbound the entire time. I was so disappointed Chigozie Obioma didn't win the Man Booker but I can't wait to see what he'll write next.

4. Snail Mail by Michelle Mackintosh

From literary greatness to a fun craft book, I fell in love with Snail Mail by Michelle Mackintosh in November.

Essentially a book about re-discovering the art of sending snail mail and full of inspirational ways to beautify your mail, I was enthralled and inspired; not hard given I already love stationery and send quite a lot of snail mail.

My review of Snail Mail has been popular on GoodReads, with several other readers also picking up the book and falling in love with it after seeing my review. There's no better feeling :-)

5. The Messenger by Markus Zusak

Finally the last in my Top 5, I read The Messenger this month, and have been trying to press it into a few hands since then.

It's been on my radar for a while, but it was bumped up the list when I needed to read one more book by an Australian male in order to complete my Aussie Author Reading Challenge for the year.

In doing so, Markus Zusak took me on an unexpected journey that lit up my soul and made me laugh while asking me to consider my surroundings in a completely new way. Brilliant!

Have you read any of the books mentioned above? What was your favourite read from 2015?
29 December 2015

Completed 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

This year I participated in the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge and needed to read 10 books by Australian women and review at least 6 of them to successfully complete the Franklin level. Here's what I read (in order):

1.  Wild Wood | Posie Graeme-Evans

2.  Looking for Alibrandi | Melina Marchetta

3.  The Embroiderer | Kathryn Gauci

4.  A Time To Run | J.M. Peace

5.  Six Degrees | Honey Brown

6.  The Aitch Factor - Adventures in Australian English | Susan Butler

7.  The Anchoress | Robyn Cadwallader

8.  The Beast's Garden | Kate Forsyth

9.  Sweet Wattle Creek | Kaye Dobbie

10. The Patterson Girls | Rachael Johns

11. The Lake House | Kate Morton

12. The Olmec Obituary | L.J.M Owen

13. The Sting - The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe's Killer | Kate Kyriacou

14. All That Is Lost Between Us | Sara Foster (reviewing in January 2016)

Thanks to the many Australian book bloggers who organise this challenge and I look forward to taking part again in 2016.

Carpe Librum!

Review: Australia's Most Murderous Prison - Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail by James Phelps

Goulburn Jail is the toughest jail in Australia and Australian journalist and author James Phelps did a thorough job of convincing this reader that it's a hell on earth in Australia's Most Murderous Prison - Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail.

Gaining unprecedented access to prison staff (some of whom asked to remain anonymous), Phelps has lifted the lid on racial clustering, murder, rape, the rampant drug trade and despicable behaviour that goes on inside the country's toughest prison.

I was surprised by the lengths some visitors and guards will go to in order to smuggle contraband into the prison, and that efforts to stop them are largely thwarted by the fierce determination of the prisoners to get what they want. Despite being a little 'grossed out' at times, I was equally fascinated to learn the gory details and in doing so, now understand just what the prison system is up against. It really does seem like a losing battle in some regards.

Phelps sometimes employed a storytelling narrative to make the facts come alive - in a writing style known as narrative nonfiction - but there didn't seem to be a pattern to this and so it felt a little jarring to me at times.

Having said that, I have a new found respect for some of the guards that keep us safe from these criminals and recommend Australia's Most Murderous Prison - Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail for readers of true crime or those with an interest in Australian crime and the justice system.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
28 December 2015

Completed 2015 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

This year I participated in the 2015 Nonfiction Reading Challenge hosted by the Introverted Reader for the first time. To complete the Seeker level I had to read between 11-15 non fiction books in 2015.

Here's what I read (in order):

1.  1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop | John Lloyd & John Mitchinson

2.  War Diaries: A Nurse at the Front - The First World War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton | Edith Appleton

3.  Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits and Wordsmiths | Mardy Grothe

4.  The Aitch Factor - Adventures in Australian English | Susan Butler

5.  Hark! A Vagrant | Kate Beaton

6.  Pro Resumes Made Easy | Andrea Drew

7.  Children Who Have Lived Before: Reincarnation Today | Trutz Hardo

8.  Swimming To The Moon | Robert Drewe

9.  Love Letters of Great Men by Ursula Doyle

10. Snail Mail: Rediscovering the Art and Craft of Handmade Correspondence | Michelle Mackintosh

11. Humans of New York | Brandon Stanton

12. The Sting - The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe's Killer | Kate Kyriacou

13. Australia's Most Murderous Prison: Behind the Walls of Goulburn Jail | James Phelps 

I enjoyed this reading challenge and covered a variety of topics. 

What non-fiction books did you read this year?

Carpe Librum!
22 December 2015

Review: The Countess' Captive (Book Two in the Fairytale Keeper Series) by Andrea Cefalo

Downloaded for free during an Amazon promotion, The Countess' Captive is the second novel in the Fairytale Keeper series by Andrea Cefalo.

I read and reviewed the first in the series (The Fairytale Keeper) and I was keen to find out what would happen when Adelaide was forced to leave her home town together with her father, and move in with her new step-mother.

An historical fairytale re-telling of sorts, The Countess' Captive was a very pleasant and entertaining read, and although there was no more shoe-making (boo!) I was instead held captive by Adelaide's reluctant adjustment to her elevated position and new surroundings.

Suitable for YA readers and those who enjoy fairytale re-tellings or just a well-written historical fiction novel. (And don't you just love the font on the cover?)

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
20 December 2015

Winner of The Butterfly Enigma by Lorraine Campbell Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's Friday Freebie to win a copy of The Butterfly Enigma by Australian author Lorraine Campbell and to JAM PR for providing the copy.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Friday 18th December, and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations go to.....


Woohoo!! Jools, you'll receive an email shortly advising you of your win, and as soon as you've provided your postal address, I'll post your prize out to you.

Thanks and stay tuned for more giveaways coming soon.

18 December 2015

Review: The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

A novel featuring an antiquarian bookseller as the main character is bound to capture my attention. Add to that the mystery behind who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays and you have all the ingredients for a delicious read in The Bookman's Tale.

The author Charlie Lovett is a former bookseller himself, and his love of books certainly shines through on every page.

The plot (told in alternating time periods) is interesting and I enjoyed the sections with Peter working in the restorations section of the library the most.

The Bookman's Tale is a cozy mystery that should whet the appetite of any bibliophile and whilst I did find it entertaining, I didn't fall head over heels reading it.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
14 December 2015

Review: Beauty's Kingdom by Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelaure

Warning: this book is full of erotica, so if you're offended, or under the age of 18, look away now.

Beauty's Kingdom is the long-awaited sequel and fourth novel in the Sleeping Beauty series by Anne Rice, writing here as A.N. Roquelaure.

Told from the perspective of different characters and their pleasures, the real arc of the story is the creation of a peaceful kingdom with an enjoyable and suitable place for every single one of its citizens.

Of course, with sex slaves at the heart of their culture, things are going to get steamy, and trust me they do. Having said that, it's important to know that the sex and lovemaking that takes place on the page is always accompanied by mutual respect and love. 

No-one is taken advantage of and nobody is hurt in Beauty's Kingdom and there are no dark elements to the story. It's simply an exploration of pleasure set in a fantasy world of sorts.

Beauty's Kingdom is an interesting and entertaining commentary on society, love and pleasure, and it was a joy to read. It's important to remember Anne Rice was writing erotica long before 50 Shades came along; oh, and this book is hot!

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
11 December 2015

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of The Butterfly Enigma by Lorraine Campbell

Published December 2015
RRP $29.99
* Copy courtesy of JAM PR *

About the book
The Butterfly Enigma is a gripping romantic thriller. Based on strong, intelligent characters and extensive historical research, The Butterfly Enigma raises moral questions about the resettlement of Nazi war criminals post-World War II and explores the long dark shadow cast by World War II mass killings.

Inspiration for the book
"Working as a court reporter over the years, I heard some incredible stories in the Melbourne Law Courts – but the tales of Nazi war criminals living in Australia and the many unsuccessful attempts to bring them to justice filled me with an ongoing and abiding sense of outrage. Why could these mass murderers never be put on trial for their heinous crimes? So I decided to bring this part of Australia’s history to life.”

About the author
Lorraine Campbell is a licensed shorthand writer and worked for seventeen years as a court reporter with the Victoria Government Reporting Service. She holds an Arts degree from Monash, majoring in Philosophy and English Literature, and has studied French and German. 

Lorraine lives in Melbourne, adores the opera, theatre and movies and also likes to keep fit. What she enjoys most though is lying on a chaise longue, popping chocolates and reading crime thrillers. Click here to read her guest post published a few days ago here on Carpe Librum, entitled A Day in the Life of a Stenographer.

This giveaway has now closed.
10 December 2015

Review: The Messenger by Markus Zusak

When I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in 2007, I honestly thought he'd peaked. I assumed nothing he'd ever written before Book Thief, (or would ever write afterwards for that matter) could even begin to compete on that level. 

That foolish assumption robbed me of the opportunity to fall in love with The Messenger for eight years more than necessary. That's a bookish tragedy if you ask me and I've definitely learned my lesson.

Markus Zusak is an Australian writing wizard and he captured me on the first page of The Messenger with the voice of the main character Ed Kennedy. I was chuckling along with the cadence of his life, his friends and that of his pet dog The Doorman, until something meaningful started to unfold.

If I try to explain what happens, I'm afraid it'll sound absurd, and I can't speak highly enough of this book, so I think I'll keep this review simple.

If you're interested in themes of why we're here or how we can make a difference, Ed Kennedy will take you on an unexpected journey that will light up your soul and make you laugh while gently asking you to look at your surroundings - and the people in it - in an entirely new way. 

The Messenger is a quick, easy, funny, thoroughly moving and entertaining novel although it carries a powerful message; as the title suggests.

The ending is unique though, and when reading other reviews, it's clear that the readers who 'didn't get' the ending were let down by it, but the readers who did 'get it' are a little in awe; myself included. Whether you enjoy the ending or not is immaterial because Zusak offers an amazingly enjoyable reading experience along the way and it's one of those rare books I'd like to read again in the future.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
07 December 2015

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of a Stenographer by Lorraine Campbell

Australian author
Lorraine Campbell
Lorraine Campbell (pictured right) is the author of The Butterfly Enigma and is a court stenographer by trade. In this guest post, she tells us about her career in Australia's legal system.

I became a court stenographer purely by chance. I was working in a legal firm and one of the women there told me about it. My shorthand speed at that time was 120 words a minute. I studied high-speed Pitman’s shorthand at night school for three years. To work as a court reporter you need a shorthand licence. In those days, the licence examination was held twice a year. It was a nerve wracking experience and there was a high attrition rate. The year I passed, only eight out of thirty-five candidates were successful. By that time I had a speed of 220 wpm.

I worked as shorthand writer in the Melbourne Law Courts through the 1980s and early 1990s. These were the days before computers and modern technology. We were a relatively small elite group at the Court Reporting Branch of the Justice Department:  46 reporters – about equal numbers of Pitmen pen writers and steno machine writers – and 30 typists.

As a court reporter, you provide a verbatim record of court proceedings. That means recording in shorthand every single word uttered by the judge, the barristers and the witnesses. On any day you could be rostered to work in the Supreme Court on a criminal trial, in the commercial or probate jurisdictions, on bail applications, or a lengthy judgment delivered by one of the judges.  

A typical day for me would be working on a ‘running transcript’ in the criminal jurisdiction. The judges and barristers received a transcript of the morning’s proceedings at 2.15 pm, and the afternoon’s transcript by the end of the day. Four reporters and three typists were rostered for each trial. Each reporter would be on the bench for 15 minutes, then 45 minutes to dictate the turn to a typist and be back in court for the next turn. In those days, we were located in a building diagonally opposite the Supreme Court.  We were literally running all day! Across the road, two sets of traffic lights, and up three flights of stairs to the waiting typist. 

Working on a criminal trial, it initially came as quite a shock to be confronted with the dark underside of society. Cases involving sex, drugs or violence; sometimes all three. You encounter hardened criminals and stone-faced killers – many from those notorious crime families of the TV Underbelly series. You’re always aware of them, sitting in the dock, watching you as you come and go from court. 
Lorraine's book
The Butterfly Enigma

In the staid setting of a court room, you can hear the vilest obscenities and swear words. If it’s something you’ve never heard before, you turn to the judge and ask to have it repeated. Barristers and judges rely on the transcript, so it’s your responsibility to record everything accurately. It also comes as a shock to many jurors, hearing such language. Some react with audible gasps!  

In those days, court security was nothing like it is now. One of my first committal hearings was at the old City Court. That day a notorious armed robber was gunned down by a professional killer. We could hear the gunshots, just outside our court. Another incident happened outside Supreme Court 12. A crazed gunman ran screaming along the corridor, shooting at people. Two were killed, others wounded. Inside our court, people were shouting to “get down” as the shots rang out. 

These days, audio recording has largely taken over, except for Supreme Court criminal trials. In America and Canada, however, the profession is alive and well, and shorthand writers are much in demand. Most judges have their own court reporter who goes with them from court to court.  

Thanks so much for your guest post Lorraine. For your chance to WIN a copy of Lorraine's book The Butterfly Enigma, stay tuned for this week's Friday Freebie, where I'll be giving away a print copy thanks to JAM PR.
05 December 2015

Winner of Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's Friday Freebie to win a copy of Olmec Obituary by L.J.M Owen and Echo Publishing for providing the copy.

The giveaway closed at midnight last night, and the winner was drawn today, and congratulations go to.....
Woohoo!! Brenda has entered so many of my giveaways but her name has never come up until today, so I'm really pleased with this win. Brenda, you'll receive an email shortly advising you of your win, and as soon as you've provided your postal address, your prize will be mailed out to you.

Thanks and stay tuned for more giveaways coming soon.
03 December 2015

Review: Musings from the Inner Duck by Australian Cartoonist Michael Leunig

Filled with cartoons, poems and sketches, Musings from the Inner Duck by Michael Leunig is a deep reflection on life; if you're willing to look deep enough that is.

Most Australians will be familiar with Leunig's signature style cartoons, often featuring people with exaggerated noses and of course the curly man.

Leunig's latest offering Musings from the Inner Duck contains countless observations on life (some subtle and some not-so-subtle), commentary on social issues, politics, technology and an underlying love of nature and the environment.

Complete with his signature sense of humour and wit, Musings from the Inner Duck is a great little book to have around at Christmas.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!