29 November 2017

Winner of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas announced

Thanks to those who entered my blog tour giveaway to win a print copy of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas. Entries closed at midnight on Monday 27 November 2017 and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:
Congratulations Fay, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. Endeavour Press will send your prize out to you directly and I hope you enjoy it.

Carpe Librum!

27 November 2017

Review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Sleeping Beauties is a collaboration between father and son, and is written seamlessly. Stephen King and his son Owen have teamed up to explore what happens when the women in the world succumb to a sleeping sickness. But there's always one exception to the rule and Eve doesn't fall victim to the illness. Is she the devil or their saviour?

Women fight to stay awake, but when they eventually fall asleep they're quickly covered in a cocoon of gauzy web-like substance. The book eventually explains this, but as in Under The Dome, the novel is more about what happens to the people left behind and how they react. There were many unanswered questions by the end, but I think you just need to 'go with it' - as in Cell and UR - and give yourself over to the premise.

Told in multiple points of view from many many characters in the town of Dooling in West Virginia, the plot unfolds quite rapidly over a relatively short period of time. Much of the story takes place at a women's prison which King writes very well and some readers will enjoy the parallels to other novels in the King canon.

Sleeping Beauties unashamedly and unapologetically raises and explores the issue of gender politics, clearly - in my opinion - siding with the women. Some feminists are likely to find themselves nodding along, while it wouldn't surprise me if this irked a few readers; me included.

The climax of the book for me took place at the prison, and this scene is begging to be played out on the big screen. The multiple points of view and rolling action does make for a massive tome though, and Sleeping Beauties comes in at 700+ pages. At the end of the day, it's a hefty read and I think it would work better as a movie or TV mini series. With the recent success of Stephen King adaptations, this has a good chance of happening.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
16 November 2017

Review: Ghosts of the Tsunami - Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry

* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

After reading Richard Lloyd Parry's essay entitled Ghosts of the Tsunami in the London Review of Books, I instantly became obsessed with getting and reading his book, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone. Parry was living in Tokyo at the time of the earthquake and spent six years as a foreign correspondent visiting and reporting from the tsunami disaster zone.

Shocking facts about the Japanese earthquake on 11 March 2011*
- It was the biggest earthquake ever to have struck Japan, and the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology.
- It knocked the earth 10 inches off its axis.
- It moved Japan four feet closer to America.

Shocking facts about the tsunami that followed*
- The tsunami killed 18,500 people.
- At its peak, the water of the tsunami was 120 feet high.
- The earthquake and tsunami caused more than $210 billion of damage, making it the most costly natural disaster ever.

I didn't know that the Japanese honour their dead ancestors in the form of household altars and memorial tablets. When these were destroyed in the tsunami, the subsequent grief and bereavement was about so much more than the immediate loss of life. The tsunami destroyed memorial books and tablets containing the names of generations of ancestors and even 
ripped open cemetery vaults and scattered the bones of the dead

Without their memorial tablets, and important family items, survivors weren't able to honour their ancestors. Entire families lost in the tsunami left nobody behind to honour them and their ancestors. The disaster left a population in deep grief and a feeling that the souls of thousands of ancestors had been suddenly 'cut adrift'.

Parry interviewed hundreds of survivors and many of their experiences are in this book. He tells how survivors "spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural. They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns."

I was hoping to read more about these encounters and the way in which the nation and individual communities dealt with the sudden loss of 18,500 souls. Stories like this one: "A fire station that received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway, prayed for the spirits of those who had died - and the ghostly calls ceased."

However it soon became clear that Parry's overwhelming focus was going to be the story of the children at Okawa primary school. Tragically, the teachers did not evacuate the children to higher ground, despite having more than enough time to do so before the tsunami struck. Parry documents the parent's grief, the search for their children's remains (often lasting years), the process of pursuing the school and government for answers, right through to class legal action; quite unusual for Japan.

Reading Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone was incredibly informative, factual and shocking but at the same time heart wrenchingly tragic.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, the threat of earthquake and tsunami is constant. Parry tells us that in 2012: "a new study concluded that an earthquake and tsunami originating in the Nankai Trough could take 323,000 lives along the south-central Pacific Coast." He also says that "it is generally assumed Tokyo will be shaken by an earthquake powerful enough to destroy large areas of the city......that will kill many tens of thousands of people."

I hope this doesn't happen during my lifetime, although the Japanese seem as prepared as they can be for the inevitable. Until then, this generation will continue to wade through their grief and loss the best way they know how.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

* These facts have been extracted from the book.
13 November 2017

Blog tour giveaway: WIN a copy of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas

* Copy courtesy of Endeavour Press *

Today is the beginning of the Illusion blog tour thanks to Endeavour Press and to celebrate, I'm running a giveaway from 
13 - 27 November. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Illusion by Stephanie Elmas (not currently available to buy in Australia!) priced at $9.99USD. Enter below for your chance to WIN.

RRP $9.99USD
London, 1873. Returning home from his travels with a stowaway named Kayan, Walter Balanchine is noted for the charms, potions and locket hanging from his neck. Finding his friend Tom Winter’s mother unwell, he gives her a potion he learned to brew in the Far East. Lucid and free from pain, the old woman remembers something about Walter’s mother.

Walter is intrigued, for he has never known his family or even his own name – he christened himself upon leaving the workhouse. Living in a cemetery with his pet panther Sinbad to keep the body snatchers away, word soon spreads of his healing and magical abilities and he becomes a sought after party performer.

During one of Walter’s parties, Tom is approached by Tamara Huntington, who reveals she is being forced to marry a man she does not love. Will he and Walter come to her rescue? Try as they might, sometimes all the best intentions in the world can’t put a stop to a bad thing, and she is soon married off to the cruel Cecil Hearst.

Drama and tragedy ensue, and Walter keeps his distance from Tamara. That is until her stricken brother-in-law Daniel requires his magical healing, and he is forced back into her life. With secrets beginning to emerge, Walter finds his mother may be a lot closer to home than he realised…

Filled with mystery, magic and larger than life characters, Illusion will keep you guessing until the very last page. 

Author Bio
Stephanie Elmas was born in Hong Kong but spent most of her childhood in Bristol. Having worked as a head hunter, she taught English in Japan before returning to University to complete an MA in Victorian fiction. It was here that she developed her interest in the dark dangerous world of Victorian sensation writing. After the success of her first novel, The Room Beyond, Elmas has returned to write the tale of the early life of East End mystic and illusionist Walter Balanchine. When she is not writing, Elmas teaches secondary school English and juggles a chaotic household in Surrey.

This giveaway has now closed.
10 November 2017

Review: Need To Know by Karen Cleveland

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House UK *

I don't typically read spy novels (in fact, if I see the word espionage in a blurb I usually run a mile) but Need to Know by Karen Cleveland is an espionage thriller and I absolutely loved it!

Main character Vivian Miller is a working mother with four children and a perfect husband, but something soon happens to change all that. Need To Know is believable, fast paced and reads like a domestic thriller. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about when I could get back to it, which is a ready indicator of a great book.

It's hard to believe this is a debut novel from the author, but when I learned she had spent 8 years as a CIA Analyst, I understood why I'd been in such competent hands. Karen Cleveland knows what she's talking about.

The pitch for this book was the best I've seen from a publisher in more than 11+ years of reviewing and I was instantly hooked. Arriving in a classified envelope containing my redacted mission and an ID pouch, my advanced reading copy also had phrases printed on the page edges (see below). It's my favourite review copy in distant memory and the novelty made me excited to read the book and I wasn't disappointed.

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland will be released on 25 January 2018 and I highly recommend it. Even if you don't think spy thrillers are for you; this novels breaks through the genre in a new and surprising way.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum

08 November 2017

Review and look inside: Upside-Down Dogs by Serena Hodson

* Copy and extract courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Upside-Down Dogs by Serena Hodson is a collection of photographs depicting a variety of dogs - yep, you guessed it - upside down. A multitude of poses and backgrounds make this a very enjoyable coffee table book for all ages.

Serena Hodson is a NZ born photographer now living in Brisbane Australia and is also the author of Dogservations.

I have no idea how Hodson encourages the dogs to relax and let their 'guard' down in order to photograph them upside down. Her photographs seem to capture moments of fun and relaxation as well as expressions of curiosity and wonder as each dog's personality shines through.

There's an index at the end providing each dog's name and breed, and flicking back and forth all the time was a little tiresome. I'd much prefer the information to be subtly located on each page, but that's just me.

Upside-Down Dogs is the perfect gift for dog lovers and animal lovers everywhere.

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

Now for a sneak peak inside the book, thanks to Hachette Australia.

Page 50: Oakey, Corgi
Page 53: Harry, Lhasa Apso

Page 78: Katee and Ruby, Pug
06 November 2017

Review: The Seventh Circle by Rob Langdon

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Seventh Circle - A former Australian soldier's extraordinary story of surviving seven years in Afghanistan's most notorious prison by Rob Langdon is a tough read. Here's the intro:

'I was arrested on Thursday 9th July 2009. On Wednesday I'd quit my job, killed a man and set his body on fire. I was sentenced to death. I'm not a good man, but I am an honest one. This is my story.'

It was hard to read about Rob Langdon's incarceration, and while his resilience is an inspiration, he was fucked over in so many ways that this reader was more often than not furious while reading it. Working as a security contractor in Afghanistan, his former employer deserted him and the number of people who took advantage of the situation - or stole his stuff, thinking he was as good as dead - was exasperating. What scum! Originally sentenced to death and then to a term of 20 years, Rob experiences the full gamut of emotions, but there were a few rays of light in those who stuck by him, helped him stay sane and eventually secured his freedom.

The following quote from Page 16 encapsulates his seven year ordeal better than I can:
"The prison was a hell on earth, as I will attempt to show in these pages, but I'm afraid my words will never be up to the task of conveying the filth, the danger, the uncertainty, the noise, the stench, the hopelessness, the barbarity, the cheapness of life, the random violence, the anguish, and the sheer fucking boredom that I had to wade through day after day, more than two thousand days and nights, in what should have been my prime."

I'm not sure this is a book I would recommend to another reader. It's the kind of memoir you discover on your own given the content and it's definitely a personal reading choice. You'll need a strong stomach for a start and it may suit readers with an interest in the military and the conflict in Afghanistan.

It's always hard to give a rating to this kind of memoir. It's about human endurance and survival, but also about the politics of Afghanistan which many readers will find shocking and abhorrent. 
Having said that, I'm glad I read The Seventh Circle by Rob Langdon and admire the resilience of this Australian.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

02 November 2017

Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Last Hours by Minette Walters is an historical novel set in Develish, Dorsetshire in 1348 as the black death begins to spread throughout the counties. I've long been fascinated by the plague and so an historical fiction novel about the plague was a match made in heaven.

Lady Anne of Develish tries to protect her serfs (200 of them) from the plague by taking steps in sanitation and care of the sick that was unusual at the time. At 555 pages, it's a significant and compelling read and I soon became engrossed in the plot. But the ending!

I was rolling along with the story, happily invested in the characters and looking forward to the conclusion until a sudden and unexpected ending and the surprise that a sequel is coming in October 2018. What?

The Last Hours didn't end on a cliffhanger, but perhaps I could have handled it better if it was. Instead, the book felt severed and the ending rudely wrenched from my hands with just a vague hint of what's to come in the sequel.

Knowing this is the first novel for Minette Walters in 10 years, I wonder if the original manuscript was too long and the publisher or editor decided to divide it in two. This would explain the illogical end point and the feeling of being wrenched prematurely from the story with a 12 month gap until the next book.

This was heading towards a 5 star rating, but I just can't get over the ending. What a shame. Needless to say I'll be first in the queue for the sequel next year.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!