31 December 2017

Two Australian reading challenges completed in 2017

This year I participated in two Australian reading challenges and completed both of them! Here are the details.

The Aussie Author Challenge 2017 is hosted by Booklover Book Reviews and I signed up for their Kangaroo level this year. To complete the challenge, I had to: read and review 12 titles written by Australian authors; read at least 4 female and 4 male authors; read at least 4 new authors (to me); and read a minimum of 3 genres.

I exceeded the challenge and read the following 16 books:
1. Into the Darkness: The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk | Robin Bowles
2. Badge, Book, Button - The Story of Australian Uniforms | Craig Wilcox
3. Past the Shallows: A Novel | Favel Parrett
4. Julie Goodwin's Essential Cookbook | Julie Goodwin
5. Clues From Beyond | Debbie Malone
6. Forgotten | Nicole Trope
7. Never Alone: A Medium’s Journey | Debbie Malone
8. The Dry | Jane Harper
9. Wrap It In A Bit Of Cheese Like You're Tricking The Dog | David Thorne
10. City of Crows | Chris Womersley
11. The Seventh Circle | Rob Langdon
12. Upside-Down Dogs | Serena Hodson
13. Force of Nature | Jane Harper
14. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow | Jessica Townsend
15. The Trauma Cleaner | Sarah Krasnostein
16. She Be Damned | M.J. Tjia

I also signed up for the Franklin level of the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge and needed to read 10 books by Australian women and review at least 6 of them to successfully complete the challenge. 

I discovered some great titles during these reading challenges and will definitely be signing up to participate again in 2018.

Carpe Librum!
29 December 2017

Review: The Museum of Broken Relationships by Olinka Vistica

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Museum of Broken Relationships - Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects by Olinka Vistica is a collection of items donated by those hurt by love. Each artefact is stunningly photographed and accompanied by a short story or explanation. Often including the location and duration of the relationship, they provide a rare glimpse into a person's heartbreak and lost love. 

Every reader will be able to relate to the stories and I was touched by the emotionally charged personal accounts.

The collection includes a variety of heartbreaking, amusing, petty, bizarre and downright surprising contributions. It was hard to believe the donors could bear to part with some of the artefacts donated, while others were filled with cathartic cleansing. While many of the donors seemed ready to move on, others continue to carry their heartbreak. 

I enjoyed reading the stories and was surprised how many came from short relationships (less than a year). Relationships with parents and children are also included and you can still donate to the collection if you want to. 

I highly recommend The Museum of Broken Relationships. This is a well curated collection from a museum that now has galleries all over the world. For those of us who haven't visited one, this is the next best thing. For those who have, this makes the perfect memento.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
22 December 2017

Review: The Trauma Cleaner - One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

The Trauma Cleaner - One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein book cover
* Copy courtesy of Text Publishing *

I watch a tonne of cleaning and hoarding shows; you name it, I've probably watched at least one episode. (See below). So, when I learned there was a biography about Victorian based trauma cleaner Sandra Pankhurst, I was immediately onboard. And that was even before I learned just how fascinating a life she has led. In her life, Sandra has had several names, been a husband, father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman and trophy wife. 

Sandra is now a trauma cleaner with a business in Frankston, Victoria (Specialised Trauma Cleaning STC) and deals with cases of hoarding, deceased estates, flood, fire, crime scene clean up and more.

Author Sarah Krasnostein has known Sandra for several years and has done a great job documenting Sandra's upbringing and complex life, given her subject's unreliable - and sometimes, complete lack of - memory. (I shared the author's anger and frustration at the end when she learned her subject still wanted to donate her estate and remains to a University instead of her newly re-discovered son. Argh!). Sarah's persistence and determination to tell her subject's story, warts and all, definitely shines through.

Early in the book on Page 16, Sarah writes of Sandra:

"She has been intuitively righting her environment - cleaning it, organising it, coordinating it, filling in gaps where she can, hiding them where she can't - since she was a child. It is her way of imposing order on her world and it brings her profound satisfaction."
The biography unfolds in chronological order, with client stories interspersed between the chapters and it flows well. I wanted more of the client stories - and the way in which Sandra changes their lives - and a little less of her own backstory, but I think that's just personal taste. 

There's no doubt Sandra has led an amazing and unusual life, but it's her work as a trauma cleaner and business owner that interested me the most and I was left wanting more.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Here are just some of the cleaning and hoarding shows I've enjoyed watching over the years: How Clean is Your Crime Scene (watching on Netflix at the moment), Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, How Clean Is Your House, Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife, Call the CleanersClean House, Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive.
20 December 2017

Guest review by Grace Harris: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Grace Harris with her copy of
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
Courtesy of Hachette Australia
I’m pleased to welcome back a very special guest reviewer who’s no stranger to Carpe Librum. Young bookworm Grace Harris has just finished reading Nevermoor - The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend and I’m excited to share her review with you.

I was very excited to review this book for my mum’s friend, and the blog Carpe Librum. I recommend this book for readers that are interested in action and adventure. Nevermoor is an excellent book full of twists and turns that seem like a bad ending, but just makes you want to read more. 

It is well written and creative, and easy to follow the story. I think this is one of the books that are for people who like Harry Potter, because it is an adventure book, although not really about magic. I hope the next readers of this book will enjoy it. I can't wait for the next book!! My favourite character is “Morrigan Crow” because she is brave and fearless even when she is scared and she faces consequences that scare you to death!!! (maybe not that hard or else I wouldn't be writing this!). 

There will definitely be more books in this series (because it says so at the end), and I can’t wait for the next one.

Grace's rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Thanks Grace, I hope you enjoy the next book and are looking forward to the movie as much as I am.
18 December 2017

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Okay, I get it now. The fuss around Audrey Niffenegger that is. This is my first time reading Niffenegger and Her Fearful Symmetry has several of the elements I love in a novel: twins (not just one set but two generations of twins), a cemetery and a ghost.

Set in London, this is a slow burn that begins when Elspeth Noblin leaves her flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery to her twin nieces after her death. Elspeth and her own twin sister are estranged, so the bequeathment comes as quite a shock to the family. The twin girls must live in the flat for a year before they can sell it and the inheritance begins to transform Julia and Valentina in small and subtle ways.

I loved the character of Robert, primarily because it was through him that the reader is treated to so much history of the Highgate Cemetery. Robert volunteers at the cemetery and takes tourists on guided tours throughout the grounds and these were by far my favourite elements of the book.

I found the final denouement and the choices made by two of the characters to be such a disappointment that I became quite dissatisfied with the ending. Sometimes a disappointing ending can be provocative and exciting, but I was left feeling angry at two of the characters and wanted to slap one of them, so it cost the novel a star in this review.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
13 December 2017

Review: Nevermoor - The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Jessica Townsend is the hottest debut Australian author at the moment and the writer of Nevermoor - The Trials of Morrigan Crow. Nevermoor is a fantasy novel for young and young adult readers and contains elements of magical realism, without the wands and spells.

Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide and consequently she is fated to die on the next Eventide, which happens to be her 12th birthday. Being born on the most unlucky day of the year means she is cursed. Morrigan knows she is going to die on Eventide and unfortunately her birthday is fast approaching, but just when all seems helpless, she escapes to a new place called Nevermoor.

Nevermoor takes off from the first page with instant world-building and it took me a while to 'get into it' to be honest. But once I began to relax into the world of Morrigan Crow, I could settle in and enjoy her adventure.

When I saw the cover (yellow font on a blue background and the presence of umbrellas), I worried that Nevermoor was going to be a Mary Poppins / Harry Potter / Peter Pan rip off. Fortunately my suspicions were swiftly allayed, so don't jump to the same inaccurate conclusions I did. Sometimes judging a book by its cover can be a mistake.

Nevermoor is already achieving amazing milestones in Australian publishing and 20th Century Fox has purchased the movie rights. Nevermoor is aimed at middle grade readers (aged 8-12) but is highly recommended for those who enjoy a young coming-of-age novel and the magic and creative whimsy of the Harry Potter series. It's the first in a series for young and old readers alike.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
11 December 2017

Celebrating 1,000,000 views!

Today is cause for some serious celebration. (Crowd goes wild!)

I've finally surpassed 1,000,000 views here on Carpe Librum!

From humble beginnings way back in 2005, and with a different name (My Four Bucks) I still remember the excitement of achieving just 30 views/hits in a single month. I'd check my stats daily and it was thrilling to see it rise. (Tragic, I know).

Since then, I've kept at it and in November 2011 I was celebrating 13,000 total views and in June 2015 celebrated my 10 Year Blogiversary. I now enjoy an average of 10,000 views per month and am spoiled for choice when it comes to publisher catalogues.

A huge thank you to each and every one of you reading this for making my dreams come true. I hope you've been able to discover some great reads along the way, win a giveaway or perhaps even dodge a dud book now and then thanks to my vetting it for you.

I'll never tire of reading and reviewing here at Carpe Librum, and I'm so grateful to be able to share my love of books with you. If you have any suggestions on how I should celebrate this milestone, let me know in the comments below.


Carpe Librum!
07 December 2017

Review: The Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute

The Park Bench by Christophe Chaboute is a graphic novel about the day-to-day experiences of a park bench. It's a simple premise, but interestingly, there is no text used in the artwork at all. I've since learned graphic novels like this are called wordless or silent graphic novels.

This is my first time reading a wordless graphic novel but Chaboute makes it surprisingly easy to follow the story arc. There are happy, sad, curious and mundane things that happen on, at and around the park bench and the reader is able to follow along with relative interest.

The Park Bench is an entertaining reading experience and has definitely cemented my view that graphic novels should play a part in everybody's reading at one stage or another. I've always been of the opinion that adults who say they don't read, just haven't found the right book or genre yet.

What graphic novels have you enjoyed?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
05 December 2017

Review: The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Rosamund Young is first and foremost a farmer and runs Kite's Nest Farm in the Cotswolds. She's been observing animal behaviour since 1980 and began to notice that cows are intelligent animals with personalities as diverse as our own.

In The Secret Life of Cows, Rosamund shares anecdotes about her animals, their behaviours and interactions in a personable and chatty manner.

Every cow on her farm is given a name and Rosamund knows the complete family tree of all the cows on her farm. They play games, babysit, hold grudges and grieve. Her cows are able to communicate and let her know if another cow in the herd is hurt, and are surprisingly adept at problem solving. They also love to be groomed, who knew?

I was interested to learn cows will seek out food according to their needs, (willow if they have an injury or stinging nettles when pregnant) highlighting and reinforcing the need for organic farming practices.

Presented in an attractive little hardcover reminiscent of a clothbound classic, The Secret Life of Cows would make a lovely gift this Christmas for animal lovers, hobby and full-time farmers.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
01 December 2017

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Many readers worried Australian author Jane Harper couldn't top her award-winning debut novel The Dry, but I'm here to tell you she has! Force of Nature is a ripping read and just as full of thrilling suspense as The Dry. The end of each chapter unapologetically forces you to continue onto the next, with a freshly stoked desire to find out what happens.

Force of Nature can easily be read as a standalone, however it does feature the same main character AFP Officer Aaron Falk. This time Falk is investigating the case of a missing person, lost in the bush during a corporate team building and camping retreat. Each of the five female staff members on the retreat have their own problems and the conflict that grows and festers between them was expertly written.

Jane Harper captures the menacing and unforgiving wilderness of the Australian bush with such precision, that several scenes reminded me of the 1886 oil painting Lost by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin.

I'm recommending Force of Nature to readers everywhere and it's certainly been a highlight on my reading calendar this year.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE extract here.