27 February 2018

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Beginning in 1969 New York, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a family drama with an enticing premise: four siblings are told by a gypsy psychic the day they will die. The concept immediately conjures a host of questions. Do the siblings believe the prophecy? Do they ignore or accept the prediction? What are the predictions? Do they vary from child to child? Do any of the siblings confess their 'date'? Does knowing the date change the way they'll live their life? These are all questions I was keen to find answers for and with one of the best covers I've seen this year, I was eager to start reading The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.

Following on from the prologue where the predictions take place the book is split into four parts, one for the life of each sibling. What develops is a good literary novel about a Jewish family in America covering the siblings' generation as well as that of their parents and subsequent children, but it didn't go where I wanted it to. My questions were eventually answered, but the information was slowly drip fed into the book in a measured writing style.

I think I'm partly to blame for not enjoying this novel as much as I should have. When I heard the premise I was instantly reminded of the premise of The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma and wanted to relive the startling impact the premise in that book had amongst the siblings. (That the eldest brother would die at the hands of one of his brothers). It was one of my favourite books in 2015 and I wanted to experience that reading magic again here.

In the end, The Immortalists deals with many interesting themes, including fate and destiny and our ability - or inability - to escape it or change it.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
23 February 2018

Review: Hangman by Jack Heath

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Australian writer Jack Heath is an established YA author living in Canberra and Hangman is his first adult novel in my new favourite series featuring anti-hero Tim Blake. 

Blake is a despicable investigator contracted to the FBI as a last resort to solve crimes other FBI agents cannot. A psychopath with a dark secret, Blake's assistance comes with a steep price.

Recipe for Hangman by Jack Heath
Step 1. Take the pace of any James Patterson or Matthew Reilly novel.
Step 2. Add a gruesome yet likeable protagonist; like Dexter from Jeff Lindsay.
Step 3. Make him an anti-hero you can root for like Joe from You by Caroline Kepnes but without the sex.
Step 4. Add a measure of cannibalism from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
Step 5. Combine with the shock factor of Stephen King's writing.
Step 6. Bake for 376 pages and your novel will be ready.
Step 7. Consume Hangman in as few sittings as possible.
Step 8. Enjoy every morsel.

Reading Hangman was a guilty pleasure and I found myself getting behind Blake and hoping things turned out in his favour despite his proclivities. It isn't for the squeamish though, so if you can't handle a little gore this fast-paced crime thriller isn't for you.

Jack Heath has created an extraordinary and original character in Timothy Blake, and I can't wait to read his next book. Hangman has already been optioned for television by the ABC in USA so I'll be keeping an eye out for that too. Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
20 February 2018

Review: West Cork by Sam Bungey & Jennifer Forde

* Copy courtesy of Audible *

West Cork is a true crime podcast series investigating the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland 20 years ago. Sophie was a French film producer and was killed while on vacation alone in West Cork, Ireland just before Christmas in 1996.

Journalist Sam Bungey and Documentary Producer Jennifer Forde investigate the case over the course of 13 episodes including multiple interviews with prime suspect Ian Bailey.

The case was incredibly layered and complex and I was impressed by the logical approach the investigators took in outlining the various aspects of the case and somewhat flawed investigation by the Guards; Ireland's Police Force. Bungey and Forde gained an enormous level of access to Ian Bailey, primarily due to the fact Bailey seems to like the attention. He's a narcissist guilty of domestic violence who loves the spotlight a little too much, but is he a killer?

This was my first time using Audible and I was utterly gripped by the listening experience and the true crime investigation. It was the audio equivalent of binge-watching Making a Murderer on Netflix.

By the conclusion of the final episode I was left wanting more, but I guess that's inevitable in a case that is still active and technically unsolved. I'm interested to know who Bungey and Forde think is responsible for murdering Sophie and what they hope will happen now the case is gaining international recognition. (It's already a significant and well-known cold case in France and Ireland). I hope Sophie's family get justice soon.

West Cork is compelling listening and is recommended for listeners, viewers and readers of true crime.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
18 February 2018

Winner of The Bookworm by Mitch Silver announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway to win a print copy of The Bookworm by Mitch Silver last week. Entries closed at midnight on Friday 16 February 2018 and the answer was ‘an old leather bible’. 
The winner was drawn today and congratulations go to:
Congratulations Tien, you'll receive an email from me today and will have 7 days to provide your mailing address. The prize is courtesy of Wunderkind PR & Pegasus Books and they’ll send your prize to you directly.

Carpe Librum!
14 February 2018

Review: How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs - The Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits by Melanie Mühl & Diana Von Kopp

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I was keen to read How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs - The Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp in order to conquer some of my bad habits and recognise what's really going on in my body.

Much of the information wasn't new to me, and the chapters just touched on interesting topics without delving deeper. The chapters skimmed over topics providing the reader with a tempting and tantalising teaser without investigating further.

Printed in large font and generously spaced, this was a quick and easy read, and regularly quoted other references and books. The comprehensive chapter by chapter bibliography at the end was welcome.

I was hoping for the next level understanding and unfortunately I didn't manage to get it here. Perhaps this is just a book to whet the reader's appetite (see what I did there) but for real insight into what we buy and what/how/why we eat, you'll need to look elsewhere.

Here are a few of my favourite nuggets from the book:

  • Haagen-Dazs ice cream is not made in Denmark. It's made in America and has been given a Scandinavian name to make it sound like a premium product. (Page 11)
  • The Swedish delicacy surstromming is "fermented herring with an odour so awful and overwhelming that it can make you faint when you open the tin." This reminded me of a video I once saw of a family trying to eat it and I was subsequently lost in a YouTube vortex watching others trying to eat it and failing. (Page 100)
  • If your waiter at a restaurant is overweight, diners are more likely to order more food. (Page 139)
  • Apparently the sucking action from drinking a milkshake through a straw has a calming and soothing effect. "It changes the consistency of the milkshake in the mouth, where a small amount of liquid meets with a larger amount of air. The result is a pleasantly creamy sensation." So that's why I love milkshakes! "The act of sucking is also associated with pleasure, reassurance, and satiation." (Page 168)
  • The introduction 250 years ago of knife and fork has changed the formation of our mouths and we have since developed an overbite. The art of separating food with the use of our incisors (clamping down on the food and pulling) has been lost and consequently the top row of teeth no longer needs to meet the bottom. (Page 213)
These were fascinating tidbits, and if the book had more of them throughout, I would have enjoyed it more.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
12 February 2018

Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Some fast facts about The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn:
- The book has been sold in 38 territories around the world
- It's being adapted into a movie by Fox 2000 Studios

In this psychological thriller the main character is Anna Fox, child psychologist now agoraphobe who hasn't left her New York townhouse in almost a year. She's an alcoholic who stalks her neighbours online and spies on them through her windows until she sees something shocking.

I notice this is being compared to The Girl on a Train, but I only agree with that so far as the main character has a drinking problem, sees something and can be unreliable but that's as far as it goes. I like Anna and was cheering her on whereas Rachel made me groan out loud in frustration.

I seem to enjoy agoraphobic characters and it was no different here. It was fascinating to see how Anna struggled with her condition and what she does to fill in her time while still trying to remain useful to society.

There were a few twists and turns at the end that had me speeding through the pages and all in all this was an exciting and unpredictable read. 
Fans of old black and white films will love the cinema references and parallels between this novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window.

I enjoyed this more than The Girl on a Train and think it's going to be a fantastic thriller movie when it hits the big screen.

My rating = ****1/2

Carpe Librum

P.S. Read a FREE sample of the novel here.
08 February 2018

Review: The Little Bullet Book - Be Gorgeously Organized by Dave Sinden

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

For readers who have always wanted to try their hand at keeping a bullet journal, The Little Bullet Book - Be Gorgeously Organized by Dave Sinden is a great place to start. It's full of prompts and customisable weekly and monthly planners and checklists to fill in yourself that will teach you the basic elements of bullet journalling.

There are task trackers (my favourite) as well as methods for establishing and outlining your goals and ways in which to work towards achieving them.

This bullet journal can be started at any time and isn't date specific. In fact, there are no dates mentioned whatsoever, only prompts for weeks and months. A ready-made index is also helpful.

I liked the idea of making a list of things you're grateful for and I know it's a popular trend on social media but there's something to be said about writing it down and keeping it private that could make all the difference in your own personal development and growth.

All in all, a nicely presented journal containing pages full of prompts and suggestions that can easily be filled in no matter the time of year or stage of life. This is for anyone who wants to be better organised.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
06 February 2018

WIN a print copy of The Bookworm by Mitch Silver

RRP $25.95USD
* Copy courtesy of Wunderkind PR & Pegasus Books *

Europe, 1940: It’s late summer and Belgium has been overrun by the German army. Posing as a friar, a British operative talks his way into the monastery at Villers-devant-Orval just before Nazi art thieves plan to sweep through the area and whisk everything of value back to Berlin. But the ersatz man of the cloth is no thief. Instead, that night he adds an old leather Bible to the monastery’s library and then escapes.

London, 2017: A construction worker operating a backhoe makes a grisly discovery―a skeletal arm-bone with a rusty handcuff attached to the wrist. Was this the site, as a BBC newsreader speculates, of “a long-forgotten prison, uncharted on any map?” One viewer knows better: it’s all that remains of a courier who died in a V-2 rocket attack. The woman who will put these two disparate events together―and understand the looming tragedy she must hurry to prevent―is Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion Larissa Mendelova Klimt, “Lara the Bookworm,” to her friends. She’s also experiencing some woeful marital troubles.

In the course of this riveting thriller, Lara will learn the significance of six musty Dictaphone cylinders recorded after D-Day by Noel Coward―actor, playwright and, secretly, a British agent reporting directly to Winston Churchill. She will understand precisely why that leather Bible, scooped up by the Nazis and deposited on the desk of Adolf Hitler days before he planned to attack Britain, played such a pivotal role in turning his guns to the East. And she will discover the new secret pact negotiated by the nefarious Russian president and his newly elected American counterpart―maverick and dealmaker―and the evil it portends.

Oh, and she’ll reconcile with her husband.

Check out Mitch Silver's website here: www.mitchsilverauthor.com

Giveaway - this giveaway closed at midnight Friday 16 February 2018
05 February 2018

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt has been on my radar for years so I was happy to borrow a copy from a friend and find out for myself why it's on so many Top 100 lists.

Published in the 1990s and set in Hampden College in Vermont, the story is narrated by college student Richard Papen and is essentially the story of what happens to him and his five fellow classics students. On the first page of the Prologue we learn one of them has been murdered.

Richard is on a scholarship but his fellow students have wealthy backgrounds and they're all studying Ancient Greek under the exclusive tutelage of a Professor who will only take a limited number of students on at any one time. The novel is peppered with quotes in Greek, and the students are intelligent, rich and somewhat entitled which gives the book an altogether snobbish undertone.

The narrator was irritatingly elusive and I wasn't quite sure if this was the point. The novel provided a penetrating character analysis of the friends without ever giving us a clear picture of the narrator and I'm still not sure why. Each of the characters was flawed and unlikeable in their own way and their behaviour was sometimes detestable. I'm just talking about their everyday behaviour here, not the fact that they murdered one of their friends.

Given I had little to zero understanding of the classics references contained within the book, I was relieved to discover I could easily follow the mystery through to a satisfactory ending. Although I was left wanting to know more about Henry's past and what happened in the woods.

Ultimately, this was a grudging read and a slow-burn. There's much to admire in the writing and the research is impressive, but it just didn't ring my bell. If I wanted a college setting with inspiring references to classic literature and a tragic death I'd turn to Dead Poets Society.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!