28 May 2018

Review: Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader

* Copy courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers *

Book of Colours is an historical fiction novel by Australian author Robyn Cadwallader and is set in London's Paternoster Row in the 1320s. A noblewoman has commissioned the creation of a book of hours - a decorated medieval manuscript - and the novel is about the stationer's shop lucky enough to secure the valuable commission and the people who illuminate the pages.

This book was right up my alley as I've always been fascinated by illuminated manuscripts and amazed when precious documents like these survive the centuries and ravages of time.

Sometimes a book comes along at the right moment and at the time I was reading Book of Colours I was also undertaking an online course about England in the time of Richard III. I was completing a unit called Books, Literacy and Printing which included some amazing information on medieval scripts and illuminated manuscripts which greatly enhanced my enjoyment of this novel.

Some of you might remember I reviewed Robyn Cadwallader's first novel The Anchoress back in 2015 and her skill in bringing a period of history to life in vivid detail is repeated here. Art lovers will enjoy the intricacies of illuminating the manuscript, the myriad choices regarding decoration and borders and the processes involved to produce each of the colour pigments used in the delicate work.

The novel is also about the political turmoil of the time, and the importance of books like these to assist in prayer.

Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader satisfied my curiosity with regard to the creation of illuminated manuscripts and I highly recommend it.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
23 May 2018

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is about A.J. Fikry who owns and lives above a bookshop on an island. Containing ample references to books and authors, this has been a favourite of book-lovers since it was released in 2013, but I only had a lukewarm response to it.

At times it read like a cozy mystery (baby left in the bookstore) and I didn't really care terribly much about A.J.'s journey through life, finding the supporting characters of Maya, Amelia and the Chief far more compelling.

The highlight for me was when A.J. tells a new sales rep what kinds of books he likes. He finds it easier to tell her what he doesn't like, and it really cracked me up. I enjoyed reading it several times over.
“Like,” he repeats with distaste. “How about I tell you what I don’t like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be - basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful - nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, you needn’t tell me about the ‘next big series’ until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Above all, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter how many copies you promise I’ll sell on Mother’s Day.”
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is recommended for book-lovers and anyone who has ever nurtured a desire at some point to live in a bookshop. Let's face it, that's most of us isn't it?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
21 May 2018

Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

It's been a while since I've read a good gothic ghost story and The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is just what I needed.

The historical novel opens with Elsie in a mental institution, mute and driven crazy by the events that took place at her late husband's estate. She is encouraged to remember what happened by her treating Doctor, and the reader is privy to her re-telling.

Elsie arrived at The Bridge in 1865 as a widow, only to bury her husband in the local churchyard before he had a chance to renovate the crumbling property for her arrival.

Alternating between Elsie in the mental institution trying to remember the horror that lead to her being committed, are diary entries from 1635 written by the previous mistress of the household at The Bridge.

The silent companions of the title are dummy boards (flat paintings on wood shaped to look like real people) which were a 'thing' in Victorian England. Painted to look real, they were employed as decoration or perhaps even to trick or frighten visitors. In this novel Elsie finds them behind a locked attic door and they soon take on a sinister nature, inexplicably turning up in various parts of the house, and re-appearing even after being burned to ashes.

Stories in both time periods (1800s and 1600s) are captivating and the isolated setting and gloomy atmosphere adds to the tension in this Victorian ghost story. I should also mention that I'm in love with this stunning cover and I'm reluctant to shelve the book because I won't be able to enjoy the cover design anymore.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is a stimulating and spooky gothic ghost story and I highly recommend it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
16 May 2018

Review: Bring Me Back by B A Paris

* Copy courtesy of (and published by) HQ Fiction, an imprint of Harlequin Books *

Bring Me Back by B A Paris begins with a cracking start and I was immediately drawn into this thriller mystery. Finn's girlfriend Layla disappeared on holiday in France 12 years ago and now Finn is in a relationship with her sister, Ellen.

The question for the reader is whether Finn is guilty of killing Layla or whether she was abducted. When we finally learn the truth, I realised that the character's behaviour up until that point was purposefully misleading. A guilty/innocent person wouldn't behave the way Finn did, and I find intentional misdirection like this slightly irritating.

In the middle to end of the novel I thought there was too much of the second character POV and those sections could have been edited down to improve the pace.

The killer 'twist' at the end was actually a disappointing denouement for me, and I definitely wasn't 'buying it'. I mean, HOW could he not know? It felt like a weak explanation and certainly not in keeping with the cracker beginning and promising plot.

Overall, Bring Me Back was an enjoyable mystery that peaks at the beginning and slowly moves down from there. If it had maintained the level of writing at the beginning, this would easily have been a contender for Top 5 reads of the year. Unfortunately it didn't.

Recommended for crime readers, those who like Russian nesting dolls and reading about relationships between sisters.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Click here to read a FREE sample
09 May 2018

Review: Jane Seymour The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir (Six Tudor Queens III)

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Jane Seymour - The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir is the third novel in the Six Tudor Queens series, but just like the previous two, it can easily be read as a stand alone. The book begins in 1518, when Jane is just 10 years old, and takes us through her life, her stations at court, her relationship with Queen Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, falling in love with King Henry VIII and Queen Anne's eventual demise.

Jane is haunted by Anne Boleyn's execution and is acutely aware of the precarious nature of her position at all times. She doesn't challenge Henry and the King seems to love her kind and gentle nature. Jane is a dutiful wife and Queen and works hard to restore the Princess Mary to her rightful place at court.

Jane's family are hungry for power, favour and positions making them no different from the Boleyns. Suffering several miscarriages, Jane is eventually able to give her husband the son he has yearned for - and broken with the Church for - although as we know, it will eventually cost Jane Seymour her life.

Exceptionally written, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this historical fiction account of Jane Seymour's life and didn't find it as provocative as Anne Boleyn - A King's Obsession. It's incredibly unusual for me to give a five star rating to two novels in a series back-to-back, but here it is. It might even be a first, and rightly so; Alison Weir is beginning to emerge as one of my favourite historical fiction authors.

Highly recommended.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
07 May 2018

Winner of If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway last week to win a signed copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken. The combined interview and giveaway turned out to be one of my most popular posts this year. Entries closed at midnight on Sunday 6th May 2018 and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:
Sarahmary will receive an email with the details and will have 7 days to provide her mailing address. Thanks again to Australian author Tim Hawken for donating the prize, you can check out his website here timhawken.com

Carpe Librum!

04 May 2018

Review: The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

What a funny little book! The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent is translated from French and is a short book that packs a punch. Our main character Guylain Vignolles works in a book pulping factory despite loving books. He retrieves a few pages from the machine every day and reads them aloud to commuters each morning on the 6.27am train.

That's the concept, but this quirky little book is really about Guylain's life and two people in it. A friend who lost his legs in an accident at the mill is on a quest to track down every copy of a book printed using the paper pulp produced the day he lost his legs. I loved this relationship between the two men but it was only briefly touched on given the brevity of the book.

The second person - and the highlight of the book - is someone Guylain's never met; the owner of a USB left on the train one morning. The USB contains diary entries from a lavatory attendant and Guylain is moved enough by her writing and her daily observations to track her down. The writing in Julie's diary entries is the real driver of the book, easily eclipsing the other sub-plots and eccentric characters.

I've never read a book like The Reader on the 6.27, and it could easily have been a short story containing just the USB discovery and Guylain tracking down Julie. I recommend this for booklovers and Francophiles; and at only 195 pages in length it won't take you long to read it. Definitely a little something different.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Thanks to Andrea for lending me her copy.
01 May 2018

Interview and Giveaway for If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken

Author Tim Hawken
Today I'm chatting with Australian author Tim Hawken, author of the Hellbound trilogy and If Kisses Cured Cancer, published today. Thanks for joining us Tim.

Tell us about your New Adult novel If Kisses Cured Cancer, and was it inspired by personal experience?
This was by far the longest writing process I’ve had to go through for a novel. It was like trying to wrestle with a ghost you just can’t pin down. The whole thing took almost five years from start to finish, where my previous books were a year at most. Part of that is because while I was writing it, my wife was going through cancer therapy. There was definitely a lot of inspiration drawn from that - her diagnosis was what helped form the idea for the book. I used a lot of the raw emotion, but also the strange silver linings and unexpected funny moments you experience when going through something like that. While the novel is definitely fiction, that ‘write what you know’ route has ended in something I’m really proud of.

What was the hardest part of writing If Kissed Cured Cancer?
Personally it was drawing on those tumultuous emotions you feel when in love with someone who has a terminal illness. It’s tough reliving the first time you found out, or the uncertainty of whether they’ll survive, even if it is weaving that into a different scenario.
RRP $30.00 AUD

Professionally it was the editing process. Because it’s a more personal novel, I found it hard to let things go, where previously I could be really ruthless with parts that weren’t working. I was fortunate to work with a brilliant editor Dmetri Kakmi on that part, which really helped pinpoint the things to ditch and things that needed further exploration. I also wanted to make sure there was some humour in there. That’s how I cope with shitty situations, so it felt right. Plus, who wants to read something that just makes you feel depressed? Not me. Finding that balance was a tough one. You want to give the subject its due, but also keep things entertaining and interesting.

How does journalism differ from writing a novel?
With journalism you’re trying to tell a story using the facts. With fiction you’re trying to tell the truth using a story. You also have more chance to dance and play with ideas when writing novels, where normally with journalism you’re doing your best to be short, snappy and concise.

Having written the Hellbound trilogy (a dark fantasy/horror series), how did you manage the transition from writing horror to something more lit based?
It was surprisingly hard. Characters and psychology are obviously important in speculative fiction, but plot is what often drives the story forward. You’re always looking to twist and turn, excite and terrify. Literature is more people focussed, which can sometimes feel like you’re being boring. I found myself constantly trying to throw physical conflict into scenes which called for a more subtle approach. A concealed knife doesn’t belong where a cutting secret will do.

When do you do your best work? Where do you do most of your writing?
I do my best work in the morning. I’m normally freshest then. Having said that, I won an award for a short story a few years ago that I started writing at midnight, because I couldn’t sleep during a full moon. So, maybe it’s just when I’m focussed and the ideas are running.

I mostly write in my office at home. If I’m traveling, I find planes are a great place to get things done without the distraction of the internet, or ringing phones, or my kids wanting something to eat.

What are some of your favourite books/authors? 
God, so many. Literary fiction, I love True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and Shantaram by Gregory David-Roberts. Haruki Murakami is also great. I like his blend of the real and the imaginary. 

Spec fiction, I love almost anything by Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Ursula K Leguin. I’ve got a massive soft spot for Harry Potter and The Hobbit. There’s an absolutely amazing short-story collection by Angela Carter called The Bloody Chamber that’s perhaps the most stunning example of prose I’ve ever read. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and pick it up. 

Sounds great, I might add it to my TBR. What are you reading at the moment?
Right now I’m listening to Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft on Audible. It’s great drifting into another world when you’re hanging out the washing, or doing the dishes.

Do you have a favourite bookshop in Western Australia?
Hmmm that’s a tough one. There are so many good local stores. I’d have to say Planet Books in Perth though. They have a well-curated range of spec fiction, graphic novels and lit fiction all under one roof.

What book have you always meant to read and haven’t got round to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?
I’ve tried to read In Search of Lost Time by Proust a couple of times, but stopped. It’s such a beast of a story and I find the start boring. It’s lauded by a lot of people as the greatest work ever written, so I’m determined to get through it one day. I’m embarrassed that I don’t seem to have the patience (or maybe intelligence) to see what other people are seeing. I’m sure I’ll try again in a few years.

Your book If Kisses Cured Cancer is published today, so what’s next?
Next is focussing on a tour of book launch events this month, to help raise funds for Love Your Sister. We’ve organised some craft breweries to sponsor the nights, so it’s all about books and beers for breast cancer. If you’re in Victoria, WA or on the Gold Coast there will be one coming to a town near(ish) you.

After that, I have a horror film project I’ve been talking about with Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek, The Final Hours, Snakes on a Plane). I’ll either be diving into the script for that, or starting a new novel. Watch this space. 

Wow, that sounds amazing! Wolf Creek was terrifying. Anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re interested in some exclusive content around If Kisses Cured Cancer - like a companion playlist and behind-the-scenes on the cover design - head to timhawken.com and sign up to my newsletter. You’ll also get a free eBook version of the first book in the Hellbound Trilogy as an added bonus.

Also, Carpe Librum is giving away a signed copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer to one lucky Carpe Librum reader (in AUS & NZ) this month. Follow the prompts below and enter to win.

Thanks for joining us Tim, and who can resist a free book, right? Congrats on the release of If Kisses Cured Cancer and for joining us at Carpe Librum today. Readers can enter below for a chance to win a signed copy of If Kisses Cured Cancer and be sure to visit Tim's website for a free ebook copy of Hellbound.

This giveaway has now closed.