31 July 2018

Blogging for the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival

I'm beyond excited to announce that I'm one of the bloggers for the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival this year. It was such a thrill to be asked to write about my top 5 reads for the MWF18, along with five other Melbourne based bloggers. My article was published today, and you can read it here, or enjoy reading it below.*

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba
Majok Tulba fled his Sudanese village and came to Australia in 2001 at the age of 16, unable to read or write but a natural storyteller. In 2012 Majok published Beneath the Darkening Sky; a fictionalised story of what might have happened if he’d been forced to become a child soldier. It was an incredibly moving read and this month his second novel When Elephants Fight has been published. 

Before picking this up or seeing Majok at the festival, I recommend reading Beneath the Darkening Sky first. You will definitely be inspired.

Floating Gold: The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Natural Substance in the World by Christopher Kemp
Marine biologist Micheline Jenner is an expert on whales and has a book out called The Secret Life of Whales. Before seeing Micheline at the Festival, I recommend you read Floating Gold by Christopher Kemp. 

I’ve always been fascinated by whales and ambergris in particular; the waxy substance found only in the intestines of sperm whales. Ambergris is incredibly valuable and is used as a fixative in the perfume industry. Reading Floating Gold will enhance your knowledge of whales, after which you’ll be primed to enjoy a session with Micheline Jenner.

The Long and Winding Way to the Top: Fifty (or so) Songs That Made Australia by Andrew P Street
I love music, and I’m currently reading The Long and Winding Way to the Top by Andrew P Street in readiness for the Festival. The author has selected 50 or so songs that made Australia and has carefully researched each one, presenting them in chronological order. 

I’ll admit not knowing every song listed, while rushing off to listen to old favourites with renewed zeal and appreciation for their back stories. We all have an opinion on music, so be sure to read this prior to his event so you can decide if he got it right or not.

Signs From Spirit: Inspiring True Stories from the Afterlife by Mitchell Coombes I love reading books by psychic mediums including: Lisa Williams, Allison DuBois, Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh and John Edward. I’ve also read books by Australian mediums – including Debbie Malone – and this year I learned about renowned Australian psychic medium Mitchell Coombes. 

Mitchell comes from a long family line of psychics, gave his first reading aged just three. I want to read his latest book Signs From Spirit and will be trying to get along to Mitchell’s event to experience his amazing work with spirit in person.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 – A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to Her Books by Annie Spence
If you’re reading this, you’re obviously a dedicated bookworm, booklover and bibliophile. My favourite bookish book this year is Dear Fahrenheit 451. Annie Spence is an experienced librarian and this is a collection of letters to books as well as cleverly curated booklists for all occasions. 

I instantly fell in love with Annie’s witty and natural writing style and you don’t need to have read the books mentioned in order to enjoy it. Although Annie isn’t appearing in this year’s program, I chose this book because it’s guaranteed to invigorate and energise your love of books and writing across all genres, the perfect preparation for a writers festival.

* This blog article was originally published on the Melbourne Writers Festival blog on 31 July 2018 and the festival is on from 24 August - 2 September 2018.
27 July 2018

Review: Lies by TM Logan

RRP $29.99
Published June 2017
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Published a year ago now, Lies by TM Logan was a brilliant psychological thriller and I ripped through it. Joe is happily married and his son spots his wife's car entering a hotel car park on their way home. Joe follows on impulse to surprise her, but soon discovers his life is based on a web of lies.

Joe Lynch is a terrific protagonist and I was cheering him on as he made smart choices and really felt for him when he let his heart rule his head. The pace is quick and the situation unfolding was tense which compelled me to keep reading and reading.

The novel was a 5 star read for me up until the very end and I guess it's fair to say I wasn't entirely happy with the denouement or the 'big reveal'. I didn't see it coming which was refreshing and couldn't see it ending any other way, but still wasn't 100% satisfied with the way it all turned out.

Lies by TM Logan was a gripping read and I recommend it to crime and thriller fans everywhere. Author TM Logan has already released his next novel 29 Seconds and it's available now.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
23 July 2018

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman book cover
I can't tell you how much I loved this book. I wasn't sure it was for me, but I'm soooo glad I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I know I'm late to the party; this debut by Gail Honeyman was published last year and has won several awards, including the 2018 Costa Debut Novel Award.

Eleanor is a troubled and solitary woman in her late 20s with a complex past and few social skills. Working in an office job, she has a set routine and her interactions with others were often cuttingly funny (she has no filter).

Eleanor struck a chord with me on the very first page and I can't think of a single character like her in all my reading history. I was cheering her on from the sidelines and revelled in her small victories along the way. Her unintentional wit and view of the world made her endearing and at other times my heart ached for her loneliness and dark past.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a brilliant novel and I highly recommend it. The film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon so fingers crossed Eleanor comes to the big screen soon.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. If you have any suggestions on the perfect actress to play Eleanor Oliphant in the movie adaptation, let me know in the comments below.
18 July 2018

Review: Australia's Most Unbelievable True Stories by Jim Haynes

RRP $22.99 AUD
Published 27 June 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Australian entertainer, broadcaster, historian and recipient of the Order of Australia Medal in 2016, Jim Haynes has a new offering in Australia's Most Unbelievable True Stories.

The book is broken down into four distinct parts:
- Stranger Than Fiction
- Royal Visitors Beware!
- Lest We Forget
- Those Magnificent Women and Men

My favourite story in the entire book was the non-fatal shooting of Prince Alfred in Sydney in 1867 and the colourful detail from the Sydney Mail newspaper at the time. It had me in absolute stitches. I'd never heard of the incident and I'm sure to re-visit this in the future, it's just so outlandish and funny.

However I didn't find the sections in the Lest We Forget part of the book to be 'unbelievable' true stories and found the military history heavy going. I was under the impression this was a humourous and light read, but the history is thorough and obviously well researched.

Having recently read and thoroughly enjoyed 1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted (another Allen & Unwin title), the stories here felt a little too long and some of them were just interesting, not unbelievable.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
12 July 2018

Review: The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell is the perfect historical fiction novel and I just loved it! Replete with crumbling mansion/estate that has seen better years, the novel is a story about family, secrets and regrets unfolding in a dual narrative.

Lillian marries Charles Oberon at the age of 26 and becomes mistress of Cloudesley, a manor house in the Chilterns. Now quite elderly, Lillian's story unfolds in a series of flashbacks.

Maggie comes back to Cloudesley to care for her Grandmother Lillian and is forced to face the repercussions and shame of her own actions a year or so ago.

I flew through The Peacock Summer and felt as though it was written just for me. Don't you love it when that happens? The pacing was perfect without any dull periods and the writing was so atmospheric I could almost hear the peacocks in the garden with Lillian and trace my finger through the dusty rooms along with Maggie.

The Peacock Summer is definitely for fans of Kate Morton and those who enjoy historical fiction. Highly recommended. I'm just sad it's over.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
06 July 2018

Review: 1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson & James Harkin

RRP $17.99AUD
Published 24 April 2018
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

All 1,342 facts in this book come from the BBC show QI and it was a very enlightening, informative and entertaining read. I read their earlier book 1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop in 2015 and it was just as engaging.

I loved being able to check the references for the facts online by visiting the QI website and entering the relevant page number. Despite sometimes slowing down my reading progress, I just had to know more about some of the facts listed in the book. Here are some of my favourites:

Making all the chain mail for The Lord of the Rings wore the costume designers' fingerprints away. Page 18

Each archer at the Battle of Agincourt had three arrows in the air at any given moment. Page 48

From 1850 to 1880, over 3,000 English women died after their skirts caught fire. Page 54

Tartle is an old Scottish word for the moment of panic when you're about to introduce someone and realise you've forgotten their name. Page 126

Roald Dahl, Noel Coward, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Harry Houdini and Christopher Lee all worked as spies. Page 163

121 bell-ringers were killed by lightning in Germany between 1750 and 1783, due to a belief that church bells drove away storms. Page 250

1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted is the perfect book to take with you in your handbag/manbag/backpack or briefcase and is super easy to read when you want something engaging to occupy a few minutes.

Highly recommended for trivia buffs, know-it-alls and curious readers of all ages.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
03 July 2018

Review: The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse is an epic tale of a family in mid 1500s France set against the backdrop of the civil unrest between the Catholics and Huguenots.

This is quite a hefty tome coming in at over 580 pages and while I don't mind a chunky read every now and again, I did find this one a little too long. I wanted the main character to spend more time at her father's bookshop and felt a little robbed when that was just a kicking off point to her story.

Containing a mystery and a love story amongst the turbulent political setting, the writing was evocative but sometimes a little repetitive (e.g. the word pernicious appears twice on page 123). The period seemed to be excellently researched though and those with an interest in the French Wars of Religion will thoroughly enjoy this historical fiction novel.

Overall I found it a good but slow moving story with the convergence of the characters at the end a little unrealistic. The Burning Chambers is the first in a series with the second novel The City of Tears due for publication in 2020. I'm pretty sure fans of Ken Follett will enjoy this series.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!