30 December 2019

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge & Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2019

Two reading challenges close to my heart (because they're both Australian and are run by some of my favourite bloggers) are the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge. I successfully completed both challenges again this year and thought I'd wrap them up together.

2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

To complete the Franklin level of the 2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge I had to read 10 books and review 6 of them. I improved on last year's tally of 15 books and read the following 21 books:
Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2019 logo

1. The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker ✭✭✭1/2
2. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan ✭✭✭
4. Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer ✭✭✭
5. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
6. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein ✭✭✭✭
7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
8. The Accusation by Wendy James ✭✭✭✭1/2
9. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ✭✭✭✭
10. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose ✭✭
11. Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford ✭✭✭
12. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ✭✭✭✭
13. Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett ✭✭✭
14. Hide by S.J. Morgan ✭✭✭✭
15. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean ✭✭✭
16. Hive by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
17. Rogue by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
18. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ✭✭✭✭
19. Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ✭✭✭
20. The Choke by Sofie Laguna ✭✭
21. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper ✭✭✭

Aussie Author 2019 Challenge

For the Aussie Author 2019 Challenge I had to read and review 12 titles by Australian authors across a minimum of 3 genres. 4 titles had to be by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 had to be new (to me) authors. I improved on last year’s number of 26 and read the following 30 books:
Aussie Author Challenge 2019 logo

1. Dead Heat by Peter Cotton ✭
2. Hunter by Jack Heath ✭✭✭✭✭
3. Green Is The New Black by James Phelps ✭
4. The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker ✭✭✭1/2
5. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan ✭✭✭
6. Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer ✭✭✭
7. My Book (Not Yours) by Ben Sanders ✭✭✭
8. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
9. Boxed by Richard Anderson ✭✭✭✭
10. A Lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley ✭✭✭
11. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein ✭✭✭✭
12. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
13. The Accusation by Wendy James ✭✭✭✭1/2
14. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ✭✭✭✭
15. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose ✭✭
16. The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins ✭✭✭
17. Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford ✭✭✭
18. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ✭✭✭✭
19. Snake Island by Ben Hobson ✭✭✭✭✭
20. Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett ✭✭✭
21. Silver by Chris Hammer ✭✭✭
22. Hide by S.J. Morgan ✭✭✭✭
23. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean ✭✭✭
24. Sh*t Towns of Australia by Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole ✭
25. Hive by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
26. Rogue by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
27. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ✭✭✭✭
28. Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ✭✭✭
29. The Choke by Sofie Laguna ✭✭
30. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper ✭✭✭

As you can see, I had a prolific reading year in 2019 supporting Australian authors and publishers with some fantastic titles in the mix across a variety of genres.

I'll be signing up for both challenges again in 2020 and sign-up pages are already open so visit the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and 2020 Aussie Author Challenge pages for more info.

Carpe Librum!

29 December 2019

Review: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice book cover
Prince Lestat by Anne Rice was a disappointing read for me in 2017, which has made the next in The Vampire Chronicles series - Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis - a real worrisome presence on my TBR. Given to me for Christmas in 2016, it even made my Intimidating Books on My Bookshelf post for Boomerang Books back in May 2018.

Reviewing this post recently, I realised I was yet to tackle any of the books from the list and decided Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis was the easiest and most accessible. And I'm so glad I did. Anne Rice has returned to form and the storyline has moved quickly on from the stagnancy of the previous novel. What a relief.

The history behind Amel's beginnings were unexpected and the revelations about Atlantis were engaging. The overall message about the creation of mankind as we know it allowed Rice a particular slant on things which didn't involve religion and was therefore a refreshing take on humanity as we know it.

Our favourite vampires were present in the novel and once again we heard from some of them in alternating chapters. I don't mind admitting I found the complex relationships between fledglings and makers and their overlapping histories a little difficult to keep up with at times, but fortunately Rice continually reminds us of their connections to one another.

I enjoyed hearing about Marius's efforts to create a constitution to govern the blood drinkers and I hope to learn more about the rules established for the court in future books. Speaking of the court, classical music was played - and mentioned - every night at the Chateau and the observations about dress were present on every page. That said, there did appear to be a little less description in favour of a tad more action this time around which was welcomed.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice cannot be read as a stand alone, but the good news is the next in this series was published in 2018 and is called Blood Communion (Book 13). I've decided to continue with the series and look forward to reading it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

23 December 2019

Review: The Arsonist - A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist - A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper audio cover
I've been enjoying a number of true crime podcasts this year and have very recently made the transition to audiobook. At this stage I can only listen to non fiction as my mind seems to wander when listening to anything else. I began listening to this audiobook during Non Fiction November but didn't finish it in time to qualify for the challenge.

Published last year, The Arsonist - A Mind on Fire by Australian author Chloe Hooper is the non fiction account of the Black Saturday fires in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. Hooper shines her spotlight on the deliberately lit Churchill fires that killed 10 people and destroyed 150 homes in February 2009.

Hooper investigates the fire and provides insight into the victims and survivors and their community. She covers the search for the arsonist and the identification and subsequent arrest of a suspect.

Investigators immediately noticed Brendan Sokaluk's behaviour was unusual. A former CFA volunteer, Sokaluk seemed slow to understand questions and his answers were incredibly simplistic. It was initially feared Sokaluk was acting in order to mislead Police, however it was later determined he was mildly autistic and intellectually disabled.

Sokaluk's trial is covered in great detail while Hooper also delves into his upbringing and background. Sokaluk claims he accidentally started the fire and didn't mean to hurt anyone but the truth isn't clear.

Brendan Sokaluk was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to 17 years and 9 months for his crime, making him Victoria's worst mass killer. There was no sense of justice or jubilation in the sentencing of the bad guy here and instead I just felt an overall sadness for the entire situation; particularly for the victims and survivors.

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper is recommended reading for those interested in the nature of bushfires in Australia and the toll arsonists inflict when they intentionally set fires in rural areas. Unfortunately this is happening again right now.

My Rating:
★ ★

21 December 2019

2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge Completed

It's been another successful reading year for me and historical fiction has constituted 20% of my overall reading. Thankfully I wasn't in any danger of failing to complete the 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year, unlike other years.

Hosted as always by Amy at Passages to the Past, I had to read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the challenge and did so with ease.

Here's what I read for the challenge:

1. The Familiars by Stacey Halls ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
2. Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell ⭑⭑
3. The Binding by Bridget Collins ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
4. Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
5. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ⭑⭑⭑⭑
6. Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
7. The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley ⭑⭑⭑
8. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ⭑⭑⭑⭑
9. Tidelands by Philippa Gregory ⭑⭑⭑⭑
10. The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan ⭑⭑⭑⭑
11. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
12. Bone China by Laura Purcell ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
13. The Lost Ones by Anita Frank ⭑⭑⭑⭑
14. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ⭑⭑⭑⭑
15. Things In Jars by Jess Kidd ⭑⭑⭑⭑

You can see from the star ratings that I had an enjoyable historical fiction reading year, which isn't too surprising given it's my favourite genre.

Have you read any of the books above?
2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Carpe Librum!

19 December 2019

Review: The Dumb House by John Burnside

The Dumb House by John Burnside book cover
I wanted to read another classic before the year ends and this time I picked up The Dumb House by John Burnside. A Vintage Classic published in 1997, this is a very dark poetic novel I've been looking forward to reading for years.

Told in the first person by our reclusive and strange bachelor Luke, this is a short novel about his search for proof of the living soul. Luke has concluded that communication is the basis for the soul, and wonders whether children raised without language will have the means to develop thoughts. Furthermore, if a person has no language to form coherent thoughts, do they have a soul?

The premise of the book is an experiment whereby Luke raises children without ever exposing them to language. Keeping them in isolation and constantly observing their behaviour, our protagonist is on alert for any evidence of a newly developed language or means of communication.

I thought the book would focus on the experiment and the results, but just as in The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan, the storyline deviated from the experiment. We learn about Luke's unusual upbringing and his odd relationship with his mother in addition to his depraved activities with women he is attracted to.

Luke is a despicable and deranged man and while I've always been interested in reading from the perspective of the 'bad guy' so I can find out what makes them tick (e.g. You by Caroline Kepnes and Hangman by Jack Heath), on this occasion I felt like I needed to wash my hands each time I set this book down.

It really is a grubby little book full of beautiful poetic writing with a very dark and twisted core at its centre. I really don't know how it became a Vintage Classic, other than the fact it explores the ideals of what makes us human, the makeup and location of the soul and the importance of language and communication within society.

There's no doubt these philosophical ideas are worthy of examination, I just wish I'd explored them from a better vantage point. There was no redeeming conclusion to the novel either, just the hinted continuance evident in The Choke by Sofie Laguna. Life goes on.

My apologies to anyone who has heard me rave about this book or seen it on my TBR and added it to theirs. Not recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★ ★

17 December 2019

Non Fiction November 2019 Wrap-Up

The Non Fiction November 2019 challenge was to read more non fiction than I usually would in a month and I definitely succeeded. However it did come as a bit of a shock when I realised that each of the books I read for the challenge had the word dead or death in the title. Whoops! Here's how my reading went for the challenge.

Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold ⭐⭐⭐
The author tackles the fascinating history of London burials from pre-historic and medieval times to the present day and if you enjoy history, anthropology, urban development, changing attitudes to death and mourning or learning about the macabre, this is for you. A personal message from the author on Twitter was a nice touch after I published the review.

The Royal Art of Poison: Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This covers all of the toxic poisons contained in cosmetics and the disastrous medicines used by doctors and well-meaning apothecaries in history. It examines a collection of famous figures from history and their deaths, with modern reviews and theories on whether they were poisoned. The book concludes with the poison hall of fame; an ingenious list containing the quickest poison, the most painful poison and so on. A terrific read!

Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ⭐⭐⭐
The author looks into the disappearance of Bob Chappell in January 2009 and the subsequent trial and incarceration of his partner Sue Neill-Fraser. It is widely held Neill-Fraser is innocent of Bob's murder and after reading the book my opinion hasn't changed.

As it turned out, all three books were by female authors, one of which is Australian. History, science and death were the dominant topics with one Australian true crime.

I also started listening to the audiobook of The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper but didn't finish it in time to qualify for the challenge.

How did you go? Did you read any non fiction this month? I really enjoyed the experience and I look forward to participating again next year. Thanks to A Book Olive for organising.

Carpe Librum!
Titles Read by Carpe Librum for Non Fiction November 2019

14 December 2019

Review: The Choke by Sofie Laguna

The Choke by Sofie Laguna book cover
RRP $32.99
Published August 2017
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

In 2017, the Miles Franklin Winner from 2015 Sofie Laguna released The Choke to critical acclaim. Set in a rural area on the Murray River, it's a bleak literary novel narrated by a 10 year old protagonist Justine.

Justine lives with her pop, a WWII veteran suffering the trauma of working on the Burma railway and barely surviving the war. Her father is mostly absent and her mother abandoned Justine when she was just 3 years old.

I enjoyed elements at the beginning of the book, the youthful exuberance of playing cubbies with her half brothers and swimming in the Murray River. The Australian landscape really comes alive on the page.

However there's no doubting Justine is from a very poor background, unable to read with what appears to be undiagnosed dyslexia (I could be wrong) and no-one to teach her about puberty.

Justine's father is a criminal and there is a gloomy and heavy feeling to the entire novel. Justine's prospects lift when she makes a new friend, and this was my favourite part of the book. Justine's friendship with Michael was magic and I'd have been far happier if the story had ended there. However it was somewhat foolish to think Justine could have a happy ending and somehow escape the poverty cycle.

The Choke moves on a few years and approaches a defining moment in Justine's life. It's heartbreaking, depressing and I found myself thinking this just might belong in the fabled genre of misery lit. Justine's future prospects are grim and the sense of helplessness was overwhelming.

Most readers have seen a searing truth in Justine's story and adore this book. The Choke was nominated for a swag of awards and Australian literature lovers obviously revere it. Unfortunately it didn't work for me. I was too depressed and drained of empathy to enjoy the book and was glad to put this story of childhood neglect, sexual abuse, criminality and poverty behind me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

P.S. Click here to read the opening chapters of The Choke by Sofie Laguna.
09 December 2019

Review: Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles book cover
* Won in a Scribe Publications giveaway hosted by Australian Writers' Centre *

On 26 January 2009, Bob Chappell went missing from his yacht Four Winds and was never seen again. Bob Chappell had been with his partner Sue Neill-Fraser for 18 years at the time of his disappearance and their yacht was moored near the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania marina in Hobart. Neill-Fraser was eager to help Police and gave several statements, each varying a little on the details. With nothing else to go on, Police became convinced she had harmed Bob and charged her with murder.

The trial was held in 2010 after which Neill-Fraser was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years with a non-parole period of 18 years. (As an aside, I can't understand how Borce Ristevski can receive a sentence of 9 years with a minimum of 6 - since increased to 13 years with a minimum of 10 - after pleading guilty to his wife's murder while Neill-Fraser is sentenced to 26 years!)

The court case was widely reported at the time and many - including the defendant's family and friends - believed she was not guilty of the crime.

Australian author Robin Bowles draws on her experience and connections in Tasmania to give the reader an in depth look at all the ins and outs of the crime, the investigation, the court case and more in Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's story. Since reading and reviewing Into the Darkness - The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk in March 2017 Bowles' writing style has improved in that she no longer inserts herself into the content presented.

Before picking up Death on the Derwent I believed Sue Neill-Fraser was innocent. My opinion hasn't changed but at least now I'm more informed. I was very moved by a 60 Minutes interview with Meaghan Vass in March 2019 which has significant bearing on this case. Vass was one of the witnesses in the court case and she told 60 Minutes her friends murdered Bob aboard the Four Winds in January 2009 and disposed of his body.

This recorded admission essentially exonerates Neill-Fraser but Police decided not to take any further action. Whaaat? Furthermore, it's a shame this interview was aired after the publication of Death on the Derwent as I'm almost certain Bowles would like to have included this key information.

However the bigger question is, how is Neill-Fraser still in jail after this 'confession' from Vass? It's astounding. And if we believe Vass, it follows that the killer is still walking around! Bowles attempts to explain the injustice and the inner workings of Tasmanian legal politics however it only served to make my blood boil.

Overall, there was an abundance of information presented here that exceeded my level of interest in the case, but the end result is a comprehensive account. I hope Neill-Fraser receives justice some day soon.

Recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the law.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

06 December 2019

Review: Things In Jars by Jess Kidd

Things In Jars by Jess Kidd book cover
RRP $39.99 AUD
Published May 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

London 1863 and Christabel Berwick - a girl of striking appearance and unnatural powers - has been kidnapped. Investigating the kidnapping is our protagonist Mrs Bridie Devine, a pipe-smoking redheaded domestic investigator who also conducts minor surgical procedures.

This detective novel takes us into the seedier corners of Victorian London and the lives of nefarious doctors, anatomists and their collections of curiosities and a travelling circus renowned for showcasing the strange and wonderful.

The city of London is expertly described:
"But for now, the slums are as they have always been: as warm and lively as a blanket full of lice." Page 25
"Follow the fulsome fumes from the tanners and the reek from the brewery, butterscotch rotten, drifting across Seven Dials. Keep on past the mothballs at the cheap tailor's and turn left at the singed silk of the maddened hatter. Just beyond you'll detect the unwashed crotch of the overworked prostitute and the Christian sweat of the charwoman. On every inhale a shifting scale of onions and scalded milk, chrysanthemums and spiced apple, broiled meat and wet straw, and the sudden stench of the Thames as the wind changes direction and blows up the knotted backstreets." Page 25
As you can see, the writing in Things In Jars by Jess Kidd is superb. At one point she describes a character as having resplendent whiskers and I thought yes! Her writing is just that: resplendent. I paused often to enjoy a sentence or particular description which seemed effortless yet poignant and often quite funny. My mind was buzzing with sheer joy at her turn of phrase and the story became a mere byproduct.

Bridie Devine enjoys smoking Prudhoe's Bronchial Balsam Blend despite the possible side effects:
"But the list is long and includes many adverse reactions, from sweating of the eyeballs to sensitivity to accordion music." Page 14
It was difficult to rate Things In Jars by Jess Kidd; the writing was divine (see what I did there?) and definitely worthy of 5 stars however the story wasn't anywhere near as faultless, earning 3 stars.

As much as it pains me, I give this gothic historical fiction detective novel 4 stars. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. For more, check out my review of The Hoarder by Jess Kidd.
04 December 2019

Winner of Hide by S.J. Morgan announced

I had a lot of fun reading your answers to the Hide giveaway last week. You might remember S.J. Morgan used 20 words to describe her novel in our interview together and you needed to choose one to enter the giveaway. The most popular word chosen was dysfunction and our winner chose the word grit.

The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 1 December 2019 and the winner was drawn today.
Hide by S.J. Morgan cover


You've won a personalised signed copy of Hide by S.J. Morgan. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and the author will be sending out your personalised prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaways.

Carpe Librum!
02 December 2019

Review: The Royal Art of Poison - Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman cover
The next book I read for the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge was The Royal Art of Poison - Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman.

It covers all of the toxic poisons contained in cosmetics and the disastrous medicines used by doctors and well-meaning apothecaries. It examines a collection of famous figures from history and their deaths, with modern reviews and theories on whether they were poisoned.

Heavy metal poisons include: arsenic, antimony, lead and mercury. Some notable plant poisons include: belladonna or deadly nightshade, hemlock, henbane, monks-hood or wolf's bane. Post renaissance poisons included: cyanide, sarin and strychnine.

I'm interested in the food poisonings in royal courts and was amused to learn that when servants carried food into a royal dining chamber: 
"they placed them on a credenza, which takes its name from the various 'credence' tests for poison conducted there." Page 153
The horn of a unicorn was believed to show indications of poison when it was waved over or dipped into food or drink. It wasn't a real unicorn horn but the tusk of a narwhal, a creature not discovered until the eighteenth century. Bezoar stones were also used.

As we now know, many poisons were used in cosmetics. For white teeth, ladies applied a powder:
"that contained grain, pumice stone, aloe, vinegar, honey, cinnamon, pearls, scrapings of ivory, quinces, and walnuts crushed into a paste and cooked with silver or gold foil." Page 607 
The abrasive powder removed stains but also the tooth enamel.

Many medications contained heavy metals and the sicker a patient became, the more medicine they required often making them sicker. I knew about the humours, blood letting, enemas and poultices, but I didn't know that: 
"whenever a member of the royal family was gravely ill, doctors would remove saintly body parts and entire corpses from churches and monasteries and put them in bed with the invalid." Page 793
Outrageous! Herman introduces us to poisons used today that are almost untraceable and concludes with the poison hall of fame. This was an ingenious list containing the quickest poison (cyanide), the most painful poison (strychnine) and so on.

All in all, Herman gives us plenty of interesting tidbits from history to sink our teeth into. I could have done with less of the biographical history in each of the modern autopsies but it's a small complaint. The Royal Art of Poison was informative, unexpectedly funny (have you ever felt so sick you believed you were bursting in twain?) and highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

29 November 2019

Review: Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust

Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Sylvie grew up in the family manor of Bledesford, escaping the expectations that accompanied the Dearlove family name and fleeing to New York where she established her fashion label.

Years later she returns home, her business in ruins and full of shame for tarnishing the Dearlove name.

Discovering Bledesford has deteriorated to the point of no return, Sylvie begins to help her parents prepare the estate for sale. In doing so, she discovers an attic full of vintage garments from the glory days of Bledesford, gets to know her mother and Grandmother better and begins to uncover some long-kept family secrets.

Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust is a multi-generational family saga encompassing five generations. This is an historical fiction novel of secrets, family, love and relationships tied together by a thread of fashion. I don't know anything about fashion, but I enjoyed the sense of history Sylvie attaches to vintage clothing.
"She'd always wondered at the things those clothes had seen. Great parties between the wars, certainly, but also the insides of souks or palaces, or some clever dressmaker's studio on the Left Bank in Paris. But it was more than that, Sylvie thought - a dress could be a beautiful thing but it also held something of what the wearer had experienced when they were wearing it - love, joy, sadness, desire, anger." Page 89
This novel reminded me very much of The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley. There too the main character's home is a run down family estate (Admiralty House) on the verge of bankruptcy. Vintage garments worth a lot of money are discovered in the attic and are an inspiration to the main character. Of course, this isn't the fault of the author Kelly Doust; Dressing the Dearloves was published first in 2018 but if you enjoyed The Butterfly Room you'll love this.

Dressing the Dearloves by Australian author Kelly Doust will appeal to historical fiction fans who enjoy a feel good story about strong and determined women, secrets, family, romance and fashion. Also recommended for fans of Kate Morton.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. For more, check out my review of Precious Things by Kelly Doust.
27 November 2019

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

The Lying Room by Nicci French book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Nicci French has published twenty-one bestselling books, but The Lying Room is the first standalone novel in 10 years. I've never read Nicci French before, but I was aware it's a pseudonym for married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Curious about how this writing partnership works, The Lying Room was the perfect non-committal entry point.

Neve Connolly is our protagonist and after finding someone she knows murdered she decides not to call the police. (I was already shrieking at her to PICK UP THE PHONE, knowing this wasn't going to go well). Naturally this decision kicks off a train of events that gathers speed as it rolls on.

Neve is a busy working mum with plenty of friends and way too much on her plate. Her friends are always at her house and her work from home husband is a slouch. In fact, I really disliked Fletcher and was keen to give him a kick in the pants.

It's fair to say Neve got on my nerves too at times, but I have to remember characters aren't always going to behave the way I would.

DCI Hitching was a character with a small role but definitely the stand out for me. I didn't fall for the red herring which was a relief and the identity of the killer came as a mild surprise.

The Lying Room is about (you guessed it) lies, work, family, marriage, infidelity, jealousy and long term friendship dynamics. This was an easy to read slow burn domestic noir 'whodunnit' and the writing between the duo was seamless.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

25 November 2019

Review: Rogue by A.J. Betts

Rogue by A.J. Betts cover
* Won in a Pan Macmillan giveaway hosted by The Very Hungry Thesaurus on Instagram *

Rogue by A.J. Betts is the conclusion to this duology that began with Hive. I can't say too much about this book without spoiling the ending of Hive for those who may not have read it yet, so this review will be brief.

The dystopian aspect of the story ramped up in Rogue and we learned more about the establishment of Hayley's original home. The author did a great job imagining a dystopian Australian future and painted a worrying picture for the reader.

Hayley continues to adapt quickly to her surroundings and fight for the future she wants. While an event close to the end of the book took me pleasantly by surprise.

Quick and easy to read with a satisfying conclusion, I recommend this Australian duology of Hive and Rogue to YA readers and those who enjoy dystopian fiction.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

22 November 2019

Giveaway & Author Interview with S.J. Morgan

Hide by S.J. Morgan cover
Today I'd like to welcome Australian author S.J. Morgan to Carpe Librum for an interview and giveaway. You'll recall I reviewed her first adult novel Hide last month and gave it 4 stars. Now I get to ask her some questions! Welcome to Carpe Librum Sue!


If you had 20 words to convince a reader to pick up Hide, what would they be?
Oh gosh – that’s a challenge! I guess we hear things in soundbites or ‘grabs’ so I’d just throw twenty words in the air. And those words would be: menace, 80s, Wales, outback, grit, danger, fear, family, bikies, grief, loyalty, threat, violence, dysfunction, damage, healing, page-turning, friendships, crime, intrigue.

What was your favourite scene in Hide to write and why?
I loved writing all of it to be honest, but the scenes between Minto and Alec are my favourites. I had such a clear idea of both characters that I felt I was ‘there’ and I was just reporting what was going on. It’s such a great feeling when the words just arrive like that. I also really enjoyed writing the tense/tetchy scenes between Alec and Daniella and Alec and his dad – basically, it seems I love a good argument!

There are some pretty intimidating bikie characters in Hide. Have you met any bikies in real life?
I wish I could say that I once led a completely different life and was actually involved with a key member of a bikie gang myself, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. I’ve just always been fascinated – plus, one of my strongest memories of arriving in Australia was when we went on a big road trip and encountered a massive gathering of bikies along the way. I suspect that experience gave me the initial spark for the story. While I was writing the book, I also discovered some local connections to the bikie world so that gave me some great starting points from which to do research.

You’ve written books in several genres, including: short stories, young adult, children’s fiction and now your first adult novel, Hide. Tell us more, do you thrive on variety?
I don’t set out with the idea to write a children’s book or a thriller or a YA novel - I tend to simply start with a scenario, which appears quite clearly, but randomly, in my head. It’s that spark of an idea that then directs what sort of book it’s going to be – whether for teens or adults or children. I think ‘intrigue’ is probably what binds my stories together; I like that mounting sense of something ‘not right’ on the horizon. I guess I must just be drawn to mystery, generally.

Where do you do most of your writing? When do you do your best work?
It depends what stage I’m at. At the very beginning of an idea, it’s usually middle of the night scribbles from my bed. My favourite bit is the first draft when all the ideas are buzzing. At that point, my preference is to use a favourite pen and a gorgeous new notebook; then I like to get up early and go to my local cafĂ© where there’s a mezzanine area that is almost always quiet. It’s like my own little nook and I love going there to write. I do have a study at home, with a desk which overlooks our garden. Unfortunately, I’m a total clutter-bug and the desk is often awash with papers and books, so I often end up working at the dining room table. Our two greyhounds, Dylan and Maxie are always stretched out, close by - and at some point, I try to remember to take them out for a walk so that I’m not sitting down all day! After dark, I’m not very productive in terms of words-on-a-page, but I do most of my thinking, planning and plotting just before I go to sleep.

What books are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island which I’m really enjoying. Unfortunately, with so much going on in the run up to Hide’s release, I’ve been reading it in fits and starts which is definitely not my favourite way to enjoy a good book! Next up is Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love and after that, David Nichols, Sweet Sorrow. I also bought Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again recently, to add to the TBR pile before Santa (hopefully!) brings more.

What are some of your favourite books/authors?
I like variety in what I’m reading as well as what I’m writing. Last year, before Heaven Sent came out, I was fully immersed in YA. My Sister Rosa, Between Us and It Sounded Better in my Head stand out in my mind as ones I read and loved. I also enjoy women’s fiction, so I race through Liane Moriarty books and just about anything by Anne Tyler. I think my favourite books of the last couple of years would be Eva Hornung’s The Last Garden which was just delicious, as was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine too and have My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier on my TBR. Do you have a favourite bookshop in Adelaide?
Well now, authors need ALL the bookshops so there can’t be favourites! Adelaide is blessed with lovely bookstores, so I feel very lucky to be so spoilt for choice. I recently visited Harry Hartog’s in Burnside and Dymocks Adelaide – both have staff who are wonderfully supportive of local authors and they both gave me a very warm welcome. We also have the beautiful Shakespeare’s Bookshop in Blackwood run by Becky and Mike Lucas, Dillons in Norwood, and up here in the Hills – my local – Matilda Bookshop. I’m fortunate to have so many gorgeous places to buy good books.

What books have you always meant to read and haven’t got round to yet?
Ooh, that’s an interesting question and I suspect I will think of a dozen more as soon as I’ve finished answering. There are quite a lot of classics that I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read: Little Women, for instance; Moby Dick; Huckleberry Finn. The trouble is, with so many new, enticing books coming out, I can’t imagine ever finding the time to go back and read all the ones I should’ve read years ago.

It's a hard balance, isn't it? Is it true you love stationery? I would love to hear more. (I collect bookmarks and love washi tape, notebooks, pens and more).
Oh yes, I adore stationery – pens, pencils, notebooks, stick-on notes, paperclips, binders, folders – no amount of it can ever be too much. And I love drawers, boxes and ‘organising’ systems, so I like storing stationery as much as having it. Basically, I love anything with compartments, drawers and shelves. I also have a passion for old cash registers, adding machines and typewriters too – things with buttons/keys that make a nice mechanical sound. If I could buy an old library or an old post office from the 50s, with all its fittings and fixtures intact, I would be in heaven!

Oooh, sounds perfect! I'd love to have a peek through your stationery drawers. So, what's next?
Well, I have been almost-at-the-end of my next contemporary YA book for ages, but I feel I need some mental quietness to get it finished and that seems to have been in short supply for a while. I’m looking forward to completing it though. Then it will be back to sending submissions out to publishers and agents again …

Anything else you'd like to add?
Just to say thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog and for reviewing my book. I knew nothing about book blogs when I started this whole publishing journey, but it’s been one of the great things I’ve discovered along the way: a whole raft of people who love reading and who love talking books. I’ve become quite addicted to reading book blogs, so thank you again for having me on yours!

Thanks for the kind words Sue, it's been a real pleasure. Readers in Australia were invited to enter the giveaway to win a signed copy of Hide valued at $32.99AUD. Entries closed 1 December 2019.


This giveaway has now closed.

20 November 2019

Review: Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold

Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold cover
The first book I read for the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge this year is Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold. The author tackles the fascinating history of London burials from pre-historic and medieval times to the present day.

According to the blurb:
"The city is one giant grave, filled with the remains of previous eras. The Houses of Parliament sit on the edge of a former plague pit, St Paul's is built over human remains; Underground tunnels were driven through forgotten catacombs, thick with bones."
I found the earliest history the least interesting. My fascination really begins as burial space in London and the surrounding areas became cramped and Londoners began to run out of places to bury their dead.

Arnold shines a light into the darkness of countless horrific practices in graveyards all over London. Remains were shoved into crevices within churches, often dug up and relocated to charnel houses or pits without notifying the families and bodysnatchers were a real concern. Some graveyards had significantly grown in height due to the placement of bodies on top of each other in layers that in some cases, the burial grounds were reaching the first floor windows of churches and neighbouring houses.

Many proposed the move away from inner city burials in churchyards and burial plots, and championed the establishment of new cemeteries in consecrated ground in the countryside. Arnold takes us through the movers and shakers across decades and centuries as this began to take form, including the key figures involved in designing these cemeteries.

Countless cemeteries and graveyards are mentioned here including the iconic - and my favourite - Highgate Cemetery, which provides a rich history for amateur sleuths and family historians. Many of the old graveyards scattered throughout London were soon forgotten together with the plague pits which had never been marked with gravestones or markers.
"As time passed, London has constructed houses, churches, streets, entire railway stations, over these mass graves, and it is only by chance that they come to light due to building excavations." Page 65
"In fact, the tunnel curves between Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations because it was impossible to drill through the mass of skeletal remains buried in Hyde Park." Page 2
I knew how devastating the Great Fire of London was in 1666, however it was shocking to read: 
"Seventy per cent of its houses vanished into the flames. Thirteen thousand buildings, including eighty-nine churches, disappeared for ever." Page 68
After the fires and the razing of so many structures, new construction began and the dead were swiftly forgotten in favour of rebuilding London. Gravestones, rubble and in some cases human remains from the fires were used in the foundations of new buildings.
"Inevitably, the final remains of many Londoners went into the latest foundations of their great city." Page 172
I enjoy fiction set - or written - during the Victorian era with a particular interest in the rituals and etiquette surrounding death and mourning. Arnold gives the reader much to digest in Necropolis, with the introduction of the great Victorian cemeteries and the detailed mourning practices of the era.

The horses used in Victorian funerals to pull hearses and mourning coaches were: 
"strong, handsome, blue-black animals, worth 50 [pounds] each, were imported from Holland and Belgium. Constantly in the public eye, they were always well groomed. A patch of grey would be painted out, a thinning mane or tail supplemented with hair from a deceased comrade. Mostly gentle and docile they were sturdy animals." Page 196
The introduction of cremation and society's changing attitudes towards it were interesting as were the impact of both world wars on the notion of grief and mourning. Although I could have done without the remarkable level of detail with regard to the individual cemeteries.

Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold reads like an academic text and isn't for everyone. If you enjoy history, anthropology, urban development, changing attitudes to death and mourning or learning about the macabre, then this is for you.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

18 November 2019

Review: Hive by A.J. Betts

Hive by A.J. Betts cover
* Won in a Pan Macmillan giveaway hosted by The Very Hungry Thesaurus on Instagram *

Hive is the first in a young adult duology by Australian author A.J. Betts. Set in a dystopian future, Hayley's world is made up of hexagonal houses where everyone has a vocation.

Hayley is a gardener and tends the bee hive and plants with her best friend Celia. Grow lights change colour to dictate the passage of time and all 300 inhabitants have a job to do. Each person contributes to the running of the settlement that almost operates like a hive.

Isolated from the rest of the world, governed by God where nobody knows their birth parents, this community also had the feeling of a religious cult.

Hayley is naturally inquisitive and when she notices a drip in an area that is off limits to her, she's desperate for answers. If she's going mad then she'll have a bleak future, but what if something else is going on?

The world building was clever, the writing was evocative and I enjoyed learning about Hayley's settlement and the goings on within the group.

I don't often read YA or dystopian fiction, so it took me a little while to settle into Hayley's world, but reading Hive was a refreshing palate cleanser from my usual eclectic fare.

The next in the duology is Rogue and I'm planning on reading that next.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

14 November 2019

Review: Sh*t Towns of Australia by Rick Furphy & Geoff Rissole

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11 November 2019

Review: Him by Clare Empson

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia competition *

Him by Clare Empson begins with Catherine driven mute by earlier events. I was intrigued by the premise and wondered what triggered her to withdraw so far into herself. As the novel jumps back and forth in time, the events that lead to the mutism four months previously are slowly but surely brought to the surface.

Catherine and Lucian fell in love at university, their relationship was relatable and their mutual infatuation believable. Welcomed into Lucian's elite circle of friends, their unexpected breakup took a toll on Lucian and the reason behind it is one of the novel's mysteries.

Told in a multitude of timeframes: now, 4 months earlier, 15 years earlier and from the perspectives of both Catherine and Lucian, the narrative did feel somewhat jumpy and disjointed as a result.

I didn't feel terribly invested in either of the main characters and found the supporting characters to be either vacuous or vulnerable. Their rich lifestyles may interest some readers, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes at their behaviour (now and then) and sense of entitlement.

While I had very little empathy for Catherine, I did care for one of the characters and found her unique story quite moving. Catherine's mutism almost frustrated me as much as it did her husband, and the big 'reveal' or denouement wasn't really worth the reader investment or the build up in my view.

Him is a story of obsessive love, lies, secrets and regrets populated by wealthy young people battling addictions and depression trying to find real love.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★

08 November 2019

Review: The Confession by Jessie Burton

The Confession by Jessie Burton cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

The Confession by Jessie Burton is a dual narrative story about three women, Elise, Constance and Rose. Elise and Constance are lovers in the 1980s and in the present day, Rose seeks answers about her mother Elise, who left when she was a baby.

Constance is a successful author, and the reader is given an insight into her career during the 1980s and her life as a reclusive writer in the present day. Rose devises a ruse to meet Constance and drill her for answers about her mother.

The Confession is my first time reading Jessie Burton and I was gripped by her writing. (Oh and the cover design is stunning!) Essentially a story about love, purpose, motherhood, relationships, choices, secrets and regrets, the narrative kept me turning pages as the confession of the title drew nearer.

Of the three characters, Constance was easily my favourite. Her life was deeply compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed her personality. Rose I liked the least, the ruse and her dishonesty being part of it, but I also found her aimlessness a little irritating.

While I enjoyed the story and the writing, the unresolved ending prevented this from being a five star read for me. While Rose says she's moving on, the book ends with her still searching for answers. (I hope that's vague enough to avoid any spoilers). This was frustrating and coming so soon after another unresolved ending - in The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean - the frustration was compounded. I need more answers people!

Once the 'high' of the confession - or conversation - I'd been waiting for during the entire book was over and I spent a few days reflecting, the effect wore off. If you love a mystery and a deep and meaningful tale of women finding their way in life, then The Confession is for you. I'll definitely keep an eye out for more from Jessie Burton.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 November 2019

Review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Australian author Felicity McLean has been incredibly popular this year. It begins when our narrator Tikka returns to her suburban home in Sydney. There she's forced to recount the summer of 1992 and the disappearance of the Van Apfel girls during their school concert.

Tikka Molloy was eleven years old at the time and the Van Apfel family (with three daughters) were neighbours. Tikka and her older sister were friends with the Van Apfel girls and their disappearance shocked the local community at the time.

The writing is evocative and atmospheric, and managed to capture Tikka's childhood with every ice cream, school project and ride in her parent's car. Even the simplest scenes like walking to school or a sleepover took me right into the heart of the story while also making me feel incredibly nostalgic.

I enjoyed the coming-of-age elements and the descriptions of the girls, including the dynamics between the two families and the sibling relationships between them.

Where I had a few issues however is that the story is not linear.

Similarities have been made to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and I can see why. The Lisbon girls (from The Virgin Suicides) and Van Apfel girls are both raised in strictly religious households. The narrators in both novels are haunted and slightly obsessed by the loss of the girls.

Similarities have also been drawn to Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay in that several girls disappear into the Australian bush in the harsh summer and only one comes back. While comparisons like these do attract interest to the book and presumably boost sales, these links are somewhat tenuous in this case.

What made this a 3 star read for me was the unresolved ending. I can guess what led up to the girl's disappearance but this is never confirmed. The details of their disappearance are unsolved in the beginning of the book and remain so at the end which drove me nuts.

I'm also not okay with people withholding information from the police, even years after an event.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean is recommended reading for those who enjoy an Australian coming-of-age novel with a mystery at its heart.

In the spirit of 'if you like this, you'll also like this' fans of this novel should check out The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

01 November 2019

Review: Hide by S.J. Morgan

Hide by S.J. Morgan cover
*Copy courtesy of the author & Midnight Sun Publishing*

Hide is Australian author S.J. Morgan's first adult novel and it's a thrilling read.

It's 1983 in Swansea, South Wales where we first meet Alec Johnston. A somewhat flawed character who doesn't quite know what to do with his life, Alec is sharing a flat with bikies, Minto, Stobes and Black. (Great names right?)

The overbearing Minto has a girlfriend Sindy and while Alec knows he should mind his own business, he can't help but be drawn in by Sindy's vulnerability and the situations she finds herself in. Try as he might, Alec just can't seem to get out from under the gaze of his bikie housemates; Minto in particular.

Alec seeks help from his parents who live in Cardiff and are easily the most memorable fictional parents I've encountered in a long time. I was definitely rooting for the parents the whole way; perhaps even more so than our protagonist Alec at times!

What develops is a slow burn domestic noir which ramps up the tension as the short punchy chapters progress. The action moves to Australia (not a spoiler, this is in the blurb) and the novel develops into a crime thriller which kept me turning the pages.

Ultimately, I would have liked more information on Sindy and a watertight ending but the conclusion was a satisfactory one, just the same.

With an atmospheric cover design which accurately conveys the trouble ahead for Alec, I believe Hide will appeal to crime fans who enjoy a good domestic thriller.

I'll be running a giveaway on 22 November alongside an interview with the author S.J. Morgan so stay tuned for a chance to win your own signed copy of Hide.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

29 October 2019

Winner of Stormbird Press giveaway announced

Many of you entered my giveaway last week which was great to see. Up for grabs was a goodie bag from Stormbird Press chock full of bookish treats valued at $83.93AUD to promote Tales from the River - An Anthology of River Literature.

The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 27 October 2019 and the winner was drawn today. Drum roll......


Congratulations Liz! I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and Stormbird Press will send your goodie bag to you directly.

Find out about the upcoming giveaway on 22 November over on my Giveaways page.

Carpe Librum!
Stormbird Press goodie bag
Stormbird Press prize pack

25 October 2019

Review: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank cover
* Copy courtesy of Harlequin Australia *

October is the perfect time to read a spooky ghost story. I live in Australia and even though the weather is heating up and daylight savings has begun, I'm still in the mood for a creepy read. Booklovers are engaged in Halloween themed reading challenges and spooky readathons all around the world and it's hard not to be tempted. A talented writer should be able to give their reader the chills no matter the weather or reading environment and debut author Anita Frank has certainly done so here.

Set in England in 1917, The Lost Ones takes place during World War I, when many were grieving the loss of a loved one; be it a son, sibling, spouse or sweetheart.

Stella Marcham is no different. She is grieving the loss of her fiance and is asked to visit her sister Madeleine at Greyswick. Madeleine is pregnant and grieving the loss of an early pregnancy while claiming to hear crying at night.

Greyswick is located in the country and is the classic imposing creepy country mansion. Complete with stern housekeeper and servants quarters, the house conveys quite a gothic presence throughout the novel. In addition to this, the overbearing male characters in the novel dismiss Stella and Madeleine's claims with the excuse they are paranoid and you guessed it, hysterical!

The Lost Ones is a ghost story about grief, family secrets, legacy, class, healing and hope.

Readers concerned about ridiculous ghostly encounters needn't worry here. The supernatural element of the story is subtle and you could easily read this as a haunting historical fiction with a mystery that needs to be solved.

If that doesn't entice you, the cover art is simply superb. How can you resist?

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. For more gothic fiction reviews, check out my list of Gothic Tales to read.