30 March 2019

Review: The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker

The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker book cover
I'm not very handy in the kitchen, but love using my slow cooker to prepare easy meals that produce leftovers for the following night. Having zero talent in the kitchen, the title of The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker definitely appealed to me and after borrowing a copy from my library, I soon realised I'd be needing my own. That never happens!

I started reading this last year, but wanted to wait until I'd tried some of the recipes before writing my review. The most popular recipe so far has been the Pulled Pork (Burgers). I serve mine with mash and with just two of us it lasted for several dinners and lunches. It was also an incredibly cheap meal to produce which also has its advantages.

I don't know about you, but when a slow cooker recipe asks me to start by browning meat in a frypan, my eyes roll and I swiftly move on. If I was going to brown meat in a pan, then I may as well cook it there. I'm happy to say only one of the recipes in this book begins this way and I was relieved.

The worst or most unsuccessful recipe so far (for me) was the Hawaiian BBQ Chicken. I just didn't like the texture of the chicken and won't be putting whole chicken breasts in the slow cooker again.

I'm still looking forward to trying out the following recipes from the book: Beef Stroganoff, Easiest Roast Beef Ever, Country Chicken Casserole, Fiesta Chicken and Potato and Leek Soup. Yum!

Kim McCosker is the author who wrote 4 Ingredients and I just found out she's an Australian author too! How did I miss that?

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!
27 March 2019

Review: The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths cover
* Copy courtesy of NetGalley *

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths is a gothic cozy murder mystery with literary leanings and I really enjoyed it.

The story is told from the perspective of three main characters, teacher Clare, daughter Georgie and DS Kaur. Clare is a literature teacher with a passion for the work of gothic writer R.M. Holland. Clare teaches at Holland House, Talgarth High School, the building where the reclusive R.M. Holland lived and wrote The Stranger.

When Clare's friend and colleague Ella is found dead, clues seem to point to the well known ghost story by R.M. Holland, The Stranger.

Set in rural England, this is a classic whodunnit with plenty of literary references. I enjoyed the alternate perspectives of daughter Georgie and DS Kaur's investigative process.

The Stranger Diaries is an enjoyable cozy murder mystery with plenty of potential suspects and I enjoyed the gothic undertones and satisfying conclusion. The inclusion of the short story The Stranger at the end was a bonus.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
25 March 2019

Interview with Jack Heath, bestselling Australian author of Hangman and Hunter

Author Jack Heath, Credit Ben Appleton
Australian author Jack Heath
(Photo credit: Ben Appleton)
Jack Heath lives in Canberra and is the bestselling author of more than 27 acclaimed fiction titles for middle‐grade and YA readers. His books have sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide and been translated into several languages. First published as a teenager, in the course of his research Jack has trained with firearms, performed street magic, visited morgues and prisons, travelled through eleven countries and read only books by women for a year. Heath’s debut into the adult crime genre, Hangman, was a huge success with rights sold across the globe as well as TV option.

A hearty welcome to Carpe Librum Jack! Congratulations on the release of Hunter, the second in the Timothy Blake series, and thanks for including an excerpt of my Hangman review in the praise section. I was ecstatic when I read it and it’s a thrill to interview you today.

Tell me, do you have anything in common with your cannibal protagonist, Timothy Blake?
Much more than I like to admit. I’m a nail-biter, I lie too easily, and I’m prone to a cynical or even nihilistic worldview. I regularly swear off meat (or coffee, or alcohol, or social media) only to indulge at the very next opportunity. Unfortunately, Blake has strengths that I don’t share. He’s observant. Brave. Cunning. He has a good memory. In fairness to me, though, I never ate anybody.

Hangman by Jack Heath cover

Hunter by Jack Heath cover
How do you balance Blake’s dark proclivities with the need to make him likeable?
I’m always walking a tightrope, trying to shock the reader as much and as often as possible without compromising their affection for Blake. Readers are willing to forgive him because he’s so skilled, because he has suffered so much, because he feels so guilty about his sins, and because the people he eats are mostly as bad as he is. Thistle helps make Blake likeable, too. She brings out the best in him, and he would do almost anything for her.

What was your inspiration for the character of FBI Agent Reese Thistle? She’s such a great character, and how did you come up with such a brilliant name?
I wish I could take the credit for the name! It was my wife’s idea. At first I wasn’t sure about it, but the more I wrote, the more it seemed to suit her. She started out, like most of my characters, as just a plot device. In Hangman I needed a counterpoint to Blake—someone who had suffered as much as he had, but hadn’t turned into a monster, and therefore made him morally culpable for his crimes without even knowing about them. But the more backstory I gave Thistle, the more human she became. She’s harder to write than Blake, but I’ve been able to borrow from my own experience to make it easier. Thistle has my taste in—and knack for—music, my history of troubled relationships, my obsession with my job, and my fondness for The X-Files.

Oh, I love The X-Files! Are there any plans to write a crime novel based in Australia? Is the Timothy Blake series set in Texas because (unlike Australia) they have capital punishment, thereby giving Blake access to death row cadavers?
When I was younger I knew the USA mostly from TV, so I thought of it as violent, corrupt, lawless and desperate. Whereas Australia seemed like a pretty nice place, perhaps because I was a middle-class white male living in Canberra. So I set my crime novel in the United States because that seemed more convincing to me at the time. Now I have a more nuanced view of both countries, so I’d like to write a crime novel set in Australia, but not right now. It would look like I was chasing the trend kickstarted by Jane Harper and ably accelerated by Chris Hammer, Sarah Bailey, Emma Viskic and Benjamin Stevenson. People love Blake and his noir distortion of Texas, so my plan is to keep doing that.

I’ve noticed that since the launch of Hunter, you’ve been incredibly generous with your time responding to reader reviews on social media and websites like GoodReads. In fact, the only other Australian bestselling author I’ve seen thank individual readers on such a grand scale is Kate Forsyth. Do you enjoy the publicity and engaging with readers on multiple platforms? Or are you secretly waiting for the time you can bunker down with your writing again?
It wouldn’t be much of a secret if I told you! I’m a bit of a social media addict, so chatting with readers gives me the excuse to log on. Their feedback is very useful in shaping future books, and it makes me happy that they seem so excited to hear from the author. But I feel that social media is an unhealthy distraction from my writing and editing. So I’m looking forward to when the publicity dies down and I can focus on what I really enjoy. Kate Forsyth, by the way, is generous both online and off. We first met at a festival, when I had literally zero dollars in my bank account because the preemptive charge for incidentals at the hotel had cleaned me out. With no other way to pay for food, I was so hungry. Kate convinced her publisher that I—again, a stranger—was a rising star, and they shouted me an amazing dinner at a very fancy restaurant.

Is it true you have a weak stomach and once fainted reading a book by Paul Cleave?
Fainted and vomited. In public. Not a pleasant experience, but very memorable. Words have power! People don’t believe this story, because Hangman and Hunter are so gruesome. But every murder I write makes me a little less squeamish, a little less afraid. Writing is therapy for me. I recently made it through Paul Cleave’s new book Trust No One without losing consciousness, and was very pleased with myself. Maybe I was better prepared.

What’s with the riddles at the beginning of each chapter in Hangman and Hunter?
Blake has a side-hustle slash money-laundering scam solving riddles for cash. Hangman was full of riddles, and my agent suggested putting one at the start of each chapter. I themed them, so a clue to each riddle is hidden within the chapter that succeeds it. This turned out to be a great idea—readers always tell me how much they love the riddles! They’re infuriated if they can’t work out the answers, though.

No way! I never noticed the riddles were themed or that each chapter has a clue. I'm going to have to go back and check now. Having written more than 25 books now, what’s your favourite part of the writing/publishing process?
Every stage of the process—daydreaming, outlining, writing, editing, proofreading, promoting—has its joys and its frustrations. These days my favourite part tends to be the final proofread. That’s when you can see the book as a reader will and marvel at how well it all came together, despite the clumsy, fragile process that led here. I’m proofreading my thirtieth book now—LIARS: Lockdown—and while I’m making plenty of notes, I’m also loving the ride.

Do you have any writing rituals?
If I’m struggling, I go to my local café and sit at the same table, if it’s available. I put my headphones on even if I’m not listening to music. I have a perfectly good office at home, but I spend more than $2,000 per year at that café, and it’s worth it. I can get more done in an hour there than in three hours at home.

What’s your secret reading pleasure?
I try to read as diversely as possible, in terms of genre, era and the background of the author. I also try to avoid bestsellers, knowing that everyone else is reading them too, and fearing that I will start to write like everyone else. I even try to limit myself to reading only one book per author, so I can discover as many writers as possible before I die. But my guilty pleasure is the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child. I’ve read more than twenty of them, maybe all of them. I don’t even know why.

One book per author is something I do too but for a different reason. If a book is an average read I'm unlikely to read anything further from that author given there are so many great authors/books out there waiting to be discovered. However, if I adore a book, then I keep an eye out for their next one. What are you reading this month?

I just finished Home by Harlan Coben and Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood. Now I’m reading The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers, and next will be Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year Two by Tom Taylor.

Do you have a favourite bookshop in Canberra?
I used to work at Dymocks Belconnen before my writing career really took off—which it did in part because of the support they gave me. I still love the store, and I go in at least once a week.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I just had a quick look, and Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi is probably the one which would seem most out of place. Then again, the main character is a psychopath, so maybe it’s exactly what you’d expect.

What's next for Timothy Blake?
I just submitted an outline for another Blake book, this time with a more remote, claustrophobic setting. An Agatha Christie-ish limited-suspects whodunnit type thing. If the publisher goes for it, I’d hope to have it written by the end of the year and published in 2020.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks, but I have to get back to proofreading!

Thanks Jack, and fingers crossed your outline is given the stamp of approval. I'm sure I'm not alone in needing another Timothy Blake taste fix next year. Find out more about the author at jackheath.com.au and read a sample chapter of Hunter here.
21 March 2019

Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019

Carpe Librum 2019 Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway
It’s my birthday in March and other than deciding I’m going to start reading Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor, I’m also excited to bring you another bumper birthday stack giveaway. Hip hip hooray!! Historically this has been my most popular giveaway in any given year so let's do it again.

You might be wondering where the books in this 'fat stack' come from. I'm fortunate enough to receive a number of unsolicited books from publishers each month and there's just no way I can get to them all. In some cases, they're also not for me. So to celebrate my birthday I'm sharing this curated stack of books with you.

To win the book of your choice from the pile, just select your favourite using the embedded form below. Simple as that! 

Depending on the number of entries, I may decide to choose a second winner. (Let's face it, I probably will).

Entries close midnight AEST Sunday 31 March 2019 so good luck and I hope you'll help me spread the birthday bookish cheer 😊

This giveaway has now closed.
19 March 2019

Apple Island Wife winner announced

Thanks to those who entered last week’s giveaway to win a copy of travel memoir Apple Island Wife - Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker. During the giveaway the book hit #1 in Travel books Australia and the giveaway was included in Ganeing Ground Tasmania Daily News which was exciting.

The winner was drawn today and congratulations go to:

This is the ninth giveaway May has entered so I was pleased when her name finally came up. Congratulations May! I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details.

Stay tuned for more chances to win with my bumper birthday stack giveaway coming in March and a children's picture book giveaway coming soon! Hopefully there'll be something for everyone. If you want to see giveaway dates as soon as they're locked in, you can check my Giveaways page.

Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker book cover
18 March 2019

Review: The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I'm embarrassed to say I received this book for review back in 2015 and it's languished on my unsolicited TBR pile since then. In an effort to get through some of the backlog, I picked up The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens this month with the intention of reading just 10 pages before deciding if it was for me or not. I certainly wasn't expecting to be hooked by page 2, that's for sure!

Wolf is an experienced hiker and heads to the mountain overlooking Palm Springs to take his own life. However after a series of random events, he finds himself lost with three women on the mountain. Forced to survive gruelling conditions, Wolf is finally coming clean years later about what really happened during their five days on the mountain.

This was a gripping survival story and we know from the blurb that only three of the four hikers will survive. The tension comes from not knowing which of the hikers will succumb to the bitter conditions in the isolated wilderness.

I enjoyed the interactions between the characters and of course learning Wolf's backstory. The ending was unexpected, yet strangely satisfying too.

My only regret is not getting to this sooner.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
13 March 2019

Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

The Binding by Bridget Collins cover
The Binding by Bridget Collins is one of my most anticipated reads for 2019 and it didn't disappoint. Collins has created a world where books are forbidden and the profession of bookbinder is akin to that of a witch. A binder has the power to take a traumatic memory - or series of memories - and erase it from your mind by binding it into a book. Many people suffering grief and trauma seek their services, despite being shrouded in superstition and plagued by prejudice.

Emmett comes from a farming family and he’s bedridden with a mysterious illness when a letter arrives summoning him to become apprentice to a bookbinder. His parents mysteriously say they have no choice, and Emmett swiftly finds himself plucked from his life into an unknown and uncertain future.

Emmett's master is Seredith, an old woman living alone on the marshes. Slowly but surely Seredith teaches Emmett the tradesman skills required to bind books. Working with vellum, paper, leather scraps, gold foiling, glue and more, this was by far my favourite part of the story. I was pleasantly surprised to learn Collins is an amateur bookbinder herself and her experience clearly shines through. As Emmett learned these same skills, I yearned - along with him - to discover more about the process of binding a person's memories.

I was happy for the entire book to be about Emmett, his apprenticeship and relationship with Seredith however we were soon jerked out of that story and thrust in a new direction. Ahhhh! In fact, I'm still mourning the early trajectory of the novel, and can only hope Collins pens another novel in this world, and completes the reader's desire to know absolutely everything about the bookbinding process.

The Binding is a combination of fantasy and historical fiction or historical fiction meets urban fantasy. It doesn't clearly straddle either genre and I loved that it contained hints of folklore and myth whilst remaining rooted in reality.

And that cover, wow! I have to comment on the overall presentation, because it's an absolute masterpiece. The Binding is a stunning book to hold in your hands. Deckled edged pages are bound in a glorious spine with gold foiling designed to look like an embossed leather tome. The cover design is 
deliciously intricate and the French flap adds even further to the appeal. It's sublime and to truly enjoy reading The Binding, you simply must read a physical copy.

I loved The Binding - in spite of the altered direction - and can't wait to see what Bridget Collins writes next.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
08 March 2019

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker

Today's Friday Freebie is travel memoir Apple Island Wife - Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker. Please enter below for your chance to win. Open internationally and entries close Sunday 17 March. Good luck!

What happens when you leave city life and move to five acres on a hunch, with a husband who’s an aspiring alpaca-whisperer, and a feral cockerel for company? Can you eat the cockerel for dinner? Or has it got rigor mortis?

In search of a good life and a slower pace, Fiona Stocker upped-sticks and moved to Tasmania, a land of promise, wilderness, and family homes of uncertain build quality. It was the lifestyle change that many dream of and most are too sensible to attempt.

Wife, mother and now reluctant alpaca owner, Fiona jumped in at the deep end. Gradually Tasmania got under her skin as she learned to stack wood, round up the kids with a retired lady sheepdog, and stand on a scorpion without getting stung.

This charming tale captures the tussles and euphoria of living on the land in a place of untrammelled beauty, raising your family where you want to and seeing your husband in a whole new light. Not just a memoir but an everywoman’s story, and a paean to a new, slower age.

Author bio
Fiona Stocker was born in Australia and raised in the north-west of England. After graduating in the arts, she worked in London and Brisbane in the fields of theatre, advertising, education and recruitment. A circuitous route and a sense of adventure took her to Tasmania in 2006, where she and her husband established Langdale Farm, a tiny free range pig farm with accommodation. Who knew? Fiona writes freelance and edits other people’s books. Apple Island Wife is her first travel memoir. She lives in the Tamar Valley of northern Tasmania with her husband, two children, a retired sheepdog and around forty-five pigs. Read more at www.fionastocker.com


This giveaway has now closed.
06 March 2019

Winner of the writing gloves from Literary Book Gifts announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week’s 'handy' giveaway to win a pair of cashmere writing gloves from Literary Book Gifts valued at $52USD. This was a popular giveaway and the top colour choices were: electric blue, wine red, black and heather navy blue.

The winner was drawn today and congratulations go to:
Congratulations Krystal! You chose dark green as your preferred colour and will receive an email shortly with the details. Thanks to Literary Book Gifts for the prize.

For those who didn't win, I'm running another giveaway on Friday so please stay tuned for more chances to win with Carpe Librum! Check out my giveaways page for a sneak peek.

Literary Book Gifts writing gloves
Literary Book Gifts
Cashmere writing gloves
04 March 2019

Review and personal mention in Hunter by Jack Heath

Hunter by Jack Heath cover
RRP $29.99AUD
Published 4 March 2019
Allen & Unwin
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I have exciting news to share, I've been mentioned in the praise section of Hunter by Jack Heath, published by Allen & Unwin and available in bookstores today! But let me back up a minute.

Hunter is the second in the series to feature Timothy Blake and which began with Hangman. I was a huge fan of Hangman and some of you might remember I published a recipe style review last year which Allen & Unwin really enjoyed. 

Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series but had no idea an excerpt of my Hangman review was going to be published in the praise section at the beginning of Hunter. I was stoked to receive an advance copy and when I saw Carpe Librum mentioned, my reaction was immediate and visceral. Wooohoooo!!! It's been a dream come true and I'm elated that I can now share it with you.

Naturally I've been on cloud nine since then, however I was also understandably nervous that Hunter would live up to expectations. I'm relieved to say it did!

The riddles at the beginning of each chapter are back and continued to do my head in, although I think I had a better solve rate this time. Blake is officially no longer a consultant for the FBI and when Hunter opens, we find him involved in body disposal for a local crime lord. He still sees FBI agent Reese Thistle, but when he stumbles across a body that has nothing to do with his new 'role' he finds himself in quite the predicament.

Quote from Carpe Librum blog
Praise section of Hunter by Jack Heath
Note the quote from Carpe Librum blog

I enjoyed Blake's character development in Hunter. He continues to develop feelings for Thistle and vows to be a better man so that she never has to discover his dark secret.

Blake remains the likeable bad guy protagonist, and Aussie author Jack Heath does an astonishing job of continuing to make the reader root for the cannibal detective. Hunter is a solid follow up to the first in the series, with no perceivable drop off in writing, tension, action or body count.

Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE sample of Hunter and see the Carpe Librum mention on page 4.
01 March 2019

Review: Claude & Camille - A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

Claude & Camille - A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell book cover
After reading Claude & Camille - A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell, I've decided Monet was a detestable fellow and a sponge on all who knew him. There, I've said it!

Reading a fictionalised account of the life of a favourite artist is a risk and unfortunately it didn't pay off for me this time. I will continue to admire Monet's artwork but this insight into the man revealed an unlikeable artist who repeatedly made decisions that infuriated me.

Of course I knew he and his first wife Camille lived in poverty, but I didn't realise how proud he was, how he was constantly in denial about his mounting debts and often ran away to escape them. During periods of greatest financial need, he was often too upset or worried to paint; his only source of income.

The frequent mention of impressionist artists was to be expected and Renoir, Bazille, Sisley, Degas, Cezanne and Pissarro all feature in Monet's life.

While I didn't like Claude Monet and therefore wasn't terribly interested in his life, this is not a reflection of the author's writing. Stephanie Cowell has done a great job bringing Monet's story to life and her detailed research shines through.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!