30 April 2019

Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey book cover
Set in Smithson NSW at the height of summer, a young teacher by the name of Rosalind Ryan has been found dead. Rosalind is a popular teacher at the school, and has been killed after the successful opening night of the school play Romeo and Juliet. Her students and teachers adore her and can't understand why anyone would want to harm her.

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is assigned to the case, despite the fact she went to school with the victim. Gemma is a terrific Detective, however I just didn't like her. She is having an affair with her work partner Felix and if that's not enough, Felix is married with kids, so both characters are cheating on their spouses. I really hate that.

Gemma's inner reflections on her adulterous behaviour was irritating and I didn't like how she treated her spouse Scott. Gemma is incredibly self-absorbed and seemed more concerned with her own desire for Felix than solving the case or caring for her son Ben. I get the whole flawed character angle, but Gemma was too unlikeable for me.

The lake of the title features well throughout the novel and made for a refreshing Australian rural backdrop to the plot. The mystery of who killed Rosalind and left her in the lake covered in red roses was a good one and was closely tied up with Gemma's dark past. However my favourite parts of the novel were the inter-office goings on with Gemma, her boss and other personnel in the office. The Aussie setting and realistic interactions really resonated with me and I could easily see this on the big screen.

The Dark Lake was a solid debut and a smashing success when it was released in 2017. It also won several awards, including the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Crime Debut and the 2018 Ned Kelly award for Best First Crime. I missed the hype then and am only reading this now thanks to my local library.

It's always good to catch up on a much loved Australian novel and I have the next in the series Into the Night on my shelf to read in May. I'm really looking forward to it and crossing my fingers Gemma gets her act together in this one. I'd like to see more of her awesome detective work and less of her pursuing her own lustful desires at the expense of her family.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
27 April 2019

Review: Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer

Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

As the cover suggests, Under The Midnight Sky by Australian author Anna Romer is a dark mystery novel set in Australian bushland.

Abby lives in a small township called Gundara and has a dark past. She's a journalist for her local newspaper and is obsessed with the murders that took place in Deepwater Gorge many years ago. Her personal level of involvement in the crimes is the first mystery of the novel.

Reclusive author Tom Gabriel has purchased a ramshackle country manor known as Ravensong, and recently moved to the area to work on his new book. Abby wants to interview Tom for the newspaper and despite his aloof and gruff demeanour, they strike up a friendship of sorts. When Abby discovers a hidden room in an attic at the top of his house, they begin to pool their resources and investigative skills to get to the bottom of several mysteries before them. This includes the case of a current girl who may have gone missing.

Under The Midnight Sky is a mystery novel that could just as easily be called crime or rural crime. The Australian setting and relaxed dialogue made the novel feel instantly relatable.

The alternate time periods (present and 1940s-1950s) were handled well, although I did struggle at first with the numerous character perspectives. We had first person perspective from Abby, first person diary entries from another character and third person perspectives from Tom, Lil and Joe. Not to mention third person perspective from the missing girl and perhaps others I've missed. There was no indication at the beginning of each chapter as to which character we were with and I really had to concentrate to follow the plot threads.

Under The Midnight Sky is a dark mystery full of secrets, family trauma, sibling love, burgeoning love, obsessive love and enduring love. Themes of memory and family are also explored with a significant reveal at the end. The slow burn romance that developed between two characters started off well, until he called her 'hon' which made me cringe.

Under The Midnight Sky was an engrossing read but is losing a star because two bodies weren't re-homed/re-buried at the end.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S See my review of Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer.
24 April 2019

Dig, Dump, Roll Children's Book Winners Announced

Thanks to the young at heart who entered my children’s book giveaway last week. Up for grabs were 2 copies of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock thanks to Walker Books Australia.

Entries closed on Sunday 21 April and I drew the winners today. Congratulations to:

Sarah & Renae!!
Congratulations Sarah & Renae! You've each won a copy of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton valued at $24.99AUD. I’ll be sending you both an email shortly with the details and Walker Books Australia will be sending out your prizes directly.

Carpe Librum!

21 April 2019

Review: Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor cover
I haven't been this impressed by an author's imagination and world building since reading my first Harry Potter. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a Young Adult fantasy novel and not what I typically read. However, when I read that the main character Lazlo Strange, a war orphan with an active imagination comes to work in a great library after being raised in a monastery by monks, I was keen to pick this up.

Strange was the surname given to all foundlings in the Kingdom and he was given to the monastery as a baby during war time. Strange grew up fascinated by stories and obsessed with the mysteries of the lost city of Weep.

At the age of 13, Strange was asked to deliver some manuscripts to the Great Library of Zosma but never went back. Strange felt instantly at home amongst the manuscripts and scrolls and was taken on as an apprentice. The descriptions of the Great Library of Zosma were incredible and I longed to walk through the Pavilion of Thought and scan the shelves. Imagine the Citadel in Game of Thrones and you can't go wrong.

"The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between." Page 14
"Shelves rose forty feet under an astonishing painted ceiling, and the spines of books glowed in jewel-toned leather, their gold leaf shining in the glavelight like animal eyes." Page 15
The writing is atmospheric and transported me from the first page, here's the description of a kiss from Page 421:
"A first kiss… [it’s like]… finding a book inside another book. A small treasure of a book hidden inside a big common one - like… spells printed on dragonfly wings, discovered tucked inside a cookery book, right between the recipes for cabbages and corn. That’s what a kiss is like, he thought, no matter how brief: It’s a tiny, magical story, and a miraculous interruption of the mundane."
Strange the Dreamer is overflowing with the most amazing writing that made me feel as though I were immersed inside a fairytale. Full of magic, gods, alchemists, scholars, myths and legends, Laini Taylor swept me so far away that I felt I wasn't reading at all. I was very much part of Lazlo's world and accompanying him on his adventures.

Strange the Dreamer is the first in a duology and an absolute certainty for inclusion in my Top 5 Books of 2019. The best part? I have the sequel Muse of Nightmares on my shelves ready to be enjoyed.

Highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
17 April 2019

Review: My Book (Not Yours) - Lento and Fox by Ben Sanders

My Book (Not Yours): Lento and Fox by Ben Sanders cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Children's Books *

Australian author and illustrator Ben Sanders lives in Ballarat, Victoria and is best known for being the artist who designed all of the characters on the Natural Confectionary Co. packets. (How's that hey?) Here he brings his artistic talent and creativity to create My Book (Not Yours): Lento and Fox.

Lento the sloth wants to tell us a story, but first he needs a little nap. Meanwhile, Fox wants to be the lead character in the book and swoops in to steal the show.

Lento and Fox then engage in a little tomfoolery and hijinks in an attempt to claim the book for themselves. Their mischief making is reminiscent of sibling rivalry and definitely made me smile.

The illustrations are bright and engaging, and there is very little text. You can see the artistic process and watch Ben Sanders illustrate several of the pages from the book in a short video on YouTube.

My Book (Not Yours) is quick and easy to read with the littlies and is a lot of fun. Readers are asked to decide if they support Team Lento or Team Fox and I'm definitely #teamlento. I love the sloth!

Who wins? You'll have to read the book to find out. Available in June 2019.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Don't forget to enter my children's book giveaway.
15 April 2019

Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson cover
RRP $39.99 AUD
Published April 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Time for another thriller and this month I read Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson. Hen and husband Lloyd move into a new house in Massachusetts and soon meet their next door neighbours, Matthew and Mira at a block party.

When they accept an invitation to their house for dinner, Hen thinks she sees something suspicious in Matthew's study and she begins to suspect him of murder. However, Hen could be an unreliable narrator; she has depression and is on medication and could just be having another one of her turns. Will anyone believe her? Is she losing her mind, or is there a dangerous killer living next door, already stalking his next victim?

I worried early on this was going to become another The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins with a main character that isn't trusted by others due to their addiction or mental health problems. Thankfully the author took us right up to that point and then jolted us into a refreshingly new direction.

There was a minor 'twist' of sorts at the end and to be fair I didn't see it coming. It wasn't earth shattering or mind blowing but it made for an unpredictable ending just the same. I also enjoyed reading from the perspectives of both Hen and Matthew.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson is an enjoyable domestic thriller of merit.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
12 April 2019

Children's Picture Book Giveaway of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, Illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton cover
RRP $24.99 AUD, Age range 2+
Walker Books Australia
Win 1 of 2 copies of children's picture book Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, Illustrated by Brian Lovelock in this week's giveaway. Please enter below for your chance to win thanks to Walker Books Australia.

What’s at work? Here’s a clue:
It will clear the ground for you.

Bulldozer! Coming through!

This is the follow-up to Roadworks that will delight tiny truck enthusiasts. It's an engaging, interactive text that asks readers to guess what kind of vehicle is at work. Visual clues alongside the text help ensure that our readers are challenged but can still be successful with their guesses. In the end, the vehicles work together to build a surprise.


This giveaway has now closed.
10 April 2019

Review: Treasure Palaces - Great Writers Visit Great Museums Edited by Maggie Fergusson

Treasure Palaces by Maggie Fergusson book cover
RRP $22.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

In a further attempt to clear out my toppling unsolicited TBR pile, I finally picked up Treasure Palaces edited by Maggie Fergusson last month. This is a series of essays by authors writing about the museums they treasure and it was published in December 2016.

Originally published as a series in Intelligent Life called 'Authors on Museums', writers were asked to return to a museum that had played a significant role in their life and write about the experience.

Maggie Fergusson took over the commissioning of the series after its establishment by Tim de Lisle, and at the end of the series a total of 38 essays had been published. Here Fergusson has curated the best 24, and I enjoyed reading them.

A particular highlight for me was Tim Winton's essay on the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) entitled 'Spurned No Longer', which began with his first visit as a scruffy nine year old boy, initially refused entry because he was barefoot. The NGV was an icon for me in my teenage years, and I'd never have imagined living less than 500m from the grand entrance on St Kilda Road many years later.

What I did find interesting was the inclusion of art galleries in this collection of essays, which raised the question: "what's the difference between a gallery and museum?" A little online digging informed me that a gallery is where you can see the art with a view to purchasing it, which makes me wonder if the NGV is suitably named after all.

Another highlight in the collection was the essay by Aminatta Forna about The Museum of Broken Relationships, and not because I've been there, but because I've read about it. (See below).

Treasure Palaces edited by Maggie Fergusson was an enjoyable read, however it was often interrupted as I went to seek out the artworks being referenced within the essays. There are no photographs or images of exhibits included in the text and this would certainly have enhanced my reading experience if there had been.

Recommended for armchair travellers, art lovers, bookworms interested in learning about treasured authors and non fiction readers with an interest in art and science.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. For more museum inspired reviews, check out the following:
08 April 2019

Review: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

* Copy courtesy of HarperCollins Australia *

Irish born Australian author Dervla McTiernan is the bestselling author of The Ruin. Released last year, The Ruin was wildly successful and in fact was one of the five bestselling Australian crime novels of 2018. A year on, and The Scholar is the second in the series to feature DS Cormac Reilly.

Set in 2014 in Ireland, DS Cormac Reilly is still recovering from events in The Ruin, but rushes to the scene of a hit and run when his girlfriend Dr Emma Sweeney phones for help. Cormac begins by identifying the victim, investigating the nearby university and the apparent links to the insanely rich family who fund the research lab where Emma works. Cormac soon finds himself with a conflict of interest and doubts about his girlfriend's involvement in the case.

I read The Scholar as a stand alone (not having read The Ruin), but in doing so I suspect I missed out on some important character development involving Cormac's colleagues and the set up of the complex relationship between Cormac and Emma.

In spite of this, I found a well structured atmospheric crime novel with classic whodunnit and whydunnit themes for the reader to untangle as they follow the investigation.

Cormac Reilly is a likeable protagonist, and fans of the series will be pleased to know the next instalment is due for publication in 2020.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
02 April 2019

Winners of the Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019 Announced

Thanks for all of the birthday wishes and to everyone who helped me celebrate by entering my Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019 last week. Looking at the stats (approximately 100 entries), the most popular book in the giveaway was The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe.

This was equalled by an astonishing 18% of entrants who selected the ‘Surprise Me’ option. I included this for a lark one year and was amazed when the winner was a ‘surprise me’. I’d be too nervous to let others choose for me, but it appears many of you are adventurous and daring in your reading and I ought to take note. Now down to bookish birthday business.

I was inspired to draw two winners again this year, and (drum roll):

Lobroo won Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham
Kathryn won Home Fires by Fiona Lowe

A hearty congratulations Lobroo & Kathryn! I’ll be sending you each an email shortly with the details.

I’m looking forward to bringing you a children's picture book giveaway soon with a chance to win a copy of Dig, Dump, Roll by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock. If you want to see giveaway dates as soon as they're locked in, you can check my Giveaways page.

Carpe Librum!

Carpe Librum Bumper Birthday Stack Giveaway 2019