24 May 2019

Review: Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

Into the Night by Sarah Bailey cover
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Into the Night is the second in the Gemma Woodstock crime series by Australian author Sarah Bailey. I was really hoping Gemma would get her act together in this one, but on page 2 she arrives to the first homicide of the book after just one hour's sleep having left the bed of a stranger in a hotel room. Her body aches for rest, she tastes wine on her breath and sex is still fresh on her skin (page 2). Surely the dead deserve better than this?

Gemma is now based in Melbourne and living in the inner city near the corner of Little Collins and Exhibition Streets. She has left her partner Scott and their son Ben in Smithson NSW and rarely goes home to see them. She drinks and sometimes goes to a hotel bar to pick up a stranger for sex. Gemma often turns up to work hungover or having had very little rest and I just wanted to scream. 

I can handle a flawed and promiscuous character, (The Girl on the Page by John Purcell immediately comes to mind) but I just wanted more of Gemma's exceptional detective work to counterbalance her self-destructive behaviour.

Working with Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet, they're leading a team to solve the high profile murder of a local Aussie actor starring in a Hollywood movie being filmed in Melbourne.

The bustling city of Melbourne was the real star of Into the Night in my opinion and Sarah Bailey does a great job of capturing the mood of the people and the urban setting. The crimes being investigated kept my interest and the nature of the suspects (actors, actresses, filming crew, PR people etc.) made for a refreshing cast of characters and definitely set it apart from The Dark Lake.

Into the Night is recommended for readers who enjoy police procedurals and crime novels within an Australian setting. The next in the series, Where The Dead Go is due for release in August 2019.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

21 May 2019

Review: Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein book cover
* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *

Small Spaces was published in April 2018 and this debut novel by Australian author Sarah Epstein created quite a stir when it hit the shelves. A young adult psychological thriller for readers aged 14+, it was longlisted and shortlisted for no less than six awards. I missed the buzz last year, but thought it was time I picked it up.

Set in Port Bellamy NSW, our protagonist Tash Carmody was eight years old when she witnessed her imaginary friend Sparrow, lead six year old Mallory Fisher away from a local carnival. Mallory was missing for a week before she was discovered wandering through the bush 40 kms from where she was last seen. Mallory never spoke again and the Fisher family - along with Tash's friend and classmate Morgan - soon moved away.

After much therapy to help her deal with the problems she was having back then, Tash is now a teenager and at peace with the fact Sparrow was never real. Interspersed with transcripts of Tash's sessions with a child psychologist, she's doing much better now and is looking forward to a future in photography when she finishes Year 12. Unfortunately things begin to spiral when the Fisher family move back to Port Bellamy. Tash begins to see Sparrow again and develops feelings for Morgan.

Small Spaces contains a number of mysteries for the reader: what happened to Mallory Fisher? Did she wander off or was she abducted? Was Sparrow an imaginary friend, or was he real? Was he responsible for what happened to Mallory?

These questions made a compelling mystery and a gripping thriller but I was surprised by the level of darkness and danger at this reading age. Offset this with a contemporary coming-of-age element, I thought I had my suspect pegged but was happy to be proven wrong in a convincing reveal at the end.

All questions were answered in a satisfactory conclusion that had been building slowly throughout the novel. I did have to suspend my disbelief at some of Tash's actions throughout the novel and the level of autonomy she was given in the circumstances. It wasn't anything of major significance, but enough to prevent me giving this a full 5 stars.

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein is definitely worthy of the swag of award nominations and will suit young adult readers wanting a dark psychological thriller featuring a teenage protagonist coming to terms with her past.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Read a FREE extract here.

17 May 2019

Review of Little Gestures by Mari Andrew & Bookish Happy Mail

Little Gestures by Mari Andrew
Allen & Unwin RRP $24.99 AUD
Available in May 2019
I love stationery as well as sending and receiving snail mail or happy mail. Anything that makes you happy to receive it is happy mail.

Little Gestures: Cards For Any Occasion by Mari Andrew (courtesy of Allen & Unwin) is a delightful collection of 50 postcards presented in a cute little hardback book format complete with tabs to identify different occasions. The postcards are divided into a range of categories, including: thank you, congratulations, birthday, just because and empathy. 

The illustrations and artwork are appealing and the sentiments are heartfelt. I just know I'll enjoy sending these out into the world.

Bibliophile - An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount notecard setBibliophile - An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount is an incredibly successful collection of artwork with Jane's vibrant and instantly recognisable style. I particular like her carefully curated bookstacks and when I learned she had released a collection of notecards and envelopes showcasing various different book collections, I had to buy it immediately. When you combine a love of books with stationery, you get bookish stationery!

In fact, you could easily frame these cards or pin them to an inspiration board, they're so captivating. To be honest, I don't know if I can physically write in them, but here's hoping. I have a number of journals that are 'too nice' to use but life is short and I should just use up all my stationery so I can buy more! Right?

When I was a teenager, I loved writing notes to friends and sending letters to pen pals. Later, I sent letters home and now I enjoy sending cards and happy mail to friends and loved ones. If you'd like to receive a card, postcard or note from me - or know someone who needs a lift - feel free to email me or leave a comment below and I'll pop something in the post.

When was the last time you sent something nice in the mail to a loved one?

My rating for both products = *****

Carpe Librum

P.S. If you love snail mail and stationery, check out my review of Snail Mail: Rediscovering the Art and Craft of Handmade Correspondence by Michelle Mackintosh.

14 May 2019

Review: Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets (Six Tudor Queens IV) by Alison Weir

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets is another brilliant addition to the Six Tudor Queens series by historian Alison Weir. This is the fourth historical fiction novel in the series and is the story of Anna of Kleve, or Anne of Cleves as most of us know her.

The Author's Note is quick to inform the reader that Anne of Cleves actually signed her name 'Anna'. She also tells us that Henry VIII came to refer to her Anna, informing her decision to refer to her as Anna in this novel. Furthermore, Kleve is the German name of her town and Duchy, while Cleves is the anglicised form. Therefore, in order to be historically accurate, Anna should be referred to as Anna von Kleve. Who knew?

In this historical fiction imagining of her life in the 1500s, Weir has provided an alternate history for Anna of Kleve and I predict it will be a polarising one for fans of Tudor history. I was open to an alternate storyline and wasn't scandalised by what the author has proposed here. Besides, historians can't be 100% sure about the secrets of a life lived in the 1500s - especially when it comes to women - as so little was recorded and much less has survived the ravages of time.

What is agreed, is that there has been much speculation that at the time of wedding Anna of Kleve, King Henry VIII was suffering from impotence. It has been posited that the reason the King didn't consummate their marriage is that he couldn't muster the will.

My favourite episode from The Tudors TV show is the night after King Henry is supposed to have consummated his marriage with Anna of Kleve. Cromwell asks the King: “How does your Majesty like the Queen?

He replies: “Surely My Lord, I didn’t like her very much before and I like her much worse now. She is nothing fair and she has evil smells about her. And I know she’s no maid because of the looseness of her breasts and other tokens. So I had neither the will nor the courage to prove the rest. I have no appetite for unpleasant airs. I left her as good a maid as I found her.

In the Author's Note, Alison Weir tells us more about what was actually said, and it wasn't much different. 
On the morning after his wedding night, the King told Thomas Cromwell: "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse, for I have felt her belly and her breasts, and thereby, as I can judge, she should be no maid, which so strake me to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters."
For weeks afterwards, he made similar complaints to others, saying he "plainly mistrusted her to be no maid by reason of the looseness of her belly and breasts and other tokens", and stating, "I have left her as good a maid as I found her." Page 488
Of course, much has also been made of the portrait of Anna of Kleve painted by Hans Holbein and whether it was a true representation or not. This is also covered in the novel, as is the possibility King Henry didn't find Anna attractive as she wasn't skilled in dancing or playing music, which was much desired in a lady of her status at an English court.

Prior to reading Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, my knowledge extended only as far as the King having their arranged marriage annulled and Anna being known from then on as the King's Beloved Sister. I've always admired that Anna seemed to deem it safer to acquiesce to King Henry's demands than to protest.

In Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets, we stay with her beyond this turning point in her life all the way through until King Henry's death in 1547 and her own death a decade later in 1557. I enjoyed reading and learning about the rest of her life, which I hadn't explored in fiction until now.

The proposed love affair between Anna and her cousin is bound to cause controversy, however the author makes a good argument for the relationship in her Author's Note.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this series and am already looking forward to the next one. No doubt it'll be the story of Catherine Howard and I know I'll be in Alison Weir's expert hands once again.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

See my reviews of previous novels in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir:

10 May 2019

Review: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

A psychological thriller set in a research laboratory? Featuring two highly successful and ambitious women? I'm in!

Kit and Diane were best friends in high school, but after Diane shared a deeply personal secret with Kit they drifted apart. Both girls were driven and ambitious and each pursued careers in medical research.

Kit is now working for one of the best female bosses I remember coming across in fiction, and it isn't long before Diane pops up in her life again; headhunted and recruited by her boss.

The novel is told from Kit's perspective with 'flash backs' to her teenage years and friendship with Diane. I thought Give Me Your Hand was going to be a thriller about Kit and Diane duking it out for a position or promotion, viciously competing with each other with dire consequences for one of them. Give Me Your Hand wasn't this and in fact was so much more.

Research at the laboratory is being conducted into Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of PMS that includes physical and behavioural symptoms. I'd never heard of PMDD, so you could say this thriller was also educational.

I will say that the cover art doesn't adequately convey the setting of the novel in my opinion. I'd have preferred a white cover with out of focus laboratory and perhaps a smashed beaker with blood spattered around. Knowing they're researching PMDD, the blood has a double meaning. Furthermore, so much of the novel takes place in and around the lab that this was my mental image of the novel as I was reading it.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott is a gripping psychological thriller and I really enjoyed it.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

07 May 2019

Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson

Boxed by Richard Anderson book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Australian author Richard Anderson is a farmer from NSW and his experience of life on the land really shines through in his second rural crime novel Boxed. It's a no nonsense mystery thriller with an interesting premise and fast paced plot.

Dave Martin is a farmer beaten down by circumstances. His wife has left him and he's been neglecting his farm in favour of rattling around his run down house and drinking. Dave likes to order cheap tools online to kill the time but he starts to receive boxes in the mail that he didn't order.

The mystery of the boxes and the action that ensues really drives the novel forward and I was quickly caught up in the plot. Growing up in a rural community myself, I could totally relate to the farming district Dave lives in and his movements around the place and interactions with friends and family were 100% authentic Australian.

Boxed is for readers who enjoyed the Aussie settings in A Time to Run or The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace, The Dry by Jane Harper or Scrublands by Chris Hammer. These are crime novels set in rural Australia from the perspective of a Police Officer, AFP Officer and a journalist all actively investigating crimes. However, Boxed is from the perspective of a bystander who finds himself in a lot of trouble and we the reader, then follow the choices he makes and the consequences of those decisions.

I really began to feel for Dave, and praised and cheered for him when he made a smart decision and cringed in worry for him when he didn't.

Reading Boxed marks the end of a 5 book Australian author binge for #AussieApril (and the two Australian reading challenges I participate in) and it's time to get back to some international authors.

I thoroughly recommend Boxed by Richard Anderson to crime and mystery lovers everywhere and will be keen to check out his next book.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

03 May 2019

Review of A Lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley and thoughts on Short Story Collections

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I don't read many short story collections. However, when an advance copy of Chris Womersley's first collection of short stories arrived bringing promise of 'twenty macabre and deliciously enjoyable tales', I decided to give it a go.

The majority of the stories in A Lovely and Terrible Thing were told in first person, and included characters of both sexes and a variety of ages, family demographics and socio-economic situations. Living in Melbourne I enjoyed the references to my city within the stories and recognised many of the settings.

By far my favourite of the collection was The Deep End. It was just such a brilliant short story and everything I love about the genre. It was tense with a sense of foreboding and had a terrific surprise ending I did NOT see coming.

On the flip side though, Crying Wolf had such a devastating ending as to make me cross. The story was building to a climax and instead of giving the two main characters an other-worldly mind blowing ending, Womersley tears it away from the reader at the very last moment by way of a selfish act by one of the characters. 

Perhaps this was done in an effort to show how easily lost opportunities can plague our lives and how close we can be to life changing events without the slightest hint of their existence or magnitude. Either way, I felt thoroughly robbed by the ending.

The other stories in the collection didn't really illicit much of a reader response from me and felt middle of the road. 
Perhaps this means short story collections aren't my thing or I need to read more of them.

Out of interest, I had a look back at my reading history and identified that I've only read six short story collections to date. Not a good track record really.


I can see a definite pattern here, and that's the fact that I've followed some of my favourite fiction authors (eg. Stephen King) into their short story collections. I picked up the collection edited by Neil Gaiman as a 'taster' of sorts and read the Rushdie for University.

While I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of short story collections yet, I do have some on my TBR pile that I'm looking forward to:
  • Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology by Danielle Binks
  • The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories by Angela Carter
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue
  • The Brothers Grimm: 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
  • The Turning by Tim Winton
In summary, A lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley contained one outstanding short story, one infuriating one and eighteen others that were a solid read.

Do you enjoy short story collections? What would you recommend?

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Check out my review of City of Crows by Chris Womersley