26 June 2019

Review: Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a gothic mystery set in a fen in Edwardian Suffolk surrounded by folklore, superstition and legends. The ancient manor house of Wake's End near the hamlet of Wakenhyrst has been Maud's home for the past 50 years where she's lived as a recluse. Maud's story is closely connected with that of her father, historian Edmund Stearne and the mystery of the crime he committed in 1913.

The reader is taken back in time to Maud's childhood and her overbearing father's increasing obsession with 15th Century mystic Alice Pyett. A medieval Doom painting is discovered in the nearby Church and Edmund is affected by the artist's depiction of the Last Judgement. Maud discovers her authoritarian father's diary and we interpret the content along with Maud as she tries to figure out what's happening.

I can understand why some readers will find Wakenhyrst a slow read, but that's what builds the tension. Gothic tension takes time, and Paver does an excellent job of allowing the reader to see every single stage of Edmund's decline.

I enjoyed the overall setting of Wake's End, including the members of the household and the superstitions of the local people about the fen. Secrets and the sins of the past are also present, as is a feeling of otherworldly goings on. Paver does a brilliant job of setting the scene and I especially enjoyed the reference to Quieting Syrup on page 246:
Nurse hated her for pointing out that as Quieting Syrup is a mixture of black treacle and opium, it is hardly advisable to give it to a four-year-old.
I fell into Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver with immediate gusto, and the early chapters gave me the same bookish shivers I had at the beginning of The Binding by Bridget Collins. I love the cover art and animal lovers will enjoy knowing that the magpie on the cover has a role to play in the novel.

When we've reached the climax of the story and finally get back to the present, the ending seems hastily wrapped up in comparison to the slow burn of the rest of the novel. I found this quite jarring and wanted a little more time with Maud.

I thoroughly recommend Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver for fans of historical fiction and gothic suspense novels.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. If you enjoy gothic novels or want to find out what makes a novel gothic, check out my list of Gothic Tales To Read for more info.
21 June 2019

Review: Something to Live For by Richard Roper

Something to Live For by Richard Roper book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Andrew is a loner working for the Council in the UK. He's a member of the Death Administration department dealing with deceased estates in the event a person dies without a next of kin. Andrew and his colleagues are responsible for searching the property for proof of family or friends and the funds to cover funeral expenses. If none can be found, the burden falls to the state.

Andrew is a model train hobbyist and his regular job and loner lifestyle made him instantly relatable and irresistibly likeable. Andrew's job is fascinating and the first thing that attracted me to this book, but after reading a few pages there was plenty to keep me engaged.

I loved Andrew's online interactions with his fellow model train enthusiasts and the general office banter and relationships also gave me cause to smile and nod along. I wasn't expecting to find much to laugh about, but Something to Live For often made me chuckle to myself, here's an example from Page 30:
Consequently, his living space was looking not so much tired as absolutely knackered. There was the dark stain where the wall met the ceiling in the area that masqueraded as a kitchen; then there was the battered grey sofa, the threadbare carpet and the yellowy-brown wallpaper that was meant to suggest autumn but in fact suggested digestive biscuits.
I can see why parallels are being drawn between this and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: both characters are loners and both have some socialisation issues - albeit to different degrees. But this is lighter, less dramatic and therefore seemingly more real.

The only reason Something to Live For by Richard Roper wasn't a 5 star read for me was that it had a touch of the 'cringe factor' for me. The cringe factor is hard to describe, but here it came in the form of a lie Andrew told his work mates that had managed to snowball in the ensuing years. This kind of situation makes me cringe and while it made perfect sense for the character and the plot arc, it nevertheless prevented this from becoming a 5 star read for me.

This book is being published with a different title overseas (How Not To Die Alone) but I think the Australian title strikes the better chord and is more in keeping with the overall message of the novel. A moving and uplifting read, highly recommended.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
17 June 2019

Winner of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare Announced

Thanks to those who entered my Cassandra Clare giveaway last week to win a copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market thanks to Walker Books Australia.

Entries closed yesterday and I drew the winner today. Congratulations to:

Michael Potter

Congratulations Michael! You've won a copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare valued at $27.99AUD. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and Walker Books Australia will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more chances to win on 6 July when I'll be giving away a copy of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman.

Carpe Librum!

14 June 2019

Review: Hunting Evil by Chris Carter

Hunting Evil by Chris Carter book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I haven't seen this done before, but in an author's note at the beginning of Hunting Evil, Chris Carter advises readers that while Hunting Evil is the tenth novel in the series featuring Robert Hunter, it doesn't follow on from the ninth novel in the series, Gallery of the Dead. Instead, Hunting Evil is a sequel to the sixth novel in the series, An Evil Mind.

This information put me into an immediate spin, as I hadn't read the sixth novel in the series. I procrastinated a while about whether I needed to go back and read An Evil Mind first, but after learning it wasn't at my local library I decided to forge ahead and try it anyway. Thankfully I was able to piece together enough of the back story that I didn't experience any obvious problems with the plot.

Robert Hunter is head of the LAPD Ultra Violent Crimes Unit and in the beginning of the book his nemesis Lucien Folter has escaped from prison. Lucien is the most dangerous serial killer the FBI has ever known and three years ago he was locked away in solitary confinement in a high security prison. In an effort to study him, protocols were regretfully relaxed, Lucien has escaped and he has unfinished business with Robert.

What ensues is a dark psychological crime thriller with plenty of suspense and a considerable body count. Robert Hunter's qualifications (PhD in Criminal Behaviour Analyses and Biopsychology) and experience are put to the test as he leads a taskforce set up to track down Lucien. However, Lucien was also one of the brightest students to ever graduate from Stamford Psychology University, so it isn't easy to stay one step ahead of his evil plans.

Garcia's sense of humour in Gallery of the Dead wasn't evident here, which was a minor let down. Notwithstanding, Hunting Evil is a hard hitting crime thriller, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you can get away with reading it as a stand alone.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
11 June 2019

Review of The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose book cover
Allen & Unwin
RRP $27.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose won the Stella Prize in 2017 and has been sitting on my TBR pile since receiving an unsolicited copy way back in August 2016.

Marina Abramovic's installation in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010 was called The Artist is Present, in which Marina sat at a table and members of the public would sit opposite her and maintain eye contact without speaking. Marina did this for 75 days - a total of 736 hours and 30 minutes - from March to May that year and sat across from 1,545 sitters. She did this without moving, and without water, meal, or toilet breaks all in the name of art.

With the permission and blessing of several people involved (including Marina) Australian author Heather Rose has created a narrative around the exhibition and peopled it with several characters captivated by Marina’s performance.

Unfortunately I didn't form any connections with the characters and the decisions of the main character Levin grated on my nerves. The pace is slow, the characters introspective and not much really happens. I did give this literary novel the time and space it needed to take root, but it still failed to move me.

I also found the writing style a little jarring. We're given multiple character perspectives in what I presume to be the third person. However, there was also the occasional presence of what I think was an omniscient narrator. I had no idea 'who' this was supposed to be and it was never explained. Was this supposed to be an all-knowing muse? The 'muse' didn't seem to 'belong' to a specific character but hovered ghost-like over some parts of the novel without any rhyme or reason and certainly no resolution. Just to complicate matters, the ghost of Marina's mother also made several appearances in the novel.

The title of the book is presumably a play on the location of the exhibition (Museum of Modern Art) and this literary novel will appeal to readers with an interest in exploring the meaning of art and how performance art can impact an audience.

Reading a book long after the buzz has died down can be an advantage. I like to think I'm not influenced by awards hype or bestseller lists, and the fact that I didn't enjoy this book puts me squarely in the minority here. Distance from the hype can offer a different reading perspective and I wonder if some of the readers giving this 5 stars found themselves swept away by the meteoric rise of the book at the time. I just didn't get it.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!
10 June 2019

Carpe Librum Celebrates 1000 Posts

I've now published 1000 posts since starting this blog back in 2005 and this is officially my 1,001st post! To mark this significant milestone, I'm in the process of making a few changes here at Carpe Librum.

I joined several blogging networks this year in an effort to improve my blogging skills and have definitely seen the benefits of addressing several gaps in my blogging knowledge.

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash
It's an ongoing learning curve, so I just want to say thank you for sticking with me as I continue to learn and improve. I'm completely self taught and have made some significant changes over the years. Some you might recall include: a name change to Carpe Librum and my own URL (2012), launching my first logo (2016), celebrating 1,000,000 views (December 2017) and this year migrating my email subscribers to MailChimp. As I continue to learn and tweak things behind the scenes at Carpe Librum, my success continues to improve and I expect to surpass 1,200,000 website views this month.

What you definitely won't see is the appearance of annoying pop-up ads or ads showing up in my reviews or featured on my sidebars. I hate seeing that on other sites and will continue to resist the urge to pollute my page with ads to earn advertising dollars.

If you'd like to see more - or less - of a particular kind of post, feel free to send me your feedback any time.

There is still plenty more I need to learn, but hopefully you'll see a change with the arrival of a new overall look and feel in the next few weeks. Those technically minded might be interested to know some of the behind the scenes tasks include: fixing hundreds of broken links, adding alt properties to images, learning about and improving my Domain Authority and learning how to use Google Analytics and Google Console.

Wish me luck.

Carpe Librum!
07 June 2019

Friday Freebie: WIN a copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare

Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare cover
RRP $27.99 AUD
Published June 2019
Walker Books Australia
Fantasy lovers will be very familiar with Cassandra Clare, whose novels have sold more than 36 million copies worldwide. Cassandra Clare is the author of the bestselling Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices, The Bane Chronicles, The Dark Artifices, The Shadowhunter’s Codex and Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a major movie and Shadowhunters is airing on Netflix.

Thanks to Walker Books Australia, you can win a print copy of Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare below. Good luck!

A collection of all eight Ghosts of the Shadow Market stories, along with two brand new ones, about characters from Cassandra Clare's internationally bestselling Shadowhunters series.

The Shadow Market is a meeting point for faeries, werewolves, warlocks and vampires. There the Downworlders buy and sell magical objects, make dark bargains, and whisper secrets they do not want the Nephilim to know. Through two centuries, however, there has been a frequent visitor to the Shadow Market from the City of Bones, the very heart of the Shadowhunters. As a Silent Brother, Brother Zachariah is sworn keeper of the laws and lore of the Nephilim. But once he was a Shadowhunter called Jem Carstairs, and his love, then and always, is the warlock Tessa Gray. 

Follow Brother Zachariah and see, against the backdrop of the Shadow Market’s dark dealing and festival, Anna Lightwood’s doomed romance, Matthew Fairchild’s great sin and Tessa Gray plunged into a world war. Valentine Morgenstern buys a soul at the Market and a young Jace Wayland’s soul finds safe harbor. In the Market is hidden a lost heir and a beloved ghost, and no-one can save you once you have traded away your heart. Not even Brother Zachariah. The series features characters from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, Infernal Devices, Dark Artifices and the upcoming Last Hours series.


This giveaway has now closed and the winner was announced here.
05 June 2019

Review: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is a terrific historical fiction novel from Australian author Kayte Nunn. Unfolding in dual timelines (1950s and 2018), the story is told from three character perspectives: Rachel (Marine Scientist), Esther Durrant (of the title) and Eve, looking after her grandmother in London.

It has to be said that I'm not usually a fan of romance novels or a great love story, but somehow Kayte Nunn tricked me by writing such a compelling historical fiction novel about a woman committed to a mental asylum by her husband in the 1950s, that the romance elements kind of snuck up on me.

Esther Durrant is a young mother committed to a private hospice by her husband with the very best of intentions for her care and recovery. It's 1951 and Esther is outraged when she finds herself trapped at Little Embers, which seems to be little more than a mental asylum. She has no choice but to surrender to the treatment being offered to her and the other patients in residence; men suffering shell shock and PTSD from the war.

Rachel takes up her new research post in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast and soon comes across the isolated island location of Little Embers. It's there that she discovers a number of incredibly moving letters secreted away in an old suitcase. (Although by the end of the novel, there's never an explanation for why the suitcase wasn't 'sent on' as planned).

In London, Eve is taking care of her grandmother - a retired mountaineer - and helping to write her memoir. These three storylines intertwined exceptionally well with just the right amount of time spent with each character.

The location was vividly described and I enjoyed the remote locality and the rugged wilderness of the Isles of Scilly in both timelines. However I'm not convinced the cover accurately conveyed the content or feel of the novel for me. Perhaps an image of the mental asylum on a remote island with a pair of hiking boots next to the door step would have encompassed the feel of the novel better for me. I also have no idea why there’s a butterfly on the cover.

The promo for this novel promises it will appeal to readers who love Elizabeth Gilbert and Kate Morton. I heartily agree with this. However, I'd go one step further to say that Kayte Nunn achieves her story in a far more compact and precise way than Elizabeth Gilbert did in The Signature of All Things and managed the timelines far better than Kate Morton did in her last novel The Clockmaker's Daughter.

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is highly recommended for historical fiction fans; even those who don't typically enjoy a romance.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!