29 July 2019

Review: The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins Australia *

"My parents didn't seem the sort of people who would end up killing someone." The opening line of The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen had my immediate attention and I found the voice of the main character compelling.

Born to average middle class parents, Augusta Hope lives at 1 Willow Crescent in Hedley Green. Augusta reads the dictionary for fun and couldn't be more different from her twin sister. Studying the globe and the names of all the countries, Augusta decides Burundi has the most beautiful sounding name and sets out to learn all she can about it.

Parfait lives in Burundi and we hear about his life amidst poverty and civil unrest in Africa intermittently between Augusta's chapters. The alternating chapters are expertly linked and connect well despite the characters living disparate lives.

This is a coming-of-age story and Augusta yearns to leave Hedley Green and live the life of a gypsy she reveres in a book of fairytales. Family tragedies complicate matters as Augusta navigates her way through life as best she can. Parfait is also struggling and wants to escape the bloodshed in Burundi with his siblings to Spain.

Spain features quite heavily in this contemporary novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed the focus on words and language by both characters throughout the story.

Comparisons are being made to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman but I don't think the comparison is a good one. Augusta is her own character and while highly intelligent, she is able to socialise well with others. There are no comical social faux pas here.

This is a story about the dynamics of family, the love between siblings, suburban life and a middle class upbringing in England. It's also about the meaning of home, tragedy, grief, regret, loss and love. 

The Other Half of Augusta Hope is a solid debut by Joanna Glen and I highly recommend it.

My Rating:

19 July 2019

Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House *

It's in Brittany, France in 1788 that we meet our heroine of The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth. Viviane is the daughter of the Marquis de Ravoisier and she has grown up without a mother at the Chateau de Belisima-sur-le-lac. Viviane is an aristocrat and is thankful her overbearing, gambling father is absent most of the time, living at the court of Versailles.

Viviane is a likeable character and a free spirit, always making herself useful, tending to the sick and injured tenants of her father's land and tramping around the countryside with her three legged dog Luna when she can escape the attentions of her Great Aunt. She doesn't enjoy the privilege her rank provides and would much rather horse about with her milk brother Pierrick.

After a vicious storm, Viviane's father commissions an English gardener David Stronach to construct a beautiful garden at the chateau. With a shared interest in herbs and plants, slowly but surely they begin to fall in love.

Their class divide soon becomes apparent and David is lucky to escape alive when her father returns. He has racked up a considerable gambling debt and Viviane is betrothed to his friend in order to settle the debt. The lovers are separated, Viviane believing David was killed in his escape, David believing Viviane has betrayed him and married for position, title and favour.

The Blue Rose then follows the separate lives of Viviane and David in a period of significant social and political upheaval in France. The French Revolution begins in 1789 and to be an aristo (aristocrat or high born) is a death sentence in some cases.

Meanwhile, David embarks on a British diplomatic journey to Imperial China on an errand on behalf of Sir Joseph Banks.

Throughout their struggles, their love endures and both plights are brought into startling focus in alternate chapters. Covering themes of: love, class, duty, civil war, exploration and the clashing of cultures this is an historical fiction novel you can really sink your teeth into. This is a bloody time in France's history and the author doesn't shy away from the brutality, bloodlust and cruelty of the time.

It's clear from Viviane's experiences that an incredible amount of research has been undertaken by Kate Forsyth. Despite so many bestselling novels, she hasn't written about this period in history before, but you wouldn't know it from the ease from which this tale seemingly emerges.

My only complaint was that the ending seemed a little perfectly timed, but it's a very small criticism in an otherwise evocative and enjoyable historical fiction novel.

The Blue Rose by Australian author Kate Forsyth is recommended reading for historical fiction devotees, romance readers and Francophiles.

Click here to read a FREE extract.

My Rating:

18 July 2019

Blogging for the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2019

I'm so excited to share with you that I was invited to collaborate with the Melbourne Writers Festival again this year and I am one of their Bloggers & Digital Storytellers! Exciting isn't it?

This year's theme is 'When We Talk About Love' and I was asked to pen 'An Ode to A Tome', a love letter to three books written by authors appearing at the festival.

My letters were to Noni the Pony Rescues a Joey by children's book author Alison Lester, The Everlasting Sunday by debut novelist Robert Lukins and The Nowhere Child by crime author Christian White.

This was so much fun and you can check out the blog post here.

Carpe Librum!

The Nowhere Child by Christian White Melbourne Writers Festival

17 July 2019

Review: The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley is an historical fiction novel told in dual timelines from multiple character perspectives. It's a multi-generational family saga set in Suffolk and contains several mysteries and a few secrets.

Posy Montague is our main character and we meet her at the age of 70 when she is living in the enormous rundown family estate Admiral House, her adult children having moved away.

One of Posy's sons is an antiques dealer and I really enjoyed the little insight we get into his occupation and business.

As we get to know Posy and changes in her family start to happen, we go back in time to Posy's childhood and her father's service in the war. We get a glimpse of Posy's life at university and how she fell in love and eventually married.

The modern timeline features Posy and her children and their various family goings on, which include domestic themes of: friendship, love, parenthood, career, adultery, divorce, domestic violence and grief.

Coming in at more than 600 pages, The Butterfly Room is a very character-driven novel that moves forward inch by inch, conversation by conversation. This person drives to that house, has a conversation. Next day, this person phones that person, travels up from London etc. What kept me engaged throughout the domestic drama were the two mysteries and the hint of a few family secrets that were worth uncovering. (I managed to correctly guess one of them - which never happens - and incorrectly guess the other, so that surprise was satisfying).

After the 400 page mark I started to pick up on a number of repetitions that proved mildly irritating. The repeated use of phrases of endearment like 'my darling girl' and 'my darling boy' were used by different characters way too frequently. While some originated from the same family members - thereby somewhat understandable and thereby excusable - others weren't.

I also noticed that many of the characters had a habit of talking to themselves aloud in full sentences. These sentences were printed with the use of dialogue punctuation which seemed strange and while I can believe one character might do this, I couldn't believe that many characters would possess this personality trait.

When it comes to the title, I'm not quite sure The Butterfly Room was the best title for this generational family saga. A butterfly room does feature in the novel, but it could be perceived as a teaser or a spoiler. I'd have preferred a title capturing the magnificent property that unites all of the characters, that of Admiral House. Riley did a wonderful job of evoking the gardens and property in a way that really made it come to life and was the star of the novel for me.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, family sagas and romance at all stages of life. Fans of Kate Morton, Hannah Richell, Anna Romer and Sarah Maine will feel at home with Lucinda Riley's The Butterfly Room.

My Rating:

15 July 2019

Winner of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman Announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway to win a copy of Trails in the Dust by Australian author Joy Dettman as part of the blog tour organised by Pan Macmillan.

The giveaway closed at midnight last night and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations:

Kylie H

Congratulations Kylie! You've won a copy of Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman valued at $32.99. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and Pan Macmillan will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more chances to win.

Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman book cover

12 July 2019

Buddy Read of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier book cover
I'm excited to announce I'm co-hosting a buddy read with Theresa Smith of Theresa Smith Writes next month.

We'll be reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier in the first week of August to coincide with the original publication date back in August 1938.

A modern classic and an international bestseller that has never been out of print, Rebecca is a gothic novel set in the fictional estate known as Manderley. 

You might have heard the famous opening line: 
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
If you want to join us in this buddy read, then feel free to leave a comment below. The official start date is Sunday 4 August 2019 and we'll be reading through to finish the buddy read by Sunday 11 August.

We'll be discussing the novel as we go over on the Page by Page Book Club with Theresa Smith Writes Facebook group. You can also join in on Twitter using the hashtag #rebeccabuddyread and tagging myself (@Carpe_Librum1) and Theresa (@TessSmithWrites).

Everyone is welcome to join in and I'm really looking forward to visiting Manderley next month.

Carpe Librum!
09 July 2019

Review: Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford

Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Justine Ford is a big name when it comes to true crime in Australia. She's a journalist and author of five books. One of these is The Good Cop - The True Story of Ron Iddles, Australia's Greatest Detective which was adapted into a series for the Foxtel channel and for which Ford was the Executive Producer. I absolutely loved the series and my respect for Police Detective Ron Iddles, OAM (retired) is unending.

This is my first foray into Justine's written work though and I enjoyed reading Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls. Justine covers cold case missing persons and unsolved murders in Australia all the while encouraging the reader to help find a missing person or catch a killer. I knew about 2 of the 13 true crime cases included, those being the outback mystery of what happened to Paddy Moriarty and missing Army Officer Sean Sargent.

Justine's experience on Australia's Most Wanted is evidenced in her approach to this work. This collection of true crime cases encourages members of the public to come forward and help Police solve the cases and bring justice and some measure of comfort to the families.

Generous rewards are now on offer and both Justine Ford and Ron Iddles firmly believe the answer is out there and that someone always knows something. With the passage of time, relationships and allegiances change, which may result in a person with information coming forward to claim the reward in return for critical information about the case.

In addition to the true crime cases mentioned, Justine has also included six profiles throughout the book focussing on people dedicating their lives to investigating and solving crime in a variety of vocations. Readers will recognise Rachael Brown, the journalist behind the highly successful podcast Trace and will enjoy hearing from a forensic anthropologist and criminologist, a criminal psychologist and more.

Presented with a stunning cover with jigsaw piece design and embossing on some of the pieces to emphasize the nature of finding missing pieces of information in order to solve a crime, I do wish the publisher had invested more on the overall production of the book. There are many photos throughout the book and they're all in black and white. And we're not talking glossy black and white paper either. They're included on the regular print paper.

Black and white images and designs are also used to differentiate the profiles from the main body of the text, however it gave me the overall impression I was reading a newspaper. Given the author's desire for the reader to pay close attention to the cases on the off chance they can offer critical information, I'd have thought colour photographs would be essential.

Justine Ford is determined to help solve cold cases in Australia and I applaud her efforts to ensure the victims and their families aren't forgotten. Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford is recommended reading for true crime and history enthusiasts.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
06 July 2019

Blog tour and giveaway for Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman

Today I'm excited to be participating in the Pan Macmillan blog tour for Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman. Born in country Victoria, Joy Dettman is an accomplished Australian author. Trails in the Dust can be enjoyed as a stand alone so enter below for your chance to win a print copy for yourself or a loved one.

Trails in the Dust by Joy Dettman book cover
Pan Macmillan
RRP $32.99 AUD
After many tumultuous years spent grappling with the past, Jenny Hooper might have expected her latter years to be the best of her life, and they are - until tragedy strikes. Left floundering in a house full of memories, not all of them good, Jenny knows a reckoning is in order.

But it won't be easy. History is beginning to repeat itself for Jenny's adopted daughter, Trudy, who finds herself trapped in an abusive relationship. Jenny and her older daughter, Georgie, can only stand by and watch as Trudy's life implodes.

Meanwhile, half a world away in the UK, Cara and her husband Morrie nurture a devastating secret that keeps them at arm's length from Jenny.

But most of all, Jenny wants to renew contact with the beloved son she lost decades before when she was at her lowest ebb. Only that, and having the chance to tell him the truth about what happened, will give her peace. But is it too late?

This giveaway has now closed and the winner will be announced soon.
03 July 2019

Review: Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

We're all familiar with book to movie adaptations (and each have our favourites) however we rarely see the reverse, the movie to book adaptation. Yet that's what we have here.

The 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro and won 3 Academy Awards. Now he's teamed up with bestselling author and illustrator Cornelia Funke (Inkheart trilogy) to produce this dark fantasy novel Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun.

Set in 1940s Spain, Ofelia and her pregnant mother are forced to move in with her new husband Vidal, an evil man serving as a Captain in the Spanish Army. Vidal and his soldiers are charged with capturing the rebels in the forest intent on disrupting and undermining the Francoist dictatorship.

Ofelia is unhappy in her new surroundings and clings to her books for solace. She is obsessed with fairytales and the story takes off when she sees a real fairy in the forest and is given a set of tasks to do as part of a quest.

This is a dark fairytale for adults that is overflowing with fable, folklore and fairytale, including the following familiar tropes: the evil stepfather, the lost princess, a magical book, an enchanted forest, a quest, magical animals, a maze, good versus evil and more.

I immediately fell in love with Ofelia and really felt for her plight. My reading experience was further enhanced by the haunting illustrations that brought the magical realism of the story to life. And don't you just love that cover?

There is real violence here, although viewers of the movie and readers of the original Grimms' Fairy Tales won't be surprised. Despite this, Ofelia's bravery and heart shine through and the side stories of witches and curses were well placed and added further layers to the story.

I haven't seen the movie, but after enjoying the novel so much it's definitely going on my list.

Pan's Labyrinth - The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke is a spellbinding read and highly recommended!

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
01 July 2019

Review: The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins

The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins book cover
We join Radford in England in 1962 when he is sent to Goodwin Manor, a home for troubled boys. The boys aren't required to disclose the events leading up to their arrival at Goodwin Manor, but I hoped their backstories would be slowly revealed throughout the novel. Alas, this isn't the case. In fact, we don't even get the backstory of the main character, Radford.

I was ready for a bootcamp style campus novel for delinquents and troublemakers, but Goodwin Manor is not a structured boarding school environment with a schedule designed to turn bad boys good again. Instead it offers the boys an opportunity to work through their issues via the process of friendship.

I adjusted my expectations and began to hope for an inspiring novel about wayward boys desperate for learning and mentorship reminiscent of Dead Poet’s Society, however didn't find that either.

As we observe the boys interacting with eachother and Radford becoming friends with West, I desperately wanted to give the school some structure. Teddy's oversight felt painfully inadequate and I wanted to crack out a timetable of lessons and chores for the boys. The seemingly complete lack of any regime irked me, but was that the point?

I wished there had been more inspiring adult figures in the lives of the boys at Goodwin Manor and I also wanted to see what happened when one of the boys returned home. Furthermore, I desired evidence of an improvement in the behaviour and wellbeing of the boys who'd spent the most time at Goodwin Manor.

Unfortunately, the reader is deprived of character backstories and thereby any evidence of individual growth, development or recovery. There was also much that was never explained. How did the boys get the money for cigarettes and booze and what was with the chicken coop?

The Everlasting Sunday is a literary novel by an Australian author that has won a swag of awards (see below). It's a coming-of-age novel about friendship, self, rejection, love, grief and hope but ultimately I found it too wanting for my tastes.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

P.S. Thanks to Theresa Smith for the copy generously given in a giveaway.

Awards include:

  • SHORTLISTED: Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
  • SHORTLISTED: UTS Glenda Adams New Writing Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2019
  • LONGLISTED: The ALS Gold Medal for Literature
  • The Australian's 'Top 10 Australian Books of 2018'
  • Australian Book Review's '2018 Books of the Year'
  • The Age / Sydney Morning Herald's 'Books of the Year 2018'
  • Good Reading Magazine's 'Top 10 fiction titles of 2018'
  • Au Review's 'Best 16 Books of 2018'