29 September 2019

Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig book cover
Allen & Unwin
Published 2017 (RRP $29.99AUD)
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Tom Hazard ages slowly. In fact, despite the appearance of a middle aged man, Tom is well over 400 years old. His medical condition has been both a blessing and a curse through the centuries and How To Stop Time by Matt Haig explores part of this life in all its pain and beauty.

Tom is subjected to fear and suspicion from those who begin to notice he doesn't age and he must move and change identities every eight years or so. The dangers he faces change with the times, but whether it be an accusation of witchcraft or the fear of being kidnapped and subjected to laboratory tests by big pharma, the threats to his life are ever present.

Falling in love is the biggest risk of all and the reader shares some of Tom's bittersweet memories of heartbreak and loss.

Published in 2017, How To Stop Time is a real clashing of genres. It's historical fiction meets science fiction with a dash of time travel resulting in a unique tale of endurance and the ability to adapt over time. It was this theme of history and the passage of time experienced by one individual that appealed to me the most.

In the Vampire Chronicles, bestselling author Anne Rice openly explores the relative success - or failure - of her characters to survive and adapt to the changes in technology, religion, culture, conflict and displacement over time. This constant learning and adaptability make a person wise and sometimes intuitive, and this was the case for Tom too.

What I didn't enjoy was the casual name dropping of well known figures from the past, so the novel loses a star for including interactions with Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I readily acknowledge this may be a highlight for some).

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig is recommended for historical fiction fans looking for a fresh angle on the past and science fiction readers looking to dip their toe into another genre.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

24 September 2019

Winner of Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer announced

Thanks to those who entered my giveaway to win a copy of speculative fiction novel Maternal Instinct by Australian debut author Rebecca Bowyer. The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 22 September 2019 and the winner was drawn today. Drum roll......

Congratulations Denise Ackers!!

Congratulations Denise! You've won a copy of Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer along with a complimentary bookmark as pictured below. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and the author will be sending out your prize directly.

Enjoy and please click here to learn more about upcoming giveaways.

Carpe Librum!
Maternal Instinct by Rebecca Bowyer with bookmark
Giveaway prize valued at $29.99AUD

18 September 2019

Review: What We Did in Bed - A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani

What We Did in Bed by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani book cover
* Copy courtesy of NetGalley & Yale University Press *

I'm fascinated by sleep, so when I saw What We Did In Bed: A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani was available on NetGalley it was a no-brainer.

This non-fiction gem contains a history of beds through time, including changes in beds from the Egyptian Pharaohs all the way to the modern age. Sleeping habits are discussed, including bed sharing amongst family members and travelling strangers and co-sleeping with children.

Dreams, sex, childbirth and death are all activities that happen in bed and are given much consideration within the text.

Futons, reed mats, raised beds, beds on ropes, bundling boards, truckle beds, pallet beds, waterbeds and inner spring beds are all covered with interest. Deathbeds and funerary couches were a highlight, as were the seemingly excessive bedding layers required to make a Victorian era bed.

It was fascinating to learn medieval Europeans slept at an angle partially upright, and that the witching hour was first recorded in 1883 and took place between midnight and 4.00AM.

I enjoyed reading about famous people who required very little sleep, including Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Napoleon. Modern day 'short sleepers' include Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

However, I was most pleased to discover What We Did In Bed included one of my favourite sleep related topics: segmented sleep and the fact that we used to sleep in two four hour chunks with a gap of wakefulness in between. The author of one of my favourite books At Day’s Close - A History of Nighttime by A. Roger Ekirch was referenced together with his thoughts on biphasic sleep.

Authors Fagan and Durrani explain on page 4:
.. a practice known as segmented sleep that seems to have been commonplace before electric light turned night into day. People slept for, say, four hours, after which they would awaken and spend time having sex, analyzing dreams, praying, doing chores, meeting friends, or committing crimes and other devilish deeds, and then return to bed for another four hours or so.
Here an interesting quote about bed design from page 4:
By Tutankhamun's time, around the mid-fourteenth century BC, the basic design of the bed (as we would recognize it) was well established, albeit slightly higher at the pillow end and with a footboard to prevent the sleeper from sliding off.
And I enjoyed this tidbit from France during the reign of the Sun King from page 158:
At Versailles a valet always sat inside the wooden enclosure around the king's bed because the court was concerned about sorcery. An enemy of the monarch could sprinkle spell-carrying mixtures on the bed that could endanger the occupant.
In conclusion, there was plenty to bookmark and highlight during the reading process, but I'm not convinced the title accurately sums up the content. Perhaps 'A Horizontal History' might have been more accurate. While the book did cover sleep, dreams, sex, childbirth, illness and death, there wasn't enough focus on other recreational activities that we engage in right now whilst in bed. I guess I was left wanting more.

What We Did In Bed: A Horizontal History by Brian Fagan & Nadia Durrani is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in beds and sleep across history.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

16 September 2019

Review: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal book cover
Set in London in 1850, The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is a Victorian tale of art, aspiration and obsession. Twins Iris and Rose work in a shop selling handmade porcelain dolls, Iris painting their faces and hands and Rose making their fine detailed garments. Iris dreams of becoming an artist and a chance encounter with a Pre-Raphaelite painter changes her life forever.

Louis Frost is bewitched by Iris' unique beauty and asks her to model for him in exchange for drawing and painting lessons.

Meanwhile, a taxidermist by the name of Silas has also noticed Iris' beauty and begins to obsess about her. He is a collector and a sinister character that wants Iris for himself. His fixation drives the threat the entire way through the novel.

All of the characters are swept up in the excitement of the upcoming Great Exhibition of 1851, each of them seeking to have an item accepted for display.

Dickensian London really comes to life on the page in The Doll Factory. With mentions of turtle soup, street urchins and the vivid hustle and bustle, Macneal was able to transport me back in time so convincingly I could almost smell the street litter.

What caught me by surprise, was that the art sub-plot was reminiscent of Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth. If I'd known how much the plot centred around art, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Great Exhibition, I might have postponed reading this for a year or two. Having read and enjoyed Beauty in Thorns in March last year, the overlap in setting and subject matter seemed to hinder my enjoyment of The Doll Factory. Definitely not the fault of the author, just a misstep in my own reading schedule.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is recommended reading for those who enjoy their historical fiction dark and Dickensian with a splash of art.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

13 September 2019

Giveaway and Interview with Rebecca Bowyer, author of Maternal Instinct

Rebecca Bowyer bio photo
Rebecca Bowyer
Today I'm welcoming Australian reviewer, book blogger and debut author Rebecca Bowyer to Carpe Librum. Maternal Instinct is coming out next month and I couldn't resist asking Rebecca a few questions. Be sure to enter the giveaway below for your chance to win a copy.


How long have you been reviewing books at Story Addict?
I've been publishing reviews on Story Addict for 2 years, but I've been reviewing books on other websites since 2013.

How many books do you review a year and what’s your favourite genre? 
I had to look this one up to check! In the past 12 months I've reviewed 57 books. My favourite genre is speculative fiction, which is also what I write. I'm a sucker for anything that imagines what our world might look like in the future. I also love historical and literary fiction with a smattering of contemporary fiction. Plus the occasional memoir.

What made you decide you wanted to be an author? 
I wanted to be an author when I was a kid. I always loved to tell stories and was constantly writing fragments on scraps of paper.

In my early 20s I gave up on my dreams completely. I decided NOT to be an author. By then I’d had a short story published in a local literary journal and had attempted to write an angsty romance novel and a pretty terrible fantasy novel. I think I got about 10,000 words in to each and gave up. My primary creative outlet became music. I sang with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus and then the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Nearly 10 years later I rediscovered my love of storytelling, this time as a parenting blogger. As a stay-at-home mum on maternity leave, I was increasingly frustrated by the lack of value placed on parenting in our society. My attempts to explain myself were met with comments such as, “But you are valued,” and “Parenting is a privilege”. I needed a way to explain what I meant and I found the best way to do that was to show, rather than tell. So I created a world, in my novel Maternal Instinct, where parenting is actually fully valued, including in an economic sense.

Once I started writing fiction I found I loved it and wanted to keep going. The genesis of the story was anger and frustration but the characters took on lives of their own and told a story I hadn't foreseen.

Was writing a novel harder or easier than you thought?
Both. While I’m writing and the words are coming and the characters are demanding to be heard, it’s easy. I just type up what they’re telling me. But when life gets louder, or I’m exhausted, it’s harder to find the space to hear them and the time to write it all down.

Do you think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage to have so much experience reviewing before becoming a published author yourself?
Absolutely an advantage. Reviewing forces me to read deliberately and thoughtfully, analysing what it is I do and don't like. It also introduced me to other authors. I highly recommend book reviewing to any budding authors.
Giveaway prize valued at $29.99AUD

If you had 30 words to convince a reader to read your book, what would they be?
[Year] 2040: Parenting is a highly valued profession but your own children are taken at 6 months. Maternal Instinct combines the style of Big Little Lies with themes similar to The Handmaid’s Tale.

How has the transition from blogger and reviewer to published author been?
Novel writing is neither better nor worse than any other kind of writing. I don’t see it as a transition. To me, publishing a novel is simply an addition to the other writing I do - reviews, articles, technical, content. It’s simply on a much larger scale and with much, much longer timeframes.

Do you have any literary influences?
Every book I’ve ever read has influenced me, so I’ll say ‘yes’ to this question. I’m not sure I can name just a few influences.

What’s your secret reading pleasure?
As a book blogger, all my reading pleasures are quite public these days. I’m not ashamed of anything I read. I’ve enjoyed everything from Solzhenitsyn to Twilight. I love great writing but I love immersive stories even more and am happy to overlook less than brilliant prose in favour of a great story.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein. It’s as incredible as everyone says it is.

When I’m not reading, writing, or reviewing I’m…working at my day job as a Digital Experience and Strategy lead. In English that means ‘write good words for websites and make sure they’re all in the right spot’. I’m also spending as time as much time as possible with my young family.

What are your writing or publishing plans for the future?
I’ve almost finished the first draft of my next novel, Time Thief. Its premise is based on my own fantasy of wanting to be able to literally buy time, especially in the context of being a parent in the paid workforce. How nice would it be, to take a pill that gives you 4 whole hours to yourself, to do whatever you want, without anyone bothering you?

I’ve also had a few requests from readers for a sequel to Maternal Instinct (for which I am extremely grateful!). I do have a few thousand words started on a sequel, but I’m going to finish Time Thief before I go back to it.

Thanks so much Rebecca! You can check out Rebecca's website for more info and enter the giveaway below to win a copy of Maternal Instinct along with a complimentary bookmark.


Blurb for Maternal Instinct
Australia 2040. No child lives in poverty and every child is safe. But at what cost?

19-year-old Monica never wanted a baby but the laws require her to give birth twice before she can move on with her life.

Now that her first son, Oscar, has arrived she’s not so sure she wants to hand him over to be raised by professional parents: the Maters and Paters.

When Monica turns to her birth mother, Alice, for help, she triggers a series of events that force Alice to confront her own dark past. Alice must decide – help her daughter break the law, or persuade her to accept her fate and do what’s best for the nation’s children?

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

11 September 2019

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware book cover
* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia *

This book is sheer perfection! The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware is gothic domestic noir meets creepy psychological thriller and I absolutely loved it.

Rowan applies for a nanny position at Heatherbrae House that sounds too good to be true. Based in a remote area in Scotland, the position offers a generous salary and luxury accomodation in a newly renovated smart house. Her architect employers are the busy parents of four children and Rowan is hired as their live-in nanny.

The novel starts with Rowan accused of being responsible for the death of one of the children and the novel is her account of the events. The writing is perfectly paced with an unexpected juxtaposition of the old and new parts of the house leading to a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.

Heatherbrae House is run via a smart app, and when things begin to wrong Rowan isn't sure if the app is malfunctioning or someone is trying to scare her. Previous nannies haven't stayed long in the position, adding to the mystery.

It has been said that The Turn of the Key is a tribute or a nod to the classic The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. In that novella, a governess is sent to a gothic home to look after two children, there may or may not be ghosts and one of the children dies. In the case of The Turn of the Key, there may or may not be ghosts and a nanny is charged with the murder of a child in her care. While it isn't that different to the fate of the governess in James' horror tale, the writing style is poles apart.

I read The Turn of the Screw in 2012 and wasn't overly impressed, however The Turn of the Key had me by the throat the entire time. If you weren't wowed by the Henry James classic, don't let it put you off this modern take, as Ruth Ware is easily the better writer of the two.

The Turn of the Key has an ending that made my heart lurch as my mind comprehended the consequences of what I'd learned. The ending reminded me a little of the one in The Corset, and it was the magnitude of the implied repercussion that left me breathless.

Ruth Ware is definitely a new favourite author and I'm excited to discover some of her other books in the future. She's written In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Lying Game and The Death of Mrs Westaway so there's much to look forward to. Have you read any of these titles? Which one should I read next?

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware could be one of my favourite books of the year. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 September 2019

Review: Cold Case Investigations by Dr Xanthe Mallett

Cold Case Investigations by Dr Xanthe Mallett book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

I've been on a true crime watching, listening and reading spree these past few months and the latest offering is Cold Case Investigations by leading Forensic Anthropologist Dr Xanthe Mallett. Seven Australian cold cases were selected for this collection and Dr Mallett takes us through each case.

The Wanda Beach murders, the disappearance of the Beaumont children, the abduction of William Tyrrell and the identity of Mr Cruel are well known cold cases in Australia. It is hoped that bringing light to these cases and keeping them in the public eye will eventually lead to a break through.

What surprised me were the other three cases chosen for the book, in which the offenders have already been identified, captured and prosecuted. In particular, I refer to the chapters on Ivan Milat, Daniel Holdom and Ashley Coulston. In these cases, the offender has been sentenced but the author postulates that further cold cases and missing persons could be attributed to these incarcerated offenders. Whilst I have no doubt these perpetrators probably have committed crimes unknown to police, I wouldn't classify them worthy of focus in a book of cold case investigations. If the victims are unknown, how can they be cold cases? Perhaps this is a new category of crime victim worthy of further exploration and its own book.

In addition to these main chapters, Mallett includes sections entitled Forensic Science Explained in shaded and bordered sections reminiscent of Unsolved Australia - Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford, also published by Pan Macmillan Australia this year. These sections cover forensic techniques involved in investigating cold cases and include topics like DNA, fingerprinting and blood groups. These sections would be informative and helpful for early readers of true crime, however for seasoned readers like me it was overkill*.

Even viewers of the odd TV crime show would be familiar with the science included here and the opportunity to inform the reader of more detailed forensic techniques was lost. I would also presume that the kind of reader picking up a book like this will already possess this kind of foundational knowledge.

Towards the end of the book, there's a section entitled 'But have you ever heard of these missing children?' Here Mallett mentions the disappearance of 11 month old Darren Shannon in 1973, and 19 month old Rahma El-Dennaoiui in 2005. On page 252, the author says:
"A number of journalists have likened Rahma's case to that of Madeleine McCann, but I bet most people would not know Rahma's little face if they saw it."
And she's 100% right, I wouldn't! So why not set things right and include a photo of her in the book? Why publish two photos of well-known missing toddler William Tyrrell and then neglect to educate the reader by including a photo of Rahma?

Dr Xanthe Mallett has had a fascinating - and impressive - career as a forensic criminologist, university lecturer, forensic practitioner, television presenter and now published author. Here she has tried to shed light on Australia's darker side of crime and ultimately seek justice for the victims and their family. I can't help thinking she may have been able to achieve more given the opportunity to expand on the cases, however there is every hope someone reading this book may come forward with information.

Cold Case Investigations by Australian author Dr Xanthe Mallett is recommended reading for those new to the true crime genre and those unfamiliar with solved and unsolved homicide cases in Australia.

Carpe Librum!

* See what I did there?

My Rating:
★ ★