30 December 2019

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge & Aussie Author Challenge Completed in 2019

Two reading challenges close to my heart (because they're both Australian and are run by some of my favourite bloggers) are the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge. I successfully completed both challenges again this year and thought I'd wrap them up together.

2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

To complete the Franklin level of the 2019 Australian Women Writer's Challenge I had to read 10 books and review 6 of them. I improved on last year's tally of 15 books and read the following 21 books:
Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2019 logo

1. The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker ✭✭✭1/2
2. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan ✭✭✭
4. Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer ✭✭✭
5. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
6. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein ✭✭✭✭
7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
8. The Accusation by Wendy James ✭✭✭✭1/2
9. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ✭✭✭✭
10. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose ✭✭
11. Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford ✭✭✭
12. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ✭✭✭✭
13. Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett ✭✭✭
14. Hide by S.J. Morgan ✭✭✭✭
15. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean ✭✭✭
16. Hive by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
17. Rogue by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
18. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ✭✭✭✭
19. Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ✭✭✭
20. The Choke by Sofie Laguna ✭✭
21. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper ✭✭✭

Aussie Author 2019 Challenge

For the Aussie Author 2019 Challenge I had to read and review 12 titles by Australian authors across a minimum of 3 genres. 4 titles had to be by female authors, 4 titles by male authors and at least 4 had to be new (to me) authors. I improved on last year’s number of 26 and read the following 30 books:
Aussie Author Challenge 2019 logo

1. Dead Heat by Peter Cotton ✭
2. Hunter by Jack Heath ✭✭✭✭✭
3. Green Is The New Black by James Phelps ✭
4. The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker ✭✭✭1/2
5. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan ✭✭✭
6. Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer ✭✭✭
7. My Book (Not Yours) by Ben Sanders ✭✭✭
8. The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
9. Boxed by Richard Anderson ✭✭✭✭
10. A Lovely and Terrible Thing by Chris Womersley ✭✭✭
11. Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein ✭✭✭✭
12. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey ✭✭✭
13. The Accusation by Wendy James ✭✭✭✭1/2
14. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ✭✭✭✭
15. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose ✭✭
16. The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins ✭✭✭
17. Unsolved Australia: Lost Boys, Gone Girls by Justine Ford ✭✭✭
18. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ✭✭✭✭
19. Snake Island by Ben Hobson ✭✭✭✭✭
20. Cold Case Investigations by Xanthe Mallett ✭✭✭
21. Silver by Chris Hammer ✭✭✭
22. Hide by S.J. Morgan ✭✭✭✭
23. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean ✭✭✭
24. Sh*t Towns of Australia by Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole ✭
25. Hive by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
26. Rogue by A.J. Betts ✭✭✭
27. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ✭✭✭✭
28. Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ✭✭✭
29. The Choke by Sofie Laguna ✭✭
30. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper ✭✭✭

As you can see, I had a prolific reading year in 2019 supporting Australian authors and publishers with some fantastic titles in the mix across a variety of genres.

I'll be signing up for both challenges again in 2020 and sign-up pages are already open so visit the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and 2020 Aussie Author Challenge pages for more info.

Carpe Librum!


29 December 2019

Review: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice book cover
Prince Lestat by Anne Rice was a disappointing read for me in 2017, which has made the next in The Vampire Chronicles series - Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis - a real worrisome presence on my TBR. Given to me for Christmas in 2016, it even made my Intimidating Books on My Bookshelf post for Boomerang Books back in May 2018.

Reviewing this post recently, I realised I was yet to tackle any of the books from the list and decided Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis was the easiest and most accessible. And I'm so glad I did. Anne Rice has returned to form and the storyline has moved quickly on from the stagnancy of the previous novel. What a relief.

The history behind Amel's beginnings were unexpected and the revelations about Atlantis were engaging. The overall message about the creation of mankind as we know it allowed Rice a particular slant on things which didn't involve religion and was therefore a refreshing take on humanity as we know it.

Our favourite vampires were present in the novel and once again we heard from some of them in alternating chapters. I don't mind admitting I found the complex relationships between fledglings and makers and their overlapping histories a little difficult to keep up with at times, but fortunately Rice continually reminds us of their connections to one another.

I enjoyed hearing about Marius's efforts to create a constitution to govern the blood drinkers and I hope to learn more about the rules established for the court in future books. Speaking of the court, classical music was played - and mentioned - every night at the Chateau and the observations about dress were present on every page. That said, there did appear to be a little less description in favour of a tad more action this time around which was welcomed.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice cannot be read as a stand alone, but the good news is the next in this series was published in 2018 and is called Blood Communion (Book 13). I've decided to continue with the series and look forward to reading it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

23 December 2019

Review: The Arsonist - A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper

The Arsonist - A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper audio cover
I've been enjoying a number of true crime podcasts this year and have very recently made the transition to audiobook. At this stage I can only listen to non fiction as my mind seems to wander when listening to anything else. I began listening to this audiobook during Non Fiction November but didn't finish it in time to qualify for the challenge.

Published last year, The Arsonist - A Mind on Fire by Australian author Chloe Hooper is the non fiction account of the Black Saturday fires in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. Hooper shines her spotlight on the deliberately lit Churchill fires that killed 10 people and destroyed 150 homes in February 2009.

Hooper investigates the fire and provides insight into the victims and survivors and their community. She covers the search for the arsonist and the identification and subsequent arrest of a suspect.

Investigators immediately noticed Brendan Sokaluk's behaviour was unusual. A former CFA volunteer, Sokaluk seemed slow to understand questions and his answers were incredibly simplistic. It was initially feared Sokaluk was acting in order to mislead Police, however it was later determined he was mildly autistic and intellectually disabled.

Sokaluk's trial is covered in great detail while Hooper also delves into his upbringing and background. Sokaluk claims he accidentally started the fire and didn't mean to hurt anyone but the truth isn't clear.

Brendan Sokaluk was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to 17 years and 9 months for his crime, making him Victoria's worst mass killer. There was no sense of justice or jubilation in the sentencing of the bad guy here and instead I just felt an overall sadness for the entire situation; particularly for the victims and survivors.

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper is recommended reading for those interested in the nature of bushfires in Australia and the toll arsonists inflict when they intentionally set fires in rural areas. Unfortunately this is happening again right now.

My Rating:
★ ★

21 December 2019

2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge Completed

It's been another successful reading year for me and historical fiction has constituted 20% of my overall reading. Thankfully I wasn't in any danger of failing to complete the 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year, unlike other years.

Hosted as always by Amy at Passages to the Past, I had to read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the challenge and did so with ease.

Here's what I read for the challenge:

1. The Familiars by Stacey Halls ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
2. Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell ⭑⭑
3. The Binding by Bridget Collins ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
4. Anna of Kleve - Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
5. The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn ⭑⭑⭑⭑
6. Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
7. The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley ⭑⭑⭑
8. The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth ⭑⭑⭑⭑
9. Tidelands by Philippa Gregory ⭑⭑⭑⭑
10. The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan ⭑⭑⭑⭑
11. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
12. Bone China by Laura Purcell ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑
13. The Lost Ones by Anita Frank ⭑⭑⭑⭑
14. Dressing the Dearloves by Kelly Doust ⭑⭑⭑⭑
15. Things In Jars by Jess Kidd ⭑⭑⭑⭑

You can see from the star ratings that I had an enjoyable historical fiction reading year, which isn't too surprising given it's my favourite genre.

Have you read any of the books above?
2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Carpe Librum!


19 December 2019

Review: The Dumb House by John Burnside

The Dumb House by John Burnside book cover
I wanted to read another classic before the year ends and this time I picked up The Dumb House by John Burnside. A Vintage Classic published in 1997, this is a very dark poetic novel I've been looking forward to reading for years.

Told in the first person by our reclusive and strange bachelor Luke, this is a short novel about his search for proof of the living soul. Luke has concluded that communication is the basis for the soul, and wonders whether children raised without language will have the means to develop thoughts. Furthermore, if a person has no language to form coherent thoughts, do they have a soul?

The premise of the book is an experiment whereby Luke raises children without ever exposing them to language. Keeping them in isolation and constantly observing their behaviour, our protagonist is on alert for any evidence of a newly developed language or means of communication.

I thought the book would focus on the experiment and the results, but just as in The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan, the storyline deviated from the experiment. We learn about Luke's unusual upbringing and his odd relationship with his mother in addition to his depraved activities with women he is attracted to.

Luke is a despicable and deranged man and while I've always been interested in reading from the perspective of the 'bad guy' so I can find out what makes them tick (e.g. You by Caroline Kepnes and Hangman by Jack Heath), on this occasion I felt like I needed to wash my hands each time I set this book down.

It really is a grubby little book full of beautiful poetic writing with a very dark and twisted core at its centre. I really don't know how it became a Vintage Classic, other than the fact it explores the ideals of what makes us human, the makeup and location of the soul and the importance of language and communication within society.

There's no doubt these philosophical ideas are worthy of examination, I just wish I'd explored them from a better vantage point. There was no redeeming conclusion to the novel either, just the hinted continuance evident in The Choke by Sofie Laguna. Life goes on.

My apologies to anyone who has heard me rave about this book or seen it on my TBR and added it to theirs. Not recommended.

Carpe Librum!


My Rating:
★ ★ ★ ★

17 December 2019

Non Fiction November 2019 Wrap-Up

The Non Fiction November 2019 challenge was to read more non fiction than I usually would in a month and I definitely succeeded. However it did come as a bit of a shock when I realised that each of the books I read for the challenge had the word dead or death in the title. Whoops! Here's how my reading went for the challenge.

Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold ⭐⭐⭐
The author tackles the fascinating history of London burials from pre-historic and medieval times to the present day and if you enjoy history, anthropology, urban development, changing attitudes to death and mourning or learning about the macabre, this is for you. A personal message from the author on Twitter was a nice touch after I published the review.

The Royal Art of Poison: Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This covers all of the toxic poisons contained in cosmetics and the disastrous medicines used by doctors and well-meaning apothecaries in history. It examines a collection of famous figures from history and their deaths, with modern reviews and theories on whether they were poisoned. The book concludes with the poison hall of fame; an ingenious list containing the quickest poison, the most painful poison and so on. A terrific read!

Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's Story by Robin Bowles ⭐⭐⭐
The author looks into the disappearance of Bob Chappell in January 2009 and the subsequent trial and incarceration of his partner Sue Neill-Fraser. It is widely held Neill-Fraser is innocent of Bob's murder and after reading the book my opinion hasn't changed.

Summary
As it turned out, all three books were by female authors, one of which is Australian. History, science and death were the dominant topics with one Australian true crime.

I also started listening to the audiobook of The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper but didn't finish it in time to qualify for the challenge.

How did you go? Did you read any non fiction this month? I really enjoyed the experience and I look forward to participating again next year. Thanks to A Book Olive for organising.

Carpe Librum!
Titles Read by Carpe Librum for Non Fiction November 2019


14 December 2019

Review: The Choke by Sofie Laguna

The Choke by Sofie Laguna book cover
RRP $32.99
Published August 2017
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

In 2017, the Miles Franklin Winner from 2015 Sofie Laguna released The Choke to critical acclaim. Set in a rural area on the Murray River, it's a bleak literary novel narrated by a 10 year old protagonist Justine.

Justine lives with her pop, a WWII veteran suffering the trauma of working on the Burma railway and barely surviving the war. Her father is mostly absent and her mother abandoned Justine when she was just 3 years old.

I enjoyed elements at the beginning of the book, the youthful exuberance of playing cubbies with her half brothers and swimming in the Murray River. The Australian landscape really comes alive on the page.

However there's no doubting Justine is from a very poor background, unable to read with what appears to be undiagnosed dyslexia (I could be wrong) and no-one to teach her about puberty.

Justine's father is a criminal and there is a gloomy and heavy feeling to the entire novel. Justine's prospects lift when she makes a new friend, and this was my favourite part of the book. Justine's friendship with Michael was magic and I'd have been far happier if the story had ended there. However it was somewhat foolish to think Justine could have a happy ending and somehow escape the poverty cycle.

The Choke moves on a few years and approaches a defining moment in Justine's life. It's heartbreaking, depressing and I found myself thinking this just might belong in the fabled genre of misery lit. Justine's future prospects are grim and the sense of helplessness was overwhelming.

Most readers have seen a searing truth in Justine's story and adore this book. The Choke was nominated for a swag of awards and Australian literature lovers obviously revere it. Unfortunately it didn't work for me. I was too depressed and drained of empathy to enjoy the book and was glad to put this story of childhood neglect, sexual abuse, criminality and poverty behind me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★


P.S. Click here to read the opening chapters of The Choke by Sofie Laguna.
09 December 2019

Review: Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles book cover
* Won in a Scribe Publications giveaway hosted by Australian Writers' Centre *

On 26 January 2009, Bob Chappell went missing from his yacht Four Winds and was never seen again. Bob Chappell had been with his partner Sue Neill-Fraser for 18 years at the time of his disappearance and their yacht was moored near the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania marina in Hobart. Neill-Fraser was eager to help Police and gave several statements, each varying a little on the details. With nothing else to go on, Police became convinced she had harmed Bob and charged her with murder.

The trial was held in 2010 after which Neill-Fraser was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years with a non-parole period of 18 years. (As an aside, I can't understand how Borce Ristevski can receive a sentence of 9 years with a minimum of 6 - since increased to 13 years with a minimum of 10 - after pleading guilty to his wife's murder while Neill-Fraser is sentenced to 26 years!)

The court case was widely reported at the time and many - including the defendant's family and friends - believed she was not guilty of the crime.

Australian author Robin Bowles draws on her experience and connections in Tasmania to give the reader an in depth look at all the ins and outs of the crime, the investigation, the court case and more in Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's story. Since reading and reviewing Into the Darkness - The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk in March 2017 Bowles' writing style has improved in that she no longer inserts herself into the content presented.

Before picking up Death on the Derwent I believed Sue Neill-Fraser was innocent. My opinion hasn't changed but at least now I'm more informed. I was very moved by a 60 Minutes interview with Meaghan Vass in March 2019 which has significant bearing on this case. Vass was one of the witnesses in the court case and she told 60 Minutes her friends murdered Bob aboard the Four Winds in January 2009 and disposed of his body.

This recorded admission essentially exonerates Neill-Fraser but Police decided not to take any further action. Whaaat? Furthermore, it's a shame this interview was aired after the publication of Death on the Derwent as I'm almost certain Bowles would like to have included this key information.

However the bigger question is, how is Neill-Fraser still in jail after this 'confession' from Vass? It's astounding. And if we believe Vass, it follows that the killer is still walking around! Bowles attempts to explain the injustice and the inner workings of Tasmanian legal politics however it only served to make my blood boil.

Overall, there was an abundance of information presented here that exceeded my level of interest in the case, but the end result is a comprehensive account. I hope Neill-Fraser receives justice some day soon.

Recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the law.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

06 December 2019

Review: Things In Jars by Jess Kidd

Things In Jars by Jess Kidd book cover
RRP $39.99 AUD
Published May 2019
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

London 1863 and Christabel Berwick - a girl of striking appearance and unnatural powers - has been kidnapped. Investigating the kidnapping is our protagonist Mrs Bridie Devine, a pipe-smoking redheaded domestic investigator who also conducts minor surgical procedures.

This detective novel takes us into the seedier corners of Victorian London and the lives of nefarious doctors, anatomists and their collections of curiosities and a travelling circus renowned for showcasing the strange and wonderful.

The city of London is expertly described:
"But for now, the slums are as they have always been: as warm and lively as a blanket full of lice." Page 25
"Follow the fulsome fumes from the tanners and the reek from the brewery, butterscotch rotten, drifting across Seven Dials. Keep on past the mothballs at the cheap tailor's and turn left at the singed silk of the maddened hatter. Just beyond you'll detect the unwashed crotch of the overworked prostitute and the Christian sweat of the charwoman. On every inhale a shifting scale of onions and scalded milk, chrysanthemums and spiced apple, broiled meat and wet straw, and the sudden stench of the Thames as the wind changes direction and blows up the knotted backstreets." Page 25
As you can see, the writing in Things In Jars by Jess Kidd is superb. At one point she describes a character as having resplendent whiskers and I thought yes! Her writing is just that: resplendent. I paused often to enjoy a sentence or particular description which seemed effortless yet poignant and often quite funny. My mind was buzzing with sheer joy at her turn of phrase and the story became a mere byproduct.

Bridie Devine enjoys smoking Prudhoe's Bronchial Balsam Blend despite the possible side effects:
"But the list is long and includes many adverse reactions, from sweating of the eyeballs to sensitivity to accordion music." Page 14
It was difficult to rate Things In Jars by Jess Kidd; the writing was divine (see what I did there?) and definitely worthy of 5 stars however the story wasn't anywhere near as faultless, earning 3 stars.

As much as it pains me, I give this gothic historical fiction detective novel 4 stars. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:



P.S. For more, check out my review of The Hoarder by Jess Kidd.
04 December 2019

Winner of Hide by S.J. Morgan announced

I had a lot of fun reading your answers to the Hide giveaway last week. You might remember S.J. Morgan used 20 words to describe her novel in our interview together and you needed to choose one to enter the giveaway. The most popular word chosen was dysfunction and our winner chose the word grit.

The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 1 December 2019 and the winner was drawn today.
Hide by S.J. Morgan cover

CONGRATULATIONS ODETTE!!


You've won a personalised signed copy of Hide by S.J. Morgan. I’ll be sending you an email shortly with the details and the author will be sending out your personalised prize directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaways.

Carpe Librum!
02 December 2019

Review: The Royal Art of Poison - Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman cover
The next book I read for the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge was The Royal Art of Poison - Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman.

It covers all of the toxic poisons contained in cosmetics and the disastrous medicines used by doctors and well-meaning apothecaries. It examines a collection of famous figures from history and their deaths, with modern reviews and theories on whether they were poisoned.

Heavy metal poisons include: arsenic, antimony, lead and mercury. Some notable plant poisons include: belladonna or deadly nightshade, hemlock, henbane, monks-hood or wolf's bane. Post renaissance poisons included: cyanide, sarin and strychnine.

I'm interested in the food poisonings in royal courts and was amused to learn that when servants carried food into a royal dining chamber: 
"they placed them on a credenza, which takes its name from the various 'credence' tests for poison conducted there." Page 153
The horn of a unicorn was believed to show indications of poison when it was waved over or dipped into food or drink. It wasn't a real unicorn horn but the tusk of a narwhal, a creature not discovered until the eighteenth century. Bezoar stones were also used.

As we now know, many poisons were used in cosmetics. For white teeth, ladies applied a powder:
"that contained grain, pumice stone, aloe, vinegar, honey, cinnamon, pearls, scrapings of ivory, quinces, and walnuts crushed into a paste and cooked with silver or gold foil." Page 607 
The abrasive powder removed stains but also the tooth enamel.

Many medications contained heavy metals and the sicker a patient became, the more medicine they required often making them sicker. I knew about the humours, blood letting, enemas and poultices, but I didn't know that: 
"whenever a member of the royal family was gravely ill, doctors would remove saintly body parts and entire corpses from churches and monasteries and put them in bed with the invalid." Page 793
Outrageous! Herman introduces us to poisons used today that are almost untraceable and concludes with the poison hall of fame. This was an ingenious list containing the quickest poison (cyanide), the most painful poison (strychnine) and so on.

All in all, Herman gives us plenty of interesting tidbits from history to sink our teeth into. I could have done with less of the biographical history in each of the modern autopsies but it's a small complaint. The Royal Art of Poison was informative, unexpectedly funny (have you ever felt so sick you believed you were bursting in twain?) and highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

// DEFER SCRIPT