31 December 2020

Review: Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin book cover
The Four Tendencies
by Gretchen Rubin is one of my all time favourite non fiction books and it changed my way of thinking and introduced me to a framework I still refer to every day.

So when I saw Better Than Before - Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin appear on the shelves of the free little library I started in my apartment building, I snatched it up.

This time of year is a natural time for reflection on the year that is drawing to a close and of course we turn our minds to the year ahead. I've been able to introduce a new healthy habit in 2020 and it's been a great success, but I'm still striving to introduce more good habits and eliminate unhelpful habits as I continue to make my way through life, just like everybody else.

I did find the author inserted a lot of herself into this book and her self righteous attitudes and approach to healthy eating and exercise did begin to grind on my nerves. The offer to buy her sister a treadmill desk was generous, but the fact that she didn't get one for herself because she didn't have room screamed: "do as I say, not as I do". Constant references to low carb eating and trying to get her family members to do the same was fine on the page - okay, I'll admit, it was a little bit annoying - but I imagine it would be irritating in real life.

While Better Than Before didn't offer me any groundbreaking insights about habits and it didn't inspire any earth shattering breakthroughs, it was a good read. In order to understand yourself better, improve relationships with others and work out what makes you tick, I still recommend The Four Tendencies.

If you're trying to break an old habit or start a new one in 2021, I wish you every success. Happy New Year and of course happy reading!

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

30 December 2020

Review: The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin

The Home Edit Life - The Complete Guide to Organizing Absolutely Everything at Work, at Home and On The Go by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

I love planning and organising and I believe I do a pretty good job organising my life, tasks and all the associated admin that comes along with it. Why then, is my office a mess? I think it's because I have too much 'stuff' and unfortunately the Marie Kondo approach of 'sparking joy' didn't work for me.

Introducing organising duo Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin. With a successful Instagram following in excess of 4 million, this power couple has been organising celebrity spaces and sharing their drool-worthy results on social media. The success of The Home Edit has led to a popular show on Netflix and they've become household names.

The Home Edit Life - The Complete Guide to Organizing Absolutely Everything at Work, at Home and On The Go by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin is their second book and it was an absolute joy to read.

Colourful and presented in a beautiful hardcover, the authors combine a self-help approach with snippets of their own organising preferences and business experiences. Unfortunately this includes quite a bit of name dropping and being Australian many of the celebrity names were unknown to me, but I'm generally not interested in that kind of stuff anyway.

As you might gather from the cover, the authors advocate organising by colour and using colour to organise. They use the acronym ROYGBIV to indicate the order the colours should go in: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Even the book is organised according to colour!

For those new to their approach, the process begins with editing your stuff, then organising your stuff, and lastly sorting it into groups that suit your needs. This often results in storage in a variety of containers and displays in order to make items easy to see and access.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is the perfect time to read a self help book and a time when my thoughts turn to planning for the year ahead, setting up my bullet journal and thinking about any goals I might want to accomplish.

According to Shearer and Teplin, you can either have the thing or you can have the space, and I think that's what I need to focus on when it comes to my bookshelves. When they're double stacked and books are shoved in any which way, I don't end up enjoying them as much as I should. To enjoy my favourites, I need to cull. Then come the excuses: but the free little library downstairs is full, I'll save some for friends when I see them, what if someone wants to borrow a particular book, and surely it'll pain me too much to box them up and just give them to the op shop in one big hit?...Eeek!

Reading The Home Edit Life did make me want to edit my bookshelves and arrange them to their best advantage. However, I decided to start with something smaller to begin with and the bathroom cupboard under the sink is looking amazing, IMHO!

The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin is recommended for readers needing a little - or a lot - more organisation in their lives, those who enjoy looking at photos of artfully organised and aesthetically pleasing cupboards, drawers and shelves and of course, fans of the Netflix show.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

29 December 2020

In 2020…My Life in Books

In 2020…My Life in Books
I saw Shelleyrae from Book'd Out celebrate her Life in Books for 2020 and it was a lot of fun so I thought I'd take on her challenge. 

The idea is to select a book you've read in 2020 which fits each of the prompts below.

2020 was the year of: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

In 2020 I wanted to be: The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide

In 2020 I was: (a) Rebel Without a Clause by Sue Butler

In 2020 I gained: A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski

In 2020 I lost: Trust by Chris Hammer

In 2020 I loved: Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes

In 2020 I hated: Sleeping with David Baddiel by Geoff Jein

In 2020 I learned: Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

In 2020 I was surprised by: Where The Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

In 2020 I went to: The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

In 2020 I missed out on: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

In 2020 my family were: Spirited by Julie Cohen

In 2021 I hope: Death is But A Dream by Christopher Kerr

If you'd like to do this challenge, please consider yourself tagged. Feel free to leave your answers below or come back and provide a link to your post so I can check out your 2020 in books. 

Carpe Librum!

28 December 2020

4 Reading Challenge Wrap Ups for 2020

I'm a little behind on my reading challenge wrap ups, but I've been reading up a storm this year. In this wrap up, I'm going to check back in on the following four reading challenges I participated in this year.

- Non Fiction November 2020
- Book Bingo 2020
- 2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge
- 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Non Fiction November Wrap Up

How was your Non Fiction November? Here are the non fiction titles I read during the month. Unfortunately A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters was a DNF for me at 26% as it just wasn't holding my interest. It happens.

- Sh*t Moments In New Zealand Sport by Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole
- Northside: a time and place by Warren Kirk
- The Ultimate Bucket List: 50 buckets you must see before you die by Dixe Wills
- Underland by Robert Macfarlane
- Nodding Off by Alice Gregory

I finished reading the last two books on this list in December which is why this wrap up is late.

Book Bingo 2020

This was my first time participating in the Book Bingo 2020 reading challenge hosted by my bookish friends Theresa Smith Writes, Mrs B’s Book Reviews and The Book Muse. To successfully complete the challenge, I had to read and review a book from each of the following 12 bingo squares: 

1. Themes of culture (And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic)
Book Bingo 2020 reading challenge image
2. About the environment (The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott)
3. Set in a time of war (To Sleep In A Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini)
4. Themes of inequality (Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater)
5. Prize winning book (The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie)
6. Set in a place you dream of visiting (The Midnight Library by Matt Haig)
7. Themes of crime and justice (Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett)
8. Friendship, family & love (A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski)
9. Set in an era you'd love to travel back in time to (Spirited by Julie Cohen)
10. Themes of politics and power (Katheryn Howard - The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir)
11. Coming of age (The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley)
12. A classic you've never read before (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

This challenge isn't being run in 2021, but it was really fun to take part in this year.

2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

As you know, I love reading the odd non fiction book and mid way through the year, I decided to jump on board and join the 2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae over at Book'd Out. In order to complete the Know-It-All level of the challenge, I had to read one book for each of the categories below.

2020 Non Fiction Reader Challenge

2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

In order to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Passages to the Past, I had to read 10 historical fiction novels. Here's what I read:


It was a lot of fun participating in these four challenges throughout the year and I was very pleased to successfully complete all of them. Soon I'll be wrapping up the last two reading challenges I participated in this year: the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and 2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge. 

In the meantime, let me know if you participated in any of these challenges or if any of the books mentioned above take your fancy. Are you thinking about reading challenges for 2021 or is it too soon?

Carpe Librum

24 December 2020

Review: Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Underland by Robert Macfarlane book cover
Last Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a glorious hardcover of Underland by Robert Macfarlane from a family member for Christmas. I picked it up for Non Fiction November this year and it didn't disappoint.

I was struck immediately by just how physical Macfarlane's exploration of the landscape has been over the years. A skilled and experienced mountaineer, in Underland Macfarlane pays homage to the underground mountains and crevices below the surface of the earth that have equal attraction for those wanting to conquer and explore.

Early in the book, Macfarlane sets the scene for what is to follow, pointing out that the underland has been feared and revered for thousands of years.
"...The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.....Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save." Page 8
Underland is broken down into three parts: Britain, Europe and the North, with individual chapters flowing from there covering different sites; each of which can be read as a self-contained essay.

Reading Underland, I'm not ashamed to say I was frequently freaked out, encountering hidden cave systems, maelstroms and whirlpools, glacier moulins (down which our author descended!!) and more. Sinkhole anyone?
"The mouth of the sinkhole is twenty feet across at its widest point. To look into it is to feel the beckoning lurch of an unguarded edge." Page 214
I wasn't aware of many of the geological features the author visits, and often put the book down to research a particular site or phenomenon. Have you heard about Hell's Gate in Turkmenistan for instance?

The creation of the 'Door to Hell' or 'Hell's Gate' occurred in 1971 after a drilling rig punctured a natural-gas cavern in Turkmenistan. The powers that be decided to ignite the gas and burn it off and it was expected to take a few weeks, but the fire is still burning today!

As well as learning more about geology and the environment, I was also angered by the damage done by humans to the earth that is out of sight to the public. We know about the storage of nuclear waste deep underground, but I didn't know that in the mining of potash for example, million dollar machinery that is too expensive to retrieve when it has broken down is abandoned within the mine in dead end tunnels. It is then left to the passage of time for the halite (or salt) to reclaim the tunnel and bury the equipment. What on earth will future generations make of these strange fossils? It left me grinding my teeth and is definitely 'up there' with the horrors of space junk and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Underland includes quite a lot of nature writing and environmental observations and is a book to be enjoyed at a slow and meandering pace. I read a chapter every few days as I made my way through the book, following Macfarlane all around the world, from glaciers to cave systems and forests. 

Here's an example of his nature writing from Chapter 4 entitled The Understorey where he writes about the woodland in Epping forest in London.
"I realise I can trace patterns of space running along the edges of each tree's canopy: the beautiful phenomenon known as 'crown shyness', whereby individual forest trees respect each other's space, leaving slender running gaps between the end of one tree's outermost leaves and the start of another's." Page 99
Such beautiful writing that leaves the reader with a renewed respect for nature. On the other hand, the chapter on the catacombs of Paris actually gave me nightmares. 

I've always been fascinated by the catacombs and the re-location of millions of remains from the Les Innocents cemetery in 1786 to the abandoned limestone mines beneath Paris in a process that took many years. Macfarlane explores the catacombs with an 'off book' guide and their journey through spaces so tight he had to turn his head and crawl along on his belly dragging his backpack with his foot, gave me the absolute creeps. Readers with claustrophobia be warned.

What did come as a surprise, was the knowledge that in the 1820s, the quarry voids in the catacombs were used to grow mushrooms, and "by 1940 there were some 2,000 mushroom farmers working underneath Paris." Page 141.

Underland is full of remarkable insights into myths and legends, science and history and despite wishing the publisher had included some colour photos throughout the text, it was an engaging read. I even discovered a new genre of fiction along the way which was unexpected. Subterranean fiction, go figure!
"A subgenre of subterranean fiction flourished in the 1800s, in which the Earth's crust and mantle were frequently imagined as riddled with tunnels, often leading down to a habitable core." Page 308
Underland by Robert Macfarlane is non fiction, nature writing meets travelogue. It is a book that forces the reader to slow down and consider the passage of deep-time and is highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

21 December 2020

Review: The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins book cover
* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

The Binding by Bridget Collins was a reading highlight in 2019 and I loved it so much it made my Top 5 Books of 2019 list. As soon as I learned a new book The Betrayals was being published in 2020, it immediately became one of my most hotly anticipated books of the year. I even placed a pre-order so that I could enjoy the limited edition signed hardcopy with gold foiling and sprayed edges from Waterstones.

I can't remember the last time I pre-ordered a book but I also requested a review copy, so desperate was I to get my hands on this as soon as it came out. I hoped The Betrayals would whisk me away into another magical bookish world and deliver a repeat five star reading experience. 

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins is hard to define. It reads like a college style campus novel, taking place as it does in an all male academy called Montverre located in a remote and mountainous countryside. At times it felt like a combination of Dead Poets Society with a dash of the Harry Potter series (for the Hogwarts setting and syllabus, not the magic).

However, it's also kind of dystopian as the oppressive party politics of the day are different to our own, with a growing lack of tolerance for those of a particular faith that begins to infiltrate the academy.

The students are there to study the grand jeu which is a series of movements that flow together to form a performance of intellectual expression. Students study mathematics, music and a tonne of arcane subjects that definitely gave me Harry Potter vibes. Students spend months writing and practising their grand jeu and compete with each other to achieve the highest marks.

Leo Martin is a politician and our protagonist, and at the beginning of the book he finds himself ousted from the political party and sent to Montverre in disgrace. The narrative also includes diary entries and scenes from Leo's time as a student at the academy and secrets and old heartbreaks from that time are gradually revealed.

There is plenty to admire about the grand jeu, but of course it's up to the reader to imagine the movements and the overall impact of the performance on the audience. In my mind, it took the form of an intellectual Tai chi, but that's because I lack any further imagination.

This is a coming-of-age romance novel set in an undetermined time and location that straddles multiple genres, including historical fiction, urban fantasy and dystopian fiction. The character struggles were real but the academy setting was the real highlight, with secret passages, countless windows, attic spaces, hidey holes and oh, those libraries! 

However, by the end of the last page, I wasn't able to relive the magical five star reading experience that was The Binding. Perhaps it's an unfair comparison, but when you've greatly enjoyed a special book, it does create a certain level of hope and expectation for whatever is to follow from the author.

What is certain, is that The Betrayals by Bridget Collins is a glorious book that I will look at lovingly on my shelves in years to come. Not only for the stunning book cover design that is easily my favourite of 2020, but for the promise it contained. You can read a FREE sample here.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

18 December 2020

Guest Review: A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *


A Testament of Character is the tenth book in the Rowland Sinclair Mysteries by Australian author Sulari Gentill. Set in the 1930s, Rowland Sinclair is an artist and a gentlemen, and guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise had this to say about the book.


In fear for his life, American millionaire Daniel Cartwright changes his will, appointing his old friend Rowland Sinclair as his executor.

Soon murder proves that fear well founded.

When Rowland receives word of Cartwright’s death, he sets out immediately for Boston, Massachusetts, to bury his friend and honour his last wishes. He is met with the outrage and anguish of Cartwright’s family, who have been spurned in favour of a man they claim does not exist.

Artists and gangsters, movie stars and tycoons all gather to the fray as elite society closes in to protect its own, and family secrets haunt the living. Rowland Sinclair must confront a world in which insanity is relative, greed is understood, and love is dictated; where the only people he can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a passionate sculptress.

Neil's Review

Sometimes we forget, sometimes we never knew, that the United States of today, the land of dreams and extremes, of bullying, racism, capitalism, unionism and film stars, is nothing new. It is, after all, the spawning ground of Raymond Chandler, Errol Flynn, Randolph Hearst and the Ku Klux Klan. Sulari Gentill’s 10th novel featuring Australian Rowland Sinclair, however, brings the realities of 1935 east coast America into unexpected and graphic focus.

Appointed executor to the will of his former Oxford classmate and lifelong friend, Danny Cartwright, Rowley and his team travel to Boston, Massachusetts and land, quite predictably, in trouble. Danny’s homosexuality and murder offer an immediate and compelling justification for Gentill’s historical backgrounding. Between the rise of the Italian gangster mobs, the bitterness of family inheritance disputes, burgeoning anti-semitism in the shadow of rising Nazism and the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929, it is a rich and timely location for a novel that affords more than a nod to the noir fiction of the period.

Utilising her familiar leavening of local newspaper extracts from the period to introduce, anticipate or lubricate her plot development, Gentill’s team of Australians sleuth their way, sometimes violently, towards the expected resolution. In transit, they encounter flaming family jealousies, bitter broken romances and brutally homophobic efforts to suppress the realities surrounding Danny’s will.

The role of corruption in law and politics, the employment of the asylum to contain embarrassing relatives, the reluctance of Americans to engage with growing international tensions are all too familiar but absolutely engaging in Gentill’s hands. In this probably ‘post-Trumpian’ period, A Testament to Character appears prescient but we have had four years to become accustomed to the extremes. 

This novel reminds us that there is little that is new – in fact any more than in fiction.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

16 December 2020

Spotlight: Gen Z - Kickstart Your Future by Simon Walter


During lockdown this year, I'm proud to announce I was busy editing a non-fiction manuscript for a writer and actor in the UK. Simon Walter's book Gen - Z Kickstart Your Future is now finished and it's my pleasure to share it with you today in this special spotlight. Read on to find out how to download your free copy of the book.

So, what's it about? It's a non-fiction self-help book designed to help young people build happy and successful futures by employing some simple strategies we can all learn from. Check out the blurb.


Has COVID-19 screwed you over?
Was your education interrupted or your exams cancelled?
Have you felt unimportant and overlooked by society?

You are not alone.

The pressure on young people was high before COVID-19, now it's through the roof! The good news is, you can reduce the pressure by changing the way you look at life. In this book, you'll learn that by applying some simple techniques, you can shape your own future.

Simon Walter enjoyed success in the world of investment banking for 25 years before having a realisation and deciding to follow his heart in the field of acting.

With Simon's help, you'll determine what you have to offer the world and how to harness your individuality. By the end, you'll have the confidence to punch COVID-19 in the face and move on.

Are you ready?

In Gen Z - Kickstart Your Future, Simon shares many no-cost tips, tricks and hacks that you can employ as you begin the next leg of your journey in an uncertain world. Simon is passionate about reducing pressure and anxiety for Generation Z and wants them to succeed in whatever they choose to do next.
Simon believes the world's future success lies on the shoulders of young people and aims to equip them with the tools they will need to succeed.

Let's do this together.

Author Simon Walter
Simon Walter

Message from the author

"It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Tracey on my book Gen Z – Kickstart Your Future and she was an invaluable resource when it came to editing, proofreading and suggesting content for my book. Without Tracey I would be nowhere near the finished and published book I would love to share with you today. Tracey has shepherded me through the world of booklovers and reviewers and thanks to her I’m now a member of GoodReads. I’d love to connect with you there or on any of my social media channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).

To say thank you to Tracey, I’d like to invite all Carpe Librum readers to be the first to take advantage of my free promotion on Amazon and download my book before 20 December 2020. I hope you enjoy it and learn something along the way."

Access your copy of the book

Thanks Simon! Click here to access and download your free e-book copy of Gen Z - Kickstart Your Future, available on Amazon from today until 20 December 2020. 

Enjoy, feel free to spread the word and don't forget, Carpe Librum!

14 December 2020

Review: Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Alice Gregory

Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Alice Gregory book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

Do you sleep well? I love talking about sleep and it's been a few months since I last read a book about one of my favourite non fiction topics. It was great timing then when a copy of Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Professor Alice Gregory arrived in the mailbox, and I decided to pick it up for the Non Fiction November reading challenge.

The author approaches sleep by breaking it down by age, beginning with babies, children and teenagers, moving on to adults and new parents and finishing up with older adults together with some hints and tips.

In this manner, the author touches on a number of interesting topics along the way like sleepwalking, restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding and night terrors etc. however they weren't covered in any great detail.

Where Splitting by Amanda Ellison went into considerable medical detail to the point of being too scientific for this reader, Nodding Off was the opposite. It touched on fascinating topics like sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome, but didn't provide enough information, leading me to put the book down and search elsewhere in order to satisfy my curiosity.

Regular Carpe Librum readers will know one of my favourite sleep topics is the fact that human beings used to sleep twice in one night, experiencing a period of wakefulness between the first and the second sleep. I was surprised - and pleased - to see Alice Gregory quoting from one of my favourite books At Day's Close: A History of Nighttime by A. Roger Ekirch when discussing this topic. But given she's an expert in the field of sleep and has been researching sleep for almost twenty years, I was disappointed she didn't have anything further to add on the phenomenon.

Nodding Off - The Science of Sleep by Alice Gregory is recommended for readers new to the topic of sleep and those seeking a general overview about that which is crucial to our health and well-being, sleep. Do you sleep well?

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

09 December 2020

Review: Hideout by Jack Heath

Hideout by Jack Heath book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Guess who's back? Timothy Blake is back in Hideout, the third novel in this fantastically gritty and bloody crime series written by Australian author Jack Heath. We first met Blake in Hangman when we learned he was a cannibal working as a consultant with the FBI. In Hunter, we found him providing body disposal services for a crime lord and Hideout kicks off immediately after the closing events in Hunter.

Blake starts out with nothing to lose. Torn up by the loss of his love interest FBI Agent Reese Thistle, he's determined to stick it to a bad guy and disappear. Instead, Blake quickly finds himself in a perilous undercover situation which challenges his morals and his will to survive.
"I'm being paranoid. A common problem. Once you've done enough bad things, it's impossible not to imagine them being done to you." Page 52
The tension and action is palpable and Heath has taken Blake's character farther than I ever imagined. It's this unexpected plot development that makes this dark and grisly series so uniquely refreshing.

Blake is an intelligent, clever and oddly funny anti-hero, and the reader can't help but hope he succeeds in his endeavours, despite knowing about his gruesome proclivities. Blake thinks quick on his feet and is only too aware of his flaws. However he continues to struggle with his inner demons in the series; wanting to be a better person yet readily identifying with the bad guys.

This is my favourite Australian crime series of all time and author Jack Heath has certainly outdone himself again. Wow, what a talent! But the best part of Hideout was knowing the direction Blake might take in the future and I'm so ready for it.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

03 December 2020

Review: Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory is the second book in the historical fiction Fairmile series and picks up 21 years after the end of Tidelands. I was eagerly awaiting this release, but the huge time gap between books was a complete surprise. I was really looking forward to following Alinor and Alys as they left the mire with their cart and faced the dangers and challenges ahead.

Unfortunately, the reader picks up their story after these struggles and we find them with an established household working as poor wharfingers in a small warehouse on the south side of the Thames. Alinor has aged and while still very much the matriarch of the family, she is no longer the main character of the novel. Rob's widow arrives on their doorstep from Venice with her newborn baby and the devastating news he has drowned.

Alys and her daughter Sarah dominate the story along with the widow Livia, with intervening chapters from Alinor's brother Ned's point of view.

Ned has moved to New England and is quietly trying to eke out a living as a ferryman. There he finds himself caught between the settlers and the American Indians and his storyline is full of foreboding and dread about what is to come.

Ned's chapters were a complete contrast to the goings on in London and Venice and to be honest, I could have done without them. I typically don't enjoy reading about early settlement in the USA, so I didn't enjoy Ned's story in New England.

Back in London, wealthy widow Livia is turning the Reekie family on its head and I could tell it wasn't going to end well. Rob's widow is a well-written antagonist with some biting dialogue, but her storyline had an overbearing sense of a family betrayal brewing that made this reader feel uneasy.

The sense of foreboding evident in Tidelands is also present in Dark Tides, however the fact that all storylines were heading towards seemingly unavoidable disaster made this a worrisome read.

While there was ample foreshadowing throughout the novel, Gregory's signature writing talent was on full display. Here's a quote I enjoyed from very early on in the book:
"He thought the world was not whole anymore; but sundered into country and court, winners and the lost, protestants and heretics, royalists and roundheads, the unfairly blessed and the unjustly damned." Page 6
Themes of class and the divide between the poor and the wealthy were again brought into focus with the seemingly wealthy widow's disappointment and shock at the Reekie family's position and living conditions and her desire to improve her station in life for the benefit of her son.

Dark Tides by Philippa Gregory is recommended for historical fiction fans with an interest in 1670s London, Venice or New England, and those who enjoy investing in a good generational family saga. I look forward to the next installation of the Fairmile series.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

27 November 2020

Guest Review: Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas

Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I recently mentioned Australian author Christos Tsiolkas in my review of Northside, however despite how much respect I have for the author and how much I enjoy watching him speak in interviews, I've resigned myself to the fact that Damascus just isn't for me. Not to worry, guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise picked it up instead and offers the following review.


Christos Tsiolkas' stunning new novel Damascus is a work of soaring ambition and achievement, of immense power and epic scope, taking as its subject nothing less than events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church. Based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, and focusing on characters one and two generations on from the death of Christ, as well as Paul (Saul) himself, Damascus nevertheless explores the themes that have always obsessed Tsiolkas as a writer: class, religion, masculinity, patriarchy, colonisation, exile; the ways in which nations, societies, communities, families and individuals are united and divided - it's all here, the contemporary and urgent questions, perennial concerns made vivid and visceral.

In Damascus, Tsiolkas has written a masterpiece of imagination and transformation: an historical novel of immense power and an unflinching dissection of doubt and faith, tyranny and revolution, and cruelty and sacrifice.

Neil's Review

If, as the publishers assure us, Damascus is “a masterpiece of imagination and transformation” then we may be forgiven for wondering why so much is so predictable. Of course, we probably know the story of Saul/Paul and his transformational road to Damascus experience. We are familiar with the misogyny attributed to the region and the period. We may even be familiar with Saul/Paul’s writings about the acts of the early Christian apostles and his letters to the early Christian enclaves. We may be less familiar with the fact that he was born about 4 BCE, that he was a Greek speaker and his trade was tent-making.

Tsiolkas’ multi-voiced narrative offers a broad critique of Saul/Paul’s probable background, his formative experiences, his response to those with whom his beliefs conflicted and the reaction of those who were close to him, as friends, relatives and jailers.

Damascus is a tough read. The emotional challenges of the brutality and on-going misogyny grate against the apparently unquestioning and unquestionable acceptance of the need to turn the other cheek and to love thy neighbour. In a jealous, raging argument with Paul, Christ’s ‘twin’ brother, Thomas dismissively spits, “And it was on the road that he realised, Roman, Jewish, Samaritan, Arab, Greek, none of that mattered. It’s how you treat your neighbour, the stranger, the exile – only that matters”.

Paul’s self-seeking and jealous insistence on his personal rightness and righteousness provide a stark contrast with those who do not totally agree with him. His attitudes and his actions appear to be at odds with the Paul whom Tsiolkas appears to be championing. The increasingly biblical writing style towards the end of the novel appears to me to be at odds with the author’s stated intent, “I wanted to do the impossible: to be faithful to both Paul and Thomas”. Perhaps it is the extent to which Tsiolkas achieves his intent that ultimately determines the value of his ‘journey’.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

23 November 2020

Review: The Ultimate Bucket List - 50 Buckets You Must See Before You Die by Dixe Wills

The Ultimate Bucket List - 50 Buckets You Must See Before You Die by Dixe Wills book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I'm so confused by this book, I hardly know where to begin. Regular readers at Carpe Librum will know I enjoy reading a variety of non-fiction titles and was looking forward to reading The Ultimate Bucket List - 50 Buckets You Must See Before You Die by Dixe Wills for Non Fiction November.

I thought this book would act as an interesting vessel for a bucketload of information on some very interesting historic moments, events, people and innovations. Having turned the last page of this beautiful little hardback, I don't actually know what I just read.

At first, I was constantly checking Wikipedia to find out whether the bucket entries were real or imagined. With entries varying from the Bobrinski Bucket (a fascinating bronze bucket made in 1163 and mentioned on page 65) to the Bucket Fountain in New Zealand (a real and ugly fountain on page 136) to the head scratching entry of Taylor Swift's Bucket on page 105. (What was that all about?)

Some of the subject matter was obscure and made references and in-jokes that went way over my head. Simultaneously, the book is also full of silly offbeat humour and imagined dialogue, accompanied by comic illustrations making light of the topic and I couldn't work out whether the author was 'taking the piss' or using comic relief to make the subject matter less intimidating or more approachable. It was thoroughly confusing.

Is this satire? Is it a toilet joke book? I'm not sure what it was, but as a reader I was disappointed. The author was clearly well researched and provided a list of 50 buckets from all walks of life and periods in history. I found that I was frequently putting the book down to fact check when the author could easily have supplied adequate details to satisfy the reader's genuine curiosity. It's hard to imagine the reader who will understand all of the 50 entries provided without some serious Googling.

If Dixe Wills had written a serious book about the subject matter, with photographs - instead of crazy illustrations reminiscent of Quentin Blake - The Ultimate Bucket List could have been a 5 star read.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

20 November 2020

Review: Northside by Warren Kirk

Northside by Warren Kirk book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Warren Kirk is an Australian photographer living in Melbourne and Northside - A time and place is the first collection of his I've read. In it, he uses his creative eye to photograph people, workplaces, homes and buildings in Melbourne's northern suburbs and the results are engrossing.

Northside begins with an introduction by well known author Christos Tsiolkas who expertly prepares the reader for the nostalgic journey to the past which is to follow.

This collection focusses on scenes that seem frozen in time and they made me incredibly nostalgic for a lost era; a time not too long ago that still exists in little known pockets of society that Kirk seems to have a knack for uncovering.

Some of the photos had an exhilarating effect, making me want to jump up and help clean a workspace or re-arrange the shelf displays in a milk bar while others had a calming effect, as thoughts of previous generations and the lives they led in those places washed over me.

Kirk's photographs stir reflections about the human impact on the spaces we inhabit, the immigrant experience, appreciation for the work ethic of blue collar workers and nostalgia for an era in time some of us can still recall or see in echoes all around us.

I dearly wish Kirk had provided some accompanying text for each of the photographs to explain a little about the subjects or subject matter, however I understand that not knowing anything about the subject matter forces the reader to imagine the life and spaces depicted.

Northside by Warren Kirk has captured and preserved a slice of Melbourne's social history that I believe is important and will be enjoyed by many.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

18 November 2020

Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

Honeybee by Craig Silvey book cover
Published September 2020
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Sam Watson's voice captured my heart immediately and wouldn't let go. All I knew about Honeybee going in was the premise. A 14yo boy Sam climbs over the rail of an overpass and is ready to jump. At the other end of the same bridge is an older man Vic, smoking his last cigarette. The two make eye contact and their lives change from that moment on.

Wow, what a premise! I was instantly hooked and the relationship between Sam and Vic slowly crept up on me. Sam is a young teen on a journey of self discovery and Vic is dealing with grief and a loss of identity and purpose. The trajectories of their lives filled me with hope and their unforgettable relationship produced an unexpected coming-of-age story.

A lot goes on and I did have to suspend my belief quite a few times, however readers everywhere are falling in love with Sam and I'm predicting some awards will follow for Honeybee.

I also predict much will be made of the author writing a teenage trans character given he is a straight cis-gender man himself, but I won't be doing that here. I'm all for own voices - obviously - but I believe the job of an author is to imagine, research and write.... fiction! Ken Follett wasn't alive in 997AD and has no lived experience of the era, yet he researched and gave us The Evening and the Morning. Christopher Paolini hasn't been to space (at least I don't think he has) yet he gave us a stellar space opera To Sleep In A Sea of Stars.

Authors write characters with all kinds of traits and experiences they themselves doesn't possess, and as a reader, I don't feel the need to examine every book to determine whether or not the author has the lived experience of the main character. It's just not important to me. 

I do care whether the writing is good, the plot engaging and the characters convincing. In this case, Sam Watson felt very real to me and I cared deeply about him as the book progressed.

Re-reading my 2014 review of Jasper Jones, I wrote that "Jasper Jones is a coming-of-age story with a distinct Australian feel" and I can honestly say the same about Honeybee. However, don't be fooled, Honeybee is nothing like Jasper Jones. The two young protagonists in both books are completely different; the only thing uniting them being that Silvey has done a great job of offering the reader another moving coming-of-age story set in WA.

It's been 10 years since the release and subsequent success of Jasper Jones and I really enjoyed listening to the author chat with Cheryl Akle about Honeybee and books on the Better Reading podcast. Silvey is such a terrific Australian talent and yet remains so likeable and humble about his writing success that you can't help but trust him as a reader.

Honeybee by Craig Silvey is highly recommended for YA and adult readers and I look forward to whatever he writes next.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

16 November 2020

Guest Review: Operation Certain Death by Kim Hughes

Operation Certain Death by Kim Hughes book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Kim Hughes GC is a bomb disposal expert in the British Army and received the George Cross for his gallantry during the Afghanistan conflict. Operation Certain Death is his debut novel introducing his protagonist, Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley.

Neil Béchervaise thoroughly enjoyed Operation Certain Death and shares his 5 star review for Carpe Librum readers below.


He thought he left the war behind. But it's come home with him.

A bomb explodes in a newly designed shopping complex in the centre of Nottingham, ripping through the lives of everyone in its wake. Confirmed as a targeted, terrorist attack, special units are quickly brought in to lock down the area.

For bomb-disposal expert, Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley, Afghanistan never feels far away and that’s especially true on the morning of the bombing. Riley isn’t on active duty, but that doesn’t stop him fighting his way to the destruction – which is only just beginning.

What he doesn’t yet know is that this is just the start – that the bomb-maker and those who hired him have bigger plans in place, ones that are designed for maximum destruction. Plans that are personal. For Riley – and his family.

It’s a race against time to work out the link before more people are killed – because Riley is our only hope. And he just might be our last.

Neil's Review

I must admit that I have never really thought about the motives behind terrorism. The mere word seems to have blocked further logical thought. Maybe, then, I am both complicit in its ‘value’ and an uncounted victim of its effectiveness. Either way, Kim Hughes' latest novel has woken me to both the human, ideological and wider political motivations for the seemingly senseless violence that is all too easily media-linked to religious and extreme nationalistic violence.

As a former British bomb-disposal expert, Hughes engages us with the dangers of his career, the personal emotional challenges of living with PTSD and the increasingly broad motives of the terrorist’s world. From seeing his closest friend blown apart to living with that same friend’s voice in his head as an on-going guide and critic or differentiating the motives of international terrorists, Hughes' protagonist lives a tenuous existence within and beyond the margins of the law.

Investigating a bomb explosion in the centre of Nottingham, Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley discovers he is personally targeted. His ex-wife and daughter are endangered, his grandparents, formerly active but still engaged MI5 agents are involved and his former Afghan interpreter is motivation for one of the bombers.

Increasing the pressure, a second thread to the terrorist threat is revealed, Irish extremists are still actively resentful of their post-colonial ‘British masters’ and following an equally familiar thread, an active Russian spy ring is involved.

All of this seems vaguely familiar. The former Russian spies poisoned with radio-active isotopes come to mind. The American paranoia since 9/11 seems relevant. The New Zealand mosque shootings seem much closer than an election away and the ongoing British concerns with Ireland stir up the mud of the Covid epidemic.

Yes, it is familiar but, in Riley’s hands, it starts to seem very up-close and personal. We begin to envision the realities behind the radicalisation of young men and women across the ‘free world’ to the Taliban/Al Qaeda cause. We begin to comprehend the desire for revenge of families who have tragically lost their loved ones to endless ‘wars of terror’. Riley personalises and summarises the stuff of generations of colonial peacemakers, the stuff that Kipling was writing from the Raj, that Churchill was reporting from the Northwest Frontier, that Graham Greene used to bring Vietnam to life a generation before America and Australia found war essential.

The unique point of view presented in Operation Certain Death complicates simplistic media images of terrorist motives. Riley substantiates the roles of personal grief, family care, revenge and retribution within the arc of international political subversion in Britain, and indeed internationally at this very moment. In doing so, he presents a powerful insight into the times we live in, he offers us an amazing immediacy and, for this reader at least, he quietly suggests that maybe it is time to wake up to the cost of oversimplifying violence.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

12 November 2020

Extract from Humans by HONY Photographer Brandon Stanton

Humans by Brandon Stanton book cover
Published by Macmillan
RRP 44.99 AUD
Brandon Stanton is the photographer behind the well known Humans of New York (HONY) series of photographs with accompanying interviews. His popular series has expanded across several countries and I've always found his work incredibly moving. If you haven't had the pleasure yet, check out his website.

Brandon Stanton has a new book out called Humans and I'm pleased to be sharing an extract with you today thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia. Enjoy this edited extract from Humans by Brandon Stanton, published by Macmillan, RRP $44.99 AUD.


Brandon Stanton’s Humans is a book that connects readers as global citizens at a time when erecting more borders is the order of the day. It shows us the entire world, one story at a time . . .

Brandon Stanton’s Humans – his most moving and compelling book to date – shows us the world. After five years of traveling the globe, the creator of Humans of New York brings people from all parts of the world into a conversation with readers. He ignores borders, chronicles lives and shows us the faces of the world as he saw them. His travels took him from London, Paris and Rome to Iraq, Dubai, Ukraine, Pakistan, Jordan, Uganda, Vietnam, Israel and every other place in between. His interviews go deeper than before. His chronicling of peoples’ lives shows the experience of a writer who has traveled widely and thought deeply about the state of our world.

Including hundreds of photos and stories of the people he met and talked with in over forty countries, Humans is classic Brandon Stanton – a fully color illustrated book that includes many photos and stories never seen before. For the first time for a HONY title, Humans will contain several of the essays Brandon’s posted online which have been read, loved and enthusiastically shared by his followers.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

11 November 2020

Review: A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington book cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

With one of the most attractive cover designs of the year, A Girl Made of Air is the debut novel by Nydia Hetherington. 

Beginning as an interview for the New York Times, our narrator slowly begins to share her life story. The reader learns upfront she was the The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived and now finds herself searching for a lost child. (Fun fact: A funambulist is a tightrope walker).

Mouse was born into a circus family but remained an outcast within the unusual circus community. Her mother and father didn't take an interest in her upbringing and Mouse was left to her own devices and withdrew into herself. When Serendipity Wilson came along, Mouse's entire world changed.

This story is told by Mouse in her later years as she reflects on her life and shares details that build towards her search for a person lost in time. In order to piece together her history, Mouse shares her memories, letters and journal entries in an attempt to pull together the story of her life. She also includes stories within stories that were felt like fables, myths and folklore. The style put me in mind of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings; both read earlier this year.

The narrator gives us the impression of a table covered with snippets that she is crafting into a cohesive story but I found it was too piecemeal for me. I didn't find this method particularly effective and it felt a little disjointed for my liking. It'd be interesting to know if the story was 'carved up' into this style to suit the narrative or whether it was written in this style and the narrative grew up around the content to explain the various 'entries' and insertion of different material.

Adding to the disrupted flow was the lack of dialogue punctuation and the use of italics to indicate when certain characters were speaking. I know this is a popular literary device, however I'm one of those readers who struggles without punctuation for speech.

Given the circus setting, I'm sure comparisons will be made between A Girl Made of Air and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, but I haven't read The Night Circus so it didn't influence my reading experience of this novel in any way; positive or negative.

A Girl Made of Air is an historical fiction fantasy novel touched by magical realism with characters you will remember. The narrator often addresses the reader (or interviewer for whom this text is intended) directly, and I'll leave you with an example from page 318:
'Are you wondering if there's to be a happy ending? I wish I could tell you. We must find the answer together.' Page 318
If you enjoyed The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, I think you'll love this.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

09 November 2020

Review: Sh*t Moments in New Zealand Sport by Rick Furphy & Geoff Rissole

Sh*t Moments in New Zealand Sport by Rick Furphy & Geoff Rissole book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Kiwi duo of Rick Furphy and Geoff Rissole are back and this time they're giving readers Sh*t Moments in New Zealand Sport.

Here Furphy and Rissole cover some of the greatest losses and terrible moments in New Zealand sporting history.

My favourite moment of the book was learning that in 1996 the America's Cup was on display in Auckland's Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron when it was damaged by a Maori sovereignty activist. He broke into the building and smashed the display case and hit the trophy so many times with a sledgehammer, it was feared the cup was beyond saving. I rushed off to Wikipedia to learn that it took silversmiths three months to restore the trophy to its original condition. How have I not heard about this? (Page 43)

While that was certainly the highlight of the book, the lowlight came on page 71, when authors explain that:
'The combined New Zealand and Australian Competitive Hill Climbing team travelled to Gallipoli in 1915 in their first international tour...Unfortunately, they copped a rough draw and ended up facing the very formidable Turkish team on home soil. Powered by Anzac biscuits and an unquestioned belief in God, King and Country, the New Zealanders gave it their best shot but ultimately ended up suffering a grievous loss.' Page 71
Now, you don't need to be a Veteran to take offence at this. Just re-reading it again so I could write this review had me wishing I'd set this book aside at this point. War is not a sport and it certainly shouldn't be fodder for jokes as low as this. This was incredibly poor taste and while I recognise Furphy and Rissole are experts at taking the piss, there's nothing even remotely funny about this.

Using the word poof on page 85 was also offensive and I'm surprised these two entries survived the editing process.

It was mildly interesting that New Zealand didn't win any medals at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 (Page 96), but by then I didn't care. With cricket and rugby dominating the content and the offensive content above, I was glad to reach the end.

Reflecting that Kiwis hate losing to Australia, I'll leave you with an amusing quote from page 102, the only shining moment of the book:
'Much like a horror-movie villain, Australian sports teams are never dead and buried until the head is decapitated, the body burnt to a cinder and whatever remains is flung into the sun.'
Ultimately, their first book Sh*t Towns of New Zealand (written by Anonymous) remains their best. I'd advise reading that instead and giving this one a miss.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

06 November 2020

Guest Review: Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham book cover
Published July 2020
* Copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin *

I'm throwing to guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise to close out the week with his glowing review of Finding Eadie by popular Australian author Caroline Beecham. Over to you Neil.

When misguided morality is amplified by wartime poverty, baby-stealing and illegal adoption become sad realities and bomb-devastated Britain provides a raw emotional setting for Beecham’s latest novel.

Set within the heart of the second world war book-publishing industry, Finding Eadie is a compelling thriller with a fascinating historical basis. The German blitzing of London’s Paternoster Row, home of many of Britain’s major publishers, shortages of paper and the metals required for typesetting have led to major business re-prioritisations. These have been compounded by the movement of skilled workers into the armed forces and American initiatives to maintain the flow of new books by printing soft-cover editions and pocket-sized books for ease of transport.

In 1943, babies and young children are being bought and sold, both legally and illegally across Britain. Many are being shipped to safety overseas and the 1939 Adoption Regulation Act has still not been passed. Newspaper advertisements seeking babies remain common and, despite the efforts of the newly formed National Children’s Adoption Agency, child trafficking and baby-farming remains common.

Waking from sleep after the birth of her new baby, unmarried book editor, Alice Cotton discovers that her deeply religious mother has sold the child for adoption to avoid the shame of admitting the child’s illegitimacy. Finding her baby, quite naturally, becomes Alice’s obsession and, despite her fear of losing both her friends and her job and the very real threat to her own safety, she moves with sleuth-like precision to find Eadie and bring her home.

Weaving the hunger for new titles among the armed forces at war with the need for gripping stories, Caroline Beecham provides a highly credible account of the wartime lust for reading in that pre-television age. At the same time, she explores the discomfort and dangers of travel across the Atlantic, the fragility of relationships as soldiers die in battle and the personal impact of brutalising financial planning as it impacts the publishing industry.

Finding Eadie is a rare delight in our Covid-embattled climate where unemployment, love and even survival are mingled with threatening journeys through largely unfamiliar experiences. At a point when we are still unravelling the complexities of stolen generations, well-meaning ‘adoptions’ and the issues of illegitimacy in religious settings, this novel comes as a sheer delight. 

Intriguing, heart-rending and, ultimately, intensely informative, this story had me reading deep into the night to reach the outcome.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating: