02 April 2020

Review: The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is an historical fiction meets dystopian fantasy whodunnit crime mash-up that straddles multiple genres.

Readers of historical fiction - or history - will immediately recognise the English setting during the 1500s, along with the slightly veiled references to Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and other historical figures despite their altered names. This combination of historical fiction and fantasy made it hard for me to know what was based on historical fact and what was pure fiction so I decided early on to 'let this go' and just enjoy the story.

What I did know for certain was that sin eaters were real. In fact, the author tells us at the beginning of the book that sin eaters existed in parts of Britain until roughly a century ago.

Our protagonist May Owens is a starving 14 year old orphan in gaol for stealing a loaf of bread. Fearing the worst, May is caught by surprise as she is sentenced to become a sin eater.

The duty of a sin eater is to attend the dying and hear a recitation of their sins. A food is then assigned to each sin and upon the person's death, the sin eater will attend a service to effectively 'eat their sins' thereby allowing the soul of the deceased to ascend to heaven. If a person dies without confessing their sins, then default sins are chosen on their behalf.

The process of absolving the dead and dying and taking on their sins means May is shunned by the very community that depends on her for absolution. The sin eater may only speak while carrying out her duties and must wear a collar with an 'S' so everyone may recognise her, reminding me of The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The opportunity to explore the life of a sin eater in fiction was irresistible and I was rewarded with an unexpected murder mystery. I enjoyed the list of sins and their corresponding foods at the beginning and admired May's determination to put the knowledge gathered at the bedsides of the dead and dying towards uncovering the truth.

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is definitely a genre mash-up but it was also a thoroughly entertaining read. Recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

28 March 2020

Review: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini book cover
I did it! I finally read Inheritance by Christopher Paolini and in doing so, also achieved the following:

  - Read the book that's been on my bookshelves the longest (9 years, eek!)
  - Participated in the March of the Mammoths read-a-thon for the first time by reading a book longer than 800 pages within the month of March.
  - Finished a series I began back in 2011.

This YA fantasy series began with Eragon, continued with Eldest and Brisingr and concluded with Inheritance. Set in Alagaesia in a world of dragons and dragon riders, magicians, elves, dwarves and epic battles, this series felt a little like Lord of the Rings.

I was thankful for a comprehensive re-cap at the beginning of Inheritance as part of the reason I'd been putting it off was the worry I might not be able to remember what was going on. This concern was quickly allayed and I was plunged straight back into Eragon and Saphira's world. The action was immediate and the conflicts were detailed and gruesome. The dangers and challenges ahead for the characters drew me back into the world of Allagaesia and the fight against the rule of Galbatorix.

At 860 pages in length, Inheritance was a chunkster that took me two weeks straight to get through and definitely qualified for the March of the Mammoths reading challenge. Despite its length, the action was maintained throughout and I was satisfied with the ending of the series.

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini was a highly entertaining read in a genre I don't tend to read often. With my recent enjoyment of this and Strange the Dreamer, perhaps this should change in the future. 

I can highly recommend the Inheritance Cycle series and am of the opinion it stands up well to being read in today's climate.

My Rating:

25 March 2020

Book covers that remind me of other covers

I see many book covers during the course of my day while browsing publishing catalogues and answering emails or during my leisure time perusing GoodReads and other bookish blogs and online haunts. In my digital and bookshop travels, I often notice similar trends in cover design. Sometimes a book cover will remind me of other covers and I thought it would be interesting to collate and share a couple of them here just for fun.

You should know I haven't done any research on whether these covers were designed by the same designer, released by the same publisher, or indeed which book was released first. This is just a surface level observation on cover trends in the publishing industry.

Firstly, these silhouette covers were the starting point for this recent bout of similarities. These titles are: Jane In Love by Rachel Givney, Followers by Megan Angelo and The Body Politic by Brian Platzer.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
L-R: Jane In Love by Rachel Givney, Followers by Megan Angelo & The Body Politic by Brian Platzer
The next pair of titles (Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen & Akin by Emma Donoghue) grabbed my attention due to the archway on the cover. I'm certain there's another recent release with this feature too but I can't seem to remember it. If you know what it is, please let me know in the comments section and put me out of my misery. Akin is on my TBR so I'll be getting to this in due course.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
Akin by Emma Donoghue & Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen
I thoroughly enjoyed The Foundling by Stacey Halls whereas The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge has been on my TBR for sometime, so I noticed when her new release was published. The similarities between these two stunning covers (The Foundling by Stacey Halls and Deeplight by Frances Hardinge) was striking and instantly appealed to me.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
The Foundling by Stacey Halls & Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
Finally, I wanted to share an example where the primary image chosen formed the basis of the similarity. In this case, the sardine tin featured on the bestselling cover of Normal People by Sally Rooney shows up in a re-release of Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane.
Carpe Librum book cover grid
Normal People by Sally Rooney & Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane
What do you think of these covers? Do you think one is more reminiscent of another? Do you notice trends in cover art within certain genres? It's well known that certain genres have distinct cover designs that are supposed to attract readers who love that specific genre. I haven't included any from the crime genre but trust me, there are plenty of examples.

Sometimes these cover similarities might speak to readers about what the book contains in a 'if you liked that, you'll love this' kind of way. At any rate, it's something I will no doubt continue to take notice of and might choose to share again in the future.

Carpe Librum!

20 March 2020

Review: The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

The overriding impression I have after listening to the audiobook of The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie is an overwhelming admiration for her narration. Her voice, intonation and way of speaking is simply mesmerising. If you listen to a sample you'll see what I mean immediately.

The Erratics is a memoir about the Canadian Australian author's ageing parents and the struggle she and her sister face when her mother ends up in hospital with a broken hip. The author lives in Australia and unfortunately her mother lives in Canada and is a nasty piece of work. After a years-long estrangement, the sisters arrive at their parent's house in Alberta to find their father has been isolated and very poorly treated.

Despite the dysfunctional family setting, Laveau-Harvie manages to include breathtaking descriptions of the landscape and environment as well as scatter dark humour and incredible insight throughout the novel. I also enjoyed her writing.
".. because I do not carry a lot of my past. My sister carries it for me, her foot in the bear trap of our childhood unable to extricate herself no matter how hard she pulls." Chapter 16
Here's an example of her dark humour:
"My sister’s partner leaves the room at some point and strides down the wide hallway to inspect the elevator my mother takes to the lobby every morning to buy her newspapers and flowers. My sister’s partner is a handy person and wishes to inspect the elevator doors to see if there’s any way to rig them to open onto a void when my mother pushes the button." Chapter 20
And my favourite quote from the book:
“Scratch me and you get grief. It will well up surreptitiously and slip away down any declivity, perhaps undermining the foundations but keeping a low profile and trying not to inconvenience anybody.
Scratch my sister at your peril however, because you’ll get rage, a geyser of it, like hitting oil after drilling dry, hot rock for months and it suddenly, shockingly, plumes up into the sky, black and viscous, coating everything as it falls to earth.
Take care when you scratch.”
Having opened with so much praise for The Erratics, I need to disclose that it jumped around for me quite a lot and the end result felt a little jumbled. She cleverly addresses the reader now and then, but I often felt confused about which point in time we were in.

In addition, the reader was only ever given the tiniest of glimpses into the mistreatment the author, her sister and their father suffered at the hands of their mother. We are never privy to the full extent of the family estrangement or even why the author's mother was the way she was.

At the end of The Erratics I was left wanting more answers and disappointed about not getting them or being able to reach an understanding about the family dynamic. Perhaps Laveau-Harvie didn't have the answers herself, or perhaps it was too painful for her to commit them to paper.

Nevertheless, The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie won The Stella Prize in 2019 and was an enjoyable, yet unusual read.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

16 March 2020

Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Inspired by true events, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave begins with a sudden and horrific storm that drowns forty fishermen from the seaside village of Vardo, in Norway. It's the year 1617 and the storm leaves the women grieving and having to fend for themselves.

Maren is 20 and lost both her brother and father in the storm. Her intended also drowned, her brother's wife is pregnant and she lives with her mother in the remote coastal village.

Eighteen months after the storm, Commissioner Cornet is sent to Vardo in response to fears the island is host to Lapps - or the Sami people - who aren't practising the approved religion of the time. The Commissioner's new wife Ursa has been raised in a house of means in Bergen and their posting in Vardo comes as a complete culture shock. The Commissioner has been given a mission to root out any evil that resides in Vardo however Ursa is focussed on making a new friend in Maren.

The story unfolds from the perspectives of both Maren and Ursa as we begin to learn about the women and develop empathy for their individual plights. Religion, superstition and belief play a big role in The Mercies and the blurb doesn't hide the fact the book is inspired by the 1621 witch trials in the region.

This historical fiction novel is dark and full of foreboding from beginning to end. The harsh and unforgiving landscape along with the tough living conditions put me in mind of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

The Mercies is a novel about grief, loss, friendship, survival, relationships (good and bad), suspicion, religion and accusation. It's a bleak novel but it's also a tender novel about the importance love and hope.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

08 March 2020

Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees by Laline Paull book cover
I love bees. It's hard not to. They're crucial to the environment and the pollination of many flowers, fruits and vegetables. They produce honey and beeswax and if I didn't live in the city, I fancy I'd like to own and tend my own beehive.

The Bees by Laline Paull is the tale of one bee's life in her hive and I was chuffed to receive it as a Christmas gift in 2018. Flora 717 is born a sanitation bee, but she doesn't quite fit in due to her bigger body and ugly features. She has other skills though and learns to be a productive member of the hive.

You might imagine a bee's life is dull, but we follow Flora 717 around all of the departments of her hive and learn the tasks each of her fellow hive members undertakes. Each bee knows their duty and they're united by the hive mind and their love for the Queen or Mother bee. Scent plays a key role in Flora's life and in the book, with scent and smells appearing on almost every page as it forms a critical part of Flora's communication with other bees and the environment around her.

It's not a spoiler to disclose that Flora 717 also talks. While I generally don't like novels with talking animals, this one falls into the same category of books as Watership Down which manages to successfully bridge this divide. However, if you have a problem with bees exhibiting other human like behaviour - curtseying, praying and using their 'hands' - then this might not be for you.

It was a joy to follow Flora 717 as she fulfilled her various duties, tried to understand her place and make a valuable contribution to the hive. I enjoyed learning about the waggle dance, the making of honey, the laying of eggs and all manner of bee activities through Flora's eyes and longed to know more about bees in general.

Much happens throughout the book as the bees move from crisis to crisis and the action never stops. This book can also be read on a deeper level, with ample references to an overarching hierarchy and religion governing the bees. Themes of purpose, leadership, devotion, duty, sacrifice, deformity, class, age and gender are all explored through the activities within the hive and this made for an interesting and unique read.

You can buzz on over and read a FREE SAMPLE of The Bees by Laline Paull and decide for yourself.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

05 March 2020

Review: The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The Foundling by Stacey Halls book cover
RRP $39.99
Published February 2020
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Set in London in 1754, Bess Bright makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her illegitimate newborn baby at the Foundling Hospital in London, promising herself that she will come back to claim her daughter as soon as she can. Years later, Bess returns only to find her daughter has already been claimed, by her. So begins the mystery of The Foundling by Stacey Halls.

Stacey Halls has done it again. The Familiars was set in 1612 around the Pendle witch trials and was an absorbing read about two women from different classes coming together to help one another. Somehow, Stacey Halls has managed to effortlessly set another tale about two women from different classes 150 years later in Georgian London without missing a beat. The Foundling has been written in such a unique storytelling style that from the first page of The Foundling I knew immediately I was in expert hands once again.

Here's an example of her writing from Page 119:
"With the excess of Christmas behind and spring a way off, it was a dull, dead period, a time of hibernation and renewal, in which to reintroduce good habits, turn mattresses and repair wigs."
In addition to being an engaging historical mystery, The Foundling by Stacey Halls is also an absolute delight to hold in the hand. With a stunning cover design with spot UV and metallic foiling on the front and back, the edition I have is the floppy kind with nice big font and delightful chapter markers to indicate the character's perspective about to unfold. I recall remarking on the beauty of The Familiars too and the design team have outdone themselves again here. I enjoyed seeing The Foundling on my bedside table and will be sad to shelve it along with my other 5 star reads where I won't be able to admire the cover on a daily basis.

There's been much praise for Stacey Halls, however I don't agree with Cosmopolitan that Halls is 'The new Hilary Mantel'. She is nothing like Mantel and I believe the comparison builds an inaccurate association in the minds of potential readers. If I had to characterise Stacey's writing, I'd say it was a meeting of the minds between Philippa Gregory and Diane Setterfield.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Foundling by Stacey Halls. It had all of the ingredients I love in an historical fiction novel and I highly recommend it.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

02 March 2020

Review: Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe by Sali Hughes

Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe by Sali Hughes cover
I'm a monarchist and fortunate to be born during the era of the longest reining monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. In Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe, author Sali Hughes takes a look at Her Majesty's fashion over the last nine decades, including her jewellery and accessories.

I thoroughly enjoyed this little read and all of the trivia it contained. Many designers are mentioned, Royal warrants explained and much more. Learning the Queen's outfits were all weather tested and logged to avoid any repetition of an ensemble and that she won't wear shoes that have a heel higher than 2.25 inches was interesting.

The Queen's ladies-in-waiting are said to: 
"travel with spare tights, sewing kits and lavender-scented cloths in case of extreme heat." Page 54
The rumoured contents of the Queen's handbag from Page 120-121 are:
"Small camera; family photos; compact and lipstick (usually by Clarins or Elizabeth Arden); suction mounted bag hook; ironed and folded bank note for any church service collections; crossword clipped from newspaper for any idle moments; mints; reading glasses; fountain pen; small silver make-up case given to her by Prince Philip and a mobile phone for calls to grandchildren."
I enjoyed learning about the often political and cultural meaning behind the Queen's fashion and jewellery choices, indicating advanced research and preparation for every event and Royal engagement. I especially enjoyed her choice to wear a brooch given to her by the Obamas when meeting President Trump, and to wear the EU colours of blue and gold when attending the State Opening of Parliament post Brexit referendum.

Another factor contributing to my enjoyment of this little hardback gem was the fact that I submitted a request for my library to purchase this book and they did! It now has to be returned because there's a nice little queue of readers waiting to get their hands on it next. How fun!

Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes is an interesting read with great photographs to study in detail and will appeal to a variety of readers of any age.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★


28 February 2020

Review: Shark Arm by Phillip Roope & Kevin Meagher

Shark Arm - A Shark, A Tattooed Arm and Two Unsolved Murders by Phillip Roope and Kevin Meagher cover
RRP $32.99 AUD
Published January 2020
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Picture this. Sydney, 1935. In an aquarium in Coogee, a tiger shark captured off the coast of Sydney a week ago is swimming around, looking poorly. It swims to the bottom of the pool and is sick, and up floats a human arm with a tattoo of two boxers clearly visible on the forearm. It sounds too crazy to be true right? But this really happened.

In Shark Arm - A Shark, A Tattooed Arm and Two Unsolved Murders, Australian authors Phillip Roope and Kevin Meagher delve deep into this mystifying cold case in an attempt to find out what happened and who was responsible.

The odds of the arm being revealed like that must be a billion to one and it certainly sparked my interest in the case. Just imagine, if it had been the victim's other arm then identification would have been impossible. In the 1930s tattoos weren't nearly as prevalent as they are today and this made the case an immediate sensation in the press.

The victim was quickly identified and the door was opened onto some very shady dealings going on in Sydney at the time. Some of the characters involved in the case were petty criminals, stand over guys, informers, smugglers, insurance scammers and one was even a forger of cheques.

There was one dry patch in this account that followed the suspect as he made several trips around Sydney (perp goes here, does a thing, then goes here and does another thing) but the action certainly picked up when we got to the high speed boat chase on the harbour and the second murder related to the case.

At the end of the book the authors share their own theory on the case and I found myself agreeing with their conclusions. They were open and honest about disclosing source material and referencing previous books on the topic while highlighting their contribution to the material.

Shark Arm by Phillip Roope and Kevin Meagher is a memorable addition to the Australian true crime genre.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

26 February 2020

Review: The River Home by Hannah Richell

The River Home by Hannah Richell cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The River Home by Hannah Richell is a story about sisters, family secrets and estrangement connected to an event in the past which is slowly revealed during the course of the novel. Richell's previous novel The Peacock Summer made my Top 5 Books of 2018 list so I had high hopes for this. Thankfully The River Home lived up to my hopes and expectations while delivering something 'new' at the same time.

Sisters Margot, Lucy and Eve are brought together by a family wedding. Having grown up at Windfalls in the shadow of their mother bestselling author Kit Weaver, the sisters are now adults yet each carry their own painful secrets.

Margot and her mother have a complicated history and are each under pressure to resolve their dispute or at the very least keep the peace during Lucy's wedding.

Richell's writing is atmospheric and she has a magical way of bringing a setting and a scene to life on the page. I longed to walk through the rooms at Windfalls and smell the apples in the orchard nearby.

The river is an essential symbol winding its way through the novel and the hearts of the characters in this contemporary novel in a similar way to Diane Setterfield's historical fiction novel Once Upon A River.

The River Home by Hannah Richell is an emotionally engrossing mystery, full of family drama, bitterness and resentment along with a dash of love and hope and I loved it! Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

22 February 2020

Review: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
I stumbled across Caitlin Doughty's YouTube channel (Ask A Mortician) around the time her memoir Smoke Gets In Your Eyes was published in 2014.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty was published in 2019 and is a series of questions from kids about death.

I chose to listen to this on audiobook as part of my new nonfiction listening regime, and this was perfect. Each question is it's own contained 'chapter', allowing the listener to easily stop and start between questions/chapters without disrupting the flow of Doughty's content.

I already knew much of the information shared, however this is essentially a book for children or parents fielding questions from their children and I believe it will be of great interest to curious young minds.

Doughty keeps the content light, inserts a few jokes and manages to make dead bodies seem less intimidating while answering all kinds of scientific and cultural questions about death and the dead. What would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated? Can people donate blood after they die? What happens if an astronaut dies in space? 

All in all, this was an easy listening and informative read, and I recommend it for budding scientists, nurses, doctors and of course little understudy undertakers.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

20 February 2020

Review: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara cover
Journalist and author Michelle McNamara became interested in true crime early in her career, however it was the unsolved rapes and murders attributed to the East Area Rapist (or the EAR) in the 1970s-1980s that became her focus.

Michelle's dogged pursuit of the truth and attempts to establish the identity of the killer earned her the respect of those around her. The case became her life's obsession and her meticulous research assisted with the case. Michelle's work proved the EAR was responsible for crimes outside the East Area, and she was responsible for the updated moniker Golden State Killer (GSK). Michelle's contributions to the case also led to a book deal she tragically wasn't able to see through to fruition.

Unfortunately Michelle McNamara died in April 2016 before the Golden State Killer was identified and arrested in April 2018. At the time of her death, her book was only half finished and her husband and several of Michelle's colleagues finished the book based on her notes and thousands of computer files.

I first became interested in the case when I learned how the Golden State Killer had been identified and subsequently arrested. With his DNA on police file, authorities didn't have anything to compare it to and were unable to identify him. In a stroke of brilliance, authorities decided to upload the DNA to a website used by regular citizens to map their family tree or research their personal genome. After a match to distant relatives, the suspect pool began to shrink and the killer was identified as former Police Officer Joseph James DeAngelo.

Published posthumously, I listened to the audiobook of I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and like readers before me, I was also disappointed Michelle didn't live to see the arrest of DeAngelo.

The details of individual cases were hard to hear and the psychological torment DeAngelo submitted his victims to was shocking. However the book also includes moments of memoir by Michelle and the authors finishing her work to produce an overall book that seemed a little disjointed at times and still retained an 'unfinished' feel.

I would be interested in an updated edition which includes details of how the GSK was identified and ultimately arrested, tried and sentenced and a thought piece on how Michelle may have felt about it. Reading this two years after publication and the arrest has dated the book somewhat for me, and it would have been more compelling if I'd read it at the time of publication or not known the outcome beyond the last pages.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

18 February 2020

Winners of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald announced

It was great to see so many of you enjoying the guest review from Sophie Harris last week and entering the giveaway to win a copy of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald. Walker Books Australia was offering two Carpe Librum readers the chance to win 1 of 2 print copies of this children's book for readers 8yo+. Thankfully everyone answered correctly and Judy and her friends were indeed preparing for the UBER-awesome Book Quiz Blowout!

The giveaway closed at midnight AEST Sunday 16 February 2020 and the two winners were drawn today.

Congratulations To:
Karyn Gladwish & Schizanthus Nerd


Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald book cover
You've each won a copy of children’s book Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald. You'll both receive an email from me with the details and Walker Books Australia will be sending out your prizes directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaways in 2020.

Carpe Librum!

17 February 2020

Bloggernomicon - Lost in a Good Book

I'm proud to welcome my second Bloggernomicon interviewee today. Amy Brownlee’s book blog is called Lost in a Good Book and her byline is: Read, Review, Recommend. It's a pleasure to welcome her to Carpe Librum today.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Amy and thanks for being part of Bloggernomicon. When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
Lost in a Good Book logo
I started reviewing books in January 2012 on the blog, maybe a bit before then on Goodreads. When I decided to create the blog I made up a list of possible names, probably all terrible if I could remember any of them, but I ended up with Lost in a Good Book because I loved the name so much and it seemed perfect for what I wanted to express on the blog. It was serendipitous too because at the time I had started reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and one of the books in the series is Lost in a Good Book which ended up being my favourite of them all.

When I started working as a librarian in 2015 it allowed me to find some fantastic books to read I may never have picked up and getting to share them with a wider audience has been very satisfactory, especially when people tell me they’ve started reading a book because they have read my review. It makes it all worthwhile in a way, even though I was happily doing this blog when no one was reading it.
How many hours (on average) do you spend working on your blog each week?
If I am incredibly organized it can be almost none if everything is beautifully scheduled, but that’s rare. I might spend maybe 10 hours a week? Especially if I am scheduling and writing reviews or rearranging things and doing stuff behind the scenes.

How many books (on average) do you read each year?
It used to be 80 but the last few years it has increased so I’m reading 150 or more.

How many books do you have on your TBR?
Goodreads tells me it is 640 but it is probably more. I think the ones on that list I am realistically never going to read makes up for the ones I do want to read that I haven’t gotten around to adding on there.

How do you organise and keep track of your reviewing commitments?
In the beginning I was a lot more organised with a chart and order to what I needed to read requested books whereas now I am slack in that aspect but more organised in my scheduling. I have a yearly calendar and have a colour code for the days I need a post to go up and label what kind of post it is whether it is a special event, a blog feature post or normal post. I have coloured all the days for the year that need a post and then I override that with another colour when I have a post done for that particular day. That way I can see a whole year and see which days have posts done and which days I still need to fill. I still haven’t found the balance to get my requests that organised but I am trying to make it work.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
I was able to review a debut book for one of my favourite musicians, Voltaire, and I got to interview him about his writing and how his music influenced his writing style. It was an incredible moment and seeing people share their favourite lines and paragraphs of the review was brilliant, especially since I was still starting out with my blog it was a great confidence boost.

What’s your most popular blog post? What can you tell me about it?
It’s actually a strange one; a few years ago I dedicated a month celebrating the book series His Dark Materials which was turning 20. My most popular post comes from one where I explored the characters from the first book The Northern Lights. I have no doubt many are from school searches or other research quests but I hope that one post gets them reading the many others I did about that series at the same time, or onto another part of my blog.






When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
If it is a Young Adult or set in Australia I will probably agree to read it.

Have you ever been pressured to give a positive review or had an author question a review of yours?
In my first year blogging I had an author question my review. She tried to explain why I was wrong and explain the things I hadn’t understood/she hadn’t made clear then asked me to amend my review now that I knew the story better. I’ve had a good run since, maybe only a couple authors who wanted a better explanation than my review why I only gave the stars I did but other than that I’ve been pretty lucky.

What are 3 words that tell you immediately a book is for you?
Slightly cheating on spelling but “Fairy tale retelling.”

What’s your most anticipated new release for 2020?
The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson.

Do you have any advice for reviewers interested in starting a book blog?
The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard book cover
Amy loved this book so much she was
 inspired to create a book blog
Just do it. Honestly. I started this because I had read a book that was so perfect I had to share it with as many people as possible and wider than just Goodreads (The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard FYI). 

If you want to share your thoughts about books or bookish things then find a platform that works for you and make it your own. I started on another host site which was a nightmare but found my home on Wordpress. Even if it takes some time to find your feet (took me over five years to really get my groove) then that is ok because you will learn a lot as you go. Follow blogs who are posting things you like and see how different people do it and get ideas if you are stuck, but diving in and writing about whatever you like and however you like will make the blog your own and you can grow with it.

Thanks so much for the advice and for participating in Bloggernomicon today Amy.

13 February 2020

Review: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic book cover
* Copy courtesy of Echo Publishing *

And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is the second in the Australian crime series featuring Caleb Zelic. Deaf since childhood, Caleb is still recovering from the events in Resurrection Bay. His private investigation business is a mess, his relationships are strained and he's struggling with nightmares and flashbacks. Then a young woman tracks him down and begs for his help.

He begins to investigate and with a little help from Tedesco (my favourite character in the series) he starts to uncover a string of crimes in his hometown of Resurrection Bay.

Occasionally the second in a series can fall short of the first, but this definitely isn't the case here. In fact, I'd go so far as to say And Fire Came Down was better than Resurrection Bay. The plot was more engaging and complex, the tension was tighter, the danger was greater and the writing was better.

Caleb's hearing difficulty and use of sign language with several of the characters is my favourite part of this series. Caleb's relationship with his brother Ant was another aspect of the book I really enjoyed and I hope they work things out.

I'm really glad to have caught up with the series and look forward to following Caleb into recently published Darkness for Light. Highly recommended for fans of Australian crime.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

10 February 2020

Review: City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert was a 5 star read for me in 2013, so I was eager to find out what her next book was going to be about. Released in 2019, City of Girls is set in 1940s New York and is about a young woman who works in a theatre and socialises with glamorous showgirls.

I made the mistake of assuming this was going to be an overtly feminine story in a setting I couldn't relate to and one that didn't interest me. So when I received a copy for review in mid 2019 it languished on my TBR pile.

I decided to give City of Girls a chance in January and figured the writing would at least hold my attention. Woah! I tumbled into Vivian Morris' story immediately and the setting was unexpectedly seductive. The plot had me entranced, Vivian's character development was completely unexpected as was the abundance of sex!

The deep personal revelations were incredibly moving and I found myself in the expert hands of Elizabeth Gilbert once again. I should have known better. Besides, Gilbert made the study of mosses riveting so I should have guessed she would wave her writing wand over the theatre scene of 1940s New York and produce a dazzling set of characters. Here are two quotes in particular I enjoyed.
"It's not difficult to compliment people in order to try to win their affections. What is difficult is to do it in the right way. Everyone told Celia she was beautiful, but nobody had ever told her she had the carriage of a trained ballerina. Nobody had ever told her she had a face made for her times." Page 118
And another.
"We'll be fine. She and I respect each other, which makes up for the fact that we dislike each other. Or, rather, I respect her. So that's something we share, at least. We have an excellent relationship based on a deep history of profound one-way respect, and plenty of it." Page 150
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is highly recommended for historical fiction lovers. This is not chick lit, this is not a romance novel. It's not a war novel either. It's a deep exploration of one woman's life, her sexual desire and the inner and outer expectations of those around her. It's a coming-of-age novel about choosing a different path. The reader will enjoy witnessing Vivian's personal growth and internal realisations and I found it incredibly moving in parts.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

07 February 2020

Guest review and giveaway of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald

Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald book cover
Today I have the pleasure of introducing a new guest reviewer. 10 year old Sophie Harris loves reading all types of books, but is a huge fan of Percy Jackson, Harry Potter and The School For Good and Evil series. Some of you might remember her older sister Grace's reviews of There May Be A Castle by Piers Torday and Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend back in 2017. 

The Harris family love to read and it's a real pleasure to welcome Sophie to Carpe Librum as she shares her review of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald. Thanks Sophie!

Guest Review by Sophie Harris

I was so lucky to receive a copy of the latest Judy Moody instalment to review. This Judy Moody book was one of the best Judy Moody books yet! Judy and Stink are in a book team called the “Bookworms” and they have to compete against a team called the “Fake Moustache Defenders” in a competition.
Sophie Harris with her copy of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald courtesy of Walker Books Australia, Carpe Librum.
Sophie Harris with her review copy of
Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by
Megan McDonald courtesy of
Walker Books Australia

I really liked it because it features different books like Harry Potter and The Treehouse series in the competition. I would recommend this book for people who like quizzes and you can even answer the questions along with Judy Moody, which was really fun. Well written and easy to read, I would recommend this book for early readers and children 4-11 who just like a good laugh. I rate this book 4 and a half stars, or as Judy would say 4 and a half books!

Sophie's Rating:

Blurb

Books, books, books! Judy, Stink and friends are preparing for the UBER-awesome Book Quiz Blowout! The fifteenth title in the Judy Moody series is jam-packed with book references and a nail-biter of a competition.

Judy Moody is in it to win it. The Virginia Dare Bookworms are reading up a storm to prepare for the book quiz. Judy’s trying out all kinds of tricks: from hanging upside down like Pippi Longstocking to teaching herself to speed read The Princess in Black; even Stink has covered a cape in sticky notes to help him remember all the answers! They may have super reading skills, but who knows when a serious case of brain freeze will strike! Will the Bookworms be as cool as cucumbers or freeze up on the big day?

Giveaway

Walker Books Australia are offering Carpe Librum readers the chance to win one of two print copies of Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz by Megan McDonald valued at $9.99AUD each. The giveaway is open to AUS & NZ entrants, so enter below for your chance to win this children's book for readers aged 8yo+. This giveaway has now closed.

Carpe Librum!

05 February 2020

Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic book cover
Emma Viskic burst onto the Australian crime writing scene back in 2015 and I'm just catching up now. Winning a bunch of awards, Resurrection Bay is the first in the series featuring Caleb Zelic.

Caleb has been deaf since childhood and has learned to adapt by lip reading, closely observing his surroundings and by actively interpreting other key signs and signals. Caleb is an investigator and runs his business with an ex-cop by the name of Frankie.

Caleb is such a fresh and unique character I immediately warmed to him. Caleb's deafness is very much part of who he is and reading about him and the danger he soon finds himself in really helped me to understand the challenges those hard of hearing inevitably face every day.

I can't recall a character like him in crime fiction, perhaps with the exception of John Stefanovitch; a New York cop confined to a wheelchair after being shot and left for dead in the 1989 novel The Midnight Club by James Patterson.

I found myself invested in Caleb way more than the plot, and knew early on this was a series I would continue reading. There's plenty of action, tension and diversity as well as Aussie references and recognisable settings in this debut.

I've already read the next in the series - And Fire Came Down - which I believe is better than this one, which has directly informed my rating below. I'm giving it 3.5 stars rounded down. Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic is highly recommended for crime fiction fans.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

31 January 2020

Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (Photo Credit: Carpe Librum)
Photo Credit: Carpe Librum
Nothing much happens in A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, so why did I fall in love with it? It's not the first time this has happened either. Stoner by John Williams is the slow moving story of an ordinary man and it was such an exquisite portrait of his life that it instantly became an all-time favourite of mine.

Violet Speedwell is the protagonist in A Single Thread and in 1932 she is reeling following the painful loss of her brother and fiance in WWI. Violet decides to leave home and try to make it on her own in Winchester. Life is tough for surplus women and Violet does her best to get by and carve out a life of joy for herself.

While admiring the architecture of the local cathedral, she comes across the work of a group of broderers and decides she'd like to make a kneeler. It will be a permanent reminder of her life when she too is gone.

I've often shared Violet's thoughts that when I die, there will be no lasting evidence I was ever here. One of the reasons I love looking at architecture, paintings and needlework is that I can wonder about the hands that painstakingly created these precious objects from the past and imagine the lives their creators lived. I'm sure the desire to create something that might just outlive me was a small part of the reason I started stitching in the first place. Creating a tangible gift for a loved one with your own hands is something special and Violet wants to do this too.

This combination of historical fiction and stitching - along with the unexpected inclusion of bell ringing - was a sure sign I was going to enjoy this novel.

Adding to my reading experience was the fact I suggested this book for a monthly book club on GoodReads called A Stitcher's Book Club. A couple of us read A Single Thread at the same time and I'm sure this added to my overall reading enjoyment.

Containing themes of family, duty, responsibility, post-war culture, grief and expectations of women in society, A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier was a real feel good read and I heartily enjoyed it.

For more, check out my review of The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier and Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

29 January 2020

Bloggernomicon - Proud Book Reviews

Proud Book Reviews logo
I'm proud to welcome the first official Bloggernomicon interviewee today, Anthea Proudfoot. Based in Melbourne, Anthea's book blog is called Proud Book Reviews and her byline is: expanding my library one book at a time. It's a pleasure to welcome her to Carpe Librum today.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Anthea and thanks for being part of Bloggernomicon. When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
I started reviewing books on April 1st 2018 because I wanted to keep track of what I thought of all the books I was reading. Thankfully my partner (Rick) helped me out with the name coz I'm really shit at naming things! I told him I wanted it to represent me but also make it clear it was about books and he came up with Proud Book Reviews since my last name is Proudfoot (no, I'm not from the Blackfoot tribe but my family is mentioned in Lord of the Rings!).

How many books do you have on your TBR? (Virtual and/or physical)
In physical books I have I think 30-40, but virtual I have like 1500+ free books on BookBub. Kinda why I needed to start a blog to remember what all these new books were about and which ones I loved enough to want to reread!

How do you organise and keep track of your reviewing commitments?
I've been using Trello since I started to get more tours approved and author requests in the later part of 2018 and have started using a whiteboard calendar this year. Trello I use to keep track of whether a book has been committed to, ready to be read, reading, needs a review written, artwork needs to be made/received, is ready to be scheduled, scheduled, published etc. Then I archive them once I've copied the review to the appropriate sites. My whiteboard just has what I'm reviewing/writing on what day so I can visually see how busy I am and where I have space so I don't go crazy requesting too many tours/ARCs.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a book blogger?
I have two. My first is the first author review request after just 3 months of blogging. Adrianna Gavazzoni asked me to review her debut book even though I felt like NO ONE knew who I was. I now need to get her 4th book which was released in November 2019. My other achievement was the first time I could see that at least one person had visited my site every day for 30 days. I'm super proud of that coz it meant people were finding my little corner of the internet and were liking what I had to say enough to keep coming back 😀

What's your most popular blog post? What can you tell me about it?
Hahaha yeah... My most popular post is called "Pottermore inconsistencies - did you see them?". Basically I wrote this up after watching Fantastic Beasts - Crimes of Grindelwald because there were a few things that even my semi-oblivious partner picked up didn't make sense after we'd binged all the Harry Potter movies. I just had to put it out there and I guess people liked it and had something to say too which is cool.

Do you have a favourite publicist or publisher you enjoy dealing with?
She's not really a publicist, but Rachel from Rach Random Resources is amazing. She works so hard to bring great books on tour and it really shows. She makes sure you have the book and all the artwork etc with plenty of time to read and set up your reviews. I also want to give a shout out to Harper Collins Digital, who started pre-approving me for books on NetGalley after they noticed how many of their books I'm getting, loving and reviewing.

Do you spend money on your blog?
Anthea Proudfoot - Proud Book Reviews
Anthea Proudfoot - Proud Book Reviews

Yes. I pay for the domain name, web hosting (My Zuver, I love their support service and they are based in Australia which is awesome) and page builder (Elementor Pro). I try not to pay for anything else though since I'm not making any money.

When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
Having read about me, my review policy etc so they get a sense of what I'll like. For instance, I just had an author submit a review request and he was able to quote information on my website and say why he thought I'd enjoy his book. Taking the time to see that I've liked similar books, (OMG the people who ask me to review YA when I've explicitly said I don't take requests for that genre annoys me!) and having taken 5 minutes to look at my site just warms my heart and butters me up. Makes it much more likely I'll say yes!

Do you use any of the reading statistics spreadsheets out there? Do you make any specific reading goals around trackable criteria?
I've just started to this year. I found out about them a couple of months into 2019 and my OCD wouldn't let me start a spreadsheet that's meant to track a year when I was going to have a few months missing. I've actually combined two spreadsheets I liked the look of and made further modifications to make it suit me. You can find out more in my "2020 - The Yr to Come" post. My goals were more to read one book a week and to read more sci-fi and books from my TBR pile (both trackable with my spreadsheet).

Name something you'd like to achieve in the world of reviewing and blogging about books.
I would LOVE to be mentioned on a book cover ANYWHERE! I see people noted there and until last year I always thought they were paid critics, but I found out last year that they can be regular book bloggers too so I would love to be one of those people! Preferably for an author who I've read and worked with previously because then I've built up a relationship with them. It'd be even better if it was an Aussie author coz I feel like they don't get as much love as the US and UK based authors.

Thanks so much for participating in Bloggernomicon Anthea. Being a fellow Melbournite, I do hope you can join us at the GoodReads catch-up next month.


25 January 2020

2020 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

It's the beginning of a new decade and I'm going to start as I mean to go on, by continuing to challenge my reading choices. I'll be participating in my regular three reading challenges as well as adding a new yearly challenge to the mix. Here's what I'll be participating in this year:
  • 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
  • 2020 Aussie Author Challenge
  • Book Bingo 2020
  • 2020 Historical Reading Challenge
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2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

Aiming for the Franklin level of the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge this year I'll need to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge. The challenge is run by writers and volunteers and encourages readers to discover more books by Australian women.

You don't need to review the books in order to participate either. You can just nominate a particular number of books to read for the year in order to join in. Check out the sign up details here.

Some of the books I'm planning to read for the challenge are:
- A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
- Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
- You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster
- Devil's Lair by Sarah Barrie

2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge
2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge

I'm participating in the newly created Emu level of the Aussie Author Reading Challenge this year. I'll need to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 10 are female, 10 are male, and at least 10 are new-to-me authors. Hosted by Jo from Booklover Book Reviews I'll also need to read from at least 4 different genres.

Some of the books I'm planning to read for the challenge are:
- A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
- Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
- Shark Arm by Philip Roope
- Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater

Book Bingo 2020

Book Bingo 2020

Hosted by Theresa Smith Writes, Mrs B’s Book Reviews and The Book Muse, this is my first year participating in Book Bingo. To complete the challenge, I need to read and review a book from each of the 12 bingo squares. Check in is every second Saturday of the month and I'll be sharing my progress over on the Facebook page.

1. Themes of culture
2. About the environment
3. Set in a time of war
4. Themes of inequality
5. Prize winning book
6. Set in a place you dream of visiting
7. Themes of crime and justice
8. Friendship, family & love
9. Set in an era you'd love to travel back in time to
10. Themes of politics and power
11. Coming of age
12. A classic you've never read before

2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I love historical fiction and will need to read 10 historical fiction novels to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year.
2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Hosted by Passages to the Past, you don't need a blog to participate either, you can join in on Facebook or GoodReads. Check out the sign up details for more info.

Some of the books I'm planning to read for the challenge are:
- City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater



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You can follow my progress on my Challenges 2020 page as I make my way through these challenges and let me know if you're participating in any reading challenges this year. Have you set any reading goals or targets for 2020? I'd love to hear about them.

Carpe Librum!

23 January 2020

Introducing Bloggernomicon - An ongoing series of interviews with book bloggers and reviewers

Carpe Librum Bloggernomicon - An ongoing series of interviews with book bloggers and reviewers
Today I'm excited to launch Bloggernomicon - An ongoing series of interviews with book bloggers and reviewers.

I realised I enjoy learning about fellow book bloggers and reviewers almost as much as reading about favourite authors so I thought I'd devise a platform by which I could get to know them a little better. I've come up with a selection of 30 questions to choose from and have at least 22 book bloggers and reviewers keen to participate in this new series of interviews here on Carpe Librum.

I thought it was only fair to launch Bloggernomicon by setting the example and answering some questions myself first. So, here we go.

When did you start reviewing books and can you tell me the story behind your blog name?
I started my blog in 2005 and it was originally called My Four Bucks, because I always seemed to have more than 2 cents to contribute. In August 2012 I re-branded to Carpe Librum, a name aptly chosen by my husband who drinks and names things.

How many hits does your blog receive each month?
I've received an average of 11,400 hits per month over the last 12 months.

How many books do you have on your TBR? (Virtual and/or physical?)
I have 78 physical books at home to be read, a virtual TBR on GoodReads of 117 and a Maybe shelf on GoodReads of 105 books. Those on the Maybe shelf are books I think I'd like but haven't decided or committed to yet. If I add them together, I have 2.5 years worth of reading on my TBR. Not bad, but I'm very fussy and selective about what I add.

How do you organise and keep track of your reviewing commitments?
I use a spreadsheet to track all review requests and unsolicited books I receive, with dates and notes. I keep a few email folders for correspondence and record the books I request from publishers in Outlook Notes. I then keep a list of all blog posts I want to write (reviews, giveaways etc) in my bullet journal.

I use the private notes function on GoodReads for each book to record title specific information (e.g. requested on x date, received on x date from x publisher etc) so I can stay organised. Books I've requested always receive first priority, then unsolicited books and those from my own backlist jockey for position.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
The launch of my logo in 2016 and reaching a million hits in 2017 were both super proud moments for me. I was on cloud nine for weeks both times. Being asked to be a blogger for the Melbourne Writer's Festival two years running was a major highlight and something I'm very proud of.

Does your blog make money?
Unfortunately no.

What book have you had on your TBR the longest? How long has it been there?
I've had Inheritance by Christopher Paolini on my bookshelf waiting to be read since.... 22 June 2011. Eeeek!

What are 3 words that tell you immediately a book is not for you?
Zombies, espionage and virus.

What are 3 words that tell you immediately a book is for you?
Twins, mansion, secrets.

If you could improve one thing on your blog, what would it be?
I'd love to increase my email subscribers. Having 11,000+ hits per month is fantastic, but having dedicated email subscribers who want to read your posts when they pop up in their busy inboxes gives me immense joy.

What's your most anticipated new release for 2020?
That's easy, The School of Glass by Bridget Collins. The Binding by Bridget Collins was in my Top 5 Books of 2019 list so I can't wait to read her new novel. I haven't even seen the blurb yet so I have no idea what it's about but I hope it's another masterpiece.

Name something you'd like to achieve in the world of reviewing and blogging about books.
I've had the pleasure of being mentioned in an author's acknowledgments and praise section of a book on a few occasions and that's always a huge achievement so I'd like to continue receiving that level of recognition. It's such a buzz every time and maybe I'll make it onto the back cover one of these days. I know some of my fellow bloggers have achieved this so it's definitely possible.

I hope you'll enjoy Bloggernomicon and are as excited as I am about the series. I'm pleased to announce the first interviewee is Anthea Proudfoot, author of Proud Book Reviews. Stay tuned!