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:
★ ★