29 May 2020

Review: Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
March 2020 RRP $29.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

I haven't had a five star read for two months but thankfully the spell was broken when I picked up Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. (Published under the title Eight Perfect Murders in other countries).

Here's the premise. Bookshop owner Malcolm Kershaw wrote a blog post several years ago about perfect murders in fiction. He lists his choices for the 'cleverest, the most ingenious, the most foolproof murders in crime fiction history'. The resulting blog post is titled Eight Perfect Murders.

Years later he's tracked down by an FBI agent who believes a killer is currently making their way through Malcolm's list and re-enacting the murders.

Located in Boston, Malcolm's Old Devils Bookstore predominantly sells mystery books and there are plenty of characters who could be the killer. This feels like a real cosy mystery as Malcolm tries to work out who could be behind the murders.

There are plenty of books referenced and lots of bookish content throughout this that I just adored. You don't need to have read any of the books on Malcolm's list however the murders in each book are discussed so there are plenty of spoilers if that's something that worries you.

Rules For Perfect Murders is a thinking reader's cosy mystery with a literary tilt that will appeal to all booklovers in my opinion. Highly recommended!

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

27 May 2020

Bloggernomicon - The Book Muse

The Book Muse logo
We've been in lockdown for many weeks now but some of us are still reading, reviewing and blogging despite the chaos going on in the world at the moment. Today I'm pleased to welcome Ashleigh Meikle to the blog in the continuation of my Bloggernomicon series. Ashleigh's blog is called The Book Muse.

Welcome to Carpe Librum Ashleigh 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 in about 2014 when I did an internship with Pantera Press. It was a search for bloggers for new release Akarnae, that got me started, and from there, I’ve built relationships with various authors, publishers and publicists, as well as reviewing books I buy.

How many books (on average) do you read each year?
Oh wow, this is a tough one to answer – probably at least 100, across a broad range of genres, for reviewing, personal reading for my work as a quiz writer. It does fluctuate and some years I do read more than others. I do focus on review requests, work books and my choices before the unsolicited ones and sometimes the unsolicited ones don’t get read – which I hope is okay, given how many books I get sent.

How many books do you have on your TBR?
At least ten to twenty – I have about six or seven review books; some I’ve bought and some that the authors in my Isolation Publicity series sent me. Some of the review ones were unsolicited so I’m tossing up whether to review them, and they’ve had release dates moved too.

Can you share one of your proudest moments as a blogger or reviewer?
I think starting my isolation publicity series – I love being able to provide Australian authors with a platform to talk about their books they’ve been releasing or working on during the pandemic, and I’ve had quite a good response. Some of my favourite interviews are coming up and I can’t wait to share them.

Do you have a favourite publicist or publisher you enjoy dealing with?
So many – but I think the publicists who work with the kids’ books – or any who are passionate about what they do and the books they’re publicising, and the ones who respond to what I do enthusiastically. It makes it enjoyable to know how well I am doing and being able to help them in these hard times. However Tijana and Tina from Puffin are really good to deal with, as is Sonia from Bloomsbury, who just loves everything I do for the books she sends me and what I do for the Harry Potter books.
Ashleigh Meikle - The Book Muse
Ashleigh Meikle hanging out
with her mate Sir Winston

Do you use bookmarks? Do you have a favourite one or collect them?
Yes to both! I have a box full of various bookmarks that I use all the time. It can be very hard to choose which one to use at times!

Have you ever been pressured to give a positive review or had an author question a review of yours?
Never questioned – but often self-published authors who don’t read my review policy about the genres and formats I accept have tried to pressure me into reviewing their work or told me that their book does fit into my blog and tried to contact me several times to get me involved. Since then, if a request doesn’t give me the right information or tells me they’ve received X amount of 5 star reviews on Goodreads so they think I’d enjoy it, I delete instantly these days – not enough time to fight!

When asked by an author, publicist or publisher to review a book, name something that can tip the balance in their favour?
Definitely giving me all the relevant information I ask for on my policy and respecting whether or not I have time. Also, keeping in mind that what I do read and not assuming that just because I have reviewed a broad range of things, doesn’t mean I’ll always review everything. Sometimes people assume I’ll read something on my DO NOT READ genre list and still request that I do it – and either don’t respond to my polite decline or respond with pressure to read it. I think respecting what a blogger reads as well as their time and the fact that we do this for free is key to requesting a review is something that can work in an author’s favour. I’d also say not complaining about a couple of average or positive reviews works in your favour as an author too – I don’t need to know how many starred reviews you got to make my decision – your book’s premise should speak for itself.

What’s the most intimidating book on your bookshelf?
For me? I’m intimidated by those unsolicited books or obligation books that I’m just given as gifts because I feel like I have to read them – and I’ve given up on one because it was poorly edited. What do I think people would be intimidated by on my shelf? Chaucer or Shakespeare, or my books about rebel women. Some people find some of what I read very intimidating at times. Of all the books on my shelf, I am more intimidated by the prospect of trying to hold some of them rather than the act of reading them. If I had to choose one, I am sort of intimidated by Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene – it’s a brick of a book I need to get my head around holding.

You're not kidding, that one is 1200+ pages long! Do you have any blogging goals for 2020?
To get on top of my requested books at least. I’m less worried about ones I didn’t request, so they get shunted to the side. I’m also trying to read more Australian authors, in particular many more Australian Women Authors and to read as diversely as I can - which largely depends on where and if I can access all those books. There are many reasons for the above, but my main reason is I think Australian authors need our support more than ever now, and I think Australian authors tell wonderful, and diverse stories in many ways.

Thanks so much for participating in my Bloggernomicon Ashleigh. I also enjoy reading and supporting Australian authors and participate in two reading challenges every year if you want to check them out. I hope you achieve your reading goals.

25 May 2020

Review: Torched by Kimberley Starr

Torched by Kimberley Starr book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *

Set in Victoria's Yarra Valley, Torched by Australian author Kimberley Starr is essentially about the relationship between Phoebe and her son Caleb. Phoebe is the Principal at the local Primary School in Brunton and her son Caleb is accused of starting a bushfire that raged through the district, burning everything in its path. Many people lost their lives, properties and livestock were destroyed, yet Caleb won't talk about what happened.

The locals in Brunton blame Caleb for their losses and Phoebe and Caleb's lives subsequently fall apart. As the court date draws closer, Phoebe is desperate to learn the truth.

I found myself a little annoyed with Caleb's character as he insisted on withdrawing into his artistic gothic persona and providing only vague responses to the allegations made against him. Phoebe is an equally flawed character and I thought way too much time was spent on her warring thoughts about her son and her insomnia.

The climax builds as the reader swings back and forth on whether Caleb is guilty or not until the final denouement. In contrast to most readers, I found the most exciting and compelling part of the book were the scenes that took place during the bushfire. The scenes featuring Phoebe were absolutely gripping and completely captured the horrors of an immensely powerful Australian bushfire. I felt the heat and Phoebe's fear, and I'd even go so far as to say it was as good as the bushfire scene in Scrublands by Chris Hammer.

Unfortunately, this level of writing isn't maintained throughout the novel. After the fire has been extinguished and the investigation begins, I was less moved by the rest of Phoebe and Caleb's story.

Overall, Torched is a good Australian mystery with a topical subject at its heart and a solid character study of a troubled mother son relationship.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

22 May 2020

Review: Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr

Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr audiobook cover
A fellow reviewer recently pointed out that I read a lot of books on death and I suppose I do. Sleep and death - the eternal sleep - are two topics I've always been interested in but exploring them in audiobooks is a relatively new experience. It has nothing to do with the current pandemic sweeping the world; death happens every day.

In Death Is But a Dream - Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Christopher Kerr, the author takes us through the experiences of patients in palliative and hospice care. Dr. Kerr interviewed more than 1,400 patients for this study and shares individual patient experiences with the reader, some of which were moving.

What might seem to family members as delusions, visions or signs of a patient losing their grip on reality, Kerr believes is proof of a process of dying his patients share and which brings them enormous comfort and relief at the end of their life.

Each patient is different but they often see loved ones long gone from this world who appear to encourage them to pass on into the next. Themes of forgiveness and grace are common, as is a reluctance to leave loved ones behind.

If you're a skeptic or you don't believe in life after death, this book won't change your mind; nor does it set out to. It's not that kind of book. It's for those who may have some experience with the passing of a loved one, or a general curiosity about the dying process and the often unexplained experiences that go along with it.

Will Death Is But a Dream bring comfort to those with a terminal illness, or facing the decision to admit a loved one to a hospice? I'm not sure. What is clear after listening to these various stories is that love unites us all. No matter what kind of life we have lived, our departure may vary, but love in all its forms remains the primary concern until - and beyond - the last breath.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

19 May 2020

Guest Review: The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley

The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

I'm a huge fan of Lucy Worsley. She's an historian, TV presenter and Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and I've watched almost all of her documentaries. Her latest book The Austen Girls explores the life of Jane Austen from the perspective of her nieces and I knew I'd need some help reviewing it.

Luckily for me, Sophie Harris came to the rescue. Here are Sophie's thoughts on the book.

Guest Review by Sophie Harris

Once again I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a book to review for Carpe Librum. This time it was the historical fiction The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley.

This book taught me about the 1800s and how women were treated differently than men. I didn’t realise how restricted women were and couldn’t go anywhere without being escorted and they didn’t have jobs. I realised this book said a lot about how Jane Austen had to keep her identity secret in books not even her book hungry niece knew what books she wrote!
Sophie Harris holding The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
Sophie Harris holding her copy of
The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley
Published by Bloomsbury

I like the descriptions of things such as how they wore puffy dresses and bonnets and had dances and engagements! And how people had to take a carriage and young ladies being escorted to go out. I found the language was a little challenging (Lucy Worsley uses words like anonymity) but that is also because I haven’t read a historical fiction book before.

This is not my usual choice of book, and I found it challenging to finish. But I did enjoy it and I would recommend it for tweens or young adults (or even normal adults). Lots of historical details and descriptions to make me realise how lucky women are in today’s society. I give it 3.5 stars.

Sophie Harris Age 10

Sophie's Rating:
★ ★

Thank you so much for your review Sophie! For me, reading a book like this without having read one by Jane Austen was a little bit cheeky but totally doable. As Sophie points out above, this novel is aimed at a younger reading audience and may even serve as an entry point to entice younger readers to move on to read Pride and Prejudice or Emma in the future. 

Reading The Austen Girls by Lucy Worsley mostly reminded me that I really need to get to at least one of her classics before the decade is through. I'm with Sophie on the rating though. This was a 3 star reading experience for me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

15 May 2020

Guest review: Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver by Chris Hammer cover
I reviewed Silver by Chris Hammer back in October 2019, however in the recent lockdown I've been lending some books to my neighbour and fellow bibliophile, retired academic Neil Bechervaise. When Neil shared his thoughts on Silver with me, I wanted to share his insight with you too. Thanks Neil!

Murder, corruption, professional jealousy and loosely bent laws. Now what else could we expect from a coming-of-age novel set in a coastal New South Wales village as it drags across its 563 pages of essential hurdles from rural farmland to 21st century tourist mecca? Well, of course, there’s suicide, infidelity, drugs, a swami of mixed origins, a criminally over-protective mother, a drunken, grieving father and an illegal immigration racket to bring in the immigrant backpackers.

It can be argued that Chris Hammer’s second novel, shortlisted for the 2020 ABIA awards, is a complex whodunnit with a poetic depth of understanding of grief and an almost mischievous focusing on the interaction of police and press when the going gets tough.

In brief, when former journalist cum author, Martin returns to Port Silver, the town of his childhood to live with his new partner, the stunningly beautiful Mandy, he walks through the door and, being an experienced journalist, steps carefully over a corpse, stabbed in the back and still bleeding across the floor. Finding no pulse, he phones the ambulance and then the police. Hands now bloodied, he looks up to see Mandy sitting in shock on the sofa, her hands similarly bloodied.

Setting out to clear Mandy (Mandalay Blonde), the chief suspect, Martin embarks on an increasingly complicated search for the real killer. Exposing a plot to buy otherwise unusable waterfront land for development, Martin slowly reveals the truths of his own unhappy childhood, the relationship between a fake swami, a scam providing backpackers with drugs and visas for sex and silver (dollars) and a former surf champion, now running a wellness centre.

The story can only get more complicated, the landscape requiring a map of the town and surrounds (printed at the start of the novel) to reveal the tortuous twists in the tracks that Martin must follow and the paths his newly revealed relatives routinely ride to peddle their illegally harvested marine life.

At times elegantly written, at times poignantly puzzled and at times starkly savage, Silver provides a satisfying trail of corpses, a revelation of real estate corruption and crime in a small-town that is building towards a vastly different future. How the internationally experienced journalist will regain and maintain his reputation while supporting his new mate, Mandy and her baby son in this rural backwater remains a story to be revealed.

I found the novel to be overlong, at times, overwritten and generally over-complicated. Despite this, by the time the story really begins to claim its reader’s attention (at about page 300), the character of the town and the natures of the major protagonists is fairly clear. Some unexpected revelations and complications are yet to be revealed but the pages of description of the town, its history and its current state of development have taken effect. The denouement will be disposed in a few final pages and the reader will be able to surface from the shark-plagued swamp that edges the town to breathe another thriller.

Reviewed by Neil Béchervaise May, 2020

Neil's Rating:
★ ★

Carpe Librum!

13 May 2020

Review: Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing *

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is an historical fiction cozy crime mystery. Now that's a mouthful! Set in 1851, Mrs Laetitia Rodd is a widow in her 50s who earns her living as a very discreet private investigator.

The wandering scholar of the title is the estranged brother of Jacob Welland, and on his deathbed suffering from consumption, Jacob hires Mrs Rodd to find him.

Even though this is the second book in the Laetitia Rodd mystery series and I hadn't read the first (The Secrets of Wishtide) I was still able to read and enjoy this as a standalone.

It was also easy to imagine this as a TV series on the big screen, as Mrs Rodd jumps in and out of carriages, converses with Inspector Blackbeard from Scotland Yard and talks her way into crime scenes and drawing rooms in an attempt to solve the mounting crimes.

As an aside, this novel also put me in mind of She Be Damned by M.J. Tjia as this was set in London in 1863 and also featured a female sleuth.

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar by Kate Saunders is recommended for readers who enjoy a cozy crime mystery within an historical setting.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

11 May 2020

Review: If It Bleeds by Stephen King

If It Bleeds by Stephen King cover
* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

If It Bleeds is the latest release by Stephen King and is a collection of four short stories, which include:

  • Mr Harrigan's Phone
  • The Life of Chuck
  • If It Bleeds
  • Rat

My favourite in this collection was the first, Mr Harrigan's Phone. King has a magical way of writing kids that gets me every time. This time our protagonist wasn't in a group of misfit kids riding around on bikes, but a solitary type hired by the rich retiree up the road to read to him. It was such a terrific story, it was easily my favourite of this collection.

Having started so strongly, the others were okay in comparison.

The title story If It Bleeds is actually a novella which is a sequel to The Outsider published by Stephen King last year. Even if you haven't read The Outsider, you should still be able to make sense of the case Holly Gibney of Finders Keepers is pursuing.

Rat was about a writer whose life long ambition was to write a novel and reminded me a little of Jack Torrance in The Shining.

I watched a discussion between Stephen King and fellow bestselling author John Grisham recently where King mentioned that he enjoys writing short stories and when he writes one he puts it away, and then every so often he'll 'gather them together' for another collection like this.

I've enjoyed a number of his collections over the years (see below) and have every reason to hope this won't be his last.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Full Dark, No Stars
Just After Sunset

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

06 May 2020

Review: Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin cover
Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin begins when eleven year old Marcus is sent to live with his eccentric Great Aunt in South Carolina after the death of his mother. Aunt Charlotte is a reclusive artist with a drinking problem and Marcus is welcomed into her little house on the beach. Marcus is an extremely bright and considerate boy who was likeable - if not 100% believable - from the very first page.

Aunt Charlotte is divorced and well known in the area for painting a tumbledown house known by locals as Grief Cottage. Located within walking distance, Marcus takes to visiting the ruined cottage every day where he becomes a little obsessed with the story of a nameless family (including a young boy) who went missing during a hurricane fifty years earlier.

Marcus and Aunt Charlotte both have secrets from their past and as they get to know each other, they begin to trust one another. Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin contains a number of mysteries, including the identity of Marcus's father, the truth of Charlotte's childhood trauma and the ghost of the boy lost during the hurricane.

After spending so much time with Marcus in the summer of his 11th year, the great leaps forward in time towards the end of the book felt incredibly out of place. I wouldn't have minded another 50-100 pages to follow Marcus on his first day at the new school, through to his Aunt's passing, embarking on his chosen career and other key moments in life. Instead these milestones and events were completely skipped over, and we suddenly catch up with Marcus in his late twenties early thirties which was a real jolt.

There was a nice mystery solved at the end of the book, but the timing of it felt contrived and poorly revealed without much explanation. Handled more skilfully, this could have been an incredibly moving 'reveal' but instead it was ill-timed and just fell flat for me.

Marcus, Aunt Charlotte and family friend Lachicotte were wonderful characters but I felt robbed of a suitable ending to their individual and collective stories.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★