26 June 2020

Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

The Silk House by Kayte Nunn book cover
* Courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Silk House is an historical fiction novel by Australian author Kayte Nunn with a gothic mystery at its heart that unfolds in dual narratives. In the present, Australian history teacher Thea Rust takes up residence in Silk House, located in Oxleigh in the British countryside. She's in charge of the first intake of female students in the exclusive boarding school nearby and she will reside in Silk House along with the students.

We go back in time to the 1760s where the house is owned and occupied by a silk merchant and his family and bolts of silk are sold from the shop at the front of the building. Young Rowan Caswell is hired as a maid and we follow her as she settles into the household, her talent for making the odd tincture soon in high demand. Mary-Louise Stephenson is a talented artist living in London who dreams of becoming a silk designer.

The lives of these three women begin to intersect and overlap as they weave a delightfully engaging and haunting tale for the reader.

I love historical fiction that includes: an old building with character and perhaps a murky history; strong female characters; boarding schools; life below stairs; whispers of witchcraft; secrets waiting to be unearthed and a window into the past. I became heavily invested in Thea and Rowan's stories and enjoyed both narratives equally.

Rowan's determination and spirit reminded me a little of Alinor from Tidelands, and if you're a fan of Laura Purcell (in particular The Silent Companions or The Corset) or The Familiars by Stacey Halls I think you'll love this.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Silk House by Kayte Nunn and looked forward to picking it up again every night, admiring the stunning cover design and re-joining Rowan and Thea. Highly recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. Check out my review of The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant Kayte Nunn.

23 June 2020

Review: The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott book cover
* Copy Courtesy of Text Publishing *

The opening few chapters of The Rain Heron by Australian author Robbie Arnott are absolutely sublime. A seamless blend of fable and fairytale, the reader is introduced to the existence of the mythical rain heron. This story forms Part 0 of this slim novel, and we meet our main character Ren, at the beginning of Part 1.

Ren is an older woman living the life of a recluse on a mountain. She manages to eke out a meagre living and seems happy until she learns soldiers are coming. The location of the mountain or the road trip that follows is never specified, but the descriptions of the changing landscape are so vivid I could almost smell the pine trees.

Part 2 begins on the coast and another extraordinary story emerges. A reverence for living in harmony with the ocean is threatened when an outsider approaches and tries to learn the secrets of the ink fishermen.

The characters in both stories are brought together in a clever way and we resume our interest in the rain heron.

The Rain Heron contains elements of magical realism in an easily digestible format that caught this reader by surprise. It's hard to define, sometimes reading like dystopian, at other times feeling like horror and at all times exquisitely written. It is also mythical, literary and confronting with plenty of tension and some terrific character growth. My only criticism would be the lack of punctuation for dialogue. Fortunately this didn't hamper my enjoyment of the first part of the novel and I was able to follow the dialogue during the rest of the story without too much trouble, but it was a minor distraction.

I've heard The Rain Heron described as an eco-fable and parable and I wholeheartedly agree. I felt a real love of nature in both the mountainous and coastal settings and a clear concern about our environment bubbling along in the background of the story, also falling into the genre of climate-fiction.

The Rain Heron is hard to categorise, difficult to define but easy to love. It is literary fiction at its very best and I found it moving and highly original. And Australian! Robbie Arnott is an author to watch.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. Check out the first few chapters in this FREE extract.

17 June 2020

Review: The Innocent Reader - Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide

The Innocent Reader - Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia *

Debra Adelaide is an Australian author and editor of more than 16 books and an Associate Professor in Creative Writing. It's fair to say she knows a lot when it comes to the art of writing - and reading for that matter. In this collection of essays, Debra reflects on her love of reading and her long and successful writing and teaching career in Australia.

Debra's enthusiasm for books and learning is infectious and I could relate to much of the content. Her passion for literature shines through as she looks back at her discovery of reading, formative reading years and later teaching years. She also includes a handy reference section at the end of each essay, listing all of the works mentioned.

Part memoir and part love letter to literature, Debra freely offers priceless advice for students, writers, reviewers and readers. I particularly enjoyed her essay about the ethics of reviewing entitled The Front Line and this quote:
"Besides, the job of the reviewer is to review the book, not to worry about how what they might say will either further or impede its author's career." Page 182
The Innocent Reader - Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide is a great resource for emerging writers; seasoned writers; wannabe editors; expert editors; teachers and of course every kind of reader there is. As Debra says:
"There can never be too many books, or too many writers. Or too many readers, or too. much reading." Page 166
And of course I wholeheartedly agree.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

12 June 2020

Review: Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey book cover
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $29.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey is the third book in the Gemma Woodstock series by this talented Australian author. Gemma is a Detective Sergeant and when we catch up with her she's living in Sydney and in a relationship with former work colleague Mac.

This all changes when she's drawn back to Smithson and faced with a personal tragedy. Gemma is quick to volunteer to investigate the disappearance of a 15yo girl and the murder of her boyfriend in the NSW coastal town of Fairhaven and takes her son Ben with her on the case to buy some thinking time. While I didn't agree with Gemma's decision to take a case in order to escape her grief and problems (how does this best serve the relatives of the missing and murdered?) neither did any of her family members. Making a decision like that on the day of the funeral and wrenching your son away from all he knows seemed reckless, selfish and irresponsible.

Despite this, I was relieved to discover Gemma had matured quite a lot since the series began with The Dark Lake - and continued with Into the Night - and didn't ruffle my feathers as often as she did early on.

Fairhaven has its fair share of nefarious activities past and present and Gemma doesn't waste any time digging into everybody and everything. The local characters were engaging and the crimes held my interest.

Where the Dead Go can be read as a standalone and is the best book of the series so far in my opinion. Highly recommended. You can read the opening chapters on the publisher's website.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

10 June 2020

Review: The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I love a spooky mansion, crumbling manor, run down estate - or in this case museum - in dire need of a revamp, restructure or makeover. Buildings with history, character and a few good secrets suck me in every time, and together with this beautiful cover design I couldn't resist The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris.

Cate is still mourning the loss of her husband Richard four years on from his death and can no longer afford to live in London. She and her son Leo move to her husband's family home which happens to be a run down Victorian era museum in the town of Crouch-on-Sea. Hatters Museum was founded by Richard's grandfather and houses valuable taxidermy exhibits, however the museum is running at a loss and is at risk of closure.

Richard didn't talk about his family much, but Cate slowly learns about her son Leo's inheritance and the childhood Richard experienced at the property.

My favourite character of the novel by far was the museum; I could readily imagine the grounds and gardens, the exhibits, the domed library and old portraits hanging on the walls. Leo was an unexpected delight and I thoroughly enjoyed Cate's relationship with her son. The scenes with Leo were touching and insightful and well written.

In stark contrast, too much time was spent on Cate's growing relationship with Patch in my opinion, and it began to get on my nerves. I'm not embarrassed to admit the name Patch was a little irritating too.

The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris isn't a creepy, spooky novel, nor does it delve into the past in a dual narrative style I've come to associate with this kind of 'sea-change' inheritance trope. Instead, it's a feel-good contemporary story about relationships, family, depression, loss, parenthood and legacy. An enjoyable read.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

02 June 2020

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern cover
When I started reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, I was full of expectation and excited at the prospect of participating in another buddy read.

Almost immediately I was drawn in by the stories within stories, the fairytale vibe, the evocative writing and incredible imagery. The secret society, underground libraries and corridors full of books and manuscripts as far as the eye could see reminded me of past favourites, including Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. For these reasons and more I was certain I was in for a real treat and possibly a new favourite.
"Do you believe in the mystical, the fantastical, the improbable, or the impossible? Do you believe that things others dismiss as dreams and imagination actually exist? Do you believe in fairy tales?" Page 440
Strictly speaking, fantasy is usually outside of my comfort zone, and there were several story elements that seemed to go nowhere. However I had complete confidence the author would bring the threads together by the end somehow in an astonishingly impressive and rewarding way for the dedicated reader.
"I’m here to sail the Starless Sea and breathe the haunted air." Pg 234
The descriptive writing propelled me through the layers of story and I continued to sail the starless sea with our characters as they opened doors, collected keys, read stories, got lost and then found themselves again. Unfortunately the shine started to wear off at around the midway point for me.
"But most of the memories are stories. Pieces of them. Blind wanderers and star-crossed lovers, grand adventures and hidden treasures. Mad kings and cryptic witches." Page 89
The disparate stories and threads did come together in the end, but in a way I found unbelievable, unrealistic and a little confusing. If the structure of the novel had been based a little more in reality with less fantasy elements, this might have remained a 5 star read for me. Unfortunately it went down a path I'm unskilled at following, regardless of how determined I was to keep pace.
"We are all stardust and stories." Page 373
So, how do I rate a book with extraordinary and evocative writing, a world I desperately wanted to know more about but an ending that didn't deliver? If I give 5 stars for the writing and 3 stars for the story and ending, I think a 4 star rating overall sounds fair.

I wasn't alone in my disappointment, with many of the buddy readers having just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and finding this one lacking the same magic (pun intended). It's very possible I might enjoy The Night Circus more than this, so I've added it to my TBR.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating: