23 July 2021

Review: The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird

The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird book cover
I can't tell you how much I adored this book. Reading The Emporium of Imagination was like sending nourishing warm hot chocolate straight to the soul.

The Emporium of the title is a shop, and Earlatidge is the store's custodian. The shop travels the world to where it's needed and at the start of the book, it's opening in the small town of Boonah. When it magically appears, and the shopkeeper has been found, the store will sell vintage gifts to revive broken dreams, repair relationships, ease grief, soothe broken hearts and more.
"The Emporium is a bustle of a place. People come and go. Some see magic everywhere. Other people see less magic and more a commonplace shop selling quirky vintage wares. It depends on what they expect to see. A person looking for the impossible will find it. One who isn't cannot." Page 215
Set in Boonah in Queensland, this book contains magical realism and even the streets named after weeds seem wonderfully magical. Who wouldn't want to live in Milk Thistle Street, Ragweed Place and Mustard Hedge Road?

Early on in the novel, we learn Earlatidge is gifted with:
"a sight and senses that others don't possess. He can hear other people's grief, an ability that is not only auditory, he can also see those moments as clear as motion pictures in his mind. Often, he can smell the event. Hear the sounds. Sometimes he can taste or even feel things relating to their sadness. He will use this gift to understand people's sorrow and extend invitations to visit the Emporium..." Pages 6-7
The Emporium of Imagination is an incredibly uplifting and life affirming novel delivering messages about regret, lost opportunities, guilt, smothered dreams, love, loss, sorrow, grief, duty, hope, redemption and more to the reader. The Emporium is able to provide just what each customer needs at that point in their life to heal and I think the book does the same for the reader. Some character backstories will resonate more than others, but all are heartwarming and moving.

While touching on such important and deep themes, the novel somehow manages to be quite funny in parts, and I loved the dialogue between the brothers. It's also incredibly creative and I haven't experienced that level of stimulating imagination on the page since reading and falling in love with Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor in 2019. That book easily made my Top 5 Books of 2019 list and I'm positive The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird is going to be on my Top 5 Books of 2021 list. That's how much I enjoyed this book.

Tabitha Bird is an Australian author, and this is the first book I've read of hers, however you better believe that her debut A Lifetime of Impossible Days is now on my TBR pile.

The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird was an absolute highlight of my reading year so far and I highly recommend it. (You can read a FREE extract here).

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


20 July 2021

Review: Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu & Bei Lynn

Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu & Bei Lynn book cover
* Copy courtesy of Walker Books Australia *

I love children's books about libraries, and this offering written and illustrated in Taiwan was a real treat. Leilong the Library Bus is written by Julia Liu, illustrated by Bei Lynn and translated by Helen Wang. Leilong is a clumsy yet loveable brontosaurus dinosaur, and the story begins when Leilong's friends take him to the library for story time.

Leilong finds that he's too small to enter the library and he and the children must decide what to do. My favourite illustration is Leilong's expression when he is pushing and squeezing and trying to fit through the small door; it really made me chuckle.

This picture book is a celebration of libraries and storytelling in general and manages to show how children can be brought together and yet transported by stories. I also enjoyed seeing Leilong's desire to learn more about himself and other dinosaurs by reading dinosaur books.

Leilong the Library Bus by Julia Liu and Bei Lynn is recommended for readers aged 3 years and above and the observant reader will find much to enjoy in the background of the illustrations.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


18 July 2021

Review: Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies & Frances Gies

Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies & Frances Gies book cover
Life in a Medieval Castle
was originally published in 1974 and reissued in 2015, and was used by the author George R. R. Martin as a primary resource when writing his A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the legendary A Game of Thrones adaptation is based. Authors Joseph Gies and Frances Gies were both historians and published many books focussed on medieval history and the Middle Ages, before the married couple passed away in 2006 and 2013 respectively.

I learned a great deal reading this non fiction title which was broken down into many chapters, including 'The Castle Comes to England', 'A Day in the Castle' and 'The Castle at War'. I will say that the black and white photos were terrible and I could hardly make out what was pictured, which is disappointing given the opportunity to include better photography in the reprinting stage in 2015. This is best rectified by having Google Images at your disposal while reading, which is how I enjoyed this title.

There's nothing better than getting down into the nitty gritty of everyday life, and I knew that castle floors were strewn with rushes and herbs which were regularly replaced, but this quote from Erasmus in the book was gold. Erasmus observed that often under the rushes lay:
"an ancient collection of beer, grease, fragments, bones, spittle, excrement of dogs and cats and everything that is nasty." Page 60
Gross! It was interesting to learn on page 76 that the medieval feminine ideal was "blonde, delicate, fair-skinned, boyish of figure." That was a bit of a surprise, although I guess it's not that different to the lean and flat chested ideal in women's fashion in the 1920s.

I love learning about the different roles in households from different eras, and discovered that the role of butler (or bottler) originally worked in the buttery where beverages were kept in butts or bottles. A completely new job title to me was the pantler, who was the servant in charge of the pantry and the bread. I also enjoy identifying surnames that survive today that originate in the duties the person once would have held, like: Archer, Baker, Carter, Cook, Cooper, Chandler, Gardener, Knight, Miller, Smith, and Thatcher to name a few. Joseph Gies and Frances Gies were able to introduce me to a few new ones in Hayward, who was in charge of the haie, and repairing the hedges and fences; and the Woodward, who had charge of the lord's woods and was elected by his fellow villagers.

The descriptions of the food eaten in the period set the taste buds watering, although I don't think I'd like this dish:
"In addition to roasting and stewing, meat might be pounded to a paste, mixed with other ingredients, and served as a kind of custard." Page 112
The authors managed to take the reader through many facets of the medieval castle, focussing on Chepstow as their case study or best example. I think they best summarise the appeal of castles and castle ruins to tourists and wannabe tourists like me in their following conclusion to the book:
"In Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere, with the aid of a guide or a guidebook and some imagination, one can stand in the grassy bailey and re-people the weathered stone ramparts and towers and the vanished wooden outbuildings with archers and knights, servants, horses, and wagoners, the lord and lady and their guests, falcons and hunting dogs, pigs and poultry - all the unkempt, unsafe, unsavoury but irresistibly appealing life of the thirteenth century." Page 224
Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies is recommended for readers with an interest in history, castles (obviously) the Middle Ages and the medieval way of life.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


12 July 2021

Review: The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


Don't you love it when a book takes you completely by surprise? Usually when I see a cover design for a book with a butterfly and flowers on the front, it usually indicates the novel isn't going to be for me. I received an unsolicited copy of The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac from the publisher back in January and it sat on my 'maybe' pile for a few months before I decided to give it a go. Boy was I wrong, I loved this!

Ellie is a social media influencer and avid gardener suffering from agoraphobia. Living in a granny flat behind her parent's home in the English countryside, she makes a living from her sponsored gardening posts on her highly successful Instagram account EnglishCountryGardenista.

I was interested to get to the root cause of Ellie's agoraphobia and when I did, I found I was fascinated by the topic and spent a few nights Googling post-revolution Romania. I remember the shocking footage that emerged in the 1990s showing the terrible living conditions within the orphanages in Romania and it was interesting to explore in this novel what might become of a child raised there.

Offsetting this dark beginning to Ellie's life, her gardening career was a sheer delight to read about and despite not having a green thumb, I really enjoyed following her around the garden and reading her Instagram posts in the book. Those hashtags were a great touch! And the dialogue between Ellie and young Oscar really warmed my heart.

Ellie's struggle to work through her agoraphobia reminded me a little of Amy in Everything Is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray; another case of 'don't judge a book by its cover just because it has flowers on it'. Lesson learned? Maybe not, but these books were definitely two exceptions to my 'rule' this year and both were impressive five star reads.

The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac was a terrifically enjoyable contemporary novel with moments of character insight and inspiration and I was willing Ellie through as she lost her way and dusted herself off again.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


09 July 2021

Review: How to Be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs by Dr Jess French & Sol Linero

How to Be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs by Dr Jess French & Sol Linero book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *


Dr Jess French is a vet, zoologist, naturalist and entomologist and has drawn on her experience and love of animals to produce this children's picture book, How To Be A Vet and Other Animal Jobs.

Beautifully illustrated by Sol Linero, Dr French provides a wide range of jobs that involve looking after animals. I think kids will really enjoy learning about the different types of vet (as I did) and the subjects you need to study at school if you'd like to become a vet.

The recommended reading age for this book is 6-9 year old readers, however I worry that a 6 year old might find a few of the themes in this book upsetting. How To Be A Vet addresses the fact that some vets have to do very upsetting jobs, including post-mortem examinations and visiting slaughterhouses where animals are killed for meat to check that the animals are treated well. One of the animal jobs is an RSPCA inspector who investigates cases of animal cruelty. While I know kids at that age are aware of where their food comes from and the importance of looking after animals, these jobs in particular caught me off guard amongst the delightfully colourful illustrations and gave me pause.

Having said that, Dr French really delivers on the sheer variety of jobs available for people who love looking after animals, ranging from lab technicians, animal trainers, groomers, wildlife rehabilitators, scientists, rangers and plenty more!

How to Be a Vet and Other Animal Jobs by Dr Jess French and Sol Linero is educational and recommended for more mature young readers who might like to work with animals when they grow up.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


05 July 2021

Winners of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald Announced

Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald book cover

Thanks to the readers who entered my giveaway last week to win one of two copies of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald. Everyone answered correctly in that Nancy Business is the gripping, heart-warming and hilarious sequel to The Nancys.

The giveaway closed at midnight last night, and the winning entries were drawn today. Congratulations to:

Andrea & Rosemary


Congratulations Andrea and Rosemary! You've both won a copy of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald valued at $29.99AUD thanks to Allen & Unwin. You'll each receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win.

Carpe Librum!


04 July 2021

Review: A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn

A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn book cover
* Copy courtesy of Transit Lounge *


A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn has a premise that immediately hooked me in. In 2001, Lucie was an intern at a New York law firm having an affair with a married man. Martin was planning on leaving his wife to be with Lucie but after heading off to the World Trade Centre on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, she never saw him again and grieved his loss deeply.

Twenty years later, Lucie is working at a prestigious law firm in London when she receives a note:
"At last I've found you. A shock I'm sure. But in time I'll explain. Martin"
Woah! That was it, I was completely hooked and had to read this book. In January this year, I read The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren and was haunted by this secret: "Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I'm dead."

I've since learned that people have been known to use a natural disaster or major incident as an opportunity to disappear, essentially faking their own deaths in order to start a new life somewhere else. This still fascinates me, so how timely to come across this debut novel exploring the possibility of just that. Does Lucie have a stalker or is Martin really back from the dead after faking his own disappearance?

Set in London, New York and Sydney, Lucie's career situation, friendships and her casual love interests propel the story along making it very readable.

A Voice in the Night is a domestic thriller with a few twists and turns that I definitely didn't see coming. Ultimately, I wanted the story to go a certain way and it didn't, so for that reason, it wasn't a full five star read for me. A Voice in the Night by Australian author Sarah Hawthorn is a solid debut for domestic thriller fans.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:



* This review is featured by Twinkl in their blog about the latest must-read books. See more recommendations and get involved at Book Lovers' Top Picks For Your 2021 TBR List.
30 June 2021

Review: The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald

The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald is a domestic noir novel centred around Paula, a GP in suburban Sydney. She has been friends with Anita and Stacey since high school, but Paula's life is turned upside down when one of these women is the victim of domestic violence early on in the book. This is all in the blurb (so not a spoiler) and The Family Doctor focusses on what happens to Paula in the aftermath of that tragedy. 

Domestic violence is a serious problem in Australia, with one woman losing her life to domestic violence each week in our country.

Through Anita's role as a crime reporter and Paula's as a Doctor, Debra Oswald is able to shed light on this issue in a sensitive and caring way, whilst also forcing us to consider what we might do in their individual circumstances.

We've all visited a GP at some point (some of us more frequently than others) and I'm sure many of us have wondered about our Doctor's other patients and what our GP must have to deal with in a day. Here, Oswald gives us a peek behind the privacy curtain and Paula's unique character perspective was refreshing.

The Australian setting was instantly relatable to me and the plot development felt realistic and insightful. The Family Doctor reads like a thriller, but also contains lighter moments, focussing on the depths of love and friendship as well as grief.

The Family Doctor by Australian author Debra Oswald is recommended for crime and thriller readers and those who enjoy domestic noir. If domestic violence is a trigger for you then choose wisely, as The Family Doctor shines a light on this issue without apology.

You can seize this book at Booktopia or read the opening few pages FREE


My Rating:


25 June 2021

Blog Tour & Friday Freebie Giveaway: Nancy Business by R.W.R McDonald

Blog Tour Schedule for Nancy Business by R.W.R McDonald

Intro

It's a real pleasure to be participating in the Nancy Business Blog Tour with some of my favourite book bloggers in Australia this month. Today, I'm giving away 2 print copies of Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald valued at $29.99AUD thanks to Allen & Unwin

Nancy Business can be read as a stand alone, but is actually the second book in this 'queer cosy crime' series featuring teenage narrator Tippy. AUS entrants only can enter below for a chance to win. Entries close midnight AEST Sunday 4 July 2021, good luck!

Blurb

It's been four months since Tippy, Uncle Pike and Devon were together for Christmas. Now back for the first anniversary of Tippy's father's death, the Nancys are reformed when Riverstone is rocked by an early morning explosion that kills three people and destroys the town hall.
Nancy Business by R.W.R McDonald book cover

A new case is born. Is the accused bomber really guilty? Is there a second bomber? And if so, does that mean a threat to destroy Riverstone Bridge is real? And is asparagus a colour? Once again, it is up to the Nancys to go against the flow and ignore police orders to get to the truth.

It's great to be back in Nancy business again, but this time it's all different. Uncle Pike and Devon can't agree on anything and Tippy is learning hard truths about the world and the people she loves the most. Can the Nancys stay together to do their best work and save the town? Or will the killer strike again? When everyone is right, does that make you wrong? And can Tippy ever trust anyone again?


Find out more at rwrmcdonald.com 

Giveaway

This giveaway has now closed.





24 June 2021

Review: Dream Big, Little Mole by Tom Percival

Dream Big, Little Mole by Tom Percival, illustrated by Christine Pym, book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *


Dream Big, Little Mole by Tom Percival is a delightful children's book illustrated by Christine Pym.

In the beginning of the book, Mole tries to find out what her skill is. After receiving some sage advice from Owl ("Be Brilliant. Be You!") Mole takes off on her new adventure and meets some friends along the way. 

Things don't quite go to plan, but by the end of the story Mole has also managed to discover her hidden talent.

Mole's story is told in a clever rhyme with a very pleasing rhythm and I've recently learned rhyming is important in helping young children to develop their language and literacy skills.

This picture book is such a warm story and the cute illustrations of the animals and their habitats are adorable. I really enjoyed accompanying Mole on her journey, and Dream Big, Little Mole by Tom Percival will be a joy to read with little ones.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


22 June 2021

Review: Dust by Michael Marder

Dust by Michael Marder book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *

Dust by Michael Marder is the fifth title in my series of book reviews drawn from the Object Lessons series by Bloomsbury Academic. The series aims to take average items from our everyday lives and explore them in brief for the reader's enjoyment and I was very much looking forward to Dust.

I thought Marder was going to give us the science on what dust is, what it is made of, how it varies in different locations, how it travels and settles and our constant efforts to remove it. I hoped he was going to touch on cool topics like: space dust, coal dust, 911 dust, dust storms, asbestos and cosmic dust, but alas, you'll find none of that here. Marder makes it clear early on that he is going to be examining dust through the eyes of a philosopher.
"To take the correlation between the dust that we are and the dust outside us at face value is to jump into a thicket of metaphysical issues." Page 8
I tried to keep up, but the more philosophers he quoted from (Jean Paul-Sartre, Husserl, Leibniz, Plato, Nietzsche, Kant and Aristotle to name drop a few) and the more philosophical his writing became, the more my eyes rolled back into my skull.
"What I like about the allegory of dusting is that it elucidates how critique, reduction, or deconstruction cannot achieve their objectives once and for all. Just as dust will continue accumulating after every attempt to get rid of it, so prejudices and preconceptions will keep accruing after analysis (no matter how radical) shakes received ideas to the core." Page 15
While it was fun to go and look up words from the book I didn't know, (e.g. fugacious refers to something that is quick to disappear, fleeting or not lasting very long), the novelty quickly wore off and I began to slowly drown in this pretentious waffle.

Those with allergies won't be happy to read that after several pages of philosophical argument, allergies have been reduced to:
"... the misplaced reactions of spirit out of place to matter out of place." Page 58-59
Marder's thoughts on dusting had me wondering whether his place is covered in sheets of dust and the corners of his abode populated by dust bunnies.
"The daily fight against dust on the invisible domestic front is fated to displace and redistribute rather than eliminate it. But to displace 'matter out of place' is to obey its own anarchic directive! We labor under the misconception that, in the course of cleaning or dusting, we expel the undesirable from the dwelling and, with this sweepingly decisive gesture, reassert the law of the house, its economy. We work to prevent the 'foreign work' of allergic reaction. Yet, foreign to itself, dust has already challenged and enervated our designs from the get-go." Page 59-60
And then we get to Chapter 5, A Community of Remnants which reads like a scrapbook of ideas and quotes from authors with the word 'dust' in them, that had no relation to each other. It's almost as if the author had too much content for the Object Lessons format and had to leave these random thought bubbles and idea dumps on the page. Remnants is the perfect description for this chapter, and I'm not exaggerating. Each entry was encapsulated in curly brackets, here's an example:
"{{Let's be crystal clear: Dust is not a symbol of anarchic communities. It is their all-too-real apotheosis.}}" Page 73
These random snippets were just that, random and nonsensical and seemed to be copied straight from the author's clipboard. But the author really lost me when he wondered on Page 76:
"What would an eyelash say, wordlessly, to minuscule bits of a sofa's faux leather, with which it mingles in the dust?"
Earlier in the book, Marder had been arguing that dust is essentially part of us, it is made up of us, and when we try and clear it away, we're clearing away ourselves or rendering ourselves anonymous. I thought this was ridiculous, and this reverence for dust struck me as odd. We leave evidence of our bodies behind all the time on our clothes, on our dishes and in our bathrooms but we don't second guess our desire to clean them away do we? The idea that dust particles might talk to each other? Sorry, you've lost me there.

When the author was addressing his 'imaginary interlocutors' on page 82, I'm almost certain he wasn't imagining me. I'm definitely not his target audience. I'm not an aspiring philosopher, armchair philosopher, a student of philosophy or an academic who enjoys a deep dive into the metaphysical nature of things. I'm just not. I'm a reader with a wide range of interests who enjoys non-fiction, and I've got to say, I have never seen such pomposity on the page.

I will say there were one or two sparks of interest, such as this one from page 22:
"...extensive glaciers on Mars would have evaporated long ago, were it not for thick layers of dust protecting the ice." Page 22 
Fascinating! As was the mention of the use of dust in art towards the end of the book. Sadly, there were very few moments like these, with the content being largely inaccessible to the average reader. Dust by Michael Marder has been written for a select and elite group of readers and doesn't have a wide appeal.

Next in the series is Silence by John Biguenet, and I have much higher hopes for that one.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:



20 June 2021

Winners of Widow's Island by LA Larkin Announced

Widow's Island by LA Larkin book cover
Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway last week to win one of two signed copies of Widow's Island by Australian author L.A. Larkin.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Friday night, and the winning entries were drawn today. Congratulations to:

Sharon Hill & Tara L


Congratulations Sharon & Tara! You've both won a signed copy of Widow's Island by L.A. Larkin valued at $30.00 thanks to the author. You'll each receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win, so start thinking about how you'd like your book signed and inscribed.

For those of you who missed out, stay tuned for another chance to win on Friday 25 June 2021. If you want to know which book I'll be giving away, check out my giveaways page for more info.

Carpe Librum!



17 June 2021

Review: Katharine Parr - The Sixth Wife (Six Tudor Queens VI) by Alison Weir

Katharine Parr - The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir has finally come to an end with the release of Katharine Parr - The Sixth Wife. I've been following this historical fiction series since book two (Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession) and they've all been 5 star reading experiences.

Each book is about the life of the queen in the title, and I was looking forward to Weir's representation of twice widowed Katharine Parr. The novel starts in 1517 when Katharine is just 5 years of age, and the excellent writing, research and storytelling in evidence throughout the series is definitely on show here. These historical figures are expertly brought to life, and I don't recall where I first heard it (it could have been from one of many Tudor inspired documentaries, movies, TV shows or books) but I enjoyed seeing this quote from King Henry VIII in the book:
"He has no idea what I really think of him. That's my method, Kate. Play off one against the other. Divide and rule, and keep your hand close. Believe me, if I thought my cap knew what I was thinking, I would throw it in the fire!" Page 346
I enjoyed learning more about Katharine Parr, especially since the novel covers many of the same events as The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory. Another favourite historical fiction author, In The Taming of the Queen, Gregory tells Kateryn (note different spelling) Parr's story in the first person. The fact that I read it when it was released back in 2015 provided enough distance to appreciate the similarities but also space to notice the differences between the two books. The painting that featured so prominently in Philippa Gregory's novel doesn't take up much time in this story and I can't help feeling a little disappointed by that; given how much I adore the portrait and the story behind it.

The slightly different take on Katharine's religious leanings, her achievement in bringing King Henry VIII's children Prince Edward, Mary and Elizabeth to court and convincing the King to change the Act of Succession made for fascinating reading. The deplorable behaviour by Prince Edward's uncle after the death of Henry VIII was just as frustrating to read here as it must have been to endure, but I could relate to Katharine's internal struggle about whether to fight the fact that the King wanted her to be Regent or let it go and focus on her own happiness instead.

Reading Katharine Parr - The Sixth Wife was a refresher on the scandals of the Tudor court, the political influences and of course the Reformation and changes in religious doctrine at the time. Weir takes us right up to Katharine Parr's death in 1548 from childbed fever at Sudely Castle. She was only 38 at the time of her death, and passed away just 1 year and 8 months after Henry VIII.

As with the rest of the series, the passing of the main character at the end of the book was a very moving scene. I found myself doing a lot of Googling after the last page to remind myself how things ended for the other characters and to get a better sense of Sudeley Castle. It's an amazing castle and I'd love to visit there one day, but it was a shock to find out that historians disagree about what eventually became of Katharine's daughter with Thomas Seymour.

Katharine Parr - The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir can easily be read as a stand alone and is recommended for historical fiction fans with an interest in the Tudor period. I'm sorry to have reached the end of this magnificent series, and the only thing left for me to do now is go back and read the first book, Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen.

Please enjoy my reviews of the previous novels in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir below:
Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession (Book II)
Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (Book III)
Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets (Book IV)
Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Wife (Book V)

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


14 June 2021

Guest Review: Email by Randy Malamud

Email by Randy Malamud book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *


INTRO

In a continuation of my series of reviews from Bloomsbury Academic's Object Lessons is a guest review by Neil Béchervaise of Email by Randy Malamud.

Neil's Review

To: Critical_Readers@everywhere.wot
CC: other_readers@elsewear.wot.qt
BCC: sum_mmoor@nocansee.wot

Subject: Randy Malamud's email re Email

Hi reader,

150 pages about email definitely provides an object lesson in the value of emergent technologies.

Isn't it great that we now have entire IT departments to manage our computer requirements? That we have a 'safe' password with miscellaneous C@ps,l0wer case letters and randOm num3rals secured @ some mysterious location beyond the grasp of hackers - Russian, Nigerian and teenager-next-door - that we can finally relax at work? That we can trawl through our emails at leisure, reply all - or maybe BCC the few who really need to know - and feel relatively comfortable in recognition of the fact that our actual effectiveness has dropped by about 25% and that is quite all right?

Malamud's contribution to Bloomsbury's series of 70-odd Object Lessons provides some interesting history in the development of communications technology, some salutary lessons in the value of its implementation and a very well researched but never quite explicitly stated argument for why we should probably dismiss the old chestnut that "Computers are your friends, they save you time".

Indubitably, email has become one of the great time-fillers of the 21st century - so far. Yes we wake to check our emails, we take our phone with us to the wash-room (just in case anything important comes through) and we check for those crucial after-hours messages before we turn out the lights at night. Malamud's Email, however, does even more than that. It provides a deeply considered commentary on both the relative value of the email when compared with that personalised yet almost extinct ink-to-paper communication, the letter.

Querying the authenticity of 'the in-box', within which accumulates, without so much as a secretary or a postie ever passing, the 'junk mail' and 'spam' accumulate, Malamud provides a humorous if somewhat cynical (and is that ironic, or not?) several hours of reading which could have been spent clearing and/or replying to another overload of vital mail.

I must say that I enjoyed Randy Malamud's Email. It dragged me away from my keyboard, reminded me of a time long passed when I, too, took time out to write (and cross out and rewrite and add margin notes on paper with a pen or a pencil). More significantly, Email engaged me in a brief reflection on the extent to which we have endangered our social networking skills with technology. Most of all perhaps, it gave me a laugh at the susceptibility of the academic to enticements to publish - so s/he does not perish. Maybe email has a place, after all.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


Neil's Rating:


11 June 2021

Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I enjoy an historical fiction novel that follows a house through time and I've reviewed quite a few of them favourably here on Carpe Librum over the years. However, The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly doesn't just follow a manor house through time, more specifically, it follows a garden.

Julia Kelly has taken the structure of the dual narrative and split it even further to create three narratives spanning five female characters.

Present day: Emma is the owner of a small business engaged to restore the overgrown and neglected gardens at Highbury House, originally designed in 1907 by Venetia Smith.

1944: The owner of Highbury House Diana is dealing with the recent transformation of her late husband's house into a convalescent hospital for soldiers injured in the war. Stella is a cook at Highbury House desperate to escape and her friend Beth is a land girl working on a nearby farm.

1907: Venetia Smith has been hired to plan and design the gardens for the family at Highbury House and her groundbreaking (sorry, couldn't help it) designs will leave an impression for generations to come.

The Last Garden in England is the story of all five women (Emma, Diana, Stella, Beth and Venetia) and even though the chapter headings clearly inform the reader about whose chapter is about to follow, I'll admit, it did get a little muddy at times trying to keep their goings on straight in my mind.

Having said that, the author does a good job of reminding the reader where they are in time with clever references. For example, after a chapter set during the food rationing of the war, the reader is shocked back into the present day when a character in the next chapter has a cube of sugar in their tea.

The writing was evocative, and the individual struggles, secrets, desires and ambitions of the women mentioned above made for an engaging read.
"It felt as though all of these years she'd been watching her memories from behind glass, and Cynthia had just swung a hammer." Page 267
Julia Kelly's passion for plants and knowledge about gardens and gardening clearly shines through, and even though I'm not a gardener myself (or even a green thumb), I didn't need any background in order to enjoy this element of the story. My favourite character in the book was Emma, probably because she takes on the job of restoring the overgrown gardens and I do love a good 'makeover'. Also, I couldn't go past the name of the company Turning Back Thyme and her best friend Charlie. They were such a great combo, I loved their chapters.

I wondered how the author was going to effectively 'wrap up' the narratives for each of the characters, and I was pleased with the ending. Ultimately, I recommend The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly to historical fiction fans familiar with a multiple narrative structure who have no problem keeping a large cast of characters clear in their minds. There will definitely be some rewards on the page for those who do so.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


09 June 2021

WIN 1 of 2 signed copies of Widow's Island by L.A. Larkin

Widow's Island by L.A. Larkin book cover
Australian author L.A. Larkin is back with a crime thriller to chill you to the bone this winter. Check out the blurb and enter below for your chance to win one of two signed print copies of Widow's Island valued at $30.00AUD for yourself or a loved one. Entries close midnight Friday 18th June 2021. Good luck!

BLURB

Someone knows your secret. And they’re coming to find you…

It’s already dark when Stephanie Miller returns to her remote lakeside home on Whisper Island. It’s only been a few months since her husband died, and her bond with her daughter is stronger than ever. Calling Amy’s name, Stephanie hears her phone buzz inside her purse. She doesn’t have to look to know that it’s another anonymous threat, she’s had them all day. But now she sees that this one is different. Someone knows she’s just walked through the door. Someone is watching her every move…

Stephanie’s skin prickles. Whoever is behind the messages is close to her family. They know her secret and she will do anything to stop Amy finding out. As she nervously looks out across the pitch-black water something moves. Is that a dark figure watching her from the shadows? One minute he’s
there, the next he’s gone.

Days later, the police still have no leads. Stephanie knows she can’t risk being trapped on the island again. Then, her best friend is murdered in her own home and Stephanie’s only thought is for Amy. But little does she know, the killer has already made contact with her daughter and he’s about to make his biggest move yet.

When a huge storm cuts off the island from the mainland, Stephanie feels like a sitting duck, waiting for the killer to come knocking. Although she will do anything to protect her precious family, she’s totally unprepared for what the killer does next…

GIVEAWAY

This giveaway has now closed and the two winners will be announced soon.



04 June 2021

Interview with Jacqueline Bublitz, author of Before You Knew My Name

Jacqueline Bublitz author photo, credit The Virtue
Jacqueline Bublitz
Credit: The Virtue
Before You Knew My Name
is the 'it' book of the moment, setting aside the perpetrator-led style of narrative in favour of a crime novel that gives agency back to the victim. Australian author Jacqueline Bublitz joins me to answer some questions from New Zealand, where she's been since the pandemic began.


Welcome to Carpe Librum and congratulations on your debut crime novel Before You Knew My Name.
Thank you for your support! It’s been an amazing ride so far, though I still sometimes struggle to believe this is real life.

Is it true your manuscript was the subject of a bidding war?
Before I was on submission, I’d heard terms like ‘auction’ and ‘bidding war’ and it all sounded very serious (and exciting). I love the business side of things, and it was exciting when multiple publishers showed interest in the manuscript, though thankfully it doesn’t get very war-like, ha. Everyone was so generous with their vision for the book, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have this as my first experience of the industry. It does help to have an incredible agent on your side, and mine is the best of the best.

How do you think you'd react if you found the remains of a victim of crime?
When she finds Alice’s body, Ruby’s reaction is one of frantic desperation, and I never wrote those scenes any other way – which makes me think that is how I might react in a similar situation. I imagine you’d go into shock at first, and there would be this grasping for what you’ve seen in all those TV shows, a kind of scrambling around for what to do, how to help. My instinct is that you really would feel a connection to the case, and to the victim. What little research I could find on people who have discovered the bodies of murder victims does seem to suggest that.

I read that you visited morgues in New York when researching your book. How is this kind of visit arranged? What impact did it have on you?
Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz book cover
A more accurate description would be that I totally lurked around a morgue in New York. A police officer I’d met told me to go down to 1st Avenue, to OCME (Office of Chief Medical Examiner), where he said they take unidentified bodies. I had no credentials or any legitimate reason to be there, so I mostly spent a lot of time in the area, checking out the neighbourhood. There used to be a psychiatric hospital, Bellevue, next door and the buildings have that kind of creepy, historic beauty that makes you half-expect to see a face pressed up against one of the barred windows, you know? The morgue itself is fairly ordinary, though I only ever made it to the lobby. I knew no one was going to let me go downstairs, so I just people-watched and soaked up the atmosphere, and then got asked to leave when I wanted to take some photographs!

I did make friends with a mortuary embalmer from Brisbane, however. So, I had lots of wonderful, detailed notes from her to help describe Lennie’s work, while my own experiences were better suited to Ruby’s awkward encounter when she goes looking for Alice at the morgue.

I really enjoyed the inclusion of the online sleuth community in your book and would love to know more. Are you a member of any true crime forums? Do you think you would make a great online sleuth? Do you believe web sleuths help or harm investigations?
I can see how addictive it would be! I never joined any, but a co-worker who was involved in some of these communities introduced me to the most active forums, and I loved lurking about (so much lurking with this book!), reading all of the theories and analysis put forward. I’m not sure I’d make for a good online sleuth because you probably need a little more patience than I have. I did always want to be a private investigator though, like Laura Holt from Remington Steele, so the desire is there. But I’d have to do stakeouts on foot, because I don’t drive.

As to whether I think web sleuths help or harm, I think bringing attention to cold cases in particular might help, even if it’s in tangential ways. The idea that someone knows the truth is what fascinates (and frustrates) me with these cases, so keeping the conversation going around crimes that might otherwise be forgotten can only be a positive thing. And just look at the work Michelle McNamara did with helping draw attention to the so-called Golden State Killer through I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. That book was such an inspiration to me.

I was late to the party, but I enjoyed I'll Be Gone in the Dark too. You mention in your bio that you're an arachnophobe and I'm dying to ask you about that. I fear spiders too and after experiencing nightmares for years, I found hypnotherapy helpful in managing the phobia. How does your phobia affect you?
Arghhh! It’s so bad I can’t even imagine getting help. Because I just know it would involve direct contact at some point. So, bravo to you for what I’m too scared to do! It’s a bit easier here in New Zealand, where the spiders still have all the legs, but they don’t tend to be the size of my hand. I have even managed to capture a few Kiwi spiders and put them outside, which is a massive step forward for me. I don’t hate spiders, and I get annoyed at myself, but the reaction is just so visceral. When I’m in Australia, it means I refuse to go camping, and I am always on high alert in places like Byron Bay. And I always flick down the visor in cars before I get in. Little things like that, and thankfully very few nightmares, which tend to be populated by roving lions instead. Which is a whole other story.

Thankfully I didn't need to do any direct contact, and was only exposed to drawings and images, but it was enough to make a difference so definitely well worth it. Before the pandemic, you were living between Melbourne Australia and the North Island of New Zealand. How has the inability to travel back to Australia impacted your writing career and your life?
I moved to Melbourne when I was 18 and stayed for over twenty years, so I always say it’s the place that grew me up. I used to travel back to New Zealand to see family every year, and only moved home when my dad got sick. I assumed it was temporary – and then it wasn’t. My last trip to Melbourne was February 2020. I’d just signed with my agent in the UK, and I remember telling my friends I’d be back within three months. Covid had other plans, and still does – I was meant to come back to Melbourne the first week of June, some sixteen months after I left. I’m conscious that I have little to complain about; I’ve been very lucky to be in regional New Zealand during a pandemic, and the publishing industry has adapted extraordinarily well to how remote we all are these days. That said, I miss my friends desperately. They were with me through so many of the ups and downs of my writing career, and I can’t wait to throw them all a big party to say thank you for their belief in me, even when I wasn’t so sure of myself. Soon … soon!

Has the pandemic changed your reading or writing habits in any way?
Honestly, most of the big changes in my life happened the year before, in coming back to New Zealand, and helping to nurse my dad. The pandemic, at a personal level, has often felt like an extension of that time. Back then, I was drawn to books and TV shows that were all about connection, and perhaps unsurprisingly, life being upended in some way. Schitt’s Creek and Younger are perfect examples of what I think of as my ‘grief genre’, and they both got me through some tough times, because for a while there, I struggled to write, and it was hard for any book to hold my attention. But when I did start writing again, I couldn’t stop. I guess everything had been bottled up, and then it just poured out.

When it comes to the pandemic – or any kind of trauma – and creativity, I hope people are being kind to themselves. If you have periods where you’re not creating anything at all, that’s okay. Do something to nourish yourself, instead. Until you’re ready. Because what’s for you will never go by you, I really believe that (and I really should learn who that’s attributed to, because it’s one of my favourite sayings).


Is there a book by a Kiwi writer you believe deserves more attention?
Cousins by Patricia Grace book cover
Oooooh, good question! In terms of current releases, I would say that everyone should pick up a copy of Michelle Langstone’s beautiful book of essays, Times Like These. The writing is just so elegant, and honest. I also love that a book like Cousins, by one of our most celebrated writers, Patricia Grace, has just been turned into a gorgeous film, nearly 30 years after it was first published.

What's on your bedside table right now?
A book of essays by Audre Lorde, a late-blooming flower from my parent’s garden, and an old race book of my dad’s, from the 1960 Melbourne Cup.

What can you tell us about your next novel?
I’m editing at the moment, which is fun, because I love seeing everything come together, and finding all the little gifts past-me left for current-me to find! Thematically, this new story has quite a lot in common with Before You Knew My Name, although it’s set in small-town New Zealand, not big city New York. It deals with life, and death, and ghosts (maybe!), and there’s a really nice love story in there. I genuinely like these new characters, which feels like a good start.

Oooh, I love a book with ghosts, sounds great! Anything else you'd like to add?
Just a big thank you to readers and bloggers, and this incredibly welcoming community. I feel very, very lucky that Before You Knew My Name has been embraced by so many people, and I love all the insightful responses and reactions to Alice’s story (I still try to read all the reviews). It’s a book I poured my heart into, and this has been the most gratifying experience. When it’s not terrifying, ha!

Thanks so much for joining me Jacqueline and good luck for the next book! To find out more, visit www.jacquelinebublitz.com 
03 June 2021

Review: Mrs England by Stacey Halls

Mrs England by Stacey Halls book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Mrs England by Stacey Halls is one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2021 and I was thrilled when it delivered on all of my hopes and expectations. From the stunning cover design, the enticing premise, the Edwardian era setting and location at Hardcastle House in West Yorkshire, Mrs England is everything I love in historical fiction.

Ruby May is a qualified nurse from the Norland Institute in London and after her employers move to America, Nurse May finds herself frantically looking for work so she can continue to support her ailing sister. Accepting a position at the isolated Hardcastle House, Ruby eagerly agrees to look after three children from the family of wealthy mill owners Charles and Lilian England. The previous nurse had cared for Charles as a boy and died of natural causes and Nurse May finds her new surroundings lacking. She immediately embarks on a drastic 'makeover' of the nursery, cleans and dusts, mends the children's clothes and takes the children outdoors to play every day. This kind of 'manor makeover' is total bookish catnip to me. I love when a governess or nursemaid shakes things up for the better, and I was in heaven during these pages.

Mrs Lilian England keeps strange hours, doesn't interact much with the children and doesn't involve herself in the running of the household. Mr England is friendly, relaxed and approachable and it's soon clear who really runs the house. This is a slow moving gothic tale, with Ruby's past carefully revealed and the relationships between the characters slowly evolving.

Reading Mrs England felt like being immersed in the world of Downtown Abbey. Not much happens but I just loved being there, the interactions and back stories of the characters being enough to keep me transfixed. It is for this reason that the denouement came as quite a surprise and everything I thought I knew was turned slightly on its head. Oh, and the last line of dialogue between the characters made me exclaim out loud and impatient to discuss it with another reader.

I've read all of Stacey Halls' books, beginning with The Familiars in 2019 and The Foundling in 2020, both of which were 5 star reads. You can understand why Mrs England was high on my watch list, and I'm thrilled to report it was also a 5 star reading experience. This makes Stacey Halls an automatic must-read author for me and I can't wait to find out what what she's working on next.

Highly recommended for historical fiction fans.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


30 May 2021

Review: Grave Tales - Melbourne Vol.1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams

Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol.1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams book cover
* Copy courtesy of Atlas Productions *


Cemeteries are beautiful and haunting places, a reminder of our collective grief, the passage of time and of course our own mortality. Several years ago, I went on a walking tour of the St Kilda Cemetery on Dandenong Road in Melbourne run by volunteers from Friends of St Kilda Cemetery. I noted the warnings about uneven ground, however I rolled my ankle and had to hop back to the car just 10 minutes after the tour had started.

Years later I became a regular listener of the Grave Tales Australia podcast by Helen Goltz and Chris Adams, and I enjoyed the stories of those laid to rest in cemeteries around Australia. However podcasts aren't able to provide any visuals and I wanted to view photos of the gravesites being described and the people being discussed. Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol.1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams is the seventh book derived from the podcast series and contains photos and stories inspired by the resting places of those buried in this great city and it was an interesting read.

In particular, it opened my eyes to at least two events in my suburb that I knew nothing about. In April 1927, the RAAF was involved in celebrating the royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of York as part of their national tour. At least 40 aircraft were involved in aerial manoeuvres and flybys, but disaster struck when two of the aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision. One of the aircraft crashed into the Postmaster General's garage in Sturt Street and the other crashed in nearby Dodds Street. A total of 5 RAAF men lost their lives in an air disaster witnessed by thousands.

Another incident close to where I live was the Botanic Gardens murders. In January 1924, a WWI veteran entered the gardens at Park Street near the Domain and began shooting members of the public with his rifle. In just 4 minutes, he shot 5 people, killing 3 and changing the lives of many before he fled the gardens and later committed suicide. In each chapter, Goltz and Adams go on to inform the reader about what happened to those involved in a 'where are they now' style which adds to the reading experience.

Early in the book, Goltz and Adams provide an overview of the establishment of cemeteries in Melbourne, and several interesting facts, including Burial Hill, which we now know as Flagstaff Gardens and of course the Old Melbourne Cemetery (as its now known) at the site of the Queen Victoria Markets. In the 1880s, the government passed a law requiring the removal of all bodies from the cemetery which unfortunately didn't commence until the 1920s. There were significant problems identifying the plots due to a missing burial register of 1866, the lack of adequate headstones, and the fact that many of the timber markers hadn't survived the weather. Only 914 remains were relocated to other cemeteries, which means the QVM still contains the remains of 9,000 early settlers. The cemetery was officially closed in 1922 and the land was given over to the Melbourne City Council for the market.

After learning that Springvale Cemetery opened in 1902 and Fawkner Cemetery opened shortly after in 1906, the authors had me rushing off to Google Maps after reading that:
"If you could see Springvale from the air it has a 'Union Jack' design and Fawkner is designed as a half spider's web." Page 5
Did you know Melbourne had mortuary trains, "that had special hearse carriages to carry coffins to Springvale and Fawkner cemeteries while mourners took the regular carriages." I was fascinated to learn that a "mortuary train ran once daily from a special mortuary station near Princes Bridge in the city" before services ceased in 1943.

Fascinating stuff, and readers with a similar interest in cemeteries might be interested in my review of Necropolis - London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold.

Reading Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol.1 took me on an interesting trip through the streets of Melbourne with fresh eyes and I recommend it for taphophiles and non fiction readers interested in social history. 

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


26 May 2021

Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Literary horror anyone? Until this month, I was unfamiliar with the literary horror genre, but it's fair to say The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward fits squarely within this sub-genre.

Since then, I've discovered that several titles I've read and reviewed actually fall into the literary horror genre, including:

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James ⭐⭐⭐
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
* Countless novels by Stephen King
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist ⭐⭐
The Road by Cormac McCarthy ⭐⭐⭐
Melmoth by Sarah Perry ⭐⭐⭐
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Dracula by Bram Stoker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters ⭐⭐⭐

Now that we're all suitably oriented, what can you expect inside this hauntingly enticing cover of The Last House on Needless Street? A mysterious mind f*** of a novel, that's what you can expect. In fact, the blurb tells us as much.
This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.
The unreliable narrator is a well-worn trope now and I thought that's what I was going to encounter here, but I was swiftly forced to think again.

The Last House on Needless Street is a dark novel that begins as an unassuming mystery luring you in chapter by chapter until all of a sudden, the light has gone, a shiver crawls across your back and you're immersed in the murky depths of the plot.

The reader will need to accept the dynamic between the multiple narrators, Ted, Olivia, Lauren and Dee, including the fact that one of them is a cat. I don't mind an unusual narrator, and I actually enjoyed the chapters narrated by the cat.

Being a middle aged reader, I was familiar with the literary plot device towards the end (both in fiction and in real life) so it didn't catch me completely off guard, however younger readers (or those less engaged with certain topics) will have their minds blown when they get to the 'cut and thrust' of what's happening in the story. But don't worry, no spoilers here.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward is for readers with the stomach to plow ahead regardless of content warnings and those who enjoy a dark psychological thriller with literary leanings.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


24 May 2021

Spotlight: Survivor - Life in the SAS by Mark Wales

Survivor: Life in the SAS by Mark Wales book cover
Intro

Long before I became a book reviewer, I served in the Royal Australian Navy. I've reviewed several military memoirs at Carpe Librum over the years, but today I wanted to shine a spotlight on a powerful memoir coming out this week.

Survivor: Life in the SAS by Mark Wales is published by Pan Macmillan tomorrow and you might remember the veteran - and now published author - from the TV show Australian Survivor in 2017. I enjoyed the season immensely and was happy for Wales when he married his on-screen sweetheart Samantha Gash later in 2019.

In 2013, I had the honour of interviewing Major General John Cantwell AO, DSC and in his words, Survivor: Life in the SAS is 'searing, humbling and uplifting... Mark Wales is a true inspiration.'

If you're looking for a moving and inspiring memoir about courage, redemption, transformation and purpose by an honest Australian, look no further.

Blurb

How do you rebuild your life when you've hit rock bottom?

Mark Wales thought his life would end in a cornfield in Afghanistan.

Mark and his SAS troops emerged from that scorched battlefield twelve hours later, his mentor gunned down, his dream career now a nightmare. Over four deployments of intense warfighting, Mark watched the line between right and wrong become blurred. When he left the SAS he was adrift, crippled by guilt.

On a mission to rebuild himself, Mark turned his life around. He fought his way into the gates of a US Ivy League business school and into the boardrooms of top-tier international corporations. He spent years navigating failure in a quest to find new meaning in life. With every setback Mark counterattacked, discovering the tactics and tools needed to become more resilient, and to find happiness, belonging and purpose.

Told with gripping suspense, humour and touching warmth,
Survivor is Mark's extraordinary life in and out of the SAS, a story of resilience and a testament to the power of transformation.
Author Mark Wales

Bio

As a teenager growing up in the mining towns of Western Australia, Mark Wales had a zealous ambition; to join Australia's most revered military unit, the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). He achieved his goal, embarking on a professional career that would eventually lead him to Afghanistan. There, as a troop commander in charge of 30 elite soldiers, Mark led combat missions deep behind enemy lines.
 
Today, he is an accomplished corporate speaker, an apparel business founder and owner, and proud family man. Mark lives with his wife Samantha, and young son in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria. Visit Mark's website for more info www.markwales.com.au 

You can seize this book at Booktopia.



21 May 2021

Guest Review: Post Mortem by Gary Bell

Post Mortem by Gary Bell book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *


INTRO

Post Mortem is the second in the series by Gary Bell featuring Barrister Elliot Rook QC, a character with a secret criminal past. Guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise shares his review below.

NEIL'S REVIEW

The central character in Gary Bell’s second novel has apparently moved from convicted fraudster through homeless student sleeping rough to barrister and QC in the inner court chambers of a respected London legal firm. The publisher’s blurb suggests that knowledge of this background would destroy his career. As a lay reader, I would have thought so too; I would have thought he could never get so far. In fact, while this may provide an interesting backstory to an otherwise fairly plausible tale of corruption, drug-peddling and murder within the prison system and Wormwood Scrubs in particular, it does push the limits.

In equally dubious fashion, ‘pupil’ lawyer Zara’s desperate quest for recognition and acceptance into the same legal firm ahead of apparently numerous similarly qualified and ambitious young ‘pupils’ suggests that the author may be trying too hard. In the only real elaboration of her character, Zara is described on Page 20 as “a gay woman of mixed race with a council-estate background and thick Nottinghamshire accent” – an unlikely recruit to a leading London law firm? Fortunately, the real story lies in the solution of ‘the crime’.

Rook’s early encounter with a kennel-full of killer dogs being trained for illegal dog-fights leads to his saving a particularly cruelly treated ‘bait dog’ and encountering an especially large, white, rare and savage breed, dogo argentinos, illegal in the UK but being trained, here, for ‘special customers’.

When the image of a large white dog appears behind the front door of Rook’s latest client, Charli, charged with smuggling illegal drugs into the prison where she works, the basis for the plot is established. Before she has even been arrested, however, 13 prison inmates have been murdered. But how are the offences connected?

As Rook and Zara collaborate to bring related cases to court, Bell’s capacity to inter-relate complex legal points with a compelling storyline offers fascinating insights into the evolution of the criminal gang in Britain. From the territorial protection of inner-city slums to the evolution of racially based criminal gangs promoted through massive housing projects, Post Mortem offers insights into the manipulation of the poorer classes. At the same time, it identifies the legal and humanitarian issues arising from overcrowding and unemployment among those groups who have been ‘left behind’ across a shift in social and economic needs since the industrial revolution.

The ultimate overlap between criminal and judicial power presented in Bell’s denouement, while perhaps a little too convenient, presents his readers with a fascinating picture of the entrenched issues of class, race and social necessity in Britain in the twenty-first century. Public housing may reduce homelessness but it does not, it seems, address the fundamental issue of purpose in life, regardless of the country it is focused within.

Bell’s Post Mortem has its problems with character and plot plausibility but the thematic issues it raises and the range of action it presents between crime and justice make it an interesting read.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


Neil's Rating: