28 January 2021

Guest Review: The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *


You might recall Neil BΓ©chervaise's review of Fair Warning by Michael Connelly back in September 2020. Today he's back to share his thoughts on The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly, published in November 2020 and the sixth book in the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller series.


If we were ever arrested, I imagine, most of us probably believe that we would be “innocent until proven guilty”. Connelly’s latest Lincoln lawyer thriller takes this presumption to court to reveal that there is no such thing as a “Law of Innocence”.

Mickey Haller, unexpectedly charged with murder, becomes his own defence lawyer. Briefly freed on bail, he manages to set up the shaky beginnings of a defence before he is jailed again on a more serious charge. More serious than murder? But Haller is defending himself, and, as has been well established in previous Lincoln lawyer novels, prosecutors do not like defence lawyers.

More seriously, before the trial has even begun, Haller realises that being found “not guilty” will be insufficient to maintain his reputation, probably even his registration as a lawyer. The shadow of possible guilt will hang over him. He must establish that someone else is guilty to determine that he is ‘innocent’. Connolly is playing us as readers, again. 
“Innocence is not a legal term. No one is ever found innocent in a court of law … The law of innocence is unwritten.” Page 105
Haller’s case quickly involves the FBI so it must involve some federal crime. The grease under the corpse’s fingernails tips us off to a scam involving recycled foodstuffs and a company named BioGreen Industries, but that only broadens the plot and, as Haller observes: 
“A trial often comes down to who is the better storyteller.” Page 190
Buoyed by the support of his two ex-wives, one a prosecuting lawyer (we remember Maggie McFierce), and his daughter, now studying law herself, Haller works from the dangerous confines of jail to establish his case for the defence. More importantly, maybe, he has to win his case in the face of a mysterious, impending virus which appears to have come from China – only one thousand cases at the time of writing. But that is not the issue, of course. Who hates Haller enough to want him totally discredited? Who would kill one man to get revenge on another? Sounds like organised crime. Yes, but …

Connelly’s latest novel maintains the complexity he has long since established, the fascination with flaws in the American legal system – every western legal system perhaps – and the almost stultifying antagonism between that multitude of law enforcement agencies which provide the basis for so many American crime novels. The Law of Innocence is a gripping thriller which, while hinting at a much wider platform for criminality, manages to explore these issues from the relatively local space of the Los Angeles legal system. 

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

27 January 2021

Review: My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips

My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

My Best Friend's Murder is the debut novel by Australian author Polly Phillips.

Bec and Izzy are best friends but at the beginning of the book, Izzy's body is found at the bottom of the stairs in her house and Bec knows she's going to be considered the prime suspect.

Set in London, the book then takes us back to a time before the incident and we become acquainted with Bec and Izzy's close circle of family and friends as well as their home and work situations. With the title telling us to expect a murder, an accident seems unlikely so the book becomes a 'whodunnit' of sorts.

Both Bec and Izzy are vain, materialistic and unlikeable characters. Their friendship - if you could call it that - is toxic and unhealthy but they find themselves unable to move on in this unfolding domestic drama.
"Looking at Izzy is like looking through a kaleidoscope. Fragments of my childhood whirl around us. Her teaching me to smoke at a bus-stop when we were fourteen. The night she held my hair back when I vomited all over her parent's kitchen. The moment we laughed so hard during a Friends marathon that I snorted Diet Coke over the sofa. Her hair might be glossier and her face thinner but she's still the one I called the moment I lost my virginity. The guy had barely left the room before I picked up the phone. Then there's how she held me up after my mum died. We've got so much history that sometimes I wonder where Izzy stops and I begin." Page 130
I always have a couple of books on the go at the same time, however being in the middle of reading The Swap by Robyn Harding (a Simon & Schuster title from last year) probably impacted my reading enjoyment of My Best Friend's Murder. The unhealthy relationship between the women in both of these books made me want to shake all of the characters by the shoulders and yell 'Get a grip, she's not worth it!' 

Don't you hate it when characters don't behave the way you want them to? Bec did two things in this book that made me want to scream!

I'm not convinced My Best Friend's Murder has enough tension or suspense to be called a thriller. I was mildly surprised by the 'whodunnit' reveal, but too annoyed with one of the characters to be swept away by the revelation. My Best Friend's Murder is very readable domestic noir and a contemporary story about friendship, jealousy and envy. Friends or frenemies? You be the judge.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

26 January 2021

Winner of Dead Regular by Harry Colfer announced

Thanks to all those who entered my giveaway last week to win a signed copy of Dead Regular by Harry Colfer. All entrants correctly identified the main character's occupation as a paramedic. Well done! The giveaway closed at midnight AEST on Sunday 24th January 2021, and congratulations go to:


Congratulations Chrissy! You've won a signed print copy of Dead Regular by Harry Colfer valued at $16.99AUD.* (NB. If you live outside AUS & NZ, you've won an unsigned print copy). You'll receive an email from me shortly informing you of your win, and will have 7 days to provide a postal address.
Dead Regular by Harry Colfer book cover

You'll receive your prize direct from the author and I hope you'll enjoy this mystery set on the streets of Brisbane.

For those who missed out, I have another giveaway running at the moment so be sure to enter. I also have a giveaway of The Moroccan Daughter by Deborah Rodriguez going live on 5 February, so stay tuned or check out my Giveaways page for details.

Carpe Librum

25 January 2021

Review: Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell book cover
I wish I'd read Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell last year. It would definitely have ended up on my Top 5 Books of 2020 list.

Hamnet is an historical fiction novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet in 1596, and in particular how his wife Agnes and family deal with the loss. Shakespeare is never named in the book (not once!) and while the book is about his family, it's not all about him.

The reader is introduced to a young Agnes, learning about her mother and the gifts she passed on to her daughter before her passing.
"Agnes learnt to be agile, quick. She learnt the advantages of invisibility, how to pass through a room without drawing notice. She learnt that what is hidden within a person may be brought forth if, say, a sprinkling of bladderwort were to find its way into that person's cup. She learnt that creepers disentangled from an oak trunk, brushed against bed linen, will ensure no sleep for whoever lies there." Page 53
Later on, after the death of her mother, we're given an insight into Agnes' teenage years living with her stepmother Joan.
"Joan is not an idle woman. She has six children (eight, if you count the half-mad step-girl and the idiot brother she was forced to take on when she married). She is a widow, as of last year. The farmer left the farm to Bartholomew, of course, but the terms of the will allow her, Joan to remain living here to oversee matters. And oversee she will. She doesn't trust that Bartholomew to look further than his nose. She has told him she will continue to run the kitchen, the yard and the orchard, with the help of the girls. Bartholomew will see to the flocks and the fields, with the help of the boys, and she will walk the land with him, once a week, to make sure all is as it should be. So Joan has the chickens and pigs to see to, the cows to milk, food for the men, the farmhand and the shepherd to prepare, day in, day out. Two younger boys to educate as best she can - and Lord knows they will need an education as the farm will not be coming down to them, more's the pity. She has three daughters (four, if you count the other, which Joan usually doesn't) to keep under her eye. She has bread to bake, cattle to milk, berries to bottle, beer to brew, clothes to mend, stockings to darn, floors to scrub, dishes to wash, beds to air, carpets to beat, windows to polish, tables to scour, hair to brush, passages to sweep, steps to scrub.
Forgive her, then, if it is almost three months before she notices that a number of monthly cloths are missing from the wash." Page 84
Agnes meets and falls in love with the tutor (William) and neither family is pleased with the match. Leaving her childhood home and her brother Bartholomew, Agnes moves in with her husband's glove-making family and gives birth to a daughter and later on to twins, Judith and Hamnet.

I adored the study of relationships in this book, the complex marriage between Agnes and her husband and the strained family dynamics; relatable even centuries later. A highlight is Agnes' relationship with her mother-in-law Mary. Here's an example I just have to share with you.
"Whatever differences Agnes and Mary have - and there are many, of course, living at such close quarters, with so much to do, so many children, so many mouths, the meals to cook and the clothes to wash and mend, the men to watch and assess, soothe and guide - dissolve in the face of tasks. The two of them can gripe and prickle and rub each other up the wrong way; they can argue and bicker and sigh; they can throw into the pig-pen food the other has cooked because it is too salted or not milled finely enough or too spiced; they can raise an eyebrow at each other's darning or stitching or embroidery. In a time such as this, however, they can operate like two hands of the same person." Page 130
You can tell by the quotes I've shared that I was absolutely blown away by the evocative writing in Hamnet, and am thrilled to discover a new-to-me author in Maggie O'Farrell. What a talent! Hamnet was published in March last year and went on to win the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2020, and deservedly so in my opinion.

Those who have read the book will understand what I mean when I say my absolute favourite part of the novel was the story about the plague-infested flea and the detailed journey it took to reach Stratford. It was fascinating, gripping and perfectly written.

You don't need to know anything about Shakespeare to enjoy this novel. It's essentially the story of a 16th century family and the way in which they cope with life's choices and challenges. It's beautifully written and I know it's only January, but I'm certain Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell is going to be one of my top 5 favourite reads of 2021.

Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

22 January 2021

WIN 1 of 2 print copies of A Plum Job by Cenarth Fox

A Plum Job by Cenarth Fox book cover
* Copies courtesy of the author *

A Plum Job by Australian author Cenarth Fox is the first in his WWII series of books, and this week the author is giving away two paperback copies to lucky Carpe Librum readers located in Australia. Enter below and good luck!


It’s 1939. Germany’s military might is smashing through the Low Countries and the British, Belgian and French forces are trapped at Dunkirk. The Nazis will soon be in Gay Paree.

Louise Wellesley is a gorgeous and aristocratic young Englishwoman desperate to become an actress.
But her upbringing demands that young women of her class go to finishing school, the Buckingham Palace debutante ball and then remain at home until the right chap comes along.

Such young ladies most definitely do not cavort semi-naked upon the wicked stage. But war brings change. People tell lies. Rules are broken.

So when you’re in a foreign country and living by your wits while facing arrest, torture and death from the French police, Resistance, Gestapo and a double-agent, you bloody well better remember your lines, act out of your skin and never ever bump into the furniture. Oh and it helps if your new best friend is Edith Piaf.

Author Bio

Cenarth Fox is an Australian with a Welsh name pronounced Kenarth.

As a writer he has created: 48 radio scripts broadcast by the ABC, 37 musicals performed in 43 countries, a collection of non-fiction titles, a trilogy of plays, a novel and a series of five children’s books about Sherlock Holmes.

He's also written 15 novels including the World War II thrillers A Plum Job and A Plum Jam, and 8 books in the crime series, The Detective Joanna Best Mysteries. For more about Cenarth Fox's books and plays visit www.cenfoxbooks.com or www.foxplays.com


This giveaway has now closed.

21 January 2021

Interview with Nick Gadd, author of Death of a Typographer

Nick Gadd, author bio photo
Australian author Nick Gadd
I recently had the pleasure of reading Death of a Typographer by fellow Melbournian and Aussie writer Nick Gadd last month. Nick kindly agreed to let me grill him about his book and geek out on some font related questions, so welcome to Carpe Librum Nick! 

Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us about the research you undertook for Death of a Typographer? Has exploring the world of typefaces and fonts changed your perspective in any way?
Hello Tracey, and thank you for the review! I first became interested in fonts through my friendship with Stephen Banham, a Melbourne typographer. He introduced me to the world of type design and typography, and the wonderful language around it - swashes, glyphs, ligatures, kerning et cetera - and the marvellous characters - in both senses - that it contains. I realised that this is its own self-contained world of people who look at things in a very particular way, and for a fiction writer that is gold. So I went off and did my own research, sitting in the typography section of the State Library of Victoria, browsing through the books and letting them speak to me. The best of the books I used are listed in the Acknowledgements of Death of a Typographer. All of this has changed my perspective in that I am much more conscious of the impacts that different fonts make on our responses to text. The right font on a fancy wine bottle, for example, can add $20 to the price. I am hoping that readers will finish the book with similar raised awareness.
Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd book cover

Are you able to recognise different fonts when you see them? What's your favourite and least favourite font? (I think my favourites are Garamond and Calibri, while my least favourite is Comic Sans).

I can’t recognise that many, actually. I’m certainly not an expert like the people in the book, who can pick a font by the shape of the dot over the letter ‘i’ (it’s called a tittle, by the way). But many fonts can be good or bad depending on how they are used. I like a stylish French display font called Peignot from the mid-20th century, but it has been much abused and can sometimes be seen in pizza shop signage where it looks terrible. In the printed word, I agree that Garamond usually looks great because it suggests centuries of learning and scholarship. Hence it is the right choice for literary writing, an essay or a thesis. I’m typing my answers to this in Times, which was designed for a newspaper - The Times - in the 1930s. It’s a tried and true working font that doesn’t draw attention to itself. The arch-villain font of the novel is Helvetica, which my hero Martin Kern hates because it is over-used - though Helvetica, too, is fine in places like hospitals and airports, it’s really a matter of typodiversity as Martin says. There aren’t too many fonts that are always awful, except perhaps Bleeding Cowboys.

I just had a look at the Bleeding Cowboys font, and it's exactly what it sounds like, what a hoot! How did you settle on the font for the cover design of Death of a Typographer? Was it a tough choice or a no brainer?
The cover design is by Stephen Banham, who chose Bureau Grotesque Extra Condensed for the title, and Typewriter for the author’s name - which I love, because it reminds me of the old Remington I used to type my first stories when I was a little kid. The text of the novel is set in Mercury Text, which you won’t find on your desktop - it’s a beautiful font we bought specially from the Hoefler type foundry in the United States. We also used more than 30 other fonts through the book, mainly for the chapter titles - each font selection is related somehow to the story, and they are all listed at the back for font nerds. By the way, Stephen won the Designers’ Choice Cover of the Year Award at the Australian Book Design Awards for the cover of Death of a Typographer.

I loved seeing the list of different fonts used for each of the chapters, and congratulations to Stephen on the award; you both must be thrilled. Was the character's name of Avery a typographical joke? Can you share one of the in-jokes that appears in the book? (I got the Roman reference, that was a good one!)
There are lots of font-related gags in the book - the most obvious is the name of Martin Kern, the hero. To ‘kern’ is a term meaning adjusting the spacing between letters. It’s one of those things that drives a type designer nuts - bad kerning! You spotted Roman, who also has a child named Pica - a pica is a typographical measure. There’s a pub the characters go to with a landlord named Tony Bodoni - Bodoni is a classic Italian font - where you can get a Palatino cocktail or a glass of Coopers Black (both fonts).  There are lots of other in-jokes which font nerds will spot, but you don’t actually need to know any of that stuff to enjoy the book - it’s just a cherry on top if you do. As for Avery, I needed a name for Martin’s antagonist, the black-clad, beret-wearing, arch-wanker corporate graphic designer. One day I saw the name Avery in a shop window in Helvetica Thin and thought, that’s it!

Oh Palatino and Coopers Black, of course! Tell us, what are you reading at the moment?
I’m enjoying Robert MacFarlane’s Underland, which goes deeply into another of my interests - psychogeography; and I’m also loving an old biography of Edie Sedgwick which is about the self-destructive scene of Andy Warhol’s Factory and the New York counterculture in the 1960s. I’m fascinated by the kind of alternative realities that people live in, I guess.

Has the pandemic changed your reading or writing habits in any way?
I don’t know if it was the pandemic, but I read more books by women writers last year - Olivia Laing and Vivian Gornick in particular, which led me to Jean Rhys and Colette, all of whom I think are marvellous.

When did you become interested in ghost signs? Do you have a favourite ghost sign in Melbourne?
I became interested in ghost signs through my friend Vin Maskell, the writer, who like me has an interest in things that are on the verge of being lost. A ghost sign is an old piece of signage, often painted but sometimes neon or some other material, which points back to a lost product or person or trade. They are evocative windows into social history, but also carry a lot of symbolic and metaphorical weight. I did sneak a few ghost signs into Death of a Typographer, but I discuss them much more extensively in my psychogeographic work. My favourite ghost sign of all time is the one reading ’Consult the Celebrated Specialist Dr King’ which appeared in Melbourne in 2013 - it was a painted advertisement from the 1890s for a ‘medical clairvoyant’, whom I write about in my new book. The sign is lost now, alas.
Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss by Nick Gadd book cover

I noticed you launched your new book Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss last month, can you tell us a little about it?

Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss is my first non-fiction book. Part travelogue, part psychogeography, part memoir, it describes a two-year walk around and through the suburbs of Melbourne by my late wife Lynne and me. On the way we came across ghost signs, fascinating buildings, and odd traces of the past which led us to some weird and wonderful stories of lost Melbourne. Shortly afterwards, when Lynne died of cancer, I began to write about our relationship and the walk we took together as a way of investigating the relationship between people and places, and the ways that where we live gives meaning to our lives. So it’s a very personal book, but readers have told me that it speaks to them because over the past year in Melbourne many of us have only been able to travel around our own neighbourhoods, and there is a lot to discover on foot if you approach it with a sense of curiosity.

What's next? What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on some essays, thinking about a new novel, and preparing for some workshops I’m offering during the upcoming year on walking, writing and place.

Sounds like you'll be keeping very busy in 2021, so thanks for joining us Nick. To find out more about Nick Gadd's other writing, visit nickowriter.com or to learn more about his Melbourne Circle project, visit melbournecircle.net and Carpe Librum!

19 January 2021

Review: The African Lookbook - A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women by Catherine E. McKinley

The African Lookbook - A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women by Catherine E. McKinley book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

The African Lookbook - A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women is a sampling of the photographs author Catherine E. McKinley has managed to collect from all around the world and includes some of the earliest photographs ever taken of African women.

However this isn't just a book of photographs to peruse. McKinley educates the reader along the way on the styles of photographs and portraits, the importance of the sitter's dress and fashion, the interest in African women and some of the undesirable attitudes of the intended recipients of many of the photographs featured.
"In European studios spanning the 1860s to 1970s, images of African women existed as a preponderance of exotica in 'women's work' - women nursing children, pounding food with mortar and pestle, selling on the street, carrying water, or posing in front of the 'primitive' home. Cameras fixated on breasts and hair, on body cicatrization, and the suggestive and even pornographic possibilities of rites of puberty, polygamy, and lightly disguised prostitution. 
Many African photographers working at the same time would engage these tropes, as would later eras of African photographers (1950s - present), revisiting the images of a woman's back or skin or hairstyle but in a way that, however much a male gaze still mediated, the colonial gaze was removed." Page 31
"That gaze - that moment when the sitter meets the lens with the intent to author, or perhaps where coercion, or capitulation, or shyness or some other feeling is revealed - is what we look to for a countering narrative to the photographer's, or for assurance that the sitter still has the last word." Page 32
I'll admit to wanting to see that in the eyes of many of the women photographed, a sense of power or pride and a sense the sitter wouldn't be exploited. A refusal to be dominated, their spirit free and intact. Unfortunately, I think I'm projecting a resoluteness that might not be there in order to make myself feel better about the vulnerability or poverty the sitter might have experienced. It's interesting to ponder though. Is the viewer projecting, or is the sitter really communicating something of their spirit and their inner most thoughts to us through the lens of the camera and down the decades?

I wasn't expecting the focus and accompanying commentary on fashion and what the women were wearing in the photographs and it took me by surprise.
"The history preserved in fashion can be more resilient and revealing than what is stored or memorialized in other kinds of repositories." Page 86
Fashion throughout the decades encompassed the combination of traditional dress with styles that indicated a woman's background or religious beliefs and was invariably captured in the portraits (many unknown) obtained by the author and preserved in her collection.

I had little idea about the prominence of cloth and wrappers to African women, but learned that wrappers - referred to in the book as the 'foundation of African womanhood' on page 96 - are used for multiple purposes, including clothing, to carry a child, as currency, as a dowry, a shroud and sometimes even joined together to celebrate, protest or mourn. Some cloth designs are given a name and women or families might wear the same pattern to make a statement.
"Cloth that is beloved, that is named, is considered fine enough to be a dowry item, to be worn at weddings and funerals and baby-naming ceremonies, to become a 'heritage' item in a woman's cloth box and therefore a costly commodity for the ages, historically stored and respected like money, never devaluing over a woman's life-time." Page 92
Already upset by the popularity of fast fashion in the 21st Century, this certainly gave me something to think about. If women from cultures around the world could aspire to this level of value and respect for cloth and quality made garments again (I'm thinking of 1500s here), imagine the impact around the world.

The African Lookbook by Catherine E. McKinley isn't what I expected. Yes, it's a Visual History of 100 Years of African Women, but I was disappointed not to see any of the photography of African women I observed as a child growing up in Australia in the 1970s-1980s. Stunning photographs of African women featured in National Geographic magazine, adorned in body paint, or wearing lip discs or gold neck rings and arm bands. An exotic beauty unmatched anywhere in the world gave rise to the fear of colonisation and a sorrow for the ruination of small tribes and villages still practising their way of life largely oblivious to the Western world.

I understand this book to be based on the author's painstaking collection of rare and precious photographs that otherwise might have been lost to time, but surely this era of colour photography shaped the worldwide view of African women and deserved to be included or commented on here. Looking at the blurb while writing this review, I note that the 100 year arc spans from 1870-1970 but I dearly wish it had been expanded to incorporate 150 years. It'd be hard to do so if the author's expertise and interest doesn't extend to the last 50 years, but the average reader has likely been exposed to this photography and it has influenced our views, rightly or wrongly.

While I didn't get what I was expecting, I certainly walked away with more than I bargained for. An introduction to the trade and importance of indigo - one of the most financially and culturally valuable commodities, used in makeup, hair dye, body paint, tattooing and more - for one.

The African Lookbook by Catherine E. McKinley is an informative read, and I longed to speak to the women featured in each of the photographs as I looked into their eyes and wondered about their lives; just as I imagine the author does.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

18 January 2021

Review: The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren

The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren book cover
PostSecret began in 2004 when Frank Warren asked members of the public to anonymously contribute a secret to a community art project. The secret could be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire or even confession of childhood humiliation and contributors were encouraged to reveal their secret on a decorated postcard and send it in. His goal at the time was to receive 365 postcards.

Much to Warren's surprise, the project took off and he has received well over a million secrets. Frank Warren has published six collections of secrets from the art project, with The World of PostSecret being his sixth, published in 2014.

The secrets cover the full gamut of topics and feelings. Some make you smile, like these two.
"I wear an AC/DC shirt under my clergy robes." Page 78
"Sometimes, if my dog refuses to eat, I pretend to cook his food on the stove. Works every time!" Page 84
Some secrets plucked on the heart strings:
"My wealthy husband has been divorced 7 times because he found out they were only with him for his money. He married me because he thinks I'm different. I'm not." Page 48
Others blew my mind a little:
"Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I'm dead." Page 122
This secret stayed with me for days, and the author has heard from someone connected with large-scale tragedies, who claims that "in rare cases, people have been known to use a large disaster as an opportunity to start a new life and leave behind a looming divorce or escape imminent bankruptcy."

I find that astonishing to consider. I know some people voluntarily disappear to begin a new life, but presumably they plan to do so beforehand. A new identity requires money and a plan, so I can't imagine how a person could re-invent themselves after an unexpected event like 9/11. You couldn't pack a single thing and you'd never be able to travel again with facial recognition cameras everywhere for a start. Boggles the mind. Unless they chose a life of anonymity on the streets. I wish I knew more about this particular secret.

There were secrets that made me angry, like this one:
"I can't make you love me... but I can make something that you'll love." Page 245
And gross secrets, like this one:
"My husband and I shower together almost every day... He has NO idea that I pee in there EVERY TIME! Hehe :-) " Page 257
Firstly, that's disgusting! Secondly, of course he knows. How could he not know?

The scope of the PostSecret project is enormous and this particular collection comprises a great variety of secrets, including secrets from the short-lived PostSecret App that was closed down in 2011 due to malicious and uncontrollable content.

I was surprised to find that Frank Warren is looking for a new partner for the project and potentially someone to take over PostSecret for good. I wonder what it takes to run a project like this. I know I don't have the stomach for it, that's for sure.

The World of PostSecret is a look into the hearts and minds of everyday people like you and me, and I found pondering its pages produced a mixed bag of emotions. I think I'll be glad to return it to the library and be thankful I don't have any secrets like that. Or do I?

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

15 January 2021

WIN a signed copy of Dead Regular by Harry Colfer

Dead Regular by Harry Colfer book cover
* Copy courtesy of the Author *

Paramedics are incredible people and Australians are lucky to have such a reliable ambulance service in our states and territories. Brisbane paramedic Harry Colfer (a nom de plume) has published his debut novel Dead Regular, and is giving Carpe Librum readers the chance to win a signed copy. Dead Regular is a murder mystery set on the streets of Brisbane full of suspense and dark humour. Sound good?

Enter below and good luck!


Catching a serial killer won’t be easy when nobody suspects murder…

One thing is stopping Jono from loving his job as a paramedic. It’s not the blood and gore, nor the vomiting drunks, not even the seemingly endless rolling shifts. It’s the overbearing management. He’s a competent clinician who always does the best for his patients, but petty bureaucracy and red tape never fail to fire him up.

Despite this disaffection, Jono won’t ignore the fact that several ambulance ‘regulars’ have been turning up dead. Each death in itself seems innocent enough, but the sudden mounting body count raises his suspicions. Is it just a coincidence, or has someone decided to clean up the city? What’s more worrying is that Jono appears to be the only one who cares.

Author Bio

Harry Colfer is the pseudonym of an experienced paramedic who lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. Although his stories are totally fictional, his writing style is very realistic and he maintains a healthy level of paranoia with respect to his anonymity.

To date he has published twenty short stories in the Ambo Tales From The Frontline series and plans to write another twelve, one for each of the thirty-two AMPDS codes, the system used worldwide to categorise emergency calls. He has also written Beneath Contempt, the sequel to Dead Regular, which will be available in 2021.


This giveaway for a signed print copy of Dead Regular for AUS & NZ entrants valued at $16.99AUD, and a print copy for international entrants has now closed. 

13 January 2021

Guest Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *


Today guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise shares his thoughts on Letters From Berlin by Australian author Tania Blanchard, an 'unforgettable tale of love, courage and betrayal inspired by a true story.'


Berlin, 1943.

As the Allied forces edge closer, the Third Reich tightens its grip on its people. For eighteen-year-old Susanna GΓΆttmann, this means her adopted family including the man she loves, Leo, are at risk.

Desperate to protect her loved ones any way she can, Susie accepts the help of an influential Nazi officer. But it comes at a terrible cost – she must abandon any hope of a future with Leo and enter the frightening world of the Nazi elite.

Yet all is not lost as her newfound position offers more than she could have hoped for … With critical intelligence at her fingertips, Susie seizes a dangerous opportunity to help the Resistance.

The decisions she makes could change the course of the war, but what will they mean for her family and her future?

Neil's Review

Facto-fictional, ‘based on fact’ and even historical, the family history of the Jewish/Australian migrant has become one of the more popular genres deriving from World War II. Letters From Berlin moves a step further to include both the self-seeking Nazi official, the resistance fighters and the impact of the Russian incursion from the east.

The resulting amalgam offered by Tania Blanchard provides a deeply satisfying and moving account of family life and relationships in Germany from comfortable pre-Nazi times into early Communism with a rather more tenuous bridge to Australian reflection on a time past but not forgotten.

Blanchard tracks the decline of a land-holding family from benevolent innocence through brutal terror to tormented realisation of the unrelenting brutality of both the Nazi and succeeding Communist regimes in East Germany. Adoption as a trail from loss and a path to survival feature heart-rendingly in some of the more powerful scenes while the sweetness and the bitterness of love blend with the impact of jealousy to link survivors towards an unexpected resolution.

Letters From Berlin invokes the power of the hand-written letter as a memory record and as an historical tracer to times irrecoverable. It evokes tears of anger and tears of distress so that, ultimately, it provides an opening into a world seldom mentioned, a world of the farming gentry of Germany during World War II and, on that most satisfying level, a good read.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

12 January 2021

2021 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

It's great to start the year with a clean slate of reading challenges and the giddy anticipation of another awesome year of reading ahead. Today I'm signing up for the following year long challenges in 2021.

2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge logo
2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

This year I'm aiming to complete the Franklin level of the 2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

To complete the challenge I'll need to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to be successful. The challenge is run by writers and volunteers and encourages readers to discover more books by Australian women.

Social media tags: #AWW2021 @auswomenwriters 
Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021 logo

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021

Hosted by Jo at Booklover Book Reviews, I'm signing up to complete the Emu level of the challenge. I'll need to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors, of which at least 10 are female, 10 are male, and at least 10 are new-to-me authors. I'll also need to read from a minimum of 4 genres. Last year I almost didn't achieve the criteria to read 10 books by male Australian authors, so will start early to be more mindful of my selections.

Social media tags: #AussieAuthor21 @BLBookReviews

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge logo

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Hosted by Passages to the Past for the last few years, Marg at The Intrepid Reader is once again hosting this Historical Fiction Reading Challenge in 2021. I'm aiming to complete the Renaissance Reader level of the challenge which is to read 10 historical fiction books.

Social media tags: #histficreadingchallenge @MargReads

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This will be my second year participating in the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge and this time I'm aiming for the level of Nonfiction Nibbler. Hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out, I'll need to read 6 books from the categories below in order to complete the challenge.

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge logo
Social media tags: #2021ReadNonFic @bookdout

1. Biography
2. Travel
3. Self-help
4. Essay Collection
5. Disease
6. Oceanography
7. Hobbies
8. Indigenous Cultures
9. Food
10. Wartime Experiences
11. Inventions
12. Published in 2021


You can follow my progress over on my Challenges 2021 page and feel free to let me know if you're participating in any reading challenges this year.

Carpe Librum!

11 January 2021

Top 5 Books of 2020

I had a little difficulty coming up with this list of my favourite books for 2020. In the past I've been proud of the fact that my Top 5 lists have included a combination of review titles, classics and backlist books. This year my shortlist contained only review books. It's not that I didn't read any great 5 star books from my backlist TBR (I'm looking at you Inheritance by Christopher Paolini) but they just didn't make the cut.

Here are my Top 5 Books of 2020 in the order I read them:

1. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert book cover
I've been sharing my Top 5 Books since 2014, but if I'd started a year earlier then The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert would definitely have made that list.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is about a young woman in 1940s New York who works in a theatre and socialises with glamorous showgirls. I made the assumption this wouldn't be anywhere near as good as The Signature of All Things and went into it expecting an overtly feminine story unlikely to hold my attention. I was so wrong!

In my review, I explain this isn't a romance novel or chick lit. It's not a war novel either. It's a deep exploration of one woman's life, her sexual desire and the inner and outer expectations of those around her. It's a coming-of-age novel about choosing a different path and I enjoyed witnessing Vivian's personal growth and internal realisations and found it incredibly moving in parts.

2. The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The Foundling by Stacey Halls book cover
After the success of The Familiars, the premise and stunning cover design of The Foundling by Stacey Halls drew me in immediately.

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

This intriguing premise and the unique storytelling style let me know I was in expert hands once again from the very first page. Stacey Halls was able to bring every aspect of Georgian London to life and I greatly enjoyed it.

3. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott book cover
The opening few chapters of The Rain Heron by Australian author Robbie Arnott were absolutely sublime. I fell in love with the seamless blend of fable and fairytale as I was introduced to the mythical rain heron.

What follows from there is a literary eco-fable, with elements of magical realism in a dystopian setting. There's plenty of tension and some terrific character growth and I felt a real love of nature in both the mountainous and coastal settings featured in the book. There's a clear concern about our environment bubbling along in the background of the story, adding climate-fiction to the number of genres this slim novel falls into.

My reading enjoyment was enhanced even further when my sister read the book and we were able to discuss it. What joy!

4. The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett book cover
This prequel to The Pillars of the Earth was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it didn't disappoint. It came in at a whopping 817 pages and begins in the year 997AD with an introduction to our main character Edgar the Boatbuilder.

Themes of good and evil feature throughout the book and the everyday harsh conditions of farmers, bakers, merchants and priests were expertly written.

Once again my reading enjoyment was enhanced when my Dad began reading his own copy and we were able to discuss the goings on and enjoy the great reveal close to the end of the book.

5. Hideout by Jack Heath

Hideout by Jack Heath book cover
This gritty and bloody crime series featuring a cannibal consultant by the name of Timothy Blake is my favourite Australian crime series, and Hideout was a highly anticipated release in 2020.

Blake is an intelligent, clever and oddly funny anti-hero, and the reader can't help but hope he succeeds in his endeavours, despite knowing about his gruesome proclivities. Blake thinks quick on his feet and is only too aware of his flaws. However, he continues to struggle with his inner demons in the series; wanting to be a better person yet readily identifying with the bad guys.

The unexpected plot developments make this dark and grisly series uniquely refreshing and I can't wait until the next bloody instalment.

Hangman just missed out on my Top 5 list back in 2018, so the inclusion of Hideout on this list does redress that a little.

That's it! What do you think of my list? What was your favourite read in 2020? 

07 January 2021

Review: Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd

Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd book cover
This was so much fun! Death of a Typographer is a geeky font lover's crime novel written by talented Australian author Nick Gadd and is unlike anything I've read before. Set in Melbourne, our main character Martin Kern has typomania and an unusual sensitivity to bad font. Martin uses his skills to solve typographical crime (brilliant, right?) but when a local printer is murdered, he's drawn to investigate the death of the title along with journalist Lucy Tran.
"Like all journalists, she used fonts daily, but it had never occurred to her to wonder where they came from or who made them. It was like peering through a microscope and discovering that a glass of clear water was teeming with life." Page 70
Death of a Typographer is full of clever font references but you don't need to know much about font in order to enjoy the jokes. I'm sure there were some I missed, but that's all part of the charm.
For instance, I loved the description of the world of Dark Type (Dark Web) on page 185 as containing: font anarchists, urban type guerrillas, swash junkies, glyph hackers, psychotypographers, punk calligraphers, cryptosymbolists and anarcho-punctuationists.

In this cozy mystery, amateur sleuths Martin and Lucy put their investigative skills to use in order to get to the bottom of a series of murders and determine if there really is a secret font designed by the reclusive - and possibly deceased - Dutch designer Pieter van Floogstraten. Is he a genius? Is he crazy?
"There's something about a life spent fiddling with serifs and glyps that can addle the brain. They call it 'font rot'. The history of type is littered with madness, destruction and death. Remember Cobden Sanderson? Tossed all his type into the river Thames to stop anyone else from using it." Page 184
This reference to T.J. Cobden-Sanderson was my favourite moment of the book, having learned about the legend of Dove Type while reading Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem in October 2019.

Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd is an entertaining read, with a fresh slant (get it?) on the cozy crime genre. Highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

05 January 2021

Guest Review: Beowulf - A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

Beowulf - A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley book cover
* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *


Beowulf is an epic poem that is approximately 1,000 years old. Written in Old English, it has been translated many times, with varying interpretations of the text a result of the condition and notations that have been made to this medieval manuscript across the centuries.

Scholars don't know the original title of the poem or the identity of the author, but the story is set in Scandinavia and there is only one copy, which is housed in the British Library.

Hundreds of translations of Beowulf have been made over the years, and today Scribe Publications is publishing a new feminist translation by Maria Dahvana Headley. Retired academic and Carpe Librum guest reviewer Neil BΓ©chervaise decided to take on this classic, and shares his thoughts on the translation below.

Neil's Review

…a radical new verse interpretation … which brings to light elements never before translated into English”. So reads the cover blurb. But wait, there’s more. In the publisher’s words, Headley presents “A new, feminist translation”.

As you can see, before I have even cracked the covers, I am troubled. Deeply troubled. Having suffered the torment of a high school initiation into the wonders of this oldest surviving example of Olde English, I am suspicious. Am I embarking on a radical interpretation or a feminist translation? So, what is the difference between an interpretation and a translation? And “… elements never before translated into English”? Well! Really? This is surely a challenge enough for any reader.

So the radical interpretation begins:
“Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of Kings? In the old days everyone knew what men were”. 
What?? A feminist translation begins with an address to “Bro”? About “what men were”? Now I will have to keep reading.

Headley’s new translation/interpretation of Beowulf does present some significant challenges. It’s address to “Bro” certainly flags the beginning of a story but it also screams that the audience is male – and all thoughts of what feminism has come to mean fly out the window. Nevertheless, as the story progresses, the author’s style begins to imprint itself on the narrative. The sheer poetry lifts the reader into a realm that is both familiar and even enlivening. The alliterations, some familiar, some strikingly original and some effectively translated help draw out the ironies, help intensify the agonies and underscore the ecstasies. Occasional couplets challenge the reader to remain conscious of the poetic rendering of the tale and amplify Headley’s pursuit of a style which was “meant to be shouted over a crowd of drunken celebrants” (p. xvi) because Beowulf is “not a quiet poem”. Rather, it is “a living text in a dead language”.

All of which would seem to suggest that the radical new, feminist Beowulf is a predictable successor to all of those which have come before. Not so, however. Headley has resurrected that ‘living text’ from its dead language to create an essentially gripping new tale. 

The rise of young Beowulf is an epic and familiar story. It is the story of many famous leaders who performed amazing feats in their earlier years, rose through rank and fortune to lead their nations and died in one last fight too far for the very same challenge that won their reputation in the first place.

Beowulf reports the killing of monsters, wanton, wicked creatures who destroy the fabric of peaceful society. Beowulf earns the mortal enmity of Grendel’s mother, a warrior woman as capable as Beowulf himself, by killing the young man. That he defeats her in her attempt to obtain revenge is a matter of good luck rather than good management. God is with him on the day.

The role of God in Beowulf offers evidence of the impact of Christianity in Norse/English lore, legend and mythology; as the role of fire-breathing dragons in starting life-destroying fires may remind us of how bushfires are started by lightning strikes (from evil spirits in the sky?). Managing fires, managing desperate politically and religiously inspired terrorism like 9/11 are not new stories, from the Sicarii Zealots of the first century AD to the Fenians then bin Laden and beyond, we are familiar with the fight to keep society safe. 

Headley has updated Beowulf, made the language accessible and, for this reader at least, revived an interest in the origins of mythological beasties. She may also have finally produced a version of Beowulf that is accessible to school students.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

03 January 2021

2 Aussie Reading Challenge Wrap Ups for 2020

The final two reading challenge wrap ups for 2020 are the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and the 2020 Aussie Author Challenge. I successfully completed both challenges, as you'll see below.

2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge

In 2020, I was attempting the Franklin level of the 2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and needed to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge. Here's what I read:

2020 Australian Women Writer's Challenge
1.  A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
2.  Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
3.  And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic
4.  The River Home by Hannah Richell
5.  The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
6.  Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
7.  Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater
8.  Torched by Kimberley Starr
9.  Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey
10. The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide
11. The Silk House by Kayte Nunn
12. My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley
13. You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster
14. Find Your Light by Belinda Davidson

2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge

I chose to attempt the newly created Emu level of the 2020 Aussie Author Reading challenge and had to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors. At least 10 of the books had to have female authors, 10 had to be written by male authors and at least 10 had to be authors I've never read before. I also needed to read from at least 4 different genres.

Here's what I read:
2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge
1.  A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski
2.  Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
3.  And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic
4.  The River Home by Hannah Richell
5.  Shark Arm by Philip Roope & Kevin Meagher
6.  The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
7.  Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
8.  Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater
9.  Mammoth by Chris Flynn
10. Torched by Kimberley Starr
11. Where the Dead Go by Sarah Bailey
12. The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading & Writing by Debra Adelaide
13. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
14. The Silk House by Kayte Nunn
15. My Smoko Break by Hayley Maudsley
16. Subterranean by B. Michael Radburn
17. You Don't Know Me by Sara Foster
18. Find Your Light by Belinda Davidson
19. Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
20. Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthe Mallett
21. Look Evelyn Duck Dynasty Wiper Blades. We Should Get Them by David Thorne
22. The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan
23. The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden, illustrated by Chris Nixon
24. The Survivors by Jane Harper
31. Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd


It was a close call on completing the Aussie Author Reading challenge, but I was pleased to meet all of the criteria for both challenges by year's end.

Sign ups for the 2021 challenges are already underway, so I'm looking forward to joining in again this year. Do you find reading challenges spur you on to read more widely? Or do they add extra pressure to your reading choices? I'd love to know.

Carpe Librum!