30 April 2021

WIN a copy of The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman

The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman book cover
* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

The Hope Flower by Australian author Joy Dettman is a story of love and survival. Check out the blurb and enter below for your chance to win a copy of The Hope Flower for yourself or a loved one. Entries close midnight on Mother's Day in Australia on Sunday 9th May 2021. Good luck!


Lori has eleven brothers, a father dead from suicide, and a mother locked in a room. This is no rural romance, but there is love.

Lori Smyth-Owen isn't your average teenager - as you'd expect from the only girl in a family of twelve. Or they were a family, until their father took his own life to escape his bed-bound wife, too obese to leave her room.

But for Lori and the remaining brothers, there is no escape from their volatile, mentally unstable mother. They raise themselves away from the gaze of the authorities, realising that though abandoned, they are now in charge. They can control everything, including their mother's food intake.

In time, their mother emerges, after losing two-thirds of her body weight. But does she bring with her the seed of hope for a better future, or will all hell break loose?


Joy Dettman was born in country Victoria and spent her early years in towns on either side of the Murray River. She is an award-winning writer of short stories as well as the highly acclaimed novels ​Mallawindy, ​Jacaranda Blue​, ​Goose Girl​, ​Yesterday's Dust​, ​The Seventh Day,​ ​Henry's Daughter​, ​One Sunday​, ​Pearl in a Cage,​ ​Thorn on the Rose,​ ​Moth to the Flame​, ​Wind in the Wires​, ​Ripples on a Pond​, ​The Tying of Threads,​ ​The Silent Inheritance ​and ​Trails in the Dust.


This giveaway has now closed.

28 April 2021

Guest Review: Exit by Laura Waddell

Exit by Laura Waddell book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *


The second instalment in my series of reviews from the Object Lessons series of books by Bloomsbury Academic is Exit by Laura Waddell. I'll leave you with Neil Béchervaise for his thoughts on this one.

Neil's Review

As a prescient reminder that lament, rage, reflection and even trivial recall never really leave us, Laura Waddell’s Exit is, indeed, an Object Lesson; a lesson in the fine line between ‘coming’ and ‘going’; between ‘in’ and ‘out’, between ‘now you see it’ and ‘now you don’t’.

While definition is always important, the signs and signifiers for ‘exit’ connote ‘place’ rather than ‘presence’, ‘presence’ rather than ‘existence’. Reviewing her own sense of self – particularly in terms of her Scots origins and the language she can never really use because it probably no longer exists, Waddell extends her readers’ sense of location from ‘place’ to ‘identity’; her anger at being excluded, maybe excluding herself, from an ideal which she knows herself to be. From ‘emigrant’ to ‘immigrant’ we may transition into ‘aliens’ – not necessarily ‘little green people’ but different nevertheless, while still ‘the same’. Upon exit, we are cast into that episode of The Twilight Zone in which, she recalls:
“Aliens were frightening because they mirrored our worst human tendencies”      Page 2
Within its brief 130 pages of information, anecdote, recollection and personal reflection, Laura Waddell’s Exit shifts from substantial to existential before closing with a rush that is reminiscent of the closing door which reminds us that while we, as readers, may still be here, the author has gone. What remains is our responsibility – we found our way in so now we must decide what is out.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

26 April 2021

Winner of One of Us Buried by Johanna Craven announced

Thanks to everyone who entered last week's giveaway to win a copy of One of Us Buried by Australian author Johanna Craven. Every entrant correctly identified that in One of Us Buried, Eleanor is on a prison ship bound for New South Wales.

The giveaway closed at midnight last night, and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations go to:


One of Us Buried by Johanna Craven book cover

Congratulations Renee! You've won a print copy of One of Us Buried by Johanna Craven valued at $24.99AUD. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win and the author will send your prize out to you directly.

Enjoy and stay tuned for another giveaway opportunity coming on Friday. For more details, check out my giveaways page.

Carpe Librum!

25 April 2021

Review: Tussaud by Belinda Lyons-Lee

Tussaud by Belinda Lyons-Lee book cover
* Copy courtesy of Transit Lounge *

Other than being French, I didn't know anything about the life of Madame Tussaud prior to reading this book other than the legacy of her wax museums. Australian author Belinda Lyons-Lee has changed all of that with the release of her historical fiction debut novel Tussaud.

Marie Tussaud barely managed to escape the French Revolution with her life, during which thousands were incarcerated and executed. Marie herself was accused of being a royal sympathiser, arrested and her head was shaved in preparation for execution by guillotine. Marie's release came as a shock, although it also came at a cost. In exchange for her life, Marie was forced to make death masks and wax recreations of the heads belonging to those famously executed, including Marie Antoinette.

This work would stay with Marie for life and Lyons-Lee does an amazing job of drawing from known facts to imagine her life from that point forward. Marie teams up with a famous magician by the name of Philidor and together they create a show called the Phantasmagoria. It's this show that attracts the attention of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland, William Cavendish who will go on to make an interesting business proposal.

Tussaud is a gothic story that takes place first in Paris before shifting to London and the rambling and isolated estate of Welbeck Abbey. Peopled with characters yearning to fill a void and each with their own agenda, Tussaud is full of secrets, deception, greed, desire and exploitation with plenty of characters keen to take advantage of Marie and her creations for their own purposes. Tussaud also has a sense of 'other' that reminded me a little of the subtle supernatural elements running through The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell. If you loved that, I think you'll also love this.

The writing effectively evoked the time period and here's an example of a scene featuring Philidor in early 1800s London:
"He stood in the middle of the alleyway and lit a cigar, content to let the unseen eyes watch him further, his exposed back like a challenge. But he knew the wretches who haunted these spots were not pickpockets or murderers: they were living skeletons who crawled into the gloom of doorways and corners to curl up and waste away in soft grey clouds of rags and sighs." Page 217
Presented in a stunning green cover design, I enjoyed an interview recently in which the author shared her fascination with the toxic green wallpaper of the era and how she wanted the book cover to capture the deadly association. This is one of my favourite facts from history (covered several times here on Carpe Librum) so I was overjoyed to learn she was fascinated by it too.

Tussaud has opened my eyes to the amazing and troubling life of this household name and while the life portrayed was fictional, it was certainly entertaining. Highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

20 April 2021

Review: The Paris Affair by Pip Drysdale

The Paris Affair by Pip Drysdale book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Harper Brown is an arts and culture journalist for The Paris Observer who dreams of advancing to become an investigative journalist so that she can write about what really matters. A huge fan of true crime podcasts, Harper is independent, savvy, self-absorbed, street-smart, driven and desperate to write about the string of crimes in Paris concerning missing women.

Soon after researching and interviewing a local artist for a news story with an edge, the artist's model disappears and Harper is drawn to investigate. Previously the writer of a micro-column called How Not To Get Murdered, Harper knows how to pick a lock and escape from duct tape, and she's going to need all of her skills.

The Paris Affair is a contemporary crime novel, with Harper at the centre trying to solve a murder while using the opportunity to further her career. Harper reminded me a little of a female version of the Martin Scarsden character from the Chris Hammer series of books set in Australia. While Harper is a young, single and ambitious woman with an admittedly different background, both Drysdale and Hammer offer readers the chance to explore a 'whodunnit' through the eyes of a journalist, making a nice change from the regular lineup of detectives, FBI, coroners and pathologists that regularly frequent my shelves.

Being a non-French speaker, the French chapter headings were a little distracting, and unnecessary in my opinion. The author did a convincing job of setting the scene firmly in Paris with references to art galleries and the unique geography of lesser known Paris, along with all of the stairs and door codes.

Harper lives her life according to her rule of 'do no harm', and believes that love can only end in one of three ways: disillusionment, death or divorce. As a result, she doesn't let anyone get too close, and severs relationships before they can fully form. Her friendship with her best friend Camilla was endearing but the ending of the book was unexpected. Each time I thought the book had finished, I was rewarded with another chapter that felt like an additional prologue or bonus post-credits scene firmly wrapping up Harper's situation.

The Paris Affair by Australian author Pip Drysdale is an entertaining crime thriller recommended for fans of savvy characters, art, journalism and all things Parisian.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

19 April 2021

Review: High Heel by Summer Brennan

High Heel by Summer Brennan book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *

High Heel by Summer Brennan is the first book in the Object Lessons series by Bloomsbury Academic that I've chosen to review here on Carpe Librum.

I've always been fascinated by shoes and while I can no longer wear high heels myself (long story) I'm interested in the ways in which they can liberate, empower and hobble their wearer.
"So, are high heels good? Are they bad? What do they mean? Are they feminist or anti-feminist? Do they communicate authority? Independence? Oppression? Professionalism? Confidence? Frivolity? Subservience? Sex? No one group can seem to agree. If you ask me, the answer to all of those questions is, yes." Page 25

Summer Brennan examines the history of the high heel and the fact they can be empowering while simultaneously immobilising and painful. Femininity, fashion, consent and sex is explored and the author does an admirable job of letting the reader decide. 

"For better or worse, the high heel is now womankind's most public footwear. It is a shoe for events, display, performance, authority, and urbanity. In some settings and on some occasions, usually the most formal, it is even required. High heels are something like neckties for women, in that it can be harder to look both formal and femme without them. It's a shoe for when we're on, for ambition; for magazine covers, red carpets, award shows, boardrooms, courtrooms, parliament buildings, and debate lecterns. Along with being our most public shoe, it is also considered the most feminine." Pages 15 & 16
High heels change a woman's posture and gait, and often this is what makes a woman wearing them more attractive. However they also slow us down, weaken our mobility and make running difficult, forcing this reader to question whether making women physically vulnerable is part of the attraction in addition to lengthening the leg and arching the back.

High heels aren't the first - or only - item of clothing that forces women to contort their bodies into uncomfortable and unnatural shapes, and Brennan covers one of the most extreme in the practice of foot binding in Imperial China.
"But it is women's bodies that have been most often manipulated, legislated, controlled, and contorted. A number of those cultural practices have been aimed at the feet." Page 64
Brennan goes on to step us through an examination of shoes in fairytales which was interesting however I didn't quite understand why the content was broken down into 150 separate 'vignettes' as I've noticed other books in the series don't follow this format.

I was looking forward to discovering the long term physical effects of wearing high heels, but the author sidestepped the subject which was a little disappointing. I could have done with less content around female objectification, rape culture and the relationship between what a woman is wearing and consent in favour of her thoughts on the future.

What do you think? Are high heels oppressive or empowering? Do they convey professionalism and confidence or vulnerability and sexuality? Just like any item of clothing, I think they can do all of these things and the reasons for wearing them are as individual as the wearer.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

16 April 2021

WIN a copy of One of Us Buried by Johanna Craven

One of Us Buried by Johanna Craven book cover
* Copy courtesy of the author *

One of Us Buried by Australian author Johanna Craven is an historical fiction novel set in 1806 when Eleanor Marling finds herself leaving London on a prison ship bound for NSW. Check out the blurb and enter below for your chance to win a copy for yourself or a loved one. Good luck!


In 1806, a fateful decision sends Eleanor Marling from the salons of London to a prison ship bound for New South Wales. She is put to work at the female factory of Parramatta; a place where the women’s only hope of food and lodgings is to offer their bodies to the settlement’s men.

Nell is given shelter by Lieutenant Blackwell, a brooding soldier to whom she is inexplicably drawn. Despite warnings from the other women, Blackwell’s motives seem decent, and beneath the roof of a military officer, Nell sees a chance to become more than just a convict woman sent to the factory to be forgotten.

But tensions are high in New South Wales, with the young colony teetering on the edge of a convict rebellion. And as Nell treads a dangerous line between obedience and power, she learns the role of a factory lass is to remain silent – or face a walk to the gallows.


Johanna Craven is an historical fiction writer, pianist and composer. After living in Melbourne and Los Angeles, she now divides her time between London and Australia. When not writing historical fiction, Johanna works as a freelance editor and piano teacher, and taught classes via Zoom before it was fashionable… She loves ghost-hunting, cooking (and eating) and plays the folk fiddle very badly. One of Us Buried is Johanna's seventh novel and she loves to hear from readers via her website.


This giveaway has now closed.


12 April 2021

Launching Object Lessons series of reviews

Object Lessons series of books

Welcome to a new series of reviews here on Carpe Librum. I've recently become interested in the non-fiction series by Bloomsbury Academic called Object Lessons which aims to take average items from our everyday lives and explore them in brief for the reader's enjoyment.

The first book I stumbled across in the series was Hair by Scott Lowe, and after reaching out to Bloomsbury Australia, they were excited for me to review a number of titles from the series.

I've enlisted some help from my guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise and we'll be reviewing a sampling of titles on a variety of topics. But first, here's a little more about the series.

Series Info

Object Lessons is a series of concise, collectable, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Each book starts from a specific inspiration: an historical event, a literary passage, a personal narrative, a technological innovation - and from that starting point explores the object of the title, gleaning a singular lesson or multiple lessons along the way. Featuring contributions from writers, artists, scholars, journalists, and others, the emphasis throughout is lucid writing, imagination, and brevity. Object Lessons paints a picture of the world around us, and tells the story of how we got here, one object at a time.

The Books

First to be reviewed will be High Heel by Summer Brennan, followed by Exit by Laura Waddell, Hair by Scott Lowe, Email by Randy Malamud and more. I hope you'll come on this non-fiction adventure with us and savour these micro histories. Which book from the series would you most like to read?

You can seize these books at Booktopia.

05 April 2021

Guest Review: Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams

Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *


While I was reading The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn set in the 1940s, guest reviewer Neil Béchervaise stepped back in time to colonial Australia and shares his review of Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Australian author Sue Williams.


Many readers, I am sure, will be attracted to the stories of friendship and tension between two pioneering women in the early 1800s colony of New South Wales. Their tenuous initial contact, their starkly contrasting levels of privation, their losses of children and their developing recognition of common interests make for a powerful reading experience.

The timeliness of Elizabeth & Elizabeth, however, makes it a compelling reminder of how little has actually changed in the former British colonies now called Australia.

2021 marks the 213th anniversary of William Bligh’s appointment as governor of the colony with the support of Sir Joseph Banks, who had accompanied James Cook into Botany Bay several years before and declared it the perfect place to ship convicts. Coincidentally, it also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species in which Charles Darwin submitted his highly controversial theory that humans had evolved from apes. Sadly, there are still those who deny the social rights of anyone with a criminal record, regardless of their having ‘served their time’ and seeking to return to a respectable place in society.

Little, it seems has changed in Australia in the past 200 years. Refugees are still held in separated facilities, even on offshore islands; the streets of large cities (and small) still home the homelessness as others seek to provide public health and housing for them. Elizabeth Macquarie’s pursuit of civil treatment for the colony’s early settlers – whether freed convicts or poor migrants – remains a political football still largely resisted by those who might afford to resolve the problem. Farm work is still seen as a lowly occupation, best undertaken by migrant back-packers and students through deals which leave them tenuously employed and underpaid.

In contrast, Elizabeth MacArthur’s farming life, spent largely in isolation from her husband, offers a resilient woman raising a family while developing the wool export market which resulted in the claim that Australia lived ‘on the sheep’s back’. That it now probably lives more on the miner’s back is ironic when we regard the equally pioneering efforts of some of our more famous mining women – still largely in the reputational shadows of their husbands and the companies they now manage.

Certainly, Elizabeth & Elizabeth provides a wonderful celebration of the lives of two Australian pioneers who fought for, and achieved, many of the goals we take for granted; two women who brought imagination, tenacity and creative ability to a male-dominated, militarily administered outland where human rights were controlled by the rich and privileged; two women who, in starkly different ways, sought to re-vision Australia for an unimaginable but socially and economically sustainable future.

With Elizabeth & Elizabeth, Sue Williams presents an historical background for a country which may now have one of the most diverse ethnic backgrounds in the modern world, one of the most complex socio-cultural structures in the world, but which retains too many of the progress-resistant political structures that were identified by the time of the landing of the second fleet of convicts in the colony of New South Wales. A colony which had already rebelled against bullying, land grabbing and corrupt, manipulative structures which still largely deny the very rights that Sue Williams' heroic women were struggling for.

With Elizabeth & Elizabeth, Sue Williams offers a highly entertaining introduction to the early development of the British penal colony which has become Australia. For readers with an interest in the country’s early history, Williams' historical novel provides a compelling basis for discussion of our prevailing attitudes to our indigenous ancestors, to our current values and social attitudes and to our right to claim a respectable place in the modern world that is the 21st century.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating: