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

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.


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


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 *


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.


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:

18 May 2021

Review: Hair by Scott Lowe

Hair by Scott Lowe book cover
Hair and hairstyles are endlessly fascinating. The cultural differences, the meaning behind particular styles, the changing fashion trends over time, and the assumptions we make about people with particular hairstyles are limitless. If you find yourself wondering how the Ned Kelly beard made a comeback, or why a young person today would choose to rock a mullet, then you're interested in hair too.

Hair by Scott Lowe is from the Object Lessons series of books by Bloomsbury Academic, and I borrowed this copy from the library.
"So, the way hair is dyed, shaped, managed, neglected, restrained, or set free always has meaning. Hair is vexing and it is complex. Everyone has opinions about hair, so naturally the world's religious traditions have a great deal to say about it." Pages 12-13
Lowe goes on to say:
"Hair may be social or private, trendy or deliberately uncool, serious or ironic; hair is geographical, ethnic, and biological, but above all, I think it's religious." Page 14
Having taught religious studies for 30 years, Scott Lowe informs the reader early on that he is going to narrow his focus and present the religious aspects of hair in this book. Was I disappointed on learning this? You bet! Did I feel as though I wasn't going to get the full picture? Absolutely! However, the author still managed to hold my attention and teach me something new, like the fact that Muslim men remove their armpit and pubic hair.
"Modern Muslim men continue to practice a limited form of body depilation, removing only armpit and pubic hair. Torso, arm, and leg hair is usually left undisturbed. Head hair is neatly trimmed and kept short, beards are also trimmed but usually long." Page 46
Lowe points out that some religions use hair and dress to differentiate themselves from Muslims and other religions. Sikhs wear 'full moustaches, extravagant beards and often enormous turbans' and Hindus have short hair, heavy moustaches and no beards. Other religions and hairstyles were presented, including a topic of interest, the tonsure. A variety of interpretations for the shaven head were also revealed.
"A shaven head indicates disgrace or shame when used as a punishment, yet a similar hairless head might signify controlled rage on a White supremacist, self-confident power on a CEO, dedication to a life of celibacy on a Buddhist monk, a recent life transition on a Hindu, and mourning on a Lakota. It's complex." Page 122
The covering of women's hair for religious purposes is included, and wimples, hijabs, veils and wigs are touched on briefly, along with the history of blonde and red hair in men and women.

In an introduction to styling, Lowe piqued my interest with the following:
"In every epoch for which we have evidence, humans have employed enormous creative energy to devise new and distinctive hairstyles. From braiding to perming to tying hair onto massive wire and wood superstructures, powdering, flouring - before the French revolution put an end to that wasteful practice, French aristocrats purportedly used enough flour on their wigs every month to make thousands of loaves of bread - shaving, sculpting, lacquering, coloring, curling, gilding, waxing, primping, ratting, the list goes on and on." Page 69
Unfortunately for this reader, Lowe doesn't expand on any of these tantalising hairstyles, and much is left unexplored in favour of the focus on religion.

Ironically, Lowe had time in the book to touch on the strange custom of eighteenth-century British lovers who 'give each other clippings of their pubic hair' and the Victorian custom of mourning jewellery containing a lock of hair from a deceased loved one. With only three pages given to African-American hair and hairstyles, these were all topics I was eager to explore but will need to do so elsewhere.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

14 May 2021

Celebrating 1.5M Page Views!

Today I'm celebrating my biggest Carpe Librum milestone yet! (Drum roll)

I've just reached 1.5 Million Page Views!

Starting in 2005, I've achieved some great milestones along the way, and the site has undergone many improvements over the years. It took me 12 years to reach 1M page views and just under another 3.5 years to reach 1.5 million. I have a current average of 15,000 views per month, I've published 1,223 blog posts and given away more than $2,000 in books and prizes here at Carpe Librum.

During that time, my passion for books and reading continues to grow regardless of the numbers but it's great to celebrate the milestones as they happen.
Carpe Librum celebrates 1.5 million page views

A massive shout out and thank you to those of you who have been sharing my love of books and reading since the early days and a hearty and bookish welcome to the newbies who have subscribed more recently. If you've enjoyed a book after reading one of my reviews, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section. Maybe you won one of my giveaways and the book is still on your shelf.

Share your favourite highlight of the last 16 years and your contribution towards the 1.5 million page views. 

Thanks for your support and happy reading.

Carpe Librum!

11 May 2021

Review: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz book cover
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

This is the story of a person who discovers a female victim of crime. If you watch the news, listen to true crime podcasts, watch true crime documentaries or read any crime or true crime books (tick, tick, tick, tick and tick) then you'll be familiar with the fact that human remains are most often found by members of the public. People like you or me. Joggers, dog walkers, bushwalkers, beachcombers and those just enjoying the outdoors, can end up discovering a person by sheer accident. In this novel, Ruby is one such person. 

Author Jacqueline Bublitz takes a unique approach in this novel by focussing on what happens after a member of the public discovers a victim of crime. Presumably their lives are turned upside down, but how do they process the randomness of their discovery and deal with the aftermath? In Before You Knew My Name, Bublitz seeks to find out when Ruby finds the remains of a Jane Doe by the Hudson River in New York. The connection between Ruby and the unidentified murder victim known as Riverside Jane is strengthened and in a unique narrative style, we slowly learn more about Jane's life leading up to the point it was snatched away.

Violence against women and public safety is an important theme in this book, as is the public's obsession with female victims of crime. But don't worry, it doesn't suggest all men are evil and certainly doesn't pretend to have all the answers. This is a story about finding connections in a big city and the generosity of others and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the online sleuths who attempt to solve cases like these; both in the book and in real life.
"These are the men and women who dedicate themselves to solving cold cases, who learn the names of the official investigators assigned to these cases, and don't hesitate to share their theories with both the police and each other. These self-taught criminologists share concerns about under-resourced police departments and clues potentially missed; they are a small army advancing through the nation of the dead. Points are scored if they can pair a recently discovered Jane or John with a known missing person." Page 195
Before You Knew My Name is not a whodunnit or a whydunnit and doesn't focus on the perpetrator at all. Instead, Jacqueline Bublitz offers a refreshingly unique premise that kept me engaged and is recommended for crime and thriller readers - both new and seasoned - looking for a new perspective.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

10 May 2021

Winner of The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway last week to win a copy of The Hope Flower by Australian author Joy Dettman. Entrants correctly identified that Lori had eleven brothers and one sharp-eyed reader noticed the cheeky checkbox "I have eleven brothers, so I deserve to win this giveaway" and earned an additional entry.

The giveaway closed at midnight on Mother's Day, and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:


Congratulations Janelle! You've won a print copy of The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman valued at
The Hope Flower by Joy Dettman book cover
$34.99AUD thanks to Pan Macmillan. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win and your prize will be sent out to you by the publisher.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more giveaway opportunities coming soon. For more details, check out my giveaways page.

Carpe Librum

05 May 2021

Review: The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack

The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack book cover
The Pun Also Rises - How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More than Some Antics
by John Pollack kicks off with a bang! Recalling his attendance at the eighteenth annual world pun championships, the author had me chuckling early on and it continued throughout the book.

Pollack explains many different types and styles of puns, why they're clever, why we find them funny and naturally how they've been decried by some circles throughout history. In basic terms, a pun is a phrase or word that contains layers or multiple meanings. Sometimes it can be a word that has multiple meanings, such as: "An architect in prison complained that the walls were not built to scale." Other times it can be a play on words or the sound of words, such as: "The excitement at the circus is in tents."
"So what's the alchemy at work here? How do the best puns manage to layer so much meaning, humor, even irony into just a few words? And why in the world is punning so intrinsic to human expression that it sparks such mischievous delight?" Page xxiv
There are many different types of puns and early on in the book Pollack also takes pains to say:
"And while linguists have defined the pun's principal forms, its many variations actually defy easy categorization." Page xxiv
Pollack outlines the many ways we can manipulate language for our own amusement and the entertainment and enjoyment of others. The author explains that puns fall into two principal categories, homophonic puns and homographic puns. Homophonic puns are those using words that sound alike (such as 'in tents' and 'intense') and homographic puns involve a word that is spelled the same but contains more than one meaning. There are also paradigmatic puns requiring the listener to grasp a greater context in order to get the joke, and syntagmatic puns where a sequence of similar or identical words are used. A great example of a syntagmatic pun is provided:
"The wedding was beautiful. The bride was in tears, and the cake was in tiers, too." Page 12
It was fun to visit spoonerisms in the book, which is when a person speaking transposes letters or words in a sentence that still manages to makes sense, but in a new and funny way. A well known example from the Oxford don after which spoonerisms are named, occurred when he met Queen Victoria and thanks to a slip of the tongue, said "a half-warmed fish" instead of "a half-formed wish". Whoops!

Pollack gives the reader two definitions of puns from a 1719 essay by Thomas Sheridan the first of which was an absolute highlight of the book. Sheridan described the physical definition of punning as the:
"art of harmonious jingling upon words, which, passing in at the ears, and falling upon the diaphragma, excites a titillary motion in those parts; and this, being conveyed by the animal spirits into the muscles of the face, raises the cockles of the heart." Page 81
Brilliant! I just love this description!

As soon as I started reading this book, I began to notice puns everywhere. I've noticed copious puns showing up in news headlines and articles and they're definitely a firm favourite of the TV host of Lego Masters. 

John Pollack clearly loves puns and provides a detailed history in The Pun Also Rises. I'll admit much of the content was a little dry, however Pollack keeps whetting our appetite by weaving in clever little puns throughout the content. I chuckled at the 'harmonious jingling upon words' reading this, and finished the book with a newfound appreciation for this linguistic talent.

So, where do you sit when it comes to puns? Chuckleworthy or groan inducing?

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

03 May 2021

Review: Gory Details - Adventures from the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt

Gory Details - Adventures from the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt audiobook cover
Erika Engelhaupt is a science journalist and in Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science, she shines a light on the gross, the bizarre, the taboo and morbidly fascinating elements of science.

Engelhaupt divides her book into the following six parts, each containing multiple chapters:
  1. Morbid Curiosity
  2. That's Disgusting
  3. Breaking Taboos
  4. Creepy Crawlies
  5. Gross Anatomy
  6. Mysterious Minds

Writing the column Gory Details for National Geographic, Engelhaupt covers a broad range of subjects in the book, including a few of my favourite topics of interest:
  • Frances Glessner Lee's dollhouse crime scene dioramas (or nutshells) used to train detectives and forensic investigators
  • Super recognisers and their ability to fight crime
  • Floating feet in British Columbia
  • Fatbergs
  • The Mandela Effect

She also introduced me to fascinating new topics, like:
  • The smell of sickness
  • Necrophilia in the animal kingdom
  • Misophonia, a strong reaction to particular sounds and noises
  • Insects inside the body

Many of these topics had me heading to Google for more information, my interest having been well and truly piqued. I listened to the audiobook of Gory Details, and the short chapters made for excellent reading, often covering a topic in 10-15 mins.

Gory Details by Erika Engelhaupt is highly recommended for trivia buffs and if you enjoy the non fiction writing of Mary Roach or Caitlin Doughty, this is definitely for you. Also recommended for those with an interest in the world of science, biology, anatomy and nature. 

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating: