17 June 2021

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

Katharine Parr - The Sixth Wife by Alison Weir book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

14 June 2021

Guest Review: Email by Randy Malamud

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


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

Neil's Review

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

Subject: Randy Malamud's email re Email

Hi reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

11 June 2021

Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

09 June 2021

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

04 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Mrs England by Stacey Halls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended for historical fiction fans.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating: