30 July 2021

Blog Tour and Review: The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Today I'm participating in the Penguin Random House Australia blog tour for The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell, who signed more than 6,500 tip-in sheets (title pages) while in lockdown in the UK. Oh, and she also wrote this book.

BLURB

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell book cover
"Mum, there's some people here from college, they asked me back to theirs. Just for an hour or so. Is that OK?"

Midsummer 2017: teenage mum Tallulah heads out on a date, leaving her baby son at home with her mother, Kim.

At 11pm she sends her mum a text message. At 4.30am Kim awakens to discover that Tallulah has not come home.

Friends tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a pool party at a house in the woods nearby called Dark Place.

Tallulah never returns.

2018: walking in the woods behind the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started as a head-teacher, Sophie sees a sign nailed to a fence.

A sign that says: DIG HERE . . .


REVIEW

The start of The Night She Disappeared had me by the throat immediately, with a skin crawling prologue about arachnophobia.
"Arachnophobia. It's one of those words that sounds as bad as that which it describes. The hard 'ack' at the end of the second syllable suggestive of the repulsive angles of a spider's legs; the soft sweep of the the 'fo' like the awful wave of nausea that washes through your gut at the suggestion of a sudden movement across a wall or floor; the loud 'no' at its centre the sound of your brain screaming, in disgust, nononono. Tallulah suffers from arachnophobia. Tallulah is in the dark."
Wow, what a way to start a book! From there, the reader is introduced to Tallulah, a young teenage Mum who is missing along with her boyfriend after attending a friend's party. Living on the school grounds, Sophie is the head teacher's girlfriend and a cosy crime author suffering from writer's block who chooses to distract herself by looking into the cold case of the missing teenagers. Tallulah's mother Kim is left literally holding the baby, and we have access to all three character perspectives throughout the novel.

The Night She Disappeared is part domestic noir, psychological thriller and mystery and I was heavily invested in finding out what happened that night. Following Sophie's enquiries felt like the cosy crime she is famous for (in Scandinavia anyway) and the psychological games deployed by some manipulative characters in the book kept me on the edge of my seat. There was even a police procedural style section towards the end which kept the pace flying along towards a satisfactory conclusion.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell has a little bit of everything and is highly recommended for thriller fans looking for a little variety from the genre.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


27 July 2021

Giveaway and Interview with Tony Park, author of Blood Trail

Tony Park, author (Credit - Annelien Oberholzer)


Intro

Australian author Tony Park is an Army veteran who has also worked as a reporter, PR consultant and press secretary. Tony has written 6 non fiction books and 18 novels set in Africa and his latest book Blood Trail is being published on 1 August 2021. Passionate about wildlife conservation, Tony's latest book is set in a South African game reserve, and you can enter the giveaway below for your chance to win 1 of 2 signed copies of Blood Trail thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia. Tony joins me today to answer a few questions.

Interview

Thanks for joining me Tony. If you had 25 words to entice a reader to read Blood Trail, what would they be?
Escape the COVID blues with a virtual trip to Africa to explore wildlife, witchcraft, action, adventure and men and women behaving badly.

In Blood Trail, poachers in a South African game reserve use witchcraft in the belief it'll protect them and make them bulletproof. This blows my mind. Can you tell us more about the witchcraft practices in that area?
Traditional beliefs are widely held in every strata of African society, even among people who identify with ‘mainstream’ religions. Belief systems – some people would call them superstitions are also very important in any society where people are involved in high-risk, high-reward pursuits. The easiest of these to understand is – people become more religious, more superstitious and cling to rituals when the stakes are, literally, life and death. I’m working on a non fiction book at the moment about a RAAF air gunner in WWII who suffered 50 per cent deafness all his life because he flew in a bomber when he had a very bad head cold. There was no way he was going to sit the mission out as his crew all firmly believe, as he did, that crews that flew with a replacement member were always shot down. The war on poaching in Africa is high-risk, high-stakes and the people involved will use any talisman, potion or charm they can to improve their chances.

I read that Blood Trail was written while you were in lockdown. Was the writing process vastly different to your previous 18 novels set in Africa?
Absolutely. Normally I live half the year in Africa, in the bush, and I can immerse myself in the places I write about. The writing comes easy and the research is mostly by osmosis. I wrote Blood Trail in the spare bedroom of a two bedroom flat in Sydney! It forced me to take a different approach – as the book is largely about personal belief systems I talked to people – academics, park rangers, police, safari guides and an African friend abut the situation on the ground in the war against rhino poaching and their personal beliefs. We chatted via Zoom and messenger. It was actually quite rewarding, and fascinating.

Given you and your wife usually live in Africa for 6 months of the year, is this way of life for you now threatened? Are you optimistic about being able to return to Africa in the near future?
As we have residency and property in Africa – we are also part owners of Nantwich Lodge, a safari lodge in Hwange National Park Zimbabwe, we’re hopeful we can get permission to leave Australia early to get back to Africa. Whether or not that comes through, I’ll be on the next possible plane to Africa. We were first in line for our vaccinations.
Blood Trail by Tony Park book cover

Where do you like to do most of your writing? Do you have any writing rituals?

Normally I’m in an upstairs loft in our house in a game reserve in Africa. Even here in Australia, in my flat, I follow the same ritual as in Africa. I try to get an early start and clear my head – with a drive in the bush in Africa looking at wild animals, or an early run in Sydney! I then get stuck in. I have a daily quota of four pages about 1600 words, which I must complete five days a week – no more, no less. Even if I’m on a roll I like to stop and keep something in the tank for the next day. I never finish my quota at the end of a chapter – I sneak on to the next page. There is nothing more confronting at the start of the day than a blank page.

How do you feel about being compared to Wilbur Smith?
I like Wilbur’s earlier books, when he was writing about contemporary southern Africa. If there are any similarities between us, I’d say they relate more to those books from the 1960s and 70s. I’m flattered to be compared to someone who has provided so much entertainment to so many. I hope I’m still writing when I’m in my 90s!

Is there a book by an African writer you believe deserves more attention?
My favourite author of books set in Africa was the late John Gordon-Davis. His book Hold My Hand I’m Dying, set in the bush in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) is still the best novel ever set in Africa.

Having served 34 years in the Australian Army Reserve, do you find many veterans forming part of your readership base? (I'm a veteran too, and I'm imagining your books being shared in messes all over the world).
Increasingly so, yes. Social media has been a great tool for veterans to support each other and it's really encouraging seeing that manifest itself in sites such as Brothers 'N' Books, which promotes reading. I’ve also taken on a voluntary position as the inaugural Veteran Writer in Residence at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, in Sydney, to help veterans interested in writing. There’s a growing groundswell of veterans who want to tell their stories.

What are you reading at the moment?
An old novel from the 1970s, KG 200, by J.D. Gilman and John Clive. It’s about a German squadron that flew captured allied aircraft on secret missions in WWII. It was a favourite of mine as a teenager and I found it in a street library – I want to see if I still like it. I’m also reading Duty Nobly Done, a non-fiction book by Adam Holloway about his family’s several generations of service. I’m looking forward to Peter Watt’s The Colonial’s Son, set in Afghanistan in the 19th century.

Has the pandemic changed your reading habits in any way?
Book sales have boomed during the pandemic and like other people I’ve found that staying home and not going out in the evenings has given me more time to read. I’ve also been trying out some new authors, which has been rewarding.

What are you working on now?
I’m nearly finished the first draft of a 20th novel. It will see a return of one of my more popular characters, retired mercenary Sonja Kurtz. This time she’s fighting abalone poaching in Africa – this is a little known but highly lucrative area of organised crime. I also have a couple of co-written non fiction books in the pipeline.

They sound great, anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks so much for your support for Australian authors, and thank you for your service!

Thanks so much Tony! You can find out more about Tony Park at www.tonypark.net 

Blurb

Evil is at play in a South African game reserve.

A poacher vanishes into thin air, defying logic, and baffling ace tracker Mia Greenaway.

Meanwhile Captain Sannie van Rensburg, still reeling from a personal tragedy, is investigating the disappearance of two young girls who locals fear have been abducted for use in sinister traditional medicine practices.

But poachers are also employing witchcraft, paying healers for potions they believe will make them invisible and bulletproof.

When a tourist goes missing, Mia and Sannie must work together to confront their own demons - which challenges everything they believe in - while following a bloody trail that seems to vanish at every turn.

Giveaway

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




23 July 2021

Review: The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


20 July 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


18 July 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


12 July 2021

Review: The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


09 July 2021

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:


05 July 2021

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

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

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

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

Andrea & Rosemary


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

Carpe Librum!


04 July 2021

Review: A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn

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


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

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

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

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

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

You can seize this book at Booktopia.


My Rating:



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