28 September 2021

Review: As Swallows Fly by L.P. McMahon

* Copy courtesy of Ventura Press *
As Swallows Fly by L.P. McMahon book cover

In As Swallows Fly by L.P. McMahon, Kate is a plastic surgeon living in Melbourne and Malika is an orphan from a remote village in Pakistan. Their lives unexpectedly converge thanks to the well meaning intentions of an uncle and priest and each of the women seem to directly - and sometimes indirectly - help one another with their struggles.

Malika's childhood upbringing in rural Pakistan was tough, yet full of love and her joy of learning and mathematics was a pleasure to read about. I learned that the author volunteered as a medic in Pakistan and his experience definitely shines through in his writing.

Malika struggles with a facial disfigurement after an horrific assault and insists on keeping her face concealed by wearing a veil and hijab. Arguably one of the most moving scenes in the entire book should have been the moment Malika reveals her face to Dr Kate for the first time. I was eagerly anticipating this moment, but the conversation between the characters is held 'off stage' so to speak. In my opinion the author missed an opportunity for these characters to experience a powerful scene and without it, I felt bereft.

Meanwhile, Kate is hardworking and overworked and she's constantly running late for things which really irked me. I know the author needed to demonstrate the demanding nature of Kate's job and how 'busy busy' she is, but it just made me roll my eyes.

I was enjoying the growing trust between Kate and Malika, but by the close of the book there were too many unanswered questions for my liking. There were unresolved character arcs and a glaring oversight right at the end. (Find me on GoodReads for more on this where I was able to hide my questions via a spoiler warning).

As Swallows Fly is the debut novel for Melbourne surgeon L.P. McMahon and will be an enjoyable contemporary read for those who don't mind an ambiguous or unresolved ending.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

23 September 2021

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab book cover
I loved this book! Adeline LaRue is born in France in 1691, and at the age of 23, her family have decided to marry her off to a widower with three children. Adeline refuses to be 'gifted like a prize sow to a man she does not love, or want, or even know'. In sheer desperation to avoid this fate, she prays with every fibre of her being. A spirit of the woods eventually answers and Addie explains she wants to be free and doesn't want to belong to anyone. In making a deal, her soul is cursed.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is a character driven story about how our main character comes to terms with her curse and the way in which she learns to navigate life now that she is forgettable. Addie is invisible, unable to leave a mark on the world or even say her own name. The unexpected ache of losing her family and everyone she's ever known is tough. Addie is completely and utterly alone and must find a way to survive.

Addie struggles and learns innovative ways in which to get by as she experiences life through the years, decades, and eventually the centuries and I loved it. It also reminded me a little of The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Through the series, Rice imagines what it's like to outlive everyone else, never age and yet witness so much change in the world over time. The elements I love from that series (relationships, the changing culture over time and the evolution of art, architecture, travel and technology) are evident here, yet in Schwab's own style.

Full of evocative writing and passages that made me pause and reflect, this was my first time reading anything by V.E. Schwab, but it certainly won't be the last. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue manages to straddle the genres of historical fiction and fantasy (owing to the curse) and I just loved the writing style. It's clear the author loves books and stories too, here's a quote from Addie early on in the novel:
"What she needs are stories. Stories are a way to preserve one's self. To be remembered. And to forget. Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books. Books she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives - or to find strength in a very long one." Page 31
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is a slow burn character study that makes you reflect on the past, the present and the future and ponder what really matters in the world. The book also made me wonder 'what if' and is a serious contender for my Top 5 Books of 2021 list. The ending was powerful and had me cheering for Addie and I can't wait to read more from this talented writer.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

18 September 2021

Review: How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman

How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman audiobook cover
I managed to leave the frustrations of Melbourne lockdown behind me while visiting Renaissance Britain with one of my favourite historians Ruth Goodman this month. In How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain, Ruth Goodman covers the many ways in which a person could offend, upset, aggravate and disrespect others in Renaissance Britain, which includes the Stuart and Tudor period. Interestingly, the book has been published under a different title in America, How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves, and Braggarts.

The book draws on a range of reference materials, including court records, letters, books, pamphlets and more, and Goodman describes the etiquette and manners of the times, and the way in which those who deviated from what was deemed acceptable or expected behaviour were rude, crass and unpleasant company.

Your dress and bearing immediately indicated your class and social standing, with everyone expected to respect their 'betters'. I continue to be fascinated by the changing fashions and the way in which garments and trends often altered a person's bearing, from the way they held themselves to the way they walked or entered a room. I especially enjoyed the chapter on bowing and curtseying but dearly wished for accompanying images or video footage to demonstrate the movements being described.

The insults were cutting and occasionally amusing, especially the author's favourite "turd in your teeth". Goodman provides interesting insights into the changing meaning of descriptions like knave and swashbuckler and I enjoyed other words from the period including: wastrel, fool, strumpet, drunkard and stinkard.

Chapter 5 covered Disgusting Habits and not much has changed over the centuries when it comes to personal hygiene and revolting habits. Slurping or eating with your mouth open was just as gross then as it is now, and I enjoyed this quote shared by Goodman:
"Sup not loud of thy pottage no time in all thy life.” Boke of Nurture by Hugh Rhodes (Published in 1577)
Having enjoyed watching Ruth Goodman in Tudor Monastery Farm, Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm and Full Steam Ahead, I opted to listen to the audiobook after learning it was narrated by the author herself. Goodman's style and sense of humour flows through the book, however, I noticed that when she's quoting a reference, her voice is louder (and almost shouty) before resuming the regular volume again. At other times, she speaks more softly to emphasise a point, and as a result, I had to continually adjust the volume which greatly impacted my level of enjoyment.

I love learning new things about daily life in different eras, and in How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain, it was the importance of shirt tails. How did I not know that the long tails of shirts once acted as a barrier between the body and the trousers, essentially performing the role of underwear (or drawers) for men. Men's shirts reached down to just above the knees with a slit at both sides, so they could be tucked around one's nether regions without impeding movement. As a result, to see a man with his shirt tails hanging out was 'disgusting' and now I understand why!

I enjoyed reading How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life by Ruth Goodman back in January 2018 and How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman is recommended for those with an interest in social history, etiquette and manners.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

15 September 2021

Review: Nineteen Days by Kath Engebretson

Nineteen Days by Kath Engebretson book cover

* Copy courtesy of Atlas Productions *

Genevieve and her husband Peter are recovering from a family trauma and have decided to go on a cruise in an effort to heal the rift between them. Genevieve strikes up a conversation with another passenger by the name of Thomas. Morbidly obese and seemingly lonely, Thomas has a number of health concerns but he's a great listener and their friendship starts to take root.

Throughout the nineteen days of the cruise (informing the title of the book), their conversations begin to deepen and we learn about Thomas's complicated family history, and more about Genevieve and Peter's loss.

Genevieve and Thomas are on a cruise from Sydney to Honolulu via New Zealand and I loved the realistic descriptions of life at sea on a cruise ship. The variety of activities and happenings on sea days and port visits made me long to go cruising again after this pandemic is over. Some of you might recall that I recently read another book set on a cruise ship, and you'd be right, however The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton was a thriller and quite different to Nineteen Days.

Nineteen Days is a book about friendship, loneliness, the power of listening, the importance of family and the strength of love in the world. A poor decision by the main character at the very end of the book jerked me out of the story at a critical point, and while it didn't impact the characters or the ending at all, it ultimately cost a star in this review. Nineteen Days is written by Australian author Kath Engebretson and it was an entertaining read that made me long for the high seas again.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

13 September 2021

Review: Silence by John Biguenet

Silence by John Biguenet book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *

It's time for another book from the Object Lessons series by Bloomsbury Academic and this time it's Silence by John Biguenet. By far, the most enjoyable of the series for me to date, John Biguenet is a playwright and novelist and in Silence he explores many aspects of sound and the lack of it, and I enjoyed his observations.

As a human race, we generate and consume sound in the form of communication, work, travel, music and entertainment, and much of what we do generates noise; think cars, appliances and general day-to-day living. Ironically, we're also seeking to quieten our lives through the purchase of sound cancelling earphones and whisper quiet kettles. Quiet carriages on trains are available for passengers not wanting to be disturbed by the sounds of phones chirruping, people talking or music playing.

Silence is often a luxury, it can be expensive and is richly sought after in wellbeing retreats and meditation. In contrast, silence can be used as a form of punishment in cases of solitary confinement. In silence, some of us find peace and tranquility, where others experience fear, loneliness and perhaps even the stubborn ringing of tinnitus.

We live in a world full of noise but most of us have our own tolerance levels regarding what constitutes good noise, loud noise, unacceptable noise, and irritating noise. Writing this from lockdown in Melbourne, I was excited when a neighbour began playing his electric guitar from a balcony a few nights ago. However other neighbours were quick to complain about the noise on social media. It's clear that what can delight some, is intrusive to others.

Some of us might relate to the frustration of being unable to find peace and quiet when working from home. I've had to tolerate construction noise at all hours for years here in Southbank, however this struggle isn't entirely new. I loved discovering that:
"The men whose labors brought forth the Constitution of the United States had the street outside Independence Hall covered with earth so that their deliberations might not be disturbed by passing traffic." Page 20
I love tidbits from history like that. Biguenet also comments on another of my favourite topics, the nature of silent reading and the auditory voice - or inner voice - we experience when we read to ourselves.

It turns out our forebears weren't so different from us, and that 'infernal racket' has troubled human beings for centuries. As such, I enjoyed following Biguenet's reflections on silence and sound and learned that:
"The quietest place on earth, an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to bear it is 45 minutes." Page 19
The closest I came to achieving complete silence was in a sensory deprivation tank or float tank and the experience was illuminating. 

Silence by John Biguenet is full of interesting observations in this collection of essays and I highly recommend it.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

06 September 2021

Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence book cover
The Lost Girls by Australian author Jennifer Spence is a family mystery with a time slip at its core. Stella gets on a bus in Sydney in 2017, however when she steps off, it's 1997. Without knowing how, Stella has 'travelled' 20 years back in time, and I enjoyed following her around as she tried to make sense of her surroundings.

Accepting her newfound circumstances rather quickly, Stella wonders if she's been given a second chance to alter events and in doing so, avoid a family tragedy. Visiting her family home, she sees her younger self which is usually a 'no-no' in time travel. However the author provides a refreshingly different take on the time slip and Stella introduces herself as an Aunt who disappeared many years ago and is still considered missing.

The usual themes in time slip novels and movies arise, such as whether the slightest change can alter the future, or if the future is already set. Stella starts to record her memories so that she can determine if she's making any headway on changing the future. Here's where it starts to get a little too 'timey-wimey' for this reader. If Stella is successful in changing her past, then surely her memories will also change to reflect this, right? And shouldn't 2017 Stella, remember her long lost Aunty turning up and staying with her family in 1997? Things get hazy for Stella and the reader, and I found that I couldn't quite let go of the attempt to stay on track with the science fiction nature of this particular angle of the time slip narrative.

The Lost Girls is set in Sydney Australia and I enjoyed the setting in both time frames. Incorporating key historical moments within the narrative was interesting (the death of Diana, Princess of Wales for example) as were some of the internal observations Stella makes along the way. Most entertaining of all was the cold case mystery within the family.

Published in 2019, this has got to be one of my favourite cover designs of that year, don't you agree? As for whether Stella was successful in her endeavours or whether she made it back to her 'own time' in 2017, you'll just have to read the book to find out.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

03 September 2021

Guest Review: The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea by Renee Treml

James Harris holding two books for his Carpe Librum review
Guest reviewer James Harris, aged 9

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *


It's a pleasure to welcome James Harris back to Carpe Librum with his review from The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea by Renee Treml. It's Owl Good is Book 1, and Squeals on Wheels is Book 2 in this junior fiction series and James really enjoyed them. Over to you James, what did you think?

James' Review

I was so lucky to get a copy of these graphic fiction books to review. They are aimed at young readers 4-7. I am 9, but I thought I would read them anyway and I really liked them. They were funny and I liked the illustrations. I think they would be very good for kids who maybe are scared of reading or who find a page of words hard to read. There were not too many colours and they had chapters also, which I think young kids would really like. They also both told a story which is important for young kids to know.
It's Owl Good (Book 1) in The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea by Renee Treml
It's Owl Good (Book 1) in
The Super Adventures of Ollie
and Bea by Renee Treml
Allen & Unwin

It's Owl Good sets the scene for how an owl (Ollie) and a rabbit (Bea) they become friends, and Ollie wears glasses and they try to find their superpowers. In Squeals on Wheels, Bea is a bit scared of looking silly on roller skates, but Ollie shows Bea that you should just be having fun and not worrying about things like that. I think these type of lessons are important and kids will like them.

I really enjoyed these books, I think other young kids would too. I will be donating these copies to the junior library at my school for the kindy and grade 1 kids because I think they will love them! Best of all, the author lives in Australia! I give them 4.5 stars each.

You can seize these books at Booktopia.

James' Rating:

01 September 2021

Review: Medieval Bodies - Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell

Medieval Bodies - Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell book cover
Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell was a great follow up after reading Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies in July.

Medieval Bodies is structured with chapters dedicated to different parts of the body (e.g. head, heart, hands, feet and so on) from the head to foot in order to provide the reader with an overall picture of the body in the middle ages and the approach to medicine at the time. Of course, this includes the four humours (blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm), and if a person was unwell, this was attributed to an imbalance of the humours. The appropriate treatment was then prescribed, which might include blood letting, leeches, poultices and more.
"Lauded above sweat or urine or spiritus, blood was the medieval body’s most vital substance." Chapter 7
Occasionally the author drifted off topic and while still maintaining my interest in the content provided, it weakened the overall structure of the book in my opinion.

Jack Hartnell is an Associate Professor of Art History specialising in the art of the Middle Ages and it shows in this book. There was a clear focus on the Art in the Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages subtitle, and by listening to this on audiobook, I missed out on the illustrations which might have lifted this from a 3 star to a 4 star read. My natural curiosity led me to seek out the artworks mentioned online and my efforts were rewarded.

Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell is recommended reading in print form for those with an interest in history, art, medicine and the middle ages.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating: