26 January 2022

Review: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams book cover

The Dictionary of Lost Words
by Pip Williams is the story of Esme Nicoll, who grows up in a garden shed in Oxford known as the Scrippy, or Scriptorium. Esme's father Harry is one of a team of lexicographers working on the assembly of the first Oxford English Dictionary under Dr Murray's watchful eye. Esme is surrounded by words and growing up without a mother, she often turns to the definitions sent in by volunteers and her dear Aunt Ditte to help her make sense of the world.

Esme is a fictional character and Ditte is a fictionalised version of a woman called Edith Thompson, but the novel is based on real figures from history who worked on the dictionary. It was a mammoth undertaking that began in 1857 with a concept and was finally finished in 1928 with supplements to follow. During this time, many faceless women and volunteers made significant contributions to the project but are unremembered by history. In The Dictionary of Lost Words, Australian author Pip Williams has attempted to right the balance and give us a sense of what the project might have meant to those whose lives centred around it.

Beginning in 1886, The Dictionary of Lost Words is a slow moving coming-of-age story and we follow Esme from a child, through her formative years into an adult. During this time, the suffrage movement grows and Esme befriends an actress. In contrast, I enjoyed the complex relationship between Esme and Lizzie, and Lizzie's status in the world as a bondmaid was both confronting and touching. From Lizzie:
'I clean, I help with the cooking, I set the fires. Everything I do gets eaten or dirtied or burned - at the end of a day there's no proof I've been here at all'. She paused, kneeled down beside me and stroked the embroidery on the edge of my skirt. It hid the repair she'd made when I tore it on the brambles. 'Me needlework will always be here' she said. 'I see this and I feel... like I'll always be here.' Page 41-42
This quiet character study explores class differences, the suffrage movement, and female agency in particular. The scriptorium with it's 1,029 pigeon-holes and the endless flow of quotation slips being received from all over the world was expertly portrayed and I longed to sort the mail with Esme and compose responses to the many questions submitted by members of the public. I enjoyed Esme's determination to collect and record women's words and her enthusiasm for language and stories shines through.
"Words are like stories, don't you think, Mr Sweatman? They change as they are passed from mouth to mouth; their meanings stretch or truncate to fit what needs to be said. The Dictionary can't possibly capture every variation, especially since so many have never been written down." Page 148
If you enjoyed the 2019 film The Professor and the Madman, based on the 1998 book The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester, (also published under the title The Professor and the Madman) then you'll no doubt enjoy this.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams will appeal to historical fiction lovers, booklovers and those with a fondness for words and language. Highly recommended.

My Rating:

19 January 2022

Review: Vanished by James Delargy

Vanished by James Delargy book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Vanished by James Delargy is a thriller set in outback WA with an engaging premise. The Kane family move to an abandoned mining town in WA with their six year old son Dylan, but soon the entire family disappears. What happened to them?

This was an intriguing enough premise to draw me in and the mystery kept me plowing through the book to find the answers. The family choose the least run down cottage in the town and try to make the most of their circumstances by engaging in a home improvement project.

The novel unfolds from multiple character perspectives, with each of the parents Lorcan and Naiyana in the past and Detective Emmaline Taylor investigating their disappearance in the present. Both Lorcan and Naiyana have their reasons for leaving family and friends behind in Perth so there's plenty to keep the plot moving.

The fictional abandoned mining town of Kallayee is located in the Great Victoria Desert, and Delargy does an exceptional job of bringing the remote location and the desolate landscape into sharp focus. The writing is also compelling, and I especially enjoyed this insight into the despicable nature of some elements of humanity.
"The unspoken had been uttered, leaving a bitter taste. It was disgusting. It was horrible. And now that it was out in the open, it was a possibility." Page 315
Vanished by James Delargy is highly recommended for fans of Jane Harper or Chris Hammer.

My Rating:

12 January 2022

Guest Review: Snotlings - The Boogie Monster by Tarryn Mallick

* Copy courtesy of the author *

James Harris reading Snotlings by Tarryn Mallick with Xena the warrior chicken
James Harris

Junior guest reviewer James Harris has been reading up a storm over the holidays and discovered a new favourite Australian author. Snotlings - The Boogie Monster by Tarryn Mallick and illustrated by Nahum Ziersch is a laugh out loud thriller starring boogers and germs for children aged 7-12 years. I'll let James tell you all about it as he 'picks out' the best parts πŸ˜†

James' Review

Lucky for me Tarryn Mallick saw a review that I did on Carpe Librum and asked me to review her new book Snotlings. So it sounded really awesome - a whole world of boogers up someone’s nose, what's not to be excited about?

Firstly, it came in the mail. I never get mail so that was really exciting. And it was in a cool box, with a magnifying glass and some trading cards that were a bit like PokΓ©mon cards, but were from the characters in the book. SO cool. And it was signed by the author and I was one of the first ever children to read the book! And there was 40 tiny pictures of snotlings to find in the book, which was fun to use the magnifying glass for. So I wanted to start this book straight away (but Mum made me finish the one I was reading first).
Snotlings - The Boogie Monster by Tarryn Mallick book cover

There is this boy called Jackson, who is a kid about my age who NEVER vacuums his room (which sounds like me..!). He has a booger collection in his room, and one day he picks his nose and sees the booger move. So he uses a magnifying glass to look at it and finds a little warrior named Flick. This opens up the story about a whole world inside his nose where there is a war going on. There is good guys (the snotlings who have really cool names like Flick, Loogie, Crust, Goober) who live in Stickly Castle, and the bad guys (Mucuszar and his army of germs). And then they come out to the real world and try to destroy it by turning them into nose picking zombies. Jackson and his friends have to stop this all from happening, and explain it to the adults.

I liked this because it was funny and was easy to imagine the world because it painted a clear image in my head of the world up Jackson’s nose. I really hope there will be a book 2 because I think it has a lot of potential and this book has already based the story so well, it would be easy to jump into a new story of the snotlings.

I give it 5 snotballs out of 5 (and totally worth picking your nose for….)

James' Rating:

10 January 2022

2022 Reading Challenge Sign Ups

Sign ups for the 2022 reading challenges have been open for weeks now, but I like to sign up when I've finished wrapping up the previous years' challenges and reviews.

In 2022, I'm aiming to read 75 books and will be participating in the following 3 reading challenges:
  • Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022
  • 2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge
  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022
If you're wondering why I'm not participating in the Australian Women Writers' Challenge for the first time in 9 years, the challenge has now ended. For more info, see my wrap of the challenge.


Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022
Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022 logo

Last year I just managed to achieve the Emu level (24 books) of this challenge, but have decided to slip back to Kangaroo level this year.

Hosted by Jo from Booklover Book Reviews, I'll need to read and review 12 books by Australian authors, of which at least 4 are female, 4 are male, 4 are new-to-me authors and at least 3 genres are covered.

You don't need a blog to join in, and you can follow along on Facebook, Twitter or GoodReads.

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This challenge is hosted by fellow Aussie book blogger Shelleyrae at Book'd Out, and I'm signing up for the Nonfiction Nibbler level.

For this I'll need to read and review 6 books from any of the following categories:
2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge logo
1.  Social History
2.  Popular Science
3.  Language
4.  Medical Memoir
5.  Climate/Weather
6.  Celebrity
7.  Reference
8.  Geography
9.  Companion to a podcast
10. Wild Animals
11. Economics
12. Published in 2022

Any suggestions? You can also participate via Goodreads, LibraryThing, Instagram or Twitter

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022 logo
Hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader, I've signed up to complete the Renaissance Reader level again this year.

For this I'll need to read 10 historical fiction books to complete the challenge and I'm already putting together a mental list of all the books I want to read.

You can follow my progress during the year on my Challenges 2022 page.


What are your reading goals for 2022? Are you participating in any reading challenges? Do reading challenges motivate you to read more widely? I'd love to know.

Carpe Librum!

09 January 2022

Review: John Safran Vs The Occult by John Safran

John Safran Vs The Occult by John Safran cover

The last book for 2021 helped me achieve my reading goals, given that I needed one more book by an Australian male author in order to complete my Aussie Author reading challenge. (See what else I read here).

In John Safran Vs The Occult, Australian satirist John Safran explores his interest in religion, expanding his research to include witchcraft, black magic, satanism and the occult.

If you're expecting to learn more about what these practices are and their brief history, this isn't that book. Rather, Safran researches and then investigates current cases and crimes specifically attributed to witchcraft, black magic, satanism and the occult and takes the reader along for the experience. This makes for an individual case perspective rather than an analysis of these practices as a whole.

Written before the pandemic and published in 2019, Safran travels to Los Angeles, Texas and Vanuatu, and even meets a Muslim woman seeking an Islamic exorcism in his hometown of Melbourne.

Originally published as an Audible Original, Safran's unassuming personality and genuine interest in people and their beliefs enables him to get locals to open up and talk to him. I'll admit I got lost in the sea of people in Vanuatu and the myriad ways in which they were connected to the case, but hearing directly from the people being interviewed via excerpts was definitely a highlight. Safran's interview techniques build trust and rapport and listening to the stories it's clear the interviewees trust Safran to represent them honestly and with respect.

John Safran Vs The Occult is a solid introduction to the author's research style, varied fields of interest and unique delivery. As always, Safran manages to find the lighter moments and there are many chuckles along the way.

For more, you can check out my review of Murder In Mississippi by John Safran or check out my Google Hangout with him in 2013.

My Rating:

07 January 2022

Review: At Home - A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

At Home - A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson audiobook cover

British author Bill Bryson's enthusiasm for history is contagious and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to At Home - A Short History of Private Life

In this offering, Bryson looks at the history of private life by breaking down our domestic lives and examining them through the lens of the rooms contained within the Victorian parsonage in which he lives.*

Read by the author in his instantly recognisable delivery (now a favourite audiobook narrator alongside Hugh Mackay and David Sedaris) the book contains 19 chapters including: The Study, The Attic, The Bedroom, The Scullery and Larder, and The Nursery to name a few.

My favourite chapter by far was The Stairs, as I'm fascinated by just how dangerous and deadly the stairs were in households. The stairs used by servants and domestic staff were steep, cramped, and often included steps of uneven height. This was a disaster waiting to happen for staff rushing up and down stairs countless times a day, and was the cause of many accidents and deaths.

The role of clergy and their subsequent decline was interesting, although Bryson seemed to deviate from his own structure on occasion to expound on other tangential topics of interest. Finding the majority of the content presented interesting, I didn't mind this at all, however some readers might.

Informative, educational and entertaining, I can highly recommend At Home - A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson and will check out more of his works in the future.

*And yes, I just broke a personal rule never to use the word 'lives' and 'lives' in the same sentence, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention.

My Rating:

05 January 2022

3 Reading Challenge Wrap Ups for 2021

It was close, but I successfully completed all of my reading challenges during 2021 and read 75 books in total. You can see my wrap up of the Australian Women Writer's Challenge here and a list of all the books I read in 2021 here.

How did I go and what did I read?

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

This was my second year participating in the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out and I completed the Nonfiction Nibbler level. For this, I read 6 books from the categories below in order to complete the challenge.
2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge logo

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021

Hosted by Jo at Booklover Book Reviews, I successfully completed the Emu level of the challenge to read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors, of which at least 10 are female, 10 are male, and 10 are new-to-me authors. I also had to read from a minimum of 4 genres. 
Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2021 logo

1. My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips
2. The Reach by B. Michael Radburn
3. Peanut Butter - Breakfast Lunch Dinner Midnight by Tim Lannan & James Annabel
4. Chromatopia - An Illustrated History of Colour by David Coles
5. The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn
6. The Paris Affair by Pip Drysdale
7. Tussaud by Belinda Lyons-Lee
8. Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz
9. Grave Tales: Melbourne Vol. 1 by Helen Goltz & Chris Adams
10. The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald
11. A Voice In The Night by Sarah Hawthorn
12. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
13. The Inner Self by Hugh Mackay
14. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence
15. Nineteen Days by Kath Engebretson
16. As Swallows Fly by L. P. McMahon
17. Noni the Pony Counts to a Million by Alison Lester
18. Old Vintage Melbourne by Chris Macheras
19. Devotion by Hannah Kent
20. Christmas in Suburbia by Warren Kirk
21. The Housemate by Sarah Bailey
22. Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra
23. Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath
24. John Safran vs The Occult by John Safran
Have you read any of the books mentioned above?

I'm already thinking ahead to this year's reading challenges and have promised myself not to cut it so fine again on the Australian male author component of the Aussie Author challenge. I said that last year too, didn't I? 

How was your reading in 2021? Did you achieve what you wanted to?

04 January 2022

Review: Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath

Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Disgraced athlete Elise Glyk finds more than she bargains for when trying to locate her missing bother Callum by posing as a private investigator in Jack Heath's latest crime thriller, Kill Your Brother.

You know from the title going in that Elise is going to have to confront her loyalties head on at some point, but knowing this doesn't detract from the tension and the action that builds and explodes on the page. The reader also knows from the blurb that Elise is going to be caught by Callum's captor and imprisoned alongside him, but in no way is this a spoiler. Trust me, you won't be able to predict what happens next.

Having loved Heath's Timothy Blake series (Hangman, Hunter and Hideout), I'm pleased to report that the author is just as skilled at writing kick-ass female characters as he is penning kick-ass male ones. Elise is a brilliant and resourceful protagonist with a refreshing and unique background and I was rooting for her all the way.

The sibling dynamic between Elise and Callum was layered and entertaining and the setting in Warrigul in Victoria was a refreshing surprise and a stroke of genius from this Canberra based author.

Kill Your Brother is the latest high octane crime thriller from Jack Heath and it's a ripper of a stand alone novel. Highly recommended! (You can read a free excerpt of the first 24 pages of the book here).

My Rating:

01 January 2022

Top 5 Books of 2021

It's time to reflect on my year of reading in 2021 and select the best 5 books from a total of 75 titles read this year. Last year my Top 5 list contained only review titles, and this year I'm pleased to return to a more balanced mix. Two of the books in the following list were sent to me for review, with the remaining three coming from my own TBR pile. Once again, historical fiction dominated the list and I was proud to include Australian author Tabitha Bird in the cut.

Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Books of 2021 in the order I read them:

1. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell book cover

For some reason I now regret, I didn't request a review copy of Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, but after seeing so many of my trusted book bloggers falling in love with this story, I had to jump on board.

Hamnet is an historical fiction novel about the death of Shakespeare's 11 year old son Hamnet in 1596, and in particular how his wife Agnes and family deal with the loss. Shakespeare is never named in the book (not once!) and while the book is about his family, it's not all about him.

You don't need to know anything about Shakespeare in order to enjoy this novel. It's essentially the story of a 16th century family and the way in which they cope with life's choices and challenges and I was absolutely blown away by the evocative writing.

2. Mrs England by Stacey Halls
Mrs England by Stacey Halls book cover

This was one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2021 and I was thrilled when it delivered on all of my hopes and expectations. Ruby May is a qualified nurse from the Norland Institute in London and accepts a position at the isolated Hardcastle House looking after three children from the family of wealthy mill owners Charles and Lilian England.

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

The ending made me gasp and I thoroughly enjoyed discussing it with other readers on GoodReads and social media. This is the second year in a row Stacey Halls has made my Top 5 Books of the year list, what will she write next?

3. The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac
The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac book cover

This book was a complete surprise. 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.

Offsetting this dark beginning to Ellie's life, her gardening career was a sheer delight to read about and I thoroughly enjoyed following her around the garden and reading her Instagram posts in the book.

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.

4. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird book cover

Set in Boonah in Queensland, this book contains magical realism and reading it 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 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.

Written by Australian author Tabitha Bird, I loved sharing this with a family member and it was a highlight of my reading year.

5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab book cover

Adeline LaRue is born in France in 1691, and at the age of 23, her family decide to marry her off but she 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, Adeline 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 Addie comes to terms with her curse and 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.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is full of evocative writing and passages that made me pause and reflect on the past, the present and the future and ponder what really matters in the world.

So, there you have it! What do you think of my list? What was your favourite read in 2021?