30 March 2022

Review: The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs was a sublime read containing tantalising descriptions of food, and life below stairs during 1800s England. The Language of Food tells the untold story of Eliza Acton, a poet at heart and author of Britain's first cookery book for domestic readers. Modern Cookery for Private Families was published in 1845 and author Annabel Abbs has given the reader a fictionalised account of Eliza Acton's life.

Told from two perspectives, that of Eliza and a housemaid by the name Ann Kirby, the reader is soon swept into a world where the kitchen is the centre of the household.
"And it seems to me that the kitchen, with its natural intimacy, is more conducive to friendship and love than any other room in the house. The steady indeterminate pattern of days spent there, the heady unforgettable smells, the warmth and succour of its confined space." Page 317
Female agency is a strong theme throughout the book, not surprising given the period and our two lead characters, but I celebrated the manner in which both characters seemed to follow their calling despite feelings of obligation and family responsibility laying elsewhere.

Eliza Acton was a poet in real life and the author has spared no effort in imagining the world of food, spices and cooking through the eyes of a poet and a woman who didn't even know how to boil an egg when she first ventured into a kitchen.

The writing is deliciously suggestive but also funny on occasion, as in this observation from Ann Kirby early on in the novel:
"Mrs Thorpe has a bosom so ample you could trot a mouse on it." Page 43
Modern Cookery for Private Families was the first cookery book to provide a detailed list of ingredients, precise quantities and cooking times for each recipe in a format we still follow today. Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was published in 1861 well after Eliza Acton's and it is now known that Mrs Beeton plagiarised hundreds of Acton's recipes for the collection. Not only that, but Mrs Beeton stole recipes from other cookery books as well, and knowing that now, I wish she wasn't held in such high esteem. A pox on her book!

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is definitely a book to savour, but be prepared to salivate as you visualise and imagine the dishes being tested, prepared and devoured. Abbs provides phrases to roll around your tongue and plenty of description so you can immerse yourself in the sensual writing and imagine yourself in the character's shoes. I particularly related to Ann Kirby, and enjoyed this section describing the first three days of her employment by Miss Eliza Acton:
"For three days, Miss Eliza gives me instructions and I follow them to the letter. I scrape the sugar from its loaf, scrub the vegetables of mud and insects, scour the sink with sand and spread the tea leaves for drying. I fetch water, and firewood, and fish from the market. I slice and sift and grate and pluck. I stoke and sweep and black the range. I wash and dry and polish. And when I get a second to myself, I eat. I eat pie crusts burnt to a crisp and fit only for the pig. I drink cream that has curdled and is intended for the cat. I steal spoonfuls of over-salted sauces so that my tongue withers in my mouth. I eat the leftovers and lick the cooking spoons and even wipe my tongue around the batter basin. I cannot help myself for my insides are gnawed half to death from years of hunger and I've never seen so much food." Pages 83-84
I always know I'm reading a great book when I want to recommend it to friends before I've even finished it and that was certainly the case here. The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is an absorbing historical fiction novel for those who love the poetry of food, the magic of a kitchen and anything to do with cooking, baking, chopping, saucing, stirring or tasting food. Highly recommended!

My Rating:

24 March 2022

Review: The Tens by Vanessa Jones

The Tens by Vanessa Jones book cover

* Copy courtesy of the author *

Do you ever just feel like reading a book about a cult? It's been a while since I last visited a cult behind the safety of a well written narrative, but Australian author Vanessa Jones convinced me to give her latest novel The Tens a try.

Main character Sophie has recently been suffering from terrifying nightmares and she's seeing a therapist to help her work through some issues. After her husband leaves her, Sophie's world begins to fall apart and she relies more and more on her therapy. Sophie is the classic unreliable narrator and her behaviour becomes more worrying as time progresses.

A few errors and typos (like mignon instead of minion page 174) jolted me out of the storyline, and the occasional mixed tense broke the tension as my reading stumbled over the inconsistencies. The dynamic between Sophie and Abigail wasn't realistic enough for me and left me unconvinced. I'm certain that with a better editing process, these issues will be improved and the story will benefit greatly as a result.

I've been watching a lot of crime shows lately (Broadchurch, Troppo, Wire in the Blood) and it occurred to me while reading it, that The Tens would make a great screenplay for one of these programs. I later learned the author is also a screenwriter, so that makes perfect sense.

The Tens by Vanessa Jones is a solid thriller with Australian flair that is recommended for crime and thriller readers and fans of Aussie domestic noir. There's even a playlist that accompanies the novel which is fun!

For more great novels featuring cults, check out my reviews of the following:
Hive and Rogue by A.J. Betts ★★★ & ★★★
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray ★★★
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes ★★★
The Nowhere Child by Christian White ★★★★

My Rating:

22 March 2022

Review: Revelations in Air by Jude Stewart

Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell by Jude Stewart audiobook cover

Like sleep, smell has interested me for as long as I can remember. I've always had a keen sense of smell and I set out to learn more about the process of olfaction when I started listening to Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell by Jude Stewart.

The author's choice to break down fragrances and smells into the following groups was a novel approach:

Flowery & Herbal
Sharp & Pungent
Salty & Nutty
Tingling & Fresh

These creative categories provided a neat structure for exploring smell by learning more about a number of fragrances within each group. In taking this approach, the author describes the smell to the reader while also delivering an overview of the item being discussed. This resulted in a 'micro history' of fragrances like jasmine, hot chocolate, tobacco, truffles and cash to name a few.

The audiobook is narrated by Gabra Zackman, and her tendency to sometimes over pronounce or over-emphasise words and phrases began to grate on my nerves after a while. I suspect the poetic nature of some of the descriptions begged to be acknowledged, but I found it off-putting.

An unavoidable limiting factor when reading or learning about smell is that the reader can't smell the thing being described. Of course, for this book, you could assemble the items according to the table of contents, but usually readers don't have that advantage. The author does a terrific job describing certain scents like: cinnamon, durian, stinky cheese, freshly sharpened pencils, frankincense, new car, new baby or old books, and being familiar with these items I could quickly relate.

However fragrances like ambergris, petrichor, skunk, truffles and melting permafrost left me frustratingly unsatisfied and stubbornly wishing I could smell these in the real world, despite their detailed descriptions.

Stewart makes some observations I wanted her to explore further, like this one about line-dried laundry. Why doesn't washing that's hung outside in cities smell like pollution or absorb the smells of the heavily populated streets below? I'd like to know why my apartment doesn't smell like the scented candles I burn every night when I come home from a few days away.

Stewart also had an engaging section about vanilla as the base of all flavour, and the contrast between white and black, with the seeds being black, but perception that vanilla is white. I'd never considered that vanilla was its flavour and instead always considered it as the base flavour, especially with respect to ice-cream.

I also enjoyed the chapter discussing 'Smell as Emotional Time Travel' but somehow still wanted more. The exercises in the book were promising, although acknowledging and noticing smells is already a regular part of my existence, noting smells multiple times an hour. It was a timely reminder that many people don't notice or acknowledge the presence of smells within their immediate environment.

Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell by Jude Stewart is recommended to non fiction readers who enjoy micro histories and whiffing out information relating to our sense of smell.

For more on ambergris, you can check out my review of Floating Gold: The Search for Ambergris, The Most Elusive Substance in the Natural World by Christopher Kemp as well as my interview with the author.

My Rating:

18 March 2022

Review: The Attack by Catherine Jinks

The Attack by Catherine Jinks book cover

* Copy courtesy of Text Publishing *

Robyn's career as a school teacher ended 10 years ago and she's now the Caretaker on Finch Island, located off the coast of Queensland. One of Robyn's clients is a group of Veterans who run a camp for troubled teens in an effort to turn their lives around with group activities, discipline and teamwork. The island is a former leper colony and served as the perfect setting for the action that follows.

Unfolding in two timelines (2009 and 2019), we flick between Robyn's teaching days and her current position on Finch Island. The increasing drama taking place at the school had me transfixed as a young boy is at the heart of a domestic custody battle involving his mother, domineering Policeman father and despicably bitchy Grandmother. I wanted Robyn to take more of a stand against the behaviour being exhibited by a number of the characters in the book and I found myself wishing her colleagues would do more to help.

Meanwhile, some of the boys on the camp are acting up with some pretty nasty pranks and Robyn notices one of them looks uncannily like Aaron. Except his name is Darren now. Can it be the same boy?

Slowly the tensions rise and situations escalate until we finally learn what happened to cause Robyn to leave her career behind and choose to live an isolated and lonely life on Finch Island. 

The Attack by Catherine Jinks is a satisfying and entertaining read with a good mystery at its heart. Catherine Jinks is an accomplished Australian author of more than thirty books, however this is my first time reading any of her novels.

The Attack by Catherine Jinks is recommended for fans of domestic noir and Aussie crime thrillers.

(You can also check out a FREE sample on the publisher's website).

My Rating:

16 March 2022

Review: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh book cover

Having enjoyed Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh in January 2016, I keenly followed her work only to learn the author withdrew from public life (and the world) after a series of devastating personal tragedies. These life changing events included the breakdown of her marriage and subsequent divorce, the divorce of her parents, a serious medical condition requiring drastic surgery and the suicide of her sister.

After six or seven years of seclusion and constantly updated release dates for her book, Allie Brosh has emerged with the long awaited book Solutions and Other Problems. It's clear right away that Brosh has used her artwork in an attempt to explore and examine her own inner demons and try to deal with her struggles.

Covering topics of mental health, depression, grief and loneliness, you'd be forgiven for worrying this might be a misery memoir or an exercise in navel gazing. I can assure you it's not.

This graphic memoir made me laugh and reflect on my own life and relationships, and the stories involving her sister were incredibly touching and moving. Demonstrating enormous strength of character to openly admit your fears and weaknesses, Solutions and Other Problems seems (to this reader anyway) to demonstrate huge personal growth for the author.

Like many fans, I just want to give this introvert a big hug, but in real life that would be weird. I borrowed this copy from the library and I was sad to return it, but hopeful it will touch the next reader as it did me.

I wouldn't be surprised if Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh was one of my top 10 books of 2022. Highly recommended!

My Rating:

15 March 2022

Winner of Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone announced

Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone book cover

Thanks to everyone who congratulated me on my involvement with Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone. This is a self help book for non fiction writers looking to self publish in Australia, and in it I provide some great tips on how best to approach a book blogger and more.

The giveaway to win a copy closed at midnight AEST on Sunday 13 March 2022, and the winner was drawn today:

Congratulations Mary Preston!

Congratulations Mary! You've won a copy of Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone valued at $37.99AUD thanks to the author and Carpe Librum. You'll receive an email from me shortly with the details of your win, and I hope you find some great tips and tricks to help you on your writing journey.

Carpe Librum!

10 March 2022

Review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson book cover

Being a fan of true crime documentaries myself, the premise for Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson held immediate appeal. Jack is the creator of a true crime docuseries and succeeds in achieving a new trial for a wrongly convicted man who is later released. When a new victim is discovered, Jack is forced to question everything. Did he help a murderer walk free?

Set in NSW, the narrative involves a winery and a vineyard and several characters with questionable backgrounds and potential motives. The documentary scene was an interesting perspective and the Australian setting and dialogue was a joy to read.

There's also some terrific character insight, like this discussion between two characters about guilt and grief.
"Bullshit. Regret. Guilt. They don't exist. What you're really feeling is grief. Whatever decision you made, whatever you think you regret, you thought you were better than that. And then, when it came to the crunch, you weren't. And you know that now." Page 41
At this point in the novel, the character in question realises that he's grieving the loss of the person he thought he was. So profound!

Don't worry though, there's plenty of lighter moments too, like this one that made me snort (no kidding):
"You fuck with one of us, you fuck with all of us. I see you snooping again, I charge you. Got that? Now - he pointed to the door - I think you have a busy day of fucking off to take care of." Page 94
What a sensational insult! I'm trying to remember this so I can use it in the future but I doubt it'll pack as much punch as it does on the page. I found out after finishing this debut novel that in addition to being Australian, the author is a twin and together with his brother they are the Stevenson Experience. They've toured their musical comedy all around Australia and at the coveted Edinburgh festival, so it's no wonder the author was able to make me chuckle while reading a crime thriller. (Jack Heath is brilliant at this!)

Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson kept me entertained throughout and I didn't pick the 'whodunnit'. The tension continues to build until the exciting denouement and I can highly recommend this for fans of Australian crime fiction. Greenlight is the first in a series to feature producer Jack Quick and the second - released in 2020 - is called Either Side of Midnight which I've added to my TBR.

Before I can get to that though, I've accepted a request from the publisher to review Benjamin Stevenson's latest book Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone which is a standalone mystery coming out at the end of this month.

All in all, I've enjoyed my introduction to Benjamin Stevenson and am looking forward to the next one.

My Rating:

04 March 2022

Giveaway: Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone


I'm still on a high after the successful release of Look - It's Your Book! by Australian author Anna Featherstone last week. In case you missed it with everything else going on in the world at the moment, I was one of the many industry wide contributors interviewed for this book and it was such a terrific project to be part of.

As promised, I'm back with a giveaway to celebrate and it's open internationally! Up for grabs is a print copy of Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone valued at $37.99AUD. Entries close at midnight AEST on Sunday 13 March 2022, so good luck!

'What's the book about again?' I hear you ask...
Carpe Librum Giveaway Image for Look - It's Your Book! by Anna Featherstone


This comprehensive book will show you how to take your non-fiction book from concept to shelf. From planning to PR, proofreading to publishing, Look – It’s Your Book! cuts through all the hype and explain the ins and outs of publishing. Reading it will help you produce a book (paperback, ebook, audiobook) to be proud of … and to profit from.

Whether you plan to write a non-fiction business, lifestyle, self-help book or memoir,
Look – It’s Your Book! is the ultimate guide to non-fiction self-publishing. Read it and be empowered to transform your ideas, knowledge and passion into a book to be proud of.


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

03 March 2022

Review: The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews

The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

The first page of this book completely blew me away and I'm convinced it was written purely and exclusively with me in mind! I loved it so much I insisted on reading it aloud (dramatically of course) to my husband, who agreed this sounded like the perfect book for me. Here's a taste:
"She is awake. And I must remind myself of how it began. The end of all things. It was a time of witches, it was a time of saints. A time when rabbits hunted foxes, when children came into the world without their heads, and kings lost theirs on the scaffold. The world was turned upside down, or so some said. Weep, England, weep, the broadsheets cried, and the poets and philosophers, fearing for their own necks, delayed their poems and philosophies, or incarcerated them in Latin and impenetrable Greek, to be exhumed at a more enlightened date." Page 3
How could that not give you shivers down your spine? I was immediately captivated and compelled to read further and find out what could possibly have happened to warrant such an extraordinary introduction.

Set in Norfolk England and alternating between 1643 and 1703, Thomas Treadwater is a soldier in the civil war and is summoned home by his sister with word of trouble in the household. When Thomas arrives home, things take a sour turn with accusations of witchcraft thick in the air.

The Leviathan is a dark gothic mystery full of myth and superstition and I just love this kind of historical fiction. I agree that The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews will appeal to fans of The Binding by Bridget Collins and The Essex Serpent, but I honestly think this debut is much better than the equally atmospheric The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

If you like your historical fiction dark and gothic, with terrific character development and superb storytelling, this is for you.

(If you'd like to read the prologue I quoted from above in full, the first 36 pages of the novel are available in a free extract on the publisher's website).

My Rating: